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When a powerful Vampire stirs, the Dark Magic he exudes acts as a magical beacon to spirits and dead things for many miles around. In this manner, a Vampire draws all manner of dreadful creatures to his service. Ghouls and Crypt Horrors leave their graveyard lairs and Dire Wolves slink out from the shadowy forests.
Ghosts and spectres, revenants of dead warriors and murdered men, draw strength from the Vampire and weave insubstantial forms for themselves in order to plague the warm-blooded living.
Slack-jawed Zombies claw themselves out of shallow graves at the Vampire's command. Units of armoured Wights stalk forwards in a parody of disciplined soldiery, flanked by beasts of the wild that have been reshaped by the energies of necromancy into something far more hideous.
The skies above the Vampire writhe with swarms of blood-sucking bats, some of which are as large as the dreaded Zombie Dragons that bear the lords of undeath to battle. Twisted mockeries of once-noble predators fl. The deathly adepts known as Necromancers can also feel the rising of such a lord of darkness, and will leave their hiding places to serve at the feet of a truly undying master.
They bargain their skills and servitude in exchange for more knowledge, or in the hope of earning the Blood Kiss themselves. Some bear dread artefacts to war upon planquins of the dead, hoping to use the might of their unholy predecessors against their prey.
Perhaps most deadly of all those summoned are the other Vampires that heed the dark call - some sired by the Vampire and therefore bonded to it by magic and blood, others seeking alliance or simply a chance for fresh slaughter. Relentless, implacable and dreadful, the Undead are among the most dangerous opponents in the known world.
Bound by the will of their Vampire, they are a fell and mighty force. They cannot be reasoned with, bribed or coerced. They know neither fear nor mercy. They need neither sleep nor warmth, drink nor wholesome sustenance. As they spread across the land, their ranks swell with the corpses, and sometimes even the spirits, of their slain foes.
Few things inspire more fear in the hearts of men than the sight of the walking dead. Their cadaverous forms are wrapped in funerary vestments, and they wield ancient, rusty weapons - they are a vision of the fate that awaits all living creatures.
When confronted by that which haunts all Men's nightmares, most mortals feel an indescribable horror, as much a weapon as any blade, and only the bravest warriors will stand their ground. When the Undead march to war, all the living tremble in fear. To understand the restless dead, one must understand the nature of magic. The Winds of Magic constantly emerge from the Realm of Chaos and blow out across the world. Magical energies permeate everything. Gusting down from the Chaos Wastes, most of the currents of magical energy separate into one of the eight colours of magic.
Some, however, remain a roiling mass of pure Dark Magic that descends where it will. A peculiar quality of Dark Magic is that like attracts like. Once Dark Magic starts to build up in an area, more and more of it will be drawn to that same place. This forms a swirling vortex of evil that eventually coalesces into a solid form - warpstone.
It is Dark Magic that provides the power to animate the dead, therefore, many of the areas where that fell force waxes strongest are also the places that attract or spawn Undead. Some philosophers observe that, since Chaos feeds on strong emotions, places where great negative emotions such as fear, terror, hatred and horror have been felt also attract Dark Magic.
They claim that battlefields, plague-stricken towns and houses where dark deeds of murder have been committed draw the forces of undeath to them. Alternatively, it could simply be a reflection of the fact that dreadful energies are often unleashed during battles, or that the mass graves and plague pits of diseased townships attract and provide cover for Vampires and their unspeakable rites.
W hatever the reason, there are particular areas in the Old World and beyond that attract the Undead. These areas, ill-famed as they may be, are far from being the only places where the Undead are found. Any lonely tower with access to old burial grounds or crypts may be the haunt of a Necromancer or, worse still, one of the Vampires that they usually serve.
Though almost all of them now dwell in the rain-swept forests of the north, their origins lie in the sun-baked desert cities of the Land of the Dead. South of the Empire, south of the Border Princes, south even of the Badlands and Karak Azul, lies a land of which very little is known.
Even those who know its true name Nehekhara - do not say the word aloud.
They refer to it in hushed tones as the Land of the Dead. Few men have been there and returned to tell the tale, and so the history of the Land of the Dead is steeped in black rumour and shrouded in mystery. A few insights can be gleaned from ancient texts, such as Abdul ben Raschid's Book of the Dead.
