Across the Shores of Frørholm
Green fire wrapped across the sky. It danced and spun, shifted and twisted, and far below it reflected in the hollow eyes of the stone sentinels. There were scores of them, maybe even hundreds. No one had thought to count the featureless visages of stone staring out longingly towards the choppy seas. They hummed in the cold air, the resonance of the island reaching its crescendo as the Forge was so near to being free. It was a scratching, straining, atonal sound, what coarse sand was to the crystal of pure note. Yet there were none to hear it. They had all moved inland, towards the castle.
The beaches were empty, save for the monolithic heads.
Yet their call was heeded.
Drakkar Gard: the final step before Dalrach Castle and the ancient forge within. Seven alliances had forged bloody paths across the thawing city of Frørholm, all to reach the fabled prize within. As the last of the ice receded, battle lines were drawn about the old barracks. Whoever took them would have a clear path inside. Even then, victory would not be so easy. This was but one of three contested entrances to the castle grounds, and each coalition sought to take them all. Each, save for Sagradiel and his Teclandec sharpshooters. Sagradiel had been so confident of his victory that he saw no reason to waste ammunition taking every entrance. He intended to stroll past the rabble and claim what was rightfully his.
That rabble would not allow him such easy passage however, with hosts representing each of Sagradiel’s six rivals mustering outside the claustrophobic barracks. None had come in such numbers as the Dross-forged, perhaps the most disparate from the aelven lord’s shining host. Their pride was built not on high births or fancy titles, it had been earned through blood and hardship. At their head was Uhred the Beardless himself, standing proud in his rusted armour, scarred brow set with determination. It was a fine day to take aelven heads.
First blood was spilled when a diminutive masked grot message runner broke from the Mooncalled ranks, heading towards the Mooncaller’s position at Dolorous Gard. Sagradiel snatched a rifle from one of his flanking gunman, chuckling as the grot fell to the ground, dead. Chaos erupted in moments. Enraged, the Troggoth Runn thundered from the Mooncalled ranks, his body filled with the strange energy of the Trogg-Bellows. The Teclandec sharpshooters immediately began to lay down fire, but Runn’s unnaturally empowered flesh merely knitted about the wounds. Seeing their opportunity, the vanguard of the Dross-forged began their march. Uhred, the stout duardin Snoll Stonbrakk by his side, made ready to signal Poxbringer Verrucatius when the inevitable occurred. Then, of course, it did. A signal flare from the Blackwing Corsairs flashed high above, alerting the distant Ashrak’s Bastion that those who had stood in Vishkan’s way had taken to the field. In moments, arcane artillery began to pepper the battlefield, only those who had planned this action with Vishkan safely outside the impact zone. The Dross-forged were hit worst, having stepped further afield than the Shields of An’Avon and the Shadowsong Renegades, but they were also the most ready. Stonbrakk’s Rune-Throng immediately dropped below shields, deflecting debris if not direct hits from the magical ordnance, while Uhred signaled the Dross-Fray warleader behind him.
The pestigor began to chant, and a thick, choking fog began to spread about him. The wizard Vallash Kall conjured a strong wind towards the battlefield, sending the fug billowing across the open stretch outside Drakkar Gard, while the Dross-Fray’s pestigors surged into the fog. Though they couldn’t see the artillery coming beneath it, neither could their enemies, all of whom within range were already being blinded, choked and disoriented by the miasma. While many warleaders and chieftains yelled out to retreat beyond the fog, it was becoming increasingly unclear which way that was, with members of the Mooncalled, Blackwing Corsairs, and Wolves of Agora stumbling into the range of their own artillery. This was made worse as the pestigors, not impeded by the fumes, began to harry their enemies, driving them further into the killing ground. In desperation, the Blackwing signaller sent up another flare, calling off the assault.
