For my first contribution to The Shell Case I thought I’d turn a game of Mordheim I played against Phil into a short story. I crushed him basically, but in his defence he had rather ambitiously arranged a game whilst trying to look after his newborn baby so concentration was perhaps not all it could have been.
I took my inspiration from the journal style after action reports he’d quite often write from the perspective of his (female) Witch Hunter captain Comtessa Isabella von Strauss, for the campaign we’ve been playing on and off for the last year or so.
Viktor moved to the front window of the abandoned tavern and peered out across the square, paying close attention to the graveyard that brooded a hundred metres to the left. A glowered back as it perched atop a stone cut laurelled skull. He knew they were out there but as yet couldn’t see any movement. Their assailants had somehow overheard the whispered conversation with him and his contact in the Blotted Slug a few hours earlier, giving away their intent by leaving almost as soon as the lad had finished talking. They must have run hard to have beaten the Marienburgers to the prize. Especially as Viktor knew this part of the city well and had led von Bomburg and his men through a series of short cuts. But he knew Witch Hunters. And Witch Hunters were relentless and they were tough. Belief in their cause made them strong and they wouldn’t let it go without a fight, despite the tiring run.
His contact had told him a mighty relic had been dug up at the Dirrelburg Graveyard at the edge of the merchant’s quarter. But those who had recovered it had been slaughtered by a band of Witch Hunters for defiling the graves before they could escape – almost certainly the same Witch Hunters who were now waiting in the lengthening shadows for them. The artefact would be nearby but any number of the buildings could have been used by the grave robbers as a hide out. The Witch Hunters may even have already found it. It was going to be a long night of searching and scrapping he thought, but not necessarily in that order.
A peal of breaking glass sounded out behind him, followed by the clattering of rickety cupboard doors being slammed open and shut. He didn’t have to look to know his lord and patron, the Baron Ludwig von Bomburg, was searching for literally anything with any alcohol in it to drink that might have been overlooked by all those who had ransacked the place before them.
The baron enjoyed a drink in the same way a dwarf liked gold or an elf liked being an arrogant prick. The baron enjoyed a fine brandy even more than he loved shooting off his mouth – and his brace of pistols. The number of times Viktor had stepped in to save the baron from a hiding or worse was beyond count and he had the scars to prove it. Yet despite Ludwig’s penchant for trouble and mortal danger, Viktor didn’t completely hate him. He was an entertaining chap, and Viktor often found himself laughing at the barrage of insults Baron von Bomberg would regularly unleash upon anyone he took a dislike to. And as Viktor liked a scrap too, Bomberg often provided just the excuse he needed to break faces.
While Bomberg pottered about, heaping curses upon the buildings former occupants for their lack of Marienburg rum, Viktor’s plan was simple. Flush out the enemy and fill them with holes once they broke cover. In case things got up close and personal they had plenty of muscle as back up, most of it in their hired Ogre – Grog. Grog was heading up the main body of their warband his weapon of choice – a tavern table – casually tucked under his arm, leading the way through the streets on Viktor’s far right flank, made up of the gatehouse guards, along with Onasander and that young blood he could never remember the name of.
The perimeter watchmen had begun taking up positions in the large storefront building between himself and Grog, attempting to climb to the upper floors and cover the square and adjoining streets with their crossbows. It was a perilous climb and he could see them struggling to make any progress as shattered floor boards broke loose or walls crumbled beneath their weight. Rufus’ huge greatsword and Marcus’ long spear held the ground floor approach to fend off any attacks on their position while they climbed.
Over to the left the huntsmen made their way cautiously towards the grave yard, longbows in hand for fear of anything appearing suddenly at the gates. Covering their advance was the rooftop marksman with his huge Long Rifle, Broomhilda. Able to pick off an enemy from a great distance, it was a comfort to all the members of Bomberg’s Bombardiers, as they were known, that he was covering their backs. The sudden crack of gunfire ringing out across the streets was also more than adequate in alerting everyone to the presence of danger. The rifle and its owner had been an expensive acquisition from the market traders who drove a hard bargain, but Bomberg had deep pockets, and always bought the best.
