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The year is 1113iy. The Old World has been held in the paralyzing grip of the Black Plague for two long years. The realm of Man is in turmoil – in the Empire, Boris Goldgather reigns in an era of terror and corruption – Brettonia is caught off guard by the spreading plague, their knights away in the mountains fighting errantry wars against the Orks.
As the Old World sinks further and further into anarchy, evil closes in on her borders like pariahs to a sputtering flame. Necromancers and Vampires ply their dark arts, raising puppet armies from the mass graves of the plague’s victims, marching them against the drastically depleted armies of the Empire and making vast territorial gains. The Dwarfs, stretched thin from honoring their blood-oath to protect their Imperial allies, are spread thin and orc and goblin tribes rise up in several mountain strongholds, capturing passes and flooding into the civilized west.
Tribes from the North begin to press upon the borders of Kislev, catching the followers of the Ice Queen between the hammer of Chaos, and the anvil of the southern plagues. Reinforcing their twisted followers, Daemons are drawn to the agony and suffering that is rife across the old world. Khorne revels in the anarchic bloodshed, Nurgle and Tzeentch walk among the hopeless, instilling gifts or visions of a better life in their sway. Only Slaanesh turns his gaze away from the foul and vile husk of mankind, but he is not idle.
Across the sea, the High Elves wage a secret war within their cities and courts, ferreting out the depraved members of the ‘Cult of Pleasure,’ before these terrorists can lay open the gates of Ulthuan to their Dark Elf kin.
And throughout this era of sickness and despair, the Skaven are ever-present. Lurking below every major city across the entire world, it was they who spread the first seeds of plague into the lands above. Now they rise up in their tens of thousands, across the Old World and Lustria, spreading disease and chaos before them.
And it is into this hellish landscape that heroes will be born, and legends carved into the granite of history with the tip of a bloodied sword.
Marius Kelner stared down from the top of Geselheim watchtower. The road below was in chaos - Kislevite refugees fleeing south, from encroaching Chaos hordes, had met with Imperial citizens fleeing north, away from the Iron Gobs tribe of orcs who had broken into Ostermark and now into the northern reaches of Talabheim. Everywhere, ox-carts entangled themselves with horse-drawn carriages, men scrapped and fought over the right to travel the high ground of the road, and wailing mothers searched for children lost among the confusion.
Marius was in awe - there was so much confusion, so many people choking the roads, each fleeing towards a foe they felt could only be the lesser of two evils. He stood atop the tower, mouth agape, until a young militiaman tugged at his sleeve. Marius saw that the boy could barely be older than twelve summers, but as one of the few males in Talabheim fit enough to wield a weapon, he had been pressed into the ill-fitting uniform of the Red-and-White.
"Mister Kenler - the sergeant would like you to meet him below"
Marius nodded, and reluctantly turned from the scene below, following the youth down the staircase into the interior of the tower. Torchfires sputtered half-heartedly against the winter chill, and Marius shivered in his uniform.
Sergeant Faussus was lying on his cot, his face blotched and stained with sores and buboes. The plague had claimed him, he was a doomed man, but the army could not spare to let any man - even one dying in agony - to leave his post.
"Marius," the sergeant began, his bloodshot eyes gazing sightlessly towards the duo, "what is this commotion I hear at the gates?"
"Refugees sir, Empire citizens are fleeing north, Kislevites are fleeing south. They've met at the base of the tower," Marius replied.
"Refugees?" the sergeant coughed, thick black bile spattered the floor around the bed, Marius and the youth unconsciously stepped far back, lest they too be stricken with the contagion, "Refugees? If they are fleeing north and south at once, then truly we are besieged at all sides. I'm dying Marius - take what soldiers you can, and bring order to this chaos," the sergeant was wracked with another coughing fit, before collapsing back onto the bed and waving Marius and the youth away.
