And now for something completely different. Fiction. Probably not very high quality fiction. But there’s context here that makes it relevant, so allow me to back-up for a bit.
I mentioned that a couple of weeks ago I played my first Warhammer battle in years, a sentimental celebration of my earliest experiences of tabletop gaming. Rose-tinted spectacles had certainly helped me overlook the more obnoxious elements of the game, mainly the sheer number of rules, and how easy it is to forget them in the heat of battle. But I was also reminded of how I first got hooked on this hobby: the emergent stories and tactical challenges that go hand-in-hand to produce a narrative experience quite unlike anything else. As several moments played out in my imagination, I was moved to do something else I haven’t done in years: try my hand at creative writing.
This isn’t a very good story. It’s unedited and overwritten, light on description and heavy on tactical detail (being my personal experience of the game and all). But quality writing isn’t the point; the point is I’m delighted to even be TRYING writing something like this again, and it is all thanks to my experience with this childhood tabletop game. It’s unlikely this story will be as an enjoyable for anyone else as it is for me (my opponent, maybe?), but I hope that it might inspire people anyway: to write, to game, and to write about games.
The flickering heat of the elven campfires provided little warmth to Lorima as she flickered across extra-dimensional currents, allowing her physical body to fade into immateriality as she searched for a hope that lay beyond her mortal sight.
Still nothing. Still no reinforcement. She sighed, and struggled to retain discipline amidst the swirling maelstrom of chaotic energy. When they’d set out from the Tower of Hoeth with their swordmaster bodyguard, it had been with expectation that the armies of Yvresse would flock to their banner in short order. So far all they’d mustered was a citizen militia. Every other force Lorima hoped would join her had already been embroiled in combating the greenskin invasion.
All save one.
A nimbus of light alerted Lorima to the emergence of another ethereal presence – her brother and fellow mage Lorastin. Ordinarily shifting between material and dimensional forms should have presented a formidable challenge to any magical disciple, but with more of Ulthuan’s watchstones falling to the goblins’ defiling taint every day, the veil between reality and chaos was growing thin. Lorastin had always been a more capable caster, but Lorima’s understanding of spell-warding was almost unparalleled. Of the two, only she truly understood what was at stake.
“Do you sense anything?” she asked, using neither voice nor words.
Lorastin provided no reassurance. “You place too much faith in our Prince,” he gently chided. “Even if his knights arrive in time, they will not stand in defence with us. Yurion is… reckless.”
It was difficult to argue with that. Yurion’s skill at arms was beyond question, but a cautious approach to warfare had never been in the elven lord’s nature. Being passed over for Eltharion’s recent invasion of Naggaroth was a bitter slight, and little had been seen of the Prince or his Silver Helms since.
But as Lorima returned to the physical world, she was reminded of the severity of the situation. A vast horde of goblins, wolves and assorted beasts flooded the plain ahead of the high elf formation. Ever since the ramshackle ships of Grom the Paunch’s goblin invasion had crashed against Ulthuan’s shores, the delicate balance of magical wards that kept the realm of chaos in check had been stretched to breaking point. In Eltharion’s absence, the goblins now marched on Tor Yvresse itself, and if this splinter force was able to reunite with Grom’s army, it might be enough to break the siege entirely. And if that happened… then the consequences didn’t bear considering.
No. She was certain that when the stakes were this high, Yurion would not abandon his people. If there was one thing the Prince would never do, it would be to back away from a fight. Lorima looked to the east and smiled broadly, delighted that her hopes had not been misplaced. A squadron of the finest cavalry Ulthuan’s nobility had to offer crested the slope, polished helms glistening in the light, formed up around a leader whose imperious might was perceptible even at this distance.
“Behold,” she spoke to her bodyguards. “Your Prince has arrived.”
* * * * *
Nikkit Boozeguzzla greeted the arrival of the pointy earz cavalry with an evil grin, exposing a mouthful of needle-sharp, blood-flecked teeth. Good. He’d been waiting to get this scrap started. The captives they’d tortured at the last town had warned him of this Prince Yurion: mighty, courageous and guileless, everything the goblin warboss wasn’t. He wouldn’t be difficult to deal with.
