A tale of the Freeguilds
General Thaddeus Carmoggan met his guests in his spacious study, seated behind a thick, mahogany desk, The accoutrements of his former profession in the Freeguilds surrounded him. A shattered choppa, taken from the dead claws of Gorruk Mangletooth, sat alongside an gold-chased, handcrafted pistol gifted to him from the Ironweld Arsenal upon the defeat of the heretic engineer Lugenbrau. Tattered banners from no less than four different regiments adorned the walls, squeezed in between shelves stocked with books on subjects ranging from philosophy to military strategy. Other trophies, souvenirs, and awards were displayed throughout the room, including a seal of recognition from no less impressive personages than the Celestial Vindicators Stormhost.
One of the retired commanders most precious treasures, however, sat in an empty inkwell on his desk in full view of both himself and any visitors he happened to see: a single grey griffon feather, the symbol of the elite Azyrite Borderers, also known as the Grey Griffons, Carmoggan’s second regiment and the one that had made his name. The then-lieutenant’s escape from the disastrous ambush at the Birkut Oasis in Chamon and subsequent march for five days across some of that realm’s most blighted desert, wounded and without adequate supplies, to warn the army of Marshal Konnegrieger was the stuff of Freeguild legend. Since that impressive journey, Carmoggan’s star had ever been on the rise, up until he took his rightful leave of the military after a storied career.
The general had settled into a peaceful retirement in a quiet quarter of Azyrheim populated by fellow retired officers, where he tended to a vibrant garden and worked on writing his memoirs. His townhouse was simple, but clearly of quality, and the interior was, much like the study, decorated with the hallmarks of his career and noble lineage. He rarely entertained visitors, preferring to keep himself to himself, but he could never reject a social call from his current guests. They were, after all, members of the Grey Griffons, and it did not do for the veterans of that regiment to turn down any opportunity or request from their fellows.
“Major Bedoe,” the general said cheerfully as he settled down into his high-backed chair, “such a pleasure to see you again!”
“It is, excuse me, was, Lieutenant-Colonel, actually,” Bedoe said, sitting himself down cautiously into a chair across the desk. Bedoe was a slight, elderly man, but the fitness of his days in the Griffons clearly hadn’t left him. It was a contrast to Carmoggan, who had grown paunchy and wrinkly in his old age. Still, Bedoe walked with a cane, which now rested at his side, a testament to the wound in his leg that had ended his career.
“Of course, my good man, of course, I had forgotten! Never left the Greys, did you?”
“Never did, too much like home I’m afraid,” Bedoe said with a smile, his eyes darting around the room, taking in the bric-a-brac of his host’s collection. His eyes settled on the griffon feather in its ink well and his smile widened. Carmoggan noticed and grinned at his guest.
“I left, you know, but I never forgot, how could I?”
“Well the regiment certainly never forgot you, sir,” the third man in the room, a young, clerical looking man wearing the off-duty uniform of the Borderers, chimed in, “we still drink to your memory… and the memory of all your company, every anniversary.” The general nodded sagely.
“Bravo young man, bravo. Am I to assume you serve with the Borderers?”
“General,” interrupted Bedoe, gesturing at the man alongside him, “allow me to introduce Lieutenant Galder of the Grey Griffons.”
“Ah,” the general exclaimed, “I should’ve guessed from the uniform alone! Getting a little less sharp in my old age. A pleasure to meet you as well,” he saluted casually, prompting a bit of lighthearted laughter from the three men, “How are things in the Borderers these days, lieutenant?”
“Business as usual, sir. No breaks in the service of Sigmar. Most of us are back out in Chamon, plugging away alongside our golden cousins.” Carmoggan sat up a little straighter at that.
“Ah, the Golden Griffons! My boy’s in that regiment,” he said, gesturing to a small painted portrait of a handsome young man on his desk. “Have you had the pleasure of meeting him? Osmund’s a striking lad to be sure!”
“Indeed sir,” replied Lieutenant Galder, “I’m quite well acquainted with Osmund, he currently serves as our point of contact with his general. He sends his regards and wants you to know his captaincy is going quite well.”
“Brilliant, just brilliant! He’ll be a major before he knows it, mark my words! Maybe he’ll join the regiment one day, eh?” Carmoggan beamed with paternal pride, “I look forward to seeing him grow into his own, all my brains but his mother’s charms!” The general paused for a second, a cloud of sadness passing across his face.
“I am sorry to hear about your wife, Thaddeus,” Bedoe’s tone was conciliatory and comforting.
“Thank you Gilliam, I appreciate the thought. She was a fine woman, my Gilda. I miss her.” The general looked askance, but quickly collected himself. “Ah well, enough talk about family eh! What brings you two fine gentlemen to my door? Lucky for you, I always have time for members of the regiment.”
“Oh, you see,” Galder shuffled his feet, “it’s a book you see.”
