Open war spills across the Prime Dominion.
‘A Dracothian in Phyrra Forest?’ Atressa snorted, ‘It sounds to me as if the smallfolk have simply got rattled by a feral carnosaur.’ Her voice echoed around her long, stone office. Her Diplomats; Tiberius, Fayshriek and Cazimir, stood before her desk. ‘We will have to aid them of course. There is no purpose in fighting a war for the Prime Dominion if we cannot even defend our own people.’ She nodded. ‘So be it, we shall send a small force to dispatch this beast.’
‘We could, Lady,’ said Fayshreik, ‘But we three have been approached by the Auranaar. They have asked what we would desire in exchange for this so-called dragon.’
Atressa looked up from the sheaf of reports in front of her and stared at Fayshreik for a long time. The Melusai returned the stare. Nobody moved. Such intensity was common in this culture of warriors. Atressa eventually smiled, pleased with the Hag’s courage; few could meet the Redhand’s gaze for long. She motioned for her Diplomats to sit ‘This is interesting, Fayshriek. And what do we want in exchange for these pests?’
Tiberius spoke up, ‘Lady, we always need more soldiers. Ours is bloody work for the good of the Prime Dominion. Perhaps it would only be fair if the Aurannar were to share in the casualties we suffered. After all, every Satrap stands to prosper when you sit upon the throne.’
Atressa nodded, ‘And how do you feel about this, Cazimir?’
The Vampire stood a little straighter and placed his hand upon his chest. ‘Lady, I have my doubts. This beast, whatever it is, could be a boon to us. Why are you so eager to either kill it or trade it away?’
Atressa stormed back to her feet, her chair flying out behind her. ‘Because we are at war, Cazimir! I am surrounded by enemies on all sides! The Ruyalar bay for my blood, their sick ruler steals from my very court, and it feels like all who live in this blasted realm seek to prevent me from achieving my goals. Goals that I undertake, not for my own sake but for the good of all. Even Vashti doubts-’
The Satrap stopped short, finger frozen mid-jab. The stone chamber echoed with her last words.
Atressa slumped back down into her chair. Her voice was quiet now, she seemed suddenly tired. ‘Forgive me, Cazimir. I am not myself. The dragon will be of no use to us. The locals report that it has killed nothing but livestock, and was driven off by a few men with pitchforks. What use will that kind of monster be against trained soldiers? Guns? Warships? Let the Aurannar keep this reptile. We have bigger lynx to flay.’ She sighed and looked away, looking years older than she had moments ago.
The diplomats bowed to their Satrap, sensing that the audience was over. They were shocked. They had never seen the Lady like this before. Outside the door they stopped. ‘Not a word to anyone.’ said Cazimir. They all nodded and took their leave in silence.
* * *
Weeks later, Iden the Auric stood before his newfound ally. It was a Draconith, true enough. Thought to be long extinct, and now proved wrong. Relious Repotutus had informed him that it had been quite a job finding her, for the dense foliage of Phyrra Forest was defended by Sylvaneth desperate to defend their home. Relious told him that he had found the Draconith bound in a valley, half-strangled by thick vines and roots, slowly being dragged into the suffocating mud below. The skaven had cut her free, and requested a ride out of the sentient forest.
They had landed outside the vault this morning, sending dust showering from every subterranean ceiling. When Iden surfaced, he was overwhelmed by the sight of Kadera, who promptly swore one favour to the Aelf that had ordered her rescue. Evidently the Skaven was as proficient a liar as he was a tracker if he had managed to bend the truth to such an ancient and intelligent audience.
‘One favour?’ he had asked, ‘But my mercenary saved your life.’
‘He did not save my life. He saved my favoured forest. I would have had to burn it to the ground to escape. Your servant arrived at a… fortuitous moment.’
He recalled how he had stared at the magnificent beast for a long while and shook his head in wonder. She was colossal, with intelligent eyes and luminous, off-white scales. Her roar shook every treasure in the vault, and Iden knew it would not be long before all his enemies trembled at the thought of Kadera’s wrath. How could Atressa let such a boon slip through her fingers? He thought to himself as he turned to his Diplomat Torag, who was stood beside him, eyeing up the table laden with shortbreads.
‘How in the realms did you manage to get the Redhand to agree to this, Torag? It beggars belief. You know I love a bargain but this seems like daylight robbery.’
Torag smirked as he picked up the table. ‘Beats me boss. Maybe the Red’and is losing ‘er touch.’
‘Maybe you are right, my friend, but I would still like to reward you for orchestrating this unprecedented victory.’ Iden reached up to place a hand on the Ogor’s shoulder. ‘Come with me, I have a tome that may be of interest to one as infatuated with divinity as yourself. In it, it claims that Sigmar once lived a life not too dissimilar to that of a freeguild soldier. But, I won’t spoil all the details. My only request is that you read the book rather than eating it, this time. I would be sorely pressed to find another copy.’
Aurannar Major Victory
Blood on the Sand
Local Idrelec Paper circulated a few weeks before the Trial of Vashti
There was not a wink of sleep to be had during the night leading up to the Trial of Vashti. Papers were circulated amongst the Idrelec people: at the height of the day, Vashti would fight for her life and to prove herself worthy of redemption – against the Redhand herself.
