Magestorm, p.1

Magestorm, page 1

 

Magestorm
 


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Magestorm


  A WARHAMMER NOVEL

  MAGESTORM

  Jonathan Green

  (A Flandrel & Undead Scan v1.0)

  This is a dark age, a bloody age, an age of daemons and of sorcery. It is an age of battle and death, and of the world’s ending. Amidst all of the fire, flame and fury it is a time, too, of mighty heroes, of bold deeds and great courage.

  At the heart of the Old World sprawls the Empire, the largest and most powerful of the human realms. Known for its engineers, sorcerers, traders and soldiers, it is a land of great mountains, mighty rivers, dark forests and vast cities. And from his throne in Altdorf reigns the Emperor Karl-Franz, sacred descendant of the founder of these lands, Sigmar, and wielder of his magical warhammer.

  But these are far from civilised times. Across the length and breadth of the Old World, from the knightly palaces of Bretonnia to ice-bound Kislev in the far north, come rumblings of war. In the towering World’s Edge Mountains, the orc tribes are gathering for another assault. Bandits and renegades harry the wild southern lands of the Border Princes. There are rumours of rat-things, the skaven, emerging from the sewers and swamps across the land. And from the northern wildernesses there is the ever-present threat of Chaos, of daemons and beastmen corrupted by the foul powers of the Dark Gods. As the time of battle draws ever near, the Empire needs heroes like never before.

  ONE

  The Tower of Heaven

  “And the name of the Fourth Lore of Magic is the Wind of Azyr. It is by means of the magical energies of Azyr that the Astromancer may discern events yet to come in the movement of the Celestial Bodies as they wend their way across the Heavens. Hence the Fourth Lore of Magic is also known as the Lore of the Heavens.”

  —Taken from the Liber Artes Magicae

  Thunder broke across the tortured heavens loud; it seemed to shatter the sky. It was as if the hammer of Lord Sigmar had smote the firmament and, at its thunderous impact, the storm broke. Rain fell down from the grey-black clouds in a torrential downpour. Lightning sparked throughout the roiling thunder-heads that covered the dome of the sky from one horizon to the next: from north to south, east to west. Even though it was only mid-afternoon on a spring day in Jahrdrung, the cloud cover was so dense that it was almost as dark as night.

  Rain lashed the scrubby moors of this wild wilderness that lay in the shadow of the Middle Mountains, with Hergig a clear six leagues to the south. Gale-force winds drove fat greasy raindrops through the thick canopy of darkly brooding forest, and tore leaves from their branches. The deluge pounded the ground, turning turf to a sodden bog and churning the tracks that passed for roads in these parts into a sucking quagmire. Runnels formed all over the uplands, newly birthed streams brought forth by the cloudburst, and went coursing down the hillsides. These fed rain-swollen streams that in turn fed rushing tributaries. They all converged to become a raging torrent of white water that plunged over the jagged boulders of rapids through the gorge at the foot of a rugged, storm-scarred hilltop—the highest piece of land for several leagues around.

  Stark against the horizon, at the summit of the craggy hill, a lone black tower pierced the storm-wracked sky like an accusing finger pointing at the heavens—furious that the storm should obscure the heavens from the gaze of the observatory at its summit.

  The storm crashed around the tower, as if it were the focus for the tempest’s wrath. Lightning split the sky again, bathing the hilltop in a momentary dazzling light. The lightning glittered from each leaded pane of the tower’s glass dome.

  Rain drummed down on the roof of the observatory and the flat roof of the tower next to it. It had been raining heavily for the last five days and there was no sign of it abating.

  There was another vivid flash of light only this time it came from the top of the tower itself, blazing out from inside the glittering dome. It turned the observatory into a beacon of light in the middle of the grey-black wilderness.

  With a crash of splintering glass, part of the star gazing dome exploded outwards as a figure smashed through it and slid to a halt on the wet stones of the tower’s flat roof. Rain pelted down, heavy as a monsoon, soaking the figure’s scorched and ruddy robes before the straggly-haired man could raise himself groggily.

  “Curses!” the man muttered. Gerhart Brennend hated the rain.

