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Author Topic: Die Schlammländer Part VII - new 14th Nov  (Read 966 times)

Offline Alagoric

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Die Schlammländer Part VII - new 14th Nov
« on: November 14, 2005, 09:19:53 PM »
—oOo—


The handgunners and archers crouched behind the screen of wooden stakes, taking a few blessed moments to wet parched throats and tend to cuts and scrapes. Those of clearer mind wormed out their barrels and cleared the touch-holes, then set about loading as many of the guns as they could.

It was a shade lighter and the mist was thinner, though great banks of sodden fog wafted across, blanketing everything in a chill haze and then thinning again, carried on their way by a faint zephyr. The higher cloud was clearing too, and the wan rays of a gibbous moon were beginning to filter through.

They illuminated a charnel scene of utter carnage. Dead and wounded Skaven littered the ground, lying amid gore and severed limbs and spilled offal. The men had already carried their own wounded back to old Mr Schlechtmann to be patched up as best as he was able, but a few human casualties still lay among the jumbled heaps of corpses. Sergeant Felsen shook his head.

He looked along the thin line of men – only twenty of the soldiers still able to hold a weapon, and many of those hurt far worse than they cared to admit. Perhaps the same number of the apprentices still remained. Their youthful exuberance was long expended, replaced instead by a gut-churning fear held at bay only by their stubborn refusal to be the first to run.

Of the archers he couldn’t be sure, but perhaps there were some thirty or so still at arms, and they had their Priest, Hans, at their head. But given how many shots they had loosed already their reserves of arrows had to be dwindling. They would be at a disadvantage if they were forced directly into hand-to-hand, as most only carried short blades and very few wore any kind of armour.

In his heart the Sergeant knew it was useless. Less than eighty men against the Gods knew how many. All they could do was sell themselves as dearly as possible, to try and buy a little more time.

But for what, he wondered, before he caught himself. No, that was not the way of a soldier. He had orders, and his duty was to follow them.

The sound of shrill screeching and of weapons being beaten against shields drifted through the air. They were coming.

The advancing mass, illuminated by the glow from the two pyres, was approaching the water. They were brutes, huge black-furred monsters armed with wicked-looking sword-blades mounted on long poles. They carried a banner before them, a great square patchwork of cloth and skins painted with an arcane symbol and festooned with severed hands and feet and heads and genitalia, grisly trophies from the human corpses they had found.

The archers had already begun their fire, pouring arrows into their foe. The shafts fell with eager whispers, thudding into their unfortunate victims and throwing them off of their feet.

“Second Company of Handgunners of Colonel Reinhagen’s Regiment, to arms!” he shouted. “Come on, come on, the enemy approach.”

The men began to stir, sluggish in their actions. They were exhausted, both physically and mentally.

“Up you get, lads,” he barked. “Take up your arms, the boys too. If you see ‘em, shoot ‘em. Don’t wait for me to tell you. The moment they’re out of the drink, ditch the guns and ready your swords and blades.”

The pathetic line of handgunners dragged themselves to their feet and brought their guns to their shoulders, as did those of the apprentices who were big enough to hold a firearm. Each took a bead on a target and let fly. The flashes from the pans briefly lit their besooted features and tongues of flame lanced from the muzzles.

The bullets tore into the advancing Skaven, felling a great mass close around their filthy standard. Eager claws snatched at the pole the beasts fighting for the honour of holding the banner upright. And all the while the archers maintained a steady fire, picking off individual rat-men on the fringes of the formation.

“Dress that line!” bawled the Sergeant, his voice cutting through the fog of smoke given off by the guns. “Come on, let ‘em have it!”

One huge brute, notably taller than the others and immensely fat, was struck several times in its distended belly. It collapsed into the water, flailing wildly and tangling its companions. Its size tripped the others behind it and within moments the following ranks were surging around and over the pile, trampling and drowning those unlucky enough to have fallen.

The handgunners frantically exchanged firearms and brought them to the shoulder. Another volley of shots, surprisingly crisp, rang out, and more of the Skaven fell.

And again new weapons were brought to bear. The smaller apprentices had set to loading some of the discharged guns as a sporadic series of shots rang out, and individual beasts spun and collapsed as the lead smashed into them.

It was never going to be enough.

A few of the state troops brought their guns to bear at the same moment, just as the enemy’s leading ranks were all but wading ashore, and together they gave fire. The ragged volley was a last hurrah, a final defiant act from men who knew they were doomed.

“Swords, draw your swords!” bawled Sergeant Felsen.

The men didn’t need to be told. A few, though, spun their guns round, gripping the barrels and gritting their teeth against the heat burning their hands, ready to go club-musket against the foe. The ashen-faced apprentices stood at their sides, blades drawn and ready.

Those archers that still had any arrows left continued to loose shafts at any target that presented itself, but the majority, Brother Hans among them, had fallen back into the darkness.

The thin line braced as the Skaven drove past the stakes and broke over their position, and then all was a brutal and deafening anarchy of impacts and blows and screeches and cracks. In the frenzied darkness metal and wood shattered bone and shredded flesh; they hacked and slashed and smashed with all their might.

The men disappeared, consumed by an unstoppable and awful wave.


—oOo—


Time passed, long silent pauses punctuated by strange zephyr-bourne noises, some clear and some distant. When they were audible the defenders of Schlammigerdorf listened. People knew that the mist played tricks with the ears, but these were the sounds of battle, the cries of their own kith and kin spilling their blood to save their home. The thought made the atmosphere even more sombre.

The patrol tramped along.

Movement caught Rald’s eye, off towards the far side of the square. He stopped and crouched, squinting into the shadows, but he couldn’t make anything out. The rest of the patrol, all ahead of him, only gradually became aware that he had halted, and Johann Grau, the senior of the four militiamen, made his way back to see what had caused the delay.

“What’s the problem, lad?”

“There, on the other side of the square,” hissed the young man, pointing out the spot.

Johann squatted down beside him and peered towards the shadows. Everything seemed still. “Are you sure?” he whispered. “I mean, we’re all a bit on edge. You didn’t just…”

Rald shushed him and pointed. He wasn’t imagining it. Something was moving.

