Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mortal Empires, Part IX - Recurring Nightmares


Karl Franz was now the master of the Reikland. He had crushed the secessionists, driven back Todbringer's agitators, defeated the Skullsmasherz orcs of Grung Zint and returned the Free City of Marienburg back into the Imperial fold. Astride his griffon Deathclaw, the young Emperor was rapidly making a name for himself as a bold, incisive and formidable general in the field.

The first battle of Grung Zint. The Empire forms up in a familiar line of battle with the Reiksgard on the left flank. Free Company skirmishers harass the flanks of the oncoming orcs.

Yet only a few knew his secret.


The Free Company usually do a better job of dispersing the oncoming horde but in this case the orcs maintain cohesion and crash into the Imperial line.

All his life the Prince of Reikland had been tormented by recurring dreams and nightmares. As a youth these visions of chaos, blood and death were merely visceral images, jumbled fragments which made no sense to the terrified child. Supplications to the temple of Morr, the Imperial deity of death and dreams, suppressed the dreams for a time, but as Franz matured the visions became even more persistent. Franz's father Luitpold spared no expense in trying to find a cure for his son's malady. He spoke candidly to the Grand Theogonist, consulted the masters of the Colleges of Magic, and prayed at various temples and shrines, hoping to gain an insight into his son's condition. All were in vain. At Luitpold's deathbed, the young prince confessed to his father that he believed that it was the future he was seeing in these visions. Karl Franz could not shake the feeling that everything he did, and everything he would do, he had already done before.


The aftermath of the first battle. The orcs shatter the Imperial line and pursue the broken Imperials. Karl Franz is wounded and his Household guard wiped out.

This was no mere fancy or trick of the mind. His advisers and generals were constantly astounded at Franz's ability to predict his opponent's moves. He anticipated Ludenhof's rebellion and Todbringer's treason. He knew that the Skullsmasherz were massing in force in the mountains, and placed his army in Eilhart in time to defeat the greenskin horde. Even envoys sent by fractious lords were surprised to find Franz aware and fully cognizant of their demands, and already waiting with a considered response. This prescience did much to enhance his reputation and prestige among his followers.

Sigmar has granted you the sight, they said.

Franz had no answer for that. Little did they know that Franz kept the darkest parts of the visions to himself. While he reluctantly shared his prognostications of the mundane and passed it off as strategic acumen, he never told anyone else the recurring visions which plagued his nights, and woke him in the dark gasping with dread, heart thundering in his chest.

Altdorf in flames, overrun by the walking dead.

Sometimes the visions were different. Sometimes the invaders were fur clad Norsemen, with their cold blue eyes and fair skin emblazoned with blue tattoos and sigils acknowledging their worship of the Chaos Gods of the north. In Franz's dreams they tore through the streets of Altdorf, raping, killing and pillaging everything in their path. In some of the dreams he saw elves, cold, fey and unimaginably beautiful, enslaving thousands of his countrymen and spiriting them away to a cold and distant land across the seas. In one particularly vivid dream he saw the greenskins engulf the capital, felt the cold bite of steel impale his chest and watched his lifeblood drain away at the hands of a large green-skinned monstrosity at the gates of Altdorf.

Yet for all that horror it paled in comparison to the fate of the city in the hands of vampire counts. Commoners hung from their feet like so much cattle, bled to satisfy the blood thirst of the nightkin. Men and women torn to pieces by ravening ghouls and mindless zombies. Babies wailing as they were held by pale skinned beauties, cooing and stroking the child, looking for all the world like adoring mothers in gesture, voice and action. Yet from the visions Franz knew that they admired the children for the sole reason that their blood was the sweetest and most delectable, a rare delicacy prized within the Night Aristocracy.

During the day Franz gave no sign of his tortured nights. His friends and advisers fretted and worried about his increasingly serious mien, but nothing they could say could persuade him to relinquish the mantle of responsibility he had draped over himself. His victories over the rebels, the rout of the greenskins and the recapture of Marienburg, although widely celebrated, seemed to lack any significance for him. In fact at times he seemed impatient, much like a spectator at the theater watching a play he did not particularly care for and has seen many times before.

There is no time, he would state grimly.


Reckoning for the Skullsmasherz. Franz, now on Deathclaw, leads a Reiksgard army to annihilate the greenskins once and for all.

There was only one time where Franz felt the burden of loneliness lift from him, and it was during the battles against the orcs of Grung Zint. Driven by the vision of a greenskin tide obliterating Altdorf he marched his army to destroy the orc stronghold before they could muster their forces. His army was ambushed and virtually annihilated. Franz was lucky to escape with his life. But before the rout Franz had spied upon the orc warlord at the head of the host and immediately recognized him. This was not uncommon for Franz, who saw people, places and beasts in his dreams long before meeting them in life.

No, what shocked Franz was that the orc recognized him, too, and had known he was coming.

The first battle of Grung Zint was a disaster for the Empire. The subsequent battles were not. In the second battle of Grung Zint the Empire avenged their first loss and destroyed the Skullsmasherz for all time. But looking at the fallen orc warlord before him Franz could not avoid the feeling of kinship he shared with this vicious brute of a creature, and the inescapable feeling that this monster, defeated now, had once slain him and conquered the Empire.

I am not mad then, he said to himself. And the future is not set.

The orc, mortally wounded, roared its defiance. In its mien Franz saw a burning desire for vengeance for a lifetime of suffering for its kin - hunted to near extinction, their mountain homes razed, wandering the peaks and valleys in constant fear of trappers and bounty hunters stalking them for the bounty on their ears. Franz met the implacable hatred in its gaze, and nodded.

Till next time, orc, he said, before administering the final blow.

Poor Franz. To paraphrase a quote from the movie Groundhog Day, he's died so many times he doesn't even exist anymore. I'm now in Legendary playthrough number ten, and that doesn't count the numerous campaigns I played in the original game. While Legendary Lords are technically immortal - if they die they come back in a few turns' time - Franz has lost every Legendary playthrough in Total War: Warhammer II. In four campaigns Altdorf has ended in flames, surrounded either by the Vampire Counts and/or the Varg Norsemen. In my last campaign Altdorf was overrun by orcs. Four campaigns have been abandoned, three because I didn't like my starting position and one because I wanted to include the Tomb Kings in the campaign. 

Now I'm playing to see if Franz can avoid the nightmare of those previous campaigns. At this point I'm feeling kinship with Cassandra, the Greek oracle who had the power to see the future but was completely unable to do anything about it. I know the vampires will run rampant in the east. I know the Norsemen will sweep all before them in the north. The question is what I can do about it. At least at this point Franz has prevented the future in which the greenskins obliterate Altdorf from coming to pass. The rest are still up in the air.

2 comments: