They were known as the Horns of Hashut, and like their namesake they pierced and plunged, gouging and impaling all in their path. They weren’t the greatest warriors Hashut could muster, but the mighty legions of the dawi zharr could not be bothered to stamp out every little slave rebellion. This task fell to the war-leaders of the Horns, and they persecuted it with merciless cruelty.
“Horns of Hashut,” the bristling duardin muttered to himself. He spat a heavy, black wad of tarleaf against the ground.
Old habit made him rub his chin where his beard should have been. The coarse black hair that had covered it long ago had been burnt away by the forge’s flames, and the skin beneath seared and hardened, leaving only leathery flesh and scars. Horns of Hashut, indeed. What could they know of the Father of Darkness? Lackeys and lickspittles all, playing at lords while chasing bones tossed from high tables.
It was why these so-called Horns, grown fat and content killing wretches for sport, had stumbled into this ambush without a care in the realms. Like their cruel lords, they were assured in their place of power… and yet here, today, the Dross-Forged would disabuse them of that notion.
Watching his ragged throng tear them apart was nearly enough to make him forget the visions; the sword, the ice, and the Master Rune of Grungni that would seat them at the head of that high table. The way from their rags to the riches always kept from them. His fellows weren’t warriors as such, fighters maybe, but not soldiers. Men and women, duardin and hobgrots, orruks, aelves and ogors. The cattle the dark lords of Brak Zhagoul had kept in their pens and spent to fuel the fires of industry. Their lives were less than nothing in the eyes of their masters.
He watched the last of the Horns regroup against a sheer cliff-face. Some clawed at it, trying to scale it, only for the loose rock to send them tumbling back down. The rest lunged and feinted, trying to fend off the rebel fighters with white-knuckled and trembling hands. Victory was lost, and they knew there would be no mercy here.
Yet the slaughtering press did not come. The Dross-Forged parted like water about a rock as the bristling, beardless duardin moved among them, and for the first time the defeated cultists could see him clearly. Lines of age and years of backbreaking labour had marked him, yet it was his eyes that captured the broken host. Large and wild, the pupils an inky black, they smoldered like unrestful embers. There was a fire deep within them, like the daemonfire forge of Hashut himself. Weapons clattered to the ground.
“Do you not know who I am?” His voice, made course by years of smoke and noxious fumes, carried like rolling thunder across the silent ranks.
“DO YOU NOT KNOW WHO I AM?”
“I’m the one that came from the dross. I’m the one that broke the forge. I’m the one the Dark Father spoke to, and I’m the one that knows where his burning brand waits!”
“The lords of Brak Zhagoul have you out chasing slaves. Hashut would have you do so much more. Any of you that want to serve the Dark Father as more than lickspittle chaff, come with me. The rest of you, crawl back to your masters.”
“No,” one voice called from the defeated cultists. “Why would the Dark Father speak to someone like you? You’re no better than a slave.”
Uhred the Beardless looked at the man, then spat heavily on the ground.
The Dross-Forged did not move. Dawi zharr, hobgrots and former slaves alike, they only stood and watched as the rest of the surviving Horns beat the man to the ground. Mailed fists and broken weapon hafts rained down blow after blow, and he disappeared beneath the press. These cultists, fanatics all, had seen Uhred’s eyes. They had seen Hashut’s fire.
Uhred turned away, swiping black spittle from the corner of his mouth as he strode up the hill. His mind had already moved on from the beating behind him. It was far from here, on an icy island, and the smoldering fire trapped within.