Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Campaign Week: part five


Come one, come all, to this: the final instalment of the narrative that evolved over the course of the Beard Bunker’s Campaign Week. If you’re new here, you might want to start at the beginning, then read the first and second parts of the story so far.

Also, fair warning: what with this last part being, like, totally epic and awesome and whatnot, it is not short. Be prepared for schturm and drang and much gnashing of teeth.

The Survivors

Somewhere in the Weiss Hills

Someone was shaking Amelia awake. “Sorry, miss, but it’s time to move on,” they said. She squinted at the light; the sun was coming up behind a pale sheet of cloud. The moorland turf beneath her was cold.  Her vision was still blurry, but better than it had been after the miscast. Her joints ached, and her hearing was still off. As she came to, she took in the other eight survivors, and in doing so, brief flashes of their night-time flight swam back to her: sneaking through the burned-out ruins of Müden. Being chased. Stumbling, tripping over every root, stopping to vomit, wiping the blood from her eyes and ears. Staying quiet. Having their cover blown by another survivor. Captain Brandt asking her to kill something. Failing. Then: the muzzle flash of the captain’s pistols lighting up the trees for an instant. Wolf-like rats as big horses leaping out at them. More running. More tripping. Hearing a soldier’s scream cut off abruptly. Captain Brandt told them to run; he’d hold them off.
          Without spells at her fingertips, Amelia was too scared to disagree, but the Blades and the last few Powderkegs refused to abandon him. Even Fabian, the bitter old priest, called on Sigmar to bless their weapons.
          Two soldiers died, and Oskar was badly bitten in the shoulder by one of the wolf-rats, but they killed the nearest of their hunters and fled into the Weiss Hills, running alongside the River Kiefer to keep their bearings in the darkness. Eventually, they could run no further. Amelia didn’t even remember falling asleep.
          Someone was shaking her awake again. “Sorry, miss, we can’t wait any longer,” they said. Her eyes adjusted. Captain Brandt was crouching next to her, his hand on her shoulder, his other still holding a scrap of cloth to his wound.
           “Water,” she said.
           “We’ve no skins; you’ll have to drink from the river.”
          Amelia sat up and rubbed her eyes. Flakes of dried blood stuck to her fingertips. “How far to the fort, d’you think?” she asked.
          “We’ll get there by sundown if we keep a good pace,” he said. She was warming to him; a poseur, yes, but not a selfish one. He’d kept them alive.
          “Seen any other survivors?” she asked.
          “None,” Oskar said numbly.
          “What about Grand Master von Rüdiger?”
          “Dead or captured. Last I saw, his lot were surrounded and being pulled from their horses.” 

It was dark by the time they shuffled through the gates of Fort Schippel. Stormbourne Dwarfs stood watch on the walls alongside the few remaining Imperial soldiers. Amelia was dog-tired, but the pain had subsided. To the left, five battle-worn horses stood shakily in the stables, being tended to by a farrier. Piled against the wall were five sets of barding bearing the dark metal livery of the Silver Drakes. They’d been right in the centre of the Empire line when it disintegrated. How, she wondered, had they survived?
          “Captain Brandt!” said a dour voice from the entrance to the barracks. Master von Rüdiger was marching towards them across the courtyard. “I’m surprised to see you here. Perhaps you would like to explain why you saw fit to abandon the right flank?”
           “Master von Rüdiger,” Oskar hailed, trying to salute despite the fact that his injury prevented him from raising his arm high enough.
          “Well?” von Rüdiger asked, not appearing to care that he was reprimanding the walking wounded. His own armour bore the marks of the battle, and yet the Grand Master of the Silver Drakes appeared none the worse for it. He didn’t even seem tired.
          Oskar hesitated before answering. “We stood our ground and took the charge, but the Powderkegs are ill-equipped for close-quarters, and—”
          “Did I not order you to hold the right, captain?”
          “Yes, Master, and we held it as long as—”
          “You were unwilling to make the sacrifices that war demands, and when your flank broke, my men were surrounded. You are a coward, and a deserter. What is it that we do to deserters, Captain?”
          “We hang them,” Oskar said without intonation. Amelia tightened her grip on her staff.
          “We hang them,” von Rüdiger repeated.
          But for the heavy breathing of the horses, the courtyard was silent.
          Amelia wanted to threaten von Rüdiger with a quick-yet-painful death, but even in her state she knew that shouting at a Grand Master would seriously undermine respect for the chain of command.
          Had she been more awake, the solution would have occurred to her much faster. Her colleagues did it all the time, largely as a means to maintain the Amethyst Order’s morbid reputation, but now, it was the perfect way to remonstrate with von Rüdiger without starting a shouting match: she projected her voice into his head.
          This so-called deserter risked his life to save mine, she said. The templar turned to look at her. His expression remained inscrutable, but the speed of his turn betrayed his surprise. Oskar followed von Rüdiger’s glance and looked at Amelia, confused. He is willing to make sacrifices, but only if they serve a purpose. Now, before you open your mouth, think. You don’t have enough soldiers to start executing them. Show them mercy.
          Von Rüdiger stared hard at Amelia. If he was intimidated, it wasn’t obvious.
          They stood there for a moment. Oskar and the men became visibly nervous.
          “Go to your billets,” von Rüdiger said at length, “and be grateful that Hochland cannot afford to lose any more soldiers today.” With that, he turned on his heel and made for the barracks.
          “Thank you, sir,” Oskar said, his shoulders slumping in relief.
          As they made their way to the barracks, Oskar looked over his shoulder at Amelia.
          You owe me, she projected. Oskar’s eyes widened in shock, and he looked away. A moment later, he looked back again, and gave her a grateful smile. Surprising herself, she returned it.

