The Storm Comes to the Mines of Tzkailloch #AoSShadowmarsh

Drifting, dreaming, mind fogged as though wrapped in cotton wool he could not remember when he last felt that sense of urgency that had driven him for months. He could not remember why he had been driving himself so hard, seeking, searching, questing…

Occasionally the fog parted for the briefest instant and a sliver of clarity came to him. He tried desperately to hold onto those moments but they swiftly slipped away. There had been a storm recently, and the distant boom of thunder had left him strangely agitated and re-ignited his struggles against the gentle cocooning fog. A taste of the lash had triggered a flash of anger but he was a slave, why should he object so to the crack of the overseer’s whip? A rough voice raised in mournful song had made him weep briefly but nothing quite seemed to cut through to him and shake him from his torpor.

He worked the mines, extracting much varanite for the Tzeentchian sorcerer who had ensnared him. He was strong and resistant to sickness so they worked him hard. The line between sleep and wakefulness was blurred by his condition but on this night the slave pens began to echo to the crash of distant thunder, louder than before, a terrific storm raged above ground and within the thunder he heard a voice calling. He heard a word, a name?

Without remembering moving, he was on his feet. Head cocked, turning trying to hone in on the voice he could hear in the faint echoes of the storm above. He moved around his small slave pen, uncaring of the pain as he banged against walls and bars seeking a better spot to hear. Driven by something beyond instinct, he knew he must catch the name.

“Sandal…. Sandalphon Barachiel” It was his name, he was sure of it, but with the onslaught of the storm the mine guards closed the double doors to the fortress built over the entrance to the caverns. Thick, magic-strengthened doors closed in the face of the storm and with that the thunder became a faint grumbling, and Sandalphon began to sink back into his mind fog.

Hunched over on the ground, he watched uncaring as a slight figure slipped between the bars of his pen. “My Lord, ” it whispered, “Let me help you”, but the prisoner was trying to remember what Sandalphon meant and why he should care. He hardly flinched as small hands reached to his neck, the dim light catching on bared steel and then in a moment he would remember forever, the knife cut through the fine chain that hung around his neck holding a spiteful looking amulet to his skin. As it fell away the shadowy figure caught it in a scrap of cloth and tucked it away in a pocket. “My Lord?” It whispered again.

“How long have I been here?” His voice was hoarse with disuse, but the focus was back in his eyes and they flashed a bolt of hot rage.

“Croop sent me when you did not meet us as arranged. You parted ways with our company 6 months ago my Lord. I’d wager that you have been imprisoned here for most of that.” The diminutive figure threw back it’s coarse woollen hood revealing a face more used to showing joviality than the serious expression it now wore.

“You’ve saved me from a thousand lifetimes of enslavement Halfling, call me Sandalphon. Are you alone? Are Croop and the Fighting Cocks nearby?”

“No Sandalphon,” he said stumbling awkwardly over the name. “Croop just sent me, we never thought that you would need any direct help of us. But in my travels through this den of ruffians I found your armour and weapons, I have them just outside this cell.” He turned and slipped back through the bars to Sandalphon’s cell and started to pass the armour through. “It has taken several trips to collect all this and carry it here, I worry that it may soon be discovered missing.”

“Worry not, dear friend, I shall soon give these scum something else to concern themselves with. Your name?” Sandalphon’s voice was growing stronger and his stance straighter and more intimidating as he secured his armour around him. The halfling finished fussing with the lock to the cell and the door swung open.

“Faldo, my Lord… Sandalphon, Faldo Barrel-Rider.” He gave a quick, short bow. ” I can lead you out by a quiet path, if..” His voice trailed off as Sandalphon drew his sword and held it up examining it in the dim light.

“No friend Faldo. There will be no quiet path out of this chaos-born dung heap for me. Do you know if the sorcerer is still here? Lights at the top of the tower?” Faldo nodded. “Good, he won’t catch me off guard again. Then I must ask one last favour of you my friend and then you can leave. I would have you free anyone else trapped in here, I heard singing some time ago, an old Rodrigan ballad, some of our people are here. If they yet live, free them all if you can and lead them to Croop and the Fighting Cocks. I’m sure you will escort them safely out of these troubled lands.”

The halfling bowed again, “My word on it Sandalphon, may Sigmar guide your path.” As he slipped away into the dark, the Stormcast Eternal called after him.

“I will make plenty of noise on my way to the sorcerer, you should find your path clear Faldo Barrel-Rider. When we meet again I shall thank you properly.”

Clad once more in blessed sigmarite armour and reunited with his warblade, Knight Questor Sandalphon Barachiel cooled his temper with a prayer to Sigmar. What he sought now was not petty vengeance for his humiliation and incarceration under magical bonds. Not even for the insult done to his memories, a sore point for any Stormcast. No, tonight would be about justice for those imprisoned with him and brutalised beyond measure by the Tzeentchian sorcerer and their minions.

Above him the thunder grew louder and he started to navigate the tunnels leading to the surface and from thence to the sorcerer’s tower. Finally, after six long months, the storm had come to the Mines of Tzkailloch.

Knight Questor Sandalphon Barachiel, once of the Iron Peacocks Chamber.

The Night’s Watch Message #AoSShadowmarsh

Aegor Schakes, apprentice witch hunter of the most Holy Order of Azyr was on his own.

Handed a purse full of cash by his master, Witch Hunter Poloon, and entrusted with carrying out their investigations in Rodrigos, a small and relatively unheard of city, whilst Poloon was laid up sick with his “troubles”, Aegor had fancied he might finally make the jump to Witch Hunter of the Order.

