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Fiction Spawning of Bob - 2nd Book of Great War Trilogy - Scourge of the Empire

Discussion in 'Fluff and Stories' started by spawning of Bob, Jan 11, 2016.

  1. spawning of Bob
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    The Great War Against Chaos Trilogy

    Book 2: Scourge of the Empire

    (35000 words)

    If you would like to read the continuity stories that come before this, The False Moon War and The Fourth Emperor (Book 1 of this trilogy) please follow the links. The Fourth Emperor will get revised and improved when I get to the end of writing the third book - Shield of the Empire sometime later in 2016.

    The False Moon War
    A slann and a skink priest are kidnapped from Lustria by Ogres. Two saurus warriors, a skink and a kroxigor give chase on their trusty bastiladon. Their pursuit leads to a series of unlikely adventures with Skaven, Dark Elves, Tomb Kings (sort of), Orcs and Goblins, Dwarves and the Restless Undead.

    It later becomes clear that the Slann very much does not need rescuing, as he has been manipulating events to ensure that he and a number of magical items have been collected to the Great Maw in the Mountains of Mourn. As the chaos moon is about to crash and destroy the planet, the wards which hold back the daemon hordes of Chaos fail. Only by a world spanning work of magical might and the intervention of two gods is the cataclysm averted.

    The Fourth Emperor
    One year after the events of the False Moon War, the lizardmen, who have been guests of the Ogres for this time realise that they must return to Lustria. They join the mercenary guards of a trade caravan and win a battle against the Chaos Dwarfs with the help of an old friend. When they arrive in the Empire, they discover that it is not safe for giant talking lizards to travel openly therein, and they assume disguises (two of them as flagellant monks, the others as circus freak show exhibits) which allow them to travel more or less intact to Altdorf - a city at war.

    By the end of the story, the Imperial civil war is over, and the Emperor of their choice is on the throne, and an unexpected army of elves has been drafted into an uneasy alliance with the men of the Empire. Two important matters are unresolved: Firstly, the dwarfs of the World's Edge Mountains have vanished. Secondly, a Chaos Army of stupendous proportions is attacking Kislev, the Empire's northern neighbour. If Kislev cannot be secured the horde will be poised to sweep the tottering Empire off the map.

    I'm trying something different this time, in that I will release the whole book more or less at once, rather than string it out with months of weekly chapter drops. This doesn't mean I don't want feedback and proofread assist - so keep the comments coming.

    Scourge of the Empire - Dramatis Personae
    key-
    * Spawning of Bob character from previous works
    ^ existing WHFB character. Some links provided​

    Prologue
    Armin Wechsel
    Rich merchant of Nuln, Chosen of Tzeentch​
    1 Altdorf
    Magnus the Pious *^
    Emperor and Elector Count of Reikland, previously Graf Mahrlecht von Bildhofen of Nuln, brother of Arschloch and Bullenscheisse
    http://warhammeronline.wikia.com/wiki/Magnus_the_Pious , http://whfb.lexicanum.com/wiki/Magnus_the_Pious
    Graf Bullenscheisse von Bildhofen *
    Imperial Engineer, artillery lieutenant, brother to Arschloch and Mahrlecht​
    Monberg
    A teddy bear or WHFB equivalent, companion of Bullenscheisse​
    Arschloch von Bildhofen *
    Imprecator (priest) of Saint Tourette of Nuln, brother to Mahrlecht and Bullenscheisse​
    Brigadier Liensbrucke *
    Artillery Officer of Nuln​
    Guildsman Otto *
    Member of the Arse Wiper's Guild​
    Dragon-mage Finreir *^
    Eagle Scout Badenpoel
    Elf scout​
    Lieutenant Merrick
    Mercenary officer​
    Corporal Salzenpfeffer *
    Marine of the Marienburg State Navy​
    2 Palace
    Schmetterling
    Imperial Lepidopterist and Entymologist​
    Brother Jakob *
    Joe, saurus warrior of Lustria, disguised as Imperial flagellant​
    Brother Elwood *
    Bob, saurus warrior of Lustria, disguised as Imperial flagellant​
    Rychek *
    Skink and beast-master of Lustria, disguised as a sideshow freak - the lizard child​
    Mahtis *
    Kroxigor of Lustria, disguised as a sideshow freak - the lizard lady​
    Leonardo of Miragliano ^
    Imperial Portrait artist and inventor
    http://whfb.lexicanum.com/wiki/Leonardo_of_Miragliano
    Wolf-priest Heimlich *
    Priest of Ulrik, previous travelling companion of Magnus and the four lizardmen​
    3 Reikwald
    Captain Bauernretter *
    Cavalry officer of Nuln​
    4 Outside the City
    Malodor the Foul Emanation
    Bray-shamen, beastman leader​
    Arch Mage Yrtle *^
    Wog-el
    Elf, eagle scout​
    Meritbaj
    Elf, eagle scout​
    Mage Teclis *^
    Elf, trainee mage of high magic, of Hoeth
    http://whfb.lexicanum.com/wiki/Teclis
    7 On the Wall
    Guarana the Red Bull
    Minotaur, war leader​
    8 At the Gate
    Manuel
    Estalian mercenary, crossbowman​
    9 On the Wall
    Brak
    Spearman of Ostermark​
    13 His Brother's Boat
    Shipmaster Caell
    Elf sea captain of Teclis' brother's boat​
    Malekith ^
    Witch King of the Druchii, Dark Elf lord​
    15 Nuln
    Brother Wilfred
    flagellant monk of Nuln​
    Mister Asbestos Amiantidis
    Grekian merchant of Nuln​
    Brother Turheld
    flagellant monk of Nuln​
    Grafina von Bildhofen
    Minor noble of Nuln, laywoman of the Order of Saint Tourette, mother to Arschloch, Mahrlecht and Bullenscheisse​
    17 The Trial
    Cardinal Werner Heisenberg
    High ranking Inquisitor of Nuln​
    High Inquisitor Erwin Schrodinger
    Highest ranked Inquisitor in the Empire, of Altdorf​
    Gerburstagkostum
    Priest of Taal​
    19 Reunion
    Inebric the Slayer *
    dwarf slayer, previously Inebric the Trader​
    20 Faith
    Kennic the Sober *
    dwarf slayer, previously Kennic the Lavatory Attendant​
    Alaric the Mad ^
    dwarf, Ally of Sigmar, Forger of the Ghal Maraz and Runefangs
    http://warhammeronline.wikia.com/wiki/Alaric_the_Mad
    21 Altdorf
    Nabelbauch
    Imperial Historian​
    23 Dungeon
    Inquisitor Hans Geiger
    Torturer​
    Inquisitor Wilhelm Roentgen
    Torturer​
    Inquisitorial Scribe Gustav Hertz
    Scribe​
    24 Torture Chamber
    Franz Betruger *
    Cultist of Slaanesh​
    Adrienn Alin
    Cultist of Slaanesh​
    Josef Pilates
    Cultist of Slaanesh​
    25 Palace
    the Templars of Sigmar ^
    the Order of the Wolf ^
    the Black Bears of Averheim ^
    Knightly order, known for irreligious behaviour
    http://warhammerfantasy.wikia.com/wiki/Order_of_the_Black_Bear
    Finubar the Seafarer ^
    Elf, Phoenix King of Ulthuan​
    Freya *
    Abbess of the Sisters of Occasional Chastity, Priestess of Rhya​
    27 Epilogue
    Asavar Kul ^

    Gods
    Old World Gods here ->
    http://whfb.lexicanum.com/wiki/Old_World_pantheon

    Sigmar of the Empire ^
    God Emperor of, well, the Empire​
    Verena of Nuln ^
    Goddess of Justice and Reason, patron goddess of Nuln​
    Saint Tourette
    A minor deity of Nuln​
    Shallya ^
    Goddess of healing and mercy​
    Myrmidia ^
    Goddess of strategy and war​
    Ranald ^
    God of luck, thieves and tricksters​
    Ulrik ^
    Wolf god of war​
    Taal ^
    God of nature and wild places​
    Rhya ^
    The Earth Mother. Goddess of abundance and fertility​

    Elf Gods here ->
    http://whfb.lexicanum.com/wiki/Elf_pantheon

    Asuryan ^
    The Creator, chief elf god​
    Khaine ^
    The Bloody Handed God, god of warfare and bloodshed​

    Tzeentch
    Chaos god of deception, change and magic
    http://warhammeronline.wikia.com/wiki/Tzeentch
    Slaanesh
    Chaos god of sensuality and excess
    http://warhammeronline.wikia.com/wiki/Slaanesh
    Khorne
    Chaos god of rage war and murder
    http://warhammeronline.wikia.com/wiki/Khorne
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2016
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  2. spawning of Bob
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    Scourge of the Empire

    Prologue


    Armin Wechsel was a respected money changer in the city of Nuln. His father had held the same status, and his father’s father before him. Over the generations, his family had accumulated significant wealth and influence through legal and illegal means. However, the stark fact remained that whatever his ambition, Wechsel was stalled at the highest station he could possibly attain. Such was the lot of an unaristocratic man of the Empire.

    Chafing against the unfairness of low birth was fruitless exercise, thus Wechsel tried to bury his frustration. He devoted his energy and wealth into assembling a priceless collection of rare artifacts. It was not until he acquired his most prized item – a dagger made from the single curved talon of some long dead daemon – that his ambition resurfaced.

    Wechsel suspected that the dagger was magical and therefore forbidden, a belief that was confirmed when he tested its utility on all of those who knew he possessed it. He discovered that even the most trivial of wounds sundered life from body and banished the spirit of the victim to the Chaos Realm. In the stillness of his mind, he could hear the screams of each disjointed soul and the sounds of daemons chomping and slurping as they devoured it.

    At about the same time, Wechsel was visited by the first of the voices. It spoke seductively of greater things for him than material wealth. At first he had passed this off as his own whimsy, but the voice was soon joined by others. They pointed out the secret flaws of those who held themselves to be his betters. They opened his eyes to the realm of magic and prompted him along the path to harnessing its power.

    Deep in his heart, his own secret voice urged caution, because the visitors in his mind could only be daemons of the warp. He told himself that he need not fear them, trapped as they were in another dimension. However he would need to keep his real motivations hidden deep. He intended to use the voices and the arcane power they could give him for his own end, not theirs.

    His ambition grew. He would become the greatest man of the Empire who had ever been. He would eclipse even Sigmar himself - the barbarian god had never mastered the use of magic, after all. When Wechsel had gained enough power he would seize the Imperial throne and cast the voices aside.

    Wechsel would be the new God-Emperor and even daemons would bow to him. He hid his bold plan from the voices and meekly adopted the temporary title that they had given him - the Chosen of Tzeentch.

    The Chosen gathered around himself others who could be seduced by promises of unrestrained power. Yet more dupes believed that his heresies revealed the true path to raising the Empire back to its former glory. One thousand years of pointless civil war had provided no shortage of fools who yearned for change. Any change.

    It caused no end of amusement to Wechsel and his captive voices that the Chaos god, Tzeentch, the Changer of Ways, would be the one who would fulfil their desires.

    ---------​

    At the poles of the world, gateways existed where the Realm of Chaos overlapped with reality. The friction between the two incompatible dimensions produced energy in the form of the winds of magic which poured from the polar warp gates day and night. The size of the areas under the influence of the warp ebbed and flowed in concert with the changing fortunes of the war between the natural beings of the forces of order and the corrupt servants of the ruinous powers.

    Near the poles, daemons could sustain physical form, invigorated by the concentrated power of magic. They could also manifest in other places, either summoned by depraved rituals or in response to events of such horror that reality itself was sundered. These sub-polar manifestations would eventually lose their forms and potency unless the deviant circumstance which had unleashed them was sustained.

    Wechsel and his voices desired the same thing - an open warp rift – but for different reasons. The man coveted the limitless torrent of magical power that would stream through the opening. The voices sought an open doorway.

    In his hidden, secret place, Wechsel's inner voice bade him to open the gateway but a crack. Enough to admit the power he longed for, but not enough to release the daemons from the other side. With this power, he would have ample to lay low those who considered themselves better than he. With his personal vengeance satisfied he would then unite the fractured Empire.

    His inner voice further went further. With the Empire won, he could open the portal fully. Instead of a doorway for the daemons, they would find him entering their realm with an army at his back. He would invade the Realm of Chaos and cast down its gods. He would rule both worlds and his power and authority would be absolute and undying.

    ------------​

    The voices indicated that the rift should be opened at dusk on the day when the sun and moon both stood in the sky at the same time. The daemon voices had told Wechsel that the ritual to open the portal would not take long, but it must not be disturbed. To that end, the Chosen of Tzeentch spread his minions around the city and bade them wait until he gave a signal.

    As the bright moon rose, Wechsel unleashed the terrible power he had already acquired. He marvelled at how easily he could summon warpfire and hurl it at the stronghold of those who could oppose him. The gouts of blue flames slammed into the stone facade and cracked it open. Natural yellow flames were kindled inside and soon the island fortress was ablaze. The flames spread to some store of volatile material and the building erupted in a fiery fountain of stonework and debris. It was the signal to his followers and it could not be missed.

    The explosion threw Wechsel backwards and through a stone wall, but an aegis of warp power shielded him from the heat and softened the blow to his body. The building around him burst into flames and he laughed as he stepped out through the blaze. Over the crackle and roar he could hear shouts and mayhem in other quarters of the city. The Cult of Tzeentch, nay, The Cult of Wechsel had responded to the signal and were busily destroying the eyes and ears of the city. He steered away from the fire and commotion. Wherever his provocateurs were sowing disorder he would not be. By Wechsel's design, there was only one place in the city which was now free of strife. It was there that he would open a way to the warp.

    It amused him as he strode toward his destiny that it would be the hollow shrines of the temple quarter which would bear witness to his elevation to godhood. It was fitting that the servants of the superfluous old gods would be the first to bow before his revealed glory.

    Wechsel stopped in the centre of a plaza faced by the Cathedral of Sigmar and the Temple of Verena. From beneath folds of his robe he withdrew the daemon-claw dagger and savoured the power that pulsed from it and into his arm.

    Do not delay, the voices clamoured. Open the rift!

    Wechsel held up his left hand, palm outwards and recoiled as he felt a cold touch against his skin. Pressing his palm forwards again he discovered that he could feel a daemonic hand pushing back against the thin veil of reality which separated them.

    Yes, this place is good. Open the rift quickly. Open the way to power and dominion. The voices were no longer just in his mind. He could hear them with his own ears.

    Wechsel carefully set the hooked point of the daemon claw in the web space between his outstretched thumb and fore finger. Although there was nothing to be seen, he felt resistance with the blade. As he pressed a little harder, flickers of blue fire wreathed the dagger and the hand in which it was held.

    Reality's skin was tougher than he had imagined. Wechsel carefully applied more pressure, controlling his effort so that only a tiny hole would be made. He could enlarge it later if he needed more power. He put more weight behind the dagger and it penetrated a quarter of an inch. Raw magic bled from the wound and he felt his power growing satisfactorily.

    Wechsel attempted to withdraw the blade, but found that it was stuck fast. When he attempted to release his grip on the dagger he discovered that it was fused to his hand.

    "What is this?" he demanded of his voices.

    The blessing of the Changer of Ways! they cackled.

    Beneath its warp-fire mantle, Wechsel's hand was beginning to meld with the claw, and his whole arm started to transform. Sinewy muscles writhed up the limb and his skin cracked into a mosaic of fine scales. Behind his shoulder he could feel a lump growing, like a bud about to burst.

    The voices giggled and mocked. We need a body, but your human frame is too weak to house us all. Do you like Tzeentch's blessings?

    The bud on his back burst, leaving a fledgling wing fluttering feebly in its place. The daemon arm was complete, still with its single curved talon embedded in the wound between worlds. Wechsel could feel his neck stretching, his face elongating.

    "This is my body," he protested. "I don't wish to share it."

    You do not wish to share? The voices shrieked with laughter. We don’t need you to share - we have had full possession of your body for quite some time.

    Even Wechsel's inner voice, the secret one that he had hidden from his guests, mocked him. Did you think you could harbour secret desires? Mayhap you deceived yourself? Or was it I who deceived you?

    The transformation from man to vulture-like daemon was soon completed. The only thing that remained of the original human and his possessions was the single hooked talon of the right forelimb. Having completed their renovations, the new owners paused to snack on the tiny shreds of despairing awareness that were all that was left of the previous occupant.

    The Chosen of Tzeentch plunged their talon deep into the rift and tore downwards. The dam was breached and no earthly power could stop the flood of nightmare that began to pour forth.

    The Chosen lifted their head to cry their triumph to the sky. As they did so they spied a twin tailed comet overhead.

    That's funny, one of the voices mused. That wasn't there earlier.
     
  3. spawning of Bob
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    1 Altdorf

    As was his habit, Emperor Magnus the Pious was up well before dawn. Ordinarily he would have duties of command to attend to, or at the very least he would check and maintain his weapons. This day was different. Despite the fact that he had greater rank and responsibility than any other man alive, he found that he had nothing better to do other than escape the cold halls of the Imperial Citadel.

    Even before dawn broke, the city of Altdorf was a-bustle. Regular commerce continued as normal, but the undeniable fact that forty thousand extra troops now bolstered the normal population of the Imperial capital added to the frenetic activity.

    He padded anonymously along the grand Heldenhammer Grand Allee. To the people on the streets he was just another black clad mercenary, not worth a second look. Many such had come and gone during the eleven centuries of the Imperial Civil War. It was just as well that he could remain incognito. He was happy to be plain Magnus this morning - man with neither a past nor an identity. It suited his mood, as he considered the possibility that he didn't have a future either.

    His feet, unbidden, carried him to the northwest gate of the city. This gate opened towards the seaport of Marienburg and the broad sward beside the River Reik. With no other destination in mind he ascended the steep stair to the battlements above the gate.

    As he climbed, he looked up and caught sight of the twin tailed comet which had appeared the previous night. It was clearly visible, despite the nearness of dawn. The sign of the gods' judgement gave him little cause for optimism. He was born to a noble family of the university city of Nuln. As such, he knew his history lessons better than most. The comet had appeared twice before. Both times it had signalled a shattering blow by the gods of order against the designs of the four gods of Chaos.

    On the first occasion, two new gods had been raised to the crowded pantheon. The newcomers, Sigmar of the Empire, and Sotek of Lustria had led crusades which sought to wash away the taint of chaos with rivers of blood.

    On the second occasion of the comet's sighting, the gods had simply obliterated the corrupted Imperial city of Mordheim in the province of Ostermark. The judgment had come in the form of a falling star which had left the city a blasted ruin.

    If this new comet signified the gods' desire to destroy Altdorf, Magnus could find no fault with their resolution. There was a secret community of depraved Chaos worshippers within the city. He had no idea how deep the corruption of the Cult of Slaanesh had spread. Perhaps it went too deep for the gods to spare the city.

    If the extinction of the city was what they craved then the gods had any number of convenient options to hand. If the use of a torrent of brimstone or a falling star didn't suit their purpose, they could open a path for the Chaos Horde which threatened the Empire's northern borders. The minions of the ruinous powers would surely be pleased to raze the city to the ground.

    For that matter, the gods could have the city destroyed with far less time and effort by using the elf army that was encamped beside the River Reik. Magnus was atop the wall now, and he could make out the elves' twinkling star lanterns barely a mile away.

    Although they made claim of being allies against Chaos, Magnus suspected that the elves' presence here was for some other purpose. It was not that they held humans in obvious contempt. They actually held humans to be near irrelevant. If they suddenly decided to set the city ablaze with dragon fire it would cost them little effort, and their consciences would not prompt them to lose much sleep afterward.

    "Mahrlecht!" a voice shouted.

    Magnus smiled at the universal swear word. Until very recently he had answered to it as his birth name. His mother was a devout follower of Saint Tourette of Nuln. It was she who had named him and his two brothers. His late father might have preferred them to be called Alfons, Magnus and Brennand, but the elder von Bildhoven had not been present at their births. The whole birth experience was too harrowing for him. Indeed, the gentle priestesses of Shallyan who had acted as midwives had fled from his mother well before she entered the second stage of labour on every occasion.

    His smile turned rueful as he considered that politics and religion had demanded that he step away from his heritage and noble title. Graf Mahrlecht von Bildhofen of Nuln would be no more. Now he was just plain Magnus the Pious, Emperor of Man. Although his new name had some degree of dignity, he felt it wasn't as attention grabbing or memorable as the old one.

    "Mahrlecht!" the voice repeated urgently. Magnus craned his neck to see what had so annoyed the man-at-arms who was hurrying his way.

