The Nemesis Crown Campaign was a large war in the wake of the Storm of Chaos fought between armies from across the world, all seeking one of the greatest magical artifacts ever created.
For long centuries, the Nemesis Crown has rested hidden deep beneath the Howling Hills. Few know of its origins, of its mad creator, or of the terrible curse that will echo down the ages if ever it is disturbed.
Two and a half millennia ago, the Old World was a wild and benighted land. Savage beasts and fell beings haunted the forests and plains, and survival for the warring tribes of Men who dwelt there hung ever in the balance. It was into this savage world that Sigmar was born, and his first great deed was the rescue of the Dwarf King Kurgan Ironbeard from a greenskin raiding party. Ironbeard gifted Sigmar with a great runic warhammer – Ghal Maraz – with which Sigmar fought against the greenskins and ultimately united the scattered tribes of Man. Years later, Sigmar and Kurgan stood together at the Battle of Black Fire Pass, and in recognition of their great victory, Kurgan ordered his Master Runesmith to forge the Runefangs.
That Master Runesmith was Alaric, creator of some of the greatest weapons ever wielded in battle. A century in the making, the Runefangs were gifted to each of the Empire’s Elector Counts. Some say that the century Alaric spent toiling at his forge drove the Runesmith to obsession and paranoia. His peers considered the Runefangs Alaric’s greatest achievement, but the Runesmith himself refused to accept that he had reached the height of his art. Alaric sought a new rune, and in time, found a variation on the Rune of Kingship – the Rune of Ages. This rune would not only retain and distill the wisdom of each of its bearers and pass it on to those who followed but also give the bearer control of his very destiny. Any who carried the rune would become master of his fate and that of his entire race.
But Alaric found that no matter what material he set the Rune of Ages upon, it would shatter as the last blow was struck. Stone, iron, gromril, dragon scales – all proved too weak to contain the mighty energies of his new Master Rune. He set out upon a great quest to find a substance strong enough to bear the rune’s awesome power. For long decades, Alaric wandered the dark roads of the Old World, through mountains and forests. Nowhere could he locate the material he sought. As time went on, he became more and more obsessed, prompting Dwarfs and men to give him a new name – Alaric the Mad. While passing along what is now the Old Forest Road, which at that time, was little more than a well-trod woodland path, Alaric was ambushed by a band of Skaven. Though now aged and stooped, Alaric was a veteran of many battles and dispatched the vile ratmen with ease. From nearby, he felt the presence, as only a Master Runesmith could, of some unknown but incredibly powerful ore. He followed his uncanny instinct. Deep beneath the knotted roots of a twisted oak, he found a chunk of material strong enough to hold the Rune of Ages – warpstone. Alaric barely hesitated before he pried the chunk of rock out of the ground. Perhaps his once wise mind was clouded by his overwhelming desire to prove himself the greatest Runesmith the world had ever seen, or perhaps the evil of the warpstone reached out and touched his already weakened powers of reason.
The next chapter of Alaric’s story is rarely told. It is said that he traveled to the Grey Mountains, where he constructed a mighty forge fueled by the volcanic lifeblood of the peaks. Alaric worked upon the weirdling ore day and night, until he had produced a gleaming crown, upon which was struck the Rune of Ages. As Alaric looked upon his creation, his mind cleared. He had been blinded by madness and obsession. The crown would not distill the destiny of those who wore it, but would instead draw out even the smallest shred of evil intent and transform him into the vessel for all the malice of every former wearer. Alaric was horrified by what he had created, but he knew that the crown could not be destroyed. Thus, he resolved to hide it away. He traveled to the Great Forest and the wind-swept Howling Hills and descended into the depths of a worked-out Dwarf Mine and sought a place to hide his artefact.
