- "Blind I am, who was once far in sight and swift in malice, cursed and punished to recount not mine own glory and mine own tragedies, but the glorious and terrible sagas of others who have born the blood blade of Champion before the great gods of Chaos. It is I, their chronicler, alone who may tell their tales, spilling their secrets with my viper's tongue and burning-venomed ink, for those with the wisdom to see and the wit to tell steel-edged truth from honey lie. Beware, for such knowledge is as treacherous as the path to greatness in the service of Chaos itself.
- Know then, that this is the saga of Tamurkhan, Maggot Lord, Son of the Great Kurgan of old, Favoured of Nurgle - Warlord, tyrant, canker - worm and false king. Tamurkhan the Great, Tamurkhan the Fool, pawn of prophecy and bringer of slaughter."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1a]
Tamurkhan, known also as the Maggot Lord, the Son of the Great Kurgan, Master of Hosts, Bringer of Desolation and the Favored of Nurgle,[1e] was once one of the greatest Champion of Nurgle in recent history. Numerous legends and lies have clustered about Tamurkhan long before he had gathered his great horde, and in his fulfillment of a prophecy, struck out like a poisoned talon at the wider world beyond the Chaos Wastes. Some tales speak of him to be the millennia-old scion of the Great Kurgan, one of four sons, mighty and terrible, who each set out to the four winds to conquer in the service of the four great powers of Chaos.[1l]
Others had it that he was no more than a vermin once — a corpse-canker grown fat and clever on the spoiled entrails of the battlefield, swelled up and transfigured in the basking light of the Eternal Battle in the uttermost north. In either case he was an arrogant, savage and monstrous warlord, and a true reveler in decay and death, fated as one of Father Nurgle's most favored children for the carnage and suffering he had wreaked in his god's name. As the leader of a decaying warband of fanatical acolytes and twisted monstrosities and riding upon his mighty mount, Bubebolos the Toad Dragon, Tamurkhan carved a bloody path for himself on the road to victory, amassing around him a great host in his master's name.[1l]
HistoryThe history of Tamurkhan began to the far north, as all such sagas of Chaos often begin. In the Year of the Crow in the sixth reign of the Black Moon, by Norscan reckoning, the never-ending tempest that crowns the storm that is known to men as the Realm of Chaos waxed gibbous and grasping. All across the northlands the earth shifted and moaned as if it were a sleeper beset by nightmares; battle-graves vomited forth their unquiet dead, and she-beast and mortal woman alike were greatly blessed with the taint of Chaos in their birthings. All men knew that a time of great portents was at hand, and rumours spread like grassland fires of sundered prisons and baleful visitations, of great monsters bestirred from their slumbers in the caves and mires of the wastes, and of sorceresses leaping eager into the minds of those with the wit to seize them. War was coming, as it had countless times before and would do so countless times again — red war the likes of which every Northman be they Dolgan, Chi-An or Kharzag feels the calling of in their bones and cannot resist. War at the pleasure of the Chaos Gods.[1a]
With the call to battle tugging at their minds and souls, some wasted no time in falling first upon their own, striving in bloody combat to prove their worth before their tribe and their gods for the battles to come. Others, tormented by dreams and visions, quested alone, travelling ever northward to where the world itself was ripped apart. Of these dark pilgrims, some found paths to bleak and nightmarish shrines where they came to claim a blessing and pledge their allegiance to one of the Great Powers, while many merely found death.[1a]
Feeling the breath of Chaos at their necks and hearing its honeyed whispers of promises of their ascendancy and destruction in equal measure, many exalted champions and would-be warlords across the northlands bestirred themselves for battle. For some the prospect of fighting familiar foes and settling ancient feuds was enough to call on their savagery and spur them to action alone, while others, superstitious and pious in their dark religion, sought the favour of the gods by divining prophecies and the calling of daemonic summonings for lore and guidance as to where their blow should fall. Fickle and contradictory are the gods of Chaos, and treacherous their daemon-kin. For each visitation and augury was a different answer given, and for each a different path to glory illuminated. Yet within this cacophony of maddening lies, lickspittle truths and burning secrets, there were names and whispers that reverberated and echoed time and again to some — of The Everchosen Yet to Rise, of Zanbaijin, the Fallen City, the Serpent's Moon and the Dead Grail, of the Kingdom of Fire and Ash, and of the Throne of Chaos, of undying dominion over the mortal world in daemon's flesh — a prize ripe for the taking.[1a]
So it came to pass in the Kurgan lands, where the legend of the blasted plateau of K'datha and the ancient ruins of Zanbaijin that surmounted it were well known, that many warlords and mighty Champions of Chaos were drawn to quest for its cold heights. Although said to exist somewhere to the east, the K'datha was known to shift and wane like a mirage on the horizon, and an unfavoured warrior might be driven mad or starve without ever reaching it, though it hovered on the horizon before them. But as the Realm of Chaos waxed in power, the great plateau of blasted K'datha lay open for any that would dare climb the razor-sharp rocks of its passes to give battle in the shadow of the ancient ruins.[1a]
Death at K'datha
- "The great host of Tamurkhan the Maggot Lord set forth with the baleful lights of the Realm of Chaos waxing above them, casting down their sickly and bavulous radiance on those below. Under this unhallowed light many were stricken with visions and others were blessed with the touch of insanity by the Dark Gods' revelations. Men and beast fell and were changed, their bodies contorting and mutating anew into shapes more pleasing to their masters, and those around them rejoiced, letting out great howls of triumph, for surely by this omen was their cause blessed."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1c]
Zanbaijin, the Fallen City, was older than men, and had long served as an arena where the Chaos Gods watched their mortal followers vie for their favour in violent conflict. When the Champions and their armies came to battle here, each one hoped to prove their worth and the superiority of their patron over all others. A Champion who was a victor here would be marked for greatness, and by ancient tradition became master of those they vanquished. The fame of such a warlord would spread throughout the Northern Wastes, and many would flock to their banner in promise of the glories to come.[1a]
Eventually three mighty armies came to make war in the shadow of the timeless twisted pillars of Zanbaijin. First from the west came the brazen-armoured warriors of Hakka the Aesling, his axe-men drawn up in brutal column, each accompanied by packs of blood-crazed gore-spawn and flayed hounds snapping at their leashes. From the east came Sargath the Vain, horse-lord of the Yurtsak, at whose bequest the paramours of Slaanesh had given themselves up to his service. From the south came the witch-cabal of Urak Soulbane, Arch-Sorcerer and daemon-priest, at whose beckoning the earth and rocks themselves spat forth twisted killing shapes, and above whose head vultures whirled on wings of flame. Although comparably few compared to the other greater forces, the witch-cult was deadly, and its fanatic acolytes and sorcerers could match many times their own numbers in combat.[1a]
Soon battle was joined and the slaughter was great. By spell and sword, fanged maw and burning talon, lives were claimed and blood was shed in profusion for the gods' pleasure. The dead plazas of the fallen city echoed once more to the song of steel and the piteous cries of the dying. Hour after hour, day after day the forces clashed and parted in the heartbeat rhythm of war. Of the three forces, none gained the upper hand, for while the fury of Hakka's berserkers was unsurpassed, it was countered by the numbers of Sargath's vast host, who spitted themselves on their foes' blades in unholy bliss and dragged them down, only to be beaten back from victory in turn by the scouring hellfire of Urak striking when triumph seemed assured. Each force grew more desperate for victory as the bodies stacked deep in the cold dust and the moons passed overhead, and a great tumult of baleful light caught hold in the skies above K'datha, both as a sign of the gods' pleasure and as a beacon to draw in others with the promise of glory like moths to a flame. The fighting ran on unabated, and soon where thousands had battled before, tens of thousands now flocked to join the conflict, swelling the armies of the mighty champions with scores of Chaos warlords, hungering monstrosities and Chaos warriors beyond number.[1a]
When the moon of Mannslieb died in the east, and the Black Moon, Morrslieb, rose in ascendancy, another host appeared on the horizon, carrying with it a great miasma of shadow and pestilence. It had begun as a flood of distorted, nightmarish things, dredged up from the depths of cold mires: hungering bile trolls, worm-men, and hideous nameless things dripping rot and slime. At the head of this monstrous horde was a rotted yet living cadaver astride a mighty Toad Dragon, a cadaver that called itself Tamurkhan the Maggot Lord, servant of the God of Pestilence and father of all diseases: Nurgle.[1a]
Onslaught of the Maggot Lord
Like the other Chaos warlords, Tamurkhan had been drawn to K'datha by the promises of power beyond mortal imagining. But from the beginning, he amongst the four had been marked for glory by his patron god. As Tamurkhan had set out from his foetid lair, Nurgle himself had sent forth a dark and noxious storm that howled and screamed before the rancid column of beasts and half-men he commanded, carrying the certain promise of death and ruin to those who would stop them. Whilst the moon had dwindled in the night sky, the horde of Tamurkhan wound ever westward towards blasted K'datha where battle already raged. Drawn in his wake were many fierce warriors who owed fealty to the corrupt Father of Plagues, heedless of loyalty to tribe or warband, so highly blessed in Father Nurgle's favour Tamurkhan clearly was.[1a]
From all the domains of the northlands, champions of decay clamoured to the cavalcade of their new master and soon names already legend for the desolation they had wrought such as Kayzk the Befouled, master of an order of corrupt and rotted Chaos Knights, and the dragon-rider, Orthbal Vipergut, came to pledge to him their filth-stained blades in allegiance. With every great warrior of renown came also a host of lesser fighters, tribesmen, and sub-human dregs in profusion. Such was the scale of this gathering that the northlands were nearly emptied of its inhabitants. Most of those who rallied to the ragged banners of Nurgle were already marked by the favors of their patron lord and some were so corrupted by disease and disfigurement they were barely recognizable as being even human.[1a]
Tamurkhan's coming to blasted K'datha was heralded by dark signs and portents, and even as his mouldering host mounted the passes to the plateau, the bodies of the slain that littered fallen Zanbaijin started to shudder and seethe with unholy life. This phenomenon was not the workings of dark necromancy, but of huge, bloated carrion flies that had begun to breed and multiply within the organs of the dead and dying. The juddering corpses now burst forth in a hateful, biting swarm to darken the skies in sickly clouds and fill the fallen city with their murmurous wing-beats. With this foul omen at hand, the witch-cult of Urak Soulbane, Acarnist of Tzeentch, fled Zanbaijin, spitting burning curses as they left, their master having divined of doom should they decide to stay and fight. For the bitter rivals, Sargath and Hakka, the arrival of this horde did not persuade them to give up the fight, even when the swarms of biting flies began to devour the entire city.[1a]
So it was that Tamurkkan's plague-ridden host fell upon the two greater armies as they were already engaged in bloody battle for the wide plaza at the center of the dead city. The slaughter was great and swiftly many of the minor warbands were crushed or driven from the field in disarray. Those not trapped between warring factions or blinded by bloodlust took to flight rather than risk overwhelming destruction. Only Sargath and Hakka's forces fought on unbowed. At the height of the battle the skies were rent open and foul, caustic rain fell in great sheets. At the tainted rain's touch the flesh of the dead petrified and ran like melting wax, and open wounds festered as the vanguard of the three great warlords met in battle at the plaza's center. The proud and vicious steeds of the Yurtsak marauders were soon mired as obscene tendrils of rancid liquid rose up to drown them in a horrific massacre as the horde of Tamurkhan smashed into their flank with shattering force. The embattled combatants turned and counter-attacked this new enemy.[1a]
Sargath's sworn sorcerers responded with twisting enchantments of their own, searing the oncoming plague-beasts with waves of coruscating energy, blinding and misleading its warriors with murderous illusions. But all was in vain as the disordered lines of Sargath's marauders and cavalry, caught in place and robbed of the advantage of mobility, crumbled before the implacable tide of rot and terror before them, while Sargath's most powerful troops, his mutant forsaken, were caught between the onslaught of Kayzk the Befouled's Chaos knights on one side and the frenzied flayed-hounds of Hakka's forces, who had been driven utterly insane by the corrosive rain and devouring flies, on the other. Seeing the tide of battle turned against him, Sargath, his pride stung and his rage uncontrollable at the prospect of defeat, charged his own bodyguard of Chaos knights at the heart of Tamurkhan's forces, calling for the head of the one who had so insulted him with the presumption of the attack on Slaanesh's favoured son.[1a]
His white-enamelled armour splattered with blood and unmentionable filth, Sargath, whose blade-skill was legend, hacked and slew his way to face his new enemy. With his narrow rune-blade slicing through rusted armour and decaying flesh alike, he carved his way to face Tamurkhan directly. Arrogant and scorning the forces that surrounded him, Sargath, Prince of Chaos, poured insults upon the withered figure that slumped bonelessly atop the vast hulking beast before him. The Toad Dragon Bubebolos was the size of a tower house, its armored bulk already shredded and scratched with dozens of wounds that had done nothing to stop its rampage. The rotted figure atop the monster spat back its own taunts in reply, and at the slightest gesture of command, Bubebolos reared up and opened its vast and reeking maw wide.[1a]
Triumph of Tamurkhan
- "Father Nurgle! Favor me, ten thousand souls have I sent for your tally, a hundred wells I have poisoned with filth and the champions of those who would put themselves before you I have slain!"
- —Tamurkhan the Maggot Lord[1b]
But even as the Toad Dragon unleashed a blast of unspeakable foulness from its gaping mouth, the inhumanly lithe Sargath leapt from the back of his Chaos steed and high into the air, as a mere instant later, his former mount was liquefied into screaming, necrotic ooze. Sargath's leap took him to the very head of the beast itself, landing upon one of its horns even as his once-white armour became rusted with the backwash of Bubebolos' vile breath. With a cry of triumph Sargath swung himself upwards at the Toad Dragon's rider, and with the speed of a striking serpent sunk his rune blade deep into Tamurkhan's heart. Tamurkhan merely laughed and Sargath's howl of triumph was cut short, as the withered cadaver before him squirmed, bulged and split open like a bloated fruit, and Tamurkhan's true form was revealed. An infant-sized maggot, streaked with greyish slime, leaped into the throat of Sargath and ripped itself deep into his body. The maggot's fatted body writhed and twisted obscenely as it pushed its way behind Sargath's rib cage, which splintered and cracked, the maggot-thing devouring and boring ever deeper into the living organs within. The Champion of Slaanesh's body fell limply into the foetid mire of the battlefield, and when it rose again, Bubebolos bellowed in deafening exaltation and the servants of decay gibbered and capered in bleak joy, as Tamurkhan, reborn with his latest body, mounted again on his war beast.[1a]
The heart ripped from them by their master's defeat, Sargath's marauders fell into full and panicked retreat and hundreds were cut down, caught between the braying madmen of Tamurkhan's forces, freshly invigorated by their master's triumph, and the tireless blades of the Aesling's blood-worshippers at their backs. Many hundreds more escaped, calling upon their god for deliverance, fleeing down the crazed and pillared paths of the fallen city and becoming swallowed up by the labyrinth. Hakka himself, now vastly outnumbered and outmatched, committed his own soul and the souls of his followers to Khorne, and hurled himself and his bodyguard into the thick of Tamurkhan's bestial vanguard. At this sundering charge of savage fury, the battle-line of Nurgle's children wavered but did not break, and as the weight of the forces against them pressed harder, Hakka the Aesling was swept away from his own warriors, and despite the whirlwind fury of his twin axes, he was soon torn apart by the grasping claws of bile trolls, his body so shredded and devoured that no part of him could be found for trophy after the battle. With victory in Tamurkhan's grasp, the skies were rent with sickly green lightning and the foul rain fell in a great downpour, tainting the dead stones of Zanbaijin with filth, and the sound of the great storm's thunder carried with it the bleak echoes of Father Nurgle's laughter.[1a]
Tamurkhan proclaimed his victory to the gods from a mound of heaped and rotting dead as the banners of the vanquished were cast down at his feet. Before his assembled army, he cried out his name and lineage, claiming to be the twisted son of the Great Kurgan of old, now returning to claim his savage birthright to slay and conquer in the name of his god. He praised Father Nurgle who had brought him his blessings and declared his intention to claim the Throne of Chaos for his own. By right of conquest, the surviving warband leaders and Chaos champions owed him their fealty. Amongst them were many who, until this moment, had considered themselves implacable enemies, rivals for mortal power and divine favour, bitter foes who would rather perish than make common cause. Yet even these degenerates swore to fight as one in the name of Tamurkhan the Maggot Lord, agreeing to lay their feuds aside so long as he brought them victories and plunder in the battles to come. News of Tamurkhan's great victory spread, and soon the warriors of the Northmen tribes, wandering killers, unspeakable horrors, and power-hungry cults began to flock to his banner as he departed from the charnel-clogged ruins of Zanbaijin and headed again northward. In this manner the horde grew each day as it tramped across the steppes towards the foothills of the snow-topped Altayan Hills and Tamurkhan's next goal.[1a]
Gambit of the Faithless
- "So it was that Tamurkhan led them forth from the Northern Wastes. They were as a stain upon the land, a spreading plague of despoil and devastation that burned like a fire through the arid grasslands of the Eastern Steppes, driving all before it. Ever swelling with the promise of victory was the host, as warriors and madmen, marauders and beasts flocked to Tamurkhann's flybown standard and fell in with the horde."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1c]
By the time that the moon had grown full and ebbed once more, the horde's column of march stretched almost from horizon to horizon and the flies and carrion crows clung about it as to a rotting carcass. Those that were loyal to Tamurkhan traveled at the head of the great horde, while those that kept divine loyalties of their own, or kept loyalty only to themselves, formed parasite columns that shadowed the main body of the force, keeping a wary distance, well aware that Nurgle's pestilence cared little for whose flesh it corrupted. Within a moon's passing, the horde reached the Altayan Hills and the roughly defined territory of a fierce confederacy of marauder tribes called the Dolgan. The Dolgan were one of the largest and most powerful of all the nations of the Kurgan peoples, renowned for their fractious nature and insular hatred of other Northmen. Tamurkhan desired greatly to bring these warriors into his cause, and particularly to add to his host the powerful war mammoths they were famed to ride into battle — huge creatures able to trample legions of lesser warrior underfoot and serve as living siege engines should the need arise.[1b]
The overlord of the Dolgan tribes at that hour was the infamous sorcerer Sayl the Faithless, a malformed and treacherous creature whose many betrayals, murders and atrocities were as famed as his great powers as a seer and battle-wizard. Sayl had not been deaf to the tales that had already reached the Dolgan lands of Tamurkhan's victory and the favour the Chaos Gods had shown the Maggot Lord, and the size of the host he had already amassed to his banner. Having foreseen Tamurkhan's coming in the entrails of sacrifices, the scheming sorcerer sought not to meet the oncoming horde head on, for in that he saw at best a costly victory butmore likely a bitter defeat. Instead, Sarl planned to use Tamurkhan's ascendancy to his own advantage in some way. Despised by much of his own people, Sayl's grip on power among the Dolgan was a tenuous one and he was beset on all sides by many enemies, both within and without the Dolgan tribes.[1b]
Sayl cunningly used his influence to send many of those who he suspected of disloyalty to harass and delay Tamurkhan's horde, and in doing so consigned them to their doom. Then, instead of meeting the horde in open battle as they ravaged across the Dolgan heartland, Sayl opted instead to parlay from a position of strength with the full intention of joining his forces to those of Tamurkhan, at least as long as it proved expedient to do pledged no oath of loyalty, only comradeship and common cause. Tamurkhan was satisfied that his goals are met, and his forces had not been squandered to gain what he desired.[1b]
In this bargain Sayl, at first confident that he had gotten the better of the bargain, soon found himself caught within his own web of scheming, for while he had assumed Tamurkhan's intention was to lead his horde in a swift crashing attack against the southern lands directly (as had been the purpose of many of the prior incursions of Chaos), thus enabling Sayl to share in the glory and plunder and return soon in triumph to the Dolgan — he soon learned that Tamurkhan had other, stranger, plans in mind. Instead of turning south and west, towards the rich prizes of Kislev and the Empire, Tamurkhan led his horde — now numbering in the tens of thousands with the addition of those Dolgans Sayl had pledged to the cause — ever northwards on an erratic path into the harsh climate and horror-filled wastes on the very edge of the hellish storm of the Realm of Chaos itself. This caused consternation in the ranks of the newly formed host, and some began to tremulously whisper that Tanwrkhan sought to make war upon the Dark Gods themselves. These fears proved unfounded when Tamurkhan directed his column to the northeast. Those who knew anything about the Plaguelord then guessed his real aim; Tamurkhan went to the Gallow Tree, a place of nightmare and legend rivaling any other in the Chaos Waste.[1b]
Edge of Darkness
- "I have seen...the mighty city of marble and smoke, the shattered kingdoms, the dead of nations, the fires of the Horned Darkness, the throne...the Throne of Chaos."
