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Author Topic: Die Schlammländer Part VI  (Read 2439 times)

Offline Alagoric

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« on: June 17, 2005, 11:00:52 PM »
—oOo—


The hounds of the hunt were baying and yelping, their eerie howls and cries filling the grey air. They had caught the scent of vermin and were hauling at their leashes, near choking themselves in their enthusiasm to be upon their prey.

Mr Abdecker sat himself down on a tussock of coarse grass near the centre of the Kreuzweginsel and untied his laces. He eased off his startups and removed his hose, rolling each stocking into a tight little ball and pushing them down into the toes of his boots. He stood up and removed his hat, handing it and the footwear to Captain Langer.

“If you could take care of these for me I would very much appreciate it.”

“Of course,” replied the Captain. “A little cold for going barefoot, don’t you think?”

Mr Abdecker pulled his bulky snapsack from around his shoulders and extracted a varnished wooden case, revealing a pair of pistols that had been specially made for him by Messrs Faße and Stanger, quality Gunsmiths of Nuln.

Past encounters had taken him to damp and watery places, and he had experienced problems with weapons that refused to fire. These pistols were repeaters, the stock housing a sealed revolving barrel that carried three charges within it. Each chamber carried its own priming charge and was fired by a spring-powered snaphance mechanism that moved the next loaded chamber into place and reset the trigger.

“If I’m wading through mud in my shoes,” he answered, rummaging through the bag for the other items he needed, “I’d probably have one bare foot within a couple of minutes anyway. At least this way I can collect them again, clean and dry.”

He removed the weapons from the case and blessed them, along with the blackpowder and the lead balls that he had retrieved. He carefully loaded each of the chambers and stopped up the barrels with soft wax.

To further waterproof them he smeared goose grease, which he kept in a small pot, around all the joins and moving parts, and forced some up into the slot in the stock for the trigger. Finally he wrapped them tightly in oilcloth. Satisfied that the pistols were going to stay as dry as he could manage he tucked them into the waistband of his breeches.

When he was done he extracted a final item from the sack, a tightly rolled and stinking pelt, the exposed flesh a pallid pink and the fur a translucent grey, and all tied into place with its long and sinuous tail. The head still contained the crown of the skull.

“What’s that?” asked Captain Langer.

“The pelt of a Skaven spellcaster, of a rank which is known as a Seer. The beast that this came from I slew with my own hand, and it is saturated and chill from the winds of magic that the monster wove.”

He put the gun case, the shot, the grease tub and his powder horn back into the snapsack, then handed the bag to the Captain. “Would you mind looking after these too?”

“Of course, delighted. And what does it do, this pelt?”

“It is a means of turning the tables, as it were. They have moved among us, unseen, causing all kinds of havoc and mischief. Now my intention is to do the same.”

“How so?”

“I have performed blessings and enchantments over it, and now it is able to blind these Skaven to the truth of my appearance. And, also, the pelt seems to retain some of the authority of its previous tenant. It will give me the ability to move with some freedom amongst the Skaven, provided I strive to avoid close contact.”

He tucked the rolled skin inside his doublet, making sure that it was secure. “The authority that the pelt exudes,” he continued, “seems to encourage lower-ranking creatures to keep their distance. However, their sense of smell is better than is ours. If they get too close they are able to distinguish my odour and the illusion crumbles.”

Captain Langer walked with him to the edge of the water.

All along the northern shore of the Kreuzweginsel the archers were busy driving thick wooden stakes into the ground with long-handled mallets, and the air was filled with the sharp clacks of wood hitting wood. The timbers were set at a low angle, and when they were firmly in place axes were used to sharpen the ends to points.

The Captain juggled the shoes and hat and bag and shook hands with his friend. “Good luck, old fellow, and good hunting. I pray to Sigmar that we will be recounting our adventures to each other over a bottle, come this evening.”

Mr Abdecker grunted. “So do I, Jakob,” he said, “so do I.”

He released his grip and turned, pausing by the edge of the water to test the chill with his bare toe. He grimaced and waded in slowly, taking his time to cross.

The cold was bitter, at first making his feet sting and ache intolerably, then turning them into numb and leaden lumps that he could barely move. The flow of the water tugged and pulled at him and the wavelets slapped at his raw calves. Each footstep was an agony.

He was in mid-channel now, and the water was up to his knees. Just a few steps further, he told himself, and he’d be there. He squinted ahead but the Flache Insel was still invisible, hidden by the lightless mist. He glanced back but the dark and eerie miasma had also consumed the Kreuzweginsel.

His foot tangled an obstacle stuck in the muddy bottom and he struggled to free himself, fighting back a wave of panic as he lost his balance. He flailed his arms and steadied himself.

Careful, he thought to himself. He realised that he was gasping like a fish out of water and forced himself to take regular, even breaths.

Forward again, in slow and measured steps. The cold had seeped up through his thighs and into his groin. Ignore the pain, he thought, and push onwards.

His teeth were chattering.

At last the water shallowed. He staggered up onto the mud and dropped to all fours, crawling through the mire and onto a spongy bed of sphagnum moss. He dragged himself upright and forced himself to walk, following the boggy shore along its eastern edge until he found a muddy hollow. He peered around, scanning the gloom for any sign of movement, but he seemed to be alone.

He sat himself down and tried to massage some life back into his extremities. He winced and grimaced at the intense stinging and tingling, then tried stamping his feet to see if that helped. It didn’t.

Ignoring his discomfort he unrolled the pelt and settled the skull onto his head, tying it below his chin with leather thongs and letting the body of it hang down behind him. He used more thongs to secure the quadrants of the hide around his thighs and his wrists. When he was suitably adorned he offered up another prayer.

Noises! He crouched down low, his heart pounding, and looked around. The brume was as thick as ever and he saw nothing.

There were gruff shouts, those of men, and the squeaks and squeals of the Skaven foe. They were hollow and distant, hollow in the fog, and soon faded. After pausing for a few moments longer he staggered to his rebellious feet and set off again, moving as cautiously as he was able.


—oOo—


Mrs Starkleiter assumed command almost as soon as she stepped aboard the Bösewicht, quite usurping young Lukas.

She quickly spied Roderick Weber, a venerable and silver-haired mariner who had been at sea since his youth, amongst the faces gathered on the deck. She requested that he, Sepp, and the cabin boy joined her in conference. Resi Schultz, the chief amongst the boatwomen, and Gertrud Fall, one of the sturdy and matronly fishwives from the town, came along as well.

She bustled them into the wardroom and sat them down around the table. When they were all placed she declared her intention to sail the ship close to the spot where the battle was being fought.

“Captain Fuchs left me in command, and his orders were to stay here as a sanctuary,” Lucas announced, his quavering voice betraying his nerves. His eye was blackened and swollen half shut and he sported a dark bruise on his right cheek.

“Nonsense,” she snapped back. “We ought to avail our brave kinsmen of the fine weapons aboard this craft. And this vessel will make a good refuge for the injured, too.”

“How are we going to manage to do that?” asked Sepp.

“Sir, we shall sail there!”

