|Ages of the Mortal Realms|
|Age of Myth | Age of Chaos | Age of Sigmar|
Sigmar's vengeance against the Chaos Gods was slow in coming, but when it arrived, it did so with epochshattering fury. From the threshold of disaster had Sigmar snatched those champions strong enough to defy Chaos, and in Azyr he had remade them. One by one these heroic souls were reforged as warriors of storm-wrought fury. The first amongst them had to endure centuries of anticipation, meditation and training, readying for a moment of revenge that seemed never to come. Painstakingly had Sigmar worked to create his new armies, and with the greatest artifice had Grungni laboured to forge the divine lightning that would carry them.
On the day of reckoning, the skies of every realm were lit by Sigmar’s Tempest. Down from the heavens came the chambers of the Stormcast Eternals, warrior hosts borne within each blast of lightning. Columns of heavenly energy slammed into the bloodstained earth of the ravaged Mortal Realms. They each struck near the long-sealed Gates of Azyr, for those barred portals could not be opened from one side alone – the Reforged warriors of Sigmar would have to cast them open from without as well as within. Each bolt of celestial force sent to the Mortal Realms faded in a glow of azure to reveal a retinue of champions, each clad in shining battle plate.
Straight into battle charged the Stormhosts, joyous war cries upon their lips. The Long Wait was over. These warriors had been made not to negotiate or build, but to slay those with evil in their hearts. They proved perfectly suited to the task. The lightning hosts had been hurled by Sigmar’s hand into the most desolate of lands, the better to strike at the architects of their ruin. Sigmarite hammers and swords clashed against ensorcelled blades and axes carved with dread runes – and for the first time in living memory, the hordes of Chaos knew fear.
Time and time again the Stormhosts hurled back the minions of the Dark Gods. Each Realmgate they flung open saw the armies of Azyr march forth, not only reinforcing the chambers of the Stormcast Eternals but consolidating and building upon those lands they had emancipated. As the new era dawned, fortified cities and civilisations were built upon foundations of broken bone and shattered keeps from the Age of Myth.
The fate of the Mortal Realms had been changed forever more. Together, Sigmar and Grungni had crafted an army of miracles, a host of armoured angels created from the souls of the finest men and women the Mortal Realms could provide. Their devotion, their singular vision, had been so powerful it had proven enough to challenge the dominion of the Dark Gods.
Only later did the cost of that godly ambition become clear.
The Tempest Breaks
By the time Sigmar’s Tempest gathered over Aqshy’s Great Parch, the continent was all but lost. Even the warrior smiths of the Direbrand Tribe, most redoubtable of all the Flamescar Plateau’s kindreds, had their defiance finally broken at Scorched Keep. Only scattered remnants of the once-great societies were left. They fought or fled each day before an ever-growing throng of Korghos Khul’s followers – known as the Goretide for their habit of turning the lands red in their path. Those who once prayed for deliverance had given up hope, for even should their prayers somehow be answered, the people of those lands were too broken in body and spirit to be worth saving.
That salvation came nonetheless. Vandus Hammerhand – formerly Vendell Blackfist of the Direbrand Tribe – was the first to lead the Stormcast Eternals to battle. The golden armour of the Hammers of Sigmar gleamed as heavenly energies bore them to war. Soon enough, that burnished sigmarite was splashed with hot blood.
The Hammers of Sigmar were not alone in taking the war to the Bloodbound servants of Khorne; helping forge their beachhead upon the Brimstone Peninsula were the Anvils of the Heldenhammer, the Lions of Sigmar and the Celestial Vindicators, who were to become close allies over the coming years. Vandus’ fellow Lord-Celestant, Jactos Goldenmane, paid dearly for his headlong assault upon Khul’s warbands, meeting his end upon the blade of Khul’s reality-splitting axe. His sacrifice was not in vain.
The pincer attack that Vandus coordinated with his Lord-Relictor, Ionus Cryptborn, saw Khul’s brass towers torn down. The Bloodbound warlord himself was brought to bay atop the pyramid of skulls he had raised to Khorne’s glory. On the cusp of winning his ascension to the rank of Daemon Prince by using Jactos Goldenmane’s decapitated head as a capstone, Khul found he could not refuse Vandus’ challenge to single combat. Khorne has only contempt for cowards, after all.
The Lord-Celestant was on the brink of death at Khul’s hand for the second time – for Khul was strong, and had slaughtered the Direbrands long ago. Vandus called upon Sigmar’s lightning to strike hard at the Gate of Wrath, that dread portal his nemesis was using to summon his daemonic allies. Sigmar heard his plea that day. A great skybolt blasted down, tearing apart the Gate and the Red Pyramid alike. Without recourse to his daemon hosts, and with the heart of his Bloodbound armies torn out, Khul was forced to cede the Brimstone Peninsula to the Stormcast Eternals
The Quest for Ghal Maraz
In Chamon's Hanging Valleys, the Celestial Vindicators – most vengeful of all Sigmar's hosts – sought signs of the God-King's ancient ally, Grungni. They found not duardin in the deserted mountains of Anvrok, but the taint of the Tzeentch-worshipping forces that had driven them away and caused the land to be in thrall to the corrupted godbeast Argentine. There, under the skyborne glow of the silver drake’s fires, lay the ruins of the once-great metropolis Elixia.
At the heart of that tumbled city was a dread fortress of impossible scale, and Thostos Bladestorm, Lord-Celestant of the Celestial Vindicators, was quick to attack. His impetuous assault led him to disaster. After wrenching a breach in the walls of the Eldritch Fortress, he was blasted by the change-magic of the sorcerer Ephryx, turned to living metal, and slain. Yet he was reforged in glory. Through that breach Thostos had witnessed the light of a divine artefact – nothing less than Sigmar’s lost hammer, Ghal Maraz the Skull-Splitter.
So it was that both Vandus and Thostos were sent by the God-King himself to reclaim that most divine of artefacts. At the head of the Heldenhammer Crusade they returned to Anvrok, only to find the fortress wrenched from the lands by Chaos magic and transported to a crucible-like crater of molten metal heated by Argentine, a shimmering Tzeentchian godbeast that coiled in the skies high above. The Stormcast Eternals fought through embittered ghosts, Slaves to Darkness and ambushing skaven that scurried out from gnawholes in reality, but only won through by convincing Dracothion himself to intervene in order to fight the drake Argentine. Whilst the sky burned above, they reached the Eldritch Fortress. There they found not only Ephryx but also Korghos Khul awaiting them – he too was an agent of the gods, and hungry for revenge. Once more Vandus matched wits against his nemesis, and once more Khul was overcome, this time by his own rage. The Lord-Celestants fought on through daemons and warlords until they saw the divine light of Ghal Maraz. The magic of Sigmar’s hammer was being used to spirit the Eldritch Fortress from Chamon into the Realm of Chaos.
Vandus, given time by Thostos Bladestorm’s headlong assault, took up Ghal Maraz and smote the Tzeentchian lords that sought to pervert its power.
That hammer, returned to Azyr against impossible odds, was presented in great ceremony to Sigmar. The God-King gave it the next day to another, for the purpose of a weapon is to be wielded, not be used as a symbol of rulership. Though none knew it, Sigmar had long ago created the hand that would bear it in his name. From a hidden chamber was summoned the Celestant-Prime, first and most puissant of all Stormcast Eternals. Finally revealed, he was given the Great Shatterer, and entrusted with a most sacred duty – to lead the war against the scions of the Dark Gods.
In loosening the stranglehold the Dark Gods had upon the Mortal Realms, Sigmar opened a new chapter in the history of mankind. Old allies and former nemeses alike rejoined the fight, invigorated by the thrill of war and conquest – or by a much-needed breath of hope.
The successes of the Stormcast Eternals in Aqshy and Chamon were remarkable indeed, but perhaps more so were the actions of the Hallowed Knights in Ghyran. Here, that purest of all Stormhosts went to war against the scions of Nurgle that were suffocating the Jade Kingdoms. Their duty was to find Alarielle the Everqueen, and to convince her that the time was right to put aside despair and strike back against the dominion of Chaos. For her part, Alarielle did not wish to be found, for she was lost in the winter of her desolation, and wished only to hide away. There were those amongst her legions, however, who would see the pall of Chaos lifted from Ghyran – foremost amongst them the Lady of Vines, a Branchwraith grown from Alarielle’s own severed right hand.
