“Seems to be going well so far,” said Rarbuik, from his side of the wagon.
“We’re a good four days from Kazad Urkbavak,” said Dougnec, from his, “and another half day to Karaz-a-Karak. Uphill, too, and probably in the snow.”
“It’s the middle of bloody summer,” said Rarbuik. “We’re going through the pass, not up the bloody mountain.”
“Stop your bloody swearin’,” said Fargon. He was the older member of the crew, and he’d not taken his sunhat off since they set out. “And watch the road.”
“Barely a road anyway,” said Rarbuik. He wasn’t entirely wrong. They were, more or less, following the course of the Skull River; though the shipments usually went by boat, the whole conceit of the operation depended on every wagon being a wagon, and easy to mix up, even if you were some halfwit goblin with mushrooms where his brain should be. Of course, the shipments usually went by boat because you had the Badlands on one side of the river, big nasty orcs down that way, and you had the Forest of Gloom on the other, and no bugger wanted to go in there if they could possibly avoid it. Even if it was a bit thin and scrubby this far south, it was still trees, wasn’t it?
“I told you to stop your bloody swearin’,” said Fargon, and Rarbuik realised he’d been thinking aloud for the last two hundred yards. Then he stopped, quite abruptly, because there was something on the road ahead of them, just peeping over the horizon.
It was a tall, black, pointy sort of something. On a stick. It looked a bit like a giant X-rune, with horns on and bits on the side. And it was bobbing up and down in a very threatening way, like… someone was carrying it. Upright. While they were marching.
Rarbuik thought he’d better mention it.
“Anyone else see that?” he asked.
“Anyone else see them?”
Dougnec was already scrambling onto the wagon. With his free hand, he pointed due west: sure enough, there was another banner pole (for such it was), borne in the armoured hand of a rider in black, who’d brought four of his friends along for a jolly gallop in the country by Rarbuik’s estimation. Rarbuik had a quick shufty off to the north, just to check, and it looked as if there was some kerfuffle going on up there too: lots of braying and bellowing that didn’t sit easily on his ears, and then there were the animal noises answering the Norscan voices, too.
“Get on the back of the cart, lad,” said Fargon. “We’re goin’ through.”
Rarbuik didn’t quite get on the cart. He would have, but something had settled on his hand, and was settling on the cart too, where it didn’t disappear quite so fast in the heat. It was snowing. It was bloody well snowing at midsummer, as if to prove Dougnec right.
And then, from the raggedy edge of the Forest of Gloom, the screaming started.
Act Two: “You call that soup? This is what I call soup…”
Back in the relatively chill side room for my last game of the weekend, against Brendan Sparrow and his jumbo tureen of Chaos Undecided. This was exactly the kind of game I enjoy. Brendan’s a lovely chap, quiet and contemplative and working things out aloud as he goes along so you can take the game as a conversation and smooth things along toward a nice refreshing conclusion. Also, his army was savage when I stopped and thought about it.
Chaos Lord, with the Mark of Chaos Undivided; Aspiring Champion with the Battle Standard and the Mark of Khorne; two Wargors, one with the Mark of Slaanesh and a Scroll, one with the Lore of Shadows and a Spell Familiar. Then a unit of Chaos Warriors (Mark of Khorne), a unit of Chosen Knights (Mark of Slaanesh), a Chariot (Chaos Undivided, nothing fancy) and screening Warhounds; a Beastherd, some Furies, three Minotaurs (Mark of Nurgle) and a big block of Dogs of War Norscans with flails.
When you break that down, that’s two blocks of Frenzied infantry, six casting and six dispel dice, a unit of 1+ save cavalry that cares not for psychology so you will have to kill all of them, some flying daemons and skirmishing bait and blockers with a 4+ save, and probably the two best spell lores Chaos can get. It’s an all round list with a lot of tech to it and, in a Breakthrough scenario, it has a lot of threats that can potentially add up to a win.