“You’ve got sharp eyes,” Johann hissed. “I wouldn’t have seen that, so you’re coming with me.” He indicated to the other men. “You two go and get help, and make it fast.”

The pair going for reinforcements trotted away, heading in the direction of the haze-shrouded town hall.

“Weapons ready, and stay close,” said Johann. “If you see anything, then hit it, don’t wait for me to tell you.”

Rald grunted his understanding and they cautiously made their way across the platz, towards Die Silbermünze and the Nordküstestraße. The cobbles were slick with moisture and treacherous under the leather of their soles. They stalked forward as they approached the wall of the tavern, listening for the least noise and with their eyes wide.

There was another flicker of movement and the splash of feet in the mud.

“He’s off!”

Johann and Rald launched off in pursuit, the older man in the lead. They sprinted along the road and slithered to a halt in front of a narrow alleyway that led between two of the buildings.

Rald sniffed. “Can you smell that?”

Johann grunted. He held his sword and dagger poised and ready and advanced into the dark opening. Rald was right behind.

A blade flashed out of the shadows, spiking Johann in the shoulder.

Aaargh!’

He tumbled backwards, tearing the blade out of his foes’ paw and collapsing onto Rald as he fell. The lads’ sword clattered off into the darkness. A rag-wrapped form darted away, leaving behind it a stink of mould and sewers. Rald scrambled to his feet and chased after it.

The alleyway led to a courtyard surrounded by high walls. The creature was crouched in the centre, sniffing around and surveying its route. Rald galloped towards it, and it made a decision, bounding upward and catching hold of the capping stones.

As it scrambled over the brickwork he leaped and grabbed, somehow catching hold of its clammy, fleshy tail. It issued a piercing shriek of pain as Rald’s weight ripped it back over, and the pair crashed to the ground.

The creature began to struggle and kick, raking at its antagonist with the claws on its hind legs and leaving long, vivid welts across the man’s cheek. He kept his grip, though, and even managed to get a hold of a limb. But the thing writhed and squirmed, snapping at any part of him it could see with its yellowed fangs.

Where was everybody?

He hung on grimly, using his greater weight to wrestle and throw the monster around, trying desperately to pin it down. The thing became frantic, squirming and writhing in ever more frenzied efforts to escape. Somehow the thing wriggled around so that it was half sitting, half pinned below his body.

Gods, the thing stank.

Rald heard the sound of footsteps and glimpsed men running towards him. The squealing suddenly stopped and the creature went rigid, then collapsed below him. He felt a hot wet sensation across his chest and belly.

He released his hold and rolled away from the body, lying for a few moments staring up at the grey-black haze above. A hand was offered and, panting and shaking from his exertions, he was helped up. One of the militiamen had driven a spear into the monster. Behind him Johann was being seen to.

Rald looked down at the corpse then gingerly touched at the red, swelling scratches on his neck and cheek. They were sore. His shirt was wet and heavy, saturated with the rat-man’s blood.

“Thank Sigmar,” he breathed, “I thought I’d soiled myself.”

“What was it doing here?” asked one of the militiamen.

Corporal Gruber pushed at the body with the toe of his boot. “Scouting?”


—oOo—


Corporal Altmann, an ashen look on his face, pointed towards the east. “Oh Gods, they’ve flanked us!”

Brother Franz spun round and squinted into the gloom. Scrawny, malevolent silhouettes scuttled towards them through the darkness, an endless, unstoppable tide of skittering monsters surging along the muddy span. There were Skaven pouring across the causeway.

“Morr’s teeth, we have to go now!”

The Priest grabbed a lay brother and turned him bodily in the right direction, then punted another in the backside with the side of his boot to encourage him to move. And with that he barrelled off, howling like a banshee and swinging his hammer around his head.

His command only gradually became aware that their leader was away. “Come on”, yelled the Corporal at the top of his lungs. “Get after him!”

The shrieking Priest met the leading elements of the incoming horde less than fifty yards along the narrow strip of dry ground, slithering to a halt and laying about him with his hammer. The two men he had bullied onward stood shoulder to shoulder with him, slashing and jabbing and hacking at any of the monsters that got close.

The beasts flung themselves upon the trio in random, haphazard attacks and died as they advanced. And then there were men, in ones and twos to begin with, then more and more. Grim and determined they formed a knot around Brother Franz and stood against the multitude.

And then the main body of the monsters were upon them, wild-eyed and furious, brandishing their weapons and shrieking battle cries. There were thuds and crunches and the blasts of pistols, shrieks and cries and wails of agony, and above it all a horrid, wavering ululation. More and more of the rat-men piled into the fight, surrounding the men and streaming around their flanks. Soon the combat had become a vicious, merciless melee, an orgy of plunging blades and raking claws and jostling, dying bodies.

Captain Langer only gradually became aware of the dark forms leaping and running along the shallow mud of the foreshore. He squinted at them and stared for a moment in surprise. Skaven! Hordes of them! They were almost across the causeway!

“Form up!” he yelled at command, and they braced themselves, swords at the ready.

The tide kept coming, more and more of the monsters passing by in the shadows and moving along the causeway.

“Charge!” he yelled, brandishing his blade. “At them!”

They set off at a trot and were able to get up a fair turn of speed before they met the first mass of troops. The leading men impacted the foes with their shields, smashing into the scrawny rat-men and chopping at anything that moved. Their comrades came to their sides, fanning out as best they were able in an effort to cut off the narrow neck of land.

They carved forward, their opponents’ weapons deflected or bouncing off of their armour as they hacked and stabbed. They pushed on, their advance slowing as the great weight of Skaven bore down on them and rained down a furious frenzy of blows.

“Onward,” shouted the Captain hoarsely, half severing a scrawny-necked head and freeing his blade by kicking the body backwards.

Their advance was slowing. No matter how many of their foes they cut down more appeared to fill the holes in the ranks.

A gap appeared among the monsters ahead of Captain Langer and he stepped in, swinging his shield and clipping the back of another creature’s neck. A heavy blow struck his ribs, making him groan and stagger. He tried to turn but he didn’t have room even to swing his sword. Another blow hit his back.

