- "For I cannot forget the revulsion I felt upon seeing those flayed bodies rotting in the sunlight on the morrow, nor can I repress the memory of the rat-things beneath the gibbous moon the eve before. That these creatures wrought such horror before my very eyes, willingly and with relish, is far less frightening to me now than the fact that nobody else will believe my tale"
- —Harad van Holste, Merchant.[3a]
Hell Pit is perhaps one of the most horrific of all Skaven strongholds within the northern reaches of the Under-Empire. Founded in -1450 IC by Warlord Malkrit, this mighty stronghold of the Skaven lies to the far north, in the blasted wasteland known as Troll Country, where the infernal breeding pits of Clan Moulder can be found. This bulgingly overpopulated stronghold is burrowed into the walls and floor of a ragged chasm in a snowy mountainside on the northern spur of the Worlds Edge Mountains. Volcanic pools at the bottom of the ravine raise a greyish plume of noxious steam and the foul stench is legendary.[1a]
Worse than the olfactory assault, however, is the dreadful cacophony of howls, screams, snarls, and shrieks that clamor out of the frozen chasm. Not without good reason is this place known as Hell Pit. The only assault on Hell Pit to gain headway occurred during the Great War against Chaos. Warrior tribes and war herds of Beastmen allied in an attempt to raze Clan Moulder's capital. The Chaos armies forced their way inside the warrens, laying waste to the first three circles in a blaze of blood and ruin. The minions of the Dark Gods were halted, as innumerable Giant Rats were driven forward by Packmasters to bog down the foe. The invaders were eventually surrounded and wiped out when Throt the Unclean led an entire army of rabid Rat Ogres, many of them especially augmented, to completely clear out the tunnels and warrens.[1a]
- "You may be right, Grey Seer Thanquol. I will report your words to my master. They will decide what to do next... By the way, Grey Seer Thanquol, until this matter is resolved, you are the guest of my clan. We will see to your safety. We will make sure your needs are met. You are... after all... a very special guest. I am sure you understand my meaning..."
- —Izak Grottle, former Ambassador of Clan Moulder.[2a]
The Stronghold itself is a multi-layered city, similar in ways to the Dwarfen fortress-cities within the peaks of the Worlds Edge Mountains. Indeed, this city is like a twisted parody of the Dwarf's grand halls and plazas of white stone. The thick city walls house part of the Clan's military, and are where most dealings are made between Moulder and potential customers. The massive city gates resemble a titanic rat's head, with countless red eyes peering out of the windows and murder hole as a sign of the stronghold's occupation.[2a]
Within the city itself, Hell Pit is made of living flesh. The wealthy and influential members of the Clan residing within the "Tower of Moulder" often have shifting, pulsing chairs and rugs that crawl and slither along the ground. Huge towers, like the tusk of an enormous beast, dominate the center of the crater. From their peaks emerged clouds of glowing smoke; cobalt, scarlet, vermilion, and all manner of other toxic shades. The huge cloud of pollution that eternally hovers above the crater sometimes descends upon the city streets in a thick, noxious fog.[2a]
Amongst the towers lay other buildings, tents of decaying leather, thrown over the massive skeletons of failed experiments; a loathsome shanty-town raised amongst the rot and fumes. These are the barracks within which the slaves and soldiers of the Clans dwell. Here and there, amidst the wide streets, are glowing lakes of tainted water, contaminated by warpstone and generations of filth. Carved within the crater walls are innumerable tunnels, an endless labyrinth of passageways and caves to provide burrows and laboratories for the Clan's numerous inhabitants. In the sky above, one might glimpse flickering, bat-like shapes, just one more breed of Moulder's twisted creations.[2a]
It is through these corrupted and vile creatures that Clan Moulder gains its power and its wealth. By selling their vicious monsters to the other Clans, they gain wealth and influence beyond those even of Eshin and Pestilens. However, the best and most ferocious creatures are kept to defend the city against the forces of Chaos, Greenskins, and other Skaven Clans that would dare lay siege to this horrific city. The massive Rat Ogres, the tireless Wolf-Rats, and the nightmarish Hell Pit Abomination are only a few of the more successful creations of Moulder.[2a]
The Nine Circles of Hell
The closest the labyrinthine tunnels of Hell Pit come to any kind of order is the division of territory onto different levels. Each of these circles is presided over by one of the Master Mutators of Clan Moulder, but in truth the warrens are so extensive there is no way they can truly monitor every laboratory and breeding pen. As a result, rogue flesh-scientists create ever more ambitious mutants on each level, ensuring the corridors and tunnels of Hell Pit are constantly populated by the horrifically altered and the vile. The main gateway to Hell Pit is breathtakingly large, a testament to the thousands of slave lives expended in its construction. Gigantic edifices of iron and human bone studded with jewels of pure warpstone, the gates are hung with the screaming bodies of starving men and women woven into the intricate metalwork, side by side with the putrefying corpses of those who have screamed their last.[4a]
Enscribed atop the portal are unholy psalms extolling the glories of Clan Moulder and warning those who enter to abandon all hope. And not without cause — almost all who enter here will never find their way back, or emerge twisted beyond recognition. Between the gates runs a thick, grey-crusted river of lava, upon which rides the guardian of the gates in his great vessel of stone. This fell steersman has eyes replaced by chunks of warpstone that burn bright with a lambent green flame. All who seek audience with the Master Mutators must first parley with the guardian of the gates, who some whisper enjoys the favour of the Horned Rat himself. Slithering upon the banks of the molten river are hundreds of Skaven from different clans, each seeking an audience to employ the services of Moulder.[4a]
They are perpetually stung by the flies and wasps attracted by the carrion hung upon the gate, whilst around them maggots feast on the corpse-strewn floor. Past the gates lie the prisoners amassed by the clan; raw materials for the experiments of the Master Mutators. They languish in filthy cages with barely enough room to move, unhealthy flesh pressed together in great racks of moaning, sobbing slaves. All races and creeds can be found here; Dwarf penned next to Goblin, proud Elf next to conquered Skaven, bottled infant next to shackled elder. Lord Verminkin, the ruler of Clan Moulder, passes much of his time examining the new stock and informing them of the many and varied atrocities they have to look forward to in the pits below. When these prisoners are required as fodder for the Master Mutators, they are marched by merciless Stormvermin to the levels below.
