Bykish nursery rhyme
Row, row, row your boat, gently along the river
If you see the Perpetual, don’t forget to shiver.
Row, row, row your boat, swiftly across the lake
If you see the Wretched, give their neck a break.
Row, row, row your boat, frantic across the sea
If you see the Pilgrimage, nail them to a tree.
Row, row, row your boat, onward through the ice,
If you see the Undivided, curse and damn them thrice.
Row, row, row your boat, slowly to the realmgate
If you see the Expedition, then their heads decapitate.
Row, row, row your boat, quickly down the stream,
And if you see the Soulmuncherz, don’t forget to scream!
Qwaark sat at the feast, his arms folded, face furrowed in a scowl. He should have been happy. He had won a great victory by single-handedly killing the Aelf-Queen Alari. Furthermore, he had made it back to tell the tale, and had even brought back a leg of Queen-meat for the Wretched leaders to enjoy.
But the feast had been ruined.
As soon as he had returned, Qwaark had sent messengers out to many of the Pilgrimage leaders, inviting them to join the feast. This was the custom amongst the Wretched, to show that there were no hard feelings, and that a nice healthy war could continue in good faith.
But none of the Pilgrimage had showed up. He had even managed to source a bushel of turnips for the Aelves. And yet, no one came. So instead, he scowled at the bonfire, swatting at any ungors that came too near. As the sun set, Bazak sat beside him with a squelch and put a slimy hand on his shoulder.
‘Cheer up, old friend. Maybe they didn’t get the message.’
‘All nine of them?’
‘Maybe they had another one of their Queens killed and had to go to a different bonfire.’
‘No, they only had the one.’
‘Are you crying?’
‘It’s alright Qwaark, there there.’ He tugged off a large fold of skin from his belly and offered it to his friend, who promptly blew his beak on it.
They sat together in silence, quietly emptying a barrel of firewine.
Their evening was disturbed, however, when a commotion broke out on the other side of the feast. Bazak looked up. ‘There’s something that might cheer you up, Qwaark me lad.’ Runes glowing in the loaming light, a duardin waded through ungors, calling out in a strange tongue.
Qwaark’s eyes lit up and he sprang to his feet. Vaulting a spitted Human, he called out.
‘Duardin, well met! I’m so glad you came!’
‘Az Gnir ho brak ronnar Qwaark!’ cried the Fyreslayer as he threw an axe at Qwaark.
Qwaark ducked and the axe whistled past his head.
Thinking quickly, Qwaark realised he was holding a bottle. He held it out to the Fyreslayer.
‘Wha-‘ A second axe took him full in the face, handle ricocheting off his beak as the blade cracked his horn.
Realisation dawned on Qwaark. The Duardin must want to fight to commemorate the Queen’s death. What a strange custom. Still, he wasn’t going to disappoint his guest.
Qwaark held up a finger before taking a long swig from the bottle. He heard the dwarf’s footsteps moments before it was knocked out of his hand. Fire burned down his chest as a third axe, a larger one this time, tore open his skin.
Time slowed to a crawl. Qwaark felt the eyes of the Gods on him in that firelit clearing. He felt the damp grass beneath his hooves and the slippery footing it offered. He could feel the dwarf’s forge-breath, furnace hot, sparks flying from his mouth like lazy fireflies. He watched as his bottle arced through the air, glinting in the orange light, before coming down on a rock and shattering into a thousand pieces.
Yaen, Runeson of Bael-Grimnar and scion of the Vostarg, slowly crawled to his feet and spit out another tooth. He was battered, bruised, and bloody. His face was a ruined mess. Blood poured from a shattered nose and split lips, matting his thick beard, staining it dark. He could barely see as he squinted, trying to clear the blood with a mangled hand. His left eye was gone, smashed to a pulp along with his eye socket. He swayed on his feet like a drunk as he attempted to right himself. All around him, horrible beasts brayed and roared in their dark tongue, gloating him, mocking him. As they should, he thought bitterly. It was his own damned fault he was here in this place. Surrounded by the enemy. Moments from his doom. What a fool he had been.
Before him, glowing in the firelight, stood a pale beastman. It was a powerful specimen of its kind, corded muscle lined it’s massive frame and its hide was stitched with innumerable scars. It snorted and breathed heavily, blood roaring through its veins, with the excitement of the kill. The beastlord let loose a mighty savage roar and approached the beaten duardin confidently, smashing it’s beaked face into Yaen’s broken visage. The fyreslayer reeled from the blow stumbling back and crashing hard onto the ground again. Then the great pale beastlord, croaked in laughter, watching Yaen as he crawled towards his fallen weapon. Each moment felt like a lifetime to the runeson as he inched closer and closer to his weapon. Every movement wracked him with pain and agony, his body was barely able to respond to his commands. Yaen willed himself forward, his stubborn pride refusing to allow him to die without a weapon in hand. He knew his end was near.
He had known from the moment he had taken the first blow from the beastlord. When he challenged the drunken Beastlord to single combat Yaen was confident in his skills but that quickly faded. The son was outmatched significantly and he knew it. For the first time, and last time, in his life Yaen had doubted himself.
The Runeson had launched himself furiously at the pale brute unleashing a flurry of blows in an attempt to overpower his foe quickly, but the beastman withstood the assault. Yaen would have been surprised if he had time to be, but the raging beast countered immediately. Quickly smashing away the runeson’s blades and raining brutal hammer blows, the beastlord overwhelmed the duardin. The battle was over as quickly as it had begun.
Yaen clutched his axe to his chest as he rolled over onto his back. He took a moment to admire it, a beautiful weapon crafted deep in the halls of Furios Peak. It’s blade, etched with carved runes, shimmered and shined, as it reflected the blaze of the nearby campfire. It’s head was topped with the roaring maw of a Magmadroth, raging furiously against the world. It had been a gift from his father, many years ago. Strange that he should remember that now. He wished he could have returned it. The thought that this marvelous weapon would be left in the hands of these disgusting mongrels shamed him. His breath came in ragged, wet gasps. His vision blurred and darkened and he was only vaguely aware of a monstrous presence standing over him.
“Forgive me father,” Yaen said, the words bubbling through his bloody lips, as he gurgled and choked on his own lifeblood. He closed his eyes as the chaos around him faded away. “For…give..me..fath-” Runeson Yaen’s final words were cut short as a gnarled hoof exploded his skull.
A minute later, Qwaark sat down with a grumph. Cheers deafened him.
The Fyreslayer had been a brilliant guest. He had brought his own ale, and the sizzling runes embedded in his flesh had cooked his meat to perfection. It was a strange custom to have a fight to the death after an assassination, but Qwaark prided himself on being an expert in navigating the intricacies of other, less well-thought-out cultures.
‘My only worry’ he said as he seated himself back next to Bazak, handing him the Duardin’s arm, ‘is, if they send someone to kill you after you’ve killed one of them, what happens if you kill the second one too?’
Qwaark shrugged back.
But if the Pilgrimage were going to keep on sending him booze, meat and a good fight, he didn’t much care.
The Battle of the Mountain
Lake Bykaal had been torn asunder by war- its waters drained, the Ur-Whale’s corpse borne aloft upon aethersea, and everywhere, lines of battle crashing upon each other like storm-tossed waves against the rocks.
Nowhere was this more apparent than the battle between the Expedition and the Wretched, which would end where it began- the “turnip town” of Bolyany. With the ancient Azyrite Shaggoth the Stormking (known to the armies fighting in Lake Bykaal simply as “the Mountain”) awakened by the Wretched and its rage turned against their enemies, the Expedition realized a clear and present threat to their dominion, Hammerhal rights of annexation be damned. They’d fought and died to take Bolyany and Tsatraya, and they weren’t about to surrender their holdfasts uncontested. But, how could they hope to defeat a creature even Ghal Maraz had failed to kill?
Retributor-Prime Tasha of the Celestial Vindicators passed by one retinue after another–Sorrus Skyhammer’s Prosecutors, Gordor Bearclaw and Maxilos Battlesight’s respective groups of Liberators, the Protectors led by her fellow Paladin-Prime, Cadroc Sternguard, and more; all were garbed for battle, armor battered but unbroken, weapons honed to keen edges and gleaming blades. All were grimly silent. The officers–Lord-Castellant Arven Stonewalker, Lord-Relictor Azoralth Soultracker, and Knight-Azyros Jaigyr War-Prince–were silent as well, their aspects inscrutable, their eyes hard as flint.
The Lord-Castellant stood at the head of the silent column, helmetless, dark eyes in a scarred face speaking volumes without a single word leaving his lips.
There were no fiery, heartening speeches as might be given by the Hammers of Sigmar or the Tempest Lords. There was no boisterous feasting or oath-taking as might be displayed by the Astral Templars. There were no solemn prayers or chants as the Hallowed Knights or the Anvils of the Heldenhammer might recite. They all knew their purpose as Celestial Vindicators, as the living weapons of the God-King Sigmar. They all knew the stakes here, and only death would turn them aside from their single goal of bringing down the Stormking.
She took her place alongside her retinue of Retributors. The Lord-Castellant donned his war-helm, and as one, the Stonewalkers marched to war.
The defenders of Bolyany watched thunderstorms roil on the horizon beyond Bolyany, signalling the presence of the Stormking somewhere beyond the town’s fortified borders. Still, it was not the mountain that approached first, but four Chaos mega-gargants, advancing opportunistically under the cover of the onrushing storm.
They were met by the Stonewalkers at the edge of the village, and led by the Light of Eltharion, the 7th Legion of Syar and the Vintner Rangers attempted a bold flanking maneuver- only to find themselves outmaneuvered, as the storm concealed no fewer than nine Dragon Ogors and a hulking Shaggoth. They were only stopped by a desperate counter charge by Cadroc Sternguard and his Stormcast paladins whose glaives arrested the Dragon Ogors’ momentum and allowed the Lumineth to rout the unsupported attack.
The measures the Expedition took to bring down the Mountain were manyfold, as no one could say for certain what would bring it down. Beneath Old Dyunsk, the Jade Wizard Tante Zak of the Arcanum Venatores made a breakthrough comprehending a clutch of old scrolls damaged by fire, while elsewhere, the Soulbound binding of Hartbert Hoffman daringly sought out the Mountain with the help of the native Dogmeat tribe.
Hoping to draw first blood, they succeeded in shooting out its eye with a nullstone ballista from atop the temple at Stonith Peak. With a bellow that tumbled down avalanches all around, the injured Stormking withdrew southward, giving the defenders of Bolyany a momentary respite- and Lord-Arcanum Cyan Aetherblade’s Stormshadow Crusaders a chance to prepare their trap. When the enraged demi-godbeast returned, it was with the storm on its brow- and it was not alone.
The 54th regiment of Grissengrun were the first to fall to the Wretched’s fury. Camped in a forward position beyond the river to engage an earlier offensive that had never appeared, the action against the Pilgrimage had swept past them and they had not fought in weeks. They had grown complacent- and would pay with their lives.
Qwaark Rustwater and Bazak the Bloodless led screaming packs of marauders and swarms of plaguebearers, nurglings and worse out of the forest, the lands’ native beasts swollen into Chaos spawn with Grandfather’s blessing, eager to pervert the bounteous land grown by the Expedition’s Realmshaper engine into a new garden of Nurgle. Elsewhere, the chittering hordes of Qheel Skitterpaw used gnawholes to attack the beached ships at Bolyany’s docks, and were met by the Stormwalkers and elements of the 7th Legion of Syar.
The storm broke with the mountain’s attack. Those fleeing survivors of the Grissengrun 54th were crushed under hoof and their corpses devoured by the rampaging Wretched. Everything west of the river was slain or forced to withdraw, and as thunder and lightning split the sky and a deluge of freezing rain and hail whipped at Bolyany’s defenses with the fury of a hurricane, Lord-Arcanum Cyan Aetherblade sprung his trap.
The Lord-Arcanum’s plan was relatively simple: transform the river south of Bolyany into a quagmire. To reach the town, the Shaggoth would need to cross the river. The skaven draining out half of the lake had also impacted the water level of the river, transforming it more into a swamp. The Expedition forces would further soften and destabilize the riverbed, to ensure that it would collapse under the weight of the beast and entrap it. A collaborative effort would be required in order to complete the work on time, each faction assigned a specific portion of the riverbed to destabilize.
Cyan didn’t expect the trap to hold The Mountain for long. But all they needed was a short moment during which the Shaggoth would be more vulnerable, to create an opening to strike down the beast. Work on the riverbed had started immediately. As he set off for the Stormvault atop his tauralon, Cyan had seen in the distance explosions orchestrated by the Hammers of Hammerhal, with everblaze comets coming down nearby, surely cast by his knight-incantors.
From far he could see the Stormking approaching. They weren’t lying when they said that it is as big as a mountain. Clear orders had been given to his troops. Only the vanguard-raptors had instructions to shoot at the beast, the rest of the Chamber targeting the forces of the Wretched. The vanguard-raptors had to wait until the beast would cross the river to start shooting, aiming for its eyes in the hopes of blinding him. The celestial beacon of his knight-azyros would help improve the accuracy of their longstrike crossbows. Even if the bolts didn’t hit their target, they would hopefully cause enough distraction for him to get close to the beast.
Before taking flight, the knight-azyros saluted Cyan: “My Lord, we will see each other on the other side of the Anvil. For Sigmar!” “We will, son of Azyr” responded Cyan as he slightly bowed his head.
Shortly after, the Lord-Arcanum took flight himself. As his tauralon took off, he unsheathed the axe he found in the Stormvault from its blanket. The axe had a double blade and was adorned by the mark of Khorne. Stormvaults can be full of surprises, thought Cyan as he tightened his grasp on the reality-splitting axe. How ironic would it be to use Khorne’s own weapon to send this monster back to him?
The ploy played its part, and the Stormking stumbled, its own momentum carrying it into the muck that bogged it down. The horde boiling at its feet were lost entirely, the force of those behind pushing those in front into the quagmire where they suffocated in the press of mud and bodies. It would only last a moment, but a moment was all they needed… and the Lord-Arcanum didn’t attack alone, either.
The makeshift war council within the flickering light of the herdstones was a mess- well, more of a mess than a hovel belonging to a bray-shaman and a plague priest would normally be. Chittering plague monks and bleating ungors shuffled to and fro, passing orders out to messengers who may or may not have known where they were going- but were eager to disappear, lest they end up like the disemboweled corpses of those who’d return with news which displeased the Oracles.
The reports were scattered and incomplete. Some claimed a crazed storm-knight had charged the Mountain with a Chaos axe and reality had split around the Shaggoth, consuming it. Others said a great blast of arcane sorcery had smote the Mountain down; another said its soul had been stolen away and it had been swallowed by a slop-river and dragged out into the draining lake. There was even a preposterous rumor of a man floating in the storm who’d struck a bargain with it, and Lauchon the Soulseeker had spirited them both away to a paradise of unending battle!
One detail was certain, however: the Mountain was gone, and the offensive had stalled. The Oracles took heed as their attendants scattered from the light of the herdstones before the arrival of the Wretched’s champions Qwaark Rustwater and Bazrak the Bloodless.
“What new news, beast-things?” Humility stroked. “What has happened to the Mountain-king? Why is turnip town not beaten-broken? Why are you not stomping man-things guts out?!”
Humility paused, noticing the glint of hungry eyes beyond the light of the headstones. His whiskers twitched; something was wrong.
“Yes, and what of the Misthorrrned Greatfrrray?” Peace chimed in, “Has Tsa-a-atrrraya fallen? Perrrhaps you can brrring enlightenment, Qwa-a-arrrk Rrrustwater.”
“Yes,” the Tzaangor said, holding up his blade. “I suppose I do bring enlightenment.”
Qwaark had crossed the clearing almost before the Oracle of Peace had registered he’d moved, bounding the corpses and swinging his sword in a wild haymaker. Peace brought up his staff to block, but the totem, like the Bray-shaman’s neck and hood, might as well have been made from dry straw for all the difference it made.
“We are betrayed!” Humility shrieked, but already his attending plague monks were under similar assault, Bazak disemboweling Humility’s most favored and least trusted acolyte even as he spoke. “Traitors! Filth!” He swung his censor at Qwaark even as Peace’s headless corpse toppled over, the Tzaangor’s forward momentum carrying him right into the blow. Unable to block in time, it caught Qwaark full in the chest and knocked him flat on his back, a bleating cry of pain from broken ribs escaping his lungs as the wind was knocked out of him.