This great tome tells of how the powerful Priest King, Settra, conquered all of the cities of the realm of N ehekhara, and yet he was not content, for he could not defeat death. He set his priests to solving the mystery of immortality, and though they extended his life for many years, they could not unlock the secrets of eternal life. Following Settra's death and entombment within a vast pyramid, successive Priest Kings became similarly obsessed with avoiding death.
Over time, the great mortuary temples and pyramids dwarfed the cities of the living, and all thought and endeavour was bent towards immortal life. Eventually, this obsession with achieving immortality would bring about Nehekhara's demise and, from its death throes, the birth of the Vampires. The brother of the reigning Priest King, N agash was a mighty priest well-versed in the mystical incantations of his folk.
From an early age, Nagash was obsessed with death, even more so than the rest of his people. Nagash wandered through the city's necropolis for weeks at a time, and entered the oldest tombs without fear. He observed the morticians as they prepared the dead for internment. He watched warriors wounded in battle fade and die, and resolved that he would never succumb to such a fate.
It was Nagash's capture, and subsequent torture, of a small party of shipwrecked Dark Elves that led to his discovery of Dark Magic. Nagash soon mastered the basics of necromancy, and the people of the city began to shun him.
A natural and brilliant sorcerer, his experiments met with considerable success. Amongst the greatest of his macabre achievements was the distillation of an elixir from human blood that would grant everlasting life to its drinker.
Soon, Nagash had a loyal following of noblemen with whom he shared his discovery. In a bloody coup, Nagash seized control of Khemri and had his brother buried alive within their father's pyramid. As the years turned into decades and the decades turned to centuries, Nagash and his followers took to conducting their experiments and rituals hidden in the cool, dark places in the palatial tombs of the necropolis. They began to shun the light altogether as they made plans for their dark ascension.
Nagash supervised the building of a great Black Pyramid, one of the mightiest structures ever attempted by men. It cost a great many lives to build, but the blood, sweat and souls given to its construction only increased its potency, for the pyramid was designed to attract the foul winds of Dark Magic. For the Priest Kings of the other cities, long disturbed by events in Khemri, this was the final blasphemy.
They formed an alliance against Nagash and sent their armies into battle with him. During the long war that followed, waves of dark power blasted the lands. Many of Nehekhara's oases were so saturated that they became as dismal and lifeless as the surrounding desert. Mter nearly a century of constant warfare, however, the armies of the Priest Kings succeeded in sacking Khemri.
As Nagash fled from the burning city into the cold depths of his pyramid, the Great Necromancer swore to the Priest Kings that their cities would become as dust. The Priest Kings laughed. One by one they found Nagash's disciples within the pyramid and dragged them out screaming to be burned and beheaded in the sunlight. All of the morbid statues and monuments to Nagash's glory were toppled into the sand. The sanctums of the Necromancer's disciples were despoiled, and the practice of Dark Magic was outlawed on pain of death.
Yet the agents of the Priest Kings could not find the renegade himself. Although his disciples claimed to have seen N agash enter his sarcophagus, the coffin itself was mysteriously empty. The Damnation of Lahmia In defiance of the laws imposed by the Priest Kings, Neferata, the Queen of Lahmia stole the most potent of Nagash's books and pursued her own studies in the dark arts. She attempted to replicate the Elixir of Life, and eventually she had a small measure of success.
Neferata no longer seemed to age, but was possessed of a terrible thirst for blood. Over time, many of the court of N eferata also drank the elixir, and joined her as Vampire lords and ladies. Thus was the dynasty of the Lahmian Vampires born into the world.
More cautious than N agash, they took pains to conceal their nature from the other Priest Kings. The first Vampires reigned like gods over Lahmia, governed by their undying queen and hidden from the ire of the Priest Kings.
Gradually, the Vampire covens of Lahmia began to grow in confidence, and their excesses increased. They would not submit to walk the earth like common soldiers, and insisted upon being borne upon ornate thrones at all times.
Hundreds of slaves entered their palaces every day, and were never seen again. These Vampires also learned that Nagash had not been destroyed, but was rebuilding his power in the citadel of Cripple Peak, which would become known as Nagashizzar. Agents of the Priest Kings captured and interrogated some of these heralds, and the Vampires' existence was uncovered. Enraged beyond measure, the Priest Kings once more amassed their armies and made war. The fight for Lahmia was long and bloody, with the deadly Vampires using their strength and sorcerous skills to slay hundreds of the Priest Kings' warriors.
Yet the Priest Kings were not without magic of their own, and their armies numbered in the tens of thousands. Eventually, the Vampires lost the battle.
