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"Black Fire Pass. The very name describes the impossible, the magical. How appropriate, given all that happened there, that impossible words should stand as a symbol of our Empire and its impossible dream. My name is Kristoff Haamar, and this is the story of Black Fire Pass. It is an old story and a familiar one, for we all first hear the legend at an early age. There, in the crucible of battle, an Empire was forged. There, few stood against many, and triumphed. There, we rose out of the darkness, together, as a man became a God. How do you tell a story that everyone knows? What grace I have, with pen, and brush, and the tongue of men, let it be heard. Oh, let it be heard. Sigmar, give me the words to tell this story, and I will craft something that the ages will not willingly forget."
—Kristoff Haamar, Historian, Cartographer, Poet and Gentlemen of the Empire[1b]
Warhammer Black Fire Pass

Map of Black Fire Pass

Black Fire Pass, or Haz Drazh Kadrin as it is known in Khazalid, lies in the southeast of the Empire in the Province of Averland. Formed long ago when violent eruptions tore the Black Mountains in two, the Pass is a gaping chasm of contorted lava flanked by steep black cliffs of polished volcanic glass. Eerie wisps of black vapour gush from vents at the base of the crags to form surging shapes against the darkened rock. Through Black Fire Pass, one can trace the path of the Old Dwarf Road out into the forests of the Border Princes and past the gates of the great dwarf fortress of Karaz-a-Karak.[1a]

There the Old Dwarf Road becomes the Silver Road and cuts through the World’s Edge Mountains, emerging from Dead Rock Gap at the foot of Mt. Silverspear in the Dark Lands. The geographical importance of the Pass cannot be overstated; it is one of only two ways through the imposing ring of Mountains that protects the Empire’s eastern borders. The other route, the Peak Pass to the North, which emerges in Ostermark above Karak Kadrin, or Slayer Keep, is both lengthy and remote.[1a]

GeographyEdit

Black Fire Pass has ever been a double edged sword because of this scarcity of accessible routes through the Mountains. It is at once a chink in the armour of the Empire, a favoured path for invading armies, and also a vital lifeline, an essential trade route connecting the Empire with the remaining Dwarf Karaks, Tilea, and the wild Border Princes. Black Fire Pass stands at the centre of a triangle, its points roughly signified by three great Dwarf Karaks. To the North, hewn out of the cliff s that overlook Black Water, lies Karak Varn, the Crag Mere. The mountains around the karak are rich with gromril, a meteoric iron highly prized by the dwarfs, and Karak Varn grew wealthy as a result. The prosperity of the Crag Mere did not endure, however.[1a]

Some fifteen hundred years before the crowing of Sigmar, savage earthquakes shook the Worlds Edge Mountains and the Black Water burst, flooding the lower levels of the Karak. Like wild dogs sensing weakness, a mighty host of Skaven invaded the city from their underground tunnels while a vast horde of Greenskins attacked from above, each determined to take advantage of the tragedy to claim the karak as their own. The depleted dwarfs did not have the numbers to resist and the city was lost, never to be reclaimed. To the Southeast lies Karaz-a-Karak, the Everpeak, ancient capital of the once mighty Dwarf Empire. The Lord of the Everpeak is High King of all the Dwarfs, and the noble clans of the fortress city trace their ancestry back to the dwarf Ancestor Gods themselves.[1b]

The Great Book of Grudges and the Book of Remembering, mighty heirlooms of the dwarf people, rest within the fortress. It is said that Karaz-a-Karak has never fallen, and when one lays eyes on its formidable defences it is easy to believe the stories, for dwarfs do not often make empty boasts. Finally, to the southwest lies Karak Hirn, the Horn Hold. Named for the terrifying blast of sound caused by winds blowing through a huge cavern at the heart of the karak, the dwarfs use this peculiar natural phenomenon to summon warriors and warn other settlements of incoming danger. Over the years, the occupiers of the Horn Hold have constructed sounding chambers and massive doors to change the pitch and duration of the sound and have even learned to light fires in the depths of the city to start the note at will.[1b]