Marius looked at the boy - "What soldiers? We're the only two guards left at this tower. How does he expect us to -" but the boy was already pulling on his leather jerkin and grabbing his equipment. Marius followed suit, if he was in charge now, he had to lead by example. Together, the two of them headed into the maelstrom at the base of the tower.
Marius could barely open the door - the people clogging the road had swarmed, and piled up around the tower, each demanding that the guards officiate the masses, and allow their respective side to pass on unhindered.
"Citizens! Refugees!" Marius began, shouting from atop the stairs, the press of bodies barely clearing enough to give him standing room, "Please, form orderly lines, on either side of the..."
Marius was cut off by a wash of curses, demands, and pleas. His voice was drowned by the clamor of the masses at the foot of the tower.
"Citizens! I... I... I demand order! Be silent, and do as I command. I am in command of this watch tower!" the crowd began to become a mob. Loose gravel and hunks of ice from the roadside began pelting the two Talabheim soldiers. Marius retreated back towards the door, prepared to seal himself away from the increasingly violent mob.
Suddenly, a shot rang out in the clear winter sky. The crowd fell instantly silent. Marius saw the youth standing on the second stair of the tower, his face set with grim resolve. His young voice shouted over the crowd as he reloaded his pistol.
"That was a warning shot. The next one won't miss. There is no refuge here, in Geselheim, or in the lands to the north. Everyone is to move in an orderly line back towards the town. Kislevites, you will find what food we can spare you, but we advise that you make camp outside the village and then move on."
The crowds began milling about, reluctantly turning to face the town. Some of them, however, were not about to take orders from a mere boy.
"Why should we consign ourselves to die at the hands of the Orcs? They are marching on Geselheim even now, we've all heard the rumors and seen the smoke from Tabasien to the east. You cannot conscript us into your militia, we stand no chance in a battle or a siege!"
Marius moved down the stairs, resolute now, after the boy's example. "You'll hold your tongue, and make your way back to the town now, citizen" he shouted.
"Or what?" the man threatened, and Marius saw that he raised a heavy cudgel above his head. Before he could bring the weapon down to strike Marius, a second shot rang out, and blood blossomed across his smock. The man teetered, and fell.
"Any more objections?" the youth shouted from the stairs of the watchtower, pistol smoke mingling with his steaming breath. "Move, all of you"...
Captain Garren followed the sentries deeper into the Elven fortress. His vessel had arrived in the port city of Lothern - the largest port in Ulthuan - with barely a quarter of the crew who had begun the voyage. By the time they had been able to convince the Elven court to hear them, over half of those men had died in the cold-walled infirmaries of the Elf city. "Only one in six men now" Garren whispered within his head, "not even a large enough crew to make it back. The Emperor won't know of the response to his plea until Fey stand upon his shores, or he breathes his last."
The Elves were quiet, emotionless and alien. Garren felt as though he hadn't been reasoning with the Elves, so much as the Elves had reasoned amongst themselves to let him this far. An audience with their king. Garren had only heard tales of the realm of the Elves, their far off distant homeland in the West. Merchants returning to Marienburg had brought tales of their alabaster towers, their sharp-edged mountains, and those almond, black eyes which could stare through a man's soul. Garren had never imagined this place. Everywhere, their kingdom was in decline. Even where Lothern should have been a bustling port city, vines climbed the facades of empty buildings, and although there was no decay to be found, it was as if an entire civilization had simply vanished, leaving only the empty husks of their homes as testament to their existence. Would the Empire disappear in the same way? Garren doubted it. Even before he left, the people were dying faster than survivors could bury them. No- there would be bodies, rotting and corpulent, fat with corpse-gasses, and eventually gleaming bones. That would be the testament left by Man. The end of their world would be an ugly one, devoid of such melancholy beauty as that which heralded the Elves' slow passing away.
Garren finally arrived at the throne room of the Phoenix King. The elves who had led him this far moved away, the impossibly long blades of their swords resting against their backs. Two new fey, with high, winged helmets, led him the last few steps into the room, to stand before their king. Garren bowed low, but the two elves silently forced him to his knees. He marveled at their strength - belied by their slight figures and pale flesh. The cold of the marble floor bit into his sea-weary bones.
