Wind swept through the grasses of the high plain. There was a chill to the air, a distant scent of ice blowing away the clinging miasma of battle. The wind carried off the last traces of the Bleed waters that had suffused the soil. The land was drying out, becoming solid as stone, and the secrets dredged by the floodwaters would soon be concealed again. For the last desperate explorers out in the Wilds, this was a race against time.
The Underbough Sepulchre swept across the plains like a tide, seeking out the small crystalline shards of Alarielle’s Rite that the river had deposited. The Ghoul King Maximillian II ventured deep into the crimson waters that his delusions dubbed the Lake of Emeralds, emerging with ancient bones and little more. Tarascon and Wight King Tarsus battled skeletal foes, yet their victory rang hollow as ancient ribcages without the singular prize they sought. Vreeche and Melesis joined Ferdinand Summersworn’s scouts, scouring above and below, yet no sign could be seen of the elusive Life infusions. Though bloody-handed hearts ached to join the battle that was soon to be unleashed at the heart of the Wilds, they knew this was their last chance to awaken the Sepulchre’s draconic charges.
It was the Countess Vess, her identity only recently made known to her allies, that discovered the small gorge in the meadow. Spirits clustered around it, filling the air to her necromantic vision. Natural creatures, natives of Chamon and Ghur, skipped in and out of sight, dancing around titanic, barely visible spirits of megafauna of the distant past. There were no nighthaunted wraiths, however. No curse clung at their souls. A sense of the bounding joy of life touched even the necromancer, however briefly, as she looked up the center of the serene procession of spirits, where an infusion of life larger than any she had ever seen glimmered softly.
The honeycomb of caves that riddled the mountainsides echoed with the sounds of bone, stone and steel clattering off of varanite-laced armor. The wild tribesmen of Bykaal had led their Cult allies into a desperate battle against the ruinous artificers of the Hateforge, yet the tight confines of the cave fighting favoured their heavily armed and armoured adversaries more. Crow-bear was driven back, deeper and deeper into the swirling melee, fighting just to stay alive. Just when it appeared the longtime adversary would spell the end, help arrived from Veithan and Khelyra diving into the fray. Da Finkers came charging in after their WAAAGH-Mother, breaking the storied lines of the Hateforge and sending them fleeing deeper into the mountainside. The desperate last stand had turned into a rout, pursuing their Chaotic foes through the ruins of fortresses built into the mountain in a time before the Sundering. There, at the mountain’s heart, they found a shattered temple, its walls crackling still with glowing runes of power carved upon them.
The narrow road that ran through the southern Dragonspine Mountains was choked with dust, fine grit raining down from the earth-shattering rituals enacted at the heart of the Wilds. The ruins of castles and watchtowers lined its snaking path like broken teeth, the legacy of failed kingdoms and would-be conquerors through the ages. For long years they had been still and silent, yet now one castle rang with the sounds of battle once more. The necromancer Cyprecht and Genevieve ran through the halls, clutching the treasured package tightly. All around, their skeletal warband was under assault. Countless ghostly figured broke emerged from the walls and ceilings of the building, dragging spectral blades that froze and shattered bone. The necromancer knew they had cut their timing close. The Collapse had left this place crumbling, its foundations shattered, just waiting to be swallowed by the building dunes outside. The crash of broken stone behind them promised that window had closed. They raced through the doorway, Genevieve stumbling from her wound, just as the main rooftop gave way. Struggling to catch their breath, and waiting to see if any of their warband or their assailants would claw free of the tumble of broken stone, Cyprecht examined the treasure they had taken from the castle’s heart. There in his hands, shining in the twilight, was a crystalline infusion of the Rite of Life. They had it at last, at the final hour - the means to hatch the ancient draconith eggs. Dusk fell on the last explorers of the Bleeding Wilds.
Ghalbakk's Company was poised to make a killing. As the dust settled on the Wilds, the profiteers found themselves in a strong position. Indeed, those rivals who hadn't been knocked out of the running to claim the dragon were busy preparing complicated rituals. All the Company had to do was begin mining, and they'd have the mountains cleared of dragonmetal and be laughing their way to the bank before anyone else noticed.
But when was a proper reward without any risk? If the Company played this right, they could double their money and then some. All it would take was some ingenuity.
The Weirdrock in its final days.
All of the mining equipment that was being prepared to mine the dragon was instead turned inwards. Ghalbakk and his entourage were the first to leave the Weirdrock, while the rest of the Company began their new project. Liege-Immortis Basikon and High Ossiologist Xaxius Xzaahn of the Immortis Ossiologists drew up the plans, their requirements exacting. Their Ossiarch legion made use of specialized pots to store the souls they took from their foes, but for this endeavor something much larger would be required. Thus began the work of hollowing out the Weirdrock itself, transforming the sky-island that had been the Company's home for all the long weeks of the campaign into a soul-pot large enough to contain the soul-stuff of Maudra Rua. The Company wouldn't just have the dragon's body, they wanted its very soul. Or a portion of it, at least. Most would, of course, be returned to Nagash by the Immortis Ossiologists, as all souls rightfully belonged to the Lord of Death. What remained would still be enough to make Ghalbakk the richest Orruk in the Realms.
Chuglord Azoth led the mining operation, the furnaces of the Chuglords' machines making short work of the Weirdrock's innards, all the while stoking the raging flames of Aqshy that burned within. While the Troggoth navigator Mooneye dutifully steered what remained of the rock towards Red Maud, the rest of the Company's forces gradually evacuated, following along behind the Weird-Pot, as it had been dubbed. By the time they were nearing the Dragon, very few besides a small force from the Boar's Tusk Mawtribe remained to defend what remained of the Weirdrock. Besides Crudo's ogors, only navigator Mooneye, the two Ossiarch leaders and Azoth remained, the latter finishing the last of the mining with a single remaining chug-furnace. The High Ossiologist was already filling the bowl of the Weird-Pot with nascent aetheric energies, unknowingly adding to the stirring within Azoth's engine. The ogor grinned as he shoveled the last of the rock into the furnace, the machine bursting into roaring flames. A flaming skull burst from the engine, screaming as it pulled itself out with fiery limbs. Just as Azoth had planned, a Chugcarnate of Aqshy had been born.
Below, battle had been joined. The Nashwan Cabal had already been congregating at the foot of the mountain, preparing to assault the Overbough, the Sepulchre's metalith hanging over the mountain, and were more than ready for the Company forces streaming towards them in the Weird-Pot's shadow. The Cabalists were well rested however, while their foes had been slogging across the shattered landscape of the Scarlands for days. Seeing that the tide of battle was already turning against them, Azoth growled. Mounting the engine that housed the bellowing Incarnate, Azoth steered it into the small hole at the base of the Pot, a laughing, bellowing inferno crashing into the very heart of the Cabal battleline. Already reeling from the impact, the Cabal forces were not prepared for a second living bomb to fall upon them. Mooneye, who had steered the Weirdrock all the way to its final destination, launched himself from the edge. The force of his impact was enough to blast a crater into the earth below, his pulped body already reknitting itself as he languidly swung at the few survivors in his immediate vicinity. Even as heartier fighters converged on him, Mooneye fought, bringing down foes by the dozen as his body was pincushioned with spears and arrows. A cloaked figure stepped forth, gesturing for the warriors attacking Mooneye to back off. Beakbender the Eggbreaker would finish this himself, as recompense for all the times Mooneye had confounded the Cabal's efforts. When the dust settled, the bloodied fateweaver limped away, leaving a mound of troggflesh in his wake. The navigator had flown his last.
