A Tale of Two Armies – Chapter 4

TaleOfTwoArmies copyAfter a longer pause than intended, we submit to you, dear reader, the fourth chapter in the continuing saga of von Bomburg and von Strauss…

All along the clearing the forces of Order and Chaos clashed. Skullcrushers rampaged through units of infantry, Chaos Knights, atop mighty, yet twisted, steeds charged through regiments five times their size and laid them low. Yet amidst the seemingly senseless, explosive, violence there was an out-of-place oasis of calm. The eye of the storm. An implacable block of Warriors of Khorne, their armour daubed a muddy red, their shields locked and their feet beating the ground in perfect time moved towards the familiar form of the von Bomburg household guard. At it’s centre: the emaciated form of Ludwig von Bomburg.

Otto clucked his tongue. It saddened him to see how far his brother had fallen, but it was understandable what with that brute von Strauss dogging him for years. Were it not for a touch of luck and his own guiding hand, the Red would have had Ludwig’s head on a spike years ago. Poor bastard. But his own patron had plans for his brother, as she did him. And she would not be denied.

The battle flowed back and forth, losses mounting on both sides. Carrion birds circled overhead, squawking to the men below to hurry up and finish the bloody business before them. Mangy dogs that followed the scent of death were already pulling at corpses. Growling and snapping amongst themselves to be the first to feed. To Otto’s gifted sight he could see daemon things licking at the fabric of the world, hungry to taste the blood of the fallen. To caper amongst the entrails and severed heads. And to take the skulls back to their master.

von Strauss was yet to commit himself to the fight, content, it seemed, to allow his Skullcrushers and their deranged mounts the chance to gorge themselves on sweet meats of Marienburg fighting men. Although losses were mounting for the subjects of the Blood God, they would ultimately prevail. Nothing could stop their ferocity. Or deter their mortal master.

Otto closed his eyes for a moment and reached out with his nethersight, touching the minds of the Demigryphs. Nudging their curiosity and firing their hunger, he coaxed them to turn their heads from the main force they were galloping towards and focus on the clanking wall of doom that made up von Strauss’ escorting regiment of Warriors. The minds of disciplined soldiers were hard to manipulate at this range but creatures were far easier. Base instincts were something he understood all too well, and with the tiniest poke and prod he had done little more than stoke the fires of the Demigryphs’ natural aggression.

Otto smiled to himself, his pale features folding around lips painted thick with rouge, as he saw the alarm on the faces of the Demigryphs’ riders. He suspected it was as much to do with their hulking, clanking, target as it was the unprovoked change of direction. The Demigryphs picked up speed, shrieks ringing out from their cruel, hooked, beaks. Otto’s smile broadened as a ragtag mob of primitives turned to face the creatures, their bearded thug of a leader raising a crude axe and bellowing orders in their guttural language. They didn’t stand a chance. Had they not been in the grip of their blood frenzy they might have seen it.

The marauders didn’t so much collide with the Demigryphs as explode against them. They were hopelessly, hilariously, outclassed. Otto’s fingers twitched as his mind poked and prodded the minds of the Demigryphs, like a conductor directing a grand orchestra. Every tear of muscle, spray of blood and scream blended together into a symphony. The creatures lunged and rendered with unerring accuracy. Within minutes the entire mob was bloodied chunks of meat in pools of spreading gore. The Demigrphys hooted and chirruped their satisfaction and began to move on, towards the Warriors and hulking form of von Strauss. He had stopped to watch the slaughter. Otto had assumed the simple-minded brute was merely transfixed by the carnage but he corrected himself. For the followers of the Blood God it wasn’t, as most assumed, a sexual high or even a euphoric one. The frenzy didn’t stop them in their tracks, it drove them onwards as if Khorne himself was at the press of his follower’s backs.

No, he was thinking. Otto felt unease settle in his stomach as he scanned the tree line and then the hills. Eventually the featureless gaze of his horned helm rested on Otto. Even though he was miles away, Otto knew that von Strauss could see him. The blessings of Khorne had seen to it that the Red was far more than a mere man. Otto watched with a growing sense of fear – that made his body tremble so new was the sensation – as von Strauss lift his hunting spear in challenge before quitting the battle field with his warriors in tow, leaving five of his finest warriors to slow the Demigryphs down if only for a moment.

von Strauss didn’t even give his forces a cursory glance as he rushed back towards his own lines and into the trees, his retinue close at his heels. On the battlefield the tide had turned. The various arcane contraptions with which Ludwig waged war were taking their toll. Although the Marieburger force would be lucky to have a soul left alive but the forces of ruination would be wiped out. Not that it seemed to bother all that much.

