Skjor drained the last of the contents of his tankard and peered down into the container with a grimace. He shook his head in disgust and set the drinking vessel down at his feet. He wiped the beads of bitter ale from his flame-hued beard with a sweep of his meaty, tattooed arm, smoothing his impressive braids when he was done. For several moments he gazed blankly at the fire before he noticed that several of the flamelings had gathered around about him.
'Another telling, is it?' rumbled Skjor as he rubbed the ur-gold runes that ran the length of his other arm.
'Karl Brynn says you were there the day that Folkvar-Griminir first came to us!' blurted a particularly enthusiastic young Vulkite.
'Does he now?' replied the older duardin with feigned surprise. 'Fancies himself the Battlesmith of the Hrukvorn, does he?'
The loose-tongued Vulkite's eyes widened as his elder fixed him with a gaze that could melt stone.
'Calm yourself, flameling!' roared the burly duardin, his beard bristling as a great smile spread across his face. 'You look like Nurgle himself had appeared before you and asked you to help him wipe his arse!'
The duardin all around broke into raucous laughter, and the junior Vulkite joined in - nervous, but relieved.
'Now there is a tale worth the telling,' said Skjor quietly as he stood to his feet. 'A tale for the ages...'
Ashenhold, The Realm of Fire
Great gouts of red-hot magma erupted from the magmapikes, soaring over the heads of the berserkers and into the tide of rotten flesh and brittle bone that spewed forth from the amethyst fog emanating from the Realmgate. The hearthguard karl gave a mighty roar as he urged the berserkers of the fyrd back into the fray, whirling their vicious poleaxes about them in a flurry of blue and red flame.
Runesmiter Alsvir rushed down the stairs to the Runemaster of Ashenhold, a retinue of ten Auric Hearthguard following behind him.
'I mustered all I could,' puffed Alsvir, leaning on his axe to catch his breath. 'We can't spare any more from the gate.'
'And the grimwrath – where is he?' rumbled the Runemaster as he glowered contemptuously down at the undead hordes.
'I could not find him.'
The Runemaster growled. 'Set five hearthguard upon either flank on each landing overlooking the gate. Continue firing until we've whittled them down enough for the berserkers to encircle them. On my order, we move to seal the gate.'
'And if the berserkers fail?'
The Runemaster turned to face his apprentice for the first time. 'Keep firing.'
Alsvir gave a curt bow, then set about barking orders to the auric heathguard in turn. He looked down the steps to see a tide of the undead overcome the battlesmith of Ashenhold. He held his breath as he watched the icon of Grimnir begin its descent to the floor, only for it to be snatched up by the karl of the heathguard after having moments previously hurled his poleaxe into a wave of skeletons without a second thought.
'None shall defile the icon!' roared the flameling as he thrust the standard aloft, his brothers in arms forming a protective ring around him.
The Runemaster's smile faded as he realised that the berserkers' shift in formation had now created openings at either side of the line.
'Damn our pride,' spat the Runemaster as he began striding down the steps. 'Damn our thagging dwarfen pride...'
The auric hearthguard atop the landings redouble their efforts, their pikes burning their hands as their weapons began to overheat. It seemed the the realmgate was aflame as the braziers of the berserkers' poleaxes hewed through the sea of unending death, and the magma from the Runesmiter's hearthguard set carcass after carcass ablaze.
But still they came.
The Runemaster held his flaming staff aloft and began to pray to Grimnir, calling upon the ancestor god's affinity with the fire coursing through the veins of the earth to save them. He concentrated upon the realmgate itself, the runes upon the archway flickering purple and flame-orange alternately as the magics of the Runemaster battled with those bound to the gate. It was then that he noticed te berserkers had stopped. That the tide of restless dead had slowed.
In the middle of the gate stood a duardin. Filth and ash covered his face. His chainmail hauberk was rent in several places, his shield battered, and his double-bladed axe dulled. But in the beardling's eyes burned a resolve unlike any he had seen. A dozen liberators clad in black armour and bearing red shields followed through the gate after him, along with a score or more duardin – also clad head to toe in black armour.
The Runemaster stared in awe at the bedraggled dwarf, standing amidst the flames with his black-clad warriors.
'The prophesy...' whispered the Runemaster to himself.
Skjor's eyes flitted about the campfire as he relished the suspense etched upon the faces of his audience.
'Well?' roared an appalled berserker, one of many others who had gathered during the telling of the battlesmith's tale.
'Well what?' replied Skjor as he sat back and resumed supping at this tankard.
'The prophesy!' barked another.
'Aye!' chimed in another.
'What sort of storyteller would I be if I laid bare all the mysteries of the tale at first telling?' said Skjor as he tapped his temple knowingly. 'Besides, you dolts all know very-well how this one ends.'
'Maybe, but this prophesy business is new...' added a young vulkite, to several nods and grumbles of approval from his peers and elders.
'Another time,' said Skjor as he stood to his feet. 'It's high time I reminded you all that I'm your superior and not your bloody nursemaid. First watch starts now, and the rest of you can get your arses to bed. We've got a long march tomorrow, and not all of us here are fortunate enough to have been reforged by the Six Smiths.'
Written by Ben Porter aka Oberael