Sagradiel walked with purpose through the deserted streets. Already the sounds of battle echoed elsewhere in the city, the final grasp for whatever false hope these pretenders could claim. It would be futile, of course. The city was already as good as his, but at least it gave the barbarians something to occupy themselves with. Here, the only sounds were the clack of his heels on the cobblestones, echoing off the looming stone buildings.
He felt strong, stronger than he could ever remember being. More certain. He had always been sure of his truth, of the superiority of the Teclandec and his own rise, yet the events of the last few weeks had matured that belief. It was simply irrefutable now. His soldiers had marched through the city, sweeping away all resistance before them. Under his hand, they had become unstoppable, a perfect and immaculate engine of conquest. They were reinvented in his image, and soon would show the toothless old wardogs like Atressa just how irrelevant they had become. He, too, had only grown in his time here. For all the best training that the Dominion could provide, it was only here that he felt the heady thrill of theory being put to practice. With each kill, each perfect shot, he felt the intoxicating rush of certainty. The look in their eyes, their dying thoughts the knowledge that he was their better, sustained him. That certainty fueled him. It was headier than the richest wine and more addicting than the strongest narcotics. And it made him stronger.
The clack-clack of his heels on the cobblestones echoed around him, bouncing from hollow-eyed stone facades and underscored by the muted steps of his attendant behind. Clack-clack.
The sounds of the city, of the distant conflicts, muted and faded.
It pressed around him, shadows like closing like a smothering veil, drowning out all other noise.
The slightest change in the pressure that built around him was enough, and Sagradiel was already twisting to the side as the shadows split and the ravenskulled assassins’ blades streaked towards him. He watched the two knives fly past with almost contemptuous ease, as though they moved through molasses.
They didn’t understand how strong he was now, the speed his perfection had attained.
The fur-lined mantle fell from his shoulders as he brought his arm up, pistol in hand. He waited a fraction of a moment for the perfect shot, and then fire bloomed. The blades had barely kissed past his cheek as his shot took the first assassin through the center of the forehead, exploding the raven skull into a thousand fragments, before the ball continued on to bury itself in the second’s shoulder. The third and final came at him with dagger in hand, and Sagradiel wove back a step, keeping just beyond his reach, and flipping the spent pistol in his hand. He let another slash ruffle the neck of the thin silk tunic he wore, then grabbed the assassin’s hand. Hooking the handle of the pistol behind the man’s neck, he brought the trapped dagger up and through the underside of the assassin’s chin. It had taken less than the time for the mantle to fall to the ground. Sagradiel held him close for a moment, staring into his eyes as their light faded, then let the body slump to the blood-slicked streets.
The wounded assassin was still on the ground, clawing to get back to her feet. Blood streamed from her shoulder, where the fractured ruins of her collarbone showed through the rent skin. Sagradiel reached a hand back towards his attendant for his second pistol, then looked back in mild surprise. The two daggers that he had sidestepped moments before were buried in the aelf’s chest.
Growling in frustration, Sagradiel turned back to the fallen assassin. She pulled a handaxe free, but a vicious kick sent it skittering across the street. He knelt down, his knee trapping her one functioning arm, then brought the butt of the pistol down like a hammer. The first blow cracked the ravenskull helm.
“You thought you could kill me? ME!? Why won’t you understand. Just. How. Much. Better. I. Am. Than you!” With each shout, he brought the pistol hammering down. Bone shattered and blood sprayed across him, yet again and again he struck, until there was nothing recognizable left beneath him.
At last he stood, and looked down at the twisted and broken lump of metal in his hand. The ruined gun was tossed aside. His palm was raw and burned where the barrel had seared into the flesh, but he could already feel the heady rush of certainty again flowing through him. He called upon it, channeling it, and the burns on his hand began to soothe and heal. The bits of blood and bone that clung to him and stuck in his hair evaporated into dust, leaving him pristine once more. Perfect. Untouchable.
Wiping his hands, he retrieved his spare pistol from the attendant’s body. He left the fur mantle where it had fallen. The cold was not an issue for him any longer. Nothing was.
The distraction already all but forgotten, he went to join his army outside the Black Forge.
The wall of the bastion exploded inwards, stone shards shredding those closest inside. Lightning peeled across the suddenly exposed skies, and Vishkan Inkeyes threw up his hands up to cover his eyes. The room was quiet for a moment, blinded and stunned, before the dust began to settle and the cause of the collapse could be seen. A mega gargant’s head had smashed through the ancient stone, its collapsing bulk coming to rest against the bastion’s side. Huge eyes lolled lifelessly in its skull. A maul the size of a man was buried deep between them, and stradling the creature’s head, one hand wrapped in its long, greasly black hair, stood Khan Obedji the Cruel. With a wet crack, he twisted the maul free, and hopped down into the rubble-strewn room. Vishkan turned, and fled up the stairs leading to the summit.