Survival instinct kicking in, Qwaark lashed out with a foot, and felt it connect with something crunchy under Humility’s robes. The plague priest staggered, and Qwaark whipped up his blade, aiming for the face- but caught Humility in the shoulder instead. Grabbing Qwaark’s hand as he made to wrench the blade free, the skaven bared his teeth and screeched.
“Ignorant beast-things! Worthless beast-things! The Oracles gave you the Gods’ favor; now you throw it away!” and, with his free hand, Humility swung the censor down onto Qwaark’s head, bashing it open in a welter of gore.
“No!” Bazak snarled at the death of his friend, crashing into Humility from behind as Qwaark’s limbs twitched and went still. Taking the plague priest in a headlock, he jabbed his blade up under Humility’s chin and out through the top of his filthy hood.
Catching his breath, Bazak let Humility’s corpse fall atop the dead Tzaangor and bellowed triumphantly to all around: “They did not bestow on us the favor of the Dark Gods… we claimed it for ourselves! There is no humility! There is no peace! THERE IS ONLY ENLIGHTENMENT!”
Verminlord Technofire the Warpsmith had traveled weeks, alone in thought. After the failed attempt at stealing the Enlightenment Engine, the shards of warpstone and aetherquartz embedded in his flesh filled his mind with the wildest of ideas. His telemetric vision allowed him to identify those infected with the malignancy at a distance, should they get too close they were blasted with Splinter-screech magics or pierced with his warpstone injector claw. It was during one of these battles for solitude that the grand realization occurred to Technofire – while others were infected with the malignancy via blood, water, or other ways of the corruption entering them – Technofire’s warpstone shredded body seemed to burn away the infection. Those Wretched he injected with his special warpbrew continued to be crazed yet, they were no longer under the sway of the Nemesis. Technofire began to have a following.
The Oracle of Enlightenment was the title Technofire bestowed upon himself. His followers spread quickly throughout the territories of the Wretched. They were immune to the malignancy and carried with them vials of the purified warpbrew, secretly injecting those who showed the signs of corruption. Each injection brought a new follower united in mind with the Oracle of Enlightenment, he could control what they did, what they said, and where they went from the comfort of his warren. Their minds heard his lessons in their sleep and they awoke seeing the world anew. Very few caught on to the revolution happening before their eyes, many of the previously infected had either been left or their armies kept their distance. As the malignancy throughout the Wretched spread so grew the army of the Oracle of Enlightenment.
Warpbrew experiments with other races proved unsuccessful, their bodies did not take well to the potent mixture of warpstone, Oracle blood, and other ingredients in the injections. It mattered not, the Oracle’s army had grown to huge proportions in a matter of weeks with a majority of the Wretched under his sway. The time had come for his army to march, for all to see that the Oracle of Enlightenment was the new ruler of these lands!
The Third Battle of Nyuranka
In some ways, Qwaark Rustwater’s assassination of Arali Heartsbane had been a true decapitation. Fortunately for the Pilgrimage, the deadly intrigues of the Temple of Khaine had nearly claimed Arali’s life weeks before. Udamone Claspthirst, Hag Priestess of Hammerhal Ghyra- the very same whose subterfuge saved Arali’s life from the Expedition’s attempted vengeance- had sent a secret letter to the High Oracle of Khaine expressing her lack of faith in the Heartsbane’s leadership. By the time Qwaark’s compatriots found themselves gnawing on Arali’s bones, a discreet death- a Shadowblade assassin- and a replacement- the Hag Queen Hellendra Feyscorn- had already been dispatched at Morathi’s instruction.
Although a promising branch of the Althariel family tree had been clipped just as it had begun to grow strong, she had served her purpose: Hammerhal would not annex Lake Bykaal, allowing the Temple of Khaine to claim it by right of conquest for themselves and their allies. All amongst those who had fought at Arali’s side could now make a home here without inviting war from Sigmar’s domain… if they could reclaim the ground lost to the Wretched amidst their war with the Expedition.
Skaldangyr Bloodclaw was in a black mood. He sat brooding on an immense brass throne atop the aftcastle of the Murderous Tide. Behind him the vast, ponderous bulk of the Ur-Whale hung suspended by the sorcerous means of the Idoneth Aethersea.
Skaldangyr stirred slightly as a messenger was ushered before him at the direction of the Skullgrinder Drammik Fellcast.
“Great Lord, our scouts report large numbers of those afflicted by the malignancy are converging on our location, Admiral Spume requests our forces cut them down before they reach the whale.”
‘Drammik, assemble the Gorechosen’
As the last of Skaldangyr’s eight mightiest champions stepped from the aftcastle steps to stand before his throne a murderous grin played upon his lips.
“The servants of the plague god have invited us to help them protect their precious whale-corpse as they drag it to their pestilential master’s garden, and I ask myself since when did the Brazen Fleet sail for the pleasure of Gutrot Spume? The soul-schemes of the changer of ways have come to nought, his champion turned into a gibbering spawn, now the lord of decay seeks to bend us to his will.
But these are not OUR gods, the lord of battle alone commands our destiny and bestows our glory. We are disciples of the blood god, we do not haul whale carcasses or defend the prizes of others against zombie hordes. I care not for the schemes of Mithradates Besh or the whims of grandfather Nurgle. We are the spillers of blood and the takers of skulls! Cut the ropes that bind our ships to that infernal corpse-whale and set our sails for Nyuranka.
We have a score to settle with the mewling whelps of Arali Heartsbane, and they will feel our wrath! The call of blood has been heard, our past failure at Nyuranka will be expunged in a tide of blood, and though our skulls may fall with our enemy’s, it shall be a yet worthier offering to Lord Khorne.”
The battle for Nyuranka was even more brutal this time, the stakes raised in the late hour. With her release by the Perpetuals, Nyura’s rage had manifested as a sleeting, massive vortex above the lake. There was a moaning in the air, of disquiet, pain, and rage. From the deck of the Blackguard, the massive hosts of the Vostarg flooded the plains heading to the place. A thin line of bone and ethereal light danced before the Vostarg, her undead legion acting as chaff before the full might of the Vostarg. The battlefield was a roiling, brutal place. Plague Krakens crashed into the lines, the Fyreslayer countercharges leaving gouts of pus and blood spraying. Even from so far above, the sound, the stench of it all was gruesome. The Ashfyrd in particular were leaving a glorious trail of dead behind them. Their wrath at their brief abandonment and imprisonment was ferocious to behold.
Defiant not to lose the temple a second time, the Undivided had plenty of time to raise new reinforcements and strengthen the defenses ahead of the assault. While they were unable to build up the southeastern section of the temple’s old walls in time for the siege, the Undivided constructed an imposing Dreadhold to absorb the brunt of the Pilgrimage’s assault. Qarang Sang also planned to counter any tricks his enemy would attempt.
Once the Pilgrimage finally committed to the siege, the Basalt Lord’s defenders sprung their trap. A putrid explosion in the north unleashed waves of Nurgle’s Rotbringers, tying up the Sylvaneth and Hellendra Feyscorn’s forces. Daemonic artillery shattered the combined charge of several courts of Flesh Eaters in the northwest before they could even threaten the defenses. In the southwest, the Undivided’s forces had swept deep into the ranks of Runya Lichborn’s legions. Even her own spectral Blackguard ship transporting the Gyrndrn Lodge was nowhere to be found. Finally, a portion of the Undivided’s forces prepared countermeasures to halt any underground or shock and awe strikes from the Vostarg Lodge and Stormcast of the Tempest Sentinels.
Mired outside the walls, the Pilgrimage’s assault ground to a halt. If the situation didn’t change, the Undivided would eventually drain the strength of the attackers and turn the battle in their favor. Decisive action was needed, or else this entire campaign would be for naught.
Zharn felt conflicted as he watched. His allies broke the Ashfyrd out of the fighting pits to fight. Would they play no part in this climactic battle and lose all rights to their reward? Part of Zharn had wished the Basalt Lord even conferred with him about switching sides, the Ashfyrd would have considered. But then where was Grimnir’s Glory in siding with Chaos? Even his lodge wouldn’t stoop so low as to align with the ruinous powers. Besides, all the ur-Gold and lands were not the top priority of his fyreslayers. This was now a holy war, one fought with the blood and ash of his duardin. The Ashfyrd would see the campaign through, whether by victory or in Grimnir’s flames.
Witnessing the charge of the Basalt Lord’s forces in the southwest, Zharn saw an opportunity and ordered the Ashfyrd Lodge forward towards the Dreadhold battlements in the northwest section of Nyuranka. The Hammerhal reserves hesitated a moment waiting for orders from Hellendra, but with her attention focused on the north against the Rotbringers, they followed the fyreslayers into battle.
The Brazen fleet had broken away from the Kraken Fleet, taking the reavers of Nyura with them and sailed for Dreadfleet Harbour. There was no subtlety in the Brazen Fleet’s approach, such was their wrath and their desperate desire for vengeance. The Fleet’s ships sailed straight into the harbour and disgorged hordes of fighters directly on to the wharfs.
The warriors of Khorne were not fighting to reclaim the temple, they were not fighting for a strategic advantage or specific goal. They sought only to claim skulls for their murderous god and to drown the place of their dishonour in the blood of the slain.
Drammik Fellcast and his Gorechosen assault Nyuranka.
Countless foes fell beneath the might of Skaldangyr Bloodclaw and his Gorechosen, the walls of reality grew thin as the crescendo of slaughter rolled across the temple precinct. At the forefront of the great host was the Skullgrinder Drammik Fellcast, mightiest of the Gorechosen. Countless heroes of the pilgrimage forces fell to the anvil of Khorne, their souls burned away by its immortal fire, truly the eye of the gods was upon the battle smith as he raged across the length and breadth of the temple as he led his chosen warriors in a mighty storm of gore.
In his vanguard came the reavers of Nyura, cleansing the temple of their goddess from the taint of the pilgrimage and reconsecrating the ground with spilt blood and purifying flame. With the unholy fire of the Lord of Battle running through their veins the warriors of Khorne did not tire, but their sea of foes seemed almost endless. Each continued their mad rampage in the knowledge that were they to fall that day, it was but one more worthy skull to be added to the Blood god’s tally.
Count Tyberculous stood tall, he felt lighter than he had in years. Finally, he had the chance to seek glory for himself instead of desperately trying to seek out a meager reputation in the oppressive service of Ser Baldaflax, who cared only for his own self aggrandizement.
The others, Lord Golgolboth, Shan’dal, even the Filthweaver. They had been blinded by the false brilliance of his renown. Clueless that it was but a pale reflection of the true blazing glory of Lord Sarn.
Ser Baldaflax was content to prosper in the favor of the varanguard, but not Tyberculous. No, one day Tyberculous would be Sarn’s equal.
With that goal in mind the count had renounced Ser Baldaflax and publicly swore himself to the road of the black pilgrim. Others had as well. Rivals. Fools who would attempt to stop his ascension.
None would stop him.
He had unfurled a black silken banner, and disparate malcontents had flocked to his side.
He had made his intentions to join the assault on the pilgrimage known and the army, *his* army set themselves to march. Now his time had come, the realms would tremble before him.
Finally, an explosion from the far side of the plaza marked the entrance of the Vostarg and Gryndrn Lodges. They flanked a column of Undivided reinforcements, Runeson Skaern Drakefist and the Allfather Bael-Grimnir slammed into their ranks atop their magmadroths, their magmic destruction laying havoc among the Undivided. There were screams and cheers from the other side of the temple. Zharn couldn’t seem them but there was no mistaking the songs of war and death of the Sylvaneth and Daughters of Khaine.
The Pilgrimage had arrived. So too did Qarang Sarn.
The Temple of Nyura burned, its plaza shattered and surrounding buildings reduced to rubble. The Pilgrimage would be lucky if anything was left standing as the battle reached its climax.
Broldri couldn’t tell if it was the flames, sulfur, smolder, or the stench of death, but he sensed a greater presence in the air. Something godly.
“Grimnir,” the exhausted Jarl said softly. Then he screamed it. “Grimnir is here! He is with us! Warriors of the Ashfyrd, to victory!”
Something threw the Jarl off his feet back into a group of Hammerhal Reservists. The force was strong enough to clear out a portion of the plaza.
The Final Siege of Nyuranka
Broldri regained his wits to see the Basalt Lord himself take the battlefield. He and his retinue of Varanguard, sorcerers and chaotic beasts had finally arrived to tip the scale of the battle. Droves of Pilgrimage fighters were slain as the chaos warriors regrouped to their leader. They wedged out sections around the temple into islands of desperate battles. Qarang Sarn and his group took on Bael-Grimnir and Skaern Drakefist himself. Broldri and his remaining vulkites were stuck on the far side with the Hammerhal Reserves against another group of chaos warriors and tribesmen.
And stuck in the middle was Zharn and his handful of surviving Hearthguard. They were beset by more Varanguard and Chaos Chosen. Broldri and his fyreslayers tried to press forward, but there were too many foes between him and his Runeson.
Zharn looked exhausted. He strikes weakened as three Varangaurd closed in. One of their swords bit through his stone-like shoulder, drawing a shout from the fyreslayer. He was forced back, panting hard, as another stepped forward to deliver the finishing blow.
Broldri screamed as the ensorcelled weapon came down and struck Zharn.
In that moment, a flash blinded the plaza. And then there was nothing but fire.
The weapon bounced off Zharn’s chest to the shock of the Varanguard.
Suddenly the burning runes in his skin engulfed his body in flames. The stone on his skin crumbled as his body became a raging inferno. The heat was so intense that the chaos warriors around him winced and their armour began to heat up.
Zharn eyes open with white-hot intensity and the fyreslayer roared with the might of a dead god.
The Avatar blazed forward and cleaved the stunned Varanguard in half with two strikes from his fyresteel axes. He hurled his last throwing axe at the second Varanguard. The weapon merely melted into the warrior’s chest and burned him alive from the inside. The third Varanguard tried to cut the duardin’s head off, but the responding parry broke the ensorcelled weapon. The fyreslayer then made a beheading strike of his own and sent the warrior’s head into the temple through a broken window.
The Avatar then turned and made quick work of the Undivided forces threatening his kin. He moved like a wildfire consuming all foes in its wake. When he was finished, he counted just over two dozen of his kin remaining. He screamed with the voice of an avenging God, shaking the spirits of the Undivided.
A large bolt of magic struck him in the back, but this made the flames on the duardin grow. He turned and stared at the sorcerer who conjured the bolt. The robed sorcerer became paralyzed and convulsed in pain.
The Avatar then looked to the far side of the plaza to see the Basalt Lord battling Bael-Grimnir himself. A great clash worthy of Grimnir himself. And he wasn’t part of it, angering him more. He witnessed more of Qarang Sarn’s Varanguard circle around to help their commander, putting the Allfather in a tough spot. Whatever feelings the fyreslayer known as Zharn felt vanished. Duty replaced Glimmerlust as the fires of Grimnir burned fiercely within him.
The Avatar then spoke in Khazalid to the Ashfyrd.
“TO WAR DAWI! YOU ARE GRIMNIR’S CHOSEN! YOU WILL BRING WRATH AND RUIN TO THOSE WHO HAVE WRONGED US!”
“Khazuk! Khazuk! Khazuk!” the fyreslayers voiced as one.
The Last March of the Ashfyrd would be remembered by all who bore witness that day.
As Runya Licheborn cleared the walls, she could see the raging battle in the city. She could feel the energy bursting forth from the raw conflict, and she struggled to channel as much of it as possible to Nyura. The raw bloodshed, though, was fuel for an arcane ritual of a different sort. As Bael-Grimnir battled the Basalt Lord, reality itself began to take on a stretched quality. The air itself seemed to bleed, and an axe blade lashed through the distortion. A massive, bat winged creature slipped through the gash. Towering over the battlefield, it thundered into the ranks of the Vostarg. Her heart fell as the creature was followed by another, and another. Their lines were caving in, as an unholy eight of the massive daemons carved through them. Sylvaneth, dawi, aelf, all fell before their massive weapons.
“KHAZUK! KHAZUK! KHAZUK!”
Dozens of chanting Ashfyrd rushed the square, led by the avatar of Grimnir. His hair aflame, he leapt impossibly high, bringing his axe into the forehead of the first daemon. It swayed, but did not fall, and the two began to battle in earnest. The Ashfyrd began hacking into the legs of the daemons, unconcerned with their horrendous casualties.
She saw sylvaneth treelords get cut down by horse sized axes, as the treelords’ groves swarmed the murderous Daemon. She saw Tarascon and Skaern working together to fight one, Tarascon using his vile transference to heal the wounds that Skaern suffered. She turned and ran, heading for the ruined temple of Nyura. Her morghast Valkyries cleared the path, and as she entered inside she called to her Goddess. “Nyura, help us! Take this spilled blood, give us your fury, use your dead! The bells of death chime, and this is our final hour! Help us!”
