Ever since I decided to take the plunge into AoS, I've been working on the background for my Seraphon army. One advantage of the AoS setting is the freedom it allows, so I decided to go in a fairly different direction. Currently I'm working on the developments in the region that have occurred as a result of the Time of Tribulations, and the articles on each region of Cote de Saur. I'll update this post as I continue. Nerian sat, staring down at the ground. It was dark in the tent, and thick with the sounds and smells of the camp. The murmur of conversations just outside the scale-leather walls. The wafting scent of cooking pots. The ever-present smell of reptile dung. The door suddenly twitched open, letting a burst of firelight into the darkness. Tayte was standing there, looking sad but stern. Nerian sighed. His wife was right, as she usually was. No point putting things off any longer. Rising, he picked up a small sack from next to the door before following her out of the tent. Outside, a large fire blazed in the centre of the camp. Tents were arranged around it, one for each family. His was the largest and best, as befitted his role as headman, but all were composed of the same scale-leather. Beyond the line of tents could be seen the barely moving shapes of the Stegadons. With the sun down and full stomachs, they were getting ready for a quiet night’s sleep. Nerian envied them. Five dozen sets of eyes were looking at him. The whole camp had turned out, each family standing around the fire. On the other side of the blaze, a wooden pole had been driven into the ground. A man was slumped on the ground before it, his hands bound behind his back. As Nerian walked out of his tent, the murmur of conversation stopped, and the man looked up. “Cousin!” Relief flooded across his face, and he struggled to his feet, smiling. “Thank the gods. I thought you’d never come outside.” He tried to step forwards, but the rope around his hands held him back. “This is all a big misunderstanding. Tell them.” He paused, as if noticing for the first time that Nerian’s expression hadn’t changed from its grim demeanour. “Cousin?” “Atelic Bryer” Nerian pronounced, walking around the edge of the fire. “You stand accused of Chaos worship. Three people have named you such, so you have been brought for judgement.” Nerian’s face was hard as he stared across at his cousin. “What have you to say?” Atelic said nothing for a moment, his mouthing hanging open. “Cousin…” he began. “Headman”. Nerian snapped. “Here, in this place, I am not your cousin. I am the headman, and I must pass judgement upon you.” Atelic looked as if he’d just been slapped. “I see.” He turned aside to look around the group. “You all know me. I’ve lived with you all my life. I was born on the back of a stegadon. I’ve been with you through everything, through raids and fires and sickness. You all know me.” he repeated. He looked back at Nerian. “I am family.” “So you deny it?” Nerian replied. Atelic nodded. “It is a lie. The dark gods have no hold on me” Nerian paused for a moment, then held up the sack from his tent. “When you were accused, your tent was searched, in accordance with our laws. These were found inside.” With that, he upended the sack, and a few small trinkets fell to the ground. Some were carvings of unknown figures, along with a number of amulets shaped in strange symbols. Nerian tried not to look at them. They made his eyes hurt. There was a hiss of indrawn breath from the crowd as the trinkets spilled into the firelight. The susurration of conversation began almost at once, along with a cry of pain from a woman, who began to weep. Atelic’s eyes darted about like a cold one hunting thera rats, looking for some support. There was none. He looked back up at Nerian. “I’ve never seen those before” he pleaded, licking his lips. “Someone must have put them there.” He tried to step forwards again. “Please headman” he begged. “We’re family. These…things are not mine.” Nerian said nothing, instead sweeping the trinkets into the fire with his boot. A moment later the fire burst into a wild array of colours, pink mixed with red and green. The flames roared higher, and amidst the crackling and spitting of the fire could be heard other noises; the distant sound of laughter and screams. People shrank back, and in their paddocks the stegadons stirred, stamping their feet and bellowing into the night. Then the flames died back, the noises faded, and the camp was left in silence. Nerian looked across at Atelic. “We have heard your claims of innocence. If you are truly not a worshiper of Chaos, then there is one way we can test that”. He turned and motioned to one of the men on the edge of the group. A moment later, the man led one of the camp cold ones through by the reins. The reptile was somewhat torpid in the evening air, but it was still alert, its head snapping from side to side as it sought any potential threats or prey. At the sight of the cold one, Atelic’s eyes went wide. He began to pull hard against the bindings on his hands, trying to move away. Nerian reached out and took the cold one’s reins. “The reptiles can sense the touch of Chaos.” Nerian began, reaching out to gently stroke the scales around the reptile’s snout. “We all know this. They will never bear a corrupted man on their back.” He turned to Atelic. “This is your test. If the beast does not attack you, then I will proclaim you innocent.” “Cousin please, this is madness!” Atelic shouted. Nerian ignored the outburst and began to walk towards the stake, the cold one obediently at his side. “You’ve all seen me riding before when we’re mustering the stegs!” “No.” The woman who had been crying before now spoke, her eyes red and raw. “You haven’t ridden in months. You said you had saddle sores but I know that’s a lie.” Her face contorted. “How many more lies have you spoken to me?” A sharp hiss from the cold one cut her speech off. The reptile was just a few steps away from Atelic, and its mouth had dropped open, revealing rows of razor sharp teeth. As Nerian watched, the beast dropped into a crouch, its arms spread wide, leg muscles tensing as it prepared to pounce. Nerian tightened his grip on the reins, then looked up at his cousin. For a moment, Atelic was silent. Then, he smiled. “You think you’ve won, don’t you, headman?” he spat, scorn dripping from his voice. “You think you’re safe, out here in your little band in the grasslands? The Dark Gods are real, and they are coming for us. Each and every one of us.” He glared around the group, his eyes now filled with fire. “Chaos is the only true answer.” Nerian closed his eyes. Despite everything, he hadn’t wanted to believe it was true. The camp erupted, the families shouting whilst Atelic laughed, spitting curses back. Children wept, the herd bellowed, and at his side, the cold one tried to break free, straining hard at the reins. Nerian opened his eyes, taking one final look at the man he’d grown up with. But all he saw now was a frothing madman, screaming his allegiance to the ruinous powers. All that was left was to pass judgement. He let go of the reins. A brief History of Cote de Saur A visitor to Cote de Saur today could be forgiven for assuming that the great reptiles which dominate the region are native to the area. From fields tilled by lumbering Bastiladons to the feared Carnosaurs of the Ever-Ferocious Army, it is impossible to travel far within Cote de Saur without encountering these reptiles. Yet it was not always so. Most people, even the inhabitants of the region, do not know the true origins of the great beasts. The origin of the great reptiles that dominate the region of Cote de Saur lies far back during the Age of Chaos, when the forces of the Great Despoiler ravaged much of the world. Aqshy was no exception, facing a great onslaught by forces loyal to the blood god, Khorne. Sometime during the Age of Chaos, an ancient Slaan named Rana summoned a vast army of Seraphon to the northern plains on Aqshy, on the borders of a primeval jungle near the edge of Cote de Saur. Shortly afterwards, the Seraphon engaged a great Khornate army, but disaster struck almost immediately. Rana was struck down, his impossibly ancient form rent asunder by the axes of howling berserkers. His summoned army avenged him however, destroying the Khornates down to the last corrupted man, before carrying his ravaged body into the depths of the nearby jungle. At first, no Seraphon could understand exactly why they were journeying deep into the jungle. They simply felt a strong sense of safety and belonging within the green basin. It was only as they pressed deeper, facing attacks from plants and wildlife alike, that distant memories of another jungle, on another world, began to filter into the minds of Saurus and Skink alike. As the memories returned, so did the first arguments begin about what to do next. The Skinks insisted that the Slaan would return to guide the Seraphon, just as they had on the Other World. Led by the Skink Oracle Hi’pay’sha, the Skinks counselled caution, arguing that the Seraphon should stay within the jungle and await the Slaan’s return. But the Saurus disagreed. The Slaan were dead, they replied, just as the Other World was dead. Rana had been the last of them, and he now was dead as well. The largest of the Saurus, a great warrior named Fril’neq, said that their purpose was clear. They had been brought to this new world to fight the forces of Chaos, and that was what they should continue to do. In the end it was the Saurus who carried the day. Under the leadership of Fril’neq, the Seraphon began a series of raids against the Chaos armies moving towards Cote de Saur. The Seraphon gained the upper hand in most of these engagements, and were always able to retreat into the dense jungle when the tide of battle turned against them, but these battles were costly. Every warrior who fell could not be replaced, as only Rana had known the secrets of summoning. It was the Skinks who found a solution, not least because they saw it as their sacred duty to preserve Rana’s body. During one of their daily rituals, casting spells of warding and protection over the Slaan’s body, one of the Skink priests sensed a faint spark of energy within Rana’s corpse. Although the Slaan’s spirit had fled, his body still held a connection to the celestial realms, where Rana had drawn on the power of the stars to summon the Seraphon. By using the Slaan’s body as a conduit, the Skinks could draw upon the same power. The process was slow, much like a great river trying to flow through a tiny channel, but soon new Saurus and Skinks were being summoned in the depths of Dane’tre. Summoning anything much larger than a Kroxigor however was beyond the capabilities of the Skinks. Attempting to form one of the great reptiles the Seraphon rode upon was simply impossible, as far too much energy was required. Unlike the Seraphon however, the reptiles could breed, but the process was far too slow to replace the losses in battle, and the Seraphon were hard pressed already holding back the forces of Chaos. Assigning more forces to oversee the training and breeding of the war beasts was out of the question. Once again, the Skinks came up