Trouble in the North

Whilst Imperial reinforcements moved up from Fort Denkh, life in Fort Schippel took on a distinctly dwarfen quality. Some of Dwalin's company tried to explain to the human cooks how to produce ‘proper’ food. Dafrir's Deadeyes generally handled the watch, and seemed quite content to stay on guard through the nights without rest, while Cedric and Stromni's Wanderers patrolled the surrounding hills. The Knights of the Silver Drake rode out almost every day at dawn and returned at dusk, their blades in need of sharpening and their armour in need of mending.
          The Skaven, as the Dwarfs referred to them, didn’t venture far from Hergig. So long as that remained the case, Dwalin was confident that his company could keep any local tribes of beastmen and goblins in check until Schippel was repopulated. Aside from a few stragglers, almost no-one returned from the disaster outside Hergig.
          With Oskar injured, Amelia didn’t think it feasible to head north with him to check the de Crécys' bodies, and so instead she laid low, regaining her strength. Once reinforcements arrived, another push on Hergig seemed inevitable.
          Three days later, a Stormbourne gyrocopter came to Fort Schippel and landed in the courtyard. The pilot brought ill news from Lord Hafnir’s forces in the north: the castle at Hovelhof was being rebuilt by animated corpses, and a vast army of the dead led by two vampires had marched east out of the town gates, raising yet more bodies from the ruins of Esk and Koerin. They’d been heading for the ruins of Breder when Lord Hafnir, seeing them march ever closer to Karak Hoch, had attacked.
          At first, the Dwarfs were overwhelmed, and beaten back past Breder. Eventually, Hafnir managed to stop the enemy’s advance, but at a heavy cost in lives. Then, for reasons the Stormbournes could only guess at, one of the vampires marched back to Hovelhof, leaving the other with just enough forces to keep Hafnir bogged down.
          “But the de Crécys were slain!” Amelia said, her heart sinking. “This, Master Rüdiger, was why it was important to check the bodies. Tell me,” she said, turning back to the gyrocopter pilot, “tell me of the vampires leading the army.”
          “Two men, in full plate. One fights from horseback. The other fights less like a man, and more like a beast.”
          “Is the bestial one winged? Twice the size of a man?” she asked, remembering Oskar’s description.
          “I just told you, no, he’s a man in full plate.”
          “And the other, does he look ancient? As an old man?”
          “No, they both have the look of humans barely past their thirtieth year.”
          Amelia spat a curse.
          “We have no army in the north to meet them,” Master Rüdiger said. “If they march on the refugee camp at Bergsburg, it will fall. All our strength lies in the south.”
          “I know, I know,” Amelia said angrily, pacing about the courtyard. She pored through necromantic lore in her mind, recalling all that she’d read in Altdorf before setting out for Hochland the year before. As she paced, and mouthed half-remembered words to herself, Dwalin and von Rüdiger spoke of redirecting the armies north, and how they’d fend off the Skaven if they did so. “Master Rüdiger,” Amelia said at length, “I have a most foolish scheme, but... I will need your help.”
          “Speak, then.”
          “We don’t have the numbers to beat their army, but I believe we may not have to if we can undo the magic that binds it together.”
          “What do you need?”
          “A fast horse, and your protection. We must reach Bergsburg before the de Crécys realise it is unprotected. That, and a way to find the brothers’ army.”
          “I reckon I might be of use there,” the gyrocopter pilot said.