The crown lay hidden for many long centuries. The chamber remained intact, even as the mine entrance eventually collapsed upon itself. Then, a mighty earthquake shook the Howling Hills and brought tales of fresh gromril seams and wealth to be had in the area of the old mine. A band of Dwarf miners was dispatched to investigate. They found far more than they had bargained for. Discovering the uncovered mine workings, they came upon the breached chamber. What happened next is unclear, for only a single Dwarf emerged, blood-splattered and raving, into the light. A short time later, a band of Night Goblins, ever on the search for new cracks and crannies to infest, came upon the mine, where they found the insane Dwarf and his dead companions. The lone miner was captured by greenskins, who discerned from his rantings that an object of great power was to be found somewhere in their new lair. The Goblins tortured the mad Dwarf but could get little more from him. Perhaps the location of the Crown would thus have remained secret, but a Dwarf rescue force led by Thane Grombold of the famous Krud clan came in search of the lost miners. During the chaos that followed, a black-hearted Night Goblin came upon the crown by chance, slaughtered his fellows, and fled with it into the forest. Now, armies muster to retrieve the crown, for wild rumors of its powers have spread far and wide. The Dwarfs seek to return it to their holds where Alaric’s madness can be hidden for all time. Grimgor thinks that, should he gain it, the strongest warriors in the land will come to fight him. The Emperor sees in the crown an invaluable artifact of the Age of Sigmar and believes that its power could be harnessed for the good of Man. Whoever succeeds, they will do so only at a terrible cost in blood – a cost each is prepared to pay in the return for possession of the Nemesis Crown.
The silence of the grave has descended upon the Great Forest. The air has become close and oppressive, and barely a glimmer of sunlight penetrates the canopy high above.
For the Nemesis Crown has been found.
Having stripped his fortifications of defenders, Thorgrim Grudgebearer committed every last warrior to tracking down the Greenskins thought to be in possession of the crown. It was Joseph Bugman and his Rangers that finally sent word back to Thorgrim that the vile creatures had been located. At the edge of the forest, in the shadow of the Howling Hills, the Rangers had finally found their prey.
And what the Rangers discovered stunned even their stoic hearts. The Goblins were tearing one another apart, the Crown passing from one creature to the next. Each time a Goblin would don the Crown, an aura of malevolence as old as its race would come upon it, as if the wearer were channelling the evil of every Goblin that had ever lived, and all that ever would. Overcome by such wickedness, the Goblin would voice a fearful screech before turning upon its compatriots.
The scene before the Rangers was one of utter death and destruction, but their leader came to his senses and sent a runner to inform Thorgrim Grudgebearer of events. Within hours, the Rangers had cordoned off the area in which the Goblins fought one another, and the lead elements of Thorgrim's host had arrived to bolster their line. As the sun set on that day and the sound of the Goblins slaughtering one another echoed through the woods, High King Thorgrim himself arrived.
As the Dwarfs were closing in on the Nemesis Crown, the sons of Bretonnia were riding down their foes across the hills and dales. The bold Knights had won great glory in the name of the Lady, and their actions had, many claimed, saved the Empire from invasion by the innumerable creatures of evil flooding into the region in search of the Crown. The warriors of any evil army that ventured onto the Draken Downs, the Rauberthal and the Barren Hills were ridden down without mercy, forcing such armies into the forests, or onto the roads, where other forces dominated. On that last day, the cordon thrown up by the Dwarfs was as effective as it was in no small part thanks to the actions of the Knights of Bretonnia in keeping the vile creatures of evil at bay. It was on that day that one of Bretonnia's greatest heroes fell, for Sir Beoveld, gave his life that the forces of Undeath might be held back from the Great Forest and the forces of light given time to gain the Crown.
Those armies fleeing the Bretonnians were more often than not driven into the ambushes of the Wood Elves. The Asrai, led by Naith the Prophetess and the renowned Skarloc, launched a final assault upon their foes in particular the Greenskins and the Beastmen who would intrude upon the woodlands. At the last, Naith issued her final order: the Kindreds must descend upon the vile creatures of evil. By dawn, Naith ordered that the woods must be empty of the hated Beastmen and Greenskins once and for all. As the sun sank, the forest was filled with the sound of death being unleashed across the region.