There are the breeding pens, great cobbled halls strewn with blood-slick straw and shot through with cockroaches and fleas. They are patrolled daily by a twisted Master Mutator who has fused himself to the shoulders of a great Doombull, guiding his brutal hearer with constant whispered instructions.[4a] Huge rat-queens dot the floor, suckling brood after brood of younglings with their distended and bloated bellies. Unmentionable unions that could drive a witness insane are the bread and butter of this realm, and it is better not to dwell on such practices as those encouraged by the sadistic Packmasters that preside over the pens.
The levels below house the great feast halls of Clan Moulder, where their victories are celebrated and their grand plans of conquest hatched. A storm of warpstone-tainted rain constantly whirls through the areas of this level open to the bruised sky freezing to the marrow any who negotiate its uneven floors. Any who languish there soon find their bodies mutating as the warpstone takes its toll; it is little surprise that Throt the Unclean, a connoisseur of ravaged flesh, has his laboratories upon this level. More remarkable is the fact that he and his gluttonous cohorts create almost as much as they consume.
Underneath the feast halls is the treasury of the Clan, where great vaults house the glittering piles of warpstone given in payment for their services. Larger still are the mountainous repositories of precious metals amassed by the Clan, each of which is topped by a hunched Skaven locked in the infinite task of recording Moulder's wealth. Lit by guttering torches, these half-mad scribes mutter and curse as they carefully balance their gold in stack after stack. Between these mounds scamper the wolf-rats kept by their obsessive masters, sent on spiteful errands to undo the efforts of their rivals in glittering avalanches of gold coins and priceless gems.[4a]
The filth circle of the pit is perhaps the most awe-inspiring. Between its walls is strung a great gladiatorial arena suspended from the cliff faces by hundreds of vast, rusted chains. When a particularly choice creation is perfected by one of the Moulders of the other levels, it is taken to this arena to prove itself worthy in combat. Mutated Rat Ogres fight tooth and claw with blade-limbed symbiotes for the edification of Moulder's Clanrats and the few Grey Seer guests given the honour of presiding over the duels. The victors are generally sent to the clan's barracks and shackled for times of war, while the surviving losers are modified further or sent on to be sold to other clans. No few of these duelling war beasts are forced over the edge of the arena by the fierce combats, and plummet to the level below.[4a]
Amongst the rich soil of corpse-flesh on the overhang that forms the sixth level stalk those marked for 'special punishment' by the clan. Chieftains who have displeased their masters drag their chains through the mulch, and it is often here that those out of favour with the tribes of the north are led. They can be sure of the most horrific and extensive of modifications, such as ending their days as grotesque living furniture for maniacal Moulders such as Izak Grottle. Yet they can never escape.
The last few levels of the Pit are the most dangerous. It is here that warren-like barracks house the fiercest creatures and warlords of the clan; an array of bloodthirsty murderers the equal of anything that comes out of the Chaos Wastes. Great slime-walled tunnels wind like intestinal tracts from the barracks to the outside world, and in times of war these are unblocked to let the warrior-things clamber and lope into the harsh northern sunlight far above. It is down these tunnels that the infamous Orc Warlord, Grimgor Ironhide once fought until the wall of ravenous monsters he encountered down there finally drove him back. Only Ghoritch, Castellan of Hell Pit, has the strength of will to keep the barracks in order. Without his iron rule the standing armies of Clan Moulder would be little more than an anarchic collection of ravening beasts.[4a]
The penultimate level narrows sharply, funnelling downwards in a repository for the immense tonnage of foul waste that the clan produces in its daily experiments. It is here that those who have tried to cheat Moulder are incarcerated, melded with warpstone unguents into the twisting roots that slowly writhe and constrict at the base of Hell Pit. Through them stalk sharp-toothed and feral giant rats, hunting down and ripping to pieces anything they can find. The thorn-limbed Master Mutator that presides over this stinking twilight realm, Scarskrex, constantly tries to perfect the process of hybridising those who catch his attention with his extensive collection of serpents.[4a]
The Lower Depths
The lowest circle of Hell Pit is home to those benighted hybrids that have survived every violent and humiliating process that Clan Moulder can inflict upon them. Here stalk roaring aberrations driven mad with grief by the realisation of their new forms and many-headed Chimaerats illuminating the depths of the crevasse with wheezing gouts of warpstone-laced fire. In the rock beneath them burrow bare-fleshed behemoths with powerful digging claws, carving new territory for the clan in the darkness. Amongst this menagerie of the bloated and the grotesque stand twin cyclopean giants who loom above even the chain-draped terrors they live amongst. In times of war, they shackle their charges to the great winches that dangle from the upper slopes, powered by enormous slave-powered treadmills whose constant turning allows them to be passed back up from the depths of Hell Pit. When the Moulder stronghold is under threat and the war hosts gather for battle, the ground trembles with the tread of their great beasts and the air fills with the clamour of eager Skaven and their vile creations. After all, what better dole to secure a new batch of stock for the pens?[4a]