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.
- 1 The War for the Jade Kingdoms
- 1.1 Chapter 1: The Blighted Realm
- 1.2 Chapter Two: War of Life
- 1.3 Chapter Three: Ghyran's Last Hope
- 1.4 Chapter Four: Wrath Unbound
- 1.5 Chapter Five: Seize the Genesis Gate
The War for the Jade Kingdoms
Chapter 1: The Blighted Realm
Relentless as the waters of a filthy flood, Nurgle’s armies flowed in great number across the Jade Kingdoms. For five centuries their war of corruption had raged. Rot-clad daemons and bloated Blightkings carved down all who stood before them, their victims’ screams smothered by the drone of a billion flies. Vile contagions thickened the waterways into phlegmy gruel. The ragged banners of Nurgle jutted from every horizon, and entire civilisations turned to the Plague God’s worship rather than fall to the sickness that ravaged their lands.
Life, however, is as adaptable as it is tenacious. From within the vale of Athelwyrd, hidden deep in Rotwater Blight, Alarielle directed her subjects in their war against the armies of Grandfather Nurgle. Though vast woodlands withered and corrupted shimmerfalls rained poison upon the lands, still the sylvaneth hosts fought on. Yet, gradually, the horrific grind of the War of Life wore upon Alarielle’s spirit. Just as summer must give way to winter, she retreated into cold dormancy, leaving her minions to struggle on as best they could.
Noisome fogs and vast clouds of daemonic insects swarmed across the skies, and it seemed as though Rotwater Blight faced its final days. But then came the thunder, and with it, Sigmar’s mighty storm. Exploding from the heavens amid blasts of crackling power, the Stormcast Eternals brought both salvation and retribution. Long ago, Sigmar and Alarielle had been allies, and now the God-King sought to reforge those bonds. The Knights-Azyros took Sigmar’s light to the dark places of her domain, bearing their master’s word to the brooding queen. 61
Meanwhile, Sigmar’s Stormhosts flashed down to seize critical Realmgates. Though all faced battle, none was more costly than the fight before the Gates of Dawn. Here, Lord-Celestant Gardus’ Hallowed Knights fought the daemon legions of Bolathrax, the Great Unclean One. The battle saw reinforcements hurled in from both sides, and there the sylvaneth offered their first true gesture of aid to the Stormcasts. Death filled the forests, a thousand souls slain with each passing minute. Determined to close the corrupted Gates of Dawn, and unable to best Bolathrax, Lord-Celestant Gardus plunged through the Realmgate itself. Lured after him, Bolathrax’s bulk brought the gates crashing down. This sacrifice brought victory, but left Gardus stranded in the hellish garden of Grandfather Nurgle. 62
To silence the Dirge
Gardus was gone. The phrase was muttered over and over, not only amongst the Hallowed Knights, but the ranks of the other Stormhosts too. The best of them had plunged into the hellscape of the Realm of Chaos, in the process collapsing the gate behind him. In that dread realm, the God-King holds no sway, and it was whispered that the fate of a Stormcast Eternal lost there would surely be dire indeed.
After the fall of the Gates of Dawn, Sigmar had recalled the depleted Stormhosts and issued them with a new charge. They must return to the Realm of Life in search of Alarielle. Her location was concealed even from the God-King’s eyes, but he despatched his warriors to Rotwater Blight, hoping they might seek her out there. The Stormcasts’ mood was sombre, for the combined force of Astral Templars and Hallowed Knights still numbered less than half their original strength.
Even as the Stormhosts struck the loam, their ears were assailed by a terrible noise – it was the Dirgehorn, a dread artefact known throughout the lands for its unearthly sound. The hideous drone rolled through the valleys as a wave of pure discord, infecting the ears of all those Stormcast Eternals who heard it with thoughts of despondency and gloom. Every blast withered healthy shoots and turned green leaves black; every tree and rock that echoed with its sonic malignance sprouted a new clutch of boils and buboes. Its effect upon the sylvaneth watching from the tree line was worse still. Crying out, the forest spirits clutched their heads with palsied fingers, their bark-like skin growing cracked and pale. Seeking those few sanctums that remained beyond Nurgle’s reach, the sylvaneth fled. 65
Climbing atop a twisted stump, the Lord-Castellant of the Hallowed Knights, Lorrus Grymn, shouted to the shaken Stormhosts. Their course was clear. They would have to destroy the source of this dread sound if they wished to liberate Rotwater Blight from its curse. The truth held in each bellowed command was like a clarion call, cutting over the droning that filled the swampy forest. Zephacleas of the Astral Templars saluted Grymn, a high honour from a Lord-Celestant. As a gesture of respect to their brother Stormhost, Zephacleas and his warriors followed Grymn into the twisted forest.
With a clear mission ahead of them, the Stormcast Eternals found focus. Retinue by retinue they slogged through the stinking mire, Prosecutors winging above as they guided their kin to firmer ground. Though the Dirgehorn’s blare made it all but impossible to talk, the Stormcast Eternals’ training saw them fall into rough groups, then ordered phalanxes as they marched along the mould-spotted trails. The blaring noise was emanating from the vine-choked hills overlooking Rotwater Blight, once the site of intense war between the sylvaneth and the forces of Nurgle. Though it pained them to get closer, as long as the noise grew slowly louder, the Stormcast Eternals knew they were on the right path. The Stormhosts struggled on through belching quagmires, hillocks of dead insects and copses of chain-throttled oaks that moaned for help at their passing. Above, the skies swirled sallow puce, deathly grey and bruised yellow, here and there shot with red, like infected fluids spilling from a long-wounded gut. With every new day, the dolorous moan of the Dirgehorn grew louder.
Grymn bade the Stormhosts take rest every other day, yet so powerful was the demoralisation spread by the blighted realm that they could find no peace. Some amongst the Stormhosts, their spirits sapped by the hideous noise, found they could not rise without being torn from the loamy earth by their fellows. At the fore, however, the Hallowed Knights pressed on, their silver armour shining like a beacon for the others to follow. They had their duty, and they would meet it no matter the cost. 66
The champions of Nurgle’s armies soon heard of the invading army’s approach, for news of the Stormhosts’ arrival had reached them via buzzing blightfly and scurrying pox rat. The mightiest amongst them, a coven of three mutant lords whose star was waxing high, commanded their lieutenants to wait.They were content to plot their next confrontation, stacking the odds in their favour whilst letting the corrupted realm’s horrors take their toll. The strategy was sound, for the blighted lands were challenging even the most indomitable of Sigmar’s warriors.
At the Lake of Screaming Reeds, the Stormhosts came under attackfrom bulbous rot-flies and squamous daemon toads bigger than bulls. Sticky tongues yanked Liberators into the mire, yellow fangs biting through their armour before volleys of arrows burst the vile creatures in explosions of stinking pus. At the battle’s climax, Zephacleas of the Astral Templars fought the toad dragon Ga’Blorrgh, but his blade was unable to penetrate the beast’s blubbery flesh, for the creature had grown gigantic on a diet of tortured souls. Only with the aid of the Hallowed Knights fighting as a single mighty force could Zephacleas contain that enormity’s rampage. The valour of the Hallowed Knights’ Paladins allowed their brothers to force past, even as Ga’Blorrgh crushed those warriors at the fore into the suffocating muck.
Onward to the Grove of Blighted Lanterns they went, thinking the clearing’s lambent lights might be a sign of succour, but instead finding them infested by daemon insects that proved poisonous foes indeed. After another half day’s trudge, the battered Stormhost vanguard marched into a rain of arrows south of the Greenglow Lake. The Prosecutors winging beneath the storm-wracked skies spotted stump-horned ungors swarming the forest ruins, and the Stormhosts charged in, scouring the tumbled buildings of beastmen. Most of the ungors were quick to retreat, but the bleating screams of those left behind rang out, drawing dozens of Jabberslythes from their swampy lairs. So hideous were these creatures that an invisible wave of madness preceded them, driving many a Stormcast Eternal to his knees in despair before the beasts could be fought off.
With the Dirgehorn’s dreadful cacophony growing ever louder around them, the Stormhosts found that their war mantras were drowned out completely. The long march to free Rotwater Blight was fast becoming a waking nightmare. 67
Blare of the Dirgehorn
The vanguard of the Stormhosts carved onward through the riotous life of Rotwater Blight. Wherever the path disappeared, Decimators would hack through the undergrowth, vines as thick as tree trunks spraying viscous sap where the Stormhosts hewed a path through the densest areas. More than once the Stormhosts found themselves wandering the same paths they had already cut. When they drew close to the bubbling morass of Greenglow Lake, they kept it to the west in wordless agreement, hoping it would prove a valuable landmark. In doing so the Stormcast Eternals drew too near the lake’s edge. Tendrils lined with hundreds of gasping mouths lashed out from the lapping waters, catching up the closest warriors and dragging them to a watery doom before Prosecutors could soar in to drive the monsters off.
With every sunset, despair set in a little more. Gone were the tales of warrior virtue that had once kept the Stormcast Eternals hale of spirit as night drew in, their inspiring stories replaced wholly by the Dirgehorn’s blare. Often times, the rolling waves of sound seemed like the laughter of some grotesque god, chortling at the futility of their toil. Though they fought with every ounce of their being against Nurgle’s dread influence, many a warrior’s thoughts turned to survival rather than conquest. Some desired not to destroy that artefact which had proved their bane, but merely to escape its evil sound.
There were those of the Stormhosts’ number that stumbled off, half-torpid as they wandered through the night. Many sought the silence of Greenglow Lake, diving deep into the brackish waters only to be dragged low by the terrors that haunted its depths. Others strode into the lake’s rippling edges, scraping blades against the filth that caked them head to toe in the hope they could wash themselves clean of the forest’s taint. When the mouth-lined tendrils came for them, their struggles were short-lived; death was a high price, but not without its allure. By now, all had embraced the fact that their souls would return to blessed Azyr, and the hellish landscape that had worn them down would become a distant memory – truly it seemed that to return to the heavens in failure was better than to slog through Ghyran’s foulness for even a single hour more. 71 y 72
Not one of those who fell to the Dirgehorn’s peculiar curse hailed from the Hallowed Knights. Every night Lord-Castellant Lorrus Grymn made the circuit of a thousand of his brothers, clasping wrists with them in the warrior’s handshake and exchanging a few words as he met their gaze. He would not let them forget their duty. The fortifying light of his warding lantern burned off the layers of filthcaking each kinsman’s sigmarite, returning their armour to a glorious lustre and sharpening blades pocked by supernatural rust.
One morning, the Stormhosts found succour from another, unexpected source, when a group of ailing Dryads wordlessly beckoned them towards a hidden glade. Wary of a trap, Grymn sent his Prosecutors on ahead, but they reported back with an account of fresh bubbling springs surrounded by lush green vegetation. The Stormhosts followed the sylvaneth onwards, hoping for a safe haven from the landscape of terrors. 72
After the respite afforded by the life-giving springs, the Stormcast Eternals felt a renewed sense of hope. They were tempest-borne warriors, the sons of Sigmar himself, and they were determined to see an end to the terrible curse of the Dirgehorn, no matter the cost.
The Stormhosts climbed against the rise of the hill with stoic and deadly focus. Each retinue’s armoured heels fell in unison as they stamped down the questing black fronds and twisting lianas that grasped weakly at their ankles. So close to the Dirgehorn, the fell artefact’s bray was louder than ever before. But now, instead of plaguing their minds with hopelessness and despair, the sound made them incandescent with anger.
When the Stormcast Eternals came under attack by beastmen lurking in the twisted trees, they knew they were getting close. The carnage they wrought in response was terrible. For every Hallowed Knight sent blazing back to the heavens, a dozen savage mutants were slain, their distorted bodies already half-digested by the black fronds by the time the Stormhosts marched on.
