This was once a land of purity and splendour. An ice-clad jewel in the heavens, slowly nurtured into a paradise by beings older than time.
To look upon this world was to witness the hopes of that unknowable race made real. Lush vistas of dense jungle swathed the lands, winged lizards swooped lazily through the multicoloured mists. White-crested mountains soared through gossamer clouds to graze the heavens, their uncharted depths shot through with thick veins of precious metal. Oceans blue as sapphires caressed the lands under endless turquoise skies. Temple-cities thrived across the globe, their reptilian denizens as ordered as cogs in a divinely fashioned machine.
For a while, the world knew harmony.
Then came Chaos.
For the god-beings were all of them deceived. A betrayal made all the more horrific for it came at the hands of one of their most trusted creations and servants, the Keeper of the Ways. Having seen the power wielded by his omnipotent masters for himself, the Keeper began to harbour darkest thoughts of treachery, wanting to taste the power and godly-might for himself. Thoughts of jealousy soon turned to scheming resentment and rage, and the Keeper, entering into an unmentionable pact with a force not of this world, chose his moment carefully to unleash an earth shattering blow against his creators and the paradise they had built.
The Great Cataclysm shook the firmament with such force its echoes still pervade, and always will. All semblance of tranquillity was blasted away in an instant. A screaming gale of raw magic enveloped the lands and the beasts that dwelt within. It remade them into forms disturbing and unclean, shaping them like clay in the hands of a demented artist.
Where once was beauty there is now a vision of insanity. The crumbling faces of ancient kings, hewn from granite cliffs in aeons past, speak backwards untruths devised purely to riddle a man to madness. Endless forests of gnarled and sentient trees grab and strangle those that stray too close, their eaves hung with throttled corpses. Towering citadels of bone and sinew burst upwards from the ground at the command of cackling mages. The parched lands crack and split to reveal mass graves, moaning faces, hissing lava. Monstrous terrors prowl the wilderness in search of fresh meat. Nowhere is safe.
Upon this precarious foundation are built the sprawling nations of the world. The kingdoms of mankind are triumphs of hope over constant adversity, their bustling fortress-cities breathtaking in size and accomplishment. And yet there can be no peace. The corrupting taint of Chaos yields discord as a field yields crop, and there are always warlords willing to reap its bloody harvest.
Ever onwards come the barbaric and murderous tribes of the wilds, flowing together into an immense horde that blackens the lands. The electric promise of conquest crackles in the air. Hell-spawned fiends boil out from the night, desperate to enslave and destroy. Roaring behemoths lumber out of their lairs, evil warlocks summon searing conflagrations of raw magic that turn entire battalions to ash.
And in this time of great strife, the Keeper, know referred to in terror as ‘The Great Deceiver’, revelled in the suffering his stolen knowledge could reap amongst the beings in which he held such disdain and hatred. His murderous depredations knew no bounds, and all were swept in a bloody tide as playthings before him.
Yet one man dared to stand against him. Sigmar, a young and mighty warlord, led an army of his newly united tribesmen aided by a warhost of his allies the dwarves, against the Deceiver. The battle was fierce and bloody, but after a bitter struggle Sigmar smote the Deceiver asunder with his powerful warhammer, Ghalmaraz. But even the god-Emperor of mankind could only defeat, and not destroy, and the Deceiver’s dread essence sank deep into the dark places of the world, plotting his vengeful return against the people of Sigmar.
Centuries passed, until once again a murderous Chaos host swept from the northlands bringing the lands of men close to the brink of destruction in what has become known as the Great War Against Chaos. With the Empire already weakend and in disarray from centuries of civil war it took a strong willed leader, Magnus the Pious, to begin to unite the lands of mankind against the tide of hellish destruction flowing from the north as his ancestor Sigmar had done centuries before.
And it was at this moment of Sigmar’s Empire’s greatest need that the Deceiver chose to strike. His incorporeal essence had been gathering power, enabling him to exert his dread influence and dark wishes upon the power hungry and corruptible members of Imperial high society. His agents lured the young Magnus into a fiendish trap where he was captured and subjected to horrific tortures. The Deceiver’s spirit roared with joy as Sigmar’s lands were doomed to destruction.
Yet this was not to be.
