"Vecteek couldn’t come. So I came instead. You have called and I have answered. You sought the Harbinger of Doom. I am he, little sorcerer. I am your Doom. I am Skarbrand. I am your death..."
—Skarbrand, summoned forth by the foolishness of Grey Seer Thanquol
Skarbrand, known also as the Exiled One, the Wrathful Reaper, or the Drinker of Blood, was once the greatest of all Khorne's Daemons. An eternity of battle in the Blood God's name had brought Skarbrand victories uncounted. It was he who tore down the gates of Slaanesh's first palace and visited ruin therein. It was he who led the eight Hosts of Murder to their triumph over the combined armies of the other Chaos Gods. In all the endless years of Khorne's existence, no other had piled so many skulls before the Skull Throne, or spilled the blood of so many warriors and innocents alike. Thus did Skarbrand enjoy Khorne's favour like no other, an honor which would eventually lead to his downfall from grace.
Ever since his exile, in all of history, there have been none to serve the Lord of Skulls as completely as Skarbrand. He has taken mountains and mountains of skulls for the Blood God, and filled vast oceans with gore. He has shaken the foundations of eternity with his wrath and left a trail of slaughter across existence, yet still Khorne refuses to rescind his hated decree. There is little regret in the Blood God's black heart and he spares none for Skarbrand, who in tortured exile serves the Lord of Skulls more completely than ever.
"I will rip the bones from your body and leave your skin to rot! But your skull I will give to the skull-god, and it will be one among the multitude"
—Skarbrand, The Exiled One
Alas, no being could enjoy such triumphs forever, and so proud was Skarbrand that it was a simple task for Tzeentch to fan the embers of his hubris. One dark day, when Khorne's back was turned and his attention elsewhere, Skarbrand's fierce pride grew hot and, blinded by rage, he smote the Blood God a mighty blow. Powerful beyond measure was Skarbrand, and he had toppled cities with but one blow apiece, but even he could not pierce Khorne's brazen armour. Only the smallest of chinks was cut in the Blood God's armour, but even this was sufficient to draw the terrible fury of Khorne's gaze.
Incandescent with wrath, Khorne seized the Daemon by the throat. The Blood God cursed Skarbrand's name and choked all personality from him, leaving only the bottomless rage that had caused him to attack. Climbing the uppermost tower of the Brass Citadel, Khorne cast forth his arm and hurled the Daemon deep into the Realm of Chaos, banishing the Bloodthirster from his presence. For eight days and nights Skarbrand plummeted, a fiery comet of ill-omen streaking across the unchanging sky. The impact of the Bloodthirster's landing gouged a canyon in the landscape and left his wings tattered and torn. Since that fateful day, Skarbrand has wandered the mortal and immortal realms, drowning his sins in the blood of the slain — though he no longer has the wit to fully understand why.
Frozen in the moment of that rage-spurred betrayal, Skarbrand has become wrath incarnate, a restless fury that cannot be stopped. Wherever Skarbrand treads, order and discipline are replaced with anarchy as those in his path drown in feelings of empty loathing and unrestrained savagery. Even the most rational of beings cannot resist the corruption of Skarbrand's madness. Fast friends and firm allies tear at one another with wild abandon. Craven and brave beings alike claw at their foes without regard for their own lives. Through this anarchy, Skarbrand runs rampant, twin axes hacking and cleaving until there is no one left to kill. His tortured roars echo around the battlefield, waves of pure rage infused with enough force to shatter buildings and pulverise flesh. From then on, Skarbrand became nothing more than a vessel filled with unreasoning hatred and rage, empty of any thoughts or personality of what was once Khorne's greatest chosen.
Battle of Karak Angkul
"No, you shall not escape me so easily. You will burn, mage-rat, and then you will scream. And scream. And scream."
—Skarbrand, during the Battle of Karak Angkul
Whether the being known as Skarbrand was still within the good grace of Khorne when he descended upon the mortal plane to ravaged the Dwarf Hold of Karak Angkul is unclear. What was certain what that, by the foolish efforts of Grey Seer Thanquol, who in his attempt to summon forth the infamous Verminlord Vecteek into the mortal plane, had mistakenly summoned forth the legendary Bloodthirster instead. What the foolish Grey Seer failed to realize was that the magical artifact, known as the Hand of Vecteek, which he tried to use in his summon ritual contained a hidden mark of Khorne upon its palm, a mark carved by its previous owner, Grey Seer Thratsnik as an act of vengeance against the Under-Empire that had abandoned him to his fate of lonely isolation and eventual starvation many decades ago.
Freed upon the mortal plane, Skarbrand wrought a terrible carnage amongst the battlefield, where Dwarfs and Skaven alike fought each other and their allies in gruesome displays of mad rage and uncontrollable bloodshed due to the unnatural daemoic presence of the Bloodthirster. It was only thanks to the efforts of Master Engineer Klarak Bronzehammer, who set off a demolition charge which saw a massive axe of Valaya fall down and sink its blade into the flesh of the Bloodthirsters head, did the Dwarf Hold survive the Daemonic onslaught. Thanqoul, having had enough of risking his life for the ambitions of others, fled the battlefield right after he blasted the Master Engineer with a wave of Warp-Lightning and saw his body fall from the statue of Valaya and upon the rocky hard floor many stories below. Before Skarbrand was sent back into the Realm of Chaos, he whispered to Thanqoul that should he have need of him again, he will be waiting.
