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WFRP 2nd Ed. - Letters to Helena

Tronald_Dump

New member
Wazzup RPG.net



So I’ve been an inveterate lurker on the site for a while now and an especial fan of Shadow of the Sun by Acrozatium & co. (props to those guys). I don’t know about any of you but I offer the occasional prayer to the ancient and terrible Gods of darkness that that thread will one day be finished so we can find out what fucking happened in the end! Anyway I really dig that epic level of AP and, having recently unearthed my own WFRP 2 campaign notes, decided to try and contribute something myself. These notes describe my PCs journey across the Old World through Through the Drakwald and up to a cliff hanger in Ashes of Middenheim (SPOLIERS for both of those adventures… duh) but rediscovering these notes has rekindled my WFRPing desire so watch this space… The notes are in proper meta-data format (W1 howls and joins W2 (Charge attack +20, +10 2:1 = WS 60 pass @ 16, M parries WS -10 2:1 pass @ 18 etc. etc. sort of thing) so I’m using these coupled with the overarching gist of what happened and some amateur creative writing and warhammer fanboy knowledge to fill in the gaps. Think a badly written Black Library novel with potentially random plot twists and the occasional technical aside.


I hope you enjoy it and if you don’t, read something else.


Peace




Letters to Helena


So this scene is the intro to the third of out three characters, (the other two being less background story and more find-it-kill-it-loot-it driven didn’t feel like they needed one and weren’t available at the time anyway). The Letters to Helena are the ones this character is sending to his sister Helena, who she is and why he’s sending them will begin to be revealed as the story progresses. I should that, as much as I disagree with railroading this scene contains a shameful amount, only the fight scene is actually determined with dice, but as this is a set up scene to the main story I suppose it’s excusable.














Prologue


As the mouse approached the mouth of the hole it paused, twitching its whiskers in the cool night air. A life spent in the dark corners of the town had taught it caution. There were plenty of rats, cats and larger, two-legged predators in the slums of the Pit. Satisfied that the breeze wafting into its lair carried nothing but the tantalising reek of the rubbish strewn street beyond, it darted out into the gloom. Weaving in-between piles of potato skins and shattered furniture it paused for a second to sniff hopefully at the desiccated corpse of a magpie before scurrying onward. Imminent danger or no, it was not wise to linger on the streets of Bogenhafen.


...


Dear Helena


...


The rodent’s paws had carried it to a blind alley, splattered with the contents of the surrounding houses’ chamber pots and presided over by the termite-ridden remains of a large wardrobe, leaning drunkenly against the dry-stone wall behind it, when a more appetising smell than the pervading sour stench of the neighbourhood reached its nostrils. The earthy aroma of grain, only slightly marred by ergot fungus, succulent cheese rinds, strips of mutton clinging to half-gnawed bones, the feasts that humans threw away, all coming from somewhere beyond the wardrobe and its supporting wall. The mouse was halfway across the muddy ground, already under the wooden monster’s leering shadow when a burning firebrand fell from the sky and landed in front of its whiskered snout. Half blinded by the light, its tiny heart beating a drumroll against its chest, the mouse gave a terrified squeak and vanished into the night.


...


I feel as if I have known you all my life, although we have never met.


...


High above the blind alley and the winding streets, perched in the shadow of a grimy chimney, the thief stared over the thatched lip of the roof where his match had disappeared and sucked thoughtfully on the clay pipe in his hand. It was a good night for it, he reflected. Rolling banks of brooding cloud smothered Mannslieb so that the light of the waning half-moon shone wan and fitfully on the rooftops of the town. Its sister, the Dark Moon was nowhere to be seen, surely that had to be a good sign? The hand cradling the pipe bowl shook slightly and flecks of burning matter were dislodged onto the hem of his cloak. Frowning down at the offending digits he took a deep, steadying breath and puffed determinedly at the pipe stem. None of that, he told himself sternly, he could not afford to go to pieces. These last weeks the comfortable rigmarole of his existence had twisted and reared like an angry snake and only by his strength of will could he keep it from falling apart. He had people counting on him.


...


I grew up listening to stories about you, the clever and beautiful Helena, who had been spirited away by the Magisters to Altdorf to learn the deepest secrets of sorcery & would one day return to save us from our bitter lives of grinding poverty, and turn old Frau Hauptstrasse into a newt.


...


More to distract himself than out of any practical need the thief pulled his tool roll from his belt and proceeded to study each item, yet again, with careful scrutiny. Each of his picks were accounted for, his oil pump full, rope un-frayed and grapnel securely knotted. For the hundredth time he drew his dagger from its wrist sheath and tested its edge against his thumb, as razor sharp as it was five minutes ago, Gods willing he would not need it. Carefully he tucked the roll back through his belt and as he did so, his gloved hand brushed something else that rustled with the movement. Hesitating for a second, he pulled out the roll of parchment and laid it out on the thatch in front of him. It was far too dark to read the hastily scrawled words but he knew what they said, he had been formulating them in his head for days. He hoped they would be legible; it had been many years since he had learned his letters at the temple school. The malaise of doubt and suppressed grief, tempered now by a raw edge of panic, that had haunted him this past week descended again as he stared at the parchment and the name scrawled at its head, lost in venomous thought. The solemn bells of the church across the river interrupted his bitter reverie. The third hour of the morning, he had perhaps three hours till first light. It was time. He stood up, touching the charm at his throat and checking his buckles one last time. Grasping the eve of the roof he shimmied easily down the side of the house and leapt lightly onto the muddy ground, duty was calling.


...


Such wonderful stories, but I am older and wiser now.


...


Despite the hour, the streets were a thoroughfare of huddled figures and drunken yells. Wharf rats and alley cats, whores and gamblers, beggars and thieves, eyes watched him from rickety shutters and darkened alcoves as he slipped amongst them, but none approached. The footpads and cut-purses saw a kindred spirit in his skillful threading through the rambling crowds. The quick sure-footed way he navigated the maze of alleyways marked him as one of their own, another ragged spectre of the district north of the river most knew as The Pit.


...


I should introduce myself I suppose.


...


He kept to the shadows as he walked, avoiding the tangled knots of revellers that spilled out into the street from the smoky, low-ceilinged taverns to catch the first of the balmy summer breezes, welcome after a frigid and troubled spring. It would not do to be seen tonight. Twice he circumnavigated particularly crooked passages where shaded figures stalked, moonlight reflecting off drawn steel and hungry eyes. Once he melted into the shadows with the Pit’s other more cautious denizens as a ten-strong watch patrol shouldered its way through the crowds, the malicious glares of surrounding merrymakers returned from under their lantern poles.


...


Most call me Fingers but my birth-name is Felix, I am your youngest brother and as far as I know, now your only surviving sibling.


...


The river Bogen’s stench grew more powerful as he reached the serried rows of wooden warehouses that lined the waterfront. Stevedores and dockers lounged on crates and barrels outside the dilapidated bars that had sprung up around the ferry dock. Old Man Kringler was no doubt dead drunk and snoring like a pig in his riverside shack by this hour, but his sons were not hard to find. Rolling dice with a gaggle of boatmen beside the ageing craft they were charged with piloting by their evil-tempered father. Luther scowled at the intrusion of responsibility on his game, but took the thief’s proffered coin and sloped off to cast off from the jetty.


...


Greta and Jekkus disappeared many years ago. I am told they were last seen slipping through the postern gate towards Helmgart.


...


The river slipped past in silence, Luther was a surly, close-mouthed individual even when he hadn’t been called away from his preferred pastimes. He scratched the scar along his jaw and scowled at the sluggish waters. There were no other passengers, those who had the coin to pursue business on the other side of the river had long since gone and most put off returning as long as possible. The thief volunteered a remark about calling on a new lady friend though the ferryman had not asked. The words hung awkwardly in the silence between them but he thought it a prudent measure. Luther was not generally one who cared enough about the business of others to wag his tongue but the thief felt it best to err on the side of caution.


...


Greta was perhaps eleven summers or so and Jekkus a little younger, children. They were probably dead by nightfall.





The docks this side were deserted save for the distant clamour of the streets beyond them. The boat had barely bumped against a mooring post when Luther turned to punt back across. The thief leapt onto the jetty and walked briskly towards the warehouses. By the time he reached them Luther and the ferry where lost in the enveloping gloom. Pulling his tattered hood back over his head the thief set off into the streets, so far everything was going to plan. Within minutes he had reached the Haffenbeck, the tributary of the larger Bogen, gurgling beneath the bridge and the huddled mass of the Suffering Saint tavern that straddled it. A man-at-arms was slumped over the bridges low wall, vomiting noisily into the water below. On another night the thief might have slit his purse to see if he’d drunk all of his master’s pay yet, but not tonight. Other than the would-be victim clutching at the stones and heaving pitifully, the streets around them were deserted. The Suffering Saint drew most of the areas nightly traffic to its doors, the back roads behind it reserved for those enjoying the attentions of the robbers and doxies that haunted its taproom. With a last glance at the semi-conscious bodyguard, the thief hoisted himself over the wall and placed a questing foot into the first of the concealed handholds that led down to the river below.


...


I have at least vague memories of them instead of just fanciful stories but in truth I knew them only a little better than I know you. I was barely more than a infant, I feel little when I tell you of their fate.


...


The narrow ledge ran along the little river’s bank to a pair of holes fitted with iron bars that led to the sewer tunnels. As he neared them the laughter and music of the tavern above his head swelled, he caught snatches of slurred conversation and the distinct scuffles and grunts of a brawl on the bank above. Bars had been broken off the side of the right-hand grate before him, the stone lip beneath worn smooth by frequent usage. Wrinkling his nose against the fetid malodour wafting from within, the thief entered.


...


But it is the fate of our brother Bacchus that prompts me to write to you, dear estranged sister, and sickens my heart with sorrow.


...


Silence greeted him; the only sound the burble of filth floating past the walkway he now traversed, bent double with practised ease, a guttering candle clutched in his hand. Smaller tunnels led off left and right at regular intervals to catch the contents of the drains above but he kept to the main passage. Years spent escaping the tender mercies of his teachers at the Seminary of the Guiding Light guided him along the right fork of the great ring that encircled the town centre. Five putrid minutes later he stood at the junction he knew so well. To his left, the passage curved around the park in the centre of the Adel Ring and came up in the Gottenplatz under the privies of the school he had escaped so often as a boy. And to his right, where the passage sloped off into the dark hugging the south wall, the fifth drain on the left, the end of his journey.


...


Bacchus was always the best of us.


...


Something unpleasant dripped down the privy shaft into the pool below with meaty splatter. The thief winced as he peered up at the circle of faint light that marked his exit. He knew from careful observation that the guards preferred to use the shaft to the right; it was a quicker walk from their post at the gate. Still he would have to move quickly. There was no guarantee one of them wouldn’t opt for a change in routine and, while it would probably not scupper the whole plan, he’d still rather avoid being shat on from a great height in a very un-metaphorical sense. Wasting no more time, he pulled a bundle of tattered cloth from the sling bag he wore under his cloak and wrapped it around himself. Wandering around the Steinhager mansion covered in half the household’s excrement was sure to attract attention. Once he was sure he was as covered as possible he removed the small iron grapnel and coil of rope. Closing one eye he squinted up at the dim glow of the outside world. He would have two or three tries at the very most before someone came to investigate the noise. Whirling the rope in circles as large as the space permitted he whispered a quick prayer to the Night Prowler and flung it upwards as hard as he could. For a heart-stopping moment it clattered on the wooden surface of the hole above before finding purchase. He pulled it tentatively, slowly applying his bodyweight as he listened with bated breath for the sound of the hook clattering back down. Nothing, it had held. Grasping hold of the rope he raised the tiny hammer charm that hung from his neck and kissed the minuscule X he had carved into its head. Thinking determinedly of the riches above, the thief began to climb.


...


He took the cloth of the Order of the Torch many years ago, and a fortnight past he was killed wearing it.


...


By the time he reached the top his muscles were screaming their protests at their cramped, silent exertion. Bracing his booted feet against the slippery walls the thief eased his bodyweight off the rope just enough to lift the privy’s wooden lid and gain a firm enough grip to remove the grapnel. His palms were slippery with sweat inside his gloves, one wrong move now and he would plummet back down the shaft where, presuming he got lucky and didn't break anything ricocheting off the stone walls, he’d either drown in a pool of sewage or be caught by Steinhager’s men and wish he had. The iron hook parted company with the lid with a splintering crunch and the thief was able to lift it as quickly as he dared, clambering out of his personal little hell of tortured muscles and nauseating odours.


...


He was helping the lay brethren unload a delivery of foodstuffs at the temple when a skittish colt took fright at a spilled brazier and bolted.


...