with an answer. Cote de Saur contained a great many human settlements, many of which were close to the jungle. So far they had been largely spared the ravages of the Age of Chaos, due mainly to the efforts of the Seraphon. These humans, argued Hi’pay’sha, could do the work of rearing and training the war beasts on which the Seraphon were so dependant. If they were gifted eggs and adults, they would be able to provide an endless supply of reptiles. Fril’neq, eager for any solution that would allow his war to continue, readily agreed. What followed transformed the entire region. At first, there was little change; villages and settlements near the jungle of Dane’tre began to raise domesticated reptiles and gift some adults back to the Seraphon, enough to keep their armies well supplied, but as the herds grew larger, some reptiles began to be traded elsewhere. Cote de Saur had contained few domesticated animals prior to Hi’pay’sha’s gifts, so when these great beasts began to appear on the central floodplains they revolutionized agriculture. Soon vast fields of thera grass, the pods of which could be ground into flour, were being cultivated, tilled by reptiles dragging heavy ploughs. In less agriculturally suitable areas, as herds grew larger, shepherds began to move their herds to new pastures, and then eventually became entirely nomadic. This agricultural revolution would shortly produce a military revolution as well, but it was slow in coming. Access to food drove populations steadily higher, leading to the formation of early cities and armies to defend them. However, since a pre-requisite for the development of these cities was the adoption of domesticated reptiles, no city enjoyed an obvious military advantage over any other. Conflicts broke out often, either with rival city states or with the herders who invaded settled land to seek food or water for their flocks, but as all sides enjoyed the same access to beasts, no side enjoyed any particular advantage. It was the city of Megalo that would not only break this stalemate, but shatter it entirely. Cold Ones were well known throughout Cote de Saur, mainly as herding animals for keeping flocks in line. They had not been used much in warfare however, since they were much smaller than the giant beasts that dominated the battlefield, and lacked armoured scales. What they did have was speed and agility, but no-one could see a way for this to be exploited. When Megalo did so, everything changed. The trick was to harness a pair of Cold Ones to a wheeled chariot. Two men, a driver and an archer, could then ride on the chariot, shooting arrows from a distance. Against the slow moving armies of the era, focused as they were around the reptiles in their ranks, this tactic proved devastatingly effective. Even great Carnosaurs could be brought down by hails of arrows delivered by fast moving chariots. Megalo’s tactics were straightforward; defeat armies in the field using swarms of chariot archers, then besiege cities using heavy reptiles. If armies refused to march out, the chariots of Aqshy would simply pillage the countryside, starving the defenders into submission. Over the span of around fifty years, Megalo carved out the first true empire of Cote de Saur, gaining control over much of the central floodplains and nearly a dozen cities. Most of these developments never reached the attention of the Seraphon. So long as reptiles continued to be tithed to the jungle, and no human city or state slid into the depravations of Chaos, the Seraphon cared nothing for the humans that operated under their protection. Their focus remained in the south, where ever-increasing numbers of Chaos armies were massing. With much of the remainder of Aqshy under the control of Chaos, Cote de Saur was becoming increasingly isolated, and only the continued efforts of the Seraphon kept the region free of invaders. When Chaos did breech the lines of defence however, it was in a manner that the Seraphon did not expect. Having established the first empire in the region, Megalo’s rulers settled down to the business of administering the vast lands under their control. Populations steadily increased during the first decades of the empire, as warfare was limited to skirmishes with nomadic tribes on the fringes of Megalo lands. Trade flourished, especially along the great rivers that dominated the floodplains of central Cote de Saur. Backed by their chariot armies, the empire seemed untouchable. Yet within one hundred years of its formation, the Megalo Empire lay in ruins. The great cities of the floodplains were divided once more into squabbling city states, prey to vast hordes of nomads who moved with impunity across their borders. Famine and disease stalked the land, trade had dried up, and the armies that had once subjugated the floodplains were reduced to banditry. Megalo itself survived, but in drastically reduced circumstances. It would never again regain its former position of glory. The chain of events that lead to this collapse seemed at first to be nothing out of the ordinary. In the ninetieth year of the Megalo Empire, the skies turned dark. The cause for this was a volcanic eruption in the south, far beyond the ash deserts. Such eruptions were commonplace, and the palls they produced commonly would darken the skies for a few days. Rulers and priests alike reassured their worried populaces that the clouds would soon clear, and under instruction from Megalo, granaries were thrown open and food distributed in a week-long feast to quell any fears. This was standard practice during such events, as without the rays of the sun to warm their bodies, the reptiles upon which the region was dependant remained torpid and unable to work. The clouds over the Empire indeed quickly dispersed within a week, with one exception: the southern city of Testudo. There, the clouds lingered, leaving the city’s domesticated reptiles unable to work. Without the beasts, fields could not be sown and harvests collected, so food began to be sent from other parts of the empire to relieve the shrouded city. Yet as the weeks dragged by, the ash pall showed no sign of moving, leaving the city’s inhabitants in perpetual twilight. Panic began to set in, and priests and governors alike found their calls for calm falling on deaf ears. At the height of the crisis, salvation finally arrived when a delegation of magi proposed using their spells to shift the cloud away from the region. Magi were mostly untrusted in Cote de Saur, as were all users of magic, due to reptiles becoming skittish or even aggressive in their presence. But with a total collapse of civil order seemingly imminent, Testudo’s rulers were willing to try anything. The amount of magic required to shift such a vast amount of ash was far beyond what any of the magi had attempted to harness before. It proved nearly beyond their abilities, but with an immense effort they were just able to move the great ash cloud away from the city. The winds of magic seemed to push the cloud towards the nearby mountains that formed the headwaters of the great rivers that fed the floodplains, and the exhausted magi were more than willing to take the path of least resistance. Shortly afterwards, the ash clouds settled over the snowy peaks, giving Testudo its first touch of sunlight in more than a month. The magi were feted throughout the city, though since seven of their number had died during the ritual, their own feelings were somewhat muted. The celebrations however, were short lived. A few weeks after the skies cleared, a devastating flash flood tore down the rivers of the floodplains. The ash the magi had moved had settled in the mountains, darkening the snowfields and causing them to melt. The resulting meltwater had engorged the headways of the rivers until they burst, sending an immense torrent of water downstream. This wave carved a terrible path through the floodplains, inundating villages and farmland, and carrying off countless people and animals. The vast amounts of ash dumped in the mountains had mixed with the meltwater, causing the rivers to turn black. In the wave of the floods, great quantities of stinking black mud thick with dissolved ash were left across once prosperous farmland. Despite the scale of the disaster, the inhabitants of the Megalo Empire had little choice but to return to their fields. The granaries were running close to empty and taxes, in the form of food, had to be paid. The survivors consoled themselves that the mud deposited by the flood would at least be fertile, and indeed, the first crops of thera planted grew with astonishing speed. It was at harvest time that this was proved to be a cruel illusion. The seed pods, when cracked open, revealed a black and foul smelling mass inside. Across the length and breadth of the Empire, most of the harvest was affected. This was disaster enough, but when some people, driven by hunger, tried to eat the blighted seeds, the situation became immeasurably worse. Those who ate the black seeds fell ill with a dreadful plague that spread with terrifying speed. Desperate city officials tried to quarantine affected districts, to no avail. Hordes of refugees fled from the river cities, seeking food in the countryside, whilst behind them their former homes became choked with piles of corpses. This proved the death knell of the Empire. Without food taxes, the Empire could not redistribute food to relieve the crisis. The great armies that had been raised could no longer be paid either, and so the soldiers turned to ravaging the regions they were based in, raiding villages for food or demanding protection money. Megalo withdrew to its old borders, abandoning the remainder of the Empire to its fate. Populations plummeted, and whole sections of the formally prosperous floodplains were abandoned. Most of the cities of the former Empire survived, but in drastically reduced circumstances. This had been an attack that the Seraphon had been unable to defend against. The villages and towns nearest their jungles were largely spared the blight, as they were far from the tainted floodplains, but soon hordes of starving refugees, many infected with plague, began to arrive in the area. The Seraphon themselves, and their war beasts, proved immune to the plague, but when the Seraphon began to investigate the diseased humans, they immediately detected the stench of Chaos. Far from being a series of natural disasters, the collapse of Megalo was shown to be a machination of the Ruinous Powers, who had orchestrated the downfall of Cote de Saur when their armies were thwarted. The revelation shook the Seraphon, but especially Fril’neq. He had prided himself on holding back the forces of Chaos, but now his efforts were shown to have been in vain. The Skinks warned that they had invited the disaster by acting without the direction of the Slaan, but both sides quickly realized that recriminations would have to wait. If the humans infected with the Chaos plague reached the villages that supplied the Seraphon with reptiles, the supply of war beasts would be threatened. Knowing that there was no way to save the infected, the Seraphon ordered a great purge. Fril’neq detailed one of his best