Caradryas, clinging to the hope of a rescue, pulled himself from his stupor. All around him, his generals redeemed themselves several times over, throwing their armies and their best strategists together in preparation for a final, devastating assault. To the north, Atressa’s armies mustered for war – whether or not they agreed that Vashti should be executed or spared, one thing was for certain: their Satrap would exact whatever justice she saw fit. Eris Bloodwrath privately vowed that even if Atressa should show weakness and allow Vashti to live, she would finish her off herself. The pure power the Satrapy so prided itself on could not be allowed to be called into question.
As the light of Hysh grew brighter and brighter, Vashti’s cell was unlocked. It was time. Guards arrived to escort her into the Tyrionic Colosseum arena. The lone aelf – no longer Idreneth, but not quite Ruyaneth – did not shed a single tear, instead smiling as she walked the familiar halls once more towards her likely death.
As spectators began to fill the seats around the empty stadium, Eris sent out the first of the Idrelec forces. She knew that Vito Valencia would most likely be masterminding the attack that day, and she was determined to shut down every one of his strategies.
Warbands were sent out into the surrounding towns and cities, as well as to the edge of the islands bordering Ruyalar territory. Seekers commanded by Kykazen Twinsurge sought out Ruyalar spies amongst the crowds, carving messages into the bodies of survivors to return to Caradryas and tell him what awaited him. In the process, the Hedonites discovered a band of Duardin sent by Ruyalar general Drung Drungson, and fighting quickly erupted on the streets. The Soulblight Skrik and his Blood Knights were sent out to disrupt strange rituals being woven by the Everking’s Royal Order of Witchfinders, and whilst they were successful to some degree, they did not manage to catch the spies that slipped through the resulting portals.
Undead Idrelec fighters of The Cadaverous Legion
Within the arena, a prelude to the titular fight began. Prisoners taken from the failed Royal Wedding were pitted against Idreneth gladiators, including Ossiarch Bonereapers and The Lord-Regent of Settlers’ Gain, who had originally fought tooth and nail to protect the royal couple. Praetors of The Brazen Warbringers Stormhost were assigned to Vashti and Atressa both before they were sent into the fray, with Eris correctly predicting an attempt at infiltration before the main match began. Scouts continued to hold off the first wave of enemy spies as the event unfolded, with the audience continuing in blissful ignorance of just how much more dangerous the day was about to become.
Ruyalar Stormcast Catula Twiceborn
Vito Valencia commenced phase two of the Ruyalar’s plans: the first of Caradryas’ armies marched on the Idrelec with the intent of raiding the surrounding lands, hoping to draw forces away from the colosseum. However, this, too, was evenly matched. The demonic packs summoned by Salacious Syd Vicious descended on waves of the Brazen Horde’s Blood Warriors, themselves looking to spill blood in the Redhand’s name. A joint force of Ruyalar Stormcast Eternals and Seraphon attempted to cloak their forces and move into favourable positions, but wound up locked in battle with a truly huge Idrelec WAAAGH! of three united Orruk Warclans: Da Sandwalkaz, Da Realmsmashas and Da Brokenjawz.
Words allegedly exchanged before the fight, as recorded by Drullack the Shark-Prince
Back in the Tyrionic Colosseum, Vashti and Atressa finally stared each other down, as prisoners of war and Idrelec soldiers clashed in bloody battle all around them. The sky burned with the light of magic as the arena echoed with applause and bladesong. Vashti drew her elegant sword as her once-wife wordlessly levelled her axe at her opponent. For a single moment, as if traversing the eye of a storm, the entire crowd held its breath.
The southern walls of the Colosseum crumbled and smashed as Ruyalar Gargants let loose the full force of Behemat’s might.
Ruyalar forces reach the Tyrionic Colosseum
Screaming and jeering erupted in equal measure as the bitter lovers vanished into the smoke and dirt. The world around them burned red with warrior blood. A hail of arrows rained down from the Warthscale Seraphon artillery, with captured Stegadon breaking free to join their Ruyalar brethren’s plight. Brother soon fought brother, as a huge force of Idrelec Seraphon under the command of Gu’rok the Apex Breaker descended from the stands to meet them. A sea of sigmarites swarmed around the edges of the arena as well, as the Brazen Warbringers’ Praetors clashing with Stormcast Warriors of the Storm-Blessed Dawn.
King Tiberius, looking to prove his worth to the scornful Eris, led his Knights alongside her own. The two leaders on identical Juggernauts passed by their Satrap, locked in combat now with Vashti, who wordlessly deflected each blow of her axe in a halo of shimmering blood-soaked dust. The portals created by the Ruyalar scouts swelled with the weight of Da Bloodbreaka Clan, as Megaboss Gorfang da Immortal and Rogue Idol Big Gork attempted to cut through the huge combined forces of the Khornate leaders to reach Vashti and the prisoners of war.
