Lately, I’ve just not had it in me to write. I know that’s not the right(pun) thing for a writer to say, but sue me. So, I tweaked it a little, but here’s what I had for my Black Library Submission. I was only able to send them a small sample, but this is what I wrote. Hope you guys enjoy.
Children of Havenspire
A city is dying, the fires of its death throes painting the firmament red as if with blood. Outside its walls, once golden fields are withered, covered beneath a blanket of ash like a ghastly virgin snow. Inside, stone that was once as white and as magnificent as the lights of Hysh are stained black with soot, and the screams of the innocent sing its requiem.
I know this city.
She knows the young warrior too, and her handful of companions. They gather within the city’s temple for one final stand, the finality of a warrior’s saga come to its long and painful end. They are the sum of all that remains of this once proud city’s noble defenders. The paragons of a good and honorable people.
My people. My city.
She hears the cackle of demons filling broken avenues which once echoed with cheerful laughter and the lively debate of enlightened scholars. The sound of their perverse joy is as demented as their forms, twisting and contorting in a cacophony of limbs and snarling faces that consume one another with reckless abandon. Hordes of beasts with avian heads and the bodies of men, their feathers vibrant with colors that hurt the eye, chant and bray their dark prayers alongside them.
Yet, these are not the monsters that brought my city low.
Warriors that once protected her city march in unison in a mockery of the proud martial tradition of her people, their discipline step and cleanly crafted equipment a sharp contrast to the roiling mass of warp flesh and rabble around them. The curved blades of their polearms glow with azure balefire. Their armor and shields, shining like silvered mirrors, swirl with a kaleidoscope of colors both beautiful and maddening to behold. They chant in raised voices, no longer offering up prayers to the might and wisdom of Sigmar, reciting instead the nine unholy contradictions of Tzeentch.
The temple shakes. The young warrior turns to the statue of Sigmar at its center and offers up one final prayer. Not for her a plea for deliverance or forgiveness for all her wrongs. Instead, she asks only for the strength and courage to die well. She asks that Sigmar see that she did not die with her back turned. She asks only that she live long enough to slay just one more foe before she dies.
The warriors standing beside her do likewise. The last mage priest of her city raises his staff and it blazes with eldritch power, the last light of Hysh, shining pure and proud in the gathering dark. The roof of the temple caves in as a wave of coruscating flame lashes the last stronghold of…of…
I know this city, it’s my city, but why can’t I remember its name?
Thunder roars overhead, but it is not the season of rain.
Sigmar heard our prayers.
The nightmarish horde crashes through the gates of the temple and pour forth.
“For Sigmar!” The young warrior screams. She raises her spear high, its head shining bright, and she charges.
I died here.
The priest slams the butt of his staff to the ground, cracking the white marble like ice and sending bolts of light searing into the gibbering mass. A half dozen demons howl, their bodies burning with holy fire. Then, as they die, they split into smaller, nearly identical forms and they press forward.
The young warrior fells a birdlike beast whose claws shimmer with dark magic, its avian head toppling from its shoulders in a fountain of blood. She moves like a whirlwind, each thrust and swing of her spear a killing stroke and the heavens rumble with approval.
I died well.
The forces of Chaos close in. Pain fills the young warrior’s head and she falls to the blood-stained floor.
“You were always too slow,” says a voice. It is a familiar voice, but it is tortured and warped like white hot steel as it bends and shatters. It nearly shatters her mind along with it.
The young warrior looks up into a pair of dark eyes and a pale face, one she knows as well as her own, a face that belongs to a once proud defender of this city and its allies. The face smiles. The teeth are sharp and bright like a deep-sea predator’s in the murky depths. The smile begins to warp and turn in on itself, causing the familiar face to swirl into a visage neither familiar nor human.
“You were always too slow, little sister!”
She cries out and lifts her spear. The fallen champion swats it aside with contempt and raises his two axes above his head. She reaches into her boot for a dagger, one last act of defiance.
I did not die here. The God-King required me.
Flashes of incandesce illuminate the darkening skies. Lightning splits the heavens like breaking glass before arching down into the temple with a deafening crack. There is a taste of ozone and a feeling of hot, searing pain, and the visage of her dead city turns to blinding light.
She screams, and her people scream too, their voices following her into oblivion, reaching out across a sea of burning stars and infinite blackness. But amidst the discordant symphony of their doom, she hears a battle cry rise above the tumult of despair, and with it comes a name she’s always known.
Zara opened her eyes and looked down at the centuries old map. Her hand glided across the page, passing geographical features and cities. Their names, written in gold-leaf lettering, were illumined by the calm, white light cast by the braziers that lined the edges of the stacks. Her finger came to rest beneath a city far to the north-west, well beyond enemy lines and even the eyes of the Stormhost’s scouts. The visions of the burning city flitted through her mind as they had a hundred times before, but this time, she had a name to the city in her dreams. Her city. Her home. “Havenspire.”