lieutenants, Arrthus, to cull the tainted humans, and the plague was stopped from spreading outside the floodplains. Recovery was slow. Much of the floodplains had been depopulated, with some cities being completely abandoned. Others clung onto survival on the very edges, trading their accumulated wealth from better days for food from untainted land. Although Megalo fared the best, having the most treasure to trade, even the former capital of the empire found itself struggling. What trade there was continued to be interrupted by bands of former soldiers, who raided village and caravan alike with equal enthusiasm. Joining them were bands of nomads, who, having been pushed to the fringes by the expansion of the Megalo empire, took full advantage of the empire’s collapse. The continuing chaos in the floodplains at first did not concern the Seraphon, focused as they were on their continuing war in the south. The settlements nearby the jungle that continued to provide the Seraphon with war beasts had been untouched by the plague, so as far as the Seraphon were concerned, nothing should have changed. However, to their surprise, the supply of tithed reptiles began to rapidly decrease. Villages which had provided nearly a dozen healthy beasts each year before the collapse of the floodplains were now gifting only one. Puzzled, the Skinks, who typically handled diplomacy with the nearby settlements, sought out humans for answers. The answer, it turned out, was fairly simple. The settlements near the jungle, though far from the floodplains, had relied upon the distant cities for trade. There was no point in taking the trouble to breed huge numbers of reptiles if there was no market to sell them to. The trade network which had carried the great beasts from the jungle hinterland all the way to the floodplains had completely collapsed. So the herders had culled their flocks and now only kept enough to farm the land and tithe to the Seraphon. Once again debate raged in the heart of the jungle. The Seraphon remained divided; the Skinks argued for action, claiming that if order were restored in the floodplains, the flow of war beasts would increase once more. The Saurus however were not in favour of any movement of forces away from the south, arguing that it was pointless helping the humans if the armies of Chaos were not held back. Eventually, Fril’neq broke the deadlock. Humbled by his failure to stop the spread of Chaos, the ancient Saurus agreed with the Skink’s plan, and instructed several cohorts to move into the human lands and restore order. Their first target was the bandits. Though mainly comprised of former soldiers, they were no match for battle-hardened Saurus warriors astride war beasts. Nomad raids sharply decreased as well, as the Seraphon made no distinction between nomad and bandit. Trading routes were patrolled, both on the ground and in the air. The sight of Teradons, mounted by Skinks, circling on the high thermal currents became a common sight over Cote de Saur. There remained little direct contact between the Seraphon and the humans they were protecting however. Most humans were understandably reluctant to approach the alien creatures, and the Saurus typically paid no attention to the humans at all, focused instead on their ongoing campaign against the bandit warlords. This meant that the Seraphon were usually glimpsed at a distance, and almost never near a village or city. Many thought them to be a myth. Dealing with the bandit menace however proved to be by far the easiest of the tasks that the Seraphon had to deal with. The far larger issue was the legacy of Chaos in the floodplains, most notably the pestilent mud that remained on much of the best farmland. Until it was dealt with, safeguarding the trade routes meant little since there were few people able to trade. The Skinks came up with a novel solution. Whilst the Saurus continued their efforts to stamp out the bandit armies, the Skinks began to plant crops on the afflicted fields closest to the cities. The remaining inhabitants of the cities watched their efforts with confusion and alarm; they well remembered what pestilent fruit the fields had brought forth before. But once the crops ripened, the Skinks sent hordes of Bastiladons and Stegadons into the fields to devour the harvest. Immune to the effects of the plague, the celestial bodies of the reptiles effectively leeched the taint out of the plants, leaving behind only their dung, which held no trace of the blight. The process had to be repeated several times to draw all of the infectious material out of the soil, but eventually, the land would be cleansed. Only when a fresh crop showed no sign of Chaos taint would the Skinks depart, pausing only to leave a few harvested bundles of seed pods near the gates of the closest city, to show the humans that the field was safe once more. Though effective, this process was understandably slow. The advantage was however that once demonstrated, humans could undertake it as well. The practice began to spread throughout the floodplains, and demand for working reptiles increased as a result. With food supplies and trade improving, populations began to recover, and the flocks on which the Seraphon were dependant started to grow once more. The situation, it seemed, had stabilized. Then, devastating news came from the south. Four Saurus cohorts, weakened by a lack of war beasts, had been overrun and destroyed. The remaining Seraphon had managed to plug the gap, but not before tens of thousands of berserk followers of the Blood God had managed to push through. The tide of Chaos was now sweeping north, into the nomad grasslands, beyond which lay the lowland floodplains. Stretched thin, the main Seraphon armies in the south could not spare any forces to halt the invasion. The only Seraphon available to defend the lowlands were the forces engaging the scattered bandit armies. However, they were hopelessly outnumbered. More were needed, but the Starpools in the depths of Dane’tre were exhausted. The cities of the floodplains, though they were recovering, were still mere shadows of their former selves, and unable to provide assistance. The nomad tribes of the grasslands proved to be no hindrance, simply scattering in the face of the Khornate band, which seemed determined to press on towards the floodplains. It was as the corrupted host emerged from the grasslands that the storm erupted. Bolts of lightning shot down from a cloudless sky, few at first, but then an ever increasing tempo. From a distance, the Seraphon cohorts that had rallied for a final stand before the floodplains glimpsed golden forms moving throughout the Chaos host. Wherever they went, the warriors of the Blood God fell. Though Fril’neq had never seen their like before, the Saurus reasoned quickly that such questions could wait until later. Raising his spear high, he ordered the charge. Thus it was that the lands of Cote de Saur became known to the forces of Order. The Age of Sigmar had begun. Notes of Interest The Starpools Deep in the heart of Dane’tre lies the Temple of the Sun, a great stone city built to honour the memory of Rana. Constructed over centuries, the vast structure houses forges, workshops and kitchens, where the Skinks and Kroxigor prepare weapons, equipment and food. At its centre is the preserved body of Rana himself, and before him, a series of stone reservoirs into which raw celestial energy pours. Called the Starpools, these are where the Skinks shape the power of the stars into fresh troops for the armies of the Seraphon. The Ancient Ones When the first reptiles were gifted to the humans of Cote de Saur, the beasts were still celestial creatures, just like the Seraphon themselves. With each successive generation however, the celestial nature of the reptiles diminished, until it was almost extinguished. Today the only trace of their celestial heritage is their immunity to the influence of Chaos. Only those reptiles called forth by Rana remain true celestial creatures. Most have perished over the long years of war, and only a handful remain. Those who remain are accorded great respect by the Seraphon, and some are even worshipped in their own right as living embodiments of the Slaan’s will. The Bastque The vast grassland steppes in the south of Cote de Saur are home to a variety of nomadic tribes, all of which practice pastoral herding of reptiles. The Bastque, who herd Bastiladon, are a typical example. What makes their tribe noteworthy is their practice of utilizing their Bastiladons as mobile houses. A family will construct a dwelling on the back of their Bastiladon and then spend almost their entire lives atop the animal. Children are always born on the back of their family’s Bastiladon; to do otherwise is to invite great misfortune. A man who wishes to marry must present his prospective bride with a suitable reptile for the two of them to live upon, so the rearing of Bastiladons is a keen focus for young men. The Bastque also use their beasts as mobile fortresses, with the largest and strongest animals having small fortifications built upon their backs, from behind which tribesmen can rain arrows down upon any attackers. Aqshy Though the Realm of Fire is aptly named, only those parts closest to the centre of Aqshy show signs of extreme volcanism. Outside of these regions, Aqshy is surprisingly fertile, its volcanic soils producing lush, humid jungles the equal of those found in the Realm of Life. More common however are the steppe grasslands that border the central deserts. These green oceans stretch for thousands of miles, and their sweltering expanses can prove to be as deadly as any desert. The Dons Megalo today is ruled by a ruthless group of major families known collectively as the Dons. Although an Emperor still sits upon the Scaled Throne in the Imperial Palace, his position is entirely at the Don’s discretion. Prior to the collapse of the Empire the Dons had headed many of the city’s less legitimate businesses, and it was widely rumoured that they had controlled most of the criminal underworld in Megalo. During the collapse, with the Imperial armies scattered and unwilling to fight, the Dons offered the Emperor protection…for a price. Since then, the Dons have continued to be the power behind the throne in Megalo, and there is little that happens in the great city without their knowledge or sanction. The Badlands Despite the continuing efforts of human and Seraphon alike, much of the former farmland of the floodplains remains tainted. Several cities were abandoned entirely during the plague years, and have yet to be resettled. The land around them is devoid of life, an endless expanse of stinking mud flats. The only movement is the occasional trading vessel on the rivers, though many sailors who have made the passage through the Badlands swear they have glimpsed distant figures on the mud-flats, and some even claim to have seen these creatures up close, describing them as shambling corpses. Most scoff at such tales, but if there was ever a place on Cote de Saur where the dead would walk, it would be the Badlands. Regions of Cote de Saur Dane’tre The sprawling jungle of Dane’tre dominates the eastern regions of Cote