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The Empire in Flames

It is almost twenty centuries since Sigmar Heldenhammer purged from our lands the monstrous hordes that dwelt there. So was founded the greatest of all the realms of men — the Empire. Today our thoughts turn once more to Sigmar, the God of Battles: Sigmar, the Father of Men, as the millennium turns and the time of his second coming approaches. In temples throughout our land the multitudes gather to bear of the many and wondrous events that will surely unfold upon the return to his people of the living god.

The Chronicler of Ostermark - entry for the year 1999

Never is the Father of Men more sorely needed than in the dying year of the last century of the second millennium. For the Empire, once as mighty in arms as it was bold in spirit, is now a realm rent by war and weakened by corruption. No Emperor rules in these dark and terrible days, instead the Empire is riven into many lands, from Ostermark in the cold north to Wissenland in the distant south, from Marienburg by the Western Ocean to Sylvania that lies under the shadow of the Worlds Edge Mountains. Each lord fights his brothers within his borders and his neighbours without. Thus the lords of the Empire squabble over the crown whilst bandits and rogues roam at will.

None suffer as greatly as the dispossessed, so it is scarce wonder that the poor give themselves to wantonness, drunkenness and all manner of vice. Theirs is a retched existence: slain by blade and fire, squeezed dry by tax gatherers, and robbed by bloated merchants who grow ever richer upon the profits of disorder.

It was in the city of Mordheim, in the land of Ostermark, on the first day of the year nineteen hundred and ninety nine of the era of Sigmat that the Seeress of the Sisters of Sigmar first observed in the night sky the long awaited sign. It was as the prophet Macadamnus of Greill had predicted more than five hundred years before when he wrote:

In the city of his sisters he will return to us on wings of fire.
From his throne be shall reign in incorruptible flesh forever:
No death shall there be for those that gather to him there.
And the northern lords shall rule the lands of the world together.

The Cantos of Macadamnus - Verse CXXVl

Only then was it clear that the city referred to was none other than Mordheim. This city was home to the Holy Order of the Sisters of Sigmar, the ‘sisters’ of the prophesy, and also the most northerly of the lands of the Empire. As to the ‘wings of fire’, this meaning too was plain for all to see. Overhead in the night sky was Sigmar’s own holy sign, the doubletailed comet whose appearance two thousand years before was held to have foretold of his birth. Night after night the comet grew brighter. Day after day people flooded into Mordheim as news spread through the Empire of Sigmar’s impending descent upon wings of fire.

As that last year of the twentieth century wore on, the comet swelled until the night was altogether banished from the streets of Mordheim. Its fires raged in the heavens so that the sun itself seemed a dull cold thing in comparison. Beneath that portentous orb the people of Mordheim seemed to forget any sense of modesty and gave themselves up to a ceaseless orgy of depravity. Who knows how many souls were crammed into that city? How many hundreds of thousands had gathered there from all over the Empire so that every street of every district overflowed with the unceasing music of merrymaking. Outside the city walls the newcomers heaved and crushed and danced. None sought rest or shelter — for in those endless days noone stopped to sleep but danced, feasted, drank and gave themselves up to indecent pleasures. Later, it is said that Daemons crept from the shadows and mingled with the throng, crying joyously and cavorting with man and woman alike. But who can be sure of anything that happened, their minds clouded ever afterwards by the horror of those times.

Thus was gathered into Mordheim on the eve of its destruction all the sins of men together, as a boil gathers the poisons of the body ready to be lanced by the surgeon’s knife.

Bernhardt Hal - Witch Hunter General

It was not Sigmar but his judgement that fell upon the city of Mordheim on the first moment of the first day of the new era. As the cavalcade of wickedness reached its zenith the Hammer of Sigmar fell to earth and ended forever the lives of every man, woman and child within the city. With a roar ten thousand times louder than thunder the ground seemed to rise to meet the fire, casting down buildings, toppling walls and flattening trees in a flaming blast. In the distant city of Altdorf temples shuddered and falling masonry plummeted to the streets below. Far beyond the Empire's borders the underground fortresses of the Dwarfs, that had stood for generations, cracked and fell.

Nothing remained of Mordheim but burned and charred ruins. The city was so crowded that not everyone could enter, and a few of the revellers that massed outside the city walls did avoid the cataclysm. These survivors fled as far as they could, carrying the tale of Sigmar’s divine punishment throughout the Empire. But even these did not escape unharmed — for many subsequently died, their bodies twisted and distorted from within by mutation and their minds tortured by the memories of what they had witnessed.

A pall of smoke hung over the ruin for seven days and seven nights, and a great heat burned as a glowing coal from the furnace of the netherworld.

The Chronicler of Ostermark – entry for the year 2000

Aswirling vapour enshrouded the city for many days after its destruction. This miasma was lit from within by an unearthly green glow and was so hot that none could approach. Eventually, this vapour dispersed somewhat and the ruins cooled. A few of the dispossessed drifted back to make a search for valuables abandoned in haste or such treasures as might have escaped the wrath of Sigmar.

In the new year strange stories began to circulate of a wondrous stone discovered in the ruins — a glowing dark shard capable of working miracles. Soon other stones were discovered, of all shapes and sizes, credited with powers of the most extraordinary kind. If such tales are to be believed the sick were cured. the blind could be made to see, tall trees would grow from the ground in a single day, and the very dead could be raised and made to speak again.

Most telling of all was the successful transmutation of lead to gold — a feat undertaken at the behest of Siegfried, Count of Reikland, by his personal alchemist van Hoffman. Rumours of this discovery spread like wildfire throughout the Empire and beyond as all manner of men flocked to the ruins of Mordheim to search for wyrdstone, as the strange stones were now called.

So it was that the ruins of Mordheim drew the attention of the lords of the Empire and many more besides — for power and wealth was surely there for the taking! For some there was the promise of wealth in the form of gold which would pay their armies and advance their imperial ambitions, for others there was the lure of magical power, yet others were drawn by simple greed or else by more sinister reasons that loyal and goodly men could but hardly imagine.

Then came the reports of monsters that lurked in the ruins, gigantic rats the size of men, the walking-dead, Daemons and mutant creatures that might once have been men. Of such things nothing more is to be said here. All came to Mordheim with their dreams — though few scarce imagined that by their actions the destiny of the world would soon be decided.

Heaven, Earth and Hell the three shall be indivisible,
From the serenth toll of the Seven Emperors’ bell.
When the land of Sigmar burns in flame,
And the dead walk beside Daemon, beast and man.

The Cantos of Macadamnus – Verse CCXXl