Beyond the doors of his rather unconventional entry-point the grounds of the Steinhager household stretched into the shadows. Handsome hedges and broad beds of rare flowers that were tended daily by a cadre of stooped gardeners. Silvered birch trees that lined the gravel path like a guard of honour and the fountain beyond, its waters leaping and chuckling in the dappled moonlight. There were only two guards on duty by this time of night. They sat in their small shed at the front of the house watching the gate and would not patrol the grounds again till dawn when their relief arrived. The thief had gathered as much from his days of patient watching, posing as a porter in daylight and hiding in the trees of the park at night. The master bedroom was somewhere at the top of the west wing. He had heard a maid decrying Master Steinhager’s penchant for eating in his bedroom ‘at the top of all them stairs, I tell ye’ four days ago. It had to be there, something so valuable could not be kept anywhere but next to his slumbering head.


...


Our brother was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the horse rode him down.


...


He bundled together the soiled blanket that had protected him from the worst of the sewers, carefully wiping his boots and gloves before tossing it back down the shaft. The grapnel and rope where securely wound and stowed back under his cloak. Such tools would make far too much noise this close to the mansion’s sleeping inhabitants. Instead, the thief removed several small spiked objects from his kit and proceeded to buckle the curious contraptions to each of his feet, holding a further two between his teeth as he worked. Almost as an afterthought, as he prepared to exit the outhouse with spikes now protruding from the toe of each boot and his gloved fists he paused, fumbling in his pockets and pouches once more. Out of them he pulled a mask, no more than a crudely stitched leather hood with rough eyeholes cut into it. Despite its rudimentary nature the effect was startling, his face suddenly frightening and dead beneath the hood, leaving the nervous resolution glittering in his eyes the only spark of life in his visage.


...


He was a kind and gentle soul and the only true brother I have ever known, he did not deserve such a senseless death.


...


The thief strained his ears for the scrape of a footstep or ragged breath that would warn him of an approaching guard as he neared the house. He dug a spike into the mortar between the stones wiggling it experimentally, a fine stream of dust issued from the crack but the spike stayed firmly wedged. Satisfied he jammed a foot-spike in below and began to climb. The back of the mansion was far less opulent than the front, with its wrought iron gates and colonnades topped with the family crest, yet it was still more impressive than most of the buildings the young thief had ever encountered. Hideous, beaked gargoyles frowned down from the roof at him, as though they could sense his intentions towards their master. Under their fearsome gaze he uttered another little prayer to Ranald; he only hoped the Night Prowler was listening. The trellises of climbing ivy murmured and rustled as he stopped beneath a windowsill and eased a spike beneath the cracks of the shutters.


...


They took him to the altar to die, it took hours, long enough for word to reach me on the other side of town but by the time I arrived he was beyond words. He merely gazed up at the golden hammer on the dais, lips moving in silent prayer.


...


As they swung forwards to reveal the window beneath a keening shriek of rusted joints split the air. His heart pounding somewhere around his Adams-apple, the thief seized the offending hinge to stop it swinging any further, pleading silently to any God, Daemon or Faye creature that might be listening that the people within would not be disturbed, that the guards would not come running from the gate to find him hanging beneath the window like a spider caught in its own web. Several agonising minutes passed with no alarmed shouts or pounding feet and the thief felt it safe to breathe again. Fishing once more in his tool-kit he removed the small pump-flask of oil he kept for such recalcitrant couplings and began to coax them into quieter, more fluid motion with liberal squirts. With careful lubrication the shutters were soon open, peering through the mullioned panes of the window beneath he spotted the vague outline of a bolt at its base. Glad now of all his unnecessary checks to ensure he had each and every one of his tools he swapped the oil flask for a small mallet originally intended for the fine sculpting of stone, and a length of strong twine with a small loop knotted at the end. Squinting through the glass once more to determine the direction the bolt was shot he placed the climbing spike’s point against one of the diamond panes. Now balanced precariously on only his foot-spikes the thief gently chiselled away the lead holding the pane in place. As it dropped onto the carpet below, he threaded the length of twine through the hole, tongue between his teeth as he attempted to hook the protruding window-catch. The ivy rustled, the rising wind moaned and the fountain laughed and babbled somewhere behind him as he worked. Beads of sweat dripped down his forehead and he blinked them away, concentrating with all his might on the small loop of twine and the infuriatingly close bolt. With it finally hooked he gave an audible sigh of relief and, after waiting for a second for any sound of stirring within the mansion he slowly eased the window open.


...


If Sigmar heard his disciple before Morr took him, he gave no sign.


...


The thief dropped onto the thick Arabyan rug beneath the window with no small measure of professional pride. He’d like to see any other burglar in Bogenhafen follow in those footsteps. He was far from out of the woods yet however, the time for congratulation would come later. The oak panelled corridor stretched before him, lit sporadically by the faint bars of moonlight the clouds allowed through their midst and guarded by suits of armour that eyed him from their plinths. If his estimations were correct, the master bedroom was up the stairs at the end of the hall. Closing the well-oiled shutters and shooting the bolt back into place he stooped to pick up the diamond of glass that lay at his feet before moving onwards. The stairs creaked and groaned as he placed his feet upon them with infinite care, pausing after each step for several agonising seconds to listen to the sleeping house intently. No creaks answered his, no discernible sounds from above or below, he might have been the only person in the world.


...


Perhaps this means nothing to you, Bacchus was a babe in arms when you were taken. You have nothing of us but maybe a half-remembered childhood and a letter from a stranger.


...


The master bedroom was easily recognisable by its carved oaken doors, resplendent with the coat-of-arms of the Steinhager family, a wood and iron replica of those flanking the gate below. The bedroom itself was dominated by a huge four-poster bed with embroidered silk hangings. Tapestries hung from the walls and the skin of a huge cave bear draped the floor, its face contorted into a final snarl. The bed was empty, as he had known it would be, its sheets carefully folded by the maids the previous day. The fireplace was dark and cold and the detritus that probably usually covered the writing desk and the small tables had been cleared. No-one had been here for a day or two, both the corpulent Heinrich Steinhager and his repulsive nephew were away, pursuing business and pleasure respectively. Only a handful of guards and servants and one drunkard of a valet remained, so far so good. The thief glanced searchingly around the room, wondering where it would be kept. A small bubble of fear began to grow against the excitement in his chest, what if Heinrich had taken it with him? What if arrogant, boisterous Josef had taken it on his hunting trip to show the Duke just how affluent his uncle was? The clouds parted for a moment and Mannsleib’s light was thrown across the room once more, and there! A gleam of brightest silver, reflected in the gilded mirror beside the bed. It was hung on the wall behind the door, above a large chest-of-drawers mounted with a selection of other curio and objects d’art. Stylised crystal jugs and Dwarfish clockwork languished beneath the moody gaze of a collection of shrunken heads, but Fingers had eyes for only one thing.


...


But you owe a debt, whether you know it or not.


...


He had seen it before of course. The Steinhager family where fond of bringing it out on formal occasions, displayed ostentatiously on the belt of the current patriarch, and every local raconteur and minstrel knew at least one version of the story. Several centuries ago a Sea Elf had presented Ulfman, the then patriarch of the Steinhagers with a fabulous sword in recognition of a great service. What exactly said service was varied from each telling. (He personally preferred the version where the sword had been a bribe for Ulfman to leave the Elf’s sister alone.) But while many versions existed none doubted the stories authenticity, and the proof sat before the thief’s awed gaze, glistening like the moonlight behind him made solid.


Not to me you understand, I stopped believing you would save us long ago, no you owe our mother.


He had never seen such strength in something so delicate. It was a single edged sabre designed for use on the decks of the infamous Dragon Ships. The radiant steel flowing like water from the eagle-headed pommel, elegantly tapering to a vicious point, its subtle curves lending it perfect balance, fire opals and sapphires inlaid along the hilt and strange eldritch runes etched into its lustrous skin. He reached out a trembling hand and grasped the handle, lifting it down and turning it reverently. It was so light he hardly felt it, as he flicked it through the air the blade seemed to weave and dance of its own accord, flashing with inner fire though the moon had long since been smothered once more. This sword would make him rich; allow him to live out the rest of his days in comfort, never having to suffer the indignities and terrors of grinding poverty again. This blade was his destiny.
 

Tronald_Dump

New member
...

She never stopped talking about you, she would tell the same stories over and over again without realising, mixing up all the details as she went. Deep in her cups she would scream and wail for her darling daughter to come home and her remaining children, not understanding her grief, would add their cries to hers.

...

The boom of the brass knocker on the front door below shattered his trance like the footsteps of an angry god. He froze where he stood, all the blood in his veins turned to ice. Dimly he could hear other sounds now, the murmur of voices and whinny of horses, footsteps echoing down the hall and then the unmistakable ponderous creak of the front doors being thrown open. He needed to leave, he should have taken the sword and ran as soon as the first knock had sounded, should have been gone the moment he had located it. But now terror had rooted him to the spot. How could this be happening? The murmuring voices were growing more distinct as they moved through the hall, one full of the weary confusion of sudden and violent rise from slumber, the other belligerent and slurred, alternatively barking commands and muttering incoherently. He knew that second voice, he had watched its owner ride through the north gate towards the Duke’s hunting lodge and out of his carefully formulated plans only yesterday, and the flare of recognition galvanised him back into action. Trusting that the commotion downstairs would mask his movements the thief bolted down the staircase towards the corridor beyond. The voices were more distinct here, he could hear their owners striding around the hallway below.
“And wake those useless stable-hands to see to my horse Thorvold , she’s had a long ride and will need to be rubbed down.”
“Yes Herr Steinhager, and-”,
“Sigmar’s grace man the hearth’s cold as death! What have you been doing?”
The manservant Thorvold’s reedy voice had lost some of its stupor and an edge of irritation was creeping in.
“I was asleep Mein Herr! The hour is late-”
“Asleep! Drank yourself under the table more like you wretched old cur!”

...

I cannot bring her lost daughter home, but if the mountains would not come to Sigmar, Sigmar must go to the mountains.

...

The voices were fading slightly as they moved off in the direction of the kitchen. Wrapping the sword beneath the folds of his cloak so its sheen did not give him away the thief crept as fast as he could towards the window, cursing his luck under his breath. He had already drawn back the bolt when Herr Steinhager the younger’s voice floated up from the stairwell once more.
“Don’t bother Thorvold just get a fire going in the drawing room. And bring me up some wine would you? If you haven’t drunk it all.”
He had barely a second, just long enough to hear the creak of the man’s foot upon the steps. He flung himself away from the window and scrambled, half crawling half running back the way he had come. The toe of one expensive riding boot was already visible round the corner as he flew through the nearest door and dived behind a beautifully upholstered armchair. Not a moment too soon, he had just whipped the hem of his cloak out of sight when the door opened once more and Steinhager stumped across the room, sinking with a grateful sigh into the armchair adjacent to his hiding place. He heard the squeak of leather and a pair of loud clumps as the man kicked off his boots with a grunt. Briefly he considered slashing the boorish bastard’s throat, Steinhager was physically far larger than he, but with the element of surprise he would be dead before he knew what was happening. As quickly as it had come however, the bloodthirsty impulse faded. He was no killer, and murdering a man of the Steinhagers’ social stature was not conducive to long term survival.

...

You see, Bacchus and I managed to support mother for many years between our various means, but with him gone that burden falls to me alone.

...

He began to inch towards the door, never taking his eyes from the man’s broad back. He was almost level with his chair and wondering whether the window would still be an option, surely the stable-hands had dealt with Steinhager’s horse and gone back to bed by now? When the door opened once more. Thorvold had entered backwards, ensuring the contents of the tray he carried did not spill, had that not been the case there would have been no chance of him not seeing the thief as he scurried back around the chair. As it was the thief tried to steady his breathing, sure that his pounding heart would give him away at any second, the manservant placed the tray on a small table beside his master’s chair and squatted on his haunches at the grate to start a fire. Every fibre of the thief’s being screamed at him to move, this was the moment, while the elderly valet laid kindling and fumbled for matches under his master’s drunken glare. But his legs would not respond, the enormity of his predicament pressed down on him, crushing his chest and filling his ears with distant ringing. Pure unadulterated panic was smothering his ability to do anything but crouch and shiver like some hunted beast. He was going to die, Steinhager would see him strung up in the Gottenplatz with his guts looped around his ankles- The slamming door brought him back to his senses, steeling his nerves he peered over the top of the chair, expecting with every second to see leering faces and hear the call for the guards. Steinhager was slumped in his seat staring into the crackling flames Thorvold had coaxed into life before leaving. As the thief watched, the man’s eyes began to droop and a small dribble of spittle leaked from the corner of his mouth. It was now or never, while the manservant returned to his bedchambers and the merchant princeling drifted off to sleep he could slink back to the window and return the way he had come, by the time anyone realised the sword was gone he would be halfway to Altdorf.

