home

Author Topic: Die Schlammländer Part VIII - also new Nov 14th  (Read 1382 times)

Offline Alagoric

  • Posts: 83
Die Schlammländer Part VIII - also new Nov 14th
« on: November 14, 2005, 09:22:46 PM »
—oOo—


Brother Franz, his weight supported by a trooper, squinted darkly along the causeway. The mob of demonic fiends had vanished, leaving behind it a litter of shattered corpses.

“What happened?” asked Captain Langer, his breath misting in the chill air.

The Priest shooed off his aide and turned slowly . “We were too far back,” he replied. “There were just too many of them and they surrounded us. But for yours and Hans’ timely interventions we would surely have been overwhelmed.”

“They will come again, of that I have no doubt,” mused the Captain. “But perhaps there is a way that we can improve our position.”

“How so?”

“Send some of your men back and collect all of the carts and the wagons, and wheel them out onto the causeway to form a barricade. Don’t bother unloading them, either. Their freight can be added to the defences.”

The Priest nodded. “It shall be done,” he said, and soon a squad of men had been assembled.

The Captain accompanied them as they made their way back onto the corpse-strewn Kreuzweginsel. The men quickly took charge of the supply wains and set about unhitching the horses from the trails. The poor beasts, terrified by the noise and commotion, shied and pranced and kicked wildly. The carters hung desperately to the reins in an effort to keep the animals in check.

To his left, a little way off, was the surgery, and covering the ground in front of it were those too badly injured to fight. He paced over and looked at the wretched men gathered there. “If there are any here who can still use a weapon,” he said, “you should make yourselves known to the militia. Everyone who still draws breath is needed on the eastern path. The rest of you, may you rest easy in Sigmar’s hall.”

Kelby Tölpell, lying close by, struggled to raise himself up onto his elbows and nearly passed out as his stump brushed against the ground. He fought back waves of nausea and watched as the officer strode away into the dark.

A little way away some militia soldiers were manhandling off the surgeon’s tumbrel. He struggled to raise his hand and managed to catch the attention of one of the troopers. “I’ll go,” he croaked.

The bearded veteran stepped over and looked him up and down. “Gods, but you’re a game one,” he growled. “Are you armed?”

Kelby shook his head. “No.”

The militiaman looked about and spied a prone and senseless figure with a pistol clenched in his hands. He pried the weapon from the man’s fingers, then set about searching through his pockets, recovering a powder flask, a leather bag containing shot and wadding, and a long knife. “Don’t think he’ll be needing these,” he mumbled, and handed them over to the lad.

Kelby took the equipment and secured it about his person while the soldier got the assistance of one of his comrades. Together they hefted him up and carried him over to the back of one of the big wains. They were fast rather than gentle and he gasped and grimaced as his stump bumped against the wooden gate.

There were already two other casualties there, a deathly pale man who, like him, sported the bandaged stump of a leg and a fellow whose head was swathed in bloody rags. A fourth volunteer, sporting a heavily bandaged chest and shoulder, was helped up and settled in beside them. The soldiers set about manhandling the wain over the rough ground towards the causeway, jolting and bumping their passengers agonisingly.


—oOo—


Lukas had schooled the women in the basics of gunnery in the half-hour it had taken to cross the estuary, and they seemed to have taken to it well enough. However, to be on the safe side, the guns had been slowly and carefully loaded as the Bösewicht had run towards the shore. That way they were guaranteed at least one good shot.

They made light work of unhooking the starboard gun and trundling it across the deck to the open larboard entry port, where it was made secure and the tackles and breeching were set up. Though the gun was not particularly heavy both Sepp and Mr Weber made sure that barrels filled with water were lashed to the starboard rail to help maintain the trim of the vessel.

They sailed in as close as they dared, and finally, with the water shallowing once again, Mr Weber ordered all sail to be taken in so that the vessel could drift. The mist was a little denser here, hanging thick among the reeds that lined the shore.

Just as the leadsman called three fathoms they heard another noise, a strange ululation warped and twisted by the cold and clammy air. It was followed by a volley of musketry, then by sporadic shots, some distant and faint, some sharp and clear. The sounds faded, becoming ethereal and haunting and then vanishing altogether.
 
“Two fathoms and a half,” shouted the leadsman.

Mr Weber ordered that the anchors to be dropped. His decision was timely, for as the cables squealed through the hawse-holes and the flukes bit into the muddy bottom the very forward part of her keel touched the muddy seabed. The ship came to a halt making her shudder fearfully. Sepp rushed below again and frantically checked the planking, but nothing had sprung and she was dry. The huddled passengers watched him, terrified.

He raced back on deck to join his gun and crew, panting from his exertions.

Lucas leaned across to him once he had returned to his gun. “Now what?”

“Nothing. We just wait.”

And so they did. It was interminable.

Mrs Starkleiter scanned the shore with Captain Fuchs’ spare perspective glass, which she had ordered brought up to her from the cabin, but all she could make out was the green of the rushes blending into the soft white haze. Then, due to the capricious whim of the wind, the bank of brume rolled back and quite unexpectedly, she was able to see.

“Oh my, there are so many of them!”

Mr Weber had also observed their foe. “Range, well, I’d say two hundred yards!” he shouted.

“Raise the breach!” ordered Lukas.

As they had been taught, two of the women threw themselves over the barrel to tilt it on its trunnions, and when it lifted Lucas pushed the bed and the quoin that sat upon it forward a little. He glanced across to Sepp, who peered at the lad’s work and nodded approval. The barrel was gently lowered back down, it’s elevation now slightly depressed.

Lukas removed the sheepskin that had been draped over the breach to keep the powder dry. He gripped the lint stock with a sweaty palm and blew gently on the slowmatch until the tip glowed a bright orange.

“Fire!”

He dipped the match into the powder in the touch hole and looked away, shielding his face with his left hand. The piled black grains burst into a smoky fountain of orange-white sparks, and a fraction later the gun fired.

BOOM!

The shock made the whole ship shudder. Barrel and carriage recoiled, their motion damped and stopped by the train tackles and breeching. A dense cloud of sulphurous white smoke billowed into the air, masking the commotion on the deck as the women scrambled to reload. Lucas’s ears were ringing and his throat was dry.

BOOM!

Sepp’s gun discharged, adding enormously to the clouds of bitter smoke and shaking the deck with its recoil.