- —Tamurkhan the Maggot Lord[1b]
The Gallows Tree was a warped and horrific entity in its own right. Its tangled limbs were coiled and spread as if distorted in pain and held high above a rot-strewn swamp of vine-choked thorns, looming higher than a Temple's steeple above the desolate wastes. Foul and unutterable things dwelt beneath its canopy, the tree being a living gateway to the horrors beyond this plane of reality. It is said that within lies an unclean hag-daemon, shunned even by her own kind, who would bestow hidden secrets and dark prophecy on those who pleased her. Those however who failed to meet her standards of devotion to Father Nurgle ended their time as grisly adornments hanging from the boughs of the great tree above, food for maggots and crows alike after they had been subjected to a fate more terrible than a sane mind could conceive of.[1b]
Tamurkhan brought his vast horde to the edge of the foetid mire that surronded the Gallows Tree, and none save the most devoted and insane disciples of Nurgle would venture further. It was Tamurkhan alone that braved the deadly paths to the foot of the Gallows Tree and stepped within. Left under the nominal command of Kayzk the Befouled, the nascent war host arrayed itself across the plain to await the judgement of the gods, isolating itself into wary camps, distrusting of their neighbours, even while brought together in divinely ordained cause. Long days passed, and while the horde remained encamped in the wastes, with the black and many-hued storm radiance from the Realm of Chaos rending the distant skies above them, the host's numbers continued to swell with warriors keen to taste battle and savour the rewards of victory. Some came from as far away as the lands of the Gharhar in the north and of the Avags in the east, while dozens of renowned Champions of Chaos born of many races, some from far beyond the wastes were led to the camp by strange visions and whispered promises.[1b]
As the days went on Sayl, seeking to establish himself as a power in the horde, sent parties of Dolgan horsemen roaming the wastes, gathering together such reinforcements as they could, as well as stealing the lion's share of the forage available in the windswept and desolate land about them. Soon scouting forces were sent out by the various warlords of the host to guard against attacks by the warlike Dragon Ogres and other vile creatures that lived in the high mountains nearby, although sometimes when their parties failed to return, they rightly suspected each other rather than the appetites of the denizens of the wastes as the cause of their demise. Despite these conflicts, overall the horde rested and grew stronger as it awaited the return of Tamurkhan. But as its masters absence dragged on into the passing of a moon, the monstrous and bestial members of the horde grew restive and ever hungrier with nought but erstwhile alies on which to dine. It would soon appear that the horde was ready to tear itself apart long before they reach lands to ravage as what wells that were dugged became so foul and exhausted that many die an ignominious death by thirst.[1b]
Mark of Nurgle
- "Yessss...if you would claim the throne, become as us, you know what you must do. You must be a scourge upon the world Tamurkhan, an unstoppable plague of muscle and bone your war-host must be, a spreading disease that consumes all before it with a thousand, thousand iron teeth and which leaves nothing but famine and destruction its wake so that all of Father Nurgle's little children may breed and multiply"
- —The Pox-Mother of Gallows Tree[1b]
When Tamurkhan at last returned from the stygian depths of the Gallows Tree, it was met with the immediate rejoicing of the devotees of Nurgle within the horde, whilst its other elements gave the Champion a wary respect. All could plainly see that the Maggot Lord had been marked by the Chaos gods such was his transformation. The body of Sargath, which Tamurkhan had taken as his new vessel, was decayed beyond recognition and soon he needed a new host for the next conflict zone. He also returned with scrolls of power, containing the true names of Daemons and monstrous creatures, as well as an urn containing the poisoned waters of Nurgle's domain. When he returned to the horde, he called up a gathering of the warlords and wizards within his command and told his intentions to claim the legendary Throne of Chaos, which meant the dominion of the mortal world through which the victor shall stand upon a mountain of the dead and be ascended into daemonhood. By doing so, he wishes to surpass the legend of his own father, the Great Kurgan, and to those that joined him on his conquest, fame and renown shall sing of their deeds for thousand of years in the wastes. Thousands upon thousands of lives will perish before their blades in unholy prayer to the Dark Gods, and their names shall be carved into the skin of the world for the powers beyond to see.[1b]
The hag gave the warlord hellish visions of what would be and what could be made real if one has the will to make it so; he had foreseen a mighty host of Chaos, as numberless as a locust swarm covering the mountains and fallen cities of the dead titans like a spreading contagion. He had seen mighty giants bow down before him in homage and the fires and hellish forges of Zharr-Naggrund beating out his name. He had seen the countless dead in their wake as a forest of spitted corpses, and verdant plain and barren waste alike watered in blood, and mighty rivers dammed by the bloated carcasses of the fallen. Above all else in his dark communion, he had seen a great city of iron and marble torn down, its walls crumbling into dust, fire running through its streets like water in flood. It would be here that the skies would open for him, boiling away all that was wholesome into pus-yellow and cancerous black, and he would be transfigured in glory. The city he knew, though he had never laid eyes upon it, for it lived and breathed in the tales of the Kurgan; it was a city in the heart of the domain of the old enemy of thrice-damned Sigmar's empire.[1b]
Although none of those gathered in the horde — not least of all Tamurkhan himself, had ever set foot within the Empire of Man, all knew of it in story and oft-repeated legend. It had been a place of great and glorious battle for many generations, and many a powerful warlord had writ his saga there or died in the attempt. It was a land of deep forests and mighty cities, the size and strength of which could barely be conceived of by the men of the North to whom such things were an anathema given their nomadic, bellicose culture, their closest point of reference being ancient ruins, such as Zanbaijin, that lay here and there about the endless shifting landscape of the wastes. Tarnurkhan knew however that mere numbers and warlike strength alone had not been enough to crush the Empire in the past, for it was a mighty realm of steel and wizardry, blasting fire and bleak castles. They had long withstood the plethora of enemies that surrounded it.[1b]
No matter his own arrogance and hubris, Tarnurkhan judged that to wrest this great prize for the glory of Chaos, he would need to match Sigmar's heirs power-for-power. He would need to counter their strong walls and towering fortresses with unholy and unstoppable engines of war, and overwhelm their powerful blackpowder firestorm and battle wizardry with great beasts and savage daemons to whom such things were a mere distraction. Then would the superior martial skill and battle-lust of the scions of Chaos prove ascendant. Then would the Dark Gods' will be done and the Empire would be drowned in a sea of its own blood. Tamurkhan's plan of attack therefore would be an indirect route. He would not, as had so many Chaos lords of the past, assail the Empire from its north-eastern border, through Kislev and the strongest and most well-tried defences of the realm. Instead, as his visions foretold, his host would travel the length of the Mountains of Mourn, crushing all in their path and lining their way with charnel monuments to the Chaos Gods. From there they would then cross the Dark Lands and join with the forces of the Fire Lords of Zharr. They would cross the mountains and rip up into the Empire from the south, like a dagger striking at the heart up through the belly where the flesh was soft and weak. The journey would be long, but glorious in souls, battle and plunder, Tarnurkhan promised the warlords gathered before him, the weak would perish along the way, and the strong be made stronger; tempered by battle and blessed by the Dark Gods for their victories and the carnage inflicted in their name. A great roar of triumph and anticipation of the glory to come went up from the host, as each Warlord renewed their pledge of fealty to Tamurkhan. Only Sayl, withdrawn in the shadows remained silent, the Faithless One keeping his own council.[1b]
Scouring of the Stone Lands
- "Soon their number could not well be counted for as numerous as a swarm of locust they had become. They shook the ground as they walked and all that was sane and natural recoiled at their touch. The hobgoblin wolf-tribes of the steppes, as vicious and numerous as they were, were yet cowards and fled in vast numbers before the hordes coming rather than offer battle, their small and blackened souls quailing before the shadow of Chaos."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1c]
There are more forces which govern the mortal world than mere intractable nature and reason, for the Winds of Magic hold dominion over all, and Magic is Chaos. So great was the horde, so dark the souls and bloody their intent that the invisible breath of magic was drawn to them, and found form in their collective desire. So it was that time and distance began to twist and blister in the barren stone lands where there was no will but the will of the horde, and within a single moon's passing, they had devoured a span of many hundreds of leagues, leaving it desolate and ashen in their wake, scoured of life and with none but the rot-glutted carrion vultures that circled-above to witness their passing. Hard by the north-eastern edge of the Shardback Mountains, where the rust-red hills rose for many leagues, the horde of Tamurkhan faced its first true battle. Here the feared Savage Orcs of the Withered Eye Tribe, frenzied and primitive, tainted by warpstone dust and shunned even by their own kind for their wanton savagery, stood before the horde.[1c]
Unafraid although vastly outnumbered, these hulking greenskins streamed from the hills, their obsidian axes held high, braying and howling in their battle-lust, their malformed boars grunting and snarling while their shaman spat curses from behind crude copper masks. The Orc tribe and Tamurkhan's Marauder vanguard met in a single great annihilating clash and all was butchery and bloodshed. Barbed black-iron spears pierced Orc-hide, clouds of crude fetched arrows felled rank after rank of snarling warriors and screaming horses as fury was met with fury. Torn from the air, Gul Grog, the Orc Warboss that was master over the Withered Eye tribe and his ravaged wyvern mount fell from the sky like a tattered comet to the ground, streaming a trail of ichor, rent asunder by the iron claws of Corrasun, the Chaos Dragon of Orhbal Vipergut, and as their leader was smashed apart on the rocks, the Orcs wavered and faltered, just as Tamurkhan led the warriors of the main column into the fray.[1c]
Like a storm-tide, the horde washed over the Orcs and ground them into the stony dust, and they were but the first of many armies to be destroyed by the horde of the Maggot Lord. Their battle won, the horde set upon the bodies of the fallen greenskins. The Orc flesh was tough and foul, but welcoming for such a large and hungry army, and the horde cast down the rough-hewn idols of the twin Orc gods of Gork and Mork and raised up huge mounds of clean-picked carcasses in their place, capped with icons and symbols dedicating the slaughter to the Dark Gods of Chaos. After the horde's passing through the region, Tamurkhan's pestilential acolytes poisoned and tainted the wells with their own filth, thus ensuring death to any that drank from them in times to come.[1c]
Doom at Ashshair
- "Maggoth Lord, exalted of the Plague Father. What care you for the paltry lives of a few hundred misbegotten Gors, or a thousand, or a thousands-thousand? Are you not Tamurkhan, are the Kurgan and Tokmars and the Dolgans who march under your banner not power enough for any warlord? Is the vaunted might of the ones blessed by the gods and the fangs of those that hunger in the realm beyond at your beck and call not sufficent to embolden your cause?"
- —Sayl the Faithless, awnsering to his defeat at Ashshair[1c]
The great horde carved its scourging path claim along the eastern flank of the great range of mountains, journeying further south than any within it had ever seen. Laying all before it unto waste, the horde pressed ever onwards at the urgings of its-tainted master who shouted rasping exhortations to his followers from atop his colossal mount. The horde carried on into the thorn-thick foothills of Shem'ash, where crooked-backed and goatish Beastmen and their grotesque Minotaur kin slunk from the dark places and fell in with the horde: The Bray-shaman and Gor-chiefs of these twisted children of Chaos, long bitter enemies of both the Ogre Kixdoms of the mountains beyond and the Celestial Empire to the east, offered much lore of the lands before the horde and sought the death of their enemies as a boon from their new lord, but the gods called to Tamurkhan and he would not stray from his path.[1c]
Instead the Beastmen were swept along on Tamurkhan's course, but leapt upon any chance to raid their ancestral foes. So it was that while the main force of the horde tramped on southwards at the mountains edge, the Beastmen allied with the forces of Sayl the Faithless when his side-column *split from the horde's path to seek out the Tower of Ashshair, a watchtower and outpost offer Cathay amid the Stone Lands. Long had Sayl heard of the ancient power of the men beyond the Great Bastion and he hungered to plunder their secrets. Choosing to seek his own path for a while, he led his followers in an assault against them.[1c]
The jade-green tower, a thing as much of magic as stone, sat high and all but unassailable upon a jagged promontory of rock overlooking the ancient Silk Road that led from the gates of the Great Bastion to the south-east, and the inhospitable mountain passes of the Ogre Kingdoms to the west. From here the servants of the Eternal Dragon Emperor surveyed the great road and kept watch for signs and portents of woe and threats from distant lands, and so they were well forewarned of the terrors arrayed against them. The warriors of the East, oath-sworn and stalwart, stood firm behind the ramparts of the tiered fortifications that encircled the outpost beneath the tower, lined as they were with snarling-mouthed bronze cannon and deadly stone-fleshed temple dogs and crow-men, ready to crush the foe in their granite claws. Wary of the arts and devices of this unfamiliar enemy, Sayl's twisted tongue worked upon the chieftains of the Beastmen and convinced them to commence the assault with a night attack — a tactic at which they were expert and well-suited. The Faithless One's own forces, notably including a dozen war mammoths he had worked loose from the main column for the attack, he planned to keep in reserve until a gap in the defences was breached for them to exploit.[1c]
From the beginning the attack went awry for the forces of Chaos, and as the braying, savage tide of Gors and Ungors, Minotaurs and Spawn erupted from the darkness, the skies above them were riven by explosions of lambent green and ice white light as enchanted fireworks turned the night into a rippling phantasm of spectral figures which turned and roared in crazed display. Cannon spat forth clusters of bronze javelins which showered through the onrushing Beastmen, accompanied by wave after wave of barbed crossbow bolts which felled hundreds in mere moments. The fury of the Beasts of Chaos however did not falter, and within minutes the barbarous tide, loping and running with phenomenal speed had reached the outer wall, and spurred on by the whips and cries of their Beastlords and Bray-Shaman, scores began to scale the high wall of the outer bastion, their clawed hands and crude picks finding purchase, augmented by the sudden rampant growth of twisted black vines mutated by the incantations of the shaman. At the outer gate, hulking, multi-armed Ghorgon pounded at the gates with petrified tree-trunks as hard as iron, only to fall back maimed and dying as Dragon-blooded Shugengan Wizards hurled blasts of white fire and blizzards of murderous ice-shards against them. Heedless of their losses, the Brayherd pressed on, and by sheer reckless fury overwhelmed the outer wall, spilling over it as a storm-driven tide breaks over a levy wall. The warriors of the East stood their ground, though vastly outnumbered, their emerald green back-banners flickering in the gaudy light from above, their long blades of thousand-folded iron weaving and cutting a dance through the rough flesh and snarling jaws of the cloven-hoofed ones. But it was not enough, and one by one the Cathayan Bannermen fell. The fortified compound beneath the tower was taken, the Brayherd screaming and howling its triumph and gorging itself frenziedly on the flesh of the dead.[1c]
Sayl the Faithless watched on from atop his war mammoth mount, but no matter the entreatments of his Dolgan chieftains and the Exalted Champions that followed his banner, Sayl held them back and would not attack. The warriors and marauders muttered and grew angry at the glory denied them, the victory they were forced to watch given to the hands of others — to the Beastnien no less! But they held back yet, for Sayl had promised to flay the souls of any that defied him to the reapers of the void, and such threats all knew were far from idle in nature, and so the Dolgans kept their place grudgingly and did not rush to reinforce the attack. And so it was that Sayl felt the twisted skein of magic being, drawn tight and the Atheric winds, drawn in an ever intensifying vortex by the blood spilled before him, pulled into a deadly pattern by a will other than his own. Suddenly, at the height of the Beastmen's bloody revelry in the fortress compound at the foot of the tower, the glowing phantasms in the skies above were snuffed out into deepest black, a black into which a single, bright, burning star was born. Screaming aloud, Sayl and the other Chaos sorcerers present sought frantically to abjure the doom that was about to befall the battlefield, but to no end. Sayl knowing bitterly that even as he tried to disrupt the magics that had been wielded, he had little chance of undoing what had been set in motion. The comet fell from the heavens like a speeding bolt of blue-white fire, the burning rune of Celestial magic graven upon its flanks in flickering starlight for all with the art to see it.[1c]
It struck dead-center on the fortress compound with a roaring blast that shook the earth and a blinding flash of power that caused even the war mammoths to buck and bellow in pain. Inside the fortress all was carnage, as scores of Beastmen and Minotaurs were incinerated in an instant, gone to ash and dust with only their shadows blasted against the walls to mark the sudden agony of their passing. The surviving Brayherd reeled, blinded arid burned in the wake of the thunderbolt from the heavens, but were given no respite as the baleful counter-attack was launched. Strange creatures of living stone swam down the jade walls of the tower and up through the rocky ground as if it were water, and the Beastmen became their prey.[1c]
Encircled and trapped, the Brayherd's savagery was soon overwhelmed, and Sayl watched on in grim fascination with his witch's sight as great Minotaurs were dragged bellowing and helpless into the air by living statues of onyx -- neither raven nor man in shape — and gutted by glittering talons, while fresh Bannermen, their long blades and wickedly curved polearms flashing poured from the tower gates and into the fray. Bitter and angry that his prize was so readily slipping from his grip, Sayl raised mighty magics of his own and sent hurricane winds and spiteful arcs of lighting to vex the enemy and blast and scatter its winged avengers, but could do little more than cover the surviving Beastmen's route from the walls. With a scornful sweep of his clawed hand, Sayl signaled the retreat from the tower, and his Dolgans, resentful but cowed by the hurricane storm that now blanketed the tower unabated, obeyed him.[1c]
The Dark Road Taken
The great horde of Tamurkhan the Maggot Lord moved ever onwards, on into the bleak lands that bordered the darkly-storied Ghost Fells — ragged upland moors and desolate foothills; many leagues in expanse that flanked the eastern side of the Ancient Giant Lands, and mountains higher and more primordial even than the fabled Mountains of Mourn dominated the horizon. These peaks or the Sky-Titans' Wrack are known in certain dark texts of Chaos lore, although long history has given them many names to wear. It was these lands that Tamurkhan sought to penetrate, there to find the tools for his future conquest of the Empire of Men as he had foreseen in the blighted visions given to him in the Chaos realm. In his haste and pride, Tamurkhan sought to cross the Ghost Fells to reach them sooner, rather than venture further south to the vitrified black deserts that separated the southern mountains from Great Cathay where the Ivory Road passes — a realm with its own manifold dangers, but preferred by the wise to walking in the shadows of the benighted fells.[1c]
The Ghost Fells themselves proved no small obstacle to pass, for these were the remains of empires and dark realms gone asunder in ages past, here the dead rested only fitfully in their graves and the palely glowing murder-grass that rose to bloom in the night was unnatural poison to all life that it cut with its ghostly fronds. Worse still the presence of the great horde thundering and ravaging its way across the hills seemed to awake every peril and malign will that slumbered there, and it was as if the very earth beneath their feet rebelled against them. For the first time was the horde truly slowed, and was forced by the terrain to break up into hundreds of smaller channels like the tributaries of a great river. Their passage was plagued by phantoms and baleful fires upon the road, sucking pits of corpse-strewn bog that seemed to snap around men and horses like waiting beasts and splintered, crag-strewn paths that turned back upon themselves without warning. Strange cloying mists of maddening thickness rose up and faded again without rhyme or reason and entire warbands and hunting parties, hundreds strong, went missing without a trace in the mazes of rock.[1c]
A more mundane but no less threatening danger also soon presented itself, and no meat or water could be found that proved safe to consume in this malign wilderness — even for the disease-churned stomachs of Nurgle's followers threatening starvation for the horde. Soon dissent whispered that Tamurkhan had brought them to a place of evil sorcery he did not comprehend, and ancient Chaos lore found echoes in the stories of hulking shapes lurking in the mist, their misshapen forms crowned each with a single burning eye. Against the rising discord in the host, Tamurkhan and his chieftains instilled order by the lash and bloody reprisal, the dissenters and the weak providing welcome provisions for the horde's many hungry bellies. Unwavering, Tamurkhan pressed them on relentlessly, refusing to be halted or stay to give battle to a foe he could neither see nor grasp, until the Ghost Fells were at their backs and the mountains loomed vast and snow-capped before them. After much travel the ancient lands of the Giants beckoned.[1c]
A Harvest of Titans
- "For its provender the great horde emptied the sparse lands about it as it travelled, and ahead of its three legion-strong columns an arrowhead of thousands of swift-mounted horsemen went abroad, spying out the land and falling in savagery on anything they encountered for meat and murder."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1c]
The horde, a few thousand dark-sworn souls fewer than before it had stepped into the accursed Ghost Fells, entered the high valleys of the mountains, battling through sudden rock falls and freezing gales, and cut into the Ivory Road, deep into the high country. Following the road it turned south and west into a great rift valley that held the ruins of one of the fabled cities of the Sky-Titans. Here cyclopean pillars of granite soared as high as the mountains about them, once the foundation-stones of cities that had towered in the skies above. Wild and lush growth had long since overcome the cracked paving and broken rubble that had tumbled down from the fallen skycastles, and game, huge and primal — rhinoxen, razortusk, stonehorn and dire elk — were abundant as was fresh water, and the horde soon flooded out to despoil all before it and dispel the shadow of hunger and thirst it had endured.[1d]
The horde paused for the first time since the Gallows Tree and made a vast, sprawling series of encampments in the shadows of the gargantuan ruins, allowing for the first time a period of rest and recovery, already it had traveled thousands of leagues in a span of time impossibly short by mere mortal reckoning, but where the will of Chaos was concerned, such anomalies counted little. The weak and the ill-fortuned had fallen by the wayside, and the chosen, strong and faithful endured. Great altars were raised up to the Chaos Gods, each to its desire and measure, and celebrations were held of sacrifice, morbidity, slaughter and debauchery as was pleasing to each fane's patron, daemons dancing in the shadows of the celebrants' fires. The arrival of so great a horde, still tens of thousands strong in this savage and half-forgotten land had not gone unnoticed. Giants dwelled here still in an abundance not seen elsewhere; man-like creatures, Bonegrinders and Foecrushers, colossal in stature, steeple-tall, slow-witted but bellicose and with a hunger to match their size.[1d]
Now on the fringes of the horde the Giants gave battle, each the match of a hundred men, bellowing and smashing marauder and spawn-beast alike to bloody ruin with chunks of ancient masonry hurled down from the high crags, or rampaging through them like a maddened boar through a sheep-fold. Legend had it that it had been the Giants' forebears — mightier in both strength and mind — that had built the now fallen cities and prospered here long ago when the world was young and fought with ancient empires now gone to dust, fading first into an isolated echo of their past glories before the Ogres came from the East and sundered their once unconquered realm forever. Giants, Tamurkhan had of his own, mutated and savage, scions of the high crags of the Chaos Wastes, but they were too few to serve his purpose.[1d]
Tamurkhan's order was simple and it brooked no disobedience save on pain of death; the attacking Giants were not to be slain, but taken alive, subdued either by brute force or sorcery he cared not, only that they were gathered before him. Those he could not gather by force he opted for other means to ensnare, and so sent (often unwilling) emissaries to tempt and coerce them — not by threat, for Giants by nature care little for such things and answer only with violence, but with promises of abundant meat and strong spirits to slake their thirst, and of battlefields yet to come filled with spoil and plunder. Others were baited with poisoned carcasses tainted with the sickening philtres of Slaaneshi cultists, which drugged them as helpless as a babe to be taken, while others heard the bestial song of the Bray-Shaman and so were lost to the fathomless, black fever-dream of the Brayherd. Within a moon's turning, near on a hundred Giants had been taken into the host; some willingly, others bound in chains of foul sorcery the irreplaceable coin of the arcane binding scrolls gifted to him by the unclean hag spent in submitting them to Tamurkhan's will.[1d]