The Tor Hartast Expeditionary Company face down Skaven from the Clans Pedlur below the Weirdrock.
Above, the Ossiarchs were beginning their ritual to syphon the Dragon's soul, the coruscating energies within the bowl howling as it swirled with power. They faltered, however, when airships flying the colours of the Skyguard of Barak-Drak appeared on the horizon, cutting through the air directly towards the Weirdrock. This was not a foe that the Company had expected to see, and they were thrown off for long enough that the fleet flew over unimpeded. From the bellies of the ships of the Able Albern Baking Company, hired as part of a most audacious plan cooked up by High Saucerer Gigglegrin of the Cabal, came what appeared to be a simple supply drop, with crates marked as containing cheeses and pies scattering across the bowl's lip. The few that fell into the swirling energies within broke up in the soulstorm and turned to dust, but the drop had been a success nonetheless. The Company had chosen the defenders of the Weirdrock poorly, it turned out, for the ogors immediately broke, salivating as they ran towards the Skyguard's apparent gifts. The howls from the more disciplined Prince Crudo and the booming laughter of Gigglegrin in the lead airship above did little to halt them, their eternal hunger overwhelming their sense. It was, of course, a trick. Thousands of Skaven burst from the crates, waving the banners of the Clans Pedlur and the newly established Clan Nashwan as they swarmed over the surprised ogors. The few survivors of the initial attack began to fight back tenaciously, but it was already too late. The airships were making a second pass, dropping vast quantities of amberbone directly into the maelstrom of the soul-pot. Crudo and the Ossiologists had mere moments to make their escape from the Weirdrock before the transformation began.
The stone began to crack apart and change, a pair of enormous jaws forming in the sheer face of the stone and filling the air with a roar so terrible it shook the very earth. The swirling energies that the Immortis Ossiologists had stoked burst the confines of the Weirdrock, howling about the thing and drawing the ancient bones of megafauna into the vortex. The newly risen mega-Incarnate gnashed and howled, its attentions fixing on the Overbough that hung serenely above Red Maud. Sensing prey, the Incarnate charged through the air, crashing into the metalith and sending it reeling. Kraknaw Killjaw of the Clans Pedlur, Kreek Scrimgnaw of Clan Nashwan and what remained of their forces leapt from the Incarnate like rats from a sinking ship as the Incarnate lost interest and disengaged from its inert prey. Only a fraction of their number made it, but it was enough. Hundreds of Skaven swarmed up through the tunnels of the Overbough, resisted by a sparse defense consisting only of Baron Krogg and the forces under his command, the rest of the Sepulchre's forces already preparing for the ritual on the mountains below. Baron Krogg, a renowned tactician, had a choice: lead the defense of the Overbough to victory, or abandon his charge and his own force to further his own goals. The Fimirach Noble chose the latter, absconding with a single petrified draconith egg while his forces reeled under the Skaven assault. Neither Skaven commander would make it out alive, but they had succeeded: the Weirdrock was no longer a threat and the Overbough had taken a mighty blow in the process.
The first banner of the newly formed Clan Nashwan, lost in the battle of the Overbough.
It was clear to the remaining forces of the Company that still fought on the ground below that their plans were shot: they had lost their chance to steal Maudra Rua's soul, and much of their mining equipment was destroyed, their forces depleted and on the back foot. They had taken a risk and it had blown up in their faces. Far from doubling their profits, it looked as if Ghalbakk's Company might be leaving this venture empty handed.
An unspoken agreement passed between the growing sneers on the Shareholders’ faces. If that was the case, the only thing left to do was to make sure everyone else was brought to utter, devastating ruin.
Deep below the ancient, unknowable Enigma at the Epicentre, Maudra Rua’s heart had begun to beat once more. Borne atop the back of their ancient zombie dragon, Drakenot had relocated their altar to the twisted tower, and the amethyst magic that now spilled from the blessed artefact of a hundred generations of sylvaneth now cut through the earth of the Bleed like a great growth. Great pillars of bone wrapped with verdant trees were placed throughout the ruin, pulsing in shades of violet, veridian and moonstone to the beat of the stirring beast. At its most subterranean level, the Enigma could no longer be called a tower anymore; its base stretched for dozens of miles, allowing Drakenot to garrison the armies of their most dedicated servants around their proposed ritual site.
Vines bloomed and runes pulsed with light as the branchwych began to chant. Death-magic had to be channelled into Maudra Rua’s sealed form in order to slay her within the mountains before the raising could begin. Even asleep, however, slaying such an ancient beast would not be easy. As the necromancer poured their energy deeply into the ritual circle, their branches began to darken and wither with a preternaturally accelerated age. It was the loyal Warsong Revenant Thrandrangur and the mage-children of the Winter Wold that curled creeping foliage of their own around Drakenot’s outstretched hands, bracing them with a steady pulse of life-magic to prevent death’s grasp from decaying their leader’s life force.
As the branchwych floated above the altar, their spirit engaged in its own distant battle, a great explosion rocked the foundations of the tower. One of the Company’s slighted Shareholders, the skaven warlock Kankerfire, had commanded his verminous warriors to open gnawholes throughout the Enigma to charge the ritual sites. To the Underbough’s panic, great, glowing holes began gaping in the walls, the pattering of skaven feet and screeches of defiance bursting from below.
Skaven met skaven as a combined force of Kankerfire’s clawpack and clan rats of Clan Refrakd charged forth, facing down Underbough Sylvaneth and the warriors of Skweekit Venomblade. The energies of the ritual flickered as Drakenot’s spirit began to be drawn back by the sound of battle, though Mattias, Bone Shepherd of the All-Points legion, was quick to raise a barrier to separate them from the sudden mayhem. Even as many of the Underbough stood firm, the Ossiarch did not budge – even if every one was slain, they were determined to see the ritual through to the end, no matter the cost.
That cost may well have been high, but unexpectedly, a large portion of the Company’s skaven began to slip away. Unbeknownst to the relieved but confused Underbough, Grikk Mookshield and Clan Refrakd had abandoned the fight, having found a particularly large chunk of Chamonite realmstone. Knowing that the Company was destined to fail, he had made the decision to cut and run – forcing the attack on the Underbough to flounder and retreat.
As Drakenot’s power swelled to a crescendo through the Enigma, causing the tremors to build slowly into earthquakes, they felt the cloying grasp of chaos seeping into the weave of aetheric winds. Miles above, at the tower’s pinnacle, Vizier Nashwar and her servants were at work – and Drakenot’s magic stood between them and their prize. Even as Drakenot fought to pour decrepit magics into Maudra Rua’s body, Nashwar was attempting to repel it.
Colours beyond mortal comprehension pulsed within the ritual chamber, forcing many present to shield their eyes, lest their vision burned away entirely and drove them to gibbering madness. There was a soft peal of laughter in the chamber as Vizier Nashwar prowled towards Drakenot, who now sat suspended in the air above the altar, tethered to the world only by Thrandrangur’s vines. With a great shattering, Mattias’ barrier dissipated in an instant, the room buckling under the pressure that Nashwar’s form exerted.
