A Red Dawn
Iscarion, City of the Dawn, began its day in twilight. Floating above, hunkered in squat malevolence and blocking out the very light of Hysh, Castle Iskar hung like an axe. The city was quiet. The rain of stones had passed, and the embers of the fires that once swept its streets were now cold. Yet the heart of Iscarion was not yet stilled. A light appeared in the streets. Seen from above, it was like a firefly in an empty field, nothing more. Then another joined it, and another, then in pairs, then more, dozens, until hundreds of points of light lit the fallen city like a night’s sky. The lights began to rise, a dawning of embers reignited, rising until to the watcher above they at last became clear. Ships, armies, and more rose in defiance to the tyranny of the cold night sky. The last day of the Satraps had dawned in fire.
Mithridates Alti watched the approaching armies through a crystal he held with grim resolve. Black as the void and haloed with golden aethyric energy, it seemed to be wrought from the very stuff of Noctis. Finding the magics needed to create this Key had taken him years of toil and sacrifice. If only Elusedrod had been able to seize the Eye, as he required, he could have bound the Key to it and secured the magic in place. As it was, a fraction of his iron will needed to be concentrated on the dark crystal at all times, and the imposition galled him. No matter. Soon enough, his ritual would be complete.
Across the Prime Dominion, the Satrapies were stirring. If Alti assumed he could march in unchallenged and seize the land that was rightfully theirs, he had another thing coming. Even as Alti ignited the spell and channeled his magic into the Key, a hundred plans were set into motion to bring his castle to the ground. Yet they did not know what awaited them. They did not know the mercenaries that had flocked to his cause, or the traitors amongst their own who saw their ascension at his right hand. They did not know, yet still they rose.
Battleplans for the Storming of Castle Iskar, by Hennrik the Chronicler
The first to break above the shadow of Castle Iskar were the fleets of airships. Grungni’s Touch and the Golden Tradewind swept forward like a storm at the helm, racing to be the first to breach the island’s borders. Behind them came the Chreos and the many wings of the Iron Fleet. As they created above the island’s perimeter, they finally caught the light of Hysh like a swarm of radiant beetles. The vibrant colours of dozens of Kharadron clans caught the light, glowing beside the dazzling reflection of polished brass. They were not alone in the skies, however. Predatory spells lept at them from above, where they flocked around the island’s perimeter. A set of glowing jaws the size of a mournfang clamped across the bow of a gunhauler, pulling it down from the sky. More swarmed around the frigate Frigga’s Dottir, the runes carved into its sides glowing hot against the magical assault. The spells were not the only danger, and as the Prosperity’s Herald burst through a disintegrating purple sun her escort ship the Red Barrel erupted into fire. They could only watch helplessly as the ship crashed to the ground, only to immediately be swarmed by the crested warriors of the Ashfyrd lodge. Brute Boss Zodgrob Facecrumpah, standing upon the wrecked hull, drove off wave after wave of the slayers, yet there was only so much one orruk could do, and he soon fell to the unending tide of axe blows.
Screened by Orphan Sorthus’ eel riders, the surviving airships began their attack. Kettil Gorogsson flew low over the outer defended dropping flaming ale barrels that burst into flames against the dug-in mercenaries that had sided with the vampiric prince. The Thunder Valkyrie followed close behind, raining it’s own payload of gnasher squigs upon the panicked defenders. Ox’ezteca of the Wrathscale Seraphon flew in their wake, pulling screaming harpies from the sky with starmetal blades and ancient claws. Into this fray flew Gorfang da Immortal and his boarboys, catapulted into the air in the general direction of the fight by the Idol Big Gork. Though no small few were sent careening into the sides of flying ships or missed the island entirely and plummeted into the Shimmersea far below, most of the greenskins survived the approach. All around them, airships began setting down, disgorging the warriors waiting within. Portals opened by the Witchfinder General and many others opened, and streaming out came the armies of Lord Arras’ Lumineth, the Shedscale and countless others. The alliance of satraps had gained a foothold on the island, though it had already cost them dearly, and the greatest force of Alti’s supporters still faced them.
Leading the charge on Castle Iskar were the Aurannar. The Skaven genius, Skreet, devised a great plan to open the path for those who wished to storm Alti’s castle. He would send islets and land fragments hurtling down towards it, laden with explosives. As ships struck out for the castle by air and armies by land, a small fleet of islands were sent hurtling into the building’s flank. To the Aurannar’s dismay, Alti had anticipated that his ritual would not go uninterrupted. Cannons opened fire from along each level of his castle, blasting many of the islets to rubble before they could smash into his ritual site. However, there is only so much one can do to prevent a rockfall of such unprecedented magnitude. Hunks of earth the size of small buildings exploded outwards from the cannon impact to rain down on Alti’s own armies, and those that did make contact exploded in magnificent plumes of pure green and orange flame.
All around Iscarion and the sky above Castle Iskar, horns and bells and shouts sounded in unison. Alti’s armies were plunged into disarray, and the final attack had well and truly begun.
Taking advantage of the chain reaction of panic, a large contingent of Aurannar and Idrelec were the first to charge on Castle Iskar. Their primary obstacle was the great gates, and this unexpectedly effective last-ditch effort resulted in a bloodily effective use of Iden’s massive weapons cache. Before the last of the shattered islets had finished tearing into the ground below, The men of Long Drong CCXLI took advantage of the panic to try and secure a beachhead around the gate. Assaulted by a wave of skeletal guardsmen, his men were outnumbered five to one. However, this suicidal charge had been carefully laid by the determined Drong, who had already named his successors and accepted his fate. By fighting to his last breath, a wedge was duly carved for the oncoming forces.
Accompanying the assault were Idrelec diplomat Hibiki Feyshriek’s harpies, carrying cauldrons of blood to be deployed under cover of the explosions. Many harpies were struck down by a magical barrage from gathered cultists below, each hit causing them to mutate horribly and crash to the ground. However, they were relentless, and only death could force them to stop, leading for them to be ultimately successful in their deployment of the witch aelf-laden cauldrons. From the ground, Hibiki Feyshriek stood ready to launch her full-scale attack, with enough witch aelves delivered to her side to start to even the odds.
Armies launch their attack on Castle Iskar.
Lady Anathene, dropping in with a combined army of Idrelec and Aurannar. She unleashed her assault upon the Castle by ripping open a portal to the realm of Slaanesh, using every ounce of her willpower to create a passage for an army of Slaaneshi daemons. When the deed was done, she was forced to take shelter and recover from the strains of the grand ritual. Taking advantage of this influx of Slaaneshi daemons was Kykakzen Twinsurge and his lover Shadir, using the portal to summon enough forces to pin back the Deathrattle tide and hem them in.
Shadir leads the daemons’ attack.
As this alliance managed to secure the gates, their true purpose became apparent. The hobgrot Throm burst through the freshly-secured path towards the castle, flying atop the great dracoth Tassakarn. In place of his hand glinted the magnificent blade, Beshslayer, bequeathed to him following Torag’s death. Alti’s father, Mithridates Besh, had been rumoured to fall to the very same sword many seasons before, and the alliance intended to put their trust in Throm. Their combined effort allowed their new hero passage towards the castle, and clear of the gates and artillery, Throm’s mount wove around the side of the structure and out of sight.
