Near the Wreck of the Marie Elaine
Hogrog ug Weirdklaw shambled over to where Dyrnawen Silverfish stood. The ice was thrust up here where chunks coming down the Thawing had slipped under the deeper segments and thrust them upward like so many jagged tectonic plates. Dyrnawen imagined that soon, even the lake bed deep ice of the Southern Shelf would begin breaking up… and the Breach, well, the Breach would simply become Lake Bykaal.
“I am da bearer uv good tidings, Silverfish!” Hogrog called out, and cuffed Dyrnawen on the back with an open palm as he drew close. Unlike the last time they’d spoken after Han Shinzong’s presumed death, Dyrnawen seemed strong and hale once more, the burn on his hand and arm reduced to little more than a dark rash.
“Dem pansy Ham-ruh-hawl lads gots da smarts to keep demselves from gettin’ krumped. Dey’s left Orkkuh to us, on da con-dish-un we give ‘em dat glowy shiny it swallowed when it, uh, passes…” Hogrog’s body language implied the toofy grin behind his mask.
Dyrnawen’s tone was detached, preoccupied. “You did know the Ulgish Obyd’dhia consumes sources of bioluminescence to power its lure, yes? The creature tricks its prey by using their own illumination against them.”
“Is you’z accuzin’ da boyz uv negotiation’ in bad faith, den?”
“Only if you told them beforehand.”
Hogrog was silent for a long moment. Then, a change of subject. “Dat wispy git, da Green Knight. ‘E wuz askin’ ‘bout youz. ‘Bout… yer con-dish-un.”
The wind whipped the snow off the edge of the up-thrust ice in a beautiful arc, catching what little light filtered down from Hysh and, for a just a moment, giving the briefest impression of a rainbow.
“Wot’z gonna ‘appen?”
“You, da ladz dat fought dat wacko Stormboy in da snow, all da fishy boyz dat ‘ave been spendin’ too much time in da water. Wot duz dis… dis mal-ig-nuntz do to you’z, ex-act-uh-ly?”
“At the level some of us have been exposed…? The malignance tears a being apart… no, that’s not right. It causes a being to tear themselves apart. It’s like a mutation, but instead of changing what it touches it simply… undoes it. The initial point of introduction reddens, then blackens, as the flesh around succumbs to necrosis rather than be suborned by the malignancy. This buys the body time- time in which the subject seems to rally, even recover. But like everything else about it, that’s a lie. The most merciful thing at that point is to kill the afflicted, while a part of them remains intact.”
Dyrnawen turned to Hogrog, his tone resigned and his smile bitter. “Then it strikes again, and your decline is astonishingly rapid. The living parts of your bones rot and slough out, leaving you… hollow. Your organs will collapse in on themselves. Those which don’t become reservoirs of bile, taking on a life of their own and actively trying to destroy the rest of the body. In the last stage, your blood rejects its purpose. You bleed from every orifice, your flesh is saturated with it, and the pain is… unimaginable, as much psychological as physical, no magic or salve can abate it. The only consolation is that this will last no longer than a week. After that, you’re dead, and all the Pantheon put together couldn’t mend the violence done to your soul.”
“But… da stormy boyz?”
Dyrnawen gave a dry, humorless chuckle. “That’s the effect of a moderate dose, against creatures of flesh and blood. In large enough quantities your body won’t even have a chance to fight back- everything is suborned and becomes an active vessel for spreading the malignance to other hosts. You’ll still die, of course, but not until after weeks, potentially months of agonizing pain. And that’s not the worst, even. Against… Stormcast, or Starborne Seraphon, or Chaos Daemons… other creatures of refined divinity… the malignancy spreads, until it replaces the essence of the very gods who created them. There, too, it twists what it touches, but there is no true flesh to die, and so the subject will linger on indefinitely, still wracked by immense pain, itself a reservoir of this… contagion.” Dyrnawen turned away, staring out across the lake. “Do you understand, greenskin? The malignancy- it unmakes the very acts of creation itself. It exists to tear existence apart.
Where the diplomats of the Expedition had taken the Soulmuncherz at their word- that they would return the Althariel heirloom Orkkuh swallowed once the beast “passed” it- the talky gitz among the ‘muncherz had jeered, jesting about how they could instead send the Expedition a scow of Squig dung and Mournfang spoor for the manlings to dig through themselves. Regardless, as Dyrawen and Hogrog knew, Orkkuh wasn’t going to pass Anruil Althariel’s “North Star”, a powerful spectral artefact cut from the same spiritual lodestone mineral as the Tsatraya lighthouse.
All the stories told how Althariel could summon the sea’s dead to guide him through uncharted waters or aid him in hopeless boarding actions, and it was Hogrog’s observation that having a beast of Gorkamorka that could do the same would make for a proppa story. To that end, Nippy Runtstrider of da Loonshine Gitz and Wardokk Urgog and Boss Ersatz of da Badfangs set about tracking down the sea monster- and if a few Expedition patrols disappeared at the same time, well, who’s to say it wasn’t Orkkuh’s doing?
Boss Ersatz goes looking for Orkkuh, stopping only to ask directions from some friendly Expedition soldiers
It had been another grueling trip across Lake Bykaal, but Gustovs’ affinity for logistics was paying dividends. The men were well equipped for bitter cold and were still decently well stocked on food. While many of the other soldiers living on diets primarily consisting of turnips. Gustovs men had enough to share. They had given a decent amount of their food to the people of Beggars Crutch, as they brought those who were willing inside the walls of the now secured city of Tsatraya. Adding more mouths to feed to the expedition provided no short term good but it also meant that secure Bolyany was vital to the continued efforts of the expedition.
Arriving in what they hoped would be a day or more before the vial Ratmen. The Hammers of Hammerhal found the land around Bolyany to be devastated by the previous weeks of battle. As they marched through the town they were at least relieved to find that the cold had one benefit. It kept the bodies from rotting, and while this provided ghastly scenes when they were stumbled upon, it kept the sink of death out of the air. They did notice that as they marched closer to the river south of Bolyany the land seemed less… lifeless? Plants seemed to be growing as fast as the column of troops marched by them. “Must be the result of that Lizardmen device.” Gustov mused, “Well all the more reason to protect this town. You see that boys!” Gustov called to his troops. “There is not any amount of destruction that the enemy can inflict that cannot be undone. Place your faith in Sigmar, and you will come through this battle!” Gustov pulled off to the side of the column of troops marching to the river.
The Bolyany Irregulars prepare to defend the only home they’ve ever known.
He along with many of the other commanders on this front pushed for a defensive line along the river. While this seemed tactically sound to him he was worried that the Stormcast whom his men would be fighting beside were not better equipped for melee combat. He had no doubt that they were effective against large beasts that would shred any 10 of his men, but they always seemed to like range firepower. Relying on the strength of their swords arms rather than in sound tactics.Gustov smiled to himself and “Gustov’s Guts”, as the men had affectionately named the hellblaster volleygun, rolled by. He would be placing artillery at all of the major river crossings in order to bottleneck the Ratmen and deprived them of their famed numerical superiority.