Time soon became the enemy, for as powerful as the will and desires of the horde were, they were as nothing compared to the primordial power of the Mountains of Mourn to the west that they must cross, and now in the dying of the year, already the high 'mountains sowed the signs of a dire and spiteful winter drawing close and even the plentiful game within the wide valley was thinning at the horde's hunger. The Ivory Road west was the path the great horde would take, and the only pass accessible to so great a number as they through the mountains. It was also a pass that would see them walk through the Ogre Kingdoms and through the heart of Greasus Goldtooth's realm, Overtyrant of the Ogres. The warriors and Chaos Champions of the horde were eager to see battle against so worthy and strong a foe whose fame had reached even to the Northern Wastes, and Tamurkhan was content to smash his way through the Ogre Kingdoms if needs be, conquering and destroying all for the glory of the Dark Gods. Bargaining also that if he could slay the Overtyrant, many of the Bloodthirsty and mercenary Ogre tribes would flock to his banner themselves after such a display of strength.[1d]
Strange fates were instead to play Tamurkhan for a fool, and see his plans to ruin, when his outriders reported that the road ahead into the Mountains of Mourn ended in an impassable wall of rock, the dusty path simply cut off as if severed by an axe blade. Tamurkhan ranted and raged at the folly of his servants, and slew those who brought such news to his flense-skin tent. At his behest he drove the horde on until he was forced to confront the truth himself — where the wide pass had been since time immerhorial was now no more than the sheer and crooked crags of the mountainside. So denied he believed the feat some illusion wrought of magic, but his sorcerers could not detect it, let alone undo, any such great spell-craft. Indeed those who sent out their wills on the winds of magic to uncover the truth recoiled at the cold and hungry touch of something older and darker than mere mortal magic, and Sayl the Faithless whispered in the ear of those that would hear him that the spirits of the mountains laughed at Tamurkhan and scorned the vanity of his presumption. Dissent again reared its head, and brawling and bloody combat broke our between those who served the Maggot Lord directly and shared his faith, and those who followed other fell masters, and Tamurkhan himself took to the fight aback the mighty Toad Dragon Bubebolos in order to restore order, grinding those who would gainsay him under his mount's clawed feet. It was the Dragon-rider Orhbal, who had flown far and braved the wrath of Ice Wyrms and winged Manticores in the frozen heights in order to scout a fresh path for the horde that espied a route out of the valley which now seemed to threaten to enclose on Tamurkhan and his host like the jaws of a trap.[1d]
Far to the south, the broken valley walls gave way from a narrow, high-sided ravine to a wide plateau of rock, which itself sunk in its outer reaches towards endless hills of lifeless grey and a wide stagnant river flowing westward from a soot-black lake. But to reach this breach in the mountains, the ravine must first be crossed, and as Orhbal intoned, its high crags were studded with tattered banners and trophy skulls, each marked with the signs of the Great Maw and a gore-covered fist. As he had drawn close, the stirrings of bulky figures could be seen in the caves above the ravine, and he was met with volley upon volley of great iron-shot bolts hurled from concealed war engines, some fitted with grappling barbs and great chains to drag him down. Ogres awaited the horde in force and were arrayed in strength where in the narrow pass the hordes numbers could count for little against such determined and brutal resistance. Yet there was no other path to take where the horde could march as one. There was no choice, the plan to cross the Mountains of Mourn via the Ivory Road would have to be abandoned and a new road carved. Tamurkhan roused his chieftains and commanders and told them his will; The horde marched south.[1d]
Battle of the Pass
From the first day's march southwards, the host's progress was watched by those who made their homes in the high mountains. These were the lands of the Ogres, fierce, brutal creatures, intolerant of trespassers and long accustomed to preying upon intruders that dare pass before their domains and battling against the myriad of strange beasts that inhabited the Mountains of Mourn, whether they be human, greenskin or worse. The high pass south was under the control of the infamous and intractable Red Fist tribe, one of the strongest Ogre kingdoms in the southern mountains, held in the iron-fisted grip of the Ogre Tyrant Karaka Breakmountain, a warlord whose prodigious strength had seen his fame spread among his own kind and was possessed of a certain low cunning, not commonly found in his dull-witted kin. The Red Fist would not stand by and allow the horde of Tamurkhan by without a fight; a heavy price in blood would have to be paid.[1d]
When the horde's vanguard reached the defile between two mountain peaks that marked the entrance to the ravine pass, the Kurgan riders found their progress barred by a-hastily constructed wall of boulders and broken stones. The dry, thorny brush under their mount's hooves was peppered with mantraps and other vicious snares. As they approached closer to the barrier they were pelted with rocks and bombarded with huge spears and volleys of scrap thrown from the pinnacles above, and were soon thrown back in disarray. Heavier forces were immediately brought up — the steel-sheathed Chaos Warriors of Alvas Hurl, the howling cultists of the Pox-mantle and even screeching waves of impossibly mutated war-spawn, driven on by the goads of their flesh masters and sent into paroxysms of savagery by the hellish pipes of daemons — none though could force the passage. Though the horde of Tamurkhan outnumbered the Ogres that baulked them perhaps a hundred to one, the narrowness of the defile made it impossible for the Chaos horde to bring more than a few score of warriors into battle at a time.[1d]
The fighting raged for several hours without making any apparent dent in the Ogres' defences, as each fresh charge was met by a solid wall of hulking muscled flesh and iron. Soon the pass before the defile was heaped so high with bodies, that they threatened to rise above the deceptively crude barrier the Ogres had raised, and beady-eyed Gnoblars, the degenerate race of greenskins that served the Ogres, were soon frantically scouring the corpse piles and using armoured bodies and whatever else solid they could find to make the barrier higher, even while the battle thundered around them.[1d]
Tamurkhan raged again at the delay, although unlike the impassive mountain that had bared his progress to the north, this was an enemy he could get to grips with and destroy. He had observed the fighting from a high shelf of rock that overlooked the battle from behind the horde's line of attack and learned much. Every time his warriors appeared to make a breach in the wall, a huge and fierce Ogre chieftain, a creature whose immense girth outmatched even the brutes around him, rushed into the gap and immediately turn the tide of battle against the horde. A great pile of Chaos champions and their warriors now lay dead about the Ogre Tyrant's feet and his bodyguard, thick-skinned brutes bearing huge black cleavers, bellowed defiantly and smeared their fists with the blood and ichor of their victims. Observing this contemptuous behavior, Tamurkhan vowed that it would be he that slew the Tyrant personally. Forming up his own warband of decaying and corrupt Nurgle-sons, he directed the efforts of his sorcerers against the makeshift fortification closest to. where the Ogre Tyrant stood. Soon the corresponding portion of the barrier lay in shattered ruins — its. stones broken and Pulverised by sorcerous blasts. The air hung heavy with smoke and foul fumes, and before the dust cleared Tamurkhan urged his mighty steed forward — Bubebolos, the greatest of Toad Dragons, roared its challenge and charged the wall.[1d]
Giants and MaggotsThe mountain shook and the sound of shattering rocks and splintered stone reverberated around the canyon. From the high pinnacles above, a fresh wave of spears and broken blades showered down against the filth-stained tide that ran headlong towards the breach, bellowing joyful war cries in rasping, disease-wracked voices. Sorcerers hurled their shrieking spells and the Ogre Butchers answered with their own guttural incantations until the air boiled with the passage of dark magic and the mountains shook with the thunder of a thousand iron-shod feet in deafening clamour. Boulders dislodged by the bombardment tumbled from the mountainside and plunged upon the armies below. Huge stones bounded down the narrow valley, crushing and burying warriors from both sides and soon the air grew so thick with dust it hid the sun and cast the steep-sided defile into near darkness. Near unseen as ghosts in the choking dust, the warriors of Tamurkhan the Maggot Lord smashed into the barrier breach in a blind whirlwind of hacking, screaming carnage until the corpse-mounts shifted and toppled and the barrier crumbled.[1d]
In the confusion both sides smashed and trampled foe and friend alike underfoot and after minutes that seemed an eternity the lines parted, reeling away from each other, neither yet broken although the ravine was now carpeted by the dead and the dying. At last the shrieks of magic ceased and the echoes of devastation slowly stilled but for the agonised cries of the maimed and mutilated. In the cloud of dust a vast shape took form and began to lurch purposefully forward. From the gloom emerged the warty head of Bubebolos followed by the Toad Dragon's vast festering body, The bloated creature's rotting scales dripped and spat as he heaved his gargantuan carcass over the stony ground. Tamurkhan the Maggot Lord surveyed the spectral scene from his seat high upon the broad haunches of the gigantic monstrosity. Before his foes knew what was upon them, Bubebolos was in their midst. The monster's enormous bulk easily pushed aside the few remaining boulders and toppled what little was left of the Ogres' crude barrier. The mighty creature raised its warty head, opened its tusked maw and spewed a vast liquid cloud of foulness that stripped the bubbling flesh from the dozen Ogre Bulls caught before it and sent a dozen more stumbling over themselves in a panicked flight to escape.[1d]
A terrible rank stench rose from Bubebolos' rancid body and the dissolving remains of its victims, few if any could stand before such a terror and even the savage Ogres seemed momentarily stunned. But Ogres are accustomed to feasting upon even the rankest flesh, and they quickly regrouped to stand their ground. At their head stood the Ogre chieftain whose broad-headed axe, near a cartwheel's size in span, had already slain so many of Tamurkhan's mightiest warriors that day. Bigger than his fellows by a head or more, Karaka Breakmountain raised his blood-drenched axe and bellowed defiantly, his warband rallying to the Tyrant's defiance to take up the cry. Soon the whole Ogre army, which moments before had been all but ready to flee, turned to face their enemy to fight once more. Tamurkhan snarled as the Ogre Tyrant hurled insults at him in the Dark Tongue, and their eyes met with a flicker of unquenchable hatred. The Ogre stepped forwards and bellowed a challenge in the coarse, guttural tongue of Chaos, daring Tamurkhan to face him in person rather than let the Toad Dragon fight his battles for him. Tamurkhan's pride rancoured at the barb, and even though Bubebolos might have easily trampled the Ogre into the dirt and been done for, Tamurkhan knew that the eyes of his own warriors and champions were upon him, and that they too had understood the Tyrant's words. Cunning indeed was this Ogre amongst his kind.[1d]
Drawing his dark-edged runeblade, Tamurkhan slipped down from the Toad Dragon's back and prepared to meet his enemy's challenge, while behind him the Chaos host rasped and bellowed its approval. The two armies drew back as Tamurkhan and the Ogre Tyrant approached one another. They began to circle — each looking for an opening to launch its attack. The great Ogre towered above Tamurkhan and the cadaverous Chaos lord in his rusted finery seemed impossibly fragile in comparison. Yet not even an Ogre could fail to recognise the power of Nurgle's chosen champion, and approached his foe warily. The Ogre was first to strike, hefting a wide swing with his axe and Tamurkhan darted out of reach with derisory ease, only to be caught almost flatfooted when with unforeseen skill the Ogre reversed the blow and sent the axe's brass pommel flying at the centre of Tamurkhan's head with murderous force.[1d]
Tamurkhan barely rolled with the impact which sundered his helm and reposted with a savage series of stabs against his hulking enemy's exposed flesh. The combatants parted, both sporting wounds, and the battle was joined in earnest. The great axe swung in deadly arcs, while Tarnurkhan's runeblade spat and hummed as it slashed and stabbed at his foe, and all around them Ogre and Chaos Warrior alike shouted and bellowed for their champion's victory. Minutes passed and both were bleeding and battered, neither having gained the upper hand, but Tamurkhan saw his opportunity when his foe's axe blade, striking downwards was momentarily caught in the armoured breastplate of a fallen Chaos Knight. Screaming a prayer to his dark patron, Tamurkhan thrust his black blade swift as an arrow straight towards the Ogre's eye and sank its point deep into the monster's head. The Ogre staggered back clumsily, dropping his axe and waving his arms jerkily about as if fending off an irate wasp, but did not fall, and Tamurkhan lunged in to deliver the killing blow. But Karaka Breakmountain was far from dead.[1d]
Bellowing in rage the Tyrant charged his enemy with a shocking burst of speed, his great armoured belly slammed into the Chaos Lord and smashed him sprawling and stunned to the ground. Tamurkhan rolled to his left as a moment later the Tyrant's body slammed into where he had lain. Stunned and reeling, Tamurkhan staggered to his feet, broken bones grinding together inside his withered body but could not escape as the Ogre caught hold of Tamurkhan by the shoulder and shoved him hard upon the ground. A deep moan came from the Chaos host as they saw their master fall. Now the Ogre stood astride Tamurkhan and, with both hands, first tore the runeblade from his hand and snapped it asunder. It then grasped the Chaos Lord upraised arm and snapped it off at the elbow as a man at a feast might tear the wing from a roasted foul. Tarnurkhan's maimed arm waggled back and forth as if he were attempting to fend away his enemy with a limb that was no longer there.[1d]
The Tyrant made a breathless noise that might have been a hollow laugh but as he did so a gout of black and crimson liquid fountained from Tarnurkhan's severed stump and struck the creature full in the face. The Ogre roared and wiped his eyes but the foul liquid was not blood, it was a torrent of writhing grave-Worms. The Ogre staggered back and clawed at his eye and mouth, pulling away great handfuls of the vile worms that even now burrowed into the open wounds in his face. Jerking to his knees like a puppet with severed strings, Tamurkhan tore off his ruined helm and from behind the mask of flesh, the Maggot Lord's true form emerged. Behind him the body of the Chaos Lord he had stolen on the killing fields of Zanbaijin lay as nothing but a crumpled and empty shell, like the sloughed skin of a serpent. The maggot-thing uncoiled and leapted at the thrashing Tyrant and in a second had bored into the soft flesh of the Ogre's exposed throat, the Tyrant toppling backwards like a felled tree.[1d]
The greatest warriors of Chaos are favoured by the gods like no other race. Such favours often give them near-daemonic powers unimaginable to other mortals. Yet even so, the sight of Tamurkhan's destruction and that of his enemy was no common thing. All who watched stood in awed silence as the sky above them darkened a foetid green and the field of corpses began to twitch with blooming rot and steamed with noxious amber vapours. The Tyrant's huge • body seemed to churn and pulse and the Ogre's skin, rippled back and forth a while, like waves upon the sea, then stilled as if some conflict had been won. Tamurkhan the Maggot Lord opened his eyes and gasped in huge gulps of air, filling the Ogre's ravaged lungs as if for the first time like a new-born beast. He rose up ,standing on broad feet upon squat muscular legs — and stood, a little unsteadily. For a while he flexed his arms and stretched the huge muscles either side of his thick neck. Gradually he gained his balance. He took a step forward and as he did so there was a mighty roar from the Chaos host. As for the Ogres, some had already begun to flee, scaling the rocks and crags with surprising speed while others fought on but soon were overwhelmed. Many of the Red Fist tribe were confused by this strange turn of events. Was this creature still their leader or was it now their destroyer? Some were simply awed by the Maggot Lord's victory, but in any case they knelt in submission to a new and terrible master. Tamurkhan then picked up the broken remnants of his black war-blade from the ground — how tiny it seemed in his monstrous hands. He tossed it aside and instead took up the Tyrant's axe and held it aloft as all around him the great horde roared in victory and he too bellowed his triumph in a brute voice that was Tamurkhan's own. The way to the west was his.[1d]
Packs of Blood and Darkness
- "Tamurkhan looked out upon the blasted land in the shadow of the great and ashen fortress and growled impatiently through his ruined jaws. The horde was at last breaking camp and moving out once more on its bloody cause. Half a year's turning had passed since the battle for the high crags had broken open the way to the west for Tamurkhan, and that span of time had wrought great changes both upon the Ogre body he wore, and the horde at his command."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1e]
Those of the horde that did not share Nurgle's faith steered well clear of the noisome encampment of their leader at this time, and instead roamed the hill country nearby, foraging and culling the primal beasts that roamed the hills for meat, setting up store for the arduous lands they knew lay ahead. It was testament to the favour that the Dark Gods had shown Tamurkhan that when the year began to wane they returned once more to his banner when called, although reluctantly for the most part, the lure of glory to come still weighed favourably with the Kurgan.[1e]
The winter had seen the Chaos host make its way along the grey river through league after league of rolling, barren hills caught between the mountains to the north and the trackless Haunted Forest to the south. They had battled their way through teeming Gnoblar swarms, gigantic black scorpions the size of watchtowers and a score of brutal Ogre tribes which had to be broken, driven off or overmatched in turn. Although given more open battlefields than before, none ever posed the threat that the Red Fist tribe had. The battles had been glorious and the Ogres were a worthy foe, and many of the warriors of Chaos had seen transfiguration and blessing in the eyes of the Chaos Gods for their prowess and death toll against them, while others were dealt a fickler hand by the dark fates, now replenished the ranks of the war-spawn that thronged around the beast-born shrines to the Chaos Gods at the center of the host. By the time the horde of the Maggot Lord had reached where the great and polluted River Ruin cut across their path from north to south, marking the borders of the fabled Dark Lands, perhaps a little more than half of the original Kurgan warriors that had gathered to Tamurkhan's banners after the great battle of Zanbaijin remained. His force though still numbered in the many thousands, and Beastmen and Giants now added to the ranks, as did Ogres, many of whom had taken on a terrible aspect.[1e]
It had pleased Tamurkhan to bring those of the Red Fist tribe that had bowed before him now he wore their dead Tyrant's body close into his circle, and he assuaged their hunger with gifts of the foulest and most decaying and corrupted meat, thus inducting them into the ways of the Great Plague Father. The change upon them had been profound, and mutation was rife — even these creatures so usually resistant to the touch of Chaos could not help but succumb to so concentrated and malignant a corruption. Whole regiments of Plague Ogres now fought alongside Tamurkhan, whose own stolen flesh had bloomed and rotted in turn, his features no more than a sagging ruined mass, while a single twisted and pustulant horn had sprung from his crown. It was this bloated and decaying figure, mounted as,ever aback Bubebolos the Toad Dragon, that had confronted the Dark Empire of Zharr at the great river crossing over which, like an obsidian dagger thrust into the burning, smoke-ladened skies, the Black Fortress of the Chaos Dwarfs stood.[1e]
The Sons of Fire
- "The pact the Maggot Lord had long since sealed with his foul master Nurgle earned many strickens and boons - boons which to others would be no more than nightmarish torture and sickening abasement, but to one devoted to the god of decay and disease were instead signs of favor and divine grace. Tamurkhan's filth shaman had declared the alignment of the stars and the passage of Morrslieb, the black moon of Chaos, to be particularly auspicious and had suspened the horde's progress for a time at the foot of the mountains."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1e]
On the opposite bank of the river, across the shallow causeways that were the only place a force as large and unwieldy as Tamurkhan's horde might cross into the Dark Lands for many leagues, Lord Drazhoath the Ashen, master of the Black Fortress had drawn up his army. Here Tamurkhan's thousands were matched with rank after rank of compact regimented figures encased from head to toe in thick ornate armor woven from smouldering steel scales and thick blackened plates; brutal blades and strange ornate weapons beating a deadly rhythm in unison against brazen shields. All throughout their lines were batteries of nightmarish war engines, daemon fused cannon and gaping-mouthed mortars. At the flanks great mobs of Hobgoblin slave soldiers cowered and fretted under the cruel lashes of their overseers, ready to be spent as a living shield of blood and bone for their callous masters. Immemorial and his reason calculated the odds poorly in his favor. Yet even in the face of certain defeat Lord Drazhoath was unafraid — for he was of a race prouder and more stubborn than any upon the face of the world, and thus was his charge and the charge of all those consigned to garrison the mighty Black Fortress that marked the boundary of the Chaos Dwarf dominion to fight and die, the breath of hatred upon their lips speaking against the foes of Zharr-Naggrund. Though death and destruction were inevitable, he would not disgrace the Chaos Dwarfs of Zharr nor sell cheaply the legacy of Hashut, his Father in Darkness. Each perhaps had the echo of some other outcome of the confrontation than mutual destruction in mind from the start, but first both pride and the desires of the Dark Gods must be borne. There would be blood.[1e]
For many hours the tide of Chaos crashed upon the army of the lords of Hashut. In wave after wave, it advanced upon the thin line of Chaos Dwarfs only to be beaten back under a hail of arrows and gunfire. Strange missiles leapt from the Chaos Dwarf ranks and fell upon their enemies with great resounding crashes like thunder. Warriors and beasts were blown into so many pieces of shredded flesh and mangled iron or burned the flames charring their flesh even under the waters of the black River Ruin.[1e]
Yet like the ocean, the army of Tamurkhan came on relentlessly like a great, filthy tide. As one warrior fell another stepped into his place and soon by storm and winged beast the supply trains of the army of Zharr began to come under attack from above. Rotting-wing corpse-vulture and daemon-furies struck from the skies, while sorcerous lightning arced down to burn and blast, causing powder kegs to erupt in lethal fireballs incinerating all around them. The dragon-rider Orhbal Vipergut led the aerial assault behind the Chaos Dwarf lines, scattering Hobgoblin caravan guards and butchering screaming slaves bound in their traces and unable to flee. Soon enough however, the Chaos Dwarfs' guns slowed and many were struck silent, their ammunition and powder spent. Slowly the horde regrouped to renew the attack, and this time the Dolgan war mammoths were to lead the assault, and behind them heavily armored Chaos Knights and warriors were taking up key positions before the foe. The morning's battle had simply been a preliminary attempt to draw the enemy's fire. The Chaos Dwarfs had unknowingly wasted their cannons and powder on the most expendable parts of the horde: mutated cultists, wild monsters, savage or mindless spawn, and those so blessed by Chaos' corrupting touch they were glad to seek death rather than live another day.[1e]
Of course some sacrifice had been necessary; thousands of Kurgan lay dead or dying as well as hundreds of Tamurkhan's Plague Ogres. That the path to glory was awash with blood no one would ever deny. Drazhoath the Ashen was neither fool, nor inexperienced as a general, and saw immediately the peril his forces were in. Swiftly he commanded a detachment of his Infernal Guard to hold the line until slain and ordered his fellow Daemonsmiths to work with fear and mind-clouding magics to hurl the Hobgoblin slave-soldiers at their command into the teeth of the foe to delay them while the greater and more valuable Chaos Dwarf force and his engines of war sought a retreat. The plan however did not survive the charge of the ground-shaking war mammoths across the causeway, and even the Infernal Guard could not hold back such a weight of muscle and fury and the center of the line on the far bank was shattered by the creatures charge. The retreat became a disarrayed rout, as the weapons of the Kurgan fell mercilessly upon the Orcs and Hobgoblins who made up the greatest part of the slave army, and many more of the cowardly creatures died in the rush to escape as the panicked Hobgoblins fought and clawed over each other in their eagerness to flee. Those not trampled to death by their comrades were simply buried and suffocated in the press. Isolated blocks of Chaos Dwarfs stood their ground rather than face the ignominy of being cut down in flight, both at their war machines and in defensive squares of steel-shod warriors. They fought savagely and bravely, but they stood little chance as the horde washed washed over them. There was great slaughter on both sides, but soon the victory was Tamurkhan's, and Drazhoath, his Daemonsmiths and the core of his Legion made good their retreat, covered by a great cloud of ash and sulfurous darkness, back to the safety of the Black Fortress.[1e]
A Bargain Struck
- "Know that I Tamurkhan, son of the Great Kurgan, Master of Hosts, Bringer of Desolation, Champion of the Lord of Decay speak. Would you, Lord Drazhoath, perish knowing that your land will be despoiled and your fortress plundered? By all witness of the Dark Gods you have fought with honour and brought glory to thy Master – now yield without shame. Our war is not with the Lords of Hashut but with the lands of Men. Join us, grant us the blessing of steel and thy fell arts of war, and the spoils of victory shall fall to all alike. As it has been before between the Kurgan and the sons of Zharr, let it be again and a pact struck between us."
