"And by the manner of their death shall ye know them..."
A fell wind is rising. From the darkest pits of Shyish, the Realm of Death, comes a storm of ethereal figures. An eerie mist spreads before them, blotting out the sun. They muster upon corpse strewn battlefields or ancient burial grounds, a ghostly army of phantoms. They are the supernatural, the dead, the damned – the Nighthaunts.[1a]
Sustained by a fathomless hatred for the living, these wraiths fight to send fresh souls screaming down into the darkened realms from whence the dead emerged, taking cruel pleasure in knowing the torments that await their victims below.[1a]
The Nighthaunts are the horrors that haunt the periphery, terrors that prowl beyond life’s edge. They wait with the patience of the eternal,yet their hunger drives them with insatiable needs – to hunt, to harm, to destroy life – for that is all that is left to them.They come in many forms, but all are destined to forever stalk the Mortal Realms and to drag the living to the same doom.[1a]
The Nighthaunts have not only lost their lives, but also their physical bodies. While mortal flesh rots away, the spirit lives, taking on a new, phantasmal aspect. Whatever blissful underworld rest or eternal peace that was promised to these souls has turned out to be naught but lies. Instead,Nighthaunts are fated with afterlives of damnation,stripped of any compassion they had before death. All warmth is eradicated, leaving behind only the negative.What remains of their spirit is bitter, hate-filled and bound by necromancy, often in some cruelly ironic way linked to either their deaths or their deeds in life. They must forever haunt the Mortal Realms, to seek out and punish those who dare to still live.[1a]
Glowing with a fell light, the Nighthaunts are a bone chilling sight. They appear nebulous and insubstantial,able to hover weightlessly in the air or pass through solid obstacles. A Nighthaunt can glide without pause straight through a wall as a man might stride unimpeded through light fog. Unless guided by supreme faith, enemy blades and arrows pass harmlessly through the Nighthaunts’ incorporeal forms.[1a]
Only those that can steel their minds and drive out their deepest fears can stand against such supernatural horrors. It takes unstinting courage to will a weapon to pierce a phantasm.In return, the chill blades of the Nighthaunts reap a deadly toll upon the living. Skeletal hands reach out, ignoring armor, flesh and bone alike to grasp at a foe’s heart. The fear and confusion that emanates from each of the unholy gheists robs enemies of their physical strength just as it saps their conviction.[1a]
Though almost impervious to physical harm, Nighthaunts carry with them their own hell. Some are cursed by the dark manner of their death. For instance, those who met their ends in chains might have hoped to escape their captivity in the afterlife, yet in the spiritual world are bound by more manacles than ever. Others find their deeds in life turned against them – a mortal who spent a lifetime healing and nurturing might find that, as a spirit, they can only wantonly destroy. Such morbid rewards fill the Nighthaunts with rage and hatred.[1a]
The perpetrator of these eternal torments is none other than Nagash, god of the underworlds, the Great Necromancer, the Supreme Lord of the Undead and self proclaimed ruler of Shyish. Nagash finds the twisted irony he has inflicted to be naught but poetic justice. His vindictive nature, limitless spite and unfathomable ego have created the most terrible of spirits, gheists and wraiths.[1a]
A single Nighthaunt might terrorize a village, and a pair acting together could leave an entire fiefdom quaking in fear. When gathered en mass and united beneath an indomitable new malevolence has stirred an ancient terror. No longer content to haunt civilization's edges, phantasmal forces gather into spectral armies. This is no mere haunting but a shock assault that seeks nothing less than to destroy life it self. Led by a greater undead spirit, such an army can destroy an empire, and become the stuff of dire legends.[1a]
Nighthaunt armies are known as processions. Fear runs before them as tangible as the unnatural mist that rises from the ground. The air grows chil land then, from out of nowhere they come, riding on the wind.They surge over the land like a phantasmal tide.
Some of the wraithly host ride upon spectral steeds, their hooves never touching the earth but leaving footprints of cold fire in the skies. Horrible lurching shapes hover, moving in disjointed fashion, but travelling terribly fast for all that. There are rank after rank of ethereal crook-backed things, cowled creatures brandishing tall glaives. Others come in chains, rattling and moaning. Ghastly apparition leer from tattered hoods, spectral scythes sweep forward, while mind-splitting howls and harrowing shrieks echo through the gloom.