Gunnowder had begun to run low, despite all that they had recovered and were still recovering from the Redoubt and the Pilgrimages dastardly trap. There had not been enough time to gather it all, and as a result, Gustov had ordered the building of crossbow bolts. They would be better suited for this fight anyway with their higher rate of fire. Time permitting Gustov would have any bridges across the river rigged with blackpowder as well. With order to blow the bridges if it looked like the Wretched beasts of Chaos would gain ground on the shore. Just as the last of the defensive works were being put into place. Gustov and his men were alerted to smoke to the south. The Wretched were almost upon them. “To your positions! Companies form up! Remember men, faith, faith in the man standing next to you, faith in your steel, and FAITH IN SIGMAR! SEND THESE UGLY BASTARDS TO THEIR HEATHEN GODS!”
Just like that the Beasts of Chaos were upon the Hammers of Hammerhal. They came boiling over the hillsides. Baying for Blood to sacrifice to their heathen gods. Undeterred by this site the Hammers answered with cold steel and hot lead…
The Dovesguard of Konrad Rotstahl interrupt the blood rituals of Vraskii Crowspeaker
The Expedition had bet everything on Bolyany. Intelligence indicated the Wretched curs had regrouped en masse near Mt. Nagas’ua. With their defenses shored up, the full might of the Expedition prepared to meet the Wretched charge- and, indeed, the early fighting was fierce. Yet, even as the Expedition moved to attack beyond Gustov’s line and take the fight to the enemy, they found only nearly empty woods.
Where the bloody hell were the rest of them?
“You do realize this plan is absurd?” Tasi said as she prepared the next sacrifice. Drosus had been silent to her inquiries for the last hour, seemingly lost in thought. She started as he finally broke the silence, “You’re beginning to sound like the rodent Humility.” He chuckled. Satisfied with her work she moved on to the next, an Expedition Soldier of some import of his uniform were an indication. The sacrifices were properly aligned along an eightfold star carved into the ground. “Why are we even here Drosus,” she stopped her work to turn to him, “we should be on the front fighting alongside Sarn and the rest of the Undivided.”
Drosus sighed. This wasn’t the first time in the past month that Tasi had questioned his judgment. There had been several times he’d questioned his own since this had started. That thrice damned goat Ghorog finally claimed an owed favour. “Does it truly matter Tasi?” Drosus turned away from her, “We still do the work of the Gods no matter who we fight with.” Drosus mounted Rimejaw, “Just be sure this circle opens.” He took hold of his axe, “We owe our allies that much in this folly.” With that Drosus rode off to join his warriors as they held off the Perpetual forces.
The blade slid across the final sacrifice’s neck. The eightfold star gave off a multi coloured glow. The circle slowly opened into a swirling vortex, “Let the Dark Gods use this force to devastate our enemies.” Tasi intoned with a sneer.
The plan was as elegant as it was simple…
The Shadow Council deliberated.
“We took-stole their Food now we must take-steal their Water!”
“Yes-yes! But how?”
“We gnawhole it! Drain the lake!”
“No drill-dig with submarines!”
“Pump-lift to another area!”
“Poison-plague the water!”
“All? Yes-yes! All! All! All!”
“The Great Horned Rat will love-bless our treachery! None are ambitious as the Skaven! None are as wise! None are as inventive! None more corrupt! None more sneaky! None more creative! All will bow down to our greatness!”
To earn the favor of the Dark Gods, the Wretched devised a devious plan. This was their home, they reckoned- theirs alone, and theirs to do with as they pleased. If the enemy came in ships, then it made sense to deprive them of water to sail on, yes-yes?
Archwarlocks Scritch and Sneef concoct a plan to install a giant warplightning turbine above Qheel’s gnawholes.
So, they went to work- a dozen different machinations, all bent toward the same end: draining Lake Bykaal of its water.
Those near the shore noticed it first- water flowing out, slowly, like a tide. Yet, there were no tides here, or at least, none of consequence. “Tsunami!” some thought, yet none came. As hours turned to days, the great ice blocks that ships once threaded their way through to make landfall became canyons, the ice breaking and cascading as it settled on the rocky, uneven lakebed.
Having dispatched seven times seven full grown individuals to aid the skaven in tunneling under the lake, Bollunga Glopborn tends to a newly hatched diremaggot.
Worse, the water had to go somewhere, and somewhere it did: the gnawholes and other devices piped it through to other areas where the Wretched were on retreat, drowning realmgates the Perpetual had previously fortified beneath a deluge of muck and filth. Soon, much of the lake had been drained, and somewhere in the distance, the great, misshapen form of the Ur-Whale’s corpse rose from amid the sinking ice shelves.
The Dark Gods were indeed pleased, and the face of the war had been irrevocably changed.
Legend speaks of how Sigmar clashed with a great storm Shaggoth of the Azyrite peaks. Unable to achieve a decisive victory even with a hail of mighty blows from Ghal Maraz, the thunder god cast the storm Shaggoth from the heavens, where he fell unto the oceans of Shyish.
There, it found a new rival: Nyura, the sailor’s death. Every rogue wave that broke a ship asunder was Nyura, and she did not take kindly to the storm Shaggoth’s presence. Still wounded from his battle with Sigmar, Nyura subdued the Storm King, sinking her tusks into its body and dragging it to the furthest crushing depths of the ocean of Bykaal.
Now known only as the Mountain, Mt’ Nagasua- formed over the storm Shaggoth’s body- would become its prison… at least, until Warplock Zapmek’s devices woke it up.
The Perpetual spared no effort in confronting the beast. As they descended on the Wretched-held Mount Nagas’ua, Bone Shepherd Mattias raised up a Bone-Tithe Nexus to secure a beachhead. There, they would go on to animate an avatar-construct of Nagash.
“But this was not the Nagash of the grand cathedrals in Shyish. No necromancer sage, clothed in long robes holding a staff of authority. This avatar was a creature of bone and metal, of war and weathered fury. Crates of Bones of Amber from Ghur were being drained into the construct and the fury, hunger, and sheer bloodymindedness of that realm influenced the expression of the shard of the great necromancer they had formed it from.”
Malrak’s Blades of the Blood Queen take on a Shaggoth alpha-beast on the slopes of Mt. Nagas’ua
Led by Mattias and followed by the Blades of the Blood Queen, House Serpens, the Myzlaani Enclave and more, they would soon meet bloody resistance. The Myzlaani in particular would pay a steep price at the axes of Boleg Rustblood’s braying goatmen and the chittering albino stormvermin of Rufus Pale-Thing, while elsewhere Phgletch the Merry would complete their rituals of awakening under the watchful protection Lord Verdous and his Rot Gardeners.
