By: Gene Radebaugh

The darkened, gore streaked hills brought a sense of satisfaction to Celemdak. The harvesters, bone masons, and soul reapers made their way across the killing field, attending to the latest influx of bone and deathly energies. It had been many years since he first took part in the Princepta Necrotopia, never being assigned as a cohort to the tithe masters sent to negotiate due to his strange construction. Thinking back to it, he remained puzzled as to why he wasn’t formed more typically. It wasn’t his place to question, but the questions always remained.

Armond Celemdak. The name floated to his mind as the shimmering deathly energies wavered around him. The group of bone masons gathered around him lifted his form and placed him on his feet. Shifting his balance he tested his footing, feeling the armor and blade sheathed at his hip that was as much a part of him as the bone he had been constructed from. Around him, grand spires with balefires flickered as though peering into his amalgam soul.

As he gained his bearings, the chattering of the bone masons ceased and a voice seemed to boom out as if from the air immediately around him. “Ah, he’s done?” the grating, halting voice intoned. The chipping, chattering voice of the bone mason replied, “Yes, to your specifications. An oddity to satisfy our lord’s curiosity, who is always a true pleasure to serve. He has been imbued with a measure of naivete, counterbalanced by bravado, confidence, and more independence than we typically provide. We gave him only the most meager amounts of knowledge however, so we cannot guarantee his performance.”

As the mason’s voice chittered to a halt, another lead a darkened bone mount. The beast made no sound save the sharp strikes of its nadirite shod hooves. Celemdak gestured, raising his hand as the mount approached. The halter coming to rest in his hand as if he reached for it, the mount and rider acting as a single creature. “I do so look forward to seeing your performance, Kavaloi. Prove to our master your worth.”

He was shaken from his musing as a guard hekatos came to attention at his steeds flank clutching a parchment. Before the missive was fully in his hand, the hekatos turned and sprinted back to its formation. Ossian efficiency was a wondrous thing, though it always left Celemdak feeling a bit slighted. He put the thought aside as he opened the scroll. It appeared that his “training” was deemed complete, his lance, a bone shaper, and himself were to form a new retinue. Though his face was set in rictor mortis of a death’s head grin, he felt himself smile as he wheeled his mount and galloped, returning to his lance to prepare.

Another small town lay broken and shattered behind the retinue of the Scourge of Shyish. The name had been bestowed upon Celemdak’s lance, and it pleased the Liege greatly. Granted, the only  ones calling his group by that name were worthless peasant mortals, but it did have a certain ring. This was the fourth such town in his wake, and word was spreading of the tithe – and the punishment for refusal. A raven lit on his steed’s barbed tail, dropping a parchment into Celemdak’s hand. It contained new orders to secure a nearby site dedicated to gods of chaos. By seizing command of the alters it would denying chaos worshipers of their conduits, a prize too valuable to ignore. Celemdak gave a hollow whistle, and turned toward the site.

Upon arrival, a small contingent of mortals from the Living Cities had been dispatched to both seize control themselves and to answer The Scourge’s ravaging of the land. Thinking to gain the upper hand and ending the battle before it began, Celemdak gave the order to charge. Bone rattled, hooves beat, and the battle line of the Cities was decimated, miring the enemy cavalry in combat and denying a counter charge. Believing victory assured, Celemdak gave the order to mop up the remaining enemies. Suddenly, as though from air, a squadron of elite bowman lept from the ground covered in foliage that seemed to blend with their armor. A volley pierced the nadirite armor of Celemdak, and his consciousness slowly faded.

He awoke some time later to the piercing balefire gaze of Erasthsin the Bone-Shaper. Night had fallen and his contingent was broken. Mercifully Erasthsin survived his failure, and with the remains of the fallen City mortals, reassembled the Scourge. The failure stung, but Celemdak’s grim purpose and determination were tempered. Glancing about, it appeared they were still near the shrines of the altars, Erasthin needed to remain near the site of the battle to reconstitute the warriors. A sense of anticipation filled Celemdak as a boom rang out. Where there was once an open field, the lithe form of Morterea appeared.

