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TVC II Supplemental Chapter 0 - Flashback: The Path to Undeath

The Dread King

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Geheimnisnacht. The most terrifying night of the year. At least, according to the local townsfolk of Immenburg. The dead would rise and roam the fields; corpse carts would rattle through alleyways, and the undead would claim their toll.

Morturion had always disagreed with the simple-minded folk who spurned this evening. The weaklings seemed to be all around him. Not physical weaklings, of course - as the future wizard had learned after many a beating by stupid, uncomprehending bullies. A less arrogant boy might have supposed that it was his own fault that he received such violent outbursts, given the fact that he had taken to sneering at their incompetence and pointing out the obvious flaws in their capacities for thought. However, Morturion was not such a humble person, despite not having achieved great status at this point in his life, and blamed the attacks on the attackers' inability to accept their own inferiority to himself.

He did not look upon everything with disdain. The aforementioned evening had always been seen by him as an opportunity that he had not yet dared to take - an opportunity to achieve immortality. For with the undead came the necromancers, and with the necromancers came power. Morturion wished to seize this power, and cast off his weak, insignificant, human life.

And so, every Geheimnisnacht since his 13th birthday, when he hoped for 'opportunity' to come knocking at his door - barred at the time, of course, due to his parents' fear of the undead - he resolved to be ready and waiting for it...

-------------------------------------------

The Geheimnisnacht of 1545 was particularly vicious. The undead rose up, invigorated, as Nagash inched closer and closer to regenerating his physical form. Battered hatches could not save the innocent civilians; hundreds were slain, and whole villages decimated. The case of Immenburg, in those days an isolated town, was a particularly bloody story.

The wind howled through the streets, its force toppling rickety signposts to the ground. Rain lashed the windows of the grubby little houses, which had condemned so many of the town's inhabitants to a pitiful existence, and infuriated those with ambition. They were precursors to a distinct sound that became louder as its source approached the town - the sound of tramping feet. Though a small clanking sound was audible within the walls, it did not raise any alarms, although it did induce a sergeant to encourage his soldiers to be vigilant.

The walls of the town were high - they always had been, for it was a location vulnerable to attack and it required defences against the many external threats present in the Empire at that time - and they seemed to glow as they basked in the sickly green light of the ascendant, full moon of Morrslieb.

The watcher at the gates was approached by an old man - a harmless little creature, who somehow filled the sentry's heart with dread. He seemed to take an eternity to reach the gates from the position from which he emerged out of some eerie fog. The fog itself was only significant in its presence on one side of the city. That's odd, thought the sentry, It seems to be coming from the graveyard, and the marshes beyond that. I'd best be on my guard, but I am more than a match for one old man, no matter how strange he may seem to be. Being a particularly stupid sentry of a particularly boring town on a cold night that every inhabitant was just wishing would end, he was not as suspicious as he should have been, and did not signal for aid from his fellow guards. This lack of a cry for help was no doubt something to do with the prospect of facing the embarrassment of admitting to being terrified of an elderly traveller in the pub the following day.

And yet, the old man continued to strike fear into his heart: despite his slow pace and the evidence suggesting he was in the winter of his years, he walked as if he had all the time in the world. "Who goes there?" the young sentry called out, attempting to make his tone more steely to hide the fact that he was not the most experienced of soldiers. The senior citizen raised his head, slowly, carefully, as if waiting for the tense guard to break the silence once more, out of nervousness and impatience. Rewarding the younger man's patience, he drew a wrinkled smile across his ancient face, and duly opened his lips to speak.

"I am a herald, and a student."

The sentry frowned. A student? Even those who could afford education rarely pursued it beyond their youth; it was plausible that this man was in fact a desiccated scholar, but 'student' would not be the appropriate word to use in his case. It, after all, implied that he had a senior, and presumably older, master or mistress, something that seemed practically impossible given his age. This thought process only gave the sentry a more bizarre impression of the ancient's cryptic message.

"And what is your business here?" the guard asked after several confused seconds.

"You wouldn't leave a poor man like me out here in the cold, would you? I'd freeze to death!" the stranger rebuked.

"I'm afraid I would," retorted the guard, angry at the patronisation that had just occurred. Getting his temper under control, he continued in more considerate tones, "Security is important. You'll need to be assessed by others - priests, the captain of the town guard, witch hunters - before you can be allowed within these walls: I can bring them to you now. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."

The guardsman's last sentence was spoken in a slightly suspicious tone, for the old man had winced as each type of his potential inspectors was named, and the dread that had accompanied the elderly being - who looked so old and decomposed that he seemed not too dissimilar from a walking corpse - increased. Perhaps he did have something to hide, but in that case, perhaps it was the guardsman who had something to fear.

"I..." the old man said, stopping his response midway as it was interrupted by a train of thought. Facing the expectant look of the guard, he said, "...didn't answer your question." He beamed again apologetically, but somehow his apparent happiness seemed sinister.

"I am here to prove myself to my masters and mistresses...but of course, I am also here to prove them to you." Lightning flashed, and for a moment the guard thought he caught a glimpse of something horrible in the fog behind the stranger; for an instant, light was cast across the old man's features, and they seemed horribly disfigured. The guard dismissed the thought; the thought was too terrifying, and, if true, would certain doom for him, at least.

However, there was no escaping the truth. "Yes," the old man said, his tone now a hushed whisper, "you saw my companions. You know why I am here. But you will not call for aid, for you know what awaits you if you do."

The guard remained silent, paralysed in terror.

"It is a rather special night, after all. And perhaps a fitting celebration for the Geheimnisnacht of 1545 is a little story. Would you like to hear it?"

The younger man, reduced to a fearful wreck, nodded his head limply.

"Once upon a time, your precious Man-God -" the necromancer - for that was what he was - spat after uttering that word, before proceeding, "killed the supreme lord of undeath. But you can never kill Him forever," he said with a chuckle. "Nagash will return, soon. In the meantime, we have to ensure that you mortals honour Him by keeping the faith on His holy day."

