As the Age of Sigmar dawns across the realms, Nihlus Tidalborne and his Warrior Chamber are sent to the Endless Deserts of Shyish to seek out allies of old amongst the sands. The desert revenants who occupy the realm are not as forgiving of perceived past slights as the Stormcast may hope though. If Sigmar's warriors do not meet their demise at the hands of the living dead, then the many chaos tribes or the harsh realities of the barren land may do them in. Can Nihlus find the ancient monarchs and secure the alliance they need or will Sigmar's storm break upon the desert winds?
Tides of War - Part 1
Wind roared. Rigging snapped. Rain hammered against his face. People shouted. In fear? Rage? Violence. Pain. Fear. Guilt. Worst of all was the guilt, but for what, he was unsure. All he knew was that the feeling of guilt burned strong, deep, unquestioning. Mile high waves loomed before him and were suddenly gone, replaced by impenetrable mists shrouding everything. A woman’s touch, a hand lovingly placed on his cheek. A wife, a daughter, a mother, a sister, a lover, a friend? Again the answer eluded him, slipping through his grasp.
“Don’t forget, never forget Nihls,” a frustratingly androgynous voice echoed. Forget what? The guilt flared up angrily within him yet again, directionless and stringent. Demanding an answer for the sins he could not recall. The sounds of clashing steel and cracking gunshots swept away his thoughts in a tumultuous cavalcade. Wood creaked and snapped as he felt the ground beneath him heave and roll. No, not ground, the decking of a ship, he was on some sort of boat. With the realization his thoughts began to crystalize, clinging onto the small mote of recognition. The scene around him took form, shapes materializing out of the fog of his memories.
All around him battle raged, men and woman fighting fiercely against shapes he couldn’t distinguish. A storm raged overhead, lightning cracking and illuminating the battle in nightmare tableaus, moments frozen in time. Blades tore through limbs, blood sprayed lost amongst the rain, bodies fell and were swept overboard by the violent sea. Chaos. Bedlam. He couldn’t make sense of what was happening around him despite how frustratingly familiar it felt.
“Traitor!” a voice called out, an accusation that cut through the uproar, piercing the cracking thunderheads and set a sinking feeling in his gut. Guilt overtook him again, plunging his thoughts back into a fog, the scene around him narrowing as the mists of time reclaimed it once more. A single figure approached, a notched cutlass gripped threateningly in its hand, a shadowy being that refused to solidify into a recognizable shape.
“Traitor!” the voice roared again. A sharp pain spread throughout him as lighting cracked above. He was on his back now, his hand coming away wet with his lifeblood. The figure loomed over him, bending down as if to confer a secret shared between only them. “Traitor,” the word echoed once again, now but a whisper. The face began to swim into focus, recognition slowly dawning, then…
“My Lord?” a deep voice questioned from behind him.
The roaring ocean was replaced with the soft pattering of sand against his armor, carried upon a sighing wind. Nearly unbearable heat beamed down upon him from an all to bright sun, making his golden armor stick to him in uncomfortable ways. The vague memories of a distant life faded as the Lord-Celestant’s attention returned to the present. Perched upon a rising sand dune he had sought solitude, a moment’s respite from the demands of his office. The past always eluded him, an uncomfortable reminder of another time that nagged at his dreams and now invaded his waking moments. Curse these half formed memories, these ghosts from a past life he thought, as he opened his eyes to the sprawling desert before him.
“I’ve traded one sea for another,” he remarked quietly to himself.
“My Lord Tidalborne?”
“Yes Kalut,” he responded flatly, recognizing the voice of his Retributor-Prime.
“One yet lives.”
Nihlus shielded his eyes against the sun and turned to face his Prime, the deep purple crest of his helmet fluttering in protest against the strong wind. Spread out before him at the base of the sand dune stood the Tidalborne, a mighty host of Stormcast Eternals forged for war by the God-King and placed under his command. Nearly three hundred warriors stood resplendent in gleaming gold and celestial blue, Liberators, Judicators, Prosecutors, and Paladins of various armaments amongst their ranks. Many were hard at work, cleaning fast drying gore from their weapons and armor. Scattered amongst their feet lay the remains of a bloodbound war band, their bodies broken and twisted by the righteous fury of Sigmar.
