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Malign Portents: The compiled stories


Garxia
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"Signs are everywhere, but few can determine their meaning - and those who do speak only of horror..."

 

Malign Portents was the prelude to Soul Wars and Warhammer Age of Sigmar 2nd Edition.

In 2018, GW released a campaign book and a website that included short stories that told how this portents affected the different armies before the Grand Finale in Shyish.

Sadly, that Malign Portents web is already defunt, and all that great stories (community reponse was really possitive) were lost.

To preserve these great pieces of lore and celebrate my 100th post on TGA, I will collect all the stories on this post and prevent them from falling into oblivion.

 

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MALIGN PORTENTS STORIES

  • SINISTER OMENS (WHITE DWARF JANUARY 2018) - Pietru van Harrow squinted blearily and got to his feet...
Spoiler

Pietru van Harrow squinted blearily and got to his feet, half-naked and unsettled by strange dreams. He glanced back at the bed of hay from which he had risen, and noted – with some irritation – that his wife Edra had cocooned herself in their threadbare blanket, leaving not so much as a corner for him. He sighed and scratched at his worst fleabites. Dawn, soon.

After twenty long years tilling the soil, his body knew his routine well, and he usually awoke a couple of seconds before Oldenspur’s cockerel call. Odd, thought Pietru, staring at the wall as he listened intently. Nothing yet. Not even a snore from the cart horses in the stable next door.

Another day of back-breaking scythe-work ahead. No choice but to continue the harvest, load the cart, get the brunwheat to Edra for shucking and then on to that miser Fellet at the windmill before he saw so much as a single weevil-ridden loaf. These days, nine-tenths of their land’s yield went to the tyrants in the hills, but the farm was allowed to keep just enough to survive; even those savages weren’t stupid enough to kill off every source of food within a dozen leagues. It was an arduous and seemingly endless cycle, but it kept the van Harrows from dying out entirely – until the day the cannibalistic riders from the plains finally came calling and put it all to the torch.

There was a thud on the tin roof of the shack, then another on the thatch of the adjoining stable. An unnatural mauve glow was coming from outside. Pietru heard another two thuds, then three, then too many to count. He headed over to the window and swept a calloused hand across its shutters, letting purple dawn-light stream in unimpeded as he looked out. Black lumps dotted the dirt garden.

Frowning, Pietru pulled on his old hessian shirt, picked up a sharpened ploughshare – just in case – and made his way outside. The sun was rising, but its light was sickly and wrong, and when he blinked, its after-image was marred by strange blots that made it appear as if it were a giant skull staring right at him. Purple, like the amethyst in a dead king’s crown... Pietru shook his head. A dead king? Where had that thought come from?

The harvester put the image from his mind, moving over to one of the black lumps outside his shack and kneeling down. It was a dead crow, its eyes weeping blood. Dotting the roofs of the farm and scattered on the ground, Pietru could see the rest of its flock, each bird as lifeless and still as a cairn stone. He felt tiny hairs on his arms stand up, and his hand went to the miniature Ghal Maraz hung around this neck. Perhaps, there was something to Donth the Beggar’s claims of encroaching doom after all.

A chill wind blew through Pietrus hair, the crops behind him whispering in the breeze. Perturbed, he moved over to a quadrant of brunwheat he hadn’t got around to harvesting. He looked for the telltale signs of black spot as he drew close, then felt a flood of relief. No discolouration, thank Sigmar. He grabbed a large ear of a mature plant anyway, and ground it open with a practiced motion, checking the produce inside.

It was not kernels of brunwheat that spilled forth, but human teeth.

Pietru staggered back with a grimace, then grabbed another plant, and another. They too yielded scatterings of yellowed molars. With mounting panic, Pietru ran to the other side of the field, only to be confronted with the same shocking discovery. His foot scuffed against a smooth white stone, then another, the uneven ground feeling strangely like cobbles beneath him. Caught up in a choking feeling of unease, he headed back to the shack to seek out Edra.

As Pietru passed the stables he glanced inside, the pungent smell of rotten hay and horse manure filling his nostrils. Both Gorm and Black Nodd lay dead, the giant cart horses as emaciated as if they had starved for a whole year in a single night.

‘Edra!’ called out Pietru in a strangled voice, running through his open front door to check on his wife. She was still wrapped tight on their straw bed, the threadbare blanket seeming more like a shroud than a shield against the morning cold. He dropped his makeshift weapon and shook her by the shoulders, but she did not awaken.

There was a scraping sound from outside the shack. Pietru span around, picking up his ploughshare once more with his teetch bared in a snarl. He ran over to the door and kicked it open, shouting a challenge into the unhealthy light of this dark dawn.

‘Come on, then!’ he roared. ‘If you want our lives so badly, come and take them!’

He realised then that the usual white stones that had nearly tripped him were not cobbles, but skulls. They were rising, dry earth tumbling away to reveal empty eye sockets. Pietru heard hollow laughter, yet somehow it had not disturbed the chilling silence around him, existing only in the back of his mind.

The harvester watched in abject terror as fleshless cadavers broke free from the earth. Clad in the remnants of long-decayed uniforms, they hauled themselves from the ground slowly, haltingly, but with terrible determination. Pietru felt helpless, paralysed by fear and indecision. It they came for him...

But they did not. One by one, the risen skeletons turned and made their way to the east, clattering away in single file as if driven by some undeniable compulsion.

‘No’ said Pietru, his eyes narrowing. ‘Only life comes from this farm. Not death.’

The harvester felt a presence behind him, and spun around to face it. There was Edra, her eyes sunken and her skin as white as milk. She was holding his scythe in both hands, its enormous blade still razor-sharp from his whetstone work for the night before. Solemsn and wordless, she offered it to him as if it were a sceptre bequeathed at a monarch’s coronation.

Pietru put aside his ploughshare and accepted the scythe, his eyes stinging with tears. Its handles were like old friends to his toughened plams, his muscle memory making the heavy oaken tool light in his grip. He turned towards the column of bone-men marching away to the east, before charging out of the shack with a roar of defiance.

There would be a new kind of harvest on the van Harrow farm this day.

  • DIG DEEP (WHITE DWARF MARCH 2018) – Giggith was hungry. This one thought filled her tiny troggoth mind…
Spoiler

Giggith was hungry. This one though filled her tiny troggoth mind. Sitting in the stagnant muck at the bottom of her swamp, she could feel the need to eat spread throughout her body until every hulking, blubbery inch cried out to be fed. As she pondered this feeling, her mouth lolled open before snapping shut, reflexively checkint to see if it already had food in its grasp. Bones crunched. Hot viscera flowed. There was something in her jaws, something she had killed recently.

Looking down to see what she was eating, Giggith saw a thick,muscular arm covered in runes extending from her mouth, the hand at the end of this arm still clutching a fyresteel handaxe. She opened her jaws wide and swallowed the rest of the arm, as well as the axe, in a single gulp, and as she did so small memories came flittering into her brain. She had been hungry. She felt a rumbling through the swamp bottom. She swam up and saw grots battling redhaired duardin. She started killing and eating, and when i tas over she swam back down to finish her meal. That’s how she’d gotthis arm in her mouth, not that it mattered much to Giggith.

The meat and metal slid down Giggith’s gullet into her belly where it mingled with the flesh of other creatures she had recently devoured. She worked her jaw up and down one more time, but there was no more food to be had in it, and she was still hungry. The desire for food grew louder, angrier. Feed! FEED! Then a voice came bubbling up through the hunger and into her head; a voice she’d heard many times before. It was the voice of Gork – or maybe Mork – and it would guide her to food, as it had always done.

‘There woz a battle’ said the voice. ‘There are lots of dead ta eat down ‘ere now. You just gotta find’em’

The voice was clever, and it had never let her down before, so Giggith started to crawl. Her filth-encrusted claws churned up clouds of mud as she made her way along the swamp bottom, and the dim light filtering down through the water was barely enough for her beady eyes to see in front of her. But as she moved the scent of blood grew thicker and thicker. She was on the right trail. She would find food soon.

Giggith reached out to pull herself forward, but instead of striking mud her claw struck flesh. She opened her mouth and lunged through the billowing muck, expecting to engulf in her yawning maw wathever creature she had just come across. But instead of finding a small morsel, Giggith’s fangs sunk into an enormous slab of meat. The troggoth clamped her jaws down and yanked her head from side to side, tearing a hunk free from the thing. As she swallowed, the clouds of mud beganto settle, and Giggith saw before her the corpse of an Aleguzzler Gargant, facedown and half-buried in the swamp floor. The gargant had gaping wounds all over its body, some of which still had axes embedded in them, and the side of its head that Giggith could see was charred to the bone. Giggith’s claw had fallen upon its ankle, and she had just bitten a chunk out of the dead behemoth’s calf. The meat reached her stomach, so she opened her jaws to rip off another great piece of muscle.

As she sunk her teeth in for a second time, Giggith felt a mighty shudder running through the bedrock. Then a crack sounded in the depths and swamp water began flowing past her with the force of a raging river. The troggoth dug her feet into the putrid silt and braced against the buffeting current as uprooted swamp-weeds and pices of rock slammed into her back. A mote of confusion entered her head. Why was the water moving? Her lower jaw fell slightly slack and the gargant leg tugged against her grip, pulled by the furious undertow. Giggith clamped down her jaws as hard as she could, finding the bone with her teeth and thrashing her claws against the gargant’s leg. She wouldn’t let her food get away, not while she was still hungry.

The torrent continued, and soon the gargant’s body was pulled free from its muddy half-grave. It began to slide through the silt, dragging Giggith along with it. Her mouth was firmly around the leg bone now, and she pressed deep into the putrid mud with her feet and claws, but the current was too much. Through the churning waters she could see a great, gapping blackness ahead – a sinkhole of colossal proportions that was sucking in the swamp and everything it contained. The water level dropped below giggith’s head and she heard the gleeful yelping of thousands of grots. Her beady eyes drated from side to side, squinting in the bright moonlight. She saw little greenskins riding makeshift rafts and fallen logs as they were pulled in by the whirlpool. They yelped with manic excitement even as their crude vessels plunged over the edge of the waterfall and into darkness.

The gargant’s torso reached the edge of the chasm and flopped down into the hole. Giggith pulled back with all her might, her legs and teeth straining against the enormous weight of her meal. The water was down to her belly now, but still it flowed with unrelenting force. She could see larger creatures charging through the swamp – orruks, ogors and other gargants, bellowing as they ran with the current, heading straight for the chasm and diving in. The gargant continued to pull her closer and closer to the precipice, so close that she could see into the impossibly deep pit.

The last of the swamp water drained into the hole, leaving Giggith at the chasm’s edge with the gargant’s leg still in her jaws. Her muscles were screaming, but so was her belly. Too heavy! Don’t let go! Then she heard the voice again. It wasn’t in her head this time; it was a real voice. She glanced sideways and saw a grot next to her; a floppy fungoid cap perched on its head.

‘It’s allright,’ he said. ‘There’s lots a food down there, if ya don’t mid eatin’ dead stuff.’

It was the same voice Giggith had always heard. The voice of Mork – or maybe Gork. It was clever, and it had never let her down before. Giggith dug both claws into the gargant’s leg and let herself be dragged into the void.

  • THE CYCLE INTERRUPTED (04.01.18) - Horticulous Slimux frowned, the slick skin of his forehead furrowing like a well-ploughed field...
Spoiler

Horticulous Slimux frowned, the slick skin of his forehead furrowing like a well-ploughed field. The ancient daemon had been thinking pleasant thoughts about running down the last survivors of Zintalis Old Town, his lolloping Beasts of Nurgle driving the citizens into the open so their corpses could bring Grandfather’s fecundity to the meadows and plains beyond. It would be a welcome and hard-earned change from desperate battle against that cursed axewoman Blacktalon and her Rangers, that much was sure. But to his frustration, his quarry was escaping.

‘Perhaps runnin’ ’em down is a bit of a stretch,’ droned Slimux – given the sluggard’s pace of his mollusc-steed Mulch, the humans would outpace them for days yet. But there was something to be said for doing things slowly, steadily and properly. ‘Run, my little hares,’ muttered Horticulous. ‘The snail always wins in the end.’ But there was something on the wind that made his usual certainty ring hollow,

A scent of death blew from the cracked plains to the north of Zintalis, with another smell cutting through it. Was that the cold, nostril-scouring tang of sterility?

Slimux shuddered at the very thought. Death was all fine and well by him, an integral part of Grandfather’s great cycle and a necessary prelude to the birth of glorious new life. He had brought that gift to millions of souls over his long existence, and extensively travelled Shyish, the Realm of Death, in his time. But as he always told his wide-eyed Nurgling helpers in the Plague God’s Garden, a creature’s demise was always followed by rebirth, whether of body or spirit, and from the tiniest forms of life blossomed vast and malodorous entities that pleased Grandfather with their foulness – until one day they, too, died and the cycle continued.

‘Ah well,’ said Horticulous, snorting at his own introspection. He could still see the town’s survivors ahead, crossing the plain with his Beasts in gleeful pursuit. ‘On with the great labour.’ He kicked his steed hard in its slime-clotted shell and waggled the Nurgling he had tied to his stick as bait. ‘Get ’em, Mulch.’ The molluscoid daemon sighed heavily, rolled its eyes and pulled itself forwards as fast as it could, accelerating from the pace of an asthmatic Nurgling to that of a leper at a dangerously fast walk.

‘Any moment now,’ he said, ‘and we’ll bring some lovely life to this place.’ He chewed on a splintered bone and peered with an expert’s eye at the earth, but it remained cracked and dry. How could it be? His skill as a cultivator was such that even the most arid desert was soon rich compost for the blessings of the garden, and his seeds were the finest in all the lands.

Up ahead, some of the scattered townspeople had noticed that Horticulous and his entourage had halted in their pursuit. One of the humans gave a strange laugh, his tone somewhere between relief and madness.

‘Not havin’ that,’ grumbled Horticulous. ‘Mulch! Lead the charge!’ The daemon molluscoid shambled forward, but as soon as his front set of legs touched the cracked flatlands, he screeched and recoiled as if stung by a paladin-wasp. ‘That ain’t right,’ said Horticulous. He peered down once more at the spore-seeds. Instead of bursting into glorious life as they should have, they had shrivelled away to black ruin. Nurgle’s magic was not taking.

‘We made it!’ shouted one of the Zintalis humans. ‘They’re not coming after us!’

Horticulous ground his crumbled molars, his choler souring with every passing moment. He took a greenclay urn from Mulch’s shell, the one containing his most prized plague flies, and cracked it open with his lopping shears to release a cloud of fat-bodied insects. ‘Swarm ’em, little ’uns!’ he cried out, but the insects just buzzed around him, not trespassing so much as a foot onto the cracked lands.

‘He can’t touch us,’ came the call from up ahead. One of them took out a shortbow, and a moment later an arrow struck Horticulous right in the chest. It caused a momentary flicker of pain as it pierced his heart. The daemon plucked out the arrow and snapped it, his anger rising up to consume all reason. He slid off Mulch’s shell, took up his shears, and stepped out onto the flatlands, grimacing at the stinging pain he felt in the soles of his feet.

The cracked earth shivered and shook as if revulsed, and a hundred skeletal hands thrust upwards from the earth with a noise like a thousand earthenware jars shattering at once. Those closest were grabbing at Horticulous but could not quite reach him, for they were repelled by the spore-seeds scattered on the ground. ‘Huh,’ he grunted, slashing one of the hands with a backhand swipe of his shears. It came apart in a scattering of bones.

Those hands bursting out nearest the human survivors experienced no such obstacle. They clawed at Zintalis’ survivors in ever-greater numbers, the earth around them crumbling away to reveal an entire layer of juddering skeletons beneath. Bony fingers sank into soft skin and ripped away chunks of pink flesh as the townspeople were dragged screaming into their graves.

Horticulous raised his eyebrow, drinking in the spectacle with a mixture of satisfaction and disquiet. ‘Strange times indeed,’ he muttered, climbing slowly back into Mulch’s saddle-shell. ‘But this old dog has plenty of tricks yet. Come on, my fine little lads, back to the garden with you. We have work to do.’

  • DEATH AT THE DOOR (09.01.18) - Verric's mouth was dry and his heart hammered like  a forge-piston , but his hands were steady...
Spoiler

Verric’s mouth was dry and his heart hammered like a forge-piston, but his hands were steady. Fear was an old friend. It had kept him alive this long, through two decades in the free guilds and another raising a boy alone out on the frontier.

He pulled back the curtain and peered out into the lashing rain.  Sorrowcreek’s makeshift palisade of vine-lashed timbers loomed out of the mist, and beyond that the canopy of the Chiltus forest, writhing beneath a gangrenous sky. Screams and pitiful wails echoed in the distance. They had come again, the depraved tribes of the deep forest. Rotskins. Bringers of disease and ruin, worshippers of unspeakable gods.

He could see an orange glow in the distance, flickering faintly in the downpour. Was that the old Fhendel place aflame? At least the fires would claim no fresh victims – Goodman Fhendel and his wife had passed weeks back. He choked back a bitter laugh. The Rotskin tribes would find naught here but emaciated bodies and maggot-ridden timbers. The able-bodied had long ago abandoned this cursed place, taking their chances upon the long, dangerous road back to Greywater rather than facing the slow decay of the Weeping Ague. Verric would have joined them himself, were Julen well enough to travel. Death had already visited Sorrowcreek, and it had left only the ill-fated and the foolish in its wake.

Another scream cut through the storm, piercing and ragged with terror.

Verric crossed the room and reached for the varnished repeater that hung above the fireplace of his humble homestead. He hefted the heavy bow and cranked the lever, then checked the chamber and saw five gleaming bolts of steel stacked and ready. Simply holding the repeater seemed to steady his frayed nerves. A duardin-forged piece, it had been with him since he had donned his first uniform. In all that time, it had never failed him. 

No “Da?” came a thin voice from the stairs. There stood Julen, wrapped in an old, frayed blanket, his face pale as snow, eyes wide with fear. The ague had robbed the strength from his body, and his skin was blotchy, with the sickly sheen of meat gone bad. Julen had entered his seventeenth season as a strapping lad, well-muscled from his work in the timber-fields, hacking open goldwood pine in search of priceless amberdew. Verric hated to see his strong, courageous lad laid so low. So many had been lost to the plague that had spread like wildfire throughout Sorrowcreek, but still Julen fought on.

“Upstairs, son,” Verric whispered, and the ragged croak of his voice sounded unnatural and repulsive even to himself. “Find a place to hide. Don’t move until I tell you.”

“I can fight with you!” Julen said, shaking his head and stumbling down the stairs towards Verric. Even as he reached the floor, his strength left him, and he tripped and sprawled into the hall, landing hard. He coughed a trail of black phlegm that stained the stone floor. Verric rushed to his son, and hauled him to his feet, placing a hand on each side of his face.

“I know you can fight,” he said. “But there’s a time for blades and a time for good sense, my boy. You can hardly stand, much less swing a sword. Look at me, Julen. Look at me now.”

Julen’s sunken, bloodshot eyes met his own.

“You go and hide,” he said. “Whatever’s coming, you leave it to me. I’ve dealt with heretics and savages. A well-aimed bolt or two will send them running, mark my words.”

Julen nodded, lips quivering just a bit. Verric ruffled the youth’s sweat-slicked hair, and gave him a gentle shove towards the stairs. With a last, pained look back, Julen retreated back to his room.

Verric turned back to the heavy door. Brackish rainwater seeped under the frame, soaking his boots and running between the cobbled stones. Verric grasped the wooden charm that hung at his neck, a simple image of the Everqueen he had whittled himself from the shining sprig of goldwood on a sun-washed afternoon long ago. So long ago it seemed another life entirely.

“Our Lady Alarielle,” he muttered. “Hear my words. Guide my arm this night. And watch over my boy, should I fall.”

Not much of a prayer, but then Verric had never been eloquent in his faith. He snapped the stock of the repeater to his shoulder. Let them come. Let them dare invade his home, these devils. Verric Gheiser had built this place with toil and blood, and he would not yield it. Not to anyone.

He sensed movement at the window again, and snapped off a hail of bolts. The glass shattered, and the curtain whipped and fluttered like an angry spirit as the wind and rain rushed in.

“Get you gone!” he shouted into the darkness. “This is a house of the faithful, fiends. You will not enter here.”

A beam of light seared through the keyhole of the door, growing in intensity with every moment. There was a crackling, tearing sound, and Verric felt his skin writhe and tingle as if pricked by a thousand pins.  The light grew stronger and stronger, and fingers of forked lightning reached through the latch to cast a spider’s web of flickering light across the ceiling.

The front door exploded into a storm of wooden shards, as if struck with a cannon round. Verric stumbled backwards, slipped on the rain-slick floor and fell. His head struck the cobbles hard, and he almost lost his grip on the repeater. Ears aching from the blast, vision swimming, Verric stared up at the shattered entranceway. It was no fur-clad savage that loomed over him, but a statue forged from gleaming metal, rain pouring in rivulets down its stark, white armour. Rippling arcs of lightning swirled around its form, and the warhammer it clutched in one enormous fist. The shadowed sockets of its unforgiving war mask seemed to gaze through Verric’s very soul.

As the living statue took a single stride forward, raising its hammer high, Verric began to scream.

  •  A BOUNTIFUL WAGER (12.01.18) - A gnarwfly droned lazily through the Garden of Nurgle. Spores drifted around it on the mismal airs...
Spoiler

A gnawfly droned lazily through the Garden of Nurgle. Spores drifted around it on the miasmal airs. Moanwillows sighed and rustgrass creaked below as the fly buzzed along, its simple mind filled with thoughts of filth, food, and where it might find the two combined. The gnawfly settled for a moment upon a stone arch that rose from a shallow lake of bubbling foulness. It ruffled its wings, humming shrilly and tonelessly as it added its own generous offering to the noxious waters.

Emerald light flared, causing the fly to squeak in surprise as the arch filled with flickering energies. A fleshy mound spilled from the portal, something large and slug-like with a slime-slick shell on its back. A gnarled claw reached out and closed around the gnawfly as it tried to take flight. It gave a last squeal of alarm before it was tossed into a daemon’s stinking maw.

The gnawfly popped like a zit in Horticulous’ mouth, and he pulled a sour face.

‘Bloomin’ empty, just my luck,’ he muttered.

Mulch squelched down into the foetid lake, emitting a sigh of relief as gelid filth washed over him. The snail-beast swiveled one eyestalk and shot Horticulous a questioning look.

‘Well I don’t know, do I?’ said the plague daemon irritably. ‘The dead have their place in the cycle, that’s well and good. But if they’re forgettin’ what that place is…’

Mulch blew out a heavy sigh of concern, bubbles of filthy lake-water frothing around his mouth.

‘I know, lad, not good at all,’ said Horticulous. ‘That’s the sort of thing that’ll get Grandfather all in a latherboil.’ 

Mulch submerged his head further, until only his eyestalks protruded above the sludge. He burbled morosely.

‘Truth, that’s what we need, and time to make sense of it,’ said Horticulous. He stuck two gnarled fingers into the corners of his mouth and whistled messily. His plague flies swarmed in answer, gathering upon him in a thick carpet, their legs and wings tickling Horticulous’ leathery flesh.

‘Alright you lot, time to earn your keep,’ said the daemon. ‘I haven’t been around this long without gettin’ a nose for when something don’t stink right, and after that business outside Zintalis, all I smell is ashes. Get out into the realms and get searchin’. I don’t care how or where, just fly as far as you can, then come back and tell me what you seen. Signs, omens, walkin’ cadavers, whatever it is, I want to know about it, right?’

His flies gave a resounding buzz, thrumming their wings in answer. They burst from Horticulous’ body like a cloud and shot away in all directions, making for the corrupted Realmgates that dotted Nurgle’s garden.

The Grand Cultivator nodded to himself, then gave Mulch a firm kick. ‘Alright sluggard, enough marinatin’. It’ll be a span before them flies start coming back, and in the meantime you can just bet the Plaguebearers won’t have pared the rot-blossoms right. Come on lad, cultivatin’ to be done.’

Mulch gave another long-suffering sigh before hauling himself off through the slime with Horticulous perched thoughtfully upon his back.

Time had always passed strangely for Horticulous, if he noticed its passage at all, wheeling around him in fluid cycles one moment and flowing turgid as a clotted river the next. All the same, the Grand Cultivator was surprised by how soon the first of his flies returned. Barely had he found time to berate his assistant gardeners, plough the lower festerfields and attend to the wytherblooms before the insects started flitting back.

Most bore a fresh message of alarm, some strange sight or unnatural encounter having left the daemonic insects buzzing with panic. Some of Horticulous’ little familiars returned with legs brittle and thoraxes graying with patches of ashen sterility.

Some did not come back at all.

 As each fresh tale was told to him, Horticulous’ concern deepened. ‘Ghasts and haunts, blackenhounds and wailing bogies,’ he muttered to Mulch after an especially vivid account from the Jade Kingdom of Verdia. ‘Dark omens and darker visions. There’s bad business comin’, you mark my words. I think it’s time I had a word with the Rainfather.’

Mulch belched in agreement and snapped lazily at the giggling Nurgling that dangled from a pole before his face. The mite swung tantalisingly out of reach as it released a string of flatulence and poked out its tongue. Grunting with annoyance, Mulch set off through the garden towards the pestilent pastures, the last known location of the mighty Great Unclean One known as Rotigus.

Horticulous heard the sounds of battle long before he saw Rotigus himself. Clashes, screams, and the wet rush of jetting foulness echoed between the trunks of a withered copse as Mulch dragged himself between the trees. Emerging from the eaves of that noisome wood, Horticulous tapped Mulch’s snout, pulling his steed up short atop a ridge of bone that overlooked the pestilent pastures.

Sitting back and chewing on a splinter of bone, Horticulous watched Rotigus work with professional appreciation. Down amongst the muck of the pastures, the ground had been heaved open by great shards of blue crystal that danced with varicoloured flames.

Horticulous recognised a spur of the Crystal Labyrinth, the ever-twisting realm of Tzeentch that sometimes intruded upon Nurgle’s bountiful domain. From within that strange maw had spilled a tide of Tzeentchian daemons, no doubt intent upon claiming the Plague God’s pastures for their master’s realm.

The heaps of rotting ectoplasm and writhing, fungus-covered flesh strewn about the battlefield showed that Rotigus had other ideas. As Horticulous watched, the cowled Great Unclean One led his Plaguebearers in a last, resounding charge against the battered remains of the invading host. Rotigus swatted kaleidoscopic daemons aside with swings of his twisted stave. He crushed them under his huge bulk, and vomited streams of brackish filth from the maw in his gut, drowning Tzeentch’s servants and extinguishing their unnatural fires.

At last, the few surviving Horrors turned and capered for the mouth of their tunnel. Rotigus raised his staff and bellowed words that caused the daemons to convulse with the raw power of unstoppable fecundity. One by one they were torn apart by fungal growths that billowed from within their flesh, until at last a new copse of nodding mushrooms the height of trees stood before the entrance to the Crystal Labyrinth.

Satisfied that the show was over, Horticulous urged Mulch forward. Rotigus saw him coming, the beetle-black eyes that stared from beneath his rotted cowl marking the Grand Cultivator’s approach. Leaving his daemonic foot soldiers to smother the crystal shards in corpse-compost, Rotigus lumbered to meet Horticulous half way. The Great Unclean One settled on his haunches, looming over Horticulous like a mountain of flyblown flesh.

‘Hgh… Horticulous,’ he said, nodding. Rotigus’ deep voice was a bubbling, liquid horror, the sort of sound a mudslide might make if it could speak. The Great Unclean One sounded as though he were constantly striving to choke back mouthfuls of vomit, with black slop spilling from his lips in noisome spatters. Horticulous nodded in turn, chewing nonchalantly on his bone splinter.

‘Rainfather,’ he said. ‘Fine gamekeeping there. Can’t have the Changer’s vermin springin’ up all over, can we?’

‘What do you… ugh… want, Slimux?’ asked Rotigus. ‘This business has… hgh… taken up too much of my time already. There’s ways to wander, and gifts to be given. Always more… urgh… gifts.’

‘Where’ll your wanderings take you next?’ asked Horticulous.

‘Ghg… Ghyran, not that it concerns you,’ replied Rotigus. ‘Why? Would you like to wander with me, little cultivator?’

‘Mayhap,’ nodded Horticulous. ‘But nowhere of as little import as that.’

Rotigus’s belly maw heaved and sputtered with sloshing laughter, but his true expression congealed into a heavy frown. Mucous crawled in trails down his flabby chins.

‘The War of Life is…hwugh… somehow unimportant to the great Horticulous Slimux, is it?’ he asked. ‘Too old and wise for Grandfather’s war are you, first-spat?’

‘The War of Life is a single enterprise, one that Grandfather’s interests have branched out from,’ said Horticulous. ‘Why do you think he sent me out a-sowing? All the realms need to feel his generosity, not just one. Leave the fixed obsessions to the Skull Lord, is what he says now, and I agree.’

Rotigus shifted wetly. He rumbled deep in his chest.

‘You know something, don’t you? What… hugh… hgh… is it?’

‘I’ve seen things, heard ’em on flies’ wings, smelt their charnel stink,’ said Horticulous. ‘There’s somethin’ bad coming, Rainfather. The dead are on the rise, and if I’m right, the cycle’s under threat.’

‘If you are right,’ echoed Rotigus. ‘And whence do these… ugh… these winds blow? Where do you plan to ride that gastropodal steed of yours in… suhgh… search of answers?’

‘Where else?’ asked Horticulous. ‘Shyish. And I don’t look to go alone. Let the other fly-eyed fools scurry through Alarielle’s pretty fields. If you and I lead the Tallybands to the lands of the dead, and we put an end to whatever infecund mischief is brewin’ up, think how glopsome-glad Grandfather will be.’

‘A reward shared is a reward halved,’ said Rotigus.

‘Hah!’ barked the Grand Cultivator. ‘Alright, says you, then let’s make it a wager, eh? Surely even the barrens of Shyish can’t long stay dead with your powers of plenty to coax their generosity?’

‘He…ugh…who first discovers the source of your belly-aching and puts paid to it is declared the winner,’ said Rotigus, nodding his boulder-like head.

‘Aye,’ said Horticulous.

‘And if your…ghg…your fears prove baseless, little cultivator, and my time is wasted?’ asked Rotigus, his voice menacing.

‘They shan’t, and it won’t,’ said Horticulous, his eye locked steadily with Rotigus’ black orbs.

Eventually, the Great Unclean One gave another rumble deep in his chest and turned away.

‘Squamglut, Mulgus,’ he bellowed, catching the attention of his subservient Poxbringers. ‘Ghugh…gather the Tallybands! We make for the Crackenbone Realmgate! The Deluge has… hgh… business in the lands of the dead!’

Horticulous gestured to his surviving flies, sending them winging away to gather his own followers. He smiled a sly smile to himself and sucked the last marrow from his old chewing bone. Two of Nurgle’s mightiest daemons, and all those who would follow them to battle, amounted to a prodigious force indeed. Whatever was stirring in the Realm of Death, he almost felt sorry for it…

  • GRIM DELIVERANCE (16.01.18) - 'Sister!' - The distant call for aid rose above the groaning din in the makeshift pesthouse. Gosma ignored it...
Spoiler

‘Sister!’

The distant call for aid rose above the groaning din in the makeshift pesthouse. Gosma ignored it. She tied off the stitching she was working on and quickly assessed her current patient. The infection had spread into his organs. He probably wouldn’t last the night.

‘Sister!’ cried the voice again, louder and more emphatic. Gosma picked up her few remaining ministration supplies and pushed her way towards the voice, past the pallets, cots and rows of incense braziers. The waft of rot and burning spice filled her nostrils. In all her seasons, she had never seen plague like this before.

Like everyone else in Grovenheim, Gosma thought the festering Daemons had been driven back from the valley, off to ravage some other poor town in the Heaving Peaks. The townsfolk had celebrated and given praise to Sigmar – a banquet had been held in this very hall, and Gosma drunk orchid-bud wine alongside the Freeguild guardsmen who had fought so long and so bravely. She woke up to screaming the next morning as the plague took hold of its first victims, and she’d barely slept or eaten since. Truth be told, she could no longer remember how long it had been. Days and nights blended together into a single nightmare, from which she would give anything to be awoken.

‘Sister!!’

Gosma pushed through a throng of people and saw who was calling out to her. It was a soldier lying on a cot, his left leg missing from the knee and his right shoulder criss-crossed with stitches. She recognised him – she had worked on him several days ago. She remembered sawing his leg and gouging the rot from his shoulder, but she hadn’t held much hope that he would survive. Yet here he was – wan and thin, but without the clammy complexion of the morbidly infected.

It took Gosma a moment to notice that he was clutching the rim of a barrow, inside of which lay another man wracked with pain and fever. A woman dressed in black and purple robes was trying to pull the handcart from the soldier’s grasp. Though her skin was corpse pale, she was clearly strong and showed no sign of illness.

‘Help,’ said the soldier through gritted teeth. ‘Don’t let her take him away.’

‘Sister,’ said the pale woman, her voice as calm and cold as a glacial lake. ‘This man is beyond your help. I will take him from your hands before his illness births more disease.’

‘Don’t let her do it,’ cried the soldier. ‘She kills the ones she takes! I hear them screaming as she wheels them away, then they fall silent in an instant.’

‘I am ending their suffering,’ said the pale woman. ‘It is a kindness for those beyond salvation.’

Gosma didn’t know what to make of the scene unfolding before her. She was exhausted, her mind clouded by the endless gruesome work she had been performing. Perhaps it was better if this patient was taken. From the look of him, he didn’t have much longer to live anyway.

Just then the man in the barrow let out a gurgling moan. Gosma looked down and saw a fist-sized cyst protruding from his thigh. The skin on the cyst was undulating, the pressure within causing it bulge outwards. Gosma had seen this before – it was ready to burst, and she had only moments left to act.

Gosma lunged over to the nearest brazier and pulled the poker from the embers. She spun back to the man in the barrow and plunged the red-hot metal into the heart of the cyst. The reek of burning flesh and evaporated pus hit Gosma like a battering ram, taking the air out of her lungs in an instant. The man screamed in anguish as the poker seared into his leg, and as he arched his back in pain, his muck-encrusted jerkin split down the middle. Gosma’s heart sank as she saw his exposed abdomen, swollen to hemispherical proportions by another, far-larger cyst.

The man’s belly burst open with a wet pop, sending a shower of maggot-filled pus flying outwards. The putrid eruption blasted Gosma to the floor. As she hit the ground, she saw the soldier she had saved – he had been covered in plump maggots, each the size of a swollen finger, and they were burrowing through the stitching on his shoulder and into the saw wound at the end of his leg. He was screaming. Gosma saw the pale woman moving towards the soldier, her black and purple robes untouched by the contents of the cyst, and her fingers glowing with amethyst light…

Jagged teeth sunk into Gosma’s skin and she cried out in pain. Her heart raced as she realised she too was covered in slime-coated maggots, and they were tearing at her by the score with their rows of razor fangs. She grabbed at the maggots and tried to pull them from her body, but they were already too far embedded in her flesh. Her hands burned when she touched the grotesque pupae, and she could feel the infections carried by them spreading through her palms and fingers.

A purple light washed over Gosma. The maggots recoiled and began to shrivel, each letting out a screeching wail. The cystic filth that covered Gosma started to evaporate, and her racing heart slowed to a crawl before – for a brief moment – stopping completely. The pale woman was looming over Gosma, her fingers splayed and her eyes glassed over. Gosma sat up, and the desiccated husks of the maggots fell harmlessly to the floor. She looked over at the soldier. He too had been saved from the carnivorous worms. He lay dead on his cot, still and peaceful, the grimace of pain gone from his face.

‘By Sigmar,’ said Gosma under her breath.

‘No,’ said the pale woman. ‘Not by Sigmar.’

Gosma looked up at her saviour. There was an endless well of strength in the woman’s cold and piercing stare.

‘Sigmar has forsaken this place,’ the woman continued. ‘But Nagash sees your struggles.’

Nagash. Gosma had heard that name as a child, in the bedtime stories that had been told to frighten her.

‘Nagash can end the torments of these people,’ said the pale woman. ‘Nagash can end your own nightmare. He offers his help to you freely.’

The woman extended her hand down to Gosma. Gosma took a deep breath and looked around her. No one in the packed hall had noticed her ordeal; they were all too busy enduring their own woes and maladies.

‘Will you accept Nagash’s help?’ asked the pale woman, her hand still outstretched. Gosma took hold of the woman’s hand and allowed herself to be pulled up from the ground.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Just tell me what I need to do.’

Gosma felt a grave chill spreading throughout her body.

‘There is nothing you need do,’ said the pale woman, her lips curving into a thin smile. ‘Be still, sister, and your end will come.’

  • THE HANGMAN'S CURSE (19.01.18) - Lord Slougous leant on his bubotic hammer and breathed a bubbling sigh of satisfaction...
Spoiler

Lord Slougous leant on his bubotic hammer and breathed a bubbling sigh of satisfaction. The battle had been magnificent, the corpse-harvest bountiful. All around him lay fallen Freeguild soldiery, their uniforms torn and filth-spattered, their flesh swelling and rotting at an accelerated rate. His surviving warriors picked their way between the carrion heaps, selecting the finest specimens and hefting them onto creaking wooden carts.

Above the mud and ruins of the battlefield, thunder rumbled through yellow-brown clouds. They opened like seeping wounds, drizzling rain as thick and clotted as gruel.

‘Grandfather drools with delight at our deeds,’ Slougous bellowed. His sonorous voice rolled across the carrion field, and his Rotbringers raised their weapons and roared back at him in triumph. ‘Now hurry swift, my pretty lads, and bring in the crop. There are bodies to plant and nooses to sow, eh?’

The hulking Blightkings redoubled their efforts, tossing bodies into their carts with rambunctious cheer until the mouldering wagons groaned under the weight. At last, Slougous judged that the harvest was done. Turning his rusted helm up to the rain, he chanted a prayer to Nurgle in the old tongue of fallen Ghokoria. Foul waters drizzled into his mouth, and he gladly swallowed them down as the blessing they were. Then he turned, beckoning for his warriors to follow, and began the long trudge back to the Leper’s Wood. Slougous left his own dead where they had fallen; their putrescent corpses would seep Nurgle’s bounty into the soil, a last gift of fecundity to turn this barren plain into a garden of fungal delights.

The march back to Slougous’ stronghold took the best part of two days, but never did he nor any of his warriors slow their relentless pace. Nurgle’s blessings gave them endless succour, and Slougous reflected that they had not toppled Ghokoria by taking their ease. They passed fallen duardin statues furred with muttermoss and crawling with gholb-slugs the size of cattle. They marched through the cadaverous ruins of cities that he remembered sacking so long ago, their streets now drowning in bubbling swamps, their murals obscured by waving fronds and clouds of thrumming flies. Lord Slougous led his Rotbringers in song as they travelled, a droning dirge that echoed across the lands they had despoiled for Nurgle.

Throughout the journey their crop of bodies ripened, and Lord Slougous’ anticipation grew. With a connoisseur’s eye, he selected those that would yield the finest thrice-ripened death’s heads, already mentally mixing the rotmulch and alchemical plagues he would add to perfect their foulness.

Only when he and his warriors crested Fester Crag and began their winding descent into the Valley of Biles did Slougous begin to feel an edge of disquiet. The sensation was wholly unfamiliar to him, and he could not place its source. Yet as the turgid mists above the valley parted and his stronghold was revealed, Slougous felt shock race through him.

Last he had seen it, the Valley of Biles had seethed with life, carpeted end to end by the fecund putrescence of the Leper’s Wood. Now it was silent and still in a way he had never seen. Not a single fly droned through the air. Neither daemon mite, lolloping Beast nor hunched and crooked gor-kin moved amongst the trees. Even the festering boughs were as unmoving as stone, with not a drip nor creak nor squelch to disturb the sepulchral silence.

At the forest’s heart lay the Hangman’s Orchard, the centre of Lord Slougous’ power and the place where he ripened his beloved death’s heads. Only there did the mist still cling, yet as he strained his eyes, Slougous could swear that he saw spectral shapes drifting amidst it. Fleeting impressions of skulls and screaming faces swam through the vapours, there and gone in a heartbeat. Slougous felt outrage replace his surprise.

‘What manner of interlopers are these, that have slipped wilesome into my wood and stilled its lively squirm,’ he growled angrily. ‘Onward to the Hangman’s Orchard. There shall be a reckoning they will not relish.’

The Blightkings made haste down the rocky path, hauling their carts of corpses behind them as they moved beneath the forest’s eaves. Here they found fresh cause for fury. Every rotted leaf and coiling liana, swollen tuber and fatted fungus had dried out until it was little more than brittle dust. Those plants the Blightkings disturbed simply crumbled away, forming drifts over time that looked for all the world like trickling black sand.

The closer Lord Slougous and his warriors came to the forest’s heart, the more pronounced the desiccation became. At last they waded through sand and dust that piled up to their waists. By the time the Hangman’s Orchard loomed ahead, Slougous’ wrath filled him up like boiling bile. The Leper’s Forest was his garden to tend. It had stood for generations, always swelling and growing, always burgeoning with fresh foulness. Some baleful force had sucked its vitality dry in a matter of days, destroying the labours of centuries.