“Indeed, sir, a book. A history actually. Just a brief one. Of the regiment’s campaign in Chamon.” The general nodded along to the young man’s words. “And well, sir, I, well-”
“For Sigmar’s sake,” exclaimed Bedoe, “the man can stare down a charging gargant if need be but he can’t ask you a question Thaddeus. He wants to know about Birkut Oasis.” Galder nodded shamefaced and squirmed a little in his chair, more like a schoolboy than a trained Freeguild killer.
“Of course,” the general chuckled at the lieutenant’s discomfort.
“He came to me, since he knew I commanded second company at the time, and I told him I’d set up a little sit down with you if you were amenable.” Bedoe leaned back in his chair and fidgeted with his cane. “I’ve already heard the whole thing of course, Thaddeus, but I figured the best version would come from you.” The general laughed again.
“Of course, of course. Well, you’re not the first seeking the tale, young man, but you’re the first who came in with Bedoe, so I think I can make an exception.”
“Oh, thank you sir,’ exclaimed Galder, sitting straight up in his chair and looking for a moment as if he was going to leap up and shake the general’s hand. He fidgeted in the pack he carried over his shoulder, withdrawing a small pad of parchment and writing stick. “There we go. For notes, sir,” he said, holding up the pad, “everything confidential I assure you. Whenever you’re ready, sir.” The general nodded and settled back into his chair. He coughed once, then took a deep breath and started into his story.
“Well, it was a cold night on the wastes around Birkut…”
The study’s one rearward facing window was closed to the chill of the evening. Even if it had been open, it was doubtful that Carmoggan or his two guests would have noticed the three masked men, clad in drab garb, that emerged out of the darkness and slid quietly over the townhouse’s back wall. They unsheathed knives, blades blackened with soot, and slunk through the shadows of the garden towards the rear door of the house.
It was a cold night on the wastes around the Birkut Oasis. The Azyrite Borderers had been serving in Chamon alongside Marshal Konnegrieger for the past year, ranging ahead of the main army in company-sized patrols, harrying the forces of Chaos and their allies that remained festering in the desert heart of the Dalghari Emirate. The Emir himself had requested the assistance of the Marshal in clearing out the cancer that had taken root in his kingdom, and the Freeguild had answered with fire and sword, driving the Tzeenchian hordes of Croneus Steeltalon before them until the Chaos warlord and his troops disappeared into the wastes. Konnegrieger, frustrated with his inability to bring Croneus to battle, called on the Grey Griffons to search the desert for their foes, and the regiment had set about the task with the vigor and expertise for which it was known.
First Company of the Greys, under the command of Major Morgenstern, had marched to the Birkut Oasis. The locals had fled the bustling village there straight into the arms of the Freeguild forces, reporting the presence of a large force of cultists settling in their homes. So, a few days after the news reached them, the hundred strong company was encamped in hidden bivouacs not far from Birkut. After two days of careful observation and probing patrols, the men had finally dispersed across the dunes around the oasis at night, waiting for the order to move into the town.
Young Lieutenant Carmoggan had only recently volunteered for service in the regiment, leaving his posting in the prestigious Golden Griffons, and he was eager to prove himself, both to the veteran Morgenstern and the lower ranking Grays, all of whom were hardened veterans of other Freeguild units, as was the regiment’s tradition. With that need for recognition in mind, and with the blessing of the major, it had been Carmoggan who had performed the first reconnaissance of the town, sliding in alone on the first night of the company’s arrival. He had found Birkut eerily deserted. There was no sign of any cultists, of any living creature. Further patrols, following the concealed path Carmoggan had marked, reached the same conclusion. Finally, Morgenstern was convinced that the way was safe for his force to occupy the town and send word back to the Marshal. At a silent hand signal from the major, the company moved forward down the dunes towards the oasis.
Unfortunately, it was a moonlit night, but the rangers of the Grey Griffons eased across the sands with consummate stealth, appearing as little more than shadows as they descended from every side of the town. All of them had darkened their faces with soot and ash, a common practice for such night-time maneuvers, and others still had gone so far as to remove their caps, each decorated with the distinctive grey griffon feather of their regiment, and replace them with more utilitarian headdresses akin to those the local Chamonian tribesmen wore. Morgenstern, a refined looking man with distinctive, sandy-colored mutton chops, was one of those who had not forgone his cap and feather. The tall, lithe major had Carmoggan and his other officers with him as he entered Birkut’s outskirts.
The Greys slunk cautiously from house to house, checking open windows and doors, and trying hard to ignore the sense of unease that seemed to hang over the entire village. Carmoggan tensed as a loose door banged in the wind, bringing the distinctive double crossbow of the Borderers up to his shoulder in an instant, but the man next to him, a sergeant named Jacques, gestured it down. Jumping at shadows, the lieutenant thought, what am I, a child? Still, it was a strange night in the village. Its sandstone buildings, appearing as pale as marble tombs in the moonlight, were a chaotic jumble, but the major had received a detailed description of Birkut, and a less detailed map, from the local bey and led his group unerringly towards the market square at the center of the town. The company was fully advanced into the oasis and the major’s group were halfway on their cautious, house by house approach to the market when the first crackling of eldritch energy appeared.