The wizard sneered, before speaking once again. Tiny coils of dark magic, only noticeable from nearby, were wrapping themselves around his hands at this point, and the air was brimming with arcane energy. "Methods of divining available to His greatest disciples can reveal to us fragmented parts of certain possible futures, although never utter certainties, of course. I won't bore your basic brain with the details of prophesy, but it suffices to say that a master of undeath may be made here, by the destruction of this city."

The wizard seemed to be about to launch into an even longer crazed monologue, before he paused again. An orb in the folds of his cloak whispered into his mind, We must make haste. The city's defences may be hard to breach, and the night is short affair, so get him to open the door now.

"Naturally, the disciples have insisted I venture here, I intend to be this master, and you intend to survive," the necromancer continued.

The guard nodded his head once more, his eyes wet with tears of shame - the shame he felt in the confidence that he was about to fail his own duty, and the shame that his courage had already failed. Thankfully, the necromancer could not see that he had already soiled himself, but small mercies were placed in perspective in the dire world view the guard now had.

"Our arrangement will be very simple, then. You tell me where all your hidden colleagues are - where exactly they are stationed on this wall, that is - and then call out the inspectors. I'll handle the inspectors, but if I find there are hidden guards that you have not informed me of, I will make sure you die before I do," he said serenely. "If there are no hidden guards you have not informed me of, you will be allowed to walk away from this place."

The immortal grinned again, as the guard nodded. "See, that wasn't hard, was it?" the necromancer said cheerfully. "Oh, and of course I then destroy the entire city. Your family don't get free passes to safety, I'm afraid." The guard gulped. He had a few cousins he could feel guilty over, but it was a relief his parents no longer lived here. Otherwise, his dilemma would be a trickier beast to tackle. Not that I'm going to be tackling any beasts, he reflected sadly. No, I'll be the coward I always was. With this ominous thought in his mind, he nodded his head again, and duly pointed to the locations on - and in - the wall where armed guards were hidden. It was probable that they couldn't see what he was doing through the fog, but even if they could, they would likely be confused. All they could see was a curious old man, probably with poor sight to match his age, being shown various parts of the city.

Even if they were suspicious of their sentry being held hostage, they would have their doubts reassured by the fact that there was only one adversary for him to face. In such a scenario, he would signal for them to fire arrows at his assailant. They could not see the undead army through the fog.

"Thank you," the old man said after being shown the various locations on the wall facing him, his voice laced with insincere gratitude. His eyes glowed for a moment, and the guard shivered. He was afraid, but he could not possible know that the necromancer was once again communicating with his masters through his orb. Beaming a mental image to a certain Dark Lord of Nagash, he waited for another few seconds as specific locations, each of where a guard was placed on the wall, were sent out to individual Nagashi spell casters. behind the fog. These people prepared to fire bolts of dark magic at their assigned targets, on the Dark Lord's signal.

"Now, call your little group of inspectors out," the necromancer snapped impatiently. The sentry proceeded to make a distinct signal to the guards on the wall, and one ran off to fetch the inspectors - a witch hunter, a warrior priest and the captain of the town guard - whilst another gestured to the other guards stationed on the wall, ensuring that they were ready to fire at the ancient man should he prove to be a hostile target.

In a few minutes, a grating sound was heard as the great doors of the city were opened, and one of the inspectors emerged from them. The captain stepped outside the gate of the city, and frowned suspiciously at the old man. He wasn't given time to think: with his mind, the necromancer sent a message - Now - to the Dark Lord commanding him , which was duly relayed to the Nagashi in the fog behind him. With his right hand, the necromancer hurled a ball of shadows at him. It exploded, tearing him to shreds. With his left hand, the twisted mage conjured up a bolt of darkness which impaled the sentry.

The sentry looked up at him, appalled. "But...your half of the bargain..."

"...will be fulfilled," said the necromancer. "You will walk away from this place, once you are dead. It's a long way to Nagashizzar." The guard's last thoughts were a realisation that his betrayal had been pointless and survival but a foolish fancy ever since the old man spoke to him outside the city walls, and puzzlement at the fact that the wizard had not been shot by his fellow sentries. They had been killed at the same time as the guard captain, their bodies pierced by bolts of darkness sent forth from the hands of Nagashi spell casters. Multiple bolts had been sent to each one, so that none would escape their doom. Of all settlements, this small town, like the sentry, had never stood a chance against the will of Nagash.

That will was expressed by the necromancer striding forth over the corpses of the sentry and captain of the guard, dark fire leaping forth from his hands to shoot through the open doors of the city like a great fountain of death, preventing anyone from closing the doors without great difficulty, pain and a risk of agonising death. It was also expressed by the tide of walking corpses and hellish creatures that then rushed out of the fog on the Dark Lord's command, eager to wreak carnage on those that possessed that life that they were built to extinguish.

Opportunity, after all, did not coming knocking at Morturion's door. It smashed it wide open. A master of undeath would be made in the destruction of this city, and all who were unlucky enough to witness that and live could not possibly conceive of the chain of events that would then occur as a result of it.
 
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The Dread King

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Bang. The sound of grime-encrusted bone battering at a barred door. It was loud, but insignificant compared to the cacophony outside Morturion’s home. The screams of the dying were hurled across the street like ragdolls, and the air was saturated with the smell of death. This Geheimnisnacht was terrifying.

Terrifying, yet exhilarating, Morturion reflected. At just 15 years of age, thoughts were racing through his head as how to seize the trappings of unholy power, with the undead at such close proximity to himself – for it was an undead mass undoubtedly rampaging through his hometown – but they were cut short from the reality by the piercing tone of his father. “I want you all to stay calm,” he uttered quietly, his lips barely moving, as if he, too, was in rigour mortis.

“Misha, take the children to the back of the house, and exit via the kitchen window,” was the next phrase to be spoken in measured tones, a slight tremble in the man’s voice betraying the fear that dwelt inside him. He stood stock still, having addressed his wife without turning his face away from the entrance to the house.

Bang, bang. More knocks on the door. Little splinters of wood toppled from the door frame, floating gently to the ground. The door would not hold fast forever, even with the thick metal bolts that characterised it holding it in place.