  Looking back towards the glass dome he could see the figure of his rival clearly framed in the shattered broken panes. In front of it splinters of glass shone on the rooftop like a thousand sparkling diamonds.

  Gerhart made a hasty assessment of his situation. His swordbelt was still securely fastened about his waist, and his sword was in its scabbard at his side. His staff had landed close by. Taking hold of the gnarled and knotted rod of oak he got to his feet and prepared to face the force of the celestial wizard’s wrath. The astromancer, Kozma Himmlisch, was striding out into the gale to face him.

  Years of experience fighting upon battlefields across the length and breadth of the Empire helped him focus, despite the distracting rain that drove into his face and the injuries he had already suffered. The storm winds howled around him but now he could feel other winds blowing their own course about him. Many followed the howling path of the gale but some flowed contrary to the rest, whirling in eddies and battling against the vortices of the storm.

  Despite the steady, striding approach of his opponent, Gerhart closed his eyes.

  He pictured a black void in his mind, and there—in the heart of the darkness—a flame flickered into life. The yellow and orange tongue of flame, white-hot at its core, writhed and grew. Gerhart could feel its warmth in the palms of his hands where he clutched the staff. He opened his eyes again and, glancing down at the backs of his hands saw that the hairs were beginning to dry out.

  Kozma Himmlisch halted. Gerhart stood hunched, ready to defend himself, favouring his right leg, his left knee having been smashed as he hurtled through the dome of the observatory. The celestial wizard stood tall, his stance suggesting an unwavering arrogant trust in his own abilities.

  Where Gerhart’s robes were a deep red, his rival’s rich blue garments, picked out with gold embroidered stars and silver-threaded crescent moons, seemed to shimmer and glisten in the rain, making them appear more regal and luxurious.

  Where Gerhart appeared bedraggled and unkempt, his long greying black hair matted against the side of his face, Kozma seemed invigorated by the energy of the storm, as if he had drawn power from it. His white curled beard was immaculately trimmed, not a hair was out of place. Gerhart’s almost white drooping moustaches and the point of his beard sagged under the weight of water.

  The celestial wizard’s crown-like sorcerer’s hat, also blue and trimmed with gold, was emblazoned with a crest of the comet of power at the front. It sat securely on the wizard’s head, despite the clash that had just taken place in the observatory. Gerhart’s own pate was bald, except for one last stubborn tuft of black hair. The rain was making it glisten. Water ran into his thickly curling eyebrows and from there into his eyes.

  The astromancer took a step forward and glared at Gerhart, his gaze as piercing as the stars glittering against the cloth of night. Gerhart met his opponent’s stare and raised his staff, holding it defensively across his body.

  “Enough of these games,” the celestial wizard said, his voice clear and sharp as it carried to Gerhart over the wailing of the wind and the ominous rumbles of thunder. “Now we battle to the death.”

  “That is your choice,” Gerhart growled, the flickering flame in his mind growing in size and intensity.

  “Or should I say, your death?” Kozma went on, as if he hadn’t heard his opponent.

  Quick as lightning Kozma Himmlisch stabbed his fingers towards Gerhart. Blinding bolts of l
ight burst from their tips, zigzagging their way through the downpour. Several bolts struck the rooftop in front of him, exploding tiles and blasting shards of stone from the tower. The rest of the miniature lightning strikes slammed into Gerhart’s body, hurling him backwards.

  His mind-flame guttered in the darkness, but did not go out.

  “Your move, I believe,” Kozma sneered over the drumming of the rain.

  Steam rose from his soaking robes where he had been struck by the sorcerer’s spell. Gerhart rolled onto his side and got to his feet once more. He ached all over. He had suffered some small cuts when he had gone through the dome, and they stung in the rain. His right knee flared with pain every time he put weight on it. His left shoulder felt as if it might be broken, at best badly bruised.

  Every point on his body felt like it had been hit with a blacksmith’s hammer. The pain did not trouble him unduly. He had suffered worse in his years as a battle wizard among the armies of the Empire, before his untimely exile from the Bright order. And besides, another emotion was helping him to suppress the pain of the injuries: he could feel himself beginning to lose his temper. And Gerhart Brennend’s temper was a dangerous thing indeed.

