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Fire and Feathers

Rungi

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Greeting Fate with a Smiling Eye

The two runelords sat an uncomfortable distance apart, their common clan the only thing keeping them side-by-side. Lunn was beside Smakki, with Norgrim, Alaric, and Rungi almost completing the circle save for one space. The night before a Boartemper scout had delivered tales of unnatural creatures and mutated, mindless beasts. Tonight Svala was finishing a tale of an oddly armored squig and proudly brandishing the tusk she had kept as a trophy from her kill.

And then Norgrim rose. He described an encounter with cultists lead by a foul shaman. The creature was said to be over seven feet tall with a bent beak poking out from beneath a shabby cowl. As the cultists were battered away into nothingness, the coward escaped on a flying chariot pulled by glimmering sky fish. Norgrim spat with disgust into the flame, the alcohol in his spittle causing The fire to crackle loudly before complaining that had the men not attempted to rise and lash out futilely on maimed limbs, they would have captured the leader. Rungi was troubled by this. These devout fanatics were being uncovered in larger and larger groups and the crude bird shrines had often now given way to statues of polished stone with trinkets hung from its neck and hands.

His concentration was broken when Grimwold brought up the realmstone veins. Alaric excitedly interjected that these could be harnessed to fuel great machinations, but his suggestion to call in miner teams was cut short. Norgrim insisted that the bird-shaman was a pressing threat. Rungi’s quiet nods decided the matter. Speaking with the authority of an endorsed advisor, Norgrim restated the need for the miners to continue building a stable roadway so that the hammerers could advance and the ironbreakers could guard in lines instead of being thinned out and trapped by the seemingly endless swarms of grots.

“Brother Lunn,” called Rungi over the muttering commentary, “ you asked to speak with us tonight?”

“Yes my king. I've noticed rubble pilings and sloppy burial of places where the reamstone would seek to protrude from the earth. They’re frantically covered, as if greenskins are scared of them. The Rowsers, as they call themselves, have reported some indicators of crude removal. I’ve never studied the material myself, but if the designs from the Ironweld engineers are to be trusted, enough of it could be formed into a nearly impenetrable barrier.

“Sounds blasphemous,” Smakki mused.

“Realmstone is not merely neutral stone, nor is it sentient being,” Lunn explained. “Supposedly it can be activated by channeling energy through it. What that actually means though, I’m simply not sure.”

“And we’re supposed to trust ‘not sure.’ With respect brother bookkeeper, but runelore unlocks powers far beyond the energy generated by water wheel or oxen-crank.” Grimwold argued, “There would be a real threat of combustion from overloading without a mechanism for maintaining control over the whole production.”

“You seem quite amused Lord Smakki,” pointed out Rungi in reference to the chuckling elder of the group. “You don’t believe it can be done?”

“Young Lunn is not completely dreaming,” explained the ancient runelord. “Supposedly during the Age of Myth, Gods used runes to call the world into desired form. Some believe that the remnants of their construction is this ‘realmstone.’ “ Smakki took a deep breath and stared deep into the fire. “The Skaudaziwyr’ve successfully channeled ancestor spirits an’mountain powers before, but never on this scale and never to any degree of mastery. I must agree with my clan-brother. I’ve simply no way ah knowing how the dormant powers within realmstone might react t’the introduction of the energies channeled by a rune.”

“Actually my lords,” interjected Lunn, “I might. Have you heard of the Master Rune of Krol Kraggson? Legend states that he reshaped whole mountain ranges by carving his namesake into the foundation and...”

“It was called Age of Myth for a reason ye blubbering babe!” growled Smakki. “Noone has ever successfully recreated the rune. We don’t even have a record of it.”

Lunn looked to Rungi. “Friends, you know that long before the throng was assembled, some benefactors re-established the Librarian guild. Those benefactors were in fact me, at the suggestion of Lords Proudsong and Boldmane. The Boldmanes understood the changing landscape of the realms at war, and no general is more respected than uncle Norgrim, but we knew that a quest of this scale would require the accumulated experience of the ages to guide us. Loremaster Lunn has distinguished himself amongst a hall of impressive scholars,” asserted the meticulous ruler. Turning and nodding, Rungi continued, “He may have something of interest to you.”

The fire danced in the eyes of the lorekeeper as he unrolled a deeply yellowed scroll...

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Loremaster Lunn                                                                                                     Librarian Guild of the Karakigrom

 

One Defining Moment:

Wave after wave of the sickly grey grots broke against the shield walls of stout Duardin clansmen. Teams of hammerers emerged from openings in the lines while rangers and quarrelers thinned the charges with volley after volley. There didn’t seem to be any end to the creatures though; always another tunnel, cave, or shanty-hall for them to scramble out from. In the distance, Rungi could see their master. His frenzied orruk slaves pulled at the chains that restrained them, hungry to join the fray. His eyes played tricks though, as one moment he saw a single figure, and the next the image would twitch into a ring of the things.