Even as the Alliance of Satraps stormed the shores of Castle Iskar, the grand design of Mithridates Alti was taking shape. In his grand throne room, the prince wrought the winds of magic like a hurricane, channeling them into his midnight crystal in a thunderous invocation. Like Noctis above, the Key devoured the magical energy, siphoning it away. Calling out in a language older than the realms, Alti’s spell changed. With an iron will, he held the magic firm, and the steady siphon pulled taut. He hurled the force of his intent against that tension, grinding it like a lever, and in response the heavens themselves began to shift. Slowly, by fractions of an inch at first, Noctis strained against its orbit, then broke free. In a sudden rush, the dark sun soared over the Prime Dominion until it hung above the Castle, terrifyingly close. Darkness, a true darkness never before seen in Iscarion, fell across the battlefield as Noctis consumed the Realm’s light. For a moment, it seemed that Noctis’ proximity would undo the very magic of the ritual that bound it, until Alti roared a second arcane phrase into his Key, and the sun’s all-consuming pull lessened. The waters of the Catarhactes turned from a torrent to a trickle to nothing as the dark sun settled directly in its path, blocking off the realmgate. The first stage of the ritual was complete.
The ritual had taken a great deal of Alti’s power and he bent double, coughing, spattering the altar before him with a mist of blood, but it could not hide his triumphant smile. For the first time since he had been inducted into the priesthood as a child, he could not feel the call of Nagash at the back of his mind. His freedom was nearly at hand.
Below the castle, Noamuth of the White Flame stared up at the shifting sky in disbelief. Knowing that Mithridates Alti’s control of Noctis hinged on the Key, the rulers of Teclandec and Aurannar had hatched a plan. Iden’s wizards had argued that the Eye was made to work in concert with the Key, and that therefore they should be able to wrest the Key from his control and contain it in the artefact. All they needed was a strong escort to get them in position, and the combined forces of the Aurannar and Teclandec would be able to ensure it was done. Yet as they set out, it was only the Coven of the White Flame that came to their aid. Though Noamuth’s executioners and great war hydra fought valiantly, they were overwhelmed by the hordes of Iscarneth aelves and mercenaries that had flocked to Alti’s banner, and could only watch as Iden’s wizards were cut down. The best hope to contain the Key and cut short the ritual was quashed, unable to overcome the mutual suspicion and distrust of the satraps’ supporters.
With the ritual rumbling to life all around them, the armies of the six satrapies streaming through the gates moved ever-faster through the undead hordes that surrounded them. With the chain and the skies both teeming with allies and the courtyard overrun with fighting, the challenge was on to push forward towards the doors. Their task was not easy: not only reanimated bodies shambled around them, but the razor-sharp harpoon attacks of mercenary pirates, chanting of cultists, and the roar of monsters dredged from the Lux Umbra itself. Every field of battle was set alight with spear and smoke.
Prince Maelyn of the Wildwood Vanguard approaches the enemy in the name of the Idrelec.
The Band of the Gryffin were loosed upon Alti’s minions, eager to spill the blood of the tainted and the damned. They were followed by soldiers of the Crimson Hand, clearing the way for their caster to send great waves of magic over the clamouring foe.
Junko Gatebreaker and the crew of Stomping Solutions were seen barrelling overhead in their immense fortress-ship, smashing into the side of Alti’s turrets and sending a handful of Alti’s senior generals to their deaths. Safe within the confines of the towers, the Vengorian Lords were ill-prepared for a structure ten times their size to crush them into a pulp across the flagstones below. Smashed fragments of metal cannons also rained down in a hailstone of shards, pinning the flesh of the oncoming undead to the castle island in a great effigy of defiance.
The assault on the castle continues.
King Tiberius of the Idrelec found himself once again fighting by the side of Eris Bloodwrath, taking on a crazed group of cultists and undead thralls. The two Lords of Khorne delighted in one of the biggest banquets for the Blood God ever held in Hysh, staining themselves crimson in union. The bold King offered his hand in marriage to the Equery midway through the decapitation of a direwolf. The offer provoked a rare smile from her, but Eris rejected the proposal of marriage. Instead, she proposed that, when this war was over, Tiberius was welcome to walk by her side in true partnership and to continue her quest to ascend to the Varanguard together.
As the castle shook beneath the assault, a final contingent of allied Aurannar and Idrelec wheeled a huge cannon towards the great front doors in an attempt to bust them wide open. Evengelia of the Brazen Warbringers Stormhost had paired up with none other than Squirk Zip-Zap, skaven engineer of the Aurannar, to create an exceptional weapon. The skaven construct was at least forty foot long, its base glittering with strange warpstone crystals. Its purpose soon became clear as the Stormcast Evocators fired their celestial lighting directly into the cannon, where the Skaven technology magnified it tenfold and fired it directly at the door, incinerating both the entrance and any enemies standing in a straight line in front of it.
The castle was cracked open, and the coalitions were now well and truly through.
Final issue of the Idreneth Herald, as circulated around Iscarion.
Castle Iskar had many towers, and though Alti had sequestered himself in the tallest to conduct his ritual, it was by no means the only one that the winds of magic blew around. Though Noctis was high in the sky, Alti’s rite temporarily prevented magic from being consumed by the dark sun’s ravenous presence. So, as the battle raged around Castle Iskar, one of the towers burst apart in a brilliant outpouring of unnatural light. As debris rained down on the warring factions, a glimmering figure rose from the wreckage. Twice the size of a normal aelf, and seemingly composed of nothing but strands of woven light, the manifestation of Elusedrod surveyed its surroundings. This image looked younger than its caster had for centuries, with obvious strength filling out its huge frame. The projection gazed down at the forces assailing Castle Iskar and smiled as its unnatural senses detected the wariness of the invaders and their uncertainty of his loyalty. If only they had been closer. They might have seen the long fangs that its smile revealed.
With a single gesture, Elusedrod unleashed a furious beam of star-energy at the forces, turning a whole section of Iscarneth warriors into vapour and rendering the cobblestones beneath them into fine, powdered glass.
At this declaration of treachery, several mages from across the battlefield bent their efforts towards combating the glowing image of the treacherous Satrap. The necromancer Elmira Rosethorn turned from her resurrections to summon a creeping hand of deathly smoke which slithered towards Elusedrod. At the same time, Big Mudda used her Troggoth magicks to call up a Bad Moon to gobble up this new glowy aelf. Malrak, who was high above the scene in a duardin airship, realised that this is what his intuition had made him stay aboard for. With a great effort, the vampire released the spirit of Aqshy that resided within him, sending a cataclysmic fireball hurtling towards the back of Elusedrod’s now laughing form.
The projection froze the deathly hand in place with a look that dripped with arrogance. The bad moon fared little better. As it hurtled towards Elusedrod’s projection, it caught the spell with a hand on either side of its dread crescent, and spat boiling sun-stuff into its now-screaming mouth. Though these spells did no harm to the apparition, they did serve as a distraction; they allowed Malrak’s conflagration to connect. Elusedrod howled as the arcane backlash of the spell sent pain coursing through his withered body hundreds of miles away. Furious, the form whirled around to face Malrak. It was clear to the vampire that some of the Satrap’s control over the projection had slipped, and the face now looked older, more wizened. The fangs were more prominent and the skin looked strangely charred, as though the very act of manifesting as a being of light was burning the newly blooded vampire alive.
Looking more feral by the second, Elusedrod took to the air, heading towards Malrak’s airship. The Satrap did not make it far, for Elmira’s deathly hand had slipped from Elusedrod’s control, and caught the apparition by the ankle. A scream of white-hot agony split the battlefield, and as the apparition was dragged back to the tower, the glowing flesh that the misty hand gripped grew dull.