Hag Graef is a Dark Elves faction in Total War: Warhammer II.
Hag Graef the Black Crag is a sinister and foreboding place, built at the bottom of a cold, dark canyon and completely surrounded by mountains of bare rock that stretch into the clouds. It is a city permanently in shadow, for no sunlight ever reaches its walls. Hag Graef is a place of twisted and impossible architecture. Its eight black towers rise from the canyon floor like the ossified remains of some loathsome cephalopod. Between the towers are strung walkways, platforms and bridges of every shape and size. Some are fashioned from withered timber and soot-stained bone, others are crafted from jagged stone or woven from the silk of monstrous spiders.
The larger platforms are so massive as to be towns and villages in their own right, and are supported by gantryworks of iron and stone. It is upon these that the majority of Hag Graef's citizenry dwell, crammed into crooked mansions of cinderbrick and fire-blackened wood; the towers are home only to the city's most powerful Dreadlords. Cramped conditions, combined with the Dark Elves' peremptory nature, ensure that rivalries flare into violence with alarming regularity. Those who do not walk cautiously through Hag Graef's webwork of streets have their throats slit and bodies heaved into the morass of sewage and rotting flesh that covers the canyon floor.
The rocks below Hag Graef are honeycombed with mines and quarries that are, in turn, threaded through with chain gangs of slaves who claw iron and jet-black stone from the belly of the world. This is the most miserable of existences, toiling far from any natural light, starved on all but the meanest food and chilled to the bone by the piercing wind that howls through the tunnels. Even after death there is no respite -- the mines are riddled with veins of warpstone, whose baleful power animates the dead and keeps them labouring until they collapse into piles of worn bones.[1a] Driven by the wealth of its mines, Hag Graef has risen to become Naggaroth's second city. In fact, it is so prosperous that its armies and influence overshadow even those of Naggarond. So eager are Hag Graef's people to escape their abyssal home that the forced conscription present in other cities is completely unnecessary here. Indeed, over the centuries, Hag Graef has earned a reputation for producing, if not the most disciplined fighters, then certainly the most desperate. The city's mercenary rulers, ever eager for profit, have taken to selling warriors into service elsewhere in Naggaroth, taking with it the opportunity to infiltrate spies.
So rich is Hag Graef in soldiery, slave and coin that were its eight great families ever truly united of purpose, they could doubtless overthrow the Witch King. Naturally, Malekith is aware of this, and spares no effort in keeping the Dark Crag's nobles at one another's throats. He need scarcely bother -- with so much wealth at stake, intrigue and betrayal are already rife. Hag Graef's greatest prize is the position of First Dreadlord -- he who holds this title is the nominal ruler of the city, and all its domains. The First Dreadlord sets the tariffs that govern the city's trade and is an excellent position to take a cut of the all merchantry. With this wealth comes a life of patronage and grand opulence beyond the dreams of other Elves, but few incumbents survive long in office.
Indeed, many of Hag Graef's social elite consider the lavish ceremony of ascension to be little more than the official opening of a new round in a particularly deadly game. None of this deters the city's nobles from competing for the First Dreadlord's chains of office. Arrogance is as rife here as it is in any other quarter of Naggaroth, and no Dark Elf believes himself foolish enough to end his rule shot, stabbed, poisoned, garrotted or beheaded -- he cannot be persuaded of the danger, even though these things have happened to previous rulers more times than can be counted. Life is scarcely less competitive elsewhere in Hag Graef. The eight families constantly vie with one another for the First Dreadlord's favour, even as they plot to have him violently removed from office. Even family ties do not guarantee loyalty -- many a brother or daughter has risen to new heights over the corpses of their siblings thanks to a timely use of poison or by pressing enough gold into an Assassin's hand.
It should, therefore, not be surprising that Khainite Assassin cults flourish nowhere in Naggaroth so well as they do in Hag Graef, where there are always Dreadlords seeking to remove rivals or in need of protection from the machinations of their enemies (or their friends). Even so, there are insufficient hired blades to meet the incredible demand, and an Assassin might well answer to a hundred different masters over the course of a year. As a result, many Assassins sew their mouths closed, sever their own vocal chords or nail their jaws shut to ensure they are no longer physically capable of revealing an employer's identity.
This revered artefact can unleash crackling arcs of lightning. It is only drawn forth in times of direst need, for it may be many years before its power is restored.
Clar Karond is a Dark Elves faction in Total War: Warhammer II.
Clar Karond, the Tower of Doom, serves as the Witch King's chief shipyard, for it is here that the keels are laid for many thousands of raiding vessels. This is a more sprawling city than others in Naggaroth, stretching from the banks of the Redvenom River up into the trackless pine forests of the Duskridge. It is from these ancient woodlands that the Dark Elves harvest the black timber from which they build their sleek-hulled warships. The Naggarothi do not perform this work themselves, of course, for such labours are considered well beneath them, but instead set thousands of slaves to the task.
As the woodlands receded, their hearts torn out by hooked chains or consumed by dark fire, the ever-expanding streets of Clar Karond have spilled into the gap. Year by year, the city swells further, having grown fat on the labours of its slaves and despoliation of the surrounding land. Once, there was but one great tower looking over the Redvenom River; now the Duskridge bristles with jagged minarets. With each wave of expansion, new ramparts have been raised not only to protect the city as a whole, but also to defend each tower from its neighbours.
