Being the first part of:Champions of the Deep
Scribed by Brother AndynI Beginnings
When Ragnar, ex-leader of a party of adventurers, returned to Norsca, having been rejected constantly throughout the Empire, he found his tribe in anarchy and disorganisation as chieftains vied for control. Kevlon, a young friend, informed him that for the many years in which Ragnar had been gone, the tribe had suffered defeat after defeat against the hordes of the Dark Powers of the North. Now, with all the best leaders dead, the remaining warriors squabbled and engaged in petty debate about who was worthy to rule. Ragnar pitched himself into the battles against Kevlon's advice and was tragically killed. Angry with the Gods, himself and his tribe, Kevlon declared that there was nothing left to keep him in Norsca, and left.
Kevlon the Barbarian travelled south to the Empire. He joined with Johann, an Imperial Wizard from Nuln and Ghenkar, a Scout from Kislev, in the search for adventure beneath the Worlds Edge Mountains. However, the quest was tough, and Kevlon was the last survivor as the other Warriors fell to the foul greenskins' attacks. Swearing revenge, Kevlon annihilated every one of the orcs and goblins.
Bitter and resentful, Kevlon returned to the Empire, where he met William, the young Wizard. He persuaded Kurt, an Imperial Noble and Ivan, another Kislevite to join them and they were soon employed by a company of Dwarfs to retrieve the long-lost crown of the ancient Dwarf Kings of Mount Silverspear. They were to kill the evil creatures that stole it and return it to them. The quest provided Kevlon with a great opportunity to avenge the deaths of his comrades, and after battling many evils; the party reclaimed the crown and slew the orc chief who had it in his possession. But an Orc Shaman escaped and with him came reinforcements gathered from deep below the mountains.
Pursued through tunnels deep below ground, the Warriors fled through many dark chambers and caverns. The final obstacle to overcome before they could reach safety was a slender bridge across a bubbling river of lava. If they could cross the bridge and destroy it before their pursuers could arrive in greater numbers, they would gain precious time, throw off the greenskins and escape alive. But they had not reckoned with the allies of the Orcs. The Skaven are indeed fleet-footed and, unfortunately, Kurt and Ivan were forced to sacrifice themselves in order to hold up the horde and ensure the crown's safe retreat.
As the ancient bridge came crumbling down, Kevlon gave his lost companions a grim salute before turning and picking up the unconscious William. Carrying the Wizard upon his broad shoulders, the Barbarian finally made the journey out into the daylight, through a secret passage.
On the journey back to civilisation, Kevlon found a Chapel, where William was revived and brought back to health.
Back in Altdorf, the crown was returned to the Dwarfs, who rewarded them richly. But Kevlon was still gripped by vengeance and grief, for he had lost two more valuable companions. Finally Kevlon and William met Ulfric, a disgruntled Kislevite Tracker from the northern steppes, who had been disowned of his lands by his elder brother. He had come south to look for an opportunity to find gold, riches, glory and honour and so he joined Kevlon and William eagerly. Then Sancho, a Noble from Estalia, joined them. This completed the party so they advertised that they were seeking employment in order to fight evil and earn gold beneath the Worlds Edge Mountains.
The guardians of the Dragon's Eye, a gem made for a great dragon forged for Karak-Azgal, quickly hired the party to return the stone to its rightful place in the statue beneath the ruined city. The quest was carried out successfully, although Orc archery was a problem. Clearing the dungeon of foul greenskins, the Warriors replaced the Dragon's Eye and took the treasure stored beneath it. Upon returning to Altdorf, they gave up half the treasure to the Dwarfs.
Kevlon was exalted to know that he had completed a journey to the Worlds Edge Mountains and back alongside three other Warriors, and expressed his needs to return. Sancho was not so eager to return so soon, but William and Ulfric soon met another companion – Deraphin, a Wood Elf from distant Athel Loren.
Together the four adventurers once again descended into the depths, slaying many monsters, claiming lost ancient artefacts and finding hoards of gold and silver coins. Thankfully, all the Warriors survived their trip and returned to the Empire heavy with riches.
Kevlon and Ulfric had become fast friends and it was not long before the great Wolf himself began to favour the Norscan and the Kislevite.
