Across the Mortal Realms a thousand battles raged. Gone was the Age of Chaos, an aeon of oppression and fear that saw the peoples of every realm subjugated and enslaved. That long night ended with the breaking of Sigmar’s Storm, for the God-King’s crusade was so violent it shook the stars themselves. It marked the beginning of the Realmgate Wars.
By the time Sigmar’s great muster was complete, many of the Mortal Realms had not only been conquered, but also tainted beyond sanity. The material dimension was crumbling before the constant onslaught of the Dark Gods, and many of the Realmgates – mysterious portals that allow travel from one land to the next – were infected with raw Chaos. The Gates of Azyr – those portals that led from Sigmar’s domain to the other Mortal Realms – were shut. In sequestering Azyr and those peoples still good and true, Sigmar had been forced to seal the magical pathways behind him.
Once his armies were ready to strike, the God-King worked a miracle long in the making. Sigmar’s Tempest thundered from the heavens, a maelstrom of deadly celestial energy that roiled through the void. Thoughit could not penetrate the Realm of Chaos, every mortal land was darkened by black clouds shot through with bolts of pure magic. From this godly storm hammered columns of force, striking near the long sealed Gates of Azyr. Each bolt left in its wake a shining cadre of warriors, small but powerful vanguards of the main assault to come.
Though Sigmar’s warriors could ride the storm, blazing into battle from on high, such was their number that eventhe God-King could not hurl them all into battle at one time. Only by opening the Gates to Azyr from both sides at once could their magic be reinstated and the full might of the newly-forged Stormhosts be brought to bear.
These Thunderstrike Brotherhoods brought battle to a hundred Realmgates and more, smashing aside the forces of darkness and seizing the Gates of Azyr. Sigmar’s vanguard soon found itself fighting against impossible odds, for the armies of Chaos were without number. But hope was at hand. Dozens of Realmgates were flung wide, and the main body of the Stormhosts marched through the portals in glittering phalanxes to turn the tide.
Though every one of the Mortal Realms felt the might of the God-King, the storm hammered harder in some lands than others. The Realm of Fire was first to feel the wrath of the Stormcast Eternals. The Hammers of Sigmar, first of the Stormhosts to be forged, descended upon the Brimstone Peninsula in force, with Vandus Hammerhand at their fore.
That jutting promontory not only held a powerful Gate of Azyr, but was also bordered by the Sulphuric Sea, making it highly defensible. It was an excellent beachhead for the invasion to come. 3 y 4
A Thunderstrike Brotherhood led by Lord-Celestant Vandus was the first to strike. It blazed into existence over the Igneous Delta, a blood-stained wasteland that led from Duardinia to the acidic ocean. There the Goretide ran riot, a horde of brazen murderers that worshipped the Blood God Khorne with every kill. The warrior king of those Bloodbound armies was Khorgos Khul, known as the Butcher of Scorched Keep. He had slaughtered Aqshy’s people from one side of the Brimstone Peninsula to the other. In doing so, Khul had slain the Direbrand tribe – the very people that Vandus Hammerhand had once called his own.
The battle that ensued was furious beyond measure. Retributors smashed their lightning hammers into lumbering Khorgoraths, Liberators charged headlong into frothing Blood Warriors, and Lord-Relictor Cryptborn summoned the energy of the storm to blast his foes. Those Aqshian tribesmen who had turned to Chaos were cutdown in their hundreds. As the battle raged, the Prosecutors under Lord Vandus’ command hurled hammers of raw magical force into the Gate of Azyr, as their brothers worked to open it from the other side. Though it cost the Prosecutors dearly, the Realmgate eventually crashed open.
Pure cerulean light spilled across the Brimstone Peninsula, glinting from the golden armour of Vandus Hammerhand as he met Khorgos Khul in single combat. Driven by vengeful fury, Vandus smashed Khul to the ground, but before the Lord-Celestant could land the killing blow, the tides of battle swept the two warriors apart. As he scanned for his quarry, Vandus’mind was consumed by a dark vision. 4
Surrounded by the fires of the Igneous Delta,Vandus Hammerhand saw his destiny unfold beforehim. Vandus saw that he would confront Khul even as the Chaos lord climbed his great pyramid of skulls, the bloody head of an immortal clutched in one clawed hand. Vandus knew he must find a way to thwart the butcher Khul by closing his dread portal to the Blood God’s realm. Should Vandus fail, the Lord of the Goretide would become yet more powerful, forever claiming Aqshy in his master’s name.
Through cannibal tribe and blood-mad horde the Hammers of Sigmar forged on, assailed by monster, beast and daemon as they went. Thunder shook the firmament, and blood ran in thick rivers across the lands.When they came upon Khul’s dire portal, Vandus brought his nemesis to battle.
Torn from his ultimate victory, Khul’s wrath was great. Whirling his terrible axe with unbridled fury, he struck down the Dracoth Calanax, then bested Vandus with a flurry ofmighty blows.
At the last moment, Vandus grasped the Realmgate at the heart of Khul’s stronghold, and called down Sigmar’s lightning. It struck with such force the dread portal was destroyed. The blinding light dissipated, leaving ruin in its wake. Of Vandus Hammerhand, there was no sign. 6
The Vaults of Sigmaron
Lord Vandus awoke, muscles tensed ashe hung in the air under a thin dome of light. He shook bodily, not so much as if he had been struck by lightning, but rather as if a thunderbolt of energy had been torn from within him. For a moment, the Lord-Celestant found himself wondering – was he Vendell Blackfist once more? Had the powers within him been snatched away?
Vandus flexed his fingers, his sight returning. The ambient glow that filled the quenching chamber came only from the starlight filtering through the aperture at its apex. The certainty came to him that he lived on still. The Lord-Celestant checked his physique; it was that of a warrior rather than a smith.The scars of battle had replaced the forge-burns of his former life. Vandus had not met death this time; Sigmar had struck him down in order to close the Gate of Wrath, but rather than destroy him, the God-King had taken him up to Azyr, just as he had many centuries before.
Shapes resolved in Vandus’ sight; burnished plates of golden armour that orbited him like satellites. At a thought, the Lord-Celestant bound them to his will. Tendrils of electric force crackled out from his muscles, each linking to an armoured plate and pulling its harply into place until he was clad in the blessed raiment of a Stormcast Eternal once more.
Just as Vandus’ helm slid into place, the sonorous boom of a Knight-Heraldor’s war horn reverberated around the dome. A summons, and a familiar one. Vandus extended his hand, and the hammer Heldensen crackled into being, clapping into his grip like the hand of a warrior kinsman. The Lord-Celestant raised his empty hand and grasped at the sky glinting through the iris-like aperture above. With a smooth motion, he pulled down his cloak of star-silk and donned it swiftly. It was time to meet his maker, and he would go in glory.
Outside the dome-like quenching chamber, Vandus was met by Laudus Skythunder, the bellicose war-caller of the Hammers of Sigmar. Beside him stood an old friend – the Lord-Castellant Andricus Stoneheart. Together, they made their way through the magnificent halls and vaults of Sigmaron. Vandus’ wonder at the marvels of Sigmar’s palace had not dimmed; it was all he could do not to cast around like a mortal crossing the Gates of Azyr for the first time. 19 y 20
The warriors passed the Forbidden Vaults, taking care to look away as their oaths demanded. Suddenly, Vandus found his mind aflame with images. He saw golden figures climbing endlessly up a glacier of precious metal, battles upon bridges spanning a misted ocean of silver, and a hundred thousand eyes glinting in the darkness.
