The Grand Order Alliance General, Preach, stood on a high stepped platform overlooking the duke’s grand blood bowl pitch, watching the fruit of his labours stand in squad after squad, team after team. The standards of the various teams hung limply from their poles. The morning had dawned overcast and still, turning the astrogranite of the field a dark, dull grey.
‘Good enough?’ Mused Commander Thunden, watching the final linemen take their places in the muster. He was standing beside Preach, as was the other Order commanders. Preach was arrayed in the ceremonial robes of his office, and the eagle of Sigmar, cast in steel, adorned his breast. The collar of his cloak, a deep ceremonial red, rose high above his head, making his already massive frame even more imposing. Thunden wore the robes of a warrior commander and carried a double-headed axe in his clenched fists. The other commanders wore the plate armour and uniforms of their heritage.
‘We’ll see,’ said Preach, his eyes trained on the host below. ‘Give the signal.’
The message was passed down from the platform, and a trumpet blared out from the rear of the pitch, soon repeated across the open space. The host stood to attention, and the sound of their kleets snapping together echoed through the air.
‘Armies of the Empire!’ roared Preach. His huge voice boomed out, spreading to all corners of the parade ground. Few would have been able to make themselves heard across such a wide area, but Preach’s oratory, honed by a lifetime’s service to the Cult of Sigmar, was fueled by his inexhaustible faith. ‘You know why you’ve been summoned here. I’ll not weary your ears by talking of the MML and its troubles. You need know only one thing. The great enemy has made the MML it’s home, and we march to expunge it from the face of the Empire.’
As he spoke, Preach swept his eyes across the ranks. Every one present, nearly a hundred and twenty, remained silent, listening intently to his words. None dared raise so much as a smile in his presence. The Grand Theogonist, master of the arcane mysteries of the Church of Sigmar, was a figure of awe and majesty.
‘There will be no deception between us. The task will be arduous. Before the victory, there will be death. Even as we assemble here, they are recruiting teams of their own, arming them and readying for the battle to come. By such means do they hope to destroy our resolve, to crush our spirit when the time of testing comes.’
He took a step forwards, gripping the brass railing and leaning out over the masses.
‘Do not be afraid!’ he roared. ‘Do not give in! We know, as they will never, of the secret power of Sigmar, the source of his greatness! Only in purity and steadfastness is there salvation. The mind of the loyal linemen is more terrible to the false gods than anything our kleets of steel and weapons can devise. While we profess our faith, they are powerless against us!’
The host remained rapt, hanging on every word. Preach knew how important the speech was. There would be few chances to address the entire army again. He had to inspire them while the sun shone and the world seemed hopeful, for he knew how dark the road would be.
‘Look around you, my sons,’ he said sweeping his arms in a wide gesture. ‘See what the hand of man has built here. Look at the powers ranged in our defense. We have dwarves capable of tearing down the walls of any castle standing. We have elves of the colleges in our ranks, each of them masters of the wilds and eleven magic. I myself will command a full regiment of warrior priests, all sworn enemies of the heretic and the daemon. Alongside them will ride the deadliest teams in the Empire.’
He pointed out each elite team as he spoke.
‘And so you do not march alone. For every blitzer they possess, we possess another. For every fallen elf, we have an exhaled master of the pitch. For every twisted warrior, cursed with the warping gifts of their dark masters, we have armored knights in sanctified armour and wearing the kleets of their forebearers. So when the moment comes, stride forth in confidence! Let anger be your guide, not fear. Let fury drive you, they fury the of the just man at the insolence of those who have taken our lands and despoiled them!’
‘We will give them no mercy!’ he bellowed, and a ripple of agreement passed across the army. ‘We will drive them into the ground! We will rip their false idols down, burn their blasphemous fields and tear their souls from their gibberish carcasses! We will sweep through them like an avenging storm, with the fire of Holy Sigmar in our hearts and the steel of His Empire in our hands!’
The army pressed forwards. Players raised their fists, stirred by the emotion shaking in Preach’s words. They were almost ready to be unleashed.
‘Remember who you are!’ he shouted, his knuckles white as they gripped the railing. ‘You are the rightful masters of the world! None shall stand before us, not the chaos beast, the orc, nor the corruption from within! We shall cleanse the MML of those without faith, without honor, and without hope!’
The murmur turned into a swell of acclamation.
‘So we take the field, teams of the Empire! We go to glory, not for ourselves, but for the one who leads us. For Sigmar! For the Empire! For the Order!’
The army raised its fist as one, hurling cries of ‘For the Order’ into the air. The notice was deafening, a wall of sound that rose up from the gravel of the astrogranite and swelled up to the highest pinnacle of the stadium beyond. The earth drummed as the stamp of feet hit home. As if a gale had been set by Sigmar Himself, the standards of the massed teams suddenly burst into life, streaking out and displaying the proud devices of the assembled teams.
Preach felt his heart beat powerfully. On either side of him, the Order Commanders had raised their weapons high, and were stirring the host into new heights of fervor. The sea of players, filling the pitch before him, had been roused. They would remember this moment on the long turns ahead, and when the clash finally came, it would fill their hearts with the courage they would need to weather the storm.
Preach raised his arms high in a gesture of defiance, then stepped back from the edge of the platform. The host continued to roar with undimished enthusiasm. He turned to Thunden, and his grim face was set.
‘Bring my headset,’ he growled. ‘Now we play.’