Bubotic hammer clutched firmly in both hands, Lord Slougous strode purposefully into the mist. Instantly he was alone, cut off from his surroundings by a soft and muffling blanket of icy vapours. Half-seen shapes whirled around him. Twitching things flickered into sight and were gone again, all tattered rags and waving hair. Slougous’ warriors had vanished behind him as though they had never been, yet still he pressed on.

‘Great Nurgle watch over me,’ he muttered, his words falling dead amidst the smothering fog. If Slougous’ patron heard his prayer, he gave no sign.

Suddenly the orchard loomed up, its thorned boughs emerging from the mist like a skeletal claw closing around him. This was where the Rotbringers had planted the dead with nooses strung around their necks, that the gallows trees might hoist them high and ripen their crania into death’s heads. It was his inner sanctum, his lovingly tended garden. Now it seemed strange and alien, and Slougous’ wrath turned to doubt as he saw the dangling cadavers amidst the fog.

It took him a moment to recognise what was wrong; the bodies were writhing, kicking and clawing as though deep underwater. Their bloated faces turned towards him as one. Stitches popped and tore as their eyes opened, empty sockets weeping viscous green tears. Their mouths yawned wide, disgorging dead maggots and ropey plague-fluids. The cadavers’ jaws worked, but whatever words they meant him to hear emerged as nothing more than a dusty croak.

‘Sacrilege!’ roared Lord Slougous. He swung his hammer with all his might, smashing it into the nearest corpse. The body crumpled beneath the thunderous blow, its noose tearing free from the bough that bore it. The cadaver flew across the clearing and vanished amidst the mist.

Slougous turned and swung again, and again. Anger and disgust consumed him, drowning rational thought.

‘This is a place of blessed life, not sterile undeath!’ he bellowed. ‘You have no right!’
Slougous’ rampage continued, but now he realised that the bodies were clawing at their nooses with mindless, mechanical strength. Some managed to tear through the hemp, dropping from the trees like flyblown fruit. Others dangled lower as muscle and flesh tore, vertebrae popped loose, and heads messily parted company with bodies. Corpses thumped down amidst the tree roots, only to stir and stagger upright again.

Lord Slougous wheeled at the heart of his orchard, seeing corpses stumbling towards him from all around. Their clawing hands reached for him as though beseeching. Their torn flesh leaked waxy slime. Even those he had smashed out of sight came staggering back through the mists.

‘Rotbringers, to me!’ he shouted, but his words echoed back to him, distorted into ghastly screams. Still there was no sign of his warriors, just more dead men, and more, more than could possibly have hung from the gallows trees. Some wore Freeguild uniforms. Some wore the garb of old Ghokoria. Planting his feet, swinging his hammer in tight arcs, Lord Slougous prepared to meet them.

‘Come then, corpses,’ he snarled. ‘Let me show you your proper place in Grandfather’s endless cycle.’ As one, the dead lunged for him, and he swung his hammer with a fearsome roar.

Grulgoch had fought under Lord Slougous’ banner for many years. Always he had been loyal. Yet in this battle, he had been unable to serve his master. Grulgoch had plunged into the mists right behind Slougous, only to find himself wandering lost and alone amongst its vapours. Now, at last, the unnatural fog parted, melting away like ice before a flame. As it did, he saw his comrades, stumbling in confusion around the orchard.

Whatever sorcery had misdirected them and held them at bay, it was dissipating at last. But as it did, Grulgoch’s eyes alighted upon his lord and a groan of denial bubbled from his lips.

Every tree in the Hangman’s Orchard was empty, corpses vanished, nooses dangling like intestines from a ruptured corpse. Every tree, that is, bar one, the greatest of them all, whose branches had twisted and deformed until they wove the shape of a leering skull fifty feet across. From that towering gallows tree hung Lord Slougous, helm torn away, nooses looped around his neck in profusion. His body was rent and torn, nameless fluids soaking into the dry soil below. His head was desiccated and shrunken, its flesh papery, eyes white and dead.

His jaw hung open, and from within spilled a slow, steady stream of night-black sand…

  • TO TRULY EXCEL (23.01.18) - The bloated, tentacle-limbed warrior's head burst apart under Hyphor's hammer...
Spoiler

The bloated, tentacle-limbed warrior’s head burst apart under Hyphor’s hammer. A putrid eruption of brain and bone splattered across the Liberator’s breastplate, blemishing its cream-white sheen. He smashed the dead thing aside with his shield and sought his next quarry – a horn-helmed brute wielding a rusted cleaver. That one’s spine was shattered with a backhand swing. Next was a grotesque with a leering, black-toothed grin, battered to bloody pieces, then a capering plague-sprite, crushed to paste beneath Hyphor’s boot. On all sides the wretches were dying too fast to count. Soon, the Stormcast Eternal was wading through a morass of torn and shattered corpses, and the last of the Nurgle-worshipping filth were attempting to flee into the coiling lash-fronds of the deep forest, scuttling back to their putrescent lairs like roaches exposed to sunlight.

Not a single one made the woodland edge. Though several of their own number fell to the heretics’ rusted blades, the Knights Excelsior cut their foes down with merciless efficiency, cleaving heads and shattering bones with every strike. Before long, the sounds of battle ceased, and all that could be heard were the driving rain and low growl of approaching thunderclouds.

‘That is the last of them,’ said Liberator-Prime Rygos, wiping ichor from his warblade. ‘For now, at least. Be on your guard. These forests crawl with the Plague God’s foul vermin.’

In truth, it had hardly been a battle worthy of the Knights Excelsior. The plague-ridden warband was a mere splinter of the great hosts that despoiled these lands. The filthy deviants had not even managed to breach Holmspear’s palisade walls, protected as they were by a sturdy ring of spitebranch trees. Caught between the hammers of the Stormcast Eternals and the foot-long thorns of the settlement’s fearsome natural barrier, the Nurgle worshippers had been swiftly disposed of. Flyblown bodies filled the perimeter trench, bobbing against each in a soupy quagmire of blood and slime. The rain continued to lash down. Soon the moat would overflow, spilling its rancid contents into the town’s streets.

‘The enemy is routed,’ shouted Rygos, striding across a narrow causeway that led over the trench and met the main doors of Holmspear. He slammed the pommel of his sword upon the hardwood. ‘Open the gate.’

They heard a shuffle of movement on the other side of the wall, and the gate yawned open to reveal a group of thin, sallow-looking humans dressed in tattered uniforms. The Stormcast Eternals tramped across the causeway and entered the town, where they were met with the overpowering stench of death and decay, the scent of bodies trapped together for days without food or rest or clean water. Holmspear was home to no more than a hundred souls, and it seemed barely a fraction of that number still lived. Corpses lay piled here and there amidst a tangle of root-carved shacks and modest stone cottages, covered only by a few pitiful rags.

 ‘God-King bless you, my lords,’ said the apparent leader of the town guard, a stick-thin fellow whose eyes were crusted with yellow grime, and whose hands trembled noticeably as he made the sign of the comet.

Hyphor gazed upon the emaciated creature. So small and weak. So susceptible. Once, such weakness might have inspired pity in him, but Hyphor had fought and died and been reborn in the soul-forges of Azyrheim so many times that he only dimly recalled the concept. The searing crucible of the Reforging process had robbed him of doubt and hesitation, and opened his eyes to a stark truth – in the realms there existed only the savagery of untrammelled chaos and the security of pure order. Justice and anarchy. The righteous and the afflicted.

The man shrank beneath Hyphor’s appraising stare.

The Knights Excelsior formed up in ranks in a cramped clearing that passed for the town square, standing still as statues in the downpour. The storm clouds were so heavy that the land was smothered in shadow, though the hour was not late. Thunder rumbled overhead. From the doors and windows of nearby buildings, a few thin, pale faces peered out at the newcomers.

‘We are too late,’ said Hyphor, taking in the corpse-strewn township and its wretched inhabitants. ‘You sense it, Liberator-Prime? Rot has seeped into the lifeblood of this place.’

In the center of the square stood a statue of a Sigmarite saint, a stern patriarch with hammer held high and a prayer scroll clutched in his other hand. The monument was cloaked in sickly green slime, and Hyphor saw fat-bodied maggots crawling across its surface. More of the revolting things writhed in the window frames and gutters of nearby hovels, and across the bodies of the fallen. Circling the base of the statue was the remnant of what must have once been a wellspring, now choked and clogged with viscous, bubbling fluid. The entire place reeked like an infected wound.

‘We are tasked with scouring the corruption from Holmspear,’ said Liberator-Prime Rygos. ‘It seems our work is not yet done.’

‘The walls may have held the Plague God’s servants at bay,’ said Hyphor, ‘but Holmspear is in his foul grasp nonetheless.’

‘If even one of these mortals bears the taint of impurity, then soon will the rest,’ said Rygos. ‘And it will not stop here. It will spread, village to village, township to township. Eventually, to the very gates of the Living City. That is the way of corruption. It cannot be tolerated or ignored. It must be burned out, root and stem.’

Rygos’ eyes were shards of ice blue, without pupils or irises. They shimmered and flickered softly within the depths of his war mask, like a flame caught in the wind. The endless cycle of death and Reforging had left its mark on their leader, as it had so many of their number.

‘We will earn no prestige or honour this night,’ he said. ‘But a Knight Excelsior craves not such things. He seeks only to excel at the task for which he was forged – to destroy the servants of the Dark Gods, wherever they may be found. Whether they serve willingly or no.  For the glory of Sigmar.’

‘For the glory of Sigmar!’ the Liberators chanted as one, clashing their shields against the rain-slick stones.

The ragged remnant of the town guard stared at each other, and their confusion turned slowly to unease as they realised something was dreadfully wrong. Hyphor could smell the bitter reek of their rising fear, which only girded his soul for what must come next – after all, what was fear but the final admission of a guilty soul? Despite his revulsion, he vowed that justice would be swift. The mortals’ stubborn resistance had earned them that, at least.

Liberator-Prime Rygos drew his blade from its scabbard. It shone brightly, even in the gathering darkness.

‘Bar the gates,’ he said.

  • DELUGE OF LIFE (26.01.18) - Rotigus Rainfather waded through the lake of infected waters...
Spoiler

Rotigus Rainfather waded through the lake of infected waters that, only three days before, had been a bone-dry plain. Stretching to the horizon was a vast patchwork tapestry of pitched battles, brawls, skirmishes and last stands fought between his blessed minions and the skeletal creatures of the Great Necromancer. Rotigus’ Plaguebearer attendants surrounded him, with tentacled Beasts splashing in the waters alongside.

The Rainfather glanced from under furrowed brows at the skies above. They were still grumbling like unquiet bowels. The dank green clouds of Nurgle’s Deluge veiled an evil, skull-like moon that had glowered down upon the invading daemons since the moment they had come through the Portal of Thorns.

Those grim clouds were mustering yet another squall to soak this desiccated land in fecund filth. The Innerlands of Shyish had not proved so barren they were immune to Rotigus’ magic, as that old dotard Horticulous Slimux had claimed. As far as Rotigus was concerned, his coming had heralded the salvation of this life-forsaken domain. So why were its denizens resisting him so?

Suddenly a clutch of skeletons burst from the water, their little claws grabbing at his blubbery hide. He swept them away with his gnarlrod, sending bones plopping and scattering everywhere. ‘You breakers of the great cycle,’ he rumbled. ‘Foul and wrong. But still you need a… urgh… burial of sorts, that the worms may grow fat.’

As if summoned by the words, a skeletal serpent burst from the water. It rose up high, giant skull dripping and bony jaws agape. An impressive specimen, thought Rotigus as he heaved up a river of bile from his guts. He vomited out a vast stream, the geyser of watery slurry hitting the bone serpent with unremitting force. The skeletal creature fought hard for a moment, then came apart altogether. ‘You’ll have… ghrurp… to try harder… brahrp… than that,’ dribbled Rotigus, swallowing a mouthful of clotted puke.

Rainwater swilled around Rotigus’ immense thighs as he made for the hill in the middle distance. It was one of the many cairns that marked the borders of Nagashizzar – Rotigus could clearly see that vast black citadel protruding from the horizon like a blackened, jagged nail. There were people up there on the border-cairn, and living ones to boot. He couldn’t wait to hear their screams of joy, their little faces twisted in animalistic gratitude as he showed them who had brought them a chance to live again.

‘Come on, you… blurgh… slubberdegullions,’ called out Rotigus to the army of Plaguebearers slouching through the waters behind him. ‘To the hill!’

As Rotigus grew close, the people on the crest of the rise lit torches with amethyst flame, transferred the fires to cloth-bound arrows and opened fire, the projectiles arcing through the air to plop and hiss around him. One struck him in the torso, eliciting a sizzle of burning fat and a flash of pain.

‘Ho!’ he rumbled, ‘is that any way to treat your saviour?’

Another two arrows shot in, slamming into his flabby gut. One landed right in his belly maw, crackling on his nether-tongue. ‘Right!’ shouted Rotigus, bristling with indignation as his gut spat out the steaming arrow. ‘You’re… baruugh… in for it now, my pretties!’

High on the hill, Rotigus could see a robed human – one of Nagashizzar’s cursed necromancers, by his ghastly aura and the wisps of amethyst light flying from his mouth as he cast his spells. A wedge of skeletal knights burst from the waters in response, their fleshless steeds screaming as they bore down upon Rotigus. The greater daemon swept aside their lances and barrelled through them like a battering ram through a wicker gate. He had to save the people up on the hill before the necromancer got them, too. Already he could see armoured skeletons clambering out of the barrow holes that gaped around the hill’s periphery.

‘Not this day,’ shouted Rotigus, yanking out a length of his lower intestine and hurling it like a giant, wet bolas at the necromancer atop the hill. The tube-like length of putrid gut sailed through the air to slam into the gaunt human with a satisfying splat. It coiled around his stunned form, crushing the life out of him.

Rotigus was at the base of the hill now, a pack of lolloping Beasts of Nurgle at his side. He stamped a wight into the dirt, the glowing balefires in its eyes snuffed out in an instant. Part of the hill fell away in a landslide, a usually pleasing sight for Rotigus – but not this time. Instead of unearthing writhing worms or corpse-eater termites, the crumbling cairn was lousy with animated skeletons.

Rotigus felt more flaming arrows pierce his blubbery hide as the barrow skeletons clawed and stabbed at his legs, gut, backside and spine. ‘What are you… hurggh… doing?’ he bellowed. ‘I have come to save you… haruggh… from dryness and sterility! Don’t you realise what these things are?’

As if in answer, the rain of arrows intensified. He saw two of his Beasts riddled with arrows, mewling pitifully as they discorporated in puffs of stinking, green-brown mist. Rotigus felt more blades and arrows dig into his hide, and a cold, hollowing sensation as the ichor-slop of his blood flowed away to join the floodwaters lapping at the base of the hill. ‘No!’ he roared, sweeping a dozen skeletal warriors away with one swing of his staff. ‘You cannot stop the Deluge!’

The Rainfather saw a clutch of human marksmen gain the crest of the hill, resting their crossbows on the shoulders of the skeleton shieldsmen that protected them from the Plaguebearers gaining the hill. The order to fire went up, and they levelled another volley even as a rain of flaming arrows struck Rotigus in the face and chest.

The last thing the Rainfather saw before he lost cohesion altogether was a baleful skull leering down from the pallid, fat moon, with the spires of Nagashizzar reaching up to clutch at it like a skeletal hand.

  • THE OFFER (30.01.18) - My Lord General, this missive was discovered by chance...
Spoiler

My Lord General, this missive was discovered by chance, and I felt it demanded your immediate attention. It was found by a wildlands patrol some thirty miles from the eastern ramparts of Hammerhal Aqsha, scrawled upon mouldering parchment and tied to the leg of a dead messenger-hawk that the scouts described as an ‘age-rotted husk’. I do not pretend to understand the full horror of this message or the strange circumstances of its discovery. However, I will have my fellow captains make ready their regiments should you deem it necessary to deploy the Freeguild in haste.

For the immediate and most urgent attention of Lord General Estimion, Hammerhal Aqsha Chamber Strategic.

My Lord, forgive a doomed man his presumption, but what I say here cannot wait for slow passage through the ranks. This is the last operational report of the cogfort Light of Hope.

Our cogfort was proudest amongst all the mobile bastions of Hammerhal Aqsha. On her piston-driven legs, she carried us ever eastwards from the city walls, and the light of civilisation dawned anew in her wake. Chaos warbands broke like waves upon her ironclad flanks. The scourging processions followed her, while the sorcerous shield that protects our great city crackled ever from her highest vanes, linking her with the other cogforts that form the Outer Web. It was a proud duty, and one we did well.

I am rambling. No time for that.

Forgive me.

It is hard to

We skirted the arterials of the Heartblood Sea. I think it was a week ago. It may have been longer. Our orders were to press ahead, and to secure the Realmgates known as the Gates Below, which lead to Shyish. We were to watch over their approaches, prevent anything untoward slinking through them while the duardin pushed up with stock and stone to build permanent fortifications.

We settled a mile from the gates, fired anchoring harpoons and settled our telescopes on the Realmgates.

We had been pushing the fort hard, and the engineers were glad of the rest. None for the soldiery though; we dropped drawbridge and the scouts rode out, eighty men and steeds vanishing across the dusty steppes towards those distant glowing arches.

The first day was quiet, I remember that. The night too.

 It was on the second night that we saw the Realmgates glowing brighter. A cold light it was, and a cold wind that followed it, flowing steady and endless out of the gates.

An hour or so after dark, the sentries gave a cry. I thought perhaps our scouts were returned. Hastening to the lower ramparts, I instead saw a spectral figure astride a ghastly steed. As I made the rampart his helmed head snapped up to regard me.

 In a whispering voice that all could hear, he made us an offer. I cannot forget those words, my Lord. They echo still.

‘Nagash claims these lands, as he claims all lands, as death shall always have its due. The dark gale rises. I offer you one chance. Give yourselves over willingly. Serve, and endure. Or refuse, and die.’

I am proud to say that my answer was as swift as it was profane. I ordered the wizard, Taggandorph, to banish the foul ghast, yet already the thing was fading away.

Still the ill wind blew.

By the next day we had to admit that the scouts were overdue. The wind blew ever stronger from the gates, bringing now a stench of open graves. No man exposed to its chill could warm himself, and all felt weak and exhausted.

I knew even without Taggandorph’s urgings that this wind was cursed. I ordered the boilers lit, and the men to prepare to withdraw.

Then came cries below decks.

The engineers found the boilers rusted shut. Upon wrenching them open, vast quantities of cold ash billowed forth. Those men that breathed it ailed within minutes. I ordered the engine deck sealed at once. Better some than all.

Two choices remained: dig in, or evacuate. The wind had become a gale. Fell voices carried upon it. I knew we were cursed; that we could not remain. Yet upon ordering the men to abandon the fort, it was found that every hatchway had rusted shut as though not opened for a thousand years. We were forced to lash lines and send men over the ramparts, to abseil to the ground below.

 By that time the men were greying in their hair. Teeth were black, eyes paling with blindness and skin wrinkling as though dotage had come upon us all. Weak limbs cannot hold like those strong and young. Private Kellin was halfway to the ground when he lost his grip and fell. A kindness, perhaps. I hope he was dead before the soil erupted around his fallen body and the hands of my lost scouts dragged him down.

 What could we do? A moat of grasping hands surrounded a cogfort that could not move, that was rusting around us even as we aged and fell to dust. It was then that the figure appeared again, even as my brave lads perished and crumbled away around me, one by one. What could I say? What would I not have said, to stop this horror?

Sigmar forgive me and hear a dying man’s confession: I cried out to that grim figure and begged mercy, that we would offer our fealty if only he would stop this monstrous assault. He simply shook his head, and whispered above the screaming gale.

‘The time for willing service has passed.’

He has watched since, from below the walls, as we transform to dust and bones amidst this hideous gale. So do I scribe this last warning with the hands of an ancient, barely gripping the quill, my skin already peeling away. I ache. But it must be sent. You must be warned.

The ill wind blows, and all before it are damned.

  • THE GREAT TOIL (02.02.18) - Lord-Ordinator Vorrus Starstrike heaved open the door to the arcanoscope chamber...
Spoiler

Lord-Ordinator Vorrus Starstrike heaved open the door to the arcanoscope chamber, releasing a gentle draught into the stairwell. He inhaled deeply as the air flowed past him. Though the foul scent of the ratmen pervaded the rest of the Warscryer Citadel, the Lord-Ordinator detected no trace of it here. The arcanoscope’s enchanted locks must have held them at bay – thank Sigmar.

Vorrus walked into the chamber. Through his seer’s sight he could see the incandescent rivulets of Azyrite energy pouring from the veins of celestium that ran through the masonry. These lines converged beneath the apex of the arcanoscope’s dome, forming a large, glowing ball of cerulean lightning. This was the eye of the arcanoscope, the locus of futures through which the skeins of fate could be glimpsed and steered towards the path of Sigmar’s righteousness. It was for this that the Lord-Ordinator and his fellow Stormcast Eternals had fought so determinedly, cleansing the citadel of the ratmen infestation so that Vorrus might interpret the portents of what was yet to come.

His mind steeled, Vorrus stepped into the crackling orb. The energy held in the arcanoscope jolted through his sigmarite-clad body, and in an instant the world around him was gone. The dome that had arched above him was no more, and in its place he saw the heavens in all their majesty, extending ever outwards toward the bounds of eternity. Celestial bodies beyond counting were scattered throughout the endless void, each a single point of light in a vast desert of darkness. Every star walked along its long and circumscribed path followed by ten hundred thousand more of its kind, forming an unbroken line that stretched beyond the horizon of mortal comprehension. They were all part of a singular grand design, and they marched to the beat of one unerring drummer. But these were not stars that Vorrus was seeing.

The Lord-Ordinator wrestled with the prophetic vision, straining to bring its true meaning into focus. A long procession of white orbs moving through a lifeless expanse – not in the heavens above, but in the underworlds below. Vorrus could see that the dark desert was Shyish, and that each of the gleaming orbs was a desiccated skull bestowed with cold and malefic vigour. It was a skeletal legion with numbers beyond counting, stretched out in a single-file line as they trudged across the barren flats. Each skeleton moved in perfect unison, their hollow sockets fixed ahead as they marched without pause to some predetermined destination. A visceral chill seeped into Vorrus’ mind. What was this legion, and where was it headed? Had it been raised by one of Nagash’s morbid generals to lay waste to the living, or had it been formed by the Great Necromancer himself for some other cryptic purpose? An instinct just beyond his consciousness told him that this deathly horde had to be destroyed.

The celestial streams surrounding Vorrus began to intensify as he drew the arcane power of the Warscryer Citadel into his mind. The Lord-Ordinator shaped the energy into a crackling cloud of Azyrite lightning, then projected this mighty thunderhead through time and space, willing it into existence within the world of his vision. A shadow loomed over the skeletal legion, and as one the ranked dead turned their grim faces towards the heavens. Vorrus looked back down upon them, a tempest of righteous fury building within his soul. The force of a thousand heavenly stars burnt within his spirit, and with an almighty boom he unleashed the storm upon the wretches below.

An enormous fork of lightning lanced down to ground, blasting apart the dead earth and sending the shattered remnants of a trio of skeletons flying. Another crackling salvo ripped great swathes through the unliving line, setting bones ablaze and transmuting the soil to glass. Vorrus howled in pain and rage as he channelled the energy of the citadel into each strike, sending bolt after bolt to smite the undead. He could no longer see the skeletons, only the billowing clouds of dust that had been ripped up from the scorched ground, yet he continued to fuel the storm. The agony it caused was unbearable, the willpower required untenable, but this was the task for which he had been reforged.

With a bellow of defiance, Vorrus drained the last of his strength to shape a single, blinding sheet of lightning that cracked across the land. A score of decrepit warriors were ripped apart by this blast, the remnants of their bones fused into the soil by the intense celestial heat. Exhausted, mind and soul, Vorrus looked down upon the destruction he had wrought. The heart of the skeletal army had been ripped out. Hopefully that would be enough to change the path of fate along which these undead minions were marching.

But those skeletons still standing continued to trudge across the blasted landscape, and soon they stretched once more from horizon to horizon. With his vision rapidly fading, Vorrus looked beyond the horizon, and there he saw the horrifying truth. Though he had destroyed dozens of undead, they were but the first in an unending line that stretched all the way to the Realm’s Edge. Looking further still, he saw hundreds – no, thousands of processions such as this, each marching its way inexorably towards the same destination.

Vorrus awoke with a jolt. He was lying on the cold stone floor of the arcanscope chamber, the ball of celestial energy at its centre now little more than a dull mote. His body ached as though he had just fought a century-long campaign, and the final, terrifying images from his vision continued to flit through his mind. What horror had he just witnessed? As he pondered the omen, Vorrus heard a faint, almost imperceptible sound echoing through the arcanoscope.

The distant marching of millions of bony feet.

  • THE PARADISE BELOW (06.02.18) - Warboss Naglig surveyed the carnage littered across the cavern...
Spoiler

Warboss Naglig surveyed the carnage littered across the cavern of the Black Worm Tribe. His already foul mood blackened even further. Dozens of his fellow grots lay dead amidst the fungus-covered stalagmites, torn and bludgeoned to bloody ruin.

‘A curse on them big ’uns,’ he spat, brandishing his tri-forked moon-prodder with helpless rage. ‘Let da Bad Moon fall on ’em and crush their stinkin’ heads!’

‘It’s da Cracked Skull lot,’ hissed one of his remaining warriors, kicking one of the few orruk corpses that lay amidst the sea of grot dead. Its flesh was bare and covered in grey-black soot, aside from the face, which bore the purple outline of a grinning skull.

There was a chorus of curses and bitter invective from the surrounding tribe, those who had managed to sneak away from the ambush unscathed.

It had been too long since the tribes of the Smokescar had had a proper fight to keep them all distracted, and when the orruks got bored, it was the Black Worm who suffered. The Moonclan Grots had been happily throwing their last few prisoners into the squig-pits when the skull-faces had struck. They had been bellowing and hollering something fierce as they bounded into the cavern, clubbing and smashing everything in their path.

Naglig spat a lump of black, viscous matter that splashed across the face of the dead orruk. At this rate he would hardly have any warriors left come raiding season.

How he longed to sneak up through the smoke vents and pay a visit to those cursed skull-faces while they slept, to open a few throats and put out a few eyes until his toes were splashing and squelching in blood. He entertained himself with the vision for a while, but it swiftly faded into bitterness. The orruks were too big and too many. The Black Worm had no choice but to suffer their attention until the snows melted, and the orruk tribes were once more able to turn their axes towards the long-ears in the valley below.

He heard the shuffle of movement off to the left and spun, raising his moon-prodder. Snort hissed and shuffled its feet at his side. The squig’s jaws already dripped with black blood and trails of stringy grot-flesh.

‘Who’s sneakin’ about back there?’ screeched Kizik the squig-herder, peering through narrowed eyes into the swirling mists.

A figure hobbled out of the gloom. At first, Naglig thought that one of the great shadowcap mushrooms that littered the cave had come to life. As the newcomer came closer, however, Naglig saw that it was a grot. What looked like a broad, flat hat was in fact a fungoid growth that protruded from the creature’s skull. Beneath this impressive canopy was an angular, pinched face with a chin that curved into a point sharp as a fish hook.

A Cave-Shaman. The figure waddled up the slope towards the wary grots, a wide grin smeared across his face. Naglig felt an awed reverence as he looked into the priest’s manic eyes, which blazed with shroom-

addled intensity. It was said that the Cave-Shamans spoke directly to Gorkamorka whenever they feasted upon their sacred deffcaps, and their holy visions always led to a fine festival of slaughter. A visit from one of the Great Green God’s roving war-seekers was a blessing from the Bad Moon all right. In all their long and not often glorious history, the Black Worm Tribe had never received such an honour.

‘Well you is a sorry lot, ain’t ya?’ the mad-eyed priest cackled. ‘Trapped in these here caves, hunted by storm-gits and battered by big ’uns whenever it takes their fancy. Bad Moon ain’t shining down on you, no boss.’

Despite his awe at the Cave-Shaman’s presence, Naglig felt a bitter ball of irritation building up inside him.

‘Ain’t our fault,’ he hissed. ‘Them big ’uns is all over da place. They—’

The Cave-Shaman held up a long, crooked finger.

‘Bite yer tongue, Warboss,’ he said.

The mad-eyed priest began to shuffle and twirl with a madcap flourish, stamping his feet and brandishing his crooked staff. The wriggling centipede creature atop the stave’s tip writhed and hissed in irritation as the priest whirled and cackled and kicked his iron-capped toes.

‘Da Bad Moon hangs over the land below,’ bellowed the Cave-Shaman as he cavorted madly. ‘Above a desert of greenskin dead, all split and poked and stung by arrows. No orruks left down there. No big-toofed ones to clobber and bellow and whip you bloody-raw. Only glory for grots!’

Choking spores began to spill from the Cave-Shaman’s mushroom crown. Naglig blinked and retched as the cloud seeped into his enormous nostrils, setting his brain alight with painful yet tantalising fire.

‘Witness da true power of Black Worm Tribe!’ roared the shroom-priest. ‘Witness what awaits you all in the lands below, where grots rule all!’

And with that, he blew a cloud of sparkling powder into the Warboss’s face.

Naglig’s mind was torn forcibly from his spindly body, sent soaring out across a burning dreamscape of sour-green skies and rolling amethyst dunes. He saw himself at the head of an immense army of hooded grots baying beneath a outsized moon that leered down at them with sadistic glee. Before this mighty army were arrayed legions of rust-clad skeletons. Even as Naglig took in his new surroundings, he saw more of the restless dead marching forth from ancient tomb-cities hidden beneath the sands, assembling in unthinkable numbers.

Yet as numerous as the dead were, Naglig’s army was even greater. A living carpet of bounding squigs swept towards the skeletal horde, a tidal wave of red flesh sweeping across the ashen plains. Naglig shrieked his prayers to the Bad Moon, and his endless mob screamed along with him, the clamour of their voices reaching such a pitch that distant mountain ranges crumbled to nothing, and blazing, sickle-shaped meteors rained from the maddened sky to crush mausoleum cities and barrow-mounds to dust. The grot army began to run towards this most glorious battle, this gift from the great god Gorkamorka, and Naglig followed. As he charged, faster and faster, his feet left the ground and he was soaring out over the ocean

of black-clad bodies, as the skies exploded in flaming spirals of lurid colour. His own name rolled across the desolate wastes, bellowed by a billion grots as they leaped into this battle at the end of all things.

Something slammed into Naglig’s jaw, and he awoke to find himself sprawled in a puddle of his own drool, his chin aching from where he had struck it upon the cavern floor. He was dimly aware of his warriors stirring awake with wild-eyed confusion upon their ugly faces, some vomiting streams of bright yellow bile. Naglig felt as if he had been entirely hollowed out, his guts and bones replaced by blazing light.

He staggered to his knees. The Cave-Shaman loomed over him, eyes gleaming with mad moonlight, his mouth fizzing with tangled stalks of fungus.

‘So,’ the Cave-Shaman said. ‘You followin’ me or what?’

Naglig’s stomach lurched and groaned as the swirling vortex spat him out into empty air. He landed, stumbling and cursing, on a mound of jagged bone fragments. Chipped skulls and rotting finger bones crunched beneath his boots. More Black Worm grots were pouring through the whirling portal of green energy, spilling out and rolling down the hill before clambering, grumbling and unsteady, to their feet. The sounds of battle and slaughter met Naglig’s ears, and he looked up eagerly, expecting to see the same billions-strong tide of grots he had witnessed in his shroom-summoned visions, dancing and killing beneath the Bad Moon.

Instead he saw a valley of the dead come to life. On all sides, rib-shaped arcs of yellowed bone curved away towards a sky of deepest purple. Within the valleys and canyons formed by these mountainous bones, scattered bands of greenskins were surrounded on all sides by a surging horde of skeletal warriors, so vast that it seemed the valley floor itself was writhing. Great swooping clouds of bats whirled overhead, and within the thick flock of leathery wings Naglig could see massive, human-shaped figures with wide, fang-filled mouths. The screams of the dying filled the air. Naglig saw the banners of other Moonclan tribes protruding from within the sea of shifting bones, isolated islands of black-clad figures slowly being torn down and shredded by the relentless pressing of the dead. Some tried to flee, only to be snatched up by the bat-like predators, which wheeled away with their prize clamped between razor-sharp claws.

‘’Ere we are then,’ came a voice behind him, and Naglig turned to see the Cave-Shaman brushing bone-dust from his robes. The portal whirled and spat behind him, unleashing trails of sparkling energy that illuminated the shroom-priest’s immense fungoid crown.

‘What’s this?’ shrieked Warboss Naglig, jabbing his moon-prodder at the apocalyptic scene before them. ‘You said we was kings down ’ere. You said we’d have glory and power and all that, away from the stinkin’ orruks.’

The Cave-Shaman flashed him a toothy grin.

‘Maybe you will or maybe you won’t,’ the priest chuckled. ‘First, you got some scrappin’ to do, I reckon.’

With that the Cave-Shaman stepped back through the sputtering portal, and both disappeared in a crackle of emerald lightning. No sooner had the vortex collapsed in on itself than skeletal hands began to thrust out of the bone-pile all around the Black Worm grots. His blood turning to ice, Warboss Naglig looked around for an escape route, but saw only the dead dragging themselves upright, clutching rusted swords and ancient, iron-rimmed shields.

Something firm and sharp locked around Naglig’s ankle. With a screech of horror, the Warboss found himself being dragged down into a churning grave.

  • DUEL UNDER A BLOODY SKY (09.02.18) - The warlord's court lay amidst the ruins of a crescent-shaped colonnade...
Spoiler

The warlord’s court lay amidst the ruins of a crescent-shaped colonnade, its marble columns cracked and splintered by time and smeared with brownish trails of dried blood. Corpses were impaled upon these columns, lit torches stuffed into their mouths, forming a ring of flickering light. Yellowed skulls and shattered bones were stacked in great piles around a throne of beaten iron, spiked and hunching in the centre of the arena like a metal spider. It smelled of ashes and the sickening, copper-sweet tang of spilled gore. The court was open to the skies above, where ragged streaks of cloud hunted each other beneath the ravenous gaze of a blood-red moon.

The woman stood before the throne, one hand resting upon a wicked war axe, the other bearing a rune-marked targe. She wore a horned helm, and her leather and scale armour was bedecked with skulls and hard-won trophies.

‘The deathly winds rise, and the corpse-moon waxes high,’ she said, her dark eyes shimmering in the light of the corpse-braziers. ‘The dark pantheon calls us to the lands of the dead. You must answer this summons. You will march to Shyish beneath the banners of the Bloody Sky.’

The warrior woman was tall and broad-shouldered, but even she was dwarfed by the man upon the throne. His body was grotesquely swollen with power. Even seated, he loomed over her, his arms rippling with muscle, his bull-like head sat upon a thick, corded neck. Tattoos and ritual scarring covered every inch of his flesh, and his mouth was split into a gruesome leer by two deep, crusted gouges that ran from the corners of his mouth to his eyes. Even sat still, the savage king radiated a terrifyingly intense energy. His fingers twitched and caressed the haft of his spiked greatsword – a weapon that had tasted the blood of thousands of challengers in a long and gore-splattered reign.

Tarvak the Flayer. A name feared across the Plains of the Bleeding Sky. A name synonymous with death, pillage and suffering. His Gorechosen, the most feared and deadly of his killers, lurked in the shadows around the throne, hounds waiting to be thrown fresh meat.

The warlord rose from his throne, his head throbbing with pumping blood, hands quivering with the need to bury his blade in this arrogant wretch’s throat.

‘You think to come here and make demands of me?’ he roared, red-flecked spittle flying from his mouth. ‘Of Tarvak the Flayer, Scourge of the Plains, Butcher of the Iron Forest?’

‘Your dreams have been troubled of late,’ she said.

His sunken eyes twitched in surprise. He had indeed been visited by unsettling visions in recent nights, not at all like the vibrant memories of slaughter and conquest that usually found him in the twilight hours.

‘I know what you saw,’ she continued. ‘A desert of the grave spread across the Eight Realms. A wasteland, empty of life. Empty of blood and passion and honest battle.’

‘How do you know this?’

‘It must not come to pass,’ she continued, ignoring his interruption. ‘The Blood God sent you those visions to warn you of what is coming, and the pantheon sends me to see its will done. Fight for me, and I will bring you the glory you seek. Khorne’s raging eye will be drawn to you, Tarvak, and you shall be the instrument of his wrath.’

Tarvak bent his enormous head, mouth locked in that ugly leer.

‘I bend my knee to no one,’ he said. ‘Neither man nor woman is worthy of my fealty, for none have ever defeated me in battle. I care not for your soothsaying, witch. Serpent lies and trickery hold no sway over the Blood God’s faithful.’

The woman was unmoved. ‘The Dark Gods demand your fealty,’ she said. ‘I am merely the servant of their immortal will. The Flayed Legion will follow me to Shyish, whether you march at their head or not.’

Tarvak’s Gorechosen laughed in amused disbelief at this provocation. They had seen foolish warlords make similar threats before, and the bloody dismembering that always followed made for good sport. The warrior met their gaze with supreme indifference, her war axe held steady in her hands. Tarvak snarled in outrage. The reaver lord leapt down from his dais, landing on the dry-cracked earth with his immense blade in hand.

‘You dare?’ he growled.

The woman did not move. She eyed the oncoming warlord with something approaching contempt, her long hair sweeping from beneath the crown of her helm, a blazing halo lit by the fiery moon.

‘No more talk, then,’ she said. ‘We settle this with steel.’

With a roar Tarvak leapt at the woman, his blade sweeping across at chest height to bisect her. There was a reason why Tarvak had ruled the Flayed Legion with an iron hand for so many years. Despite his huge size, the warlord moved with blinding speed.

The woman was faster still. Her shield flashed up to intercept the blade, and instead of folding under the monstrous blow, it stopped Tarvak’s greatsword still. The reaver king stumbled, wrong-footed by the sudden halt in his momentum, and the woman lashed her axe into his knee. There was a sickening crunch of bone, and the Flayer staggered, growling with pain and outrage. He whirled and came at her again, his blade singing as it carved through the air. She ducked, swayed, stepped aside from every thrust, her every move perfectly judged, her expression passive, almost serene. It was as if she was enacting a dance she had performed a thousand times before.

The warlord tried to catch her with a backhand swing, but she swayed back and let the blade whistle past an inch from her stomach. Her axe scythed out, and dark blood sprayed across the floor. Tarvak staggered forward several steps, blood spraying in a wide arc from an opened throat. His eyes rolled over white, and his head toppled free from his shoulders and rolled in the dirt.

The woman stopped it with her foot, reached down and grasped a handful of the dead man’s lank hair. She raised Tarvak’s bloodied head high, letting the dripping gore wet her fingers before smearing a bloody handprint upon her shield. The blood-red skies thundered in approval, like the rapturous applause of watching gods.

‘I am Marakarr Blood-Sky,’ she roared. ‘Warqueen of the Reaver Wastes. You fight for me now. The Flayed Legion is mine. Anyone who would challenge my rule, step forward.’

There was a long silence, broken only by the spattering of blood upon the sand.

By nightfall the Flayed Legion was on the march. Ravening hordes of Bloodreavers loped ahead of the main advance, chanting and howling their battle-hymns of praise to mighty Khorne. Behind them marched rank after rank of ebon-armoured Blood Warriors, their armour caked in days-old gore, their relentless stride filled with eager malice. Warqueen Marakarr had addressed them mere hours ago, and her promises of what awaited them in Shyish had filled every warrior’s soul with unholy fervour. They now made with all haste for the Abyssal Fires, where they would begin the long, dangerous trek to the Realm of Death.

The Warqueen observed her new allies depart from the crest of a nearby ash-ridge, watching as the snaking column of torches passed beyond the horizon. The Flayed Legion would be a formidable weapon in the war to come, but she had seen the enormity of the coming battle under night-black skies, and she knew her work was not yet done. She would travel to the far marshes next, and seek the blight-spreaders who dwelt within. The Plague God’s faithful would prove less truculent than Khorne’s worshippers, she believed, though in truth it made no odds. Her axe would speak eloquently enough, if words proved unproductive.

Her eyes narrowed as she felt a rising sense of unease. The hairs upon her arms stood up, and she felt as if a thousand eyes had suddenly turned upon her. The air grew still, and for a moment the swirling clouds above converged to form the image of a skull, its jaws hanging open in mocking glee. Thunder rolled in the distance.

Marakarr Blood-Sky laughed, a harsh and cruel sound that echoed like a whip-crack across the empty plains.

‘Save your omens for frightened whelps,’ she roared, though there was nobody nearby to hear her words. ‘I am coming. And I bring the fury of the Dark Gods with me.’

  • THE CRIMSON CONNOISSEUR (13.02.18) - My Queen Neferata, first-blessed and most exalted lady...
Spoiler

My Queen Neferata, first-blessed and most exalted lady of darkness and splendour. I pray that this missive finds you well.

Be assured that the reach of the Nulahmian Court extends ever further into the heart of the Twin-tailed City. My blood-children are scattered all across this ugly place, from the courts of the Twelve Lords to the parade grounds of the Acadamae Martial. Courtiers, foppish noble duellists, ash-sweepers and dull military men – all are turned to stuttering fools beneath my gaze, consumed by a desperate longing that has them risk death or worse for the slightest hint of my favour. I have agents, willing or otherwise, embedded in nearly every stratum of Hammerhal’s ruling bodies.