“But Alf, what about you – ” came Misha’s worried reply, before she was interrupted by her husband. His tone firm, he said: “Just go now; the undead suspect there are humans inside this house.” He left unsaid what Misha knew: that they needed to find someone to kill – and that this person would have to be Alf. He adopted a more desperate, pleading tone to say one more word: “Please.”

Morturion stared wide-eyed as this exchange of words took place. His brother Johann began to speak in objection to his father’s proposal, even as another ghastly knock on the door occurred, but he too was cut off.

“You will leave, Johann. You are young and have your entire life before you. I have lived, and now someone must die. A decision must be made, and quickly, before we are all slaughtered. I have made my choice.”

With a grim smile, Alf turned to face his older son. “Some day, you will have the luxury of making your own. Now, go – all of you.” With these words, the man reached into his pocket, drawing out a long, slender knife.

Misha nodded, and, bottling up her emotions, grabbed her sons’ hands and hurried to the back of the house. This course of action came too late, as the door was knocked down within seconds of it happening.

A zombie dragged itself into the house through the doorway. Its single eye hung loosely within its socket, and bones jutted almost comically out of its body, as if it was a human deconstructed and then reconstructed by a small child. It looked around with morbid curiosity, spotting both the armed man and his family fleeing through the kitchen. Its fellows jostled behind it, like guests eager to greet a benevolent host.

After a moment of stillness, it stepped forward suddenly, reaching out to make contact with the man. Its single eye, seeing but not feeling, met with the mortal’s own gaze, and for a moment, the humble merchant wondered just how much suffering the creature had endured.

That moment cost Alf his life. The creature leapt at him as he hesitated, and, knowing no other sensible course of action, he threw himself into its deathly embrace, plunging the knife into the creature and shattering its spine before it could bite into his neck.

Now truly dead, the corpse proved hard to shift off his body, the human’s hand having been embedded in the putrid mess that was its stomach after the knife opened it up on its journey to the zombie’s backbone. Before he could shake the truly dead humanoid off of him, Alf was attacked by the zombies behind it. He was not able to retrieve his knife before he had been overpowered by the undead and pushed to the ground with the dead body draped over his chest. He lashed out in vain at his attackers, fists flying in a doomed attempt to stay their assaults. Within seconds, their claws began to tear at his flesh. Within half a minute, his hands began to weaken as the blows from the surrounding zombies damaged them. Within 60 seconds, the pain he felt from the accumulated blows to his vital regions was replaced by the cold bliss of death, but by that point many zombies had already advanced into the house, in pursuit of the other living beings they had sighted there.

Misha, meanwhile, faced a dilemma. Outside the house, the streets were crawling with the undead. Whilst she had heard stories of the undead as a child, she had never spotted a host of the damned so large moving so freely throughout the Empire. Thankfully, the alleyway which the back door led into seemed largely deserted, but the shadows cast by the buildings in it obscured physical details. Things were undoubtedly rustling in the darkness, but Misha could not work out what they were. They sent raw fear through her, as did the sounds of struggle in a room far behind her. She tried to put thoughts of her husband out of her mind. She had to make an escape, for her children’s sake if nothing else. Her children had thankfully remained quiet during this time. Johann was clearly having difficulty controlling himself, but understood that he had to obey his elders at this time.

Morturion was…different. Something was wrong; it was as if he was transfixed by a glorious sight in front of him. Misha knew her child, but she did not understand him when he was like this, revelling in the misery of others. At first those who knew him well had thought it was just bizzarre optimism – always seeing the best in things when they could not be any worse. Over the years of his life, it became clear that there were more sinister reasons behind the boy’s interest in death. He had been fascinated by the pain of his contemporaries as a young child, and had always inquired as to what happened to those who meddled with dark powers in fables. Such fables were often recounted by village elders and were only supposed to scare simple-minded younglings into good behaviour, but the boy’s morbid curiosity had led him to enquire as to how one might seize such powers without the repercussions that always destroyed the fables’ characters at their endings. As he had grown up, he rejected the fables, becoming inexplicably angry at the priests of Morr whenever they frequented the town, and he had even gone searching in pursuit of forbidden texts that he thought might have been in his vicinity, often associating with the shadiest of characters within the local inn to acquire a book. No seriously blasphemous tomes had been found on his person yet, but several had been confiscated by the town’s authorities due to their endorsement of banned practices, including necromancy.

There was little time to ponder on his emotional state at the present. Misha reached for a kitchen knife, as did Johann. The blades glinted wickedly in the light of the moon, and reflected the turmoil outside. Misha took a deep breath, summoning up all her courage, and said, “Children, we are going to run outside, and get out of this town and to safety, when I open that door. Whatever happens to me, you must not stop running. Is that clear?” Her sons nodded their heads. “Good,” she said. Not allowing herself further thought, she pushed open the back door, and the three began to sprint into and through the dark alleyway.

It was not long before the monsters were upon them. Turning after sinister turning they had taken, panting and running for their lives, before they were apprehended at a crossroads. A macabre hand reached out of the gloom of an abandoned house, snagging Morturion’s leg and causing him to topple to the ground. He cursed, and rolled onto his back, crawling away from the approaching skeleton as it reached out to grab his throat.

His brother lashed out at it with his knife, severing its spine and killing it, but the commotion it had caused had attracted other creatures of the undead hosts. Basking in the cold light of the moon, zombies approached the three civilians from all sides, even as Morturion leapt up onto his feet. Misha and Johann clutched their knives tightly, but in their hearts, they knew that they were surrounded by too many creatures to survive; they thought that death was inevitable.

In a last act of sacrifice, Misha lashed out at a zombie whilst her children were paralysed with fear. Her blade did not move with correct precision, and it hit the creature square in the chest with a heavy thunk. The zombie halted its advance for a moment, glancing down at the blade in its chest which the mortal woman in front of it was trying to withdrawal.

It looked up at her face, as if she had offended it in some way, and, as if spurred on by some spontenous urge, leapt at it. Its colleagues piled in, granting her a quick death by crushing of the throat, and granting her children time to escape while the zombies were distracted.

“Run, for mother’s sake, if nothing else, Morturion!” Johann snapped at his brother, who had stood watching in shock as the zombies began to feast on Misha’s corpse. “Run!” Johann repeated, grabbing his brother by the arm and dragging him down yet another dark alleyway, leading them gradually towards the edge of the city.

