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Dwarfen Holds ~ Karak Azgaraz

“Thick is the Book of Grudges of Karak Azgaraz. Many are the wrongs that have been done to our kin and ancestors. We shall know no rest until every grudge is stricken from those pages. Sadly, it is the ghosts of the past and the anger they build in us that keeps the hearts of Karak Azgaraz fiery and young.”

~ Gargrim Thuringarsson, Son of King Thuringar Orc-Hewer of Karak Azgaraz

Karak Azgaraz is the oldest surviving hold in the Grey Mountains, which has only given it more time to acquire a list of grudges so long that none of its kings can hope to avenge them all. Located among one of the key passes of the Grey Mountains between Bretonnia and the Empire, Karak Azgaraz has both profited from the trade and suffered from the invasions that flows through this pass.

Karak Azgaraz bears a unique status in the Grey Mountains, one that should give grounds for it to soar in status above the other western holds, but alas age and history have not allowed it to overcome the shadow cast by Karak Norn. In the Grey Mountains, which are known for poverty by dwarfen standards, wealth has come to hold greater value than history.

The Grey Mountains are famed among the dwarfs for being amongst the poorest ranges in the Old World when it comes to mineral wealth. The early prospectors, in the time before the First Chaos Incursion, braved the wild and uncharted territories in search of great wealth. Unfortunately for them, their hopes did not manifest into anything worthwhile, as they discovered the sedimentary peaks of the Grey Mountains to lack any significant reserves of gold, silver, or precious gemstones. Instead the prospectors took back with them to the World’s Edge Mountains the reports of how the Grey Mountains were composed of unstable slate and flint, and they lacked sturdy granite bedrocks upon which to even build a dwarfen hold. The early prospects for the Grey Mountains did not look good as far as dwarfen interests were concerned, but the future would change their outlook.

During the First Chaos Incursion, a dwarfen army in pursuit of Chaos daemons by pure chance came upon an elven expedition along the north coast of the flatlands. Initial mutual-distrust between the two races was resolved when they were attacked by beastmen and they joined forces to fight off the foul children of Chaos. This encounter showed the two races that they were not alone in their struggle against Chaos, and should the time come when Chaos was repelled, they would have much to gain by deepening their relations.

The First Chaos Incursion would meet a climactic end thanks to two legendary heroes who met that fateful day on the coast of the Old World, the Ancestor God Grimnir, and Caledor Dragontamer of Ulthuan. Their sacrifice would drive Chaos back into its realm, giving the Old World respite and time to recover from the horrors and tragedy of the First Chaos Incursion. Soon after the struggle against Chaos had been concluded, the elves took the initiative to sail across the Great Ocean and colonize the coasts of the Old World in order to establish closer relations with the reclusive dwarfs, for it seemed rather unlikely that the dwarfs would sail across the Great Ocean to colonize the Annulii Mountains of Ulthuan.

The elven colonization of the coasts of the Old World, and later the waterways, led the dwarfs to look upon ways they could further trade relations with the elves. The dwarfen holds of the World’s Edge Mountains were rather distant from the elven colonies, and between them were hundreds of miles of untamed forests full of trolls, beastmen, and other foul creatures tainted by Chaos. Two approaches were undertaken by the dwarfs to secure trade routes. The first approach was to establish outposts along the mountain ranges outside of Karaz Ankor, outposts which would serve to monitor and control the movements of the aforementioned foes to the dwarfen race. In the event that the outposts were faced with a larger threat that they could not manage themselves, they would light signal fires to send the warnings to the holds of the World’s Edge Mountains, which would then send out a throng to deal with the threat. This was standard practice, but it did little to shorten the distance between the elven and dwarfen settlements. The second approach was less popular and saw little use, but it was the most practical, and that was to establish holds closer to the elven colonies in the west.

In order to bridge the gap between the elven colonies and the dwarfen karaks, the dwarfs had only one realistic approach, and that was to found karaks closer to the elves. In the early years elven colonies were confined to the coasts, and therefore hundreds of miles away from the dwarfen center of life. Therefore in the early years it was deemed a strategically important move to found karaks in mountain ranges that were themselves poor, but through trade could bring wealth to Karaz Ankor. With the majority of the early elven colonies being founded west of the Grey Mountains, the dwarfs understood the strategic importance of the passes through the Grey Mountains. Accordingly, two twin holds were founded at the passes known today as the Axe Bite Pass and Grey Lady Pass, though to the dwarfs they were known as Kadrin Urbar and Drin Lhune, or in today’s Reikspiel the Trade Pass and the Moonlit Road.