The first Stormcast strike in Ghyran saw the Hallowed Knights attempt to seize the Gates of Dawn from the forces of the Plague God. They took on seven Great Unclean Ones in the process, and would have been doomed but for the fact the Stormcast leader, Lord Gardus, ventured into the noxious Garden of Nurgle in order to lure the titanic daemon Bolathrax away from his men. Such was Gardus’ purity that he made it out of the garden alive, if forever changed. The Lady of Vines saw him reunited with his kin, in doing so establishing an alliance between Stormhost and Sylvaneth that persists to this day. Armed with knowledge he had gathered during his arduous exile in the Garden of Nurgle, Lord Gardus led the Stormcast Eternals to Alarielle.
In reaching the Everqueen’s haven, the Lord-Celestant and his Hallowed Knights succeeded where the forces of Nurgle had failed. The invaders had long searched in vain, but those with the taint of Chaos upon their souls could not even perceive the Everqueen’s sacred retreat of Athelwyrd. However, as ill fortune would have it, the Stormcast Eternals had inadvertently led the armies of Nurgle straight to their quarry – for the skaven spies and beastmen trackers of the Plague God’s forces were tenacious. Into the once pure River Vitalis ventured the armies of Stormcast and Chaos worshipper alike, and battle was joined in the other-world beneath. Leading the Nurgle hordes were the Plague God’s favoured generals – amongst them Torglug the Despised, former guardian of the Lifewells, and the diseased mutant triplets known as the Glottkin.
As her enemies breached her sacred stronghold, Alarielle faced the crisis she had long avoided. She could hide no more from the fate of her realm. The Everqueen fought hard for her refuge, but with the rains of Nurgle’s Deluge filling the valley, she had no option but to flee. In her despair, she took the form of a gestating seed, and was borne from Athelwyrd by the Lady of Vines. Seeking to make amends, the Hallowed Knights formed her escort. The Sylvaneth and Stormcast Eternals fled with the armies of Nurgle hard upon their heels. The running battle that followed saw many gruelling days and nights of fighting, crossing frozen seas, living glaciers and foetid forests.
The allies’ numbers dwindled with each engagement. Only when the Celestant-Prime descended in a storm of energy did the Stormcast and Sylvaneth forces find the flames of their defiance blazing anew.
Torglug the Despised was laid low when the Celestant-Prime struck him with Ghal Maraz. In that moment, the part of his soul that was still pure was snatched from his rotting body and taken up to Azyr. There he was reforged into the winged Knight-Venator known as Tornus the Redeemed. He was to be the first of a new breed of warrior – those whose essence still had a glimmer of valour within them. Here was hope that even corrupted souls may be reborn in glory by the power of Sigmar.
The Chaos Gods looked in anger upon this new force in the Mortal Realms, this new challenge to their rapacious intent to claim or devour every land and kingdom they could find. In this they were not alone. Archaon the Everchosen, the Three-Eyed King, architect of a thousand wars and mastermind behind the fall of the world-that-was, saw the threat of the Stormcast Eternals clearer than any other.
The Storm of Sigmar represented the first real challenge to the stranglehold of the Chaos Gods. Though Khorne’s followers had been struck hard, the Blood God was greatly pleased by the eruption of battle and strife across the cosmos. He hungered only for blood, no matter its provenance. Archaon, meanwhile, saw a great deal of opportunity for his own ambitions in the new era.
Before he put his plans into motion, Archaon sought a magical boon that would ease his path to victory. He knew that inside the hollow world of Golgeth was a land so redolent with transmutative energies that time itself flowed in anarchic eddies. There, atop the peak known as Mount Kronus, was a temple to the Oracle Kiathanus, the Lord of Change that had matched its powers against Sigmar at the Battle of Burning Skies. By gathering the syllables of its true name, Archaon sought to bind the daemon into his service as his personal soothsayer. Vandus Hammerhand and his warriors, sent by Sigmar, rode to stop him – and met their doom.
Atop the peak the generals duelled, but the Lord-Celestant could not truly hope to match Archaon. Vandus was bodily ripped apart by Archaon’s fabled daemon sword, the Slayer of Kings. His essence returned to Azyr, but such was the violence of his death it would be long years before he could be properly reforged.
Archaon led his Varanguard in the slaughter. In a single bloody day, every one of the Hammerhands was slain. Archaon bound the Oracle Kiathanus into the form of a bracelet, and in doing so partook of the daemon’s knowledge. Even in the face of Sigmar’s finest, the Everchosen had proven all but unstoppable. But the Hammerhands’ sacrifice did not go unnoticed. Their deaths roused wise Dracothion to action, and saw the Extremis Chambers opened in Azyr for the first time.
THE GODBEASTS ARISE
Many would-be conquerors yearn to rule over neighbouring kingdoms, or even to subjugate entire civilisations, but only the Everchosen sought to bind every realm and domain to his command. To break open even Azyr itself, he aimed to enslave zodiacal beasts of terrifying size to his cause.
Sigmar’s grand strategy seemed to be working. In several Mortal Realms his warriors had consolidated their early gains. Some had even started to build cities around those vital Realmgates they had seized. Though each was but an island of Order in a sea of mayhem, they were growing fast. But in putting all his hope, all his efforts, into his great crusade, Sigmar had nearly emptied the Heavens. With the Stormhosts abroad in the Mortal Realms and the free armies of Azyr fighting in support, the walls of Azyr were largely denuded.
Herein lay an unprecedented opportunity for Sigmar’s enemies to land a telling blow. It was Archaon’s intent to invade Azyr itself, that realm so long barred to the hordes of Chaos, even as his chosen champions crushed the warriors of Sigmar’s Tempest into the dirt upon the battlefields of the realms. To breach the walls of the Realm of Heavens, he intended not just to summon chosen warriors to his banner, but also to bind titanic beasts – mythical terrors that could each rival the power of a deity – to his will.
Near the Realm’s Edge of Aqshy lay the Ashlands, a region of islands floating on an acidic sea. Above them hovered the Land of the Chained Sun, a floating crescent-shaped isle bound to the lands below by titanic chains. It was lit by the godbeast Ignax, the Solar Drake, whose fire burned so bright that many on the lands below thought her to be a sun.
She too was chained, bound to the crescent isle by Grungni himself so that the duardin below might live in eternal illumination and thereby escape the ghoul-things that prowled the humid night. It was Archaon’s intent to break those huge god-chains, and to corrupt Ignax’s mind so that she would fight at his behest.
Archaon sent two of his champions to pave the way for his conquest. Appearing from a cloud of flies, the maggoth-rider Bloab Rotspawned spread a vitality-sapping plague across the Ashlands. The disease was designed to subdue the native populace and any warriors hoping to defend the region. Ultimately, however, the Nurgle sorcerer failed in his mission, his plagues burning away when Lord-Relictor Ionus Cryptborn and Lord-Celestant Victrian Cyrocco of the Tempest Lords harnessed the fiery rage of the daemon Skarbrand against him. In fleeing to Ghyran, Bloab instead spread his plagues to new lands – the Scabrous Sprawl.
Meanwhile the mighty lord Korghos Khul, second of Archaon’s emissaries, took his armies to the Orb Infernia. This was a cadaverous once-world that hung above the Ashlands, upon which four Chaos nations vied for supremacy. Khul aimed to unite these warring factions and, in doing so, amass a world-conquering army.
Khul first took his axe to the warhosts of the Daemon Prince Skinskein. By feigning weakness in a duel with the Khornate lord, Khul found an opening – with a blow from his enchanted axe, he broke the towering fiend’s power. The Khornate legions bowed to him as their new leader, and with sheer force of will and unremitting violence Khul united the daemon hosts of the Orb. Next, he struck against the Seraphon that had long harried that world, and then against the denizens of the Ashlands below. When Khul’s invasion reached the Land of the Chained Sun, Archaon’s long-running scheme came to fruition. There the Fyreslayers of that region found themselves caught between the heavy cavalry of Archaon’s Varanguard and the daemons under the banner of Khul. They fought hard, but were already doomed to defeat.