The population of Lahmia was enslaved, the pyramids smashed, and the Vampires driven out. Most fled northward, one-by-one arriving in Nagashizzar to be welcomed by the Great Necromancer. Nagash looked upon the corrupt immortals and was pleased. The Vampires were worthy champions for his armies, their damnation a tribute to his dark genius. War with the Priest Kings Nagash had not been idle and had learned much about the art of necromancy and animating the dead, conceiving of a mad and deadly master plan.
He vowed to turn the entire world into a necropolis filled only by the unquiet dead, where no action would be performed, no deed done save when he willed it. Nagash would be the lord over all of it. The first step on Nagash's road to utter dominion was the elimination of his former homeland, for he wished a bitter vengeance upon the Priest Kings. At his command, the Vampires led his legions forth to war. On ships made of fused bone, the Undead horde made its way from the Sour Sea, down what future generations would know as the Straits of Nagash, to the Bitter Sea.
The Undead legions made landfall at the ruined port of Lahmia and surged forwards on their mortal foes, the exiled Vampires spearheading the attack. However, Nagash had seriously underestimated his former countrymen.
Alcadizaar was the greatest general of his age and his empire was at the zenith of its power. When the Undead came, they found themselves opposed by a unified, confident army. Moreover, the enchanters of the Great Kingdom had made progress in the arts of magic, particularly in the creation of animated war-constructs.
No easy victory was possible against them. The ensuing wars stained the sands red for many years. The Vampires were mighty sorcerers and fell warriors, and they were determined to reclaim their kingdom.
Wherever they appeared, terror and dread came upon the enemy, yet the Vampires were not invincible. The war swayed backwards and forwards for a decade. At first, the legions of the Undead had the upper hand, then the armies of Alcadizaar struck back with displays of tactical genius.
Battle after battle was fought until all ofNagash's legions were destroyed. The defeated Vampires fled across the desert to Nagashizzar to bring their dark master the report of their failure.
Great was agash's rage. He cursed the vampiric captains that had failed him. Ever afterward they would know constant pain and their howling cries would carry the knowledge of their misery to all men. The remaining Vampires fled Nagashizzar by night, dispersing in all directions to confuse pursuit. Even after Nagash's death at the hands of Alcadizaar, the Vampires bore his curse. Thus, the first Vampires disappeared across the world, each founding their own bloodthirsty dynasty that would endure and grow through the centuries, terrorising the living to the present day.
This land of bleak hills, blasted moorlands and mist-shrouded forests is shunned by all sensible travellers and is without doubt the most ill-famed region in the Empire. No sane man would venture forth after dark and no questing knight or weary pilgrim ever accepts shelter within the brooding, rotting castles that tower over the land. By night, the brutish peasants of the squalid villages lock and bar their doors, and hang bundles of witchbane and daemon root over their shutters to ward against the evils of the night.
For as long as any man can remember, evil tales have been told of Sylvania. The odds are good that if ever a tavern bard is reciting a grisly ballad, or a court poet inscribing a story of horror, then the setting will be this dire place.
Sylvania is indeed a land where unquiet spirits, thirsty Vampires and evil sorcerers still walk beneath the moons' pale light. The Winds of Magic blow strong in Sylvania, and the keeps of the nobility are all built over particularly ill-omened sites.
Even the notoriously violent and fearless Stirland tax collectors wear amulets blessed by Priests of Morr and Sigmar, and go about their business in fifty-strong companies whenever their Elector Count compels them to seek his due. It began on a storm-lashed night when Otto, last of the mad von Drak Counts, lay on his death bed in Castle Drakenhof, cursing the gods that he was without a male heir to continue his legacy.
Otto was a cruel man, fond of putting the heads of peasants on spikes at the slightest provocation, and when crazed with drink he was convinced he was Sigmar reincarnated. The nobles of his court had no respect for his authority, and paid no attention to his commands. Sylvania seethed with strife. The Arrival of Vlad The castle gate swung open on its hinges before any man-at-arms could touch it. The visitor was revealed and, as one, the baying guard dogs ceased to howl and slunk away.
The stranger was tall, darkly handsome, and of noble bearing and aspect. No-one stayed his entry as he marched directly to the count's chamber. The newcomer's accent was foreign, perhaps from Kislev, or even further afield. He named himself as Vlad von Carstein, and recited his noble antecedents to the count. He then claimed the wide-eyed Isabella's hand in marriage. Looking into the stranger's cold, dead eyes, the count perhaps regretted his rash oath, but before he knew it, he had given his blessing nonetheless.
