Men of the Empire
Seven hundred and twenty five years before the present time, Otto von Drak, the corrupt count of Sylvania – the easternmost province of the Empire – died, passing on his crown to Vlad von Carstein, the first of the Vampire Counts. After centuries of planning and preparation, Vlad and the other counts carried Sylvania onto the dark path of war against the rest of the Empire, transforming the oppressed but mundane province into a sinister realm of the walking dead.
Lost to history, Otto von Drak in fact had an illegitimate son who survived him, a young man named Frederic who had fallen from grace with the old count because he disagreed with the dissolute and selfish governance of the province. With the von Carsteins in power he was in no position to claim a title legally bestowed and so he offered his services to the Emperor and became an officer and a knight in the army of the Empire.
Always mistrustful of the new count of Sylvania, Frederic von Drak frequently pushed for investigations to be made into his activities but they were refused. It was not until Vlad von Carstein openly declared war that he was vindicated but by then, over two hundred years had passed. It was Ferederic’s descendant, Gendarme, a sixty year old man who finally gained the double-edged satisfaction of knowing his family was right. He was too old for battle but nevertheless, he went to war with his son Thomas, riding hard to the frontline and driving toward Vlad himself. It was there, finally, that both von Draks were killed, by the Vampire Count himself, and in that moment the fate of their family was set.
For Thomas also had a son, still a baby, and Gustaf von Drak grew up to be taught that he must seek vengeance on the vampires, on all the vampires, and that every one of his descendants must do the same.
The war with Vlad von Carstein continued for decades and after him came Konrad and Manfred von Carstein. As each Vampire Count rose and attacked the Empire, the von Draks were always at the forefront of the fighting leading regiments of knights into battle. Each son continued the martial tradition of entering the knighthood and each one excelled. As time went on, the dream that Frederic von Drak had treasured of one day reclaiming Sylvania as its rightful count became an obsession.
Finally, centuries after the scourge of the undead had begun, Manfred von Carstein was defeated and Charles von Drak, the latest in the family line, was present at the Battle of Hel Fen, single handedly responsible for wiping out almost two dozen black knights. The von Draks were cheated of their birthright however as the Emperor granted control of Sylvania to the count of Stirsland. He decided that since their now distant forefather, Otto von Drak had blithely given up Sylvania then the family no longer deserved to rule there. The magical Runefang sword entrusted to von Drak had been taken by von Carstein and had now become irrevocably lost.
As a result, the von Draks became the laughing stock of the Imperial court despite everything they had done. The Emperor joked that they could regain their position on the day they found and returned the Runefang, but everyone knew this was a hopeless task. The sword had not been found in Drakenhof Castle, the home of the Vampire Counts and Manfred had travelled extensively during his exile. The sword could have been anywhere.
Despite their shame, the von Draks vowed that they would not surrender their family honour. They were tempted to abandon their tenuous role in the army to quest for the missing Runefang but a hopeless quest would only bring down more shame on their family. In addition the army needed them as much as ever it did. The family continued to seek out every rumour regarding the location of the Runefang but there was little hope. The sword, and their position in the Empire, were lost forever.
It is the year 2522 and the latest in the line of von Draks is a young man in his thirties named Marcus: cocky, handsome, devilishly cunning, driven, heroic and a little ruthless.
Marcus von Drak was a Captain of the Empire Army stationed in old Sylvania. The stigma of shame of the loss of the Runefang had long since been forgotten within the Imperial court but in the von Drak family it could never be relinquished. Investigations had always been undertaken by the men of the family into the location of the Runefang but Marcus took this to a higher level. Capturing every nomadic crypt ghoul he could, Marcus tortured each one, not only to gain crucial intelligence on attacks by the undead but also in the hopes of picking up some knowledge of the missing sword.
He finally found results when the latest victim of his snakes-head brand volunteered two pieces of unbelievable information: Firstly that a vast army of zombies and skeletons was massing in the Land of the Dead ready to march north through the Border Princes and then to the Empire. Secondly that the missing Runefang had been seen in the coffers of the advancing army!
Marcus von Drak acted swiftly. He rode to Altdorf, the capital of the Empire, and requested an audience with the Emperor. Such was his renown as a warrior that he was granted it. Marcus believed that an early strike was necessary into the heart of the undead army, before it could cross the black mountains into the Empire itself but Karl Franz did not agree. He decided to ready his forces within the Empire’s borders and garner any available allies he could. The Border Princes was a wild and uncivilised place. The human settlements there had been assaulted for millennia from all sides, the beleaguered people all but ready to give in. It was not a good place for a war. In addition the region was infested with Orcs and other more nefarious enemies. A war there would be a war on all sides.
Marcus disagreed vehemently, partly because civilians of the Empire would be at risk in a war on home ground and partly because in the relatively narrow confines of the Border Princes he had a greater chance of tracking down the missing Runefang. The Emperor could not be swayed but he was impressed by Marcus’s commitment. He told Marcus he was free to take a unit of knights with him in the hopes of convincing the local human forces to mount some kind of stalling action and to search for his heirloom. Marcus promised to do one better. He said he would halt the invasion if he could and would return in glory with the Runefang in his hand to take his family’s rightful place as the Count of Sylvania. Amused but doubtful, Karl Franz agreed to these terms. If Marcus could both save the Empire and recover the Runefang then he would be granted his ancient family title once more.
