Rocks shuddered and cracked, heaving themselves apart in splintering fault lines across the island. From its shores, great cliffs of black stone sheared away, tumbling into the churning seas. What remained of the city tore itself apart in seismic heaves. Ancient wonders crafted in the dying echo of the Age of Myth tumbled together with the hastily made shelters of the island’s last inhabitants as they fell into the sea. A crack like thunder resounded, and the wide basin housing the ruins of the castle sheared free. As the black waters poured into the castle’s undercroft, great clouds of steam shot out through the thousands of gaps in the stone. The portal to Aqshy at the heart of the forge bubbled and churned, boiling the Ulguan sea, then with a sputter was at last extinguished. On the last, solitary shore, surrounded by his silent idols and the fury of the Everwinter, Mogrek roared at the sky as the island shook itself apart.
In the darkest depths below the sinking island, the air was filled with the reek of fear musk and the frenzied chittering of furious argument. The various skaven warlords who had come to the island had found this hidden space, carving out for themselves a place to scheme together in secret, away from the prying eyes of their erstwhile allies. They had made a grand chamber, hauling thirteen chairs scavenged from the surface down below. The twelve commanders had sat in council there, demanding ever greater schemes, only to abandon them when the Waaagh energy of the returned Mogrek washed over the island. Their last creation had done its job well. The flesh-beast had bought them the time to escape. The warlords were gone now, fleeing out into the Sea of Shadows, yet the warren was still alive with desperate activity. Left behind were the weak and the injured, the ones thought too stupid or too clever to be brought to the battle for the Black Forge. They had been told to guard the council chambers until their masters returned. Now, they were the forgotten and the abandoned. The sundering of the island had seemed like the death throes of the realm in the deep catacombs. Thundering earth had deafened them, and clouds of dust and debris had blinded them. Then, from great rents in the earth, the freezing sea had poured in. Scores had drowned in the twisting maze of passageways, running for exits that were no longer there. Only in the great council chamber itself did they manage to stem the flowing tide, sealing the icy water out, and the last survivors inside. There, wet, bedraggled and wounded, they did the only thing they knew how to do, and immediately began fighting for the twelve open seats. Clans and allegiances were forgotten, colours cast down into the ankle-deep water. All that mattered was to claim lordship of this last pocket of air in the deep, black waters.
Fur flew and chittering curses split the air. One would-be warlord in cracked stormvermin plate bellowed loudly for submission, banging the twisted handle of a spent warplock pistol against the council table like a gavel. Another plucked a flaming brazier from the wall, attempting to whirl it around his head like a flail, only to be swarmed by four former slaves, their rusted daggers punching in wet, rapid strikes. The cold water at their feet was already turning a muddy brown from spilt blood.
At the back of the chamber, Heechigar huddled in the deepest shadow he could find. The skaven had no illusions of seizing one of the seats for himself. He was a gnaw-builder, not a warrior or a warlock. He had helped shape this chamber, then was simply left there and forgotten by his old masters. As he watched the survivors begin cutting each other down, all he could do was pray to the Great Horned Rat. Never before in his short life had he questioned the will of his god, or the inevitable destiny of the skaven. Yet now, as he watched his kin tear into each other while the icy waters spit and hissed through cracks in the stone, he wondered. Was this all they could be?
Amidst the chaos of flying fur and screeching bodies, Heechigar was the only one to see the space around the thirteenth chair begin to shimmer and wave. The air changed, and a smell like burning metal washed through the chamber. Green lightning crawled across its frame, then with a thunderous crash the thirteenth seat burst apart. Flaming debris shot forward, a piece of it knocking the pistol-waving warlord senseless. There, standing where the chair had been, was a skaven. Branching horns rose from his head, yet this was clearly no gray seer. He wore heavy yet unadorned armour, and a loose fitting gray robe over the top. A large greatsword hung at his back. Heechigar buried his head in his arms, huddling further into the shadows. In shock, the council chamber fell silent, the first time it had been so since the skaven had arrived.
“Brothers, stop-cease this fighting. Our time shall come. The hour of the Rat shall come. But it is not here-now. We serve the Horned Rat as one, by killing His enemies, not each other.”
With each word, the heavy clank of the warrior’s plate had echoed in the chamber, coming closer and closer towards the huddling skaven. Unable to do anything else, Heechigar at last looked up to see the skaven standing before him. His arm was outstretched, empty handed.
“Will you come with us, brother-friend? For those worthy to serve the Horned Rat, we bring life-hope. For the worthy, we bring Ascension.”
