Turn 1 After Action Report
Narrative Path 1
Expedition vs. Wretched
Reinforcements pulled from New Dyunsk after the truce there were able to re-enforce the vanguard at Bolyany, just barely beating back the Wretched before they would have been overrun. The town itself was held in a pyrrhic victory, but they were unable to make any progress tracking Lord-Celestant Han Shinzong and the old growth turnip patches have been lost to the Wretched.
Narrative Path 2
Expedition vs. Pilgrimage
The fighting was fierce, and although many supply ships were escorted down the Strait of Lauchon to relative safety, Arali Heartsbane’s followers were ultimately victorious, their faith and sheer doggedness allowing them to take total control of the Ghyrplunge from the stooges of her pathetic half-brother. There will be no further resupply or reinforcement for the Expedition for the time being.
Narrative Path 3
Expedition vs. Perpetual
After a day and a night of fighting, an agreement was struck between the Expedition and the Perpetual, both sides finding opportunity in avoiding a protracted fight for the ruined town. Together, they have begun attempts to gain entrance into the ancient Azyrite structures there. However, as the truce did not specify terms beyond Old Dyunsk itself, the bulk of the Perpetual reinforcements have bypassed the town and marched deeper into Lake Bykaal.
Narrative Path 4
Soulmuncherz vs. Wretched
After hard fighting over Poznyy, the Wretched have retreated back underground, leaving the surface to the Soulmuncherz and daring them to come down after them. The warrens are secure but the village and the corpse shallows belong to the Soulmuncherz, where the Idoneth and the Bonesplitterz have gone to work on the the frozen dead. The many, many cadavers from the battles raging across Bykaal have begun drifting down to the shallows as well, their lingering souls fresh for munching.
Narrative Path 5
Soulmuncherz vs. Pilgrimage
Shore of Sightless Faces
After two days of brutal fighting back and forth across the ice, the Soulmuncherz and the Pilgrimage struck a bargain, which afforded the Soulmuncherz control of the Shore of Sightless Faces and allowed the Arali Heartsbane’s relief column to advance southward toward Nyuranka. Hogrog canonized several heroes into da Grate Saga for their proppa scrappin’, and the Idoneth’s soul-mages have begun unraveling the shore’s secrets.
Narrative Path 6
Soulmunchers vs. Perpetual
The Soulmuncherz had no stomach to fight- literally, as it were. Dyrnawen’s scouting parties did not have the numbers to hold this search site in the face of overwhelming odds. Intent not to lose Mithridates Besh’s trail, the Perpetual marched in force onto the ice, and with no real interest in fighting a losing battle, the Soulmuncherz retreated after the opening skirmishes. However, as they advanced, the Perpetual found dying Soulmuncherz where they had fallen as they withdrew, seemingly sickened but without visible wounds…
Narrative Path 7
Undivided vs. Wretched
Although two great hosts of ruinous powers met upon the icy field of battle eager for bloodshed, the Oracle of Peace lived up to his name and found common ground with the warrior-orator Basalt Lord Qarang Sarn, turning away both their hosts without loss of life.
Narrative Path 8
Undivided vs. Pilgrimage
The opening assault struck hard and fast, pushing over the Ketkosmoshe and reaching the temple walls themselves; however, without timely reinforcement, the Pilgrimage could not maintain their momentum once it devolved to a siege, and were pushed back and almost routed until Arali arrived with her relief column. Suddenly outnumbered in the open field, the Undivided were forced to withdraw back behind their walls. Although the Undivided still hold the temple, the Ketkosmoshe and the Beshivet are in the hands of the Pilgrimage.
Narrative Path 9
Undivided vs. Perpetual
Cathedral of the Mariner
Zectoka and Irkut the Spineless locked might and wits, trading blows across entire battlelines like master duellists while Reikenor entered the Cathedral and attempted to discern its place in Zectoka’s plan to defeat Mithridates Besh. As the battle grinds to a stalemate, both sides find themselves frustrated- it is not the resounding victory Irkut hoped for, while the Perpetual have lost time and numbers on a fight they cannot risk losing.
The Turn 2 Unfolding Narrative
Cathedral of the Mariner
The Skink Starpriest thrashed in Irkut Thousandeye’s iron grip, trying uselessly to break free even as he laughed. The Darkoath warrior he had been would have found his mind taxed by simultaneous combat and command, but now- fighting for his life took up only a drop of concentration, and with the rest he could look on the battle as though it was a game of Hnefatafl back in the village of his birth. It was glorious, this was, matching wits with the Slann so intimately, feeling his expanded understanding check and counter every move made by the Seraphon’s war-constellation.
Fie on the fools who’d warned him against tapping into the Enlightenment Engine. Those bloody days in Amasya felt like a lifetime ago- here and now, his only regret was that he hadn’t had the chance to reach zenith sooner…
Oro’thu the Fourhorn crept through the empty halls of the Cathedral, three of his fellow Ungors following just behind. Let ghosts and men fight outside, he and his compatriots were going to wreck the Perpetual’s prize right now.
There. Hanging above them like some giant carcass, the center of the manfolk construction- the ancient bell. It looked proud, suspended so high above the floor- he suspected it would look differently shattered on the ground.
Almost without thinking, his clawed hand came to grab the bell pull- and he gave a bray of surprise and alarm. It was warm and had a pulse, like he’d just grabbed the tail of a very large and very angry beast. He made to drop it, and found that he couldn’t, that his hand was locked around the rope. Panicking, he reeled back, drawing the line taught like a fish on a hook- and then the bell began its swing.
Irkut Thousandeyes no longer saw just as mere mortals saw. And as the sound of the bell echoed in his ears, he beheld a skeletal walrus roaring in frustration, trying to awaken her children. He turned to look across the lake, toward where he knew the Ossiarch Empire stood defiant against the Dark Gods many leagues away. Letting the Starpriest’s body fall limply to the ground, his face broadened into a scholar’s smile. “Fascinating.”