Outside, the storm raged. Conjured by Azyrite magics, it had swallowed the point in lashing wind and rain. Sheet lighting spread through the sky, striking erratically at anything that passed within the ring of the ruined curtain wall. Mooncalled by the score stood at guard. Strange mushroom growths had sprouted across the stonework, bridging some of the smaller gaps and holding the damaged bulwark together. The impish figure of the Mooncaller, its twisted mask glowing with its own internal light, careened across the walls, shouting encouragement, hauling up rocks to lob, or tipping over the attackers’ ladders. The irregular thumps of the last two functioning trebuchets punched through the air, hurling what they could. So much had been spent on the defense of the tower already. Its dungeons crawled with plague and poison, but supplies were now low, and the launchers were reduced to firing the rubble of their own walls. Rain spattered and danced off rusted pot helms.
Across the field stood the arrayed cults of the Bloody-handed God. Chanting rumbled through the air, a resonant bass to the storm’s fury. Their words were lost on the defenders, though few would know of the ancient aelven rites being performed on those rain-swept rocks in any case. They were calling upon the deep magics of a dead pantheon.
Little could be seen of the rest of the ogre Khan’s erstwhile allies. No knights of Tír An’avon had heeded this last, desperate call. Only a scant few of the Dross-forged, those like Vallash Kall who were too stubborn to quit the field, remained, standing proudly beside their gate-breaker.
The chanting rose and fell, cascading into an ever-rising rhythm set against the pounding of the storm. Its tempo quickened. It hammered like a pulse in the ears, blood scratching and clawing to be spilt, and with a sound of abyssal claws the storm clouds split to reveal a blood-red sky beyond. A skyship burst through the opening, barreling down upon the citadel below. Red eyes glared balefully from its prow, where an Avatar of Khaine had been strapped to its keel. It glowed with power, reflecting back the blood-red twilight sky beyond, swollen with dark ritual magics and leaking trails of crimson energy from its eyes and joints.
As soon as the airship passed through the walls of the storm, sheets of lightning burst and crawled across its frame. The defenders had prepared for an aerial attack, and Azyrite lightning wrought havoc on the duardin ship’s frame. Pipes burst and ruptured, sending hissing steam scouring across deck and crew alike. A mortar shot burst against its side, shearing armoured plating and throwing it into a pitching roll. The crew fought valiantly to hold the ship together, but as secondary fires erupted across the endrinspheres, the cry was sounded to abandon ship. Moments later, the twisting wreck of metal and volatile gasses crashed down into the bastion’s walls. The explosion rippled across the stone walls like they were pressed tin, before the entirety of the curtain wall came crashing down. Fire leapt across the lines, and metal debris scythed in all directions, cutting the defenders down. Then, from the fiery and ruined wreckage, the Avatar stood. It blazed with balefire, the magics of the ritual still infusing it, and with a molten roar it swept its wailing blade in an arc of death.
With the walls in chaos, Klarieth and her closest allies turned from the battle and stepped into shadows. They emerged in the dungeons below the towers, weaving the darkness around them like a cloak to ward off the apocalyptic contagions of the lower halls. Small groups of their allies were still down there, in protected pockets or shielded by their own magics, and the Shadowsong would not leave them there another moment. Moving swiftly and gathering exhausted survivors into their protective bubble, the strike team moved from the thickest concentrations of the poison out towards the stairs upwards. Klarieth emerged first, ducking deftly beneath the wild blow of a troggoth, and spinning shadow into a long garotte. Few things could kill a troggoth outright, but for one of Morathi’s former handpicked assassins it was a quick matter to disable the beast. Emerging at last from the tunnels, the survivors too exhausted to fight were sent back through the shadows with a few of the Sons of Khaine. The rest, their eyes hardened and their blades ready, stormed up through the bowels of the bastion.
Upon the walls, the Mooncalled were pressed hard. The gargants of the Mooncalled and Blackwing Corsairs fought side by side, doing what they could to stop the sudden collapse of their forward lines. They had already lost several of their number. The blazing Avatar of Khaine fought from and center, scything through grot and skaven by the dozens, joined now by the host of blood cultists following their god’s image. Behind them, cries were sounding from inside the tower, where it had been breached from above and below. For a moment, it appeared that their lines were on the brink of collapse. And then the howls started.
Emerging from the darkness and the storm, the Wolves of Agöra swept down across the back lines of the Shadowsong position. In teams of three or four, they struck at the ritual casters, slitting throats or stabbing at hearts. Lightning split across the sky, briefly illuminating the steaming form of Kul-Brimir, black warpaint across his face and twin axes reflecting the balefire of the warlock dead at his feet. Spiteriders darted out across the darkened sky, riding down those few ritualists that tried to run. Howls sounded again, and like that the Shadowsong’s back lines collapsed.