They feed me such sweet whispers.

This very eve, for instance, I arose from my velvet-lined sepulchre to the news that fifty-four regiments of Hammerhalian foot have received their marching orders, and by the time this missive reaches you will have arrived at the Realmgate of Sanctor Armalis. From there they shall travel to Port Valadan, in Athanasia. What could the goldjackets possibly be planning that requires such an enormous reserve of manpower, I wonder? Needless to say I have delicately plucked the strands of my web here in Hammerhal, and my little spiders now rush and scuttle about in the shadows, seeking answers. Doubtless, Eternal Majesty, you have already turned your scintillating mind towards unravelling the enemy’s intentions, but I shall nonetheless endeavour to assist in my own humble manner.

There is an air of tension within the city. A smell of dread upon the wind. The fall of Blackcliffe has only exacerbated the mortals’ unease. It was an entertaining diversion to round up and slaughter the inhabitants of that miserable fortress, and a fine opportunity for Lord Helvir’s Blood Knights to indulge their lust for carnage. The mortals fell in droves, crushed and broken beneath grinding hooves, or spitted by bloodlances. I surveyed the carnage from my palanquin, opening throats every now and then as the mood caught me. Unfortunately the soldiery were a rather grubby band, quite lacking in grace or good breeding. After draining the blood of several fleeing humans I was left with an unpleasantly bitter aftertaste, a hint of smoke and ashes that did not abate for several hours. In my irritation, I ordered the Blood Knights to crucify the remaining living about the fortress walls, and raised the rest as Deadwalker thralls for their comrades to discover at a later date. After some remonstrating and grumbling, Helvir and his warriors acceded to my demands. Honestly, my Queen, while I admire their martial skill, I continue find the order’s obsession with honour and ‘proper duty’ most tiresome.

Our little surprise for the goldjackets was discovered several days later, and I hear it caused much consternation amongst the ranks. This fear and confusion swiftly carried to the populace of Hammerhal. Though the agents of Azyr have spread word of extended regimental drill and emergency postings throughout the populace, few believe these obvious and amusing lies. The people know that the city has suffered a grave loss, and they obsess ever more vociferously over tales of ill omens and deathly portents. Predictable, but no less amusing for that.

A spate of gory killings across the Cinderfall District (I pray you forgive this minor indulgence, my beloved Queen) is the latest subject of tattletale and gossip, though other equally delicious rumours are

spreading as swiftly as the weeping plague. I hear whispers of entire border-towns disappearing overnight, of a grinning skull-moon rising in the east, and tales of the recently dead scratching upon the doors of their living relatives at midnight, begging to be allowed entrance. The sense of fear and confusion all this has whipped up is quite intoxicating.

Of course, the city’s wardens are greatly concerned, and they worry and scheme within their golden towers. Infiltrating these secret sessions is a delicate task; the noble districts are rife with the witchfinders of the Stormcasts and their wretched Gryph-hound beasts. Yet, even with my limited access, it is clear that the armies of Hammerhal are mustering in numbers not seen since the last days of the Realmgate Wars. They sense something, my Queen, though their dull little minds still cannot grasp the true scale of what is coming. Nevertheless, I would advise caution – the tremors from Nagashizzar have not gone unnoticed.

Regardless, I continue the important work you tasked me with. I have a new enterprise, which is proving most rewarding. One of the richest mortals in the city – Lord Juvis Arcona – is now a plaything of mine, and under my subtle guidance his rise to political prominence is the talk of the noble districts. Arcona is an old and well-respected Azyrite name, and it opens doors the tedious creature could never breach with his imbecilic glad-handing and paltry intellect. There are already rumours that Lord Arcona may earn a seat upon the Council of Twelve. It seems to me sometimes as if these mortals take a perverse pride in their mediocrity.

As soon as I know more regarding the Sigmarites’ plans I shall write again, my beloved Queen. It is my fervent hope that one day the groundwork I lay will be fit for another to inherit, and I can once more return to your wondrous court.

My heart aches to see Nulahmia again, to dance beneath skies of darksome violet, and to partake in the great revelries of the Scarlet Fountains at your side. To once again lay eyes upon your immortal beauty would be a taste far sweeter than any I might sample within this soot-smeared slum the God-King’s whelps presume to call a city. Yet be assured that although I pine for the magnificence of your unholy grace, my resolve is unshaken, and my commitment to our cause as firm as invictunite.

I remain eternally in your service,

Doyenne Dalvia, Red Widow of Toursonne

Addendum – Along with this message I enclose two echo-crystal vials of my finest vintage, a sweet-spiced and piquant blend drawn from the veins of the Seven Saints and blended with a few drops taken from the firstborn progeny of Houses Arcona and Demetron. I am assured by my favourite antiquarian that the echo-crystal will ensure my concoction reaches your lips in as fresh a state as when it first seeped from my victims’ unwilling bodies. Please do let me know if this is not the case, so that I may have him excruciated.

  • REAPER'S REVELATION (16.02.18) - Cerrus Sentanus, Lord-Veritant of Excelsis...
Spoiler

Cerrus Sentanus, Lord-Veritant of Excelsis, strode through the shadowed dungeons. He ignored the screams and moans that echoed around him. Pale eyes stared out from between thick, black-iron bars as he passed, but swiftly shrank back when they saw the white lines of his armour, and the blazing lantern-stave he carried. They knew well the tools of the White Reaper. One deviant with a raw, burn-marked face was foolish or deranged enough to meet the Lord-Veritant’s gaze as he passed by, barking insults in some crude tongue. Sentanus’ hand shot out, lightning-fast. The human’s eyes bulged, bloodshot and terrified as he clawed pitifully at the metal gauntlet around his throat. Sentanus twisted hard, and there was a sickening crunch. He let the dead body fall, and walked on.

Sentanus had travelled to the deepest levels of the Consecralium, many leagues below the streets of Excelsis. These miserable sub-levels were home to the very worst heretics and monsters captured by the agents of the Knights Excelsior, too wretched to be allowed to walk free under the light of the heavens, but far too useful to be purified on the holy pyres – until every last scrap of useful knowledge had been dragged from their withered bodies, at least. Ahead, at the end of the hall, the steps rose to a pair of enormous double doors, their surface sculpted in the image of a blazing sun. Faint streams of white light flickered along the smooth stone floor beneath. There was a powerful smell of decay spilling out from the room beyond, like spoiled meat. Sentanus climbed the stairs and pushed open the doors.

Sentanus entered a small, high-ceilinged chamber that was empty and featureless aside from a dangling cage of chain lightning that hissed and spat. Within this prison of energy hung a corpse, pallid and skeletally thin, suspended in mid-air.

The corpse’s eyes opened.

As the Lord-Veritant circled the lightning prison, the dead thing’s eyes tracked him. The orbs were wide and luminescent, like those of a hunting cat.

‘So you come at last, lightning lord,’ the corpse hissed. As it spoke, Sentanus could see the telltale curve of elongated incisors pressing over its bloodless lips. ‘I have been looking forward to this.’

‘Then you are a fool,’ said the White Reaper. ‘You and I will spend many hours together, soul-blighted thing. You will proffer all of your secrets, in the end.’

‘I am a scion of the ancient bloodlines. I have walked the realms since before your wretched kind was forged. I have tasted the crimson wine of kings and emperors. You think your petty tortures impress one such as I?’

‘Your arrogance is predictable. But you have strayed into the wrong city, beast.’

The corpse began to shake and shudder. Sentanus realised that it was laughing.

‘Strayed?’ it said, its face contorted into a rictus grin. ‘Oh, you deluded fool. We have always been here, from the very moment of this city’s founding, and we will be here long after you rot away to dust.’

The creature leered at him, its angular face lit by the soft blue glow of the storm-cage.

‘The great Cerrus Sentanus,’ it continued. ‘The Saint of the Purge. For all your empty threats, you truly have no idea what lies at the heart of Excelsis, do you? All those lives you have ended in the name of your holy war, and never once did you sense our presence.’

‘I sense it now,’ said Sentanus.

‘Too late, witchfinder,’ said the beast. ‘Far too late.’

‘We shall see.’

Sentanus raised the Lantern of Abjuration high, and blazing light flooded out to fill the room. The creature retched and howled in pain, unable to stand before the power of that radiant glow. Maddened twitching caused its limbs to crash against the lightning cage, and there was a loud crackling sound followed by an eruption of foul-smelling smoke.

The vampire’s screams rose to a deafening pitch.

When Sentanus left the prison chamber, more than a day later, the air was thick with the stench of burned flesh. The cleansing light of the storm-cage was gone, and once more the halls of the Consecralium were smothered in darkness.

Liberator-Prime Kronis, warden of the underlevels, met the Lord-Veritant as he descended the stair to the main dungeon.

‘What secrets did the creature spill?’ asked Kronis.

‘Enough to greatly trouble me,’ replied Sentanus.

Kronis was stunned by this admission. He had never heard the White Reaper admit to a moment of unease. He had thought such weakness simply not in the Lord-Veritant’s nature.

Sentanus noticed his companion’s surprise, and turned to face him.

‘We have been deceived,’ he said. ‘We have allowed our tireless pursuit of Chaos worshippers to blind us to another foe. An ancient enemy that even now spreads its foul influence into Sigmar’s free cities. They walk amongst us, feeding upon the lifeblood of the populace, using illusion and our own ignorance to obfuscate their evil.’

‘Of whom do you speak?’

‘I speak of the dead,’ said Cerrus Sentanus. ‘Ready your warriors, Liberator-Prime. Tonight, we take to the city streets in search of this infection. The creature’s will was strong, but before it burned to ashes it whispered several names to me. Lords of the city. High-ranking officers in the Freeguild. Pact-sworn agents of the Sanguinary Choir.’

Kronis’ brow creased in confusion.

‘I have not heard that name before.’

‘Nor have I. Yet the vampire howled those very words as its flesh began to crumble away. I believe it was laughing as it died its final death.’

Sentanus slammed the pommel of his lantern-stave against the stone floor, sending a gunshot echo rippling along the cavernous halls of the Consecralium’s dungeon. Kronis stood still, unsure of what to do. He had never seen the Lord-Veritant like this before.

‘See to your orders,’ Sentanus growled at last. Kronis saluted the Lord-Veritant by clashing an armoured gauntlet to his chest, and made for the stairway leading to the ancillary barracks.

Sentanus stood alone in silence for a long while.

For the first time in many years, he felt uncertainty. Apprehension. The dead thing’s words had unsettled him greatly. For so long had he guarded Excelsis against the depravities of the Dark Gods, only to discover another breed of infection had spread all but unchallenged throughout the City of Secrets.

‘There is much work to be done,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Many questions that must be answered.’

He swore that he would have those answers, even if he had to drag every mortal soul in the city to the darkest depths of the Consecralium.

  • BEYOND THE WALLS (20.02.18) - Moonsday, 7th of Azyr's Gleming, City of Heldelium...
Spoiler

Moonsday, 7th of Azyr’s Gleaming, City of Heldelium, Crowswatch Barracks

Today has been a good day. Sergeant Doskin took us on patrol along the banks of the Purewater, up past Weaver’s Gate to the Tallhallows. We stopped to check wagon tolls, and caught a smuggler attempting to hide Excelsian glimmerings beneath a mound of henkha furs.

That will be an extra crown for each of us come payday. I can finally afford that necklace for Gyseyl. I have not seen her since Sunsday, as her father has been most watchful. He would not approve of her seeing a young man of the Freeguild. I’ll need a commission first, if I am to marry her.

Perhaps I may earn one soon, though, as I believe danger threatens our city. Word is the fortified farms along the Shifting Highway have not sent crops for three weeks. Dark raiders again, most likely. A patrol is going out tomorrow, led by Callos Mourne of the Anvils of the Heldenhammer. They will see how great a threat we face. War may follow.

Starsday, 10th of Azyr’s Gleaming, City of Heldelium, Crowswatch Barracks

What they found at those farms, it is not right. Sigmar preserve us! People half eaten, others eating at them. Corpses that walked. Crops withered and black.

I know because I was drinking with Varnil and McKeed when one of the longscouts came into the Seven Moons. He dived into his cups, and he ranted and he raved to any that would listen of what he had seen.

The Anvils came right into the pub! They took him away. They are so big and powerful close up – frightening.

I have sent word to Gyseyl. I have told her to lock her door at night, and to wear her gold hammer. Sigmar will keep us safe from these terrors.

Cometsday, 13th of Azyr’s Gleaming, City of Heldelium, Crowswatch Barracks

Today we arrested Johan the Grift at his usual patch on the corner of Sandway. He was selling human bones out of a sack, and passers by were buying them! He had told them the bones were those of a saint, and their holiness would ward off the dead.

Now we must find his customers. Johan dug his bones up from paupers’ graves on Wither Heath, and we must make sure no citizen has caught graverot.

Voidsday, 19th of Azyr’s Gleaming, City of Heldelium, Crowswatch Barracks

More farms. More patrols sent. I shall not write what they found. It is not for decent eyes.

Refugees from the plains speak of the dead on the march, hordes of them. The Seers on Tally Hill tell of dark omens and prophesy a terrible darkness bearing down upon us. People claim to have seen haunts within the walls, though I think that they are lying, or scared. Rats spilled from the sewers on Tallow

Street and amidst the Tangles – big, mean rats like hounds. Hunting, or running from something worse? There is fear. People are restless. Johan was the first to sell bones, but more have followed.

I believe the seers are right. This city is in dreadful danger. Sigmar preserve us from whatever lurks beyond our walls.

Starsday, 24th of Azyr’s Gleaming, City of Heldelium, Hawkswatch Tower

Haven’t heard from Gyseyl. The Old Families have locked their estates up like castles, extra guards, priests, nothing in or out. I hope she is safe. I wish that I could see her.

The city is going mad, waiting for an enemy to fight. People are so afraid of the dead that they are turning to dangerous superstitions. Cleansing by fire, eating salt-coals, cutting the hammer, ducking so-called moonborn in the Purewater, boarding the marked in their homes, black-hooding, the list goes on. The Brothers of Repentance are leading it all, mad ******.

We arrest them or move them along, but it makes them angry, and why not? The Council is superstitious too! Patrol routes have become so complicated since the ‘never-thrice-widdershins’ rule. The holy water we carry is heavy and, so far, useless. Worse, we had to stow those duardin-made swords they gave us. Now we carry heavy iron clubs. Clumsy, blunt, but better for fighting haunts, they tell us. What haunts? It’s panicked townsfolk I am worried about…

Sigmarsday, 28th of Azyr’s Gleaming, City of Heldelium, Hawkswatch Tower

Torrential rain, streets flowing. Good news anyway. The Anvils are marching out, taking the longscout regiments with them. Reports of the dead massing on the Shifting Highway. An enemy to smite! The Anvils will break them, and banish the shadow over our city. Wish I could march with them, but the garrison is needed here. Rain doing little to put out the fires of panic.

So tired today.

Starsday, 31st of Azyr’s Gleaming, City of Heldelium, Crowswatch Barracks

They’re not coming back. No sign of them. No sign of the dead. Sigmar, what do we do now?

Riots in the streets. The Brothers of Repentance are leading the mob, rooting out repatriates. They say they ‘lived too long in the cursed lands’. They claim by burning them, we will appease Sigmar and he will return his gaze to our city, his protection to our walls. I believe they are murderers, that it is their madness that will damn us, not the outwilders. But the people are angry and scared. The wells have dried up. More rats have come, eating the homeless in the alleys. The Purewater has turned black.

Sigmar, forgive and preserve us. The Garrison regiments are taking to the streets today. We shan’t be fighting the dead, but the living. This has to stop.

Voidsday, 2nd of Golden Harvests, City of Heldelium, Crowswatch Barracks

Heldelium is dying. We are dying. We bested the Brothers of Repentance, but the mobs broke through at Hangman’s Wall and Hawkswatch Tower. The dead lie in the streets where they fell. Too many to move

or bury. Sergeant Doskin, Varnil, McKeed – all dead. The living run mad, or take their own lives rather than wait for the dead to march through the gates.

Still they haven’t come.

Why haven’t they come?

It’s the waiting that killed us. The fear. I decided not to wait any longer. I got my things and went to Glimmer Way to rescue Gyseyl, by force if I had to. She wasn’t there. None of them were. The houses stood empty, the guards lay dead. The priests too.

Where did you go?

What about me?

Nothing to do now, no officers, no plan. I’m the last one in my barracks. I don’t know where they went, either. Everyone has left me. I’ll bar the gate, sleep, then I’ll plan my next move. Gyseyl, I’ll find you.

Cometsday, 2nd of Golden Harvests, City of Heldelium, Crowswatch Barracks

They came at last, overnight, while I slept. Not the dead. We are the dead, now. We hollowed out our city, made our own nightmares real.

Skaven. Thousands of them, must be. I hear them outside, scurrying, screeching, chittering at each other, turning terrible weapons on anyone they see.

I will do my duty. I have cast aside my cudgel, found my fine sword. I’m going to fight.

If you read this. If anyone ever reads this. Sigmar abandoned us, and so did hope. Don’t linger here. Heldelium is cursed. We feared the dead so much that we became them, and now our city’s corpse is fit for naught but the rats…

  • TRESPASSERS IN THE LAND OF MIST (23.02.18) - The column of risen dead wound its way along the vast lenght...
Spoiler

The column of risen dead wound its way along the vast length of the obsidian canyon. Glowing torches were held aloft by lumbering skeletal giants, their slow strides keeping pace with Deathrattle spearmen marching in tight lines. The corpse-lights cast an amethyst haze through the thick fog, which curled about the marching ranks like the coils of a hunting snake. At the centre of the macabre procession was a monstrous creation of bone and sinew, a pentagonal platform held aloft by scores of rotting cadavers.

The palanquin was stitched together from corpses, enclosed by curtains of stitched hides. Two thrones shaped from twisted ogor ribcages stood in the centre of the construct, and upon each reclined a black-cloaked figure. Both wore masks of silver, and carried skull-tipped staffs.

‘We are close, brother,’ said the rightmost figure, his voice a rattling whisper. He was the smaller of the two; so slight he seemed almost childlike. ‘Do you sense it, Lhusim?’

‘I do, Rhedgar,’ said the other, his skeletally gaunt frame swallowed by his long robes. ‘These mountains reek of illusion and deceitful sorcery. The Mortarch of Sacrament was correct. That which we seek is surely near at hand.’

The Necromancer sought solace in the thought. Their venture through the mists of Ulgu had stretched on far too long, with no sign of progress. He had come to despise this land, with its treacherous shadow-mires, invidious predators and constant pall of darkness. Soon, Lhusim hoped, he would return to the comfort of the Sanctus Mortem, where he could once more lose himself in his experiments and studies.

‘What glory the Lord Arkhan will lavish upon us when our task is done,’ said Rhedgar. ‘What profane secrets he might reveal. You and I, Lhusim, first amongst his Black Disciples, as is only right and proper.’

The diminutive man giggled. His laughter soon turned into a hacking cough.

Lhusim held up a hand, and his brother fell silent. Ahead, the front ranks of their vanguard had halted, forming a wall of shields along the width of the mountain pass. The Necromancer peered into the gloom, trying to ascertain the reason for the delay.

Slowly, the mists began to abate, revealing a rising shelf of obsidian stone, slick with rainwater. Spiralling high into the mountainside was a carved stairway, upon which stood a single figure. A statuesque aelven woman, her raven-black hair whipping in the breeze. Gleaming, metallic wings curved back from her shoulders, and she wore a sweeping headdress of burnished gold. In her hands she carried a wicked spear that glimmered in the umbral pall. There was a regal indifference to her poise, even stood alone before this army of the dead.

‘None but Khaine’s faithful may walk within the Umbral Veil,’ the woman said. She did not raise her voice, but her words echoed out across the valley with thundering force. ‘I offer this one chance to tell me why you trespass here. Before the truth is flayed from your wretched bodies.’

The brothers exchanged an incredulous glance. Lhusim stood, leaning upon his staff.

‘These lands are claimed in the name of supreme Nagash, he who is the master of death,’ he shouted. ‘It is known that the so-called Shadow Queen resides within. He Who Sees All Things names her soul-thief. Betrayer and deceiver. Tell us where Morathi cowers, and you alone shall be spared.’

‘You address her, dullard,’ answered the woman. She raised her spear high. ‘I am she, the High Oracle of Khaine and loyal servant of his iron will. You have chosen the path of agony. I cannot say that I am disappointed.’

She let the spear fall.

Shrill cries filled the air. The darkness surrounding the undead column twisted and reformed. Where before impassable cliffs had surrounded the Necromancers’ procession, now they were stood in a labyrinth of jagged stone, tunnels stretching away into the shadows. Pale figures boiled out of this maze, screeching blood-curdling oaths. Brandishing wicked blades, they hurled themselves into the ranks of the skeletal army. Dust and shattered bones filled the air as they whirled and leapt in a deadly dance. The Deathrattle vanguard closed ranks, bringing their shields to bear. Spears thrust out with murderous precision, and many aelves were spitted upon their rust-tipped points. Yet the enemy had breached the undead line, and robbed of their cohesion the undead warriors were being taken apart.

‘No!’ shrieked Rhedgar, appalled at the destruction of his favoured pets. He thrust out his skull staff, which spat a bolt of amethyst fire. The flames enveloped a trio of aelves, who thrashed and danced as their flesh crumbled to ash.

Lithe forms slithered into view on the crest of the ridge, half-serpent archers with arrows nocked and ready. Their missiles rained down upon the column of pallid flesh and bone with uncanny precision, each smashing a skeletal warrior apart or piercing the skull of an oblivious Deadwalker. Shadows flitted through the skies above. Winged she-aelves dived down with breakneck speed to spear and slash at the Necromancers’ undead servants, then wheeled away with peals of mocking laughter. Lhusim turned, thinking to order more of his thralls into the fray, but saw only a rippling wall of shadow magic, swiftly encircling the palanquin. Half-glimpsed shapes moved beyond that impenetrable curtain, but no relief came marching through.

The creature Morathi descended the winding stair. On all sides a fierce battle raged, but her expression of contemptuous boredom did not change. The High Oracle extended a graceful hand and tendrils of night-black smoke lashed at those skeletal warriors in her path, smashing them into a thousand splinters.

She met Lhusim’s eyes, and her smile showed a row of perfect white teeth.

‘I have studied at the hand of the Mortarch himself, witch,’ the Black Disciple snarled. ‘Your paltry magics are nothing before the power of Shyish.’

He recited an incantation of terrible provenance, words that would have damned his black soul if he had not already sacrificed it many years past. A scythe of spectral light swept towards the matriarch of Khaine. She raised a gauntleted hand to protect herself, but it was too late. The blade of soul-stuff struck home, and the High Oracle staggered backwards. Her body convulsed, spilling ink-black clouds of shadow that enveloped her entirely. There was a piercing scream of rage and pain, and Rhedgar gave a cackle of delight.

‘Oh, we must raise her to join our ranks, brother,’ he crowed.

Lhusim’s blood froze. There was something gigantic moving, shifting in the darkness. Rippling coils of shadow lashed the air, and in the heart of the eldritch mists blazed a pair of hate-filled eyes. Bat-like wings unfurled with an awful tearing sound.

Morathi the Shadow Queen rose into the sky, unveiled in her full and horrifying glory.

Her half-serpentine form towered above the Necromancers’ palanquin, her formerly lustrous hair now a hissing bed of snakes. Her massive tail lashed out and snatched Rhedgar into the air. The Black Disciple screamed as he was enveloped in shimmering scales.

‘Brother!’ screamed Lhusim, but it was too late. The coils constricted violently, and Rhedgar’s skull burst in a shower of crimson. Morathi hurled his crushed form aside, and rushed forward at the palanquin with a deafening screech of fury.

She struck with terrible force. The entire structure rocked, slamming into the far wall of the canyon and grinding its undead bearers into dust. Lhusim tumbled, floundering across the surface of polished bone. He felt himself flying free, the world spinning and whirling around him, and then he struck hard stone with shattering force and knew no more.

When Lhusim finally woke, he found himself adrift in an ocean of agony. Every inch of his body burned. He lay at the foot of the canyon wall, amidst a wasteland of broken bone and piled carcasses. He could not move. Breathing sent wracking spears of torment stabbing through his flesh.

Shadows loomed over him. Lithe figures, clad in skirts of metal and wearing leering war masks. His eyes flicked to their blades, slathered with unclean blood.

Their ranks parted. Another figure gazed down upon him contemptuously, her scarlet-black lips curled into a sneer.

‘Pitiful,’ Morathi said. Her monstrous visage had disappeared, replaced once again by an image of stately beauty. Yet her eyes were the same, thought Lhusim. They spoke of ancient cunning and limitless malice.

The Shadow Queen nodded, and one of her warriors stepped forward to wrench Lhusim’s silver mask free. He felt himself being dragged to his feet by strong hands.

Morathi leaned close. She smelled of bitter spices and freshly spilled blood.

‘You angered me, human,’ she whispered. ‘That was unwise. In return, I shall make your death an exquisite spectacle. But first, I would hear more of your masters, and the reason for your presence here.’

The Necromancer choked out a bitter laugh.

‘You think that Great Nagash does not sense every soul pilfered from his domain?’ he spat. ‘You think your crimes will go unanswered? No, no, no. He has found out your little game, queen of lies, and he is coming for you.’

‘Many have sought to invade Khaine’s domain,’ said Morathi. ‘All have failed. We have filled lakes and oceans with their blood.’

‘You will see,’ the Necromancer growled. The words were agony, but he choked them out with hateful relish. ‘Oh yes, you will see. The barrow-kingdoms are emptied, and unquiet spirits rise in every corner of the underworlds. The skies above the Black Citadel blaze with amethyst fire, and the great work approaches completion. An end is coming, witch-kin. Death will have its due.’

Morathi lowered the tip of her spear to rest upon Lhusim’s chest.

‘Mend this one’s flesh and have him brought to my chambers,’ she said. ‘We have much to discuss, before I tear out his beating heart.’

  • LOST SOULS (27.02.18) - She lashed them to the ground by their arms and legs...
Spoiler

She lashed them to the ground by their arms and legs so that the coarse gravel dug into the skin of their backs. Every last hunter in the settlement was to be sacrificed. She told them this much, and the memory of it has lingered in their bones ever since. I can feel it.

She had come with the spring mists, when murk flowed in from the plains to shroud the village huts. They knew the stories of the Shadow Queen – who is called Morathi, the Blood Taker, and a thousand other names – and knew to fear her, but not how to fight her. She was an enchanting embodiment of dread, and wielded magics beyond their imaginations, spitting spiteful oaths like venom as she subdued them one by one and staked them to the cold, black earth. Brave people wailed in terrified desperation. They prayed to the empty void in the hopes that they would be granted salvation, or at the very least the chance for revenge.

One by one she plunged her knife through their hearts, releasing their blood. Through their agony and panic they saw the Shadow Queen standing over them, whispering that by their lives she would bring her children into the realms. As she completed each sacrifice she withdrew her blade, and her victims were left to drift into oblivion. But they did not fade completely. Few ever do. She had taken much of their souls for her own rituals, but remnants of hatred still echoed within their bodies.

Over long centuries the flesh of those sacrificed rotted away, and their bones were slowly buried beneath the gloom-blown dirt. The last lingering spiritual motes that remained were adrift in an endless and unchanging sea of malice. There they waited for an eternity – sightless, formless, without will or thought. They waited for revenge, for their dying prayers to be answered. Now I am here, and their wait is about to be over.

From the skies comes a piercing screech, telling me that the Khinerai have sensed my presence. Lifetakers will be swooping down from on high now, barbed sickles bared, ready to cut me down. I understand why they are coming for me – I am a trespasser in their lands, an interloper sent by the lord of another realm, and I am walking through the site of their ancient sacrifices.

A trio of winged Khainites bursts through the overhanging clouds. They are lithe and terrible, and have marked me for slaughter. But in aloof arrogance they do not see my reason for being here. I have come for them.

‘Arise,’ I say to the buried dead beneath my feet. ‘You are owed vengeance, and those whom the Shadow Queen formed from your blood will soon be within reach.’ The ground quivers.

I look up and see the Lifetakers still speeding towards me, hurling curses into the wind as they prepare for the kill.

‘These Lifetakers are the inheritors of your lives,’ I say to my morbid audience. ‘Each of their souls belongs to another’. The earth around me splits, and I see the first bony protrusions beginning to poke from the fallow soil.

‘Your age-old prayers are now answered,’ I continue. ‘The time for vengeance is now. Arise! ARISE!’

Hundreds of skeletal hands burst up from the ground as the awakened dead stab outward from their graves. As they scrabble free from the earth, clods of black dirt fall away from their bones. Above us, the Lifetakers spread their wings, halting in mid-flight as they catch sight of the freshly-risen horde. They are still above me, hovering out of reach, but they shall not escape the death that now comes for them. I raise a finger towards my quarry and utter my command.

‘Kill.’

All around me the arisen warriors begin climbing up the spines of one another, hands and feet slipping between ribs like rungs on ladders, those on bottom digging their osseous feet into the earth. More and more follow suit, forming a thick column of bodies directly below the winged fiends. The Lifetakers see the skeletal column reaching up like a creeping vine and flap their wings to rise higher, but my vengeful dead climb faster. I watch with joy as the will of my Lord is made manifest, and soon I see the first fleshless hands grasping at the feet of the Lifetakers. They hack at the reaching skeletons, splitting bones and sending hails of desiccated marrow flying, but the dead do not relent.

The first of the winged trio is dragged into the tower of bones, her agonised shrieks drowned out by the clatter as she is torn limb from limb. Then the second is subsumed, her wings ripped from her back and her falling body grabbed by many outstretched hands. At the crest of the tower, skeletons latch onto the ankles and wrists of the final Lifetaker. She struggles to pull away, crying out hateful oaths and shouts of defiance, but her words mean nothing to the fearless revenants. The dead rip at the inheritor of their blood sacrifice, clawing savagely at her flesh until her bones are freed from their sheathing. From the wet remains of her corpse, I see a thin stream of amethyst light pouring down to the ground below, seeping through the soil on its way to Shyish.

Their work now down, the dead fall motionless. I look upon my risen army with pride, and they look back at me, grim visages fixed, waiting for me to speak.

‘You now have your vengeance,’ I say to them, ‘and the souls of these Lifetakers have been returned to their rightful owner. But Nagash’s work has just begun.’

  • CAUSE CÉLÈBRE (02.03.18) - 'Order! Order!' - Sevastean Mench banged his ceremonial hammer...
Spoiler

‘Order! Order!’

Sevastean Mench banged his ceremonial hammer on the polished surface of the wyrmwood debating table. The priceless antique had taken quite a beating these last few days, but it seemed to be the only way the Master Patriarch could get the two hundred and forty-four Lords of the Heavenhall to keep their peace.

‘This is getting us nowhere!’ he shouted. The delegates of the Grand Conclave stared at him in various states of affrontery or contempt. ‘We cannot meet this new era of darkness divided, or we will be picked off, whittled away, and slain in our beds!’

‘We will indeed,’ said Osrua of the Gilded Abacus, ‘if the Artisans keep all the wealth for their pretty castles.’

‘This is not some savage horde that can be held back with walls and war machines,’ roared Barragust, the High Despot of the Order of Azyr. ‘This is a supernatural scourge. It will claim us all unless we meet it with faith and fire!’

‘So you have no need of our defences,’ said Evandelle, Wallmistress of the High Artisans. ‘Nor the cog-forts, nor the magma canals.’

‘That is not what I am saying,’ said Mench, inclining his head towards the beringed doyenne as her steam-cherubs clucked and muttered in disapproval. ‘I am saying that without a set of laws and principles, we will be isolated and slowly destroyed.’

The clarion sound of the herald’s trumpet rang from outside the hall. Its jarring fanfare was cut abruptly short, and a moment later the chamber’s doors were flung open. A statuesque female stood silhouetted in the archway.

Two hundred and forty four mouths hung open, agog at the grandeur of the visitor as an entourage of hauntingly beautiful witch aelves slunk in behind her. The dignitary’s shoulders were framed by a pair of metallic wings, each rendered in wrought gold and stylised to make her appear like a goddess of elegance made flesh.

Finally, the auditorium knew silence. Morathi, the High Oracle of Khaine, had arrived.

The aelven delegation was some three days late, but clearly for good reason – some amongst them still had clotted gore upon their blade tips. Morathi strode toward the assemblage, the click of her footsteps quick and definite on the cold marble floor. ‘Welcome at last, my queen,’ said Mench as she drew close. ‘In the name of Hammerhal’s grand conclave, please feel free to rest your—’

‘Oh do shut up,’ said Morathi, her scarlet-black lips in a moue of distaste. ‘I am in no mood for platitudes. This council must put aside its differences immediately and send every available army to Shyish, or the forces of death will overwhelm us.’

‘That is what I have been saying for the last fourteen hours,’ said Mench, looking around the delegates. ‘But my peers seem ill-inclined to listen.’

Excelsis’ Alumnus Verita, Hennerdorf, bristled so much that his dense moustache quivered like a scared vole. ‘You know as well as I do, Mench, that we cannot—’

Morathi whispered something inaudible. Hennerdorf made a strange choking sound, eyes bulging, but did not say another word.

‘We cannot,’ said the queen. ‘That is the unspoken motto of this ungainly, soot-stained sprawl. Always, ‘we cannot’. We shall reverse that, my friends. We, the champions of progress, can achieve lasting victory. It is the will of Khaine.’

‘Khaine?’ said Elethrus Vinx, the Supreme Pontifex’s chins wobbling in disdain. ‘The aelven god of war? Is he not long—’

‘But how to unite our efforts?’ said Mench, interrupting Vinx before she said something she would regret.

Morathi stared long and hard at Vinx, her eyes wide, before replying. ‘Lend me your hosts,’ she said. ‘Put your efforts toward mine, and I shall do the same.’

‘You want us to simply give you our armies,’ said Evandelle flatly.

‘Of course not,’ said Morathi, her tone arch. ‘We shall march to war side by side. And what I wish for is irrelevant. I am the Oracle of Khaine, his high priestess and the mouthpiece for his divine will. I translate the desires of the Bloody-Handed One. He wishes us to coordinate our attacks on the heartlands of Shyish, before this pall of death suffocates every one of us.’

Mench looked pointedly at Hennerdorf, who by this point was turning a delicate shade of mauve.

Lord Aventis, Magister of Hammerhal, spoke up. ‘Say we march tomorrow, and make for the Abyssal Fires. What guarantee is there you stay to the bitter end, and do not abandon us as soon as the hour grows dark?’

‘The hour is already dark,’ said Morathi. ‘But that is a fair question.’ She gestured with one fair hand to her followers, all alabaster skin and sculpted armour. ‘Look at us,’ she said, gesturing with her other hand at the obese mountain of velvet and peacock feathers that was the Lord Vintner. ‘In form we are different. But we all live. We all want to live, to feast, to love, to grow old in the service to our gods. These things unite human, aelf and duardin alike. And what does Nagash want?’

‘Death,’ said Mench.

‘No,’ said Morathi, ‘he wants undeath. He wants the realms to be reshaped in his image, to be little more than clockwork machine of bone, sinew and magic that obeys him and him alone. And he is every bit as dangerous as the warlords of Chaos.’

‘So we divide our forces between the fight against Chaos and the rising tide of death,’ said High Castellan Brutar. ‘Divide, and be conquered.’

‘No, idiot,’ spat Morathi. ‘We unite, bolstering our numbers, then divide as necessity demands. The sum total is the same. By working together, by giving free access to hard-won Realmgates, we can stop Nagash in whatever dire work is sending visions of doom through every culture and creed.’

None spoke out against her.

‘This way,’ she said, smiling as she realised the audience hall was hers, ‘we invade, we destroy, and we bring a new order to Shyish.’

  • THE SCENT (06.03.18) - Reshevious clung to the rail of his chariot...
Spoiler

Reshevious clung to the rail of his chariot, enjoying the delicious sensation of its inset needles piercing his palms. The Champion of Slaanesh was tall and powerfully built, clad in interwoven strips of leather armour that clung to his perfumed flesh. Piercings festooned his body. Tattoos wound across his quivering mutations, while his lustrous mane of silver hair flowed behind him like a comet’s trail.

‘Faster,’ bellowed Reshevious, hurling a handful of psychotropic incense into the brazier on his chariot’s running board. ‘Always faster! The Dark Prince awaits!’

The Champion’s chariot was a monstrous construction of gold and silver, encrusted with gems and whirring steel blades. It was hauled along at breakneck pace by six Steeds of Slaanesh, and mounted a great spike that rose vertical from its foremost yoke. Lashed to this with barbed chains was a lumpen mutant, its limbs atrophied, its nostrils and ears massive and grotesque, its eyes replaced by deep and dripping olfactory pits. Known as the Inhilus, the gibbering thing had been Reshevious’ guide since he had begun his quest to find Slaanesh many years ago.

Behind Reshevious came his Scarlet Cavalcade, dozens of twisted mortal warriors adorned with freakish armour, that clung to the backs of lithe daemonic steeds. They screamed and whooped as they rode, battering away at barbed gongs that rang like shattering glass. The cavalcade was a riot of colour and sound, utterly at odds with the shadowed wilds of Ulgu through which they rode.

Reshevious hated this place, with its monochrome mists, its shadowy suggestions of trees hulking all around, and the ancient ruins that towered up from the forest like the bones of long-dead cathedrals scraping at the ink-black sky. All was silence and stillness here; the cavalcade’s clangour echoed away into nothingness and was swallowed by the dark.

Yet here was where the Inhilus’ screams had led them, and so here they continued their hunt.

Bacchinux, Reshevious’ standard bearer, drew level with the chariot, urging his steed along while the great banner’s flesh-streamers snapped and flailed.

‘Great lord,’ shouted Bacchinux. ‘Whither doth the Inhilus lead? Dullsome drab is’t hereabouts; stale grows the revel!’

Reshevious flexed one powerful arm, his bonewhip slithering wetly from his wrist. He lashed the weapon sideways, raising a savage welt across Bacchinux’ chest. The banner-bearer howled with a heady mix of pain, anger and glee.

‘Never question,’ snarled Reshevious. ‘Never deliberate. Simply act. This you know.’

‘’Tis the Prince’s will,’ gasped Bacchinux. ‘And yet…’

Reshevious flexed his whip again, knowing full well that his underling sought and relished the pain of punishment. His blow was stayed by a wordless scream from the Inhilus. The mutant screeched and writhed in its chains, cutting its fat flesh bloody as it strained forwards.

‘The scent!’ roared Reshevious, his booming voice carrying back down the line of the cavalcade. ‘The Inhilus has the Scent! Faster, unworthy dogs, always faster!’

The champion hauled on his razored reins, turning his steeds and sending his chariot careening in a long arc through the half-seen trees. Flocks of shadows burst from the boughs as he raced beneath them, echoing suggestions of carrion birds whose cawing cries teased the edge of hearing. A vast ruin loomed up ahead.

Mist swirled and parted as Reshevious’ chariot swept towards the gothic carcass without slowing. His sharp eyes picked out a blurring archway between the rock face walls; with a twitch of the reins, he sped into the stone maw.

It was speed that saved him.

Reshevious’ chariot burst from the gloomy tunnel into a play of silver light, so quickly that the rain of javelins which greeted him instead struck the Seekers at his heels. Bacchinux fell, pierced through by a half-dozen bronze-tipped spears. He and his steed bounced and rolled to a gory stop. More Seekers went down in that first volley, but more still burst from the tunnel with howls of glee.

Reshevious took in the ambush in a heartbeat. The tunnel had led them into the interior of an ancient fane, roofless and hollow with shattered walls. A wide ramp of black stone stretched up from the ruin’s heart, flanked by crumbled statues of ancient gods and terminating in a triangular portal of silver light. Hundreds upon hundreds of barbarian warriors packed the ruins, massed to either side of the tunnel mouth and gathered thick upon the ramp. It was they that had hurled the javelins, and were even now preparing to launch another salvo.

‘Darkoath!’ shrieked Reshevious. ‘Dull pantheonites! Worshippers of all, favoured of none! Into them, Seekers!’

Reshevious didn’t question how these enemies had known where to set their ambush. He didn’t consider the impossible odds set against him.

Never question.

Never deliberate.

Simply act.

The charge hit home in an explosive welter of blood. Severed heads and limbs flew as Reshevious’ chariot ploughed deep into the enemy lines. Seekers howled their glee as their

spears punched through chests and faces. Steeds trilled and lashed their binding tongues to throttle and entrap.

For long, glorious moments the ambushers reeled as the sheer headlong insanity of the Slaaneshi charge overwhelmed them.

Then came the slowing, the loss of impetus, massed bodies pushing back, spears thrusting and axes swinging and blades stabbing deep. Reshevious cracked his whip and bellowed at the joyous promise of pain.

‘Enough!’

The command rang out over the clangour of battle, a woman’s voice, powerful and filled with such unquestionable authority that even Reshevious hesitated. His quick gaze sought out the source. There she stood, atop the ruin of an ancient statue. She was tall, powerful, clad in barbarous finery, surely a queen amongst her people. Yet it was her gaze that held him. Such ferocity, such an ironclad strength of will; Reshevious could not remember ever feeling such a thrill of superiority from another living creature.