A Ruyaneth aelf heads towards the Tyrionic Colosseum
The Kharadron Admirals Broki Gundrikson and Ketil Gorogsson launched a devastating two-pronged attack from the sky, with one bombarding the ground below with the precision only a Kharadron Duardin could muster, as the other delivered more reinforcements safely outside the arena. However, whilst initially picking off a chunk of the enemy forces, this bombardment was stopped in its tracks by the ever-present Grushnag and his Slickboyz, who blinded the ships’ view with a huge dust cloud conjured from shamanic magic. Archers from Da Swamp Drinkers also joined the growing green tide to drive back the fresh reinforcements with arrows, leaving the two parties at a complete stalemate.
The plans of the Ruyalar
Amidst the reservoir of blood, Vashti and Atressa continued their dance of death. The so-called star of the Ruyalar court was all too aware that Atressa dominated her in martial power, and yet the Red-Handed Satrap was slow on her feet. Each blow was easy to deflect, each slash only skin-deep. Even so, it was only a matter of time before Vashti found herself backed towards the wall by the insistent and clumsy blows. Atressa raised her axe up in the air, but yet again, she found herself utterly frozen.
The next moment, the axe was knocked from her hands entirely.
Caradryas Lightbringer stood ethereal, spear and shield in his hands and the light of Hysh crowning him a herald of Teclis himself. Vashti let out a sob as the Redhand picked up her weapon and turned to face her ancient enemy. She faced him with renewed resolve, his presence rousing and restoring her desire for revenge. The two surged towards each other with sneers of pure, unbridled hatred.
Meanwhile, above the arena, twin shadows stretched over the unending combat. Lumineth magic dispelled the Kruleboyz’ dust fog, just in time for a colossal pair of floating islets to unleash every manner of magic, projectile and even meteor-like hail down on the Idrelec crowds. The islands of Helaku, the Mountain’s Path, may have surely won the day for the Ruyalar – but yet again, the Idrelec met them bow for blow. The swift intervention of the Idrelec Shark Prince’s huge Leviadon, which began to smash and drag the overhead attackers’ floating fortresses out of the surrounding airspace, caused the final wave of the Lightbringer’s immense attack to fall back.
The aerial battle above the Colosseum
The shadows cleared from over the arena.
All around the royal trio, men were fighting, bleeding, and dying at their command. Caradryas and Atressa stood in the centre of this tempest of bodies with spear and axe desperately swung forth.
Between them, sliced apart by both weapons, stood Vashti.
The two rulers were frozen, the moment of their horrified realisation crystalised on their faces. The princess’ shaking lips were contorted with pain, yet still she mouthed her last words.
I loved you.
The moment of pride and defiance passed. The Satraps pulled back their weapons. The bloodied corpse of their beloved crumpled unceremoniously to the floor.
“You did this,” Caradryas breathed, tears hot on his face but his brow clenched with a rage he had never felt so keenly before. “You did this.”
The Redhand that stared back at him was not the merciless warmonger he had sparred with on the battlefield, but a woman stricken by grief. It was Eris’ blade that intercepted Caradryas as the Satrap of Valour sobbed into the swirling dust.
* * *
It is said that the Trial of Vashti lasted an entire day and night. Like a fire running rampant across a forest, the fighting was fueled by a never-ending feeling of despair and hatred on both sides. Everyone was to blame by everyone else, and as the news of Vashti’s death circulated around the unfolding fight, it simply drove the fighters faster, further, mad.
As the day dawned once again, the Tyrionic Colosseum had been piled high with bodies and before finally being abandoned. Corpses littered the stands, the gates, and even the surrounding towns. It was perhaps the bloodiest war that the Prime Dominion had ever seen – and may ever see – in its history.
And yet, when finally Atressa’s emissaries left their camps to pick through the mass grave, there was one body conspicuously missing.
Vashti was gone.
A Bridge Too Far
Deep within Dornayeth territory, Yelric’s Tower had become a centre of strife. What had began as hushed debates in quiet corners turned to impassioned speeches in the mess hall. Finally, after long months of consideration, the Tower Guard made public their intent to join the Celandeth cause. With war raging across the Prime Dominion, conflict seemed inevitable. However, the diplomats of the two great Satrapies met and discussed terms. It seemed that in this time of war, a small pocket of peace would bloom.
The pact had been sealed, a truce agreed. The Dornayar would maintain ownership of the tower and the treacherous Captain Eisdale would be returned to Selenar City and executed. In return, the troops who had turned with Eisdale were free to join the Celandec and take up arms with their new satrapy. The Dornayar did not grant the troops their freedom out of mercy though; instead they hoped that the reinforcements to the Celandec army would ensure that the tower returned to Dornayeth hands and secure for them the supply of Aqua Ghyranis that bubbled up from the sacred spring it guarded.
When the Aelven replacements for the Tower Guard arrived, alongside a skeletal contingent led by Ashavohlk, the original Tower Guard came out to meet them. Captain Eisdale led them, bound but unbowed. Taken into custody by the Warden of Helspoint, the vampire lord stopped only to check the chains that held the Captain were secure before turning on his heel and marching straight back to Selanar city, where he would put the man to death himself. Ashavohlk left the regiment to handle the regarrisoning of the tower. He had no idea that he was leaving them to die.
