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.’

A Tale of Two Armies: Genesis of a Hero

TaleOfTwoArmies copy

As part of A Tale of Two Armies one of the things we wanted to look at, as part of the wider narrative, was how hero and villain of the piece evolved from our early conversations to the characters they’ll become at the series’ conclusion. I elected to go first as I had the luxury of having much of my character’s back story long ago established.

‘It all started with a game of Mordheim’ I guess is the best way to begin explaining the almost sentient growth of a humble assembly of plastic pieces into a character worthy enough to actually write about.

When The Chaps decided to run a Mordheim Campaign and we were deciding who would do which warband, I plumped for the rich boys of Marienburg figuring the extra gold pieces they had would give me a significant head start to turn them into a dominant force – even if they were a bit lacking in the rules department.  That gold enabled me to tool up my Captain with all the cool toys he could want including a pair of very shiny, and very expensive, Duelling Pistols.  I had the image of a lethal sharpshooter in my mind, wading through combat, picking off enemies one after the other with deadly accurate head shots – none able to get close for fear of ending up face down in the dirt in an expanding pool of their own vital fluids. But it never really happened like that, quite the opposite really.

During the campaign von Bomburg wasn’t exactly living up to those expectations I had when gleefully listing his equipment I invested so heavily in. Dice are fickle at best of times but he could almost be guaranteed to roll a ‘1’ when it really mattered.  During the early days of a character’s progression you forgive poor performances knowing that experience will no doubt improve through skills and stat increases. von Bomburg had now accumulated a few of these (through the rest of his warband performing quite well – love those crossbows), most notably an extra point of Ballistic Skill taking him to a very healthy 5 and the Pistolier skill letting him shoot both of his pistols together if needed.  And a suit Gromril armour – very handy indeed. With the firepower at his disposal he should have been kicking asses and taking names, but it just wasn’t happening for him.

The specific game in question has been mentioned before in other posts and relates specifically to Bomburg’s lack of shooting accuracy.  As this game was playing out he was demonstrating his usual ineptitude with all things ballistic only this time he happened to be in the beer garden of the town tavern.  Standing upon a table acting all heroic like, he took careful aim at the horde of enemies rushing towards him and his fellow Marienburgers, and then proceeded to miss both his shots despite hitting on 2’s as if bestowed with eyes that stared at each other. As this stage his sub par performances could go unnoticed no longer and the rest of The Chaps threw their 2 pence/cents/maple leaves worth into the mire of my disappointment. Amongst the usual tit for tat one comment was latched upon which was he must have been enjoying the beer garden a bit too much and thus impaired his vision [That may have been me… – Ed.].  It stuck and so began the effervescent evolution of Ludwig von Bomburg – the wealthy drunkard fallen on hard times. The son of a wealthy family looking for adventure whilst slowly drinking his fortune away. Somewhere between Paul Whitehouse’s 13th Duke of Wybourne and Rowley Birkin QC (for those of you that watch The Fast Show) – he no doubt possessed the sleazy suaveness of the former but was far more inebriated like the latter.

As the campaign continued, von Bomburg’s performance did improve under the avalanche of additional skills he acquired but he was always below what was expected – the others feared his potential, but never surprised by his failure.  As Bomburg’s ability had improved somewhat during the campaign it seemed natural that he would once have been a formidable foe – the kind of which I wanted at the start, but impact of life’s vices had dulled his skills. The constant state of combat he endures in Mordheim being enough to reawaken some of the potential he lost to the drink, drugs and women.

Another of von Bomburg’s traits were brought to light when he seized on an opportunity to take down Ian’s Vampire who had got a little isolated – von Bomburg stepped forward pistols in hand and proceeded to miss with both shots. von Bomburg and Ian’s Vampire have a little history as way back in the first games of the campaign von Bomburg critically wounded him which resulted in him losing his hand. With us being the fun guys we are, we decided to let Ian graft the crossbow pistol he possessed permanently onto the stump to mitigate such a severe blow so early in the campaign and add a bit of character to proceedings.  This had not been forgotten and so the tables now reversed as Ian managed to distract von Bomburg’s guards and charge him with said Vampire in retaliation. Bomburg was easily out matched but through a healthy dose of luck he managed to survive several rounds of combat and long enough for Ian to fail his route test as my Marienburgers dispatched his minions – sparing Bomburg his doom.  The outcome highlighted that he’s really really lucky when it comes to staying alive. There’s the time he got brained by the handgun only for me to remember his Lucky Charm at the very last second prior to removing the model, or the time he side stepped that Strength 5 lightning bolt.  He rarely dies and always seems to have a way out a sticky situation – often thanks to his long-suffering bodyguard, Viktor holding the enemy up long enough for him make his escape.