+ Foolish plant. Decaying the body I have worked so hard to obtain is not to be borne. +
Strike teams of Sylvaneth and Nighthaunt surged into the circle, taking the utmost care to avoid damaging it, as they lashed out at the Sphiranx – but their attacks phased right through her. The creature’s teeth, spectral and glowing, latched onto Drakenot’s side and tore a great gout of bark-flesh from the branchwych. Drakenot’s mortal shell still let out a blood-curdling scream, instantly snapped out from the layers of their trance. The sound of bone scraping against wood and snapping limbs tore at the ears of all who heard.
It was the Ghast Prince Drazgûl Kel that realised something was amiss. The glowing form of the Vizier flickered and guttered as it attacked. The Sphiranx was attacking using a magical projection, channeling spells from far away to damage Drakenot’s prone form. Calling upon the cursed energy of the Ashen Pole, he was finally able to inflict damage and beat back the apparition. It broke it apart with a final shriek of indignance, shattering into glowing motes. However, the damage had been done. The light of the ritual circle rose to a fever pitch, before all of the energy amassed within it gushed out at once in a great wave of dissipation. Drakenot lay across the altar, glowing wounds from Nashwar’s assault scouring their body.
With grim determination, the branchwych Kurnaya laid her hands on her shredded leader’s body. This would take more than simple healing to reverse. Bright magic licked up her arms and across her own form as her very body caught alight with the sheer force of the spell she now cast. New wood grew over Drakenot’s wounds, and with it, new sap and moss, their verdant heart beginning to beat once more. For each piece that regrew, Kurnaya’s own body began to burn away, but she grit her teeth through the incredible pain and she brought her leader back to life.
As Drakenot’s eyes blazed red once again, Kurnaya’s charred form dropped lifelessly to the floor.
Silence fell as the armies gathered around their fallen leader. The ritual had been forcefully brought to a halt. By now, the Cabal would be leading the mental assault on the great creature, and all would truly be lost.
It was broken by the clearing of a throat, and a hesitant voice coming from the tower stairs, where a single fimir now stood.
‘Erm, yer never goin’ ta believe this.’
While the Underbough’s forces fought valiantly in the tower, the Sepulchre itself was alight with activity. A blazing wave of light had ripped across the bleed, and in an instant, a large group of eggs – those that the Hatchling Council had so carefully infused with energy, had all cracked at once. One had been taken by Baron Krogg in fear that the Sepulchre would be breached, and in his hands now was a small dragon, bone of scale and amethyst of eye. It chirruped and peeped from the green-skinned hands of one of its many, many parents.
As those remaining at the Sepulchre watched in awe, dozens of dragons nosed their way from their thick cream shells. A third of the eggs still remained, swollen with magic but not having benefited from the energy release of a ritual completed, but the undead and the children of Alarielle alight gave cries of joy to see so many of their prophesied young carefully unfurl and stretch their wings out.
Some were gleaming white and emitted glowing soft light. Others were akin to miniature visions of Maudra Rua herself, all darting quicksilver and gold. Others were shrouded with shadow cloaks that would surely protect them under cover of darkness. Many more were caught at points in between these, having soaked up the infused energy in varying different doses.
As the Underbough marched forth from the tower to join the fight against Maudra Rua, they did so with their heads held high. They may have lost the battle, but for many of them in their hearts, they had won the long-prophesied war.
As those faithful to the Underbough fought the shareholders of the Company in the depths of the Enigma, a team of arcanists stood at the tower’s pinnacle. Within a secluded cell at the tower’s zenith, one room was full of chanting, whispering, incanting. Thick arcane smog filled the air. A magic circle had been inscribed upon the pristine floor in the careful pouring of molten dragonmetal. Candles of wizard-tallow burned around the circumference. Before the circle stood a collection of green crystals, overflowing with the energies of Ghyran.
The thick, iron door was locked and bolted, guarded by Nyssa the Necromancer’s undead horde, Azock Doomscourge and his most hardened veterans, alongside Straszyc’s nighthaunt and Shiv and his beastmen. Meanwhile, only Straszyc the Nighthaunt had been permitted within the room. Nashwar had asked for no volunteers, but he had come nonetheless, sensing his role to play.
Nashwar, the Great Sphiranx, Vizier of her Cabal, bowed her head. With the utmost reverence, Straszyc placed the shed skin of Maudra Rua over her head, running it down over her back. All but her head was covered by the scales, and it weighed heavily on her. Her eyes closed. As Straszyc’s chanting grew in volume, Nashwar stepped into the circle. The candles blazed high and shifted to a brilliant orange.
Straszyx raised his dragonmetal mallet and struck the first crystal. A surge of verdant energy filled the room.
‘It’s funny,’ mused Troggboss Mudglutt, ‘When I joined da Cabal, dey told me that sometimes wiv magic, there’s jobs wot a stringy armed bookworm can’t do. They wasn’t lyin’.’
The other chuckled, they all knew they had not been given this role for their brains. Snatchaboss Crolic, Loonboss 'Pluvvah' Squidgit and Dr Chungus had all been gathered for a simple task. Simple, but not easy. They had signed up for the task of wrestling Maudra Rua. Holding her down physically while Nashwar attacked her mentally. They had all accepted with glee. Now, with a rough idea of where the great Dragon’s head was likely to emerge, they stood with ballista-harpoons and all their men arrayed in lines, ready to play tug of war with a creature the size of a mountain range.
Outside the room, at the top of the tower, a battle raged. Nashwar’s defenders were being assaulted by wave after wave of Underbough warriors, dead set on assassinating the Vizier before her spell could reach fruition. The staircase leading up to Nashwar’s ritual site was broad but not wide enough for a battle of so many heroes. The crush was immense. Battle cries roared as the two sides clashed. The Mappenboroughs slew beastmen before withdrawing, making quick anatomical sketches of specimens with interesting mutations before recommencing the assault. Pyrrha Bloodrain roared as she struck down Azock’s skaven, but her warriors were overconfident and waded too deep into the throng. Many were overwhelmed and hacked to pieces before she was driven back.
The assault had been pressed back down two whole floors before Tarsus the wight king strode into the fray. Within his chest sat a cold determination to lay Nashwar low and end this ritual once and for all.
As the Inquisition of Umberspire unleashed an incarnate of Ghur, it acted like a wedge, separating the Cabal forces. Tarsus followed in its dreadful wake, pushing through with a band of his greatest grave guard. The wight king did the unthinkable and reached the door of the ritual site. He raised his runeblade and smote the lock, blowing the door back and revealing the ritual within.
Four crystals had been spent. Their inner light gone. Their power drained into the circle in an attempt to awake the Dragon. Straszyc was on his last crystal and he felt the unfamiliar sensation of exhaustion. This much exposure to life energy was fraying away at his deathly existence. His arms were leaden and almost entirely transparent, ectoplasmic sweat, or was it blood, ran in runnels down his facemask. His voice was hoarse but he continued chanting and raised the hammer yet again. This was the last crystal. He was determined to survive its draining. He would not fail Lady Nashwar. The crystal was almost spent. The mallet slipped through his clasped fingers and clattered to the floor.