The creatures that sought to bar their path grew larger and fouler. Potbellied ungors were replaced by broad-shouldered gors that fought harder than any Chaos tribesman, armed with crude but deadly blades in each hand. Wherever the gors were shot down by a squall of arrows, horn-crested terrors armoured in thick rusted plates rushed in, two-handed axes swinging to hack away legs and sever swordarms. And no frenzied beasts were these – the Bestigors fought to topple their foes with sweeping cuts to the shins before placing the spiked ends of their axes under the masks of the fallen warriors and driving their killing blows home in spurting geysers of blood.
The Stormhosts were undaunted, and fought on step by bloody step, their hammers crushing elongated skulls and jag-toothed faces. When a clearing appeared in the distance, their bestial assailants redoubled their attack – tribes of snorting bullgors barrelled through the foliage, smashing aside lesser beastmen in their haste. Greataxes that could have hacked a Dracoth in two cut through tempered sigmarite as if it were parchment, driving great wedge-wounds into the torsos and necks of those Stormcast Eternals that answered their brazen challenge. Blood spilled down silver armour, gore sprayed from ragged stumps, thatched and matted hides were clotted further still. The driving assault of the Stormhosts ground to a messy halt, all semblance of cohesion broken apart by the sheer ferocity of the beastman attack.
Here and there bullgors prised away armour to gorge on the hot meat of their victims. When the Stormcast Eternals discorporated into crackles of blue light, the rage of the horned monsters reached new heights. Denied the bloody feast they craved so desperately, the bullgors began lashing out at their smaller kin nearby, grabbing their broken bodies and stuffing them roughly into their fanged maws to gobble down still-warm viscera.The Stormcast Eternals were quick to capitalise on their betrayal, hammers and blades lashing to claim life afterlife. Distracted, the bullgors were easy prey for the strikes of Grymn’s Paladins, lightning hammers blasting through barrel chests and thunderaxes laying open spines. 73 y 74
(FALTA) sight of the Retributors going about their work. Hammers rose and fell with renewed vigour, gleaming swords impaled throats and burst through chests. Sensing the ebb and flow of battle turning their way, Lorrus Grymn hooked his lantern onto his halberd’ stip and held it high, bellowing a rallying call that even the Dirgehorn’s blare could not drown out. His brethren took heart, forming into an armoured wedge with the Lord-Castellant at its tip.
Not a single sigmarite weapon went unused as the Stormcast vanguard mounted its counter-attack. The violence grew so intense that the air turned pink with a mist of gore.
It was Grymn that first staggered onto Profane Tor, the corrupted peak where the beast tribes made their lair. He and his Protectors struggled not to choke at the stench emanating from a towering hag tree. Noose-throttled corpses and spiked cages containing twisted skeletons dangled from its mutated branches. Amongst the piled weapons and trophy skulls stacked against its base was the Dirgehorn itself, curled like a serpent around the tree’s trunk. A Beastlord with a crown of horns put his lips to it and blew, the horn’s drool-slopping maws yawning wide to blast forth its unholy curse.
The Stormcast Eternals forced their way forwards against the deafening din, the noise so loud and all-consuming they fought to prevent being bowled over. Skin blackened and metal tarnished at the sound. High above, lightning flickered as Sigmar’s Tempest rolled in, but even its godly rumble was inaudible over the dirge. Beastmen swarmed in from all sides, driven to utter fearlessness by the call of their dread artefact. Much to Grymn’s dismay, they were not alone. 74
Slogging through the sludge at the clearing’s edge came split-bellied axemen, their rusted armour dripping brine. The patches of flesh that bulged around straps and plates were the pallid blue-white of a swollen corpse. At their head was Gutrot Spume, the Lord of Tentacles, his iron blade held aloft in wordless challenge.
Prosecutors launched from the clearing’s edge, soaring on wings of light to hurl hammer blows at the Putrid Blightkings even as Judicators sent volleys of arrows burning across the clearing. Distended guts burst, rope-like intestines spilled, breastplates fell away to reveal slither-tongued mouths behind.
Incredibly, the monstrous warriors kept coming. Their lumbering advance accelerated into a charge, and soon the Hallowed Knights found themselves beset by mutant and grotesque alike. Axes and flails whipped left and right, and one after another the silver-armoured warriors were cut down.
The battle surged and rolled across the Profane Tor. Droplets of cerulean rain turned to a shower, and then a downpour as Sigmar’s Tempest broke.The gore-streaked tableau was lit by strobing lightning, each bolt revealing a new struggle. Liberators locked shields with froth-mouthed gors, desperate to land a telling blow. Judicators ran sidelong as they launched volley after volley at the cyclopean giants prowling the misted eaves. Bray-Shamans sent swarms of pincer-legged insects crawling into the fray, and armoured champions of Chaos hacked a path through the ranks of their foes.
Still the Stormcasts fought on. Lorrus Grymn smashed and kicked his way through the melee, barging a two-headed beastman from his path to slam the spike of his halberd into Gutrot Spume’s shoulder guard. The Chaos champion wheeled round, three of his tentacles wrapping themselves around the polearm’s haft to hold it fast. The Gryph-hound Tallon was quick to intervene, his iron-hard beak cutting through the sinewy appendages to free the weapon once more.
Grymn, loath to be caught out a second time, parried Spume’s every strike. Sparks flew from clashing blades, again and again. For long minutes the duel ground on. It was not a showcase of speed and grace, but strength and bloody-minded stubbornness, for both combatants wielded weapons that could fell a tree with a single sweep. Their blows were powerful, but predictable, and neither opponent was able to best the other. 75
Spume became frustrated, then enraged at this upstart warrior who had the temerity to defy him. In his fervour the Chaos champion left an opening beneath his upper limbs. Grymn spotted it immediately. Snarling intriumph, he slammed the butt of his polearm through Spume’s guard and into the beaked maw at his armpit.
The jabbing blow splintered the teeth that ridged its gnashing mouth, and Spume’s axe fell as all seven of his tentacles withdrew in a spasm of agony. Grymn raised his blade for the deathblow. Suddenly he was plucked by the hag tree’s gnarled branches and hurled across the clearing to slam hard into a moss-encrusted menhir. Grymn struggled to rise. His body was broken, but his duty was done nonetheless. In keeping the horde’s champion at bay, Grymn had given his Paladins a chance to reach the Dirgehorn itself. 76
Stopping the Rot
The quiet that followed the Dirgehorn’s fall was no true silence. Flies still droned. Swamp-sludge still bubbled and popped, while rotted boughs still creaked and moaned in the gloom. Yet the relief the sylvaneth felt was akin to the kiss of warm summer sunlight. No longer did their bodies shudder with fevered anguish, and no longer were their thoughts clouded by pain. With this realisation came relief, and then furious anger. The sylvaneth had been tortured to within an inch of their lives, and they would have revenge upon their abusers.
First to raise her voice in wrath was the Branchwraith known as the Lady of Vines. Among the most devoted of Alarielle’s lieutenants, the Lady of Vines had never faltered in her prosecution of the War of Life. She had improvised her own commands when her beloved mother receded into melancholy, and had stood as foremost defender of the Shimmertarn for many years. No matter how bleak things became, the Branchwraith had never allowed the embers of her hope to die. Now, that fire was kindled anew by the arrival of Sigmar’s vengeful Stormhosts.
Borne aloft upon a throne of coiling lianas, the regal Branchwraith threw back her head and sang out a perfect note. It pierced the Wyldwoods, echoing by secret ways until it reached the ears of her brothers and sisters. With a rustling hiss that grew to a tempest roar, the sylvaneth surged from their places of refuge to answer the lady’s call to war anew. Alarielle might still brood on better days, but these sylvaneth would not stand by while others fought their battles for them. The fury of the forest would be unleashed once more. 81
As they gathered in a glimmering grove, the Lady’s warriors clamoured to be heard. The Shrieking Willows should be cleansed, some insisted. Others said the Floating Isles of Talbion should be retaken, or that they should punish those who had winded the Dirgehorn.The Lady of Vines rose upon her throne, her strident tones cutting across the debate. There was one threat she wished to see ended above all others – the noxious fume that had been drifting from the Glade of Horned Growths for many days. This fug rotted everything it touched, and had already reached as far as the Vulturine Geysers. The Branchwraith feared the smog’s spread might swallow Rotwater Blight entire.This, then, would be their battle; the sylvaneth would find the source of the entropic fog, and they would put an end to it once and for all. 82
Amid the Murk
Rot-smog belched from the bulky censer of Kratsik’s Plague Furnace.The skaven priest fanned the hideous fumes, coaxing the seething green clouds to rise like coiling serpents through the Glade of Horned Growths. Corrupted by the portal to Nurgle’s realm that pulsed in their midst, the trees here had been infested by grotesque fungi. Foul stalks burst from hollow trunks, fans of moistened matter and fronds of spore-heavy tendrils forming a writhing ceiling that shut out the light. Yet even these horrible growths recoiled at the corrosive touch of the rot-smog.
Whatever those foul fumes engulfed turned swiftly to pus and slime. Already, several patches of the glade had been devoured. Only bubbling mounds of black ooze remained to mark an area that had once housed trees, beasts and a clawful or two of Plague Priest Kratsik’s less cautious underlings. Further out, the rot-smog spread and curdled amid the woods, bark sloughing away at its touch while it ate away at land, air – even light.
This was holy work indeed, thought Kratsik proudly, and it was all thanks to the blessings of Vermalanx. 85
The Verminlord Corruptor had bestowed upon Kratsik an urn of moaning ashes, which now burned within his Plague Furnace to produce the tainted smog. It was Vermalanx, too, who had commanded Kratsik to lead his fecund followers to this glade, to infest and fortify it. The Corruptor had known that the energies spilling from the Realmgate would magnify the rot-smog’s powers, and spread its fume far and wide. Kratsik gazed across the murky clearing, over the heads of hissea of followers, to where Vermalanx hulked amid the gloom. The Corruptor was a being that embodied the might of the gods. Whatever the Verminlord commanded, Kratsik would do to prove his worthiness.
A skaven sorcerer crouched amid the shadows, one whose opinion of Vermalanx was quite different. Perched on a jutting root, obsessively flensing the skin from an unlucky rat, Grey Seer Skurrik twitched his tail with impatience. He had come here, to this stinking, tree-infested place, in pursuit not of war but of study. Kratsik had been irritating him with questions asto his agenda, but it was none of the Plague Priest’s concern. In truth, the Verminlord had promised him the resources and opportunity to capture a Stormcast Eternal for dissection. The means to achieve his goal, Skurrik had acquired – a spell of binding seared into his thoughts by the Verminlord as payment for a rune-jar full of old ash.
Skurrik was eager to use the spell, yet the Verminlord had kept him waiting for days while Kratsik boiled up poisoned smoke from his Plague Furnace. If something didn’t happen soon, Skurrik would call upon his rot-thing allies instead. The seer jabbed his claws into his rodent specimen, grinning at the thought. There were pacts that even the Verminlord didn’t know about.
It was then the entire glade began to shudder. The jolts were faint at first, but rhythmic, and grew swiftly stronger. Skurrik scrambled to his feet as Kratsik’s Plague Monks became aware of the pounding and began to chitter and wail. Skurrik had a horrible feeling he knew what those reverberations were. Footfalls, but not those of mortals; nor even those of monsters. From beyond the glade, screeches rose from Kratsik’s sentries, along with the frantic clanging of brass gongs. Huge forms loomed on the horizon, and they were getting closer by the moment. 86
The Battle for the Glade
The ground shuddered beneath the crashing limbs of Rotwater Blight’s god-trees. From a distance the strange creatures resembled giant, upside-down oaks lumbering along on thick, silver-leafed branches. Eyes bulging in disbelief, Kratsik’s sentries watched from perches amid the warped canopy of the glade as a trio of the towering, impossible tree-things ploughed towards them. Atop the foremost tree, her tendrils entwined with the roots that writhed there like a crown, stood the Lady of Vines. The Branchwraith’s head was tilted back, her eyes screwed shut as she enforced her will upon the elder tree-spirits that bore her into battle. Still, the Lady’s mouth quirked, her sap running hot at the sounds of squealing coming from below.The ratmen were right to fear, foran army of Dryads amassed in the hollow trunk below her. Vengeance was coming.