    The soldier was none other than Magnus' younger brother, Bullenscheisse. He was waving a dishevelled plush toy as he approached. The fact that the mop headed young man had slept in his clothes had not reduced the elegance of his grey and white artilleryman's uniform. It was too far gone for any other injury to affect it.

    "Bullenscheisse? Why are you still up here? The rest of the state troops of Nuln are billeted in the city."

    "According to my standing orders, my designated accommodation is the Reiksbarracks brig. I prefer the fresh air."

    "I am glad to see you, brother, although I am surprised to see Monberg with you."

    Lieutenant Bullenscheisse clutched the teddy bear protectively. "Monberg goes everywhere with me."

    "I wish you would get rid of that thing. Also, much has changed since yestereve. I am now known as Emperor Magnus the Pious. Do you know what that means?"

    "No... surely you cannot be... adopted."

    "No, you idiot! With our brother Arschloch taking vows with the order of Saint Tourette, and with me elected as Emperor, it is you who must carry on the family legacy. Your Grace, you are now the Graf Bullenscheisse von Bildhofen of Nuln."

    The new Graf gaped at him.

    "Now, who was the officer who had you arrested?"

    "It was Artillery Brigadier Liensbrucke."

    "Brigadier, hmm? What manner of artillery man is he?"

    Bullenscheisse held up two grubby hands. "Ten fingers."

    "Oh dear. He won't have forgotten your little mutiny. And your peerage will mean nothing to him. You will need to outrank him to avoid court marshall. And your last command was a supply convoy. That hardly befits one who with a noble title even if he is only a third rate artillery lieutenant."

    Bullenscheisse hung anxiously on Magnus' words.

    "I don't believe that I have an Imperial Artillery Engineer, Bullenscheisse. Even if I do he is probably sorely overworked with his other duties as Imperial Hairdresser and Imperial Lamppost Lighter, no doubt."

    "You honour me Mahrlecht... Magnus but..."

    "Yes?"

    "I scarcely passed at the Artillery Academy of Nuln with distinction. I scarcely passed at all. I think they conceded my examination on the third attempt rather than risk another... incident."

    "Either that, or the academy chancellor did not want to receive another complaint from mother about unfair assessment."

    "Either way-"

    "Enough. It is decided." Mahrlecht cut him off. Then he sighed. "This is the first Imperial decision I have made which has not been interfered with by viziers, advisors, counsellors or so called allies. It seems an Emperor must rely on others to inform him, others to think for him, and others to execute his will. I am even expected to rely on others to wipe my bottom."

    "You didn't let them-"

    "Thus far I have given Guildsman Otto the slip." He sighed again. "I fear that I will never again enjoy eating dried fruit."

    "You could perhaps place more trust in your arse wiper than in your council. Word has reached my ears of how you bluffed the elves into standing down, using the threat of my fake cannon."

    The Imperial Artillery Engineer gestured towards a pile of metal sewage pipes which were neatly stacked behind the parapet. Yesterday afternoon they had been pointed towards the elvish war fleet and filled with black powder and shot. Metal pails had been hammered onto the back ends to stop the munitions from simply falling out onto the battlements.

    The Bullenscheissekrieg cannon were dummies, improvised at the last moment when it became apparent that Bullenscheisse's own artillery company had been hopelessly mired in the Reikwald Forest south of Altdorf. The erstwhile lieutenant had earned Artillery Brigadier Liensbrucke's ire by abandoning the company and hurrying his supply wagons to the defence of Altdorf.

    Without the threat of the decoy cannon, Magnus was certain that the elves would have strode into Altdorf as conquerors rather than ambassadors. He growled, "flapping tongues are a curse. Do you know who the song bird was?"

    Bullenscheisse shook his head. "Are there any on the council you mistrust?"

    "Ha. The ones I know personally are self serving thugs and religious fanatics. I can count on the fingers of one hand those that I trust to put the good of others ahead of their own, and only one of those is native to the Empire.

    The brothers stood in silent reflection for a time.

    "Mahrlecht, uh... Magnus? As Imperial Artillery Engineer, would I have access to a workshop and materials. Perhaps some first aid supplies?"

    Magnus was lost in his thoughts. "I suppose so," he said absently.

    "Excellent," said Bullenscheisse brightly. "I've been considering some improvements to the Bullenscheissekrieg cannon."

    Magnus snapped back to reality. "Improvements? Weren't you the idiot who almost got expelled from the artillery academy for unauthorized and dangerous experimentation? And what is to improve? The cannon are useless decoys, thin walled pipes with a bucket hammered onto the end. You yourself said they were unsafe to fire, that they would shoot flames and little else from the barrel and propel a bucket full of shot and unburnt powder back into the city."

    "But brother, turn them around and they would propel the bucket toward the enemy! And the bucket could be filled with any kind of ordinance. It could be filled with shot, or Grekian fire or, or-"

    "Bullenscheisse," Magnus grabbed his brother's arm.

    "Well, if you like, but I was thinking more of something that would explode on impact-"

    "Shut up and look, you fool."

    The sun had finally risen behind their backs and they could see the full splendour of the elf encampment. The initial estimate of ten thousand of the ancient warriors now seemed to be somewhat conservative. The elves had erected white pavilions in an orderly pattern on the fields beside the river. Wherever there was movement there were silvery flashes of reflected sunlight from helm and spear tip. Even the white horses of their cavalry seemed to have a supernatural glow.

    The event that had attracted Magnus' attention was a great eagle launching itself into the sky and then swooping towards the Marienburg gate much like a hawk would swoop on a rabbit. As it alighted in front of the gate and folded its wings, the elf perched between its shoulders called out.

    "Hail the watch. I bring tidings from Mage Lord Finreir, for your commanders."

    Magnus raised his eyebrows at his brother. "Good morning, sir," he shouted. "Shall we come down to you, or will you come up to us?"

    "Whom do I address?"

    "You speak to his Imperial Majesty, Magnus the Pious," declared Bullenscheisse. After a moment he added, "and the Imperial Artillery Engineer." He really did enjoy the feel of the words in his mouth.

    The messenger spurred his mount and, with three wing beats, the giant raptor was atop the wall. The elf sprang gracefully from the saddle and strode to the men. The nod of his head that he offered in lieu of a bow conveyed the minimum possible amount of deference to the two brothers' ranks.

    "I am Eagle Scout Badenpoel. There are two matters to report. At sunset, yestereve, there was a flash and thunder from the south east. Lord Finreir sent an eagle to investigate and wishes to call to your attention that the large city which straddles the river fork fifty leagues to the south was lit by flames.

    "Nuln?" Bullenscheisse burst out. "What has happened?"

    The elf shrugged disinterestedly. "The scout flew over at midnight. The fire was restricted to an island in the river and surrounding ruined buildings. There was some fighting on the streets, but no details could be made out.

    "The high estates! What of the high estates?"

    Badenpoel shrugged again. "No more was reported."

    "We must send a relief column immediately!"

    "That would be unwise. The eagle scout also reports that a beastman war-herd lurks in the forest to the south of Altdorf. They mass on both sides of the road. The beasts' rearguard is attacking a force of men who have fortified a small hill with cannon and upturned wagons."

    "Mahrlecht!"

    Badenpoel raised a supercilious eyebrow at Bullenscheisse for his casual use of such a vulgar word.

    The man continued, "that must be my artillery company. I left them as they were getting stuck in the mud about fifteen miles down the Nuln Road."

    Magnus held up his hand to silence his brother and interrogated the elf.

    "How long ago were the men seen? Could they still be alive now?"

    Badenpoel risked a serious overuse injury to his shoulder by shrugging again. "The eagle flew over just minutes before dawn." He cocked his head. "Can you not hear the cannons? They live, for now."

    They strained to listen, but the men's human sense of hearing was outmatched by the sharp and pointy ears of the elven messenger.

    "Why did I abandon them and all of our cannon? I should be standing with my battle brothers!"

    "Be silent!" Magnus cut his brother off before he revealed a state secret. It was bad enough that the elf's eyes kept drifting towards the impotent stack of sewer pipes.

    "My thanks to you, and your lord, good Sir Badenpoel." Magnus nodded towards the elf camp and asked, "What is that smoke?"

    The elf and engineer followed his gaze. A column of smoke rose from the north eastern horizon.

    The elf shrugged mutely.

    "Do you have a shoulder problem, elf?" Bullenscheisse was too upset for diplomacy.

    Magnus smoothly continued. "If Mage Lord Finreir will grant me a further boon, may I ask that he send another eagle to investigate the smoke yonder."

    Badenpoel bowed imperceptibly and sprang onto the eagle. The great bird threw itself from the battlements and was gone.

    Bullenscheisse tugged Magnus' arm. "Quickly, brother. We must send the army to the relief of Nuln."

    "Steady yourself. Nuln is five days forced march from here. If Beastmen control the Reikwald forest then we would need to fight our way through for as long again. We lose nothing by planning our next move. The citizens of our home city must look to themselves for now."

    "And what of my brigade in the forest? Will you abandon them too?"

    "Do not paint me as a monster. Your comrades are a different matter. We can ride to their aid immediately. Signaller!"

    The gate-tower signaller had spent the last few minutes shrinking back from the great eagle and hoping he did not resemble a frightened rabbit.

    "S-sir?"

    "Flag the knightly orders and bid them be ready to deploy within the hour. Then signal the Imperial Citadel Guard to turn the elector counts and their commanders out of bed for a council of war."

    No sooner had the signalman nodded his understanding than the brothers hurried down from the rampart. At the base of the steep stair, Magnus was intercepted by one of his mercenary lieutenants

    "Captain, Your Highness..."

    "What is it Merrick? Fall in step or be left behind."

    "Yes sir, Emperor sir..? Well, as I was saying, you had us lie in wait in the big warehouse those two flagellants led us to. You were right, Chaos cultists were marshalling there. They were arriving sneaky-like in twos and threes.

    "Corporal Salzenpfeffer of the Marienburg Marine Corp was still down at the docks after he set the fire ships - which was good because we had to get reinforcements off him when things began getting complicated. We tried to take the cultists alive as ordered by Priest Heimlich but, after a bit, we found that it wasn't practical to keep carting them off bound and gagged. We had to kill some to keep it quiet.”

    "It can't be helped now, Merrick. You have some prisoners for interrogation, then?"

    "Oh yes, sir. There are twenty-six in the Imperial Zoo cages, and I think the marines have another thirty or so tied up on their fire barges."

    Magnus' quick march faltered.

    "How many dead?"

    "Losses were light, sir. Six of the black company and eight marines. The heretic bastards all had weapons of war under their cloaks. A good thing we were able to ambush them as they arrived unawares-like."

    "I'm sorry to hear about our men, but I meant how many cultists dead?"

    "Oh, aah... four... maybe five score. Sir."

    "And all armed for battle?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Thank-you, Merrick. Return to your men and keep the prisoners secure and quiet."

    "Yessir! And sir?"

    "Yes?"

    "If you are the Emperor and I'm still under your command, am I still technically a mercenary or a state trooper?"

    "I think we'll keep the black companies separate, for the time being."

    "That's a relief, sir. None of the staties I've spoken to have been paid in a good long stretch. I’ll be off, then.”

    The brothers watched him go.

    "One hundred and fifty armed cultists in Altdorf?" Bullenscheisse shook his head. "What has the Imperial Inquisition been doing with its time?"

    "That is a question for another day." Magnus tugged his lip thoughtfully. "One hundred and fifty cultists from just one lair. The heretics were marshalling for an assault and a war herd skulks in the Reikwald Forest. There is fighting on the streets of Nuln… and all in one night. That smoke we saw to the northwest. I would wager a silver pfennig that we will receive ill news from Marienburg before the day is out."

    "I will not take that bet, for the odds are too short. But, I have a hypothetical bet for you. A silver pfennig that the heretics would have had the Nuln gate open, and that we would have a war-herd inside the city if it were not for the two flagellant monks that your lieutenant mentioned. Despite possible religious restrictions, I would like to kiss them both on the lips."

    Mahrlecht beamed his first genuine smile of the new morning. "I bet a silver pfennig that you will lose that desire on the first occasion that you see them face to face."
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2016
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  4. spawning of Bob
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    2 Palace


    Emperor and Engineer returned the salutes of the door wardens as they arrived at the Imperial Palace and entered its cold interior. The hulking stone building comprised a central dome with two squat wings on either side. Thus far Magnus had only seen the grand hallway, the throne room and his own private apartments.

    Magnus stopped in the grand hall to share some quiet words of warning to his brother. "Be careful what you say when the war council convenes later. At the best, there is an indiscreet fool in council. At the worst, one or more traitors."

    "How did you choose your councillors?"

    "I didn't choose any of them. They chose me, which seems to make them feel that I owe them each some special duty. If we survive this war, the first thing I shall do is reform the electoral system. I hope, if nothing else, that that will reduce the number of advisors. Remember, I told you that there are only five that I feel I can rely on to put the good of the Empire ahead of their own ambitions."

    If he had more words to say, they were interrupted by the patter of stockinged feet.

    "Your pardon, majesty!"

    Magnus didn't know the imperial functionary who had just passed by, wearing only his night shift. But the Emperor he had a sinking feeling that he knew where the man was bound.

    He bade Bullenscheisse to follow quietly. When they reached the open doors to the throne room, the brothers stopped in the shadows and observed an unfolding melodrama within.

    The throne room was a long, dim chamber flanked by stout columns. Guttering lamps seemed to do no more than deepen the shadows in the recesses. Between the columns were stark stone thrones, six on each side. These were crafted to accommodate the heroic posteriors of the original twelve tribal chieftains who had come together at the Empire's founding. God-Emperor Sigmar's own throne commanded the room from a dais at the end. To one side of the high throne was a scribe’s table. The miserable imperial functionary was standing before it, shivering in his stockings.

    "Please excuse the informality of my attire, sirs. How may Schmetterling, the Imperial Lepidopterist serve you?"

    Behind the scribe's table was a menacing apparition. It wore a dark, hooded robe with the cowl forward and deep shadows shrouding the face of the wearer. In one claw-like hand it held the funnel of the throne room speaking tube. With the other, it idly twirled a weapon that looked like a many thonged whip at one end and a vicious flail at the other. The weapon gave away the identity of the wearer. This was a fanatical flagellant of the Order of Purity.

    "Brother Jakob, this is one of yours," the mysterious creature intoned.

    Another robed and cowled individual lounged on the dais of the imperial throne. He held up a wickedly taloned foot.

    "Imperial Lepidopterist? I clearly asked for the Imperial Chiropodist. Who is going to deal with this hang nail? It could get infected."

    "May I go then, sirs?" Schmetterling was well into a strategic withdrawal.

    Another creature looked up from the pail it had been snuffling in. "Stop. Wait."

    This one was much smaller than the two monks. It seemed that it must have been much younger too, as indicated by the floppy bow which was tied about its scaly head and the saggy diaper that it wore. The creature’s tail lashed from side to side as it shrewdly examined the servant.

    "Aren't you the same fellow as the Imperial Entomologist?"

    The servitor’s escape was thwarted. He stopped his retreat and nodded reluctantly.

    “The crickets and stick insects you supplied earlier were good, and the beetles were delightfully crunchy. Can you bring some more?"

    "You've eaten half of the Imperial collection already."

    The baby lizard inclined his head disapprovingly.

    "Yes, Sir Rychek. Right away." The man fled the throne room.

    The cowled creature with the speaking tube waited until the man had left. "Your turn, Mahtis."

    A vast shape loomed up from behind the high throne. Its flowery bonnet almost swept the cobwebs from the audience chamber ceiling.

    "Are you finished Leonardo?" the monster rumbled. Another man emerged from the shadows clutching an easel and a hand full of brushes.

    "I have enough from this sitting. A few finishing touches, madam and the portrait will be complete."

    "Very well." Mahtis dismissed the Imperial Portrait Artist. The monster smoothed down the apron it was wearing. It was torn in places and stained with blood. "Look at the state of my apron. Brother Elwood, can you summon the Imperial Tailor?"

    Elwood shrugged, cleared his throat and spoke clearly and slowly into the speaking tube trumpet. "Summon the Imperial Tailor."

    A distant voice replied through the same tube. "At once, sir."


    "Who is next?"


    Outside the throne room, Magnus quietly stopped the Tilean artist and examined the painting.


    What was revealed was a masterpiece. It was a half-length portrait of the enormous lizard lady, in the back ground was an ethereal landscape of crags lakes and icy mountains. The lady herself was posed with her arms folded over the arm of a chair. The ambiguity of the subject's expression could best be described as enigmatic. The most striking element of the composition were the subject's lidless eyes. They appeared to look directly at the observer, whatever angle the work was viewed from.

    [​IMG]
    The Mona Lizard​

    The artist looked desperately at his Imperial patron. "I don't have time for this! I'm trying to invent a flying machine!"

    "You're an inventor, too?" Bullenscheisse was delighted. "Let me give a word of advice. All of my flying machine designs have tended to burst into flames. Invent something to allow a man to gently return to earth first."

    The Imperial Inventor and Artist in Residence nodded furiously, flipped over the portrait and began scratching notes and a design for a pyramid shaped parachute on the back. He scuttled back to his studio with Bullenscheisse by his side.

    Back in the throne room, Elwood repeated his enquiry, "Come on, Mahtis. Who do I call next?"

    "Summon the Emperor," a voice suggested.

    "Oh, I'm sure he would be too tired from the burden of rule. And we've been doing such a good job in his stead."

    The four disguised lizardmen sniggered, but the voice persisted. "Summon him anyway."

    "Fine, fine. If he is not happy, you can answer to him." Elwood pronounced into the cone, "Summon the Emperor."

    Before the sorely vexed Imperial page at the other end of the tube could even protest, Emperor Magnus the Pious strode into the throne room. His stern voice sounded suspiciously similar to the one that had requested the summons.

    “Why should I have cause to be unhappy, brother purifier? The Imperial Spiritual Advisors abuse their privileged position, and the Imperial Beast Master decimates a priceless scientific collection. And you, Mahtis, for whom I have not yet devised a title. I am surprised that you went along with this delinquency. Also, have you all forgotten your disguises and the secrecy which is all that keeps you from the dungeons of the Imperial Inquisition? What have you to say?"

    Jakob tucked away his taloned foot and mumbled something unintelligible.

    "What? Speak up!"

    "I said, 'Mother of All Hangovers'."

    "What? I've barely touched a drop," Magnus protested.

    "No, not that. A title for Mahtis. 'Mother of All Hangovers'. What do you think?"

    "What about 'Mistress of the Emperor'?" suggested Elwood.

    "No!" chorused both Magnus and Mahtis.

    "People might get the wrong impression," Mahtis sniffed.

    "Alright. How about, 'Matron of the Imperial Palace Nose Hygiene'?"

    Mahtis brightened. "I could give you new pocket handkerchiefs if you lose yours again."

    "That will do! A moment ago I believed I could trust but five of my councillors. Now it seems I can rely on only one. Only one."

    "Your Imperial Majesty! Thank Sigmar we found you!" Two Imperial citadel guards clanked into the audience chamber dragging another man between them. "We found this malicious criminal atop the citadel. He was attempting to cut down the flag pole to steal the Imperial Pennant."

    They cast the miscreant onto the floor at the Emperor's feet. He was a big, belligerant looking ruffian. He had a bristling black beard and wore a wolf skin cape which matched in colour and ferocious appearance. The prisoner looked up at Magnus without any show of fear or remorse.

    "Return them to me." the man snarled. "Return them to me or give full compensation for my loss."

    Magnus muttered a single word under his breath.

    The guards cocked their heads. "What was that, your Imperial Majesty?"

    "Zero," Magnus repeated. He levelled his cool gaze at a very distant point and stepped past the guards.

    "Your majesty?" one of the guards called. "Is it to be summary execution then?"

    There was no answer. The Emperor had departed the throne room.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2016
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  5. spawning of Bob
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    3 Reikwald


    In the aftermath of the anticlimactic Battle of Altdorf, the new Elector Count of Reikland and soon-to-be emperor had given Captain Bauernretter orders: Commandeer beasts of burden from the city and ride to the assistance of the Nuln Artillery Battalion and supply train which was toiling up from the south.

    An hour before noon Bauernretter passed out of the city and onto the Reikwald Road with twenty medium cavalry, six foul smelling mule teams and six foul mouthed and foul smelling muleteers.

    Around noon he met Lieutenant Bullenscheisse with his train of supply wagons. The Lieutenant informed him that Artillery Brigadier Liensbrucke attempted to cut many miles off the road and had unwittingly guided his cannon train into a swamp.