A shriek rang out, then he felt another impact, this time on his shoulder. He tried to look round and caught a glimpse of a furred snout, the whiskered lips drawn back to reveal sharp wet fangs. And then a bright glimmer as steel flashed by, followed by a flow of bright crimson. The horror dropped, its skull split wide open.

“Sir,” said Trooper Tascher as he turned to face another threat.

The men fought hard and dropped the creatures in swathes, but their efforts to gain ground seemed all but hopeless. Their own formation was folding in on itself, the men on the edges pressed back by the sheer weight of numbers.

“Come on lads, one last push and we’re there!” shouted the Corporal. “You ain’t getting paid for polishing them swords!”

“Kill ‘em!” bellowed the Captain above the infernal din, gritting his teeth and redoubling his efforts. “Kill ‘em all!” he shrieked, bringing down a huge blow and severing an arm as he urged his command to ever greater efforts.

His men gave it their all, slicing and chopping and thrusting at the scuttling forms that appeared in front of them.

Time became meaningless; the past irrelevant and the future of no consequence. All that mattered was now. Survive the next few seconds, look around for an enemy, keep the shield up, parry the blow, then cut them down. Check your position, keep it tight, engage another target and strike.

The enemy numbers were thinning, and then there were men, some sprawled, others standing. Somehow they had made it to the militia. But the pressure hadn’t eased. Now they stood, aching and gasping, fighting shoulder to shoulder alongside their bloodied comrades.

There, ahead, was Brother Franz, sporting four or five nasty-looking cuts and gashes. He clasped hands with Captain Langer, then smiled and shook his head. “When you first got to this town,” he wheezed, “I could not wait for your departure. And now, well, never have I been so glad to see a face.”

And then, once again, the creatures were all around them, a huge press of damp fur and fangs and claws and beady red eyes. The rescuers were as cut off as those they had sought to assist.


—oOo—


The handgunners had vanished, entirely swamped by the horde. And yet, somehow, they were holding the monsters back.

Corporal Klaus’ and the men of the Trockener Militia, sprinting in a ragged body, drove hard into the flank of their adversaries. Right behind them were the boys and old men of Schlammigerdorf, with Corporal Lüge at their head and a few experienced fighters among their ranks to stiffen their resolve.

They impacted the wall of fur scaling the line of stakes with a blind, violent fury. Pistols discharged with blunt barks, slamming searing lead through armour and hide; clubs mashed limbs and heads; blades thrust and sliced; blood surged and spurted, hot life draining away onto the cold ground.

It was a maelstrom, hell incarnate, with no quarter offered or taken.

So close packed were the maimed and dead that they remained upright, borne along by the press of the living. Shrieks and crashes and cries rent the air, already heavy with the stink of damp fur and sweat and leather. Everywhere was the sickly odour of spilt blood, tinged with the cloying stench of spilt bowels and scattered offal.

Roswald Drecke, quite by chance at the back of Lüge’s unit, felt as though he were running through a dream, or rather a nightmare. It was as though his feet weren’t touching the ground as he charged towards the silhouetted mass ahead of him. His hearing seemed to have failed too; everything sounded as though it was miles away, though his own breathing was as loud and as ragged as a rasping saw.

A great bank of mist and sulphurous gunsmoke drifted across, embracing him in its ghostly tendrils. He slowed to a trot and then to a walk, panting from his exertions. He was gripping his sword and his dagger so tightly that his knuckles had gone white.

There was enough moonlight filtering down to give the mists and smoke a strange inner glow. The wan illumination revealed the litter of corpses on the ground and grey and shapeless flickers of movement to either side. He wandered forward, looking from side to side, disorientated and unsure of himself.

How was this possible? Where was everybody? The fight was so close-packed that the monsters should have been all over him. He felt was as though he were alone.

“Well, come on then!” he shouted at the world, though his voice was lost in the muffled din.

It seemed to break the spell. A form emerged from the gloom and turned towards him.

It was a rat-man, and what a sight it was; its glistening brown fur, the patchwork of leather panels stitched into a rough jerkin, a necklace of sharp white fangs, the ragged ears festooned with metal rings, the long whiskers and the beady red eyes glinting in the dim light. He stared at it for a second that seemed to stretch into eternity.

And then it sprang. He couldn’t believe how quickly it started towards him, its scythe-like blade drawn and ready. At the last moment it leaped and hacked downward, but somehow Roswald got his sword up and stopped the blow. The ringing blow sent blue sparks and the impact jarred his arm, knocking him back a little.

The creature landed, rolled, and sprang to its feet again. It dodged around, its sinuous tail balancing its movement, and tried to land a mighty strike. Roswald twisted back and almost lost his balance, his foes blade slicing through the air mere inches from his head. He gasped in a great breath.

The creature tried to get behind him again and the lad spun the opposite direction, bringing his sword round and smashing it into the Skaven’s weapon, knocking it aside. Almost unconsciously he punched with the dagger and punctured the soft flesh of its windpipe.

His opponent froze.

Roswald ripped the stiletto sideways and a vast spurt of blood gushed from the wound, drenching his arm almost to the elbow. The creature fell, leaving Roswald panting through bared, gritted teeth and staring at his crimson hand.

Still numbed and dazed he stumbled forward, and then there were men all around him again, furiously slashing and carving at the endless waves of mangy hides and rusted metal bearing down on them.

“To your front! To your front! At them, boys!” It was Corporal Klaus, the man leading the Trockener militia


—oOo—


They had almost no arrows. Bowmen armed with little more than daggers were not going to be of any use.

He looked forward and his stomach leaped. More of the rat-men were streaming up the beach towards the line of handgunners than could ever be knocked back by the ragged volleys of shots. These weren’t the rag-tag mob of half-starved wretches they had been blasting earlier, either. They seemed more fierce, more determined somehow.

Sigmar, there were so many!

There was a great commotion from behind. Men were beginning to appear from the gloom, militia soldiers armed with a variety of wicked-looking blades. Among them he recognised Corporal Lüge, of the town militia, and Corporal Klaus, who was leading the men from Trockener.

Gods, reinforcements. They were too late and too blown to charge, but they would be there to stand in the line and try and hold the monsters back.

If he was going to go back for supplies, now was the time.