The sylvaneth attack hit the rat-infested canopy of the Glade of Horned Growths with tremendous force. Emitting rumbling booms, the mighty god-trees leaned forward, revealing their trunks to be filled with tendrils and creepers to which the sylvaneth clung. Dryads and Treelords leapt from within to attack. Bulwarks of bloated fungus were smashed aside, spores bursting from their stringy flesh as they toppled and tore. Maddened skaven scrambled through the twisted eaves, hacking at Treelords with rusted blades, but to no avail. Swarming around the giant sylvaneth came branchlings grown in the hidden places of Rotwater Blight. These spry tree-spirits keened with fury, the desire to slay their foul oppressors resonating in their song. They landed amid the tangled branches of the glade and set about the teeming Plague Monks with screams of indignation. Lashing, taloned limbs whipped out to tear through rotting cloth and leathery skin. Skaven blood fell like rain, pattering down upon the thirsty, sucking leaves of the glade. Plague Monk corpses followed, tumbling through the branches with their necks broken and their bodies torn. 89 y 90
Behind the first wave of Dryads came older, war-weathered spirits meeting the frenzied counter-attack of the surviving Pestilens sentries with implacable fury. In their midst were a pair of Treelords, Lorhaldh and his seed-sibling, Thellembhol. The Treelords climbed ahead of their Branchwraith matriarch, swatting ratmen from the Lady of Vines’ path. Thick, coiling branches swept left and right, smashing shrieking skaven from their perches and pulverising them in sprays of gore. Already, another wave of gabbling Plague Monks was scurrying along the branches to meet the Lady of Vines’ warriors. Marking their approach, the Branchwraith knew well that the hardest fighting still lay ahead.
Down in the clearing, Grey Seer Skurrik watched an army of sylvaneth stalk from the tree line. While the Plague Monks chanted their foul litanies, Skurrik scampered over to stand in the dirty light that spilled from the Realmgate. Skurrik wasn’t sure who was attacking, but he wasn’t one to take chances. It was time to call upon the rot-things with whom he had made pacts behind the Verminlord’s back. Swiftly, the Grey Seer knelt before the fungus-covered Realmgate at the clearing’s heart and scratched a sigil into the muddy ground. 90
The Realmgate’s jaundiced glow flickered, then flashed brightly. The pulse of light speared into the sky, a beacon that Skurrik’s allies could not fail to see. Sure enough, horns moaned to the south just moments later. Distant, for the moment, but they would be here soon enough, for they had been waiting for the Grey Seer’s signal. Skurrik was not the only one keen to capture one of the Stormcast Eternals alive.
The seer was just turning away when the Realmgate issued another pulse .Skurrik span in surprise, tail twitching nervously as a figure in filth-caked, silver armour staggered coughing from the gate. In one hand, the figure clutched a hammer that crackled with aetheric energy, while a slime-slicked cloak clung to his shoulders.
For a moment, Skurrik just gaped. Then the wild-eyed warrior gave a terrible scream, a bellow of mingled horror and relief. Panic surging, Skurrik chittered as wift incantation and vanished in a puff of reeking smoke.
Left alone before the gate, half-mad with fever and horror, Lord-Celestant Gardus vomited painfully. Only one clear thought remained in the warrior’s head. He must find his brothers. They must be told. They must know the secret. Gardus stumbled from the clearing, following the sounds of fighting in the distance.
Meanwhile, war raged on beneath the trees. With the Brotherhood of the Red Boil leading the charge, the skaven had swarmed into battle. The first Dryads to stand in their path were buried by the chittering tide. Though lashing branches impaled dozens of Plague Monks, the sylvaneth were swiftly overrun. Black-slimed blades rose and fell, hacking through bark hides and spraying green sap in all directions. Yet these first Dryads had been brave volunteers, bait for a trap that the skaven had taken without a second thought.
Now the greater force of the sylvaneth joined the fight, dropping down from the canopy above. Kratsik’s forces were caught completely by surprise. The battle soon became a vicious slaughter as the vengeful Dryads choked and stabbed, flayed and throttled. Screaming Plague Monks fell at an astonishing rate.
With twinned booms that shook the ground, the Lady of Vines’ Treelord guardians dropped from above, crushing ratmen into paste beneath their splaying feet. Rising to his full height, Lorhaldh sent strangleroots rushing out to entangle a warband of the Red Boil. Even as he tore the frantic ratmen to pieces, his seed-kin Thellembhol waded into the fight, each swing of his long limbs hurling skaven through the air. 91
In the midst of it all, the Lady of Vines descended from above, arms outstretched and face a cold mask of fury as her throne lowered her to the ground. Here were defilers and poisoners, those whose kind had driven her mother into sorrowful torpor. None would be forgiven. Singing her song of death, the Branchwraith stabbed and slashed, and Plague Monks died.
Kratsik screeched his fury at the sight of his pox-ridden flock laid low. The Plague Monks were fighting back in a blind frenzy, Dryads falling left and right to their rusted blades, but the sylvaneth attack had wreaked havoc. Worst of all, Vermalanx was nowhere to be seen, seemingly oblivious to his subjects’ cries for deliverance.
Turning, Kratsik smashed a Dryad to the ground with his plague censer, then chittered a command to the embattled Plague Furnace crew. Kicking away the sylvaneth attempting to clamber onto the carriage, the crew-rats wrenched on their ropes and chains. With a discordant clang, the Plague Furnace’s mechanism released, allowing its great censer to swing forward in a wide arc.
The moan coming from within the censer became a wail of anguish as the huge metal ball swung into the melee. Its crushing weight pulverised Dryads and Plague Monks alike, but the worst was yet to come. Rolling forth in agreat cloud, the rot-smog engulfed aswathe of the battlefield, annihilating everything it touched.
Dryads collapsed, bodies melting away in seconds to leave steaming puddles of sludge. Plague Monks fell too, squealing their last amid the fumes. Yet as the cloud dispersed, it was clear that the sylvaneth had suffered worse. Dryads by the score simply dissolved. Even noble Lorhaldh was down on hands and knees, one side of his body reduced to a huge, festering wound. His strangleroots thrashed at the skaven nearby, but they darted clear.
Kratsik, seeing his chance, broke into a manic charge. His claws splattered through rotting muck as he ran. He leapt from a fungus-stump, plague censer arcing high. The toppled Treelord raised a branch to stay the blow, in doing so brushing a cloud of vile rot-smog. His features twisted in revulsion as the limb sloughed away into mulch. Kratsik’s censer whirled, its smoking ball mashing Lorhaldh’s face into rotting wood and rancid sap. Kratsik stamped his feet and screeched in victory as the Treelord fell dead. 92
At the same moment, a discordant blaring of horns sounded from the southern edge of the clearing. The Lady of Vines turned her horrified gaze from poor, slain Lorhaldh to behold the hulking warriors now forcing themselves between the fungus-riddled trees. As if matters had not been desperate enough, now the bloated servants of Nurgle had joined the fight. Heaps of dead skaven lay everywhere, far more than remained standing, but the Branchwraith’s forces were also in disarray, shocked by the sudden deaths of so many of their own.
Bellowing their glottal war cries, the Blightkings charged. Their axes and scythes swung in ponderous arcs, cutting Dryads down to bleed ruddy sap into the muck. As one, the surviving sylvaneth recoiled, panic blooming in their hearts. The Lady hissed her rage, vines lashing out to punch through the nearest swollen warrior and tear him messily in two. She grasped for the flowing magic of the land, dragging a mass of thorned tendrils from the ground to tangle the Blightkings’ legs. But they would not be stopped, stomping down root and liana with pox-riddled blades swinging.
It was at that moment that Lord-Celestant Gardus charged from the trees. Catching sight of the suppurating servants of Nurgle, the Stormcast lord roared with a fury that bordered on madness. Gardus brought his weapons to bear, hammer smashing a Blightking’s head from its blubbery neck even as his blade cut the legs from another. The hammer came back down to shatter the Rotbringer’s skull. Divine lightning crackled from Gardus as he slew over and over, burning away the slurry that caked his armour and setting the Putrid Blightkings aflame. So great was Gardus’ wrath that he blazed like a newborn sun, white fires lining him like an aura. Try as they might, the Blightkings could not stop his onslaught.
As the servants of Nurgle were smote to the ground, the sylvaneth renewed their assault. Maddened by grief, Thellembhol stormed forward, kicking skaven from his path. Strangleroot slashed out, ensnaring the ramshackle structure of the Plague Furnace. Bellowing his fury, the Treelord wrenched the foul contraption sideways, sending it crashing down into the Plague Monks that surrounded it. Its censer split, spilling a billowing cloud of red hot ashes that melted ratmen to gory sludge.
Kratsik watched in disbelief as his last warriors burned. How could this be? He screeched long and loud, beseeching Vermalanx for aid, but the Corruptor was nowhere to be seen. 93 y 94
Instead, it was the Lady of Vines who approached, striding from the swirling ashes with her thorned tendrils lashing. Kratsik snarled, baring his fangs. But instead of charging, the Branchwraith halted a stone’s throw away, answering his challenge with a hiss of contempt.
The Lady of Vines fixed her eyes on something over Kratsik’s shoulder. The Plague Priest span, his snarl curdling into a frightened croak as Thellembhol loomed over him. Kratsik spat the first syllables of an incantation that would turn the monster’s sap to sludgy pus, but he knew he was already too late.
A massive foot rose, and then slammed down again as Thellembhol stamped the life from the vile skaven who had slain his seed-sibling. 94
Chapter Two: War of Life
The Oak of Ages Past
Having shattered the Dirgehorn and slain its bestial defenders, the Stormhosts left Profane Tor for the smog-shrouded reaches below. There a lambent glow wound ever closer. Its light was so warm it could hardly belong to an evil creature.
There was great jubilation when Lord Gardus emerged from the twilit undergrowth, borne upon a living throne of wicker like some Ghyranite saint. As one the Hallowed Knights knelt, blades held forth in allegiance. With them saluted Astral Templars, Guardians of the Firmament and many Stormhosts besides. Gardus was rejuvenated by the sight of his brothers, just as they were energised by his return. All had heard of his sacrifice at the Gates of Dawn. That he had returned alive was miraculous.
Many questions were levelled at Gardus, most born from awe and admiration. He told of his travails in the Garden of Nurgle, though it cost him both physically and emotionally to speak of them. In the long weeks of his exile, he had fought not only to survive, but to stay one step ahead of Bolathrax, the Great Unclean One. In doing so he had uncovered many a surreal sight – including, he said softly, the location of Alarielle’s Hidden Vale. Athelwyrd’s essence had been reflected in Nurgle’s realm all along, but the daemons of Nurgle were simply unable to look upon it, and thus remained oblivious to its presence. His tone strange, Gardus said that only a pure soul could perceive it. It was clear to all who listened that the Lord-Celestant did indeed hold that honour, even after his terrible ordeals. 129
Not an hour passed without Gardus’ hard-won wisdom being sought by his fellows. How had his sojourn lasted weeks when only a few days had passed in Rotwater Blight? How had he confounded Nurgle in his own garden, and lived to tell of it? What of the sylvaneth he encountered in the Glade of Horned Growths? A shadow passed over the Lord-Celestant’s features whenever he was forced to recall his ordeals, and his answers were guarded. But his sense of duty prevailed, and he treated each of his brothers with patience and respect.
That eventide, after hearing of his brothers’ victory over the Dirgehorn, Gardus told the Hallowed Knights a tale in his turn. The Lord-Celestant gathered his officers around the cleansing light of Lorrus Grymn’s lantern, secretly hoping the artefact’s light would remove the tarnish from his soul as he spoke of matters that would ruin the minds of lesser men.
