The Stormcasts have fought long and hard since we began the Realmgate Wars last summer. They have defeated Lord Khul and taken the Brimstone Peninsula in the Realm of Fire, and they have fought to find and keep safe Alarielle, Queen of the Radiant Woods, in the Realm of Life. Now, in the Realm of Metal, they are launching their attack on the Eldritch Fortress to reclaim Sigmar’s own sacred weapon, Ghal Maraz.
Strap yourself in, as this is going to be a good one…
The Story So Far
Vandus Hammerhand and his band of Stormcasts now stand outside the Eldritch Fortress, knowing the ancient artefact Ghal Maraz is inside. All they have to do now is climb over the walls and seize it.
There is, however, a problem.
Above the Eldritch Fortress hung the Shardgate, a Realmgate that led only to Tzeentch’s own kingdom within the Realm of Chaos, and it was obviously active, spewing magical energies everywhere. As the Stormcasts began to launch their assault, the Shardgate cracked fully open, unleashing a horde of daemons onto the battlefield.
That was not the only issue the Stormcasts faced. They soon discovered that, when slain, their spirits were not travelling back to the Celestial Realm to be reforged, but were being captured by the copper skulls that bedecked the fortress, allowing Ephyrx, Lord of the Tzeentch forces, to harness their power.
Ephryx, under the command of the Lord of Change Kairos Fateweaver, would be able to use this energy to bind the Eldritch Fortress to the Shardgate, translocating it to Tzeentch’s own kingdom complete with Ghal Maraz – removing the hammer from Sigmar’s reach forever!
If that were not enough, Ephryx had made a pack with Lord Khul and his Bloodbound, and now they could be unleashed upon the Stormcasts. The failure of Sigmar’s warriors to halt the plans of Lord Khul within the Realm of Fire would now come back to haunt them as the Khorne Lord had been transformed into a mighty Daemon Prince.
Well, this is the big one, the final, climactic battle in the Quest for Ghal-Maraz. Both forces are large, both are powerful, and both want Sigmar’s hammer!
The Bleak Horde
Skull Keep x 2
Walls x 8
Sorcerer Lord (Ephryx)
Chaos Warriors x 36 (three units of 12)
Daemon Prince of Khorne (Lord Khul)
Blood Warriors x 10
Bloodreavers x 40 (two units of 20)
At first glance, the Bleak Horde may seem a little weak to weather a full scale assault from some very angry Stormcast Eternals intent on getting their hammer back. However, as always, the Tzeentch force has a few things in its favour. For a start, they will have all the daemons Tzeentch can send, both through summoning and the Time of War rules that will be in effect – so, expect to see a veritable horde of Pink Horrors, Flamers, Screamers, Burning Chariots and other nasty bits and pieces.
Second, the Goretide has turned up to give them a hand, led by none other than Lord Khul himself, not seen since we left the campaign in the Realm of Fire with The Ritual. However, as that battle was a success (just!) for the Bloodbound, Lord Khul is now a Daemon Prince and should be much more effective.
Lord-Celestant on Dracoth (Vandus Hammerhand)
Retributors x 10 (two units of 5)
Decimators x 5
Protectors x 5
Liberators x 25 (five units of 5)
Judicators x 10 (two units of 5)
Prosecutors x 9 (three units of 3)
The Stormcasts have truly come loaded for bear, in the greatest gathering we have amassed since we started playing Age of Sigmar – in fact, my entire Stormcast collection is here with the exception of the Celestant-Prime (who is sort of the point of this battle anyway…).
They will be taking no prisoners here and while, on paper, they outmatch the Chaos forces handily, the presence of the Eldritch Fortress and, more to the point, the Great Crucible Time of War sheet supporting spellcasters and bringing daemons on every turn is going to make things very tough for them…
One last note before we dive in: throughout the various campaign books and Battletomes, there are actually three Battleplans that depict this battle giving us quite a choice! In the end, we lumped for Retrieve the Relic from Battletome: Stormcast Eternals, for no other reason than it shows a modest Dreadhold on its map rather than the monstrosity the others feature!
The Chaos Warriors of the Bleak Horde took up positions in the Skull Keeps and the walls of the Eldritch Fortress, alongside the Blood Warriors of Lord Khul, whom they were no doubt giving some very suspicious looks.
The Bloodreavers were clearly considered expendable, deploying outside the walls, ready to soak up the first attacks of the Stormcasts, who had themselves assembled in a broad line to exploit any weakness shown in the Chaos defence.
Lord Khul and Ephryx himself took position safely behind the fortress walls, having spied the Knight-Venator and his lethal bow outside.
Battle Round One
Vandus Hammerhand gave a great cry from the back of his Dracoth and gestured at the Eldritch Fortress with his hammer. The Stormcast force moved as one to assault their target and reclaim Ghal Maraz.
