Fort Griffon, the Gateworld, known to the locals as Alnus Hill
Erhardt Franz Holswig Schliestein, fourth son of the Emperor, Karl Franz, surveyed the carnage from atop his horse. Already the carrion birds were feasting on the dead, paying no head if the fallen were dressed in either the scarlet and white of his native Reikland, or the strange armor of the locals.
He thanked Sigmar and Morr that the majority of the slain were of the latter, and not the former.
After four weeks of bloodshed, the Invader Army had finally backed off, no longer willing to throw their men into the meat grinder that were the Imperial Iron Companies. Erhardt had been in the thick of the fighting for most of the siege, and his formerly pristine armor, was dented, and covered in blood, both his enemies, and his own.
Erhardt was tall for a young man, and athletic, though he had yet to fill out in certain places. He had inherited the strong jaw of his father's family, and the aquiline nose of his mother. A scar in the corner of his mouth, earned in a fight against a drunken Estalian Prince, made it seem as if he was constantly smirking. He was dressed in black armor, decorated with symbols of both Sigmar and Morr. Many raised an eyebrow at his choice of patron deities, but he paid them no mind. Though it was in Sigmar's name he fought, he, like every other man, was destined for Morr's Garden.
As he continued to survey the field, his mind went back to the days before the Gate appeared, before an unknown foe had invaded the lands of his ancestors, burning and pillaging on a direct course to Ubersreik, before the Emperor Karl Franz and a coalition army of Empire Provinces had broken the invading army, scattered them to the four winds, and had themselves marched through the Gate.
On the other side, they had discovered a whole new world, one similar to, yet different from the Old World of their birth. The Gate was the only way to and from the Old World, and it was in the best interests of the Empire to insure that the invaders could not regain it. Therefore, the Emperor had ordered the construction of defenses all across the hill, and had shipped in expensive dwarfen builders to oversee the work. After a month of building, impressive wood and stone fortifications were erected on the hill, surrounding the Gate, allowing for only one way in or out.
No sooner had the fortifications been completed than the invaders came again.
The Empire army had the high ground, fortifications, and the might of the Iron Companies.
The enemy had numbers though, and for every Empire man, the foe had ten more.
What followed was the greatest industrialized slaughter of human beings that Erhardt had ever seen. He was no stranger to war; when one was a Prince of Altdorf, you had to fight beastmen, greenskins, the occasional undead, and all other manner of mutant and monsters.
Still though, the foe Erhardt was fighting were not monsters, mutants, corpse, or follower of the dark gods; they were simply men, and it seemed wrong to Erhardt that they had to kill one another.
However, they threatened his home, and for the defense of his ancestral homeland, he would kill as many of the invaders as necessary.
And he did. Following the orders of his superiors, he commanded a company of halberdiers, and with them, he fought on the walls, on the ground, the gatehouses, and, when the situation called for it, he mounted his horse, and charged into the enemy's ranks.
Finally, after four weeks of battle, the enemy left, having been bloodied to the point of near defeat.
It was thanks only to the Dawi's skill as builders, the Emperor's strategic brilliance, and the Empire's control of the Gate, allowing them to send fresh men and a stream of supplies that victory was achieved.
Now, Erhardt was put in charge of overseeing the recovery the Empire's dead from the field. He had spent the past weeks barely sleeping, constantly fighting, and it took all of his willpower to keep his body moving.
Erhardt turned his head to the left, and saw a knight of the Reiksguard ride up to him.
"Yes, what is it?" Erhardt asked, curtly.
"The Emperor demands your presence in the Keep, at once."
"Well, I would be a poor son to keep my father and emperor waiting." Erhardt said to the knight, before turning his gaze to his company, "Captain Klaus!"
"Yes My Lord?" a grizzled soldier, with a beard and an eyepatch over his left eye answered from a few yards away.
"The Emperor desires my presence in the Keep. You will take over our job in my stead until my return."
"Understood My Lord." Klaus nodded.
"Well then," Erhardt said, turning his horse around and making for the direction of the fort, "Let us see what my father wants."
The Keep of Fort Griffon was a wooden structure four stories high. The dawi carpenters made it highly defensible, crafted from Reikwald oak, and as solid as any stone structure built by human hands.