The door blew open and death stood on the threshold.
Tarsus took the ritual in quickly. He could feel the press closing in around him. The Cabalists were surging forwards to protect their leader. The wight king knew little of magic, but he could tell what the crux of this ritual was. He flung his ensorcelled blade at the crystal. It sank deep into the life-infused stone, turning the last flickers of green magic to a deep purple. The colour of Shyish. That colour spilled out of the crystal and lazily slunk towards the summoning circle.
Nashwar gasped, twitched. She let out a whimper. Quietly, and without resistance, her life force fled her.
Suddenly a blade sprouted from Tarsus’ chest. It was the blade of Nyssa, a relic named the Sword of the Conqueror. Tarsus’ emotionless face looked down at the blade. He turned to face Nyssa, and reached up to pull it free, but at his touch the sword burst into blinding light, and the wight king exploded in a blast of osseous shrapnel. Nyssa flung herself to the side as fragments of his body and armour mowed down the Underbough warriors that had followed the wight king.
A ghastly quiet filled the stairway as the two forces took in the colossal destruction that had been wrought. Quietly, realising they had won, the Underbough retreated, dragging their wounded to safety. The Cabalists watched them go in stunned silence. Many patted Nyssa’s back and nodded their quiet respect. The word ‘Hero’ was muttered a few times before a mournful silence reigned. They filed in to pay their respects to their dead leader.
In that silence, Shiv’s ears pricked. He could feel the hand of destiny upon him. He looked about. It seemed like none of the warriors surrounding him noticed, they were so stunned by Nashwar’s demise.
Inside the room, he saw the Vizier, prone within a ritual circle that hummed with arcane charge, and above her stood Straszyc, a faint wisp of a ghost. His chanting continued but it was a tiny whisper. The crystal besides him glowed with the faintest remnants of deathly energy. Shiv locked eyes with the ghost. A moment of understanding passed through them. He knew that the amount of life energy had been calculated. Enough to revive the dragon. Not enough for her to be at full strength. He knew that the introduction of deathly magic needed rectifying. That the balance needed to be redressed. He lifted the dragonmetal mallet from the ground and handed it to Straszyc. The ghost had been somewhat restored by the death magic, and he gripped the hammer. With a grim nod, his chanting grew in volume. The pressure of magic rose to an incredible intensity. It was intolerably close but not yet close enough.
‘For you, Nashwar.’ Shiv muttered before he was struck in the chest by the ritual mallet.
The ungor’s life force fled from him. Shooting like a bolt into the summoning circle. Immediately, the dreadful pressure of the stored magic was released. Nashwar’s prone form let out a rattling gasp, sucking air into her lungs with unrestrained desperation. Her eyes started to flicker beneath closed lids.
The first part of the spell was cast.
Nashwar’s eyes snapped open. They shone a brilliant, gleaming silver. Its light filled the room and blinded the occupants. An impossibly ancient voice reverberated throughout the entire tower.
+ I RISE +
The strongest warriors of the Nashwan Cabal heaved, their huge harpoons had fired ropes and chains into the silver hide of Maudra Rua as it resurfaced, decimating the mountain range. There was no time to consider their good fortune for not having been crushed by falling boulders, as they were embroiled in the most difficult physical contest of their lives. They had shot Maudra Rua right on her nose, and like a bull’s horn, they now had some amount of leverage on the collosal monstrosity.
They strained with all their might as the barely-awake godbeast struggled against them. Each warrior was coated in sweat as they pulled. They could see the dragon was in mental turmoil as well, as its chrome eyes danced with flecks of orange. They needed to restrain it. Nashwar’s psychic powers were potent but not far reaching. The Dragon could not be allowed to flee.
Inside the Maudra Rua’s mind, a terrible battle raged. A huge, predatory feline grappled with the beautiful silver dragon as they tumbled through memories and dreams. At the site of her most glorious assault on the god-king, the dragon was pounced upon by the Sphiranx. When she laid her first brood, the cat was there, gouging at her neck. As she hatched from her egg, the cat was there, staring at her with those three, unfathomable eyes.
And it was in those eyes that Maudra Rua, the greatest dragon ever to walk the Mortal Realms, lost herself.
The warriors holding the chains gawped. The dragon’s face had shifted. Where it once was reptilian and wracked with rage, it was now preternaturally calm and strangely feline. Its eyes blazed an incredible shade of orange and as Nashwa Rua gazed out over the Bleeding Wilds, her third eye opened on her brow. A psychic thunderclap tore through the landscape, leaving all sentient beings clutching their heads and reeling. In the deafening silence that followed, a cultured, silken voice purred into the minds of the denizens of the Bleeding Wilds.
The Bleed had ended, yet Badlands of Lahar were forever changed. Traces of Chamon could be felt in the wind and the water, in creatures with gleaming hides and trees that shed metallic pink blossoms. The great mountain range that had once divided the region lay shattered, torn apart as the Dragon Nashwar shook herself free from its prison and took to the skies once more. In the days to come, a new name would be given to the region - the Scarlands. Across this land, the many explorers and warriors that had fought so hard in the months previously cast their eyes on building for a new dawn.
From out of the Balemoon Weald, the splinters of the Cult spread across the Wilds. Around the ziggurat, a skink village quickly blossomed, built up by the Followers of Sotek. Though their priest Tk’ya’pyk would leave them, the survivors and injured of the battle at the Observatory would build a settlement that, in time, would become one of the largest independent skink cities in the realms. The beastmen of Foehew’s Herd, absent their Shepherds, took to the jungles and forests, becoming feared reavers that would menace the region for generations. Amadeus Wretch’s plague-throng were set loose, renouncing any last allegiance to the Burrowing Fang, to spread their virulent blessings as they may. In the sweltering heart of the jungle, fetid sinkholes grew into fertile gardens in Grandfather Nurgle’s image. Crow-bear and her ilk sought out fearsome monstrosities from across the Wilds, the fiercest predators and horrors, to make the lands truly wild once more. Granny Hookbeak and her following of newly-spawned skinks cleared a path to the Amber Sea, following upon their new-found Reaver allies and taking to the sea. Though the Cult had fractured, its echoes could be felt across the width of what came to be known as the Scarlands.
High in the wild uplands, the ancient ruins of the Refuge were alive again with new purpose. The Immortis Ossiologists had worked quickly, raising up the walls of a scholarly outpost from a foundation built upon the bones of rival explorers. The Basandian Observatory, as it came to be called, would serve as a center of learning and launching point for future expeditions in the region.
Few within the Skyguard of Barak-Drak wished to stake their claim to the Scarlands. The overwhelming feeling was cautious wanderlust; it was time to seek new prospects in the vast lands of Ghur. Many warlords stayed on to aid the reconstruction, the city becoming a jumble of mismatched architecture as it took once more to the skies. A few did remain in the Scarlands, however. In the Sky-Watch Plains, Dar Starborn began work on a new training post for the Collegiate Arcane. The children of the Great Lodge Uldorduff fought to their last to defend their holdings at the Kaleidoscope Beach, their blood staining the sands deep red. Even those that Barak-Drak left behind were a part of it now, their memory soaked into the city's very soul, lifting it to new horizons, together.