More visions came – a two-headed shadow silhouetted before a hellish portal of terrible power and a tide of daemons, each more hideous than the last, all burning with fires so hot they melted even fate itself. Holes ripped in the world’s fabric split his focus wide, clawed hands and needle-toothed snouts pushing through until nothing remained but tatters of reason – and the sigil of a glowing hammer.
Vandus came to his senses with Laudus Skythunder clutching his shoulder. Dismissing Laudus’ concern, the Lord-Celestant straightened and marched onward. By the time he stood outside Sigmar’s throne room, he had regained his composure. The visions seemed no more real than waking dreams.
Inside, the God-King Sigmar stood before his celestial throne, raw majesty blazing around him. It took all the steel in Vandus’ heart to look upon him, but he was honoured beyond measure when Sigmar called him to attend. Vandus stepped up to stand next to Thostos Bladestorm, a fellow officer called to Sigmar’s side. The God-King gave his decree. They were to travel to the Realm of Chamon, for there, the hammer Ghal Maraz had been found.
Vandus and Thostos strode from the throne room, their souls aflame with righteous purpose. As they reached the celestine vaults, twelve Stormhosts turned as one, and Calanax, reborn in lightning, roared in greeting. The quest to recover Ghal Maraz had begun. 20
The lost Warhammer
In the glittering Realm of Chamon there exists a skyscape of Hanging Valleys. Set apart in the void, these mountainous lands are much like a world torn into scraps and arranged in staggered sequence. Riverfalls of molten silver connect them, each overflowing from an unimaginably vast crucible set above it all and heated by the warpfire of the zodiac serpent Argentine.
Between each mountainous landmass these quicksilver rivers fall miles through the void, only to be caught, funnelled through vast stone channels, and slowly cooled, their magic distilled and harnessed as if in the apparatus of some godly alchemist.
The largest of those valleys is Anvrok. A once-vital realm, Anvrok’s gifted metalsmiths raised exquisite wonders in a city of precious metals. However, like all others, its culture was cast down by Chaos. It was in Anvrok that Ghal Maraz came to rest, long ago.
Ghal Maraz, called the Great Shatterer, is the ultimate symbol of Sigmar’s supremacy. This grand warhammer was forged in another world, and another time. It is a weapon of such legendary power it transcends reality itself, more a manifestation of godly might than a physical object. Forged by the ancestors of the duardin, Ghal Maraz has crushed the skulls of daemon kings, ended the bloodlines of titans and sent empires tumbling to dust. It is as much a sceptre of kingship as it is a tool of destruction. When Sigmar bore the hammer he commanded vast power, but in flinging it aloft at the Battle of Burning Skies, he relinquished his hold upon it. The God-King moved heaven and earth to find it once more, but to no avail.
Unbeknownst to Sigmar, the fabled hammer was drawn to Chamon, for like attracts like, and metal imbued with magical energy was in great supply amongst the Hanging Valleys. Those lands were also rich in the raw power of transmutation, and hence were greatly prized by Tzeentch, who hid the buried hammer from Sigmar’s sight long ago. Only now has Ghal Maraz been found. 23
The Storm Rages On
As the Hammers of Sigmar joined the fray en masse on the Brimstone Peninsula, battle was also met in the once-glorious paradise of Ghyran – the Realm of Life. Coveted by the Plague God Nurgle, many of those lands had become polluted and diseased beyond measure, yet there were areas that had escaped the plagues, those strange domains hidden from the sight of evil souls by Sigmar’s old ally, Alarielle, Queen of the Radiant Wood.
The Stormcast Eternals sent to win the Gates of Dawn had been charged not only with paving the way for the rest of their kin, but with reaching out to Alarielle and winning her aid in the battles to come. The Hallowed Knights, most devout of all the Stormhosts, proved equal to the task. They took the fight to the grotesque legions of Nurgle with great passion. Though their burnished silver sigmarite was soon tarnished with blood and muck, they did not relent. While the filth of Nurgle splashed across their bodies, it could do little to dim the true faith shining in their souls, nor slacken the blazing power of the tempest itself.
Selflessness comes easily to the Hallowed Knights, and through sacrifice the day was won. Just as it seemed his kin were to be overwhelmed by a fresh attack from the Nurgle worshipping hordes and their skaven allies, Lord-Celestant Gardus proved his worth a dozen times over. Locked in battle with a blubbery, mountainous Great Unclean One, Gardus lured his foe through a corrupted portal and into the Realm of Chaos beyond. The creature’s swollen bulk was such that it collapsed the gate, sealing itself and Gardus in the unutterably foul reaches of Nurgle’s Garden. With that most hideous of daemons removed, the rest of the Hallowed Knights won the reprieve they needed to claim victory. Alarielle’s people, the sylvaneth of the deep forest, began to emerge from the gloom to fight at the Stormcasts’ side, and the hordes of Nurgle were driven off. The battle saw the forging of a link between the Stormcast Eternals and the sylvaneth – when quenched in blood, such bonds become strong indeed. 7
The Heldenhammer Crusade
Chapter 1: The Quest Begins
Unto the Shattered City
Though Lord Vandus had been charged with commanding the vanguard attack upon Elixia’s jagged fortress, it was Lord Thostos Bladestorm that marched at the invasion’s fore. The air crackled blue around him; all who approached him felt the heat of his rage. Small wonder, muttered his fellows, for here, in the Bright Tor Mountains, Thostos had died a sudden and shocking death. Now, under those same peaks, he would be avenged.
The Stormhosts had barely completed their muster when the avalanche began. A low rumble became a roar, then a deafening cacophony as the cliff face came down, a wave of snow and orelaced boulders crushing the rearmost phalanxes of the Celestial Vindicators before they could get clear. Blazes of storm-magic burst from the landslide, vanishing upwards to join the distant thunderheads – each was the essence of a dead Stormcast Eternal, drawn back to high Sigmaron to be Reforged by the God-King’s will.
Ripples of shock and defiance flooded through the ranks of the Stormhosts as the braying laughter of beastmen drifted down from the peaks above. Lord Vandus shouted an alert to his fellow officers, and a dozen Lord-Celestants rode their Dracoths up the mountainside, the scaled beasts bounding with the surety of mountain lions. A terrible bleating echoed through the peaks as the Dracoths tore apart the copper-skinned beastmen that had triggered the trap. Within scant minutes, the Lord-Celestants had returned, casting the heads of their assailants to the ground as proof of the kills. Yet the damage to the Celestial Vindicators could not be undone so easily.
The Stormhosts marched on in grimsilence, more determined than ever towreak bloody vengeance. 29
Before the Alchemist’s Moon had crested the mountain peaks, the first of the Warrior Chambers had reached the Shattered City. The sense of magnificence brought low was palpable. Silvered statuary lay broken in the streets, ornate temples to Sigmar’s pantheon were wrenched and split into ruin. Everywhere the corrupting touch of Chaos had twisted or disfigured exquisite works of art raised in the Age of Myth. Shadows flitted in the distance, strange shrieks both distant and uncomfortably close, yet somehow in unison.
Negotiating through the confines of the city, the Stormhosts were forced to go retinue by retinue along the streets, for their sheer numbers made them unwieldy. Only after the first Warrior Chambers had passed through the gates did horned warriors burst out from the ruins, screaming incoherently. 30
War in the Gilded Ruins
Movement flickered through the streets leading towards the Square of Living Blades. A heartbeat later, the vanguards of each Stormhost found themselves beset right and left. Armoured brutes and bare-chested maniacs burst from concealment, pouring from behind walls and dropping from above. With every second a hundred more were revealed. Perhaps some magic had hidden them from sight, perhaps the shining magnificence of the Stormhosts had betrayed their approach. It mattered little – though wary of ambush, they were not prepared to fight an entire army in an instant.