As Thorgrim's armies encircled the Goblins fighting for possession of the Nemesis Crown, the High Elves made their move as well. Working through envoys dispatched to Thorgrim's court, the High Elves coordinated their efforts with those of the Dwarfs. Using the waterways, the High Elves struck where the Dwarfs could not, their silvered armies launching devastating assaults upon the Greenskins from unanticipated quarters. The Elves were driven by their desire to rid the world of the evil of the Crown, but even as their cavalry charges struck home, there were those amongst the leaders who looked forward. Even as the Dwarfs fought the Goblins for the Crown, the High Elves dared to dream that their aid might provide them leverage in their pursuit for the eventual return of the Phoenix Crown.
With the forces of Ulthuan striking deep into the forest from the waterways, the Men of the Empire mobilised. Karl Franz ordered the knightly orders controlling the roadways into the woods. Led by the most experienced foresters Talabecland had to offer, the armies of the Empire went where few Men ever dared go - into the darkness beyond the safety of the road. The Wizards of all the Orders strode at their sides, using their arts to home in on the Crown, to follow its vile spoor. The Greenskins and Beastmen were caught between the immovable anvil of the Dwarfs' line and the rapidly descending hammer of the Bretonnians in the hills, the Wood Elves in the forest deeps, the High Elves on the waterways and the Empire's forces from the roads. Karl Franz led the attack himself, swooping on high atop his Griffon, Deathclaw. All across the region, the attack was repeated, the Emperor's generals striking from the roads to scour the forests of the evil creatures taking refuge within.
Even as the Dwarfs and their allies mobilised for their final assault, the Vampire Waldikir was stirring. As the sun set, he knew that a moment of great import was nigh. His armies had been swollen beyond imagining by the dead of those he had defeated, his Zombie hordes now large enough to rival any in Sylvania. The ancient had chuckled with the dry mirth of ages as he recalled the plots his underlings had hatched to ruin his plans to their own benefit. They would pay, Waldikir promised. He would gather his Undead host this very night and march for Sylvania. Once there, he would confront those Vampires who had betrayed him, playing the part of allies in the war, and slaughter them one by one. As Morrslieb rose above the Great Forest, to the clamour of war was added the cackling of Waldikir Rahtep.
And then, as the Chaos Moon waxed, a terrible stirring, felt in the soul of every living creature, swept the land. The wind died and the light of the moons become strangely pallid. Every Wizard, every practitioner of the arts of magic in the region, was struck by a sudden fear, as if some ancient will from before creation had looked deep within his unworthy heart and found him wanting. The Emperor's Wizards were struck blind, for the winds of magic blew no longer. Grimgor's shamans gibbered empty nonsense as any clue of the Crown's hiding place was lost. The sorcerers of Chaos slunk away into the night, abandoning their lords, for they knew the end was come. Even Teclis, most accomplished of High Elven magic users, felt the echoes of aeons-old thought touching his soul, and he alone knew that the Mage-Priests of Lustria had awakened to take a hand in events from their distant temples.
To the Skaven, the sudden lull in the winds of magic was so terrifying as to invoke widespread panic in their ranks. The Grey Seers squealed in horror, for they knew deep in their putrid hearts that they, and their entire race, had no place in this world, and neither did the Nemesis Crown. Despite the squalid trappings of civilisation, the Skaven were little more than animals, and reverted to their true nature. Panic gripped the heart of every Skaven in the forest, who fled the region in great rivers of screeching evil. Even as they fled with their armies, the Grey Seers knew that the Crown was lost to them, but only for a time. They knew that, if the Dwarfs had the Crown, they would bury it deep beneath their mountain holds. No matter there was no hole in the world deep enough to keep out the Skaven.
As Thorgrim's warriors closed on their foe under the dulled light of the Chaos Moon, their Dwarven hearts were oblivious to the waking nightmares afflicting so many warriors of the other races. In distant Altdorf, the night sky was illuminated by blinding fireballs and incandescent explosions as a battle between invisible foes erupted. Though none could see them, the citizens wailed that the armies of the Undead had come to reclaim what was theirs and that only the Colleges of Magic could save them. The Wizards battled as the night wore on, a great many of their number falling, withered and dry, to the spells and curses of an unseen foe. None would know what armies besieged Altdorf that night, for no corpses would be left to tell the tale. Only the Wizards themselves knew how close Altdorf had come to disaster at the wizened hands of the Tomb Kings of Khemri.