    Rather than mire his own wagons, the lieutenant had chosen to misunderstand his commanding officer's orders. He took the longer road through the hills and passed ahead of the artillery battalion. This saved hours as he hurried his supplies to support the vanguard of the Nuln army. Rather than abandon the artillerymen entirely, he left behind two of his huge munitions wagons.

    Ten minutes after passing the supply wagons, Bauernretter encountered the brigadier's adjutant. The red faced and mud spattered captain was thrashing his horse to catch the insubordinate lieutenant to arrest him on a string of serious sounding charges.

    At the second hour after noon he found parts of the artillery train attended by a tribe of mud men. There was barely enough clean uniform visible to indicate that the savages had ever been state troopers of Nuln. The savage chief of the mud men had a brigadier's cap and a ferocious moustache. He was bellowing complicated orders which were largely being ignored.

    Bauernretter could see why the brigadier had imagined he might save time by taking a shortcut here. The map showed the road making a six mile loop shaped like the Grekian letter omega around an outcrop of rocky hills. At their closest point, the ends of the loop were separated by less than a half mile of what appeared to be sparse forest.

    At the head of his column, Artillery Brigadier Liensbrucke found the short cut to be moist under his horse's hoofs, but solid enough. He led his train confidently into the depression, little realizing that each successive horse and gun carriage was cutting the surface up. By the time he realized his error, all of the carriages behind were mired.

    At the hour of Bauernretter’s arrival, the horse teams and roughly half of the cannon had been recovered. The horses themselves were mightily enjoying watching their masters taking on the role of beasts of burden.

    The process of extrication involved dismantling the flat bedded gun carriages and limbers and dragging their component parts out by hand. Unfortunate sappers and horse drivers provided the labour. Back on dry land, filthy engineers and gunnery officers were cleaning muck out of the bores of the cannon and reassembling the carts that had been rescued. Meanwhile, Brigadier Liensbrucke stomped this way and that, generally being disruptive to the whole proceeding.

    With Bauernretter's mule teams hitched to heavy ropes a furlong in length, the process sped up noticeably. With secure footing on the road, the mules could drag the beds of the remaining carriages with their cannon and wheels lashed to the top.

    The carriages were finally fit to travel again with three hours left before sunset. As the Brigadier was about to give the order to move out, a scout galloped back from the direction of Altdorf.

    "Beastmen!" he reported breathlessly to the officers.

    "Where?" demanded Bauernretter.

    "No more than two miles on. It is an army angling through the forest towards Altdorf."

    "Mahrlect! Were you seen?"

    "No sir, but if they cross the road, they will surely catch the scent of the horses and mules."

    Artillery Brigadier Liensbrucke spoke, "We must break through to the city. The best place to face beast men is from atop a high stone wall."

    "We cannot," cautioned Bauernretter.

    "You have cavalry, charge through them!"

    "Even if medium cavalry could punch through an entire army, that is not the main concern. The forest presses the road on both sides up yonder. Your caravan of tasty morsels would present unprotected flanks to the beasts. We cannot break through, we cannot run and we cannot hide. There is but one question to be answered. Where in the name of the Sigmar shall we make our stand?"

    As it happened, the answer was obvious. The nearest of the rocky hills was flat at the top. The side closest to the road had a gentler incline of slaty scree which could be negotiated by the wagons and gun carriages with the help of the mule teams. The other sides were hardly insurmountable, but they were steeper than the front approach, and any obstacle was better than none.

    The officers and the gunnery engineers rode to the top of the hill. "In the absence of a stone walled keep, we shall have to make do instead with an excessive concentration of cannon," the brigadier declared.

    Captain Bauernretter noted that Liensbrucke and his engineers could barely keep the savage grins off their mud streaked faces.

    ------------​

    Nuln University was the highest seat of academic learning in the entire Empire. The most prestigious areas of study were chemics, metallurgy and ballistics. Gifted theoreticians spent many lonely nights in the laboratories and lecture halls of the Nuln University. By contrast, privileged and bored youths who just wanted to blow stuff up gravitated to the Nuln Artillery Academy situated in an island fort in the middle of the city.

    Fortunately, some of the learnings of academia had trickled into the smoke filled hallways of the academy. This led to a distinct dichotomy in the kinds of officers who graduated. The two classes of graduates were referred to by the number of fingers they had.

    Those with nine or less were considered reckless and bold. The famed Berek Half-hand, One-Leg and No-Hair was one of these. Despite his appearance seeming to indicate that he suffered from advanced leprosy, he had practically been deified by his peers after the academy canteen prank of 2016. His body was never found.

    Those with ten fingers (or more) did not enjoy such popularity with the undergraduates, nor indeed with women. However, they could discuss trajectories, muzzle velocities and enfiladed ricochet fire in a way that bored everyone else mahrlectless. Brigadier Liensbrucke was one of the latter.

    ------------​


    "How long will it take you to emplace your cannon?" asked Captain Bauernretter.

    "Hmm?" Brigadier Liensbrucke stopped pacing out and marking gun positions. "How long? Perhaps an hour."

    The distant sound of bestial outcry came from the north.

    “Make it faster. I will delay them as long as Verena will give me.”

    ------------​


    Each gun carriage and limber carried a chest of shot and a cask of black powder. In addition to suchlike, the supply wagons yielded much useful materiel. There were bundles of halberds and to supplement the falchions that each gunner wore at his hip. The primitive matchlock arquebuses which were found by the score were generally considered too unreliable and slow to reload for use on horseback, but there were mounts enough for twenty volunteers from the artillery battalion, and there were hand cannons enough for each rider to carry three or four.

    Combined with Baurneretter's cavaliers, there were forty riders who were split into two squadrons of medium cavalry and three of arquebusiers. Scholars of history would identify the latter as dragoons. The marksmen would dismount to fire and reload, then ride to a new position.

    Their horses were clearly not the big-chested and tiny-brained heavy cavalry chargers of Bretonnia. However, they were from Nuln, so at least they were used to the sound of explosions and the smell of smoke.

    The City of Nuln is like that.

    ------------​


    Artillery Brigadier Liensbrucke was about to test the principles developed by six generations of theoreticians of the University of Nuln. The fact that no one else could remember their names, and that they had almost certainly never kissed a girl, or contributed to the gene pool was a tragedy, but irrelevant under the circumstances. What was relevant was that Liensbrucke had pored over their recorded wisdom for many years instead of carousing. This made him both knowledgeable and bitter.

    He would take nothing and from it construct a rock for the wave of beastmen to break against.

    Viewed from above, his redoubt was polygonal, rather than circular. Each obtuse angle bristled with three cannon. Adjacent angles were joined by eight to ten yards of barricade formed of spare artillery carriages and limbers placed on their sides. Other carriages buttressed them and provided a makeshift platforms for sappers and mule drivers to protect the walls with halberds and improvised spears.

    At each embrasure, only one cannon faced outward. The other two aimed across the adjacent barriers.

    The ring was roughly forty yards across. It was unbroken except for the side which faced the gentler slope toward the road. Across that gap was crammed every other cannon which would fit.

    ------------​

    As the shadows lengthened, the soldiers in the forlorn outpost heard the yammering of beasts and the crack of sporadic gunfire drawing nearer.

    "What is that, sir?" a junior artillery engineer asked near Liensbrucke's elbow.

    The brigadier peered into the gathering gloom. The shadows cast by the setting sun and rising moon were deep, but they could not hide the movement and sounds of strife therein. A sudden flash of light was followed a few seconds later by the crackle of another arquebus volley.

    "It is Captain Bauernretter's rearguard."

    "Yes sir. But I meant what is that?" The artillery engineer pointed almost directly overhead.

    The brigadier followed his gaze. The dimming sky had unveiled a new light. A twin tailed comet. He briefly wondered at its significance but the repeated rattle of guns drew his attention back down to the road.

    The ruddy light of the comet revealed what remained of the rearguard and the seething masses that hounded them. The surviving riders broke away from the beastmen and turned their exhausted mounts towards the flat topped knoll.

    "Battery One!" called the brigadier. "Range six hundred, declination five!"

    The range call was a formality. The first volleys of this engagement had been planned well in advance. Artillery engineers had paced out ranges and placed markers before the guns had even been emplaced.

    He held his hand up for another few seconds and then chopped it down.

    "Fire!"

    Six artillerymen lowered the smouldering wicks they held to the touch holes of their cannon. Six artillery pieces bucked and spat fire.

    Before the spheres of hot iron had even whizzed over the heads of the retreating horsemen, six gun crews rushed to reload.

    Round shot, each weighing eighteen pounds, ploughed long furrows into the mass of lithe beastmen which pursued the rearguard.

    "Battery two! Range three hundred, declination twelve!"

    The hand chopped down again.

    "Fire!"

    The second volley bought a little more space. The surviving riders were now clearly visible. Only sixteen horses of the original forty remained although some were encumbered with a pair of riders. As the beasts surged over their broken herdmates, one passenger turned in his saddle and discharged his arquebus into the face of the nearest before casting the empty weapon behind him.

    At the base of the rocky slope one of the horses foundered. A second was all it took for both horse and rider to be overwhelmed by the tide of evil creatures.

    The gunners of battery two had drawn their guns aside, leaving a small avenue for the horses. Troopers with halberds stood ready to close the breach with their bodies as soon as their comrades were safe.

    Forty yards of slippery scree remained.

    "Batteries three and four...."

    Another horse fell, its hamstring cut by a crude blade.

    The remaining horses swept through into the relative safety of the corral.

    "Three and four...Fire! Reload! Battery one, fire when ready!"

    Batteries three and four comprised only three guns each. They were arranged at the sides of the gap in the improvised fortification, almost facing each other. When they discharged they did not hurl single projectiles, but rather a hail of arquebus shot which had been wadded into their breeches.

    The vanguard of beastmen were caught at minimum range by the crossfire and were torn to bloody pieces by the muzzle blast and shot. Those behind fared little better under the barrage of bits of bone and horn and viscera from their former herd mates.

    Battery one fired another storm of metal straight down the path of the beast's assault.

    The beast charge was broken. The riders had reached the dubious safety of the refuge. Unfortunately, the thunder had alerted every evil creature within five miles to the presence of the men of Nuln. The sun slipped timidly below the horizon, as if it did not wish to witness the night to come.

    ------------

    Captain Bauernretter was among the survivors of the forlorn rearguard. After he dismounted, he shook off the attention of a healer and returned to the brigadier's side.

    "Well met, Captain Bauernretter. I thank Verena for your deliverance and welcome you to our little fortress. It is a miracle that you have returned."

    The captain felt sick to his stomach at the cruel losses his little company had endured. "What good to escape the fire to return to the cauldron? I will call it a miracle if we see the dawn."

    ------------​

    Full night was not fully dark. The silver moonlight cast stark shadows which were softened by the twin tailed comet's glow. The goat legged and goat horned gors who had led the pursuit were being joined by other bizarre creatures.

    Here and there a knot of lumbering minotaurs pressed through the cavorting throngs of their smaller cousins. Other nightmarish things, some smaller, some larger, scampered or plodded about the foot of the hill. Every beast was faster and more agile than a man. Their powerful hind legs could drive them forward with incredible speed and their cloven hooves could find secure footing where it seemed there was none to be had. In their fists they clutched a eclectic collection of brutal weapons.

    A merciless and bloody routine was set. At intervals some more powerful beast would whip the others into a frenzy with its primitive speech and bestial roaring. The rabid mob would follow and charge the redoubt without concern for self preservation.

    The nimblest among them were the half horned ungors. They would dance to the fore like demented fauns and loose volleys of bone tipped arrows into the enclosure. Their projectiles were poorly aimed but the crush of men inside made wounds nearly inevitable.

    Sturdier gors and armoured bestigors would bound through the ranks of archers and throw themselves at the fortification with complete abandon. When they came near enough for the defenders to smell them, the cannons of Nuln would speak.

    Storms of metal, rock and whatever else could be stuffed down a barrel lashed across the face of each charge with clockwork regularity. Those beasts who evaded the hails of death and reached the wall found themselves spitted on halberds and improvised pikes before they were hurled back off the heights.

    The sequence was repeated over and over and into the night.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2016
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  6. spawning of Bob
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    4 Outside the City


    Beastmen, more than any other faction, fit the title, 'the Children of Chaos'.

    Eight thousand years earlier, when the earth had been contaminated by the mutating power of the warp, some men are twisted into bestial forms and some beasts come to walk erect. These gather in the depths of contorted forests or the maddening borderlands between reality and chaos. There they brood over their hatred of purity, order and civilization. At times, the beasts mass together to form a bray-herd and they stampede out of the wild, following their urge to defile and destroy.

    ------------​

    Malodor the Foul Emanation lay in hiding with the huge bray-herd which had flooded to this place as if it was an annual migration. He was a powerful bray-shaman. Unlike the magic masters among the elves, Malodor and his ilk did not spend years in study of the magic arts. Just as their herd mates were born with the ability to rend and destroy, so the shamans were born with innate mastery of the winds of magic. They twist raw power to strike against order and bolster the animalistic strength of the bray-herd.

    Bray-shamen are also spirit walkers. In a trance, or under the influence of too many overripe vine berries, their simple minds drift away to other dimensions. It is a trifle for the ruinous powers of the Chaos realm to ensnare them with gifts of power and promises of dominion over the world of order.

    In recent months, whenever Malodor's drifting spirit took him to the iron keep of his patron and he made obeisance before the throne of skulls, he returned to himself with an unusually clear instruction:

    Gather all herds to a place. And wait.

    In a life governed more by bestial urges than reason, such a detailed plan was a marvel of great complexity. Usually the leader of a beastman war herd could go through his entire bloody career using one fool proof formula for success: if it has smooth skin and two legs, slaughter it and tear down all of its works.

    The place-of-gathering revealed to Malodor in his astral journeys was easily found. In fact it was so easily found that a dozen bray-shamen had got there before him, and a dozen more after. Each one had been compelled by the same vision. Then had pranced atop their herd stones and commanded or cajoled the war herds to gather, and the herds had responded.

    It was a credit to the control wielded by the God of Ruin that the gathering of the herds from the forests between Talabheim and Stirland had gone so smoothly. There had been some losses to wood elves, forest creatures and fish along the deep forest trails but none that could not be borne.

    The wait part of the command was much harder.

    Malodor's last vision had shown him and his brothers when the wait would end. Upon the midnight after the full moon and sun stand together in the sky, a gate will open. The greatest city of the smooth-skins will fall to the blades of the bray-herd.

    From dusk till midnight he had crept with the herd from the depths of the Reikwald forest and then hung back in the shadows. Malodor had watched the wall and gate of the city when a bell tolled twelve times. The gate stood resolutely closed. The city bells tolled the hour on six more occasions with no change to the situation. A number of the herd lost interest in waiting and strayed away to join an attack on a company of men who had been discovered in the forest to the south.

    As the sun rose over the mountains, the gate remained shut. The bray-shaman considered finding himself some overripe vine berries and double checking his instructions. Just as he had almost convinced himself that this was the wrong doomed greatest city of the smooth-skins, the iron portcullis creaked upwards and the inner gates yawned open.

    In all respects it matched Malodor’s vision - apart from the column of mounted knights, six abreast, which issued from the gate. The knights shone in the clean dawn light, their lance tips sparkling and their helms glinting. The knights looked neither left nor right as they paraded south along the road.

    Malodor and his brother shamen held the war-herd back. A meal of horseflesh is a meagre prize compared with a whole city. Somehow the men seemed not to notice the press of bray-warriors beneath the shadows of the trees. They continued their serene trot along the forest road until they could no longer be seen or heard.

    When Malodor was sure they were not about to turn back he inspected the city gates again. They were still invitingly open. The wall was quiet.

    ------------

    The elf scout, Badenpoel swooped his great eagle down to the landing platform in the centre of the elf encampment. After he alighted he dismissed her. She would soar high above until he beckoned her back with a fresh rabbit or suchlike.

    When Badenpoel entered Arch Mage Yrtle's pavilion he found that Wog-el and Meritbaj, his fellow eagle scouts had preceded him. Their commander, Dragon Mage Finreir demanded their reports.

    Badenpoel began. "The war herd conceals itself within the trees facing the south gate of the city. Some eight score mounted knights quit the gate but they rode away without molestation by the beasts. It seems they ride to the rescue of the cannon battalion in the midst of the forest."

    Arch Mage Yrtle snorted. "It is a futile effort. All men are destined to die."

    "Might they not serve some future purpose in this war?" Mage Teclis enquired.

    "Whether they die here, or in the north, or indeed after three score years, their fleeting lives have little worth. You will come to see in time, child. So, Badenpoel. How do men prepare for the beasts' attack on the city?"

    "They leave the gate open and wait silently behind the wall."

    Teclis spoke again, "are they not readying the Bullenscheissekrieg cannon?"

    "No. The long cannon have been removed from sight."

    Teclis face crinkled in a frown. "I feel something has been lost in translation. Were those not the Empire's ultimate weapon?"

    Badenpoel shrugged, then rubbed his sore shoulder. He considered the possibility that the Imperial Engineer had somehow put him under a curse.

    Finreir gestured to Wog-el, who had flown in from further south. The Eagle Scout stepped forward and bowed.

    "The city men name Nuln is quiet. The fires in the buildings have been extinguished. Bands of men wearing crimson robes and hats control the streets. Outside the city, many men toil at digging large burial pits and inside they are building a long pyre."

    "Do men bury their dead or burn them like the heathens?" Yrtle rolled his eyes. "They waver and can't make up their minds."

    "Yes, lord," Wog-el continued his interrupted report, "As you can hear, the cannons in the forest have not fallen silent. The men with them have somehow clung to their hill top. There has been great slaughter."

    "As I said. The rescue column is futile."

    "You misapprehend me, lord. The flanks of the hill are bathed in blood, but most of it belongs to the beasts. I lingered to watch a doomed charge on the redoubt. The cannons are... terrible. They tear through the beastmen like a gale scatters dry leaves. I would be dismayed to face such dreadful power."

    Yrtle favoured Wog-el with an intense look. He conjured a ball of spiky frost on the palm of his hand and turned it this way and that. At length he said, "I have faced the cannon of the dwarfs, and withstood their thunder. I tell you that any weapon, no matter how terrible, is but a tool. The same is true of magic. The quality of the wielder is what is important. Which would dismay you most? A blunt instrument in the hands of a clumsy and unreliable human? Or a precise, edged weapon in the hands of a master?"

    Wog-el decided it was best to evade his lord's question. "How fortunate then, that men are not masters of magic as well."

    The third eagle scout, Meritbaj, broke the long silence that followed. "I have returned from the city at the river mouth. Near every ship in the harbour is afire."

    Finreir stood from his ornate camp stool to signal that his patience with talk was at an end. "We should inform the fool emperor that his navy has been destroyed. Send a herald."

    Yrtle shook his head. "Rather let us send Teclis." The Arch Mage put his hand on Teclis' shoulder. "Deliver the message, child, but linger to observe the coming defence against the beasts. I would have you see the humans do battle and understand how spendthrift they are with their insignificant mortal lives."
     
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  7. spawning of Bob
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    5 Reikwald


    The night had been the longest and bitterest that any of the men of Nuln had ever experienced. Dawn, rather than bringing a reprieve from the nightmare, only promised more of the same. Fallen beasts festooned the flanks of the hill like a twisted wreath of red flowers, but the sunlight only showed that the evil creature's ranks were barely depleted. Many more gathered to test themselves against the bastion of iron and fire.

    As the defence wore on toward midmorning, Captain Bauernretter was found slumped against a broken gun carriage with his notched sabre across his knees. Intermittent cannon blasts and unremitting horror would normally drive all thought of rest out of a man's mind, but sheer exhaustion had carried Bauernretter away.

    "Captain," someone shook him. "Captain, you will want to be awake for this." The voice seemed unnecessarily enthusiastic.

    As Bauernretter drifted back to consciousness, he recalled some unpleasant snatches of dream.

    He had been crouched behind an upturned cart as a half dozen centigors vaulted it. The monsters had the torsos of mighty warriors but the heads and bodies of diabolical oxen. They smashed into the tight mass of men behind him.

    The nightmare beasts trampled and gored those before them until they themselves were cut down by the falchions of the gunners. Bauernretter recalled his dream self plunging his sabre into one's flank again and again until it stopped thrashing.


    He slowly surfaced through more impressions of twisted faces, champing teeth, hate-filled eyes, and the smells of burnt powder, burnt hair and burnt flesh. His sunken eyes opened and he saw a bandaged hand hovering in front of his face. It seemed to have too few fingers.