The Sanctuary Arcane had been torn from the heart of Chamon and now rested within the ever-hungering landscape of Ghur. The Nashwan Cabal had long kept an eye on this place, and now that the realm had settled, they laid their claim on the magical tower without hesitation.
Scrimgnaw’s warriors led a long line of Cabalists through the mountain passes. All were laden with Lionthorne tent sheets, posts and the essential magical artefacts that made the place so invaluable to the arcanists that called it home. Nyssa the Necromancer worked on creating a perpetual workforce by way of crafting a Zombie Pit, from which the corpses of Cabalist aspirats could yet render something useful. Meanwhile Aethador set about constructing a shrine to Our Burning Saviour, where the truly faithful could gaze into the flames to prime their eyes for the knowledge held within the Tower-Library. It was safe to say that Chungus was not happy about a fire being so close to all of his book-friends, and had secretly moved the foundation of the shrine a few meters further away in the night. Now though, he stood in the library. Its silence wrapped him as he placed the last remaining book upon the shelves. His meaty hand pushed the tome home and hesitated a moment on its spine before returning to his side. A single tear struck the stone floor of the Library. “No worry. Chungus be back for friend.”
In preparation for the final battle, the Stormdance Reavers sought a safe space to repair their ship. Trench Hunter Cove was decided to be the best place to build this new port, and would serve as a future base of operations, should any of the reavers survive the cataclysm to come.
Celtavyr Stolas led the foray into Trench Hunter Cove, casting down malignant spirits that overran the area with the forces of the aelf Pyrashi Venomsoul and the orruk Murktred. It was an arduous fight, but these warriors were now veterans and a handful of nighthaunt posed little challenge to them. After the last gheist was banished, Solas divvied up the work. While he created defensive towers whose hellfire rocket batteries covered the port from land and overlooked the sea, Pyrashi and Murktred were left to build the foundations of the new port-town. The result was an anachronistic combination of famed aelven elegance and infamous orrukish derelictitude. However, despite its confusing appearance, the port had strong, defensible walls, and the jagged edges of the orruk fortifications served as much of a deterrent against invaders as the khainite wall-blades.
Meanwhile, the nighthaunt of Old Man Death glided into the Stormdancer’s structure, keeping it from sinking and gently leading the battered and beaten Black Ark to the safety of Trench Hunter Cove. The leviathan was still dead though, and no amount of Nighthaunt magick could bring back a creature of such size.
So it came as quite the surprise when Captain Mogrum returned with a fresh Leviathan towed behind his two-ship fleet. He had said he was off to get ‘some essentials’, but nobody had realised quite how essential his bounty was going to be.
Killax guided the ships into place and his swarm had the unenviable job of attempting to leash the new sea-beast to the underside of the Stormdancer while it was gorging on the previous prisoner. The cove ran red with Skaven blood but eventually the Stormdancer had a new steed. She was still in bad shape, but soon she would ride the waves again.
Though the damage done in the Cabal's assault on the Overbough would take time to repair, Drakenot and their fellows would not be left undefended in the meantime. Through rigorous experimentation and not insignificant funding from the Free City of Umberspire, Vreeche Maggottail and his fellow scientists had perfected the art of cloning soulless zombie dragon constructs. The denizens of the Sepulchre could look to their future, safe in the knowledge that they were guarded by dozens of visceral automata.
“The Six were dragon killers once. They defeated the Maudra Rua and sealed her away, though they could not destroy her. She is an elemental force, like a thunderstorm. A storm may spend its fury, but it will always return. Destroy the Maudra Rua, and in time she will be returned. The nature of the realms demands her existence. As it demands an opposite, a force to stand against the storm.
Now, she is ready to enter a new existence, and so a new Six must rise in turn to oppose her power. Yet it is within our power to shape that legacy. Should the Maudra Rua be enslaved, or possessed, or scattered in body, the Six will stand against it. If we take up the mantle, it will be as her liberators, not her hunters or gaolers.” - Voice-of-Embers
As the battle for Maudra Rua was decided on the peaks above, a second was waged in the hidden valley of the Epicenter below. A legacy as old as the mountains themselves, its destiny tied to the great dragon at their heart, stood ready to be reborn.
There were many paths that led to the Proving Ground, some more physical than others. In a small village reclaimed from time, emissaries of the three disparate coalitions met to discuss the impending battle. None knew the challenges that would await them at the Epicenter, though many theories had been explored. They knew it would test them, utterly and completely. The legacy of the Six demanded will, might and mind in equal measure, to challenge the dragon in whatever form it appeared. Evangeline Riftborn had brought the representatives to her village to discuss how they might work together to overcome those challenges, yet tensions remained high. Ill will lingered, grievances and betrayals unforgotten. Many there had lost friends and comrades in battle with their erstwhile allies over the past few months. Moreover, they knew that the legacy of the Six would be molded in the battle to come. No matter how much they preached cooperation now, the truth of their intentions would be laid bare at the Proving Ground.
The march to the mountains echoed to the preaching of Lord Carnagos, extolling the so-called Alliance of the Six and rallying together those that would listen. Members of each of the three coalitions were joined by local warbands and partisans alike, held in sway for the moment by the firebrand preaching more than any true shared ideal. Diplomats from each side looked on worriedly. They knew such fervor could turn to violence with little provocation, and as the march grew larger it also grew beyond their ability to easily control. They knew as well that many more of their allies would join them at the Epicenter, their attitudes to this truce unconvinced or outright hostile.
The would-be champions and their supporters gathered at the site of the Epicenter, staring across at the opposing camps with interest or outright hostility. Captain Clink Keyholr had harnessed gnawholes to create a staging ground for the Reaver forces around the battlefield. For others, however, the trek had been far more costly. Devorah had plummeted from the cliffs, suddenly bereft of the nighthaunt that had possessed her for so long. Once more mortal, she would have been killed had it not been for the gargant brothers of Hakai pulling down duardin defenses below. Word had reached their camp that Lomíl the Dread had not been so lucky, carried by an unlikely messenger. The Stormcast Améline, known to many in the Reavers, had witnessed the corsair lord’s final moments in battle with the Under Boat and Clawlord Quercus. She spoke of his valour before departing the camp.
An uneasy truce held across the valley, each side unsure what would signal the onset of the Proving. In the shattered remnants of Barak-Drak’s libraries, Havard Erkansson sought out any secrets that might shed light upon the battle to come. Theodra Brecht VonAlbern made a number of discreet deliveries, quietly ensuring just desserts reached those that needed them. Queen Talnya held a ritual calling on the gods of Ventoleo to watch and bless those seeking the Six, while Vrogrog reached out to the ancestral memory of Throgg, last King of the Trolls.
The moment they were waiting for arrived with a ground-shattering shake. The mountains around them groaned and trembled, stones splintering and falling into the valley like hail. The earth itself groaned as the dragon stirred, and as it did a figure appeared in each camp. Standing over fifteen feet and swathed in robes rich in design from a bygone era, the illusory form of Gond the Architect appeared simultaneously before the assembled armies.
