THE CHOSEN OF SIGMAR
Valten meets the Emperor Karl Franz

The year 2522 was to be the most difficult in the reign of the Emperor A Karl Kranz. In the north, a vast army was gathering, bent on the destruction of the Empire he ruled The summer before, a vanguard of the mightier host of the Dark Gods had poured through Kislev and attacked Wolfenburg. The Dwarfs had sent news of another army of Chaos marching south through the Dark lands, threatening the Empire from the east. Those he needed the most were riven with discord. The powerful Church of Sigmar was in turmoil, split by the actions of one man and the emergence of another With the priests of Sigmar split, the Elector Counts, the Marshalls of the Imperial army and the other great leaders who served him needed leadership and guidance It fell to Karl Franz, greatest statesman in the Old World's history, to save his realm from destruction from without and within.

THE ARMY OF SIGMAR

The source of so much controversy was Luthor Huss - the self-proclaimed Prophet of Sigmar. Not so far from Altdorf, in the small Reikland village of Uchenbad, Huss met the remarkable youth, Valten. Witnessing the charisma and power of the young man. Huss had declared that Sigmar was reborn, that the Founder of the Empire had returned in their time of need.

Even before Huss's pronouncement, the name of lachenbad and Valten had begun to spread across the Reikland and further abroad. Wamor Priests devoted to Sigmar recognised something in the stories, and like Huss they made their way to the village. Other, more demented individuals also heard the tales of the saviour returned. All manner of penitents and flagellants descended on the village, along with hundreds of others -homeless, desperate people seeking sanctuary from the beasts and creatures that had grown bold and strong under the stretching shadow of Chaos.

Within a few weeks, this rabble had grown to several thousand strong. Growing short of food, they began to become restless and the villages in the surrounding area were overwhelmed by the columns of pilgrims and refugees pouring into the Reikland. Valten was nowhere to be seen, but Huss came before the assembled masses and spoke to them.

He told them that a time of great darkness was about to befall them, but also that they held the power within themselves to survive this and drive hack the dread forces that assailed their land. To rousing cheers, he rode out amongst them, telling them that Sigmar had returned to them to lead them to victory. It was not long before there were calls for Valten to travel to Altdorf to assume the role of Emperor.

THE THEOGONIST SPEAKS OUT

Not all of the Church of Sigmar were impressed by these events. Some of the priests, on hearing Huss's fiery oratory, took their horse and rode to Altdorf as quickly as they could. Here they begged audience with the Grand Theogonist, to tell of what they had witnessed.

Incensed by the defiance of Huss against a duly elected Emperor, who had been endorsed by Esmer's predecessor Volkmar Grim, the Grand Theogonist renewed his denouncement of Huss and his beliefs. He declared Huss a charlatan and Valten. at best, a pawn of Huss's scheming, and, at worst, a heretical fraud. He ordered that Huss disband his peasant army and give himself over to the mercy of the Church of Sigmar If Huss refused. Esmer resolved to approach the Emperor for an army to be assembled to scatter the ragged force gathering in the south.

The capital of the Reikland and the Empire the army of Huss and Valten was heading west and north. The legion of the desperate and the deranged was descending on Altdorf. The Reiksguard were called out to man the walls, and word sent for militia and Reikland companies to be brought to the capital to increase its defences.

VALTEN COMES TO ALTDORF

The roads to the south and east of Altdorf were choked with a seedling mass of Humanity. Valten and Luthor Huss at its head The south gates to the capital were closed and barred, and an emissary from the Grand Theogonist rode forth with a proclamation sent Johann Esmer. It called for Valten and Huss to disperse their heretical force and give themselves up to the justice of the Emperor.

Huss rode forward to confront the emissary, his hammer raised, but Valten intervened. He told die emissary that the faithful of the Empire were not his to command, and were at Altdorf of their own volition. He bid the emissary to return to the Imperial Court and tell them that he would see them in three days time. The herald, clearly shaken by the encounter, returned to the city. Unknown to those outside, a fierce debate was raging in the capital. No armed force had ever marched on Altdorf and not been met with resistance. Commander of the Reiksguard, Reiksmarshall Kurt Helborg, declared that the safety of the Emperor was at risk if the rabble was allowed to stay, and barred entry or exit from the city. Johann Esmer entreated him to assemble his knights and ride out to scatter the immense mob, but the Reiksmarshall refused to lead a charge against the desperate throng.