    Bauernretter dragged himself up with the assistance of the hand and quickly saw the reason for his mid-morning wake up call: a mass of minotaurs, led by an oversized doom-bull with brass banded horns, had climbed three quarters of the way up the main approach. They had done so by approaching behind the cover of an enormous tree trunk. As he watched, the doom bull bawled, and his minions responded with a chorus of almighty grunts as they rolled the log another yard higher and closer to the redoubt. The mighty tree was fairly splintered by the fusillades of round shot which had been poured into it, but it still served to protect the monsters behind.

    "Let me go back to sleep. I was having a beautiful dream."

    The brigadier responded with a maniacal grin. In truth, that expression had been fixed there since he had lost his finger and apparently his mind some fourteen hours earlier. "No, you should see this. We may catch them with the best enfilade yet! And if we don't..."

    "Yes, yes. There will be plenty left for me.” Bauernretter peered around the inside of the redoubt. "Who still wields a pike?" he enquired loudly.

    Two score battered weapons waved in the air from different points inside the enclosure.

    "Don't be shy, then. Four ranks in front of the experimental wagon. Anyone with long hair should probably kneel. Actually, everyone should kneel and pray to... who is the patron god of lunatic ideas?"

    "Captain Bauernretter, you wound me!"

    "I wound you? Thanks to your noisy toys, I can't hear out of my left ear, and my right plays dwarfish pipes."

    Artillery Brigadier Liensbrucke ignored the complaint and clambered onto the row of cylinders on the wagon bed. He waved his maimed hand to call attention to himself. "If you men must pray, then pray to Myrmidia! The Goddess of the Art and Science of War has been brooding over us since the hour we saw the comet. Pray, men! Pray now that she turns away and lets Ranald gift us his luck!"

    Bauernsretter shook his head in mock dismay. "I preferred you before your injury."

    ------------​

    The minotaurs ground their way inexorably closer. When the log was but ten yards away, the centre batteries ceased fire. The gun crews dragged their cannon to the sides. The rest of this engagement would belong to others.

    With every bellow and grunt from the beasts, the log completed another quarter revolution. They continued unimpeded until they were just a foot below the lip of the plateau.

    "Batteries three and four! Fire!"

    A deadly hail flew from either side of the minotaur line. Six full charges of grapeshot angled behind the log, disabling and killing many of the huge and heavily armoured monsters. With so many suddenly removed from pushing duty, the log teetered. It threatened to tumble back over the remaining attackers until the brazen-horned doom-bull threw his own shoulder against it. With a final heave, the tree trunk lodged itself firmly on the hill top. Twelve minotaurs vaulted the log and formed up into a block which bristled with horns, hooves and violent intent.

    The gunners to each side cowered behind and under their artillery pieces. Immediately in front of the herd of doom four ranks of weakling men were fools enough to believe they could subjugate the wild. They crouched very low with their wavering halberds presenting a feeble deterrent to an all out charge.

    "Ho Brutes!" A madman stood atop a large wagon behind the rows of men. He was holding the ends of a bundle of cords in one hand. His other hand was empty and bound with a bloody strip of cloth.

    The doom-bull ceased his stamping and threw his head back, answering the insult with a bellow which seemed to ring around the low rocky hills for an age before the echoes faded.

    "Ho Brutes!" the idiot repeated. "Come meekly that I may put yokes on your necks!"

    All twelve minotaurs reared up and roared to the heavens their apoplectic rage and defiance of subjugation . The halberdiers cringed lower.

    The madman calmly yanked on his bundle of cords.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2016
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  8. spawning of Bob
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    6 Rescue


    Magnus' squadron of knights of Nuln had met little resistance along the road from Altdorf. The beasts close to the city had let them pass, each apparently choosing to loiter in the forest rather than be the first to face the levelled lances of the Empire. Once the city wall was out of sight and the trees loomed closer to the road, the cavaliers formed alternating echelons, like a series of zigzags the width of the clearway.

    Although there was limited room to manoeuvre, each element could quickly wheel to present a row of lances to the fore or to the forest on one side. The echelon behind was then in a position to charge any surprise threat issuing from the trees behind the first.

    The small groups of beasts they encountered on the road were exclusively moving south and were disinclined to face knights amount on a roadway and the open ground on either side, therefore progress was swift. Within the hour, the men could hear irregular boom of cannonade which grew louder with every mile they travelled.

    Bullenscheisse cantered up to Magnus' side. Magnus thought it strange to see his younger brother clad in borrowed plate armour. Somehow the young man still managed to look dishevelled even though he wore a suit of steel.

    Magnus' own armour was plain. For now, the Emperor wore a cloak and tabard of plain white. There had been no time to decorate it with his house colours or sigil, which was perhaps for the best. The sigil of House von Bildhofen was a clenched fist with a single extended digit.

    "Mahr..Magnus, the road bends here to skirt the swamp. The hills are less than a mile beyond."

    The cannons were thundering almost continuously now.

    The Emperor held up a fist to halt the column. He wheeled his horse and stood in the stirrups. "Knights of the Empire!" he shouted. "Do you fear any beast?"

    "Nay!" came the thunderous reply.

    "That is well! It means the only thing you need fear this day are stray cannonballs! Ride hard and keep your heads down!"

    The Brothers von Bildhofen spurred their horses and the knights fell in behind them with their pennants streaming overhead.

    Bullensheisse was no great horseman, but, as they rounded the bend, he managed to take one hand off his pommel to point ahead and to the left. "There!"

    He had indicated a flat topped hill which was wreathed in smoke, like an active volcano. Around the rim of the crater was the remnant of what appeared to be a very nasty highway accident. Flat bedded carriages were piled about with their wheels and bellies facing every which way but down.

    The distance halved. The knights could see beastmen in a wide ring around the hill. They were many, but their backs were to the road and their formation was loose.

    Bullenscheisse was perturbed by a long row of lance tips which appeared level with his ears. He hadn’t until now considered that he was to be part of a cavalry charge. He turned to look at Magnus by his side. The Emperor had drawn his rune-fang sword and seemed to be measuring the distant to the nearest hairy neck.

    Bullensheisse clenched his hands even tighter on the pommel and noticed that the cannon had fallen silent. He examined the hill for signs of life.

    There he saw the Minotaurs behind their mobile barrier. They had almost reached the crest when either end of their ranks were tossed back amid gouts of fire and smoke. The report of the cannon followed a second later. No small number of the monsters gave the huge log a final heave and then scrambled out of view.

    "Verena! Let us not be too late!" his words were overpowered by the rumble of the knight's horses as they broke into full gallop.

    Suddenly, the smoking volcano burst into full eruption. A sheet of flame with chunks of darker ejecta burst upwards and outwards from the peak. The sound of detonation which followed drowned out even the horses hooves. The knights' lines broke into disarray as their horses shied in panic, and the beastmen surrounding the hill scattered in all directions with their hands clamped over their stricken ears.

    Despite his clear mastery of his pommel, Bullenscheisse had no control over his horse as he had abandoned the reins. Fortunately it seemed that she had been acquired from Nuln or thereabouts. She calmly held her course and continued towards the smoking hill, gradually slowing to a walk.
    The only thing that gave her pause was when an oversized bull horn, bound with brass and as long as a man's arm, fell whistling out of the fire cloud and spiked itself deep into the ground a dozen feet ahead of her.

    Magnus mastered his own horse and rode to Bullenscheisse's side. "What just happened?"

    The Imperial Artillery Engineer gave his best appraisal. "I don't know. Perhaps they touched off one of the powder wagons. We should not hope to find any survivors."

    "But.. Listen."

    Bullenscheisse risked letting go of his saddle for long enough to remove his helm. From the hill came the sound of laughter.

    The pair dismounted and clambered the rest of the way up the hill on foot. At the summit, they found a bevy of mud and blood spattered, soot blackened, hollow eyed, giggling schoolboys.

    "Ooh! Cometh our saviours!" said the first to see the brothers.

    "They look a bit clean," said another as he dragged himself from under a cannon. He looked at his own filthy hands and wiped them on the hide of a decapitated minotaur that was conveniently sprawled nearby.

    "Yes, yes." Magnus scolded. "I see that you are beyond saving. Who commands?"

    "We started last night with an artillery brigadier-" began one gaily.

    "… and ended with a blood drunk loon." ended another. "Or at least most of one. Has anyone seen Liensbrucke?"

    There was a large flat bedded wagon, one of the two that Bullensheisse had left behind the previous morning. On its bed were lashed every one of the cannon of Nuln that had not had room to be emplaced around the perimeter. There must have been fifteen smoking muzzles in a row about five feet above the ground. The trajectory was high enough for a man to crouch under. If the tangle of mutilated remains could be taken as evidence, it was also low enough to strike a rearing minotaur in the chest, head or neck.

    Sitting on top of the hell-machine like the king of the hill was a soot blackened devil with a stunned look about him. He held a bundle of cords in one bloody hand. "Did it work?"

    "Is that troglodyte your commanding officer?" asked Magnus in an aside to his brother.

    Bullenscheisse nodded dumbly.

    “I think we can safely forget about your court marshall charges. Brigadier, order your men to saddle horses and evacuate." Magnus commanded. "They are needed at the walls of Altdorf."

    Several of the artillerymen folded their arms in defiance of the order. "We can't leave the cannon," said one.

    "Don't be foolish. Cannon can be cast by the score in the Nuln foundry. Gunners such as yourselves are without price."

    "It's not that, sir. We mustn't let them fall into the filthy paws of the beasts. Fire is the only thing we have over them."

    "You have ten minutes then. Build yourselves a fire hot enough to warp the barrels and then we must depart. You have your orders."

    The men sprang to their tasks. Only one remained still, slumped against the wheel of the wagon with his notched sabre across his knees. Magnus barely recognized him through the grime and blood that covered him.

    "Captain Bauernretter?" Magnus called gently. "It is time to leave."

    "Let me go back to sleep. I was having a beautiful dream."

    "We must return to Altdorf."

    Bauernretter lifted his head with great effort. "Return to Altdorf, you say? When I get there, I will light a candle in the Temple of Myrmidia." He dragged himself to his feet. "And then I shall seek out a devoted follower of Ranald, and I shall kick him in the testicles."
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2016
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  9. spawning of Bob
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    7 On the Wall


    Malodor his brother shamen restrained the bray-herd until it was clear that the heavy cavalry were not about to return and catch it in the apron of open land around the city. When a fit time had passed with no incident, he relaxed his restraint and felt the other shamen do the same. Even if they turned back now, no number of knights would be able to prevent the slaughter that would follow the herd entering the city.

    The city and the souls within it were near enough to smell. The way was clear and the time was ripe for the disorder of nature to be restored. The headlong charge of the beasts began the way it always did. With the call of the wild.

    First there was a low rumble, beneath the threshold of human hearing, which thrummed from the throats of the mightiest among the herd. As the pitch rose, lesser beasts added their voices. When it seemed that the clamour was loud enough to shatter stone, the bray-shamen added their ear splitting counterpoint. The clamour produced by the beast mages did not come from the breath in their lungs. It was powered by the raw winds of magic.

    The call of the wild herd signifies different things to different ears. To the beastmen it is the promise of victory to come and the death knell of their foes.

    To the men of the Empire who heard it from behind their walls, it was the voice of doom and despair. It planted the madness of fear into their hearts and it robbed their limbs of strength.

    The beasts broke en masse from the trees which had hidden them and thundered towards the gate.

    Malodor himself brooded silently. He had maintained enough sentient awareness to realise that the centre of the herd was depleted. Fully one quarter of the army had clearly not had the 'wait' part of the plan impressed on them firmly enough. They had drifted away to investigate the thunder that could be heard far to the south. The tens of thousands that remained would be more than enough, but the charge for the gait would be take fractionally longer to strike home. The bray-herd had only swarmed halfway to the open gate when new sounds arose, high and clear above the din of grunts, bellows and thudding hooves.

    The temple quarter of Altdorf was nestled against the walls near the open gate. Every shrine that had a bell had begun tolling it continuously. Voices rose with hymns of battle, and trumpets and bugles brayed. The pure sounds offended Malodor's ears. They also reversed the pall of enfeebling horror from the beasts’ war cry on the city defenders. Men-at-arms sprang from their hiding places behind the battlements and raised their own fierce cries.

    This, then, was to be a battle - not the promised massacre.

    ---------​

    Mage Teclis had been unable to find Magnus among the troops who were deploying secretly onto to the battlements. Seeing no benefit to cowering back at his camp, he climbed the wall to the right of the gate to witness the battle to come.

    He had felt the wave of magical enervation which arrived with the call of the wild. As he warded himself against its effects, he noted that there were none among the defenders who had the ability to counter the curse of fear. There was not a single battle mage among them.

    He could foresee that the men would fare badly under the cloud of doom. Even as he reminded himself that he had come only to observe, he began to gather the magic of Hysh to dispel the fog of despair. Before the elf could complete the incantation he was stopped by the sound of bells. He let his power lapse as he felt hope and determination rise in the men that surrounded him. They spontaneously leapt to their feet and gave voice to their defiance of Chaos.

    Teclis was amazed. There had been no flux in the winds of magic to explain the mysterious turn about, yet here were men who had been transformed from cowering wretches into towers of defiance. The most amazing thing was that Teclis found himself uplifted and empowered as well.

    Teclis cupped his hands to the head of the soldier next to him and yelled into his ear, "what is this? What is the bells' meaning?"

    The man favoured him with a lunatic grin. "Have faith, elf, for the gods are with us! This day belongs to the Empire!"

    Faith
    . Teclis turned the bitter word around in his mind.

    ------------​

    The fleetest of the bray-herd were the lithe ungors, each one like a bloodthirsty parody of the old god, Pan. Instead of pipes they held crude spears and long knives. They jostled each other in their eagerness to be first to the gate. Just beneath the open portcullis they saw a thin cordon of men who barred their way. The sticks the smooth skins held could not possibly arrest the momentum of the charge.

    The human flesh and blood was near enough for the ungors to taste in the air when the sticks suddenly spurted smoke, fire and thunder. A triple volley of arquebus tumbled the first rows of charging beasts backwards. Those that followed leapt over the bodies of the fallen and streaked under the outer arch of the gate and after the rapidly retiring gunners of Nuln.

    The gate tunnel was filled with caustic smoke which stung the eyes of the beasts. In their blindness they collided with a wall of grounded pikes. Tooth, claw and knife are of no merit when they are separated from their targets by eighteen feet of steel tipped ash-wood. For the second time the vanguard had been annihilated, but the charge was barely blunted. As stones and darts rained out of the murder holes above the outer arch, a third wave of ungors clambered over the twitching bodies of their kin and slashed at the faces of the kneeling pikemen of Stirland. Another volley of hot lead threw them back.

    The second fusillade was the signal to close portcullis and inner gate. The iron portcullis began to creak slowly downwards from the outer arch and it it was a timely move. The next wave to arrive would be a solid block of minotaurs led by a red daubed gorebull of prodigious size.

    ------------

    Malodor could see easy victory slipping out of reach as the iron teeth lowered. Fortunately another shaman had seen the same threat. That one summoned every crow and raven in the forest and sent them to peck and beat with their wings at the men who turned the winches which lowered the portcullis on its chains. Yet another shaman empowered the minotaurs with the speed of gazelles. They covered the intervening ground much faster than their legs could usually carry them, allowing them to surge beneath the arch.

    Malodor lent his own magical aid. He recognized the minotaur leader as Guarana the Red Bull, mightiest of Malodor's own herd. Before the champion could disappear into the smoke and shadow the Bray-shaman grunted a charm which gifted an impenetrable hide. With Guarana at their head shrugging off arrows and spears, the minotaurs would sweep aside the gate defenders. The way would once again be clear for the herd to stampede through the city of usurpers.

    In the meantime the other beasts milled in the shadow of the walls, unleashing stone tipped arrows and howls of rage.
     
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    8 At the Gate


    "Mage! There is a mage!" Teclis stabbed a finger at an individual who bobbed in the seething ocean of hate that swirled outside the city.

    The soldier at his elbow lowered the block of masonry he had been proposing to drop over the wall. "What do you mean me to do about it, elf?"

    "Sorry, pray continue." Teclis hurried off to find himself an archer, but it seemed that there were none to be had. He eventually found a squad of black clad crossbow men. He grasped the elbow of the first.

    "Sirs, save your bolts for the mages."

    The man looked at him dumbly. "Que?" he politely enquired in Estalian.

    "Shamen! Wizards! ... Magicians!... Conjurers!... Warlocks?"

    "Que?"

    There was no glimmer of understanding in the crossbow man's eyes. A pair of his compatriots yammered at him impatiently. He turned his palms upwards in defeat and resumed cranking the windlass on his bow.

    "Enchanters? Sorcerers? Augh! Like this!" Teclis thrust his staff skywards. A lightning bolt came from nowhere to wreath it in crackling energy. The elf spoke the word of release and hurled the bolt into the enemies below. After the cloud of smoke and bits of turf cleared, a dozen still or twitching beasts were revealed. Realization dawned.

    "Ver un mago! Si! Si!" the man called to his fellows, "Un mago!"

    "Un mago? Si! Bueno, Manuel! Si! Si!" They clapped him on the back in congratulations. Then they levelled their crossbows at Teclis.

    "No, no, no! Down there!"

    Teclis pushed Manuel's weapon back over the field. Fortunately a nearby beast shaman chose that moment to hurl a sphere of violet darkness which detonated above the gatehouse.

    "Ooooooh! Si, si! Un mago bestia!"

    The tiller of Manuel's crossbow bucked and the bray-shaman's throat sprouted a feathered shaft.

    The Estalian mercenaries soon got the hang of it and began identifying and dispatching beastman shamen one by one. As they did so, the magical attack on the gate house faltered and the portcullis finally crunched home.

    ------------​


    Malodor continued his grunting incantation. Without his continued effort, the charm which lent Guarana magical protection would fade within minutes. In addition, the active enchantment gave the shaman a useful connection with the gore bull's tiny mind. The link was too weak to allow him control, but he could see a foggy image through the minotaur's eyes and he could hear and feel what was happening in the gate tunnel.

    Malodor could see that the inner gate doors were not yet closed. They had fouled on the heaped corpses and broken weapons of the first attackers. Tiny smooth-skins scurried and squeaked as they dragged the last of the carcasses clear. The gore bull and his fellows would have scattered them by now, but they themselves were mired in bodies which were heaped like snowdrifts.

    There was only a thin crack of light separating the inner doors when Guarana reached them. He crashed into the left panel with his shoulder and forced it back a foot before it shuddered and reversed direction. Now he was the one forced to give ground. Rather than lose the opening he had won, he thrust his axe and his impervious arm into the gap.

    Malodor could feel that the smooth skins were raining blows on Guarana's arm, but they were unable to penetrate his hide. Before long, the minotaur's fellows were about him. At his bellowed command, they dropped their weapons and pushed against both leaves of the gate. The timber groaned and the gates opened an inch, and then another.

    ------------​

    Teclis could see that the thousands outside the walls were no longer of immediate concern. The strategic focus of the battle was now the inner gate. He abandoned the parapet and darted to the inside of the wall walk. From this position he could see the struggle to secure the doors.

    Men were pushing the gates bodily. They were almost closed and the oak bars nearly ready to fall into place when the nearer door suddenly jolted back, setting a several men onto their posteriors. As many more were near enough to take over the push. Once again the gap narrowed.

    Just as it seemed the men would secure the city after all, a shaggy red arm burst through. It thrashed blindly with its giant axe and a dozen men were crushed or flung aside. As gates bowed further inwards the nearest men hacked and stabbed at the limb. Others discarded their weapons and took up positions to push against the gate, despite the fact that would surely be the next to die when the axe flailed again.

    Teclis shook his head. Perhaps it was as Yrtle had said about the race of men. Their fleeting lives had little worth. Yet, if that were so, why the mission of rescue to the battalion in the forest? There was no sense to be made in any of this.

    Every effort to attack the arm with sword or halberd had failed. There was no sign that the blades had even creased the red hide of the monster. Teclis could smell the aegis of beast magic which protected it but, without knowing its source, he would be unable to craft a counter spell in time to make a difference. The beast's fellows had put their shoulders against the gate and the men steadily lost ground.

    Just then a powerful voice called from behind those who persisted in hacking at the invulnerable arm. "Make way!" it boomed. "Lady with a baby coming through!"

    The men yielded, and Teclis recognized the massive lizard lady from the throne room. About her feet scampered her infant and to each side strode the two mysterious monks, each bearing a rod with a many tongued whip at one end and a brass censor on a chain at the other. The censors issued smoke from two openings and as they swung they mimicked the twin tailed comet that had appeared in the sky on the previous evening.