Reikenor hung motionless in the bell chamber. There was an Ungor suspended from the cord attached to the bell, hanging just opposite him- fully thirty feet off of the ground. Beneath them, three of the beast’s companions lay splayed out- one had had every bone in its body shattered, another looked to have bashed in its own head, and a third lay in a pool of more blood than its own body could have contained.
The one on the rope was still alive, though, if only faintly. Blood trickled from both of his ears, and he bleated softly- almost piteously, Reikenor would say, if Nagash had allowed him to feel pity. As the Grimhailer watched the beastman was drawn upwards towards the now-silent metal colossus overhead. Alive, perhaps, but not for long.
“9 rings, entwined. Flames, under ice. Rings free and bind! The godbeast’s shadow, power unseen…” The words spill from Irkut’s mouth yet are beneath his notice. It was… exhilarating, matching wits with the Slann for so long, setting himself as that mighty consciousness’ equal. Exhilarating, and yet it would be more satisfying to Irkut to overcome the enemy, to be the victor instead of just the opponent.
For a moment, his mind spilled further outward still- he beheld all the battles of the war raging around Bykaal, and wondered if this was the level the Starmaster truly thought on, if he could hold the personal and the tactical and strategic in his mind all at once. Disquieting, and even more disquieting to think that while they fought here, the wider war might just be unraveling even now. Such were the burdens of those who walked the path of the split mind.
Reikenor turned, and flew back to the battle raging inconclusively outside. Let the thing have its meal. The Starmaster would want to know what he had seen- and Nagash would as well.
General Gustav Johan Schmidt cursed as they made good their retreat. It had been a valiant effort- they’d given as good as they’d gotten, in his estimation- but despite the very best efforts of the Hammers of Hammerhal, his fears upon exiting the realmgate had been proven correct. The first of many battles saw Lord-Arcanum Azyrhand sent back to Azyr in a flash of lightning, the Fyreslayers of Gryndr and Ashfyrd Lodges taking a heavy toll on the Expedition battleline before Gustav’s artillery punished them for their insolence.
Their Kharadron allies had been a blessing, their ironclads and gunhaulers sending a Terrorgheist and its crazed bat-friends tumbling into the icy waters before they could outflank his position. They pull the last of the artillery back onto the launches under the Doveguard’s steam tank “Big Antonio”, but he’d lost sight of Konrad Rotstahl’s men in another damnable squall after that.
So, that was it, then. It had been an hour of heroes and villains, but the supply line was lost. The Expedition- no, to hell’s bells with them, the Hammers of Hammerhal- had been defeated. Listening to the ship’s rigging creak in the wind, Gustav watched Prosecutor-Prime Sorrus Skyhammer fly overhead and idly wondered who among them would get stuck reporting this disaster to Anruil Brighteyes personally.
Shore of Sightless Faces
Dyrnawen Silverfish smiled, a rare sight for an Idoneth and even rarer for one of the grim Mor’Phann enclave. Hogrog’s simpletons had done well, and the “Soulmuncherz” had reaped their reward for it. The Shore of Sightless Faces was aptly name, for hundreds- thousands, even- of his lost kin gathered here, seeking what warmth they could from the life-giving waters of Ghyran that had seeped down through the hallowed necropolis before the Slann Zectoka had blasted the Ghyrplunge open.
Yet the thing was not yet accomplished. His Cyfar compass had not yet lied in seven centuries of life; an abundance of withered Namarti fish-souls yet resided deeper in the lake, a belief shared by other Soulscryers among the Silverfish’s allies. The task ahead would not be easy, and Dyrnawen would not entrust it to just any common Akhelian scout.
“Eldorys Scalesteed,” Dyrnawen inclined his head respectfully, before returning his piercing gaze to the voltspear-weilding Akhelian Emissary who returned the gesture, silently. “This lake is far colder than any Enclave’s sea. Is your fangmora prepared?”
Again, Eldorys acknowledged without a word.
“… And are you prepared, Eldorys?” Dyrnawen added, quietly.
The Akhelian looked away, her silence seeming to say without words, “What do you think?” Saluting once more, the Scalesteed sped off, making all speed for the Breach.
Satisfied that his plans were in motion, Dyrnawen turned to receive the grot messenger who been waiting nervously to deliver his message, hopping from one foot to the other, the diminutive greenskin’s fight-or-flight instincts clearly in overdrive among the flying creatures and sightless aelves of the Idoneth. The Silverfish recognized the Oath-Gobbla’s colors on the messenger; Nikkit, maybe? The Soulscryer still wasn’t used to having to care about the ugly names of Gorkamorka’s spawn.
“Come, friend!”, Dyrnawen said, speaking slowly and calmly as to not spook the grot. “Assuredly, you bear good tidings from Hogrog ug Weirdklaw at the Corpse Shallows?”
“‘Ee, yea, youz see, er…” the Grot looked about shiftily and gritted his teeth, as if Dyrnawen was about to swat him with his dowserchimes. “About dat, so, um, funny fing happened on da way ‘ere…” The Silverfish’s brow furrowed as the grot stalled, but before he could press the issue, a commotion drew his attention- a Soulscryer of Ambasadress Eola’s Umharian enclave had returned from scouting.
“The soul-fish,” the Soulscryer wept as Dyrnawen rushed to her side, her hands trembling and burnt as if he’d plunged them into a magmic Aqshyan sea-vent. “It’s the soul-fish, Dyrnawen, they’re- it’s horrible-” drifting in and out of consciousness, she slumped over into the arms of the Namarti of her Leviadan’s crew. Dyrnawen rose, and looked at the bounty they’d brought with them.