The next day, Huss approached the gates with Valten and requested entry so that he might present the saviour of the Empire reborn to Karl Franz. The captains of the Reiksguard said that they could not open the gates while an armed force was camped outside the city walls.

On the second day, Huss once again rode to the city gales tu parley with the captains of the wall He declared that he was no enemy of those with true faith. He raved against the blindness of the captains, and told them they were victims of the Grand Theogonist's lies if they could not see that their god had returned to them. Though disturbed by their words, the Reiksguard remained resolute in their obedience to their orders. Wordd reached Esmer of the Prophet of Sigmar's accusations, and it is said that he dew into a rage and sought immediate audience with Karl Franz. He returned disappointed, his request for the immediate arrest of the imposters having been denied.

On the third day, at dawn, Huss and Valten once more went before the gates. This time Huss told the guards that he would present Valten to Karl Franz, and he struck a blow against the gates with his hammer. The captains were worried by this threat, looking out at the screaming, maddened flagellants the surly peasants and grim Warrior Priests who filled the surrounding fields. They remained true to their task, however, and shouted for Huss to withdraw.

Within the great towers that flank the gates. dissent was growing amongst the ranks of the Reiksguard. There were those who argued to allow Valten and Huss entrance to the palaces, if only to avoid a possible attack. Against them were set the captains who believed that Huss's threat confirmed he was a danger and should not be allowed into the city. More crucially was the debate that went back and forth concerning Huss's claim - if Valten truly was Sigmar reborn. they were defying the will of a living god.

In the ruddy hours before dusk, two figures approached the gates. It was Valten who strode up the road. Luthor Huss trailing behind him. Their ragtag army was camped around the city but there was no further movement. Before them, the massive gates loomed up into the darkening sky.

Within the east gate tower, Captain Cornelius Apstel of the Reiksguard watched the figure of Valten approaching. His men later reported seeing him trembling, as he stared out of the barred window. As Valten approached the gate. Apstel ordered his men to loose the gears that would open the immense portal. Some of them leapt to the wheels, while others stood there dumb rounded and then tried to stop them from disobeying the Reiksmarshall's orders. Captain Apstel went as far as to bear his sword against his own men, while the gate slowly tumbled open. By the time reinforcements had arrived from the other gate tower, one gate was open and Valten and Huss walked straight into the city.

AN AUDIENCE WITH THE EMPEROR

As news spread of Huss's entry into Altdorf, the streets began to throng with a surging crowd, tussling for a look at the Prophet of Sigmar and the man he claimed to be their god reborn. Kurt Helborg rode down from the Imperial Palaces to command the Reiksguard who formed a cordon against the thousands of people who were now crowding the mads of the city, leaning out of windows, cheering and jeering the pair. Apstel was arrested and followed them in chains with a guard of Helborg's own cadre of veterans.

The procession made its way across die city to the palaces of the Emperor, walking up the stone steps flanked by a company of Reiksguard. Karl Franz, on hearing of their coming, had ordered the gates opened, and yet more Reiksguard waited within, their swords drawn.

The halls and chambers echoing with murmuring and the tramp of booted feel, Huss led Valten into the Emperor's audience chamber. Karl Franz was sat on his throne, conferring with the Grand Theogonist and his other advisors. Huss hurried forwards and bowed to the Emperor before directing a venomous glance at Johann Esmer. The Grand Theogonist stepped forward, warning Karl Franz that Huss was a heretic and a traitor, and that his word was not lo be trusted. Esmer's tone dropped, as he spoke of the madness that tainted Huss's burning faith. Huss stood immobile as he listened to the accusations, his hammer gripped in both hands. When Esmer had finished, Karl Franz looked at the Prophet of Sigmar and the man he had brought with him.

Huss fell to one knee and waved Valten forward. He declared to the Emperor that Sigmar had returned, as Huss had believed he would, and as his Prophet it was his duty to bring him to Altdorf. He entreated the Emperor to follow his faith and his heart and to relinquish his throne to the rightful ruler of the Empire.

This last statement was met with angry shouts from many of the court, who had gathered in the chamber, and no few cries of approval.

"I have heard many voices and opinions," the Emperor said as the tumult quietened. looking at Valten. "They all tell me what I should or should not do. I have yet to hear from you. What would you. Valten of Lachenbad, have me do?"

All eyes were on the magnificent figure of the young man as he stepped forwards, pulling his hammers from his belt and laying them at the feet of Karl Franz.

