While Maria’s foot soldiers shuffled forwards in the rear, becoming increasingly bereft of her driving will by the growing distance between them and her …
… she herself led the armoured horsemen in a charge across the river into the Demigryphs commanded by Ned Black. Two of her bone and ancient steel companions succumbed to the fast-flowing waters, but neither she nor the other riders noticed.
(Picture taken before the removal of the dangerous terrain casualties.)
Perhaps Captain Bernhardt was not quite as filled with fury as the duchess, possibly as a consequence of his recent close shave with an iron shot? Whatever the reason, his own company of riders failed to charge against the foe, instead milling somewhat confusedly upon the far side of the rushing river.
Biagino, atop his now slow-moving carroccio, commanded his bambinos to advance as best and fast they can, and of course they obliged, drawing very close to the river and the still-intact bridge of Pontremola itself.
Despite the blood-fury that gripped her, Maria realised that if the demigryphs managed to keep her busy for more than a few moments, then the knights to her right could charge into her flank, most likely overwhelming her guards and bringing about her final demise, and so she summoned up a little company of zombies – resurrected from the corpses still lying in the mud of the river from the last battle – and willed them to place themselves in such a way as to distract the knights (at least for a little while).
(Game Note: The old trick of getting in the way, while angled in such a manner to make an overrunning enemy unable to charge Maria)
Nevertheless, the vampire duchess wanted to defeat the monstrous foe as soon as possible, and so chose to use magic to make her attacks even more deadly, conjuring Dance Macabre. As the spell flowed through her she knew its success was certain, but then, half a moment later, she also knew that she had brought far too much power to bear upon its conjuration. Several strands of the winds of magic now crashed like waves against each other, then burst outwards calamitously. One of the enemy demigryphs was caught fully by the etheric surge and perished immediately, as did four of Maria’s own riders. Maria scowled, for even she felt its burn and was weakened considerably by her mistake.
What few wisps of etheric wind remained were gathered by Biagino, hoping to drive his servants dancing en-masse over the bridge and river, but the enemy Wizard Hakim found it easy to unwind the spell, having little else to distract him.
And so it was, just as Maria’s blade was able to begin it’s work proper, she found herself with only a handful of companions. Still, her lust for battle remained so strong that she made straight for Lord Black, knowing he was a commander and intending to make him pay dearly for the damage already done to her servants (and her pride).
(Game Note: Here began the most complicated combat I have ever attempted to run. Normally I GM whilst the players play, and so they recall, mention and apply all the relevant rules. As this was play by email, the players were indeed commanding and deciding on all movement, magic, shooting etc, but when it came to combat it was me on my lonesome armed with the army lists, rules and dice and trying to apply everything. The Vampiress Maria alone had +1 to hit (Sword of Striking), Red Fury (unsaved wounds generate extra attacks), Beguile (base to base models need to pass an Ld-3 test or be forced to re-roll successful to hits), Nightshroud (+1 AS, those in base contact lose Str bonuses and gain Always Strike Last), re-roll failed to hits (Dance Macabre), and she was on a nightmare. That’s just her – not Ned, or the Black Knights, or the demigryphs! I am certain I must, no matter how hard I tried, have forgotten something.)
Catching Lord Black’s eye, Maria knew she had befuddled him momentarily with her mesmeric glare, and in the first flush of the struggle her sword twice bit deep into his ferocious mount. As she drew the blade back in satisfaction, and made ready for another bout of sword play, she realised that she herself had been cut by Lord Black. Around her, two more of her riders fell, whilst the demigryphs were only grazed in return!
As Lord Black shouted, “Deos imperate omnes”, and the demigryphs reared and roared, Maria felt uncertainty for the first time in a long time. It was a foul but familiar feeling, for she remembered it from life. Until this moment it had had no place in her undeath!
(Game note, the Undead had won the combat by a measly 1, but Lord Black’s unit is stubborn and passed their Ld test.)
Her progeny, Biagino and Captain Berhnardt, sensed her discomfort. What with Biagino stranded upon his almost wrecked carroccio whilst failing in his conjurations, and Berhnardt floundering with his warriors at the river bank having failed to join his mistress’s charge, they both, in their own particular ways, shared Maria’s feeling of doubt.