Chapter 1: Havenspire
Zara Lightsong looked out over a broad valley that tapered to an almost perfect point at its northern end. Nestled in that crook, its shattered silhouette a grotesque shadow against the backdrop of the pale stone of the mountain sides, were the ruins of the city she had called home in a past life.
The area around the valley was cracked and mostly barren. The charred remains of dead trees dotted the landscape, their gnarled branches like withered fingers reaching up into a sky bruised with ash and smoke as if even the heavens were not safe from the destruction that the Dark Gods had visited on the Mortal Realms.
“So,” Tianus said, as he strode up beside Zara. “This is the city you saw in your dreams.” He waved a gauntleted hand towards the darkened ruins at the other end of the valley. Like Zara, his sigmarite armor was the royal blue of the Tempest Lords, but he was also clad in the white and crimson cloth of the Stormhost’s Sacrosanct Chamber.
“Yes,” she said. “This is Havenspire.” Zara’s crystal-and-sigmarite wings flexed at the sound of the name. She had never been to this city, at least not in this life, and had only just heard the name for the first time twelve days ago. The name “Havenspire” might as well have been as foreign to her as some arcane Aelven word, yet she recognized it the way she understood the lyrics of one of those aloof people’s sad ballads, by the way it caused a pang of regret and sadness to settle into the pit of her stomach.
“Well, I’m sure it’s charming up close.” The Knight-Incantor’s voice was, as usual, cheerful. It usually was, regardless of the mood or situation. Zara had come to accept and even admire Tianus’ annoyingly upbeat attitude. It was something most of the warrior-mages of the Sacrosanct Chambers sorely lacked.
“Hmm,” Tianus intoned, stroking his thin, black beard thoughtfully, looking as if he were pondering a joke. Zara glanced at him and nearly smiled despite herself. “You suppose that there might be survivors?” He tilted his head. “That is why you came, yes?”
Zara removed her silver, high crested helmet, a few locks of her brown hair falling in ringlets to the nape of her neck, said, “I had a fool’s hope.” She closed her eyes briefly and enjoyed the cool air on her face. She had made a habit of wearing her helmet when she was not alone. The thick scars across her left cheek, right jaw and forehead were unsightly, but like most Stormcast, Zara was no slave to vanity. She wore it because, despite all the pain, suffering, and trials of her two reforgings, and despite the loss of memories and that which made her human, what little humanity that did survive shone brightly in her soft, hazel eyes.
Those eyes made her comrades uneasy, but they seemed to have a calming effect upon the mortals with whom she often interacted. As a Knight-Azyros, she was the God-King’s emissary and messenger, bringing light to the darkest corners of the Eight Realms, where even His eyes could not see.
Zara looked down at her helmet’s ivory mask, impassive and resolute, a visage that did not reflect the unfamiliar uncertainty that burned in her gut. She tucked the helmet carefully in the crook of her arm.
“Truth be told, I’m not sure what I came here for. Perhaps I just needed to see for myself that my visions were true. At the very least, a pair of eyes on this region couldn’t hurt.” Zara shrugged. “Such frivolity is unbecoming. I hope you do not think less of me. I’m sorry that you came so far for so little.”
Tianus smiled. He laid an armored hand on her pauldron and said, “No, my friend. I wish that we all had the ruins of our homes to look upon. So many of us forget where we came from. It would help us remember what we’re fighting for.” His smile took on a sharp edge of mischievousness. “You know, my home was in the south. There is nothing left of it, but I’m sure it would be far more magnificent than this wreck.”
Despite herself, Zara laughed. “You are free to head back to Fort Lumarith.”
“Who would watch your back, then? Darek and his retinue?” Tianus looked up into the shrouded sky, though it was for dramatic effect more than any hope of spotting Darek, Marithos or Yahana. “Sigmar help you. Anyway, if what you say is true, Havenspire’s library was the largest repository of knowledge among The Twelve Cities. There could be something useful.”
“Ah, I should have known you would be unencumbered by altruism.”
“Indeed.” Tianus looked off into the distance as he spoke. For a moment, Zara felt he did in fact have an ulterior reason for coming. She dismissed the thought as a byproduct of his sarcastic tone.
A flash illuminated the scorched sky, streaking from one horizon to the next. Trickles of unrestrained power drifted down from the clouds like sparks from the gloom of a smoking forge.
Zara smiled as the lights brought back memories of her past. “For all the hordes of Chaos have done to this world, at least they never snuffed out the light of Hysh.” She nodded to a patch of golden, reed-like grass huddled beneath the eaves of the mountainside. “Sungrass,” she said. “It used to cover the valley floor from end to end. The buds respond to the lights. At least, they did. They would open wide and release their glowing pollen.”
