The search for the missing Lord-Celestant Han Shinzong was confusing at its best, and narrowly avoided catastrophe at its worst. Fearsome squalls racked the Thawing for days, the elements themselves seemingly tortured by the conflict raging around the Lord-Celestant and his mysterious affliction. Lord-Celestant Hilmar Thunderstruck spearheaded the Expedition’s efforts to find Han, and would soon engage in deliberations with the bereaved Soulmuncherz. This tense period is best described by the private journals of Sequitor-Prime Lionstrife of the Ryze Detachment:
The lack of supplies is becoming evident amongst the troops. I firmly believe that they can continue to push on, but they need a true reason for why they are here. Fighting for a Realmgate they can understand. Following the pursuits of a young commander that has not proved his worth yet is much more difficult. I almost feel bad for the young Brighteyes. He must find a way to unite the Expedition’s forces after a humiliating defeat.
There was a messenger last night that appeared at camp, having a long discussion with Lord-Celestant Hilmar Thunderstruck. Overhearing what I could, he mentioned something about Lord-Celestant Shinzong which angered him, and Lord-Relictor Aetherdorn was furious as well. I felt it best to leave them be. They have enough on their plate as it is. I wonder if he has wavering thoughts of the purpose of this campaign as well.
Lord-Arcanum Azyrhand has recovered finally. The men are in higher spirits seeing him awake even with damage to his Sigmarite armor. He delivered one of his short speeches which rang true to our spirits. He vowed that we will go back and reclaim the Ghyrplunge from the savages in “due time”. A few of the men even joked about his defeat at the hands of a Fyreslayer of short stature. He took it in good stride, despite the apparent injuries he was still recovering from.
He entertained the notion of joining forces with the group known as “Da Soulmuncherz” as they have more information about Lord-Celestant Shinzong. This drew concern initially but any being with a soul in this damned area that doesn’t want to draw blood is a welcome idea.
Realizing that Han might slip away from both sides if they came to blows, a momentary truce was struck, with the Soulmuncherz demanding the Azyrites show “proppa respek” to Gorkamorka’s triumph over the Ur-Whale by bearing an Icon of Gork in their ranks. In return, Tidecaster Galrach gifted a runic soul-lantern to the Expedition for use in pacifying the restless spirits of Tsatraya and beyond. In the words of the ogor Belagar-Bel:
“Da Soulmunchaz ‘ave agreed ta hunt Shinzong down togevvar wiv you. Dis is not alliance, just short peece… ‘tween hunterz of moar dang’rous prey. Agreement is, bouf sides confront ‘im togevver. If, durink battle, Shinzong saved, Soulmuncherz agree Expedition gits ta take ‘im. On promiss of futur serviss to da Soulmunchaz fo wot ee’s done to da fish-elf souls.
If instev, durink battle, doez not appear Shinzong can be saved, or might escape, both sides agree ta fight to the deff to take ‘im down for guud… and the Soulmunchaz git to munch his soul.”
Several times did the newly-allied armies cross blades with Han, yet each time they thought him surrounded or corner, he would slip away among blinding, driving winds and shifting drifts of snow atop the ice; such were the fortunes and resulting frustrations of the Verdant Maw Hunters of Belagar-Bel and the Soulmuncherz elusive ally they called “Da Green Knight”.
Furthermore, those who encountered him did not come away unscathed. Such was the fate of the scout Telion of the Y’saran Lumineth, who returned from battle badly burned and afflicted with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. He reported that the corruption which afflicted him appeared unseen; there was no flame or pestilence, as servants of Khorne or Nurgle might exhibit, or mutation and perversion, as those of Tzeentch and Slaanesh display. Although Telion appeared to recover soon after, the battle wasn’t over.
The pursuit would draw to a close when Lord-Celestant Hilmar Thunderstruck fulfilled his mission and confronted Han himself, the flight of his Stardrake granting him the speed and vision to run Han to ground between the shifting storms.
Hilmar and his Stardrake dove from surprise straight at Han Shinzhong, knocking Han free from his mount. Hilmar expertly dove off the Stardrake, tackling Han in the direction of the Sacrosanct gathering nearby, the Stardrake landing between the two Lord-Celestants’ and Han’s rabid mount.
The two drake-kin creatures sprayed their lightning-breaths onto each other. Clearly out matched by the greater child of Dracothion, the howling Dracoth fled the battle, Hilmar’s Stardrake giving chase.
Hilmar himself grappled with Han, never inflicting any serious blow, but expertly blocking each wild assault Han assailed him with.
Hilmar noticed an intense heat coming off his opponent and former shield-brother, like he was fighting a raging inferno. He tasted metal in his mouth and gagged, nausea washing over him like waves upon rock. The importance of this confrontation forced him to focus through it, and keep his stomach under control, not that anything would come up if he were to vomit, as he had gone without since the loss of the realmgate and being cutoff from resupply. Stormcast could go much longer without the necessities the normal mortals needed.
Hilmar moved to draw the fight closer to the Sacrosanct who were preparing dispelling scrolls and scrying magics in an at tempt to “cure” whatever had befallen the Lord-Celestant, yet soon found himself turned around in the fury of combat, all sense of direction lost as the howling snowswept winds blinded him to all but his opponent.
“Do you not recognize the armor I wear? That you are wearing?” Hilmar shouted over the storm and the clash of their battle.
“What happened to you? We want to help you!” Hilmar continued shouting, all while trying to focus through the bile in his throat, his Sigmarite plate burning through his robes and searing his skin.
Growing frustrated with the standoff, Hilmar exploited an opening in the wild swings of his foe’s tempestos hammer and angled a chopping blow to Han’s face, tearing free his war-mask and shattering it upon the ice in a wet splatter of flesh and fluids.
To Thunderstrock’s shock and horror, most of Han’s face had come away with the mask, his flesh seamingly seared to the Sigmarite. What remained was nearly unrecognizable, a pulp of melting muscle and weeping veins, the blood turned thick and dark like oil, punctuated by a single milky orb that passed for an eye, the other having seemingly burst some time ago.
Han Shinzong did not fight out of rage, Hilmar realized- he fought in agony, and Lake Bykaal itself reflected his unimaginable anguish.
His convictions renewed, Hilmar chose to end the fight quickly, quickly disarming Han of his two-handed tempestos hammer with a deflecting strike. Fighting like a cornered beast, Han allowed the momentum of his attack to carry him into Hilmar, throwing the rival Lord-Celestant off balance. Wrapping his hands the hilt and pommel of Hilmar’s off-handed gladius, he twisted Thunderstruck’s arm and drove the Lord-Celestant’s own blade into his ribs.
Spitting blood into the inside of his war-mask, Hilmar tore it off with his free hand. The eyes that met what was left of Han’s betrayed only rage, the burning hatred of someone betrayed.
“You may have forgotten the first part of your former battle cry, ‘First to be forged’ Hilmar growled.
“But let me remind you the second part, ‘Never to fail’“
And on the last syllable, Hilmar with shocking strength that defied his wound, Hilmar brought the hammer in his right hand down onto Shinzhong’s head.
Somewhere in the blinding snowstorm, there was a loud crack and a flash of light. Nothing remained of the two Lord Celestants but a large, steaming hole in the ice, the water below momentarily boiling before starting to freeze back over.
Lord-Arcanum Morian attempted to peer into the water, but he could not make anything out in the inky darkness. Morian looked up to the heavens wondering if his former commander had returned to the Anvil of Apotheosis. Had they both been sent back? His gut told him it wasn’t that simple.