In order to locate the Hidden Vale, they must find the Oak of Ages Past – celestial driftwood cast through the void to settle in Ghyran’s misty swamps.Though only a part of that gnarled old tree had survived the cataclysm that befell the world-that-was, that splinter had grown vast, glutted on the energies of Ghyran. One end of the Oak was twisted and foul, its roots mutated into questing tentacles and dribbling mouthparts. The other end, however, remained pure. Green flowers and new shoots tentatively unfurled from its budding twigs, and a stream of immaculate water flowed from its trunk, becoming a river that bestowed life-giving energy to the lands.
Scant distance away, even this once pure watercourse had been tainted by Nurgle’s greed. Night after night Bolathrax had lumbered in pursuit of Gardus, mocking him as he went. The garrulous greater daemon boast of the many foes ranged against the Stormcast Eternals. Amongst them was a Great Unclean One, known as Pupa Grotesse, that squatted mid-stream to be foul the once-clean watercourse.
Since Pupa Grotesse had settled into his new home, the waters south of his lumpen buttocks became a flood of infected fluids – his vileness was so potent his hourly ablutions saw the waters turn filthy rather than his blubbery flesh turn clean. That repugnant watercourse had once been called the River Vitalis, but was now better known as Gelid Gush. It would have to run clear once more, for in order for the Stormhosts to reach Alarielle and request her aid, they would have to pass through it. The Hallowed Knights must fight their way to the mouth of the Gush and slay the daemon at its heart.
Dawn broke, and the Stormhosts plunged on. Tendrils and thorn-vines recoiled from Gardus’ path as he strode forth, new energy in his steps. With the hideous din of the Dirgehorn gone, the Stormhosts gained momentum. They reached the Vulturine Geysers in a matter of hours, intending to press onwards along the wide sprawl of moss-covered cairnstones that served as Rotwater Blight’s only true road. Those strange springs, which once birthed beautiful paradise birds in great plumes of feathers, now spat copious gobbets of infected oil. Within the black morass flapped the creatures that had given the geysers their new name; drip-winged carrion birds with cruel beaks that took flight at the Stormhost vanguard’s approach. Spraying black liquids lef tand right, they fell upon the Liberator retinues at the fore. 131 y 132
Gardus shouted a command, and Prosecutor-Prime Tegrus took wing, his warriors following close behind.
Whilst the Liberators below raised shields to block their attackers and Judicators fired arrows to make sure of each kill, Tegrus and his brethren hurled hammers of raw force at those carrion flapping unsteadily through the air above.
In a matter of minutes the ground was covered in avian corpses and tar-slicked feathers, and Tegrus had returned to his Lord-Celestant with news. From the air he had seen the Oak of Ages Past, its enormous hollow trunk unmistakable as it jutted on the horizon. An arboreal city smouldered in its shadow. To the east, something massive did indeed bulge upwards at the oak’s widest end, but the landmark’s nature was obscured by a dark and swirling mist. To the northwest, Tegrus had seen strange floating islands, their snow-capped peaks crowned by ugly green clouds.
To the northeast, a pale swathe of foulness smudged the Blight as Gelid Gush wound to the opposite horizon. If they made for its riverbank, suggested Tegrus, they merely had to follow its flow upstream and they would eventually reach their quarry.
Gardus thanked the Prosecutor-Prime for his advice, but in his heart he knew that simply marching up to Pupa Grotesse would be impossible. To tarry in water polluted by a greater daemon would kill even a Stormcast Eternal –or worse, infect him with supernatural sickness that could claim his soul. The gate to Alarielle’s vale would not be reached quite so easily. Even should they slay Grotesse, his foulness would likely damn them all in the process. Nonetheless, he spoke a quiet command, and the Hallowed Knights strode onward. 132
The Battle of Rotwater
Perhaps, if it were not in the nature of the Hallowed Knights to simply endure, the solution would have come to them sooner. Rather than discuss their next move, the Stormhosts ploughed onwards in stoic lockstep. For many long days they navigated the wilderness of Rotwater Blight, finding only strife.They clashed many times against the foul minions of Chaos, from running battles against pestilent skaven to the siege of Slaugoth’s Rotfane, but took not a single backward step. None gain said Gardus’ dogged approach, for he was a hero to all, and even the other Lord-Celestants looked to him for guidance. But with every day that passed, Nurgle’s influence waxed stronger. The creeping corruption of Rotwater Blight was once more taking its toll.
It was the sound of battle that brought them to their senses, the screams of the dying waking the Stormcast Eternals like splashes of cold water in a sleepwalker’s face. Those screams, though born of true agony, were extremely high pitched.
No ordinary clash was this. Many of Gardus’ vanguard blinked in disbelief as they took in the tableau ahead.
Hundreds of fat-bellied plague daemons no bigger than a swamp grot’s head were splashing and squealing in the roadside mire as they slashed, clawed and bit at foes even stranger than they. Ranged against the Nurglings were scores of diminutive forest spites, brightly-hued and peculiar. Their forms ranged from thorned serpents to giant dragonflies glowing with inner light, and their intelligence was impressive – Lorrus Grymn raised an eyebrow to see the mismatched creatures enacting a perfect pincer attack. The forest spites would likely have had the upper hand, despite being badly outnumbered. 133 y 134
Unfortunately for them, the bulbous and disgusting beast-rider leading the daemon assault fought like a cruel goliath set loose amongst children.
Massive of gut, head a gurning likeness of his Nurgling charges, Morbidex Twiceborn swung a long-bladed scythe from atop his towering pox maggoth. His eyeless steed, Tripletongue, sweptits simian arms through the army of forest spites, casting handfuls through the air even as its warty tongues yanked others into its mouth. Steed and rider alike were so intent on slaughter they spared not a glance for the road, nor the swamp bubbling around it.
Gardus silently motioned his Judicators to the edge of the swamp, letting the tip of his blade fall as the signal for the killing to begin. Skybolts sizzled from behind a shield wall of Liberators, each bursting the blubbery gut of a plague daemon in a spray of vile fluids.
Prosecutors took flight, winging towards the beast rider still cutting down forest spirits at the heart of the fight. The rest of the Stormcast Eternals, faces set behind their masks, drew their weapons and started forward.
It was then that Morbidex’s unnatural grin grew wider still. His trap was sprung as from the other side of the road, behind the column of Stormcast warriors that had turned to watch the fray, the festering swamp began to boil. Rising from the muck, brackish water sluicing from their stooped and suppurating frames, came a horde of Nurgle’s tallymen. Those at the rear muttered a monotonous chant, counting the diseases abroad in the swamp, but Wrech Gab’larr, the daemon herald at their front, was deathly silent. He and his daemonguard stared with malign intent at the backs of the Stormcast Eternals, eyes wide as they fell upon the trespassers with plagueswords jabbing. 134
The daemons shoved their blades into the rearmost ranks, hoping to see diseases blossom in great measure. They were greatly disappointed. Rust curses had little effect upon sigmarite, and wherever a blow proved fatal, their victim swiftly discorporated ina blur of azure energy. Moments later the daemons’ crestfallen expressions turned to surprise, then horror. At abarked command from Gardus, the Stormcast Eternals turned as one. A thicket of blades thrust outwards to sizzle into pox-raddled flesh, and with a series of crackling pops, ranks of Plaguebearers simply disappeared in puffs of foul-smelling gas. Maggoty tongue protruding from his lips, Wrech Gab’larr hacked a gap in the Stormcast lines, determined to bury his choice poxes in Stormcast flesh. The daemon had fought in Ghyran before – mortal prey usually quaked in terror whenever he so much as looked at them. Somehow, though, these silver-armoured knights remained stoic, fighting back with finely-tempered fury.
At the head of the Stormcasts' counterattack was Gardus, the white fires of his purity blazing across sigmarite to scorch and burn the foe. Whilst his Liberators crushed the Nurgling swarms, he fought towards Wrech Gab’larr. Hammers fell, horned heads burst in explosions of toxic fluids. Nurgle’s tallymen had not expected anything like this level of resistance. At a shouted cry from Wrech, the Plaguebearers belly-flopped into the swamp, digging into the muck and disappearing from sight. Left alone, Morbidex Twiceborn lost his taste for battle, and kicked his maggoth deeper into the swamp. Tegrus soared in pursuit, but Gardus called him back, reticent to lose another warrior to the swamp’s dire curse.
The Stormhosts were redressing their ranks when a frog-limbed spite flew its owl steed into their path. The spite warbled and squeaked, and Gardus was surprised to find he understood its meaning; the spites would pay their debt any way they could. Gardus explained the Stormhosts’ dilemma – they had no way of passing through the poisoned waters of Gelid Gush. The frog-thing clicked its fingers, turned its mount, and headed north. Gardus, who had seen a strange nobility in the tiny creature, followed behind.
The alliance proved wise. The forest spites led the Stormcast Eternals along secret paths, emerging through a veil of vines into the ruins of Arborea. The treetop city was impressive despite its dilapidation, but for all its faded glory, it was dwarfed by the floating mountain that hovered above it. The Stormcasts’ greatest test yet was ahead of them. 135
At the fore of the floating island stood Lord Gardus, looking down on the green-grey reaches of Rotwater Blight as a ship’s captain would survey a stormy sea. The Stormhosts massed behind him, lost in a mixture of wonder and horror. There was the Oak of Ages Past, larger than a range of foothills. From its end flowed a ribbon of pure crystalwater, turning midstream to a flow of putrid slop.
Their quarry, the greater daemon Pupa Grotesse, wallowed in the distance.The faint strains of his operatic bass drifted up to the Stormhosts as the mountainous blubber-fiend scrubbed his armpits and buttocks with a knobbly boulder. As the isle grew closer, Tegrus’ keen eyes picked out hordes of plaguebeasts frolicking and splashing around their lord.
In the heartlands of Rotwater Blight stood Ethrac Glott, his daemonflies whispering to their master of the danger in the sky. Stoking the long-smouldering bones of his parents in his brazier, Ethrac summoned a great swarm of daemons. Then he ordered Ghurk to bear his siblings towards the World Pimples at the edge of the Gush. The daemons flew skyward. Before the hour was out an aerial battle erupted around the floating isle, Plague Drones soaring in to engage the Prosecutors defending it. Many a daemon was banished, just as many a blade-winged warrior was sent spiralling to the distant slop. The isle itself, however, continued to float on.
Ghurk Glott reached the World Pimples as the floating isle passed overhead. At the behest of his brother Otto, the lumpen giant squeezed the largest of the World Pimples with his giant tentacle, bursting it in a tremendous geyser of pus. The fluid splashed across the underside of the floating island, disrupting the magic that was holding it aloft.
The island fought with every ounce of its spirit to stay aloft, but it ailed still from the vile rains that had tainted it. The floating mountain drifted lower and lower until it plunged into the shallows of Gelid Gush, crushing entire mobs of plague daemons and sending a tsunami of infected water surging over Pupa Grotesse. Wobbling with anger at having his ablutions interrupted, the greater daemon yanked a rusted flail from the water and smashed it into the foremost Stormcast Eternals. Many perished, but the survivors charged in with hammers and swords raised.
Grotesse waved a fat hand, and packs of slug-like monstrosities bounded forth, flolloping and splashing through the river to fall upon the Stormcast Eternals. Eager to play with their new friends, the creatures shrugged off stab wounds and hammer blows as they bellied and crushed their way through the Stormcast ranks. Only the Retributors proved capable of felling them, each hammer blow shrivelling the slimy beasts into gobbets of wet ash. 137 y 138
Pupa Grotesse grew increasingly angry as the battle raged on. Boulder-sized fists flew, and Stormcast Eternals were crushed, their bloody cadavers swiftly discorporating. The skull-flail whirled, and whole retinues were hurled back like broken dolls. Though hundreds of Gardus’ men charged in, few had strength enough to fight through the thick slop around the monster’s haunches, and those that did found their blows rebounding harmlessly from his elephantine hide. Even the axes of the Decimators did little more than draw thin traceries of black blood. In contrast, the greater daemon’s every swipe sent shattered bodies flying through the air. Many vanished in blazes of blue light, others splashed down to be claimed by noxious waters.
