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The Von Carsteins are a vampiric bloodline in the fictive setting of Warhammer Fantasy, including the Warhammer Fantasy Battle tabletop wargame. Their stories are told through background material in publications such as Warhammer Armies: Undead and Vampire Counts and in a trilogy of novels by Steven Savile; all three of which are published, Inheritance, Dominion and Retribution.
The Reign of Vlad
The history of perhaps the most infamous vampire in the Warhammer world is not known, until the point he arrived at Drakenhof Castle, the ancestral home of the Elector Count of Sylvania. Manfred Von Carstein claimed to be present during the reign of Sigmar, when the vampires that would become the Von Carsteins were ordered back into the service of Nagash, who was preparing a massive invasion of the Empire to recover his missing crown. The vampires refused, and in return, Nagash cursed all vampires- for refusing to come to his aid, all vampires would forever be driven back by the power of Sigmar. Since then, faith in Sigmar has been sufficient to drive back vampires, in a manner similar to how the Christian cross drives back vampires in our own worlds folk tales.
Sylvania had, since the beginning of Imperial record, been an inhospitable and dangerous place, with the majority of the land covered in dark and ominous forests. Its soil was poor and the land barely produced enough food to feed the people who lived there. Although it was an Imperial province, it was regarded as a barbaric place. It was already reputed as a place where the dead did not rest easily, as well as a place where evil necromancers and sorcerers persecuted in the rest of the Empire gathered to find refuge. Many of its great castles and towers were built in places where dark magic gathered in its strongest form. At the time of Vlad's arrival, the province of Sylvania was ruled over by the evil and corrupt Otto von Drak, the head of the von Drak family and the father of Vlad's future wife. He was a deranged man that would order the execution of peasants simply to prove a point, and demanded unbelievably high taxes, when he remembered to have it done in between bouts of violent madness. He had as much influence over his realm as one of the peasants he terrorised, as the petty nobles ignored his authority. He hated them all, and had no sons to succeed him; his only heir was his beautiful, cruel and malevolent daughter, Isabella. Otto refused to marry his daughter off, fearing one of his rivals might use her claim to Sylvania to usurp him. He swore on his deathbed that he would rather marry his daughter to a demon than let his hated brother Leopold inherit the throne.
In the year 1797 the Count died without a male heir. Before his death, Vlad arrived at Drakenhof, Otto's castle, and asked for Isabella's hand in marriage. Desperate to stop his rivals seizing his land on his death, Otto agreed, and Vlad and Isabella were married minutes before Otto died. Vlad thus seized the province; his first command was to have Leopold von Drak hurled from Drakenhof's battlements. Most of the other noble families objected to the thought of having an outsider rule them, but were quickly silenced, and under Vlad's iron grip the province of Sylvania prospered. The other Counts of the Empire looked on with indifference at the changes, since the von Carstein seemed a far better ruler than the old von Drak family, who were suspected of the crime of using black magic and daemon worship, and for two hundred years, Vlad ruled over Sylvania.
Sometime around this period, Isabella fell ill from wasting sickness, and Vlad became struck with grief at the thought of losing his wife (for what had started between them as a marriage of convenience swiftly blossomed into unholy love, and the pair had become confidants in each other and all but inseparable). Isabella begged Vlad to give her the Blood Kiss so they could be together for eternity. Vlad, however, was disgusted and horrified at the suggestion: he loved his wife too much to turn Isabella into a monster like himself. As Isabella's condition worsened, Vlad realised he could not endure eternity without her, and so reluctantly granted Isabella the Blood Kiss.
In the year 2010, Vlad stood atop the battlements of Drakenhof Castle, and recited from the Nine Books of Nagash. Soon a vast horde of Undead stood ready to obey Vlad's commands. He had thrown down the gauntlet to the Empire, marking the start of the Vampire Wars. Vlad promptly sacked Stirland and ravaged the Ostermark. After these victories, Vlad turned his gaze toward Middenland, and for forty years, his armies rampaged across the land. Many times during the fighting, through luck or heroism, Vlad was slain in battle: unfortunately for the Empire, Vlad wore the Von Carstein Ring, a talisman of phenomenal regenerative power that allowed him to recover from even the most mortal wounds: examples of this included the battle of Bluthof, where Von Carstein fell with five lances piercing him and the Count of Ostland's Runefang buried to the hilt in his heart, yet was seen ordering the crucifixion of prisoners three days later, or at Bogenhafen, where he returned to conquer the town, despite his decapitation by a lucky cannon shot less than an hour before. The most infamous occasion came at the Battle of Schwartzhafen in 2041, when Von Carstein was cut down by Jerek Kruger, Grand Master of the Knights of the White Wolf: however, a year later, Vlad returned to exact his revenge on Kruger, killing him at the gates of the city of Middenheim. The army of Middenland fled to the city and destroyed the drawbridges, saving themselves from Vlad's fury, but leaving a clear path for him to attack the heart of the Empire: the Reikland.
In 2051, Vlad laid siege to Altdorf, his armies swollen during the long years of fighting the Imperial armies. The siege lasted for many months, and the Imperial hope began to wane. However, Grand Theogonist Wilhelm the Third refused to surrender, and spurred the soldiers on for one more battle. The night before, Wilhelm had dispatched Felix Mann, the greatest thief of the age, to steal Vlad's fabled ring and source of his immortality (some say that Wilhelm learned of the ring from a traitor within Vlad's own camp-Mannfred). After slipping by the curiously inactive guards, Mann stole the ring, leaving Vlad vulnerable; after he stole the ring, Mann disappeared and was never seen again. When he woke the next day and found the ring gone, Vlad furiously ordered a final, full-scale assault on the walls. As the vampires swept aside all who stood against them, Wilhelm confronted the Vampire Lord atop the very walls of Altdorf. Vlad swiftly gained the upper hand, fatally wounding Wilhelm. The priest saw Sigmar's people beginning to waiver in the face of evil, and the Vampire before him howling with triumph. With a prayer to Sigmar on his lips, Wilhelm summoned his last reserve and charged Von Carstein, resolving to destroy Von Carstein by sacrificing himself. Even as Wilhelm took Vlad's blade through his chest, he seized Von Carstein and bore him over the ramparts. Both of them, man and monster were impaled on the stakes placed below the battlements, Vlad landing first, Wilhelm landing on top, driving the vampire down further. With a terrible scream, the Count died, slain for the final time.
Vlad's Undead army crumbled without his power to guide them, and the few surviving vampires fled quickly to Sylvania, fearing the Empire's reprisal. Vlad's camp was looted by the Imperials, and among the remains were found Vlad's copies of the Liber Mortis and the Nine Books of Nagash: these were taken by the Temple of Sigmar and locked away in the temple's deepest vaults. The last casualty of the Siege of Altdorf was Isabella, who, rather than carrying on through eternity without her beloved husband, impaled herself on a stake and shriveled to dust, right in front of the eyes of the Altdorf Pretender Ludwig and his bodyguards.
Ludwig wished to press on to Sylvania and exterminate the surviving vampires before they could recover, but political rivals, fearing Ludwig would use the popularity garnered from the victory to declare himself Emperor, put the Empire back into the state of near-civil war it had been in for centuries. As the Empire's attention turned away from them, the surviving progeny of Von Carstein hid in Sylvania, licking their wounds and waiting for their chance to rise again. That the Empire's leaders hadn't united and crushed the vampire threat when they had the chance would come back to haunt them...
Mannfred Von Carstein was sired by Vlad himself and it is implied that Vlad sired him in the days before his arrival at Drakenhof and marriage to Isabella (it is also implied they may have shared a relationship before Vlad married Isabella). He held the greatest claim to his sire's throne but chose to remain in the shadows, letting the other contenders destroy themselves before assuming full control of Sylvania. After aiding the escape of Jon Skellan, a man who hunted his wives murderers who had been turned to vampirism by one of Vlad's undead minions, he and his unlikely companion travelled around feeding from maidens to spread terror and discord. After destroying the ruling family of Nuln in a single night's blood fest, Mannfred deemed his work finished. He sent Skellan to the east to return to Sylvania, where he would serve as Mannfred's agent in stoking the raging paranoia that was Mannfred's brother Konrad's constant companion. During this time Mannfred journeyed south to Khemri, where he procured much lore from a stolen Book of Nagash. When asked why he did not simply betray Konrad and seize power himself Mannfred was nonchalant, but reminded Skellan that should he attempt to do so, the next Von Carstein he would face would be Mannfred himself.
With the death of his 'brother' Konrad, Mannfred seized power and returned to Drakenhof aboard a 'Black Ship' that swiftly became infamous in the Empire. Mannfred set about rebuilding Drakenhof and Sylvania one corrupt piece at a time. When Skellan discovered a coven of Lahmian Vampires in Nuln, an intrigued Mannfred soon arrived to meet with 'The Eternal' and propose a truce between their bloodlines. Soon Mannfred marched his troops beneath the Empire in the ancient tunnels beneath the world, battling through Skaven forces to strike from below. His assaults upon the Empire were initially successful, and Mannfred conquered with ease: because he attacked in the middle of winter, the Empire's military was in no position to stop him; three hastily assembled Imperial armies were destroyed with ease. Unlike Vlad, Mannfred never showed mercy to those he defeated, preferring to kill all his enemies then raise them up in his army. As the war continued, Mannfred made his advance on Altdorf itself: mere rumours of his advance were enough to send hordes of refugees fleeing before him, preferring to die in the winter cold than face the undead horde.
