Twilight came quickly upon Bloodsmeath; it crept out of the marsh and around the trees, sneaking from water to land and finally to dead, unseeing eyes that cared little if the sun had risen, had set, or had indeed ceased to burn entirely. Amidst his host, the Lich Lord Asphyxious chattered and sputtered to himself; just a few more hours, and this place would be stripped of its lore and rededicated to a worthier cause. Deneghra stood beside him, peering out to the south-west, shifting from foot to foot as if in expectation. The lich’s fiery eye flared, and his metal one shone in its light.
“Pupil,” he hissed, “th’art accustomed to be a lure to thy enemies; I mislike this fidgeting.”
Deneghra turned to him and smiled. “I wait upon the sacrifice I’ve brought for you, my master; my impatience is for your grand design.”
Asphyxious’ furnaces hissed, but he gave no answer, turning instead to follow her gaze toward Cygnar. There, against the setting sun’s last rays, the lich lord saw a haze in the air, a smoke on the breeze. Warjacks.
“Wait then no longer,” he said, raising a claw to point in that direction. “Order your thralls to move out, and – “
“My lord!” Tremulus of the Combine spoke sharply, looking up from the rag-tag of bones that jumbled at his feet. “Others attend upon us! I sense them, there to the north; a living man, yet a man of iron!”
Before Asphyxious could react to this intelligence, another voice hailed him from the far side of the temple, and he drifted over to it. At the temple’s foot, Darragh Wrathe reined in his horse – more for show than for effect, as the creature’s brain had long since been replaced with one more tractable.
“Enemies, my lord! Away behind me!”
“What is this?” Asphyxious’ claws worried at his weapon, and he bore himself up further. “How many sacrifices have you brought me, sweet Deneghra? What feast awaits us?”
“This is no work of mine,” the warwitch answered, hastening to her master’s side. “We are discovered, I’m sure.”
“That much is evident. Wrathe! Dispatch your riders to the south. Delay these attackers. Honoured members of the Withershadow, I entrust the north to you; send off whatever waits there! And you, my warwitch, take heed – your sacrifice must be brought to me, within the temple.”
Deneghra bowed, her mind already racing. Her soul is mine, came the whisper from the darkest recesses. She stole it from me – you told me so yourself. It comes to me, or no-one…
Gunner Barker was in a foul mood. The other lads had been ribbing him all week, ever since they’d stumbled up the tower and found Lieutenant Fletcher with a snapped neck and Captain Haley in her greatcoat and nightclothes “shooting at Cryx.” So what if he had a bit of a thing for her? Flower of Cygnaran womanhood; pride of the Third Army; looked fit with a smoking gun. Still, they’d managed to spoil the sheer honour of being personally selected by the aforementioned pride of the Third Army for a secret mission into Khadoran territory. Even now, as he watched the Captain directing her warjacks forward, toward something on the other side of the trees, Gunner Corbett was pouting and fluttering his eyelashes after her, and making damn sure Barker could see. Bastard.
“Kill him,” whispered a treacherous, sly voice in his head. It sounded a bit like her, but not stern and dignified, the way she usually gave orders; this voice was smooth and sultry, all the coastal corners filed off, the way Barker had always imagined her when…
“Disrespecting an officer… that’s mutiny. He could be shot for that. He should be. Kill him. Kill him… and I’m yours.”
Gunner Barker’s face twitched. So did other parts. His hand, in particular, which went for his knife before he could stop it, and lashed out with it, ramming it hard into Gunner Corbett’s ear.
Haley spun on the spot. The look of sheer outrage on her face would haunt Barker for the rest of his life – and then, as he saw what was crashing through the trees beyond her, and cried out a warning, he realised just how long that wasn’t likely to be.
Robbie was apparently quite taken aback by having the Deathjack so close to him, especially when – for a laugh – I tried to daisy-chain Influence along his line of Long Gunners and have them stab each other in the bandoliers. Didn’t work out; stalled after the first casualty. Turns out they can’t even hit each other with those silly little swords.
The Cyclone laid down some Covering Fire to keep my Bane Thralls from following up and supporting the Deathjack, and the Rangers snuck forward through the wood and lit up the Deathjack for a CRA from Gunner Barker and friends. Finally, the Lancer charged the Deathjack, fried a box on its cortex and took a good chunk off its left arm to boot.
Rhupert always regretted signing on with the Protectorate. They paid well enough, but they brought out the worst of his misery with their sternness and their toil and their love of a mournful dirge, and the High Reclaimer was the worst of the lot. He just stared all the time, as if he were looking right through you and deciding whether you needed more time to clear up your sins or whether he should just send you to Urcaen right now.
A hardened war-bard who’d fought for Morrowans and mercs alike had a lot of sins on his conscience – some of them other people’s. So far, the Reclaimer seemed to be acknowledging that – seemed to have other things on his mind.
Rhupert heard the sound of hooves – fast, impossibly fast – and knew what was coming even before the whisper and hiss of soul-burning furnaces joined it, and before the horrible horse-men of Cryx came galloping out of the woods at full tilt, passing through branch and root like they weren’t there.
Better this than that, he thought to himself as he put his pipes to his lips and played. All around him, a great shout went up from the Menites, and they surged around him to meet the charge.
Project ‘keep the Menites busy’ worked well – three Soulhunters died and one was on fire by the end of Neal’s turn, but his army managed to advance maybe a few inches in the course of so doing, and he needed his Revenger to batter the Soulhunter that was engaging it rather than run forward and burn all my zombies.
The resulting Menite traffic jam remained in more or less that position for the next two turns, despite the best efforts of Mr. Carvolo to speed them onwards. The problem with all this board control stuff is that the poor sod on the wrong side of it tends to have very short turns, which does not make for interesting reportage.
“‘Ere we go, k’mander,” said Reinholdt, leaping over a tussock to land awkwardly on the shore of the marsh. “Tol’ ye I’d steer ye right, din’I?”
Karchev took a thudding step forward; the ground quaked under his tread, but held, firmer and firmer as he advanced.
“You have served well, goblin. The Covenant will pay you handsomely when we return.”
“Served? Served? Bloody lucky for ye ye met me!” Reinholdt turned and waved behind Karchev at the lumbering Behemoth, as it carefully stepped over a pool and stamped down behind them. “Ye’d never’ve got that ‘un ‘cross the ‘meath wit’out ol’ Reinholdt t’ show yer way. Wot’d ye brin’ ‘im all this way for any’ow?”
“Classified,” Karchev intoned, but before Reinholdt could press him any further, the machine-man looked over his head and raised up his axe with a snarl.
“I din’t mean it!” Reinholdt squeaked, leaping to one side, but Karchev’s attention lay beyond. Bolts of red light shot from the axe, lashing themselves around the warjacks in his keeping, and his turbine roared. Reinholdt whipped out his looking glass and peered into the gloom ahead, and then he saw them; grinning skulls, iron fists, and the green flare of necrotite.
I’d sent the Mechanithralls through the woods toward Karchev, all ghostly-like, in an effort to steer him toward the Combine and the Cankerworm. I had, of course, neglected Tow. Alex proceeded to advance forthwith, swing the ‘jacks around and position for shenanigans.
Insult to injury, as a few Bombard shots fling themselves in the direction of my Bane Thralls. No serious damage, but still vulgar.
Asphyxious cast his senses this way and that, seeing through the eyes of his bonejacks, and let out a harsh cackle of delight. The filth of the temple floor seethed and roiled as the lich lord advanced toward the stairs.
“So be it… let the harvest begin!”