In order to have holds closer to the elven colonies on the coasts of the Old World, the dwarfs made the difficult decision to found holds in the minerally impoverished Grey Mountains. By the High King’s edict, the twin holds of Karak Zanda and Karak Azgaraz were founded along Kadrin Urbar and Drin Lhune at roughly the same time. Both holds were intended to serve as trade hubs between the World’s Edge Mountains and elven colonies to the west. In the initial centuries this hope manifested into a thriving trade that brought much wealth to both races. The dwarfs of the impoverished Grey Mountains were more than happy to collect gold for trade tariffs, and the elves were pleased to have a well maintained and secure route through the mountains.

Karak Azgaraz, or the Hold of Fearless Axes, was founded atop the Eyrie Peak along Drin Lhune by a clan of warriors who had accompanied Grimnir to the coast during the first encounter with the elves many years earlier. The seasoned warriors were well suited to hold the key southern pass against the Chaos breeds, and their previously established contact with the elves made them more familiar with that race, their language, and their customs. Due to its location, Drin Lhune was used less frequently, and therefore the dwarfs profited less from trade than their northern kin, but it suited the warriors better given their preference for fighting rather than haggling over textile tariffs. In the east the pass opened onto the swampy forests of the future province of Reikland, where the River Teufel flows. The western end of the pass opened onto less forested flatlands beyond which were other mountains the dwarfs called Grint Karagi, the Waste-Rock Peaks. These flatlands were hemmed in to the north and east by the Grey Mountains, to the west by the aforementioned Grint Karagi, known today as the Massif Orcal, and to the south by the dark forest that would earn the name Thingaz’Dum in the years to come. Between the swamps to the east and the lightly wooded plain to the west, the warriors had their work cut out for them.

Throughout the early years of the Golden Age Karak Azgaraz profited from the traders who travelled down Drin Lhune. However, as the centuries of the Golden Age progressed, the elves began to colonize east of the Grey Mountains and more importantly along the wide Anurein River and its tributaries. Both Karak Zanda and Karak Azgaraz would lose their importance in the latter centuries of the Golden Age as a result of this, since now traders from Karaz Ankor could trade directly with the dwarfs instead of using the Grey Mountain holds as intermediaries. Karak Zanda was able to maintain a degree of importance due to its position further north, and as a main route between the western and eastern elven cities. Karak Azgaraz however fell on economic hardship. This economic hardship was slightly offset in the latter years of the Golden Age by the founding of the elven settlements upon which today stand Parravon and Nuln, the original names of the settlements willingly removed from dwarfen memory. The early benefits of being located in the middle of the triangle of elven settlements of today’s Altdorf, Nuln, and Parravon would be overshadowed by the darkness to come.

When the War of Vengeance erupted in -1997 IC, the warriors of Karak Azgaraz knew what they had to do. They did not share the same qualms as their northern kin in Karak Zanda. They were warriors who claimed descent from Grimnir, and war was their calling. At its peak Karak Azgaraz would hold twenty-five thousand adults, souls who would be thrown into the maw of the War of Vengeance. The throngs of Karak Azgaraz marched out several times to assault the elven tri-cities that surrounded their hold, though the two eastern outposts fell quicker with the aide of the throngs from the World’s Edge Mountains. The western settlement however would prove to be a much more difficult obstacle to overcome. The elves had built this settlement on a plateau backed up against the Grey Mountains, with its other three sides given way to cliffs dropping to the plain or river below. The only access to the settlement was over a single bridge over a chasm. While the dwarfs contemplated tunneling through the mountains, the process would be too time-consuming and the warriors opted for a frontal assault. Many were the battles between Karak Azgaraz and the elven colony to the west, and never did the dwarfs succeed. To the dwarfen detriment, three kings of Karak Azgaraz fell during the War of Vengeance, earning the elves lengthy entries in the Book of Grudges of Karak Azgaraz.

