Blood of Aenarion, p.1William King
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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.
These are bleak times. Across the length and breadth of the Old World, from the heartlands of the human Empire and the knightly palaces of Bretonnia to ice-bound Kislev in the far north, come rumblings of war. In the towering Worlds 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.
An ancient and proud race, the high elves hail from Ulthuan, a mystical island of rolling plains, rugged mountains and glittering cities. Ruled over by the noble Phoenix King, Finubar, and the Everqueen, Alarielle, Ulthuan is a land steeped in magic, renowned for its mages and fraught with blighted history. Great seafarers, artisans and warriors, the high elves protect their ancestral homeland from enemies near and far. None more so than from their wicked kin, the dark elves, against whom they are locked in a bitter war that has lasted for centuries.
79th Year of the Reign of Aenarion, the Cliffs of Skalderak, Ulthuan
From high atop the cliffs of Skalderak, Aenarion looked down on the camp of his enemies. The Chaos worshippers’ fires blazed in the darkness, more numerous than the stars. There were hundreds of thousands of his monstrous foes down there and even if he killed every last one of them, more would come.
He was going to die. The whole world was going to die. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it. He had tried, with all his enormous strength, with all his deadly cunning, with power greater than any mortal had ever possessed, wielding a weapon so evil it was forbidden by the gods, and still he had failed to stop the forces of Chaos.
Their armies surged across Ulthuan, crushing the last resistance of the elves. Howling hordes of blood-mad beastmen smashed through the final defences. Armies of mutants overwhelmed the last guardians of the island-continent. Legions of daemons revelled in the ruins of ancient cities.
After decades of warfare, Chaos was mightier than ever, and his people were at the end of their strength. Victory was impossible. He had been mad to think it could be otherwise.
He cast his gaze back to his own camp. Once he would have deemed his own army mighty. Hundreds of dragons slumbered amid the silk pavilions spread out across the mountaintop. Tens of thousands of heavily armoured elf warriors awaited his command. They would throw themselves into the attack once more if he gave the order, even though they were outnumbered more than twenty to one. With him to lead them they might even win, but it would be a fruitless victory. The Chaos army at the foot of the cliffs was only one of many. There were other armies, equally great and many greater, scattered across Ulthuan and, for all he knew, the rest of the world. They could not all be beaten by the forces at his disposal.
He turned and strode back inside his pavilion. It was futile to contemplate the size of the enemy force.
He unsheathed the Sword of Khaine. It glowed an infernal black, casting out hungry shadows that dimmed the hanging lanterns within the great silk tent. Red runes burned along a blade forged from alien metal. The Sword whispered obscenely to him in a thousand voices, and every voice, whether commanding, entreating or seductive, demanded death. It was the most powerful weapon ever forged and still it was not enough. It was heavy in his hand with the full weight of his failure. For all the good it had done him, he might as well have kept using Sunfang, the blade Caledor had made for him back when they were still friends.
The Sword was killing him by inches, bleeding away his life a droplet at a time. Every hour aged him like a day would age another elf. Only the unnatural vitality he had acquired when he passed through the Flame of Asuryan had enabled him to survive this long and even that would not last forever.
If the Sword was not fed lives it feasted on him instead. It was part of the devil’s bargain he had made when he had still thought it was possible to save the world, when he had still thought that he was a hero.
Morathi stirred in her sleep, one arm thrown out, casting off the silken coverlet, leaving one perfect breast revealed, a strand of her long curly black hair caught between her lips as she writhed in some erotic dream. The potions still worked for her. She could still find sleep, no matter how troubled. The drugs had long ago ceased to work for him even when taken in dosages that would have killed anyone else.
Wine had no savour. Food had no taste. He lived in a world of moving shadows, far less vivid than the one he had known as a mortal. He had given up much to save his people – his ideals, his family, his very soul.
Kill her. Kill them all.
The Sword’s ancient, evil voices kept whispering in his head. In the quiet of the night he could still ignore them. There had been times when the mad bloodlust was upon him when he could not, and he had committed acts that made him burn with shame and wish that the wine still worked so that he could find forgetfulness in it.
Had there been time enough left, the day would come when he would no longer be able to resist the Godslayer’s urging, and nothing within his reach would be safe. If the daemons did not end the world, he would do it himself.
