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more from Blackheart, chapters 6-10 
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Chapters 6 to 10

6 - Flight from Har Ganeth

Khaina pulled on the reigns, his black steed rearing up on the crest of the hill, dark mane fluttering in the strong wind. He had taken the horse from one of the stables on the edge of the city, its previous owner was no doubt stopping in the city for a few days so he had plenty of time to get away. He turned and looked back over his shoulder, the city of Har Ganeth now nothing but a spot on the horizon to the west. Dark rain clouds were headed his way, passing on from the city as if they wished to follow him, that was just his luck. He turned back west and kicked the horse into a canter, heading towards the shadow that passed underneath the spiteful peaks on the way to Naggarond, the capital of Naggaroth, and Ghrond, city of sorcery.

Khaina did not yet know his destination, though he decided it was probably safer to show up on the outskirts of the capital and try to gather some sort of fighting force before returning to his home to challenge Ulthar once again. If he made his way too deep into Naggarond the chances are he would not make it out alive since he was completely alone, and the land of chill, especially its capital, was a cold and rutheless place. Its name fitted perfectly, he thought to himself as he began to descend the other side of the hill. Then again, he didnt know anyone in Naggarond and had only been there several times in his youth to deliver messages, it had been perhaps forty years since he had been there. Ghrond, on the other hand, was home to another of his sisters, Tsyrin, who was an even more powerful sorceress than Kaeril. She had been taken away by the convents at the young age of ninety, and so Khaina had only ever spoken to her once or twice in their lifetimes. Running to her for help was not an option, but if he could somehow inform the older of his two sisters about the Deathshard, she might strike a comprimise.

Still, the idea was risky. There was nothing to stop Tsyrin from killing Khaina and then acting against Kaeril for he could think of nothing he could give or do to aid his sister. He decided at last that he was most likely to find the mercenary help he so desperately needed at Naggarond for there were certainly going to be a lot of Druchii who would aid him if he promised them gold and glory at the end of the line. With their help he could return to Har Ganeth and usurp both Ulthar and Kaeril and would glady pay them a heft sum for their aid. All he wanted was his position as highborn back, he cared little for every gold coin in the households of his fathers estate. First things first, he thought, he had to ride this cursed steed across leagues upon leagues of empty land to reach Naggarond.

* * *

Khaina tugged the reigns, stopping the horse in its tracks just as they breached the next hilltop. He had been travelling for several days now without sight of another living creature, stopping only to let the horse graze and drink while he ate from his rations pack. He ate little and not very often, but the specially made pastey substance gave him the energy that a four course meal could not, no wonder it had cost so much. Now, for the first time in days, he had spotted other Druchii moving down below on the trail that wound below the spiteful peaks. He dropped from the saddle, making sure his horse stood out of view, before slipping onto the hilltop in a low crouch as to not create a silhouette. Khaina pulled his heavy cloak tight about his armour, this close to the peaks the wind was harsh and filled with chill. He looked down on several Druchii and their mounts, though Khaina could only count three horses amongst the five or so men. Then he realised they were not resting, but crouching around two dead horses, looking around in confusion and fear and trying to keep their other horses in check. What was it they were trying to hide from.

With a loud roar, the dead trees on the right of the path down by the group parted and a huge monstrous beast came rushing out. It was about twice the length of a horse from head to tail, scaled like a reptile and had a large head with a mouth full of jagged teeth. He recognised the creature at once, it was a nauglir, or cold one, a mighty reptilian beast used by some knights as a mount. This one appeared to be wild as it had no reigns or saddle, and seemed to be attacking the group for their horses flesh. As he watched, the nauglir began to circle the group of Druchii who were jabbing at it with long spears and shouting curses at the beast in vain attempts to drive it off. Suddenly the best dived forward, huge jaws clamping shut around the midsection of one of the spear armed Druchii, and began to shake its head like a terrier with a rat. The man cried out as he was ripped asunder, limbs flying into the air as his body slid down the nauglir's throat. The best retreated once more to the treeline, watching the terrified Druchii with a predatory menace and preparing to strike once again.

Thinking of little else to do, Khaina drew his sword and charged down the hill with a monstrous warcry. If he could save these Druchii and their remaining horses before it was too late, perhaps they would accompany him back to Har Ganeth as the mercenaries he was seeking. He left his horse at the top of the hill for good reason, the nauglir were infamous for their love of horseflesh. The Druchii in the circle turned to look at him, a couple of them shouting out cheers of joy or encouragement of their apparent saviour. It was only as Khaina approached them that he realised just how big the nauglir was, it stood slightly higher than a horse and was indeed two to three times as long including its whiplike tail. The beast was just made up of scales ontop of layers of heavy muscle, it was no wonder the beast was making quick work of the group. Khaina realised he could do little against the beast alone and so needed the help of the other Druchii, of which he could now see there were five left alive.

"Somebody throw me a spear" he called to them as he got close enough, the nauglir just beginning to approach the group once more. A small Druchii clad in the dark cloak of a rider, probably no older than a hundred, threw him a spear which he caught with natural skill. He stopped where he was, spear in one hand and sword in the other, and considered his next move carefully. He watched the nauglir prepare to start circling the group again and realised at once they had to move or their numbers would slowly be picked off until noone survived. He watched the two horses squealing in terror as two of the older Druchii tried to keep them under control, the other three pointing spears out at the terrible reptile.
"Let go of your horses, send them up the hill to my own mount before they become dinner for our little nauglir" he called to them, watching the men consider his words, "Then fan out and encircle the beast, instead of letting it encircle you. Now!"