de Saur. Exactly how far the jungle stretches is unknown to the human inhabitants of the region, though its exact size is largely irrelevant, as even without the presence of the Seraphon in its depths, Dane’tre would be as impassable a barrier as any mountain range, even for a seasoned jungle explorer. This is due to the nature of Aqshy, the aptly named Realm of Fire. Whereas the jungles of Ghyran, the Realm of Life, are hot and humid places, the jungles of Aqshy are sweltering. The heat of Aqshy can be tolerated well enough in the open air, but when trapped by a dense canopy, the atmosphere becomes oppressively hot. This is of little concern to the Seraphon however, who positively relish the heat of Dane’tre. From the earliest days of their arrival in Aqshy, the Seraphon have called Dane’tre home, and they will stand no trespass within its boundaries. Although from the outside the jungle looks completely unchanged by the presence of the Seraphon, it is within the depths of the jungle that the greatest changes have taken place. If one was to somehow fly above Dane’tre, they would see faint lines in the canopy, all leading back to a central point. These are the only visible signs of a network of roads that covers most of the jungle, allowing Seraphon armies to move rapidly through its normally choking vegetation. Reptiles tithed by the nearby villages walk these roads too, heading to the central hub of Dane’tre, the now sprawling city of Tlaxxili: The Temple of the Sun. Tlaxxili began out of necessity. The body of Rana, the great Slaan who had summoned the Seraphon to Aqshy, had to be preserved and protected from the elements. Thus the first structure in Tlaxxili was a simple stone shelter, with the mummified body of Rana seated within it. It was only when the Skink priests discovered that they could use Rana’s body as a conduit to draw upon celestial energy however that Tlaxxili’s construction truly began. The raw energy that flowed forth from Rana had to be stored, as it took time for the priests to shape it into new Seraphon. A series of stone reservoirs were quickly constructed, into which the holy energy flowed. The scintillating reflections of energy dancing across the ceiling of the chamber gave the reservoirs their name: The Starpools. Tlaxxili however would never have become much more than a glorified storehouse without another important development: religion. From their first moments on Cote de Saur the Seraphon had felt a deep sense of respect towards Rana and it did not take long before rituals honouring the dead Slaan began to be performed. At first these were simple offerings from the Skinks, placed before Rana’s mummified body as thanks for the celestial energy that he brought forth. But soon the Saurus were bringing offerings of skulls to place before Rana as well, seeking to prove that they were carrying out the Slaan’s wishes by waging war. When the Skinks declared that they would raise a great temple to Rana, honouring the Slaan as a god-like being, the source of life, the Saurus immediately began construction of their own temple, where they would honour Rana the warlord, who had called forth his armies to wage unceasing war against the forces of Chaos. Today Tlaxxili is dotted with temples, each honouring Rana in a different aspect. At the Temple of the Mists, a statue of Rana lies half submerged in a pool, where those who seek aid in moving unseen will give offerings. The Temple of Thunder shows Rana calling forth a roaring Carnosaur, and is frequented by those who ride the great beasts into battle. In the Temple of the Winds, Terradon riders seek the Slaan’s blessing before embarking on long flights, placing offerings before a statue of Rana soaring upon his palanquin. The three greatest temples however dwarf all others. The Temple of the Stars, built by the Skinks to honour Rana the Creator, stretches up towards the heavens, its terraced walls covered with verdant plants and waterfalls. A mighty pyramid stands opposite, the Temple of Fire, where Saurus warriors offer trophies and captives from battle to Rana the Destroyer. But even these two edifices are nothing next to the Temple of the Sun, where Rana’s body lies, surrounded by a hundred Starpools. The heart of Tlaxxili is an immense stone chamber, its roof supported by colossal pillars, lit perpetually by the soft glow of the Starpools. At the centre lies Rana, his body placed upon his palanquin, and above the Slaan an opening to the sky, so that Rana may always be bathed either in sunlight or starlight. The Saurus Highlands Situated just to the west of Dane’tre lie a scattered conglomeration of human settlements situated primarily in jungle river valleys. The hilly region is known collectively as the Saurus Highlands, yet it has never been unified under any central power. Even the largest towns lack the population to command large armies, and the rugged terrain promotes isolation rather than unification. Between settled regions lie stands of dense jungle, intersected only by ancient roads cut through the rainforest and the rivers that flow down into the distant floodplains. Wooden barges bearing reptilian cargo are a common sight on the waterways, as are great herds being driven along the jungle roads towards the distant markets of the floodplain cities. By far the largest industry in the region is the pastoral herding of reptiles. This is hardly surprising, as the Highlands’ inhabitants were the first to receive the gift of beasts from the Seraphon. However, the region is also well suited to breeding the great reptiles, especially the great stands of jungle that carpet the hills of the river valleys. Herds of Bastiladon and Stegadon will graze these areas for most of the year, clearing the thick vegetation that carpets the jungle floor. These stands of rainforest are less dense than the primeval forest of Dane’tre however, as the human inhabitants of the region cut down selective trees for timber, and to open up the canopy to promote the growth of saplings and ground-cover, which their herds graze upon. Cold Ones dart through the trees on the edge of the herds, guarding them from any marauding feral predators, a threat resulting from young Carnosaurs that escaped their enclosures before being properly trained. Though most such escapees are hunted down quickly, some manage to evade their hunters and escape into the denser jungle in more remote areas of the highlands, far from civilised lands. Hunger will drive them to raid the boundaries of settled land, and desperation will lead them to take on any potential prey. Even a fully grown Bastiladon is no match for a feral Carnosaur. Repeated attacks in a region will typically lead to the local headman posting a bounty for the beast’s head. Despite the rewards, tracking and killing a rogue Carnosaur is extremely difficult. Beyond the areas that are commonly logged and grazed, the jungle is every bit as dense as that of Dane’tre, though thankfully not as oppressively hot, due to the higher altitude of the Highlands. Progress through these primeval forests is next to impossible. Machetes are required to slash through the choking undergrowth, swarms of insects attack any exposed skin, and many plants are armed with vicious spines, or potent toxins. Should they overcome these obstacles, prospective hunters must then somehow kill a predator ten times their size, armed with claws capable of ripping open a Stegadon’s hide, and jaws large enough to bisect a man in full armour. Unsurprisingly, offered bounties are always extremely high. Despite their proximity to Cote de Saur, the inhabitants of the Highlands have little contact with the Seraphon. Apart from the yearly tithing, when the Skinks will emerge from the jungle to claim their share of reptiles, the Seraphon are rarely seen, since their main battlegrounds lie to the south, in the Crimson Steppes. It is common knowledge in the scattered villages that something lives deep in the rainforest, and that if you travel too far up the rivers, you will never return, but beyond that there is little more than legend and stories. It is only when the Highlands are under threat that the Seraphon are seen. Because the Seraphon are so reliant upon the beasts provided by the region, they consider the entire area to be under their protection. The nature of the invader is entirely irrelevant, as best demonstrated by the incident known as Monitor’s Folly. The floodplains city of Varana, situated near the foothills of the northern Highlands, had long been a major hub for trading reptiles. Every year great herds would be driven to the city, where they would be sold in huge open air markets built on surrounding fields. From there, the beasts would be loaded onto ships to be transported to Dracport or Mosa, and from then to the rest of Cote de Saur. The trade had made Varna wealthy, but the devastating Black Flood had shattered the city’s prosperity, just as it had across the entire region, Recovery was slow, and even when trade resumed and Varana’s wealth began to grow once more, it grew too slowly for some. In the 11th year of the Age of Sigmar, Varana suddenly announced that it was annexing most of the northern Saurus Highlands. There were official protests from the nearby city-states, but nothing more in the way of opposition, largely because the region had already been taken. The annexation announcement occurred two weeks after the Highlands had already been invaded and secured by a large army under the command of General Monitor, a mercenary captain who had been hired by a conglomerate of wealthy Varanian nobles and merchants to annex the area. Monitor, who liked to claim that any agreement with him was ironclad, carried out his instructions to the letter, marching his columns along the jungle trails and utilising a fleet of canoes to rapidly occupy the area. The Varanian ruling council, most of whom had no idea the annexation was taking place, was then presented with a fait accompli and had little choice but to ratify it. One member of the council, Lady Gowana, was declared governor of the new territories and was dispatched at once to her new domain. It didn’t take long for the new governor to realise that something had gone terribly wrong. After a few days of travel through the dense jungle, her entourage reached the first village, only to find no sign of General Monitor’s troops, nor indeed of anyone. A quick search of buildings revealed a few terrified villagers in hiding, but they were of little help in tracking down the missing soldiers, merely stammering that the “jungle guardians” had taken them. When asked if these guardians had also claimed their fellow villagers, they shook their heads vehemently, insisting that the other inhabitants of the village had fled into the hills when the guardians came. Unable to accept that more than ten thousand soldiers could simply vanish, Lady Gowana elected to push further inland, hoping that there had simply been some misunderstanding. Pressing further inland, Gowana found the same story repeated in every village and town she passed through. It was only when she reached the largest settlement in the area that the fate of General Monitor’s mercenaries was revealed. In