Along the defences near the bridge it was becoming clear that whatever missiles were thrown at the shambling hordes, and however many of the lesser mob the river carried away, many zombies would remain to assault the defences. Yet, at the same time, ever man and dwarf there reckoned his chances against such clumsy and awkward foes.
Lord Alessio’s Myrmidian warrior-priest, Libero Grossi, led the Knights of the Lady in the short charge against the newly summoned zombies …
… while nearby the wizard Lord Hakim cast Shem’s Burning Gaze between his Colossus’s legs, felling five of Captain Bernhardt’s bony riders, then, with not a moment’s rest, he cast Banishment too (before the Colossus moved and perhaps blocked his view) bringing down yet another rider. Moment’s later another two riders were killed by crossbow quarrels, leaving vampire Captain Bernhardt with only two companions. His confused frustration was now transforming into burning fury at the course the battle was taking.
The cannon at the very tip of the bastion sent an enchanted round-shot to wound one of the horrors, and consequently, now afflicted by a weakening magic, the horrors lost one of their number to the handgun bullets and crossbow bolts hurled subsequently.
The vampire duchess had become blind to all other considerations but the killing of Lord Black …
… and despite her diminutive size compared to the demigryph and rider, she did indeed cut him down.
Lord Black was dead.
Overcome with the gleeful thrill of her successful slaughter she let loose a blood-curdling scream. But then, as the last of her companions was fatally cut and crumpled into the mud of the river bank, her scream transformed to become a most dreadful and desperate cry. The necromantic magic that coursed through her, feeding her every thought and action, sustaining her continued existence in the mortal realm, was ebbing away. Her cry faltered, then suddenly ceased as she fell entirely lifeless from her collapsing mount.
The vampire duchess was dead!
(Game Note: End of First Player’s turn 3.)
The death of his beloved duchess hit Biagino like a crashing wave, so much so that he staggered back from the shock of it.
His cause of being, his purpose, his every goal was taken from him in that moment. There was nothing now but himself and no point in continuing. After allowing himself to let loose a shrill shriek of despair, he commanded his bambini to turn away from the enemy, which they did to a one.
The surviving draft horses did what they could to haul the great carroccio around, but Biagino knew that to stay upon the wagon now would only draw the enemy’s attention and so he leapt down to the ground and strode over towards the great mob of once-cultists now approaching. His only wish was to get away from this place where his mistress had perished.
The death of his beloved duchess hit Captain Berhardt like a crashing wave, so much so that he was almost unhorsed by the shock of it.
His cause of being, his purpose, his every goal was taken from him in that moment. There was nothing now but himself and no point in continuing. After allowing himself to let loose a shrill shriek of fury, he commanded his last two companions to charge the foe.
Splashing through the river he made directly for the Demigryphs.
His only wish was to slay those who had killed his mistress.
The necromancer Saffiro had not obeyed the duchess out of anything akin to fierce love, but rather a fearful respect, and saw no reason to avenge her death as did the vampire captain. Besides, he could see Biagino’s Church of Nagash was departing the field of battle. Apart from the dire wolves, who were commanded by Bernhardt to join him in the charge, Saffiro was able to command every other body of undead to turn about and begin moving away from the river. As they did so, several skeletons and zombies collapsed, for Saffiro’s will, being to the duchess’s will as a dusty law book would be to a long and barbed whip, was insufficient to hold all of them in this world, and much less commanding in its magical tone.
Even some of the dire wolves fell to the sudden diminishment of magic, and another was washed away by the river.
Game Note: The following pic gives an idea of the scale of the flight – although this was taken just before Biagino was moved over to the red and grey robed zombie cultists.
As he drew near to his bambini, Biagino’s grief lifted just enough for him to notice that they were moving away in a manner not one iota different to that which they had entered the field. The duchess’s death, victory, defeat, advance or retreat – all was the same to them. There was a clarity to this, and for the briefest moment Biagino realised that he had, in his terrible loss, been released. His bambini were his, as they were before, but now he belonged to himself too!
He now joined his flock eagerly, glad to have the great bulk of them between himself and whatever else the enemy would throw.
As he arrived amongst the cavorting corpse-cultists he attempted once again to cast Dance Macabre and this time, much to his surprise, his spell was successful. Was this how things would be, he thought, now that he was his own master? As both his flocks of bambini began their magically induced dash, he found himself carried along with them, and with every step he took his sense of liberation grew, marred only by a new and growing resentment of his past enthrallment to the duchess.