Gardus shared a glance with his Lord-Relictor, Morbus, before bludgeoning his way towards the greater daemon. His sigmarite hammer crackled with white fire as he slew Plaguebearer and Beast of Nurgle alike. Morbus came close behind, lightning crackling across his reliquary to spark out in a thick bolt that grounded upon Pupa Grotesse. This time the Great Unclean One took note. The daemon roared a spell that saw a dozen of Morbus’ Protectors turned to boiling mush, and reached out to pluck Morbus from the mire and bring the Lord-Relictor towards his yawning maw. Gardus took his chance, running up a stump of rotten driftwood and shouting the daemon’s name.
The Great Unclean One’s eyes grew wide in alarm, for Gardus had used not his usual epithet, but his true name – spoken by the over-talkative Bolathrax during his taunting pursuit in the Garden of Nurgle. Morbus, still clutched in the beast’s hand, took his chance. He called out to the tempest – and the tempest answered. Crackling bolts split the skies, swathing Grotesse in sacred lightning. Morbus chanted louder, and Pupa Grotesse’s flesh began to smoulder black. A deafening bang, and the daemon exploded like a sack of rotting offal left too long in the sun.
As soon as the curse of the Great Unclean One’s foulness was gone, the sparkling stream flowed pure once more, its scintillating waters eating away like acid at the daemon horde even as it invigorated the Stormhosts. The Hallowed Knights plunged once more into the fray, and this time, there was no stopping them. Before the night was out, the daemon host was slain, and the River Vitalis was born anew. 138
Chapter Three: Ghyran's Last Hope
Nurgle’s war upon Ghyran was five centuries old when the Stormcast Eternals arrived. When Sigmar’s armies arrived, they beheld a land swollen, near to bursting, with foul disease, the air thick with contagion.
Known also as the Jade Kingdoms, the Realm of Ghyran was divided into different fiefdoms – some huge continental empires, others contained within a single airborne isle. Over the years, those kingdoms, large or small, fell to disease. One by one, they were rotted from within. Great toweroaks turned black, while life-giving rivers were beslimed. Many human tribes survived plagues only to turn to the worship of Nurgle. Behind the sicknesses came armies. Armour-clad warriors, abominations and daemonic legions despoiled all in their wake.
Yet the flora and fauna of Ghyran were hardy, sprouting anew. Beneath mounded feculence curled new fronds, their wholesome magic cleansing the filth. So long as Alarielle remained, the lands could not truly be conquered. She was the Queen of the Radiant Woods, the spiritual embodiment of the cyclic Realm of Life. Once, long ago, she had joined Sigmar’s Pantheon, for it was the God-King who had awakened the slumbering queen in the Age of Myth. Since then, though, she had drifted from godly councils, seeking peace amongst the lifeblooms of her realm.
When Chaos first came to Ghyran, Alarielle led the resistance, but as her lands mutated, the Radiant Queen began to retreat. Always, foul forces found her hidden glens. Using all her enchantments, Alarielle retired to her ultimate sanctum – the secret vale of Athelwyrd. From there, she fuelled a guerrilla war, revitalizing befouled lands as others wilted. The Plague God’s legions relentlessly sought Athelwyrd, but Alarielle’s wards were strong. 2.17
Into this dismal setting came the Stormcast Eternals. Led by the Hallowed Knights, many Stormhosts descended from the Heavens to begin shattering the iron grip of Chaos. While the Stormhosts battled to reclaim Realmgates or seal corrupted portals, they sent forth emissaries to re-establish old bonds, yet Alarielle remained hidden, unwilling to meet with her former allies. Some sylvaneth forces arrived to battle alongside the Stormcasts against their common foes, although these were alliances of need rather than any pact made with the consent of their queen.
While desperately seeking audience with Alarielle, the Stormcasts found a hidden route into Athelwyrd, but were followed. A great battle erupted as the forces of Chaos emerged in the hidden vale, driving the Radiant Queen out from her last remaining sanctuary. 2.18
Alarielle’s shriek of anguish rang across the Jade Kingdoms. Each domain – from far-flung empires of skyborne forests to the deepest reefcastles beneath briny seas – knew of Athelwyrd’s fall. In that moment, trees bowed, waterfalls halted and hills shivered. If the best protected of all Ghyran’s hidden refuges was lost, then it was only a matter of time before the last enclaves were found and despoiled. Despair ruled the land.
The fighting retreat out of Athelwyrd was a frantic series of battles. Many sylvaneth held firm to the end, enraged by the desecrations of the invading hordes. In that hopeless hour, it was the Stormcast Eternals who took over. Against the overwhelming daemontide that swept the valley, the Astral Templars, the Guardians of the Firmament and the last remnants of the other Stormhosts created a blockade, giving their lives to cover the retreat of Alarielle and the Hallowed Knights.
Early in the battle, the goddess Alarielle had called upon arcane powers to smite the foe, yet that fury had dissipated, and her energy was drained. The Lady of Vines, her Branchwraith handmaiden, commanded the bodyguard that formed around the increasingly despondent goddess, and the remaining Hallowed Knights joined them. It was the Branchwraith that led them to the Cascading Path.
To travel the Cascading Path was to enter a magical slipstream, a road that made a mockery of horizons. They followed the Lady of Vines on this path, though she told none their destination, as she took them hundreds of marchdays in moments.
Far above in the Heavens, Sigmar saw the plight of Alarielle and he cast down his remaining Stormhosts to distract her pursuers. The ruse distracted some of Nurgle’s minions, but not all. Torglug also knew of the Cascading Path.
Upon exiting the magical path, the Lady of Vines led her now silent queen across pox-ridden bloomfields. Several brief battles were fought with corrupted beasts that attempted to waylay their flight, but more worrisome were the sounds of rusty bells tolling and the droning of Plaguebearers, which betrayed an army marching hard upon their heels. Prosecutor scouts reported a vast body of water blocking their path, and a chill wind rose suddenly. At that moment, Alarielle collapsed and the sylvaneth cried out. Amidst the panic and confusion, the Lady of Vines started up a low, keening song. 2.19
As the temperatures plummeted, the first thick flakes of snow began to fall from the storm-laden skies.Only moments ago the air was warm and pungent with rot. Now, Alarielle shivered, fading as she curled into a foetal position, strange convulsions seeming to shrink her. As their patron transformed into a fistsized ball of pulsing greenish light, the sylvaneth bowed in deference to the mystic cycle. The Lady of Vines, never halting her keening song, reached out anden closed the green glow within her gnarled finger branches. The snow fell heavier.
With the discordant horns blaring ever closer, Lord-Castellant Lorrus Grymn did not know what to do. The chamber’s Lord-Celestant, Gardus, had been slain during the Battle of the HiddenVale, leaving Grymn to once again assume leadership of the remaining Hallowed Knights. It was his duty to see that Alarielle was protected. Indeed, such were the last words Gardus spoke to him. Grymn looked desperately to the Lady of Vines, hoping for some explanation of the situation, some insight as to a plan, but she had eyes only for the skies, her tremulous song lifted up to the swirling snows, which were quickly turning into a blizzard.
Without breaking her melodious trill, the Lady of Vines began to lead the refugees in the exact direction that Grymn’s Prosecutor scouts claimed was blocked by a horizon-spanning body of water. Seeing that there would be no explanation, Grymn, a master of defence, signalled his remaining forces to form a protective ring that wrapped around the sylvaneth forces.
Were it not for the thickening snows, the enemy army would now be visible, for they were close enough that the trudging clank of armour and the braying of beastmen could be heard. Distant tremors could be felt, as if something colossal were striding closer. Those vibrations emanated not from behind the Stormcast Eternals, though, but from somewhere to the south. Once more, a Prosecutor-Prime was sent winging into the storm to serve as an aerial scout.
The swift return of the Prosecutor-Prime brought only ill reports to Lorrus Grymn. The enemy was fanning out in a horses hoeshape, cutting off escape to the north and south, pinning the Stormcast and sylvaneth forces against the shore. The water itself – the Sea of Serpents, they were told – was without an end that the Prosecutor-Prime could see. The winged scout brought even more alarming news – an enormous mountain of rock and snow was lumbering its way across the rotfields to the south. Its head scraped the clouds, and each stride left behind an impression like a deep lake. 2.21 y 2.22
At last the Lady of Vines spoke, for she had felt the presence of this creature, and knew what it was. This was a Jotunberg – one of the living winters, a mountain that walked. It strode across the Jade Kingdoms, bringing with it an abrupt end to the growing season. It was a rare sight, for the Jotunbergs were few in number and slumbered for centuries in the northern rimelands where, it was said, ice itself was born. This Jotunberg, however, was infected, brought low by some insidious plague of Nurgle’s devising. The glacial ice that formed amongst its ragged peaks pulsed with black energy. Its far-spanning stride was uneven, and even as the encircled forces neared the shore it stumbled and fell. The sudden settling of a mountain caused the ground to form waves, like ripples upon water. Since the first sunrise over Ghyran, such a thing had never before happened, but a Jotunberg was dying.
song penetrated the snowstorm and the cavern-like ears of the fallen mountain, the Jotunberg struggled, causing the ground to quake, and staggered upright once more. Like most creatures of Ghyran, the Jotunbergs owed a pledge to Alarielle, even if they had forgotten it. Although colossal in size and imbued with power to rival the gods, the sealpine creatures were peaceful. To them, their task of bringing winter was everything, and they cared nothing for the affairs of mortals or immortals. Yet something in the Lady of Vines’ song carried a distant echo from a forgotten age, and the massive rockbeast remembered his mother, if but dimly.
With a few strides, the colossus travelled far into the Sea of Serpents, and there it fell and did not rise again. Great waves spread out, but they never crested – a blast of icy air froze them solid with a crackling sound as loud as thunder. Thus, as the Lady of Vines led the sylvaneth and Stormcast Eternals across the shingle, they came not to adead end, but instead to a frozen sea.
Once the combined forces were on theice, Grymn called upon Morbus, the Lord-Relictor. Lifting his relic hammer, Morbus called down lightning. Even as the vanguard of the oncoming hordes left the shingle, the bolts from above struck the ice. Great holes were rent, fragmenting the sheath of ice. Yet enough pathways remained that still the hordes advanced. 2.22
It had been many years since Nurgle had come so close to capturing Alarielle. This time, there would be no hidden sanctuary to retreat to. With all of Ghyran nearly in his meaty grasp, Nurgle’s power waxed stronger, yet ever greedy, Nurgle wanted more. He wanted the queen. The hordes pursuing her defenders felt the lash of their Dark God’s desire, and increased their pace.
Seeing what their allies were attempting, a wargrove of Treelords advanced to stand alongside Morbus. With a grinding crack, root-like limbs burrowed into the thick ice, ripping and tearing. Within moments, they severed the connecting ice bridge, using their immense strength to push the ice so that the gap was too great to leap. Before them, the foetid enemy hordes halted, jeering and cursing.
With their pursuers foiled, Morbus and the Treelords turned, disappearing into the snowstorm to reunite with the rest of their forces. They did not see the coven of hooded sorcerers advance, calling upon their patron.
With his followers so close to claiming the last and greatest prize that the Jade Kingdoms could offer, Nurgle’s attention was riveted upon Ghyran. He heard his servants seeking his aid, and he answered. Chief amongst those sorcerers was Slaugoth Maggotfang, a favoured son, particularly since his vile rains had helped flood Athelwyrd. It was he who first felt the twinge of Nurgle’s blessings, a violent churning within his ample guts, as if a tempest was raging to get out. And so it did.
With a roiling heave, Slaugoth launched forth the contents of his voluminous belly. The impossible geyser of foulness and corruption was joined by streams issuing from each of the plague sorcerers. It was as if they spewed out the very swamp waters of contagion from the Garden of Nurgle itself. The chunk-ridden slurry of ooze thickened in the freezing temperatures, congealing into an arc of filth that spanned the gap over the sea below. On marched the Chaos hordes.