Many foes flee at the first sight of a Nighthaunt procession. Others hold their ground for a time, but it does not take long before senses sharpened by fear begin to make out sinuous shapes moving in the thickening fog. Panicking defenders leap at every new swirl – and they are right to. Clawed talons reach out,phantom riders appear out of the sinister vapours, and spirits materialize from unexpected quarters, drifting through trees or over untraversable moats. The Nighthaunt onslaught is not merely a physical assault, but a psychological one as well, and only the bravest dare to stand before them.
Once, Nighthaunts were the stuff of myths and fables. Tales told of specific hauntings, such as the Bloody-handed Baron that stalked the ruins of Fornorn castle, or spine chilling events like the return of the Shrill Sisters, who came back to massacre the village that burnt them as witches. Every region of the Mortal Realms could boast bloodcurdling tales or gheist-frequented sites. In addition to these lone revenants, Nighthaunts could also be seen bound to the service of a Necromancer or Soulblight vampire, but most stalked the lands of the living purely under their own malevolence.That was before cataclysmic events in Shyish opened up a nightmare. Nighthaunts flooded the Mortal Realms, rising up unexpectedly to strike fear in the hearts of all mortal creatures. Seeing the effectiveness of these sudden shock attacks, Nagash organised a new wing of his legions. The Nighthaunts would be his outriders of horror, the first wave for his long-planned Soul Wars. To command this new vanguard of terror, Nagash appointed a new leader – Lady Olynder, Mortarch of Grief.
Those that dare to study the forbidden arts of death magic– curious wizards, wayward apprentices and would-be Necromancers – generally accept that there are three main ways to create undead.The first and most common of these is the enslavement of the deceased’s remains – the necro-evocus. Zombies and skeletons – worm-eaten corpses and desiccated bones – can be reinvigorated through necromantic incantations.There is no life or personality in such risen creatures, merely dark magic that binds their bodies to a will greater than their own.
The second way in which undead are created is the necro-procratus – undead making more undead. The simplest version of this is the bite of a zombie, which can infect the stricken so that upon their death they too rise up.There are several variations of necro-procratus, some involving organised ritual.
The third method of creating undead is the most complex– the necro-maledictus. This takes the form of a powerful eldritch curse cast upon a soul that has been recently separated from its physical body. These hexes can vary by region and culture throughout the Mortal Realms, but in all cases they consign a terrible fate upon the spirit. Instead of passing onwards into the underworlds, the afflicted spirit will instead remain on the mortal plane, doomed to haunt it for eternity.
The scholars of the Collegiate Arcane widely believe that all necromantic magic originated from Nagash and the mortific spells he devised. However, there are instances of natural phenomena, such as drifting pockets of amethyst magic or particularly rich veins of gravesand, leading to the creation of Nighthaunts as well.
Souls become so twisted by death magic that they take ominous new forms, becoming ghostly killers intent on destroying the living. There are many varieties of Nighthaunt, with hundreds of different maledictions creating distinct phantasmal beings, some of which are believed to be unique in nature. The great majority of Nighthaunts, however, fall into one of about a dozen broad categories – specific types of wraiths such as the spiritually imprisoned Chainrasp Hordes, the cursed healers known as Dreadscythe Harridans, or the mass-grave amalgamations known as Spirit Hosts.
There is a twisted and dramatic irony to the fates of those souls cursed to become Nighthaunts. One who lost their family and their own life to base betrayal might be cursed to an afterlife where they unflinchingly serve the killer that took everything from them. A criminal bound in chains that came to long for his life to end so that he might know freedom may find his spirit self still weighed down with stocks and manacles for evermore.
It is Nagash that is behind these cruelties. He is unforgiving to a degree mortal kind cannot fathom. However, he does not mete out punishments out of the boredom of eternity,nor does he play with souls for his own amusement, for such concepts are anathema to the Great Necromancer. To Nagash’s cold yet orderly mind, the macabre penances to which the Nighthaunts are subjected are but justice, for there is not a single mote of mercy within his being. To the God of Death, mortals that attempt to escape fate or thwart his designs deserve the very harshest of dooms.
