Tornuri Goldensire winced as another cursed stele struck Old Dyunsk’s crumbling walls. The attack had begun within hours of their arrival, Tornuri’s Prosecutor retinue alerting her to the danger some time before the enemy’s artillery had made range. The Knight-Azyros had never fought the Ossiarch war-constructs before, but already she had developed a… fear was not the right word, and neither was respect. Foreboding, perhaps?
“This town’s fortifications are little better than parchment,” a Liberator-Prime under her command swore. “We cannot hold the battlements; they’ll have opened too many breaches for it to matter. Your command, sister?”
Tornuri chewed her lip, and realized she was grateful her expressionless mask hid her indecision. She watched another cursed stele arc through the air and impotently smash against the slab walls of the ancient Azyrite structure behind her.
“… Your command?” the Liberator-Prime repeated.
Tornuri nodded once, her decision made. “Then we fill the gaps with our own shield walls. If they get within, the town is lost. We must buy the Knight-Incantors time gain entrance to these… vaults, or whatever they are. They display the twin-tailed comet; they pose no threat to us. We can mount a defense from within until our reinforcements arrive.”
The Liberator-Prime saluted, and made to turn away. He paused, the question unasked.
“Speak your mind, brother.” Tornuri chided. “We’ve known each other that long, at least.”
“Yes, sister. Reinforcement… it will arrive, yes?”
Tornuri looked away, the hesitation in her response answer enough. It’s not that she doubted the corsair prince, exactly, but he was untested. Every Stormcast knew Lord-Celestant Han Shinzong was the Delegation’s first choice to lead this expedition, and if this cursed underworld had already claimed him…
The Knight-Azyros let her wry smile speak through her tone of voice, and hoped it carried more confidence than she felt. “Do you think the likes of Hercules Tenzo would turn down such a chance for glory? Mind yourself- if he saves your hide, he’ll never let you live it down.”
The Liberator-Prime chuckled and did not press the conversation. Another cursed stele reducing a nearby building to its foundation as he moved away. She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, and hoped the Prosecutor messenger she’d sent back to Anruil’s camp would bring help in time to make a difference.
Somewhere or Other
“Let’s ‘ear da tale uv da blind fishies! Dat wuz a day, ladz. Well, it wuz more den a day, but youz lot take ol’ Hogrog’s meanin’. Da fishy aelves, dey wanted ter keep da spikey aelf ladies away from dis wun coast, y’hear? Dey wuz all deze fishies dere dat looked like dem, maybe long-lost rel-a-tivez or sumpin’. It wuz a blindin’ snowstorm, cuz it’s alwayz a blindin’ snowstorm on dis lake, an’ our fishy aelves don’t make it none better wif all dere mists an’ dere ill-oo-shuns. Wotz dat, git? Get back ta da story? Hogrog wud krump you fer dat if dis orruk’s ol’ bonez weren’t so stiff. Belagar-Bel, can youz cuff da woit grunt fer me? Yea, like dat, hurr, hurr, hurr. So, were wuz I? Dat’s right, da tale uv da blind fishies…”
Shore of Sightless Faces
Arali Heartsbane screamed. It was a keening sound, the likes of which you’d hear a predator make in the darkest hours of night. It felt right. This felt right. To spill blood, to feel it hot on her skin, to see the ice steam at the touch of the stuff of life. The politics, the responsibilities- none of it mattered here, in the press of combat. There was only the next parry, the next riposte, the satisfying connection between her blade and the body of her foe.
This- not her father’s legacy, not any claim to his blood- this was her birthright. She took what was hers by her own skill. That was how she had lived her life, and that was how she would win this war. The doddering bureaucrats of Hammerhal respected victory above all, and thus, they would come to respect her when she delivered the heads of the Basalt Lord and the one they called “Spineless” to their musty council chambers.
That is, if she could get to grips with them. The attack had come out of nowhere, and with good reason: Arali would recognize the salt-tang of Idoneth mist-magic anywhere. She was proud of the allies she had swayed to her cause, depriving the pathetic Sigmarites of such vaunted warriors as Tyrath’s cult and the mighty Runefather Bael-Grimnir… but making pawns of the two-headed god’s violent simpletons? That was a low even she refused to stoop to.