With heavy heart, Morian gathered Hilmar’s discarded war-mask and Han’s scorched two-handed hammer and gathered his troops to rejoin the refugees heading across the Thawing towards Tsatraya.
Near Butcher’s Bay
Dyrnawen Silverfish regarded the dead Dracoth with disgust, his burned palm trembling where he’d made the mistake of touching its mangled corpse. How many years had he just taken off his life? Decades? Centuries, even?
“Bad juju ’bout dat one,” Hogrog ug Weirdklaw commented, the excitable Wurrgog sounding unusually somber.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Dyrawen replied, bitterly. The Stardrake that had killed Han Shinzong’s mount lay nearby, broken where it fell, its mouth sawing open and shut silently as it struggled for each shallow breath. The beastmasters of aelf, orruk and ogor alike had begun working to save its life before Dyrnawen had ordered them away, lest they too be afflicted from such close contact with it. Besides, Sigmar’s golden lackeys would be here to reclaim it soon enough; let them risk their lives for the celestial beast’s sake.
“Den why don’t you try tellin’ me, ya thinky git?” Hogrog squared off against him, the old orruk still several times larger than the pale elf. “Tell uz why we’z here, Dern-a-wen. Wot our boyz got sicken’d an’ drownded an’ krumped fer. Tell us we’z ain’ jus’ da bludgeon, an da Grate Saga’s got a story fer us.”
Dyrnawen smiled mirthlessly. “What harm could come of it? Everyone will know what’s happened here. Sigmar’s dogs will discern what I have soon enough.”
“Out wivvit, den,” Hogrog growled, his usual patience for the aelf’s whimsy wearing thin. “Tell uz about da walkin’ sickness dat burns an’ poisuns us, an’ spoilz da fishies, an’ rots da souls.”
For perhaps the first time in his life, Hogrog listened without speaking as Dyrnawen shared words of a corruption deeper than the manifestations of the spikey Chaos boys, a searing wound of the physical and spiritual that split apart bodies and souls alike. Chaos reduced to the fundamental, to the primordial. This, Dyrnawen said, was the nemesis of all things, living and dead alike, a foe from which neither the blessings of Sigmar’s pantheon nor the gifts of the Dark Gods could offer protection.
Worse, it was spreading, its curse already burning its way through Dyrnawen’s body and the Stardrake alike simply for touching the corrupted Dracoth-thing. Soon, the Soulscryer warned, it could consume Lake Bykaal itself, and all within its waters.
Hogrog hardly found all this motivational; dying a slow, miserable death of a wasting sickness was no way for his boyz to earn their place in da Grate Saga yet to be sung… and that was when Dyrnawen revealed the secrets of the Aethersea, and of the binding of souls and the beasts of the deep.
Inspiration twinkling in his beady eyes, Hogrog ug Weirdklaw knew this would make for one hell of a story.
“You’ve done well. I owe you a debt.”
Of all the things Eris Bloodwrath had expected to hear Qarang Sarn say, this was hardly one of them. She paused, lost in thought even as her warrior’s instincts screamed at her to retaliate, to respond. A few agonizing seconds dragged by before the right words settled on her tongue.
“We have done well, lord.” She thought of Baldaflax’s axe, carving a hole through the ranks of the Greenskins, he and his squire carrying the day in a score of skirmishes. Grog-Sothoth’s Oathbreakers, who had descended into the icy waters themselves to do battle with Hrothgut Wyrmeye for the Realmgate itself. Arcanite Sah’ah’kil’s cunning ambush, keeping Greenskin reinforcements away from the main battle. “You are in all of our debts.”
The Basalt Lord guffawed, mirth echoing across the ice. “Truth, at that. I will make my pleasure known to all who fought on this day. But you held command, and won the day, and that will mean more today and tomorrow than I think you can know.” He gestured to the hole in the ice before them. A sickly green light flared in the deep, heralding the distant arrival of another one of Gutrot Spume’s corrupted Kraken.
“Through this sole victory, you may have transformed the war for us. New possibilities are opening up- new chances at glory, and favor.” Not his favor, she knew, but the favor of the Everchosen and the Four he swore allegiance to. She swallowed.
“What would you have us do?”
Sarn smiled broadly. “Take the initiative. Gather your forces, and press on to the Breach. Defeat all your foes, and secure passage into the depths.”
“So we can own more icy water?”
The Basalt Lord laughed again. “So we can own what lies beneath it.” He leaned forwards conspiratorially. “Rannik Varr’s Brazen Fleet captured many treasures in the course of their battle. They did not understand them then- but I do. The Exalted Deathbringer uncovered Yusuf Belleck’s lost trove, and with it we have a measure of mastery over life and death.” Eris drew a sharp breath, and Sarn’s smile spread unnaturally wide as he rose to his full height. “You understand. Go, capture the Breach, prepare the ground, and soon we will hold a deathly titan in our ranks. Do so and your glory will be compounded twice over.”
Eris nodded cautiously, thinking. Opposition would be fierce, but if the beast could be summoned from the depths… “And what of you? What will you do while I fight your war?”
“I? I must return to the Emissary’s side now. There are words to be spoken, and a rebirth to be witnessed.”
The Siege of Nyuranka
After the Pilgrimage’s vanguard failed to take Nyuranka in one swift strike, the beleaguered besiegers were reinforced by Arali Heartsbane herself and a formidable relief column bearing supplies looted from the Expedition’s ships at the Ghyrplunge. Wagering that Varanguard Irkut Thousandeyes and Qarang Sarn would be found huddled around their ill-gotten prize, Arali staked her entire claim of legitimate conquest on taking their heads. Her logic was sound; she could not have known they weren’t home.
Comprised of Hyishan ghouls and aelfs, Daviel the High Apostolic Sanguine and Talnya Moonglimmer of the Purelight Court led an allied army that would be out of place anywhere except the Pilgrimage. Joining the Purelight Court’s Baron Hamlet are the Ashfyrd lodge of Runeson Zharn Bronson, and Sylvaneth led by Treelord Kyrnil and Branchwraith Dulien.
Before the Pilgrimage’s siege on Nyuranka, the Ashfyrd Lodge already defeated the Undivided’s forces guarding a nearby mine. With the path cleared, the Fyreslayers and their allies commenced their underground assault upon the temple’s defenses.
Together, the two Sylvaneth forged a plan with Zharn Bronson. He was already leading a larger assault underground to disrupt and destroy. Dulien would join him with a small party of Kurnoth while Kyrnil led a surface assault to get close enough to summon a wyldwood at the base of the wall. The deep-growing, metallic roots of the chamonic sylvaneth would prove far reaching enough to be seen from Zharn’s tunnel. Not only would this tell Zharn where the walls are, but it would allow Dulien to dig a small side passage to plant another wyldwood deep underground.
The triggering of wyldwood growth would cause enough erosion to open up a sinkhole and cause a massive breach in Chaos’s defenses. Once the mission was completed, Kyrnil would aid in the assault on the surface and Dulien would re-attach herself to Zharn’s company. With faith, the temple would be theirs before reinforcements arrive.
Above, Yllethras the Twilight Prince, commander of the forces of Duskgrove, took to the field to command the Duskwalkers and their allies to besiege the temple walls. Together with Lord Gibbetmaw’s aerial troops, they first take the ramparts and silence the chaos artillery, then break into the temple grounds.
The Prince’s gaze was suddenly drawn to the pain-wracked screams nearby. Near the center of the Pilgrimage’s line, several paces forward , stood several long-haired figures. The witch aelves flanked a male figure on his knees, hands bound behind him, the source of the horrid cries. A third witch aelf stood before the captive, wield a dagger sunk to the hilt in the man’s chest. By the tattoos and wild, braided hair Yllethras thought him to be some captured chieftain from tribes of the Undivided. The executioner twisted the knife violently, audibly cracking ribs and drawing more screams from the human.