“But we have no crew, madam.” Sepp pointed out what seemed to be the obvious.

Mrs Starkleiter smiled. “Look around you. We have Resi and Gertie here – they sail their own boats out to provision you often enough. And then there’s Baldhart, who oft crews alongside her sons since her poor Bruno passed away. Or Mrs Grunnerstein, or any of the others who can work the water just as well as menfolk. So don’t tell me that we haven’t got crew.”

The ladies murmured in agreement

“This is foolhardy” squeaked Lucas. As acting commander he felt he had to protest.

“Such big words for such a little man.”

Lucas bristled. “Madam, I…”

“Don’t Madam me! Mr Weber here will run the ship, and yourselves and the seamen will guide the others in their duties, if of course it is agreed.” The sailor and the ladies nodded in agreement. Sepp looked across to the lad.

Lucas stood up. “Madam, I…”

Mrs Starkleiter slammed her hand down on the table. “So it’s settled, then.”

Lucas opened his mouth to speak but Sepp took a hold on his arm and pulled him back into his chair. “We agree,” he said loudly, throwing a stern glance at his young companion.

“Splendid!” She got up and pothered off to the waist, her entourage firmly in tow. Mr Weber was the last to leave, rolling his eyes to the heavens and mumbling under his breath as he stomped away. Sepp and Lucas watched them go.

Lucas was beside himself. “What’s the Captain going to say? He’ll have me thrown overboard, that’s for certain. The only thing he’ll trust me with now is scrubbing the decks!”

Sepp scratched his white-stubbled chin. “Mark my words, boy, don’t ever get in the way of a woman like her. She’ll trample you to death and never even notice.” He smiled a gap-toothed grin at the lad. “As I see it we’d have to shoot her to stop her. This way we get some say over what happens.”

Lukas sighed. The pair got to their feet and made their way outside.

Most of the refugees had assembled on the waist. Mrs Starkleiter addressed them from the quarterdeck rail, informing them of the plan, while Mr Weber stood behind her nodding every now and again. She called for skilled volunteers and a number of individuals with sea experience, mostly bumboat-women and retired fishermen, stepped forward. Others, less able, offered to lend a hand in any duty they were thought capable of carrying out.

They waited for the ebb tide but the waters seemed to take forever to turn. The wind shifted slightly, gusting from the east, damp with mist and heavy with the promise of rain.

When the time finally came those picked as the sailing crew were sent aloft. They scaled the shrouds and edged along the fore and main topyards, carefully picking their footing high above the decks.

Mrs Starkleiter had assembled a group of the younger women, particularly those of a rather more robust frame. She led them onto the waist of the vessel and pointed out the capstan, and to the bars that fitted into it. They picked up the heavy beams and set about preparing.

She nodded across to Georg Roth and Heinrich Schröder, two ancients who were waiting by the forecastle door, and they made their way below. She fussed around the girls to make sure everything was ready, and after a few minutes the men’s voices carried up from the orlop, declaring that the anchor cable was secured.

Mrs Starkleiter suddenly had butterflies in her stomach. Was she doing the right thing? If it went wrong, and it easily could, she’d be placing everyone in the most acute danger. All of the people aboard the ship – she was suddenly aware of just how tiny and fragile it was – assumed that she knew exactly what she was doing and trusted her judgement. Yet here she was, setting off on a reckless adventure. And quite of her own volition too.

She swallowed hard. “Raise anchor,” she shouted, then turned back to the women. “Right, ladies. Put your backs into it. And … push!”

They took the strain and with a deep creaking the capstan began to rotate. The first half-turn took up the slack in the thick hawser, but as the cable grew taut it became harder to wind. The women leaned into the bars. Slowly, gradually, the anchor began to lift and drag along the seabed.

They felt the vessel move, her tethered bow fighting to turn to starboard.

“Come on! Push!”

The anchor dragged again. The women at the capstan had their shoulders set to the wood and were straining with all their might.

Push!”

Their steady action had its effect. The anchor lifted clear of the muddy bed and the Bösewicht began to swing into the current.

“Rudder to starboard!” bellowed Roderick from the quarterdeck rail. “Loose the topsheets!”

The people out on the yards undid the ties. First the main topsail fell, the ropes squealing through their blocks as they took the strain, and then the fore topsail came down. The figures picked their way back along the footropes and onto the top-shrouds, beginning their careful descent back onto the deck.

The Bösewicht was slipping sideways now, being carried with the current. Her bow was coming around fast.

“Man the braces! Helm to larboard!”

Teams of children and women, under the supervision of the aged sailors, hauled on ropes and secured them around belaying pins. The vessel trembled and the canvas flapped and billowed, swelling and straining in the gusting breeze.

The ship’s spin slowed and she began to edge forward through the water. The strip of damp marsh that formed the northern shore slipped past the bowsprit.

As the Bösewicht made the centre of the channel Roderick ordered the main topyard backed, and her movement slowed as the wind spilled from the sail. The current carried her down the river, broadside to the flow, at just a few knots, while the foresheet kept her edging forward. She was holding her position in the fairway.

Roderick moved from the starboard rail to the larboard side, every now and then peering at the shores to the north and the south. After a few minutes he ordered the fore topyard backed as well. The sail trembled and slackened, and almost imperceptibly the vessel’s stern began to drift to starboard. All forward momentum was lost, and the vagaries of tide began to draw her back to the south.

“Steady, lads, er, ladies. Bring ‘em round!” Calls went up and the braces were hauled, and the yards were trimmed so that their tips faced into the wind. The sailcloth luffed and flapped in the breeze. The Bösewicht, finely balanced, was carried only by the Schleimigbach’s lethargic flow.

Mrs Starkleiter watched the headland slipping past the bow. Interminable minutes passed.

“Bring round the fore!” As the yard was brought into place the sail filled and the brig began to draw ahead. The tide still had her, but as the minutes passed she began a slight but noticeable progress.

“Bring round the main!”

The second sail swelled and her motion increased. Roderick ordered the helm to larboard, keeping her off a little and allowing her to gain speed through the water. Her bow gradually slipped to the north-west, and he held her there until she was making sail.

“Helm to starboard! Bring her round.” There was a rush of activity as the ropes and sails were worked.

“Loose the spritsheet!”

The vessel was making a fair speed now, and Roderick saw to it that they were trimmed by the wind. Soon she was clear and standing into the broad estuary, still under topsails and on the starboard tack.


—oOo—


The wagons left the Nordküstestraße a few miles north of the town. Gunter Braun directed the drivers over perhaps half a mile of rough and scrubby ground, stopping them only when the terrain became so waterlogged that the horses were struggling to make headway. Once they had come to a halt the troops clambered down and began distributing the kit they had brought. The roughriders dismounted, harnessing their steeds to the back gates of the wagons so that they could be led on the return journey. Soon everyone was ready.

Ensign Kültz directed the wagons turned around, and soon they were heading back towards the road with orders that they were to return to Schlammigerdorf with all haste. A head-count was conducted, a marching order was established, and then the raiders set off.