Behind the knight, a swirling green portal opened to somewhere far, far away.
An ashy wind barrelled down from the high mesas, sending rippling waves through the tall razorgrass. It smelt of cinder and steel, and for a moment Uhred was transported back to the underforges of Brak Zhagoul. Back to the scorching slagpits and machine-fired hammers, the stink of desperation and iron fetters. Back to the dreams. That was not all the wind carried, however. It also smelt of the sun-drenched savannah, of wild grasses and open skies. Like the last wisps of a dream fading in the morning light, the memories of the black city released their grip, and Uhred breathed deeply.
In the months since the collapse of Frørholm, he had made the long and difficult journey back to the Eightpoints. Without the Master Rune, Brak Zhagoul and his revenge against his former masters were forever lost to him. The realization had struck him hard at first, yet as he traveled it had become more liberating than even their escape. He had not realized the chains he still carried with him then.
Many of the surviving Dross-forged had split off now. There were no debts between them, and many would have to find what freedom meant for themselves. The most fanatical of Hashut’s followers had left as well. The burning fire of devoted ambition - no, obsession - had left Uhred’s eyes. He still held the axe that had split Sagradiel sheathed in leather at his hip. Its familiar thump as he walked was a constant reminder of the price of such desire. He took comfort in it, and in the words of Snoll Stonbrak. He needed nothing else to prove his freedom.
The small party paused as they crested a loping hill, and Uhred the Foolslayer brought his hand up to shield the sun’s glare. There, in the distance, ran the pristine white teeth of an unbroken sierra. No trace of smoke or ash marred their slopes, no signs of industry or artifice. Even in the Eightpoints, there were still places that could be found that were untouched by grasping hands. There would be a fine place to start anew.
The Gnawmarket was oddly quiet after the bustle of the past few weeks business. Rats scurried about everywhere, industriously inventorying the various recovered treasures of the lost Frørholm. Their value would go up exponentially with the island being gone, Snikklekrak Gribblesnak thought to himself, yellow fangs flashing in the firelight. Plus, a few kind souls had agreed to stay on and work for him. They could leave whenever they wanted, of course, while the doorways they had entered through still existed. It wasn't Gribblesnak's fault that those rifts into the mortal realms now hung suspended above the roil of the Ur-River. Rules were rules, he couldn't just lower the wards and let them leave another way. Yes, this had been quite the profitable excursion. Quite profitable indeed.
Lady Gwenefyre and the Shields’ return to Tïr An’avon had not been an easy reunion. Relief at their safety had been tempered by recrimination for leaving the kingdom in such a delicate time, and for the heroes that had ridden with them never to return. Some were drawn to the ancient romance of their knightly quest. By the old codes, the honour of the undertaking was not diminished by returning empty-handed. Yet to the practical and bloody-minded at court, the costs had been far too high for a young girl’s flight of fancy. Still more were fearful or suspicious of the changes that had affected Gwenefyre. She wore the marks of the dragon-curse proudly. The two horns that rose from her flaming red hair elicited shocks from the assembled nobles. Her once-green eyes had become golden and fierce, and her right arm ended in a scaled and taloned hand. Walking through court with her newly knighted companions and the massive form of Kamaa at her side, she cut a frightful figure. Rumours sprouted of whether she was still fit to be the High Queen’s heir, and there was relief when a beastmen incursion called her away to the border. What could not be denied, however, was the rejuvenation her return brought to the kingdom. For each hero that had ridden with her not to return, a new ally had been brought home. New ideas flew through the kingdom’s war rooms. New trade deals and alliances brought wealth and amusement. Perhaps most importantly, new lines of communication were opened between Tír An’avon and the Dawnbringers at their border. Though they were still separated by an Age of tradition and experience, war for the moment seemed less inevitable than it had before they left for Frørholm.
Nearly a month after returning, Gwenefyre stood alone atop the fortress of Caer Cadrwynn, staring out across the highlands. She still struggled to understand the wisdom of the Eight Goddesses. Had she failed in her mission? Was that the lesson she had been sent there to learn? Or had there been another reason? She had wanted the Blade to save her people. They were safer now, through hardship and trial and bonds forged in blood, not through some magic sword. It was harder this way, and still no sure thing, but it was a start.
As she stared, she thought of the friends that had been lost on the island. She thought of the ball, of their letters, and that final desperate rush. She missed them now. Home felt more isolated than it ever had, trapped between the expectations of her duty and the fear her changes had elicited.