As the fog dissipated, the Dross-forged surged towards the barracks, aiming to gain a foothold within the tangled maze of walls and buildings within. Meanwhile, on the other side of the battlefield, Runn had broken off his assault, having already forgotten what he had been so angry about. He had decided to go after something that stung less, and, with a sneer, Sagradiel sounded the advance. The other coalitions had recovered and regrouped by now, each racing towards the castle with small skirmishes breaking out all around. Though there was no love between them, the Shields of An’Avon had a pact to fulfil with the Dross-forged. Though each did not want the other to claim the blade, they wanted even less for the mad zealots of the Mooncalled to take it. While advancing towards the city, the Shields herded the Mooncalled charge into the line of sight of the Dross-forged backline. With a nod, Ser Branor Darkflame signalled to Snoll Stonbrakk, his force hanging back after their initial gambit had put them within the line of fire from Ashrak’s Bastion. With a cry, he had one of his kinsman fire the mystical arrow they had recovered from the Knee directly into the Mooncalled vanguard. The sudden flash of light blinded many across the field for a few moments, but when their vision returned they found the Mooncalled in chaos. Though Lord Godfrey’s chaos knights had taken the brunt of the assault on their armour and shields, a few had fallen to the ground, writhing in pain. The Mooncaller’s own masked zealots were not so lucky, dressed as they were in mere rags and scraps of looted plate. Only charred ritual masks remained of them, smoking eerily on the ground.
One combatant had not been affected by the blinding light of Hysh, and scoffed at those who reeled about him. A true son of the Prime Dominion found mere light a trifle, and Sagradiel shouted for his retinue to maintain fire as they marched. When nothing happened, he turned, disgusted to find his sharpshooters rubbing their eyes, disoriented by the blast. He called for a report from the rear ranks, aiming to bring his reserve forward. What he discovered enraged him even more. The supply caravan carrying the Teclandec’s ammunition had been ambushed by the Stormcast of the Forgotten with the aid of the gargant Junko Holmesmasher, and even now his reserve fought and died to protect it. The explosion that rocked him a few moments later told him all he needed to know. His own ordnance had been detonated. He would not be getting his reinforcements. With a snarl, Sagradiel snatched up a rifle and drew his sword. He would take that blasted forge, with or without his useless underlings. The surviving sharpshooters hurried to keep up with him, even as their shots veered wildly off target as their eyes readjusted. But there were a lot of targets.
Even while the vanguards of the six coalitions fought and died amongst themselves in the tumbledown barracks, contingents had peeled off from the main assault and gathered just outside the crumbling walls, all with a single goal: To slay Sagradiel. The bulk of this force was made up of vengeful Shields, but they were not alone. Sevvir’s Luxy Dogs joined the Forgotten Knights as they marched through the Teclandec barrage, while slavering squigs from the Skullkrushas, the Corsairs’ Horde and the Mooncalled’s Loonknights of Da Grinnin Moon leaped and dodged between the fire, taking bullets as they went but using their momentum to clamp their voracious jaws about the Teclandec sharpshooters even as they died. It seemed as if they’d be able to impede the aelf lord’s progress, and perhaps even rout him, when his reinforcements came surging over the hill, filling the air with renewed fire. Ironically, the orruks of the Skullkrushas had been attempting to ambush the same supply train as the Corsairs, but had ended up engaging the Forgotten and Holmesmasher when they arrived to find their work already done. In the ensuing brawl, the Teclandec had escaped, and the Skullkrushas’ squigs bore the brunt of their masters’ bloodlust, gunned down by the shooters they had inadvertently helped to escape.
The situation only got worse when the Mad Queen of the Screaming Court decided to take the opportunity to ambush the reeling members of the other coalitions who had stood beside the Shields in their attempt to defeat Sagradiel. Within moments, her ghouls were engaged in pitched battle with the gargants of Clan Kyodai, as well as the confused troggoth Harry who hadn’t even intended on joining the fight against Sagradiel. He’d merely gotten turned around within the labyrinthine barracks and wandered back out into a ghoul ambush. Desperately, they each fought amongst themselves while attempting to evade the bullets raining down upon them. As things devolved into chaos outside the walls, within them matters were little better. The Sons of Khaine, having slipped into the barracks undetected using their shadow magics, now found themselves unable to avoid conflict, as they found themselves surrounded by the grief-mad ghouls of the Flensers. Below the barracks, forces met in the old sewers, each having had the idea to get in from beneath and beat their foes to the prize. Askip the Not-So-Wise and Ned Blackpowder found themselves faced with Titus Lashtail and his Skaven assassins, neither side willing to let the other surface.