The priest Guttman was revived from his swoon and brought to the chambers of Otto, where the marriage ceremony was performed before the dying count's bed. Almost as soon as the last of the ritual words were spoken, Otto von Drak expired, leaving his daughter and his entire estate in the charge of Vlad von Carstein. The new count's first act was to hurl Isabella's uncle Leopold through the window of the highest tower of Castle Drakenhof Vlad seemed as eccentric as old Otto.
He never ate in the servants' presence. He never walked abroad by day. He dismissed the elderly Sigmarite priest and sent him from the town. No one ever saw Victor Guttman again. Soon, many of the old servants at the keep were dismissed and mysterious, swarthy strangers took their place.
However, the new count seemed less oppressive than the old one, and so the folk of Sylvania got on with their daily business, ignoring the hooded and cloaked foreigners that often visited the castle. Years of punitive von Drak rule had taught them not to question the deeds of their betters.
All that concerned the lower classes was that at least the new count didn't order senseless executions or demand exorbitant taxes at a whim. No one doubted the count's prowess in battle either. When the famed company of Bernhoff the Butcher rode into town and demanded tribute, Vlad cut the veteran mercenary down as if he were a stripling.
The count then proceeded to slaughter the entire mercenary band while his bodyguard watched, picking their teeth and making smug comments. The count's popularity was assured. Within his realm, the laws were kept, and the guilty were punished without mercy. As his family keenly awaited his final breath, Otto swore he would marry his daughter Isabella to a daemon rather than let his hated brother Leopold inherit. Otto had already refused his daughter's hand to every noble in Sylvania, for he despised them all.
No man of breeding from beyond the borders of von Drak's realm wanted to marry a Sylvanian heiress, and so it was that when Isabella von Drak knelt at Otto's death bed, she was still without a husband. Outside, thunder rumbled and lightning split the storm black darkness. Victor Guttman, the aged priest of Sigmar who had been called to shrive the old count, fainted away. Then, from out of the storm came the sound of wheels and pounding hooves.
A dark coach pulled by four mighty black steeds drew up outside the keep. A heavy hand smote the door a ringing blow, and a proud voice demanded entry. The Healing of Isabella Scant days later, word reached Drakenhof that Isabella had fallen sick with an incurable illness. One of the physicians who tended her claimed her heart had stopped. The new count insisted this was not so. He dismissed the learned doctors, claiming he would care for her with his own hands.
Three days later she appeared in front of her folk, saying she was fully recovered. She was ever afterwards pale and wan, however, and never left her chambers save by moonlight. At first, none of the feuding nobles of Sylvania paid any heed to the commands of the new count. If this bothered Vlad, he gave no sign of it.
The count cherished his tenants as a peasant family cherishes a beast they are fattening for the Midsummer feast. After decades of rule by mad Otto, this new order was welcomed by all save the most paranoid. Mter several months, however, dark things began to happen. Young men and women from the villages began to disappear.
The living dead gathered at the borders of each settlement in growing numbers.
These were small forces at first, and they came after only those who disobeyed the count's authority. If any rebellious Sylvanians escaped the clutches of the Undead, then they quickly fell victim to strange accidents. Only those who had sworn allegiance to Vlad von Carstein seemed immune to these depredations.
Soon, the renegade nobles of Sylvania were queuing up to swear fealty to him. Within ten years, Vlad was more firmly in control of unruly Sylvania than the Elector Counts were of the largest states in the Empire. Some remarked that such was Vlad's success as a ruler he should in fact sit upon the Imperial throne.
Mter all, the von Carsteins were an ancient family that could trace their lineage back to the founding of the Empire. Generations later, Vlad and Isabella still presided over the lands, unchanged by the years. At first, few paid attention to their longevity.
The lives of peasants had always been squalid and short, and nobles had always enjoyed vastly longer lifespans. However, when the oldest woman of Drakenhof insisted that her grandmother had been a girl when Vlad von Carstein came to the throne, even the most dim-witted peasantry began to surmise that all was not as it seemed.
The spreading rumours drew more and more Witch Hunters to Sylvania. Those who chose to investigate the von Carsteins were never seen again. Yet worse was to come. The mysterious disease that had first laid low Isabella von Carstein struck other noble families allied with the count. Soon, every castle in Sylvania was home to long-lived, nocturnal folk, pallid of aspect and merciless in their rule.