By this time I had themed all of the Marienburg warband around what would have been members of his household guard; Viktor was the head of the Household Guard with the Halberdiers being members, one of the Young bloods was his disturbed cousin etc. but Viktor with his role as bodyguard stood out as a key figure in Bomburg’s development – constantly being the difference between him living and dying.  We started to fill out why Viktor accompanied von Bomburg and why Bomburg was even in Mordheim in the first place, a fall from grace seemed to fit the bill and tied in with his truly outrageous drinking, overall poor performance punctuated with flourishes of mad skills.

As Phil and I started to make our foray into the wider Old World in the ‘A Tale of Two Armies’ series it was a no-brainer to expand the Marienburg warband into a fully fledged army of the Empire, but that would then need an explanation as to where any such army he would have been part of had gone and then led to him coming to the cursed city. Part of this story has been told in the articles Phil has been writing and without wishing to spoil anything I can only say so much – the short of it being he loses much and leads his final few followers into Mordheim as a final gambit.

Bomburg has come a long way from the original model I created for my captain using parts from the old Mordheim box.  After the Pub Garden incident I remodelled him to have a wine glass in hand and moved the second pistol to his belt to better represent his character.  He’s tremendous fun to play and almost takes the decision-making out of my hands with his personality deciding what he should do. I’m now getting just as much enjoyment bringing his supporting cast up to a similar level with the dour Viktor and perverted relative having already been mentioned and accumulating their own anecdotes.

Playing games in A Tale of Two Armies allows me to see von Bomburg as a young man, before years of war and booze ruined his mind and as the narrative develops we’ll learn more just what brings von Bomburg to his fate of a tortured existence amidst the ruins of Mordheim.

I’ve also come into possession of a few plastic wine bottles and have designs in mind to add them to the Captain of the Land Ship from Forgeworld and give the young von Bomburg the model he deserves.  It’s an absolutely ace piece and comes with a fantastic looking crew – particularly said Captain.  It would be perfectly fitting as his chariot of choosing, being overly wealthy (at the time) he would no doubt select the biggest and most expensive vehicle he could find.  I can’t wait to send it careening across the battlefield with him loose at the wheel, it’s practically what Warhammer was made for!

A Tale of Two Armies – Chapter 3

TaleOfTwoArmies copyAnd so we get to chapter 3 of the expanding tale of Ludwig von Bomburg and his nemesis; von Strauss the Red. This narrative relates to the 1,000 point game Lee & I played a month ago – yes I’ve been very slack.

von Strauss eyed the Empire army with grudging respect as they barreled towards the sacked town. Armour glistened, elaborate banners snapped in the breeze and blades were sharpened to a perfect and keen edge.

The beastmen were as craven as von Strauss had hoped. They were swept aside against the tide of the Empire’s charge as they thundered into the small, ruined, townstead. Blades rose and fell in the morning sun, glimmering like broken shards of light chased by a rainbow of deep claret. A few gors turned to face their attackers, running to improvised defences and lunging and stabbing with crude spears and rusted swords. It made no difference, the herd was in full-blown route. The morning air was filled with the thud of flesh cutting meat, brays of pain, wordless cries of rage and the drumbeat of hundreds of hooves and feet at full run. Carrion birds, gorged on the carcasses of the townsfolk, took flight on broad oily black wings, crying out their disgust, hooked beaks snapping at one another before settling into a lazy circling flight above the town awaiting fresh feed.

von Strauss jumped down from the rocky outcropping he was using as a vantage point and surveyed his own force. The might of the Blood God was arrayed before him. Knights in spiked armour, atop cruel and violent steeds jostled for position at the front of the charge. Along side them Juggernauts snorted and stamped, their own riders itching to cut flesh and break bone. Further down the line, amongst the trees, he could see the form of Baduk. Charged with commanding the second wave, he was hungry to prove his worth. Perhaps too hungry: he was pacing the line with his weapon drawn, every now and then turning to charge ahead before stopping himself. The path of Khorne was a difficult one. The weakest lost themselves to mindless blood lust and were little more than mindless warriors to feed into the gears of the war machine, but those that could control and channel the blood lust were true horrors of war. Baduk was teetering on the edge, his mortal form still adjusting to the blessed power bestowed upon him by their God. 