- —The Bargain of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1e]
It was Sayl the Faithless, he of the twisted flesh and serpent's tongue, that was chosen as emissary in Tamurkhan's stead to deliver his words to the Chaos Dwarfs, now holed-up in their near-impregnable fortress: Great hollowed-out and sculpted mountains surrounded by cinder-pits where molten magma flowed like water at the whim of its masters. Sayl, who had by this time become the De-facto — if untrusted — leader of all within the horde who were not pledged to the Plague Lord, was some whispered a far from wise choice, but from Tamurkhan's view, no less than a quarrelsome if useful tool, and ultimately expendable should the Dwai Zharr choose to a point of destroying him.[1e]
Drazhoath heard these words and-dismissed Tamurkhan's threat to the Black Fortress as an idle one, and yet all around the lands he had sworn to dominate were scourged, ravaged by the wolf now at his door, a calamity his brethren in distant Mingol Zharr Naggrund would not forgive. But his wicked heart leapt as he thought of the legendary riches of the west, of iron and stone and gemstones, of the plunder of slaves, of gold and flesh and blood. But most of all; the lore he might glean. For many years now, stories had reached the dark empire of the Chaos Dwarfs of the powerful battle magic and war engines that had arisen in the human lands of the west — tales spoken of by caravan-masters seeking to curry favor and confessions extorted under torture from captives and freshly bought slave stock.[1f]
No doubt was in Drazhoath's mind that these purely human creations would prove inferior to the craftsmanship of the Daemonsmiths of Zharr, but there would be great merit in their measuring. Should he lead an expedition and match the might of his legion against the humans of the west in victory and take their secrets for his own, then among Hashut's dark priesthood his star would rise anew, and so the flames of glory to come were fanned in Drazhoath's cold and spiteful breast. None of this reasoning the lord of the Black Fortress allowed to slip before the baleful Chaos Sorcerer before him. Drazhoath would ensure the bargaining would prove long and ardious before at last a pact was sealed.[1f]
Death in Payment of Death
The horde marched south-west under the guidance of Hobgoblin outriders where the horde encamped for three moons at a wide, long-disused mine known as Ghulaktha in the Chaos Dwarf tongue. Here by bloody battle (as a part of their bargain with the Chaos Dwarfs) they drove out the Black Orc tribe that had infested the ruins and soon set about ranging far and wide with great slaughter along the Scalded Delta, sending a steady stream of captives to the dark empire to the north. In return, caravans pulled by strange, ash-blackened beast and strange clanking machines the likes of which no Kurgan had ever seen, arrived by night and day at Ghulaktha; bearing bushels of weapons and darkly forged wargear to re-equip the horde. Without mercy or cease, deep within the bowels of the Black Fortress and the distant Tower of Gorgoth, hellish furnaces which burned flesh and souls as easily as coal and tinder, blazed and hammered and resounded with sacrificial screams as Drazhoath's directions preparations were made for the Legion of Azgorh and its malevolent engines of war to go west with Tamurkhan's horde — not as followers, but allies against a chosen foe. The sworn pact was that for the aid of the Daemonsmiths' might in bringing down the great city, the Legion of Azgorh would in return have their pick of prisoners and battlefield plunder, and then would the bargain be complete.[1f]
As preparations were made for the journey west, and in honour of the bargain struck, Tamurkhan and his warriors joined in battle alongside the Legion of Azgorh against one of their most terrible and ancient foes, the Dragon Omdra the Dread. This monster of legend had stirred once more and soon its dominion carried across the northern Plain of Bones and its colossal black-winged shadow scattered all before it in nightmare and terror. No mere beast — however great its size — was Omdra, but an ancient and wicked creature with dark magics to match even the vaunted Sayl, and at whose inhuman will, gargantuan Maw Wyrms rose up from the black sands to give battle alongside packs of hungry Crypt Ghouls, to whom the dragon was no less than a god, and threw themselves with savage piety against the Kurgan.[1f]
In this battle were thousands slain, both Kurgan and Chaos Dwarf together, and here did the Great Chaos Spawn Garth'grak fall, and even mighty Bubebolos suffered grievous wounds as the Nightmare Dragon and its servants ambushed the horde's main column in the dead of night. At great cost in blood and sorcery was the Dragon-god herself gravely injured and driven away to slumber beneath the bones of her dead kin, her threat to the Desolation of Azgorh broken — at least for a time. In return for this effusion of slaughter on their behalf, the servants of Hashut honored Tamurkhan with the gift of a war-axe fit to his stature, a darkly enchanted blade to replace the Tyrant's which had shattered in the granite-hard skull of a Maw Worm in battle. Also, at Tamurkhan's behest, they took the near hundred Giants that still fought with the horde and worked their arts of forge-craft and sorcery on them, encasing them in plated iron and fitting them with great hooked blades and picks, the better to scale and sunder the fortifications the horde must face when it reached its destination.[1f]
The Storm Approaches
- "Here in a verdant all but untouched valley, the twisted devotees of plague that formed Tamurkhan's inner circle had sunk a befouled pit in the earth in which terrible rites were enacted night after night to the glory of Nurgle, and the land for leagues around became wasted and tainted, and all that walked or crawled or grew in that place sickened and died - if it was fortunate, and those that were less fortunate became host to the most maligent and cancerous mutations, or the playthings of Daemons, and in either case heeded their new master's call"
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1e]
Soon however, Tamurkhan grew impatient to move onwards, wary that his horde's numbers were steadily bleeding away, battle by battle, and conscious too that the omens were beginning to turn against him. Dark rumors and whispered words born upon wings of sorcery from a thousand leagues northward spoke that other forces even now assailed the Empire, and other mighty champions clamoured for the Dark Gods' attention with their great and terrible deeds. Even within his own ranks, while his might remained unquestioned as did Tamurkhan's devotion to the Father of Decay, some spoke of the changes recently wrought upon his stolen Tyrant's body, and that they were perhaps a mark that the Plague God's judgement — either for ascension or destruction — was soon to be at hand. Great had been Tamurkhan's glory, for he had carved a trail of desolation across half the world it seemed.[1f]
He had led the horde where warlords before him had feared to tread and the number of bodies that lay at his feet could not easily be counted, but the city of thrice-cursed Magnus he had promised the Dark Gods, he had yet to deliver. At last in a council of war Tamurkhan declared the time had come to render up a final victory to the Chaos Gods, and the horde of the Maggot Lord set forth once again westward where they meant to cross the Worlds Edge Mountains at Death Pass, which was both the closest route and at that time and least opposed crossing, great armies of Orcs and Skaven having fought each other to near annihilation in battle to control it in recent years.[1f]
With the lands of the west so close now, and the horde having slaughtered and slain its way so far, fresh impetus and vigour filled the horde as it crossed the Dark Lands in the shadow of the Ash Ridge Mountains and all were driven before it. Tamurkhan's savage legend having become common currency among the misshapen Ghoul-kin, brutal Orcs and predatory Hobgoblins that lived in the western Dark Lands. At the entrance to the wide pass they were met by a full third of the strength of the Legion of Azgorh, the serried regiments of the Infernal Guard waiting lockstep for them with Drazhoath himself at their command, mounted upon a great burning beast like a winged bull. With them were drawn up strange iron and bronze engine caravans, half supply train and half war machine, driven forward by steam-hissing wheeled carriages they called Iron Daemons. They were a bizarre and frightening sight to behold.[1f]
They drove on to Death Pass all but unopposed, its denizens skulking terrified in the shadows at the baleful sight of the great horde and the smoke belching armored columns that ran beside it. So it was that in the dying summer of 2510 IC of the Imperial Reckoning that like the wrath of a terrible and despoiling god, the horde of Tamurkhan fell upon the unprepared lands of the Border Princes.[1f]
Life within the Border Princes is hard and full of danger, and yet the coming of the Chaos horde of Tamurkhan was a disaster unlike anything these hardscrabble lands had seen for centuries. After their long travel and the hardships they had endured in the Dark Lands, the Kurgan, Ogres and foul beasts within it looked upon the rolling green downs and tangled, verdant forests before them and had never before seen a land so rich and ripe for despoil, and they fell upon it like starving jackals set loose in a sheepfold. All but uncontrollable in their frenzy, the horde broke up almost at once into a thousand independent bands that ravaged all before them like a wildfire, drowning one petty kingdom after another in its own blood and leaving all barren and blasted in their wake, great heaps of bodies mounded beneath gristly standards where any had the temerity to stand before them. Vastly outnumbered and outmatched, even the largest and most militarily capable alliance of baronies and principalities, the so-call Confederation of the Eagle whose army of skilled and veteran mercenaries met the oncoming horde under the generalship of Leitpold the Black — an infamous sell-sword general of great renown — could not slow let alone stop the horde.[1f]
The human army, comprised of armored knights and well-disciplined pikemen was crushed utterly, and the fleeing survivors were ridden down by death-hungry Kurgan, Lietpold being almost alone in escaping the field, albeit at the expense of his own troops' horrific demise. It was only after weeks of slaughter and destruction that Tamurkhan's outriders, by messages both of command and unveiled threat, were able to bring back the horde, now in good spirits after the carnage they had wrought, back to heel and under his control. By the time this was done, the heart had been torn from the Border Princes and it had suffered a cataclysm that would not see its population recover for nearly a generation, and unquiet and vengeful spirits haunted its downs instead. Not all of the horde did return to his command, some small bands and vile beasts, tiring of Tamurkhan's yoke, fled to the Border Princes hinterlands and trouble its successors to this day.[1f]
Restoring order in the host cost Tamurkhan and his chieftains valuable time, and meanwhile the Legion of Azgorh, which had seen its own rich pickings and already begun dispatching trains of captives and plunder back to the Dark Lands, proved infuriatingly difficult for Tamurkhan to hurry, as he himself seemed to his followers less human and less sane with each passing day. Sayl the Faithless counselled speed, lest the Empire of Men know their danger and block the passes over the Black Mountains against them, and yet he seemed to frustrate his stated goal at every turn, allowing his Dolgans to wreak havoc ever further afield despite pretense to unite them once more. Matters worsened as without warning hurricane storms rolled in from the mountains, driving sheets of rain that turned the downs into sodden quagmires of mud, while the voices of hungry spirits in the winds howled between the peel of thunder. Day after day the storm went on unabated, unnatural and horrific in its intensity, driving Chimera and other fell creatures down from the heights to rip apart fleeing refugees and their pursuers, driven mad by the ceaseless hammering of the rains and the unearthly howling on the wind.[1f]
A Road Less Travelled
News reached Tamurkhan that Black Fire Pass was awash with a flood like a great cataract and there was no way the land-machines of the Chaos Dwarfs could hope to attempt its crossing, even if hauled bodily by the great beasts and Giants at the horde's despoil. Tamurkhan raged murderously, lashing out at his own followers and raving that he heard the laughter of the Dark Gods in the storm's voice. It was Lord Drazhoath who unexpectedly provided a solution, in collating such scorched books and blood-stained parchments as his forces uncovered from their path of destruction, he had learned of a pass named in some texts as the Winter's Teeth. Splintered and inhospitable, it was said to have been the site of Dwarf mines and citadels long since abandoned, and the pass itself was all but forgotten, but it offered an alternate route further west that might allow them to cut up into the belly of the Empire from an unexpected quarter.[1f]
The unnatural storm lessened in its intensity the further west it went, and when war parties sent to scout the pass vowed it all but untouched by the havoc rained down, Tamurkhan immediately seized upon it and set the drums of the horde beating in frenzied motion. The acolytes of Nurgle, joyful in their suffering of the agues and miasmas that the foul weather brought them and inviolate in their faith in the Maggot Lord, answered the call keenly but others did not. Many of the ever superstitious Kurgan saw the unnatural storm as a sign of the Dark Gods' disfavor. Others muttered yet that the lands westward lay open and ripe for the taking and were yet untouched by the despoiling horde. Those champions who did not embrace the Plague God demanded the omen's meaning — Sayl threw burning runes of prophecy across lattices of boiling elf-marrow, all presaging disaster and death. When informed of these omens, Drazhoath merely smiled coldly and turned away while Tamurkhan would have none of such predictions, his fate, his glory was but a handful of footsteps away. After all, Tamurkhan declared, the vanguard that breached the pass reported only some scattered resistance from black-cowled Goblins that fled in panic when attacked by the Kurgans' bared blades. They had sent such weaklings to flight and slaughter many times before. Why should they fear them now?[1f]
Death from the Darkness
- "The great horde of Tamurkhan ascended the southern sides of Winter's Teeth Pass, and the chill of the high mountains quickly fell upon them, a cold mist clinging to the shadowed sides of the near-vertical network of wide ravines that awaited them after the steep central, zigzag pathway that rose up from the forest below. As the footfalls of thousands quickly scattered the upper layer of detrius and forged through gnarled underbrush, the truth of Lord Drazhoath's lore became apparent. This indeed was no natural terrain feature, but one heavily worked and augmented in ancient days - a great throughfare intended for trains of caravan and wagon. The artisanship of the Dwarfs that had earned it had stood the test of time, long after its creators had perished and their kinfolk had retreated to a few scattered refuge."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1h]
Once they had attained the high pass through the Black Mountains, the going grew easier as the pass was far more level than might have been imagined, and high above them the peaks and rock faces were crowned with effigies of ancient Dwarf ancestor gods, heroes and runic inscriptions, weathered by time and the fury of the elements, but far from erased. Setting a brutal pace, by midday the foremost warriors soon found themselves marching through recently abandoned encampments and litter piles at the open mouths of caves. Foul and unkempt, they showed clear signs of Goblin-kind as their makers, and many of the campfires at their fore still smoked and the stench of charred flesh hung upon the air. Further on, the Kurgan came across the remains of their own kind — those riders that had scouted ahead of the horde and not returned. They passed the grisly Mutilated bodies of former comrades staked or hung beside the path where the pitiless greenskins had left them to be found while heat-cracked human and horse bones littered throughout the campfires spoke of the fate of others.[1h]
At these crude barbarities the Kurgan laughed, for they honored the Dark Gold and had seen far worse in their time – indeed had done worse themselves. The Chaos Dwarfs were indifferent, their demeanor neither heightened nor dimmed by the findings, and as for the Ogres, the scent of burning flesh merely stirred their famously insatiable appetites and made them only more impatient for battle. The sun was past its zenith, and the high pass taken in by gathering shadow when the horde first sighted the enemy. Flitting small shapes moved along the ridges and Dwarf workings above the pass, sometimes taking pot-shots at the passing column with their crude bows, but never closing with the horde completely. In response their shots were answered by desultory arrow-fire in return, but whenever an enraged force broke off from the horde to chase them, the shadowy figures melted away, leaving only the echoes of their mocking laughter.[1h]
The Serpent Severed
- "The great bulk of the Kurgan and the Ogres went first, clearing the way, bringing up war mammoths to shift aside boulders where they had fallen from on high. Behind them came the disciplined engine-trains of the Chaos Dwarf like great black-rion serpents, hissing steam and sending ash and smoke into the frigid air, flanked by implacable columns of heaivly armored Infernal Guard, watching warily their master's work and taking to the strain of hte climb and the relentless pace the horde's vanguard set without discernible effort."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1h]
As the hours progressed towards true nightfall the horde's casualties started to mount, but Tamurkhan ordered the horde onward. Still he would brook no delays now he was so close to his prey, and pushed his host on until they had reached a point where the ancient maps they followed described a wide shoulder of the mountain, its surface hammered flat, where it might be possible for the horde to encamp with some measure of cohesion and security before the sun's setting. So it was that after a day of almost continuous harassment the forward column of the horde turned into the shadowed vale beneath the high peaks and was faced by a vast sea of black cloth and leering green faces spread across the stony expanse, lurid banners flapping and snapping in the chill wind. The Night Goblins had waited for the Chaos force to reach a point where there was room enough for its massed tribes to deploy their numbers. Not only did the greenskins' battle-line spread across the valley edge-to-edge, perhaps as much as a league across, behind it stretched a mass of shifting darkness as far as the eye could see. Shrouded by the setting sun, the immense forms of mountain Giants and hulking Aracknarok Spiders the size of watchtowers, their many-faceted eyes glittering malevolently in the dark, towered over the Night Goblins below them.[1h]
As Tamurkhan fixed the foe with his ogre's cataract-white eyes he knew that many more Night Goblins were likely to be lurking in the adjoining caverns and hidden dens within the peaks, ready to jump upon the flanks and rear of his warriors once battle had been joined. Night Goblins were wicked and cowardly creatures that would not have dared to bar his path, even in such numbers, unless the spite filled warbosses that led them felt assured of some chance of victory. That they believed this was the case now, against so mighty and terrible a force as his host, spoke either of mass insanity on their part or some dark scheme he could not yet see.[1h]
The Night Goblins did not attack immediately, but instead stamped and clashed their weapons, screaming and howling taunts from across the barren space, clearly waiting for the horde to make the first move. Tamurkhan used this pause to swiftly dispatch orders to his commanders and array his vanguard into battle order, sending word along the long line behind him that battle was about to be joined and warnings of imminent ambush. He summoned both Sayl the Faithless and Kayzk the Befouled to his side, while Orhbal flew high above the horde in an effort to gain the measure of their foe and any trickery they had planned. The Kurgan were eager to spill blood however, and the tainted Ogres more so, and soon, by order or not, the horde would make its assault, and would not be held back, bridling as is was for carnage after long hours of being taunted and picked at by the Night Goblins hidden in the heights.[1h]
No sooner had Kayzk's pestilent and reeking form reached his warlord's banner, and with Sayl yet far behind in the column of march, did Tamurkhan's own Plague Ogres break from the ranks and tumble headlong at the enemy, bellowing and frothing in their rage. At the sight of this a great roar went up from the horde and scattered bands of Kurgan Marauders joined the charge, along with a maddened pack of mutant warhounds three-score strong that fought loose of their keepers and leapt slavering at the foe, swiftly outpacing the Plague Ogres with their long, loping strides. Knowing that the disordered charge would lead to disaster for the horde, Tamurkhan, roaring in rage, was forced to sound the general attack, the blaring cry of war mammoth-tusk horns momentarily drowning out even the din of the Kurgans' war-cries.[1h]
The mighty drums struck up in their wake pounded a rapid beat and the horde lurched forward, hoof beats and thousands of heavy footfalls echoing like a rolling peel of thunder and kicking up great clouds of dust in the cold air. With the horsemen and hounds in the lead, Tamurkhan himself led the center of the advance, surrounded by the rust and filth spattered ranks of Chaos Warriors and a great fly swarm — an eternal accompaniment to the armies of Nurgle — rose before them like an angry black cloud, casting a shadow across the valley floor. The great mass of the Night Goblin army wavered and rippled in bristle jagged spear-points leveled before them, partly supported by their own numbers and the prisoning rock walls to either side. With the advance halfway to the enemy, boulders and long spears, and even more bizarrely, ragged, winged shapes which proved to be screaming Night Goblins hound to crude winged harnesses, began to be flung wildly out at the Chaos horde, propelled by ramshackle contraptions hidden in the mass of the Night Goblins' rear ranks.[1h]
Many of these projectiles fell short or careened off the rock walls, but such was the number of the onrushing horde that many found their mark regardless of their poor aim, and men and horses alike were brutally impaled. As the ground was closed by the horde, cloud after cloud of black-fletched arrows went up from the Night Goblins, and the carnage in the pass was doubled, and suddenly intensified as shaman cast spells that began to crackle and spatter amongst the charging Kurgan. Curious green lights played upon the Chaos Marauders and many were suddenly cast to the ground and crushed beneath the invisible weight of powerful magic.[1h]
Their forces much thinned by the onslaught, the Kurgan slammed into the Night Goblin horde and the entire black-clad mass seemed to shudder and quake as the line of battle quickly became a swirling melee of blood, dust and iron, stabbing spear points and hacking axe blades rising and falling in frenzied savagery. Insane spinning figures lurched clear of the crush almost drunkenly carried along by the momentum of blood-spattered weighted balls and chains. Tamurkhan's own sledgehammer-column of Nurgle-blessed warriors thundered to the fore and behind them more and more warriors were pouring into the gap the charging vanguard had left in their wake — for there were thousands more eager to do battle in the name of the Chaos Gods and prove themselves in their dark master's eyes, Bubebolos fell upon the Night Goblins with a cascade of rancid breath that momentarily stunned the greenskins and drove them back in terror, the Maggot Lord spurring his mount onward. Tamurkhan's blade swept out in swooping arcs, cleaving heads from bodies as Bubebolos' jaws seized mouthfuls of his enemies and spat out their mangled bodies. Others the Toad Dragon simply stepped on and crushed beneath his incomparable bulk while Tamurkhan gutted a mountain Giant and yanked out fistfuls of its innards as bloated carrion flies swarmed into its body; devouring it from within as it wailed its piteous death cry.[1h]