"What has brought you to our halls, Man?" the Elf's voice was commanding, but soft, and he spoke with a measured pace.
"I bring a plea from the Empire. I beg of you to - " the Phoenix King cut garren off, holding up slim-fingered hand.
"I understand. But why do you think that we should help you? Do you think we would not march to your cause if there were not wolves at our own doorstep?"
Garren's eyes fell to the floor. He was only a simple sea-captain, one of the few with an able enough crew to make this suicidal journey. He didn't understand this elf, his courtly ways, his pride. The Elf continued on,
"We have been watching the world in these dark hours. The Knowing Ones in the West, that you call 'The New World', even they are at war. The 'Old World', so fitting a name for such a decaying land, is drowning in the bile of it's own sickness, and everywhere, Chaos and Devastation reign. These are dark hours indeed. But our foes have contrived to bring an end to Order and Light - your allies the Dwarfs are overrun by Chaos above, and by the Rat and the Goblin below. We are no different - our misguided darkling kin have redoubled their raids against our coasts, keeping our warriors at their posts, and we cannot spare even a soul to save your kin."
Garren's eyes burned, he could feel his heart in his throat. He had sailed so far, seen so many men die in fevered sickness aboard his vessel, and now his plea - on behalf of all mankind - was being refused. And Garren didn't even have the men left alive to return to his sovereign Empire, to die with his race. He would be held here, with the Elves, watching for the rest of his life as they barely aged, barely died, but watching them dissappear all the same. In his world, the entire fabric of reality was coming undone, madness and death writ large across the country. Here, the same story would play in front of him like a dream - this world would die also, but die slowly, and quietly, like an old man in bed. Sorrow was replaced with Resolution, Pain by Anger, and Garren's Tears were drowned instead with Words...
"Listen Elf. We are all beset. Wolves howl at your doorstep, but in my realm, they stalk within the halls. We have no armies to repel our attackers. We've pressed every able-bodied human into service. If they can lift a weapon, they fight. Our old, our young, the women and children. Your race may be content to die here slowly, under siege, but our race will not go so quietly. There's still a fire of hope, a will to survive, burning within our hearts. Your empire is cold, already so much like a corpse. I haven't the crew to return to my home. You can have your guards kill me where I stand, I have nothing to go home to. Before I was even under full sail a clipper-ship carried news that my home in Geselheim was reduced to mere burn-mark upon the countryside. My family dragged from their homes and sacrificed to some insane gods, or torn asunder by Orcs. This is the world you hide from. Madness, darkness. And yet you won't fight. What will happen when Man is gone? Do you think they won't come for you? Do you?!"
Garren was lifted from his feet by the winged-helmet guards, and behind him he could hear longswords being drawn out. Once again though, the king raised his hand.
"No. Do not kill him. Give him a meal, give he and his crew shelter while they're here. But get this Man from my sight. I have heard enough"
Outside the palace, Garren howled with rage, and loss. The sound didn't echoe - it simply flew away into the uncaring darkness of the night sky. Inside the palace, the Phoenix King dismissed his retainers and sat alone in the empty hall, and for the first time in a century, he wept.
Lozgrub stared down into the gorge below him. The pass was narrow, a single cobble-stone trail wound through the length of it. Squinting, Lozgrub could see far enough into the smoke and gloom to spot the trail's ending - a pair of doubled doors, reinforced behind an iron cage, set into a stockily built stone wall. Shifting his focus back to the ground between himself and the frustrating gate, Lozgrub could see the bodies of his Boyz carpeting the dew and blood-slicked grass.