Major Morgenstern’s first thought as the sickly, multi-colored portals began opening across Birkut was that he should’ve expected exactly this. It was the nature of their foe, after all, to use eldritch trickery to its fullest extent. He had no more time to chastise himself for the oversight as the town came alive with shrieking Tzaangors and screaming cultists, who came pouring out of portals and surging up from undiscovered tunnels dug into the earth. Many units would have collapsed then and there, overwhelmed with surprise and explosive violence, but the Greys were handpicked veterans with centuries of warfighting under their collective belts. In those initial moments, the mettle of the rangers showed in full as the distinct snap-thwap of their double crossbows began to fill the night air.
Any foe that looked remotely like a sorcerer or shaman found bolts sprouting from their heads, dropping them to the dirt of the streets before they had the chance to bring their magicks to bear. The Freeguilders cut down cultists and did their best to coalesce, falling back through the twisted streets to the designated rally point at the market square. But their skill, no matter how great, could not avail them entirely against the ambush that swamped them. In narrow lanes and dead-end alleys, isolated rangers fell after killing scores of foes, overwhelmed and torn to pieces through sheer weight of numbers, and scattered battlecries and death screams rang out across Birkut.
Near the market square, Morgenstern did what he could to rally the Greys. A knot of about thirty Freeguilders consolidated around him, falling back down the main thoroughfare of the village towards the manor of the local bey. The major knew that finding a solid location to hold up was all that would guarantee his company even a miniscule chance to survive this nightmare. Bellowing orders, Morgenstern silently prayed to Sigmar that the Tzeentchians had not secured the bey’s residence already.
Lieutenant Carmoggan was at his side. The young officer buried a crossbow bolt in the beaked face of the first Tzaangor he saw, then sank his second shot into the guts of the tattooed warrior that surged into the beast’s place. Carmoggan let the expended crossbow drop on its sling and drew his blade, a gilded gladius that was a hold-over from his service in the prestigious Golden Griffons. A Tzaangor brought its blade swinging down at the lieutenant’s head, but he stepped into the blow, throwing off the attack before ramming the gladius into the weak point in his opponent’s torso armor. A backhanded slash opened up the neck of the next Tzeentchian to come at him, a sickly looking man with tentacles where eyes should have been, and the mutant fell whining to the dirt. Nearby, Morgenstern laid into the swarming cultists with a long, straight-bladed cavalry sword, more bludgeon than blade, that was a testament to his days as a schwarze reitter. Despite the weight of the weapon, the major swung the blade with a swordmaster’s skill, splitting the skull of an armored warrior that tried to punch a tarnished copper katar into his stomach. Another dagger scraped deep across the major’s forearm, but its wielder collapsed as a crossbow bolt sprouted from its mutated eye. Lieutenant Dargill, Morgenstern’s subaltern, reloaded quickly and hung back behind the commander, driving shots into any other foe that tried to press through the slowly advancing circle of defiance the Greys had formed.
The bey’s house was finally in sight, a solid, double storied edifice with slit windows that seemed more fortress than home in the dusty township of Birkut. Carmoggan gutted a tattooed wildman dressed in what appeared to be scraps of human skin and grunted in frustration. Despite the Greys killing all before them, the sheer weight of numbers was beginning to tell and Morgenstern’s dogged push for the manor was beginning to slow. Sergeant Grumlok, a Duardin from Greywater Fastness, chopped down the Tzaangor in front of him with his axe like so much lumber and swung up the grudgeraker he kept at his side. As a rule, none of the Borderers carried firearms on their operations, for fear that a stray shot or misfire might reveal them to their enemies too easily, but no one, not even the formidable Morgenstern, was willing to part the surly Grumlok with the weapon he had carried since his apprenticeship in the Ironweld Arsenal over a century ago.
That night in Birkut, the oversight proved invaluable. The Duardin’s grudgeraker bellowed its fury and the press of cultists blocking the remaining street to the bey’s home were scattered like ninepins. With a roar to Grungi, Grumlok hurled himself through the cloud of choking powder smoke and laid into the staggering survivors with his handaxe.
Morgenstern hollered to his men, not missing the opportunity before him, and the remaining Greys beelined for the single door of the bey’s manor. All except for Ranger Galuvao, a brawny Ghyran islander who turned and hurled himself back into the oncoming pursuit of Tzeentchians, crushing skulls and breaking bones with a flat bladed club from his homeland. He killed until his grey uniform was soaked red with blood, bringing down at least seven enemies alone before the Tzaangors and cultists ripped him apart. His death bought the additional breathing room needed for his fellow rangers to reach their target, and the remaining men hurried to barricade the door before taking up positions at the various slit windows, double crossbows at the ready. The doughty Sergeant Grumlok, whose illicit weapon had cleared the initial gap, did not live to see the fruits of his labor. His body, still clutching the beloved grudgeraker, lay just outside the doorway, a brittle beastman spear buried deep into his back.