Throwing back his head, the champion gave an ululating scream that echoed around the ruins. At his signal, the Seekers stopped their attack, chests heaving as they waited avidly to see what would happen next.

‘We fight for the regard of almighty Slaanesh,’ he cried. ‘If madness it be, it is of the most delightful kind!’

‘You seek Slaanesh,’ replied the queen. ‘And yet you throw your lives away in this fruitless battle against enemies you cannot defeat. An unworthy end to a failed quest.’

‘Your ambush was an invitation we gladly accepted,’ said Reshevious. ‘What more worthy end could a champion of the Dark Gods know?’

‘You could find him,’ she said. ‘Find him and bring with you the numbers needed to unleash him once more upon the Mortal Realms. I have those numbers and more to spare, armies ten times the size of this horde and more.’

‘And we have the Inhilus, and the favour of the Dark Prince,’ said Reshevious. ‘An alliance, you seek then? Why? What do you gain by this? And why greet us with blades if you desire our aid?’

‘My reasons are my own,’ replied the queen. ‘As to the blades? I did not need all of you…’

Reshevious paused for a moment, then burst into shrieks of wild mirth. He took in the horde around him, imagined an army vastly greater still marching at his back. So many sacrifices for the Dark Prince, when at last he was found.

‘Very well, you have your alliance,’ he said. ‘Now clear a path, for the Scent leads us onwards. Keeping pace, that is your own concern…’

Reshevious flexed his bone whip and cracked it across the backs of his steeds. Barbarian warriors scrambled aside as the chariot surged forwards, and the Inhilus gave a scream of pure need, straining towards the ramp. The Seekers rode out, thundering up the ramp towards the glowing portal at its crest. The queen raised her fist in a single gesture, and as one the Darkoath warriors followed.

On, to wherever the Dark Prince waited…

  • TIME OF PLENTY (09.03.18) - 'Let the feast begin' - As High King Atheldade gestured grandly at the banquet...
Spoiler

‘Let the feast begin!’

As High King Atheldade gestured grandly at the banquet laid out before him, the silken ribbons of his regalia billowed in the scented air. He smiled at his reflection in his nearby seeing-glass, then looked upon his gathered court, as proud and benevolent as a father watching his children playing in a meadow.

Turning his head to look over the Arch of Prophecy to the great eyrie high above, he met the eye of his dragon companion and faithful steed, Illuminas. The skydrake nodded, just once, in stately approval. The celebration of their victory over the Gaudy Blades was looking to be a fine day indeed.

There were hundreds of his kith gathered, gossiping and laughing lightly with excitement. Every man, woman and child was hale and hearty, with rosy cheeks and gleaming eyes. Doves flitted to and fro in their roosts high above, and to either side of the king’s lavishly upholstered throne, splendid white peacocks fanned their feathers.

Atheldade took in a huge lungful of the night air, and breathed out pure relief. Despite the rains, despite the raids of the vile barbarians and would-be conquerors they had hurled back so many times, and despite last winter’s landslide opening their palace to the cold night air, the Kingdom of Wendel’s Glory still shone like glittering jewels in the twilight. Now, with their messenger patrols bringing word of a bumper harvest to come, the future looked even brighter. It made the old warrior’s heart pound with pride in his massive chest.

Down on the mountainside, pallid figures scurried and slithered through the muck like worms writhing in an open grave. They held in their pale arms various human remains turned grey-black with the ash and cloying mud of the landslide. Holding high great armfuls of fleshy remnants as offerings to their master, they strove to get ever higher up the paths and climbways of the peak. Every few seconds one of them would slip and tumble to a slump, or succumb to a ravenous hunger and sink sharp teeth into his fleshy burden. Despite these lapses, the throng made slow progress upwards.

At the top of the peak, standing in the largest of the caverns that holed the mountainside like a rotten honeycomb, was a monstrous white giant surrounded by grovelling troglodytes. It was clad only in tatters of skin. It howled, its voice redolent of despair turned to vicious hatred.

Carrion crows quorked, startled into the air, and a few half-dead vultures ruffled their feathers as they clucked in alarm. They too took flight as the undead dragon squatting above the white king roared in response, flecks of rotting meat flying from its blackened gums. In the dirt below, the slimy, wriggling creatures crawling up the cliff gibbered and cackled to see their long-revered dragon rear up high.

‘Kindsmen! Gentledames!’ shouted Atheldade, projecting his voice to regain his subjects’ attention. ‘I beg of you, for one moment, give me your eyes!’

Some of the pale ghouls held up ocular offerings to their king, gelid orbs glimmering in the moonlight. A few literal souls even plucked out their own cataracted eyes, gibbering with pain and maniac glee as they raised them triumphantly to the peak.

‘This day is of great consequence,’ continued Atheldade. ‘We have won a great victory over our arch-enemies, the Gaudy Blades!’

The king held up a severed arm slicked with blood. The remnants of its Freeguild uniform flapped in the wind alongside a sail of tattered skin. It was still holding an unopened scroll in its death grip, its wax seal that of a request for parley. Emblazoned upon it was the sigil of distant Lake Lethis.

‘Better yet,’ said Atheldade with a smile, ‘Our brave scouts, led as ever by the redoubtable Baron Retch ven Gizzard, have returned triumphant. They bring not only vittles, but the grandest of tidings!’

At this, a bony freak on the king’s right took a gangling bow. Shaking his head in mock exasperation, Atheldade grasped his minion’s arm by the wrist and raised it high as if it were that of a victorious prizefighter. The freak drooled through a horrible approximation of a smile, and the crowd of slithering ghouls screamed in excitement.

‘We Wendels have been through sad and desperate times of late,’ said Atheldade, his tone suddenly serious. ‘We, who have tilled the fields to exhaustion and been forced to eat of our faithful steeds and prized oxen alike, came close to starvation.’ At this, his expression clouded further, and his confident tone grew choked as tears brimmed at the corner of his eyes. ‘Close to despair, some would say. I myself even came to doubt, when the landslide laid this most glorious palace bare unto the stars.’

The white giant’s face contorted once more, and he grinned, exposing rows of shark-like teeth adorned with chunks of gristle.

‘Yet we made it through! The time of the eternal harvest is upon us!’

Rapturous cheers erupted from those gathered below, the ladyfolk waving their perfumed handkerchiefs as the men drew their swords and held them aloft in salute. Atheldade soaked up the adulation, inclining his crowned head in thanks.

‘And to those of you who thought the Wendels would not come through our long trials, shame on you,’ chuckled Atheldade, waving his finger as if scolding a clutch of errant stable boys. ‘The prophecy has proven itself to be wise and true, after all these years, just as I said it would!’

The ghouls on the mountainside, having stopped to listen to their master’s ravings, held tatters of torn skin and sharpened bones as tribute to their king.

‘The time of the eternal harvest is upon us,’ said Atheldade. ‘We have won through the time of strife, found the promised era, and all the while we did not forsake our ideals. Not even when times seemed so dark we were rendered blind. Now we see again, and all we need do is feast! Hunt and feast forever more!’

The white giant turned triumphantly to the archway above him, long overgrown with moss and caked with the gore of a hundred cannibalistic feasts. He gestured grandly at the carefully hewn inscription that spanned the arch in foot-tall letters above him.

THERE WILL COME A TIME OF PLENTY

WHERE NO MOUTH WILL WANT FOR MEAT

AND THE TRUE RULER OF THIS TROUBLED LAND

WILL RISE UNSTOPPABLE

Howling in a horrible mixture of glee and madness, the king hoisted up the messenger’s disembodied limb he had been clutching, and began to eat.

  • THE CLOCKMAKER'S TALE (13.03.18) - 'Careful boy!', snapped Marvo Carvolian as his assistant...
Spoiler

‘Careful, boy,’ snapped Marvo Carvolian as his assistant painstakingly eased the longcase clock into place at the heart of the clockmaker’s collection.

‘Yes Artificer,’ squeaked Ghandrin, sweat pouring from his brow. The youth was precariously balanced upon a set of telescoping metal legs, a dozen feet above the ground. On either side, great rows of timepieces led off into the gloom of the workshop. There were creations of every conceivable shape and variety: Chamonic quicksilver clepsydras, intricately engraved carriage pieces marked with Azyrite sigils, and rune-etched chronographs fashioned in a mock duardin style. There was a reason that Carvolian’s Clockworks was the most famed establishment of its kind in all of Azyrheim.

‘Hurry up, would you?’ Carvolian said. ‘I should like to be abed before my bones rot away to nothing.’

Ghandrin managed to complete his task without incident, and – breathing a heavy sigh of relief – made to lower his rolling platform to the ground. As he reached for the release lever to close the glass casing that secured Carvolian’s treasures, his trailing sleeves brushed against a small, amethyst hourglass, knocking it loose.

The clockmaker’s assistant flailed his arms in a doomed attempt to catch the timepiece, but it fell to the floor and shattered into pieces, scattering shards of pink-hued crystal and dust across the immaculately polished ironwood floor.

What little colour there was in Ghandrin’s childlike face drained away. Carvolian fixed the witless youth with the iciest of stares, his body trembling with rage at this casual act of mindless vandalism.

‘I… I’m so sorry, Artificer,’ stammered Ghandrin. ‘I will take care of it, I—’

‘Imbecile!’ Carvolian shrieked, teeth bared with rage, ‘Get out of here! Get out! We shall discuss this at first gleaming. Any expenses incurred from your bumbling incompetence will be taken from your earnings. Perhaps that will teach you to handle my creations with due care and attention.’

Seemingly on the verge of tears, Chandrin hurried from the workshop. Carvolian watched him leave, shaking his head in disgust. He would have to cut the youth loose. If the fool could not manage such a simple task, how could he possibly continue as the clockmaster’s apprentice? Such a clot could never develop the skill and precision required to etch a pattern of barely perceptible runes upon the interwoven levers of an Aqshyan firedial, or arrange the miniscule gear-chambers and hair-thin mechanisms that were the hallmark of a genuine Carvolian timepiece. Did the boy not realise how fortunate he was to live in High Azyrheim, to be amongst such wondrous creations while the rest of the Eight Realms struggled against the depredations of Chaos?

With a long-suffering sigh, the clockmaker reached for a shard of the broken glass. A Shyishan piece, judging by the intricate yet sombre glasswork. One of a haul of rare pieces he had acquired at the auction halls in Hymnal Square, recovered from the heirloom-vault of a Carstinian tomb if the seller was to be believed.

Carvolian let out a yelp of surprise. For a moment he thought he had seen a flicker of movement within the curved shard, like a shadow passing over water. Peering closer, however, he saw only his own narrow, hawkish face staring back at him. He shook his head and chuckled at his foolishness. A trick of the light, nothing more. Reaching for a broom, he began to sweep the floor clean.

The sound of hundreds of working timepieces serenaded him as he worked – an orchestra of clicks, tocks and tolls rich in timbre and variety. Many of his former assistants had found the sound maddening, but to Carvolian it was a relaxing serenade. He could pick out the sound of each individual piece in his collection, like a woodsman identifying bird calls.

By the time he had cleaned away every last piece of shattered glass, his eyes were itching with tiredness. The High Star Sigendil was visible through the arched windows high above, bathing the workshop in soft, cerulean light. As he craned his head upwards to the heavens, he saw a cloud pass over the distant star, and darkness swept across the workshop floor.

Carvolian felt a sudden and inexplicable chill, as if someone had run an ice-cold sliver of metal down his spine. With trembling fingers he fumbled in his pocket for a fire-taper, and set a flame within the naphtha-oil lamp that rested upon his desk. Raising the lamp high, he turned to peer into the gloom.

‘Wh… who’s back there?’ the clockmaker shouted. ‘If it’s you sneaking about, Ghandrin…. this is the final straw, do you hear me?’

It was then that Carvolian realised what had so unnerved him.

Every single one of the timepieces lining the walls of his workshop had stopped. In the dim, flickering light, Carvolian saw that thousands of hands, dials and levers were pointing directly to the midnight hour.

‘What is this trickery?’ he whispered, and though the shadows gave no answer he knew that he was watched.

There was a single, ominous boom, as Carvolian’s timepieces tolled as one. Then another, and another, and with gathering speed the hands of each clock began to whir forwards. As Carvolian watched in mounting terror, sand as black as the space between stars began to pour from the facings of each clock, spilling across the floor in trickling rivers. The clockmaker felt a sudden and terrible pain seize his body, running up his arms and lancing through his chest.

Faster and faster the clock-hands spun, and downpour of obsidian sand was whipped into the air by a sudden gust of freezing wind. Carvolian raised one arm high to fend off the choking dust

and saw that his flesh had withered and greyed. His fingers were bony claws, his bones visible through paper-like skin. Clumps of grey-white hair fell from his scalp, and his panicked breathing grew strained and reedy. He no longer had the strength to stand and fell to his knees, gasping for breath that would not come. In the reflection of his lamp’s crystal casing, Carvolian saw his own face. It was the visage of a risen corpse – skeletally thin, eyes sunken and lifeless. He began to scream.

The lamp spilled from his trembling fingers and smashed upon the floor.

The rising gale now filled the workshop with an impenetrable sandstorm. As his teeth fell from his jaws and his vision blurred, the clockmaker thought he saw a shape emerge within that surging blackness – a grinning skull, its jaws opening wide to devour his very soul.

It was the last thing Carvolian saw before his body crumbled into dust.

  • RODBUL'S LAST FIGHT (16.03.18) - 'Just one more fight!' -  Rodbul sat in the dim antechamber...
Spoiler

‘Just one more fight.’

Rodbul sat in the dim antechamber adjoining the tavern’s main hall, repeating the words to himself over and over. He couldn’t remember how many times he’d already made himself that promise. Among prizefighters, memory was one of the first things to go. The pain of shattered knuckles and torn muscles drove most to drink, swallowing up what money they won between each brutal gladiatorial engagement. Pain and loss – that was the job. He knew it all too well.

Most recently Rodbul had lost an eye. It had been gouged out by his last opponent while they wrestled in some borderland shanty. He hadn’t seen out of that eye in years, but the agony of it being ripped out almost made him faint. Still, he had managed to keep the chokehold on his foe until the man’s desperate thrashing finally stopped. The dozen or so spectators had joked when it was all over that Old Man Rodbul would have to spend all his winnings just to buy himself an eyepatch. But there was one amongst them that did not laugh, a hooded man shrouded in shadow.

As the spectators filtered out, and Rodbul wiped at the blood that was streaming down his face, the hooded man had approached him. He’d flicked a coin to Rodbul, like the patrons and pretty courtiers had done when Rodbul was first starting out. But this coin wasn’t made of Chamonic metal – it was made of black glass.

‘Wager this,’ said the hooded man, ‘and what you earn will last you an eternity.’ By the time Rodbul looked up from the coin, the man had vanished.

After a few short weeks of drinking through his winnings, Rodbul had signed up for one more fight. The bookers didn’t know what to make of the glass coin he had handed them, but their narrowed eyes relaxed when he’d told them he was betting it on himself. Considering the state he was in, they didn’t expect to pay anything out.

The bet was taken and Rodbul was shown to the antechamber. He was told his fight would be second, after a pair of captured grots fought a one-axe handicap.

A roar of laughter followed by the thud-thud-thud of drunkards banging on tables told Rodbul that the grot fight was over. Then he heard a heavy iron key slotting into the lock of the antechamber’s door. There was no turning back now.

‘Just one more fight.’

The door swung open and a portly bouncer beckoned.

‘You’re up, One-eye.’

Rodbul walked out into the main hall and looked upon his final audience. They seemed about the same as every other crowd – ruddy noses and rotting teeth, each face as indistinct as the next. There were about thirty all told, not including bookers and bouncers. More than most get for their finale.

Another door opened with a clack, and Rodbul turned to see his opponent striding across the pig iron floor. He was twice the size of Rodbul and half the age, his broad chest bared and mouth curved into a sardonic grin. The crowd hushed in anticipation – they were expecting a swift and brutal show.

A hammer struck an anvil somewhere behind Rodbul, signalling the start of the fight. His opponent thrust a foot out towards him with blinding speed, but Rodbul leaned sideways just in time to avoid being kicked across the room. He shifted his weight and launched a well-practised jab. His opponent swatted the fist aside, but Rodbul was already following up with a brutal hook. He caught the larger man square in the temple, causing him to stumble backwards. Gasps from the crowd told Rodbul that many were starting to rethink their wagers.

Rodbul stepped toward his reeling foe and lifted a knee into the man’s gut, following it with an uppercut to the chin and another hook to the side of his jaw. There was a crack of breaking teeth and knuckles, but Rodbul didn’t feel any pain – odd, he thought.

The crowd were booing loudly now, but Rodbul ignored them. His opponent was on one knee, with blood and bits of tooth dripping from his mouth. It was time to finish the job. With his remaining eye, Rodbul lined up the weak spot on the man’s neck, the point that snapped easily, and swung an elbow down towards it.

But before Rodbul could land the killing blow the kneeling man launched himself upwards, thrusting his forehead into Rodbul’s nose. Rodbul’s body went limp. He felt the familiar warmth of his own blood streaming down his face, then felt his opponent’s massive fingers wrapping around his neck. The fingers squeezed in like iron rods, crushing Rodbul’s windpipe, but still he felt no pain. He could see his wild-eyed opponent before him, a look of frenzied pleasure on the man’s face as he crushed the life out of another living being. After a loud crack, the man let go.

Something made a thud as it hit the floor. Rodbul looked down and saw his own unmoving body lying there, neck twisted horrendously and eyes glazed over. Confused, Rodbul turned back to his opponent. He saw in the man’s eyes a look of abject terror, and heard a panicked din spreading through the tavern. Those in attendance were unsheathing daggers and dirks and shouting in startled disbelief.

‘Geist! Geist!’

There was only one onlooker who remained calm – a hooded man who emerged from the shadows. He stepped unseen through the crowd of frightened men, past Rodbul’s trembling opponent, and spoke.

‘There is just one more fight Rodbul. It is against the living.’

These words penetrated Rodbul’s mind, filling his soul until he could hear nothing else. The pain of his battered body was gone, the memories of his tattered life were no more – all that remained was that same echoing phrase.

‘Just one more fight.’

Rodbul raised his spectral claws, and lunged towards his living prey.

  • THE JOY OF BATTLE (20.03.18) - Madzec's axe struck home, cleaving through bone...
Spoiler

Madzec’s axe struck home, cleaving through bone and smashing aged leather into clouds of choking dust. The fell magic that knitted his foe together evaporated, and loose bones tumbled to the ground.

The Deathbringer felt something clawing at his leg and stomped his iron-shod boot through the ribcage of the crawling figure. In his crimson fury he barely registered that the squirming form was one of his fellow reavers.

‘He sees me!’ the broken warrior choked, his bloodshot eyes rolling back into his head as his mouth frothed with blood. ‘He sees me!’

Madzec kicked and stamped, again and again, until all motion ceased.

Through the blood thundering in his veins and the fingers of red mist crawling across his vision, he took in the battlefield. Ahead, ten Scalptakers held the bridge of sinew that stretched from the fortress’ gatehouse, holding at bay a host of rotting, grasping cadavers with axe and flail.

No more than chattel. He turned, seeking worthier prey. Around him, more Blood Warriors held the central chamber. Above, silver moonlight bled into the pillared vestibule from great breaches in the roof. A steady stream of animated corpses hurled themselves through these holes, uncaring of the bone-shattering drop to the fortress hall.

The risen dead had enveloped Coldspite Cairn like a flood. The barrow-tombs of the Harrowed Spine mountains had been emptied. There was no end to the enemy’s numbers, and no sign of Marakarr Blood-Sky or her warhost. How long had they held this fortress? Days beyond end. Time had lost much of its meaning in this place.

Madzec of the Flayed Legion understood well enough that the Warqueen had sent him here to die, to hold back the enemy as long as he might while her armies pressed onwards into the Grave-God’s domain. The thought tore an ecstatic bark of laughter from his throat. It would be an end worthy of a champion such as he.

‘The eye of the Blood God is upon us!’ he screamed. ‘Skulls for the Skull Throne!’

Another boulder of fused bone from one of the enemy’s artillery pieces slammed home, tearing free a shower of masonry and tumbling down into the hall to crush a half-dozen of Madzec’s warriors to gory paste. Scores of skeletal warriors swarmed through the fresh breach. Many tumbled the three hundred or so feet to the blackstone tiles below, shattering into pieces. Others landed heavily upon the piles of bones and dead Bloodbound that littered the chamber, before rising to their feet and launching themselves into the fray.

Even as more Blood Warriors were dragged to the floor, slashed and torn apart by rusted blades, the rear doors of the hall burst open. In marched ranks of silver-armoured skeletons in tight formation, their motions so unnaturally synchronised they seemed as reflections in a mirror. The gleaming tips of their halberds flashed in the moonlight, and a standard – depicting a dragon pierced through the heart by a barbed arrow – fluttered above their number. Bloodreavers charged, howling, at this new foe, and were cut down by measured sweeps of those wicked halberds, spitted upon the weapons’ cruel, spiked tips, or hacked apart by their axe-like blades.

At the heart of the skeletal advance were three regal forms clad in splendid golden chain. They wore crowns bedecked with jewels, and their eyes burned with green fire. Even in death they radiated power and authority, directing their minions into the battle with sweeping gestures of their blades.

Madzec roared in delight, and charged right at the heart of the gleaming host. His ravening Blood Warriors raced alongside him, their own demented howls echoing across the soaring chamber.

The Deathbringer saw the halberds sweep across to meet this new threat, but the blood rage was on him and no mere weapon could stay his charge. He felt his skin tear open and delighted in the pain, using it as fuel for the raging fire within him.

One skeletal face burst apart under the descent of his axe. Another swing smashed aside a shield and broke the arm that held it into pieces. So tight was the press that he found himself staring into the empty sockets of a halberd-wielding warrior. He headbutted it, and the daemon maw of his helm bit deep into the wretch’s skull. Still it clung to him, trying vainly to bring its weapon to bear in the close quarters. Again and again he smashed his face into it, until his vision blurred and blood filled his eyes.

The skeleton’s skull was spider-webbed with cracks, but still it fought on doggedly. Abandoning its halberd it drew a short dirk and stabbed it into Madzec’s side, lighting a painful fire in his belly. Madzec leaned back as far as he could and drove his head forward one final time, and the skeleton’s skull collapsed entirely, exploding into powdered bone. The thing collapsed limply to the ground as Madzec fell to his knees, wracked with choking gasps of laughter.

Ahead, the trio of deathless kings were carving apart his Blood Warriors. One carried a colossal two-bladed axe, which he wielded as if it weighed no more than a willow cane. The others hacked down foe after foe with contemptuous slashes from their heavy broadswords. A mountain of torn and hacked corpses lay at their feet, blood seeping in great rivers.

‘Khorne claims this place,’ screamed Madzec, raising his weapon and aiming it at the wight tyrants. ‘As I claim your skulls for his throne.’

With that he charged, barrelling past a row of slashing halberds and leaping upon the closest of the wights. He bore the undead lord to the ground. His axe fell, three times, and the dead king’s armour was rent asunder. Still, his adversary reached out a bony hand to close around his throat, its hateful eyes staring into his own. He raised his axe again and hacked into the wight’s gorget, snarling in triumph as his weapon cleaved through metal and bone and took off the thing’s head.

The Deathbringer felt a sword slide through the plate metal at his back and howled as a rush of grave-cold agony speared through him. He felt true pain for the first time in years, draining his strength and numbing his limbs. Staggering to his feet, he found himself faced by the two remaining wights. The sword of the nearest was slathered with gore, and the fell weapon pulsed with tides of amethyst magic.

Madzec swayed, vision blurring yet further. Ahead he could see that the entirety of the grand chamber was a churning mass of bone, a swarming tide of undead creatures swallowing everything in its path. More skeletons were pouring from above, and yet more were being reconstituted from the piles of bones that littered Coldspite Cairn. Less than a dozen of his warriors remained, islands of blood-red armour amidst the relentless surge. They were drowning, pulled down by scores of grasping hands to be torn limb from limb.

It was the most glorious sight that the Deathbringer had ever seen.

Surely with this final offering the Blood God’s gaze would fall upon him. Surely such a bounty of blood and skulls would earn him a place in Khorne’s eternal legions, to fight and slay for evermore.

‘This is not my end, kings of nothing,’ he said, and laughed through strings of bloody drool. The wight lords gazed back impassively, circling him with blades raised.

Madzec staggered forward. A tomb blade sunk into his thigh, sheering straight through his gore-encrusted plate, but he barely felt the blow. Still choking with laughter, he hurled himself at his foe, striking the sword-bearing wight in the chest and wrapping his arms around the dead thing in a crushing embrace. They fell together, toppling down a mountain of corpses and shattered bone. The Deathbringer felt the chill of the grave seeping through his flesh as the wight lord stabbed again and again, turning his chest to bloody ruin. His axe tumbled from his hands.

The combatants landed hard. Madzec looked down to see a sword impaled through his chest to the hilt. His foe opened its mouth, and let out a rattling hiss. With the last of his strength, Madzec made his final offering, growling as he tugged the tomb blade free from his flesh and thrust it into the undead tyrant’s glowing eye socket. Finally the corpse-lights dimmed, and the thing shuddered and was still.

The Deathbringer felt bony hands clawing into his back, reaching up to dig into his eyes and throat. The skeletal tide rose up to swallow him. They tore at his flesh, peeling it from his body like the skin of a fruit. He was still laughing as his throat was opened, blood bubbling down his chest.

The last of the wight kings approached through the clawing tide, his great black axe held aloft.

Madzec favoured the creature with a final, gore-splattered smile.

‘Mighty Khorne,’ he rasped. ‘Witness my–’

The axe came down, and bit deep into the Deathbringer’s neck.

Upon his great brass throne, the Blood God Khorne saw his faithful bring strife and slaughter to the sterile lands of the dead, and his roar was one of triumph and of hatred both. He raised his dread blade high – the Ender of Worlds, Allslaughter. With a bellow he brought it down, and smote reality itself asunder.

A deafening cacophony rolled across the sterile valleys of the Harrowed Spine, the thunderous eruption of a thousand volcanic ranges at once. Mountains crumbled and fell, crushing legions of fleshless warriors to dust. From beneath the catacombs of Coldspite came a rushing roar. A torrent of blood erupted into the grand hall, sending fountains of scalding gore rippling through the ancient fortress. Undead chattel were dissolved to nothing in an instant as the bubbling liquid splattered across them. A surge became a flood, pouring from ramparts and high-arched windows, becoming a waterfall as it tumbled away into the valley below.

The last wight king of the mountain redoubt stood imperiously before the flood, staring in silent defiance as the tide of gore crashed down upon him.

Amidst the gushing blood-fountain shapes began to emerge. Rangy, muscled killers with eyes like smouldering coals. Bat-winged horrors as huge as castle towers, roaring in exultation at the slaughter that awaited them. Howling in praise to their master, they crashed into the army of the dead, and the carnage began anew.

The Blood God knew a brief moment of satisfaction, but it was swiftly replaced by familiar, burning rage. The blood flowed, but not in quantities great enough. Not nearly enough.

With a bellow he ordered more of his legions forward.

This sterile land would burn in the fires of his rage – and its pretender tyrant would burn along with it.

  • LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE (23.03.18) - Sergeant Olfren leant hard against the door of the town hall...
Spoiler

Sergeant Olfren leant hard against the door of the town hall. The splintered wood shook, an arrhythmic juddering produced by dozens of battering fists. The moans of the dead were loud in his ears, their rotting faces visible through rents smashed in the door. The sight caused every part of him to constrict, reducing him to a hard knot of fear.

‘Brace the door!’ he bellowed. ‘Brace the ****** door!’

Several of his men had been backing away into the shadows of the town hall, eyes huge and faces bloodied. At his strangled cry they came to their senses and rushed to help him.

‘Sarge, what in Sigmar’s name are we going to do?’ shouted swordsman Dhenns.

‘It’s only a matter of time before they get ’round the back way,’ panted handgunner Lanslo. ‘And there’s none left but us. How long’re we meant to hold this door shut?’

‘Long enough for me to think of a way out of this disaster,’ barked Olfren. ‘Now shut up and let me!’

In truth, he had no answers. His thoughts had scattered in panic, and they wouldn’t rally. The dead had fallen upon Harthaven, ghasts flowing through the town’s walls to throw open the main gates. Deadwalkers poured in in their hundreds, overrunning the small garrison and penning the survivors within the town’s squat buildings. As he led the retreat to the town hall, Olfren had seen cackling spectral horsemen sweeping through the walls of each structure, bursting out again dragging snared and screaming souls behind them.

Soon that would happen to him, to his lads, but if they let go of the doors the dead would swamp them in seconds. Panic tightened his chest, and the booming of Deadwalker fists on wood echoed in his head. Olfren screwed his eyes shut and tried to think.

‘Sarge!’ shouted Dhenns. ‘Hammer and anvil, Sarge, look!’

Olfren’s eyes sprang open in time for a bolt of black lightning to sear a line across his sight. He blinked, tearing up as more bolts flashed outside, visible through the rents in the door. The dead were blasted apart, scorched flinders of skin and bone filling the air like shrapnel. Dark figures appeared in their stead, hulking huge in the unmistakable armour of the Stormcast Eternals. Their Sigmarite plate was black, trimmed with gold, and each hefted a mace or axe taller than Olfren himself.

‘The Anvils of the Heldenhammer!’ gasped Lanslo. ‘Now them ghasts are for it!’

The black-armoured Stormcasts waded into the enemy. Incorporeal things came at them in grasping masses, stabbing with ethereal blades and hissing their hate from hollow jaws. Grim and silent, the Anvils struck them down. Each swing of their mighty weapons filled the air with

crackling contrails, and wherever their blades bit home the servants of Nagash were torn to fading tatters.

‘That’s right,’ snarled Olfren through gritted teeth, slamming his palm against the inside of the door. ‘That’s right, tear ’em apart!’ He was manic with sudden hope, and the satisfaction of seeing his persecutors suddenly become the victims.

The Stormcasts had fought their way down into the town square, and now the dead were pouring in at them from all sides. Still they swung their great weapons, tearing through the enemy like harvestmen at the reap.

Then one of them trod in a writhing corpse and his foot slid, just enough to throw his balance. Deadwalkers surged, for all the world like a cresting wave that broke upon the bulwark of the Anvil’s armour. He was born off his feet by the press, buried in writhing, biting flesh. Olfren winced at the sudden flash of lightning that blew the corpse-mound apart and went darting away into the skies. Dimly, he understood that he had just seen a Stormcast Eternal killed, but he couldn’t quite process the idea. He clung instead to the hope that the rest of them would fight on, and deliver him from danger.

The second warrior to fall did so standing against the headlong charge of ghostly green horsemen. She swung her huge mace, obliterating one wraith, then another, then another. The next wraith span its spectral scythe and sent the Stormcast’s head bouncing across the square. Head and body both had exploded into lightning and flashed away before the severed cranium could roll to a stop.

Olfren saw more ghasts flowing from the streets around the square, and yet more. Deadwalkers stumbled through them like drunkards through fog, flailing and clawing as they made for the Stormcasts.

Flash! Another Anvil fell, impaled by a dozen spectral blades.

Flash! Another, torn limb from limb by corpses.

Flash! Another.

Flash! Another.

And then only the leader of the Stormcasts remained, backing away before the horde, still swinging his axe in deadly arcs. He had almost reached the door before a terrible shape rose amidst the billowing cloud of ghasts that filled the square. It was a hunched thing, huge and lambent, festooned with rattling manacles and weighted chains.

Defiant, the Stormcast roared a challenge at the spectre; his only answer was an imperious gesture with a spectral talon.

The ghasts raised a storm of gleeful screams as they flowed up the steps and hammered the warrior backwards into the door. The ruined portal shuddered on its hinges as the Stormcast was stabbed again and again, finally crashing to the ground, dead.

Only Olfren saw what happened next.

Staring wide-eyed through a gap in the wood with his knuckles jammed between his teeth, he saw the Stormcast’s soul flicker like a candle in a strong flame. Then, instead of leaping skyward, it flew across the square into the ghostly mass, vanishing with a faint wail into a heavy padlock held high by the hunchback ghast.

The end came quickly after that for Sergeant Olfren and his men, but of it, the Sergeant knew little; by the time the door crashed down, he had already gone quite mad…

  • A RESCUED SOUL (27.03.18) - The raw soul rose from endless, sanity-shattering torment...
Spoiler

The raw soul rose from endless, sanity-shattering torment. Stretched and drawn, it was pulled screaming from tar-like distillations of excess. It writhed like an abyss-dwelling eel caught on a hook that drew it ever upward into lighter waters.

The soul’s new surroundings were still murky, bathed in twilight, but they were blinding and glorious in comparison to the hellish darkness that had devoured it so long ago. The rescued animus was thin, attenuated to a surreal extent. But it had substance, finally, and a will of its own. Its relief at having escaped its tortuous fate was intensely profound, just as complete as the hunger of its nemesis.

The soul’s consciousness slowly focused as if waking from a nightmare, gaining increasing awareness of the true nature of things in its new reality. Dim shapes, linear and hard-edged, coalesced. Thank the gods, thought the soul; it was finally in a place.

The soul surged towards the tapering shapes, their chiselled outlines seeming like a safe haven to a man escaping a riptide. The tall, geometrically perfect structures were carved with runes. From each of them came a chain of penumbral magic that stretched off into the distant beyond. The soul did not dare to look back at that which they bound. It was not certain of much in its diaphanous new life, but it knew with iron solidity it would rather die a thousand times than look back.

On into the twilight stretched the soul, its thin screams dwindling as it drew near the tallest of the structures. It reached a kind of stasis there, one end of its essence caught in some kind of energy field whilst the rest was drawn inexorably toward it. Though it had no eyes, the soul could sense two figures looming over it. Their auras conveyed great majesty – and though it had no ears, the soul could hear the faint whisper of an exchange between the two figures hardening into words.

‘And so another is teased from within that cavernous gullet,’ said the first essence. She was a female with a velvet-smooth voice, marred by a hissing sibilance. ‘A strong one, at that.’

‘They are becoming more difficult to ensnare,’ said the other. Male, both young and old at the same time, his tones carried the weight of infinite disappointment. ‘I wonder if the twins are finding the same thing.’

‘Of course they are,’ snapped the female. ‘They might think their skills superior, but we too are gods – or you are, at the least.’ Her tone became bitter and filled with envy at the last admission. ‘The very fact this place has been held in balance for so long shows that when we act together, we are equals in every way.’

‘If you say so,’ said the male idly. ‘Do you think I am oblivious to your secret visits? Your armies grow stronger than ever, the Scáthborn more numerous every time I look.’

‘You know full well I am lining the nest for both of us,’ came the hissing reply.

‘Do not seek to blind the Lord of Shadows with your forked tongue, mortal.’

‘What choice do I have? The Thirteen Kingdoms are lousy with the spoor of the Seekers. The dead claw at the Reborn wherever their masters pick out the scent.’

The male voice laughed without mirth. ‘How like you, mother, to use the consequence of a treacherous act in order to justify it.’

‘All this time, and you still know nothing of true rulership!’ The sheer venom in the female voice made the lost soul, caught now in the thrall of half-formed memories, shiver to the core.

‘Can you not feel change in the air?’ the female voice went on.

The lack of reply was telling in itself.

‘This delicate balance we have achieved here, this prison,’ continued the female. ‘It will all be ripped apart like cobwebs in a storm if the portents come to pass. We must act now if we are to prevent that fell cataclysm, or at least ride it out intact. We have a duty to our race, to every soul we rescue. That, at least, is truly eternal.’

The male voice once again did not reply. After a while, the soul began to think itself abandoned, but then the giant spoke once more.

‘And what of your dear friend and liege apparent, the God-King? No doubt he expects you to fight on his behalf.’

‘He still places his faith in mortals,’ the female replied. ‘I have visited his council, and found nothing but a herd of short-lived imbeciles unfit to lick my boots. Now their mayfly armies march upon Nagashizzar as we speak. He is blind to our work here, as he is to so much of that which transpires in his domain.’

‘That much is true,’ came the reply, a trace of cruel humour behind his words. ‘He still thinks the Gladitorium a fine and noble tribute, not realising its true purpose. Besides, the sight of his gilded cretins slaughtering one another is a little gift to myself that will never tarnish.’

‘We must protect our interests above all,’ said the female. ‘No doubt you think the twins will intervene before it is too late.’

‘They will secure their interests in Hysh with wearying efficiency, and do little else. The Luminous One has no love for Sigmar. Not since that barbarian fool wasted Teclis’ kingly gift on his own short-sighted agenda.’

At the mention of the name Teclis, the soul found something snagging within its mind, like a thorn caught on fabric. That name was familiar, conjuring both love and hatred at the same time. It writhed once more, a thin moan escaping its ethereal lips.

‘Tec…lis…’ it said.

Two pairs of eyes suddenly fixed upon it, the intensity of their scrutiny like knives boring into the essence of its soul.

‘It spoke,’ said the female. ‘It spoke, did it not?’

‘It did.’

Another long silence. The soul twisted in strange aetheric currents, still caught on the hook that had dragged it from the worst kind of oblivion into the light.

‘Conceivably, it may have heard us,’ said the male, stooping down until his burning eyes seemed to fill the soul’s awareness without end. ‘And that we cannot allow.’

‘Sever the snare,’ said the female. ‘Never let it be said that the Shadow Queen takes unnecessary risks.’

The rescued soul felt something snap in its mind, and then experienced a jolting feeling of being sucked down, swallowed and consumed.

It became a long, tortured scream, and then disappeared.

  • VILLAGE OF MISTS (30.03.18) - Aethrian plied her reins, guiding her ensorcelled Skycutter chariot... 
Spoiler

Aethrian plied her reins, guiding her ensorcelled Skycutter chariot between rocky crags. Skiel, the huge hawk that drew it, gave a shriek of joy as he soared. Aethrian envied him. Her own mood was dark.

‘The city turns toward madness,’ she called to Dothrial and Gelebran over the howl of the wind. The trio of Swifthawk Agents had been quiet since departing the Phoenicium hours earlier. Now Aethrian aired what they were all thinking.

‘They say the blooded skull manifested in the flames of the Phoenix Temple,’ said Gelebran.

‘The disquiet feels unnatural, even so,’ said Dothrial. ‘The Silent Guard have started burning the city’s dead.’

‘Is that so strange?’ asked Gelebran. ‘Don’t forget the message that the Eldritch Council have us bearing. An imbalance in the energies of life and death, they said. Is it so terrible an idea to place our dead beyond the reach of such a curse?’

‘They should lie in honoured repose, not taint the temple flame with their ashes,’ said Dothrial, aghast.

Aethrian raised a hand, stilling further debate. The Skycutter was sweeping over the low passes, arrowing towards the mouth of the Seven Hounds valley. Their destination – the fortified township of Houndsgate – should have been in sight.

Instead, it was obscured.

‘Mist,’ she said. ‘Thick.’

‘Unnaturally so,’ replied Gelebran.

‘There may be danger,’ said Dothrial.

‘Skiel will never make it through the trees and crags amidst that,’ said Gelebran.

‘Then we land,’ replied Aethrian. ‘We have a duty.’

‘As you say,’ said Gelebran. ‘Set down on that promontory.’

Aethrian guided the Skycutter to a smooth landing atop a stone spar. Tendrils of fog swirled as they slid to a stop. Skiel bristled with disquiet.

‘What is that vile scent?’ asked Dothrial. Aethrian sniffed, narrowing her eyes. The smell was elusive, a memory she couldn’t quite grasp.

‘Let us not waste time,’ she said. ‘Bows ready, follow me.’

The aelves stepped into the mists, sure in the knowledge Skiel would not abandon them. Aethrian led, padding between tree trunks that loomed through the mist. Moisture hung in the air, reducing visibility to a matter of yards. Daylight became a grey glimmer. Even Aethrian’s sharp senses found sound and smell muffled amidst the veil. Her heart thumped as she descended the slope, eyes straining for movement.

The walls of Houndsgate rose up so suddenly they seemed to have manifested from thin air. The aelves paused, looking up at the ramparts.

‘No sound beyond the walls,’ said Dothrial. ‘Aethrian, sister, something is dreadfully wrong.’

‘Follow,’ she said. They stalked along the base of the wall, arrows nocked. Aethrian saw no watchfires on the wall-top, no movement. Her heart beat faster, and she frowned at another waft of that maddening stench.

The western gate swam into view.

‘Open, unguarded…’ whispered Gelebran.

Steeling her nerve, Aethrian padded up to the tall wooden gate, pressing against its timbers. They were slimed with ice-cold algae; she recoiled from the foul sensation with a hiss.

Aethrian slid around the door and into the open gateway, bow at full draw.

‘No one,’ said Dothrial.

Aethrian kept her bowstring taut as she absorbed the scene before her. Houndsgate’s Market Street led away, side streets branching off it, homes and businesses rising spectral amidst the fog. Doors and window shutters hung open. Food stalls lined the cobbles, heaped with rotting produce. A couple of alchemical street-lanterns sputtered; the rest were dark.

A hand-cart lay on its side in the street, swords and handguns spilling from it. Ground mist flowed thick as a river over the cart, and drifted past Aethrian’s shins.

‘Search,’ said Aethrian.