Outside the great doors of the Keep, Erhardt always took the time to admire the work put in by the mountain folk; their victory was due in no small part to the the sturdy construction of their fortifications. WIthout them, they would have been overrun weeks ago, guns or no guns.
"Erhardt, lad! There you are!" Erhardt turned his head and his eyes went wide as he saw the speaker walk up to him.
"Duke Marius!" he exclaimed, bowing his head, and trying to keep his surprise in check, "To what do I owe the honor?"
Marius Leitdorf, Grand Duke of Averland, Ruler of Averheim, and the most unhinged Elector Count since Magnus reunited the Empire.
He was also a close friend of the Emperor Karl Franz, despite the madness, and one of the finest duelists in the Empire.
The Grand Duke was dressed in a costume colored black and gold, with purple leggings and yellow shoes, and on top his head was a cap with a huge feather. One could describe his dress as comical, almost jesterlike, were it not for the Runefang, 'Mother's Ruin,' and the long dueling dagger strapped to his sides.
Marius was one of several Electors to take the fight to the invaders, and his mad charges and fearless offensives had driven terror into the hearts of the enemy who dared to take Sigmar's land for their own. He was also one of the first to suggest pursuing the enemy through the Gate, and during the four week long siege, had led several midnight raids into the enemy's camps, torching tents, murdering officers in their sleep, and making off with loot, horses, and the occasional severed head.
"Oh, don't be so formal lad; after all, I've seen your bottom when you were a little baby." Marius said, loudly, much to the young Prince's frustration, and to the amusement of several passing soldiers.
"I merely thought we could walk to your father's war council together." Marius explained, opening the doors, "And perhaps talk of some news that may have come to me."
"What sort of news?" the younger man asked hesitantly. You would never know what to expect from Leitdorf. There was always the chance that it could be important, but there was always the possibility that the Mad Duke was leading you on, setting you up to be a punchline in his joke.
"Well, now that the enemy has been defeated, driven from our lands, and this damn gate has been secured, many of the Electors who participated in this campaign wish to go home, and to take their armies with them. The mutants in the forests and the greeskins in the mountains won't wait for us to settle our affairs here after all."
"True enough I suppose Duke Marius," Erhardt replied as the two men walked through the halls, and pass the various soldiers, servants, and other fort staff, "But this gate still needs to be defended. We were outnumbered two to one in that last battle; should the other Electors pull their support now, the gate will be left severely undermanned."
"Too true, too true." Marius agreed, but did not seem to share the same sense of worry that Erhardt did, "That's why your father is calling this council; to decide what is to be done."
Several minutes later, they arrived at the grand chamber that Karl Franz had taken for his war council, and two knights of the Reiksguard opened the doors for them, and allowing them inside.
Inside the room was a massive table, carved from Drakwald oak. Seated at it were all the nobles and officers of the campaign, busy talking amongst themselves.
"Helborg!" Marius shouted upon catching sight of Kurt Helborg, the famed Reiksmarshal, Grand Master of the Reiksguard Knights, and the man you had the honor of squiring for several years ago.
"So glad to see that you survived the battle!" Marius said, "And I am even gladder to see that the hairy caterpillar upon your lip has not grown wings and flown off your face yet! I daresay that none of us would have been able to recognize you otherwise!"
"Grand Duke." was the only acknowledgement Marius got from Helborg, but the tightening of the Reiksmarshal's jaw was all the indication that one needed to know that Helborg was annoyed.
Helborg was not the only great hero of the Empire to be present; Boris Todbringer, the Graf of Middenheim, was seated at the table, his one good eye scanning the room.
Todbringer had once been the main rival of Erhardt's father for the position of Emperor, but years of fighting alongside one another had turned Todbringer from a rival into a loyal supporter. When the invaders had come through the Gate, Todbringer and his Ulrican wolves had come down from the north like an icy wind, and had torn the foe to pieces with their savage might.
Next to Todbringer was the Ar-Ulric, Emil Valegir, who had joined Tobringer on this campaign, and had personally slain several of the giant ogre like monsters that the invaders had brought with them. To Erhardt, the Ar-Ulric was an enigmatic, almost ethereal being, whom was always accompanied by a pair of giant wolves, and appeared to wear a crown of winter upon his brow.
