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About Me

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  1. Hey all, I'm Arvandus and I do short stories and lore videos on various Miniature games properties. I have done some Malifuax and Warmachine but my main focus has been Age of Sigmar since I am such a huge fan of the setting. If your interested, please check out my latest video on the Ironjawz! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDT_7nTiuXA&t=237s
  2. A story of a siege The triple walls of Knossus have stood inviolate for centuries. During the long age when Sigmar retreated behind the gates of his realm and plotted his mighty counterstroke against the Dark Gods, Knossus survived, ensconced behind its great barriers. They are permanent fixtures in the landscape of Chamon, as enduring as any mountain. I have been told that the outermost wall has only been breached twice since its construction. The third wall, the highest and mightiest, has never been so much as attacked. It is an impressive feat, both militarily and architecturally. But the Age of Chaos is over. Sigmar returns to the realms, bringing with him the promise of a new dawn and a new era of striking back against the evils that have so long plagued the lands of the free peoples. And so I, Lord-Ordinator Cignirus of the Sigmarite Brotherhood, stand before the mighty defenses of Knossus tasked with their destruction. It is a common misconception that all the free peoples that remain within the realms have welcomed Sigmar’s righteousness back with open arms. Safely tucked away in Azyrheim, the lords and ladies of the Celestial Realm quibble about the foolishness of the Sylvaneth and their mystical queen, or shake their heads at the folly of the Kharadron or the Fyreslayers who turn their backs on open acceptance of Sigmar’s grace. They forget, or perhaps, pointedly ignore, the fact that there are many men who do not march back into the fold of the god that seemingly abandoned them. When they do deign to acknowledge these wayward kingdoms, the powdered courtiers of Azyrheim attribute their reticence to the influence of the Dark Gods, a common enough cause, I will admit, but not always the case. For many, neither the independence of survival nor the bitterness surrounding Sigmar’s withdrawal, no matter how justifiable it was, are easily wiped aside. Thus, it happens that the Stormcast Eternals, crafted to destroy Chaos and pave the way for humanity’s return to glory, are forced to turn against the very beings we are made to protect. Such is the case with the proud Knossians. Knossus in and of itself is not the most prosperous or mightiest of cities. The depredations of long years of survival have done little to enhance its power, though its people are relatively wealthy in comparison to many of its less fortunate neighbors who suffered under the yoke of Chaos. Rather, it is Knossus’ strategic position that makes it worthy of interest. Sitting on the edge of the rolling green dunes of Chamon’s Malachite Desert, the city provides a key, if not absolutely essential, post for supporting any campaigns or trade routes into and around those thankless veridian wastes. In a sense, Knossus is the gateway to the malachite expanse, and with the forces of Chaos still present within this realm, and quite possibly within the desert itself, the city must be part of Sigmar’s empire. There is also the very simple fact that an independent human kingdom refusing to align with the forces of the Azyr presents tangible political and diplomatic problems for the God-King. Not only does it inspire opposition among other local hegemons that our forces may encounter, it leaves a potential vulnerability in our growth. While Knossus has stood strong against Chaos for centuries, who is to say if the Dark Gods will turn the full force of their gaze upon it in their desperation to combat Sigmar’s surging strength? In leaving it to its own device, we risk it one day falling into a corrupted kingdom of Chaos and then remaining poised to strike like a Nurglite’s rusty knife held to our throats. The worthies of Knossus will not make a compact with Sigmar. They rebuffed our ambassadors and rejected any overtures for peace. After so long standing alone against the forces of destruction, they refuse to bend the knee to what they view as yet another would-be conqueror. Their defiance is misguided, but I cannot fault them for it. If I were in a similar situation, cloaked in some of the greatest fortifications of Chamon with generations of experience in the art of siege warfare under my belt, I would most likely feel the same. As blasphemous as it may sound coming from one such as myself, Knossus owes nothing to Sigmar or the forces of the Azyr. All they have built and maintained during the darkest of times is their own. I can respect that, admire it even, but that does not change my purpose here. They have marked themselves as the God-King’s foes and will be dealt with as such. For the last three years, Marshal Henrik Rothgau has laid siege to Knossus with an impressive force of Freeguilders and a sizable detachment from the Ironweld Arsenal. They have not even come close to breaching the first wall of the city. At every turn, the defenders of Knossus stifle Rothgau’s assaults and baffle his siege efforts, thanks in no small part to the genius intellect of the city’s greatest engineer-savant, Hypatia the Wise. With a variety of tricks and traps built up through centuries of experience, the Knossian garrison remains inviolate. Three years is too long for this siege. With the forces of Chaos potentially regrouping in Chamon to push back against the advancing armies of Azyr, control of the Malachite Desert cannot be left uncontested. At the order of Sigmar himself, I have been told to take command of this siege and end it. I will do just that. In truth, I think Rothgau is relieved. This siege is a thankless task for an ambitious man. Master Engineer Orthcoe, leader of the Ironweld detachment, was less thrilled about my arrival at the head of a small cohort of the Sigmarite Brotherhood Stormhost, but he does not have the authority, or the courage, to countermand me. Reluctantly, he turned over control of his precious weaponry to me in all but name, and now I count the Ironweld’s resources alongside my own siege forces brought from Azyrheim. He is foolish to complain. I am a Lord-Ordinator of the Stormcast Eternals. There are no better masters of siege warfare in the entirety of the mortal realms. We are handcrafted for the task. I am even more unique among my brothers. Most Lord-Ordinators are siege-masters, but they do not relish it. They are creators first, concerned with the construction of Stormkeeps and raising new cities for the glory of the God-King. They revel in building up, not tearing down. Not so for Cignirus of the Sigmarite Brotherhood. I am a destroyer. Some of my fellows consider me strange for this, but I care little for their commentary. Many Lord-Ordinators know that they were architects or sculptors or philosophers in their past, before their ascension. I was not that. I was never that. I was a destroyer in a past life as well, but not a barbarian potentate or skilled champion like some of my kind. Among the civilized lands and civilized warfare of the Perugian kingdoms of Chamon, I was Dandolio, also known as the Architect of Death. In a culture obsessed with sieges, my fellows viewed me as the preeminent master of the trade. Why Sigmar chose to elevate me when the realms of Perugia collapsed one by one under the relentless tread of Chaos, I do not know. Dandolio was not a hero, was not even a good man. But he was brilliant and he was ruthless. Maybe Sigmar simply needed more Stormcasts like that in his ranks. Stormcasts who can handle situations like Knossus without qualm or hesitation. I put out one last call for parley with the Knossians. This is the only chance for them to rethink their decision, for even the most stubborn men tend to change their views when faced with the might of a Stormhost. Clad in the stark white and purple armor of the Sigmarite Brotherhood, I march out into no man’s land between our siege lines and the first wall of the city. My chosen second, Liberator-Prime Malthusian, is with me, as is Knight Vexilor Centra, bearing her banner high for all to see. Looking distinctly uncomfortable within bow range of the walls, the portly Marshal Rothgau and a hand-picked honor guard of the Akkadian Janissaries that serve with him follow behind us, their silver breastplate glinting in the harsh light of the Chamonian sun. The worthies of Knossus stand arrayed before us in a tight huddle, attended to by a contingent of the elite of their military, the Cathrapactii. These heavily armored knights remind me somewhat of Stormcast Eternals, though their bronzed scale mail and faceless helms are distinctly unique to their city. A man, who Marshal Rothgau has reliably informed me is War-King Damon, the de facto military leader of Knossus, steps forward out of the huddle to address me. Damon is clad in a more elaborate suit of Cathrapactii armor, his ornate helmet tucked under his arm, revealing an old face, lined with scars and adorned with a magnificent grey beard. Despite the fact that three Stormcasts stand before him, crackling with the power of the Azyr, the general seems undeterred. He reminds me of one of the great plains lions of Ghyran, facing down against the beasts who would threaten his pride. I preempt him before he can speak, my voice booming with the power of thunder. Let it never be said that Lord-Ordinators are more seen than heard. “War-King Damon,” my formal words roll across the churned earth between us, “worthies of Knossus, I am Lord-Ordinator Cignirus of the Sigmarite Brotherhood. By the authority of the God-King, I welcome you back to the fold of the free peoples of the realms. Let us lay down our arms and enter into compact with one another.” Damon stares at me, seemingly unimpressed. “So you are as big as they say. I really do wonder what they feed you in the Azyr,.” The old man smiles at me, his air jaunty and courageous, “I will admit, I had always wanted to see one of your kind in person.” “Ask and you shall receive.” The War-King snorts as I continue, “I did not come to bandy words, War-King. What is your answer?” “Our answer is the same as it has always been,” a clear, calm voice rings out from the huddle before the War-King can reply. An older, stately looking woman dressed in the flowing cream robes of a scholar steps forward. She seems even more formidable than Damon, who gives her a sideways look before bowing his head. The woman’s hair is shaved, another scholarly mark, and her bright blue eyes shimmer, not with fear but with keen interest. For a moment, I feel like one of the Ironweld’s machines under the scrutiny of Master Orthcoe. There is a kinship here with her that I rarely feel with mortals. I smile behind my faceplate, though they cannot see it. “You are Hypatia the Wise.” The woman bows, seemingly uncaring of whether her robes are dirtied in the mud of no man’s land. “My reputation precedes me, Lord-Ordinator Cignirus, as does yours. I have heard some in Knossus say you were once Dandolio of Perugia, the infamous Architect of Death.” “And if I was Dandolio once?” I rumble, amused. “I have read your treatises,” she replies, her eyes glimmering, “I would be most eager to test my siegecraft against yours.” Despite myself, I find I am impressed with this old woman and her defiance. “Bold of you, my lady,” I declare, “but it need not come to that. What is your answer?” “The answer is no, of course.” Hypatia’s voice is firm and unrelenting, like a teacher lecturing a wayward student, “For generations, Knossus has stood against every invader that has thrown themselves at our walls. Orruks, ogors, the dead that walk, even the servants of the slavering gods. We did not fight and die for lifetimes to throw away our independence to your God-King simply because he wields the magic of the skies and demands our fealty.” “It does not have to be this way,” I reply, extending a second chance and feeling a strange bite of regret. These are a proud, capable people. “You can join with us, as many others have. Together, we can fend off all the enemies of humanity.” “Oh, but it does,” Hypatia responds. “We will not yield, not even to you, Lord-Ordinator. You will have to pull down our walls, brick by brick, before the people of Knossus will swear fealty to a tyrant, even a shiny, golden tyrant such as yours.” Liberator-Prime Malthusian tenses at that and War-King Damon’s hand falls to his sword hilt, but I gesture slightly at my second and he relaxes, though he too now has his hand on his hammer. Hypatia seems unphased. “You speak brave words, Hypatia the Wise.” I heft my hammer up onto my shoulder in a casual gesture of strength that draws a few murmurs from the crowd of Knossian dignitaries. “I assume she speaks for all of you?” I direct the question at War-King Damon, who simply nods, his hand still on the hilt of his sword. “She does.” “So be it. There will not be another parley. Prepare yourselves, people of Knossus. The wrath of Sigmar is upon you.” The worthies of the city mutter among themselves at my declaration, but their engineer-savant silences their concern with her words. “We will weather the storm, as we always have.” Hypatia remains unimpressed. For a second, our eyes meet and we reach an unspoken understanding. She is not a fool and knows this is the end for Knossus, I can tell. I would not be surprised if she felt that way from the moment she saw my fellows and striding across the battlefield towards her. Everything that comes after this is merely delaying the inevitable. But the Knossians, who have built themselves around their walls as much as their walls are built around them, will not surrender. This will be the magnum opus of Hypatia and the magnum opus of her people. I will grant them a siege worthy of it. “You have one hour before hostilities resume.” I take one last look over the worthies. They all face me unbowed, though I imagine more than a few have knocking knees. War-King Damon yawns as if bored with it all. I pause and linger on Hypatia for a second longer than the rest. She bows her head slowly as if in acknowledgement, her blue eyes still glimmering, and I respond in kind. Then I turn my back on them and march away. It is time to destroy. ********* One of my few real, clear memories from my time before my first death is from childhood. My father, whose name and face I cannot recall, gave me a gift for my seventh, or perhaps eighth, birthday. It was an ornate, elaborate puzzle box from some Chamonian tinkerer, a beautiful thing with sliding tiles and switches. Each time you moved the wrong tile in the sequence it reset, scrambling part of the pattern again and forcing you to relearn things you already knew. It was infuriating. I remember someone, maybe my mother or a sibling, referring to it as impossible. I think I solved it before I was ten. All sieges ever since have been that box, a complex puzzle that requires precision and careful decision-making, where each misstep is punished with the scrambling of the pattern in new and confusing ways. And so, I begin to test. Under my guidance, the Freeguilders and Ironweld laborers dig salients and saps at the correct angles, getting the trenches ever closer to the wall but denying the deadly fire of the enemy’s ballistas and onagers. Celestar batteries with Stormcast crews are emplaced in forward positions alongside the guns of the Ironweld, and the crackling blast of lightning is added to the percussion of blackpowder and the whump of catapult stones. The wall shudders under the increasingly close impact of our siege weapons, but it does not break. Woven through with metals and soaked in the natural magic of Chamon, the walls are far too solid to collapse under such a generalized barrage. My first true assault takes a week to prepare. Four siege towers, built to my specifications and the exact measurements of the wall, rumble forward across no man’s land. Marshal Rothgau, standing next to me as we watch the engines advance, reminds me for the upteenth time that he has tried such a frontal assault before. I nod but say nothing. In truth, I do not expect it to succeed. The towers are loosely manned with what Rothgau assures me are entirely volunteers from his Freeguild forces, and thought I doubt that I do not challenge him on the point. This is merely the first part of the pattern, the first move on the puzzle box. A scribe next to me marks down the position of each battery of enemy artillery that opens fire on the towers as they advance, so that we can target them later. One tower does not reach the wall. The enemy focuses almost all their batteries on the trundling edifice. I have designed these weapons to be sturdy, but the constant barrage viciously rocks the engine. Holed with onager stones, a ballista bolt tipped with a jar full of Knossian balefire slips through its defenses and impacts inside. Hungry red flames, generated through some sort of chemical compound or alchemy known only to Hypatia the Wise, swarm up the wooden interior