...

Over the course of my life I have become proficient in a certain strata of commerce, acquiring desired goods for interested parties. I won’t bore you with the financial details in the face of more pressing concerns. Suffice to say that in a busy river town like Bogenhafen I have prospered and my name is known in certain circles.

...

With glacial care, his eyes never leaving Steinhager’s face, he crept towards the door, straining his ears for any sound of movement beyond it. He slunk across the thick carpet that covered the empty space between the chairs, the fire hissed and spat. He reached the panelled wall and placed his hand gently on the riveted oak of the door. Mouth dry, knees trembling, his fingers fumbled with the latch. Every rasp of leather on metal and infinitesimal clink of the mechanism magnified to the roar of some gargantuan creature, sure to be heard across the Empire. A charred log settled on the glowing coals with a venomous pop, Steinhager stirred and mumbled. The thief’s organs shrivelled to ash as his heart threw itself against his ribs, straining to escape its current predicament. The noble sighed and turned on his side, smacking his lips. The tension building to a scream in his chest the thief swung the door open, desperate to flee before it could tear itself free. Fighting the urge to run he stepped out onto the landing.
“Thorvold! You skulking maggot, bring me some saus-”

...

A month ago a man from Altdorf approached me with a lucrative contract that I turned down, as it went against the vested interests of my colleagues in the Guild. In light of recent events I have reviewed my position.

...

There was a moment of yawning silence that seemed to stretch for days as he turned slowly on the spot like a sleepwalker. Steinhager was on his feet, silhouetted against the flames, gripping the chair back for support. He was an ugly man, possessing the same craggy brutal features of Steinhager the elder, yet unsoftened by the wobbling jowls of his uncle. A lank, scraggly goatee clung in wisps to lips that, even with his piggy eyes wide and his mouth open in surprise, seemed to curl in a derisive sneer. The days stretched into months as the thief and princeling stood, staring into each other’s eyes. The thief dimly became aware that his hands where moving of their own accord, mechanically raising the Elven sword they held. Its gleaming tip pointing at the man who stood before them barefoot, his silken finery rumpled with sleep. And still Steinhager stood, blinking furiously, his mouth working soundlessly like a stranded fish, and the thief made his decision. With one last look at the man swaying vacantly by the fire he ran, ran faster than he ever had in his life. From behind him he heard the thump of a chair being knocked flying and the rasp of drawn steel as Steinhager came to his senses and tore from the room with an inarticulate howl of rage. The corridor flashed past him, the window was out of the question, by the time he had opened it his pursuer would be upon him. He would take the stairs to the hallway and the kitchens, and from there the backdoor of the scullery out into the yard. He turned to look back, praying that the guards would not react in time to prevent him reaching the privy and the sewers beyond.

...

For ten days I have been planning, gathering information, consolidating my resources and weighing my chances.
...

At the top of the staircase, still craning his neck over his shoulder to estimate how far behind the nobleman was, he collided with something that knocked the breath from his body. Gasping he staggered, clutching at the bannister for support. Thorvold was not so lucky, with a muffled cry he flew backward from the landing and tumbled down the stairs to land in a dishevelled heap. The thief had just enough time to regain his feet, ready to leap the feebly stirring manservant and continue his flight when Steinhager cannoned into his shoulder. They crashed against the opposite wall in a confused tangle of limbs, the thief's nostrils filled with the foetid reek of stale sweat and alcohol as the man bore down on him, hands clutching for his throat. He saw the glimmer of a raised sword above him and writhed and kicked with his free leg. His boot caught the blade at the hilt and sent it spinning into the air to land with a clatter in the hallway below. Bracing his back against the wall behind him he pushed at the much larger man’s bulk with his trapped legs, his muscles tearing with the stupendous effort. Caught off balance by the sudden, desperate onslaught Steinhager fell back, his head cracking off one of the bannisters. Wresting himself free of the dazed man’s slackening grip he cast about for the elf sword. It lay in the puddle of moonlight under the window and he scrabbled towards it, questing fingers reaching for the hilt as he heaved himself up. With a bestial snarl Steinhager launched himself at the thief, batting his sword arm away as he tried, too slowly, to raise his guard. The man’s face was livid with dazed rage as he grabbed his smaller adversary by the collar and threw him backwards with savage, drunken strength. The thief’s arms wind-milled for balance as he stumbled, the wildly slashing blade scoring deep gashes in the handsome wood of the walls.



With Sigmar’s strength and Ranald’s luck I believe I am ready to make my move.

...

Steinhager lurched towards him as wine and the hefty blow the bannister had dealt his skull exerted their influence over him. He staggered, one foot catching and tripping the other and he fell, clawing at thief’s ankles even as he did so. One hand fastened around his boot with a vicelike grip and he kicked wildly at the man’s face to dislodge it. Steinhager threw up his free arm to deflect the blows but the thief's heel collided with his protruding nose with a satisfying crunch. As the pair twisted and squirmed on the floor a yell sounded from above them. Thorvold had regained the staircase, framed in the pale moonlight, a heavy brass candlestick grasped in his hand. As the second man approached, the thief redoubled his efforts, kicking and writhing even as he scrambled behind him for a weapon. His gloved fingers closed on the polished edge of a breastplate and he raised it just as the candlestick came down with a clang and a frustrated screech from its wielder. As he thrashed madly he felt Steinhagers grip finally slacken and he rolled away from another of Thorvold’s blows, feeling the impact as it thudded into the carpet beside him. The manservant bore down on him, raining a flurry of blows upon his makeshift shield that filled the corridor with a sound like a maddened bell ringer. He felt renewed hands grasp his feet and begin to pull him back down the corridor and he kicked out again. Pain lanced through his arm as the candlestick finally struck him on the elbow, his head swam and he fought not to drop the battered breastplate. With a strength born of desperation he heaved himself upward, scything the metal plate through the air at his assailants. Steinhager cringed backward, releasing him and Thorvold stumbled into the wall as the breastplate sliced towards his knees. Knowing he had but a split second to exploit the momentary lull he sprang to his knees, ready to bolt. Then his head exploded, twinkling lights danced before his eyes as the world lurched, the carpeted floor beneath him rushing upwards. Indistinct figures shimmered through a shadowy haze and voices echoed incomprehensibly in his ringing ears. Something warm and wet trickled down his face beneath the mask and pooled against his cheek, he could taste the coppery tang of blood. Rough hands seized him and dragged him into a sitting position. The shade in front of him coalesced into Steinhager, blood pouring freely from his broken nose and spattering the fine silk of his surcoat. His mouth was moving but the thief could not discern what the man was saying through the pervading ringing that filled his eardrums. The man moved in an indistinct blur and the thief felt a fist smash into his cheek, fresh blood welled over his teeth and spilled down his chin, before he could fully process what had happened Steinhager hit him again. He felt his nose break with a meaty crunch of cartilage, shards of broken teeth mingled with a choking torrent of blood as the fists and feet of the two men pummelled his face and chest. A gurgling scream tore free of his lips as he felt ribs break beneath his jerkin and a warm wetness spread from his crotch.

...

Certain interests will be upset and it will be necessary to leave immediately for the capital, I have funds enough to get us there.

...

After what felt like a thousand, agonised years the blows ceased. He became aware he was hunched into a foetal ball on the carpet, his mask had been removed and the soft fibres tickled his lacerated cheek. Waves of nauseating pain rolled over him and he retched and spluttered. Yet the ringing in his ears had ceased and for the first time in long minutes he could hear the discussion of the men above him.
“-assure you Mein Herr I know the boy. He drinks with the other guttersnipes north of the river in a filthy dive called the Strangler’s Hands. I have dealt with some of his colleagues in the past. At your uncle’s behest of cour-”
“I couldn’t give a tu’penny fuck where he drinks or with whom, Thorvold we must search the building for more of the vermin. They tried to steal the sword, in Sigmar’s name the sword man.”
“That’s what I’m trying to explain Mein Herr. As I have dealt with his ilk before I can confidently assert that, since the dissolution of the Thieves’ Guild here in Bogenhafen and the hanging of several key figures, the leadership of the organisation has fallen to certain individuals who remain firm friends of your uncle. And besides, such a brazen theft, against a family as powerful as your own, the little rat is most assuredly working of his own accord. The other professionals of his would have killed him for even suggesting such a ludicrous idea as burgling your esteemed household.”
There was a pregnant pause, broken finally by the sound of a dagger leaving its sheath and Steinhager’s voice, thick with the blood still flowing from his nose.
“Well if you’re sure Thorvold on your head be it, let’s cut the little shit’s throat and be done with it. I need my bed.”

...

Once we are safely in Altdorf I will send this letter with attached details of our lodgings, then I shall meet my client and we shall all live in comfort and riches until the end of our days.

...

Through the swollen slits of pain-dulled eyes the thief saw the blurred shape of Steinhager advancing on him, dagger drawn. He supposed he should be scared, or try to fight, but these thoughts seemed very far away, unable to penetrate the fog that filled his throbbing brain. As he watched however, the other figure that was presumably Thorvold hurried forwards and placed a placating hand on the noble’s chest.
“Not here Mein Herr, not here. I beg of you, it would take me weeks to scrub the carpet clean of his blood.”
Steinhager stopped up short and regarded the manservant for a moment; he looked almost as though he might strike him. Then he laughed a short, mirthless bark and sheathed the blade he held.
“Very well then Thorvold, you have made your point. I trust you have an alternate suggestion?”
“Of course Mein Herr” replied the servant greasily, “While I am confident he was acting alone, it occurred to me that a simple gutter rat would need some way of turning a profit from the sword once he had escaped with it.”
“Profit?” Steinhager’s voice had risen irritably once more, “What do you mean profit man? It’s a thrice-damned elven sword!”
Hands raised placatingly Thorvold attempted to explain the intricacies of the criminal underworld with the patient tone of a schoolteacher charged with an especially dull pupil.
“Of course Mein Herr of course. But you must understand that such higher concepts do not occur to a creature of his base instincts, he would no doubt have wanted the blade for its monetary value alone.” Thorvold quickened the pace of his explanation to avoid further interruption. “It therefore stands to reason Mein Herr that he must have arranged someone to sell the sword too, one cannot sell such thing in the market square.”
“I should bloody well think not.” Growled Steinhager, he did not resume his ranting however and allowed Thorvold to continue, which he did so with a slightly relieved air.
“I therefore propose, Mein Herr that we take this fellow to the stables and attempt to extract any information we can about his compatriots. It would be our civic duty to do so, and then when your uncle returns on the morrow we could hand him over to the watch to be hanged.”

...

Once upon a time I too believed that you would return to reunite us.

...

Steinhager considered the proposition for a moment, running a finger tentatively over his broken nose, and then a wolfish smile spread across his blood flecked face.
“Thorvold my good man, that’s the best idea you’ve had all evening.”
“Thank you Mein Herr.” said Thorvold with a smile that did not reach his cold grey eyes.
An involuntary cry of pain escaped the thief’s lips as he was hauled roughly to his knees once more, agony shooting through his side. He heard the jingling of mail and the creak of booted feet on the stairs as the gate guards joined his captors, hovering uncertainly by the window. Steinhager called out to them, an edge of barbarous excitement in his voice.
“Ah excellent. You there, help Thorvold with this rat and you.” he gestured imperiously at the second man. “Fetch some smithing tools from the forge and heat a couple of pokers. We’re going to have some fun with our guest.” The guard sniggered as he stumped back down the stairs.

...

Little did I imagine that one day, though I cannot turn anyone into a newt, that burden would fall to me.

...

Perhaps it was these words, perhaps it was the cold metal of the hammer charm pressing against his collarbone, maybe just a final surge of animal, survival instinct, but something stirred in the thief. A hard, blazing strength flowed through his battered limbs, chasing the pervading pain to the back of his mind. His heart which had seemed to be growing more sluggish with each beat, as though resigning itself to the cold embrace of death suddenly beat with renewed vigour. He felt Thorvold’s callous hands digging into his armpits, saw with sudden clarity the outline of Steinhager against the moonlit window as he directed the man-at-arms forward to carry him down to be tortured and hanged, and he knew what he must do. Hunching over, feigning slipping in and out of consciousness he slowly drew his dagger from its wrist sheath with a practised motion. The murmur of conversation hid the scrape of steel on leather. The guardsmen muttered something indistinct as he drew towards the two of them and Thorvold laughed in reply. the thief drew a deep breath, and struck. He sunk all six inches of the blade concealed in his hand into Thorvold’s foot, pinning it to the floorboards beside him. Before the man could even scream the thief leapt to his feet with a speed that belied his injured state, the guardsmen could do little more than gawp as the thief ran at Steinhager, hate blazing in his battered face. The man turned, letting out a strangled ‘urk’ of surprise as the thief seized him by the throat and together both men were carried by the momentum over the balcony. The world devolved to a whirl of shadow and lamplight, screams and startled cries. the thief held tight to the neck of the man who had planned to kill him, squeezing the soft flesh till the piggy eyes popped. They hit the flagstones below with a sickening thud, and all went black.

