Saturday, 30 September 2017

Background Backdoor: Epoch Hounds

- "Only the faithful", Tegrus murmured, and swooped into the path of the beam, hammers crossed. The energies tore at him as they splashed across his armour, causing the god-forged sigmarite to bubble and melt. The light from his wings grew brighter and brighter as he plunged through the beam. His hammer blackened and began to crumble in his hands, but he did not stop, or veer away. It was too late for that now. It was too late for anything except taking his foe down into death with him.
"Only the faithful."
Tegrus, moments before his last death,
 "War in the Hidden Vale" - Realmgate Wars

   I paint models only after deciding who they are, where they come from, which battles they have won and how, and which ones they've lost and why. Sometimes I create traditions, history, words with particular meanings and more... I know that many of us do the same, making wonderful backgrounds for our battles and campaigns on the tabletop. Well, this is our corner!

   This time we'll see the story around one of the most secretive and heroic stormcast chambers of the Guardians of the Ages, Vanguard's Epoch Hounds. In particular we'll get to know about them following the wanderings of their undomitable leader, Lord Aquilor Aefirin, seeing how his sad story is tied to that of his brothers Aefar.

Lord Aquilor Aefirin, Bane of the Immortals, riding Flere, his Gryph-charger

Dark Aelves Captivity

    In first instance, young Aefirin was amazed by the Realm of Aniyadrion, with its buildings that dare challenge the sky, its libraries full of wonders, its people so strange to his human eyes, but yet so fascinating. He had always been keener than his older brother Aefaras; from the earliest age he had spent a lot of time studying with Tlarte, his sister-in-law, Princess Tlerya, sibling, while his brother Aefaras had spent his training in the art of war.
    For those reasons he was considered weaker and eventually used to create an alliance between the Aelves of Aniyadrion and his father, King Aef. He would remain hostage to the immortals until the defeat of the forces of Chaos in the north of Hysh.
    Weaker. Once his kind was a noble and advanced people, ruling over a great city, Talisa, with, albeit in a lesser way than those of the Aelves, beautiful buildings and schools, gardens and monuments. His brothers were, at that time, more interested in the study of arts and science, rather than war. 'All of those are memories' he often thought. When Chaos destroyed his city from within, only his family, and the people they ruled over, managed to escape... from that moment on, his father guided them in a desperate quest for vengeance and survival and thus, even if only a little at the time, war replaced art and science.
    However, thanks to their ancient power, Aniyadrion Aelves had kept their gate closed since the arrival of Chaos and managed to defeat any attempt to conquer their city. In this way, when Aefirin was brought inside their mystical walls, he felt a immediate sense of belonging and pressed on to expand his knowledge, this time also in the field of magic.
    For a certain time, Prince Aefirin lived in relative peace, meeting aelves and human peers, like Loceruve, some sort of witch-king from a distant reign, also his father's ally. His peace found a sharp ending when a new leader was elected to the council of the Oligarchs in the city.

Occlusion and Xenophobia

   Ondruil's Mandate, which lasted seven years, had been an enlightened moment of openness to the races other than the aelves and those who were in trouble during the Chaos wars, such as the Aefar. With Lomenduil, Ondruil's successor, at the head of the council, things were changing. He started closing the gates and denying access to the displaced, and issued an order for all aelves far from Aniyadrion to return inside the walls. This order was also applied to all the armies who were fighting Chaos, actually berefting of any help those reigns and people who had stipulated an agreement of bilateral defence with them.
   One of those people left to his destiny were the Aefar, and from that moment Aefirin wouldn't have known anything anymore about them. 
    He began to actively fight the political scene to get a review of the agreements, but soon he lost his few friends amongs the aelves and saw all the rest of his peers, such Loceruve and his followers, rush away from the Dark Aelves city; he decided to do the same but he found out that he couldn't. He had become a prisoner, nothing more. A prisoner free to walk within the walls, free to read books and drink wine, but still a prisoner. Bereft of any political weight, he realized that if he were to press too much Lomenduil to leave the city, they would have limited his freedom even more, so he chose to act in the darkness and appear much more normal to his wardens.
   He turned his energies and attention to the people of his race, also confined within the walls and now stripped off of any privilege, and found a secretive paramilitary organization called "Hound". For he strove to leave that city and search for his father, who knew in great trouble against the force of Chaos. 
    Alas, when he was finally ready to unfold his plan and break free, the situation became even worse for the non-aelves inhabitants of the city. Persecutions had began.