The Tzeentchians tried to press the manor, but scything fire from the men inside drove them back into the shadows of the nearby buildings. One bold or ambitious shaman tried to summon some sort of blue ball of fire to hurl at the doorway, but a pair of bolts sent his corpse reeling back down the streets, and the rest of his fellows ducked into cover. The Greys, panting from exertion, stinking of adrenaline, sweat, and blood, had a brief moment to collect themselves and take stock of the situation. In what was once the dining room of the home, Morgenstern and his remaining officers sat on dusty cushions and discussed the situation.
“****** ambushed us. How did they know?” Captain Solvang had known Morgenstern the longest of the group, both having served in the brutal fighting to reclaim a foothold in Shyish some years ago. “Reminds me of bloody Caddow.” Morgenstern nodded warily.
“It doesn’t really matter how they knew Solv, at least not now.” The major turned to his subaltern, “Dargill, what’s the count?” The lieutenant, one eye swollen shut from a bruise and nasty cut, smiled with bloody teeth.
“Pretty damn bad, sir. I count about 28 of us holed up in here, most wounded in some way. The enemy backed off though, I’m not sure why. The pricks have a whole army out there, they could rush us and end it.”
“They’re up to something,” added Carmoggan, wiping the sweat and blood from his brow with a dirty hand, “that’s the way with these blue ******.” Captain Solvang grunted noncommittally.
“They probably understand that if they press us here, they’re bound to lose Sigmar knows how many men. So they’re waiting for something to end it.”
“Magic?” Dargill sounded nervous and dabbed at the wound on his forehead with a scrap of cloth he had ripped from a lounging bench. His crossbow, loaded once again, lay across his lap.
“Maybe,” replied Morgenstern, “I imagine we did a number on their sorcerers right at the start, but we’re all that’s left here. I think Dargill’s right, that’s the entire horde out there.” The major spat a wad of dirty phlegm on the floor. “Wouldn’t even surprise me if that cursed ****** Steeltalons was here with them. This is a giant flanking maneuver, and a wholly unexpected one at that.” There was a pause, and all four men heard the distant shrieking and chanting of the forces that surrounded their makeshift stronghold. “We must inform the Marshal,” said the major, finally breaking the relative quiet.
“Bedoe’s company might come,” Dargill whispered, but the weariness in his voice betrayed his belief in that sentiment. The major shook his head. As much as he wanted his oldest and dearest friend Gilliam Bedoe and the rest of second company to come charging over the hills like Stormcasts, he knew it was not to be.
“We can’t rely on them, they’re too far out. I doubt we have that long anyway,” the major absentmindedly dug a groove in the floor with the point of his sword as he thought. “Someone will have to make the run. There is a passage leading out of the manor, well hidden from prying eyes. The bey himself told me about it,” he added, when he noticed the questioning look of Dargill. “Hopefully the ****** haven’t found it. One man goes, the rest of us stay, provide a distraction. All rather legendary, dare I say it.” Captain Solvang snorted at his commander’s forced bonhomie. Frowning, Carmoggan spoke up.
“Who’s the lucky lad that gets that trip then?” Morgenstern grinned and turned to the lieutenant.
“I’m afraid that’s you, young Carmie. Your time to be a hero.”
“But sir, I w-”
“No, this is not negotiable. You’re the only man among us that isn’t wounded.” Dargill nodded in confirmation of the major’s observation. Carmoggan appeared to be the only Grey in the bey’s residence seemingly unscathed from the brawl in the streets. “Furthermore,” Morgenstern continued, “I dare say you’re one of the fittest and youngest of all of us. You have better odds of making the trek across the desert.”
“Sir,” the lieutenant affirmed, clearly upset with the decision. Morgenstern stared at the young man for a moment, his face marked by a melancholy smile.
“It’s not a reprieve lieutenant, or me trying to shame you. It’s as suicidal as everything else here. Even if the ****** don’t get you coming out of the tunnel, you still have five days good, fast marching across some of the most inhospitable deadlands in Chamon ahead of you.” The major’s grin broke into a full smile, “I know you can do it, lad. You have to.” Then he turned to his other officers.
“Solv, Dargill, get the men on alert. I’ll lead the lieutenant to the escape tunnel. When I give the signal, make a racket that would wake a slumbering troggoth. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” the two other officers replied, almost in unison.
“Alright then, let’s be off Carmie.” Solvang and Dargill wished the lieutenant luck in hushed tones and set off to prepare the remaining Greys for what was to come. Morgenstern led the young man down into the darkness of the home’s basement, which was more of a glorified wine cellar based on appearances, and directed him down a narrow lane in between two shelves to a rack of dusty bottles. With the help of a hastily-lit torch for illumination, the two officers manhandled the rack aside, revealing a hole big enough for a crouching man to climb through in the back wall.
