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’nek, 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’nek, 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’nek, 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’nek. 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’nek 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’nek 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’nek 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.