It was at this point that Morgathas and Alcazar burst up onto the flaming top of the tower. The projection turned towards them, and Morgathas survived Elusedrod’s searing gaze behind her magic-denying shield, while Knight Incantor Alcazar’s arcane wards protected her from the worst of the heat. It would have been stifling solely from the heat from Malrak’s fireball, but being so close Elusedrod’s form was like being thrust into an open furnace. As the projection was dragged back to the tower’s pinnacle, the two warriors struck as one. The Witchfinder’s sword bit into Elusedrod’s thigh as a crack of lightning shot from the Knight Incantor’s staff, striking the projection in the arm and sending Elusedrod’s next spell careering off over Iscarion.
Roaring with pain, the projection now looked as ancient and emaciated as its caster, its skin was burnt and peeling away, and its hairline had retreated until nothing but fine wisps clung to the back of its head. The fanged, feral aspect of the vampire was more pronounced than ever now, and its eyes were wild.
Driven by animalistic rage, Elusedrod discarded his awesome spellcasting capabilities and bared his fangs and claws. With a roar, the projection rounded on the two heroes before it. Knight Incantor Alcazar charged, sword raised, only to be met with a sharp kick from the manifestation. The Stormcast fell from the tower like a meteor, glowing white-hot with the heat of the incandescent manifestation’s strike. The Witchfinder had no time to see if her ally lived though, as a titanic blow drove her into the stone floor. With a triumphant laugh, the projection’s fiery gaze finally met the Witchfinder, and her prone body was consumed by flames.
The mages that had been attacking Elusedrod had not stood idle during the Witchfinder’s last moments, but as the Satrap had grown more feral, its innate magical powers had grown too. It was unconsciously unbinding their spells even as they sought to cast them. They began to wonder how they could hope to overcome such a being.
That was, until the Witchfinder’s apotheosis took place. A sudden inrush of daemonic energy staggered everything less blunt than a troggoth. The heat of Elusedrod’s manifestation lessened as the magic of its very being was drawn into the cindered remains of Morgathas. Her form grew as she leeched heat and energy from Elusedrod’s projection. In the blink of an eye, she sprang into action, slashing and clawing at Elusedrod’s form. The vampiric Satrap tried to flee and as the two chased each other about the turrets and spires of Castle Iskar, it became clear that Elusedrod had met his match. Though neither had the upper hand, Elusedrod’s magical onslaught was, for now at least, held off.
- Knight Incantor Aneira Alcazar & Morgathas
The Last Watch
As the Witchfinder’s glowing, rejuvenated body chased the solid light avatar of Elusedrod through the skies, mercenaries of the Dornayar knew all too well that the Satrap would be able to keep going at will, as long as his terrifying Watchers continued to dwell in Alti’s castle. Many would have assumed this a boon for the treacherous Dornayar, but in their secret hearts, the armies of Elusedrod’s court had felt keen regret as they watched Mithridates Alti tear through the city of Iscarion with little thought to its aelven citizens.
Unknown to their Satrap – and indeed the other Satrapies – The Dornayeth that had not succumbed to the Blood Kiss had banded together and made a collective vow of betrayal. They would destroy their own Satrap’s Watchers, and ensure the victory of their Iscarneth kin over the vampire menace from within.
The question remained as to how to destroy beings that could seemingly shift through time and space. Alti and Elusedrod, however, kindly provided their own answer. Alti wished for the destruction of an ancient Seer Stone, a unique relic that could be used to peer into any place – and could directly interrupt his ritual to stop the Gods from influencing the Prime Dominion. Its unique powers meant it could also only be destroyed by other eternal items – such as the Ring of Ataxerxes, a ring that granted immortality and power, and exemption from the cycle of life and death itself. Such an item, it stood to reason, could also destroy the Watchers.
Dornayar diplomats had obediently reached out to the Idrelec with the pretense of getting them to destroy the Seer Stone, but the Pumpkinarch took a gamble at their meeting and elected to reveal Elusedrod’s alignment with Alti. Risking the Idrelec’s ire and disbelief, they managed to convey the truth: that the stone’s existence actually hindered Alti’s ritual, and Alti needed to trick them into destroying it.
Against all the odds, including the blatant admission of Elusedrod’s acceptance of the Blood Kiss, the Idrelec decided to trust the Dornayar as they planned to turn on him. The satrapies hatched a plan to defend the stone and kill the Watchers instead.
Under cover of the vicious assault at the front of the castle, a small fleet of Runar Bugmansbur’s airships deposited him and Bone Shepherd Mattias inside the castle through a shattered window, leading crack teams of Duardin and Ossiarch. Their path inside was cleared of as many enemies as possible by the Sylvaneth of the Amber Grove, whose haunting tunes caused monsters and direwolves to turn upon their undead masters in blind fury.
This razor-sharp incursion into Alti’s defences also cleared the way for other Generals to surge in behind them as they began to hunt down the Watchers, who had sequestered themselves deep within to destroy the Seer Stone. A large group were eventually able to slip into one of the grand ballrooms, including the Sylvaneth, the Soulblight led by Sorina and her Handmaidens, a large group comprising both Dornayar and Idrelec Covens of Khaine, and a handful of Ogors.
Idrelec forces clash with the Undead.
A fight unlike any other broke out under the ancient chandeliers. The only indication that life lurked behind the masked faces of the Watchers were their blank, glassy eyes that never seemed to blink as they shifted behind opponents to pierce them through the back or slice at their throats.
As the Dornayar fought to keep the Watchers contained, more waves of Idrelec mercenaries began to pour through shattered columns and onto the cracked marble floor. Aelves of the Ivory Corsairs and Ivory Blades surrounded each Watcher with at least three warriors, with Khainite blades and Idoneth spears attacking in perfect tandem. Three of the Idrelec Warclans brought the greentide down upon the elusive, ghostly creatures, with members of Da Realmsmashaz, Realmhuntaz and Splintered Moon amongst their roaring numbers. Many more accompanied them, eager to cripple Elusedrod’s forces once and for all. The undead servants of Cazimir, Fist of Neferata, also attended on the diplomat’s behalf to see through the pact they had made with the Dornayar and to ensure they had not been betrayed.
Drullack the Shark Prince cuts through swathes of the sinister Watchers.
Every time a Watcher was struck down, it was as if they simply phased from the air to reappear elsewhere as a younger and healthier version of themselves. From within the cradle of the marble battlefield, Bone Shepherd Mattias took a rattling breath and embedded the ring of Ataxerxes within his throne. He felt an immense necrotic energy, comparable only to the rumbling aftershocks of the Necroquake itself, wash through his skeletal vessel.
Where there had been invisibility, there was suddenly clarity.
This state of immortality was almost overwhelming to Mattias. His body was naturally impervious to the passage of time, but this was different – it was as if he was stepping out of time itself, into a permanent, immovable state of existence, undeterred by mortal wounds or bodily harm. And with this clarity came vision: Mattias saw the paths of the Watchers illuminated through the fabric of existence as golden, star-like patterns. Turning to follow one such path, he pointed at an oncoming Watcher. As it phased into reality, he watched as it aged immensely quickly and crumbled into dust.
There was a sudden pause, and then an uncharacteristic roar erupted from the Soulmason as he floated upwards on his skeletal throne, crackling with power and purpose. Mattias extended both of his hands as if in warm welcome. Watcher after Watcher found themselves reverting to adolescence or aging out of existence in the blink of an eye. However, the seemingly unending forces still kept coming; by the time Mattias had dealt with each one, it would surely be too late for the forces outside that still battled Elusedrod’s vampiric avatar.
Nearby, Davidius Mappenborough was dodging Watchers back to back with the Pumkinarch, who had fallen to the task of protecting the overly-enthusiastic professor.
“What do you see?” he called to Mattias, his eyes shining with curiosity even as he ducked under the swipe of a Watcher’s curved blade.