The fogs and mists surrounded them and soon Ensign Kültz was utterly lost, but the hunters were as sure of their location as ever and set a punishing pace. They followed game trails and crossed mud flats, running when the ground was firm enough and hauling themselves through banks of vegetation, across sticky mudflats, and through waters both shallow and deep. They followed a narrow peninsula, forded a shallow flow, and pushed through a bank of reeds onto an island.

This was the place. The centre of the isle had collapsed, and from the dirt and spoil long beams jutted into the air. Small lanterns were lit, their tiny glow feeble in the darkness, and they were passed to nominated men.

“Dig there,” said Gunter, pointing to the blackened wood at the centre of the hollow.

Three of the roughriders divested themselves of unnecessary kit, selected shovels and picks and a length of stout rope, and slid down to the bottom of the slope, coming to a halt near the upright beams. A lantern was hung from one of the lengths of protruding wood. Their companions lined the edges of the collapse, weapons at the ready and keeping a keen lookout for any danger.

Corporal Galland took command and directed the digging.

The men began to excavate and very soon had created a sizeable hollow in the loose spoil. A dull thud rang out as one of the shovels hit wood. The discoverer cleared the soil away, revealing a thick and blackened plank, and took a step back to give himself more space.

There was a loud creak and a sharp snap.

The man flailed his arms, sending his shovel flying, and disappeared downward amid an avalanche of clods and soil. In just a few moments the slip had become just a trickle of pebbles and dust, falling around the edges of a hole.

His two companions dared not move. After a breathless moment one of them trod forward experimentally, peering down into the darkness.

“Hello?”

“I think, uh, I’m alright.” The voice was muffled. “A bit winded.”

“What can you see?” Ensign Kültz’s voice was distinctive with its soft southern accent.

“Uh, not very much… It’s an, er… a hole. A bit cramped, not much head room.”

They dug out the opening as fast as they could, then shored it up with planks they had carried and some of the timbers that projected up from the soil. When they were done they tied a stout rope around one of the jutting beams and lowered it down to the trooper, who climbed back out, grateful to be in the fresh air for a few minutes.

“Everyone, prepare yourselves.”

Equipment was checked and rechecked, straps and belts were tightened, weapons were readied, and one by one, with Ensign Kültz in the lead, they slid down into the opening.

The hole dropped into a large hollow made largely of damp but packed dirt, with an untidy mesh of planks and logs forming the ceiling. A tunnel dropped away towards the west. Doctor Ungerade, once he had slithered down the rope, made his way over to the edge of the little chamber and pulled out his knife. He used it to clear back the dirt and muck, and soon he hit a solid wall.

“I say, could you bring a light over?”

Ensign Kültz joined him, holding up the lantern. “What is it?”

“A wall, of stone, and…” he pulled away another clod and used a corner of his robe to wipe the surface clean. It was a brownish-cream hue, stained from millennia of submersion. “… Yes, look, carvings. It appears to be a floral motif.”

The Ensign sighed. “Doctor, please, time is very much against us.” He scrambled back over to the hole and then began to descend. As he eased himself along he noted that a section of the tunnel became broken white stone, then returned to the dank mud and sodden wooden shoring – he guessed that the Skaven had broken through a sunken wall at this point.

He continued his way forward and came to an opening onto a wider tunnel. Keeping himself low he peered around the junction, but there was nothing to see. No lights, and no sound except for a distant, steady dripping. He slid through, his sword in one hand and the lantern held high in the other. Soon the other soldiers were joining him.

He stuck the sword into the muddy ground and produced his little pocket compass, flicking open the lid and holding it up to the wan light of the lamp. The tunnel ran north south.

The good Doctor, once he joined the line of men crouched in the passageway, squirmed his way up to the officer and peered at the compass.

“The tunnel to the south, we ought to see how far it goes,” he hissed. “It might lead to the town.”

“No, we go northward. It is the direction most likely to lead to the nest.”

There were a few words of protest but Ensign Kültz would have none of it.

The huntsmen took the lead, and the party scrambled and slithered maybe sixty or seventy yards before coming to another ragged stony opening. The leading men, with great caution, clambered through, entering a space sloped at a steep angle. It was the corner of a room, emerging from a wall of mud. A section of the tilted mosaic floor was visible, along with rough walls made of a dark stone, still with fragments of painted plaster still adhering to them.

“Black basalt!” breathed Doctor Ungerade. “You see, it all fits!”

There were two further tunnels leading from the space, the larger trending north-easterly, and a smaller cut sloping downwards towards the north-west. A light was shone into the latter, revealing that it disappeared into black water.

“Well,” said Ensign Kültz, “our decision seems to have been made for us.”

They pressed on. The north-easterly tunnel was very wet, but it was passable. They followed it for quite a distance – Reinhard reckoned about one hundred yards – when again they came to a junction; the tunnel they were following continued on its course, but it was joined by a new cut rising from the south-west.

After a brief discussion they again carried onwards towards the north-east.

It opened onto another chamber, an intact fragment of a collapsed room, but with the walls and floor massively cracked and fractured. The floor sloped up at a steep angle and disappeared into the dried silt. To the far left side another tunnel gaped open. For the most part the shoring seemed to be driftwood.

And they pushed onward. Everyone was filthy, caked in mud and slime and soaked through.

They crawled along the excavation, following its twists and turns. Sometimes it was tall enough to walk upright, while in other sections the only way through was to crawl on all fours. The tunnel began to trend upwards, still running towards the north-east. The tunnel broadened and became lined with stony blocks and planks of water-sodden wood. Reinhard had lost all sense of distance, but the consensus was that they had gone more than three hundred yards.

There was a glow of light from ahead, soft and guttering.

“My sort of work, Sir,” hissed Corporal Galland, and began to divest himself of his pack and much of his kit. He armed himself, with a pistol in each hand and his sword at his waist.

Ensign Kültz nodded. Probably best not to ask, he thought to himself.

The slightly built soldier stalked forward, treading as lightly as he could.

He came to a wall of scarfed planks, black and rotten, with a splinter-edged hole as big as a man clean through them. He eased himself up to the wood and listened.

There were noises – scratching and occasional thumps – from the other side. Slowly he peered around.

Inside was a chamber, its walls for the most part of excavated sediment but in places the same dark planking as outside, and lit by a single flickering candle. The whole space was a wreckage of boxes and barrels and ropes and other less identifiable flotsam.

Two creatures were scraping among the jumble of debris. Skaven! The rat-men, the implacable foe! But they didn’t seem to be the fearful monsters that Corporal Galland had imagined. Instead they seemed neither rats nor men, but emaciated and mangy, like grotesque children.

“Thou shalt not suffer a demon to live…” he mumbled under his breath. He brought up his arm, took a careful bead, and squeezed the trigger.

Bang!

The shot struck the nearer of the creatures in the chest and bowled it over backwards. The other froze for a second, then made a dash to the left. Corporal Galland leaped through the hole and fired the second pistol in mid-flight.

Bang!

The ball ploughed into the creature’s hind leg, tumbling it as it scurried forward. The shots sounded like cannon reports.