Overhead, the crimson light flickered and died, the gap in the storm consumed once more by the raging winds and dark clouds. The raging inferno that filled the Avatar guttered and dimmed, its blaze replaced by dim crimson. It looked up as Ichi and Junko thundered towards it. Sprinting forward, it stepped around the first of the mega-gargants’ blows, driving its sword down through the foot of the closest one, but could not avoid the second massive club. Metal screeched and rent as it was slammed backwards, leaking energy from a dozen torn plates. It attempted to raise its sword once more, deflecting another comet-like strike, but it could not save itself, and in a matter of moments it was smashed into lifeless black iron.
Caught between the rallying defenders and the onrushing Wolves, the Shadowsong were hard-pressed. Watching from a window in the bastion’s rising tower, Klarieth made the only calculation she could. To preserve as many of her allies as she could, she turned and with her raiding party stepped back into the shadows, appearing on the field once more. Deflecting a blow meant for Melesis Daggerheart’s head, she gave the only order she could. They had so nearly taken the bastion on their own, against the combined might of three of their rivals. The words were bitter on her tongue, but the retreat was sounded.
Within the tower, Khan Obedji stalked Vishkan Inkeyes up the stairs, level by level. His warband were dead. His allies were gone. But it would all be alright, he knew, if he could kill that damned mage. What remained of the last of Inkeyes’ retainers littered the stairs behind them, the hollow armour and empty rags of his constructs. The top floor was ahead now. Nowhere else to run.
Khan Obedji burst into the artillery room, and immediately leapt back under the withering attacks of a trio of Templar bodyguards. The heavily armoured tzangors’ long blades swept and looped with uncanny speed, their razored edges darted like licks of flame at the merest hint of a gap in his guard. The maul danced in his hand, knocking blades aside or deflecting them. While they were quick and skilled, the ogor’s strength outclassed them. He let one greatblade slip past his guard, burying itself in the fat and muscle of his shoulder, then struck the gor with a lashing backhands. He felt brittle bones crunch behind his knuckles and the warrior collapsed into a heap. The other two doubled their effort, but with less to defend he made short work of them. All that was left was…
Khan Obedji stared, his jaw hanging slack. In the center of the room, a large machine had been assembled. Spidery arms of brass held an array of lenses and discs scrawled in arcane symbols. They clicked and whirled, spinning into and out of place. Standing around it were a dozen Vishkan Inkeyes, adjusting the machine or moving parts of it together, or just staring at him. The images shimmer, flowing like water into one single figure, standing beside the arcane device.
“Thank you for chasing me. You gave us all the time we needed to finish.”
The Khan started to spring forward, but the arcane artillery roared to life. A beam of energy scintillating with every colour imaginable struck the ogor, rendering him down to nothing in a fraction of a second, before blasting out across the bay. For a brief moment, sparks of every colour showered down over the victorious battlefield below. Something clicked in the machine, the small tinkering of glass breaking, and the light died as suddenly as it appeared. Smoke rose slowly, but Vishkan Inkeyes looked over it appreciatively.
He turned back towards the device, but as he did so he felt movement behind him. An arm pressed against his chest, and a dagger bit lightly at his throat. A cooing voice sounded just behind his ear.
“Well done. Now, I think it's time we renegotiated our relationship,” Lissea said.
Feignlight ribbons wove an intricate pattern through the persistent veil of darkness that hung over Ashpole. Shadows cast and refracted through its tall buildings into the inky black of the streets below.
The renegades once more moved with intent through these streets, certain of the potential to be found here, but uncertain of what had opposed them before, or if it would appear again.
Having endured the first attempted exploration of Ashpole, Delcian of the Knights Numinous formed the core of the new reconnaissance in force, leading elements detached from fellow Stormcast forces of the Stoneborn and Namean Storm. While lighter forces moved over rooftops and through the narrower flanking streets.
Under the watchful bows on high of Malyra Venomwrack and her blood sisters, the Shadowsong forces methodically swept through Ashpole and secured it for the Renegades. Though a persistent unease settled upon all those who now held the ward, expecting something to appear out of the shadows, as it had before.
But nothing did.
A cold mist choked the light from the thin streets. Fitting, though it did no favors to those hoping to uncover the secrets of this ward.
The Shadowsong Renegades had laid claim to the area, though this did not deter a group of enterprising Mooncalled ghouls led by Captain Maria Blightghast. Her and her ghoulish underlings scoured the streets and harassed the Shadowsong warbands they came across. Eventually, resistance to her antics increased and she was forced to withdraw from the area. With this threat neutralized, the Shadowsong Renegades could now focus on exploring the area of Misthald.