“Swab out!” Lukas shouted hoarsely.

Scouring worms were used to draw out any burning fragments, then sponging sticks were drawn from water buckets and rammed down the barrels, hissing and steaming as they went. Their sheepskin ends emerged dark and sooty. Finally Lukas took a vent auger and pushed it into the touch hole to ensure that it was clear.

Mrs Starkleiter was standing at the larboard rail and had just taken the glass from her eye. “Those were difficult to see, but both seemed a little high,” she called in a shrill voice. “Can you aim a little lower?” Lukas’s ears were ringing so much he could barely make out her words.

“Aye, Ma’am, lower it is,” and dutifully the order was relayed across to Sepp. Once more the women lay over the hot metal barrel and the quoin was edged slightly further forward.

“Charge your piece!”

A rough sack filled with a charge of blackpowder was put into the barrel, a wad of rags followed it, and then they were driven home with the ramrod. It was followed by the shot – two half-cannonballs joined together with a length of chain – along with more wadding, and once more the whole lot was rammed firmly down. The crew moved away and the gun was hauled forward.

“Clear!”

Lukas jabbed the sharp brass reamer down into the touch hole and jiggled it back and forth, ensuring the channel was clear and puncturing the powder bag. He drew it out again and filled the hollow from the powder horn slung around his shoulder. He took hold of the lint stock and blew the smouldering tip to a white glow.

“Fire!”

He touched the matchcord into the blackpowder.

BOOM!

And then, a second later, BOOM!, as Sepp’s gun loosed.

The two guns recoiled back. Flame belched and smoke billowed, hanging in the damp air until a sudden breath of wind shifted it in a rolling cloud across the water.

“Oh, I say, Lukas, that was very fine shooting.” Mrs Starkleiter’s voice was distant and tinny, and his eyes were watering so much that the cabin boy could barely see her. He nodded up towards the deck and prepared to reload.

“Swab out!” he shouted.


—oOo—


Everyone in the little boat was unnerved by the sounds of battle that filled the air. They were eerie, sometimes distorted and distant, and sometimes horrifyingly clear. Langer’s lights, the two great fountains of orange fire, still blazed away, but their intensity seemed to have dwindled a little.

Anton sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Why are we still waiting here?” he asked.

Fuchs’ orders had been strict. No enemy was to be engaged unless it was directly attacking. At that point surprise would have been lost anyway. The other boats seemed to be holding their nerve.

“They’ll send for us when they need us, rest assured.” replied the Captain.

“But what if they can’t send for us?” chimed in Max.

“Look, would you rather be here with us or out there with them, fighting?” asked Jürgen in a matter-of-fact tone.

They all sat in silence for a few minutes, peering over the screen of reeds to be sure that they hadn’t been spotted. Great banks of fog and smoke drifted lazily by, some stinking of sulphurous blackpowder.

There was a deep boom, and then another, close enough to send ripples through the water. It was cannon-fire.

Captain Fuchs shot to his feet and the jollyboat bobbed violently. “That’s the Bösewicht! I recognise the guns!”

Anton and Max shushed him and struggled to get him back down onto his bench. He sat in the prow, glowering and fuming quietly.

Another rolling boom echoed across the water.

Fuchs shot to his feet again, rocking the little boat alarmingly. “Damn it, she was supposed to be moored in the channel. I’ll be having words with young Mr Scharf, I can tell you.”

Max wrapped his arms around the Captain and wrestled him down, clamping his great paw over his commander’s mouth. “Begging your pardon, Sir,” he hissed, and nodded towards the shore.

Fuchs twisted himself free and peered towards the reeds. A figure had emerged from among the hazy vegetation at the edge of the water, barely fifty yards away. It was in silhouette, but the great round ears, the blunt snout, and the snake-like tail left no doubt. It was a Skaven! The creature raised its head, as though it were scenting the air, and peered directly at the boats.

And then thwack! An arrow struck it between the shoulders, killing it instantly. The monster toppled into the water, the splash of its body masked by the crash of another shot.

A long moment passed and two more figures appeared, men this time. Each carried a bow and each moved with exquisite caution. One of them spent a few moments hunched over the body, and then they too melted away.

Anton looked at the Captain. “So there are still men out there.”

“Yes,” he replied. “It’s … comforting … to think that we’ve got some allies.”

“That’s only if they don’t shoot us as soon as they see us,” put in Jürgen. “Fire first and ask questions later, that’s what I’d be doing if I was them.”

That shut them up.


—oOo—


Captain Langer made his way back over to where the swordsmen had reassembled and inspected the ragged block of troops. Many bore wounds, but only three were missing. Considering the numbers they had faced it was a remarkable achievement. He turned and watched as the wagons came to a halt and the wounded volunteers were helped down to the ground.

“Brave bloody fools,” he mumbled.

The militia rolled the wains onto the causeway, manoeuvring them over the obstacles and bodies that lay on their path. About thirty yards along the first was tipped onto the left bank, with its trails lying across the narrow path, and likewise the second was toppled onto the right bank, where it lay with its open tailgate buried in the mud. The remaining wagon and the surgeon’s tumbrel were laboriously pulled onto their sides and positioned so as to block the centre.

As quickly as they were able the troops heaped on barrels and sacks and boxes and crates and all manner of debris, and, as Captain Langer had suggested, the bodies of dead Skaven were used too. Once they were done the men took their positions along the makeshift barricade. With painful slowness the casualties had helped one another into position, for the most part on the ground below the cover offered by the vehicles. Finally Brother Franz took his place at their head.

And there they stood, checking and rechecking their blades and loading their pistols, ready to meet the assault. A few courageous archers even pushed ahead to give warning of the enemy’s approach. It was not as dark now, but with the rising mist it was, if anything, even more difficult to see.

Treffen Tölpell was with them, his sword in his hand and his dagger at the ready, peering into the murk for the first sign of trouble. He glanced at the men around him and stared in astonishment. A few yards away, lying among some spilled sacks, was his brother Kelby.

“I’ll be right back,” he hissed to the Corporal and loped over to the lad, recoiling at his pallid appearance and his bandaged stump.

“What in the name of the Gods happened?” he hissed. “Your leg!”