The Corporal landed in a spray of sludge and rolled, throwing the pistols aside. He sprang to his feet, drew his sword, and rushed over to the struggling form. Without a moment’s pause he plunged the blade down through its neck. The steel tore flesh and split bone, releasing a foamy gush of dark blood. He twisted the weapon and the beast twitched violently, then lay still.

The others piled in behind him, weapons drawn and ready.

The Corporal withdrew his sword and wiped away the gore on the thing’s filthy rags, then recovered his pistols and began to wipe them clean. Everyone was waiting, with pounding hearts and baited breath, for … something …

But nothing happened.


—oOo—


A last few of the huntsmen broke from cover, rushing towards the water and firing off a final arrow or two as they did so. The Skaven skirmishers launched after them, loosing stones from their slingshots as they pursued. The men splashed through the swell and scrambled up the mud, crawling onto the sphagnum and staggering towards the reed screens that hid the stakes. Friendly hands were outstretched to aid them.

Behind them the first of the rat-men were coming ashore, confident that soon they would run down and slaughter their antagonists.

“Now!” shouted Brother Hans.

A great cloud of arrows was released, streaking towards their targets and fair riddling them.

“Apprentices, draw your blades and get forward,” yelled Sergeant Felsen. “ Make sure they’re all dead.”

The boys fell upon their foe, hacking and chopping like maniacs at anything that lay or writhed or slithered on the muddy bank. They tore at the bodies with crazed fury, and occasionally they were rewarded with a pathetic squeal as an injured creature met its grisly end. At last they retired back to the gun line, standing panting and gore-spattered and thrilled beside their nominated man.

One of the militia soldiers appeared from the gloom. He spied the Sergeant and made his way over to him.

“Captain Langer’s complements, Sir,” he said breathlessly. “The officer requests that the guns should be conserved until the last moment. No handgunners should engage the enemy with blackpowder weapons until he so commands.”

“You can inform the Captain that it shall be done,” he answered, and the runner departed.

Each handgunner, in addition to his own weapon, had been assigned two other guns, for the most part long fowling pieces lent by the good townsfolk. The apprentice lads were there to assist the soldiers. Their duties were to recover the discharged firearms and to pass forward readied weapons, in order to give a greater rate of fire.

“You heard the orders. Swords out, lads.” Sergeant Felsen squinted along the line of handgunners. “Stand the guns so they stays dry. Chop any of the little buggers that get close. The boys too! If I say to attack, you goes in with blades, and when there ain’t any more to kill you come back here. Understand?”

“Yes-sir!” The replies were mumbled in a discordant chorus.

The troopers drew their tucks and the boys once more readied their daggers. Their jollity had entirely faded. The enemy they were facing was very real, and if they got it wrong they would die as horribly as the helpless and stranded creatures they had so carelessly slain just a few minutes before.

A noise, warped and muffled by the fog, hung in the air. It was a discordant series of squeals and grunts, accompanied by occasional sharp cracks. The main part of the Skaven force was moving onto the Flache Insel.

This was the moment that the troopers assigned to guard the caches of flammables had been waiting for. Smouldering tinder, which had been carefully nursed and tended throughout the day, was blown into glowing, crackling life.

The Gods alone knew what horrendous mixture Brother Otto had concocted, but he had done a fine job. First the cache to the left ignited, burning with little blue flames that seemed to hover above the kegs, and a few moments later so did the one to the right. Then both flared into sudden and violent life, bursting into huge and searing balls of flame, and singing the beards and eyebrows of the troops around them. The resulting illumination was truly impressive.

The men turned and sprinted into the water, their work done.

The body of monsters swarmed onto the flat and gradually came to a stop, concerned by and scared of the increasing light. There were a few of the men wading off through the shallows. A few of the weaker creatures were goaded and prodded forward after them, and then the entire mass began to move forward. They shuffled into the sea.

Every detail could be made out.

These were poor specimens of their species. They were emaciated, and their eyes held a starved, haunted look. Their fur was sparse and dotted with sores, many of their number displayed injuries, and what clothing they wore was little more than filthy rags. A few were equipped with rusted blades or simple cudgels, and some even carried the crudest of shields, but most had nothing other than their teeth and claws.

Behind the main body of them were larger and stronger rat-creatures, heavier of build and darker of fur, clad in leather capes that were drawn up over their heads. They wielded long whips and brandished wickedly barbed blades, which they used to drive the swarming and terrified mass onward.

The archers began to fire, peppering the advancing beasts with arrows as they waded across the shallows. Shaft after shaft thwacked home, dropping enemy after enemy. But still they came on.

The front ranks fell, the beasts that were following stumbling over the corpses and tripping on the wounded.

The horde came up the beach and still they took all of the damage that the men threw at them. Closer and closer they came. One monster carried a long pole, impaled upon which was a severed human head. The eyeballs had rolled right back into their sockets, the mouth gaped, and the tongue lolled noisomely. It was being paraded like a standard.

The grim visage redoubled the archer’s efforts, and they cut great swathes through the ranks, but still they came on. As their claws found purchase on the mud they rushed forwards. The archers began to drop backwards, though a few around the edges stood their ground and continued their fire.

More shots landed, almost unable to miss at the range they were being fired. One beast was struck twice in the throat but staggered on for a few steps before pitching face down. Another was hit in the belly and thrashed around, squealing and knocking over other creatures wading near to it. Casualties were falling all around.

The baleful howling and barking of the dogs, held back towards the centre of the island, echoed through the vaporous air. The sound seemed to disquiet the attackers.

Now!” shrieked Sergeant Felsen, brandishing his own sabre and urging the men to engage. “Get in there and let ‘em have it.”

The Skaven, rushing forward, impacted with the concealed stakes, and it broke their formation. A few of their number, carried forward by the momentum and weight of their companions and unable to wriggle out of the way, were impaled on the sharp wood. They shrieked horribly as they bled and died.

And moments later the musketeers and the apprentices fell on the shocked mob, laying about their foes with their blades, hacking and chopping with gusto. They were joined in their assault by a little group of the archers, led by Brother Hans, who crashed into the flank of the formation.

Blades gleamed and flew in the darkness, silhouettes lunged at shadows and the air was rent with thuds and cries and cracks and screams. It seemed to last forever, time either surging forward in leaps so fast that it was impossible to react, or so slowly that stabbing and slicing and parrying were laughably easy.

Suddenly, as quickly as they had appeared, the rat-men fled, abandoning anything that might weigh them down.

A great cheer went up from the soldiers. Individuals with drawn swords and knives dispatched wounded and skulking creatures, showing no mercy. A few of the worst injured from among the men were taken out of the line and carried back to where old Mr Schlechtmann was preparing to operate on their wounds. Those with lesser cuts and scrapes were tended to and bandaged by their companions.

The archers advanced to the line of stakes again, eyeing the cruor and carnage arrayed around them. The musketeers retired back to their positions and sheathed their blades, and the apprentices readied themselves. All looked pale-faced, and a few faces were missing.