“There we are, just like the bey said,” Morgenstern sounded pleased with himself. “No time to waste. Sigmar go with you, Thaddeus.” The major clapped one hand on Carmoggan’s shoulder then moved aside, allowing him to get to the tunnel entrance. Once he was past, Morgenstern turned and braced himself to push the rack back into place.
“Thank you sir,” Carmoggan replied, sadness deep in his voice, “I’m sorry, sir.”
“Don’t be,” the major said, turning to face the hunched figure of the young man, that melancholy smile back on his face. “Just do us proud.” The lieutenant thudded a fist into his chest, the traditional salute of the regiment, and disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel, and the wine rack shuddered back into place behind him.
Carmoggan emerged through a grate in the wall of a small smithy only a minute or so later. He exited cautiously, careful not to let the metal clang as he lowered it softly to the ground. Moving quietly to the door, he peered out, drawing his blade as he did so. The lieutenant could hear the distant sound of fighting and the snap-thwap of crossbows firing. Morgenstern’s distraction appeared to be working. He lifted himself up out of his crouch, slid through the doorway, and moved swiftly down the street, carefully picking his way past the corpses, both cultists and those of the Greys, that littered the dirt. That was when he made a mistake. So preoccupied was he with checking behind him, avoiding the bodies, and listening to the noises of the battle around the bey’s manor, the lieutenant turned the corner of the lane without glancing around it first. He let out a cry of surprise as he ran headlong into a Tzeentchian warrior coming the other direction.
The cultist was tall and wiry, with unnaturally long limbs and ornate bronze armor that seemed to be from a thousand years in the past. Only its head was exposed, revealing a man whose eyes were cloudy with inky blackness and whose skin had the disturbing, blueish tinge of a suffocation victim. A toothy grin, filled with sharp, shark-like teeth, broke out across the creature’s face. It lifted up a hand menacingly, fully displaying the long, sharp talons of steel that capped its fingers.
“By Sigmar,” Carmoggan hissed, “Steeltalons.” The Chaos warlord chuckled as the young lieutenant spoke its name, and hurled itself forward, eponymous talons flashing in the moonlight. For a moment, Carmoggan froze with fear and shock. It was a natural reaction, but one that nearly cost him his life. At the last moment, something, perhaps as he would always say in the future, the divine providence of Sigmar, drove him to action. He stepped forward under the slash of the claws and slammed the hilt of his gladius straight into Steeltalons’ smiling face. Teeth and cartilage cracked as blueish blood sprayed across the street. Grunting with pain, reeling from the blow, the Chaos chieftain lashed out with his other hand, gouging a line that cut Carmoggan’s cheek to the bone. The Freeguilder barely registered the searing pain, stabbing his gladius down into the knee joint of the monster’s strange armor.
Steeltalons shrieked, more like a bird than anything human, and dropped to one knee. Both his claws lashed upwards, trying to eviscerate the lieutenant from below, but the young Grey was already running down the street, leaving the wounded warlord raging blindly behind him. In the distance, a sound like thunder rumbled and light flashed. Carmoggan assumed that the major or one of the other Greys had detonated one of the small blackpowder bombs they carried for sabotage. Regardless, he did not stop to look back. Racing at full tilt, he emerged from the bloody streets of Birkut and set off into the cold desert night.
“And the rest, as they say young man, is history.” Carmoggan leaned back in his chair and poured himself a glass of brandy from a bottle he pulled out of his desk. Lieutenant Galder finished scribbling some notes on his pad and looked up reverentially at the old general.
“Simply amazing, sir. I can’t believe you actually fought Steeltalons.”
“Aye,’ Carmoggan nodded pensively, “I was lucky to escape that with my life.” Bedoe looked thoughtfully at his old comrade.
“And that was how it happened, Thaddeus? You left nothing out?”
“Of course not,” the general sniffled, “don’t be daft, man.” Bedoe nodded and leaned back in his own chair.
“Just checking, that’s all. Just checking.”
At that moment, the door to the study burst open with an almighty crash. Three masked figures rushed in, bloody daggers drawn. Carmoggan cried out in surprise and whipped out a pistol he kept in a holster underneath his desk, knocking aside the bottle of brandy. He was surprisingly fast to draw it, all things considered, but not fast enough. Galder was up and moving as soon as the masked men burst through the door. He slammed the writing stick, sharpened at one end, down like a stake, straight into Carmoggan’s forearm. The old man screamed in shock and pain, dropping the pistol which Galder kicked aside with contemptuous ease. Gone was the nervous, fawning junior officer, replaced with a steely killer much more in keeping with the men of the Greys. The masked figures moved to surround the moaning general, who tried vainly to pull the writing tool out of his arm. Major Bedoe had not moved, hands wrapped around his cane, staring at the general with cold, uncaring eyes.
“Bind him,” Bedoe said curtly, “and carry him to the dining room.” One the masked men nodded and General Carmoggan tried to cry out again before a blow slammed into the side of his head and all faded to darkness.