As a result, Clar Karond's streets are tangled and mazelike, marred by half-collapsed buildings, severed concourses, and entire districts buried forever as newer and more impressive fortifications are raised. Clar Karond is also famed for its Beastmasters. It was here, many long centuries ago, that the knights of Hag Graef bought the first Cold Ones to be broken, and much later, that the ferocious Kharibdyss of the deeps were bent to the Dark Elves' will.
Now, Manticore pens, Harpy cages and other enclosures are as common in Clar Karond as the temples of Khaine. Both are outnumbered by the pelt-draped shrines of Anath Raema, for the goddess of the savage hunt has ever been the patron of Beastmasters. Thus, when the armies of Clar Karond go to war, they do so in Anath Raema's name, driving her savage children before them to break the enemy lines with tooth and claw.
Karond Kar is a minor faction of Dark Elves, introduced in Total War: Warhammer II.
Karond Kar, the "Tower of Despair," also known as "Slaver's Gate," can be counted the bleakest of all refuges. The citadel stands sentinel on the edge of the Sea of Chill, perpetually battered by gale-force winds, icy rain and tidal waves the size of mountains. Its folk can therefore be counted amongst the hardiest of a hard people. Indeed, they have become so acclimatised to their frozen conditions that more temperate climes cause them a measure of discomfort.
Karond Kar is known as Slaver's Gate for a reason, for it is here that the great reaving fleets bring their living cargo. Countless thousands die as they cross the wide seas to Karond Kar, stifled and suffocated in the holds of slave ships or tortured to death for the amusement of the black-hearted crews. Those are the lucky ones. When the survivors are finally unloaded onto the ice-wreathed docks, they soon find that their torment is just beginning. There is no escape from Karond Kar.
From the docks, the slaves are brutally driven forth amidst jeering crowds, beaten onward by lash and scourge. Those that stumble are trampled; those who slip their spiked chains are flayed, then cast bodily into the icy ocean. Both forms of death are much appreciated by the maddening spectators, who throw rocks to trip the panicked slaves and send servants to break the chains whilst the captives are still dock-side, in the hopes of inciting even more violence.
The slave markets are vast, and those captives that make it to the wide open plazas beyond the docks are roughly examined and divided by age and gender, destined to labour in mines and quarries or drudge in the dungeons and kitchens of Naggaroth. Overlooking the markets are the slave traders' palaces, slab-sided mansions decorated with the scrimshawed bones of perished slaves.
Night and day, Karond Kar echoes with tortured wails, for its sorcerers delight in binding together their captives' souls to their mortal remains. Trapped between life and death, these wretches haunt the streets of the Slaver's Gate, filling the dreams of their tormentors with delicious images of suffering and pain.
The traders themselves seldom leave the comforts of their opulent homes but can be occasionally lured into the rain-drowned plazas by news of a particularly impressive bounty. A captured High Elf is the most valuable of prizes, and a wealthy slaver will gladly trade much of his remaining stock -- or even members of his own family -- for the opportunity to bring such a sweetmeat before his patron's tender mercies.
For more commonplace cargoes, slavers hold audiences and auctions within their chambers, playing off the greed of Corsair captains to ensure a healthy profit. The slavemasters drive a hard bargain, and no fleet leaves Karond Kar with wealth equal to its expectations. However, no captain will challenge the terms of a trade once it has been completed, for they know that Assassins aplenty lurk in the crowds, waiting silently for the slavermasters' commissions. Better to leave Karond Kar with a light purse, they reckon, than to never leave at all.
Lothlann earned his nickname 'the Brave' at the Battle of the Creaking Yew. Here he took up the battle banner from the slain Athryn the Strong when the Elves were in desperate battle against the Skaven. When the Elves saw the banner rise again with Lothlann bravely galloping among the foe hewing left and right, they surged forward like an irresistible tide.
Thus they utterly defeated the ratmen, scattering them in headlong rout through the forest to become the prey of wild beasts during the hungry winter that year. Since then Lothlann has had the honour of bearing the sacred banner of Athel Loren.
The Battle Standard of Athel Loren: The Battle Standard of Athel Loren is woven from the hair of countless Elven maidens who sacrifice some of their golden, silver or russet tresses as strands to be woven into the banner. With each generation more strands are woven into the banner making it more magnificent and more enchanted than before.
The Black Sepulchre is the underground temple that connects several Gardens of Morr within the Imperial city of Altdorf via a network of elaborate catacombs.
Long ago, some of the dead of Altdorf were buried in a network of underground passages beneath the city’s Gardens of Morr. These catacombs survive to this day, filled with the bones of the long dead. Rumour has it that their most valuable possessions were buried with them, and some treasures are still to be found in the catacombs. This tempts many a brave or desperate adventurer down.
The catacombs link up several important Gardens of Morr within the city, including the haunted cemetery of Old Altdorf. Stories say that there is an underground temple, the Black Sepulchre, at the heart of the catacombs. The complex is said to be looked after by a secret order of Morrite Priests who, they say, never see the light of day. They spend their entire existence patrolling the catacombs and keeping the dead quiet. This is fanciful but it shows the sort of reputation that Morrites have that this is easily believed.