Surrounded by a mass of goblin infantry, Nikkit considered how best to put his cunning plan in motion. The reassuring mass of a giant blundering its way through a defiled stone circle protected one flank capably. The warboss had lost over a hundred gobbos trying to force the giant into the boat that landed on Ulthuan forty days later, but he was glad now to have undertaken that effort. On the other flank, the one facing the pointy earz prince, he had a small team of wolf riders ready to act as bait. They were squabbling right now, doubtless suspicious of their instructions to advance within charge range of the elven knights, but the survival of those scouts were not Nikkit’s concern. Yurion would punch through the wolf riders like a choppa through a snotling, but in doing so he would expose himself to a counter-charge from Nikkit’s own forces. As the wolf riders finally ambled into position, the warboss congratulated himself on his own genius. Now how best to crump the pointy earz centre…
* * * * *
For all of Yurion’s personality defects, he was a well-versed student of strategy and tactics, and a veteran of a hundred battlefields. He recognised the greenskin ambush when he saw it; he just didn’t care. He knew that another unit of his Helms were not far behind, but he wasn’t in the mood to wait for them either. His knights had not ridden the length and breadth of the elven kingdoms to shy from battle when it presented itself. He had come to kill goblins.
As the small pack of wolf riders loped within his sights, Yurion narrowed his eyes and lowered his blade. Without pause to issue orders or provide inspiring rhetoric, he charged out to meet his foe head-on, and his Silver Helms advanced alongside him. Crushing the pitiful goblin cavalry was a cathartic release; Yurion barely thought about his swordplay as he hacked apart a goblin archer, and decapitated its snarling steed for good measure.
“Let them come,” the Prince murmured under his breath, casting a glance to his magical blade as it shone brighter for its first taste of slaughter. The rest of the elven line would handle itself. As the wolf riders crumbled before him, his focus was entirely upon the next target ahead.
* * * * *
Lurking behind a forest cover, the remaining wolf riders fidgeted nervously in their saddles, looking to their big boss for direction. Hatilla was unconcerned, by their reluctance or by the casualties sustained so far. The scouts he had sacrificed had been his weakest troops; the best he had saved for his personal retinue, soon to be unleashed against the pointy earz. As he fed a squealing snotling runt to his giant wolf, Hatilla grumbled to himself – Nikkit’s plan had been a good one after all.
Light shone through the trees, and Hatilla knew that the pointy earz were coming. It was time to launch the ambush. The wolf boss screamed out a high-pitched battle cry, but a moment later the shout died in his throat. Too late he realised the mistake.
The pointy earz had advanced at such speed that they had cleared the plains and charged straight through, pursuing through the gap between the treeline and the ruins of a fallen watchtower. Nikkit had deployed a small horde in position to intercept, but in such a small space, their numbers counted against them. There simply wasn’t enough space for all the goblins to charge the elven knights at once, and Hatilla sharply halted the order to charge, terrified to face the unstoppable wave of pointy earz without the rest of his backup.
But in that moment of hesitation, the rest of Nikkit’s warriors took up the attack. A menagerie of hungry squigs, elastic spheroids herded into the field by what might loosely be described as “tamers”, leaped and bounded into the pointy earz, jumping to catch the mounted knights within their snapping jaws. Beside them, a goblin wolf chariot smashed into the fray, the impetus of its charge catching the pointy earz by surprise and stopping their rampage dead. The valley transformed into a tempest of scythes and teeth and screams, as the pride of Ulthuan clashed with the cave spawn of the World’s Edge Mountains.
Only one thing shone clear through the maelstrom – the blazing sword of the pointy earz leader, carving through the mass of squiggly meat without resistance. Hatilla swallowed, and slowly guided his wolf pack out of the forest, turning to expose the knights’ flank (the side far away from their general of course). This could still work out for the best.
* * * * *
By the flames of Asuryan, the winds of magic were wild this day! Again Lorima attempted to drain away the sorceries of the goblin shamans, drawing on whatever power she could from the land’s few remaining watchstones. But the power of chaos could not be tamed, and once again her efforts met with failure. As magical energies blazed around her, she contemplated the bizarre contradiction: never had she felt both so powerful and so powerless.
Her diminutive opponents hungrily drank upon that power with no restraint at all. Again and again they battered against Lorastin’s defences with magical attacks, and her brother staggered under the goblin mental assault. But such wild embrace of chaos was far beyond the ability of these creatures to control. With a bang that resounded across the battlefield, the mind of one goblin shaman was overcome, its head blasting apart in a spurt of blood and green energy.
This was a terrible omen, Lorima thought. If the loss of a few watchstones has already produced such tempestuous consequences… then the loss of Tor Yvresse would be truly apocalyptic.