Although it would ultimately cost the life of the daemon creature known as the “pauper prince” as well, the Mountain stirred… and the storm strode the waters of Shyish once more.
Near Belleck’s Trench
Eris Bloodwrath’s armor was filthy and battered, bearing the marks of a dozen blades. Her face was dirty, she walked with a limp, and her face had an angry mark that just barely missed her eye. The band of defeated stragglers she’d led into camp had been worse still. For all this, though, her back was straight and her eyes defiant.
The Ambassadress Eola of the Umharian Enclave. After the triumph at Poznyy, led Umharian Enclave in attacking the Undivided forces at the Breach. Manipulating the pressures of the deep she and her Tidecasters crushed Chaos armies and vessels alike.
“You lost.” Qarang Sarn was not asking a question.
“We did. There were too many of the Orruks and the sea-elves… and not enough of us. Even the favor of the Gods couldn’t turn the tide.”
“The Gods seemed preoccupied with our bestial brethren today, didn’t they. But.” The Basalt Lord pointed a finger at Eris. “I was not speaking of you, the Undivided. Not the Brazen Fleet, not the Knights of the Everking, not the Sons of Decay or Sir Baldaflax. You, Eris Bloodwrath. You failed on that battlefield.”
Her face was a mask of rage, like a pot ready about to boil over. “Varanguard. I spilled blood for the Blood God, I took skulls for the Skull Throne. We fought well and we fought hard, until the brink of annihilation. If you intended me to die out there, Varanguard, you should have told me so. Glorious last stands are for Stormcast- I am Chosen of the Blood God, and I know no dishonor.”
“Good. You understand.”
“Everyone who fought at the Breach fought well, you included, with one exception. You still lost… and that falls on the head of the one who led you.”
“He held command. He lost the day. And that will mean more than I think he knows. In truth, I do not expect the Spineless to be among us for much longer without a great change in the winds. He has avoided the wrath of the Gods so far thanks to his grasp of Teclis’ secrets, but now that he lost both chances he had to demonstrate his mastery of them, I question how much longer the Four will hold back their blessings.”
Despite herself, Eris shuddered. Better to die than to end that way. Sarn nodded.
“Take this as a lesson, then. The lion’s share of victory falls on the shoulders of the leader, but so too does the scourge of defeat. Safer to follow than to lead- but as leaders fall, the eye of the Gods passes even onto those who lag behind.”
Like the Marie Elaine, rise again…
“The Wreck of the Marie Elaine”
The legend lives on from the Age of Myth down
Of the great sea they called Nyura’s Fury
The sea, it was said, spanned the realm of the Dead
From the Latchkey Isle to Lauchon’s Ferry
Ghal Maraz held high, the Heldenhammer
Locked Nyura in a tomb of steel
And when he was through her followers few
Heard her in the Cathedral bell’s peal
The Marie Elaine was sworn in Nyura’s name
To carry her word round the lakeshore
But the Lord of the Graves sent it under the waves
Angered by Nyura’s call to the faithful
So pilgrims would go to the depths far below
To leave offerings for to quell her
And around it did grow a shoal of souls
That persist in Marie Elaine’s shelter
But the Slann saw the key the Walrus-God to free
And to gain Nyura’s aid as his ally
“Raise the ship from the lakebed”, Lord Zectoka said
‘And we’ll bring some more aid to our rally’
So the souls of the damned became so much flotsam
To drift in Bykaal’s bitter ice streams
And Nyura was free, but a pawn was she
To play in the Slann’s great master schemes
Does anyone know where those lost souls go
When the lake currents pull them down deeper?
What happened that day, only Orkkuh can say
To the poor displaced lives gone beneath ‘er!
Lake Bykaal rolls, Pozynyy sings,
in the ruins of her storm-beset mansions.
The Ghyrplunge steams like a Fyreslayer’s dream
but the ice floes aren’t for the careless.
And further below Tsatraya
takes in what Lord Nagash can send her.
But the natives all go to who the hell knows
When the ghost of the Ur-Whale remembers.
In that skeletal building on Bykaal she laid
In the great old Mariner’s Cathedral
Since her bell had chimed all twenty-nine times
Her return to this world to herald
The legend lives on from the Age of Myth down
Of the great sea they called Nyura’s Fury
Lake Bykaal it’s said will collect all of the dead
That Shyish’s underworlds can carry
Read the incredible illustrated storytelling report by Ashavohlk!
The fighting had been a brutal, ugly affair. Like dogs fighting over a bone, neither side would relinquish the wreck to the other. Relentlessly, the battle ground toward an uncertain conclusion.
Uncertain, that is, until the Bonefleet swept down upon the Soulmuncherz. Crushing ice and orruk hulks alike aside with ease, they drove the primal armies back. With no meaningful cover to be found, the withering hail from the Mortek crawlers mounted on their decks finally put the Perpetual’s enemies to flight.
It was as Zectoka and Reikenor had quarrelled: the soul of Nyura, the sailor’s death, godbeast of Shyish, had been unbound. The stars had aligned, and the Perpetual had executed their gambit perfectly- they’d held the cathedral, honored the spirit of the Etmund, and raised the spirit of the Marie Elaine. But, as Reikenor had said, Nyura was no mere aspect of Nagash. Her spirit was primal, a relic of the Age of Myth, and subjugated in service to nothing and no-one.
What would come next, only Zectoka knew, but they all felt it.
The calm before the storm.
Dyrnawen Silverfish mourned the Namarti souls lost when the Marie Elaine was raised, and mourned too for his withered, dejected race. These were the lost children of the Idoneth, souls thought beyond the pale- and now, gone forever.
He mourned too because he was afraid. Afraid because he knew that would now, oblivion would be his fate- and unlike these poor Namarti, there was nothing that could be done to save him before then.
Somewhere on the lake
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, listening as a great bell echoed in the distance. He was alone- only him, and a hundred distant pinpricks like stars floating away into the deep.
He breathed in, and then exhaled, feeling the cold wash through his body, feeling his limbs ache and senses and wits return to him. Then he grinned as toothy a grin a ghost of an orruk- if that’s what he was- could grin. Death, it seemed, was much like life- just a bunch of gitz he’d krumped, and a bunch of gitz wot were goin’ ter be krumped.
Da Adm’rul punched one massive green fist into the palm of the other. Time ter skrag da lot uv dem.
Hogrog ug Weirdklaw was telling a story.
“Every one uv dese Mortal Realms has a soul,” the old orator intoned, the fire’s light dancing across his mask. Nearby, the Badfangs hammered out a low beat on their war drums. “Jus’ like each an’ every one of us has a soul inside us. Unless yer da Green Knight, den all you’z got is a soul!”
Guffaws. The lads were quite fond of their spectre, after all.