First, Ulric, God of Battle, Wolves and Winter, blessed Kevlon with fangs, marking him out as one of his Champions. Then, he was gifted with great strength and dexterity. Ulfric too, was granted the Fangs of the Wolf and became a fearless warrior. When the Warriors slaughtered a Goblin raiding party, the Barbarian told the Kislevite he was being called by his God to carry out some great mission. He said that he would still be in touch, but would leave Ulfric in charge of the party. He then mysteriously departed into the east, leaving Ulfric with one last piece of advice – travel west to the foothills of the Grey Mountains. There he would no doubt find the Snotling warband he had been tracking.
The boy tossed and turned in his sleep. Nothing unusual in these past few weeks. The nightmares had become more gruesome, more intense. The plight of the people William saw in his sleep struck him to the very core. Each time he had the visions it was the same. There was disease and pestilence, pain and suffering. Death lingered in the air with malevolent tenacity, corrupting all it could. Every time, he saw the same dirty robed figure, clutching the same sickly green jar hobbling away from the scene, taking pleasure in the corruption he… it had spread. The only thing William could not clearly determine was when. When were these atrocities taking place? Was it a vision of the past, was it happening now, or were these visions of what is to come?
Surely it had to be a look into the future? Otherwise why would the dreams haunt him, if not to give him time to act? And why would the new aspect of his dream, a man by the name of Dieter, be trying to guide him? As if on cue, the older mage appeared holding a map. It depicted the Empire, complete with the Black Mountains and the Border Princes to the South. He indicated the area known as Blackfire Pass, and seemed to be impressing on William that he should make his way there.
William opened his eyes. He felt urgency unlike any he had felt before. It was time to leave his friends. Quickly packing his meagre possessions, the boy left his room and descended the stairs to the now empty tavern where he and his companions were staying. Quietly opening the door, and whispering a sad farewell, the young mage stole into the night.
From a window on the second floor, Dieter Zauberlich watched the boy melt into the shadows. He silently wished him good luck and returned to his bed. Tomorrow, the older mage had a party of adventurers to meet with.II
Initiation of a party
And so Ulfric led the remnants of the party, namely Sancho and Deraphin, west into the foothills of the Grey Mountains. Along a lonely road they were stopped by a Fire mage, who demanded that they let him join them. Taking his strange arrival as a sign, Ulfric agreed. The man introduced himself as Dieter Zauberlich, a wandering warrior-wizard who specialised in the arts of Pyromancy. He assured them that his skills would be greatly needed in the coming adventure and was more than willing to join them. Although the Kislevite was wary of the Wizard, he grimly welcomed Dieter, and bid him accompany them on their journey to the Grey Mountains.
Arriving in the village of Gissenheim, the Warriors were soon greeted by the local sheriffs, who implored them to take up a quest to slay a monster. It was a hard time, and it was rumoured that a maneater was roaming the countryside, forcing the villagers to stay indoors and do no work. Already, the sheriffs had discovered a cave mouth in the nearby woods, and they told Ulfric that the beast must live within. Ulfric immediately took up an oath, supported by Sancho, Deraphin and Dieter, to penetrate the dungeon and kill the maneater. Setting off without delay, the four warriors entered the cave, and after what seemed like an hour or so, encountered foul beasts that attacked them viciously. However, they were no problem for Ulfric and his band, and after more running battles and skirmishes with Orcs, Goblins and other vile creatures, they stumbled into an ancient chamber Dieter recognised as a Circle of Power. The very air crackled with energy and a strange light came into the Fire Wizard's eyes. Being ambushed by Orcs, the Warriors fought bravely and killed them all, only to be set upon in the next passage by giant, black spiders, which descended from the rocky walls. But soon they fought their way free and burst through a set of double doors into a vast fighting pit. There, below them was the maneater, a mighty Minotaur, surrounded by Orcs. As the greenskinned monsters swarmed up the side of the pit and the battle began, a huge explosion tore through the pit wall, and the warband of Snotlings Ulfric had been tracking for the past two months poured through the hole.
'They're mine!' Ulfric roared, before laying about with his sword, sending green blood spattering against the cracked flagstones.
After the beasts were defeated, and a hole blown through the skull of the Minotaur by Sancho's pistol, the Warriors beheaded the maneater and followed the Snotlings' crude tunnel back to Gissenheim. The Sheriffs thanked them gratefully, and rewarded them with what little riches they had available, and soon had the cave mouth sealed up with rubble.