She closed her eyes, letting the sounds of apocalyptic scaled conflict wash over her. She let her spirit sight take over, could imagine looming over the battlefield as though it was spread out on a table before her. She gathered the souls she could, sweeping them together into a wave of necromantic strength. Then she cast them back at the lake, and drove Nyura’s tusk into herself to feed her own lifeforce into the gambit.
This was the final hour.
More bloody than the battle for Bolyany, Nyuranka truly became sacred ground for the warriors of Khorne and Khaine as their armies clashed there for the third, and most violent, time. Although both sides invoked Nyura and her spirits for favor, it was the Pilgrimage who would carry the day and seize the temple, their sacrifices earning them nothing but respect and honor in Qarang Sarn’s eyes. To the Basalt Lord, retreat was not the same as defeat, for these were worthy foes and a battle well-fought.
More than anything, though, it was the earlier counsel of the Gaunt Summoner Ninelives Silvertongue which led Sarn to quit the field. The wretched Oracles had snatched away the favor of the Dark Gods with their insane schemes, and while the Four would grow bored with them soon enough, Sarn and the Silvertongue realized something they had not: this underworld no longer belonged to the Dark Gods nor even to Nagash. Nyura had returned, and the Pilgrimage were blessed with her fury.
Besides, he reckoned, the fate of the Ur-Whale was out of his hands- the boon of victory or the stain of defeat would fall on Gutrot Spume’s shoulders, for what good was an ally if they could not also serve as a scapegoat? He’d salvaged what victory had been allowed him by lesser equals: enough bloodshed to summon forth a Council of Blood to encircle him, a number of Black Pilgrims to inflict his will upon the Mortal Realms, and more than ample glory for the champions whom still heeded his words. This would be neither their first war nor their last- and for the Undivided, continued service to Archaon Everchosen and the Ruinous Powers was reward enough.
The War of the Whale’s Corpse
Elder Guthruk studied the apparition for a moment, then turned and walked back into his yurt. The hanging flap was left open. After a moment, the Green Knight followed.
The inside of the hut was spacious, and well-used. Aside from a small sleeping area screened off in one corner, the tent was packed to bursting with the tools of the beastmaster’s trade. Tools, ropes, harnesses and more hung from every wall. Chests overflowing with scraps of leather, furs and buckles lay in piles. A massive table took up one full quarter of the space, a stonehorn’s saddle in need of repair sitting on top.
The old ogor walked to the table and stood, his back to the spectre.
“Da Orrkuh iz da Twin God’z own ‘untin’ beast. Wiv ‘im, ee chased da god-beast ‘cross all da seas uv da realms, ta dis place. ‘Ee’z Gork’z own hand, ‘cross all da chasms o’ time, reachin’ out ta uz from the timez o’ myth. Ta be tinkin’ you’z can ride ‘im iz…”
“Audacious,” the spectre replied.
Guthrukk turned, his eyes blazing with green light. Tattooed symbols of Gorkamorka across his body glowed. Though he had long been the tribe’s master of beasts, he was a huskard yet, the voice of the Green Maw for his people.
He spoke, and his voice seemed to echo in the air, as though it was joined by two others, a far more ancient chorus. Like Hogrog’s, at times, the knight reflected.
“Da Orrkuh will bear ya, ghost o’ worlds gone. To da Skwidmuncha. To da hunt. To da end. Da god-beast will not be lost ta da realms. Destroy ‘iz body, free ‘iz soul. It will return, in time, even if you’z shud fade. You dat wud ride da green god’z own hound, I namez ya ‘da Lance uv Gork’, dat wun dat charges da wurld.”
WAAAAAAGH energy crackled about the tent, and Guthrukk staggered backwards, clutching at the table for support, sending its contents flying. He turned towards it, palms down, steadying himself.
Cai Leonas and the Desert Lions march to the Ur-Whale.
After several long moments, he absently reached into a brazier and pulled a faintly glowing coal from the embers. In charcoal lines, upon the wall of the yurt, he drew a rough circle, then more, the figure of the orrkuh emerging. Lines crisscrossed and stretched across it, the rough image of a saddle beginning to take form. He muttered to himself, wiping some lines away, correcting others, working intently.
Unheeded, the spectral form of the knight vanished from the tent.
Corralling a herd of stonehorns is a time-honoured ogor tradition. They would be hard-pressed, however, to tell you just what that tradition is. Each tribe claims to have the true secret, handed down from master to master all the way back to the Godhunt. Wars crossing the very realms have been fought over those secrets. It is a true art of life and death, for if a tribe loses its secret, if its beast master does not pass on the knowledge, then the tribe itself has no future.
Observe now, as the master of beasts of the Verdant Maw tribe approaches the herd.
The mosshorn of Lichens Way That he rides is bulkier than its Shyishian cousins, well fed in the rich realm from which it hails. It’s horns appear almost wooden in hue and pattern, but for the crystalized points and protrusions that reveal their petrified nature. Its green pelt, which gives it the name, stands at odds with the muted surroundings. The wild stonehorns peer out cautiously at the approaching stranger. Though smaller, they are like wire, all coiled sinew and tension. Their gleaming black diamond horns shine.
The master of beasts will try two ways to herd the beasts
First, he will approach the dominant stonehorn in the herd. As he has done many times, his mosshorn will bellow a challenge at the herd leader. If it can cow thealpha, then the herd can be led away just like that.Most will not back down, however. Here, the stonehorns of Shyish are toughened, ill-tempered beasts at the best of times. Watch now, as the pack leader bellows back its defiance. It will not be intimidated. It is the dominant stonehorn on these plains. It is death on hooves.
Now the beast master must truly earn his title. When the wild beasts refuse to bend, they must be broken. You see, stonehorns are not mere beasts of burden. They are, in a way, spiritually connected with the Twin God’s children. When challenged, the overriding instinct of the stonehorn is to charge. Charge everything. They will charge, and will not stop until they smash what they see. In the wild, facing a challenge like this, the two stonehorns would charge each other, smashing their horns together until one backs down or dies. The beast master must convince his best to not do that. Only the right stonehorn can be chosen as the beast master’s mount, and even then it takes long years of training to break the beast’s natural instincts. Guthruk the Elder has spent centuries at his craft.
There, you see the mosshorn turning aside from the challenge at the last moment, veering off across the field. It is well trained indeed. The alpha is confused, and so follows its overriding instinct–it keeps charging. The beast master will keep hismount running out ahead of the wild beast, goading it onwards, and so onward it comes. Like a gentle tumble of snow turning to an avalanche, the herd begins to fall in behind their leader. They run, because they follow the alpha. The alpha runs, because it chases the mosshorn. The mosshorn runs now, not because of the beastmaster’s training, but because it knows that behind it is hundreds of thousands of tonnes of enraged stonehorn.
They will continue this, for days if need be. The beast master trusts his well-fed and sturdy beast. It will endure beyond the wild stonehorns. Soon, exhaustion will overcome all their instincts but to keep charging. They would run themselves to death if pressed, but that is not the goal. No, the beast master knows that waiting for them is the rest of the beastclaw tribe. They will leap onto the exhausted beasts, and begin breaking them to heel. Were this a normal beast drive, they would only select a few, the most hardy or fastest, to be broken as mounts of beasts of burden.
But this was no ordinary beast drive. They would take the whole herd.
Thori stepped towards the approaching ogor “Oi, Belegar ya wazzock!” He shouted with a hint of humor “Ya got too many of tha buggerin things! We can’t drop all these” Thoe Ogor snorted “get more ships” Thori shook his head “It ain’ tha’ easy! We’d need tha gold of tha goods to hire more, an’ tha time ta send a message and get them here.”
The Ogor shrugged stoically “I’ll pay”
Thori blinked unseen “Ya will? Wi’ what?” The Ogor shrugged again and made a motion to the collected stonehorns. A couple more ogors carrying a large chest trundled up to the two and dropped the chest down “Here.” The large Ogor said “Payment” As if the tyrant had anticipated the need for it. It took Thori a moment to realize he probably had. The Ogors weren’t as dumb as he thought. He stepped forward and opened the chest. Inside a collection of gleaming treasures, jadeite realmstone, and, most interestingly, strange contraptions of foreign design. Looking over to the Ogor, Thori grinned fiercely under his full helm. “Where… no, nevermind.” Looking up the hill to Broki “Admiral, I think we go’ a plan, ya should c’mere an’ take a look at this!”
The Gathering of the Soulmuncherz was a hearting sight. The recent battles had been as brutal as any fought so far, and it was a great boon to see the strength and spirit of the tribes, clans, groups, herds, and Enclaves gathered… With each new arrival in camp a new cheer was raised, and the power of the growing WAAAGH could be felt true. Even a few Idoneth were said to have smiled, but if such a thing had happened, it’s likely they ensured it was quickly forgotten.
The seriousness of the moment, however started to sink in when the Wurrgog Prophets began to process through the camp, next to solemn Soulscryers, a drum beat followed as massive Brutes of the Verdant Maw tribe lifted high a new idol, and bore it through the camp. The massive Coral construct glittered with color and accentuated with all the sea flavor Bykaal could provide on such short notice… The Idol was no GorkaMorka, but rather a great Walrus looking beast, with the seemingly Namarti Face with two great Tusks.
It was needlessly strange until the Prophets and Soulscryers declared it Nyura, the Spirit of the Lake… the Spirit of Destruction. The Wurrgog anointed every face with a special paint, two lines down the sides of everyone’s cheeks to well below the jaw… the Twin Tusks to honor Her… The Twin Tusks to help invoke Her Wrath upon the foe… and an invocation in the Orrok tongue “Dakka!”
With the anointing done, and the procession complete, the Idol was born out of the camp and upon it’s sacred journey towards the Cathedral of the Mariner…
The idea of even more ‘Dakka’ was quickly seized upon, and everything that could be given the twin tusks, quickly was. Paint to Planks, actual Tusks, to shards of ice… Even the Great Orrkuh found itself sporting a new Ironjaw inspired ‘tusk grill’, though where the wierdboi’s had found the metal let alone the wherewithal to attach them is still a mystery.
The Undivided had turned the flow of the Aethersea into a torrent… A cunning plan, but one that created the inspiration for another… and so the tidecasters continued their long incantations, and a new flood tide arose… higher and higher still… For into the wild blue yonder a new fleet would sail, Ships of Dread… The Ships of Air… A grot here and there holding aloft a simple cloth sheet, unknowingly swept up into the air now filled with the strong currents of the AetherSea… and at it’s fore the great Ulgush Oby’dhia, called Da Orkkuh, it’s lure light guiding the great Air Force towards it’s target.
Denied the Godbeast’s Soul by the cold bone hands of Nagash’s grip… and now to see the mortal remains of beloved Skwidmuncher being dragged away by the rot infested scions of Nurgle…. And worse still… the hungering eyes of the Nemesis, fell light shining from their malignant addled bodies looking with that desire and ambition upon it…
No… if Skwidmuncha were not to be born by Soulmuncherz then it would be Soulmuncherz who would once and for all end what GorkaMorka started, a final battle… a final blow… and deny this prize to all. Here in Shyish, the place where all things end, an acceptance of fate, the consequence of failure… and a new dawning purpose:
For that which GorkaMorka puts down, shall not be picked up again.
In Bykaal, in the afterlife of those cursed to hunt for all time, a final hunt would take place… It was time to Charge The Ur-Whale… and unleash Destruction.
Some of the Soulmuncherz had lovingly carved messages onto the Stonehorn’s backs and sides as they slept out the effect of their shroom narcotics. ‘Beat it, ya gits!’, ‘Stonehorn Ekspress’, ‘Fo Da Grate Saga’ and ‘WAAAAAAGGGGHH’ seemed to be the most prevalent of missives that the Orruks, Ogors, Grots, Humans, Duardin and, in one case, a disgruntled Idoneth Aelf left on the Stonehorns. Nikkit had not wanted to get close to the drowsy, yet gigantic creatures of war the Ogors so often seemed to use – he had heard stories of how they had been captured and had been adamant ever since NEVER to get within twenty feet of any of them. Instead, a tiny, written note in Nikkit’s hand had been clasped to the foot of Nippy’s Rogue Idol. It read:
‘To da Spikies:
Luv, da Soulmuncherz’
After the fighting of the last days, Iorlus enjoyed Gutrot Spume’s and Qarang Sarn’s favor. After all, it was Amari and Baba Yaga who infected Aethersea and it was he who gave them the time needed to cast a spell and pull a huge corpse from the bottom of the lake to the waves of Aethersea. Nevertheless victory is still not certain. The Ur-whale’s corpse is still only halfway toward Belleck’s Trench and hordes of infected malignants are moving closer and threatening to win Undivided’s ultimate prize for themselves. To make matters worse, fish aelves and greenskins are likely to try to prevent Ur-whale from being dragged into the seventh circle of Grandfather’s garden.
And so Iorlus sent Erruptus and his Blightlords to help the Krakenfleet. They weren’t very able to help pull the corpse, but now each Gutrot’s Kraken had the protection of at least twenty blightlords. Iorlus also divided his infantry units into ships to prevent any enemy from seizing the vessel. And last but not least, Iorlus had a surprise for any enemy stupid enough to try to stop them. Amari and Baba Yaga and their personal warriors sewed the bodies of all the fallen blightkings they were able to collect and summoned Marie Elaine. It was meant to serve as a preparation for summoning Etmund and Nyura to control the fools of the expedition, but Marie Elaine answered the call. She revived and possessed all dead blightkings, ready to defend Ur-whale from malignants. Iorlus hoped, that not just from them.
The journey to Belleck’s Trench continued at a steady pace as observers spotted an army fighting the hordes of the afflicted on the horizon. Every minute the line of battle moved closer to the corpse. The malignants advanced faster than Ur-whale. Iorlus hoped the defending army would hold them long enough for them to pass through the Realmgate. As he thought about their chances, he heard the cry of the guard: “They are coming!” Iorlus ran to the edge of the vessel and looked out. He saw the dark shapes of approaching hulks and the lithe forms of Aethersea creatures moving at speed just over the ice. A vast amount of orruks, oggors and fish aelves aiming to charge through and start climbing up the huge pieces of ice, which flew around and under the corpse. “Here they come! Go and face them! Don’t let them stop us!”
Blightkings began to pour out of each kraken. Some jumped on pieces of ice and began to break them to prevent the enemy from using them. The rest formed a wall of rotting flesh and stood ready to fiercely defend the corpse.
So began the Battle of the Whale’s Corpse.
The Undivided guard the approach to the Ur-Whale’s bindings.
Icy winds buffeted Qadlug as he strode onto the deck. The ogor stood three, maybe four times above the crew of the gunhauler and his mere presence of his weight forced the marines to shift drums and containers around the floor just to keep afloat.
A bloody armada. That stunty Admiral Grundrikson really had done it.
Over the sound of the engines, the howling gale and calls of the crew, Qadlug could hear the bellowing of his mount. The ogor walked starboard, tipping the hauler and forcing everyone on deck to move to the other side, staggering as they went.
“You alright down there!” the ogor called.
Thick rhinox-leather straps and crude chains traced from the bottom of the vessel to encompass the coal-coloured beast below. Thick, shaggy hide and a foul temper kept the Stonehorn safe and warm, even this high up. But Qadlug was still concerned about his mount’s welfare, and landing the thing in one piece.
Lifting his head, the ogor cast his eye on the skies around him. If he was the only one up here, he’d feel pretty stupid, but he was in good company.
Ansgar, the priest, his mount practically invisible given the ivory fur, the only mark of its presence two vast umber tusks, encased in iron at the tips. It was suspended below a ship of similar size, trailing an oily crimson mist. Some ritual, the huskard thought.
Skause and Warn, ahead of him, grey Stonehorn hanging under a frigate. They had been afforded a bigger ship, not due to their status, but due to the combined weight of the pair of them. Some lesser flunky of Grundrikson had spent an excessive amount of time trying to diplomatically explain their weight was a problem, aerodynamically speaking, not realising the two of them took it as a compliment.
The thought made Qadlug laugh.
Finally, there to his left, Osmar and his bronze-coloured beast. The frostlord had taken up duties while Torgol recovered, but in truth he’d always controlled the mounted half of the Sons of Goremaw. He looked the part, thought Qadlug, and he’d follow him anywhere, even into this.
Bastard whale. The rotting corpse of the godbeast was unmissable. Thick veiny tendrils held it in place, lifted as it was above the earth. Fighting over this thing had brought far too much pain for far too little. Couldn’t even eat it. An ogor’s stomach was strong, but the few adventurous or starving sorts that had taken a bite on the lakebed had shrivelled, faded, corpses burnt and butchered on the order of that fog-wraith Silverfish.
