Dawnbringer Chronicles XIV – A Duel Of Kings
As the Twin-Tailed Crusades continue their march through the teeming, deadly wilds of Ghyran and Aqshy, more and more factions are drawn to the tumult. In this edition of the Dawnbringer Chronicles, the legendary Fyreslayer Bael-Grimnir meets Trugg the Troggoth King in a duel for the ages.
The plains of Capilaria were overtaken by the bodies of countless troggoths. Blood as thick as syrup fell with every swing of Bael-Grimnir’s axe. Every drop that glanced off Hrathling’s tempered edge summoned fresh fungal growths across the wasteland.
Bael-Grimnir swallowed down his bile as he dodged a troggoth wielding a duardin corpse. He swung Hrathling once more and felt the greataxe cut deep into its arm – but as he pulled away, the gash left behind had bitten no deeper than the rocky scales that covered the creature’s hide.
His lungs burned with toxins and sulphuric smoke, yet still he persevered. Images of a dozen ruined lodges were seared behind his eyelids. He was the master of the Vostarg; it fell to him to exact vengeance for the dead.
The Runefather gritted his teeth and swung again, this time pushing his weapon in and sawing at the bone. Flamespitter, his loyal Magmadroth, kept the troggoth’s other arm at bay before it could smash Bael-Grimnir down. It bought him enough time. There was a creak followed by a wet crunch, and the arm came away to tumble uselessly to the ground.
The body of the limp duardin that had dived in before him was still trapped in the severed limb’s grasp. The image of that warrior’s death, the slick snap and the cries, burned hot in Bael-Grimnir’s mind as he leapt forward to finish the job. His axe buried itself deep in the troggoth’s chest.
There was not enough strength left in his arms to puncture the heart. He only just had enough strength to wrest the weapon free, eliciting shrieks of pain from the creature. Bael-Grimnir rolled out of the way just in time to avoid being trampled as it barreled forward into the tangle of bodies beyond.
Curses slipped unbidden from his lips as his nails dug into his palms. His eyes swept over his Magmadroth, Flamespitter, noting the deep wound upon the side of its neck and the blood crusting its scaled nose.
‘Every one of these creatures will lie dead at our feet before this grudgement is met,’ he muttered to the beast, climbing atop it once more.
The disaster of the Adamantine Chain had been the worst of Bael-Grimnir’s reign. He had been sought for help by a dozen Runefathers with their heads bowed, the ash that was once their forge-flame staining their hands and the blood of their families on their armour. He had taken to scratching nicks on the back of his vambraces for every fallen magmahold. His searing pride would not cool until a hundred of the damned stonehides lay dead for each mark.
The burning scent of flesh coiled in Bael-Grimnir’s nose as Flamespitter carried him towards his prey. A column of flame erupted amidst the writhing bodies near the edge of the craggy pass, almost scraping the clouds in its intensity. He stood up in the saddle and peered out, feeling waves of heat across his calloused skin.
He had heard rumours of the beast, of course – the stone-crowned behemoth that slaughtered so many of his kin and the Dawnbringers that came after them. Proof of the monster’s many atrocities smeared its rocky hide in the form of mangled bodies barely recognisable as mortal. As the last of the smoke cleared, a ring of ashen corpse-dust surrounded the Troggoth King. Only a single rune-etched greataxe remained, gilded with Vorstag gold.
It had belonged to Mjal. The youngest, most beloved of his Runesons.
Bael-Grimnir’s war cry was already sounding the charge before his brain had caught up. Fighting fell away to piles of corpses, and finally ash. Flamespitter’s heavy footfalls kicked up clouds of the dead as the beast leapt and bodily collided with the great troggoth. The Magmadroth’s claws raked down the creature’s belly. Yet where any other stonehide would have been split open, the Troggoth King stood gouged, but whole. It swung down at Bael-Grimnir with a bellow of agony, its weapon no more than a fossil lashed to a tree-trunk.
It was brutally effective.
Stone met fyresteel in an almighty crash, yet Bael-Grimnir was still swept from Flamespitter’s back in an instant. For one breath, Aqshy’s light swung on its axis – and then there was a horrific crack as his back hit the crags. Pain flared across his body as he slumped to the floor and the thumping of giant feet shook his brain with each step.