She stalked into Houndsgate with eyes darting and senses outstretched. A metal sign creaked mournfully outside the blacksmith’s, its steady reek, reek playing on Aethrian’s nerves.

‘There’s no breeze to stir it,’ muttered Gelebran, and Aethrian felt a chill creep up her back.

The aelves crept through the streets like ghosts, slipping into the gloom of abandoned homes and empty shops but finding no signs of life. Meals sat half-eaten. Candles were burned down to mounds of tallow. Coins and books and mirrors and all manner of personal possessions lay as

though dropped, scattered on tavern counters and bedroom floors. Everything they touched was damp and cold, wet through and ruined in a way that even the thickest mists could not explain. Weapons, too, were scattered around the town, as though the sentries carrying them had simply been spirited away and left their armaments to clatter to the floor. Aethrian’s skin crawled and her suffocating sense of dread increased with every empty room, until she could hardly bear to take another step.

‘Not a gun fired nor a blade bloodied,’ said Dothrial as the three aelves stood at last in the empty town square.

‘Not that the powder would spark, it is so wet,’ replied Gelebran. ‘What happened here? Was it the dead? Malerion’s work? They cannot simply have left.’

Aethrian shook her head, unwilling to leap to conclusions.

‘There are no answers here, only questions,’ she said. ‘I am loath to bear ill tidings back to an already troubled city, but the Phoenicium must be warned.’

It was only as they hastened from Houndsgate’s empty shell, and the feeling of lurking threat eased, that Aethrian finally placed the strange scent on the air. It had been almost half a century since she had accompanied the expedition to the Dawn’s Eye Realmgate, but at last the memory surfaced. She had stood upon the headland that day, amidst the corpses of Chaos worshippers, and seen the devastation left after the ocean had vomited up a tsunami from its blackest depths.

On that day the offshore winds had picked up, sweeping away the stench of blood and death and replacing it with a dark, briny reek – the same smell that saturated this strange mist, and clung to every object and building in Houndsgate.

It was the smell of the deeps, of the ocean chasms below…

  • THE GHOSTS OF ENSINGFORT (03.04.18) - Tyndash Khenst, who thought of himself as the Slender Walker... 
Spoiler

Tyndash Khenst, who thought of himself as the Slender Walker, approached the forbidding facade of Ensignfort with a half-smile on his pallid lips. His hand strayed to the Katophranian mirror at his waist, the artefact wrapped tight as a mummified corpse. Lord Arkhan’s gift was still safe, and unbroken, just as it had been the last hundred times he had checked it.

Not even the most gifted gheist-caller could count on surviving what followed if the mirror shattered with no-one else around. No, better to wait until the guards of Ensignfort had allowed him inside before letting his dead friends out to play amongst the masses.

He should have little problem gaining entrance. Even in these troubled times, a purse of hex-cut diamonds could see an unarmed man win passage through almost any gate. Men had to eat, to drink, to dream of better lives. Since the omens had begun, that was truer than ever.

When the fools let him past the gheist-wards, they would have mere moments to regret their decision before it was too late. The spectral host would do its dark work, he would scoop the diamonds back up, and move on – just as he had at the previous fortress, and the one before that.

Ensignfort’s eight towers were truly massive, the works of master masons from ages past. They were each large enough to house a few generations of the turnip-eating soldiery that had the temerity to call it their home. It had taken Khenst near half an hour to walk around the outer moat from the woods at the fortress’ rear to the gatehouse, but time was no real issue to him. Since he had begun his studies under Lord Arkhan, the idea of haste seemed foolish. Sooner or later, all souls found their homes in deathly Shyish, the Land of Endings, and ultimately time became meaningless.

On a more practical level, there were good reasons to walk slow. Though he had felt no eyes upon him, Khenst knew that the fort’s castellans would be watching through arrow slits and sally ports, their crossbows and halberds ready. This fortress had stood fast for centuries against Chaos raiders and the undead of lesser necromancers alike.

The necromancer turned the corner of the gatehouse’s easternmost tower. Affecting an approximation of a smile, he prepared to make his offer to the owner of the spear or halberd he felt sure would be at his breastbone in moments.

Instead he was greeted by the sight of an empty gatehouse with not a soul in sight. Twin pennants, each bearing the heraldry of the fortress, swayed idly in the breeze either side of a raised portcullis. To Khenst’s shock, the drawbridge was down, and the gate ajar. He glimpsed birds making a nest in the murder holes, and a fox trotting past on the other side of the thick oaken doors.

The gheistcaller looked around, fighting the urge to call out, but saw no-one. Shrugging, Khenst crossed the drawbridge and ventured inside, keeping one hand on the enchanted mirror. He felt a

brief tingle as he crossed over the threshold – likely the emanations of a warding circle, its runes designed to keep out dead-walkers and the daemons. But Khenst was still alive, technically speaking. There was a reason why the Mortarchs favoured the living as well as the dead amongst their agents.

Still no one greeted him, nor barred his path. The absence of people was unnerving, even for one so used to being alone. Thus far there was no sign of conflict. The fortress was intact. Khenst pushed further in, eyes narrowed, and paced across the courtyard.

Through a partially open door, he thought he could make out a shock of blonde hair. He headed towards it, and pushed against the oak door, his nose wrinkling at a strange briny smell that reminded him of his days walking the sea-cliffs of Penultima. The door opened with a long, protesting creak.

The body behind the door was that of a middle-aged woman. She was dripping wet, pale, and comatose. Stranger still, she was hovering at waist height as if lying on a bed, but there was nothing holding her up.

Other bodies, clearly those of civilians, were dotted around the room. Each hovered as if held suspended in water, their limbs loose and flopping, but none of them moved so much as an eyelid. Khenst, no stranger to bodies on the threshold of death, put his fingers against the warm neck of the woman. He found the faint throb of her bloodstream; the strong pulse of a peasant used to manual labour. Yet she did not even twitch at his touch.

The smell of seawater intensified as he headed into the royal hall. The table was half-set, dotted with dishes of simple but abundant fare. Around it were two dozen bodies, each floating in a sitting position a few feet above a high-backed chair. Those with long hair were framed by a halo of tendril-like tresses.

The smell of the sea grew even stronger, strong enough to sting in Khenst’s nose. He swallowed as he noticed the walls here were dripping wet, water pooling where they met the flagstones. Muttering to himself, he unclasped the mirror at his side and unwrapped it with the care of a museum curator. Somehow, he could hear the faint cawing of seabirds, and the crashing of waves against the rocks; sounds that he had listened to as a youth. Hands shaking, he removed another bandage from the mirror, then another, painstakingly rolling them and tucking them away in his robes as he did so.

A clutch of pale figures darted from the corridor ahead, bald and eyeless. They held long staves with blades stylised in the aelven tradition. As they turned their blank skin-sockets in Khenst’s direction, they grinned to expose pointed teeth, and called out in a series of curt shouts as they ran towards him.

The gheist-caller stumbled to interpose the table between them, fumbling the mirror as he did so. It bounced off the arm of an ornate chair and clattered under the table. Jaw slack with fear, Khenst darted to recover it, but it was just out of his reach.

A wall of aetheric force hit Khenst like a crashing wave, staggering him. The aelven figures were coming in fast, leaping over the table and springing from chair to chair. He pushed a hand at the nearest in the gesture of the Black Warding. Sizzling bolts of energy crackled from his palm to strike the nearest creature, but the aelf-thing dived under them, rolled, and came up with its halberd thrust forward in one smooth motion. The leading edge took Khenst in the guts. He felt an electric burst of pain, his lifeblood squirting out to sheet all over the blade and spatter the food half-eaten on the banqueting table.

The last sensations the gheist-caller remembered as a mortal man was the sight of the grinning sea-creeper that had taken his life, the feeling of weightlessness, and the smell of the seawater drizzling from his fingertips.

Somehow, with ironclad certainty, Khenst knew there was a far worse fate awaiting him.

  • DESCENT (06.04.18) - Marrathul of Mor'phann rarelyhear anything on patrol...
Spoiler

Marrathul of Mor’phann rarely heard anything on patrol. She spent her time gliding through the cold, black waters above the enclave, her Fangmora mount undulating with each measured beat of its tail. Only occasionally did the telltale bubbling of slowly falling debris come filtering to her ears. When it did, she and the five other sentinels made their way towards the source, swimming up to attach downhauls to the debris and guide it toward the Great Taker – that mighty current into which all dead and discarded things were cast. It was dull duty, yet it was important in preserving the enclave, and Marrathul enjoyed the endless solitude it afforded.

But on this patrol, Marrathul heard a sound. Faint at first, but growing louder – a churning sound from the far-distant heights of the ocean, punctuated by the sharp crack of bones breaking under immense pressure. Marrathul knew what this sound heralded – the remains of some vast, dead creature sinking straight towards her city. It was for dangers such as this that the patrols still existed, even after so many millennia of isolation.

With her heel, Marrathul caressed the flank of her mount, bringing the serpentine creature about before spurring it onward, into the inky abyss above. As she surged forward, she could hear her fellow sentinels stirring into action, still leagues distant, but racing towards the same destination. Then came the sonorous thud of the drum that was mounted on the back of the Leviadon, the giant shell-backed creature that would haul their quarry clear of the city.

As Marrathul ascended, the deep beats of the drum grew closer and closer, allowing her to hear clearly the echoes formed by the falling carcass. It was truly gigantic – longer than a score of Fangmora – and its enormous jaws bore teeth as tall as any Idoneth. Over its descent, the draconic beast had been stripped of every last scrap of flesh, picked clean by scavengers in the waters high above. Yet there was still enough weight in its skeleton to create a devastating impact if it were to fall upon the city’s chorrileum.

At last Marrathul reached the carcass, and without word she and the other sentinels moved to different points on the skeletal body, commanding their mounts into a slow, downward swim so as to descend alongside their quarry. Marrathul uncoiled the downhaul from her back, and with a practised flick sent the grapnel end gliding through the creature’s vast ribcage. A short tug on the line brought the grapnel angling back around one of the broad rib bones, and with a delicate wave Marrathul looped the line around the grapnel’s barbs. Her downhaul secured, she steered her beast towards the front of the dead creature’s jaws, where the Leviadon waited.

After Marrathul and the other sentinels handed their lines to the Leviadon’s crew, the drumming doubled in pace and the shelled creature lurched forward, each stroke of its mighty fins stirring up whipping eddies. Then came the strained sound of the lines growing taut, and the descending path of the carcass shifted, slowly at first, then faster and faster as it was towed forward by the war beast swimming ahead of it.

Marrathul and the other sentinels followed behind the carcass as it was dragged along. After a few leagues, she knew they were no longer above the enclave, and after a few more she began to feel water rushing past her as the pull of the Great Taker took hold. The Leviadon slowed its pace, allowing the downhauls to go slack, while the sentinels moved once more towards their skeletal captive and unfastened the grapnels. Marrathul peeled back and listened as the dead creature continued to glide through the water, carried forward by its momentum toward the inescapable current that lay ahead. The crew of the Leviadon steered their beast sharply upwards, giving the skeleton space to sail below it, off into the abyss.

But as the carcass passed underneath the Leviadon, Marrathul heard the grating sound of bone moving sharply across bone. Two points of light appeared in the unending darkness, dull at first, but growing rapidly in intensity. As their sickly amethyst glare spread, Marrathul’s mind saw that they were shining from the dead creature’s eye sockets, and in their light was a cold and malicious sentience. What in the depths, thought Marrathul as she looked upon the illuminated monstrosity.

With the fury of a hungry predator, the skeletal creature darted upwards with open maw, then clamped its massive jaws on the Leviadon above it. The war beast let out a dolorous bellow as tusk-like teeth tore through its shell and into its flesh. Marrathul reeled in horrified shock, instinctively reaching for the spear slung at her side. But before she could intervene, the animated carcass began to race away from her, the writhing Leviadon and its panicked crew still gripped by unrelenting jaws. They were in the hold of the Great Taker, the current to oblivion from which nothing returned.

Marrathul looked to her fellow sentinels. They were equally dumbfounded, watching helplessly as the skeletal creature receded from view. With a sickening snap the monstrosity bifurcated its captive Leviadon prey. At once the rushing waters of the Great Taker fell still, then the indomitable current reversed and began pouring back towards the stricken sentinels. The buffeting rush nearly knocked Marrathul from her mount, but she steadied herself and looked once more towards the undead nightmare. It was speeding straight towards her, borne on the torrent of the Great Taker, and from behind it she could see more sickly lights growing closer and closer. There were dozens of them – no, hundreds – each pair shining from the skull of a different morbid creature.

Marrathul spun her Fangmora around, her mind whirling. She had to warn the enclave that the dead were returning.

  • THAT WHICH IS LOST (10.04.18) - Khamastus Lightningfist leveled his boltstorm pistol...
Spoiler

Khamastus Lightningfist leveled his boltstorm pistol and let fly. Three skeletons were smashed off their feet as the Lord-Aquilor’s crackling bolts punched through their skulls. Fresh Deathrattle warriors stalked over their remains, closing the gap as though it had never been. The undead marched in lockstep, forcing the Hammers of Sigmar to retreat up the rocky headland or be overrun.

Rank upon rank of animated skeletons emerged from the grave-pits around the town of Shaleview. The Vanguard Chamber had been sent to put down a coven of Necromancers who had claimed the settlement as their personal fiefdom. Instead, they found themselves facing the entire population of Shaleview, buried then reanimated as a seemingly endless horde.

‘Sigmar’s throne, there’s thousands!’ said Khamastus.

‘An overwhelming number,’ agreed Elethria Stormlight, shooting her own hail of bolts. The Hunter-Prime fought shoulder-to-shoulder with Khamastus, while the last of her warriors poured fire into the enemy. Around them, the survivors of the Vanguard Chamber added their own bolts to the fusillade. Lightning flashed ferociously as Rangers and Raptors fired again and again, stepping back with steady deliberation, aim never wavering. Skeletons exploded into bone shrapnel, or collapsed with skulls shattered and spines severed.

‘We can’t kill enough,’ said Khamastus, his voice crackling with tension. ‘Sigmar forgive me.’

‘What is there to forgive?’ asked Elethria, blasting the head off another skeleton. ‘None of us knew about the mass graves. The coven turned our ambush against us.’

‘I should have known,’ said Khamastus. ‘Perhaps I did, and something inside me chose to strike regardless.’

He caught her glance, then immediately wished he hadn’t. The two had fought together across a hundred battlefields, and Khamastus had never seen such a look in Elethria’s eye. They’d all heard the whispers, muttered rumours of reforged warriors coming back… changed.

‘Now’s not the time for self-flagellation, Khamastus,’ she said, ejecting the magazine from her weapon and smacking another into place. ‘They’re going to be on top of us any moment.’ She resumed firing, dropping two skeletal assailants several paces out of blade-range.

‘Damnation,’ snarled Khamastus, and thunder rumbled overhead. He glanced about for anything to give his forces an edge. There was nothing; just twenty or so Stormcasts, backing up a rocky headland above churning, slate-grey waves. The waters thrashed to white foam about the rocks below. The clouds boiled overhead, mirroring their fury.

That was when he saw the mist, billowing up from the waters below. Khamastus frowned as the Deathrattle advance slowed. The skeletons’ movements became sluggish, their outlines wavering.

‘They… look like they’re underwater!’ exclaimed Elethria. ‘What in Sigmar’s name…?’

‘Back!’ barked Khamastus, his voice the dry crack of summer lightning. ‘Back up the headland, form a defensive line. Reload.’

The Vanguard responded with commendable speed, disengaging from their mysteriously impeded enemies. Yet even they couldn’t restrain exclamations of surprise and confusion as ethereal shapes slithered around the skeletons, bursting from eye sockets and twining through ribcages.

‘Those are fish, or else my eyes deceive me,’ said Elethria.

‘I see them too,’ said Khamastus as they dashed up the headland. Taking their places in the battle-line, both Stormcasts watched what came next with increasing amazement.

The mists thickened and closed in until the Stormcasts seemed to stand upon an island of stone. The muffled boom of the waves was joined by steady drum beats, pounding as though they floated up from some stygian depth beyond the touch of daylight or warmth. Fast as thought, elongated silhouettes shot from the murk, and huge, eel-like shapes scissored back and forth across the headland. Wherever the creatures struck, skeleton ranks exploded apart with spectacular violence. It took Khamastus several moments to realise that humanoid figures crouched low over the backs of the fast-flowing creatures, and lashed out at the Deathrattle warriors with every pass.

Something huge and dark passed overhead, and Khamastus looked up in time to see a leviathan of the deeps swoop impossibly down upon aetheric currents. Lithe figures rode the howdah upon the monster’s back, and as they passed over the skeleton horde they directed hissing hails of shots into the foe.

‘Warriors, running from the mists!’ cried a Ranger.

‘Where in Azyr are they coming from? There’s no ground there,’ said another.

Yet it was true. Pale-fleshed, clad in strange, flowing armour, the figures dashed into battle and struck at the Deathrattle throng with elongated blades and curved bows.

‘Are they aelves?’ asked Elethria.

‘Something akin,’ said Khamastus. ‘But where are their eyes?’

‘They need none, for they hunt by other senses.’ The sibilant voice carried from amidst the mists, which coiled aside to reveal a regal warrior sitting astride a bizarre aquatic beast. His steed towered over Khamastus, the rider pointedly ignoring the boltstorm pistols now aimed at him.

In his wake walked another figure, robed in flowing greys and greens.

‘Lord-Aquilor Khamastus, the tide’s blessings upon you,’ said the mounted aelven lord.

‘You know me, aelf?’ asked Khamastus. ‘How? What spellcraft is this? How have you come to strike so suddenly from the aether?’

The lord didn’t answer, instead casting a look of irritation at his robed comrade. The second aelf quirked an eyebrow and tilted his head, staring hard at Khamastus.

‘Look not to me, Aemorthis,’ the robed figure said. ‘This is no obfuscation of the Isharann. Some other sorcery has clouded his memory, or else damaged it. He knows us not.’

The aelven lord made a guttural sound that Khamastus took to be annoyance, then shook his head.

‘No matter. The tide turns swift and we must ride upon it lest victory be swept from our gasp. Lord-Aquilor, we are of the Idoneth and we have fought at your side before, by the dictates of the secret alliance between our peoples and your lord Sigmar. Will you stare at us like apparitions of nightmare, or will you fight with us to drive back the dead?’

Khamastus glanced at Elethria, who answered his look with a shrug.

‘Whoever they are, if they were planning to kill us, they had ample chance,’ she said. Khamastus felt the storm’s wrath surge in his chest, and a tight, angry smile stretched itself across his features. Even the knowledge that his memories had been somehow corrupted seemed suddenly unimportant, vanishing behind the gathering thunderheads of his war-lust.

‘The enemy of my enemy…’ he said, and his words crackled with Azyrite force. ‘Alright, Aemorthis of the Idoneth. We will settle matters of identity later. For now, the Hammers of Sigmar are your allies. Let us smash these unliving scum together.’

The aelf lord gave a flowing gesture that Khamastus took for assent, then turned his steed toward the melee down the slope.

‘Hammers of Sigmar,’ roared Lord-Aquilor Khamastus, brandishing his blade. ‘Strike like the storm! For vengeance, and for victory!’

His warriors gave a mighty cry, and surged down the headland into battle. As one, the Stormcast Eternals and the Idoneth smashed into the Deathrattle lines, and raised a blizzard of shattered bones. It would not be for the last time.

  • THE GREAT GNAW (13.04.18) - In a shadowed oubliette, a figure leans over a crystal globe...
Spoiler

In a shadowed oubliette, a figure leans over a crystal globe. The being is hunched, furtive, swathed in a hooded cloak. A tail protrudes from under the garment’s hem, twitching with agitation.

Red eyes glint within the figure’s cowl. Hand-claws weave above the globe, which glows with leprous light. The figure mutters as an image resolves in the crystal’s depths.

‘Good-good,’ hisses the figure. ‘All proceeds according to my genius plan…’

Things-master Snitterskritch sat forward on his palanquin, which was borne atop the back of a thirteen-legged ratbeast. The mount was singularly impractical, its enormity filling the tunnel and bringing Snitterskritch’s head perilously close to the jagged black ceiling. Yet the master moulder had to look the part. His moment of greatness approached. All eyes must be on him. It was up to his underlings to make sure that the gnawhole was burrowed widely enough for him to pass with his dignity intact, and woe betide any who failed him!

Snitterskritch gazed imperiously up and down the tunnel. Ahead, beyond a tight-packed sea of skaven, the master moulder could see drill-ogors and slave crews working frenziedly. Green lightning arced as their metaphysical burrowing engines bored through reality.

Behind his elephantine steed, thousands more skaven shuffled steadily forward, blades at the ready and tails twitching. Amongst them rose the palanquins and banner poles of Snitterskritch’s rivals, who cast venomous glances at him. He basked in the knowledge that his shadowy patron had given him command of such a vast assemblage of Warlock Engineers, Warlords and more.

Snitterskritch raised his loudsqueaker.

‘Fast-fast, burrowers!’ he screeched. ‘Gnaw-dig with all your might! Hasten my moment of magnificence! The invasion of Nagashizzar awaits! Let us teach the dead-things to stay dead!’

A suitably glorious utterance, he thought smugly as he watched the crews redouble their efforts.

The figure chitters to itself as it watches the master moulder preen. Snitterskritch is an idiot, it thinks, but an idiot with power and wealth, which has been vital in pulling this scheme together. A moment of magnificence does indeed approach, a grand invasion that will cast Nagash down in ruin. But it will not be Snitterskritch who claims responsibility for orchestrating this victory.

Oh no.

A hand-claw rummages in a pouch, fishing out a pinch of glowing green snuff. The figure snorts the substance, shuddering as concentrated dark magic flows through its veins, then leans over the globe in anticipation.

Any moment now…

Triumphant squeals echoed along the tunnel. Warlocks near the dig-face hunched over strange instruments, working their controls with frantic intensity. They peered through transmogrolithic goggles and chittered at underlings, who lit hissing warpflares and held them high.

Green fire illuminated the drill crews. Chemical smoke billowed, causing slaves to collapse, choking.

‘Ready yourselves!’ screeched Snitterskritch. ‘The gnawhole is about to breach-breach! We fight for the glory of Blight City! We slay-kill in the name of the Great Horned One! We—’

A seismic rumble interrupted him. The gnawhole shuddered, walls rippling. A susurrus of nervous whispers rose from the skaven ranks, and the musk of fear squirted.

Peering over the swarm, Snitterskritch narrowed his eyes. Warlock Engineers gesticulated frantically, and his heartbeat sped up as he saw them screeching at the drill-ogors, shaking their heads. A chunk of crystallised reality sheared away and fell, landing with a sickening crunch atop a gang of slaves. The drill engine they bore exploded, raining wreckage back down the tunnel.

Another tremor shook the gnawhole, and Snitterskritch gulped. Cracks raced across the dig-face, large, angry-looking rents through which some kind of liquid sprayed. He looked down at his huge steed, admitting for the first time the drawbacks of not being able to turn the creature around. Ahead, skaven moved in skittish tides, trying to shuffle backwards. Behind, more ratmen peered frantically to see what was going on. Snitterskritch’s dreams of glory turned rapidly to thoughts of escape…

The figure blinks, and snorts another clawful of warpstone dust. Something is wrong. The figures in the globe move with increasing agitation. The dig-face begins to collapse.

‘My calculations were flawless!’ it hisses. Its mad red eyes fix on Snitterskritch, scrambling in a most undignified manner along the back of his steed.

‘Fool-fool, what have you done?’

Snitterskritch sprang from the back of his steed, plying his lash as he tried to force passage through the massed Clanrats. The ratbeast stamped and growled as it tried and failed to turn.

Squeals of terror chased Snitterskritch down the tunnel, drowned out by a shuddering groan. He shot a look over his shoulder, in time to see the dig-face explode and a thundering wall of water and bloated corpses surge through the hole. Snitterskritch screeched at the sight of that onrushing mass of darkness and rotten bodies, which snatched up skaven by the hundred and churned them together with tumbling chunks of rubble and machinery.

Mad with fear he clawed and bit, knowing it was already too late. A split second later the water struck like a battering ram. The last thing Snitterskritch saw was the huge body of his ratbeast bearing down on him upon the crest of a night-black wave…

The figure sits back, eyes wide. It twitches. Its tail lashes back and forth. It watches the water as it surges back down the gnawhole, a furious floodtide choked with a million bodies now bound for the heart of the Blight City.

‘Such incompetence,’ mutters the figure, eyes narrowing in angry calculation. ‘Cannot have been-been a mistake. Rivals, enemies everywhere. They tried to sabotage my plan-scheme, but look, now they are dead-drowned! Yes. Yes! They were no match for my genius. All those foe-fools dead, and more will drown when the flood hits the city. My plan is working perfectly!’

Filled with sudden energy, the figure turns and scampers away into the gloom. Behind it, the globe continues to flicker with the image of an endless tide of roaring black water…

  • AS ABOVE, SO BELOW (17.04.18) – The bearer of this missive is an envoy of Khaptar…
Spoiler

The bearer of this missive is an envoy of Khaphtar, bestowed with authority by proclamation of the Isharann council of Khaphtar in abiding service to the late King Nemosene II.

To King Glorian of Laebrea,

We of Khaphtar entreat you in our most desperate hour.

We had thought ourselves safe. For so long we had been hidden, our vast ocean concealing us and our ancient wards protecting us. Our existence went unnoticed – by the living, by the dead, and even by many of our distant kin. The souls we took were the remnants of the drowned and the damned, whose bloated corpses abounded in the sea above us. We took only as many as we needed, and were careful to leave none who could speak of our coming. This had been our way since the beginning – caution, secrecy, survival. Our eyes were turned towards the surface, watching always for the agents of the Ancient Necromancer, lest he came for us, or for the souls we had taken from the dead. We did not think to look for those that came from below.

A crack resounded in the depths, a thunderous boom whose tremors blasted across the seabed, shattering many structures belonging to the disparate outposts of our enclave. Then came the sound of our ocean being swallowed whole by a great and gaping maw. The sea stormed past us, wild and ferocious, buffeting the barriers at the edge of our city and dragging those Idoneth in the open water to their doom. Mooring stakes were uprooted as the largest bond-beasts were sent crashing into the enclave’s perimeter, and the wards that enclosed our enclave began to collapse under the merciless force of the current.

We, the Isharann of Khaphtar, saw all of this, and we wept and were filled with rage. We called out to our ancestral guardians, and our Tidecasters poured our prayers into the chorrileum at the heart of our city. Though it pained us, we awakened those ancient warriors who had already given their lives for our enclave, and we summoned them to fight once more for the survival of our people. As one they awoke from their slumber, taking the form of an Eidolon of Mathlann.

In the name of Khaphtar, the Eidolon ordered the draining waters to submit to its authority. It was not alone as it made its demands, for our Tidecasters also levelled their magic against the rushing waters, straining against the weight of the ocean that was bearing down upon us. Through their combined power they calmed the sea around us and restored the bubble of tranquility that surrounded our city, around which the tempest continued to flow. In that respite our people gathered their forces. Our Namarti were set to the task of repairing the most damaged structures; our Akhelians made plans to find and seal the fissure into which the sea was draining; and our soul wardens took tallies of those Khaphtar who remained, and those who had been taken from us forever.

Then the dead came flooding in. They had always been above us, those unquiet souls who had drowned themselves in despair, their watery graves separated from us by a vast and featureless

expanse. As the ocean dropped, so too did the masses of bodies that clogged its waters, and while our bolstered wards kept the rushing seas from ripping our city apart, they did not hold back the multitudinous dead that were caught up in the swirl. Thousands of corpses were swept through the barrier at the city’s edge, their mangled forms piling up to form morbid dunes. Then their tattered limbs began to writhe and their decaying jaws began to gnash. Those at the front of the gruesome heaps staggered to their feet, and began shambling towards us. What phalanxes remained rushed to intercept the undead – they hacked hundreds to pieces, but more corpses continued to rise up, until a broad wave of waterlogged bodies was advancing upon our kin. We watched the brave Ahkelians and loyal Namarti being torn to shreds by dead hands. We then saw the Eidolon erupt with fury.

Our hallowed guardian tore into the undead swarm, cleaving their age-rotted bone and sodden flesh with its spear. With tempestuous rage it sent waves of force through their shambling ranks, crushing their skulls and popping their corpulent organs. Soon, foetid blood and tattered limbs were strewn along the perimeter, yet more undead continued to come.

The Eidolon surged forward, through the wards that by now were barely holding back the ocean. Hundreds of the dead were pulled out in its wake, but thousands more were still within the perimeter, and the oceanic whorl continued to wash ever more bodies down into Khaphtar. The corpses flowed in an endless stream, and though the Eidolon slashed and blasted and dismembered those it could, there were more than even it could possibly hope to vanquish.

In the city, we felt a sense of sorrow coming over us, a pervasive and unnatural feeling of hopelessness. We knew its source, for it is learnt by all of Khaphtar who have ventured surfaceward in search of souls. It was the despair of the mournful dead that had bled into the waters over thousands of years. It marked the domain of Nagash, from whom we had always remained hidden. But as those dreadful waters swept down over us, we heard a voice that resounded throughout our enclave.

‘I SEE YOU, THIEVES. AND I WILL TAKE BACK WHAT YOU HAVE STOLEN FROM ME.’

We had thought ourselves safe, but we were wrong. Khaphtar cannot remain isolated amidst the coming of the dead, for our people will not survive if they stand alone. For their lives, and for the sake of all who dwell in the deep places, we send you this missive, and in the name of kinship we ask but a single question.

Will you stand with us?

  • THE HUNT (20.04.18) – King Glorian held on to his Deepmare…
Spoiler

King Glorian held on to his Deepmare as it raced across the Ghurish tar-flats. He was flanked by a dozen of his Akhelian cavalry, a small fraction of the phalanx that had set out from Laebrea. Even as they surged forward, the clangour of the Ironjaw horde grew ever louder behind them.

These were dark times for the Idoneth. Word of grim omens was filtering in from many enclaves, and the secluded Khaphtar were now pleading for help against the undead horrors that were awakening. Glorian looked to the riders beside him, then turned back to glance at the horde behind. There were thousands of greenskins, and more would surely come when they picked up the scent of battle. That was their way. He had learnt this when he first joined the ranks of the Akhelians. It seemed so long ago now, but he remembered well what he had been taught.

Never forget that those we hunt are dangerous. They are savage and strong, and their numbers are greater than ours. Caution and acuity: these must be our weapons, for to face our foes directly is to risk the souls of our kin.

Glorian heard a pained scream. He looked to the east and saw more riders from his scattered phalanx emerging through the withered trees. The rearmost was slumped forward on his Fangmora, black blood oozing from a gaping wound on his back. In his wake were several charging packs of orruks mounted on slavering gruntas. Glorian pulled on the reins of his Deepmare and veered westward, but even as he did so more brutish cavalry came crashing through the reeds in that direction. The Ironjawz were closing in.

We hunt the Ghurlands, for the souls there are strong. But we must be ever aware that predators abound on all sides.

‘Forwards!’ yelled Glorian as he dug his heels into his mount. The Deepmare was already at its limit, and the Fangmoras of his fellow Idoneth were strained to the point of breaking. But the spectral current was beginning to flow faster around the Akhelian King, and in the distance ahead he could see the mistveil created by the phantasmal magic of the ethersea. If they could make it to the mists, they would be safe.

Observe your prey. Discover their ways. See how they hunt and learn what hunts them. But let them be numb to your presence while you make your preparations.

From behind Glorian came a colossal roar. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a Maw-krusha bounding ahead of the greenskin horde. Atop it hunched the Megaboss Ragdrakka, wide-eyed with frenzy. The Akhelians to the east had almost joined the main group of Idoneth cavalry, but the Gore-gruntas were still close behind. Worse still, the boar-riding greenskins coming in from the west were threatening to cut ahead of Glorian and his warriors.

Be patient and do not commit until you are assured of your victory. Be the calm amongst the raging sea, the deep water that drags everything under.

‘Now!’ cried Glorian, his voice resounding above the din of bellowing orruks. The ethersea whipped around him with sudden fury, pulling him and his fellow Idoneth along in the torrent. The cavalry surged forwards and upwards, rising above the Gore-grunta packs that were crossing in front of them. The Ironjaw riders looked up in confusion as Glorian and his soldiers sailed over their heads. They were so distracted by the spectacle that they failed to notice that their own mounts were beginning to struggle in the thick, pitchy tar. The mistveil was now less than a spear’s throw away, and the Tidecasters within had their magic prepared.

Let the savagery of your prey become their downfall. Let them bluster into battle against the enemies before them, while we watch and wait for the time to strike.

Ragdrakka’s Maw-krusha dropped from the sky, landing with a loud splash in the tar ahead of Glorian. The Akhelian King reined in his Deepmare just in time to avoid a swipe from the monster’s massive fist. Two of his guard were not so lucky, and Glorian heard the crunch of bone as the brutal swing sent their mangled bodies flying. The Megaboss lashed out at a third Idoneth warrior, his cruel blade cleaving straight through the Akhelian and his Fangmora with a single strike.

‘Plunge them into the depths!’ commanded Glorian as he drew his greatsword.

While they fight the enemy they see, we move on them unseen. And when they think themselves the predators, we make them our prey.

There was a thunderous crack followed by a deep, gurgling moan. On all sides of Glorian, the trudging Ironjaw warriors started sinking further into the tar. Thousands of greenskins and their brutish mounts howled and thrashed as they were sucked below the surface, into the Realmgate beneath the tar that was now actively drawing them in. The Maw-krusha tried to wrench its claws free from the viscous substance, but it was already being pulled inexorably downward. Enraged, Ragdrakka launched himself from the thrashing beast’s head, raising his choppa as he arced through the air towards Glorian. The Akhelian King watched as his foe sailed closer, waiting for the right moment before thrusting his greatsword forwards.

They will fight amongst each other. They will kill and be killed. They will think themselves mighty, but they will be blind to that which is coming.

The blade stabbed into green flesh, slicing up through Ragdrakka’s cheek and gouging out his right eye. The Megaboss bellowed in pain and anger. It was not a killing blow, but it was enough to send him tumbling through the air to land with a splat in the tar bellow. He continued to howl as he was dragged under by the black gloop, along with his Maw-krusha and the entirety of his barbaric horde. Floating above the surface on the ethersea currents, the Akhelian King and his cavalry waited patiently while their enemies descended into blackness.

An enemy distracted makes easy prey. When their attention is elsewhere, only then do we reveal ourselves.

Glorian watched the last bubbles pop on the surface of the tar-flats. The Tidecasters had done their part well, and those Idoneth who had died would be mourned in time. Others of the phalanx would be arriving soon with their own greenskin hordes in chase. The brutish tribes of Ghur would go anywhere for a battle – this Glorian had learnt a long time ago – and they would find plenty of enemies at the Realmgate’s other end. It would take them directly to the borders of Nagashizzar, where the dead were amassing in numbers beyond counting. There, the greenskins would do what they do. They would attack, they would fight, and they would provide a crucial distraction.

An enemy distracted makes for easy prey, and when Nagash’s attention was elsewhere, the Idoneth would strike.

  • ZENT’S DECREE OF ORDINANCES (24.04.18) – Jedd opened his eyes blearily…
Spoiler

Jedd opened his eyes blearily, then screwed them tight against the dawn light.

‘Where’s the ’cursed curt’ns?’ he mumbled to himself, then groaned as he remembered he’d taken them down. According to the Zenst Decree, blocking out the light of the Heavens with cloth drapery was akin to wrapping yourself in a shroud. It was a sure way to attract the unquiet dead. Jedd had no desire to ignore the wisdom of a famed witch hunter, so down the curtains had come.

He supposed that Heirom Zenst had a point; Sigmar’s light had woken Jedd at the appointed hour to be about his watch. He should really be thankful.

That said, Zenst’s Decree guaranteed to keep a man safe from the dead only if its every commandment was followed to the letter, and it had a great many of those. Jedd fumbled on his nightstand for his parchment copy. Sitting up, he blinked owlishly as he read again its stringent guidelines.

‘Sigmar, ward away ghasts,’ said Jedd. ‘Sigmar, drive off ghouls. Sigmar, preserve my soul and shield my body ’gainst the dead.’ He repeated the formula six times, then dipped his fingers in the flagon of water next to his bed and flicked droplets around himself, at each of the twelve stellar alignments.

Jedd hauled himself out of bed and got ready, all the while taking pains to follow Zenst’s commandments. He hung twelve weighty talismans about his neck, having to stop and remove them then start again when he realised he had donned the Hammer of Righteous Heart before the Eye of Soul’s Warding. He put on his clothes right-side first, right sock, right boot, right glove, all the while muttering the prayer against the sinister sins. He looked wistfully at the salted meat sitting untouched in his larder, instead making a breakfast of tubers, roots and shriveled fruit.

‘Hardly a meal to keep m’strength up,’ he muttered. The eating of dead flesh was forbidden by the Decree, for it invited grave thoughts, but Jedd hadn’t yet been able to bring himself to throw his hard-won store away.

He donned his Freeguild armour, each element of which he laboriously rubbed with blessed wax, bought at extortionate cost from the village alchemancer. The substance was slippery and irritating, and Jedd found it made his sword harder to grip – but again, only a fool would ignore Zenst’s warnings. His grumbling continued as he fished blessed parchments out of the lockbox he stored them in, and spent long minutes affixing them to his gear.

‘Wish I’d got m’letters,’ huffed Jedd, unable to decipher the illuminated scrawl that covered the parchments. He just had to trust that the scrolls said what the local priest had told him they did, and were worth the coin he had forked over for the privilege of wearing them.

At last, he hastened out of his house. As he locked the door – remembering to knock thrice on the jamb – Jedd noted that his wreath of hagsblight was wilting.

‘Bloody sun,’ he grumbled. ‘S’pose I’ll have to go a’foraging for more now.’ It was not a heartening notion, for the jungle around the village was grot-haunted and dangerous. Still, better to risk the greenskins than let a ghast creep into his home.

Jedd hurried through the streets, keeping his eyes forward and his face stern. Zenst warned against needless fraternisation, in case ghast-possession or spiritual gloom be spread. Jedd felt this was a shame, for his neighbours were good people, and since the Decree the village had become colder, more suspicious and unfriendly. But then, who wanted to risk possession?

‘You’re late. Again,’ said Dunsley as Jedd hurried up the steps onto the rampart.

‘Came as quick as I could,’ said Jedd. ‘Decree, in’t it? Takes time.’

Dunsley scowled.

‘Make the bloody time, Jedd. I’ve got a wife and babe. With all these signs and omens, the dead stirring behind the veil… We all got people we need to protect.’

Jedd sighed and nodded, thinking that his efficacy as a watchman would hardly be improved by even less sleep.

‘Sorry, lad,’ he said. ‘You get back to ’em now. Blessings to Rosa from me.’

Dunsley grunted, somewhat mollified. He looked exhausted, Jedd thought. Everyone did.

‘Wish we didn’t have to go through all this,’ said Jedd, as Dunsley descended the stairs. ‘Makes everything harder.’

‘Careful with that talk, Jedd,’ Dunsley called back over his shoulder. ‘Old Bones’ll hear.’

Jedd shuddered, suddenly cold despite the morning sun.

He set off along the wall, patrolling widdershins as per the Decree. The jungle spread away beneath a cobalt-blue sky, teyr-hawks winging high above the canopy as the sun beat down. Animal cries echoed from the deeper reaches, while the treeline – which pressed up to within fifty yards of the walls in places – squirmed with animal and insect movements.

It was an hour into Jedd’s shift when one of those movements caught his tired eye. Blinking, he leaned a little way over the rampart, muttering a curse as the charms he wore spilled out of his tunic and dangled heavily over the edge.

Jedd gasped as he saw beady red eyes staring back at him, then heard the twang of a bowstring. Too late, Jedd tried to push himself back into cover, but his wax-rubbed gauntlet slipped on the

stonework and the arrow thumped through his throat. He convulsed, then toppled over the battlements.

Pain exploded through Jedd as he heard the crunch of his bones breaking. His blood pumped from his throat. He couldn’t breathe. The last thing Jedd saw was a pair of grots slinking towards him, eyes fixed upon the charms tangled about his neck. They grabbed his body and began to haul, dragging him away towards the jungle fringe…

Later that day, the village priest stopped before Jedd’s door. He shook his head at the sorry wreath of hagsblight hanging there, then pressed a parchment against the frame and hammered it into place with a nail. As the priest walked away, the parchment fluttered in a cold breeze, its warning clear to all.

Here dwelt one who was heard to speak ill of the Decree by his comrade upon the walls.

Old Bones took him for his sins, vanished from the ramparts without trace.

’Ware the dead, faithful folk.

Obey the Decree.

Praise Sigmar.

  • THE PRICE OF APOTHEOSIS (27.04.18) – In the Chamber of the Broken World, a shattered soul…
Spoiler

In the Chamber of the Broken World, a shattered soul writhed in the fires of Apotheosis.

I fought. I died. I was reforged. How many times has this happened? I know it is by Sigmar’s will, but it is too much to bear.

An axe severed my spine.

A maul caved in my skull.

A blade pierced my heart.

Am I being remade only to die again?

The pain is too great. I don’t know if I can–

KRINNGH!

The metallic ring of the hammer blow resounded through the halls of the Sigmarabulum.