Having finished their meal quickly, the pack of zombies advanced ruthlessly towards the the boys, pursuing them through the streets. In a state of panic, Johann’s navigation skills had failed them in the dark, and so it was that he led his brother to a dead end.

Looking up at the wall in front of him, he muttered fearfully under his breath, “No.” Whirling around at the sound of shuffling feet, he saw the zombies approaching, and repeated the word "No", once again, this time louder and in a frustrated tone. They had ran so far, and lost so much, and it was all a fruitless effort. Neither of them would be able to overpower the undead, and both of them knew it.

Johann looked desperately to his older brother, attempting to find an answer in Morturion's face. Whilst Johann's expressed shock, pain and fear, Morturion's had become slowly detached from the suffering around him; he looked dispassionately at the oncoming undead with a calculated, but tense expression. Johann did not know what his sibling was calculating, but the very fact that Morturion was doing such a thing at a time like this filled Johann with an irrational sense of dread. "Any ideas?" Johann said.

His elder brother kept his gaze focused on the horde; for a few seconds, he seemed not to register Johann's presence. In a calm voice, Morturion said, as if explaining a simple concept to an infant, "Well, go on, then. You're next, and you're armed." Johann gaped at his older brother. Did he mean...?

Recognising that Johann hadn't realised that it was his turn to die, Morturion snapped as the zombies continued on their path towards them, "You idiot! Go out and fight them. I will survive." Johann looked at the horde. Attacking it would definitely mean his death, but not his brother's. He gulped in fear.

In a dispassionate tone, Morturion said, "If it's any consolation, I'm sure our dear parents would want one of us to survive...that person just happened to be me." Dismissing his sense of betrayal at the fact that his brother was not prepared to fight alongside him, he turned to the oncoming horde and snarled.

Charging at them and aided by a rush of adrenaline, Johann rammed his knife into the an approaching zombie's chest and then threw himself back. The corpse tottered and then collapsed, before the next zombie attacked the boy from the flank. He swung his smaller body round, bringing his knife up just in time to cause the zombie to impale the weapon in its own brain. The blade made two sickening squelches - one as it made contact with the brain, killing the creature, and the next as it was withdrawn.

The boy was wild in a fit equal parts fear and rage, and so he ran towards the next zombie, the knife clutched in his hands. His next strike was aimed poorly, however, shattering the creatures rib and embedding itself firmly in the bone. Johann cursed, before being slashed across the forehead by the zombie's claw and duly knocked to the ground by the other arm of the walking corpse.

He was unarmed, winded and lying defenceless on his back. "Brother...help!" he cried.

Morturion's next action was to speak words that were not helpful, to say the least. "You incompetent buffoon! You only killed two of them. How am I supposed to live if we are cornered by zombies?" The answer to that question did not appear forthcoming, but the three remaining zombies did, and behind them running, heavy footsteps suggested that something else, perhaps more dangerous, was coming.

As a zombie jumped towards Johann, jaws open wide, it was halted mid-lunge with a sickening crunch. For a moment, it looked into the boy’s eyes, its expression one of pure pain. Then, it crumbled to dust within moments, revealing a warrior priest standing behind it with a well-worn, faintly glowing hammer.

The answer had arrived. "Get out of here, children!" bellowed the priest, before swinging his hammer in an arc, shattering the chest of another zombie. The third launched itself at the priest, but its claws scraped harmlessly against his armour. The priest duly stepped backwards, raised his hammer, and brought it crashing down on the creature's head. He turned to Morturion and Johann, and snapped, "I said leave; follow me!"

The two did as they were told, retracing their steps up the alleyway before taking a turning down yet another darkened street. (Morturion had made sure to retrieve his brother's knife from the ground on the way.) However, this road was a slightly more hopeful prospect: torchlight glowed in the distance at the end of it. The warrior priest pointed to the flickering light, and said in a piercing whisper, "There are the rest of the refugees! It's not safe to be here at the moment. Make haste in your departure: you can return here once the city is safe!"

With these words, he turned around, and, without looking back, ran back down the road, in an attempt to find other forces still holding out against the undead. Johann looked to his brother, unsure as to whether he could forgive Morturion for what he had just done, and waited for him to begin his flight from the city. "Why are you not fleeing, like the priest said? Do you want to die here?" he exclaimed.

Morturion said slowly, "I needed to escape those zombies. I do not need to escape the city." His gaze drifted to the knife in his hand. It was covered in blood and potential.

Johann replied, "What do you mean? What could you possibly want to remain here for? Don't you want to live?"

Morturion gave his brother a smirk, and said, "Of course I want to live. But I don't want to live, only to die. I don't want to live, only to spend a pathetically short existence on this earth - " he began to raise his voice, and his hands shook with passion - " as one of countless, perishable peasants - " he spat at the last word - "in a squalid, flimsy excuse for an empire.

"No," he continued with a bitter laugh, "You saw how mother and father died."

This hurtful speech was infuriating Johann. "They died because they were protecting us!"

Morturion's brow furrowed, and he shouted at his brother, "They died because they were weak! They had no power to hold back the undead tide; they were too weak to embrace that power when they had the chance. They were hostage to irrational emotions.

"It will not be so with me. If you want the power to truly live, not to live a short and painful lifespan dancing as a fearful puppet of that arrogant diety Morr - " Morturion spat again after uttering that god's name - " then you will come with me. Cowardice lies in the other direction, with the refugees."

Johann responded furiously, "I've made my choice, and I choose life. Where will you go?"

Morturion said quietly, "Into the city. To find the undead legion's leader."

"Then we part ways here, brother. I do not want to know how you intend to gain this power of yours, and do not think it likely that you will, but in the event that you do - and in the event that is the power that I am thinking of now - then you will have sinned beyond redemption."

"I can assure you, Johann, that we are thinking of exactly the same power. The power to master death, instead of living in fear of it."

"Necromancy," said the younger brother, now stony-faced, "then you have turned your back on everything that mother and father stood for, everything we were brought up to believe in, everything this town was built on. And so, I turn my back on you."