With effort Kelby looked around. “I had an engagement with the surgeon,” he croaked huskily. “Mrs Libehilfe gave me one of her brews. Tasted bad, but its not hurting too much now.”

“Be careful, brother,” said Treffen. “I’ll be watching out for you.” Kelby nodded weakly as his sibling stepped back to his place

The wait seemed interminable, though in truth it was little more than a few minutes.

And then, from ahead, calls rang out. A few of the archers began loosing shots into the mist, and the thuds of shafts striking their targets were clearly audible. Within moments the lookouts came running back, scrambling over the defences.

“There’s a whole lot of ‘em,” they reported breathlessly. “Way more than before. Big brutes, too, with black fur, and well armed.”

The mass appeared as silhouettes amongst the gloom. A barrage of shot and arrows began with such intensity that great swathes were cut through the Skaven ranks, but the gaps refilled with disheartening speed. The monsters surged forward in an awful wave, clattering their weapons against their shields and issuing blood-curling squeals.

They collided with the little line, the carcasses of their dead carried onward by the press of those behind, but somehow the men held them back. It degenerated into a hideous and utterly brutal hand to hand fight, a bewildering cacophony of shouts and shrieks and metallic thuds and clangs, blurred movement and limb-aching chops and jars, punctuated by the sharp reports of firearms.

Treffen chopped and cut at anything that moved. He sliced at a dark form and a furred limb was gone, he lunged and punctured a belly, releasing a sickly stink of spilled innards and blood. He ducked a blow and punched with his guard, to be rewarded with a spray of sharp teeth and blood and a shriek of anguish. A metal edge nicked his arm, tearing his shirt and releasing a crimson flow. He swung wildly and connected with something solid, then staggered back.

Sweating and trembling, he drew a gasp of breath through a throat that was as parched as a desert. Above him Brother Franz was standing atop the barricade, quoting scripture and exhorting the men to greater deeds in his stentorian voice, all the while laying about him with his hammer.

A furred monstrosity appeared from above and was blasted backwards by a shot, impaling itself on its companion’s blades. Another appeared in its place and he sliced into its leg, plunging his dagger into the writhing form as it fell. Two more leaped up. One was struck by a crunching impact from the Priest’s weapon and tumbled lifeless to the mud while the other leaped down, crouched and ready to fight. Treffen hacked at it with a mighty blow, his heavy blade striking the beast in the neck and slicing it half through.

With effort he dragged the weapon clear and the reeking body crumpled to the ground in front of him, quivering and gushing out frothy gore. He looked to his left and time seemed to slow to a crawl.

A few yards away a gap had appeared among the human defenders. A great black-furred rat-creature clad in a coat of rotting leather bounded up onto the top of the barricade and peered around, a long knife clenched in its clawed paw. It caught sight of Kelby lying on the ground, tucked below one of the upended wagons and desperately trying to reload his pistol.

“Above you!” Treffen yelled, but his words were lost in the cacophony of noise.

At the last moment the boy caught sight of the monster poised over him. He put up his arms as it leaped but the weight was too much and the jagged blade ripped across his stomach, tearing a vast gash. The creature dragged the weapon back, pulling with it a bloody loop of gut, and just as it began another downward stroke a shot blasted off most of the front of its head. It collapsed across the eviscerated lad, who twitched and jerked horribly.

No!” shrieked Treffen at the top of his lungs, and shambled across.

Kelby was fading, his flesh an awful grey and his breathing shallow and irregular. Treffen knelt beside him and took a hold of his hand, tears welling in his eyes.

“Farewell, brother. You will surely feast with Sigmar this night.”

A shadow loomed behind him and he span, lunging wildly upwards with his sword and deeply puncturing the furred belly of another rat-monster that had just scaled the upturned cart. It issued a shrill cry and toppled forward, taking the weapon with it and spinning and unbalancing Treffen.

Yet another Skaven appeared at the top of the defences, this one armed with a long wooden pole upon which was mounted a long and notched head made of rusted metal. It spied its target and thrust down with all of its power, striking the young man below the shoulder and running him clean through.

“Nnnngh…” The strangled cry was involuntary.

Treffen shot to his feet in shock and pain, ripping the haft from the creature’s paws and snapping the wood as he toppled backwards. He collapsed among the debris of the cart’s contents and writhed in the filth and mud as he fought to draw breath. He came to his senses and stared, wide-eyed and disbelieving, at the jagged metal point protruding from the centre of his chest and the crimson stain spreading over his shirt.

He experienced a lingering, hollow nausea and, for a few moments at least, a curious sensation of detachment. Then a spasm wracked his body, a gripping embrace of aching chill punctuated with waves of fiery, intense pain. All of his strength seemed to drain away and when he drew breath, if his tiny, suffocating gasps could be called that, he felt a bubbling sensation deep within his lungs.

“Oh Gods,” he coughed, “they’ve done for me.”

The fight was growing more intense around and above him, but it seemed very distant, like something happening in a dream. The shrieks and cries could have been a thousand yards off.

The mass of rat-men were beginning to overwhelm the defenders, and all he could do was watch the men as they dashed off along the causeway and disappeared into the haze, desperately trying to get behind the laughably small line of swordsmen. Then, finally, the last little knot of his comrades, clustered around the Priest, embarked on their withdrawal. They sold themselves very dear indeed as they fought their way back.

Those too hurt or too slow to flee quickly perished at their pursuers’ bestial hands, though they missed Treffen, lying as he was below the wagon. He breathed a prayer of thanks to Sigmar for the cover and painfully looked around. Among the boxes and sacks were a number of wooden kegs. One had split, and leaking from it were trickles of blackpowder.

This was the powder cart! In their haste they’d wheeled the thing down when they’d built the barricade.

He leaned forward and struggled to catch hold of Kelby’s pistol. The pain was intense and he grimaced as he forced himself to move. He slipped his crusted finger through the trigger guard and slumped back, dragging the weapon to his side and gasping from the exertion.

He struggled to pick up the firearm. With a trembling hand he managed it and rested it across his lap. It was a good gun, too, with a wheel-lock mechanism, in all likelihood something that his brother had rescued from a body. With painful slowness he cocked it and held the lock close to the spilled powder.

Kelby let go a faint, pathetic wheeze.

“It looks as though we go together, brother.”

Hordes of the creatures were pouring over the barricade now, their clawed feet making a tremendous noise on the wood. Treffen began to laugh, a bubbling, choked chuckle that racked his body. He squeezed the trigger.