Despite this, I came out swinging. I was determined to even the odds by the end of the day. Whatever else happened, this one was going to go the distance. It did, and by all the gods of the bloody great wheel it was a cracker.
I don’t know if I want to write it up as a story or a conventional report, because so much happened. I’ll try and do both, and hope it all makes sense somehow.
Ahead of the Black-Briar, the spirits of the Deadwood made their stand; time was needed for the arrows of pact-pledged to reap their toll, and time they would have. Uchelwydd strode to the fore, the dry soil cracking under his every tread. The Brotherhood of the Pact turned to hold the flank against hoof and iron. And from the trees the Maven shrieked her war-song, hate and fury and wounded pride dragging the dying trees in her wake.
Although Strangleroots didn’t do them any damage, the Minotaurs advanced into short range of all the Black-Briar and rapidly learned why that wasn’t the best idea. Even the Mark of Nurgle can only soak so many hits.
Blood. Iron. Pain. Hunt. Kill.
There was more to Hywel’s thoughts, but the struggle was always there. The forest had taken him and sent him back; touched him and changed him. Always its simple will pressed back his own, inexorable as the seasons.
This was why he did not lead. This was why he dared not lead. The Maven was cruel, but she was sane. Saner than him. She had tricked him and he had no right to rule, not now. What folly would he lead them to next? What choice had he had?
No. These thoughts were poison. The forest had a simpler way. Pain? Hunt. Kill.
This was why he stood, now, with half an army before him; his bow took shape from his wooden flesh, and he nocked a single arrow from the empty air.
Two knights fell. It had begun.
I ummed and ahhed about this, but there was nobody I trusted to clean up this flank more than Hywel. The Hail of Doom might have been better used against a lighter unit, but I figured forcing through as many S4 hits on the Knights from the earliest possible moment was my best chance at bringing them down. Two kills from fifteen hits, against that armour save? I’ll take it.
Steady, steady, steady…
The beasts would come. The beasts would throw themselves upon her lines in disarray. The beasts would bring themselves to her…
Yet hatred stirred in the Maven’s heart, and she knew she must kill. Had she vowed vengeance and the breaking of bones to do nothing? Had she been trampled to sawdust to stand idle now?
I really shouldn’t have done this; I should have made the bait go around or keep the Norscans blocked. I think in my heart I’d chosen to roleplay the Maven as if she now hated Beastmen, after all the kickings she’d had from them lately; I also admit to wanting to win a round of combat, so badly. Charging the obvious bait might have been a good idea, chasing them down was absolutely not, but I had hatred in my heart even if it wasn’t on my character sheet.
Next would be the winged ones, the false-kin of the skies. They swept down on wings of spite and coward’s courage and fool’s hope – real enough to fly, real enough to fight, but Hywel could see them for what they were. But when your sword is the winter’s cold fury, the hard ground and the hoar frost, made every bit as real as these poison thoughts in flesh, they die soon enough, either way.
Mister Magic Weapon is introduced to the Furies. It goes as well as can be expected. I really wanted to give him the Sword of a Thousand Winters but I don’t want to load any more gimmicks into this army; it’s already struggling without the burden of nonsense.
This one led them! This one defiled! This one tore his skin from the bones of the earth! This one would pay!
But as the Maven’s scythe spun and danced in her hands, as his blows were caught by haft and crook, her sisters were dying again. Heavy iron met faerie flesh. Every blow that landed was execution.
I mean, what actually did for the Dryads was, as ever, static combat resolution. They really need a friend who isn’t a skirmisher like them, but I cannot get these units that all move five inches a turn to line up and fight nicely together for some reason. There’s a Minotaur in their flank, who killed two Dryads and wasn’t helping matters any, but at least they managed to kill him in return.
The little sister was dying again.
Uchelwydd sighed heavy, planted roots deep. Sometimes he regretted answering the call; why had he not slept the winter away like all his brothers? Eternity in a curse-bound slumber was starting to sound like a relief.