“Its da dream uf every Bonesplitter ter find one uv dese Wurld Spirits,” Hogrog’s tone was hushed, dramatic. “Ravenak, da Mouth dat Lurkz beneath da Wurld, iz da greatest uv dem, but dey’s others. Every Warclan knows about dem: da glaring eye of Hysh, da Rakka Nakk uv Aqshy, da Chilling Ribs uv Shyish…” the old storyteller paused for dramatic effect, looking about to make sure everybody was paying rapt attention. He waited for Torgal to finish digging what remained of some unfortunate grot out from between his teeth.
“… an’ Skwidmuncha, da Wurld Spirit uv da Ocean.” The crowed ooh’d and ahh’d, although it wasn’t clear they understood why. They just knew it was what Hogrog expected after a dramatic pause like that.
“An’ yer know wot eats skwid, lads? WHALES!” Hogrog shouted, and the drums punctuated his point.
It took a minute, but it clicked.
“Dis big dead fish dat Dern-a-wen found fer us, it ain’t jus’ any ol’ big dead fish. It’s da Ur-Whale, da Skwidmuncha, an’ it ain’t dead-dead, not really, ‘cuz its a Wurld Spirit, an’ you can’t kill da Spirit any more den you can kill da Wurld!”
“See, when Gorkamorka was chasin’ Skwidmuncha back in da day, Skwidmuncha knew it couldn’t shake da two-headed god. So, it was goin’ for help, see? Jus’ like Gorkamorka knew da hunt would ‘ave to end in da realm uv endin’s, Skwidmuncha wuz goin’ to da Wurld Spirit of Shyish fer help. But when Skwidmuncha got ‘ere, da thunder god ‘ad already bashed in da wurld spirit uv Shyish, see?”
The drums reached a fevered tempo.
“‘An’ since Skwidmuncha iz da ocean an’ da ocean iz Skwidmuncha, if we snag da soul uv Skwidmuncha, we can be da big boss’s uv da high seas, from ‘ere ta Nag-ash-a-mizz-er an’ out da other side!”
The Soulmuncherz were all in a ruckus, now. For the first time, they had something to fight for besides fightin’ for its own sake, or because some fishy folk asked them real nice. A real, live- well, not really, but- World Spirit, here, now. The dream of every Bonesplitter, indeed.
“Datz a real nice story yer got dere,” came a voice from outside the fire. Those assembled parted like a bow wave as one of the biggest, meanest orruk bosses they’d ever seen stomped his way into the fire’s light… if a living boss was what he really was, anyway.
“You weren’t much bigger’n a grot when I told you dat story, now wuz you, ‘Ogrog?” da Adm’rul grinned.
The flotilla- in the loosest definition of the term- of rotkrakens had emerged, bubbling up from beneath Lake Bykaal’s waters like pus from lanced boils. Breathing beneath the water was of little concern to the rancid things that clung to the rotting wooden battlements lashed to the tentacled creatures; Grandfather had liberated them from such concerns long ago.
Basalt Lord Qarang Sarn had provided Gutrot Spume with a king’s welcome, of course- and why shouldn’t he? Both knew that victory would be won by Spume’s hand, and that he would not have come had there not been something in it for him.
The ur-whale. The godbeast that was the ocean. And they had sought to banish it between realms? It was just like the silly sods who sold their souls to the great schemer to be so wasteful. So, Spume had paid deference to Sarn’s pleasantries, enjoying the pomp and circumstance even while he itched to see this great prize for himself.
Count Tyberculos, lieutenant to Ser Baldaflax
But first, the Basalt Lord informed him, there was a small matter he wished attended, if only to see the rotkraken in action. Ser Baldaflax was holding the line, of course; if the even half the praises Sarn had spoke of the blightking were true, he was a blessed grandson indeed. But, to Spume’s eye, from his vantage atop the crow’s nest, it looked disappointingly like an even fight… and in his experience, an even fight was still a fight you might lose.
“Let’s stack these odds in our favor, lads!” he belched, sliding back down the mast to the main deck.
Ser Wyrmgruel galloped across the windswept ice. The air was bitterly cold on his hot skin, and he could still hear Duke Gibbetmaw’s courageous speech ringing in his ears. Before him were the beasts he was promised, tentacles all a-writhing and mighty castles built upon their backs. He was like that fabled hero of yore, Duke Quick Oats, charging the whirling many-armed constructs of the Agloraxi!
Yes, this is what he lived for, and what it meant to feel alive. Dragging down the stunted men’s balloon contraptions was nothing compared to the glory he would win this day. As he closed the distance, he bellowed for his knights to follow him.
“For the Duke! And for the Lady Heartsb-”
With a whip of an errant tentacle, the charging Crypt Infernal was smashed like a bowl of eggs. Probing, the tentacle scooped up what remained of the shattered monstrosity and pulled it back in, beak snapping eagerly in anticipation of the tasty morsel.
Gutrot Spume was almost giddy. It had been a long time since he’d had this much fun. This was how a reaver’s life should be: raiding uncharted waters and claiming prizes you never could of imagined. This was how he got his start, back in Sartos, back before time, and if Grandfather ever grew tired of his exploits, he expected this was how he would meet his end.
But not this day, Spume chortled. Oh, no, not this day. A sour note seeped into his good humor, its taste like a particularly nasty canker sore on his tongue.
If this one miserable Flesh-Eater court was all the Pilgrimage had sent against the Undivided, where in the seven gardens were the rest of them?
If the once-human thing inside Irkut’s Thousandeyes armor was capable of sweating, it would have been. The scheme had been flawless, his life’s work aligned perfectly before him. Stepping stones to a destiny as great as Archaon’s- no, perhaps even greater, for surely he would reign as Everchosen when he delivered the thunder god and his pathetic pantheon to the Dark Gods in chains. And those by his side-
There was no-one by his side, now. Not even Qarang Sarn.
Irkut ran his gauntleted hands over his helm, its metal hot and oppressive against his face yet knowing it would be useless to attempt to remove it. Light wept from around his neck and the joins in his armor.
Sarn. Silvertongue. Emberspark. He’d alienated them all. There was still a chance- the chance of a mad gambler, betting everything on a roll of the dice. Would Qzuyl’kzyg de Roshin help him? He was just as likely to be a rival as an ally. Ser Belfas had returned from Belleck’s Trench with the Libram Diabologus; he could yet prove to be a powerful ally. What of Iorlus? Of Baldaflax? No, surely that bastard Spume had ensnared them in his tentacles already. That Khornate beast they called Kaiwhaka? Surely not. And Silvertongue, well… he had not parted on the best of terms with the Gaunt Summoner the last time they’d spoken.
So, that was it, then. The sum total of his ill-gotten life. His rise from chieftain’s son to Knight of Ruin, undone in a matter of weeks.
Irkut ground his teeth- or thought he did if, truly, he still possessed such mortal things- and ignored the laughter of mocking gods inside his mind.