the centre of the deserted town stood a grim monument: a great pyramid of piled human skulls. Each head was still wearing a steel helmet, and atop the pile, on a pike thrust into the grisly heap, the head of General Monitor himself. Shortly after Lady Gowana returned to Varana, the city state withdrew all claims of annexation to the Saurus Highlands. Odell dug the paddle in hard, feeling the canoe surge beneath him. The current he had fought against ever since leaving the village several hours ago had thankfully dissipated, allowing him to finally pick up speed. He was careful to stay well away from the banks however, wary of the choking vegetation that had strangled the river’s flow. This far from the village, there was no way of know what was lurking within the tangled jungle. He cursed his own bravado under his breath for a moment. It had been a foolish boast the night before, said out of a desire to impress the girls sitting around the fire with him, and nothing serious. But his friends had heard it too, and they weren’t about to let him forget it. And so to save face he was now in the middle of the wilderness, leagues away from home, about to do the one thing everyone’s parents told them not to do. The jungle closed in around him as he rounded a turn in the river. The trees on either bank had become steadily closer, their branches stretching out to enclose the water in a green tunnel. As the canoe passed under their boughs, Odell struggled hard against an overwhelming desire to turn around. This was the boundary the elders spoke of, where the domain of man ended and the domain of the jungle daemons began. Odell had laughed at such stories in the light of day, but now, as the light faded and the suffocating jungle closed in, they didn’t seem quite so funny. A shape caught his eye on the bank. Standing just ahead of him, on the edge of the water, was an ancient statue. Vines and creepers had grown over much of it, making it look as if it had been there for centuries. Whoever had carved it had painted it in striking colours, and the glint of gold could be seen even in the canopy’s gloom. The elders had mentioned this statue as well, saying that it marked the edge of the daemon’s domain. As he glided closer, heart beating like a drum, Odell was able to make out the features of the statue, and his eyes went wide. It was carved in the shape of a monstrous creature, half man, half lizard, and was like nothing he’d ever seen before. Its eyes seemed to follow him as his canoe drifted past. As the statue passed behind him, Odell let out a breath he didn’t realise he’d been holding in. Relief flooded into him. He’d done what he’d said he’d do, journey into the daemon’s domain, and now he could return home. Swinging the canoe around, Odell grinned broadly as he pictured basking in the admiration of the girls and his friends. The river was narrow here, barely wide enough to turn, and his canoe scraped against the bank as he brought it about. Still grinning, he glanced up to see how far away the statue was, so he could boast of how far he had come. The statue was standing beside him. A moment later the jungle silence was shattered by an ear-splitting scream of pure terror. A few seconds passed before the canoe shot out from under the canopy, the young man inside feverishly paddling, tears streaming from his eyes as he tried desperately to escape. The canoe practically skimmed over the water, carrying Odell back down the river and away from the jungle. He didn’t dare pause, not even to look behind him, until several hours later when the village was in sight and the darkness of the canopy was nothing but a distant memory. The Age of Sigmar The impact of the rediscovery of Cote de Saur by outside forces was not immediately apparent. The arrival of the Celestial Vindicators in the city of Saurburg caused a minor sensation, as Sigmarite worshipers flocked onto the streets to see and touch the warriors of the Storm God. But the Stormcast did not stay for long. Their deployment was part of a much larger operation, focused around driving Khornate forces away from the newly settled city of Hammerhal-Aqshy. To that end, several Stormhosts were pushing hard towards the Crimson Steppe from the south, driving the blood warriors before them. The Vindicators’ deployment had been a pincer movement, designed to cut off the Chaos forces’ line of retreat. As it was, there was little need for this. Fril’neq’s forces had moved south in the wake of their battle alongside the Vindicators, to bolster the Seraphon cohorts still in the field. But in fact, the battle had already turned decisively in their favour. Harried by the Stormhosts from the south, the Khornate forces were trapped between the unstoppable advance of Sigmar’s warriors and the immovable line of the celestial Seraphon. With no avenue of escape, the frenzied hosts of the Blood God grew increasingly desperate, and what semblance of order they had once possessed broke down completely. Seeking the favour of their dark gods, the blood warriors hurled themselves against their foes, but these disorganised attacks could not break the lines. Over the course of several days, the Chaos host was completely destroyed, the only survivors being those taken by the Seraphon to be sacrificed at the Temple of Fire. For the first time since they had come to Aqshy, the Seraphon found themselves without a foe to fight. Thanks to the advance of the Stormcast and their Freeguild allies, the corrupted lands south of the Crimson Steppe had been purged, removing the power base of the Khornate armies. The Seraphon had raided this region countless times over the hundreds of years they had been in Aqshy, but had always been forced to turn back, outnumbered by vast numbers of crazed berserkers. Now, with the threat eliminated, the Seraphon began the long trek back to Dane’tre. For many of the veteran Saurus, it had been countless decades since they had seen Tlaxxili. Some had not laid eyes upon Rana since they day they had been born from the Starpools. As the Seraphon departed, so too did the Stormhosts. When the Celestial Vindicators returned to Hammerhal-Aqshy, they brought with them tales of the strange lands they had found, in particular the great reptiles that inhabited the region. Most found the stories an interesting distraction, but a few saw opportunity. Countless numbers of immigrants and refugees arrived in Hammerhal-Aqshy every day, and with the way to Cote de Saur now clear, some began to trek north to the newly discovered lands. They were warmly welcomed when they did arrive, since Cote de Saur’s population levels had still not recovered following the Black Flood. However, they were not the first new arrivals to the floodplain cities. When news of Cote de Saur reached the ears of Vice Admiral Grimgrin of Barak-Thryng, whose fleet had been refuelling in Hammerhal-Aqshy, the Kharadron wasted no time in ordering his airships to the region. If he could reach Cote de Saur before any other Kharadron, he could claim exclusive trading rights, and the domesticated reptiles found there would be worth a fortune elsewhere in the realms, especially the great Carnosaurs, which any lord would desire to have at their disposal. Thanks to the admirals’ quick action, Barak-Thryng quickly established themselves as the preeminent trading company in Cote de Saur, and the skyport’s airships were soon a regular sight in the skies over the floodplain cities. The arrival of the Kharadron at first was barely noticed by the Seraphon. When the cohorts had returned to Tlaxxili, they had brought with them great columns of prisoners, all of whom were marched into the stifling jungle bound for the sacrificial alter in the Temple of Fire. Hundreds died in the sweltering heat of the rainforest, but their bodies were still hauled to the alters to be offered to Rana in his aspect of the Destroyer. For those who survived the trek, they were offered the rare privilege of seeing Tlaxxili at its most magnificent, shortly before they too were sacrificed to the Slann. The celebrations in the temple city lasted for over a week, during which time the blood on the Alter of Fire never had a chance to dry. In the wake of the celebrations however, problems soon arose. The society the Seraphon had built up since their arrival in Aqshy had been one almost entirely centred around war. Tlaxxili existed only to provide support for continued fighting, such as food, weapons and training. The temples to Rana offered blessings to warriors heading off to fight, but little else. Even the worship of Rana himself was tied to the eternal war, since the primary purpose of the rituals surrounding the body of the Slann was to produce re-enforcements. Without an enemy to fight, the Seraphon’s society quite literally stopped working. The plazas, temples and storehouses were packed with Saurus who would previously have been out on the battlefield, but who now had no purpose. Most continued to train out of habit, running through endless combat drills to occupy their time. It didn’t take long for some of these sessions to turn violent, the Saurus testing each other’s strength through increasingly bloody bouts. A few Old Blood commanders even began sanctioning the events, erecting temporary fighting arenas to try and contain their warriors’ aggression. For the Skinks, the situation was hardly better. Their day to day activities in Tlaxxili slowly ground to a halt with the coming of peace. Half-built weapons lay discarded in workshops, and the training of new war beasts ceased entirely. Even their most sacred ritual, the drawing of celestial energy through the body of Rana, was halted. New warriors were hardly needed when there was no war to fight. The great doors to the Temple of the Sun were closed, leaving Rana alone, his body illuminated by the scintillating glow of the Starpools. It was in the midst of this atmosphere of lethargy and escalating violence that news reached Tlaxxili of an incursion into the Saurus Highlands. Having established his trading network across the floodplain cities, Vice Admiral Grimgrin had learned that the source of the domesticated reptiles he was buying in such large numbers was in fact the jungle valleys to the east of Cote de Saur. The admiral, with keen business acumen, realised that he was trading with the wrong end of the supply chain. It would be far cheaper to buy the reptiles directly from the Highland villages where they were raised, as opposed to purchasing the beasts when they had already passed through several sets of hands. With typical Kharadron flair, the admiral ordered a fleet of airships to head to the Highlands, aiming to shock and awe the inhabitants into signing any offered contracts. In previous times, the Kharadron’s entry into the Saurus Highlands might have been ignored by the Seraphon. Unlike General Monitor’s ill-fated expedition, the Kharadron didn’t seek to establish control over the region; they merely wished to trade, which the Seraphon had always allowed to happen. But two factors made conflict between the Kharadron and Seraphon almost inevitable. The first was that the duardin had sent a major military force into the Highlands, as opposed to