Taking their leave of the stagnant backwater of Gissenheim, the party travelled back into the greater lands of the Empire, to train and become even greater warriors than they had proved to be. In Altdorf, Ulfric was contacted by a merchant, who employed him to track down and kill a Chaos Warrior who had taken the life of his cousin. Cold fury burned in the Kislevite's heart and he swore to slay the worshipper of evil, his hatred for the Dark Gods revitalised…III
Treachery and Betrayal
In a dark, gloomy tavern, Dieter made it known that he could not join the party for their next quest – as he had engagements that were rather important but confidential. Telling Ulfric that he would return, he took his leave. It was then that a suspicious looking figure beckoned to Sancho, drawing him away from the warriors' table. Intrigued, the Estalian left Ulfric and Deraphin to their conversation and sat down on the far side of the room at the table of the hooded man. After a short while, the Kislevite began to get mistrustful of the Noble's intentions, and he asked Deraphin what he could make of the shady character.
'It seems to be a magic-user, of a sort,' the elf judged, his superior senses enabling him to detect such things. 'Perhaps what you would call…a warlock.'
Gritting his teeth, Ulfric rose and walked across to Sancho, putting his hand on the man's shoulder.
'We don't need you under the influence of such individuals as this,' he growled, 'come, let us go.' However, it seemed that the warlock had already drawn the noble in, as he willed Sancho to retaliate. Standing slowly, Sancho faced the Kislevite eye-to-eye.
'What was our next quest, again?' he said in a stony voice. 'That's right – we must travel to the ancient 'Fountain of Light,' and plunge a rusty sword into its waters to reveal the name of the rightful heir of some minor noble house. We don't even know the location of such a place, and upon returning, our reward will be, maybe, 100 gold crowns. I have better things to do, better fortunes to win.'
'So you are no longer with us, my friend?' Deraphin appeared next to the comrades.
'I am no friend of yours, elf,' the Noble spat. 'And neither do I need your friendship, either of you. I have found a new companion, one who will show me true riches.' Quick as a flash, Sancho released his blade and pointed it at Ulfric as the Kislevite made to grab his shoulder.
'Treachery!' Ulfric bellowed, stepping back and freeing his own sword. But wary that the noise in the tavern had all died down, and that many glances were being cast this way, including those of the bouncers, Ulfric sheathed his sword and looked at Sancho with barely concealed contempt.
'Come, Deraphin, we have a proper duty to perform,' he snarled. 'Kevlon would not be pleased with Sancho's behaviour.' He turned on his heel and left, followed by the elf.
So the party was left with but two members, at least for the time being. The quest in question, on which the Kislevite and Elf now set out upon, had been received from three brothers. Each claimed the titles and lands of their dead uncle, who had no son or heir and so one of his nephews was to claim his estate. His last wish was to pass it on to the nephew whose name he had engraved on an old sword. This way, the brothers would have to employ others to determine who was the rightful heir, for they knew nothing of the mountains, and the places of fable and legend beneath them. And so with no trouble, the two warriors found the Fountain of Light and revealed the name, and as a last insult of Sancho's betrayal, were not rewarded as much as they expected. But honour was what mattered in this case. But as this town was in the northern provinces, a trek back to the Empire's heart was needed, in order to meet again with Dieter.
Meanwhile, the traitor Sancho accompanied his fellow conspirator, the warlock, to the Drakwald Forest, where he was joined by the warlock's lackeys, a gang of bandits and rebel swordsmen. It was rumoured that a great, magical treasure was buried beneath a ruined tower on the borders of the Drakwald and Laurenlorn forests, and Sancho was determined to discover it. However, they encountered a scouting party of territorial elves who ambushed the men, thinking them intruders. Many bandits were shot down by their skilful bows, but eventually they were driven back into the depths of Laurenlorn Forest by Sancho's ruthless determination. The magical treasure of ages past would be his…IV
A Blizzard of Events
Caught in a ferocious, white storm, Ulfric and Deraphin fought their way to the closest settlement, a village gripped by the icy claws of winter. When they were safely lodged in a cosy tavern, Ulfric asked the owner when the blizzard would subside, and when they would be able to resume their journey. But the reply he got was harsh: there was no telling in this part of the northern Empire, this kind of weather was the norm. Cursing silently, Ulfric discussed their plight with Deraphin. They were stuck in an ice-bound village, Sancho had left them and Dieter was who knows where. They had no choice but to strike out for Altdorf in the morning, regardless of the weather.