He awoke, groggy and in pain, tied securely with thick cords to one of the finely carved chairs in his dining room. The writing stick had been removed from his arm and the wound was carefully bound. Bedoe sat across the table from him, his gaze so full of contempt and venom that Carmoggan physically flinched and looked away. Lieutenant Galder, anger clearly writ on his face, sat to the right of the retired major, and another man, who looked to be of Ghyran islander descent, sat to Bedoe’s left. All three wore the distinctive cap and feathers of the Azyrite Borderers. Carmoggan could not see the other two men, but he sensed them behind him, lurking. Something of the old general’s fighting spirit arose, and his pain and disorientation turned quickly into anger.
“By Sigmar, Gilliam! I don’t know what the meaning of this is but I’ll see you all swing you miser-”
“Silence.” Bedoe’s voice was stern and brooked no interruption. Carmoggan was momentarily taken aback by the vehement hatred that lurked there. “You are in no position to speak the name of Sigmar, nor will you see anyone hanged.”
“You traitorous ******,” the general swore, “I’ll have your head! Guards! GUARDS!” Carmoggan roared vainly for his staff, all of them former bully boys from the Freeguilds, who doubled as both servants and bodyguards.
“No point, General,” said the dark-skinned Ghyranite, “I assure you, they are dead. So please, stop.” Carmoggan fell silent at that. He opened his mouth to speak again, but Bedoe cut him off.
“General Thaddeus Carmoggan, I Lieutenant-Colonel Gilliam Bedoe, in the presence of these witnesses, declare you a traitor in the eyes of Sigmar and the Freeguilds. You have consorted with the enemies of the God-King and, in doing so, brought about the death of many good, dedicated men. Most importantly, you forsook your oaths to the Azyrite Borderers and betrayed the regiment. And the regiment, Thaddeus, never forgets its own.”
“Preposterous,” Carmoggan roared, struggling and squirming against his bonds, “absolute filth and lies! I will have you shot for just making such accusations.”
“They are not lies, General,” Galder said calmly, “Lieutenant-Colonel Bedoe knows the truth. He knows what really happened at Birkut.”
“The hell he does!” The old general snarled, “He wasn’t bloody there, you soft-headed imbecile. He doesn’t know what happened any more than I know what Sigmar ate for bloody breakfast.”
“Oh, but I do know Thaddeus, I do know,” said Bedoe calmly, his eyes scrutinizing the blubbery figure tied up before him like an owl scouring its prey. “I spoke to a witness.”
“A witness,” exclaimed Carmoggan, “a damned witness? Who? Did you dig up old Steeltalons’ bones from where Konnegrieger left them to rot? Or did you summon up the ghost of Solvang or Dargill or Morgenstern?”
“Enough,” roared Bedoe, slamming his cane down onto the floor, “you are not fit to speak their names, you snake.” Lieutenant Galder laid a calming hand on the old man’s shoulder, and Bedoe coughed loudly before continuing. “My source for this information is unimpugnable. I know it, with all certainty, to be the truth. You trafficked with Croneus Steeltalons to betray the First Company of the Grey Griffons at Birkut and secure your own escape. Then you propagated a lie to earn yourself undeserved acclimation and built all this,” Bedoe gestured at the building around him, “out of that base treachery.”
“Tzeentchian tricks, Gilliam! That’s all this is! Can’t you see that? I’m innocent! Someone is manipulating you with these… these fantasies! Look at my face, at the scar that ****** Steeltalons gave me! Would he have done that, if I had been in league with him?” Carmoggan’s voice was hurt and desperate, but Bedoe paid him no heed. He just stared at the general. Alongside him, the Ghyran islander absentmindedly cleaned his knife, looking up at the General every once and a while with the disturbing gaze of a predatory beast. Carmoggan’s eyes flicked desperately from man to man, but none of them said anything, simple observing the old general as he squirmed against his bonds.
“Your claims ring hollow, Thaddeus,” Bedoe finally said, “I know what really happened at Birkut. Shall I tell you?” The old man leaned forward on his cane and began.
Morgenstern led the young man down into the darkness of the home’s basement, which was more of a glorified wine cellar based on appearances, and directed him down a narrow lane in between two shelves to a rack of dusty bottles. With the help of a hastily-lit torch for illumination, the two officers manhandled the rack aside, revealing a hole big enough for a crouching man to climb through in the back wall.
“There we are, just like the bey said,” Morgenstern sounded pleased with himself. “No time to waste. Sigmar go with you, Thaddeus.” The major clapped one hand on Carmoggan’s shoulder then moved aside, allowing him to get to the tunnel entrance. Once he was past, Morgenstern turned and braced himself to push the rack back into place.
“Thank you sir,” Carmoggan replied, his voice cold, “I’m sorry, sir.” Perhaps noticing the sudden change in tone, Morgenstern turned back swiftly to face the young officer, but he was not fast enough. Carmoggan’s gladius came up, stabbing deep into the major’s stomach, and the man collapsed with a grunt against the nearby wine racks, one hand clutching desperately to his gut as blood seeped down the front of his uniform.