Over the centuries Nagash has invented many different curses to punish deserving souls that enter the underworlds. Some of these powerful hexes linger in perpetuity, lurking in the underworlds like spiders, waiting for similarly marked souls so that they might latch onto them as well.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
In all the realms there have always been hauntings – the scratching at the shuttered window, the creaking opening of latched doors, the mysterious light that beckons from the swamp. These phenomena are caused by lesser gheists, the shadows of spirits, and the residual ill will of vengeful mortals that have passed onto the afterlife. Yet there are other, far more powerful spirits from beyond.
Those entities known as Nighthaunts are undead that possess far greater animus and influence than troublesome poltergeists or apparitions of mourning. Nighthaunts come back from the dead not to antagonize, lament or memorialize, but to vent their anger – to kill the living and to send their souls screaming back to the same eternal torments to which they themselves are subject.
Throughout the ages, some Nighthaunts have become creatures of dread and legend,and the living tell many tales of their hauntings. Some of these creatures – such as Cairn Wraiths and Tomb Banshees– would occasionally be discovered by Necromancers or Soulblight vampires. These powerful undead bound such Nighthaunts into servitude, harnessing and directing the spectres’ destructive tendencies for their own ends.
On rare occasions, like the unholy anniversaries of great cataclysms or intense influxes of amethyst magic, entire Nighthaunt hosts will arise. Whole towns were known to have disappeared before the wrath of these ethereal armies, but luckily such supernatural eruptions were few and far between. At least, that was the case before the Shyish Necroquake.
Plan of Ages
Nagash’s plans for domination began when he awoke during the time known as the Age of Myth. It was then that the Great Necromancer first claimed Shyish, yet it was not only the underworlds of the Realm of Death that the god coveted.
Nagash’s plan for ultimate supremacy was a subtle one,and required an immense amount of time, magical power and tireless labor – all things the Great Necromancer held in abundance. To harness the necessary arcane energies, Nagash sought out grave-sand– the realmstone of Shyish that was solidified death magic in its purest form.
As with each of the realms, magical energy was not evenly spread throughout the lands of Shyish, but rather could be found in far greater quantity and quality at the Realm’s Edge. Thus, in Shyish, the greatest abundance of gravesand was found heaped in dunes along the very periphery of its domains. It is commonly believed that each mortal creature has their own stream of grave-sand, and that, so long as its grains trickle down the dunes, their life will continue. Should that sand stream fail, however, the mortal life is likewise ended. Those who might attempt to travel to that region of Shyish to ensure a continuous flow of sand put themselves in dire peril, for there amethyst magic waxes so strong that hurricanes of baleful power sweep the dunes, destroying any living thing that dares to intrude.
While a mortal creature could not last long beneath the lashing power of so much concentrated amethyst magic, the same cannot be said for the undead. Nagash sent his minions – endless lines of skeletons – into the dunes to collect the precious resource. They proved able to survive the trek into those forlorn territories, but still, each could only carry a single speck of realmstone, for even they could not stand indefinitely against such arcane might.
Over many centuries, countless skeletal figures made the journey, relentlessly marching to retrieve their one grain of grave-sand before returning. It was a journey of countless thousands of leagues, and many were lost, crumbling to dust beneath the magical barrage, waylaid by skaven raiders, or beset by any number of the Terminus Creatures – the dreadful undead beasts that stalk those regions. Others simply continued to trudge, then crawl, until their limbs were ground down to nothing and they could move no more.
As the centuries rolled by, Nagash amassed a vast store of grave-sand. Mountains of the realmstone were used to construct a monumental masterwork – an echo of the Black Pyramid of the world that-was. Yet this pyramid was built inverted, held aloft by complex spells of binding. Its tip hovered but a hand’s span above the ground,and it soared upwards to a towering height.
Warning signs of the vast accumulation of death magic were perceived by those attuned to the arcane. Malign portents caused armies from across the Mortal Realms and the Realm of Chaos to be mustered against Nagash’s growing power. Shyish was invaded from hundreds of points. With the pyramid’s construction nearing completion, the many battles fought to waylay the Lord of Undeath at last took atoll – the skaven unwittingly disrupted the orderly workings of Nagash’s arcane edifice,resulting in a cataclysmic shift. The inverted pyramid began to spin, and the flow of amethyst magic in Shyish was altered, drawn from the Realm’s Edge to the epicenter of the vast monument.