Without warning, the mountains themselves shuddered as strange green lightning flashed high above. An instant later a colossal grinding sound vibrated through the fabric of the world, momentarily stilling the frenzied battle and causing beast, warrior and greenskin alike to stumble and fall. High above at the entrance to the valley and at a dozen other narrow places along the pass, vast slabs of rock and ancient Dwarf statuary untouched by time slowly shuddered into motion and began with almost galling slowness to slip from their foundations and tumble with cataclysmic force into the pass below. Hundreds were annihilated in the blink of an eye and within moments the great serpent of the Chaos horde had been severed into a dozen pieces, all writhing in shock at what had been wrought upon them. Vast billowing clouds of choking dust rolled through the pass and scores of Night Goblins and brutish Stone Trolls emerged from their concealment in the wake of the earth-shaking attack and fell upon the horde screeching and screaming in drug-induced madness and gnawing horror. Where there had once been a single rear clash, now a dozen smaller battles were joined, split mile after mile of the snaking pass. Tamurkhan's horde now faced its most dire trial yet.[1h]
Feasters of the Depths
- "Some distant beyond them came the rest of the horde in snarling, snapping and fractious disorder - beasts and mutants, degenerate and hulking monsters too large and too dangerous to be allowed anywhere near the rest in such tight confines, trailing back for more than a league, like a dark stain on the land."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1h]
Pack-beasts howled and slave bearers shuddered and fell as arrows sunk into their hides, but against the Chaos Dwarf Infernals, who swiftly fell into square defensive formations, the hail of missiles did little. A few shots inevitably found their mark, but they were few indeed, for their Chaos Dwarf-made armour was close-fitting with barrel chink between overlapping plates. Quickly, from behind the spreading dust, screaming steam like the death-dies of damned souls, an Iron Daemon Engine hove into view, dragging behind it a double carriage train, one of fuel and the other a heavy tubular cannon around which a trio of Hellsmiths were hurriedly chanting and spraying boiling hot blood from golden thuribles onto its bell-like casing. The clanking and hissing machine quickly became the favoured target of the unseen archers in the heights, and the enemy fired their arrows as hastily as they could, but the Iron Daemon thundered forward undaunted, shaking clear of the rubble and debris to take up the rear of a now triangular formation of Chaos Dwarf warriors, into the center of which Sayl retreated with his own bodyguard-thing, the chattering Chaos Spawn Nightmaw stumbling and rolling along behind him.[1h]
No sooner had Sayl gained the center of the formation than the import of the ominous rumbling noises bore fruit, and ancient stone doors swung slowly open and here and there in places the stony ground fell away to reveal wide passageways into the earth. These, like the now gaping entrances into the mountainside, were ancient Dwarf works, utterly undetectable until revealed, and they were now controlled by far fouler masters than their creators. Unfolding like nightmarish, oversized parodies of men crafted from pallid blue-grey flesh and warty scales, Stone Trolls surged froth from the blackness within the mountains. There were scores of the huge creatures, their yellow eyes rolling crazily in their lumpen heads and their faces splitting in moon-wide grins of hunger. Behind them the black-shrouded figures of Night Goblins teamed and swarmed forth like rats, their wicked knives flashing in their hands. Gunfire crackled from the Chaos Dwarf ranks, striking down dozens as they poured forth from their tunnels, but the ambush was well planned, and the distance between the combatants too close for the assault to be halted in time. In seconds the battle was joined, and a bloody, chaotic melee ensued, the lumbering trolls and gibbering Night Goblins surrounding and engulfing the far outnumbered defenders.[1h]
With pitiless savagery the Chaos Dwarf Infernals cut down their foes, hacking and slashing through the Night Goblins, smashing them down and crushing their squealing bodies underfoot. The Infernals trusted to their own great resilience and the strength of their hell-forged armour to protect them from the frenzied press of bodies and stabbing blades, and although some fell, dagger-points finding eye-slits, carnage was wrought on the attacking Goblins by the cruel warriors of the Black Fortress. The Stone Trolls however, offered a far graver threat. The dull-witted but brutal creatures wielded crude mauls and double-handed axes with incredible strength that were able to pulverise even the heavily armoured Chaos Dwarfs with a clean strike, while the wounds they received in return fused close with frightening speed as was the gift of their monstrous kind. Where the Stone Trolls attacked in number, the Infernals' lines began to buckle and fray, and even though some of the bestial trolls were cut down or hacked apart and dismembered beyond even their abilities of regeneration, Chaos Dwarfs lay shattered and slain in their wake and the teeming Night Goblins — still spilling in great number from beneath the earth rushed in to press the advantage. Surrounded suddenly and fighting for his life, Sayl the Faithless, greatly wroth that his vaunted seer-craft had failed him, was consumed by rage and drew upon the powers of Chaos with wild abandonment, channeling his sorcerous might into blinding blasts of incandescent lightning which rippled like a scythe through the Night Goblins and turned even the hulking Stone Trolls to charred skeletons despite their legendary resistance to witchery. About the Chaos Sorcerer, trailing its own web of smoky shadow capered and snapped Nightmaw, its mangled, shifting limbs plucking screaming greenskins within range of its three greedy maws which snickered and flashed almost too fast to see, sending up a mist of blackish-red blood around it.[1h]
Fire and Iron
The Iron Daemon ground once more into motion and dragged , unknown numbers of Night Goblins to their deaths beneath its wheels and against the many barbs and blades that adorned it. The hellish machine's cannonades fired, shredding Troll and Night Goblin apart before it in a welter of gore, and the war machine seemed to howl and roar like a living thing at the slaughter it wrought. In answer, a weird whistling double cry echoed around the press of the pass, and in hearing it the Night Goblins answered with whoops and shrill cries of their own as from a vast yawning gateway in the mountainside two freakish and enormous creatures half-crawled, half-bounded into view. Even Sayl the Faithless was momentarily struck aghast for he had never before seen their like. They were colossal pumpkin-like things with rubbery fungoid flesh of unwholesome yellow-flecked scarlet. Their bodies were swollen like rotting heads, with slavering slit-mouths filled with sword-length fangs as wide as a tower-gate. Even as Sayl watched he saw the first of the hulking monsters throw itself heedlessly into the press of the battle, uncaring whether it crushed friend or foe beneath its bulk, its impossibly wide mouth working hungrily, devouring fangs dragging out screaming-rasps of tortured metal as they pierced and severed its steel-plated prey.[1h]
Beneath the onslaught of the two Colossal Squigs, one of the Infernal regiments disintegrated in bloody mayhem, collapsing one point of the defensive triangle, its survivors overwhelmed and dragged down as they attempted to flee the all-devouring monsters behind them. Sayl retreated, coughing blood and crackling with stray discharges of power from his sorcerous exertions, Nightmaw carving a path for him as he sought refuge, putting the smoke-spitting and gore-spattered Iron Daemon and its carriage train between him and the twin feasters from beneath the earth. As he did so, the Hellsmiths atop the weapons carriage spun the blackened-bronze cannon to face its target, twisting runes and sigils glowing white hot, swimming and flowing like water across its tarnished surface. A single, thunderous report sounded and a mighty bolt of molten fire flew from the muzzle and struck the foremost of the monsters, blasting it apart in a sheet of ichor and flaming grue like a hammer-struck rotten fruit. The thing's huge carcass rolled sideways and seemed to deflate as it fell, spilling a slew of its undigested victims into the dust and crushing a dozen greenskins unlucky enough to be caught in its way.[1h]
The Hellsmiths on the magma-cannon carriage had little time to celebrate their victory however as they frantically sought to reload as the second terror was upon them. The Iron Daemon shuddered to turn away, but a shrill hiss of escaping pressure foretold the lurching stop that was to follow as the carriages suddenly shunted into one another with bone-breaking force, and the monster was upon them. Smashing into the gun carriage, there was a grinding clatter as the iron and bronze contraption was overturned and toppled, burning ash and cinders scattering into the air. Hellsmiths, flames licking about them, scrambled to be clear of the vast, slamming jaws, but the Iron Daemon itself — one side of its wheels hauled clear of the ground by the huge weight that had twisted the carriages — was powerless to move or bring its own weapons to bear. The remaining Infernals, still besieged on all sides by an enemy whose bloodlust had been only heightened by the carnage the monsters had caused, were too heavily pressed to mount a counter attack and looked set to be devoured or crushed one after the other, while Sayl knew that for him to conjure a spell sufficiently powerful to harm, let alone have a chance to slay the monster would likely kill him too in his exhausted state.[1h]
Sayl the Faithless cursed Tamurkhan loudly for his folly and pride, and prepared to gather the wild vortexes of magic that rippled across the battlefield unseen to mortal eyes to him and make an end to this enemy even though it might consume him, knowing such an action would mark a fitting pyre of destruction for one such as he. Lightning and storm winds played about the Chaos Sorcerer as at last with a tortured shriek of metal, the steam-carriage's couplings snapped, flinging metal explosively in all directions and the monstrous thing rolled forward, its vast jaws opening wide. Sayl laughed in triumphant madness but before he could loose his spell, the ground beneath the colossal beast erupted upward in a great sheet of blackness and flame. The blast threw the Chaos Sorcerer off his feet and he fought with every ounce of his twisted body and tainted soul to maintain his grip on the powers he had summoned, but to no avail. The power ripped out of him like a thrashing whipcord, smashing and withering all it touched, and Sayl screamed voicelessly as he too burned.[1h]
Tide of Blood
Out at the front of the horde; the great battle in the enclosed valley was beginning to turn. For even though the Night Goblins numbered in the tens of thousands and had cut off the head of Tamurkhan's horde from any help, they found that they had woefully underestimated the strength and savagery of the warriors of the Northern Wastes. Iron-shod hooves shattered skulls, and spear-shafts and razor-edged blades of newly-forged black steel from the furnaces of Zharr cleft shields asunder and hacked apart the Night Goblins cowering behind them as if they were no more than rag dolls. Footstep by bloody footstep the Night Goblin throng was pushed back, the ground thick with bodies as great wedges were thrust deep into the greenskins' ranks where the Chosen Warriors of Chaos, tall and inviolable and sheathed in otherworldly armour, contemptuously tore through the greenskins' embattled defence like reapers scything down wheat.
Panic and disorder started to ripple through the sable-shrouded mass, and those caught before the fury of Tamurkhan's horde tried to flee but were prevented by the press of bodies behind them, only to be savaged by the ripping fangs of Chaos warhounds as they attempted to flee. The Night Goblin archers and soon their war machines began to fire into the very thick of the battle in desperate fear of their own lives. Asthe Chaos forces pressed ever closer, killing as they came, and more often than not the greenskins' shot and stone fell short, and their fire fell directly into the tightly packed greenskin ranks and great showers of foul Night Goblin blood burst over the battlefield like rain. Soon the panic became a rout and those at the front of battle abandoned their weapons as they clawed and scrambled over thosebehind in their effoits to escape. Even now as the tide of battle turned, the greenskins were not 'entirely without guile or power, for hidden amongst their ranks were many vile and dangerous creatures as well as shaman whose spells now began to fizz and spatter amongst the Kurgan line. Eerie green lights played upon the Chaos troops and several dense knots of armoured warriors were suddenly cast to the ground and crushed to gore-stained pulp beneath the invisible weight of powerful magic. The horde's own sorcerers concealed in the ranks frantically wove their counter-spells, but the magic of the greenskins was strange and elusive, and blasts of verdant energy fell upon the leading Chaos warrior bands like hammer blows.
At the head of one great thrust of Nurgle's blessed warriors which punched into the Night Goblin throng was Tamurkhan. As he hacked and crushed his way forwards, Bubebolos was struck again and again by sorcerous bolts that caused the beast to roar in pain. The onslaught of the Night Goblin magic left a strange, bitter tang in the air that unsettled the great beast and even the fly swarm that clustered about them drew high into the air to escape it. Tamurkhan's warband had almost reached to the very heart of the Night Goblin army, where beneath a blanket of woven darkness an ancient and wizened Night Goblin shaman perched malevolently, enthroned aback a giant albino spider dredged up from the dark bowels of the earth and armoured with the bones of a thousand victims lashed to its carapace with flayed skin fetishes. Around the great corpse-pale spider flew the banners of the tribes who opposed Tamurkhan and claimed the Winters Teeth Pass for their own: the Murda Grinz and the Corpse Cuttaz, the Empty Skulz and the Dead Moonz.
On catching sight of his enemy, Tamurkhan lowered his great axe and bellowed a challenge, spurring on the decaying and nightmarish warriors that surrounded him on to greater heights of fury and destruction. Coiling fogs of glowing green vapour filled the air and drove the Night Goblins into a whirling frenzy, and they hurled themselves heedless into their enemies, only to be speared or beaten down beneath the crushing charge of Kayzk's Rot Knights, or smashed apart by the skull-headed flails of Nurgle's Chosen. Sorcerer-acolytes were swift to answer the Night Goblins' fog with infinitely more lethal magics of their own, and soon bilious yellow-black fumes descended upon the enemy, spreading baleful contagion and ugly death wherever they went. In the face of this horrific onslaught, the Night Goblins' counter-attack first began to falter, and then failed.
Sensing that the end had come, the Night Goblin army fled in abject terror and the Chaos horde pursued. At the head of the fighting, Tamurkhan's axe rose and fell, carving aloody arc through all before him as the greenskins scattered like mice before the harvest sickle. Bubebolos roared with all his might, and his rancid breath was a poisoned wind that choked the life out of the panicked Night Goblins. All was mayhem and confusion. In their eagerness none held back, but gave full vent to their fury, so that the greenskins were pressed together into the valley's narrow exits where their bodies were soon piled ten deep and their fellows clambered over them to be free from the wrath of Chaos Unleashed. Still Tamurkhan did not stop, but drove on as the valley narrowed, pursuing the Night Goblin's through a defile with his decaying disciples and blood-drenched Bile Trolls. The great beasts shoved aside the mound of corpses to reach their foes, but frustratingly the great albino spider — now short a chitinous leg where one of Tamurkhan's Plague-spawn had ripped it free, and bleeding pink ichor from a dozen wounds — made its escape up the sheer rock face; the ancient shaman clinging desperately on its back, and disappeared behind a weathered statue and into the darkness. With their leader taken flight, the rout of Night Goblins became an insane stampede to escape, and the victorious slaughter belonged to the horde.
After the Storm
Elsewhere along the many winding miles of Winters Teeth Pass, battles both great and small were fought, and in many the forces of Chaos were triumphant, but in some places the Night Goblin ambush had proved more successful and victory for the horde had only been bought at great cost. In others, Tamurkhan's followers had been wiped out completely, their bodies carried away into darkness so only blood-caked dust and shattered weapons remained to mark their passing to their surviving comrades. In the aftermath it had been clear that not only had Night Goblin tribes been involved in the attack, so had many Orcs— tall, muscle-bound greenskins armed with heavy cleavers and massive iron shields that had thrown themselves too upon the horde's rearguard only to be slaughtered in droves by the myriad fangs and claws of the Chaos beasts and mutated monsters they found there.
The horde encamped that night where it had fought, surrounded by the burning pyres of the dead to light the darkness, sore and weary. No second attack came, the enemy had been spent, not only in numbers but in the will to resist. With the pale light of dawn came a war council, fractious and bitter with recrimination, but on it Tamurkhan impose his will once more, although now more through outright threats and fear than any sense of the Chaos Gods' promised glory or duty to him in the others. Only Kayzk, his ever-rotting flesh seeping through many fresh rents in his armour, stood foursquare with his leader without qualm or dissent. The greatest cause for trouble was not the ambush or the bloodshed of the previous day but the need of labour. In order to overcome the shattered rocks that had fallen to block the pass in a dozen places, great ramps needed to be built to allow for the passage of horses and beasts, and most particularly for the war machines of the Chaos Dwarfs to move over them.
Accordingly the Kurgan chiefs, whose fighters still made up the bulk of the horde's manpower, along with Tamurkhan's own sworn Plague Ogres would be the muscle and bone needed, to accomplish this. This rankled the proud warriors of the north, who saw such labour as the work of slaves, and flatly refused to be under the direction of the Chaos Dwarfs while doing so. Eventually, through threat of bloody reprisal and dire necessity was accommodation reached between them, and although none were happy with the arrangement, the crude ramps were built with piled debris for stones and pulped Goblin flesh for mortar, and the horde once more struggled into life and movement. Resentment simmered now within the ranks where all should have been eager for battle, their final goal at last in sight. But Tamurkhan cared not for this, for the Throne of Chaos was nearly in his grasp.
Wrath of Chaos
- "It was nearly a full moon's turning before the greater bulk of Tamurkhan's horde was able to descend from the Black Mountains and into the lands of Sigmar's Empire. Over the previous days the horde had unleashed parties of scouts and raiders to assay what lay ahead of them and those that returned had made reports of what they had discovered. Some had explored the rolling, half-wild hill country of Wissenland and found only embers and ruin, deserted roads and abandoned farms, there could be little doubt that the horde was expected."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1i]
Tamurkhan had grown increasingly impatient and brooding since the battle against the Night Goblins. The many wounds he had suffered had since become increasingly infected and suppurating in a manner which pleased the followers of Nurgle that attended him, but to those not of his faith, made him even less human both in aspect and in mind and ever more difficult to deal with. It was left then to Sayl the Faithless, still half-crippled himself but slowly recovering his strength, to listen carefully to the reports of all the raider bands as they returned and piece together what lay before them. Whilst captives. lived he oversaw the work of their torturers, and when they died Sayl watched as the shaman bound their spirits and continued to . question them long into the night. He inspected the weapons of war that the raiders brought back as trophies anabid the Hellsmiths of • the Black Fortress examine the arms and armour of the enemy with all their considerable expertise, of which they took a special interest in the few firearms taken by the Chaos Marauders. By these means Sayl learned all he could of the enemy's capabilities and of the lands of "the Empire before them.[1i]
Once the horde had assembled its forces in the cold downs at the foot of the Black Mountains, at Tamurkhan's bidding was a council of war called. Here Sayl spread a great map of fresh-sewn skins upon the ground before them, and anchored the corners of the parchment with chunks of slowly pulsing warpstone so that all could see what was inscribed upon it, and the figures and signs thereon danced as if alive. With gluttonous greed Tamurkhan looked on as the Sorcerer spoke of the wide green lands the reavers had encountered, and the signs that terror of the horde had gone before it and so emptied the countryside and forests, save for a few stubborn holdfasts, high-. walled towns and watchtowers to contest them. At the furthest reach of the dragon's wing-beat, far to the north-west had their quarry been sighted, a great city rising from the land where two mighty rivers Met, as great as any the northmen had ever seen — tower after tower, as white and pale as sea cliffs, and between them roof after roof of glittering slate piled one atop another in great profusion. Below them stood a vast tangle of streets as maddening as any labyrinth of the underworld and walls bristling with cannon whose thunderous shot had driven off the interlopers of the air.[1i]
"Nuln" went up the cry from Tamurkhan in bloodlust and ardour, and the warlcirds and shaman, bray-beasts and fell sorcerers echoed it in turn, drowning out Sayl's words of caution so that he fell silent as others were swift to draw in and make their feverish plans of conquest. Of all the war-leaders present only Draihoath the Ashen kept his 'own council and viewed the gathering with an unreadable, cold contempt. More mundane matters of division and attack were then settled quickly upon, and first of those was the matter of provender and :spoil, and with this in mind the horde was split into three columns thak would spread out, before coining together again to ravage the city that harboured their goal. Mc greater part of the horde with Tainurkhan would take the most direct route over.thc rolling hill country northward, and Sags Dolgans would take a more westerly route along the river, smashing a series of petty towers and keeps that had been espied along the way. The only narrow but serviceable roadway — a remnant of the days centuries before when this land was far more populated and trade strong, would be given to the Legion of Azgorh, its more passable terrain being most suited for use by the Chaos Dwarf machine-train. All would depend on speed, for it was clear that surprise was lost to them; some survivor or the destruction they had wrought in the Border Princes had somehow survived to tell of the horde, but if fortune favoured them, the Empire would still be slow to rally its full might to counter a massive attack from this unexpected quarter as Tamurkhan had bargained all along.[1i]
The Horde Strikes Northward
- "The City of Magnus will fall, I will crush first Nuln and then with Father Nurgle's blessing I shall ravage this land and sweep away the Empire of Men!"