Nine Horses, One Wizard, and a Lot of Optimism

 Amelia rode out from Fort Schippel with von Rüdiger and four knights. They galloped west along the Old Forest Road, with the gyrocopter comfortably keeping pace overhead. There were two Silver Drake chapter houses on the way; they changed horses at both, and picked up another four knights in the second one. By mid-afternoon on the second day, they reached the refugee tents surrounding the walls of Bergsburg. Whilst they switched horses and ate, the Stormbourne gyrocopter flew northeast to watch for signs of any impending attacks.
          The dwarf returned an hour later and set his craft down outside the city gates, blowing several tents over. Ignoring the surprised shrieks of some nearby refugees, Amelia strode up to him and asked what he’d seen.
          There was an army – three regiments of foot and one of horse – making its way south from Hovelhof to the small town of Wahnsinningen, only twenty miles east of Bergsburg. They would reach the town’s watchtower within the hour.
          “The garrison’s not much more than a sorry-looking volley gun mounted on the watchtower, a few huntsmen from the village, and twenty men-at-arms,” the pilot explained.
          “Did you at least soften up the enemy infantry with that gun of yours?” von Rüdiger asked, indicating the steam gun protruding from the gyrocopter’s belly.
          “Not a chance, horse-master. We’ve already learned the hard way that these vampires use foul magics that’ll knock this fine craft right out the sky if I come too close.”
          “Fine,” Amelia said, “it changes nothing about the plan, and we’re wasting time.”
          There were so few towns left in human hands since the war; she wasn’t about to let one of them get run over by a long-dead Brettonian.
          They rode hard down the road to Wahnsinningen. Amelia turned the hook-phrases of the Fate of Bjuna through her mind over and over. In all probability, she would only have one chance to speak them in anger.

Sixteen miles east, the men of the Wahnsinningen watchtower had just given up hope that help would reach them in time. It had been reassuring to see the dwarf in his flying mount, until they’d realised he wasn’t going to fight with them, and now, cresting the brow of the nearest hill, an army was marching steadily towards them. Albrecht Wahnsen, the master gunner of the tower’s Helblaster, watched the enemy through a looking glass, and immediately regretted it. Rotting flesh, skeletal limbs, ethereal steeds, all moving in perfect step to one inaudible drum, and in their centre, a pale-faced knight with dark, tattered fabric draped over his armour. Albrecht simply stared, rooted to the spot. Behind him, his crew asked for orders, and when they heard nothing, made ready for a volley anyway.

Phillippe de Crécy and his knights lead the charge
down the hill overlooking Wahnsinningen.