  “Kozma, you go too far,” he told the celestial sorcerer through gritted teeth. He began to swing his staff around his head. “I warn you, do not provoke me.”

  As the blackened oak staff described a circle through the rainy air above him, Gerhart focussed on the flame flickering in his mind, feeding it with the fuel of his rising fury. A spark fizzed and died at the swinging end of the staff.

  Kozma had been watching Gerhart’s efforts with an expression of mild amusement. At this he let out a laugh.

  “What’s the matter, old friend?” he sneered. “Is the rain affecting your ability to spell-weave?”

  Barely suppressed rage bubbled beneath the grim set of Gerhart’s gaunt features. He glared at Kozma and swung the staff harder and faster.

  With an audible whoosh the end of the staff burst into flame. Gerhart kept the oak rod moving and instead of the wind and rain putting the flame out, the staff began to leave a trail of fire in its wake. The atmosphere around the top of the tower was, after all, saturated in magical power. It was merely a case of isolating the current he required and drawing it into himself. His natural propensity for manipulating fire could do the rest.

  Gerhart could feel the wind of Aqshy blowing gently against his face, warm as a homecoming hearth on his cheeks. It was drying the strands of hair at his temples. Admittedly, the flaming trail left by the burning end of the staff was not as great as he had hoped, but to conjure such a flame in the middle of a thunderstorm required great expertise.

  With one last great effort, Gerhart swung the blazing end of the staff towards the celestial wizard, extending his reach in only one hand. A stream of orange fire roared from the red-coal tip, eating up the oxygen in the air between the two sorcerers and casting its orange glow over the top of the tower. The fiery blast hit the rain-slicked robes of the celestial wizard and obscured Kozma Himmlisch from Gerhart’s view momentarily.

  The fire in his mind’s eye blazed brightly for a few seconds and then subsided to a flickering candle flame once more. With a wet hiss the rain doused the burning brand of the fire wizard’s staff. The orange reflections from the rain-slicked roof vanished to be replaced by the night-like gloom of the glowering storm, punctuated by bursts of acid white light along the horizon. The warm wind blowing on Gerhart’s face cooled too, until only the chill of the damp air remained.

  Gerhart looked up at the celestial wizard, uncertain of what to expect. What little hope he might have had for his opponent’s demise faded as he saw Kozma Himmlisch smiling back at him, seemingly untouched. Gerhart’s spell had had no effect; how could he have been so foolish to expect otherwise in such weather? His powers as a fire mage were severely weakened thanks to the rain.

  Gerhart’s anger at his own naive thoughts fed the flames of his fury. But before he could put it to good use there was another retina-searing explosion of light and Gerhart flew backwards once more. The blast was the strongest the celestial wizard had produced yet. Gerhart’s arms were flung outwards from his body in an involuntary spasm, as the massive surge of electrical energy coursed through his body. His staff flew from his hand.

  Some small part of Gerhart that was still aware of what was going on told him that this was it. Kozma’s attacks had steadily pushed him back towards the edge of the tower’s battlements. This last almighty blast would surely send him over the edge and down to his death on the rugged crag top one hundred feet below.

  There was the sound of cracking mortar and Gerhart came to an abrupt halt as he slammed into something cold and hard.

  In his mind’s eye the flame was slowly extinguished.

  Weakened by Kozma’s relentless attacks the fire wizard almost blacked out. Pain that even his furious temper could not quash stabbed through his spine. His head sagged onto his chest, as he lay stricken at the edge of the roof, his back resting awkwardly on something behind him.

  Gerhart looked up, his head lolling back on his neck. Blinking the rain from his eyes he tried to focus on what it was that had stopped his death-plunge so abruptly. He saw a tall copper rod protruding from the side of the tower, glinting in the flickering epileptic light of the tempest. A lightning conductor, its tip fashioned in the form of an arrow-point.

  The metal pole swayed violently in the wind. Gerhart’s collision with the lightning rod had almost smashed it completely free of its mounting. Next to it a battered weather vane spun crazily in the tornado winds.