Though many of their number were cut down by a hail of hurled axes and boulders heaved from on high, the Celestial Vindicators gave a joyous roar, for their need for vengeance would soon be slaked. Their spearhead elements broke ranks and charged headlong down the westernmost streets, smashing rubble and shouldering aside statues in their haste to close with the foe.
Lord Vandus shouted for them to hold the line, but he may as well have called for a hurricane to halt its fury. The prey was in sight, and the Celestial Vindicators would kill them all, or die in the attempt. With Lord Thostos missing and his Warrior Chamber quickly becoming over-extended, Vandus’ own flank was looking dangerously exposed. Hundreds more Chaos worshippers emerged from tumbled buildings, seeking to cut off those Celestial Vindicators storming ahead through the statue-lined streets.
Ever stoic, Andricus Stoneheart was there to meet them, three dozen Paladins at the indomitable Lord-Castellant’s side. Confident the matter was in hand, Vandus called out to the architect of the attack, challenging him to single combat. There was no reply, save for mocking laughter that echoed through the winding pathways of the city. 31 y 32
The taunting sound was swallowed by the clash of iron and steel. Battle was erupting across the broad road beyond the square. Spiked Chaos maces crumpled sigmarite plate, swords plunged into throats and hammers and broadblades all found their mark in turn. Before a minute was out, the Steelmarch’s gutters ran red with blood. Not since the early days of the Age of Chaos had the ruined city witnessed such a horrendous deluge of killing.
Summoned by the dreadful carnage, the angry ghosts of those who had died within the city reaches rose from the cracked streets. They climbed upwards like gobbets of shimmering quicksilver, screaming skulls atop each wraith-like form.
In groups of two and three, the spirit-creatures tore themselves free and fell howling upon Chaos Warrior and Stormcast Eternal alike. Ionus Cryptborn cast a foreboding glance towards his Lord-Celestant. Death calls to death, and the city was rife with it.
A dozen figures leapt from the broken statuary of the vault house to Vandus’left. The heavy-set warriors slammed into the Prosecutors flying through the air and bore the winged warriors down hard, crashing into the tight-packed hosts crowding the streets. The attackers met their ends at the heads of sigmarite warhammers, but not without cost – several Prosecutors spasmed, crackled, and disappeared upwards in flashes of blue energy. Vandus glowered behind his mask. Everywhere, mayhem reigned. He had the notion a greater mind was behind the attack, a force that was not planning to tackle the Stormhosts head on, but to delay them so it might make its escape. 32
Unable to bring their full might to bear, the Stormcast phalanxes had been peeled apart by the attacks to their flanks. Ruins that had seemed deserted burst into life as deranged warriors poured through broken vaults, debris-strewn temples and windows lined with iron teeth.Those furthest into the city were completely embroiled, bogged down by warbands intercepting them via the gates of what had once been the Celemnis Armoury. Ghost-like figures and silvered wraiths harried those warriors making for the cut and thrust of battle, clawing with crue ltalons and whispering their hatred of those trespassing upon their domain.
Through it all rode Lord Vandus, issuing stern orders to his men. His Liberators veered left, charging the mob of bare-chested axemen forming a battle line in the heart of the square. Judicators broke right, firing skybolts on the move as they made to outflank the horned knights galloping from the main armoury gate. In the mouth of each alleyway stood a retinue of Protectors, sent by Vandus to guard the flank of each marching column. They stood no more than five abreast, but their whirling sword staves setup an impenetrable barrier, taking heads from necks and laying open torsos until the alleys were blocked by barricades of sundered corpses.
Across the city the death toll rose. Just as the Chaos forces wavered, a monstrous beast soared from the clouds, all claws and leonine mane. The armoured warrior on the creature’s back scythed his blade through a rank of Judicators atop the ruins, kicking the lone survivor into the streets. The armoured lord muttered oaths in the dark tongue, and from nowhere, two voices answered him in unison.
The voices were drowned out by the eerie song of the Silver Maiden. As if borne upon the melody, her shimmering swords shot through the gloom to slice the throats of all who heard it. Here and there a Chaos worshipper grabbed the hilt of apassing blade and wrested it for his own, turning it against his Stormcast Eternal foes. Where iron and steel had failed to penetrate, the stolen swords cut through sigmarite as if it were no more than tin. These were Celemnite blades, legacies of a bygone age, and their edge was keen indeed.
To the east of the square, a sliding puddle of molten silver began to flow upwards until it formed a gaunt female figure with hair the colour of copper. Anguish and rage twisted her beautiful features as she beheld her creations in the hands of her persecutors. She opened her mouth wide, and screamed. 33
With the heart of the city suddenly uncontested, Vandus bellowed for his phalanxes to forge ahead over the corpses of their foes. The Hammers of Sigmar obeyed without hesitation, but the Celestial Vindicators ignored him, running further into the city in search of new foes to slay. Incensed, Vandus vaulted from Calanax’s back onto a tumbled ruin, intending to call the headstrong warriors to account.
As he steadied himself on a statue of a stardrake, a vision seized Vandus with such blinding force it sent him to his knees. He saw a waterfall of silver, frozen in time; in the void beyond it, strange drakes coiled and fought. Each was so vast the shimmer of its scales was as the glitter of galaxies. When his sight cleared, the Celestial Vindicators were gone.
High above that Stormhost vanguard, the leader of the Chaos ambushers, Lord Maerac, circled his manticore in the storm-wracked skies. His plan had worked well enough, catching the interlopers from all sides and slowing their progress. Anvrok’s metal-sheened ghosts had forced Maerac’s horde to cede the Shattered City’s heart; somehow the invaders had turned its spirits against them now. Yet his warriors had won Ephryx a good dealof time to secure their mutual prize.Maerac grinned behind his helm.Once Ephryx met with an unfortunateaccident, the hammer’s power wouldbelong to him alone. After all, theOracle had promised him that onlythe strongest of men could claim it.Grinning, he summoned his fellowriders and dived into the embattled cityonce more.
The streets of the ruined metropoliswere still thronged with armoured tribesmen, but ploughing into them were the Celestial Vindicators, who were proving all but unstoppable in their fury. Sheer momentum carried the Stormhost vanguard through the streets, appearing from a distance as a thunderous river of cerulean that engulfed everything in its path. Wherever a tribe of axemen blocked a choke point or cut off a plaza, a pillar of lightning would blaze from the heavens, leaving behind it a retinue of plate-clad paladins. Decimators hewed foes by the dozen, and Protectors held back the cavalry charges of the tribe’s horned knights. The Stormhost vanguard was cutting a path towards the far periphery of the city, intent on assaulting the Eldritch Fortress itself. The battle was far from over. 35
Like a boulder hurled from the sky, Maerac’s manticore dived claw-first into Vandus’ command echelon. A swirl of violence erupted. Maerac plunged his spear through Vandus’ shoulder, plucking him from the ruins and bearing him into the air.
With a defiant roar, a blue-armoured lord leapt from a nearby bell tower to smash his hammer into Maerac’s helm. The blow took his head in a welter of gore. Lord Thostos raged, the blade in his left hand punching through the manticore’s skull to send it crashing into a ruined temple. Both Vandus and Thostos emerged from the debris, battered but alive. At Vandus’ command, the embattled Warrior Chambers redoubled their attack. It was enough. With their leader slain, the tribesmen melted away. 36
The Battle of Argent Falls
The crusaders looked back over the Shattered City to the mountains bracketing Anvrok’s great valley, seeking signs of the Eldritch Fortress, but it had passed beyond their sight. Other valleys hung in the darkening void above, smaller versions of Anvrok, lit by the lambent Alchemist’s Moon. Above them all was the Great Crucible, a vast disc that filled half the sky. The fortress could be anywhere. Short of passing back through the Realmgate and being cast out once more through the storm, there was no way to search those strange realms. None amongst the Stormhosts wished to return to Azyr empty-handed, especially so soon after their quest began. Stymied, the leaders of the Stormhosts gathered atop the crater’s crest. Tempers ran hot, and the same questions were asked time and time again, honest exclamations of bewilderment becoming more like mantras of confusion and despair.