There were men, in steel skins. They had axes. Uchelwydd roared his rage, and still they came on; yet as they came the roots burst the ground beneath them, and one-two-three-four, four fewer axes to bite.
After a lacklustre show so far, Uchelwydd’s Strangleroots does ten hits to these oncoming Chaos Warriors. That would be a panickin’, in a less sensibly constructed list. They did their best to sink some wounds onto him, but I don’t think they even brought him halfway down. If I could back that big log up properly he’d be a superstar: as it is, he’s my best unit right up until he breaks, at which point the game has usually given way around him. I think I might want two of these.
Hold the line.
Save the wood.
Serve the Maven.
They had all made the Pact. They had all sworn the vow. They were brothers in endless service; ghost-flesh, dead-wood.
There was something coming. It struck the line. A spike of steel cut deep.
The Brotherhood of the Dead Wood closed ranks.
There wasn’t something coming any more.
Brendan was spectacularly unlucky with his Chariot charge; the impact hits didn’t really wound much, the crew missed, and the horses were struggling to make a dent on T5 Tree-Kin. They whomped it to matchwood, as you do, but were functionally out of the game at this point with nothing left to charge or hold the flank against.
Arrows had flown and the forest had sung. Many a beast had died, many a throat had been pierced. The Maven was trampled in dust, but she would rise as she always rose; curse as she’d always cursed; endure, as the bitch always did.
Bloddeuwydd didn’t know where that thought had come from. How had that malice, that murder-lust slipped into her mind? The Maven was not to be trusted – the Maven had done something, long ago – but what was done was done, and the Maven was their only hope, then as she was now, as it ever was.
Gilfaethwy stood beside her, arrow after arrow springing to his hand, nocked to his bow. He struck from the shadows, again and again – until the shadows struck back. In a whisper and a flicker and a flurry he was gone – just like that. Only darkness remained. Only darkness, and the Black-Briar trembled and knew fear in the dark, and they were gone.
I’ve been quiet about it so far, but after the initial “two dice three spells never works out” conversation, Brendan was dominating with his magic. Luxurious Torment is such a subtly nasty spell; it takes control of a unit away, it inflicts damage right through the game, it has to be dispelled up front or you’re stuck with it because it doesn’t Remain in Play, and… arse biscuits, I’ve just realised it also renders the unit immune to panic, so these Glade Guard should be standing proud and trying not to froth at the mouth too much. I know they’re immune to panic when they have frenzy, I just forgot about the frenzy in amongst the d6 hits every round. Still, man. Slaanesh/Shadow. The perfect combination.
There was little left. Still the arrows flew, from the quivers of the Black-Briar. Still steel shuddered, still men fell, but not enough, not enough. Still came on the men of the North, and still the shadows and whispers were all around. Blodeuwydd felt it welling up in her cold ensorcelled heart; the heat, the burning heat. She trembled where she stood, on the edge of this forest in a foreign land; her lips parted and she moaned, helpless, pinioned by the gaze of the One Who Thirsts.
There was only one thing to do, and she did it. She shut her eyes, flung back her arms, and hurled herself forward into the embrace.
She was dead before she fell from the Lord of Chaos’ outstretched sword.
Kharnak the Usurper didn’t even break his stride.
With the demise of Blodeuwydd, forced to charge the Chaos Lord by yet another casting of Luxurious Torment, things were looking very bleak. I did everything in my power; Standing, Shooting, praying for numbers, but I couldn’t quite kill the last of the Chaos Warriors or even one of the Knights. Unseen Lurker catapulted the Brayherd into the lines as well, and altogether that was just enough points to get Brendan the win. Barely.
He reckons if I’d had Hywel charge into his Chaos Hounds and overrun into the Knights I’d have got it, and it’s hard to disagree (although I think I threw the game a bit with that Dryad charge, too). I think there was a reason why I didn’t: maybe the overrun angle was bad. Nevertheless I had the movement to reach the Knights and should have encircled them rather than pulling my most powerful aggressive fighter back to the centre where there wasn’t much left to do.