Horns rang out across the sky. Whatever this thing really was. They were going to bring it down. Osmar’s voice bellowed, calling them all to clamber down the oversized ladders and mount up.
They expected resistance. This might be a plan to break the whale, but they were going to have to go through the Undivided first. Qadlug grinned. Some bloated corpses against a mass of stonehorns? They’d pop on impact.
The frostlord continued to speak, flowery sentences in honour and glory broken by the squall, but in the midst of the oration, Qadlug made out two words, committing them to memory.
The full revealed fleet was something to behold. Dozens of skyships from five separate ports, all lured by the promise of treasure and adventure. Half a dozen admirals, though Broki had overall command, more than a dozen stonehorns. And the decks of those ships teaming with the combined might of the Soulmunchers, arkanauts standing side by side with orruks, grots, ogors, and even elgi. Though the Idoneth for their part took to the sky on their own strange beasts of the sea, floating through the aethersea that permeated the area, stretching higher into the sky than it had ever been before.
And even still, this combined force, this armada was dwarfed by what lay before them. The corpse of the Ur-whale. Immense, mind boggling. A god-beast, lifted into the air by an unprecedented outpouring of Idoneth magery. And this was what they were here to destroy.
Gutrot Spume’s Rotkraken fleet drags the Ur-Whale to Beleck’s Trench.
As they approached the giant floating corpse, Broki looked over the railings. Already on the oceans battle was joined. Not every Soulmuncher fit upon the gathered ships, and there had to be something to draw the attentions of the undivided. Broki watched ramshackle galleys ram into rotting leviathans, discouraging their complements of orruk marines as the ad’mural’s forces challenged Spume’s leviathans.
A low whine started as the Ironclad’s volleygun spun up. The forces of the undivided, taken unaware, were not entirely unprepared. Flocks of demonic screamers, tzaangors wielding great bows, manticores, and giant flying insects launched themselves at the fleet. Soon the air was rent by the sound of cannon fire and the clash of blade against blade. But the might gathered in the sky was overwhelming, truly. Were it just Broki’s Iron Fleet, then what had been gathered would be a challenge to engage. But there was no stopping this armada from reaching their goal.
“Prepare the drop!” Broki shouted. Arkanauts scurried to and fro, hoisting thick chains. Broki tapped Rolf’s shoulder and motioned him back, replacing him at the spyglass. “Ready ta release the anchors!” He shouted. “Waaaait for it!”
In the far distance, the first stark light of the Shyishian morning crested the mountainous horizon, even as Nikkit’s and the other vanguard Air Vessels broke through the Aether fog cloud cover that had hid the whole force and found themselves suddenly above a massive mountain range… Nay, no mountains. Ribs! Rotting bones, souping blubber, an eye socket the size of a small village – Nikkit’s brain could barely comprehend the size of Skwidmuncha as they flew over it. He blinked against the brightness of the Hysh-light and then spotted the enemy. Massed phalanxes of Chaos Warriors, clad in heavy plate and chain armour. The diseased husks of Nurgle’s chosen. The Roaring fury of Khorne’s Berzerkers. Hordes of Capering Horrors and Spawn, the creations of Tzeentch. And things of such expressed lewdity that Nikkit quickly tore its eyes away – the creatures that Slaanesh called its own.
The horde of Ninelives Silvertongue arrives to crush to Soulmuncherz.
Nikkit took it all in and froze. This was too much. There were TOO many. This was impossible. Even Orkkuh would be torn apart by these Undivided hordes below, and with the imminent arrival of Nemesis’ legions, there was little time to spare…
Then, he saw it. The most wonderful sight in all of his (remarkably short) life. Cresting that same horizon as the disk of Hysh, seemingly vying with the stark white light of its Shyishian opponent, came a massive, broken luna that each Gloomspite Git knew by heart. The Bad Moon. Its baleful eye seemed to sweep over the battlefield, its eternal sneer visible even as its green glow remained dim as the glow of the other object of light washed over the landscape below, and then it rested on Nikkit.
Till the end of his days, Nikkit would proclaim that he KNEW for certain that the Bad Moon had met his gaze and given him a comforting, mischievous wink. None would believe his wild claims, but Nikkit was adamant. How could he otherwise have broken from his transfixion with the masses of Undivided opponents below? How else had he been overcome with that delicious, clammy feeling that the Bad Moon always brought to those Grots faithful to it, the madness taking him as he had started laughing so loud that even the Grots on the nearby ships had heard his echoing voice carrying over the wind? How else had he found the bravery to throw the orb he carried to the nearest group of Chaos worshippers far, far below him on the Ur-Whale’s carcass, and ordered his comrades to do the same with the incessant and constant clanging of his cymbals? And how else would he have found the sheer courage necessary to climb on top of his loyal Squig, steer it to the side of the ship and, along with all the equally frenzied Oath-Gobblas aboard the fleet, fling himself off over the railing and down towards Skwidmuncha far, far below?
“FO’ DA GRATE SAGA! WAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGHHH!!!”
Destruction had arrived.
Some impacted so hard and repeatedly that the God-Beasts bones fractured and broke, sending splinters the size of rowing boats into the fray. Some punched right through into the God-Beast and went on a maddened rampage inside the rotting fish. Other Stonehorns hit the surface at an awkward angle bouncing off the slick blubber and causing secondary impacts amongst the enemy or rolling right through Chaos warbands like giant snowballs.
No one was entirely sure who started the first BIG fire… (though some claimed it had always been burning)
Da 1st Airborne Gits claimed the entire whole of responsibility, being that they had landed and technically lit the first fires on da Ur-Whale proper, but no one could say if it was what started the true conflagration that would come… but undoubtedly their signal fires ensured that the great StoneFall drop would hit its mark..
Some Gloomspite Gitz claimed that they ‘deliberately’ lit a squig on fire and threw it after a Stonehorn ‘jus ta see wot ‘appen’z’ …
A few Ogres tell a tale of a leadbelcher who shot out his cannon to have it red hot and burst… so he just threw the thing with all his remaining powder into one of the stonehorn holes…
Oruks of the splitter tribe Hunt’n Fangs believed that a pet rock from the realm of asquay, eaten by a stonehorn earlier, caused the thing to explode when it impacted Skwidmuncha…
Duardin Skylads tell a tale of da Admiral Dropping his Cigar…
While a group of Ironjaws claimed Da Adm’url put on a speshul bejeweled aelven gauntlet and snapped his fingers…
No matter who or what started the first fire… when everyone saw that the blubber of the old corpse could ignite, everyone did their utmost to light more. A thousand sprouts of flame, like so many votive candles, sprang to life upon the mass of the Ur Whale, until each one melted enough frozen blubber to ignite an inferno… Gouts of flame spewed forth, and oily black smoke billowed high into the air… and above the din of the burning carcass the echoes of a mighty WAAAGH!
Fire rained down from the sky as melting tallow fell from the beast, and a trail of flame left on the ground marked the passing of the now flying Pyre of Skwidmuncha…
The fires intensified as more and more rends were opened through the corpse, allowing the inferno to feed directly upon the dense fresh air of the cold Bykaal sky… The firestorm swept up great torrents of flame and air… along with anyone or anything unfortunate enough to be caught in it’s grasp.
The hellish landscape only seemed to further fuel the WAAAGH energy, as if the heat itself added more power into the frenzy of destruction. Or was it the Skwidmuncha itself? Latent power long frozen within the corpse now being unleashed in the conflagration… one last gasp of life, one last defiant wish of it’s will to free itself from bowing to another’s will…
The Aethersea about the entire thing roiled and was buffeted hard by the force of this inferno’s gale. One by one exhausted Tidecallers collapsed, their hold on the AetherSea broken and released as their power to hold it expended, and the burning remains of the Skwidmuncher started to falter in the sky…
The firestorm rapidly overtook and consumed the beast, fire finding routes through the body that the WAAAGH had opened… Exploding backdrafts that sent great plume of oil black smoke high above and formed shifting patterns and colalesing shapes… almost all swearing that they saw the two headed god himself manifest in the Flames and Smoke, lashing out wicked blow after wicked blow… gouts of flame burning away the flesh struck by it… Echoes of Eternity telling anew the tale of the holy fight between Godbeast and God… and a final blow struck hard at the beast’s back….
…and the skwidmuncher broke in two, and sank rapidly out of the sky, disintegrating as the rushing air fueled the firestorm like a blast furnace. Such fire ensured its end before the remaining debris crashed hard into the ground below.
Gutrot Spume could do little but bellow with frustration as he watched his prize break apart and crash to the lakebed in flames. The Undivided had run off the savages twice before, but he knew better than most the way of a predator- they’d rather drag a kill down with them than let a rival have it. He could almost respect that, except usually he was the one doing it. Seeing little choice, he barked the order for his crews to cut the lines- after all, the enemy had all but ignored his rotkrakens, giving his flotilla opportunity to make good their escape back to Belleck’s Trench.
More than anything, though, it was the change in the air which led Spume to quit the field. He’d been a seafarer since a lifetime before this one, and he knew well when the winds blew against him. Soon, these waters would no longer be so friendly to Grandfather’s mariners, and he’d rather escape the gathering storm before it could drag him under. Nyura had returned, the Soulmuncherz were blessed with her fury.
Besides, he reckoned, the fate of this conquest was out of his hands- the boon of victory or stain of defeat would fall on Qarang Sarn’s shoulders, for what good was a friend who abandoned you in your moment of triumph? He’d salvaged what victory had been allowed him by Archaon’s pompous Knights of Ruin.
No, all was not lost by any means, and while the cursed Idoneth eel-riders had indeed picked off some of his rotkraken commanders, Sarn’s madness had delivered to Spume two champions of Grandfather in the names Iorlus “the Pretty” and Ser Baldaflax. Spume turned and cuffed a shark-faced midshipman.
“Get word to our new friends. The NAEGLUENZA and BLOABELLA require captains, and I would not have us return to Grandfather’s garden without replacements…”
The Green Fever ran rampant in the village of Poznyy,
While Turnip Taint blossomed in the fields of Bolyany.
Alas Tear Duct Typhoid waned as Bykaal’s waters drained,
Yet Ossein Arthritis soared in the Nagas’Uan peaks.
Now as Shoggothian Sclerosis surfaces once more,
Mithridates’ Malignance threatens to eclipse all.
But while these rise and fall, Nurgle’s Rot must never be forgot…
The Malignancy Spreads
The new witch aelf in charge had wanted the Pilgrimage to also seize this opportunity to remove the Perpetuals and Undivided presence in the reason. The Perpetuals had been quite willing to scede their holdings once the great evil was vanquished, but the Undivided were the focus of many in the coalition, particularly the duardin. Torag however, had received a vision, possibly from Gorkamorka himself, which had told him to lead his ogors in the fight against the Nemesis, lest the realms cease to have things to eat. Additionally, the local deity, a death godbeast known as Nyura had chosen to bless the Pilgrimage.
Seeking to amplify the blessings to the max, Torag had instructed all his Ogors to affix twin tusks to their gutplates, as these were the symbol of the goddess. Torag himself had tusks already up on his, and saw this as a sign that he was a pre-ordained champion of the goddess. The tyrant affixed an idol to Gorkamorka created as part of their pact with the Soulmunchaz to his trophy rack, seeking to maximize the power granted from his deity, and then led his ogors onto the lake.
Torag led his warglutt to a point above the frozen wreck of the Etmund, a frozen shipwreck that was honored as part of the Nyuran worship, and began to perform a ritual. The ogors asked the death goddess to supplement the strength they were gathering from the idol of Gorkamorka, and as the ritual finished a glowing orb floated up from the wreck, coming to a rest before Torag. He followed his instincts, and ate the magical globe.
Immediately, he felt a surge of power, as the goddess Nyura fed him her strength, making the Ogor tower over his peers, his muscles enlarging beyond what was normal until he more closely resembled a small gargant than an ogor. He was ready to destroy the malignancy and save the realms, regardless of what the other, worthless coalitions did.
The final hours of the Burning Winter would be marked by juxtaposition and irony. What had begun with Lord-Celestant Han Shinzong had seen whole regiments struck low on every side, either through combat with those already afflicted or, more worryingly, simply through contact with the lake’s water itself. Although the Wretched’s ploy had staved off the worst effects of the latter, pools among the lake bed remained highly contaminated and a dire threat to the unwary- not to mention the fallout from the blastwave of the Midnight City’s soulbomb.
Now, those who had become afflicted by the malignancy returned en masse to the center of the lake, throwing themselves with reckless abandon toward the Ur-Whale’s corpse. They did not seem compelled by rage nor even intelligent thought, but rather a blinding pain, an agony of the soul as if a fish hook had been speared through their very being and pulled them toward their doom. Those who did reach the whale began to bash themselves against it, or burrow within its flesh like maggots, their bodies breaking and contaminating the corpse with their malignancy. Across the theatre of war, commanders put the pieces together: if enough malignant reached the ur-whale, every coalition stood to lose here, no matter their allegiance.
Furthest from the whale’s corpse, the Wretched and Pilgrimage put the stragglers to the blade, cutting off the malignant before they could even reach the lakebed. While Runya Licheborn gave herself to Nyura in the Temple of Nyuranka, the Pilgrimage as a whole- largely the least affected by Mithridates Besh’s schemes up to this point- would come have the largest impact upon the malignant threat, their warriors purging this scourge with the wanton violence they’d become known for.
The Duke spat from his high saddle, glaring across the ice. How had this gone so unnoticed? While Saint Heartsbane, heavens grant her rest, and the rest of the Pilgrimage had so doggedly fought for their prize and good name, how had no one noticed all THIS around him?! Horrid, misshapen lumps swarmed around the feet and claws of his noble dragon, who was all too happy to tear and crush the attackers, sending coagulated black gore into the air. Peering closely as he fought, Duke Gibbetmaw could see all manner of disgusting beings, some mortal and some long dead, fused together as they writhed mindlessly past on the ice. They were heading towards the Ur-Whale, to do Pale Saint knows what. As his men bravely fought and held their shield walls, slowly he could see them giving way, some falling and soon rising again behind the lines. With a kick, his mount beat its mighty wings, taking to the skies.
With an ice-crushing impact, his noble mount impacted the ice, scattering Malignants in all directions. Barely breaking step, it used its taloned front claws to propel itself further into the diseased horde. With a cry, The Duke leapt from his own saddle, using his halberd to skewer one horrific mass of part Kharadron and part Sylvaneth on his landing. All he could do was kill, and he was surrounded by ample opportunity. Stab. Another fell. Parry. A blade clanged harmlessly away. Movement to the left. He took off another head. A grasping hand from behind. He crushed it with Balthinor’s gifted hammer. Something on his feet. He fell to his back, screaming in rage. Five, now seven, untold numbers pressed their weight onto him. His armor bit into the ice. With his hands he ripped a head free, ichor spraying. The ice began to crack. His head was pounding. More bodies. Armor buckled. Something bit hard into his leg. He tore another mass in two. The ice rumbled. Hands on his neck. Vision blurred.
“I’ve failed,” thought The Duke, surrounded by darkness. “Great Lady Heartsbane knew we were not worthy, and she left this realm to wage war somewhere else with more devoted souls. We are weak, and this Underworld sends its reapers to claim us all.” Lost to the outside world, his consciousness faded. A dim light at the end of the dark tunnel began to show. “No! I cannot die! I WILL not die here, like this.” The light receded, and Gibbetmaw could feel himself once more. He was falling. His eyes snapped open just as the ice beneath him broke, plunging him and the mass of malignants atop him into the icy water.
“FOR THE PALE SAINT!” he screamed, grabbing the writhing bodies with terrifying speed, he pulled himself up and out of the ice before Bykaals waters could claim him. His men heard the cry, and answered in turn, “FOR THE PALE SAINT!” This was the rallying cry they needed, chanting the name of their adopted hero over and over. The Duke grabbed a fallen weapon, and raised it high above his head. “WE ARE NOT ALONE! THE PALE SAINT STANDS WITH EACH OF US TONIGHT! AND I STAND WITH YOU TONIGHT! THEY WILL NOT TAKE US!” Ranks of ghouls cheered and shouted, raising their own “weapons” into the air. In the sky above, his dragon roared as if in agreement. From the darkness, the next wave of malignants surged into view. GIbbetmaw pointed his mace at them, as if in challenge, and charged.