Captain Eisdale is marched back to the Selanar City gallows.
Only after Ashavohlk had crossed the Elena Bridge and were well out of sight, did the Celandec spring to action.The battle for Yelric’s tower would come to be known for both its merciless bloodshed and unlooked-for chivalry.
The assault was as overwhelming as it was devastating. Lightning-wrought demigods rained down upon the defenders from above, while the ancient stone walls turned to a liquid slurry below. The replacement Tower Guard never stood a chance. On the walls, Sigmund roared as he slaughtered the aelven defenders, not once thinking to take the trapped and stunned troops prisoner. Meanwhile, in the courtyard below, Siphius proved once again why he was referred to as ‘the Slippery One’ in Nurgle’s ledger. Taking seven of his ripest Nurglings, Siphius bathed them in the font of Aqua Ghyranis that Yelric’s Tower stood to guard. One by one, the grey-green nurglings were scrubbed, and centuries of grime sloughed from their hides, until seven bright pink imps squatted by the now-filthy spring. Grinning at his work, Siphius decided that it would be wise to be elsewhere when the Lightning-Lord Sigmund realised that the prize of the Tower had been sullied. The bathing ritual would not render the font poisonous; it would barely even hinder its healing properties, for Aqua-Ghyranis was the pure stuff of life. That said, his deed had undeniably tainted the water, making it taste foul and leaving any who drank with mostly harmless side effects, from nausea to a gentle case of gibberer’s flu. All for the glory of the Grandfather, but not too much at the expense of Celandec.
This devastating assault on Yelric’s tower was a sudden, crushing blow but still, through the arcane techniques of the Dornayar, a cry for help went out.As a phalanx of marching Freeguild reinforcements crossed the Elena bridge, Beergutz’s Boys sprung their trap. Enchanting the local stones at one end of the bridge, the Orks made the freeguild soldier’s advance impossible by summoning a colossal Rogue Idol of Gork which sent any who came too close careering into the depths below. Then, just as the soldiers were caught in the confusion of sounding a retreat, a stampede of Gore Gruntas came roaring up from behind, crushing any hope of escape. Bodies toppled from the bridge as the boar riders rampaged through tightly knit ranks of soldiers, swinging their weapons with unrestrained glee. The only survivors were those who with enough foresight to jump, and with enough luck to not be dashed by the rocks below or drowned in the churning Shimmersea. When the fighting was done, Beergutz sat on the edge of the bridge with his feet dangling over the side. He spent an enjoyable day tossing rocks at the survivors that were trying to climb up the towering cliffs, and hooting as they plummeted back into the luminous waves.
However, not all the Celandec’s warriors engaged in indiscriminate slaughter. Knowing that limited casualties meant limited rousing of Dornayar’s ire, Zod-el Plainstrider chose to meet with a Seraphon patrol and settle their conflict one-on-one, rather than springing an ambush. The terms were discussed and after a short, tense moment, the Old Blood agreed.
Zod-el rides out to challenge the Old Blood to a duel
As soon as the trumpet sounded the start of the duel, the two leaders charged each other, blades flickered as they passed. Two quicksilver strikes, three, four, before they were past each other. Zod-el hissed, turned, and gave chase before the hulking Seraphon could halt his momentum. The desperate parry from behind was exactly what the Lumineth had expected. As the Seraphon’s blade came up, Zod-el’s slashed from the side, scimitar carving through the lizardman’s thick scales, severing the hand entirely.
The Old Blood’s weapon and hand fell together, Zod-el flicked the blood from his sword, straightened and bowed. The Old Blood was panting hard, grasping the bleeding stump but he stood straight nonetheless and nodded to his opponent. ‘Well fought, Aelf,’ he said as his skink adjutants hurried over, ‘We shall return from whence we came. Your nobility has saved many lives this day. I will make sure Elusedrod recognises that.’
And so, with its new defenders crushed and reinforcements denied, Yelric Tower was wrested from Dornayar’s control and firmly placed in Celandec’s. Through treachery and bloodshed, nobility and chivalry, the Satrapy of Dreams gained a powerful boon; a limitless source of Aqua Ghyranis.
Celandec Absolute Victory
As new orders were issued at the changing of the seasons, friendship seemed very much on the cards for Caradryas and Dariel. The Lightbringer was desperate to travel north towards Atressa’s harsh lands, and had little interest in squabbling with a potential ally over resources. As he sent his diplomats to meet those of the Teclandec, he did so with the hope that Dariel was similarly consumed with his continuing campaign against Renaya.
However, according to the records of the Bonereaper Tarascon, their optimistic entrance was met by a shocking list of demands presented by their Teclandec counterparts. Peace had a steep price: the garrisoning of Ruyalar land and complete control of the aetherquartz supply that the Geode would provide, with a return of only vague ‘future favours’ to be fulfilled at a later date. Thus began a desperate series of negotiations as the Ruyalar, too preoccupied fighting their battle of honour with the Idrelec, knew they could not afford to fight the Teclandec.