Across from the Ulricans sat Balthasar Gelt, Gold Wizard, and Supreme Patriarch of the Colleges of Magic. The most powerful magister of the age, Gelt was known for his great ambitions, tempered only by his apparent patriotism for the Empire, and his allegiance to the Emperor. As a master over the Lore of Metal, Gelt had used the Winds of Magic to rain down molten gold upon the foe outside of Ubersreik, and had turned entire columns of the enemy into statues. What magic users the invader possessed paled in comparison to the overwhelming might of the Supreme Patriarch.
Next to Gelt was the Grand Theogonist, Volkmar the Grim, who was currently living up to his name by shooting glares at Marius. When news of the invaders had first reached Altdorf, Volkmar was among the first to respond, gathering the faithful together and riding out to meet the enemy. Atop his War Altar, Volkmar had brought down holy fire upon the foe, and put the fear of Sigmar into their hearts.
At the head of the table stood Ludwig Schwarzhelm, Champion of the Emperor, wielder of the Sword of Justice, and bearer of the Emperor's Standard. Ludwig had led the hunting parties into the Reikwald, where the invaders were fighting with the local beastmen warherds, and after waiting for both sides to bleed one another, had struck and defeated both. During the siege, Schwarzhelm held together the west wall, where the heaviest fighting took place, and had singlehandidly slain one of the dragon riders employed by the invaders.
Finally, sitting at the head of the table, was the Emperor Himself, Karl Franz Holswig Schliestein, Grand Prince of Reikland, Prince of Altdorf, Count of the West March, Emperor himself and Blood of Emperors, and Defier of the Dark. He wore the gromril armor of Emperors, forged, in part, from the armor of Magnus the Pious. Laying on the table in front of him was Ghal Maraz, the legendary warhammer of Sigmar Heldenhammer.
"Good," Karl Franz said evenly, and calmly, but in a tone that commanded respect, "Now that Marius and my son are here, we can begin.
"Since this war started, we have defeated two armies; one in the Empire, and another one here, in this new world. Unfortunately, we cannot stay here much longer. The beastmen, the greenskins, the Northmen, and the other forces of Old Night will not wait for us to settle things here before they attack us. We must return to the Empire, and defend our lands from those who wish to destroy us. Still, until we can discover a way to shut down the Gate, and prevent the invaders from crossing through ever again, we would be fools to abandon this position entirely.
"That is the purpose of this meeting; to determine who will stay behind."
"Then it is decided." Karl Franz announced, "As it lies within my Province, Reikland will shoulder the bulk responsibility of defending the Gate from the invaders. Ten thousand men Reiklanders will be posted here in Fort Griffon, under the command of a General of my choosing. In addition, three thousand men from another province will also be stationed here, with the Provincial army rotating regularly. All that is left is to decide which Province will be first."
"I volunteer." Graf Boris announced, "Let it not be said that the Sons of Ulric did not stand by while the Empire was threatened from within."
"Excellent. I thank you for your contribution Boris." Karl said, a ghost of a smile on his face, "Now then, that will be all. You are all dismissed."
If he were a weaker Emperor, the Electors would have never have stood for the tone Franz took with them, nor bore being 'dismissed' as if they were schoolchildren, such were their pride.
This was not a weak Emperor though; this was Karl Franz, the most accomplished Emperor since Magnus, and only a foolish Elector would openly defy him.
Erhardt stood up, and began to follow the other men out.
"Hold a moment Erhardt."
Erhardt stopped in his tracks. He turned around and faced his father.
"We must speak. Come with me."
Erhard said nothing, but lightly bowed his head, and followed his father to the rooms the Emperor had taken for his own personal chambers.
"I've heard that you distinguished yourself well during the battle." Karl said as he poured a glass of wine, "I'm pleased to know that I've successfully raised another warrior in the family."
"I merely did my duty Papa." Erhardt replied as he sank into a plush chair. Now that they were alone, they could drop the formality.
"I expect nothing less from one of my boys." Karl replied, passing the glass to Erhardt, who took it gingerly in his armored hands, "In the end, all we can hope for is that we did our duty; whether it's too Reikland, the Empire, or to our family. You've made remarkable progress since you received your first commission; and now I've selected you for an important task."
"What sort of task Papa?"
"I must find a general to command the garrison. It needs to be someone with both experience, loyal to the Empire, and one that I can trust."
Karl leveled his steely eyed gaze at Erhardt.