Dozens of Namarti soul-fish lay in the howdah on the back of the Leviathan, barely alive and badly burned, their mouths open agony, empty eyes seemingly wide with the pain, their struggles weak if they struggled at all.
The Silverfish’s dowserchimes rattled in the crisp winter air as Dyrnawen’s hands trembled in rage.
Along Sobolev’s Road
The wind off Bykaal was bitter. Sobolev’s Road offered no shelter from the elements, and Anruil’s command tent was built for a Ghyranic climate, not these frozen shores. For all this, though, the communique he’d just received from a field scribe of the Quill Celestial found him sweating anyways.
My compliments from the Ghyrplunge… regrettably outmaneuvered… withdraw or be destroyed… valiant rearguard action… total concession of the Realmgate area… Juliet Florens…
How had it come to this? Just a few short days ago, the Expedition had seemed the titan of the factions fighting over Bykaal, with more resources and more firepower than any other. And yet- a week of furious fighting had given them what? A truce with the undead, leaving whatever was in the Stormvault in jeopardy. A town of turnip-farmers, but no turnips. And a severed connection with Amasya and his base of support.
Breathe in, breathe out, steady your shaking hands. He folded the letter and slid it back into his pocket. If nothing else his father had succeeded by virtue of seeming unflappable- it was a lesson the younger Anruil had to cling to even in times like these. The game was in jeopardy, but not yet lost- not if he acted decisively enough. He rose from his desk and walked outside.
“Aye?” The old Kharadron Admiral was neck deep in an aetherengine when he found him, but the tone in Anruil’s voice saw him scrambling out fast enough. “What’s t’matter?”
“It’s the Realmgate.” The Duardin’s face turned a curious shade of pale in the purple-tinted twilight. “I’m told they fought very bravely.”
“…Aye. Tsatraya, then?”
“I think so.” They were walking away from the main body of soldiers now, trying to put some distance between them and any curious ears. “We need a base, and that’s the largest on the lake. I’ll need you to get word out, have your ships rally our soldiers for the attack.”
“Nae a problem, if t’weather holds. And e’en if it don’t…”
“I’m going to work on opening a reliable route to Bolyany. With the gate closed, that’s our largest stockpile of food and supplies, and we’ll need it if we’re to secure the city.”
“Aye.” Bjornssen scratched at his beard pensively. “If I may.”
“Send Thunderstruck to do th’ job. ‘S a good sort, and not likely to get lost along th’way.”
High praise from a former Navigator. “Done, and my thanks. One other thing.”
“Wha’s tha’ then?”
“One of your ships. I might need it for a suicide mission.” The Duardin’s brow furrowed, and Anruil hastened on. “Not to undertake one, to deliver it. We can’t get armies or supplies through the Ghyrplunge, but we might be able to send a message.”
Comprehension spilled onto Bjornssen’s face like a dropped mug of fine ale. “The Soulbound, then? If’n a Binding gets through, kin tell von Helminger abou’ wha’s happened…”
“Then it becomes her problem as well as ours.”
“Aye.” The Admiral looked pensive for a moment. “Tsatraya. There’s more to it than just size, tho’, ain’t there. It’s a fine decision strategy-wise, mind, but… it’s also abou’ him, isn’t it? Yer thinkin’, perhaps he’ll be there, an’ I can ask him how he did it when th’ chips were down.”
Anruil stiffened, and then relaxed with a sigh. “I think that’s everything then. I won’t keep you here any longer.”
“Aye. But Anruil- yer da’- he was a fine sailor, a wild soul, an’ an utter arse when t’mood took him. Ye’ve got yer own life ta live, don’ try an’ live his. For anyone’s sake.”
He took a moment to reflect after Bjornssen had departed, standing at the edge of camp. Soon they’d pack up back onto the ships, to rendezvous with the rest of the Expedition at Uyar’s Point and prepare for the assault on Tsatraya, and Sobolev’s Road could go back to being useless and forgotten. In ten years, would they say the same about him?
Ancamarth Hearbreaker walked through the ruined streets, reflecting. It seemed strange to be in partnership with the dead, after years spent fighting them… then again, in her experience the unusual was often the most effective. Take your foes by surprise, find a path to victory no one expected, walk away with the prize.
Her feet carried her to the supposed Stormvault doors in the center of the town. “Have they found anything yet?”
The Executioner outside shook his head, gesturing to where the Perpetual’s skeletons were still chipping relentlessly away. Unsurprising. The ancient stonework had stood for millennia- it would take some time to chip away. No matter. She had plenty of other webs to attend to- and then she heard it.
The bell had rung once before, a few days ago- everyone heard it then, its dolorous chimes echoing across the lake. It seemed somehow angrier, more urgent, and she’d learned enough in her centuries not to dismiss that as her imagination. She definitely wasn’t imagining what came in response, the long, low blast of noise, melodic like the sound of a warhorn. She froze- the Executioner reached smoothly for his sword- even the skeletons seemed to pause in their labor for a heartspan, before ceaselessly plink-plink-plinking away again.
“It must be lonely out here, just you and the bones.” The Executioner did not move, but she could tell that he understood. “Let me find you some compatriots to ease your watch.” There was more than just dusty artefacts on the far side of those doors, and she intended to have a say in whatever they found.
Dyrnawen had been correct- the deeps were cold, so cold that she did not feel chilled much as she felt pain. Her fangmora felt it too, but it was a good steed and loyal- it would do as she bid, until they succeeded… or they perished.
Indeed, it was not the cold Eldorys Scalesteed feared in these depths, but their denizens. This was no normal lake- this was an underworld of Shyish, and even the Namarti fish-souls they sought were just that, withered half-souls given shape, living a lessened and unholy life after death. Her boiling blood was warmth enough against the numbing cold of these waters, and the thought that her beloved might have been reduced to… this… drove her ever deeper.