‘Hold!’ von Strauss roared. They need only wait mere moments more. Just long enough for the Empire force to chase the herd into the woods. Already he could see von Bomburg halting a portion of his force, as expected, to garrison the town, search for survivors and douse the fires. Just a few moments more and they’d be alone and powerless to stop what was to follow. The bray of the Dragon Ogres that had pledged themselves to his cause emphasised the point. The hulking beasts fought amongst themselves to prove their might, thudding clawed fists into pug jaws, snapping teeth amidst barks of mild amusement.

von Strauss turned as the last of the pursuing Imperial units disappeared into the treeline and raised his hand ready to signal the advance.

‘After them!’ Baduk’s voice cut through the background hum of an army ready for war. His words were immediately met with a roar of approval and the hundreds of bodies around von Strauss surged forwards even as he roared the order to hold. Baduk was already tearing through the trees, axes raised high above his head, those contingents closest to him in hot pursuit.

‘Hold!’ von Strauss bellowed just as Baduk’s own order to charge echoed through the trees. The blood lust had been left to build too long, the need to kill left unsaited and it was too much for the weak souls at his command crumbled beneath the weight of their unholy addiction and surged into the woods. von Strauss roared his frustration to the heavens, lashing out with his blade at anyone within reach damn fool enough to disobey his orders.

As the stampede died away and the dust settled he was left with barely a battalion of men. To his utter surprise some of his knights and skullcrushers had stayed by his side. Clearly the prospect of bloodletting not as powerful as the knowledge of what von Strauss would do to them if they dare disobey him.

He knew he had no choice. His army would have given themselves away. von Bomburg would know a large force was in the forest and either be fortifying his position or falling back to the mountain city of Middenheim. Taking one last look at the fraction of the army he now commanded he silently dropped his sword in a chopping action and his army advanced.

***

‘Sir.’ Viktor called as he lowering the telescope, ‘I think you better come and see this.’ The grizzled veteran and head of the von Bomburg household guard rested a hand on the shattered wall defences and sighed with the weariness of a career soldier at war. His lord was quick to respond, yanking the looking-glass from Viktor’s hand before cursing extensively.

von Bomburg drew his sword as he recognized a familiar figure at a quickening horde of warriors of the North. Breaking ahead of the force Knights on massive cruel steeds and hulking steel monstrosities were closing the distance at an alarming rate. He felt the cold steel of fear grip him and he felt the weight of the hip flask at his hip. He turned to Viktor, his guard commander disturbingly calm.

‘Muster the men.’

***

The soldiers of the Empire had advanced under the bellows of their sergeants to put distance between them and the town in the hope sparing any survivors that may be cowering in the ruins. The grass was long under foot and low hillocks offered no protection and only obscured line of sight to the detachment of handgunners and the cannon at von Bomburg’s disposal. The sparing of the peasants meant there was nowhere for von Bomrburg’s men to hide when the hulking cavalry at von Strauss’ disposal broke apart the Imperial line. Against the broken ribs of Immelscheld the foul knights of von Strauss’ army smashed aside their Imperial counterparts as quickly and as efficiently as a farmer bringing in the harvest. von Bomburg watched in horror as they were butchered to a man just as the knights on the daemonic creatures rode past the unit of Demigryphs gifted to him by Middenheim and smashed through his lines, slaying their way through his ranged units and the precious cannon at his disposal.

He watched in stunned disbelief as the two units slowly dismantled his forces. All around him his men died to the axe blows and swings of cruel edged swords. Just eight soldiers and their mounts, that’s all they were. And the two infantry units, with von Strauss at their head, had yet to engage. Perhaps Sigmar had decided it was his time after all…

Then he spotted them, the Demigryph knights that had failed to stop the cavalry charge were left perfectly positioned to attack the rag-tag group of Northmen running towards his own beleaguered unit. And attack they did. The foul tempered Demigryphs stormed into the marauders and butchered them. The knights atop them barely had time to draw their blades before little more than bloody chunks of the tribesman remained.

von Strauss and his unit turned to face the threat but his men knew it was hopeless and some of their numbered dragged him away from the fight, risking mortal wounds at the hands of their lord as he vented his rage, but better death at the hands of their lord than a lifetime of torture at the hands of Khorne for failing him.

von Bomburg stood at the centre of a raging storm of pain and death. His men gave their lives for him, dozens dying to just pull down a single Knight. They would prevail through sheer weight of numbers but the cost would be great. The Demigryphs collided with the warriors atop the daemon creatures and they tore bloody chunks from one another. The brass and metal beasts snorted and snapped as the Demigryphs screeched and flailed, claws of bone and steel crashing in sprays of blood and liquid fire. But already battered and bloodied from prolonged fighting the skullcrushers were driven off as the last of the knights were overwhelmed.