In desperation, the Runefather of the Austarg lodge allowed his hot-blooded sons to make a grand sacrifice. Climbing Ignax’s titanic chains upon their Magmadroth steeds, they hammered an ancient Rune of Binding into the Solar Drake’s hide, even as their flesh melted away. Ignorant of their sabotage, Archaon corrupted the godbeast’s mind and caused her to break her bonds by plunging the Slayer of Kings into her vast cranium. With his goal complete, Archaon made for the Allpoints. He knew not that another’s mark had already been made upon his victory.
GATES ARE LOST AND HELD
The grand invasions of Chaos that had seen so much of the Mortal Realms conquered owed much to the strange island of reality known as the Allpoints. Through its mighty portals marched armies of world-breaking size. Both Archaon and Sigmar knew it was key to any lasting victory.
The arterial Realmgates that led from the Eight Realms to the Allpoints – or the Eightpoints, as it had been known since Archaon’s conquest of that place – were called arcways. Each was protected by a fortress known as an All-gate. Here was war writ large, a struggle for ascendancy that would forever recast the Mortal Realms and the balance of power amongst them.
Across eight vital battlefields within the Mortal Realms, war raged on the far side of the arcway portals as the Stormcast Eternals and their allies sought to win lasting supremacy. The victors at each gate would travel through the arcways to reinforce their allies at the Eightpoints, under the shadow of the Varanspire. If fate was with them, they could align the gate’s innate magic so that only they and their kin could pass through it from then on.
At the Mercurial Gate of Chamon, Thostos Bladestorm and the Celestial Vindicators attacked the impregnable Ironholds from below, tunnelling under their serried walls using the lava-magic of their Fyreslayer allies. There Archaon himself rode his monstrous steed Dorghar into the fray. Thostos wounded the Chaos warlord in a duel, only to be ripped apart and devoured by Dorghar, never to return.
In Aqshy, the Brimfire Gate was closed to the scions of Chaos. Archaon unleashed Ignax the Solar Drake, but the Fyreslayers triggered the secret Rune of Binding that they had hammered into the godbeast’s hide, turning Archaon’s slave into a deadly enemy at the moment of his triumph. Vandus Hammerhand fought the exiled Bloodthirster Skarbrand as the forces of the Blood God matched their might against the Stormcast Eternals and their allies, but through valour and strength Vandus emerged triumphant. That realm still belonged to Khorne, but the Blood God suffered a major defeat in failing to control that vital gate.
Nurgle, too, found his prize snatched from his clawed grip at the last. In Ghyran, the sacrifice of the Hallowed Knights won the beleaguered Sylvaneth a chance to rally. From the brink of disaster, Alarielle’s mood turned from a winter of despondency to the rage of a spring tempest. Resurgent, she cast down Nurgle’s champions – the Brothers Glott – and her crusade began in earnest.
In Shyish, the Endgate remained in Archaon’s hands. Though the Anvils of the Heldenhammer believed they had re-established an alliance with Nagash, history repeated itself when the Great Necromancer forsook Sigmar’s armies in their time of need. The Realm of Light had seen wars beyond counting, but no aid came from there to the Eightpoints. The strange denizens of Hysh had their own dire wars to contend with.
Ulgu, the Realm of Shadow, was difficult to perceive as ever. Of whether Malerion and Morathi had won their own long war against the forces of Chaos, there came no word. In Ghur, the Realm of Beasts, the forces of Destruction and Chaos clashed over the Mawgate – no normal portal, but the yawning gullet of a segmented, crawling godbeast known as Fangathrak. As the violence of the Megaboss Gordrakk’s orruk attack escalated, Fangathrak was battered, hewn and unchained from the fetters with which Archaon sought to control it. When the dust settled over a corpse-strewn wasteland, the gate remained unclaimed.
Whilst gods, tyrants and lords of fate consolidated their gains and planned their next moves, the cosmos aligned to the new order that Sigmar had brought. In lands broken free of the shackles of Chaos, new civilisations rose from the ashes like phoenixes given fresh life by the flames of their demise. The forges of the Sigmarabulum rang loud with the energies of reforging, for Sigmar did not rest idly. The true battles for control of the realms were only just beginning…
THE SEEDS OF HOPE
The Realmgate Wars had seen the choke-hold that Chaos had established broken apart in a hundred war-torn kingdoms. Sigmar and his pantheon wasted no time in raising new cities, each as much a statement of defiance as a practical power-base around which to shore up the war effort.
From prophecy-rich Excelsis in the Realm of Beasts, to volcanic Vindicarum in the Realm of Metal, the cities of Order were many and varied. Most took decades to build, growing slowly from fortified encampments to huge and bustling hubs of civilisation. There were three cities that sprung up far more swiftly, however, known as the Seeds of Hope.
In the Realm of Life, with the Season of War burgeoning, the forces of Order sought to follow their victory at the Genesis Gate with swift and purposeful construction. Much of the realm still festered beneath Grandfather Nurgle’s rancid touch, but with the Everqueen’s armies driving the pestilent hordes back every day, the forces of Order were filled with confidence.
It was Alarielle herself who raised the first of the Seeds of Hope. In the Jade Kingdom of Thyria, the Everqueen defeated the skaven swarms of Clan Morbidus and drove them from the Hollow Forest. Once a trackless ocean of vibrant flora, this immense woodland had come by its bleak name after the Clans Pestilens gnawed away its roots and left it to desiccate and die. The Everqueen restored it to life, her purifying energies flowing through the rattling husks of ghost-elms and sighing willows. Amidst the reborn woodlands, Alarielle raised a mighty city through the power of natural magic. Her song soared high and lilting as it brought forth bulwarks of ironoak and bedrock. Towers and fortifications she fashioned from thorn-studded vines and seams of song-forged metal.
For fourteen days and nights, the ground shuddered and the forests swayed as Alarielle went about her work. Eventually, a new city of prodigious size stood atop the plateau, a mighty fastness to watch over the Hollow Forest. Alarielle knew that her children were too fey and mercurial to be confined as the garrison for such a place. Instead she offered it to her mortal allies, a place of safety to call their own in exchange for watching over the Everqueen’s wondrous forest. Though some feared this city of plant and stone, many accepted Alarielle’s offer and became wardens of the Living City.
The second of the Seeds of Hope could not have been more different from the first. Led by the visionary architect Valius Maliti, a collective of artisans and labourers poured through the Festermere Realmgate into Greywater Reach, ready to build a fastness against the powers of Chaos. Guarded by the Anvils of the Heldenhammer, the spellcraft of the Eldritch Council and many regiments of Freeguild soldiery, the work began in earnest.
Throughout the Mortal Realms existed concentrations of raw magic, coalesced into disparate substances known collectively as realmstone. Whether the burning coals of primordial anger found in Aqshy, the meteoric stardust of Azyr, or the steaming, jade-hued ice found in Ghyran, realmstone had always been seen as volatile. It was Valius Maliti who first made the intuitive leap of suggesting that its hazardous manifestations could be used as a source of power. Between the architect’s genius, the boundless wisdom of the aelven enchanters, and the pragmatic skill of the Ironweld engineers, history was made in Greywater Reach as a deposit of Ghyranite realmstone was harnessed with arcane machinery.
Suddenly, the forces of Order had all the power they needed and more. The bog-grot tribes that had harassed their stockades were driven back by crackling war machines. The swamp waters were drained away in a matter of days, and the land baked to hardened clay. Walls rose. Towers spiralled upward. Trees were felled by the hundred, and the region’s resources were plundered to fuel the lightning-fast growth of the Greywater Fastness. The children of Alarielle looked on in horror at this rapacious industry, some even coming to blows with their erstwhile allies in their sorrow and anger. Yet still the Fastness rose, a towering stronghold of ironclad walls, roaring furnaces, sorcerous wards and lowering cannon batteries that dominated the region all around.
The third of the Seeds of Hope was the Phoenicium. Before it became a symbol of rebirth, the Phoenicium was a vast and sprawling ruin that dated back to the Age of Myth. Ancient and enigmatic, it sat at the foot of the tree-like Arborean Mountain, its structures haunted by strange entities and inhabited by bands of brigands and wanderers. During the early stages of the Chaos invasion, a fierce battle was fought amidst the nameless ruins and a terrible catastrophe engulfed everyone involved. Whether by some mighty spell or weapon, the wooden slopes of the Arborean Mountain were torn open, and an oozing tidal wave of sap was released. The sap-tide rolled inexorably down upon the nameless citadel, immersing it entirely before setting as a glacier of amber. So was the nameless citadel preserved, like some prehistoric insect, for hundreds of years. Perhaps it could have stayed that way forever, untouched by both the corrupting power of Nurgle and the healing magic of Alarielle, but such was not the ruined city’s fate.