As the two companions readied to leave through the snow-blasted streets, they were approached by a merchant from Erengrad, who asked them if they would recover an ancient artefact of his, lost generations ago when it was stolen by foul orcs. Overcome by pity for the old man, Ulfric decided that they would indeed complete this quest, if it would not take them too long. The man told them that the caves in which the orcs lurked were just a few hours march from the village, and that should they return the artefact to him he would be extremely grateful.
The artefact was swiftly recovered, taken from the evil orcs and Minotaurs who had stolen it. It was a gromril blade, an axe fashioned by dwarf hands centuries ago, and imbued with great power. However much Ulfric was tempted to take the axe for himself and flee, moral issues prevented him from doing so. After all, he was a hero, not a traitor. When the warriors gave the merchant his axe, he was overjoyed and rewarded them with what gold he had, before giving them fur cloaks, gloves and boots as extra protection against the blizzard. Armed with these, Ulfric and Deraphin soon escaped the iced village, and in a short time were walking through dry cornfields towards Altdorf.
On the journey they bested and defeated a band of mercenaries, freeing a wealthy merchant, who rewarded them for his rescue. They met a travelling minstrel, whose golden harp provided them with beautiful background music as they continued on their journey. Then they chanced upon a storm-wrecked village, where the heroic warriors helped the villagers rebuild their homes. But this forlorn place was not marked on their map, and so they had no idea which road to take. Being directed to the nearest town, which lay a further six weeks away, they thanked the villagers and set off again, in the company of two minstrels, the newcomer playing a melodious tune upon an interesting set of pipes. Emboldened by the music, Ulfric and Deraphin attacked another band of mercenaries, who seemed to be dragging along another wealthy merchant. But their battle-music was to no avail, for the men were to heavily armed and they soon drove the heroes away.
Then they came to a wood, where a Peddler, dressed in many coloured silks offered them his wares. Refusing on the grounds that they had not the gold to afford such luxuries, Ulfric and Deraphin thanked the Peddler anyway and marched on, until they came to the last village before Altdorf. A festivity was in full swing, and the companions were obligated by the villagers to take part. Drinking and talking was the main activity, but after a night's accommodation, Ulfric decided that gold should be paid for the villagers' hospitality.
Finally, the red rooves of the capital city of the Empire came into closer view as the companions arrived in Altdorf.
'How much time has Dieter been waiting for us, while we have been traversing the countryside?' Ulfric mused as they bid farewell to the minstrels and entered the city.
The Training grounds provided a satisfying rest, with the promise that Ulfric and Deraphin would be able to practise their swordsmanship and archery at dawn. Then, maybe they could hurry to the Tavern to meet again with Dieter…V
The Fickle Ways of Magic
In the Drunken Dragon Tavern, Ulfric and Deraphin met again with Dieter Zauberlich, and the Kislevite gave the Wizard an account of recent days. Deraphin had obtained an artefact that allowed him to tame the winds of magic and unleash them upon his foes, but the Wizard took this gravely, perhaps seeing it as a challenge to his role in the party. However, Dieter was thankful that his companions had come to no harm, and was not too dismayed about the betrayal of Sancho. After grunting something about traitors he related to them the ancient tale of the Deathking. For the party's next adventure was to take the Sword of the Deathking to the Lands of the Dead and destroy him once and for all, as he slept in his tomb, deep beneath the earth.
Several months passed as the warriors trekked south through Blackfire Pass and through the Border Princes until they reached the Lands of the Dead. After Ulfric located an opening into the dungeon, they entered a vile, slime-slicked sewer. Throughout the tunnels the Warriors battled many foul creatures with magic, missiles and steel but surprisingly, were barely injured. Deraphin's quick proficiency in the usage of the winds of magic earned him a slight enmity between himself and Dieter, but the Wizard carried the Sword, and although its dark magic could persuade the wielder to attack his comrades, Dieter seemed never to be tempted, controlling the sword with a will of steel.
