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Written by: Admiral
Illustrated by: Raul "knightinflames" Gomes

Up North

Though the Ogre Kingdoms have become an increasingly important export market in later centuries, the primary trade partners of the industrious though demented Dwarfs of Fire are to be found in the volatile northern wastelands, in realms balancing upon a knife's edge between frail reality and stark oblivion. Up in the cold north, Chaos holds sway, its corrupting forces permeating and ever resculpting tormented landscapes offering nought but perils and blazes of monstrous glory, and a dreadful mortal existence to its savage inhabitants, whether beast or man, or worse.

Here, beneath the piercing gaze of capricious gods and Daemons alike, a lifetime of hardships and bloody struggles breeds creatures merciless, cruel and cold of heart, in image of their Dark Gods. The men and women of the far north knows how little value resides in anyone's life, even their own, and thus these hardy folks will commit unspeakable acts and trade away their souls for a chance at immortal fame in song and saga - or better yet as a leader of men risen to Daemonhood and never-dying greatness.

To the Human tribes of the north, more than to all the peoples of the world, life is fleeting, but glory is everlasting.

It is no wonder, then, that such violent denizens of the Chaos Wastes would be willing to barter away slaves, worldly loot, arcane secrets, precious information, otherworldly items, pacts, seasons of mercenary service and even their own kinsfolk in order to get their rough hands on durable armour and armaments which might range from mere war axes, horned helmets and spears churned out
en masse by the manufactories on the Plain of Zharr, to excessively lethal though legendarily unstable wargear, forged in the Soulforges by the stunted Blacksmiths of Chaos themselves.

Though the very best produce is forged by the Dawi Zharr for none but themselves, the lesser objects of their hellish crafts often outclasses many blacksmiths' masterpieces among the lesser races. Thus the Manling Warriors of Chaos treasure their imported wargear over that which they themselves produce or scavenge, and they will oftentimes go to great lengths to afford and acquire the wares of the bearded arms dealers from down south. Tribes may migrate for months on end to catch up with the rumoured trek of a steel caravan, and wars are often fought between tribal groups over the rights to barter with the devil Dwarfs, not to mention the raids and attacks necessary to capture enough slaves with which to pay the foreigners. In the cold north, war is life, and weapons are everyday necessities of life.

Though a plethora of weird, untrusting or threat-reducing customs have grown up around the commercial exchanges between man and Dwarf of Chaos (including practices unique to dealings with specific tribes, such as cursing hated rival tribes or naming and honouring some of the tribe's mythical ancestors and heroes with a sacrificial slave along with the ones offered up to Dark Gods and Daemons to seal the negotiations), all Chaos Dwarf trade caravan dealings with the marauding tribes are conducted at gunpoint.

Dawi Zharr trade relations with the northern Human tribes are ever strained and fraught with volatile perils, and few exchanges of goods between these vastly different mortal followers of Chaos take place without the looming presence of a heavily armed and excessively aggressive mechanized trade caravan ready and willing to set bloody examples achieved by superior weaponry to stem any treacherous thoughts of banditry. Too many trading and slaving expeditions from the dark empire of the tribe of Hashut has been lost up north for it to be otherwise, yet even sizeable caravans carrying batteries of infernal arms may prove irresistible targets for enterprising warlords, youngblood bravehearts, ambushers, sworn enemies, tribes acting upon brutal portents read by their covetous Sorcerors, or outright lunatics. Not to mention the dangers presented by beasts, monsters, Chaos Spawns and occasional Daemons.

Strength, cunning and vigilance are vital virtues to any member of a war caravan hoping to make it back to the Dark Lands alive. Naturally, the Chaos Dwarfs themselves are not shy of grabbing an opportunity when it presents itself in the form of a weaker warband or exposed tribe on the march through unfavourable terrain, even at the risk of provoking blood feuds with kinsgroups allied to the overtaken Manling tribe. The rule of the strong is law, and up north there is no attempt to hide it.

These Chaos Dwarf trains of smoke-belching metal monstrosities are envied, coveted yet feared by most Human warriors of Chaos, for the war caravans' infamous wealth is matched only by their firepower and callous willingness to maim and kill any members of a Marauder tribe acting suspiciously, even at the blessed height of fruitful haggling and swearing of oaths in sight of higher powers. This trigger-happy Dawi Zharr inclination to slay at a moment's notice when far up north, is born out of well-founded paranoia sharpened to ferocity by greed festering in their black hearts. The mechanized trade caravans are manned by scarred Chaos Dwarfs and lousy Hobgoblin lackeys dragging with them hordes of chained slaves and animals who serve as both beasts of burden and hauling, currency, cannon fodder and provisions.