Brother Hans appeared and a roll call was taken. Between them the archers, the apprentices and the handgunners had suffered only eleven casualties. It was almost unbelievable. The Priest offered a blessing and returned to his own men.

“You’ve done well, lads,” said Sergeant Felsen. “But that ain’t the end of them. Ready your guns and see that your match is still lit. If I know the good Captain, he’s going to want to give the next bunch a bit of a warmer welcome.”

He was right. Minutes later another runner made his appearance, carrying orders to deploy the handgunners forward. When he was done he was sent back to report the losses that had been taken. Sergeant Felsen marched his men forward and positioned them alongside the archers.

The noises began again, odd warbles and squeaks and other unidentifiable sounds. They signalled the approach of another great block of the beasts. It emerged from the gloom, awful and terrifying and magnificent.

The ranks and files were far straighter than those of the previous attackers had been, and they generally seemed more disciplined, though their formation would have given a Reiklander drill-sergeant a fit of apoplexy.

They differed in appearance too. They were much larger, their fur was dense and brown, and prehensile tails lashed behind them. Most wore dark singlets or jacks. They carried small round shields and wielded weapons that resembled sword blades mounted on long poles. They advanced before a standard, too, stitched together from a collection of rotting hides, and with a strange symbol marked on it.

“Aim low!” Felsen told the men in his calm, even voice. “Remember, aim low. We can’t afford to waste our shots.”

They came on, reaching the southern shore of the Flache Insel.

“Wait for it, lads…”

The gloomy air was full of the noise of the advancing monsters. Their leading ranks began to enter the water. Arrows began to thud into the advancing column, picking off individual fighters.

Still they came on. The leading ranks were reaching mid-channel, silhouetted by the two blazing infernos behind them.

Fire!”

The line of musketeers loosed a crisp volley, red tongues of flame licking into the dark and a great cloud of white smoke billowing before a brief gust carried it away.

The balls tore through the ranks, splintering shields and splitting bone and flesh. The grim standard fell, only to be snatched up and brandished by the warriors following behind. The wounded twitched and wailed in the water, plucking at their injuries. Their companions pushed on over them, submerging them and trampling them as they closed in.

The boys took the discharged guns and passed forward another loaded weapon to the man they were assisting. All the while a storm of arrows were falling among the attackers.

Fire!”

Another volley rang out, cutting down hordes of the monsters. The casualties, plucked backward by the impact of the lead, dropped and shrieked and died. Again the standard fell, and once more it was raised and waved defiantly. Still they advanced.

The empty guns were passed back and fresh weapons readied.

Fire!”

The third volley, at such close range, could barely miss. The shots tore through the bodies of their targets. Bone and flesh and blood sprayed into the air. The devastation was awful to behold. The monsters, their ranks thinned appallingly, seemed to slow. The leading troops were faltering while those behind still pushed on. And still the arrows fell, picking them off in ones and twos.

The brief respite had allowed some of the handgunners to reload, and some of the boys had done the same.

“Pick your targets and fire at will,” bawled the Sergeant. “Make every shot count.”

One of the handgunners, his face and hands blackened by the firing, leaned across to the man to his left. “Very good of him,” he hissed.

The fire became sporadic, and with a single final effort the rat-men made for the shore. They staggered up the beach in ones and twos, but they made easy targets for the archers. The waiting men were able to pick them off.

The handgunners blasted away. A shot tore out the throat of one of the beasts, the side of another’s head evaporated into a red mist. One by one they fell.

The survivors had huddled into a knot close to the centre of the beach and were still pushing on towards the line of stakes. Brother Hans took the initiative. He gave a mighty scream and charged onto the strand, swinging his hammer over his head. A few of the archers followed, shrieking and yelling as they flung their bows aside and drew their blades.

That was enough for the rat-men. Those few that were unhurt disappeared into the dark, leaving broken corpses floating in the water and the wounded pitifully dragging themselves along. The whole line of men surged forward and set about butchering any of the monsters that remained alive.

Sergeant Felsen held his men back. “Let them have their fun,” he said, “and get the guns loaded again. Any that are fouled, worm them. Make sure the touch-holes are clear. Do it proper and check your work. Take your time now, while you can.”


—oOo—


“Sigmar’s luck to them” mumbled Odo Viel as he watched Doctor Ungerade and the raiders vanish into the enveloping gloom.

When they had disappeared from view he clambered down from his seat and took a firm hold of the horses’ bridles, pulling their heads round to start them turning. The creatures, winded and blown, struggled in the sticky ground. He glanced across and saw that Old Menno, the other driver, was doing the same.

“Steady there, Ebba old girl,” he said gently. “Senta, around you come.” He pulled her harness and she bucked her head and snorted indignantly.

The two horses wallowed forwards, then managed to find firmer footing under their hooves. They dragged the wagon up onto the rising ground then slithered into another muddy hollow. Odo trotted alongside, spattered with mud and slime, guiding them through the mire.

“Come on, girls,” he urged, clicking his tongue and flicking the reins. “Come on.”

The pair’s momentum carried them up onto another drier rise but they lost their grip again, their hooves slipping in the muck as they struggled to pull the back wheels clear. The roughriders’ mounts, tethered to the rear of the wagon, pulled and jostled and made progress difficult.

Ha!” he shouted, and cracked the reins again. The team surged onto drier ground and began to gain some speed. Odo deftly jumped up onto the step and settled himself into his seat.

Menno had got ahead, though in the brume it was difficult to make out anything other than the rumps of the nags trotting along behind his cart. They made headway with agonising slowness, but gradually they left the expansive mudflats and pushed up onto the saltmarshes.


—oOo—


The four boats, each crammed to the gunwales with a motley collection of heavily armed men, bobbed gently amongst the reeds. Two were from the Kaufmann von Altdorf, the third was from the Zweites Wagnis and mounted a small gun on the prow, and the fourth was the Bösewicht’s jollyboat. The crews were drawn from their parent vessels, though they did include a smattering of local folk who were acting as guides.

As a man with both a military and a nautical background Captain Fuchs had naturally gravitated towards command of the force. Neither of the other two merchant captains was keen on the role and both had been happy to relinquish responsibility, though they were leading their own men.

Fuchs had overseen their preparations very carefully.

Untidy bundles of reeds had been secured to the bows of each of the boats, and though they wouldn’t stand close scrutiny they offered camouflage enough in the haze. The bottoms of the little craft were piled with enough firearms to equip four times as many men as they carried.

Among this arsenal were long fowling pieces, sturdy Nuln-made muskets, and a number of heavy arquebuses with broad barrels and flared muzzles, loaded with a lethal mixture of sharp fragments and buckshot. The mariners themselves were armed to the teeth, bristling with pistols and all manner of blades and daggers.

A signal had been arranged with Langer’s force – the tolling of a large bronze bell that had been brought along especially for the purpose, and fire arrows shot into the sky. Until those signals were seen Fuchs and his men were to remain concealed. When they were sent he was to attack at once.

There was no telling how long the wait might be.