An orruk spun away, what passed for its brains spilling from the gaping wound in its face where its eyes had been. She expected Gloomraka or another of her new Abhorrent friends would be feeding on it like some rare delicacy within the hour, assuming its corpse didn’t freeze too solid for teeth to pierce. As she regarded her kill, something caught her eye- there, beneath the ice…
She had only glimpsed it for the briefest of moments, but it told her everything she needed to know. A fish without eyes, its features sharp, its fins pointed and angled upward. So that’s why the Idoneth were so desperately defending this place.
Arali gave a rictus grin and screamed.
Bay of Bysuud
Irkut Thousandeyes body burned with enlightenment. His skin felt like it was pierced by ten hundred thousand needles, each of them a ray of luminescence, transcending him to a higher plane of intellect. He’d heard of the Lumineth zenith-masters, the droll fools who starved themselves among the mountain tops to reach enlightenment. Fools. Pawns of false gods. This was the true power of Teclis, a power the godling kept from the children he gave birth to. Pure, unfettered knowledge.
He knew why they called him the Spineless. Why Qarang Sarn had spit at his feet when Irkut named him brother. They deemed him unworthy because his intellect had elevated him to places they’d claimed only after decades of bloody struggle. Let them spit, he thought. He would soon surpass them all.
The Slann would come here, Irkut knew. It was an idiotic plan, dependant on the good faith of a charlatan death god. To know a creature of Dracothian could know such terror was a pleasing notion. And, to know that he, once a base barbarian, possessed the solution to a quandary not even a Slann truly knew how to solve was simply delectable.
Irkut’s champions would sack this so-called “Cathedral of the Mariner”. They would deprive the Slann and his dead allies of their pathetic scheme to thwart Mithridates Besh. Then, he would defeat the creature himself, and stack his broken body atop the mage-toad’s.
His “friends” would call him the Spineless no longer, not even behind his back. Their fear would be too great.
With a thought, Irkut Thousandeyes commanded his armies to attack.
South of Old Dyunsk
Anruil Brighteyes rubbed his temples between his thumb and index fingers. This war had hardly begun and already it felt like everything was spinning out of his control.
Bjornssen had sent back skyriggers with a message from… Bologna? Boombaata? The corsair glanced at his charts. Bolyany, that was the one. Between the thick accents and their impossibly deep tenor, the report had been all but indecipherable- something about locals with grass growing on their shoulders, maybe?- but the urgency of the situation had been clear enough.
Anruil had moved to mobilize a relief column right away when even worse news had arrived: his witch of a sister’s pet cannibals had attacked the Expeditions supply ships as they made their way down the Strait of Lauchon. Believing the way they’d come already secure, Anruil had already marshalled his armed forces here, south of Old Dyunsk. Although the Lumineth such as Lord Arra had brought their own follower’s camps, and Stormcast the likes of Lord-Castellant Arven and Hercules Tenzo didn’t require much in the way of provisions, Anruil well knew the Expedition would face starvation, disease and worse in this cold if deprived of supplies for too long.
The aelf stood and took a moment to steady himself. This was how the stories always went, though? The stories of his father, Anruil Althariel. It was always darkest before the dawn, yeah? Everything seemed to go sideways before the blood in his bastard veins would find a way to right the ship and save the day. That was why he’d been picked to lead the Expedition, was it not? Because he’d find a way, no matter the odds, even if all hope seemed lost. After all, plucky underdogs made for the best stories.
He picked up his glass of wine, poured some time ago and forgotten until now, and put it to his lips. Puzzled, he held it up to the candle’s light after a moment. The liquid was frozen solid. Frowning, he turned his attention to a commotion outside his tent; his adjutant, speaking with the captain of the watch.
This was it, right? The tidings that would turn the tide. His lucky break. All the stories had one, a chance encounter or freak coincidence that pulled the fat out of the fire.
The adjutant entered, followed by a Stormcast Eternal. The Prosecutor saluted, sharply, and spoke:
“Fleetmaster. I bear a message from Tornuri Goldensire.”
Bragg stumbled and clutched his stomach. He felt like heaving, but he’d already heaved everything he had to heave, and hadn’t taken a bite since yesterday. Every time he had, he couldn’t keep it down for more than a few minutes. That was borderline dishonourable among Gutbuster ogors, and he’d decided he’d rather go hungry than lose face.