Mannfred arrived at Altdorf in the winter of 2132 to find the city battlements empty of defenders. But as he made ready to take the capital of the Empire itself, and succeed at what both Vlad and Konrad had failed to do, the Grand Theogonist, Kurt III, appeared on the battlements and read the Great Spell of Unbinding from the Liber Mortis. As his undead army crumbled to dust around him, Mannfred was forced to order a hasty retreat. He marched down the Reik to Marienburg, intending to capture the port, but his attack was thwarted by Marienburg's army and their allies- a company of High Elf mages whose magic turned the tide against Mannfred at the crucial point of the battle. Before he could launch a siege of Marienburg, Mannfred's spies revealed an army from Altdorf was coming up behind him fast. Mannfred abandoned the onslaught and fled back across the Empire. The various provinces of the Empire, united against a common enemy in Mannfred, set aside their differences in order to put an end to the vampire menace for good.
What followed was several long years of Mannfred playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Empire and her allies: the various Imperial provinces would inflict serious casualties on Mannfred's army, but then the Vampire Count would replenish his forces after a great victory. However, by the year 2145, the Imperials finally drove him back into Sylvania...and to Hel Fenn. Here, cornered in the marshes of Hel Fenn, Mannfred and the remnants of his undead army made their last stand against an alliance of troops from the Empire and the Dwarfs. With the aid of the renegade vampire Jerek (the same Jerek who slew Vlad von Carstein at the Battle of Schwartzhafen), Prince Martin of Stirland cornered Mannfred as he tried to flee the field and slew him with his Runefang. Mannfred's body was lost in the swamps of Hel Fenn and never found. After centuries of terror, the last Vampire Count of Sylvania was no more.
Or so it seemed. Centuries later Mannfred was resurrected by a petty necromancer named Schtillmann, who did not survive to see the fruits of his terrible labour (Schtillman was killed by the infamous Dwarf Slayer, Gotrek Gurnisson, who cut him in two- the blood from his bifurcated body spilled on Mannfred's corpse, leading to his resurrection). By the time of the Storm of Chaos Mannfred was once again Lord of Sylvania, and remains a threat to the Empire at the present time.
Mannfred made his presence known again during the Storm of Chaos after the Battle of Sokh, where his army fell upon the survivors of both the Imperial attackers and Archaon's rearguard. Exhausted from their earlier fighting, the two armies were in no position to challenge the Vampire and his undead army, augmented as it was by the reanimated corpses of Imperial state troops and Chaos warriors, and both sides fled: the forces of Chaos retreated to Brass Keep (their base of operations in the Empire) while the armies of the Empire fled back to Middenheim. Mannfred pursued the Imperials back to Middenheim, surrounded the city and prepared to begin a siege. On the day of his planned attack, he spoke to Emperor Karl Franz "As my sire called out to your ancestor, so shall I call out to you. Surrender the city to me, and you will all be spared. Resist and you will all die".
There was silence, then a lone rider emerged from Middenheim's gates and rode up to Mannfred. It was Volkmar the Grim, and he had not come to discuss terms of surrender. Riding up to Mannfred, he looked without fear into the vampire's eyes and said coldly "Nearly five hundred years ago, a man like me killed a monster like you. It can be done again".
At this, Mannfred was given pause, and his smug confidence vanished. He could remember all too well the sight of Grand Theogonist Wilhelm dragging Vlad von Carstein off the walls of Altdorf to his death, and was reminded of the threat Vardek Crom and his army posed to his holdings in Sylvania. With a snarl of fury at Volkmar, Mannfred turned his horse around and ordered his army to withdraw. Mannfred's retreat signalled the end of the battle for Middenheim: though fighting would continue to rage on for some months in the various provinces of the Empire, the war was officially over. Mannfred wiped out the intruding Chaos forces of Vardek Crom.