As Bernhardt and the demigryphs fought, at first evenly matched, the colossus strode across the river, unaccompanied by any of those nearby, for to a man they did not fancy their chances in crossing the river. The Wizard Hakim was keen to do what harm he could to the retreating enemy and decided that his servile construct might better his chances of doing do.
Lord Alessio, as yet unaware that the duchess was dead, was astonished by the enemy’s sudden reversal. He watched from behind the bridge defences and thought back to the necropolis valley of Norochia. It dawned on him that they must have received a deadly blow, for that was what had sent them running that last time.
“They run!” he cried, throwing his hand up in surprise. “Yet again, they run!”
When he caught sight of the colossus stomping out to the right he knew that most of the rest of them must also be retreating. How many times would he have to fight them? How much further north would he be forced to march? Whatever the truth, he intended to see them off today, and if any thought to make a stand or try some last counter-attack, then good – he would finish them.
“Sea Wolves! March on!” he boomed, and those in the front rank began to push over the barricade.
The Wizard Lord Hakim, seeing that several of the enemy’s monstrous warriors were attempting to escape, angrily summoned up Shem’s Burning Gaze to fell one of the blue-skinned brutes and badly burn another. As he grinned in satisfaction he realised that his anger had got the better of him, for there were still etheric energies coiled around him, uncontrolled and uncontrollable. These now dissipated, and as they drew away across the seam between the mortal realm and the etheric, they took a part of Hakim with them too. His anger vanished, as did his knowledge of the spell, and for a moment he stood, stunned, wide eyed and strangely empty. (Game Note: Miscast, reduced to magic level 3. As GM I will have to come up with a recovery chart of some kind for him to roll on later!)
An iron round-shot now shattered the last of the carroccio’s draft horses, ensuring it would not leave the field. Several of the more devout amongst that flank of the army, especially those who prayed especially to Morr, were pleased by this, for now the wagon could be recaptured and either purified or burned – it mattered not which, only that it would no longer be defiled.
Several skeletons fell to the hail of shot from over the river, as indeed did another of the brutes.
When the mounted men at arms of the Black Guard and the Knights of the Lady both turned to face enemy engaged with the demigryphs they discovered that their assistance was not needed!
The last of the skeletal riders, all but one of the wolves and the vampire Captain Bernhardt had all fallen to the monstrous talons and sharp blades of the hunting pack. The undead Bernhardt was undone. Now he was merely dead.
The skeletal regiment had reformed to face the Colossus, while Saffiro made his own way off the field. Smelling a trap, the Colossus lurched off to one, remaining close enough to cast magic but not so close as to allow the warriors to swarm him. Then it saw its chance and strode between the two mobs, the better to see the fleeing necromancer. Both cannons fired at the undead brutes but their gunners over-compensated for the range and sent their shots overhead.
As the Church of Nagash and its master, the arch-priest Biagino left the field, Saffiro suddenly stopped, thinking to resurrect some of the fallen brutes.
His spell however was not strong enough and was easily dispelled by Hakim, despite the living wizard’s addled state of mind. When the ground shook, Saffiro suddenly realised how close he was to the colossus …
.. and turned to run after the Church of Nagash. Moments later he sensed magic being directed at him by the giant construct, and despite his growing panic, managed to dispel it. His relief was cut short however, when the colossus followed by casting its own burning gaze. The etheric heat that now engulfed Saffiro was so strong that for a moment his very bones could be seen as his threadbare robes disintegrated and his blotched flesh burned away. And then even the bones were gone.
As the now lordless skeletons floundered, their ranks starting to splinter and scatter, and as the zombies staggered and stumbled over each other in their confusion, the corpse cart and the last of crypt horrors (having lost another of their number to a cannon shot) fled from the field, to join in the wake of the Church of Nagash.
A cheer rippled through the ranks of the living. Having crossed the bridge, Lord Alessio took a moment to give thanks to all the lawful gods for their great victory, then calmly gave the order for the army to assemble upon the northern side of the river with him. He intended to give chase immediately. He was tired of pursuing this enemy and if they could be caught and killed today it would be worth all the effort required, howsoever exhausted his army would be by the end of the day, and even if it meant the loss of a few more brave souls.