The Soulscryers were in agreement, Dyrnawen had said. There was a preponderance of souls deep in the lake, yet even their cyfar compasses and dowserchimes could not locate exactly where. This is what necessitated her mission: to risk life and limb and discover them for herself.
It was some time before she realized the lakebed cliffs she had been following were not, in fact, cliffs at all, but the flanks of some ponderous, dead creature. No, not a creature- a godbeast. An Ur-Whale. She crept her fangmora closer, floating on the slow currents here, far below the ice and away from the Ghyrplunge. The godbeast was rotting, yes, but preserved, as if the icy water had thwarted millenia of decomposition. Barnacles grew on its flesh, spiked and-
-not barnacles. Faces. Eldorys recoiled in shock.
Tens of thousands of faces, their chins the tips of barnacles, encased the flesh of the whale. Their eyes were blind, their mouths open in silent screams, and where their foreheads should have been, the unmistakable rune of the Namarti…
The Emissary of Archaon Everchosen stood on the walls of the temple and hated what she saw below.
It was a feeling that had become bitterly familiar over the centuries, as each day gave a new reminder of the Gods’ indifference. She watched the number who struggled and failed to better themselves in the cosmic lottery, the masses spilling out their final breaths like unheeded prayers all in the hope that one or two of them might somehow pull ahead of the game. By this point she knew better- there was no moving ahead, only a different factor of damnation.
The soldiers of the Pilgrimage thronged before her, just outside of the reach of shaft and spell. The Marauders might have carried few ranged weapons, but they’d taught the enemy to fear what they had- the ground before the walls was littered with corpses, Aelf, Duardin, Man and stranger things still, those who’d thought to make a path by main force and learned the folly of playing children of the Dark Gods at their own game. Kingspyre and the Spine Bridge may have fallen, Zaynab and Bael-Grimnir, damn his eyes, might have won their petty victories, but the Temple itself still remained solidly in the Undivided’s hands.
It would not be enough, though. The temple complex was not built for a siege, and without retaking the initiative they were just waiting for Arali Heartsbane to make her next move. It was a bitter irony, as were all things- she’d scolded the other Varanguard for losing the Gods’ path, for stumbling over their own feet, and yet here she was risking forfeiting the Enlightenment Engine. She couldn’t face the two Varanguard if she was responsible for such a reversal, but then again she wouldn’t have to- she would wind up like old Crom, a gibbering, snuffling mass of flesh and tentacles haunting the shores.
A noise like a Bloodthirster’s basso laughter distracted her from her unpleasant reverie, filling the air and drowning out the tumult of the battle that still flared along some points along the perimeter. It was the ancient chime of the Cathedral- did the sound mean that Irkut was victorious? Had the Seraphon overcome the Spineless? Or had something entirely different come to pass?
The notes were coming from two directions now- she could hear it distantly, pouring down from Irkut’s battle, but also near at hand- it was as though the bell could be in two places at once, in the Cathedral of the Mariner and also suspended here in Nyuranka’s temple. Interesting. No mortal instrument was this- something far deeper and more ancient was at play, something as old as Bykaal itself…
“Compatriot-friends.” The warren was usually a chaotic mass of conversations, but this dropped to silence as the Oracle of Humility raised his voice. “We must give thanks-welcome to our friend-things who have brought us to this day. Many-many of us have toil-worked on our project-things, but first-foremost is Doktor Morr-Rat, friend-thing and scholar-person. His thought-investment in this project-undertaking was almost as large as my own.”
The Oracle inclined his head at a shadowy figure off in the gloom, and the warren echoed to a smattering of applause, cheering and scurrilous insults. After a moment of this, the rat man raised his hand for silence again.
“Yes-yes. We are at the cusp-start of a glorious new dawn. True, the green-things and the fish-things think they have us trapped-” Here he had to pause, as the chamber erupted in catcalls and boos. “Yes-yes, but they have made a bad-mistake that will cost-tax them dearly. We have not been idle-bored during these last-few weeks. No-never, we have used them industriously-well, even while the green-things and the fish-things did nothing!”
The room thundered with raucous cheering, and the Oracle let it carry on for almost a minute, whiskers twitching. “Please-please, friends. Today, we are going to rewrite the narrative-story of our war-fight. No longer will we remain like vermin-things in a hole- no-no, to stay here would be to court ruin in pursuit of hubris-pride. Today, we will take wing-fly. We will smash-destroy the green-things, the fish-things, all the things which stand between us and total domination.”
“And how, you ask, will we accomplish-do these things? How are we to break-defeat the siege of the warrens? With the product-results of our work, the fruits of our mind-thought. Our best think-minds have cracked the fish-thing soul-code, deciphered the mind-logic behind their vital-arts. And I give to you now the product of our science-thought!”
A curtain at the back of the room fell away, to reveal a massive cage. Inside there was a monster- fully thrice the height of a man, yet completely hairless except for the two great chiropteran wing-limbs folded at its side. Its face looked like a sculptor’s reimagination of a many-headed eel, and its eyes were set deeply into its skull. The whole was almost grotesquely graceful, and there was no mistaking that what was here was originally derived from Aelfen stock.
“With this, friend things. With this, and its pack-mates, we will break the siege and rout our foe-enemies. With these, we will take to the air-aether, and fly along the BorYuugvitre-wind. And then…” Humility’s eyes were shining in the darkness. “Then, we will rain down death-fire from the air on our foe-enemies, and we will ultimately-finally be free!”
Hogrog ug Weirkdlaw rattled his ju-ju staff and cut greenskin glyphs in the air with his knife as he danced and pranced his way through the howling mob. Grots, orruks, ogors- all bellowed triumphantly at the Wurrgog’s arrival, the Waaagh! Energy in the air like static electricity.