“One day, those lights will fill the clear skies once again,” Tianus promised.
Zara nodded and replaced her helmet. “Let’s get your books.”
“And a scroll or three,” Tianus quipped.”
Zara unhooked the celestial lantern from her belt and pulled her spear from the ground. She unfurled her wings, the crystal blazing with light, and with a single leap she was soaring toward her former city. She glanced back in time to see Tianus summon his Dais Arcanum and take to the skies after her, blue fire trailing the arcane contraption like the contrails on a bronze comet.
Zara banked right and followed the edge of the valley toward the ruins of Havenspire, the jagged rocks of the broken foothills below streaking past. She kept one eye on the horizon above, scanning for threats and for any sign of Darek and his retinue. They had spotted roving bands of Chaos worshipers and warriors in the far distance along their journey. Though they hadn’t been engaged, that could change at any moment.
She reached the city’s shattered walls, stretching from one edge of the narrowed valley to the other and slowed. She circled the city, using the time waiting for Tianus to catch up to observe and commit to memory what remained of her home. She looked for signs of life also. She hadn’t expected to see any, but the disappointment crashed against her like a hurricane, and the sadness she had felt upon seeing the city only deepened.
The layout of Havenspire appeared largely circular and symmetric. The main road leading from the gate towards the city’s heart was one of four wide thoroughfares that blossomed out from the city-center like a starburst. These were bisected at regular intervals by smaller avenues that ringed the city in concentric circles radiating outward from the central plaza which was itself ringed by a single road into which the main highways emptied.
Through centuries of overgrowth and caked soot, the grandeur and beauty of Havenspire was still evident. Patches of white stone glowed in the dinge like pearls in muck. The heads and arms of statues, buffeted clean by strong winds, seemed to beckon from beneath the blanket of dilapidation.
Tianus approached. Over his shoulder, Zara eyed a swirl of cloud at the mouth of the valley as the evening winds picked up.
“We’ll head to the city center,” Zara called out. “If I remember correctly, the library is across from the temple.”
The road that formed the central ring around Havenspire’s central plaza was lined with shattered obelisks, and some of the runes carved into the remains of their facings still glinted with gold filigree. Zara recognized the crumbled remains of the temple of Sigmar on the north side. The library, or what remained of it, lay in pieces on the south. Everything else was unrecognizable. Even the cloud piercing ivory tower that had given the city its name was nothing more than a ruined foundation piled high with broken stones.
“Very creative,” Tianus quipped.
Zara buffeted her wings and came to a halt midair. “What?”
Tianus, mouth bent in a sly smile said, “A big spire at the city’s heart. A haven in the valley. I say, very clever indeed.”
Zara briefly pondered the risk and reward of chucking her spear at Tianus. Instead, she pointed the spear tip down to the library. “Just go and find your books.”
His darks eyes followed her gesture, and his face turned as pale as the city’s stone. “Zara!” he said, pointing.
Zara looked down. “Holy Sigmar,” she breathed. A figure armored in golden scales and wrapped in a yellow cape was standing on the steps of the temple. It was pointing and shouting. She strained to hear the words, but they were drowned out by a rush of wind and a high-pitched scream.
Zara whirled. She didn’t have time to warn Tianus. The flicker of blue and violet hurtled past and struck him off balance, his left pauldron flying off in a tooth trembling screech of broken metal. Tianus tumbled off his dais. Zara didn’t have time to cry out. She could only flinch as he hit the ground with an echoing thud. There was another rush of air and Zara was lucky to dodge the Screamer as it hurtled past, razor-sharp fins and horns passing within a thread’s width of her face. The air blistered and swirled like a vortex in its wake, and faces mocked and cackled at her before disappearing.
A third Screamer came on, but Zara was ready. Waiting until the last possible moment, she tilted into the charge, her spear puncturing the lithe creature from head to tail. It shuddered, whined and fell, trailing bright ichor in its descent.
The first two Screamers turned about and came on for another pass. She dodged the first with ease, but the second struck her a glancing blow before she rammed her spear into its hide, and it joined its comrade as a smear upon the ground below.
She readied herself for the next pass and her eyes widened. A half dozen more Screamers were rushing in and, coming out of the swirling clouds behind them was a flight of eighteen Tzaangors. The half bird, half human beasts rode atop discs of swirling metal, magic and spikes. Half of them wielded bows, the others twirled jagged spears. In their midst, astride a mount more ornate and terrible than its flock, was a sorcerer clad in gaudy fabric and a burnished breastplate. Its four-eyed face howled orders and it pointed with a staff whose gilded head spat multicolored flames. Yet, for all its inhuman visage, there was something strangely familiar about the creature, as if Zara had met it before.