“Why?” He croaked up at the lieutenant, who stood over him in the torchlight, looking up towards the stairs and then back at the escape hole in the wall. Morgenstern wanted to scream out for help, but the words wouldn’t come. He could raise his voice above a whisper. “In Sigmar’s name, Thaddeus, why?”
“Why?” The young lieutenant seemed genuinely perplexed by the question. He crouched down, whispering to the wounded officer, “Because I had to survive, major. That very first night, the very first foray into Birkut, they caught me. They were going to kill me, right then and there, torture me for information and sacrifice me to their dark god, but I cut a deal, and Steeltalons seemed to like it far more. So I marked the wrong path and reported back that the village was empty and waited. I knew you would fall back here, when push came to shove, and I knew you would have a plan to get out. Now I’m going to go down that tunnel and find Steeltalons, and then his men will swarm up into this house from below and end this sorry business.”
“******” the major wheezed, “****** traitor.”
“No, major,” said Carmoggan, rising to his feet, “Not a traitor. A survivor. Fear not, your sacrifice will not be in vain, I will slay many enemies in the service of Sigmar to make amends for what happened here. You should, if anything, be pleased to have helped a talent such as mine escape this disaster. I will make them pay on your behalf. Goodbye, major.” Morgenstern grunted in anger and tried to rise against the wine rack, grasping vainly for his blade, but the young lieutenant was already disappearing into the dark entrance to the tunnel.
Carmoggan emerged through a grate in the wall of a small smithy only a minute or so later. He strolled out onto the street and was not surprised to find the tall, unnatural figure of Coreus Steeltalons waiting for him in the midst of a well-armored huddle of Tzaangors and cultists.
“Hello, lieutenant,” Steeltalons’ voice was a deep hiss, like some sort of giant snake, “what a pleasure to see you again.”
“Back there in the smithy is the tunnel,” Carmoggan snarled, “Morgenstern is dead, I saw to that.”
“Good good.” Steeltalons gestured to his men, and they hustled into the smithy. “You have done so well, lieutenant. This comes naturally to you. Perhaps you should join me, yes?” Carmoggan sneered.
“I would never, you heretic. My reasons are my own.” The warlord tittered at that.
“Oh such delicious hypocrisy, I really should kill you.” Steeltalons raised his finger blades as if to strike and the lieutenant tensed, his hand reaching for the hilt of his gladius.
“No need to do that, heretic. We had a deal, one good turn deserves another.” The Chaos warlord tittered especially loudly at Carmoggan’s words. Then he struck fast, faster than the lieutenant could even see, and carved a bone-deep cut into the young man’s cheek.
“By Sigmar,” Carmoggan roared in pain as he drew his gladius, but the Tzeentchian slapped the blade out of the lieutenant’s hands with almost contemptuous ease.
“Fear not, lieutenant. I will not kill you. This is far too enjoyable for that. The cut was just a reminder, and some credibility. Who would imagine that you had faced the great Steeltalons and escaped unscarred?” The beast chuckled and Carmoggan grunted in anger, holding a hand up to the bleeding slash on his cheek. “Now go, lieutenant, before I change my mind.” The young man spat at Steeltalons feet before collecting his gladius. In the distance, the noise of desperate battle was raised, and a thunderous boom and flash of light implied that one of the Greys had detonated a blackpowder bomb they occasionally carried. Steeltalons laughed maniacally at that, and it was still chortling as Lieutenant Carmoggan snarled and slunk off into the cold desert night.
Bedoe stared coldly at the old general tied up before him as he finished his story. Carmoggan sat quiet, his head slumped. The former major grunted.
“I filled in some little details, but it’s all true, isn’t it Thaddeus?”
“Who told you?” The general’s voice was drawn, full of resignation. Bedoe said nothing, but Galder spoke up.
“Does it matter?” The young man remarked, staring at the general. Carmoggan shook his head.
“You don’t understand, Bedoe,” the old man pleaded, bringing his head up to gaze pitifully at his former friend, “it was necessary to survive. Look around you, see all the good that I have done since? The enemies slain, the armies vanquished! None of that would have happened if I had not done what I did!” Bedoe remained silent. The Ghyran islander next him stopped cleaning his dagger and stared at the old general.
“My mother’s brother died at Birkut. He was hero. It would be better you had died there too, but you are traitor.”
“You cannot judge me!” Carmoggan snarled at the man, once more straining against his bonds, “you weren’t there.”
“No, he wasn’t. But we will still judge you. I believe the verdict is unanimous.” Bedoe looked to his left and to his right and both the men nodded to him. “Thaddeus Carmoggan, by the authority invested in me from the Azyrite Borderers, before these witnesses and the eyes of Sigmar himself, I find you guilty of treason. The regiment never forgets its own”
“What will you do to me?” The general sunk into his chair as Bedoe spoke, looking despondent, “you can’t just murder me, people will ask questions.”