"That's because it was a lie," Morturion hissed angrily, "The man-god and his followers are weak, and you are a fool for following them. When I think of you in future, Johann, I will only recall wasted potential. I will not squander this opportunity. Goodbye, forever."

With their exchange finished, the two brothers turned around, and for a moment, they were back to back; closer to each other than they might ever be again. One faced the light of the refugees' torches, and the imperfect, cruel beauty of the half-crushed hopes and dreams that they carried with them. The other looked into the darkness, determined to confront the apparent certainty of death.

Determined to face his destiny.

And in that moment, their hands touched in a fraternal bond. For a second, a series of words was caught in their mouths. Despite all that had happened, despite Morturion's apparent willingness to let his brother die to ensure his own survival, despite Johann's refusal to accept the power of necromancy, they were still brothers, and still cared for each other, as brothers do. But there was no certainty in this world, and the only thing that lasted was death.

They ran in opposite directions, and the moment passed. Their bonds of brotherhood were broken as one raced towards hope, and the other threw himself into the heart of fear. What might have been had they stayed loyal to each other? Would Morturion have joined the rest of the refugees, and lived out a normal human life, or become a leader of mankind? Would Johann have followed his brother on his path to darkness, and become a necromancer of renown? The apparently limitless possibilities were cast aside by the hand of fate like towers of building blocks toppled by a clumsy child, never to be revisited. What was done was done, and events great and terrible would unfold accordingly. The story of the Empire was soaked in the spilt blood of innocents, and the levelling of Immenburg would prove to be a grisly chapter of history indeed.
 

The Dread King

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The necromancer’s environs were a testament to the destructive force of necromancer. An undead mass swarmed all around him. He granted the corpse of the witch hunter beneath his feet – so near, and yet so far – a faint smile. The wight that had dispatched the mortal had already retrieved its blade from his chest.

The night sky was lit up by the church of Sigmar, now ablaze, and to accompany its decimation was a choir of screaming civilians. The mage’s eyes glazed over as he seemed to concentrate on a point far away and he asked, seemingly to no one in particular, “How much more, master? How much more needs to be done?” The first of the soon-to-be refugees were emerging from various gates of the town now, fleeing in a desperate attempt to save life and limb. The vast majority of people who were present in the town at the time of the attack, however, would not survive; some fought for their lives in the settlement, in an attempt to protect all that they held dear.

Dismantle the town’s leadership, kill the living who resist in the town and burn what remains of its buildings. The destruction must be thorough. If you fail to raze this place to the ground, you will not acquire the power that has been spoken of, and there will be repercussions for your foolishness in Nagashizzar.

The necromancer beamed his thoughts to the dark lord of Nagash through the orb within his robes: the garrison is doomed, my lord, the buildings shall be destroyed, and the village elders have been killed.

Your work is not done yet, Klemens. The warrior priest that was spoken of still stands. Find and then slaughter the pathetic mortal.

The dark lord’s voice was dripping with contempt; the necromancer was not sure whether that was aimed at himself or the aforementioned warrior priest. His eyes scanned the surrounding area in search of the mortal leader, and widened suddely as a skeleton passed in front of them.

Well, half a skeleton, to be precise. The upper half of its shattered body had come hurtling out of a gloomy alleyway. Following it came a thundering of armoured boots, and a warrior priest, warhammer glowing in hand with the light of Sigmar.

The necromancer gasped, and took a step back, his zombies providing a protective wall between him and the priest. "Fall, foul creatures,!" the warrior priest shouted, his eyes blazing with divine power as he shattered the first of the undead to approach him with a single swing of his hammer. He was clearly powerful, and this was demonstrated when he reversed the swing within a split second, sending a second zombie's prone form sailing past the necromancer in mid-air.

He charged into the wall, channelling his momentum through his weapon to demolish his foes. In vain, the necromancer attempted to cast an invocation of Nehek to resurrect his servants even as he retreated, but they were being destroyed too quickly and thoroughly to be reanimated easily. Reinforcements were being drawn by the necromancer's will towards the courtyard in which he faced the warrior priest, but they would not arrive for some yet.

Batting aside the last of the zombies like flies, the warrior priest fixed his gaze on the necromancer. He bellowed: "You destroyed the church of my god, you slaughtered my people, and now you attempt to destroy my hometown: your foul kind will be suffered no longer amongst humans: I promise you, you and your masters will pay a thousandfold for your crimes here today!" With these words, he threw himself at the necromancer, who promptly vanished in a puff of smoke.

The warrior priest whirled around in time to see his adversary, a shadowmancer as well as a controller of the undead, reappear and launch bolts of darkness from his eyes towards the mortal. The priest dodged the first two, but the third glanced his rib, causing him to clutch his side for a moment and cry out in pain.

The necromancer delivered a sibilant response to his opponent's words: "It is you who has held back my ambitions. I am to be a master of undeath, a liche, once this town is destroyed. For that to occur, it seems, you must die. I look forward to delivering you to Morr as a service to the true god of death: Nagash."

The warrior priest snarled at the last word that the necromancer had used. They both had their ambitions, their own personal reasons for fighting; for one to succeed, it was imperative that the other died. As the necromancer launched an inky black arcane orb at the warrior priest, he sprinted towards the necromancer, and the same words escaped both pairs of lips at the same time: "You will not stand in my way!"

-------------------------

The sounds of fighting, death and despair were starting to be subdued as time passed. The town of Immenburg was still chock full of morbid activity, however, and Morturion ran through it panicked and panting for breath. He had sighted and encountered several packs of zombies; having barely managed to escape the first two on his hunt for the necromancer undoubtedly controlling them (the boy knew of the restless dead rising by themselves, but such a mindless horde would not have been able to breach the city's initial defences so easily, assuming his reasoning was correct), he was fairly confident that he was being followed by the third.

What struck him as odd about these particular zombies, however, was that they only seemed mildly interested in following him. They were far keener to travel in one particularly direction; although Morturion had not noticed this at first, from a distance he had caught sight of groups of zombies converging upon each other and continuing on their journey as one pack. It seemed that they were now more organised than before, reinforcing his belief that there was a central necromantic commander ordering them about. He resolved to follow, and then run ahead of them, for this course of action was surely the most likely method to find a necromancer, if nothing else. He wasn't quite sure as to what he would say to such a master of the undead, whether they were vampiric or not, and he expected to probably be killed on sight, but it was a chance he had to take: a chance for a life other than the miserable, short, weak existences of the poor in the Empire.

