A Stormkeep is a vast, heavily ornamented fortress that not only defends Sigmar's most vital holdings, but sends a powerful message of dominance to those who see them -- no matter what came before, they proclaim, this is now the sovereign domain of the God-King of Azyr.
The Realmgate Heart
All Stormkeeps are built around Realmgates, for Sigmar prizes these portals highly, knowing that without them his armies could make no headway in the war against his foes. Because of this, some Stormkeeps are found in truly inhospitable places, where there are still Realmgates unsullied by the energies of Chaos. Some are built in the desert or upon the open plain, with no source of water or natural defence for hundreds of miles around. Yet the engineers and architects loyal to Sigmar are as tenacious as they are inventive, and they know well that ultimate victory is contingent upon their success. Whether by artifice, engineering or sheer force of will, the challenges presented by each Realmgate are overcome.
The Stormkeep must then be fortified with battlements to stop besiegers that would see such works cast down. Just as importantly, the Realmgate itself must be reinforced with arcane wards and heavy gates to prevent invaders coming through to attack the keep from the inside.
As well as being used to transport war materiel, and giving passage to everything from solo messengers to vast armoured phalanxes, the Realmgate portal at the heart of each Stormkeep is a vital source of trade. Places once inimical to life can only be made habitable with a steady influx of food, water and supplies. Realmgates are also critical for ensuring the flow of information. The Swifthawk Agents, in their role as the messengers and emissaries of the free cities, make frequent use of these portals.
Anyone travelling through a Realmgate risks their life each time, for even a stable Realmgate can be unpredictable. Though these portals have been studied extensively, their workings are still barely understood. Those who make their way through them do so at their own risk, but they go nonetheless, with faith as their primary defence.
The First Stormkeeps
Early in the war for the Realmgates, Sigmar had his Stormcast Eternals strike specific portal sites with sudden and shocking force. The first brotherhoods to attack formed beachheads that were then permanently manned by the Stormhosts that had shed the most blood to claim them. In time, the leaders of the chosen hosts were each given a stone plaque known as a Celestine Writ, its words blasted into being by Sigmar’s lightning. Accepting this holy artefact is an oath of sorts, for it grants Sigmar leave to take that Realmgate and its surroundings as his own domain, on the condition that it will never fall whilst even one member of that Stormhost is still alive.
The first days were the most difficult. The element of surprise was a key facet of the Stormhosts’ early success, but soon enough, they found themselves assailed time and time again by the forces they had formerly hurled back. The Lord-Castellants oversaw these sites, their defences reinforced with shield walls of Liberators and bolstered by lines of eagle-eyed Judicators that together formed a living fortification of sigmarite and celestial power. Where the forces of darkness struck back, invigorated by the prospect of war against a new breed of foe, these small nexuses of resistance fought with every iota of their strength to hurl back their attackers. In almost all cases they were successful, but hundreds of thousands of Stormcast Eternals were slain in the process. Though it took days or even weeks for reinforcements to arrive in some places, these standing armies were bolstered by warrior hosts from Azyr– and along with them came a great many masons, artisans and strong-limbed work teams from Azyrheim.
It was not only men that laboured to lay the first foundations of the Stormkeeps, but throngs of Dispossessed as well, and even small cliques of aelves skilled in the arts of creation. The duardin found they were in their element, hewing, quarrying and dressing stone as they put every iota of their inventiveness and skill to the business of raising fortifications around the defences of the newly claimed Realmgates.
The humans toiled endlessly, able to adapt with impressive speed to the rigours of the strange new habitats they would come to call home. The aelves aided the Lord-Castellants and their Lord-Relictor advisors in the magical defences of each Stormkeep, for they had to stand strong against daemons and evil spirits, as well as enemies of flesh and blood. Soon enough, as worker-songs in the deep bass of the duardin tongue mingled with aelven creation chants and the percussion of human hammers, chisels and mattocks, the first Stormkeeps took shape.
Stone upon Stone
Usually, the first defences built around a claimed Realmgate are simple keeps and curtain walls, but over time they become increasingly elaborate. The walls are reinforced with towering buttresses and cannon nests built along crenellated ramparts to the exacting specifications of the Ironweld Arsenal. Moats are dug deep, rivers rerouted, and reservoirs and rain-gathering sluice networks are established in those lands too dry to sustain a swiftly growing population.