Alerted by the Prosecutors, Grymn ordered half of his Stormcasts to form a defensive line. The Lady of Vines, aware that the precious queen-seed she bore was the only hope for the embattled realm of Ghyran, commanded some of her Dryads and Treelords to aid the rearguard, but kept onwards with her sylvaneth entourage and the remaining Stormcasts at all speed.
The first attackers crashed upon the Liberators’ shield wall, but the silver Stormcast line was unmoving. Swords and shields clanged loudly as more Brayherd gors loped out of the storm. Despite their numbers and savagery, however, the gors were repulsed, hurled back in disarray, leaving behind many dead scattered on the ice. 2.23
The plan to pin the Stormcast Eternals in place while the main army moved around them had wormed its way into Torglug’s mind. As much as the bloatgutted Lord of Plagues wished to simply crush the silver-armoured Stormhost, that mindworm had whispered inside his head. It reminded him that the real prize was escaping, and that none of Nurgle’s minions would be as favoured as the one who captured Alarielle.
Leaving a horde of beastmen to batter the Stormcasts, Torglug and the bulk of his armies bypassed the shield wall. It would have been child’s play to encircle Sigmar’s warriors, but a richer bounty lay ahead. The Chaos forces were so near that they could feel the radiant energies of Alarielle, even if they could not yet see her. Fearing his foes had too large a lead, Torglug ordered swarms of Plague Drones and ravenous packs of warhounds to harry them.
It was difficult to see approaching enemies in the snow squalls that swept across the frozen sea. With little or no warning, the Stormcast and sylvaneth forces were forced to turn and fight many rearguard actions. With lightning-wreathed hammers or raking branchclaws, the defenders easily beat down such trifling attacks – yet the constant skirmishes had the desired effect.
At last, Torglug and his main host emerged out of a blizzard to see their fleeing foes. The Lady of Vines accepted there was little choice but to turn and face the enemy. She hoped to beat them back savagely enough that she could buy time for her forces to cross the ice sea with their precious cargo. At the Lady of Vines’ command, the sylvaneth halted.
The squalls temporarily lifted, revealing a patch of clear blue sky above as the sylvaneth set their battle lines. In the distance, the fallen Jotunberg could be seen, its craggy peaks looming upwards. On and on the Chaos hordes came out of the cloud banks, more and more of them emerging until the Lady of Vines began to quail.
Her plan would not work; there were simply too many foes. To continue to flee was no option – the enemy was too close and they would be caught upon the open ice fields. There was no hope of shaking pursuit, even under cover of the snowstorms, as the Chaos hordes had seemingly locked onto the vibrant energies that emanated from Alarielle. If the sylvaneth and Stormcasts stood to fight, they would be overwhelmed. The Lady of Vines realised their only hope lay in cracking the ice once more. 2.25 y 2.26
As the Chaos Warriors advanced, the Treelords dug, their branches and roots pushing through the ice. Such was the frenzy of their work that showers of frozen shards were sent upwards. However, this time they were not aided by the Lord-Relictor calling down lightnings, and this close to the Jotunberg, the ice shell over the sea was far thicker. Despite their efforts, the sylvaneth could not open a rift before their foes closed upon them.
Judicators sent forth flights of arrows that turned into arcs of lightning as they sped into the oncoming army. Many putrescent warriors fell, but not enough to slow the impetus of the Chaos forces. The clash of the opposing battle lines rang loud, a cacophony of roaring beasts and the thunderous clang of weapons meeting shields. A Slaughter brute crashed through the front ranks, powering its way towards the Lady of Vines. Three Treelords rose up to meet it, striking blows that could shatter rock. Dryads raked with branchclaws to gouge the fell armour of the Chaos Warriors. A Dragon Ogre Shaggoth, at the fore of three dozen of its ancient kind, reared up, bringing down its full, crushing weight to smash asunder the shieldwall of Liberators.
Despite fighting heroically, the Stormcasts and sylvaneth were pushed steadily backwards. Positioned in the safest part of the battle line – the last ranks of the centre – the Lady of Vines could already feel foes pushing towards her. In desperation, she began her song, but upon the frozen sea there were none who could answer it... save perhaps one.
Whether it was because of the din of battle, the Lady of Vines’ song, or even the invigorating presence of Alarielle – no matter her form– the Jotunberg stirred. Perhaps it was simply a final effort to shake off the foul corruption that wracked its rocky system. Even that slightest of movements from so vast a creature was enough to send rolling tremors across the sea and its frozen surface. In many places, the ice cracked and broke apart, and at the weakened section, right beneath the Dragon Ogres, it fell away altogether.
To save the Radiant Queen
There was still hope for Ghyran, so long as the forces of Chaos did not capture Alarielle, who was in the process of transforming her aspect, and was now a glowing soulpod. Although almost pitched into the sea by collapsing ice, the right hand of Alarielle – the Lady of Vines – still bore the precious cargo.
As huge swathes of ice broke apart and a great formation of Dragon Ogres slid roaring into the freezing watersbelow, the Lady of Vines seized theopportunity to flee once more. Sheleft contingents of Dryads to act as adelaying force when the Chaos hordesfinally navigated the rift that hadopened up between the two armies.Further rumblings from the Jotunbergcreated more fissures in the ice, makingfooting treacherous, even as a thick fogdescended, blinding both armies.
Despite the difficulties, the Lady ofVines led the march with great haste.The combination of the relentless paceand the unnatural cold was beginningto take its toll, however. The hardwoodbodies of the sylvaneth were sturdy,able to weather frosts that would killless staunch creatures, but they werestill slowed by the boreal temperatures.With their bloodsap running thick andsluggish, the tree folk creaked withevery crunching stride. Still, onwardsthe sylvaneth ploughed. Mortal menwould have fallen upon such a journey,frozen and exhausted, but the StormcastEternals were not men; they weresomething more. Blessed with the giftsof the gods and empowered by celestiallightnings, they persevered, but eventhey might be worn down. Yet of all theStormhosts, none could claim greaterresolve than the Hallowed Knights.
Before their reforging, those who wouldlater become Hallowed Knights hadworshipped Sigmar, calling his namein battle while fighting for a righteouscause. Their prayers were not answered, but instead, they themselves werecalled into the Heavens. It was therethat Sigmar told them it was not hethat would aid them, but rather theythat could better serve the God-King.‘Much is demanded of those to whommuch is given’ was the First Canticle oftheir founding, and all of the HallowedKnights knew that they were made tosuffer the woes of the world, and toovercome them. Over the ice-winds,their war cry, ‘only the faithful,’ couldbe heard as they advanced. 2.33 y 2.34
It was that unshakable faith andunyielding perseverance that allowedLord-Castellant Lorrus Grymn tolead the surviving members of thefirst shield wall on their own perilousjourney. With Prosecutors scoutingahead, they picked and fought their wayover treacherous ice bridges, seeking toreunite with the main host. 2.34
Stain the ice with their blood
Torglug emerged out of the mists to seehis foe just ahead. He knew it wouldbe wiser to allow the greater part of hisarmy to march over the isthmus andform up as a single battle line ratherthan send units forward piecemeal.However, the Lord of Plague’s patiencehad run out. This time, Torglug was notgoing to be denied. He commanded allhis forces to speed towards the enemy.
Seeing the foul host coming out of thefog bank, the Stormcast Eternals andsylvaneth sought to destroy the ice,creating a gap between the two armies.The last few formations of Prosecutorsfought the strong winds, soaring aloft.From their height, they sought out thegrowing fault lines cracking across thesurface, hurling celestial hammerboltsto enlarge the rifts. From out of themists flew Plague Drones to counterthe winged Stormcasts, and an aerialduel ensued. Serrated daemon-limbsscythed out, while Plaguebearers sweptthe air with their rusted plague swords.Diving and swooping, the Prosecutorsstruck with their blazing hammersand stormcall javelins, sending severalof their foes to splatter upon the icebelow. They were not alone, however,as an equal number of Prosecutorswent spiralling down, stabbed by rotflyprobosces or their wings clippedby plagueswords.
The Hallowed Knights and sylvanethhad opened dozens of separate holesin the ice, but there was not timeto collapse the bridges that stillspanned the icy waters. Even so,Grymn immediately recognised thepotential for a formidable bottleneck.Calling his Hallowed Knights to him,Grymn vowed to hold the oncoming enemies as long as he could. Severalsmaller retinues of both Stormcastsand sylvaneth were hastily organised.These were sent to the other side ofthe bridges, their goal to break the iceeven as the Chaos hordes advancedupon it. Such orders were surely a deathsentence, for they would sink beneaththe frigid waters if they succeeded, andif they did not, they would be at themercy of the oncoming Chaos troops.Those Hallowed Knights assigned tosmash the ice gave the Lord-Castellanta proud salute as they crossed the gapsto begin their final duty. Behind them,the ranks of Liberators clanged togethershields, forming a wall of armour thatstretched across the ice. 2.35 y 2.36
As the Stormcast Eternals spread outto form a defensive barrier, the Lady ofVines continued her journey eastwards.Alarielle’s Branchwraith bodyguard haddirected half of her remaining troopsto stay with Grymn to aid his defence.The rest of the sylvaneth wargrovesclustered around the Lady of Vines andmoved off, disappearing into the nextsnow squall that swept over the plainsof ice.
Despite Chaos Knights rapidly closingupon them, a Retributor retinuecontinued to employ their lightninghammers to smash the ice. TheirRetributor-Prime led the way, swinginghis hammer in great arcs to batteraway at the frozen sea. Goading theirsteeds into a full gallop, the ChaosKnights hurtled forward. Just as thecavalry hit their target, the surfacegave way, the fractured ice breakinginto segments that tilted and capsized.Within moments, all the Knights andRetributors were gone, pulled down bytheir armour into the frigid waters.
Elsewhere, a trio of Treelords attemptedto do the same, but could not finish thetask. A formation of Chosen reachedthem, hewing them with axes until theytoppled. The foul violations and raucousyells of victory that followed onlyhardened the resolve of those sylvanethand Stormcasts that awaited the foe atthe bridgeheads. Judicators unleashedwithering fire upon the Chaos ranks,but still they came.
Although the army that now swarmedacross the frozen fields was a massivehorde, they were forced to squeezethemselves into narrow channels toreach their enemy. In places, the overzealousbeastmen trampled or pushedmany dozens of their own kind to theirdeaths in their eagerness to strike.Heedless of casualties, they pressed on,and one by one, each shield wall wasbeset by the blood-hungry hordes. 2.36
Of all the battles the many chambersof the Hallowed Knights had thus farfought, none was as fiercely contestedas was the Battle of the Frozen Arcs.Both sides fought with fierce tenacity– neither willing to concede a singlefootstep. It was an epic struggle foughtover narrow bridgeways. Upon suchprecarious perches, there was no roomfor manoeuvres, no time for feints –it was kill or be killed. Shields wereshivered and helms crushed as thetwo opposing sides collided. With theback ranks straining to push their ownformation forward, those upon the frontlines stood toe to toe with their hatedenemies. Superhuman champions oneach side traded blows powerful enoughto shatter rock, yet on they fought.The sylvaneth creatures attacked witha desperate fury, for they knew theyfought to save their queen and theirentire realm.
Torglug the Despised grew anxious tobreak the stalemate on the bridges. Hefeared Alarielle might escape again, andhe did not wish to give any other anopportunity to capture Nurgle’s covetedprize. Torglug commanded his lastPlague Drones to swoop from above,but the Hallowed Knights’ Prosecutorscountered them mid-air.
knew that it was all he could do toblockade the dozen or so bridgeways.The onslaught of the Chaos warriorswas terrible. One by one the Liberatorsfell, streaks of blue flashing upwardsinto the darkened skies, replaced inturn by the remaining Retributors andsylvaneth. All the while, the Judicatorsloosed lightning, reaping a fearfulslaughter. The sacrifice of his troopswas hard, but every moment they keptthe Chaos hordes penned westward ofthe bridges ensured that the Lady ofVines was closer to crossing the sea ofice. And there was something else...