of the tower. Men fall screaming to the ground, engulfed in fire, as the tower itself quickly collapses into a crackling pyre that burns for two days straight. The other three engines, however, align along the wall relatively unscathed, the sturdiness of their construction ensuring their path. Before the ramps atop the towers can drop and release the troops within, the defenders reveal one of their secrets to me. Vents, previously unseen to any observer, open halfway up along the wall, allowing gouts of searing steam to blast out across the fronts of the engines. The steam surges through any gaps in the defenses, broiling the men inside and setting the internal structures alight. It is brutal and effective. “Steam cannons,” murmurs Orthcoe alongside me, lowering his telescope shakily as the towers begin to collapse, “by Sigmar…” “Never seen those before,” Rothgau adds with a grunt, “damned shame.” I say nothing, merely making the mental note of the vents locations and capabilities. As the burning towers fall away from the wall, I turn and head back to my command tent. One piece of the puzzle, at least, is known. ******* For the next two days, my artillery batteries smash the locations we noted during the tower assault. I focus the celestars on the hidden vents, and before long they begin to crack, revealing gaps in the walls exterior that my artillerists continue to slam bolt and shell into. For the first time, the possibility of a breach becomes a real threat to the defenders of Knossus. They respond accordingly. The first raid of the flying men takes even me by surprise. A wave of winged shapes swoop down from the third wall, gliding over the other two bastions and straight above the artillery pits. Strapped into mechanical contraptions made from light metals and fabric, lightly-clad men of Knossus fly in a gentle curve over our forward trenches, dropping jars full of balefire and handfuls of small darts that slam down into the earth, often through anyone unfortunate enough to be hit with one. Laborers, engineers, and Freeguilders scatter in panic as blooms of red flames burst seemingly out of the ground, vaporizing cannons and their crews before men even have a chance to react. By the time I have rallied the Judicators among my contingent to return fire with their mighty bows, the raiders have flown back over the first wall and out of range, their deadly cargoes expended. It takes time for us to get the aftermath under control. In order to smother Hypatia’s balefire, we are often forced to simply bury the burning gun pits with dirt, granting the mangled wreckage of both weapons and men hasty graves. The defenders harass us the entire time, hurling ballista bolts and stones at work parties desperately fighting to keep the fires from spread. Orthcoe is beside himself, for the Ironweld Arsenal and its machines have suffered the most from the raid, but I ignore his bleatings. More guns will be summoned, the Ironweld will be paid for their losses, and the attack has not done enough to deter our assault. Within hours, many batteries are firing again, and the defenders are back in the same situation they were. I have lost none of my Celestar ballistae, and I have them take over the heavy aspects of the barrage until the Ironweld engineers can repair and refit. At dawn on the next day, the Knossian flying men appear again, just as I expected. As they swoop past the first wall, Brother Venatos and his three fellow Prosecutors tear down from the clouds above on golden wings, hurling their javelins with pinpoint accuracy. So far, I have kept the wrathful sky warriors of Sigmar well-concealed, hoping to use them to destroy siege engines at critical moments, but I cannot deny them this. There is no doubt in my mind that the Knossian fly machines are a marvel, but the Prosecutors cut through the air like star falcons, as if they were born to it. Indeed, it could be argued that they are, all things. The machinery of men, no matter how well-designed, cannot stand before their wrath. Flying men explode in midair as Prosecutor javelins trigger their payloads of balefire. Like a flock of Azyr sparrows with an aetherhawk in their midst, the Knossian fliers panic, scattering and attempting to reach their walls. Some lose control of their frames, tumbling to the ground below in a chaotic jumble of wire, linen, and metal. More drop from the sky as javelins transfix them, splintering their harnesses and smashing their wings. The Prosecutors continue to pursue them until they reach the first wall, where a barrage of darts, arrows, and stones drive the Stormcasts back. It is a good hunt for the Prosecutors, and Brother Venatos is beaming with triumph as he returns to me, a mostly intact flying frame in his hands. “A gift for you, Lord Orindator,” he rumbles cheerfully back at our camp, laying the frame down on a table in my command tent. “Beautiful,” I reply, running a hand carefully over the device, testing wires, probing joints. I have no idea how he managed to get it off of its owner without damaging its intricate mechanisms. I will ask another day. “Thank you, Venatos.” “It was my pleasure,” he chuckles, “We must show them who the true masters of the sky are.” “Indeed,” I remark, my mind already starting to drift from the bluff Prosecutor and focusing almost entirely on the device before me. “Can you cross the walls?” I add absentmindedly, removing a pair of overly sized spectacles from my work apron’s pocket and putting them on. Concentrated as I am on the device, I pretend to ignore Venatos rolling his eyes at the eccentricity. Of course, I do not need the spectacles, but for some reason, it feels right to wear them, so I do. There is nothing more to it. “No, Lord-Ordinator, we cannot” Venatos continues, his smile replaced with a brief flash of annoyance, “I will credit them for that, the amount of projectiles these Knossians can throw at us is truly impressive.” I look up from wiggling the wings of the flying frame, using a brilliant system of cords that seem to tie around the flyer’s individual fingers. “Fear not, Venatos. I will find work for you and your cohort yet. Be ready for the flyers to come again, do not wander far.” My response to his concerns is half-hearted, I know, but as I said, my mind is already on other things. The Prosecutor nods and heads out into the camp to celebrate his victory, leaving me to marvel at the work of Hypatia and the Knossian craftsmen as I dismantle it, piece by piece. ******* With the flying machines grounded, the defenders of Knossus have little choice but to turn to other means to try and silence the weaponry pounding the vulnerabilities in their wall. The raids start to come at night within days of the flyers’ defeat. Small groups of men, sneaking around in the darkness, hurling jars of balefire or simply cutting the throats of sleeping crews or bivouacs full of exhausted aborers. Only once do the raiders attempt to destroy a celestar battery. The resulting bloodbath as the unsleeping Sacristan Engineers manning the ballista turn their short, stabbing blades on the lightly-armed and armored attackers is enough to convince the Knossians not to try such a strike again. They stick to the mortal elements of the force, and at Marshal Rothgau’s request I begin having Liberators patrol the trenches regularly throughout the night, though the solution is tentative at best. It is a group of Freeguilders, the Iban Rangers from Ghyran, who break the monotony of the raids, and in doing so grant me the means to quickly breach the first wall. Scouts and trackers, they quietly follow a group of raiders back into the no-man’s land on their own initiative and discover two carefully hidden sally ports at the base of the wall. It is all the information I need, and I congratulate their beaming chieftain on his men’s skill and success after he delivers the news to a disgruntled Rothgau and myself. Rothgau, no doubt jealous that his Janissaries must share glory with someone else, is angry with the Iban for not consulting with him before going on their hunt. Both the chieftain and I ignore him. The Rangers have just opened up the opportunity to crack the first wall of Knossus for the third time in the city’s history, they do not need the approval of one Freeguild marshal. After discussions with my Stormcast brothers and one brief but victorious skirmish with a screaming Master Engineer Orthcoe, I put my plan into motion. Two batteries of the Ironweld’s most powerful guns are placed as close as possible to the hidden sallyports without exposing them to enemy fire. The cannons relentlessly pound the gap being opened in the wall, slamming shot after shot into the damaged section over the course of two days. A handpicked guard of Liberators under my lieutenant Malthusian sends a nighttime raid attempt fleeing in shambles, closing that option off to the defenders. It is too much for them to bear. At noon on the third day of the bombardment, the sallyports fly open with the wailing of horns and the rolling of drums. The thundering of hooves heralds the emergence of a massed wedge of Cathrapactii, their armor glittering brilliantly in the midday sun, harnesses and weapons jingling in the desert air. It is an impressive sight, those nobles warriors surging forward to defend their city, enough to stir the heart of any warrior. I watch through a spyglass as the wedge forms, spearing straight for the guns. A despondent Orthcoe grinds his teeth next to me, nervously fidgeting with his own telescope as the enemy elite draw closer and closer to his beloved machines. At the last second, I give the signal, and a Stormcast clarion rings out across the siege lines. Three days earlier, when the batteries were dug in the night, Retributor-Prime Borduna and her fellow Paladins were hidden not far in front of the guns, carefully concealed under camouflage coverings and a thin layer of turf to deter detection from the wall. They have waited there ever since, as still as the statues of heroes lining the Worldwall of distant Sigmaron. When the call reaches their ears, they surge up from their hiding place, throwing off dirt and netting, and rumble forward to meet the charging Cathrapactii. To the Knossians, it must seem as though the giant warriors clad in immense white and purple sigmarite simply sprung up from the ground. Their shock is undoubtedly absolute, but they are too close to do anything else but lower their lances and continue the charge. On the field before the first wall, the flower of the Knossian military meets the greatest infantry in the Stormhosts. For a moment, it feels as if the entire battlefield holds its breath, waiting for the clash. Then all is noise as the two sides meet and Borduna’s warriors sheer through the Cathrapactii like the keel of a ship splitting a wave. Men and horses scream between the thundering booms of the Retributors’ lightning hammers, which send the elite of Knossus hurtling through the air with each blow. The scale mail of the Cathrapactii is nothing against the magically empowered strikes of the Stormcast weapons, and their lances snap and shatter against the heavily armored forms of the Paladins. As per my instructions, Borduna and her cohort carry straight on through the broken wedge of Cathrapactii, rolling towards the open sallyports like one of the raging green sandstorms that scour the Malachite Desert. Desperately, the remaining defenders try to seal the portals, but the assault is too sudden and their efforts far too late. Armor coated a deep red with the gore of men and beasts, the Paladins carry on into the exposed sallyports, lightning hammers whirling and booming. Screaming Bashi-Bazouks of the Akkadian Janissaries rise up out of the siege trenches and surge after the Stormcasts, piling their armored bodies in to exploit the gap. Within a matter of hours, the first wall has fallen and the forces of Sigmar are storming through the city’s outermost ward. My army cheers as the wall’s mighty gates swing open and the banner of Azyrheim is raised over the gatehouse. In my mind, I hear the snap-click of the first puzzlebox lock opening. I smile. *********** We find the broken body of War King Damon among the corpses of his Cathrapactii. Marshal Rothgau, Malthusian, and myself converge on the dead general, while a bodyguard of Janissaires keeps watch at a respectful distance. Damon’s magnificent white beard is stained a wine-dark with blood and his eyes, so full of defiance upon our one meeting, stare sightlessly into the sky out of the broken remains of his helmet. For some reason I cannot explain, I bend down and gently close them. There is a moment of silence before Rothgau pipes up. “That’ll set the ****** back a bit, make no mistake.” I sigh, looking up at the first wall, the top of which is now swarming with watchful Freeguilders and note-taking Ironweld personnel. “Indeed, it is almost as damaging for Knossus as losing the first wall. They will fight harder now though.” The marshal spits and grunts in vague agreement. He looks down at the corpse and chuckles darkly. “We should string the old heretic up. Run him around in front of the next wall like a damned marionette. Let them see what becomes of those who defy the will of Sigmar.” Though I say nothing, I feel an unexpected sense of anger rising inside me as Rothgau continues darkly, “I say, we don’t even need the whole body. Just the head would do. We could wire it up even, make it look like it’s talking. See how the Knossians like their War King coming back to say hello, eh? Huh, what do you think, you decrepit bloody traitor?” The marshal punctuates his last words with a kick, flopping Damon’s already broken form over onto its side. “Marshal,” I spit out, my voice lashing like lightning in a summer storm, “may I see your blade?” The portly man stares at me confused, a slightly incredulous look on his porcine features. “Your blade? If you please?” I repeat again, just as firm as last time. Hesitantly, unsure about what is to come, the Marshal draws his sword and hands it to me. I grab it by the middle of the blade, unconcerned with the thought of it cutting through my sigmarite gauntlets. It is a beautiful weapon in the style of an Akkadian scimitar, though Rothgau himself is not from that culture. I study the jewel-encrusted hilt for a moment and note the beautiful patterning of the steel. “A magnificent blade, Marshal. A weapon worthy of great respect.” The Marshal nods, still confused. I smile darkly under my faceplate and snap the blade with a clench of my armored fist. The broken pieces of the scimitar thud into the mud of the battlefield, except for one shard I grind in my fist. I lock eyes with Rothgau, who seems to have turned a lighter shade of pale, from fear or from anger. It is probably a mixture of both. “My apologies, Marshal,” I say, ensuring that my tone conveys anything but, “I appear to have broken your weapon. It is so easy to forget proper respect during trying times such as these, wouldn’t you agree?” Eyes still fixed on the bulging orbs of Rothgau, I open my gauntlet and let the dust that was the center of his sword flutter to the ground. The Marshal nods and swallows, going another shade paler. Behind his bodyguards watch the exchange in stunned silence. “Good, I’m glad you understand,” I continue, “You will grant War King Damon a proper burial with full honors. It is the least he deserves for his bravery. In fact, we shall do so with all these warriors, they have earned that right. Am I understood?” Rothgau nods again, his double-chin wobbling slightly as he swallows once more. “Excellent, I knew you would agree. Let us meet tomorrow to discuss our plans for the second wall.” I turn my back on the Marshal and his men, looking once more at the wall and already turning my mind towards what lays behind it. The Freeguild commander says nothing as he leaves, simply scurrying back to his bodyguard and departing as quickly as he can. He leaves the broken remnants of his sword behind, another addition to the detritus of the battlefield. All is quiet for a long time before Malthusian’ stentorian tones break the silence. “You should not antagonize him, Lord-Ordinator.” “Should I not?” I reply forcefully, turning to face my lieutenant, “He is a fool. In two weeks, we have done what he was unable to achieve for years. A lazy, gutless pig of a man. Now that,” I add, pointing at the dead War King, “is a hero worthy of name, an actual leader of men. Would that we had him with us instead of that useless Marshal.” “But he would not follow Sigmar.” “But he would not follow Sigmar, Liberator-Prime,” I sigh, “and so I destroyed him. As I will destroy all this.” My arms sweep out to encompass the walls of Knossus. “Because that is what I am meant to do, whether I like it or not.” I feel him tense at those last few words, so against my reputation. In truth, I have surprised even myself with that sentiment. The Liberator-Prime chooses not to mention it. “You admire them, these Knossians?” Malthusian’s voice is not judgmental, though I cannot see the look on his face behind the helm. “Do you not, Malthusian? How many men, true men, uncorrupted by the Dark Gods or driven by fear of that vicious bag of bones in