The Battle of the Valley of Death, Part One

The Necropolis Valley of Norochia, west of Ebino, Early Autumn, IC 2403

Captain General Lord Alessio Falconi, despite everyone else’s surprise that the enemy had left the protection of the city walls to assemble in the nearby valley of Norochia, did not hesitate in issuing new battle orders. He knew that with a force as huge and unwieldy as this great alliance army, containing battalions from five different realms, any indecision on his behalf could escalate into a hazardous delay upon the field.

It was generally agreed the enemy must be expecting to gain some advantage from choosing to fight outside the city walls, and although some believed a relief force must be on its way to join the enemy host, most thought it was glaringly obvious why the undead would choose Ebino’s ancient necropolis as their battleground – the reinforcements were, in effect, already there. They just had to claw their way out of their graves to muster with the already animated corpses serving their vampire masters!

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Lord Alessio had incorporated both possibilities into his thinking. If there was a force on its way, then it would surely be intercepted by the mounted force he had ordered to skirt north of the city. The horse-soldiers’ manoeuvre had been intended to prevent any enemies escaping Ebino, thus (un)living to fight another day, but they were also very well placed to serve in this new, if unexpected, role. And if the vampires did intend to bolster their strength with warriors newly raised from the ancient graveyards and tombs, then speed was of the essence. Lord Alessio’s army must engage the enemy as soon as possible, to limit the time available for any necromantic machinations.

And so the allied army, consisting almost solely of foot soldiers and artillery (having been selected to besiege the city), marched boldly to array themselves upon the western ridge of the valley, despite the horrific sight of the enemy silently forming up on the eastern slopes. They performed the manoeuvre well, thanks to the drills Lord Alessio had required of them during their march. Three times he had ordered them to form from marching column into line of battle, their performance improving on each occasion, despite the fact that he specified a different disposition every time. Lord Alessio needed the allied contingents to act as a cohesive force in the field, and to know that they could and would follow his orders promptly. He had them march in a specific order each day, all the better to facilitate his orders for deployment. Unlike their practices, however, this time budge barrels were unloaded and powder distributed, their handguns made ready, matches lit, and the giant colossus-construct was conjured from its slumber (upon a covered pallet carried by three massive wains) to take its place on the far left of the line.

The captain general’s own army was mainly concentrated on the right of the line. He intended these, being the soldiers he most trusted, to secure that flank from any enemy attempt to outmanoeuvre the army. He also concentrated the army’s artillery on this flank, no less than six great cannons and four master engineers (four of the component contingents having brought their own engineers to tend their own pieces). There were a brace of Pavonan pieces, another two Portomaggioran, as well as Reman and Luccinan guns, all of which were also shielded by his own troops. He expected the guns to deliver several crucial and crippling blasts against the foe and was therefore keen to ensure they could not be interfered with by the enemy – another reason to have his most trusted soldiers upon that flank.

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On the furthest flank was Lord Ned’s hunting pack of demigryphs, the fastest troops Lord Alessio had with this army, commanded by his most ferocious commander. This was the only mounted company he had not sent away with the interceptor force heading to the north of the city. If anyone was to prove a match for whatever might attempt to break through, or ride around, the flank to attack the guns, then it was Lord Ned and his monstrous cavalry. Nevertheless, to assist them in this task was a company of handgunners, who might at least slow the enemy sufficiently to allow Lord Ned to bring his own company to bear upon them.

Next in line towards the army centre, was his large regiment of spears and his crossbow, and beyond these Portomaggiorans, upon the lower ground, were massed troops of the allied forces. The Cathayan mercenaries of the arch-lector’s Reman army stood centre-front, crossbowmen and halberdiers with banners showing the keys to Morr’s Garden, while the Verezzan’s large pike regiment and crossbowmen were to their right. Behind them was the smaller Luccinan pike regiment, bearing a royal banner of three fleur de lis (after all, they served a king) and to their left was the second company of Portomaggioran handgunners.

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Further left were young Lord Silvano’s Pavonans – archers, halberdiers, handgunners. Their original strength had been reduced by constant war, yet they were still a significant force. The two huge blocks of baggage were clustered behind them, with an unusual halfling war machine nestled in between.