“The dragon awakens, and so the first test of the Proving lies before you. The path of a Champion is a thankless one, and those you save shall ever be outweighed by those you could not.” He swept a hand at the valley below. Icy mist was filling its hollow, and from the mists came tortured faces and spectral forms. “The hungry ghosts of those that died seeking Maudra Rua are forever bound here, to guard the catacombs beneath the Proving Grounds. Those who dare will find the next challenge there.”
With that, the apparition vanished.
Another quake shook the mountainside, and as though roused from their reveries, the three coalitions let loose a deafening cry of their own and charged down into the Proving Grounds. Prince Dendaelien Vipertongue and his Sons of Khaine spearheaded the charge of the Cult forces, driving deep into the ranks of the undead, tasting the victory they had been searching for for so long. Across the field, Ventriss von Drakken was rallying a spiritual force of his own, a shining host of ancestral Bretonnian knights called forth in spirit to lead a charge once more, the Stormdancers following in their wake. Captain Castian stood among them, shifting like water, his blade dissolving any spirit it touched. Prince Ca’nem and his soldiers gave a final salute in the direction of the departing Barak-Drak, then charged forward, Boomer at their sides.
The battle in the valley was desperate and brutal. The hungry spirits of the mountain were relentless, giving no ground and pulling the attackers down with them. None remembers who struck the first blow, but even in the face of this common enemy the animosity of the would-be claimants to the legacy of the Six prevailed, and in short order each was fighting each once more. Brawen the Bloody Queen strode across the battlefield, striking down aspirants that challenged the Reaver’s claim. Fresh blood once again adorned the mountainside.
On one side of the battlefield, Duke Cailorn and King Landuin circled each other warily. It was a noble challenge at last for the Duke, a chance to show his worth and uphold the chivalric honour of his own king and country. He leapt forward to engage in a knightly duel fleshtearing frenzy. Landuin fell back at the onslaught of claws and slavering jaws from the ghoulish monstrosity before him, his guard strained. When his own counter-attack came, it was pure and perfect, a single thrust that split the heart of the creature, yet he in turn felt its talons pierce through the maille at his neck. The two paragons of chivalry, at least in their own minds, collapsed together in death.
Celemrica the Thrice Betrayed and her nighthaunt were being scattered by the furious charge of a band of boneplitter orruks, their relentless assault pushing aside even the endurance of the dead. Their damned chanting made it hard for the nighthaunts to keep their form, hard to concentrate on anything. She felt a lash of green magic and enchanted bone bite through her spectral form, felt herself discorporating at its touch. She willed the last of her gheists to form up around the Cult forces that pressed onwards, the determination of the dead bent to ensuring that her allies receive the blessings of the Six, unbroken even in her final moments.
Gofboth Goldbags also felt the chill of the grave creeping through him. He had been pierced by a dozen icy wraith-swords, and knew his massive body would soon fail him. He watched with pride as the Goldpaunch Mawtribe fought on around him. He could die knowing they would endure, their legacy written in gold.
High in the sky above, flashing like a red comet, the Kingfisher made its final charge against a mass of flying monstrosities. The ship was breaking apart, and with it the bindings which tied its daemonic crew to the world. With a battle cry worthy of the Blood God, Marley carved a red streak through the sky before plummeting to the Amber Sea far below.
Incensed by the loss of so many friends, Lord-Celestant Oberon Brightblade was a whirlwind of violence, tearing through the ranks of the undead and the Cult alike. Skatrik Boulderbelly fought with axe and flame, calling out for death or glory upon the battlefield. Prince Maelyn Ulthorn charged by their sides, striking down from atop his noble steed. Together, the three drove deep into the Cult’s advance, threatening to put an end to their ambitions there. Watching them break their lines, Ty’ya’pyk knew what he needed to do. For his kindred back at the Weald, for his deceit, and to buy the others the time they need, he knew what he needed to do. Gathering together the volatile alchemical reagents, he offered one last hope for the future of his kind, then threw himself in the path of the Reavers’ charge. The explosion that followed rocked the valley, sending a fresh wave of dust and debris raining across the battlefield, and when the smoke cleared the skink and the attackers were gone.
Bolts of lightning cracked repeatedly across the battlefield as Améline died and was reforged in rapid succession, each time with a glimpse to the future that let her save a friend’s life. None knew what bargain she had made for this rapid reforming, or the price it would wrack on her soul.
Brachanthyl fought on against an orruk warboss, though he felt the life draining from the deep wounds that already rent his body. As the orruk prepared to deliver the killing blow, it was suddenly skewered from behind. Despite his orders, Arveach had followed him across the spirit path, carrying the knowledge he had thought lost.
Khelyra fought a losing battle against a towering monstrosities of shadowy energy. She was wounded and bleeding badly, her previous injuries reopened during the fight. The beast above her lunged forward, its jaws ready to end her story there, when a scaled arm shot forward to knock her aside. Voice-of-Embers grunted as the jaws slammed shut, then with a wet tear severed it from the elbow down. The beast prepared to lunge at the wounded saurus, but Khelyra seized the opening, slashing up at the exposed throat of the monstrosity with her glaive. Dead once more, it vanished into mist, and the two warriors stood clutching their injuries.
Though death had come for many, the aspirants that remained had at last begun to reach the entrances to the catacombs that lay at the heart of the proving ground. Each that entered heard once again the words of Gond the Architect ringing in their minds. “You have survived, and passed the first trial, through your might and the sacrifices of your friends and allies. The challenges you now face shall test your will as much as your skill at arms. Be prepared.” From the entryway, the catacombs spread in dozens of directions, and following their instincts the would-be champions ventured deeper into the earth.
Torchbearer Igniteous raced down the hallway, feeling the heat of the holy flame drawing him ever deeper, towards a chamber he had seen in the fire. The spectral knight that awaited him there had a haunting familiarity, like recalling a voice thought lost to memory, yet as it floated above him Igniteous spread his arms wide. The holy fire had called him here for this, and as the spectre gathered flames he made no move to avoid them. The gout of purifying fire poured down across him, and Igniteous laughed as he was consumed by it entirely. He was, at last, where the Brazier had been leading all this time. As the fire died and the spectral knight vanished once more, Deathmaster Snap-Stab stepped from the shadows and pulled the smoking Holy Brazier from the ashes. It would be a fine gift for his distant masters.
Baamu trod his own path in the deep earth. His steps were measured and assured, and as he stepped before a spectral champion he raised his axe confidently. The figure leapt at him, its shadow blade a dazzling arc of speed and strength. The blows came faster than he could react, with a strength that belied the spectre’s slight frame. Baamu found himself being driven farther and farther back. He knew he was losing. Blood washed down across the painted lines that adorned his form, and his dizzying mind leapt to Veithan. She had been a friend to him, a training partner, an ally, and even a shaman when asked. He thought he could hear her voice, saying … screaming … focus! His eyes snapped back to the present, barely in time to avoid a killing blow from the spectre. He would not accept him losing like this, and neither would he. With a renewed roar, he knocked the ghostblade aside and launched into an attack of his own. The figure dodged or turned aside blow after blow, but Baamu was relentless, channeling the will he had found in his allies, and with a triumphant roar he struck it down. Breathing heavily, he looked up to see Gond once more. “Greetings Baamu, first of the Six.”