If there is a better archer in the Old World than Rathiel Whitebow, that archer has kept his identity a secret. The elf is a master of the longbow with few peers even amongst his own kin. He has made the weapon the focus of his life, neglecting family, friends, or any other loyalty.
His all-consuming arrogance is such that he will never refuse a challenge of his skills. He will settle for mere target shooting but prefers a duel of arrows. Because of this, Rathiel has killed at least a half dozen men and elves over the last few years and wounded far more. This has made his reputation as a highly dangerous outlaw.
Rathiel is on a quest. He is searching for a legendary magical bow known only by the cryptic name The Song of Storms. Whether this weapon is real or simply a product of Rathiel's obsession is difficult to say. What is certain is that Rathiel broke into a bookseller's shop in Brionne and since then has been seen trekking towards the Border Princes. His exact destination remains uncertain to anyone but himself.
"The citizens of the Empire rightly view the Cult of Handrich as an honorable, charitable group with the best interests of the people at heart. This is why we employ the Brothers of Handrich—to keep distasteful things out of sight of the people and keep His name unsullied and pure."
—Gustav Stuttor, Priest of Handrich
Each Cult of the Empire has its own sects, knightly orders, and Templars to protect its interests and defend the righteous from harm. Relatively new, the Cult of Handrich does not yet have its own publicly sanctioned religious warriors. However, the Cult does have a semisecret branch of dedicated individuals that are used to help enforce the decrees of the Cult and further its business. Average citizens call them thugs, enforcers, or “heavies.” The Cult refers to these trusted individuals as the Brothers of Handrich.
The Brothers of Handrich are people trusted by the Cult whose skills, contacts, position, and even physical stature are considered useful. In short, they are exactly what the average citizen thinks they are—muscle. Talented muscle, however. The Brothers of Handrich do the dirty work for the Cult, putting pressure on burghers and politicians, protecting precious shipments, and busting heads as needed. Because the business of the Cult extends into almost every type of commerce and all throughout the Empire, the Brothers of Handrich can find themselves travelling great distances and dealing with all types of people on behalf of the Cult—often making a profit on the side.
The vast majority of the Brothers of Handrich are used as heavy enforcers of the Cult, doing the dirty work that helps maintain a respectable face for the public and to further the goals of the Cult. They intimidate rival businessmen or Cultists, break the legs of those who are late with payments, and, when absolutely required, kill people who, in the eyes of the Cult, need killing. Some Brothers are employed for their special skills, such as simple accounting, forgery, breaking and entering, and the like. Finally, the Brothers are also used as deterrents, with certain members being assigned as bodyguards to Priests. The high-pressure demands and cutthroat (sometimes literally) lifestyle of many Priests of the Cult put them in situations where the presence of some muscle helps ensure safety.
The Brothers strive to keep their ties to the rest of the Cult secret from the outside world. Acting under fronts as legitimate business ventures, trade guilds, or even straight out thieves’ guilds, the Brothers do the work asked of them by the Cult. The Brothers take this oath of secrecy extremely seriously and it’s a sure death sentence for any Brother who willingly divulges the presence or agendas of a ring of Brothers.
The Cult of Handrich itself is a relatively new Cult, without the millennia of history and conflict that belongs to the other faiths. The Brothers of Handrich can also be considered new, having formed rather organically as the Cult brought in outsiders to assist them with matters of violence.
At first, there were no restrictions as to what kind of help a Cultist could employ as muscle, but over time, as profits rose and agendas solidified, the Cult of Handrich realized that it must organise these disparate groups to bring them in line with the motives and methods of the Cult
In 1987 IC, the Priests of Handrich in Marienburg convened and set to the task of organising their membership. The Cult was divided up into two “rings,” the inner ring composed of the actual Priests and Cultists, and the outer ring, which was the term utilized to described individuals and groups friendly to the Cult and its agendas, but otherwise not affiliated. During the meeting, known as the “Assembly of Brothers,” the Cult created the Middle Ring, composed of close companions and servants of the Cult who were not otherwise full Cultists or Priests. Thus the Brothers of Handrich were born.
Throughout the subsequent years, motions have been passed to both expand and reduce the influence and power of the Brothers of Handrich. Some Cultists feel that the Brothers represent the true, beating heart of the Cult, with its drive, competitive spirit, and first-hand knowledge of market forces. Others believe that the Brothers claim too much profit and opportunities best utilized by the rest of the Cult and think that the Brothers should be reined back or removed altogether. This constant back and forth ensures that membership in the Brothers of Handrich is dynamic and interesting, but definitely not for the faint of heart.
The Brothers Today
The Brothers of Handrich is currently undergoing a boom in growth, power, and influence. As the burghers of the Empire grow and expand their reach, so to do the Brothers, piggybacking on their success. The Cult is also expanding, setting up new Temples and establishing business ventures in increasingly far-flung portions of the Empire and even beyond. The Cult sends envoys to new locations in order to set up new Rings of Brothers, setting the stage for the eventual creation of a Temple of Handrich.
With the Cult of Handrich taking a more aggressive hold on trade and commerce in the Empire, the Brothers find themselves getting involved in bigger schemes all the time. Every new discovery of resources, technological advancement, or piece of land reclaimed from the Greenskins represents additional opportunities that the Brothers are more than willing to embrace.