The conclusion of the War of Vengeance brought little, nay no, justice to the dwarfs of Karak Azgaraz. They had lost three kings to the elves, and in the end the elves vacated the settlement instead of it being conquered by the dwarfs, robbing the dwarfs of the vengeance they longed for. Their focus would have to shift to survival though, as in -1500 the Time of Woes would strike, but a year after the last blades clashed in the War of Vengeance. Karak Azgaraz was somewhat fortunate in that it was built into the highest, and therefore strongest, peak of the Grey Mountains, the Eyrie Peak. While Karak Zanda was buried in an avalanche of flint and slate, Karak Azgaraz suffered some structural damage but as a whole survived. Of course its lower mines did not survive the initial onslaught of nature, but these had given little wealth to the hold and new mines could be dug.

When the tremors and volcanic eruptions that ushered in the Time of Woes stopped, Karak Azgaraz was left still standing, yet now terribly isolated in the west, more so than it ever was. The loss of Karak Zanda to the north, and the southern outposts linking Karak Azgaraz to Karaz-a-Karak via signal beacons left the hold cut off from the rest of Karaz Ankor. There would be no time for despair, as the loss of the elven allies proved to be just the opportunity the beastmen had been waiting for. While the beastmen populations surged in the forests of the Old World, a new foe crept up under the damaged hold, the skaven. The warrior hold was beset on all sides, but it resisted and stood firmly, for the sons of Grimnir would not bow before darkness.

Throughout the years of the Goblin Wars, Karak Azgaraz found itself fighting a solitary battle against the Chaos breeds and those who sought to destroy dwarfen culture. In the Golden Age, the elves had worked tirelessly to keep the beastmen brayherds within the forests in check, but absent the elves the brayherds grew in number. Rangers from southern outposts would eventually make the treacherous trek across the Grey Mountains to ascertain the fate of Karak Azgaraz and find it still fighting on. This was a beacon of hope for the rangers who continued on north to discover what fate befell Karak Zanda. These very same rangers would return to share Karak Zanda’s fate with the dwarfs of Karak Azgaraz, and would later continue south to carry word back to Karaz Ankor of the struggle in the Grey Mountains. The rangers had hoped that the World’s Edge Mountains’ holds were unaffected by the earthquakes that struck in -1500 IC, and that relief would come from the east. Alas they were wrong, and the east only brought more dire news.

The plight of the Grey Dwarfs received mixed responses on the World’s Edge Mountain holds. On one hand the rapid fall of Karak Zanda only proved what the dwarfs had known for centuries, that the Grey Mountains were not a suitable location to build dwarfen holds. On the other hand the resistance of Karak Azgaraz fired up the hearts of the dwarfs of Karaz Ankor, for even in the distant west, a lone hold could stand up against the onslaught of darkness. Alas, no aid would come to the beleaguered hold, at least not in the immediate sense. The valor of Karak Azgaraz would inspire many refugees to go to the World’s Edge Mountains, even after the High King’s exile of the western dwarfs, Karak Azgaraz left in a somewhat questionable place regarding that affair. However, it wouldn’t be until the fall of Karak Eight Peaks and subsequently Karak Izril and Karak Drazh that the story of Karak Azgaraz would bring some salvation to the hold and its dwindling population.

After nearly one thousand and five hundred years of constant warfare, first against the elves and later against the beastmen, skaven, and greenskins, the population of Karak Azgaraz had dwindled a a mere fraction of its peak population. The hold was never a grand hold on the scale of the World’s Edge Mountain holds, but it was mighty for the Grey Mountains. The centuries of warfare had done their part to whittle the population down to over two thousand adult dwarfs. There were more shadows and memories of the dead in Karak Azgaraz than there were actual living dwarfs. The Underdeeps had to be sealed off and completely abandoned, for there was no way to hold back the skaven and night goblins anymore; plus, it was hoped that the two races would destroy each other in the sealed-off Underdeeps rather than trouble the dwarfs. Salvation would come in the form of warrior clans from the fallen southern holds who found inspiration in the tales of Karak Azgaraz’s resistance. Refugees trickled into the hold after -469 IC and the next centuries, bolstering the population.

The gradual influx of refugees from the fallen southern holds led to a sort of rebirth of Karak Azgaraz. The millennium after the onset of the Time of Woes had seen the hold fall into a state of ruin. First the earthquakes damaged much of the lower levels of the hold, which were subsequently gradually lost in a war of attrition with the skaven and night goblins. The upper levels of the hold, particularly the outer fortifications, suffered a constant battering by the beastmen and orcs. To add to the state of neglect and disrepair, by the time the southern holds fell, Karak Azgaraz was populated by around ten percent of its peak population. Rather than maintain every corner where echoes were the only indications of life, many unused halls were simply sealed off so that a tighter security perimeter could be maintained by the smaller garrison. The arrival of the refugees led to a return to normalcy for the hold, as sealed and abandoned halls were reopened, and structural damage repaired.