“This is barbaric” Elenwia stated quietly with disgust.
“It is their way, and they are our allies.” Yllethras responded, eyes locked on the horrifying display. Blood gushed forth as the priestess withdrew the wicked blade and then plunged the other hand into the gaping wound. The captive thrashed and fell backwards into the churned, red snow, leaving the hand holding a lump of gory meat. Holding the still pumping heart aloft the priestess screamed a war cry echoed by her kin before displaying the horrid trophy to the enemy line.
“What do we really seek to gain here, Commander?” Elenwia pushed the subject, visibly disgusted by the scene.
Yllethras paused. He had asked himself the same question countless times and still struggled to answer. New glades meant more Sylvaneth. The destruction of the Undivided. Vast territory and monetary reward. It all rang hollow as his eyes wandered to the figure watching the grisly act from the line.
Arali Heartsbane revelled in the ecstasy of the sacrifice to her bloody god. Smiling, she let out a yell as the Daughters of Khaine all taunted and scorned the awaiting chaos force. She radiated deadly grace with every motion.
“You weren’t with us when we fled the ancestral home…” Yllethras began “We had lost everything, and found ourselves in a new, foreign realm. A realm that proved to be just a deadly as our own.”
In a stunned silence Elenwia listened intently. The Twilight Prince didn’t often talk about the days before Duskgrove. Yllethras did not look old, but in that moment the conversation seemed to age him a millenia in seconds.
“Harried by the dark god’s lackeys and the monstrous denizens of Ulgu, each day was a fight for our lives. We had little choice but to seek aid and Heartsbane offered salvation. I understand your feelings, I have doubts, but…” He sighed. “A debt is a debt.”
“A debt…” The spellsinger muttered to herself, her head spun with the implications.
“But I assure you, we do this for us all. The Everqueen would not have given her blessing otherwise.” He added, snapping out of the memory. They seemed to come and go as they pleased these days.
Elenwia did not reply.
Momentum on their side, the Pilgrimage’s ferocity proved more than a match for even the fresh Wretched reinforcements that poured out of the mountains and forests in an attempt to drive Arali’s armies back over the Ketkosmoshe.
Balthnor Rosewolf and Duke Gibbetmaw soon forced the outer gates, and as the forces of the Pilgrimage burst through the walls of the Temple, Runefather Bael-Grimnir led his warriors of the Vostarg lodge into a breach created by Zharn and Dulien. Separated from his larger fyrd with only his trusted retinue, the legendary Runefather faced the Chaos Lord Harkn Eightscarred, a laugh and a song of his forefathers on his lips.
Desperate, the Undivided resorted to releasing imprisoned traitors in a last-ditch defense of the Enlightenment Engine. At the zenith of his hubris, Irkut Thousandeyes imprisoned many Disciples he deemed to be plotting against his ascension. Whilst caged, they formed the Forgotten Cabal, sworn to the Varanguard’s downfall and led by the mockingly renamed Nadir Emberspark, a once-powerful Changecaster now reduced to a scampering Brimstone Horror.
Outside the walls, the armies of Qarang Sarn had arrived, their charge led by Lord Skaldangyr, his Brazen Fleet anchored off Dreadfleet Harbor.
As the Brazen horde pushed north towards the temple itself, their enemies fled before the terrible storm of blades. With the favour of their profane god upon them, the warriors of Khorne did not tire or waver in their resolve, this was battle at its purest. As the walls of the Temple came into sight, a mighty crack rang out across the valley, the wall was breached! As if in answer a deep rumble echoed across the landscape, this was no realm quake, but a cosmic event originating deep in the realm of chaos. His eye drawn by the bloodshed and the tithe of skulls, the Lord of Battle had unleashed his daemonic armies on Nyuranka.
A shimmering crimson mist fell on the beached wall as the chanting of the Brazen Fleet’s slaughterpriests reached a crescendo, a vast splattering of gore erupted from the breach and a mighty Bloodthirster stood in the gap, brandishing an immense two-handed axe. At his back were a multitude of bloodletters each carrying a bloodied blade of bronze, the day was not lost, the weaklings of the Pilgrimage would pay dearly for their cursed interference.
Caught between the warhorde of the Brazen fleet and the daemonic legions sallying out of the breach, now joined by Khorne’s mortal Skullcrusher knights pouring through the temple gate the siege turned into a bloody rout, each skull an offering of worship to he who sits on the brass throne.
Despite their efforts, however, Basalt Lord Qarang Sarn had not survived an unnaturally long lifetime of brutal battles if he’d chosen to wage losing wars. Seeing the Siege all but over before it had begun, Sarn called off the attack and sent messengers asking the Oracle of Peace to do the same, leaving those left within its walls to make good their retreat on their own or perish in the attempt. The Temple of Nyuranka and the Enlightenment Engine secreted away within its foundations belonged to Arali Heartsbane and the Pilgrimage.
Shoreline Encampment, East of Nyuranka
Qarang Sarn felt a few emotions when he saw the Emissary in her makeshift throne. Irritation, that she should rest while the war was in flux. Curiosity, as to what malaise had befallen her. Satisfaction, like a Sphiranx licking its chops, as he realized what was about to transpire.
‘Sarn. I didn’t call for you.’ She looked up, annoyed.
‘Yes of course, oh Emissary. I came regardless, so that I might share my insights on the situation that’s befallen us.’
‘What of it, Sarn?’ She winced at some sudden discomfort. ‘Both our army and our ally’s were routed off the field. The Enlightenment Engine belongs to a pack of murderous Aelves. The fact is, we’ve lost here.’
‘Have ‘we’?’ The Basalt Lord’s face was a mask of concern. ‘Have ‘we’ really? No, I don’t think ‘we’ have lost at all. True, Irkut has lost his pretty trinket, yet even without it he knows more about god-binding than any mortal, and probably any daemon. He can afford to make mistakes. And I… why, I have made no mistake at all. I rode gallantly to your rescue- no questing knight or imprisoned damsel could have asked for more.’
He half-grinned, half snarled within his helm, handsome face deforming. ‘And even while I was doing so, I have reshaped the rimward war. Belleck’s Trench is ours. The Realmgate has been taken, by soldiers loyal to my orders. Reinforcements can come now thanks to my foresight. Of all of us, I am the only one who can claim to be victorious. So no, I don’t think ’we’ have yet been entirely defeated.’
The Emissary’s face was lined with fear and pain as Sarn leaned forwards. ‘The truth is. I am a vainglorious braggart, Irkut is a sniveling bookworm. The Gods know this, Archaon knows this. They expect nothing more than what we’ve done. But you? You swore to the Everchosen to lead us to victory. You took that mantle willingly. You warned us against stumbling, and then tripped over your own two feet.’
‘I’ll kill you.’ The Emissary made to lunge at Sarn, only to collapse to the floor, wracked with waves of agony.
‘Somehow I don’t think you will, actually. I don’t think you’re going to draw a blade ever again. But don’t worry- you will serve. Our gods are generous, and they richly reward even those who fail them.’
There was nothing left to her save to scream as her body deformed, waves of mutation cresting and breaking. The Basalt Lord shrugged and walked out of the tent, leaving her to her fate.
‘As soon as the noise ceases, call for me. The creature inside will be weak for a brief spell, but it must be contained or it will become a danger to the camp.’ The two Chosen standing watch glanced at one another.