Outside the chamber, a dauntless sentinel listened to its soul-splitting peal. An enormous golden door stood between Kavastus Seven-sense and the Anvil of the Apotheosis, and through it he could hear the individual strikes of each of the Six Smiths. In his long years of duty, he had learnt that their blows were slightly different in tone, and after each came different kinds of screams as new parts of the reforged soul were shattered and made anew.

As the deafening clang faded, the soul inside the chamber twitched with flickers of sentience.

I fought. I was reforged. How has this happened? I know it is by Sigmar’s will–

I was taken from my tribe when the sorcerer lords came.

They set my village ablaze and I watched my people burn.

I fought to the last. Maybe we could have won, but at the crucial hour I was taken up and–

KRINGGH!

Another wave of sound, and with this hammer blow came new screams.

Kavastus stood silently in the vast antechamber, his eyes fixed on the door ahead. He had experienced the reforging himself. Only once. Now he guarded this most sacred of chambers while those who died in battle were given new life by the will of the God-King. He remembered the unbearable physical and spiritual anguish, and he empathised with every Stormcast Eternal

whose reforging he witnessed. But he could not let pity interfere with his duty. He had to maintain his vigil over the chamber, watching for those who would reject Sigmar’s gift.

Inside the chamber, the screams ebbed once more. But another blow would come soon.

I fought. I was reforged. It is by Sigmar’s will.

I last died in Shyish, in the land of endless death.

We fought the legions of the Great Necromancer, that ancient enemy of the God-King.

We slew hundreds, but they came by the thousand, their corpse-eyes staring as their hands ripped my flesh.

I saw something in those eyes, something that–

KRRINGH!

The screams were intensifying. Something was wrong. Kavastus had come to know well the cries that typically emanated from the chamber, the changes in pitch that told of different forms of pain. But as body and spirit were sundered by the Six Smiths, these outpourings usually lessened, and in their place came the glorious crackle of lightning as the Stormcast Eternal was brought once more into being.

But this reforged was still screaming.

But this reforged was still screaming.

I fought. I died. It is by Sigmar’s will–

The dead looked at me and I at them.

Their flesh was charred, their skin was melted, but I saw their faces amidst the shambling horde.

I recognised them, I had seen them–

KKRINGH!

Kavastus watched as the great golden door before him began to glow white hot. Rivulets of lightning danced along its surface. He gripped the haft of his stave firmly. Something was wrong with the reforging. Something was wrong with the reforged.

I died – by Sigmar’s will – it is too much to bear.

I recognised those wretched dead. I saw in their multitude the faces of my people.

What horrors had they endured? What nightmare had I let befall them?

Why would Sigmar send me to–

KRINGHH!

Cerulean energy arced across the antechamber, lancing out from the golden door with every agonised bellow. Kavastus steeled himself. The Stormcast within was resisting the reforging.

I died – it is too much to bear.

I could not strike my people, even as they tore me open.

They hated me for abandoning them, for leaving them to–

KRIINGH!

‘Sigmar guide me,’ said Kavastus as he took his stance, readying himself to face the tempest of the tortured soul.

It is too much to bear.

I did not choose to leave.

The God-King took me, but I cannot go on.

My people need me!

The great door burst open in an explosion of light and thunder. White heat bore into Kavastus’ eyes, blinding him momentarily, while waves of cerulean energy crashed into his armoured body. Electric pain shot through him, piercing his flesh and burning his soul, yet he stood his ground. He thrust his stave forward, and with a mighty shout willed the magic of Azyr through the arcane implement. An almighty crack sounded, as though two immense thunderheads had collided with one another, and as swiftly as it had emerged, the wild energy was blasted back through the golden doors. Where it had blazed, a screaming spectre of blue and gold static remained, and encased within it was the shattered soul of the reforged. A lightning gheist.

Kavastus beheld his quarry as it raced anarchically around the antechamber, and called out to it with the authority of the God-King.

‘Halt!’

Jagged tendrils of lightning shot forth from his stave, cutting a crackling path towards the gheist and ensnaring it in mid-air. The electric being screamed in agony and uncomprehending fury, but the Azyrite magic only bound it tighter, condensing its erratic form ever more, until it resembled that of a man.

‘Be still!’ Kavastus ordered, but the gheist thrashed against its arcane restraints.

‘Calm your soul!’ he bellowed. His demand was met with howls of tempestuous rage that echoed throughout the vast antechamber.

‘Your duty is not done!’

With this, Kavastus swung his stave, whipping the ensnared lightning gheist across the antechamber and through the great doors that led to the Anvil of the Apotheosis. The doors slammed shut. Kavastus breathed heavily.

KRINNGH! KRINGGH! KRRINGH! KKRINGH! KRINGHH! KRIINGH!

After what seemed like an age, the hammering of the Six Smiths fell silent. There had been no more screaming after the first hundred or so blows. That anguished part of the reforged’s soul had been eradicated, discarded as unworkable scrap. Kavastus wondered how much of the warrior’s humanity had been lost, but he cast these thoughts swiftly from his mind. If the reforged could once again fight in the God-King’s wars, then no cost was too great.

The golden doors heaved open, and the reforged Stormcast strode forward. Kavastus looked upon this warrior, this wonder of Sigmar’s creation. The reforged stared straight forward, his eyes utterly devoid of emotion. He opened his lips, and spoke the first words of his newly given life.

‘I died. I was reforged. It is by Sigmar’s will.’

  • TO END THE EVERWINTER (01.05.18) – Frostlord Bjorgulf sat in the saddle of his Stonehorn…
Spoiler

Frostlord Bjorgulf sat in the saddle of his Stonehorn, Mjawrn, scowling as he watched a prophecy in its death throes.

He had led his tribe deep into the Realm of Death. He had cut a swathe through the underworlds. Mortals and monsters alike had felt his warriors’ bite. Legions of corpses lay gnawed and frozen in his wake, all in service to the voice that howled in his dreams.

Bjorgulf, had the power to end the Everwinter. The voice told him, night after night, roaring and bellowing like the gales through the mountain passes. He would lead his ogors and their mighty beasts to the very heart of the deadlands, and there feast upon the carcass god in his black city of night. So was it foretold.

Victory had followed victory until today. Here, on this grey tundra, beneath the gaze of basalt statues the size of castles, defeat threatened. The ice winds blew, driving sheets of snow across the battlefield, but the enemy’s fire flared and roared in response. Humans and aelves. Weakflesh, all of them, but in huge numbers and armed with firesticks a-plenty.

Bjorgulf could have bypassed this weakflesh army, but that would have made him weakflesh himself. No, he was compelled to destroy and devour all that stood in his way.

Bjorgulf stood in his stirrups, sweeping his gaze across the milling ogor beast-riders that surrounded him. They had rallied around their Frostlord after being driven back from the heights for a second time. Many were wounded, wild-eyed with hunger and fury. Their steeds prowled and snarled, Mournfangs snapping at Thundertusks, which gave subsonic rumbles of anger. Stonehorns stomped, threatening to pull away from their masters’ control and rampage. What had been a mighty hunt was now a ragged band of raiders, more than half their number gone, morale crumbling.

It would not do.

Bjorgulf sucked in a deep breath of icy air and let out a ferocious bellow.

‘We are the winter that ends the winter!’ he roared. ‘We are the avalanche! We will feast upon the carcass of a god and end the Everwinter! Do you doubt?’

His warriors roared back at him, shaking their heads and gnashing their teeth. The Frostlord kicked his heels into his steed’s flanks and lowered his gallowbone lance. Mjawrn’s hooves bit deep as the Stonehorn propelled himself uphill. The ground shook and the winds howled as the last of Bjorgulf’s tribe gave a mighty cry and followed their Frostlord in the charge.

Projectiles whipped around Bjorgulf. Explosions lit the slopes as the enemy’s fire-weapons spoke. Ogors and beasts were torn apart. Still he drove his charge home, and the howling of the

dreamvoice melded with his own war cry as he crashed into the enemy lines. It took long moments of slaughter and bloodshed before he realised that he fought alone.

The last of his tribe, surrounded, outnumbered. Doomed.

Bjorgulf hawked and spat.

‘This for prophecy,’ he snarled in disgust, moments before a cannonball took his head from his neck.

Captain Hemsler blew out a breath through his moustache as the last ogor beast-rider fell.

As the din of shooting stopped, an eerie quiet settled. None of Hemsler’s surviving soldiers cheered. They looked at one another uneasily, talking quietly and checking over their dwindling ammunition supplies. The icy winds moaned, and flurries of snow continued to fall. Already the carcasses of ogor and beast were vanishing beneath the white blanket, indistinct carrion mounds.

‘Well, that’s an end to it then, eh, Llethryn?’ said Hemsler, glancing at the aelven Loremaster that accompanied his command. He disliked how much his question came out sounding like an entreaty.

‘I do not know, Captain,’ said Llethryn, head tilted to one side as though listening. ‘The ogors are slain, yet the unnatural storm that accompanied them has not lifted.’

‘Best redress the ranks and be away from here as quickly as we can then, eh?’ said Hemsler with forced cheer. ‘After all, we’ve a duty yet to Sigmar and it’s not exterminating ogors. I’ll not have it said we were the last army to join the march on Nagashizzar.’ He gestured to his lieutenants, who began barking orders. Drums rattled hollowly. Signal banners waved.

‘I must concur, Captain,’ said Llethryn, his frown deepening. ‘There is something disquieting at work here. The sooner we depart this ill-omened place, the better.’

Before the Loremaster finished speaking, Hemsler was overtaken by inexplicable dread. He cringed when, a moment later, the regimental scouts raised cries of alarm.

‘What is it?’ he asked as soldiers milled around him, and exhausted artillery crews stood to their pieces. ‘Anyone? What’s out there?’

The snows had closed in, swirling wildly around the Freeguild positions and dropping visibility to a stone’s throw. The first moans came, carrion cries rising from beyond the grave to chill the hearts of men. Glowing shapes whipped through the snowfall, shrieking spectres and madly spiralling ghasts.

Behind the spectral terrors came more corporeal foes, masses of staggering corpses riddled with frostbite and – in many cases – part-eaten. They stumbled up the hill from every side, emerging from the snows with glassy eyes shining and blackened fingers grasping. They were the dead the

ogors had left in their wake, all those they had reaved through and feasted upon, pursuing them to extract revenge.

‘Form up!’ bellowed Helmser. ‘Sergeants, redress to face the enemy! Artillerymen, grapeshot! Fight, in Sigmar’s name, fight!’

To his fury, Hemsler saw that Llethryn had sunk to his knees. The aelf closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

‘It is too late, Captain, for the ogor-slain are legion. We shall march alongside them soon enough.’

Hemsler wheeled, looking for any sign of hope. Over the heads of his beleaguered soldiers, down amongst the ruins of the battlefield, snow-draped mounds were stirring. One by one, the ogors and their beasts stumbled back to their feet, eyes staring white orbs, maws hanging open. The dead pressed in from every side as the winds of the Everwinter screamed and howled.

For a moment, Hemsler almost fancied the sound formed words.

Then the dead were upon him, moaning, clawing.

His pistol barked, then fell silent.

  • WYRMSTAR (04.05.18) – For eighteen days and nights, the Wyrmstar hung above Tallowreach…
Spoiler

For eighteen days and nights, the Wyrmstar hung above Tallowreach. It bathed the mountaintop citadel in its wan light, lending its people a sickly pallor and making metal and wood look rusted and rotten.

At first, the writhing celestial orb had been branded an ill omen, for it resembled a vast mass of squirming worms formed from pale green light. Though it was foul in aspect, it was at least distant and intangible, something not to be looked directly upon.

Then the sickness started. An omen became a curse. A terrible wasting fever shot like wildfire through the settlers and soldiers that dwelt in Tallowreach. Though their mountaintop fastness had long protected them, all the high walls in the realms could not ward away the illness that soon became known as Wyrmblight, for it stemmed from the Wyrmstar’s glow.

The apothecaries could do little.

The prayers of priests had no effect.

Worse followed. Those who died of the sickness did not stay dead. Within minutes of its demise, the corpse rose as a revenant, and set about the living with biting jaws and choking fingers. The elders of Tallowreach froze in horrified indecision, and by the time they took measures, it was too late. Day by day, Tallowreach consumed itself in a frenzy of sickness, undeath and terror, and the mountaintop isolation that had so long protected its people instead trapped them within a prison of their own making.

Yet even as the city collapsed into anarchy, and the dead came to outnumber the living, there were those with the cynicism to see opportunity amidst the horror, and to turn a profit from it.

– Extract from ‘Accounts of the Darkening Hour’, by Augustus Vambedulin

Arkanaut Admiral Khurngrim stood on the deck of his Ironclad, Gilded Oath, and watched the sallow-faced humans file aboard. They came up the gangplanks in single file, having been relieved of their weapons and anything of value by his Arkanaut crewmen.

The sky-dock upon which the people thronged in their dozens jutted out from the eastern edge of the city over the ten-thousand-foot drop to the valley below. Beyond, the city burned.

The Arkanauts were holding the people at gunpoint. Skywardens hung in the air around the airship, keeping watch with their harpoon launchers in case anyone showed signs of undeath.

Khurngrim ignored the hate-filled stares and hurled insults of those who couldn’t pay. He was holding to the Code, after all. To his mind, the only senseless tragedy was an unexploited one. In Tallowreach, sanctuary had become the singular commodity, and the crew of the Gilded Oath were the only ones still selling.

‘Soldiers… mercenaries… where’s the civilians?’ asked Endrinmaster Borrik.

‘Chewing on the living most likely,’ said Khurngrim. ‘If folk have survived in Tallowreach this long, they’ve done so by steel.’

‘Dugren’s heard talk among this lot, that the last barricades are about to fall. Maybe already have,’ said Borrik. ‘I’d venture we’ve enough aboard to turn a fine profit, Admiral. We’re already overloaded.’

‘We go when I say we go, Borrik,’ said Khurngrim. ‘Have I steered you wrong yet?’

‘That you’ve not, Admiral. But the sooner we’re away from that cursed star, the better,’ said Borrik.

‘Can’t argue that,’ replied Khurngrim. ‘We’ll sift this last pan of gold, then cast off.’

He glanced around. Under the guns of the Grundstok guards, human refugees were filing into the airship’s holds, or finding themselves spaces to huddle amongst the packed masses on the main deck. They avoided one another’s eyes and pointedly looked away from those left behind. Khurngrim shook his head in incomprehension; he would never understand the strange sentimentality of humans.

Back on the docks, things were turning ugly as desperation began to fuel recklessness. One man rushed the Arkanauts, brandishing a sword and buckler. Guns roared and he was flung back into the crowd. Those nearest him screamed and yelled. It wouldn’t be long before they tried to rush the gangplanks, thought Khurngrim. And who could blame them? He wouldn’t wish this place upon his worst enemies.

The Admiral began to order the gangplanks raised and his crew back aboard. He was interrupted by a cry from above. Looking up, Khurngrim saw that gigantic bats had swooped out of the half-light, soaring on silent wings to launch themselves at his Skywardens. Harpoon launchers hissed. Arkanauts clubbed their way through the refugees with gun butts and fists as they hastened to take shots at the monsters.

Khurngrim heard more shooting and felt a sinking feeling. Back on the docks he saw bodies and blood, gunsmoke drifting. With the Arkanauts distracted, the crowd had surged, and the nearest refugees were now locked in a vicious melee with the armoured duardin on the docks.

‘Deadwalkers!’ shouted lookout Hengist from the for’ard dome. ‘Deadwalkers coming down Dock Street by the hundred, Admiral!’

Khurngrim spat a choice oath. The stink of death reached him, and the moans of countless revenants came soon after. He could see them now, a mass of staring eyes and yawning jaws, sallow flesh and clawing hands advancing down the street like a tide. The Wyrmstar’s light bathed the scene, making the buildings lining the street seem to rot visibly before Khurngrim’s eyes.

‘Cast off!’ he yelled. ‘All hands to stations, pull in the planks, cut the damn cables and cast off!’

‘Admiral!’ Borrik’s voice came from behind, full of alarm. Khurngrim span and saw men and women boiling up from the hold hatches, wild eyed and scrambling over one another in their terror.

‘Ah you jest against me,’ growled Khurngrim as he saw Deadwalkers clambering out of the hold behind them. ‘How in the name o’ Grungni’s ****** did those things get on my ship?’

‘The portholes, Admiral,’ gasped a bloodied Arkanaut as he fought his way through the mayhem. ‘Like prisms… they concentrated the Wyrmstar’s light… saturated the cargo… they started to turn.’

Khurngrim swore again. His crew fought for their lives as Deadwalkers fell upon them and refugees punched and surged and fought anything that came near. Humans screamed as they pitched over the railings. Guns boomed again and again. Still the cursed star shone down, and the ship appeared to rust and rot beneath its luminescence.

Khurngrim saw one chance. Setting his jaw, he made for the helm, swinging his double-handed hammer. A zombie came at him, clad in Freeguild colours. He smashed it aside. A moment later, a screaming mercenary barrelled into him and Khurngrim drove the man back with a savage blow to the midriff.

Reaching the helm, Khurngrim pulped the zombies that were feasting on steersman Khadrik, then shoved the duardin’s corpse out of the way. No time for niceties now. One gang plank had been dislodged, but the other was pinned under fallen bodies; the dead were spilling up it, some toppling off the sides, others clawing their way onto the overladen airship.

‘Bloody pandemonium,’ he cursed, then threw the engines to full for’ard. Aetheric motors roared below decks and the Gilded Oath started to move. She lumbered away from the docks, but Khurngrim could already tell the craft was too heavily weighed down. The engines laboured and the prow came about sluggishly. Too late, he realised that the ship wasn’t going to build sufficient momentum to snap her mooring cables.

Instead, the lengths of metal cable slammed taut and wrenched the Gilded Oath sideways. Khurngrim was flung from his feet and began to slide. The sky docks shuddered and cracked, zombies and refugees alike hurled from them to fall and fall.

Khurngrim hit the railing with a loud clang and sailed over it. For a horrible moment he was plummeting, before his reaching gauntlet snatched hold of an edge. Adrenaline surging, muscle and sinew screaming with effort, Khurngrim hauled himself up, away from the hungry gulf below.

Onto a flat, hard surface.

Safety.

No, he realised. Not safety. The docks.

Khurngrim reached for his hammer, but it was gone. He looked to his ship, but there was no sanctuary there; the decks were a blizzard of flesh and gore, the hull churning with spectral rot. The dead had taken the listing craft, and it would hang there until its aether-gold ran dry and it fell from the skies. The Gilded Oath had made her last voyage.

And so, thought Khurngrim, had he. Moaning zombies closed in on all sides, glowing sickly green beneath the Wyrmstar’s baleful glare. The Admiral took a deep breath, clenched his metal gauntlets, and rolled his neck with an audible crunch.

‘Alright you shambling wretches,’ he said as they came for him. ‘Who’s first?’

  • DAY OF THE SUMMONER (08.05.18) – Beyond the bounds of reality hung a silver-pinnacled tower…
Spoiler

Beyond the bounds of reality hung a silver-pinnacled tower. Glittering bridges and arcing stairways tethered it to shimmering Realmgates, and its mountainous spires rose in anarchic profusion until they were lost in the haze.

Deep inside, in a chamber fashioned from crystal and stone, a sorcerer-daemon hunched over a mass of mirrors. The Gaunt Summoner was one of nine. He was known as the Thief of Wits, and feared for his sanity-blasting conjurations and his ability to devour mortal thoughts.

Within each of the Summoner’s mirrors, scenes of desperation and violence played out. Bands of heroes, villains, champions and killers battled side-by-side against monsters and daemons. They took daring leaps over yawning chasms. They pitted their wits against fiendish booby traps and riddling daemonic oracles.

The Summoner had seen it play out a thousand times. Yet his fascination for the trials of those who walked his tower never diminished. He delighted in every struggle, every forced alliance and desperate betrayal, every permutation of guile, intrigue, foolishness and fury.

Just visible within each image were glinting threads, delicate as gossamer. They emerged from the hearts and minds of the champions and coiled away, representing fates yet to be met. These were not strands that any normal being could perceive, but to the Gaunt Summoner they glinted with promise. Many were silver. Those, he ignored. Yet a scant few glimmered gold and these the Gaunt Summoner watched with rapt fascination. They represented events of great moment, strands of causality that might be subtly plucked in order to alter the wider weft of fate itself.

It was so that they could cultivate and then appropriate these golden strands that the Gaunt Summoners allowed mortal beings to stray into their silver towers. With each future the daemons twisted out of true, the complex weave of the daemons’ own tapestry of fate grew toward fruition.

‘Soon we will be free,’ crooned the Thief of Wits. ‘And then… ohhhhh and then…’

The daemon paused as he felt a ripple of power pass through his sanctum. Purple flames dimmed in wall sconces, causing shadows to billow from the chamber’s corners and stretch like grasping fingers along the walls. The Summoner sought an answer in his mirrors. Had one of his guests summoned especially powerful arcane forces? He recoiled with a hiss as he saw his mirrors going dark one by one. Hoarfrost crackled as it crept across their surfaces. Shadows swam within them, then resolved into new images. The Gaunt Summoner saw the corridors of his tower, but not as they should be. The fires had died. Monsters and champions alike were naught but mouldering bones, while here and there a wailing ghast drifted.

The Summoner keened as he saw all of the fascinating variation and bountiful mutability leaching from his domain. There was nothing here to serve the Changer of the Ways. The weave and weft was gone, burned away to nothingness. All was static and dead.

The daemon’s eyes flickered back and forth between mirrors showing endless deserts of black sand, looming mountains of bone and rank upon rank of shambling corpses with cold green witchfire burning in their eyes. The Gaunt Summoner ground his needle fangs together as he watched the negation of everything his God had set in motion. Behind it all he saw a skull visage, a leering and arrogant death’s head that he knew from wars of old.

Then the visions changed. Sorcerous sparks lit the darkness. Threads of gold enmeshed the limbs of stalking revenants and tore them apart, and from within the cadavers spilled esoteric energies. The Summoner’s eyes narrowed as ravening tides of magic billowed across his mirror images, and the realms shook with their power. Armies marched behind glowing figures across a desert of blackened bone, and the threads of gold wound amongst them until they jerked and twitched on puppet strings, and then were hanged by them.

As suddenly as the visions had come, they faded. Ice melted to water and trickled to the floor. Torch flames leapt. His mirrors filled again with the images of violence and desperation they had shown before.

Yet now they held little interest for the Summoner. He paced his sanctum, muttering to himself. He riffled through ancient tomes, then upended a box of rune-branded scarabach beetles and studied intently the direction each one scuttled before crushing them in the ritual order and swallowing them down.

Suddenly decisive, the Thief of Wits cast his eyes skyward and intoned sibilant words. The sanctum’s ceiling turned opaque then vanished. In its place was revealed an expanse of fractal spaces and impossible stonework that spread away in all directions, and would swiftly have driven any mortal mind mad.

Amongst the endlessly replicating facets of sundered reality, the Summoner’s eight kin looked up from their own sanctums and met his gaze. The Tyrant of Eyes stared at him through magically conjured orbs. The Tongueless Lord hunched over his mirrors as meltwater dripped from them. The others, too, were there, though several were illusory simulacra; these saw to their duties in secret even as their true selves walked the realms at Archaon’s side.

‘You all saw, yes…?’ asked the Thief of Wits.

‘We ssssaw,’ replied the Prince of Stolen Breaths. ‘It was a vision from the Changer. It portends victory for the upsssstart god of the dead.’

‘If it was a vision from the Changer then it portends possibility, for nothing is set,’ replied the Thief of Wits.

‘Perhaps it is a warning that our course leads towards the ruin of all,’ mused the Tyrant of Eyes.

‘A coward’s claim,’ intoned the Slayer of Names. ‘We have been wise at every weaving. The Changer shows us a confluence of fates amidst which we may grasp the all-weave as one and

turn it to our own designs. We all saw the sorcery that was unleashed, the threads that bound and strangled.’

‘Arrogance. Dangeroussss arrogance,’ spat the Prince of Stolen Breaths. ‘If the Everchosen should learn of our designssss our punishment would make all previous sssleights seem paltry by comparissson. There is no guarantee those hanged figures were not our own.’

‘Until we free ourselves from his leash, we are little better than slaves,’ snarled the Slayer of Names. ‘We are creatures of Tzeentch, not of Archaon. It is unbecoming…’

‘This argument is a fire long turned to embers and ash,’ said the Thief of Wits. ‘The Changer has sent us a vision, this we know. Allegory is an open tome to such as we. Opportunity waits to be seized.’

‘What are your thoughts?’ asked the Tyrant of Eyes.

‘We have seen the omens, the portents, the great surges of fate and change that wash across the Mortal Realms,’ said the Thief of Wits. ‘Now the Changer sends us this vision of doom and damnation transformed. I have cast the beetles and I believe that it is a spur to action. I believe he wishes us to continue with our works, but to alter our weaving in sympathy with greater events.’

‘You think he ssseeks an end to Archaon amidst this coming war of soulssss?’ asked the Prince of Stolen Breaths.

‘I think the Changer wishes power to be unleashed, his and ours both,’ said the Thief. ‘And I think that we have seen the price if we fail to act now. It is an opportunity and a warning both. I say we continue our weavings against the Everchosen, but with this vision in mind. We twist our champions’ paths so that they might best serve Great Tzeentch’s ends in this dark time, and in so doing we bring an end to Archaon and defy Nagash all at once.’

Several of the other Summoners crooned their approval and eagerness. Others remained silent and watchful.

‘Let ussss also send forth the formlesssss one, then,’ suggested the Prince of Stolen Breaths. ‘I have a notion of where he might ssserve us best in thissss.’

‘Very well. If this is to be our course then there are auguries and castings to be made,’ said the Tyrant of Eyes. ‘Our weave is infinitely complex and fragile.’

‘Then time is a currency better spent in action than in discourse, is it not?’ asked the Thief of Wits.

‘We concur,’ said the Tyrant of Eyes after a heavy pause. ‘We are agents of change in all its forms. Inaction will not suffice.’

Amidst a chorus of hissing breaths, the decision was made. The fractal vision vanished, replaced again by a ceiling of gem-studded stone. The Thief of Wits took a moment to savour the deference he had been shown, and then leant over his mirrors with fresh purpose.

His eyes crawled across the figures within them, finally settling upon a skaven Deathrunner from whom a thick golden thread stretched. The verminous assassin crouched behind a crystal column, daggers in hand, waiting with skittish patience as a band of champions strode, unknowing, into his ambush.

‘Yes, you will do nicely…’ murmured the Thief of Wits, and his spider-like fingers began to weave.

  • IRON AND OAK (11.05.18) – Captain Loerson heaved himself up the narrow stairwell…
Spoiler

Captain Loerson heaved himself up the narrow stairwell of the redoubt, cursing at the spears of pain that shot through his limbs with every step. Out here in the depths of the Ghoul Mere everything was damp and treacherous, every stone slick with foul-smelling moss. The last thing the defenders of the Saint Sverova needed to see was their glorious commander falling backside over moustache. That would do little for morale.

The Master of Shot met him at the top of the stairs. Henraus Malliver was a stocky, barrel-chested man of middling years, his skin permanently marred by soot and valchemite burns. Loerson had worked alongside him for near a quarter century, and in that time he could not recall Malliver offering a single smile. He was leaning against the rampart wall, peering out into the marsh. Several hundred paces beyond the cog-fort there was a stretch of withered trees, rising up from the swamp like crooked skeletons. A thick mist rolled in from the west, fingers of grey-green reaching down to caress the murky water.

‘They’re out there,’ Malliver said. ‘And they’ll come again soon. I can feel their eyes on us.’

‘They won’t stop,’ the captain replied. ‘Not until we’re dead or gone. Pale Oak claims these waters as his own, and you know what that old devil does with trespassers.’

Pale Oak was the name the people of Greywater had given to the great treelord who ruled beyond the walls of the city. A name feared and hated in equal measure.

‘To ash with that one,’ spat Malliver. ‘If he doesn’t want his lands to burn, maybe he shouldn’t have started a war he can’t win.’

Loerson frowned, and turned to look at the towering tangle of steam-pipes and roaring bellows that was the pumphouse, built into the iron hide of the cog-fort’s larboard wall. Great copper tubes descended a dozen meters into the swamp, greedily devouring the silt and slime underneath the surface. Below, surveyors in hook-nosed masks strode through the murk upon mechanical striders, directing the labourers in their work.

It was the guns and luminark arrays of Greywater that had flattened these lands and boiled away the thriving marsh, leaving nothing but a polluted wasteland behind. That was the act that had so damaged the alliance between the city and its Sylvaneth neighbours. Now, by the order of Lord Valius Maliti – the grand architect himself – a fresh expansion of the city’s borders had begun, and for industry to grow, it demanded fuel: oils, rare metals, and whatever other resources presented themselves. Thus was the noble cog-fort Saint Sverova, veteran of the Great War, reduced to guarding one of the Ironweld’s many excavations.

If Vunnarc Loerson was honest with himself, he knew the true purpose of these excavations: to goad the folk of the forest into action, and thus provide the lords of Greywater with an excuse for open war.

Still, orders were orders.

‘How are the troops?’ he asked the Master of Shot.

‘Cold. Tired. Miserable. Sick of being picked off one by one by those bog-lurkers.’

‘The wounded?’

Malliver grimaced and shook his head.

Loerson cursed. Out here in the wastes, a wound could fester and rot in hours. The very air was poison, an alchemical smog that seared the lungs and burned the eyes.

‘Movement!’ came the cry. ‘They come again!’

‘Prime and load!’ came the bellow of the gunnery sergeants. ‘Fire!’

Greycaps were lined along the walls of the cog-fort, their rifles placed in firing channels set along the ramparts of Saint Sverova. At their officers’ command, they cracked off a storm of lead and spun behind the parapet. The second rank stepped up to fire, while the first reloaded their wheel-lock muskets.

‘That’s it, comrades,’ Loerson shouted as he and the Master of Shot passed them. ‘Give the barkskins a Greywater welcome, let them know who holds these walls!’

‘What are you standin’ around lookin’ at us for?’ bawled Malliver as he rounded on an unfortunate trio of fresh-faced gunners. ‘Prime and fire you alley-rats, or I’ll have you thrown over the side for the marsh-snipes to feast on!’

Loerson and Malliver reached the leftmost tower, where the heavy volley guns rested. The largest, Rhapsodia, was the pride of the 117th Greywater Foot, a long-barreled culverin wrought of priceless rare metals. Every inch of the gun was marked with oaths and battle-honours.

The tower housed Gunnery Sergeant Drackov’s squad, a reliable bunch of soot-necks who had the honour of composing the Rhapsodia’s sweet symphony. Gunner Nrozdhy was peering out over the marshes, towards a fringe of leafless trees in the distance. Like the others, she wore a panelled overcoat of mustard-yellow and crimson, over thick breeches and leather gloves. The corks used for plugging her ears dangled around her scrawny neck. She turned as she heard Loerson’s distinctive footfall, and snapped off a brisk salute.

‘What do you see, gunner?’ the Master of Shot said.

‘They’re out there,’ she said, speaking with the distonal drawl of someone who had spent their life in earshot of cannonade fire. ‘The fae-folk. The snatchers. Using the mists as cover.’

Loerson took the spyglass, and scanned the horizon. The swirling fog masked everything, and it was thickening by the moment. If their last volley had struck anything, he could not see the corpses. The damned forest spirits were so fast that they had struck and withdrawn before the gun-line could pin them down.

The captain turned and signalled to Malliver.

‘Let Rhapsodia sing,’ he said. ‘All batteries, target the mists. I want a steady barrage, four drakesbreath canisters on the four-hundred mark. Let’s burn them out into the open.’

He stepped back to let Drackov’s team do their work. The duardin crew rammed the load home, and Nrozdhy made the sightings, the poor visibility making it more guesswork than anything else. Loerson covered his ears, and Malliver roared.

‘Fire!’

The cog-fort’s seventeen emplacements opened up with a blast like an avalanche, and flames reached to the skies as the rounds detonated. Each cartridge was packed with Aqshian fire-diamonds, crushed and mixed with shards of metal. Whatever didn’t burn would be shredded to pieces by flying shrapnel. The cannonade lasted a further three shots, and when the thunder ceased, a vast swathe of swampland was aflame.

Silence, but for the ringing in their ears. The air was acrid with smoke.

‘Reload,’ shouted the captain. ‘And make ready.’

Drackov nodded, and went to lever another cartridge into the Rhapsodia’s breach. The ground trembled. The duardin lost his footing and crashed into the powder kegs. There was another roaring sound, quite different to the fire and fury of artillery.

‘What in the name of…’ gasped Malliver, as a tidal wave of foetid swamp water swept towards them. It was several dozen feet high, almost tall enough to crash over the parapet and engulf the greycaps. It slammed against the wall with enormous force, sending several unfortunate soldiers toppling. A spray of foul-smelling liquid slapped Loerson across the face, and he staggered. In an instant the waters receded.

‘The flames,’ whispered Nrozdhy.

The fires surrounding the cog-fort had been quenched. Figures marched from the smoking marsh, lithe and graceful as they picked their way through the steaming waters. Beyond them rose a greater shape. An armoured beetle as massive as a cog-hauler, crawling forwards on bladed limbs. Curving horns rose from its smooth crown, iridescent in the flickering light. A lone female form stood upon the behemoth’s back, and when Captain Loerson’s eyes fell upon her he was transfixed. A winged goddess, towering and beautiful. Her eyes burned with the rage of a summer storm.

‘Present arms!’ roared Malliver, struggling to his feet.

The distant figure raised a golden staff. The waters below the cog-fort erupted, and snaking vines of lashweed spiralled into the air like writhing snakes. They swept across the parapet, entangling each cannon and organ gun, wrenching the massive weapons aside with shocking ease. Rhapsodia was flipped over like a child’s toy. Those greycaps brave or foolish enough to raise their weapons found them snatched from their hands, broken into kindling.

The deck of the cog-fort exploded into life as grasping vines tore aside plates and rivulets and forced their way up from the bowels of the great fortress. They wound together, coalescing into firm boughs of oak. Greycaps staggered back from the explosion of life, yelling in surprise. Shapes darted from the breaches in the Saint Sverova’s hull, blades of glimmering viridian held aloft.

‘God-King help us,’ shouted Loerson. ‘Fix bayonets!’

‘Enough,’ came a voice that boomed out over the marsh. It was melodic, even beautiful, but as merciless as the bite of winter. ‘This futile killing ends now.’

The behemothic war-mount rumbled forwards, shaking its gigantic horned head. Its rider gestured imperiously, and as one the Sylvaneth warriors fell back, lowering their blades. The goddess turned her blazing eyes to Loerson, and despite himself the old captain fell to his knees. He heard the rest of his warriors do the same.

‘My Lady Alarielle,’ he said.

Even as he spoke the goddess slammed the haft of her jade longspear on the armoured shell of her mount.

‘Speak not to me,’ she said. ‘You have befouled that which is purest. You have sown death and sickness into fertile lands. You have slaughtered my children. Speak again and I will tear the life from you.’

The captain cowered in the face of this sudden fury, bowing his head and squeezing his eyes shut.

As swiftly as it had come, the cold rage evaporated.

‘There will be time enough for judgement later,’ Alarielle said, and now her voice was the whisper of windblown leaves. ‘Your lives are spared, though your outrages are not forgotten. The pact of iron and oak must be restored. The Great Withering is upon us, and if we do not put aside our hatred, we shall all sicken and die.’

The Everqueen raised her staff, and Loerson saw figures emerging from the mists. It was a gathering of Sylvaneth larger than anything he had ever witnessed, a grand host of the forest in every colour and hue.

‘You will take me to the gates of your city,’ Alarielle said. ‘I would speak with the lords of Greywater.’

  • THE GREAT AND THE GOOD (15.05.18) – 'You have heard, I asume, about their slaughter at Halfholme'...
Spoiler

 ‘You have heard, I assume, about their slaughter at Halfholme.’

Prime Commander Katrik le Guillion leaned forward, looking at Master Patriarch Mench over the rims of her amethyst glasses. Sevastean Mench met her gaze, doing his best to appear unimpressed. Le Guillion had once been the commander of the Bleak Island Sellswords, who had famously broken a greenskin Waaagh! on the rocks of Cliffdiver Coast. She was renowned for having an incisive mind, a sharp sense of style, and friends in very low places.

‘Are we to abide such behaviour, then?’ she said.

Mench wondered if the rumours that she had had her belly cut open by an aelf’s blade had anything to do with her reservations.

‘Are we to tacitly endorse the violation of the fallen by failing to condemn it?’ she went on. ‘That seems to be the case thus far.’

‘And with good reason.’ At the far end of the table was Ambassador Selendti Llyr-Xiss, a pale priestess of the Khainite Cult, standing tall as she glared daggers at le Guillion. The ambassador was the representative of the aelven temples; she had been resident-in-state with her escort ever since the High Oracle of Khaine’s royal visit last Cometsday. Her cold, almost alien presence had changed the complexion of the Stormrift Conclave ever since; the fact she simply refused to sit down was off-putting in itself.

‘Yes, commander,’ replied Mench patiently. ‘I believe everyone in Hammerhal Aqsha has heard about it by now.’

Le Guillion raised a gold-pierced eyebrow. ‘And yet we sit here with one of their kind as if nothing had happened.’

Mench had heard tell the woman held grudges against non-humans, that she wore contact poison on her fingernails, and that she had simply bought her way onto the Stormrift Conclave. He found the latter hard to believe; though in terms of power and influence, the council was but an echo of its celestial counterpart in Heavenhall, the Pantheon’s representatives in Hammerhal were long past simple bribery. She was here precisely because she was the sort of person that had no fear of the aelves.

The imports doyenne Ysmeralde von Leithenstine cooled herself with a spidersilk fan. ‘The reported behaviour is disgusting, if it is true,’ she said. ‘Are these blood rites not the very same barbaric practices that Palos Tzind wrote of in his Treatise on the Brimstone Peninsula?’

‘They stopped short of cannibalism, I believe,’ said Elethrus Vinx casually, toying with her pearlescent prayer beads.

‘Oh, that’s fine then,’ crowed le Guillion. ‘They merely killed everything in sight and bathed in the blood of the dead!’

‘The rites of Khaine are not yours to discuss,’ said Ambassador Llyr-Xiss. ‘We do as we must to defend our territories against the scourge of true evil.’

‘I find that hard to believe,’ said Hennerdorf, the Alumnus Verita of Excelsis. ‘You kill as you wish.’

‘And this from the representative of a metropolis where the Stormcast act as judge, jury and executioner on a daily basis,’ said Llyr-Xiss. ‘How many innocent lives have been lost to the hammer of an overzealous Knight Excelsior, just because they were desperate to feed their family, or walked on the wrong side of the street? Come to that, how many of Sigmar’s warriors are stolen from their people and forced into doing his will?’

‘Reductive at best,’ scoffed Hennerdorf. ‘The God-King knows well the minds of men, and aelves to boot. There is a reason we don’t harbour your kind in our fair city on the coast.’

‘Is that the case?’ said Llyr-Xiss, a slight smile on her lips.

‘Oh, they are there alright,’ said High Castellan Brutar, glassy-eyed with pleasant memories. ‘If you look hard enough. The sacred dancing, the bladesmanship, the… uniforms. Quite spellbinding.’

‘Better the fiend you know well, isn’t that the saying?’ said Mench with a weak laugh. His jest proved poorly judged, and he crossed his arms despite himself as Xiss turned her steel-cold gaze upon him. She gestured at one of her aides, and the aelf made a note on a piece of fine vellum. Mench hoped to high Sigmar it would not prove to be his death writ.

‘We are part of the fabric of this society,’ said Llyr-Xiss. ‘It was our queen who fought at Sigmar’s side to raise up civilisation so many thousands of years ago, just as we fight at your side now. Is it given to you to break with that tradition and deny the will of the God-King?’

‘Of course not,’ huffed Evandelle of the High Artisans. She shared a look with her steam-cherubs, who rolled their eyes with a series of faint mechanical whirrs. ‘But it is “given to us” to decide how best to implement his decisions in the free cities of Aqshy and Ghyran, and reflect them in the corresponding governance. Just as did Almighty Sigmar, we tolerate you as long as you prove useful.’

‘At least this one is honest,’ said Llyr-Xiss, inclining her head.

Mench couldn’t help but feel he was losing any semblance of control over the situation. ‘The hour is grave, this we all know. The Daughters have shown themselves to be… highly committed to the battle against the forces of darkness. They are very effective allies in the ongoing fight against the tyrannical hordes. It has been said we cannot do without them.’

‘I for one echo that sentiment,’ said Brutar, folding his hands across his pseudo-military cummerbund. ‘I have seen them fight in earnest. Bloody massacre. I’d rather have them at our side than across the field. Fight fire with fire, I say.’

‘I, too,’ said Gharralan, the Lord Audacious.

‘And I,’ said Hexedentia Vimm, newly-appointed mistress of the Hammerhal Cog-forts.

‘Is no-one concerned about the message this sends?’ said le Guillion. ‘That the end justifies the means? What does this tell the next generation, and the next, even if we somehow win peace enough to raise them?’

‘You take the coin, do you not?’ said Llyr-Xiss. ‘Like the duardin, you fight for the highest bidder, yet you still talk of morality.’