Shyish, can actually stand before Stormcasts and defy us? It is an admirable thing.” The Liberator-Prime shrugs noncommittally. “A foolish thing, Lord-Ordinator.” “The two are often intertwined.” My lieutenant chuckles darkly at that. “Please see that the burials are done properly, Malthusian. It is not much to ask. If Damon and his people fought with us, he would number among our heroes.” “As you wish. This will not earn you any favors among the Knossians though.” Shrugging, I turn and begin to walk back towards camp. “That is not the reason for it, Liberator-Prime, as you well know.” ****** Sitting slightly higher than the outermost defenses, the second wall of Knossus is just as impressive of an edifice. The city runs to within a short distance of the bastion, where well-ordered houses and streets give way to an open killing field, pre-sighted for bombardment from the defenders’ artillery. I spend some time alone, wandering the streets of the captured ward of the city, examining architecture, making notes with a stylus, mapping out the grid upon which it all is constructed. In truth, I am impressed with the Knossian buildings. They are mostly simple, yet surprisingly elegant, two story affairs, made often of marble but primarily of green bricks created from the malachite sands of the desert nearby, giving each street a hue that would not be out of place in distant Ghyran. Even ruined as many are from wayward artillery strikes or the depredations of looting Freeguilders, they remain solid, impressive domiciles, laid out on a detailed system of streets that makes it easy to find one’s way almost anywhere in the city. Truth be told, the organization of it all puts Azyrheim to shame, though I do not say it aloud. I am standing in a deserted open market square, admiring a statue of a scholar crafted from some rare mineral compound, when the first rumbles shake the streets. Frankly, I should not be as surprised as I am. The Knossians, canny defenders that they are, have left behind parting gifts for any invader that breaches the first line of defense. Hidden caches of balefire roar into life across the captured districts, sending men screaming through the streets and destroying many wagons and supply carts that have already moved into the city. Worst of all, I witness a handful of lightning bolts crack upwards into the Chamonian sky, signaling the first Stormcast losses of the siege. It takes two days for us to get the raging fires left in the wake of the traps under control. Two days without sleeping, battling the crimson concoctions of Hypatia while the defenders on the second wall hurl a seemingly inexhaustible barrage of artillery fire down on anyone they can spot. At the end, when the last fire is out, Malthusian informs me that almost three hundred men and four Stormcasts died in the initial release of balefire and subsequent burning and bombardment. Significant losses. Many commanders would balk, some would blame themselves or pray for guidance or swear vengeance on their enemies. I do none of that. Under my helmet, free from Malthusian’s appraising gaze, I smile. These detonations are not done from far away. The Knossians lack the ability to achieve that particular feat. That means someone has come from behind the second wall and sprung these horrors upon us manually. That means there is a vulnerability to exploit. That means I will find it. If I need any further proof of my theory, the raids confirm it. The night after the fires are extinguished, as the army prepares to rest, the attacks come hard and fast. The Knossians, experts in their craft, show us just how well they have prepared the interior of their city for defense. Men die as hidden pots of balefire gut the houses they are sleeping in. Entire buildings collapse as carefully built-in mechanisms are triggered to bring them crashing down. Secret passages open in walls, revealing knife-wielding killers that pounce upon unsuspecting men. It is a night of chaos and the next that follows is not much better. Hypatia reveals a new weapon, a throwable clockwork device, the size of a small pot, that spools out thin wire and spins it around at incredibly high speeds until it is exhausted. The whipping strand mangles limbs, breaks bones, and slashes worse than any Azyros Starblade. Freeguilders take to calling them “topac”, which Venatos explains to me is the name of spinning tops all Akkadian children play with. I trust his explanation, for the Prosecutor-Prime has a strange way of knowing such things. Whatever the origin of their nickname, the topac prove to be yet another deadly threat in the Knossian arsenal. A pattern to the raids soon becomes clear. First comes a pot of balefire, hurled near a gunpit or into a house. As men panic to escape and others rush to assist, a handful of topac are thrown nearby, causing carnage among anyone caught in the open. The raiders slip back into the darkness before anyone even knows where they are. It is brutal and efficient. Such an attack costs us the life of Master Engineer Orthcoe. A topac shreds the cautious Ironweld leader as, in a moment of surprising boldness, he rushes to save one of his beloved guns from an expanding balefire. It is a lamentable loss, but not a significant one. Marshal Rothgau, looking pale, informs me that they had to clean him up in buckets. I’m not sure why he felt the need to share that detail, but it seems important to him, so I do not comment. Orthcoe’s replacement, a stern, one-eyed Duardin named Bardik Grimgok, seems far more amenable to working with me and, unsurprisingly, far more proficient at siege warfare than his predecessor. I explain my theory about the tunnels for access and the squat, grey-bearded Ironwelder agrees almost immediately. His engineers, in particular those drawn from the Dispossessed, begin hunting for the passageways that we assume run beneath our feet. In the meantime, I step up Stormcast patrols and encourage Rothgau to set up a nightly rotation of Iban Rangers to stalk the darkened streets. Raids continue, but their impact begins to lessen as parties of saboteurs are caught out and killed before they reach their targets. Stroke and counterstroke. Slide this tile, push this piece, solve the puzzle. It is as simple as that. I admire the ingenuity that went into the topac, and spend long hours with my spectacles on examining them in my tent, fiddling with the mechanism, analyzing Hypatia’s near flawless craftsmanship. For the first time, I consider what wonders she might have created in times of peace. There is an uncomfortable sensation in my chest as I follow that line of thought. Guilt? Regret? Sadness? I am not sure and try my best not to dwell on it. Sigmar took a destroyer and made a greater one. At night, wandering the shadowy streets of Knossus, I wonder how such a discerning architect could have left room for this weighty sensation in my soul. ********* The second wall falls after almost a month. It is longer than I would have liked, but it takes time for Grimgok and his engineers to map out the subterranean network and launch their counterattack. Beneath the streets, in tunnels far too small for the likes of Stormcast, the Dispossessed and other Ironweld laborers fight a brutal battle for supremacy. Mine and countermine are dug, tunnels are collapsed on pursuers, tapocs and balefire slaughter to match the deadly explosives and grudgeraker blasts of the engineers. As stories of these fearsome battles beneath the surface emerge, I hear Freeguilders speaking thankfully of only having to face the continuous barrage of arrows and artillery fire from the second wall. I smile at that. Unsurprisingly, the Knossians reveal a handful of mining devices that make it far easier for them to counter our efforts. Powerful, hand-cranked drills for close in work, self-propelling clockwork devices that shovel dirt at impressive rates, steam cannons that fill entire tunnels with scalding blasts of moisture, and even automata that dig and pick like laborers. The Duardin encounter all these and more. But Grimgok and his fellows will not be deterred. This is their realm, and the Knossians, no matter how adept, are intruders there. Eventually, they triumph. The Ironwelders reveal their fearsome Drakkthrunds, which spear gouts of liquid flame down tunnels and through even small boreholes, roasting Knossian engineers and warriors by the dozen. Automata are smashed with hammers and steam cannons redirected or simply blasted away with explosive charges. Finally, a dirty, grinning Master Engineer arrives in my tent to give me the good news. The Ironweld have secured enough space for a mine and have started preparing to bring down a section of the wall. I smile back and shake his hand in the traditional Duardin fashion, congratulating him on his work and informing him that I will honor his clan in the records of Sigmaron. I pretend not to notice when he blushes under the grime that coats his face. Above ground, amid a raging artillery duel, my siege trenches finally reach close enough to enable a direct assault on the bastion. When the signal is given, the Duardin light their charges and detonate the mine. The resulting explosion shakes the earth, sending men stumbling, rattling windows, loosening doors, and driving animals into a panic. There is a massive dust cloud, and for a moment, it is as if the entirety of the city is coated in a dirty, clinging shroud of dust. As the detritus starts to settle, the massive gap in the walls is revealed, wide enough for an entire regiment of men to march through twenty abreast. The Duardin have done remarkably well. With a battle cry for Sigmar, the Janissaries pour through the gap once more, but this time the Knossians do not even try to contest it. They fall back to pre-built defense positions in the streets of the city’s middle quarter and fight us for every inch. The full might of Hypatia’s inventiveness is released in that street brawl. Self-propelled battering rams rumble down alleyways, steam cannons blast through open windows, topacs whirl, and even the previously seen mining automata are repurposed for violence, carving into Freeguilder assaults as if they were rockfaces to be smashed asunder. As Rothgau’s men battle through the butchery, a column of Stormcast under Malthusian drives straight through the street defenses towards the main gate of the third wall, like a spear cast from Sigmar’s very hand. Above them, Venatos and his Prosecutors dip and dive, hurling lightning javelins at rooftop snipers and smashing any war machines they see. Columns of lightning occasionally spike into the air as here and there one of my brethren succumbs, but the Knossians can truly do little to stop us. As the formation punches through the last few lines of defense lying between them and the third wall, the defenders begin a rapid withdrawal of their forces into the final stronghold. A rearguard of Cathrapactii, hungry for revenge, hurl themselves suicidally into the Stormcast column, and somewhat miraculously, briefly halt its advance. I arrive to support my brothers with Borduna and her Paladins in tow, but by the time we dig our way through the determined knights, the great gate is shut and barred. Still, the second wall and middle district now rest firmly in the hands of Sigmar. One more lock on the puzzle box clicks open for me and I cannot help but feel accomplished. ******** “I have lost more men in these last two months than I have lost in three years!” Marshal Rothgau is raging at me over the map table in my command tent, even his mustache is quivering with anger. Honestly, I am impressed that he found the courage. Since the death of Orthcoe, the Freeguild commander has looked worse and worse. His skin is paler, he sweats more, he is more temperamental and on edge than ever before. He was not prepared for this. “We have also made far more progress.” My response is quiet. I will allow him this anger. “More progress?” He roars, “More progress? My Janissaries are gutted! The Ironweld have lost men and machines at an almost constant rate!” Grimgok, sitting in the corner of my tent smoking a pipe, says nothing, merely grunts and sucks on his pipestem. Rothgau continues, heating up to his subject, “The second wall cost us a thousand dead! A thousand! The raids, the weapons, the engines, you are destroying my army.” “Sigmar’s army.” I note, and the Marshal flusters, his mustache wiggling and his double chin wobbling. He slams his fist down on the table I am leaning over. “Sigmar’s bloody army then, you pedant. At this rate, you will kill us all! When that last wall falls, there won’t be anyone left to see it except you Stormcasts. They should never have sent you here, you thrice damned butcher!” “Enough,” I rumble, raising my hand to indicate he should stop. He pauses, the anger still smouldering in his eyes. “That is enough. You forget your place, Marshal Rothgau.” “I forget my place?” He spits, “You care more for these ****** Knossians than you do for the true sons of the Azyr! You seem quick to forget who you actually fight for, Stormcast. Some chosen of Sigmar you turned out to be.” All noise in the tent stops. The junior officers of the Freeguild and Ironweld who have been wincing their way through the commander’s tirade gape open-mouthed. Next to me, I can feel the tension rippling through Malthusian’s armored frame. Even the unflappable Grimgok takes out his pipe and raises his eyebrows. Rothgau realizes he has gone too far and starts to gawp like a fish pulled out of water. I stare at him over the rim of my spectacles, letting him squirm. “Lord-Ordinator-” “You are fortunate, Marshal, that you said such things to me. There are those among my Brotherhood that would’ve killed you just now.” Rothgau says nothing and fails to meet my gaze. “I know your men are dying. I know they are at their limit. I know that I have asked much of them, more than has been asked of them since this siege started. But we have done much. “We,” I raise my voice so that everyone in the tent can hear me clearly, “are the first army in history to attack the third wall of Knossus. Not the spawn of Chaos, nor the Greenskins nor the chittering ratmen hordes. No one else could have done this. No other army. I am proud of you all.” I stab a finger down at the map of the third line laid out in front of me. “Will you lose your courage now? The end is in sight. You must stay strong for a little longer. I believe you can.” The Marshal’s face has turned red. In his corner, Grimgok nods thoughtfully, blowing another puff of smoke. The other leaders present in the tent visibly take heart in my words. Such praise from a Stormcast is not easily ignored. “I believe we are done here for the day, gentlemen,” I sigh, “we will continue tomorrow morning.” The dismissal is clear. Rothgau says nothing, merely picks up his shako off the map table and strides out, his officers following silently in his wake. The Iban chieftain winks at me as he leaves, flashing a brief grin before ducking out the tent flap. Only Grimgok and Malthusian are left. The older Duardin eases himself out of a sitting position, grunts in my direction, and tromps out of the tent, pipe still clenched in his teeth, no doubt to go check his gun pits for the umpteenth time that day. “He is not wrong, Lord-Ordinator,” the Liberator-Prime admonishes when the tent is clear. “For Sigmar’s sake, Malthusian, not this again.” I throw up my hands in a gesture of exhaustion. “You’re bleeding them white, I know you realize that.” He stares down at the map table, refusing to meet my gaze. “They are only mortal.” “They are tools in the service of Sigmar, like you and I. You know this.” “So clinical, Lord-Ordinator, so cold. I expect nothing left from the famous Cignirus, master of destruction.” I close my eyes and sigh, taking off my spectacles and placing them back into a pocket into my work apron. Absentmindedly, I rub the bridge of my nose with giant fingers. “We are at the end, Malthusian. The Freeguilders have done enough, more than enough even. This third wall will be the duty of the Brotherhood alone. All I need is for Rothgau and Grimgok and their forces to man the guns and protect them. I will batter a hole in the wall and we Stormcasts will take the breach.” “As simple as that?” “Yes, do you find it acceptable? Or will you call me butcher too? Insult my dedication to Sigmar and his people?” “He should not have said that,” Malthusian notes, unhooking his helm from his belt and placing it back on. “If it is to be the Brotherhood, then let us end it quickly. They all deserve that much.” I bow my head in agreement as the Liberator-Prime makes for the entry of the tent. “Malthusian,” I add, stopping him for a moment, “you did not mention my interest in the Knossians.” “I did not,” he replies over his shoulder, “there is nothing to say.” “Nothing?” “Nothing, Cignirus,” he continues, using my given name for the first time since our arrival in the city, “save that, perhaps, you are not so different from your brother Ordinators as you believe.” He leaves me with those words. They rattle around my mind as I turn back to my map and focus on laying out the siege lines. Malthusian is right. I will end it quickly. They all deserve