Zara shook the thought from her mind. The Enlightened and Skyfires slowed and hung back with the sorcerer as the flight of Screamers split and began to circle Zara like a school of otherworldly sharks, the air twisting and burning, waiting for the alpha to swoop in and begin the slaughter.
One of their number turned sharply and the others followed. Zara smiled and held up the celestial lantern. “This realm is yours no more! It belongs to the God-King and the noble people that call it home! Begone!” Her voice boomed, causing the Screamers to hesitate.
The lantern opened wide and filled the valley with a brilliant burst of warm, white light. To those that followed The God-King, the light was a beacon of hope and wonder, the full majesty of Sigmar Himself made manifest. To the followers of the Dark Gods and their demonic lackeys, that majesty was as anathema as the warp was to mortals.
The light from the lantern slowly died. Six of the seven Screamers had turned to ash, reality rippling in the aftermath of their unmaking. The final Screamer, scorched and dazed, came on still and Zara impaled it upon her spear. Its momentum pushed her back and the demon flailed against her, its fins scoring her armor with deep gouges. She pulled her spear free and swung downward, cutting it nearly in half.
Zara made ready again. The sorcerer raised its staff in the air and violet fire danced over its fingertips. In response, the Tzaangors squawked and tilted their discs forward into a charge.
“For Sigmar! For Havenspire!” Zara responded in kind and charged to meet them.
The Skyfires let loose with their bows, arrows crackling with warpfire. Zara banked midflight, but the arrows seemed to bend towards her as if the Skyfires had anticipated where she’d go. She dodged several and swiped one from the air, but one struck home and her charge faltered. The haft of the arrow splintered but sent sparks and a jolt of pain through her abdomen.
Zara flipped backward, the ruins of the city and purple sky falling end over end as she fell several yards before righting herself. The Enlightened were upon her. Unwilling to give in or accept death, she flew into a charge again. The thought of forgetting her home again made her heart ache and she burned with a desire to wreak vengeance. She would not be sent back to the anvil to be reforged, not today!
Zara and the first Enlightened struck with titanic force. She shattered its bladed staff and pushed her spear into the beast’s chest, but its disc whirled and one of its blades struck the gap between her thigh and calf. She grunted, feeling blood pool in the bottom of her greave. She tried to pull her spear free, but the wounded Tzaangor gripped the haft and gave a gurgling chortle.
Zara headbutted the thing, sending it backward, but it pulled her with it. Pressing her feet to the disc, she pushed off from its mass and tore her spear from its chest. She hovered down beside the sloped roof of one of the few buildings still largely intact and braced for the next Enlightened, and her inevitable end. Salvation came from on high and a hail of arrows from below.
A pair of Skyfires flew from their discs as they were struck by blasts of energy. The Enlightened that was bearing down on her twitched its head to the left, its crest of feathers rising like the hackles on a startled cat. Marithos, hurtling down like a blue comet, his wings blazing with the light of Hysh. He slammed feet first into the Enlightened, landing on top of its broken body in a cloud of shattered roof tiles and centuries old dust.
Darek and Yahan streaked down, transmuting their paired war hammers into the raw stuff of Azyr and hurling them like ball lightning into the Skyfires. Their weapons reappeared in their hands in a flash of golden light in time for them to set about the enemy in melee.
Zara turned to Marithos as he flew up to her, his two-handed axe resting on his shoulder. “Where have you been this whole time?” She snapped.
The Prosecutor hefted his axe into both hands as if it weighed no more than a bundle of reeds. “On our way to warn you of the danger,” he growled as he jolted forward and swung his axe, Zara folding her wings briefly and dropping beneath the swing. She looked up in time to see Marithos cleave an Enlightened in half as it flew by, splattering her armor with its foul lifeblood.
Marithos looked down, his facemask disguising the smile Zara heard in his voice. “Seems we got here just in the nick of time.” He nodded downward. “So did they.”
Zara glanced to the ruins of the temple. Dozens of men and women armored in golden scales and silver helms took up a battle line at its base. The warriors in front wielded long glaives in one hand and silver shields like mirrors in the other. The warriors behind raised their bows and let loose with another volley on the Enlightened and Skyfires and the followers of Tzeentch began to turn and flee.
Zara smiled and raised her spear, the light of her celestial lantern burning brighter as the thrill of imminent victory and the sight of mortal survivors filled her heart with warmth. “For Sigmar!” she called exultantly, and the other Stormcast took up the call and charged forward.
Yahana broke off and began chasing the fleeing Tzaangors. Darek made for the sorcerer, the hammers in his hands transmuting into sparking spheres of lightning before hurling them. They burst with brilliant flashes, their celestial energy dissipating against an invisible shield that flared like a nimbus around it.
