Led by the Slaughterqueen Arali Heartsbane, the Pilgrimage is comprised of the faithful, the zealous and the fanatical alike. Believing themselves blessed by Sigmar’s pantheon, they seek to claim Lake Bykaal as their own by right of conquest, and establish new civilization in this barren wilderness.
Although any faction can join any Coalition, the majority of the Pilgrimage numbers among…
- Daughters of Khaine
- Stormcast Eternals
- Flesh-Eater Courts
- Cities of Sigmar
The schism that would spark off the Pilgrimage began in the early days of the war for Amasya, when the temples of Khaine split with the rulers of Hammerhal and pledged their wicked blades to the vampire Mithridates Alti, heir to the throne of Amasya. Their rationale was simple: Alti was desperate for allies, and if triumphant, could be more easily leveraged into ceding the ruined Palace of Malerion into Khainite hands than the vassals of Azyr. Then, when the vampire’s reclamation of the city faltered, they abandoned him.
With this turn of events, the Daughters of Khaine pivoted to a new strategy to undermine Hammerhal’s authority. Delivering messages to the most zealous of the Stormcast Eternals, the Runefathers of the Fyreslayers and the Treelord Ancients of the Sylvaneth, they brokered new alliances. Amasya, they said, was hallowed in the eyes of all Sigmar’s pantheon, and the city of Hammerhal had no authority to claim it in Azyr’s name alone. Exploiting ancient tensions in the same way a Witch Aelf might twist a knife in an open wound, war was prevented only by the discovery of Lake Bykaal beyond the Ghyrplunge.
Vowing to claim the underworld by right of conquest, the Daughters of Khaine reasoned they could raise a new shrine upon the lake, as they’d originally intended for Amasya. The Fyreslayers and Sylvaneth took little convincing, for the ancient pine forests and nigh-impassible mountain ranges were ideal homes for new groves and lodges. Even some Stormcast Eternals, such as the faithful Hallowed Knights and puritanical Knights Excelsior, found righteousness in Arali’s cause.
Finally, the Khainites realized the presence of another, less expected ally: the Flesh-Eater Courts formerly loyal to Mithridates Alti, whose mad delusions had perceived the warrior-women as soaring valkyries of the greatest warrior underworlds.
Anruil Althariel had a talent for breaking hearts and making enemies in equal measure. In one notorious incident, the famously debauched Aelf Corsair seduced a nameless Daughter of Khaine, supposedly in the inner abattoir-sanctum of one of the Lord of Murder’s Khelt Nar temples. The only ones who can say if it’s true are either dead, missing or deny that any such act happened at all- but regardless of the details from that day forth House Althariel was caught in an undeclared war with the Cult of Khaine.
Arali never knew her mother. When she was old enough, she was told that she’d died in childbirth- the implication being that this was fitting punishment for her participation in defiling Khaine’s holy places, and that Arali had been the Lord of Murder’s chosen instrument of vengeance. For this reason, Arali, soon to be known as Arali Heartsbane, was set apart from her peers in the Temple- as one touched by a god, she was encouraged and expected to excel, not simply to fit in.
The twin-lobed crucible of veneration and expectation fit Arali snugly, and she quickly rose through the Cult’s ranks. As an esteemed agent of Khaine, she spread the Lord of Murder’s gospel, expanding his sphere of influence and eliminated all in the Daughters’ path. By this, she was able to hear more and more of what passed in the Realms beyond- in this capacity, she became aware that her sire’s resting place had been found, and could assert pride of place in the allied forces sent to assert control over Bykaal’s frozen shores.
Arali seeks two things above all- balance, and exaltation. Balance, by offering the elder Althariel to Khaine and thus finishing what began with her birth. Exaltation, by snatching Bykaal and plumbing its secrets, and thus establishing Khaine’s- and her- preeminence over the other, lesser powers of the Realms. Her faith and her ambition are ferocious, and though if- when- she succeeds many will succeed alongside her, many more must be willingly sacrificed in the process…
On the shores of Lake Bykaal
This close to the Ghyrplunge, the world was shrouded in nigh-impenetrable fog. This was a good thing- the Pilgrimage could boast an absolute advantage in games of ambush and melee, and the fog made sneaking up on someone into simplicity itself. Other armies might pass in and out of the fogbank as they needed- Arali and her comrades would remain safely inside as long as they pleased.
“Tell me again what happened.” Heartsbane lounged in her chair, smiling slightly. Across the tent, the Handmaiden smiled to match her own.
“We were passing through Amasya on our way to the Realmgate. Everyone knew why we were there, of course, but the Sisters acted like lambs-” Arali snorted at the thought of the Daughters of Khaine playing docile- “and no one stood in our way.”
“You didn’t run into any trouble on the way into the city?”
The Handmaiden gave a fluid shrug that seemed to move the length of her entire body. “Von Helminger has things pretty tightly sewn up… and why should the Delegation trouble us? We are, after all, allies of Sigmar and servants of the Pantheon.” Arali laughed again, and this time the Handmaiden joined her. “No, the Stormcast glowered at us- they’ve been on edge ever since their Lord-Celestant disappeared- but they couldn’t do anything more. Not while we kept the peace. It was only when we got close to the Realmgate itself that there was any trouble…”
“Traitors. Blasphemers! Foul creatures of night and ruin, I abjure thee! Flee back into your pits of iniquity, and leave this blessed city be!” The Prophet of Doom shook his flail menacingly at Khinora. By himself the stupid, smelly ape would have been amusing, but his circus of simian brethren were more of a problem. Her lip curled into a sneer.
“Trust me, degenerate. We won’t be staying in your hovel a moment longer than we must…”
This far from the Ghyrplunge, the perpetual Shyishan twilight was crisp, clear and still. This was a good thing- the Expedition was better than any other at killing at range, and the long lines of sight gave unequaled opportunity to settle any disagreements without a sword being drawn. Other armies needed to skulk and hide as they moved around the lake, but Anruil’s armies needed no such borrowed security- they made their own.
Brighteyes drew in a deep breath and exhaled, feeling the beginnings of a headache right behind the bridge of his nose. When he opened his eyes again the Prophet of Doom was still standing there. Damn. “What did you say then?”
“M’lord, it was then that I realized what those unmanly fey- erm, meaning no disrespect, m’lord- were intending. Not merely to cast a blight on Sigmar’s fair sanctuary, but to disrupt the campaign to come…”
“…you treacherous saboteur!” Sanjay’s oratory had two purposes- both to shame the enemy and to fill his followers with righteous indignation. Judging by the muttering in the ranks, his flock was indeed roused for war- but the Aelves seemed unperturbed. “You shall not defile the righteous works of the God-King, nor give affront to His servants!”
“It’s your voice that gives affront to us, songbird.” The Aelf’s face was cruelty and wickedness defined, and Sanjay longed to wipe it clean with his bludgeon. “Beware that you don’t sing too loudly, lest something sink its claws into you.”
“And did he understand?”
Again, that shrug. “Who knows? This one looked stupider than most. I could tell that he was flustered, though, so I twisted the knife…”
“Are you really going to shed blood, though? Here, under the eyes of your God-King, in his peace?”
“You dare invoke the name of Holy Sigmar… witch, I will-”
“You will do nothing.” Khinora’s grin practically split her face. “Not here. Not now. But when we meet again… then you will know what it means to challenge the Lord of Murder.”
“I should have struck her down then and there. It is my great shame that I let the laws of that place overcome my duty to Sigmar.”
“But… the truce that reigns in Amasya?”
“Is merely chaff on the winds of deceit, m’lord.” The flagellant looked crestfallen, and the ache behind Anruil’s eyes blossomed. “She threatened us, and I was wrong to back down.”
“And was that the end of it?”
“Khaine’s knives are sharp, hammer-men, and we are ready to wield them. What do you know of pain? Of blood? You call on Sigmar, but your prayers and your sweat will not save you when the end comes.” The Aelf sauntered forwards, and Sanjay cursed that he could not end them here and now.
“Hear me thus, witch- you speak of blood and sweat, but you know nothing of sacrifice!” His flock howled their affirmation. “I will meet you again- and if I die to slay you, it will be a life well spent!”
A deep breath in, and a deep breath out. “Thank you, Brother Sanjay. You’re dismissed.” So the fanatics were already slavering for blood, even before the battle lines had been drawn. He’d have liked to play his hand more cautiously, to focus on the Expedition’s true foes- the corrupted, the deathly and the damned. Still, needs must. War with Alari was in the offing, even as he’d tried to avoid it…
“You’ve done well.” Zeal was the Pilgrimage’s greatest strength- people like Khinora would win them this war simply by being unafraid of the consequences of doing so. The simple truth was, the Expedition and its soldiers were here to get a job done- to accomplish a mortal’s modest goal and draw their pay. Arali and her cohort were here to fight, here to die, and here to become immortal.
“We will reap and we will reap, until all of Bykaal has been our harvest.”