    They arrived at the breach just as the gore bull flailed anew with his huge weapon. One of the monks attempted to parry at it with his censor as if it was a war-flail. The multipurpose weapon, devotional symbol and self torture device promptly bound itself around the neck of the axe. The bull headed monster on the other side found his swing impeded by two hundred pounds of swearing brother of purity. Swing he did anyway.

    "For mahrlect's sake!" screamed the hooded brother as he was flung this way and that through the air.

    "For Mahrlecht’s sake!" The men pushing the gates took up his chant. They surged against the doors and forced it an inch closer to.

    The other monk ducked beneath the arc of his spiritual brother. "Actually, Brother Jakob," he corrected, "it's 'for Magnus sake' now."

    "For Magnus sake! For Magnus the Pious!" the men roared. The gap closed another inch.

    "Whatever!" shrieked brother Jakob.

    The lizard lady was being held back by the gyrations of the flying monk.

    "Brother Elwood!" she demanded. "Make him stop!"

    Brother Elwood tentatively swung his own flail. It promptly bound around the gore bull's wrist. The weight of a double dose of holy purity dragged the axe to the ground. Then the lizard lady added her not inconsiderable weight by stepping onto it. As the shaggy beast could not free the weapon, it relinquished its grip. However, its indestructible arm was still stubbornly blocking the gate. Being unencumbered, the minotaur renewed its push.

    For what seemed the hundredth time, the gate reversed direction. The monsters behind it had found their footing, and no puny smooth-skins, no matter what their numbers would suffice to hold them back for long. The gap was at two feet and widening when the lizard babe seized a broken spear point from the ground, hitched up his sagging diaper and darted through. The near constant bellows which had been coming from the minotaurs were replaced by multiple cries of pain and surprise.

    The gap began closing once more, leaving barely enough space for the infant to squeeze out again, spattered with blood and without its spear tip. The pain and confusion it had sown was enough to reduce the beastmen's push, but with the impenetrable arm chocking it open, the gate could not be secured.

    The gore bull's arm could not be pierced by earthly weapons, but the lizard lady bore none such anyway. She seized the minotaur's elbow and threw herself to one side, levering its arm back against the edge of the gate. The shoulder resisted for an instant and then was dislocated from its socket. The bestial scream which came as a response was deafening.

    The men found that the resistance to their push slackened further. "For the Empire!" they shouted and gained another six inches.

    With the bones parted, there was only soft tissue wedging the gate open. The Lizard lady twisted and wrenched up and down as the men pushed the iron bound edges of the gate together. The huge reptile finally tore the shaggy limb free and flourished it above her head like a grisly trophy and the gate was closed.

    The minotaur's agonized bawl continued long after the bars of the gate were dropped in place. The cry was quickly drowned out by the shouts of victory which tore from the throats of all who had witnessed the battle for the inner gate.

    Teclis felt his own throat go hoarse, although he could not hear himself above the rest. The battle joy had spread to him like a contagion and he hooted and yelled with the best of them.
     
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  11. spawning of Bob
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    9 On the Wall


    Malodor writhed and clutched his limp right arm. He had been too slow in breaking his connection with the doom bull who was even now bleeding to death in the tunnel, and he had suffered from the same wound. Mingled with the bray-shaman's pain was frustration. Perhaps the Chaos gods had lied about the gate being undefended. Perhaps other powers had intervened. In either case, Malodor was annoyed that much time had been wasted in the doomed first assault. Had he and his fellow shamen been forewarned, they would merely have used different tools to gain entry to the city. They would have employed the pinnacle of beastman war engineering. The tree.

    Felled, stripped of branches and wielded by giants and gorghons, the humble tree could batter down any gate. It could even be used as a broom to sweep battlements clear of smooth-skin pests.

    The bray shaman recovered some of his composure and optimism as the larger and stronger members of the bray-herd lurched from their hiding places deep in the forest. Their lesser cousins made way, preferring to offer vocal support rather than be accidentally crushed or devoured.

    Opportunistic giants, while not of beast-kind, often followed the bray-herds into battle in the hope of finding slaughter and supper. Cunning beast-lords could easily direct the dull creatures by bleating promises of provender in their flapping ears. Three of the hungry titans wrestled each other for mastery of a huge tree trunk with which they would easily prise open the portcullis.

    A dozen gorghons followed them from the trees. The bull headed, multi-armed ravenors eclipse even the savagery and rapacity of giants. Ghorgons follow no commands bar those of their ever famished bellies. Malodor cautiously gave the nearest one a wide berth as he fell back with his brother beasts. The last creature to lumber from the woods was one which terrified even Malodor himself. It was a cygor.

    The cygor’s huge bull-like head hung from massive shoulders. It alternated between a hunched bipedal gait and steadying itself on one hoof-ended forelimb. The other arm was curled around a mossy boulder. Its horned head cast from side to side as it sought choice prey.

    A cygor's single eye sees the light of this world but dimly. Its sight is attuned instead to the shifting spectrum of magic. Mages appear to them as tasty points of brightness against a dull backdrop. A magic user in mid cantrip attracts the cottage-sized creatures as a lantern attracts moths. Malodor had only avoided being devoured by such in the past by his quick wits and cygor-kind's inherently terrible sense of depth perception.

    However, it was not their appetite for magic users that filled Malodor with dread. For some reason, the almost totally blind monsters like to hurl huge stones when they go to war. No-one, smooth-skin nor beast, can consider themselves safe from the almost randomly directed missiles.

    ------------

    The battle felt like it had gone on for days, but the sun stood barely past noon. This far the men had had the better of it, but from the stirrings in the trees it seemed that a new phase was about to begin. Teclis rejoined Manuel and his Estalian crossbowmen on the wall. They had accounted for five shaman if their jabbering and hand waving could be understood.

    When the three giants stumbled onto the greensward, the defenders of Altdorf cursed and muttered. Such monsters would shrug off arrows and were not to be engaged in close quarters combat. Teclis suddenly wished he had not neglected to bring a squadron of Dragon Knights of Caledor with him. With their long lances and swift manoeuvre, the elf cavaliers would dance around such clumsy creatures. He ruefully wished that he had not also forgotten his sword, although he was hardly a skilled fencer.

    As another score of monsters stomped out of the forest and raised their toothy muzzles to bellow, he revised his regrets. He wished he had not gotten out of bed that morning.

    The men had quieted enough that he could clearly here a leader's voice from above the gate for the first time. Teclis expected a string of orders from the officer. Instead the man with the black wolf skin simply cried, "Men of the Empire! Hold to your faith!"

    "Faith in what?" Teclis grunted.

    His neighbour on the wall answered him.

    "Faith in whatever you need, elf. I have faith in this steel." The man rapped the ferrule of his boar spear on the stones of the wall walk. "This and the strength of the arms of Ostermark."

    "Nay, Brak." one of his fellows corrected him. "You should have faith in the strength of the Empire now."

    Brak of Ostermark grunted agreement.

    Those who heard the exchange repeated the words for those further along. The sentiment spread the length of the wall, and only the stoniest hearted were not encouraged.

    "Que?" enquired Manuel politely.
     
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  12. spawning of Bob
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    10 On the Field


    The monsters grumbled forward and paused just outside of crossbow shot as if they were held back by invisible chains. The huge tree trunk the giants had managed to share looked well suited to prizing open the portcullis and inner gate. In their wake sauntered the remaining beastman, ready to exploit any breach in gate or wall.

    Once again there was a low rumble, a prelude to a charge. This time members of the Bray-herd looked around in puzzlement as the earth began to vibrate under their cloven hooves. Instead of bestial calls, the thunderous crescendo was joined by the blare of horns and trumpets.

    Row after row of brightly garbed knights swept around the south western corner of the city wall with their gleaming lance tips lowered. They had assembled their formations undetected on the greensward outside the Marienburg gate. The confused war herd swirled to face the unexpected threat when more horns sounded from behind them. The Reikwald relief column had also returned, their numbers swelled by the rescued artillery men. Both bodies of heavy cavalry slashed into the rabble of lesser beasts, slicing past each other like the blades of shears. Whatever influence had restrained the giants and other monsters was broken. They stomped in all directions in a futile effort to catch the darting horsemen.

    Teclis observed the elite heavy cavalry of the Empire from atop the wall. No individual rider he could see could better the poise of an elf in the saddle, nor the speed of an elf's sword strokes. Nevertheless the Imperial formations were carving off chunks of the bray-herd like a shoal of mackerel decimates a school of smaller fish.

    The knights parted around frustrated giants and monsters and smoothly reformed on the other side. They split off sections of the herd with each swoop, then turned and obliterated those who were thus isolated. They never strayed so deep into the herd that they lost momentum. It was as if a god of war was watching from above and coordinating each movement.

    The lesser beasts were dismayed by their losses and they fled, howling back to the trees. Only the befuddled monsters were left to share the field with the knights. While the giants milled in confusion and the gorghons slashed in vain at the horsemen, a lone cygor lumbered onward toward the wall.

    In his otherworldly vision, there was an elf mage who appeared as a gleam of silver light. His urge to crush and devour the magical spark overrode all other concerns. It was not even diverted by a small detachment of cavalry which streaked past and pin-cushioned its shoulder hump with spears.

    Two hundred paces from the wall, the freakish monster hurled its boulder in the general direction of Altdorf. The stone curled in the air as if it was guided by a malign will. Against all odds it struck the wall immediately below Teclis and his new comrades. The wall cracked and great scabs of stone flaked away, carrying Teclis and the men tumbling down to the earth a score of yards below.

    Teclis himself had little to fear, because his scarlet cloak was woven with magical wards of protection. He had more concern for the men who were cartwheeling beside him. As he fell, the mage gathered the wholesome Wind of Ghyran into his staff. Then he flung the pulsing rod as far away from himself as he could.

    Ghyran empowers the magical Lore of Life. Spells of healing or growth are common and easily mastered, resurrection somewhat less so. Teclis did neither. Instead he removed life from those nearby and hurled it away. Their flesh was turned to stone. The effect would be temporary, because life always renews itself.

    The elf landed on his feet. The men made small craters in the damp earth. Brak of Ostermark lifted his head and coughed up a piece of gravel.

    Manuel's voice was muffled on account of him being was stuck head first in the ground. "Mister Elf. I no want to work here anymore."

    ------------​

    The cygor dropped to all fours as soon as it had released the boulder. Blinded to everything else, it hurtled towards the beacon that was Teclis. By the time the mage had gathered his wits from the fall, the monster was upon him. The elf channeled all of the lithe grace of his forebears and leapt back, leaving the cygor's jaws snapping shut on emptiness. Its momentum carried it forward and its horns gouged a pair of grooves into the wall of the city.

    Teclis pressed himself back against the stonework between the beast's horns and found himself eyeballs to eyeball with the frenzied monster. With the silver gleam of the mage filling its eye, the cygor could not see the wall that had stopped it short. It just pawed at the ground and thrust harder against the unseen barrier. Teclis tried to twist under one of the huge horns to escape, but he discovered his cloak of warding was pinned in place.

    "¡Hola, Senor Toro!"

    The Estalian, Manuel had regained his footing, but lost his crossbow in the fall. He was waving his arms and shouting to distract the cygor. The beast heard him but did not even glance towards his indistinct form.

    Teclis fumbled at the clasps on his shoulders, undoing them just as the beast tossed its head back. The cloak was flung into the air and the cygor whirled and trampled it like it was a living thing. The elf was able to step away from the confining wall as the creature snuffled in the folds of the magical cloak. When it realised its prey had eluded it, it bellowed in frustrated rage and spun about.

    It charged at Teclis again. As the elf dodged by the narrowest of margins, Brak stepped in with his boar spear. The big weapon shuddered in his hands as the broad blade raked along the cygor's ribs. Blood welled from the wound, but the beast was too frantic to care. It skidded to a halt and pivoted on one hoof.

    "¡Hola, SenorToro!"

    Manuel had retrieved the scarlet cloak from the ground. He held it to one side and shook it like it was a dirty table cloth. The magical cloth shimmered invitingly in the cygor's view. It ignored the stationary glow that was Teclis and lowered its head again.

    As the beast swept past him, Manuel twitched the cloak behind his back. The tossing horns scythed through nothing but air.

    "¡Olé!"

    Teclis looked up. The other Estalians were peering over the parapet. It was they who had shouted their approval and encouragement.

    "Behind me, elf." Brak grounded the butt of his spear against the boot of his trailling foot. Then he bellowed, "Estalian, here!”

    Manuel seemed oblivious. He was leading the monster on a merry dance, swirling the red cape in and out of the cygor's narrow field of view. Every time the madman cheated death, the Estalians on the wall would shout, "¡Olé!"

    "¡Olé!" The other soldiers lining the wall joined in as they appreciated the spectacle.

    Teclis resigned himself to a entertaining, but messy ending to the display when the mad Estalian finally achieved his intent of lining up cygor, robe, Brak and the confused elf in one long row.

    The monster stamped and pawed again. It gathered an astonishing amount of speed in such a short run-up. As it dipped its head, Manuel dropped the cape to the ground.

    As it overran, the monster raised its head again. Teclis was standing flat footed, directly in its path. Whether or not the Cygor saw Brak and his boar spear, it had no chance to arrest its momentum. The spear pierced the swirling orb of the cygor's eye. Brak was driven back a pace as he held the shaft steady. The butt of the spear slid back into the turf until it found stone and the point crunched through the back of the monster's eye socket and into its brain.

    "¡Olé!" said Brak as he put his boot on the cygor's foam streaked muzzle and worked his blade up and down to remove it.

    Manuel threw the cape over one shoulder and strutted with one hand in the air. Teclis bowed and covered his head as he saw a sudden rain of projectiles begin to land around him. He had no particular fear of hats, but celebratory helmet throwing seemed reckless even by the standards set by the Prince of Toreadors.

    When he lifted his head, Teclis discovered that the bray-herd was in full rout. Many thousands of beasts lay slain upon the field. As many more had escaped to the dubious refuge of the trees. The mystery of the missing archers on the wall was explained by the fact that the forest had been quietly infiltrated by every woodsman, ranger and archer of the State Army of the Empire. A handful of monsters, their bodies bristled with broken lances, studded the green sward like gory hills.

    A knight on a black destrier rode close. His white barding and tabard were without decoration, unless a spattering of blood could be considered such. He sheathed his ringing sword and raised his visor. Teclis looked up into the steady grey eyes of Emperor Magnus.

    "Come along, sir mage. If you have finished your sport, we have a war to prosecute.”
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2016
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  13. spawning of Bob
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    11 Aftermath


    Although the second battle for Altdorf was over, the battle for the Reikwald Forest had only just begun. Only half of the beast man war herd had been slain. Until the woods were cleared, all roads to the southern provinces of the Empire would be closed to men. The forest rangers and woodsmen who had flanked the retreating beasts were bolstered by heavy infantry armed with halberds and two handed swords. Their task over the next number of days and weeks would be to hunt the beast men down or drive them into the River Reik. There were few in the force of hunters who expected task to go easily. Bitter experience had taught the men of the Empire that the hunter often becomes the hunted in the wilds of the Old World.

    In the meantime, the four disguised lizardmen had joined the emperor and elf outside the city walls to survey the grisly field of victory. Magnus kicked over the carcass of an armoured bestigor. "Here is another," he called.

    The beastman's torso was covered with crudely beaten breast plate of iron. The only evidence that any care had gone into its manufacture was a roughly embossed angular shape. It was the symbol of the Chaos god, Khorne.

    "And another," declared Rychek from nearby as he inspected the beast at his feet.

    Mage Teclis summarized what the confidants had discovered. "Every one of the beasts on this field bear the same mark. Their hate is nourished by the Blood God."

    "Are you saying that these beasts were Khorne fed?" enquired Brother Jakob.

    Some atrocities cannot be ignored. Mahtis clubbed the hooded fiend into the turf with the minotaur arm he was still carrying around.

    “Does this happen often?” asked Teclis.

    “Roughly every two hundred pages,” replied Brother Elwood.

    Magnus ignored the reckless assault on the fourth wall. "We believe the cultists in the city were devotees of Slaanesh. The god of rage and the god of sensual pleasure are reputed to be the bitterest of rivals."

    “And yet their followers planned this cooperative assault together," noted Teclis. "It is as we feared."

    Magnus locked him with his cool grey eyes. "There is much that has not been told, Mage Teclis."

    Teclis' dark eyes met Magnus own without quailing. "There is much which I have not been granted permission to utter."

    The pair read each other's intent for what seemed a long interval.

    "Another time then. Soon I hope." Magnus moved on. "Our alliance is now almost a day old, and it seems the strategic situation has transformed. Yestereve we contemplated a deadly but distant threat in the nation of Kislev. Today it becomes clear that the enemy is already in the heart of the Empire.

    "If it pleases High Mage Yrtle, would you ask him to receive me early on the morrow. We can plan our campaign and perhaps I will become privy to the secrets you elves hold so close."

    Even as Teclis bowed graciously in acquiescence, the dark eyes spoke volumes.

    Don't rely on it, they said.

    ------------
    Malodor had only escaped the field by a narrow margin. Even as he cradled his crippled arm, he seethed at the failures of the day. Aside from the failure of Slaanesh to supply an open gate and support from within the city, there were other aggravations. A quarter of the herd had thrown themselves needlessly onto the hill of fire rather than join the attack. The minotaurs had failed to secure the gate when the opportunity had been beckoning. Malodor alone had seen the threat of the mage on the city wall. He had directed the cygor and had even guided the stone it had cast to crush the wizard, but even so, the elf lived on by some cursed chance. Malodor felt an unease. The life or death of one mage should not matter, but instinct told him that the thralls of Chaos would rue his survival.

    The last portent of the defeat was the most worrying. Because Malodor dwelt for some of his a time in the spiritual realms, he well knew the tang of supernatural intervention when he encountered it. In whatever cherub infested plane they occupied, the smooth-skins' vapid gods had shaken off their apathy. It seemed that the gods of Chaos were no longer the only deities prepared to contest their stake in this world.

    ------------​

    Teclis carefully observed the aftermath of the victory. He watched as prayers and hymns were raised to the battle gods and as the priestesses of Shallyan tended the wounded. The priests of Morr just as tenderly cared for the heroic dead. When he finally returned, exhausted, to his tent late that evening he found a messenger waiting for him.

    "Lord Yrtle requires your presence."

    -----------​

    The High Mage sat brooding in the dark of his tent. "What have you learned, child?"

    It is said that the older a man gets, the less his need for sleep. Perhaps the same held true for elves. Yrtle was the oldest elf that Teclis knew, and the younger mage had never known his lord to sleep.

    Teclis longed to sit to rest his acting bones, but he felt as if he was being examined by one of the Masters of Hoeth.

    "I have learned what Estalians do for sport, Lord Yrtle."

    "What have you learned of the worth of a man?"

    "Compared to that of an elf? I saw no man to rival our greatest warriors. Their army is weak for the lack of battle mages. When they were being bested, I saw men throwing their lives away."

    "Do you see, then? They do not even value their own lives."

    "It was not that. It was as if they valued the lives of other men more than their own. Some placed themselves in mortal danger to protect even an alien such as me. I don't understand."

    Yrtle shook his head. "If the men are so quick to throw their lives away, how is the Shield of the Empire to be preserved until we need it to blunt the army of the Everchosen? Does the Fool Emperor share this mad impetuosity with his subjects?"

    "He suffers more than most. He led the rescue of the artillerymen in the forest, then the counter attack on the beastmen."

    "We need the fool alive, for now." Yrtle rose to his feet. "Teclis, you will stay near him and protect him from his suicidal urges. Do and say whatever you must. He and his army must be delivered intact to the hordes that come."
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2016
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  14. spawning of Bob
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    12 Elf Camp

    Magnus took trusted representatives of his council with him to the Elven encampment. Bullenscheisse was there to represent the aristocracy, Arschloch for the religious orders. The ubiquitous Brothers of Purity accompanied them, bent on discharging their holy duty. The fivesome could have walked into the camp, stolen the phoenix pennant in its centre and walked out again for all the attention the average elf paid them. It was not that the elves kept a lax watch. It was more that they did not see men as relevant.

    Even in a hastily established elven encampment, there was much evidence of deceptive simplicity and exquisite elvish design. This extended to the gossamer thin fabric of their tents which were woven with curling script and the forms of vines and celestial symbols. Functional items like spear tips and cookware were decorated with silver inlay.

    Beneath the phoenix pennant they found Arch Mage Yrtle's pavilion and a table set with a simple meal of fruits and fragrant loaves. The Lord greeted them himself.