Like all the Hallowed Knights, LorrusGrymn knew that Sigmar would notabandon him. Although he had nogift of prophetic vision, he knew thatno matter how dark the situation, nomatter how dire the odds, if he couldfulfil his duty, then all would end well.Grymn knew his liege, Sigmar, had aplan, and it was his role to prove himselfworthy. With every fibre of his being,Grymn knew that much depended uponthis moment. His task was to hold, andhold he would.
On went the battle as the two sidesbattered at one another relentlessly.Despite heroics and great losses uponeach side, neither could press any gains,nor follow up any advantage. 2.37
While the Greenfly Guard and thewarriors of the One-horned battled tothe death, Torglug was not idle. He sentGuthrax the Putrescent behind them.So great was the waddling girth of thefoul greater daemon that he filled theentirety of the central bridge’s expanse,his flail of skulls dragging furrowsin the ice behind him. Next, Torglugordered forward the Slothcrawlers, ahost of Beasts of Nurgle, their tentacleswrithing and their gasping mouthsissuing clouds of green-tinted mistwith every burbling, wheezing breath.Upon Torglug’s command, one of theenormous slug-like creatures shuffledjoyfully to the edge of a rift in the ice,dug its claws in deep and slithered overthe side, thrusting out into the water.Several others followed, each attachingto the last with grasping suckers,extending the line. Slimy secretionsfrom the beasts left oily stains on thechurning waters. The first to strideacross that living bridge was Torglug,marching at the head of his own PutridBlightking bodyguard.
Seeing the looming crisis, Grymn splithis last reserves. He, two Treelordsand a retinue of Protectors would holdthe crossing as Chaos troops movedover the living bridge. A retinue ofDecimators, led by Angstun, theKnight-Vexillor, were sent to aid thethin line of Liberators that was soon tobe beset by a hulking greater daemon,an avalanche of necrotic flesh.
As Guthrax mauled the Liberators,Angstun slammed his standard into theice, calling upon its sacred power.A blue bolt flashed, disappearing intothe low clouds. That call to the Heavenswas answered as a twin-tailed comethurtled down. The ensuing blast shookthe ice bridge, nearly toppling thegreater daemon. As the Decimatorsengaged the foul enormity, the ice,weakened by the comet and gouged bythe flail of skulls, finally cracked andgave way, sending all to their doom.Grymn had no time for sorrow, though,as he moved to counter Torglug at the base of the living bridge. 2.38
Torglug the Despised had no interest inwasting time upon the last remnants ofthe Stormcasts and sylvaneth aroundthe bridges. Leaving such matters tohis lieutenants, Torglug felt the throb ofAlarielle’s vital presence just beyond thehorizon, and he sought to gain groundby marching the bulk of his armiesforward at double-pace.
Now did mighty Sigmar play a personalpart in Alarielle’s deliverance. Fora moment he turned his full godlyattention upon the Realm of Life, longenough to hurl the valiant KnightsExcelsior into battle against Torglug’shordes. The white-armoured Stormhosthad already forged a reputation forthe uncompromising destruction ofthe enemy. That which was not ofSigmaron was cleansed violently andwithout exception.
In flashes that smote the frozen sea,Knight-Azyros Diomar and almostthe entire Firefists Warrior Chamberarrived. Thus began a new series ofconflicts, as the Knights Excelsiorsought to impede the Chaos advance.Torglug, so close to his prize, keptpushing, ordering segments of hisforces to peel off from the mainarmy to contend with the interlopers.Meanwhile, mixed groups of HallowedKnights and sylvaneth fought on. A group of Judicators and Dryads, led by the bleeding, one-handed Lorrus Grymn, smashed into the Threespinetribe, destroying them utterly. Lord-Relictor Morbus, his skull-helm halfshorn away by raking claws, and hisarmour dented and oozing blood, stillsummoned lightning upon the enemy.It was not one single battle being foughtacross the icy wastes, but a hundred.
Called forth by the vile mage Slaugoth Maggotfang and his Plague Coven, mutated beasts of the deep tore their way up through the ice. The creatures slowed the progress of those fleeing Torglug. The Lady of Vines was forced to backtrack as great larval horrors rose up, cracking the ice as they sought to swallow whole any they could reach. With the aid of this distraction, the hard-pressing vanguard of Torglug’s host was finally able to close upon its quarry. Just as the statue-lined shore became discernible in the distance, the Lady of Vines was forced to slow her march. Winter’s touch was lessening here, and the ice was far thinner, already cracked and treacherous. The Branchwraith knew it would require slow and careful manoeuvring to pick their way across. There was no choice but to turn to face the oncoming foe. 2.39
Chapter Four: Wrath Unbound
Peril ahead and behind
The Branchwraith known as the Ladyof Vines was amongst the most devotedof Alarielle’s lieutenants. She was theQueen of the Radiant Wood’s righthand – quite literally, for she was anoffshoot born of Alarielle’s own severedright hand. The goddess’ hand grewback, as her blood sung with the magicof life itself, while the sundered handtook on a life of its own.
The Lady of Vines was gnarled,weathered by uncounted centuries ofbattle, for she had served as a captain ofwar since the Age of Myth. During herlong service to her Queen-mother, theBranchwraith had witnessed Alariellein many stages of the cycle. Throughoutthe War of Life, Alarielle’s championshad weathered the increasing torporand melancholy of their goddess’ leanseasons, hoping for a return to vitality,dreading that their godly mother mightnever again achieve fullest bloom orwield the wrath of the summer tempest.Now, with Alarielle starting anothermetamorphosis, the Lady of Vines had adesperate plan.
All in Ghyran knew that a seed – nomatter how full of life or energy – mustbe nurtured to blossom. It was thus forthe toweroaks, who craved soil, rain andsunlight, and the same was true of thoseflora and fauna birthed in the eldritchforces. To grow to their fullest, rivernyads needed to bathe in the magicrichpools beneath waterfalls, while thelunesprites’ cycles followed the waxingand waning of the moon. What then ofthe soulpod of a goddess? The Lady ofVines was a battle leader, and the growspritetenders were left behind, lost inthe ruin of Athelwyrd.
The Lady of Vines feared for Alarielle,for the goddess was vulnerable in hersoulpod stage. In her rootheart, shefeared Alarielle – worn and despondentfrom the toll wracked on her lands –might lie fallow and not grow at all. 2.122
Perhaps she was a barren seed, one thatwould bear no fruit. Or, worse still, itmight be that the unnatural blight ofher nemesis had contaminated her. Ifso, her rebirth would not be a thingof glory, but a scene of revulsion, amaggot-birth of twisted, crawlingthings unfit for the natural world.
It was the Lady of Vines’ plan to takeAlarielle’s soulpod along the Path ofthe Purified, cleansing the pulsing lightof any corruption that had taken root.Then, mounting Blackstone Summit,the Branchwraith hoped to plantAlarielle upon the memorial erectedover the site of one of Ghyran’s greatesttriumphs. Below, upon the plains ofPeth, the Jade Kingdom tribes hadunited to defeat Chaos during the FirstWar of the Ironthorne Wall. Amongstthe bones of those fallen champions,Alarielle’s soulpod should absorb onlyglory, heroic deeds, and vengeance. 2.123
The Blood God’s aim was unerring, theimpact of the comet near instantaneous,but something else was quicker still.Alarielle was vulnerable, yet a spellraced down from the stars themselvesto protect her. An invisible domesurrounded the Radiant Queen, and therage-comet was shunted away, crashingdown in a forest of stone trees.
Skarbrand rose from the flame-rimmedcrater and roared. Although he wasalready Khorne’s rage made manifest,that he had been bound by the BrassChain made the greater daemon morefurious still. In a flurry of bellowingrage, Skarbrand laid about him,stomping his cloven hooves, snarlingfire, and swinging his axes.
All around Skarbrand, the stone treescracked and fell, engulfed in hellfire.It was not flames alone that pouredfrom the greater daemon, for suchwas Skarbrand’s berserk fury that itdrew forth a red mist from out of theRealm of Chaos. The blood fog pulsatedwith hate, quickly coalescing into adaemonhost, his own Legion of Exiles.
Crimson-skinned Bloodletters stretchedout their long limbs, their tonguessnaking out to taste the sheer ragethat hung in the air around the beingthat had once been Khorne’s greatestMarshal of Warhosts. Flesh Houndsgnashed their razor-sharp teeth, theirreptilian frill-crests fanning as theyhowled at the promise of impendingbloodshed. Bloodcrushers of Khornestamped, the beasts of brass snortingcurls of flame in their eagerness towreak havoc.
Even in his blind fury, Skarbrand feltsurging life energy nearby. Leaving awake of broken ruin behind him, theExiled One stalked off in Alarielle’sdirection. Staying clear of his arcingaxe strokes, the daemon army followed.Doom and bloodletting awaited...
Yet it was not just the eye of almightyKhorne that had been drawn tothe conflict unfolding in the realmof Ghyran. The uneasiness in thestars themselves had awakened LordXen’phantica from his cosmic slumber. 2.126
The Path of the Purified
Many varied and mystical seasons hadpassed since the Lady of Vines hadlast visited the province of Blackstone.Once, in the Age of Myth, the kingdomhad been amongst the most prominentwithin the realm of Ghyran. Thecitizens of Blackstone had sacrificedmuch to honour the Radiant Queen,and in turn, Alarielle had granted manyboons, making the lands fertile beyondbelief. It had been a paradise of bounty,not the bleak landscape seen today.
It was Blackstone that had borne thewrath of the initial Chaos incursionsinto Ghyran. The Long Peace wasshattered, and many battles werefought across these lands. At first,great glories were won; the noble sonsof the Blackstone settlements alliedthemselves alongside sylvaneth forces.The Lady of Vines remembered it well,for she had been there. She marched atthe head of an army during the FirstWar of the Ironthorne Wall, where theyproved victorious. Then the lands werestill green and fair, but more battlesfollowed, and terrible betrayals.
Many within the armies of men andsylvaneth had become corrupted,turning upon their own kind. Distrustwas rife even as new hosts of daemonsattacked the lands. It was then thatthe druidic cults which worshippedAlarielle pooled their arcane might tocreate the Path of the Purified. It wassaid that only those free of the taintof Chaos could traverse its length, bethey fey creature or mortal. Built alongley lines of power and imbued withpowerful magics, it was a journey thattested mind and body, and those whocompleted the trek were proven loyal.
As the Lady of Vines led her warwearyparty of sylvaneth and StormcastEternals along the path, she noted howmuch had changed. The GreengyrForest had once teemed with life, butnow the land was barren. The trees themselves were petrified, and twistedfaces could be seen upon their gnarledtrunks and twisted branches. Many ofthe menhirs along the path had beentoppled, but the Lady of Vines had nodoubts that the purifying magic wasstill at work. 2.144 y 2.145
Those of the sylvaneth who had foughtlongest against the Chaos forces glowedwith a green light. Treelord Haldrootgleamed brightest of all. It was notan eerie aura, but something morewholesome, as if corruptions were beingburnt away. The Stormcast Eternals, shenoted, were not affected – they carriedwith them only the same faint blueshimmer of celestial energies that wasmore prominent in their rage. Therewas no sign of their pursuers. The Ladyof Vines doubted the Chaos forceswould dare that path, but she feared itswinding nature would allow their foesto steal a march upon them. 2.145
Battles raged across all the realms, andevery faction was busy weaving plotsfor their own supremacy, yet the eyes ofthe gods were drawn inexorably towardsa single nexus. All sought to sway theevents unfolding in Ghyran in theirown favour, for the fall of a god or of anentire realm would drastically alter thebalance of power.
Never one for patience, almightyKhorne had been the first to act. Jealousof the prize about to be seized by hisbrother, Nurgle, the Blood God hadsent forth his own champion to stealthe glory for his own cause. Tzeentchhad watched the unfolding eventsclosely. He stood ready to drop his othermachinations in order to interveneshould Khorne’s plan succeed. TheChanger of Ways could not afford tosee his rival become more powerfulstill, for already Khorne ruled thelargest swathe of realms, mortal andimmortal alike. Even to far-seeingTzeentch, however, the seraphon attackhad come as a surprise. Not even hispowers of prediction could foresee theintervention of the ineffable slann, theirmotives and actions alien even to him.