An hour before sunset a slight flickers in the shadows betrayed enemy movement and a blast from the Long Rifle sounded the alarm before Viktor could shout an order. Bomberg looked up from the hidden trap door he had discovered and wandered over to the front door, bottle in hand and another tucked in to the belt of his enormous trousers. A hulking figure, no doubt another Ogre, could be seen moving behind the grave yard wall on the left, his silhouette flickering through the railings, along with a group of smaller, man-sized shapes. Burning torches were lit amongst the group and Viktor could now see them to be zealots, weapons in hand, gesturing towards his position. Only one of the perimeter watchmen had managed to scale the building to the first floor, the others giving up and taking positions to cover either side of the building they were in. They began loosing bolts across the square at various perceived movements but none found their mark. A group suddenly broke cover at the end of the street opposite, making for the buildings that Grog and his group on the right flank were advancing on. Rufus had shouldered his great sword and with his bow sent an arrow sailing across the rapidly darkening square. Never a particularly good shot, he exceeded even his own expectations when one the figures hit the ground hard and lay still. It was an impressive shot and one he would never likely repeat, but regardless, an extra measure of rum for that man should he survive.
Von Bomberg, witnessing the incredible feat of marksmanship, was not to be out done, immediately tucking the wine bottle under his arm, yanked his brace of pistols free from their holsters and pointed them at the group of Zealots rounding the corner of the graveyard into the square. The pistols were exquisite pieces of engineering, designed for pinpoint accurate long-range duelling and incorporating in-genius auto reloading mechanisms. Each was a work of art in its own right and worth more than any person in the baron’s employ. And the Baron knew how to use them, when he could see straight, reaping an impressive tally of kills during his time in Mordheim. Wine stained tongue poking past his meticulously maintained moustache he pulled the triggers. One of the Zealots dropped to his knees under the fusillade and keeled over, a dark stain spilling down his chest.
Rufus and Marcus quickly moved towards the fallen warrior Rufus had hit a moment before, only to come under fire from the upper floors of the building opposite. A pair of gunman had lain in wait and now their pistol shots kicked up splinters of cobblestone around them as they ran. None hit their intended targets and Marcus dropped his spear and readied his blunderbuss, loosely aiming for where the shots have come from and prepared to fire. Just as he unleashed the cannonade of shrapnel, an arrow took one of the gunmen in the shoulder. His uninjured friend was quick to duck behind the wall but he was too distracted by the sudden wound and was subsequently shredded by the flying scraps of metal and dropped to floor out of sight. Grinning at Rufus, Marcus retrieved his spear and they both continued after the group Grog was not doubt engaging – judging by the sounds emanating from behind the buildings opposite.
A bellow rose up from the next street over as Grog spied the surviving group of runners entering from the square. Yells and insults were hurled back and it seemed there were more than just a few voices opposing the enthusiastic Ogre. More Witch Hunters must have been emerging from their hides and were making an all out assault. The snarls of wardogs could also be heard echoing off the walls, but Grog was as tough as troll hide and no number of bites was going to slow him down tonight.
Those with him spread across the narrow street forming a wall of steel points with their weapons, standing ready as the Witch Hunters coalesced from the shadows into a mob of gnashing teeth both animal and human. An imposing Warrior Priest could be seen lurking behind his charges, riling them further with his words of justice and retribution. He held his pair of hammers aloft and willed them on towards Grog’s retinue, burning torches lending even greater expression to faces already twisted with anger. Their two wardogs broke their leashes and ran at them full sprint, the first went straight for a gatehouse guard knocking him on his back while the other inexplicably diverted through a ruined house on their right.
Unknown to the others, their nameless youngblood had sneaked into the ruined building trying to flank the Witch Hunters, but he had left himself dangerously exposed. The massive hound launched itself at the slight warrior, forcing him to step backwards and trip on the bottom step of what was once a staircase. The hound’s momentum carried it over the prone warrior, slamming it against the wall. Before the dog could shake off the impact, a sword blade had neatly slotted between the vertebrae in its neck and the animal was stilled. The youngblood wiped his blade on the animal’s fur, took a deep breath, and returned to the street.
The gatehouse guard was pinned under the hound’s weight, barely keeping it’s maw from his face with the haft of his halberd. His fellow guards moved to assist and one crippled the beast with a strike to its hind quarters, the other butchering it as soon as it hit the ground. Its brutal demise blunted the Witch Hunter’s attack. The Witch Hunters were strung out and unable to exert any real pressure on the foes arrayed before them. Even the indomitable warrior priest paused realising the folly of their strategy. Two flagellants were unsurprisingly at the fore swinging their flails with inhuman strength, and whereas most would avoid an opponent the size of an Ogre, they feared nothing.