The explosion of magic that ensued was beyond even Nagash’s abilities to control. A mind-splitting wave of eldritch power shook the Mortal Realms and ripped at the very fabric that tied them together. A tide of death magic washed over the cosmos. In each realm, spectres and fell spirits long dormant were roused to vengeful action, attacking with no plan other than to sink their dagger like talons into the living. Billions of dead souls rose up anew, assailing anything that still breathed with a hatred beyond comprehension. This was the necroquake of Shyish and it altered the Mortal Realms forever.
In Shyish, the Great Black Pyramid absorbed so much amethyst magic it began to sink, buckling the underworlds in a whirlpool of downwards pulling energies. So was the Shyish Nadir born, drawing all souls towards it. Not even Nagash could master its energies.
While his plans to fill himself with enough arcane power to conquer the Mortal Realms had gone awry, Nagash had flooded everywhere with the undead. On a grand scale the Great Necromancer saw the full might of wraith hosts unleashed, and the terror they caused. There were more such spirits roaming the lands than ever, although their attacks were more instinctive than planned. But that would soon change…
The rise of a new Mortarch
Although the Nighthaunt attacks during the necroquake had wreaked havoc, there was much to be improved upon. The assaults often dwindled, targets of opportunity were poorly chosen, and there had been little or no coordination between the different phantasmal armies. In the free city of the Phoenicium the spectral hosts had all but defeated the defending garrison of Stormcast Eternals, but then became sidetracked, content to terrify the populace rather than razing the city. The Sylvaneth defending their wooded fortress of Gnarlok were conquered, but none of the gheists sought to claim the highly magical woadstone that the children of Alarielle guarded, leaving it to fall into the hands of Beastmen. Two successive waves of Nighthaunts washed over the Stormcast defenses guarding Vandium, each nearly defeating the foe, but had they attacked as one the undead would have easily triumphed. From the Kharadron sky-port of Barak-Zon to the hidden undersea cities of the Idoneth Deepkin, many places were ravaged by the rampaging spirits, but there was no concentrated effort to finish off the mortals.
To address such shortcomings, Nagash sought a commander, a leader that would unite and drive the Nighthaunts to not just terrorise mortalkind, but to devastate them, leaving the shocked survivors ripe for Nagash’s final crusade.
The Mortarchs are Nagash’s top lieutenants – powerful undead leaders that have been granted a sliver of the Great Necromancer’s power. Each of the existing Mortarchs, of which there were three, was chosen for their unique skills. Should Nagash need corruption he would turn to Neferata, Mortarch of Blood. If he needed to make a gory example of the foe, then he would call upon Mannfred von Carstein, Mortarch of Night. For the most secretive missions and empire-building, he favoured Arkhan the Black, Mortarch of Sacrament. All commanded their own undead legions and all wished to wield still more power. Yet Nagash desired a new element, and also loyalty, for of the Mortarchs only Arkhan the Black was truly content to serve.
The tale of how Nagash scoured the underworlds for a new subordinate is a long one, for there are untold dominions of the dead. From Stygxx, the Land of Forgotten Gods, to the hidden cold-fire plains of Helstrom; from the relic-filled lands of Carstinia to Hallost, Land of Dead Heroes, no afterlife was left unsearched. Nagash fixed his baleful gaze upon many souls – champions of unconquerable tribes, tyrant-kings of long-forsaken empires, matriarchs of bloodthirsty sisterhoods. Yet Nagash sought some quality they did not possess.
It was not clever manipulation, base cunning, or well-planned military strategy that earned the armies of the dead so many triumphs during the necroquake – it was shock and terror. The most overwhelming victories had been won through the suddenness of their assaults and the wave of fear that spread before the invasions and hung heavily over all lands through which the spectral hosts passed. Nagash was impressed with the psychological effect of the Nighthaunt armies upon the fragile and superstitious minds of mortals.
In truth, Nagash had forgotten the notion of fear, for it had been ages since he had felt its tremble. Despite his supreme intellect, the Great Necromancer, in his long plans,had allowed his logical mind to strategise without factoring in the emotions of mortals. It was a rare mistake, and one he vowed not to repeat.