He stood on shaking legs, utterly unharmed with barely a dozen men left alive around him. The rest of his army he already knew were dead, torn asunder by the rest of von Strauss’ force and no doubt the fell beasts that he now knew had lured them from the safety of the mountain city. All around him lay the price of his folly. The broken bodies of his men and the foul corpses of his enemy lay entwined.

As he trudged back up the steep slope towards Middenheim with the survivors in tow he knew that he’d see von Strauss again and that the man would ultimately kill him. He would have no choice but to return to Marienburg shrouded in shame and begin the muster all over again.

***

At the edge of the woods an elegant rider watched the crushed warrior with keen, slate coloured eyes. His hair was long, pale and tinted purple and perfumed with a mixture of oils. Delicate ink work swirled up bare, tightly muscled, arms leading up to a suit of exquisitely crafted silver armour beneath which white robes patterned with pink flames.

‘Come on Ludwig, old boy, chin up.’

A Tale of Two Armies – Chapter 1

TaleOfTwoArmies copyLee and I finally got around to playing the first game of A Tale of Two Armies. 500 points a piece for a bit of Fantasy Battle fisty-cuffs. To say it was a blood bath is a bit like saying Khorne quite likes skulls. Rather than write battle reports we’ll be writing an expanding narrative chronicling the exploits of von Bomburg and his nemesis, von Strauss the Red. The prologue can be read here.

The city gates of Middenheim ground open just wide enough for Ludwig and the other household guard to carry through the body borne aloft on an oversized shield. City guard hurried down steps and from their posts at the towering city walls. Some ran to help carry the body, others to alert the city’s apothecary and surgeon. The captain of the watch approached, unhelming his head and letting ropes of plaited hair tumble free. Viktor nodded in respect to the man, he knew better than to let the barbaric appearance of Middenheimers deceive him. They were, to a man disciplined and brutal warriors. Sweat beaded Viktor’s brow as he struggled with his burden: it had been a long walk up to the mountain keep’s great gates and he wanted nothing more than to see his charge in expert hands of the city’s medicine men.

‘What happened?’ The Captain demanded.

‘An ambush. Warriors from the distant North.’ Viktor muttered through gritted teeth. ‘We arrived in time to drive off the remnants of their force.’

The Captain cursed under his breath. He pointed a gauntletted hand at the prostrate form as a group of guards finally took the burden from Viktor’s failing grip. ‘And he was the only survivor?’ Asked the Captain.

Viktor worked his quivering, aching limbs and nodded. ‘He is a Baron of Middenheim. And he made damn sure the whoresons of the fell Gods faired no better Captain, be made sure of that.’

***

6 Hours Earlier:

‘Where the bloody hell is Viktor?’ von Bomburg bellowed throwing his helmet at Sergeant Helmut. The grizzled veteran caught the helmet deftly and said nothing, letting the Baron vent his frustrations. ‘I mean how hard can it be to follow our trail? The sodding cannon crew managed it! A cannon, Helmut! What do you have to say to that?’

von Bomburg scooped up a stone from the damp, grassy, ground and hurled it through the window of the abandoned cottage with a satisfying crass of glass. von Bomburg paced the clearing between the cottage and the old broken down watch tower whilst those few men that had kept pace with him stood at uneasy attention. Boettcher and his knights all but ignored the ranting Baron: if he’d dealt with one spoilt noble he’d dealt with them all. Behind them the cannon crew unlatched the gun carriage from their horses and stood nervously, at a loss as to what to do.

Only the Halbediers and their nonplussed sergeant seemed to be paying their employer any notice what so ever. 

‘I believe they had horses sir.’ Helmut said flatly.

von Bomburg turned and wagged a finger at Helmut, the plated digit so close it disturbed the sergeant’s impeccably waxed moustache. ‘Don’t get clever with me sergeant. Whether they had horses or not they and Boettcher’s lot managed to keep up. And here we are at the feet of Middenheim without the army I promised Baron Heidegger.’