“Ya dun good, ladz! ‘At’s right, erry last wun uv youz!” Hogrog belted out, his throaty pronunciations seemingly amplified rather than muffled by the big Wurrgog mask hiding his face.
“Da Woit Grunt! ‘E wot leapt dat pathetic wall dem rats wuz hidin’ behind, cuz dey’s so short dey can do dat sorta fing. Shorter’n even dat git Nikkit, dem rat-’oomies are!” Raucous laughter met Hogrog’s joke. “Not big an’ strong, like Urrookabar ‘ere!” Hogrog hopped from one foot to the other over to the towering greenskin and slapped him on the bicep. Standing taller than even Belagar-Bel, the megaboss grinned and flexed for all to see. Jeers and whistles met his display as Hogrog spun off into the crowd again, the drums of his Badfangs pounding like the racing heartbeat of Gorkamorka himself.
“But you’z don’t need ter be big an’ strong fer a place in da Grate Saga!” Hogrog continued, his masks’s eyes beginning to arc with green energy. “Gorkamorka may be da god uv Ghur, but da grots, da orruks, even da ogors- wez more den beasts! We ‘ave wurdz, an’ derefor, we iz!”
“Orrukz iz never defeated in battle. Dey say dat’z cuz If we win, we win, an if we die we die fighting, so it don’t count. Den, if we runs for it we don’t die neither, cos we can come back for annuver go, yea? But ol’ Hogrog, I don’t know if dat’s true…” The Wurrgog shushed the unruly crowd with a wave of his hand and a dramatic thump-thump-thump of a thick finger against the side of his head.
“Wotever you do, wurdz are gonna be said about you. You lot all talk about Nippy when ‘e’s not around, right? Don’t deny it, gitz, I’ve ‘eard ya. An’ wot about dat Green Knight lad? You lot don’t want ‘im near ya, ‘cause ‘es weirder’n a Weirdnob. An’ da gitz we fight, dey talk too. Dey talk about ‘ow bad you krump’d ‘em if you win, an’ dey talk about ‘ow bad dey krump’d you if you lose, an’ dey talk about WOT LI’L GNOBLARZ YOU IZ WHEN YOUZ RUN FER IT!”
This last statement was met with howls and jeers as the mob’s spirits turned sour. “You see, gitz, wurdz are da soul. An’ if dose gitz we fight can’t speak no more wurdz ‘cauze we knocked ‘em all outta dere ‘eadz, den dat’s just as good as takin’ bonez from a beast!”
The raucous, bellowed cheers of enthusiasm were good enough for Hogrog, whether or not those assembled actually understood a word he’d said. He decided to end his speech, well, the only way he knew how.
“WE IZ DA WURD UF GORKAMORKA, AN’ DA WURD IZ WAAAGH!”
The Ice Beyond Dreadfleet Harbour
The Basalt Lord was nobody’s knight in shining armor, and the Emissary was nobody’s damsel in distress. To characterize either of them that way- at least to their faces- would have been an exercise in terminal thinking. And yet Qarang Sarn’s hurry would have been recognizable to students of chivalric lore in every age- here was a lord hastening to the rescue.
His hellish steed had led the van at a trot for hours now, Chaos Knights and Marauder Horsemen struggling to keep up the pace. Further behind, an entire column of Warriors, Marauders and stranger things beside filled the road, the shaft to his spearhead. If they had been mortals of the Pantheon they could never have expected to make Nyuranka in any shape to fight, but the Dark Gods gave their servants a stamina born of equal parts vainglory and abject fear.
“Varanguard.” The mounted Chosen riding next to him jerked an armored helm, and he saw a bloated, pustulent figure riding up the flank on a rancid steed, eating up the distance between them with a speed that smelled of urgency.
“Hail, Herald of Ruin!” Sarn waved a gauntleted hand, and the Nurglish horseman slowed to pace the vanguard. “What news from Yer-Wrang?”
“Basalt Lord. Compliments from the Rancid One.” He was huffing and puffing, a pustulent cloud floating through his visor grill. “Sir, the Idoneth- the Greenskins-”
“Has there been an attack?” He couldn’t afford a delay- and yet none who crossed Qarang Sarn could be allowed to live.
“No, Varanguard.” The warrior cleared his throat pustulently. “Belleck’s Trench, Lord. We found them out on the ice, exploring. They must be trying for the Necromancer’s horde.”
So there hadn’t been an attack… and yet it still felt like an assault against him. What servant of the Everchosen was he, if he couldn’t even protect the last remains of such a champion as Yusuf Belleck? And if the rumors were true, if there was a Realmgate in the abyss…
He turned to the Chosen again. “Eris.”
“Lord.” Eris Bloodwrath’s eyes were smoldering embers through her visor-slit.
“Take a part of the column and march for the trench. Foot and hoof, but spare the horse- Nyuranka still calls.”
“Aye, lord.” She peeled off and headed back towards the rear.
“And Eris!?” She did not turn her head, but her posture told him she was listening. “Not a trinket for the Greenskins, or I will know why!” Eris raised a fist in salute, and then kicked her warsteed into a canter. But the Basalt Lord’s attention was already elsewhere. Nyuranka still lay ahead, and Qarang Sarn intended to make her wait a short one.
Toc’ka-Iktori knew the will of Starmaster Zectoka as surely as he could breathe. It was as present as the sun by day and the stars by night, an astral beam illuminating his thoughts and pushing him ever onward. It was that unconscious, ever-present will that had him hurrying through the streets, back towards the Seraphon encampment. He had heard the sound like the roar of a wounded god, and the answering call of whatever lay in the Stormvault. The other Seraphon had to know- and they had to know what he’d seen as well.