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Similarly (suspiciously) close to the baggage, Barone Iacopo and his Verezzan halfling archers had formed up further to the left, and out on the far-left flank – again because Lord Alessio trusted them – marched the plate-clad Portomaggioran veterans known as the Sea Wolves. Finally, upon the army’s extreme flank, strode the Portomaggioran Colossus, as tall as the tallest of giants (if not taller) and fashioned of enchanted bronze and silvered steel, containing massively intricate iron gears and clockwork mechanisms.

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(Game Note: The colossus has the stats, abilities and points-cost of the Tomb Kings’ Heirotitan, but he assists the Portomaggioran army’s spellcasters. This is an example of a player’s own inventive ideas in the campaign. Damo wanted a ‘colossus of Rhodes’ type statue to defend his city, so as a GM I told him the points cost and the time it would take to construct. Later he wanted it to move with his army, which I allowed, but warned him as a consequence of hauling such a massive thing upon wagons his army would march somewhat slower than otherwise it would have done. I try to keep everything balanced. As the undead player had such monstrosities as the terrorgheist and the mortis engine, it seemed fair that with effort, spending and consequences, a ‘standard’ Tilean army might have a suitable monstrous element.)

Upon the eastern side of the valley, the vampire high-priest Biagino watched as the living army assembled. Standing with his Disciplinati di Nagash (the resurrected corpses of the same Morrite dedicants he had marched with when he too had been alive) it crossed his mind that perhaps he should have begun the advance against the enemy earlier, despite the fact his own force had yet to fully assemble. This thought, however, was a fleeting notion, and was soon lost as he scrutinised the enemy army, assessing where the dangers lay, and the weaknesses.

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Worryingly, it seemed to him very clear that there were plenty of the former and very few, if any, of the latter. Never before had he seen an army so large. The Viadazan and Reman armies he had marched with when alive had been considerably smaller, and they had nowhere near as many guns. It also occurred to him that he could see not see any horse soldiers, which probably meant that what he could now see was only a portion of the enemy’s true strength. Their army must have been truly massive on the march!

Where are the horsemen? he wondered. Are they out on the flanks, concealed by the lie of the land? If so, then the situation was worse than he had previously thought. What chance did his army have if surrounded entirely? Or are the horse elsewhere? Whatever the truth, he had played his hand and now had to see it through. If he routed the foe before him, he could deal with any mounted soldiers later. And if his enemies were attempting to outflank him, then delay would only give them more time to do so. This was his moment – his chance to prove himself to his mistress and defeat the greatest army sent against her yet.

Biagino, his three thralls and his mob of rotting cultists stood on the right of the army’s centre. Further right was a large regiment of skeletons, the corpse cart, his skeleton riders and a slavering pack of dire wolves.

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To his immediate left were two more large regiments of skeletons, one of which obscured from the enemy’s sight by the large church occupying the middle of this stretch of the valley.

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Out on the right flank proper, his vargheists lurked behind a large mob of zombies created from those poor souls who had foolishly returned to scratch a living in the ruins of the city of Trantio after the Pavonans abandoned it and the ogres then ransacked it. Beyond them slunk the huge terrogheist, and beside that the mortis engine drifted ethereally. This had a body of undead ogres before it, and a regiment of grave guard beside it. Outermost on the right rode a company of wraiths.

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With the merest flick of his wrists, his army beholden to his necromantic will, Biagino commanded his dire wolves and hexwraiths to advance, all the better to get a feel for how the enemy intended to proceed, and how they might respond to the sight of such creatures of the night moving towards them. While the wolves loped between the ancient tombs towards the Portomaggiorans massed on the opposite slope …

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… the wraiths moved boldly on the far right towards the colossal construct.

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Due to the nature of the deployment, nearly every living soldier could see these two bodies advancing, but instead presenting a threatening countenance, the act of moving ahead of their own lines merely made them seem weak and lonely. The crossbowmen before the wolves calmly hefted their now spanned weapons to fit their bolts, while the gunners upon the higher slope blew upon their coals and prepared for their first volley.

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(Deployment and vanguard moves completed.)

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