This was the fifth war band to plague their travels, and the fifth to fall to their hammers. Even the deserts of Shyish seemed to be infested with the Chaos filth.
“Cairnwalker has him bound,” Kalut reported as he gestured over towards the Stormhost’s Lord-Relictor. “He may be able to help us find a traversable path. Their kind did make these dunes their home after all.”
Nihlus Tidalborne nodded in ascent, “It’s worth a shot.” He placed his hand on one of Kalut’s massive pauldrons in thanks before passing, shaking the lingering doubts of his past from his mind. The Retributor quickly fell in step behind him. Their Sigmarite armor may have provided them with the best protection in the Realms, but it did them no favors in the ever-shifting desert. Each step sank the Stormcast’s bulk down into the sand, making even a simple task like walking into a chore. If the foul spawn of Chaos didn’t kill them soon then the harsh realities of the desert might. Only the soothing light of the Lord-Castellant’s lantern kept the debilitating effects of the arid landscape and baking sun at bay. Even then it failed to fully recuperate them. His warriors were tired to the bone, and they had already lost several souls to the vagaries of the dunes. The losses often went unnoticed until they stopped to make camp, or a flash of blue lightning speared up into the heavens off in the distance. If Nihlus wasn’t able to find the ones they sought soon, he thought, then this whole affair might become a loss.
Gallous Cairnwalker stood sentinel near the bottom of the dune, his expression hidden behind the rictus grin of his death mask. Kneeling before him was the bruised and bloody form of a bloodbound warrior. The man’s gore red armor was battered and torn, bare metal showing through. He grimaced as Nihlus approached, his helmet discarded during the previous battle. A warrior’s face stared defiantly at the Stormcast, broad and powerful. His skin equal parts bronze and burnt red with a single braid of hair trailing in the wind from an otherwise shaven scalp. Any noble bearing he may have once had was now hidden beneath a patchwork of scars and poorly reset bones. Tattoos of a dark design marked the bare patches of his arms, disappearing beneath his armor. He was, to put it simply, the very picture of the savage that Nihlus had come to expect from the blood god’s kin.
Although the captive was bereft of weapons the Lord-Relictor did not stand guard alone. Kalut’s Retributors waited nearby, weapons at the ready. Every precaution was being taken with the prisoner. Even defeated, he was dangerous, any sanity he maintained hanging on by the slightest thread.
Nihlus stopped before the shackled man, looking down at him with a mixture of pity, disgust, and anger. The blood warrior continued to stare back defiantly, his left eye twitching in an unhealthy tattoo.
“Lightning warrior,” he grunted in greeting, a hint of amusement coloring his words.
Nihlus stared at him a moment more, his emotions hidden behind his impassive golden mask, before turning to Gallous. “What use is this cur to us?” he said incredulously. “The blood god’s followers can barely form a coherent sentence, let alone be trusted to navigate a featureless realm.”
“Every day we tarry we grow closer to death. I can feel it Nihlus,” the Lord-Relictor paused momentarily, as if taking in his surroundings, “it permeates this land stronger than most. We must take any opportunity presented to us, no matter how unseemly or unlikely it is. Sigmar tasked us with finding the desert revenants who call this land home, so find them we must.”
A loud guffaw interrupted them and the pair looked down at the prisoner who was laughing manically, blood and spittle flying from his mangled mouth.
“You seek out the dead who walk amongst us?!” he said between fits of laughter, “And I thought we were the mad ones?”
“What do you know of them?” Nihlus demanded.
The blood warrior hesitated, grinding his teeth together while deciding upon his answer. “They provide good sport. Plenty of skulls,” the blood warrior said jovially before adding with a hint of disappointment, “Sadly no blood.” He shifted slightly, attempting to adjust the manacles that bound his wrists. “They’re legions are vast, almost without number, and they’re kings guard their lands jealously. To fight them is to fight against the inevitability of death itself. There are only ever two outcomes when confronted with the deathrattle legions. Defeat or to run and bring glory to Khorne another day.”