The civilian militia stationed in the tower fired their bows into the oncoming corpses to little noticeable effect. The poorly-maintained volley gun fired off a rack of barrels and un-horsed a skeleton cavalryman before the turnwheel locked mid-rotation, preventing the other six barrels from firing. On the right, the town’s Sigmarite priest led the garrison force of twenty swordsmen forwards, taking position behind the outer wall and preparing to fight, even though the skeleton warriors and zombies outnumbered them two to one. Every man there knew that only a quarter of a mile back down the road, their wives and children were gathering up their possessions and making ready to flee their homes.
          The dark figure riding at the fore of the undead knights rose his hand as his regiment accelerated. Behind him, the knight that had been shattered by the Helblaster drew itself back together, and re-joined its regiment. Atop the tower, the Helblaster crew worked frantically to free the turnwheel. On the right, the swordsmen took the charge of the undead infantry and held the perimeter at first, but one by one, the grasping hands of the zombies dragged men over the wall while others were run through with rusting spear tips. At this stage, their only hope was to buy their families enough time to flee for Bergsburg.
          Finally, the Helblaster’s turnwheel came free, and the crew fired off the last two racks of barrels just as the skeletal cavalry passed within its minimum range. A few of the knights at the back exploded in a cloud of splintering bone, but the bulk of them emerged unscathed. There was no way they could flee back to the town now; the cavalry would simply run them down. Albrecht’s hope drained away. The swordsmen had lost half their number, and the militia wouldn’t be able to hold the tower’s door for long. He shared a knowing look with Günther, one of his crew and a father of five. They would hold the tower as long as possible; every minute they drew breath was another minute in which their wives and children might run further.
          Günther broke eye contact, and squinted over Albrecht’s shoulder. Albrecht turned, and saw nine riders galloping up the road. These were their reinforcements? This was all Hochland could spare? Eight knights and an unarmoured figure with a scythe. It seemed like a pointless gesture.

Amelia could hear little other than the thunder of the knights’ horses and the clanking of their heavy plate, but von Rüdiger was definitely shouting something at her. Ahead, they could see the watchtower, and to the right, an Imperial banner wavered before a sea of grasping corpses. “We’ll take the right,” von Rüdiger repeated over the din. “Find the vampire.” She looked his way and gave him a nod before continuing straight down the centre. The knights split off right, around the perimeter wall.
          The motion of the horse beneath her made it impossible to concentrate. She urged it on, galloping through the garrison’s main gates, and swung right around the tower. As she rounded it, a regiment of skeletal cavalry was revealed bearing a Brettonian banner. There, in their midst, rode a knight swathed in faded black cloth.
          Amelia jumped out of the saddle as soon as the horse was going slowly enough, and sprinted across the compound as she began to draw power from the aetheric winds. The sheer number of animated dead and summoned souls in the area meant that the Wind of Shyish was blowing strong, and the power rushed into her almost too quickly.
          From his poise and focus, she guessed the vampire to be Phillippe. Now committed to the final moment of his charge on the watchtower, he didn’t seem to notice her.
          She opened her mouth, and began the Fate of Bjuna.
          The Old Reikspiel words left a metallic taste in her mouth. Phillippe’s gaze snapped in her direction, and she felt his ancient mind pit itself against her. The grass at her feet withered and blackened. His will pressed down on her mind like a suffocating blanket. Fighting off the urge to gasp for air, Amelia spoke the final line of the spell.
          Phillippe slowed in his charge, allowing his knights to overtake him. He wheeled his steed around, as if to charge Amelia. For a moment, she thought the spell had failed. Phillippe stared her down and laughed.
          Bjuna was a mighty warrior, but he never smiled, and so Ranald the trickster-god cursed him. Bjuna laughed, and laughed, and laughed until his sides split.
          Phillippe’s eyes had no mirth in them as the grin on his face spread to an impossible width. Cracks appeared either side of his mouth. With every downward jerk of his jaw, the cracks widened. Old, dark blood rolled down the vampire’s neck. He howled his mirth across the field. Blood began to push through the gaps in the armour covering his ribs, and then, far more suddenly, Phillippe’s undead mount fell apart underneath him like a sack of rotten off-cuts. The undead army faltered in its step just as the skeletal cavalry reached the watchtower. Some of the zombies on the right flank stopped moving, and then collapsed.
          But then, the heap of rags that had been Phillippe de Crécy began to move, pushing its way free of its ruined mount and scrambling back, behind its minions. Amelia thought to run forwards, but there was no way to get past the cavalry, the ghoulish minions, or the shambling dead. A sorry collection of robes, still howling with uncontrolled mirth, scrambled back up the hill, out of her reach. She screamed in frustration.
          “Finish him!” she screamed at von Rüdiger, but he couldn’t hear her from so far away, mired as he was amidst the teeming zombies. Finish him, she projected, but she could already see the templar’s horse was so mired in the dead that there was no way he could break free of the fight.
          It was at that point that the undead cavalry swept through the walls of the watchtower as if they weren’t even there. Moments later, the door was opened from the inside. The militia and volley gun crew came running out, screaming in terror. The cavalry came galloping after them, appearing out of the wall as spectres, and rode them down. As they did so, one of the undead horsemen spontaneously disintegrated. It was too little, too late.
          The vampire is down, but not truly dead, she projected to von Rüdiger. Get out of there.