He glanced at the men in the boat with him. They were nervous, that was certain, but Jürgen was keeping them busy checking and rechecking their weapons. That way they didn’t have too much time to think about the dangers they faced.

“Captain,” said Anton, “why does the road have different names? I mean, there is only one road, isn’t there? Apart from the Feldweg, which doesn’t really go anywhere.”

“Hmmm?” The Captain was taken quite off guard. “What do you mean?”

“Well, sometimes the road is called the Küstestraße, and sometimes it’s called the Nordküstestraße.”

“Well, properly, the road is named the Küstestraße, and that is what you will find marked on the maps. Where it passes through Schlammigerdorf it is simply called the Straße. To the north of the town it is called the Nordküstestraße, and, conversely, to the south of the town it is called the Südlichestraße. It is a local thing, done, I’d imagine, to help with directions.”

A noise carried in the air. It was strange and distant, warped and stretched by the mists.

“What was that?”

The Captain hushed Anton. Everyone became tense and still.

The noise started again. It was a cacophony of abrupt high-pitched squeaks, chilling and eerie and echoing out of the haze. Gradually, slowly, it faded away. There was silence again, and then came shouts, distinctly those of men

The noises became softer and receded to nothing, leaving a pregnant hush that seemed to last an age. A glow, orange and surreal, began to emanate from the marshes ahead and to the right of them. A second glow flared, close in location to the first.

“What’s that?” hissed Max, leaning forward to get a better view.

“Rat-magic!” whispered Hermann. “Look at it! Its evil, I tells you!”

Fuchs shushed them back to their seats. “Don’t be so foolish. It’s Langer’s lights, as some wit dubbed them. Oil and the like, set aflame so that the soldiers can see. In order to shoot their enemies, you understand.”

There was another burst of the muffled and muted sounds, then gradually it became silent again, with only the orange-white light illuminating the haze with an ethereal glow. The sailors glanced at one another. Had the men been over-run already?

A long moment passed and nervous glances were exchanged. Only Captain Fuchs seemed calm.

More of the strange ululations and squeaks echoed through the mist, followed by a crisp volley of musketry and then a series of rather more random pops and bangs.

Captain Langer’s tiny force was engaging the enemy.


—oOo—


By the time the floor of the channel began to rise Mr Abdecker was soaked to above the waist. A few other archers had advanced into the water close by, and being considerably fitter they quickly began to outpace him, disappearing into the dark gloom. It was all he could do to drag himself up onto the muddy shingle.

Many Skaven dead were lying on the ground and floating in the water, most with arrows jutting from their bodies. There were two human corpses there as well, both lacking their heads and their hands. And, judging by the gory messes that had once been their groins, other trophies had been collected too.

The sight gave him a queasy feeling, an awful realisation of just how nasty his death would be if these monsters captured him. Tendrils of mist drifted in and masked the grisly scene.

There were noises, a discordant series of squeals and grunts, accompanied by occasional sharp cracks. They were difficult to pinpoint, drifting and echoing in the air.

He patted his pockets and belt. “No blade,” he whispered to himself. “Stupid of me.”

He looked around and spotted a rat-man’s knife, jagged and rusted, that was lying on the ground near to a furred corpse. He took a firm hold of the handle, which had an odd, uncomfortable feel to it, and scanned the nebulous gloom for movement.

There were noises again, significantly closer. They sounded like voices.

“… got to be soon! I can hear ‘em.”

“Get those coals glowing. You ain’t let ‘em go out, have you?”

“No!”

They were men, and well hidden at that. He couldn’t see a thing in the darkness.

And then “Ssshhh! I think I can hear something!”

He began to pick his way past, staying as low as he could and easing himself along through the mud. It seemed to take forever.

Once more strange noises, warped and muffled, hung in the air. These were different, as though they were much closer, and a little nervously Mr Abdecker crouched and peered around. The perpetual mist seemed to roll back a little, revealing what seemed to be a solid wall of dark bodies. A large body of Skaven was moving across the Flache Insel.

Gods, but there were so many. It terrified him just to look.

Keeping low, he edged along the shoreline using the scant cover of the grassy tussocks to remain unseen. A few lost rat-men, survivors of the first engagements, galloped past, heading back up towards the north. Some of them passed him so closely that his heart missed a beat, but none of them stopped to investigate.

There was a sudden burst of light from close behind him, then another from slightly further away. He threw himself to the ground as the intensity grew, then craned his neck round and stared in astonishment at the bright ethereal glow. These were the pyres that Captain Langer had ordered to be prepared. Brother Otto had obviously taken his work very seriously indeed, for the two raging fires were almost too much to look into.

From where he crouched Mr Abdecker looked at the horde of Skaven. These were big brutes with dense brown fur and rudimentary clothing, carrying spears and shields and marching under a grotesque banner. But despite their fierce appearance they had come to a halt in front of the fires, apparently unwilling to either advance or retreat.

One of their number, a huge member of his species, began laying about some of the smaller rat-men with a staff, goading and prodding them on. The first one or two rushed between the blazing pyres and onto the shore, pitching backwards as arrows thudded into their bodies, and then the whole mass began to charge forwards.

A crashing volley of musket-fire rang out, crisp and regular. A few moments later there came another, and then a third, followed by rather more sporadic pops and bangs.

He got back to his feet, and maintaining a low crouch he continued forward. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to wade through the slippery mud and slime.

An arrow hissed past, the sharpened tip slicing by close enough to cut the cloth of the sleeve of his doublet. He dived backwards and landed heavily, quite knocking the wind out of himself as he impacted the wet ground.

He lay dazed for a few moments, then came to his senses and painfully rolled onto his belly, dragging himself forward a little in case they came to investigate their kill. He gagged and retched at the sudden stink of split bowels and felt something wet amid his fingers. He had crawled into the spilled and bloody innards of a slain Skaven. The rest of the hollow carcass lay nearby.

He peered around as he found fought to breathe. Amid the murk, close to the edge of the water, he was able to distinguish figures. Two bearded men, dimly illuminated by the raging flames, were crouching close to the shore.

Hunters! They obviously hadn’t recognised him as a man.

One of them stalked forward, peering around in the darkness looking for his arrow. He came perilously close but gave up at the last moment, retreating back to where his comrade waited. Mr Abdecker fought the urge to vomit and crawled off as fast as he was able, wiping away the offal on the rough grass.

At last he reached the narrow channel of water that separated the Flache Insel from the Mittlere Insel. He crouched among a stand of coarse grass and scanned the shore. It was unguarded, he noted. That was something.

Keeping low, he edged into the water, gasping at the cold and peering back and forth as he waded through the oily chop. There were dark forms on the water; floating corpses, arrow-spiked ratmen bobbing up and down in the swell.


—oOo—


“How much does she draw?” asked Mr Weber.

“Two fathoms and a third when laden, at most,” replied Sepp. “Maybe a shade under two fathoms when she’s light.”

Mr Weber grunted. “She’ll make it.”