The Daemongale blew hard from the Shardgate above the fortress, and a Burning Chariot of Tzeentch descended into the courtyard, preparing to strike at the invaders.
Hostilities began in earnest as a Prosecutor-Prime hurled a javelin at a Skull Keep, skewering a Chaos Warrior. First blood to the Stormcasts!
The rest of the Stormcast missile fire was concentrated upon the Bloodreavers, hoping to whittle them down to a manageable size before they crashed into the armoured line.
Ephryx summoned a Herald of Tzeentch upon a Disc and dispatched it to one of the Skull Keeps, as the Bloodsecrator in the other keep planted his banner and opened a portal to the Realm of Chaos.
Dark energies swept down upon the Bloodreavers outside as they rushed forward, eager to engage.
Working in concert, the Burning Chariot and Daemon Prince Lord Khul flew over the Malefic Gate. The Chariot smothered the Knight-Heraldor with magical flame but Tzeentch is ever fickle, and the Chaos God decided to heal the Stormcast immediately after!
Lord Khul spied Vandus Hammerhand and issued a challenge, hoping to bait his old foe (Lord Khul failed his charge roll…), but the Bloodreavers close by could not wait and they smashed into both Liberators and Retributors, sending one of each back to Sigmar. However, they suffered heavily in the assault and only three survived the returning attacks.
In the centre of the battlefield, the Burning Chariot sallied forth into a unit of Liberators, but they severely damaged it for no loss.
Battle Round Two
The Daemongale blew, and a unit of Pink Horrors dropped down behind the Stormcast line.
They quickly summoned yet more Pink Horrors to join them, while the Herald of Tzeentch hurled blue fire at a close by unit of Retributors. However, it was disappointed to see the flames fizzle out, Tzeentch clearly not favouring the daemon.
Ephyrx, having taken position on the walls of the Eldritch Fortress, hurled a Bolt of Change at a unit of Liberators but failed to kill any.
The battle was starting to heat up now, as the Burning Chariot once again targeted the Knight-Heraldor, this time completely immolating him.
Lord Khul started to wade into the Stormcast line, daring Vandus to attack him (he failed the charge roll again, a double 1 this time), while the Pink Horrors crashed into Prosecutors, though no casualties were dealt to either side.
Just as Retributors finished off one unit of Bloodreavers, the second unit charged the Liberators on the other side of the battlefield, killing two of them.
The Lord-Relictor praised the God-King and was heard – a bolt of lightning shot from the sky, hitting Lord Khul. Elsewhere within the Stormcast army, the Lord-Castellant shone his lantern upon Vandus, strengthening his armour, while the Knight-Vexillor used his banner to call a comet down from the sky, which smashed into the walls of the Eldritch Fortress. When the smoke cleared, the Chaos Warriors atop the wall had been hit, and Ephryx had been injured.
Vandus called for a general advance towards the fortress walls as the left flank of his army made a break for the Malefic Gate. Then, he charged…
Lord Khul had been waiting for this and his axe dealt several vicious wounds to the Lord-Celestant and his Dracoth, but Vandus’ celestial hammer sent the Daemon Prince reeling. Before Lord Khul could recover and finish Vandus off, the Protectors lived up to their name and rushed in, dispatching him.
There was now a clear path to the gates of the Eldritch Fortress!
Battle Round Three
The Daemongale kept on blowing but this time Tzeentch was clearly not happy with the efforts being made in his name, and every summoned daemon disappeared from the battlefield!
Seeing their Lord-Celestant struggle with his wounds, the Lord-Castellant once again used his lantern while the Lord-Relictor prayed for a healing dose of lightning. Suitably fortified, Vandus called for his Stormcasts to be brave as they raced towards the fortress gates.
His Dracoth unleashed its storm breath upon the walls, killing two Chaos Warriors and seriously hurting Ephryx (who was now down to just one wound!). Missile fire from the Judicators prepared the coming assault, killing a handful of Chaos and Blood Warriors.
Deciding the walls were just too dangerous a place for a wizard of his stature, Ephyrx let the Chaos Warriors next to him know that they were doing very well, then he leapt back down to the courtyard.
Panicking a little, he called upon Tzeentch for a boon, and was rewarded with a unit of Flamers, whom he bolstered by summoning another Herald.
The Herald, in turn, summoned a Daemon Prince and all three took position in and around a Skull Keep, ready to hit the Stormcasts in the flank.
In the other Skull Keep, the Chaos Warriors garrisoned there could see the Stormcasts were about to assault the Eldritch Fortress and, unchecked, could well succeed. Reluctantly, they left their fortification to face approaching Liberators. Not to be outdone, the Chaos Warriors in the other Skull Keep mirrored this action and made for the Stormcasts outside the gates.
A grind started between Liberator and Chaos Warrior on both sides of the gate, but the larger numbers of the latter were already beginning to tell.