For a retired Templar of the Ulrican faith had been sent portents and visions of warning by his god. His disturbing dreams were filled with a sea of blood washing across the lands of men, snuffing out a burning flame that held back a boiling darkness from the north. And all the while an armoured figure strode across the lands, slaughtering and destroying at whim, booming with a laughter that echoed with the snapping of bones and tearing of flesh. Realising that the flame burned in Nuln, and that it must surely symbolise the idealistic young noble Magnus who sought to end the civil war, the ageing warrior set to action. He gathered many of his comrades of old and made haste for the distant city.
And it was they who arrived in time to defeat the Deceiver’s agents and rescue the future saviour of the Empire.
Realising the magnitude of what was at stake, Magnus and the Templar decided upon a dangerous course of action. The Deceiver and his undead minions sat like a cankerous wound, and although his plan to assassinate Magnus had been foiled he still posed a dire threat to Imperial lands. But to divert Imperial forces against the Deceiver would jeopardise the escalating war effort in the north. So the Templar and his allied band volunteered to take the fight to the Deceiver in his ancient fortress and assault him there before his power could grow any further, whilst Magnus would lead the Imperial armies north to drive back the barbarian horde.
The Templar and his party fought their way through uncountable horrors until they stood before the black foreboding walls of the Deceiver’s fortress high amidst the peaks of the uncaring mountains. Many of the party had met a bloody fate or been driven insane by the unnatural abominations they had fought, and those who had survived were bloodied, battered and weary. Yet the elderly Templar roused their fighting resolve with a fiery speech, reminding them that the fate of the Empire was in their hands. And so the determined band threw themselves once again against the undead fiends guarding the gates and forced their way in to confront the devil himself. Among the survivors that followed the Templar into the Deceiver’s stronghold were many of his oldest friends and allies. The ageing, but still ferocious, Lord Wulfric Ragnarsson, whom had recently handed control of his lands in Nordland to his firstborn son, Augnarr. Angelika Heinz, a rugged bounty hunter, hardened from a life spent in the Badlands. Angus McCloud, a dwarven Longbeard famous for his black moods and black-steel blades. Kandras, an elven mage of great power, skilled in animal mastery, his many scars and disfigured ears a clear reminder of his years fighting against the minions of Chaos at the Templar’s side. Jurgen Baumfledge, a woodsman and archer of unmatched skill. Sophia Chenkov, a former whore, turned agent, for the Tsars of frozen Kislev. Genevieve Dieudonne, a vampire of the Lahmian caste, an unlikely yet deadly ally who had been masquerading as a tavern wench in Altdorf when her path first crossed with the Templar. And Hillbury Stillburg, a Halfling apothecary skilled in herb-lore and specialising in plant extracts of a less innocent nature.
Deeper into the horrors of that vile, loathsome place they fought, losing old friends and loved acquaintences to every fiendish trap and abhorrent creature they encountered. Jurgen was mercilessly crushed by a swinging weight, the trigger for which was tied to a skeletal fiend that the woodsman knocked from its feet with a deftly placed arrow. His cries of anguish rang through the dread halls while his companions looked on helplessly as his life blood spilled from his shattered pelvis and tattered ribs. Sophia was driven to madness and plunged one of her own stiletto knives into her eyes and heart, after a diabolical encounter forced her to confront the ghostly, tortured families of those men and women she had seduced and killed in the name of the Tsar before their loved ones were rounded up by the Chekists for interrogation.
Wulfric sold his life valiantly, confronting a bone horror of monstrous size and ferocity. He fought the abomination single handedly, so as to buy time for the others to press further into the grave citadel. The beast was destroyed, but the ageing warrior’s wounds were many. He knelt in prayer, sword hilt pressed to forehead and family crest pressed to heart, as his life ebbed away.
It was during this fight and flight through the labyrinthine bowels of the castle that Hilburry became separated from the others and chanced upon the cavernous kitchens and corpse littered feasting hall. After narrowly avoiding disembowlment by kitchen knives animated by dark magics, his attention was drawn to an insignificant looking book that appeared at first glance to contain recipes of an exotic nature.
His nerves now at breaking point, Hillbury pocketed the book and went in search of the others.
But his discovery of Wulfric’s bloody corpse was too much for him and with a shriek he turned about and made to flee. But before Hillbury could escape, Wulfric summoned all of his fading strength and grabbed the Halfling, and through bloodied teeth, made Hillbury swear to deliver his family crest to his son Augnarr.
