The Basalt Forge
Theo looked down at the heavy signet ring. Only hours before, the Old Bull had pressed it into his hands, telling the cabin boy that if the worst were to happen, he was to use its authority to get the rest of the Wolves off the island in one piece. It was an inelegant thing. Simple hammered silver with a rough and ready Goroan wolf sigil chiseled into its face. The gangly boy could have almost worn it as a bracelet. Looking at it now, it felt inordinately heavy in his hands, far heavier than a simple piece of silver should.
The Captain had given him an order. Well, sods to that. If the Old Bull was still alive, he could say whatever he wanted after they had pulled his hairy behind from the rubble.
As soon as they saw Kul-Brimir disappear into the forge beneath the castle, the Wolves leapt into action. With the Old Bull’s signet as authority, Ratigan and Valkaara sent runners out to the other scattered forces reeling in the castle’s courtyard. They would need help to rescue the captain, no matter the cost. Accords were struck, and search parties quickly formed. None of it, though, would mean a thing if they could not draw Mogrek and his idols away from the castle.
The colossal orruk slowly drew his longblade out from the earth, fire spitting and hissing from its killing edge as it met the air. The island still rumbled from the aftershocks of the quake he had started by driving it down into the rock, calling forth his idols to war. Their distant approach could be heard now, smashing into the city below. There were mere moments to take action.
As Mogrek roared in triumph, the inky Ulgu skies above boiled and churned. Sickly yellow lightning crawled impossibly slowly across the clouds, like great caustic worms. A beetle-like drone filled the air, and then the skies split. Looming above, the face of the Bad Moon peered down onto the battlefield. Hazy yellow-green light washed out from its malevolent glare. Bathing in the radiance, the Mooncaller stood tall, arms outstretched and masked face turned up to gaze at the object of his veneration. Awash in the Bad Moon’s maddening glow, the feighlights above Frørholm flared in erratic, snapping trails of every colour imaginable. The mask twisted and danced, alive in the mad light, and their laughter echoed out over the courtyard.
Mogrek squinted up at the vision in confusion. WAAAAGH energy still boiled like a torrent around him, but for a moment it was dimmed, diminished. The sick moonlight was like a parasite. The droning sound grew louder and louder, as hurtling through the sky flew the Fangz of the Badmoon, comet-like shards of loonstone. In a flash, the Longblade swept upwards, slicing through the first meteoric rock and sending debris scything like cannonballs through those still in the courtyard. The second struck Mogrek in the shoulder, shattered the ancient pauldron he wore and sending his stumbling back into the castle’s rubble.
Without a moment of respite, a third bolt struck at him, though this was no loonstone. Leaping from the crumbling curtain wall, long black wings outstretched like sable fire, Lissea flew like an arrow for the orruk. Her features looked pale, almost ashen, and deep pools of black shadow welled in her eyes. Never before had she called upon the Great Gatherer’s powers so deeply. Ethereal blue flames flickered along her arms and wings, and a scythe curved like a raven’s beak sprang forth in her hands. She struck like a hurricane, slashing down again and again at the orruk, moving with dizzying speed and attacking from every angle. Her blade struck with purpose and malice, striking at the eyes and throat, looping around to search for weaknesses in the guard. In that moment, Lissea was at once the Valkyrie of the Great Gatherer, his daemonic Chooser of the Slain, and the cutthroat pirate queen of the Sea of Shadows. Though Mogrek was able to ward most of the blows aside, he stumbled back, bleeding from a dozen shallow cuts and one arm hanging limp and dislocated where the loonstone comet had struck.
Under coruscating rainbow fire, the Valkyrie Queen of Ravens met blade to blade with the titan of frost and flame beneath the eyes of the Moon-mad Prophet.
For a moment, just a moment, it seemed like they might have had a chance.
With a crash, the first of the Idols burst into the castle courtyard. Animate lodestodes of WAAAAAGH power, the warboss felt the green energy surge within him once more. As Lissea swept in for another attack, Mogrek brought his great blade up in a sweeping blocking, knocking the scythe blow aside, then hammered a forehead the size of her torso into the pirate queen. She was buffeted back, rocked by the collision, then slammed hard into the ground beyond. Slamming his shoulder back into place against the castle wall with a sickening pop, Mogrek hefted a fallen piece of masonry and hurled it across the courtyard. The Mooncaller had barely a heartbeat to throw up a hasty protective spell before the boulder slammed into his vantage point. The boulder shattered the parapet and sent the prophet spinning out into the air, tumbling down to the hard ground below. The vision of the Bad Moon faded from the sky above, the churning clouds and seeping light dying. The power of the WAAAAGH surged through the courtyard once more as idols charged in through the battered walls. Mogrek flexed his massive shoulders, and the shallow cuts across his arms and face closed.
While the attack had failed, the time it had bought was used wisely. Giant rats called forth by Vrr’t Ratigan swarmed through the castle rubble, clearing debris and sniffing out a path to Kul-Brimir and the collapsed forge. Ancient Amhranai sent root and tendril through the stone, burrowing a path and bracing it with strong, living wood. Around them, the Jitae fought in tight, disciplined groups, forming a perimeter around the excavation teams. They held back the encroaching idols as best they could, but their weapons had little effect against the rock monstrosities, and their numbers quickly began to fall.
In a broken tavern, Gore’ox Palefur sat deep in concentration. Embers scoured the air as the scions of the flame around him chanted deeply in the brazen tongues of Aqshy. They had set the ritual markings on him in haste, but in truth they had not really needed to. He had felt the ever-raging flame within him for as long as he could remember. He had been chosen for this. There was another reason for their haste, however. He could feel the noose of the Scriptor Mortis’ curse drawing tight. His skin writhed and crawled with the cold judgement of Shyish. He knew his time was near. He gave himself to the ritual willingly, his life a sacrifice rather than forfeit. Fire burst along his arms and legs, crawling up along his spine. He needed only a moment more. But no, the judgment so long deferred was at hand. As the cold grasp of Shyish reached out to claim him, he could feel his spirit being torn asunder, feeding the ritual and the judgment both. Flames leapt outwards, consuming those around him, the ritual spinning beyond their control as the curse claimed him.
Deep in the catacombs beneath the castle, Drosus Dragonsbane and the Fangs of Garm stepped from the spinning portal conjured by Lady Devon. In the sprawling maze of tunnels, many collapsed and broken, their destination had been uncertain, and they walked forward into the darkness cautiously. A sound ahead, rock grinding against steel, brought them to their guard, and as they turned the corner with swords raised they saw the determined face of Vallash Kall. The wizard’s eyes were steely set. He had been shown where Kul-Brimir’s body lay, and together with the Fangs they set off deeper into the tunnels. Through splintered and turning passages they ran, trusting in Kall’s vision, until at last the tunnel before them opened out into a broad, high-ceilinged chamber. Red firelight lit the room. A heavy iron sat in the centre, duardin runes etched deeply within. A broad basined forge sat nearby, the wide mouth of coals that must once had sat within long since burned away, but the fiery heart of it still burning bright. A portal to Aqshy, if the old legends were true. Bound in a magic long since lost to the realms. Kul-Brimir lay nearby, where shattered stone covered one corner of the room. He was not conscious, but they could see the steady rise and fall of his ox-like chest. A sword gleamed in his hand. It was small for him, barely more than a dagger, yet its pure steel blade seemed to shimmer with scintillating light. Vallash Kall stood over the body, looking down at the sword. Here it was, at last, but could he take it from the unconscious warrior? Before he could reach for an answer, the opposite wall split and cracked, stone exploding inwards as a fiery blade cut its way into the forge. The shape beyond could not be mistaken. As Mogrek cleaved his way into the fallen forge, Drosus Dragonsbane readied his sword. With a cry of “Only Forward!”, the Fangs of Garm charged. Fire gleamed in Drosus’ eyes. He knew how this fight would end. The glory, though, would be eternal.
