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The Empire in Flames (2004), p58-61 — The Carnival of Chaos

Another roar of laughter came from the crowd like muted thunder as the mock Knight Panther, bedecked in armour of tin and wielding a wooden sword, slipped upon some entrails. It was a battlefield scene; pig's blood, uncoiled rope and animal intestine were strewn about the stage as mock carnage.

"A horse, a horse, the Emperor is a horse!" the Knight wailed as his mind succumbed to Chaos.

The travelling players had arrived in the village without word or prior arrangement, replete with ramshackle cart that doubled as dressing room and makeshift theatre. A host of colourful characters, loped and cavorted alongside, with mesmerising wit and charm, announcing to all and sundry they would be performing a rendition of the play, 'The Emperor's True Face.'

Crowds had gathered quickly, initially children, then women and finally the men, and soon the entire village was under the players' spell. Demitri was one of the last to join the eager and enraptured throng, sceptical at first but in moments he too was utterly engrossed.

The play reached the 'Northern Wastes' scene, a rotted wooden placard carried across the stage describing as much by a robed daemon with a seemingly permanent grin. Demitri marvelled as other daemonic characters, whose costumes where uncannily realistic, danced and skipped amongst the appreciative crowd. Chicken feathers thrown by the daemons drifted down like snow. A wonderfully macabre jester performed acrobatics, tapping the village children's foreheads who sat transfixed in the front row as he sprang past with his tickle stick.

A foul and repugnant odour filled Demitri's nostrils as an uncomfortable burning sensation grew upon his chest but he couldn't take his eyes off the play, utterly lost in the unfolding drama. His wife and child, sitting at the front of the stage, were a distant memory. Now only he and the bizarrely macabre players existed. The Knight Panther slipped again and Demitri laughed out loud. A plague daemon bore down upon the play's unlikely hero and the enraptured farmer marvelled at its realism. Eyes widening, Demitri stared with incredulity as the plague creature swelled, stomach bloating as if filling with stagnant air. A shape with what looked like arms and legs pawed within, stretching the flesh thin like clinging mucous.

Something was wrong. The plague creature's mouth distended to agonising proportions but Demitri couldn't look away. It belched forth a tiny daemon creature that sat wallowing amidst a foul miasma of vomit and pooling slime from the creature's stomach.

The charade was revealed for what it was; a conjuration of Chaos. Slime trails left by the actors spat and bubbled. Human eyeballs, heads; real corpses diseased and rotting were strewn about the stage. These things wore no masks but were daemons themselves!

A weight like a heavy millstone fell about his neck and shoulders as Demitri made to rise. He turned; panic welling in his heart. The ruinous powers were roaming free and unchecked in the Empire! He looked to his brothers for aid, trying to raise the alarm. But they were all dead, horribly swollen with some unseen pestilence, pustules and boils on their flesh spilling over with all the fervour of a grotesque epidemic. Horrified, Demitri looked down to the burning at his chest, he ripped away his shirt in pain and saw an icon resting there, inscribed with the sigil of Sigmar.

Abruptly, a foul, filth-encrusted dagger came into view, lifting the amulet from Demitri's chest and leaving behind a red weal.

"Is this an icon of Sigmar I see before me?" a voice reminiscent of bubbling flesh, asked. It was the head player, his moon-shaped face was covered in warts and boils and he was dressed in thick gaudy robes.

Demitri was terrified. "What have you done?" he stammered, recoiling.

The head player moved forward a step, keeping pace as Demitri lurched back.

"Foul worshippers of Chaos!" he cried defiantly, suddenly aware that he was surrounded.

"Yes, alas, that is true my noble lord," a voice from Demitri's left confirmed; a thin and short character, hunched over, face like some grim theatrical mask, split down the forehead. An infestation of flies buzzed around him as he fanned a set of tarot cards. "But your words wound me sir," he continued with mock offence, slicing open a cut in his wrist with one of the tarot cards. "We are but flesh like you," he said, drawing closer, "if you prick us, do we not bleed?" With sniggering contempt, the tarot daemon squeezed the blood from his wound, which dripped down upon the Sigmarite talisman, dissolving it like acid.

Instantly, Demitri could feel the effects of whatever malady had overtaken his kinsmen. He was defenceless. Head swimming, he whirled around drunkenly a myriad of grinning faces surrounding him; a brutish-looking clown, with daubed on face paint hideously joined with physical mutation, a dark grinning jester with a daemonic hand-puppet that chattered in sync with its bearer, a host of grinning, sneering faces awash with colour that was bright and dirty at the same time.

Demitri felt the sickness overtake him and sank to his knees in the dirt. The dark jester lifted his chin up to face him as his hand-puppet spoke for him.

"Why then," it said, the talisman's resistance ebbing, "Your stomach is mine oyster," he continued as a sudden silver flash from a dagger caught Demitri's eye, "Which I, with sword, shall open," the jester himself concluded darkly.

As the blade slipped in and the Carnival players began their grisly work one last thought occurred to Demitri.

"Helena!" he cried, with the last of his dying breath, "My wife..."