‘With due respect, lord, they are less than half a day behind us.’

‘Oh well, that’s all right then, Helmut,’ von Bomburg stormed. ‘That’s okay then. Well done Helmut! Well bloody done! I’ll tell old Heidegger that I’ll fulfil the debt my family owes his tomorrow morning shall I?’

Helmut couldn’t help but rolls his eyes. The year Baron von Bomburg had not been kind to him. A man of action forced into activity was as cruel as cutting the legs off a horse and giving it a field with which to gallop. He had tried everything he could to convince the Burgermeisters to ignore the edict from Altdorf but even with the civil war it did little good to provoke the Empire’s largest city. However when the Northern house of Heidegger summoned von Bomburg at the head of an army to fulfil a debt of honour not even the Burgermeisters could argue. It was one of the law ancient laws passed down by Sigmar that still held sway, especially in such mad times that the Empire now found itself in. Thanks to von Bomburg’s vast wealth he had an army raised within days and Helmut, charged with making sure the Baron stayed within the walls of his estate, saw it a logical extension of his duties and took commission to fight at the Baron’s side.

Helmut snapped out of his reminiscence as von Bomburg finished his long and colourful rant and stormed back towards the cannon, bellowing at them to make themselves useful and ready the gun for test firing. Helmut sighed, and returned to his regiment of halberdiers about to order them to forage amongst the wooded outcroppings for fruits and other food stuffs, when the small unit of archers acting as scouts came into view running as hard as they could.

***

von Strauss flinched as he felt the air displace around him. A second later the man next to him disappeared in a shower of blood, meat and shattered armour. He laughed as much from the violence of the warriors demise as his narrow escape from the cannon-shot. In the distance he could already see the crew frantically reloading, the muzzle pouring white smoke. It was a good opening volley and he did so prefer his opponents to make good sport. Though Khorne demanded blood and skulls, von Strauss demanded a challenge and as the latter begot the former his God was happy. It also kept the blood lust from clouding his mind fully. The blood God granted him just enough clarity of thought that he could at least attempt to direct his forces although he knew all too well that Khorne gave no such dispensation von Strauss’ followers.

It had proved thus as Chief Kaldrago had surged forward as soon as the order to advance had been given. He and his motley band of Marauders of the Red Hand had charged forward, picks and axes waving wildly in their air. Thick muscles, heavily marked in crimson, pumped furiously as they were driven mad by their need to kill. Their mangy pack of dogs bounded after them, baying and snapping their distended jaws at the air. von Strauss had to give credit to von Bomburg, he not only rallied his men quickly but commanded them well. Kaldrago and his marauders were currently being torn apart by von Bomburg and his unit of halberdiers. But that made no odds, the savage and his kinsman were there to die and little more. No, von Strauss had to fight the temptation to join the fray and deal with the cannon first. Then he’d have to do something about the knights that were fast approaching from the rear having butchered the hounds, albeit at the cost of one of their number.

The mighty cannon fired again. Another one of his warriors disappeared in an explosion of vital fluids. Smoke, dirtier than the last time, billowed from the barrel and the crew started paling water over the war machine in a frantic effort to cool it ahead of firing again. von Strauss smiled to himself. The pace of his men’s advance was forcing the crew to reload and fire far faster than was safe – out of fear presumably.

A growl rumbled from his throat as he felt the blood lust emanate from his men. They tasted the cannon crew’s fear and they wanted blood. As his lips parted to give the order to charge a whickering volley of arrows clattered against their armour. The scouts von Strauss had chased back to von Bomburg’s encampment had broken cover, feebly attempting to defend their comrades. Much to von Strauss’ irritation it only succeeded in sending his warriors into a frenzy. The unit surged forwards and descended on the bowmen. von Strauss butchered them all with a single sweep of his blade as much to demonstrate his dominance to his men as to vent his frustrations. The move had exposed the flank of his diminishing unit to the cannon. He glowered at the crew who frantically adjusted the position of the gun and he offered up a prayer to Khorne. A risky move as the lord of war was as likely to punish him for asking for aide as he was to grant it.