The sorcerer gave voice to a guttural curse and its staff began to glow. It swirled its spiderlike fingers and the air twisted and turned like a whirlpool. There was a loud crack as the veil between the world and unreality split open, and a dull roar like a million voices whispering at once filled the valley from edge to edge.
The sorcerer flicked its hand and from the whirlpool of broken reality flung a plume of pink fire at Darek. The Prosecutor-Prime spun and missed the bulk of the flame, but its tongues lapped out and slashed at him. Twisting sharply, he fell hard atop a roof.
With another flick, green flames lashed out towards Marithos and struck him like a whip. With a grunt, Marithos suddenly turned and swung his axe at Zara’s neck. She lifted her spear in time and the hafts of their weapons rang with the impact, Marithos’ eyes flickering with emerald light.
“Marithos,” Zara barked, shoving him back. “Clear your mind! The Sorcerer’s magic has you.”
Marithos shook his head. With another flick of the sorcerer’s wrist, a wave of blue fire jumped from its hand. Zara prepared for it but came to the horrible realization that it was aimed at the mortals below and not her.
The dazzling blue fire washed over the mortals’ ranks and Zara’s chest tightened. Her heart was gripped by a terrible rage as she waited for the flames to dissipate and reveal a twisting, mewling mass of charred, warped figures. Instead, when it cleared, the mortals appeared unharmed, the white stone around them bubbling and churning as if they too had been protected by an invisible force.
Zara cried out with joy. Amongst the mortals, one palm stretched to the heavens, eyes crackling with cerulean lightning, was Tianus. Raising his staff, he flung a bolt of lightning from his palm straight at the sorcerer. The invisible shield shattered, and the sorcerer roared in pain as the wrath of Azyr struck it head on.
The sorcerer reeled and Zara slammed into it, her spear piercing its chest. With a buffet of her wings, she drove it down onto a roof. It gurgled and coughed and clawed at the spear’s haft.
Zara removed her helmet and lifted her lantern, aiming at the sorcerer. “I am Zara Lightsong, Knight-Azyros of the Tempest Lords, messenger of the God-King. Hear my name and take it with you back to the hell that spawned you. Carry it to those who would threaten the Mortal Realms and tell them I will be waiting.”
The sorcerer turned its four eyes toward her. The two set into its forehead, beady like a spider’s, flickered with crimson light. “Sarniana,” it said. Zara froze. Memories of her past life flashed before her in an instant, and suddenly, she knew the Sorcerer’s name.
“Agathen,” she whispered, now recognizing the face of the mage priest from her memories hidden deep in the sorcerer’s sharp, warped features.
Agathen gave a wet laugh. He waved his hand and a halo of violet flames rose from around his feet. “The Talon will be pleased to see you again, young one. He wishes me to tell you, that you were always too slow.” With a burst of cold air, the violet flames consumed the sorcerer and he disappeared.
Zara hovered in place, staring blankly at the crack in the wall made by her spear as dark blood dripped from its long blade.
“Agathen,” she mouthed. “The Talon.” She repeated the names over and over for a time, the cheers of the mortals below a distant tune in a faraway symphony. “Agathen. The Talon. Sarniana. Havenspire.”
Zara’s eyes fluttered and another round of visions overtook her. This time, she saw new faces and heard new names. There were people gathered around a long table. She saw the corrupted warrior with the two axes, but the taint of Chaos was nowhere in his face or armor. He held a golden helmet in his hands, and his smile was as comforting as a warm breeze on a cold day. He stood next to a woman, beautiful, her skin dark like carved ebony, her robes bright and golden yellow as if spun from the light of Hysh.
There was another woman, taller than the beautiful priest, thin and rugged with brown hair. She leaned on a spear and her brow was furrowed and she was vehement in whatever disagreement she was having. “Sarniana,” the corrupted warrior said.
“Saren,” she said back. “The Talon,” Zara said. Her brother. How had he fallen? What madness had overcome them?
“Enough!” Said another voice. There were two at the head of the long table. A mage, his features veiled in shadow and a tall, aged warrior in dull armor, his hair peppered grey.
Zara blinked. He was blind, eyes covered by a cloth. The blind warrior looked up at her and Zara gasped. The vision was looking at her.
“You were not here,” the aged warrior said, his voice shivering like the sixth string of a Havenspire lute. The cloth over the aged warriors’ eyes burned away into ash and his eyes turned to a painful, searing light. The aged warrior frowned, and his weathered face seemed lined with sorrow. “You are not supposed to be here, Zara, once Sarniana, Knight-Azyros of the Silent God. Begone!”
The glowing eyes burst into a brilliant nova and Zara was flung from the vision. She returned to the world and felt herself falling, the air rushing past and the dark sky speeding away. “Zara!” She heard her name being called before she felt the impact of her descent and the world went dark.
