Saturday, 25 July 2009

Battle 1: Clash in the Glade

The first rays of the morning sun started the burn the mists from the ground as the dwarves finished heaving their bolt thrower to the top of the hill. Kalik, the engineer in charge of the device, peered out into the glade trying to check his fields of fire. He couldn't see much - the accursed mists hide anything more than a a dozen feet away. Still, he was atop a hill - he should be able to see something when battle was joined. Down below he heard the sounds of the throng gathering into units and forming the battle line and, over all that, the sounds of axes striking trees as Runesmith Redmane's warriors chopped at the trees - intent on making the Wood Elves come out to meet them. Kalik was excited - this was his first battle - and he intended to make his mark with his war machine.

Below in the clearing, Thane Danro Blackrock was readying his troops. He had Condor the Runesmith out on his right flank and his brother Alric carrying the Blackrock standard amongst the second unit of his warriors. These warriors were all green, but he knew Alric would keep them in order. His own unit had all seen combat before - most of them against the orc and goblin hordes who frequented their mountain pass. Their beards were long and they stood in ranks, muttering about the lack of discipline shown by their younger kin. Underneath his feet, Danro knew that Trenval Heavypick's miners were slowly picking their way through the caves that honeycombed this area of the woods. They were to emerge behind the Wood Elf lines when battle was joined and hit them from behind.

The wind slowly picked up, blowing away the last of the mist and revealing the sacred glade. Across the shallow valley, emerging from the trees, was the Wood Elf host. Danro saw dozens of shapes flitting between the trees, some of the deftly manoeuvring their horses as if the vegetation did not bother them in the slightest. Amongst them - Danro blinked in surprise - tree creatures walked along, forming into units as they faced his men. Raising his horn, Danro blew a long, sonorous challenge and the sound taken up as a cheer along the battleline by his men. Across the way, the elves watched almost soundlessly - their silent determination forming a cold knot in Danro's stomach. Blowing his horn again he sounded the advance.

Up on the hill, Kalik was cursing. He had misjudged his positioning and could see almost nothing of the battle below, his view blocked by mighty trees which seemed to splay outwards each time he tried to aim at the figures running through the trees. He decided there was nothing else for it and urged his helpers to drag the war machine as quickly as they could out to the right dwarven flank. Ruefully he shot a quick look back at the centre of the battleline, just in time to see a graceful enemy unit move like dancers into a wood on the far side of the field before there was a flash of silvery light and they were gone. Before Kalik could shout a warning to those below, there was a second flash and the unit reappeared right next to the Quarreller unit and pounced on them, blades whirling in a dance of death. Kalik could do nothing but hurry to join his crew who were busy recalibrating the machine as fast as he could. Surveying the scene ahead, Kalik could see why. As a Thunderer unit marched to the foot of the hill to take up a defensive position and Runesmith Redmane's warriors moved out to secure the flank a giant walking tree-beast crested the hill opposite and moved towards them. Kalik felt his stomach backflip with terror and quickly activated the runes of burning inscribed on the bolt thrower before taking careful aim at the approaching beast.

Alric Blackrock clutched the Blackrock standard and watched as his brother led his longbeard unit forward to threaten the Wood Elf line. Alric's orders were simple - hold back and tackle any Wood Elf units who managed to get past Danro's advance. His men held their position and waited, axes ready. Garrik, the leader of the warriors, tapped him on the shoulder and pointed silently to the hill out on their left flank. Five wood elves clad in long, green robes which made them almost vanish into the hillside were emerging and firing down at Danro and his longbeards. As Alric watched, the arrows plunged into the dwarven formation clattering off their armor and flashing out of existence as they encountered the protective power of the runic warding. Behind him, he heard the organ gun crew working to turn their machine to face the new threat but before he could turn to watch the device at work there was a bright silvery flash from the wood to his right and, with feral screams a small unit of elven warriors boiled out of the previously unoccupied woods. A gyrocopter thundered overhead, cannon belching a curtain of steam at the attackers and Alric saw one drop writing to the ground. Then the elves hit the flank of the Quarreller unit and the dwarves just ... dissolved. Dwarf bodies were chopped to pieces - hacked down in the savage elven dance - before the survivors fled screaming back in the direction of the camp, only to be chopped down as they ran. Alric quickly blew his horn and his warriors wheeled to face this new and very dangerous threat. Overhead the gyrocopter banked round for another pass at the dancers but a hail of arrows hammered at it before a tree limb reached from the wood and swatted it from the sky.