As the Alchemist’s Moon dipped behind distant Tavrok, a shimmer in the air resolved into a lithe figure – the Silver Maiden, Celemnis. Ionus Cryptborn felt her eyes upon him, and bade her greetings as if she was an old friend. She bowed her head, and presented the holy sword he had gifted her from his reliquary. Its edges glimmered sharp and silver. As he replaced it in the hands of the skeleton borne upon his staff, Cryptborn asked her if she had seen to where the castle had fled, and if so, how they could proceed there with as mighty an assemblage as the crusade.
In answer, Celemnis pointed upwards at the Great Crucible. She beckoned for Cryptborn to follow, and set off west into the city. The Lord-Relictor followed after her, tilting his head as he met Lord Vandus’ gaze. Vandus made the sign of the hammer, nodded approvingly, and motioned for his men to follow. 43
Through mountain pass, clay mine and ore-strewn valley, the Stormhosts travelled, treading secret paths shown to them by Cryptborn’s strange ally. Here and there, the Chaos tribes and monsters that had taken Anvrok launched ambushes and traps, but they retreated to the shadows soon enough when the Stormcast Eternals brought their strength to bear.
Before the eighth day was out, the Stormhosts had reached the Argent Falls, liquid silver splashing in glutinous waves and gobbets across the mountainside below them. A township crested the crag that overlooked it, as ruined as the Shattered City before it. At its heart was a raised dais, crested with six statues of drakes.
Celemnis silently pointed a longnailed finger at the Dragonfate Dais, and disappeared. 44
The celestial vanguard made its way through the township towards the statue-ringed dais. A runic circle held aloft by a curving stairway, it overlooked the catcher-channels and siphon mills the long-dead populace had used to harness the Argent Falls. With the wealth the township had harnessed, it was small wonder its people had sought the protection of the gods. Such a shrine was hard to ignore; though every ancient settlement had its Dragonfate Dais, few indeed were rendered in red gold. And yet, against the barbaric hordes of Chaos, the protection of their old gods had availed them little.
A whine cut under the roar of the Argent Falls; something not natural, something not of this realm. Lord-Celestant Hammerhand had barely called his men to arms when there came a tearing, ripping shriek. All around the assembled brotherhoods, slivers of green light were opening like lesions in the fabric of reality itself. Strange green-black drills were poking through each split, juddering as they ripped them wide. The drills withdrew, just for a moment.
Shouldering into reality came massively-built Stormfiends.They growled loud as the ratling cannons built into their arms and chests hammered bullet-shards of warpstone into the Hammers of Sigmar at the front of the battlelines. Rank upon rank of Stormcast were shredded, falling to their knees before discorporating in blurs of blue lightning to rejoin the storm above. Wrecker-beasts with arms ending in mace-like grinders lowered their heads and charged, smashing into Lord Vandus’ Paladins and flattening them into the gold-spattered streets.
Behind them, skaven poured out of the wounds in the air, a brown-black stream that spread like sewage gushing from an overflowing drain to swill through the ruins. The speed with which the creatures scurried into cover was unnatural. Here and there a verminous rifleman would rise up and bullseye a Stormcast Eternal, the shot so powerful it punctured sigmarite armour and flesh, bursting back out to spatter the ruins with gore.
Lord Thostos led a spearhead wedge in counter-charge, only to be met headon by a stream of liquid warpfire from the cackling creature skulking amongst the gun-armed Stormfiends. Tongues of black flame burned into Thostos’ Decimator escort, melting them to stinking slurry inside their armour. Thostos himself shimmered golden in the flames, his footsteps clanging loud as his body spontaneously transmuted to invulnerable sigmarite. He pounded on, the iron-banded halberds of Stormvermin attackers snapping upon his metallic hide as if they were no more than twigs. 45
Screeching in alarm at the Stormcasts’ charge, the skaven warlock leapt out of reach, landing deftly on the Dragonfate Dais itself. Andricus Stoneheart charged up a stairway towards it, cutting his way through verminous bodyguards as he went.
Below, Thostos cursed and sought a new target. He ploughed into a masked Stormfiend that was thump-firing glass spheres of poisonous gas into the Liberators seeking to surround it. Thostos’ meteoric charge caved in the beast’s chest, sending it crashing back into the ruins and crushing the symbiotic brainrat sutured to its spine. Lethal green vapours swathed the beast, rising up to choke the skaven weapon-teams that had taken position in the ruins and send them tumbling into the streets. Thostos emerged unharmed from the mist, his hammer and sword dripping blood as he cast about for more foes to slay.
In the shadow of the Dragonfate Dais, Lord Vandus was locked in battle against a brute with whirring scythes instead of fists. Calanax lunged and bit off its head, but somehow the Stormfiend fought on, one scimitar-like blade piercing Vandus’ pauldron and reopening the wound Maerac had dealt him. The Lord-Celestant cried out in pain, desperately backhanding the hammer Heldensen into the beast’s torso and sending it sprawling to theground. He had barely regained his balance when a ragged split in the veil ripped wide nearby. A pair of lumbering Stormfiends barrelled out, warpdrill arms punching the air.
This time the Stormcast Eternals were ready for them; winged Prosecutors swept down, blinding the beasts with hurled hammers of force even as Vandus spurred Calanax into a leap that pushed one of the creatures back into the ether it had crawled from. Heldensen looped round, connecting with such elemental force that the second Stormfiend collapsed in a mass of broken bone and scorched flesh.
From an adjoining mountain pass rolled a crackling war engine, a millwheel contraption with sparking blades that sent green lightning crackling into the Judicators firing upon it. It crushed a pair of Liberators under its careening bulk as it came on at terrific speed through the battle lines drawn up to intercept it. A bolt of green force shot out, blasting Calanax to his knees right in the war engine’s path. Vandus sought to spur his mount aside, but Calanax would not rise. 47 y 48
Ionus Cryptborn thundered up the stairs of the Dragonfate Dais, raising his reliquary high. He chanted the oath of the Great Shatterer, his words amplified and sent skywards by the dais’ strange magic. His prayer was swiftly answered. A column of raw energy thundered down scant metres from Vandus and Calanax, blasting the oncoming Doomwheel to a scattering of smoking splinters and scorched fur.
The Stormcast Eternals roared to the skies, redoubling their assault on the armoured ratmen that had sought to cut them down. The musk of fear soured the air as the verminous horde realised its leader had fled rather than face retribution. A shrill screeching echoed through the streets as the skaven army turned tail and ran, skittering away into the ruins like ghouls fleeing before the dawn.
Vandus bellowed his jubilation, clanging his hammer loudly against the blade raised by Thostos before saluting his Lord-Castellant, Andricus Stoneheart, who stood in the ruins above. Then Vandus’ joy died as he saw the Lord-Castellant buckle and fall, a smoking bullet hole in his forehead. Andricus’ body vanished in a blur of light a moment before it could hit the street. 48
Chapter Two: The Great Crucible
A Gruelling Climb
Hand over hand the Stormhosts ascended, higher and higher until mountainous Anvrok was but a shadow in the clouds beneath. The Celemnite blades embedded themselves in the soft metal like rungs; where the last of the Stormcast Eternals lifted his foot from a sword, the blade would yank free and hurtle upward to take its place as a new handhold at the top. The Stormhosts were still strong, despite the trials suffered thus far – seen from the city of Elixia, they glinted like a glorious constellation rising slowly over the horizon. Winged Prosecutors orbited like comets around them, Dracoths climbed with talons dug into silver. The climb took days of hauling, grasping and grinding of teeth. Stormcast Eternals were built for war, not feats of agility, and in their battle plate, each weighed as much as three normal men.