It had all started when they’d fought that stranger in the snow. He’d been big, almost as big as an Ogor, and riding that lizard thing armored all in burnished gold. He’d call it a Karkadrak- it was armored like one- but he’d killed and eaten Karkadrak before, and none had fought like this thing, nor had breath like it.
The squall had come from nowhere, the ice and snow blinding, chilling even the flesh of the ogors to the bone. Then it had been among them, its maul rising and falling in great bloody arcs. Took poor Grofkarb’s head clean off, and bashed in Olbubb’s belly so hard his guts were sent flying out the other end. And the heat… just being near it had felt like standing in a butcher’s cooking pot, even though no flame could be seen. Bragg wouldn’t admit to being afraid, but it had been downright unnatural, it had.
Now, ol’ Hogrog had sent them to take some village, and he was eager for the distraction. Crushing ratmen was fun- they popped like little pimples- and kept his mind off the pain. The pain? Bragg looked at his arm, and saw burns there, like scalding water had been thrown on him. That was odd.
Looking away and gritting his teeth, he saw his warglutt had almost overrun the first hamlet of ramshackle hovels. The ratmen and goatmen could barely move in the deep drifts, but the ogors hardly noticed it. Bragg was eager to move further up the valley and kill more of the little critters, his killing rage fuelled by the fact that he daren’t eat any of them at the moment.
Something caught his attention, and he squinted through the icy winds that cut at his face. There, atop one of the hovels- a ratman, dressed in robes of white and red, waving his warpstone-tipped staff and censor and screeching.
Suddenly, the ogors about him were falling back, knocking against him. He yelped as one brushed against the burn on his arm and cuffed the gutbuster about the ear. Trying to get a grasp on his confusion, Bragg realized the ratmen were… alive? No, the dead ones were definitely still dead, but there were more now, pouring like roaches from the hovels. Dozens, hundreds, thousands.
Mouth agape, Bragg clutched his burnt arm and bellowed as the skaventide broke over him like a wave against a rock.
Cathedral of the Mariner
Reikenor the Grimhailer knew the man standing next to him was not there. A projection of a distant intellect, a thought within his own undying mind. The man had been a friend once, Reikenor thought. A friend he’d helped cheat death, and whom he’d killed for that same transgression.
“My lord, the Spineless approaches,” the man intoned. “He brings a mighty host.”
“What of it, Starmaster?” Reikenor snapped, tired of the constant mind games by his supposed ally. “You would not have brought me here if you meant to allow them to interfere.”
“The Spineless is not a foe the Seraphon can beat alone, my lord.” the man articulated, his tone calm, as if he were speaking of the weather. “Shyish must defend itself. The dead of Bykaal must fight.”
“You wish me to bait them into the burial grounds, Starmaster?” Reikenor scoffed. The Starmaster had sought this alliance because he knew the spawn of Dracothian were weak and the servants of Nagash were strong, yet somehow, the Grimhailer still felt like a mongrel yanked on a leash.
“No. I will bait the Spineless. You must enter the Cathredral of the Mariner. You hold the key; you must turn it in the lock.”
Reikenor made to reply, but the man was gone; the mental link severed. Reikenor spoke his mind anyway.
“When this deed is done, I’ll have your soul, Starmaster.”
The man was dressed only in simple priest’s robes, yet did not seem to notice the cold. If anything, the snow melted away in his presence, turning first to water and them to steam.
It was night, and the wind was howling. Even in this gloom, the man knew where he stood, the vast patch of even deeper darkness stretching out before him as though he stood on the edge of the void itself. The Breach, they called it. The place where the Ur-Whale had surfaced and broken the ice from below.
Kneeling, he reached and placed his hand in the glass-smooth water. Moments later, the water of the lake shook, ripples lapping against the ice where he knelt as something gigantic deep within the lake recoiled from his touch.
Mithridates Besh withdrew his hand and smiled.
TURN 1 NARRATIVE PATHS
Narrative Path 1
Expedition vs. Wretched
Expedition: Making contact with Lord-Celestant Han Shinzong – or at least discovering his fate – is first among the Expedition’s standing orders. Unfortunately, the vanguard Anruil Brighteyes sent to range ahead along the Thawing has found itself ambushed and encircled by the beast and rat-things of the Wretched native to this cursed underworld. Although they’ve found temporary refuge among the local farming folk of Bolyany, it’s only a matter of time before the vanguard is routed or destroyed.