Stromni’s lads were smashing their way from beast to beast, pulverizing troggoth and squig-beast alike. They should reach the cultists soon. That’s when the real chaos would start, as there was no telling what these tortured greenskins would do without the cultists lashes to drive them forward.

Then there were the ironbreaker teams. While the miners shored up their roads between these islands amongst the gorges and tunnels, the ironbreakers were pushing hard to clear space for the Skaudaziwyr to etch their runes of power into the exposed realmstone veins and uncut bluestone deposits. Runes of stability, runes of power, runes of protection… While so many in Azyr had lost faith, Rungi was staking his people’s survival on the notion that the ancient artisan-priests wielded a power greater than the magics that proliferated this realm. “How much longer wise lord?” the king called to his elder.

“Depends on the Stonespeaker. You near completion lad?” Smakki impatiently shouted to his fellow runelord.

“Nearly brother. I’ve no idea how long I’ll have control of the stones though. This rune has never been carved into a substance so volatile as realmstone.”

“You focus on waking ‘em up. I’ll control’m.”

The last double-hornblast cut through the noise and reached Rungi’s ears, a welcome reprieve from the bickering of the rival elders. Before he could turn to signal the next phase though, the earth’s rumbling reached a deafening volume. Though conscious, it was as if his surrounding has been slowed to a crawl and he could no longer hear his own thoughts, or the voices and clashing of the combatants all around. A bluish light radiated from countless points in the ground and cliffs. The only sounds discernible in the madness that had crept into his mind was a screeching chant. As quickly as it they had been torn away, his senses began to return. This was no relief to the king though, as he heard the rumbling of the ground splitting and saw islands of stone raising, shifting, and popping upward when in other places the ground fell away to rivers of unnatural warpfire, burning away grot and dwarf alike.

“It’s now or never my lords!” cried Rungi.

Grimwold looked to Smakki, the usually-steady veteran needing his elder more than ever. The nod returned to him was sufficient. With a final strike, Grimwold Stonespeaker hammered the final strike of Kraggson’s rune into a flat plate of realmstone. Nearly instantaneously fingers of power reached out in all direction, lending a glow to stones or adding similar animation if it touched other substances of power. Boulders sprung to life and the very ground rushed to reshape into beings. Exhausted by the outpouring of energy, Grimwold leaned on his dear friend Lunn as the later hurriedly jotted down everything he could see happening.

On the shoulders and fists of these manifestations of the mountains fury, the entire range climbed skyward while further boulders forged themselves into a single road into the peaks. Where these stones had been the earth fell away into the warpfire and madness the sorcerer was fueling, leaving only literal islands of nature amongst the hell-scape around it. Some floated in the air, others perched impossibly on fragile points. All around, those duardin who had survived the initial blasts of warpfire had hunkered down behind their shields, their faith in the ancient runes that adorned these heirlooms being tested as never before. Though the road to their future had finally appeared, it was just out of grasp. Moving from behind the shieldwall meant death, for though the greenskins were but burnt-out husks, the cultists were calling out incantations, stoking the color-changing flames and encouraging their assault on the Karakigrom.

And then suddenly… silence. Like before, the silence was deafening. Although this time, rather than signal the coming of powerful magic, it signaled its death.

 

Brothers in Arms

“Gather round lads, for as bad as you all smell from the march, you'll soon be missing eachother’s stench when th’sour of tortured and corrupt’d greenskins fills your nostrils. These aren't the squabbling raiders and their waves of skinny slave grots we hunted in Azyr, men. The Rangers tell of rock hard growths and metallic claws grown on sickly grey bodies by fell magics.” Heavy-bearded warriors exchanged sideways glances. One uttered grim curses while his neighbor spit a thick wad into the dust, each hoping the other wouldn't notice the chill raising the hair on his neck.

“An who has the pleasure of smashing through this toxic tide?” Stromni railed on. “The same brutes they always call for when they know the work will get messy. This ain't gonna be no neat rows’a Sigmar’s shiny tin men marching over some nekid cannibals or bustin’ back up a bunch of bones. The hooded bird man on that there hill is twisting and mixing up any poor wretch he can grab the soul of to enslave for his scheme. An’ that scheme will see all’a our people burn, same as they tried t’do ages ago! They called us to break through an’ send ‘im back where he come from.

