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The Death Watch- Brother Teodoric

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Randolph Carter

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By the time of the End, the Bogomil line had ruled over Austrasia and its surroundings for almost four centuries.
 
A family of ferocious warriors, they had carved out their own domain in Ghyran by fire and by blood, ruling over their conquered and annexed territories with an iron sword. By the time of Iosephus Bogomil, late in the line, the Kingdom of Austrasia was large and rich, and had a dozen tributary states sending a count's ransom in gold and steel every year.
 
Iosephus was a hard man, and during his reign he waged a dozen wars on every one of his borders, leaving any rival warrior-kings slaves or refugees. He built a royal capital of magnificence and splendor he boasted could not be found outside of Azyr itself, bringing in Duardin and Aelf artisans from all across the Mortal Realms to adorn his palace. To reinforce his family's future, he sired thirty sons and countless daughters with his mistresses and concubines, watching and testing each in turn to see who would prove themselves worthy of his crown of iron.

A sickly infant and a feeble-hearted boy, nobody expected Teodoric, his youngest, to amount to much. Perhaps, if he was lucky, one of his half-brothers or sisters would keep him as a court attendant and eunuch, once they ascended to Iosephus' throne. Even as he grew in poverty and fear, though, a stubborn fire burned in Teodoric's heart. He was crafty, ruthless and long-sighted, and by the time he was a man he was strong as well. One by one, his siblings underestimated him and paid the ultimate price, until he and his half-sister Callisto faced one another across the field of battle, even as their father watched from the ramparts of his castle.

Callisto was a noted archer, and Teodoric knew that her pride in her skill with a bow was unlimited. He also knew that to face her in pitched battle would be to lose- she had three times his number in followers, and was like to carry the day in a test of arms. Instead, he challenged her to a test of shooting. The target was the Bogomil family crest, suspended from a window of the highest tower of Iosephus' palace. Standing not too far below the wall, they would have to arc an arrow so that it flew over the ramparts to a target they could barely see. Callisto shot first. One of her arrows only tore the fringes of the crest, but two buried themselves in the dead center. She turned and bowed, smirking, to Teodoric, knowing that he would be hard-pressed to do any better.

He nodded and drew his bow back, aiming at the sky... and then shot three times in rapid succession. One arrow buried itself in Iosephus' throat, one in his eye and one in his chest. The dead king slumped over the side of the ramparts and the iron crown tumbled from his head to the ground far below. In the face of the stunned crowd Teodoric simply walked over, placing his father's crown on his head and proclaiming himself the winner of the test. Then, before both armies, he bent his knee and asked Callisto to be his queen and rule beside him.

They were wed that night, and enthroned the next morning. For forty years after that, he ruled even more fiercely and benevolently than his father, and the kingdom flourished like never before. In his twenty-first year, he decided that 'king' was too unworthy a title and 'kingdom' too paltry for his realm. Henceforth, he would rule over the Austrasian Empire, and be known as Emperor and Law-Giver. His prowess in battle and unflinching rule lead to his being known as Teodoric, the Fist of Empire.

It was only in his thirty-eighth year of rule that the troubles really began. The borders of Austrasia had been almost at peace since Iosephus' campaigns- but now a horde of the peoples he had conquered, tens of thousands strong, appeared, lead by an impossibly gaunt man calling himself the Withered King. At first, Teodoric treated this threat just as any other barbarian invader, but this was to be his undoing. The fell magics of the Plague God ruined armies with a wave of the hand and reduced castles to ruins overnight. Within weeks, the Withered King had campaigned to the borders of Austrasia proper, and Teodoric found himself hard-pressed. He called upon his counts and his stewards and raised an army equal in bravery if not in size to the enemy. He met them at a place called Verden, beneath the boughs of trees just beginning to turn gold.

There, the Withered King met him in parley. Surrender to the Plague God, he promised, and Teodoric could keep Austrasia and whatever else he could conquer besides. But the warrior king only laughed. He would never truckle to another, he proclaimed, be it man or god. He was a warrior, the bearer of the Iron Crown, and he would rule or he would die. So be it, said his foe. As his army formed on the other side of the field, though, Teodoric noted that it was not made of the barbarian warriors he had expected but poxy, bloated corpses.

At that moment the Withered King turned. "All is rot and all is ruin", he intoned, and the flesh fell from the enemy's bones, replaced by clouds of stinging, biting flesh flies. Teodoric's warriors were caught utterly unprepared. Enemies of sword and sinew they were masters of, and their priests had prepared to defend them against conjured plagues- but they had no defense against such a swarm.  They could only panic, and die- all but their leader. Protected by the ancient magics of the Iron Crown and fueled by the same stubborn determination that had gained it for him, he pressed forwards through the storm, weathering a dozen pestilential bites.

In the heart of the black cloud, he met the Withered King in battle, striking out with his ancient spirit-sword Joyful, said to have been forged with a Seraphon bound inside and immune to the rust and rot of the Plague God. The King's shields of filth and excrement were like smoke against his fearsome blade, and he pressed on to cleave his foe right in twain. At the moment he did so, an inky-black miasma enveloped them both- and when it cleared, both were gone. In their wake was left nothing of the army of the Dark Gods, and only a few of Teodoric's mortal soldiers- and Joyful, still shimmering fiercely in the light of a dying sun.

Victory was short-lived. Behind the horde of the Plague God came thousands upon thousands of marauders, ready to do with blade and bow what had not been done with rust and rot. But Teodoric's act had given his people time, time to prepare and time to fight back. Austrasia would fall, but not until almost two whole centuries more of fighting and bleeding and dying had come to a close. For his obvious strength at arms and courage of spirit, the warrior king was taken up by Sigmar from the pits of the Plague God, and reforged into a shining Stormcast for his eventual return to the Realms below...

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The storytellers call Brother Teodoric the Fist of Empire, the Warrior King, Ruler of Austrasia, the Rising Emperor, the Unlikely, the Unifier, the Seventh, Bearer of the Iron Crown, Wielder of Joyous, the Withered King's Bane, the Law-Giver.

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