Thud-KA-BOOM! and a fraction of a second later a deeper, baser BOOM! that shook the ground.

The air was filled with fire and shrapnel and splinters. The explosions shredded through the tightly packed ranks of rat-men, searing fur and skin and mincing bodies and flinging the charnel fragments high into the air. The swordsmen formed at the end of the causeway recoiled in shock as the blast knocked the wind from them and left their ears ringing.

The Skaven pursuit stalled.

Captain Langer saw the moment. “Forward you dogs! Tear at them, smite them!” he shrieked, the spittle spraying from his lips.

A savage fury had gripped him, his eyes shone with blood lust, and his features were locked into a fixed grimace. He launched forward into the mass of bewildered creatures, setting his armoured shoulder to the fore and smashing about with his sword. The blade flew in a blur of chopping and slicing, and behind him he left a bloody and body-strewn wake.

His fury seemed to seize the rest of the swordsmen and even infected a few of the bloodied militia. As a body they set off after their commander and slammed into small knots of the milling enemy. A few of the furred horrors fought back, but the press of the men and the rain of blows that fell on them ended their resistance in short order.

And quite suddenly there were no more ranks stepping forward to replace the casualties. Those Skaven further behind who had survived the explosion appeared to have been seized by a wave of panic, and now they were turning and fighting against one another in an effort to get back along the causeway. Within moments there were rat-men scurrying everywhere.

The first few made it through the smoking craters and the wreckage and the pieces of corpses, but soon the press of panicking, penned, fighting bodies caused calamity and disaster. Many were crushed underfoot, the blades of their own companions did for some, and still others took their chances in the unforgiving mud. But most died as their triumphant foes relentlessly cut them down. The rout rapidly became a slaughter.

Captain Langer dared not risk losing control of his men. “Reform, on me!” he shouted hoarsely. “Reform!” He held his crimson-stained sword high in the dawn-lightening air to mark the spot. Reluctantly the gore-spattered troopers withdrew, their place taken by the rallied but exhausted militia, who with a final frenzy set about dispatching any rat-thing that was still moving.

Archers pushed forward into the grey haze, and after a few minutes the first of them returned. They reported only dead and wounded. The eastern way, at least, appeared to be theirs. But still the roars and shrieks of combat rang in the air, though distant and warped by the mists.

Still panting from his exertions, Captain Langer surveyed the men as they assembled in front of him. A few more faces were missing. “Here, it seems we are done, and by the grace of Sigmar it is in our favour,” he croaked. “But over yon our comrades need us more than ever.”

He turned and began to trudge towards the sounds of battle. The swordsmen wearily formed into march order and set off after him.


—oOo—


At last the ground was firm below Odo’s wagon, the horses’ hooves finding purchase on the moss and scrubby grass. They gained real speed over the rough ground, and within a few minutes the clattering, creaking carts had made it onto the rutted surface of the Nordküstestraße, where they were brought to a halt.

All of the horses seemed agitated, stamping and turning and whinnying, far more so than might result from their exertions in the marshes. Even steady old Ebba snorted and shied.

Menno clambered down from his seat and went round to his pair, patting the creatures on their sweat-damp haunches and mumbling to them in an effort to calm them. “So what’s got into you then?”

There were strange sounds, distant, high-pitched shrieks. They echoed through the gloom and agitated the horses even more. A series of pops and bangs followed, then the noises seemed to fade away.

Sigmar, what was that?”

Odo stood up on his wooden seat and squinted into the gloom. “I dunno. Guns?”

He stood for a few minutes longer, resting the horses. If anything, they seemed to be getting twitchier. Then he heard something else. It was like rustling, or perhaps a sniggering laugh. It was different, too, and closer.

“What’s that?” he hissed. Menno shrugged.

There was something on the road to the north. The grey haze seemed to shimmer and move. Odo peered harder.

Just for a moment the mists parted.

There were creatures, curiously reminiscent of a dead hare he had found as a child, loping forward a huge, disorganised mob. Those he could make out were thin and sickly-looking, with a cowed, scared air to them. Many lacked teeth or eyes or even whole tails. Their mangy hides bore welts and sores, they were clad in filthy shreds of cloth, and were armed, at best, with little more than the crudest of clubs.

The whole shambling mass were herded and bullied by larger, furrier examples of their kind. These tormentors wore cowls of dark cloth, and thrashed at their charges with sinuous whips and goaded them with long knives.

Ashen-faced, Odo looked across to Menno. “Gods,” he said, “it’s ratmen! Thousands of ‘em!”

“Get out of here!” yelled his companion, a tone of panic in his voice. The old man hurried back to his cart and struggled to pull himself up into his seat.

Odo needed no further prompting and dropped back into his seat. “Ha! Move!” he shrieked, and cracked the reins with all of his strength. Senta reared up and Edda pulled to one side, but he hauled on the reins and shouted them on until both came into line and began forward. He risked a glance back, but there was nothing to see except the enveloping grey.

Equine shrieks and a stomach-knotting crash echoed from behind. They spooked the roughriders’ horses and in a panic the beasts all dashed to the left, trying to get away from the noise. They were faster than the wagon, but they bunched together, tied as they were to the back door.

The wagon, already travelling at a fair clip, slewed sideways.

Odo fought to retain control but Senta lost her legs in the mud and crashed over, pulling Ebba with her. The other horses, trapped by their reins, flailed and kicked and dragged the wagon over. Time slowed to an impossible crawl as Odo found himself in the air, and then he landed, knocking all of the wind from him. Everything went black.

He came around, his left side aching intensely. Above him was the sky.

Noise. A horrible shrieking. What was that?

He staggered to his feet and swallowed hard as his head span and his vision blurred.

In a daze he looked to the shattered wagon. His poor horses writhed broken-legged and screaming appallingly among the wreckage of trails and tack. He closed his eyes for a second and breathed a prayer to Sigmar, then looked back along the road. There were shapes in the mist, skittering and fast, and they were moving towards him.

One of the roughriders’ horses, a snorting and wild-eyed roan, had broken loose and was trotting nearby. He made towards it with his arms outstretched, catching hold of the leather rein as the beast tried to start away. He clutched onto the strap with all of his might, gasping the creature jerked him sideways and grimacing as he crashed against the muscular neck and shoulder.