Lozgrub sat down on a small pile of goblin corpses, and put his iron-hued chin into his fist. This was gunna be a tuff'un. The 'umies and stunties had put two cannons into the facade of the pass's guardhouse. Any time Lozgrub sent an attack down the narrow pass, the cannons would have a clear shooting gallery filled with packed ranks of greenskins. Although the carnage wrought by the heavy leaden projectiles tearing through the mobs of greenskins was initially quite entertaining to Lozgrub, he realized that if he didn't figure out how to silence the guns soon, he was going to run out of ... kannin-fodda. Lozgrub chuckled at his own joke, glancing at the rabble horde skulking in the sparse cover behind him.
"Grizzit. Come 'ere!" the Black Orc bellowed into the mob.
There was an immediate shuffling, a parting of tiny bodies, and out of a goblin mob was thrust a confused and aprehensive 'Champun,' Grizzit. Grizzit's mob had been in the lead of the column when they first rounded the bend, and thus they were the first to "discover" the cannon-armed mini-fort. Not a problem, that's why goblins always went in the front - the found the nasties before anyone important did. But Grizzit's mob panicked, fled, and tied up the entire tribe behind them, costing Lozgrub more than a few good ladz.
"Yeah boss?" the goblin squeaked sheepishly.
"Come'ere I said! I gotsa job for ya. A really important one - an' after that trick you did goin' around the corner, I think ya better agree yeah?"
Grizzit toed a pebble and nodded, never looking the warboss directly in the eye, "what job is Grizzit gonna 'ave to do? Not feed da Squigs again right?"
"Har har, na - this job's a lot easier Grizzit. Come'ere dernit!"
The goblin shuffled over. Before the smaller greenskin could react, Lozgrub grabbed him by the lumpen cranium and lobbed him towards the fort. "Tell me wat you sees!"
Grizzit sailed through the smokey air and landed on the cooling body of a dead orc. He rolled, came up with a mouthful of dirt, and careened into another corpse. The tiny goblin took shelter in the armpit of one of Lozgrub's fallen Black-Orc bodyguard. Squinting through the gloom, he couldn't even see his warboss anymore. The weedy goblin contemplated slinking off, before he remembered that the gloom was also hiding the sheer cliff-faces that marked out the edges of the pass. He'd have to go back to Boss...
Lozgrub heard a few gunshots and sighed, "Farnit! Come'ere, I gotsa job for ya!" he shouted into the mass of goblins. There was another bout of scrapping and shoving, and suddenly another unfortunate goblin was produced. Whether it was Farnit or not, Lozgrub didn't much care. He hefted the runt by his skull and looked him in the beady, yellowed eyes - "Ya 'eard wut I told Grizzit? Come back, an tell me whats you seed. Got it?"
Lozgrub cocked his arm back and prepared to toss the tiny green missile, when something crashed into his knee. Looking down, he saw Grizzit, clinging to him and shaking like a small dog. "Boss. Boss. I came-a-back. I sees the 'umies. They shot at me, an'... an'... I sees the 'umies!"
Completely forgetting Farnutz or Fuzzrot or whoever, Luzgrob dropped the goblin and replaced the suspended greenskin with Grizzit.
"Wut wuz the 'umies doing?"
Grizzit looked around sheepishly in Luzgrob's meaty fist, "They wuz, shoveling," the goblin's ears sank back against his skull. "They wuz shoveling Orcses away from the fort! Silly 'umies."
Luzgob had finally realized how to silence the guns. The bodies were piling up against fortress walls, covering over the gunports. The 'umies had to shovel da dead boyz away from the fronts of the guns so they could shoot.
"Right 'ere boss, in yer hand... still."
Luzgrob looked down, and realized he had forgotten about the goblin, and was nearly crushing him in his excitement, "Gizzit, get yer boyz togevver. I know how to stop the guns. Tell yer boyz dat as long as dey don't retreat, da guns will stop shooting," and then Luzgob threw the goblin back into his mob.
Soon, a thick green carpet was moving down the pass towards the cannons.
"Wut's da plan boss?" Farnit asked, still standing where the boss dropped him.
"Well little'un, I'm gonna kill me some 'umies. But you should probably just make big-talk to Gork'n'Mork, coz yer next in line if da gunz don't stop."