that. ****** It takes three more months to end the siege of Knossus. Three months of all the artillery I can sight relentlessly pounding the same spot of wall. The Knossians attempt desperate repairs, but they cannot stop the force of so much weaponry. They throw all that they can against our positions. Mobile rams, automata, flying men, raiding parties lowered down the face of the wall, portable steam cannons, devices that fling hundreds of darts at a time in a wall of pointed death, but none of it is enough. Under such a relentless barrage, even the amazingly sturdy walls of Knossus must break, and they do, with a section collapsing wearily but hesitantly one day, like an old prizefighter losing his final bout. Alongside Master Engineer Grimgok, I study the breach that the Sigmarite Brotherhood must take. It is a sharp slope, difficult to ascend, but not impossible. The scree and loose dirt could prove challenging, and the defenders will have time to fortify the gap, but it is not insurmountable. At least, not for Stormcasts. “A fine breach,” Grimgok mutters, lowering his telescope, “still, glad it’s not me going up it.” I chuckle. “I appreciate the sentiment, Master Grimgok. I assure you my brethren and I are actually looking forward to the assault.” The Duardin shakes his head and puts away his telescope. “You’re leading it then?” “I could not do anything else.” I put away my own telescope, and think of the brutal battle to come. No one has ever taken a breach easily. This one, I imagine, would be particularly difficult. “A fine thought, Lord-Ordinator, fine indeed,” the Duardin materializes his customary pipe from some pocket or pouch and lights it, staring out over the defenses. “When will you go?” “Tonight, if Sigmar is willing. Marshal Rothgau is mustering his Janissaries and the Rangers to follow us up. This will end now.” “By Grungi, I hope so. Been a brutal siege, these last few months. I tell you, these Knossians can fight hard, for manlings that is,” The Master Engineer puffs on his pipe contemplatively. “We’ll keep the guns firing right up until you go, slow down their chance of setting up a nasty surprise for you lot. Don’t you worry. Go with Sigmar, Lord-Ordinator.” I nod respectfully and shake his hand in thanks. I am glad to have him managing the guns at my back. ****** Night falls, and as the Sigmarite Brotherhood musters in the forward defensive lines, I stare up at the breach as shot and shell light up the darkness again and again. The Knossians are there, massing on the crest. I see their outlines with each flash. Somewhere behind them in the city, our mortars must have ignited a supply of balefire. Red flames burn hungrily in the middle of Knossus, backlighting the walls with a sinister crimson glow. It looks like a scene out of the apocalypse. For the beleaguered, tired defenders of the city, it truly is. I step out to the top of the trench, looking back over the small force of Stormcasts assembled behind me. They were never a big contingent, less than fifty warriors and a handful of Sacristan Engineers, down to forty-five after the siege. I pray they will be enough as I heft my hammer. “This is the end, my brethren. The last test. We go into the crucible of war, but it shall not melt us.” They nod at that, readying weapons, checking shield straps and bow strings one last time. “We are the Sigmarite Brotherhood! Chamon’s metal is in our very bones! There is not any enemy alive that can stop our advance! What are we?” “Forever unbroken!” The traditional war cry of the Sigmarite Brotherhood rolls up the breach ahead of us. Let the Knossians know what comes for them. “WHAT ARE WE?” “FOREVER UNBROKEN!” Louder now, as the cohort climbs out of the trenches, falling into a familiar formation as we begin to trudge up the breach. Some Freeguilders call it the tortoise, others the snapback, after a particularly aggressive breed of turtle. To me, it is the testudo, an old name I recall from Perugia. The Liberators advance, holding their shields tightly in front and above for cover. Judicators follow along in the center, firing their arrows through small gaps in the shields. The Paladins are here too, waiting for the formation to get close enough before rolling out into the front ranks to bring destruction to our enemies. Above, Venatos spins and whirls with his fellows, dropping down like birds of prey to pepper the defenders standing at the top. The guns fall silent as we begin our climb, but the peace lasts not even a split second before the Knossian defenders set to work. Flaming bales of hay are thrown down the slope, skidding over shields and landing behind us, illuminating the testudo’s advance for the defenders above. Arrows and darts rain down like a Ghyran monsoon, smacking against our formation and occasionally whickering off of the armor underneath. Searing bolts of light lunge outwards, ahead of our advance, as the Judicators slay unfortunate defenders silhouetted too long above us. Soon, the balefire begins to rain, sticking to shields, clinging to tunics, burning fiercely. But the testudo is undaunted. We continue our slow advance, even as topac are added to the avalanche of death crashing down up on us. Wires whip and whirl, slashing through sigmarite plate. Finally, a Stormcast falls, the crack of lightning and blinding flash of a bolt arcing skyward signalling his demise. Another collapses as his shield is split asunder. A ballista bolt, carefully aimed from a device on the ridge line, slams through his , chestsending him tumbling back through the formation before he dissolves. Above, the Knossians begin to cheer. “Forever unbroken!” I cry, pushing the Liberator before me forward, keeping the formation moving. Malthusian takes up the cry, and it becomes a chant as we approach the top. A wall of pike meets us there and the testudo begins to dissolve. Screaming Knossians fling themselves over the lip of the slope, their eyes wild and manic in the sickly light of the hay bales as they hurl balefire pointblank into our faces. Another Liberator collapses, consumed by flames, and his killer screams as he suffers the same fate. I push my way to the front of the shieldwall, Borduna and her Paladins following in my wake. I emerge into a thicket of pikes, one of which pierces through the gap in my shoulder plate. With a grunt, I snap the shaft in my hand, ripping out the offending point and hurling it back like a javelin towards the defenders. Others press forward to take its place, but I batter them aside with my hammer and push on. For a moment, a strange thought strikes me: Dandolio could never have done this. It is knocked out of my mind in an instant as I shove my way forward through the forest of points, cracking shafts and driving their owners backwards. A Cathrapactii pelts out of the enemy spearmen, swinging a large, thin, two-handed blade. The haft of my hammer intercepts the blow, snapping the sword, and I slam the butt of my weapon into the knight’s chest, crushing armor, ribs, and organs. With a cry to Sigmar on my lips, I swing my hammer in a figure eight, knocking aside spearmen in a welter of gore, and the Paladins swarm up into the gap. Hammers rise and fall, exploding with force, pulping Knossian bodies like rotten fruit. The Liberators push in behind our armored wedge, and the battle spills over the top of the escarpment. A group of Cathrapactii charge forward in an attempt to solidify the wavering line, and I surge into them, hammer whirling in a storm of destructive fury. Enough Liberators are over the edge now to form a shield wall. Judicators fire up from below, shooting in between their fellows’ legs, punching arrows into the guts of screaming spearmen and furious Cathrapactii. The defenders fight with the mad fury of the truly hopeless, but once the Sigmarite Brotherhood sets a shieldwall, it is inviolate. To their credit, the Knossians hold out against us for nearly an hour atop the third wall before it is over. The defenders die to a man and take ten more Stormcasts, including the indomitable Borduna, with them. Venatos informs me much later that it may be the longest recorded stand of truly mortal troops against any Stormcast force. I trust him on that. The corpses are piled knee-deep as I turn to Malthusian. His armor is colored crimson like mine, and somewhere in the melee half his helmet was cracked leaving half of his face exposed. Behind us, there is a dull roar as the Freeguilders below witness Knight-Vexilor Centra raise her banner high. They come charging forward up the scree, ready to pour into the city and finish the siege. “Take them forward,” I yell raspily over the noise of the army’s ascent. “You know what to do.” “Of course Lord-Ordinator,” he bellows to be heard, “and you?” “Leave me,” I reply, hefting my hammer to my shoulder, “There is something I must do.” I make my way through the streets of the inner ward of Knossus. Once I am down from the wall, it is pandemonium. Knossians hurtle through the streets, torn between fighting the balefires consuming their city and engaging the attackers that seek to do the same. While some try desperately to extinguish the fires, others throw themselves into burning buildings. A woman and her child run screaming from me, disappearing into the fire-licked shadows of an alley. As I turn another corner, a charred Cathrapactii crawling along the ground reaches out vainly to me with a gurgle. I bring my hammer down swiftly, fulfilling his unspoken request. All around me is destruction. I feel liquid running down my face and tell myself it is sweat. The puzzle box is finally open, and I am afraid I do not like what I find inside. My route, which Venatos spotted painstakingly from above three days ago, leads me through the chaotic streets to a tower in the center of the city. Two Cathrapactii, wearing elaborate plumes in their helms, stand sentinel in front of the door, unmoving despite all that is occurring around them. They draw their long, thin blades, almost simultaneously, when they see me emerge out of the darkness and smoke. To them, I must look like a monster from nightmares, but they do not hesitate. Their swords whirl and swing and I smack the strikes aside with my hammer. They deflect my return blows with the skill of swordmasters, lashing back with ripostes that scrape across my sigmarite, probing for gaps in my armor. Back and forth in front of the door we fight, before finally my hammer breaks through the first knight’s guard and smashes him into the dirt. His fellow doesn’t hesitate, using the opening my killing blow leaves to slam his own blade through a ****** in my waist armor. I roar in pain, backhanding him with a fist and snapping his neck. Grunting, I pull his blade out of my gut and throw it to the ground. The wound aches, but I do my best to shrug it off as I slam open the door before me. At the top of the tower, I walk down a long hall, with large windows gazing out across Knossus. It is a breathtaking view of the doom that I have wrought. The harsh red light of the balefires is all that illuminates this place, casting rippling shadows on the lofty ceiling. I realize, with some trepidation, that fire has started to spread into the hall itself, licking through a broken window near the stairs and setting curtains alight. I ignore it for now, striding past inventions, models, easels crowned with drawings, and a variety of workbenches that crowd the space. I take care not to damage any of them. A solitary figure stands outside on a balcony, gazing out at the burning city. Hypatia the Wise has changed little since I last saw her, still clad in her simple cream scholar’s robes. “Lord-Ordinator,” she says calmly, turning towards me as I step out of the workshop and into the night air. It is cooler here, above the flames. Her features are haggard in the crimson glow, but her eyes are still bright and sharp. “I must congratulate you on doing what no other has done.” I bow slightly in acknowledgement. “I could say the same of you, my lady. Few in the Mortal Realms could withstand what your city has for so long.” She smiles sadly, her blue eyes echoing the heartbreak in her soul. “We lost though, didn’t we? I knew from the moment I saw you that it would end this way, but even I could not imagine… this.” She gestures back at the city. I say nothing, standing like a statue in the flickering light. The fire inside is starting to catch, burning models and inventions, consuming the parchments and their easels. “What will become of my city?” she says wistfully, looking out at the destruction. “What of my people?” “Those who surrender now will be shown mercy. They may stay and see what is to come, or will be granted passage to wherever they choose in the Realms.” She nods at that, as I continue, “As for your city, I will rebuild it. It will not be the Knossus you fought for, but its spirit will survive. I swear it.” She makes a strange sound, at odds with the horror around us, and I realize that Hypatia is laughing. “ “You will rebuild it? You are a destroyer. A man cannot change his ways so easily.” “I am not a man,” I rumble. “Indeed, you are not, Lord-Ordinator.” The engineer stops laughing and pulls something out of her robes. It is a thick leather tome, filled with parchments, many of them loose. Fire is filling the workshop now, but neither of us pay it any attention. “I have a favor to ask of you, my enemy. This,” she sets the tome on a small table on the balcony, “is everything. The sum total of my life’s work. All that I have done. Will you take it? I know you are a destroyer, Lord-Ordinator, but can you preserve this one thing?” I nod solemnly. “I will, my lady.” “Thank you,” she sighs, as if any immense weight has lifted from her shoulders. “May I ask one more favor of you?” I nod again. “Can I see your face?” I reach up and unclasp my helm, hooking it to the belt at my side. She looks at me for a moment, observing my scars, my beard, staring into the grey flints of my gaze with her own blue eyes. Tentatively, she reaches up and touches my face gently, before withdrawing her hand. “You are such an amazing creation, Lord-Ordinator. Thank you.” Hypatia takes one last look at her burning city, then bows her head before me. She does not kneel to me, even now. “Make it swift,” she says softly, “precise. As all things should be.” I raise my hammer and grant her request. ******** Malthusian finds me in the morning, sitting on the edge of an immense decorative fountain is some dirty, smoky market square. His armor is covered in ash and blood, and at some point in time, he has discarded his broken helm completely. He approaches me calmly, but does not sit. I look up at him over the rim of my spectacles, lowering the material I am reading. “What news, Liberator-Prime?” “It is over, Lord-Ordinator. The Ironwelders have brought the fires under control, and the Paladins have dealt with the last few remaining holdouts.” There is a weariness in his voice, but he remains standing. “Any survivors?” “Some,” he remarks, absentmindedly kicking over a loose green brick with the toe of his sabaton. “Most Knossians are dead, but a handful surrendered. They are in shock now, the Janissaires have them under guard until we can deal with them correctly.” He narrows his eyes and looks at the book in my hand. “Reading something, Lord-Ordinator?” “A gift,” I remark, “of sorts.” He leans on his shield, digging into the dirt and soot that coats the square. “She is dead then?” “Yes,” I look past him, to the still smouldering ruins of Hypatia’s workshop tower. A fitting pyre for her, in truth. “She was quite brilliant.” There is a timbre of sadness in my lieutenant’s normally unruffled voice. “Yes,” I reply, looking down at the drawing of some advanced farming implement on the page in front of me, “a true genius, they are hard to find.” Malthusian says nothing, and the two of us wait in companionable silence for a while. “Rothgau is dead,” Malthusian eventually mentions, “his heart gave out apparently, right at the foot of the escarpment.” I am surprised that I feel an actual twinge of sadness. The Marshal was a disrespectful fool, but to labor so long at this task and not see it completed, that is a tragedy. I say none of that, merely grunting in response. “What will you do now, Lord-Ordinator? Which siege calls us onwards?” I look up at Malthusian and shake my head. “No siege, brother. I think I will stay here, help rebuild this.” I gesture with one hand around the ruined square, “There is much to be done.” The Liberator-Prime says nothing and I pretend not to see a small smile creeping across his normally stony face. “As you say, Cignirus. As you say.” He stretches and slings his shield onto his back, “Do you require anything else?” “No thank you, Malthusian. You are dismissed.” He bows and stalks off into the streets, snapping a few words of command at a group of Janissaries struggling to move a dirty statue across the square. I watch him go, before staring up at the clouds of smoke still forming over the city. Briefly, I think of an old puzzle box and wonder airily what became of it after it was solved. I can’t seem to remember for the life of me. Shaking my head, I push up my spectacles, open the tome, and continue to read.