Obviously deciding there was nothing else for them to do, the men released their steeds in the direction Khaina had come from and then fanned out, trying to keep their distance from the nauglirs' huge jaws. Khaina raced forward once more, joining the Druchii as they grouped around the fearsome lizard. He found himself on the right hand side of the beast alongside the young Druchii who had thrown him a spear and one of the older Druchii. On the other side of the lizard, the other three were struggling to stay out of the way of both its gaping jaws and huge tail. Khaina jabbed forward with his spear, opening a small gash by the shoulder of the beasts foreleg, before jumping back as its jaws clamped shut on the air where his spear had been. One of the Druchii on the other side did the same thing as its attention turned to him, jumping in with his spear before jumping back out the way. They continued their systematic method of cutting the beast until it bled openly from dozens of small cuts along its flanks, the beast getting angry and snapping at anything it could find in all directions.

Just when he thought they had almost brought the beast down, it swung its huge bulk around and its head passed through the air scant inches from Khaina's face. The jaws missed all three of the Druchii on his side, but its powerful tail smashed into the chests of those on the other send, rupturing lungs and shattering ribs as the three Druchii were hurled through the air. Not one of them got back up, and Khaina was horrified to realise that as the young and old Druchii moved back down to either one of the beasts flanks, he was left facing its massive jaws. The two Druchii, becoming slightly more desperate, were contantly jabbing their spears into the beasts legs and flanks, even slashing at it with swords now that they stood so close. Still, the beast did not fall and Khaina watched in horror as it tensed up, drawing back slightly, obviously preparing to leap on him. Thinking fast, Khaina rammed the haft of his spear into the hard earth, positioning the spear towards the nauglir just as it leaped forward. Khaina barely managed to roll out of the way as several tonnes of scaled predator came crashing down where he had been not seconds before.

Khaina rolled to his feet in time to see the nauglirs head get impaled on his spear, the point entering the roof of its opened mouth and bursting from the back of its head in a fountain of red gore and brain fragments. The beast lay there shuddering for a few more seconds, then collapsed to one side motionless. Khaina stepped back, exhausted, and collapsed to his knees. He let kept his sword in his hand and watched the other two Druchii approach him, one had already whistled for their steeds and all three came galloping back down the hill. As they caught their horses by the reigns, Khaina got back up and patted his own mount gently on the flank.
"Thats a fine steed my friend," spoke the older Druchii, "I am Davilar and this is my companion Ranith, we are eternally grateful for your aid. The road toward Naggarond can be harsh at the best of times, deadly at all others."
"My name is Khaina Blackheart, think nothing of my help since i would have had to fight off this beast with or without saving you first. The numbers just gave me an advantage. Naggarond you say, I am headed that way too."
"We make toward Naggarond but it is not our destination," the young Druchii said, "We are headed north."

The older Druchii shot him a warning look and he stopped talking at once, what was it they were hiding, "North?"
"Aye, our business to the north is our own. We are grateful for your help, perhaps to repay the favour you can ride with us under the peaks to the borders of Naggarond, though that is where we will part ways."
"Do you travel north to Ghrond, or even further, the watchtowers perhaps?" or perhaps even further still, Khaina thought.
"What does it matter to you, you may have rescued us but we do not need to tell you of our journey."
"I could just kill you now and torture the information from your companion" he said forcefully, "I was headed to Naggarond in search of some mercenary help. There is much gold at stake, perhaps you would cease your other mission and follow me back to Har Ganeth instead. I will give both of you a large sum of gold for your troubles, if you aid me in a certain task."

Khaina could see the glint of gold pass across Ranith's eyes as he considered his words, but the older of the pair, Davilar, just sniggered and replied.
"What we are seeking in the north will bring about more wealth than anything you could offer, you do not even bear the twin swords of a highborn. What makes you think i can trust you?"
Khaina snarled at the mans arrogance, leaping forward past the mans steed and barreling into him. The pair went sprawling to the floor, rolling several times before Khaina managed to stop them. He was on top of Davilar with his blade at the mans throat. Ranith drew his blade and pointed it down at Khaina but he ignored the young Druchii, focused entirely on Davilar with his angry eyes.
"Do not attempt to tell me my own status, lowborn. I may not bear twin swords but i was born to one of the most powerful families in Har Ganeth, i could drag you back to my city and have you executed for your blasphemous words" Khaina said, not telling them that he had lost his status and could no more return to Har Ganeth now than he could walk on water.
Ranith lowered his own blade at Khaina's words, "We did not mean to offend you my lord, perhaps Davilar took one too many blows to the head during our little struggle. We are going north into the chaos wastes in search of a mighty weapon, one which will bring us much wealth and glory if we return it to the sorceresses in Ghrond. We learned of the weapon and its rough location about a month ago. If you help us locate this weapon, we will come with you to Har Ganeth and fulfill this task for you."

The older Druchii got up as Khaina withdrew his blade, giving Ranith a look which could kill a dragon. It seemed that Davilar did not want anyone else to learn of their scheme but Ranith had decided it was the only way out of the situation. Perhaps this weapon to the north was something he could use against his brother when he returned to Har Ganeth, or perhaps it was something more magical like the Deathshard which he could sell to Tsyrin in return for her aid against Kaeril. Either way, the prospects look promising.
"You have yourself a deal," he said to the pair, "I will lead you into the wastes and you will give me direction to this weapon. On our return to Naggaroth, you will accompany me to Har Ganeth and complete your side of the bargain."
"Tell me, what is it you need us to do in Har Ganeth" Davilar replied.
"All shall be revealed in time, but first I want you to tell me everything you know about this weapon."

The Druchii were interupted by a crossbow bolt which embedded itself in the ground at their feet, coming from the direction of the top of the hill. Khaina leaped behind his horse as his new companions drew their blades and looked around in confusion. Then Khaina spotted movement at the top of the hill and two figures came into view, one wielding two swords and the other aiming a crossbow at Khaina. It was Silvar and Arleth.