“Now me boys, you might be thinkin I don't see the twitch in your leg or the white knuckle grip your flexin, that I don't know yer scared. You'd be a fool not to be! Those claws are sharp, their hides hard to pierce, an those fires will burn the beard right off ya mug! But you ain't some soft lordlings. No ones polishing yer pauldrins or hangin’ jewels in your beards. The only one paying for your treasures is you, and you done that with the blood money from grim work. The lucky of you lot’r ******, the less lucky: rejects.” Stromni paused before he continued, allowing the growls and grinding of teeth to fill the void left by his thunderous voice. He could feel the heat from their anger. “Today you carve out yer space in this new world. Today you earn your place in the clan. Today, yer deeds lay the foundation for a great new hold where your grandchildren will lay their heads and dream of fighting alongside the heroic grandpappies they keep hearing tale of.” They were ready. Stromni’s voice roared, “Today, brothers, is your day!”

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Stromni Stormbeard,

Champion of the Brotherhood of the Red Bull, Thane of the Karakigrom

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Norgrim walked slowly up the right flank of the dense block of hammerers. The morning sun gleamed off of polished heart-stone armor. Light as metal, cool to the touch; the material was priceless and had not been seen since the fall of the Gharaz-Wyr. To see 48 Chosen champions of the clan wearing their ancestral mantles in resolute commitment to the king’s orders brought a slow smile to his face.

As he turned to face the ranks, the rune priest Cranneg placed a meaty dwarven hand on his shoulder. Norgrim returned his embrace and locked eyes with the devoted warrior. “They've said their prayers to their forefathers, offered their pledges and received any blessings that are coming brother. No dawi souls will be stolen today,” asserted Cranneg.

“Thank you Cranneg.” Replied Norgrim. “Should any of these great warriors die today, I'm sure they will be lead by Ghazul to feasts and ale in Grungni’s halls. We thank you for watching over us through this trial, brother.”

The great white-bearded lord strode to the center of the line and unslung his glittering warhammer. He methodically shifted the haft from hand to hand, squeezing the purple-dyed leather and testing its balance. The smile turned to a chuckle before fading under long whiskers. The great lord stared directly into the eyes of his Chosen. With an earth-shaking boom he planted the hammer-butt into the rocky dirt before lifting it in salute.

“Thrynaz!” Roared the response of 48 Chosen in unison. Norgrim pivoted into place amongst his clans prized warriors. As one they marched through the battle-line and set to their task.

 

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Norgrim Proudsong, Lord & Captain of the Chosen of the Karakigrom

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Broken grey bodies littered the ravine as new ones hurtled forward only to be battered away by the massive steel warhammers of the Brotherhood. Ribs cracked, skulls were pulverized, and blood splattered with every duardin swing, and yet more of the unfortunate things scrabbled forth from every crack in the wall or ramshackle hut they passed. Still, onward drove Stomni’s force. Gore made the ground slick in their wake. Frenzied clawing and hacking rebounded off of the blood-tempered steel across their front. Progress was arduous at best and more than once doubt poked through the great thane’s resolve.

A foul odor scraped at the inside of his nose and dried the roof of his mouth. Seemingly as soon as he noticed it, the oddly mutated greenskins redoubled their onslaught as though they too sensed the presence of a greater threat than combat. Stromni had never encountered warpfire, but he new this was how it started. “Push dawi! PUSH!” He bellowed. “The creature on that hilltop is calling to the flames that burnt yer kin alive. You planning on cooking today?”

“Not today!”   “Nay!” “Won’ be this dwarf!” shouted the duardin between grunts of exertion.

The hammerers flattened wave after wave of enslaved grot and plodded through the grisly remains. As they neared the foot of the slope’s face, Stromni called out orders. Half of the unit fanned out as a rearguard while the others thrust forward in clusters of frenzied warriors. The Stormbeard lead the center spear, swinging his weapon in massive arcs that ruined anything in his path. The ferocious duardin grew more desperate with every indecipherable utterance that reached their ears over the din of battle. They would either fulfil the king’s orders or be engulfed in the flames of defeat, nothing left of them to be buried in shame afterwards.

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Coordinated maneuvers and precise strikes easily bested the unsophisticated attacks of the grot horde. Norgrim’s Chosen pressed deep into the pathways carved into the earth between the islands of safety. He had never seen such a maze of mayhem look so natural. It was if the land had been made to shelter these scum and as though they had always lived in these shallow ravines amongst the patches of woodland. The rangers said the maze crisscrossed the entire width of the foothills, creating a virtual moat in both directions around the cluster of mountains, and by their estimate housed no less than ten separate tribes of grot.

Norgrim struggled to call them such, as these hardly resembled the greenskins he had hunted in his youth or used as training fodder in Azyr. There was no infighting or snickering at eachother's misfortunes. These beasts were barely clothed instead of painted in bright heraldic splatters of color, and where crude markings were seen, they were faded beyond recognition. Most odd of all though was their resilient hides and piercing claws. The lord was most thankful for his heavy plate as bladed fingers slashed wildly about him. No, these tortured creatures were mere shells of the devilish raiders he was familiar with, twisted nearly beyond recognition and put to foul purpose by the bird-witch on the hill across from the clan.