   Men and women were taken to jail without apparent motivation, or worse: dead in fierce xenophobic reprisals. Children were enslaved, sold in cruel markets for pleasure or exploitation... but the most tragical fate was for those who were out of the walls. Khorne's armies soon understood that Aniyadrion had closed its doors, forgetting about the rest of the world, and started to loose brutal ambushes to all the desperates lured there by fleeting hopes; thousands died and their blood stained the magnificent marble walls, under the remorsless gaze of the aelves.
    Aefirin swore vengeance. It had been told to him that his father was dead, and all his men and soldiers slaughtered, and that awareness almost drove him mad. Following the advices of the few remaining friends he had amongst the aelves he switched his profile, acting cold about the persecutions, acting unconcerned about his father, mother, brothers, people's slaughtering by the Khorne's warriors. Something, however, boiled underneath... and he couldn't keep for long that abnormal tranquillity, just for the sake of is own freedom. Freedom... what freedom is concealing himself and his feelings, looking his peers in chains, pretending that everything is well. He remembrered his father's words about liberty: "none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free". And he wasn't. So, he chose death.
    He was a scholar, but half of him was a warrior. That was the ineradicable Aefar's heritage. He resumed his sword, keeping it hidden under his cloak, and walked into the heart of the city.
    His plan was clear... he would have pushed them to attack, and then he would have started to fight... he asked Sigmar to give him the strenght to die with honor, not failing the memory of his father. A slaves market was set up on a dais, near to the square's center. He jumped on it, and began addressing the crowd, slaves, humans and aelves alike.
   "Good morning, people of Aniyadrion! I am Prince Aefirin of Talisa, Cadet Knight of House Aef. I am here to talk with you about certain concerns that have been creeping deep in my mind for some time. First of all, to everyone, humans and aelves, what about freedom? I was taught that you cannot buy it, cannot trade it, cannot sell it; that you only can conquer of sacrifice it. The moment you realize you cannot control others, destiny or circumstances, that's the exact moment you start finding freedom. And peace. 
    All of you will agree, destiny cannot be restrained. So, we are seeing here many people who have lost their freedom and many others who are standing proud with it at their side. A bunch of aelves bereft of it, for they, despite their long life's span, have failed to understand that when you chain someone, it is you who are losing liberty. Poor aelves... once great warriors and scholars, now hidden withing their walls like rats, showing their strenght to those who cannot fight back. 
    Humans instead, today, here, you are feeling the wind in your hair, on your skin, as free men, because you have not lost freedom, you are not miserable like your tormentors, you, in your short lives, have got what they don't. You cannot control destiny, things, circumstances... that's the way to your inner freedom; for your mind is free, just like your souls, and the gods know your thoughts, they saw your pains.
   Also... you haven't yet sacrifice it. But you can still conquer it. Taking back from those who stole. This is the intention for myself, today. For I have not chains around my wrists, I am not restrained but I'm actually feeling less free than you... and I want conquer back my dignity, and freedom.
   Keep it in mind... Nobody can give you freedom, nobody can give you justice... you... have... to take it!"

   During the last words of his speech Aefirin was already engaged in combat against the aelves guards, and he managed to kill six of them before succumbing to their swipes. When darkness fold its wings around his mind, he had a glimpse of his father... arms open, in front of him. He was coming back to his family, his honor unstained. He'd never felt so happy.