Exhaustion was not the only foe on this fell climb, for dread Tzeentch had claimed even the gaps between the lands. From that bleak space between the Hanging Valleys came creatures of Chaos by the score. Razor-winged skyrays swooped from the nothingness, screaming shrilly. Those not intercepted by soaring Prosecutors dived in, wings slashing at outstretched wrists and spiked tails crunching into faceplates. Many a blow caused a Stormcast Eternal to miss his footing, or to grasp so hard at a ladder-sword that his fingers were sliced clean away. Boots slipped and grips failed, sending warriors plummeting for long minutes to break upon the rocks of the Vaulten Range – or tumbling away into the dark void, lost even to the reach of Sigmar.
In the far distance, the stardrakes Dracothion and Argentine coiled and fought. The Silver Wyrm had its jaws clamped upon Dracothion’s flank; the celestial dragon’s bellows of pain mingled with godly thunder rumbling through the void. 107
In Anvrok far below, many a Warrior Chamber still marched across the valley’s ore-laced tracks. Their Lord-Celestants, unconvinced by Vandus’ plan to ascend to the Great Crucible, sought Ghal Maraz elsewhere. The Anvils of the Heldenhammer took battle to the copper-skinned beastman tribes that roamed the peaks; the Lions of Sigmar hunted for potential duardin allies and found something far darker instead.
Yet the stardrake had spoken truthfully at the Dragonfate Dais, and those who braved the terrifying climb did not do so in vain. The vanguard eventually gained the lip of the Great Crucible at the edge of the Argent Falls, hauling themselves onto the slick of solid metal that stretched away to meet a distant perimeter of shallow hills. A pall of condensation hung over the panorama. Within it, dark shadows gathered. 108
The silvery mists thinned, swirled away by invisible hands as if the gods themselves wished a clear view of the carnage to come. The Stormcast Eternals formed up, their Lord-Celestants at their fore. Though more warriors joined them with every passing second, and though dozens of Prosecutors had landed upon the crucible’s silvered lip to help haul their kin over the edge, those who had completed the climb were outnumbered many times over. Up ahead, the tribe of Chaos worshippers known as the Bleak Horde was emerging from a jaggedconfusion of high towers, walkways and bridges. Warband after warband poured down wide stairways to the surface of the Silver Sea. In the far distance jutted a plug of rock, a bowl-like plateau veiled by multicoloured clouds. Vandus could see in his mind’s eye that the Eldritch Fortress sat atop it; even as he witnessed it, the castle – or more accurately the Realmgate under which it had settled –was scrying him in turn.
The Silver Sea was growing warmer to the touch. Dracothion had returned to the Heavens of Azyr to heal the wounds torn in its flanks, and the corrupted drake Argentine was breathing its warp-fires once more. The crepuscular light of the Alchemist’s Moon shone down upon soot-black plates as the Chaos horde broke into a charge, the clangour of their war cries deafeningly loud. Rather than setting a shieldwall, the Stormcast Eternals counter-charged, for they had little enough ground without conceding more.
The points of the Stormcast wedge formations struck the enemy line like shovels thrust into a mass of coal. With their best and brightest at the fore, the phalanxes were all but unstoppable. Head lowered, Thostos ploughed through the plate-clad ranks, smashing aside all in his path as his fellow Celestial Vindicators drove in to widen the breach. Lightning crackled around Ionus Cryptborn as he blasted armoured mutants to steaming heaps; nearby, Lord Vandus cried in triumph as his every blow smashed a hulking brute against the anvil of the hot silver underfoot. Blood flew as Retributors laid about themselves with their lightning hammers; Decimators lopped heads with each smooth sweep of their triangle-bladed axes. At the edge of every Stormcast wedge, Protectors whirled their blade-staves, their tips lashing out to take a life wherever a Chaos Warrior sought to pass their guard. The Warrior Chambers fought together as they had been trained; hundreds of magical weapons wielded as one. It was a sight that would make Sigmar himself proud. 109 y 110
Their foes cared little, for they had blades to spare. Where their battle line wavered, a pair of disembodied voices rang out in unsettling unison, and the horde pressed on. A semblance of military discipline steered these black armoured warriors, and the centre of the battle line fell back towards the stairways – in doing so, allowing the irflanks to envelop the Stormcast Eternals pushing through their lines.
The war axes and halberds of the Chaos Warriors began to take their toll, biting deep into sigmarite armour and hacking limbs from bodies in welters of glittering blood. Half-armoured mutants stormed from at all keep, knocking Stormcast Eternals to the ground with malformed claws and club-like limbs. Half-daemon warriors bullied their way to the fore, their strange living blades gibbering in freakish satisfaction as they drank hot blood and gnawed through bone.
Thostos changed direction to veer towards these fell savages, leaning into the fight as he battered his way through the press. He roared in fierce joy, taking a great tally as the mutants found their Chaos-tainted blades, which had cut through plate so effortlessly, rebounding from the living sigmarite of the Lord-Celestant’s flesh. Behind Thostos, the last Celestial Vindicators to gain the crucible’s lip charged in, their exhaustion burned away by the fires of war as they massacred their mutant foes. Yet despite their valour, they were too few to stem the tide.
Slowly, agonisingly, the battle was turning against the Stormhosts. If the Chaos Warriors pushed past to the top of the Celemnite ladder, those yet to ascend would be at the mercy of their axes, and the quest would end in blood. 110
To span the Silver Sea
The determined assault of the Stormcast Eternals was devolving into a swirling, desperate melee. Overhead, unseen voices called out commands in the dark tongue, attempting to marshall the overwhelming Chaos force even as Lord Vandus ordered feints and counterthrusts of his own. His efforts were largely in vain, for at such close quarters the battle only grew more frantic. Few amongst the combatants had time to dwell on tactical manoeuvres with so many blades and hammers slashing left and right. The armoured corpses that grew thick on the ground hindered cohesion all the more. Soon, trampling the dead became preferable to the alternative, for the silver underfoot was yielding and unsteady. Each new footstep pressed deeper into the metal’s softening surface as it grew evercloser to melting point. The Stormcast Eternals had to break the deadlock, or friend and foe alike would sink into viscous metal, never to escape.
Thinking quickly, Vandus swept his arm at a swathe of nearby Decimators, shouting for them to forge a path to the nearest stairway. They went about their allotted task with pitiless efficiency, taking it in turns to swing wide blows with their heavy axes, then peeling off and retreating so that a fresh warrior was ever to the fore. Mutant brutes charged in, axes and weapon-limbs lashing out, but a host of Prosecutors soared overhead to blast them down before they could intercept.
The Decimators found themselves slopping through the corpse-strewn silver sludge, the flesh of their feets earing within their armour. Ahead, a garrison of Chaos Warriors emerged from the coils of mist still clinging to the towers, wading forward with shields raised to block the Stormcast assault. 111 y 112
Lord Thostos ploughed into them like a battering ram, his escort of Judicators loosing arrows into those still standing after his rampage had passed. Vandus’ Decimators made it to the keep wall, establishing a perimeter so that those Stormcast Eternals nearby could leap to the safety of the ramp. Thostos roared a command, and a spear’s throw away his own Decimators followed suit, opening a path for their fellows to reach safety. Rank by rank, the Stormcast Eternals fought their way onto the blood-spattered stairs leading up to the bridges and into the complex of walkways beyond. Behind, the larger part of their crusade fought on. 112
Vandus cried out in horror, leaping from Calanax’s back to rush down the stairway. A defensive screen of Protectors closed in front of him, three of their number shoving him roughly back. Vandus stumbled, eyes drawn to the skies as the blue light – all that remained of his friend – vanished upward. Aghast, the Lord-Celestant was hauled to safety.
At the foot of the stairway, liquid silver bubbled and popped. Decimators hacked down the Chaos worshippers clambering to escape the glooping metal below. Hundreds more simply sank, their screams becoming liquid gurgles as their throats filled with boiling, viscous metal. Soon their corpses were claimed by the silver tide.
Brought to his senses by the calls of his Protectors, Vandus felt his anguish turn to hot anger. The Lord-Celestant had lost not only Andricus Stoneheart, whose expertise in siege theory would be keenly missed, but also Ionus, his most trusted advisor and link to the God-King. Lord Thostos was an excellent tactician, but he was all but lost to his battle rage, already out of earshot as he smashed through the hordes choking the western walkways. It was for Vandus alone to command the survivors of the vanguard – less than five hundred warriors in a twisted land thronged with madmen.
The Lord-Celestant vaulted back into Calanax’s saddle and rode his Dracoth hard up the stairways. On the walkway to his left, the Celestial Vindicators smashed their way through the mob of hardened warriors and bare-chested tribesmen that tried in vain to slow their progress. Horn-helmed axemen and tattooed berserkers tumbled from the bridges to plunge screaming in the molten silver below. The sight of their demise brought grim smiles to many in the ranks of the Celestial Vindicators, for their hatred of evil ran deep.
Calanax bounded from walkway to bridge to shattered spar, approaching the front line once more. There, a knot of Decimators hacked a gory path through the warriors of the Bleak Horde. The Chaos forces, sensing their numbers were of little use on such a narrow frontage, began to fall back. 113
A blaring warhorn rang out, sonorous and deep. The retreating warriors, many of whom were heading for the keeps and towers, broke into a run, some clambering atop the spars and statues of the walkways in their haste to clear a path.
From the maw-like gates of the nearest keeps rode regiments of twisted knights. Calling out in the harsh tongue of Chaos, they lowered their cruel-looking lances and galloped straight towards the Stormcast Eternals. The Decimators at the fore of Lord Vandus’ brotherhood were spitted through chests, guts and necks, their axes all but useless against the long-hafted polearms of the foe. The dying Stormcast Eternals vanished upward in shafts of azure light, and the Chaos knights carried their momentum into the Liberators behind. More lances pierced sigmarite, the knights laughing as they drove their attack deeper still.
Behind the knights hurtled heavy iron chariots, each pulled by an armoured beast with saurian jaws and the barrelchest of a mountain ape. The Stormcast Eternals, unable to move aside on the narrow walkways, charged to meet them – and in doing so, ran headlong to their deaths. Scythed wheels struck sparks as the chariots ploughed into the Stormhost battle line, maiming and killing as they went. Any that survived the tremendous, crushing weight of a chariot’s impact were cut down by the halberds and axes of its riders.Tell tale flashes blazed into the heavens by the score. A ripple of shock flowed through the advancing Stormcast Eternals; the Bleak Horde had found a way to break their relentless advance.
Vandus spurred Calanax forward, whirring Heldensen around his head before commanding his beast to leap – not forward into the crush, but sidelong, from one walkway to the next. The Dracoth ploughed bodily into the foremost chariot, bowling the whole construction over into the sea of bubbling metal beyond. Heartened, the Stormcast Eternals fought back all the harder. Decimators and Retributors joined the fray, and soon chariot, knight and warrior alike were reduced to mangled ruin. 114
The Last Ascent
The Stormcast Eternals had been roused to the peak of violent indignation by the Bleak Horde’s cavalry attack. They struck back at their foes in a hurricane of hammers and blades, the Chaos forces soon reduced to corpses and twisted scrap metal. Clearing a path, Judicators and Liberators put aside their weapons and heaved cadavers over the side as if they were no more than sacks of grain. They would not be stopped, for the fate of the crusade hung in the balance.
Every second spent idle burned Thostos like acid. The Lord-Celestant paced like a trapped lion, eager to begin the slaughter once more. Vandus instead sought enlightenment from the great constellations above, just as when he had gazed into the void during the Long Calm. He was greatly vexed. Though he could now see the Eldritch Fortress atop its plateau, he knew not how to reach it. The rocky cliff was angled sharply against them, and the muscles of the Stormcast Eternals still burned from their exertions.
As Vandus watched the Alchemist’s Moon creep slowly through the sky, an image flickered in his mind. A vision of the great orb’s passage around the Hanging Valleys came to him. When it was at its apogee, the silverdrake Argentine would shy from its brightness, and the sea of molten metal would set solid once more. In a flash of inspiration, Vandus had the answer. He rode Calanax to the top of a skull-strewn keep and addressed his Stormhosts en masse, giving a speech that banished the fatigue from their muscles and fanned the spark of righteous fury to an inferno. Ghal Maraz was within their reach – they must claim it, or die in the attempt.
The Stormcast Eternals fought on through the Bleak Horde’s warbands, taking keeps and towers one by one as they conquered the Silver Sea. They fought also the land itself, for at times the magical flux that infected it was like a physical force. The moon’s arcane influence buffeted both sides with ripples of change, for when clad head to foot in metal, the warriors were like lodestones for the realm’s transmutative magics. Here, the combatants found themselves clad in dull lead; there, they were suddenly wearing precious gold, or filigree frameworks of spun wire. When the moon turned their sigmarite as hard as diamond, the Stormhosts surged forward with great alacrity. But ultimately it was the steel in their souls that saw them win out. Their bravery never wavered; even in the face of terrible losses they ploughed on without a backwards glance. 115 y 116
The Stormhosts reached the plateau’s cliffs just as the moon rode high. The moment of truth was nigh, for the skull-clad towers of the Eldritch Fortress shuddered with strange energies as Ephryx’s rite of translocation fought to raise it from its resting place once more.
Great was the struggle that took place in the fortress’ shadow. King Thrond’s keeps studded those reaches, and his warriors were far from beaten. When Retributors took their hammers to the foundations of Thrond’s own mighty citadel, the crusade’s intent was finally clear to its foes. The Stormhosts sought not to lay low the horde, but to push past to the true prize.
The timing of Vandus’ plan was immaculate. Groaning as if in pain, the citadel’s foundations crumbled under the pulverising blows of the Stormcast Eternals. The citadel toppled into the Silver Sea, sending a tidal wave of metal splashing towards the plateau. Its crest broke across the cliffs just as the Alchemist’s Moon set the silver solid.
From the highest battlements, Ephryx stared aghast. His whispered protests grew into a scream of genuine fear. His beloved fortress was held fast, trapped by a bridge of solid metal that the Stormcast Eternals were already charging up in great number. 116
Chapter Three: The Hearth of Chamon
Return to the fortress
With a roar that echoed through the mist, the Stormcast Eternals pounded up the frozen promontory of silver that led towards the craggy plateau above. It was treacherous going. The silver was soft enough that blades could be dug into its surface to afford a better grip, but in places the solidified wave was little thicker than a breastplate. Here and there armoured feet plunged straight through, in places sending warriors tumbling down to break upon the unyielding sea of metal beneath.
And still, energised by the prospect of reclaiming Ghal Maraz, the Stormhosts pressed on. With every minute, a hundred more successfully made the climb to muster in the shadow of the Eldritch Fortress. And still Vandus and Thostos were torn; with every heartbeat they tarried, the sorcerer Ephryx had more time to concoct his spells and gather his armies. Yet only by holding fast and delaying their assault could the Stormcast Eternals gather a force strong enough to assail the fortress.