Battle Round Four
The Daemongale this time showed Ephryx and the Bleak Horde favour, and the Burning Chariot appeared once more.
The Stormcasts at the foot of the Malefic Gate shouted as they heaved in unison, but the gates refused to budge. The wards on the gate responded in kind, and two Liberators were zapped by the arcane energies contained within.
Seeing that the defenders outside the walls had to be finished off quickly so the Stormcasts could concentrate on the defenders atop the walls, Vandus urged his Dracoth onwards and they charged into the Chaos Warriors near the gates.
Utter carnage ensued as Vandus swept aside most of the Chaos Warriors he faced, the few remaining easily wiped out by Retributors. At the same time, the Decimators slew every Pink Horror they had charged, leaving the Tzeentch forces outside the walls decidedly fragile.
Feeling the balance of the battle shift, Ephryx desperately summoned Pink Horrors to his walls, who in turned summoned more Horrors. With this, Ephryx hoped to create a barrier of daemons that would hold the Stormcasts and hurl them back onto the silver plain.
The Flamers of Tzeentch concentrared their super-hot magical fire upon the Decimators, wiping them out instantly, just as the Herald summoned Screamers onto the battlefield.
Pink fire rained from the walls into the Stormcasts outside, and the newly appeared Daemon Prince of Tzeentch charged Vandus, though the Lord-Celestant barely noticed.
Battle Round Five
The Daemongale seemed to sputter and dim, for no daemons appeared form the skies. To counter this, Ephryx summoned more Screamers. Then, tragedy struck.
The Burning Chariot raced forward, scything its way through a retinue of Prosecutors, then turned to engulf Vandus in a torrent of magical fire. When the flames cleared, the Lord-Celestant and his Dracoth were on the ground and barely moving, out for the rest of the battlefield.
Then it turned around once more and smashed into the Prosecutors, finishing them off.
Seeing his Lord-Celestant fall and sensing the battle was now on a knife-edge, the Knight-Azyros took command of the assault.
Leading a retinue of Prosecutors, the Knight-Azyros flew over the walls of the Eldritch Fortress, dodging the defensive magical wards as he went. He was quickly joined by the Knight-Venator, while another unit of Prosecutors assaulted one of the walls.
Outside, the Stormcasts converged on the gates, but still they refused to budge, and three more Liberators fell to the wards bedecking them.
Inside the courtyard, a vicious fight quickly erupted. The Prosecutors surrounded Ephyrx and knocked him senseless (depriving the Bleak Horde of their general), but suffered casualties from the counterattack of Screamers.
Upon the walls, the Prosecutors found themselves completely outclassed by the combined might of the Pink Horrors and Blood Warriors, and were soon dispatched.
Battle Round Six
Again, the Daemongale [produced no daemons, but this did not stop a veritable hail of pink and blue fire, along with many Arcane Bolts, hammering into the Stormcasts. Both the Knight-Venator and Lord-Castellant were badly wounded by these magical attacks.
Outside, Screamers scythed the Lord-Relictor, while the Knight-Vexillor was hit by magical fire from the Pink Horrors, healed by Tzeentch, hit by flames from the Burning Chariot, and then healed again!
However, Tzeentch was clearly doing things for his own amusement, for a final charge by the Daemon Prince and the Screamers shattered the Stormcast assault on the gate, forcing Sigmar’s warriors to withdraw.
The Eldritch Fortress remained in the hands of the Bleak Horde…
Well, that was a fairly titanic battle!
The Stormcasts made good progress throughout but, in the end, just ran out of puff in their assault. By about turn four, it looked as though they might have trouble getting into the castle and when they failed to get the gates open on turn five (not an easy process!), the only way to gain victory was to wipe out all the Chaos models that had started on the battlefield (so, they could ignore the daemons). However, while they came close (there were only seven or eight-odd Chaos models on the table at the end, ignoring daemons!), they had taken too many losses to make the final push.
The Chaos Dreadhold, incidentally, makes for a fine obstacle in a game like this – it is far more than just another piece of scenery. Those walls are high enough that even a Stormcast cannot reach enemies on the top. This means they either have to a) get those damned gates open, b) fly over the walls (and Prosecutors who do this will not have a great survival rate) or c) clear the walls so they can climb up (remember, you cannot move within 3″ of an enemy model, and cannot move through enemies so if the walls are well-manned, you cannot charge up there either).
As more pieces got added to the Dreadhold, they were beginning to be a bit of a drag to paint, it has to be said. However, a game like this makes it all worth it. A castle adds so much to a game!
The Story Continues…
So, it turns out this was not the final, climatic battle in the Quest for Ghal Maraz!
The initial Stormcast assault on the Eldritch Fortress has been beaten back, and now time is a factor – Ephyrx has been working hard on his sorcery, and the entire fortress is now shuddering as it begins to break free of the frozen silver holding it in place. The Stormcasts will have just one more crack at getting Sigmar’s hammer back…