As each concentric ring of fortifications is completed around the original site, another will already be underway. With the enemies of Sigmar battering hard at the gates of each nascent city– being repelled by the smallest of margins in many places, and overcoming others entirely –those within work on the premise that there is no such thing as having too many defences. Higher and higher go the fortifications, one level built atop another. The original walls– built strong and stout enough to last for centuries –form the foundations for ironoak joist lattices and vault-supported mosaic flooring.
The Lord-Celestants of the Stormhosts commission vast statues of the heroes that liberated the Realmgate and of those that have fought since those first desperate days, commemorating the sacrifice made by these key figures. Some statues are enchanted, able to breathe lightning from cold stone mouths or drop enormous hammers should a would-be besieger pass within reach. In every Stormkeep, new developments and innovations grow, their form dictated by military function as much as aesthetic style. Archery batteries, spiral staircases, star-fort walls, cloud-piercing spires, gilded minarets, spy-towers, overseer colonnades, balustrades, boulevards and promenades take shape. And so the Stormkeeps grow ever greater.
The limits of each Stormkeep’s aegis are extended slowly but steadily as the Azyrite hosts bolster their defences. The lands themselves, often tainted by the energies of Chaos, are cleansed by processions of chanting Devoted. Long lateral lines of Flagellants whip their own backs as they march out from each Stormkeep, so that their blood– given in faith –can purify the lands. Those sites too corrupted to be saved by this method are attended to by the new city’s battle mages or, failing that, the elementalists of the Eldritch Council. Eventually, the lands are tamed around each settlement, and the boundaries of the Stormkeep expanded.
As each fortress grows stronger, ever more Stormcast Eternals are despatched to take up residence in its halls, temples and meditation vaults. The leaders of each host look to the skies from scryer-arenas, observatoriums and cells open to the sky, reading the celestial portents and even astrally projecting their souls to divine the optimum deployment of troops and defences. Frescoes and mosaics depicting the liberation of the lands are lit brightly by lightning globes, for the realms have languished too long in darkness, and tales of their emancipation should be spread far.
With the aid of their skilled Dispossessed allies, Lord-Castellants fit the Stormkeeps with colossal orreries with which to delve deeper into the secrets of the stars. They cause great fires of celestial flame to burn eternally atop the highest towers so that Sigmar might see their fortresses standing tall from High Azyr. These celestial braziers, many of which burn with twin tongues of fire to mimic Sigmar’s divine sigil, inspire hope in the people of the cities below– but they also remind them that the God-King’s warriors are always watching, stern and uncompromising.
Each established Stormkeep has become a centre of learning and study as well as a military base. Archives of lore are assembled painstakingly from scholarly collections imported from Azyr, and combined with soot-blackened tomes and cartographical texts recovered from the old cities burnt to the ground by the forces of Chaos. Gradually, new texts are penned, vast teams of scriptors and calligraphists committing to parchment the histories of the free cities. In the most civilised regions, the scribes and artists of the new order have found ways of replicating inspiring texts and images via cog-wheeled printing presses, intaglio, etchings made with sulphur-vitriol, or simply the fine art of painstaking quillmanship.
So vast have these archives become that the Stormcast Eternals based in each keep are able to continue the fight against Chaos even when not in the field, studying histories and maps for local knowledge that could help tip the balance in the fight against the dark power.
By working alongside the Lord-Arcanums and Knights-Incantor of their Sacrosanct Chambers, the Lord-Ordinators have created vast crackling batteries of celestial power that form a metaphysical link between a Stormkeep and the underspires of the Sigmarabulum. These spirit links, known as Star Bridges, speed the Stormcast Eternals back to Azyr when they are slain, ensuring swift and safe passage so they might be reforged all the quicker. A Stormcast Eternal that dies in battle near their keep will often return to active service in a matter of days, possibly taking up arms to rejoin the same battle or siege that saw them slain.