An eerie whine came from the crystal-studded Realmgate hanging above the citadel’s highest point. Every one of the Stormcast Eternals could feel baleful energies behind it, their skin crawling as if a thousand hateful eyes were gazing down upon them. The gate traversed reality itself, leading to a realm of crystallised insanity. In translocating the Eldritch Fortress from the Shattered City to the Great Crucible, Ephryx had intended not only to keep it from the reach of Sigmar’s fresh-forged armies, but also to place it near a portal that already led to Tzeentch’s labyrinthine domain.
Vandus and his warriors stood before the forbidding wall of skulls that formed the outer perimeter of the Eldritch Fortress, the Shardgate pulsing bright above them. Faster and faster it strobed, the piercing whine quickly growing into a shriek, then a cacophony of a thousand screams. 167 y 168
The crystals encrusting the Shardgates plintered free in an instant. They stuttered through prismatic flourishes of light, of darkness, of blazing warpfire – before finally coalescing into new and strange physical forms. The terrible howling grew louder as the portal yawned wide, fanged with serried splinters of crystal like the ridged maw of some unknowable sky-beast.
From within the Shardgate came a howling gale of ethereal force. Gusts of raw mutation curdled the sky, leering faces gibbered as they vomited forth the spawn of madness. Tzeentch’s legions had entered the fray. The Heldenhammer Crusade would face not only the mortal denizens of the Eldritch Fortress, but also the daemon hosts of a Dark God. 168
The Stormhost phalanxes plunged into the daemon gale, every step a new trial. The Shardgate’s magic pushed and plucked at them with ethereal claws, raining down daemons that hurled blasts of warpfire from the battlements or fell burning into their ranks from on high. Sigmar’s Tempes trumbled above but, without the focus of the Lord-Relictors to channel it, the thunderstorm could offer no aid. Even the Eldritch Fortress itself took a gravetoll. Daemon carvings called in guttural voices to those Stormcast Eternals who hailed from Chamon, driving them to the edge of insanity with tales of the tortures wreaked on their people. Those warriors who died did not ascend to the Celestial Realm, but instead found their spirits drawn into the copper skulls, which served as conduits for their master’s dark magic. Here the fell energies of Chaos reigned supreme.
Atop the spined keep at the fortress’ heart, more devilry was afoot. Ephryx the Ninth Disciple invoked dark magics to conjure creatures from beyond, his hidden master Kairos always lurking in the shadows, working rites more insidious and subtle still. Within sight of the inner keep walls, the land upon which the fortress was built began to bubble and seethe. Rising from the metallic morass came the rings of an Arcanabulum, glowing with the heat of the spell wrenching it from the unseen mechanisms of reality.
The Daemon Oracle snapped an order, and Ephryx stepped so close to the Arcanabulum that his robes began to smoulder and burn bright. The sorcerer did not shrink from his allocated task, for with danger so close, Kairos had entirely usurped his pawn’s will. Ephryx began the casting of the Lunar Reversal, his spine hunching and his limbs withering as the spell siphoned his life energy.
In the skies above, the Alchemist’s Moon was caught by the grand spell’s emanations. Its crawling advance across the firmament slowed, stopped, and – though it made reality scream to witness it – began to reverse.
Manic laughter echoed throughout the keep. When the moon turned the sea to liquid metal once more, the plateau would be freed from its silver claws. By harnessing the storm magic that crackled through the spirits of Sigmar’s chosen, the fortress had claimed enough aetheric energy to rise up into the yawning Shardgate. In a matter of hours, Ephryx would transfer his prize to the Realm of Chaos, beyond the reach of the God-King forever. 169
Through fire-hurling daemons and skyborne chariots, the Stormhosts fought on, fearing their time was running out. Though the daemons of Tzeentch were no match for the Stormcast Eternals at close quarters, many warriors were burned to bubbling corpse-stuff by the mutating flames they wielded. Lord-Castellant Kanlaus of the Celestial Vindicators met a painful death when, in leaping sidelong to batter a daemon herald from its flying disc, he passed through a blast of warpflame. Bellowing in agony, the warrior lord exploded into splinters of bloodglass. Within the stake-lined Gallery of Punishment, the Stormhosts were beset by a horde of leaping, curve-bodied creatures that belched torrents of warpfire, their flames reducing a Decimator retinue to gold-flecked ash. A dozen Hammers of Sigmar were cut down when King Thrond and a trio of Gorebeast Chariots hurtled from an open portcullis, ploughing through the ranks to emerge in a spray of blood.
Even as the heavy iron contraptions hurtled past, the spirits of the dead Stormcasts were claimed hungrily by the gargoyle-skulls of the fortress walls.
As the war raged on, the ranks of the Stormcast Eternals grew ever thinner. Energised by the Rite of Translocation, the Eldritch Fortress shivered like a living thing under the feet of Vandus’ diminishing vanguard. When the entire plateau wrenched itself free of the silver, dripping molten metal as it ascended towards the Shardgate, there were less than two score Stormcast Eternals forging on through the daemon hordes. When the Lord-Celestants hammered a red path to the fortress’ inner circle, only a few dozen warriors were at their side. In their hearts, they knew it was not enough.
Lord Vandus, his fears and doubts transformed to fury, bellowed for his tattered brotherhood to form up. The first wave of Bloodbound was met by a barrage of arrows. Stricken tribesmen fell to the ground, the smoking craters in their chests filling the air with the stink of cooked meat. A tribe of Blood Warriors, leaping over the corpses of their fallen kin, slammed home into a wedge of Liberators. The Stormcast Eternals stood their ground. Retributor hammerblows blasted apart even the most heavily armoured of the Bloodbound, and Judicators picked off the foe whenever the Liberators pushed their assailants back.
From above, Prosecutors rained death upon the hordes of Chaos. They were met by the suicidal charges of helmeted madmen that sprinted from the battlements to hurl themselves, flails whipping, into the air. Many crashed to their deaths, but here and there a chain-flail would connect, tangling wing and breaking armour to bear both Prosecutor and Wrathmonger to a messy death.
Even as Blood Warriors were hacked down by the swords of their Liberator foes, the last Protectors gave their lives to hold back Khul’s mutated elite. Thostos and Vandus took fulla dvantage of the reprieve. Thostos’ sigmarite flesh was proof against any mundane blade, and even the most blood-maddened brute dared not raise his weapon against Vandus with Khul close by. The two Lord-Celestants hacked and bludgeoned their way through the Goretide, leaving a path of obliteration behind them.
Suddenly Lord Khul surged from the warband’s ranks, axe blazing with flames of pure hate. His flesh hound Grizzlemaw leapt for Thostos, the daemon’s scaled bulk slamming into him. The Lord-Celestant toppled back onto the blood-slicked flagstones. Seizing his chance, Khul leapt, his flaming axe cleaving the air at insane speed. Desperate, Vandus parried the furious assault, the hammer Heldensen barely keeping the dread weapon from his neck. Khul’s aggression and speed rendered thoughts of counter-attack irrelevant. A cold dread seized Vandus’heart as he realised that he and Thostos were alone in a sea of crimson.