The two artifacts the Shadowsong had found up until that point had sat unused. For all their potential Klarieth wanted to study them further so her followers could make the most of any potential advantage. The cracked anvil known as the Ironsage’s Lament was the more puzzling of the two. It appeared to all as just a normal, if elaborately decorated, smithing anvil, yet it undeniably writhed with magical power. Power that the Shadowsong were eager to exploit for their own gain.
The second artifact was a duardin made dueling pistol. Items such as these were very common among the more wealthy nobility of the realms, but this one in particular bore duardin runes of shadow magic that imbued the weapon with the ability to fire and reload itself magically. Such a weapon would undoubtedly turn the tides of this conflict Klarieth had found herself in on this island. Yet the runes on the pistol had not been activated and no duardin in her company could manipulate or even recognize the runes which adorned it. It was, so far as they could tell, a mystery.
After a not insignificant amount of debate over what should be done with these items, a decision was made: the pistol was to be struck on the anvil in the hopes that the shadow magic of the anvil would empower the runes of the pistol. The deed was ordered to be conducted in Misthald, so in the case of any catastrophic magical mishap occurring it would be away from Shadowsong Territory. And so, with some trepidation, it was done. Magic washed outwards, flowing around them and out into the city. Shadows deepened. Wood creaked and groaned. Doorways twisted into ghoulish visages. Signs crumbled to rust, and maps went up in a blaze of black smoke. In every corner of the benighted city, explorers found themselves suddenly lost, the areas around them hostile and strange. With the witchcraft dragging at their minds and shadows moving in the corners of their eyes, exploration across the city would only be ever more difficult in these last few days.
The shockwaves also drew a different sort of attention. The Iscarneth arrived in force and demanded that all within Misthald evacuate the area or be subject to deadly force. The remaining Shadowsong Renegades, who were in no shape to fight the aelves off, withdrew from the area back to their own territory, hatred for the Hyshian nuisances burning in their hearts the entire time.
By pairs the trained rifle-aleves of Sagadriel advanced and dropped to a kneeling stance, guns tucked into shoulders and keen eyes focused down sights as the long barrels trained back and forth. The other pair sprinted to the next position just beyond. Well drilled and precise movements of fire and maneuver. Only, there was nothing to fire at, not yet.
“Go!” With the muffled call ahead of them, they rose again to run forward. They never made it. Streaking from the darkened side street, the predator of these haunted stones found its prey. The allopex’s dark, soulless eyes shone for just a moment before the flashing of teeth and snapping of jaws. Then, just as fast, they were gone into the depths of the mist, leaving only fear in its wake.
One by one, the ranging Iscarneth Rifles were picked off. Mangled limbs and blood smears marked their foolish attempts to move in the open. The last few barricaded themselves in a stout building in the vain hope that the beasts would pass them by.
"The waters deep, the sharks are thin, the currents strong, so come on in”
The haunting refrain of a child’s song from the Shimmering Sea mocked them from the dark misty depths beyond as the Allopex circled just seemingly out of sight. Then did the true horror unfold as the first great rats poured into the room.
Redgrave belonged to those who stole it first, as the Great Gatherer commands.
A palpable tension pervaded the cold stone interior of the besieged Okkam’s Tower, occupied by the Troll-King Arnagir and his allies from the Mooncalled, Shields of An’Avon and Blackwing Corsairs. They were surrounded by the amassed forces of Karovac the Vile, supported by the Drossforged and the Shadowsong Renegades. The Wolves of Agora, who had previously aligned themselves with Karovac, had abandoned the cause in favour of other ventures that they deemed more vital, much to the Khornate’s chagrin. Even the stalwart Drossforged had only maintained a token presence, leaving much of the work to the Renegade contingent. Regardless, Karovac remained determined to claim his prize, even with the leashed bloodthirster controlled by his foes even now beating back each attempt he made to storm the tower. The sight of it enraged him even more: how dare these upstarts taunt him with another of the very prize they denied him?