“Somehow, Valeo Valencia, a big-shot in the larger Expedition, trusted Amethyst Wizard Vallash Kall enough to accompany the Expedition party that would join the Pilgrimage in inspecting the Enlightenment Engine seized from the Temple of Nyura. Kip Halbar expected the Perpetual would seek to destroy the engine before allowing its return to Hammerhall Ghyra in one piece, but this opinion was hotly contested. Nevertheless, these were the events that led to Halbar once more trudging through the cold, cold mud to the bay where the Pilgrimage was holding the Enlightenment engine ready to be transported through the Ghyrplunge. The “Sun-Eater’s Blessing,” Halbar thought to himself. What an odd name for a ship.”
The Sun-Eater’s Blessing was a sickening sight. A crude, ponderous hulk, just as you would imagine an ogor vessel with a list to the port, her sails in rags, and a gnoblar cook in the scuppers with the staggers and jags. Everything about the Blessing was sized for ogor hands, ogor feet, and ogor weight. These qualities, Halbar surmised, were why it had been chosen to carry the stolen Enlightenment Engine back from Nyuranka.
Even with its cracked Ironblaster cannons, the Blessing’s main deck could easily accommodate the diplomatic parties: Valeo Valencia, who’d negotiated this accord, the Realm-lord Arras Danathan, Captain Ulrich and the Vintner Rangers, and of course the wizard Vallash Kall and Halbar himself.
Representing the Perpetual came the the sinister Guardian of Souls they called Felthik the Watcher and, most numerously, the Slann relic-priest Xenka-Ikuat and its bodyguard of Saurus, which stamped into lockstep formation around the unsettling toad-like creature and its floating palanquin. A number of mutilated and dismembered skinks awkwardly made their way onto the deck as well, clicking and chirping as they shambled about with their injuries.
Speaking for the Pilgrimage stood only a pallid spectre- a banshee, he’d known them to be called- belonging to the rogue necromancer Runya Licheborn. As had been negotiated, the Blessing was crewed only by idiot Gnoblars and the dead, so that the Enlightenment Engine’s influence would be mitigated, and it was secreted away below decks where its despoiled illumination could not affect its custodians.
With the parley assembled, Arras Danathan issued the first query. “Where is the Heartsbane? Does she think so little of her guests, as to spite them the courtesy of her presence?”
“Our Mistress is with the Engine, milord,” the banshee replied, dipping its head respectfully and moving to usher them into the hold. “She eagerly awaits the pleasure of your company, and the services you have so generously offered. Please, if you would…”
Arras’ eyes adjusted to the near-total darkness of the hold moments before those of his compatriots, and as he beheld the innumerable stacked barrels of tar pitch and powder kegs, his sunsteel blade was already ringing out of its scabbard.
“On behalf of the Pale Saint, Mistress Arali sends her regards,” the grinning banshee spoke again, her corpse’s voice a mocking hiss.
Everything was quiet. No, that wasn’t quite right- there was a sound, a single sound, like the ring of a cymbal that simply didn’t cease. Lieutenant Dayereth struggled to sit up, trying to remember why he’d been resting in the first place. Surely they had broken camp before daybreak? Or, at least, what passed for daybreak here. He blinked, his eyes struggling to focus, focus on- a face, and a familiar one. One of his Dawnriders.
Doubled over on all fours near Dayereth, he saw her eyes were wide, and she was gesturing wildly. “What?” he thought he asked, but he couldn’t hear his own words, much less make out hers.
Something came back to him then, from the early days of his disciplines in Tyrionic warfare: the skill of lip-reading, so that you might never mistake a command or a report in the heat of battle. Understanding such a primitive thing as the act of forming words came easily to a Lumineth, but still, it took him some moments to make out what his subordinate was saying.
WE ARE BETRAYED
With that, everything came flooding back to Dayareth- their earlier skirmish against the Wretched alongside the Pilgrimage’s howling Witch Aelves, his conversation with Lord Arras, Felosial and Ulrich, the boarding party, the ship “Sun-Eater’s Blessing” and its escorts-
The ship. It was gone.
The bay was on fire in its stead, the boiling, steaming water slick with fiery tar, scores of thrashing Saurus warriors burning alive even as they drowned, a raging inferno of wreckage was scattered across the shore and its shallows. Nearby, Dayareth’s steed lay thrashing, struggling to get up even with its flopping legs shattered in a dozen places where the force of the blast had scooped it up and dashed it back against the ice. Further out, he could hear the booming reports of an Ironblaster bombardment; a friendly Grundstok gunhauler’s aethercannon made an awful din, but with one fat ball the ogor’s guns stove her in.
The situation clearly out of control, Dayareth turned back to his subordinate and made to bark an order- only to watch her disappear in a welter of gore and a hail of scrap metal. Nearby, an ogor Leadbelcher bellowed his rage and swatted aside an Auralan’s spear, closing the gap in two quick strides and bludgeoning the unfortunate aelf into the ice and mud with its cannon.
Gritting his teeth, Dayareth rolled over and made to stand, yet found himself slipping and scrabbling. Bewildered, he glanced back over his shoulder- and with the calm detachment of adrenaline and shock, discovered that a huge, blood-smeared block of ice- hard as glass, and just as heavy- had carried off both his legs. Swallowing back panic now, he fumbled for his blade, only to realize the blast must have torn his sword belt from his body as well.
Tumbling over onto his back again, Dayareth laughed, knowing the all-devouring ogors, flesh-eating cannibals and heart-tearing women of Khaine would surely scour the field of its wounded just as soon as the battle was won. Pulling the hunting knife he’d been gifted as a boy from its concealment in his vambrace, Dayareth prepared to meet his death with what little honor had been left to him.
The Battle of Bysuud was a battle in name, but a massacre in truth. The Pilgrimage had staged their ambush well, the unsuspecting forces of the Expedition and Perpetual immediately outnumbered and easily routed. Although Felosial rallied what remained of Arras Danathan’s command, a fighting withdrawal was the best they could manage. Meanwhile, the Seraphon legion of relic-priest Xenka-Ikuat made a better accounting of themselves, but were swiftly outmaneuvered by the ambushers, as Gloomraka Faunfist’s flesh-eaters and Torag Tome-eater’s ogors caught them between hammer and anvil. Elsewhere, the ranks of Runya Licheborn’s dead swelled with the men of Vallash Kall they killed.
In the immediate aftermath, the Expedition was able to withdraw when waylaid reinforcements from the Midnight City arrived and turned the tables against Torag and Gloomraka. As for Valeo Valencia and his party on board the Sun-Eater’s Blessing, none could speak to their ultimate fate…
Expedition Encampment, City of Tsatraya
Sailors on Bykaal spoke of “The Three Sisters” with fear and reverence. Three rogue waves, each larger than the last, they drove a boat’s bow down, swamped it and sent it to the bottom in the space of a minute at most. To the natives, they were a divine manifestation, a reminder that Lake Bykaal never gave up her dead. To Anruil Brighteyes, the lesson was more abstract- bad things came in threes, each worse than the last.