"I suppose in this case, two out of three will have to do."
"Wait, you're picking me?" Erhardt was so shocked he almost stuttered, "But I'm not even twenty. Surely someone with more experience would be more suited-"
"Tell me Erhardt, how many fourth sons inherit anything of worth?"
"I... what? I mean, little father. Fourth sons inherit little."
"Exactly. Luitpold is going to be Prince of Reikland and Altdorf and, if he plays his cards right, could become Emperor one day. Siegbald is going to come into a large castle along the West March, as well as several smaller ones, and Kurt will spend the rest of his days as the Lord of a handful of country estates. Which leaves you, Erhardt. The best a fourth son can hope for is money, which you will of course receive upon my death, but that's not enough for one of my sons. That's why I'm giving you this hill."
"The hill father? I thought I was to be general until Gelt and his Magisters can divine a way to close the Gate?"
"Gelt is not sure that such a feat is possible." Karl admitted as he looked out the window of his room, "He has confided in me that whomever it was that created this Gate, be they god, daemon, or mortal, they used incredibly powerful, and incredibly resilient magic. It may never be undone. In which case, this hill is now an Imperial march, which will make you a Margrave."
"I... am honored, Father." Erhardt said, "But do you think I am ready to rule?"
"Sigmar no." Karl answered bluntly, "When you were a child, we trained you how to be a soldier, not a ruler. That is why I will send far more experienced men to serve as your advisers. They will be intelligent individuals, and if you wish to succeed then you will heed their council in all things, even if they tell you things that you do not wish to hear... especially then."
"I understand Father."
"Good. In addition to these advisers, I will also be posting experienced generals to serve under you, as well as Priests and Mages for support. They will support you where you are weak, and from them, you will grow stronger in areas you are lacking. It is not an ideal situation, but it will suffice. Let it never be said that a member of our House could not learn."
"From this day to your last day, you will be the Margrave of the Alnus March, and when you die, your children will inherit your title, and their children after them."
"I accept this responsibility father."
"Good. As of now, you will be the Empire's first line of defense against the invaders. You are also charged with exploring the lands surrounding Alnus Hill, and see if you can not subvert them to our purposes."
"That's the second time you've said 'Alnus'. Why did you choose that name for this place?"
"I did not; according to the prisoners, Alnus this the name that the locals gave this place."
"The locals- someone learned how to speak their language?"
"Partly. The men who interegated the prisoners obtained a rough understanding of enough words to carry on part of a conversation, while more progress has been made in using less orthodox methods.
"If I may inquire Papa, who undertook these unorthodox methods?"
"A wizard of the Purple Order named Olga Kahler. She was able to acquire a basic understanding of the enemy's language."
"How did she-"
"Death magic. She called upon the souls of the fallen enemy soldiers, and, through speaking with them, " Karl said, and that was all the answer Erhardt wanted, afraid to pry deeper into a Wizard's affairs.
This is a dark age, a bloody age, an age of daemons and of sorcery. It is an age of battle and death, and of the world's ending. Amidst all the fire, flame, and fury it is a time, too, of mighty heroes, of bold deeds and great courage.
At the heart of the Old World sprawls the Empire, the largest and most powerful of the human realms. Known for it's engineers, sorcerers, traders and soldiers, it is a land of great mountains, mighty rivers, dark forests and vast cities. And from his throne in Altdorf reigns the Emperor Karl Franz, sacred descendant of the founder of these lands, Sigmar Heldenhammer, and wielder of his magical warhammer, Ghal Maraz.
But these are far from civilized times. Across the length and breadth of the Old World, from the knightly palaces of Bretonnia to the ice-bound Kislev in the far north, come rumblings of war. In the towering Worlds Edge Mountains, the greenskin tribes are gathering for another assault. Bandits and renegades harry the wild southern lands of the Border Princes. There are rumors of rat-men, the Skaven, emerging from the sewers and swamps across the land. Something old and unholy stirs in Sylvannia, and talk is that the Von Carsteins have come again. And from the northern wildernesses there is the ever present threat of Chaos, of daemons and beastmen corrupted by the foul powers of the Dark Gods. And to add to the host of troubles the men of the Empire already face, a mysterious and magical Gate has appeared, and armies of invaders pour through it.
As the time of battle draws ever near, the Empire needs heroes like never before...