Back in the Great Forest, the Ogres bellowed and roared, knowing that their time in the Empire was at an end. Greasus Goldtooth himself sent word to the tribes, both fighting as mercenaries and for themselves, that they should return east. The looting was poor, he said, and greater profit might be extracted from the villages of the Empire as they headed back to the Mountains of Mourn. Setting their backs to the cursed forest and the unnatural silence that haunted it, the Ogres hoisted what little plunder they had won, and departed. A great many villages and towns would suffer their predations before they passed out of the Empire.
As the hour approached midnight, so events gathered pace once more. The Emperor came upon the line of Dwarf warriors surrounding the Goblins fighting for the Crown. Karl Franz and Thorgrim Grudgebearer greeted one another as allies of old, each taking the other's forearm in a warrior's grip. But they were afforded no time to exchange more words, as a great clamouring went up in the woods to the north. Moments later, a panting Ranger emerged from the woods to inform his King that Grimgor himself was leading a mighty horde of Greenskins right towards their lines. Thorgrim saw immediately what must be done, and told the Emperor his plan. The Dwarfs, he stated, must close on the Goblins and take the Nemesis Crown, while the armies of the Empire held off the Greenskin hordes. A moment of tense silence followed the High King's words, broken only when Luthor Huss stepped forward to whisper quiet counsel to his lord. The Emperor nodded gravely, knowing that Thorgrim was correct. The Nemesis Crown had come into the world through the folly of a mad old Dwarf, and must be taken from it by the determination of a wise king. The Emperor and the High King locked eyes before each turned to gather his warriors and do battle.
The confrontation that followed beneath the sickly light of Morrslieb was as epic as any in the annals of Men and Dwarfs. Though haunted by the deathly silence and supernatural stillness come upon the land, the warriors of the Emperor and the High King fought as heroes of old, each led by their lord. Karl Franz led the charge against Grimgor's Black Orcs. It was a testament to fine Dwarfen workmanship that Ghal Maraz was undiminished in power despite the lull in the winds of magic. Others were less fortunate; both the Wizards of the Empire and the Shamans of the Greenskins were unable to lend their aid to the fight. Grimgor's Shamans attempted in vain to call upon the power of Mork, yet their wailings came to nothing as their Orcish god deserted them. Ghal Maraz made short work of their weakling frames, taking a terrible toll in Orc and Goblin blood in the first charge of the battle.
Meanwhile, the Dwarfs faced a scene from a madman's nightmare as they strode into the ranks of the Goblins. The crazed Greenskins saw the Dwarfs approaching and threw themselves at them with apparent disregard for their own lives. The High King had never in his long span of years witnessed such a thing as Goblins fighting as if possessed by Daemons. The small forms came upon Thorgrim's ranks in a tide, each Goblin fighting his compatriots even as it clawed at the Dwarven shield wall with nails dripping blood.
Across the mayhem, Thorgrim saw a Goblin raise a weirdly glowing object high, and saw that here, at last, was the Nemesis Crown. Yet, even as the Goblin lowered the Crown, another leapt upon it. The creature tore the Crown from the other's grasp, dashing the other's brains across the ground with its prize. Putting the Crown upon its head, the creature was gripped by supernatural spasms as it rose above the ground as if held aloft by invisible wings. A wave of malevolence broke across the battle, the Crown wearer at its epicentre. Thorgrim knew with utter conviction that the Crown must be claimed now, or all was lost.
Meanwhile, the Emperor's army was finding itself hard pressed to stem the ever-increasing green tide pressing in upon its lines. Each man knew that the Orcs, Goblins, Trolls and other creatures assailing them must be held back so that Thorgrim might have time to achieve his mission. As ever, the Emperor himself led from the front, Ghal Maraz crushing any enemy that came within range, while the strident voice of Luthor Huss rang out, extolling the soldiers to greater efforts in the name of Sigmar.