He laughed softly. Phoenix King they called him now. He had passed through the sacred flames and come out the other side, not burned but stronger, faster, more alive than any mortal should be. He had offered himself as a sacrifice to save his people when the gods had rejected all others, and they had taken his flesh and his agony as their offering and sent him back transformed to do their work.
He had died and been reborn the day he passed through the Flame of Asuryan, and he had caught glimpses of things that had blasted his sanity. He had seen the vast damaged clockwork of the ordered universe and that which lay beneath it and beyond.
He had looked upon the Chaos that bubbled around everything for all eternity. He had seen the smile on the face of the daemon god who waited to devour the souls of his people. He had witnessed that god’s kin use worlds for their playthings and populations for their slaves. He had glimpsed the great holes in the fabric of reality through which their power and their servants poured in to conquer his world.
He had seen eternities of horror and he had come back reshaped, remade, reborn to fight. He had tried then with all his new-found might to save his people from the tide of daemonic fi
At first he thought he could win. The gods had gifted him with power beyond that of any mortal. He had used it to lead the elves to victory after victory but every triumph had cost them irreplaceable lives and for every foe that fell two more came to take their place.
He had not realised then that it was all a black cosmic joke. He was only slowing down the destruction of his people, making it more painful by drawing out the agony.
He had taken the Everqueen as his wife and she had borne him two perfect children, a promise of a brighter tomorrow, or at least a pledge that there still would be a tomorrow. He had believed that then, but his family been taken from him by the daemons and slaughtered. In the end he had not even been able to protect his own kin, and their loss had ripped the heart from him.
It was then that he had sought out the Blighted Isle and the Godslayer. It was a weapon never meant to be drawn from the Altar of Khaine but he had drawn it. If the gods had given him strength, the Sword had made him all but invincible. Where he walked daemons died. Where he led, victory was inevitable. But he could not be everywhere and with every day the forces opposed to him grew stronger and those who followed him grew fewer and fewer.
The evil of the Sword had seeped into him and changed him, making him angrier and less sane as the odds against him mounted. His closest friends had shunned him and the people he was pledged to save had drifted away, leaving only hardened embittered remnants, elves as angry and deadly as himself, a legion of warriors almost as mad and twisted as the foes they faced. They too had been changed by the baleful influence of his unholy weapon. He had taught his people too well how to make war.
A mood of black despair had come upon him, and at that darkest period of his life he had found Morathi. He glanced at her beautiful sleeping form, loathing her and wanting her at the same time. What he had with her he could not call love. He doubted he was capable of any tender emotion any more, even with a woman less twisted than his current wife. This was a mad, sick passion. In Morathi’s caresses he had found some respite from his troubles and in their wild love-making he had found distraction from his cares.
She had brewed potions that for a time had let him sleep and made him almost calm. And she had borne him a son, Malekith, and taught him that there was still some spark of feeling within him yet. He had found something to fight for once more and returned to the fray, if not with hope, at least with determination. But now, at long last, he could see that it was over, that his enemies would win, and that his people were doomed to death and an eternity of damnation.
A glow in the air warned him. Long, sharp-edged shadows danced away from him. He turned, sword raised ready to strike, and only at the last heartbeat did he stay his hand.
‘Aenarion, can you hear me?’ asked a voice of eerie quietness that seemed to be carried on some dismal breeze from the desolate margins of the world.
Caledor stood there, or at least his image did, a glowing translucent ghost, cast across long leagues by the force of the mage’s magic. Aenarion studied his former friend. The mightiest mage in the world looked half-dead. His body was wasted, his cheeks were sunken, his face looked like a skull. His features were schooled to impassiveness by the power of his will but terror glittered in his eyes. It was never far from the eyes of any of the elves now.
‘Aenarion, are you there?’ The image flickered and Aenarion knew that all he had to do was wait and the image would vanish as the spell collapsed. He did not want to talk to the one who had turned his back on him, who had walked away from the doom he felt that Aenarion was leading their people towards.
He bit back words of anger and reined in the rage burning in his breast. In his more lucid moments he knew that Caledor had done the right thing, taking some remnant of the people out from under the shadow of the Sword and the doom that Aenarion carried within him.
‘I am here, Caledor,’ Aenarion said. ‘What do you wish of me?’
‘I need your aid. We are besieged by land and sea.’
Aenarion’s laugh was bitter. ‘Now you need my help! You turned your back on me but you do not scruple to seek my aid when you need it.’