  3. In which a storm in Ghur drives a traveler off his path and into the sanctuary of a far-flung church of Sigmar... The sound of thunder rattled the windows of the small church. Outside, rain relentlessly lashed its exterior, spattering off the old stones like bullets from a Freeguilder’s musket. Kneeling in prayer at the altar, the priest did his best to shut out the noise of the storm. He muttered his catcheisms as flashes of lightning illuminated the interior of the sacred space. As far as temples to Sigmar went, it was hardly the largest or the most illustrious, but its robust stonework had kept it standing out here in the wilds for long enough, and its simple construction and lack of adornment belied the faith it nurtured among the few who passed through its doors. A loud banging, different from the raging noise of the storm, shook the priest from his faithful reverie. The old man narrowed his eyes as the thumping on the front door of the chapel paused for a moment then continued again. He rose wearily to his feet, trying to ignore the pain in his back and the popping in his knees. In truth, he was probably too old for a role like this, a missionary priest in the hinterlands tending to the few faithful, but where else was he to go? With a grunt, he stood fully and began moving cautiously down the aisle, stalking past the rough-hewn wooden pews to the door. It did not do to rush. Even here, in the areas of Ghur purportedly under the control of Sigmar and his mortal allies, there were untold dangers that abounded on the lonely roads, and not all of them were beasts. The banging continued incessentantly as the priest finally reached the door. He paused for a moment, breathing deeply, and listened, trying to ignore the raging storm without. “Open up! In the name of Sigmar open the door please,” a muffled voice rang through the wood, “I’m fit to drown out here!” The priest paused for a second. It sounded human enough. That was no clear indicator of intention, mind. He hesitated a moment more then shook his head. Was he not a priest? Was this not his duty? To tend to the needy and tired that walked these roads. He could not turn his back on that through simple fear. With a weary sigh, he unlatched the bar that held the heavy door shut and swung it open. The rain and wind surged in, driving the priest back a step. A flash of lightning and once more the rumble of thunder quickly followed, and, as if urged on by the noise, a man tumbled through, sodden and panting. His long leather coat was soaked from the rain and the hat he wore was drooped low, though not enough to hide a narrow, weather-beaten face and a pair of piercing green eyes. “My thanks, father.” The stranger’s voice, while undoubtedly that of a Ghurite, was cultured and lacked the more guttural tone so common among the denizens of this realm. “The storms of Ghur are no laughing matter I must say.” The old priest struggled the door back close, shutting out the wrath of the weather and bringing a modicum of peace back to the chapel. He turned then and cast an appraising eye over the newcomer soaking the rough stone floor of his chapel. The stranger was a tall, handsome man, with noble, dark-skinned features bearing the telltale cast of a native of Ghur. Though his coat and clothes were worn, it was clear, even in the soft candlelight illuminating the chapel, that they were well-made, expensive even. An unadorned sword hilt emerged from the fold of the coat, matching in general the well-made yet functional attire of the man. The priest narrowed his eyes a bit at the sight of the weapon, but he made no move one way or another. In truth, if the storm-tossed stranger had wanted to hurt him, he would’ve been dead the moment he opened the door. Few thieves and murderers in Ghur were subtle creatures. The man looked at him, noticing the appraisal. “I’m sorry father, my apologies. Pieter van Detler, at your service.” The well-dressed man doffed his hat, spilling some water on the floor and he grimaced, “Again, my apologies. In truth, you are a lifesaver this fine night.” The priest smiled. “It is no problem, my friend. What is any church of Sigmar for, if not to provide succor for those in need?” The priest’s voice was thin and weary, though there was an undercurrent of steel there, the will of the faithful, that was impossible to avoid. It was easy for Pieter to imagine the old man, despite his wrinkled appearance and rough-spun robes, extolling the praises of Sigmar in some sermon. “A fine attitude father and one I wished more of us faithful shared. It was a stroke of good fortune that I stumbled upon your chapel. I had not realized there was much call for the word of Sigmar in these parts.” “Oh,” the priest replied, almost bashfully, “it’s about what you would expect these days. But there is a need. The light of Sigmar shines where it will.” He began to move back down the aisle towards the altar as he talked, exposing his back to Pieter for a moment. The old man waited to feel the shock of the blade driven into his back, but it did not come. He smiled. A decent man then, that was lucky. The newcomer cast his eye across the chapel. Simple pews, carved from thick, dark wood, stood in neat rows down the length of the building, leading up to the altar stone at the front. Iron sconces held a plethora of lit candles that brought their dim illumination to the room. Pieter looked at the priest, who had a simple, rugged air that matched the building itself. He was an observant man and he noted, rather offhandedly, that the priest moved with a strength and poise that his old frame hid well. A warrior-priest then. At least once. “What brings you to “these parts” then, my friend? Surely you have a good reason to be abroad on a night like this.” The priest settled into a pew, gazing forward at the altar in front of him. “Of course, father. Of course.” Pieter sidled down the aisle after the priest, still dripping water. With a quiet squelch, he lowered himself into the opposite pew, taking a moment to make the sign of the hammer as he looked at the altar as well. Much like the rest of the temple, it was a relatively rough thing, as would be expected, with a hammer and lightning bolt made of fine wood sitting atop a rough block of stone. Candles were lit around it, casting everything in a soft light. There was an undoubtable rustic charm to it all that Pieter could appreciate, even drenched and cold from the still raging storm. Could do without the shadows though, he thought idly, always better for these temples to be lit, especially on a lonely, weather-beaten road such as this. Still, any port in a storm. He looked over at the wizened features of the chapel’s attendant. “I am on a mission from Sigmar, as it were.” “Is that so, my friend?” The priest said, turning his head to face his guest. “A mighty claim, if ever there was one. It is good to know that I am not the only servant of Sigmar at work in this region.” He chuckled softly. Pieter smiled in return and flipped back one of the folds of his coat, revealing a small gold pin that gleamed in the candle glow. Lightning flashed, briefly casting the priest’s concerned face in stark light. “The Order of the Azyr?” The old man’s voice was hushed. The truly mortal templars of Sigmar were a rare breed and, even though they worked for the God-King, their presence rarely boded well, for it meant great evil was afoot. “Indeed,” said Pieter, almost wearily, “the Order of the Azyr.” He saw the concern in the priest’s face and raised a gloved hand in a calming gesture. “Nothing to worry you, father, or any of the faithful of Sigmar.” “That is good, my friend,” the priest said, though the tension was not completely gone from his voice, “though undoubtedly your purpose in this region is a dark one.” “I’m afraid so,” Pieter said, frowning for the first time since he entered the chapel. Nothing more was forthcoming as he looked back to the altar. Thunder rumbled and lightning flared once more, illuminating the altar. The candles in the church flickered for a second, as if caught in a draft. The priest looked back at the door, but it was firmly sealed. A draft. Unsurprising. As old as it was, the temple itself wasn’t completely weatherproof. He turned to face the templar again. The younger man was still staring at the altar contemplatively. Silence filled the church, broken only by the noise of the storm continuing to batter at the walls. “Father,” said Pieter softly, breaking the relative quiet, “do you ever have doubts?” “Doubts?” “Yes, doubts. In Sigmar. In his purpose, the mission, the ability to actually reunite the disparate peoples of the mortal realms.” “No, I do not,” the priest smiled wanly. “I served in the armies of Sigmar’s faithful, many years ago. I saw the passion there. The hope. I saw the Stormcasts. You cannot doubt Sigmar’s purpose when those warriors fight alongside you.” “That’s fair, father,” Pieter straightened up, “it’s just so much sometimes. How can one man, one god as it were, handle all of this?” He swept his hand out and though he only gestured around the temple, the meaning was clear. “His reach is far, friend. You know that as well as I do. Even here his light shines upon us.” It was a bland turn of phrase, but a common and comforting one. The priest smiled, evidently pleased with his ministrations, and leaned back into the pew. “Indeed,” Pieter replied, “after all, you are here are you not? It’s a bold posting, though perhaps not surprising for a man of your years and experience, Father Reichenbold.” The priest tensed a little, but did not move much. “You know my name?” Reichenbold’s voice was slightly softer now, more cautious. “Father, please,” Pieter shrugged, “did you honestly expect that the Order of the Azyr would send one of its own abroad without letting them know the name of a potential ally in the area? That being said, it was fortune that led me to your door, I was completely lost in that storm.” “Ah well, that does make sense, my friend.” Reichenbold rolled his shoulders and looked up at the altar. “It is a rough place, to be sure, but I find it fulfilling. In many ways, it feels simpler out here, easier to connect with the people than it does back in Azyr.” “I can only imagine,” the witch hunter said cheerfully, “I’ve never stayed overlong in Azyr, though I dearly wished to. Loved the stars.” He sighed before continuing, “Native of Ghur myself, that’s why the Order sent me here for this.” There was another pause, letting the noise of the storm filter in. “And what is this, my friend?” the priest inquired after a moment. The younger man said nothing for a moment, fixing his gaze on the altar. “Murders, father, foul murders. A large number too,” Pieter’s voice was free of any levity, cold and severe. Gone was the more salubrious behavior of only a few moments before. “Travelers missing and some pilgrims gone. They’re what got the eye of my superiors. Protecting Sigmar’s faithful is always our priority, even out here.” “I’ve heard of no murders?” There was genuine concern in Reichenbold’s voice. “Ah, that is the problem. They’ve been quiet, subtle, extremely dangerous. We would never have known were it not for the fact that one of those pilgrims happened to be an old friend of the Grand Theogonist herself. When she failed to arrive in the Azyr two weeks ago, higher powers took notice. I’ve been on the hunt ever since.” “Terrible,” Reichenbold said, “It’s hard enough out here without some foul cult at work. If I had only known, I would’ve tried to do something.” “A cult, yes,” the templar said absentmindedly. He shook his head and continued, “Not surprising you would want to help, father, considering your service. One of the heroes of Mountenbach Ford, are you not? The Astral Templars themselves honored your fellows and you after that battle, if I don’t miss my mark. High praise, the Stormcast give it to us regular mortals so rarely.” “That was a long time ago, my friend.” “A long time ago, but I bet you could still swing your hammer with skill if need be? Pity that these murderers only have to face me, rather than your wrath, even in your retirement.” The priest chuckled. “You’re too kind. Though I could still swing the hammer, I will admit. A necessary skill in Ghur, even in... retirement.” “Of course,” said Peiter, sitting up. “Tell me father, what were they like? The Astral Templars, that is. I’ve not had the chance to meet one yet.” The priest nodded. His eyes lit up and he gestured excitedly with his hands. “Amazing, my friend. Stunning. The God-King’s will made manifest, clad in gold and full of the storm’s fury.” The thunder rumbled outside and lightning flared again, as if in acknowledgement. Pieter whistled, easing back in the pew and staring up at the ceiling of the chapel. “Imagine that.” The two men sat in silence for a while longer, Pieter looking up at the rafters, Father Reichenbold looking ahead at the altar, occasionally casting furtive glances at his guest. “The Astral Templars are clad in purple.” The witch hunter’s voice was cold and severe again. The priest grunted in response. “Ah, of course they are. My old mind forgets these things. They were indeed giants in purple armor.” “And the battle where they honored Father Reichenbold was Turtleshell Ford. There is no such place as Mountenbach.” The priest was silent. Thunder rumbled. “Are you going to lie about forgetting that too?” “Father Reichenbold” rose to his feet, his knees popping, though the look on his face betrayed little pain. Pieter rose as well and the two men faced one another in front of the altar. “No, I think there’s no point in that petty indulgence.” Gone was any genial tone in the priest’s voice, replaced instead by that underlying steel. “Good. I dislike pretences, despite my profession.” Pieter’s hand drifted to his sword. “And where is the real Father Reichenbold?” The priest chuckled darkly, shifting his hands within the flow of his rough robes. “Dead for months. I drained his body of blood and buried him behind the chapel.” The priest gestured lazily past the altar. “If it makes you feel any better, he was a fighter to the end. I appreciated that. So did my god.” “Did you honestly think no one would notice?” Pieter’s voice was calm, his hand now firmly upon the hilt of his sword, though he did not draw the blade. “Honestly?” The priest responded, “I really did not. Your Sigmar is weak, templar. He betrayed these realms, cast them aside and sealed himself away and let the darkness take us all. Even now, even with his vaunted heroes and his “devoted” servants, his light falters. It has no place here, that much is for sure.” “And yet here I am, a Ghurite, fighting for Sigmar.” “You are twice a traitor then,” the old man shrieked, “to serve the coward-god that betrayed your people!” “Sigmar saved my people, murderer.” The priest snorted derisively. “Saved them? By tying them to his yoke? Placing them under the lash of his pampered Azyrites that rode out the hell of Chaos invasions in luxury? Some salvation. This is what you sacrifice your heritage for?” Pieter said nothing and the priest continued, filling the void with words, his voice becoming more and more zealous with each venomous utterance. “I serve an older master, one that did not abandon these lands like your foolish God-King. One that nurtured the people of these hinterlands, protected them from the foulness that threatened them all. What has Sigmar done here that equals that? Where was he, when the servants of the Dark Gods were baying at our borders? Your Father Reichenbold, the hero! The fool more like! He thought he could push Sigmar on us, as your priests always do. He was wrong. His blood was like wine on the lips of Onholt. Each of those travelers died screaming. All of their blood nourished my god, renewed our pacts, guaranteed our continued safety from all that would threaten us.” The priest smiled, drawing a wicked looking sickle with a jagged edge from the folds of his robes. There was madness in his eyes as he stalked towards the witch-hunter. “And the best part, lackey of the coward-god? Onholt is always thirsty.” The priest lunged forward with a yell, swinging his sickle downwards. Pieter’s thin blade, thrice blessed by the Grand Theogonist herself, emerged from its scabbard in the blink of an eye to intercept the vicious weapon. The templar lunged into a riposte, but, as he suspected, the priest was far from the frail old man he appeared, rolling backwards on his heels and smacking the thrust aside. His robes fluttered and flapped like the wings of some ragged vulture as he struck again and again, and Pieter was hard-pressed to knock the brutal slashes askew. As the priest’s robes fluttered, Pieter glimpsed the sinuous tattoos that decorated the old man’s arms, drawn in what appeared to be long-dried blood. Undoubtedly they were responsible for the unnatural strength and vigor the fanatic displayed. It was supernatural, the unsavory gift of whatever petty godling had chosen this man as its champion. In the abstract part of his mind that was not immediately occupied with fighting for his life, Pieter pitied Father Reichenbold for having to face an opponent like this. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled once more as the two figures danced back and forth in front of the altar. Their blades skittered and clanged off one another, each man showing superb skill in the duel, but it was the priest of Onholt that seemed to be gaining the upper hand. Each strong blow drove Pieter back towards the wall of the small chapel, rattling the steel of his sword and threatening the sturdiness of his guard. Every couple of strikes, the sickle’s jagged blade nicked the witch hunter’s body, drawing small amounts of blood, sapping his strength with each slice. “I will offer up every last drop of your blood to Onholt,” the old man shrieked, cutting low with his sickle and forcing Pieter back once more, “He will drink it all!” Like a great cat of the Ghurlands, the priest pounced forward, throwing himself bodily into the templar, his weapon hooking the blessed blade out of the way. Pieter stumbled backwards and fell, cracking his head against the wall even as the sickle opened up a wide gash across his front. On his back, groggy from the blow, the templar struggled as a wrinkled foot in a grimy sandal slammed down on his chest to pin him in place with that same, unnatural strength. He grunted as the priest pressed down on the wound. “You were foolish to come here alone, lackey of the coward-god,” the old man drew back his sickle for a killing blow, and a flash of lightning backlit his hideous silhouette in Pieter’s eyes. Defiant despite the pounding in his head, the witch hunter spat his words up at the fanatic poised to execute him. “The servants of Sigmar are never alone, heretic.” There was a loud snap crack followed by a flash, like that of lightning, and the tang of ozone filled the room. The priest of Onholt wheezed violently as a bolt of light plucked him off his feet and sent his wizened form smashing with bone-crushing force into the stonework of the temple’s back wall. With the pressure lifted off his chest, Pieter rose unsteadily to his feet, just in time to see the large form sliding out of the shadows by the door of the chapel. The mighty figure cast back his cloak of woven black beast-fur as he strolled down the aisle towards the witch hunter, revealing the purple armor of the Astral Templars underneath. “Brother Tarkus, I was beginning to wonder if you were here at all.” Pieter said, touching the swelling bump on the back of his head gingerly before bending to retrieve his sword. “That took you long enough.” “I could say the same to you, van Detler.” Tarkus’ voice echoed from within his helm, and though it was well-spoken, it bound the roiling power of the storm in its words. “I had to be sure,” the witch hunter said, walking over to the corpse of the zealot. A look of surprise was still plastered on the old man’s face, though the appearance of shock hardly detracted from the spectacle of the dinner plate sized hole in the fanatic’s chest where the bolt had impacted. “Again,” Tarkus rumbled, “I could say the same.” Pieter looked up at the Stormcast, struggling to keep the vague sense of annoyance off his face. “You almost sound disappointed, Brother Tarkus.” “I am, van Detler. I expected him to be a demon. Or a magus of the Dark Gods at the very least.” “No,” Pieter said, kneeling down next to the corpse and lifting up an icon on a chain around the man’s neck. It depicted a sickle and a drop of liquid, undoubtedly blood. “It is sad to say, my noble hunter, but the evils of the mortal realms are just as likely to be rooted in mere men as they are to be the work of the Dark Gods and their ilk.” “But he was ensorcelled in some way?” “Oh yes,” Pieter said, holding the icon up to the light and examining it closer. Crude characters in the tongue of Ghur decorated its outside. “A follower of Onholt, an old god obsessed with sacrifice and blood. Perfect for Ghur, in so many ways. The Order thought his followers had long died out, but clearly that is not the case.” The witch hunter stashed the icon away inside a pouch at his waist. “They call Onholt “The Drinker”. Pleasant title, seems fitting.” “Not the Blood God then?” Tarkus seemed doubtful. “No, not the Blood God. Similar perhaps, but not the same.” The Stormcast shrugged slightly in response. “One evil seems much like another.” “If only that were the case, it would make the Order’s job much easier.” The cuts Pieter had suffered were not deep, even the one on his chest, but he winced in pain as he stood. “I’ll need to investigate his quarters. There may be more of his cult hereabouts, helping him commit his sacrifices. We might also give Father Reichenbold a proper funeral, if we can find him. He deserves far better than a shallow grave in the hinterlands of this realm. Probably need to tend to my wounds too, we don’t all bleed starlight.” The man began to move towards the door at the side of the chapel leading to the priest’s personal abode. “I don’t bleed starlight,” Tarkus said almost petulantly, calmly reloading the crossbow in his hands as he looked down at the crumpled form of the zealot. “Was it true what you said, van Detler? About the doubts?” Pieter paused and turned back to the Stormcast. The armored giant, veritably charged with the power of the Azyr now that his presence was revealed, was intimidating, especially when it came to questions of faith. Wild as they were, the Astral Templars were no less devoted to the God-King than any other Stormhost. “Yes, Brother Tarkus. It is true,” Pieter sighed, “Was that what stayed your hand for so long?” “No,” the Stormcast replied firmly, “I told you I was waiting.” “It is natural for men to doubt, Brother Tarkus. To fear. I feel that this man,” he gestured towards the ragged form of the zealot, “was driven towards Onholt by his doubts more than anything else. The difference between him and I though, is that my doubts give me purpose. For what is doubt if not the trappings of hope? One does not exist without the other. I believe in Sigmar, in his will, and his mission. That I worry it can be achieved at times only drives me harder to assure that those doubts do not become a reality.” The Stormcast said nothing, but nodded slowly. Thunder rumbled again outside, rattling the church’s windows, as if in affirmation of the witch hunter’s statement. “Now, I think that’s enough matters of the spirit for the day, don’t you?” Pieter said, continuing his walk towards the quarter’s door. “We have work to do.”