Utterly desperate to be away from that abhorrent place, the terrified and sobbing Hillbury swore on his life that he would deliver the mark of Ragnarsson to its rightful heir. Wulfric, his strength dwindling by the second, pressed the heavy pendant into the halfling’s clammy hand before collapsing heavily to the chamber floor. Panicking, Hillbury snatched at the mailed fist that still gripped his cloak, pulling himself free, and ran shrieking from the fortress, never to return.
At last the remaining few found themselves within the Deceiver’s inner sanctum, a strangely opulent suite of rooms, decorated with a grotesquely baroque splendour. One entire wall shimmered with ethereal energy, displaying a panorama of dark forests and rivers below, as though it were some strange looking glass into the lands of men from where the Deceiver could spy upon his enemies and scheme upon their fate. Though brave and steeled with righteous resolve, the surviving group were broken and bloodied, their bodies exhausted and their minds frayed and near to madness. But before any respite could be had, they were assaulted by the monster himself, a wickedly armoured behemoth, his face hidden behind a daemonic mask of steel. The villain’s power was immense, and the Templar and his allies were put to flight as the murderous foe smashed spines and tore limbs until the very walls and floors ran slick with gore. All the while the Deceiver chided his prey, gloating at how easily they had fallen into his trap, playing their part in his grand scheme. Amid this tirade, he laughed mockingly that the degenerate halfling had “abandoned his noble friends, taking with him their only salvation in order that he fill his own belly”.
The Templar rallied the remaining few in an antechamber and barricaded the great doors shut. There he called upon the sorcerer Kandras to open a portal through which they could contact Hillbury to demand that he return with the ‘recipe’ book that he had stolen as it was the only key to their salvation and the Deceiver’s destruction. But either through sheer exhaustion, or magical intervention, the spell failed, and the message was instead sent to one of Hillbury’s descendants, Talin Fief, some two hundred years later. And as the Templar tried to relay his message, the Deceiver broke through their hasty fortification, and smote the Templar a shuddering blow, sending one of his battered ornate pauldrons spinning through the magical vortex just as the portal closed.
With a ferocious roar, the dwarf McCloud threw himself at the armoured fiend, his blade cutting a deadly arc. But the Deceiver caught him by the throat mid flight, and with his free hand effortlessly tore the dwarf’s arm from his body before casually tossing McCloud’s unconscious form against a nearby pillar which cracked with the force of the impact.
Angelika’s barbed whip lashed out, gouging great scars across the Deceiver’s body which bled with a dark, smouldering fluid. But the dread being wrapped one powerful arm around the deadly thong and pulled the unbalanced bounty hunter towards him. His gauntleted fist exploded from her back in a shower of organs and spinal column, her scream cut short as the air was torn from her lungs.
The air crackled and hissed as Kandras shouted aloud words of immense power, their syllables forming as shock waves of magical energy that battered and hammered at the foe, knocking the Deceiver to the ground and tearing away yet more chunks of armour. The elven mage’s eyes bled as he shouted forth an incantation so powerful that it could instantly banish daemons of the greater plains back to their hellish domain. But the Deceiver simply laughed as he regained his feet. “Your words may prove troublesome to such undisciplined amateurs as Khorne and Tzeentch, but they are as nothing to me”. And so saying he raised a gauntled fist, palm outstretched towards the elf, and with a sickening tearing sound, Kandras’ skin flayed from his body, spraying his life fluid all around as his newly exposed muscles began to boil and melt, until nothing was left but a bubbling pool of offal and blood.
Silence descended upon the room , broken only by the disturbing hiss of the immolated elf’s remains. The Templar, badly wounded from the Deceiver’s earlier blow, hauled himself to his feet with his mighty warhammer. The vampire Genevieve, stood to his side, unsure of what to do now that she had witnessed the grisly fate of those that she had called her friends. The Deceiver slowly turned towards them, blood dripping from his cruelly spiked armour.
“So you have come to kill the monster?” he boomed mockingly, his rich baritone voice bizarrely at odds with his malevolent appearance. Piercing blue eyes blazed from behind his daemonic faceplate. “A Priest of Nothing, disciple of a god too cowardly to take an Empire for himself? And a poor Dead Thing without the sense to lie in her grave and rot? In whose name do you dare such an endeavour?”
…to be continued…