In the wake of Sigmar’s final victory over the greenskin tribes, the Empire of men established itself as a great power and the Pass acquired increasing economic, as well as military, signifi cance. Black Fire Pass became a link between the Empire and her neighbours, especially with Tilea to the southwest, and over time men and goods began to fl ow freely between the two nations. The Pass is also the Empire’s only connection to the sparsely populated Border Princes, wild and savage lands heavily disputed and under constant attack from marauding Orc and Goblin tribes. Trade there depends greatly upon the rise and fall of numerous miniature kingdoms and city states, but it is in the Empire’s best interests that the Border Princes stand strong, for should they fall the Empire may find itself under siege. Averland has prospered as a result of its proximity to the Pass, growing rich off the back of trade that flows through the mountains. Goods are taken to Averheim and then by river to Nuln. Yet this prosperity is ever tainted by the knowledge that Averland, and the Empire itself, will always be vulnerable to attack because of Black Fire Pass.[1b]

BattlegroundEdit

The field is narrower than you would expect, no more than four hundred paces at times. The black cliffs tower overhead, rising in almost unnaturally straight lines. The smooth, glassy rock of the Pass is everywhere pocked and scarred by rents and tears caused by the detonation of cannon and mortar rounds. Shards of volcanic glass as long as a man’s arm, torn loose by explosions and hurled across the field, stand like javelins in the earth. The soil here is thin and black, and often I saw broken and discarded arms or armour half covered by sparse vegetation, or simply left to rust. Rude graves formed of the black stone of the Pass are piled in simple cairns off to the sides of the battlefield, most unmarked and undecorated.[1b]

Likely they contain the remains of those too poor to be transported home, or simply too disfigured to be identified. No one knows what these men did in life, but in death they are magnificent. They give me hope. They are a link to our shared past, to the founding dream of Sigmar, and they show that we have not grown weak, that we are stronger together than apart. I think, perhaps, I know them at their best. In the southern corner, under a weeping willow that sags low to the ground as though it bears the weight of the Empire itself, is a less simple memorial. A replica sword carved from finely grained beech wood is affixed to the trunk of the tree, unmistakably a Runefang. Here, Marius Leitdorf, Elector Count of Averland, fell in single combat against the orc warlord. Someone has scattered wild flowers around the base of the tree and they have taken root with wild abandon, bursting forth in a riot of shape and colour. It is a fitting tribute to the Count’s memory.[1b]

Notable LocationEdit

Shrine of SigmarEdit

The Pass narrows to a jagged corridor of twisted rock. All is gloomy and dark. The sunlight barely penetrates and tendrils of black vapour slither from vents in the rock to writhe and dance at our feet. Dead greenskins hang rotting from the stunted trees that line our path, serving as a warning to their kind. Yet most unnerving of all was the body of an old man strung up by fraying ropes lashed to a wasted tree. His tongue was unnaturally long; the sickly organ sagged from his open mouth, bloated and distended, covered with weeping sores and pustules. His chest was branded with a single word, carved roughly into his flesh with a jagged blade: Chaos.[1d]

I was not long troubled by the sight, for we rounded a bend in the path and came upon a Shrine to Sigmar. It was a simple thing, but no less inspiring for the lack of ostentation. A frame of weathered oak had been fitted carefully into a small cleft in the rock no more than three or four paces high. In this manner it was sheltered from the worst of the elements. The dark wood had been intricately tooled with scenes from the first great battle of the Pass, and though most of the detail had been worn smooth by the ministration of time, I could clearly identify Sigmar’s furious final charge. Perhaps it is right that scene, above all others, should endure.[1d]

The frame had been further decorated with scores of ruby red seals bearing parchment prayers that fl uttered joyously in the breeze, whisper ing their paean to the sky. In the centre of the Shrine was a carving of Ghal Maraz, the mighty Warhammer coated in flaking gold leaf that had clearly seen better days. Beside it stood a collection tin, stamped with Sigmar’s cross and roughly cut from a single piece of tin. Rows of candles fronted the Shrine, standing on simple iron racks that dropped down to the ground in small steps of flickering golden light. I found myself moved to tears as I lit a candle and whispered my prayer to the sky. We had passed countless Shrines on our journey, but none seemed to me to encapsulate with such simple dignity, all that this place, and with it the man who gave us an Empire, means to us.[1d]