Finally, the companions reached the Tomb Chamber, in which lurked a mighty Minotaur, crouching on the cold stone tomb. Deraphin cast a Pit of Despair, crumbling half of the ancient sarcophagus, but the beast leapt clear and proceeded to attack the elf. Surely this use of magic had weakened the Deathking, and it was so, when the time came for Dieter to deal the final blow.
Smashing the unholy, undead corpse with its own, enchanted blade, Dieter stood in a shaft of light that beamed down from the cavern's roof. As the other warriors' finished off the last orcs they watched, entranced, as the Sword of the Deathking was elevated into the air and transformed. With a burst of brilliant white light and a crack of distant thunder, the Sword took on a new form and returned to the hand of Dieter. It was cleansed of its curse and instead imbued with bright, magical qualities. Indeed the ways of magic are fickle, for this was once a sword forged for death and unholy destruction. Upon its shining blade was engraved the name of the Wizard who had finally banished the Deathking for all eternity. And so it was named the 'Sword of Dieter.'
As if the Gods themselves were warring in the Heavens, lightning and thunder flashed and rolled as the adventurers made their way back towards the Old World. The time it took to return was greater, and as a result they were finally forced to stop to wait out the storm at a blizzard-gripped village in the northernmost reaches of the Border Princes. Perhaps the terrible weather was magical, a battle of the Gods to quell the fury of the Dark Gods' anger for the Sword's conversion. Indeed, both Deraphin's and Dieter's spirits were aroused during that long and arduous journey back to the Old World.VI
Birth of the Champions
Back in Altdorf, the warriors relaxed in Ye Olde Dungeoneers Tavern, chosen by the adventurers for its lack of bastards like Sancho. Ulfric, Dieter and Deraphin decided that they needed a name, an identity. The group was made up of a Kislevite Tracker, a Pyromancer and a wandering elf. They were all united in a common purpose: to fulfil their own ambitions. Why not then, suggested Dieter, become a group of bounty hunters? They were all hard-bitten fighting men and they could all do with the money. It would bring in a flow of possible employers, with a flexible choice of jobs. They would offer an alternative to the normal, heroic sorts that only dealt in good deeds and huge, expensive sums of gold. After a lot of debating, about what the name of their party should be, Dieter the wizard came up with one they all agreed upon: Champions of the Deep. He asked the bartender to act as witness, and all three of them stood and raised their swords in unison.
'Very well then,' said the bartender, standing in front of the three warriors. 'You shall be Champions of the Deep.'
One week had not passed when the band was offered its first official job. Lord Aymar Gordar, of Middenheim, had been sent from Middenheim to hire a bunch of freeswords to rid the Empire of a foul necromancer, entombed in the bowels of the city. He was originally going to travel to Tilea, but upon stumbling upon the Champions' advertisement in a tavern, had chosen to seek them out rather than risk the journey south. Ulfric accepted the mission and the band spent six uneventful weeks journeying north to Middenheim. His bodyguard of White Wolves was great, and as a result there were no ambushes or raids from bandits or beastmen from the forests. The Warriors met with a Wolf Priest, and were given holy icons to place on the tomb of the Necromancer. This would destroy him forever and cleanse Middenheim from a foul threat. Payment would be in gold, and would be delivered after the job was done. The only regret Ulfric had about the quest was that they were only numbered three – surely a larger group of men would complete the task better. But it was not to be.
Setting out into the deep dungeons below the city, the trio of Champions encountered many, many goblins and other not-so-threatening creatures, such as rats, snotlings, giant spiders and bats. Time after time they killed them all, only to have more pour from orifices and cracks in the tunnels' walls and ceiling. One room in particular was encloaked with a strange, blue light, and seemed to have some sort of curse upon it, every time the Warriors made to leave the room they were attacked by giant pests. But it was not the room that held their objective, and they continued down into the darkness. Finally, they found a dusty, web-shrouded Tomb Chamber, within which lurked a number of Minotaurs and a shadowy figure. It announced itself to be Marius, previously of the Avenging Angels, a greatly renowned party of powerful fighting adventurers. Choosing to fight against Ulfric, he set his pet Minotaurs upon Dieter and Deraphin, before a vicious battle ensued. All the Champions managed to best and kill their opponents, and it was revealed that Marius, having pledged his allegiance to the Dark Gods, was the Chaos Warrior that Ulfric had been tracking down. But before the icons could be placed, another Minotaur crashed through the wall and engaged the Pyromancer. Fortunately, Dieter reduced it to a burning corpse, claiming triumph over no less than two of the mighty beasts. Then the icons were placed on the tomb, Dieter having placed another, which he had picked up from the cadaver of a failed warrior outside the chamber. Light shone down and disintegrated the tomb, banishing the necromancer forever.