It was the Anointed of the Phoenix Temple who found the preserved ruins, after their defeat of a Rotbringer host at the Dreamloss Realmgate. Battered but victorious, the aelves marvelled in silence at the incredible spectacle before them. It was then that their Flamespyre and Frostheart Phoenixes took to the air, crying out to one another as they began a mystic aerial dance. Back and forth the magical creatures flew, sorcerous fires and whirling cold trailing across the encased ruins.
Slowly, impossibly, the amber began to melt away, becoming a beautiful golden mist that rolled out to surround the ruins. Though it took many hours, and the Phoenixes were exhausted by the time they were done, the nameless ruins were fully revealed, empty and ready to be reclaimed.
Aided by the children of Alarielle, Sigmar’s Stormcast Eternals and many of the Azyrite peoples, the Phoenix Temple resettled the nameless city and raised it up from the twilight limbo in which it had languished for so long. So did it become the Phoenicium, a city where the inner ruins and deep tunnels still harboured many strange secrets, and whose borders were veiled in a magical golden mist.
The Seeds of Hope had been planted, and though each was different to its counterparts, all three cities were enclaves of civilisation amidst the war-torn bedlam of the Realm of Life. They swiftly became symbols of what the forces of Order could achieve in spite of the Dark Gods’ malice.
In founding the Seeds of Hope, however, Sigmar and Alarielle had overreached themselves. Where most of the new cities of Order were built steadily, carefully, under the watchful eye of countless Stormcast Eternals, this trio of enclaves had risen with breathtaking speed. Each was isolated, so far away from the others that the cities might as well have been in different realms. Though they could be reached by forces moving through Realmgates from Azyr, the lands around the cities were still corrupted by the touch of Chaos and swarming with myriad foes. Those dwelling within the Seeds of Hope found themselves fighting daily to repel attacks not only from the servants of Chaos, but from other powers also.
These new cities were a statement of intent, symbolic of a new order. They were enough to kindle the flame of hope in the hearts of some, and of jealousy in others. The storied annals of their histories were to be stained red with blood over and over again in the coming years.
LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
Though the lands remained in the grip of Chaos, Stormcast Eternals raised towering Stormkeeps to watch over key Realmgates, whilst processions of the faithful and arcane cleansed the land through their blessed blood and magical skill. The greatest of all the new cities was Hammerhal.
Amongst the cities built by the forces of Order following the Realmgate Wars, none was greater than Hammerhal, the Twin-tailed City. The Cities of Sigmar – as they came to be known – were mostly built around fortified Realmgates, claimed initially by chambers of Stormcast Eternals.
It was not uncommon for the cities to be named to honour those immortal heroes. Thus was Hammerhal originally named for those Hammers of Sigmar who claimed the Stormrift Realmgate. To ensure their people’s safety, Sigmar’s warriors crushed the vast orruk tribes that had long launched savage attacks through the Realmgate. The greenskins were purged in both Aqshy and Ghyran for leagues around that mystic portal. Amongst the ashes of the greenskins’ territories the Stormcasts raised the first foundations of what gradually grew into a singularly spectacular city.
Hammerhal is named the Twin-tailed City because, to all intents and purposes, it is two metropolises ruled as one. The great city sprawls out on both sides of the Realmgate, occupying both the Ashlands of the Realm of Fire and the Jade Kingdom of Verdia in the Realm of Life.
Hammerhal Aqsha is a harsh and heavily fortified place, its myriad banners and pennants dancing on hot, angry winds. The Ironweld Arsenal maintain a strong presence amongst Hammerhal Aqsha’s towering bastions and batteries. Their genius maintains the city’s crackling lightning shield and keeps its mobile forts lumbering ever outward to extend Hammerhal’s boundaries, while the self-flagellating throngs of the Devoted cleanse the hard lands around the city.
Hammerhal Ghyra is a stronghold of aelf-kind, though it houses many other Free Peoples besides. To hold back the aggressively exuberant growth of the Realm of Life, this side of the city channels lava through the Realmgate from Hammerhal Aqsha. The molten rock flows along carefully cut trenches and forms a wall of fire that protects the city’s celestial spires and golden domes. In return, a steady supply of water and food flows through the Realmgate from Hammerhal Ghyra, the endless abundance keeping its Aqshian districts fed.
Hammerhal is governed by a Grand Conclave of lords chosen from amongst the best and brightest of Azyrheim. It is defended by countless armies – including no less than twelve chambers of Stormcast Eternals. Without doubt it is the spiritual capital of the Cities of Sigmar and the greatest of their number.
CLAWS OF CHAOS
Sigmar had hurled back the encroaching darkness in many lands and kingdoms, and new civilisations blended with the remnants of those from ages past. Alliances were forged, and hope rekindled. Yet the Dark Gods were mustering their strength for a devastating counter-blow.
The deities of Chaos, having been so close to their ultimate victory, found their plans in disarray. The balance of power between them had shifted massively, and a new phase of the Great Game had begun. Arguably the one to profit most from the turmoil was Khorne, the Blood God, whose meat is warfare and whose drink is spilt blood. In Aqshy, his followers had spread so far, and grown so strong, that none had been left to oppose their supremacy. Many warbands hunted day and night without finding any centres of resistance, and had been forced to make war upon themselves; with the lands reduced to gore-clotted wastes and the mortal kingdoms laid low, the chances of finding a glorious war had become vanishingly small. In rising to the utmost heights of power, Khorne had risked his own dizzying descent.
The coming of the Stormcast Eternals had changed everything. Now every realm resounded to the din of clashing battle lines, every land was stained once more with fresh blood. A new age of war had begun. Khorne frothed with anticipation at the slaughters to come, for in Sigmar’s armies he had found a worthy foe once more.
Tzeentch also profited from the age that was dawning across the Mortal Realms. His agents had met violent ends in a hundred new wars, and Sigmar had reclaimed Ghal Maraz from the Tzeentchian strongholds of Anvrok, but the Architect of Fate had no equal when it came to turning misfortune into advantage. Every city and culture that sprang up in the wake of Sigmar’s conquests was fertile ground for his insidious schemes and manipulations. Every pauper praying for a better life, every refugee or downtrodden soul who looked for an easy solution to his predicament could find one in Tzeentch – though it would cost him dearly.
Slowly, the Great Conspirator inveigled his tendrils of influence into the new cities as he had with those that came before. Hidden cults met in basements, secret societies thrived beneath the masks of aristocracy, and lunatic scholars penned arcane tomes that could drive the reader to madness.
The architect Valius Maliti, under the cover of his sheer competence and unalloyed genius, worked the designs of his secret patron Tzeentch into a dozen free cities. The Enemy Within had a thousand faces, but invasions of robed Acolytes, shrieking Tzaangor beastmen and kaleidoscopic daemons were never far behind. Tzeentch would have his prize, for the lands were rich in the stuff of magic. But first he would show Sigmar that nowhere was safe from the predations of the Dark Gods.
Nurgle had suffered a crushing setback in the Realm of Life, for the goddess of Ghyran had spurned his generous gifts and cast aside much of his hard work in the process. The glorious annex to his garden was withering on the vine as the Sylvaneth and their Stormcast Eternal allies fought back from the brink of disaster to win dominance in one Jade Kingdom after another. After a long period of sullen introspection at this rejection, Nurgle gathered his spirits once more and embarked upon a new crusade – to deliver his vile blessings across all the realms, conquest by conquest, until every land bore the stigmata of his virulent touch.
The Great Horned Rat, least of the Chaos powers in strength but by no means in cunning, followed his own path. The skaven spread starvation and blight wherever the people of the Mortal Realms dared to believe themselves free of hardship, turning once verdant lands into lifeless sprawls of twisted stalks and rotten vegetation that teemed with vermin. Swarms of ratmen, left to multiply as the great and the good warred amongst themselves, bred until they were beyond counting. All the while they gnawed at the roots of existence, working towards an uprising that would overturn every realm at once.
