Gotrek has returned.
The Slayer whose shame turned him to seek his doom in battle has outlived the death of the Old World, after spending millennia keeping Chaos from the gate.
And it has broken me in a multitude of ways.
To start with, let me explain, I first came across the duo of Gotrek and Felix in September 1992, in the second half of a tale named The Skaven's Claw. Set beneath the City of Nuln, a rip roaring adventure full to the brim with grim bleak humour, and glorious gory swordplay. As I had been reading the dour, bloody (and oddly sexualised) Konrad series, or the hi-lit concepts of the swords and parody classic Drachenfels, finding something more akin to a fantasy Errol Flynn than the gothic grimness that was the GW/Boxtree output. It was not much past that point that I discovered both Wolf Riders and Ignorant Armies, short story collections that held yet more Gotrex and Felix tales, deftly penned by William King. Around there, I discovered Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and thus, the origins of our heroic pair, how Gotrek and pulled Felix Jaeger from under the horsehoofs of the Militia after, as a young academic, Felix had been caught in the Window Tax Riots. How, Gotrek had once committed a deed so shameful, he had undertaken the Slayers Oath, and had set off into the world to find his doom.
King brought a humanity to the duo, even when Gotrek's sheer stubborn otherness was front and centre, through Felix's eyes, we saw the shame and the guilt, but also the ego and the thirst for fame and for battle that drove the Least Successful Slayer. Towards the late 90s, a collection named "Trollslayer" was released as part of The Black Library's opening publication salvo, containing both old tales and new, written to match the style of those 80s era tales. Followed up in quick succession came Skavenslayer, Deamonslayer, Dragonslayer, and so on, ending, as it did, with the simple title of "Slayer". Throughout the series, we changed from William King, to Nathan Long with "Orcslayer", and then to David Guymer with "Kinslayer" and "Slayer", and short stories along the way provided by Josh Renolds. We met characters that started as one note archetypes, growing into multi-facted people that you could not help but come to love. Max the wizard, for example, the pinnacle of the love-smitten, just out of university trope, becoming a deeply tragic but unstoppable force, tortured into a maturity he was never meant to experience. Ulrika Magdova, a Red Sonja-a-like from the borders of Kislev, who became not only one of the biggest failures of Gotrek and Felix, but also a threat, although not entirely a malicious one. The other Slayers, Snorri (honestly one of my favourite tragic tales in fiction), Malakai Makaisson, a engineer without peer, a genius with no limit to madness, and a slayer without reproach. Felix's family, the merchant Jaegers, a collection of fear-filled social climbers that draw sharp contrast between Felix as he is, and the life he was planned to have. the list of characters that come and go and return throughout the series is numerous and deserving of it's own musings.
The series travels the Old World, from Altdorf to the Border Princes, to Albion, to the home of the Elves, to Lustria and all the way back again. They meet (and insult) some of the most famouse and world shaping characters of the Old World, Teclis, Alarialle, Karl Franz.
They fought against the Chaos Incursion multiple times. They managed to accidently inform the rise, fall, slight rise, larger fall, sideways rise of Thanqoul , the greatest Grey Seer of all Skaven history (who may have actually taken Nuln if our friendly murder-happy pair had not been there), not to mention managing to kill each and every version of Boneripper, the strongest beast of bodyguard the Skaven race could create.
They went to Mordheim.
The Slayer series became synonymous with the Old World, intertwined in a way that no other Black Library series managed to do (until the Horus Heresy series started in 40k), and due to that, the End Times brought down the blade on the tale of Gotrek and Felix.
A true ending. There was no epilogue where people danced and sang, no final battle where the heroes triumphed. It ends and it began, small, sad and with Felix writing in his journal.
Writing, as the Old World died.
With the dawn of the Age of Sigmar, the landscape changed. The "boots in mud" feel of The Old World was replaced with something more high-fantasy, and brighter. Over time, with the release of the Soul Wars, a certain darkness began to creep back in, the grim and gothic nature of the Old World was there, in the corners, over there, behind the statues. Nagash, Lord of the Undead, had made a stake into the Mortal Realms (his triumph being, once again, snatched away by unforeseen Skaven), alongside other, familar names, mutated as they may be.
And Gotrek, returned.
I don't intend to spoil full parts of the stories for here on it, but I will be touching on scenes that if you have not experienced as yet, I would offer cautionbefore continuing.
As of time of writing, I am yet to read Ghoulslayer, but instead I wish to speak about Realmslayer from here on out. The audiodrama series with none other than Brian Blessed as the titular Slayer has had two releases at this point, Realmslayer and it's sequel, "Blood of the Old World"
It's worth mentioning I had misgivings about Blessed as the dour, and shamed Gotrek. Blessed is known for larger than life performances, loud and full of life., whilst Gotrek has, for the most part, always held a sarcastic, inward character. I should not have been worried, as Blessed delivers, giving Gotrek the rage, and sadness, the ego and the shame that he always had, Gotrek comes to life here in a way I never thought possible.
The sheer joy in his voice as he witness a creature far more vast than could ever have existed in the Old World, the timbre and disgust when he discovers the Fyreslayers and the mercenary ways they have taken to. The moments where he forgets and speaks to Felix instead of whoever he travels with at any point. The hatred he bears against the gods, and the grudge against his own god for what he sees as a betrayal, and a lie unbefitting one of his kind. The conviction that if he finds Felix a Stormcast, he will annihilate the stain that being one of Sigmar's chosen warriors puts to the life of heroism and loyalty that Felix had. The absolute heart reaching choke when he accepts he can never return, and and that he will never see his friend again. The wish that he could have let Felix know, that he was a friend.
The shame that he, Gotrek, heir of Grungi, tasked to keep Chaos out of the Old World with a millennia of warfare in the true Realm of Chaos, had failed.
Realmslayer works through the Mortal Realms beautifully, exploring concepts ranging from the Duradin races, to the Silver Towers, and introduces each one in turn with enough to hook the listener, but never allowing it to outstay it's welcome. Gotrek's response to Seraphon is one of hilarity, and then amusing, and then a certain amount of Kinship, he experiences the Sylvaneth with outright hostility, being as they are a mixture of two of his three most hated creation, that being Elves, Trees, and Boats.
At one point, whilst travelling through Shyish, Gotrek vanished each night from the story, to return the following morning. It becomes obvious that he has managed to make contact with a spirit from his old life, and when we discover that he has been conversing with Snorri Nosebiter, what starts as a humorous moment of joy for Gotrek making that connection, the history between the two comes crashing in as the shared shame, and how Snorri had died. You feel the weight as Gotrek considers his actions, but never once saying it, never once allowing it space in his mind, Snorri, as lost in death as he was in life, has moments of clarity, but with his death, has cleansed his shame.
In the second book, Gotrek has become obsessed with the idea of finding a way back, to die with his companions and with the World That Was. As he gets closer to that very goal, the final pages of Slayer replace the music, as Felix's voice speaks the words he wrote then, and Gotrek becomes more tortured. His battle there, against a wonderfully modernised enemy, is one of both physical prowess and allowing acceptance, and once that choice is made, Blessed manages to imbue Gotrek with the nobility to shoulder this new shame, in a way that, much like the conversation with Snorri, elicited a real, emotional reaction from me. This is not a replaying of who Gotrek was, but a true continuation, and journey to return to this new point has been a utter joy to behold.
Welcome back Slayer. You have been greatly missed.
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The Fluffenhammer is a archive of joy for the worlds of Games Workshop (and beyond)