The day had begun with reports from Bolyany- the Expedition had secured the town, relieving its beleaguered garrison and fortifying the all-important Realmshaper Engine. This was good… but the missives spoke only of sporadic contact with the enemy, skirmishes with beasts in the forest and rats in their holes. They had expected and prepared for a decisive battle- where were the rest of the Wretched?
More troubling to him was the absence of news from Nyuranka. The honor guard had marched out days ago, heads held high, confident in the assurances of safe passage from the Pilgrimage. The last message he’d gotten was already more than a day old, saying that the delegation was almost at his half-sister’s camp. Surely by now he would have heard something more…?
For a split second, he wasn’t sure if the noise of gunfire wasn’t drawn from his dark musings about the fate of the honor guard. The view through his tower window dispelled this- from there, he could see muzzle-flashes and bursts of flame dueling on the sea wall. A moment later, a bell began to ring, summoning the reduced garrison to arms.
Tsatraya was under attack. The third wave was breaking.
Balthnor Rosewolf storms the makeshift fortifications of Tsatraya
The sea wall was already almost entirely overrun by the time Lord-Castellant Nikon reached the front. The parapet was a horror of unseated guns, mangled bodies and fleeing troops- the Freeguild was routed, and now the enemy had gained the interior. As he watched, a bat-winged monstrosity flew over the barrier to land atop some poor unfortunate sprinting for the shelter of the streets.
It would do no good for the Lions of Sigmar to try and regain the heights, he decided. The enemy was already too thick in Tsatraya proper- they’d be strung out and crushed. There were yet enough forces in the city to turn the tide, but not if the foe continued to advance so quickly. He looked around him at the men and women of his chamber, each a veteran of decades before and after death. The weight of his halberd felt like an executioner’s axe, his words like a judge’s sentence.
“Warriors of Sigmar. We will make our stand.”
The foe was upon them nearly at once, Fyreslayers, Ghouls and Ogors- Sigmaron, what a war- raging up the streets into their square, trying to sweep the Stormcast aside by sheer momentum. Nikon took some satisfaction from this- like Ungors breaking on his phalanx as a mortal king, the disorderly charge was met and shattered with cold precision by the spears of the Protectors and the bolts of his Judicators. There was only a moment’s respite, though, before the enemy lines reformed, and their enemies began a regimented advance.
“Judicators! Forwards! With your shields, or on them!” The rank and file moved to the front, forming a solid wall of metal against the tide of flesh. Still the enemy came. Even as he fought to keep order and heart in his soldiers, Nikon had to appreciate his adversaries’ logic. The Fyreslayers were the bulwark, never taking a step back, grinding forward and forcing them to retreat foot by grudging foot. The Ogors formed the hammer, smashing wherever the line looked weak to try and open a breach. And where one or two of his brethren were swept aside, the ghouls were ready to exploit, clawing further in.
The Stormcast were taking a toll of two or three for every one of theirs that fell- good numbers, but not winning ones. Still Nikon had hope. Perhaps if they held for long enough relief could come from the rear. Perhaps the moral of the enemy would break and they would choke on flesh and blood.
“Lord Nikon! Behind us!” He spun around, and his heart sank- for there, looming over the battlefield, was the same bat-winged, decayed horror that had crested the wall. As he watched it rose into the air, folded its wings and dove towards them.
“Lions of Sigmar! The Anvil awaits!” Their formation fell apart the moment the beast struck. With enemies on all sides, each Stormcast was fighting for themselves, and though each fell as a warrior of Myth they died all the same. There was just a moment of satisfaction left to him- the creature snapped forwards, but even as its teeth sank through his armor Nikon rammed his halberd home, severing the monster’s neck.
He lay bleeding from a dozen wounds, trapped beneath the corpse’s weight. Above him, a face and a body appeared- one of the leaders of the ghouls, he realized. The creature had a strange look in its eyes, and with a start Nikon realized it was respect- the sort one king might show to another.
“Well fought, son of Sigmar.” Then the ghoul tore off his head.
Lord-Castellant Nikon makes his last stand.
The roof of the Kozul Redoubt had been transformed into a makeshift skyport, a docking station for Bjornssen’s Arkanaut warships. By the time Anruil reached it the frigate on station was already humming with activity, ready to fly.
“Permission to come aboard, Admiral?” Bjornssen was already laboring over the engines, bellowing orders at half a dozen Endrinriggers.
“Get yer arse over here. Don’t touch the intake manifold, ye son of an Elgi whore!” Anruil winced, but the Admiral just shook his head. “Not you, him!” The junior mate he pointed his spanner at was already in the process of vanishing behind the bulk of one engine. Bjornssen sighed. “Where’re we bound? Bolyany?” He chuckled. “Nyuranka?”
“Nowhere so far. Take us down towards the sea wall.” The Duardin paused, then scowled and flipped his face shield shut. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Bjornssen. Our people are dying down there. If I ran? Now? We might as well sign the lake over to Alari and be done with it. Better to die as a hero than live a failure.”
“Yer father disagreed.” The Admiral’s voice was tinny from within the helmet. “Not tha’ it did him any good. You realize yer a fool, though. One frigate ain’t goin ter do any difference where th’ Vostarg Lodge is concerned.”
Anruil smiled thinly. “But you’re still casting off. Where are we headed, then?”
“Towards the sea wall!” Bjornssen huffed. “Because I’m a fool too. I only wish I could kiss me arse goodbye on an Ironclad. Sent them all to Bolyany, worse luck.”
And the frigate roared away from its moorings, towards the battle raging below.
They were the last of the Lions. Ides Pridemane knew this- knew that the rest of the Chamber must have fallen in their stand out in the city. With so many enemies loose in Tsatraya it was inevitable. Still, he would not disobey Lord-Castellant Nikon’s final order.
Guard the Kozul Redoubt. Keep the General safe until you are reinforced. This above all things is paramount.
His companions would not fail. He would not fail. He was a Knight-Questor of the Stormcast, and he would not deviate from his task.
When the Fyreslayers came, they approached from all sides. No grand gambits, no attempts at surprise. In a way, this honesty pleased Ides. Let it be a contest of arms and arms alone.
Battle at this scale was always quick. The enemy closed, a ring of Ur-Gold around a ring of Sigmarite. The Stormcast fought in knots almost back to back, shields and hammers held at the ready in a stalwart defense. Against them, their foes circled like sharks, probing for a weakness, trying to stretch the Lions out.
All at once, the enemy rushed in, and with a roar the Lions met them. Howls of pain marked the death of Grimnir’s sons, and with a sudden rush of air one of Sigmar’s chosen met her end.
Now Ides and his companion were back to back, he with his sword and she with her shield warding off the blows. Out of the corner of his eye he saw it- the largest and meanest-looking of the Duardin, the one he’d marked as their leader, took a swipe at his companion- Ides pirouetted- in the moment that his foe’s guard was down the Questor’s sword sank in, carving a mortal wound in his tough flesh.