More and more, those who had broken through into the city found themselves disoriented and, beset by foes on all sides, finding themselves emerging back out into the killing ground outside. This was by design. Only one faction were not participating in any of the bloody brawls, their attention firmly on misdirecting their foes back out into Sagradiel’s line of fire. The Wolves of Agora had no love for the aelf, and, indeed, fully intended to take his head themselves when this bloody business was done. For now, it served them well to have the ranks of their foes thinned and the Teclandec’s ammunition depleted. Kido Takara of the Exiled blades had stolen into the city during the confusion of the artillery barrage, establishing a foothold from which the Wolves had begun their ploy. Black Caradoc led the Wolves party as they stalked through the ruins, herding their foes back under the aelf’s fire. Only one band of fighters were giving them trouble: that of Uhred the Beardless. The duardin’s ineffable purpose drove him on, meeting the Wolves’ attempts to waylay him with axe in hand and stubborn refusal to play their game. Even as he progressed towards his goal, however, Uhred found himself chafing as he listened to the cowardly aelf’s bullets thundering and the screams of his men dying. The idea that somebody else might take Sagradiel’s head rankled him more than he expected, and, remembering with grim humour how he had instructed his own men not to lose sight of their goal for petty vengeance, Uhred the Beardless turned his back on the forge. It could wait a moment longer.
Finally, their ammunition caravan having been destroyed, the aelven sharpshooters began to throw their guns down and draw their swords. The enemies before them hardly noticed, trying to survive in the chaos of the desperate melee that had descended upon the outskirts of Drakkar Gard. Sagradiel scoffed at his foes’ foolishness once more as he began to dismissively sweep his blade about him, impaling Mooncalled, Corsairs, Shields, Renegades and Dross-forged alike on his fine steel. One band was curiously unrepresented in the slaughter, and Sagradiel almost believed he had wiped the Wolves of Agora out to the last without even noticing, when screams erupted from his already diminished backline. He didn’t even look back. Any who died to that rabble deserved to, after all. He had a blade to claim. As he strode on, he could feel it calling to him, feel already the power swelling within him. When he had that blade, Sagradiel decided, he would not merely win his way back into the graces of the weak fools that ruled the Prime Dominion. Such trifles were below him, the only true Prince of Dawn. He would take the heads of any who stood in his way. He would stand over the broken body of Dariel and claim the throne for himself. Sagradiel felt a curious prickling at his brow, but ignored it. Anyone else who was looking would have seen wicked horns begin to sprout from his perfect skin.
Sagradiel’s men suddenly found themselves abandoned by their lord, low on shot, and now beset by the full might of the Wolves of Agora. They had waited until the gunfire had diminished before launching their assault, not weakened by the strains of the days fighting. Dressed in dark purples to mask their appearance in the ulguan gloom, the Wolves bore down on their foes, intending to rout not only the aelf, but the battered retinues of their rivals. Streakorn and her sylvaneth revenants tore into the reeling Teclandec flank first, drawing what little fire remained away from the main assault circling in from behind. Tuatha’s lancers joined the Everblazing Buccaneers and the orruks of Da Finkers in hammering into the disoriented aelves, cutting a bloody path towards Sagradiel himself. They had assumed he would turn and fight when his men began to fall in droves, but he did not even turn back. Bellowing, Gore’Ox of the Buccaneers redoubled his efforts, charging through his foes towards their leader. He soon found himself bogged down, his quarry almost out of reach. In desperation, he pulled out a small, flame-wreathed throwing axe and tossed it at Sagradiel’s back. It lodged in the aelf’s shoulder blade, causing him to stumble and whip around to face Gore’Ox. The expression on his face was like nothing the ogroid had ever seen on a mortal. Horns twisted and curled from the aelf’s skull and a dark fire burned in his eyes as he pulled the axe from the charred gash in his back. He threw it aside dismissively, and disappeared into the city, leaving Gore’Ox to bellow obscenities at his back.
Sagradiel strode down dark alleyways and ruined storehouses as if he ruled over them, stopping only to dispatch any stragglers he met along the way. A bird-masked sneakthief was slipping from his blade when a brittle voice sounded behind him.
“My… My lord?”