Before Grog could react a flail hammered across his jaw, snapping his head back with a sickening crunch. The blow would have removed a man’s head from his shoulders but Grog merely stood there for a moment, considering the sensation. He rolled his jaw a few times while the flagellant hesitated – surprised anything could still be alive after his attack. Grog spat a handful of teeth and gore on ground and slowly lifted the heavy oaken table he used as a weapon above his head. The flagellant watched it too, almost uncertain of what was about to occur. In a sudden flurry of movement, Grog slammed the massive piece of furniture against the motionless flagellant. It floored him instantly but Grog didn’t stop, he repeatedly brought the wooden construct down onto sprawled man in a series of heavy blows. Only the rain-sodden, loamy, ground saved the flagellants life, pounding him into the dirt. Although alive he was out for the count and of the fight. His cohort, however, had enjoyed far more success than his unfortunate companion and crushed a gatehouse guard with a crippling blow to the chest. The man lay awkwardly crumpled in the dirt, a gaping hole torn through his torso. Even to Grog’s simple mind he could see there was no saving him: humans couldn’t spare that much blood.
A bullet ricocheted off a wall, passing inches from Grog’s face. He turned to face the shot as a woman dressed in finery returned the gun to its holster and pulled another. Grog didn’t understand much about humans or how they chose leaders, but he knew enough that the more gold and trinkets they wore the more likely they were to be in charge. And this woman had lots of gold and trinkets. Grog took a massive, lumbering, step towards her, but before he could reach the slight woman Rufus and Marcus intercepted her, catching her completely off guard. Marcus blocked her pistol arm with his spear while Rufus’ swung his great sword around in a wide arc that caught her across her midriff. The heavy blade deflected off the blade that she had drawn with lightning speed with her off-hand. The blow had lost none its momentum however, and the force of the strike slammed the woman against the stone wall she stood against, knocking her unconscious.
The other Witch Hunters who Viktor now realised were all also female lost their fighting spirit and gave the signal to withdraw. To Viktor’s eternal surprise, aside from the mutilated hounds, the felled followers of the Witch Hunter’s struggled back to their feet and disappeared into the shadows. Curses and vows of revenge echoed down the streets, punctuated by wild pistol fire from von Bomburg. Even the massive form of their Ogre escaped unharmed. Viktor made a mental note to have a word with the alleged sniper in the tower. He called his men back from their position’s and barked various order’s, there was still work to be done if the night was to be profitable and it never paid to be abroad at night in the City of the Damned.
The crunch of boots on gravel roused the Comtessa, Isabella von Strauss, third daughter of Lord Johan von Strauss, of Reikland. She rolled onto her back, groaning as her wounded head rested on the ground, to see a somewhat ostentatious silhouette standing above her – the utterly appalling Baron Ludwig von Bomberg no doubt. She had heard all sorts of disgraceful stories about his exploits and his appearance lived up to her every expectation. He was dressed in clothing that seemed to have been purchased for its cost rather than its appearance, topped by a brimmed hat adorned with several large feathers from birds she had never seen the like of, and flaunted a slightly flushed aristocratic face that grinned down at her. He offered her his hand coupled with a slightly slurred sentence proclaiming his delight at meeting her acquaintance. Although now being held captive by a warband of mercenary scum and their foppish and ludicrous leader, the comtessa was still a lady of the Empire and a warranted Witch Hunter of the most holy church of Sigmar. Appearances and dignity had to be maintained. She ignored the proffered hand and stood with practised grace.
As she composed herself and rearranged her bustle and its heaving contents, under Bomberg’s leering scrutiny, she thought that despite his initial appearance, there was an underlying steel of a man who was once a fine, skilled and deadly warrior that the drink seemed to keep subdued. His eyes possessed a hard quality and his gaze was as intense as any cultist leader she had put to the torch. He stood before her confidently, carelessly even, and started to look her up and down. The realisation she had underestimated this man slowly crept over her and the first pangs of fear started to manifest themselves. She was a female prisoner in the hands of a drunken lunatic with blackness to his soul. This was not going to end well.