Caledor shook his head slowly and Aenarion could see the weariness eating away at him. The mage was at the end of his tether. His last resources of strength were dwindling. Only willpower was keeping him going. ‘I never turned my back on you, my friend, only on that cursed thing you carry and the path you set your feet upon.’
‘It comes to the same thing. I saw the way that would save our people. You, in your arrogance, refused to follow.’
‘There are some roads it is better not to travel even if they are the only way to escape death. Your way would make us worse than the things we face. It would merely be a different kind of defeat. Our enemies would win in the end either way.’
In his heart of hearts Aenarion agreed but he was too proud to admit his folly. Instead he gave vent to his bitterness and anger. ‘Accursed you have called me, accursed till the end of time, and all of my seed to be accursed. And yet you dare ask for my aid?’
‘I did not curse you, Aenarion. You cursed yourself when you drew that blade. Perhaps you were accursed before that. I know you were always chosen by destiny and that in itself is a sort of curse.’
‘Now that you need my help, you seek to twist your words and give them a honeyed meaning.’
Anger passed across Caledor’s features. His lips twisted into a sneer. ‘The world ends and yet your pride must be salved. It is more important to you than life, the life of our people. You will not aid me because of harsh truths I once spoke. You are like a child, Aenarion.’
Aenarion laughed. ‘I have not said I will not aid you. What is it you seek?’
‘There is only one way to save our world. We both know it.’
‘You intend to put your plan into effect then, to sing your spells and try and banish magic from the world.’
‘That is not what I seek and you know it.’
‘Morathi says that will be the effect of what you do.’
‘I doubt your wife knows more of the ways of magic than I do.’
‘Now who is mad with pride, Caledor?’
‘The gates of the Old Ones are open. The winds of magic blow through them like a hurricane. They carry the energy that causes the humans to mutate and lets the daemons dwell here. Without that energy they must leave our world or die. This is truth. We have constructed a mighty network of spells to channel that energy, to drain it away, to use it for our own purposes. All we need do now is activate it.’
‘We have been over this a hundred times. Too much could go wrong.’
‘We are dying, Aenarion. Soon there will be none of us left to oppose Chaos. We have tried your way. It has not worked. The forces of Chaos are stronger now than they were the day you passed through the Flame.’
‘That is not my fault, wizard.’
‘No, but it is the truth.’
‘So you seek my permission to try your plan?’
‘We have begun.’
‘You dare to do this when I have forbidden it?’
‘You are our leader, Aenarion. We are not your slaves. The time has come for a last throw of the dice.’
‘I will decide when that is to be.’
‘It is too late for anything else, Phoenix King. If it is not done now, it will not be done at all. The forces against us will be too strong. Perhaps they already are.’
‘If you have decided to defy my will, why bother telling me?’
‘Because the daemons sense our purpose and try to stop us, and we do not have the strength to prevent them.’
‘So you want me and mine to protect you, in spite of your defiance.’
‘We are all one people. This will be the last stand of the elves. If you do not wish to be there, that is your choice.’
‘There will be other battles.’
‘No. This will be the last. If our spell goe
‘And yet you will still proceed.’
‘There is no other choice, Aenarion. You told me once that mine was the counsel of despair and that you would find another way to win this war. Have you done so?’
He wanted to cast the mage’s words back into his teeth but he was too proud and too honest to do so. He shook his head.
‘Will you come to the Isle of the Dead? We need you.’
‘I will consider it.’
‘Do not consider too long, Phoenix King.’
Caledor put his hands together and bowed and vanished. Morathi’s eyes snapped open and she screamed.
He turned to look at his wife. She stared at him as if looking at a ghost.
‘You are not dead, thank all the gods,’ she said.
‘Apparently not,’ he said.
‘Do not joke about such things, Aenarion. You know I see the future and tonight in my dreams I had a vision. A battle is coming. If you take part in it you will die.’
‘If you leave my side, you will die.’
He stared at her hard, wanting to ask her how she knew and not daring to because he feared the answer and what he would have to do if she gave it.
Morathi had studied the ways of their enemies for a very long time, and, he suspected, far too closely. There were times when he was not sure where her true loyalties lay. He only knew that she looked at him, as he looked at her, with a mixture of lust, respect, hatred and anger. It was a potent, heady brew that had fuelled many memorable days and more memorable nights.
Blood of Aenarion by William King / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes