Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Vampire Counts – Warhammer World

More folklore and legends surround the Vampires than any other creature of the night. Since time immemorial they have been seen as monstrous flesh-eaters, charismatic lords and ladies, and dread generals of the Undead. The most powerful of the walking dead, the Vampire race was created by unholy ritual and dread elixir many thousands of years ago.

Though physically strong, fast and resilient, it is not these qualities that make the Vampires such a threat. It is will and force of personality that drives the Vampires to seek great power, a driving force that most other Undead creatures lack.

Imbued with supernatural control over the dead, Vampires make natural leaders for the armies of Undead that plague the world. Though loathed and hunted, Vampires also lurk within human society, either masquerading as aristocrats, or dwelling in haunted citadels on the edges of civilisation.

All Vampires were once human, with hopes, dreams and families of their own. Even though traces of emotion still stir in their shrivelled hearts, the Blood Kiss has transformed them into monsters without exception. Their once-humble aspirations have been consumed, twisted into a desire to conquer and rule over the mortals they left behind. In truth, though, Vampires cannot forget their past lives. Their names and heraldic symbols will be emblazoned on the shields and banners of their Undead armies, for Vampires are proud creatures that revel in the terror they cause. Whether sorcerer or warrior, a Vampire's immortal existence is fuelled by a craving for magical power and worldly domination.

This deadly ambition was writ large during the Vampire Wars. For over a century, the infamous von Carsteins of Sylvania waged war upon the Empire, leading armies of Undead the like of which had not been seen since the time of Sigmar. Three successive von Carstein Vampires arose to challenge for rulership of the Old World - Vlad, Konrad and Mannfred - each a unique and deadly threat. Under the command of the Vampire Counts, hordes of Zombies, legions of Skeletons and hosts of other fell Undead creatures besieged the Empire in a relentless campaign for control. Divided by politics and war, the Empire was almost overrun and came close to being enslaved to the will of a Vampire Emperor. It was only through the sacrifices of the armies of the Elector Counts, and the efforts of a few remarkable heroes of the Empire, that the Undead were held at bay.

Though the von Carsteins were eventually defeated, persistent rumours claim to this day that the last of the Vampire Counts, Mannfred von Carstein, escaped destruction. For centuries, the tales say, he has awaited the moment when the Empire is once more weak and vulnerable. When the darkness gathers, the armies of Sylvania will go forth again, greater than ever before. While dead things stir in their graves and travellers disappear in the middle of the night, there is always the fear that one day the Vampire Counts will rise again, to sweep away the rule of the living and create an eternal empire of the Undead.

The manner by which a Vampire turns a mortal into another Vampire is subject to much speculation. Known variously as the Blood Kiss, the Dark Awakening, Turning and the Red Ascension, this process is believed to involve the exchange of blood in some fashion. It was Oueen Neferata's blood that gave rise to the first Vampires. The Blood Kiss is a highly secretive and personal affair, possibly unique to each Vampire, and the lords of undeath do not discuss it, not even with others of their kind.

The Midnight Aristocracy
The Vampires of the Old World haunt the darkness, filled with an insatiable thirst for human blood and saturated with the raw power of Dark Magic. Since the defeat of the von Carsteins, most Vampires remain hidden from the eyes of Man. However, Vampires occasionally inveigle themselves into the great cities of the Empire, moving in high society where their lordly positions allow them to conceal their true natures. Some lurk in the deep woodlands or within dark caverns, preying on travellers and peasants. A few dwell within the mist-shrouded ruins of their old castles and emerge from their cobwebbed crypts to feast intermittently on whatever they can find. Others still have become debased and feral creatures, feeding on fresh corpses in graveyards and making their lairs in dusty mausoleums.

Such is the Vampires' innate dominion over death that it is impossible to ever know for certain whether they have been slain. They have a habit of returning and wreaking terrible vengeance on their would-be slayers when least expected. A Vampire can lie dormant for years, decades or even centuries, gathering his might while his minions prepare the way for his return to power. Once at his full strength, the Vampire will muster a horde of the Undead and go forth once more, fighting in pursuit of his depraved ambitions.

When a powerful Vampire stirs, the Dark Magic he exudes acts as a magical beacon to spirits and dead things for many miles around. In this manner, a Vampire draws all manner of dreadful creatures to his service. Ghouls and Crypt Horrors leave their graveyard lairs and Dire Wolves slink out from the shadowy forests. Ghosts and spectres, revenants of dead warriors and murdered men, draw strength from the Vampire and weave insubstantial forms for themselves in order to plague the warm-blooded living. Slack-jawed Zombies claw themselves out of shallow graves at the Vampire's command. Units of armoured Wights stalk forwards in a parody of disciplined soldiery, flanked by beasts of the wild that have been reshaped by the energies of necromancy into something far more hideous. The skies above the Vampire writhe with swarms of blood-sucking bats, some of which are as large as the dreaded Zombie Dragons that bear the lords of undeath to battle. Twisted mockeries of once-noble predators flap through the cold air alongside unliving monstrosities borne upon leathery wings.

The deathly adepts known as Necromancers can also feel the rising of such a lord of darkness, and will leave their hiding places to serve at the feet of a truly undying master. They bargain their skills and servitude in exchange for more knowledge, or in the hope of earning the Blood Kiss themselves. Some bear dread artefacts to war upon palanquins of the dead, hoping to use the might of their unholy predecessors against their prey. Perhaps most deadly of all those summoned are the other Vampires that heed the dark call - some sired by the Vampire and therefore bonded to it by magic and blood, others seeking alliance or simply a chance for fresh slaughter.

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