7 - Oaths of Loyalty

"You missed" hissed Khaina at Silvar as he came closer, crossbow still trained on Khaina's chest as Arleth brought one of his blades out in challenge.
"That was a warning shot," Silvar shot back, "If i wanted to kill you, i would have done so already. No, our mistress wants you alive."
"Sheath your weapon, Blackheart" said Arleth, "Lucky for us you stopped with this rabble, we thought you would get away."
"I will" Khaina replied, putting his blade back in his scabbard. Ranith and Davilar came up next to him with their weapons drawn, Silvar's crossbow moved from one to the other and then back to Khaina.
"And who are these two, your latest companions? Did you tell them you are running from the temple of Khaine?"
"Or that you are an outlaw, an outcast, a shadow of your former glory and a good for nothing coward?" interjected Arleth
"Coward?" replied Khaina, drawing his blade once more and holding it up to Arleths throat. The warrior didnt even flinch.
"Put your blade down Khaina, our orders are to bring you back to your sister alive, or dead if we have to" Silvar said, "Im sure we both prefer the first option."

Ranith came forward, his spear pointed at Arleth's midsection, "You will not be taking Blackheart anywhere, i have just made an oath with him, so you would have to kill me first."
"Gladly" hissed Arleth, bringing the flat side of his blade up and knocking the spear aside.
"Enough, what is going on here?" asked Davilar, "Khaina, you are running from Har Ganeth? A minute a go you told me you were a highborn from one of the most powerful households in the city and are out looking for help."
"That much is correct" Khaina replied, "These two work for my sister, who wants me dead after a slight misunderstanding with our older brother. I only run from the temple because of her mistakes and I was seeking your help to pay her back for what she has done to me."
"He lost his status as highborn because he is a fool," Arleth said, "You do not want to side with him, trust me."
"An oath is an oath" said Ranith forcefully, "Blackheart is my lord now."
Davilar looked at his young friend, "Aye, we have agreed to help Blackheart if he first helps us. But since it looks like he will be going back to Har Ganeth, he will not be helping us, so we owe him nothing. You can take your mistress' brother back to your city, I do not wish to get me or my companion involved in such a family affair as this."
"Clever man" said Silvar, "You two are free to go, I suggest you do so quickly before I change my mind."

"Considering I just saved both your lives," started Khaina, "I think it a bit cold that you now turn your backs to me."
"That is the way of the Druchii," replied Davilar, "Cruel and ruthless. Grateful as I am for your help with the nauglir, I can not help you here."
"There are three of us and two of them" said Ranith, bringing his spear back up slightly, "We will need the extra man in the wastes."
"The wastes?" chuckled Arleth, "You wish to lead Blackheart into the chaos wastes?"
"I am to help them locate a powerful weapon," replied Khaina, "One which will bring us more gold than my sister could ever offer you. After we have obtained this weapon, I will return to the city of executioners."
"No doubt to have another shot at Ulthar or Kaeril's positions?" asked Arleth.
"Indeed, that is the plan" said Khaina frankly. He was thinking of a way out of the situation, he did not want to lose the help of the new comers but it looked like they may leave if things kicked off. Perhaps he could persuade Silvar and Arleth to come with him into the wastes before returning to Har Ganeth, offering them a share in the gold they found there. If, when they had the weapon, he still thought they may try some tretchary on their return to the city, he could easily get them killed in the wastes. The only thing that remained was how to get their allegiance in the first place.

"How about we strike a compromise?" Khaina offered, watching all four Druchii look at him with mixed expressions.
"This should be good..." laughed Arleth, "What makes you think you can talk your way out of this one, Blackheart?"
"Because there is much gold at stake, and a share in what we find to the north. Tell me, Silvar and Arleth, what does my sister pay you? one hundred gold coin a week, two hundred maybe? What if i was to tell you there was treasures to put that amount to shame in the north where we are heading. This weapon will no doubt he hidden alongside many treasures."
"And no doubt guarded heavily" said Silvar, "What weapon anyway? And where are you headed?"
"That is not your place to speak, Khaina" said Davilar defensively.
"I know what I am doing" he said quietly to his companion, who gave him an unsure nod, then spoke openly once more, "Davilar can tell you more than I."

Davilar cleared his throat and looked around at nothing in particular, "What we seek lies just north of the watchtowers on the northern border of Naggaroth. We overheard two seers discussing the artifact, some sort of powerful weapon called Tz'yatr or something similar. We killed one seer and tortured the other for information on the power in the north."
"You expect us to beleive two of you killed and captured some sorceress'?" asked Arleth with a cold sneer.
"Look around" he replied, gesturing to the dead warriors, "There were more of us then. Anyway, the seer told us little but what we did uncover was useful information. She spoke of a mountain of blood, on which lies a cave shaped like a skull and it's fearsome guardian. Inside the cave likes the weapon Tz'yatr and treasures fit for a king."
The information was even news to Khaina, who had not found out much before Silvar and Arleth had shown up, and he turned to Davilar curiously, "What sort of guardian?"
"She did not say, she cast some sort of spell and her body burned up before our tortures could get any worse."
"And how do we know you are not lying?" said Silvar.
"You don't, but I don't care anyway. The less of us who go means we each get a bigger cut in the treasure. We will bring the weapon back to Ghrond and sell it to the sorceress' there for even more profit. We will be rich within the month."
"Sell the weapon?" said Arleth, "I am sure Blackheart has other ideas."