‘No, don’t look to her. Look to me. The fortunes of war have shifted. What is in that tent can lead us no longer- now, I will take command.’
Assault on Tsatraya
Breaking camp, the Expedition’s armada made all speed for Tsatraya, anchoring in the shadow of Uyar Point and reconnecting with the western end of Sobolev’s Road where it begins its ascent toward the clifftop city. As part of the deal brokered by Valeo Valencia with the Perpetual, the Dark Marquess and her Shade Host had already begun scouring the surrounding area for agents of the Pilgrimage- an arrangement that would soon prove most fortuitous for the Expedition.
Battle would be joined in earnest as the ghouls of Baroness Gloomraka Fawnfist descend on the first Expedition forces to occupy the city’s outskirts, the Beast-tamer Bloodworthy Marrowlich and the Duke of the Great Hunt giving no quarter as they rabidly give chase to the Stormcast of the Stonewalkers.
A credit to their name, the Stonewalkers held fast until the invaluable artillery of the Hammers of Hammerhal could move up and drive back the Flesh-Eaters with their pummeling barrages, the volley gun “Gustav’s Guts” reaping a particularly gruesome tally.
Already on the back foot, the tide of battle further shifted against the Pilgrimage as the prayer of Soulbound warpriestess Ellendorus Rosamund was answered from on high as a Strike Chamber of the Anvils of the Heldenhammer rode the lightning from Sigmaron down into the city, their arrival met with the bellowing charge of Torag Tome-Eater’s ogors. Anruil Brighteyes bit his lip from the deck of his command ship as the thunderous reports of ironblaster barrages were met with the screaming pressure-guns of the Dovesguard’s “Big Antonio” steam tank.
Unbeknownst to the Expedition, Torag had an ace up his sleeve- Tragtar, shaman of the sun-eater cult, and a Fyreslayer runesmiter by the name of Braddor. With the help of an unfortunate party of siegecracker gnoblars, Tragtar and Braddor had made their way into the city from the quay below Kozul Redoubt, and mined the fortification- and much of the city- with explosives. It’s entirely possible their mad ploy would have succeeded and denied the city to the Expedition… had their clumsy, bumbling attempt at sabotage not been observed from the moment they set foot on the quay by the Dark Marquess and her Shade Host.
Jarl Hjalmorr sat silently behind the lines of the living. His eye sockets fixed on the fight before him. His lord had sent him and the coven of Vorstgraf forest to help the flesh bags with their fight at Tsatraya. His lord had ordered him to follow the flesh bag leader’s command and take control of the undead that were living in the streets of Tsatraya. The fighting was bloody at the entrance, the light aelves and duarding ironmen had engaged the enemy, but the foul ghouls were putting up a heavy resistance. Karl didn’t care, he hadn’t cared for a long time, the only thing that was important to him was his master’s goal.
The cackling of the three witches was distracting, and looking at the reactions of the reserves placed to protect them, quite nerve wracking. It could also be the nerves of battle, again the Jarl didn’t cared for it. He was just waiting for the signal, the signal that would allow him to quence his hatred for the living, the signal that would be lit by flesh bags.
Then something weird happened, he shivered. Karl has never shivered before, as an undead he doesn’t get cold, but this was no natural shiver or a natural wind. The coven witches felt it too, their cackling had stopped. Again, the shiver and the wind, no it was no wind, it was a howl, and it came from the lake. Karl turned around, as did the witches, and looked over the lake. The Jarl’s vision couldn’t pick anything out of the ordinary on the lake. The witches on the other hand started to talk, in their weird, alternating style.
“Home at last…”
Then the three witches turned towards the Jarl.
As night begins to fall, the worst of the spirit host onslaught is prevented by the runic soul-lantern gifted to the Expedition by Tidecaster Galrach and carried aloft atop “Big Antonio” and finally, the lighthouse atop Kozul Redoubt was relit, the beacon’s lodestone drawing the spectral forms to it like moths to a gas lamp and pacifying the city.
“My Lord! The lighthouse has been lit!”
Arras had seen the light as well, this meant that the assault had started, and on cue several airships took to the air. Arras turned Fornost around and looked over his forces. They were escorting the surviving turnips to the Expedition war camp, and were not moving as fast as he liked.
“Hurry up, or otherwise the fighting is starting without us. Double time!”
Arras could see the mighty walls of the Kozul Redoubt before him, and within its tallest spire the burning light of the lighthouse that had been lit by allied forces. Even above the Redoubt’s spires were the airships of Sardona Swift, firing their cannons into the Pilgrimage forces that tried to assail the redoubt. The airships had but a few minutes ago released its cargo of deadly Expedition warriors into the Redoubt, before the Pilgrimage could take it. The Pilgrimage had cut the Expedition off from the town, or so they thought, and were now arraying there forces between the Expedition and the city, trying to prevent the Expedition from linking up with those in the Redoubt, all according to the plan. Arras looked at the sky, there wasn’t much light in Shyish, but the little that shone through when it was day-time was slowly dimming. Night would be upon them soon, and with that the trap would spring.
“Men and aelves, our mission is clear. We’ll first ride towards the flanks and try to shift their formation. Once there we’ll attack! Get in, get out and try to get as much of the enemy to follow us! Pistoleers of the Hammers, try to disrupt the enemies first rows, so me and my Dawnriders can make a nice impact when we charge them!”
Arras turned Fornost towards the city and pulled out his sword.
“Riders of the Expedition! Move out!!”
The battle was finally decided with the mixed cavalry charge of Arras Danathan’s Lumineth host, supported by the Stormcast of Hercules Tenzo and the Perpetual agent Jarl Hjalmorr and his Coven of Vorstgraf. Beaten and bloodied, the Pilgrimage quit the city, simply lacking the numbers to make even a meaningful last stand.
“Balthnor! Balthnor? …BALTHNOR!?” Torag Tome-Eater bellowed, his back to a parapet of the Kozul Redoubt.
“Who is Balthnor, beast?!” demanded the Liberator-Prime of the Anvils of the Heldenhammer, holding his greatblade en garde lest the ogor attempt any sudden movements.
The Prime had only the briefest impression of the beat-flap of a Stardrake’s wings before he found himself ascending on lightning back to the soul-mills of high Sigmaron from which he’d just descended…
Tsatraya and Nyuranka
It hadn’t been Anruil Brighteyes’ best day, but he was satisfied all the same. How could he not be? The Expedition had succeeded on every front. Tsatraya was secure from the living and the dead, a new base of operations for the war on Bykaal. Han Shizhong had been obliterated- the details of that engagement were still filtering in, but all agreed that the rogue Stormcast would threaten them no longer. And the vaults of Old Dyunsk were cleared, and an agreement penned that at least on paper would solve their problems.
And yet all the day’s victories felt like half-measures. Tsatraya might belong to them, but the Ghyrplunge was still beyond their grasp, and while it laid in enemy hands they were chronically short-stocked. Han Shizhong was gone, but his demise hadn’t answered any questions about how one of Sigmar’s reforged sons could fall so far as to take up arms against his brethren. And even though the children of Nagash had promised many things they had taken the only thing of value from the vaults, and all he was left as a guarantee was the fickle promises of the Seraphon.
All told, it hadn’t been a bad day. Still, he hoped the next one would be better.
Arali Heartsbane couldn’t remember a day that had gone better, and yet she was strangely unsatisfied. How could she not be? The Pilgrimage had won a great victory, and yet it felt hollow all the same. From where she sat on the walls of the Temple she could see fields still strewn with corpses, a rare feast for bird and beast and ghoul alike. Inside, she knew, the High Apostolic Sanguine was packing Teclis’ lost treasure for transport, a gem like few others the Realms could boast. Both the hordes of Chaos that hunted these shores had been put to flight, and the primacy of the Pantheon asserted in terms none could deny.