“That doesn’t sound very befitting of one of the blood god’s soldiers,” Gallous goaded.
“It’s befitting of the smart ones,” the prisoner snapped. “I do not intend to die unremembered amongst a pile of dusty bones.”
“How do we reach them?” Nihlus asked briskly. “All we have found since entering this barren land is sand and misery.”
“Why should I help you lightning warrior?” he asked incredulously, turning back towards the Lord-Celestant. “The realms are ours, not yours! All is Chaos and Chaos is all. The very sand we stand upon belongs to Khorne, the air you breathe, the sun and the moons, blood for the blood god! Arghhhh! Skulls for the skull throne! Nhhhyygggnnn!” He trailed off in an unintelligible rant, straining at his restraints.
Nihlus looked down upon the wretched man, now firmly in the grip of some sort of mania, then back up at his Lord-Relictor. Slowly Nihlus crouched down, bringing his face level with the raving warrior who still thrashed about, speaking in a harsh tongue unfamiliar to him. Faster then thought his golden hand shot out, snatching the man’s face within his armored gauntlet and holding him still. The prisoner fought at first, struggling uselessly against the might of the Stormcast. Soon a form of sanity seemed to return to him, the glazed look in his eyes fading. Nihlus held him firm, studying the change with curiosity. He appeared confused, as if awakening from a strange dream and unsure of where he was. What goes on within that mangled mind of yours the Lord-Celestant wondered, before recognizing the disorientation of memories as something uncomfortably familiar to himself.
“Listen to me, whelp,” he growled, tightening his grip slightly. “The way I see it you have two choices before you. You either help us in our quest and live long enough to die in a manner more pleasing to your god.” He paused, his cold grey eyes locking with the warrior’s, “or we leave you here, chained and alone to slowly die of thirst.” The prisoner continued to struggle at first, impotent rage boiling over in his expression, before finally accepting his fate.
“I shall take you to them,” the warrior said defeated, going slack in Nihlus’ grip. He sulked for a moment more. “Perhaps I will die a worthy death yet!” he exclaimed suddenly. “A khopesh buried in my chest and an ax in my hand,” he said fondly. Disgusted with the satisfied smile on the prisoner’s face, the Stormcast stood, releasing him with a shove. The bloodbound sprawled backwards into the dust, unable to arrest his fall.
“Well it seems we have our guide,” Gallous said with a hint of encouragement.
“So it seems. Let us not forget that he is still the enemy, and half mad at that.”
“Half mad is better then whole mad!” the warrior interjected, still on his back. “You should count yourself lucky that you captured me and not Balthor. That lunatic would have bashed his face to a pulp against your armor before talking. In fact I think I see him over there with an ax in his head. Looks like he may have ran afoul of old Gaarac before the battle’s end. Not a lick of sense…” he was silenced with a sharp kick to his side by a nearby Retributor.
“My thanks,” the Lord-Celestant said nodding towards the Paladin.
Nihlus rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. “Calux!” he called out. A nearby Liberator snapped to attention at the name, abandoning the mound of dead he had been stacking to hurry over to the group.
“Yes my lord?” he asked.
“This,” Nihlus gestured to the prone blood warrior, “is now your responsibility. He is to be our guide and it is now your duty to ensure that he does not escape or make a nuisance of himself.”
Calux glanced down at his new charge before looking around the group of assembled Stormcast, than back to his Lord-Celestant. “Yes my lord,” he said with a hint of disappointment in his voice.
“Good. Have him ready to move soon, we have tarried long enough.”
The Liberator bent down and hauled the chaos warrior roughly to his feet by his shackles. “Get moving filth,” he growled, starting to march the prisoner away from his commanders.
“Khar’ath,” the prisoner said over his shoulder as he was shoved away from Nihlus.