Allowing herself a moment’s distraction from the magical duel, Lorima surveyed the rest of the battlefield. In the high elf centre, two formations of spearmen and Banelord Arastin’s swordmasters held the line, facing off against a mass of goblin infantry and a slowly approaching giant. Neither army had made a decisive advance yet, hoping that magic or missile fire would help give their side the advantage before the melee. But as the archers she stood alongside picked off night goblins, with little appreciable impact upon the horde’s size, Lorima realised close combat was both inevitable and imminent. As the currents of chaos circled again, and she adapted a pose of magical defence, she only hoped that her brethren could more effectively withstand the goblin assault than it seemed she was able to.
* * * * *
With an almighty crash, a gigantic boulder landed within the pointy earz formation, the crew of the goblin rock lobba having finally scored a hit. The screams of dying pointy earz crushed beneath the artillery barrage were music to Nikkit’s ears, but to his annoyance, the remaining warriors were steadfast. As the whoosh of launching spear chukkas announced another round of misses, the warboss considered his options. His shamans were getting nowhere, his war machines were firing wild, and the contest on the flank was still not decided. If this battle was to be won, he would have to get stuck in himself.
As he stared down the ranks of pointy earz sword-swishers, Nikkit felt his enthusiasm waver, and for a moment he wondered if he could get away with calling the battle and heading off for an easy raid elsewhere. But he quickly dismissed that notion. Grom the Paunch had specifically entrusted him with crumping these elves, and he’d seen his corpulent majesty eat bigger bosses for smaller failures.
“You!” he snapped, pointing wildly at the unit of night goblins to his side. The subterranean creeps had barely taken a foot forward all battle, merely weathering a storm of pointy earz arrows. Their losses had been slight, but even with their weight of numbers, it was only a matter of time before their cowardly instincts took over and they legged it. As it was, their first instinct when singled out by the warboss was to flinch.
“Get ’em!” Nikkit shrieked, flapping his arms wildly at the nearest pointy earz block. As the night goblins hesitantly obeyed, Nikkit encouraged his own goblin bodyguards to advance as well, booting a nearby minion towards the enemy for emphasis. Beneath the banner of a raggedy red battle standard, the goblins advanced, slapping spears against shields as they struggled to build up the courage for real fighting.
The night goblins had neither the speed nor the will to actually engage with the pointy earz, but Nikkit hadn’t expected them to. All they needed was to come close enough to unleash the most deranged of their number. From the back of the night goblin ranks, the fanatics were shoved forward, their eyes feral and mouths foaming as the fungus brew coursing through their veins drove them to insane highs. When they’d reached a mildly safe distance from their brothers, the fanatics began to spin, the gigantic balls and chains barely gripped within their claws carrying themselves forward with unstoppable momentum. The speed and the brew made calculated movement impossible, but thanks to the encouraging shouts of the other night goblins, the fanatics came to spin in the direction of the spear-armed pointy earz – not far enough for collision, but far enough to block their advance.
Nikkit cackled madly. The spear-pokers wouldn’t possibly risk charging through that swirling storm of weighted metal. That left him and his bodyguard to face only the sword-swishers, a block they outnumbered two to one. With an incoherent and squeaky roar, he called a halt to his bodyguard’s march, before bellowing them to take up a phalanx formation. His front line gobbos fell to one knee and planted spears and shields into the ground; behind them, the next row of warriors added their barbed tips to the wall of spears, daring the pointy earz to hurl themselves upon their line.
With the flash of magical discharge and bombardment of goblin artillery seemingly without end, the pointy earz were left with no choice. The blast of a horn signalled the order, and Nikkit’s craven heart leapt as the charge headed towards him. Time to get his hands dirty.
* * * * *
Arastin, Avenger of the Seven Disciplines, felt no fear as he assaulted the goblin line, but he felt the weight of his duty. Prince Yurion’s knights had provided no relief – only his swordmasters could break the greenskin centre. The row of spears ahead presented an intimidating obstacle, but far more concerning was the mass of green five ranks deep behind them.
There was a great deal of work to be done.
Arastin battered two spears aside with precise swings of his blade, and with a third stroke opened up a goblin from neck to navel. Three more of the scum lashed out with their spears, but a pair of swordmasters appeared at his side, parrying the strikes, and riposting in perfect unison. Arastin danced through the melee, guided by his weapon. The sword had been enchanted by the mages Lorima and Lorastin before departing from Saphery, and when combined with the martial instincts of one trained within the White Tower, there was not a creature alive that could escape the lick of its edge.
He spied a goblin creature that seemed larger than the others, waving a filth encrusted banner weaved with powerful enchantments. The spell seemed to embolden the greenskins, and around this battle standard they fought with far more spirit and ferocity. The boss itself was a powerful warrior, swinging out at any elves that approached with a barbed cleaver and a feral hiss. Arastin took three steps forward, and bisected the monster at the waist.