simply sending trading envoys. This constituted a threat, which the Seraphon could not abide. The second was that the commanders in Tlaxxili were willing to grasp at anything that might relieve pressure in the temple city. Giving their fractious cohorts an enemy to fight was exactly what they needed. The first battle of the conflict was a disaster for the Kharadron. Grimgrin had landed his fleet next to a remote village in the Highlands in order to carry out trade negotiations, and was in the process of loading reptiles onto his airships when the Seraphon erupted from the nearby jungle. Despite the initial shock, the admiral responded with commendable speed, ordering his aether-vessels to cast off immediately to provide aerial support, whilst his warriors on the ground organised into gun-lines. They only managed to get off a single volley however before the Seraphon closed with them. The doughty duardin gave a good account of themselves, their aether-weapons felling countless Seraphon, but without the advantage of range, the situation was hopeless. Grimgrin’s last order was for his aether-vessels to retreat, moments before the admiral was torn apart by a rampaging Carnosaur. Retribution was swift. For the loss of their leader and damages to Kharadron property, the East Igneous Company declared a grudge against the Seraphon and mobilized for all-out war. The company’s coffers were full to bursting thanks to their monopoly over trade in Cote de Saur, and soon fresh re-enforcements from Barak Thryng were arriving at the sky docks across the region. Flush with their initial success, and due in no small part to their eagerness for battle, the Seraphon rushed to engage the Kharadron in the floodplains cities themselves. This proved to be a catastrophic mistake. On open ground, without the cover of the jungle to mask their advance, the ordered ranks of the Seraphon were cut to pieces by aether-shot and cannon. Stunned at the sudden reversal, the Seraphon retreated back into the Highlands. What followed these initial engagements was a series of clashes across the region as the Kharadron fought to secure the Highlands against further attack. Trading vessels would touch down outside a village, whereupon masses of Kharadron troops would deploy, establishing a perimeter around the landing zone. Scouting Gunhaulers would prowl above the surrounding jungle whilst reptiles were loaded up for transport on larger airships. All too often, Seraphon forces would be reported nearby, at which point the aether-vessels would cease loading and instead bombard the jungle with incendiaries. Troops would then be sent in to locate and neutralise the threat so that loading could recommence. It was such missions that the Kharadron Arkanauts began to dread, because in the depths of the stifling jungle, surrounded by suffocating vegetation, the Seraphon were in their element. Following their disastrous defeat on the floodplains, the Seraphon had been forced to adapt their tactics to meet their new foe. Whereas against the chaotic ranks of Khornate berserkers, the Seraphon had adopted dense formations of troops that could support one another, now the Seraphon turned to favouring small units in ambush. Individual Saurus warriors would conceal themselves in the undergrowth, waiting motionless for their foe to get close, before striking in an instant. Chameleon skinks would shadow their targets, waiting for the moment when they could fire a poisoned dart into exposed flesh. The objective of such attacks was to lure the Kharadron deeper into the jungle, away from their supporting gunships, whereupon the ambush would be sprung. Sometimes even then the Kharadron were able to fight their way out, such was the power of their weapons and armour. But it was a rare Arkanaut squad that returned from the jungle unscathed. For the inhabitants of the Highlands, the war presented them with a conflict of interest. Trade was the lifeblood of the region, and the Kharadron offered goods never before seen in Cote de Saur. The trade imbalance was extreme to the point of absurdity; a worthless trinket from Hammerhal-Aqshy could be traded for a fully grown and trained Cold One, worth a thousand times what the Kharadron paid. Yet for the locals, exotic objects and improved tools offered an irresistible temptation. A woman wearing a dress of Azyrite silk turned heads where-ever she went, and a canoe with a cog-engine made travelling between villages quick and easy. For the prestige and status such goods offered, the trade seemed fair. Trade with the Kharadron however placed in jeopardy the relationship between the locals and the Seraphon. The annual tithe of reptiles to the Seraphon was an integral part of every herder’s year, but as soon as the Kharadron discovered the practice, they demanded an immediate halt. Quite aside from the fact that the tithe aided their enemies, the duardin were horrified at the prospect of watching potential profits walk away into the jungle. However, most villagers baulked at the prospect of ceasing the tithe, believing that it placated the “jungle daemons”, who would descend upon their homes and devour them if the offerings were not given. Attempts by the Kharadron to portray these beliefs as ignorant superstition were largely unsuccessful. Only by threatening to cease trading with any village found to be continuing the tithe had any effect, but in most cases, the practice simply continued in secret. As the war dragged on and casualties amongst the Kharadron continued to mount, discontent over the ever increasing cost of the conflict become louder and louder. The East Igneous Company had originally entered the Highlands to drive down costs, but losses from fighting the Seraphon were now outweighing profits. It was clear that the current strategies could not bring about a successful end to the conflict, but for the famously stubborn Kharadron of Barak Thryng, withdrawal was out of the question. The trouble was that the war had no clear objective beyond fighting the Seraphon. Without a defined path to victory, the war could drag on indefinitely. Ironically, it would be the war’s length that gave the Kharadron their chance to end it. The Seraphon had started the war with a surplus of troops, and given that the fighting had mostly revolved around small scale skirmishes, there had been little need for re-enforcement. Even when casualties reached higher numbers, the Skink priests simply began using up the stored celestial energy in the Starpools to summon new Seraphon. Only in the later stages of the war did the Starpools run dry, and one fateful night the Skinks began to once again enact the rituals that would allow them to channel starlight through the body of Rana. This action was to have disastrous consequences. To every Kharadron aether-vessel over the Highlands, the stream of starlight entering Tlaxxili was effectively a beacon guiding them directly to the temple city. The Skink priests only realised their mistake when the dark shapes of duardin airships suddenly blotted out the stars above Tlaxxili. At first the Kharadron assumed they had found an ancient ruin, but as soon as they noticed Seraphon moving through the city, they moved to attack. Despite its importance, Tlaxxili had no defences, the city having always relied upon the jungle to protect it from attack. Against a flotilla of Kharadron gunships, the city stood no chance. The first aethercannon volley demolished the Temple of Fire, bringing the great sacrificial alter of Rana crashing down onto Sunblood Plaza. Bombs rained down across the city, gouging huge craters in the mosaic pathways that connected the temple complexes. On the ground, panicked Skinks tried desperately to seek shelter, whilst the few Saurus in the city tried to mount a defence. Some even tried to climb the temple pyramids to try and engage the Kharadron, but they were easily picked off by duardin Skywardens, who circled their aether-vessels in protective formations. Only when the Kharadron ran low on ammunition did they break off the attack, leaving behind them a shattered city. The Kharadron captains who had carried out the raid had returned home to a kuzzbryndal, or hero’s welcome. With the enemy’s base of operations now located, the duardin now had a clear objective which could bring about a successful end to the war. The East Igneous Company immediately began to marshal forces for an all-out attack, designed to obliterate Tlaxxili entirely. The company’s coffers were emptied to call in re-enforcements from Barak Thryng, and soon a vast fleet of aether-vessels, their holds stuffed with grim duardin warriors, was docked in the skies above Cote de Saur. Under the command of Admiral Byrkütte, the armada represented the single greatest concentration of military force ever seen in the region. Facing the Kharadron was the combined might of every Seraphon cohort in Cote de Saur. News of the raid on Tlaxxili had roused the Seraphon to an incandescent anger only seen once before, when the forces of Chaos had struck down Rana centuries ago. Knowing that the duardin were certain to return, Hi’pay’sha and Fril’neq had channelled the anger of their forces into action. Barricades were constructed across Tlaxxili’s mosaic pathways, and slit trenches dug alongside the plazas to shelter from aerial attack. Squadrons of Terradon and Ripperdactyl riders were stationed in the surrounding jungle canopy, where they could emerge to engage aether-vessels at close range. The temple structures were rebuilt, their summits fortified with thick stone parapets, behind which were positioned the irreplaceable arcane Engines, each of them thrumming with celestial power. For the first time in their war against the Kharadron, the Seraphon would have the power to bring down the dreaded aether-vessels. Two months after the Kharadron raid on Tlaxxili, Admiral Byrkütte’s armada set sail. What followed would change Cote de Saur forever. Notes of Interest The East Igneous Company Since their arrival in AS89, the Kharadron of Barak-Thryng have managed to establish a stranglehold on trade between Cote de Saur and the outside world. Docking ports have been established in each of the major floodplains cities, and each day airships arrive carrying immigrants and trade goods from Hammerhal-Aqshy, before departing with reptiles restrained below decks. The company that oversees these operations, the East Igneous Company established by Vice Admiral Grimgrin, wields immense power in Cote de Saur. Any who seek to defy them must not only contend with an immediate cessation of trade, but the swift arrival of Kharadron aether-vessels, bristling with cannon and torpedoes. The Seekers After the Seraphon cohorts returned to Dane’tre, there were some amongst them who advocated leaving Cote de Saur to find new foes to fight. If they travelled far enough afield, they reasoned, the Great Enemy would be found once more, and the battle could begin anew. A few such groups set out from Tlaxxili prior to the battles in the Saurus Highlands. They would eventually end up fighting on far-flung battlefields across the Mortal Realms, including the ill-fated attack on Shyish that sought to prevent the completion of Nagash’s Black