The biggest threats that the Brothers encounter are the thieves' guilds who consider the Brothers to be nothing more than interlopers, the meddling of the Cult of Ranald, and conservative citizens of the Empire who consider the Cult of Handrich (and thus the Brothers) to be a backhanded assault on the traditional way of life that the Empire has engaged in for untold centuries. To help grease the wheels of commerce, the Brothers utilize the time-honoured method of carrot (money, influence, and favours) and stick (or hammer, axe, or firearm pressed into the stubborn person’s face).
In order to understand the structure of the Brothers, one must first understand the structure of the Cult of Handrich. The Cult is divided up into three different tiers, or “rings.” The Inner Ring includes the full Priests of the Cult and has further degrees of delineation that are not revealed to outsiders. The Outer Ring refers to friendly businessmen and those who owe favours to the Cult, but do not put themselves in harm’s way for it. The Cult internally refers to the Brothers as the Middle Ring.
Every Brother of Handrich is tied to a particular Temple, which hires certain personnel depending on their particular needs at the time. Brothers either work in small crews, which have a degree of autonomy or are assigned to specific Priests to do their bidding. A Priest of Handrich strives to have control of his own rings of Brothers, and is ultimately responsible for their actions. A Ring that gets out of hand or endangers the activities of the Cult must answer to its Priest, who must in turn answer to the Inner Ring of the Cult. Punishment for poor performers can be extremely harsh and most Priests keep constant tabs on the Rings that they control and place serious pressure on the High Brothers responsible for their day-to-day operations.
Crews of Brothers vary in size, but usually comprise between four to eight members. The Brother who controls the crew and directly reports back to a specific Priest is typically known as the “High Brother.” High Brothers control their crew tightly, constantly on the watch for signs of disloyalty or for Brothers who try to skim too much from the top.
To help maintain a line of deniability, the Brothers never refer to themselves as such with outsiders and maintain the front of some sort of other venture, such as a “normal” thieves’ guild, a union of workers, or a regular business guild. Other Rings put up the front as political agitators or members of a completely different Cult to further muddy the waters and to get them into places otherwise denied by the Cult of Handrich. Communication between a ring of Brothers and their handlers is done through messengers, clandestine meetings, and secret codes.
Once inducted into the Brothers of Handrich, a Brother finds himself running errands, busting heads, and doing other things of a questionable nature. After a few years of proving himself as a solid earner for the Ring, the Brother is usually granted additional, highly lucrative jobs to bolster his earnings and further solidify his ties to the organisation. Each Brother strives to attain the role of High Brother, controlling his own band of Brothers and putting his own agendas and moneymaking ventures at the top of the list.
Outside the Empire
The Brothers travel far outside the borders of the Empire on the behest of the Cult. As business is conducted and agreements are reached, the Brothers also help establish additional Rings in the cities of foreign lands. The Brothers are particularly numerous in Tilea and the Border Princes, where they blend in seamlessly with the large population of criminal groups, guilds, and nebulous partnerships that thrive in those lands.
The Brothers are rare in Kislev, both due to Handrich's relative obscurity there and the insular manner of Kislevan criminals, making it difficult for outside groups to gain many inroads. Bretonnia hosts a fair number of Rings of Brothers, mostly in the larger cities and villages closer to the Empire. Couronne and Bordeleaux boast anywhere between four and six Rings of the Brothers of Handrich, although these relatively new groups are struggling to stake their claim among the businesses and criminal organisations that are resentful to these foreign interlopers.
Goals and Motives
The goals of the Brothers of Handrich work in tandem with the rest of the Cult—make a profit, expand business ventures, reduce (or remove) the competition, and keep business ventures safe from harm. Brothers join up to gain access to the Cult's influence, power, and coffers, and some do so with hopes of being admitted as a full-fledged member of the Cult. One thing is for certain, however: they are in it for the coin.
Every Brother strives to find the big score that will allow him to retire or, for the more devout, allow him to join the ranks of the Cult of Handrich as a member of the Inner Ring. Brothers watch and maintain the businesses that are under their control—extorting money where needed, protecting “clients” from the predations of criminals or opposing Cults (particularly those of Ranald), sending important missives, or protecting cargo. In doing so, they receive a cut of the action and are always on the search for more and more opportunities.
As most Brothers are not part of the Inner Ring, they are not considered Priests or even full-fledged Cultists (although many eventually become one). Because of this, the one job that Brothers are not tasked with is spreading the word of Handrich, which is left to Priests to administer. Most Brothers are relieved that they do not have to perform this chore.
Symbols and Signs
The Brothers utilize the same symbols and signs as the Priests they work for, most notably the gold coin and the sign of the crossed fingers. When hired on by the Cult, a Brother is given a special gold coin that represents Handrich—one side is blank, but the other is etched with subtle notches, whorls, and letters, each of which has its own meaning. When a Brother wishes to get his point across to a stubborn “client,” merely flashing this special coin is often more than enough to make the target realize what he’s up against.
Each Temple has its own special symbols that are used on the backs of the holy coins, typically to show a Brother’s rank in the organisation, special favours due to him when travelling to other Temples, and other special merits, as well as the Brother’s own unique sigil. For example, the main Temple of Handrich in Marienburg carefully notches the edge of a Brother’s coin like hours on a sundial, each indicating a notable favour the Brother has done on behalf of the Cult.