The Teclandec had their own reasons for a long and drawn-out negotiation. As they led Caradryas’ men on a merry diplomatic dance, their men were preparing a heist of epic proportions. With their opponents distracted, Dariel’s forces began boring a tunnel up from the Shimmersea and underneath the area near the Geode. This effort was spearheaded by Bork of the Loonchompa Troggherd, directing the Troggoths under his command with help from from Captain Rattigus, a certain helpful skaven, who tied the tunnel into existing gnawholes to expedite the tunnel-digging process.
If all had gone to plan, perhaps the Teclandec would have taken the Geode before Ruyalar forces even realised they had been fooled by the potential of a deal. However, they were to make a mistake in their overconfidence. Back at the brokering table, The Duchess of Bryshavon’s enthusiastic discussion of the Idrelec’s plans led her opposing diplomats to become suspicious: they had investigated the Idrelec’s plans themselves, and found the Duchess was lying to them. Mere days later, an alliance between the Teclandec and Idrelec was confirmed, and the Ruyalar realised that a deal was never an option.
Latest issue of The Sylmare Tribune, popular paper within the Teclandec Diyari
Now preparing for war but still painfully unaware of the tunnel that was nearing completion under their feet, the Ruyalar constructed a new keep to guard the land bridge at Lhoris, known as the Bakrazbar, or Berserker’s Gate in Old Khazalid. It was staffed with a group of Fyreslayers led by the fearsome Zangrom at the behest of the duardin that built it. A single warband was the most the hard-pressed faction could spare, though it would not go down without a fight. Further on, defending the area near the Geode stood Gazgoth Stonerenda of the Er’thbreakas, a powerful clan of Kruleboyz. They were supported by Caradryas’ elite Ruyaneth guards.
As the light of the Prime Dominion swelled to a crescendo, the forces of the Teclandec crested the hills of Lhoris. A triumvirate of Death formed from several houses of Soulblight Gravelords and Pardaillec’s Crypt Horrors purged through the undermanned Fyreslayer keep and beyond to the Ruyaneth armies, smashing open the way for their Teclandec brethren.
A huge mob of Hedonites commanded by Sylryr Swiftskin and the Sire Maidens of the Contorted Empire stormed into the theatre of battle to face Stonerenda and his men, already worn down from a scuffle with Stormcast scouts. However, the pure viciousness of the green tide held firm around the lands surrounding the Geode.
The Duchess of Bryshavon herself, having led the diplomacy a merry dance, surely smiled to herself that day as she cut down mercenaries left and right. For she and her men knew full well that the ruyalar would be too busy fighting the Idrelec to counter their plan. Her army of loyal soldiers fought on as they waited for The Heist to come to fruition behind enemy lines.
The Duchess of Bryshavon’s record of the battle for the Geode
Led by the Duardin Theodra Brecht Von Albern, who had also had a hand in encouraging the false diplomacy, the Heist commenced as intended. She was accompanied by strange bedfellows: a Crypt Horror for a bodyguard, a Teclandeth Calligrave specialising in Aetherquartz research, and most impressive of all, a mega-gargant to carry the Geode away. The group burst forwards even as Caradryas’ armies guarding the Geode were engaging with their vanguard threat.
With the immense mega-gargant inexplicably bursting from the gnawhole-tunnel and smashing straight through the Ruyalar camp, it is safe to say that the dwindling forces were taken completely off-guard. Under the aetherquartz researcher’s instruction, the rest of the team carefully dissected the pyramid that held the Geode in place, allowing the Kharadron Pastry Queen to pull it free with her mechanical tethers.
The Sunderglazers, fighting triumphantly in the name of Dariel the Resplendent
Seeing their allies topple the Geode further galvanized the ecstatic armies of the Teclandec. Victory was quite literally within their grasp. As the Heist team extracted the Geode amongst the fighting, the rest of the Ruyalar forces were crushed into an absolute – but nonetheless valiant – defeat. Whilst the Teclandec returned home triumphant, it is said that Caradryas himself thanked every one of the warriors personally who went out in his name knowing that they would fight a battle they would surely not win.
Teclandec Absolute victory
Hoist the Colours
Across the Ruven straits, a strange pursuit had developed.
The Celandec armada, limping and battle-scarred, bore the remnants of the army that had invaded Wirenth back towards friendly shores. Their numbers were not even half what had set out on that expedition. Casualties of the invasion had taken their toll on the Celaneth army, but the largest part by far had been captured as the beaches were retaken, and now were held back on Wirenth as prisoners of war. Absent their cargo, a number of the Celandec ships had been abandoned, or ran only a skeleton crew. The mercenary forces of the Celandec had fared better than their compatriots, many having ships of their own to retreat upon, but all bore the scars of the failed invasion.
The Teclandec pursuit was tiny in comparison, a mere battlegroup helmed by fleetcaptain Wittebane of the Teclandec Navy. His orders had been clear; harry the fleeing forces, do not allow them to regroup and return, and destroy any targets of opportunity. The captain bore no illusions to his role, however. The mercenaries that the satrapy had hired would not be coming to his aid. High Command had shifted its priorities away for the time being, and that left only him and his small battlegroup to take the fight to the reeling Celandec. Having seen the ruins of Wirenth, and the burned out village where his family had once lived, the captain embraced his orders with grim resolve.