Thorgrim, borne aloft upon the Throne of Power, closed upon his foe. At the last, it appeared that the Goblin had become something far more terrible than a mere Greenskin. As it hung in the air, looking down upon the slaughter, its eyes radiated primal hatred for Thorgrim and all his kin, as well as the distilled malice of his entire race. The Goblin looked upon Thorgrim, and a change came over its wicked face. Ancestral fear gripped its craven soul, the fear of the Goblins for the race of Dwarfs, for any warrior who fights for honour and good, and puts aside his own desires when called upon to give his life for a higher cause.
The Goblin let out a soul-rending cry heard across the forest as Thorgrim hefted the Axe of Grimnir.
The Emperor was almost deafened by the terrible sound, but he gritted his teeth and bore on as Grimgor himself hove into view. Yet, the tide of Greenskins slowed in its advance, its momentum lost as the Goblin's scream drew on. Karl Franz saw Grimgor attempt to bully his hordes onwards. But they refused. As one, Grimgor's army turned and fled. The racial fear encompassed in that wail gripped the heart of every Greenskin on the field. With the winds of magic silent, the gestalt power of the Waaagh! deserted Grimgor's warriors, the lust for war and bloodshed replaced with the most ancient and basic of emotions.
Thorgrim reared upon his throne, and brought the Axe of Grimnir down in a great horizontal sweep. The wailing Goblin was cut in two, its mangled body falling to the ground amidst a torrent of blood.
The spell was broken.
Grimgor stood as an immovable rock against the receding tide of fleeing Greenskins. Soon, the Orc warlord stood alone amidst the dead, facing the entire army of Karl Franz beneath the light of the Chaos Moon. The huge warlord's sullen glare scanned the assembled ranks of Men, locating the Emperor. With a gesture of purest, malevolent hatred and defiance, Grimgor hawked a great gobbet of phlegm, and spat it out towards the Emperor. Before the spittle had touched the ground, the warlord had turned his back upon the Empire army to stalk off after his army.
All over the Great Forest, creatures of fell heart and servants of darkness knew that their cause was lost. Chaos Dwarfs, who had thrown in their lot to aid the Greenskins, began their long march back east. The Warleaders of the numerous bands of Chaos Marauders turned upon their advisers, knowing that the counsel of their sorcerers had brought them only bitter defeat. Many a shaman was cut down by a vengeful lord there and then. Weeks later, when the warbands had returned north, the great council of sorcerers on whose word the Marauders had gone south would be slaughtered to a man.
The Dark Elves too knew that their cause was lost that night, though many a slave had been taken and shipped back to dark Naggaroth. In the stillness of the early hours preceding dawn, an emissary of Malekith came to each Highborn with a terrible missive. The Dark Elves had failed to oppose the High Elves' mission. All sons of Naggaroth were to return to the Witch King's Court. One would pay with his life for the failure of the whole. None would know who, until they all stood before the Witch King.
As the pre-dawn sky lightened above the Great Forest, its most ancient and twisted denizens glowered hatefully at the dwindling stars. A new day was dawning, and the hunt for the Nemesis Crown was almost at an end. Morghur, the Master of Skulls turned his back upon the dawn and shambled into the gloom of the deep woods. His children were defeated, their uprising failed. But this new day would pass, and night would return to the forest, as ever it did. Life and light were such fleeting things, while death and Chaos were eternal.
The Nemesis Crown was returned to the Dwarfs and denied to the forces of darkness. Only one task remained to be completed…
The Legacy of Alaric
The throne hall of Thorgrim was silent. There was none of the bustle of the King's Council arguing, no hubbub from petitioners, no lamenting grudgemasters or wheedling foreign envoys. The great star lanterns cast their magical brightness down upon empty flagstones. The doors were sealed, and even the secret passageways known only to Thorgrim and the Engineers' Guild had been closed up for the occasion. Upon the dais stood eight Dwarfs, and in their midst, Thorgrim sat upon the Throne of Power. Four of them, the Throne Bearers, stood in the shadows at the back of the hall. Their faces were set, not betraying an ounce of emotion. They had the expressions of the professionally disinterested; Dwarfs who heard many things spoken by their lord, yet chose to remember nothing.