Duke Gibbetmaw, King Leopold, Prince Yllethras, Cria the Huntress- all these names and more joined the fight, ending the malignancy anywhere they found it. The Pilgrimage would even go so far as excising the malignancy from among their own ranks, Runeson Zharn Bronson and the Ashfyrd confronting afflicted Vostarg warriors and Bael-Grimnir’s Runeson, Ulrim. Zharn would take Ulrim’s life, and upon seeing Zharn standing over his son’s corpse, Bael-Grimnir swore an oath to destroy the war’s end.
Of course, the Wretched had a part to play in ending the malignancy as well, for not even the Pilgrimage posed as great a threat to their home as Mithridates Besh.
In nature when a pack member becomes too sick or becomes too old to take care of itself the they leave the pack to find some place to die, so too it is with the striders. They knew, they all knew the malignancy they carried was incurable, that this blight would even undo the blessings of Nurgle, unmaking them to their very core. They knew that painful burning within them would not end until they did, some being cutdown in the middle of camp, others like himself choosing to meet their end on the battlefield. Beastlord Ny’tag had given them all the option, death now at the hands of the herd, or death on the battlefield. So here they were a brayherd designed to fall, with ghosts of a shipwreck as their honor guard.
Gor’tak adjusted the leather bracer over the black burn spreading on his arm he had been granted the title of beastlord for this purpose, as beastlord of the black bray he was to take down as many malignants as possible before the end finally came for them either from the elements, from the blade of the malignants, possibly from pilgrimage betrayal. He smirked while thinking of that last one. Each member of the herd was made aware that betrayal was expected, for this purpose they had each allowed the skaven to inject them with some chemical or other. it didn’t help the sick feeling, but knowing they carried a special surprise for the hags was more than enough motivation to ignore it. Their death was assured but they wouldn’t go down without a fight, and probably a last laugh.
The herd paused only briefly as a beastigor put a fallen gor out if its misery, its thick blood glowing a slight green before freezing in the snow. They continued their march toward the whale corpse, it seemed almost fitting that they would die and join it, he also idly wondered if Nyuranka would keep them has she had kept it, the lake never giving up its dead, or if their final act would be enough to draw the attention of one of the gods. A spike of pain caused his vison to tunnel, but he would not die here, he had always wanted to be a beastlord. Now that he was given the chance, he would not faulter in his cause.
The fighting was sparse, stumbling on a malignant mad creature from time to time but no real engagements, the stragglers all seemed to be heading in the same direction. Like they were being called, following the direction they were heading they located the larger force moving more akin to the mindless undead than the beings they once were, Gor’tak gave the signal and the herd got into position.
Feeling the blood pumping beneath his skin in anticipation, he let the first giggle past his lips, a bad habit the entire herd had picked up from Ny’tag. As the laughter spread though the rest of the herd, they charged on their prey. Desire for blood and revenge drove them forward, units changed places and repositioned like magic, their death was a forgone conclusion, but they would fight to the last and stare their end in the face. Anyway you looked at it, you could never spell slaughter without laughter, and the Dark Gods would be pleased regardless.
An unlikely alliance fights the Malignant.
Yes, when Bazak the Bloodless had confided his plans to assassinate the Oracles of Peace and Humility to Qheel Skitterpaw in the dingy confines of his makeshift laboratory, the ratman had not hesitated to voice his support. It was time for a change in leadership, and after years spent accumulating as much knowledge as it was possible to learn in the arts of fleshmolding and political intrigue, years of struggling to free himself from the shadow of his childhood as a Skaven slave and work his way up the ranks of the Clans Moulder, years of groveling and compromising and playing the role of diplomat to gain contacts in every major Skaven Clan and obtain the respected rank of Master Moulder, Qheel had the perfect candidate in mind.
But unlike the Oracles of Peace and Humility, he would not lead from the comforts of a garish war tent, never deigning to discuss strategy and other crucial matters with his generals and only ever emerging to deliver deceitful speeches and false promises of glory when the mood struck him. No, Qheel had been an observer of many so-called “great” rulers and packmasters for far too long, and he knew that to earn the respect and compliance of your underlings (and occasionally strike fear into their hearts), one needed to lead by example.
That was exactly what the Skaven beastmaster was doing.’
And so, while the bulk of the forces belonging to his Fleshmold Menagerie moved to strike a decisive blow against the weakened armies of the Expedition, Master Moulder Qheel Skitterpaw burrowed through earth and ice towards his carefully-selected ambush point alongside Zotch Scarsnout, three of his most formidable packmasters, twelve hulking rat ogors bearing warpfire guns, and three units of massive stormfiends equipped with grinderfist tunnellers, warpfire projectors, windlaunchers, and ratling guns. Their underground course led them straight towards a repulsive gathering of mutilated beings hailing from all factions of Lake Bykaal but now far too distorted by the malignancy of the Nemesis to be recognizable to their kin. When they reached the outskirts of the diseased encampment, if indeed it could be called an encampment, Qheel, his fellow Moulders, and his pack of ravenous fleshbeasts would emerge from the ground and launch a surprise attack against the greatest threat that Shyish, and possibly the Mortal Realms, had ever come to face, and they would unleash the wrath of the Wretched upon their horrid foes with searing flames and toxic fumes and hails of bullets.
At one time, far in the past, the prospect of involvement in such a deadly mission might have provoked Qheel to spray the musk of fear. Now, in this final hour at the end of the world, the Skaven only saw the chance to finally acquire the influence, the respect, the position, and the power he had always deserved.
The war party came to a halt as they arrived at their mark below the throng of dying malignants.
“Ready?” Zotch watched his master with his characteristic quizzical expression as he waited obediently for the reply that would determine their fates.
As Qheel Skitterpaw turned to fix his companion with a wide, dagger-fanged smile, and the glistening gleam of madness sparkled in the Moulder’s black eyes as he pulled a battered gasmask down over his verminous face.
“My friend, let us reveal-show these malignant-things what it truly means to be Wretched!”
Lord Verdous and Bollunga Glopborn
While Lord Verdous and Bollunga harvested “head turnips”- Nurgle-infested tubers grown from the decapitated heads of their enemies, and dug from the earth the Great Rot Turnip, a horrifying, half-sentient vegetable-spawn, the Perpetual put the last steps of Zectoka’s Great Plan in motion.
The Ancient Souls, the Myzlaani Enclave, House Serpens, Kroqaqu-Kotiq of the Fading Spirit, Malrak’s Blades of the Blood Queen, Cueyatl- all these and more lent their blades and shed their blood to defeat the malignant threat, yet it was their less-than-diplomatic relationship with the Soulmuncherz which would carry the day. Although the defeats they’d inflicted upon the allies of Hogrog ug Weirdclaw were necessary, even the Great Plan could not succeed without the intervention of the children of Teclis and Gorkamorka.
Why had he been dragged into this… Why was he putting his life, nay, his very existence, on the line for some arrogant dead things and inconceivable toads? Here he was Grunt, da Woit Grunt, most marvelous of Squig Hoppers and Boingrot Bounderz, the peak of Grot-ness, the bestest backstabba this side of the Ghyrplunge and the top leader of the Oath-Gobbla’s… And here he was, about to meet his demise in the most horrifying way possible..
Never before had the tide looked so bleak. Never before had he found himself this outmatched and outnumbered. His enemy was legion, and for each Grot or Squig that fell, another enemy would rise, bloated, swollen, diseased. They were fighting with the back against the wall, pinned between the walls of a snow-covered canyon, one of the few paths straight to where the Ur-Whale’s corpse had been located.
His task had been to secure the left flank of the combined Soulmuncher and Perpetual thrust into the heart of Nemesis’ lines. After initial successes, with few losses against small packs of malformed, pestilent creatures that, at one point, had been orruks, goblins, humans, aelfs, or any from a myriad of different creatures. They had felt hopeful. They had felt vindicated. His grots had danced, jabbered, laughed, had mooned the silent and uncaring forces of the Perpetuals fighting right besides them. Whose forces had they been, the skeletons, zombies and spirits that had been annihilated when Besh’ forces had first struck in force, throwing the entire force into disarray? Had they been the White King’s? The Bone Shepherd’s? Had they owed allegiance to Kryptophon or the Lady-Necromancer Livia or any other number of the undead’s legions? Whoever it was, they had been zoggin’ out of luck.
He had seen shambling hordes crash, the wall of zombies he had thought unbreakable snapped like a rotten twig as the malignancy spread like wildfire amongst their ranks, doubling the numbers of what had been but a small horde. Of course he and his lads had taken the advice of Hogrog and that Fishy Aelf git Dyrnawen – before the battle, they had all touched that strange, coral statue of some spirit that everyone referred to as ‘Nyura’. He didn’t know who this was (probably slept through that particular story from Hogrog), but the fact that the leaders of the Soulmuncherz had recommended this was… surprising. And it left an impression. He had felt the thrumming power of… something, originating from the corral. The majority of his grots just gibbered and giggled, rolling their eyes theatrically as they brushed their fingers over the strange material. None of them seemed to feel its tremendous potential… he did. He had whispered words, two words, as he placed his scarred hand on its surface: ‘Save uz…’
Malignant sea creatures from the depths of Bykaal
Massive sea creatures – crustaceans, cephalopods, and things that had no name, no description, no place in the natural order of things – crawled from the water and launched themselves at the embattled Perpetuals and Grots, tearing through them mindlessly, with each scratch, each hit, inevitably more fell under Nemesis’ curse. Magic zoomed back and from over the battlefield, even as infected monsters from the deep burst forth from broken ice, wrapping tentacles around screaming squads of Squig Hoppers and dragging them into the deep.
Morale was low. Grunt knew this, as he himself was of half-a-mind to turn and run, the moment the last of the undead horde that had, for a while, been his ally shuddered and turned its ooze-weeping eyes on him. Bravery is not an aspect of the grots – they are often seen as the most cowardly creatures in all of the Mortal Realms (par the Skaven , possibly). Their Loonboss had wisely spiked all their Shroom Ale with Madcaps, causing his Squigs and Gobbo’s to frenzily fight whenever they could mount a charge, running through puss-covered humanoids and beheading the trembling shapes of all those creatures that had been affected by Besh’ curse.
Still, as flying, diseased monsters fell and swooped from the skies and when grots saw their pack-mates and steeds fall and be devoured by Besh’s curse in an instant, turning on them in mindless violence, even the shroom-addled minds of many of the Grots broke. Grunt let the deserters flee – he envied them. Maybe they would survive their headlong rush to safety and bring with them the Oath-Gobblas. Maybe they’d all perish in the wasted, hunted and down and destroyed by Nemesis. Grunt didn’t care. He only cared about surviving the next moment, to kill his next opponent, to dodge the next pestilent claw/arm/sword/teeth.
“Hold, lads! Hold!” he screamed shrilly, but his voice barely managed to erupt over the fight’s din. “Hold, ya gits! Fo’ da Grate Saga! Fo’…” An Ogor – at least, Grunt THOUGHT it once had been an Ogor – suddenly hit Grunt with a backhand smack, smashing him off of Pebblez’ back and sending him tumbling away through the air. All went black for a second.
Grunt blinked his eyes open again, finding himself staring up at the sky as snow slowly drifted down from up high. His chest hurt and he found that he had trouble breathing. Struggling, he managed to pull his plate-armoured body into a sitting position, even as pain flared throughout his entire form. It seemed he had only been out of it for a few seconds, tops. His Grots were still fighting maniacally against an opponent that outnumbered them six, nay, ten to one! He knew not much time had passed as he didn’t see his compatriots running from battle at the sight of their leader gone.
Maybe this was the moment. The moment that he could finally turn tail and run, hide out in some dankhold somewhere as Nemesis ravaged the Mortal Realms. His grots, those that would have survived, would tell of his heroic demise against overwhelming odds. He would no longer have to worry about being backstabbed by his subordinates, to worry about Nikkit’s survival, about Hogrog’s approval of him, on what the Bad Moon would think of him (it would be an amazing kunnin’ action? Right? The Moon would approve… right?)… It’d all be so simple. Get back to the basics. Eating shrooms, running from Squigs, slittin’ the throats of those that came too close to him…
Grunt turned, took his Boss Stabba from the snow with clammy, shaking hands and turned his back on his remaining Oath-Gobblas, his comrades-in-arms. He had chosen. He would walk away from this life. He would run away from this horrifying death. Zog Hogrog. Zog the Perpetuals. Zog Besh. Zog Nikkit. Zog all of ‘em! He would…
Then, he heard it. The pained cry from a very familiar, guttural throat. Pebblez. Pebblez! He couldn’t leave his Squig here! What kind of Knoight left his noble steed in the hands of such creatures? Long ago, Grunt has sat many nights on the bottom end of the well he had dug into and listened to the stories of the human settlers high above echo down to him. Of heroic knights saving cities, slaying monsters, charging into battle, the fight of good versus evil… Grunt had never really understood the latter part, the concept of morality – why would one ‘protect the weak’? If they were weak, there was no reason to protect them, right? ‘Might makes right’ were words all Greenskinz lived by, including Grunt.
On that moment, however, hearing Pebblez’ call for aid, Grunt understood the stories. He wasn’t the smartest, nor the bravest, nor the strongest, nor even the best leader. He was just a slightly above-average in height grot with an affinity for riding Squigs and backstabbing those he did not like. He always tried to be what the ‘umies called a ‘Hero’, by dressing himself up in plate mail, charging into battle, holding glorious, slurred speeches for grots too high on shrooms to understand and Squigs too stupid to comprehend his words… Yet he had never, truly, been a hero. Hadn’t wanted to be one, either, deep down. See, heroes always died. Always. Heroically sacrificing themselves to hold back their foes to allow others to escape, drinking from poisoned flask knowingly to complete some arcane ritual and allow their friends to pass through the gates to some daemon-infested hellhole or other, falling to the blades of a monster greater than themselves in every way, yet still managing to land that final, lethal blow… It was all so final, so definite. The hero dies: the End.
He never wanted that – he was a grot, selfish and cowardly by nature, only spurred into battle by devouring Redcap and Madcap shrooms to give them the edge in courage. Yet, as Grunt turned, Boss Stabba clasped in his hands and finding himself rushing forwards, dodging between embattled Squigs, Grots and horrific creatures infected with the malignancy, he did so without remorse, without regret. The malignancy might or might not affect him much at all with him touching the icon of Nyura, but Pebblez? Pebblez was a Squig. Of course he hadn’t touched the statue – the Perpetuals wouldn’t even have allowed him close! There was nothing stopping Nemesis’ malignancy from affecting his trusted ally… His oldest friend was in mortal danger, and quite possibly Grunt was too late already – yet he kept running. His weapon shot out with unerring accuracy, splitting the broken, oozing form of what once must have been an Orruk in half, and again, dismembering an Aelf with pulsing skin as it writhe in agony. Ooze splattered his face and armour even as blood sprayed him clean again. Grasping hands tried to find purchase on his armour, yet he managed to step away time and time again, getting closer and closer to the anguished cries of his steed.
“Pebblez! Pebblez!”, da Woit Grunt yelled as he ran the shambling, plagued form of a former Stormcast Eternal through. He saw the huge shape of Pebblez bobbing up and down over the crowd and saw limbs and entire bodies go flying. Jumping onto the back of a malignancy-infected Bestigor, stabbing down with his long spear before utilizing it to send himself flying over the heads of the surrounding foes and over their grasping, oozing claws. His aim was true and he landed on top of Pebblez back, the impact nearly knocking the breath out of him. Pebblez made that strange, guttural purr that Squigs make whenever they tear into something especially tasty as it felt Grunt’s familiar, heavily armoured weight on top of him. “Dere, dere, ya git.” Grunt grunted and patted his Squig, even as he winced at sight of the numerous cuts and slashes ranging up and down Pebblez form. “Oi wasn’t gonna leave ya, lad. Not now”
He looked around, taking in the situation. It was dire, indeed. They were cut off, surrounded by the mindless hordes of infected, a mere circle of free space. The few surviving Boingrot Bounderz were attempting to break through to them, calling for him, even as they were pushed back by the diseased husks of oceanic leviathans. Dozens of pairs of eyes, some swollen to bursting with ooze, others shrunken and tiny in their sockets, stared at him and Pebblez. Surrounded, with no way out, and the threat of imminent death all around him… Grunt should have been afraid. He knew this, expected this – instead, he felt strangely at peace. This was as it should be. Him, and Pebblez, versus the world. This is where they would make their stand.
Da Woit Grunt charges
“Yous ready, lad?”, Grunt asked loudly as he gripped his stabba tighter, wiping ooze from his helmet. Pebblez just grunted in reply, sniffing the air in anticipation. This was it. So close to the Ur-Whale, to Skwidmuncha, to all his friends and comrades in the Soulmuncherz – this was where they would hold their ground and bite back. This was where Da Woit Grunt would become a hero.