For days, the small fleet kept its distance from the bulk of the armada, picking off stragglers but making no move to engage. That changed when a sickly dawn broke over the shimmersea. Spreading down across the sails and onto the deck, a creeping wave of mold and decay enveloped the Light’s Arrow, Captain Wittebane’s flagship. Everywhere it touched, timbers rotted and yards frayed. The canvas split like rotting skin, and the wind spilled from the sheets. This curse of decay spread across the small fleet, and as the sailors tried to belay the damage, the stricken ships drifted helplessly into a roiling fogbank.
Peering through the fog, attempting to stop the tide of decay, the Teclandec navy was met with a horrible sight. The ships of the Celandec had turned about, and now stood ready to face them. Undead lined the rails, corpses pulled from the watery retreat from Wirenth and raised for just this moment. Nighthaunt swarmed out of the mist, flitting overhead, pulling sailors from the rigging and freezing the lines with their touch. Decaying dragons and winged undead monstrosities cut their way through the fog, always just out of sight. A fiery winged vampire shone like a bloody sun, and a dreadlord astride a black dragon swooped down among them. Even the Celandec ships themselves seemed to have come to life. Sylvaneth awoke the wooden hulls, pulling them back to fighting shape in strange amalgamations of living wood with leering dryad faces. The ironwrought ships of the ogors had been fitted with giant gaping maws to feed other vessels directly into their fires. Amid it all, a gargant with a head like the Bad Moon itself arose from out of the ocean, before bringing its massive club down onto the Teclandec ships.
The destruction was absolute. Sailors’ stories tell of a single surviving cutter escaping the fog, only to wreck against a tiny island in the middle of the shimmersea, its crew overrun and consumed by lizardfolk. Whether this is true or not, the Teclandec pursuit was crushed, and the opportunity to carry forward their victory on Wirenth and crush their rivals lost.
That was not the only loss suffered by Teclandec. That same evening, from a dozen gnawholes opening across the island, skaven bearing the colours of Celandec poured forth and assaulted the prisoner camps holding their Celaneth allies. The local garrisons under the command of Lord Bear Eyes did what they could, but the overwhelming numbers proved far superior. In a matter of hours, the prisoners had been freed, and transported back to Celandec lands.
Celandec Absolute Victory
Flight of the Golden Eagle
The grimy skyport of the Underside swarmed with unaccustomed activity. For weeks, skyships had been arriving individually or in pairs, anchoring themselves to the metalith’s surface or patrolling the skies nearby. The denizens of the undercity, smugglers and worse, had looked on with trepidation, unsure of what their arrival portrayed. Yet, no soldiers spilled forth to clear them out of their dens or attempt to bring order to the pirate haven. The uneasy peace held, as the Underside went about its business and more ships continued to pour in. Until the Golden Eagle arrived.
The Golden Eagle was the pride of the Aurannar skyfleet. While not the largest or most powerful of the satrapies’ flagships, it was much like its master; practical, strong, and economical. There were no wasted lines for flair or ornamentation, no grand displays of ego. Everything about the ship was functional, and no sacrifice had been made for strength and speed. The ship’s appearance could only mean one thing to the residents of the Underside. The fabled artefact that the Aurannar had uncovered deep in the depths of the Lux Umbra would soon be moved aboard the flagship.
The fighting started almost immediately. Fires broke out amidst the hive-like shanty buildings, driving the people out into the streets and sowing chaos and confusion. Some would accuse the Dornayar of starting the fires to flush out the Eye from hiding, heedless to the casualties it caused, while others claim that the Aurannar had used them as a distraction to make their move. Whoever was ultimately responsible, it was Haraldr-Grimnir himself that led the charge through the narrow streets, Aurannar mercenaries carrying the prize behind him. They were attacked almost immediately, Khainite elves falling amongst them like red cyclones, or pulling soldiers off into narrow alleyways and slitting their throats. A wyldwood sprang up through the fire and the smoke all around them, thorned vines grasping, but still the Aurannar barrelled forward. Crashing aboard, their prize in hand and fighting off the aelven ambushers, the Golden Eagle took to the skies. The ship rose ponderously, then with a blast of air sailed clear of the Underside, its many escort ships in tow.
It was only once they were clear that the Aurannar realized that Haraldr-Grimnir was not among them. Back on the docks, surrounded by a tangled wall of enchanted vine, the Fyreslayer fought on. Each hack sent shivers through the wyldwood around him, and with a mighty hew he came face to face with the Waypiper that had entrapped him. Haraldr readied himself to attack, but the Sylvaneth only gave him a wan smile, then disappeared in a burst of leaves. The Equerry looked to the sky, and the now-distant ships. The aelf had done its job. He had missed the boat. Grumbling, the old Fyreslayer slung his axe across his back and prepared for the long walk back to Iden.
Once clear of the Underside, the convoy had little trouble breaching topside and setting a course. Iden entrusted few with the locations of any of his vaults, and having to disclose this one to the entire convoy must have made his skin crawl, but the security of the Eye of Noctis demanded the attention. Deep within Aurannar lands, the convoy would be forced to cross the Cyran mountains. Yet as they approached, the beautiful lights that shone from the peaks were hidden, swallowed by a raging blizzard.