The rewards were great, and Ulfric, Dieter and Deraphin returned to Altdorf to train and get sloshed at Ye Olde Dungeoneers Tavern.VII
Darkness and Power
'I have found a new employer for us,' Ulfric announced as the three warriors sat down around their usual table in Ye Olde Dungeoneers Tavern.
'And who would that be?' Deraphin leaned forward, eager to hear of a new quest.
'The elf, Ladril, leader and mentor of the famous 'Avenging Angels' has agreed to hire us. He wants someone to track and hunt down an elf bandit, who was once a member of the Avenging Angels. 'Corlos' is the traitor's name, and he is a well-known criminal in the southern parts of the Empire. Ladril thinks he may be located in Wissenland.'
'What of payment?'
'I have been given a bag of 100 gold crowns in advance,' Ulfric declared, tossing a leather pouch onto the tabletop. 'Another hundred will follow, after the job is done.'
Deraphin whistled, amazed. 'That's quite a sum for a mere bounty. I wonder who this Corlos really is?'
'That is not our concern,' the Kislevite said gruffly. 'When we catch him, we are to keep him alive.'
'I am afraid I will not be able to participate in this forthcoming adventure,' Dieter spoke up, for the first time in the conversation. 'I have other, more urgent matters to attend to.'
'Not again, Dieter!' Ulfric bared his teeth. 'We need you on this one, more than ever. After that bastard Sancho betrayed us, we have little hope unless we stick together.'
Dieter hit back unexpectantly. 'Look, Kislevite, you don't understand what it is I have to do! So keep out of my affairs, and go after your elf dog without me!'
'It is you who do not understand, sorcerer,' Ulfric retaliated with brute ferocity. 'We all know the feeling of betrayal; we know how it feels to have a traitor in our midst. Why not then, help Ladril and find this Corlos filth? One hundred, no two hundred crowns!'
The two men degraded into a pair of squabbling, rough aristocrats, their harsh voices causing others in the tavern to look around. Deraphin sighed, and then stood up. The arguing continued. The elf smashed Dieter across the face then stayed his hand above Ulfric, who snarled before quelling his anger.
'The way you humans debate is pathetic. Have some self-restraint.'
Ulfric exhaled heavily, then glared at Dieter.
'If you must, then go. We don't need a frail old man who specialises in magic tricks anyway. I am a tracker, Deraphin is an archer-mage. We are both fighters. We are going to be rich, with gold and honour. Your powers are weak, old man.'
Ulfric got up and left the room. Deraphin was still standing as the Wizard also left, heading for the stairs. Suddenly, a flash lit his mind.
'What an idea,' he thought, running in the direction Ulfric had gone.
'We follow him tonight,' Deraphin whispered. 'I'll watch Dieter's door, and signal to you when he leaves. We watch his every move, see where he goes, what he does. Who he meets.'
'It seems like a plan,' the Kislevite grunted, taking a swig from a pewter tankard. 'You watch, while I get some sleep.'
Two hours later, Deraphin and Ulfric exited the tavern and began trailing the retreating form of Dieter Zauberlich. After a while, padding through the dark streets of Altdorf, the pair entered the fringes of the forest.
'Easier to track him now,' Ulfric chuckled, grinning wolfishly in the shadows.
Deraphin's eyes were sharper in the dimness, so he led the way through the scrub as the wizard ahead of them continued trudging deeper into the woods. An hour passed.
Then the warriors heard a soft, whimpering sound, a faint scream, somewhere up ahead. Climbing into the lower branches of a pine, Deraphin and Ulfric watched Dieter emerge into a clearing, lit by braziers with strangely coloured flames. In the centre of the clearing sat an ancient, stone alter. Surrounding it in a large circle, stood eight, black-robed figures, their hoods hiding their faces. Dieter came to stand in the ninth and final place in the circle and threw off his cloak.