And then everything was a clamour of scabrous fur and thrashing legs and a din of shrieks and squeaks and screams. The Skaven had caught up.

He kicked out, and felt a degree of satisfaction as his heel hit a furred snout with considerable force. The horse plunged and kicked, and then a surge of white-hot pain seared through his leg. He had been stabbed.

And then they were clear.

Somehow he hung on as the horse galloped, partially running in great bounds but mostly dragging and bumping along.

“Whoa, there,” he shouted, struggling to pull the creatures head around and slow its progress. “Stop now, there’s a good horse.”

Odo painfully coaxed it to a halt and stood panting while the horse stamped nervously. He glanced down at his leg, scowled at the dark stain, and then dragged himself up into the saddle, pushing his feet down into the stirrups. The pain in his shoulder made his head swim, he was finding it hard to breathe, and his leg was numb.

He slumped over his mount’s neck, winding his fingers into the coarse mane. “One last run, girl,” he whispered, “and then we’re there.” He jabbed the creature in the ribs with his heels and it began to trot, then broke into a canter. Every step sent jolts of pain through his chest.

It was all he could do to keep himself astride the beast, but eventually they passed the watchtower on the northern edge of Schlammigerdorf, followed the road towards the centre, and clattered into the square. A few militiamen broke from the cover of the buildings and ran over. One took hold of the skittish animal’s reins while the other eased the injured man from the saddle. He slumped to the cobbles, his breath misting in the chill.

Mr Starkleiter emerged from the doorway of the town hall and trotted over to the little group. “Who is it?” he asked.

“It’s Odo Viel,” replied a militiaman. “He’s one of the carters who took Doctor Ungerade and the others off earlier.”

The mayor’s eyes widened. “Gods, did they make it?”

Odo nodded weakly and began to cough. “They got us on the way back,” he wheezed. “A big lot of them, on the road.”

“Who did?”

Them…” he whispered, pointing back along the road. “The rat-creatures.”


—oOo—


The far end of the immense hall terminated in a sheer wall, against which there was a great mound of rubble. The balcony itself disappeared into a tunnel dug through the spoil slope, its entrance supported and shored by props and planks. Short of scrambling over the edge and sliding down there seemed to be no other way through. With some trepidation they made their way inside.

The excavation was haphazard, to say the least; dirt had been scraped aside, and it looked as though a hole had been driven through the stones of the wall with hammers and chisels. Beyond that the tunnel continued down through the silt, again propped to prevent collapse, before emerging into a large unsupported hollow. Ahead of them was a fissure that ran through a face of dark stone, while the tunnel doubled back on itself, leading down towards the floor of the Hall of Pillars.

One by one they clambered up into the fracture, struggling forwards until the space around them began to broaden and the floor became flat and gravelly. As they emerged the smell hit them.

It was appalling, an intense, gag-inducing stench of mould and faeces, mixed with the heavy reek of burning fat and the odour of woodsmoke. Torches burned and lights twinkled everywhere, casting deep palls of shadow. The raiders, with their sleeves over their faces, gazed around in astonishment.

It was a chamber, rectangular in shape though noticeably angled, and by rough judgement more than fifty yards long. The lower half was hollowed from the black rock, while the upper part was made from a smooth pale stone. The darkened ceiling was a half-collapsed mass of lintels, somehow remaining suspended above the rubble-choked floor.

But it was not the reek or even the dimensions that astounded them. The whole of the place was filled with constructions. There were strange anarchic shanties, lean-tos abutting lashed-together hovels, and tiers of huts and shacks packed together atop frail-looking stilts. The whole jumbled clutter was festooned with treadmills and ropes and scaffolding, linked by suspended walkways and rickety gantries, and strung with rubbish and scraps and rags of all kinds.

Ensign Kültz surveyed the bizarre landscape. “Gods, it must be their nest!”

“So where do we go now?” asked Doctor Ungerade, peering around.

The Ensign pondered for a moment. “It appears that before this place became the residence of the rat-men, it served as some kind of a dock. I believe that we should make our way up to the level of the quayside, as it were.” He pointed up towards the layer of white stone. “It is likely that there are further pathways there. I cannot imagine that these Skaven would not have a way through.”

“It’s a little chancy, though, wouldn’t you say?”

“Doctor, it is the best I can offer. I don’t know any other way. Please, if you have any better suggestions, feel free to make them.”

He waited for a few moments and then called over Corporal Galland, ordering him to select a group to act as a vanguard. The chosen men divested themselves of all but the most basic of their equipment, and their loads of blackpowder were distributed between the other raiders. Then, with all haste, they set off to secure the route ahead.

The raiders struggled through the loose and foul-smelling rubble that lay around their position and at last began to climb, making their way in fits and starts onto the scrapes and hollows and levelled dirt that formed the lower parts of the nest. The leading men scaled an ordure-stained ladder and signalled to the others to be still.

Whatever had disturbed them evidently offered no threat and they advanced into a lowly shack made from wormed and splitting planks. It was evidently used as a store, if the sacks of mildewed grain and the joints of putrid, rancid meat were anything to go by. Another ladder led up from within the building, terminating on a broad but rickety platform that wobbled alarmingly. From this, suspended boardwalks disappeared off towards dark structures.

Ensign Kültz joined the advance party and discussed their route. When it had been decided they clambered across the swaying gantry and jumped down onto a floor of planking built atop poles that had been driven into the ground. At either side, impaled on iron spikes, were decaying human heads.

One by one the soldiers dropped onto the flimsy path, each making the sign of the hammer over their chests as they passed the rotting skulls. “Sigmar protect us!” whispered one.

The scouts forged ahead again, scaling another ladder lashed together with rawhide and entering a stinking room piled high with straw. The smell of damp and urine was overpowering.

There was a scraping sound and a scrawny, mangy-furred figure, dragging a bundle of rushes behind it, emerged from within the recesses of the structure. It became aware of movement as the men darted into whatever cover they could find, and without a moment’s hesitation it galloped out of the far side of the hovel and off along another boardwalk. The scouts charged after it, but it was getting away from them.

“Kill it!” hissed Corporal Galland as it appeared and vanished among the forest of stilts.

One of the hunters went down on one knee, drew his bow, and took a bead on a spot a little ahead of the beast. At just the right moment he let fly.

