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Welcome back to Lorehammer. This is the first of a two-part series covering the origins of one of Warhammer’s most powerful beings, the dread sorcerer Nagash.
(Note there is a Nagash novel which I am not referring to in this piece, if you’ve read that some details may well be different).
Long ago in a time before the Empire was a dream, the area now known as the Lands of Dead bloomed with life. A series of city states, each ruled by a Priest-King, rose and warred with one another. Collectively this civilization as known as Nehekhara. The lands were kept secure from outside raiders, mainly scattered orc tribes, or beasts from the desert. It was a good time to be a Priest-King.
Nagash was born the brother of a Priest-King , which is the next best thing. With his brother ruling the city of Khemri, Nagash had plenty of time to himself. He used this time to study the subjects that most fascinated Nehekharan society: death, and the possibility of immortality.
For centuries before his birth Nehekharan’s had built tombs for the dead near the cities of the living. As the wealth of Nehekhara grew, so did the grandeur of these monuments. Nagash studied death for one reason only: to avoid it.
Eventually his dark magic experiments led him to a form of success, and by this time he had amassed a number of dark followers. Nagash deposed his brother in a coup and set about using the resources of Khemri to fuel greater and darker experiments. His elixir of blood extended his life and that of his closest disciples, but true immortality yet eluded him.
The Black Pyramid
Nagash’s power and lifespan grew, giving him greater time for ever greater experiments. His crowning achievement was construction of his Black Pyramid. Part monument to his own power, part device for drawing down ever greater quantities of dark magics from the Winds of Magic.
This was the last straw. Terror of Nagash united the other cities of Nehekhara. They formed an alliance against Nagash and vowed to destroy him and all his works. Nagash had already lived well beyond a normal human lifespan and his power kept growing. Soon he would receive even greater magic from his Black Pyramid. For the other cities, it was now or never.
A full century of warfare was needed to breach the defences of Khemri and take the city. Nagash was seen fleeing the city and entering his Black Pyramid. With the city taken, victorious forces entered the Black Pyramid and kill all followers of Nagash hiding within. Nagash was not found. The victorious cities went home, content in the knowledge they had toppled a true tyrant. All Nagash works were burned, in accordance with a prior agreement made between the cities.
No, wait, I got that wrong.
In spite of a prior agreement made between the cities, not all of Nagash’s works were burned. The rulers of Lahmia kept a few volumes for themselves. They learned from Nagash’s hubris, and became reclusive, distilling the elixir in secret and extending their lives. The corruption continued, but in secret this time.
The Solitary Years
Nagash was reduced to a solitary wanderer. His extended life was a gift and a curse as he left the lands of his birth and entered inhospitable realms beyond. Eventually his wandering took him to a place called Cripple Peak. This was a mountain rich in warpstone, a magic-soaked ore which is like Uranium’s mad cousin. Warpstone fuelled Nagash’s power and drove his experiments ever onwards. Nearby human tribes became his followers, working his mines to exhaustion, only to be raised again to continue work after death. Nagash was now an accomplished necromancer.
Centuries passed, and Nagash’s power grew away from the eyes of Nehekhara. However one other race in the Warhammer World is attracted to warpstone, and soon enough the Skaven came sniffing around Cripple Peak.
Their attack caught Nagash by surprise, for who would expect an underground assault by ratmen? After a protracted war, Nagash held control of Cripple Peak and reached an accommodation with the Skaven. This uneasy alliance benefited Nagash while granting the Skaven access to enough warpstone to keep them from betraying him. For now.
Nagash had allies and an empire, and had not forgotten his humbling at the hands of the other Nehekharan Priest-Kings, many centuries ago. Most of Nehekhara had forgotten him, but their eyes now turned to the darkness in Lahmia. Many of those original rulers had extended their lives, but in separate experiments to Nagash. The rulers of Lahmia had become the first vampires, with a thirst for blood and both powered and enslaved them.
The other cities again united to cast down Lahmia. The surviving vampires fled, mostly making their way to Nagash, drawn by his dark power. Nagash had his captains, and an army of undead. As he assembled his forces for his long awaited invasion, he knew that no man could stop him.
Nagash was wrong. His army sailed down the river in ships of bone, and were met by a united army. Nehekhara had changed in his absence and was now a nation led by Alcadizzar the Golden, undisputed king of the realm. Alcadizzar excelled in magic and warfare, and his legions and chariots destroyed Nagash’s army of the dead and broke his vampires. Fearing Nagash’s wrath, the vampires fled far away and into other realms of men. Vampires would not vanish from the world.
Enraged at his military failure, Nagash resolved to use other means to exact his revenge. Travelling to the springs that gave rise to the rivers of Nehekhara, he polluted the waters with a warpstone concoction. The effects were not long in coming.
The life-giving river carried death in its waters. Crops and animals died, the people sickened and perished in great plagues. Again the dead marched, and the final battles of Nehekhara were pathetic affairs, with sickened troops dying as they tried to stand against their former comrades. Nehekhara was now the land of the dead. Nothing living remained. Except one man.
Having watched his people, his wife, and his children die before him, Alcadizzar was brought in chains to Cripple Peak to lie in the dungeons as Nagash gathered power for his greatest, darkest feat.
To be concluded in part 2