    "Welcome to my humble domain"

    Magnus raised his eyebrows at this, but remained silent as he bowed with the rest of the delegation.

    "When I last walked these lands, there was no city here,” Yrtle continued. “My own city, the elf capital of Toll Yrelless stood beside this river to the north east of this place."

    "Elf capital, Lord Yrtle?" enquired Magnus blandly.

    "Our realm stretched from the World's Edge to the sea in the days when your forebears lived in huts of thatch and mud."

    Yrtle and Finreir sat down at the table and invited the men to do the same. Teclis stood behind Yrtle's chair like a mere attendant. The brothers of purity also stood, having not mastered the contortions of tail required to sit discretely.

    "I was not aware that the elves had ever claimed dominion of these lands," remarked Magnus.

    "That is the curse of men, Emperor. They forget."

    "What then is the curse of elves?"

    "They remember."

    The noble men and the high elves ate in silence for a time.

    Presently Yrtle spoke again. "The phoenix flies high and sees far. We fought a dark army in Ulthuan, our other realm across the sea. There we were almost utterly destroyed before we turned the foul ones back. Now they reappear in yet greater number to the north of these lands. As they advance they cover the sky with the shroud of chaos.

    "They must be utterly destroyed lest all lands fall under the shadow. To that end, we would have the Shield of the Empire raised with the Spear of Asur.”

    The Arch Mage paused and he sipped his wine. "Young Teclis has reported your army's triumph yesterday."

    "He flatters us. Our victory is yet less than complete. By some miracle we slew many, but more than half of the beasts remain in the Reikwald. Our southern provinces are thus cut off. Between the tidings brought by Lord Finreir's eagle scouts and our own riders in the night, we know that Nuln has been attacked by unknown forces and the Westerland navy is at the bottom of the Marienburg harbour. Middenheim to the north has closed its gates, declaring itself to be under a plague and the next largest city of the Empire, Talabheim, is beset by an army of monsters."

    Yrtle waved his hand dismissively, "If you do not march north to meet the chaos horde, worse will come to all these places."

    "Arch Mage, I would not turn away any from of the Empire's citizens in their need, and perhaps you would not either if you perceived the risk in abandoning them. Every path that our armies could take to leave this fine city is beset by strife. Even if we marched unopposed to Kislev, our lines of supply would be vulnerable and we could find an army at our backs at some inconvenient moment."

    "What would you do. Sit on this riverbank for a year?"

    “I would have you sail your fleet upriver to the relief of Nuln. All road routes are closed to us."

    "What of your own ships?"

    "At last count, the entire Imperial Navy consisted of a garbage scow, two coal barges and a number of tree trunks which were lashed together to be rafted down from Ostermark."

    Dragon-mage Finreir interrupted, "This is irrelevant. The last scout reported that your city of Nuln was quiet. Either order has been restored, or the city has already fallen into some enemy's hands."

    Yrtle was slightly more inclined to be diplomatic. "Teclis, you have your brother's boat, do you not?"

    "Yes, Lord."

    "Then sail it to the Emperor's city of Nuln with those he wishes to accompany him."

    " Yes, Lord... but my brother's boat?" Teclis looked dubiously at Magnus and his mud spattered boots.

    "Just one bleeping ship?" Arschloch interjected, "What bleeping good will that do if Nuln is already bleeped?"

    Yrtle eyebrows rose to new extremes of disdain. "If the city has fallen, our entire fleet would not be equipped to retake it. At least it would not be able to take it intact."

    "That will do, brother. I thank you, Lord Yrtle for this token of good faith. The river gates will be lowered and I shall board the vessel on the south docks." The Emperor and his party rose. "Good day."

    As the delegation of men left the elf camp, Bullenscheisse hissed in his brother’s ear. "A silver pfennig says that if you set foot on one of their boats, they will take you hostage. Would you have me pay your ransom?"

    "If they do, brother, you will be able to put one pfennig towards the asking price, for you will be accompanying me."

    "Mahrlecht!"

    ------------​

    At the appointed time the Elven ship glided swanlike into Altdorf. She was a sleek lined thing of beauty, sporting large triangular sails which billowed to one side of her twin masts. Her hull was steep sided and panelled with white timber. The prow and forecastle were elegantly carved to represent a mute swan.

    Magnus and his retinue looked comparatively shabby as they waited on the city dock. With him were his two brothers, the new elector counts of Stirland, Averland and Wissenland, Wolf-priest Heimlich, two flagellants, and the lizard lady and child.

    The infant was stroking the priest of Ulrik's black wolf-skin. Voices carried across the still water to Mage Teclis’ ears as he stood in the prow of the vessel.

    "No. You may not have a puppy!"

    "But Mah....."

    As the elegant ship drew closer Teclis eyed the grubby dock with concern. "Do you have any buffers?" he called. "This is my brother's boat...."

    Some slovenly wharf navvies tossed a few barnacle infested wicker bolsters over the side of the dock. They squelched and scraped as the ship was made fast.

    As the Imperials tromped aboard with their hobnailed boots, Teclis peered over the side and flinched at the muck and scratches which marred the gleaming hull.

    Last aboard was Magnus elder brother, Arschloch. After accepting Teclis' proffered hand, the High Imprecator of Saint Tourette noted something revolting on the sole of his shoe and scraped it on a decorative gunwale port. "Nice bleeping boat. Who is your bleeping brother, anyway?" he asked.

    "He is Tyrion, champion of the Phoenix Court and Supreme Warlord of the Asur. And he loves his boat. So please stop doing that."

    "Oh, bleep! Sorry."

    As the ship cast off, Magnus saw that practically all the citizenry of Altdorf had lined the fore shore to get a look at their new Emperor. He raised a hand in salute. There was no response from the people. It seemed that they had actually turned out to see the elven ship. The Emperor ruefully turned back towards Teclis.

    "I thank you Mage Teclis, and my thanks also go to the High Mage, for showing his esteem for us by providing such a magnificent conveyance."

    The elf was perhaps distracted by the mud with which the imperials had soiled the deck. "It is the smallest ship in the fleet," he said absently.
     
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  15. spawning of Bob
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    13 His Brother's Boat


    At the confluence of the rivers within the city bounds, the ship nosed into the main channel of the Reik, fully unfurled her silver sails and began to fly.

    "Mage Teclis," Magnus called soon after. "If it pleases you, ask the master to stand beside the first of the river barges ahead."

    The three barges were everything the elf ships were not. They were squat and slab sided. Their hulls were sealed with sticky black tar. Their single masts were set well forward of amidships and their ochre coloured, sprit rigged sails were furled untidily. Halfway along the low beams were folded lee boards which looked like the flippers of colossal turtles. In the three days since they had been pressed into Imperial service, the wallowing vessels had served as fire ships and prison hulks. Now they were mobile fire platforms.

    Magnus recognised a crewman and hailed him. "Corporal Salzenpfeffer! How goes the hunt?"

    The grizzled Westerland Marine tapped his pipe against the low gunwale of the barge. He didn't look at Magnus. He had eyes only for the silver and white ship which bobbed a few yards away. "Good morrow, Your Majesty. The hunt looks fair from this side. We had a company of Hochland Waldjaegers flush some four score beasts into the river and hour ago. They don't swim so well with bolts through them." He patted the tiller of his crossbow where it leant against the gunwale. "You'll be able to inspect the bodies back in the city when the tide begins to run."

    "I'll see them sooner, as I am on an errand south. In any case it was a fine victory for the ships and crew of the Empire's new fleet."

    "Aye, the Empire’s new and only fleet. We've heard tales of mischief at the Reiksport. What can you tell?"

    "I've received reports, but we can't stand in the river gabbing all day. We'll heave to and take you aboard, if your officer can spare you again."

    Teclis clenched his hands on the rail of his brother's ship as it scraped alongside the barge. Even though he could not see the pitch smeared gouges in the white hull, he heard each grind and felt every splinter.

    Corporal Salzenpfeffer tossed his stow bag and weapons up to the main deck and swarmed up a knotted line as the elf ship made way again. After giving a sloppy salute to his Emperor, he asked, "What of Marienburg, then?"

    Magnus grimaced. "Riders have brought a few details. Chaos cultists took the Imperial docks at the Reiksport. They set afire every warship that was in port, then did the same to the vessels in the merchant wharves."

    Salzenpfeffer growled and spat over the side. "Were many sailors lost?"

    "Remarkably few. Most of those who were aboard ship swam clear."

    "Thanks be to merciful Manaan, then. How fared the city? The fire would have spread from the docks."

    "You can thank Manaan again. By some miracle, a squall blew in off the sea and doused the flames. Between the long knives of the sailors and the tridents of the sea priests, the cultists were hunted down to the last man."

    "A just outcome, but now there is no protection for the waterways of the Empire."

    Magnus laughed bitterly. "That protection was found inadequate to impede an entire flotilla of pointy eared pirates."

    Salzenpfeffer looked around to make sure none of the aforementioned pointy ears were listening too closely. "There is a rumour that the elves used magic to make their way through the narrows undetected."

    Magnus raised his eyebrows in mock wonder. "What do you say to that?"

    "I say the port guard have magical dreams while they sleep at their posts."

    "Hmm. Corporal Salzenpfeffer, this is Lord Teclis, owner of this vessel."

    The marine nodded respectfully.

    "Actually, it is my brother's boat. He loaned it to me on the understanding that it would be returned intact." The elf eyed Magnus accusingly. "Please make yourself known to Shipmaster Caell at the tiller."

    As the Marine went aft, Magnus made a quiet enquiry, "Good Teclis, how is it that your fleet did pass through Marienburg unchallenged?"

    Teclis replied just as quietly. "We put the port guard into a magical sleep. Your soldier has remarkable insight."

    ------------​

    After reacquainting himself with the two hooded brothers of purity with a grunt, Salzenpfeffer examined every piece of tackle and fixture there was to see on his way to the raised afterdeck. The vessel had twin masts, each carrying a single lateen rigged sail on the port side. Beneath the foredeck there was just enough room for two horses. At its widest point the main deck could be traversed in six strides. The high poop covered cramped accommodation for the men and their host.

    When the marine corporal arrived at the stern he and the elf at the tiller exchanged nods. For all that Shipmaster Caell looked forty years younger than Salzenpfeffer, and despite the fact that he was in fact two hundred years older, they acknowledged in each other the kinship of the sea. This pair had more respect for the might of the open ocean than for the power of any man or elf.

    Salzenpfeffer fired off a series of unintelligible questions about the unfamiliar hull and rig. "How much does she draw? Can she sail a bad tack? How many points off the wind will she reach?"

    "A fathom, there is no bad tack and which wind?" Shipmaster Caell smiled smugly.

    The marine screwed up his face. "What do you mean, which wind?" He looked up at the bulging sails, moistened a finger in his mouth and held it up to test the wind himself.

    When he looked back to the master he had wide eyes. "The breeze blows from hard aport, but the sails are set for a quarter abaft starboard."

    The ship's master chuckled as if at a private joke. "These sails catch the winds of magic, Master Salzenpfeffer. At any time one or more winds will be on a favourable tack. At present, we sail on the Wind of Ulgu. Shall we try another?

    He consulted a forest of small wind vanes on the aft rail. Each pointed a different direction.

    "Shyish, the wind of death is blustery, but on a fair tack." The master rang a bell and called "Changing to Shyish, fifth sept."

    As the elf crewmen hurried to their posts Caell put his hand on a bundle of silver cords which ran to the tips of both sails. There they joined the sloping yards. The elf muttered a brief incantation.

    The sails suddenly drooped as their grip on the wind of Ulgu was broken. The crew quickly slackened the sheets and hauled in the halyards, setting the limp sails almost perpendicular to the beam.

    When all lines were secured, Caell murmured again. The sails swelled with a booming sound and the ship lurched forwards with enough force to dip the prow almost under the surface. The passengers on the main deck were treated to a shower of spray.

    Salzenpfeffer was astounded. "You can do magic!"

    The master smiled wryly. "That is a minor manipulation, and it is the only one I am adept with. It is the sails that bind the winds. I merely change their aspect. A true mage collects the power of magic and shapes it into a tool or a weapon before releasing it."

    "I have seen it. Our enemies use such weapons against us, but magic is forbidden in the Empire."

    "You have no battle mages to defend your Empire?"

    The marine nodded solemnly.

    "I'm surprised that an Empire remains to be fought over."

    ------------​

    As night fell over the gliding ship. Shipmaster Caell reported that they would reach Nuln before noon the following day. Magnus yawned and stretched.

    "I have been in the midst of three battles this last two days and nights."

    "Get some rest, Emperor Magnus," advised Mahtis. "If you don't have your health, you don't have anything."

    "I would sleep better if I knew more about my allies. What bedtime tales will you tell us of the affairs of elves, Mage Teclis?"

    Teclis drew breath and noted that he had somehow drawn an audience. "Dark tales, I'm sure. The most recent chapter began two years ago. You see the Chaos Moon, Morrslieb? Did you note that it waxed larger then mysteriously shrank?"

    "Mysteriously shrank?" Brother Elwood scratched his head through his cowl. "There is no mystery. It has been pushed farther away. It just looks smaller."

    Teclis head whipped around to look at him closely. "Well, yes. That is so. The mystery is how and why this occurred. Who can tell?"

    The brothers of Purity, the Lizard Lady and her ugly child all raised their hands. Teclis foolishly chose to ignore them and continued his tale.

    "Parts of Morrslieb showered the earth in the aftermath-"

    "Pure Warpstone. It inflames those inclined to evil and imposes the flux of change on all." It was Brother Jakob who spoke this time.

    "Yes. That is correct. You have a surprising amount of arcane knowledge, monk."

    Brother Jakob shrugged. "Self flagellation isn't a full time job. Pray continue."

    "Thank you," the elf replied sarcastically. "The other effect was that the four gods of Chaos became enraged-"

    "Except for Khorne. He was already enraged," Rychek interrupted.

    Teclis was becoming increasingly irritated. "Does someone else want to tell the next part, or shall I?"

    Mahtis’ rumbling voice rose. "In the Polar Wastes, servants of the Chaos gods raised a huge army of daemons, Chaos Warriors, Beastmen and evil monsters. They were poised to sweep over the lands of men, when they were scattered into disarray by the starving Warhost of the Ogre Kingdoms. They were pushed over the pole and decided to invade Naggaroth instead."

    Teclis was astounded, "How is this possible?"

    Mahtis cocked a scaly eyebrow at him. "It is possible because the world is round." He held up his great claws and described a sphere with them. "If the Old World is here, and Naggaroth is here-"

    "I know the world is round!" Teclis exploded. "How is it that you know about the Chaos Horde?"

    The Lizard Lady frowned. "An ogre told me."

    Teclis saw another raised hand. "What?"

    It was Wolf Priest Heimlich. "What was that about the world being round? Wouldn't the Australustrians fall off?"

    "No more interruptions or you shall all go to bed without a story! Where was I?"

    "Naggaroth," replied several voices.

    "Yes, Naggaroth. Rather than resist, the Witch King of the Druchii, Malekith saw advantage in an alliance with the dark powers. Although Lustria was probably the horde’s objective-"

    Teclis stopped because he had heard a hissing intake of breath from Rychek.

    "Hush, Rychek. The elf said no interruptions." the Lizard Lady said

    "But Mah," the small lizard whined.

    "Hush, or I'll send you to bed right now."

    When it was clear that the spawnling would respect this threat, Teclis continued. "The chaos horde may have wished to assail Lustria, but Malekith tricked or convinced them into taking ship with him to first attack my homeland, Ulthuan."

    There was a faint popping sound as Bullenscheisse withdrew his thumb from his mouth. "Why?" he asked, attracting everyone's attention to himself, and to Monberg.

    "Oh Bleep, Bullenscheisse! Why did you bring your bleeping teddy? Its bleeping embarrassing!"

    Monberg held his tongue, but looked every bit as embarrassed as the engineer's eldest brother.

    The Imperial Engineer reacted defensively. "Monberg goes everywhere with me."

    "SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

    "Thank you, Rychek." Teclis wiped a spray of lizard spit from his face. "Malekith and his Dark Elves split from we High Elves millennia ago. The stories of his ambition and treachery can wait for another night. Just let it be said that he hates the true Sons of Asuryan and he craves the Phoenix Crown for himself.

    "As the dark forces sailed south, the nimbus of chaos in the sky followed it. Beneath its penumbra, mighty daemons manifested at will."

    "That's unusual. Ordinarily they cannot take form in the natural world for more than a few... Ouch! Who just poked me?"

    Teclis waited serenely. He was by no means the fastest of elves, but he thought that his intervention was quick enough to have escaped detection. "There is a new pressure of will from the Chaos Realm. The four gods are undivided in their purpose. As their servants advance, the overlap between our realm and that of corruption grows.

    "Most of Ulthuan was overrun. It was not until the battle of Finuval Plain that my brother, Tyrion, the owner of this boat," he looked at Arschloch meaningfully, "killed the Druchii champion in single combat, and the dark horde was turned back. Malekith and his allies fled, greatly reduced, and the pall of Chaos retreated with them."

    Magnus spoke. "A happy ending to give us sweet dreams. Thank you, Mage Teclis..."

    "There is more. We had hoped the Everchosen had been slain. But it was not so."

    "Everchosen?" asked Bullenscheisse. At the menacing name he squeezed Monberg ever the tighter.

    "A man, or once he was. He is the chosen vessel of all four of the Ruinous Powers."

    "How do you know he isn't dead?" asked Bullenscheisse.

    Teclis pointed at the night sky astern of the boat. It glowered purple and green and looked swollen, like an ugly bruise.

    "Behold the Aurora Chaotica. The forces of Chaos remain undivided. The Everchosen lives. As he drives his thralls south, corruption and madness will follow them. Your Old World will fall, followed by all other lands. The earth itself will be wholly plunged into the Realm of Chaos and the gods of Ruin will reign upon it without restraint."

    Teclis stood and smoothed his tunic.

    "Sleep well," he said before retiring for the night.
     
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  16. spawning of Bob
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    14 The Road to Nuln


    Dawn found Magnus brooding on the fore castle. Teclis joined him.

    "I trust you are rested."

    The Emperor glanced at the elf, then eyed Mahtis who was reclining against the foremast. The 'lizard lady' was picking his teeth with the fingernails of the minotaur arm he still carried about. He felt Magnus' eyes on him and looked up with a grin. Every one of the teeth revealed by his innocent smile was as long as a man’s finger.

    "I never know if Mahtis is snoring or growling."

    Teclis studied the ogre sized lizard. "You have some... unusual companions."

    "Yes, but please forgive Arschloch's rough speech. It is his religious duty. Indeed it is a family calling."

    "I refer to the two talking lizards and the mysterious monks."

    "Oh yes, them. It seems an age ago, but I bid them to blend in. They do it so well that I hardly find them unusual anymore." Magnus considered his surroundings. "This boat is a different matter. It will not do to sail an elven ship to the docks in Nuln. We know nothing of the situation there but for reports that the Red Robes unexpectedly control the streets."

    "It's like they say, ‘no-one expects the Imperial Inquisition.’ Ouch!"

    The last comment came from brother Jakob who was leaning against the deck rail. Rychek had kicked him in the shin for his careless talk. Magnus held his breath until it was clear that no crimson robed torturers were about to swing down from the rigging.

    "The inquisitors are suspicious of all aliens and especially elves, knowing you to be magic users. An elf warship in the town may provoke unpleasantness."

    "Isn't it your inquisition now, Emperor Magnus?" Brother Jakob asked.

    "Perhaps so, but no-one in Nuln will recognise my authority. We will be the first contact they have had from north of the Reikwald since the battle. Or should I say, battles. We must disguise your ship, Mage Teclis. We should slosh pitch on the white timbers, chop down one of the masts and paste river mud on the sail to make it look more like an Imperial scow."

    The Elf mage paled visibly. "Could we instead put my brother's boat ashore out of sight and go quietly with a small party afoot?"

    "Oh, have it your way."

    -------------​

    The ship dropped anchor on the west bank of the river. The Emperor's party strode boldly through the mid morning sun, except for Rychek, who scampered.

    "The eagle scout reported daemons in this city on the night of the comet. The fiends must have entered through a rift between realms." Teclis noted. "I only know of magical means of closing such. How could your Inquisitors achieve this?"

    Magnus shrugged. "The answer lies in Verena's city. Per fidem intelluctus."

    "Verena? Per fidum…?" Teclis’ brow wrinkled.

    "Verena is Patron Goddess of Nuln and its university. She is the goddess of justice and learning. Per fidem intelluctus is her motto rendered in the scholars’ tongue. It means, 'by faith, understanding’."