As the Quarrellers were being destroyed, Heinrich was cursing his organ gun. He had opened fire at the exposed elven scouts, confident they would be crushed under the sheer volume of fire the organ gun could produce. He had seen a pitiful two of the elves knocked from their feet by the gun's fire and then - to his utmost disgust - when the barrels had run dry he saw them getting up again! A whole volley of fire and nobody was killed! Swearing, he primed the weapon ready to shoot at them again when a pack of feral elves broke through the dwarf line to his right, cutting down a unit of Quarrellers as he went. Swiftly he wheeled his gun to face the new threat and opened fire again. Again only two of elves went down and again they got right back up again - although this time he saw he had drawn blood. The elves screamed in fury and charged at Heinrich and his crew. As he saw his death approaching, Heinrich's last thought was that at least he didn't have to explain the war machine's performance to Thane Danro...

Engineer Kalik carefully sighted along the bolt thrower at the onrushing treeman. His heart was pounding with fear, but he controlled his breathing as he took aim. Finally he released the bolt which flew straight and true and embedded itself into the beast. Kalik blinked in surprise - not only was the thing not worried by the impact, it didn't even seem to have noticed. There was a crashing below as it plunged through the woods and hit the Thunderer unit hard. As his crew reloaded the bolt thrower, Kalik looked down to see Thunderers being thrown in all directions as the treeman tore into the unit. Further away, Runesmith Redmane and his unit was wheeling round to come at it from behind but it looked like it would be too late for the dwarves already engaged. Kalik looked up and saw a solitary elf standing on the opposite hill, obviously directing the troops below and decided he would be his next target. As he turned back to his war machine, he heard the shouts below turn to screams and an inhuman bellow of triumph and the ground began to shake with the sounds of approaching pounding footsteps. Kalik tried to force himself to focus on the shot at the distant elf but the onrushing treeman was too much of a distraction, especially coupled with the screaming of the remaining Thunderers as they were chased down and butchered. His shot went well over the head of the elf and as he looked up the treeman came into view, its long branch-hands reaching out to grab Tiki and twist his head off before crushing the others into the mud of the hillside. It reached out and grabbed Kalik, lifting him into the air. Kalik hacked at it desperately with his axe before he felt a searing pain in his waist and just had time to see his legs being ripped from his body before his eyes clouded over and he saw nothing more.

Thane Danro marched his longbeards into the teeth of the elven force, trusting in the runic power of his standard to protect them from the elven arrows. He carried with him his oath stone, upon which he had scribed his pledge to find the Hammer of Rotek and crush those who got in his way. The oath was made in the presence of his ancestors and he would fulfil it or die trying. He marched out of the arrow storm and saw ahead a small unit of elven cavalry skulking in the woods. He pointed his axe at them and bellowed a challenge, breaking into a run as he and his unit charged the horsemen. The elves for their part issued a smart about-face and vanished back into the trees. As his charge ground to a halt, Danro heard the chilling sounds of a hunting horn blowing through the trees and the rumbling of what seemed like a thousand horses galloping down on his flank. From the other side came the otherworldly hissing of the plant-beasts as a group of moving bushes emerged from the undergrowth and came for him. Swallowing down his fear, Danro planted his oath stone in the ground and stood atop it, shouting at his suddenly uncertain kin to hold firm. They formed up around him as the dryads crashed into their formation and from the other side, not a thousand but five riders charged headlong into the melee. Danro bellowed a challenge at their leader and forced his way through the press of bodies until he was facing the grim-faced elf. The elf dodged and weaved and Danro was amazed to see his axe bouncing off his opponent's magically powered tattoos. Around him his longbeards held their ground and tried to use their sheer numbers to press the wood elves back but he saw some of his men fall, run through with wooden lances. Through it all, the horrific, maddening hissing of the dryads got under his skin and made him shiver to his boots. Glancing away from the fight, he felt his fear lift slightly as he saw Trenval and his miners pull themselves out from the caves and form their line and he turned back to face the wood elf champion with renewed vigour, battering him from his saddle and ending his life with a solid blow from his axe.