Other than that, a delightfully tense game, never a grim word said or grumpy face seen. This sort of thing is what we pay the ticket money for.
Defeat for the Wood Elves once again, but we sold our lives dearly, almost to the last elf. Oh, and I lost my general again, so…
Death for the Maven! Death for the Maven for One Thousand Years! I’m fine with it; she’s had enough lucky escapes from being locked in challenges while her sisters get butchered around her, and her luck can’t realistically hold out forever. Killing her allows me to move the army’s story forward in exactly the way that this event was designed to do (and justifies a bit of redrawing in the list department as well).
It goes wthout saying that I enjoyed this side of the event immensely: this is the sort of Warhammer I want to get out of bed for, and the tournament day before was really a warm-up for me. I’d have liked to do better, but it’s a new army and one with a lot of unusual quirks compared to what I’ve spent the last eighteen years playing. When I came home Rob asked me if I’d had a good time, and I was all ambivalent and “event was good, opponents were nice, not sure I enjoyed the army.” As I wrote this game up the love came back. That’s not to say I won’t be making some changes, but that’s a matter for the next post. In the meantime, here’s the wrap up in character…
The three dwarfs watched as a tide of shrieking, yammering things poured out of the forest; in their wake, lines of ashen-faced elves in cowls, long bows of new wood in their hands.
For half a moment, Rarbuik thought they’d get away with it. The great lumbering mass of a Treeman planted himself right between the dark horde and the road; the horde of Dryads rushed forward, howling blue murder at the beastmen as they rushed in. On the road ahead, something tall and lean with sweeping horns and a mane of cloudy hair bounded toward the Knights of Chaos; was that a bastard long sword or a recurved bow in his hands, and did it really matter? Rarbuik and the lads weren’t sure it did.
Yet the wave broke, on the rock of Chaos. The Dryads disappeared beneath iron-headed flails and iron-capped boots. The Treeman wavered as they fell, and in his moment of weakness the dark warriors surged around him as he toppled. Still the elven archers stood their ground, but too late, too late.
Rarbuik saw the elf with the horns once more, before the end. He stood atop a little rocky outcrop, surveying the scene; he threw back his head and he howled with an anguish none of the dwarfs had heard come from any living throat.
It was Dougnec who’d seen why, though he wouldn’t live to put two and two together and say so. Dougnec was facing backwards, and he’d seen the elf maiden in her cloak of briars throw herself onto the Chaos champion’s sword with the sort of outcry a dwarf normally saved for a plate of curry and a cold pint.
The archers melted back, into the woods, a ragged handful giving ground before the last warriors of Chaos. The elf with the horns shook his head, leapt from his crag, and followed.
“Bloody perfidious elves,” said Raurbik, and then “sorry, Fargon.”
“Fuck it,” said Fargon. “Don’t think it really matters, now.”
They were coming closer. The old dwarf stood up in the driver’s seat. For the first time since they’d left Karak Dron, he tugged off his hat and threw it down in the dust. With his free hand he coaxed his line of thick, tufty orange hair back upright, or as close to upright as he could manage. And finally, Rarbuik understood what they were doing up here, and why Fargon hadn’t been in any hurry to reach Karaz-a-Karak at all.
“You lads had best be off,” he said. “No sense us all getting done in.”
“What, and shave my head myself for my trouble?” said Dougnec.
“Like you said,” said Raurbik. “Fuck it. Right?”
“Good lads,” said Fargon, and took the reins tight in his hands. “They’ll never take us alive. Ya mule!”
Prince Hywel never saw the explosion, but he heard it all right. He heard it from half a mile away, and gave a grim nod. Whatever else happened, the Forest of Gloom had been protected. No minion of the Usurper had made it past the old dwarf road, of that he was damn sure. And for the first time in a thousand years and change, he was thinking clearly. What had this wretched Pact ever done for them? His own mind, a prison; his son, his daughter; both dead. And if he ever set eyes on that treacherous spite of a Maven again, she’d regret not staying dead this time…