Elsewhere, Sarros Falneak fought against visions of a different sort. He was suddenly in a small settlement once again. Fires danced from the roofs of houses. Screaming filled the air. All around him, he could smell the copper of blood and the ozone tang of Stormcast. He never knew why the Thunder God’s immortal enforcers had come to his village or chosen to slaughter his people, yet now he was forced to watch it all play out again and again. In a burning hut at one end, he knew he would find his child self, hiding. Thunder cracked, and he looked up at the sky. The rage filled him them, rage at what they had done, rage at the impotence of mortal kind against the godlike beings that had decided his village must die. He screamed at the sky, letting his anger drive away his fear, and filling him instead with purpose. The visions faded, and he stood in the catacombs once more, looking up at Gond. “Greeting Sarros, second of the Six.”
Arcane energy crackled through the chamber, splitting stone and scorching the earth. Itza’Qua had grown in skill and raw power in his time in the Bleeding Wilds, yet he was being pushed to the limit by the sorcerous spectre that confronted him. A band of cyan energy shot out at him, slipping past his wards and closing around his neck. He could feel it snap like a collar, its vise-like grip squeezing his throat. He spun and thrashed, but the grip would not break. In an instant, his mind flashed to the titanic and alien consciousness of Maudra Rua, itself shackled and strangled by the will of another. He roared with all the air left in his lungs, calling up every last reserve of magical energy he possessed, and with a thunderous boom an incarnate began to materialize from the earth and stone around him. In one lunge, it swallowed up the spectral sorcerer, and Itza’Qua felt himself free once more. Sucking down breath, he vowed to free Maudra Rua of her bonds. Looking up, Gond stood over him, smiling down. “Greetings Itza’Qua, third of the Six.”
Killax had made it into the catacombs, his bat and rat swarms carrying himself and Khrozia down into the earth, yet now he found himself alone. The ossiarch had been swept down another passageway, and his fleshcraft creations were behaving strangely in this place. Shadowy things stalked in the underground corridors, hounding his every step. Hunting beasts, of a sort that made the deepest, most instinctual parts of him recoil in fear. A growl sounded behind him, and he flung himself to the side, but too slowly to avoid the claws that lashed across his back and sides. Bleeding heavily, he looked back to see a shadowy feline creature of some sort prowling back to and forth, watching his every move. Toying with him, he realized. He growled, knowing he had no chance but to call upon his final resort. Calling up the flesh-crafted three-headed Abomination, he used the last ounces of his strength to fuse his rapidly bleeding out body to the monstrosity itself. A new consciousness filled his mind, the shock of the transition to the creature numbing his thoughts. He could feel himself slipping, what was left of his essence being shredded and absorbed by the monster. There was nothing left but to let go, and hope that somewhere within the creature his mind might dream on.
Khrozia felt the ground shake as the flesh-crafted abomination that was her friend breached the earth elsewhere in the catacombs, but she could not spare a thought for its meaning as she dodged the blows of the spectre before her. She had made her own way through the catacombs, but she had been confronted before she could reach this final chamber by Améline. She did not know why they had fought, only that she could not allow her to stop her just shy of his goal. She did not know why, after knocking aside her attacks with ease, she had intentionally dropped her guard and allowed her to send her back to the Anvil. Had she foreseen something that he needed to be prepared for? A heavy blow shattered the large bone collar of her armor, and she snapped back to the present. It did not matter why she did the things that she did. It did not matter what fate was supposed to be found here. She would make her own. With a determined cry, she gave herself fully over into the fight. Her axe whirled like a hurricane, ageless skill directing the ossiarch, until with a sure strike she cleaved through the spectral guardian before her. She stood perfectly still, peering about for any other challenges to appear, but instead what she saw was the Architect Gond materalize before her. “Greetings Khrozia, fourth of the Six.”
Murktred-Behind-the-Face had not voyaged into the mountains, towards the Proving Grounds, as so many other had. The orruk had instead listened to the voices raging inside, the voice of the Face and the other, bigger voice too, that told him to venture out into the wilds. For days he had walked, communing with Ghur itself, taking in everything he could of the realm. The Great Green spoke to him here. He walked for days before he found a spot where the voices spoke loudest, and settled himself upon a stone. The biggest of fights had not been with the others, he knew, but the constant struggle of all within the Realm of Beasts against itself. Tapping into its rhythm, he listened for the Great Green itself, speaking through the Face and then to him. Stay, it said. New legacy not your place, it said. He settled himself down. Very well then, if he could not help with his own hand, he would turn the mind of the realm itself to the task, even if all that was left of him by the end was the Face.
Lord Vigo the Vexed had entered the catacombs determined to prove to everyone, even to his god, that he was worthy of being a champion. His ascension had been slow, his path to glory vexing. He needed to prove his worth, yet so far the only challenges he had encountered in the tunnels had been spectral wisps, barely a threat to the lowliest grot, never mind a master swordsman of the God of Perfection. With each sweep of his sword, he grew more furious at the lack of a challenge that was being presented to him. How could he prove to everyone his worth with such measly foes? He slew a dozen more in the space of a few heartbeats, then stopped. A familiar spectre stood across the hall from him, mirroring his form, his stance, his movements in every way. With a final satisfied cry, he leapt at it, bringing his sword around in a tight cut. The spectre dodged and danced around him, its own blade lashing out like lightning. At last, a worthy challenge! On and on they fought, perfectly matched, neither able to land a hit. Time ticked away in this dance of death. A new worry crept into Vigo’s mind, a fear that if he could not defeat this mirror, and do so quickly, that another would steal the opportunity for glory away from him. He needed something desperate, something worthy, something … perfect. Yes, that was it. He would prove his worth even if it cost him everything else. Standing back, he raised his sword for a high swipe, then struck downwards. He put everything he had into the blow, a perfect killing strike, knowing that it left him completely open. The duplicate specter followed suit, raising its own killing blow turn. The sword whistled down past each other, and cut deep into armor, bone and hearts alike. The spector dissipated, and Vigo slumped to the floor. His life blood pooled beneath him, a crimson pool. His mind drifted as long, elegant purple fingers rose out of the crimson and clutched at him, dragging him down, and down, and down. He felt the energy of Slaanesh infuse him, lifting him back, then with a start he opened his eyes. His form had changed, becoming daemoning, and injuries gone. Gond stood over him, looking down. “Greetings Vigo the Ruinous, fifth of the Six.”
Marius the Gilded of the Skyguard flashed his sword downwards, attempting to parry the lightning spear thrust of his spectral adversary, but as he did the weapon’s tip darted inside his guard and scored another long wound on his monstrous form. He could hear his friend and ally Zarek Magnum outside the chamber, battling against the hordes of spectors that had chased them down through the catacombs. The renegade stormcast had stayed behind to hold off the hordes and allow Marius the chance to enter the proving chamber. It was a doomed mission, Marius knew. His friend was consigning himself to death just so Marius could have his chance at joining the Six. A true death at that, he suspected. He looked hard at his spectral opponent. Perhaps he could beat her quickly enough to save his friend. Three long wounds marked his side from the battle already, and she was unharmed. Perhaps he still could, but no. His pride was not worth that. Turning, he raced back up the passageway, throwing himself into the fray just as Zarek was about to be overwhelmed. Marius lashed out left and right, scything through foes. He did not notice the leadenness that stole through his body until his legs grew too numb to keep him standing. He stabbed and thrust until his arms grew too numb to hold the blade. His wounds had been worse than he had realized. It didn’t seem to matter so much anymore, as he drove the last of the wraiths away. Zarek had survived, and that was enough.