It had appeared to his eyes, just as the noise sounded in the deep- an ancient glyph, carved near the door barring the vault, as though defying He who had shut away its contents. A bluntly shaped skull-sigil, its countenance baring two fearsome downward-facing fangs: the symbol of death-goddess Nyura herself.
The fighting in the frozen forest had been fierce- some of the worst Arras Danathan had ever seen, truth be told- but their relief force had carried the day, more or less. The old growth turnip patches had been lost, and razed by the Wretched as they retreated. It would be generations before the odd townsfolk of Bolyany could restore them, if they didn’t all starve to death first.
Hilmar Thunderstruck had arrived the night before, bearing news- break camp and scavenge whatever resupply could be begged, bartered or stolen from the locals. The order did not sit well with Walfried Pruefer and his Stonewind Militia, who had already fought and died in battle against the Butcher of Cevansdale to preserve the supposed innocents of this backwater gnawhole of a town.
Indeed, the battle had appeared all but lost, the Stormcast brotherhoods of Arven Stonewalker and Azoralth Soultracker hard-pressed to hold the line against the infamous likes of Kalkarra Evil-Eye and the Gaunt Summoner Rit’zk’ex. It was not until a desperate sortie by the freeguild of Albus Lorcain disabled Zippit Warpclaw’s artillery that the tide was finally turned.
Rubbing his eyes against the weariness- he hadn’t slept in days- Arras once again scanned the horizon. The crossing was worse than dangerous, but then, such were the perils of duty. The beast they named Orkkuh lurked in these waters, and if the wild-eyed claims were true, its jaws could snap a ship such as his in twain.
The cry of alarm that broke his reveries was made by Hilmar Thunderstruck. Even as another squall had swept up from their starboard side, the reforged warrior’s eyes had picked out the silhouettes of figures in the driving snow. A lone rider, and pecking at him like carrion, the unmistakable eels of the Idoneth Deepkin…
Their hold of mouldering turnips forgotten and the clamour of Stormcast taking up hammer and shield ringing in his ears, Arras shouted commands and put his vessel hard over, making for the stranger in the storm…
“We won.” The campfires of the Pilgrimage were burning low, but there was still revelry to be had even hours after the victory feast had begun. “We won in every battle that mattered, and conceded all those that didn’t.” She was drunk, Arali knew. Drunk off of success, yes, but more importantly drunk off of a cask of hundred year blood wine tapped for just the occasion. Not as drunk as many, though- the camp was littered with those sleeping off tonight’s festivities. She looked almost fondly at where Bael-Grimnir snored beside her, his beard sopping up whatever ale had missed his mouth.
Besides, as drunk as she might be, in the morning she would be sober again… and Anruil would still be a failure. Von Helminger’s golden boy had only proven good at running away, leaving her in control of the route back to Amasya. Perhaps when he came begging with the starving scraps of his armies she’d allow a little mercy, after exacting as much pleasure as she could from watching him squirm. Perhaps not. Mercy was well and good, but so was torment, and she had centuries of injustice to make up.
She owed the day’s victories to her allies, that she knew. The Vostargi, Dulien, Zharn Bronsson, Balthnor Rosewolf- who was Balthnor really, anyway?- Torag Tome-Eater… she’d thanked some of them at the feast, and others she would find in the morning. It had been their ceaseless effort that had broken the Expedition’s lines, and left Anruil’s armies scrambling back across the ice. It was thanks to them that they were sitting on a feast, even as her sire’s worthless son was starving Khaine alone knew where.
Well. Khaine alone knew where he was now (though she had a pretty good guess), but she knew where he was going. The leader of the Expedition was not as safe from curious ears as he thought he was, and she had a few still in his camp. Tsatraya- doubtless to regroup and try to reassert himself after the mess he’d made of the last battles, and try to figure out how to prosecute a war on a diet of turnips and blood beets. She was almost tempted to leave him to it… but again, mercy was well and good, but so was torment, and she had pressing reasons to be in Tsatraya of her own.
Break Anruil Jr there, and the Expedition would be scattered to the four winds, even more of a laughingstock of an army than it was now. Take the city, and the beacon would lie within her grasp- light it, and she could call the ghosts of Bykaal “home”… and with them, the spectral remains of her cursed father, there to do with as she pleased. No, she would not leave her half-brother to it.
Equally interesting was the battle at the other end of the lake- the Pilgrimage had won a victory there, thanks to some last-second wheeling and dealing with the Greenskins and fish-aelves of all people. The brutes of Chaos were penned up in the death-temple, and with them the golden treasure they’d carried to Bykaal with them… an intact Enlightenment Engine. Her pulse quickened despite herself at the thought. A treasure of Teclis, uncorrupted by the aeons, priceless beyond measure.
Taking it would be difficult to say the least- at least two armies were converging to try and lift their siege of Nyuranka. But if they could beat them both off, if they could capture Teclis’ ancient machine for themselves, the potential rewards were so vast as to boggle the imagination. The gratitude of a god. The fame of having retaken what had slipped through the Delegation’s fingers. And, she added, the vindication of having won another magnificent victory, of putting the Expedition and its master to shame. She, Arali Heartsbane, would be catapulted to glory within the Daughters of Khaine and among Aelves all throughout the Realm, and she would eclipse her worthless parent once and for all.
The challenges had only grown, but so had the stakes. The future was full of prizes- all that remained was to grasp them. And with that thought, Arali Heartsbane allowed herself to drift off into a wary sleep…
After their skirmish against the Ogors, the once-Stormcast of the Ancient Souls and the Seraphon scouting party of Scar-Veteran Ictunin had moved deeper into the lake. The few stars they could make out told Ictunin they were moving toward the Shyish Nadir, yet it was the wind against Caleb the Unskinned’s fleshless face that told them they were near the Breach as the driving snow turned to icy sleet around them.