...

Your brother,

...

He awoke, peering through a fresh haze of pain. Steinhager lay beneath him, his neck lolling like a rag doll, eyes dulled in death. Without really realising what he was doing the thief pushed himself up off the body, shock numbing the screaming protests of his battered and aching frame. The darkened hallway swam around him, shadows lengthening and melting into one another as he staggered, trying to keep his feet. Above him Thorvold was frantically gesturing to the still gawping guard as he tried to free himself from the floor. Outside, the first tinges of grey pre-dawn light where visible through the sombre clouds. A shriek made him turn once more to look back into the shadowed mansion, Thorvold had pulled himself free and was leaning on the bannisters, his face a mask of fury and pain,
“You will pay!” he bawled “Mark my words scum! You will pay!”
The thief looked around. The guard had shaken himself from his stupor and was careening down the stairs towards him, yells and thumps emanated from elsewhere in the house all around him. The thief most knew as Fingers took one last look at the broken body on the floor, thin channels of blood leaking between the flagstones, then he turned and ran.

...

Felix


...
 

Tronald_Dump

New member
Act One – The Coachmen and the Thief

Chapter One - A Sharp Report - 30th of Vorgeheim 2522

The call went up from the look-out post as the coach emerged from the chill summer rain. The sentries at the gate cursed and stumped out from their makeshift shelter. Numb knuckles gripping spear haft and bow stave as they peered against the persistent drizzle at the muddy road below. Six days of near constant rain and savage, roiling winds had left the road a sucking mire and the bedraggled horses visibly struggled to pull the carriage to the shadow of the wall. It was a squat, bulky contraption of faded timber and tarnished brass fittings, perched upon high wheels whose spokes were choked with clods of earth. Mud spattered the peeling, blue paint of the doors and the horses hunched and shivered against the cold. The small ragged bundle sitting in the driver’s seat raised its hooded head and barked;
“Open the gates or shoot me, but by Grimnir’s swinging bollocks don’t leave me out here growing my beard!”

Eustasius Schwalb, known as ‘Corporal Rusty’ by the men he commanded on Untergard’s west wall, tugged at the dirty bandage wrapped around his head as he squinted down at the uncouth traveller. The voice was harsh and thickly accented; muddy steel-capped boots and tufts of dark hair protruded from under a cloak that covered a form no larger than a child. It had to be a dwarf; no halfling was ever that grumpy. Leoric glanced questioningly at the corporal from the lookout post above, an arrow knocked to his bowstring and trained on the coachman. Rusty motioned him to wait as he raised his voice over the dripping rustle of the storm-weary woods.
“Who goes there?”
“The Toad King of the Southlands, you craftless pointy-eared bat dropping!” roared the hooded dwarf. “I’ve been having a think and I’m here to crown you as my successor! Now hurry up, It’s wetter than a babies fart and I want to bloody warm up!”
Leoric bared his teeth and steadied his aim, only to look round in confusion at the snort of laughter that had issued from his commander.
“Stand down lad.” Rusty told the confused lookout, eyeing the still taunt bowstring warily, an arrow would be a fine repayment for the first laugh he’d had in weeks. Still chortling he turned to Reiner; the elderly watchman was leaning on his pig-spear waiting for orders, regarding the corporal inquiringly.
“Help the boys get the gate open.” He said, jerking his head towards the steps. The other man cast a doubtful look back over the wall where the angry dwarf sat, pulling at the hem of his cloak and grumbling ominously.
“You sure sir?” he asked. The senior guard pulled at his bandage unconsciously again and made to turn back to the shelter they had rigged against the battlements.
“If he were a bandit tryin’ to get the gates open for his cronies in the woods, I think he’d be a lot nicer about askin’, don’t you?”
Reiner thought for a moment before inclining his head in agreement. Ambling back to his seat however, Rusty’s complacent smile hardened as his gaze travelled past the coach to the charred timber and churned fields that had been farmland and livestock pens six weeks ago.
“All the same, I’ll have Leoric watch the treeline.”

Reiner left his superior ordering the young lookout back to his post and, leaning his spear against the parapet, roused the men below from their cooking fire to help unbar the heavy oaken gates. With a flick of his whip and a barked command the dwarf sent his horses trotting through the archway, wheels and hooves throwing up flecks of muddy water as they splashed through the shallow puddles building in the lane. As they drew level with Reiner he tugged on the reigns, bringing them to a halt and turning to stare at the elderly watchman, his expression inscrutable. Closer inspection of the coachman yielded little more than Reiner’s observation from the battlements above. He was wrapped tightly in his cloak, its sodden mass obscuring all but the suggestion of a powerful build beneath. Dark eyes regarded him from under tangled brows; the only feature of his face visible save for a twisted lump of a nose, all else was hidden by a wild brown beard and his dripping hood. The coach itself appeared to be unoccupied. No luggage was strapped to the roof or stored at the dwarf’s feet, and a lifetime of inspecting carts and carriages entering the town told Reiner any passenger would have to be a ghost for the chassis to ride that high. He turned his attention back to the dwarf, still watching him impassively. The watchman cleared his throat;
“Your name, Herr Dwarf?”
The coachman seemed to weigh the question for a moment, scowling down at Reiner in a way that suddenly made the man wish he had not left his spear on top of the wall. Eventually the dwarf turned away, gazing disinterestedly ahead and fishing inside his cloak with one gloved hand.
“Elagul.” He muttered to the street that disappeared ahead into the rain. It took a moment for Reiner to realise this must be his name, after a moment of confusion he rallied once more.
“S-so, Herr Elagul. What news from the road?” The dwarf chuckled, a bitter sound that held no mirth.
“Corpses, manling.” Elagul’s hand returned from its quest within the folds of his cloak bearing a stubby metal pipe carved with curious runes. From a pouch at his belt he took a small tin and began filling the bowl with pipeweed, taking care to shield it from the drizzle. He continued to speak as he worked;
“Half a dozen, maybe more, hard to tell through the rain and mist. Nailed to posts a mile out of Luthorst, looks like Grobi handiwork.”

He spat out the last two words as though they left a foul taste in his mouth. Making the sign of the hammer across his chest to ward off bad luck from these ill tidings, Reiner decided he’d spent enough time in this surly dwarf’s company. Casting his eyes about for an excuse to leave the conversation he began to back away from the coach towards the steps. Elagul it seemed had already forgotten him however, from another pouch the coachman had produced a match which he was attempting to strike on the damp wood of the driver’s bench. On the third attempt it splintered and, cursing quietly in his strange guttural tongue he reached for another. Once his pipe was lit he leant back in his seat, his expression contented, or at least his scowl slightly softened. The dwarf exhaled a steady stream of smoke that curled off into the slackening rain and spoke to the watchman once again.
“So, there and inn hereabouts?” Reiner stopped inching away towards his fellow guards wrestling the gate closed and nodded his head.
“Aye The Anchor, in the Ackerplatz down by the river.”
“Wi’ stables? Bed? Bath?” Again the man nodded.
“What about food n ale? Good ale mind, not watered down swill.” Before Reiner could respond one of the mud spattered watchmen now returning to their meagre fire cut in.
“Ale? Pah! Not a drop left in the whole fuckin’ town. The Count’s army saw to that, an as for food...” The watchman spared the pot on the fire a contemptuous glance as his companions shifted restlessly. One laid a placatory hand on his arm but he shook it off and called out to the dwarf with a rather manic grin.
“There’s a war on my friend. Didn’t you know?” Elagul fixed the intruding watchman with a cold stare and exhaled another pensive plume of smoke before answering.
“I wasn’t talking to you, you gibbering smudge-rubber. Did nobody ever teach you not to interrupt other people’s conversations?”
The man’s expression reddened and twisted with rage and he made to stand, scrabbling for the spear that stood propped beside him. As he did so he caught Elagul’s eye once more and something in the dwarf’s steely gaze made him relent, allowing his companions to pull him back to his seat.
“So,’ said Elagul to Reiner, continuing as if they had never been interrupted. “This inn, can you take me there?”
The elderly watchman began an apologetic excuse for exiting the coachman’s menacing company but Elagul cut across him with a schilling drawn from another pouch. At the sight of the silver coin Reiner relented and with one last look at the huddled gate guards and his guide in tow the dwarf flicked the reigns and set off up the lane.

The rain that had long since washed away the morning mist had almost petered out. Ghostly wattle and daub houses emerged on both sides of the road as they trundled on. They were hunched and miserable looking, like the inhabitants visible at their windows and doors, the white walls of the lower stories splattered with mud from the broken storm. A few minutes passed as the silent vigil grew. Townspeople, ragged and stooped, gathered as they passed and trailed behind in loose knots. Most were children and the old, Elagul observed, the only able bodied souls of fighting age visible tottered on crutches or clutched bandaged stumps to their chests. The dwarf turned to the watchman who trudged alongside, gazing blankly ahead, oblivious to the stares.
“You’re not getting many travellers these days.” It was more of a statement than a question but Reiner nodded without looking round.
“Just folk from other villages, runnin’ from the Forest-Kin,” his voice was flat and hollow, seemingly unfazed by the suffering it described. “And a rider from the north day before yesterday. He left early this morning.”

The lane had reached a small hill and begun to climb steadily. Their honour guard of townsfolk shied away from the great waves of muddy water thrown up by the coach’s wheels as they rolled through the huge puddle that had formed at its foot. Still puffing away at his pipe Elagul attempted to engage his silent companion in conversation once more.
“So then, any news from about town? Tongues must be wagging about something, manlings are all the same.” The watchmen shot the dwarf a glance and considered for a moment before answering.
“Rodolphus from the wall; the one you uh, spoke to, he says the town is cursed. That rats the size of men came out of the river to feast on the slain, he was on duty at the river palisade and saw it.”
The dwarf spat over the side of the coach and muttered darkly.
“Rats the size of men... You should pray to your Gods he was speaking falsehoods, though it does not do to joke of such things.” Reiner opened his mouth to continue but the dwarf cut across him with a low utterance that, though it was spoken in the dwarfish tongue, was unmistakably an oath. The low hill had levelled out and the lane broadened ahead into a wide square, paved with cracked and pitted flagstones through which the hungry mud seeped. People milled around the rain washed expanse, ringed by a loose cordon of watchmen they gathered in small groups, skirting the larger puddles and conversing while children darted amongst them. The atmosphere was different to the gloomy street that ran from the gate. The people here, though just as battle-weary and malnourished as those behind the coach, looked more animated. Conversations were conducted in excited, almost hopeful tones. Smiles and laughter rippled through the crowd as some item of good news spread amongst them. As Elagul’s horses pulled their charge into the square those that had trailed behind it were accosted by the excited murmurs of the plaza’s occupants.

It was not this that had caught the dwarf’s attention however. He held the reigns slackly, allowing his horses to come to a grateful stop as his eyes travelled over the heads of the bustling crowd to stare beyond. The far side of the square opened onto the river and, across the wide bridge whose half shattered stones spoke of some unspeakable force, stood another smaller square dominated by a circular stone well. No townsfolk gathered on this side of the river, no children laughed and played on the rubble-strewn streets. Once it appeared to have been populated much as the western side was. By large squat warehouses and stooping taverns leaning upon their broad shoulders to cater to the tastes of the river traffic. Though the establishments of the occupied side bore their own scars, tumbled-down walls and yawning holes in their roofs, they stood in stark contrast to their eastern brethren. The sparse, splintered wooden teeth that remained of the wharves and jetties protruded from the waters of the Taub like the putrid fangs of some foul beast. Somehow, the mist that had long since been chased from the land by the morning showers and the rising sun had remained here. It drifted along alleys choked with debris and undulated between the charred timbers of skeletal husks that could no longer truly be called buildings, so irrevocably damaged were they. Empty windows surveyed the survivors across the river like the dark sockets of leering skulls while a shroud of dancing ash covered the blackened, derelict walls with a ghostly pallor that seemed to leech all colour from its surroundings. Reiner had followed Elagul’s gaze and now spoke, his voice resuming its flat, shell-shocked monotone.
“I was off-duty when it happened, in the barracks. The Count’s soldiers were camped nearby so plenty of them would come up to town and a few like to drink with us.” His grubby fingers grasped and picked at the hem of his surcoat, betraying his measured tone.
“Grim news for weeks from the east an’ the north, gettin’ worse by the day. The nightmares too, at first it was just the children, an’ the mad and sick. But soon we were all afraid to sleep, the Burgomeister banned talk of it, like that would help. That was probably why we was drinkin’ so much.”
The old man’s voice wavered, almost imperceptibly, and he paused to take a deep breath before continuing.
“I’m a twenty-five year man Herr Elagul. Been in the watch longer than out of it and I’ve seen things. Gaves and Tainted, witchery, the Forest Kin, these are deep dark woods around us. But the things that came over that wall at dusk…” He shuddered.
“Most of the east half was burnin’ by the time we got to the bridge. The Kin has stopped there to fire the boats at the wharfs and send them downriver. People were trapped in the warehouses, we could hear the screams across the water. Riders has been sent to the camp outside the walls and the Count’s troops were marshalled with us by sunrise, cannon and halberdiers, dwarfs like ye’self. Nine days they tried to push across the bridge at us, monsters that belong in fairytales brushing off arrows like rain.” He shuddered again, fingers still working furiously at his coat.
“Only the cannon-fire would stop them, and then one morning they were gone, vanished like a bad dream. Half the town burned, most everyone I ever knew slain.” A strange sleepy wonderment had crept into the man’s tone as though he described the half remembered events of a fantastical dream.
“The Old Dark returned to our lands, and Old One-Eye and his Kin answered the call.”