As she watched, a lightning bolt split the cloudless sky, touching down in the distant glen. Finally, she thought. With a heave she leapt over the side of the tall tower, her form shifting, and a moment later swept upwards with the snap of leathery wings and the swoosh of a long, golden tail.
Two melusai guards dragged the struggling prisoner up through the winding temple structure. Heavy iron fetters dragged at the fallen priestess’ arms and legs, making it difficult to keep pace with the larger, serpentine guards, but every faltering step was met with a vicious jab from the butts of their halberds. There wasn’t far to go now. The circular room lay ahead, directly below the feet of the grand statue of Morathi-Khaine at the temple’s heart. There were no adornments to its plain, curving walls. No furnishings filled it, save for the black oak chopping block at its center. One figure waited within, hooded and cloaked in ceremonial robes, the Executioner’s draich resting across his shoulder. This black cell was the final end for apostates and traitors.
The prisoner’s struggles grew frantic as they approached the chamber, fighting to wrest her arms free, but a sharp blow to the base of her neck stunned her. The guards lay her across the executioner’s block. One of the guards reached down, gathering the prisoner’s long hair in a bundle and pulling it back to bear her neck. The rune-mark of Morai-heg, Crow-Goddess of Fate and Death, shone black against the apostate’s pale skin. As the guard watched, a black spot appeared next to the rune, blotching the intricate inkwork. Another, and then another appeared next to it, running across the skin in a dark, crimson red. The guard looked down at the long, crystalline shard of shadow that had punched through her breastplate. The other guard spun, her long halberd shifting into a tenebrous cobra’s head. The Executioner was caught mid-air, his leaping attack meant to cleave the guard apart never landing as the shadowy serpent caught his head in its maw. He fell to the ground, convulsing once in the serpent’s grasp, then was still. The first guard, still in shock, watched as the form of her comrade shifted and changed, its face replaced by a cracked, mirrored mask.
Klarieth moved swiftly over to the bound prisoner, hauling her to her feet. She worked quickly, cutting the iron fetters loose. It was important that this was done here, in the execution chamber dedicated to Betrayer. It was important that this defiance would be seen. That the traitors knew that nowhere would be safe. Though they had not found deliverance on those distant, frozen shores, they had not come away empty handed. Allies had emerged in the war against Morathi. Ties had been forged anew to a goddess as ancient and revered as the Lord of Murder. The shadow’s song still sang in the secret hearts of Khaine’s temples across the mortal realms, offering the dark truth to those that would seek it. Klarieth felt exhaustion well up within her. Wounds from the battle still burned, the healing shadows weaker than they had once been. She had drawn greatly on the shadows’ gifts, and felt the extremities of what her body could endure. Yet there was still work to do, and a false goddess to cast down. A quick draught brought the priestess’ eyes back into focus, then together they stepped into the shadows. As they vanished, the crystalline dagger still pinning the last guard disappeared, and she slumped to the ground.
Lissea, the Carrion Queen, gazed out across the darksome sea stretching out towards the hazy horizon. She was still reeling from the cataclysmic events upon the island of Frørholm. She hadn't managed to claim the blade, and just barely escaped with her life. Worse, she had lost so much. Her crew, with her for so many long years, had been decimated. The Forgotten, a Stormcast warrior who had always given his silent support even as she followed a god antithetical to his own, had died alone, losing a part of himself upon Sigmar's cursed anvil in the process. The first time she had ever heard his voice was when he had cried out to warn her not to get close as he was stolen by lightning. And worst of all was Jhael.
The once-aelven daemon had given Lissea something truly precious: purpose. It was not until those scant weeks they had spent together that Lissea had realised she had been adrift, seeking power for power's sake. Jhael had given her something to fight for, and had died to protect her. Lissea had hoped they would have a future together, but that future had been torn away in a final moment of avarice when they had made their last play for the Fated Blade. Lissea might have lost hope, consigned herself to death and insignificance. But that was not what Jhael would have wanted. More, she had something else to protect now.
One of the children dashed up behind her, grabbing for the pouch of sweets she had taken to keeping on her belt, but she was too slow and loud to take the Carrion Queen unawares. Lissea twirled about, leaping back a pace and letting the child overbalance herself, falling awkwardly to the deck. She'd taken them all in, Jhael's wards, urchins so like herself in her youth. This one was beginning to show a particularly interesting mutation, a pair of pitch dark wings growing from her back. Lissea reached down to help the girl up, only then realising her mistake. The child grabbed the pouch of sweets, rolled to her feet, and sprinted off. Lissea smiled to herself, the movement unfamiliar to her usually serious face. Yes, she had something to fight for again, a reason to seek power. She would not give up. The path of the Great Gatherer was long and arduous, but the Carrion Queen would stride down it with her head held high, for the sake of everyone that she had lost.
