The attack had come swiftly and without warning. Dulled blades smeared with rust driven into the once sleeping, now forever lifeless forms of mortal men and women. After another unforgiving day spent toiling in the Ashland, they had believed themselves safe behind the walls of Hammerhal Aqsha. Walls that even in these terrifying moments, remain standing. Unbroken.
Now, the tranquillity of night had been replaced with shrieks of panic and the clattering of weapons; a symphony of despair echoed from the depths of the city’s catacombs to the peaks of the airship docks, far overhead.
“Fall back, the district is lost!” ordered Magnus Flint through sharp, broken words, a stream of crimson flowing profusely from a deep wound that marred his cheek. A life spent in defence of the city had somehow left the old soldier with little more than aching joints and an endless supply of tales to tell. Until today. This new scar ran deep, it would be one he would carry for the rest of his days, however long that was.
The lieutenant’s whiskers usually stood in stark contrast to his dark, grizzled features; the familiar look of any who had spent so much of their life within the fiery realm of Aqshy. Bright white brush framed the old man’s many years of service within the Faithful Blades. Now that brush had somehow transformed, lost behind sticky, dark blood that dripped from its thick strands.
The desperate cries of men, women, and children filled the air as they fought to no avail against a tide of hysteria. A once peaceful crowd, suddenly set about by an unseen evil, whipping them into an unstoppable frenzy. Friends and loved ones shoved and scratched each other in an attempt to distance themselves from the pursuing legions.
Flint had encountered Nagash’s supporters many times before, but never in such vast numbers, this deep within the city’s protective borders. In recent years Hammerhal had come to feel as close to secure as any would dare to claim. Indeed strikes on the great walls had at one time spread with ferocious intensity, but now these attacks had subsided, giving way to the use of more deceptive tactics. The Brotherhood of Arms in many cities had been founded with the explicit aim of weeding out such schemes before they could grow to an uncontrollable volume.
This sort of scheming was commonplace with the followers of the Ruinous Powers; Tzeentch, after all, was rightly recognised for his ability to corrupt even those with the strongest of wills. Searching their very being for what drives them and twisting it to suit his needs; however, in the heart of the city, an entirely new threat had emerged.
The legions of death were, for the most part, predictable creatures; lumbering skeletal warriors and flesh-hungry ghouls that roamed the realm of Shyish. That had not always been the case; there was a time when Nagash’s legions would march in their thousand. An army so limitless it would appear as if the ground itself swelled and fell with every movement, but that was long ago, far before Flint’s birth; before the War of Bones and the Undying Gods defeat at the hands of the Three-Eyed King.
Now, however, the dead had returned once more; spectres, torn back from death by something unquestionably evil. Phantoms, attacking furiously and without mercy, driving their blades and scythe-like limbs into any who crossed their path.
“Sigmar protects us.” Private Riess, a fresh-faced member of the Blades chanted under his breath, the deep blue embroidery of his tunic still pristine.
“I fear that if you trust your protection to the God-King lad, then you shall feel the cold of a blade sliding between your ribs before the night is out.” Magnus snorted, spitting another mouthful of blood onto the wet cobbled floor. “Here is the only thing that will save your hide this day.” Raising his thick steel heater shield to the air, Flint struck upon it with the pommel of his sword.
In the distance, screams penetrated the air, rippling through the already unravelling crowd. Forcing their way against the tide, the Faithful Blades made their way down Black Iron Way, towards the Riftmarket. Cinderfall had become known throughout Hammmerhal and well beyond as a den of antiquities, anything one might desire could almost certainly be found within the Riftmarket, if you knew where to look.
Rounding the alleyway’s final corner Flint and his young companion stopped dead in their tracks, “Daemons!” Riess stuttered, his voice little more than a hoarse whisper.
“Those are no Daemons,” the lieutenant grabbed at his young subordinates chest plate, dragging him back into the shadows. All colour had drained from the old man’s face. “This place reeks of death, whatever these creatures are, they fall under the command of Nagash.”