In all his travels across the underworlds, Nagash found none like the Veiled Lady. Here was a spectre he had punished many centuries ago with a unique curse. In life she had been Lady Olynder, a beauty famed throughout the empire of Dolorum – the largest of civilisations from the lands known since the Age of Chaos as the Screaming Wastes. She had schemed, plotted and used charm to climb socially, leaving behind a trail of ruined suitors and deaths under mysterious circumstances. So great was her appeal that she wound her way upwards, winning the hearts of nobles and then, eventually, the Dolorum prince himself. Her betrothal to the future king ended on the very night when the prince and his father, the high king, disappeared. In their absence, she became the ruler of Dolorum.
Vowing to mourn her missing prince and king, the young queen took to wearing a veil. Her people called her the Mourning Bride or the Unrequited Queen, and her public display of grief won over even the coldest of hearts. Yet it was all a lie – her shows of remorse were false, her sorrows no more than a ruse. Hidden behind her veil and deceitful sobs, she could not help but smile at her own cleverness.
Elsewhere in the realms the travails of the Age of Chaos had begun turning civilizations into ruin, although Dolorum had thus far been spared. That came to an end when the plague arrived. Soon the queen’s sorrows were for her realm, but again, all her tears were false. She was safe in her palace, and her life a dream, even as all those around her died in the agonized throes of a weeping pox.
Through it all Nagash had watched the empire of Dolorum, for its people had always honoured him. Their dedications had ended with the crowning of the new queen. Even when her lands, cities and throne room were all but empty of life, Lady Olynder felt no real grief, and she attempted to parley with the agents of Nurgle. It was then that Nagash claimed her soul as his own. So did Olynder become the Veiled Lady, a spectre burdened to feel all the miseries of the Mortal Realms and forced to haunt the ruins of Dolorum. After the passing of many centuries, during which Nagash gave not a single thought to her fate, the god was surprised at what he found when he discovered her once more.
The Veiled Lady had again risen to rule over old Dolorum, although it had become a land swarming with wraiths and spectres. During the upheavals of the necroquake, Olynder subjugated the phantasmal denizens that arose there, drawing them closer with her spreading aura of grief. So haunted were the lands that any living being that dared enter them experienced true terror. Yet rule of one underworld could not satisfy her ambition, and the Veiled Lady longed to bring more nations – living and dead alike – beneath her dominion.
Here, at last, was the leader that Nagash was looking for, and so in dark ritual the Great Necromancer granted Lady Olynder a sliver of his own divinity. He knighted her the Mortarch of Grief, and tasked his new lieutenant first with uniting the Nighthaunts,and then leading them as the vanguard of his new crusade.
Reign of terror
Untold spirits were invigorated during the necroquake, blasted forth to wreak havoc on a tide of amethyst magic. Subsequent aftershocks sent out further ripples of phantasmal destruction. The spectral armies spent themselves haphazardly, breaking off into splinters to terrorize many mortals before ultimately disbanding, returning to local sites where there was a rich deposit of death magic.
Yet it was not long there after that the spectres heard a summoning, a siren call that not even the strongest-willed spirit could resist. This was not the imperious summons of Nagash or his harsh lieutenants of old, but a new voice. It was an unholy lamentation, a call that was at once a soulful wail that bemoaned the half-life horrors of a wraith, but also a promise of vengeance – a vow of black-handed revenge upon all who still lived. With all realms still suffused with amethyst magic, the dead stirred once more, though this time not to attack, but to return to Shyish.
At Nagashizzar, it was Lady Olynder who summoned the Nighthaunts. She divided the massed undead into armies and appointed sub-commanders, assigning a Knight of Shrouds to lead each spectral host. As was her wont, all this was conducted in a morbidly ceremonial fashion – in ghostly processions. Not until the next wave of aftershocks emanated from the Shyish Nadir did Lady Olynder unleash her newly assembled forces.
Like the howling of an ill wind, the spectral hosts advanced on a hundred fronts. They would strike first in Shyish, and then move through Realmgates to spread terror across the other realms. The old empire of Lyria was the first to feel the wrath of Lady Olynder’s new Nighthaunt processions. Relentlessly they moved from one target to the next.
