Friday, 18 May 2018

Thy Soul to Keep, Part 9

Messages in the Rain

The rain had been falling for hours, its hammering accompaning the rise and fall of voices as the three men argued in the shelter of the derelict barn.
"We've been sitting for days here!" shouted Karol, repeating his point for the humpteenth time "We must move! What's happening needs fixing. And those damned orruks deserve to taste some iron and gunpowder!"
"Well, my friend" interjected Fernando, the usual sardonic smile on his lips "we don't want to go out in that, don't we? That's the last decent mantle I have, would you wish to ruin it in that hellish rain?"
"Karol has a point, though" came the reply of Lucius "How do you explain that fear that gripped us all... and the duardin acting mighty peculiar?"
"I'm still alive, and that's all that matters. I'm not going to risk my skin against something that's best left to wizards..."
The hammering of the rain filled the silence as the three men looked sideways at Kalyustar, huddled in his mantle in the far corner of the barn. He knew it would have come to this.
"I am as blind as you are as to what is happening. Something happened after the soulstorm. My powers of foresight fail me now."
"For Sigmar's sake!" Karol voice boomed over the noise of the rain "We should have listened to the Witch Hunter and handed you over!"
Kayustar teeth clenched behind his mask. His staff started to lean forward, corposants running around its brass top.
"That's it, Karol!" Lucius' voice froze Kalyustar on the spot "We find van Toorn. He will know what to do!"
'Yes! Let them find the Witch Hunter. And then...'
The Skull was speaking to him again. Instantly, Kalyustar knew what to do.
"I will pardon your rushness, Cuirassier, for you are right. We need Pieter van Toorn's guidance in this. You will search the woods for him. We will move into Wörtbad and keep duardin and orruks away from you."
"There it goes my mantle! And I was hoping it would have lasted me a few days more!" Fernando drew his sword and made for the barn door, calling his Fencers around him.

As the Free Companies of the Gilded Hand approached the village under the constant rain, a clutch of Skywardens and Endrinriggers bobbed into view. Their course was set for the Sky Dock, and the Rotmoons clustered into the Chapel courtyard.

The duardin moved at full speed to take position at the feet of the Sky Dock. Their shots cluttered harmlessly against the walls of the Chapel yard. With a laugh, the Rotmoons jumped the wall and prepared to charge.

Karol wispered something to Yuri the trumpeter and spurred his steed towards the woods.

Slowed by the rain, only two orruks made it to the Sky Dock courtyard and felled an Endrinrigger. With consummate skill, his companions serried ranks and stopped the orruk advance.

Kalyustar could have not asked for a better situation and turned to his men. "Forward, but hold your line! As long as they fight each other, Karol can make his way out of the village!"

Admiral Gunnerson charged past his crew, his hammer making short work of the two orruks.

Kalystar could not figure why, but then the Raidho Othalas poured all their fire onto the ogor at the back of the Rotmoons' line.

The ogor survived the volley, but then a screaming gheist dragged him away. Howling in frustration, Kapitán da Leeva ordered an all out charge.

The rain suddenly stopped. Raising the trumpet to his lips, Yuri blowed a single, long note. The Curaissiers responded with a cry of 'Vengeance!' and spurring their steed forward opened fire on the orruks.

Let the fools go! came the wisper of the Skull. "Hold your line! Marksmen, loose!". A hail of bolts fell on the rearmost orruks.

The Cuirassiers slammed into the fighter massed in the courtyard.

Kalyustar turned around to see Karol skirting around the edge of Wörtbad and disappearing into the woods.

Da Leeva slamming a Cuirassier and his horse on the ground was all that it took to convince the men that it was time to fall back.

'Well done, Soulchemist! Your man will bring you the Witch Hunter... or his corpse. But that matter little to us, doesn't it?'
Kalyustar jarred. What was the Skull hinting at?
'Beware tough! The duardin are no fools! Look! One of them makes it to the Sky Dock.'
The wizard turned to see an Endrinrigger floating through the Dock side door. In his hand, he clutched what seemed like a scroll.
'Trust no one, Soulchemist!'