Dust and Glory

   Alas, our hero did not die that day. He couldn't know, but Sigmar already had a plan for him.
   When Aefirin woke up he was in a cold cell, naked, and pain was the only thing he could feel for days. His flesh was painful, but the most woeful part of him was his mind. He thought, time and again, that he had failed. Until he realized that he was alive. Impossible. He'd fomented rebellion, killed six guards, offended the established order; how was it possible that they hadn't executed him yet? They had killed people for much less.
   It Could mean only one thing, and he felt a shiver run along his back... they had lied when they told him that his father was dead, and his people destroyed. The Aefar were without home, running from garrison to garrison, but they had been the only ones to win many battles against the forces of chaos... maybe Lomenduil, or his Oligarchs, had chosen to keep him alive, in an attempt to avoid his father to seek revenge.
    That thought kept him, someway, alive, and with the passage of time it became the only fortress to hide in: he had to believe that out there, somewhere, his family was still alive.
    Days turned to months, and months to years. He never saw anyone, nor talked to anyone, during all that time. He suffered the most terrible torture, both in his mind and in his body, but still endured, unaware of what his sacrifice, that distant day, when he talked freely about freedom, had started.
    The "Hounds", his paramilitary organization, didn't disappear as he had believed, but instead grew stronger, and his members planned many successful attacks against the Aniyadrion aelves. They had a main goal: to rescue him. After many failed attempts and many lives spent pursuing that objective, they eventually succeeded, taking Aefirin outside, during the night, and hiding him in one of their bases just out of the city's walls, in a dense forest.
    With him free, leading the Hounds, the hour of reckoning had finally come.
    Firstly Aefirin started a brutal guerrilla against the aelves. His message was clear: none would have lived peacefully until all the prisoners had been released, and slavery had ceased.
    He learned how to bring war from hidden positions, moving from base to base, hiding into the woods; he used espionage as a weapon, massively employing infiltrators, even amongst the aelves, adopting methods he hadn't believed possible for him, such as corruption, assassination and many others. He never stopped to search for signs of his people, but even with his large and powerful web of spies nothing ever came.
    For years again he fought in defence of the rights of the oppressed, and when he finally was convinced that it would be his destiny, a stranger approached him.
    Richly dressed but gloomy in fashion, he stared at him and said:

    "Prince Aefirin of the Aefar, I'm here on behalf of your brother Aefaras. He is alive, now King of your people, following the departure of your father in battle, and demands to talk with you."

    He stood still, and felt his heart had stopped beating.

Betrayal and War

   He knew for sure that something was unsual. He did not trust the stranger, and for that reason he started moving his intelligence machine. Within few days a terrible truth was submitted to him. His brother Aefaras, heir legitimate of Aefar's crown, had turned to chaos. His mind began to twist, his breath cut off. He trusted the ranger who had brought to him those news... but he had to see with his own eyes, it was something too big to accept from another.
    Moving incognito with few loyal men he visited his brother's camp... icons of chaos everywhere, hideous worships in the name of Khorne, shouting, blood cauldrons, fearful half-mechanical mounts that seemingly strove out of hell... the ranger did not lie. Aefaras had become an enemy. And he had to stop him, for the memory of their father.

    "Now you know... my Lord, I'm very sorry for you. You cannot come here, tomorrow. It's clearly a trap." one of his man said to him.
    "I'll be there, at my brother's rendezvous, instead. I know it's a trap but I must confront him: all the Hounds will be with me... we are setting a trap within a trap. For too long a time we have spent precious energies and resources against the wrong enemy. Don't you see it, brothers? Don't you feel it? The ruinous powers are few hundreds meters from us and I barely can contain myself from crying out my outrage, and charge in the fray. Regardless of what shall happen tomorrow we all take a sacred vow: we fight against chaos until its utter destruction or our own demise, now and forever!"