Kurgrund, the Grudgelord of Karaz-a-Karak, led forward a sturdy pony. Golden blinkers covered its eyes and on its back upon a frame of black iron sat the Dammaz Kron, the Great Book of Grudges. Kurgrund unclasped the heavy gold chains that bound the tome in place. He picked up the massive book, giving a grunt as his ancient back took the strain. With tottering steps the Grudgelord walked over to the Throne of Power. The hall reverberated with a thunderous thud as Kurgrund slammed the book down upon its lectern.
Thorgrim raised an eyebrow in annoyance, and Kurgrund swiftly back-pedalled under the grim gaze of his king. With due reverence, Thorgrim ran a hand over the cracked cover of the Dammaz Kron, caressing it for a moment. A look of contentment passed over the High King's face. He stroked his other hand through his beard, fidgeting with the golden clasps that held its ornate braids. Kurgrund gave a polite cough and Thorgrim emerged from his reverie. The king of Karaz-a-Karak self-consciously cleared his throat and gestured towards the Grudgelord. As Thorgrim opened the Dammaz Kron, Kurgrund went back to the grudge pony and took a small pouch from its pack frame. From the pouch he brought forth an empty silver ink well, a folding knife and a writing chisel. These he placed on the lectern next to the Book of Grudges.
Thorgrim found the page he was seeking. It was an old grudge, though not the oldest, about half way into the book. Taking the knife, Thorgrim pricked his left thumb. He squeezed several drops of blood into the well and handed the knife to Kurgrund. Taking up the writing chisel, he dipped its tip into the royal blood. Alaric's madness had been stopped; expunged from the collective guilt of the Dwarfs. Thorgrim's hand shook only slightly as he dragged the chisel across the line of the grudge. It was done.
There was an audible exhalation of relief from the other Dwarfs. As Kurgrund gathered up the grudgewares and packed them away, Thane Forstik stepped forward.
"What is it?" demanded Thorgrim, sucking at the cut on his thumb.
"The Elven envoy, my king?" Forstik prompted.
"Ahm, right," Thorgrim said, straightening in his throne and taking on a more kingly pose. "We'll let him enjoy the comforts of the lower deep for a little while longer. No point sending him away just yet; at least we can give him a decent meal and a mug of ale for his troubles."
"So, your reply to their request to discuss the Phoenix Crown?" This was from Bruduth, oldest of the council's Longbeards.
Thorgrim's long, penetrating stare spoke volumes.
"Right, thought it might be like that," said Bruduth, a rare note of approval in his tone.
"Well, that's settled then," said Forstik.
The gathering began to move away towards the dais steps, when Thorgrim's rumbling voice stopped them in mid-stride.
The learned Dwarfs turned as one and faced their king.
"The key?" Thorgrim asked quietly. "Where is it?"
Vaultmaster Ganni Copperbeard smiled nervously and pulled a golden chain from around his neck. A complex silver key hung upon it, glittering with minute runes. The Vaultmaster passed the key towards the king, although his hand instinctively drew back for a moment as Thorgrim reached out for it.
"Ganni, give me the key," Thorgrim's voice was level and firm, paternal rather than angered.
The Vaultmaster passed over the key with a sigh.
"Perhaps that should be destroyed," suggested Bruduth. "Its temptations would be gone and the knowledge of the accursed thing's location would vanish with us."
"No, it is not right that all memory of this thing passes," said Thorgrim. "We forgot once, and great calamity may have resulted from our lack of diligence. No, the High King will always remember."
"But the lure…" said Bruduth.
"There may come a day when we possess the means to destroy the crown utterly. This key will be needed if that happens."
"Enough!" roared Thorgrim, and the other Dwarfs flinched as if struck. The High King took a deep breath, and then smiled grimly. "I have made my decision. My successor may choose otherwise, as will be his right. Until that time, this key is part of my gild. Speak no more of it. Remember your oaths!"
And with that, Thorgrim tucked the key inside his robe, placing it within one of the secret pockets that Dwarfs have for such things.