With only one unit of knights available to him, Marcus von Drak’s objective seemed insurmountable but with the reclaiming of his family’s honour within reach, he was determined not to give up. With his knights close he fought through the Black Mountains, but as soon as reached the Hellsview Plateau and looked out over the Border Princes for the first time it became clear from the pillars of smoke and vast arrayed armies that the war was already well underway. Unless his stalling action was successful quickly then the armies of the undead would fall upon an Empire not yet ready to defeat them!
The kingdom of Tempest Falls was already striking back and had fought many hard battles, some of them successful, but the undead legions were marching on and Tempest Falls was at risk from the north by Ogres. Furthermore, the western flanking force of Barrow Kings was only being slowed in their advance by the inhuman natives of the Border Princes, unlikely allies of happenstance: the Orcs and Skaven. Knowing of the heroic knights of Tempest Falls, Marcus had banked on their support but he also recognised they could not win the war alone. Unfortunately, the rest of the humans settled in the region were providing no resistance or support.
Marcus travelled down the South Road, sneaking or fighting his way through Orcs and Wood Elves until he reached Malko, the second largest fortified town within the Border Princes and ostensible Empire capital, such as it was. There he sought an audience with the mayor, Helmut Shord. In his provincial way, Shord was the repulsive mirror of Otto von Drak, Marcus’s ancestor in his corruption and decadence at the expense of his subjects. Marcus requested that Shord’s small standing army be immediately mobilised to the defence of the Border Princes and the greater Empire. Shord, who was happy to blot out reality behind the high wooden stake walls of his defended town refused. Marcus fixed his eyes on the fearful man, coldly assessing his usefulness, then, concluding he had none, took out his handgun and shot him through the heart.
Marcus now found himself in the very centre of a fortified town having just assassinated their leader. The Border Princes was an almost lawless realm and he knew he had to play things very carefully… Various strategies played through his mind, including stealthily escaping, making it look like someone else had done it, or that Shord was possessed and needed executing. He decided on a more direct approach. Slicing Shord’s head from his shoulders, Marcus von Drak strode out through the manor house into the street, bearing the decapitated head aloft. The befuddled and ill-trained guards stumbled back out of his way and women and children ran screaming. Marcus marched to the centre of the town square and threw the bloody head down on the cobbles.
In front of the whole town Marcus declared Shorn’s reign as mayor a sham. He pointed to the inefficient troops, the weak defences. He spoke of the encroaching danger from woods infested with spiteful Elves, mountains and plains crawling with Orcs, Goblins and Skaven, the hordes of undead marching toward them from the south. The townsfolk quaked with terror and shame but Marcus turned it all around. He declared himself their new leader. Not a count. Not yet. No. He would reorganise them; train them and rebuild the defences until together they would not only defend themselves successfully from the encroaching doom but strike out and drive them from the entire region! In the name of Karl Franz, Emperor of man, they would win!
Roars of adulation and hope answered him. This was the catalyst the stubborn men of the wilds had needed. They had the mettle; all they needed was a champion. Now they had him and a legend was born.
Marcus boldly renamed the entire realm by a new title that would focus their minds and draw them together as a single united province of the Empire. It was a controversial name but one he felt proud and entitled to say. The name was New Sylvania.
Marcus took control of the pitifully small and undertrained standing security force. With the help of his knights he began the rapid training program he had designed to turn the local brigands and misfits into the beginnings of an army capable of holding its own. To that end he reopened the dilapidated Malko Chevalier Training School and drew in every hardened steed from the town in hopes of building up a strong cavalry force of knights and outriders to gallop alongside the infantry. The number of horses was dangerously low so one of the first aggressive expeditions was going to need to be the recapture of the Orc infested Grey Mare Pastures. While working to strengthen the defences of Malko itself, Marcus sent messengers east to Tempest Falls and west to the Dwarf realm of Karak Hirn to carry the news that they now had an ally in the region and that all was not lost. In the message he recommended a seven stage plan:
First, that aid be sent from both Karak Hirn and Tempest Falls to stabilise his position while he consolidated and strengthened his forces.
Second, that the men of New Sylvania fight their way through to the Grey Mare Pastures to acquire more horses to build the strength of their cavalry units.
Third, that a link be formed by his soldiers between Malko and the other principle Imperial holding to the south, Aldium, to further strengthen and protect their people.
Fourth, that clear trade routes be established between Tempest Falls, Malko, Aldium and Kark Hirn and up north into the Empire. With these in place, each one of the Realms of the Just would have steady supplies of food, armament and troops, enabling them to fight the good fight more successfully.
Fifth, with holding forces to the centre and West, a wedge of armed men would drive south into the heart of the Vampire-controlled realm, eliminating their threat completely.
Sixth, the pincer would close, wiping out the remaining forces of the Barrow Kings.
Finally, all remaining evil forces within the Border Princes would be systematically wiped out.
Within days the messengers returned. Both the dwarfs of Horn Hold and the knights of Tempest Falls were in accord. The strategy of Marcus von Drak would win the day.
All that remained now was to see if his plan would work and if it could save not only the people of New Sylvania but also the folk of the Empire.