The followers of the Mooncaller had spread throughout the Mortal Realms. Though most of them had not set foot upon the shores of Frørholm, they felt the reverberations of the events there like seismic shifts on their already fractured minds. The Mooncaller's allies' attempts to cure the grot of his cursed mask's possession had only strengthened its grip upon him, and as he began to change, so too did all those bound to him. Crude ritual masks, once mere imitations of the Mooncaller's, began to warp and change, wooden faces cracking into maddened grins. Their bearers' madness became less jovial and more directed, each and every one of them beginning the arduous journey to reach their patron that only a few had attempted in earnest before. They found themselves quicker and stronger than they had been before, and possessed of a heretofore unimagined arcane power.
The Mooncaller himself seemed to lurch on puppet strings, giggling and gibbering incoherently before snapping into perfect, eerie eloquence as he gave orders to his massing followers. The Mooncaller had not claimed the blade, the moon had not fallen, and something terrible had been unleashed, but the strange grot seemed to revel in his failure. So much destruction, so much chaos had been wrought. It filled his emaciated form with such crackling power, such terrible purpose. The moon would fall, no matter the cost, and the Mooncaller supposed that following in the wake of Mogrek's legacy of destruction might be the best way to achieve such an end. Tendrils crept about his wizened head, growing like foul roots from the nightmare mask he wore. They pierced his skull and filled his rotted mind with promises of mayhem and desolation. He smiled, and his smile hurt, and it was good.
A shadow descended upon the encampment, startling the two guards posted outside the largest of the tents. The two aelves, lithe faces painted with fierce patterns, raised their halberds in alarm before the figure finally remembered to dispel the glamour they had been wearing for weeks. Suddenly, the shifting daemonic shadow was replaced by a small, horned skaven in tattered blue robes. One might have expected the Iscarneth ronin to remain on their guard, but the pair immediately relaxed and welcomed them, ushering them into the tent.
The figure inside was similarly dressed in the garb of a ronin Iscarneth, though hers was accented in green rather than the traditional red. Her painted face broke into an immediate smile to see her friend return, and that smile was only slightly tempered by the anxiety she saw on the skaven's face. The pair talked long into the half-light of hyshian night, of stalwart heroes and dastardly thieves, of monstrous orruks and legendary blades. By the end of it, their path was clear to them. It was time, at long last, to go home.
Kul-Brimir knelt on the hard, stone ground, the wind whistling through the holes in the stone structure’s roof. His hands rested on his knees, palms pointed upwards. Before him, laying on a folded scrap of faded blue silks, sat the Fated Blade. He stared down, deep in thought. It was a simple sword, plain and unadorned. It would not have looked out of place at the hip of any of his old students. It was the sword of a soldier, not a warlord or a king. A tool. The means to an end, not the culmination of one. Only by looking very closely could you see the skill that had wrought it. Even after centuries, its edges and symmetry were flawless. It was a masterwork, in the truest sense of the word. It was, in a way, a death note as well. The last words of a master who had learned all there was to learn of his craft, and had one final canvas on which to practice. Simple and sublime, bereft of all pretension, as though there were nothing else left to say.
When they left the island, they had all been excited to see what magics were bound to the blade. Theo had been disappointed when Kul-Brimir hadn't been able to fly, or shoot lightning from its tip. Veithan had tried furiously to conjure fire or ice from it. Even the Old Bull himself, late at night and away from prying eyes, had tried everything he could think of to spin some magic from it. No flames had flared forth. No glowing runes had appeared. The only marking upon it was a simple ‘F’ rune for Frørholm carved near the blade’s base. The only hint that it was anything more was a subtle pearlescent shine that sometimes appeared as it caught the light.
Perhaps that was it, then. The stories of ‘the blade that could cleave through fate itself’ were nothing more than stories. A children’s tale, for which he had torn up the only haven his people had known for generations, sailed them across the Sea of Shadows, asked them to bleed and kill and die. They had believed because he had believed, even diving into the ruins beneath the monster’s very feet to save him. They had died, because he had believed.
The Wolves of Agöra were dead now. When they had at last reached shore, the Wolf had been hauled ashore and set atop a pyre of freshly cut logs. He himself set the torch to its hull. The flames had roared thirty feet high, a blazing memorial pyre to the lost. He had stood vigil before it through the night, with those of his comrades that still remained. Many left with the dawn. He would always honour the memory of their time together, yet this war was over, and many had their own destinies still to seek elsewhere.