“What?” the Lord-Celestant questioned.
“My name. It’s Khar’ath.”
Nihlus stared silently at the blood warrior for several moments before turning away. “I did not ask, nor do I care,” he said flatly. “Calux, do keep him quiet.”
“Yes my lord,” he said as he roughly marched the prisoner back towards the rest of the army.
Nihlus removed his helmet once all but Gallous had left. “I do not trust that cur,” he said slicking back his sweat soaked hair, the jet black locks plastered to his head.
“Nor should we, but what other choice do we have?” the Lord-Relictor asked. “We either take the risk of following him, or take the even larger risk of getting lost for eternity amongst these sands. They do not call this area the Endless Deserts for nothing Nihlus. If we do not find the correct path through the dunes we could very well put to the test just how immortal we really are. I for one do not plan on spending the rest of my days with only the sun and sand as accompaniment.”
Nihlus said nothing in reply, staring out over the endless dunes as they receded into the distance.
“Aye, you are right as always my friend. Let us prepare the Warrior Chamber for the march ahead. I shall join you shortly”
Gallous nodded and left his commander to his own thoughts, marshaling the warriors behind them.
Amongst the sounds of the shifting sands Nihlus swore he could almost make out the crash of waves and the cry of gulls and beneath it all a whispered accusation that still cut him to his core. Traitor.
Silently he donned his helmet and turned back to his awaiting warriors.
“A storm is building brother, I can feel it,” a dry voice cracked. “A storm of lightning and rain, something these lands have not felt for ages.”
The brooding figure tightened his grip on the battlements ledge, dried skin and bandage cracking. His eyes burned with a feverish green light, motes of power drifting away on the desert wind, his attention fixed firmly on what lay below him.
“They grow bolder,” he said, seemingly ignoring the other’s words. “The attacks grow more frequent, more frenzied, more determined.”
Beneath the towering necropolis’ shadow a fierce battle raged. Rank upon rank of skeletal warriors marching in lockstep towards a raging horde of plague and blood frenzied warriors. The thunder of skeletal steeds echoed off the walls as they carried countless bronzed chariots behind them, crashing in amongst the chaos army while towering stone statues waded through the melee, scything down the enemy like chaff while crude axes bounced harmlessly off of their impervious skin.
“I should be down there,” he said with a mix of longing and resentment.
“This is beneath you brother, a mere squabble, not worthy of your attention.”
King Pharakh straightened, turning to the wizened figure occupying the battlement with him, a scowl visible behind the cracks in his impassive marble death mask. “This is the tenth time they have assaulted my walls in as many weeks. Something has changed. They seem…Desperate.”
Djet-Hotep made his way over to his king’s side, leaning heavily on his staff. “It is as I say, a storm is building and they sense it. In their desperation they fling themselves upon our swords to escape it. Something has changed indeed.”
The king met the gaze of his chief liche priest and hierophant before turning back to the unfolding battle. “The right flank is collapsing slightly,” he said absently, “Ptramose has become lax with the third chariot cohort. They will be smashed to timbers by those blood soaked brutes over there if he doesn’t reinforce them soon.”
“Brother,” the priest pleaded before being cut off.
“I have had enough of your concerns for today,” Pharakh declared. “To scryer what the future holds is your domain, mine is to rule and to conquer.”
The king walked away from the wall restlessly, his hand upon the hilt of his khopesh. “Prepare my chariot,” he commanded to a duo of stock-still tomb guard. A pair of leonine constructs padded out of the shadows at the sound of his voice, their movements the sounds of softly grinding stone. Placing a hand almost lovingly upon one of their heads he turned back to his brother. “I wish to feel the enemies’ bones crunch beneath my wheels and hear the sounds of their screams as I tear through their ranks. I wish to see battle and feel the wind upon my desiccated skin.”
Djet-Hotep frowned as his liege and brother gathered up the remaining tomb guard and headed for the stairs. The king stopped and looked back one last time.
“Today I wish to feel alive again.”
More coming soon