Again and again Arastin’s sword rose and fell, but the enemy numbers seemed unlimited. To his right, Arastin watched as a couple of goblins ganged up on a smaller companion, tossing it screaming towards an approaching swordmaster. The creep was forcibly impaled upon the elf’s greatsword; with the swordmaster’s blade weighed down, she was unable to defend herself, and the goblins set upon her with rusty knives. On the other side, Arastin caught a glimpse of a goblin leader so grotesquely proportioned that it surely had to be the army’s general. The warboss sheltered behind a broad shield emblazoned with crude magical glyphs; it advanced shield-arm first, cackling as Arastin’s swordmasters struck out with futility, and skilfully despatching them with battleaxe sweeps in return. Arastin tried to approach the creature – the cowards would surely flee if their general was slain! – but the press of bodies made moving that way impossible. The only direction it was possible to move was backwards.
The swordmasters gave ground in an orderly fashion at first, but every step retreated gave the goblins greater courage, and Arastin knew this battle was lost a second before the elven banner fell. With a high-pitched “WAAAAAGGHH!” the goblins surged forwards, and the elven resistance gave way. Those swordmasters that were able escaped with their lives, hoping to regroup with the spearmen reforming behind them. For Arastin there was no retreat. Desperate to protect as many brothers and sisters as he could, he allowed the goblins to surround him, and then pile on top, crushing him beneath their weight. As a goblin foot stamped onto his head, the light of the sun was concealed by green skin, and Arastin despaired for but a moment before a spear embedded in his throat.
* * * * *
“Chaaaaaarge!” Hatilla screamed, kicking his wolf into a gallop. His wolf riders took up the battlecry with a striking lack of enthusiasm, but Hatilla could hardly blame them. It had been fun at first, watching as the squigs had gobbled up the last of the pointy earz knights… All save for their stinkin’ general, who seemed to be indestructible. With frankly baffling dismissal of the threat to his own life, the prince had refused to retreat, slaughtering his way through the ambush until all those who had not fled were slain. Crashing through the wreckage of the chariot he’d torn asunder, the mad elf was rampaging towards the rear of the goblin line, and Hatilla’s riders were the only ones positioned to stop him. It was an unenviable prospect, to put it very mildly.
“Therrz just wun of ‘im! Get ‘im ladz!” Hatilla was now close enough to make out the pointy ear’z features: sword ignited, armour bloodsoaked, an expression of untempered fury. One of the riders lifted a throwing spear, and tossed it from a space distance. A gem in the pointy ear’z chestplate shone, and the eyes of its bearer turned a burning, pupil-less white. The spear disintegrated on impact, causing no harm whatsoever.
Swords and spears didn’t seem to be working, so Hatilla fell back on his steed’s tooth and claw. The wolves surrounded their prey on all sides, but every time they lashed out, their prize was only a severed paw or decapitation. “Oh come on!” Hatilla whined, as his strike at the squishier horse was casually parried – not even the goblin boss’ magical spear could make a dent, and now it seemed he had drawn the attention of the invincible demigod directly.
“Nope!” Hatilla announced, turning and fleeing without a glimmer of shame. Less than half of his riders were able to limp away with him. Rallying a safe distance away, Hatilla saw his enemy spit out a stream of insults, before charging on towards the goblin artillery. Hatilla winced; that could be a problem. Hopefully Nikkit wouldn’t mind if the rest of the battle was going better?
* * * * *
“NO!” Lorima screamed in grief-stricken futility, as the goblin magics took their toll. She knew what would happen next, and she felt worse for knowing, and for being utterly powerless to stop it. A second later, her brother Lorastin’s head exploded, arcane energy and brain matter blossoming out of his neck stump and splattering across the forest canopy. She fell to her knees, defeated and broken, witnessing the doom of her countrymen through tear-streaked vision.
The swordmasters had fallen. As they retreated, the spearmen had made a heroic effort to step up and hold the line, but with their ranks already depleted by the goblin war machines, they couldn’t possibly resist the greenskin advance. They charged and broke half a minute later, green lightning from the goblin shamans scarring their backs as they fled. Which meant Lorima and her archers were next.
As her retinue desperately traded bow for short sword, Lorima leaned on her staff and forced herself to her feet. It had all been for nothing. Yurion had arrived too late; on the left flank, a unit of his knights emerged from a woodland copse and united with the remaining spearmen unit, but the giant holding the ruins would keep them back long enough to doom the elven centre. As the goblins charged towards her militia, Lorima saw their general single her out for dismemberment, and in horror she fled with as many archers as could escape the goblin spears. Perhaps, if they could retreat, they might unite with the garrison at Tor Yvresse some other way, and the magical stability of the world could be preserved.