   That night Aefirin's resolution was ardent, his words inspirational, his right fury like a bright path easy to choose for his men. Hundreds swore eternal war against chaos in what they would have remembered forever as the Night of the Hounds.
    The day after was not the last battle against the immense warband guided by Aefaras, Mighty Lord of Chaos. Only the first. After exchanging just a fleeting look with his older brother, Aefirin knew for sure that he would have hunted him for the rest of his days. A strange feeling clutched his grip around his mind, for he, someway, knew for sure another thing of his future.
    Aefaras would have killed him.

The Last Battle and The Fall of Esca

   Aefirin did not have enough resources and men to fight directly against his brother, but it is true that wasn't his style. So he kept crippling the bigger army, launching lightning assaults from the flanks, during the night; his knights rode tirelessly to alert the populations of the incoming attacks, his valorous rangers burned up any supplies they could find around to starve that beast, Every time avoiding a pitched battle, that would eventually turned out disastrous for the Hounds.
   That situation continued for long time, until Aefaras found the city of Esca.
   Aefirin was unaware of the existence of a Aefar's city... when he knew that his brother was planning an attack on it, he suddenly realized that in all that time he had fought just to slow down his hunt. Because Aefaras was searching for all the Aefar alive to kill them, expunging them from history. He tried to alert his people, and strode to the city... his hope was in the unification of his forces with those of his nephews Aefarron and Aefandrun. Alas, he found a city full of stubborn children, oldmen and women, absolutely opposed to leave it.
    He talked to Elke, Aefarron's wife and true Queen of the Aefar, asking where the men and the warriors were.
    She was mortally pale. She said, quietly weeping, to his uncle:

    "We found a Realmgate, years ago. My husband and Legemon, the priest, crossed it... and visited the future. They saw the utter destruction of this city... and, as you are talking about the coming of Aefaras, maybe they saw these very days. When they came back, Aefarron drove mad to find a way to use the Gate... to reach the past and kill his own father to avoid that terrible future he had seen. He couldn't live with that awarness, without doing anything. 
    So, they started studying the Realmgate. Legemon, Tlarte, Aefandrun, Aefarron... everyone. And when they were sure they could control it, they mustered an army, and crossed it again to hunt down Aefaras. 
     They left many years ago... I don't know where they are now, but I have to assume they are dead, or they have failed to stop Aefaras..." then tears broke her voice entirely.

   His vision, he knew he would die by the hand of his brother... and that day had arrived, for he couldn't anymore play hit and run tactics; within few hours he and his men would be the only defence these people had against the tide. So be it; he brought Elke within his arms in an attempt to comfort her. She said:

    "I have only one consolation, after all these years of pain and death; we have endured as long as possible... children are born, and for a fleeting moment we have believed we were finally in peace. But... that cursed Realmgate drove mad our men and ruined it all...
     Tomorrow I'll see again my husband: whatever is going to happen, I'll stay alive until I'll see, there on that hills, Aefarron. I know that tomorrow is the day he saw when he travelled into the future."

    It was that all the Hounds and all the Aefar died in the epic battle of Esca.
    Elke saw his husband.
    Aefirin met his demise...

    "I cannot die... ! I swore to battle chaos forever..." he was on his knees, Aefaras laughing thundered in his ears full of blood "I'll fight chaos... forever..." and finally died, for the second, and last, time.

The Altar of Apotheosis

   "Not the last time, sadly, my vengeful son. For you swore to fight chaos forever. So, I command you to fulfill your vow. By the light of Azyr, come back! By the blessing of the Six Blacksmiths, stand! I'm calling you to your duty, my Immortal Avenger! Be, Stormcast!"

"...I...I... who am I, Lord?"

"Living Storm"



"Why, am I here? I am dead... I cannot understand... I am dead but I'm feeling so strong.. why?"


"Who are you?"