  “You would come here,” Kozma was saying, the pitch of his voice rising, “to my tower, to my home, and attempt to kill me? Then you are an idiot as well as a traitor! Where would I be better able to protect myself than here, surrounded by the very source of my power?”

  Shaking his head to help bring him to his senses, Gerhart turned back to the astromancer. The sorcerer was advancing towards him across the rooftop, the sparkling dome of the observatory behind him. Raw blue-white energy crackled from his fingertips and sparked from the coal-black orbs of his eyes. The glass shards scattered across the flat roof reflected the lightning like a myriad of tiny mirrors, dazzling Gerhart.

  Gerhart could see the sorcerous winds swirling around him in a dancing vortex of power, like ribbons of some multi-hued substance. He glimpsed images within the whirling eddies and pulled on the currents, like faces briefly captured in thunderclouds or esoteric runes of mystical power.

  “Now you will pay for your insolence!” Kozma spat. “It is time to die, old friend.”

  This was it, Gerhart realised. The celestial wizard’s next attack would surely mean the end for the fire mage unless he did something quickly. It was now or never.

  Aware of a low chanting coming from Kozma, Gerhart hauled himself to his feet, using the metal shaft of the lightning conductor for support. He prayed desperately to whatever deity might be listening that, in spite of the storm raging around him, that an unexpected lightning strike would not strike the conductor while he was clinging to it. The metal pole rocked unsteadily as the suffering wizard put all his weight against it.

  Through the dark rain, Gerhart could see that the pole rising above the top of the tower was merely the tip of the lightning conductor, a patina of verdigris covering its surface. The rest of the metal shaft was attached to the outside of the tower and descended all the way to the ground, where it would earth all lightning strikes. An iron staple hammered into the stone of the roof connected the two parts. The arrow-point tip of the lightning rod had also been mortared into place at the top of the crenellated battlements.

  Only half aware now of the dull chanting voice of the celestial wizard, and drawing on the last reserves of his strength, Gerhart hugged the lightning conductor and then let his tired body sag. With a tortured rending of metal, the rod bent over at its base. Gerhart could feel the hairs on the back of his neck begin to rise as a massiv
e static charge built around him. Kozma Himmlisch was obviously determined that the fire wizard wasn’t going to walk away from this final, fatal blast.

  Gerhart gave the broken mortar around the base of the pole a vicious kick, the heel of his leather boot pounding the ancient lime to powder. He gave the lightning conductor another sharp tug sending renewed daggers of pain stabbing through his spine, and the tip came away from the battlements in his hands.

  With his hair now standing out from the sides of his head, Gerhart turned to face the astromancer. Kozma was charged with the power of the heavens, his hair too standing on end. The sorcerer yelled the last words of his incantation over the wailing roar of the storm and drew his arms back, ready to fling his spell with full force.

  The lightning conductor gripped firmly in his right hand, Gerhart brought his arm back before hurling it forwards again sharply. Just then Kozma unleashed the full fury of the tempest at him. Pain tore through his shoulder but Gerhart’s aim was true.

  The metal shaft twisted through the air, glittering in the light of the energy streaking from the celestial sorcerer’s hands. A jagged bolt of forked lightning streaked down from the tormented sky above.

  The spear-tip point of the lightning conductor pierced the wizard’s chest below the sternum and burst from his back in a gout of black blood. An eye-bulging expression of horror briefly appeared on Kozma’s face before the full force of the storm was drawn inexorably to the lightning rod.

  Kozma Himmlisch was destroyed in a blaze of blinding white light. It bathed the entire tower in its cold, burning brightness. It also blazed the image of the celestial wizard being burnt to a crisp onto the back of Gerhart’s eyes so that it was all he could see until the glaring light faded back to normal.

  Lightning continued to course down from the broiling clouds above, channelled by the lightning conductor. Kozma’s spell was now horribly out of control. One whole side of the tower was exploded by the blast. With a boom that Gerhart felt through his feet, masonry tumbled from the battlements and crashed onto the sodden ground below. The wind and rain swept into exposed chambers within the tower like hungry animals. They ravaged the shelves of books and scrolls in the astromancer’s library in their fury, sending sheaves of papers flapping out in a savage squall.

 
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