Brother Hans looked across at his men. “Anyone who has shots left, stay back here and make them count,” he ordered. “Everyone else, head to the supply wagons and re-equip yourselves. And if you haven’t got any kind of a blade, pick one up.”

He fell back with perhaps thirty men in all, first moving past running men and then trotting through the still brume, with only the distant roar of combat to tell them they were still on a battlefield. They reached the supplies and the Priest climbed up onto the back of one of the carts. He threw back layers of sacking, revealing leather quivers filled with arrows, and pulled them out, throwing them down to his men.

A dark shape galloped past their position, heading north towards the glow of Langer’s lights. A Skaven!

For a few moments Brother Hans gaped after it, then he came to his senses. The rat-men were on the Kreuzweginsel!

The men arrayed below him had also become aware of their opponents. They were crouched in a broad circle around the wagons, passing shafts between them and drawing back their bows. One or two picked off targets as they saw them.

It quickly became apparent that this was no advancing regiment, instead being individual rat-men, and poorly armed ones at that. They ran here and there, showing no sense of cohesion and wildly attacking anyone that got too close to them. It was almost as if they were trying to avoid fighting.

Those men occupied on the middle of the island were getting themselves together, however, and had formed into little knots and stands for better defence. The creatures, poor fighters at best, were being cut down by anyone who could wield a weapon.

“Spread out and hunt them down,” growled Brother Hans. “Stay in pairs at least, though.” He clambered down from atop the wagon and readied his hammer. He directed one group to move forward to his left, another to do the same to his right, while he took the centre.

They set off at a trot, the Priest striding ahead and bellowing at the top of his voice for others to join them. As they advanced they gained a motley collection of archers, carters, boys, the wounded, and every other straggler and lost soul. Their line was never straight, kinks and bows and gaps forming as fights developed and ended, but they swept the monsters before them.

Their general trend had carried them to the south and east, where the ground close to the water became soft and muddy. It was from here that the creatures were coming, and Hans was appalled to see that many were fleeing southwards, towards the town. The monsters dodged and dived out of their path, apparently keen to avoid engaging the men. Most of the casualties his troops were causing were from arrow fire.

The Priest threw groups of men across the neck of the causeway, little bodies of archers each supported by a few militia. Together they pushed forward in sporadic bursts of fighting until they had stopped the rush of creatures across the neck of the causeway.

The flow of rat-men had slowed, the archers picking off any that approached too closely. Brother Hans, panting heavily and taking some tepid water from his canteen, peered out into the darkness.

There was a dark cluster in the distance, all but impossible to make out in the thick gloom, from which emanated roars and shouts and clangs and strange, high squeals. It was a great host of the ratmen, stalled and fighting, desperately trying to overwhelm a cluster of men.

Seemingly, the swordsmen had made it through to the militia and the two forces had combined to expand their frontage, somewhat choking the flow of monsters. In doing so they had eased the pressure on themselves; fewer of the monsters were able to lap around behind them. But, from the look at it, it was an appalling close-quarters melee, ruled not by senses or skill but by fear and adrenaline and, above all, blind luck.

Brother Hans held his hammer up in the air. “Cha-a-a-a-arge!” he yelled, and began to lope forward. It was more for show than anything, for many of his command were already engaged, fighting stray Skaven that had ventured too close to the thin Human line.

The men began to move onto the narrow spit of land, penning the creatures in and herding the whole lot before them. A few of the archers had even made their way out onto the broad expanses of mud at the flanks. The press became thicker, but it was as though any martial spirit had abandoned the Skaven. The whole writhing, dodging horde had begun to stream back.

They hacked and chopped at the skinny, reluctant forms in short, brutal melees where no quarter was expected or given. Swords split heads and impaled bodies, limbs were smashed, and blood flowed and pooled on the rough ground. Few of the monsters stood and fought, and reasonably so, for when they did they were quickly cut down. Here and there targets fell as arrows thudded into flesh.

The Skaven had abandoned almost everything and were leaving so fast that it was difficult to keep up with them. Then, quite suddenly, there were men ahead, a motley collection of swordsmen and militia surrounded by twisted heaps of furred corpses.

The scratch militia streamed past the defenders, laying about the Skaven as they fled, and enthusiastically aiding the rout. It dissolved into a slaughter, a bloodbath from which few of the monsters escaped. The archers moved forward to form a defensive screen, finishing off every target that they saw and recovering all the arrows that they could find.

Amid the commotion that had been the human defence Brother Hans spied the two commanders. Brother Franz, supported by one of his men, was looking in the worse condition. His breastplate was dented and scratched, his robes were ragged, and his hammer was matted in clotted gore and fur. Captain Langer was crimson-faced but seemed otherwise unharmed.

“My complements,” he panted with an almost nonchalant air, “but I have pressing matters to see to on the northern shore. May Sigmar be with you.” He bowed to the pair and made the sign of the hammer over his chest. Then, in the company of his archers, he turned and departed.


—oOo—


It was an appalling confusion, the press of creatures so close that he could smell the stink of their breath and fur. It was as though Roswald’s senses deserted him and primitive instinct took over. A thrust and a convulsing body fell, another mangy form leaping atop the still twitching corpse only to crumple as a blade punctured it clean through. Shrieks, piercing and ghastly, rang out.

Another monster barged through the mass and faced the boy, launching at him with something akin to a sword on a haft. He dived aside, barely in time, for the passing edge tore through his doublet. He scrambled to get to his feet as the monster swung the haft round, but some miracle caused him to slip and fall and the blade passed over his head.

He rolled onto his back and chopped sideways just as his foe lunged, his timely parry knocking the thrust aside and undoubtedly saving him. He gasped a breath and tried to scramble backwards but the beast launched another strike.

Thwack! An arrow smacked into its head just below the eye and knocked it sideways, its weapon impaling the ground right next to Roswald’s shoulder. Gasping and shaking, he struggled to his feet and peered around.

The archers had returned, rallied and reorganised under the firm stewardship of Brother Hans. They were picking off individuals, sharpshooting rather than blanketing the Skaven with fire.

And then the men had the upper hand again, at least in this few square yards, and those few Skaven still standing fell in short order. Corporal Klaus, his face bloodied from a long but shallow wound across his scalp, appeared from among the shadowy forms.