Greenskin IdolEdit

As night fell we came across a group of goblin outriders picking over the remains of a merchant’s caravan. The creatures were smaller than I expected. Wiry and angular, they had great aquiline noses jutting out beneath a pair of beady red eyes and rode giant wolves the size of small ponies. I am not ashamed to say I lost my self to fear, for all around them was devastation. The merchant and his guards were long dead, and the vile greenskins eagerly defaced anything that could not be carried off or torn apart for scrap. Captain Olenbay and his men saw them off, yet despite my brush with death I find that neither the flotsam of the attack nor my freshly enforced mortality is nearly so disturbing to me as that which was left behind. It is an idol, of sorts.[1d]

I have never seen anything quite like it. It is of prodigious size and would tower over a small outhouse. Built around a rocky outcrop, it resembles nothing so much as a crude orc head, though its features are wildly exaggerated. The brow is small and sharp and the jaw massive, filled with sticks and jagged hunks of rock. Whether these objects are meant to crudely represent teeth or are designed to simply anchor the whole sodden mass together, I cannot say. Embedded in the depths of its mouth, burning torches flicker eerily in the night air, casting surging molten shadows across the structure. Judging by the prodigious smell it was carved from dung, and the substance had begun to crack and separate in the heat.[1d]

It is festooned with graffiti; the misspelled words a vile mockery of our noble tongue. Broken weapons, bodies, and offerings to the savage Greenskin gods are heaped all around the base. I saw feathers, trinkets, an Averland trooper uniform, even a child’s doll gazing vacantly into the sky. We wasted little time before destroying the foul thing but I cannot drive the image from my mind. There was something unsettling about it, something deeply primitive. It was all that we are not, and yet perhaps all that we once were: wild, and simple, and full of rage. It spans the history enshrined in this Pass, reminding us of a time when we were not so different from the savage greenskin as we are today. It reminds me of all that Sigmar has given us.[1d]Culture. 

King's RockEdit

"Age shall not weary him, nor tales his glory diminish. Immortal he is, as the stone from which he is wrought. "
—Inscription beneath King's Rock[1d]

A driving rain has dogged our steps for two days now, but even the rain could not dampen my enthusiasm as we passed the Black Rock. I have read about this titanic hunk of volcanic basalt many times, but nothing prepared me for the reality. It is enormous. Fully three hundred feet high it looms out of the side of the Pass like a colossus glistening glossy black in the rain. It is striated, shot through with spidery veins of silver mica that twinkle in the sparse and heavy light. Strictly speaking it is a natural formation, eroded over the centu ries by wind and by rain, twisted and shaped by the unfathomable force of the mountains themselves, yet as many have noted it quite clearly resembles a Dwarf warrior.[1d]

Ice running down from the high peaks has carved great furrows in the rock similar to a beard that runs in straight lines almost to the ground like a great fan of stone. It has no arms, but if you crane your neck and gaze up into the sky, the cap is not at all unlike a Dwarf ’s features and, perched on high, a jagged outcrop that seems for all the world to resemble a kingly crown. As I watched rain pooled in the hollows of what would be his great stone eyes, fi lling them up before tumbling down to patter on the ground so that the rock appears for all the world to be weep ing. I do not know if I fi nd this to be a comfort or not. Around the base someone has carved a series of murals depicting Kurgan’s part in the First Battle of the Pass. The detail is extraordinary and still sharp as they day it was carved.[1e]

Somehow it seems to have resisted the erosion that has weathered the rest of Black Rock. You can clearly see Kurgan’s shieldwall standing fi rm, the doughty Dwarf King proudly positioned in the center of his line. Beneath the images is a simple inscription in Khazalid which my Dwarf Guide was able to translate. The Dwarfs had left tokens and offerings at the base of the rock. Stone tablets, some tankards, a keg or two of ale, and various mes sages in their Runic script. I do not think it is a shrine, not in the strictest sense, but perhaps their need to remember is even greater than ours, given all that they have lost.[1e]