"I am a servant of the Empire and Mankind." Valien said, looking directly at Karl Franz. "I would have you do what is right for the both of them."

THE EDICT OF KARL FRANZ

Karl Franz sal there in deliberation for a long time. It was not the first time he had turned his thoughts to this possible turn of events, and he knew that what he said next could decide the fate of the Empire. Never before had he faced such a weighty decision. Valten was certainly of proud bearing and in prime condition. His eyes shone with energy and he held himself with an easy confidence that Karl Franz had seen in only the best leaders of the Empire. There was no doubt he was a remarkable young man. If Karl Franz ignored the call from Luthor Huss. an army of desperate peasants and fanatical priests was ready and willing to storm the walls of the capital. Would Huss respect his decision, and even if he did, would the horde that followed him listen to reason? It seemed unlikely

And yet, he could noi easily relinquish his responsibilities as Emperor to an untried youth Huss, for all his fervour and failh. was no judge of character and perhaps in desperation had found his saviour where there was only a gifted young man. Opinion was divided between the Electors, within the Church of Sigmar and amongst the common folk. If he were lo name Valten as Emperor, it would be in the face of two and a half thousand years of tradition, and against the will of the Grand Theogonist. I-esser declarations had caused strife and war in the past.

And then there was the worry that Huss might be right. Karl Franz was pragmatic and a fine statesman, but his faith and belief in Sigmar was strong. Had he not felt the touch of the god in recent years? Had he not felt that power flowing within him? Could he really deny his god if he had returned? And yet, Valten had left the choice to him. If he were truly Sigmar. he trusted the Emperor to make the right decision.

Either one could lead to civil war and the ruination of the Empire for fully two hours. Karl Franz wrestled with his heart and his head He wished Vulten's claim to be true, but rational thought told him it was insanity to step down as Emperor when unity and strength was most needed. There was no sure sign that his decision would be backed by the other Electors, one way or the other. He wished fervently that such momentous times had not fallen under his reign, but the gods had decreed otherwise. Eventually the Emperor made his decision. There was only one way he could ensure the loyalty of all of the Empire.

He called for the Grand Theogonist to go to the great vault where Ghal Maraz was kept -skullsplitter, the fabled Hammer of Sigmar. Hesitantly, Esmer left and returned shortly with the legendary weapon and presented it to the Emperor. The Emperor then despatched ReiksmarshalI Helborg to bring forth the Reikland Runefang, the badge of Karl Franz's position as Elector Count.

Taking Ghal Maraz in one hand and the Runefang in the other Karl Franz stood and walked forward to stand before Valten. The audience chamber was as silent as a tomb.

"The hour is at hand when all men true to the Empire must stand firm against the darkness that befalls us. A host has gathered in the north to dwarf the mightiest armies of old. We are divided, broken apart by fear and doubt. If we allow this to continue, we will fall, and with our passing will come a new age of terror and shadow. An age that has not beset the world for two and a half thousand years."

The reference was nut lost on Karl Franz's audience. In the dark history of Mankind. Sigmar had come forth and united the tribes to drive out the Green skins and hold back the vicious northmen.

"In those ancient days, a man came forth to forge a new way, so that we could stand shoulder-to-shoulder against our foes. His was a creed of strength through unity. When divided, we have been weak and preyed upon. When unified, we have triumphed over the adversities that the gods have set in our path. I would have that creed live on through these dark times."

Karl Franz held out the Hammer of Sigmar and Valten took hold of it, weighing it in his hands.

"Ghal Maraz is seen as the symbol of the Emperor's power. Yet, it is more than that. It does not represent the power of a single man, but of an entire people. This symbol of unity I pass to Valten, the lord of the hearts of men. With it, may he forge the stregth in us to resist the storm that gathers."

Karl Franz then brandished the runefang above his head.

"This is the symbol of my power. As Prince of Altdorf, and Emperor, I pledge the armies of our people to the cause. The others who bear the Runefangs have sworn their loyalty to me, and I bid them raise them in acknowledgement of this grim duty that befalls us."

Karl Franz stood beside Valten and looked over the assembled knights and courtiers, his voice ringing from the high ceiling.

"In unity, in harmony, we stand strong! Together, the Emperor Karl Franz, and Valten, Chosen of Sigmar, will lead our people in the greatest and noblest of battles. Fight for me, or fight for him, it is your choice. Just fight for the Empire!"