In another branching path, Lord Wu found himself questioning his recent decisions. He had survived for many years as a mercenary by a simple code - get paid while the pay is good, and get out when it isn’t. Every fibre in his being told him he should quit this fight, take what he had and flee. He had certainly done so before, and to better patrons than his current boss. Shame on them for trusting a mercenary after all, right? And yet, something had kept him here. Something he couldn’t quite put a finger on. There was some crumb of honour lodged deep within that had hitched on the oath he had sworn to Kul-Brimir. And so, despite all he had ever claimed to stand for, he found himself deep beneath the shattered castle, his battered band fighting tooth and nail with a relentless rogue idol. Left and right his men were smashed, their numbers down to a bare handful. Wu’s sword had been knocked from his hands. The head of his mace sheared free as he smashed it into the rock behemoth. As he watched, the brave Gnoblar Aardvark was gallantly trying to drag the blade back to him when the idol turned its hateful eyes down to the small creature. A massive foot rose up, then stomped downwards. Wu screamed in rage, launching himself upwards, onto the idol’s back. With the shattered end of the mace, he pried against the rocky head of the creature, finding gaps in the stone. Green energy shot out like lightning, but the ogor’s bellowing drowned it out, and with a great desperate heave he sent the creature’s head tumbling down from its body. As its green eyes dimmed and died, becoming nothing more than crudely carved rock once more, Wu looked around. He was alone, the last survivor of his band.
The crashing sounds of battle echoed down the twisting corridors as Veithan, Harry and Fezgit da Quarterboss ran. The Blackwing grot had promised to lead them to the forge, though the WAAAGH-Mother was beginning to suspect it had simply been taking them in circles until the sound of battle gave them a heading. Though the squigherd around the troggoth was much diminished now, it still made for a tight and chaotic fit through the narrow stone passages. Any relief Veithan felt as they tumbled out into the open space of the forge was shortlived, however. Drosus and the Fangs lay about the chamber, slain. Only Vallash Kall stood before the towering orruk, staff raised shakily but defiantly upwards against the executioner’s blow. Kul-Brimir lay in the opposite corner, his back up against the fallen debris, conscious now but his breath wheezing through broken ribs. A fat squig with a peculiar grin sat by the Old Bull’s side, its stubby tail thumping into the ground.
“Bubba!” Harry cried, forgetting in the moment everything else and running over towards the squig.
Mogrek’s head whipped around, eyes narrowing on the newcomers, a killing blow meant for Kall hanging suspended a moment in midair. Veithan felt a shock shoot through her body as their eyes met. WAAAAGH energy, pure and primal, ran through her. It was overwhelming, overpowering. Anything she had channeled before was like a spitting against a tsunami. She fell to her knees, green fire spilling from her mouth and lightning shooting from her eyes.
A roaring sound echoed through the passage behind them, and in a rush of flame and soot a burning form shot over the fallen shaman. The Incarnate of Aqshy, unstable and unraveling from the incomplete ritual, slammed into Mogrek. Deep within, distorted by flames, the body of Gore’ox Palefur could still be seen, but without the soul to guide it the feral fire spirit was in total control. Mogrek ducked beneath the wild onslaught, uncannily fast for a creature his size, and the great blade swept up. In rapid motion the sword wove a path through the creature’s flaming body, scattering ashes with every swipe. The flames guttered and consumed themselves, collapsing inwards, until a blast of Everwinter ice snuffed out the last essence of the Incarnate.
The attack bought the survivors time. Vallash Kall scrambled away from the distracted orruk, the killing blow momentarily avoided. More survivors had found the forge, and together they hoisted the Old Bull onto his feet. Rubble shifted, and Amhranai pushed free before them, the Sylvaneth-wrought tunnels leading to cool air above.
Bellowing and bleeding heavily, broken weapons in hand, Wu charged defiantly forwards, determined to sell his life for the Old Bull’s escape. As Mogrek lowered his blade to charge, however, green light exploded from the convulsing Veithan. Swirling and crackling like a storm above her, it split apart into the thundering apparition of a Green Knight riding atop a bellowing stonehorn. The Knight charged forward, knocking Mogrek back into the cavernous hole he had smashed into the wall, grappling with spectral horns and pinned by an ethereal lance. A nod passed between the knight and the struggling Kul-Brimir. In his heart, the Old Bull heard a voice, weary yet clear. “Hope runs deep, Outcast.” Then, the last survivors were pulled through the yawning root chasm and into the cold air beyond, Harry carrying Bubba in one arm and the convulsing form of Veithan in the other.
Suddenly alone in the dark forge, the Knight’s focus turned back to the pinned Mogrek. His lance was broken, the juddering ghostly tip lodged in the orruk’s chest. He drew out a sword of green fire, lashing it the beast’s face and upraised arm. Mogrek bellowed in pain, then his hand lashed forwards, grabbing the stonehorn by the base of the tusk. His hips swiveled and dropped, suddenly catching the strength of the beast’s charge and turning it into a dragging throw. Like an ox being felled, the stonehorn tumbled forwards, throwing the rider from his perch. Crashing to the ground, the Green Knight could do little more than throw his shield upwards as the tip of the ruinous blade lanced downwards, piercing armour and spectral body alike. Fire curled outwards from the blade’s edges, burning away the green vapours that formed the knight, consuming it utterly. In his last moment, the Green Knight remembered her face, and then was gone.
In the ruins above, the survivors spilled out into a battleground. Idols swarmed through the rubble, wreaking havoc on any they met. Kul-Brimir’s party sprinted forwards. They could see a path being cleared through the rubble, held by the Templars of the Burning Saviour. Breaking free of the worst of the battle and seeking a moment of shelter, they followed the excited Fezgit towards the partially collapsed chapel building. Ducking inside, Kul-Brimir stopped short when he saw that the building was already nearly full. Lissea leaned heavily against the altar, her breath short. A heavy bandage was wrapped around her side, and one of the crew were attending to her other wounds. A dozen or more Blackwing commanders stood nearby, waiting on the Carrion Queen’s word. All eyes turned to look at the wounded band that stumbled into their midst.
Lissea’s eyes flicked over Kul-Brimir, his wounds, and down to the sword still held tightly in his grasp. Then, a weary smile broke over her face.
“So, it came to you then. So be it.” Brushing the medic aside, she offered her hand to the Old Bull.
Weeks of enmity put aside, Kul-Brimir strode forward to lock arms with the pirate queen, but before he could reach her Vallash Kall pushed his way between them.