“You,” he barked in his husky voice, pointing at Roswald. “Are you hurt?”

The lad shook his head. “No Sir.”

“Then get to that foreign officer as fast as you can and get us some help. Tell him there’s more of them coming. Get him to send anything, understand?”

Roswald nodded. “Er, where is he?” he ventured.

“Last I saw of him he was up at the north end of the island. Come on lad, jump to it!”

Roswald turned and sprinted off, the Gods knew how far, and again he was favoured with the luck of Sigmar himself. He chanced across a small knot of figures in the gloom; it was the Nordland swordsmen, in the process of reforming. Their kit was damaged, many bore wounds, and all had the hollow-eyed, distant look of men who had just seen action.

Ruddy-faced and panting, the lad asked after Captain Langer and one of the soldiers pointed towards the causeway. Roswald nodded his thanks and set off in the direction that the man had indicated, and soon he found his quarry.

He snatched his hat from his head and clutched it nervously as he explained the situation and repeated the Corporal’s request for reinforcements.

The Captain too was crimson-faced and breathless. “Release the hounds, for the sake of the Gods,” he wheezed. “Take the handlers, too.”

Roswald executed a curt bow and ran back past the soldiers, letting the baying and the howling of the dogs guide him to their location. He passed the field hospital, a simple roofless tent lit from within and surrounded by injured fighters, and at last he came to the men who were holding the whining, barking hounds.

The beasts, standing almost as tall as a man's waist, with stocky shoulders and slender waists, were excited to the point of frenzy. It was all that their handlers could do to hold them as they half-strangled themselves against their leashes.

“On the orders of Captain Langer, with me!” he yelled with an authority that surprised him, and once he was sure they were following he charged back off towards the north. The handlers, doing their best to restrain the dogs, were near dragged off of their feet as their charges strained after him.

As they drew near the fight the hounds were let slip, and Roswald saw them streak past as he ran forward. They joyfully raced off, disappearing in a great pack towards the commotion ahead. They fell on the Skaven with snarling primeval fury, a hackled mass of bared fangs and foamy drool, leaping and biting and killing.

Poor beasts, he found himself thinking. I wonder if any will survive? And even if they do, how many will find their way back to their kennels?

Then, off to his left, he caught sight of more fighting. A knot of militia, probably no more than five or six in total, was battling against a great horde of the monsters. Among the surrounded and outnumbered men he caught sight of a familiar broken-nosed face; it was his friend Kelby.

He glanced around. The dog-handlers had stayed with him, and most brandished pistols and blades of some kind. “At them!” he yelled, and veered towards the combat.

They slammed into their foe and cut them down. Shots rang out and lead ripped through hide, sharp steel blades tore through soft flesh, clubs split skin and bone alike, and bodies fell. Roswald flailed madly, chopping at anything furred. He saw Kelby ahead of him, furiously fending off at least three of the horrors, and he redoubled his efforts.

Almost there. He swung downward, severing a ragged ear and felling the former owner, then barged aside another beast that seemed to be doing nothing other than spinning in circles.

He chopped into the back of another Skaven that had abandoned its weapon and dropped to all fours. Just ahead. A great cheer seemed to be going up around him. Kelby’s eyes met his and then his friend toppled, a look of pain and surprise crossing his face.

“No!” Where was he? In an instant he’d lost track of the lads position.

He swung and chopped wildly, aware of more men joining him and carried onward by their presence. And then they were at the stakes, through to the final stand of blue and yellow-uniformed figures. They were the last of the handgunners, and with them were a very few of the apprentices. The Gods alone knew how any of them could have lived through that.

It seemed that was enough for the Skaven and they began to scatter and flee, streaming backwards into the water with a few dogs chasing after them. Any form organisation quickly vanished as their retreat disintegrated into a rout, and within minutes the sounds of a great commotion could be heard to the north of Langer’s lights, on the Flache Insel.

A few archers begin to push forward to scout the situation.

Somehow the human line had held, but it was stretched to the point of breaking.


—oOo—


The north-western tunnel continued its gradual descent, though its composition began to change. It was less the stratified layers of silt that they had become used to, instead containing lumps of jagged, dark stone.

Finally the passage broadened into a large chamber, some eight yards across and tall enough for them to stand comfortably. The floor and the northern wall were masonry, brown-grey blocks mortared into place but slanted at a sharp angle, and two new tunnels followed the stonework. Rivulets of dark water trickled and ran down the stonework.

The men fanned out, readying their weapons and taking positions at the corners.

Doctor Ungerade held up his lantern. “It seems that the Skaven’s excavations have come upon what was once the surface of a road – look, Sir, it is still possible to make out the ruts worn into the cobbles by carts and the like. That wall is likely a building that stood upon its edge.”

Ensign Kültz held his compass close to his light. “In all probability the rat-men followed the easiest route to clear, which in this case is along the edges of the wall. We seem to have two choices; either go to the east, which to my mind is not forward progress, or instead we head towards the north-west.”

Doctor Ungerade had scrambled up the slick cobbles and was standing next to a shadowy area of the wall. He looked down to the officer. “There may be another option!”

One of the militia soldiers picked his way over. “He’s right, Sir,” he called. “There’s some planks and what looks like a bit of canvas covering up a hole.” The man tore away the coverings, revealing an intricately carved arched doorway. A tunnel had been bored through the silt that blocked it.

The Ensign snapped the case of his compass shut and made his way up to the portal. “Far more northerly,” he announced. “That’s the route.”

Doctor Ungerade frowned at him. “How on earth do you know that that’s the right way?”

“Sigmar will guide us.”

“Yes, well, as much as I trust Lord Sigmar’s undoubted skill at navigation, I don’t believe in divine intervention. He may well know the way, but I don’t think he’s going to tell us.”

Ensign Kültz grinned. “Neither do I. I’m assuming that the Skaven have made their lair in the sunken city, and that the centre of the city is the dome, which as best as I can tell lies to the north of us. I have been relying on my compass, and we have been trending in that direction throughout this journey.”

The Doctor nodded.

“Also, I have been looking for indications that we might be in some kind of ruinous burg.” added the Ensign. He gestured to the stonework around them. “I feel that this qualifies.”