Though they would never admit it to themselves, each of the Dark Gods was united in a single goal – to divide and conquer the Mortal Realms, pouring their malevolence through every portal they could seize or fashion until their anarchy and horror capsized reality entirely.
THE QUEST IMMORTAL
The Stormcast Eternals are shining angels of the tempest, this much is known. What did not come to light until years later was the price they paid for their immortality. Over years of war unending, Sigmar came to recognise the flaws in the reforging – and sent forth new agents to find the cure.
When a Stormcast Eternal dies, his essence is snatched up into the heavens by the magic of Sigmar and the art of the soul-smith. In Azyr it will be reforged anew, an agonising process that may take hours, or may take years. Upon each reforging there is a chance the Stormcast Eternal may become less human. Over the course of several deaths, many of those reforged become numb to the horrors of war. They lose sight of subtler virtues – concepts such as compassion, pity and mercy become eroded by the burning heat of the forge. This makes them daunting opponents indeed.
Though the God-King Sigmar knew that the reforging may carry a cost, he did not realise the full scope of the strange curse that would come to afflict the Stormcast Eternals as their reforgings became ever more frequent. Known amongst the Lord-Relictors as the transfiguration, this phenomenon became ever more pronounced in those warriors who were reforged time and time again.
Something had been lost in the process. Over time, many of those who had been reforged too many times were altered in body as well as in spirit, whilst others became ever more powerful creatures of the storm. For long years none spoke openly of their fears, for it is all but forbidden to doubt the God-King. Vandus Hammerhand was the first to put into words his concerns of the dire future that awaited him. He was plagued by visions of a soul he came to think of as the Lightning Man – a figure of crackling energy that he feared represented his future self.
In Sigmar’s cities, those who had been reforged too many times became totems of awe and fear. Though they were fierce and determined, they had lost much of what it is to be human, and with that, any sense of judgement or discernment regarding right and wrong. For these post-human beings, only an existence of black and white remained, of Order and Chaos, with no shades of morality in between. They existed only to oppose darkness and corruption, no matter how fair a form it took. Though these transfigured warriors made for excellent shock troops in the war against Chaos, their reduced humanity made them very dangerous for those who strayed from the true path of Sigmar’s teachings – and of these, there were many.
When the great new cities of Order were painstakingly built across the Mortal Realms, each with a Stormhost’s keep at its heart, the terrifying implications of the transfiguration became clear. Humanity is complex, and its morality more so. When murmurings of unrest inevitably began within these new-found settlements, not all of the Stormcast guardians were best equipped to deal with them. In places, murmurings led to riots. These were viciously put down by the more hard-line chambers, who saw them as precursors to Chaos cults and uprisings. So began a cycle of retribution and rebellion that led to many cities being riven by civil war and brutal suppression. The Chaos Gods stoked the fires where they could, but in many places they simply watched in sadistic glee.
Sigmar dwelt long on the dilemma that had befallen his chosen warriors, for it galled him to admit he may have been too hasty in his reforgings. Already the implications were unfolding across the realms.
In Vindicarum, the sparks of conflict became a raging bonfire. Singing as they slew, the Celestial Vindicators brought a terrible judgement against those citizens that harboured even the smallest seed of corruption in their souls. A full three-quarters of the inhabitants were slain in a single night, rivers of blood trickling down the volcano city’s caldera. That event became known as the Purge of Vindicarum, and its implications have echoed through time ever since.
Those who survived the purge banded together into an army of zealous faithful, marching to war alongside the wrathful warriors that had let them live. Yet beneath that solidarity, there was a hidden undercurrent of fear. Stories of extreme measures abounded. Excelsis, guarded by the Knights Excelsior, was said to be surrounded by chains of celestial lightning through which only those of pure soul could pass. Was this, too, a kind of slavery?
Sigmar ordered the upper echelons of his temples to investigate further. To bolster them, the Sacrosanct Chambers were sent forth from their guardian duties at the Anvil of the Apotheosis. They were reforged not from the ranks of savages and tribesmen, but from the finest battle sages and warrior mystics in the realms, and they were wise indeed.
Somewhere in the divine process of reforging, a small portion of each soul was escaping into the aether. It was the appointed task of these arcane brotherhoods to solve this quandary – or at least allay it for a time. They theorised that some of those mortals the God-King had taken to Sigmaron were strong enough to withstand the process of reforging once, but not adamant of spirit enough to pass through the apotheosis over and over again. Perhaps Sigmar had known this all along, but had no other choice – had he not mustered such numerous armies when he did, the Mortal Realms would likely have been lost forever. Only now was the cost of his last-ditch attempt to save them becoming clear.
In secret the Sacrosanct Chambers searched every corner of the Mortal Realms for knowledge of soul-stuff, monitoring not only the forges of Azyrheim but also the translocation that occurred whenever a Stormcast died in battle. To fully understand the magic of the soul and the cycle of life and death, the storm-sages dabbled with matters best left to the necromantic arts. In doing so, they risked the wrath of Nagash. That ancient liche-god considered the dead his sole province, and had long harboured a grudge against Sigmar. The existence of this new breed of warrior mystic would be seen an insult, for the war sages strayed upon Nagash’s territory, fighting hard against all manner of unquiet spirits. In this, their story was only just beginning.
Many paid the ultimate price, their souls snatched away by Nagash’s ethereal agents. It was a willing sacrifice, for should the curse of transfiguration continue unabated, every Stormhost of the Stormcast Eternals would slowly drift further from humanity until they were truly lost.
The transfigured were growing too stark in their demi-godhood. In becoming both more and less than human, in so thoroughly embodying all that was ordered and lawful, they had abandoned the ways of normal men and become pitiless killers. A question hung in the air, though none dared to ask it out loud. Was it possible for a warrior to become so pure, so holy, that to the eyes of the mortal man, he would be the embodiment of terror?
THE STOLEN SOULS
It was not only Sigmar who had taken souls from Nagash’s clutches as the aeons slid by. Some amongst the gods had defied him long before Sigmar visited the Mortal Realms for the first time, whilst others had stolen from him in the ages of Myth and Chaos. And all would pay, in time.
In the Mortal Realms, magic saturates reality. Those who can manipulate it find there is little they cannot do; even the power of life and death can be bound to the desires of a magical adept. Yet doing so carries many risks – mishaps that can leave an individual trapped between life and death, bestow an eternity of raw madness, or turn the would-be conjurer of souls into a wraith that howls in pain and frustration forever more. But even the most dire spell, the most grievous curse, cannot compare with the fate of those who draw the pitiless gaze of Nagash.
CALL OF THE HEAVENS
Scholars, bards, shamans and skalds in every realm have heard tell of the Stormcast Eternals. Word has spread far since their tumultuous crusade against the forces of darkness began – and in the wake of each story, hope has blossomed. Though Chaos still rules the vast majority of the lands, over time, parts of Sigmar’s grand scheme have fallen into place.
Yet not everyone has welcomed Sigmar’s intervention. The most bitter of elders and rabble-rousers claim there is treachery in the God-King’s methods, for it was he who stole away the heroes of the realms as they defied Chaos, and in doing so brought an end to many mortal bloodlines and settlements.
None have learned so well of these acts, nor paid such obsessive attention to the details, as Nagash. From the very first soul Sigmar snatched from the threshold of death, the Great Necromancer has been watching. The souls of truly great men and women are the strongest in the afterlife as well as the living world, and the finest of Nagash’s captains and lieutenants are those who led their kin whilst still mortal. Nagash was at first content to keep a tally, knowing that one day the bill would be called past due, but as Sigmar denuded the realms of its finest warriors, Nagash set in motion a dark mirror of the Azyrite muster.
The Great Necromancer sent forth his shambling legions to find the greatest mortal heroes, not only in the Realm of Death, but further afield, and had them cut down the champions of men wherever they could – for even the most proficient swordsman can be brought low if enough undead are sent against him. These champions too were reforged, after a fashion – not into shining heroes, but into mindlessly obedient thralls, living dead that were ready to fight in the retributive wars to come.
OF LIGHT, SHADOW AND DEEP PLACES
Humans were not the only folk in the realms to defy Nagash’s claim upon the dead. In Ulgu and Hysh, the souls of those aelves rescued from Slaanesh’s essence were given focus, taking form once more. Many of these aelf-things were humanoid, appearing much like their former selves but for a faint glow of lambent energy. Others were remade in stranger forms, the magic that coursed through their being writ large. Some of those born to the Realm of Light were luminous beings, angelic creatures of pure reason. Those given new life in Ulgu were majestic and terrible all at once.