“No,” he said, “something isn’t-“ His words ended in a pained grunt, and he looked down to see the blade of a long dagger piercing through his chest. He staggered back, swimming eyes searching for the Fated Blade in the last, then collapsed. Lissea pulled the blade free angrily, the blow meant for Kul-Brimir interrupted. In a heartbeat, the room exploded into frantic action. Shouts of betrayal and murder filled the air. Fezgit launched himself on Kul-Brimir, driving his dagger into the Old Bull’s back before being thrown across the room. Harry hoisted Veithan in the air, green fire leaping from her to seer into the Blackwing ranks. Jhael’s clawblades flew, weaving death through the few Wolves and other survivors. Bruxa Alvent, Lord Arcanum of the Jade Temple, met the daemon’s charge blow for blow, yet the stormcast could not match that pace for long. Already drained from the great weight of magics used to pull Shadowsong survivors from the calamity above, the warrior of Sigmar could feel their concentration fracturing, and with one wrong step the long bladelike claw of the daemon punctured through the Azyrite plate. Lighting coursed through their form, then in a flash they were gone, leaving nothing but a smoking imprint on the stone floor.
Above it all, the bellowing warcry of Kul-Brimir resounded. Leaping over the fallen Kall, he smote down on Lissea like a meteor. His first blow knocked her blade wide, then with a sickening crunch he hammered his horned brow down into her face, crushing her nose flat and sending a spray of blood across her chest. She fell back against the ground, wings crumbled beneath her. Roaring again, Kul-Brimir raised the Fated Blade high, then brought it arcing down towards her. Moving with liquid speed, Jhael streaked towards their fallen leader. They brought their arm up to parry the blow, but the master-forged steel cleaved through their weapon and deep into Jhael’s shoulder.
Kul-Brimir pressed forward, using his mass to drive Jhael back and to the ground.
“Betrayer!” the Old Bull yelled again, fury in his eyes as he glared down at the fallen foe. Jhael looked across the room, where the other Blackwing were carrying the unconscious form of Lissea out of the chapel. She would not die here, they had saved her that much at least. It would have to be enough.
“You have no idea,” Jhael said, smiling through bloodied teeth. Kul-Brimir wrenched the Blade free, splitting the daemon apart, their body burning away in purple flame.
In a moment of quiet, the survivors pulled what was left of themselves back together. The Blackwing had fled with their unconscious captain. Lord-Arcanum Bruxa and the last few stormcast among them were gone, sent back to Azyr, their sacrifice honoured by their god. Veithan was unconscious in Harry’s arms, the overflowing WAAAAGH energy that filled her expended. Kul-Brimir bled from fresh wounds.
Crouching in the rubble in the far end of the chamber, Fezgit da Quarterboss hunkered down. In the melee, he had found Lissea’s killing dagger, and clutched it to his chest tightly. He watched the survivors carefully. All it would take as one sure strike and the Old Bull would be dead. Then the Fated Blade would be his - not Lissea’s, or Sagradiel’s, or any of the rest of the fancy-pants’ed bigwigs that had come here to claim it. He watched as Kul-Brimir stepped away from the others, trying to stretch life back into his injured limbs. This was the moment. He clutched the dagger tight, getting ready to pounce.
Fezgit looked down as the rubble beneath him shifted slightly, then was shot into the air as a monstrous hand wreathed in ice burst forth the floor. Grot and stone alike were pulverized in its grip, and with a roar, Mogrek pulled himself up from the ruined catacombs beneath the chapel.
Bursting out of the collapsed doorway, Kul-Brimir and the rest of the survivors spilled out into the chaotic courtyard once more. Stone idols smashed and grappled with Haterfer’s animated war constructs, the ancient machines winnowed down to the last few. The newly dead of the battlefield twitched and juddered to life at the beckoning of Lady Malef and a dozen secret rituals across the island, channeling their necromantic power together. They clawed and swarmed across the idols, unable to do any true harm to the stone behemoths but clog their motion with bodies. As they ran, they were joined by others. D’atur moved beside them, one arm looped around the seemingly dazed Mooncaller. The ghostly D’atur had found him where the mad prophet fell, thrown from the heights of the wall, his hasty protective spell all that had saved him from the plummet. Even still, the grot was dazed, moving about under the burly ghost’s direction and little else. A group of the Exiled Blades formed around them, screening their flight. Kido Takara fought at their head, side by side with High Queen Silanore. The unlikely allies moved together like old friends, carving a path through the restless dead and the few Teclandec and Blackwing that still would not relent. Harry waved the unconscious Veithan and the cheerfully gurgling Bubba above his head gleefully at a pair of Clan Kyodai gargant that strode at either side of their group, wrestling aside idols. The gate to the city beyond was only a few dozen paces away now. They had nearly made it.
With a thunderous crash, the chapel burst apart behind them and Mogrek came charging out onto the field. Raising the sword high, he brought it slamming down into the courtyard. Stones few as the earth split, and those still on the field were thrown into the air.
Picking himself up off the ground, Kul-Brimir looked around. His allies were wounded and dazed, slowly getting to their feet. His recent enemies now fled at his side. Scores of dead, some of them recent friends, clawed blankly at the onrushing stone idols, as effective as gnats against a hurricane.
He looked at the sword in his hand. The Fated Blade they had all come here to chase. What was it, really? A well-made sword. A masterwork, really. The final accomplishment of the dead and gone Age of Myth. He had dreamed of it for so long. Dreamed of its power. Of using it to take back his homeland. Of altering his destiny.
He looked at the monstrous orruk across the ruined courtyard. It wasn’t destiny that had brought him here. It was the swords and courage and sacrifice of those that had bought beside him, who had killed and died for that same dream.
He raised the sword high. “Come then, Mogrek Longblade. Let’s see what destiny has in store.”
His challenge was interrupted by a bellowing roar as Junko Holmesmasher came vaulting over the tumbled castle walls. He held the head of an idol in one hand, and with a resounding cry of ‘HE’S MINE!”, he brought it smashing down over Mogrek’s helm.
From across the courtyard, another titanic bellow echoed out, this one the screaming wail of superheated iron. Climbing over the walls, its taloned feet screaming with heat against the cold stone, came a monstrosity of iron and flame. Its form coiled and sprang like a smoke-black feline. Four wings spread from its back, feathered with knives, swords, speartips and scythes stretching out into the billowing clouds of ash. Steam hissed, and four metallic eyes like burning coals glared out hatefully. Flames trailed behind in the footprints of six piston-actuated paws, while sparks flashed from each last of its long, segmented tail. Clinging to the creature’s back, Xira Forgecaller howled in fanatic glee. This, at last, was the great work of the Dross-forged . Kath’tarauth Cynderborn, the Fiend of Black Iron.
As the metallic beast leapt at Mogrek, the colossal orruk was driven back once more. His head ringing from Junko’s blow, the flaming sword swept up in wide, imprecise blocks, trying desperately to ward off both creatures at once. His own blows, for the first time, did little to his foes. The fires of Aqshy that burned in the blade were matched by the iron monstrosity. Kath’tarauth’s lashing tail scored a deep, sizzling cut up the side of his ribcage, yellow bone showing through the torn green skin. The fiend lashed out with claws and bladed wings, a hurricane of violence. Great clouds of ash and cinder flew from its frame, burning orruk and gargant alike. It was an apocalyptic engine given form.