They were nearing the shore, its treacherous edge marked by stands of reeds and rushes and obscured by the mist that lingered along the water’s edge. The topsails were furled, the foresail was lowered and reefed, and a spanker set on a boom to aid steerage. They stayed in the fairway, ghosting along barely faster than the lazy current.

The ship rounded a muddy headland on a northerly course and then steered towards the north-east, close inshore on the larboard side, and seemingly heading directly towards a long muddy spit. Mr Weber had set a leadsman in the bows, taking sounding every minute or so.

Sepp leaned over the rail and peered at the shallows ahead. Mr Weber appeared to be intent on wrecking them. “You’ll run her aground,” he shouted.

Mr Weber shook his head. “There’s a channel, the fishing boats use it to get into the lagoon. It’s going to be close, though, I’ll grant you that.”

Distant noises carried in the air. They seemed to be shouts and wails and strange hollow pops. It was difficult to pinpoint their location.

“Two fathoms and a half, shallowing,” sang out the leadsman. A few moments later there came “two fathoms and a third.” The muddy bank was directly ahead now and approaching fast. If Mr Weber had got it wrong they’d ground and maybe even a mast would go by the board.

She drew closer. They were committed now, for she could never turn aside in time.

Sepp held his breath. The fore was over … and then there came a scraping and a deep shuddering that he felt through his feet.

Oh Gods, we’ve beached!

But the Bösewicht’s inertia carried her forwards and then she was clear and into the lagoon. He screwed up his eyes, blinked, and breathed out. He leaned out over the rail and craned his head to aft, watching the spit disappearing behind them.

The vessel’s wake was full of freshly disturbed mud.

Sepp rushed to the forecastle cabin door, pushing past a group of pale-faced children who were sheltering within. He scrambled down the companion ladder into the hold and took the lantern that was hanging there. The space was full of people, mostly old women and very young children, huddling pathetically in little groups and looking up at him fearfully.

Picking his way among the refugees and holding the lantern over his head he checked the planking and the ribs for any sign of damage. The Bösewicht was a tough old girl, though, and she had been built in a port where vessels were expected to spend some of their time stranded ashore. As far as he could tell she was sound.

He went back to the ladder, hung the lamp on its hook and returned to his gun. When he arrived at his station he glared up at the Master. “That was too close!” he shouted.


—oOo—


The large chamber, thick with silt and slime, was something of a crossroads. From it the tunnel they had followed led back to the south, and a second passage led off generally westwards, exiting through another hole in the wooden wall. To the north was an excavated cavity that narrowed into a tubular burrow, while to the east, past a partition made of dark and sodden wood, were unfinished diggings that led nowhere.

Doctor Ungerade held his lantern high and peered at the black and rotten timbers. “It’s a ship!” he exclaimed. “Lying on her side, as best as I can tell. We appear to occupy a part of the bows and forecastle. Fascinating.”

Kültz glanced around and grunted vaguely, rather more interested in getting his bearings. It was difficult to make out the compass in the gloom.

“I’d say she was of a considerable age,” continued the Doctor. “I certainly know of no shipwrecks that have involved a vessel of this great size. Such a wrecking would surely be remembered for many generations.” He continued to poke around among the wood and debris. “I wonder if there is anything left within her that would indicate her origins.”

“Doctor, I don’t wish to be rude, but you seem to be treating this like some jolly day out. I wish we had time to study all that we see, really I do, but we must press on, and with all haste.”

“I say we take the western path,” said Doctor Ungerade somewhat huffily. “The tunnel is the larger, and it shows signs of use.”

“I must disagree,” put in Kültz. “There is evidence that the northern route is also used, and it tends more towards where we believe the Skaven lair to be. We should continue along that path.”

“As you say, we need to find the correct path. I propose that perhaps we should check both of the ways, and as yet opposition to our progress has been minimal. Our allies are relying on us, after all.”

Ensign Kültz thought for a moment and then nodded. “Agreed,” he said. “But, if there is any sign of trouble, any sign at all, get out and get back here. And no matter what, a man is to be sent back here to report in no less than ten minutes. Is that understood?”

And so the group split into three parties. One was to remain in the space where the rat-creatures had been killed, ready to come to the assistance of any who needed it. The second, under the Ensign, proposed to push northwards, while the third, with the Corporal the good Doctor at its head, was to follow the hollow to the west .

Doctor Ungerade watched the Ensign and his men disappear into the darkness, then he and his group tentatively began the descent into the westerly tunnel. Before very long the tunnel began to slope downward, turning towards the south-west as it did so.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” said Corporal Galland.

“Nonsense. This tunnel may very soon double back on us and take us to where we need to be,” answered the Doctor brusquely.

They slithered and slid down the widening tunnel, finally coming into a great dark void. A cloying stench of rot and faeces and an intense odour of mud assaulted their nostrils, and a steady sound of dripping filled their ears. The soldiers held handkerchiefs across their mouths and noses to help block out the stench.

Below their feet the ground was of stone, but it sloped away at a steep angle and was slick with slime.

Corporal Galland held up his lantern. The feeble glow barely illuminated the little group. “I can’t see a thing,” he hissed.

“I believe I may be able to help,” said Doctor Ungerade. He reached inside his shirt and retrieved a milky crystal, which was suspended on a chain around his neck. The multitude of faceted faces gleamed and sparkled in the glow from the lamp.

Corporal Galland stared at the gem. “What is it?”

“A rare thing, named in learned books as the tears of the moon. When properly enchanted it has an extraordinary property, in that it soaks up and absorbs the wind of Hysh, which flows all about us. By employing a relatively simple cantrip it may be made to release that stored power in the form of a luminescence. However, the brighter the incandescence, the shorter the time that it will last.”

“What is it?” repeated the Corporal with a blank look on his face

“A magic light.”

Oh. Can you make it work?”

“Of course.” The Doctor eased the chain from his neck and held the crystal out in his hand. He mumbled an incantation, waved his fingers over it in an esoteric fashion, and the thing came to life, bathing the room in a bright blue light. The assembled group blinked and peered around.

“Get some of those lanterns put out,” Corporal Galland barked at the men. “We’ve got to conserve our supplies of oil.”

The soldiers did as they had been ordered.

As their eyes adjusted to the light they peered around. Their shadows, elongated and sinister, danced and played around them. Everything seemed to be covered in a sticky layer of wet clay and silt, bland and brown-grey. Corporal Galland busied himself at once, picking his way through the shadows with his dagger in one hand and his lantern in the other.

The chamber had been huge. The floor was made of marbled squares, though most were now out of place; it tilted off at a drunken angle, disappearing below a mass of debris and filth. The white block walls, fractured and leaning, barely supported a vaulted roof of finely carved stone. Deep alcoves lined the walls, and the statues that had once stood in them now littered the floor, half buried in the layered silt. Their haughty features, with epicanthic eyes, slender noses, and pointed ears, gazed upward with petrified stares.

“Best as I can tell there seem to be three other routes, Sir,” reported Corporal Galland after he returned. “One up there,” he said pointing towards the collapsing roof above where they had entered, “another down by the water, and the third, a tunnel off that way.” He indicated towards the western wall.