How the young king was so certain that the mountains ahead were destined to be their new home, he was not sure. But it was clear the shaman did not want them to reach it. Norgrim wondered how much of this treacherous landscape had been by its design. Had the trickster architected some puzzle where these mindless savages were trapped as unwitting guard dogs of the tall, icy peaks the Karakigrom desired? Or were the mountains simply bait to draw homesick duardin into battle with his experiments?

In truth, Norgrim hardly cared about his foes. He felt exhilarated by a fight with purpose. His pride swelled as the troops split off. Mundri planted his banner and held the center while the lord and his captain, Kemril, each drove in diagonal paths, clearing wide swaths through the enemy. Behind their line, teams of ironbreakers protected Skaudaziwyr runecrafters as they hammered their inscriptions into hunks of precious bluestone and coursing veins of realmstone that protruded from the side of the ravines. The youthful exuberance of the dawi that battled all around him breathed life into his old lungs. Norgrim did not know how many years he had left, but he was glad to spend them in this king’s service. He had given life to the Proudsong dreams of a life full of honor and old traditions. Rungi had shown him a vision to chase.

...Norgrim had waited his entire life for this quest. These adversaries’ deaths were the cheap cost of the clan’s destiny. The Chosen of the Karakigrom earned their title as they carried out the ice’s vengeful promise on the fools in their way.

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The Chosen of Karakigrom

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Pillars of rainbow colored light erupted from the earth, searing everything they touched in grotesquely beautiful flames. The explosions of unnatural color and overwhelming heat were as unpredictable as they were horrific. Lunn ducked low at the first one, less so at the second, until he simply swung his head in awe at each new terror the caster called forth with its beaked maw. His plan had been working. The rare materials that were oddly common in these foothills had proven easy enough to inscribe, but they had run out of time.

And then suddenly his entire world seemed to explode with blue light. The loremaster tensed his still-muscled body with a force he had not put forth in centuries, expecting to be burnt alive by warpfire. Instead, he was surrounded by compete silence and seemed to be watching an unbelievable scene unfold in slowed time as the very landscape came to life. Entire islands became airborne, somehow released from earthly shackles. Giant fists of stone punched upward alongside massive beings of living boulder, lifting the landmasses the Karakigrom traveled on higher while the floors of the ravines fell away to reveal flickers of the mutating fire.

As quickly as it began, the burgeoning cataclysm ceased. Lunn had just managed to pull his head from the runelords pulsing with unnamed powers to look across the battle towards their feathered enemy. His eyes focused in time to see a rush of midnight-colored beard followed by the swirl of a red cloak, the arc illustrating the force the dwarf surged forward with despite the magic restraining every attempted movement around him. The glint of his hammer disappeared in a burst of blue-grey smoke and ash, as though it's strike had crushed stone to dust instead of sorcerer to corpse.

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Stromni lifted his hammer from the dent it had beat in ground, shaking the dust off of it with a frustrated muttering of vulgarities. He studied the ground to the left and right but saw no gore or splatter. At his feet was the battered remains of the bird-caster, though it was shriveled and dried as though he had struck pottery instead of a living thing. He did see, however, fire-kissed duardin survivors standing over the burnt bodies of friend and foe alike.There were few who remained more than husks after contact with the warpfire, and those not of their throng were dispatched swiftly.

...they had won.

The triumphant thane let out a roar of exuberance and pride, the defeat of this enemy the greatest victory of his life. Stromni quickly regained his dwarven composure as he felt the eyes if the throng on him. Cheers and battle cries answered him as the survivors began to grasp the miracle they had experienced. Stromni knew he was but a small part of an unfathomable feat, but that did nothing to diminish the swelling of his chest or euphoria coursing through him. For the first time the warrior had been tested not by arena challenger or swindling band of thieves, but by a true force of the dark powers. And he and his charges had emerged victorious.

The Stormbeard’s eyes found Lord Proudsong’s, an acknowledgement of relief briefly shared between them before his mentor furrowed his brow forcefully and scowled something about haughtiness. Stromni hardly saw Norgrim about-face and march his hammerers back to the body of the throng though, as his gaze had traveled upwards towards the ravine-edge. Rungi the Revenger raised his axe into the air in a salute which Stromni returned. The Brotherhood of the Red Bull had won the day with their dismantling of the enemy command, and Stromni Stormbeard had written his legend.

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Brotherhood of the Red Bull,  Outcast - Warrior Cult of the Karakigrom



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