They fell back to the town itself, and the undead troops seemed incapable of moving fast enough to keep up with them. The further they got from Phillippe’s mangled form on the hillside, the more sluggish they became. More and more of them crumbled, but not enough to risk another attack. It was with bitter frustration that Amelia watched the remnants of the undead cavalry carry their master away and out of sight.
          Von Rüdiger rode over to her, and she braced herself for the inevitable scolding. She’d risked the last of the Silver Drakes to kill a vampire, and yet, somehow, Phillippe de Crécy had survived. She looked up at him, ready to accept whatever scorn he had for her.
          “No mean feat, von Lessing,” he said. Her brow furrowed in confusion. “He may not be dead, but I saw the state in which he quit the field. I imagine even a vampire will need time to recover. Were it not for you, the people of Wahnsinningen would be dead.”
          “Thanks,” she said without conviction.
          “Of course, we’ll need to evacuate the town.”
          “I know.”
          Ten minutes earlier, she thought to herself.

Wahnsinningen was evacuated that afternoon, leaving behind an empty expanse of fertile, recently-sewn fields. Once the civilians had been safely escorted to the camp at Bergsburg, Amelia and the Silver Drakes rode north to reconnoitre Hovelhof.
          It used to be a village sleeping at the foot of the middle mountains. Now, it was enclosed by a palisade wall, behind which a stone wall was being built by hundreds - if not thousands - of moving corpses. In the centre of it all, the partially-ruined keep of Count Ludenhof’s summer residence was being rebuilt in a distinctly Brettonian style. Tattered turquoise banners hung from the walls and flew from the stockade towers. Somewhere in an amongst it all was the ruined body of Phillippe de Crécy.
          There was nothing they could do; it would take an army far larger than the underwhelming garrison in Bergsburg to undertake a siege of the place. They had, at least, given themselves some time. With one of the de Crécys temporarily incapacitated, they could turn their attention to the Skaven threat.

Amelia journeyed back to Fort Schippel with the Silver Drakes. Having been filled with the reinforcements from Fort Denkh, the fortress was once again a hive of activity. Dwalin’s company were still present, and the Runesmith was more than keen on the notion of taking the fight back to the Skaven: “The Stormbournes have a grudge to settle with those ship-sinking cowards,” he muttered.
          Until now, the Skaven had battled the Dwarfs and the Empire one at a time. Now, they would have to face them both.

The Battle at the Crossroads

The Skaven would be expecting an assault from the North, so instead, Dwalin and von Rüdiger led their armies south to the ruins of Estorf and then east along the road. The Stormbournes were spoiling for a fight, and their grim resolve rubbed off on the Imperial state troops.
          “I still can’t believe you came,” Amelia said, walking down the road alongside Oskar.
          He shrugged, wincing as he did so. “Like Dwalin said: we’ve a score to settle.”
          It was not long after dawn, and they were still ten miles west of Hergig when they saw a Skaven army marching down the road towards them.
          Neither army seemed to be expecting a fight, and hurriedly fanned out into battle lines on either side of the Estorf-Stöckse-Hergig crossroads. If anything, the Skaven seemed to have multiplied since the Imperial army’s defeat.

The initial deployment
The Stormbournes watch Voltik's hordes swarm over the hill.

On the other side of the battlefield, Skivvit watched as a team of slaves carried a vat of Sh!twhiskers’ Green Lightning Brew up from the back of the column. “Quick-quick, drink!” Skivvit snapped at the horde of clanrats under his command. One of the nearest clanrats sniffed at the brew as the slaves ladled it out into tin cups, and promptly went boss-eyed.
          “Is it safe-safe?” one of the other rats asked nervously, remembering how many of his litter-mates had died after drinking the last batch. Suddenly, Skivvit’s halberd was protruding from the clanrat’s chest. He emitted a surprised little squeak, and died before he hit the ground.
          “Drinking much safer than not drinking,” Skivvit explained. Suddenly, no-one could get at a cup fast enough.