There was a moment of grim silence, then Elagul spoke.
“Well I’ll be a Goblin’s uncle, Khazrak the One-Eye. Back from the dead.” At these words Reiner visibly shuddered and flashed the hammer-sign across his chest.
“We don’t speak his name.” He hissed, “If you say the name out-loud he’ll hear from the woods and come back for us.” The dwarf seemed about to retort, but the old man glared at him with such fear and hostility that he held his tongue, casting his eyes about instead for a change of subject.
“What has yon townsfolk so riled up then?” He asked, gesturing at the crowd around them. Indeed the atmosphere in the square had grown steadily more excitable as they’d spoken. Whatever the news was it seemed that everyone who needed to know had been told and most people where now glancing expectantly back down the street to the gate in-between bouts of hurried whispering. Still nettled by Elagul’s careless handling of such dark matters Reiner stumped off to find out what was happening. After a minutes inquiry with the closest knot of people he returned, his ragged garments flapping around him as he hobble-jogged back to the coach.
“Captain Schiller has an important announcement to make for the whole town, he should be here any minute.” The watchman’s eyes sparkled with excitement, Khazrak the One-Eye seemingly forgotten.
“I’ll bet it ‘as something to do with that rider a couple days ago. He asked to be taken directly to whoever’s in charge an’ we didn't see ‘im again till he left.’
Elagul however was no longer listening, he was leaning forwards in his seat, scrutinising the faces of the surrounding crowd. Without breaking his careful study of the townsfolk he called down to Reiner.
“Have you been on the gate every day these past weeks?” Reiner was standing on tiptoe gazing in the direction of the street with the rest of the town and did not immediately hear the Dwarf. He had to repeat the question a couple of times before he received a reply.
“Aye, every day for the last month, why?”
“Did you see a man, soldier type, tall and thin with a big sword on his back and one eye missing?” Reiner had opened his mouth to reply, eyebrows contracting as he thought back, when a great shout went up from those nearest the street.
“It’s him! It’s the Captain!” the watchman crowed, turning back to the small group of men making their way along the street towards them. Cursing the attention span of manlings under his breath Elagul slumped back in his seat and began searching for his pipe, beady eyes still scanning the crowd.

A ripple ran through the mass of people as the knot of men, dressed in the tattered remnants of the Untergard watch uniform moved to the middle of the square. A burly watchman with a muffin-cap pulled down over his ears at a jaunty angle upturned the wooden pail he held and placed it on the ground for the man beside him, presumably Captain Schiller, to stand upon. He mounted it spryly for a man whose thinning hair and bushy goatee stood snow-white against ruddy skin deeply lined with hard living. Despite his shabby clothing and worn chain mail he gave off an aura of quiet authority. The eyes that peered out from either side of his rather large nose where sharp and hard like winter sunlight and he had to motion only once for quiet, addressing the assembled townsfolk with the diction and ease of a seasoned commander.
“People of Untergard,” he began, his voice a loud gruff bark “this is a glorious day. I have received a letter from Count Todbringer of Middenheim. The old wolf still lives and Ulric’s Citadel stands strong!” A ragged cheer rose from the crowd and the Captain had to motion for silence before continuing.
“Count Todbringer sends his thanks to all of Untergard for the part we played in hampering the invaders. He said, and I quote, ‘the battle for Untergard Bridge will go down as one of the most glorious battles in Middenland’s history.’ Be proud, people of Untergard, for our sacrifices have not been in vain!” Again the crowd cheered, raising their fists and congratulating one another. Once the cheers had died down, Schiller continued.
“To show his gratitude for our valour, the Count has sent us a token of his appreciation.” The Captain reached down into a bag proffered by one of the watchmen and pulled out a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine.
“We are honoured to receive thirty loaves of bread and a dozen bottles of wine, straight from Middenheim.” A cheer, louder and wilder than the other two ripped through the crowd at the sight of the Count’s largesse, hungry eyes fixed on the bread in the Captain’s hands they began to chant.
“Long live the Count! Long live the Count!” Raising his voice to join them Reiner began thumping one fist on the side of the coach to add his contribution to the square’s cacophony. Had Elagul noticed he might have stopped him before he spooked the horses. As it was, the dwarf’s attention had been caught by something else. Standing near the back of the crowd, just behind a sobbing housewife who was embracing the small children clustered around her, a figure stood shrouded in a tattered cloak. They were watching the Captain as avidly as the rest of the crowd, yet had not cheered or waved their arms or made any other sign of jubilation at the news. Elagul reached an arm towards Reiner, meaning to pull the man towards him and ask what he made of this spectre at the feast, when several things happened in quick succession. As Captain Schiller held the bread and wine aloft and the survivors of Untergard shouted themselves hoarse there was a loud echoing crack and the bottle shattered, showering Schiller and the bread with glass and wine. Pandemonium erupted as the watchmen tackled the Captain and bundled him off the pail to the flagstones below. The crowd scattered, battle-hardened ears recognising the sound of a gunshot after six weeks of fighting. The cloaked figure standing behind the shrieking housewife gathering her brood whirled around in search of the shooter while the dwarf sitting on his coach threw down his pipe and began rummaging frantically in a compartment by his feet. On the far side of the square, directly opposite Elagul’s coach and separated by a horde of fleeing townsfolk, a tall man leapt up from the fallen palisade stake on which he had been perching. With a long-suffering sigh he tugged loose the large sword from its sheath on his skinny back and peered around for the source of the commotion with his one good eye.



...
 

Tronald_Dump

New member
So I was gonna start off by posting a little list of characters with current career and maybe background notes but then I thought it might be more fun to leave y'all guessing for awhile as to who are characters and who are NPCs :D. If that bothers you don't worry, by the end of the coming fight scene you will be introduced to our three intrepid adventurers. Nothing like a bit of bloody combat to clarify things.

Also I realised I'm so far lacking in promised technical asides, as the material I'm working with now is quite old a lot of the dice-roll notes outside of combat have been lost to the mists of time but I'll give you a low-down of how our games work technically for those who are intrested. This campaign was originally set up to pass time on a long camping holiday and we faced a couple of problems from the off: Firstly 2 of the 3 player were irritatingly familiar with the mechanics of WFRP2 (moreso than me actually) and we also had a couple of satellite players who would sit in for a session or 2 and then disappear. We worked with these difficulties until I came across a Warpstone article that described my first problem word for word (WS 22 Keep it Secret - Mathew Pritchard) anyone whose read this knows how genius it is. Anyway so form this point on I resolved to make everything I could secret and I mean EVERYTHING. Unless it was a roll where the PC could immediately see the result (e.g scale sheer surface, attack roll etc.) I would make it for them in secret, from Search to Intimidate, Concealment to Bluff and the result would be described in narrative terms. Where a PCs specific skills and background would provide them with additional information I'd write it down, show them then take it back so they could share as much or as little as they wanted. I even started keeping track of their Wounds in secret as also suggested in that article so they'd be a bit more cautious when fighting. This naturally created a significant body of extra work for the GM which allowed me to dragoon my satellite players as assistant GMs on occasion to keep track of things or play various NPCs without giving them any plot details to potentially spoil the campaign. This allowed me to (if you'll permit a Rickyism form Trailer Park Boys) get two birds stoned at the same time. So certain other NPCs (you'll probably realise who as time goes on) are occasionally played by people other than me, which adds an awesome variety to the game and turned the satellite players annoying transience into soemthing really useful.

I should note that writing this down it looks like I was being a micro-managing dick-tator but it actually went down really well with the players. My PCs who knew the game really well had become quite jaded and hack-n-slash and were really psyched at this increase of tension and the satelliters loved having something to do other than constantly explain why their characters had disappeared for a couple of sessions.

Anyway stay tuned for some proper bloody violence whenever I've finished writing it up and if anyone has any feedback I'd love to hear it. Like I said this is my first time doing this and at the moment I'm nattering into a void here. Anything you've got to say about what you'd like more or less of, any questions you've got or even just how shit you think this is would be greatly appreciated.

Peace:cool:
 

Tamuz

Registered User
Validated User
Thanks for an enjoyable read. I especially enjoyed the theifs story - the way you set it up really created tension.

I am also waiting optimistically to hear what happened at the end of acrozatims campaign. Its good to hear some more tales from the old world in the meantime.
 

Tronald_Dump

New member
...



Fingers had been running for a month. He had walked without rest for a day and night to reach Osburg, theorising that his pursuers would expect him to take the river the other way, yet all the time straining for the dreaded sound of hooves approaching from behind. Whenever another traveller passed he melted into ditches and undergrowth, the less people that saw his face the better. The dark woods had petered out into rolling fields and the first low foothills of the approaching mountains by the time he reached the town. He smeared his face with ash and wound a cloth like a bandage over one eye, praying to Ranald that the gate guards were not yet on the lookout for Steinhager the Younger’s murderer. He did not dare risk an inn and slept rough, drawing steel and snarling like a hungry dog at his competitors to secure a sleeping spot in an abandoned cellar. Though his bones ached with fatigue he lay awake shivering in the dripping darkness, listening to the snores and curses of the beggars around him and when slumber finally found him he whirled through the empty air once more, clutching the fleshy throat of the merchant prince’s nephew while the shouts of roadwardens and the baying of their hounds reverberated around him. The next morning he set off north along the Schilder Road with a knapsack of stolen bread and fresh cloth bandages on his blistered feet. As he left the main trade routes the traffic diminished, farmers and miners replaced the trade caravans from the Axe Bite Pass. The villages of the foothills rolled steadily past, he crept in at dusk when the guards were tired and stayed only long enough to filch some food wherever he could. Each day he tried to push himself as hard as he could, hoping that by the time he had found somewhere to rest he would be so exhausted he could fall into a deep, dreamless sleep. But the dreams found him anyway.

By the time he reached Schilderheim he felt safe enough to attempt a face to face interaction with another human being again. He scoured the town for wanted posters and eavesdropped on as much tavern talk as he dared before hitting the docks in search of a suitable barge captain to take him down the Reik. Strictly speaking, travellers were supposed to seek passage on one of the chartered ferries regulated by the Waterman’s Guilds. But these were expensive and many preferred to deal with merchants and traders, who were of course only too happy to make a little on the side as long as discretion was maintained. Fingers found this latter arrangement to be more suitable to his current predicament as it gave him an excuse to be keeping a low profile. He found a man with a large cargo of unruly chickens who seemed occupied enough not to store many details about his passengers and paid a careful amount to ensure safe passage without arousing suspicion. Though it was faster than walking the young thief felt painfully exposed on the river, gliding across the dark waters, chickens bustling and clucking and men clambering across the rigging. Spending the entire voyage below decks was a good way to ensure he would be remembered should questions be asked when they docked, so he tried to blend in as best as possible. He mingled with the boatmen at meal times and fabricated a sick uncle to whom he was travelling. When a riverwarden patrol passed the boatmen would send him and him fellow passenger, a fidgety clerk named Ehrl, below decks and Fingers was only too happy to comply. At all other times he affected an air of affable boredom, his pretence crumbling only in the small, sleepless hours of the night when the last of the barges occupants had gone to bed and left him with the turmoil of his thoughts.