Davilar looked at Khaina, a curious look spreading across his face, "Is that so?"
"My older sister lives in Ghrond, I do not want to supply her with this weapon for she can not be trusted. I will strike another deal with you, you get to keep all the treasure we find and i get to keep the weapon alone" Khaina replied, looking at the pair and studying their eyes. Both of them were considering it.
"I agree to that" said Ranith, "I am more interested in wealth than a mighty weapon. Tell me, if you wish to come with us in search of this weapon just so you can return to your city and challenge your siblings with it, why are you speaking so openly in front of your sisters retainers?"
"Because I think we have bought them" he replied, "And if not, they will not be going back to my sister to inform her."
"Is that so?" said Arleth, bringing his sword to Khaina's outstretched blade, "You think you can match me in single combat?"
"I know i can, so do not cross blades with me. Consider my offer now for it is the only oppertunity you will get, either swear an oath of loyalty to me now or die trying to drag me back to Har Ganeth."
"By Khaine, you are a ruthless one" said Davilar, listening the exchange in words between them.
"You too, Davilar and Ranith. You have my word that you four, or however many of you come, can share the treasure equally between you. All i want is this Tz'yatr. Do you swear an oath of loyalty?"

There was a few minutes of silence as each Druchii weighed up the options laid out before him.
"In the eyes of Khaine, I swear it" replied Ranith, bowing on one knee in front of Khaina. Davilar looked at Ranith thoughtfully, then bowed before him as well.
"I can not let my young companion travel north without me, for I do not trust him to keep out of trouble at your hands. In the eyes of Khaine, I swear an oath of loyalty, pledging myself in your service. You will lead us north, I will give you what guidance i can from the sorceress' words. When we reach the cave of Tz'yatr you are free to take the weapon, whatever it may be, and we keep the coin. If we make it back to Naggaroth, we will accompany you to Har Ganeth and aid you there. Our bond goes no further."
"Indeed, and your efforts will be rewarded greatly" Khaina replied, "Now that you are my retainers, you can help me kill these two if they will not swear the same oath."
He looked at Silvar and Arleth and gave them a sly smile, "My sister will fall when i return from the north, if you remain in her service you shall fall with her. I could kill you now or let you run back to Kaeril, but even if you warn her of my actions you will not stop me. She may have outmaneuvered at every step so far but i assure you things are about to change. Will you swear loyalty to the stronger side, or will you die alongside your mistress."

Silvar turned to Arleth who seemed ready to die before betray Kaeril, but something in Silvar's eyes told Khaina he wanted a share in the gold to the north. Considering Silvar and Khaina had fought alongside before it seemed he did not doubt Khaina's skill and trusted him to a certain extent, whereas Arleth was completely sworn to serve Kaeril. The two exchanged looks, Silvar giving away he wanted the wealth, Arleth fixing him back with a hard gaze. At last Silvar spoke.
"The wealth in the north is tempting, and Kaeril already lended my service to you once, even if it was part of her ploy. I did not know about that if it matters, not until we returned with the shard anyway. Arleth, you and I have worked together many decades, there is wealth at stake here to become nobles ourself instead of mere retainers."
"You forget your place, Silvar" Arleth replied, "What makes you think our mistress will not know of our tretchary, i have no doubt she can best all of us in a fight with her new found power. I am a loyal servant..."
"She will not know of our tretchary" Silvar replied, "We can just say we persued Khaina north and brought him back alive as promised, we would be returning within a month or two which is beleivable. Of course, we would both be wealthy men then and could retire from Kaerils service. We are both alive and well, Khaina and Kaeril can do what they will, and I don't know about you but I would buy one of the small estates in the city."
"An interesting cover up" said Khaina, "It might just work."

Arleth looked at Silvar and shook his head, "Sometimes i do not know why I work with you, I think in the end it is you who will get me killed. You have a point though, the gold we will recover will buy me out of Kaeril's service and I can start my own line of nobles."
"The call of gold is a strong one it seems," said Davilar, "I do not want anyone other than us five on this journey. We may need a lot of swords in the north, but I do not want to share my cut of the gold with any other."
"And you shall not have to" said Khaina, "We will travel alone to the mountain of blood and take what we can, then return to Har Ganeth within a few months. Do i have your oaths Silvar and Arleth?"
There was another pause as the two looked over the options once more, then Silvar bowed his head, "In the eyes of Khaine, I swear it."
Arleth stood firm for a few seconds more, then looked down and shook his head, "What choice do i have? In the eyes of Khaine, I too swear loyalty to you."

Khaina smiled to himself, that was twice he had cheated death by quick thinking and a smart choice of words. He wondered just how loyal the pair would be, especially Arleth, he would have to keep an eye on that one. He sheathed his sword and watched as the rest of the group did the same. Davilar and Ranith apporached some of the dead horses and men, taking food rations, weapons and other valuables and equipement from their fallen comrades. Silvar and Arleth had whistled for their horses which came over the hill a few moments later, and the band of warriors prepared themselves to set off on the journey north under the shadow of the spiteful peaks. It seemed Khaina had found the perfect weapon to use against Ulthar and Kaeril, he had bought over the loyalty of two her her best retainers and his power, through the numbers of Druchii loyal to him, were once again rising. Very soon, he would have everything he needed to return to the city of executioners and claim back what was rightfully his.
"Mount up" he called to his new retainers, "We ride north!"

8 - Cry From Above

They had been walking the road to Naggarond for three more days, resting overnight with their mounts and eating a small amount of their rations before they set off again. The scenery had slowly changed from the dead trees and snowy earth in the footfalls of the spiteful peaks, to more open land as the mountains became ever smaller marks on the horizon behind them. The open land was not without its dangers though, a biting cold wind blew down from the north and they had been forced to stop on more than one occasion when the wind picked up into a small blizzard. At one point a stray horse had passed them, saddled and covered with gear but with its rider nowhere to be seen. It seemed they were not the only ones to attempt the hazardous trail and Khaina felt ever more reassured by their numbers. He doubted he could have ridden the path alone for more than a few days, even if he took shelter from the cold.