Kul-Brimir lowered his blade as the three monstrosities battled. Maybe there was something to the Blade’s fate after all. With a quick look around to gather those that were left of his group, they turned and fled through the gate and into the city beyond.
“Another time, warboss.”
Mogrek did not see them leave, locked in battle with the mega-gargant and the hellforged fiend. He leapt back, trying to put some distance between his attackers. Junko pressed in on his right, fists raised to the heavens and brought down in pummeling blows. Though the mega-gargant held a slight advantage in height, its limbs were long and gangly, its bulk a contrast to the ox-like build of the orruk. Mogrek could not bring the long blade to bear as the mega-gargant rushed him, its reach a sudden disadvantage. Instead, he brought its pommel hammering down into Junko’s face, twice in quick succession. Pressing around the staggered gargant, iron claws searing into his back, he rolled sideways and came up ready. With Junko between him and the iron fiend, a cruel grin split the orruk’s features. The mega-gargant lashed out, connecting a mighty wallop to the orruk’s side. Ribs cracked and rent inside the green flesh, and the gargant let loose of whoop of triumph. It was short-lived. Mogrek took the blow to get inside the giant’s guard, and the answering swipe of his fiery blade severed Junko’s arm at the elbow. As the limb flew free, the blade shot forward again, this time piercing the mega-gargant straight through. Mogrek surged forwards, his powerful legs churning, driving the impaled gargant back and toppling it over the iron monstrosity. As Kath’tarauth was pinned beneath the dying gargant, Mogrek leapt atop it as well, driving his knee down to hold it fast. Raising the bound Everwinter, he let its full fury loose across the monster’s face. Superheated steam bellowed outwards as primordial ice and fire met, and for a moment it seemed the forge-beast’s fires would not be abated, but the relentless stream of cold could not be stopped. The beast’s red-iron body dimmed, its plates becoming an ashy black, then ice began to creep across it. On its back, Xira wailed in anguish, trying to stoke the beast to fury once more, but as the ice washed across it it swallowed her as well. The beast’s tail lashed out desperately, its barbed tip gouging into Mogrek’s eye, but still the ice would not relent, and in another moment the monstrosity was frozen and still. Staggering heavily to his feet, Mogrek brought a hammering fist down, smashing Xira and the beast to scattered shards. Then, with a contemptuous flick of the longblade, he lopped the head off the dying Junko.
Looking around, the castle courtyard was barren. The dead lay in piles, no longer animated by the magics of the fleeing survivors. Idols by the dozens stood at the ready, awaiting only his command.
Mogrek flexed his hand, drawing their WAAAAGH energy into himself, then leveled the blade out at the city beyond. They would not escape so easily.
The Streets of Frørholm
The City of Frørholm had been still for longer than any mortal memory, wreathed in frozen stasis, an island of eerie stillness in the roil of the Ur-River. Now that stillness was ended, and soon there would be no island left at all. As the monstrous orruk Mogrek erupted from the ruins of the Basalt Forge, petty rivalries and grievances were quickly forgotten, at least temporarily. The survivors of the great battles of the three gates beat a hasty retreat, factionalism abandoned as survival became the highest priority. Each coalition still held a segment of the city, stalwartly beating back the assault of Mogrek's dread army of weathered stone idols. This would be the single safest route back to the docks, and even then the journey would be treacherous. It was Uhred the Beardless who first began to rally the scattered survivors, quickly taking charge as he hefted his axe, still stained with the blood of the treacherous Sagradiel. Many of the remaining fighters at Drakkar Gard had fought there specifically to hunt the aelf down, and Uhred made his slaying of the fiend a rallying cry. Thus were the seeds of cooperation planted as Uhred, now called Fool-Slayer by many, sent runners from each of the coalitions to gather their scattered allies and prepare a path through the embattled city.
The duardin was not the only warlord to see the sense in cooperation, and many others began to band together all across the island. At the Basalt Gate, Klarieth stood atop the corpse of Sradnir Wizbag, using the gargant's massive bulk to shout orders across the battlefield as idols rumbled ever closer, held back only by Lady Gwenefyre and her stalwart defenders. At Dolorous Gard, the Mooncaller cackled as he slung dire spells that burst stone colossi into rampant fungal growth while the Carrion Queen flitted about around him, defending the wizened grot's blind spots from attack. At Ashrak Bastion, even the infamous Vishkan Inkeyes began to lay down covering fire from his arcane artillery in an attempt to keep the route clear for others to escape the encroaching horror.
The closest holdout to Dalrach Castle was Empty Heart, held by the Mooncalled. The dubious safety of the mad moon worshippers' territory was only accessible through Wesgard, already swarming with rampaging idols. The Forgotten and his grim Stormcast from the Remembered were joined by the Faded king and his twelve Forgotten knights in wordless agreement of what must be done. Though so recently on different sides of the war for the Fated Blade, they silently marched together into the chaos of Wesgard, forcing a path and helping any survivors they came across in the rubble. One by one the stalwart warriors fell, their thunderous deaths marking bright beacons for allies and former foes alike. Others were quick to capitalize on their sacrifice, the likes of the troggoth Runn and the gargant Inosuke barricading the makeshift path with rubble. Stormcasts from the Jade Tempest and the Guardians of the Sealed Mountain moved to honour the sacrifices of their fellow Stormcast Eternals by holding the line that the Remembered and the Forgotten Knights had created. Though they had sworn different allegiances during this conflict, they were still brothers and sisters under Sigmar. A lone figure neither fled nor shored up defences, instead frantically searching through the rubble for a lost friend. It was Lissea, the Carrion Queen, desperately hoping that the Forgotten had survived the Remembered’s suicidal charge into Wesgard. Eventually she found him, battered and crumpled, sparks leaking from the joints in his armour. He only had time to warn her to stay back before arcing back to Azyr in a burst of brilliant lightning that scorched the rubble about him. Lissea cursed the cruel God that would not even allow his warriors the comfort of another’s presence in their final moments, and swore to remember her ally and friend as he had been before this latest reforging.
Though most of the survivors of the battles around Dalrach castle fled towards Empty Heart with as much haste as they could muster, a few remained behind in an attempt to hold Mogrek’s inexorable advance as best they could. Ned Blackpowder and his skaven ally Askip worked to set up what remained of their explosive stockpile at the rear of the escape route, ready to detonate it the moment the monstrous orruk reached them. Meanwhile, Kherith of Morai-Heg prepared a more direct, and desperate, response to the threat. She poured her own life essence into the creation of an enormous idol of Khaine. Using the banshees bound to her to possess rubble and fallen idols alike, she created a crumbling stone monstrosity to rival the sheer mass of Mogrek. Survivors scrambled to avoid its colossal footsteps as it advanced on its foe. The orruk bellowed a challenge as the thing barreled into him, sending him stumbling back a few paces. It took mere moments for Mogrek to recover his balance and swipe out with his longblade, driving a great wedge in the crumbling stone flank of the Khainite idol. Far away, Kherith screamed, blood suddenly pouring from her own side in a crimson sheet. In binding her own lifeforce so completely with the idol, she had sentenced her body to suffer any hurt that came to it. Gritting her teeth against the blinding pain, Kherith redoubled her efforts, pummeling Mogrek with great stone fists while he hacked chunks from the stone with his colossal blade. Finally, Kherith fell gasping to her knees, her body bleeding from a dozen wounds. She had just barely cut herself off from her idol in time to survive, though her condition was critical. Through her efforts, Kherith had bought time for many to flee the forge. And, unknowingly, time for another threat to Mogrek to emerge from deep beneath the crumbling city.