“Their forms are connected,” Mattias relayed, his voice strangely distorted due to the influence of the ring. “Like golden constellations. I can remove them from their ethereal pathways, but they still overwhelm us in number.”
“I have a theory,” Mappenborough began to chatter. Above him, a blade nicked a few of his hairs, barely deflected by the long-suffering Pumkinarch. “You may be able to get even more of them if you can trace their paths back to the source and attack that.”
Davidius Mappenborough caught in monologue.
Mattias leaned back on his throne. His mind traced the pathways, leading his consciousness further and further away from Alti’s castle. He saw the battlefield, and the great avatar of Elusedrod as it clashed with the Witchfinder in the skies over Iscarion. He saw the satrapies, bathed in the darkness of Noctis.
And at the end of it all, he saw the hunched figure in his golden throne: the preserved form of Elusedrod the Deathly. And the light was emanating from the chair upon which he sat.
Mattias reached out, as if plucking a berry from a tree, and pinched the golden line. Then, with one mental tug, he snapped it in two.
The effect was instantaneous. Back in the ballroom, every Watcher froze in place mid-fight and sank to their knees. Their golden auras faded away, and a clattering echo sounded in the abrupt silence as their masks slid from their faces. As Mattias’ consciousness returned to his body, he looked out not across a sea of fighting warriors, but at the shocked men of the Idrelec and Dornayar as the Watchers around them let out howls of pain, madness, and relief. Tears flowed unbidden down the cheeks of the surviving aelves as they clutched at their once-enemies, their minds returned to them in an instant, the cords connecting them to Elusedrod severed.
In front of his throne, the Pumkinarch gasped in pain. The two watchers that had skewered him against the side of Mattias’ throne took shaking steps back, horror etched on the faces of what were clearly puppeteered civilians. As the Soulmason had been cutting off their power at the source, the Pumpkin-masked warrior had been preventing adversaries from reaching his seat.
Mattias reached down to place a single, bony hand on his ally’s shoulder.
“Rest,” he rasped. “It is up to those outside, now, to see this through.”
The WAAAGH! faces down the Watchers.
Above the battlefield, the great projection being chased by the Witchfinder began to sputter and wane, like a candle caught abruptly in the breeze. Elusedrod’s form deteriorated further, with skin peeling away from his bony face and golden blood dripping from his bulging, desperate eyes. In an instant, the projection vanished into nothingness. For a moment, Morgathas’ burnt-out, glowing form hung in the air like an angel of death. And the next, with nothing to sustain it, the Witchfinder plummeted down into the Shimmersea. Still burning with the energy she had leached off Elusedrod, the light-waters steamed and evaporated around her, sending her tumbling through and into the unending light of Hysh’s edge to her final death.
The armies of the satraps approached under the cover of artillery fire. Tradelord Vorus’s gargant allies rained down a steady stream of boulders and debris on the entrenched defenders, as well as the occasional alchemical fireball for good measure. For a time, the Ventoleon Trading Fleet artillery led by Grandmaster Baron Hamlet sent torrents of cascading energy across the castle approach, nearly scouring it clean, until a shadow dragon of the Mallibaude Dynasty came screaming down upon them in a cataclysm of flame. The arcano-tech war machines exploded into a multicoloured fireball, though not before the Grandmaster turned their last shot on the dragon itself, devouring both in mutual destruction.
General Orem of the 3rd Hammerhallian Lances
Across the field, the first rush of the allies was grinding to a halt against the stubborn defiance of Alti’s faithful. General Orem of the 3rd Hammerhallian Lances led a fierce charge but was cut down, his lifeless body defended by his ever-loyal griffon. Gorfang da Immortal and Lord-Imperetent Armedorn Swiftstrike fought back to back against the vampires Yarslav and Roza, only overcoming them at last at the cost of Armedorn’s life. The Wardens of the Storm-Blessed Dawn and the doughty duardin of Aval’Atun fought together, claiming the battlefield inch by inch, while the Hathorians of the Mountain’s Path struck forward behind mammoth-sized Obivos. ‘The Rovers’ of the 1st Hasfel Militia Company launched a daring raid to secure a stash of blackpowder against the walls of the castle, looking to force a breach, but even their legendary determination could only drag them so far.
The Broken Souls Stormcast assault the walls
It was the thunderous arrival of the Teclandec cavalry that turned the tide. Lumbering at their fore were the Bleak Chewer ogors and the Troggboss Dumlukk, their massive forms like living battering rams. A tide of Troggoths under the sign of Big Mudda’s Bad Moon swept howling down, pulverizing anything foolish enough to get in their way. Behind them came the lightning, the elite riders of the Order of the Crimson Dawn and Sylryr Swiftskin’s seeker cavalry. Above it all was the rallying clarion of Bardslayer Rygra Ebonsmith’s bagpipes. The advance swept forward, its momentum unstoppable, until in a pillar of black flame Alti himself entered the battlefield.
The Prince’s arrival shattered the cavalry charge. With a wave of his land, the land erupted into sharpened stakes of obsidian, impaling the onrushing riders. Horses shrieked and seekers were cast back into the aethyr with unsettlingly human screams. Vithik Sharptooth and Kazimil Zerkonavich fell upon the reeling Teclaneth cavalrymen, tearing them apart with ease. Rashida the Seawolf felled a troggoth with three well placed strikes, then turned her attention to the Lumineth invaders. Skaldangyr too let loose on the Meat Carver ogors, his blade flowing with effortless intensity.
Alti looked towards Lord-Imperetent Kongming, then raised a thin curved blade that seemed to be made of purple ice in a challenge. The strain of keeping Noctis in check still showed upon him, but he did not slow his charge towards the much larger stormcast. His first blow swung low and fast, and was swatted away with authority by Lord Kongming, yet when the answering strike of the hammer should have crushed the vampire’s skill it passed harmlessly through him. The stormcast looked about in confusion, then staggered forward as the tip of the blade punched out through the front of his chest. He clutched at the wound, gave one last desperate effort to swing the hammer back at Alti, then fell. A streak of lightning shot upwards, blinding the vampire for a moment, then veered off course for Azyr and was drawn into the hungry mouth of Noctis.
The Twofold Sacrifice
Ashavohlk had just cleared a rampart of enemy soldiers and was taking a moment to catch his breath and to repress his growing bloodlust. In that moment of inaction, the servant of Nurgle that had been tailing him seized its opportunity. Siphius the Bilepiper approached the vampire with a song and a dance, which quickly ceased when it saw Ashavohlk’s frown. Cutting to the chase, Siphius offered up a draught of Aqua Ghyranis that was bestowed with the Grandfather’s resilient blessings. The Daemon explained that the potion would grant the White King the endurance to stand toe-to-toe with Alti. The vampire snatched the bottle before pushing the daemon away. But, Siphius continued, should Ashavohlk survive his battle with Alti, he would be doomed to die as the Nurglish poisons leaching into his blood ceased to be held at bay by the restorative effects of the Aqua Ghyranis. With that, Siphius capered off, grinning. For he knew that even though Ashavohlk would now be a dangerous combatant, he would be an even more dangerous vector of disease. The daemon reckoned that the Grandfather would be proud.