    Bullenscheisse stated, "God Emperor Sigmar has the motto, Pié Sigmar dominé, dona éis requiem."

    Swish Smack

    The engineer had to duck to avoid the brothers' whistling flails as they whipped themselves across the shoulders without breaking stride.

    “Must you?”

    “Sorry,” said Brother Elwood. “It’s become a reflex. Every time we hear Pié Sigmar dominé, dona éis requiem-

    Swish Smack

    “- or if we feel a cleansing is due, it just happens.”

    Arschloch joined the discussion. “Bleeping Pié Sigmar dominé, dona éis requiem-“

    Swish Smack

    “- is a weak motto. Bleeping Saint Tourette has-"

    "Thank you, Arschloch, that will do! 'By faith, understanding' is more appropriate at this time."

    "You men use this word ‘faith’ over much." Teclis reflected. "On the city walls it brought hope. Now it brings understanding. What else?"

    "Faith brings purpose." Brother Elwood replied. "We have faith that our gods guide us in their Great Plan. If we did not have faith how could we ever take any action?"

    “Your gods? Aren’t you sworn to Sigmar?”

    “We really just joined the Order of Purity as a convenience.”

    “You find it convenient to flog yourselves? Each to their own. However, if your sense of purpose comes from a belief that your whole life rigidly follows some god’s plan, you must be saying that you toil toward some unknown goal, like an ant. What allows you to cope with the possibility that there is no plan, and that your lives are without purpose?"

    Elwood shrugged. "Faith," he said as he continued plodding along the road.

    After another long pause Bullenscheisse asked, "have the High Elves no gods?"

    "There are many temples and shrines in Ulthuan. We elves venerate our gods for their power. However, we don't demand that they cease their business to assist us with our earthly troubles."

    "Nor do we men demand such things, Mage," observed Wolf Priest Heimlich, "We follow their commands so that we may be found worthy to receive their blessings."

    Teclis snorted. "What manner of blessings do the gods give? In my experience they give curses in equal measure. And I hope you do not believe that the sun will not rise tomorrow if you don't perform your prayers and rituals."

    "The gods sustain and give order to all creation. And then there are miracles. Have you never heard of one?"

    "If by miracle you mean the direct intervention of a god then yes, I have. But I would council you to not meddle too deeply in their affairs. The gods are as like to smite as show mercy. Perhaps your City of Goddess Verena will prove my assertion.

    Magnus shrugged. "Per fidem intellectus."
     
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  17. spawning of Bob
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    15 Nuln


    The roadway to Nuln was empty of all traffic. A quarter mile from the city there was another oddity: a pair of deep trenches, each occupied by rows of shrouded corpses.

    "Mass graves?" asked Magnus. "Things must be dire if the Garden of Morr has closed its gates."

    "There is a marker here." Brother Elwood bent to look at the unfamiliar symbol which was staked beside one of the pits. It looked like an eight spoked cartwheel surmounted by flame.

    "The symbol means 'the accursed'. Here lie cultists and traitors, or I assume so." Bullenscheisse nodded to a sign on the other side of the road. "And that is the mark of Verena. These must be martyrs who died to protect her city, Nuln."

    The symbol was of Verena's sword hanging over the scales of justice.

    "Pehaps," said Magnus, "but remember that mark has another meaning. It can also be used to identify those who are 'under judgement'."

    ------------​

    The gates barring the river road were blackened and twisted, barely hanging from their hinges. Inside, the guard house which attended them was a deserted, burnt out shell. The empty streets showed other signs of strife - doors and windows were broken. Here and there facades were fire blackened or pocked with holes from firearms.

    "What in Saint bleeping Tourette's bleeping name happened here?" asked Arschloch, but of course no member of the party could inform him.

    Teclis cocked a pointy ear. "I hear the voices of a great many people," he reported.

    "The whole city must be gathered in the university plaza. We should cross the river by the Academy Bridge."

    As they neared the bridge they heard raised voices from an alley way just ahead. Two men in crimson robes and pointed hats emerged, propelling another dark robed fellow ahead of them by cruelly twisting his arms. As they pushed him onto the street, a third crimson brute followed them twirling a many-thonged whip with a smoking brass orb swinging at the other end of the haft.

    The first they noticed of the party from Altdorf was Brother Jakob's inevitable exclamation, "I wasn't expecting the Imperial Inquisition!"

    They whirled to face him.

    "No-one expects the-" the third inquisitor began menacingly, but he stopped short as he saw the numerical superiority of the group. He also noted the presence of a glittering elf lord and a pair of two legged lizards. The thugs dropped their hostage and his whip, then they rapidly withdrew in the direction of the university plaza.

    Brothers Jakob and Elwood rushed to the fallen man's side and supported him in a sitting position.

    "What have they done to you?" asked Brother Jakob.

    The man slowly lifted his blood streaked head. "They beat me and kicked me and flogged me with my own flail." He blinked the blood out of his eyes and smiled happily. "I've never felt so pure."

    "It's okay everyone,” pronounced Brother Elwood. “He is a fellow brother of purity, like us.”

    "Bleeping flagellants. They're all bleeping insane." Arschloch spoke for the remaining members of the Emperor's party.

    "Fast! Fastly! Inside from the streets!" Across the way, a swarthy man with a thick Grekian accent beckoned them from a shop doorway. There was a carved sign on the lintel which read 'Mister Asbestos Amiantidis - Pure Rock Fibre and Grekian Fire Supplies'.

    Once he had ushered the group inside, the man looked up and down the street and quietly closed the door behind them.

    ------------​

    "Gentlemen and gentlethings should not be outside." The olive skinned man wore a leather apron with tools and shears in a large front pocket. He bustled about his room and closed the shutters before finding a seat for the injured flagellant. The only source of light was a hearth fire. By its glow, bolts of white and blue fabric of various thicknesses, sealed pottery jars and bales of what looked like light blue wool could be seen lining the walls.

    The flagellant coughed and groaned as the Grekian trotted to his side with a basin of water and a white cloth.

    "I am Mister Asbestos." He indicated the room. "This my shop." He began fussing over a gash in the purifier’s scalp.

    "May Sigmar the Merciful bless you Mister Asbestos, and you, my rescuers, as well. I am Brother Wilfred."

    "And I am brother Elwood and this is Jakob." Elwood held up the whip he had retrieved from the street. "Are these real teeth woven into your whip? Our whips only have thorns and bits of bone."

    "Ha ha! I'm glad you asked, brother. These are the teeth of the Saint Bernard of Sweitzerlund. I feel much purer when those bad boys bite, let me tell you."

    The trio laughed heartily at the play on words.

    Teclis cast his sceptics eye over the holy relics. The canine teeth looked decidedly canine.

    "Is Saint Bernard a kind of dog perchance?" he asked.

    Brother Wilfred became instantly defensive. "Maybe so, but that's not the point. He was still a holy martyr."

    The elf continued to press. "How was he martyred?"

    The flagellant's reply was inaudible.

    "What was that? Speak up."

    "I said, 'The details are not important'."

    "No, go on, tell us."

    "He was run over by a sacramental brandy cart, but again, that is not the point!"

    "That will do, Mage Teclis," Magnus moved to prevent a full scale religious war. "Faithful Brother Wilfred and good Mister Asbestos, pray tell us what has befallen Nuln."

    "Bad things. Many bad things." Asbestos threw his blood soaked cloth onto the fire and continued cleaning the gash on Wilfred's head with another.

    "Indeed, sir," continued Wilfred. "The twin tailed comet appeared two days ago. It is a sign of the end times. Purify yourself before Sigmar returns and in his fiery wrath..."

    "Thank you for your timely warning, but instead tell us about the city," the Emperor gently redirected the young fanatic.

    "Oh, yes. Chaos Cultists who had been masquerading as lore abiding citizens showed themselves and caused merry havoc. They set afire the artillery academy which exploded."

    "Oooh! How big was the fireball?"

    "Bullenscheisse, don't interrupt."

    The wide eyed flagellant carried on enthusiastically. "Really big. It showered burning debris all over the city. Afterward I heard that when the civil guard went to quell the fire, the cultists seized the barracks and the city gates. What I saw in Temple Square was much worse."

    "Mmmh," grunted Asbestos, "Daemonia."

    "Daemons, yes. I hid myself behind the font of Shallyan and saw everything. The daemons had a kind of door between our world and theirs. It was like a torn curtain. Through the tear came an awful light and a sound like cruel voices all laughing and jeering at once.

    "At first, there was only one big daemon. It had wings like a big bird and arms as well, but it didn't have hands, just a single big claw on each arm like a sickle blade. It was tearing at the hole and letting other things through. The more that came through, the bigger the hole got, and then bigger things could come through. They scattered into the city."

    Asbestos nodded. "Daimonia, yes. They chase peoples."

    Teclis' lined face showed intense interest. "What kinds of daemons?"

    "Many kinds. Some had too many arms and spat blue fire. Some shifted like water, changing their appearance and size."

    "Horrors and changelings of Tzeentch, I'll warrant," stated Brother Jakob.

    "The big one could have been a Herald, I suppose." Brother Elwood added. "It is always hard to say with Tzeentch's deceivers."

    Teclis eyed the hooded brothers suspiciously. "For common religious fanatics, you two have a lot of arcane knowledge."

    "You pick a few things up in between self flagellations." Jakob sniffed.

    Teclis was far from satisfied with this explanation, but he chose to defer the puzzle of the Emperor's spiritual advisors. Instead he asked Wilfred, "The daemons are no longer here? They must have been slain or banished, and the warp rift closed. How did this happen?"

    "Everyones knows!" laughed Asbestosis. "Thavmata! Miracles!"

    Teclis curled his upper lip in distaste. “Miracles?"

    "Indeed, several miracles," replied Wilfred. "For the first, a lay-woman of the order of Saint Tourette came down from the high estates waving a pocket handkerchief-"

    Magnus started. "This woman, who is she?"

    "Oh, she is quite well known in the city. I think her title is Grafina von Bilgewaffen."

    "Bildhofen, perhaps?"

    "Yes, that's it."

    "Mother!" Magnus, Bullenscheisse and Arschloch cried together.

    "Please, tell us what happened to her," begged Bullenscheisse.

    "Why, nothing. Or at least not at that time. The big daemon saw her coming and it stopped ripping at the hole. It laughed and threw a ball of blue fire at her.

    "I heard her shout, 'Son of a - ' and then I couldn't hear her because of the roaring of the flames. It was hot enough that the cobbles scorched and cracked. When the flames died she still stood there. I could see she was about to shout again so I quickly blocked my ears with my fingers.

    "Suddenly more daemons came through, all of them bigger than the first. They all went together to attack her with their claws and teeth. I saw her shouting as they got closer and then the daemons started screaming and twisting, like they were in pain. Their skin and flesh started to tear off in shreds. She never stopped yelling until their bones were stripped bare and then the bones melted away like smoke. I wonder what she said."

    "I dread to think," murmured Magnus.

    Teclis was staggered by this description of supernatural power. "What of the warp rift? Did it close?"

    "Not by itself. Brother Turheld of the Order of Purity came along and walked right up to it. He grabbed the two sides and started pulling them together. The things on the other side weren't laughing anymore. They were shouting and attacking the brother with hell-fire and blades, but Merciful Sigmar took pity on him so that he felt no pain. He was wounded so badly he should have died ten times over, but still Holy Morr would not take him. Not until he had closed the opening. When it was done, he knelt to thank Sigmar for his mercy. Only then did Morr gently take his soul. Pié Sigmar dominé, dona éis requiem."

    Swish Smack

    It was the swinging flails of Brothers Elwood and Jakob which made the sound as they absently flogged themselves. Bullenscheisse only just dodged in time to avoid being struck.

    "Brother Jakob, If you wouldn't mind?" pleaded Wilfred. "Only I think my arms are broken. Or at least I hope so!"

    "With pleasure, brother."

    Swish Smack

    Teclis shook his head at the barbaric ritual. After a moment Brother Wilfred's eyes regained their focus.

    "Ah yes. I saw no more of the other daemons, but I was told they caused havoc in the city for a time then they just disappeared."

    Brother Jakob nodded. "Without a rift nearby they cannot maintain physical form."

    "There are many bodies in pits outside the city, who are they?" Bullenscheisse still feared the worst for his mother.

    Wilfred's face saddened. "After the rent was closed, my faith was bolstered because I knew that the gods were fighting with us. Many others of the faithful, including your mother took courage. By the light of Sigmar's comet we hunted out and purged the foul heretics from the city. Those all lie in the bigger pit. Some of the faithful fell, including the priestess of Shallyan and the Warden of Morr. They were blessed with a noble end." He shook his head sadly. "It seems it will not be so for we that remain."

    "You are noble and brave, Brother Wilfred." Magnus reassured him. "Your name will go in the books of history as one of the heroes of Nuln."

    Wilfred gave a bitter smile. "My name is already in one book too many. After the fire burnt out, those cold blooded bastards..."

    "Hey!" protested Rychek.

    "Oh! I have somehow caused offence to the little one with my impure speech. Brother Elwood, if you wouldn't mind?" Wilfred indicated his back.

    "I should think so!" Elwood swung his flail Swish Smack and left another row of angry red welts across the flagellant's shoulders.

    "Anyway, as I was saying... Was that your flail Brother Elwood? You really should upgrade.”

    "Pray continue, Brother Wilfred."

    "Oh, yes. Those cold blooded inquisitors..."

    Swish Smack

    "There are still lizards present," explained Brother Elwood.

    Arschloch was keen to get to the end of the story. "Stop that! He bleeping didn't even bleeping say 'bastard' that time."

    Swish Smack

    “Oww! For bleep’s sake, Elwood!”

    "That was a hurtful thing to say. Don't you know that poor Junior has no father?"

    "Keep that bleeping thing away from me you son of a..."

    Swish Smack

    "Aargh! What the bleep?"

    "And I have neither father nor mother," Brother Elwood's voice quavered as if he was holding back tears.

    "For the sake of brevity," interrupted Magnus, "May we please have the rest of the tale, devoid of references to cold blood, orphans, questions of legitimacy or further offensive interjections? Are there any questions?"

    Brother Elwood held up one hand in its voluminous sleeve.

    "Any questions which are not about whipping Imprecator Arschloch again just in case?"

    Brother Elwood reluctantly put his hand down again.

    "Where was I?" asked Brother Wilfred.

    Asbestos fished his first cloth out of the hearth fire with a poker. The blood stains had burnt away, but the white fabric was still intact. After a moment it had cooled enough for him to put it back into his apron pocket. "Poikilothermic inquisitor nothos."

    Brother Elwood squinted at Asbestosis as he sifted the unfamiliar words for any cause of offence.

    Wilfred elected not to translate, perhaps out of gratitude for the Grekian's care. "Umm, yes. The inquisitorial… pests… interrogated witnesses and got the names of all of us who fought the... naughty… cultists and wrote them down in the big ledger they keep. The day after the comet, they went into the temple district in large numbers and dragged many away to their dungeon in the commercial district. Some, like myself, were on errands elsewhere, others escaped the net and were sheltered by devout citizens like good Master Asbestos here. Bless you, sir. Pié Sigmar dominé, dona éis requiem."

    Swish Smack, Swish Smack.

    Brothers Elwood and Jakob unconsciously flogged themselves, and then kindly lashed Brother Wilfred without even waiting to be asked.

    "Thank you, brothers. I found a hiding place but the... rascally... inquisitors went from house to house and took all the others. Any homes which gave them shelter were set aflame. I fear yours is also in danger of being burnt down, Master Asbestos."

    The rock fibre merchant laughed loudly and tried to explain why he had no fear of imminent combustion. Sadly his Grekian accent and mirth conspired to make him completely unintelligible. He didn't settle down until brother Elwood threatened him with his flail.

    "Bullenscheisse, check the street." As the engineer complied Magnus began pacing and planning. "We must away to the dungeons. I hope for the... bothersome… inquisitors' sake they have not already harmed mother."

    "You will not find her there. Did you hear the crowd? Those inquisitorial dogs-"

    There was a growl from the shadows as Wolf-priest Heimlich made his brooding presence known.

    "Ah, sorry, good sir. Those… pesky… fellows have herded most of the townsmen to the University Plaza. They plan to burn their captives at the stake after they hold some kind of show trial within the hour. Is it not disgraceful that they do this beneath the statue of the Goddess of Justice herself?"
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2016
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  18. spawning of Bob
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    16 The University Plaza


    The group hurried from Asbestos' place of business, but they had little need for stealth. Those citizens who had not been forced into the plaza hid behind barred doors and shuttered windows. At the near end of the Academy Bridge they paused at a gibbet. From it hung the tattered remains of what was once a man.

    Brother Wilfred bowed his head. "This display was put here by the Inqusition. They say it is an example of the witchcraft which infests the city."

    Magnus ground his teeth. "The Inquisition mutilates corpses now? They are...pigs?"

    The purifiers and the lizards formed a little huddle. Eventually Mahtis nodded and gave Magnus a thumbs up and a grisly smile of encouragement.

    "Thank you, Mahtis. As I was saying, they are pigs!"

    "They are pigs indeed but they did not do this." Brother Wilfred said. "This is Brother Turheld, he who closed the daemon door. As I said, he was terribly wounded but yet he endured until the task was done. He was placed here as he was found."

    Teclis examined the body. The Brother of Purity had a score of grievous wounds and terrible burns. Any of the injuries should have killed him instantly. Despite this, the most striking feature of the martyr's corpse was the ecstatic smile which was upon his lips. As the others moved on, Magnus paused at Teclis’ elbow. "A marvel is it not…" observed Magnus, "… almost a miracle."

    Teclis had no cynical words with which to form a reply.

    ------------

    The Academy Bridge was so named because it crossed the river via the island which had until recently accommodated the Nuln Artillery Academy. The sturdy stone building and its walled yards had been reduced to a blackened shell.

    Bullenscheisse shook his tousled head. "I had hoped to return one day and finish my work at the Academy."

    Magnus squeezed his shoulder comfortingly. "It looks as though someone else finished it for you."

    From the eastern end of the bridge the roiling murmur of a large crowd could be heard, even though they could not be seen behind the bulk of a large building. There was a sole Inquisitor standing watch, but it he faced the wrong way, being more concerned with confining the crowd than keeping back intruders.

    "Wait here. The Order of Purity will handle this," offered Brother Elwood.

    As the three brothers of purity approached the guard he heard their footfalls and turned about. When he saw that they were harmless flagellants he formed an arrogant sneer on his face.

    "What are you doing out here, you delusional, bastard, flagellant sons of dogs?"

    Swish Thud

    "Don't you usually use the other end, Brother Elwood?" asked Brother Wilfred.

    "Oops."

    "Is he dead?" Brother Wilfred prodded the red cloak with his foot. As if on cue, the prostrate Inquisitor groaned. "Oh. Good." Wilfred started kicking him repeatedly.

    The rest of the group caught up with them.

    "Brother Wilfred," Magnus raised an eyebrow. "That is a little uncharitable. What of your vaunted purity?"

    "It's okay," replied Wilfred without pausing. "I think I've broken my foot. Or at least I hope so."

    "Magnus," hissed Bullenscheisse from the corner of the building. "I can't see mother."

    The Emperor and his elder brother joined Bullenscheisse. Together, they peeked into the plaza.

    The large square stood in front of the outer wall of the university precinct. The open arch which led to the edifices of learning was watched over by a statue of Verena on a high stone plinth. The stern goddess held up the scales of justice and reason, and her hand rested on the pommel of the sword of judgement. Below her had been erected a long wooden platform which was furnished with a row of wooden stakes The stakes had bundles of tinder heaped at their bases. But for one empty stake, each had a man or woman of the various religious orders tied to it. However, the Grafina von Bildhofen was absent.

    The crowd of townsfolk on the plaza itself were muttering in discontent, but feared to speak up in front of the cordon of crimson robes which hemmed them in.

    "How the bleep can we rescue mother if she is not here?" Arschloch vented his frustration.

    "First things first," said Mahtis, the Matron of Imperial Nose Hygiene. "Do you all have clean pocket handkerchiefs?"

    "Well, I do," Bullenscheisse held up a slightly grubby cloth.

    Magnus produced his own. "And I've got-"

    "Bleeping mine," snapped Arschloch as he snatched his possession back.

    "But you gave it to me!"

    "Get your bleeping own."

    "Alright. Give me mine back, Bullenscheisse."

    The Imperial Engineer danced out of reach and then made a great show of stuffing the cloth down the front of his breeches.

    "Please, I need one.” Magnus begged. "What will mother say?"

    His two brothers shuddered. "I dread to think," they replied simultaneously.