Howling CavesEdit

The Pass has become a place of terror. Our every step is now ac companied by a mournful, animal howling sound. The tortured, anguished litany swells and dies but never quite fades into silence. As if to accompany the dreadful wailing, strange mists drift off the mountaintops like escaping breath, writhing into fantastic shapes that dance and cavort above the dusky backs of the sleeping giants that surround us. One of my guides related to me the legend of the Howling Caves. Apparently, the dragon ogre shaggoth, a creature of the Mountain as ancient as creation itself, once made a pact with the Ruinous Powers, for his heart was black and he desired immortality above all things. The fi ckle and capricious Dark Gods answered his prayer and turned his body to stone to guard the high peaks until the end of time. He remains there still, watching, wait ing. Trapped within the mountains, he has gone mad with time and howls his anger into the sky, waiting for a storm large enough to free him from his rocky prison.[1e]

I can see the entrance to the cave, high above us like a great black eye. Rows of stalactites and stalagmites, slimy and wet with water jut out of the rock around the mouth of the cavern. It is an intensely eerie place and I feel no desire to ascend to see it clearly. For those who wish to brave the brutal climb there is a small stair cut into the cliff s, carved by the dwarfs countless centuries ago. Each step is decorated with runes and elaborate knotwork and the sheer scale of the endeavour boggles the mind. It rises almost vertically, winding around a vast basalt crag to the base of the cave. Presumably, it was fi lled with ore, or something of interest to the dwarfs, but I fi nd I have not the stomach for it. Perhaps the guttural howling is nothing more than the wind moving restlessly through toothy outcrops of contorted stone, yet despite the best eff orts of my rational mind I was strangely uneasy until we left the wailing far behind us. What ever the truth of the Howling Caves, the story of the cursed dragon ogre serves as a constant reminder that it is no quiet thing, to fall to Chaos.[1e]

Dwarf TempleEdit

We have found something extraordinary! Quite by chance I stumbled upon a tunnel entrance, half concealed beneath a mound of dead foliage. Scratched into the rock at the entrance was an inverted pyramid formed from three lines. I have not seen its like before. Perhaps it was left by treasure hunters, marking areas they have combed for valuables. The air within was vile and the shadows seemed to press in upon us, but we were not to be deterred. A winding tunnel led us down into the bowls of the Pass, barely high enough to allow a man to stand. Droppings were quite prevalent. Perhaps some species of underground mammal lives down there, though I cannot think why there would be so many of them.[1e]

Before long we came into a great cavern, filled with hundreds of pillars perhaps ten paces round. Some few still stood, but most had crumbled away, and without them the roof sagged. Rubble was scattered about and the southeast corner had collapsed entirely. I could only describe it as a temple, perhaps a thousand paces long and barely a hundred wide. At one end there stood a dais or altar of some kind. Dwarf runes could be found everywhere, though th were too worn to read with any degree of accuracy. Lining the w were statues of dwarfs, all arrayed in full battle dress. Twice as as a man, only half remained recognizable.[1e]

Most were crumbling or fallen entirely into dust. They seemed to be arranged chrono logically, for the complexity of the armour and the magnifi cence of their weapons diminished the farther you moved from the dai Taken one way, this sequence could represent the decline of the dwarfs, or viewed in the opposite direction, the rise. Surrounding the dais we found thirteen piles of black soot, and a twisted lump of crudely worked iron marked with an irregular hole that I took to be a setting for a jewel or other fi xture. It did not appear to be of dwarf make. It was empty, but something as large as a man’s hand had once sat within it. All around the setting were scorch marks, streaks of soot that stained the rock a lurid black green colour, and it tingled, warm to the touch. Captain Olenbay advised us to continue on lest bad weather overtook us, and I reluc tantly agreed. The mystery of the ruins will have to wait.[1e]

WatchtowerEdit

The histories tell us that Black Fire Pass was once lined with a series of Watchtowers called the Sentinels. Topped with beacons and manned with a small garrison they were a fi rst line of defence for the ancient karaks. Now but one remains, for time and war have claimed its brothers. Dok a dum they call it, the Watcher in the Dark. It is manned not by dwarfs but by soldiers of Averland. The Watcher is carved from huge blocks of volcanic rock the size of houses joined seamlessly into a semi circle that backs onto a sheer cliff face half way up the side of the Pass. The thick stone walls, heavily scarred by wind and rain, stand almost ten feet thick at their widest and have been buttressed into the cliff s on both sides.[1e]