Sir Zigbin alone was left in the catacombs, staring at the sword in his hand. The Sword of St. Justinian, first of the previous Six to bear the mantle. He didn’t know why he had found it. He didn’t know why he had spoken to it so many times in the weeks that had followed. It had always seemed to bring him some comfort. In his dreams, he had spoken to St. Justinian, and had even sparred with him, yet here and now he sat and waited and no specters appeared to challenge him. There were no obstacles to overcome, no daemons left to face. Why? Why would he not be given the chance to prove himself now? He had done everything right, hadn’t he? Why couldn’t he achieve what St. Justinian had? Why couldn’t he be St. Justinian? Oh, he thought. Carefully, he unbuckled the sword, then set it aside. He walked back across the chamber, and looked up at the spectral form of St. Justinian. “I am not here to be you. I am here be something new.” The spectral form dissolved into the towering presence of Gond. “Greeting Zigbin, final member of the Six.”
The battle atop the Proving Grounds had ceased. The splintering mountain’s collapse as the dragon freed herself from her prison had brought a rain of rocks down upon the battlefield, and what forces remained there had scattered back to the safety of the wilds beyond.
Unto that field of ruin emerged the Six Champions. Fate had drawn them together and bound them to their task, and even though they had been enemies mere hours before they could already feel the binds of the legacy tying them together. It was a subtle thing at first, but they could feel their minds reaching out to each other, thoughts weaving together, impressions and suggestions forming that were not their own.
Gond too stood among them, looking out over the destruction.
“The dragon has emerged, and so Six Champions have once more been drawn together. You are soulbound now, tied together and to the destiny you have chosen to embrace.
As I have done before in aeons past, and will do again in those to come, I set the Six upon the path they have forged. You shall be liberators, your quest to free Maudra Rua from the shackles that bind her mind.
I wish you luck, heroes.”
Profiteer-General Ghalbakk and those that still remained with the Company returned to Fairwater to a hero’s welcome. By any measure of profitability, the expedition had been a success - the magical treasures they had acquired had made a good return on their patrons’ investments, and for a time the Right and Honourable Trading Company of the Free City of Fairwater were the toast of the town. Yet for Ghalbakk, the medals and speeches rang hollow. He knew the wealth that had been at his fingertips, the promise of freedom from care and obligation. Yet it had eluded him. For all the fanfare, all the accolades and luxury, he still had paymasters of his own to answer to, and whether it would be weeks or months, soon it would be time to lead another expedition.
Drakenot and the guardians of the Underbough Sepulchre retreated deep into the wild undergrowth of Ghur. Hidden and secret, they carried with them only their most precious charges. Within the heavy-shelled eggs they bore, the necromancer could sense the essence of life once again. The infusions of the Rite of Life, recovered from the Wilds at such effort and cost, had done what their own magic had not accomplished in centuries of study. It was the future they carried, a promise kept and legacy restored. They would dig deep, for now. Go to ground with the patience of the grave. They had lost the chance for their great guardian, yet oak and bone knew time was their ally. They would wait, and watch, and give their wards time to hatch and grow. When the time was right, they would step into the light once more.
The Cult of the Burrowing Fang had found itself splintered in the days after the War of the Dragon. Many of its truest believers had taken up the mantle of the Six, or died fighting for that vision. Others had sought to take its legacy for themselves, attempting to supplant their Cult’s following with their own to little success. Voice-of-Embers recuperated from his injuries for a time in the Bloodmoon Weald, helping the skink city there grow, before setting off on a new pilgrimage. Somewhere out there, if the carvings in the heart of the ziggurat could be believed, there were others of his kind who had rebelled against the slann’s rule. The war against the tyranny of the heavens would continue, but Voice-of-Embers would need time to recover, and the spawning pools would need even more to produce the first generation of free saurus.
Barak-Drak had limped into the sky, its hastily repaired endrins straining to carry it clear of the shattering of the mountains around it. With their connection to the power of the dragon severed, and stranded now in a realm not their own, the skyport turned its eyes to new horizons. Admiral Breyla was cautiously optimistic. Connections had been made with local trading lines and ranging captains, and a new future was theirs to carve. She knew better than most the challenges that would entail. The daunting challenge of finding enough aether-gold to support the city and its peoples was still before her, and she knew the distant Geldraad was still after her head for admitting non-Kharadron into the Guilds. Times would be tight, and any failure of her part could yet see the port decommissioned or auctioned off for parts. Yet surrounded by the many skyguard that had decided to make it their new home, the former City of the Dragon took to the skies in search of its new future.
Captain Castian Storm sat in the quiet of his personal chambers, staring out at the rolling seas beyond. It felt good to be back in open waters once again. The Stormdancer rose smoothly over the choppy waters, the new leviathan that had been lashed beneath it moving stronger and faster in the waters than its predecessor. He stared at the trophies about his cabin, and the empty wall that had been cleared for the dragon, and for a moment his mood turned dark. Sounds filtered into the cabin. Orruks argued outside, their typical joyous animosity echoing in the ship’s passageways. They didn’t lose a hunt, he reflected. Some of them died fighting, and that was a good death, and the others all survived to hunt another day, which was also a win in their books. He smiled, a grin that turned to laughter, and a piercing venomous look filled his eyes once more. Of course they’d hunt another day. There was always a bigger hunt. He looked across the room at the weapon on his desk, feeling the radiant energy of the Lamentation from there. Da Biggest Stabba, his boys had called it. A weapon fit to hunt a godbeast. Yes, perhaps it was time again. He leaned out the doorway of his cabin, and immediately a half dozen orruk boys stood to attention. “Pass the word to the helm, lads. We make for Drakatoa once more.” The sound of WAAAGH!s echoed through the ship and across the water as the Stormdancer sailed off into the sunrise.
The Dragon Nashwar’s time in the Scarlands was brief. After first taking the time to admire her new form in the reflective waters of the Amber Sea, she helped secure the Cabal’s withdrawal from the battlefield and back to the security of their tower. She did not remain for long, however, for stories of the emergence of a new group of Six soulbound heroes empowered by the ancient forces of the realm to oppose her reached her ears. Not yet sure of her powers, Nashwar flew up into the sky in a flurry of thunderstorms. None know when she might make her return to the realms, for she is the cautious creature, with the might of the elemental dragon married to the mind of the Vizier, yet when she does she shall alter the fate of all the realms. The Cabal continued to grow in strength and influence, their success in the Wilds feeding their growth into a major power within the wider region in Ghur, and shrines and cults dedicated to Nashwar as a demi-god spreading into every realm. The original members of the Cabal still sometimes receive mental messages from Nashwar, always addressing them as all as yarngrots, and typically asking about the affairs of her many darlings.
Thus ends the tale of
Volume IV: The Bleeding Wilds
as told by the Mad Orruk Hogrog ug Weirdklaw,
Wurrgog Speaker of the Great Saga,
and Faithfully recorded myself,
your humble servant Nicodemeus Mikhail Grimm.”