My Lord General, this missive was discovered by chance, and I felt it demanded your immediate attention. It was found by a wildlands patrol some thirty miles from the eastern ramparts of Hammerhal Aqsha, scrawled upon mouldering parchment and tied to the leg of a dead messenger-hawk that the scouts described as an ‘age-rotted husk’. I do not pretend to understand the full horror of this message or the strange circumstances of its discovery. However, I will have my fellow captains make ready their regiments should you deem it necessary to deploy the Freeguild in haste.
For the immediate and most urgent attention of Lord General Estimion, Hammerhal Aqsha Chamber Strategic.
My Lord, forgive a doomed man his presumption, but what I say here cannot wait for slow passage through the ranks. This is the last operational report of the cogfort Light of Hope.
Our cogfort was proudest amongst all the mobile bastions of Hammerhal Aqsha. On her piston-driven legs, she carried us ever eastwards from the city walls, and the light of civilisation dawned anew in her wake. Chaos warbands broke like waves upon her ironclad flanks. The scourging processions followed her, while the sorcerous shield that protects our great city crackled ever from her highest vanes, linking her with the other cogforts that form the Outer Web. It was a proud duty, and one we did well.
I am rambling. No time for that.
It is hard to
We skirted the arterials of the Heartblood Sea. I think it was a week ago. It may have been longer. Our orders were to press ahead, and to secure the Realmgates known as the Gates Below, which lead to Shyish. We were to watch over their approaches, prevent anything untoward slinking through them while the duardin pushed up with stock and stone to build permanent fortifications.
We settled a mile from the gates, fired anchoring harpoons and settled our telescopes on the Realmgates.
We had been pushing the fort hard, and the engineers were glad of the rest. None for the soldiery though; we dropped drawbridge and the scouts rode out, eighty men and steeds vanishing across the dusty steppes towards those distant glowing arches.
The first day was quiet, I remember that. The night too.
It was on the second night that we saw the Realmgates glowing brighter. A cold light it was, and a cold wind that followed it, flowing steady and endless out of the gates.
An hour or so after dark, the sentries gave a cry. I thought perhaps our scouts were returned. Hastening to the lower ramparts, I instead saw a spectral figure astride a ghastly steed. As I made the rampart his helmed head snapped up to regard me.
In a whispering voice that all could hear, he made us an offer. I cannot forget those words, my Lord. They echo still.
‘Nagash claims these lands, as he claims all lands, as death shall always have its due. The dark gale rises. I offer you one chance. Give yourselves over willingly. Serve, and endure. Or refuse, and die.’
I am proud to say that my answer was as swift as it was profane. I ordered the wizard, Taggandorph, to banish the foul ghast, yet already the thing was fading away.
Still the ill wind blew.
By the next day we had to admit that the scouts were overdue. The wind blew ever stronger from the gates, bringing now a stench of open graves. No man exposed to its chill could warm himself, and all felt weak and exhausted.
I knew even without Taggandorph’s urgings that this wind was cursed. I ordered the boilers lit, and the men to prepare to withdraw.
Then came cries below decks.
The engineers found the boilers rusted shut. Upon wrenching them open, vast quantities of cold ash billowed forth. Those men that breathed it ailed within minutes. I ordered the engine deck sealed at once. Better some than all.
Two choices remained: dig in, or evacuate. The wind had become a gale. Fell voices carried upon it. I knew we were cursed; that we could not remain. Yet upon ordering the men to abandon the fort, it was found that every hatchway had rusted shut as though not opened for a thousand years. We were forced to lash lines and send men over the ramparts, to abseil to the ground below.
By that time the men were greying in their hair. Teeth were black, eyes paling with blindness and skin wrinkling as though dotage had come upon us all. Weak limbs cannot hold like those strong and young. Private Kellin was halfway to the ground when he lost his grip and fell. A kindness, perhaps. I hope he was dead before the soil erupted around his fallen body and the hands of my lost scouts dragged him down.
What could we do? A moat of grasping hands surrounded a cogfort that could not move, that was rusting around us even as we aged and fell to dust. It was then that the figure appeared again, even as my brave lads perished and crumbled away around me, one by one. What could I say? What would I not have said, to stop this horror?
Sigmar forgive me and hear a dying man’s confession: I cried out to that grim figure and begged mercy, that we would offer our fealty if only he would stop this monstrous assault. He simply shook his head, and whispered above the screaming gale.
‘The time for willing service has passed.’
He has watched since, from below the walls, as we transform to dust and bones amidst this hideous gale. So do I scribe this last warning with the hands of an ancient, barely gripping the quill, my skin already peeling away. I ache. But it must be sent. You must be warned.
The ill wind blows, and all before it are damned.