Chapter 2: The Talon
Saren ran a finger down the face of his horned, golden helmet, the metal of his gauntlet hissing as he rubbed a way a layer of grime. He sifted through the visions and dreams that had plagued him for the last months. He thought of the young woman in those visions, moving with the speed and strength of the raging river, ever thrust and strike of her spear bringing death. Her bright eyes had been at odds with her stony face, filled with tears, glaring up at him in defiance as he readied the killing blow. He thought of the flash of lightning and how she and the dozens of others around her had disappeared, his moment of final victory and vengeance torn from his grasp.
“Sarniana,” Saren whispered. He sifted through the images he had seen through Agathen’s eyes. There was no mistaking it. “Now Zara, emissary of Sigmar.”
“The Silent God,” Agathen spat, one hand over the bleeding rent in his breastplate. He leaned on his staff, the wychfire haloing the head dimmer than normal, but strong enough to illuminate the dank cave with a haunting pool of indigo light. “Silent when His people needed Him. Now, He sends His Stormcast to protect a broken city? Need we more proof that Tzeentch favors us?”
“She has come on her own. Called by destiny. By fate. The Weaver of Fates has brought her to me. Brought the children of Havenspire together once more.” Saren turned his helmet and paused, his body turning rigid. In the soft light, there was a reflection in the helmet. It was twisted, hideous, but in that faint image there was a face he almost recognized, a face he had seen in those dreams and visions. The features of that face twisted into something altogether more terrible. The third eye in the middle of its forehead vibrated with the staccato beat of Saren’s heart.
Saren aj’Sharenthal, The First Spear of Havenspire. The Warbringer. The Whirlwind. That was what they had called him in a past life. He had all but forgotten it, and these memories and names and titles were unsettling. Disgusting. They were the names and titles of a weaker man, a more naïve man. He had but one name and one title now. He was Saren, The Talon of Belinathros. The remnants of Havenspire were all that remained of those cities, and he wouldn’t let Sigmar or this Zara Lightsong keep him from ending their pitiful existence.
Saren growled. It was an inhuman sound, the grinding of steel teeth on soft gold. He replaced his helmet and turned to Agathen. “Muster my three banners and gather as many warbands as you can. We march for Havenspire tonight before they have a chance to escape us again.”
“No,” answered a voice from the shadows of the cave, the first consonant of each word echoing and reverberating as if repeated by a second, deeper voice. “Your obsession has already cost us valuable time and manpower. If you go, you go alone, Talon.”
Saren turned to the source of the echoing voice, a corner of the cave in which the shadows sat deeper, black within black, a veil of madness set in a sea of starless night. Saren removed one of the axes from his belt and motioned to the darkness. “Come and join us, Chax’ar. Come into the light.”
“You too are in the shadows, Saren,” Chax’ar cooed. “I do so wonder why.” It was a taunt, not a question, and Saren placed a hand on his second axe. “What are you hiding, Talon?” Chax’ar pressed. “Rather, what are you hiding from?” The Magister moved from the shadows into the pool of indigo spilling from Agathen’s staff. His warped, sinuous features were mostly hidden beneath a dark cloak. Only his clawed feet, sticking out beneath the hem of his cloak and his large, single eye betrayed the monster beneath. “Tell me, Talon. What are you hiding from?”
Saren shook with rage, ensorcelled magics wafting from his silver armor like wisps of multicolored steam. “I hide from nothing and no one.”
“Except yourself, it would seem. You have hardly left this cave in months.”
“Belinathros has been idle for months! My lord has stood by as armies of Hedonites and Maggotkin have harassed our forces and marched for the Silverdawn gate. My three banners will be ready to march when he orders us.”
“Not if you are wasting time on this foolish quest of yours. Time and warriors that are not yours.”
“The Hawk does not care about the lives of lesser warriors. He hardly notices they are there.”
Chax’ar’s eye flashed. “Tzeentch hardly notices we are here either. You and I and Agathen,” Chax’ar waved a clawed hand at the other sorcerer whose head was bowed in deference, “we are but rats playing for the amusement of the Great Schemer. Yet, we play our part in the game. Do not mistake The Hawk’s indifference to their lives for indifference to how those lives are spent.
“If you are set upon this quest, this childish desire to hunt down every last survivor of that broken kingdom, then you may do so on your own. If you are brave enough to leave this haven of yours, that is.” In the shadowed eves of his hood, Saren saw the Magister flash a sharp smile.
