keskiviikko 29. maaliskuuta 2017

The Iron Grudge

The dusk-bathed plateau was filled with rumble equal to a raging thunderstorm. But the skies were clear. Sun was giving out its last rays while slowly descending behind the horizon. The earth shook to the steady march of countless mail-clad boots and flocks of birds took flight as the constant clatter of heavy armour assaulted their senses. The mountainfolk were on the warpath.

From the unyielding mountains flowed dozens of silver trickles, coalescing into a massive torrent at the foot of the mountain range and flowing out into the plateau. This river was not of molten metal, as this was not the Realm of Chamon, but a duardin throng marching to meet an ancient foe. Thousands of these grim warriors marched in perfect unison, clad in the armour of their ancestors and carrying runic weapons gifted upon them by their forefathers. Among the serried ranks of bearded soldiery the machines of war rumbled on: catapults, cannons, throwers of bolt and flame and even steam-powered juggernauts, all this towered over by gigantic statues roused to life.

Although known for their stubbornness and caution, the duardin race can become an aggressive force when roused to wrath. This is a trait they share with the mountains they dwell in; a mountainside is still and tranquil, quietly weathering the trials of time, but when it comes crashing down in a landslide it is as unstoppable as it is merciless, crushing all that stand between it and its destination with uncaring even-handedness and brutal force.

Woe betide the foe to whom such an army is marching in its full panoply of war!

Above the seething masses of armoured warriors a lonely figure stood atop a cliff, one with the rock he had planted his feet on, as unmoving and just as cold. His gaze swept across the metal river, catching banners and coats of arms to see who had answered his call to arms. From the trickles on the mountains to the torrent on the plateau, his eyes followed the grim column until finally locking to the realmgate right beneath his vantage point.

Surrounded by towering statues of ancestors and decorated with his hold's insignia, the Grudgeforge Realmgate was an imposing sight even to its lord and keeper. A conclave of Runesmiths bustled around the structure, toiling day-and-night to activate it again. Sonorous chanting and deft strikes of hammer on metal rang from the site, nearly drowned by the constantly approaching peal of marching feet. Soon everything was in place.

"Tromm, my liege. A heart-warming sight, isn't it?" came a gruff voice further back from the cliff. Having already recognized the entrant, Lord Commander Ungrim Ironhelm replied without turning his gaze from the gate.
"Aye, a full throng on the march. 'Tis a welcome sight indeed, albeit a sad one. Many will perish, Morgrim. Many won't return to their holds by the end of this. Bloodlines will be extinguished."
"That much is certain, m'lord, but this is the way of the dawi," Lord Morgrim Stoutback assured.
"We exact vengeance upon our enemies and strike out grudges from the Dammaz Kron, no matter the cost in lives. The ones that meet their deaths will be honoured by their clans and will know that their sacrifice did not go in vain. They go to the halls of our ancestors to enjoy a feast unlike any they've ever attended before."

There was a clang of metal and creaks of leather as Morgrim planted his axe on the cliff and leaned on it, his runic helmet held in the crook of his muscled arm. For a moment the two duardin stood in silence, awed by the vista opening before them.

"You're an admirably traditional fellow, Stoutback. I agree on what you said, but that is exactly what saddens me. We dawi face many perils and disasters caused by our own set of mind, many wars and many deaths," Ungrim explained, thoughtfully running his stunted fingers along the golden knotwork along the edges of his shield.
"We are too set in our ways, and that will often be our undoing."
"We could not call ourselves the folk of the mountains if we acted otherwise. I relish the thought of leading my warriors to battle, spilling the foul blood of the greenskins and reclaiming our honour. They'll recite sagas of this campaign, of our achievements and the fall of our ancestral foes," his companion declared zealously, making Ungrim shake his head to himself.

Lord Morgrim was a renowned general and an excellent tactician, easily among the most trusted of Ironhelm's lieutenants, but his utter devotion to the old ways was something Ungrim often found irritating. As the Lord Commander of the Iron Company and King of the Ironhold he was tasked with the well-being of his people, a position that often required a certain open-mindedness rarely represented in the members of his race.

"What is the state of our preparations? How many battalions have answered the call?" Lord Ironhelm asked to change the subject.
"The devotion of the clans to this war is evident, we have foundry-fresh cannons from the Bronzebeards and they've even managed to repair the Indomitable. Slayer King Malakai also kept his word, just look at those Slayer hordes he's managed to gather under his banner," Morgrim listed as his liege fell silent, seeming to fade into his thoughts once more.
"Dorinsson's rangers emerged from the wilds this morn, dozens of patrols to provide us with information and forage. We currently have no contingents outside the Ironhold region except for a minimal garrison at each of our outposts and holdfasts. Even clans and brotherhoods with severe losses have gathered their last longbeards and hearthguard to be a part of this march, which brings us to the grievances..."