Even as Grunt began spurring his Cave Squig into a last, and final, charge once more, the light above them changed in a greenish hue. Glancing up, Grunt suddenly saw it. The Bad Moon. It shone bright, breaking through the cloud cover even as the sun rose behind it, as if chasing this brazen interloper in its sky. Grunt would later tell the story of how the Moon had looked down on him as it shot through the sky, and gave him a mischievous, kunnin’ wink. With wide eyes, Grunt watched the rogue stellar object race through the skies, its baleful light sending a number of the malignant creations around him to their knees as mushrooms and other fungus sprouted from their bodies.
A tiny inkling of hope filled Grunt’s chest as he looked further, past the Moon, past the hordes of Besh. There, cresting the hill, was Sokrateez.
Eyes shining with the brilliant green of barely contained Waaagh energy, the Wurrgog Prophet came on. And behind him came the other Soulmuncher reinforcements, dwarfing the forces sent by the Perpetuals in the form of Malrak and his undead compatriots. Troggoths and Orruks charged right besides Boarboys and Squig Hoppers. A pair of Gargants strode alongside them, looking at the horde of malignant creatures with boredom or simply not comprehending its size. These reinforcements were welcome indeed, and tilted the scale of war – but only a little. The Malignancy’s numbers rose with each passing minute, as more and more of its fallen crawled forward once more, or freshly fallen cadavers were inadvertently drawn to their feet again, infection spreading rapidly through these fallen warriors until nothing remained but Nemesis. Even now, the combined forces of the Perpetuals and the Soulmuncherz, were grossly outnumbered by the teeming hordes of surreality, of creations that shouldn’t exist, of a plague that threatened all of the Mortal Realms.
Still, they had a chance. Grunt had to believe it. The Bad Moon was with them, his friends were with him, Pebblez was with him. He just hoped that they could hold back the Malignancy long enough, to give Nikkit, Madgit, Belagar-Bel, Nippy, Torgol, da Green Knight, Broki, Galrach, Kraven, Skrugg, Eola, Badrukk, Snirk, Hogrog, Urrookabar and all the others a chance at success. If his death would avert the abrupt ending of da Grate Saga, then so be it. Grunt shifted his graps on his stabba and took a deep breath, swelling up his chest in the effort. Here goes nothing. He and Pebblez charged into the Malignant hordes, his warcry soon taken up by his grots, the one warcry that mattered to all of his kind:
In a conflict marked by such juxtaposition, nowhere was this more apparent than the last line of defense against the Nemesis: Konrad Rotstahl’s valiant forward element and their newfound Chaos allies. The Baba Yaga herself invoked the spirit of the Etmund to protect the Stormcast under Lord-Arcanum Morian’s command from the malignancy; elsewhere, the Knights of the Everking, led by their champions Lord Savas the stout, Lady Deval dus’Laplacce, and Lady Jean de Malais, fought back to back with the Hallowheart soldiery of the Arcanum Venatores as they incurred heavy losses.
United against the malignant
It was ironic, then, that this pairing of odd bedfellows would be enough- if only barely- to thwart the scheme Mithridates Besh had spent this war placing in motion. In the years after the war, the grizzled veterans of the Dovesguard would tell the story in smokey taverns of free cities across the realms about how it was the knights of Ser Degas d’Chatan, not the Sigmarite-clad eternals of high Azyr, that delivered them all from the shadow of a burning godbeast at the bottom of a drained lakebed.
Cymbals clashed discordantly. Brazen trumpets, their calls raw with exuberance, roared back and forth. Aelven voices as pure as glacial water and deep as the ocean rose and fell in chorus with the harsh throat song of the ogors. Fistfuls of dyed powders, green and blue, flew into the air. The procession had arrived.
The savage bonesplitterz led the way, their bodies painted with long walrus tusks. Many carried tusks in their hands, clanging them together or holding them up to their mouths. They marched with perfect disharmony, each dancing step at odds with the others around it, yet flowing together. Around them capered the grots holding buckets of sea water, flinging it about, anointing the procession’s path and any onlookers that got too close.
Behind came a thundertusk, the mammoth beast favoured most by the Everwinter. Its usual saddle had been removed, and in its place a howdah fitted with three massive drums. Black orruks, stripped to the waist, beat in arrhythmic contests, their bassal rumbles interspersed with ritual screams and shouts. Ogors on foot, taiko drums strapped across their chests, followed behind, trying to keep the pace.
In the midst of this sea of chaos and noise came the Idol itself. Bourne aloft on an altar made from the prow of a sunken ship stood Nyura, the walrus-headed goddess, the Sailor’s Death. Aelven grace and the brutal essentialism of the orruks had come together to make this. Vibrant interlocking arms of coral grew together to form her bizarre features, as beautiful and terrible as the seas. Her moods seemed to move and shift as she was carried, each subtle change in angle revealing a new facet of the interlocking coral features. At one moment, the glowering walrus face of her wrath, then at the next a kindly aelven maiden’s smile. She was draped in strips of seaweed, clothed in their shimmering multicoloured hues, and around her head swam a shoal of soul-fish. Her procession moved like a thundercloud, the air around it charged. It was time to end the Malignancy.
Nyura’s Idol had been delivered to the Cathedral of the Mariner.
Icy winds bit the Twilight Prince’s skin and stirred the fallen snows into a whirlwind around him. It’s how he would always remember this place; the wind, ever howling a song so grim and chilling. Now, there was something else. Something… more. Just on the edge of perception, a screaming echo. Agonized and tortured cries in the depths. A force caged for ages, unleashed and very angry. Nyura had returned to her realm.
Standing alongside Yllethras on the windswept ice stood the remaining ranks of the Duskwalkers. Battered and tired they were, but ever ready to do what was needed. This journey had been long and many had been lost to the conflict. Alongside them the newly replenished Sylvaneth troops from the Ghyrplunge and Stormcast Eternals sent straight from Duskgrove itself. Never had he thought they would be here, before the burning corpse of a godbeast in the bowels of Shyish.
His vision drifted to the titanic creature behind them. Buoyed on invisible winds of magic, the ever-decaying corpse of the Ur-whale had floated at the heart of the storm. The godbeast was the locus of this realm-quaking conflict. Columns of uprooted, tortured ice hung from invisible, frayed threads, threatening to crash down at any moment. It was a backdrop fit for the underworld and the horrors that came for the defenders.
Another pulse of pain lanced up his left arm, once again reminding Yllethras that he was alive, but just barely so. The blackened flesh of his arm ached relentlessly, and the malignance had only accelerated on the journey here. It was only a matter of time until it consumed him whole. Yllethras did not know if he would end up like those… things, but he would surely fight to the last before that. It hadn’t been long before they had been spotted, descending down the slope of the lakeshore.
First in ones and twos, then in stumbling groups. Ragged and rotting, hordes of those lost to this great conflict on Lake Bykaal returned from death for this moment. Their bodies moving all together formed an undulating carpet of wrongness spilling from the forests. Yllethras could smell them from here, and he knew exactly what they wanted. The godbeast behind still radiated malign energies, acting like a magnet for those that would seek its contamination. And there, amongst the shambling corpses of aelves, men, and ogors, stood one.
The creature that had been Mithridates Besh gazed at them with utter inhumanity. Its visage slowly looked past them to the godbeast as ichor dripped from its lipless mouth. Slowly, the Nemesis raised a decayed hand, flesh degloving from its bones, and gestured the tortured things it had afflicted forward.
“Are they ready?” Yllethras croaked, with a ragged breath.
“Yes… they are coming…” Elenwia said hesitantly. She could see the tendrils of malignance creeping up his neck, but knew there was little she could do. No magic had come close to curing the mysterious ailment.
“Then we have little time. Do it.” He commanded, gripping his sword tightly. He had been using it more and more as a walking stick of late.
Gathered behind them, a crowd of wildly dressed mages of the Collegiate Arcane waited in silence. From their ranks appeared two very different figures. One man clad in furs and leathers whose wild hair whipped in the cold winds. In each hand the Amber Wizard wielded a great tusk of bone from some great creature of Ghur. With a heave he slammed both tusks into the ice, burying the tips several inches down. Raising his face to the heavens the wizard unleashed a bestial roar.
The other, wreathed in the darkest purples of Shyish, brushed her raven black hair aside as she stepped onto a raised chunk of fallen ice. Bringing her hands up, the Amethyst Wizard drew upon the very stuff of the realm itself. VIolet energy radiated around her as she called out.
“O Nyura, great lost goddess of the sailor’s fate! Your realm has been trespassed upon by this blight, this malignancy!”
She pointed a gloved finger at the approaching horde. Tendrils of icy, violet energy curled from the lake surface, suffusing the entire expanse. Seemingly unhindered, the undead continued their momentous advance.
“We here acknowledge the true master of this land!” She continued as a maelstrom picked up around her. “And call upon her avatars to defend it! That of the Etmund, eternal keeper of her dead!”
The staked tusks began to vibrate and glow white hot where they stood. Swirling winds stripped the ice of snow, leaving a barren stretch between them and Besh’s army. Now on the ice the malignants began their frantic charge. Yllethras could see the Wretched to the north give way to their animalistic rage. Their counter-charge, while foolish, maybe would spare a few extra Duskwalker lives at least. He only hoped that Runya and their allies had built a stack of bodies high enough to curry the howling deity’s favor. Nyuranka had more than enough Pilgrimage dead as it was, but this had to work. They needed a god to win this fight. Duskwalker spearmen readied for the charge as the Amethyst Wizard continued the invocation.
“We call upon the Marie Elaine, the eternal memory of Nyura! We offer this great bounty, a trove of souls this animosity has gathered! Rise, revered goddess, cleanse this land and take your rightful place!”
The clash of battle nearly drowned out the invocation. Innumerable undead crashed into the waiting line in all forms, some even clad in the greys and greens of their former kin. Rotting Duardin stumbled alongside bloated ogor corpses in a carpet that enveloped the line. Yllethras wanted to slay every last one, but in the moment his legs would not answer his call. Paralysing stiffness struck and his sword arm would not raise, feeling as if the weapon weighed as much as an ancient oak. The line buckled and crumbled against the flood. Duskwalkers screamed and fell beside Yllethras as the lake turned into a bloody slaughter. He struggled to stay on his feet as his mind reeled in shock. He saw one thing before the crush swallowed him in darkness.
The Amethyst Wizard floated above the fight on magic currents. A sphere of deathly energies repelled the malignant creatures away from her. The twin tusks glowed and quaked the ice until the entire realm seemed to shudder. She intoned the prayer as the slaughter raged on. Her focus was singular.
“Rise Nyura! This Malignancy must be purged! Rise, and reclaim your realm from the pretenders! The sailors fate once more!”
Suddenly it was as if time had slowed to a stop. Yllethras felt his eyes drawn skyward as the spectral outline of a grand ship appeared above the lake. From within, the faces of uncounted lost sailors peered down upon them. Their glowing eyes a mix of sadness and rage.
The silence lasted but a second as a soul-shattering scream erupted from the air itself. A torrent of souls poured from the spectral vessel at the call of their master. The flood washed over Yllethras, swallowing him wholly and his mind gave in to the darkness.
The Perpetual had demanded the Soulmuncherz deliver a statue to the Cathedral, and so they had: the Chorrileum, a living coral of lost Idoneth souls, gathered up after hard weeks of battle and bloodshed and reborn in the eyes of Nyura, a new goddess of the sea for the Idoneth who fought here.
The Myzlaani enclave.
Dyrnawen Silverfish looked upon it and smiled; the ruse was, as his newfound friends would have said, downright cunnin’. By bringing the Chorrileum to this most sacred of places in the worship of Nyura…
The Soulscryer felt the change long before his physical senses picked it up. A dozen human lifetimes spent in the study of soul magic attuned him to such things. Nyura was worshipped once more, and would heed the call of her children.
The Mariner’s Death had returned to Bykaal.
Before him, the Chorrileum broke apart with a bestial roar, its tusked face distorting in rage, the coral shattering and reforming. Its great tail lashed out as it came to life, knocking free the cathedral’s bell and sending it smashing through a tumbled-down wall with a resounding clang.
After a long moment, the newly-birthed Eidolon of Nyura grew still, and regarded the Soulscryer with curiosity. It moved forward, the aethersea-swamped air around it like the static discharge of an electric eel. Dyrnawen extended his afflicted hand where he’d touched Han Shinzong’s steed, the bandage falling free even as the skin underneath it sloughed off and fell to the cathedral’s floor with the wet sound of splattering gore.
The creature sniffed at him once, twice. Then it withdrew, baring its tusks in the snarl of a threatened beast. Then, with a roaring bellow, it lunged, what remained of the cathedral tumbling down as it did so.
Yet even as he was swept away, Dyranwen Silverfish of the Mor’phann enclave knew utmost peace, for truly, this was his moment of triumph.
The Ur-Whale’s Corpse
Mithridates Besh- or what remained of his body, at least- heaved forward with a lunging, off-balance gait. One arm had fallen apart below the wrist, and the toeless, bloody stump of a foot dragged uselessly behind him with each step.
It had, all of it, gone wrong. The destruction of his prized pawn Han Shinzong had come too early. The draining of the lake had put an end to his invisible contamination, forcing him to reveal his hand. Now, the warring factions united against him, turning to fight the common threat even as they slipped knives in each other’s backs.
The Ur-Whale’s body- or the flaming ruin that remained of it- was lost to him, the souls he’d damned cut down before they could reach it to contaminate it with the malignance he’d meant the lake’s water to. Yet, there was still hope.
Mithridates Besh stopped dead in his tracks even as battle raged all about him, a fresh horror creeping into his mind: that his mind was his own again.
Everything he’d contaminated- Han Shinzong, the water, the malignant- all of it had decayed the half-life of his own affliction, his body falling apart even as it left him. The malignancy was the only thing that had sustained him for five centuries- and now, it was all but gone.
He gritted his remaining teeth, and felt them shift and splinter free of his skull even as he did so.
No- there was still hope. He had not spent five centuries locked in a tomb with a… a cancer gnawing on his body, his mind, his very soul for it to end like this.
He lurched forward again, picking up pace, moving faster and faster toward the cavernous, gaping maw of the Ur-Whale that lay before him.
It’s body may be lost, but its soul was still bound to its bones- and Mithridates Besh would fulfil the purpose the Nemesis had kept him alive for.
The malignant swarm seemed unending, hundreds of plagued aelves and humans making up the bulk of it. Most likely the Nemesis had infected the turnips that the expedition had survived on so long, and used it to fuel this nightmare army. The malignants were fairly pathetic fighters, but there were a lot of them. Though Torag’s status as champion of Nyura kept him fighting, many of his ogors could not keep up. Morg’s butcher band was swept away behind, fighting to halt the unending tide, and instead he found himself on the front with Baroness Gloomraka Faunfist and her noble knights. The mad vampire was a whirlwind of carnage, shredding bone and flesh in her battle with the creatures.
Gloomraka’s Great Hunt
“We must destroy the Nemesis to end this, Baroness!” He yelled over the din. “The Goddess Nyura has given me the power!”
Gloomraka noticed the Ogor’s swollen mass, and nodded, pointing toward the open jaws of the burning Ur-Whale. There, in its throat, stood a single figure, laboring as it climbed deeper into the rotting throat, making for the belly of the godbeast. There was the genesis of the malignancy- and Torag knew the gods had blessed him for the purpose of ending it. The tyrant let drew on the power of the gulping god, and let out a massive bellow, temporarily drawing the attention of the whole field, but he could also feel the gaze of his god upon him.
During the Age of Chaos, Hilmar was the chieftain for his tribe of humans, same as his father before him. Like many other tribes in the realms, life was fraught with conflict, and today, there was a tribe of Bonesplitterz whose chieftain rode a massive war boar. Like usual, Hilmar lead his defenders from the front, always in the thick of battle alongside his tribe members. The ugly Orruk chieftain turned his war boar to line up a charge into the human defenders. Hilmar knew that the Orruk Warclan would be much easier to deal with if Hilmar could just take care of this especially nasty Orruk.
Hilmar walked out towards the war boar, telling his men to stay back. The Orruk chieftain kicked his boar into a deadly charge straight at Hilmar, and Hilmar quickly dodged and rolled at the last second, coming up with a spear discarded earlier in the battle, skewering the boar, and violently throwing its rider. There was a bright flash of lightning, and there was no sign of the human chieftain.