Thwack! The fleeing form tumbled and fell, rolling off of the walkway and plunging into the darkness. There was a crash as the body landed.

They waited, their weapons gripped in damp-palmed hands, expecting that at any moment a swarm of the monsters would arrive to find out what had happened. A long moment passed.

The rest of the raiders, Ensign Kültz and Doctor Ungerade among them, began to arrive at their position. The Corporal explained what had happened.

“Why do you think that they didn’t come?” hissed the Ensign.

The Doctor thought for a moment. “I can only imagine that squabbles are common among the denizens of such a place,” he suggested. “It may not be out of place to hear the sounds of fighting.”

Everybody exchanged glances and they set off again.

They climbed another ladder, forcing their aching limbs to lift them, and stalked through a linked series of filthy chambers. They crossed another sagging rope bridge and entered another dingy store-room, this one containing a variety of rusted and bent blades, recognisable as being of human manufacture. Some were made in the Tilean style, a few were characteristic of Estalia or Bretonnia, but the vast majority had originated in the Empire.

In one corner of the store was another ladder, which lead up into a dark space. The soldiers were filing up it one by one and disappearing through.

“Up you go, Sir,” said one of the militiamen. “Wait until the man in front has moved off a bit, then follow him.”

Doctor Ungerade clambered up and emerged into a tiny shed, apparently randomly nailed onto the structure below and braced against the rocky ceiling with heavy, crudely worked logs. A doorway led out onto a veranda that seemed to be little more than sticks. He eased himself out and tried not to look down.

From here a pair of poles lashed together with twine served as a span, descending onto another wooden platform where a splintered mast, complete with its top and shrouds, leaned up against the wall. The soldier ahead of him strolled across the dubious-looking span as though he hadn’t a care in the world.

He risked a glance across to the quayside. The leading scout was advancing slowly along the cobbled surface towards the door, easing himself towards the stony frame. His stomach knotted as he spied a flicker of movement from ahead of the fellow. There was a burst of activity, then an awful, breathless moment as the man fell back. He was lost from view as his comrades surged past him.

And then thwack! as an arrow slammed into a target. There was another flurry of motion and a frantic scrabbling noise, as of blunt claws on stone, then a shrill squeal cut painfully short. Moments later came another thwack as a second arrow found its mark.

He had crossed the bridge before he was aware he had done so and quickly scaled the broken spar, clambering up onto the masonry blocks. He squatted, panting, beside Ensign Kültz. “I saw what happened,” he said. “How is the man?”

“One of the Müller brothers has taken a look at him. The spear went right through the belly and out the other side. Reckons his spine is cut through, and he’s bleeding bad, too. He won’t see out the hour, in truth.”

“What are we going to do?”

Ensign Kültz stared off into the distance. “We can’t stop, and we can’t take him with us,” he said. “And they won’t leave him behind.” He paused. “He has a friend who will do it.”

The Doctor was silent as his mind worked through exactly what the officer meant. “You can’t seriously mean…”

“It’s what he wants.”

Doctor Ungerade got to his feet and hurried along the quayside, glancing at the wounded man and his crouching attendant as he passed. He stepped through the door into a large antechamber, again tilted at an odd angle and so tumbledown that the Skaven had shored up most of the roof and one of the walls with lengths of dark timber. On the far side was another archway.

He felt a wave of nausea wash over him as the true nature of his situation became apparent. There was no escaping it; he was probably going to die. His imagination began to fill in the gaps – the spilling of his blood, the ruin of his mortal flesh, the tearing and the stabbing and all of the pain and agony that came with it. He tried to think of anything but gory death, but his mind refused to let it go.

He shuddered. “Gods,” he whispered to himself, and sank to his haunches.

Time passed. It couldn’t have been many minutes, but it seemed to stretch on forever. Then the trooper reappeared, looking pale and with blood all over his hands. “It is done,” he said sombrely, and picked up his bags. He rejoined his comrades and the soldiers quietly began to move away. The dead man’s load has already been shared around.

The Doctor caught sight of a splash of crimson on the ground. It had dripped from the man’s fingers as he had passed. He could feel his heart racing.

Corporal Galland peered at him. “You alright?”

The Doctor furrowed his brow and then, with supreme effort, he stood up. “Yes, thankyou,” he mumbled. Suddenly his attention was drawn to something else. “Can you hear that?” he hissed.

The Corporal nodded. There were muffled sounds, deep and difficult to distinguish.

They stalked forward, and after checking for sentries they entered a second chamber, again heavily shored with props and timbers, and again with an arched doorway on the far side. The noises, if anything, were louder; there were reverberating bass thuds and booms so intense that they could be felt vibrating through the floor.

Ensign Kültz had joined them. Together they edged across to the opening and peered into the gloom.

It took a few minutes for their eyes to adjust to the dim light, a flickering orange occasionally punctuated with great flashes of intense white.

The din was astonishing. There were solid crunches like boulders slamming into one another, the pained squeal of sliding but unlubricated wood, the roar of gushing water, and a relentless and utterly non-rhythmical metallic beating. The cacophony filled the empty space, the sounds booming and echoing as they faded.

“Where in the name of Morr are we?”

Then it dawned on them. They had entered the dome. It was enormous beyond their imaginings, cavernous and magnificent, its far edge lost in the darkness.


—oOo—


Mr Abdecker raised his head from the muck and peered through the scrubby sedge-grass. There was a great commotion from ahead of him and in the dim light he could make out many silhouettes. He slithered forward a little to get a better view.

A large body of troops was moving past, perhaps some hundreds in number. These were different to the other creatures he had seen; they were big muscular brutes, very dark in colour, and clad in armour. They marched with grim determination below a triangular banner, marked with what looked like huge red claw marks and festooned with gory fragments of bodies. Their route would lead them down across the islands to the meagre human defence on the Kreuzweginsel.

Mr Abdecker continued to crawl northwards, making his way through the sodden banks of reeds that formed the eastern shore. Something caught his eye.

Off to his left was a palanquin, supported on two long poles with four slaves bearing the load at each quarter. Within it was a warlord or chieftain, a huge bloated rat-man wearing loose brown robes worked with strange designs. Runners scurried back and forth, carrying messages that were communicated in frantic, guttural squeaks. All around was a bodyguard of muscular black Skaven, clad in fantastical verdigris-green armour and hefting long spears tipped with jagged, sword-like blades.