A great explosion and a shower of warp-sparks announced the arrival of a gnaw-hole. The earth in Alti’s outer courtyard yawned open and from the sloping tunnel within poured the warriors of Celandec, charging at full speed with death-chants and war-prayers on their lips. At their front rode the Steamwrought Chuglords, their ram-prowed engines smashing rubble clear and crushing the enemy beneath their tracks. Riding with Azoth on the lead engine rode Renaya, screaming the war-song of the Celandec. Her black hair whipped in the wind and her Aqshy-infused blade was aflame, belching out as much smoke as the engine she rode. Behind the powerful shock troops charged the forces of Khoralis Doomspite, Lucia von Carstien, Eilana Swiftbloom, Likspit, and many more. The engines tore through the outer courtyard and smashed the portcullis to the inner courtyard to mangled ruin with the crack of splintering wood and the screech of tortured metal. As the huge doors were flung back, the Celandec saw the conflict. On the opposite side of the battlefield, the Teclandec forces were fighting against Iskar’s defenders.Closer to them, in the courtyard’s centre, stood Alti, standing next to a scorched patch of earth. He turned towards the noise of the ruined gate and scowled as he saw fresh forces come to assail him. As the Celandec charged through the breach, he raised his hand and uttered a single word.
A shockwave of cataclysmic force scattered the charge like leaves in a storm. Warriors were sent flying, armour smashed and bones broke under the sheer percussive force of the spell. Several of the Steamwrought engines even tipped onto their sides, or otherwise were sent careering off course.
As the dust settled, the Celandec forces tried to pick themselves up. The whole gatehouse had been torn from the wall, and the debris has been hurled into the Celandec lines, and Alti’s laugh could be heard over the sound of battle behind him. Several of his warriors gathered to him now, apparently bored of the Teclandec assault. As Alti and his soldiers began to saunter towards the floored warriors of Celndec, Renaya’s stomach dropped when she saw two of her own mercenaries, Kazimil Zerkonavich and Rashida the Seawolf, walking beside Alti. Their fanged smiles flashed in the darkness, mirroring Alti’s own grin.
Renaya glanced about. Her forces were in ruin. Horses screamed and warriors groaned in pain. She knew that the casual approach of Alti was a show of his towering arrogance. He thought that with one spell, he had rendered the Celandec threat inert. She would teach the vampire what it cost to underestimate the Celandeth. She raised her hands to the sky, hoping against hope that her magic was strong enough to do what must be done.
The sounds of battle faded. The chill of Noctis’ night lessened. About the Satrap, time slowed and colours seemed to become more vibrant. A gentle chiming could be heard, and from nowhere, petals began to fall from the sky. The magic of Ghyran, ever responsive to Renaya’s call, did not fail her now, as as the petals landed on her warriors, their moans of pain ceased. With disbelief, the warriors of Celandec inspected the wounds they had been clutching mere moments before, only to fund unblemished skin. The petals continued to fall, and where they fell, the air rippled as if they were floating on the surface of a still pond. Tears welled in Renaya’s eyes as she saw the blessings of Ghyran made manifest, and she wondered why anyone would ever wish to study a different wind of magic.
Alti’s warriors hissed and snarled at the magic that was being wrought before them, but their leader didn’t waste time with emotions. He roared for his warriors to charge. The distance between the two forces was large though and now difficult to traverse due to the debris. By the time they had crossed the immense courtyard, the Celandeth were on their feet, fresh as they had been moments ago, and ready to face their attackers. Disordered as they were, the ranks of the Celandec were forced to fight in mismatched companies, with ghouls battling side by side with aelves and ogors alike. Khoralis Doomspite and Lucia von Carstein ended up cheek by jowl, each spurred on by the other’s death tally. Together the two leaders tore a bloody path through Alti’s forces. However, many of those that fell rose again, shambling back into the fray thanks to Zerkonavich and Rashida’s necromancies.
During the onslaught, Renaya caught Alti’s gaze. They were only separated by a handful of Alti’s warriors, and the vampire had no qualms about hacking them down in order to reach Renaya.
The two leaders locked blades, Alti’s black rapier flickered with serpentine speed as Renaya’s fiery sword roared as it moved to block him. It took two strokes of the rapier for Renaya to realise that this was a duel she could not win. A space was cleared about the duelling leaders, so that all present could witness the spectacle. Renaya parried, a third blow, and a fourth. But it was clear to all who were watching that Alti was toying with Renaya.
Apparently it was clear to her too. Something shifted in the Satrap’s face, and she stepped forwards. Alti’s eyes widened as a lazy swipe passed through a block that was not there. His blade bit into Renaya’s flesh at the same moment hers pierced his. There was a gasp, and Alti staggered back, staring at the flaming blade that now protruded from his gut. Aqshian flames guttered as his thick blood slowly seeped from the wound. Renaya fell to the ground, just as grievously wounded as her opponent. With the sword still planted in his belly, Alti barked for his soldiers to kill them all, and staggered back towards his keep. The vampire knew that he could recover swiftly if he was able to drink blood but no longer wished to take any more risks in the chaotic melee.
Alti’s forces charged, with Kazimil Zerkonavich and Rashida the Seawolf leading the war, teeth and swords bared. Renaya would have been trampled to death then and there, if not for Likspit. The Grey Seer had scurried forwards to aid its leader in the shock of the duel’s outcome. He squeaked as he clubbed down aelven zombies and warriors alike, blasting any survivors with arcs of vermillion lightning. Even though all of his instincts were screaming at him to finish off his leader and ascend the ranks in the ensuing power vacuum, the close friendship that bound the Satrap and her mercenary held the skaven’s hand. Renaya’s eyes opened and she smiled despite the pain when she saw Likspit standing over her. She had long suspected that of all of her mercenaries, Likspit could safely be numbered among the most loyal. Though this turned out to be true, it was the last thing that passed through her mind as unconsciousness overtook her. The Skaven refused to leave Renaya even when the Celandec forces managed to beat back Alti’s warriors and secure their Satrap. He remained even when Azoth knelt to carry Renaya to safety. The ogor ended up having to carry Likspit too, for the rat man would not let Renaya out of his sight.
The Celandec attack had achieved a great victory, for no living being had seriously wounded Alti for centuries. However, their forces had been hard pressed to reclaim Renaya and they would suffer more casualties if they remained here. While a handful of mercenaries escorted the Satrap to safety, the rest remained on Iskar to keep the gnawhole in friendly hands, as that any of the forces that opposed Alti might use it to escape.
As Alti staggered up the steps towards Iskar’s main entrance, he was alerted to the presence of a man standing before the door by the sound of a bottle smashing. Alti looked up. Ashavohlk stood before the wounded vampire, wiping the poisoned brew from his lips. Without a word, the Warden of Helspoint raised his sword and hurled himself towards the would-be Ceraph.
The duel on the steps before Iskar was furious. Swords, claws and fists flew with meteoric force, as the two ancient vampires traded blows. Alti’s overconfidence was gone now; he had been humbled by Renaya. Instead, he fought with the desperation of a wounded animal, his winged arm still clutching the sword in his gut. In parallel, Ashavohlk’s fighting style was uncharacteristically reckless, turning aside only the most vicious blows, as he placed his trust in the tainted Aqua Ghyranis to heal his lesser wounds. However, it was not swordsmanship that decided the duel, but fickle chance. A loose flagstone slipped beneath Ashavohlk, and the vampire lost his balance. That moment was all that Alti needed, as he swiftly disarmed his opponent. With a roar, Ashavohlk recovered his balance, before surging forwards to tear Renaya’s sword from Alti’s belly. But the Aqshian blade burned red hot, and seared the Warden’s hand. Alti seized on this moment and embraced his opponent, sinking his fangs into the bare flesh of Ashavohlk’s neck.
As soon as the blood slipped into Alti’s stomach, he knew he had been poisoned. The Nurglite filth of the tainted Aqua Ghyranis that flooded Ashavohlk’s bloodstream had reached fever pitch, and while the Warden was protected for the time being by Ghyran’s healing energies, Alti was not.