  4. “Ghyran, Realm of Life, home to the children of Alarielle, cries out in pain. Our once great glades wither under the march of the dead, a blight spreading outwards from the Ancient One’s host with each new moon. At the same time, life abundant seethes in the wake of the Foetid Fellows, the Bilespreader come again to his favourite playground. Our rangers rush to intercept both forces, prayers to the Goddess spilling from their lips even as they fall to the blades of their foes. Still they fight, dancing side-by-side with the dryads and the sylphs, their lives buying just enough time for the rest of the Emerald Eyrie to assemble. Soon, our clarion call will ring through the trees. The cycle of nature is broken. Balance must be restored.” * She emerged from between the trees and her light was like the coming of spring on a cold winter’s morning. Far below, the forest was a patchwork of withered glades and walking dead, but she had only eyes for the abomination sailing towards her on ragged wings and the entourage of monsters flapping in its wake. Here was the architect of the forest’s plight, the one for whom the puppets swarming below staggered and danced. Its unnatural presence rolled across her, a shadow over her soul, and then it crashed into the Green Finger. Rock crumbled. The mountainside shook. The delicate weave of life magic in which she hung rippled, sending shivers down her arms, and for one dizzying moment, she felt the nature of the creature and its blasphemous mount like poison through her veins. The once noble wyrm swung its head to regard her through eyes like amethystine marbles. Staring into them, she saw nothing. Then she was amongst it, the winds become pale flames under her touch, a prayer to the Goddess on her lips as she cast back the fell bats and turned her hands on the soulless monster in the saddle. Once more, the winds lurched. Though she couldn’t hear the creature over the gale, she could see its lips moving, and where her pale fire leapt, bolts of amethyst sprang forth to meet it. The monster’s gaze burned into her until she could not resist it. Her ears filled with the screams of the dying, her hair with the wordless roar of the wind. And the unblinking eyes that stared back at her from that long-dead face did so with the detached curiosity of a mortal about to pin and dissect a butterfly. Read more about Tale of Instahammer
  5. They are watching us. From the moment we crossed over into this fecund place in search of it, I knew eyes on me, felt its attention shift, infinitesimal speck by speck, a vast consciousness like the hive mind of a colony of wardroth grubs turning its antlered head our way. Even now, it tracks us through the tumbling vales, and what it sees, it wishes to destroy. It dreams of ending us, of trampling us, of impaling us on those magnificent horns, of returning us to the soil and the wind. The mortal coil! Is this what it feels like, to be studied, to be read? Is this what my subjects experience, when I look for the secrets in their skin? We came for a book, but already I have gained something far greater: wisdom with which to fill a tome of my own! Of course, such a text will warrant the finest materials. A bolt of buckskin shall do nicely. Or, failing that, a ream of aelfhide. I shall weave a placeholder from their hair! Her song holds no sway in these old trees. They stir with a different sound. Stop running, child, and you may just hear it: the wind in the boughs, like the billowing of vast wings; its keening shriek, like that of a beast in pain. You may yet hear it, if you just stop running. You may yet sing with them. Yes, little princeling. Catch your breath and raise your voice and sing with the children of the night, even as they catch you. A choir of screams, in harmony! "Awake, O dead! Crawl from your mountain tombs. Once more, the dispossessed have cause to march upon the forests of the aelves: my cause! No root nor branch nor witch-forged blade will spill your blood this time..." * I hear it then: a tapping, the patter of fleshless fingertips between the stalactites. Overhead, blackness, impenetrable except for that sound and something else, almost inaudible, a keening pitch. Scree scatters before my boots, the darkness a precipice over which I dangle, every step my last. One more. Up ahead, a glimmer of light. One more. The entrance is in sight. One more. They are waiting for me, outside, unpacking the camp by torchlight and the glare of the zephyr spites. One more —Wait. Silence has descended over me like a fresh darkness. What of the tapping? Nothing, just that whine, needling into my ears, growing higher, cutting sharper. The dead wolf’s bite didn’t wound so deep. My groan echoes around me. The blackness swallows it utterly, then spits it back in a scrabble of scratches and the flutter of wing beats. I imagine a mainsail filling over and over with competing winds, impossibly vast in the shadows. Run run run —My every footfall kicks pebbles and stones, glottal pops marking my flight. One more step. A smell washes over me, a rotting tide. One more step. The entrance looms before me, my exit now, and I make out the silhouettes of my comrades, moving about camp. Is that their laughter I hear, or have I gone mad? One more step — * See how quickly they die, how easily they rise again? Necromancy, a written art, its secrets consecrated in blood, His Word made flesh. For the longest time, that was all I saw; runes and languages that sought to confound me even as I learned them. Never did I stop to study that on which they were written. Their medium: human skin, gut for binding, and flesh of a different kind, sprouted from the sodden earth, grown into great forests before being hewn and pulped. That flesh is silent now, but in fair Ghyran, it still sings, the very wind whispering with untold secrets, a shiver down my spine. So I walk that land, and beneath those trees I read again, my fingers teasing stories from the throats of sylphs and the aelves that dance with them, my tongue the sorrow that defines their tales. What more could the undying ask for than that: Nature, a book that never ends! Such a shame that they won’t stop screaming. How is one supposed to read, surrounded by such a racket? Read more about Tale of Instahammer Werble-1C267E295.MP4
  6. “Do you feel it, Neferata? Do you feel the silent angles of the Corpse Geometries growing sharper about you? The charnel mathematics of Usirian have drawn you here...” This week, I Am Reading: Neferata: The Blood of Nagash by Josh Reynolds. The book continues pretty much directly on from The Rise of Nagash trilogy by Mike Lee so of course I got stuck straight in. What did I think? If you’re in thrall of the Queen of Mysteries, this is a must-read, offering a first-person glimpse into the mind and machinations of the First Vampire and her movements post the fall of Lahmia. The narrative focuses on the kingdom of Strigos and weaves Neferata's fate alongside those of Ushoran, W'soran, and (to an extent) Abhorash, as though the four weren't inextricably linked already. The fact that they have found each other again, despite having scattered after the fall of Lahmia, is called out and goes on to set up the theme that all are one with Nagash, symbolised over and over across the book through the black sun and the Crown of Nagash. For me, this is a story about free will and identity. "Neferata pushed herself to her feet. The voice of the crown — Nagash's voice — was back, smashing at her doubts and worries and fears. For an instant, she wondered if this was how others felt when she turned her gaze upon them." Don't let that fool you — there's intrigue and bloodshed aplenty. The rough'n' ready Strigoi warriors offer a satisfying foil to Neferata and her handmaidens. The ladies get their fair share of action, and when their claws are out, Neferata's enemies die. Flashbacks illuminate what happened to Neferata between the sacking of her city and her arrival at Strigos while conveniently introducing us to the origins of each of her closest handmaidens. My favourite thing about the book? Any book or story offering insights into how the First Vampires think and act is a must-read for me. Neferata lives up to her reputation as a manipulator, coercing warlords and sweet-talking the Lord of Masks as though they were chess pieces, but we also see Abhorash and his get (including some familiar faces!), Ushoran and the madness that slowly envelops him and his doomed bloodline, W'soran, hiding in the dark places beneath the mountains like a hungry spider... For acolytes of W’soran, the story also sets up the sequel, Master of Death. (Review coming soon.) Haven't read Neferata: The Blood of Nagash yet? Order a copy, turn down the lights, and dive in...
  7. Version 1.0.0

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    The armies of Efengie have been drawn into a war between the neighboring nation-states of Kytos and Lamellia; a war fought on both land and sea! This book includes a 2-player Narrative Linked-battles Campaign, 3 custom Allegiance abilities to represent the nation-states of Kytos, Lamellia, and Efengie, 5 Narrative Battleplans, 6 Legendary Artefacts of Efengie, and 1 rules expansion to add naval warfare to your Age of Sigmar battles. Plus, lots of fiction and pictures chronicling five months of narrative events! This is the fifth book in this series, you don't need the others (in fact, there's a fluff recap page at the beginning of this one), but if you enjoy this one, you may also enjoy the rest. Book 1 Book 2 Book 3 Book 4
  8. Introduction One of the things I really like about the latest Warhammer 40,000 releases for 'The Gathering Storm' is the idea of a Triumvirate. This was a word I had not heard before and as well as sounding very cool I also liked the meaning behind it: I have also recently been thinking about backstory writing for my Age of Sigmar mixed Order army, and as I recently finished my third centre-piece model for the army (A Freeguild General on Griffon), it seemed the perfect chance to add my own "Triumvirate" into my army. The Roots of the Story: When Age of Sigmar first came out, I put together a backstory for my army called 'Siegfried's Desperados'. I had a blog on Dakkadakka which was quite popular at the time, perhaps because it was one of the safe havens away from the heat the game was getting from some disgruntled veterans (especially on Dakkadakka). You can check out the thread here if you are interested: https://www.dakkadakka.com/dakkaforum/posts/list/663727.page To summerise, the initial background I created for my army was that they were a mercenary outfit (called the 'Desperados') operating out of Azyrheim. I wanted to add a bit more grey and a bit more low fantasy into the backstory (as it was something Age of Sigmar didn't really have at the time), so I came up with some hooks and ideas of the dark side of aelven society in Azyrheim (lots of intrigue and assassinations among the nobles), the ideas of slums in the city, and that a mercenary outfit might employ a necromancer in their ranks. This was also an excuse to add in Aelves, Duardin and even Death into my army which was all a lot of fun to play with before the General's Handbook came out. But since the General's Handbook came out the narrative and story behind my army has taken the backseat. I have been focusing a lot more on Matched play and my narrative outlet has been with Hinterlands. As the recently finished Freeguild General on Griffon was meant to be Siegfried Stormhart once more, I thought it would be fun to update the story of the Desperados, and so the Triumvirate was born. The Triumvirate of Mistmire; Master Geppetto, Siegfried Stormhart and the alchemist, Massym Al-Izzar Creating a Triumvirate: I want to throw out the question to all of you, what cool Triumvirates could you add into your collection? All you would need are the following: 1. 3 Cool Models 2. A Cool Story that connects them For me, I had my 3 Centrepieces. The Griffon, the Steamtank and the Hurricanum. I wanted them to have some sort of purpose other than being in an army together, so I decided to bring back the old Necromancer I used to run in the Desperados pre-GHB. He goes by the name 'Cornacaprious'. I decided that he has since betrayed the Desperados, and has resurrected an ancient vampire (with the title of the "Blood Queen"). This gives me a reason to finally paint my Neferata model and also gives the triumvirate a goal to accomplish (they of course seek to kill both the Necromancer and the Blood Queen). So with the scene set, I put together a 4 pages as if they were from a campaign book and detailed my Triumvirate of Mistmire. I would love to hear what you think, but more importantly I hope this inspires you all to go off and create a Triumvirate for one of your armies too. My Triumvirate:
  9. Currently there's a warhammer fiction humble bundle going, some aos and warhammer fantasy stuffs. Its really good value and its got the first audio drama from the hunt for nagash series which is really good. 15 bucks for a few full novels and omnibuses as well as 3 audio dramas and a bunch of short stories.
  10. I've finished the third Efengie Campaign book. These books are put together from the battleplans I use for the Age of Sigmar Game Days that I run more-or-less monthly at my FLGS. In this one (as with the other two below) we've got five battleplans, a campaign system, and some fun little stories about what went down. In the aftermath of the Coalescence War of the Ring, Sigmar's followers have been convinced of Efengie's strategic value. Follow the story of Sigmar's invasion, interlopers from the grim darkness beyond the Eye of Terror, and an epic power struggle with Colossal Red, the Queen of the Monsters. In this book, I made some changes to the Clash of Empires battleplan framework. The biggest change for anyone playing through the campaign book is that each battleplan now has two different battlefields with different secondary objectives. This fits in really nicely with the campaign system since now the winner of each battle gets to choose the battlefield for the next one. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy the book! Also, here are links to the first two books if you want to get the whole story so far.