Kul-Brimir sat upright, the ceremonial goroan robe he wore falling open to reveal the still-fresh scars across his chest. There were very few of its kind left, from the days before his people had turned to chaos for salvation. Carefully, he picked up the Fated Blade by the hilt. Perhaps it truly held no power beyond that of any well made blade, but perhaps not. At the rumour of its presence, he and hundreds of others had sailed across the impassable sea of shadows, had found a city lost to time and broken a curse centuries old. By will and drive and imagination, those men and women around him with no common cause but choice had stopped an unstoppable force and dragged him from certain doom.
The Old Bull laughed softly, and rose up onto his feet. Tucking the blade into his belt, he stepped out into the warm and verdant sunshine of Ghur. The air smelled rich and vibrant, singing with the rhythm of wild life. As the warm sunlight poured through his body, he felt the decades fall aside. It smelled like home.
He did not know what powers the blade had over fate, and in truth he no longer really cared. They were alive, here and now. Dozens of similar huts lay in the lush valley around him, new friends and old, goroan and all else together. The Wolves of Agöra were gone. The dawn of New Goroa had come.
Night lay quiet on the small fishing village of Old Perlican. It had been a tumultuous few months since the great waves had come crashing out of the Sea of Shadows, destroying their wharves and flooding many of their homes. In the days that followed, flotillas of ragged looking warriors had come sailing out of the shrouded waters. The villagers had dropped their tools and doused what fires they had, hiding in the hills beyond until the great mass of ships had sailed up the mouth of the Ur-River and disappeared to sight. Since the days of their grandfathers’ grandfathers they had hidden from raiders that way, yet never before could anyone recall hearing of so many ships at once.
The weeks that followed were quiet and peaceful. Homes and docks were repaired, the villagers coming together to make the work lighter for all. The fish had been unusually plentiful, great schools of them in size and numbers only normally seen far out into the dangerous mists of the deep sea. Perhaps, the old men laughed, whatever caused that wave had driven them closer to shore as an apology for damaging their docks.
In the quiet hours before even the first false pre-dawn, Jimeny stood on his home’s newly built porch, looking out over the bay formed by the Ur-River’s mouth. A thick, heavy fog had rolled in overnight, cloaking the entire village. He could barely see the water only a few dozen yards away. It was strange to see a fog so early, or blowing in so strongly from the sea. It was cold, too, fiercely so. He pulled the heavy woolen jacket tighter against his shoulders, and looked down at the wooden railing he rested against. White frost was creeping across the wood, crawling and skittering like a spider. He tried to pull his hand back and step away, but as he did he heard a brittle snap and his little finger broke away, its frozen tip stuck to the rapidly icing wood. He opened his mouth to scream, but as he did so he felt the heat within him being snatched away, ice forming down his chest and into his lungs. White blossomed across his vision, and in a flash he was frozen still, one arm raised and mouth open in a scream that would never come.
The ice spread across the town, leaping from building to building and covering them over in a frost-white sheen. In mere moments, Old Perlican was consumed.
From out of the sea, the ice sheet rolled forward in a tide of blue and white. The fog churned and broiled, lit from within by a hellish glow. Striding forwards, Everwinter held high above his head, Mogrek Longblade stepped out from the Sea of Shadows. It had taken an Age, but at last he had claimed his blade and stood at the mouth of the Ur-River. From here, he would march across the realms, winter spreading as his herald, until he stood before the very gates of Azyr. His WAAAAGHH would be unending. His army of idols marched at his heels. Orruks from every corner of the realms would heed to his banner. They would tear aside the gates of Heaven, cast down this paltry Age of Sigmar he had awoken to, and usher in a new age of war and ice and glorious, eternal conflict. It would be an Age of Winter. An Age of Gorkamorka.
The robed figure moved quickly but surely, their feet falling in a careful pattern that had been well worn by untold centuries. So many of his kind had walked these same patterns, stretching back into the mists, yet it was him that stood here now with the words that had been sculpted generations passed.
The Called did as expected.
The Beast is free.
The River freezes.
The Eye opens.
His Master smiled, as it had smiled at a stranger so long ago.
And so ends the Fifth Volume of Animosity: The Fated Blade,
as told by the Mad Orruk Hogrog uk Weirdklaw, Wurrgog Speaker of the Great Saga,
and Faithfully recorded by myself, your humble servant and long-suffering scribe, Nicodemeus Mikhail Grimm.
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