With a roar, Saren reached out and took Chax’ar by the throat and lifted him from the ground. “You think because my lord tolerates your life that he cares any more for it than he does the legions of Arcanites that grovel at his feet? You led him to the Eyes of Tangra. You led us down this path.” Saren squeezed. “I wonder if he foresees your death as he foresaw the fall of Havenspire.” At the utterance of the name, memories of a forgotten life shimmered like a desert mirage behind his eyes. Memories of desperate battles to save his people. Memories of begging a blind general to come to those people’s aid. Memories of a quest to find an artefact that would stave off extinction; a quest that had led to the damnation of his people.
Chax’ar began to laugh, his body convulsing in Saren’s grip. “Your people?” He asked, as if reading Saren’s mind. “I ask again, what are you hiding from? Why are you so desperate to end the pitiful lives of these creatures, yet so afraid to face them yourself? What drives you on this foolish quest, Talon? Or should I say, Saren aj’Sharenthal?”
From Chax’ar’s eye came a dazzling burst of light. Saren jerked his head away and dropped the Magister, stunned, a feeling of ice burning through his veins.
Chax’ar laughed again. “Go to your city, Saren aj’Sharenthal. Find what solace you seek in the deaths of your people. Return to us as The Talon, Exalted Champion of Tzeentch.”
With a rush of air that shook the cave, Chax’ar vanished, Saren’s axes passing through the shadowy mist left in his wake. Raising his face to the dark ceiling above, Saren roared. Even before the metallic echoes of his voice died, he was marching to the cave entrance, Agathen scurrying at his heels.
He saw a vision of his sister, wounded on the ground before him, her life in his hands, the dead all around. He saw his axe passing through the air where she had been, his ears ringing with the sound of thunder. Saren roared again as their faces taunted him. He would silence them once and for all. He would silence all of them! “Gather my three banners, your sky hunters and whatever covens will join you.”
“Champion, you heard the Voice.”
Saren rounded on the Sorcerer who flinched. “Do it!”
Agathen gave a deep bow. “As you wish, Talon.”
Saren emerged from the cave and squinted, deep shadows giving way to mottled light. He looked to the heavens and called out to the only god that had ever answered him. “Tomorrow, Havenspire will finally fall. I do this for you, Great Schemer! Do you hear me? Havenspire will fall!”
Chapter 3: <unnamed, unfinished>
I tried to tell them.
The young warrior pleads her case. “This cannot be the way,” she says vehemently. “This cannot be the only path left open to us.”
The warrior with the golden helmet places his hand upon her shoulder. “Sarniana, we have exhausted all our options. The Eyes of Tangra are our next logical step.”
“They are tainted,” the young warrior protests. “This quest, it is born of desperation. It is offered to us by a man we hardly know!”
I tried to warn them!
“Sarniana, this is ridiculous. We know the risks of Aetherquartz. We have overcome the temptations. We used it too liberally in the past, but these are desperate times!”
The beautiful priestess with the dark skin waves her hand. “Sarniana, listen to your brother. I know this seems dangerous, but what choice do we have?”
“No, I will not!” The young warrior protests.
“Enough!” Says a deep voice. The young warrior turns to the end of the table.
The blind warrior.
“I have made my choice,” the blind warrior says. He places his hand upon a map rolled out over the table. “We find the Eyes of Tangra.” The blind warrior turns his head to the young warrior. “I trust you, Bringer of Justice, to end my life when we have made safe the Twelve Cities. I trust you to destroy the Eyes of Tangra so that they may never be used again. For good or ill. If they cannot be destroyed, then take them to the farthest corner of Hysh and hide them. This, I trust to you.” He points at her as if he sees her, head tilting forward. “Do you hear and obey?”
The blind warrior shakes his head and a figure cloaked in shadow appears behind him. “Not you, Zara Lightsong,” says the blind warrior, the cloth around his eyes burning away. “You were not here!”
Zara awoke with a start, hand searching for her spear.
“Whoa,” said a familiar voice. “Relax, you’re alright.”
Zara blinked. Tianus’ oval face came into focus beneath a dusting of stars, sewn like sequins into the shawl of night.
“Thank the Comet, she’s alive.” Darek’s pockmarked face appeared beside Tianus’, twisted in concern, grey glass-splinter eyes shimmering with the fury of a gathering storm. “I thought I had arrived too late.”
“Nearly,” Zara said, sitting up slowly, accepting the hand offered her by Tianus. “Where were you?” Zara asked of Darek, careful not to sound accusatory.
“On our way to warn you of an approaching force of Arcanites. I apologize, we did not see the second group hidden in the dust.”
Zara rolled her shoulder, grunted at the pain, said, “Where is that second group?”
“Dead, mostly,” Yahana replied.
Zara turned, nodded to the tall Prosecutor with the lean face, said, “No fresh scars for you? You gathered your twelve tally, then.”
Yahana sniffed and ran a finger over one of the many scars that marred her cheeks and chin, then through the mop of wheat colored hair that covered the left side of her scalp, the other half shaved smooth. “Fifteen, to be exact, though I feel remiss. Including the group that ambushed you, I got twenty-two.”