- —Tamurkhan, the Maggot Lord[1i]
The great horde of Tamurkhan departed its camps north of Winters Teeth Pass, moving rapidly and with hunger for the destruction they ached to wreak; it spread across the region quickly, splitting apart into its divisions and rolling forward with frightening speed. Much of the lands before it had been emptied of people and livestock, but here and there holdouts remained — walled towns and mighty fortresses either too stubborn to flee or placing their faith in sturdy stone fortifications that had seen off Orcs and other marauders before, or ill-fortuned garrisons which had been ordered to fight to the last man to delay the onrushing enemy. Neither however had any true inkling of what was to befall them or the true horror and power of the death, that was about to reach out and take them. None could guess that Tamurkhan's horde now numbered perhaps a third of what it had, even re-invigorated by Ogres and Chaos Dwarf allies, from the size it had set out at. But in truth it did not matter, for against the tens of thousands that remained — screaming Dolgan horsemen, nightmarish Chaos creatures and the fire of Hashut's chosen there was no defence.[1i]
The town of Hornfen was the first to feel the wrath of Chaos. The town, well-used to raids being situated in the barrens of the former realm of Solland, was protected by a wide moat before its banked walls and the town's bridge had been destroyed by its inhabitants, but the terrified townsfolk could do little but look on in horror as the Dolgan war mammoths simply waded through the water under their guns and sundered the gates; not one of the men aitawomen of Hornfen lived to see the dawn after the ritual orgy of violence to honour the Dark Gods that was to follow. The story was repeated time and again as the horde's three-pronged assault ate up the ground and fell upon any unfortunate or foolhardy enough to be caught in their path. Rookberg was taken in the night; emptied of civilians who had fled upriver in boats, its garrison of state troops and peasant militia stood little chance against the screaming horsemen and the devilish magus of the Chaos Sorcerers ranged against them. Castle Greymane, whose infamous claw-shaped keep had been in legend the birthplace of Arch-Lector and damend Necromancer alike over its long history, was laid waste, the power of the Chaos Dwarfs' daemon-forged artillery smashing it apart with sustained bombardment; the lords of the Black Fortress eager to test their firepower against a worthy target. The driving pace was nor without its cost however, and as the siege engines and wagon trains lumbered along and the vanguard pressed ahead, soon the column became so strung out that an attack would have surely destroyed many of the machines and wreaked great slaughter amongst the army, but of the enemy there was no sign.[1i]
The rapid pace of the advance took its toll upon machines and beasts; and a wake of wreckage and corpses were strewn behind the route of march. Here and there lone parties of Chaos Dwarfs grappled with broken down engines, bent drive shafts and shattered wheels, while the Kurgan abandoned the weak and the dead at will, and the beasts of Chaos devoured any that fell to assuage their hunger. Outriders roamed far to the north and reported the land northward, now deserted save for a flurry of activity around the great city, and such was Tamurkhans rage on finding the town of Gunnertag utterly deserted and left aflame when only days before Orhbal Vipergut had reported a stalwart defence prepared, the Maggot Lord ordered the flames extinguished and the land foully defaced and desecrated in honour of Nurgle. It was here that the horde once again came together for the final assault.[1i]
Death of the Pale City
- "Walls? I see only piles of sand crafted by children. Bring my brothers close enough and we shall take pleasure in fufilling our bargain and topple them for you!"
- —Drazhoath the Ashen, Lord of the Black Fortress[1i]
Twenty-one days after breaking their camp at the foot of the Black Mountains, the Chaos horde beheld the white-towered city. The Kurgan regarded its high walls and stern defences, and knew that whole armies might break upon such fortifications, so high that not even a giant might scale them unaided, their blood and fury spent without ever stepping one foot inside their enclosure, cut down by shot and shell. Tamurkhan brought the Lord of the Black Fortress before him and bid him speak to the matter — after all why else had the Dwarfs of Zharr dragged their machines and great siege-mortars halfway across the world if not to topple fortifications such as these?[1i]
The Chaos Horde arrayed themselves for battle five leagues due south of the great city and marched towards their goal. Tamurkhan rode up and down the line of troops aback his Toad Dragon, bellowing and extorting them to fight with utmost savagry for the Dark Gods. were watching. Wherever he went he was greeted by warcries, the unearthly howls of beasts, vile oaths and the hammering of blade on shield for now at last the Kurgan would see battle — not battle against the cursed greenskins such as they had fought at Winters Teeth Pass, but battle against the men of the Empire. Around them was a pall of dim and acrid fog, a sorcerous concoction designed to hide their true number and strength.[1i]
The Emperor's army had taken up position before the city walls on a low, palisaded rise with cannon arrayed across its front, as well as on the walls above so to maximise its firepower; the mass of the opposing army standing behind the line, with ranks of armored spearmen and gunners set to receive the horde's charge, while providing room for swift withdrawal should the Chaos horde press too close. Tamurkhan knew well the stories of the battles and warlords that had gone before him, and knew that the cannon of the Empire were to be feared as much as those of the Dwarfs of Zharr. The weaponry of the Empire's soldiers shone brightly in contrast to the black and scored armour of the Kurgan and the tainted and sickly, greenish metal that adorned his own followers. Tamurkhan grinned lopsidedly with the great, degenerate wound his mouth had become, for his enemy had already made a fatal error — they had arrayed for battle expecting a headlong charge which they might cut down with their guns, but he had brought guns of his own. The horde was brought to a halt just beyond the range of the enemy's cannon, a handful of which cracked and splattered up mud and soil before them impotently. Once all was ready, Tamurkhan raised his colossal axe high and let it fell, the signal was given.[1i]
Beneath the fog of decay, with a deafening roar, the brazen and black-iron vessels of destruction began to battle, eerily glowing projectiles arcing up through the dense mist and into the closely-packed Empire batteries. The explosion was devastating, great plumes of flame lanced upwards, shredding men and cannon with equal ease while the ground itself shook where they fell like a wounded animal. As the wave of destruction rippled through the enemy and confusion and horror broke out in the ranks, a great bloodthirsty cry went up from the horde, and in an instant the great mass leapt forward as one. Dolgan horsemen and Kurgan knights surged forwards, twisted hounds braying at their heels, and behind them came the roiling spawn and thunder-footed Ogres and Trolls — an unholy mass of hate and muscle, bent only on slaughter.[1i]
What followed was a shockingly quick descent into madness and death, cannon roared on both sides and men and beasts were torn apart. Rather than stand and die before the onslaught, a wedged column of armoured knights brake forward in counter charge, while behind them, regiments held their ground stonily, while panicked militia cowered in terror or tried to flee back through the city gates. The skies above blackened with swarms of flies and resounded to the doom-laded wing-beats of dragons and Chimera which descended to smote cannon from atop the high walls and rampage through the city streets. Horsemen from both sides clashed over the open ground between the two armies. Black-armoured Kurgan Chaos knights fought against glittering Reiksguard, each charging through the ranks of the other and turning to charge again. Around them swirled a loose mass of lightly armed cavalry — the Marauders of the wastes on one side and Empire Pistoliers on the other, the crack of the Empire horsemen's pistols carried above the shouts and trumpet the ranks of the other and turning to charge again. Behind the advancing horde came the gun-carriages of the Chaos Dwarfs. Hauled slowly forward by the smoke-belching Iron Daemon engines, they unleashed a steady creeping barrage on the foe, keeping their fire ahead of the battle line until the walls and towers shook with their wrath and burst aflame one after another.[1i]
The cavalry battle proved brutal and short, with the Empire forces, wildly outnumbered, soon overwhelmed and scattered, and with a mighty roar the whole Chaos horde surged forward and crashed like a tidal wave into the outer palisade as the Empire forces tried to sound a general retreat behind the walls. Shells and fireballs fell before the gate, forcing those who would flee to run a gauntlet of death, while those who survived on the battlements above rained down handgun shot and crossbow bolts with frantic desperation in e hope of slowing the unstoppable tide. There was an almighty blast as a dozen hellish war engines spoke at once, and the great portcullis gate of the city — even then beginning to draw closed — exploded in a river of fire and disintegrated slowly into rubble, its ponderous collapse drawing walls and towers to ruin around it, crushing hundreds in its death throes.[1i]
The horde's warriors, all but knocked flat by the thunderclap and rush of hot air, howled in triumph, while the soldiers of the Empire screamed hopelessly, their spirits broken, Hook-handed giants scrambled over the debris and raised huge lengths of chains behind them, tearing cannon and mortar's down from the walls from within and serving in death as scaling ladder for the hundreds of screaming fighters following behind. Plague Ogres smashed and slashed their way through desperate pockets of defenders and fell ravenously on the bodies. The dust-filled sky darkened to unnatural twilight riven with screaming incendiary rockets casting a lurid glow over the carnage as the horde of the Maggot Lord poured into the city, insane with the joy of battle. The city burned and the hordes were victorious as the entire population fled the city before the marauders could kill all of them. Tamurkhan stood upon a ruined Temple of Sigmar, casting down the idols and threw his hands to the skies and howled to his God. But only silence greeted his victory. Confused, he asked Sayl the Faithless, who stood by the door of the Cathedral, why did the Gods refuse to answer him. Sayl said nothing but held out a golden medallion, upon which had the twin-tailed comet on one side and on the other was a citadel before a blazing sun. There was a word on it, and Sayl whispered a single word of explanation, his voice a mocking whisper which slithered through the mind of Tamurkhan; Pfeildorf. This wasn't the city of Nuln but the town of Pfeildorf, and realizing this, Tamurkhan flew into a great rage, shattering the stone altar of Sigmar with one cleave of his axe whilst the Faithless One faded away into the shadows with a crooked smile, leaving Tamurkhan amid the ashes of his hollow victory.[1i]
Shadow over Nuln
- "Others had encountered enemy patrols and came back bearing trophies of victory or not at all. A few had succeeded in taking prisoners, though few of these survived to reach the camp of the Chaos Horde. Some captives died of their wounds before they could be interrogated while others succumbed to the attention and appetites of their captors en route."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1i]
It was not only the sheer size and power of the horde that was the cause of grave concern for the safety of the city and wider Empire, but also its speed and deliberation that magnified its threat. Rumours of Tamurkhan's coming had first surfaced several months earlier when stories of a dark army ravaging the southern Border Princes had been abruptly cut off with sinister swiftness. The flood of refugees fleeing ahead of the danger had been suddenly stilled, which offered a dire suggestion of what had happened on the other side of the Black Mountains, but it was not till the arrival of the infamous mercenary warlord Lietpold the Black, bloodied and battered in the frontier fortress of Mendhelhof which guarded the approaches of Black Fire Pass, that an impending threat to the Empire was first truly realized. Although sought under pain of death by several of the Empire's noble houses — and considered an unscrupulous butcher and dishonourable turncoat by most — Lietpold's reputation as a general was however unquestioned, and when he spoke of his own shattered principality and the ravages of the Chaos horde from the east, the Castellan of Mendhelhof listened.[1j]
The Margrave of Wissenland, Olger Hoch, upon learning of the impending threat, had immediately dispatched strong reinforcements to the defense of Black Fire Pass, while Lietpold himself was escorted under armed guard back to Nuln to give evidence before the Countess's court. While the Margrave raised his banners and stirred his far-flung principality for war, in the great city-state of Nuln, in whose thrall Wissenland largely stood, the impending invasion was treated with growing concern. Auguries were taken, and the portents of the city's churches of Sigmar and Myrmidia, as well as the prognostications of the resident wizards of Nuln's Celestial Order all prophesied onrushing doom. But for the Countess Emmanuelle who ruled her fractious city-state from behind her impassive mask of porcelain, it was the re-appearance at court of the Amethyst Magisterix, Elspeth von Draken — known in whispers to some as 'The Graveyard Rose' in the myths and legends of the city — that was the surest indication that a cataclysm was at hand.[1j]
Elspeth von Draken was feared and renowned in equal measure by those who ruled Nuln. The powerful wizardess usually stood apart from the politics of imperial power and the Empire's Colleges of Magic, engaging with the city only when some dire peril or deadly rival plagued it, and that von Draken's eerie voice was now added to the chorus Of predicted bloodshed was proof enough for the Countess that Lietpold's story held validity. The Magisterix in closed session of the Countess's war council spoke of the restless, invisible winds of magic, and of how they waxed strong and savage. She spoke of how the souls of the dead had spoken to her of the coming storm, and how for long moons she had felt Shyish, the deathly force that empowered her own arcane art, drawn like iron filings to a lodestone, flowing ever southwards hungrily to the horde and the stain of slaughter it wrought upon the world. With the dread Carmine Dragon that was her steed, enslaved to her will by the Amethyst magic that flowed like blood through its veins, she had followed the invisible currents of death into the ravaged Border Princes and hovered like a carrion crow above the fields of the slain and stolen secrets from the dying souls she had found there. Elseph von Draken knew the face of the enemy and the horror they would visit upon Sigmar's Empire.[1j]
The Doom of PfeildorfNuln's preparations for war were already gathering pace when reports came to the city of a vast Chaos horde — not in Black Fire Pass as expected — but having already crossed over Winters Teeth Pass was massing in the barrens of the southern Empire. Confusion reigned and Olger Hoch immediately ordered the evacuation of his forces from the sparsely inhabited lands nearby. This country, formerly counted as part of Solland (a province of the Empire long ago destroyed and annexed to Wissenland), was left largely to fend for itself while the Margrave massed his forces to defend his heartlands before it suffered before the Chaos onslaught. Wissenland has ever been a sparse, bleak place, its people dour and well used to the depredation of raiders and beasts, as well as killing winter cold and the murderous wrath of nature. The abandonment of so much widely flung land to fend for itself was a tactic that had been employed before, to fall back and leave nothing to the invader — to weaken and starve the attacker before meeting them in battle at a time and place of the Empire's choosing — was a tried and tested tactic to the Wissenlanders, but against Tamurkhan's horde, it would prove a doomed enterprise.[1j]
This was no erratic and ill-disciplined Orc raid, nor even a half-unseen-war of ambush and brutal surprise attack as might be expected from a marauding Bray-herd of Beastmen. Instead the sheer size, speed and ferocity of the Chaos horde caught the Wissenlanders off-guard and made a mockery of any attempts to delay or impede its progress. Fortified holdfasts, fortresses and watchtowers were smashed to rubble with contemptuous ease, their attackers barely pausing to loot the remains, and it was not until the three-pronged tide of destruction closed with frightening swiftness on Pfeildorf, the province's capital, that the sheer scale of the threat was realised with horror. Reinforcements recalled from Black Fire Pass had not yet arrived and Olger Hoch, the old Margrave, saw his doom in the dust and smoke that the great horde in its tens of thousands kicked up on the horizon, but refused to abandon his city to the enemy, despite calls to do so from the Countess's emissaries. But he did order the evacuation of its citizenry save for his own soldiery, and the last eddies of frantic refugees had barely departed when the thunderous sound of hooves and drumbeats were heard in the distance.[1j]
News of Pfeildorf's destructions came like a thunderbolt to the people of Nuln, and threatened panic in the tide of refugee's entering the city, and it was met with a swift and brutal crackdown of law, with the imposition of fines and impressed service in the militia as favored punishment for troublemakers (or anyone who happened to be standing near them at the time while order was imposed). For the forces of Nuln, who arrayed for battle knowing the enemy was no more than a handful of days march away at best, the destruction of Pfeildorf and its defenders represented a blow, but also bought them time and precious intelligence about their foe — not least news of their sorcerous might and the strange and terrible siege engines they possessed, and the Countess Emmanuelle and her council of war drew their plans accordingly.[1j]
Tamurkhan's rage had been such that he had ordered the city of Pfeildorf laid waste, and the legion of Azgorh had been happy to comply, showering the gambrel-roofed tower-houses and warrens of narrow streets with incendiaries until the ruins blazed in a great conflagration. The pall of smoke from the burning city was clearly visible many leagues away in the wavering-light of the following dawn, so that even from the high battlements of Nuln's outer-curtain walls, Pfeildorf dark fate was unquestionable. Within the horde's ranks the festering sore of discontent had wept out violence and distrust as the truth that their target had not been the desired one became known. Those who favoured differing masters succumbed to infighting, scorn and recrimination, although many in truth did not care whose blood they spilled or what walls they tumbled so long as they had the chance to deal death and destruction in the sight of the gods.[1j]
It was rather the fact that Tamurkhan had been in error — that he had been made to look like fate's fool — that was the cause of the acrimony and foreboding, for the warriors of the North Lands and the servants of Chaos both despise weakness and some saw in it the cruel humour of the gods themselves directed at Tamurkhan. Hundreds died as the malcontent of the horde bore fruit over the following days, and fissures opened up within its unity, such as it was, until it began to split along divisions of race and dark faith, while Tamurkhan himself retreated within the private circle of Nurgle's followers, burying himself for days in foul rituals of appeasement and propitiation to his master, the Lord of Decay. The Chaos Dwarfs under Drazhoath showed great displeasure that they had expended valued munitions and machinery against the "wrong target" and demanded recompense, and while Tamurkhan was sequestered in foul ritual, perhaps surprisingly, it was Sayl the Faithless who stepped into the breach of leadership and offered them the 'right' to a victim of their own, the fortified town of Dakarhaus to the north-west to keep them occupied, to besiege and despoil unimpeded as they saw fit.[1j]
This they did with swiftness and brutal efficiency, taking the town by storm in a savage night attack; sundering the gates with modified Iron Daemon engines they called 'Skull Crackers' fitted with steam-driven arsenals of massive pulverizing mauls and whirling scythe blades which made appallingly short work of stone, wood and flesh in their path. Supported by magma-cannon fire and a searing cloud of ash conjured by Lord Drazhoath and his cabal of Daemonsmiths to bedevil the defenders at the battlements, Dakarhaus was taken largely intact, the disciplined warriors of the Infernal Guard making short work of the defenders once they were within the walls, gunning down any that resisted and profaning the temples of the human gods with the blood of their priests and re-dedicating them to the supremacy of Hashut, their own dark deity, constructing sacrificial pyres where once their altars had stood. Unfortunately for the townsfolk of Dalcarhaus and the refugees that had flocked there, they were offered no quick death, for the scions of Zharr-Naggrund had come not to slaughter, but enslave, and soon the whole town became a fortified slave-stockade as the Legion of Azgorh took it over for their base of operations, quickly shoring up the defenses they had destroyed and cutting off the river crossing.[1j]
Assassins in the DarkMeanwhile, as the days ticked by like the passage of a clock's hand, the rest of the horde began to slowly fracture into desperate warbands, pillaging almost aimlessly across the lands to the south of Nuln while the forces of the Empire were content to rally in the great city and wait for the inevitable attack, each day bolstering their power slowly but surely. It became apparent that as the Empire grew stronger, the Horde grew weaker. It took an attempt on Tamurkan's life to rouse the lord from his filth-tainted reverie.[1j]
Unseen, silent and shrouded by subtle magics, the lone assassin had stalked through the cinders and scorched ruins of Pfeildorf to the noisome encampment of the Maggot Lord's closest acolytes, which was made in the broken and burned remnants of Sigmar's temple that now jutted from the ruins like a cracked ribcage. Here a thousand rotting bodies had been heaped up around a great pit dug into the crypts below, their necrotic juices seeping into the carrion earth to form a sluice of surpassing foulness in which daemon-things drawled and Tamurkhan himself bathed in the befouled darkness. Knowing that it could not long remain unnoticed despite the spell-weavings around it, upon stalking over to the mouth of the corpse pit, the assassin threw threw off its coverings and leapt burning into the abyss below, lightning pouring from its eyes and mouth, its outline flickering and blurring out of step from world around it like a phantasm.[1j]
It struck the black waters with a thunderous discharge of power and a hiss of boiling ooze; the foul gasses that filled the crypt was ignited in unearthly waves of green and amber flame at the touch of the assassin's shivering skin. Blackened sword blades dancing with witch-fire licked out with impossible speed as the assassin flickered through the black water, slicing and burning the boated flesh of hulking daemon Plague Toads that rose up against it. A Bile Troll came howling from the darkness, its long boneless arms reaching out to claim the assassin, but it was too slow and a burning blade plunged into each of its eye sockets as the assassin spun on past it, knowing it had to reach its quarry before it was too late, and it was overwhelmed by the nightmarish forces which filled the crypt. The assassin sped along a line of stone biers half submerged in the reeking waters ever closer to the heart of darkness, when its quarry came instead to it, as Tamurkhan, more bloated and terrible than ever in aspect, came roaring from the darkness, trailing a miasma of sickening fog in his wake.[1j]
A fist like a battering ram came flying towards the assassin and it barely dodged aside in time as the stone statue of some forgotten priest shattered under the blow instead. The blackened blades danced out, lightning arced and rotted flesh burned. Tamurkhan laughed, a hideous gurgling sound in his ruined throat as the blades sank into his swollen flesh, which pulsed obscenely around them and seared shut, trapping the swords and a backhanded blow from the Maggot Lord sent the assassin tumbling away into the black waters. The assassin resurfaced moments later, power burning bright within it, showing the outlines of its skull and bones through flesh grown translucent with the blue-white flame from within gahtering all of its power for a desperate final attack. The Maggot Lord did not give it the chance, smashing the stone lid of a sarcophagus across the assassin like an oversized club, shattering stone and the body it struck, a thunderclap erupting through the Crypt. Like a broken doll, the assassin once more struggled to rise from the black waters, but it was not alone in the foul wash, and long bony fingers grasped at it, baleful eyes glimmered in the filth and leering grins met its final struggles with savage mirth.[1j]
After Nurgle's tallymen and their pets had their way with the assassin, Tamurkhan looked over the remains with eyes now a blind, cataract white and glowing like marsh lights. Spell-stitched and soulless, his would-be killer had been bound up with power burning it away from within — his enemies had drawn their plans and hidden their tracks well; a body too damaged for him to possess should he have needed to, and with no spirit for his shaman and sorcerers to torture into confession, only a near-mindless, animating force woven from the winds of magic, driven to kill and know nothing more. Who had sent it? The battle wizards of the Empire or a dark master closer to home or a would-be usurper of his lordship perhaps? It did not matter to Tamurkhan, it was no longer important. The thing that dragged its way out of the pit was far removed from the Ogre Tyrant the Maggot Lord had possessed in the Mountains of Mourn, the creature's body had rotted further, swelled larger yet and was twisted into a mockery of life-in-death, the stigmata of Nurgle writ clearly upon it. Around it hung the reek of the grave and the murmurous voices of flies; and all those of Nurgle's faith who saw it fell to their knees and rededicated themselves afresh to their master, so clearly now on the edge of apotheosis. For Tamurkhan the Throne of Chaos was at hand. Tamurkhan was no longer capable of mortal speech it seemed, but his words could be discerned well enough by the acolytes around him in the maddening drone of the corpse flies that fed off their master, and as a bleak procession of tainted daemon-kind followed him up from the black pit, scores of inhuman things leering and cavorting on palsied limbs, the Maggot Lord's meaning was clear. The hour had come and Nuln would know the wrath of Chaos.[1j]
A Realm at War
Times of peace are rare in the Empire and the hour of Tamurkhan's coming was not one of them, with the brushfire wars taking place in the north, heavy Orc raids in the west and the blighted lands of horror-haunted Sylvania stirring into unhallowed life. These conflicts as well as bloody dynastic squabbles in the province of Talabecland had already seen legions of Imperial State Troops dispatched from both Nuln and Wissenland to aid the Empire's defence, thinning the forces that would be available to meet this unforseen threat. Indeed, the armies of the Empire had seen several hard seasons of campaigning over the past few years and were stretched thin in many places.[1j]
Aid for Wissenland from the Empire's other provinces would likely be slow in coming. It is not entirely true however, to claim that the Empire was, at the time of the Maggot Lord's approach, as weak as it might seem. Indeed, for the realm of Sigmar is a nation of war, enduring for more than two-thousands years, despite endless plagues, disasters and wars, thanks to the indomitable spirit of its people and the ruthless efficiency of their warleaders, but most of all it is because while it may be riven with rivalry, intrigues and discord, when attacked from without, the Empire grows powerful as unity unites the warring factions into a titanic power that few can rival in the world. Furthermore, Nuln, even though a sizable portion of its standing armies were elsewhere when the dark news of the horde's approach reached the great city, still had a mighty host of armored warriors and fanatical zealots several thousand strong, along with entire chapters of Knightly Orders.[1j]
As one of the greatest seats of industry in the Empire, its warehouses and forges are overflowing with stores of powerful arms and armor, blackpowder cannons and smoke-belching warmachines, with which it could both raise a great and mighty horde of militia from the teeming masses which flocked to the city, bolstering the armies of the Empire with thousands more warriors to fight the darkness. The Countess Emmanuelle of Nuln, while no front-line general herself, was nevertheless shrewd of mind and iron of will, as attested to by her long and relative stable reign over the city-state, and had survived many threats and challenges to her power. She had always been known to quote an old Tilean proverb when her lack of personal martial skill is put into question. "Wars," as the proverb goes, "are waged by warriors, but won with gold." And gold, Nuln and the Countess in particular, possessed in massive abundance, and as the dire import of Tamurkhan's threat became apparent, the Countess emptied her entire hoard of treasures to field even even more warriors to fight in the city's defence.[1j]
To this end with proffered payment, open bribery, along with called on ties of duty and not a few veiled threats, the Countess's court was quick to impress upon a number of powerful and largely independent factions within the great city-state of Nuln to be roused for war. Passionate preachers and mighty Warrior Priest of the Church of Sigmar clamour their litanies in every street corner, screaming and extorting the masses to holy war. Soon, hordes of crazed Flagellants scoured themselves bloody at their feet and began to ruthlessly hunt down and put to death anyone suspected of Chaos-taint. Trains of cannons, mortars, warmachines and the infamous Nuln Ironsides of the Imperial Gunnery School rolled out of their foundries and workshops in the dozens, their cannons bristling the walls and towers of the city like thorns upon a rose.[1j]
Alongside these, scores of smaller bargains have struck with the ruthless mercenary companies from all across the realm, both great and small, as well as notoriously acerbic and independent battle-wizards and engineers who made the city their home, and even the half-dozen experimental Marienburg-Class Landships ordered in by the city-state of Marienburg. Greatest of all these warriors was the legendary Theodore Bruckner, the Countess's hulking Champion and Headsman was roused for war, staking heads of disseneters upon spikes in the Merchant Quarter to silence those who would cover before the storm of the Empire's greatest enemies. War has come to the Empire, and the Empire girds for it.[1j]
Throne of Chaos
- "On the day of the final battle the Choas Horde moved as one towards the great city, a great strungout line nearly a dozen leagues across advancing in the darkness before dawn from the south-west. There was little order or unit with Tamurkhan's reapperance and transfiguration, a sense of purpose and destiny had fallen upon the horde again, a purpose that would not be denied. This was to be the day of days, the day when the merciless gods look down and rewarded glory and punished failure - a red day, a day of blade and spell and calw, of carnage and triump. For Nuln, perhaps, it was the end of days."