Konrad Von Carstein is described as the most ferocious and bloodthirsty Von Carstein. He is the younger 'brother' to Mannfred (whom Vlad had sired first). No one knows what possessed Vlad to sire Konrad instead of simply killing him: perhaps he found Konrad's mad antics amusing. What is certain is that Vampirism did little to strengthen Konrad's already tenuous grip on reality. His exploits included burning down entire towns because their smells displeased him, and trying and convicting his own mother for the crime of having given birth to him without his prior permission. During Vlad's campaign, Konrad appointed himself as Vlad's executioner, killing any who displeased the Count...which coincidentally included many who'd displeased Konrad. Following Vlad's defeat and death, Konrad formed his own unit - the Hamaya - from the more trusted members of the Vampire nation, including Jerek von Carstein. The chief contenders to his throne -his 'brothers' Fritz, Pieter, Hans and Jerek - all came to unholy ends. Konrad killed Hans in a duel over who was the toughest. Pieter was killed by a descendant of the infamous Witchhunter Van Hal in a crypt outside Nuln, and Fritz was assassinated by Jon Skellan during his attack on Middenheim. Jerek fled Sylvania to seek his own way in the world after being defeated in battle by Konrad.
Konrad was a vicious butcher on and off the battlefield. Wishing to emulate the victories of Vlad, Konrad marched on the Empire on a number of occasions: because he had no talent at sorcery, Konrad cajoled, bribed and bullied a number of necromancers into serving him. The undead horde they raised was so immense it was able to triumph against any force sent against it, despite Konrad's insanity and his ineptitude as a general. After several attempted invasions of the Empire, Konrad's advance was finally halted at the Battle of Four Armies by a combined force from Altdorf, Talabheim and Marienburg (the battle is remembered mainly for the fates of the Imperial leadership, all of whom were contenders for the Imperial throne: the Count of Altdorf and Ottilla of Talabheim ordered each other's assassination in the middle of the battle, while Helmut, Count of Marienburg, was slain by Konrad), before finally being defeated at the Battle of Grim Moor by an alliance of Dwarfs and Men, under the command of Elector Count Helmar of Marienburg—the son of Helmut. In the middle of the battle, Konrad's necromancers turned against him and he abruptly killed them for their treachery. As a result, his undead horde collapsed without them to animate it. Konrad was the battle's last casualty: the Dwarf Thane Grufbad Steelhelm held Konrad down while Helmar of Marienburg beheaded his father's killer with his Runefang and hacked the body to pieces, burning the remains.
(Herman Posner) You! It cannot be, you're dead! (Vlad von Carstein) Aren't we all?
"I, Vlad von Carstein, come in faith to make you an offer I urge you to consider and answer for the best of your people" ~ Vlad von Carstein
"Surrender and serve me in life, or die and slave for me in death." ~ Vlad von Carstein (repeated line)
"Ah, but the truth is like an expensive whore, Jerek. She comes in many dresses and will bend over for any with the money to pamper her." ~ Konrad von Carstein
"Konrad has no need for steel!" ~ Konrad von Carstein
"Konrad...is...betrayed...." ~ Konrad von Carstein (final words)
"He may not have loved me the most; that honour, I am certain, went to Isabella, but he certainly loved me the longest"~ Mannfred von Carstein
Minor Von Carsteins
Isabella von Carstein A darkly beautiful woman, she was the daughter of the insane Otto von Drak, and Vlad's wife. She was described as being extremely beautiful, but cruel and malicious. Vlad married her to seize control of Sylvania, while Isabella agreed to the match so that she would still have some power, which she would lose were her domineering uncle, Leopold to succeed her father. However, what started as a marriage of convenience swiftly blossomed into unholy love; Vlad's vampiric allure was irresistible to her (and in Dominion, Mannfred von Carstein claims that of all Vlad's followers, Isabella was the one he loved most) and before long, the pair were inseparable. It is implied that Isabella was the only person Vlad trusted, and the only person who could calm him when he was enraged. When she was dying of a wasting sickness, Isabella begged her husband to let her join him in undeath. Though he refused many times, Vlad eventually consented and made her a vampire.
It is implied in Inheritance that vampirism is only in part what drove Isabella insane, that she became a power-hungry maniac obsessed with her beauty and retaining it. She accompanied Vlad on his campaign of conquest and, upon his death in Altdorf, committed suicide rather than continue through eternity without her beloved husband.
Jerek von Carstein Sired by Vlad in Inheritance, he is the last Vampire created by Vlad before his demise. Once Jerek Kruger, a noble and proud man who served as Grand Master of the Knights of the White Wolf, he once slew Vlad in combat, only for Vlad to rise again and claim vengeance a year later. Atop a temple spire in Middenheim, he and Vlad dueled again, resulting in Jerek Kruger becoming Jerek von Carstein, the youngest of Vlad's twisted mockery of a family.