To their horror, Ulfric and Deraphin gazed upon an ever-changing robe, leering daemonic faces glaring in all directions. Strange, otherworldly lights glistened from the robe, and a large symbol was displayed on a golden chest plate, ornate and edged with arcane runes. Ulfric gasped.
'What's the symbol?' Deraphin asked quietly.
'It is one of the symbols of Tzeentch, Changer of the Ways, and Chaos God of Magic,' Ulfric replied. 'The Flame Chalice, eternally burning. Our friend is the Magister, of this cult, it seems.'
The warriors' attention was wrenched back to the ritual, as two huge, ungainly beastmen loped into the clearing, dragging a scantily clad girl. Dieter smiled warmly as the girl was hoisted onto the alter. She struggled vainly, but was chained down on her back, her arms stretched above her head.
'And now,' Dieter droned, his voice deeper than usual, 'the ritual will begin.'
'We must save her,' Ulfric urged, his voice showing concern. 'How can we stand by and watch as the innocent girl is sacrificed to the God of Sorcery?'
'She'll probably pay a fine sum if we rescue her, too,' Deraphin said as the rasping voices began, 'but better to wait until the cultists are more involved with their chanting.' Minutes passed and the chanting became bellowing, and Dieter unsheathed a curved, silver knife. He strode forwards regally, raising it high above the girl's exposed body. The knife began to fall, and she screamed. Then, out of no-where, an arrow sped towards Dieter, embedding its steel head in the wizard's shoulder. The force of the impact knocked him over, and the knife clattered to the paved ground around the alter. Then a second arrow flew past, plunging into the tree trunk a couple of feet behind the fallen wizard.
With a roar, Ulfric released his sword and charged into the clearing, making straight for the nearest cultist. The chanting had stopped and the Kislevite had no trouble decapitating the unprepared man with a spray of blood.
Deraphin cursed and dropped his bow. Taking a drink from his half empty bottle, he drew his blade and, dropping to the ground, ran straight towards Dieter Zauberlich.
Having dispatched two more of the cultists, Ulfric led the remaining five towards the forest.
'Bring it on,' he growled, 'let's see what you've got!'
The next cultist was felled by a throwing knife, and another fell over the corpse. The last three rushed the tracker, but in an amazing show of swordplay, Ulfric deflected all three blades before spearing the heart of the prone cultist. Spinning around, he parried the next blow then stabbed his assailant's throat, taking the opposition down to two. They spread out to take the Kislevite from both sides.
On the other side of the clearing, Deraphin slashed at the wizard's flaying staff, taking a chip out of the woodwork. Magical energy flickered back and forth between the two combatants, then the back end of the staff came up and knocked the elf on the side of the head, sending him staggering. With an evil laugh, Dieter strode over to deal the deathblow, fiery energy coalescing around the head of his staff.
The Kislevite had just speared the throat of one cultist. The other black-clad man held his longsword in a double-handed grip and came at Ulfric, yelling in the dark tongue. Once again the experienced tracker threw up his blade to parry and sparks flew, accompanied by a loud clang. Both fighters were bleeding and Ulfric knew if he didn't finish this soon Deraphin was be incinerated by Dieter's fury. His opponent's next hack was a wild swing, and tactfully, Ulfric dodged aside, taking full advantage of the cultist's bleeding leg, and stabbed his sword deep into the man's side. The cultist shrieked in agony, and leaving his blade stuck, Ulfric raced across the clearing to save Deraphin.
The elf cowered against the alter, looking small and dismal before the triumphant wizard. His hands were raised as he tried to make use of his own fragile spellcraft in order to prevent the huge, red gash from tearing its way across the rest of his face. Blood flowed and cruel laughter filled the air. Then the elf's resistance collapsed and bursts of multi-coloured lightning danced over Deraphin, his body shuddering with the raw power of magic. He gritted his teeth with pain and shut his eyes. Dieter's eyes blazed red and he began to speak.
'And now, Deraphin, foolish elf and incompetent, would-be mage, you will die!'