Doctor Ungerade held his lantern out to illuminate the tunnel. “Bit of a squeeze, though.”

One by one they scrambled through the narrow opening, dragging themselves forward on their hands and knees. They entered a colonnaded courtyard, slanted at a steep angle, that had been cleared of the debris and mud that had filled it. The space had originally been open to the skies but was now roofed by a ragged ceiling of grey sludge. It appeared to be unsupported and dripped water alarmingly.

They slipped and slid across the floor to the far wall, where there was another arched doorway. Beyond it was a tunnel barely wide enough to crawl through, which ended in a pair of stone windows similar in shape to the doors. They squeezed through, dragging their kitbags along behind them to ease their passage, and continued along another claustrophobic tunnel.

They followed it for who knew how far, and then quite abruptly it ended in a screen made up planks of wood crudely nailed together. The leading man pushed it aside and eased himself into a dark space, very high but narrow enough to be able to touch both sides with outstretched arms. Salt water dripped from above like an intense shower of rain, echoing and sploshing as it fell. One by one the other raiders emerged from the tunnel.

“Make sure the powder stays dry, that above all else,” shouted Ensign Kültz. “Wrap the bags in your doublets if you have to.”

One of the hunters made his way over to the officer. “Can’t be sure, Sir, but there may be a way up over there.”

Kültz was impressed. His eyes were stinging so much he could barely see the walls on either side of him. “Gentlemen,” he yelled, “we go up.”

They began to climb, first over loose and slippery rubble and then up jagged outcrops of black rock. The stones were sharp and tore their hands, the salty downpour drenching their wounds and adding to their misery. Eventually they reached a level where the dark stone gave way to pallid cyclopean blocks that made up the foundations of an immense wall. They were slanted at an odd angle and wide gaps had opened between them. Progress was far more treacherous, too; the blocks were polished smooth and slick with slime, and offered few safe spots.

We are gazing upon the very walls of the city! thought Doctor Ungerade to himself. I ought to be overawed. He spat out a mouthful of muddy-tasting water, risked a glance upward, and wished that the whole experience would end.

The leading man had spotted an opening where the stones had slipped apart and headed towards it. He crawled inside, sliding through a narrow tunnel that lay beyond, and slithered down a rubble slope. He held up his lantern, his dagger ready in his other hand just in case, revealing a small room with fractured walls and an insanely angled floor. A doorway led into another larger chamber, and that in turn led through onto an ornately carved staircase.

One by one the other raiders joined him, all of them relieved to be in the dry. Water seeped from the walls and pooled in the rough ground, but at least it wasn’t the incessant drenching they had endured outside. The powder was removed from below clothing and checked to make sure that it was still sound, and men stripped to wring out their sopping garments.

When Ensign Kültz arrived he dropped off his bag of powder and headed straight to the staircase. He retrieved his perspective glass from inside his doublet, crouched down, and peering through the instrument he surveyed the lie of the land.

They had entered a huge space, a place of black and midnight blue and deep grey, and like all of the ruins they had seen it was tilted at a severe angle. It was a monumental hall, filled with a jumbled forest of pillars, some upright, some leaning, and some fallen and broken. A constant rain of muddy droplets fell from the blackness above, sploshing onto the dirt and running away in thick, silty rivulets.

It wasn’t completely dark, however – occasionally flickers of light were visible away in the distance. Somebody was home.

He switched his attention to the left side of the huge chamber and followed the course of a walkway that ran around its perimeter. Once he was done he snapped the glass shut and made his way back inside the rooms.

Everybody was filthy, caked from head to foot in slime and filth, and probably as exhausted and aching as himself. He called a break and they slumped in relief against the walls. The officer moved amongst them, seeing that everyone took at least a little drink and sustenance. He allowed no more than a few minutes rest, though in truth everybody was eager to press on.

The archers had already pushed ahead to seek other routes and prevent any ambushes. They had followed the stairs down onto the balcony, the smooth tiles that covered it slick with moisture and ooze, and perhaps some one hundred yards along they found that a section had collapsed, leaving a gap a few yards wide. The steep angle of the floor made any jump across a tricky prospect.

One of the bowmen, crouching near double to stay concealed, made his way back to the main body of troops as they approached. “Can’t be sure,” he hissed, “but it looks like there’s at least one sentry.”

Corporal Galland divested himself of all of his kit except for a long knife. He breathed deeply, squinting at the gap and judging the landing. When he was composed he took two great bounds, leaped clear across the chasm, touched down on his toes, and trotted a few steps forward; all this he achieved in complete silence. He paused for a moment then slunk off into the gloom.

After a few moments he reappeared from the shadows, spattered in blood and beckoning the others across. He glanced down at his gory shirt. “Don’t worry,” he hissed, “it isn’t mine.”

A number of the raiders jumped the gap, including Ensign Kültz, a rope was thrown across, and then a bundle of cloaks and soft clothing was transported over. The bundle was untied and the cloth was laid out over the stony floor to avoid undue noise. Then, by means of a loop in the rope, the rest of their kit and the bags of blackpowder were ferried to the far side.

Doctor Ungerade peered into the abyss. The darkness was intense and the depth made him feel giddy. There was no avoiding it, he was going to have to jump. He breathed deeply, copying what he had seen the other men do, and backed up a little. Summing up all of his courage he dashed forward and launched himself, landing on the very lip of the broken floor on the other side. He stood teetering on the edge for what seemed like an eternity, then a filthy hand clamped onto his shirt.

“You intending on leaving us, Doctor?” said Gunter Braun, pulling him forward.

The Doctor gasped and scrambled to safety, hissed thanks to his saviour, and with his heart pounding at the thought of what could have happened he went to recover his bags. The Ensign and Corporal Galland were ahead of him, crouching down and peering over the rail of the balcony beside the body of the Skaven the Corporal had killed.

The officer waved him over. “Doctor,” he whispered, “given your interest in all that we’ve found, perhaps you should take a look at this.” He indicated downward.

Below them was a roughly rectangular chamber, accessed through a tall doorway and partially filled with rubble. Scant but steady illumination came from a small lantern hung on one of the walls; the glow it cast was a disturbing shade of green. Skaven guards armed with long spears and jagged swords stood at the entrance, watching as wretched slaves, whipped and beaten into compliance by their brutal overseers, went about their duties.