While Vampirism turned Konrad into a beast who kills for blood, Jerek maintained his once-honourable heart. When Pieter leads an assault upon Nuln, Jerek quickly resents his 'brother' labeling him a monster after witnessing his acts of wanton slaughter. Jerek gleaned useful information from one of Konrad's pet Necromancers, however, learning the secret of Vlad's immortality: his signet ring. Jerek resolved to find and destroy it, traveling to Altdorf and even exhuming the bodies of Wilhelm and Vlad. He did not find the ring and despaired: the thief who took the ring was lost to him, and all he could do was hope that it would remain lost.
Losing his will to fight, disgusted by his own brethren, Jerek considered himself as neither human nor Vampire but torn between the two. He claimed Konrad was beyond help and that his kingdom would be the same as Vlad's - carrion birds fighting for scraps. Jerek was not killed as Konrad believed, and returned at the Battle of Grim Moor, where he aided in the human victory. He continued to thwart the Von Carstein line, thwarting Mannfred's alliances and continually seeking the cursed Carstein ring. At Hel Fenn he tore off Mannfred's left hand, which bore the Carstein Ring, leaving him easy prey for Martin of Stirland. Jerek took the Von Carstein Ring with him and was sealed up with it in an unknown location by Kallad, the ring's guardian for all eternity. As Kallad bricked Jerek Kruger up in the darkness, he acknowledged that the creature before him was a man and not an undead beast, remarking on Jerek's incredible humanity even after losing his soul. Presumably, the Von Carstein Ring remains lost to this day.
Fritz von Carstein Another of Konrad's brethren. He held power through a harem of beautiful female vampires to do his will. He sent assassins in a failed attempt to murder Konrad in his sleep, before being forced to flee. While in battle with the White Wolves outside Middenheim, Fritz's force gained the upper hand, only for Skellan to betray Fritz, cutting him down with a silver arrow. His last words told that Mannfred sent his regards and that in time all his brothers would join him. Fritz's heart was cut out by the Grand Master of the White Wolves and fed to the dogs of Middenheim.
Pieter von Carstein Regressed after the defeat at Altdorf and the flight into the Drakwald. Konrad describes him as the runt of the Von Carstein litter, reduced to sneaking around looking for scraps like an animal. Not long after Hans had been butchered, Pieter was sent to lead an army to Nuln and destroy it. Pieter was no leader and was too proud to heed Jerek's military counsel, resulting in a disastrously prolonged siege. In revenge, Jerek allowed the Witch Hunter Van Hal to spring a trap on Fritz in his coffin, destroying him. Pieter's black heart was later cut out and devoured by Jerek himself.
Hans von Carstein The most enigmatic and least successful Von Carstein Hans loathed Jerek and Konrad with a passion, eventually challenging Konrad to a duel. This proves a grave mistake: the much more skilled Konrad toys with Hans before decapitating his sibling and tossing his remains on a hearth fire.
Nyklaus von Carstein Ignored the squabbles of his brethren and sought greater power. He found the source of the power he needed in the Galleon's Graveyard. He raised thousands of undead and used them in a ritual that translocated his castle and the rock is sat on into the cursed waters. He took the wreckages of ships and turned his castle into a seafaring vessel, known as the Bloody Reaver. He took the new name of Count Noctilus and commanded the Dreadfleet.
Elize von Carstein Appears in The Rise of Nagash. She is as close to royalty as it is possible to be among Vampires given that she was Isabella's "first meal" upon her own becoming a Vampire. Elize was highly manipulative, believing that even the mighty Vlad and his successor Mannfred could, ultimately, be maneuvered and predicted. Her whereabouts during the Vampire Wars are not known, but Elize makes it known that she firmly believed - and still believes - that Mannfred will lead their species to ruination.
Anark von Carstein Appears in The Rise of Nagash. The blunt instrument to Markos' scalpel. Lacking in subtlety, he is blinded by his affection for Elize and is thus easily bent to her wishes. He is killed by Arkhan the Black. His whereabouts during the Vampire Wars are not known.
Markos von Carstein Appears in The Rise of Nagash. More intelligent and patient than Anark, he was considered by Mannfred to be by far the more dangerous of the two. Though Markos is just as much a pawn for Elize as Anark, he isn't as easily manipulated. He is killed by Mannfred. His whereabouts during the Vampire Wars are not known.
Gustavus von Carstein Was recently slain by vampire hunter Leopold Hanslich.
Source of the Name
The name Carstein comes from the Karnstein Trilogy, a series of Hammer Horror films based loosely on the character of Carmilla Karnstein from the gothic novel Carmilla. The name Carstein is actually used in the film Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter as the maiden name of the vampiric Lady Durward.