They came upon ogors there, too, but these presented no threat. They lay where Ictunin and Caleb found them, their breaths quick and shallow, their eyes sightless and glazed over, weapons tumbled from nerveless fingers as if they’d simply laid down to die. Their skin was not so much burned as it was milky and translucent, the veins and arteries clearly showing, and in some places, open and weeping through parchment-thin flesh. Where the Seraphon would normally feed upon the dead, they gave these a wide berth, not even pausing to put them out of their misery. Their afflictions and the cold would take them soon enough.
That was when they saw him, the fruit of their labors. Unarmed, dressed in simple priest’s robse, the stranger in the storm, the Rahipmezar of Amasya. His name was nemesis, and doom followed with him.
Neither the speed of the Seraphon nor the fury of the Ancient Souls could assail him, and he slipped back into the squall as quickly as he’d appeared before him. They spread out, certain he could not have escaped such as them.
This was a mistake.
The ogors from before upon them then, rancid skin degloving from their arms as they swung their weapons in wild arcs, musculature tearing apart in acidic sprays. And everywhere, the heat, like coals of hot anthracite pressed against their armor and scales.
Those with tongues in their heads tasted iron, and back to back once more, they fought for their very lives.
Turn 2 Narrative Paths
Narrative Path 1
Pilgrimage vs. Expedition
Pilgrimage: You have honored your oaths to Arali Heartsbane with the blood of her bastard half-brother’s supporters. Now, her agents share her words in confidence: the lighthouse atop Tsatraya’s Kozul Redoubt will draw the lake’s dead souls up from the depths like moths to a flame. With the Expedition abandoning their mustering ground along Sobolev’s Road and moving to occupy Tsatraya, you must not allow Anruil Brighteyes the opportunity to discover the city’s secrets. Yet beware, for the city’s dead scour the streets of the living after nightfall…
Expedition: The defeat at the Ghyrplunge realmgate has imposed new constraints on the Expedition. Realizing the need for a defensible position, Anruil Brighteyes has given orders to break camp and make for the city of Tsatraya with all speed. There, you will link up with fresh resupply from Bolyany, capture the city and the Kozul Redoubt both, and begin fortifying your defenses against Anruil’s witch of a half-sister. Yet beware, for the city’s dead scour the streets of the living after nightfall…
Narrative Path 2
Pilgrimage vs. Undivided
Pilgrimage: Freshly blooded, and with Arali Heartsbane personally leading the attack on Nyuranka, you have been granted the privilege of humiliating this self-proclaimed “Basalt Lord” who seeks to lift the siege on this collapsed ruin they’ve chosen to cower behind. You will consecrate this ground with the blood of Sarn and his champions, or you will die in the attempt, for defeat here would expose Arali’s flank and spell utter disaster for the Pilgrimage’s siege of Nyuranka.
Undivided: Basalt Lord Qarang Sarn has spoken, and you have answered his call. With the True Gods as your witness, you will put the whimpering pups of Sigmar’s upstart pantheon to the blade. You will break their failed siege on Nyuranka, and you will deliver Irkut Thousandeyes’ pretty aelven trinket back to him. Anything less than this would be a dishonor, and dishonor is fit only for skaven and the scampering dogs of Azyr.
Narrative Path 3
Pilgrimage vs. Wretched
Pilgrimage: You feel the hot breath of Khaine at your back, for Arali Heartsbane fights at your side, her blades carving the path before you like a scythe in a field full of briars. Your former assault left these slaves to darkness with no stomach to fight, so now they send their rats and their beasts to choke the holes in their walls with the bodies of their dead. Arali’s decree has not changed, and no matter their numbers, this blasted ruin will be their tomb, remembered only as a monument to their failures and your eternal glory.
Wretched: The Oracle of Peace has betrayed his great wisdom and tread common ground with the Everchosen’s pawn-thing of basalt and brass. Like a shepherd with his flock, you descend upon Nyuranka en masse, eager to accomplish that which your newfound Undivided allies could not. Then, when rats gnaw on this aelf witch-woman’s bones, the Oracles will decide the fate of Nyuranka and the aelven bauble these usurpers placed within it, for are the meek not destined to inherit all the Mortal Realms?
Narrative Path 4
Soulmuncherz vs. Expedition
Wreck of the Marie Elaine
Soulmuncherz: Following the bounty you recovered at the Shore of Sightless Faces, Dyrnawen Silverfish and his soulscryers have begun tracking further groupings of Namarti fish-souls deeper into the lake. Another such haven appeared to be centered around the shipwreck of the Marie Elaine, but upon further investigation, you’ve discovered the Namarti fish-souls there incredibly ill, their scales burnt and rotting alive. Your Akhelian patrols and sneaky git scouts speak of a wandering mounted warrior who comes and goes with the frequent squalls, sickening and slaying all who draw near. Enter the storm- find the warrior- and return with his soul in exchange for what he’s taken from us.
Expedition: Abandoning Bolyany with only a token garrison with which to evacuate the natives should the Wretched return, you have begun ferrying what supplies you could secure across the Thawing to the Expedition’s new anchoring off Uyar Point. The crossing has been made treacherous by days of freezing, blinding squalls which seem to whip up out of nowhere, accompanied by numerous sightings of a mounted warrior locked in battle with warbands of orruks and Idoneth. If this really is Han Shinzong, then regardless of what’s become of him, you must deliver him back to the Expedition and prevent his death or capture at the Soulmuncherz’ hands.