Kherith’s colossal idol, dedicated not to the gods of destruction but to Khaine.
Meanwhile, the evacuation of Frørholm progressed through Empty Heart, barricades and ancient storefronts defended by masked cultists gradually being broken down by the onslaught of the seemingly endless stone monstrosities that besieged them. Luckily for the beleaguered Mooncalled, help arrived in the form of their prophet. The Mooncaller cackled and gibbered atop a slavering squig commandeered from Loonboss Stinknob’s dwindling supply of mounts, firing off spells every which way and sending his followers into renewed fervour. Further aid came from the nearby Burrows, a once withered and broken gravelord emerging from below bearing an ancient power. With the combined powers of life and death, Machetelacta Balesoul forged a devastating path towards empty heart, leaving crumbling, lichen-covered stone remains in her wake. Before long, Empty Heart was once again a haven of relative safety in the chaos of the crumbling city, and a way was opened for evacuees to flee into the Dross-forged’s Juddermark. The narrow streets and crooked buildings were aiding the stalwart defence of Uhred’s duardin, who gave a ragged cheer when Uhred himself arrived, still leading the evacuation from the front. Urif Miresson of Stonbrakk’s Rune-Throng joined him, and together they set about fortifying the position further and supplying the defenders with a bevy of explosives. The Wolves of Agora who had remained in Rastorg, cut off from the escape route currently being forged through the other coalitions’ holdings, saw little use in holding the old raceway against the Idols’ assault. The fleeing ogroids and their allies were the first to witness the fall of the nearby Ashrak Bastion, still blanketing the city with arcane artillery. Even as the encroaching idols fell under heavy fire, more and more rumbled up from the city’s outskirts to replace them, and the bastion crumbled under the sheer weight of the assault before long. The ultimate fate of Vishkan Inkeyes would remain unknown, but the devastation of Ashrak Bastion was so complete that few doubted his demise, especially those who witnessed the Bastion’s fall first hand.
Stinknob and his remaining squires engage one of Mogrek’s Rogue Idols while the Mooncaller makes good use of his squig.
Back at Dalrach Castle, Mogrek stepped over the shattered form of Kherith’s fallen idol, his footfalls shaking the earth around him. Those tremors were met with a new rumbling as something burrowed its way up through the cold earth ahead of the orruk. The thing was hideous, a flesh-stitched monstrosity with glowing green warpstone embedded across its body, one arm replaced by a sparking warp-lightning cannon, its tip still stained with the blood of the vanquished Karavoc the Vile. Skaven from across the coalitions contesting the Fated Blade had built this thing in secret below the city’s streets and summoned into it a fragment of their fell god’s dark power. The colossal rat-fiend had been intended to lay waste to the enemies of skavendom upon the island, no matter who they might be. Now it stood in defence of those it had been created to destroy, its masters deeming survival a more prudent goal at this juncture. Those masters, consisting of Vreeche Maggottail, Ignetio Creepsnout, Askip, and a huddled mass of other rat men, stayed only long enough to direct their abominable creation at its equally monstrous target before beating a hasty retreat, joining Titus Lashtail who had already been directing survivors through the labyrinthine sewers below the city since the chaos had begun. As Mogrek wrestled with the stinking fiend that had been unleashed upon him, howling as daemon-charged warp-lightning stung his near-impervious flesh, he found himself assailed from below by Vaalaalek the Conqueror and his Blackwind Raiders, the Chaos knights using the opportunity created by the skaven scheme to mount one final daring assault on their foe. They had little hope in defeating the towering behemoth, even with the skaven abomination fighting at their side, but they would nevertheless lay down their lives in final glorious combat, lest all they had worked for be lost. Each of their deaths bought vital time, even as the bellowing Mogrek finally overpowered his monstrous skaven adversary, sending it crashing to the ground beside each of his other bested foes. Vaalaalek himself was the last to fall, managing the unthinkable: with his last breath, his sword pierced the orruk’s green hide, slicing into the monster’s tendon and sending him crashing to one knee. It did not take the beast long to pluck the blade from the bleeding wound and regain his footing, but it was a minor advantage gained at great cost nonetheless.
The renegade aelves that held Axhald had retreated to the small area connecting Juddermark and Strongkeld, desperately holding the way for the retreat to pass through while the labyrinth of ancient workshops that they had called home crumbled to dust and rubble under the rogue idols’ assault. Furious at the sight of the destruction and the slaughter of her followers, Klarieth let out a blood-curdling scream of rage, summoning all her strength into a devastating burst of shadow magic, tearing apart rampaging stone colossi with darksome energy, their stone forms sliced apart by a thousand shadowy knives as if they were built from mere flesh. Naeve Umbraborne quickly capitalised on her ally’s sorcerous assault, lending her own magical talents to misdirect the surviving idols away from the escape route, allowing others to pass through into Strongkeld. Here, the remaining corsairs of the Blackwing strove to hold the old fortified manor against their assailants. The place had not been designed to hold against such colossal foes, however, and the Corsairs’ hit and run tactics and deadly blades were not well suited for such a task. Thus did Lissea find her crew, and she swiftly set about showing them through practical example how best to target the lumbering idols weak points, rendering them inert without destroying them completely. Before long, her crew had rallied and, though their work was not without risk, they soon reopened the way for the evacuation to pass through towards Estgard. It was here, too, that the remaining forces of the Inquisition of Umberspire, abandoned by their lords, made their final stand beside the old fountain bordering Rainside. Their unlives were spent dearly, buying time for the Corsairs to shore up their defences, keeping the way open for the exodus to progress.
The streets between Strongkeld and Estgard were treacherous, but salvation was close. The Shields of An’avon were well suited to this kind of defence, having held against the might of Sigmar’s armies for so long. Lady Gwenefyre redoubled her pace as her liegemen came into view. Without warning, an idol barreled into a nearby building, sending the edifice toppling towards Gwenefyre. Seeing her Lady in mortal peril, Nienw, the Nameless Aelf, found herself ignoring Gwenefyre’s orders to save herself, placing herself in the path of the crumbling stone, calling upon her runic powers to shield Gwenefyre from harm. Expecting to perish, and glad to do so for her Lady’s life, Nienw was shocked to feel herself being tugged backwards, away from the falling stone. Gwenefyre pulled her in and raised her shield above them both, the combination of her new-found draconic strength and Nienw’s runic magic protecting them from the worst of the impact. For a moment they both lay, battered and bleeding upon the rubble strewn ground, Marcus Aurelian and the X Fretensis circling about them in a protective wall. Gwenefyre finally turned towards her friend and, with voice strong even through the pain, reminded Nienw of her orders: both of them would live to see another day.
