Rise of the Battlemaster Book IV
You cannot comprehend the vast madness of the Chaos March without becoming mad yourself. It is as if the land itself is alive. It thrums and heaves with a frenetic heartbeat, the wind howls like the screams of a mad god. Rivers of viscera and bile carry life to the temple fortresses, where they pulse like pestilent tumors. Oh yes, the land is alive. It hungers…and it hates.
- Audra Telesthyr, Loremaster.
iernan and his Companions crossed the blasted, shifting landscape of the Chaos March until they came to the temple-fortress of Caragor. All of their combined scrying and omens has led them to this place in search of the Emperor. The horrors within the walls are unspeakable, but the Companions steel their nerves and press on into the bowels of the temple. What they find there almost breaks their spirit. The Emperor is nowhere to be found, although his battered armour has been defiled and used in bloody effigy, and the soldiers of the Cohorts are being used as sacrifices and slave labour – barely one in ten remains.
Much to the surprise of the citizens of the Westmarch, Dwarven airships make landing at Tor Egan in the spring. They carry badly needed food, supplies and soldiers. While they are received warmly by the desperate refugees and townsfolk, the burghers of Tor Egan are openly resentful or even hostile. After some initial disputes, the airship crews erect landing towers outside the city walls and begin the work of distributing aid. Their battle-barges and war-chanters have an immediate impact against the blackblood raiding parties.
Kiernan frees the enslaved remnants of Eddelen’s army, leading a slave revolt that overwhelms the temple’s guards. At the apex of the altar tower, Kiernan defeats a powerful Chaos ghast and liberates the Imperial War Banner – the symbol of an Emperor at war. They escape from Caragor, Kiernan leading them on a fighting retreat south.
As autumn draws to a close, tensions between Dwarves and the authorities of Tor Egan reach breaking point. Several airship crews are massacred by troops under Governor Almeth ban-Fiann. Almeth, fearing retribution, seals the city and orders his garrison to fire on any airships that come within range of the walls. The Dwarves withdraw from Tor Egan, refocusing their efforts on the smaller settlements of the Westmarch. They are now the only thing standing between a growing blackblood horde and the destruction of the March.
Marshall Gerrick has begun receiving reports that the marauding chaos forces loose in the Northmarch are, once again, gathering for an assault on Tor Nordia. He dispatches messengers to the Assemblage of Lords requesting aid but his pleas fall upon deaf ears.
Rival factions within the Assemblage of Lords are on the brink of open warfare in the streets of Tor Carath. Those loyal to House Rihalla maintain that, without proof of the Emperor’s demise, there is no precedent for a Succession. Houses Liann, Fiann and Ordu call upon the Justiciars to invoke the Rites of Mourning and call for a gathering of the Scions of Carath. Warmaster Esten, with the unexpected support of Justiciar Berennis, strives to uphold a semblance of law and order. He refuses to be drawn to either side, maintaining that the defence of the Empire must come before politics.
he early thaw this year sees a ravening horde of chaos fanatics descend upon Tor Nordia. The garrison, exhausted and under-supplied, commend themselves to their Ancestors – swearing that, as long as one of them draws breath, Tor Nordia will not fall. The chaos assault is relentless, wave after wave of frenzied attackers smash themselves against the unforgiving stone walls. There is no respite – even by night the enemy’s war drums pound a frenetic beat that drives the marauders into a frenzy. Great bonfires cast ruddy shadows across the Host as they make yet another assault. One by one the defenders fall.
Travelling under the Emperor’s banner, Kiernan Thirn leads a reformed Cohort, The Companions and a force of dwarves against the flank of the chaos Host. The fury of their charge carves a path to the heart of the siege camp where Kiernan defeats the Lord of Ravens in single combat. The beleaguered defenders cheer to see the War Banner raised in the heart of the enemy camp as dwarven airships pound the chaos lines with elemental artillery. The Last Cohort fights to clear the gates, allowing Marshall Gerrick to rally his troops. The Battle of Northwatch is won and the Host scattered, but at a cost. Several of The Companions have fallen, Garron and Poulson among them, and the Last Cohort is at half strength.
Delaying only long enough to ensure the garrison is secure and establish an agreement for resupply with the dwarves, Kiernan sets out for Tor Carath at the head of the Last Cohort and the surviving Companions. Those closest to him notice how heavily the death of Poulson weighs on him.
The first dwarven airships reach the port city of Haven on the Savage March and begin establishing trading routes south, to Suraya.
Arriving in Tor Carath under the Imperial War Banner, Kiernan Thirn is greeted with a mixture of trepidation, dread and outright hostility. Justiciar Berennis wastes little time, however, revealing his Seeing to the Congregation and the Assemblage of Lords. He invokes the Rite of Regency, declaring that Thirn become the Imperial Battlemaster until it is fit for a new Emperor to be chosen. The Assemblage is in an uproar.
Orwen, Rihalla and Ruwen stand with Berennis. Whilst they are far from happy to see a shaman in power, they trust in the Seeing. They argue that it must be the will of the Ancestors and should not be denied. Houses Liann, Fiann and Ordu claim that the Seeing is false, a grand deception by the enemies of the Empire. The deadlock is only broken by the return of House Amadris. Warmaster Esten meets with Kiernan Thirn. For three days and nights they talk – although none know the nature of their discussion – and on the fourth morning House Amadris declares for Thirn. The votes have been cast and Kiernan Thirn – orphan, soldier, shaman – is named Battlemaster of the Eternal Empire of the People of Carath.