Flamespitter leapt in front of his master, back arched and snarling fangs dripping with magma. The colossal troggoth slowly swung its maul up for another blow.
A slew of flame and liquid lava burst from Flamespitter’s maw. It seared across the enemy monster, pooling in the cracks of its hide and setting it alight. The ground shook as it dropped its weapon to the floor.
Bael-Grimnir winced as he staggered to his feet. He climbed back upon Flamespitter, gritting his teeth to ward off the pain of his broken body. He whispered a prayer to Grimnir as the inferno consumed more and more of the Troggoth King.
A halo of bright red light shone from the stone monolith upon the creature’s back. Its roars of agony diminished as the fire was drawn into the circle in a great, flaming tornado, quickly draining away to nothing. Bael-Grimnir could feel his own heartbeat pounding in his ears as the troggoth took another step towards them, charred black – but entirely alive.
The light of the monolith flickered for a moment before swelling from red to brilliant gold. The troggoth picked up its weapon and Bael-Grimnir watched in horror as liquid metal trickled from the circle and down the brute’s arm to coat its maul in metal.
‘We may only have one chance at this,’ he murmured to his droth, his hand briefly resting on Flamespitter’s neck. ‘Get me up there.’
If the Magmadroth paused at such a reckless order, it was only for a fleeting moment, born out of the decades the pair had spent together. Then he was off, surging forward before their enemy could make its next move. Flamespitter leapt once more at the troggoth, sinking blazing fangs into its neck to find as much purchase as he could. Bael-Grimnir leapt from his back to land upon the monster’s shoulder, clinging on with grim resolve. Clambering across to the pulsating monolith’s edge, he hefted Hrathling above his head and swung down.
The creature’s howls choked off into a gurgle as Flamespitter pinned it at the front and Bael-Grimnir hacked into its back, Fyresteel slicing through the weak seam where the stone joined the troggoth’s skin. The Troggoth King thrashed against Flamespitter’s vice grip, blood and magma dripping from its throat, but the Runefather stood firm. Though his injuries sang with trauma as he cut through the pale meat, he felt the hot searing of his ur-gold runes blazing to life upon his shoulder blades.
Grimnir was with him.
Just as he felt the muscles of his back begin to rip, there was a hiss and a hot splash as an arterial spurt erupted from the back of his enemy’s neck.
Flamespitter leapt clear – and the troggoth began collapsing backwards, spasming in the clutches of death. The world tilted once again, and Bael-Grimnir’s body sagged, his relief sapping his final strength. He tipped off the side of the creature – right through the gold-glowing monolith.
There was a thump as he hit the ground, followed by a muffled crash as his enemy’s body landed beside him. The duardin could feel a searing heat in his arms and legs – and then nothing, as if the limbs themselves had drained away. He tried to stand.
There was nothing to stand on.
Gold magic burned at the stumps where his limbs used to be. In their place, pools of quicksilver were rapidly cooling beneath him. As unconsciousness finally washed over him, he let his eyes drift shut. He was alive, and the beast was dead. That would have to be enough.
In the cool under Ulgu’s darkness, a verdant glow flickered to life. The monolith trapped below the bloodied troggoth grew brighter and brighter, illuminating the half-burned bodies of troglodytes and duardin alike – yet there were no living souls to notice.
Jade magic wove across broken bones and torn flesh. Light gleamed once more in the creature’s glassy eyes. The troggoth’s wounds slowly but surely began to knit back together with clicks and creaks until it rose into a sitting position.
Alone, Trugg looked around at the piles of the fallen. His head hurt something awful – especially the back of his neck. He struggled to his feet and stretched, but it did little to relieve the splitting ache.
He looked across the darkened plains. The thrum of magic pulsed from behind the shadow of distant humie walls.
Another shiny place.
Slowly, he began to walk alone into the night. Corpse-flesh squished pleasantly between his dry toes.
He would go and squash the shiny place flat. Perhaps, this time, his headache would be soothed.
No rest for the wicked, eh? We’ll have another tale to tell next week – will things improve for our beleaguered heroes? Probably not!