* * * * *
“Cut ’em open! Stikk them wiv ya spears!” Nikkit’s shrewd tactical advice was barely heard over the clamour of goblin warriors, but he was pretty sure they got the gist. This was his kind of fight, one against an outmanoeuvred, massively outnumbered enemy that couldn’t possibly win. The pointy-earz broke and ran, taking their wizard with them, and Nikkit led his ladz in a half-hearted pursuit before stopping for a breather and a guzzle of fungus brew.
A crash of rocks behind Nikkit warned him that not everything had proceeded as planned, and he clambered onto the heads of two goons to get a better look. A formation of pointy earz, the last of their infantry, was advancing to threaten the goblin flank, but Nikkit had goaded his giant to hold the stone circle specifically to protect against this eventuality. But something was wrong. Overexcited and drunk, the giant had stumbled towards the pointy earz greedily – but in doing so, it had abandoned the safety of the circle, and exposed itself to counter-attack from the newly arrived pointy earz cavalry.
“Get back! Wotcha doin’? Stoopid stoopid stoopid!” The sound of Nikkit’s tantrum couldn’t reach the giant’s ears, but it did draw its attention, cocking its head to one side in dumb incomprehension. A moment later, a regiment of pointy earz leapt on top of the creature. The giant roared, swinging it’s club through the ranks with monstrous force, but the number of spears was clearly alarming, and it took an ungainly step backwards.
Then the pointy earz knights slammed into the fray, and Nikkit took a nervous shot of his brew. Whilst the infantry spears were intimidating, they couldn’t possibly pierce the thickened hide of a giant, or cause any last harm. The lances of the horse riders, with the impetus of a full gallop behind him, were far more dangerous. The first knight struck out, and the giant let out a low pained groan, reaching down to pick at the barbed head embedded in its shin. As the creature lowered down, it came face-to-face with the next of the pointy-earz, a smug looking blighter with a shiny helmet.
The rider planted his lance in the giant’s chin, and its pained gasp sounded bizarrely high-pitched for so gargantuan a creature. The pointy earz cheered, their champion smiling and basking in their praise, watching in satisfaction as the giant swayed on its feet.
The cheers slowly died, and turned to cries of alarm, as the giant staggered back towards the pointy earz spearmen. Nikkit, who’d seen this happen before, let out a truly impressive cackle. With a groan, the giant toppled and fell, belly-flopping with truly atrocious luck directly onto the screaming pointy earz. Full half of their number disappeared under the monster’s bulk, the survivors dragging themselves to freedom whilst screaming in horror. From the ground, the giant murmured sleepily, and slowly rose to a sitting position.
Taking another large swig of his drink, Nikkit watched as his last chariot team slammed into the remaining pointy earz, slicing them apart as they tried to climb back to their feet. Today had been a good day, the warboss mused. Now to work out which of the pointy earz would have left behind the best treasure…
* * * * *
Yurion sliced his way through two slats of the goblin catapult, noting its deplorable quality of construction as the whole thing fell apart immediately. The other war machine crews, glancing at the cleanly dismembered corpses of the stone thrower’s operators, fled down the hill with a cowardly shriek. Not far behind, one of the goblin shamans took to flight as well, and Yurion casually decapitated the wretch as it made the mistake of getting too close. He had done it! He had reached the end of the goblin lines, having destroyed every enemy that opposed him along the way. It was a tragedy that his charge had cost the lives of all his knights, but it was a necessary sacrifice for the defence of all of Ulthuan. Their bravery would not be forgotten, and nor would the majesty of their lordly leader one would expect…
“Victory!” Yurion bellowed, his eyes still blazing white, his sword raised in triumph. He expected the other high elves to take up his call, but instead there was only silence. Perhaps the rest the warhost had been delayed in breaking through the goblin centre?
A deafening roar reverberated behind Yurion, and he turned to survey the battle’s course. His mouth dropped as he saw what had become of his brothers and sisters in his absence. That bellow was the cry of a rising giant, breaking the morale of Yurion’s second unit of Helms and sending them fleeing like dogs. They were the lucky ones – the bodies of archers, spearmen and swordmasters lay littered across the battlefield, trampled under the stinking boots of the goblin horde. A few elves had escaped, but they had long since departed the battlefield, surrendering the theatre to the greenskins. The creatures raised their banners as high as their stunted forms would allow, along with the elven banners they had captured, the ultimate indignity that assured Yurion that his hopes for redemption in military victory had ended in abject failure.