Skivvit's horde, now properly drunk and raring to go, begin their advance.

The Skaven advance was swift, and accompanied by mortar teams that flung globes full of poisonous green gas into the allied lines. Thirty feet to Amelia's left, von Rüdiger’s knights disappeared behind a green cloud. She waited nervously for the gas to dissipate and fought off the urge to call a retreat. As the view cleared, only the Grand Master and three of his knights were still standing. Coughing, von Rüdiger turned in his saddle and shouted, “Von Lessing, tell Captain Brandt to concentrate fire on the nearest enemy regiment. I’ll do what I can to hold off the others. Sigmar guide you.” The fatalistic tone of his voice worried her.
          “Master von Rüdiger?” Amelia asked.
          “I’ll not be defeated twice,” he said, spurring his horse into a charge. She understood that he didn’t wish to stand still getting shot at by mortars, but charging headlong into the horde was suicide.
          Her attention was soon drawn away from the charging knights; straight ahead, amidst a regiment of Skaven infantry, was a rat taller than the rest. He appeared to have some sort of mechanical apparatus on his back linked to a mechanical claw. Amelia wasn’t sure what it did, but she had no intention of finding out.
          “Concentrate all fire on that regiment!” she shouted, hearing Oskar give the same command to her right. The archers, the Powderkegs, and the Dwarf Organ gun made ready to fire.

The Silver Drakes begin their charge as the gun line prepares to fire on
Voltik's unit.

Amelia looks on in disbelief.

The knights continue their charge into the Skaven line...

...and promptly disappear into a sea of furry bodies.

Meanwhile, on the left flank, a Stormbourne gyrocopter flies behind enemy
lines with its steam cannon primed.

Over on the left flank, Stromni’s Wanderers fired off two quick crossbow volleys as a blood-hungry horde of Skaven charged in. Each shot was a kill, but it made little difference against such numbers. The rangers drew their great-axes and braced against the shoddy human wall, keen to get every defensive advantage they could.

Incredibly, Stromni's regiment held against Skivvit's charge.

To Amelia’s surprise, the Silver Drakes succeeded in holding up an entire regiment of clanrats, leaving the allied gun line free to concentrate its fire on the Skaven general’s unit. The right flank was looking strong. To the left, though, the Stormbournes were barely holding their ground against the horde. It was only a matter of time before the left flank would break. Amelia knew she needed to do something drastic.

It was just as it always had been: every time Dwalin killed one rat, another took its place, and another after that. Against such numbers, casualties were inevitable, even amongst the Ancient Mariners. There simply weren’t enough dwarfs in the field.

Amelia sprinted towards the centre of the line as poison wind mortar globes came whistling down around her. She had never attempted to cast Soulblight over such a large area before; drawing so much aetheric wind was quite a risk, but if it worked...

Dwalin wasn’t entirely sure what happened, but from the ugly tingling in his runestaff, he suspected Amelia was involved. A shockwave washed over them and rolled out across the battlefield. If it was meant to be some sort of magical boon, it didn’t do much for him. Then he noticed something happening to the Skaven. It was as though they had stopped trying; their thrusts were half-hearted, their blocking lacklustre. The longbeards around him needed no encouragement.
          As much as Dwalin was glad to have an easier time of it, the spell’s effects left a bitter taste in his mouth. It didn’t even seem like a real fight; he’d swing his staff down, and the clanrats in front wouldn’t even bring their shields up; they just seemed to accept death with numb indifference.

The effects of the Soulblight were even more spectacular than Amelia had expected. The Stormbournes managed to hold the left, while the gyrocopter sent a jet of scalding steam through the weakened clanrats directly ahead. Over on the right, the spell did a fine job of softening the enemy general’s unit for the gun line. So long as she could keep it up, they could win this.

“Front rank, fire!” Oskar shouted. “Second rank, fire! Keep at it, lads!”
          The rats in the Skaven general’s unit looked like they were about to flee. At this point, even if they reached the Powderkegs, Brother Fabian’s prayers would see them through the fight.