The head player loomed into view, his moon-like visage blotting out Demitri's sun for the last time.

"She's my wife now Demitri..."

No one knows from whence it came, the dreaded Carnival of Chaos. Some have rumoured that it was once a gypsy caravan from the east of the Empire, wandering folk that brought their colourful fare from village to village entertaining the poor rural folk of the Empire with their lavish shows and stage plays. If this past is the truth then what it has become in the present is far more sinister and deadly. Still it wanders the rural backwaters of the Empire, in a colourful cavalcade of wagons, its folk dressed in the colourful finery of travelling players, bringing sonnet and song to excitable villagers and peasants.

Upon reaching a new settlement, these outlandish showmen erect their stage and entertain the poor rural folk with songs and plays of the dark days of the Empire. Tales such as: 'The Emperor's True Face', 'Orfeo and Pustulate', 'Papa Noigul's Festering Children' and 'A Midsummer Nightmare' wow the enraptured throng.

Strongmen perform feats of incredible prowess to the adoration of the crowd, whilst players in garish, grinning masks juggle balls, knives and flaming brands. As the crowd's numbers increase, a fool in bright jester's garb with an inflated pig's bladder on a stick leaps from one enthralled watcher to the next joking and cackling, poking and prodding.

It is only when the show reaches its blasphemous climax, as the sun begins to set, that the truth of the Carnival of Chaos is revealed in all its putrid, festering glory. For these are no mere wandering thespians and entertainers. When the players perform their final act, known as the 'Dance of Death', the enchantments covering their true visages slowly slip away revealing them to their blissfully ignorant audience for they are cavorting, cyclopean daemons with rotting flesh hanging from yellowing bones. What were originally considered intricately decorated masks and cleverly applied make-up is soon revealed as the players' true horribly mutated faces, covered in pustules and pox-ridden lesions. As the villagers' expressions turn from those of elation to abject terror at the sight of these horrific visions the slaughter begins. By now most of the folk who made up the cheering audience would have already succumbed to the virulent diseases spread by these malevolent players. The insidious Carnival Master, accompanied by his cackling fool, rounds up those unfortunate women and children that remain alive, taking a finger from each of his new brides, exclaiming "You're my wife now!". The survivors are then led away to an unknown fate and the village is left deserted, its inhabitants and livestock killed by innumerable diseases and plague.

The Carnival of Chaos is the sick joke of the Great Lord of Decay, the Chaos god known as Nurgle. Thrice cursed Nurgle is also known as the unspeakable Master of Plague and Pestilence and the players in the Carnival are his corrupt followers and worshippers. They are those who have sold their souls for a twisted form of immortality through embracing death, destruction and decay - learning to love Nurgle's many and varied gifts. It is not known how many Carnivals of Chaos there are or if the handful of reports from the lips of petrified witnesses all refer to the same warband.

The leader of the Carnival of Chaos is known as the Carnival Master and is reputed to be a sorcerer of great power, wielding the unclean magic of his lord to cause suffering and death through disease and decay. Through dark ritual and sacrifice, the Carnival Master summons forth the cackling, decaying Daemons of his patron god to take part in the twisted masquerade. His mortal followers carefully nurture their newly acquired diseases, blessings of their gregarious deity and vie for power and advancement under his watchful gaze. The most blessed of these twisted, insane creatures are those known as the Tainted Ones. These are often the right-hand 'men' of the Carnival Master and their bodies are wracked with a multitude of foul diseases and mutation. The Carnival of Chaos is justly hunted by the many bands of zealous Witch Hunters that traverse the lands but always seems to be just one step ahead of the Sigmarites and continues to follow its merry path, bringing the blessings of Nurgle to all.

Special Rules

Dangerous to Know: Because of its rather diseased nature a Carnival of Chaos warband would find it very hard to keep any Hired Swords alive! Therefore, a Carnival of Chaos may never hire any type of Hired Sword.

Carnival of Chaos skill tables
 CombatShootingAcademicStrengthSpeed
Master
Brutes  
Tainted Ones   

The following lists are used by the Carnival of Chaos to pick their weapons:

Carnival equipment lists
Hand-to-hand Combat Weapons
Dagger1st free / 2 GC
Mace3 GC
Hammer3 GC
Axe5 GC
Sword10 GC
Double-handed Weapon15 GC
Spear10 GC
Halberd10 GC
Morning Star15 GC
Missile Weapons
Bow15 GC
Short Bow10 GC
Pistol15 GC (30 for a brace)
Armour
Light Armour20 GC
Heavy Armour50 GC
Shield5 GC
Helmet10 GC
Brute Equipment list
Double-handed Weapon15 GC
Flail10 GC

Choice of Warriors

A Carnival of Chaos warband must include a minimum of three models. You have 500 Gold Crowns to recruit your initial warband. The maximum number of warriors in the warband may never exceed 15.

Heroes

Henchmen

Starting Experience

Maximum Characteristics

With the exception of the Plague Bearers and Nurglings which do not accrue experience all other members of the Carnival of Chaos use the maximum characteristics for Humans.