Pyramid during the Time of Tribulation. Seraphon Weaponry Some of the most sacred and treasured artefacts in Tlaxxili are the arcane devices that Rana summoned into existence hundreds of years ago, such as the mysterious Engines of the Gods that can warp the flow of time in their vicinity, or the devastating Solar Engines that unleash the searing power of the stars. These devices are treasured not only because of their connection to the Slann, but also because they cannot be replaced. Despite their best efforts, the creation of these weapons is far beyond the capacity of the Skinks. As such, they will only be deployed to battle in the most extreme circumstances, and most Saurus commanders would rather lose an entire cohort than lose a single one of these artefacts. The Tale of the Ungrateful Village A popular children’s story in the Saurus Highlands, TheTale of the Ungrateful Village is seen as a cautionary fable about the dangers of displeasing the Seraphon. In the story, a farmer with a fine flock of reptiles grows angry at having to give his best beasts to the jungle each year, and so he stops, much to the horror of his children, who beg him to reconsider. He refuses however, and soon becomes rich selling the reptiles instead. Other farmers in the village become jealous and stop tithing their beasts as well, again over the protests of their own children. One night, a jungle spirit comes to the village in the dead of night, and visits all the children who told their parents to keep sending beasts to the jungle. The spirit tells the children that there is to be a great feast in the village, but that they must leave the village so the feast can be prepared. The children follow the spirit into the jungle, but when dawn comes, the spirit tells them that the feast is now over. Confused, the children return to the village, to find that their parents are gone. The children rush to the fields and send the best reptiles into the jungle, whereupon the spirit reappears, and tells the children that thanks to their efforts, there will not be another feast again this year. The Battle of Tlaxxili The mood on Admiral Byrkütte’s armada was unexpectedly sombre as it departed Cote de Saur. During the months when the fleet was being assembled, disturbing reports had been coming in from Hammerhal-Aqshy. Huge armies were on the move across the Mortal Realms, converging on Shyish, the Realm of Death. The Grand Oubliette, where Nagash had imprisoned the most powerful souls he had captured over millennia, had been breached, and the captive spirits within set free. On the eve of the armada’s departure, a fast courier had delivered news that a climactic battle was underway against Nagash himself. Though the Kharadron typically cared little for the gods, many of the duardin who had assembled for the attack on Tlaxxili thought it an ill omen to be disturbing the God of Death on the eve of a battle. News of the armada’s departure spread like wildfire. The slowly growing build-up of military power had been the talk of the region, not least amongst the elite of the floodplains cities, who had watched with increasing concern as the Kharadron poured more and more ships and soldiers into Cote de Saur. Rumours spread that the duardin were preparing to take over the entirety of the floodplains, and official denials from the East Igneous Company only served to heighten suspicions. There was thus a great sense of relief when the grand armada finally set sail in the direction of the Saurus Highlands, and the discussion turned instead to where exactly the Kharadron were headed with such a vast fleet. The Seraphon had no doubts about the armada’s target. Terradon riders stationed on the edge of the Highlands took to the skies the moment they sighted the Kharadron fleet, bringing news of the invasion back to Tlaxxili. As word spread through the jungle city, the Seraphon prepared to meet the duardin assault. Ranks of Saurus warriors assembled in the ground levels of the temple pyramids, their war beasts alongside them, ready to ambush any duardin who landed in the plazas. The Skinks chosen for the sacred duty of firing the stellar engines took to the summits of the temples, crouching behind the stone parapets and scanning the sky for the first sign of the enemy. They did not have to wait long. Great clouds of squawking birds rose from the canopy as Byrkütte’s armada hove into view. At its fore was the admiral’s flagship, the Arkanaut Ironclad Ancestor's Thunder. The immense ship was flanked by countless other aether-vessels, their decks crammed with armoured duardin. Between the ships floated individual Kharadron, each borne aloft by their aether-endrins and carrying an eclectic mix of weapons and tools. Bombs and torpedoes bristled from every ship. Byrkütte had spared no expense. The admiral’s plan was straightforward. His aether-vessels would take up position over Tlaxxili and bombard the city’s principal structures to deny cover to the Seraphon and flush out any in hiding. Once this was complete, landing zones would be established in the open plazas, to give his troops the best possible lines of sight to deal with any Seraphon counterattack. Once firmly established, the perimeters of the landing zones would be gradually expanded until they linked up, and the entire city would be under Kharadron control. Byrkütte’s plan was deficient in only one respect: it assumed that the Seraphon would fight the same way they always had. In this regard, the admiral was proved shockingly wrong. Before his aether-vessels could take up their positions above the city, a searing beam of light suddenly shot out from the summit of a temple pyramid. The ray impacted against the aether-endrin of an Arkanaut Frigate, and a split second later the buoyancy tank exploded, sending the vessel crashing down towards the jungle. Duardin leapt from the deck of the doomed ship as it plunged into the canopy, internal explosions tearing the frigate apart as it disappeared from sight. The first shot of the Battle of Tlaxxili had been fired. As if the opening shot had been a signal, the other temple batteries flashed into life. The Skinks in charge of the stellar engines had little practice working the arcane devices, since the weapons were so rarely used, but as such close range, and against such large targets, they could hardly miss. The Kharadron had been completely unprepared for such an attack, and as such, the opening volley took a fearsome toll. Vessel after vessel was struck and either plunged towards the jungle below or exploded in mid-flight. The screams of the Thunderers and Arkanauts on board, trapped in the hulls of their burning ships, filled the air. Confusion reigned in the skies above Tlaxxili. Kharadron captains barked orders for their ships to begin evasive maneuverers, but the armada had been flying in a close formation as it approached Tlaxxili, the better to concentrate the bombardment. Ships now had no room to manoeuvre, hemmed in as they were by other vessels on all sides. Only those ships at the edge of the formation had room to move, but like all the aether-vessels in the armada, they were weighed down with heavy loads of munitions and troops, which reduced their speed to a lumbering crawl. A few more aggressive captains ordered their ships to fire on the pyramid summits, but their uncoordinated shots could not penetrate the thick stone barriers protecting the stellar engines. It was fortunate for the Kharadron that Byrkütte remained stoic in the face of the unfolding disaster. Despite seeing his ships dying around him, the admiral recovered from the initial shock of the Seraphon attack almost at once, and took stock of the situation. It was clear to him that his aether-vessels could never hope to evade the Seraphon’s attacks if they continued to be weighed down with troops. Furthermore, all of the Kharadron ground troops that were currently jammed into cargo holds across the fleet could not assist their brethren in the fight. The first priority therefore had to be establishing the landing zones so his ships and ground forces could effectively fight. Byrkütte knew that without the preliminary bombardment, the landing zones were almost certainly going to be attacked at once. But the admiral had no other choice. Reluctantly, he gave the order for his ships to begin disembarking. As their vessels began to descend towards the plazas, Kharadron Skywardens moved towards the closest temple summit. Being much smaller and more agile than the lumbering airships, the duardin were able to easily avoid the beams of energy that stabbed out from the fortification atop the pyramid. Reaching the fortification itself, the Skywardens shoved their pistols and volleyguns into the firing slits and opened fire. The Skinks inside were caught completely unawares, and the few that survived the initial attack looked on in surprise as several odd-looking devices were thrown in through the embrasures, followed by the Skywardens jetting away. A few seconds later the explosive devices detonated, destroying the stellar engine and obliterating the summit of the temple. As the Skywardens moved towards their next target, the aether-vessels descended into the plazas. The shots from the remaining temples continued their fearsome toll, and in Sunblood Plaza a Frigate, the Blakawk, was struck on the endrin and ploughed into the plaza itself. Its on-board stocks of munitions however did not explode, and when the troops on board began to bail out, expecting a second shot, they saw that the beams of energy from the temple summits could not depress below a certain angle, thanks to the fortifications they were ensconced behind. The Seraphon, in their haste to counter the Kharadron vessels in the sky, had overlooked the possibility of the dreaded ships landing on the ground. This mistake was to cost the Seraphon dearly. As the first duardin troops landed the Saurus warriors rushed forth to meet them. Bitter experience from the long war in the Highlands had taught the Oldbloods that if the Kharadron were allowed to fully establish themselves on the ground, they would be next to impossible to destroy. The barricades that had been constructed throughout the city gave the Seraphon some cover as they attempted to close with their foes. The firepower available to the Kharadron remained as potent as ever, and hordes of Saurus died as they crossed the plazas, streaming out from the temple basements in a tide of fury. But for every Seraphon that fell two more seemed to take their place, and amidst the ranks of the Saurus strode the mighty war beasts, any one of which could shatter the duardin lines if they managed to reach them. As Byrkütte had feared, the massed attacks on the landing zones were proving too much. Had the Seraphon been already decimated by aerial bombardment, and their temple cover destroyed, the plazas could have been held with ease. Yet as the admiral watched, his ground troops were being overwhelmed before they had a chance to set up solid defensive lines. The only exception seemed to be Sunblood Plaza, where the downed Blakawk functioned as an ersatz fortress. Its weapons still functional, the frigate was able to reap a terrible toll amongst