He screamed and cast the other vampire down the steps, inadvertently tearing Renaya’s sword from the wound in the process. He stumbled with the pain, unsteady from the suddenness of the wound and the potency of the plague. With a final curse, Alti lurched into the darkness of his keep as the blood that leaked from his wound grew black and spattered on the floor in foul, stinking gobbets.
Though Alti had joined the fray of battle, he was still the fulcrum of the ritual to seal off the Prime Dominion. The arcane rite tethered the dark sun Noctis to the dark heart of the vampire. However, as he staggered through the shadows of his castle, he felt his control over Noctis slipping away. Through his agony, the vampire knew he had a decision to make. Should he hurry back to the tower where he had started the ritual, and attempt to regain control of the dark sun with the Key, or should he first drink blood, to restore his failing vitality and replenish his strength.
Sigmar’s vampire hunters know that to be a vampire is to be a vessel of thirst before anything else. Alti knew of this truism, and it was to his shame that he headed first to his screaming larder, in search of nourishment. Whether the vampire could have made it to the Key and survived the strains of reasserting his control over Noctis, none can say. What is sure, is that Noctis broke free of Alti’s shackles while he gorged himself on the blood of the living. With the ritual slowly falling apart, Noctis’ powers began to return. Slowly, agonisingly slowly, the gravitational pull returned to the dark sun. With Noctis looming so low over the spires of Iskar, it was these parts of Castle Iskar that were affected first. The roofs of the towers were slowly peeled away and their contents were dragged into Noctis’ all-consuming darkness.
The Destruction of the Crystals
Illyana nodded to herself. She could see that Alti’s ritual was failing, and that the battle was reaching its climax. Now was the perfect time for the joint mission of Ruyalar and Celandec. It was time to drag Castle Iskar out of the sky. Illyana Draketooth’s huge sky-frigate disgorged charging troops into a wide cavern that had been hewn into the side of the shard of Wirenth that Castle Iskar squatted atop. The sky-harbour was being watched by a handful aelven defenders, but these guards wilted beneath the onslaught, as an elite cavalry formation of some of Celandec and Ruyalar’s finest mercenaries swept into the cavern. Tarascon and Eurwen the Half-Wise rode aside Lady Draketooth herself. While Tarascon’s osseous steed thundered through the cavernous underbelly of Iskar, Volanteth’s Allopex swam silently through the air.
In their wake rode the others, including the Vessel of Khorne and Thala Silversight, whose rivalling proclamations to Sigmar and the Blood God echoed down throughout the tunnels, putting pay to any hope of secrecy. Many of Alti’s forces that were patrolling the tunnels rushed towards the noise, only to be trampled underfoot, or have their heads split by sword or spear. Behind them, Da Woit Grunt’s Knoights bounded happily along, revelling in the chance to be part of the stampede.
Through the winding tunnels and chiseled passageways they rode, past clusters of eggs and the foul, translucent denizens of the Lux Umbra. The force stayed true to the path that Fatemaster Alvakai whispered into their minds from atop his Tzeentchian Disk, steering them with unerring confidence as he peered into the possible futures that awaited them behind every fork in their path.
Finally, the mercenaries descended into a huge chamber, it had two entrances and a high ceiling shrouded in darkness that even the light of their torches could not reach. The weight of the island above them was almost palpable, but even this deep, the dreadful reverberations of the battle above could be felt. Fine dust rained down from the ceiling, and even the most proud warriors quickly donned their helmets, lest a falling rock bring an abrupt end to their journey.
The chamber was deserted, save for the huge zephyrquartz obelisks dotted around the space in a perfectly symmetrical pattern. Before Draketooth could instruct the invaders, Eurwen the Half-Wise charged one of the crystals and struck at it with her spear. The spear shattered against the monolith, and the deepkin cursed loudly as she tossed the splintered haft to the floor. After a deep sigh, Illyana explained to the warriors that the Skinks needed to be elsewhere to conduct the ritual, but that the space in the centre of the obelisks must remain undisturbed until the ritual ends. She motioned Zod-el, the bearer of the spear Celannar’s Bite, into the centre of the chamber before nodding to Alvakai. The Sorcerer reached out with his mind and contacted the two Skink priests who were clinging to opposite sides of the landmass that Castle Iskar rested upon. The skinks had been there for hours now, camouflaged with drab body paint, with freezing, aching limbs and the constant fear of being struck by a stray projectile or falling debris. However, at Alvakai’s word, their physical worries were put aside and they began to channel geomantic energies into the remains of the ley line, from which they clung to opposite ends of.
Back in the chamber, Zod-el’s spear began to glow, illuminating the entire cavern with a warm, gentle light and disturbing the ancient things that had claimed the darkness as their home. Although many of the creatures in the upper reaches simply retreated into deep recesses in the rock, some of the denizens dropped to the floor. One of these colossal beasts landed directly on top of Alvakai, knocking the Fatemaster to the ground and rendering the sorcerer unconscious.
The creature resembled an overgrown vampiric monstrosity, a mix between a naked, sobbing woman and a membranous, fine-boned bat. Its unsettling appearance, and that of its siblings, belied their speed and savagery, as they set about battling the mercenaries. Filthius Rotgut was seized by one such creature, and dashed against the wall, before being wielded as a club to strike at the startled Woit Grunt. It was apparent, though, that the creature was unfamiliar with the sheer amount of punishment one of Nurgle’s chosen could take. It was therefore caught unawares as Filthius, still in the beast’s grip, lunged at the monster, hacking at its face with his rusted axe and felling the beast in a single blow. The other monstrosities were less easy to dispatch, however, and the sounds of battle, as well as the battle cries of the two still-competing zealots travelled far.
As this conflict raged around him, Zod-el stood frozen. Alvakai had been knocked unconscious, and now his only link to the Star Priests was lost. He had no way of knowing when the ritual was completed, no way of knowing when the Aetherquartz crystals about him would become vulnerable. Fortunately, the aelves of Hysh are attuned to the magic of the earth beneath them, for aelementals, ley lines and geomancy are merely different faces of the same magic that hold the realms together. Trusting in his ancestral empathy, Zod-el waited for the time to be right with his eyes closed and his mind open.
It was not long before Alti’s aelven troops arrived at the opposite entrance to the chamber, summoned by the cacophony of battle. Valinar, the ghoulish sorcerer-king rushed to the entrance with his warriors, and was joined by Dathaya and her aelves of Zainthar Kai. The two mercenary companies fought side by side, the close bond of their Satrapies ensuring that neither treachery or doubt entered either leader’s minds.
It was at this point, as the battle grew ever more calamitous, that Zod-el sensed the subtle change in the spear and the leyline beneath. With a flash, he drew the spear from the ground. Celannar’s bite glowed with the cold, pale light of its namesake, and the aelf’s eyes mirrored the sacred light. The vampiric horrors screamed as the holy illumination seared their retinas. Then, faster than a heartbeat, Zod-el darted from one zephyrquartz obelisk to the next, shattering each with a single blow from the spear. He seemed to freeze for a second as his blows connected, as the spear rang like a bell, before appearing at the next crystal without having occupied the intervening space. After ten strikes, the last pillar had fallen, and the light of the spear died. The walls around the mercenaries began to shake as the magic keeping Castle Iskar together and afloat slowly became undone. Illyana, who had already scooped up Alvakai, called for the others to retreat, but as the mercenaries made to cross the chamber, the floor caved in. One of the vampiric things fell, dragging an unfortunate Ossiarch with it into the brightness of the world below. The others hurried, avoiding the hole as yet more appeared behind them, and the Vessel of Khorne took advantage of the disruption to hurl his axe at the last vampiric abomination and send its screaming form toppling down the growing hole. As the mercenaries were about to leave, Thalia Silversight turned and saw that neither Valinar or Dathaya had ceased fending off the reinforcements. The stormcast called out across the chamber to the ghoulish king and the Khainite aelf to join them, but the warriors refused, for there were Vampires and Mages trying to get through the press of warriors in the tunnel. Neither knew if their enemies had the ability to reconstruct the Zephyrquartz, but neither wanted to give them the opportunity.