He raised his staff, the aura of bright flame burning around his head. But before the fireball could be unleashed, the fur-clad hero crashed into the wizard, knocking the staff from his hands and felling the old man. Ulfric clenched his fists and punched Dieter full in the face. The blow broke his jaw. Teeth cracked and blood spilt. The next blow ruined Dieter's nose. Blood soaked his moustache and soiled his beard. The third stroke slammed into Dieter's forehead, producing an audible crunch as the old sorcerer's skull caved in. Dieter screeched and Ulfric grasped his throat, choking the life out of him. It seemed that no magic of Tzeentch was any match for the wrath of Ulric, God of Wolves. As the Kislevite beat Dieter again, and again, and again, a voice came to his mind. It was a warrior voice, a strong, familiar tone, and it was the voice of a hero. 'The girl,' it said, 'remember the girl, Ulfric…my friend…'
Immediately, Ulfric abandoned the broken and bloodied form of Dieter Zauberlich. The wizard's ribs were snapped, his arms wrenched practically from their sockets. His bones were shattered. His legs were useless and his skull smashed. His face was a bloody, devastated mess. And yet, he still lived.
Seizing up a discarded sword, Ulfric raised it high. The girl screamed. In four powerful blows, she was free. She took Ulfric's offered forearm and slipped down from the blood-spattered alter, smiling at the tall, strong Kislevite.
'It wasn't part of the plan, but I couldn't just leave you there,' Ulfric replied, his teeth glistening through his black beard. He turned to Deraphin. The elf was having trouble standing up. Ulfric helped him and the elf hobbled over to what was left of Dieter. The old sorcerer still breathed through ragged lungs.
'You are a traitor,' Deraphin coughed, 'and for that you die.' He was about to kick the sorcerer, then noticed Dieter's lips moving.
'He's chanting a spell!'
Deraphin kicked hard, and then nearly stumbled as his boot went straight through Dieter's chest. The body seemed to relax, the red eyes glazing over in death.
'So, he was a Magister of a Tzeentch cult,' Ulfric confirmed, wiping blood from his sword. 'He could have killed us both deep below the mountains. This sacrifice must have been to increase his power, therefore making it more likely he could defeat us.'
Ulfric looked at the girl. 'Oh, sorry…?'
'Celeste, of House Rilberg.'
'Ulfric, Kislevite Tracker and Leader of the Champions of the Deep.'
'And who's this?' Celeste glanced distastefully at Deraphin.
'Oh, that's just Deraphin.' Ulfric waved a hand dismissively. 'Listen, is your father offering a handsome reward for your rescue at all?'
While they talked, Deraphin wandered around the glade, breathing deeply and using his scant power to recover his strength. He stopped and closed his eyes. What of the Sword of Dieter? Why did the wizard not use it against them? Maybe the old man had foreseen his demise, being of the God of Sorcery. Deraphin sent his spirit soaring, through vast, starry skyscapes and across misty, white plains, and he felt the winds of magic healing his body, repairing his ravaged senses. Then, out of the mist, came a thunderous boom, which echoed around his consciousness. The mist parted and black shapes emerged, shouting fierce war cries, and the stamp of hooves was deafening. Deraphin's eyes snapped open and he peered into the edges of the forest. He manipulated his spirit to zoom in, swimming through the winds and searching, detecting. Within seconds, he came upon a small group of creatures…beastmen, no doubt summoned by the last vestiges of Dieter's will!
Deraphin's spirit retreated and he immediately turned to Ulfric.
'Beastmen! Coming from the west, fast!' He notched an arrow to his bow.
Ulfric span around. As dark shapes amassed in the shadows, he unslung his own bow and prepared to unleash doom.
'Celeste. You must go! Flee to the east, then skirt around back to Altdorf. Meet us at Ye Olde Dungeoneers Tavern in two days. Go!'
As the girl fled, the two warriors faced the enemy. With a roar, goat-headed monsters poured from the forest.
'Here they come!'
Two arrows flew in unison, both impaling different targets. Amid the bellowing of beastmen, the warriors took another shot, felling more of the foul creatures, as the warband surged forwards. Then it was time for swords, and unsheathing their bright blades, the comrades shouted their war cries and plunged into battle.
With the Champions occupied, a wispy, red mist emerged from the mangled remnants of what was once Dieter Zauberlich. As the corpse burst into flames, consuming itself in an instant, the spirit drifted upwards then sped away, vanishing into the black, star-studded sky…