the attacking Seraphon, whilst its decks provided cover for the Thunderers and Arkanauts still fighting. Seeing the effectiveness of the defence, Byrkütte ordered an unconventional tactic. His ships would land and establish defensive laagers, using the ships themselves to form the edge of the landing zones. Although this exposed his ships to attack from the ground, their firepower could be brought to bear against the Seraphon whilst also protecting the Kharadron troops in the centre of the formation. It would also nullify the threat from the deadly temple summits. Many of the Kharadron captains were reluctant to carry out Byrkütte’s new plan, running as it did contrary to all of their instincts, but the contracts they had signed with the East Igneous Company bound them to follow the admiral’s orders. Despite the reservations of his subordinates, Byrkütte’s plan turned the tide. The descending Kharadron aether-ships blasted holes in the Seraphon formations as they descended, crushing any Saurus beneath them as they impacted with the ground. The beleaguered duardin troops on the plazas cheered as the vessels settled into place, and wasted no time in swarming over to the grounded ships and taking up positions on the decks. Cannon were brought to bear against the Seraphon war beasts, the towering reptiles making for easy targets, whilst belaying valves and fragmentation charges showered the advancing Saurus warriors in scalding steam and deadly shrapnel. Faced with overwhelming firepower, the Seraphon attack began to falter. The celestial creatures had one last card to play however. The defensive laagers the Kharadron had established were formidable, but they were vulnerable to attack from the air. From atop the Temple of the Stars, Hi’pay’sha raised her staff, signalling to the Terradon and Ripperdactyl riders in the surrounding jungle to join the fray. Emerging from the canopy in a great swarm, the flying reptiles wheeled towards the Kharadron landing zones, each Terradon clutching a great boulder of meteoric rock. Inside the laagers, wounded duardin and troops manning artillery mortars briefly saw the diving forms of Seraphon before rocks began landing in their midst. Kharadron struck directly by the deadly missiles died instantly, but when the rocks impacted with the smooth flagstones of the plaza, they shattered, sending lethal fragments in every direction. Just as they were still reeling from the bombardment, the remaining Kharadron were suddenly struck by plummeting Ripperdactyls, who tore into any unprotected flesh with razor-sharp beaks. The arrival of the flying reptiles threw yet another snag into Byrkütte’s strategy. Attacked from both within and without, the laagers were being pushed to breaking point. The Ancestor's Thunder had landed in Sunblood Plaza, the largest of the remaining landing zones, but even it was under assault by swarms of Terradons and their riders. Occupied in fighting off the flying reptiles, the troops on the aether-vessels were unable to bring their guns to bear against the advancing Saurus, who began to swarm up the sides of the grounded ships. The battle hung in the balance. Unbeknownst to the two sides, the fate of their struggle was about to be decided by events entirely out of their hands. The great armies that had converged on Shyish, in an attempt to stop the work of Nagash, had failed. The God of Death, using a vast pyramid of Shyishan realmstone as a focus point, had succeeded in reversing the polarity of the Realm of Death, drawing the immense energies of the realm towards its centre. In the process, he had unleashed a tsunami of necromantic energy, an immense wave that now expanded out through the Mortal Realms, unleashing malign spirits and raising the dead as it passed. Those who survived its passage named it the Necroquake. This wave now struck Tlaxxili at the height of the battle. It had no physical force, but to anything magical in the city, the saturation of Shyishan energy was devastating. The remaining stellar engines, which had proved so pivotal to the battle, now overloaded catastrophically, the summits of the temple pyramids exploding in amethyst fireballs. The Kharadron, like all duardin, had no use for magic and as such their weapons and ships remained untouched. But the holds of their aether-vessels were stacked with the bodies of Kharadron who had fallen in the battle. Animated by the power of the Necroquake, these now rose as shambling undead, mindless and hostile. The Seraphon, being celestial creatures, were immune to reanimation, but the same could not be said of their flesh and blood war beasts. The battlefield was littered with fallen Carnosaurs, Bastiladons and Stegadons, and all now began to return to life, cold fire burning in their eyes. Chaos reigned in the wake of the wave. The risen reptiles in the midst of the Seraphon ranks lashed out at everything and anything nearby, whilst the Kharadron found their aether-vessels besieged from within. The only duardin not under attack were the Skywardens. With the destruction of the temple summits their mission was complete, and they were returning to assist their comrades when they noticed a disturbance in the city’s central temple. The huge structure was shaking, the great stones crumbling apart as if an immense force was battering it from within. Suspecting another hidden Seraphon weapon, the Kharadron moved to investigate, when a moment later the summit of the pyramid exploded out, scything down the airborne duardin in a hail of stone splinters. The sudden demise of his Skywardens was the final straw for Admiral Byrkütte. His grand armada lay in ruins around Tlaxxili, the plazas littered with the wreckage of aether-vessels. His few remaining troops were under assault from the living dead, and now his elite aerial cavalry were gone. Byrkütte was a veteran of enough battlefields to know that he could not win in the face of such odds. Cursing his ill luck, the admiral issued orders for the surviving aether-vessels to cast off. The destruction of the temple batteries at least meant that his remaining ships could evacuate the battlefield without fear of destruction. Still fighting the remaining undead and Saurus on board their vessels, the Kharadron headed back towards Cote de Saur. Byrkütte’s only consolation was that the Seraphon’s losses had been far greater than his. In Tlaxxili, the Seraphon barely noticed the departure of the Kharadron. The undead seemed to be everywhere, crawling from the wreckage of crashed aether-vessels or shambling out of the jungle. The remaining Seraphon fought on with increasing desperation, determined that the temple city would not fall. But they were hopelessly outnumbered. Those who could fell back to Sunblood Plaza, where Fril’neq and Hi’pay’sha were rallying their remaining forces. As the sun began to set behind the canopy of Dane’tre, the Seraphon prepared to make their final stand. It was then that the stars began to fall. The diffuse glow of starlight radiated across the battlefield, growing brighter by the moment. To the Seraphon, the light coruscated harmlessly around their forms, but where the starlight touched undead flesh, it seared like fire. As the celestial radiance grew, the undead suddenly burst into flame, the starlight consuming their bodies utterly. The undead burned in silence, still driven by a relentless urge to destroy the living, but against the energies of the heavens they could not prevail. Soon all that remained were piles of ash scattered across the plaza. As the Seraphon stood in stunned silence, the doors to the Temple of the Sun opened. The glowing figure that floated out to greet them was a familiar one, but few of those present had ever seen him as they did now. The withered form was still draped in funerary wrappings, and his flesh remained pale and lifeless. But his eyes burned with celestial power, and his ancient body radiated starlight. One by one, the Seraphon dropped to their knees, raising their hands towards the one who had delivered them in their hour of greatest need. Freed from the Grand Oubliette of Shyish, the spirit of Rana had crossed the gulf between realms to save his children. The Lord of Tlaxxili had returned. Notes of Interest The Floodplains Armies Despite contact with the outside world, Cote de Saur’s armies remain largely unchanged. The floodplains cities continue to rely upon Cold One chariot archers, lightly armoured infantry and trained war beasts. Such armies are little threat to the airborne Kharadron, and the East Igneous Company has sought to ensure that no challenge to their authority arises in Cote de Saur by banning all sales of weapons in the region. Word that the floodplains cities are willing to pay any price for weapons that will give them an edge over the Kharadron has spread however. A few enterprising traders have already made the arduous trek across the Crimson Steppe to sell cannon and rifles, and despite the best efforts of the EIC, the profit margins of such a journey ensure that more will follow. Kharadron Tactics Although for most of their existence the Kharadron have fought in the sky, the Age of Sigmar has forced them to develop new tactics. With civilisation returning to the Mortal Realms, Kharadron sky-fleets must often fight near or even on the ground to defend their business interests, a development that has horrified many captains, used as they are to staying as far from dirt as possible. Those who have gone against their instincts and brought their ships down from the clouds however have discovered that their vessels are no less deadly nearer the ground. Bombs and cannon can be aimed more accurately, and even the aether-vessel itself can be used to great effect, ploughing through ranks of the enemy as the captain skims the ground. The Siege of Dracport Although Tlaxxili suffered badly from the passage of the Necroquake, the remainder of Cote de Saur fared far worse. When the wave of malign energy swept across the Badlands, tens of thousands of corpses buried in the putrid mud of the Black Flood crawled to the surface, alongside the rotting remains of reptiles. The floodplains cities soon found themselves under attack as outlying farms and townships were overwhelmed. Dracport, situated close to a large swath of the Badlands, was a typical example. Besieged by a vast horde of rotting skeletons, the city’s only source of supply was the river port. The siege lasted for nearly four weeks before a Kharadron force belatedly arrived and obliterated the undead forces. A Grudge Removed Upon his return to Cote de Saur, Admiral Byrkütte was immediately placed before a tribunal to account for his actions during the Battle of Tlaxxili. Far from accepting blame however, the redoubtable admiral argued that the battle was a strategic victory for the East Igneous Company, citing the large-scale destruction of much of Tlaxxili during the fighting, along with the high numbers of Seraphon casualties. The clinching argument for Byrkütte was when he was able to point out that the attack on Tlaxxili constituted a successful settlement of a Grudge. For the duardin of Barak Thryng, there could be no greater accomplishment, and Byrkütte was hailed as a hero.