The zombies moved urgently, as if they were responding to a distress call, but ultimately, they were only zombies, and were easily outrun by Morturion. He passed pack after disciplined pack, and not a single zombie deigned to attack him. Clutching the knife in his hand tightly in an attempt to reassure himself that this was not all some cruel trick being played on him by a higher power, he hurried towards the sound of battle.

What he saw in the courtyard ahead of him surprised him: a necromancer fighting a losing battle against a warrior priest emboldened by the power of his god...
a false god, Morturion reminded himself. He had read many texts explaining the failure of the man-god Sigmar to truly overcome death, and eventually came to the conclusion that the only god he could respect was one who did not answer to Morr or Usirian. That god was being championed in front of his very eyes: that god was Nagash.

Unsure of how to best assist the only one of the two duellers that could grant Morturion power over death, and keenly aware of the fact that the death of either of the two warriors would decide the battle for Immenburg, he waited in the shadows for a few seconds for an opening, and was rewarded greatly for his patience.

-----------------------

The combatants clashed once more, a spectral skull exploding against the priest's trusty hammer. Scars caused by arcane assaults littered the priest's battered boy, but the necromancer walked with a pained, constricted limp, several of his bones having been seriously damaged by the human's weapon. The necromancer summoned a purple sun of xereus on the command of the dark lord he served, hurling it at his foe in a last, exhausted act of desperation. The priest threw his hammer at the sun, and the two met in an explosion that caused a blinding flash of light, illuminating the two combatants as they were thrown off their feet by the blast, and revealing Morturion's presence for a second.

The priest staggered to his feet, and then ran over to the necromancer who was also attempting to stand. He picked the wizard up by his neck, throttling him in a grip that was designed to stop the air flowing through the necromancer's windpipe. Ultimately, the death wizard was mortal, and he knew that his time had come.

And then he saw it...the slimmest chance of unholy salvation. From the shadows, the hope of the damned emerged, a boy running forward, his eyes gleaming with murderous intent. Morturion had spotted the chink in the warrior priest's armour, between the shoulder plate and chest plate, and his knife seemed a natural fit. To Morturion, it was if the weapon belonged in that spot in the human's body. It was fitting fate, he reckoned, for a champion of a false god.

Sparing no time for further thought, he reached the warrior priest within seconds. The man had not turned around, hearing the footsteps not of a zombie but a fleeing refugee, someone he presumably would be able to help after he had finished with the necromancer. The cold reality of the knife plunged into his back woke him from this lazy train of thought, but it did so too late.

He cried out in pain, dropping the necromancer like a baby disposing of its rattle. He then turned around slowly, desperate to face his killer before he left the mortal realm. He looked at the bloodied knife clutched in the child's hand, and then his eyes drifted up to meet Morturion's. He frowned, both surprised and enraged by this revelation, and, coughing up blood, hissed, "You."

"Yes, me," Morturion responded flatly. His calm tone did not betray the excitement - the jubilation, too - within him.

The warrior priest collapsed to his knees, and the necromancer rose to his feet. "Why...why did you do it?" whispered the dying devotee of Sigmar.

"Look around you," said the boy. The priest, still in shock, continued to listen to Morturion. The necromancer considered summoning a spell to destroy both of the mortals.

Don't even think about it. This boy may be very important to our plans.

The necromancer, about to ask his own master why this was the case, was again interrupted by the voice of the dark lord of Nagash penetrating his mind.

We may have just found the master of undeath who was to be forged in the destruction of Immenburg.

But master, that was to be me -


You arrogant fool! It could still be you - but I sense something about this child. Do not question the will or the methods of Nagash, or you will be sorely punished. Is that clear? Let him finish his speech.

Very well, the necromancer thought internally.

All this had happened within the course of a few seconds, a time period in which Morturion had pointed to the ruined settlements surrounding him.

"What do you see?" Morturion asked, "I know what I see. I see the only certainty in this world. I see death: it awaits us all.

"It has come for you today, priest of Sigmar, and no doubt it would come for me in a number of decades at best. I refuse to live in fear of the shadow of death. I refuse to live out a pitiful existence enslaved to the will of Morr. I reject this unnecessary certainty, so I must become a necromancer. That is why I sought your adversary, priest...and that it why you had to die here today."

"Sigmar...have mercy..." the priest mumbled through bloodied lips, and then fell face down onto the flagstones that covered the courtyard, dead.

It was over: that day, hundreds of people had been slaughtered in their own homes. That day, the forces of Immenburg had failed to stand firm against the might of the Nagashi.

That day, in the ruins of a once-proud settlement littered with the bodies of slain innocents
, a necromancer of terrifying power was created.

Nobody could deny that the events of that day were truly horrific, but nor could they predict the significance of the impact that the newly made necromancer would cause on the world over the coming centuries.
 
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The Dread King

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Morturion looked at the necromancer apprehensively, and said, "Well, you know my story now. I am Morturion Freiheit, and I wish to serve." He tried to hide his nervousness, but he was acutely aware of the fact that the wizard standing before him might well decide to kill him instead of training him.

The necromancer gaped at the boy. He had not seen a child so evil in all of his unlife. Niggling doubts whispered in his mind that he should not take the boy on as an apprentice, that such a decision would only come back to haunt him in later years, that this boy would be his doom. When he failed to banish these doubts, the dark lord of Nagash commanding him took matters into his own hands.

You will accept him.

But master, the necromancer replied mentally, he could work against us -

Don't be such an imbecile. He has betrayed his people for our sake. You will accept him...if he does rebel in later unlife, we, the vassals of the Supreme Lord of Undeath, will crush him.

If you stop him from reaching that unlife, we will crush you.

Understood, the necromancer replied.

The necromancer spoke: "And so you shall. Bring forth your hand."