Even so, a part of her said, no one in Azyrheim would sing their deeds. She had won every fight except for the one that mattered- except for the war over the hearts and minds of the watching Realms. It mattered, far more than she let on- they had come as conquerors in the name of many gods, but they were still looked on as thieves and bandits. All the prizes in the world meant nothing if there were none to appreciate it. That would have to change before they could really claim to be victorious here.
All told, it had been a very good day. Still, she hoped the next one was better.
The warm light of the Tsatraya beacon swept over Anruil’s back, and he smiled to himself. That, at least, was a clear victory. The… ‘Sparkles’? had succeeded in restoring the beacon even before his armies were ready to mount their assault on Tsatraya’s walls. The light seemed to have a soothing effect on the spirits gathered in its wake, removing the danger he’d feared from angry geists haunting the darkened streets at night. He wondered who they might have been in life- sailors, soldiers, merchants, fisherman? Husbands, wives, parents and children? What had their dreams been, before they’d become shadows to be enthralled by a beam of light? And were any of his old comrades among them even now?
Arali couldn’t see the beacon from her perch, but she knew it was there, ever-mocking, like an unblinking eye. That was their only defeat. Had she defeated her sire’s weakling spawn on top of taking the engine, none could possibly have dismissed them so casually… she tamped down an old, familiar bitterness. She could never fault her followers for not doing enough, not after the victory today. It was bitter all the same.
Worse still was the news from the Ghyrplunge. A party of Anruil’s partisans had tried to storm the Realmgate in a Kharadron airship. At least one of them had made it, if the reports were to be believed. She wondered what lies and slander the fugitive was telling the leadership of Amasya even now. Again, she swallowed the dark emotions before they boiled over, keeping them sequestered to unleash on her foes. Let the messenger say what they would- the lords of Amasya and Hammerhal and Sigmaron itself would have no choice but to acknowledge them when they presented the prize they’d wrested back from the minions of the Dark Gods.
The light would fall dark if his half-sister had her way, though. Even as they had held the Pilgrimage at bay, she’d sent her saboteurs to destroy the beacon and turn the city into a deathtrap, and it was a near-miracle they’d stopped Torag Tome-Eater’s bomb-laden gnoblars at all. Even now, his forces were still uncovering hidden explosives, meant to bring the ruins down around them- he breathed a silent prayer of gratitude to Sigmar Heldenhammer that none had detonated by mistake.
They would have their justice, though. An underhanded blow like that destroyed any claim to authority that the so-called Pilgrimage might have once held. Even now, he hoped, the good soldiers calling themselves the Dreamseed were in Amasya, laying bare his half-sister’s crimes. To atone for them, Arali would have to surrender her looted Enlightenment Engine to the soldiers of Teclis in his ranks, or else face the wrath of the Expedition united against her.
The Engine wasn’t the only spoils they would take from the Temple, though. Even as they’d attacked Nyuranka, they had heard a bell ringing inside- joining the Cathedral’s instrument in thunderous melody. If the Cathedral bell could wake the dead, who knew what this one could do? There was a harbor carved into the rock below, filled with long-deserted ships. Perhaps the vessels could be returned to life. Perhaps other secrets still lay hidden in the depths. Nyuranka was still a source of strength, as the Ghyrplunge before it, and she would not surrender it until all of its treasures were laid bare.
Han Shinzong and the spirits weren’t the only threats they faced on Bykaal, though. He’d heard the tales- a new beast, rising from the depths to attack shipping, outposts, even locals. Some of his advisors theorized this… Orkkuh? Might be the primal spirit of the lake itself. Others thought it was a sea monster of the Age of Myth, roused to wakefulness by the war, by the beacon’s light, by the life-bearing waters of Ghyran. What particularly it was was a question for the scholars of Azyrheim to answer later. For now, it needed to die.
There were many victories behind them, Arali Heartsbane decided, but much war yet to come. A full measure of glory had been won, and measures more remained to be drunk deeply.
For the first time in centuries, he felt the warm glow of light, and swam towards consciousness. He was standing on a field of ice, watching as the great beacon spun in the distance. All around him stood spectral figures like himself, similarly entranced by the memory of life.
He breathed in, and then exhaled, feeling the cold wash through his body, feeling his limbs ache and senses and wits return to him. Death, it seemed, was much like life- full of the leaderless, the desperate, the gullible.
Anruil Althariel smiled. The game was in play again.
Battle of the Tolling Bell
“Cease your flailing beast and know that doom is upon you,” roared Wai’ett. “While you were gutting my followers, I have summoned Death! Hatched in darkness upon Hell’s Half-acre, gorged upon the bloodsoaked feed of murdered innocence, their eggs beaten into vile mayonnaise at the hands of a one-eyed madman! Death has come for you, scion of Azyr! Unleash the flocks of doom, my servants! Release the Poultry of Chaos!”
From the woods to the North came the sounds of scrabbling and clucking as though the Devil’s brood hens were hunting the desiccated forests of the underworld. Much to Ix-piq’s horror this metaphor proved true as half a dozen pale, feathered shapes burst from the treeline. Spotting the massive bulk of Korbok, the frenzied fowl launched themselves towards their prey. The mighty reptile let loose a stentorian bellow, lowered her head, and charged into the mass of onrushing corpse-white feathers. The carnage was great and does not bear repeating here.
Read the Battle for the Farm
The Siege of the Cathedral was as brief as it was brutal. Growing weary of the ongoing stalemate, Irkut Thousandeyes set into motion a scheme he possessed every expectation would turn the tide of battle. And so, it began with the tolling of the bell, and by the time it rang twenty-nine times, the battle would be over.
Sorcerer-Lord Sah’ah’ikil and the Mutalith Vortex beast he intended to throw at the Cathedral as a battering ram- yet was soon dragged down in a quagmire of water-bloated zombies raised by Andaman of House Serpens.
The Myzlaani Enclave, tributaries to Nagash, swooped in under the cover of the Aethersea to take the Undivided Tzeenchians by surprise. Used to such thrust-and-riposte, Irkut bids a Changer of Ways join the fray- yet in turn, is frustrated by the appearance of an Eidolon of the Idoneth.
Going on the attack again, Roshin of the White Blades of PreOrdination brings forth a howling Soulscream Bridge, leading the hidden cultists among Lake Bykaal’s populace into the Perpetual’s flank by way of potent leylines.
In the final moments of the battle, Irkut’s champion- the Daemon Prince named Nazhoth Starcleaver- assaulted the Cathedral directly, his Khornate horde raging through the monastery grounds. Knowing defeat hung in the balance, Zectoka sent the Slann Xen’Rok’Kurktori to intervene. An ally of uncounted ages, both knew that this was where he would die… yet the Great Plan demanded it, and so it would be.
Nazhoth Starcleaver earned his name and cut down Xen’Rok’Kurktori, but not before the the bell had rung twenty-nine times. The ancient entity within it unbound, the death magics of Shyish manifested and tore apart Irkut’s army. Horrified and humiliated, the Spineless lived up to his moniker and quit the field.
The Wreck of the Etmund
The grief which hung over this place was palpable. It reminded Reikenor of Lady Olyender’s overpowering presence, yet the sadness of this place was twinged with mourning.