At this Drobjorn, the High Artillerist of the Dispossessed, harrumphed and bristled in his stout throne. Just as he was about to speak, there was a scream in the distance. It was abruptly cut short. The delegates looked at one another, and a few made as if to stand, but none left their seat.

Such instances were not uncommon, these days. Lately there had been talk of riots in the lower city, and a wave of bloody strife in the Cinderfall District. Mench waved two fingers at the guards standing by the main doors. As they moved to investigate, he refocused on the hall once more.

‘We have no choice but to ally,’ said Llyr-Xiss. ‘You do not like it. We do not like it. Drobjorn here has his hand on his axe as I speak. But we face a rising tide of undeath, and if we do not find a way to conquer it, then aelf, man and duardin alike, our ways of life will end forever. We will be reduced to dry bone, and forced to march to the beat of a mad god’s drum. Don’t you see that? Can’t you read the signs? We may not be the same creed, race, or anatomy, but we are the living. And that is enough!’

‘Fine words,’ said Mench, surprised to find he truly meant it. ‘We have a common enemy, and for now, at least, I believe that is enough.’

‘The High Oracle must obey the same strictures as the rest of us, if she is to truly share our cities,’ said le Guillion. ‘There was never a vote.’

‘Then let us put it to the show of blades,’ said Mench.

‘I concur,’ said Aventis Firestrike, Magister of Hammerhal and judiciary representative of the Stormcast Eternals. Since Mench’s inception as Chair, Aventis attended the council rarely and spoke even less, but when he did, it was always well. ‘We must come to a consensus for the people to accept the decision in their hearts.’

‘Progress at last,’ said Mench. ‘So then. On the matter of the alliance with the Temple of Khaine, to be made permanent and official in Azyrheim and beyond, raise or stay your weapon.’

One by one, blades were raised around the grand table, ranging from thin stilettos to fluted kris knives to ancestral broadswords that took two hands to lift. Mench let time tick by until a full ten seconds had passed, and then made his count. It was not a swift process, and many sighs of impatience and shifting of aching arms came with each passing minute, just as they always did. But it was necessary.

Mench double-checked, frowning, and then counted once more to be sure.

‘One hundred and twenty-three in favour,’ he said eventually, ‘one hundred and twenty one against. Do any dispute it?’

He let another ten seconds pass, but none gainsaid him.

‘Right then.’ He brought the antique hammer of his office down hard. ‘Let that be an end to it. Ambassador Lyr-Xiss–’

Llyr-Xiss,’ the aelf corrected, her voice a sibilant burr.

‘Right, yes. The ambassador here represents tens of thousands of warrior aelves, each ready to fight in the name of Sigmar to–’

‘Of Khaine,’ said Llyr-Xiss.

Mench looked at the ceiling, counted to three, and continued. ‘Each ready to fight in the name of Order and progress, that we all may live without the shadows of Chaos and Death cast over our lives. Let that be an end to it.’ He slammed his antique hammer down once more for good measure.

‘Now,’ he said, taking a longscroll from his adjutant and carefully smoothing it across the wyrmwood of the majestic debating table. ‘To matters of force disposition over the coming invasions…’

  • AN OPPORTUNITY IN DEATH (18.05.18) – Grey Seer Retchnik drummed his claws on the arm of his throne…
Spoiler

Grey Seer Retchnik drummed his claws on the arm of his throne. He glared at the entrance to his audience-burrow as though he could summon the Eshin delegation by force of will. Keeping a prophet of the Horned Rat waiting was intolerable!

Retchnik glanced at the hulking albino Stormvermin flanking his throne. He toyed with the idea of sending them out to find the envoys, and to bring him their severed heads. A tempting notion, but the Grey Seer needed his Eshin pawns.

There was movement outside the burrow as challenges were chittered and answers hissed.

At last, thought Retchnik, sitting up from his foul-tempered slump.

First to enter were a quartet of black-robed Gutter Runners. The Eshin warriors stalked into the burrow, poised on the balls of their footclaws, beady eyes darting for signs of ambush.

After them came a wizened old skaven, his grey fur straggling from robes of black and warpstone green. One of his eyes was missing, replaced by a carved brass globe, while the other stared at Retchnik with gleaming intensity.

An old skaven was unusual enough, thought the seer – few of their race survived one another’s scheming long enough to see their third decade – but the figure at the old envoy’s shoulder was stranger still. A Deathrunner by his garb, he was freakishly tall for a skaven. His black eyes were marbled with veins of gold and electric blue. There was something about the Deathrunner’s aura that raised Retchnik’s hackles. Then his concentration was broken as the ancient envoy spoke.

‘Retchnik summons us and we listen-hear. But did most-mighty Grey Seer bring us here so he could gaze-gaze upon Deathrunner Spark-eye?’

Retchnik favoured the envoy with a suitably withering stare. The envoy returned his gaze with maddening patience and a glint of amusement.

‘I have summoned you, Kriktail of Clan Slynk, to offer-tell of a plan most cunning. You would be wise-wise to show respect and listen, shadow-crawler.’

Retchnik caught the subtle tightening of the envoy’s features, the twitch of his tail. It was a crude insult, but it had hit the mark. Still, the envoy said nothing, and only gestured with a wizened claw for Retchnik to proceed.

Retchnik sat back and stared down his muzzle at the Eshin agents.

‘You know-know of the disaster after that fool Snitterskritch burrowed a gnawhole into the Realm of Death?’

‘And usher-brought the Year of the Drowned Rat,’ said Kriktail. ‘All know this, seer. It is hard to miss-miss the Floodwarrens.’

Retchnik wafted a claw airily.

‘Of course, I would not impugn the observational skills of the great Clan Slynk,’ he sneered. ‘And you have heard the tell-speak, that the tunnel was destroyed in the flood?’

‘So said the Council of Thirteen,’ replied Kriktail slowly. ‘What do you know, seer?’

Retchnik leaned forward.

‘Lies-lies!’ he chittered triumphantly. ‘The Council said the Floodwarrens were impassable, the tunnel blocked. But I have scried the deeps, yes, and I have seen. There is a way through the waters to lands near Nagashizzar, if your operatives have the sneak-wit to exploit it!’

Kriktail stood very still, only the twitching of his whiskers betraying his thoughts.

‘Why summon us, seer? Why speak-tell your secret to Clan Slynk?’

‘I have had the… opportunity… to see-see your agents’ skills first hand,’ said Retchnik, his tone dry. Let this old gnarl-talon know that he was onto them, that he could have mustered a swarm and sent it to crush Clan Slynk after they had aided his rivals in sabotaging his plans.

That he hadn’t.

Yet.

‘Our assassins are swift and kill-skilled. They have mastered Form of Smoke and Shade,’ allowed Kriktail. Retchnik heard the implicit counter-threat loud and clear. He smirked.

‘The Great Necromancer creates a… device-thing… of black realmstone in his dead city,’ said Retchnik, hoping Kriktail hadn’t caught his slight pause. The portents had been infuriatingly vague; it was part of why he had no intention of risking the journey himself.

‘Retchnik wants the black realmstone at the device’s heart for himself, yes-yes?’ asked Kriktail. The Grey Seer merely stared in answer, eyes alight and tail lashing. ‘And why would Clan Slynk fetch-get this for you, seer?’ asked the envoy. ‘It would be a dangerous undertaking. Many claws would have to be sent. Many would not return.’

‘Perhaps Clan Slynk are less-less mighty than I thought?’ asked Retchnik.

Kriktail wouldn’t be baited. ‘Speak-tell me why we do not slay you to keep this secret and then send our claws regardless?’ he asked.

Retchnik had been waiting for this, but still he bristled at the sheer audacity. ‘I am one of the Horned One’s chosen!’ he shrieked. ‘To lift-raise a claw to me is to strike at the Great Horned Rat himself!’

Kriktail gave him a flat stare. Retchnik controlled his fear-glands as he saw Spark-eye and the Gutter Runners tense for murder.

‘And because,’ he continued, ‘if you fetch-do this thing for me, I will reward Clan Slynk. I will pay ten thousand warp tokens, and use my influence in Blight City to gather a great swarm and aid-help you to crush the she-aelfs you war with in Ulgu.’

Kriktail’s wrinkled snout twisted into an ugly leer and he offered a bent-backed bow of subservience.

‘I listen, seer,’ he said, and the negotiations began in earnest.

An hour later, the Eshin delegation withdrew from Retchnik’s audience burrow. Plans were in place for their claws to assemble and follow the route he had mapped for them through the dangerous Floodwarrens and the half-collapsed gnawhole beyond.

With a snigger, Retchnik had his guards sweep his burrow for lurking killers and spying devices. Once he was satisfied that Kriktail had left no unpleasant surprises in his wake, he sent the Stormvermin outside to stand watch over the burrow, ordering them to seal the door. He had scryings to make, to ready himself for the next step in his brilliant plan. And for no reason he could set a claw on, he felt uneasy. He would feel better with the door barred.

Retiring to a shadowy antechamber, Retchnik busied himself at the brass controls of his seeing-engine. Despite his sense of triumph, something prickled at him, a feeling of disquiet that made his tail twitch.

‘Fool-fool, this is a moment of triumph,’ he chittered to himself. ‘If they get seen-caught, then Clan Slynk are butchered and I am revenged. If they fetch-bring the black realmstone from the pyramid’s heart, then my powers become even greater, and when they march against the aelf-things they will learn-learn too late that my wrath cannot be bought off. Let Slynk try to fight aelfs to their front and my swarms to their back.’

Retchnik snickered another laugh, but it felt forced. He shot a wary glance over his shoulder, twitching, but saw nothing amidst the shadows. Blinking quickly, chiding himself for his needless nerves, the Grey Seer spun around and conjured a clawful of warp lightning that crackled as it illuminated the burrow.

‘See-see, fool, he whispered to himself, ‘there is no–’

The Grey Seer’s words choked off as icy pain shot through his body. It radiated out from the base of his spine, and he felt his body going numb. A black-swathed muzzle slid into his

peripheral vision as the killer behind him leaned forward. Retchnik squirted the musk of fear as he stared into a glinting eye marbled with blue and gold.

‘How?’ croaked the Grey Seer, his limbs shaking as they went cold.

‘Deathrunner,’ hissed Spark-eye. ‘One is two and two are one. Master Kriktail gratefully accepts your gift-gift of information, but must sorrowfully decline your offer of an alliance.’

With that, the Deathrunner stepped back and the shadows swallowed him. His ghostly disappearance was the last thing Retchnik saw as he toppled sideways, and the numbness seeped its way into his brain.

  • THE HERO OF GLYMMSFORGE (22.05.18) – Captain Malendrek, civil engineer turned leader of the Glymmsforge South Gaters…
Spoiler

Captain Malendrek, civil engineer turned leader of the Glymmsforge South Gaters, scowled at the lumpy froth in his flagon. He had long ago pushed away the meal that Gertie had left for him. More bloody fish; he was sick of it.

Better a liquid meal, he had thought, and damn the morning after. Another night off duty spent at the Black Cat. It was getting to be too much of a habit.

They knew him here, at least. Knew what he had done for the city. He had told them often enough. But did he get a minstrel’s song to commemorate his deeds, like that privileged arcanocrat Knossian? Perhaps a silver statue, like the oh-so-humble Serafin Heldett, darling of the city?

No he did not. Poor, disfigured old Malendrek got a draughty room in the gatehouse, painful bunions from all the walking, and the occasional pint of cheap sweetblack bought by one of his men.

Sigmar had his chosen ones, and Vorgen Malendrek had not been among them.

The Anvils of the Heldenhammer, too obsessed with their own rites and antique rituals to answer his calls for a war council, had defended the East Gate. They were Stormcast Eternals, a force no mortal man could hope to match. They had hurled the undead hordes besieging the city back into the wastes, and kept the city’s blessed twelve-pointed arcanogram unbroken so the stealth-gheists couldn’t get in.

But so had Malendrek and the men of the city’s south. He and his lads had held it against the Slender Knight’s undead riders with nothing more extravagant than hidden moats, mist-shrouded spikefields and, at the last, a triple pincer charge led by mounted warrior priests.

That was his finest hour, even with the death toll. It had taken a lot of planning, bravura, and more than a little luck to pull it off. It should have been worth a song, or a verse at least in Knossian Glymm’s fancy ballad. But it seemed that cunning, resourcefulness and a flair for traps were not qualities good enough for two-penny minstrels, let alone the God-King and the Realm of Heavens.

‘Rot unto them,’ muttered Malendrek. ‘Rot and dust unto them all.’ He drained his pint, slurping down the dregs with a grimace. Resting his head on his arms for a moment, he let his eyes droop as his soul sank into a pool of despair and self-pity.

The barren desert stretched before him, cold winds whispering in a language he did not understand.

There, silhouetted against the tallest dune, was the deathly rider, clad in a flapping grave-shroud. It beckoned to him, as it always did. He heard its voice in his head, the promise it always made.

‘By the dunes of lost Nehekhara,’ it whispered in Malendrek’s own voice. ‘I am thine.’

The vision faded away. A powerful urge to urinate suddenly made itself known, and Malendrek stood upright with a slight stagger, banging his kneecap on the underside of the table in his haste not to disgrace himself.

He weaved his way towards the troughs at the rear of the tavern, shouldering next to a tall guard and relieving himself in a steaming yellow arc that splashed over his boots and a little over those of the guard next to him. He turned quickly away, making himself decent, and made hastily through the rear door into the alley before things turned sour.

Sour was about all he had left, thought Malendrek, these days. No wife and no family, not since the last incursion of the dead. Even his cat Threepaw had died, turned stiff and white after hissing at a lurker-gheist in the dark woods around Glass Mere. Now he had only memories, and the pity of those who still had lives worth living.

Out he staggered into the city. He passed the silver statue of the woman who had once been simply Serafin Heldett, and was now so much more. He felt the bitterness rise up to choke him, and made to spit at the statue’s feet. But his mouth was dry, and the gobbet of spittle swung from his lower lip like a pendulum, reluctant to detach. He wiped it on his sleeve and meandered on, heart swimming with shame and eyes pricking hot with tears.

It was the smoke, he told himself. The smoke of the day’s corpses, irritating his eyes. Nothing more.

That night, in his flea-infested bunk, Captain Malendrek dreamed fitfully. He dreamed of screaming, skull-like faces in the sky, and of a vast, impossible pyramid suspended over a bottomless pit. A rustling, bone-dry voice whispered on the cold, cutting wind that rushed towards that abyss.

With the strange logic of dreams, he knew who was speaking to him, for he had spoken to him before, and likely would do again. His mother had told him about this whisperer, many times, when he was a child too curious about the world to go to sleep. It was the voice of Elder Bones, a wizard-king from the olden days of Shyish, who was famous before Lyria had even been named, let alone Glymmsforge. Despite the whisper being on the cusp of hearing, he could feel the voice resonating in his skull, every syllable seeping into his bones.

‘You deserve respect,’ the voice said. ‘You deserve to be obeyed. Just as I do. Obeyed without question.’

Part of Malendrek found itself in agreement.

‘A new order is coming,’ said the voice. ‘I have chosen you to lead, as well as to follow, in that new worldscape. Open the way. Dig out the purple salt from the arcanogram at the south gate mausoleum. Replace it with sand of the same hue, and leave.’

Malendrek frowned and muttered in his sleep, not quite understanding, but feeling some manner of kinship nonetheless.

‘I am no false god, no warrior elevated above his station. I am a king, and though my rightful domain has fallen, it will rise again. Hands such as yours will open the way, until Sigmar and his golden fools are put back in their place forever more.’

The slumbering captain knew, somehow, that Elder Bones understood what it felt like to be supplanted, to be overruled, to have what was rightfully his snatched away. Perhaps he wasn’t a figure of terror after all. Perhaps he was just a man, a lost soul, misunderstood and longing for what should have been his all along.

This one, he could follow. This one would give him his rightful due.

The old captain turned in his bunk, pulled his threadbare blanket across his back, and dreamed of finally getting the laurels he so richly deserved.

A new dawn would be here soon enough.

  • ALL TURNS TO ASH (25.05.18) – An unnatural chill swept through the magmahold of the Ulrung lodge...
Spoiler

An unnatural chill swept through the magmahold of the Ulrung lodge. Those that dwelt within the carven halls were not just duardin – stout-willed and dismissive of superstition – they were Fyreslayers. As stubborn and bold as their patron deity, Grimnir, the fiery god of battle, the spike-haired warrior race scoffed at the suggestion that anyone could penetrate their defences. Over the long ages, many foes had battered upon the Ulfort’s gates, but always to no avail. Until today, no uninvited guest had ever stepped foot within the hold.

How the spectral creatures had done it was unknown, but they had. In the heart of the magmahold – behind the protective gates and axes of barrel-chested guardians – phantasmal creatures had drifted out of the bedrock and begun a terrific slaughter. There were but a few of these horrors, but before the Hearthguard Berzerkers could track them down, the fiends had wrought unspeakable calamity. Patrols were sent to each of the magmahold’s gates in an attempt to ascertain how the menace had breached their sanctum.

‘I thought all entrances bore runes to ward off the dead,’ growled one of the warriors as they strode towards the east gates to check the perimeter. As they approached the outer portcullis, all eyes turned to Grumthar, the lodge’s foremost Runesmiter.

‘Aye,’ he replied, impatiently waiting for the iron bars to rise. ‘Defences of stone and iron mean naught to spectral forms, but every gate bears the Runes of Uzk-Kalin. They should have barred entrance to such beings.’

Encounters with the undead were not unusual for those of the Ulrung lodge; over the long years since their founding they had weathered many supernatural phenomena. The lodge took part in the Ghoul Wars, survived the decade long Wailing Storm and stood firm against the Vampire alliance. Such was life in the Realm of Death.

Settled late in the Age of Myth, the Ulrung lodge had followed a trail of ur-gold into Shyish. There, they founded their hold beneath the highest peaks of the Greyspears, a volcanic range of mountains in Athanasia. Since those distant days they had expanded their underhalls and filled their Grand Vault with ur-gold. In all those years, the hold had been attacked many times, but the Fyreslayers took great pride in their mastery of defences.

Grumthar gazed out from the hold. A gloom hung heavy over the lands, growing deeper upon the horizon. Mournful howls could be heard on the rising wind. A storm was coming, and it was not a natural one.

Turning his attention to the runes that adorned the gate, Grumthar ran his calloused hands over the symbols chiseled into the iron-reinforced stone. His fingers traced the filigree of ur-gold that lined the carved ancestral marks.

‘Grown cold!’ Grumthar muttered as he probed further.

As a Runesmiter, Grumthar was a member of the Zharrgrim priesthood. It was his task to go to battle with the warriors and to call forth the power of Grimnir. By his chants did the ur-gold runes pounded into the flesh of his fellow Fyreslayers glow with the energies of the duardin god of war, granting strength and fighting prowess to the faithful. But no amount of chanting could bring these protective wards back to life – they were Uzkulrhun – runes whose power had died.

It was part of the Zharrgrim’s duty to ensure the lodge’s defensive runes were kept fiery, lit by the flame of Grimnir and linked to the eternal fires that burned within the great forge of the magmahold – and this was a duty they never shirked.

Scratching his head, Grumthar found no flaw within the runes that would explain how they had turned so cold. He felt his anger rising, but there was no foe upon which to vent his growing frustration. Here was a mystery, and Grumthar didn’t like any problem he could not solve with an axe. Haghnar needed to know of the gate’s failing. None understood the runic arts as he did, for he was Runemaster, the duardin who forged them. Haghnar would be found in the innermost sanctum of the Ulfort, in the Temple of Fire. It was there that Grumthar headed.

With every step towards the Temple of Fire, Grumthar’s apprehension grew. So vast was the immense furnace – the Great Gungron – that he should have been able to feel its heat radiating through the passageways as he drew near. Yet it was not so. Instead it grew colder as he neared the heart of the hold.

Grumthar arrived within the Temple of Fire to find the doors flung wide and the rest of the Zharrgrim priesthood gathered around Runemaster Haghnar. He saw with trepidation that the great furnace was not lit. Since the Age of Myth, when it had first been fanned to flames by sparks from Brokkfoor, the father of all forges, the Great Gungron of the Ulfort had burned hot. Now, its flames were extinguished.

Runemaster Haghnar was standing before the furnace, concentration furrowing the old duardin’s face, every muscle of this thick frame straining. Far below ground, stone shifted with deep rumbles as the Runemaster called forth magma from the realm’s core.

‘Nok Zharr Grimnir Rhynok Azamar!’ called Haghnar. ‘Let the flames of Grimnir rage forever!’

With that, molten rock burst up and flames licked the forge, yet still the furnace would not light; seemingly not even the Runemaster’s powers could rekindle it. A sinister chill descended over the chamber.

In that moment of despair, Grumthar felt his fighting spirit rising. His voice boomed, ‘Kinfolk of Ulrung – the eternal fire has turned to ash. Our defences are down. We must prepare for an assault by the dead.’

Even as he began the chant that would light the ragefires of battle within his brethren, Grumthar found the words dying in his throat.

A glow had begun in the forge, but it was not the blaze of Grimnir’s flames. It was a cold, amethyst light.

‘We cannot prepare to defend against them,’ said Haghnar, all vitality drained from his voice. ‘The foe is already here.’

  • A DYING GODDESS (29.05.18) – In the vast depths of the Flaythorn Forests...
Spoiler

In the vast depths of the Flaythorn Forests, amidst tangled roots and branches heavy with cobwebs, a goddess was dying.

Chief Blazgrat looked up at the mighty Arachnarok before him: Squashakandra the Everfeeding, the goddess of his tribe. The belly of the giant monster was swollen and pallid, the skin around her dim eyes stretched and waxen. Fear and sadness filled Blazgrat’s ugly little face as he edged closer.

‘And there’s really nothin’ we can do, Boss?’

‘Nah,’ answered Grungit the Elderest, shaman of the Bittennob tribe, as he scratched his crooked and bone-pierced nose. ‘I even got some of the shamans from the neighbouring tribes to look at ’er.’ He pointed at some half-eaten grot carcasses and gave a heavy sigh. ‘She didn’t even finish ’em.’

Blazgrat shuddered and looked back at the hulking form of Squashakandra. ‘But she seemed okay when we woz fightin’ the git with the pointy teef on his burny-horse. Squashed his rattlers left an’ right an’ even gave him a good poundin’.’

‘Of course she seemed okay, dimwit,’ Grungit hissed. ‘She is a goddess after all.’

‘But… she’s dyin’, right?’

‘Right. It’s somethin’ she ate is what it is,’ Grungit explained. ‘Just gotta look at all those deadwalkin’ hordes, all rotten and stinky. May look like a feast, but can’t be too healthy, eh?’

‘I dunno, boss,’ said Blazgrat. ‘I say there’s some dark magics goin’ on. An’ you’re just not thinkin’ hard enough to find out.’

‘Magics, huh?’ Grungit shook his head. ‘I would’ve found out in no time. Nah, ol’ Squasha ’ere is dying, I dunno why. We’re done for, Blazgrat. I wonder what a pointy-toof was doin’ in Ghur anyway…’

The huge Arachnarok shuddered, her limbs moving weakly. A deep rumble emerged from her abdomen, but it didn’t sound as if the giant arachnid was hungry. More like something was… moving inside. The grots looked at each other with anxious faces and came closer.

‘O mighty Squashakandra,’ said Grungit. ‘Tell us what pains you an’ we gonna… uh, hurt it real bad until it goes away.’ The grot’s voice rose and fell in this impressive incantation, and Blazgrat listened in awe. For a short moment, he almost felt remorse that he had doubted the mighty shaman.

‘Rise, our goddess,’ shrieked Grungit, ‘come back to da tribe! Rise!’ Squashakandra continued to sway and staggered like a puppet with half its strings cut, her movements growing ever stronger. ‘Mighty Squashakandra,’ Grungit continued. ‘Return to us! Lead us to your enemies an’ we’ll destroy those lousy gits!’

Blazgrat dared to hope. Had they been wrong? Was the illness of their goddess fading?

The Arachnarok spider finally came to her feet, unsteady, but standing. All the while, Grungit continued his chanting. ‘Squasha! Kandra! Squasha! Kandra!’

From the darkness of the forest, between dead tree trunks and dense shrubs, a rustling nose began to build as dozens, then hundreds of grots came to witness how their goddess had returned. From the treetops, spiders of all hues and sizes came crawling. They were the brood of Squashakandra, hundreds upon hundreds of eight-legged horrors, and there seemed something like hope in their beady eyes as they anxiously clicked their mandibles.

Grungit turned around to face his tribe and held his arms up high, shaking his gnarled stuff in a powerful gesture. ‘Look, lads! Squashakandra returns to us! Our goddess wants to lead our Waaagh! once more!’ The forest resounded to cheers and the high-pitched shouts of zealous grots that scampered through the forest towards the commotion. ‘Tonight, we’ll ride out an’ we’ll go look for those dead gits an’ make ’em even deader!’

Blazgrat felt his chest swell with pride. His red eyes wandered over the gathering of Spiderfang Grots and giant spiders while Grungit continued his speech, driving his kin to a zealous frenzy. Yes, they would go to war tonight, and their goddess would lead them—

With a long and squealing wheeze, Squashakandra collapsed. A deadly silence fell upon the surrounding grots as they looked on in horror. Grungit slowly turned his back to his audience to look at the Arachnarok, his staff still high above his head. His mouth opened and closed, but he didn’t have any words for this. Their goddess was dead.

There was no doubt about it. Thick and venomous drool flowed from the crooked jaws of the giant monster. Her eyes were empty.

‘Well, uh… ,’ Grungit began, but he was interrupted by another rumbling sound from the belly of the enormous spider-carcass.

‘She’s still alive,’ squealed one of the grots from somewhere.

As Grungit just continued to stare, Blazgrat overcame his own fear and walked towards his dead goddess, his heart hammering. He carefully reached out, gulping heavily. Should he dare? She was dead after all, wasn’t she?

His hand touched the giant, soft abdomen. It felt slimy and feverishly hot under his touch. A moment after his hand made contact with the body, the rumbling grew stronger. Then there was something like a moan.

Blazgrat shook his head in terror as a hand stretched the surface of the Arachnarok’s skin from the inside of the carcass. The grot stumbled backwards and fell, screaming as the body of the enormous spider cramped and shook until her whole belly tore open like along its length. Dozens of Deadwalkers spilled forth, soaked in the bodily fluids of the Arachnarok spider and fattened by its flesh.

Blazgrat crawled backwards, shrieking in sheer horror as the undead horde tore into the gathering of his fellow grots. He saw two of the undead voraciously clawing their way through Grungit’s belly, and shivering fear took him head to toe. Aghast, the shaman hadn’t even put up a fight.

Chief Blazgrat came to his feet and stumbled into the darkness, screaming like he had never before in his life.

  • THE MIRROR’S EYE (01.06.18) – Olin jabbed the fire with an old iron poker...
Spoiler

Olin jabbed the fire with an old iron poker.

‘Come on, let’s have a little heat,’ he said. He heard the brittleness beneath his forced cheer and scowled. ‘You’re not fooling anyone, old man, least of all yourself,’ he muttered. ‘Now stop putting it off. This is why you’re here. And for Sigmar’s sake, stop talking to yourself! Mad old fool…’

Olin abandoned the fire, which crackled weakly and without enthusiasm.

The tower had been cold since he arrived, two days before, to begin his preparations. Perhaps it was because its old stones reputedly shared a spiritual connection with Shyish. Or maybe it was just that it was old, and drafty, and located above the windswept shoreline of an ice-haunted sea.

Elthennia was a long-abandoned corner of Azyr, a ghost of a kingdom that had never been much more than a footnote. Too far from anything of value to be worth claiming, too wild to merit defending, it had lain in ruins since before even the Great Retreat. It was said that its failed line of kings and queens had trafficked much with the spirits of the slain, a reputation that had driven away what little life remained in their ailing realm.

That was why, centuries later, Olin had made the long journey here, hiking along the lonely roads with his old yew staff, his instruments wrapped tightly inside his battered knapsack. It was a land of ghosts. It was the ghost of a land. What better place to find a spiritual connection with the hidden places of Shyish, and to scry out that which Nagash had planned?

Olin was no warrior. He couldn’t swing a sword with his old arms. He knew little of strategy, or the crafting of great weapons. But he could see beyond that which others saw, and he hoped that – insignificant and isolated as he was in the schemes of the gods – that talent might allow him to peer past the enemy’s defences while they were otherwise engaged, and in so doing glean some insight that could aid Sigmar in his war.

The paltry fire cracked in the blackened hearth, doing nothing to stop his breath misting the air. The waves murmured on the shore below. A few candles burned against the gloom of twilight, arranged in stone alcoves around the room. Olin’s bedroll and camping stove were pushed against one wall, along with the remains of a breakfast he’d been too anxious to finish. The stone floor was dominated by a triple-circle of Azyrite wards that Olin had scribed with exacting care and charged with his own blood. At the centre of the circle stood Olin’s scrying mirror, a beautiful, gleaming oval of polished snowstone in a sigmarite setting. Next to it stood his horologue, a complex clock whose duardin-made mechanisms were powered by a minute sliver of realmstone.

These were the tools of Olin’s trade. The one let him see, and the other gave him a focus, a point of reference and a lifeline. The ticking of his horologue would always lead Olin back to himself, no matter where his soul wandered. It had never failed him, and he loved it like a favoured pet.

Now, Olin stood before his mirror and gritted his teeth.

‘Sigmar preserve me,’ he prayed, then stepped up to the mirror and touched his fingers gently to the top and bottom of its frame. Muttering incantations, Olin stared deep into the mirror’s surface. He listened to the tick, tick, tick of his horologue and, satisfied that the sound reverberated in the back of his mind, he let himself see.

Sometimes the visions took hours to come. Sometimes they did not come at all. This day was different. Crackling hoarfrost blossomed around the mirror’s edges, creeping down its sigmarite stand and spreading icy fingers across the floor. Olin’s eyelids flickered, and his pupils became opaque, like marble. The mirror shimmered. An image resolved in its surface.

A desert. Vast, sweeping, its dunes rising and falling like majestic waves in a timeless ocean. Amidst them stands a city. Its spires rise high, bursting up from the desert like thrusting arms that reach all the way to the stars above. A silvery sun beats down upon the gleaming glass of the towers and streets, the statues and prisms that make up this teeming metropolis. Power sings through the streets. The skies wheel overhead, from day to night to day again. He knows he sees Shyish, as surely as he hears the tick, tick, tick of his clock. Power. Portents. Surely this is what he seeks.

Olin drew back as he felt the stirring of something terrible. A darkness passed over the window, occluding the skies and dimming his candles. The fire had gone out in the grate, he saw, and the shadows in the chamber had grown thick and dense. He felt something, watchful and malevolent. His eyes darted around the chamber.

There was nothing, but the feeling remained.

‘Alright,’ breathed Olin. ‘Now don’t you mind me, whatever you are. I’m just looking, and I’m no harm to no one, so you just leave me be, hmm?’

He considered abandoning his ritual, but what had he really learned? His journey would be wasted, and his efforts to aid the war would come to naught. No, thought Olin, he had wards. He was safe. He must press on.

The city draws closer. Its streets bustle with a tide of humanity. Robed scholars and cunning artisans rub shoulders with affluent traders and magnificent soldiers. Yet something is wrong. Everywhere he sees mirrors, not unlike his own, and the people speak to them as though they are friends or lovers. Ghosts move within the reflections. Figures swim there in the beyond, more and more until they all but outnumber the living. The sun dims, and a rumble fills the air. The ground shakes and the city shudders, cracks running like spider-webs through its myriad mirrors. A storm of black sand whirls through the streets, and where it lashes and screams it strips flesh from bone. Darkness rises, and the people of the damned city wail in despair. The reflections of the endless mirrors spread and ripple and burst through one another in a horrifying kaleidoscope until at last all sense and sanity is gone.

Olin felt panic. This was not what he sought. He listened for the ticking of his horologue. He strained to hear it, fear rising within him. It had never stopped, never failed him. He had never lost its sound.

He heard nothing at all.

Terror pinned Olin in place. He felt the gaze of something dreadful settle upon him, cleaving his tongue to the roof of his mouth and his fingers to the surface of his mirror. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move or speak. The fear consumed him. The candles had died. The waves were silenced. There was only his mirror, and the endless, maddening reflections that marched away within it.

Then he saw it. Something moving, crawling closer, passing through one mirror image into the next, and then the next. Closer, it crawled, closer, long limbs clad in grey rags that squirmed like snakes, pale face lost in a veil of shadows that revealed only staring eyes to transfix his own.

‘Please…’ Olin croaked. ‘Please…’

For an instant it paused, close beneath his mirror’s surface, head tilted like a cat watching fish in a pool. Its limbs multiplied in the reflections around it. Its face became several, screaming mouths and staring eyes multiplying and refracting.

It lunged.

Olin’s mirror cracked as though something had struck it a fearsome blow. Shadowy strands that might have been arms shot up from its surface and snatched him by the throat. His eyes bulged as he was dragged forward, into the broken surface and through, down, down into the ever-shattered depths of the city of mirrors. Down into damnation.

In the empty chamber, the fire flickered slowly back to life. The candle flames danced in a faint night breeze, and the waves sighed up and down the sands. Only the clock did not restart. Its hands lay still, its face shattered in the same instant as Olin’s mirror.

It would never tick again. ‘Rise, our goddess,’ shrieked Grungit, ‘come back to da tribe! Rise!’ Squashakandra continued to sway and staggered like a puppet with half its strings cut, her movements growing ever stronger. ‘Mighty Squashakandra,’ Grungit continued. ‘Return to us! Lead us to your enemies an’ we’ll destroy those lousy gits!’

Blazgrat dared to hope. Had they been wrong? Was the illness of their goddess fading?

The Arachnarok spider finally came to her feet, unsteady, but standing. All the while, Grungit continued his chanting. ‘Squasha! Kandra! Squasha! Kandra!’

From the darkness of the forest, between dead tree trunks and dense shrubs, a rustling nose began to build as dozens, then hundreds of grots came to witness how their goddess had returned. From the treetops, spiders of all hues and sizes came crawling. They were the brood of Squashakandra, hundreds upon hundreds of eight-legged horrors, and there seemed something like hope in their beady eyes as they anxiously clicked their mandibles.

Grungit turned around to face his tribe and held his arms up high, shaking his gnarled stuff in a powerful gesture. ‘Look, lads! Squashakandra returns to us! Our goddess wants to lead our Waaagh! once more!’ The forest resounded to cheers and the high-pitched shouts of zealous grots that scampered through the forest towards the commotion. ‘Tonight, we’ll ride out an’ we’ll go look for those dead gits an’ make ’em even deader!’

Blazgrat felt his chest swell with pride. His red eyes wandered over the gathering of Spiderfang Grots and giant spiders while Grungit continued his speech, driving his kin to a zealous frenzy. Yes, they would go to war tonight, and their goddess would lead them—

With a long and squealing wheeze, Squashakandra collapsed. A deadly silence fell upon the surrounding grots as they looked on in horror. Grungit slowly turned his back to his audience to look at the Arachnarok, his staff still high above his head. His mouth opened and closed, but he didn’t have any words for this. Their goddess was dead.

There was no doubt about it. Thick and venomous drool flowed from the crooked jaws of the giant monster. Her eyes were empty.

‘Well, uh… ,’ Grungit began, but he was interrupted by another rumbling sound from the belly of the enormous spider-carcass.

‘She’s still alive,’ squealed one of the grots from somewhere.

As Grungit just continued to stare, Blazgrat overcame his own fear and walked towards his dead goddess, his heart hammering. He carefully reached out, gulping heavily. Should he dare? She was dead after all, wasn’t she?

His hand touched the giant, soft abdomen. It felt slimy and feverishly hot under his touch. A moment after his hand made contact with the body, the rumbling grew stronger. Then there was something like a moan.

Blazgrat shook his head in terror as a hand stretched the surface of the Arachnarok’s skin from the inside of the carcass. The grot stumbled backwards and fell, screaming as the body of the enormous spider cramped and shook until her whole belly tore open like along its length. Dozens of Deadwalkers spilled forth, soaked in the bodily fluids of the Arachnarok spider and fattened by its flesh.

Blazgrat crawled backwards, shrieking in sheer horror as the undead horde tore into the gathering of his fellow grots. He saw two of the undead voraciously clawing their way through Grungit’s belly, and shivering fear took him head to toe. Aghast, the shaman hadn’t even put up a fight.

Chief Blazgrat came to his feet and stumbled into the darkness, screaming like he had never before in his life.

  •  SACROSANT (05.06.18) – Kavastus Seven-sense stood in the grand musterground of Sigmaron...
Spoiler

Kavastus Seven-sense stood in the grand musterground of Sigmaron alongside the Lord-Arcanums from the other Stormhosts. They had been summoned, and were standing at attention in anticipation of the God-King’s arrival. Each of the Stormcast lords remained motionless, their armour gleaming in the starlight that shone down from above. It was an awesome sight to behold, yet Kavastus felt a small mote of unease deep within him. I should be at my post, he thought; I must maintain my vigil.

A metallic clang sounded high above, followed by another, and another. It was the resonance of the Six Smiths’ hammers. Kavastus knew it well, but at this distance the thunderous blows sounded different. Away from the Sigmarabulum, he could no longer hear the screams of the reforged after each strike, nor could he listen for the tell-tale signs of the reforging going awry. At first, it had been extremely rare that a reforging would fail, but such occurrences were becoming ever more common. The horrors of the abounding wars were taking their toll on the Stormcast Eternals, as were the wicked sorceries of the God-King’s myriad enemies and the pace at which the Six Smiths were being required to work. Kavastus and his brethren had been held back from these wars in order to shepherd the fallen through the reforging process. It was a duty devoid of glory, but it was vital, and he carried it out with pride.

The ringing of the hammers continued, and the Stormcast lords continued to wait. Then, with a boom of thunder, the gateway of the musterground swung open. A figure of radiant gold strode forth and up onto the arch-dais. He was majesty made manifest, star and storm given glorious form. He was Sigmar Heldenhammer, God-King of the Mortal Realms, and he looked out over his warriors.

Kavastus straightened his back, squared his shoulders and held his head high. No matter how many centuries passed, the honour of being in the God-King’s presence remained undiminished. He watched as Sigmar cast his gaze across those arrayed before him. The God-King then spoke.

‘Think upon your duty.’

The words were not bellowed, yet they carried like the rumblings of a mighty tempest, echoing around the musterground. Kavastus waited for what would be said next, but the God-King remained silent. He simply stood on his dais, looking upon the warriors below, waiting. His words had been an order, and upon realising this Kavastus reflected upon his service to Sigmar.

Long ago, before his reforging, Kavastus had known Sigmar only in tales. He had heard stories of the God-King, whose domain could be glimpsed by looking to the High Star Sigendil.

When Kavastus gazed to the Heavens, he had found he could see things that no others of his kingdom could see – he perceived various paths that the future could take, much like how the hunters saw where animals would be by looking at the leaves and grasses. He had foreseen a great trial in his own future, in which the limits of his strength and willpower would be tested.

When the marauders first came, he had thought that trail was upon him. He had called out to the stars, imploring that they grant him a portion of their burning fury that he might use it to smite the armies of

Tzeentchian aberrations that were plaguing his kingdom. The stars had answered him then; he had felt the power of Azyr flowing through him – but that had not been his great trial.

When he had received the call heavenward, he was at last given the opportunity to repay the debt he owed the God-King, to serve the one who had granted him the power to slay the Chaos invaders. Kavastus had been reforged and tasked with keeping vigil over Sigmar’s great city, ensuring that Azyrheim remained inviolate amidst the ongoing wars. Yet throughout this service he had known his true trial still lay ahead of him. Always, his greatest challenge was in the future.

As Kavastus pondered this, Sigmar spoke once more.

‘You have all served me well.’

Kavatus was almost overcome with pride. The God-King spoke only when necessary, and to receive praise from him was a rare honour. Fulfilment of duty required no recognition – Kavastus had always known this.

‘A soul war is upon us,’ continued Sigmar. ‘A war in which your chambers are now needed. You have guided your brethren through the fires of reforging, and you have seen what it has cost. This cost can no longer be borne. You must go forth and find a cure.’

Kavastus turned his eyes skyward, to the stars that stretched over Azyr. Was the fate they had foretold about to come to pass?

‘The enemy in the underworld is gaining power,’ said Sigmar. ‘His armies will come for the life I have granted you.’

Sigmar paused, casting his gaze wide over the assembly.

‘Make them pay dearly for it.’

At this, the God-King stepped down from the dais and strode out of the musterground. As the doors through which Sigmar passed were closing, an excited murmur began spreading through the gathered Stormcast Eternals. Kavastus could feel the electricity of the moment, the jubilant sensation that was affecting him and his brethren. For so long, they had been held back from the front-lines, seeing the wars unfold only through the agonies of those that were brought back for reforging. At last, they would be able to unleash their might upon the enemies of Order. From somewhere in the mustergrounds, a chant erupted.

‘Praise Sigmar! Praise Sigmar!’

Kavastus joined in, along with all others in attendance. This was it, the time he had foreseen in his past life. The great trial was upon him. He would fight in Sigmar’s wars, he would die and be reforged, but he would never falter in his duty.

Through the thunderous chanting, Kavastus heard another metallic clang high above – the sound of the Six Smiths’ in their ceaseless work – and at this, a mote of doubt crept into his soul. With his chamber deployed in the realms, who would watch over the reforgings? Now more than ever, their vigilance was

needed. Now more than ever, the lightning-gheists of those whose reforgings went awry were a danger to Azyrheim.