Hilmar found himself in a new, larger, stronger body, kneeling in front of the Lord of Heavens, Sigmar Heldensen, who said to him in a voice like thunder in the distance, “That was either the dumbest or bravest thing I have seen in a long time. I am going to give you the opportunity to show me which.” To his tribe, Hilmar was remembered as Hilmar Borstruck. To the Hammers of Sigmar stormhost of the new Stormcast Eternals that Sigmar was about to unleash on the realms, he was known as Hilmar Thunderstruck.
With Gloomraka’s knights at his back, Torag charged the naked, decayed man within whom the malignancy had been brought to this place. Those afflicted were tossed aside as he picked up speed, for nothing could stop the enlarged ogor, and bounding past the whale’s teeth, he reached his foe in a dozen striding paces. The man whose mother named him Mithridates Besh did not seem to notice as the ogre wound up his thundermace.
Pouring the Waaagh! energy granted by Gorkamorka into his swing, he watched the naked man raise his remaining hand and catch the blow with an open palm, the once well-defined muscles of the mortal man’s rupturing in ichor. Still, it was like striking the skull of a Stonehorn, and the shock of the swing tore the thundermace from Torag’s hand, the haft shattering apart and the head spinning away amid the pools of dripping, flaming whale-fat around them.
His momentum carrying him past Besh, Torag spun with a bellow, taking his beastskewer glaive in both hands. Still, the man did not seem to heed him, and pausing, Torag looked past the decaying figure… to see another standing before him.
Hilmar Thunderstruck was contaminated. Hilmar had certainly been afflicted by the malignancy from Han Shinzhong when the two Lord Celestants fought. Unlike Han however, Hilmar had the aid of Lord Zectoka. The Slann had granted him a new suit of armor, formed exactly like the Celestant plate he’d been forced to discard to keep from drowning, yet made from a leaden gray metal. The Slann had also given Hilmar new weapons, again shaped like those he knew so well, yet made from some type of near-black slate instead of Sigmarite.
This was how it would end, then. Hilmar would answer the Nemesis’ call. He would find this evil and confront it head-on, whatever end. This suited Hilmar; he was never one for the nuances of diplomacy, or investigation, or logistics of leading an army. Hilmar was first and foremost a weapon, a weapon wielded by his god, Sigmar.
And Hilmar was a fine weapon, indeed.
Torag watched as the Lord-Celestant in the dull gray armor charged Mithridates Besh. Like Torag, the Stormcast swung his hammer over-hand, throwing out his blade to keep balanced and clearly telegraphing the attack. Again, Mithridates Besh caught it- yet this time, Torag watched the man’s wrist collapse, folding back at a weird angle and tear free, his fingers and palm pulling apart the way a predator rips open a throat.
Mithridates Besh cried out as he spun away, both arms ending in bloody, rotting stumps, what patches of skin still clung to his ruptured musculature flapping wetly. Torag would never be able to describe just what he heard escape the man’s throat, only that he would never forget the sound of it in all his days.
As after Torag’s attack, Hilmar’s momentum had carried him beyond Besh, and they stood across from each other even as the once priest-king turned to face them. For the first time since the fight had started, Torag noticed his skin turning red, as if he stood before a roaring fire.
“You will not deny me this!” Besh howled, spitting molars, his jaw distending too far. “There is nothing else!”
Hilmar charged again, but Besh was quicker- even as the Lord-Celestant lashed out with his blade, Besh’s maw snapped at his sword-arm, catching him in the elbow joint inside the armor. Hilmar cried out, the black stone blade falling from nerveless fingers as the malignancy burned through his arm and sliding through the dripping streams of molten lard to rest at Torag’s feet.
Staggering backward, Hilmar struck a glancing blow with the top of his hammer to dislodge Besh, knocking him away. The man’s ribs crumpled inward and the flesh split open, unrecognizably decayed organs hemorrhaging free. Hilmar dropped to one knee and cradled his shoulder, his arm hanging limp and clearly useless.
“What will be, what will be… truth will bind, and set us free!” Besh howled again, his eyes blackened and oozing. “Through fiery animosity, Nemesis’ sovereignty!”
The power of Gorkamorka already spent, Torag tossed away his glaive and took up the Stormcast’s black sword instead. Channeling the fury gifted from Nyura into the blade, he roared a challenge and, with a bounding leap, thrust it into Besh’s torso with all his might, pouring the destructive wrath he had been gifted by the spirit of the Etmund into the attack.
Lord Zectoka hadn’t told Hilmar what would happen when the Lord-Celestant found the Mithridates Besh, but he knew well what the Slann had unleashed upon Amasya. He knew the Ghyrplunge had opened after the Slann had called down a star strike, and he had an inkling of what was to come.
Using the last of his flagging strength to heave himself to his feet, the Lord-Celestant crossed the few paces to where Mithridates Besh had fallen, impaled upon the black stone blade, the tip of it stuck into the whale meat they stood on. His spine was severed, his upper body propped up only by his exposed, shattered ribcage resting on the blade’s crossguard. Arms ending in stumps pounded futilely against the ogor’s massive hands, the imposing Azyrite blade little more than a dagger in the brute’s grip. Besh’s lower jaw had been torn away entirely now, and the tongue flapped free, desperately trying to form worms he would never say.
Hilmar looked up at the stranger, sending a kindred spirit. The ogor’s eyes darted to him, and he snorted. The Lord-Celestant gave a nod, and turned back to Besh, raising his black hammer high.
“You’ve been… thunderstruck!” Hilmar spat, and brought the hammer down.
With the flash of lightning and the crack of thunder, the starstrike struck home, a searing lance of cosmic energy piercing the Ur-Whale’s skull and annihilating all within it.
This, however, was not Lord Zectoka’s masterstroke in his war against the Nemesis. The malignancy had escaped him once already in Amasya, and he did not intend to allow for it to happen again. Nyura was awakened, and now, empowered, the Pilgrimage and the Soulmuncherz alike returning her strength.
And the Mariner’s Death kept her dead.
Led by the Eidolon of Nyura, the innumerable souls lost at sea which had found their way to this underworld answered her call, and scoured all the land of the malignant. Whirlways lost to the knowledge of men yawned open, fresh water pouring into the lake. Battle within the lakebed all but ceased in the mad scramble to get clear and return to the shoreline as tens of millions of gallons of water cascaded into the lake. The gnawholes and turbines of the Wretched were soon clogged with mud, finally putting an end to their mad scheme.
The lake’s dead clawed at those afflicted by malignancy as they withdrew. Any of Mithridates Besh’s contaminated were dragged under, but many of those who had fought them paid the price, too, torn screaming from the arms of their comrades and pulled below the waves. Their doom would be the same as the Stormking’s so many centuries before: to be pulled below the lakebed and buried deep in the mud and muck, where the half-life of their malignancy might decay without ever afflicting the Mortal Realms again. The Nemesis may have brought this cancer into Nyura’s underworld, but she would not allow it to spread.
This, too, was the final fate of the Ur-Whale’s corpse, its fires extinguished, dragged below wave and muck, never to surface. Yet even as its body settled low, there was a great cry, the type familiar to all Idoneth Deepekin. As the lake returned to its old shores, a truly titanic spirit breached the waves and crashed back down, the impact sending waves to all corners of Lake Bykaal: its spirit was finally free, bound neither by its bones nor Nagash’s will. So many hundreds of years later, its kindred spirit Nyura had finally come to its aid.
Thus did the Nemesis’ war upon Lake Bykaal draw to its conclusion. There were many histories which could have come to pass; Irkut Thousandeyes might have sealed Nyura away between realms, and perhaps even the Ur-Whale’s soul, too. Gutrot Spume might have fashioned it into his flagship, or Da Adm’rul might have sailed away atop it like a great steed, or the Nemesis may have accomplished its goal and spread the malignancy far and wide upon the Realms’ oceans. All these and more fates beyond counting could have come to pass, but they didn’t.
All Hogrog ug Weirdklaw would tell you is, dis wuz definitely goin’ in Da Grate Saga.
Kozul Redoubt, Tsatraya
Juliet Florens frowned as she flicked through the first drafts of her reports so far, then lay them down beside where she sat on the cold stone floor with a deep sigh.
“…Nobody’ll believe a word of this, eh, Avi?”
She looked down at the mustori curled up beside her, which, at the sound of its name, raised its tiny head towards her with an inquisitive squeak. A gentle pat on the head satisfied this curiosity, the celestial ferret curling back down into sleep.
“Not a damned word.”
Amasya, Rahipmezar blockade
The night was quiet. Nights were always quiet in Amasya these days, at least where he was posted. There was a smattering of action down by Gorkoyuk, and the Seneschal-General still worked to clear the dogs of the Dark Gods from their cauldron upstream, but here? You didn’t need blood and valor to hold an animal in his cage.
Captain-Champion James Gavurstammeiner resented it. He resented the dullness of his duty as warden of a corpse. He resented the political infighting that put him here to begin with, the hero of Yol Grimnir left overseeing the most staid siege since the gates of Azyr opened. He resented the silence- the Basrahip’s stone garden was as dead as the god they worshipped. Not even the birds had returned to roost in the artificial trees. At least they had the option to stay away.
“James.” He smiled at the voice outside his tent. There was one thing he didn’t resent. Sheila Haunchknyfe almost made the long days and cold nights bearable. If it hadn’t been for the presence of his adjutant he might have gone as mad as the old priest-king supposedly had, locked away in Nagaskahip for five hundred years.
“Come in, Sheila.” He almost called her ‘love’ but decided not to run the risk of open ears.
“Captain, there’s someone here to see you.” That was strange. A messenger? He hadn’t thought to be visited. Not at this hour. With a groan- his twenties had long since abandoned him- he rose to his feet.
“A messenger from von Helminger?”
“No, captain. Calls himself the White King.” Gavurstammeiner paused. No one by that name in the Delegation’s ranks.
“What does he want, then?” He reached slowly for the dagger by his writing desk.
“He says he’s here to collect, Captain.” Something in her tone made his blood run cold, and he held the weapon tightly. He had to leave, and not by the main entrance- he’d cut through the wall of the tent, and slip away, raise the alarm. He eyed the fabric, judging where to begin his cut, ears sharp for any sound of movement.
“That’s odd. Collect what?” He forced some levity into his tone.
“Merely what is owed, mortal.” The ghostly blade was incredibly cold, and he felt like he’d been transfixed by an icicle. “Nagash will not be denied. Not by you, nor the Seneschal, nor even Sigmar himself.”
Ashavohlk, the White King
Old Dyunsk & the Ghyrplunge
With the war winding down, the Perpetual made one final play. The stars had truly aligned, Zectoka’s purpose and Reikenor’s interests functionally the same. Even while this underworld no longer belonged to Nagash, the Grimhailer could not allow servants of hated Sigmar to lay claim to it. Likewise, Zectoka knew the threat of malignancy would still fester beneath the lakebed for an age yet to pass. The future was never set, and the Slann could not risk even a single man, aelf, deathrattle or any other becoming contaminated.
It began with words, but ended in bloodshed. Per terms agreed upon, Ashavohlk, the White King, traveled through the Ghyrplunge to secure Mithridates Alti. He was a man cursed, tasked by Mannfred himself to ensure the younger Mithridates’ return while denied the chance to honorably battle the elder. He would do as he was bid, and return home after his duty was fulfilled, never to see the end of this war.
With his White Host, Ashavohlk had brought Valdyr’s Stifling Procession and Udamone Claspthirst of the Pilgrimage as “escort”- bloody-minded Khainites eager to spit in Hammerhal’s face once more. Knowing escape would be denied once the Perpetual’s hand was played, their attack on the blockade was not one of diplomacy but of a relief column lifting a siege. Mithridates Alti made good his escape through the Ghyrplunge on the wings of the vile corpse-dragon Chondronor, although Ashavohlk and Udamone made it clear this choice was not his to make.
Back in Bykaal, the Expedition fell afoul of the Pilgrimage’s bargain with the Perpetual once again- rather than ceding half the Stormvault to the Expedition as their false pretenses claimed, they had ceded it to the Pilgrimage in exchange for a devastating ambush upon the ruined town, Udamone Claspthirt’s witch aelves again using the flag of Hammerhal’s truce to cut down the Expedition garrison. Used as a staging area for fresh stores coming through the Ghyrplunge, this vital resupply was destroyed by the devastating attack of Galvorak, the Great Drake of the Midnight City. The oldest of Lake Bykaal’s settlements, Old Dyunsk was left an uninhabitable ruin as the Pilgrimage made off with their ill-gotten gains.
Galvorak, the Great Drake of the Midnight City.
Still, the Pilgrimage would come to rue their hastily-struck bargain, for the Perpetual had no intention of allowing them to settle Lake Bykaal, either. The Midnight City had drawn up containment plans to starve the region and impose an uninhabitable exclusion zone…
The Ghyrplunge however would fare far worse than their other surgical strikes, here the battleline had stood against them and though the storm above delivered ranks after rank of the Knights Excelsior to their cause the approach to Amasya claimed far more Midnight Soldiers than the command would have liked. They had moved with pace against the Realmgate, bombardment hammering the enemy lines from the few artillery pieces the city hadn’t dismantled to form the soul bomb, and the bulk of the Steamforged Cogfort formed a bulwark for the relentless advance of the legion, yet for every enemy that fell one of the soldiers of Midnight found themselves cast into the snow, their armour rent by the lightning bolts of Balthnor Rosewolf’s Judicators.
As the day wore on Broki, one of a handful of Iron Paladins, found himself on the final approach to the gate. The commander Greyson had led her spearhead deep into the enemy lines and they had punched through, yet with every piston driven step they were entrenched yet further in the enemies superior numbers. Soon the crowd around him had robbed him of sight of the commander, with every swing of his aetheric hammer launching broken mortal forms, his eyes scoured the maelstrom for some sign of his commander. He could see her now through the haze cast as the morning sun struck snow cloaked mountainside and clamour of battle, her broken form splayed across the breaking rock not feet from her rapidly sinking clockwork mount. Its heavy piston driven leg apparently having slipped through a crevice forming in the shattered stone face of the mountain when moving at considerable pace. She lay motionless, the snow around her beginning to shine with an aura of crimson that resonated from wounds his eyes could not yet see.
Even as the forces of the Nemesis rallied to strike her down a wave of battle-worn Cognizant guards had formed a wall of body and steel to shield the commander from mortal blow, their numbers buffeted and beaten by wave after wave of these corrupted souls. None had the strength to land a meaningful blow, nor halt the foe while they breached their heavy suits and torn muscle from bone. Still they stood, alone amidst a raging melee, each defiantly giving up their own life on the slim hopes their commander had not yet slipped beyond the veil.
Broki tried to drag his Paladin harness toward his fallen hero, yet every step filled him with more trepidation, the harness was beginning to resist him, the boiler’s steam running low as tendrils of ice had begun to build up across its outer shell. Every swing of his hammer shedding the build up of ice forming in the joint of the harness but doing so drained what precious little steam he had remaining. Finally the suit gave out, the boiler empty and frozen Broki could do little but watch as the lady of Greysons Cognisant shield fell lifeless into the snow around her, a Pilgrim soldier raising halberd to deliver the final blow.
His eyes closed, unwilling to watch as this scum lay low the commander that had seen them through the blight of Bykaal. Yet even as he did so, the whip of a tempest roared passed him, staggering his monolithic harness. He rapidly opened his eye again to see a blur of blackened robe and raven wing racing across the battlefield sending dozens of foes sailing into the rivers around the Ghyrplunge. The Midnight Queen had taken to the field in a whirlwind of spear and wing, flickering and coursing as though a living shadow growing and shrinking in size to stand perfectly against every foe. For a moment it would seem she were unstoppable, a Goddess of war upon the battlefield until a cry rang out.
“She Bleeds!” came the cry, though Broki could see not the origin, his eyes too quickly found the cause for the joy in their enemy. As the queen flickered and fought her way across the field her normally flawless form was rent with bleeding wounds from enemy arrows and blows, a rain of crimson tears flooding from her eyes as she shrugged of the agony that ravaged her. She had said of course that the Soul Bomb would take much of her energies but none of them had spared a fought that the bomb would not be their final blow dealt in the region, now their immortal goddess was wracked and ravaged, with every fresh would her immense speed slowed, her footing became that much less sure.
In one faltering moment the queen dropped to a knee, her wings shielding the fallen Greyson from harm as time and time again the crude pikes of the Pilgrimage tore through skin and muscle. The Beacon of the Lost once burning bright began to dim seemingly tied to the life force of the goddess, her spear discarded into the snow some distance away she dug her fingers into the frozen ground, dragging herself and her fallen commander inch by inch toward the Ghyrplunge, every precious foot bought punctuating by wailing agony as yet more of the Pilgrims swarmed her.