It took a few moments for their eyes to adjust. Much of the floor was covered over in hides and bracken, and lying on top of it was a … thing.

“What is that?” hissed Corporal Galland.

It was a huge fleshy sausage, at least ten feet in length, its breathing setting the obese body wobbling obscenely. Vestigial stumps of limbs flailed ineffectually, while the head was little more than a gaping, ravenous maw. The vast belly was covered with teats; suckling at them were dark-furred monstrosities, a horde of squabbling, squirming whelps.

“I do believe it is some kind of a sow-rat,” ventured Doctor Ungerade. “As it were, a machine for breeding Skaven.”

As they watched another whelp was birthed, expelled ungraciously from the rear of the bloated mother. It was scooped up by one of the slaves, who freed it from the slick membrane that clung to it and gnawed through the umbilical cord, and then carried it to a teat occupied by a far larger and furrier sibling. The two were swapped over and the new arrival flailed for space while to slurping furiously.

“I would very much like to see where they take that one,” mumbled Doctor Ungerade, indicating the rudely weaned offspring.

Ensign Kültz shook his head. “In truth, Doctor, so would I, but we have no easy means of doing so. We must press on.”

They continued to move along the balcony, cautiously making their way towards the northerly end of the hall. Below them were more of the antechambers, each holding another titanic Skaven-mother with her huge brood of offspring. They passed a total of four.

“It brings me to wonder,” whispered the Doctor, “whether we are actually facing their army at all. I mean, they have none of the fantastical war-machines that worried the Captain so, or indeed anything much by way of magics. I wonder if, instead, the rat-men that are being engaged on the surface are merely raiders, sent out to steal food and supplies to create this” – he gestured at the pit below them – “which is, or rather will be, their true force.”

“In which case our mission becomes even more important. There is not a moment to waste.”

The Doctor nodded curtly. “Quite so.”


—oOo—


The line of stakes was a shambles. Gore was piled upon cruor, bodies eviscerated and laid open, exposed ribs and organs and yellow fat surrounded by dark pooled blood. Obscene and twisted corpses, the ghastly remnants of living beings, lay and steamed and stank in the scrubby grass.

Kelby gritted his teeth and grunted. “Gods, that hurts.” His breath misted in the air.

Roswald knelt down beside his friend and peered at his leg. The boy was wearing dark hose, which made it difficult to see if there was serious bleeding.

“I’ll take a look then.”

Roswald lifted back the ragged flap of linen hose and blanched. The wound had completely ruined the ankle; the flesh was severed through to the chipped and broken bone, and tendons and other structures were plainly visible. There was blood, but it was a slow drip rather than a steady flow.

“H-h-how bad is it?” Kelby was shivering.

He tried to put a brave face of it. “Oh, I’ve seen worse.”

“W-w-when?”

Roswald remained silent for a few moments. “Look, the truth is, it isn’t good. You need to get it seen to. I know where Mr Schlechtmann is. I’ll take you up there.”

He got to his feet and headed off to find Corporal Klaus, and as fortune would have it the man was nearby, dabbing at his cut pate with a handkerchief. Roswald outlined the situation as he led his commander to where the wounded boy lay, and the soldier sucked his teeth when he saw the injury.

“Do I have permission to take him back?” Roswald asked.

The Corporal nodded. “Agreed, but when you’re done you get yourself right back here, you understand? I need every man I can get.”

The Corporal and Roswald carefully raised Kelby upright and the colour drained from his face. The injured boy, faint and unable to support himself, hung on to his comrades and winced and moaned and his useless limb dangled and scraped.

Roswald manoeuvered himself into a position where it was possible to sling his friend over his shoulder, and when he was in place he hefted the lad up. “Gods, but you’re heavy!” he wheezed as he set off, bent almost double under his burden. Soon he was gasping and sweating profusely. His target was easy to find, though, lit as it was from within and surrounded by prone forms.

“Where are we?” asked Kelby through clenched teeth.

“At the surgery. You lie down here, near the doors, and they’ll come and get you when they’re ready.” Roswald helped ease his friend to the ground and checked on his foot again.

From where he lay Kelby had a good view inside the tent, actually little more than a rectangle of canvas, supported by wooden poles and open to the skies. Within it were a pair of tables where Mr Schlechtmann and Mrs Libehilfe were frantically tending to the poor wounded souls. A few of the burly fishwives held down the agony-wracked bodies while they were cut and probed and cleaned and stitched.

Around them were set a number of staffs on which were hung lanterns. In one corner was a metal brazier full of burning coals, and set on a firedog above it was a cauldron of boiling water. All around were boxes and chests holding tools and bandages and medicines. Behind the surgeon was a small heap of amputated limbs.

Kelby stared in horrified fascination for a few moments then tore his eyes away. Standing a little distance off was an unhitched tumbrel, and nearby was a pony whose reins were being held by a pallid-faced youth clutching an oversized dagger. Poor little mite, he thought to himself. This is no place for a child. Despite his own tender years he felt very old and very tired.

Roswald, still panting from his exertions, leaned over his friend. “They’ll take good care of you here,” he whispered. He looked around and spotted a body covered over by a blanket. He retrieved the cloth, taking a moment to close the eyes of the corpse that lay beneath, and draped it over Kelby. “That should keep you a bit warmer.”

Kelby extended his hand and Roswald grasped it. “T-t-thankyou,” he said. “I’ll s-s-see you later, count on it. We can s-s-swap our war stories over a c-c-cup or two.”

Roswald nodded and released his grip. “I promised Corporal Klaus I’d get right back,” he said, and without a backward glance he disappeared off into the gloom, leaving his friend staring up into the misty darkness.

Kelby swallowed hard and found his attention drawn towards the surgery. An injured youth, one of the apprentices who had been assisting the Nordland handgunners, had been lifted up onto a table. His arm had been shredded; one of the women was frantically tearing away his doublet and shirt to expose the wound.