Reikenor hated this lake. The more time he spent here, the more it reminded him of his mortal life, and the fate he’d spent his days attempting to escape. This was a place of the tragedy of lives cut short, of those poor bastards whose grave-sand had been stolen away by the tides of fate and ill fortune.
There it was again, the mourning. Reikenor tilted his head, letting the feeling wash over him. It was foreign to him, yet not unwelcome. Grief he knew; tragedy, he bitterly bereaved. Yet, with mourning, there came… peace.
That was the feeling he couldn’t place. Peace.
“Your King is an undying one, wraith.” Fear was not an emotion permitted to him, yet it had been centuries since an entity had approached Reikenor without detection… and he well knew there was only one such creature on this lake who could do so.
“For a supreme lord of the dead, Nagash knows little of death.” The Slann, Zectoka, continued. “I bear memories of a world before this one, memories of your God born a human babe who grew to fear death the same as the mortal man you once were.”
Rage was permitted. “Shut your mouth, toad,” Reikenor hissed, Kyllaron spinning about and rearing, the irony of the Slann’s telepathy not lost on his choice of words. “Your mind is addled from age and your own incessant riddles. I have done as you bid. The bell has chimed twenty-nine times. Now I ask again, what purpose do your machinations serve?”
Only after his outburst did Reikenor realize how fatigued the Slann appeared. Not simply fatigued, but almost near death. The Grimhailer had not realized how much the battle with the ascended Varanguard had drained the Slann. Intriguing.
“Xen’Rok’Kurktori shared those memories, and after all these ages come and gone, embraced his destiny. That is true death, Grimhailer. There is no reversing what has been done this day, no cursed half-life such as you are doomed to, my friend.”
Reikenor would reflect on the Slann’s words for years to come- but not here, and not now. “My question, toad,” the Grimhailer repeated.
“All that remained of Nyura’s soul was bound within that bell, friend, after the thunder god broke her fleet and her body with the God-Splitter, concealed before the eyes of the Undying King in his own realm. Now, she may rise again… and deny the Nemesis his prize.”
Realization. Rage, again. Reikenor raised his scythe as if to strike down the Slann in one fell blow.
“You set the servants of the Undying King to purpose releasing the soul of a godbeast of Shyish? A… a rival of Nagash?” Incredulity was permitted, yet not an emotion Reikenor had often found call for. He’d watched with bemusement as the Slann had manipulated the orruks, ogors, Sylvaneth and Idoneth into doing his bidding. That he had manipulated Reikenor and the very Legions of Nagash, however? That was an insult which could not be tolerated.
“You are the Undying King’s will made manifest, are you not?” Zectoka seemed to sigh, resigned in his fatigue. “Mithridates Alti, too. The ignorant pawns of your blundering child-god put in motion the events which consume us all, the events which cost the incalculable life of a Slann this day. You released the Nemesis, and all the dead you send against it will not stop it.”
Reikenor withdrew, weighing the Slann’s words. At length, he spoke.
“Then what will?”
DA BIG BASH AT POZNYY
Perhaps the most titanic of the clashes yet in the war would come to be known among the Soulmuncherz as “Da Big Bash”. Word of a good scrap gets around fast, and almost every Soulmuncher around the lake descended on the village of Poznyy and the warrens beneath it like an avalanche of muscle and violence.
The Wretched had seen it coming, of course- invited it, even. The Oracles knew their dominion over Lake Bykaal would not stand unchallenged forever, and had worked tirelessly to scrape the means of conquest and domination from this harsh and unforgiving landscape. This was the bounty reaped from the Corpse Shallows: withered Namarti Idoneth souls, and the fey magic bound to them. The Wretched’s greatest minds had long labored in their warrens, their science and experiments undisturbed… until now.
The water bubbled and boiled with energy, the center of the pond filled with lumps of flesh, limbs, heads, smattering of fur and hair, dimming the water. Misting over with offal and blood, any wildlife in the pond had long since died, drowned by barrels of toxic chemicals and bursts of warp lighting from powerful warp actuators.
Doktor Morr-Ratt stood watch over the proceedings, his second tail thrashing the ground in anticipation, the other clutching a ruddy warp lantern, emerald light bathing the proceedings. Packmasters worked feverishly, stitching limbs to bloated body parts, a menagerie of races rolling over and over as the body parts floated to and fro, like in the embrace of a giant specimen bottle. Here an Orruk head, there an Aelf arm, an eel head, a nightmare soup to be sure!
Morr-Ratt rubbed his hands together with glee, or to restore circulation, his eyes glittering with glee, a look he always had when he played deity. Surely his creations were much better than those of Nagash. Not brainless, but born of intelligence, living, breathing, feeding, thinking. Gods in their own rights!
Pointing to the nearest of his Packmasters, Morr-Ratt nodded his head. The lever was depressed and a burst of warp lighting burst into life, throwing energies along the cables, and surging into the pond. The waters jerked and heaved as the power of the generator covered the mounds of flesh in the pond in emerald light, the limbs started to slither.
Morr-Ratt bellowed more orders, each lever being thrown in succession, jade light illuminating the water as tentacles and more began to writhe and move, as mounds of flesh began to crawl forth from the pond, bodies glistening in lurid water, almost as if crawling from the womb…
Eola Waveshaper surveyed the relatively pristine churning waters with frustration that threatened to show itself. “Where are the bodies,” she said, thinking out loud. Where are the souls, was what she meant, for those were what she truly cared about. Their green-skinned allies had boasted about all of ratmen, goatmen and regular men they had ‘krumpted’, while raiding parties from the other Enclaves had spoken of a torrent of lingering souls. And yet….
“Void are the waters when one was promised it to be full of lifelessness,” came a voice behind her, causing Eola to turn and come to face with to a female Lumineth. Astarine she thought was her name, for the siblings were not here to tell her for certain. The darker robes compared to the rest of the Y’sarneans suggested as much. “I can feel your displeasure, it blackens your soul. Quite literally.”
“Yes,” she said. “May I ask if you have any suggestions to why that happened? The most plausible theory I have gotten so far is it is something to do with those wretched Wretched.”
Astarine tilted her head. “Yes. I believe the cursed Skaven to be responsible. The clan known as Moulder in particular. May Tyrion slay them all. Far too many noble sons and daughters of Teclis have fallen to them, only to be desecrated. And though I am loath to describe any encounter with them using these terms, the lucky ones were dead when it happened. They… created creatures…hybrids between monsters and—”
An alarm horn blew in the distance. “Teclis’ hairy toenails!” Eola heard Astarine curse. Eola herself was a step ahead, having already broken into a sprint. Though she did not get a chance to finish her sentence, Eola knew what Astarine meant as soon as she laid eyes on the bodies of the attackers. Monsters…and aelves.
“They attacked the Northmost entrance,” Huntmaster Kraven said to her. “Under a cloud of the mist you Deepkin use. Fortunately we were just setting off to hunt and were upon them before they could even bite someone. Dispatched them real quick.” The Simbarrian shook his head. “I’ve never seen beasts like this and I’ve hunted many.”
“That’s because these are not natural creatures,” she said, detached. An instinctive defense mechanism against the rage now bubbling within her, cast into a trench for the moment until it could be channeled towards something useful. “You did well, Huntmaster… and I… I thank you for putting them out of their misery.”
In the darkened hills behind the village, away from the shore, the Bullripper Brothers gathered their weaker sheep and goats. Using blood-soaked feed and ancient rituals, Krazark chanted day and night, the animal’s wool and fur darkening and vicious bleating carrying on throughout the night. By the morn, this new, darkened flock grabbed bloodstained armor and weapons and made off to spread the gospel of peace and humility. The other goats looked on then, filled with envy of the black sheep of the family…
Inspired, the Pauper Prince rallied the wretched peoples of Poznyy into a desperate charge against the Soulmuncher occupation. While ill-fated, their sacrifice summoned daemons-and darker things- to the battle.