The renaissance Karak Azgaraz thanks to the migration of refugees from the southern holds did much to revitalize the beleaguered hold. Firstly, the king felt more confident to go on the offensive, repelling many of the tribes on the surface and re-establishing dominance around Drin Lhune. With the human tribes in the east, the orcs became easier to manage as they were repelled either deeper into the mountains or to the west. This also allowed for the establishment of new mines in previously unexplored locations further from the hold. Secondly, the reconquest also pushed downward into the Underdeeps pushing the skaven and night goblins out of the abandoned mineworks. The effect of this was the restart of industrial processes in Karak Azgaraz, which now could be a great source of wealth with the human tribes to the east. This is of particular importance for the history of the Old World, as the warriors of Karak Azgaraz were particularly well suited to aid the fledgling Unberogens to the east – a tribe whose rise would lead to the formation of the Empire.

Karak Azgaraz was not an industrial powerhouse like Karak Zhufbar or Karak Azul, for it lacked the mineral wealth and population for such operations. This however did not mean that it was a primitive hold scrapping by. The hold was founded specifically in its location due to it being the richest location in iron, copper and tin in the Grey Mountains. As far as the original warrior founders were concerned, the iron deposit was vital for the hold to have a purpose. Minor gold and silver veins were discovered by adept refugee miners from Karak Izril, but they would only bring a small amount of wealth to the hold. True wealth would come through trade with the humans. In fact, much of the future of Karak Azgaraz would be tied with the fate of the eastern tribes and the rise of the Unberogens, and particularly the growing village that would one day go by the name of Ubersreik.

Following the victory of the dwarfen-human alliance over the greenskins at the First Battle of Black Fire Pass, Karak Azgaraz would grow closer with the newly established town of Ubersreik. Azgaraz iron had armed the Unberogens and helped them rise as a military force, one which could unite the tribes of men, but the formation of the Empire ushered in a time of peace. Throughout the first centuries the weapons trade between Karak Azgaraz and the Empire would be replaced with other metalwork. For this first millennium of the Empire’s existence Karak Azgaraz’s military industry was gradually reshaped into an industry of household metalworking, with tin and copper-ware becoming more prevalent than iron weapons and armor. Although this wasn’t the mercantile gold-mine the dwarfs had hoped for, it did help the hold prosper. Gold and silver flowed more from the Empire into the hold than they did from the minor gold and silver veins.

One unique feature about Karak Azgaraz’s economy was its heavy use of the land under the open sky. Dwarfs are rather averse to living above ground, for an honest dwarf’s work can be done in a mine. However, due to the geological instability of the Grey Mountains, and their relative mineral dearth, the dwarfs had to learn to extract value from the sun-touched lands as well. This led to the rise of a brewing industry which made beer from dwarf-grown hops around the Copper Tarn that lay below the hold’s gate. Rangers also wasted no time while scouring the mountains for threats, for they became suppliers of furs from a wide variety of mountain creatures, and all valued by the humans. Karak Azgaraz was also the home of a small wutroth grove which provided the hold with the sturdy wood, which was highly prized in other dwarfen holds. Lastly, and perhaps the most unique of all, Karak Azgaraz stands out as the only hold to practice falconry, using the birds not only to hunt animals for their fur-trapping industry, but also fish from the Copper Tarn, or more commonly as messengers to rely information to outlying outposts. The tradition of falconry is said to have deep roots with the great eagle whose nest sits atop Eyrie Peak, a rare bird who speaks the language of the dwarfs, humans, and elves.

When it comes to Karak Azgaraz’s ties to Ubersreik, these manifested themselves the most during times of great strife. When in 1111 IC the Black Plague struck the Old World, the realms of men suffered greatly from the disease, and the dwarfs were not spared of its consequences. Skaven beset both Karak Azgaraz and Ubersreik. The warriors of Karak Azgaraz would remember their ancestral calling and march forth to drive the skaven back. Centuries later in 1707 IC Ubersreik would find itself under heavy assault by the Ironclaw orcs, though Ubersreik would not stand alone. Though the orcs would overwhelm the city and force the dwarfs to retreat, the dwarfs would return to the ruins to help the humans rebuild. The orcs would return another time when Ubersreik was most vulnerable in 2302 IC during the Great War Against Chaos, for they knew that the dwarfs had marched north to Kislev and the town could not rely on dwarfen aid. The town was once again razed, but when the dwarfs returned they once again rebuilt Ubersreik, this time with even taller and sturdier walls. The dwarfs saw their fate so closely intertwined with the humans of the Empire that they would answer the call to aid time and time again.