The facade of control that Arnagir's allies displayed over the daemon was not quite as strong as it seemed, however. Despite all their efforts to maintain their hold over it, the stone that bound it was beginning to fail, an ominous light pouring from hairline cracks all across its surface. Even with the Forgotten placing new ritual binds on the Daemon itself, it seemed only a matter of time before it broke free. Seeing this, and knowing that Arnagir would be far too busy to aid in the daemon's subduing, members of the Mooncalled and the Blackwing Corsairs came together to form another audacious plan, one that could either deal with both the daemon and the forces outside their walls, or lead to even greater catastrophe. It was a gamble they were willing to take. Thusly, over the course of the siege, they set about designing a modified warp-lightning cannon to be mounted upon the daemon itself and remotely controlled along with its host. Unlike other warp-lightning cannons, however, this contraption was not powered by warpstone. Instead, it would draw upon the chaotic energies of the daemon itself, gradually draining it of its power as it devastated the enemy. Festerat Doomgrinder, the original designer of the doomstone which now held the bloodthirster in precarious thrall, headed the engineering team with aid from fellow Mooncalled allies Clan Skorchfur. The daemonic soulsmith Jhaellarex had the final, most dangerous task: binding the cannon to the bloodthirster’s soul and calibrating the aetheric connection so that it would not sap the daemon too slowly, weakening the output and risking the doomstone’s failure before the task was done, releasing the daemon. The outcome may have been even less favourable if the machine drained the bloodthirster’s energy too fast, rendering the gambit useless if the daemon dissipated before its task was done, or worse: it could risk destabilising the machine, destroying it and freeing an enraged greater daemon on its captors. It would be another’s task to maintain this calibration, however, as Jhael had their own mission outside the walls: the slaying of Karovac the Vile himself.
Festerat gathers his clan mates together to construct his daemon-powered cannon.
Such a bold plan could not be without contingencies, however. Though they were sure Karovac’s pride, along with some strategic goading from Jhael’s allies, would lead him to accept the duel, it never hurt to have backup. The Eshin deathmaster Titus Lashtail and his assassins targeted key figures among Karovac’s personal retinue, their weeping blades felling even the mightiest warriors with a single venom-laced slice. Their efforts were not uncontested, however. Baldhren Ironheart and his Kharadron crew swooping in to shield Klarieth’s allies, their sturdy plate deflecting the skaven’s blows, sending the assassins leaping back into the shadows. The damage was done, however, with Karovac’s generals culled and discord sewed across the ranks. While Ironheart’s crew and Vallash Kall’s Knights of Zagron, valiantly representing the Dross-Forged alone, fought with righteous fury against the onslaught of their foes, they could not hold the line alone. The remaining Shadowsong Renegades sought to turn the tide with their own show of power to rival their daemonic adversary. While Jhaellarex’s strike force forged a path towards Karovac, they launched an audacious ambush upon the Shields of An’avon guarding the base of the tower.
It came in the form of a thunderous impact and a storm of blades. While Baldhren Ironheart fought to protect his allies upon the ground, his frigate, the Dammaz Thragh, manned by a skeleton crew, soared above the battlefield. Its first payload was a shock strike of Stormcast Eternals from the Jade Tempest, striking the defenders like lightning with devastating impact. Their assault was blunted, however, when they found themselves faced with a wall of opposing sigmarite. The storm warriors of the Ivory Hammer, the Forgotten and Oathbolt’s Roar, all under the employ of Lady Gwenefyre. Faced with overwhelming opposition by fellow champions of the God-King, the Jade Tempest’s fury guttered fast, and they began their retreat earlier than expected. This left the warriors in good stead to weather the arcane assault of Naeve Umbra Borne’s Bladewind spell, aetheric blades glancing off sigmarite plate. The Lady of the Gray Tower at last took to the field herself, roaring onwards upon her blazing white steed, her injuries healed and a new power borne on every swing of her blade. Fire blazed from her eyes as she rent and hacked, smashing through the battlelines. This was not the extent of the assault, however, for the most important element was still to come. From the frigate came hurtling a pair of avatars of Khaine, each imbued with ritual power from the combined efforts of Kherith’s Shade-Troupe and the necromancers of the Inquisition of Umberspire. The necromancers channeled the death magic suffusing the charnel ground of the battlefield, while Kherith and her Hag Queens focussed it into the avatars. It seemed as if it would work, the avatars growing in size and fury at an alarming rate, when the bound bloodthirster smashed through the upper walls of the tower, bellowing as it launched salvos of warp-lightning into the avatars. The statues’ cries turned from bloodlust to pained fury as they were disintegrated in the air, shards of their swelling forms showering the stormcasts below. There was nothing left for the Shadowsong Renegades to do. They had lost this fight, and retreated in short order, the Dammaz Thragh taking what few allies it could carry while the rest made a fighting retreat on foot.
Dracarion Von Bal defends the underground passageways beneath Okkam’s Tower from foes that seek to disrupt Arnagir Troll-King’s ritual.