Narrative Path 5
Soulmuncherz vs. Undivided
Soulmuncherz: Deep below the surface of Lake Bykaal is the final resting place of the Chaos necromancer-king Yusuf Belleck, a man possessed of such hubris that he sought to carve out his own underworld and, in his own mind, rival Nagash as a god of Death. The Undying King struck him down with such fury that scattered along the trench rent in the lake bed by Belleck’s deathblow are the bones and souls of the mighty kings and princes who followed him to his demise- an’ da shiny fings dey carried wif dem. These strong souls and powerful artefacts could prove a great boon in future battles…
Undivided: The Chaos necromancer-king Yusuf Belleck is a prominent figure in the folklore of Lake Bykaal, a man possessed of such hubris that he sought to carve out his own underworld and, in his own mind, rival Nagash as a god of Death. The Undying King struck him down with such fury that it is said the trench rent in the lake bed by Belleck’s deathblow cleaved through to another realm. Your pox-witches and fly-scriveners speak of a decaying ocean on the other side by which the Undivided might bring Maggotkin rotfleets through…
Narrative Path 6
Soulmuncherz vs. Wretched
Soulmuncherz: Although the Soulrenders, Wurrgogs, Huskards and other soul-magic users of the Soulmuncherz bent themselves to the task of harvesting the Corpse Shallows after your victory at Poznyy, they were cheated of their prize, the bodies and souls of the dead stolen away by the degenerate creatures now holed up in the warrens beneath Poznyy. To add insult to injury, the Wretched have counter-attacked with beasts of misshapen flesh and stitched Namarti faces howling in silent agony, borne aloft by the secret magicks of the aethersea. Put these abominations and their deviant creators out of their collective misery, and spare what other Idoneth souls may yet remain in their clutches!
Wretched: To remain is to court ruin in the pursuit of hubris. These are the words of the Oracle of Humility, and by them, you have set yourself to purpose breaking the Soulmuncherz’ stranglehold on the blessed hamlet of Poznyy. Some day, a garden of the gods will grow here, its roots watered by the great works you have accomplished beneath Poznyy’s unassuming hills and dales. You will stir the noble creatures you have reared to the violence they were born for, and together, the Wretched will ride the winds of BorYuugvitre and bring the justice of the ruinous powers to all who dare set foot upon Lake Bykaal.
Narrative Path 7
Perpetual vs. Expedition
Perpetual: Adhering to the terms of your truce with the Expedition, you have gained entrance to the Stormvault beneath Old Dyunsk, and discovered it to be a vast, hidden cove. There, in the dark expanse below you, is a great fleet of war barges, built of bone and lashed by sinew. Your Seraphon negotiators- their kind older than even Nagash- speak of the tusked godbeast Nyura, who cursed the tribes who hunted her pups to feed their folk, light their lanterns and build their ships. The barges cannot be destroyed, the Seraphon say, for if sunk they will simply rise again. You speculate that Nyura must have been slain at Sigmar’s hand, and her vengeful fleet sealed away to deprive Nagash of its service. It’s possible the fleet’s curse could be bound a new god, but to whose, the servants of Sigmar and Nagash must decide among themselves…
Expedition: Adhering to the terms of your truce with the Perpetual, you have gained entrance to the Stormvault beneath Old Dyunsk, and discovered it to be a vast, hidden cove. There, in the dark expanse below you, is a great fleet of war barges, built of bone and lashed by sinew. Your Seraphon negotiators- their kind older than even Nagash- speak of the tusked godbeast Nyura, who cursed the tribes who hunted her pups to feed their folk, light their lanterns and build their ships. The barges cannot be destroyed, the Seraphon say, for if sunk they will simply rise again. You speculate that Nyura must have been slain at Sigmar’s hand, and her vengeful fleet sealed away to deprive Nagash of its service. It’s possible the fleet’s curse could be bound to a new god, but to whose, the servants of Sigmar and Nagash must decide among themselves…
Narrative Path 8
Perpetual vs. Undivided
Cathedral of the Mariner
Perpetual: Starmaster Zectoka’s great plan to defeat Mithridates Besh has reached a critical point. The ancient powers of Lake Bykaal are stirring, and the forces unleashed will prove invaluable against your true enemy- if they can be controlled. Key to at least one of these forces is the bell within the Cathedral of the Mariner, already revealed to be far more than metal. The Cathedral must be decisively defended and the Undivided cast back across the lake beyond the Wreck of the Etmund if the plan is to be realized.
Undivided: Something powerful resides within the Cathedral of the Mariner, something as old as the Realms themselves. Irkut Thousandeyes believes this to be the Dark Gods’ deliverance made manifest, an unparalleled opportunity to perfect his newly-divined rites of god-binding gained from the Enlightenment Engine. You will bring this pathetic little battle to an end, drag the bloated toad off his pedestal, and raze this ruin to rubble, releasing the entity bound to it so that Irkut may attempt to seal it away and- finally- demonstrate his unparalleled mastery of the arcane.
Narrative Path 9
Perpetual vs. Wretched
Kyady’s Gate, Crom’s Canyon, Stairs of Nyura
Perpetual: Reikenor beseeched, and Nagash answered. The Ossiarch legions that passed through Old Dyunsk were only the first reinforcements to reach Lake Bykaal, for the Undying King’s reconquest of this paltry underworld is an inevitable certainty. Processions of nighthaunt and the walking dead of other Shyishan lands. While the fate of Old Dyunsk hangs in the balance, you will serve Nagash’s purpose elsewhere by seizing the neighboring realmgates and reshaping them into tithing sites, so that Lake Bykaal’s populace may yet be returned to the fold… one way, or another.
Wretched: The Oracle of Peace speaks warily of battles yet to be lost, and you heed his words. Across Lake Bykaal, the cursed dead of the Undying King flow into Lake Bykaal like water from a spring. Should the realmgates be allowed to fall, the Ossiarch Bonereapers will soon fortify them. You cannot allow this to happen. Descend upon these realmgates and choke them with the bones of the dead you return to the earth. These are the promised lands of the wretched, and you will not allow them to be claimed by the witless automatons of a false god.