Alarms rang out from across the convoy. The Pot’s Luck and the Runestock’s Fury, first in the vanguard, finally spotted Dornayar airships emerging from the storm. Hobgrots flew out on mechanical wings and cannonfire roared, and in a flash the ramshackle ship was smashed from the sky. Some spotted Torag Tome-eater himself piloting the doomed vessel towards an Orruk airship, lightning blade in hand and a hungry look on his face. At the rear of the convoy, Skreet Darktail’s doomfire rocket launcher raised an alarm of its own, sending screeching explosives off vaguely towards the Dornayar ships that had emerged behind them. Ogor ironblasters along the Golden Eagle‘s deck joined the tumult, and fire erupted up and down the line.
The Dornayar attack was well timed and precise, striking as the convoy was gaining altitude for the difficult summit over the Cyrans. A coven throne borne aloft by ghostly steeds carried the unlikely alliance of blood knights and orruk morboys onto the deck of the Golden Eagle, their savagery and power working in tandem to overwhelm the defenders. Emerald Green Knights Numinous and rich gold Ancient Souls appeared in flashes of light and cries of battle, dodging around a barrel bounding between decks on skeletal legs. Kharadron skyriggers sent harpoons flying, tethering ship to ship. To one side, the Teclandec ship Drunken Serenity was pulled from the fight by necromantic storm of spirits. On the other, a Leviadon crashed down into a mercenary frigate. Amidst it all, a sole flying stonehorn drifted across the battle, seemingly unable to control itself, while the ogor riding it lashed at any ship that came nearby with his spear.
As the battle raged in the sky, a pillar of fire erupted in front of the caravan, revealing a red-skinned daemon prince borne aloft on wings of flame. The daemon surveyed the battlefield, then raised a flaming sword above its head and intoned “Your debt is paid”. Streaking forward, it slammed into the prow of the Battlesquig. Fire erupted along its flanks, sending orruks and squighoppers spilling out into the air. As suddenly as it appeared, the daemon was gone, taking with it the last escort ship protecting the Golden Eagle.
Explosions rang above the din of battle, and flames blossomed along the Golden Eagle‘s side. Within its heart, the Dornayar’s ultimate subterfuge played out. Ossiarch stalkers from the Null Myriad legion, practically immune to magic, had been smuggled aboard the arcane fuel cells that powered the airship. Ripping themselves free, destroying the engines and themselves in massive gouts of flame, the Eagle began its doomed descent.
Standing in the Cryxiah Pass, the only safe route across the Cyran Mountains, the Umberspire Inquisition watched the flaming airship pass overhead. A short while before, they had driven the White Host and the Sylvaneth Choir from the pass, where their combined magic had conjured the blizzard hiding the Dornayar attack. Now, in the suddenly clear skies, the Inquisitors watched the Golden Eagle descend. It had made it over the mountains, if only just, trailing fire and debris. Beyond lay the plains of Aurannar, and the secret entrance to one of Iden’s vaults. With a crash that sent a shockwave across the plain, the Golden Eagle slammed into the ground. The soundwave hit like a hammer, sending men tumbling and snow cascading down from the peaks. Smashed and ruined, the wreckage of the once-proud ship lay on the field. The Dornayar held the wreck, and the wreck held the Eye. And before them, on the smoldering plain, stood the entrance to Iden’s vault.
Dornayar Minor Victory
The Path of Blades
Iscarion, the Illusive City
If the corsair attack had shaken the people of Iscarion, then there could be no greater affirmation of the Dawn City’s resilience than the Contest of Champions. For weeks, excitement had built around the Colosseum of the Sun. Vendors of every trade set up stalls in the broad avenues. Hawkers called out to the crowd, selling goods from the far corners of the Dominion and beyond. Fortune tellers, fire jugglers, and entertainers of every stripe vied for the free-flowing coin. Above it all, the scintillating smell of the food markets hung in the air. Chamon spice and sizzling meats from Ghur, Ghryan wine and black Ulgu molasses, all mingled in a rich tapestry of flavours. Vibrant colours shone throughout as the latest offerings from the finest tailors in the city competed for attention. The city revelled with overflowing life.
The anticipation of the crowd grew like a rising tide as the games progressed. For the first several weeks, they featured the usual events of athletic prowess and traditional competition that the Iscarneth had seen many times over. This year, however, they promised something new. For the final event of the games, champions from the mercenary companies of each satrapy had been invited to compete in a tournament for fame and wealth, and the glory of their patron. The fervor built with each passing night, as rumours spread of the warriors that were set to compete. By the dawn of the final day, the excitement crested like a wave, ready to spill out into the arena in a roar of excitement.
It seemed all of the city had packed itself into the arena, or spilled out into the streets beyond. The noise was deafening, yet somehow grew louder as the first of the visiting gladiators stepped out into the arena. In a procession of colours, they emerged one after another, exotic in appearance to the Iscarneth yet marching under the banners of their patron satraps. It was time to begin.