On the other side of the battlefield, Jhaellarex and Karovac the Vile circled each other, weapons drawn. The Slaaneshi remained mounted upon their karkadrak while Karovac leapt atop his brass-plated juggernaut, his enormous size and muscled bulk belying the finesse of his movements. With a bellow, Karovac urged his mount forth, axe swinging and twirling through the air as if it weighed little more than paper. Jhael thrust their spear beneath the swing, catching the Khorne worshipper across his armour plating. The two mounts collided, tossing their riders from their saddles, their own fight carrying them away into the greater fray. The two chaos chosen picked themselves up, readied their weapons, and launched into each other once more. The fight was a gruelling slog, each champion scoring a dozen wounds that would have felled any lesser foe. Jhael was about to launch another flurry of blows, to go out in a blaze of steel and glory, when they remembered the words of their Carrion Queen. They had to live, even if it meant abandoning this unwinnable fight. Besides, it was not the way of Slaanesh to fight fair, they mused, as they glimpsed an advancing party of unexpected allies closing in from behind.
As Jhaellarex made a fighting retreat, a brace of would-be assassins from the Shields of An’avon moved in behind the wounded and preoccupied Karovac. With none of his generals left to guard his back, the Khorneate Warrior found himself beset on all sides by the Lord of Whispers, Drosus Dragonsbane and Talin Silverbane, while the Seraphon Bal’Oot peppered him with poisoned darts from the flanks. Still, the warrior did not fall, beating back his tormentors with enraged howls, breath misting red in the frigid air. Then the lightning hit. Having cleared much of the field, the bound bloodthirster set its sights on Karovac, howling as it flew directly above him, using the last of its energy to wreath the champion in sickly green lightning. Its physical form began to crumble and fade even as Karovac, still living, bellowed defiance at his foe. Then, finally, the great cannon toppled through the disintegrating form of the daemon, its spiked end impaling Karovac the Vile where he stood, sending his soul into Khorne’s embrace once and for all. In the sudden quiet, Chungus lumbered through the debris as quick as he could. He had taken to forbidden tomes to learn some small amount of the daemonic tongue of the bloodthirster, who, crumbling to ash as he was, looked around at the ogre who had carried his book for so long. Chungus had only one thing to say in the daemon’s own infernal tongue:
“Bye bye, Spooky.”
And the fiend, or perhaps friend, was gone, mere ashes on the frozen wind.
Inside the no longer besieged Okkam’s Tower, Arnagir Troll-King’s ritual finally reached its zenith, the crystal bursting in at flash of brilliant light, cutting though the Ulguan gloom. The Troll-King bellowed as the earth itself trembled about the tower, shaking worn bricks and faded books loose across the ancient edifice. Emanating from the tower, a glowing lattice of leylines spread across the isle, and everywhere it touched, the troggoths took notice. From the native frostbite troggoths to Arnagir’s underlings to even those under the employ of the warlords contesting Frørholm, each and every one of them felt themselves fill with otherworldly strength. In moments, the city erupted into chaos as troggoths of every variety began to rampage, empowered by the might of Arnagir’s Trogg-Bellows. Along with the empowerment of the city’s troggoth population, from the power of the ritual was born something else, something much different. Those members of the Shields of An’avon who had remained to aid the Troll-King had poured some of the power into a sword, forging it anew as a blade fit for their Lady. A gift for Gwenefyre, to lead her to victory.
Kul-Brimir felt the rush of the fight, the contest of skill, the battle of strength… old memories of fights fought in dark arenas like this deep in the Eightpoints, now mingled with the fierce contest he fought now.
His wolves had herded the last of the beasts that plagued this place into the central arena, and in a moment of pure impulse he had taken up a simple spear and net in the old Retiarius style and dropped down into their midst. The fight was as much a thing of raw beauty as it was brutal delight.
He wove through the Troggs to confuse and confound them, before ensnaring the one most exposed with the net, and piercing them with a flurry of well placed spear thrusts. One by one, they fell until the last he drove clean through in a powerful thrust of the spear. Proving The Old Bull not only still hadn’t lost a single step, but that he’d learned a few more in the years since his time in arenas like this.
This fun diversion over, He looked to his gathered wolves and bid them to prepare for the real fights to come.
The Mooncaller danced and jumped happily from one stone to another, whimsical in mood but troubled by what they had been told thus far. One tale after another came of fierce battles, fantastic beasts, and not a lick of it seemed to be true. The only constant thread through the tales was the mention of a strange ‘grot snowman’. That, and the alarming rate of fungus brew being consumed.
The Mooncaller was ready to dismiss it all as just a hallucination, when they suddenly rounded a corner and came face to face with that very grot made manifest in snow. Perhaps there was something to these tales after all…
“Less mushroom brews, more mushroom stews,” the Mooncaller sang whimsically, looking over to the great mass of Runn, leader of the Runoff Troggherd.
“I Gotz dem!” Runn bellowed proudly, running forward and leaping atop this strange new foe.
