Prelude to Part II:

Travels of the Four, Part I: Displacement

—————-

(Written by Sigmar)

�No quarter! None!�

The words were lost as blazing rock soared over Sigmar�s head � close enough to singe his scalp, he swore � and smashed into the torn grounds within Theramore�s walls. The earth shook, and the sky glowed orange over fires that spread through wood, stone, anything that took a flame. The world was a hellish orange. And brown, and gray. There was no green, no brush or grass left to burn. It had all been turned to ash already, or trampled into the mud.

Sigmar looked northwest and squinted through stinging smoke. Ranks of orcish soldiers pushed the bridge, guiding a huge steel-tipped ram, wooden shields up as Alliance riflemen loosed volley after volley of shot from the walls. Off on the mainland another pair of demolishers launched their fiery cargo, the clatter of war machinery hardly audible above the perpetual crack of black powder and the chaos of shouts and commands.

It was hard to tell through the gray, but vague movement told Sigmar there were more coming. Several companies ready to march to the bridge, maybe a couple battalions beyond, and who knew how many sorcerers and battle-hardened chieftains hidden in that sea of green and brown. The Horde was here in force.

Though a Templar and nominally neutral, Sigmar could not help but thank the Light the Alliance presence was no less formidable.

Sigmar shook his head and blinked away tears. The air stank of sulfur and black powder. He coughed and raised his sword over his head. �No quarter!� he roared again, and this time there was a general cheer from the soldiers around him. But just like that another flaming boulder crashed into the ramparts down the way and sent men and women screaming. A few heads jerked, eyes white and wide, but Sigmar jostled his way between two of the gaping riflemen and pointed to the bridge with his blade. �Fire! Fire! Give �em hell!�

He held no active military rank, but maybe his dull yellow officer�s armor was inspiration enough. The men to his left and right ripped their gazes from the devastation and fumbled to reload their rifles. The gunfire was taking its toll on the advancing Horde, pitching orcs and tauren into the bloodied water, but it wasn�t enough. As the enemy fell, more swarmed up to take their fallen comrades� places, and the ram inexorably came. There were just too damn many.

They�re going to break through.

The realization plunged through Sigmar�s stomach. He cursed under his breath and heaved himself away from the walls, armor clanking as he descended the steps and made for the gate. Already a yellow-haired officer was yelling for his footmen to form up before the great wooden doors, and a few flanking ranks of Kaldorei marksmen stood in perfect lines. Sigmar yanked his chain hood over his head. Wasn�t often he wore anything to protect his skull, but it�d been a while since he�d been in a right siege. Didn�t want to end up with his brains scattered across Theramore. The thought sent a chill through his spine. He was sweating underneath his plate � and not just from the heat, he knew.

Crack.

The gates shook. Sigmar took up a position next to the first block of footmen, sword low in both hands. Damn it, he needed to piss. Always at the wrong time.

Crack.

A whirlwind of roars and grunts and clanging steel came from the other side. Sigmar licked his lips, glanced left and right and caught sight of a familiar figure roaring encouragement atop the walls. Clad in spiked armor and with a huge shield slung across his back, Jarrick Mason gestured over the ramparts, his words lost in the disorder.

Crack.

The great wooden slat across the gates strained. A hole opened in Sigmar�s stomach, filled not with hunger but with fear. He�d seen a half dozen wars and twice as many proper battles, and the fear never left. It was always present, always gnawing, always heavy.

Crack.

The gates splintered.

�It�s a fool who ain�t scared!� he yelled. �But by the Light, we�ll give those green bastards somethin� to be scared of themselves!�

Another cheer, though Sigmar wasn�t sure how many had actually heard him. The poom of cannon and twang of arrows and crash of stone was loud enough. Flashes of light to the south caught Sigmar�s eye, and he saw a handful of figures rising from the Alliance ranks, eyes aglow, terrible geometries spilling from their hands as they condensed fire and ice from the air itself. Lances of energy rocketed over the walls, and Sigmar didn�t need to imagine the terror as what seemed like miniature suns blazed through Theramore�s rupturing gates. The crackle of magical discharge signaled the wholesale destruction of a myriad orcs. It was a scene of war Sigmar was all too familiar with � he didn�t need a front row seat to know the death wizards wrought.

Crack.

The ramhead smashed through, a dread steel behemoth grinning at Theramore�s battered defenders, and through the breach came smoke as black as tar, and reddish flames.

Then, a moment later, a tide of green.

—–

The stables weren�t really stables anymore. Just a collection of sticks and ash. There was something of a superstructure left, but someone who didn�t know better wouldn�t be able to guess what it used to be. There wasn�t much to show.