It was as though the presence of their leader attracted plagues of rats. However, these were huge verminous rodents, dark furred and blunt-nosed, quite unlike the ones that rat-catchers or farm dogs caught. There were so many that they made the surface of the mud a roiling, living carpet, and scurried among the guards’ legs and all over the chair.

As he watched the chieftain snatched up one of the writhing, squealing little beasts and shovelled it into his mouth, chomping away and swallowing hard. Mr Abdecker shuddered and looked away.

There was something else, larger forms that were further away, hidden in the gloom. He squinted and peered, and for a moment the mists cleared.

He saw two … things, creatures more nightmare than reality. They were humanoid, each easily twice the height of a man, and they were muscular beyond belief. Each had a tail, easily as thick as a man’s leg, which lashed back and forth. Both were covered, for the most part, by a layer of short fur; however, both sported areas where the skin didn’t seem to have formed properly and bare muscle was exposed.

One had a head that seemed almost skeletal, covered all over with a network of blood vessels below a completely transparent skin. Its mouth was full of huge pointed teeth, more suited to a big cat than a creature that seemed to have originated from a rodent, and within the sockets were glowing red eyes. The other monstrosity sported no less than three limbs, an additional one sprouting from the right shoulder. Huge claws, easily twelve inches in length, jutted from the tips of its stubby fingers.

Around their necks were huge collars, from which were suspended long chains. Hanging on to these were gangs of hooded handlers, guiding their charges onward while others walked behind, huge goads clasped in their paws. A scrawny Skaven, carrying a staff and decked in a ragged red robe, appeared to be giving the orders. The beasts reared and snapped angrily at their tormentors.

Rat-ogres! Gods, but they looked bad. He’d never actually seen one before.

Mr Abdecker drew his pistols and unwrapped the cloth covers. Despite their frequent dunkings along his journey the weapons had remained dry. He spent a few moments preparing himself and mumbling a prayer to Sigmar. He lay there and watched the comings and goings, but there was no chance at all to get close. There are just too many of the guards.

Time passed and Mr Abdecker lay and watched.

Amid a flurry of activity the palanquin and its escort began to move to the south. The bearers struggled to lift it from the ground, then settled it onto their shoulders and set off. Mr Abdecker stayed close to them, moving on a parallel track close to the shore. After what seemed like an eternity they reached the crossing down to the next island.

The ogre-monsters were already there, their handlers struggling to get their charges into the water. There was a distant boom and a strange whistling, then something long and sinuous and whirling with deceptive speed scythed into the creatures.

Chain-shot.

It shredded across the skull-headed beast’s abdomen, spraying innards and gore over a wide area, then bounded and leaped over the tussocks, knocking the guards around the palanquin aside.

The ponderous monster, mortally wounded and pouring blood from the shattered mess that had been its guts, took a final tottering step and pitched forwards, landing in a great splash in the muddy water. The second of the giant rat-ogres went insane, wildly clawing and trampling blindly about, the frantic handlers swinging from the chains as they fought to regain control.

It blundered into the bodyguards, knocking them aside as it fought to escape.

The guards were in commotion, skittering about and confused. Mr Abdecker saw his moment and readied the guns, cocking them with his thumbs.

He stood up, ran forward at a crouch, and took aim. “Sigmar see that these my bullets fly straight and true.”

Blam-blam!

One shot punched a hole through the woodwork to the left of the creatures’ head, and the other impacted with its shoulder. There was a flash of bright blue and the bullet stopped, flattened and spent, then dropped to the ground.

There was a soft click-click as the chambers rotated, and then blam-blam!

The round blew a gaping hole in the side of the monsters neck, kicking out a spray of filth and gore. The second drove a hole through the wooden frame of the chair.

Click-click, and then blam-blam!

Both shots slammed into the creatures distended belly, tearing ragged, bloody holes. The corpse toppled forwards and tumbled onto the ground, its head so far back that it was almost resting on its own shoulder blades. Dark, frothy blood gushed from the thrashing and twitching form. At once the miserable creatures bearing the chair abandoned their burden, scuttling off into the darkness.

The bodyguards, torn between the raging rat-ogre and the death of their master, milled around aimlessly for a few moments. Then it was as though the illusion of the Grey Seer’s pelt melted away. As a body they turned to look at the intruder in their midst and then sprang to the attack, charging towards the crouching man.

“Oh crap,” mumbled Mr Abdecker. He turned and sprinted away as fast as he could.

The guards were in hot pursuit.

His heart pounding, he dashed away, slipping and sliding across the swampy ground that dominated the eastern edge of the island. He fumbled with the pistols and managed to stuff one back into his waistband.

In a sudden morbid outpouring he began the Liturgy of the Dead.

“In the sure and certain hope of our eternal place amongst the honoured dead who sit in the hall of our Lord and Protector Sigmar Heldenhammer…”

He risked a glimpse over his shoulder. There were forms, dark and malevolent, closing with him. He was never going to get out of this alive.

“… I commend to the protection of Our Lord our brother Julius Marius Abdecker; and we commit his empty body to the ground; …”

He leaped a tussock of grass and splashed into a broad pool, his feet sliding as he fought to find purchase in the slick mud.

“… earth to earth; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Sigmar watch him and keep him…”

He galloped forward, kicking up a great spray of water and gasping for breath, and scrambled among a stand of reeds. There was a loud splash, then another, as his pursuers entered the water.

“…and grant him rest and peace. Amen.”


—oOo—


“Swab out!” The order was automatic, for Lucas was utterly dazed from the noise and recoil of the cannon. They weren’t even that big.

The women were slowing, gradually becoming exhausted, but once more they went through the routine of worming and sponging the gun, charging it with powder, and running it out. Once they were done Lucas stepped forward and jabbed the reamer down the touch hole, then poured in a measure of priming powder from the horn. He stepped away and blew on the glowing end of the slowmatch.

“Fire!”

He touched the matchcord into the blackpowder.

BOOM!

The gun leaped backwards, the tackles and breeching absorbing the recoil.

“Swab out!”

The tools were readied; debris was wormed out with the iron corkscrew and the wet sheepskin hissed and spat as the swab touched the hot metal. The weapon was clean.

“Charge your piece!”