Broken, bleeding, alone save for her unconscious commander the Queen slumped over her ward, falling into a ground all too eager to reach up and meet her. Her eyes flickered upward, a veil of blood stinging as she struggled to spy clear sky above for just a moment, hope only to be greeted by the roaring rapture of the Storm clouds that had delivered her Azyrite allies. As the last of her hope began to dwindle the sky above cracked open as a lance of light struck the ground around her casting her assailants into the dirt, as the lightly slowly faded once more she could spy the form of the Stormcast Saraal, his crimson plated gauntlet reaching down to her, offering a hand to pull her to her feet.
“You are not alone.”
With the Midnight City’s dying breath, the long-standing Pilgrimage stranglehold on the Shyish side of the Ghyrplunge was irrevocably shattered. Although the Perpetual did not have the strength to hold the Strait of Lauchon themselves, their purpose was served.
Although this was arguably the worst blow, it was not the lowest; the Perpetual’s pogrom had saved that betrayal for the town of Bolyany.
Throughout this district, the sound of townsfolk begging for their lives rang clear above the carnage. The sickly copper scent of blood stained the air. Judicators took positions around the town’s perimeter, shooting down anyone that tried to escape.
Yet another Liberator strode through the streets, cutting down any mortal foolish enough to try and escape the slaughter, or those who tried to resist and fight back. Turning a corner, surprise flitted across his face. Glad of the helmet to hide this, he looked down upon a boy, no older than 20, armed with a sword and shield. He stood at the doorway to his ancestor’s home, spitting threats in the hope that a warrior of Sigmar would see his valour and spare him (and what remained of his family). While the Liberator acknowledged the courage of the young man, his duty to the mortal realm… to Sigmar’s will… came first. He secretly vowed to let the boy meet an honourable end.
With a meteoric strike from his hammer, a sickly crunching of bone masked the sound of the boy’s final screams.
The homes were put to the torch. Those who couldn’t fight, or wouldn’t, were trapped among them. Silos collapsed as fire ripped their foundations. Andredos watched as smoke from the ruined fields coloured the once-bright sunrise with a heavy cloud; the crops, cattle and soil turned to ashes and, in turn, mixing with the rising remains of the dead.
Although the Expedition had been prepared to defend Bolyany from without, the Knights Excelsior’s heavenstrike had come from above. Stormcast fought Stormcast as the Stonewalkers chamber and the Stormshadow Crusaders put the retinues of Lord-Celestant Andredos to flight, driving them back past the Realmshaper in time to discover the Perpetual’s true objective: the sabotage of the Realmshaper Engine by the Skink Starpriest Suqal-Kurkcha. It was impossible to determine what damage the creature had done- and clearly, the forces of Zectoka would not be quick to render assistance.
Their purge was both a success and a failure, for while many of the town’s reclaimed were slain, the revived turnip patchers were neither burned nor salted as the Perpetual had intended. Still, much of the town’s living memory had been lost by their hand.
Phineas had seen Monique von Helminger pleased before. In his years as the Seneschal-General’s aide, he’d seen her genuinely mourn, seen her exult, seen her connive more times than he could remember. He’d even seen her make some genuine mistakes. The fact that he shared this with no one, he suspected, was why he still had a job as her aide even while men and women with fancier educations, better pedigrees and more handsome faces fought for her attention.
He’d never seen her angry before. He doubted many people had. Perturbed, once or twice, certainly, but not angry- not in the sense that a Khorne berserker got angry, not like a Doomseeker in his death throes or a Flagellant in a religious froth. Not like now. The Seneschal-General’s office was strewn with papers, knicknacks, furniture and feathers from where she’d torn a pillow in half. He suspected he’d be cleaning it up soon, and he knew that this was another day for no one but himself to remember.
“Bring me up to speed, Phineas.” For the third time today, he cleared his throat and shuffled his papers.
“Yes ma’am. Early this morning, a party of Daughters of Khaine from the Pilgrimage came through the Realmgate. The sentries weren’t initially alarmed by this- traffic from both directions passes through the gate pretty regularly.” Monique spun a single finger in the air, and Phineas nodded. “Yes ma’am. After more ships started passing through, the sergeant of the watch became suspicious. He approached the apparent leader of the Daughters contingent to ask what was happening.”
“And she killed him.”
“Yes ma’am. He, and most of the guards around the Realmgate. The survivors fell back into the security of Grung Esik, leaving the Ghyrplunge to the attackers.”
“What about the trees, Phineas?”
“Yes ma’am. The attackers entered the forest around the Ghyrplunge- the Watchwood- wound up attracting the ire of the Sylvaneth. The battle was… one-sided. In the invader’s favor, ma’am.”
The Pigrimage’s attack on Amasya
“So now we have a pile of dead wood to explain away.”
“Yes ma’am.” He ducked as a pewter mug- “Congratulations Soldiers of Starhammer-” came sailing past his head. He’d heard Monique curse in three different languages today, and now he was hearing a fourth. Something to be remembered and recorded, only for himself.
“We think it was a coordinated assault. The entire Lavafall Regiment was dead by the time we arrived on the scene- from what we can tell, they were massacred in their tents, before they even realized they were under attack. Our chirurgeons say the blades were of no mortal metal.”
“So either the Pilgrimage has a legion of ghosts they haven’t told us about or they’ve thrown their lot in with Nagash.”
“It seems that way, ma’am.”
“Do you have any good news for me?”
“The siege of Rahipmezar is over?” Maybe he shouldn’t have pushed his luck. The vase that shattered against the office wall behind him probably cost more than the house he grew up in.
“So Alti is gone.”
“Long gone, ma’am. The priests’ tomb is empty.” The Seneschal-General sighed and sank into a chair.
“So to summarize. The Pilgrimage betrayed us and slaughtered the guard on the Realmgate. Then they massacred a grove of Allarielle’s blossoming children. While this was happening- and this can’t be a coincidence- ghosts ambushed and eviscerated the whole of the Lavafall Regiment, without exception. And now our bargaining chip with Mannfred is escaped.”
“That sums it up, ma’am.”
“Take notes, Phineas. Put von Meinkopt’s Own around Nagaskahip. Orders are as follows. If any of the Pilgrimage try to come out of the gate, they die. Any Khainite tries to enter the city, they’re turned back. If they force the issue, they die. Any ship trying to get through the Ghyrplunge needs to be inspected. If we find the slightest sign they’re headed anywhere but Tsatraya, they’re impounded. If they won’t stop, they die. Is that clear?”
“I don’t care if they say they’re diplomats or emissaries. I don’t care if Azyrheim promised them safe passage. I don’t care if they’re armored in bone or scaled skin or Sigmarite. I don’t care what ranks or titles or honors they hold. If the Celestant-Prime himself comes through that gate and he’s carrying the colors of Arali Heartsbane- or, for that matter, Zectoka Starmaster- he dies and the God-King can sort out what remains. Am I understood?”
Phineas’ eyebrows raised a millimeter. “Yes ma’am. It will be done.”
“We’ve let the Pilgrims believe they can push us around and do as they please through this war and the last. Today, that ends. If they won’t respect our words by Sigmar they will respect our steel.”
“Yes ma’am.” She smiled at the emphasis on the affirmative.
“Bring me a glass of Bjornsson’s Own. No, on second thought, just leave the bottle.”
With this string of disastrous events, bridges between the Expedition, Pilgrimage, and Perpetual were well and truly burned. Although Hellendra Feyscorn had secured Nyuranka to raise up a new Temple of Khaine and claimed some manner of victory for it, the political fallout meant that Hammerhal would honor the letter of their right of conquest, if not the spirit.
Because of their continued treachery, and clear demonstration that they could be trusted neither to defend the Ghyrplunge from attack nor, obviously, defend the reclaimed that had been so recently returned to Sigmar’s light, Tsatraya would remain in Expedition hands as a defensive outpost of Amasya. Furthermore, it would be renamed Fort Gavurstammeiner in honor of the lives needlessly lost to the Pilgrimage and Perpetual, and Seneschal-General Monique von Helminger personally wrote letters of commission appointing General Gustov Johan Schmit and Konrad Rotstahl in command of the fort, pending their acceptance. Finally, von Helminger named the crack shot mercenary Gabriel Santi as master-at-arms of the newly founded Bolyany Irregulars, a militia formed of those reclaimed who’d survived the war’s many battles.
Although Bone Shepherd Mattias and half Caleb the Skinless’ Ancient Souls stayed behind to ensure the malignancy could not return, the Perpetual lacked the strength to truly challenge the Temple of Khaine and Fort Gavurstammeiner. Likewise, the Wretched of the Oracle of Enlightenment retreated to the wilderness, their clans and warherds too spent to continue open war.
Fort Gavurstammeiner, formerly Tsatraya, Expedition stronghold
The Shadowblade assassin stalked the streets of Fort Gavurstammeiner in the trappings of the 7th Legion of Syar, his disguise a mockery of those wounded aelves the Midnight City had rescued from the Pilgrimage’s explosive ambush. He’d gone to great lengths to avoid the commander they named Felosial during his infiltration, for she alone could identify him as not being among their number- and while eliminating her would be no obstacle, there was only one life Udamone Claspthirst had tasked him with taking, and the hour of his death was finally at hand.
As the majority of the city’s healers and chirurgeons had found themselves tending to- and then afflicted by- the malignancy, Anruil Brighteyes’ care had fallen to the prayers of an Excelsior Warpriestess they called Ellendorus. She was a creature of duty, the assassin knew, and made her rounds like clockwork. The rumors told of how it was only the power of her belief keeping the aelven fleetmaster alive, and when he’d seen her, the woman’s shoulders seemed to sag from the weight of the effort.
She was with him even now, he knew. A long vigil before the night watch, a tireless effort to ensure he’d see another sunrise-
Ah. Ellendorus emerged from the makeshift apothecary even now, and the assassin lay slumped against the wall by its door- just another wounded soldier bundled against the cold night air. He saw the warpriestess’ face drawn with concern as she bustled off, oblivious to the certain death laying in wait she’d just passed within inches of. Waiting until he was certain she was gone, he rose heavily and limped his way inside.
There- one of the separate rooms in the back, past the rows of groaning and sedated wounded missing limbs and eyes, several more Syar uniforms among them. Making his way across, he crumpled against the far wall and waited, watching for the nursemaids. None came, so he proceeded into Brighteyes’ chamber.
Casting off the woolen blanket and rising to his full height, wicked blades appeared in the assassin’s hands as he strode, silently, to the fleetmaster’s bedside. Then, as he made to slit the aelf’s throat, he paused ever so briefly; a master of the art of death, something didn’t *feel*l right.
Raising two fingers off the hilt of his dagger, he pressed them to Anruil’s neck and waited a moment. Then, another.
And for the first time in a century, a smile crossed the assassin’s face at the irony of it all.
Anruil Brighteyes walked along the rocky shore of Uyar Point. It was dangerous here, he knew- one strong wave would dash a trespasser against the rocks. That’s what made Kozul Redoubt far above so defensible; the cliffs were a formidable fortification in their own right.
Still, he felt no fear, although he couldn’t place why- nor could he remember how he’d gotten here. He had been fighting… who? Some great and terrible beast. He remembered… its great talons, reaching out. He was too slow. Had he been knocked from atop the Redoubt? Surely then, the water had saved him, although he did not feel wet nor cold.
Before him was a figure he’d always wanted to see, and Anruil ran to him the way a child would greet a long-separated parent- for was the figure not, in fact, his own father? The man whose legacy he’d lived in the shadow of, whose soul he’d hoped to rescue from this backwater purgatory?
The sadness in the eyes of the elder Anruil stopped the younger Althariel just short of embracing his father, his look of pained regret crashing over them both like the waves themselves.
The Corpse Shallows
I am the voice of the past that will always be
Filled with my sorrow and blood in my fields
I am the voice of the future
Bring me your peace,
and my wounds, they will heal
Torag Tome-Eater staggered up out of the water and took several stumbling steps forward. Blinking, he rubbed his eyes, but they refused to clear. Time sliding by, he called out as he walked, trying to see, trying to hear, but his ears rang and his eyes saw nothing. Eventually he tripped and fell, and knew no more.
When he awoke again, he could’ve sworn he lay upon the finest of Azyrheim’s feather beds. He was not, in fact, lying upon the finest of Azyrheim’s feather beds, but just the cold sand of a barren shoreline.
He sat up and took in his surroundings. It was night, but then, it always seemed like night here. Here? Where was here? Lake Bykaal, right. Why was he here? He looked around again. A toad sat across from him upon a floating throne of stone. That must be why he was here! He did love frog legs, and for some reason, his belly felt awfully empty. Torag heaved himself to his feet and, taking a moment to catch his balance, staggered forward, arms outstretched, made to pull the legs off the abnormally large amphibian.
His eyes half-lidded, Lord Zectoka raised a finger in a flicking movement and Torag Tome-Eater tumbled back on his bum as if a Stonehorn had just been dropped on him. Bewildered, the ogor glared at the Slann in confusion, only to sense the curiosity it regarded him with as well.
“Nyura spared you, child of Gorkamorka,” it spoke without speaking.
“I would know why.”
Mithridates Alti hated his master. The man- no, that wasn’t quite right- the creature who had taken him in after he’d lost everything, whose generosity and kindness had been a facade for exploitation and abuse.
Long ago, Alti had sealed his mortally wounded father inside a black sarcophagus and led the armies of Amasya in betrayal of Sigmar. He’d expected to return to his home a priest-king, yet what followed was five centuries of servitude to Mannfred von Carstein in exchange for the “gift” of Soulblight longevity… and when the hour finally came for him to reclaim his birthright, it had all turned to ash in his mouth.
“You return defeated.” Mannfred purred. It was not a question.
“The armies you gave me were not enough,” Alti spat. “The Grimhailer turned tail and fled, consorting with star-toads rather than ride to the side of his liege lord.”
“His liege lord?” Mannfred laughed. “You flatter yourself, whelp. It was Reikenor and myself who gave to you favors, not the other way around.”
“This was no favor! This was our agreement! For five hundred years, I paid for it!” Alti’s pale complexion was red with rage.
“And you lost your chance,” Mannfred snarled, suddenly harsh, and Alti took a step back despite himself. “You return defeated. Amasya is lost to us. Never will you reign there, not so long as the God-King reigns in high Azyr. And such battles…” Mannfred strode around behind the lesser vampire where he stood, and placed a finger on the back of his scalp. “… are beyond you, whelp.”
He said nothing and Mannfred stepped away, his back turned to Alti- a clear invitation for betrayal, as futile a gesture as it would be.
“Now, if you’re quite finished, there are other matters I would have you attend. Your seat of power may be lost, but all you worked toward has not been. I would yet see you elevated to rulership, even if it be from the shadows instead of a throne.”
Alti bared his teeth. “The Satrapies? Surely they already scrape and kneel to you?”
Mannfred frowned. “No- their place is to scrape and kneel to you, puppet, and you, to me. Remain loyal, dog, and I’ll let you dine on the scraps you earn… assuming you do not return in defeat once more.”
Mithridates Alti hated his master. Mannfred’s treachery was no secret, nor his loathing of the Undying King to whom he bent the knee. How dare he speak to Alti of loyalty, when all he’d done was out of loyalty to a father who abandoned him in his moment of triumph? Words formed unbidden behind Alti’s eyes, and he heard them spoken in the elder Mithridates’ voice, a gentle memory from a childhood long since forgotten.
“What will be, what will be… truth will bind, and set us free…”
The waters above Belleck’s Trench
The man, for that’s what he’d once been, felt adrift, for indeed, he was. Beyond the sight of the gods that had ensnared him and the fools who had followed him, the spirit found itself truly free, and thus, was nothing: a speck floating on the surface of an uncaring existence.
This would not do.
Bit by bit, the man pulled himself together and remembered his past. Yes, there had been… a great radiance. A blast. A detonation of soulfire so powerful, it had shaken the bedrock of the realms in a way they had not seen since Gorkamorka had shattered Shyish itself with the Worldchoppa and drained the Sea of Bykaal into the aether.
That- and the removal of the crushing weight that was the waters of Lake Bykaal- had allowed the spirit to drift up from the obliteration Nagash had sentenced him to when he struck down the man-that-was with the Great Necromancer’s black blade Zefet-nebtar and split open the trench that bore his name to this day.
As the spirit’s mind coalesced one thought at a time, words came to him, and he imagined his hands wrapping around them, like a lifeline thrown to a drowning man.
“Through fiery animosity, Nemesis’ sovereignty…”