    Mister Asbestos sighed and handed the distressed Emperor the white cloth that he had earlier rescued from his hearth fire.

    "I am twice indebted to you, good sir."

    "Quiet!" called Rychek, who had taken the brothers' place at the corner. "Something is happening."

    An overweight Inquisitor had clambered onto the wooden platform and held up a flaming torch. In his other hand he cradled a large, open book. He may not have meant it to be so, but his pose was a parody of the Goddess Verena’s own.

    As the crowd hushed, Arschloch cursed with unaccustomed venom. "See that bleeping unbeliever sully the bleeping goddess's bleeping feet. The Queen of Enlightenment and Justice surely reviles him for being a bleeping monste-errrk-" His voice ended on an uncharacteristically squeaky note.

    With bulging eyes, the High Imprecator of Saint Tourette continued carefully. "Of course, I intended no bleeping offence to bleeping monsters, Mahtis."

    The reptilian behemoth gently unclamped her large claw from around the priest's neck. "No offence taken," she said reassuringly.
     
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  19. spawning of Bob
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    17 The Trial


    Cardinal Werner Heisenberg, of the Imperial Inquisition, had long believed himself to be the second most powerful man in the Empire of Man, after High Inquisitor Erwin Schrodinger. In this he had been sadly misinformed, but therein lies another tale. It was actually only within the last three days that he had achieved his penultimacy, a fact he would never come to realize.

    He stood on the rough wooden platform with his flaming brand raised and waited for the crowd to hush. The silence came quickly, but it was not born out of the respect for him or his important office. The stillness was a result of the people's uncertainty. Although he might have preferred love and gratitude, he had long accepted that uncertainty was the mildest feeling the Inquisition engendered. He had even posed the 'Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle' to explain the reason for it.

    In his theorem, he postulated that although it was possible to know the exact location of members of the Imperial Inquisition, it is not possible to simultaneously know when they will shove a sack over your head and drag you away.

    It was a matter of pride for Inquisitor Heisenberg that the succinct version of the principle: No-one expects the Imperial Inquisition, had been adopted with such enthusiasm by the organisation as a whole, and the general population as well.

    While the citizens of Nuln took on the requisite uneasy demeanour, Heisenberg gloated over his imminent rise to supreme authority over the city. The civil authorities were in tatters, and the noble classes were cowering in their estates. The religious orders still pulled at the strings of the superstitious population's hearts, but his next action was designed to sever those bonds.

    A city of two hundred and fifty thousand anxious souls would soon rely on he, and he alone for their continued security. He would remove all faith and hope from Nuln. He would show that there were no miracles. There was only hopeless toil and misery. Anything out of the ordinary should be denounced as witchcraft and the perpetrators purified by fire.

    "People of Nuln." The cardinal's oily voice was deliberately soft, so that people had to strain to hear him.

    "People of Nuln. It is good that you have been gathered here to witness the fair trial and execution of these supernaturalists. And in the case of Geburtstagkostum, the so-called Priest of Taal, this supernaturist.

    "Each has confessed, sadly, without compulsion, to the dark crime of witchcraft."

    "It is not so! We confess only the divine power of the gods!" cried one of the prisoners.

    Heisenberg paused to allow time for one of his cronies to pull a black hood over the head of the protester, muffling his words. He eyed the one empty stake and wished that all heretics were so easily silenced.

    ------------​


    "I've never seen so many of the monst... pigs." Bullenscheisse whispered, "If just one of them sets the tinder alight, all will be lost."

    "You can leave the flames to me," Teclis murmured. His dark eyes were somehow blacker and even though his stature was unchanged he seemed to have a greater presence.

    "I trust you are not contemplating doing something forbidden," cautioned Magnus.

    Teclis arched his brows and met his gaze in silence.

    "The days would need to be truly dark for the Emperor to review of the prohibited status of magic."

    "Darker than these?" asked Teclis in a low voice.

    "Darker days will come, of that I am sure. For now, another way must be found."

    Magnus beckoned the other members of his escort. "Infiltrate the crowd and follow my lead."

    ------------​

    The outburst from the condemned priest had displeased Cardinal Heisenberg. He resolved to bring an early end to the performance.

    "The Inquisition has protected the Empire from the delusions of such fanatics for more than a millennium. We alone have kept you isolated from the magic and mysticism which threaten the very foundations of orderly society.

    "I give to you today a demonstration of what befalls those who lurk in the shadows, those users of forbidden power. Our hidden enemies shall be brought to light with the flames of Inquisitorial zeal and-"

    "Citizens, a moment, if you please. Have you not seen the sign in the sky? There is great and terrible news that all men of Nuln must hear." A white clad soldier pushed his way from the back of the press of people and stepped boldly through the cordon of inquisitors.

    "May I?" the man seemed to address the first staked prisoner, a flagellant. The brother of purity nodded dumbly and the man sprang onto the platform beside the bundles of fire wood.

    Heisenberg appraised the intuder. His close cropped hair was black, indicating that he was probably of no more than forty years of age. His armour was a simple cuirass, as worn by professional fighting men the Old World over. His tunic was of simple white linen, as were his cloak and the hose which were tucked into travel worn black riding boots. His garb bore no device to show rank or allegiance. The evidence suggested that the man was an uncontracted mercenary. The only thing which set him apart from any other sell-sword was the jewelled hilt of his sheathed weapon. He had no doubt plundered the sword off the body of a nobleman.

    As the warrior showed himself to the citizens of Nuln, Heisenberg heard several voices murmur, "Mahrlecht."

    Heisenberg’s lips twitched into a thin smile. Whoever this man was, he was clearly not popular in Nuln, and therefore posed little threat. He hissed, for the man's ears only. "No-one interrupts the Imperial Inquisition. Go about your business or join these heretics in the flames."

    The man in white held out his hands with the palms upwards, but his mute appeal was not to Cardinal Heisenberg. It was to the people.

    "Let him speak!"

    The Inquisitor scanned the crowd. From his high vantage it was easy to identify the deep voiced heckler. It was a Wolf-priest of Ulrik. An easy mark for later.

    "What news do you bring?" There was another suicidal interjector. This was a gangly youth with a mop of black hair.

    As crimson robes started pushing their way through to apprehend the troublemakers another voice rang out clearly.

    "Aren't you the Imperial Inquisition? I wasn't expecting the Imperial Not-interested-in-the-truth-just-do-torture-for-fun-ition! Ouch!"

    "Shut up you idiot, do you want them to show up, too?"

    These last voices came from a pair of flagellants. The crowd began to lose its healthy fear of the red cloaks and began to buzz with curiosity.

    The last vestiges of the Cardinal's hold on the people was completely broken when a Priest of the Order of Saint Tourette called out what seemed to be a liturgical chant. "O Bleeping Saint Tourette, let no bleep be left unsaid. For Bleep's sake. Amen."

    "For Bleep's sake. Amen." The crowd reverentially echoed his words.

    Cardinal Heisenberg hated the Sect of Saint Tourette above all other cults. It was nigh impossible to charge devotees with blasphemy. It was also difficult to prove heresy either, given that the Cardinal was yet to be convinced that it was a real religion.

    "Speak then!" he snarled, but the soldier had already begun to tell his tidings.

    "People of Nuln," the man in white's voice carried clearly to every ear. "I bring you many tidings, both good and bad. Hidden enemies have shown their hand and sought to lay us low- this you already know. What you do not know is that the same has happened in every city, of every province in the Empire of Sigmar."

    The citizens buzzed with surprise. The only truly national threat of any significance in the last hundred years had been the Halfling Larder Loot of the year 2214.

    "Peace friends. In every case, as for our own fair city of Nuln, the gods of the Empire heard the prayers of the devout and caused miraculous victory."

    There were spontaneous cries of praise to Verena and other gods.

    "Is that all?" Heisenberg had to raise his voice to be heard above the hubbub.

    The man continued unabashed. "Not remotely. There is another miracle. By the gods' will, the corrupt elector counts have been deposed. The state troops and militant orders have united under a common banner to march to victory over the enemies of the Empire."

    This was news indeed.

    "A new Emperor? What kind of man is he?" someone called out.

    The man seemed momentarily taken aback. "That is not for me to judge."

    "He's a bleeping bleep!" shouted a powerful voice.

    "Thank you for that endorsement, Imprecator of Saint Tourette," the man replied dryly, then gathered himself anew. "Friends, even as the Empire and her gods show the strength of unity a great threat looms. Even now an army of Chaos assails our brother Kislevites. And our staunch allies, the Dwarfs have been driven from their holds. Will we forget the miracles and signs that have occurred here in Nuln? Or will we rise in faith to put down the faithless?"

    The people of Nuln were in danger of becoming inspired. When the preacher paused to draw breath Cardinal Heisenberg retook the initiative and addressed them.

    "Are you babes to be swayed by this man's hollow preachings. Do not fill your ears with his superstitious lies. Our business today is to punish the falsehood and occultism of these vile witches and warlocks. He can join them."

    The crowd muttered, but none had the courage to raise a voice in protest. The cardinal could feel their spirit seeping away again.

    The man in white turned and locked the Inquisitor with hard grey eyes. For the first time in many years, Heisenberg felt uncertain of himself.

    "Are you still here? You and your ilk were not here when the enemies came and assailed us. Instead you cowered in your holes. The Imperial Inquisition has failed in its duty to protect the people of the Empire."

    As Heisenberg struggled to find a reply to this charge, the crowd began to find its voice again. A dangerous voice, this time. The crowd was rapidly changing into a mob.

    "These people have no further use for you, Inquisitor. Neither do the Empire nor its gods. By divine will, the religious orders have done more to ward the Empire with their prayers and miracles than the Inquisition has done with a thousand years of terror."

    Cardinal Heisenberg laughed cruelly. "You delude yourself and this superstitious rabble. Your gods are false, and there are no miracles - as I shall now demonstrate."

    He thrust his torch into the nearest pile of tinder, that which was under the captive flagellant. There was a collective gasp as the flame guttered out.

    For the next several seconds the plaza was a frozen tableau. The spell was finally broken by the voice of the condemned flagellant. "Does anyone have flint and steel?"

    Heisenberg's men had held the people by little more than the grip of fear. They suddenly realized that they were only lightly armed and conspicuous in front of tens of thousands of the recently oppressed. They cast about for a way out but there was none. The first cobblestone flew moments later.

    "Peace, friends!" Magnus intervened, "I swear by Holy Verena that these... individuals… will live to make recompense for their failings."

    Heisenberg was too enraged to take the slim opening that would allow him to escape being lynched.

    "Who are you to judge the Imperial Inquisition? You are but a common scoundrel."

    "Common again? I was titled Graf Mahrlecht von Bildhofen of Nuln." The man swept his ringing sword from its scabbard and held it high. "but now I stand among my people as Magnus the Pious, Elected Emperor of Sigmar's Realm and anointed as the same by the High Priests of the gods!"

    As each of the astonished townsfolk dropped to one knee, the Emperor slowly lowered his sword tip until it pointed at the fat cardinal's throat.

    "But I do not judge you, Inquisitor. What do the citizens of Nuln say about the inquisition?"

    "They are bleeping bleeps!"

    "Thank you again. Does anyone else agree with the good Imprecator of Saint Tourette?"

    The plaza echoed with the crowd's resounding, "Aye!"

    "There is no shelter and no welcome for you in this city, Inquisitor. But these people shall not be your judges - the gods shall judge you. Leave Nuln and march north. If the gods have mercy they will grant you opportunity to serve the Empire by fighting its real foes. Make way for them, good folk. No more cobblestones."

    The grumbling crowd made a path and Cardinal Heisenberg and his Inquisitors fled the plaza.
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2016
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  20. spawning of Bob
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    18 The Muster


    "You are letting them go? Just like that?" called a disappointed townsman. Magnus heard many other voices echoing the same sentiment. As they realised the objects of their wrath were to escape unscathed, the angry crowd began to turn against their new lord.

    The Emperor smiled broadly and asked, through his gritted teeth, "Have they all gone yet?"

    Word passed back from the throng "Yes, they have gone. But where is justice? Are you like unto those who tortured us?"

    Magnus shook his head and laughed. "The road north runs through the Reikwald Forest does it not?"

    "Yes," came the echoing reply of a thousand tongues.

    "Did you not know that the Reikwald is infested with thirty thousand beast-men."

    "So?"

    "What colour do Inquisitors wear?"

    "Red."

    Magnus inclined his head as if he was expecting a further response. Fortunately, there was at least one Estalian in the crowd.

    "Ole!"

    Chatter spread like ripples on a pond from the area around the Estalian. A moment later there was another wave, this time of savage laughter, which washed across the crowd.

    Magnus held his sword high again to bring attention back to himself. "The enemies of the Empire have struck at our homes and our kin these days past. These humble clerics took up arms and their faith to throw the corrupt ones back and I am sure that some among you also fought. I swear at the feet of Holy Verena that what I say now is true:

    "Every man here will fight against daemons and the fallen ones of Chaos. Every man. And every man must choose where they will make their stand. Will it be with the holy army of the Empire?" he paused for a dozen heartbeats.

    “Or will you wait, to fight alone over your own hearthstone with your terrified wife and children clinging to your legs? Will you fight only after all hope is lost, and nothing remains to defend?"

    The crowd mumbled indistinctly.

    "Is there one true man among the citizens of Nuln? Is there?"

    "Aye!" a number of voices replied. When the last echo lapsed, Magnus spoke again

    "Is there one true man who would take arms to defend his household?"

    "Aye!"

    "His countrymen?"

    "Aye!"

    "His Empire?"

    "Aye!" The men of Nuln, being fast learners, progressively put more heart into their affirmations as Magnus fired his challenges.

    "Is there one man among you will, under the gaze of Holy Verena herself, take a sacred pledge to march with me to Holy War?"

    "Aye!"

    "Who, then, is that man?"

    "I!"

    "Good. I will see you in Kislev with your weapon in your hands."

    Magnus sheathed his sword and stepped off the platform to rejoin his companions. The part inspired, part bewildered crowd parted for him, which was good, because the following conversation with his conspirators was not for general consumption.

    Wolf-priest Heimlich shook his head in wonder. "For a man with no interest in religion, politics, speeches, bluffing and negotiation, you have shown yourself to be a fast learner."

    Magnus dabbed his dripping brow with his new handkerchief. "The longer I keep company with these cursed lizardmen, the more sense I make to myself. However my words were a mere formality to match the occasion. Where is that disobedient elf? It is his fire trick that has launched this crusade."

    "The bleeping mage?” Arschloch tilted his head. “He bleeped off before you even started spouting that load of bleep."

    "But the flames went out…"

    "By means of a miracle?" Brother Elwood supplied tentatively.

    Magnus' mouth opened and closed several times without any words coming out.

    Bullenscheisse rescued him with a situation report. "Flagellant Wilfred got word from someone in the crowd that mother was about to be executed in the Inquisitorial Dungeon. He went to her aid with Teclis, Mahtis and Rychek."

    "Executed in the dungeon? Why do we tarry here?" Magnus charged off in the direction of the Inquisitorial headquarters.”

    ------------​

    The three brothers von Bildhofen and their companions arrived outside the grim facade of the Inquisitors’ keep to find Mage Teclis seated, slumped on a convenient barrel. The shaken elf was holding his head in his hands.

    Mahtis was fanning him with her apron as the lizard child cavorted and giggled. Brother Wilfred was nowhere to be seen.

    Beside them on the street was a half empty wagon which carried more kegs of gunpowder. There was evidence that the rest of the wagon's load had been distributed inside and around the gaol's gloomy archway.

    "What has happened?" Magnus panted urgently.

    Teclis lifted his head with effort. "The only words I will repeat are 'pointy' and 'eared'." He returned his head to the cradle of his shaking hands.

    Rychek grinned at the brothers "She said, '-"

    "Rychek," Mahtis snapped, cutting the innocent babe off in mid sentence. "Do not say that naughty word."

    "But she did say it, Mah."

    "If I hear you repeating that filth it will be straight to bed with no grubs!"

    "But, Mah-"

    At that moment Brother Wilfred limped onto the street. His expression was uncharacteristically sober. Bullenscheisse rushed to him and grabbed his shoulders. "Is she...?"

    Wilfred shook his head sombrely. "I will need to call for the High Purifier. I don't even know if it is possible to flog one's own ears."

    "Is she... dead?"

    "What? Dead? No, your Grace. She is hale and in good voice." The flagellant shuddered. "We came and made ourselves known to the Inquisitor bast...pigs who were preparing to demolish their own dungeon with her in it. They didn't understand we were there to effect a rescue at first because they had bits of cloth stuffed in their ears. When they realized that we had come to liberate the good Grafina, they embraced us in gratitude and ran away. She awaits you within."

    Wilfred sat beside Teclis on the powder keg. "Please don't ask me to go back in there."

    Wolf-priest Heimlich pushed Magnus and Arschloch towards the ominous archway, collecting Bullenscheisse along the way. "Surely she longs to greet her cubs, after these traumatic events. Delay no longer." He propelled them into the dungeon.

    After that, he retreated to the minimum safe distance.

    Historians do not record the tender words that passed between mother and sons.

    Historians dread to think.

    ------------​

    The brothers von Bildhofen led their mother out into the afternoon sunlight, where she stood blinking and clutching her pocket handkerchief. She was of surprisingly small stature, and her simple garb gave no indication of her rank as a minor noble and laywoman of a powerful sect.

    "Bleeping lizards, elves and flagellants?" she asked after her eyes adjusted to the daylight.

    "Yes, mother. Bleeping lizards, elves and flagellants. Such are my dearest friends." Magnus replied.

    "I bleeping raised you to bleeping keep better bleeping company than this."

    "I'm sorry, mother."

    "You should be bleeping thinking about settling down with some bleeping girl with bleeping big bleeps."

    "Yes, mother. Brother Wilfred?"

    The flagellant raised his head from his hands. The elf sitting beside him whimpered but didn't move.

    "Brother Wilfred, will you please escort mother back to her house in the high quarter."

    "Must I?"

    "Your suffering will surely abrade your worthless guilty soul to a state of rawness."

    "Do you think so?" Wilfred's face lost some of its despair.

    "What say you Imprecator Arschloch?"

    "Bleep, yeah. Bleeding bleeping raw."

    Wilfred stood and offered one of his broken arms to the noble lady. "Will you allow me the pleasure of your company, Your Grace?"

    "Since you asked so politely, you little bleep." She accepted his arm graciously.

    As they walked away, the Emperor heard the flagellant say, "You can hold my arm a little tighter, Your Grace. And maybe twist it a bit. Ooh, that's good."

    As Magnus watched them go he dried a tear from his eye with his handkerchief. "Now to business. Brothers Jakob and Elwood, Mahtis and Rychek, please guide Mage Teclis back to his brother's boat and see that he receives care. Ask Shipmaster Caell to sail to the town dock. We will meet the ship and the Elector Counts who have waited so patiently aboard at the dock."

    The four he had named nodded and helped the twitching elf to his feet.

    "It seems that there will be a crusade and a grand muster of the Empire. Arschloch, I leave it to you to handle recruitment in the southern provinces. You will need to whip up a certain amount of religious fervour. Can you deliver fiery sermons?"

    "Are you bleeping mocking me, you little bleep?" Arschloch snarled.

    "Yes, I thought so. I will meet you in the city of Bechafen six weeks hence with the muster of the northern provinces. You will need to organise logistics and supply lines for your army as you go."

    "My bleeping army? Won't the bleeping Elector Counts lead it?"

    "No. I wish to lead but one army of the Empire. I don't want several rival provincial forces. The new Electors are to stay in their new dominions with the mercenary companies to guard against other threats, and to consolidate their own authority over the provinces. The states are bankrupt, and as long as I hold the purse, the black companies will not act up. In addition, your army is to include the heads of all of the noble houses. If any remain here, you can be sure there will be intrigue and treachery at our backs."

    "Many of the noble bleeps will not come. They don't give a bleep for the Empire or her bleeping gods."

    "You may inform them that any who do not present themselves for holy duty will forfeit their estates for the use of the Empire. You will have a hundred thousand warriors at your back to make good that promise if need be."

    The High Imprecator nodded his understanding.

    Magnus turned to his younger brother. "Bullenscheisse, before we sail, make a rough inventory of what artillery pieces Nuln has available. After that we must go back to Altdorf to call the muster of the northern states. I only hope that we can raise enough troops between us to save Sigmar's Empire."

    "Have faith, Mahrlecht. With the brothers Bildhofen in charge, I'm sure the Empire will be bleeped."

    "Only time will tell, Arschloch. Only time will tell."
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2016
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