Though not even Malerion truly realised the extent of her subterfuge, his mother Morathi was drawing souls from Slaanesh’s recumbent form in her bid for true godhood. Her skills in the arts of illusion saw her create whole armies of aelven soul-hybrids without coming to the notice of Lord Tyrion and his kin. Unfortunately her secretive deeds bore a terrible cost, for the roaming scions of Slaanesh were drawn to Ulgu, attracted by the concentration of souls that had been stolen from their missing lord and master. They fell into an obsessive frenzy of ecstasy at finding the scent of the Dark Prince upon the winds. Their heated excitement stood in stark contrast to the cold-burning hatred of Nagash, for in taking those souls, Morathi had invited retribution from not one, but two deities.
In the deep places of the realms dwelt the mysterious Idoneth, amongst the first aelves to have been torn from Slaanesh’s immense godhood. Free from a nightmarish existence, they fled even from their saviour Teclis, seeking the darkest and coldest realms they could find – for what better place to escape the god of sensuous excess than a place where sight, sound and even touch were all but impossible to experience? The Idoneth sequestered themselves in the abyssal depths of seas and oceans so deep and remote that not even Nagash thought to look for them there. But they could not remain hidden forever.
When the ploys of the Dark Gods thrust the Idoneth into the light, the Great Necromancer turned to look upon that most well-hidden of aelven kindreds. To his mind, by escaping the pull of the grave and the afterlife that followed, even they had defied his claim upon their souls. They too would answer for their crimes.
THE ESSENCE OF GODS AND MEN
In each realm the story was much the same, for in every race, there are those who seek to cheat death. The shards of Grimnir’s soul, shattered by Vulcatrix and reduced to the priceless material ur-gold, are jealously hoarded by the lodges of the Fyreslayers. The Seraphon are a race long departed from the physical plane, yet their Starmasters keep them from oblivion with memories so powerful they can cause corporeal echoes to manifest at will. Even the Chaos Gods impinge upon Nagash’s rightful tithe. Their minions willingly sell their souls in exchange for power and long life, and in doing so either damn themselves to an existence of surreal horror, or ascend to the immortal rank of Daemon Prince. Even the least of those so corrupted are ultimately bound not for the Realm of Death, as is the proper order of mortality, but for the Realm of Chaos.
Each anomaly, each exception, Nagash took personally. Was he not the Lord of Death? Was he not the master of the afterlife? Soon enough, there would be a reckoning, for though Nagash has the patience of the grave, even he would not wait forever.
Though the Great Necromancer has a hundred dire spells at his command, and though his mighty blade has slain kings and warlords by the dozen, some say his most potent asset of all is his ability to wait entire generations for the right moment to strike.
The being known as Nagash is a true immortal, a god-eating horror who has died over and over again. He resurrects after each demise, coalescing once more into another ghastly form, even if it takes millennia to do so. To Nagash, the passing of the centuries is as the passing of years to a mortal man.
However, his patience is not infinite.
When the spiritual essence of Nagash solidified in the Mortal Realms after the destruction of the world-that-was, the Great Necromancer was immediately convinced that he had finally come to his birthright. Here was no solitary paradise like those once promised to the nobles of Nehekhara, land of his birth. Nor was it a singular purgatory devised to punish former sins. Shyish was a reality that revolved around a hundred different afterlives, each built to a greater or lesser extent upon the energies of death. Visiting each of the lands in turn, Nagash laid his hollow eyes upon every corner of Shyish, and everything that dwelt there, and considered it his. Even the gods that ruled over each underworld of the realm he considered his property, there to be consumed at leisure after he had raised his undying legions once more.
When divorced from the flesh and blood of its mortal incarnation, the spiritual essence of each dead mortal entity – often known as the soul – will usually find its way to one of the Shyishan underworlds. In the act of dying, it is drawn irrevocably to the Realm of Death, there to while away the aeons until its energies dissipate or it is somehow returned to life. All things must end in Shyish, it is said, even the energy of souls, though it may take centuries or even millennia for a spirit to fade away completely. The energy of a normal spirit, the animus of each departed soul, can vary wildly. A basal coward from a backwater human village may have little in the way of spiritual energy, his ghost no more than a faint and moaning shade. A martyred hero – especially one of potent lineage, such as an aelven or duardin warrior – glows bright with immortal power, its spirit a powerful essence in its own right.
These were the souls that Nagash coveted the most, and the souls that were stolen from him by the deities that the Great Necromancer saw as his rivals. The vast majority of aelven souls were absent from Shyish, for they had been consumed by the Dark Prince in a gluttonous feast that had seen Slaanesh rendered insensible by his own greed. Others had sunk into the black depths, passing through sea-portals and escaping the hunger of Slaanesh as well as that of Shyish. Most other aelven souls had been sequestered or stolen away by the aelf gods Tyrion and Malerion, each seeking to rebuild the societies over which they once ruled.
Perhaps the most grievous offender was Sigmar of Azyr, the Soul-Thief, Taker of Heroes and Betrayer of Trust. The God-King had convinced Nagash to join the Pantheon of Order in the name of bringing civilisation to the realms and, reluctantly, Nagash had agreed – up to a point. He had no intention of engaging in direct conflict with the Ruinous Powers, who together could undo even his great works. After the Battle of Burning Skies, where Nagash’s absence angered Sigmar greatly, the God-King usurped the Great Necromancer in the most grievous way. Whenever a heroic soul was upon the threshold of death in the fight against Chaos, Sigmar would snatch that being away in a flash of divine lightning. In doing so he stole one of the mightiest assets that Nagash could hope to bind to his own cause. The Great Necromancer watched this happen again and again. Worse still, Sigmar had the audacity to take a number of souls who had long dwelt in the Realm of Death. In fact, the God-King created an entire Stormhost from the heroes of ancient conflicts – the Anvils of the Heldenhammer, who were forged under a dark moon. To Nagash, this pillage of Shyish’s finest souls was blatant theft, a calculated insult for which Sigmar would be made to pay. Yet Nagash knew better than any other that revenge was a dish best served cold.
The Great Necromancer seethed in silence over Sigmar’s insolence, but he did not intend to do so forever. Behind a shroud of secrecy, he had his followers labour ceaselessly, day and night, on a great work of surpassing potency. Nagash had long ago devised a method to harness the darker forms of magic, and the building of great black pyramids was a hallmark of his art. In the very centre of the Realm of Death he had his minions construct a vast inverted pyramid out of monolithic blocks, each made from Shyishan sand that had been vitrified by necromantic witch-fire to appear much like volcanic obsidian. No normal sand was used in the construction of these giant segments, but the magical substance that some call grave-sand, or the sands of time. The purest deposits were used to make the capstone of that inverted pyramid – that which would one day form an awl to burrow through the substance of Shyishan reality.
Grave-sand is the naturally occurring realmstone of Shyish, a granular crystalline substance that once trickled down the dunes of the lonely deserts and bluffs at the Realm’s Edge. Each stream and rivulet of grave-sand is said to be attuned to the lifespan of a living creature – once every single grain of a particular trickle is still, the lifespan of that mortal being is over. Some say it is possible for a being to extend their own lifespan by seeking the Realm’s Edge, finding their personal stream of grave-sand, gathering up the grains in an enchanted hourglass and inverting the artefact so the sand flows back upon itself. Very few know the truth, for to strike out for the Realm’s Edge is to seal one’s own fate – it is a place of raw death magic, and for a mortal to dabble with those energies is to invite all manner of catastrophe.
To one such as Nagash, who embodies the energies of undeath, grave-sand is but another kind of clay with which to build his empire. His numberless skeletal minions stalked slowly to the Realm’s Edge, walking through hurricanes of amethyst energy that would have flayed a mortal man in seconds. Amongst the dunes they gathered every deposit of the realmstone they could find, often one grain at a time, going to and fro in long thin processions like ants gathering sugar to take back to their nest. Over long generations, Nagash ensured the greatest concentration of grave-sand in Shyish was no longer at the edge of the realm, but at its centre.