And so, with a heavy heart, the joint forces of the Ruyalar and Celandec fled to Illyana’s waiting sky-frigate, as Valinar and Dathaya remained behind. At the end, only those two vaunted heroes stood, fighting atop a pile of corpses. As the revealing light of the shimmersea shone up through the ever widening gaps in the floor, the two warriors were revealed as they truly were. While Dathaya’s form retained its elegance, her lower half became serpentine, and a whipping tail struck down many of her opponents as her true dedication to Khaine became apparent. Valinar, however, seemed to straighten, his feral appearance receding until he resembled a dignified warrior, and a noble king.
The last thing either of these champions knew was the groan of the floating island shaking itself apart, and the sudden weightlessness of falling into pure light.
The Castle, Breached
Mithridates Alti fled into Castle Iskar, and the alliance of the satraps followed.
Castle Iskar was built like a maze, its twisting asymmetric passages and dead end passages a mystery to all that could not see the arcane forms and glyphs built into its very foundations. Runemarks cast in stone and hundreds of feet in size stacked upon each other, their form built in twisting passageways and forgotten corridors. Their magics were potent and old, and to all but their master utterly meaningless.
For the many creatures now fighting through the inner bowels of the castle, they were worse than meaningless, for they confounded every attempt to make sense of direction. Tarascon led a bedraggled group of soldiers from all the satrapies, fellow mercenaries and survivors of iscarneth units lost in the assault, through the twisting passageways. Room to room, corridor to corridor, the fighting devolved beyond any semblance of control. Varun Dreadblade stood tall against the encroaching forces, his loyalty to Alti unwavering, and cut down the Lord-Imperetent of the Sky Stallions, yet even he could not be everywhere at once. Deep within the catacombs beneath, Tla’grex and Ozrog fought through fire and smoke, their hunt taking them to their limit and beyond.
Atressa Redhand strode through the castle’s halls as confidently as a noble at the Winter Ball. The long-handled axe she carried was nearly as tall as she was. Plain and unadorned, it bore no runemarks or gems, or enchantments of any kind, yet in her skilled hands, one could be forgiven for thinking it was enchanted. The halls of Idrelec were lined with artefact weapons, prizes of battle or gifts from great and terrible craftsman, but she had little need for anything other than the plain steel she had sharpened for herself. Simple actions, and perfect intent, she cut through the castle’s last guardians like a scythe through wheat.
She could not have been more in contrast with Caradryas. The Satrap of Innovation flew through the castle on wings of burning fury, magical light pouring off him. His chest was bare, revealing the aethyrquartz tattoos that covered his torso. The principal had been adapted from the fyreslayers. Learn, improve, and innovate, and the Lightbringer had done just that. Arcane power coiled across his skin, and with every gesture he sent it crashing down into the defenders below him. At his side, Belminar Stoneborn fought with hammer and fury in Sigmar’s name, and together they drove against the darkness.
The two satraps, bound together in contrast and deed, drew ever closer to the vampire’s lair, but they would not be the first to reach him.
Deep within the castle’s halls, the first of the oncoming warriors reached the sealed doors of Alti’s throne room. His feast of blood had done little to staunch his wound, so the injured prince had sealed the doors behind him. His face was set in a grimace as he grasped the Key and tried, with increasing desperation, to reassert control over his ritual. Thungir and the duardin of the Silfyrd Lodge approached the doors first, each atop a glittering silver magmadroth. The huge creatures smashed into the door, wreathed in fire and smoke, and though the locks were heavy and the metal and wood several feet thick they were not designed to keep out the inferno incarnate. Thungir and his forces were met with a wall of Alti’s generals, including Vengorian Lords, Blood Knights and slavering Varghulfs.
Before Thungir could be outnumbered by these elite forces, an even greater roar than those of the furious magmadroths echoed down the gothic hallway. With the entrance forged by his allies, Throm was finally able to reach the throne room, still riding atop Tassakarn and wailing a chilling warcry, Beshbane clutched in his gnarled hands. The dracoth sent columns tumbling and crushed pillars into rubble as it spiralled down the hall. It smashed into the hole where the throne room doors once stood in a whirlwind of fiery plumes and deadly claws, widening the opening for the myriad armies of all coalitions that followed eagerly behind it.
With Thungir and his men engaging the generals, Throm was deposited directly in front of Alti. The blood spilling from the vampire’s gut wound was thick, viscous and a sickening black in hue, Renaya’s punishment further exacerbated by the poison of Ashavohlk’s blood. And yet, when Throm engaged him in combat, Alti still fought back with unnatural ferocity.
With speed almost too fast for mortal eyes to follow, Alti parried Throm blow for blow. Though the hobgrot carried Torag’s holy artefact in his hands, he was still no match for the ancient prince of the night that stood before him, wounded or not. As Throm realised that he was fighting a losing battle, he caught a glimpse of the Teclandec forces pouring between the rubble and into the throne room, and decided on his final move.
As Alti’s sword found its mark in Throm’s chest, the hero of the Aurannar held Beshslayer aloft and let the power from the artefact course outwards all at once.
In the wicked storm that followed, the generals that were slowly overpowering Thungir and his men were instantly vaporised. Magical energy crackled and bounced, searing across Alti’s vision and damaging his sword arm. Throm sank to the ground in a puddle of his own blood, but every last breath he spent taunting the suffering vampire lord, predicting his imminent demise.
And then the room exploded.
The most audacious plan of attack had been directed within the halls of the castle itself. Opening a portal in what little clear space could be found, the skyships of the Able Albern Baking Co had flown directly into the castle. Careening off walls and through the rapidly narrowing passageways, last frigate crashed through the vaulted ceiling of the throne room in a shower of jeweled ties and glass, its rudder gone and endrin wreathed in flame. Leaping clear of the cometary wreck, Dariel the Resplendent and last warriors of Teclandec attacked. Khaegon Sundergaze landed first and launched himself at Alti, his blades roaring for blood. His first blow drew a line of black, stinking blood from Alti’s cheek, yet he could not find time for a second before Alti’s desperate lung drove the rapier through his throat. Caradrya the Swift, glowing with light and howling for vengeance, attacked next. She drove Alti back, one step, two, three, then pressed the attack with her sword raised high. That was all the opportunity Alti needed, his free hand shooting out and the long talons on his hand piercing through Caradrya’s heart. She staggered back, yet would not die without revenge, and in a powerful blow brought the sword Oathkeeper down, shattering Alti’s thin rapier. Golden light exploded outwards from the strike, driving Alti to his knees and staggering him, and in a flash the executioner Mir Baldaflax and Oldfather Guthrum were on top of him. Disarmed, wounded and stunned, Alti could only watch as Dariel emerged from the crashed frigate, a longsword in his hand.
“I…” he tried to speak, but black and rotten blood poured from his mouth. The Teclandec generals held him firm, on his knees with his arms stretched out.
“I only wanted to be free. The destiny that should have been mine. That was taken. No gods…”
The sword swung downwards.
In distant Selanar, in Elusedrod’s dazzling throne room, the air was choked with pale green dust. Agents of Runar Bugmansbur had flooded the room with powdered nullstone, and amidst the toxic clouds, Elusedrod remained slumped on his throne. Even as his vampiric, peeling body choked and vomited, his throne continued to drag his undead soul kicking and screaming back into the world of the living in an unending cycle. The psychic backlash from Mattias’ metal incursion had left his body lacerated and burned by its own life-support machine.