The more notches on the back of the coin, the more likely that a Brother is to be inducted as a full Priest. Other etchings include a square, meaning the Brother is to be granted shelter and complete assistance if chased by the authorities. The extremely rare “V” etching indicates the Brother is part of the cadre tasked with serving and protecting the High Priest himself. A Brother that loses his coin is either released from service or severely punished for the infraction, including a high fine and a heavy tax on his pay until his patrons deem him ready to return to full service.
The coin also serves as a token for voting or as a literal bargaining chip—a Brother who gives his coin to another is showing the ultimate sign of trust or is indicating that should he fail in a given task, his life is forfeit. Many Brothers of Handrich also get tattoos of these symbols placed on their bodies—inner bicep being the most common location, as it is readily hidden, but also easily shown when the situation demands it. When the Brothers choose to leave some sort of sign behind as a warning to others or to show that someone is marked as an enemy of the Cult, a simple circle symbolizing the blank coin of Handrich is painted on doors (or carved on a body) left behind for others to find.
Like the rest of the Cult, the Brothers make extensive use of body language and hand signals that are used in their conversations, especially when they believe they are being overheard by the competition or authorities. Dozens of secret handshakes exist that are used to show status, distress, or warnings, some of which are specific from temple to temple.
Some gestures, however, are universal. For example, crossing the ring and little finger on the left hand indicates the presence of a Cultist of Ranald nearby. During negotiations, smiling while rubbing one’s chin with the back of the hand is a way of indicating to fellow Brothers that the other party is lying. A Brother who taps his fingers together, but not his thumbs, is signalling that he believes the conversation is being overheard and that discretion (or lies) should be employed. Lastly, when a Brother believes he is dealing with a Brother he doesn’t know or a Cultist of Handrich, he uses the crossed-finger sign of the Cult, with the tips of his thumb and little finger on his right hand touching as a further cue that they are not full-fledged members of the Cult, but should still be accorded the respect they deserve.
To the outside observer, the Brothers of Handrich are made up of brutish thugs and cold-blooded killers. In essence, this is true, but unlike the thieves’ guilds to which they are compared, the Brothers are picked as much for their ability to keep a low profile as for their willingness to break legs if needed. In order to be successful, Brothers must show business acumen and an understanding of the “big picture,” with the understanding the short-term gains do not always translate to profit later on. The Cult prefers to work with Brothers with few outside ties or loyalties and is content to leave most Brothers to their own devices, calling upon them only when something requiring anonymity or a heavy hand is required.
The average Brother falls into one of four different categories. The most common is the enforcer. This Brother is hired on for his strength, prowess with weapons, intimidating manner, or preferably, all three. He’s willing to engage in whatever type of violence is required, but the Brothers avoid bringing in truly sadistic people, as they usually prove too difficult to manage. Some of these Brothers specialize in hurting people, but not necessarily killing them, simply because of the belief that a dead man is a lost revenue stream, while a scared man pays as regular as clockwork
The second type of Brother is someone directly involved in business. This includes burghers, dock foremen, guild leaders, and the like. These Brothers are obviously chosen for their business acumen, contacts, and ability to be discreet. They allow the Brothers to piggyback their own shipments with caravans, act as intermediaries between other groups, and start new entrepreneurial ventures on behalf of the Cult. They also launder money, set up false fronts and fake businesses, or fix prices as needed.
The third type of Brother is best known as “the specialist.” This is a person with some specific skill in high demand by the Cult. This includes cat burglars, forgers, interrogators, litigators, and other occupations that require education, special training, or both. These Brothers are used sparingly and given the most leeway in their approach, as the Cult is aware of their scarcity and try to keep them in good graces. They are also rarely used for “general work” and, unless their given trade is dangerous by nature, is unlikely to be put in a position where violence is possible.
The last kind of Brother is the rare wizard or person with magical talent that is willing to work for the organisation. Unlike many other Cults, the Cult of Handrich (and thus the Brothers) has few objections to consorting with wizards, seeing it as just another client-patron relationship. The Cult is willing to overlook a wizard's eccentricities, even a few blasphemies, as long as the job they are involved in is completed to the Cult's satisfaction. Persons with magical ability are highly sought after by the Brothers and are well paid with both money and favours for their services.
Considering the dangerous line of work that most Brothers find themselves in, turnover is high and temples are constantly on the search for new members to fill spots in their ranks. The leader of a crew keep an eye out for street youths that show potential as well as businessmen that are favourable towards the Cult. These potential individuals are then watched from afar, as the Brothers ask questions and do research into the mark’s character, exploits, and personality. Particularly flashy individuals or those seeking the limelight are usually avoided for recruitment, unless they possess in-demand skills or have highly sought-after contacts.
Once a person has been marked as a possible inductee, he is approached by a High brother under the guise of a “regular” organisation, such as a thieves’ guild or a burgher in need of some special assistance, and tasked with doing some property damage against a competitor or threatening a stubborn vendor who refuses to give payment. If he proves his worth, he’s brought back in for a formal induction ceremony.
The inductee is brought before the rest of the Ring and made to get on his knees while the others surround him in a circle, representing the structure of the Cult. The Brothers pull out knives and point them at the inductee, who then recites his oath of loyalty. Each Brother then draws his knife along the arm of the inductee, drawing a little bit of blood. This blood is spilled into a bowl that contains the coin that he'll carry to show his membership into the ring (see Symbols and Signs above). He then rises as a full member of the Ring, taking the bloody coin as a sign of his inclusion. The Brother is then given a list of his particular turfs and territories for which he is responsible in generating income.