The boy, concealed nervousness now replaced with hidden excitement, stretched out his hand. The necromancer withdrew a ritualistic knife from his robes, and drew the sign of Nagash in Morturion's palm. Morturion did not flinch as red blood oozed out from the surface of his skin. As the sigil was completed, the necromancer muttered words in the harsh tongue of the Nagash, the symbol glowed with purple light, and Morturion gasped as a blessing of Nagash flowed through his veins for the first time.

The necromancer's eyes widened: the ritual was only supposed to induct Morturion into the ranks of the Nagashi, but the boy's spilt blood had turned from a rich red to black. This revealed an affinity with the winds of magic: it was now clear that Morturion would be no lowly foot soldier, but at the very least a significant manipulator of the winds of magic.

"Come," the necromancer said, "we have much to discuss, and you have much to learn. My name is Klemens, but you will call me master."

Morturion fell into step behind the necromancer as they left the courtyard. The boy looked around, watching in awe as the undead, who were dispatching the last of the valiant defenders in the city, began to destroy every building, with fire, steel, and their bare hands where necessary. "This city will be razed to the ground," the necromancer explained, "once this is done, we leave for Nagashizzar. I will explain to you how your new life - for it will be fundamentally different from anything you've ever known or imagined, I assure you - will work on the way, and then you will begin your training as a neophyte studying under me."

"But, master - " Morturion said, already prepared for a talk about his induction into the ranks of the Nagashi, " - what of the refugees?"

"You want to help them?" the necromancer asked, incredulous. He had presumed that this boy was evil to the core.

"No, master" Morturion replied, "I assumed that you were going to kill them, and use their reanimated bodies to supplement your forces, if possible."

The necromancer stared at the boy, stunned once again by his twisted mine. How could this creature have spawned? What were the chances of a human being so innately evil at such a young age?

The boy stared back, unfazed. It was a purely tactical manoeuvre, Morturion reasoned, to swell the numbers of Nagash's armies.

The necromancer responded, "Well, from what I can see - " with these words, he peered towards one of the sets of gates in the city - " the main body of refugees has already escaped at a speech which my zombies would not be able to match. Besides, we must make haste before larger armies loyal to the Empire descend on us. This Geheimnisnacht will not last for eternity."

Morturion nodded his head. An eternal Geheimnisnacht of sorts, where almost every being on the face of the world was undead, was what he dreamed of creating. It would be a true paradise: a victory of necromancy over death, and an organised world in which Nagash could
coordinate the actions of every being to advance his agenda.

-------------------------

In a number of hours, the city had been utterly destroyed. Every building was burnt to the ground, every wall reduced to rubble, every window shattered, every possession crushed.


Everybody dead, or amongst the living dead.

The army soon set off on its return to Nagashizzar. In time, Morturion would become a great necromancer, under the tutelage of Klemens, and would later rise to the rank of leader of the cult of Nagash as a pupil of Nekhlior and V'azrin.

The ashes of Immenburg told a terrible tale; because of Morturion's actions, innocents had died. They were the first of many to fall to the power of the necromancer; at least they, unlike many of the others to die by his hand, were given the mercy of permanent rest. In the Damned Spire, souls imprisoned in a pocket dimension controlled by Morturion reveal a different story, a story of eternal torment as a plaything and experimental subject of the master necromancer. Death was a gift that he refused to give his more unlucky victims.

------------------------

As dawn broke, the people of the Empire collectively assessed the bloody tithe that this Geheimnisnacht had taken. There were tales of villages destroyed, of towns ransacked, of cities in chaos. No tale was more grim or disturbing than that of Immenburg. The refugees returned to their former home from the refuge of Nuln (the city which they had fled to) in the morning, a small group of people desperately searching for their loved ones. Some found bodies, and wept. Some did not, and prayed that they had been consumed by fire, rather than resurrected by dark magicks.

The former mayor of the town, Hubert Baier, strode around his town, ashen-faced. He was dead inside, for his life's work was destroyed. Almost comically, he strolled from burnt plot to burnt plot, pausing at each destroyed building as if to inspect some new development or exchange small-talk with a passer-by. He had always enjoyed helping his citizens with their problems, but the scale of this problem was so high that there was no help that could be given.

He walked down a now empty alleyway. Once, it had been covered with charming cottages. The empty streets reflected the loss that the refugees felt. He walked along the street in silence for some time, until his boot was caught on a small scrap of metal. He leant down to inspect it, and discovered it to be a locket strung on a necklace. The metal was badly burnt on both the locket and the necklace, but it still glinted in the sunlight, reflecting a shining ray. It would have been nigh on invisible in the darkness, but its ray now expressed Hubert's hope. He hoped to rebuild the lives of his surviving citizens, but he did not know how such a thing could be done. Bricks and mortar could not replace the deceased. A tear sprang to Hubert's eye as he realised whose locket it might be. Just to check, he opened it, and saw a lock of grey hair within. It was the hair of a woman who had died years ago: the hair of the mother of locket's owner. Hubert knew whose locket it was, and closed it with care.

"Misha..." he whispered to himself. He turned round, no longer purposeless. In this locket, he held the hopes of a dead woman and a close friend. He knew what she would have wanted, and he knew he could make something right at last. He ran over to the rest of the refugees, who were clustered together in a courtyard, taking comfort from the presences of those who had survived the attack on Immenburg.

"Johann!" he called out in a hoarse voice. A boy stepped forward from amongst the crowd of several hundred - once upon a time, they were several thousand, the mayor reflected - with a tired expression on his face. His eyes revealed a pain that the mayor had only seen before in grizzled veterans of conflicts who had seen many atrocities. Hubert nearly shivered at the sight of the young boy he'd once recognised as the laughing child playing on the streets of Immenburg with his friends, carefree. The attack had brutalised Johann more than it had done to the other refugees; after all, the few survivors who had witnessed the destruction of the city had spoken widely of Morturion Freiheit's involvement in the killing of the warrior priest, and his brother must have heard the news by now.

"Your mother would have wanted you to have this," Hubert said, holding out the locket on the necklace to Johann. The teenager's eyes widened, and pricked with tears. He looked up at Hubert, and it seemed that he was going to cry. The mayor watched as the boy fought back the tears, took the locket, and, refusing to give in to sorrow, and said two words in wavering tones: "Thank you." He then turned around, clutching his mother's former possession,
and walked back to the gathering of refugees.