As the cloth came away his shoulder seemed to fall to pieces and blood gushed forth by the pint. Mr Schlechtmann, the old surgeon, tried to hold back the flow but it was futile, and before Kelby’s eyes the boy died, twitching and writhing, on the table. With no ceremony the women produced a blanket, rolled the body into it, and manhandled it away.

“Bring in the next one,” shouted Mr Schlechtmann. “Quickly now.”

Once they had deposited the corpse the two ladies began examining the waiting patients,  assessing their wounds as best they were able and deciding who had the greatest chance of survival. Much to his surprise they settled on Kelby and gently lifted him up, carried him to the bloody table, and laid him out on it. His heart was pounding fit to burst.

Mr Schlechtmann peered at the damaged limb, his aspect hunched and sinister in the flickering light. “A single long cut, goes right across your foot,” he announced. “A couple of the smaller bones are broken, and it looks like most of the tendons have been severed too. Bit of a mess, I’m afraid.”

He studied the injury a little more closely. “Hmm. There seems to be dirt and some fragments of cloth within the wound.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Kelby.

“Take off your leg,” said Mr Schlechtmann in a matter-of-fact tone. He turned to his instrument table and selected a long, straight-bladed knife.

“T-t-take off my leg?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Why? C-c-can’t you, er, mend it?”

“Your foot is smashed,” answered the old man as he tested the keenness of the edge with his thumb. “It is better to remove it, so as to prevent infection spreading throughout the body.”

“Wherabouts?” asked Kelby, eyeing the stained blade.

“By that I take it you mean ‘where will I cut?’. The answer is below the knee.”

“Below the knee?”

“Yes, below the knee. That’s right.”

“R-r-right.”

Mr Schlechtmann produced a long leather thong and tied it around the lad’s thigh, tightening it so that it pinched the skin. “A tourniquet,” he ventured, “to help prevent excessive bleeding during the procedure.”

“D-d-doesn’t the patient usually g-g-get liquor?” stammered Kelby nervously.

“Have you got any?”

“No.”

“Bite down on this,” said one of the fishwives as she popped a wad of soft leather between Kelby’s teeth. “It ought to help.” She linked her arms through his to hold him steady, and he found himself surprised by her strength.

“Until recently, when I was called upon to remove a limb I would cauterise the stump to stem the bleeding and purify the wound,” announced Mr Schlechtmann, as much to focus himself as anything. “However, I recently read a most interesting pamphlet by Pietro of Miraglio, a surgeon of some repute, who advocates the virtues of stitching a flap of skin across the wound to seal it. The trick, apparently, is to leave a channel for the drainage of fluids.”

A second woman, a large lass by any standards, lay across the lads’ hips and quite effectively pinned him to the table, while a third kept a firm grip on his feet. The boy, sweating profusely, braced himself.

“Right, hold him now. He’s probably going to try and kick.”

The surgeon raised Kelby’s leg to the right position and took a firm grip around the thigh. He looped his arm underneath the calf, holding the knife so that the point was almost in his own armpit. He pressed the steel hard up against the skin and drew it round in one steady motion to form a deep spiral cut, turning the blade to join his starting point and create one continuous incision. The wound leaked a steady flow of crimson.

Kelby lunged forward, biting down on the leather and grunting bestially. The searing intensity of the pain rendered him near senseless. He bucked and tried to wriggle backward, but the fishwives had him and kept him solidly in place.

Mr Schlechtmann continued to slice down through the meat until he located the bones, then reached around to the table and swapped the knife for a saw. He used his left hand to pull the flesh up a little and then hacked down with rasping strokes. The boy convulsed and spat out the leather bit, gasping in a great breath.

The severed leg dropped to the wooden tabletop, attached by just a few stringy lengths of meat. With the bruised flesh still pulled back the surgeon used the saw to ease the sharp edges on the bones, lest they work their way back through the skin, and picked out the resulting fragments. When he was done he returned the instrument to the table, took up the knife again, and sliced through the last sinews.

“You may remove that,” he said to the girl who was holding the boy’s feet. She nodded, hefted up the dismembered limb, and tossed it onto the grisly pile to their rear.

“Almost done, son,” said Mr Schlechtmann. “That’s the worst of it behind you.”

He returned the knife to its place and selected a long curved needle with a fine horsehair threaded through its eye. “Now, lets see if we can’t stop that bleeding.”

He inserted the needle below the artery, easing it through the flesh, and tied a loop in the hair, pulling it tight to pinch off the channel. The boy, vacant-eyed and streaming spittle, twitched and thrashed violently, almost pulling the thread from his fingers.

“Hold him steady, if you please ladies.”

He repeated the process on the vein and when that was done his experienced fingers located the severed ends of the nerves, crushing the tip of each and rolling them back a little. He took up the needle once more and positioned the flaps of skin over the wound, taking care to leave a hole for drainage, and secured everything into place with long sutures. Finally he removed the tourniquet from around the lad’s thigh, then took a few moments to look over his handiwork.

“It is the best that I can do,” he said, but Kelby, quite delirious from pain, gave no response.

The surgeon wiped his crimson hands on his apron. “Take him over to Mrs Libehilfe, if you would be so kind, so that a dressing may be applied.”

The semiconscious boy was carried off and another casualty was brought and laid out on the table.


—oOo—

Offline Midaski

  • Sunny Sussex, England
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  • Posts: 11433
Die Schlammländer Part VII - new 14th Nov
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2005, 05:46:59 PM »
I'm going to use moderators' rights and bump this, as I am concerned people are just reading part 8 and have missed this part.

At time of this post it had 10 views whilst part 8 had over 20.
  :?
Quote from: Gneisenau
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Metal to Finecast - It is mostly a swap of medium. 

You mean they will be using Ouija boards instead of Tarot cards for their business plans from now on?

Offline Alagoric

  • Posts: 83
Die Schlammländer Part VII - new 14th Nov
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2005, 11:19:52 AM »
I posted it the wrong place. Thats what comes of rushing.

Offline SKEETERGOD

  • Posts: 1049
Die Schlammländer Part VII - new 14th Nov
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2005, 02:11:22 PM »
Most excellent! a great read and well worth the time and effort you put in.  BRAVO!

Now, I want more!  Thanks.
It takes but one foe to breed a war, and even those without swords can still die upon them.