- —The Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1k]
At the flanks of this core of retainers came those who enjoyed the Maggot Lord's favour; packs of hungering Bile Trolls, decaying Chaos Spawn, brutish Plague Ogres, and the rusted and mouldering armoured hulks of Kayzk the Befouled's Rot Knights. Trailing not too close behind, lest the Lord of Decay's touch caress them, came the horde in their thousands — a hundred petty war bands, the subhuman detritus of Chaos, the lost and the damned, mutants and rabble, the half-starved remnants of the Brayherd, chained Siege Giants and such monstrous beasts and nameless creatures of Chaos that yet lived to be swept on in Tamurkhan's wake. Far away on the horde's left flank; following the banks of the Upper Reik came a second shadow army of dark riders, Chaos Knights and Kurgan Marauders, Dolgan Khans and wastelander wagon-altars draped with skeins of flesh. At its center rode Sayl the Faithless atop a carved throne of ivory borne on the back of a scarred war mammoth, one of only a dozen that had survived the long trek to this final battle. It was Sayl now, those Kurgan who did not share Tamurkhan's faith looked to for leadership and direction, and to interpret the Chaos God's signs.[1k]
Tamurkhan's horde was a shadow of death on the land. A third threat to the city came slowly but inexorably from the south-east. Between the two Chaos forces the horizon southward of Nuln was blackned into twilight and its voice was the rumble of an oncoming storm. Crossing the river at the Dakahaus tower-bridge came a disciplined five-bar column of black iron and hissing steam, the Legions of Azgorh, the burning shape of Cinderbreath the Bale Taurus circling low overhead, with Lord Drazhoath gazing down with calculating malice on the scene unfolding below him. If any had the position to observe, they may have divined that of the three armies that now snaked their way towards Nuln's wall, the Chaos Dwarfs were the most cautious in their progress, and also whereas the horde had deserted the lands behind him, leaving them barren and empty, the Legions of Azgorh had left a garrison to await them at Dakarhaus and keep open a line of retreat.[1k]
The defenders of Nuln had deployed to prepare positions to defend their city in the chill hours of dawn. The fate that had fallen Pfeildorf foremost in their minds. The Countess Emmanuelle's generals and Knights-Masters had determined to operate a defence in depth, the majority of their forces meeting the horde in the open field where they would be able to manoeurve and if need be fall back through a series of defensive lines, finally ending in the city's fortification. In this, they hoped to prevent the horde massing in strength either in numbers, monstrous beasts or magic against a single point on the city walls and shatterhing through a breach as they had done in Pfeildorf.[1k]
Nor would they allow the strange and devastating war machines that had crushed Pfeildorf to advance within range of the city — the plan called for their destruction at any cost. in this end nearly a full thousand knights, mounted pistoliers and free riders had drawn up on the rolling downs to the west of the city, while serried ranks of state troops: spearmen, halberdiers, handgunners and cannon batteries awaited the horde upon the raised banks of the flood levies that dominated the peninsular where the mighty rivers of the Aver and the Upper Iteik met, It was this boggy expanse that was the Empire's chosen killing ground, and the bulwark on which they hoped to shatter the horde, in sight of the great city but no closer. Among the thousands that defended the city of Nuin were more than mere soldiers, for this was a matter of faith as much as survival to some, and for the insane flagellant cults devoted to Sigmar and the zealots of half a dozen other faiths, martyrdom in the face of the Great Enemy was a fate to be almost embraced; while at strategic points in the Empire lines, cadres of Battle-Wizards from the Colleges of Magic awaited the ultimate test of their own arcane craft in the fight to come, many having never before witnessed such portentous turbulence in the unseen Winds of Magic that whipped and eddied across the skies and sank formless like fast-rushing riven through the earth, heralding what was to come.[1k]
Fate had drawn many to this hour of deadly conflict, and while Elspeth von Draken watched from the back of her Carmine Dragon as it clutched to a high cathedral spire like a terrifying, living gargoyle, she could feel, the almost heartbeat-like pulse of the talisman she had gifted to Theodore Bruckner — the Countess's champion — to protect him from the foul magics of the arch-enemy. Bruckner's role in the, battle plan was a simple if almost impossible one; he was to seek out Tamurkhan, the master of the horde and slay him, an act that alone might make the difference this day between victory and defeat. To occult senses, attuned to the ebb and flow of life and death as only an initiate of the Amethyst Order could be, picked out a score of bright burning souls below her who might find glory beyond lesser men, and saw their spirit-candles brutally snuffed out as merciless chance determines, not least of all that of Leitpold the Black, given command of the free riders, whose lust for vengeance was so great she could almost taste it like bitter blood and copper on tongue. The day of destruction was born slowly, pale mists clinging to the damp earth, and a thousand breathless prayers were offered up to the gods of mankind and screamed in exhalation to the Lords of Ruin. The sun rose up like a bloody beacon to light the way, and battle was joined.[1k]
Clash and CarnageThe Empire's forward batteries spoke first. Wasting no time, they hurled rapid volleys of cannon fire into the advancing mass of Tamurkhan's vanguard at extreme range, these long-barreled cannon lighter than their counter-parts at the center of the Empire lines, but still as deadly and against so great a target they could scarcely fail to find their mark. Bodies of men and beast were torn asunder by the steady bombardment, but the horde carried on without fear or regard, its ranks seeming never to falter as shot after shot was poured from the soon red-hot cannons. Closer and closer came the horde, and soon the state troops arrayed in defensive squares could begin to see the true horror of the foe that had come to claim their lives.[1k]
Some quaked, others began hurried prayers for deliverance, but the ranks held steady, hard-eyed veterans adding quiet steel to the resolve of those around them as firebrand warrior priests in their dozens went up and down the lines calling upon Holy Sigmar to smite the hated servants of Chaos. Horns sounded in the low mists at the extreme west of the Empire line, where the defenses butted up against the river bank, but were soon drowned out by the thunder of hooves as the Kurgan came screaming in a tide of blurred motion and flashing iron. Along the banks of the Upper Reik, the defences centered on Asher's Levee were commanded by Graf Esmer Tolbruk, and four regiments of state troops from the Nuln Grey Cloaks, backed with a detachment of the Knights Bloodied Spur and a strong battery of cannon, some four hundred men and a score of war machines, but it was as nothing against the onslaught of the Kurgan. They came on like a great black spearhead and the Empire line shivered and shattered at its touch. Redoubts were overwhelmed in moments, horsemen trampling down fleeing artillery crews and a whirlwind of flashing blades cleaved bloody slaughter through those brave enough to stand before the storm. The glittering, armoured knights of the Empire counter-charged and were instantly smashed apart and sent reeling and splintered through a vortex of stabbing spears and flailing axes, and at the heart of the storm was Sayl the Faithless, raining down blasts of bale-lightning and malevolent curses from his high throne like a wrathful god, as the shifting horror that was Nightmaw the Spawn screamed and flailed behind him to be let loose in the carnage below. Through the defenses of Asher's Levee the Kurgan rode, and none could stand before them.[1k]
In the center of the Empire's line, removed from the carnage by the river by several leagues, a huge ball of fire suddenly soared high into the air before seeming to hang immobile in the skylike a second more. Then at last it began the inevitable fall to earth. The plunging missile blazed so brightly that the whole army of the Empire was bathed in its angry light. The ranks faltered for a moment and then the fiery orb struck the ground with a mighty crash, erupting into a ball of all-consuming flame. The whole battlefield felt the impact, and troops from both sides clung to weapons that shook in their hands. Horses bucked and their riders struggled to hold them. So it was that the Legion of Azgorh announced their presence. The fiery invocation had come from the center of a great iron-caged pyre mounted on the back of an iron-wheeled altar so large it needed to be pulled by three Iron Daemon engines, and around it the Chaos Dwarfs swarmed with uncanny and unnerving position, forming a diamond shaped deployment at the edge of cannon-range from the Levee defence lines of the Empire troops, quickly setting up firing positions with their snaking war machine trains, whose clanking and hellish hissing cries could be heard clear to the city walls.[1k]
Where the fireball landed nothing remained but a huge smoking crater — a great black pit upon the green sward. Fortunately for the men of the Empire, the blazing missile fell just short of their main gun line, and had instead obliterated one of the furthest forward battery dugouts. Though some of the other gunners behind had abandoned their positions in sheer terror, they soon returned and began to open up with the full panoply of cannon and mortar at their disposal. White clouds of smoke broke out all along the front of the Empire army and soon cannonballs could be heard whistling through the air in ferocious numbers as they plummeted upon the Chaos horde. Within a short time the artillery duel grew intense. Missiles of all kinds flew between the armies, and the battlefield was soon clouded with drifting gun smoke as the horde, heedless to its casualties, drew inexorably on.[1k]
Each side aimed to destroy the artillery of the other — as without artillery either army would be obliged to close upon the other at a great disadvantage. The Imperial army possessed many more cannons than the Chaos Dwarfs, but at such long range only the largest guns had enough reach to strike back at Chaos Dwarfs' position, and so most were forced instead to try to thin the ranks of the horde as best as they could before the inevitable and unholy charge. The death-toll on both sides was hideous, and once the skilled gunners of the famous Nuln Artillery School found their range, they dropped fire accurately into the Chaos Dwarf positions. One shot carried away an Ogre loader, who burst apart showering the Hellsmith artillerymen with the creature's toxic innards. Another cannonball landed into a caisson of mortar bombs and ripped a gash into the earth with an explosive blast which shook the ground for a league around and sent Infernal Guard flying into the air like scattered toys.[1k]
The Chaos Dwarf weapons were designed for the slow pace of siege warfare, and their missiles were time consuming to prime and cumbersome to load. For every shell that hurled towards the opposing ranks, a hundred cannonballs spun and bounced towards the horde, but despite this they accounted for themselves well. The firepower of the Chaos Dwarf weapons was suffused with all manner of horrific and daemonic force, from great gouts of screaming power that devoured everything it struck, to bolts of molten metal hurled like blazing arrows across the field and eldritch rockets which exploded their wrath high in the air, to see it race down screaming with diabolical intelligence to hungrily burn the flesh of its victims. Even missile the Chaos Dwarfs loosed towards the enemy inflicted intolerable damage, cannon after cannon disappeared beneath a ball of flame, and soon the front ranks of the Imperial army were in visible disarray, although they held fast, their banners high in defiance.[1k]
The Empire FaltersThe lines closed, crossbow bolts shivered through the air, hideous war cries went up from both sides as the bravery of mortal men held fast to confront an army of inhuman horror and unquenchable bloodlust that hammered towards it. At two hundred paces the Empire handgunners opened tire, a snarling crackle of flame and smoke suddenly shrouding the defenders' lines, and a wave of bodies fell from the horde into the dirt, cut down as before a reaper's scythe, but the hideous creatures and mutated warriors of Tamurkhan came on unchecked, clambering over the bodies of their fallen.[1k]
Close now the horde broke up, the longer gait of the huge Bile Trolls and multi-limbed Chaos Spawn running ahead of the pack in their frenzied desire to destroy, while the Daemon Tallymen of Nurgle droned on, maddeningly counting out a litany of the slain while festering clouds of blood-hungry flies swarmed towards the men of the Empire from the decaying ranks of Nurgle's children, as thick as a cloying fog. Meanwhile, high above the battlefield the Dragon-rider Orhbal Vipergut led a force of vulture winged Daemons, tainted harpies and leather-winged Manticore to darken the skies ony to be met in rushing, screaming combat by white-winged griffon-riding knights and a trinity of fire wizards mounted atop a burning wheel of fire and coal-black iron, while all around them the air was rent with shrieking rockets, arcane blasts and whistling shells, and blood fell like misted rain as they dashed.[1k]
Below, Kayzk the Befouled cantered at the head of his Rot Knights forming the honour guard which rode in front of their master Tamurkhan. The ground between the armies was now so loose and pitted that the pace of the heavy Chaos riders was reduced, but sluggish progress mattered little now that the Empire's cannons had been largely silenced. In front of them, the enemy infantry tightened their formation to withstand a charge as the first of the beasts that ran ahead of the horde ravaged into their lines, closing ranks to stand shoulder to shoulder. Those in front braced their halberds against their right foot and readied their swords grimly to receive the charge, and Kayzk smiled wetly at their folly and false hope that they could withstand the doom that closed on them. At a hundred paces a hail of arrows and bullets flew from behind the halberdiers, arcing upwards and then down upon the Chaos knights, but most rattled uselessly against the rusted and slime-coated armour of the Rot Knights and bounced harmlessly from the heavy plates that protected their mounts.[1k]
Only here and there did a missile find its mark, piercing the wearer's armour at a joint, rr perhaps finding some spot weakened too far by corrosion and canker. A few riders tumbled to the ground and horses fell screaming but the horsemen of pestilence rode relentlessly on. The Chaos knights levelled their cruelly barbed lances and charged. A hundred paces distance became fifty, and fifty became ten when unexpectedly the front ranks of the enemy peeled away in desperate flight, revealing a trio of Helblaster Volley Guns chased in gleaming bronze. It would have been too late to abort their charge even if they had wished, and in the bleak joy of their tainted existence the Rot Knights cared not for the danger. As the Helblaster volley guns erupted in sheets of flame from their spinning muzzles, each barrel discharged its load of a dozen or more small cannonballs. They cut a swath through the armored knights and opened great gaps in the Chaos ranks. Those who survived the cannon fire plunged straight into the enemy infantry. In places the valiant footmen held their ground, but in others they were scattered or cut down. Those Rot Knights mounted upon their monstrous-steeds had little difficulty overcoming the fence of gleaming halberd blades raised before them. Chaos-bred mounts crashed down upon the poor infantrymen, crushing the leading ranks and slashing those behind with steel-sharp hooves, as the riders impaled men bodily one to another with their lances in screaming slaughter and lay about themselves with festering, skull-headed flails 'Which charriped and bit with venom-dripping teeth.[1k]
But even where the Imperial regiments broke and fled, others quickly took their place as the second line-advanced anclan)ong them were regiments bedecked in the crimson and sable livery of the Countess's personal men-at-arms, steel-plated Greatswords of the Exchequer Guard with gold chased double-handed blades as tall as they, and grim, grey-cloaked sell-swords with a coin of a dozen realms nailed to their bucklers. Behind them came the great gleaming war altar of the Arch-Lector of Nuln, pulled by scores of bare-backed and bloody flagellants, while barely armed and crazed zealots screamed and scourged themselves in a great throng of unwashed bodies pressed around it, shouting out their eagerness for martyrdom in Sigmar's name. Soon, even the most deadly of the Chaos knights and rampaging spawn at the fore of the fighting found themselves outnumbered and surrounded by glittering spear points and blood-stained blades. But just as the tide appeared to turn again, with a deafening bellow Bubebolos the Toad Dragon and its terrible master entered the fray, with mutated Giants and great plague-daemon things at his heels. Flesh liquefied before the Toad Dragon's foul breath, and scores of men fell screaming as terrible diseases and afflictions erupted without warning, kindling like fire, in their flesh as the daemons of Nurgle drew close. Swift-footed Beastmen came screaming from behind the tide of monsters, falling with animal savagery on the wounded and the isolated in a welter of blood. The battle raged on and the Empire line began to buckle and be pushed back despite the desperate bravery and skill of the soldiery of Nuln, for against such wanton savagry and nightmare birthed might even they could not prevail. Sensing victory was at hand the Champions of Chaos howled their cries to their Dark Gods and pressed on with renewed vigour, their cruel and tainted blades rising and falling in a tumult of death while rippling mutant beasts already gore-splattered and panting threw themselves at the foe with renewed hunger.[1k]
Battle of Crow's Levee
While battle roared on in the centre of the line, further west near the banks of the river, it seemed victory had already been won for Chaos, and all that was left was for the forces of the Kurgan horsemen to wheel round from their shattering of the Empire flank and turn on the centre from the side with crushing force, and tip the balance of the entire battle at a single stroke. However, as Sayl struggled to call the unruly and eager riders to order and began to manoeuvre and form his army up to a charge, the Kurgan found themselves suddenly under fire from the river at their backs. Floating pontoon forts had made their way down from the city's river gates, their armored decks crammed with mortars and archers bearing the green and black livery of the River Wardens.[1k]
The explosive shells falling on the Kurgan scattered them just as Sayl and the Khans were doing all they could to concentrate them, panicking horses and making the task of reforming for a charge all but untenable. Enraged Marauders that attempted to counter attack were quickly dealt with as they attempted to swim the wide, fast flowing river to reach the enemy or were quickly swept away, and even the frightening spectacle of a war mammoth attempting to wade toward the pontoons was cur short as every short fused mortar shell, swivel gun and volley after volley of arrow rained down on the mighty beast and it soon sank beneath the thrashing black waters. Sayl and the Khans restored some semblance of order eventually and succeeded in pulling their riders away from the river and towards their intended target, but they had wasted precious time. This gift of respite had been used by the Empire forces to form up a second lateral defensive line to try to hold the Kurgan horsemen from smashing into the bloody central melee where the bulk of the horde was fighting, and which was even now sucking in more and more defending troops in an effort to stop the horde's advance, but was still steadily losing ground.[1k]
A single deployment from the city reserve had managed to form along the banks of Crow's Levee in time to meet the Kurgan charge, the Nuln Ironsides, the pride of the Imperial Gunnery School under the command of their castellan Jubal Falk. As the Kurgan came on, they were met with wave after wave of disciplined gunfire as Empire snipers took aim and felled warbeast and Khans, causing confusion in the ranks. Alchemist-Wizards of the Gold Order, long allies of the Ironsidees by ancient bond and contract wielded their arts to burn and scorch the enemy, igniting their foes weapons into molten fire in their hands while hidden mines were detonated in the ground below, ripping apart horses and causing one war mammoth to rampage through the Kurgan's own ranks, blinded and driven insane by pain. Despite the carnage inflicted on them, bands of Kurgan Marauders slammed into the Ironsides, but their foes disicpline and the heavy armor of the Empire troops held them fast against the repeated attacks from the horsemen. At the height of the fighting, Sayl the Faithless was himself struck down, a burning bullet of mercuiral shot smashing into his helm and toppling him from his throne. Soon the last of the mighty War Mammoths still fighting fell crashing to the gorund, its hide riddled with hundreds of bullet wounds; a titan laid low by bee stings.[1k]
Leaderless and beset, the Kurgans' assault began to waver when a deafening howl from the heavens drowned out all else in the tumult as a dark shape crashed to earth from the skies above. The dragon carcass, burning with livid purple flame, came apart like an over ripe melon as it hit the ground, the headless, broken body of Orhbal Vipergut pin-wheeling across the ground nearby. Stunned into paralysis all looked up as a wide pair of shadom -black wings darkened the sun and cast all in a shadow that bore with it the chill of the grave. Above them the Carmine Dragon of Elspeth Yon Draken lowered its glass-fanged maw and unleashed a blast of arcane power which scored across the Kurgan like a knife-blade. Where the blackly burning amethyst light touched all was sundered into oblivion', flesh-and steel withering like candle-wax hurled into a blast furnace and the ground itself screamed where the blast line touched The pale scythe in idspeth's hand Hashed anti far below men and beasts died, the life ripped from them leaving nothing but desiccated husks. The battle wizards of the Golden College could do nothing but turn their masked faces away from the display of power and shudder, while the Iroosides that regained their wits redoubled their efforts, pouring fire into the staggering Kurgan who as one, broke and fled. The Battle of Crow's Levee had been won, the Empire flank, against all odds had held.[1k]
Weapons of Iron and OakThe day well advanced now passed noon, and the entire battlefield was a shifting mass of mud and mayhem, with thousands toiling and killing in the mire. The swathe of combat had interjected itself between the Chaos Dwarf contingent and the rearward Empire gun lines, cutting short their artillery duel. In response, the Legion of Azgorh had taken advantage of the respite to lick their wounds and was now moving in column to redeploy to a more advantageous position to the west of the main battle line. Lord Drazhoath had no intention of miring his troops in the slaughter before him, and already had paid more in blood and machinery than he cared for Tamurkhan's cause. Instead he would be content for his Legion to wait out the outcome of the carnage, and make his plans accordingly, preserving his war machines as needed, perhaps even shelling the battle indiscriminately should it go against the Chaos forces. It was then however that there was a sudden commotion in the rearward ranks of the enemy. From the western flank of the great melee there burst a company of fresh mounted troops who broke away from the Empire lines and skirted the edge of the battle, galloping towards the Chaos Dwarf position at break-neck speed.[1k]