A rattle of iron wheels filled the courtyard as King Thrond led his chariots into the fray. Thostos, having regained his feet, caved in the skull of the leading yoke-beast. The royal chariot of Thrond himself followed, hurtling into the melee. Thrond barked in triumph as his greataxe whirled towards Vandus’ back. Khul roared his defiance, heaving Calanax aside and levelling a backhand blow at Thrond. 171 y 172
Lord Vandus sprawled from the saddle as the two fought. He scrambled away, shouting for Calanax and Thostos to join him as the castle walls rang with the metallic clangs of the Chaos lords’ duel. Incredibly, none moved to stop him; even the most frenzied Bloodbound would not lightly risk the wrath of Khul. Thostos made to rejoin the fight, but Vandus grabbed him roughly by his shoulder; their duty lay elsewhere. Reluctant to retreat but grateful to be alive, the lords made for the gate and the inner keep beyond it. 172
The crusade fought on, its numbers swollen once more by Sigmar’s beneficence. With Ionus at Vandus’side and warrior brethren from a dozen Stormhosts at their command, they fought through gibbering daemons, walls of living crystal and raging Bloodbound warriors to reach the innermost keep. The layered walls of the Eldritch Fortress seemed endless, folding back on themselves like the most complex of mazes. Thostos alone had experience of them, and even then could claim only passing knowledge of their convolutions. Nonetheless, he led the crusade unerringly through the daemon gale; Vandus believed he was likely guided by vengeance itself. Soon enough, the Celestial Vindicators stood before the breach they had forced when the fortress had blighted Anvrok.
In the courtyard of the inner keep, the ground bubbled lazily around the cog-like workings of an Arcanabulum. The forbidden device plinked and pinged as it cooled in the ethereal winds raging around it, its magic spent in the titanic feat of wrenching the Alchemist’s Moon backwards in the sky. Standing haggard by its side was a long-limbed, horned sorcerer – bent with age, yet still recognisably Ephryx, Ninth Disciple of Tzeentch. Thostos gave vent to a bellow of rage and charged, head lowered. Eyes lambent green, the sorcerer moved back inside the inner keep, waving for his army of halberd-wielding guardsmen to bar the Stormcast Eternals’ path. In less than a minute, the broken cadavers of the Chaos Warriors were strewn across the courtyard, and eight hulking Retributors were taking their hammers to the wall of flame that formed its gate.
Cerulean shafts of light poured outward as widening holes appeared in the warpfire barrier. Thostos lifted his voice in thanks, and a thousand strident cheers echoed him – they saw the light of Ghal Maraz. All those struck by it found their tired limbs imbued with strength anew. The Retributors redoubled their efforts– their prize was within reach. Fellchanting in the dark tongue drifted from within, a sign that the trickery of Tzeentch was not yet over. The curtain of flame finally vanished, revealing glory and horror alike. The Great Shatterer was found.
Held suspended by fetters of pure magic, the ancient relic was surrounded by a coven of nine greater daemons of Tzeentch. Each was chanting syllables so foul they made the ears of the Stormcast Eternals trickle with blood.The bird-like monstrosities turned to face the intruders, their wizened visages twisted with hatred. At the head of the ritual cabal was a two-headed Lord of Change clutching a tall staff, its elongated features leering cruelly.
Rippling and burning , the Shardgate descended through the domed roof of the keep. Time had run out. 173
Betrayal and Triumph
The dome-capped chamber burned as bright as the noonday sun as magical energies clashed and roiled within. With the Eldritch Fortress rising unstoppably and the Shardgate closing in, the fiercely-glowing warhammer was soon but a lance’s length from the portal that would see it stolen into the Crystal Labyrinth forever more.
Spells seared and crackled from the Lords of Change even as they laid about themselves with staff and claw. Stormcast Eternals met one grisly fate after another; some were burned alive, some hideously transformed, some set against one another, others torn open or banished in droves. On they came regardless, the Lord-Celestants at their head, fighting the illusions and mirages that the greater daemons wove. Only the Celestial Vindicators forged a true path, however, for their rage was pure and hot enough to burn away the glamours sent against them.
Vandus fought blind, knowing that to trust his senses was folly – his foes were giants, and in such cramped confines Heldensen found its marks with ease. Calanax bore his master in Thostos’ wake, focussing only upon the Lord-Celestant’s back as he bludgeoned a path towards Ghal Maraz.
The great artefact was but a few feet from Stormcast and Shardgate alike when Kairos Fateweaver sent a searing column of multicoloured flame into Thostos. Its unnatural fires were so hot they ate away at even the living sigmarite beneath the Lord-Celestant’s battered armour, setting his metal skin aflame. Fateweaver cackled manically at the sight. He hurled every one of the Stormcast Eternals backwards with a pulse of magical force and cried out that Tzeentch’s favour was his alone.
In his shadow, Ephryx the Ninth Disciple blinked to his senses, released from Kairos’ mental grip whilst his master was engaged in battle. His face twisted in fury, Ephryx picked up a fallen Staff of Change and, with a great overarm blow, struck the Daemon Oracle along the length of its spine.
The daemon’s twin screams rose above the din of battle as it lost control of the magical energies coursing around it. Its form flickered, becoming a pink-skinned horror, a tusked skyray, a pair of blue grotesques, a moon-faced puppet.
Vandus was already in motion, leaping from the back of Calanax to soar over the spasming daemon. A sawbeaked terror lunged at him, only to be struck by a bolt from his steed’s maw. Another was blasted away by Ionus, his reliquary held side long like a wizard’s staff.
Shouting in triumph, Vandus grabbed Ghal Maraz, tore it from its aetheric chains, and landed in a rolling crouch. A corona of power crackled through him, burning his hand with its intensity. The daemon lord, having regained control of its wild transmutation, span to point a crackling finger at Vandus’ head. The Lord-Celestant cried out and swung Ghal Maraz, his hand on fire as energy blazed through his veins. A thunderous impact, and the daemon’s arm was ripped away. Vandus swung again and struck its screaming heads – one into the other, then both into the ground. The daemon’s body shrivelled to become a glinting crystal in the dust. Vandus swiftly crushed it under his armoured heel.
The entire fortress lurched violently, and Chamon resounded to godly thunder. As the roof of the keeptumbled apart, Vandus looked up to see a twin-tailed comet burning down towards him. Then all was light. 181
And so it was that the hammer Ghal Maraz returned to high Azyr, and the Eldritch Fortress was snatched into the Realm of Chaos, its curse lifted from the Hanging Valleys forever.
Many were the sagas and feasts that followed. The Lord-Celestants that had led the crusade were feted by all, their wounds healed in the Chambers of Renewal and their deeds praised. New legends were already being sung throughout the Mortal Realms; tales of saviours that struck from above, and of heroes that never turned back, no matter the horrors arrayed against them.
As for the God-King Sigmar, he did not rest, for there was much to be done. The retrieval of his hammer had reunited him with much of his storm-borne power, and his tempest raged stronger than ever. Sigmar knew well, however, that the purpose of a weapon is to be wielded. On the twelfth day of celebrations, the God-King made his way to the Chamber Extremis, opened the gates, and awakened the numinous being inside.
The War for the Allpoints was about to begin. 183
- 1 The Realmgate Wars: Quest for Ghal Maraz.
- 1a pg. 3
- 1b pg. 4
- 1c pg. 6
- 1d pg. 7
- 1e pg. 19
- 1f pg. 20
- 1g pg. 23
- 1h pg. 29
- 1i pg. 30
- 1j pg. 31
- 1k pg. 32
- 1l pg. 33
- 1m pg. 35
- 1n pg. 36
- 1o pg. 44
- 1p pg. 45
- 1q pg. 47
- 1r pg. 48
- 1s pg. 107
- 1t pg. 108
- 1u pg. 109
- 1v pg. 110
- 1w pg. 111
- 1x pg. 112
- 1y pg. 113
- 1z pg. 114
- 1A pg. 115
- 1B pg. 116
- 1C pg. 167
- 1D pg. 168
- 1E pg. 169
- 1F pg. 170
- 1G pg. 171
- 1H pg. 172
- 1I pg. 173
- 1J pg. 181
- 1K pg. 183