A New Way of War
With sudden and terrible swiftness the Nighthaunts attacked. In many locations the horizon turned an eerie greenish-blue – an ominous spectacle caused by the oncoming wave of vengeful spectres. Elsewhere they dove down from night skies, rose from ground mists, or swept straight through protective walls.
In Lyria, upon the Plains of Narth, were sprawled the armies of the eight-armed Chaos warlord Thur. It was beneath his iron fist that several underworlds had been ransacked, and countless souls claimed for the Dark Gods. Now they were encamped on the plains, and only a week’s march from the cairn-city of Glymmsforge. In an attack characteristic of dozens of others across Lyria and hundreds more over the expanse of Shyish, three Nighthaunt processions turned the campsite into a bloodbath.
Bypassing all pickets and guardians, the Nighthaunts emerged from below. Surprise was complete, and in moments all was bedlam as panicking foes routed. A thousand different melees erupted between the bonfires as hordes of chain-wrapped spectres rose up to overrun the hulking Dragon Ogors. Frenzy met its own as Gorechosen clashed with scythe-armed wraiths, neither side willing to take a step backwards in their eagerness to slaughter the other.
So devastating was the Nighthaunts’ assault that the battle was over in moments. But the wraithhosts did not haunt the battlefield. Instead they disappeared, already en route to their next target.
Nighthaunt processions used their ethereal nature to full advantage. Entire armies rose out of the ground to strike without warning, and disappeared just as quickly. In the rare instances when their assaults did not work as planned, their armies simply melted away, sinking into the earth or stepping into eerie mists to disappear entirely.
Those foes who dared to stand against the quick-strike attacks led by the Mortarch of Grief found themselves embroiled in a rapidly moving campaign like no other. They fought against armies that did not need food or rest and that left no physical sign of their passage, leaving foes to speculate where or when the wraiths might arise again.
The Nighthaunts’ targets found themselves ground down, worn out from fighting and chasing phantoms who were not beholden to the same worldly limitations as they. But worse than any physical strain was the psychological onslaught. Even the bravest might tremble before the wail of a Tomb Banshee, or startle at the sudden appearance of the spectres. But there was something more.
Surging like a bow wave before the Nighthaunt processions came an overwhelming sense of fear, dread and foreboding. This was the effect of Lady Olynder, for misery flew about her like wind around the eye of a hurricane. As enemy commanders sought to rally their troops they found even their most stalwart regiments moving more slowly, crushed under the oppressive weight of their own hopelessness.
Many victories followed –during the Siege of Morlaix, Lady Olynder herself destroyed the Lord-Celestant in command of the Stormcast foe. At the Third Battle of Traitor’s Gulch, a procession under Baron Morbosi secured the Calcified Realmgate, and at the Mausoleum Mountains a force of Nighthaunts reclaimed their underworld of old, driving off the Sigmarite interlopers. But not all battles were triumphs.
At Glymmsforge, the Anvils of the Heldenhammer held off the Nighthaunts long enough to allow some of the most hated Stormhosts to once more escape the Great Necromancer’s vengeance.The final battle to reclaim all of Lyria was fought at Ghrun. There, Lord Thur summoned the Bloodthirster Khazkhan, leader of the Helfire Legion. The Chaos forces broke Lady Olynder’s Grimguard and nearly succeeded in destroying the Mortarch. Only the arrival of Arkhan the Black and Nagash himself turned the tide and saw the foe vanquished.
Although pleased with her conquests, Nagash judged Lady Olynder to be overly headstrong. To censure his newest Mortarch, Nagash orchestrated another of his cruel ironies. She who used betrothal only to climb to power was forced into marriage with a would-be king who was every bit as ambitious as she. Nagash deemed the indomitable spectre of Kurdoss Valentian a suitable match. He would provide brute force and tactical advice to complement Olynder’s supernatural might. Yet Kurdoss would never rule. It had been his all-consuming ambition in life to command, though now that he had finally risen to sovereignty, true authority was forever denied to him. Together they would serve Nagash, aiding him in ushering in a new age – the Age of Undeath. The Soul Wars had begun.
- 1 Death Battletome: Nighthaunt.
- 2 Faction Focus: Nighthaunt.