Khaina's concern over Arleth's loyalty had been growing too, for he seemed always catch him looking at him or muttering to Silvar in the corner of his eye. No doubt the retainer would try some sort of treachery sooner or later, and Khaina realised it may be easiest to kill him in the north as long as Silvar didn't find out. For some reason, he placed a small amount of trust in that one, even though he saved trust for anyone else in the world. Davilar and Ranith, on the other hand, seemed as if they would be loyal to their word until they returned to Har Ganeth. After that their deal was no more, perhaps they would stay in his service if he offered them wealth and a home, perhaps they would want to be on their own way, only time would tell. As long as the four retainers remained loyal while they traversed the cold stillness of Naggaroth and then the twisting madness of the chaos wastes, that would be enough. All Khaina wanted was Tz'yatr so he could then return to his city and become the highborn he was born to be.

As they began to wind their horses through some large boulders, he realised Silvar's estimation at the time the task would take could be as accurate or wrong as possible. They were venturing into the chaos wastes, a land where time flowed strangely and the landscapes shifted and moved. You could walk there for a week and come back to find your grandchildren older than you, or be lost wandering the wastes for decades only to return home the next day. You could walk towards a mountain which got further away, or fall asleep in a forest and wake up in a field of skulls. It was quite possible that their journey could take them a long time, but how long that would account for back in Naggaroth they would have to wait and see. They were headed for a land where daemons and worshippers of chaos walked, they would no doubt come across a few battles on the way to the mountain of blood. Khaina did not express any of his thoughts to the group, he didnt want them to turn back or consider things too dangerous to go ahead. Instead he kept his thoughts to himself, staring ahead as they trotted across the leagues ahead of them.

* * *

The sudden growl came out of the icy mists to their left and caused all the horses to squeal and try to scramble away. Khaina and the others fought to keep them under control, peering around in search of the source of the noise. Whatever it was it sounded big, and it sounded like it was coming from the sky. No sooner had that thought registered, another deep roar sounded from what seemed like right above them. He could hear the beating of heavy wings and he kicked his mount into a gallop, headed down the trail as fast as he could, the rest of the warband close on his tail. They kept moving even when the cry from above seemed to have moved past them, which was a wise decision as moments later the beast called out again, almost right above them once more, and the beating of its wings drowned out the footfalls of the fleeing horses. They kept going, blind to everything except that which lay a couple of meters ahead of them until they suddenly burst from the heavy fog. The change shocked their horses, some of which sped up while others reared and kicked at the sudden open, cold air.

Within seconds they were moving again, trying to keep up with Khaina who had the lead. He turned in his saddle as much as possible to take stock of the situation. Silvar and Davilar were right behind him, and Arleth a few paces behind them, but Ranith had been struggling to control his horse and was far behind, even galloping at top pace. With a mighty roar, a huge winged terror burst from the mist, like a giant lion kept aloft by two huge dragon like wings. The creature had a wild and savage look about it, matted fur surrounding a bestial face with saliva dripping from its huge canines. Its body was like an oversized hunting cat, huge paws with long claws slashing at the air around it and a long whip tail trailing out behind it, tipped with a huge barb. The beasts leathery wings had a massive span and its shadow completely covered the group as it flew overhead, seeming to take a good look at its prey.

"What in the name of all the gods is that thing" cried Khaina, hoping another member of the group may know more about it than he did.
"Its a manticore," came a reply from Davilar, "We're done for."
"Enough of that," he replied as he continued to gallop, "How do we kill it?"
"I don’t know, all i know is they tend to do the killing part and not the dying part" shouted Davilar, who was turning to watch Ranith catching up.
"Perhaps you can shoot it down?" he called to Silvar, thinking of little else they could do against a flying beast.
"With this thing? Give me a bolt thrower and I will do so, but a crossbow won't harm the thing."
Ranith had finally caught up with them, steam rising off his horse as it had been pushed so hard, "What are we going to do?" he called.
"I've got an idea, see those rocks up ahead off the path, get into them and dismount. If we stay on the path in the open he will fly low and take us from the saddle."

As if in answer to his words, the manticore came flying in low from behind them, claws outstretched as it reached for its prey. The group parted, Khaina and Silvar moving left while the others moved to the right, and the beast flew straight threw the middle of them. He doubted the same trick would work next time the beast came about, so he pointed to the rocks with his sword. As the group entered the area of large boulders they quickly dismounted, ushering their horses into the middle of the rocks. The creatures were panicking, but were not about to run out into the open and make themselves easy prey. The five riders huddled together under the shadow of one of the larger rocks and watched the manticore circling around for another go at them. He looked around and found a fist sized rock with a slightly jagged edge, picking it up in one hand to find it was light enough to throw.
"The rocks, gather some rocks. We may not be able to kill it but perhaps we can see it off when it realises it can not reach us and we are hurting it."
The group all bent down and gathered a decent sized rock, then watched the manticore coming down for the kill. At the last minute they hurled the rocks at the beasts head, hoping to hurt it or at least scare it off.

Three of the rocks sailed harmlessly past its head, either below or above the beast, but two struck their target. One hit the manticore in the shoulder, bouncing off as if it had collided with a stone wall, while the other hit the beast square in the forehead and caused it to let out a mighty roar. The beast lashed out as it went over them, its huge claw smashing the top half from one of the taller boulders, showering the warband with small rocks and debris. After ducking from the rocks, they stood back up and found the manticore was coming back around once more. Khaina picked up another rock, watching as the others did the same.
"Silvar, use your crossbow, perhaps you can punch out one of its eyes?"
The retainer nodded at lobbed his rock in the general direction of the beast before drawing his crossbow and pulling the string back, a black fletched bolt dropping into place. The thrown rock fell well short of its target, and the beast snapped its head at the rock, exposing the side of its neck to the party. Four of them threw their rocks while Silvar fired his crossbow. Khaina watched the bolt sail past the manticores neck, mere inches from its jugular vein, and the rocks once more either missed or rebounded off the creatures hard skin. The rocks seemed to be angering it rather than hurting it, the beast made a more frenzied pass this time and struck wildly at the air above the group with both its claws and then its barbed tail.