The Epoch Hounds

   Aefirin wasn't the only warrior released that distant day, Sigmar had decided long before to turn, one day, each member of the Hounds into an immortal warrior in the service of his cause. They were eventually renamed "Epoch Hounds", because their duty would no more be confined to a single place or a single time. One of his hidden Vanguard Chamber was born and, as soon as they were ready, he unleashed it on the Mortal Realms... they would have continued to fight in their own peculiar way, acting as sabouters, spies, rangers and, eventually, warriors in their own strenght, assisting, both from the shadows and in the plain light the more powerful Strike Chambers, like Extremis or Warrior ones.
   As a Lord Aquilor from that moment on, Aefirin would have followed only direct orders from Sigmar himself, pursuing secret and capital goals in the war against chaos. For that reason, Lord Commander Aefarron, supreme leader of the Guardians of the Ages, became aware of the Epoch Hounds' existence only during the Realmgate Wars, and in an advanced stage.
    Many other heroes, like Knight Errant Rugard Outerland, or Knight Azyros Broshan, during the centuries have joined the Hounds and fought along them; anytime their duty was accomplished, however, they kept the secret.
    Now we'll see the configuration of these relentless rangers and warriors, who kept fighting for millennia in the Great War for the Mortal Realms.

Gaoth's Temple Palladors

   The most trusted warriors of the whole chamber, these incredibly skilled and fast riders are the closest of Aefirin's comrades. They usually go to war along side him, exploiting their mounts, Gryph-Chargers, to maximize the lighting fast tactic of terror employed by their leader.

   The name of their Temple is taken directly by their Prime, Gaoth the Mighty, following the traditions of the Hounds.

Sian's Temple Hunters

   Forming the backbone of the chamber these warriors were, during their mortal life, woodmen and rangers, forest keepers and hunters. They have kept their roughness and their reliability is beyond measure.

Ruadh's Temple Raptors

   Falconers and crossbowmen once, now members of the Temple of Ruadh are the specialists of death from afar. Thank to their high maneuverability, and the cohesive support from the other Chamber's Temples, they have been decisive more than once during battle.

The Cold Wind

   The Aetherwings, mystical companions for the Temple of Ruadh are from "the Cold Wind", as their Emissary assures.

Lord Aquilor Aefirin

   We have already seen his story deeply. He is one of the most ingenious leader of the Guardians and many campaign against the forces of chaos had been won thank to his tireless work in the background. He found his Gryph-charger almost one thousand years ago, and called him, after seven days of hunting to tame him, Flere. From that moment on they had been inseparable.
   None knows where and how he could have found his legendary Obsidian Sword, Black Edge; but his deeds with the formidable weapon are countless.

Knight Azyros Broshan

   First and only son of Lord Celestant Aefandrun and Brogan, Broshan was chosen by Sigmar for his good indole to cover the role of Knight Azyros, one of the most important of the whole Stormhost. He often fights within the ranks of the Epoch Hounds, but just as frequently he takes place in the ranks of the Ancestral Hunters, or his father's Time Templars.
   Absolutely irreplaceble as emissary, diplomat, and advisor, Lord Aquilor Aefirin counts deeply on him; as he is his direct contact with Sigmar himself.

Knight Errant Rugard Outerland

   Called the "Minstrel Knight", due to his superb harp and flute skills, he is the lost son of Aefarron and Elke. He left the Aefar in the aftermath of the Chronogate discovery... believing there was another way to stop his grandfather Aefaras, and eager to help his mother Elke to convince his father to give up with the Gate. From that moment on he wandered in the Realms, helping the weak, and searching for a sad quest he only knew. When Sigmar made him a stormcast, he decided to let him continue his quest, thus it remained concealed but for him, and the God himself.
    He is the wielder of the most precious and ancient weapon of the Aefar, "Dean", Aef's runeblade. After his death and rebirth as stormcast, the sword was reinforced with sigmarite and he renamed it "Idunn", in the memory of his only lover, a tiny girl who died countless years before, during a cold night in the Age of Chaos.

...the story is over, for now...

  Thanks for reading!

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