As the procession poured into Estwald, it seemed as if they had made their escape, with only a short distance to the docks. Then, with a thunderous roar of crumbling basalt, the wall came down upon Estgard. In a desperate final gambit Ser Branor Darkflame poured every drop of magical strength that remained to him into an infernal gale, melting the collapsing wall into a sheet of molten fury that rained down upon the advancing idols, burning through their stone hides and engulfing them in flame and encasing them in obsidian. When the deed was done, there was nothing left of Branor Darkflame save for a silhouette scorched into the stone where he had stood, and into the memories of all who he had saved. With that last sacrifice, the way through the crumbling city of Frørholm was secured, and the docks, still bristling with the sails of Sagradiel’s Teclandec armada lay ahead.
The Sinking Harbour
Bounding across the quaking rubble, the gryphound known as Alto broke from what little cover the broken ruins of Estgard provided. He was smaller than many of his pack, but faster too. He had run in the footsteps of the Ichi and the Kyodai gargants, dodging between their tree-trunk like legs as they brought the buildings around them crashing to the ground. The destruction had done little to slow the pursuit of the stone idols behind them, but even seconds were as precious as Aqua Ghyranis here. He had watched as Snoll Stonebrak and the last of the Dross-forged rushed through the gate, giving a salute of acknowledgement to the Shields that still held its ramparts above. His quick ears had tucked back reflexively as the harsh, guttural sounds of ghoulish rituals sounded from the walls. Though he did not understand the words, there was no mistaking the foul magics that they carried. From that vantage, the tendrils of flesheater delusion had flowed outwards, polluting the magics that animated the leading idol. Its charge had wavered, its polluted senses suddenly seeing its fellow idols as slavering beasts, and the WAAAAGH energy that flowed through it knew only one way to respond to such a challenge. Turning on its megalithic heel, the idol plucked free a massive iron beam that had once supported a storefront and drove it like a spear through the chest of the closest idol behind it. The rock beast ground forward several more steps, unaware that the energy powering it was already broken, before collapsing into a heap of stone. The deluded idol tried to pry its bar free, but could not before the charging idols beyond slammed it to the ground. A scrum of stone bodies formed, and the insidious tendrils of the flesheater delusion began to creep into more of the idols. The charge might have been halted there, had a hurled boulder not smashed into the gantry where the ritual was being performed. As the few surviving ghouls picked their way free, the spell was broken, and the avalanche of idols resumed.
As Alto had streaked past, he had seen the old skink Tu’bok climbing atop to the alien-smelling stone. It was the palanquin of the skink’s lost master, and battered as it was, he could still feel the power of the ancient slann welling from within. Tu’bok breathed in, deeply. He drew in that power, the scent of familiarity and security, of order amidst the chaos, and then slowly released it. He was old, for his kind. Ancient even. One of the last living that could remember the old master slann that had held this seat so long ago. The starseer could not claim to understand what part this played in the Great Plan. What he did know was that for the Shedscale to escape this island, they would need more. Tu’bok drew deep from the stone. He would give more. Magic flew from his splayed fingers, hurling streams of fire against the charging hoard. A few idols burst and ruptured, but the ones around them flared with WAAAGH energy and smashed aside the torrent. Another spell flew forth, this one conjured forth a vast wall of void-light. Blood from a ruptured vein burst from the skink’s nose, the colossal energies it corralled wracking its body, yet for a moment the horde was halted. Stone fists banged against the hardlight barrier. Tu’bok drew in a sharp breath of relief, thinking for a moment the tide had shifted. Then, with a shrieking cry like heated metal on ice, the fiery tip of a sword pierced through the wall. It screamed as it cut through the magic. Tu’bok felt fiery pain explode through his chest as the spell sputtered and failed, and Mogrek strode forward at the head of his horde. The old starseer looked up at him defiantly, unwilling to flinch or falter, a proud servant of the Shedscale even to the last. The greatblade flared up, and then plummeted, cleaving apart stone and seraphon with equal ease.
Through it all, Alto had run forward. He was always the fastest, the cleverest of his pack. He had seen the flashes in the sky behind him as he ran, and knew what it meant. He knew the kind masters would not be coming home with him. He knew the memory stones they had tied to his back were important, more important even than staying to defend his packmates. So he ran past it all, past the destruction of Estgard, and down towards the harbour below.
Rubble crashed to the ground like thunder, flinging shards of rock and dust into the air. The Tree-revenant Ritos raised an arm reflexively, shielding boreal eyes as he continued his frantic search. All their time on the island had been leading to this moment, tracking down the arcane whispers of the Biber Multum. The last of its kind, its secrets known only to the ancient smiths in the fiery final days of the Age of Myth, they had thought it lost to time until the receding ice uncovered it once more. Now, it was nearly in hand, and with it the promised salvation from the maddening thirst that had so long cursed his Sylvaneth brethren. He could sense its pure magics, could practically taste its sweat nectar, but as the island collapsed around him a few dozen feet became as treacherous as the vast oceans. Another shuddering quake shook him, throwing him from his feet, but with a sound of splintering stone the courtyard ahead of him split apart, revealing a small chapel to Alarielle hidden beyond. There, shining in bright silver upon the ground lay the chalice. Ritos shot forward on hands and knees across the rock-strewn ground, reaching desperately through the small cracks in the wall. He felt fingertips brushing against the cool metal, then heard another sundering crack above. Stone by the ton fell downwards as the last wall of Estgard collapsed, crushing his wooden body below. Yet, in his hands, he felt the cold metal. Ritos knew his body was destroyed, and without that tether his spirit would soon follow. Summoning what last energy he possessed, he wrapped the chalice in vines. Light bloomed around it, and a spite appeared, hovering in the air. With the last of his strength, Ritos released the prize he had fought so long and hard for. With it, the Revenants of the Thirst would at last be cleaned of the curse that had claimed them for so long, and even if he would never know that sweat release he felt no regrets as the darkness claimed him.
Across the harbour front, the fighting raged unabated. Desperate last stands behind them had bought time, but it still fell to the living to make something of it. The Cult of Khaine the Unconquered fell upon the fleeing Teclandec aelves in bloody-minded vengeance. The hatred they bore for Sagradiel’s former forces could not be denied or restrained, and somewhere amidst the slaughter someone found time to fly an old, battered Celandec flag above the piled dead. Nothing of their deaths would be put to waste, and while the witch-aelves reveled in the spilled blood, the discarded rifles were picked up by the Vipertongue Volunteers. Loonboss Stinknob and a ragtag group of survivors of all colours rallied together, pushing an idol back into the sea. Across the harbour, rootway paths opened, spilling out survivors who had been caught in the city’s streets. Anywhere they could be found, individually or in small groups, Talin Silverbane did all he could to open escapeways to them. With each path, however, he could feel the pressure growing, the fibres of his own being being stretched thin. The harbour front heaved, throwing Talin from his feet, and as he looked up he could see a great section of the island beyond splintering off and falling into the sea. The quake hit them, and a moment later with a tremendous crash the ruins of Estgard that stood a barrier to the city burst outwards. Talin let his hold on the rootways go, and turned to flee towards the boats. Whoever was left in the city, he could no longer help. Mogrek was here.