"Once more" Khaina called to the group, "If nothing happens again we duck low and wait it out."
The retainers nodded their agreement and began gathering sharp rocks once more as Silvar loaded his crossbow. They waited for the manticore to come back around for a third try at them, which it did, an angry, hungry glint in its eye. Khaina waited, his army drawn back, for the perfect moment and then threw his rock, the others following suit. The rocks bounced harmlessly off once more but the crossbow bolt hit the manticore just below the neck in the centre of its chest. The manticore's chest exploded in a fountain of blood and rib fragments, showering the Druchii below it with red gore and bone. The beast let out a blood curdling cry as it sailed overhead, a huge hole torn from its midsection, and crashed into the earth in the middle of the path. The beast shuddered, its wings beating once in an attempt to pick itself up, and then fell still once more.

Khaina turned to Silvar and noticed the other three were stood gaping at the retainer, "What did you do to it?"
"Nothing, that was not me," Silvar replied, "a crossbow bolt could not cause so much damage. The gore came showering our way anyway, something much larger hit it from behind at the exact moment I fired it would seem."
"But what could do that to the thing?" said Ranith, looking around the sky for another predator.
"A bolt from a reaper" said Silvar, "I think there are others on the road, I suggest me move out of this place before they realise our location."
"That's if they don't already know we are here" said Arleth, trying to see the road from out of the rocky patch they were hiding in.
"I do not think they will have spotted us yet, they must be quite far away or we would hear them" Khaina replied.

He pushed his way through his retainers and crept to the edge of the boulders, spotting the dead manticore lying in the road. Sure enough, a large black bolt was protruding from the wound in its chest and had hit it from behind. He heard shouts from further down the road and saw a column of warriors heading their way, a couple of reaper bolt throwers in their wake. Some of the warriors had spears, others hefted repeater crossbows much like Silvars'. They were marching under a black banner fixed with a glowing white rune, and he noticed some of the warriors hefted mighty halberds. It was some of the black guard of Naggarond, warriors infamous for their fighting prowess and skill on the battlefield, the personal guards of the Witch King. He spotted a few warriors clad in black cloaks running ahead to check the corpse of the manticore. He hoped they did not see the crossbow bolt in its chest as they would no doubt search the area to find out who fired it. The group would have to sit tight in the rocks and wait for the column to pass.
"Pray they do not have a regiment of naulgir," said Arleth quietly, "They would pick up our horses scent any second now."

Fri Aug 29, 2008 1:50 am
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9 - The North Road

Khaina watched from the rocks as the last of the Druchii marched past, a large regiment of crossbowmen who were guarding the rear of the column. He counted about thirty of them at the back, which brought his total estimate of the column's size to around four hundred warriors. He wondered what they were doing and why they were headed in the direction of Har Ganeth, four hundred was far too large for a simple patrol. Perhaps they were going past his city and on towards the city of Karond Kar, the huge sea port from which slave raids were launched. It was not uncommon for a noble or highborn to lead a small army out to sea on raids at this time of the year, but a larger force from Naggarond itself was probably headed on a different kind of journey, sailing to Ulthuan to fight the ongoing war.

The island home of the Asur, traitorous elves who had abandoned the Witch King at the time of his crowning. The subsequent cival war, known to the elves as the sundering, saw their race ripped in two. The Druchii, as they became known, were the elves loyal to their true king, while the pitiful Asur turned instead to a new Phoenix King and drove the Druchii out of their home. Since that time, the Druchii had settled in Naggaroth, the land of chill, and crafted six mighty cities from the terrible black arks. The black arks were huge chunks of Ulthuan, held aloft by dark magic, which sailed across to Naggaroth to become the cities of the Druchii. In the five centuries since the sundering, Malekith the Witch King had launched attacks and daring raids Ulthuan in an attempt to regain what was rightfully his. It seemed these Druchii were going to be part of the next assault on the island, sent to both kill and capture as many traitor elves as possible.

Khaina was relieved when the column finally passed from sight without spotting the five Druchii hiding in the rocks. If they had seen them they may have killed them just for sport, it was a long road to the shore and the crossbowmen could no doubt use the entertainment, even after slaying the manticore. He stepped out from the rocks and signalled for his retainers to bring their horses out with them. As his horse trotted up to him he reached into one of his saddle bags and pulled out a waterskin, taking on some hydration before returning it and climbing into the saddle. He waited for the others to be ready, and then led them back onto the road in the direction of the capital. He was not sure how much further they would need to travel the road to Naggarond before they met the crossroad onto the North Road, but he doubted it would be more than a days ride ahead of them now.

Sure enough, by dawn the next morning the huge form of Naggarond loomed ahead of them in the distance. The city was massive in comparison to any of the other cities in Naggaroth. It was made up of four giant rings of buildings, each one defended by a huge stone wall. Anyone looking to attack the city would have their work cut out, needing to breach all of the walls before they could reach the topmost section of the city which was home to the Witch King. That section alone was almost the size of Har Ganeth, and the city in its entirety made the city of executioners look like a small house next to a mighty castle. From where they now stood on the path, taking in the great scene that was layed out before them, they could also see the crossroad not more than a few minutes ride ahead. Once they reached it they would turn north, heading toward and past Ghrond, then on past the northern border and its watchtowers. If they had continued straight ahead they would come to Naggarond's mighty gates, and if they turned south they would follow the tretcharous trail down towards Hag Graef.

Khaina led his warband down the short slope and onto the crossroad, taking note of the warnings surrounding them. Around the paths on all sides jutted huge metal spikes from the floor, some with skeletons or fresh corpses impaled upon them. The trail which led to Naggarond was flanked by two mighty banner poles, from which hung two black flags bearing the Witch Kings banner symbol. It was a clear warning that if you were to enter the city unprepared you would soon end up dead, or worse. Luckily Khaina and his retainers were not going into the capital city, and they led their horses onto the North Road. As they reached the top of the first hill on the road they turned and took one last look at the mighty form of Naggarond, then descended the other side of the hill and started their long journey north.