At Carroburg his nerves began to fray once more. The town’s vast docks teemed with life in a brave attempt at business as usual, yet every alley and staircase was haunted by hollow-eyed refugees and the taverns were full of dark tidings from the north. Those that had fled the fighting spoke in the voices of ghosts the numberless hordes of the Old Dark that had swept down from the Wastes in what had already become known as the Storm of Chaos. They said that Hergig had fallen in a maelstrom of magical fire, that every town and village east of the Middle Mountains burned and even now the barbarians of the Far North laid siege to Middenheim. Some protested, Holy Sigmar once again walked the earth and even now marched north beside the Emperor to slaughter the craven warriors of the Dark Gods, but the fugitives of the invading armies were not so easily convinced. In hushed whispers that carried across the silent taprooms they spoke of creatures not of this world that had rent men limb from limb at Krudenwald. Of foul magics that had turned the woods themselves into twisted abominations and impregnated the very air with taint. Through trembling lips they forced the name that had spread through the Empire and nestled in the dark corners of its citizen’s minds since the Spring Driving the year before. The Everchosen, The Lord of the End Times, the dark warrior who led the Storm on a steed of smoke and fire, Archaon.

It was here in one such tavern languishing under the latest batch of grim news that Fingers heard what he had been dreading. As he navigated the crowded common room in search of a wall to lean on he overheard a manservant telling his companion how a group of enthusiastic bounty hunters had beaten a peasant half to death on the river from Bogenhafen. Terrified curiosity warred with caution in the young thief for a moment as he listened to the conversation. Feigning idle interest he quickly gleaned that the men were looking for a ‘young, dark-haired vagabond’ who had broken into the Steinhager mansion and murdered the heir apparent and several guards in cold blood. Fingers’ hands began to shake as he heard his appearance and crimes described in embellished detail. How Heinrich Steinhager had mobilised every roadwarden, hired thug and hunter of scum at his disposal to find his nephew’s murderer. How the payment on his head was double if he was brought back alive. The servants’ talk turned to other topics and the meaningless prattle washed over him, drowned out by the deafening echoes of these words.

He left town at first light, Carroburg was no longer safe. It was only four days journey downriver from Bogenhafen and if the bounty was even half as large as it was rumoured to be then Altdorf, Nuln, indeed anywhere in the southern provinces would see him hunted down and hanged, if he was lucky. No, there was only one direction he could go, one direction that the vengeful hounds of the Steinhagers would not follow him, one direction in which no sane man would ever travel. With as much food as his dwindling coin could buy and a tattered, deep-hooded cloak borrowed from its snoring owner, Fingers set off along the Ridgeway to the north.

The road, sloping sharply as it traversed the forested outer slopes of the Midden Moors that leant it its name, was almost totally empty. Often he would travel all day without seeing a soul. Those he did meet told fearful tales of bestial howls from the shadowed woods when they spoke to him at all. Given that he travelled towards the horror they fled from most seemed to view him as a lunatic at best, if not a worshipper of the Dark Powers. The grim-faced garrison at Senden would not let him through the gate, a day later the points of twenty arrows were aimed over the palisade of Arenhausen till he continued down the road. His dreams were growing steadily worse. Perhaps it was the taint of black magic, carried on the wind like some airborne toxin. Perhaps it was the isolation, trudging alone under the bruised skies, following wheel ruts already speckled with new grass from lack of usage. He felt he could have slipped into Morr’s silent realm without knowing, the god of death forcing him to walk desolate forest roads alone for all eternity as penance for his crimes, the penance of a murderer. This image was shattered on the fourth day when he reached the refugee camp at the crossroads outside Kutenholz. Until now Fingers had not witnessed the true suffering of these haggard wanderers. The milling groups that hurried along the path or lurked in the dark corners of towns provided only the tiniest glimpse. Guards stood at the gates of the trading town to regulate the huddled masses, driving off the most destitute and sickly with spear-butts and harsh words. These unfortunates were forced to return to the squalor of the ramshackle village of tents that sprawled across the road. There was no trade here, hardly any activity at all, most lay beneath soiled stretches of canvass, too weak from their endless flight to do anything but stare through half-dead eyes. The scrape of shovels mingled with the wails of infants and the groans of the sick as the hardier men worked round-the-clock shifts to dig graves for the dead. Each day a steady stream of weary faces would arrive from the north, as an almost equal number of those strong enough to keep moving would head further south to the capital. Fingers would join the individuals struggling against the flow, most of them scanning the faces of those that passed, searching for loved ones and pleading for information. He saw men fighting like dogs over a piece of bread, fiery-eyed mendicants scourging themselves with spiked chains proclaiming that this was Sigmar’s judgement, a mother sending her brood of children into the forest to bring back something, anything edible. Each day he battled the tide of the dispossessed to slump wearily at another camp and listen to the garbled snatches of news exchanged around meagre fires. It was said that an army of wolves had attacked the Kislevite city of Erengrad, that the dead had risen from their graves and were marching from the east, that a plague had choked the streets of Talabheim with corpses. And still he woke in cold sweats each night with the dead eyes of Josef Steinhager boring into his own.

Twenty-three days after he had fled Bogenhafen Fingers tumbled once more from handsome maple bannisters, squeezing at a fleshy throat and snarling in savage triumph as watering piggy eyes bulged from their sockets. As he hit the ground he awoke with a start in the gutted shell of the barn in which he had spent the night. The light drizzle that had begun the day before grew heavier and heavier as it chased him down the road. By the time he reached the walls of Untergard darkness had fallen and the roadway was a sucking mire. After much negotiating and pleading bellowed over the thunder and the rising wind the gates were opened and he was ushered inside. The young thief spent the next week in the only inn left standing in the battered town. The doleful innkeeper let it to him for a pittance as he could provide neither ale nor food. For days on end Fingers paced the small room as the rain lashed the shutters and his belly growled for more sustenance than the thin broth rations the town subsisted on could provide. On the road he had been able to keep moving. Though he could not avoid the nightmares that plagued him, by pushing himself to the limits of endurance he had at least ensured they were dulled by exhaustion. Now the creaking walls closed in around him and the bedclothes whispered his name in their rustling. The moaning wind became the howls of hunting dogs and the patter of the rain all the agents of Imperial justice pounding on the doors. Each time he drifted off into slumber the grasping hands of Thorvold the manservant tore him from its embrace as venomous shrieking filled his ears. “Mark my words scum! You will pay!” As the days slipped past he felt his grip on reality slipping, the denizens of his nightmares were boiling over, bubbling and seeping into his waking hours. On the morning that the storm broke and the relentless rain finally dissipated, as he donned his cloak to investigate the commotion in the Ackerplatz outside he knew something had to be done. Only action of some sort would save him from a slow descent into madness. Consequently, as Captain Schiller was bundled to the ground spitting wine and fragments of glass, a feral smile spread across Fingers’ face in contrast to the terrified confusion of the townspeople. He had needed so desperately to break free of this inertia that had been slowly throttling him. It seemed his prayers had been answered.

He threw back his hood and whirled around as the crowd around him scattered. The report of the gunshot echoed and reverberated around the plaza, mingling with the screams and shouts and making it impossible to discern its origin. Frantic people barrelled into him in their haste to reach cover. The open space swirled with a confusing mess of bodies and he ducked and dived, threading through them asbest he could, searching for a sign of an attacker. As he neared the river and the mouth of the bridge a new voice reached him, it was not screaming or shouting for loved ones but whooping gleefully. A man pelted into the crowd from the direction of the bridge, people scattering before him as he whirled a spiked cudgel overhead. With a savage, inarticulate battle cry Fingers drew his sword with a rasp of steel and charged towards him. Others had followed the first man from across the bridge, fanning out as they reached the crowd. Fingers saw the whooping cudgel waver reach out for braid of a young girl who only just managed to twist out of the way. As the space around the raiders widened and he drew nearer, the young thief could see his foes properly for the first time. The sight made him skid to a halt, stumbling on the crooked stones. The man he had been about to attack, was not really a man at all.

He was taller than him and though the townsfolk of Untergard were painfully thin, this man made them look like plump merchants by comparison. Despite the creeping chill of the season his clothing consisted of nothing more than tattered britches and a few scraps of cloth wound around his limbs and feet. Matted locks, dark with filth, fell past his shoulders and his waxen skin stretched tight over protruding ribs. His bulging eyes burned madly in his bulbous skull and below them, well that was where his resemblance to a man ended. His hollow cheeks twisted hideously into a large snout, mottled with warts and dribbling a constant stream of mucus from his wide, snuffling nostrils. Below them broken teeth jutted from a distorted jaw that seemed caught halfway between pig and man. With the weapon in his claw-like hand he gestured at the crowd, barking something to his fellows. The creature behind him was mercifully mostly hidden by a ragged cowl beneath which it moved with the hunched stoop of a once-powerful bulk now starved to a husk. Short, goat-like horns protruded from holes in the hood and bestial yellow eyes stared out from a face covered in foul fur like that of a beast. It was as if they had emerged across the bridge from out of children’s tales or the stories recounted late at night in taverns when the fire had burned low and the merrymaking ceased. Fingers had seen their like once before, when a witch hunter had discovered a nest of the tainted creatures in Bogenhafen years ago and had them dragged one by one to be burned in the Gottenplatz. He remembered shimmying up a lantern-post to get a better look as they writhed in the flames and the priests led the town in a purifying chant. But everyone knew that for each of the Tainted burned a thousand more lurked in the dark places of the Empire. For each babe borne afflicted that was drowned two more were given to the forest to die, only to be taken in and raised by the Forest-Kin as Gaves to make war on the realms of men. Fingers stood transfixed with horror as the two Tainted began moving in his direction, Horns hefting a knotted oaken club to his shoulder as the Pig-Man let out an obscene, wet chuckle. More figures moved behind them, pelting up the span of the bridge towards the square. Four, a voice in his head registered as if from across a great gulf, the two advancing on him and two more behind, that put the odds at four on one. Dimly he realised he should perhaps retreat and regroup with the watchmen surely mobilising to defend the square behind him, yet he could do nothing but stand, sword held slackly before him as he watched the two monsters approach. Suddenly something cannoned into Horns’ side sending him reeling. Fingers caught a vague impression of whirling steel as the mutant back-peddled, yowling throatily as he parried the blade with his club. Before he fully realised what he was doing, as if he had been subconsciously waiting for a cue, Fingers had raised his sword once more and charged.

The Pig-Man had been momentarily distracted by the lightning assault on his companion but at the sound of pounding feet he turned his head to meet the thief’s sword with his club, uttering a porcine grunt of surprise. Fingers had trained as a boy in the temple courtyard, Brother Hals had believed it the duty of every good Sigmarite to train for the never-ending war against the Man-God’s enemies and the thief silently thanked the sadistic master-at-arms as he chopped at the mutant’s neck. Cudgel met blade with a thunk of wood and the impact nearly jarred the sword from Fingers’ grasp. He reversed the momentum of the swing and cut low from left to right, driving forwards to deny his opponent room to manoeuvre. Again the Pig-Man batted away the cut, yet holes gaped in his guard and he struggled to stabilise his footing as Fingers withdrew his sword before it could catch on the rusty spikes of his adversary’s weapon. Trying furiously to recall everything he had ever been taught the thief sidestepped and lunged, stumbling a little on shoddy footwork that would have had Brother Hals knock his legs from under him and shower him in bellowed spittle (Stop dancing and fight boy!). Yet it seemed the Pig-Man had never had the benefit of instruction, belligerent and degrading or otherwise. The mutant threw himself sideways to avoid being impaled and squealed with pain as the sword-point rent a jagged gash across his sternum. Flecks of blood spattered the ground between them as the Pig-Man counter-attacked with all the finesse of a teamster thrashing a recalcitrant ox, winning back ground by dint of sheer enraged ferocity. Half-remembered defence drills ringing in his ears Fingers consolidated his stance and took the blows on the flat of his blade, watching for an opening in the onslaught and trying to ignore the sting of impact running up his forearms. From the corner of his eye he saw a bald, pockmarked man shrieking like a harpy as he charged the mysterious swordsman who had come to the thief’s aid. He swung wildly at his head with a length of twisted metal clutched in a fistful of undulating tentacles. Fingers opened his mouth to cry out a warning but the man had seen it, ducking just in time for the blow to knock the wide brimmed hat from his head. As he rose the thief caught a glimpse of a lined, weathered face and a plain black eye-patch before a horrid shriek brought him sharply back to his immediate surroundings. With the two mutants fighting the swordsman added to his own pig-faced advisory that made three, Fingers cursed himself for his carelessness as the fourth Tainted charged from the right. A long, greasy ponytail flapped in tandem with a patched woollen cloak and homespun tunic as the mutant hacked at his guard with a rusted hatchet. While his rat-like features where contorted into a vicious snarl he bore no visible signs of taint save for an ugly contusion in his forehead. Though he fought with little more skill than the Pig-Man his blows bore the savage hallmarks of one who had been in many fights and learned through trial and error how to kill efficiently. A flick of his axe haft caught Fingers’ blade and turned it towards the ground as a well-placed knee sent the thief reeling. Doubled up and gasping Fingers saw a flash of dull metal and felt pain lance across his forehead. Blood, hot and wet, streamed down his face into his eyes as he sucked air back into his winded lungs in great painful gasps. His world dissolving to a vague haze of red-tinged shapes he swung wildly with his blade, hoping to keep his assailants at bay as he raised the sword to his hip in a boar’s tooth guard, blinking furiously to clear his vision.