As von Strauss and his men came about to face the oncoming knights he risked a glance over his shoulder at the cannon. There was nothing he could do about the war machine now, the bowmen had delayed them enough that now their only hope would be to engage the Imperial knights and hope the cannon crew wouldn’t be fool enough to risk firing at their betters. The taper dropped and the cannon bucked and instead of the crack, boom and whoosh of a cannon ball, and the inevitable explosion of body parts there was the shriek of tortured metal and a rolling cloud of black smoke and flame.

von Strauss allowed himself a cruel smile. The cannon had misfired and with it the fate of the Empire soldiers had been sealed. von Strauss drew his sword once more and bellowed a challenge at the charging knights. His warriors surged forward with him clashing with the knights with a thunderous crack of blades on armour. Another of his warriors fell, his head split asunder by the heavy blade of a knight but the ferocity of the warriors was too much even for the Empire’s bravest and they turned tail and fled.

As the knights broke a explosion erupted behind the warriors. von Strauss turned in time to see the brass barrel of the great cannon come apart as it tore itself and its crew to pieces as the powder cooked off in the barrel, too eager were the crew to clear the jam and fire on their foes.

The champion of Khorne let his warriors chase after the knights, knowing they’d never catch them but letting their fury carry them South, back past the ruined, broken-down cottage and straight into the bearly reformed and battle weary halberdiers. von Strauss’ blood sang with the joyful fury of battle as ran at the halberdiers who frantically tried to close ranks around their leader, but he would not be denied his revenge.

He bellowed von Bomburg’s name as he swung his blades on a criss crossing motion ready to dismember the Imperial noble that had cost him his house, his lands and his family.

von Bomburg stared down the rampaging Chaos lord impressed and horrified by the power of the man-monster. He reacted instinctively, pulling his blade free and holding it out, arms rigid, lets braced. The Chaos champion was moving too fast to halt his charge and slammed bodily into the sword tip, the enchanted weapon easily piercing the warriors armour and impaling him fully. The weight of the man yanked the blade free from von Bomburg’s hands making him stumble. His fall was halted as a body fell into him. The halberdier crumpled to the ground the sword that had murdered him pulling free with set, sucking, sound.

All around him his men were butchered. Just six warriors had engaged fifteen of his own and they were killing each other with startling efficiency  In moments it was over: his men were burst and broken on the long grasses that had grown wild between the watch tower and it’s broken down cottage and amongst three grotesque and oversized warriors of the North. Before him stood three hulking men, their armour doused in blood, their blades dripping and notched. Behind them the champion tried to rise, von Bomburg’s blade still buried in his chest, but his strength was fleeing as quickly as his vital fluids.

von Bomburg nodded to the warriors in understanding and bent to pick up the sword that had belonged to Sergeant Helmut. The man had died badly, his arms had been severed and his face split open by a brutal axe blow. He raised the sword in mock salute.

‘Shall we?’ He said with a smile.

They came at him all at once, weapons raised and wordless roars blaring from their horned helms. von Bomburg blocked the flurry of attacks, briefly marvelling at the speed and ferocity with which they were dealt. Only his years of sword art saved his life. At least initially. The first blow that made it through his guard caught his vambrace and he felt his arm break. He howled in pain, backing off, defending furiously fighting for some breathing room.

He gained half a heartbeat but it was enough for him to duck below the guard of one of the warriors and lunge forward, thrusting his sword through the vision slit of another warrior’s helm. There was a gurgle and the warrior dropped. The remaining two renewed their attack. Blades flashed and another warrior fell, his throat spilling blood in squirt flurry of crimson just as an axe blade bit deep into von Bomburg’s side. He cried out in pain and dropped to the floor, a gauntleted hand stained red as he tried to stem the flow of blood.

He rolled onto his back as the last warrior loomed over him, axe held high. Around them dozens of bodies littered the floor, the soil already sodden with blood. He sighed and closed his eyes. ‘Come on you bastard,’ He muttered, ‘Get it over with.’

‘von Strauss is avenged.’ The warrior growled.

***

von Bomburg’s eyes snapped open pain flooding his body a moment later. He screamed in pain and anguish. Hands were upon him, pinning him to the operating table. His arm exploded in pain as he was restrained, and he instinctively went limp.

‘Lord, be calm!’

Viktor’s voice cut through the pain, von Bomburg grabbin his purple and grey tunic and pulling him close.

‘Viktor! Viktor!’ He babbled, he could feel hysteria gripping him. ‘von Strauss…’

‘He’s been exiled lord. To the far North.’ Viktor struggled in von Bomburg’s grip despite his weakened state.

‘No, no, you don’t understand.’ von Bomburg released his grip and wiped a shaking hand over his face. ‘von Strauss has returned.’