In the centre, von Rüdiger saw his chance to break from combat. The enemy’s right flank was dissolving, and the gun line would be able to handle the crowd of ratmen currently trying and failing to drag him from his horse. Bisecting a clanrat with the Blade of the First Knight, he ordered the only two knights left in the fight to retreat, and urged his horse to push out through the press of bodies.

Amelia made ready to cast again. This time, though, something had turned its will against her. To the right, the Skaven general was looking directly at her. She pushed against it, forcing the words through her mouth, but it was like trying to push a castle wall over. The Wind of Shyish guttered and dissipated.

The Skaven facing Stromni's Wanderers suddenly sprang back into action, and whilst the rangers had taken a spectacular toll, there were simply too few of them left to hold the wall. Sometimes, even a dwarf knows when it’s time to retreat.

Anger was Skivvit Backbreaker’s default state of being. This, though... this was something different. More. He wasn’t really sure what the word was. First, Voltik had told him to take on the dwarfs, which seemed like he was getting the gnawed end of the stick when there were squishy manlings on the other side of the field. Then, the dwarfs had refused to break, like they always did, even though he’d filled the horde’s bellies with Sh!twhiskers’ Special Brew. Then, the human wizard, Horned Rat damn her, had done something to his clanrats, and by the time they’d started fighting like proper Skaven again, most of them were dead. Still, that wasn’t what made him really angry. What made him really angry was that, at the point where the dwarfs finally started running away, at the point where he could show off and swing round and kill everything, he’d looked over to the left to see that Voltik, and the entire left flank of the army, were in full retreat. And if Voltik was running, who was going to stop the human wizard from making everything rubbish again? Skivvit spat every curse he knew, and ordered the retreat. The remaining dwarfs seemed to have much the same idea, and the two armies backed slowly away from each other, hurling insults in languages the other side couldn’t understand.

Dwalin Departs

Whilst the Skaven slinked back to Hergig, the Empire army – still reasonably intact – escorted Dwalin’s battered company north, past Stöckse, into the hills, then east, to the bridge over the River Kiefer.
          “Carry on through the Drakwald heading east-northeast,” Oskar explained to Dwalin, even though Cedric was giving him a look that said I know, “and you’ll reach a stretch of moorland running alongside the Wolf’s Run, where you could signal for a ship, or just carry on going to Eichewaldchen. They should be able to spare you a little food, if nothing else. Oh, and if you do pass through, tell Annekke and Hilde I said hello. But, um, don’t tell them at the same time.”
          Dwalin raised a bushy eyebrow. Oskar shrugged. Dwalin’s face broke into a rare grin. “You fought well, for a human,” he said, not seeming to think of the remark as being remotely patronising. “When the time comes...” he began.
          “Karak Hoch? Wouldn’t miss it,” Oskar said with a smile. “The rats have made enemies of us both, now.”
          Dwalin gave a nod, and turned to Amelia. “I don’t hold with sorcery, least of all your kind of sorcery, but I know the part you played back at the crossroads. It was an ugly spell, but it kept us in a tough fight.”
          “I’ll take that as thanks,” Amelia said with a wry smile.
          “If you want,” the Runesmith said, before ambling off in von Rüdiger’s direction.
          “Good luck, Mr Sneakfoot,” Oskar said to Cedric. “I’m not quite sure who else in Fort Schippel will make such an excellent drinking partner.”
          “Milord,” Cedric said, doffing his hood.

The Empire army had only been back in Fort Schippel for a day when Dwalin’s company, looking more bedraggled than ever, arrived at the gates.
          “What happened this time?” Oskar asked incredulously. Dwalin opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head and wandered off in the direction of the food stores.
          “Well, milord,” Cedric began. Amelia came over from the barracks to listen in, with von Rüdiger not far behind her. “We gets to that stretch of moorland south of Eichewaldchen, and who should be there, but them northmen what we done over a fortnight ago, and they looks dead set on revenge.”
 
Dwalin's company stumble upon the northmen in the eastern moors.

“We thinks: no matter, we saw them off last time, so we’ll see them off this time, and we makes ready. Dwalin’s in no mood for messing about, and I tries not to think about how big them Norse is when they gets close up. Anyway, it looks to be going fine, when an arseload of cavalry come running in over the hill to our left, led by some huge bloke on a girt great big ’orse, and... and...” Cedric’s shoulders slumped. “Weren’t pretty,” he added.