Around him swirled the sounds of pounding feet, shouts and battle cries and the echoing crack of another gunshot. Squealing and grunting one of the shapes wavering at the edge of his red-flecked vision attacked. Fingers met the onslaught with gritted teeth, wood and metal shrieking and splintering as it crashed against his raised sword. The maelstrom of conflicting battle cries grew closer and closer until it raged right beside him, Fingers saw other figures dance and twist in the red haze of his vision as the coppery tang of blood filled his mouth and dribbled from his chin. Wiping his forehead with a sleeve Fingers shouted and lashed out as the hatchet armed Tainted loomed across his precious moments of clear vision. Grinning hideously the mutant rapped the flat of his blade with the butt of his hatchet, knocking the thief off balance. A spasm shivered up his sallow face as the livid growth on his brow split apart with a sickening squelch to reveal an eye, weeping viscous fluid as it rolled madly in his head. A low moan of mingled fear and disgust issued involuntarily from Fingers’ mouth as he stumbled backward, quickly stifled as the three-eyed horror drove the butt of its axe into his mouth with a crunch of splintered teeth. His vision swam as the world lurched, head lolling drunkenly like a broken marionette he staggered backwards. As he raised a shaking hand to his jaw Three-Eyes advanced, grabbing playfully at the fabric of the thief's clothing as he hissed,
“That’s a pretty sword boy. Been looking for a sword like that,” his thin lips curled upward to reveal a sparse collection of brown teeth protruding from yellowing gums. “‘Ow about I take your sword and stick you with it, eh?” The putrid stench of the mutant’s breath washed over Fingers as he raised his eyes to meet two of his foes. He realised he was crying, tears carving rivulets down his cheeks to mingle with the steady stream of blood, and hastily brushed his eyes. He gripped the handle of his blade tightly, determined that if he was to die, he would do so with a sword in his hand. Three-Eyes snickered as he raised his weapon. Blood had begun to cloud Fingers’ vision once more and the battle around him thundered and writhed. He concentrated with all his might on the shimmering smudge of metal that was the axe poised to end his life. The Pig-Man had disappeared beyond his limited scope, where did not matter. All that mattered now was that he kept the cruel bite of that notched edge away from his flesh as long as possible. The Tainted horror swam slightly before his eyes as he flicked his hatchet in a taunting feint. Fingers held his sword steady, unmoving. The creature may be about to hack him to gory pieces but he’d be damned if it made him jump like a milkmaid as well. Realising he was going to get no more fun from the grim-faced youth Three-Eyes snarled and attacked. Hatchet-head and blade-flat clashed once, twice, bolts of pain shooting from the thief's knuckles to his elbows and then, the unmistakeable swish and sickening thud of an axe finding a softer target. Fingers closed his eyes, he had been sure he was watching his foes blade, ready to meet it as it scythed down once more, it seemed the wily mutant had circumnavigated his careful guard a third, and final time. He had felt no impact, no pain blossomed from what was surely a fatal injury, perhaps he was beyond that now. Perhaps the icy tendrils that would draw his soul to Morr the Dreamlord’s embrace were already snaking across him, rendering him numb to worldly hurt.

Yet he was not numb to worldly hurt, his head and ribs still throbbed painfully and he could feel his bruised gums thickening as blood drooled from his mouth. The complaints of his aching limbs and injuries seemed to be growing in volume rather than diminishing and the shriek of mingled pain and surprise that opened his eyelids with a start a moment later was certainly not his own. The stream of blood that flowed from his scalp seemed to have lessened somewhat, its outer layer solidifying to a gooey crust and, while his eyes were glued shut for a moment, once they had prised themselves open his vision was a little clearer. The three-eyed mutant still stood before him, thrashing wildly as he staggered in a lopsided circle, clawing at his leg. Blood was smeared about him in irregular splatters and, following its progression upward, Fingers understood the swish and thud of the axe and the Tainted’s scream. The mutant’s leg was a deep black-red from the knee down. Pools of crimson leaked from holes in his boot and he slipped and stumbled upon his own life fluid. As he did so the sodden fabric of his breeches parted along a diagonal rent and beneath, following a corresponding line, the flesh and muscle of his right calf flopped obscenely like a beached fish. Someone had carved the meat from Three-Eyes’ bone like a butcher, bringing his assault on the weakening thief to an abrupt end. That someone now stood to Fingers’ left out of reach of the flailing hatchet, watching its wielder with a mix of disgust and savage amusement. His small stature and stocky frame marked him out as a dwarf, Fingers had met enough of his kind for this much to be readily apparent, yet he was unlike those the thief had encountered. Where the smiths and tinkers of Bogenhafen’s dwarf quarter wore their beards carefully braided and banded in gold and silver, this dwarf’s spilled over his chest in a wild dark mass. The merchants of the Grey Mountain clans and their caravan guards that would frequent the town’s marketplace usually displayed the regalia of their house, clan and station in bright fabric and intricately worked metal. But this dwarf was as drab as a dusty sparrow. He wore a sturdy hauberk of riveted leather and large steel capped boots, with a scrap of stained cloth wound across his head to keep his shaggy fringe from his eyes. The only hint of decoration upon his person was the two-handed battle-axe he was wiping disinterestedly of gore that gleamed with runes embossed in gold along its haft and blade. Having finished cleaning the magnificent weapon he made to return it to a holster on his back, reaching as he did so for one of the various other handles protruding from the belts and straps that criss-crossed his body. He had drawn a smaller, though no less impressive, hand axe and was advancing towards the mutant once more when he seemed to sense Fingers’ gaze. Meeting the thief’s eyes with his own impenetrable glare for a moment he glanced back at their common foe who had ceased his thrashing and now faced them both, trembling violently. His dark eyes flitting back to Fingers the dwarf shrugged and inclined his head towards the stricken Tainted. The meaning was clear: Be my guest.
 

Tronald_Dump

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With a powerful feeling of reversed fortunes Fingers stepped towards the mutant who had done his best to kill him. With almost dreamlike ease he batted away the hatchet with a backhand slash. The Tainted’s two normal eyes widened in fear and a garbled inarticulate plea had half-spilled from his lips when the thief drove his sword to the hilt through his midriff. A wheezing gasp burst from Three-Eye’s mouth as the air was driven from his lungs, followed a moment later by a wet, choking gurgle. The hatchet dropped from his nerveless fingers and he swayed for a second on his feet before his legs gave way and he crashed to his knees on the bloody flagstones. A growing stream of scarlet began to bubble from his clenched, rotten teeth as he struggled for air, each heave of his chest drawing forth a terrible, gargling rattle. After what felt like an age he fell, tugging the thief’s sword from his hand as he did so. His third eye twitching and spinning with dizzying speed as a powerful stench of excrement wafted from his voided bowels. As Fingers stood over the dying man he felt a wave of fatigue wash over him. The adrenaline of the combat was quickly seeping away from limbs that suddenly felt heavy and cumbersome. His entire body seemed to pulse with a persistent, throbbing ache and the beginnings of nausea stirred in his belly when he moved his head too fast. It was as though a fog had descended on his brain, thinking was becoming very difficult and the battle still raging around him shimmered like a heat haze. Its ferocity seemed diminished, tinny and distant. Captain Schiller had rallied his men, where he and the swordsman had fought alone against the Tainted what felt like a hundred or so years ago, now the hard, grimy men of the Untergard Watch circled like wolves. The mutants were outmatched and they now struggled desperately to manoeuvre themselves back towards the bridge and safety under a hail of blows. Fingers saw Captain Schiller drive the edge of a battered three-corner shield into the neck of the pockmarked man with tentacles, breaking his guard before slicing his sword across the backs of his legs. The Tainted collapsed with a scream, hamstrung as blood jetted from a severed artery in his thigh. Immediately to his left, so close he could smell his foetid stink, the Pig-Man was beaten back by a watchman whose youthful features were twisted with savage hatred. Hammering aside the mutant’s cudgel with brutal overhand chops he thrust the blade into his wasted belly, spitting venomously into the Tainted’s malformed, gasping face as he fell. All eyes had turned to the only foe still standing. The horned mutant had somehow lost his weapon, it lay in splintered segments on the flagstones as he backed away slowly onto the bridge. Swathed in his ragged cloak he was a fearsome sight, blood dripped slowly down one stubby horn and spattered the ground beneath him, presumably from an injury hidden by his thick fur. Several of Schiller’s watchmen had begun to move towards him but the Captain held up a gloved hand to stop them,
“Shall my men finish him for you, Herr Swordsman?” he asked. The swordsman cocked his head to one side, regarding his erstwhile foe from out of his one good eye. He was quite tall, whippet-thin and slightly stooped in a manner that reminded Fingers of a bulrush. His face was deeply scored with premature lines and dusted with stubble and his sturdy clothes were travel-stained, lending him a hardy, grizzled air. The left arm of his patched overcoat was dark with the fresh blood that dripped from his sleeve yet he seemed unconcerned, leaning nonchalantly on the fearsome bastard sword he had swung with such skill. For a moment his eye flickered to a point behind Fingers and he flashed a predatory smile at the Captain that was quite as unsettling as anything that had emerged from the ruins across the bridge.
“I believe it’s about to be taken care of captain.” His voice was pleasant and cheerful, as though they discussed the matter over dinner, and he spoke with the distinct drawling twang of an Ostlander. Fingers followed his gaze and saw the dwarf that had saved him stumping towards the bridge, reaching for a cloth-wrapped bundle lashed across his back. The one-eyed swordsman pulled a cloth from his un-bloody sleeve with a flourish to wipe his blade and stepped aside with an exaggerated bow. The dwarf, now unwrapping the bundle carefully, almost reverently, did not notice. From beneath it he pulled a beautiful contraption of polished steel and wood. Fingers had seen firearms before, the Bogenhafen garrison had been issued with several by a Nulner gun merchant in exchange for special treatment by the town’s excise men and they were proudly displayed at the gate and on feast days, yet never one like this. The elegant wooden stock transitioned smoothly to the rune-etched steel barrel that flared into a wide muzzle. The firing mechanism was intricately wrought to resemble a rampant dragon, the snarling head of which the dwarf cocked back with a gloved thumb. Turning his bearded face to the mutant on the bridge he raised the blunderbuss to his shoulder and took aim. The Tainted’s eyes had narrowed, his body coiled, ready to spring. He, like the men watching him knew that if he turned and ran now he would be cut down before he’d taken two steps. His only chance was to throw himself from the firing line. The dwarf took a long steadying breath, the horned mutant quivered with the tension. Silence resounded through the square as every eye watched the duo. The dwarf exhaled slowly and then, without warning barked two syllables in his harsh tongue. So sudden and violent was this explosion of noise that all present jumped, the mutant was no exception. He flung himself to the left, landing badly and staggering. For a split second he realised his mistake and raised his hands in supplication as the dwarf smiled grimly and pulled the trigger. The roar of the gunshot filled the silence; it was as if the dragon that curled along it had come to life. A great gout of flame burst from the end and the whir of shrapnel blasted the hapless Tainted from his feet. He tumbled backwards like a rag doll, landing in a crumpled heap. A smattering of grim applause came from the watchmen as the mutant stirred feebly. He had perhaps a few seconds, a final moment in which he stared uncomprehendingly at the red ruin that had once been his right hand and forearm, before the dwarf’s axe cleft his head from his shoulders and he was no more.