Member Benefits and Responsibilities
Once a person has been accepted into the Middle Ring of the Cult, becoming a Brother of Handrich, he can expect life to be both profitable and dangerous. As long as a Brother does his best to keep the Cult free from blame or inquiry, he is granted tremendous latitude to do what needs to be done, and most are allowed to conduct their daily lives as they see fit until called upon by the Brothers to perform some task.
The Cult of Handrich pays the Brothers well for their work, as well as granting particularly juicy contracts, business leads, and the removal of competitors. Although details vary, it's typical for a Brother to receive the equivalent of half a month’s pay or more on top of their regular wage for whatever the Brother does on the side. If a Brother does particularly well for the Ring and the rest of the Cult, they can expect additional windfalls. In the eyes of most Brothers, moving to the Inner Ring and becoming a full-fledged Cultist, and hopefully a Priest, is the ultimate goal, gaining access to the Cult’s tremendous power, wealth, and influence.
The main responsibility of the Brothers of Handrich is loyalty. A Brother must be willing to drop everything and do what is asked when called. Requests by the High brother or the Priest that manages it can also be dangerous, timeconsuming, or even bizarre. For example, a Brother who specializes in forgery may be asked to first bluff or infiltrate their way into a Burgher’s home in order to copy a given document and leave the fake behind. An enforcer might be asked to corner and persuade a minor official or kidnap the only heir of a business consortium. Other tasks might seem nonsensical at the time, such as standing at a street corner at noon carrying a red feather, or traveling to a distant city only to return immediately upon arriving there.
Secrets of the Brothers
"They are useful tools, to be sure. However, like all tools, over time they can become damaged, untrustworthy, and even dangerous. Worn out things should be replaced from time to time."
—High Priest Goundenkruin
Because the Brothers inhabit the Middle Ring of the Cult’s hierarchy, they are privy to many of its plans, but are also shut out from the bulk of its secrets. The Cult looks at the Middle Ring (the Brothers) as both a breeding ground for potential full Cultists as well as a pool of expendable assets to be used and cast aside as needed. Also, because the Brothers work the alleyways and are on the “front line,” they come in contact with criminals, strange events, and even blasphemous things on a daily basis. The Cult strives to keep themselves distant from the dirt and distasteful happenings of the underworld and the activities of the Brothers of Handrich.
Everyone is Expendable
Considering the seedy background that many Brothers come from, few should be surprised to know that their ties to the Cult of Handrich could be severed at any moment and with little reason. The whole purpose of the Brothers is to provide a ready source of leg breakers, bodyguards, extortionists, and other unsavoury types for the Cult, all the while allowing the Cult to keep their own hands as publicly clean as possible. The Cult of Handrich also sees this as a way to winnow out the weakest members, leaving only the best for induction into the ranks as full Priests. In the Cult’s eyes, a smart and loyal Brother should never find himself in a situation where he has to be cut off from the Cult or to be stupid enough to be caught in the first place. The Cult is powerful enough that disgruntled ex-Brothers find bringing revenge against their former comrades is nearly impossible—at worst, a Ring of Brothers could be exposed and brought to ruin, which is considered a small loss by the Cult as a whole.
Rise of the Middle Class
The members of the Cult of Handrich are dedicated to giving praise to their God and making a tidy profit in the process. As a Cult focused on business affairs, its members consider the rise of all businessmen as paramount to the Cult’s success. While this seems positive on the surface, there are those in the Empire that consider the increasing influence and power of the middle class to be a threat to the very existence of the land. Ancient laws, feudal arrangements, and a clear delineation between the ruling class and the masses of common folk beneath them serve as the glue that has bound the Empire together for millennia. The Cult of Handrich’s active support of the middle class puts coin in the pockets of common folk with the ambition, entrepreneurial spirit, and cutthroat instincts to survive. Many noblemen lay awake at night at the thought of the unwashed masses and lowborn upstarts chipping away at their fortunes and encroaching on old business pacts and business arrangements.
Although it is rarely spoken in the Inner Rings of the Cult of Handrich and never with outsiders, one of the goals of the Cult is to create a healthy and vibrant middle class with the wealth, status, and influence to dictate their own rules and to do away with outdated and antiquated laws and business practices that keep a Cultist of Handrich from doing his best and reaping vast sums of money. To some people, this smacks of heresy, as it basically means the complete overturning of the Empire and its method of governance.
Most of the Brothers are kept in the dark to this inner secret of the Cult, but those who look hard enough can see patterns in business dealings that indicate a slow, deliberate sea change occurring throughout the Empire. It may take centuries for such change to break through the calcified systems and thinking of the Empire, but the Cult is nothing if not patient.
Mark Your Territory, Keep Your Cut
Unlike many secret societies, the Brothers of Handrich are blatant about their purpose—to make money. Because every Brother has his livelihood dictated by the whims of the Cult, its up to him to take advantage of every angle to make a profit. If he doesn’t continue to make his cut to bump up the ladder, he’ll find himself out of the Brothers and possibly laying in an alleyway with his throat cut. Every Brother has his own schemes, running extortions, rackets, and even legitimate business ventures, which he keeps secret from his comrades. Strangely, this is considered admirable by the Cult, since it both creates a steady stream of income and fosters the skills and sense of competition that Handrich considers important in his Cultists and servants. The reason Brothers keep these side ventures secret, however, is that once one of them is discovered by the Cult, it is considered fair game for a “tax”—partially to help fund the Cult and partially to punish a Brother for his sloppiness in allowing his sources of income to be found out. Most individuals accept this game of cat-and-mouse as part of the business of being a Brother of Handrich, but some grow weary and resentful of the subterfuge and hypocrisy.