Not entirely unlike the western Dwarfs' interactions with Manlings, the Chaos Dwarfs' trade and slaving expeditions to the northern Chaos Wastes stretches back to ancient history, as the growing might and numbers of the children of the Father of Darkness emboldened them to seek out new sources of slaves, wealth and shortcuts to sorcerous or divinely unholy power. It was the Chaos Dwarf war caravans, then wagons and bull chariots and torsion-propelled war machines, which helped turn the northernmost Human savages armed with stone, bone and wood into savages armed with bronze and iron (and the occasional Daemonforged trinket and tool of murder). Unlike their uncorrupted cousins' influence upon mankind in the Old World, the harsh travails of the Dawi Zharr slaving and trading expeditions up north evidently never saw cities, states and arts flourish in the footsteps of their meddlings.

Occasionally, a powerful warlord of Chaos with many tribes under his might may begrudge the Dawi Zharr foreigners for past sins, or find fault in them worshipping a lesser deity than the one he or she himself has sworn himself to. Alternately, such a Warlord may act upon convoluted omens, false councel or dream visions, or resent the Chaos Dwarfs supplying his enemies with lethal weaponry. Whatever the cause, throughout the millennia, such warlords have carved out their own fluctuating domains and spheres of fickle power, and have barred anyone under his or her rule from trading or plotting with the mysterious southerners who dares enter the Dark God's arena where hardy northerners strive to prove themselves worthy of immortal glory and worldly might.

During such intervals, Dawi Zharr activity recedes in the area or even the Chaos Wastes as a whole as the long-lived worshippers of the fierce Bull God simply waits for the frail Manling to die off before resuming their lucrative business, rather than risk valuable assets against such poor odds. Provided, of course, that any of the Chaos Dwarfs' far-fetched intrigues with other Marauders or suicidal Sneaky Git assassination attempts do not pay off and eliminates the warlord and his domain with him. On a rare few occasions, the borderless territory of such an isolationist warlord may stretch far too wide and cut off far too many tribal trade partners for far too long a time, particularly in the vast Kurgan lands, whereupon some enterprising Sorcerer-Prophet may attempt an outright invasion to remove the hindrance, then withdraw quickly if the army survives, should all other plots, curses and sorceries fail.

For the most part, however, the Dwarfs of Fire do not entangle themselves in the brutal quagmire of tribal conflict and dark religious clashes of the Chaos Wastes, apart from opportunistic raids and honourable arms dealing. Though multiple proscriptions, prejudices and fanatical adherence to Hashut counteracts it, the corrupted minds and culture of the Chaos Dwarfs is still intrinsically drawn to Chaos at large and its myriad followers around the mortal world and beyond, and not always for the sake of slavery and exploitation, for sometimes the fractured nature of Chaos at war with itself may unite somewhat to allow strong outlets of violent forces against the weak lands of order. In this greater struggle, the Chaos Dwarfs play an important if not pivotal role, for all of their very work to glorify and increase the oppressive might and virility of Hashut and His chosen tribe curiously aids the powers of the wider Chaos as well.

How many Elves, Dwarfs, Manlings and even lesser creatures have fallen to weapons forged in the bale furnaces and steam-powered forges of Mingol Zharr-Naggrund the Great and all her holdings, wielded by the strong hands of northmen in league with deities decidedly not Hashut or His fiery court of enslaved Daemons and shackled souls? How many walls have been ground to gravel and splinters by infernal siege machines spawned from fire in the bleak Dark Lands, crewed by Chaos Dwarf mercenaries blasting open breaches to let in hordes of bloodthirsty Marauders and Chaos Warriors and worse? How many innocent lives have been lost to the long arm of Zharr-Naggrund, as barbarians manage to wreak havoc on young and old alike thanks in no small part to the never-ending toil in a distant and mysterious realm of fire and ash? The Dawi Zharr themselves are conquerors, raiders, torturers, killers, defilers, slavers and cruel oppressors who do not flinch at carrying out deeds to make a heart of stone bleed, yet the far-reaching effects of their works in the hands of others may perhaps be even more dreadful thanks to the carnage and destruction and misery brought to bear by blades forged in the Plain of Zharr.