* * *

After they made their way through the valley that ran between the spiteful peaks and iron mountains, they crossed open ground until the tower of Ghrond came into view at last. Ghrond was the only major Druchii city not created from a black ark, instead its huge central tower had been constructed so that the sorceress' who dwelled there could reach into the very heavens to draw power for their magic, or so Khaina had been told. They did not intend to stop at the city, and so followed the fork in the trail which led around the city of seers instead of taking them to its gate. As they passed the city, Ranith pointed out that they may need to resupply before they entered the wastes seeing as they did not know how long they would be there. However, a sense of foreboding passed over Khaina as he thought about entering the place, his older sister was the only person in the city he knew and he did not want her to get word of his journey north.

Instead of stopping, the group pushed on past the city and made their way past dense, dark forests and over rolling hills. As they continued north the chill in the air became ever more powerful, numbing their hands when they did not wear gloves of gauntlets. Fortunately, cold as the north of Naggaroth was, the chaos wastes were not as cruel. The lands there may shift and change, strange things happening and random storms rolling in from nowhere, but the cold of Naggaroth would at least be left behind. As they continued to slowly make their way towards the watchtowers, where Khaina had said they could stop overnight and resupply, he went deep into thought of what lay ahead.

Khaina had begun to wonder if Ranith and Davilar knew anything other than what they had told him. Perhaps they knew what this weapon was and that is why they had so readily given up their claim on it, though the true reason behind that could just be the prospect of so much gold instead. Had the pair even considered the fact that they would only be able to bring a small amount of whatever they found in the cave back with them, he did not wish to ask them in case they realised they would be cheated of a lot of wealth. The last thing he wanted when they were alone in the north was the betrayal of another member of the warband, hence why he would be sure to keep Arleth within sight as much as possible.

It was also possible that the pair knew little other than what they had told him, and did not even understand that themselves. How did he know they would stumble across this mountain of blood, they could search for it for years. The chaos wastes were a vast and seemingly endless place, and with all the strange stories he had heard he beleived the mountain could elude them if it did not want to be found. The name in itself, mountain of blood, seemed confusing. Was it litterally a mountain made up of blood, in which case it would be liquid and would surely flow away or be impossible to climb. Or perhaps had it been named that because of the amount of blood spilled by this fearsome guardian. Unsure as he was of what lay ahead, the thought of weilding this powerful weapon against his sibling was too much of a great oppertunity to miss out on. Khaina realised he did not have a clue what he was getting himself in for, but with a deep breath he managed to force himself onward.

10 - Shifting Reality

As they made their way north of the watchtowers, leaving the dreadful cold of their home behind for the shifting plains that were the chaos wastes, Khaina began to feel a sense of dread. There were no trails this far north and they were left to their own instincts as to where to head. The forms of the watchtowers had long receded from view, leaving just open ground in all directions. This had turned from bare, snowy rock to dry, grassless plains as they got further from home. They had not seen any form of life in a couple of days, not even small reptiles and mammals which were to be expected underfoot. The sense of dread grew as they continued north, the landscape around them living up to the myths and stories, seeming to shift and change as they moved.

They had made camp on the dry ground, and even though the group had chosen hourly watches, they all seemed to wake up at the same time, confused by the change in surroundings. Instead of lying on the dead, dry ground with their mounts nearby, they awoke to the sight of vast yellow grasslands. Their horses had wandered off and were grazing nearby. Khaina also noticed the red tinge in the sky, as if a red sunrise still lingered even though the sun had been up for hours. Hoping to move on from the strange landscape, they prepared their horses and took off north again. Khaina had the feeling that the further into the wastes they went, the stranger things would get, so he hoped they would stumble upon this mountain of blood sooner rather than later.

“The sooner we find this damned mountain, the sooner we leave this damned place” he said, leading the warband over the bridge of the next hill to look down on a small valley and then another steep climb.
“Does this hill-land have no end?” said Silvar forcefully, “We’ve been treading it hours already.”
“Who knows, at least until we breach that next hilltop. It looks higher, perhaps we will see around from there” he replied, taking off down the slope at a quick pace, the rest of the warband right on his heels. Hopefully they would get some sign of their destination soon, before they encountered a northern warband or worse.

As they breached the next hilltop, Khaina surveyed the area which spanned out below them. The yellowed grasses broke into a vast open plain of dry dirty, riddled with black thorny twigs which rose out of the ground like jagged claws. He noted, off to the northeast, a mountain rising up on the horizon. The strange midday sunrise the sky held turned the mountain into a strange hue of red, as if its very edges were made out of blood.
“By Khaine, we must have found the mountain! Though I am sure that if we found it this soon it must have wanted to be found.”
“This soon?” Arleth sneered, “We could have been wandering the wastes for years already even though it seems like mere days. For all we know, our generation could already have been lost to age.”
“Perhaps that is so, but with our destination in sight we will not be turning around. We ride, even through this thorny maze, for the mountain of blood!”

* * *

“Damn this cursed land, in the name of Khaine that mountain gets no closer and these thorns only get thicker!” Khaina cried out as he hacked his way forward through the deadly shrubs. His horse was trying to turn away, angered by the many cuts it had sustained, but he tugged tight on the reigns to keep the horse steady.
Already they had hacked their way through the black thorns for hours and although it seemed they had crossed almost a league by now, the mountains silhouette seemed to grow more distant instead of getting any closer.