As the full force of the idols broke across the harbour, the battle turned to a full rout. The battered and hastily repaired Revenue Cutter flew out towards the water, firing harpoons down at the rocky creatures, through the sharp metal barbs did little to them. Uhred clung to his seat aboard the airship, his forge-blackened features more than a little green from the height and the speed. Little-Big Porg ran, his ragged group of seven grots becoming four as an idol’s fist slammed down in the midst of them. The Dammax Thragn sped and touched down, hastily loading the few of the Vipertongue left aboard even as Baldhren Ironheart took a grievous wound. Pulling him aboard under the cover of their new firearms, the ship took to the air just moments before a massive boulder crashed into the space it had been. At the head of the tide, the Ivory Hammers stood strong and proud, forming a wall around Knight-Arcanum Karnreia the Blessed. Channeling their powers together, they created a sphere of deadened magic, sapping the strength and speed from any idols that entered it and clearing a path for Lady Gwenefyre. As she rode past, a nod of understanding passed between the young knight and the Stormcast. The fear and unease that had once filled the heir of Tír An’avon at the sight of the warriors of Sigmar was not entirely gone, but it was married now to a deep respect and understanding. They were no longer soulless lightning-geists in her eyes, but warriors dedicated to a code of honour so similar to her own. In turn, tales of the Shields’ valour would return with them to the Sigmaron, and the story of her slaying of a Greater Daemon might begin to turn the minds of those that saw Tír An’avon as nothing more than heathens and chaos-worshippers. Minds would not be changed overnight, but the respect born on the battlefield could change the course of a war.
The waters of the harbour churned as ships struggled to make landfall or move free of the press, their passengers secured. Aboard the Leviathan , Captain Blightghast shouted desperate orders to her ghoulish crew. The battered ghost ship was barely holding together, but it had still arrived in time to pluck them and a number of the Mooncalled survivors from the sinking wharf. The Mooncaller sat at the prow, more still now than anyone could remember him being. The shifting mask wore a blank expression, as though it were deep in lost thought. Porg too huddled at its gunwales, staring out to sea, his squig nibbling at his sleeve. There, around the horn of the bay, he spied the bobbing, orange form of the squig-dragon and the rest of his crew. Porg was about to call out to them when the black seas suddenly erupted around the flesh-stitched beast, and raising kraken arms wrapped themselves around it. Distantly, he could see Drizzgrot, his erstwhile beastmaster, leaping into the air, a crude boarding pike held aloft to drive down into the kraken’s gaping maw. They disappeared together, grot, squig and beast, into the dark waters, and Porg let his arm fall, the cry dead on his lips.
On the pier, the last remaining ships were pulling aboard any final survivors. Since their failed betrayal attempt, communication among the Blackwing Corsairs had shattered, and individual captains took their own cue to leave. Only the Gloomwyrms remained to bundle the injured and unconscious Lissea aboard. They were pulling away from the dock as the streaking form of Alto the Gryphound raced down the pier, leaping to his full extension to land crashing amid the scattered supplies piled on the ship’s bridge, skidding into the arms of the crusty shaman Udrom Krowtoof. Beside them, the Unicorn waited for its last passengers. Lucian Kazimir and Zamos fought back to back at the foot of the Unicorn’s gangplank, clearing the way for the clatter of hooves as Lady Gwenefyre and the last of Tarascon’s Blackguards thundered down the cracking docks with Mogrek himself hot on their heels.
Standing at the edge of the shore, the last to hold the pier, Ahr’gausse met the orruk’s charge head-on, hurling a blast of lightning that the megaboss swatted aside with his flaming sword. Relic axe met ruinous blade in a flurry, the stormcast moving quickly despite the massive bulk of the paladin’s Bastion armour. Zerithius, the dragon hatchling from the Scarlands, circled above Mogrek’s head, slashing down at the orruk’s eyes whenever an opportunity appeared. Mogrek roared in frustration, and reared back, swinging a cleaving slash at the young dragon. Ahr’gausse leapt forward to defend his charge, but realized a moment too late that the sweep was only a feint. Instead of scything upwards, the tip of the red sword punched forward, piercing through the thick chestplate with ease. As the Stormcast felt himself being hoisted into the air, impaled on the end of the sword, he gave a last command to Zerithius to join the last survivors out at sea. Mogrek raised his other hand, and from it sprang the wrath of the Everwinter, blasting over and freezing over the impaled paladin. He felt the lightning in his veins, ready to burst forth and send him back to Sigmaron, slow to a crawl, then freeze completely. With a flick of his blade, Mogrek sent the stormcast to the ground, frozen solid and trapped in death within his own armour.
At the other end of the harbour, Sigurd pulled the last of the Wolves’ ships into a sweeping curve that sent it crashing sidelong into the docks. Ropes snapped and shields along ship’s side were sent splintering into the sea, but whatever damage was there was a small price to pay as the last of the Wolves leapt aboard. Kul-Brimir was half dragged and half carried away by Kido Takara and the Exiled Blades, refusing to leave before the rest of them were aboard but too injured to put up any further fight. He slumped against the mast, gray fur stained red, but clutched the Fated Blade tightly.
At the water’s edge, Machtelacta stood deep in the thralls of magic. Blood from her opened palm streaked and whirled around her, the vital essence feeding the arcane whirlwind that plunged deep into the rocky shore. It quested and dug, trying to find a sympathetic echo of life in the rocks. She staggered at the task, the blood magic draining her but her will was not yet spent. With the last of their boats destroyed, this was the final chance for escape. There, at last, she found it - a speck of life, a trace of untapped growth. An acorn, buried in the sand, and carried upon the Ur-River from some far distant shore. Magic poured into it. It quivered, straining against the dirt, then burst into a stem of new life. Quickly the shoot grew, splitting upwards through the rocky ground until it emerged into the weakly dawning sunlight. Machtelacta fell to her knees. Every ounce of life she poured into the growth had to come from her. The sprout grew and twisted at a dizzying pace, spreading outwards first like a gourd, then into a small, wide-basined coracle. She fought to keep her vision clear. Another minute, and it would grow into a small but sturdy ship, big enough to carry the last twenty-some survivors off the island, if only she could hold on. Blackness edged into her vision, then she felt a hand press down upon her shoulder. Looking up, she saw Klarieth standing beside her. The melusai queen bled from vicious wound in her side, and the shadefires in her eyes were dim and guttering, but her grip was firm. Raising her hand, Klarieth called out a prayer to Khaine, and from across the wide beach the pools of spilled blood began to twitch and judder. Then, in a rush, streams of red like sanguine mist rose into the air and streaked towards them, mingling and swirling with Machtelacta’s own. A surge of power rushed through her, and the flagging growth kicked back into rapid motion. The floramantic ship swelled into the sea, its sides solid and keel straight. They were nearly done when Mogrek turned his attention towards them. Sprinting along the beach, the orruk raised his blazing sword high, but was met mid-charge by the warding light of the Knights Numinous. Claney Bearborn lowered his heavily armoured shoulder into the warboss’ already injured knee, buckling it and sending Mogrek to the black stone. Claney swung his grandhammer, Lightbringer , in a wide arc that brought it like a comet streaking towards Mogrek’s head, ringing it heavily off a hastily thrown block by the oruk’s flaming blade. As he brought the hammer up for another strike, however, Mogrek’s other arm, sheathed in the frost of the Everwinter, shot forward and grabbed the hammer’s head. Ice crackled across it, and with a wrenching snap Mogrek broke the head from the enchanted hammer, tossing it disdainfully up the beach. Lurching to his feet, the warboss unleashed the wrath of the Everwinter on the small band of Stormcast. The Knights Numinous huddled around Claney, straining to channel every bit of strength they had left into his protective ward. White frost crackled and danced across the shield of golden light. Claney looked behind them. The last Shadowsong survivors had boarded the oakship. Klarieth stood at its helm, one arm looped around the weakened Machtelacta. She held the ship back, tethered by a thin strand of shadow to the shore, waiting for them. There was no one else to save. This was not a fight they could escape from.