These were followed moments later by warmachines the like of which Lord Drazhoath had never seen. Strange and spectacular these four bizarre machines belched smoke and wheezed and clanked as if they were about to burst apart. At first he thought them to be the famed Steam Tanks of the Empire but soon realised they were something else entirely. They were huge creations, far larger even than his own Iron Daemons and fashioned incongruously in the image of sea-warships, but hoisted high on wheels and propelled by some crude steam engine which even at this distance sounded fit to explode at any moment. Their decks teemed with soldiers and were frantic with activity, and with sudden shock he watched armoured gun ports open in their bow to reveal the jutting barrels of cannon. Lord Drazhoath swore some terrible oath in dwarfish and immediately snapped orders to his attendants who made haste to obey, and the column's machine-train began to scream and clank slowly towards forming a defensive circle.[1k]
The Chaos Dwarf Sorcerer-Prophet watched the enemy's machines steam rapidly forward and they did so at far greater speed than he had ever seen any Chaos Dwarf engine of their size move. The Landships he realized had distracted him utterly from the darting Empire Outrider, which were now drawing close at the gallop. As these riders approached, Drazhoath observed that some were armed with strange mechanical weapons of a kind he had never seen before. Their use and purpose was quickly revealed when clattering gunfire — faster than any Drazhoath had ever witnessed bar from the weird experimental weapons of the hated Skaven Clan Skyrc — rattled forth from the riders, spraying indiscriminately into the still-turning Chaos Dwarf column. The Infernal Guard moved lock-step into defensive-positions and returned withering fire with clock and hailshot blunderbuss, shredding horses and riders alike, but Drazhoath cursed foully again seeing the damage was already done, as the riders were already in amongst the column. Their target was now clear, as those few that still lived hurled iron-sphere bombs with fizzing fuses into the guns and gears of war machines and munitions carriages with devastating results.[1k]
Lord Drazhoath urged Cinderbreath into the air as the land ships closed quickly upon the siege-mortars and magma cannon, still stowed for transport, their Hel!smiths frantically trying to make them ready to fire. With thunderous retorts, the Land Ships began to shower the weapon carriages with shot from their bow-mounted cannons and fusillades of small-arms fire from the fighting decks. A well-aimed cannonball struck one of the vast mortars and in a shrieking explosion knocked it completely from its mounting, the Chaos Dwarf crew lying dead and mutilated amongst the mangled metal of their war machine. As the Chaos Dwarfs rallied to the defence, another wave of riders came through the Land Ships. There were near a hundred this time, liveried in ivory cloth and enameled black armour and armed with firearms of diverse kinds as the Imperial Engineers of the Empire ready their inventions of war. Some carried multi-barrelled muskets, some braces of pistols and others bore brass-mouthed guns that gaped open like blunderbusses. The cavalry stormed around the weapon-carriages, loosing their fire upon the crewmen and slaves and causing great slaughter. As they did so; hard-eyed swordsmen rappelled into combat from the sides of the Land Ships and fought off all attempts by the Dwarfs of Zharr to rescue their comrades.[1k]
Enraged, Drazhoath issued the mental command for Cinderbreath to plunge into the attack. The huge burning beast did as be was bidden, and Drazhoath felt a thrill of pleasure as Cinderbreath bathed the deck of the nearest Land Ship in its breath of flame; the death screams of the crew caught in the open sweet music to the black-hearted sorcerer. With a sweep of his gnarled hand he summoned the power of his Dark God and covered a second Land Ship in a pall of cloaking black ash while the first careered away burning merrily. More hooves thundered, vastly more, and Drazhoath's alarm was replaced with triumph as hundreds of Kurgan horsemen thundered into view, but instead of joining the battle they rode on by at speed, leaving the Chaos Dwarf Sorcerer to shout bitter curses after them for their cowardice.[1k]
Meanwhile, undeterred, the two remaining Land Ships turned clumsily about to attack the next column of machine-carriages. but by now the Infernal Guard were engaged in a bitter fight against the enemy's horsemen and were quickly gaining the upper hand; although the ragged looking swordsmen fared better, their weird-looking standard seeming to shriek like a damned soul in torment. The Land Ships lumbered onwards more slowly now, for it appeared that they had expended much of their power during their rapid advance. They had taken fire from the Chaos Dwarfs and now steam 'spat from gaping holes in the machines sides as the Land Ship belched black smoke and flames sputtered from its chimney stack stack as the engine backfired noisily. Its companions blundered about, one blinded by ash and the other now blazing like a furnace but the fourth incongruously slammed down its heavy achor and used the drag weight to turn sharply, crashing into a regiment of Infernal Guard that had formed up to fire on it.[1k]
Its bow cannon spoke suddenly and grapeshot lacerated the Chaos Dwarfs, even their vaunted Blackshard armour next to useless against the cannon at point blank range. Lord Drazhoath launched Cinderbreath into a knot of enemy riders and laughed cruelly as the Bale Taurus burned and gored them into unrecognisable hunks of scorched meat. The burning Land Ship crashed into an Iron Daemon head on and the pair exploded in a roaring fireball which sent splinter shrapnel scudding across the battlefield, punching a hole through Cinderbreath's wing and ricocheting off Drazhoath's armour. Bit by bit the Land Ships were worn down: wheels blasted apart, boilers pierced and weeping, and weapons bent and useless. A Skullcracker engine found one that had stalled broadside, its teeth bit into iron plate and chewed a hole through the hull with a cracking sound and erupted from the other side in a shower of splinters, cutting the wooden beast in half. The few surviving riders and swordsmen beat a desperate retreat, as did the single rickety Land Ship than remained, smoking and bullet ridden, as fast as its off-kilter wheels would carry it. But the damage had been done and the Chaos Dwarfs were in no state to pursue. "Treachery!" Drazhoath howled to the skies.[1k]
Vortex of Blood
Then came the sound of trumpet blasts and the roaring thunder of hooves from the east, loud enough to drown out even the clamor of the bloody battle and soon the ground itself shook and vibrated in omen of what was to come. At the sound Tamurkhan reared up his Toad Dragon and looked out across the swirling slaughter around him and saw a great wall of shining steel rushing toward them like a foaming wave; banners and pennants of black and gold, grey and scarlet snapping and flying above the knights of a dozen orders, lance points levelled in a glittering wall of promised death. The fetid lord of Nurgle spurred into Bubebolos who let out a deafening cry of his own and turned to counter charge this new threat, the Maggot Lord swinging around his great axe in wild demand for the horde to follow. Now it was the turn of the horde to feel the keen-edged blades of their enemy and withstand the hurricane-force of the knights' massed charge. The shock of the Empire cavalry's impact sundered into the horde, which fractured but did not break before the onslaught.[1k]
It was those humanoid warriors on foot — the whirling marauders, howling Beastmen and degenerate mutants that took the worst of the blow and died in their hundreds in the first moments as the glittering column of steel and vengeful ire slammed into the melee, but they were not alone and even hulking Plague Ogres clad in Chaos Dwarf-forged black metal fell in scores, pierced in a dozen places by the lances of the knights. Behind the first arrowhead wave of knights came a second charge of free riders and pistoliers, who darted through the melee seeking targets of their own, discharging Wheelock guns into towering monstrosities at point blank range, or hurling demolition charges into the backs of hulking Chaos Warriors already caught up in savage combat, little caring if a few of their fellow soldiers were struck in the process. Here and there the flashes of magic revealed the presence of battle wizards in the thundering charge, as searing blasts of pure white light burned into the rancid flesh of Nurgle's Daemon Tallymen, scorching them into oblivion, while a vast tangle of murderous living thorns erupted from the earth, catching a clutch of festering Bile Trolls in their deadly embrace, and try as they might, the hulking monsters could not break free, and only managed to rend and puncture their ever-knitting flesh over and over in the attempt.[1k]
But if the charge of Nuln's massed cavalry was meant to be a decisive blow to end the battle in the Empire's favour, it failed, and instead only managed perhaps to even the battle once more. Within minutes the warring forces became hopelessly interpenetrated, and the impetus of the charge was completely lost as the knights and free riders became mired in countless separate hand-to-hand struggles. The savage axes of the Chaos Warriors were turned on the new foe, cutting down rider and horse alike with their inhuman strength, and soon the bloated beasts of Nurgle were pulling knights from their mounts and even picking up horses, riders and all, before crushing and rending them in their tentacled grasps. A great Bonegrinder Giant, taller than a watchtower, its pale flesh mutilated by masses of weeping sores, strode over a battery palisade and began to pick up the great cannon there and flung them towards the oncoming Empire cavalry as easily as a boy might hurl stones at kitties. The carnage the flying metal caused to the onrushing knights was abruptly ended when the Giant toppled screaming to the ground as a wound-crazed Griffon, a riderless and bloody saddle trailing behind it slammed like a cannonball into its chest and powered away with swooshing wing-beats, taking what was left of the Giant's face with it as red tatters trailing from its gleaming claws.[1k]
Where there had been the central defence line of the Empire forces, was now a vast, whirling melee miles across — an orderless, leaderless slaughter on a nightmarish scale where no quarter was given and the screams of the dying hung in the air, echoing as far as the streets of the great city where refuges huddled in fear at the sound. The ground, already a morass of blood and mud, became a quagmire of gore and twitching bodies. Both sides knew instinctively that whoever won this deadly gauntlet would win the day, and more and more reinforcements from both sides were fed into this vortex of blood and the skies above grew black and turbulent, as if the sun refused to look upon the horror visited below.[1k]
As the day waned, the bloody stalemate drew on with no sure victory in sight for either side who fought desperately on with thousands now left dead at their feet. Tamurkhan broke free of the battlefront, and Bubebolos, now bearing the scars of a score of weeping wounds, sheared off lance points jutting from its armoured scales, limping on its rear limb where a fireball had charred its knee down to blackened bone. The Maggot Lord's mind, half insane with the unbridled savagery of the day and the reek of carnage around him, still grasped that by simple attrition the Empire would eventually win as matters stood, and perhaps had already slain enough of his forces so that they had not enough strength to breach the city's defences. Enraged beyond measure, he called to him his commanders, mortal and daemon alike to answer for the failure, "Where were the Kurgan riders, why had they not joined the fray?" And with his own eyes he could see the plumes of black smoke from the Chaos Dwarf machine-trains withdrawing from the field, "Did they believe their work was done, Nurgle take them!"[1k]
Tamurkhan listened aghast to reports of the Kurgan riders' flight from the field, to scatter across the rolling hills behind, and choked with mounting fury to the realization that victory was being stanched away from him. All was lost, the Throne of Chaos, so tantalizingly close was being snatched from his grasp, and yet...and yet...the Daemons whispered in his mind, there was perhaps another way. As twilight fell on the great field of slaughter, the battle finally ebbed away, and the acolytes of the Plague God broke off their assault, leaving only a few insane and uncontrollable monsters to fight on in their stead, falling back into the gathering gloom. Behind them they left the survivors of the Empire armies numb and exhausted — and in no fit state to mount any kind of pursuit even it they wished it.[1k]
The death toll had been staggering, and no right accounting could easily be given of the losses Nuln had sustained, but they were without doubt appalling. That fact could be plainly seen and felt by the empty-eyed, stumbling and wounded soldiers that staggered back across the great bridge that spanned the rivers. The citizenry that awaited them; women and children, old folk for the main, curiously silent attended to them as best they could with bandages and food, ale and blankets, but over the whole city a pall of foreboding and quiet had fallen where perhaps there should have been triumph, the skies above grew darker yet, blotting out the moon and stars. All could feel the tearful change in the air as a nameless horror was about to be born.[1k]
In the court of the Countess Emmanuelle, all was a frenzy of activity, washed over with mounted shock as news of the fallen came in. It was the almost ghostly figure of Elspeth von Draken, who it seemed had paled to a mere shadow, that cut through the court with news of the direst import. Something was happening on the banks of the Upper Reik south of the city, something terrible that might yet spell doom of them all.[1k]
A Dance of Death and Decay
The assault on the fallen Abbey of the Lilies was a desperately arranged affair, and would not have been possible without the combined reserves of arcane power possessed by the near-exhausted battle wizards of Nuln. The conjurations that let them speed and twist distance hack upon itself to allow the war party to strike before it was too late were so grave that the Grey Wizard who wove the spell was consumed by it, burning coldly away to a cloud of fine ash in the casting. The ragged column of knights — the bloodied survivors of a dozen orders that had endured the battle of the day launched the attack — spearheaded by the Countess's Champion, Theodore Bruckner riding his savage Demigryph, Reaper, the talisman at his neck flaring with amethyst light as it encountered the supernatural miasma that fogged the desecrated abbey. With them came warrior priests and footsoldiers, swordsmen and wizards, all volunteers who knew their survival was far from likely. Above them the Carmine Dragon's wings beat the wind-tortured air and the shadowy form of Elspeth von Draken raised up her glimmering scythe which crackled with pale fire. The armies of hell rose up to meet them. Daemon savagery tore at the knights, fetid claws gutting warhorses and dragging them down, but even as they died the armoured warriors slammed their lances into cataracted cyclopean eyes and drove their blessed blades deep into swollen daemon-flesh.[1k]
Zealots screamed and flung themselves fearlessly to their deaths, scourges swung wildly while holy prayers drove back hulking Plague Toads, burning them as if the purest vitriol acid had been poured over their flesh. The shifiing savage form of a wizard from the Amber College matched claw for claw and fang for fang against the horror but was quickly smothered and disappeared beneath a mass of rusted blades and scabrous limbs. The sorcerous breath of the Carmine Dragon lashed out, burning a blinding light across the abbey and smote the chest of a Great Unclean One which struggled to free its house-sized bulk from the choked river of decaying flesh and writhing limbs, but it was evident it would all be for nothing if they could not act quickly, for they were simply too few and the coming Daemon legion seemingly without number or limit. Tamurkhan was the key, and it was he that must die before the ritual reached its zenith and a plague the likes of which had never been seen was unleashed upon the Empire. Reaper bounded with long talon-sure strides towards Tamurkhan, shouldering the Plaguebearer Tallymen who rose up to bar its path aside, pausing to savagely grab one and shake it to pieces in its razor-sharp beak and fling it aside as a cat might a mouse. Bruckner raised his cold blade over his head and shouted out his challenge, undaunted.[1k]
The enraged Tamurkhan, fearless and defiant, was swift to answer, yanking out the great axe from the tainted earth beside the body of his Toad Dragon and running full pelt towards the Demigryph with staggering gait, bones rattling wetly within his decaying flesh. Arcane fire burst upon Tamurkhan and swatting him in torment, causing him to stagger and in that moment of distraction Reaper was on him, its scythe-like talons a blurred frenzy, slashing rotting meat from diseased bone, its beak shooting forward and plucking the rotted head of the Ogre clean from its body. Tamurkhan reeled but did not fall and the great axe licked out in a whistling side-sweep and caught the Demigryph in the breast, stoving in the noble beast's rib cage and cleaving its beating heart in two. Reaper reared up, screaming its death agony, dragging the Axe from the Maggot Lord as it did so. Bruckner barely managed to scramble clear in time as the Demigryph collapsed, dead as a felled tree, and came up swinging, his enchanted blade stabbing and hacking relentlessly at the flailing bulk of the headless Tamurkhan, scoring wound after wound on the tainted flesh. The inhuman horror collapsed to one knee under the onslaught. Gushing foulness filled with writhing black worms spilled across Buckler, and gagging he staggered backward, staggered and then slipped. It was enough for the maggot to do it work. The obscene creature lurched forth like a striking cobra and fastened itself over Theodore Bruckner's terrified face, crucnhing thorugh leather and bone and pulsing and writing within the flesh, delicate bones splintering like pistols as the maggot forced its way down. Here was a proud vessel that would be the last he would ever need. he would not be denied. He was eternal. He was...[1k]
The talisman around Bruckner's neck burst into furious life, like a burning star unleashed in the night. In a roar flash there was nothing but blackened crumbling bone where the Champion of Nuln had stood and in an instant later even that had been consumed and Tamurkhan the Maggot Lord along with it. High above the battle, Elsepth von Draken watched the fire-flash and allowed herself a brief moment of satisfaction in the instant before the Storm of Magic that the Maggot Lord had drawn to itself was abruptly cut and folded back on itself catastrophically. Her design had come to fruition. A whipcord of oblivion snapped shut over the spot where Tamurkhan had stood within a hair's breath of Daemonhood and all was laid to waste. The banks of the river thundered upward and quaked, and the Children of Chaos were scattered and withered to filthy ribbons of ash in the span of a heartbeat. The Abbey of Lilies and all within it ceased to be and in the wide crater that replaced it a tangle mass of tortured green-black glass pierced the ground like a dagger stabbed into the earth. Her job done, the Carmine Dragon fell lifeless from the sky and Elsepth von Draken faded like smoke in the night, having sacrificed everything to save her beloved Empire of Man.[1k]
- "And so ended the saga of Tamurkhan, he who sought the Throne of Chaos. And what of I his chronicler? Blinded by burning meteal, abandoned and scroned by my people, I who had risen so high — who men called the Faithless — was left a beggar upon the road in a realm of the lost and desolate. Condemned by the Dark Gods to my black penace. A stranger in a strange land, but far from helpless. And soon my story shall also be told..."
- —The Final Saga of Tamurkhan, as told by Sayl the Faithless[1k]
Tamurkhan, as he called himself was not as other warlords and warriors of Chaos, but was subject to a terrible mutation, as truly hideous as it was rare. In mortal form he had been transformed into a befouled, maggot-like creature the size of a human child, grey-green and rotting, studded with lambently glowing corpse-light eyes and a needle-like snout that split open to reveal rows upon row of glassy, razor-barbed teeth. More awful yet than even his form was the creature's ability to fall upon a human or near-human victim and spear into its flesh, bore deep within and devour it from the inside out, inhabiting its dead flesh like a puppet, turning his victim into a stolen second skin in which to do battle. Thus empowered did Tamurkhan prove all but unstoppable, and many mighty foes fell before him. Even if the enemy managed to best him, the true beast would show its face and the temporary victor would become Tamurkhans newly rotting host.[1l]
At the outset of Tamurkhan's attempted incursion into the Old World, he wore the flesh of Sargath the Vain, once a powerful Champion of Slaanesh, and took great joy in the slow decay of the warrior's formerly beautiful flesh and the corrosion of his bejewelled armour. This body, which he had worn for nearly a year, failed him however in single combat against the raw strength and brute skill of the Ogre Tyrant Karaka Breakmountain and was cut down, only for Tamurkhan to rise again in the Tyrant's flesh and bone. This perhaps proved his undoing, as never before had Tamurkhan tasted such unrestrained strength and fury, and even though the body continued to rot and sustain grievous injury, he would not abandon it. There were those even in his own camp that maintained that something of the Ogre king's savage spirit remained within it to worry at the Maggot Lord, who seemingly became increasingly dull-witted and, crude as the hulking frame rotted around him.[1l]
- Tamurkhan's Rune Blade - While Tamurkhan was in possession of the rotting remains of the Slaaneshi Champion Sargath the Vain, he also wielded that fallen warrior's murderous Chaos Rune Blade, an ancient weapon finally shattered in combat with the Ogre Tyrant Karaka Breakmountain.[1m]
- The Black Cleaver - As part of his pact with the Chaos Dwarfs of the Black Mountains, Tamurkhan was gifted by them with a great double-handed axe fitted with a smouldering, cleaver-like pitted blade, borne up from deep within their vaults. The strange greyish fumes that the massive weapon exudes when swung are foully poisonous, which pleased the Maggot Lord greatly.[1m]
- Bubebolos - Tamurkhan rides upon a mighty Dragon Ogre known as Bubebolos, considered one of the greatest Toad Dragon to have ever lived.[1m]
- Feast of the Maggot Lord - Tamurkhan is nothing more than a maggot wearing the skin of his victims and when killed, his true form burst forth and attack the one who has struck him down, driving deep into the beings flesh and taking up a new host for his grand quest.[1m]
- Tamurkhan is most likely a reference to Timur the Lame, a famous mongol-turk conqueror of the eastern Steppe people.
- 1 Tamurkhan: The Throne of Chaos