Thy Soul to Keep, Part 8

Capture the Sky Dock

The dank inner chamber of the mausoleum was suddenly lit by greenish light as the Skull flared bright, blood still oozing from its sockets.
'Quick, Soulchemist! Collect the blood and save the energy you siphoned from the soulstorm'.
Without a moment of hesitation, Kalyustar carefully collected the blood in one of his vials, murmuring words of power he was not aware of knowing. The red liquid pooled in the vial, turning to translucent black. Somehow, the wizard knew that was the essence of the long dead, an Elixir of Distilled Souls.
As the last drop fell in, Kalyustar waited for the now familiar wispers to give him more advice. And yet, no words reached his mind.
Puzzled, the wizard hung the vial to his belt and left the mausoleum.

Kalyustar found the Free Companies had regrouped and were staring at the Selachii floating above the Sky Dock.

The ship had been long overdue and now her opportunistic captain, rather than dealing with the Rotmoons running for the Dock, dropped the cargo and sped away in the wind.

Those were provisions and equipment that Lord Ironfundson had arranged to be brought as part of his plan to dislodge the Greenskinz and An'sec's minions from the Hurricane Bell. As an hulking leadbelcher stomped his way to the broken crates, Kalyustar wondered if he should leave the cargo to the Rotmoons.

Alerted by the noise, the Raidho Othalas emerged from Fallow's End House, appraising the situation.

For a moment, Kalyustar waited for the Skull to come to life and guide him. But there were no wispered words in the wind. He had to think fast. There was no point in risking the infantry, so they advanced slowly through the woods. At the same time, he sent the Cuirassier to secure one of the crashed crates, least the duardin tought he was betraying their allegiance.

The Raidho Othalas advanced, the whirring of their rigs and weapons drifting through the air.

The leadbelcher opened fire against the Cuirassiers. One rider was flung from his saddle and the others, hot-tempered as usual, charged through the cloud of black smoke, their guns blazing.

The Kharadron moved forward, only to find wortless debris. And then, they indiscriminately opened fired on both the Rotmoons and the Free Companies.

Led by Bortagno, a party of Rotmoons waded through the aether-shots and prepared to take the fight to the duardin. Around Kalyustar, Fancy Fencers and Marksmen alike were taken in the grip of an unnatural terror, as if faced with the sum of all their fears. Screaming, some withdrew into the forest.

Kapitán da Leeva led a charge to support the embattled leadbelcher.

The situation was spiralling out of control and now even Kalyustar could feel terror mounting inside him. He ordered everybody back, leaving whatever was worth of the cargo to the orruks.
Once at a safe distance, Kalyustar drew the Skull out of his robes. Long he stared at it, and yet, the Skull remained silent.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Thy Soul to Keep, Part 7

The Soul Vortex

In an improvised laboratory in one of Wörtbad derelict buildings, Kalyustar stood in front of a cluttered desk. Scrolls were spread on both sides, held in place by half-empty vials, candles, a wax block and iridiscent rocks. In the center, a small brazier blazed with blueish-green light. The Skull swayed in the heat, held by thin ur-gold chains. Under the Skull a silver funnel sat on a tripod, its narrow end inserted in a tiny hourglass. Kalyustar held his open hand and the top of his staff above the table and started reading from the scrolls. A chilled liquid hoozed from the Skull's sockets and pooled into the funnel. There, it turned into tiny crystals and flew into the hourglass.
'That is, Soulchemist, a Token of Time, taken from the Olshovilaag. Pity you captured so little of it'.
Kalyustar removed the funnel and placed the stopper on the hourglass, sealing it with the wax.
As he was contemplating the Token of Time, blood gushed from the Skull.
'A soulstorm approaches, Soulchemist! And that meddling Witch Hunter is still not here to stop you from harnessing its power'.
Kalyustar had been warned, as an apprentice wizard, of the dangers of the Portent known as the Bloodied Skull. And yet, he heeded not the counsel of his old masters.

The soulstorm rose, an howling vortex of energies carrying with it the the flotsam and jetsam of lost sky-ships. It slowly drifted through the woods, approaching the edge of Wörtbad.

Kalyustar was ready for it. He had posted men around him to ward off any intruder. Holding the Bloodied Skull in front of him, he started to syphon the power of the storm into it.

A thundering explosion and the shouts of an ogor barely caught Kalyustar's attention. Kapitán da Leeva and his crew emerged from the woods and slammed into the mixed Marksmen and Fencers patrols.