As the centuries rolled by, the Great Necromancer’s fortress, Nagashizzar, was steadily piled with mountains of granular realmstone. In this manner Nagash was able to build his finest masterwork. It was to be an echo of the Black Pyramid he had once raised in the arid lands of Nehekhara, the most evil structure ever to mar the surface of the world-that-was. Yet this, the greatest of all black pyramids, was built inverted – its capstone, and the energies that poured into it, was to pierce Shyish entire.
THE GREAT BLACK PYRAMID
As his numberless minions retrieved the stuff of Shyishan magic, Nagash laboured night and day upon his defining monument. It would be imbued with a grand spell that would eclipse even that which had stripped all life from Nehekhara. This endeavour was no ode to pride or vaunting ambition, but the beginning of a carefully planned arcane coup. The structure was hidden amongst the ruins of Nagashizzar’s citadel keep, that immense reflection of Nagash’s immortal ego that had been toppled by the forces of the Dark Gods during the Age of Chaos. The monolithic wreckage of shattered libraries and broken palaces had not been rebuilt, but instead winched into place to form the pyramid’s scaffold. The bones of a million broken skeleton warriors, those who had failed to defend Nagashizzar against the forces of Chaos, were repurposed as mortar. No sacrifice was too great, for the pyramid’s construction was a work of such surpassing artifice that all in its shadow was rendered irrelevant.
Though Nagash had created black pyramids as centres of dark energy before, this was undoubtedly the grandest. It was also the most geometrically perfect. Every tunnel, every corridor and finger-thin conduit inside it was shaped to the most stringent arcane formulas known, for Nagash had long ago mastered the hermetic arts of his birth-land. With an eternity in which to perfect them, he had raised his arts to hitherto unheard-of levels, and with legions of mindlessly obedient skeletons working tirelessly to fulfil his every exacting specification, he had the means with which to put his knowledge into practice. Chip by chip, chisel-blow by chisel-blow, the black pyramid took shape.
THE DRAINING OF THE KHAPHTAR SEA
The construction of this colossal site of power caused fluctuations in the aether-void, ripples of events to come that haunted those with the power to scry the future. Amongst them were the Warpseers, monstrous daemonic skaven that constantly sought ways to advance the agendas of the Great Horned Rat.
The skaven race know well the value of realmstone. Their stronghold sub-realm is so vast it has its own crystalline equivalent, the malignant green-black substance known as warpstone, which they use to fuel their arcane inventions. The Warpseers reasoned that if a treasure trove of realmstone was somewhere at the heart of the Realm of Death, they could snatch it away from its dim-witted undead keepers, and in doing so earn great power.
The Warpseer council gave their orders to the rest of the Masterclan, who in turn brought their fearful influence to bear upon the other great skaven clans. Before another new moon had passed, the ratmen of the half-real verminopolis known as Blight City were burrowing their gnawholes through the aether once more, this time bound for Shyish.
This endeavour, as with so many others undertaken by the skaven, proved to be far more ambitious than it was practical. The first skaven gnawhole, tunnelled by drill-armed Stormfiends and a menagerie of burrowing machine-beasts, breached the underworld of the Khaphtar Sea – also known as the Sea of Suicides.
An ocean so titanic it held the floating, ever-damned corpses of every soul to have drowned itself in despair, the Khaphtar Sea had become populous indeed since the Age of Chaos bit deep. Nagash had defeated that underworld’s deity, the Brine-God, and taken the entire domain for himself. Shortly after, the pallid corpses that floated there came to life, grasping at nothing in the cold and inky depths.
By burrowing into that sunken underworld, the skaven caused the Khaphtar Sea to flood back into their gnawhole network. The waters crashed and seethed through the gnawholes, drowning entire generations of skaven and carrying a billion bloated sea-zombies along with the ratmen’s wet furry bodies. Eventually, a tsunami of filthy, corpse-choked water burst into the workshops of the Clans Skryre in Blight City. On that day the Year of the Drowned Rat began, and the ensuing battles of extermination still rage on in parts of the skaven capital even now.
By undermining the Sea of Suicides, the skaven had done more than empty an underworld of its rightful souls. Hidden away in the impenetrable depths of that strange ocean was an enclave of Idoneth Deepkin. For well over a thousand years their borders had been kept safe from sea-zombie attack by circling patrols of eel-riders. So adept were they at stealth, and so powerful was their shrouding memory-magic, that even Nagash had been unaware of their existence – until now. With one of the Great Necromancer’s demesnes all but emptied, and the Idoneth city upon its bed soon to be exposed, the Deepkin courted disaster.
One of the aspects shared between the aelves of Ulgu and those of the deep places was an aptitude for distraction. Running out of time, the Idoneth of Khaphtar sent a diplomatic delegation to their cousins in the Laebrea Basin. The basin was another underworld – not of men, but of great beasts – that took the form of an ocean of peaty tar. There the great mammalian titans of Ghur emerged whenever they passed through one of the pitch-black pits that formed the primal Realmgates of the Ghurish Hinterlands. Upon the basin’s clotted bed dwelt the silent, pallid Idoneth known as Laebreans, whose eyes and mouths bled thick tar whenever they ventured into Ghur on their soul-raids.
At all times this monolithic edifice was inverted, held aloft by complex energy fields. Its tip hovered but a hand span above the earth, while its immensity loomed upward so high it made even Nagash himself seem like an insect by comparison.
An accord was reached after the Khaphtar Court pledged allegiance to the Laebreans – together, they would direct the Great Necromancer’s indignant fury before it was too late. It would not be their people that felt the brunt of Nagash’s wrath.
The Laebreans had long grown wise to the ways of the Ghurish tribes – in truth, there was not that much to learn. If they stayed out of the way of the fierce Hinterland orruks, troggoths and ogors, they could raid the human tribes with impunity. This time, however, the Laebreans ventured forth from the slick black pools of the primal Realmgates in search of direct confrontation, the better to lure the bestial tribes to their doom. This time, it was not the Hinterland orruks who made use of the tar pits, but the Idoneth.
Over a harrowing month of ghastly visitations, insidious lures and black drownings, hundreds of thousands of Hinterland orruks and ogors passed through the tar pits in the same manner as the mammuts and the rhinoxen they once hunted. Having met a suffocating demise by sinking into tar, the bestial tribes passed through those strange Realmgates – but their journey did not end there. Using the magic of their Tidecasters, the Laebreans sculpted the tar to form a sticky, stinking pathway leading out of the basin’s depths and into the underworlds nearest Nagashizzar.
The greenskins’ rage and lust for battle did the rest. Having seen Nagash’s citadel on the horizon, the orruks and their ogor allies made haste out of the basin and onto the dry, crumbling land that was home to Nagash’s greatest stronghold. They were met with phalanxes of Nagash’s finest garrison troops – creatures made from refashioned bone and sinew, each larger and more bizarre than the last. Yet the stouter the resistance, the louder the din of battle became, the more orruks headed for the front line.
Through the dreams and visions of orruk Shamans back in Ghur, word spread of the Fight at the End of the World. Ever more tribes sought ways into Shyish, either through deathly Realmgates or the act of dying en masse in ever bloodier civil wars. By the time the briny, decomposing depths of the Khaphtar Sea had drained completely into Blight City, Nagash’s holdings were under attack from so many greenskins that the Idoneth enclave escaped his attention entirely.
Yet Nagash’s master plan had been well prepared. Not even the combined assaults of skaven, aelf and orruk could stop the coming disaster.
THE CATACLYSM OF SHYISH
When the day of the pyramid’s completion grew close, the dust of battle was already clogging the horizon. So delicate was Nagash’s work, the painstaking finale of his great ritual, that he could not afford the disruption of open war on his doorstep. Perhaps it was the avalanche of destruction grinding ever closer that caused his lack of focus at the last minute, perhaps even one as intelligent and focused as Nagash can make mistakes. But on that day, on the hour in which the final rune-carved monolith was laid in place atop the pyramid megastructure and the last stanzas of the great ritual spoken, the Great Black Pyramid played host to a critical impurity.
When the Clans Skryre had burrowed into Shyish’s underworlds, causing the Sea of Suicides to drain, they had opened a pathway to the Realm of Death that few had the courage to exploit. Yet if the skaven have one emotion even stronger than their innate cowardice, it is sheer greed. With word of mountainous deposits of realmstone deep in the heart of Shyish, the skaven sent their agents back along the brine-swilling gnawhole that led from Blight City to the Khaphtar Sea, determined to seize it all.