Hubert took a moment to remember Misha, and the rest of the citizens who had once called him mayor. They had filled the town with light and life. It was up to him to ensure that the light would return. It was up to him to ensure that the laughter of children would echo through the cobbled streets of the town once more, up to him to rebuild the ruined houses and shattered lives of his people. He didn't know if he could do it, but when he looked into Johann's eyes, he realised that he had to do it.

Hubert looked down at the ground, at the ashes that lay before him. He kicked them aside with his foot. They were but memories now, and he resolved not to build on memories. There would be a new Immenburg, and it would not be a town trapped in the remembrance of the past: it would thrive in the future. From the ashes rises a phoenix... Hubert thought to himself, before addressing the refugees assembled before him.

"Attention, citizens of Immenburg. Last night, the undead tide of Geheimnisnacht claimed many of our citizens, who touched all of our lives. In light of this, some would leave this city to rest in peace; some would walk away. We are not going to do that. We are going to rise from the ashes. We owe it to those who died to rebuild. I propose we rebuild the town of Immenburg - no, I propose we build the city of New Immenburg, starting today! When I consulted the authorities in Nuln, they agreed to provide aid - mortar, stone, timber - to help us construct a city here. We will provide the town's soul. It is our duty! A duty to the deceased, a duty to ourselves, but most of all, a duty to the future!

"I propose we do this so that, one day, joy may abound through these battered streets once again." As Hubert raised his voice to a shout, murmurs of agreement came from within the crowd of refugees.

Enthused by their readiness to follow his lead, he continued his speech, his voice ringing out across the courtyard, "I propose we do this so that life may spring forth in this settlement, so that we may live in defiance of the undead, who came here last night to crush us.
We will not let them win. We shall live - New Immenburg shall live! Let us build a new church of Sigmar, a new town hall, a new castle - let us build new lives. Yesterday, they took our family from us. We will not let them take our future! Whoever is with me, say aye!"

A collective shout of "Aye!" was made by the crowd of refugees. For a moment, they forgot their sorrows, their troubles, their mourning. They were all prepared, once a period of grieving had passed, to live for the future.

They had all shouted; that is, all but one. Johann stepped out from the crowd once again.

"Johann," Hubert asked, "are you not with us?"

"No," he said curtly, clutching the locket in his hands. The people surrounding him watched him closely as he explained himself. "I cannot...I will not...live with myself after yesterday's events."

"You cannot be blame-" Hubert started to say, before he was interrupted by the boy, whose tone was bitter and harsh.

"Yes, I can. I am wholly to blame for not stopping my brother. I let him go because I cared for him, and he has destroyed the lives of so many more people because of it. My selfishness, my reluctance to attack my own kin, meant that the kin of the decent people assembled here died in this city, alone and afraid."

"Don't say that, Johann," Hubert interrupted again, "you cannot possibly know that they died afraid - "

"How could they not?" Johann screamed, "how could they have died happily? I'd like to see you explain that! They died being consumed by the undead, being destroyed by fire. They died in darkened alleyways, in misery and humiliation, their lives cut short by a relentless, destructive force. I am to blame, and so is my brother!

"I swear, if it is the last thing I do, I will kill him!" he shouted. "I will find him, I will hunt him down; I will make him pay for his atrocities. Morturion will face justice! He has brought shame on my family, and so have I. I must atone for the both of our sins, now. I must cleanse the Freiheit family name."

"But, my boy," Hubert said once more, "you cannot find him: he has left the domain of the Empire. Your family was honourable, and your actions understandable: there is no need to pursue lifelong vengeance."

"On the contrary," Johann retorted, "I can find him. Moreover, I must, and I will. If you want your citizens to be at peace with themselves, Hubert, then please, give me a horse, some coin, and let me go the Great Temple of Sigmar. I wish to become a witch hunter - I wish to avenge the destruction of Immenburg. It doesn't matter how many new houses you build, or how many people are born in your new city. The dead need vengeance. Their souls demand an answer to the destruction here today. I am prepared to be part of that answer. I am prepared to fight whatever terrible creatures the enemies of mankind throw at the soldiers of the Empire. I am prepared to lay down my life, if need be, to ensure that abominations such as the slaughter that occurred last night do not occur again."

His form shaking with rage which was now unbound, Johann shouted, "But, above all else, I am prepared - no, I am
destined - to hunt the undead to the ends of the earth, so that their scourge may be eradicated from the face of the Empire once and for all. Do you hear me, Morturion? I will hunt you to the ends of the earth!"

"That's enough, Johann," Hubert said sternly, "I see that you wish to devote your life to this purpose." With a sad look in his eyes, he said, "You should know that this is not what your parents would have wanted, but I confess that you are right - this is your future, and I must not hold you back from it. Once the relief supplies due in a few hours' time arrive from Nuln, I will equip you with what you need, write an explanation of the affairs surrounding your wish to joint the order of witch hunters that you can present to the masters of the Great Temple of Sigmar, and send you on your way.

"To the rest of you, I say this: we will rebuild our city, and we will be masters of our own futures." Nods of agreement were made by various refugees, and when the supplies from Nuln arrived, people set to work rebuilding their town. Johann set off on his quest to destroy his brother, and became a witch hunter of renown. Hubert oversaw the construction of a new settlement, and, in time, New Immenburg grew to become a fully-sized city, and thrived. Like the walking corpses that populated the bleak halls of Nagashizzar, the town never really died. It was, to a degree, a place of sorrows due to the attack, but it was also a place of bittersweet joy, a disproval of the idea that the undead could effortlessly dismantle a civilisation.

It was remembered in recent by historians for producing a deadly necromancer and a potent witch hunter hundreds of years ago, but its days as a prominent feature of the Empire did not end with the creation of these individuals: besides being a strategically placed city and a major trading hub, it grew to became one of the three most populous cities in Averland (the other two being Heimhof and Nuln). One day, some speculated, it could become a flash point at which the forces of the Empire and the undead would clash again.

In the winter of 2529, it did.








 
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