Norse cavalry appears on the Stormbournes' flank...

...with predictably gory results.

          “And so you’re back here,” Oskar said in a sympathetic tone.
          “Yarp.”
           “Where’s the Bugman’s gone?” they heard Dwalin shout from the store room.
          “You cleared us out during your last visit,” Oskar replied.
          “Damn your ancestors!”
          “Damn yours!” Oskar retorted
          “Watch your tone," Dwalin said, appearing in the store room doorway. "When Lord Hafnir told me the Stormbournes were cursed,” he continued, “I just didn’t believe him. Luck’s in the perception of it. But now...”
          “The eastern moors, you say?” Oskar said, turning to von Rüdiger with a suggestive look on his face.
          “Perhaps you’re not such a coward,” von Rüdiger said. “We’ll ride out tomorrow.”
          “Tomorrow,” Amelia agreed.
          “On the upside,” Cedric said, “there really can’t be anyone else in the Drakwald who wants us dead, am I right?”
          Dwalin, Oskar, Amelia and von Rüdiger all turned and gave him a look that said stop talking. Stop talking right now.

*   *   *

[pant... pant... pant...] aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand then Campaign Week was over. Jeff drove back to Cardiff, Mark drove back to the Barbarian North, and Maisey, Em and I had a bit of a sit. It’s fair to say that every faction has been given a bloody nose: Phillippe de Crécy will be needing a lengthy convalescence, Voltik’s first march out of Hergig has ended in a bloody stalemate, Hochland’s state troops are now stretched so thinly that they can’t actually defend the paltry number of settlements they’ve got left, Splendiferus is facing a challenge to his leadership from a hitherto-unknown Kurgan on a Bloody Big Pony (TM), and Dwalin just can’t get back to Karak Hoch.

The campaign map at the end of the week: Wahnsinningen is now abandoned,
and the Dwarfs have built another fortification on the Wolf's Run - there was
an entire sub-plot involving some incompetent goblins that I just didn't have
space for in this (already enormous) post.

The important thing is that we all played some memorable games, and everyone’s army had its moment to shine at some point during the week. The best thing about it all is that the week gave life to what is now a persistent game world, giving our future battles much more character and narrative than they did before.

We also learned a bunch of things.

Mark took his first shot at being a Games Master, and kept me thoroughly entertained and/or terrified for about three hours as the survivors of the disaster at Hergig were hunted through the night by wolf-rats.

Jeff finally learned the eighth edition of Warhammer Fantasy, and discovered that Dwarfs can actually hold their own in it. Moreover, he learnt a lot about how effective the different units in his army are in 8th ed – more on that in a few days’ time.

Emma learned that there was a reason she’d spent all that time painting those Chaos Knights when they flattened Jeff’s army, Maisey learned that Empire Battle Wizards with the Lore of Death need to die, and I learned an uncomfortable home truth about my playing style. I’ll be talking about that after Jeff’s given y’all his thoughts on how Dwarfs - and his army in particular - work in 8th ed.

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this mammoth write-up. If you did, leave a comment and we’ll post the occasional update as the story continues over the course of the year. We will, in accordance with the feedback some of you have already provided, be including more photos of battles in the future. See? Feedback: we listen to you guys.

~Charlie

4 comments:

  1. Damn, wish I could have been a part of that, sounds like it was suitably epic.
    I've really enjoyed the dramatisation of it as well, brings things to life fantastically.

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    1. Thanks Andy, it's nice to hear said dramatisation was entertaining!

      "Damn, wish I could have been a part of that." ...you still could be, dude. Perhaps your Skaven are an ally of Clan Voltik, or perhaps they're entirely unaffiliated. Who knows, maybe they're the scum the Stormbournes are trying to kick out of the ruins of Karak Hoch... if there are any such possibilities that get your hobby juices going, you're welcome to get involved. Should you ever have any free time. Which you probably won't, if precedent is anything to go by :P

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  2. So, only just discovered this blog (a few years late haha) and have been happily devouring it from the beginning. This was incredible guys, very well done!

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    1. That is extremely gratifying to hear, Malcus, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thanks :)

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