Wretched: Even an army of Chaos marches on its stomach. For generations, the townsfolk of Boylany have been allowed to eke out their existence by delivering worthy tithes of beets and turnips to warherds loyal to the Oracle of Peace. Now, these same mongrels who owe their lives to the Peace’s mercy have thrown in their lot with Sigmar’s whelps, sheltering the Expedition’s retreating vanguard from our cunning ambush. It is better they’re put to the sword then find their crops in the bellies of men, aelves and duardin.
Narrative Path 2
Expedition vs. Pilgrimage
Expedition: It has not taken long for the thorn in Anruil Brighteyes’ side to draw blood. Envoys of the Pilgrimage claim that the Expedition has already attacked them and slain one of their number, the Abhorrent vampire who fancied himself a saint. Whatever the truth, merchant ships of the Expedition’s followers camp have come under attack as they depart the Ghyrplunge. If the realmgate is lost to these zealots, the Expedition will be cut off behind enemy lines.
Pilgrimage: The bumbling fools of the Expedition have already slain one of the Pilgrimage’s number, the holy martyr named Pale Saint by his Court. There is no place in Sigmar’s light for those who do not cower at his feet, and in this, the God-King is no better than Nagash. As Anruil Brighteyes is too feeble-minded for diplomacy, Arali Heartsbane has been left with no choice but to secure the Ghyrplunge, and the resupply it offers, with blades and bloodshed.
Narrative Path 3
Expedition vs. Perpetual
Expedition: With his armies making their way through the Ghyrplunge ship by ship, Anruil Brighteyes moved quickly to establish a mustering ground on the lake’s far shore south of Old Dyunsk. Now, the forces sent to secure the town and investigate the rumors of a Stormvault below it have reported a vast army of the Ossiarch Bonereapers bearing down on them. Every Azyrite knows what happened to the city of Lethis when the Legion of Grief breached its Stormvault and released Katakros back into Nagash’s service. That cannot be allowed to happen here.
Perpetual: Claiming Old Dyunsk is of paramount importance to Reikenor the Grimhailer, both to allow unfettered reinforcement to the lake’s other battlefields and to secure whatever forbidden power the thunder god may have secreted away beneath the town. To this end, legions of Ossiarch Bonereapers have already laid siege to Old Dyunsk. Once it is taken, their Mortisans will reshape it as the first of many new tithing sites.
Narrative Path 4
Soulmuncherz vs. Wretched
Soulmuncherz:“Koorrentz are wot takes us places in life.” Hogrog said unto the masses. Hogrog’s trackers told him, hours earlier, that they pinpointed the endpoint of the lake’s mystical currents: at the edgemost valley of Bykaal, where it drains into Gali’s Hooks. A huge pile of frozen dead bodies accumulates at the so-called Corpse Shallows. “An’ at the end ov da koorrent… da souls will find dere way to youz.” Under Deepkin incantations, the Soulmuncherz advanced stealthily onto shores near Poznyy. They had no idea what horrors would emerge from beneath the village, but so long as it gave a proppa scrap, they didn’t much care, either…
Wretched: The Oracle of Humility did not see the first war parties arrive at Poznyy, under the cover of some tricksy aelvish spell, no doubt. These brutish ambushers arrived almost undetected and traveled deep across the lake, their attacks mostly probing against the forces arrayed for the battle to defend the edgeward shore. The humble lives of those who live under the hills of Poznyy, diligently working for the betterment of all, shall not be allowed to be put under threat by these invaders.
Narrative Path 5
Soulmuncherz vs. Pilgrimage
Shore of Sightless Faces
Soulmuncherz: Dyrnawen’s soulscryers have guided a host of Soulmuncherz to the Shore of Sightless Faces to investigate tales of strange fish in the area. Upon arrival, the Deepkin’s scryers have become so agitated they immediately called for reinforcements to secure this part of the lake at all costs, and prevent any further ships from traveling down the Thawing and further into the lake.