The hole in the roof was far too high and dangerous to scale up to, and the tunnel by the water was flooded. The one in the wall was a wide opening with an arched roof, and seemed to be the source of the sickening odour. A little distance up it were scraps of cloth, lumps of putrid flesh and gnawed bones. A brave militiaman ventured a little way along it, but soon returned nauseous and clammy.

“Blocked, far as I can tell,” he said. “Looks like the roof has fallen in a little ways up.”

They were in a dead end.

“The decision has been made for us,” announced Doctor Ungerade. “We should return to the sunken ship with all haste.”

“One good thing, though,” put in Corporal Galland. “It don’t look as though we’re going to get ambushed from down here.”

They retraced their steps, scrambling up the tunnel and crawling along on their hands and knees. It took long minutes of scrambling and slithering to reach the soldiers waiting for them, and they emerged, coated in filth and slime. The troopers gave them a few moments to catch their breath and then hurried them along the northern tunnel. It continued for a short distance and then dropped, twisting and turning for what seemed a huge distance.

A wave of suffocating, nauseating claustrophobia swept over Doctor Ungerade.

Sometimes a little knowledge could be a bad thing. He knew how close to the seabed they were. He knew that a tunnel bored through the wet clay could not remain standing – it only stood to reason, what with the impossibly great weight of the waters of the Sea of Claws bearing down on it. In moments the entire shoddy structure could collapse, dooming them all to an appalling death. Just the thought of it made his head swim.

He stopped for a

Offline cisse

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2005, 02:22:38 AM »
Superb! I can't help but read it, even if I shouldn't (examinations...).
 :clap:  :clap:
cisse

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

Offline General Helstrom

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2005, 09:04:51 AM »
A pleasure as always, Alagoric :)
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 queek

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2005, 03:09:32 AM »
Alagoric, you are indeed the StoryMaster.

well done, sir, and looking forward to more.   :biggriin:

Offline Elieress

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« Reply #4 on: June 30, 2005, 02:50:33 PM »
Wow.. a true pleasure to read...

Great story and a loving flair for details... I like it.. .and it does help that its about both empire and skavens.. the two armies i normaly play.
Elieress... Just an old RPG name that got stuck to most of my online profiles...

CPH denmark

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« Reply #5 on: June 30, 2005, 11:26:46 PM »
This is simply the best Warhammer fiction I have ever come across.  I can't wait for VII!  

-Grutch

Offline SKEETERGOD

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2005, 09:01:35 PM »
Most excellent dude!  Thanks for such a great read.  More, more!
It takes but one foe to breed a war, and even those without swords can still die upon them.

Offline SKEETERGOD

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2005, 06:01:46 PM »
It has been a month...   I am having withdrawals over here.  Please, next chapter.  I can't stand the suspense!!!
It takes but one foe to breed a war, and even those without swords can still die upon them.

Offline rufus sparkfire

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2005, 04:51:34 PM »
The end of this chapter is now missing - your revisions have taken it beyond the possible length for a single post.
Hey, I could still beat up a woman!
If I wanted to.

Offline Alagoric

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2005, 11:35:35 AM »
Darn it, missed by two and a half paragraphs …

Sorry 'bout that Rufus, all I seem to be doing is making you more work. Anyways, below is the last section from Part VI, including the missing paragraphs.



—oOo—


Mr Abdecker scrambled onto the mud, winded and streaming water. He crawled on his hands and knees up the foreshore and collapsed, panting, amid the tussocks. Again the misty air was filled with strange sounds; high-pitched squeals, the flat clangs of broken bells, and the discordant beating of drums.

He crawled forward, staying close to the shore. The vegetation was denser here, the stands of reeds extending high up onto the land. Here and there he could make out dark forms, the bodies of arrow-punctured Skaven. The hunters had taken a steady toll of their foes as they had retreated.

He pushed the stems aside and peered through.

Monstrous hordes were marching past, hosts of creatures with banners made of flayed and painted hides nailed onto broken spars and festooned with skulls and severed hands and other grisly trophies. There were hundreds and hundreds of them, not lined up like the soldiers in an Imperial regiment, instead formed into a great mob with the weakest on the outer edges to serve as a living shield for those at the centre.

A plague of rats burst forth, spreading over the ground and forming a squirming, living floor of scurrying vermin. A few jumped to the sodden folds of mud at the very fringe of the waters, paddling frantically away.

Interesting, he thought to himself, how none of them are approaching me.

The Skaven troops began to wade to the south, making their way onto the Flache Insel. The rats swarmed all around and over them, crawling up their legs and onto packs and trailing weapons. The ratmen kicked at them and threw them off as they spotted them, apparently without any second thought, but many of the cunning rodents managed to get a ride.

Mr Abdecker remained hidden among the reeds close to the edge of the water until the majority of the force had passed. Once he felt a little less exposed he carefully began to make his way onwards.

Another host of the vile creatures was approaching, again marching under a banner made of stitched hides, and like the previous force they were armed with shields and spears. Once more they were grouped into a huge pack, with those at the rear pushing the unit forward and those at the front jostling and pushing to get behind the others.

Stray Skaven began to stream up from the south, the remnants of some fighting unit that had been engaged on the Kreuzweginsel. They collided with the terrible horde tramping toward the fight, and the warriors in the fresh units hacked and slashed at their cowardly companions, who skittered past them and dashed off into the gloom.

One creature dodged around the flank of the warriors and limped and slithered to a halt just a few feet from where Mr Abdecker lay. It stopped and sniffed the air, peering back and forth. It was so close that he could hear its wheezing breath.

He remained lying in the shallow water among the bodies, barely daring to move. The knife was clasped in his hand.

It seemed to sense him.

It was an appalling beast, with dark brown fur and red eyes and a single broken tooth in the front of its mouth. The creature was badly wounded, with a seeping gash across its chest and the broken stump of an arrow jutting from its leg. It seemed confused and very defensive, hissing and bearing its single fang at him.

He rolled onto his back and tried to move away but it lunged clumsily towards him. Mr Abdecker swung his foot around and his heel hit the creature’s wounded shin, the force of the impact hard enough to jar his own leg. The Skaven collapsed with a pathetic squeal, convulsing and clawing wildly at the air.

In one fluid motion Mr Abdecker came up into a crouch, gripped the handle of the knife with both hands, and plunged the blade downwards. The creature wriggled and tried to catch hold of his arms, but the force of the blow was too much and the jagged metal pierced it below the clavicle. A gush of dark blood spewed from the ragged hole and the body twitched so violently it tore the weapon from the man’s hands.

He collapsed backward onto the boggy ground, his eyes wide with horror. His hands were slick and sticky with blood, and his body was splashed with appalling charnal remains. He scrambled away from the cadaver and lay in the mire, face down and gasping.


—oOo—

Offline rufus sparkfire

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Die Schlammländer Part VI
« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2005, 12:00:07 PM »
No problem. I have fixed chapter six in the Library, so hopefully everything is now done (until the next chapter arrives). If you spot any mistakes, let me know.
Hey, I could still beat up a woman!
If I wanted to.