He had ridden through the gates of Rodrigos less than a week ago and unlike his master Jerrick Poloon, had used his gold to get people talking. Aegor was unhappy with using fire and torture to open up a conversation, particularly with no backup, so he tried the softly softly approach.

It hadn’t gotten him far. Rodrigos, the Spiral City, was strange. Odd in a way that he couldn’t put his finger on, at first he thought he was wasting his time here. He initially saw nothing that caused him concern but the longer he stayed the more the city bugged him. Something wasn’t right in Rodrigos and the more time he spent here the more he itched to use the alchemical fire strikers he had in his pocket and bring some Holy wrath to the unhelpful citizens of Rodrigos.

Then he had been told about the Night’s Watch. Not the ones that walked through the streets after nightfall in their smart city bought uniforms. No, the others, that wore armour under plain clothes, that spoke in a kind of code with one another and disappeared almost every night into the extensive sewers and caves that riddled the ground under Rodrigos. He may have been only an apprentice Witch Hunter but this motley crew of men, women and Duardin soon became his sole focus. Here, he had caught the edge of something secret and he set about ferreting out whatever information he could.It was surprisingly difficult, the people of Rodrigos seemed to either not know what the Night’s Watch were up to or were afraid to talk. He managed to get names, some background history of a few but not enough to draw any solid conclusions.

He was loath to approach the city authorities, he knew none that he could trust and Rodrigos was ruled by an elected council, of all things, elected by the citizens of the city. His authority as an apprentice of the Order was tenuous at best and he dared not test it. So eventually he resolved to follow the Watch and see just what they were up to away from the blessed eyes of the most Holy Order. Dressed all in black he followed them carefully, keeping his distance as much as possible until they entered the under-city. He had no torch with him as this would have marked him out immediately so he stayed as close as he could once underground. But after an hour or so he had lost them and was left standing trembling alone in the silent, deep unending darkness of the under-city. He had a handful of fire strikers and was considering making a rough torch with his sword and coat sleeves when he heard a very faint noise. He stood silently, heart pounding, holding his breath to silence his suddenly ragged breathing. Straining his eyes and ears against the enveloping, endless dark he heard it again.

The hairs on his neck stood on end as a very gentle laugh wound it’s way through the dark to him. “Are we lost-lost, man-thing?” It snickered and something foul-smelling briefly brushed his arm. Panic welling up, Aegor reached for his fire strikers and swiftly struck up a light. In the flickering dancing light of the match he saw that he was surrounded by a group of rat men, “Skaven” he thought, “Real skaven…” The match burned out, plunging him back into darkness and they swiftly swarmed him to the ground.

“Bring-bring him, yes, another slave for Skrinnitzch” Aegor screamed in abject terror as they grabbed him by the ankles and dragged him along behind them, he kicked out with all his strength and clawed desperately at the ground before flipping over to draw his sword, too-too late. “You wish to die-die man-thing?” he was asked as his sword was wrenched from his feeble grip, and as the skaven raised Aegor’s own blade against him, he realised he was better off dead. It leaned down to him and grinned showing off a mouth full of awful teeth and then with a terrific bang it’s head exploded into a cloud of bloody gore and bone fragments.

On all sides there were torches and lights and Aegor wept in relief at the sight of Sigmar-blessed people. More shots rang out, the noise exaggerated by the confines of the under-city. As the skaven reeled from the sudden assault, looking for an escape route, a duardin war cry ricocheted past him into the main body of the rat men. Surrounded and unable to flee they fought savagely but were met with unflinching steel and the iron resolve of the Night’s Watch. All were cut down mercilessly.

Aegor felt himself gripped firmly by the collar, hauled to his feet and spun around to face the one they called “Smiler”. An ex-soldier who had apparently had half of his face burned off by vile Chaos sorceries in battle. The beak-nosed leather mask that he wore covered whatever horror had been made of his face but Aegor was close enough that he could still smell the faint scent of burnt and decaying flesh over the medicinal herbs packed into the mask.

“Aegor Schakes eh? Looks like he trembles too!” The gathered Night’s Watch snickered or laughed outright and Aegor became conscious of the fact that they knew who he was, somehow. Shamefully he realised that he had somehow been outwitted by the Night’s Watch and he had also soiled himself in the course of his encounter with the skaven. Smiler leant in and whispered. “Leave Rodrigos witch hunter. Go back to Misthavn and tell your masters that the Order is not welcome in Rodrigos, with your corrupting gold and your purifying fires and helpful little poisons. Tell them that the Night’s Watch guard Rodrigos’ soul, we protect the soft underbelly of the Spiral City, we watch for the encroaching dark and we amputate and cauterize any infection that finds root here.”

He paused. “Hew, take our guest back to the topland, make sure he get’s back to his lodgings safely.” He turned his masked face back to Aegor, “Heed me well, no Witch Hunter will ever harm a hair on the head of a Rodrigan. We take care of our own.” He gestured abruptly to his company. “Come Ratguards, the night is young, lets see if we can’t find something else for you to kill and keep you ruffians off the streets!”

As Hew led him back through winding pathways to the surface, Aegor realised that he wasn’t going to be making that jump to Witch Hunter after all. He had been played by the people of Rodrigos, whilst seeking information on the city they had plumbed the depths of him and tricked him into being skaven-bait. He’d be lucky to stay as an apprentice.

Sgt Eyoin “Smiler” Maffertan (back centre) and his Ratguard unit