“What have you ‘gotz’?” The Mooncaller asked as the great eye of their mask rolled happily.
“Dem! I gotz ‘n smash em gud!”
“That’s a statue.”
“Iz still dead, ‘n smashed gud.”
The mooncaller looked down to the headless statue of some long forgotten hero of another age.
“Less brew, more stew…”
A Revenant’s warsong sung out over the mist choked ward.
“Beware of the Thirsty in this land…”
A haunting melodic tune sung low from the heart of the darkened and thirsty. A dirge of power and might, a call of warning dark but sung bright, and low over the ward through its dark fog was it heard.
“Everyone’s a drink in this land…”
No threat was this, but a solemn promise to those who would stand opposed. Only the few fleeting hearts tried to take what they could before they fled.
“Oh we don’t waste any drop in this land.”
The notes of power hung in the mist long after the song was sung, like the howl of a wolf in a cold night’s chill.
The stone streets of Redwitch rumbled like the thunder of a most dreadful storm. The rumbling became louder and louder as those still living inhabitants scurried away from whomever or whatever approached. The ward’s undead inhabitants, however, were not so easily intimidated.
The spirits gathered in the open streets, angry at this trespasser for disturbing their deathly slumber. The rumbling reached its crescendo as mega-gargant Junko Holmesmasher charged in to meet the restless gheists. With club in his hand and fury in his heart, Junko was determined to loot this section of Frorholm for all its valuables without leaving anyone left in his way. The gargant approached the undead horde that had appeared in front of him, raising his club in eager anticipation to show these ethereal beings what a real death is.
The first swing crashed down with the might of a comet, smashing a club shaped hole into the street and immediately dissipating a section of the ghostly gathering. Junko swung again and again, each time taking down at least a dozen ghostly figures. However, the gheists he thought he was killing reformed almost as soon as they had disappeared. Undeterred by this, the gargant fueled his swings with rage and frustration, all while ghostly blades held by the spirits pierced his hide.
The battle continued for hours, Junko bringing his club down on any who came before him and the ghostly horde refusing to relent in the face of this enemy. With his club, Junko turned Redwitch to ruins. Knocking buildings down and making holes in the ground as he went. Eventually, one of these swings breached through the streets to the underground Moulder laboratory of Sleekit Fang. Though the Skaven survived the day’s events, the destruction caused by the titanic battle put a swift end to his grotesque experiments.
As the light of Hysh began to set, Junko began to tire, exhausted from swinging endlessly at the stabbing ghosts of Redwitch. He regretted coming to this cursed place. Surely there was nothing to find in such a hostile environment. When the shadows overtook him and the waves of undead began to push back the gargant, all seemed lost. Junko stared down the charge of apparitions as they closed the distance, before they suddenly vanished with the light of dawn.
Junko was initially grateful to be spared by this holy light, only to become furious when the light revealed itself to be the doings of the Iscarneth cleansing their territory. The aelves condescendingly praised Junko for his efforts but informed him that they would be taking over from here. Junko grit his teeth and resisted the urge to punt these knife-eared upstarts before retreating to Blackwing Corsair territory.
A banshee’s wail of “Ushoran!” sparked off the brief yet bloody battle for the Knee. Seeking vengeance upon the Shields’ Knight-Arcanum for obliterating their clockwork companion, the duardin trio Droriz, Kugi and Thognor found themselves beset by the slavering ghouls of High Queen Silanore. Attempting to flee, the duardin encountered their Dross ally Vallash Kall, venturing in the ward for his own reasons. Soon joined by their fellow undead Katajan Remnants and Blades of Iradal, Silenore and the other Shields’ were put to flight by the timely intervention of Presk Third-hand, and more specifically their over-abundance of warpfire throwers in confined alleyways. The Knee belonged to the Dross, and while recovering what bits of the mechanical gremlin they could find, Thognor came across another prize: a golden-tipped arrow, clearly a masterwork of the Age of Myth.
Somewhere Deep Below
In a hidden chamber, far below the streets, thirteen chairs had been arrayed in secrecy. Twelve were scuffed and worn from recent use, and one untouched.
The tread of giants were as war drums, sending men and monsters marching toward battle. Ser Branor Darkflame’s heavy cavalry practically had to gallop to keep pace with the mega-gargant Sradnir Wizbag as they made their way up Long Bar. The smog that always hung like a battle standard above the Dross-forged lay heavy atop Wesgard, the steaming, heaving siege-contraption they named Hashut’s Hammer standing guard inside the very gate it had just battered down.