The Rotgardeners had conceded the shoreline to the Soulmuncherz, much to Lord Verdous’ dismay. His small comfort is that his garden’s deadly delights would be surely appreciated by the Soulmuncherz during their advance inland. And the Rotgardener knew his garden’s roots ran deep.
In the days that followed, Urrookabar’s Orc’gorz incursion into the dens beneath Poznyy ground to a halt. The underground roots and fungoids of the massive overgrown pestilent garden, dripping pus and feeding all sorts of maggots and larvae, finally blocked their advance, as the daemons servants of the Plague God shared their bountiful blessings with Urrookabar’s Warclan.
After surrounding and cutting off the camp of the Loonshine Gitz and the Verdant Maw ogors, the Misthorned Greatfray of Bray-Shaman Moonhide found themselves reinforced by the Knight in Silks and his Chaos knights charging down from the hills. Underground, the newfound Troggoths recruited by Da Woit Grunt are put before their first, real opponent – Qheel Skitterpaw, Master Moulder Extraordinaire and Grey Seer Pritislik of the Plague Wardens.
Although it looked to be anyone’s fight, the unconventional nature of the Soulmuncherz would ultimately carry the day, as Gundrikson’s Iron Fleet has been slowly enacting their plan to deal with the underground warrens for good…
A sharp screech accompanied the sick crunch of aether treated iron smashing into flesh and bone as another many faced, stitched monstrosity plummeted from the sky.
The strange beasts summoned from the darkest magicks and sciences of some diseased mind had assailed the fleet all week long. Usually in ones and twos, sometimes in vast swarms. There was no consistency of the patchwork monstrosities except the bizarre faces embedded in the stitched flesh. It was lucky that few of the beasts had any natural source of flight, relying on co-opting the strange magic of the sea aelves. The waterlike aether did not persist more than a score of yards into the sky, and Admiral Broki Gundrikson had been able to avoid the worst of the assaults by directing his ships to take to the sky.
Still, every few of the creatures had some sort of aerial locomotion, and they were often aided by more common, though no less horrible beasts like a cockatrice or chimera. There had even been a cadre of avian headed beastmen upon tzeentchian discs armed with greatbows. They’d manage to down one of the gunhaulers Broki had hired from the Grundstock corporation, an expensive loss.
“We’re coming upon the site of another tunnel Admiral!” Called the lookout at the aetherglass. “And it looks all clear from here!” Broki nodded and turned over to the helmsman “Take us down Gottri.”
After a few tense minutes, the work was done, piles of barrels stacked in key sections, wired up to a detonation device. The Kharadron retreated from the warren and fell back a hundred paces from the entrance. With a firm nod, Broki gave the order to detonate. A loud explosion rent the chill Shyish air, debris ejecting from the entrance to the skaven warren and raining down around it as the tunnel collapsed in on itself.
Literally smoked out of their holes, the Oracle of Peace abandoned his plan to draw the Soulmuncherz into the warrens and destroy them, choosing instead to abandon Poznyy for the BogYuuvitre without their enemy defeated. This retreat would prove costly, particularly among the numbers of their prized aether-abominations, but untold Wretched slipped away into the South Wind and disappeared beyond the Soulmuncherz grasp.
Kyady’s Gate, Crom’s Canyon, Stairs of Nyura
Hidden deep within the Warrens, the Shadow Council deliberated.
Altake whispered, “We must Fight-Crush the Pilgrim-Things! They have Elf-Thing engine!”
Vomislik crowed, “No NO! It is the Soulmuncherz-Things they ruin our Plague Garden!”
Technofire spat, “You fool-fools! Iit is the old enemies we must destroy. They bring more-more Dead-Things and Lizard-Things in through their gate!”
Skwikt snarled, “Yes-yes we must stop the Perpetual-Things! For they are the enemy that can bring more-more bodies to the fight than us.”
And at that, the Verminlords skittered to their armies….
More were trickling in. This was not an overwhelming force, just a warband. Good, but it was to be temporary, for a flood always begins with just a few droplets of water. She had to secure it now.
It was now or never. Lady Livia stood up and held her staff outwards toward the pile of corpses, and let the necrotic energy flow forth. Necromancy was not an easy art, Livia preferred it when the bodies could be separated, carefully inspected for imperfections that could disrupt the process, but there was no time. This job would have to be quick, haphazard and sloppy. She began to utter a few words in the Shyish tongue, beckoning Nagash’s aid in this endeavor. Her staff’s crystal began to glow in response. She had never attempted to do it on quite this scale but it was going to be necessary.
As the energies of Shyish reached out, they were invisible tendrils, grasping for the shards of soul energy still embedded within the rotting carrion. She focused her mind on the ones near the top, they would need to be moved to give room for the unfortunate souls buried underneath their loved ones. Cracks of bone and sinew began to echo throughout the valley as the corpses began to break against the rigor mortis that had already set in, and it did not take long to attract the attention of some of the Chaos Marauders who were preparing camp nearby. They uttered words in their barbaric tongue, words Livia did not know nor cared to know. They drew their weapons and prepared for battle.
Fierce fighting erupted in the wilds of Lake Bykaal as the Wretched sought to choke off the immediate realmgates leading elsewhere in Shyish. Crom’s Canyon in particular was hotly contested, falling only after a Midnight City contingent led by Iyla Greyson crushed their attackers, obliterating enemy and forest alike in withering gunfire.
Despite the best efforts of Master Tik-Tik and his Moulder Operational Unit of Suicidal Experiments- or M.O.U.S.E. for short- the Perpetual consolidated their control of the Canyon and Kyady’s Gate soon after. However, despite their victories in Old Dyunsk and the Cathedral of the Mariner, the Stairs of Nyura remained firmly in the Wretched’s grasp, the Oracles’ power consolidated en masse on the western shore of the lake…
Upon Mt. Nagus’ua, Warplock Zapmek the Experimenter chittered. His creation was working magnificently, perhaps a bit too magnificently. The machine began to squeal as dozens of lighting bolts arced into it. It was becoming overloaded! Blue cracks appeared, sending blinding light flashing through his Acolytes, vaporizing them.
Then he saw it, a huge wave of lightning heading straight towards the mountain tip. He began to scurry away but was too slow: the machine exploded. The lightning scattered down the mountain, shattering stone and frying anything it came in contact with. As it reached the base of the mountain it arced back up and around, changing color from the pure blue to a vile green.
The ground began to shake and the mountain stirred. The explosion of lighting upon the mountaintop was so great all heard it. Soon the ground began to quake, animals fled in terror, and a green glow filled the skies. The corrupted lightning coursed around the mountain continually striking it. Landslides of boulders crashed through the forests and the earth heaved. The rumbling becoming louder still until it crescendoed into a roar. A huge eye opened, claws the size of frigates flexed, and all but the Dragon Ogors looked upon the Mountain with dread.
Near the Stairs of Nyura
Four were there for the conclave. Two men and two beasts, two warriors and two schemers, two happy and two glum.
“Victory. Not victory for all, but victory for some.” Qarang Sarn almost exuded confidence, towering as he did above the other three.
“Victorrrry that will come frrrrrom this. Victorrry when we unite, and scourrr Bykaal of its opprrrressorrrs.” The Oracle of Peace was almost as tall, and equally as jubilant.
“Victory, such as we have never known before.” The Basalt Lord’s smile turned mocking at this, and was met with glowers.