It was Caelwen, his adjutant, wounded and bloody but still clutching the Teclandec banner like a child clinging to its parent’s leg. Pathetic. The adjutant’s eyes filled with horror as he noticed the horns growing from Sagradiel’s head. He took a step back, dropping the banner. Sagradiel was about to admonish him for disgracing the blood of Iscarion by dropping the banner in the dirt when a shot rung out. The side of Sagradiel’s face felt wet. He felt at it, and his fingers touched teeth. The bullet had torn right through his cheek. It took him a moment to notice the pistol held in Caelwen’s quivering hand, and his blood began to boil. How dare this maggot strike against the Prince of Iscarion? Feeling a strange power welling within him, Sagradiel reached out, his hand projecting force enough to send the insubordinate whelp crashing into a bloody heap at the foot of a collapsed well. He only then noticed the gaping hole in his belly where the second shot had ripped through him. Any lesser aelf would be dead, but the blood of the Iscarneth flowed through his veins stronger than any other. This was just further proof of his birthright.
“When I broke my chains and left Brak Zaghoul, I killed a more d'ardin than I care to count. Each and every one of them was ten times tougher than you’ll ever be, aelf, and I took them down with nothing but chains and my smithing hamm'r.” Sagradiel swung back towards this latest interloper, prickling with annoyance. It was a beardless duardin, scarred and ugly, beneath the lord’s notice, usually, but he supposed he had time to deal with the pest before he claimed his birthright. The Duardin hefted his axe. “Time to die.”
They clashed immediately, Uhred deflecting swift blows from Sagradiel’s sword before sweeping his axe at the daemon-touched aelf, who danced about the weapon like flowing water. Each got in a dozen glancing blows, each bled from a dozen wounds, but neither would relent. It seemed as if the stalemate would never end when Uhred found himself overbalanced. It was all Sagradiel needed, and the aelf kicked out at the duardin’s stout legs, sending him sprawling, his axe clattering along the broken cobbles.
“You thought to stand against the rightful lord of the Prime Dominion? You, a trumped-up slave? I don’t think I’ll kill you. I’ll keep you as a pet, to amuse my courtiers.”
“That’s the problem with you aelves, spend so much time gloating that you forg't you’re not the only man in the room.”
Sagradiel looked down sharply to see that Caelwen had, with his last strength, kicked the axe back to Uhred. The duardin launched himself in a vicious strike, and Sagradiel was too stunned to move out of the way in time. With a blinding crack, the axe came down between his newfound horns, and the True Prince of Dawn fell, pure blood leaking between the cobbles of a forgotten place far from home.
Uhred hefted his axe out of the damned aelf’s skull and turned back towards the castle. His heart sank when he saw the banner of the Wolves of Agora already hanging from the gates, billowing above the crumbled barracks. Uhred suddenly felt the weight of his years at the forge. He looked around him, alone and wounded, surrounded by nought but corpses. He’d won his fight but at the cost of his destiny. Gritting his teeth, he straightened and turned away. Better to live and fight another day that throw himself to the Wolves.
At the gate, defences were already being raised by the Exiled Blades, their allies in the Wolves of Agora funnelling in from every direction, fresh from the rout outside the walls. They had taken this gate for Kul-Brimnir, they need now only wait and trust their fellows to take the others.
In the pitch dark of the ulguan night, a mangled body dragged itself towards the light of the fires at the gate. Sagradiel stopped when a horned, shadowy figure appeared over him, shook its head in disgust, and dissipated into the looming shadows, as if it had never been there. Sagradiel tried to move his arms and resume his crawl, but found that they wouldn’t respond. His whole body flushed with a pleasant warmth, and at the edge of his senses he could smell perfume and spices. Then, with a final shudder of pleasure, his black heart finally stopped.
Thunder would characterize the battle for Dolorous Gard, and it began with the pounding footfalls of Junko Holmesmasher’s gargants. Throwing caution to the howling winds, they made the ascent in great loping strides- only to be met in equal strength by Clan Kyodai. The ground shook across Castle Dalrach as if in the throes of an earthquake as the two mobs of gargants brutalized each other.
Leading the Mooncalled vanguard came Scuttleboss Scareyamuch. Under direction to support the Troll-king Arnagir, the Scuttleboss’s Arachnaroks and Spiderfangs traversed the tumbled-down ruins and great twisting roots of Dolorous Gard with ease. Looking to get in on the scrap, Arnagir loped across the battlefield, his gaggle of troggoths in tow and Scareyamuch on their heels- only for all to be tossed into disorder as a number of the troggs seemingly lost what little passed for their minds, attacking each other in a frenzied rage without provocation. Through the confusion charged Jhael’s light cavalry, inciting a wild free-for-all as horseman met spider-rider in swirling combat.