These cosmic links are maintained by the same celestial soul-force as that produced when a Stormcast Eternal discorporates. These aetheric links can only be sustained at full strength by the dissolution of souls– a resource that the Sacrosanct Chamber is well-placed to provide, for they are experts at capturing errant spirits. Some Stormcast Eternals, who in the course of war have committed acts they believe to be beyond redemption, willingly contribute their final energies to power the Star Bridges. They are blasted to nothingness, their soul-stuff used to keep the Star Bridge bright. In return, their names are etched into the Annals Tempestus that line the walls of each Lord-Arcanum’s sanctum, their sins forgiven.
There are some amongst the Stormkeeps that have already become legendary amongst the people of Sigmar’s realm. First to be founded was Fort Ignis, the Stormkeep nearest the site of Vandus Hammerhand’s victory over Khorgos Khul upon the Brimstone Peninsula. Though that keep, surrounded by a moat of ever-burning flame, is impressive indeed, it was soon surpassed in size and scale. As the hosts of Azyr pressed onward to claim new ground and found new Stormkeeps, they learned more of the realms they sought to tame, and became ever more ambitious in their constructions. Amongst the most well-known is the Perspicarium, which watches from a high pillar of rock over the Stormrift Realmgate at the heart of Hammerhal Aqsha. A stronghold of the Hammers of Sigmar, this fortress dispatches its armed hosts every day.
The Consecralium, fortress of the Knights Excelsior, is terrifying to behold, its black iron battlements crowned with raging storms. Separated from the city of Excelsis by a long narrow bridge, the Stormkeep looms like an executioner’s axe above the skyline. Crossing that bridge is a trial in itself, and those who enter with even a slight stain upon their honour rarely come back out.
The Black Nexus, Stormkeep of Anvilgard, is a dark place of ill aspect, but through the ceaseless warmongering of its warriors, the lands have been scoured of evil for a hundred miles around. The Celestrine Cathedral in Hallowheart is so redolent with the faith of the Hallowed Knights that it shines like a beacon to those with the witchsight; word has it that pilgrim souls who walk through its inner gates are purified by the act, even if it burns away a part of their core essence. Oakenspire, at the heart of Ghyran's Living City, is made of ironoak and fossilised timber, and is crowned with golden flowers, a riot of green foliage, autumnal leaves or cruel black thorns depending on the season.
As more regions are claimed by Sigmar’s faithful, more Stormkeeps are built, consolidating the God-King’s hard-won holdings with each brick and stone.
Not all Stormkeeps have survived the endless onslaught of Chaos, the savagery of the bestial hordes and the coming of the Shyish necroquake. The valiant survivors of ill-fated Celsorium were frozen to death when the Everwinter of a vast ogor tribe rolled over the city, and the spiralling Tower of Ravenstar was pulled down from within when its thrice-reforged Lord-Castellant showed too much contempt for the common people he had once fought so hard to save. The vast majority, however, remain intact. Wherever the walls of a Stormkeep are battered by war and its edifices pulled down, wherever enemies rise from within or insidious foes tunnel under the walls to strike at the stronghold’s heart, there are the Stormcast Eternals and their allies, ready to hold the line. Should a Stormkeep suffer damage during a siege, mortal hands are eager to rebuild those fallen structures, putting up scaffolds, winches and superstructures to remake the proud facades of these towering fortresses. The Free Peoples are well used to rebuilding; their entire reason for leaving the safety and grandeur of Azyr has been to remake that which Chaos has cast down.
And yet, though these mighty Stormkeeps glow with celestial power, they too cast long shadows. Those who dwell in the cities around them look upon these impossible citadels in awe, fear, and even bitterness– for those who live meagre existences on the fringe of greatness do not look kindly on the towers and spires of those more fortunate than themselves, even if that fortune is fairly earned. Such is the price of majesty– for, in contrast, the underbelly of society grows all the darker, and evil thrives wherever men’s hearts fester. Small wonder, perhaps, that the Stormcast Eternals have lately taken such stringent measures in controlling this unrest and removing– sometimes by lethal force –those that would do the fabric of their society harm. However, it is said amongst the Reclaimed– the people brought from the wilds into a city of Order –that the more restrictive a cage becomes, the more likely it is that those trapped inside will seek to break it.