Another charge of blackpowder was put into the barrel and wadded with rags, then shot was put in and wadded, and the whole lot was rammed. The gun was run outboard

“Clear!”

BOOM! Behind them Sepp’s gun fired. They felt the vibration through their feet.

Lukas reamed the touch hole and filled it from the powder horn. He lengthened the match in the lint stock, blew on it to get it good and hot, and stood ready.

“Fire!”

He touched the glowing embers to the powder and they fountained into flame.

F-f-f-f-f-fusssh!

Nothing happened. A misfire!

Lucas waited for a few moments and then stepped forward. He jabbed the reamer down the touch hole again to clear it.

BOOM!

At that moment the gun fired. A spout of flame erupted from the touch hole, searing the leather glove he was wearing and blowing the reamer from his grasp and into the air. It lanced through his cheek, tearing a jagged gash through flesh already bruised and swollen from fisticuffs, and nicking the top of his ear as it went. The carriage, leaping in recoil, barely missed crushing his feet.

Lukas suddenly felt very nauseous and he almost lost consciousness, staggering forward slightly and slumping against the hot barrel. He forced his legs to continue working and fought to retain his balance. It was probably only his pride that kept him upright, his determination not to let down the ladies under his command.

“You’re bleeding!” It was one of his crew.

He touched his fingers to his cheek and recoiled in horror at the blackened, seared glove that still encased his hand, now coated in a slick sanguine film. Shaking, he pulled it off and dropped it. His hand tingled and looked rather pink, but was otherwise unmarked

“Only a scratch,” Lukas croaked, and tried to grin. It wasn’t very convincing.

One of the ladies, a huge woman with forearms as thick as his thighs, produced a huge white handkerchief from an apron pocket and offered it to the boy. He accepted it gratefully and dabbed gingerly at the wound before pressing it up to his face.

“Oh, for goodness sake!” said the woman. She snatched the cloth from Lukas’s hand and quickly cleaned around the wound. “Cheeks always bleed worse,” she offered, and tied the entire thing around his head.

“Swab out!” ordered the cabin boy, though with his jaw held firmly in place he found it difficult to talk.

With very commendable speed the gun was wormed and sponged, and the touch hole was cleared with the auger

“Charge your piece!”

A measured bag of blackpowder was carefully loaded into the barrel and pushed home, following by wadding and shot. The whole lot was meticulously rammed and the gun was run outboard again. Their duties done, the women stood away.

“Clear!”

Lukas found himself another reamer and cleared the touch hole, then filled the hollow from his powder horn. He took a hold of the lint stock and blew the glowing tip of the slowmatch to a white heat.

“Fire!”

BOOM!

The big gun shot backwards, a vast jet of flame lancing from the barrel and a huge and choking cloud of smoke filling the already thick air. The gun crew moved to take their places.

It may have been delayed shock from his injury, or perhaps the noise and the recoil, but Lukas’ world seemed to slow. People gained a curious blur around their edges and appeared to loom towards him. Voices were distant and deep and hollow.

“Stop … firing! … Stop … firing!” It took him a few moments to realise that it was Mrs Starkleiter. She was pointing to the shore and yelling down at the gunners.

“Cease … fire,” he heard himself say. “Swab … out…”

Everything seemed to catch up with Lukas in an instant. His nausea grew and with it came a prickly, sweaty heat, and he became intensely aware of the sound of his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. His vision channelled into a tunnel and then he passed out.



He opened his eyes. He was lying on the deck, surrounded by faces, blackened with soot and framed by long hair. They were the ladies who had so valiantly crewed his gun. One of them was dressing his scorched hand with some rag and another was wrapping a long strip of bandage right around his head. It was Hedda, the barmaid. She smiled down at him.

Old Sepp stood above them and watched, a frown across his lined and leathery face.

“Did we win?” mumbled the lad.

“Boy, the battle ain’t over yet.”


—oOo—

Offline Midaski

  • Sunny Sussex, England
  • Administrator
  • Posts: 11438
Die Schlammländer Part VIII - also new Nov 14th
« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2005, 10:28:26 PM »
and I was going to bed an hour ago for an early night ...............

...but the delay was worth it  :wink:

Of course the addiction has now been refuelled ...more .....more ......
I want more.............

 :clap:  :clap:
Quote from: Gneisenau
Quote
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 queek

  • The Old Ones
  • Posts: 5618
Die Schlammländer Part VIII - also new Nov 14th
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2005, 03:34:28 PM »
capital stuff, as always.

Offline cisse

  • Posts: 3896
  • let the wookie win!
Die Schlammländer Part VIII - also new Nov 14th
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2005, 05:20:55 PM »
Marvellous, as always!

 :clap:  :clap:  :clap:
cisse

No matter how fast you run, your ass will always be in front of me...

Offline General Helstrom

  • The Old Ones
  • Posts: 5322
  • Chicks dig moustaches
Die Schlammländer Part VIII - also new Nov 14th
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2005, 08:23:04 PM »
Huzzah!

Schlammländer updates are like tax returns - it's a little party that pops up unexpectedly :)
I don't know what Caesar thought when he got to the Ides of March
Don't know what Houdini bought when he went to the store
But I sure do miss the eighties

Offline Alagoric

  • Posts: 83
Die Schlammländer Part VIII - also new Nov 14th
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2005, 10:48:04 PM »
Erm, one of the reasons that this took so long is that ALL the parts have been updated, so that (with the exception of the Prologue) they all contain new material and have been reworked. They're all also roughly the same size now, as well.

Anyone who spots any major errors in the plot let me know - I caught one just as I was posting, where Captain Langer was lurking around town about four or five scenes before the Nordland troops even arrived.

Offline SKEETERGOD

  • Posts: 1049
Die Schlammländer Part VIII - also new Nov 14th
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2005, 02:57:02 PM »
As always an excellent read!  Oh , you have me now, the unltimate cliff hanger, in the middle of a battle with three plot lines running suspended.  Man you know how to tease!

Great job!  I NEED  the rest soon, lest I expire from anticipation!
It takes but one foe to breed a war, and even those without swords can still die upon them.

Offline Seanache

  • Posts: 33
Die Schlammländer Part VIII - also new Nov 14th
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2005, 10:31:26 PM »
truly a wonderful piece of writing :happyjoy:
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
rode the six hundred