His retinue suddenly indisposed, Arnagir Troll-king was left vulnerable. It was this opportunity Dagon the Ordained, Stormcast Eternal of the Nameon Storm, seized. Stealth was not Dagon’s forte, and he marched openly, bellowing his challenge. All but cornered anyway, Arnagir attacked, Stormcast detonating back to Azyr beneath his frenzied, pounding fists. Undaunted, Dagon’s hammer bashed in the Troll-kings throat. Toppled and grasping at his ruined neck, Dagon beat him down relentlessly, breaking the Troll-king’s hands before finally beheading him beneath a dozen thundering blows. His oath fulfilled, Dagon struck out for fresh battle, the airship Dammaz Thragh raining fire down from above him and Lord-Arcanum Bruxa Alvent now by his side.
Yet, they were far from the only warriors demanding satisfaction. From his bone-wrough charnel throne, Valinar and the Knights of the Purulent Keep sought in vain for Klarieth, yet would not find her here. Gore’ox Palefur found his way to Dolorous Gard seeking worthy battle, a number of duardin flame-cultists at his back, and the ogroid Blackwind Raiders by his side. They would fall upon the Sheilds’ rearguard, hacking and hammering at the soldiers of X Fretensis and the Fangs of Garm, only to find their ferocity met by tenacity in equal measure.
The Shields’ play for Dolorous Gard was now set in motion. The nameless Lumineth of the Order of the White Lillies called upon the aelementors of Frorholm, calling forth spirits of mountain and wind. These terrible entities were joined by the frothing-mouthed Avatar of Chrion and the newly-ascended daemon prince Averian. Although they moved to set upon the Renegades, it was the Blackwing Corsair’s unfortunately timed attack that bore the brunt of the Shield’s champions.
the Avatar of Chiron, Lord of Flitting Shadow
It was Avrena Talonsworn and Markela Vyrkos who found themselves fighting for their unliving lives, thralls and minions buying little more than precious minutes against the two aelementors, the varghulf, and the daemon prince.
Unwilling to lose more of her flock, Lissea put into motion a desperate plan. Calling upon the Lord-Arcanum they called the Forgotten, she found herself teleported into the midst of the battle, surrounded by Vanguard-Hunters who slipped through the shadows of the battlefield with the same deftness as her own gatherers. Reciting the incantation divined from the Eight Pillars, she filled the minds of her foes with the image of thousands of screaming, scratching crows. The aelementors thrashed and heaved, while Averian fought off imagined birds and the Avatar of Chiron was put to a howling flight by the hallucination. With Avrena and Markela saved, Lissea and the Forgotten’s Stormcast retreated into darkness.
Eager to finish what they started, the Mooncalled’s Runoff Troggherd sparked off a brilliantly stupid idea. “Persuading” a captured Weirdnob Shaman to enact a ritual of their own, the Troggherd spiked their own Waaagh! energy with the bloodthirsty rage of Khorne. Such were the forces unleashed, the grounds of Dolorous Gard began to tear themselves apart around the weirdnob as he attempted to channel the energy into a single Dankhold Troggoth. All might have gone terribly wrong had the Mooncaller not intervened, its mask seemingly stabilizing the raging magical reaction.
Riding the empowered troggoth like a steed, the Mooncalled rallied to their leader, the Orange Ladz, Clan Skorchfur, Laika and D’atur setting upon their scattered and embattled foes like the rising tide. Junko Holmesmasher finally bested, Clan Kyodai joined them, the red rage-Waaagh! filling the Mooncalled with the insane ferocity of rabid animals. Those who weren’t routed found themselves fighting desperate rearguards as they withdrew. At each other’s throats only moments before, foes like the Inquisiton of Umberspire and the Luxy dogs turned and fought back to back, their dead vanishing beneath a wave of Spiderfang.
Dolorous Gard belonged to the Mooncaller.
The Basalt Gate
The Basalt Gate echoed with the thunder of the mega-gargant Sradnir Wizbag’s fury. He stamped and raged, the shaggoth’s corpse already forgotten as he chased down those that had dared to stand with it against him. A stormcloud had appeared around his head, dark gray across his furrowed brow. Occasionally it would blast down bolts of lightning, striking at skeletal knights that pestered him like flies, though mostly it simply zapped and stung at his face. A few enterprising skinks had climbed atop the gargant, clinging to its hair or the tattered sails that it wore like wizard’s robes. They rained down poisoned darts from on high. For a time, they had attempted to steer the gargant, but that slim measure of control was gone now.