“Go,” he said softly. His Aetherwing Elgan squaked once in protest, but understood the command. As it flew across the short distance, he called again, loudly this time.
“Go!” Klarieth gave a last look, then nodded solemnly. The tether disappeared into mist, and the ship’s sails, already straining with wind, shot it out into the harbour.
“For Sigmar!,” the Knight shouted, then dropped the protective shield. Ice crackled and spilt across them, but not fast enough. As the magic of Azyr burst through their thunderstrike armour, Claney and the last Knights Numinous disappeared into a burst of divine lightning. Mogrek cried out and the Everwinter ceased as he clutched at his temporarily blinded eyes.
When he looked up, Mogrek surveyed a broken and devastated harbour. No souls living or dead moved, save for his own legion of idols. One by one, the stone avatars of the Green God dropped to a knee, bowing before him. He felt the WAAAAGH energy building and churning around him, channeled by these icons. Raising the sword of ruin high above his head, Mogrek Longblade unleashed a bellowing warcry that resounded across the harbour, and in greenskin hearts across the mortal realms, much, much further than that.
At the harbour’s mouth, a handful of ancient skeletal ships battled with the Teclandec warship Inevitable . Screaming skulls launched from catapults clattered against the ivory Hyshian-wood hulls, scorching them, or fell into crew were they sparked brief screams of pain and madness. Despite the necromantic horrors, however, the aelven ship was having the better of the battle by no small margin. Its rows of cannon were wreaking destruction across the ancient foes, the might of modern firepower overwhelming. Each volley sent another ship crashing into the deep. Seaguard marines with longrifles fired from the topmast, shattering skulls and pinpointing the dead that kept their fellows animate. Two ships already drifted listlessly from the battle, their decks empty and crews crumbled away into nothing.
Again the cannon sounded in precise succession, and other skeletal ship sank into the black and hungry sea. The loose squadron of ten had been brought down to three now, and all the Inevitable had to show for it was some scorch marks on her hull. Captain Glacien was almost ready to turn the battle over to his subordinates when a strange movement of the lead ship caught his eye. The undead vessel had peeled off from the attack, and was instead running a direct intercept course with them. Glacien grabbed a spyglass from the nearest lieutenant. There, on its deck, he saw two skeletons in baroque armour laying a heavy, golden chest reverently down. A third undead in fraying wrappings and strange, disturbing priestly garb stood behind it, arms outstretched as though it were intoning some grand sermon.
“Put it down,” he called lightly to the marine captain at his elbow, and as the command spread upwards the bark of a longrifle sounded. To Captain Glacien’s mild surprise, he saw one of the skeletal attendants leap forward with unexpected speed, the rifle round disintegrating the bones in its chest. It collapsed, but it had spared the priest beyond.
“Poor shot, captain. Again.” Again a rifle round sounded, and again he watched as one of the nearby attendants leapt forward and intercepted the bullet.
“Put it down, marine.” The order had lost the nonchalant air of a moment ago, and as the captain watched skeleton after skeleton were throwing themselves in front of the mummified priest. The shots rang free now, no longer waiting for direct orders, but they all met intervening bones or sailed wide. As he watched, the casket began to glow, sickly green light spilling out around it. Leering faces could be seen in the glow.
“Put it down! Helm, take us clear! They’re trying to ram us!” The ship didn’t move, and the captain spun around to see the helmsman sprawled over the wheel, an ancient arrow lodged in his throat. Glacien scrambled across the bridge, desperately pulling the body free, but even as he began to haul on the great wheel he knew that it was too late. With a splintering crash, the undead ship rammed into the Inevitable ’s prow. Sickly green light spilled up across the deck, leering skulls that wailed banshee screams and struck out at the aelven crew like snakes. Cries of terror and pain rippled across the deck, the crew clawing at burst eyes or melting skin, before a rippling explosion shuddered through the vessel. Gunpowder magazine followed a heartbeat later, and the ships together burst apart in a shower of wood and bone.
Admiral Soraya snapped her spyglass closed. Glacien’s own foolishness had gotten him killed, as she’s always suspected it would. She regretted the loss of the ship far more than the man.
The Inevitable had at least taken a toll with it. The undead squadron it had destroyed was a powerful force, at least in these waters. Each of the surviving coalitions could, at a rough estimate, bring to bear nearly the same firepower it had. She had twelve more ships like the Inevitable at her call, plus her own larger flagship, the Prince’s Splendour . She liked her odds.
Her surviving captains and crew waited on her order to attack. They each knew the orders that Sagradiel had left for them. No one was to be allowed off the island. Rumours of the prince’s death had already spread through the fleet, but she knew that would not dissuade them from that final order. With a word, she could wipe the fleeing survivors from the sea.
She could see them, distantly. The bestial reaver’s longship. The so-called pirate queen’s colours atop an orruk junk. Even the barbarian princess’ own ship had limped from the shore. Perhaps the duardin scum that had killed her lord was among them, somewhere. Her lip curled.
She looked down at the missives in her hand. Parlays, offers of peace and passage from those same vermin. Some, calling themselves Luxy Dogs, bartering for passage. Another, a boy that claimed to speak for the Old Bull, threatening her with destruction if they didn’t quit these waters. The reminder of them was nearly enough then and there to order the attack.
What she also remembered, however, were the orders that Dariel himself had given her before they set to sea. “Support my nephew in this venture, as best as you can. Perhaps he might even succeed, and return a better man for it. I will have need of tested leaders soon. Follow his orders, but do not throw your lives away on a fool’s errand.”
She weighed the words carefully. It would be an easy thing now to turn the guns on the fleeing survivors, weak as they were. The battle would be short and certain. She might even manage it without any casualties on her side. It would be just punishment for their slaying of a member of the house of Teclandec. Ah, but that was the rub, she thought. They had not truly killed a prince of Teclandec. Sagradiel’s own foolishness, own weakness, had gotten him killed, just as Dariel had said it would. It was the simple truth that while they swung the axe, they were as blameless as the blade itself. All she would accomplish by seeking their demise now would be putting her crew at risk to spite a blameless implement. Blameless as The Blade itself, indeed.
Orders rang out across the deck, then carried by flag and call to the rest of the fleet. One by one, the large ships turned, then sailed out into the darkness of the Sea of Shadows. From the ragged survivor fleet, a cry went up, then roughshod cheers of wounded and weary warriors given at last a glimpse of freedom.
Return tomorrow for Part II: The Epilogue