The first several rounds of the competition blazed through the afternoon, each match fought to first blood. A gleaming champion of the dark prince posed dramatically before the crowds, his audience swooning, only to be blasted by a rain of stinking grease from a filth-covered ogor and felled by a hammer blow. The Kruleboy orruk Blind-your-eyes Onestrike took down the skaven warlord Repotutus in a flurry of bolts, but could not reload fast enough to survive his next matchup against the Hag Queen Boethica. Two seraphon competed, eliciting gasps of awe and wonder from the crowd, as the Old Blood from Tecpatl overpowered Texuma Starrender. The crowd cheered even louder for the aelf Aethys Galahern as she bested the blind orruk blademaster Barzeel, only to fall in turn to the red-winged Pyrrha Bloodrain. Even Sir Rychyrd, freshly recovered from his wounds defending the city from the corsair attack, chose to compete, and though he had no small measure of support from the crowd he was unable to overcome the Liege Gladios Assur Ban’ipal.
By the end of the day, as the setting sun cast a deep red glow over the sands of the Colosseum, only two champions remained. Lady Rika Berke stalked across the arena with predatory grace, her twin sabres out and ready. Across from her stood the hulking form of the ogor Fleshstink, his filthy hide streaked with sweat from the day’s exertions, yet his stance calm and ready. The crowd stood divided. The lightning-fast swordsmanship and focused savagery of the Lady Rika had earned her many fans, yet there could be no denying the seemingly bizarre following that had swelled behind Fleshstink. The ogor seemed in every way the antithesis of everything the Iscarneth prized, yet was embraced in a purely figurative sense by the crowd. In the space of a heartbeat, a look was shared between the competitors, and they understood that this fight, for all the glory, would be to the death.
Lady Rika sprang into action first, charging across the sand and throwing up her hand. Crackling black magical bolts sprang from her fingers, streaking across the field only to splash harmlessly against the gastromantic wardings the ogor released with a thunderous belch. His own magic filling him with strength, the ogor lurched forward to meet her mid-charge, his battlehammer held high. Rika’s thrust scrawled a pair of jagged lines across the ogor’s gutplate. She tried to parry his return blow, but the weight of the hammer crashing against her sabre sent it spinning off across the sand, tendons torn and bones broken in her hand. The ogor gurgled a laugh, and tried to press his attack. The horrid smells wafting off him had subdued many foes before, and as he watched his opponent stumble back the ogor raised his hammer for a killing blow. Like a wolf, Rika sprang. Leaping past the hammer blow, she came up in a crouch and thrust her remaining blade forward. The dark energy of the sword rang in the air as the blade pierced through the ogor’s neck. His bulk hunched forward, and rising in a pirouette Lady Rika swept the blade around in a crimson arc, severing the head of Fleshstink.
The Colosseum exploded into noise, the wild cheers and agonized groans of defeat mixing and rolling into a tidal wave of sound. Packets of Teclandec orange powder exploded in the air, raining down on the spectators and the sands of the arena below. Streamers flew and trumpets blared, proclaiming the winner out into the packed streets below. A wreath of laurel leaves and aetherquartz was presented to the champion, along with a gleaming sword made by the finest smiths of Iscarion. All throughout the city, Lady Rika’s victory was shared and elaborated upon, but even as the details of the tale grew with each telling, one lesson was repeated. The greatest champion of all those to come to the Prime Dominion had sworn her allegiance to Teclandec, proving once more Dariel’s claim for the Ceraphate.
The dawn that broke over the Tyrionic Colosseum glinted off blood so slick it had not yet dried. Had Mithridates Alti been a lesser man, he may have lost control over such a decadent scene. Each careful, considered step through the piled-up bodies was a testament to his immense will.
All around him, the souls of the dead drifted over the flesh that had previously imprisoned them. But no higher powers came to claim them, to tell them where to go, or what they could possibly do now. They simply drifted in contemplation over the slaughtered skins of what they once were.
The spectral form of a single woman stood gently over her body. The wound of an axe and the puncture of a spear decorated the perfect corpse below her.
“Do you see now?” Alti asked her.
Her eyes were raw with grief, but she had no more tears left to fall.
“They were both strong,” she responded with a whisper. “They would have both led Iscarion to new heights. They… would both be crushed by what is to come.”
“Then you understand. They would remake the Prime Dominion in their image, and in doing so, their own fatal flaws would spell its demise. You could have led them, you know. Each was made better by your presence. Of your kin, you alone sought to break the path that fate had laid before you.”
The woman did not respond, but at Alti’s suggestion, a strange fury smouldered behind her dead eyes. She knelt by the body and gently ran her hand over the injuries that decorated it, as gently as a mother might soothe her baby to sleep.
“I have need of a new Wayfinder,” the vampire continued, crouching next to her with an expression of surprising warmth. “Someone who can temper the people of this realm, who understands their potential. Will you join me?”
For a moment, the still morning held nothing but silence. Then the woman nodded wordlessly.
Mithridates Alti beckoned to the woman. The essence of her ghostly form sank gently down into her body, and as Alti held out his hand, Vashti rose once again in undeath to take it.
“Then let us begin.”