‘Well,’ He said to himself as much as his patron, he was always listening, ‘I suppose it would be rude to pack up and leave.’ He drew a gnarled root from the flowing folds of his purple rob and began chewing on it. He closed his eyes as he felt the narcotics working their magic. He chuckled to himself as he got comfy, perching atop an old tree bole, root clenched in between his teeth as he patiently awaited the Red.

***

The armoured fist around his throat snapped Otto from his trance state. He had cast his mental net wide and was reaching out trying to soak up the raging storm of emotions that seethed in the forest and nearby townsteads. His body was opening up to the nature of existence as seen through the eyes of Slannesh only to be yanked free so close to enlightenment…

von Strauss would pay.

Before he could utter a word of protest or lay a curse upon von Strauss, the armoured giant lifted him into the air and began to squeeze. What little colour was left in his sallow complexion drained away and he gasped and flailed against the iron grip.

‘Why?’ The sound was like an avalanche. A deep bass rumble that threatened unimaginable violence. Otto, in his own way, was just as powerful as von Strauss. He had been blessed many times over by his mistress but with his brain being rapidly starved of oxygen he could do little more than try to stay conscious. And it was a battle he was losing. Forcing his manicured hands between the purpling skin of his throat and the gore red gauntlet he used all his diminishing strength to bend a digit back enough that he could draw a wheezing gasp.

‘Because She wills it.’ He managed.

von Strauss’ obvious disgust was punctuated by throwing the sorcerer bodily to the floor. Otto hit the ground hard and he felt something break and his arm exploded in pain. He rolled on the floor in a state of ecstasy, momentarily lost to the pain pleasure that was surging around his body, lost to the gravity of the situation. But the sensation passed all too quickly and his mind returned to the moment and the armoured monster looming over him.

‘So weak.’ von Strauss growled, disgust dripping from every word. He reached for the spear lashed to his back, the blade a seething mess of madness and dark light, preparing to finish off the whelp of Slannesh. Otto lashed out a hand, speaking a string of oily words that had no place in the material realm. A seething wave of energy struck von Strauss and for a moment the Khorne lord disappeared. Otto’s elation was replaced with cold dread as von Strauss appeared seemingly unharmed. Something approximating a laugh emanated from his helmet. It made Otto feel immediately sick and his head began to swim. von Strauss drew his spear and deftly spun it in his grip raising it high above his head, ready to plunge it into the stricken form of Otto von Bomburg. In the distance the sounds of battle had died away. He knew his forces were scattered but he cared not. More flocked to his banner with each passing day. For every skull he took and town he burned in his efforts to wreak misery on the son of Marienburg his power grew.

Silence fell upon the hill. Even the cawing flocks of carrion birds had given up their incessant complaining. Even the low rumble of von Strauss’ heavy breathing had faded to nothing. Otto blanched in the face of his own mortality, the fear gripping him tasting bitter depriving him of the thrill he’d felt so often in his life. He screwed his eyes shut, earning a snort of disgust from von Strauss, as he offered up prayers to his mistress, promising her his soul, the soul of his brother and all who follow him and the life of von Strauss, the favoured of Khorne. The spear lunged downwards, the blade an ever-changing horror of leering faces and daemonic fire. The edge rippled with black light as it sliced through the air.

The blade impacted with the thin, accentuated, metal of Otto’s chest plate and shattered. von Strauss was thrown from his feet as the dark energies bound within the ancient weapon were suddenly unleashed. Otto howled as the dark energies scoured his form, cooking his flesh and fusing his ornate armour to his body. But he did not die.

By the time Otto stood on quivering legs von Strauss had already recovered, his armour scorched and smoking but otherwise unharmed. The chuckle again. ‘It seems, little man, your God favours you. No matter.’ He said tossing the splintered spear haft into the bushes, the smoking end immediately setting the brittle branches alight. ‘ I will have your brother’s head, and yours. And you will perish in such agony not even you will find pleasure there. Besides,’ He growled, ‘This will make it much greater sport.’

As von Strauss left the shattered form of Otto von Bomburg, the Deviant of Altdorf, surrounded by flames and atop scorched earth where once thick grasses grew he cast one last glance back. ‘No more hiding for you, little man.’

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