“We were crrrushed at Poznyy, despite ourrr Abominations. Flesh-moulding will not win us the warrrr.” At Peace’s words, Humility bristled, fur standing almost on end so as to give him the appearance of a nearly spherical ball of hair.
“We were routed at the Cathedral. Our sorcery never even touched its object. Arcanery will not grant us victory.”
“Better my arcanery than the steel that lost us Nyuranka, Sarn.” Irkut the Spineless glowered out at the older Varanguard.
“Ah. But it was not my steel that lost us Nyuranka, but the Emissary’s.” Sarn was still smiling, still mocking.
“And it was not steel that won the victory at Belleck’s Trrrrench, but faith. The trrrrue faith!” Peace’s breath was fogging the air in front of him, forming tiny icicles on the hair of his face.
“We will put our trust in the Gods. Let them be the ultimate arbiters of victory and defeat, and let us entreat them for strength! They alone will determine who will win and who will die.”
“It is orrrrrdained.”
Silence reigned for a moment, before Irkut spat on the ground. “That’s your plan? To lay all your faith in divine intervention? Like throwing away your sword before a fight. You have always been a fool, Sarn, but this…”
“Idiotic-stupid.” Humility agreed. “Abandoning our weapon-tools for prayer-rites will doom-crush us.”
“Yourrrr speech is blasphemous.” The Oracle of peace snorted again and stamped his hoof, as though facing a foe in heat. “You will rrrregret it.”
“Entreat their favor as you will, but know that the eyes of the Gods are upon us- and we will labor together in their service.”
“How-why are you thinking-knowing this will work? Are you mad-addled or just stupid-dumb? How should we measure-see who will be granted-given this favor? How will favor-honor be divided ‘fairly’ between-among you” Humility was seething, air whistling quickly in and out of nostrils that were clenched almost shut.
Sarn and Peace looked at one another in the manner of two friendly duelists, a pair of brawlers itching for a fight. “I think, we will leave it up to the Gods. Do what we can to entreat them”
“And let Chaos decide the victorrrrr.”
Irkut bit back a curse of frustration. Having a mind greater than any mere mortal’s also meant that you could get a far larger headache. “Just… please tell me you have a strategy beyond “kill them all and let the Gods sort it out.”
The Basalt Lord and the Oracle of Peace looked at each other and both laughed again, the sound echoing above the noise of waves breaking on the cliffs far below.
“Of courrrrse we have a plan.”
“We will do what we each do best.”
“We will strrrrrike from the darrrkness. Use the land in our favor. Let them sufferrrr the death of a thousand cuts. Turrrrn the beasts and spirrrrits of Bykaal against them.”
“And we will strike for the center. Let our shared enemies be caught between our hammer and your anvil, unable to decide which way to face.”
Peace still seethed, but his hair and whiskers had settled some. “You will take yourrrrr arrrrmies to bite and bite and bite again. Let Chaos’ infection sprrrread deep. Teach humility to those who would rrrreshape our land, and brrrreak theirrrrr grrreat Engine to stand as a monument to their hubrrrris.” The man who was a rat nodded thoughtfully, fur finally flattening.
“And you.” Sarn gestured to Irkut, who still glowered. “We have lost the chance to test your craft of god-binding, but not to use it. Husband your strength- we will capture the Breach, and then you will bind the Ur-Whale’s spirit, and provide proof that what the Aelves did to Slaanesh we in turn can practice against their Pantheon. Are we agreed?” Irkut was silent for a long moment, but the fire in his eyes was burned to embers. “Are we?”
He shook his head and spat. “Yes, Basalt Lord.”
“Good.” Unconsciously or not, Sarn had taken on the stance of a conqueror or even a king. “All that remains for us is to bathe in the glory of our triumphs!”
“Rrrrejoice!” Peace raised a clenched fist. “Destiny lies beforrre us!”
It was almost a pity, Titus Stormeyes reflected. The Expedition had done the lion’s share of work, clearing the vaults beneath Old Dyunsk, and yet it was the Perpetual who would reap the reward. Then he laughed to himself. That sort of strategic thinking was why he was a mere Liberator-Prime while Caleb the Unskinned held command.
True, the Expedition had committed more forces to this task, but if what he heard was true that had given the Seraphon and Undead the numbers they needed to prevail elsewhere and deny the true enemy critical victories. Besides… it wouldn’t do, now or in the future, for the Stormcast to be seen to renege on the oaths they had sworn. Titus and his companions were many things, but oathbreakers was not among them.
“The wall is prepared, sir.” Titus nodded absently at the report. Seeing the ancient ships go to Nagash was almost a pity, but definitely a relief- the vessels may have laid down here for thousands of years, but they smelled as if they’d been assembled out of rawhide the day before. He envied the White King and his followers that had no noses, and wondered how it was that the Seraphon could stand to remain for more than a moment.
They’d been down there for days, undead and star-lizard alike performing their subtle rituals and gradually reconsecrating the massive fleet into an instrument of the Undying King. He shook his head- the pact that they had sworn to agreed that the walrus-ships would be used only against the true enemy, but what of when this war was over? Would Titus find himself in battle against the very vessels he’d helped liberate?
“Sir? The wall is prepared.” Titus snapped out of his reverie and smiled. Even as the ships had been reconsecrated, he and his had been hard at work undermining the Vault’s ageless walls. They were not meant to fail, but few things in the world could withstand 30 Liberators with a will and a purpose.
“Stormeyes! Reforged of the Hammers! Push!” Thirty strong backs laid into the wall, thirty hearts of lightning throwing their full reforged strength against prepared weak points. The stone grumbled, creaked, groaned- and then fell outwards, allowing blessedly fresh Bykaal air to flow into the Vault for the first time in centuries. The stagnant pool that had held the skeletal fleet joined with the waters of the lake, and once again the ships of bone sailed off to war.
Mithridates Besh stood upon the edge of the glacial cliff, the inky water far below him. Dawn was beginning to break, and its light reflected off the snow around him. With Han Shinzong’s… defeat, the storms had abated. But, they would come again.
He held up his arms as though he were making an offering, letting the sleeves of his robe fall back to his elbows, and regarded his bare flesh in the nascent light. The skin was blackened in spots, and translucent in others, the purpled veins below clearly visible. He flexed his hands into fists, and felt the skin of his knuckles separate and peel back.
So, it was finally happening to him, just as it had to all the others. He didn’t have much time now… but still, time enough, he thought.
His introspection was disturbed as another reverent shambled past and threw itself off the cliff, its decaying flesh nearly exploding as it hit the icy water far below. They had trickled off some, but more would come. Han Shinzong had brought him many more, before the end.
He turned as more approached and stumbled past him, drawn to him yet unaware of his presence. He smiled at the rasp-scrape of a Stormcast’s armor, the giant doubled over in pain and vomiting inside his helmet even as he attempted to run. The puppets of the thunder god had proven especially useful tools, the sliver of divinity hammered into their souls allowing them to endure so much more than mere mortal flesh. His eyes followed the Sequitor as he threw himself off the ledge, his impact and thrashing as he drowned particularly loud in the still morning air.
Besh smiled, and repeated the mantra that had been on his lips every hour of the last five centuries.
“What will be, what will be, truth will bind and set us free, through fiery animosity, Nemesis’ sovereignty…”
TURN 3 IS GOING ON NOW! LEARN HOW TO PARTICIPATE!
Turn 3 Ends Sunday, August 9th @ 11:59pm EST.
Turn 4 Begins Wednesday, August 12th at 12:00pm EST.