Pilgrimage: Arali has commanded her forces to strike into Lake Bykaal’s heart like a plunging dagger. Skirting the mountains around Bolyany by keeping to the shores of the Thawing, these fast-moving armies have found themselves strung out, surrounded by cloying mists and beset by the brutish children of Gorkamorka lurking within them. If it is a fight the Idoneth Deepkin and their thick-headed pawns want, then it is a fight Arali will give them. Should the Pilgrimage falter here, those armies already fighting the Undivided will surely be overwhelmed.
Narrative Path 6
Soulmunchers vs. Perpetual
Soulmuncherz: Dyrnawen of the Void Trenches, the Silverfish of Mor’phann, has been wary of Starmaster Zectoka’s goals, after hearing what his celestial arts wrought in Amasya. Destruction at that scale cannot be permitted to happen here. And now, the Perpetual forces are upon them: they have been found crossing the icebergs covering New Dyunsk. Many cursed souls are trapped here around Tsatraya: an easy resource, and something that the Silverfish cannot ignore… yet these are not really the souls he is looking for. Not yet. He needs more time. These Perpetual will learn to keep away from the bounty of the soul eaters.
Perpetual: The key to this entire conflict is the priest-king Mithridates Besh and the doom he portends. Omens discerned by both Reikenor and Zectoka indicate the path this man treads has some conflation with the Idoneth Deepkin, yet the meaning of that connection is still veiled. Meanwhile, the scouting parties sent to run Besh to ground have instead found themselves hard pressed near Tsatraya by a horde of grots, orruks and ogors aided by Idoneth magic. This cannot be a coincidence; the Perpetual’s armies must break free of this engagement and continue their pursuit of Besh.
Narrative Path 7
Undivided vs. Wretched
Undivided: Burdening his greatest champions with the chore of guarding the Enlightenment Engine concealed within Nyuranka, Qarang Sarn himself pursues a challenge more to his liking: putting the upstart beast-shaman who fancies himself an oracle in his place. More than the Gods favor rests in the balance, however: the army which controls the ice around the Breach has the ability to strike anywhere around the lake they wish.
Wretched: The Oracle of Peace has summoned a procession of forgiveness, a dangerous trek into the center of the lake, across the icy surface and the mists. His forces are used to it, they are hardy and have learned to avoid the longships of the dead. They have issued a challenge to the Varanguard invader Qarang Sarn, at the great breach in the ice at the center of the lake. They will draw him out. They will make him beg for forgiveness. He will bend or break, and in so doing, so will his armies.
Narrative Path 8
Undivided vs. Pilgrimage
Undivided: The aspiring champions entrusted with guarding Nyuranka shall not take a single step backward, for secreted away within the long-abandoned temple complex is Irkut Thousandeyes’ prize bauble: the Enlightenment Engine of Teclis. With both Irkut and Qarang Sarn away, these warbands must prove themselves in the eyes of the Everchosen and break their Pilgriamge besiegers before enemy reinforcement can arrive.
Pilgrimage: Heedless of the cost, the most zealous among the Pilgrimage have pursued the Undivided across Lake Bykaal like a hound hunts a fox. While Arali’s agents cannot say why the Undivided have claimed the ruined temple of Nyuranka and the so-called Kingspyre which guards it, their reasons matter little: every last maggotkin, arcanite, bloodreaver and hedonite among them cannot be allowed to escape with their lives. Although the Undivided outnumber the Pilgrimage three to one, it shall be an even fight…
Narrative Path 9
Undivided vs. Perpetual
Cathedral of the Mariner
Undivided: Irkut Thousandeyes’ mind and body burns with the light of pure Hyshian enlightenment. He has seen beyond the veil of reality, and has borne witness to truths the likes of which the Slann and the Gaunt Summoners jealously keep to themselves. Predicting the Starmaster Zectoka’s movements even before he’s made them, Irkut is eager to match wits with a worthy opponent- and perhaps even bathe in the glory of finally defeating this ancient adversary of the Ruinous Powers.
Perpetual: For an intellect as unknowable and vast as Zectokas, countless possible futures cross like the weave of some great cloth. One such place of convergence is the Bay of Bysuud, where Zectoka’s design to defeat Mithridates Besh’s ambitions intertwines with a grave threat to both Dracothian and Nagash. The Undivided’s control of an intact Enlightenment Engine and the aelven secrets within it marks a clear and present threat to Zectoka and his fellows. The Perpetual must claim the Cathedral of the Mariner and drive the Undivided from Bysuud.