  11. Version 2.0

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    The first book of the Efengie Campaign series contains 5 Battleplans based on Warhammer World's Clash of Empires framework. It also includes Time of War rules for battling in the Vale of Efengie. But that's not all, each battleplan includes a fluff piece storying the event at which it was originally run, and there are also 2-player narrative campaign rules, and a map campaign for use with the General's Handbook map campaign rules! There are now 3 Efengie Campaign books! Book 2 - Through the Deathgate Book 3 - Coalescence Aftermath
  12. Version 1.0.0

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    In the aftermath of the Coalescence War of the Ring, Sigmar's followers have been convinced of Efengie's strategic value. Follow the story of Sigmar's invasion, interlopers from the grim darkness beyond the Eye of Terror, and an epic power struggle with Colossal Red, the Queen of the Monsters. Play through the action in a five battleplan two player narrative campaign. Book 1 Book 2
  13. Continued from the previous entry Borne to the Battlefield Lightning struck all around Du'Gall's warband as Stormcast began to materialise. Du'Gall's did not have the numbers to face a full stormhost but it seemed that their arrival was as disorganised as his own. This however did not stop them from attacking his warriors. A gryph hound used its beak to tear the throat out of a blood reaver, who fell, spitting gore. Liberators and Du'Galls chaos warriors fought, hurling blows against each others shields. Du'Gall let his reaper blade split a Liberators helm. The demon within revelled in the slaughter. Worthy foes! A shame the hammer god will not allow their skulls to take their rightful place on Khorne's throne. Du'Gall tried to keep focus as the blood haze began to cloud his mind. The demon weapon allowed him to stand against almost any foe but was insatiable, always demanding more slaughter no matter the cost. Du'Gall did not allow the weapon to take control, asserting his will and surveying the small force of Stormcasts that had materialised amongst his forces. They were gold armoured, liberators for the most part, with shields of solid sigmarite and strong hammers that they wielded with skill and finesse. With the liberators were colourful gryph hounds, the beaked hounds were darting in to nip at his reavers and warriors. Du'Gall did not lament the loss of his reavers they were bogging down the stormcast with their berserk attacks while his black armoured chaos warriors gathered around him. The black armoured warriors of chaos, bear the favours of their gods, Occasionally these favours did far more harm than good A clear noble voice rang out from among the Stormcast. "Rally brothers! Come together while I serve as a beacon for the rest of the host!" The warrior wore gold plate and bore a warhammer, like his brethren, but his skull mask and bone filled banner set him apart as their leader. Du'Gall signalled to his chaos warriors. "Engage the liberators, keep them away from their priest while i take his skull," His warriors moved to obey, forming a short shield wall as they closed with the liberators who did the same and the two walls met, blows stifled by the reduced space and shields. Du'Gall edged past the entwined shield walls, straight towards the Lord Relictor. "Oh Sigmar!" The skull masked stormcast cried "Let your lighting cleanse this filth!" He raised his reliquary, lighting flaring around it as he gathered his power. Du'Gall spat at the obvious display of magic and charged. He rammed his shoulder into the Stormcast disrupting his preparations and the lighting fizzled out. The stormcast swung with his hammer and caught Du'Gall in the side. The plate buckled and the Chaos Lord felt his side bruise instantly. Du'Gall backed away and circled trusting to the greater reach of his reaper blade and he finally let the blade free. No more strategy was required only combat. The demon blade keened in his hand carving through the air, as he threw a series of rapid thrusts at the lord relictor. The relictor took them on his armour, bulling in and roaring as he swung his hammer high bringing it down in an overhand blow. Du'Gall dropped the reaper blade and stepped into the swing of the hammer, blunting its force as lighting crackled from its head. With one hand he gripped the handle of the hammer, the holy weapon fizzing and crackling in protest as with the other he drew his trusty sword, and hacked into the back of the relictors knee. The sword blade bit through the chainmail and cleaved tendons and the relictors leg buckled as he grunted in pain. Du'Gall rammed the guard into the relictor's chin before swinging it around and back hard into the relictor's skull mask. The sigmarite mask was torn away and the unnaturally square features of the the relictor were bloodied. Again the relictor tried to call upon the lightning of his patron god, but Du'Gall rammed the cross guard into his jaw and while the relictor spat teeth and reeled, Du'Gall picked up his discarded reaper blade. He lifted the point under the Stormcast's chin holding against the Demon blades desire to gut the Relictor there and then. "Why are you here? What does your god hope to find in this realm of death?" The relictor's response was to spit a gobbet of blood onto Du'Gall's cuirass. The chaos lord chuckled before thrusting the blade into the stormcast's neck and through his spine. As the relictor's head rolled free of his shoulders he dizzolved into blinding lightning and Du'Gall turned to assist his beleaguered Chaos Warriors. The stormcast would hold their tongues, it was only fair that he remove them from their heads. Du'Gall Lord of Chaos With the rest of the stormcast returned to Azyr and the Gryph hounds slain. Du'Gall gathered what he could find of his horde. "This realm of death holds the secret to the end of the path to glory. Others covet it and will seek to stop us. They will feel the might of those blessed by Khorne. We were strong enough to survive the age of chaos, not shut up in their realm with their coward god, but out amongst the slaughter and death. We shall be rewarded and none shall stop me from claiming what I seek," If his men knew what he meant by and end to the path many would have tried to slay him there and then, but as things were they cheered and set out, searching for any other members of the warband, lost in the realm of death Next time.. The dead deal with intruders
  14. I have officially completed the first Efengie Campaign Book! This is the culmination of about six months of running themed Age of Sigmar events at my FLGS. It came about because I was creating battleplans for the monthly Age of Sigmar Game Day (like a tournament, but more casual) at my FLGS. In order to establish a narrative and give the events fun story-oriented stakes, I decided I would write a fluff piece after each event to describe what happened, and slowly flesh out the ongoing story of our not-quite-campaign. Efengie was the old tongue-in-cheek setting for my local store's Warhammer Fantasy campaigns, which we ran on a regular basis for roughly 10 years before Age of Sigmar was released. The store owner drew the original map (I drew this one myself) based on the layout of the store, which resulted in us having locations like Fort Snack, and Mount Cola. The Port City of Bludor was literally a blue door that was adjacent to a particularly flood prone area of the back storage area. Some, like the Trade City of Register or the cities of North Couch and South Couch didn't make the cut because they were a little too silly. I have given that setting a makeover to find it a home in Ghyran. This book includes five battleplans built on the framework of Warhammer World's Clash of Empires. It includes two new Time of War rules representing the Vale of Efengie as well as the Gates of Eucebium, a ring of ancient Realmgates erected by the Wanderers. It has plenty of fluff and photography from the events to round it out, and also includes a Map Campaign for use with the General's Handbook map campaign rules. Enjoy!
  15. This is the same story posted earlier but I can not seem to edit mistakes I caught on subsequent proof readings. So here is an edited version with some grammer and readability improvements. Alarik stepped out of the realmgate onto the soil of Ulgu, his retinue close in step. Having so recently been among the purifying light of Sigmar's kingdom, the sudden and complete blackness of Ulgu blinded him. His eyes desperately grasping for light as they struggled to adjust. After a few moments he could make out some blurry shapes within the small halo of ghostly violet light emitted by the realmgate. The blasphemous realm immediately wore on his nerves. The shimmering white and gold armor of Alarik's host had so often seemed to him a radiant manifestation of Sigmar's fury. In the deep darkness of the shadows realm however the glittering armor and shimmer of storm infused magic of Alarik's host seemed little more than a dim candle in a vast, uncaring night. As Lord Relictor Balhoth stepped from the realmgate Alarik's eyes had adjusted as much as could be expected in such a place, and he peered back to meet Balhoth's gaze. Balhoth looked somehow more powerful in this domain. In a realm that so drained Alarik with its hidden and wretched nature, Balhoth seemed to emit an aura of hidden arcane potency just out of tangible sight. "How fitting for a dark and brooding land to welcome such a dark and brooding man, how dramatic." Alarik scoffed to himself. Despite Alarik's distrust and subtle mockery of the macabre nature of the Relictor, Alarik could not deny the power of his presence. Like most Lord Relictors, Balhoth was adorned from head to toe in dark Sigmarite armor, adorned with bones and sinister looking charms. Grandiosely segmented into gold trimmed plates forming a formidable aegis around each limb of Balhoth's towering figure. The suit of armor was crowned with a menacing skull masked helm the expression of which seemed to both embrace and mock the threat of death. For a moment Balhoth's pale, skull visaged helmet appeared to glow with an ethereal light which defied reason in so dark a place. In contrast to the ghostly countenance of his helmet The Lord Relictor's black armor plates seemed darker and reason was betrayed once more by Balhoth's appearance as tendrils of black mist appeared to leap chaotically around Balhoth's silhouette. A disturbing aura of death and night that licked hungrily at the darkness that enveloped the Stormcasts. The dark and deathly aspect Balthoth had been possessed by frightened Alarik. A feeling he had all but forgotten since his reforging. Alarik feared he was about to witness the betrayal of the Lord Relictor at the hands of some terrible gift of power and madness granted by Ulgu itself. Alarik squinted, focusing more intently on the Lord Relictor. Alarik hoped to will Balhoth into a less blasphemous form of existence. As equal measures of fear and anger grew in Alarik, his attempt to focus on Balhoth and center his thoughts seemed to work. To Alarik's surprise and relief the shadow tendrils and ghostly glow of Balhoth's mask began to disappear and Alarik immediately began to distrust his senses in this world. "What a wretched place." Alarik cursed aloud, still facing Balhoth. "I met no resistance coming through the gate Balhoth and it worries me." "I expect frontal assault is not the way of this realms denizens." Balhoth offered in reply."I know little of this realm Alarik but I fear we may miss the brutal honesty found in the frontal assault of a Khornate horde." Balhoth continued grim but resolute."None have returned from this realm, it is unlikely our rescue mission will end in anything but death." Alarik frowned inside his helmet, glad the rigid facial features forged in the mask of the his helm hid his repulsion at the sad truth of Balhoth's declaration. Why did he ever hope to find comfort in the words of the Lord Relictor? Balhoth was seldom wrong but even more seldom was the Lord Relictor comforting. Cold, tactical truth was his fluency. A fact which Alarik almost hated as much as he valued it. "Pleasant thought Balhoth." Alarik returned." If I get frightened I will dream of the bloodied platues of Aqshy." Despite the forced levity in his words Alarik knew the chances of finding Halvir were slim but why had the God King created him if not to venture into such places and bring hope to those in opposition to the dark pantheon. He knew it was not a mission forged in the cold, calculating reason that so endeared his Lord Relictor to him, but a need to find his lost comrade that burned within Alarik. Some memory from a forgotten life, just out of reach that drove Alarik's desperate foray into Ulgu. Ulgu hid it's secrets as if sentient and maniacal, adding the fate of any who dared tread its paths to its many secrets. As Balhoth had so poignantly stated, those that had entered Ulgu had never returned from its insidious clutches, but his brother in war would not be left alone in this cursed place to die or worse. The Stormcasts had arrived. Just as Lord Grufflz told Rulk they would. "He is so smart smart he is." Rulk thought to himself. The skaven commander known as Grufflz had seen one of the stormcasts dragged off into the darkness by a dark figure the skaven forces only knew as the broody one. Grufflz did not know much about the broody one but he had been seen sporadically in the region lately. Up to no good Grufflz was sure of, which made Grufflz respect the broody one. it takes brains to scheme and made things so much more interesting. Rulk drooled and snorted in excitement , whispering to himself. "Storm bullies so dumb dumb getting caught by broody one. Lord Grufflz will skewer them. So glorious." Rulk could see the Stormcasts adjusting to the darkness. They seemed so slow to move and adapt to him. He wondered how they ever had success fighting when they moved so slow. Remembering his duties Rulk let out a low hiss to signal to his troops nearby it was time to draw the Stormcasts into the darkness. To prepare for Sigmar's intrusion on Lord Grufflz bounty. The broody one after all was know to attract warpstone some how. Expecting the Stormcast to arrive in search for their kidnapped companion Lord Grufflz had cunning had his force hedge up the foliage in some areas. The terrain was chocked with this wooden vines. With some manipulation by Rulks men the only clearing in the vines would decide the path of the Stormcasts without them knowing it. "It needs to look natural, and smooth smooth. We need to give them a path without them knowing we doing it." Grufflz had explained. The next part of the plan was Rulk's favorite. He grew giddy as he remember Grufflz commands. "Remembers cunning ones, stay low low and hidden. Push their feet so softly. Bring them to us. If they wander nudge them here and nudge them there. The are large and blunt, they will not notice you." Such an exciting command to sneakily force the path of the Stormbrutes. Nudge them ever so slightly off course without them noticing. Rulk reveled " So much fun can be had in the dark. So much tricky tricks." Rulk wondered to himself why Lord Grufflz had passed on participating in such an exciting sneaky challenge."Other things he need be doing. So smart, so important." Rulk of course did not realize he had been sent on what could likely turn out to be a suicide mission. If Alaraki did notice the skaven skulking in the darkness he would end them as he sought to end all followers of the chaos pantheon. To Be Continued..... (I will update a narrative version of the battle report when I get a chance)