Each buttress has been carved into the shape of a dwarf deity, his head raised aloft as if in song. The imposing outer wall is broken only by a single door the height of two men and the width of fi ve, reinforced with great brass hinges stained by dirty green verdigris. It is acces sible only by means of a path that winds through the crags to the fl oor of the Pass, so narrow that two men could hold it against an army. The Tower is formed of four levels, each with fi ve rooms, though its semi circular design makes for some curiously shaped spaces. The fi rst two fl oors comprise the barracks with bunks for fi fty men and fi ve offi cers. The third fl oor houses the kitchen and several small storage rooms where supplies for the winter are laid aside. Salted meat, grain, and fruits form the bulk of it, though cattle from Aver land are a welcome addition on occasion.[1e]

The top floor is largely storage and recreational space. At the height of the Sentinels power, two Bolt Throwers were mounted on a rotating fl oor that com manded a fi ne fi ring position of the Pass through a wide, short slit window in the outer wall, but these wonders of engineering have long since been removed. Atop the tower, carved from a marvellous blue tinged stone in the shape of a horn, is the beacon. It is said that the fl ickering lights of the Sentinel’s beacons rising above the Black Mountains gave rise to the Averland expression ‘a western sun’, meaning a portent of impending doom and danger.[1e]

VossheimEdit

It is easy to describe Vossheim, but hard to truly capture its spirit. The transient city is like a strange mountain fl ower. Exotic and radiant it opens in the spring, then dies away when winter snows blanket the Pass and make travel too dangerous for all but the des perate. Part gypsy encampment and part Merchant’s Quarter, tents of all shapes and sizes are pitched around a small, dusty crossroads. At any one time forty or fifty merchants might be present, each identifi ed by large banners arrayed in a riot of colour that assails the eye. The merchants compete with one another for the largest, gaudiest, and most ostentatious banner in a bid to attract customers and the city resembles nothing so much as an army, marching to war beneath its standards.[1f]

Here you can buy anything your heart desires: goods, services (both legal and illegal), soldiers, weapons, songs, and relics. Hawkers cry their wares as you move between the tents, but beware, for they are ruthless scoundrels all of them, willing to sell their own mothers for a profi t. Had I bought all of the ‘genuine’ strands of Sigmar’s hair, or ‘authentic’ shards of Ghal Maraz, I would have barely been able to clamber atop my heap of spoils. There are birds and beasts here the likes of which I had never seen before. A large cat, with yellow fur and black spots, rumbled a low throaty growl that shook my tired bones. There was also a great bear, white as the driven snow, that gazed mournfully at me with sad black eyes. I saw less fearsome creatures as well, like the tiny green bird, its feathers awash with sheets of metallic green light, that sang to me in full throated ease as it hovered, perfectly still, in mid air. I saw silks from Cathay and spices from Araby.[1f]

There were a hundred colours, a thousand smells, so many I could not hope to count them. I noticed a fortune teller, a palm reader, a psychic. I counted six tobacco sellers, three weapon dealers, fi ve mercenary companies, fourteen horse traders, and a myriad other people whose exact purpose I could not identify. It is said that Vossheim even has a purveyor of magical artefacts, if you know where and who to ask. Then, of course, there is The Pit. A tavern inside a tent serving only one drink, The Pit is packed with raconteurs and has become famous for its storytellers and their tall tales. Anyone can stand up to speak at The Pit, and all must listen. Captivating tales are weaved there, for the city is a meeting point for travellers from so many distant lands. It was there, ale in hand and lost in tales of faraway places, that I fi nally fell asleep.[1f]

SourceEdit

  • 1: Black Fire Pass (3rd Edition Fantasy Roleplay)
    • 1a: pg. 9
    • 1b: pg. 10
    • 1c: pg. 11
    • 1d: pg. 12
    • 1e: pg. 13
    • 1f: pg. 14

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