Fingers swayed slightly on the spot as he stared at the carnage littered across the bridge mouth. The watchmen, hardened by long months of combat had already begun to drag the bodies into a single pile supervised by Captain Schiller. Something touched his arm gently, but with enough insistence to divert his attention downwards, a sword hilt was being proffered towards him. He stared confusedly at it for several long seconds, taking it in his hand before he realised it was his own, dimly he became aware that someone was talking to him and his gaze travelled steadily up from the large, calloused hand that had passed him the weapon, up a thick, powerful looking arm encased in the puffy, slashed sleeves that were currently in vogue among the armed forces, before finally coming to rest on the shaven head of the man who had returned his blade. He was exceedingly tall, standing a full head over the thief and his broad shoulders and barrel-like chest spoke of immense strength. A network of gruesome scars criss-crossed the left side of his face, burrowed into the flesh of his lip and temple like parasitical worms. On closer inspection, the impressive military tunic he wore was dirty and dishevelled, though the blue of the Middenland state army was still visible beneath the mud and bloodstains. Pinned to his broad chest was an equally ragged scrap of parchment inscribed with spidery black handwriting, the passage illuminated with stylised wolves twisting around it as they battled writhing monsters comprised of black tentacles and leering eyes. Through his ear he wore a copper hoop that had stained the lobe verdigris green and from which hung a small icon of a snarling wolf’s head, clumsily worked in iron. In the large hand that was not handing Fingers his sword the man gripped a fearsome halberd, the spear-point of which was doused with fresh, dark blood. Looking down at his erstwhile opponent Fingers saw the origin of the stain. The 3-eyed mutant was no longer twitching and mewling at their feet. The halberd had opened a new wound in the cartilage of his throat and the malformed face was fixed in a death grimace. Still torpid with shock and blood loss Fingers made to sheath his blade. Once more the large hands of the halberdier gently wrested the blade form his unresisting grasp and the warrior stooped to wipe the drying gore from it. The man glanced up at the thief with look of sympathy and understanding and spoke again and this time, Fingers could hear through the ringing in his ears.
“The first you’ve killed?”
Fingers shook his head slowly, he was becoming very aware of how much his knees where trembling and cast his eyes about for somewhere to sit down. Everywhere seemed soaked with rain and blood. The halberdier nodded slowly and turned back to the sword, seemingly unsure what else to say. When he had finished he straightened and handed the sword back, Fingers took it more promptly this time, nodding his head again in thanks, it was much easier than speaking. Once he had sheathed the blade the halberdier held out his hand in a warrior’s grip.
“My thanks anyway, I was posted at the far side of the square and thought I would be too late to bloody any of the beasts. But between us we sent our share to the Wolf-Lord this morn.”
At this he grinned savagely, squeezing the thief’s hand in his own, his booming voice matched his stature.
“Otwin Beschlager, and your name Kreigs-Bruder?
Fingers answered with his own name in a distracted murmur. At the sound of his voice Otwin’s brows rose, his scars twisting themselves into new shapes.
“An Auslander no less. Reikland?”
Fingers nodded oncemore, then winced as the movement triggered a spasm of nausea.
“Yes B- Schilderheim, I’m from Schilderheim.” The name of his home had risen unbidden to his lips in the face of such unfamiliar horror and he silently cursed. Otwin seemed not to have noticed however, he clapped the thief forcefully on the back and spread his arms wide to encompass the square, slick with rain and blood.
“Well Fingers of Schilderheim, you give a good account of yourself, better than I would expect from a southerner. Welcome to the Kingdom of the White Wolf.”

...
 

Tronald_Dump

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Chapter Two - The Kingdom of the White Wolf Part 2

Elagul ran a strip of cloth from Horn's cloak over the battleaxe blade with a practised motion as a pair of watchmen dragged the Tainted's body towards the pile. A drool of gore spattered the flagstones in it’s wake. A third man stooped to pick up the head from where it had rolled but was halted by an ironshod boot resting on it’s forehead.
"I'll keep that lad." The dwarf's growl brooked no argument.
The watchman nodded and strode off to help his comrades, passing the swordsman as he approached. The one-eyed man walked with a lazy nonchalance, as if he did so only for pleasure, and his long limbs lent a strange sway to his gait. He had been whistling tunelessly but stopped now to call out.
"My thanks for your assistance, Herr Dwarf."
Elagul did not look up as he replied.
"Your bladework's as shite as ever it was, Umgi are all the same, flashy yapping puppies with no bite."
The swordsman's unconcerned smile merely deepened at these words, but there was a touch of steel to his voice as he replied.
"Bite enough for you Herr Dwarf, or does your memory fail you?"
The bloodstained cloth ceased its meticulous journey across the blade's expanse abruptly as Elagul's eyes rose to meet the other's. His voice deepened into a dangerous grumble.
"Careful you do not overstep your bounds manling. A dwarf never forgets, midsummer on the Middenheim road. Four towns I've been through already, midsummer has been and gone, you are a hard man to find Mathias."
Mathias smiled again and scratched his eyepatch, with his other hand he took a long wooden pipe from his hatband and began twirling it between his fingers.
"And now that you've found me Herr Dwarf, where shall we go from here?"
The dwarf began to move with heavy deliberate steps, his hands tightening around the shaft of the axe. Captain Schiller's shaggy eyebrows furrowed and he glanced at his lieutenant, Elagul noticed the exchange and called out.
"Peace Herr Captain, this is between me and the swordsman."
For his part, Mathias began to fish in a pouch at his waist, still twirling the pipe stem between his fingers and thumb. Elagul began to pick up speed, a low rumble in his throat exploding into a bellowed battle-cry as he raised his axe to cut Mathias in two. With a shout of alarm Schiller drew steel and beckoned his men forwards. Only to stumble to a baffled halt as Elagul pulled his axe up short inches from Mathias' chest and, after a moment in which they stared coldly at eachother, man and dwarf burst into laughter. Captain Schiller was not amused.
"Ulric's Seed you must not jest so Herr Dwarf, I almost had my men cut you down."
Still chortling Elagul leaned upon his axe haft and nodded towards the captain.
"My apologies captain, I was just curious to see if I could make the wee pansy quiver like I used to," he sighed, almost wistfully "But no, the boy is grown now."
"Aye, grown wise to your bluff and bluster, y'cantankerous windbag."
Elagul made another playful swipe with the battleaxe which, had it connected, would have severed a limb.
"Umgi pipsqueak, shut your trap and pass me a match." He produced his half-filled pipe from a pouch and proceeded to complete the action while Mathias searched for matches.

With both pipes lit further bloodshed looked unlikely and Captain Schiller turned his attention back to the square. Lantern oil was drizzled over the small heap of corpses, its scarcity and value outweighed by the need to dispose of the unclean flesh of the Tainted as fast as possible. A man was sent running to the storehouses to fetch torches for the burning and another to the gate to request two of Rusty’s best archers from the wall to watch the bridge. As his men hurried off to do his bidding the captain returned his attention to the duo by the bridge. They were deep in quiet conversation but broke off as he approached; Schiller, naturally gruff and taciturn despite his knack for rousing speeches, cleared his throat and held out a hand.
“My thanks good sirs, without your timely aid I am sure some of my people would have come to harm.”
Elagul and Mathias took the proffered hand wordlessly in turn, inclining their heads in acknowledgement. As he clasped Mathias’ hand Schiller’s gaze shifted to the blood dribbling from the man’s other sleeve. Following it Mathias smiled ruefully and began gingerly removing his belt and overcoat to examine the wound. Captain Schiller cleared his throat again.
“You are wounded Mein Herr. We have a healer, Granny Mo, I can send for her.”
Elagul cut in with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“No need captain, I can stitch a wound well enough. Let me have a look lad.”
Mathias paused in the act of shrugging off his leather hauberk, his cloak, belt and overcoat already laid carefully across a splintered palisade strut, and raised an eyebrow at the dwarf.
“Oh no you bloody can’t, d’you recall Vichramsdorf? Last time I let you tend to my wounds I almost died o’ blood poisoning.”
Elagul winced at the melodrama of humans and waved his airy hand oncemore.
“Pah! Blood poisoning? You would have been fine if you hadn’t been such a quivering milkmaid about it.”
Mathias was now rolling up the blood-soaked sleeve of his undershirt.
“And at Urzebya? When y’cauterized the wrong bloody arm?”
An involuntary chuckle escaped from under Captain Schiller’s moustaches, Elagul grinned at him.
“That was a joke! Obviously I knew it was the other arm, you drank two thirds of the last bottle of rotgut ‘for the pain’, you bloody well deserved it.”
“Well whatever you say I’ve learned from bitter experience that your healing hands are far more dangerous than anything the fucking northmen can bring to bear. Captain I would see your healer if you’d be so kind.”
Still smiling Schiller nodded and then turned to gesture with a gloved finger.
“And the boy? He is with you?”
The sallow youth with the head-wound was staring blankly across the water, his unsheathed blade held awkwardly in his hands as if he no longer knew what it was for.
“No”
Elagul turned sharply back to his companion.
“No? But who is he then?”
“I know not, never seen him before a week ago. He arrived just as the storm broke, kept to his room mostly. Jittery sort o’ fellow.”
Elagul had turned his incredulous gaze back to the youth, the yellowing shadows of an older beating were visible beneath the congealing rivulets of blood from his scalp. It would seem this manling made a habit of losing fights.
“Then why did you charge in to defend his honour like some blockheaded Bretonnian?”
Mathias shrugged.
“The poor bastard was about to be beaten t’pulp. And after he charged in so bravely to defend the people of Untergard I figured it would be poor repayment not to help him. It certainly wouldn’t promote such admirable behaviour in others anytime soon. You’ve got to look at the big picture old friend.”
Elagul snorted.
“You Umgi are all crazy, to a man I tell you. Well the boy certainly looks in need of the healer. Look at the state of him.”
Schiller stared a moment longer then called over to the watchmen supervising the small bonfire of corpses with rags over their faces to protect from the corrupted smoke.
“Bechshander!”
The huge watchman turned and saluted smartly.
“Yes captain?”
“The boy, I saw you talking to him. Is he gravely wounded?”
Otwin Bechshander gave a noncommital jerk of the head.
“His life is not in immediate peril captain. A nasty headwound, he’s been knocked a little silly, nothing beyond Granny Mo.”
Schiller nodded and was just in the middle of sending a man to fetch her when a shout rang across the square as the watchman sent to the gate returned alone and at full pelt.
“Captain! The gate is under attack!”
With an oath of fury Captain Schiller rallied his men to him, drew his sword and set off at a run towards the gate in a flurry of movement that left the square all but empty in a moment. Two men were left behind with bows to watch the river and they took up positions on the palisade as Elagul and Mathias hurried after the captain. Mathias still stripped to his under-shirt and tying a rough bandage with his teeth.

Fingers didn’t even look up.



Mathias’ long legs outpaced Elagul easily but the dwarf barrelled forward with such tenacious ferocity that he was never far behind. In the shadow of the wall they found Captain Schiller talking to a grim-faced Corporal Rusty. Watchmen stood at the battlements with arrows knocked to bowstrings but they did not appear to be engaged. An agonised wailing interspersed with garbled pleas to the Gods was coming from a small knot of people at the foot of the steps and others milled in confusion. Four bodies were laid at the side of road covered in bloody cloaks and beside them sat Reiner. The elderly watchman had a splintered arrow through his right shoulder and his face was grey with pain as a young woman carefully removed it.

As Mathias and Elagul neared the captain the swordsman called out.
“What’s the situation, Herr Captain?”
Schiller turned from his muttered conversation to reply.
“The bridge was clearly a diversion. P’raps a score more Gaves loosed arrows from the woods and took a ram and axes to the gate. Ulric’s blessing your men had not abandoned their posts to help us, Rusty.”
The corporal nodded, his mouth set in a thin line. Schiller cast his eyes at the people milling around them and resumed his enquiries.
“Casualties?”
Rusty’s gaze lingered on the new arrivals, the wild-haired dwarf and the man in nought but a bloodstained shirt despite the chill, then flickered to Schiller for a moment. The captain nodded almost imperceptibly and the corporal continued his report in a weary tone.
“Four dead, Josef, Klaus, Gothard and Hildebrand. Reiner and Hagar are wounded, Leoric too.”
A fresh volley of screams erupted from the stairs, Rusty winced as if the pain were his own.
“He’s not long for this world.”
The corporal stared down at his feet and spoke bitterly, old far beyond his years.
“Fool that boy. All the times I told him to keep his damned head down, thought he could kill them all on his own. Fool.”
Schiller clapped a hand on his corporal’s shoulder in grim sympathy and passed his hand across his eyes in the sign of Morr’s shroud, Rusty and Mathias mirrored him.
“Morr take him swiftly. And did you bloody the bastards good for our boys?”
The smile that Rusty flashed transformed his bitterness to savage satisfaction.
“We paid them in kind captain, at last count-”
A sudden cry went up from the men on the wall.
“Captain! Movement!”
Almost as one entity the men and women in the lane below the wall exploded back into action. Corporal Rusty turned on his heel with a curse and sprinted for the steps, closely followed by the other men still fit for duty as the townsfolk scrambled to move themselves and the wounded to the safety of the alleyways. Over the commotion Captain Schiller bellowed new orders.
“Archers to the wall! I want spears before the gate, let’s show these dogs a little more Middenland hospitality!”
 
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