A thick mist filled the marketplace, and with it followed a chill. Usually, the air of Aqshy was heavy with the bitter taste of sulphur, but here, cold air sunk into your lungs leaving you gasping for breath. This place more closely resembled one of the ramshackle villages of Shyish than the great Twin-Tailed City.
A shapeless figure moved within the fog, followed by another, and another. Creatures with no true form as if part of the mist itself. Dozens now; coiled about each other like a writhing mass of snakes; the face of each, if you could truly call it a face, contorting in pain. These endless spectres summoned to this place against their will. Dull, antique blades shimmered somewhere amongst this mass of souls; hooks and daggers lifted from the ground by translucent, ethereal fingers.
For a moment the mist cleared, revealing its dark secret. Lifeless bodies lay scattered on the cold stone floor, treated with the same respect that one might give to the insect before crushing it under the sole of their boot. Then they were gone, swallowed once again by the sentient mist.
Turning back towards the incoherent rabble, Flint let out an echoing cry. “Fall back to the monastery; these streets will become your tomb!”
Breaking into a sprint, the warriors ushered all they could find towards the cleansing flame of the Monastery of Light; a structure that stood as the physical embodiment of the God-King’s glory. For many, this place offered a moment of quiet self-reflection, time to thank Sigmar for his divine work. For Lieutenant Flint, the hefty bolts and deadlocks of the grand hall carried with them more weight than the protection of any divine being.
As the doors swung closed and their locks slide into place, the sound of weeping filled the air. Candles illuminating all their warming glow fell upon, driving back shadows into the deepest recesses of the room, while the pungent scent of sacred balms permeated the air.
“Sigmar, guide our blades” Riess whispered, almost without realising the words had left his lips.
With a sudden gust of wind and an incursion of mist, the ornate windows that blanketed the northernmost wall of the monastery exploded. The depiction of the God-King watching over the great anvils of Azyr, lost for all time.
Flint, with lightning-fast reflexes, brought his shield to bear as razor-sharp shards of glass lacerated those around him; every light that filled the room suddenly extinguished. All except for the First Flame, which burned as brightly now as the moment it was struck on the Forges of Creation.
Fighting his way through the dead and injured, Flint tore at the flame’s brazier, flecks of metal snapping and bending under the force of the old warrior’s relentless assault. With one final jerk, a flame laden shaft of steel broke free, birthing a trail of light in its wake.
“Begone, back to the realm of the dead.” His voice stern and unyielding, the spectres retreating with every swing of the cleansing flame.
Still, the spirits advance intensified, as if feeding upon the room’s palatable fear. Several helpless civilians screamed as they disappeared into the squall of bloodthirsty spirits.
“Where is the God-King now, Riess?” Flint roared rhetorically across the growing skirmish.
The maelstrom of Spirit Hosts swirled and convulsed; reapers, piercing the thick veil of fog as they encircled the remaining mortals. With every moment that passed another was struck down, and another. The younger warrior’s blade passing through his opponents as if cutting the air itself.
Still carrying his flame laden spear, Flint leapt towards the enemy, swinging the awkward weapon in an ever-growing arc. In seconds they were upon him, rusty blades plunging through the lieutenant’s platemail and deep into his chest, scarlet liquid now flowing freely from the warrior, pooling in the cracks and crevices of the monastery’s magnificent marble floor.
Dropping to his knees the broken soldier gazed towards the eyes of death, his energy all but spent as he brought the heavy pole crashing to the floor at his side.
With a deafening clap of thunder and a single bolt of Sigmar’s fury, the monastery’s roof was no more. Descending from the bright light came warriors, but these were no mere mortals: these chosen knights towered above even the most intimidating of the Free People, their advance, fearless. Throwing themselves into the heat of battle without a moment’s thought, the raw power of lightning crackling from the tips of their stormstaves.
Gasping for breath Flint slumped to the floor as the Stormcasts stepped forward, driving the enemy back with every second that passed. The old man’s vision began to dim as he fought to focus on the Stormcast’s gleaming armour. As a cheer rang out from somewhere nearby, he drew his final breath.
“Sigmar take me.”