  16. Here is the latest entry leading up to our first game. The Pass of Hidden Hands Alarik stepped out of the realmgate onto the soil of Ulgu, his retinue close in step. Having so recently been among the purifying light of Sigmar's kingdom, the sudden and complete blackness of Ulgu blinded him. His eyes desperately grasping for light as they struggled to adjust. After a few moments he could make out some blurry shapes within the small halo of ghostly violet light emitted by the realmgate. The blasphemous realm immediately wore on his nerves. The shimmering white and gold armor of Alarik's host had so often seemed to him a radiant manifestation of Sigmar's fury. In the deep, uncaring darkness of the shadows realm however the glittering armor and shimmer of storm infused magic of Alarik's host seemed little more than a dim candle in a vast, uncaring night. As Lord Relictor Balhoth stepped from the realmgate Alarik's eyes had adjusted as much as could be expected in such a place, and he peered back to meet Balhoth's gaze. Balhoth looked somehow more powerful in this domain. In a realm that so drained Alarik with its hidden and wretched nature, Balhoth seemed to emit an aura of hidden arcane potency just out of tangible sight. "How fitting for a dark and brooding land to welcome such a dark and brooding man, how dramatic." Alarik scoffed to himself. Despite Alarik's distrust and subtle mockery of the macabre nature of the Relictor, Alarik could not deny the power of his presence. Like most Lord Relictors, Balhoth was adorned from head to toe in dark Sigmarite armor. Grandiosely segmented into gold trimmed plates forming around each limb of Balhoth's towering figure. The suit of armor crowned with a menacing skull masked helm. For and moment Balhoth's pale, skull visaged helmet appeared to glow with a ghostly light which defied reason in so dark a place. The Lord Relictor's black armor plates seemed to come to life, licking at the air in ethereal, black tendrils. Disturbed by the dark and deathly aura around Balthoth Alarik squinted,focusing more intently on the Lord Relictor, hoping to reason the sight out of existence. Doing so seemd to work and caused the shadow tendrils and ghostly glow of Balhoth's mask to disappear and Alarik immediately began to distrust his senses in this world. "What a wretched place." Alarik cursed aloud, still facing Balhoth. "I met no resistance coming through the gate Balhoth and it worries me." "I expect frontal assault is not the way of this realms denizens." Balhoth offered in reply."I know little of this realm Alarik but I fear we may miss the brutal honesty found in the frontal assault of a Khornate horde." Balhoth continued."None have returned from this realm, it is unlikely our rescue mission will end well." Alarik frowned inside his helmet, glad the rigid facial features forged in his the mask fo the helm hid his repulsion at the sad truth of Balhoth's declaration. Why did he ever hope to find comfort in the words of the Lord Relictor? Balhoth was seldom wrong but even more seldom was the Lord Relictor comforting. Cold, tactical truth was his fluency. A fact which Alarik almost hated as much as he valued it. "Pleasant thought Balhoth. If I get frightened I will dream of the bloodied platues of Aqshy." The Stormcasts had arrived. Just as Lord Grufflz told Rulk they would. "He is so smart smart he is." Rulk thought to himself. The skaven commander known as Grufflz had seen one of the stormcasts dragged off into the darkness by a dark figure the skaven forces only knew as the broody one. Grufflz did not know much about the broody one but he had been seen sporadically in the region lately. Up to no good Grufflz was sure of, which made Grufflz respect the broody one. it takes brains to scheme and made things so much more interesting. Rulk drooled and snorted in excited as whispered to himself. "Storm bullies so dumb dumb getting caught by broody one. Lord Grufflz will skewer them. So glorious." Rulk could see the Stormcasts adjusting to the darkness. They seemed so slow to move and adapt to him. He wondered how they ever had success fighting when they moved so slow. Remembering his duties Rulk let out a low hiss to signal to his troops nearby it was time to draw the Stormcasts into the darkness. To prepare for Sigmar's intrusion on Lord Grufflz bounty. The broody one after all was know to attract warpstone some how. Expecting the Stormcast to arrive in search for their kidnapped companion Lord Grufflz had cunning had his force hedge up the foliage in some areas. The terrain was chocked with this wooden vines. With some manipulation by Rulks men the only clearing the the vines would decide the path of the Stormcasts without them know it. "It needs to look natural, and smooth smooth. We need to give them a path without them knowing we doing it." Grufflz had explained. The next part of the plan was Rulk's favorite. He grew giddy as he remember Grufflz commands. "Remembers cunning ones, stay low low and hidden. Push their feet so softly. Bring them to us. If they wander nudge them here and nudge them there. The are large and blunt, they will not notice you." Such an exciting command to sneakily force the path of the Stormbrutes. Nudge them ever so slightly off course without them noticing. Rulk reveled " So much fun can be had in the dark. So much tricky tricks." Rulk wondered to himself why Lord Grufflz had passed on participating in such an exciting sneaky challenge."Other things he need be doing. So smart, so important." Rulk of course did not realize he had been sent on what could likely turn out to be a suicide mission. If Alaraki did notice the skaven skulking in the darkness he would end them as he sought to end all followers of the chaos pantheon. To Be Continued..... (I will update a narrative version of the battle report when I get a chance)
  17. They call Lady Sabine “The Black Widow of Betone” because she has lost so many husbands to the sands; but in Shyish, everyone knows death. Eobard’s mother told him that the desert kings have a saying; “Show me one more reliable than death, and I will lie at their doorstep”. Something might have been lost in translation, but she said that it meant if you can find someone to trust, hold onto them forever. And so when Duke Eobard met Lady Sabine, they were wed not long after. Now Eobard waited in the desert for his new wife’s trader friends to arrive. She had been sparse with the details, but demanded that he take a full ten-strong lance of his house knights with him to “be safe. The deathrattles have been bold of late.” She was quite a worrier his Sabine. With his Lady’s blessing, surely no harm would befall them. But who would deny a widow her worries? His knights chatted quietly behind him. They watched the traders’ faded black banner move closer across the blowing sands. He counted about twenty riders on horseback. Their fluttering black banner and robes made an elegant silhouette against the blood red of the setting sun. As they approached the ruins where he had made his camp, he hailed them with an exaggerated wave, but they made no form of reply. Maybe the strange foreigners didn’t hold to the same traditions as those of Betone. Though still, it was odd that they should pay no heed. “Paulo, Florence, please go welcome our guests,” he commanded with a smile. The two mounted their thoroughbred warhorses and rode off to greet the trading party. Eobard felt a soft hand on his face. He turned, startled. His mind raced searching for an explanation. How was this possible? His beloved stood behind him. She should have been miles away, safe in their manor, yet here she was. And her hand; her hand was chill on his cheek where it should have been warm. Unable to speak, he searched her face for a sign, an explanation, but she offered none. The soft caress of her hand turned into a firm grip, unbefitting for a Lady. She turned his head back to the desert; back to the black riders. He watched in a trance. His knights Paulo and Florence reached the black riders, but the riders showed no signs of slowing. Paulo and Florence looked at one another and drew their swords. They turned nervously to flank the riders and guide them into camp. Paulo tapped his shield with his sword to signal distress. These riders were not who they appeared to be. As they neared, Eobard inspected their livery, searching for any sign of their origin. They wore black tabards and dirty clothes torn from age. As the cloth moved with the breeze, he could see flashes of what appeared to be bone beneath the tears. “What is this?” Eobard asked, trembling. He felt a sinking despair. He tried to shift, to move, but her unnatural grip on him was overpowering. “I need more knights for my honor guard,” she whispered into his ear. “You were a promising lover, but will make a better lieutenant.” She pushed her fingernails up against his hauberk. There was a grating sound as they pushed through the finest mail money could buy. He felt her cold fingers puncture his flesh and crack through his ribcage. His eight remaining knights, alerted by Paulo’s signal, scrambled into their saddles. Disordered and unprepared for an attack, they lowered their lances and made their charge. While the knights screamed curses and battle cries as they charged, the score of black riders made no sound. Wood splintered against bone and flesh. Eobard watched as Sir Florence fell upon the riders from the flank with her sword. She smashed apart a skeleton rider’s arm bones and splintered its skull, but the rider continued undeterred. Her comrades fell around her. Eobard stared on unable to act. Lady Sabine’s grip on her husband became a push, leverage to rip his heart, still beating, from his chest. She sank her pearly fangs into it and drank deep. Then, raising it above her head, she began to chant in an ancient tongue. Her words conjured swirling mists of dark magic to the battlefield, decaying everything they touched, until everything was still and silent. The flesh sloughed away from Eobard’s bones. His knights lay dead on the ground. “Arise, my minions.” The clean, white skeleton that was once Sir Florence climbed onto her undead steed. Duke Eobard stood and turned his dead gaze to his new master. None spoke, but they obeyed.
  18. The serpent queen sat silent upon her golden throne, her mind lost to reverie and distant visions. In her thoughts she saw a place she'd long thought gone forever, and it was just as she remembered it. Great streets and promenades, market stalls and grand temples, once so busy and full of life, now empty and desolate. This was not the Lahmia she had known. The facade looked the same of course, every minute detail down to cracks in the flagstones was there, but this was merely an elaborate copy, a work of fastidious obsession from a mind inhuman and wild with longing for the glory days of the distant past. This replica of the great city - the work of hundreds of years of tireless undead labour - existed for no other reason than to satisfy the ego of an ancient adversary. "Neferata", hissed Khalida as she brought herself back to consciousness. The tomb queen's eyes flicked open behind her golden death mask and undead servants, sensing the will of their mistress, scurried forward to dote upon her. Khalida paid them little heed, they were merely handmaidens that saw the world as it was so long ago, when they had still been alive and were serving their queen in life. She idly watched as the skeletal maidens fussed about her, anointing her worn bandages with fine lotions and perfumes as though they were caressing the smoothest skin, manicuring her nails with honed precision though they had long since rotted away. After the fall of the golden age her people had been risen up from death against their wills. Whole dynasties of tomb kings and princes coughing back onto the mortal coil to fight and bicker amongst themselves once more. Only the strongest among them truly knew that they were dead, the others just carried on as they did in life, oblivious to the eternal rest that had been so cruelly robbed from them. This was the vile unlife that the great usurper had forced upon them so many aeons ago, his revenge against a land that had dared to stand up against him. With a mote of anguish Khalida remembered when she had first awoken into undeath, her final memory of life burned into her mind. Had those been crocodile tears dripping down Neferata's face that fateful day? Had that truly been sorrow in those eyes as she'd thrust in that bronze blade and forced upon her that cold vampiric kiss? Only the blessings of the great asp goddess had spared Khalida from the same cursed fate as her cousin and granted her a natural death… for as long as it had lasted. Where once there had been a great love between the two cousins, now there was only hatred, the self-styled queen of new Lahmia was a blight upon the mortal realms and she and Khalida had long been destined to destroy one another. There had been a time, at the end of all things as they had watched the old world fall, that she had thought it possible to reconcile with her estranged cousin. Then when she had eventually re-awoken into the mortal realms, the hatred had returned with a newfound fury. It burned within her mummified form, giving her strength, it gnawed at her very being, it defined her and she could never forgive or forget. Wordlessly Khalida found herself muttering a prayer to Asaph for strength and began to wonder, in this new land beneath the shadow of Shyish, could the old gods truly still exist? Since the fall of the world that was the liche priests had continued the rituals and traditions of old, praying to their lost pantheon of gods that may well have fallen alongside their old land of Nehekhara. In cruel irony it had come to pass that the only god they truly served now was the great usurper himself, deposer of Usirian as ruler of their underworld, Nagash had brought them back from oblivion yet again for his own malevolent amusement. Khalida felt her ancient lips curl and crack at the mere thought of the great necromancer. While she had a debt of blood to repay her cousin Neferata, her entire civilisation had a debt of the deepest destruction to repay Nagash himself. Now was not yet the time however. They would have their revenge, but better to play the willing slave for a few centuries more until the time was ripe for the asp to strike. Closing her eyes once more Khalida’s thoughts as always drifted back to the monster that had once been her cousin. There she sat in a perfect replica of her throne room from ages past, in a perfect replica of the great city she had defiled with the vile soulblight curse she'd brought into the old world. Bone cracked and ancient bandage dissolved into mere smoke as the mighty queen Khalida clenched her bony fist with quivering rage. Then she calmed. Such anger was unbecoming for royalty such as herself, and she had endless time to prepare her revenge, there was no need to rush this final justice. Behind her death mask High Queen Khalida smiled, Neferata might think herself at last beyond the reach of death... but Khalida had legions of it yet to wield.
  19. Sand. Anyone who is familiar with sand (that is to say the true Sand and not the false sand of peasants) can tell you that it is as pernicious as it is indestructible. It is carried on the Winds of Time, and with it the dreams and memories of bygone eras are drawn from the realms and consumed into oblivion… yet some of these relics and treasures of the past are carried on the winds and sands through the Stormwall of Regret and find themselves in the Sour Sea, and as often as not wash up on the beaches of the Endless Deserts where the tides inevitably return the sands. Most of these will be buried in the sand forever, almost forgotten, but not quite. As long as these relics exist there will be those that hunger for their return, pine for their loss, or are inspired by their memory. Druchii Corsairs who find the work of Privateering to be too… restrictive for their temperament will sign on with Captains and Fleetmasters of Realm Reaving Black Arks who will, if desperate enough, ply their trade on the Sour Sea. Most will troll the shallows for lost treasures that have not quite reached the shore, or hunt some of the juvenile leviathans and beasts that might be found in those waters. The truly desperate will risk a landing party into the desert proper, where the potential reward is magnified nearly as much as the risk. The lucky Captain will be the one with guaranteed coin in hand for very little risk – those who offer passage for those desperate individuals who would travel to the Endless Deserts for the chance of recovering that which was lost, be it a memory, a secret, an heirloom, or lost soul… The city of Bétone is home to a few of these pilgrims, but the small port of Desert’s End is as far as most of these wretches get and therein eke out an existence in misery as they search the desert until they are consumed by it. Orias Bloodthorn, Captain of the Wicked Mistress and Fleetmaster of the Blood Tithe found himself on just such a mission, ferrying a passenger to the Endless Deserts, to likely never be seen again. There were easier and cheaper ways to end your life, Orias thought, but shrugged as it offered him the excuse to wallow in his own indulgences. In truth, this task was beneath his station, but the majority of his black arks and corsairs were under contract to the Order Serpentis chapter that was controlled by his daughter Euryale, and he was unwilling to see her again under terms where he would be required to accept her command. His lieutenants could deal with her pettiness and spiteful nature. But as he looked out over the bow and across the roiling Sour Sea he knew the real reason he was drawn to these waters again and again was the weight of his own regrets and losses… It had been quite a while though since he had the opportunity to provide passage to the Endless Deserts, and he found the man to be of an odious nature and a strong will, quite unlike most of the desperate fools he had taken before. He remembered the man arriving abruptly at his table in a rundown saloon in some forsaken shantytown where his fleet had anchored for supplies. “Dreadlord Bloodthorn, I have business with you, “ the dark clad stranger spoke, in a low voice, but one that was clear and firm even in the noisy saloon. The use of the archaic honorific caught the Druchii’s attention and ire and he disdainfully shoved the wench in his lap onto the floor allowing him quick access to his weapons should they be needed. Satisfied for a moment that he had not stumbled into a trap, he looked the man in the eye and replied “Fleetmaster is the word you are looking for. The fact that you recognize my flag marks you only as a well-informed spy. Take your information to Nemeth my spymaster and he will see that you are paid for whatever information you…” The man cut him off, “You misunderstand me, Fleetmaster. I am no spy, merely a traveler seeking passage across the Realms. Allow me to more properly introduce myself. I am Chairophon the go-between, and I am required to travel to a very dangerous place where very few have gone, and even fewer return, and I believe you know exactly of where I speak…” Orias indeed knew exactly where this Chairophon needed to go, and agreed to the passage. But there was still something unsettling and nagging at the back of his mind that something here was not quite right, and maybe even something he couldn’t remember… Regardless, he shook off the sensation of rising dread and roused himself from the foul humor by barking insults and orders to the elves on deck, and shouted to a nearby officer as he strode back toward the bridge, “Ready the passenger, we’ll make harbor by nightfall, and we may as well take a troll the north shallows for our troubles…”
  20. I'll post AoS specific shows here but Combat Phase weekly wargaming podcast has had two BL authors on to discuss their various pieces of fiction out so far, and what's coming. David Annandale on ep 138 and David Guymer ep 135. Also ep 128 Contemporary AoS had guests from two podcasts: Heelahammer and Mortal Realms. Guy Haley will be back on the show in May to discuss his AoS fic. You can listen to the show at www.combatphase.com or also on iTunes.
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