Sradnir was fixated on one person in the crowded melee. A sorceress stood, chanting and channeling magic around herself. A feast of magic. His mouth watered. Pumping his gangly legs into a run, the gargant charged across the battlefield towards her. Right into the trap that had been laid for him. Templars and Knights of the Vale charged forth to meet him, chopping at legs and sinking wicked harpoons deep. Mists summoned by the Gloomwyrms gathered, and within them came the chittering shrieks of the Carrion King’s children.
Through it all the gargant charged, smashing apart knights and chosen with shocking ease. A lone skaven, his Dross-forged allies off fighting at the northern wall, had his hopes for a gargant-corpse abomination smashed apart by the mage-eater’s errant club. Nothing could stop the monstrous momentum of the gargant. Smashing through the final rank of Templars and sending Aethador sprawling, Sradnir scooped up the sorceress. The magic around her was intoxicating, swirling, yet she seemed strangely calm. The thought of caution trickled precariously through the gargant’s mind, yet not before he chomped down on the sorceress. Magic filled him, bursting behind his eyes and streaking through his veins, and then the explosives went off.
Sradnir was thrown off balance, crashing heavily against the ancient fortress gate. The massive stones that topped it cracked and shifted ominously, poised to fall onto the battlefield below. One half of his face was ruined, blasted away by the bombs attached to his prey, yet he barely felt anything. They had underestimated him, all of them. His eyes blazed a blue-white with arcane force. Lightning leapt from ear to ear. He staggered to his feet, throwing his hands out for balance, and white lightning spring from them. It crashed across the battlefield, arcing between friend and foe alike. The blind mega-gargant cared not. He sent wave after wave of power flowing outwards, lashing all indiscriminately. They would all burn now that he had the power!
A burst of shadow appeared beside his head, and for a brief moment Klarieth hung in the air beside him. Her coiled body sprang forwards, and from the shadows a massive hook formed in her hands. Sinking it deep into the bone of the creature’s ruined cheek, she tumbled past his shoulders, a long tether of shadows in her hand. Sradnir’s head was dragged back, his sightless glowing eyes to the sky, and the lightning stopped as he reached up to grasp at the hook sunk deep into his face. Disappearing into shadows again, Klarieth emerged by the gargant’s opposite leg, looping the shadow tether around one of the harpoons sunk deep into its thigh. Again and again she leapt into the shadows, dragging the tether across his body, looping it against harpoons and armour, around his neck and down his back. At last, she appeared beside the cracked and teetering stones topping the Basalt Gate. She was breathing heavily, taxed near to the breaking point by the exertion of shadow magics, yet she was not done. Sinking the tether deep into the stone beside her, she called out into the void and watched as a shadow beast leapt from the darkness. The beast looked like a panther drawn from nightmares, and as it pounced forward it crashed into the teetering stone. With a sound like gods teeth grinding and an almost dramatic slowness, the stone tilted atop the ancient gateway, then toppled downwards. The shadow tether bound to it was drawn tight, hundreds of tons pulling downwards. It bit into the gargant, slicing calves and hamstrings down to the bone, and the hook sank deep it tore the jaw from the creature’s face.
Gasping on the ground, the power gone from his eyes, Sradnir looked up at the figure perched high above. The mega-gargant had been an ally of convenience, but when it had turned its powers against her sisters Klarieth felt no remorse in putting it down. Yet there was still a battle to win. Vanishing again, Klarieth left the dying gargant to the absent mercies of the followers of the Great Gatherer, circling around it with blades drawn.
Thundering through the gate came the charge of the Shields of An’avon. Led by the lances of the knights, the vanguard pressed forward with Lady Gwenefyre at its head. Flaming red hair streaked with gold flew out behind the snarling mask of her helmet, and above her she held aloft the newly christened Lament . The runic blade had been tempered in the power of the Troll-king’s ritual, and it crackled with eldritch energy. With a thundering crash, the charge met the Mooncalled’s forward line. There was little resistance to the charge, the Mooncalled already exhausted from the gargant’s fury, and as the vanguard pressed forwards the scattered survivors were pounced on by the Trueblades and varghulfs that followed in their wake.