The choking stillness of his chamber was shattered in an instant, as a bloom of fire sundered its great stone walls. From upon the great white-scaled back of the dracoth Kaldera, Tetar-Munteq nimbly lept to the floor.
Too long I waited
To reclaim what was stolen
from the Starmasters.
Her voice was a whisper as she dragged the gurgling corpse out of the chair and cast it down the steps. The skink star-priest clambered onto the back of her Dracoth companion, whose fangs twisted in a wicked smile. A single claw, long and sharp as a ballista bolt, punched downwards, puncturing the chest of the wounded mage. Kadera gently scooped up the throne in her great claws and turned skyward, leaving Elusedrod’s convulsing, corpse in a crumpled heap on the floor.
Alti is dead! The cry was taken up all over Castle Iskar, but the message and the resulting cheers were difficult to hear over the groan of the shifting landscape. With the shard of Wirenth returning to inert rock below and Noctis feasting on Castle Iskar above, the warriors of the Satraps decided unanimously that there would be time enough for celebration once they were far from this doomed island.
Though many airships landed, evacuating the soldiers that they had deposited so many hours earlier, not all had survived the onslaught of arcane projectiles and airborne terrors. The Celandec, altruistic to the last, had fought a bloody battle to hold the Gnawhole they had burrowed from Iscarion’s outskirts. Many stranded warriors thanked the haggard, bloody guardians of the passageway as they hurried through. Even the mercenaries of the Teclandec nodded, respecting the foresight and selflessness of their erstwhile foes.
There was a clamour from the ruined gatehouse. In sudden panic, a large group of Alti-aligned mercenaries broke off from the dying battle in an attempt to flee through the Gnawhole themselves. However, this attempt was quickly routed by returning warriors from the Idrelec and Aurannar war effort, who were heading towards the gnawhole themselves. Da Realmhuntaz charged ahead to smash through the terrified traitors, buying time for the rest of their combined forces to make it to the Gnawhole in safety. The Orruks took great delight in tearing the mercenaries limb from limb now their morale had been so thoroughly crushed, before beating a hasty retreat.
A New Dawn
It took many days for Noctis to leave its perch above Iscarion. It sailed over the lands with glacial slowness, bringing with it a darkness and cold that was unfamiliar to the central islanders. As it moved, the Catarhactes was finally released, and began to pour freely through the Prime Dominion once more. Strangely, it was not highly pressured like water breaking a dam. It was as though Noctis had drunk every drop of the river that had flowed into it. When the dark sun finally landed in the shimmersea, it was close to the eastern islands. Some residents bemoaned that the dark sun had decided to gift them with an unwanted second winter, but most were glad, for many had feared that Alti’s temperings with the dark sun would be irreversible.
Castle Iskar’s fate, on the other hand, was inexorable indeed. It was trapped within Noctis’ gravitational pull. For many days, wreckage and rubble span around the dark sun like the rings about the celestial bodies of Azyr. What few fragments of rock that escaped Noctis’ clutches fell into the shimmersea below. Their speed was too great though, and the islets crashed straight through the thin sea and fell into the unending radiance below. Eventually, Noctis consumed the castle, along with any who still remained there.
However, it was whispered that the gnawhole, which quickly came to be known as Likspit’s Blessing, was not the only means of escape from Iskar, and that many of Alti’s loyal subjects were still alive, scattered and hidden across the Prime Dominion. They said that, upon Alti’s defeat, Vashti vanished from Castle Iskar. The only person to see her go was one Kharendra Oathborn, who claimed to have engaged her in combat to prevent her from leaving, only to lose her arm in the process. Where the silent vampiric Wayseer was now though, none could say.
When these rumours reached Atressa’s ears, the warmongering satrap was surprisingly serene, albeit a little melancholy. For Vashti had made a decision that neither Caradryas nor the Redhand could make on her behalf: to take the lead on her own.
The Iscarneth people, however, had little patience for rumours of doom and gloom however, for the Satraps’ war was finally over, and the people could breathe easy once again. At long last, peace returned to the Prime Dominion under the rule of Ceraph Dariel the First. The Ceraph’s inaugural act was to dissolve the satrapies, for they only served to divide the people of Iscarion. The lands were to be whole and one, under the watchful eye of the Ceraph, as they always should have been. All that was left was to determine the fates of the former satraps.
To Atressa the Redhand, Dariel granted the rank of Duchess of the Outer Isles and Warden of Iscarion. She was charged with the defence of the realm, from threats both within and without. Atressa revelled in her new station, and though she was suited to leadership, the war at Castle Iskar had reminded her of her true calling: battle. She accepted her new duty readily and with a rare smile.
Caradryas the Lightbringer was gifted the Duchy of Ivasaar and granted the role as an official advisor to Dariel. The Ceraph recognised that the future that Caradryas had spent so long preparing for was here, and that only a fool would dismiss the council of such a brilliant mind out of hand. Besides, to have his laws forged in the crucible of debate would only make them stronger.
To Iden the Auric, Dariel gifted citizenship. Though this sounded like a scarce reward for an ally, Iden was grateful indeed. As a conquered Satrap, his precious vaults would have been legally classed as plunder, and to the victor the spoils would have gone. As a private citizen, Iden’s vaults were protected by Iscarneth law. The Auric’s standing was no doubt improved by the safe return of Dariel’s nephew Darius, and it was whispered that Iden had gifted Dariel a considerable sum in order to ensure that his close companion Atressa was awarded the post she deserved.
To his long standing enemy, Renaya the Oathsworn, Dariel confessed that he wished to grant death for her crimes against his Satrap. As the onlookers began to boo, the Ceraph raised his arms and made clear that he would not execute anyone for crimes committed in the old order. Privately, he knew that Renaya was too popular and relentless to be let free. And so, he ordained that, in recognition of the part she played in laying Alti low, and of her mercenaries’ efforts in evacuating his warriors, he offered his old enemy a choice: imprisonment or banishment. Renaya chose exile, and departed before the season turned.
Elusedrod the Deathly, exclusively referred to by the Teclandec as Elusedrod the Traitor, was sentenced to posthumous censure. All records of his name, his deeds, his long life and rule were struck from the records. All that remained to mark his existence for future generations was a collection of books by an unknown author, and a historical footnote that mentions a nameless Satrap who’s willingness to abandon his people led his own warriors to abandon him.
And so, the bloody war of the Satraps was resolved. Although the conflict lasted barely more than a year, its cultural impact would take many an age to fade, for not a single portion of Prime Dominion had remained untouched by the war. Songs would be sung of the mercenary heroes who fought and died in its battles, historical lectures would be given on the inventiveness of their tactics and monuments would be erected to commemorate both victories and defeats.
Alone in his chambers, overlooking the port of Iscarion, Dariel the Resplendant sat in contemplation. Though he was often accused of arrogance, he was under no illusions about his good fortune. He knew that even though he now sat on the throne, it was the actions of foreigners that had placed him there. He was humbled by their dedication to his Dominion, regardless of the Satrap they served, and knew that wherever these warriors went next, the very Realms would shake under their tread.
Everything changes, given time. The names of saints and sinners alike are lost to history, caught in the bloody machinations of nations and dynasties who are themselves adrift amid the turbulent tide of years. From a distant enough vantage point, even the gods become afterthoughts as the Mortal Realms grind like cogs in an unfathomably vast machine. Yet all history was once lived, and all wars fought for a reason. Each fleeting life so desperately spent had its own meaning, its own purpose.
A way of life.