Kalyustar turned the Skull towards the largest group of orruks and skeletal hands erupted from the ground, leaving the Greenskins at the mercy of Fernando's Fancy Fencers. But where da Leeva fought, the men were falling like autumn leaves.

Kalyustar levelled his staff and eldritch energies engulfed the Warboss. The glaring of a trumpet signalled the charge of Karol's Cuirassiers.

Kalyustar held the Skull high and the soulstorm energies darted all around, cracking the soil and revealing a strata of blood-caked skulls. A score of orruks fled in panick. Even the Kapitán retreated.

Then, the energies of the soulstorm vaned for a moment as the Black Void passed through the Harrowmark sky, feeding onto the sorcerous energies. Da Leeva took his chance and charged Kalyustar.

The wizard just witstood the onslaught. He let the soul-energy flow once again from the Skull. The skeletal hands returned, pinning the Warboss. Kalyustar run through the howling vortex, crushing the Token of Time to seal his own wounds.

The Curaissiers continued their advance onto the orruks' flank. With glee, Kalyustar willed the ground open again so that the greenskinz run into a pit of cackling skulls. The orruks' rout was complete, only da Leeva still held his ground, glaring menacingly at Kalyustar through the swirling soulstorm.

'Into the mausoleum, Soulchemist! It is not worth risking what you have harvested.' Once again, there was wisdom in the Skull's words. Pushing the cold iron gate, Kalyustar disappeared into the darkness.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Thy Soul to Keep, Part 6

The Beast's Lair

'Soulchemist. What now? It is days since the Witch Hunter is gone'.
The Skull had kept talking to Kalyustar, even warned him of how the Karadhron Overlords' attack on the Rotmoons would have not pushed the Greenskinz away from the Hurricane Bell. But now, it had begun to be more insistent.
'Seize the opportunity! Can't you feel the Fiends of the Harrowmark is flying over the land? Think of what you could do with the soulstuff that binds it together'.
There was some truth in those words, and he still had a vial of aether-gold he could offer to the Kharadrons for their help.
'Yes! Use the duardin to your ends. You'll then have the power to take your men away from this accursed land'.
There was something in the skull voice. Something akin to a half-lie. And yet, none of its wispered warnings and advices had ever caused Kalyustar any harm.
Pulling the vial of aether-gold from his belt rack, the wizard made his way to the Admiral's quarters.

As the darkness of night gave way to the pale, orange-red light of the Harrowmark brief day, the Olshovilaag crawled back into its lair. Black feathers rustled against branches and bones and even the wailing wind, for a moment, fell silent as if scared.

Kalyustar's plan was simple. He and his men would have goaded the fiend towards the duardin's gunline. When the Olshovilaag would have been on the verge of falling, peppered with aether-shots, he would have funnelled its soulstuff. And even if some duardin ends up in the fiend's belly, it won't be such a loss. Was that his own thought? Or another of the Skull's wispers?

Karol's Cuirassiers spurred their steeds forward, lead balls crushing into the trunks around the fiend's lair. The Kharadron spread, ready to get the Olshovilaag into a crossfire.

With a hear-piercing skreech, the Olshovilaag flew out of the copse in which it had hidden, diving through a volley of shots and onto the Raidho Othala's second-in-command. The Admiral lunged forward, his hammer crushing onto the fiend's hind quarters.

Allerted by the commotion, the Rotmoons scrambled through the ruins of the Kharibdys Occulum. Don't let the savages interfere! They'll waste all your efforts.

The Olshovilaag retreated from the Admiral's fury. Landing with a resounding crash in front of Karol, it sent the Curaissier's horse mad with fear with its terryfing scream.

Kalyustar ordered the Venithyan Marksmen to hold the line and open fire on the incoming orruks. The Rotmoons slowed their advance as bolts whislted around them.

For a second time, thunder roared from the Raidho Othala's gunline.

The fiend burst into a huge flock of ragged black crows, as if its essence was transmogrified at the moment of its demise. Squawking wildly, they wirled in the air and dived towards the entrance of the cave. As they passed over Kalyustar's head, the wizard held the Skull aloft. One single crow halted in the ruddy daylight, slowly discorporating and flowing into the Skull's sockets.
'Good. Good'.