“They will,” Bedoe agreed, “they most certainly will. And they will find that Thaddeus Carmoggan was secretly a cultist of the Dark Gods, and had been so for some years. It will appear that he went mad, perhaps was possessed or summoned something beyond his control, and slaughtered his staff before whatever foul entity he called up ripped him asunder. A messy, undignified end for a hero, but fitting for a traitor.”
“What?” Carmoggan shouted, “I have never followed the Dark Gods, what madness is this?”
“No, that much is true, but after we are done here, it will certainly seem like you had.” Bedoe shrugged, “I don’t think anyone will look too carefully.”
“The Order of the Azyr will investigate this, they are thorough! They will see through whatever cheap parlor tricks you use to disguise your tracks, you miserable wretch.”
“I’m afraid not.” Finally, Bedoe smiled. “The witch hunter who will be assigned to this particular situation is one Leonid Fallow, a former captain in the Borderers. He’s aware of the situation and will undoubtedly, as you said, find the truth of the matter.”
Carmoggan finally gave up and hung his head.
“My son?” He whispered quietly, “what about my son?” It was Galder who spoke up in answer.
“Well, as you can imagine, the rot in your family will have to be investigated. Your son might not be a worshipper of Chaos, but your entire estate will be forfeit, as will his commission in the Golden Griffons. That is, of course, assuming that they find no taint in him during questioning. No doubt, as you yourself said, the Order of the Azyr will be thorough.”
Carmoggan began to cry. It was a pitiful sight, but there was no mercy or empathy in the hearts of the men in the room.
“Goodbye, Thaddeus.” Bedoe said formally, “I hope you rot in whatever hell you find yourself in.” The old man gestured to one of the masked figures standing behind the sobbing general. The man reached forward with a set of bladed claws, meant to resemble the talons of some sort of beast, and ripped out Carmoggan’s throat with one sharp movement. The body slumped in its chair, and the men in the room set to work.
Bedoe’s cane tapped along the cobbles as he walked into the quiet square. It was a small place, set aside in a sleepy neighborhood of Azyrheim. There was barely any traffic here, especially in the heat of midday. The retired Borderer sat down on a bench, looking at the small fountain that churned away in the center of it all. It depicted a brave Freeguilder, clad in a uniform familiar to Bedoe, hefting a double crossbow from which water flowed. The old man had only been sitting for a few moments when a large figure strode out of a side street and into the square. Bedoe rose to his feet, wobbling a bit even with his cane, and nodded to the figure. Despite being dressed in robes instead of the armor more often associated with his kind, there was no mistaking the build and features of a Stormcast Eternal. Bedoe smiled wanly as the Stormcast approached and resisted the urge to salute. There was so little in the warrior’s broad face that the old man remembered, but it was enough. He still wore the same sideburns, Bedoe noted.
“Lieutenant-Colonel Bedoe. It is done?” The voice was a deep-rumble, like thunder before a storm.
“It is done, brother. Thank you for bringing it to us. We would never have known, if you hadn’t remembered.” The Stormcast smiled, a strange look on the face of Sigmar’s chosen, but it brought a smile to Bedoe’s face as well.
“It is I who should be thanking you. You served justice that was long overdue. I only wish I had remembered earlier, but… so much is lost to me now.” The Stormcast shrugged apologetically, “It is hard to explain. What will become of his daughter?”
“Son, he had a son.”
“Of course, forgive me.”
“His son will be fine, as you requested. The witch hunters will find no ties between his father’s crimes and him. No doubt his career will suffer, but he is a bright young man, by all accounts, and will recover. I will admit, that is not what we told Carmoggan at the end.” The Stormcast grunted and brought a large hand down gently on the retired Freeguilder’s shoulder.
“You are a good man, Bedoe. I wish…”
“Say no more of it, brother. I understand why it had to be done this way. The regiment never forgets its own, in this life, or the next.”
“Of course.” The Stormcast lifted his hand off Bedoe’s shoulder. The two figures, one hulking, the other wizened, stood awkwardly for a few moments, as the fountain gurgled away. “This is goodbye then, Lieutenant-Colonel.” The old man nodded.
“I guess it is.” He paused for a second, “I brought you a gift, brother. A memento, really.” Bedoe held out a single grey griffon feather. Morghens, exhibiting a gentleness at odds with his warlike frame, lifted it from the man’s fingers and held it up to the sunlight. For a moment, there was a lack of recognition, but then Morghens’ face broke into a grin. “It’s the regiment’s tradition for a man to carry something of his past with him,” Bedoe continued, “perhaps you might do the same.”
“Thank you, Gilliam. I will wear it proudly.” The warrior tucked the feather into the broach clasped to his robes and smiled. “Go with Sigmar, brother.” The old man nodded, then stood up straight and slammed his fist into his chest. After a moment’s hesitation, the Stormcast did the same. Without a second glance, Bedoe turned his back on Morghest and made his way swiftly towards the exit of the square.
He did not want Sigmar’s chosen to see him cry.