The greatest woe to strike Karak Azgaraz since the War of Vengeance was in some ways more emotional than it was a physical defeat for the dwarfs. The dwarfen industry of Karak Azgaraz relied more on the surface resources than other holds. Wood was a precious commodity, particularly wutroth. When in 1522 IC the wutroth grove was destroyed by rootrot, a vile fungus for which the dwarfs have no cure, the dwarfen carpenters looked to the south-west in desperation. This act would only lead to more tragedy as a company of loggers decided to enter Thingaz’Dum, or Athel Loren. The company would never return, and neither would subsequent logging groups. The angered king then sent his warriors into the forest to find the loggers, and the warriors did not return either. It was assumed that the vile wood elves that lived in the forest, perhaps even the very same ones who the dwarfs did not defeat in the elven town that became Parravon, were behind this act. Thus it was that the wood elves of Athel Loren earned their first entry in the Book of Grudges o Karak Azgaraz, an entry which would be expanded every year as the king sent in a company of dwarfs on the anniversary of the first logging mission to seek justice.

Karak Azgaraz is deeply tied to the Empire, as has been established above. Their relations with Bretonnia for some reason are much weaker, though some assume that this has to do with a sense of wounded pride that the dwarfs could never take the town upon whose ruins Parravon was built, and as an affront to dwarfen sensibility the humans built their castle upon the ruins with the original elven bridge still spanning the chasm. Therefore, every time a dwarf had to cross the bridge to Parravon, the nearest Bretonnian city, they had to walk across that accursed bridge, the very same bridge which saw at least one king of Karak Azgaraz die. Therefore whenever Bretonnia and the Empire would come into conflict, Karak Azgaraz would naturally gravitate towards the Empire and try to seal the pass to Bretonnian knights.

Today Karak Azgaraz relies on an industry of furs, ale, and copper and tin metalwork to fill its coffers with coin. The hold is ruled by Thuringar Orc-Hewer, who was never meant to be king. The rash second son of the previous king Zaladrin Strifeaxe and his older brother and heir to the throne Gunrig were murdered by a Poison Skulls assassin in 2452 IC. The 500 year young dwarf king was not the leader the longbeards of Karak Azgaraz had hoped for. Thuringar is a fiery warrior prone to rash and impulsive decisions, though always with the good of Karak Azgaraz in mind. Thanks to his leadership, Karak Azgaraz had been able to push the orcs further away from the hold to keep the mountain-tops clear, and to push the night goblins deeper into the mountain. His particular hatred for greenskins is perhaps only rivaled by King Kazador of Karak Azul. Despite his unconventional approach to fighting, King Thuringar has successfully managed to lead Karak Azgaraz for fifty years, holding back all foes, including the new addition of vampires and undead that his ancestors never had to deal with.

The banner of Karak Azgaraz has flown in numerous battles that far outweigh its small size. During the War of Vengeance, Karak Azgaraz was present at the destruction of the outpost upon which Nuln was built, along with the elven town of Kor Vanaeth upon which Altdorf was built. Additionally the throng of Karak Azgaraz frequently campaigned in the western lands of the Grey Mountains trying to seize the elven town upon which Parravon was built, losing three kings in the process. After the War of Vengeance, the dwarfs of Karak Azgaraz frequently rallied to the aid of the Empire, either defending Ubersreik, or marching with the Empire to save Kislev.

The banner’s central image is of two crossed axes over a stylized helm. The central image and border are green in color, which has generally been attributed to wealth, though in Karak Azgaraz’s case it is interpreted as the wealth of knowledge, or skill, of arms. The background of the banner is yellow, which is a rare color among the dwarfs and again typically associated with wealth. It is believed that the banner was meant to trick dwarfs into migrating to the newly founded hold in the poor Grey Mountains believing that the hold had struck great wealth. Thus the banner has often been criticized as misleading foolish dwarfs who were hoping for great wealth where there is none to be had.

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