Trenval Heavypick emerged onto the battlefield and immediately knew something was terribly wrong. Ahead he could see the Thane Danro and the longbeards fighting for their lives, surrounded by strange, frightening bush-creatures and elven cavalry but between him and them was a unit of mounted archers, already baring down on him. As he his men formed into ranks and his brother, Hrunhurer, took his place at his side Trenval saw another unit of elven archers wheeling around to confront him and the sky turned black with arrows. Around him, miners were falling as the arrows found their marks so with no cover available Trenval did the only thing he could - order the advance. The miners marched forwards, but as they did Trenval saw the longbeards succumb to their fear of the dryads and break, running for safety and carrying Thane Danro with them. They didn't make it - the elven cavalry crashed through their ranks, riding them down. The last he saw of them was Danro himself being speared on the end of three lances and almost ripped in half. With a heavy heart, Trenval redirected his advance towards the elven archers still shooting at his men and began the long trudge to get his vengeance.

Over on the right flank, Runesmith Redmane had watched in horror as the treeman had destroyed the Thunderers and then the bolt thrower but the creature had left the elven missile line exposed. Redmane decided to take the risk and marched his warriors into the teeth of the elven force. A way ahead he saw the doom of Danro and the longbeards and he saw the elven cavalry give chase even while the dryads melted back into the undergrowth. Redmane's rage grew as he saw a lone elf running ahead of his dwarven warriors. The elf was stooped and ran like an animal, and that triggered something at the back of his memory but he paid it no heed. The elves were killing dwarves everywhere on the field and so far all he had done was bog the elven mages down, preventing them casting too many of their spells. He wanted to HURT something. He shouted a challenge and his warriors broke into a run - charging down the lone elf, who skipped nimbly back towards his line giving them a feral smile. It was only as the ground cracked and the woods started throwing branches into his unit that Runesmith Redmane realised he had been tricked. The elven magic wracked his unit and from his left the woods suddenly came alive as the dryads reappeared, falling on his men and ripping them to shreds. Outnumbered and with the horrific hissing of the moving plants gripping their hearts with fear, Redmane ordered his men to fall back but the retreat became a rout and they fled for the hills. As they ran, Redmane realised the would be caught and killed so together with his champion, turned back to face his pursuers and buy time. They crashed into him, lifting him bodily and flailing at him with their vine-like arms, tearing him apart.

Hrunhurer Heavypick followed his brother with trepidation. The storm of arrows was far thicker than they had expected and around him his kinsmen were dropping. The elven archers ahead were slowly drawing away from the miners, firing all the while and Hrunhurer was beginning to doubt any of the miners would reach the elves alive. Out of the corner of his eye he saw an elven mage emerge from the woods to his right, bow in hand. Even as he turned to shout a warning to his men he realised he and Trenval were the only ones left. The elven mage raised and fired her bow and the arrow flew through the air, striking Trenval in the head even as he turned at Hrunhurer's shout. His brother dead, Hrunhurer saw red. He rounded on the mage and charged at her, pick in one hand, Heavypick standard in the other. He crashed into the surprised mage who fell back under the savagery of his assault. He beat at her with his pick, striking again and again as she desperately fended him off. Finally his blow landed true, catching her in the arm. She dropped her sword and, fear in her eyes, turned to flee. Hrunhurer wasn't finished. He ran after her, skewering her on the end of the Heavypick standard and driving her body into the ground. Panting, he stood over the body of his opponent as reason slowly returned and he looked round to see the edges of the woods lined with elven archers. Simultaneously they lifted their bows and fired.

Thane Alric had witnessed the death of his brother and was angry. He had pursued the wardancers but they were simply too fast for him to catch and now he was aware of the elven wild riders coming up behind him. The Blackrock throng had been decimated and it seemed the elves would not stop until every one of them was dead. In defiance he wheeled his warriors round and moved to confront the onrushing wild riders - his anger pushing any fear caused by their magical trumpets from his mind. The riders smashed into the front of his unit even as behind he heard the war dancers turn round and charge back at them but he didn't care. His men pushed back against the horsemen, halting their charge and forcing them slowly away. He heard the cries of the dying behind him then a strange, terrifying roar echoed across the battlefield. The swirling melee halted for a moment, giving him the chance to look back behind the war dancers. The elven mage, standing by the destroyed organ gun, was clutching her head, blood running from her eyes and nose. Around her the air crackled and bulged and it seemed like something was trying to break through from some unknown place. There was a terrible ripping sound as reality seemed to buckle and a great arm reached through, grasping for the mage. She staggered back, gibbering and collapsed and the rift snapped shut again. After a brief pause, the wardancer leader disengaged from combat and blew three short blasts on his horn. The wardancers and wild riders disengaged from Alric's warriors and vanished, collecting the downed mage on the way. The rest of the elven host withdrew from the dwarven line, taking up a defensive position at the centre of the glade.

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