The Duardin was dead already, but his runes blazed with a burning light, and he closed- blood pouring from his wound- twin axes lashing out- Ides howled with unfamiliar pain as one cut through his shield, through his armor, though his arm- then gagged on blood as the other axe found his neck. They fell together, to rise no more.
Even as Ides died, though, he heard the sound of aether-engines overhead. He had not failed.
“Admiral! Th’ bombracks are empty!”
Bjornssen grinned a madman’s grin, his face a death mask beneath his implacable helm. He trusted his bombardiers more than anyone on this ship- every one of those explosives had spelled the doom of a dozen of the foe. The Antelope cruised at a brisk pace above the rooftops of Tsatraya, hunting and killing any enemy they could find. Between bombs, cannon and carbine they’d given the invaders a very bad time indeed.
“More power ta th’engines! Take us up!” He pulled back on a lever to lower the flaps. There were more bombs back at Kozul’s Redoubt, and in this target-rich environment they needed every inch of advantage they could get.
“Admiral! Thar she blows!” Bjornssen’s head spun in the direction of the warning, and his heart skipped a beat. A massive scaled juggernaut as large as the frigate itself was charging towards the frigate like death on four legs, snorting gouts of flame as it went. More terrifying, though, was the Fyreslayer atop it- red-crested, golden-masked, and holding a great two-handed axe that looked like it could take the head of a Gargant. “Bael-Grimnir.” The master of the Vostarg Lodge himself had come for them.
“Altitude! Give me altitude! Full emergency power! Release all ballast! Fly high! Fly high!” Even as he shouted the words, though, Bjornssen knew it was too late. The monster was already airborne, covering the distance to the frigate as easily as he’d jump off a high stool. It roared, spitting a stream of flame, forcing their heads down. Some brave soul- he would never know who- fired the cannon at point-blank range, but even the impact of the shell barely slowed the Fyreslayer’s beast.
Bjornssen felt like he’d been split in twain. Half of his mind stood its post, fingers working by rote trying frantically to compensate for a burden the frigate was never meant to carry. The other half stared that same burden in its snarling, mawed face and wept for terror’s sake. The monster’s claws and fiery breath cleared the deck, sweeping aside those crew who tried to make a stand. Then Bael-Grimnir’s axe severed the cables between the ship and the Endrin, and nothing would have kept them aloft anymore.
There were many times Bjornssen could recall that he’d been thankful for his armor. Assuming he survived, he’d have to add this to the list- the control panel surely would have crushed him, if it hadn’t been for the metal shell he wore softening the blow. All the same, he could not move, which was more troublesome than it might have been considering the circumstances.
“I’ve no quarrel with ye, Admiral.” There was a Fyreslayer standing next to him, almost casually leaning on his mighty greataxe. “Business is business, I’m sure ye understand, and ye ain’t part of my business. I’ll gladly help you wriggle out, even, before the dead and the hungry come along to do their dirty work. But first, ye have to tell me- where did you hide that barstid Anruil Brighteyes?”
Bjornssen opened his mouth to say something profane about the Vostarg lodge, but then-
“I’m here, Runefather. Leave him alone.”
Bael-Grimnir turned to look, and Bjornssen did too- but faster than either of them, Anruil was on top of the Fyreslayer, his blades barely turned back by Bael-Grimnir’s defense. The Duardin made to strike back, and with a cry of vengeance Anruil stepped around his blow, driving the dagger concealed in his right hand deep into his foe’s shoulder.
They grappled, and for a moment it almost seemed like Bael-Grimnir would break free. Then a tremendous roar filled the air, and Anruil was bodily snatched up by a massive claw. Bjornssen did not see what happened then, but the sounds were enough to fill in the details- a cry of surprise, followed by a howl of pain degenerating into a horrible gurgle cut off by a wet “thump” like a sack of mouldering turnips hitting the deck.
“You sick son of a Grobi. I’ll kill ye!” Inch by painful inch, Bjornssen was dragging himself out from under the wreck. “There won’t be a hole safe enough for ye to hide in!”
“Unlikely. I know some holes that’re safer than most. Besides, even if I don’t kill ye now my associates tend not to have such professional courtesy. Goodbye, Kharadron. I’m off ter bring Arali her prize.” He swung back up into the behemoth’s saddle, and urged her towards the fallen Elgi- only for his nigh-fearless beast to refuse, growling.
Something had materialized above Anruil’s body, a spectral presence that was holding the Fyreslayer’s monstrosity at bay. Bael-Grimnir cursed, and looked ready to jump down and face down the gheist himself when a single low note echoed through the streets. It came again and again, slightly different each time, ringing as though from many sources. The Fyreslayer looked like he’d just swallowed something sour, and Bjornssen smiled as a memory hit him- Nova Murosa, when his flotilla had finally put the Heimdahl lodge to flight. His grin only broadened when the steady thump-thump-whistle of rocket fire joined the Fyreslayer horns.
“Your move, Runefather. D’ye want to be left behind when th’ Dovesguard finally catches up wit’ ye? Don’t pretend ye ain’t been battered by tha’ fight- how many poor slobs wit’ ‘alberds can ye take down before they drag you wit’ ‘em?”
Bael-Grimnir spat a golden-yellow wad of phlegm that impacted on Bjornssen’s armor with a wet “thunk.” He gave Anruil a final look before shaking his head.
“Enjoy your corpse. Our Mistress will take me at my word.” And he rode away, his mount’s scaled legs eating up distance in the retreat as fast as they had advanced.
Anruil was breathing, but only shallowly. Bjornssen dared not touch him- to his untrained eye anything could be broken, and he’d seen enough needless death at the hands of those who were trying to help to feel at all safe laying hands on his friend for any reason.
“He looks more like his mother than me.”
The Admiral-without-a-fleet snorted. “He looks exactly the spitting image o’ ye, down t’the recklessness and hatred o’ certainty.” Bjornssen glanced up at the ghostly image of Anruil Althariel. ”Is that yer task, then? Ter take his soul to Nagash, same as yer own soul were stolen?”
“Not hardly.” Althariel smiled sadly. “A century on the ice gives you a lot of empty hours to think- about the bridges I burned, the people I squandered my time with. The children I turned my back on. When I discovered they had come to this place, I decided to try and make amends.”
“Well. Looks like ye showed up just pas’ th’ nick of time. All the heroic slob ye never had, he inherited, an’ it killed ‘im.”
“Maybe. What’s past the veil, isn’t always the end.” The senior Anruil looked down at his child with a mix of worry and pride. “The first thing to do, of course, is to finish this war for him.” He suddenly smiled broadly. “So what do you say, old friend? Ready to go on one last adventure?”
Following the subterranean assault on Tsatraya, Anruil Brighteyes was left grievously wounded. Although many touch-and-go hours under the knifes of chirurgeons and the touch of healers prevented Brighteyes’ death, he would remain in a coma, stirring only to howl and thrash amid fevered dreams.