Changing Fortune First Hand
One of the reasons that the Cult of Handrich seeks out talented individuals with a bent for magic is to expand their own fledgling school of arcane knowledge. The Brothers often serve as a test bed for ways to bend the rules in a way that Handrich finds pleasing. Knowingly or not, a few blessed Brothers are able to channel the power of their God to casts spells that shift fortune in their favour. High brothers are charged to keep an eye out for Brothers that seem luckier than average or who land deals that seem
Improbable, even impossible. The full Priests of the Cult usually watch these individuals with greater scrutiny and elevate them into the Inner Ring for additional training and insight into the mysteries of Handrich, sometimes without their consent. The Cult is particularly interested in magically talented Brothers with visions of prophecy—if the Cult can see into the future and get insight into how the winds of the market blow, they will make more money and further the Cult’s agendas. Brothers with this gift often find themselves living life in a gilded cage: pampered and protected, but never allowed to leave the Cult—alive...
One of the main purposes behind the Brothers of Handrich is to serve as fronts for the activities of the rest of the Cult. Because of this, they have many contacts, both in the legitimate business world and among criminal groups. Depending on the Ring, a group of Brothers may have connections with street gangs, craft guilds, ship crews, officers of courts, or anyone in between. Some rings travel far and wide on behalf of the Cult and have contacts in cities and towns distant from their home base. These allies can be almost anyone, from Roadwardens receiving payment for their services to city guards and the like. Brothers are required and expected to make as many friendly contacts as possible for their rings, because it’s never known when and where a favour must be called in.
Of course, as part of the secrecy that they take so seriously, the Brothers rarely if ever let their allies know the true nature of their relationship, so most individuals friendly to the Brothers do not know exactly with whom they are consorting. This secrecy also has the advantage of letting the Brothers keep any eye out for prospective new members without the mark being any the wiser.
This set of circumstances means that Brothers can find themselves in unusual alliances that may, on the surface, seem counter to the Cult’s agendas. Business is business, as the Brothers say, and as long as the alliance works out and Cult secrets are not divulged, then it is allowed to form without any fuss.
Not surprisingly, the Brothers of Handrich have continuous run-ins with regular, mundane thieves’ guilds, many of which consider the Brothers to be nothing more than a rival criminal organisation. Indeed, much of the activity of the Brothers involves taking a direct approach to thwarting these groups from subverting the agendas of the Cult of Handrich. The Cult sees the Brothers as perfect weapons by employing the “fight fire with fire” approach and allow the Brothers a tremendous amount of leeway in infiltrating and destroying thieves’ guilds that cut into the Cult of Handrich’s business.
Because the Brothers serve as a buffer between legitimate authorities and the Cult of Handrich, they are typically the first to come under the scrutiny of city watches, Imperial investigators, and Templars of other Cults who have suffered losses due to the Brothers’ activities. The Cult sees this antipathy as a natural part of doing business and make heavy use of bribes and threats to keep nosy (or greedy) magistrates, sheriffs, and constables out of the Brothers’ business. Part of the Brothers’ duties involves dissuading these individuals from getting interested in the darker side of the Cult of Handrich’s activities.
If the Brothers have anything close to a mortal enemy, it is the rival Cult of Ranald. Many of the business ventures of the Brothers overlap those of the Ranaldans and the two groups have had a simmering cold war for generations. Despite the similarity of their methods, the Brothers still consider themselves a legitimate arm of a legitimate Cult of Handrich and are extremely vocal in their desire to see the Ranaldans wiped out. The Priests of the Cult of Handrich do their best to keep things from getting out of hand and so far the rivalry between the Ranaldans and the Brothers remains at the level of gang warfare. However, the Cult has little compunction about allowing a ring of Brothers to expose or wipe out a cell of Ranaldans if doing so poses little or no threat to the Cult as a whole.
An outcast priest of Vaul, Hotek secretly forged weapons for the legions of Nagarythe during the Elven Civil War, using the magical Hammer of Vaul, which Caledor had used to make weapons for Aenarion. When he was discovered, Hotek fled and sought sanctuary within Nagarythe. Aided by renegade sorcerers, Hotek used the Hammer of Vaul to construct a suit of armour for the crippled Malekith; although his body had been all but broken, the prince of Nagarythe had clung to life. Bitterness and anger had fuelled Malekith's will, sustaining him through the long years of agony that he had endured.
The burning would never stop, and so Hotek fused his newly forged armour directly to Malekith’s body. Clad in a rune-etched skin of black steel, Malekith could once again lead his armies.
Renegade and turncoat though he was, Hotek was no fool. He knew that he lived only at Malekith's fickle pleasure, and so created for himself an armoury of defenses--both magical and mundane--with which he hoped to blunt the Witch King's wrath long enough to escape. Ultimately, Hotek did not perish at Malekith's hand, but was poisoned at Morathi's order. His armoury was broken up soon after, the scattered pieces changing hands with the ebb and flow of patronage and power.
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