Anticipating heavy resistance, the Dross-forged besieged Wesgard with everything at their disposal, only to discover an empty shell of a bastion. With their Blackwing allies reporting their enemies mustering along Long Bar, Uhred the Beardless and the Shaggoth Myrkjarhtan of Illica quickly bent their forces toward defense, the scarred duardin personally seeking out the Daemonsmith Xira as his command retinue. With Ned Blackpowder’s Ironblasters manning the long-deserted walls, they awaited the Shields’ attack.
The battle would begin in earnest not with cannon-fire, however, but the howling of beasts. Having circled each other for weeks, Zamos and Razkhos finally lay blade to flesh, their warbands laying into each other with the ferocity of rabid animals. Gathering momentum, Wizbag committed the galloping riders of Darkflame’s Retinue, the undead White Host, the Order of the Black Book, the Ventoleon Crusaders, and the Shedscale Seraphon thundering about him like hunting hounds.
It was then Razkhos’ cunning was revealed, his trap baited with his own pestigor’s lives. Bellowing words of power, Wizbag lost his footing, stumbling and falling in the false-floor pits carved out by Dross-forged hands mere hours before. The cavalry scattered, their charge broken as riders tumbled to their doom, or were crushed beneath Wizbag as he toppled like a felled tree. It was then the Shaggoth Myrkjarhtan attacked.
With Ned’s Ironblasters and the Corsairs’ Gloomwyrms suppressing Ahr’guasse’s flanking Stormcast and the X Fretensis beneath a withering hail of fire, Uhred the Beardless followed hot upon Myrkjarhtan’s heels, Xira Forgecaller’s Chuganauts around him, the belching fires of Seraphon Salamanders little more than a nuisance against their steamwrought armor. Myrkjarhtan crashed into Wizbag like a battering ram against a gate, and the battle began in earnest.
Nearly crushed when the mega-gargant fell, the skink Starpriest Iquzal leapt upon Wizbag’s attacker, scrambling to search through the Shaggoths many crude pouches. The Starpriest’s life quickly became more endangered by their allies, as Wizbag sought to break Myrkjarhtan’s spine with a sorcerous blast- only to have both their lives saved by Snoll Stonebrak’s Rune of Spellbreaking, the mega-gargant’s palm practically coming apart as the magic went wayward in his hand. Howling in pain and rage, Wizbag grappled the snarling Shaggoth, forcing it off its legs, once again nearly crushing the Starpriest searching for treasures upon the quadruped.
Iquzal was finally bade abandon its search by the flaming javelins and goroan-thrown barrels of burning ales tossed by the Shields’ allies among the Wolves. Aflame and in agony, Wizbag leveraged the opportunity to take Myrkjarhtan by the throat, forcing his head back until finally, his spine snapped sickeningly and folded his human torso against his equine back. Myrkjarhtan of Illica was dead, his great body tossed aside to crash through the gates to Castle Dalrach beyond.
Uhred the Beardless cursed the twisted little runt they named the Mooncaller; although the git had struck accord with the Shaggoth, not a single one of its demented gang had made to contest Wesgard. As their few Corsair allies retreated into the shadows, Uhred bellowed his resentments toward their fair-weather “friends”. The Dross-forged had nearly won the day all but alone, yet stood one against three as the Renegades and Wolves encircled Estgard. Leaving Hashut’s Hammer to cover their retreat, Uhred rallied those warbands left to him and quit the battle. Wesgard was not to be theirs.
There was no more time for frivolity. Throughout the city, to the sound of stomping boots, the Iscarneth marched. They seized ward after ward, pressing through the beleaguered explorers the barbarians had sent out, driving them out or shooting them dead.
The Bastion was all but destroyed.
The Tower’s great power had been spent.
The Gates had fallen.
Castle Dalrach stood beyond, and the Black Forge beneath it. The Everwinter’s fury was spent, and as soon as the ice fell it would be an all-out war for control of the castle.
The Forge Awakens
Deep within the heart of the city, in the black underbelly of the castle where the forge of basalt and rune-blacked iron lay, the hidden heartbeat hammered. Light and fire leapt and danced, reflected in the deep blues and greens of the age-old ice. Colours swam in the dark. A crack resounded, shivering from every stone, as though the spine of the castle itself were being realigned. The vibrations rang for a moment from resonant stone, then ice splintered and showered down. In tiny shards or great slags, the ice cleaved and fell, releasing in a rush of ancient air and water the long-hidden castle itself. As though swallowed by a gigantic fist, the shattered Everwinter sputtered and died. The heat from the Forge spilled forth, sending waves of steam rising out of the castle’s gate like smoke from the gullet of a sleeping dragon.
“The climax approaches, and I fear there is little any of us can do to prevent it. Our foe presses forth with relentless arrogance, the isle is rocked with instability, and death haunts every darksome alley and forgotten cloister. Whatever powers watch this place must be cruel indeed.”
-Excerpt from the Emissary’s fourth missive.