The Chaos Dwarfs themselves are conscious of all this, for they are infernal craftsmen even more so than they are ruthless warriors. Indeed, the Dawi Zharr view it as a sacred and worldly service to Chaos, for do they not, in the mortal realms, carry out high Hashut's divine and unholy role of armourer of the Dark Gods? As above, so below. Likewise, there is profit to be made, and the trade exchange has by and large proven mutually beneficial for Chaos Dwarfs and Marauder tribes alike. There has been the lure of obscenely powerful items, potent secrets and sorceries to be gleaned so close to the northern Polar Gate. There has been hordes of Human slaves to bring back in chains and hardships to the Dark Lands for a backbreaking fate. There has been chances to strike alliances with the feared Warriors of Chaos.

The mechanized trade caravan activities of the Chaos Dwarfs have taken on a life of its own up in the unforgiving north. To serve their best interests, there has been grabbed opportunities to disrupt the tribal fabric of the Chaos Wastes by sundering ascendant warlords' hold over tribes through bribes, secret pacts and provoked conflict among conquered tribes over the spoils of precious hellforged arms and armour somehow forgotten amid the wastes by the otherwise miserly and covetous caravan warriors. Or, failing that, several up-and-coming warlords have found themselves unexpectedly dead at the hands of a sudden well-placed barrage of artillery and small arms fire during a seemingly ordinary trade meeting with the mighty warlord and leader of men. This bringing down of potential northern threats to Dawi Zharr trading activity, and possibly even the dark empire itself, has long been a small part of the endless cycle of violence among the Marauder tribes, and the Kurgans in particular, and may have spared Mingol Zharr-Naggrund from more than one costly siege by nipping a potential threat in the bud. Yet how many sieges could have been avoided, had not the Dawi Zharr themselves armed their future foes?

Such are the deeds of the Blacksmiths of Chaos up north.
Very nice and well though out. I think that the overwhelming penchant for profit would always be a major factor in such trade relations, even at the expense/consequences of arming marauding tribes.
Thanks! True, that. Added this bit at the end, for ambiguity:

Yet how many sieges could have been avoided, had not the Dawi Zharr themselves armed their future foes?

This is excellent lore. Initially, I was going to suggest that the "universal" term for the chaos dwarfs in the final wrap-up should be "servants of Hashut" rather than "blacksmiths of chaos", but your term is actually better as it ties in with the pervading notion throughout the piece - of the Dawi Zharr being craftsmen for the rest of the ugly bunch - and is less propagandist. It preserves the neutral tone.

The Dawi Zharr should never refer to themselves as the "blacksmiths of chaos" but that's not what's happening here. This is clearly a historical annal or recounting by someone else.

Hashut is given due mention as the centre of Dawi Zharr culture, and with a neutral tone ("high Hashut" instead of "High Hashut") and so I can only say: very well balanced and done! Great attention to detail!

Bloody well done.
Wow, thanks Roark! Yes, one has to keep the balance act in mind constantly when writing. Glad it worked. Happy
It works very well indeed.  Another thing I've always pondered over was a CD caravan whether it be made for war or booty.  Your tale makes me think they'd not be much different from each other even back at home in the Dark Lands.

One thing though is in the third last paragraph, I'm unsure about "as imminent barbarians manage to wreak havoc".
It is the word imminent that I'm not sure of but I do not have anything come to mind at all that I think would be suitable

Abecedar Wrote:
It works very well indeed.  Another thing I've always pondered over was a CD caravan whether it be made for war or booty.  Your tale makes me think they'd not be much different from each other even back at home in the Dark Lands.

One thing though is in the third last paragraph, I'm unsure about "as imminent barbarians manage to wreak havoc".
It is the word imminent that I'm not sure of but I do not have anything come to mind at all that I think would be suitable

Thanks! Trade and war caravans would pretty much be the same, it just depends on the cargo since heavy armaments would always be a must, not least in the Dark Lands. Most would practically be both trade and war caravans.

Should perhaps be "immediate"?

Both adjectives are a little odd to describe them in this part of the sentence. I would avoid using a "time" adjective just before the noun.

Maybe use some other adjective to describe the nature of the barbarians, or remove it altogether.
Good tip. Erased it, since the alternatives still ended up quirky.
" as immediate barbarians manage to wreak havoc on young and old alike "

maybe "indiscriminate", to describe their actions in this sentence or "uncouth" to describe their lake of manners.
Updated with this fantastic artwork, kindly donated for non-commercial community purposes by Raul "knightinflames" Gomes, also known on CDO as t5p1ny. Happy
Given the raiding culture of the northern bros I have always assumed hellcannons were purchased in exchange for many slaves obtained during such raids.
Great work as usual
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