Sigmar hurt. Always did, after a battle, and even though it got worse every time, he liked to think it was the world�s way of letting him know he was still alive. He was sitting on a fallen beam next to the remains of the stables, still clad in plate, if only because he ached too damn much to take it off. As it was he hunched over and let the bulk of his armor keep him upright. His cheek was wet, probably with blood, and his face stung. Between the stables and the keep, a few healers crouched among the wounded spread out in the mud. Some of the casualties were treatable. Others weren�t. One soldier was propped up against the bottom half of a lamppost � the top half was broken off � and he didn�t have much of a skull left. Sigmar stared at the corpse. Wondered who he was. Wondered what he�d died for.

Someone said something to his left and Sigmar turned his head. �Huh?�

�I said, hey.� Jarrick�s unmistakable armored form approached, helm gone, shield missing, only his sword sheathed on his belt. He was grinning, but it wasn�t the usual grin Mason sported. It was tired and heavy. �How are you holding up?�

Sigmar blinked. Then he nodded. �Alright, I s�pose. Nothin� we ain�t been through before, eh?� After a moment, he added. �Seen the other Templars?�

Jarrick nodded and swept his gaze over the casualties. �A good number of us are accounted for, but there�s a couple missing. No one�s turned up dead, yet.� He sighed. �Doesn�t get any easier, seeing people hurt by all this. But what can you do?�

�I dunno. I guess�� Sigmar scrunched his nose and glanced at the body against the lamppost again. �Don�t seem right. I mean, no war is good, o� course, but last time� at least there was a reason, y�know? Fight the good fight, save the world. This didn�t need to happen.� He squinted up at the sun. �I don�t much care for politics and even I know that. I thought these stupid squabbles were done when Blackrock fell.�

Jarrick said something again. Sigmar had to turn back to hear it. �Hm?�

�I said, do you know where your ear went?�

Sigmar opened his mouth, then closed it. He brushed the side of his head with metal fingers. Pain laced through his skull and he squeezed his eyes shut. �Light in-!�

�You should get that fixed quick. If you grab a healer, she can probably put it back right.�

After a while the stabbing pain faded, but Sigmar�s head still throbbed. He removed his left gauntlet and gingerly brushed his wound again. It wasn�t that something was there � rather his ear was gone. His fingers came back red, and he stared at them for a while. �Damn. I didn�t even��

Jarrick laughed. �Can�t hear for all the blood! Looks like you got off lucky � a blade that close and all it took was your ear, not your head!�

Red trickled down Sigmar�s palm. It took a few moments to sink in, but for whatever inane reason he started to laugh as well. It really was a blessing. All these decades and all these wars, and finally after fifty-odd years of life he�d lost an ear, even after deciding to wear a chain hood. He supposed the exchange was fair enough, especially considering how fair life usually was.

It was certainly a better trade than the one offered to the man against the lamppost.

Jarrick moved to walk among the wounded, kneeling to offer his flask and a few words to a gnomish mage. Sigmar watched for a while. Then he looked down at his hand again. Eventually he fished a rag from his waist pouch and wiped his fingers, then heaved himself to his feet, groaning. He wasn�t much of a healer but he�d be damned if he didn�t do what he could. His loss of an ear wasn�t mortal.

As he followed Jarrick he saw another pair of faces jump out from the crowd. Sielic Trugran sat up among the wounded in the dirt, beat and bandaged, blinking in the daylight. A few paces away the Justicar�s own half-brother, Rynarth Pierce, leaned against a pile of supply crates, arms folded, a bloodied dagger in his belt. Sigmar grinned. It was good to see more familiar faces. Meant there was something to piece together after all this.

He wiped the side of his head with the rag, ignoring the pain as fabric brushed raw flesh. Then he cupped what was left of his ear with a hand and murmured a few words. Light played about his fingers, and a soft warmth spread through his wounded skin. It would stop the bleeding for now, but he�d have to get a proper healer later�

That was when Sielic scrambled to his feet. Sigmar gave him a look, saw him clutching a strange device. The thing sputtered between Sielic�s fingers and spewed purple� nothingness. A moment later, he grabbed Rynarth by the shoulder and shoved him into what looked like a portal.

For a split-second Sigmar stood there, mouth agape. Then he spun, glanced left and right, and looked up.

A zeppelin inched over the outer walls. Sigmar�s first thought was: How the hell did it get past the cannon?

His second was: That looks like a bomb.

His third: Light have mercy.

The convenience of the portal did not escape him.

Author Jarrick
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