Nurgle, with his minions so close tohis long-sought quarry, was besidehimself. His normally garrulousnature turned tense and focussed.Grown flush with power from therampant plagues, Nurgle channelledall his diseased energies towards hischampions. Of his seven greatestlieutenants in Ghyran, all were pinned inbattle, save only Torglug the Despised,a favoured son who was waxingstrong. At his call were daemoniclegions and into him were poured theutmost of Nurgle’s corrupted gifts,so that the Chaos Lord was swollennear to bursting, with all the power amortal could contain.
Other gods, too, felt the rising doom.Red eyes peered out of the mists ofUlgu, and deep in the Labyrinth ofLight, another paused, sensing thelooming import. Sigmar, watching fromHigh Azyr, called back to the Heavensthe one warrior he might send to thesuccour of Alarielle.
The column of sylvaneth and StormcastEternals had left the stone forest andascended the Great Stair that wound upto their journey’s end, the BlackstoneSummit. The sickly green clouds thatclogged the skies above were pregnantwith menace, the Prosecutors flyinglow until they all reached the plateau ofthat flat-topped mountain. A horrifyingsight awaited them – blocking theirpath was Torglug the Despised, atthe fore of a mighty warhost thatoutnumbered Alarielle’s guardiansmany times over. There was no choicebut to fight through them... 2.146
Battle of Blackstone Summit
When the Celestant-Prime manifested out of the lightning strike, Torglug the Despised thought at first that the Great Enemy, Sigmar himself, had arrived. Certainly the greater daemons amongst his host recognised the hammer the radiant warrior bore– for only the most powerful of their kind could stand to gaze upon it. Each Plaguebearer lowered its lone eye, hissing contempt. In that moment, both armies stood as if frozen. Alongside the hammer of legend, the Celestant-Prime also carried a gleaming sceptre. Hovering above the ground in a storm of celestial magic,the Celestant-Prime raised this to the skies and a light appeared, faint at first, then growing brighter. Closer and more brilliant it grew, until a blazing twin-tailed comet ripped through the cloud cover, its fiery roar the challenge of the Heavens itself.
The hurtling meteorite smashed into the enemy’s battle line with ground shaking force, and an explosion of celestial energies blossomed, sending broken Plaguebearers skywards. At this signal from their champion, the Stormcast Eternals charged as one. Battle cries of ‘Only the faithful’ and ‘For Sigmar’ rang loud as the scions of the God-King rushed forward. With Ghal Maraz thrust high before him, the Celestant-Prime led them.
For a moment, Torglug stood agog. He had been relishing the thought of dismantling the goddess’ small army of protectors, of wrenching the glowing orb of her presence from the disease-wracked tree folks or their armoured comrades. Now, it was they who were charging his own legions. With a booming laugh,Torglug shook off the shock. Hefting his axe high, the Lord of Plagues shambled forward, motioning his army to charge. 2.148
The opposing battle lines met with a clash of metal on metal. On ther ight flank of the Celestant-Prime came Lord-Castellant Lorrus Grymn,still leading his Hallowed Knights in the absence of their Lord-Celestant. Inspired by the avatar of Sigmar, the Stormcasts fought as never before. Into the sea of foes they plunged, their momentum unstoppable. Neither daemon nor Chaos Warrior could stand before them.
The Knights Excelsior held the left flank of the Celestant-Prime, and they were not to be outdone. A lashing storm of lightning filled the air around the Stormcasts, hurling enemies from their feet and scorching their corpses black. With every hammer blow or sword stroke, an enemy fell. Their chamber was all but leaderless – their Lord-Relictor and Lord-Celestant claimed in the fierce fighting on the ice floes. Diomar, too, had been slain upon the frozen ice that covered the Sea of Serpents. Torglug himself had killed him as the Knight-Azyros single-handedly sought to delay pursuit of the Lady Alarielle. Now it was the Knight-Venator, Giomachus, who led the remaining Knights Excelsior. With the sky-archer to the fore, the Stormcasts clove a path into their foes, seeking vengeance for their fallen.
Every one of the Stormcast Eternals battled like heroes, but there was one who fought like no other. Blazing with azure light, the Celestant-Prime swept whole enemy ranks away. Each arcing hammer stroke sent up waves of sundered shields and broken bodies.None could survive contact with his vengeful wrath. For a time, it was as if the battles of old had sprung back to life, harkening back to an era when Sigmar himself strode the battlefields in command of the legions of Order.
Behind the spearhead of armoured warriors from the Heavens came the Lady of Vines. Her sylvaneth wargroves had not yet joined thefray. They too felt the power of the Celestant-Prime, but they were of Ghyran – offspring of Alarielle, not scions of Sigmar. Their first duty was to protect their Queen-mother. The glowing soulpod that Alarielle had transformed into was grasped in the gnarled hands of the Lady of Vines.The Branchwraith could see her goal ,the strange growth that protruded out of Blackstone Summit. Once a proud monument, the deformed obelisk now stood like a spear of twisted rock.
The Lady of Vines knew she must act quickly, for in her branch-hand she could feel the soulpod dwindling, its pulses growing further and further apart as it grew more dormant. It was her plan to sow Alarielle amidst the fallen heroes of her realm. If she could do so, Alarielle would awaken in the full mantle of war. And then let all who opposed her beware... 2.149
With the Celestant-Prime leading the way, the Stormcasts drove deep into the hordes assembled by Torglug the Despised. Such was the impetus of their charge that the warriors of Sigmar soon disappeared out of view of their sylvaneth allies who trailed behind in tight formation.
Confident in the superior strength and size of his armies, Torglug was drawn towards the martial challenge before him. Surrounded by his Blightking bodyguard, the Lord of Plagues set off to intercept the Celestant-Prime,when he felt a twisting in his bloatedgut. Through past experience, noneof which was pleasant, Torglug knew a parasitic rotworm of prodigious size lined the insides of his partially exposed intestines. Like a sick oracle, the twitching intensified when his actions displeased his patron. In his rotted heart, Torglug knew Nurgle did not crave the destruction of his foes as much as he desired to possess the goddess Alarielle. With harsh commands, he motioned forth his Great Unclean Ones, sending them wallowing off towards the head of the Stormcasts’ assault. Torglug himself, however, marched his Blightkings straight toward the sylvaneth forces. Instantly, the roiling in his guts quelled.
Several Treelords strode forward, placing themselves in the path of the oncoming Chaos force. Torglug led his warriors in at a shambling run, smashing head long into the waiting wall of living wood. Even when Blightkings were pulverised beneath stamping root-limbs or pierced by branch-spear fingertips, the rot-swollen warriors continued to hack away. In the presence of Torglug, no wounds seemed fatal. As ancient and powerfu las the Treelords were, they proved to be only a temporary barrier protecting the greatest of prizes.
The Celestant-Prime had not forgotten his true mission. Even in the maelstrom of the combat that raged all around him, the avenging angel of Azyr sensed the threat moving towards Alarielle’s guardians. Once more he called down a comet, the twin-tailed meteor cutting a blazing trail through the thick clouds above. Downwards it streaked, crashing amidst Torglug and his guard as they were dismembering the last twitching branches of their fallen foes. In an explosive geyser of blue flame, broken plate armour and battered flesh, the Lord of Plagues was blasted skywards. 2.150
Infused with unnatural vitality by the polluted downpour, Torglug and his Blightkings pressed on towards the Lady of Vines and her sylvaneth guardians. The clash that followed was unrelenting. The armoured plague warriors buffeted the Dryads and Treelords with axe-blows. Branch limbs were severed and trunks hacked through. Despite the onslaught, the Lady of Vines still held the glowing radiance of Alarielle, and the nearby sylvaneth were able to regenerate lost branches, new growths sprouting before their attackers’ eyes. For their part, the minions of Nurgle proved equally able to shrug off mortal blows. When raking branch-claws tore through armour plate, or bludgeoning root-fists shivered bone, the fallen Blightkings stoodback upright. Even the most horrific of wounds slurpily congealed while pox hardened flesh reknitted. Were that confrontation merely a contest of life giving power, then the two sides would have been evenly matched. Nurgle, however, was also the god of corruption and decay.
The earlier deluge of filth had not just reinvigorated Torglug, but its foetid contaminations had blessed the weapons of Nurgle’s minions. The recently healed wounds of the sylvaneth began to blacken and fester; new-grown limbs withered. No blade was more damaging than Torglug’s, and he hewed down Dryads by the dozen. Step by step he closed upon his quarry. Soon, only a few ranks stood between the Lady of Vines and her pursuer.
Meanwhile, the Stormcast Eternals had wreaked great damage upon Torglug’s host. Hundreds of daemons had fallen to the Celestant-Prime’s assault, while marauder tribes, deprived of the Lord of Plague’s iron will, simply fled. So fiercely did the winged avatar of Sigmar hurl himself into the fray thatthe gleaming warrior disappeared,buried beneath the surging tides of daemon flesh. The Celestant-Prime freed himself in spectacular fashion– with hammer blows that split the air with lightning, or whirling thunderstrikes that caused showering rains of sundered flesh and rancid gore.
It seemed nothing could slow the greatest champion of Azyr until the unholy trinity of Great Unclean Ones struck. Whilst two of the gargantuan monstrosities engulfed the Celestant-Prime with spume-sprays of vomit, the other swung its flail of skulls with such momentum that the blow sent the winged warrior hurtling high. At first, the trio chortled to see their foe bested, but the laughter died when their quarry did not descend to crash broken-winged and limp upon the ground. Growing increasingly anxious, the creatures strained their lumpen necks to peer into the skies. 2.152
The Celestant-Prime did not fall from above. However, something else did. A star-fated arrow from the Knight-Venator, Giomachus, blazed a trail of fire across the sky, piercing a Great Unclean One’s eye. The beast howled with agony, and more shots followed until it dissolved into a pool of bile. As the remaining greater daemons searched the skies, Lorrus Grymn charged. The Lord-Castellant drove his heavy-bladed weapon through the triple-heart of a foul foe, weakening it so that the rays of his warding lantern sent it back to its maker. The last Great Unclean One swatted Grymn, its meaty fist driving him to the ground.
Lying on his back and strugglingt o rise, Grymn saw his doom – the greater daemon moved to crush the Stormcast with its sheer bulk. As the beast waddled closer, something flashed in the skies. Down came the Celestant-Prime on wings of lightning. Suffused with power in the thunderheads above, Ghal Maraz shone like a star. With a single, almighty blow, the warhammer split the Great Unclean One’s skull, toppling the fleshy mountain with a flash of celestial energy. The remaining daemons recoiled before the power ofGhal Maraz, fleeing across the slopes rather than face that holy weapon.
With the pathway clear for the Celestant-Prime and the remaining Stormcast Eternals, they rushed to the aid of the Lady of Vines. They nearly came too late. She fought to the finish, for she was the last of Alarielle’s guardians, but in the end, Torglug cut her down. Her lifesap splattered in arcing sprays, what remained of the Lady of Vines crawled to retrieve the dim-glowing soulpod that was still clutched in her severed hand. Chortling as he crushed the Dryad beneath his tread, the Lord of Plagues reached out his rotten fingers to wrest the gleaming essence out of the clasped branches. Both he and Nurgle, far away in his garden, leered as one, when a scintillating light fell upon Torglug.
In iridescent fury, the Celestant-Prime landed before Torglug, bringing down Ghal Maraz in a two-handed blow.The warhammer shattered the Lord of Plague’s attempted parry, breaking his axe and crushing in his three-eyed helm. So hard was Torglug struck that his rotten soul – a foul green miasma– was torn free from his body. Even as the lifeless form of the Chaos Lord toppled, the foul cloud shimmered blue and flashed upwards, streaking into the Heavens where it was received with a single, booming peal of thunder. 2.153