Yet the scattering of the Mooncalled was meant only to buy time. In their heart of their ranks, Pyrrha Bloodrain had been gathering her power. Bargains had been struck for terrible prices to be paid in the future, and ancient debts had been called on, yet as the air boiled red around her she felt it was worth the cost. The air shimmered above her, becoming a pool of crimson energy, and with a wet, rending sound, a Bloodthirster stepped out of it. It roared and flexed is great wings, clashing axes, then fixed its eyes on the charging knights. With one hand raised in challenge, it leapt into the air, and crashed down like a meteor upon them.
The initial impact was devastating, halting the charging knights in an instant. A crimson haze hung in the air around the Bloodthirster. An avatar of rage and war, it was a dervish of destruction, reaping a terrible toll all around it. It stalked forwards, looking for its next victim, then a golden light cut through the haze. Gwenefyre charged forwards, her horse like a gray phantom and the sword poised to strike. The Bloodthirster struck first, whistling its axe down in a brutal overhead chop, but Lament sprung upwards. The destructive power of the troggoth’s ritual surged within the blade, and with a sundering clap it rent through the daemonic axe. The force of the blast rippled across her, bursting the gauntlet of her sword hand to reveal the arm beneath. Golden scales had sprung along its length, gleaming in the red light, and from deep within her helm golden light shone in her eyes. The Bloodthirster bellowed, and breathed out great gouts of red fire, washing over her, yet golden fire sprang up in turn like an aegis. Raising the blade high, she drove it deep into the Bloodthirster’s chest, and with a rending scream it was banished back to the darkness.
Their charge renewed, the rest of the Shields pressed forwards, surging across the battlefield. Earl Bahn chased down the last Mooncalled defenders, while overhead terrawing scoured the field. In this one glorious charge, the Shields might have taken the field and the castle as well, had it not been for the curse of the Skeleton Key placed upon them by the Shadowsong. Buckles snapped on saddles, rivets popped free from armour, trusted swords broke and ageless steel cracked. Betrayed by their own equipment, the Shields momentum staggered and fell. And the Shadowsong were there to take advantage.
Gifted with knowledge of the battlefield and their enemies movements by the Auger Ravens, the Shadowsong sprang from every corner and shadow. They strike precisely and with perfect timing, appearing from nowhere to pull a rider from his saddle or sever the guiding bolt of a Mooncalled ballistae. Bolstered by Klarieth’s victory over the gargant, they rallied from its madness and stormed across the battlefield. At its heart, Klarieth stood with arms upraised, dedicating the carnage to the Bloody-handed God. By blood they had taken it, and let none doubt that the Basalt Gate belonged to the Shadowsong.
The Black Forge
Castle Dalrach shuddered to the sounds of the swirling melee all around it. Its ancient bones of black stone groaned at the weight of bodies above. The blood of heroes and villains mingled and became inseparable as it crept down into the foundations, staining the ice that still clung desperately to the sunken halls of the Basalt Forge.
The Everwinter guttered, choking. For an age, its fury had consumed the island in primordial ice. Since the Iron Sage struck its bindings with the Fated Blade, it had raged unconstrained. Now it was being strangled. Like a great, black hand closing about it, it flickered and dimmed, struggling to weave its storm. Then it was gone, swallowed.
The darkened chambers stood silent a moment. The black stones quivered, resonating. The humming pressure that built like a pulse across the island rose. Louder and louder, the pulse becoming a scream, a warcry from the hundreds of empty stone mouths that surrounded the island.
A brittle crack filled the empty air, and then everything exploded.
Outside the castle, the swirling melee had stumbled to an uncertain halt. Warriors looked around, confused. The pressure that had been building for weeks behind the eyes of every one of them had risen, blossoming into pain and distortion. Some ripped their helmets free, gasping at clear air. Predatory vampires fell to the ground clutching their ears in pain. The vibrating pressure became a roar, then a blasting wave of force struck up from the ground beneath them. Men and women were thrown into the air, crashing down in a cacophony of clattering plate. Shattered ice sprayed out from the castle’s gaping doors and the entrance to the Forge below. Black stones cracked, and as the fallen warriors looked on, fissures like broken glass streaked through its dark walls.