Ungrim pressed his eyes shut.
"Cough it out, wazzock."
"Among the ranks of our warriors there are hundreds of vengeful beardlings, come to avenge their kin. They are brave and eager, but untested in battle as they're barely even one and a half centuries in age. Their beards are not even below their bellies, Ungrim!" Stoutback exclaimed.
"Who are we to deny their grief and the right to avenge their fathers and brothers? I see the flaw in allowing them to join us but I have not the heart to make them stay grief-stricken in their holds. Anger is a sweet thing when it burns away one's miseries, yet it has a tendency to provide new ones. This is a matter the beardlings won't learn any other way. That's how it's been and that's how it'll be tomorrow. You're the ufdi with an obsession to traditions, not me," he said, turning his head to grin at the other duardin.
"Deploy them next to the longbeards in our battleline and they'll do just fine."

Morgrim nodded, grim despite the friendly joke directed at him by his liege.
"There's the other matter, too. Our supply train is almost the size of our throng, the supply lines will be spread long and wide to provide an excellent target to every passing warband and marauder as we wage our war through the Realm."
"There you have the answer to your previous point, my sour companion. Have the majority of beardlings guard the baggage trains along with a few trusty elders, but make sure that the force we leave to guard the realmgate on the other side is made up of hardened veterans. Wouldn't want to return victorious only to realize we're cut-off from hearth and hold!" Ungrim quipped, lifting his runic hammer to rest against his shoulder and pointing down to the toiling Runesmiths.
"Now turn your thoughts to the miracle we're about to witness and give a silent thanks to your ancestors that we have such a device at our disposal."

Down on the plateau Runelord Agrin Fireheart smote his Anvil of Doom with vigour he hadn't known he possessed. The Grudgeforge Realmgate seemed to hum with powers that magnified the magical properties of his runes as the struck them again and again in complicated patterns while reciting words in ancient Khazalid. One miss of swing or an incorrect syllable could ruin the energies he'd coalesced into his anvil over course of several days, yet he did not feel exhaustion or tiredness as he went about his work.

All around him other Runesmiths recited their own words of power, helping Agrin to keep the magical powers bound to his will. They had been changed in rotations, new smiths taking the place of those who stepped back for a night's repose, such was the toll enacted upon them by merely supporting Fireheart's work. His two Anvil Guards had not allowed themselves to be rotated but had instead stood watch ever since the process begun. Now the warrior masses before him rattled and stomped, making a tumult great enough to disturb even his excellent focus. It didn't matter, however, as the work was nearing its completion.

One final ragged cry went up from his dry lips as the slammed his hammer into the middle of his anvil with all his remaining strength.
"...gorl grimaz!"
There was a loud boom and a flash of light as the runes on the anvil sprang to life, glowing blindingly bright and sending out a shockwave that pushed the front ranks of the throng a few steps back. Electricity ran aggressively across the anvil surface before jumping into the carved stone pillars of the realmgate, releasing all the now-unbound power into the structure in one great gush. The enormous runes on the surface of the realmgate begun turning various hues of blue with a hint of a glow.

"Come on, ya ol' bugger... ya'll have t'work!" Runelord Agrin Fireheart muttered to himself as he stepped back from the stones, his barrel chest heaving visibly from extreme exhaustion that now suddenly stole upon him. The anvil kept feeding power into the realmgate and the crackle and hum of lightning intensified, strengthening the glow of the gate's runes.
"Come on... come on..."
Then the electricity from the anvil faded, with only a few stray lightnings crackling around the now-dimming runes on the anvil's sides. Agrin turned his eyes into the pillars of the gate, grinding his teeth.

Then the markings on the stone rapidly spread, revealing strange carvings all across the ancient structure. There was a ripping sound as the power of the realmgate tore a cleft into the face of reality and a transparent surface of blue flames spread across the span of the pillars, like a door being opened for a welcomed quest.

The Grudgeforge Realmgate had been reactivated.

Agrin Fireheart felt his mind swim, the edges of his vision blurring into a black mess. His forgehammer dropped to the dusk-bathed grass from numb fingers as his eyes rolled up and he fell into the sturdy arms of his fellow Runesmiths behind him. A mighty cheer went up from the thousands upon thousands of gathered warriors, an invisible wall of sound that washed over the Lords and Thanes as they beckoned their legions into the flame-swirling embrace of the gate that would take them to their destiny, to war.

The decision had been made, the call to arms sounded and the throng gathered. That day they marched for war, for vengeance and for glory. They were the dawi, dwellers of the mountains and one with the bedrock upon which the entirety of the world was resting. There was no stopping them now, not until they had reached their goal: the utter destruction of the greenskins of Waaagh! Urgokh.

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