This time it was agents of the Clans Eshin that made their way into Shyish, entire leagues of the verminous assassins shrouded in shadows. Slinking past the undead guardians of Nagash’s masterwork within palls of enchanted gloom, they dived into the larger tunnels and crawlspaces of the Great Black Pyramid, trusting their uncanny senses and twitching whiskers to see them to the treasure trove they believed lay at its heart. Yet the labyrinth inside the pyramid did not conform to physical laws. One by one, the skaven agents squirted the musk of fear as they realised they were utterly, irredeemably lost.
When the final stone of the Great Pyramid was put in place, and the masterwork ritual was completed, the shadowy agents of the Clans Eshin were still trapped inside. It was too late for them – and for the chance of Nagash’s great ritual to proceed as he had planned. Whether their corruption of Nagash’s masterwork was a blessing or a curse, none can say.
A howling hurricane of unstable magic raced throughout Shyish’s many underworlds, summoned to the heart of the pyramid and converging on a single point. With a thunderous, mind-splitting boom, Shyish underwent a magical inversion, a change of polarity that would redefine it forever.
The arcane energy of the Realm of Death, so famously difficult to manipulate, was suddenly, irrevocably drawn to a single location. Slowly at first, Nagash’s inverted pyramid began to revolve, getting faster with each gale of eldritch power it absorbed until it span with whipping, killing speed. Its dark energies pulsed, blinding in their blackness. The lands nearest the heart of Shyish were drained of all colour and life, leaving only bleached wastelands behind, and every creature for a hundred leagues was blasted to dust.
As the Great Black Pyramid became heavier with magical energy, it began to sink into the heart of the realm, not so much drilling into it as buckling, stretching, drawing the lands of Shyish down around it, like an iron cannonball placed on a sheet of tanned human skin. Around the inverted pyramid was a maelstrom, a vortex, a hungering whirlpool of energy that gathered in everything – be it living or dead, earthbound or aerial, physical or ethereal – and drew it ever downward. At the very bottom was Nagash, drinking in every mote of power and every soul that slid down into his clutches. The magical energy of Shyish converged on this site, pulled down into the infinitely dense point known thenceforth as the Shyish Nadir, the End of All Things.
With the skaven agents bodily corrupting Nagash’s ritual by the virtue of their presence inside the pyramid, the energies of the Shyish inversion were far more destructive than even Nagash had envisioned. The bow wave of energy that spread out into the void crashed across each of the Mortal Realms in turn. The cataclysm’s energies spread throughout time and space, and with them went a strange and deadly disruption to the fabric of the Mortal Realms, for with the skaven’s interference the ritual was tainted with Chaos. Everywhere, the ordered energies of death went wild as the metaphysical backlash cascaded across the cosmos. Twisted gheists of all descriptions burst from the mortal clay they had once inhabited as one domain after another was visited by the risen spirits of a billion dead souls.
The mages and wizards of the realms found their powers increased markedly by this realm-wrenching phenomenon, and many sought to harness the strange abilities that blew into their minds upon the gales of invisible force. Most of them paid with their lives within an instant. None save Nagash could hope to harness the colossal energies he had unleashed, and even he was stretched to the limit.
As for Shyish, the pyramid changed it beyond even Nagash’s expectations. No more would the souls of the dead escape the Great Necromancer’s clutches so easily – from then on, everything that made its way to Shyish would ultimately be devoured by the eternal hunger of the Nadir. Some of those mortals with the wit to comprehend what had happened dared to hope that the Great Necromancer’s gambit would see him harness too much power, and in the end bring about his undoing. Their hopes were not unfounded.
The Nadir was so incredibly rich in energy, so potent in the raw stuff of endings, that even Nagash could not dwell there indefinitely. Corrupted as it was by traces of Chaos magic, it became a place of insanity as well as death. Even the vampires and liches that strayed there felt skeletal fingers raking down every inch of their skin, and the freezing silt of underworlds ground to utter destruction pressed down upon them. In the visions of mages and madmen, it appeared as a pitch-black deathscape crushed beneath the weight of eternity. Any who spoke of it had years stolen from their lifespan, for its hungry curse crossed reality.
A new evil had come to the Mortal Realms, as inescapable as time itself – and with it, a new era of death ascendant.
MAGIC WITHOUT END
The coming of the Shyish Nadir not only caused a mass resurrection of undead, but also saw the stuff of magic itself billow and cascade across the cosmos. Those with the power to channel that energy found themselves able to cast devastating and predatory spells that lasted in perpetuity.
As the lands were assailed by baleful phantasms and the spectres of the past, mages of all kinds found boundless power at their fingertips. Many a gheist was banished by their destructive emanations, but always more were there to take their place. Desperate, sorcerers reached for ever more ambitious spells and incantations. These mages drew to themselves the anarchic power rolling across the cosmos, shaped it into forms that resonated with their nature, and hurled it back out, more deadly than ever before. These spells manifested physically, not for a single lethal moment – nor even an hour or day – but indefinitely.
The magic of a spell usually dissipates over time. With the right incantations, artefacts and gestures, a wizard can draw motes of a certain type of eldritch energy into a coalesced form, but those sorceries will soon be pulled apart once more by the irresistible draw of the Realm’s Edge. However, the spells borne on the bow wave of the Shyish necroquake were unaffected by this process. Shorn of their due demise by the backlash of Shyishan energies, these spells had no end. They continued to assail the Mortal Realms long after they were cast, with many feeding on the energies of the living in the manner of an arcane predator or vampire.
A cackling skull of flame shaped from the energies of Aqshy would burn on and on, seeking out ever more victims as it scorched a path across the lands. Eventually such a hazard would become known to a region’s native people, named for its peculiar dangers, and avoided at all costs. Though the caster might have initially felt a thrill of raw power as he unleashed such a spell against his foes, it would soon escape his control, consuming his allies and perhaps even himself.
Many of the spells granted terrible permanence by the necroquake’s energies were intrinsically linked to Shyish, for after Nagash’s great spell, those energies were in the ascendant. Hurricanes of raw magic whirled across the lands, shaped into sentient tornadoes by those with the skill to bind them. The Purple Sun, a form to which baleful Shyishan energies are easily drawn, was conjured on a hundred battlefields; those touched by the giant spined sphere were instantly transformed into statues of soulless amethyst. Wherever Nagash’s foremost servants walked, empty sepulchres were given horrible life, hungering for creatures to bury alive. Entire graveyards ruptured and began roaming the lands to crush the living under seismic waves of earth, tomb-slabs and corpseflesh. Discoloured shackles burst from the land at the whim of spiteful Necromancers, their pincer-like manacles grabbing hold of souls, rather than bodies, so they might tear them down to the Great Oubliette.
But Nagash’s masterwork had stirred up every form of magic, not just the macabre energies of the Realm of Death. Gnashing maws large enough to swallow a Dracoth emerged from Ghur to ravage the lands. Chronomantic cogs from Azyr appeared in mid-air to wreak havoc on time itself. Prismatic walls of purest Hyshian crystal burst from the ground to dazzle and blind those nearby.
The sages and seers of the free cities swiftly learned the dangers of these rogue spells. After the disastrous Living Inferno of Hallowheart, the battle wizards of the Collegiate Arcane combined forces with the Swifthawk Agents of their cities, sending covens of Bright wizards to channel and dissipate rogue Aqshian spells and cabals of Shyishan adepts against the roiling energies of the Realm of Death. The Eldritch Council convened whenever a spell proved too powerful for human minds to banish, riding enchanted steeds and sinuous drakes to hunt down those spells that crackled beyond the reach of men.
Though hundreds of talented magic users met spectacular ends for their trouble, the finest minds found their efforts rewarded. Some of those spells that could not be banished were instead channelled and siphoned into enchanted relics, bound to those ensorcelled artefacts that had long held a magical charge – and were now given all the more power. Yet for every spell dismantled and dispersed to the edges of the realms through sheer willpower, for every sorcerous manifestation placed in a solid physical form, a dozen more arcane phenomenons raged on across the realms, killing or eternally cursing those foolish enough to approach them.
- 1 Gates of Azyr introduction.
- 2 Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (Rulebook).
- Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (Rulebook Second Edition)