This demon was known to Celemdak, though it had not been faced by his lance. Morterea had been instrumental in rebuffing Ossian advances in more heavily Chaos controlled planes. Defeating the creature would be a great distinguishing mark for the Scourge. Before he could give the order, the demon rushed upon the kavalos contingent, decimating them ruthlessly. Celemdak’s plans for glory evaporated in a rain of nadir and bone. Not wanting to risk further losses or overworking Erasthsin, he turned and fled the battlefield to redouble his forces and grow fat on the bone of mortals. He would meet the demon another day.

With his lance rebuilt and strengthened from experience, Celemdak made his way back to the site of the altars. Mercifully, the demon Morterea had moved on to do its own ravaging of the countryside. Though the Cities of Sigmar had won their bout, it seemed that Celemdak weakened the warband enough that they could not hold the altars. In their place was a forest of bristling trees wielding weapons fashioned from wood. Celemdak recalled facing Sylvaneth forces in the past, and understood that their Branch Witches were a lynchpin weakness. Surveying the battlefield, it seemed that the enemy Branch Witch was tending a new grove in the center of the constructions – the Kurnoth and dryads patrolled the areas rather than provided a guard.

With a horrific shriek, Celemdak and the Scourge charged forward, mercilessly cutting down the Witch where it stood. The dryads and Kurnoth turned to face their aggressors, but the damage had already been done. The Nadirite blades rose and fell, until nothing remained but kindling. With the remains of the City not being fully consumed and the success of the sally, a small Principia Necrotopia outpost was raised. With the chaotic energies disrupted by the Shyishan, there was no further fear of new demonic arrivals. The Scourge travelled from village to village, exacting the tithe of bone and culling those who would not submit.

Sitting in his quarters, a hollow knock rang out from the calcified door. New orders had arrived, dictating that with this outpost secure and capable of growing of its own accord, it was time for the Scourge to move on. Lady Oliander had allegedly made a clerical error, and raised a group of Nighthaunts with the souls of those condemned to the Flesheater Courts. These mad spectres broke away from her control, and were attacking everything in sight. The only thing stopping them was their confusion regarding the lack of taste for anything their lords ate, which caused them to move slowly. Knowing his quarry’s location, Celemdak set out.

As the Scourge approached the known location of the strange Nighthaunt, the winds kicked up into a massive storm. Unfeeling to the ravages of the storm, the Scourge continued on, though Erasthsin continuously warned of strange fluctuations in the magic. After seeming hours, the Scourge broke through into the relative peace of the eye. There, the aberrant Nighthaunts sat conducting court. Upon seeing them a rasping voice rang out. “You stand before honorable Sir Rusty Wailingford! Begone from my lands, thy foul creatures, or face my wrath!”

Incredulity washed through Celemdak. This creature was of undeath, of Shyish! The courts were insane, but Nighthaunt were driven to purpose. Without the terrible, driving purpose of Lord Nagash, eternal life itself seemed empty. Celemdak knew this abomination must be put down. He drew his blade and charged. Lord Wailingford had enough time to rally his troops, but was cut down by the Shyishan energies of Nadirite. Enraged, the remaining Nighthaunt “court” fought to the last man, but was banished back to the grave.

Around the Scourge, the tempest raged on. The encounter was taxing, but Erasthsin maintained the lance well through the fight. Turning, Celemdak made out a group of figures breaking through the stormwall. Surprise and delight broke through his myriad soul, as he made out the same foliage strewn armor of the Living Cities. Their earlier trickery not available, Celemdak shrieked in exultation and charged.

The Kavalos broke through the ranks of archers acting as scouts, clearing a path for Celemdak to charge the Cities’ cavalry. The battle was bloody, the Deathriders nearly being destroyed again but for the attentions of Erasthsin. The cavalry eliminated, the commander of the warband charged Celemdak in fury, their blows raining on Celemdak’s Nadirite bound form. Retaliating, Celemdak finished off the last of the Cities’ cavalry before the commanders eyes, and turned his attentions. They clashed back and forth, Celemdak’s steed dancing across the corpses and bones of the fallen. Slowly, the commander’s strength flagged and Celemdak struck a mortal blow. The remaining warband seeing their commander fall rushed to their aid, spears bristling, forcing Celemdak back. Collecting the shallowly breathing commander, they retreated back into the storm. Better to brave nature than undeath.