As quickly as it had appeared, the doubt within him dissipated, and he continued to chant along with the others. The God-King himself had given him the order.

Nothing could go wrong.

  • HEAD-TO-HEAD (08.06.18) – Gulgaz Stoneklaw – Big Boss of the Gutstompas – stood t the cliff’s edge...
Spoiler

Gulgaz Stoneklaw – Big Boss of the Gutstompas – stood at the cliff’s edge, staring into the conflagration that had enveloped the valley below. The fire stretched to the horizon, orange and red flames belching out ash clouds that blackened the sky. Its immense heat had singed his eyelids, and had started to cook the mummified heads of his two lifeless lieutenants that were mounted on his shoulders. But even so he hadn’t blinked in hours.

On the scorched plains behind Gulgaz were the teeming throngs of his tribe – greenskins, ogors and gargants beyond number. These brutal hordes had followed his campaign of destruction across the Flamescar Plateau, hacking their way through army after army with reckless enthusiasm. They had followed him to the edge of this infernal valley, where he had hoped to find a bigger battle than any they’d had before, but there had been no enemy waiting for them. After more than a week without combat, tempers among the Gutstompas were beginning to flare violently. Orruks were mobbing up, grots were hurling their crudest invective, and the biggest warriors were beginning to eat the smaller ones. Without a common enemy to battle, the Gutstompas would soon tear themselves apart.

‘There’s no one to fight here.’

The words came from directly behind Gulgaz. They were spoken by Moggo-moggo, a Wurrgog Prophet that had been with the Gutstompas for some months.

‘It’s your job to find us ’eads to bash.’

Gulgaz didn’t answer. He could hear the prophet speaking, but his mind was focused on the flames. In their flickering light he could see glimpses of a war of unprecedented scale, but when he tried to focus on these images they faded like a mirage.

‘Maybe you is not the best boss for the Gutstompas,’ said Moggo-moggo. ‘We need a big bash, and I know where to find one. Gorkamorka has shown me…’

Moggo-moggo was still speaking when another voice sounded, one that only Gulgaz could hear. It came from his left shoulder, where the severed head of his Gorka-boss Urgak sat.

‘Shut this zoggin’ idiot up!’ it yelled.

Gulgaz glanced at the head. Though its flesh had long ago withered away in the Aqshian heat, in his mind its lips still moved and frothed with spittle when it talked.

‘There is a great Waaagh!,’ continued Moggo-moggo. ‘In a faraway place, where boss of the dead has big skeleton armies, and they is…’

‘Shut ’im up!’ yelled Urgak again.

Gulgaz tightened his grip on the handle of his weapon, but then another voice came from his right shoulder, from the head of his Morka-boss Skiga.

‘No, let him speak,’ it said.

Gulgaz slackened his grip and glanced at Skiga’s head. It too was severely desiccated, though in Gulgaz’s eyes it was full of life.

Let him spill his guts,’ it continued. ‘He might say something useful.’

The big boss trusted the advice of these two lieutenants, though they did not always agree. When they argued too much they gave him a headache, a nasty pain that made him angry. He tried to think, but Moggo-moggo was still rambling on behind him.

‘…where spooky things fall from the sky and dead boyz come from the ground and…’

The bustling of the Gutstompas on the plain mingled with the prophet’s jabbering. They were getting ever more rowdy. Gulgaz looked deep into the fires below, and tried to concentrate on the glimpses of battle he could see there.

‘I can lead the Gutstompas there,’ said Moggo-moggo.

That Wurrgog finks he’s tougher than you!’ yelled Urgak.

Gulgaz pondered this.

‘Maybe,’ replied Skiga. ‘But he might know where the fightin’s at.’

The Big Boss considered this different point of view.

‘I know where the battle is,’ said Moggo-moggo. ‘It’s down the Deff-lands.’

‘He’s lying!’ yelled Urgak.

‘No he ain’t,’ replied Skiga.

A thunderous crack resounded as an Ironblaster fired its payload into a rioting horde of Moonclan Fanatics. Behind Gulgaz, the air began to crackle.

‘But you is not the boss to lead that Waaagh!,’ said Moggo-moggo.

‘Them’s fighting words!’ yelled Urgak.

‘Yes they is,’ replied Skiga.

Gulgaz felt the unmistakable static of magic coalescing behind him. His fingers tightened around his weapon.

‘I will lead the way,’ said Moggo-moggo, his deep voice now redolent with Waaagh! energy.

‘That’s enough from him!’ yelled Urgak.

‘I concur,’ replied Skiga.

Two gargants headbutted each other. A swarm of Gitmob grots piled onto a mob of Ironjaw Brutes and started stabbing.

‘I will open a portal to the Deff-lands,’ bellowed Moggo-moggo, sparks of green magic spitting from him with every syllable.

‘Kill him!’

‘Kill him!’

The big boss lifted his cleava. His mouth twisted into a snarl.

‘I just gotta make a little sacrifice first.’

‘KILL HIM!’

‘KILL HIM!’

Gulgaz spun around and, with a mighty swing, struck his cleava clean through the prophet’s neck. The Gutstompas fell silent as they all stopped their infighting to watch the severed head sailing into the air – its eyes wide with surprise, a trail of blood drops following in its wake – before landing with a thump on the rocky clifftop. Moggo-moggo’s headless body staggered forward, gushes of blood and streams of Waaagh! magic spurting from its neck. Gulgaz stepped to one side, allowing the walking corpse to stumble over the edge of the cliff. The body tumbled down, and as it fell into the fires below the vast inferno erupted with new intensity. Flames stretched into the sky, burning not red or orange, but a bright green, and from them came an endless ear-splitting wail. At the sight and sound of this, the Gutstompas burst into roars of approval and cackles of glee.

Gulgaz looked into the colossal fire before him, and there he saw clearly the war that he had only seen glimpses of before. It was glorious. An unending battlefield where the dead rose up to fight again and again, to which countless other grand armies were already marching. Gulgaz leaned down and picked up Moggo-moggo’s severed head – the prophet’s visions had been right after all. Perhaps he would provide more useful advice in the battles to come.

With the way forward now clear to him, Gulgaz bellowed his mighty war cry.

‘WAAAGH!’

Then he launched himself over the cliff and into the fires that led to the land of the dead.

  • DYING STAR (12.06.18) – The stellarium was a whirring mass of concentric stone circles...
Spoiler

The stellarium was a whirring mass of concentric stone circles. It occupied a chamber as wide and open as a city square, orbited by glowing spheres and cascades of vibrant colour. The glorious expanse of the aetheric void was depicted in such maddening complexity that only the ancient minds of the slann could truly comprehend it.

Maq’uat was a Starpriest, a humble skink servant of these god-like beings, and such matters were far beyond his inquisitive mind. Yet even he could tell that something momentous and terrifying was occurring.

Stars were withering in the void. This was no violently beautiful act of celestial law in effect, no natural cycle of existence coming gracefully to a close.

This was murder. Slow and purposeful, and carried out on a cosmic scale.

The diminutive creature watched in mounting horror as the blazing lights of the orrery faded and became black as coal, the star-blood that gave them vital life draining away into nothing. The tapestry of the cosmos was once more being unmade. Yet this was not the work of the eternal enemy, Maq’uat was sure of it. There was a pattern here, a subtlety quite at odds with the unrestrained depredations of the Dark Gods, a plan inconceivably complex in scale and woven with the patience of aeons.

A pall of darkness fell across the grand Star Chamber. For a moment Maq’uat thought he heard a susurrus of mocking whispers, laughter emanating from the shadows. His frill rippled with unease, and reflexively he raised his serpent staff.

Silence. Maq’uat hissed, bobbing his head. Nothing could breach the temple-ship of Aximahotl, not without alerting Narok-Gar and his sentinels.

‘The master must awaken,’ he said. His chirping voice sounded small and fearful in the silence of the golden hall.

He turned and scampered up the stairs. Reaching the highest gallery, he pressed his clawed hand into a similarly shaped depression in the facing wall. The glyph-stone glowed azure, and a doorway yawned open. Beyond, a bubbling stream of crystal clear liquid ran down the centre of a circular passage lined with bricks of gold. The Starpriest followed the path, and the soothing trickle of the blessed waters calmed his racing heart and focused his mind.

The path wound on and on, circling back on itself in a maddening series of switchbacks and spiralling ascents. Maq’uat passed rows of gleaming ziggurats surrounded by moats of blinding starlight. He strode on amidst shifting blocks of burnished gold that swirled and rearranged themselves in a constant, maddening dance.

The Starpriest eventually came to a vast, spherical cavern with a single bridge of gleaming tiles leading across empty space. As he walked, Maq’uat peered down to the floor of the World Chamber, leagues below. There lay a great expanse of jungle, gouged by glittering river deltas. He felt a tinge of longing. It had been too long since he had hunted with his spawn-kin, since he had smelled the sweet scent of swamp air and felt the warmth of sun-baked rock under his skin. But that was all a distant dream. His master needed him, and Maq’uat would serve Lord Xuatamos until lonely death if it were asked of him.

The geometry of the temple-ship should have been impossible to navigate by any mortal measure, but to the skink it was familiar and reassuring. At the far side of the bridge he entered another passage, and found himself at the foot of his master’s altar. The pyramid climbed high, its summit lost in a swirl of mists. A seething mass of serpents and lizards poured down the engraved steps. They parted before Maq’uat like a living river as he ascended.

At the top of the altar a throne of carved obsidian hung in the air, beneath a storm cloud of aetheric energy. Upon this throne sat Lord Xuatamos.

‘Master!’ trilled Maq’uat, his voice piping high as he rushed forwards. He feared Xuatamos was dead. The master of the temple-ship was slumped and motionless. His bloated body was not its usual vibrant green, but as grey and withered as a shed skin. The slann’s eyes were sunken and corpse-like, and his face was marked with blotches of purple-black bruises.

Maq’uat closed his eyes as he placed his hands upon Lord Xuatamos’ forehead. For many agonising moments he felt nothing. Then, mercifully, the slightest of sparks flashed through him, a single flickering of consciousness.

The Starpriest sagged with relief, but it was a fleeting sensation. Maq’uat had never felt so alone, so helpless. Death and disaster were near at hand, and without the Starmaster’s infinite wisdom to guide him, he was lost in a void of indecision.

He stood, gazing at the ruined form of his master. Above, the celestial energies boiled and swirled, and in the depths of that storm Maq’uat saw the glittering constellation of Sotek’s Fangs, burning with fierce vitality amidst the turmoil.

‘The fate of worlds falls to lesser creatures,’ the Starpriest whispered. A course of action had entered his mind. It was drastic, blasphemous even. Yet he could not stand by while darkness rose to swallow all.

Narok-Gar stood sentinel before the great doors of the spawning chambers, as motionless as a statue. The Sunblood looked as though he was hewn from obsidian by an unskilled sculptor. Scars and burns covered his grey-green scales from snout to claw, and the club-like ridge of the saurus’ skull was gouged horribly above his left eye – an old wound caused by a Khornate axe.

His eyes did not even flicker towards Maq’uat as the Starpriest approached.

‘You are not Starmaster,’ Narok-Gar growled. ‘No pass.’

‘Lord Xuatamos will not come,’ chirped Maq’uat. ‘He has entered the long sleep, and will not awaken. It falls to us, honoured one.’

Narok-Gar’s pitiless eyes finally snapped across to meet the skink’s own. He tried not to shrink before that ancient stare. The Sunblood was old even for his kind, and the list of his victories against the Dark Gods was beyond recounting.

‘There is an ancient power rising,’ Maq’uat said. ‘Death saps the light from the stars, and smothers the realms in darkness and fear. We must act. The spawning cycle must be brought forwards. We must make ready for war.’

‘You are not Starmaster.’

‘He will not come,’ repeated Maq’uat. ‘Our master lies dying. The lights of the constellations fade. If we do not intervene–’

Narok-Gar growled softly, and the Starpriest’s acute danger-sense urged him to take flight. Yet he stood his ground determinedly, meeting the saurus warrior’s eyes with as much boldness as he could muster.

‘Do you not wish to fight?’ he asked. ‘How long has it been since your club has tasted the blood of the unclean?’

The Sunblood stood still and silent for a long while. Hours passed, but the skink knew the nature of the saurus mind well enough to do nothing. At last, the sentinel stepped back, and struck his obsidian club against the door behind him. The sound resonated thunderously through the halls. A moment later, the doors began to rumble open, and the Sunblood stood aside to let Maq’uat pass.

The skink trembled as he entered the spawning chamber. A circular path skirted the edge of a great lake, its dark waters placid and shimmering. Great golden wheels were built into the walls, marked with hieroglyphs and sacred wards, and the ceiling was open to the heavens. Blessed starlight rippled across the gestation pool. On all sides, helmed guards stood vigilant, their spears and clubs held in steady claws. They did not move a muscle as Maq’uat passed by them on his way to a raised dais at the far end of the chamber.

He stepped up to the glyph-stone in the center of the platform, and his hand hovered an inch from its shimmering surface. Never before had a lowly Starpriest been given such terrible responsibility. It was no small thing to accelerate the cycle of spawning. Seraphon birthed too early were often prone to fits of bestial rage, unable to control the predatory impulses of their primordial selves.

Yet Maq’uat could see no other option. Steeling his mind, he pressed his claw down upon the glyph-stone, as he had seen his master do so many times before.

There was a deep grinding sound before the thunderous roar of rushing liquid. The golden wheels began to spin, and water gushed out in frothing torrents. Writhing shapes could be seen within the deluge, the protean forms from which the armies of the stars would grow.

The warm air became humid, and then swelteringly hot. Maq’uat watched the pool bubble and boil with new life.

A chorus of shrill screams filled the air, frenzied and agonised, spilling forth from half-formed mouths. Blood stained the waters.

‘Born with hate,’ said Narok-Gar, causing Maq’uat to jump. The Sunblood had approached with surprising stealth. ‘Born in pain. Pain gives strength.’

‘They will need it,’ the Starpriest said.

Narok-Gar growled in agreement.

‘I summon starhosts,’ the old warrior said. ‘Where to strike, Starpriest?’

‘The amethyst realm,’ replied Maq’uat. ‘It is from there that the decay spreads, stealing the life from all it touches. The light of Sotek will guide us, honoured one. I only hope that we are not too late.’

  • THE FORGOTTEN DEAD (15.06.18) – Rayvan Nightbolt pressend on through the cold mist of the Shyishan outerlands...
Spoiler

Rayvan Nightbolt pressed on through the cold mists of the Shyishan outerlands, her storm-blessed pistol in one hand, the Katophrane-crafted metal tablet in the other. Her bones ached and her muscles were racked with exhaustion – not only from trekking through this land that saw neither sun nor moon, but also from the untrammelled death magic that was so potent this far towards the Realm’s Edge. She could barely see in front of her, and the black plating of her sigmarite armour seemed to blend into the pervasive gloom. But she had to go on – she had come too far, and too much had been lost, for her to turn back now.

‘I am an envoy of the God-King,’ she said.

There was no one there to reply.

This had been happening more and more: she would find herself speaking, as if answering a question, but as soon as the words left her lips she had no memory of the question she was answering, nor of who had asked it. Other times she wandered in some wayward direction, as if being lead from her path by an invisible guide. Upon realising, she would look to the metal tablet in her hand, upon which was etched the map she was following, and she would correct her course. This was a strange place, where thoughts quickly became scattered like dead leaves in the wind. But there was one constant that remained fixed in Rayvan’s mind – she had to find Vannah, the God of the Forgotten Dead.

As she trudged forward, Rayvan saw a dim light ahead of her. At first she thought it was yet another trick of this perplexing environment, but it held steady in her vision and grew brighter as she continued to move towards it. With the light still distant, she stopped and readied her finger on the trigger of her weapon.

‘Do not bar my path, gheist. I have come too far.’

Again, there was no one to hear her words. The light still glowed ahead. Rayvan approached it once more, and as she did so, words came drifting into her mind.

why have you come here

It was not so much a voice that Rayvan heard, but a thin whisper at the edge of her thoughts. Each word felt like a long-distant memory, obscured by time to the point that it was barely tangible.

‘I am an envoy of Sigmar, God-King of the Mortal Realms. I seek Vannah.’

There was no answer.

Rayvan thought she could see the light before her taking shape. What at first had appeared as a dim mote was now a broad column of pale luminescence, and as the surrounding mists thinned she could see that it stretched up high above her.

The whispering voice came into Rayvan’s mind once more.

how have you found me

This time its words had slightly more substance – they felt more real in her mind, as though they had been remembered more clearly.

‘This,’ said Rayvan, holding the metal tablet towards the light before her. ‘It was crafted in an age long gone by the Katophranes of Shadespire. It was found by my brethren in the ruins of that now-cursed city, and I have followed it to seek the God of the Forgotten Dead. Are you he?’

There was another long silence, followed by another whispered word.

yes

Rayvan clenched her jaw, holding back her frustration. The tomes of the Katophranes had spoken of a hidden underworld, untouched by Nagash, in which souls abounded. She had been tasked with finding this sequestered death god in the hopes that his spectral subjects would join in the war against the Great Necromancer. Rayvan looked to her surroundings, and aside from the glowing light before her saw only mist. Many of her brothers and sisters had been lost in the search for this place. Had it all been for naught?

‘You say you are Vannah,’ said Rayvan with confidence born of anger. ‘But where are your followers? I see none in this place.’ As she spoke the column of light grew more defined. It had a body, spectral limbs and the outline of a barely perceptible face.

‘A great war is upon us,’ she continued. ‘And it will consume this realm. The God-King beseeches you join him so that Nagash might be defeated.’

As Rayvan’s words rang out, the mists began to part. She saw the lifeless features of the land around her coming into view for the first time, and upon the fields of barren soil were rows upon rows of spectral figures cast in neither light nor shadow. Tens of thousands of them stood motionless, facing her, their shapes defined only by the absence they cut into their surroundings.

These are my forgotten dead.

The voice was no longer a whisper. Each syllable had weight and solidity, like a slab of cold stone shaped for a specific purpose.

In death they sought escape from the deeds of their past, and by my power were they stricken from all memory.

The being of amethyst light loomed over Rayvan, its brightness now intense. From the spectral hordes came the faint sounds of weeping, moaning and bitter anguish.

‘You can no longer remain hidden!’ she declared. ‘Nagash must be stopped!’

No sooner had she spoken than she received her reply.

I am hidden no more.

The ground in front of Rayvan began to split, cracks racing through the fallow earth in great arcs that encircled the luminous god before her. She stepped back as the soil within the circle fell away to nothingness, revealing a gaping chasm into which the light of the death god streamed.

Nagash has followed you here!

With a soul-splitting howl the god’s being was sucked into the blackness below. Rayvan stared into the abyss, dumbstruck, only looking up when she became aware of the tormented wailing around her. The spectres that filled the land had become plainly visible, no longer shrouded from her memory now that their god had been devoured. Their faces were twisted into expressions of pain and self-loathing, and they stared at her with hate-filled eyes. She had come here seeking their allegiance. She had come that they might save themselves from Nagash. Could it be that she had doomed them to his service?

As Rayvan beheld the spectral hordes, she felt the earth beneath her feet tremble, and from the dark chasm that had torn open came the booming and dreadful voice of Sigmar’s ancient enemy.

‘NONE CAN HIDE FROM ME. EVERY SOUL IS MINE BY RIGHT.’

At this, the spectral hordes surged towards Rayvan. She dropped the Katophrane tablet, drew her storm sabre, and prayed to Sigmar for a swift death.

  • NAGASHIZZAR RESURGENT (19.06.18) – Mannfred von Carstein watched the columns of skeletons...
Spoiler

Mannfred von Carstein watched the columns of skeletons pour into the courtyard. Each of the undead minions bore a precious cargo held in its boney hands – a single grain of grave-sand – which it deposited into a receptacle before turning and marching towards the borders of Nagashizzar and beyond.

Mannfred focused on one of the pieces of Shyishan realmstone, watching as a withered sorcerer took it from its receptacle, and through dark alchemical magics fused it together with thousands of others to form a brick of black glass. The Necromancer then climbed a staircase of bone and placed the brick atop thousands of others to complete an enormous cube. Together with the other Necromancers in the courtyard, the Deathmage plied the cube with amethyst flames, melding the stack of bricks into a single cyclopean block. The block was then raised up from the osseous sand, lifted by necromantic magics, and in mid-air was brought into contact with several-hundred similar blocks. With a flash of amethyst energy, the blocks were sealed together, forming a slab that extended far beyond the courtyard’s walls.

With streams of fell sorcery, the Necromancers who stood before Mannfred – along with scores more in the adjoining courtyards – lifted the slab higher into the air, whereupon hundreds of wailing spirits floated down to take hold of it. The spirits lifted the slab ever upwards, towards the Great Black Pyramid that blotted out the sky. They passed beneath the inverted pyramid’s peak, the four-sided point that stabbed down at the dead earth, and joined the uncountable swirl of other spirit-hosts who were each carrying their own slabs up towards the monolith’s incomparable heights.

Mannfred kept watching the one slab until it was too small to pick out from the oppressive blackness of the pyramid. It had been his undead legions who had carried the grave-sand from the Realm’s Edge, yet he still knew so little of its ultimate purpose. He could feel the winds of Death billowing towards the pyramid, and he could see that the enormous edifice was almost complete, but he did not yet know exactly how his master planned to use it. There was precious little time left to rectify this lack of understanding, to harness this great work for his own purposes.

‘MY SERVANT.’

The chill words ripped Mannfred’s concentration away. After so many centuries he had become adept at disguising the loathing he harboured towards his master, but Nagash’s voice still sparked the hatred he held deep within his tattered soul. In another world, it would have been him that was the master, not the servant. He turned to face the archway in which the Great Necromancer stood.

‘You summoned me,’ he said, his words riding the thin edge between question and statement. Nagash looked down upon his Mortarch, his skeletal visage impassive.

‘THE HOUR OF COMPLETION DRAWS NEAR,’ said the Great Necromancer. ‘IS NAGASHIZZAR SECURE?’

Mannfred ground his fangs at the implicit insult. Nagash knew all that went on in his city, and seldom asked questions to which he did not already know the answer. He had called upon his Mortarchs to repel the armies marching upon Nagashizzar. The summons into the city, the question just posed, these were just tests of Mannfred’s loyalty – the most recent in an endless series designed to remind the Mortarch of Night of his subservience.

Mannfred forced a thin smile.

‘My armies are ready and at your disposal,’ he said. ‘But our enemies will soon be upon us. From the south, the forces of Sigmar and his allies are crossing the Mournful Peaks. The greenskin hordes have overrun the Harrowforts and are fast approaching from the east. And to the west, a Chaos Lord has gathered daemons and mortals from across the realms to his banner.’

As Mannfred finished his report, he looked to his master for any hints of the grand stratagem that was unfolding, but saw nothing in his master’s expressionless eyes.

‘YOU WILL KEEP THEM FROM MY GATES.’

At that, the Great Necromancer turned to leave.

‘Perhaps,’ said Mannfred, sensing an opportunity, ‘if I knew what part the pyramid will play, I could better direct my forces to where they will be needed.’

Nagash turned back and fixed his gaze on Mannfred again. At once, the Mortarch felt his master’s abyssal vision pierce him, his mind laid bare for the Great Necromancer to see. His innermost ambition, his secret desire for supremacy, his futile attempts at subterfuge were exhumed from within his being. Nagash saw all that he was, and Mannfred felt the malefic ire of his master.

‘YOU WISH TO KNOW MY PLANS?’ The words cut through Mannfred like hallowed blades, their burning intensity drowning out all other thoughts but hatred. But Nagash at last withdrew his transfixing stare.

‘THIS ONCE,’ Nagash continued. ‘I WILL INDULGE YOUR CURIOSITIES. THE MAGIC OF AN ENTIRE REALM HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO ME. THE ENDING OF ALL THINGS WILL SOON BE MINE TO SHAPE.’ He spoke with oppressive finality, every word delivered as an inescapable certainty.

‘WITH THE POWER OF SHYISH AT MY COMMAND, THE DEAD OF THE MORTAL REALMS WILL RISE AS ONE. THE LIVING WILL BE SLAIN BY THE UNDEAD, AND THEIR SOULS WILL DESCEND TO SHYISH – NO LONGER TO MYRIAD UNDERWORLDS, BUT ALL TO NAGASHIZZAR.’

Mannfred listened to his master’s words, his hate replaced by awe at the scope of Nagash’s design.

‘WITH THEIR FOLLOWERS GONE, THE SO-CALLED GODS WILL ALSO FALL. ONE BY ONE THEY WILL SUBMIT TO MY DOMINION, OR ELSE I WILL TURN THEM TO ASH.’

The Mortarch winced at Nagash’s words. It was this choice between eternal service and annihilation that had seen him bound to the Great Necromancer for uncounted centuries.

‘THROUGH DEATH I WILL ACHIEVE WHAT SIGMAR THE SOUL-THIEF NEVER COULD. I WILL HAVE ORDER. UNQUESTIONED. UNENDING. AND WITH THAT ORDER, I WILL PURGE CHAOS FROM THE MORTAL REALMS.’

With his last words still resonating in Mannfred’s mind, Nagash turned and floated away. But as he passed into darkness through the archway, the Great Necromancer uttered one last thing to his Mortarch.

‘DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELF, SERVANT. MY VICTORY IS INEVITABLE.’

Mannfred looked up at the Great Black Pyramid that scarred the sky, and beheld the construction for what it truly was. Nagash was right – the end of life would soon come. Mannfred knew he could not subvert his master’s will. Not now.

Not yet.

  • THE FINAL WITNESS (22.06.18) – I should have listened to her. I should have run...

Spoiler

I should have listened to her. I should have run. But I had to see for myself what lay at the end of all things.

Gazing into my fire, I had borne witness to the horrors that were manifesting throughout the realms. I, Elias, a simple scryer of fates, had seen the portents that had foretold this doom, and in turn I had been seen by one possessed of power far beyond my own.

In my ignorance, I thought I was just an observer, separated from the wars of gods and mortals. But I was a fool.

Desperate for understanding, I looked into the flames once more, seeking out others who had read the signs. I saw the vast armies that had gathered in Shyish, and I watched as their processions led towards the same mass grave. They were heading to the city of the Great Necromancer. They were marching upon Nagashizzar.

The forces of Order were first to step onto the vast, lifeless plain that stretched south of the city. Led by a Lord-Celestant clad in black and gold, and shielded by the magics of slann Starmasters, they marched forward, through the raw flows of necromantic energy that had coalesced in the centre of the realm.

The dead poured out from Nagashizzar to meet them, endless columns of skeletal soldiers, cannibal thralls and deadwalker hordes. Howling spirits and winged monstrosities soared through the skies, striking fear into the souls of the living, and morbid engines of bone and sinew drifted south towards their enemy. As this host advanced, I saw its grim general, an ancient vampire whose name was synonymous with terror and cruelty – Nagash’s Mortarch of Night. But before the lines of Order and Death met, the Mortarch brought his legion to a halt. There they waited, a mere league out from the gates of Nagashizzar, as the forces of Order marched steadily towards them. It was then that I saw the paths of fate crystallising.

A Chaos Lord of Ghur brought his armies flooding over the horizon from the east, tearing onto the plain with terrifying speed, heading straight towards the left flank of the Lord-Celestant’s army. His frenzied and sadistic warriors charged with reckless abandon, while his spell-weavers and rot-addled henchmen rained obliteration down upon their hated enemies. I heard the howls of grotesque pleasure and the screams of agony – I saw flesh burn and blood spilled.

As the forces of Order squared off against this newly arrived foe, the clangour of battle resounded across the desolate plain, carrying into the east, to hordes of greenskins led by a Wurrgog Prophet. They were almost upon the sepulchral walls of Nagashizzar. The brutal greenskin tribes had the city in their sights, but upon hearing the sounds of battle coming from the south, their attention was diverted. In the din of combat, the prophet perceived the war to which his visions had drawn him. He steered his forces south of the city to where the armies of

Chaos and Order were locked in combat, and he called out his Waaagh! as his warriors barreled into the fray.

The Lord-Celestant’s army was trapped – Chaos on one side, Destruction on the other. As bravely as the warriors of Order fought, they could not hold formation against the crush. Piles of fresh dead began to grow amongst the carnage – yet the fallen did not stay down for long. Mortally wounded bodies rose to their feet, taking up whatever weapons they could before turning upon the living. Dismembered corpses clawed at their erstwhile allies, tearing at the flesh of whatever warriors were nearest. It was then that the Mortarch at last moved his legion forward, advancing with grave certainty towards the rapidly dwindling invaders.

At that moment, I thought that the last glimmer of hope had faded. The armies of the Mortal Realms had marched against Nagash, and had come so close. But at the last, their bitter hatred for one another had spelled death for us all.

Yet this was not their end.

A deafening crack sounded on the far side of the city. The choking lakes of tar that flanked Nagashizzar’s northern border began to overflow, sending great waves of black sludge flooding forth. From this viscous muck emerged thousands upon thousands of greenskin brutes, bellowing in fury as they charged towards Nagash’s city. Where they had come from, I could not see, for whatever force had guided them into Shyish was barring my vision. The leader of this mysterious horde was an enormous orruk, his face marked by a vicious wound and his right eye missing. From atop his monstrous steed he called out to his fellow creatures of Destruction, and in a surge of green flesh they crashed into the outermost wall of Nagashizzar. I had not thought it possible, but as the night gave way to dawn the wall crumbled before the might of the attacking horde. Brutish warriors poured into the Nagashizzar’s outer districts, smashing through sepulchres and statues dedicated to the Lord of Undeath. Startled necromancers summoned their unliving minions to hold back the green tide, and from further within the city reinforcements marched with desperate haste to meet the intruders.

To the south, the surprise attack did not go unnoticed. The Mortarch split his army, leading the bulk of his forces back to the city to stem the influx of orruks. With the deathly legion divided, the Lord-Celestant was at last able to drive what was left of his army northward. His warriors hacked into the remaining skeletons and Deadwalkers, pressing ever forward, trampling over the dead before they could rise once more. Behind them, the Destruction hordes spied a new enemy that they had not yet fought, and charged headlong into the blood-slick forces of the Chaos Lord.

It was as though the flames of hope had been rekindled. From the north, Nagashizzar was assailed by orruks, while from the south, the Lord-Celestant’s army inched ever closer. The clouds of dread began to part in my mind, and I looked once more to the portents to see if this victory could be achieved. Was it possible? Could Death be defeated? Could the Mortal Realms prevail?

No.

These things would not come to pass.

As I stared deeper into the dwindling fires, I saw before me the Great Black Pyramid, a dark scar in reality floating above the heart of Nagash’s city. It was the locus of fates, the end of all things, towards which the energy of an entire realm was being drawn. As I looked upon it, I saw only death, for it was the limit of existence, beyond which all life would cease to be.

It was already complete.

Nagash had already won.

  • THE GREAT BLACK PYRAMID (26.06.18) – Like a living shadow, Kriktail of Clan Slynk led his clique of Gutter Runners...
Spoiler

Like a living shadow, Kriktail of Clan Slynk led his clique of Gutter Runners and Assassins from archway to colonnade to mausoleum on his way through Nagashizzar. His clique was but one of hundreds, but with the surety of a born winner, he knew he had penetrated the furthest into the cursed city of Nagash. His kill-pack picked their way through catacombs and cloisters, sliding from one monolithic obelisk to another, sneaking past towering statues of the legendary Mortarchs and building-sized death’s heads. Darting in the shadow of lumbering undead gargants they went, flitting as half-shadows between stationary legions of bone-things, then climbing up the skull-studded pillars to run soundlessly across slanting roofs.

The Slynk adepts had learned of what the Grey Seer Retchnik had intended, and through him, learned the schemes of the Masterclan. There was undoubtedly something at the heart of the obsidian-black pyramid hovering inverted above the city; a prize that could ensure the ascendance of the Clans Eshin forever more. According to their shadowmaster back in Ulgu, the stakes were higher than ever.

On they went through the undead city, using every artifice of the Form of Smoke and Shade to its full extent. Even Nagash’s watchful Morghast sentinels were little match for Clan Slynk’s finest. With their uncanny abilities bolstered by rites of concealment and illusion, at times they were no more substantial than sighs of cold air on the breeze. They slid ever onwards towards the vast black pyramid at the necropolis’ heart. In there was the quintessence of power, and they would claim it.

No matter the cost.

Atop the highest of Nagashizzar’s pyramids save one, Arkhan the Black stared upon his works with a feeling of cold satisfaction. How long had it been since Nagash had tasked him with creating the masterwork that now blotted out the light of Hysh with its vastness? How many of the restless dead had marched to his slavish beat over the millennia? Come to that, how many warriors of how many races had given their lives to stop it, the screams and battlecries of their armies even now carrying upon the wind?

It mattered little, in the final reckoning. Let Mannfred have his sport, setting one enemy against another as he sprung the long-honed defences of Nagashizzar upon those who sought to challenge the Master. Let Neferata rejoice in the culmination of her centuries-long schemes, strife upon strife ensuring that no force of the Pantheon of Order could truly call another a trusted ally. Nagash’s would-be nemeses were arriving piecemeal, or not at all.

All that mattered was the Great Work, and it was a few trickling sand-grains away from completion. With a thrilling sense of grandeur, Arkhan looked out upon the myriad tombs, monuments and statues of Nagashizzar. He intoned a phrase of power in ancient Nehekharan, and summoned the host of departed spirits that would carry the capstone of his greatest

achievement – Nagash’s greatest achievement, he corrected himself – to its final resting place, and in doing so, damn the Mortal Realms forever.

Soon, so soon, it would all be over. The Great Black Pyramid would thrum with power, and the necroquake unfold. Together Nagash and his faithful servants would watch as the spirits of all the ages rose from their graves to slay the living, and then drink in the power that was rightfully theirs in the aftermath. The souls of the dead would all find their way to Nagashizzar, starving the other gods of worship – and in so doing, laying them low.

It was a plan so beautiful in its ambition, its completeness, that Arkhan felt moved for the first time in aeons. If he had still been a mortal man – and if he had still been capable – he would have wept.

Ignoring the sounds of battle around the citadel’s lower levels, Lord-Ordinator Arros Diviniad put his eye to the arcanoscope of his citadel’s observatorium. Pushing the sounds of screaming and the clashing of swords out of his mind, he consulted the complex orrery and scrying mortar-and-pestle arrangement on his desk, tweaked a silver strand of wire on the Shyishan section of his star chart, and leaned in close. Within the brimming mortar upon his desk, a solution of ground celestium and powdered glimmerings revealed a scene of marching armies converging upon a city of midnight-black monuments. It was a sight that filled him with mounting dread.

Weeks ago his trusted friend and confidante, Vorrus Starstrike, had given in to his own vendetta instead of leading the march upon Nagashizzar. In waging war against the Khornate armies of Marakarr Blood-Sky, he had destroyed any chance the two forces had of reaching Nagashizzar intact and shattering the works of the Great Necromancer. Without coherence, without unity, the vitality, talent and spark of the races of the living would be stymied, and ultimately come to nothing. Even now they were held at bay by the serried legions of the dead – who, by contrast, were united under a single indomitable will.

And they would pay with their lives.

Lord Arros sighed, the weight of a dozen deaths heavy upon him, and strode towards the stairs. He must return to Azyr, for the Sacrosanct Chambers would be mustering for a new war, and his brotherhood had need of him.

The sound of armoured feet came from the citadel’s spiral staircase as horned, plate-clad killers raced up the stairs. He took up his astral hammers and ran to meet them, knowing full well he went to his death.

A robed figure drifted over the cold Shyishan dunes towards the Crystal Gates, his many mouths muttering in a dozen different languages at once. Bangles chimed on his four slender arms, and motes of light like collapsing constellations glimmered under his voluminous hood. He had led many key players in a secret dance, manipulating their actions to music only he could hear. With the other unwitting participants sliding into place at the last, his master would be pleased with the chorus of anarchy that resulted.

The daemon shapeshifter could feel the energy of potential futures crackling in the air. The greatest change to befall the Mortal Realms since the coming of the Great Game was mere moments away. Soon, those energies that mortals sought to tame – and gods too, come to that – would be unleashed, never to be truly controlled again.

The Deathrunner Spark-eye gave the signal, and as one the Clan Slynk skaven held their breath. The cool air of Nagashizzar above them was filled with a gale of spirit hosts, swirling around the purple-black monoliths that formed the outer skin of the Great Pyramid.

The time was nigh.

image.png.7c877cde83213acaaad2beabc06172e1.png

Edited by Garxia
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This is cool, those stories were awesome.  

Are you able to compile and host somewhere in PDF form collected? 

I assume GW has some copyright issues with that.

I also assume BL may release these in some form printed.  Granted it's a little dated, but maybe in a collection novel or something?

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22 hours ago, Popisdead said:

This is cool, those stories were awesome.  

Are you able to compile and host somewhere in PDF form collected? 

I assume GW has some copyright issues with that.

I also assume BL may release these in some form printed.  Granted it's a little dated, but maybe in a collection novel or something?

They released a bound copy of these for those who had signed up to attend the adepticon warhammer panel. If you go to ebay you can usually find one or two available for not too expensive.

Check ebay for Malign Portents collected fiction. 

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It took longer than expected, after some fighting with the forum, but finally I got it: all Malign Portents stories, included the White Dwarf prelude one.

Personally, these are some of the greatest lore pieces in AoS until date, so flavourful and with varied protagonists, hoping Broken Realms new arch and stories pick up the baton (first one was really good!).

Finally, dunno if this is the correct subforum, if a mod needs to move the thread, feel free to do it.

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9 minutes ago, Garxia said:

It took longer than expected, after some fighting with the forum, but finally I got it: all Malign Portents stories, included the White Dwarf prelude one.

Personally, these are some of the greatest lore pieces in AoS until date, so flavourful and with varied protagonists, hoping Broken Realms new arch and stories pick up the baton (first one was really good!).

Finally, dunno if this is the correct subforum, if a mod needs to move the thread, feel free to do it.

Thank you very very much again !

IIRC, there was more than one MP short story in WD. Do you also have it ? I'll check and come back to you ASAP.

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@Garxia Found it !

It's "Dig Deep", in March 2018 White Dwarf.

Also, the Malign Portents website had a AOS History "Timeline section", pretty similar to the new one on the current AOS website. However, it also had a "Mortal Realms explanation" video by Phil Kelly, which I found way better than the current new MR video on the new site. 

It's still on YouTube, but not referenced. Would you like to put it in the OP ?

 

MP_WD Story 2_Dig Deep.png

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34 minutes ago, HorticulusTGA said:

@Garxia Found it !

It's "Dig Deep", in March 2018 White Dwarf.

Also, the Malign Portents website had a AOS History "Timeline section", pretty similar to the new one on the current AOS website. However, it also had a "Mortal Realms explanation" video by Phil Kelly, which I found way better than the current new MR video on the new site. 

It's still on YouTube, but not referenced. Would you like to put it in the OP ?

 

MP_WD Story 2_Dig Deep.png

Great find! @HorticulusTGA

I’ll check it later and add it to the main post. 😁

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After a lot of fighting with the forum, many 504 ERROR messages and almost giving up, here it is: The Final Edit.

I have added the last story (DIG DEEP) and fixed a few formatting errors.

Now, onto Broken Realms, that has had a spectacular start with great stories and and huge and cool lore advancing.

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On 11/27/2020 at 9:26 PM, Garxia said:

After a lot of fighting with the forum, many 504 ERROR messages and almost giving up, here it is: The Final Edit.

I have added the last story (DIG DEEP) and fixed a few formatting errors.

Now, onto Broken Realms, that has had a spectacular start with great stories and and huge and cool lore advancing.

Do you want to add the Forbidden Power stories before Broken Realm ?

IIRC one of them at least ("the Hammer god") should herald something from BR :) 

EDIT 1 : @Garxia here they are https://www.warhammer-community.com/soul-wars/  

 They also may be 1 or 2 in White Dwarf, I'll go check : 

EDIT 2 : so there are 9 fictions on WarCom (link above) and 3 in White Dwarf : 

- WD January 2019 : Deadly Venture

- WD February 2019 : The Thirsting Blade

- WD March 2019 : Empty Graves

EDIT 3 : Also, unrelated, general AOS short stories in White Dwarf (September 2016 to November 2020) : 

- WD May 2019 : The Curse Gold-Grudge

- WD June 2019 : Reignition

- WD August 2019 : Blood Hunt (Warcry story)

- WD October 2019 : The Duality Of Vengeance (as @Enoby said in another thread IIRC) is maybe a kind of prequel for the new Slaanesh Twinsouls unit...

- WD November 2019 : Hunger Pains

- WD January 2020 : Red Prospects

- WD February 2020 : The Death Of Dakkbad Grotkicker

- WD April 2020 : The Great Cycle (Beastgrave story)

- WD October 2020 : The Beasts within (Beastgrave story)

- WD November 2020 : Trouble Brewings (Warcry / Bugmansson story)

Edited by HorticulusTGA
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had no idea this much existed wow... are there any compilations of other stories like this? i.e for 1.0 or even after Soul Wars itself?

I had planned on downloading all of the BR story pdfs, sounds like I should do that sooner than later if all these stories are no longer on warcom

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