In his stead, Brighteyes’ adjutant the Kharadron Admiral Ordo Bjornssen assumed command of the Expedition. Although a capable leader in his own right, Bjornssen was soon overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the calamity befalling the Expedition.
It was Anruil Althariel’s hand at the helm that righted the ship. In his life, he’d made a career of navigating such disasters, more or less. The Tsatraya lighthouse lodestone had returned him from limbo beneath the lake’s waters and granted the spectre a measure of agency. Able to traverse the lake as a crow would take to the sky, Althariel appeared to the disparate Expedition forces and helped them regroup as best they could.
Unknown to Bjornssen, his son’s allies weren’t the elder Althariel’s only port of call.
It was a grand sacrifice to Khaine. From the deck of the Blackguard the entire battlefield was spread out beneath Arali- the fires still smoldering on-shore, the spats of gunfire and ringing swords as the sparse handful of her milksop brother’s surviving troops met their end, the hunting-cries of Daughters, Ogors and ghouls alike as they feasted on the wounded and the dead. It was a blow from which the Expedition would never recover. It was glorious, and stood as proof of why Khaine ascendant would rival and exceed any other God.
And just as their god had been exalted, so too had they been. No one would ever forget the Pilgrimage. The charnel smoke drifting from the battlefield was like sweet perfume to her- the aftermath of bloodshed, the promise of more to come. There would be more war to come- against the straggling remnants of her (hopefully dead) half-sibling’s bleating flock, against the followers of Dracothion and Nagash, against the Orruks, against the children of the Dark Gods. It was beyond glorious- it was rapturous, and if eternity could have stretched on like this she’d call it paradise.
“You know, you look just like me.”
Someone else might have frozen at that voice, at what it meant. Not her. Arali’s knives were out and she was springing towards her misbegotten sire in an instant- but her blades passed straight through his incorporeal form, and she tumbled gracefully, bouncing back on her feet.
“As I said. Quick on the uptake, decisive, unsentimental. Just like me.” Anruil Althariel’s ghost gave his daughter a jaunty grin and a wave.
“Lies.” She snarled. “Everything I am has been refined by Khaine. There is nothing of you left to taint me.”
“Believe what you will. But what you just pulled out there?” He jerked his head towards the battlefield. “Vintage Anruil Althariel. Fake negotiations, leading to an ambush? I think I might have even used the bomb bit once or twice.”
“Why are you here!?” She clove the air in twain, again passing uselessly through him. “Did you come just to mock me?”
“Mock you?” He laughed. “That was an artist’s appreciation you just heard. Though-” her blow would have severed his neck, if there had been anything to sever- “I would have changed tactics once I realized I couldn’t hurt me. Maybe that’s something you get from your mother.”
“Another worthless piece of my past. What I am, is Khaine, and Khaine only. And you still haven’t answered my question.”
“Fair enough.” His smile became sad, and the ghost seemed to lose some of its definition. “Honestly? I spent a long time on the ice, alone, with only the wind to keep me company. I want to meet the daughter I never knew. I want to see who she was and tell her who I was. That’s why I’m here.”
“Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?” Arali laughed bitterly. “I came here for two reasons- to glorify the Lord of Murder, and to end you once and for all, and I’ve already succeeded at one of those. You think that after defiling Khaine’s shrine, after making a mockery of my faith, after a century of neglect you can just come back in and make things right?” She knew the two knives she plunged in his chest wouldn’t kill him, but it certainly made her feel better. “I know who you are. Now run- run far, far away, and hide, and enjoy the days you have left because the next time we meet will be the last.”
Anruil’s expression hadn’t changed. “If that’s the way things have to be. I came here to get to know you, and I think I do understand you better- and I’m sorry, because a large part of that has to be my fault. Goodbye, daughter. I think we will meet again sooner than you expect.” She spat at him, but he was already gone.
It was a few long moments after he’d gone before Arali could put the rage back into its bottle for later. So. This was a new wrinkle, and an unpleasant one. It was just like him to try and curdle the satisfaction she took from the thought of his death. No matter- it hadn’t changed her resolve one iota. The next time they met, she would put him in the grave to stay- all that she needed now were the tools to do the deed.
It was only the receding waters that saved him, Hilmar Thunderstruck had claimed. He’d appeared to have come from the Tsatraya side of the Bay of Bysuud when the patrols found him, their trackers and huntsmen on high alert for another Pilgrimage attack. The Lord-Celestant had lost most of his armor; said he’d torn it off to try and keep afloat after he’d been drawn under the ice.
He’d refused to allow anyone to help him, shouting at them to keep away, even threatening them when they drew close. He ranted and raved, saying it would be the death of them, or that they were already doomed. That he’d doomed them. Even when they reached Tsatraya, the Stormcast refused to be attended to, fleeing like a wounded animal to the darkest recess he could find.
With Fleetmaster Brighteyes wounded and Anruil Altharliel elsewhere, Admiral Bjornssen had finally approached him in full battle rig, and entreated him to rest within the Ebonvaults chapterhouse. Built to hold coin backed by realmstone, it was among the most impregnable buildings in Tsatraya. Bjornssen reckoned he’d sleep better, too, knowing the deranged Stormcast was locked behind warded walls. Hilmar agreed, and withdrew. Food and drink were left at his door, but only the wine were taken inside. Perturbed, Bjornssen ordered a vigil held around the Ebonvaults at all hour, lest Hilmar have any need- or, perhaps, attempt to escape.
Mithridates Besh stood barefoot on the ice. He’d discarded his robes some days ago; his skin had turned waxy and soft, and stuck to the rough cloth as he moved. Where his bare form would have been a study in male perfection weeks before, his muscles had begun to atrophy on his bones. The skin on the soles of his feet was long gone, and each step left a bloody print in the eyes. This was his purpose. This was their purpose. This was the only purpose. There was nothing else.
Sometimes he forgot the voice in his head wasn’t his own. It had been centuries since he’d tried to remember his own voice. He only recalled that he once had a voice when he looked at his hands, the fingertips misshapen from the years he’d spent screaming, day and night, trying to claw his way out of the black sarcophagus with naught but his fingernails.
The voice had been there, his only companion, solace and torment all at once. And he’d been there for it, the thing in the void. There was nothing else.
It was the Nemesis, and now, he was the Nemesis, for they were one, even as they weren’t.
Besh weighed the circumstances once more. The malignancy spread through water most easily, yet now, so much of the water was gone. That was… unexpected, but inconsequential. They were the maw that would swallow the world; there was nothing else.
If he could not bring the sheep to the slaughter, then he would bring the slaughter to the sheep. With a thought that didn’t belong to him, it was done. The malignant would no longer throw themselves in the Breach, as they’d done for weeks. They would throw themselves on their former comrades, and spread their malignancy that way.
There was nothing else.