The scream that thundered in their ears, the primal call of rage and hatred that they only realized had been echoing in the back of their minds since they first stepped foot on the island, stopped, and in the sudden quiet, Castle Dalrach collapsed.
Those closest were buried in the avalanche of black stone. Dust and debris washed like a tide across the battlefield, blinding and choking. The ancient structures, held together by ice and sound, burst apart like a spitting storm, and from its corpse a titan emerged.
The creature was tall, nearly as tall as the fallen mega-gargant but with none of the awkward gait to its limbs. Its skin was a dark green, almost black, except for its hands. One was pale, limned white with frost in places. Ice had formed across the knuckles like talons. The hand was clasped tightly closed, yet around it swirled a barely contained gale. The other hand was red and black, glowing from within through cracks in the skin like an ember. As it rose, it dragged behind it a massive sword, kingly in design. Its edges were black, yet the core of the blade burned with the same red that had scorched the hand fast to its hilt. Runes glowed with the fires of Aqshy. A horned helm sat upon its heavy brow, and tusks like stalagmites rose from its jaw.
The massive orruk, if such a word could still be used, looked across the battlefield. Stunned warriors lay where they had been thrown, gazing up at it in shock and horror. A name was whispered, that had haunted this island for an age.
He is here. Mogrek is here.
Raising back his head, Mogrek roared, a bestial WAAAGH! pure and primal. The sound washed like a tidal wave across the city, bouncing from black stone, and down to the shores of the island, where it suddenly came echoing back a hundredfold. With green fire suddenly alighting in their eyes, the stone sentinels that lined the island shuddered and groaned, and with great heaving motions began pulling themselves free from the earth. They roared without mouths, amplifying the waaagh! energy around them. The island shuddered. Earth split. The Idols pulled themselves to their feet, heeding their master’s call.
With the sound still echoing around them, Mogrek leapt forward, lashing the glowing Longblade outwards. Flames leapt from its tip, scything through a mass of tumbled warriors. He raised his other hand, and from it sprang the wrath of the Everwinter. Ice blasted across a courtyard, freezing solid anything it touched. A heavy foot slammed forward, stamping down a skeletal knight trying to pull itself together. Mogrek roared again, and with that, the battle was broken.
Cries of retreat sprang from every side, their allegiances and animosities forgotten as they ran together for the road to the city below. Through the broken Basalt Gate, swarming across the corpse of Sradnir like ants, the first that poured out into the city saw the fires that raged below. Idols smashed through the streets, tearing down ancient stone and recent fortification alike. As the fleeing survivors passed the gate, the closest Idols turned their eyes of flame upon them. It would be a fight to reach the sea.
In the castle courtyard, as all around him erupted in chaos, Kul-Brimir stood transfixed. There, in the darkness and rubble of the castle, the shadowed entrance to the Basalt Forge loomed. His eyes were fixed on a glimmer in the darkness, a shining light that he had seen in his dreams, night after night, restless and relentless. There it shone, and beckoned, and promised. The reason they had come this far. Pushing past the fleeing warriors, Kul-Brimir ran across the castle courtyard and towards the forge. Towards the Fated Blade.
Heedless to the lone and aging gladiator, Mogrek rampaged across the ruins of the battlefield. Each sweep of his sword, each blast of eldritch ice, brought down dozens. He laughed, a cruel and heartless rumble, and raised the Longblade high in the air. The fire within the sword flared bright, and then he brought it down point first, piercing the stone. The ground shook, an earthquake spreading outwards from the impact, Fissures split the ground, fire welling up from within their depths. A hideous crack could be heard across the island, then one of its peaks sheared away, falling into the ocean like a glacial collapse. The tremors did not relent, and the island began to shake itself apart.
Tarruk, bosun of the Seawolf , watched as the Old Bull ran down into the depths of the castle forge. He saw Mogrek’s blade pierce down into the island heart, saw the seismic force sweep out of it. He could do nothing as the ruins of the castle collapsed in on themselves, raining tons of stone down upon the forge below.
The war for the Fated Blade was over. A battle for survival had begun.
“Our enemy is dead, but I fear a much greater foe will soon be upon us. Make your preparations in haste, my friend, for I fear nowhere along the Ur-River is safe.”
- Excerpt from the Emissary’s final missive.