Marithos grunted from his perch atop the rampart that encircled the roof. “She wanted to mark herself, said they were two separate fights. She’ll ever be honest about her kill count, grant her that.”
Yahana spat. “Jealous, Marithos? Did your axe not drink its fill of vengeance today?”
Marithos smiled, teeth a shining crescent moon pressed between cracked lips, dark eyes suddenly illuminated as if by its radiance. “Nay, never enough.” He turned to Zara, his smile fading behind a cloud of guilt. “Zara, about what happened…”
“All is forgiven,” Zara said with a clipped wave of her hand. “If anything, you need to practice more. My head should be free of my shoulders.”
“Hah!” Marihos guffawed. “She’s as right as the Comet’s path. First joke she’s cracked since we left for this place.”
This place…? Havenspire! Zara whirled around, regretted it immediately as a wave of vertigo overtook her. “Havenspire,” she said. “The people, the priest—”
“Are alive and well,” Tianus interrupted. “As am I, thanks to that priest.”
Zara looked Tianus over, noting the cracks in his armor, the awkward way he carried his left arm, the rent in his shoulder where his pauldron had been ripped free. He had fallen from a great height. “The priest healed you?”
“Mostly,” Tianus said. “His power is limited. I think it will take some time for his magic to work more, and he only has so much to work with for now. He’ll need to save it for those among his company that were injured.” He nodded, pointed at Zara’s leg, said: “You, too.”
“I’m fine,” Zara said, spreading her wings, the light from the crystals briefly illuminating the rooftop and casting the dark armored Stormcast in shadowed contrast to the white stone around them.
Darek growled, tapped the side of the helmet tucked beneath his arm. “You’d say that were you split in half.”
Zara retrieved her helmet, took her spear and lantern Tianus, turned to Darek and said: “So I would. Of the five of us, I am the least injured.”
“Second least,” Yahana mumbled, combing fingers through her hair again. The Prosecutor took as much pride in her lack of injuries as she took in the scars, she tried to avoid giving herself.
Zara’s narrowed her gaze, checked her irritation, turned to Tianus, said: “Where are they?”
“Waiting for us below,” Marithos replied, motioning over his shoulder. He hopped down from his perch and spread his wings. “They want to meet Sigmar’s daughter from Havenspire.”
Zara nodded, hooked her lantern to her belt but paused before donning her helmet. She gave a heavy sigh, tucked it in the crook her arm, stepped atop the rampart of the roof and along with Tianus, Darek and his retinue, floated to the ground with a feather’s grace, the light of their wings piercing the gloom and illuminating hundreds of warriors who had gathered at the base of the building. They gasped, most wide eyed with wonder, but Zara noted resentment on the faces of some of the oldest among them.
Those old faces were few, though. Most were young. So very young, Zara thought. Young, malnourished and tired. She towered over even a healthy warrior, and none of these save a very elite few were healthy. In the light of Stormcast’s wings, long shadows pulled across their gaunt, haunted features, ghosts in a pale moon light staring with awe at angels sent from on high.
“Sigmar has not abandoned us,” a young woman whispered, stepping forward. Tears were in her eyes and she fell to her knees, glaive and shield clattering to the stone, and she wept openly. “Sigmar be praised!”
“Sigmar be praised!”
“The host of Azyr has come!”
“We are saved!”
A tall figure wrapped in yellow robes stepped forward from the crowd. He was bald but for a single knot of milky white hair atop his head like a bundle of flax reeds that fell to his shoulders. His features were sharper still than the gaunt warriors about him, and his body was lithe. Aelf, Zara realized. One of Tyrion’s folk. Zara did not remember any Aelves that held positions of power in Havenspire, though they were common enough.
The priest in yellow bowed his head, regarded the Stormcast for a time before speaking. “It is an honor to be in the presence of Sigmar’s Stormcast, my lords.” His voice was cozy like a winter fire, hopeful in its tone yet marred in melancholy. “Salvation has indeed, come.”
A murmur rose among the gathered warriors. Tears streaked down faces and Zara felt the way the priest’s voice sounded. Overjoyed to find survivors from her city, yet suddenly afraid to crush their hopes.
“Sigmar!” cried a voice from the crowd, and most took up the exultant call. “Sigmar! Sigmar!”
Tianus moved up beside Zara, glanced sidelong at her and the knot in her gut grew tighter. She was the bringer of hope, not the extinguisher. How could she tell these people that she was not here to save them? She hadn’t even known they were here!
“Sigmar! Sigmar! Sigmar!” The voices echoed across the valley, growing in pitch, magnificent and glorious like a fresh dawn.
This is a work of fiction. All rights, names and characters belong to Games-Workshop Ltd.