Khaina looked about him and saw nothing but thorns in all directions, even behind them. As they hacked through the plants instead of leaving a trail of snapped branches and trampled thorns in their wake, the plants seemed to reknit themselves at an alarming rate. Either that or more of the plants crawled forward to cover their trail. The hill behind them had either vanished or been lost from sight, and Khaina was starting to think their efforts were futile.

“We are not getting anywhere, curse this mountain. It’s as if when we try to reach it we can not!” called Silvar as he slashed out ahead of him.
“We should turn back” said Ranith, he was cutting vigorously at a thorny branch but fear was starting to overcome the young rider, he had obviously never ridden this far north before.
“And what then, we run away from our goals? No treasure for you, no weapon for me. Our journey north would become nothing but a failure and a waste of time.”
“No, wait a second and listen to yourself,” Silvar said, “If we try to reach the mountain it gets further away, so perhaps if we try and get away from the mountain it will get closer instead.”
“That’s madness” Khaina shot back.
“Exactly, and this place is as mad as any place I ever visited.”

With that, they turned away from the mountain and began to hack a new trail back the way they had come. They dared not look over their shoulders in case the mountain was growing distant, so instead pressed forward for another hour or so before they broke clear of the thorns. They stopped there, catching their breath and letting their mounts rest a while, and Khaina turned back to see what had become of the mountain.

The mountain was right there, now only a few hours ride away, as if they had walked up to its base. As he watched in disbelief, the thorns shrivelled and sunk back into the ground like worms cowering for shelter. Within a few seconds the ground that led up to the mountain was nothing but dry open plains. He noticed Silvar, Arleth, Ranith and Davilar staring at the change in scenery as well. It was as if reality had just shifted around them and they were in a completely new area, though Khaina knew they had probably just been walking in an illusion and had stumbled back out of it. Perhaps they would have been hacking at thorns for eternity if they had not turned back around when they had, lost in that dreadful maze of razor sharp branches.

“Silvar, you are a genius. Now let us ride toward this mountain once again and hope the land plays no more tricks on us!”
It was then that the hooded figure appeared, walking out from a mist of shadow which had not been there a second before. The figure looked like a withered old man, shrivelled and bent and leaning on a staff of wood, garbed in a dirty green rag and hooded to hide his face. A frizzy white beard hung down his front, and his bare feet scraped across the dirt towards them at a slow, yet somehow menacing, pace.
“Who are you, come no further” shouted Silvar, pointing his crossbow at the old man.
The figure stopped walking and stood motionless for a few long minuets, not looking up and not moving in the slightest. It was Khaina who plucked up the courage to ask the man again,
“Who are you?”
The man used his free hand to slowly pull back his hood, revealing a maggot infested face with two cold, empty eye sockets. By Khaine, thought Khaina, the man was already dead.

I have cumulated chapters 6-10 of Blackheart here so that they are easier for you to access and it makes the forum less cluttered. I hope you enjoy the novel, please post here your comments, criticism and requests for more!

my complete works - http://www.druchii.net/viewtopic.php?p=690845#690845

and just to be cruel in Druchii fashion, now that i have drawn you in I am going to keep you waiting. Chapter 10 is the halfway point for the novel, and you will not get to see any more from Blackheart until chapters 11-15 are all finished. I hope this will build up the exitement for the next section of the novel. And do not fear, the book may only go to chapter 20 but the tale of Khaina Blackheart does not end there.

Fri Aug 29, 2008 1:52 am
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As good as all that have come before. Strangely it made me want to buy more cold ones. If the new army book had a description of a single Nauglir tearing apart three Druchii with ease I am sure it would make all the kiddies want cold ones. Whenever I come on the sight I have a look to see if you have made another chapter, can’t wait until the next installment. Keep up the fantastic work.

Kids in the back of cars don't cause accidents.
Accidents in the back of cars cause kids.

Fri Aug 29, 2008 5:45 am
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Thankyou! And according to the Malus book, which i guess inspired me somewhat, a Nauglirs favorite food is horse-flesh and I am sure one could take down a few druchii to get to this meal! What is in store next, if you like what you get so far, you will like even more, the story only gets better as it goes on.

Lets just say, the journey for the wastes isnt the rest of the book, Khaina has a few scores to settle with his family members ;)

Fri Aug 29, 2008 1:06 pm
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Joined: Mon Sep 01, 2008 5:44 pm
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Fantastic read so far, cant wait for the next installment!

One thing I did pick up on however was this bit which confuses me a little.

In the five centuries since the sundering, Malekith the Witch King had launched attacks and daring raids Ulthuan in an attempt to regain what was rightfully his. It seemed these Druchii were going to be part of the next assault on the island, sent to both kill and capture as many traitor elves as possible.

Is this set 500 years after the sundering? thats the impression I get from it. Just a little tip: the watchtowers werent built untill around 2900 years after the sundering according to the new book. Nothing too important but I thought you might like to know. :)

Again I praise your work, If you actually published this I would buy the book.
Keep up the good work! I'll be checking the forums daily for the next Update. :D

Mon Sep 01, 2008 6:08 pm
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ive finished work on chapter 13, so the next installment is over halfway complete.

Its meant to say 5000 years not 500, Its set present-day in the warhammer world.

sorry for the confusion
thanks for the compliments!

Mon Sep 01, 2008 6:13 pm
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good news to Blackheart fans, chapter 14 is finished (been at it for the last few hours) and i have to say it is great! this story is only getting better as it goes along. Please do post your feedback so I know that you want me to keep going. 2 or 3 replies is hardly inspiring is it

Tue Sep 02, 2008 12:42 am
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Awesome work, Definitly keep it up!

"I will embrace death without regret as I embrace life without fear"

Thu Sep 11, 2008 11:23 pm
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Cheers again :) ive planned out the rest of it but i just need to find the time to continue, may take days or weeks before the last part is up. Glad you like it though :)

Thu Sep 11, 2008 11:39 pm
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