The Enemy Within

Between a rocket and a scarred face..

Marktag, 13th of Brauzeit, 2496 IC

Caibre draws his makeshift spearstave as he closes with the nearest militiaman. He drives the point of the blade at the man’s head, gouging out a bloody tear of ear, scalp and hair.
Todd pulls his sling from his pack and lets loose a rock at the injured militiaman, but it flies inches wide.
The bearded sergeant charges towards the cart. He leaps aboard the footplate and attempts to throw Albrecht from the seat.
Albrecht hangs onto the reigns as he avoids the mans grasp.
The sergeant grabs hold of Albrecht again. Still clutching the reigns, the Stirlander hacks at his assailant with his axe. His blows cut deeply into the mans arm, and he howls in pain as he falls from the cart.
Muenchbek jumps off the cart and lands in a heap with the unconscious sergeant.
The wounded militiaman turns on Caibre, but doesn’t manage to land a blow. One of his comrades charges to his aid and attempts to disembowel the elf, but he too is unable to get past Caibre’s guard. The remaining militiaman closes with the cart and lashes out at Berthold with a woodaxe, striking him in the chest.
Caibre’s weapon cleanly slices a large chunk of flesh from the militiaman’s shoulder. He screams in pain and loses his footing as blood begins to pour freely down the length of his arm.
Albrecht switches his axe to left hand and hacks at the militiaman behind him. The axe bites into the mans flesh, leaving his tunic sleeve in bloody tatters.
Berthold’s heel strikes the militiaman’s fingers and he falls from the cart.. The cart rattles on… Caibre and Muenchbek are being left behind..
Seeing his comrade writhing in agony in mud, the militiaman roars as he strikes ferociously at Caibre. But he’s unable to get past the elf’s whirling spearstave. The remaining militiaman scrambles to his feet and chases after the cart once more.
Albrecht keeps the pony trotting along the rutted track. Up ahead the Krebs standard can still be made out amidst the melee on the right flank. As the cart moves past the end of the farm wall, Schweiner spots a number of riders closing in from the direction of camp. He turns to tell Albrecht, and spots another group of horsemen closing in from the enemy lines..
Caibre’s spearstave slices deep into the militiaman’s forearm, severing muscle and tendon before finally lodging between the bones in a spray of blood.
The militiaman screams as Caibre pulls the blade free from the ruin of his arm before collapsing to the mud unconscious.
Schweiner hurls a stone at their pursuer. The militiaman is knocked onto his arse by the heavy stone and winded.
Back down the track they see Muenchbek rising to his feet, cradling something clumsily in his arms. The sergeant lies dead at his feet, blood pooling out from an opened throat. Between the rattling cart and the boy, the winded militiaman clambers onto all fours. He staggers to his feet and lurches after the cart. Then stops suddenly. Caibre, having despatched his foes, turns towards the cart, then he too freezes momentarily, then begins to shout…
It is as if time itself slows down, as Berthold becomes slowly aware of the thunder of hoof beats shaking the ground beneath the cart, like a heartbeat pounding in hist chest. He turns slowly to see that riders are closing in from both sides.
Those on the cart finally become aware of a keening wail over the rattle of the wheels and the thunder of the cavalry. It’s coming from above… they follow the upturned gazes of Caibre, Muenchbek and the militiaman..
…a filthy streak of smoke arcs through the dusky sky … the rocket at its head spitting fire as it plummets erratically towards them…
The shrill shriek of the rocket fills their ears as Albrecht desperately whips at the reigns.. and then the world around them erupts into a violent maelstrom fire, noise and darkness…
Schweiner grabs hold of Berthold and the two of them throw themselves from the cart as the rocket hits.. They land hard, rolling in the mud as the explosion tears apart the world around them.
Albrecht grips onto the reigns for dear life as the rocket slams into the rear of the cart. The blast shatters the planking, turning the air thick with razor sharp splinters, and engulfing it in a thick cloud of acrid smoke.
Schweiner regains consciousness with a start. His eyes open, but he cannot see. Everything is black. His ears ring. His mouth and nose are filled with acrid, choking smoke and he begins to cough and wretch. He slowly becomes aware of writhing tendrils of fire amidst the suffocating darkness. His disorientation is such that it takes him a moment to realise that’s he’s lying on his back. Freezing water is seeping into his clothes. His entire body aches, as if some giant had used it as an anvil. Suddenly, unseen hands are grabbing his shirt, pulling him forward. The thick smoke swirls and then Berthold’s face is inches from his own. The wizard’s face is streaked with dirt and soot, and he’s bleeding badly from a scalp wound above his left eye. The young man is shouting something urgent into Schweiner’s face, but all the halfling can hear is the infernal ringing in his ears. Berthold hauls Schweiner to his feet unsteadily. The smoke suddenly ripples around them as an armoured figure on horseback bears down upon them through the burning smog.
Albrecht is thrown forward by the force of the blast. He lands awkwardly, his back crashing into the spar behind the pony. His face smacks against the harness, and his mouth fills with blood. Only the front axle and driver step of the cart remain. They bounce along behind the terrified pony which is now in full flight. The axle hits a rut in the track, causing the flailing Albrecht to slip beneath the broken cart. His arm catches in the leather reigns. He hits the muddy ground hard, before being yanked along behind the cart with a shoulder wrenching jerk.
The cavalryman bears down upon Schweiner and Berthold through the smoke. He’s Von Schirach light cavalry, with a crooked nose and bristled chin, a tattered blue tabard over weather stained, leather armour. His sunken brown eyes lock onto Schweiner’s and he readies his axe to strike as his horse gallops forward. Berthold, moves out of the shadows uttering words of power as he grabs for the cavalryman’s leg. But he looses his footing in the torn earth and his hand flails wide… striking the horse instead. The beast’s legs buckle beneath its now slumbering form, and the cavalryman is thrown from the saddle as the horse crashes to the ground. It strikes Schweiner as it passes, knocking him to the ground once more.
Caibre stalks up behind the dazed militiaman and runs a knife across his throat. He turns and glares expectantly at Muenchbek as the body collapses sideways into the mud. The boy, now cradling the dead sergeants great axe, stares warily at the elf as he approaches. He stops several metres short of Caibre. He looks down at the dead man then back at elf with distrust in his eyes. “Grootvader was right about you lot not being right” he says “You forgot to take his purse”..
Albrecht bounces painfully along behind the remains of the cart. He manages to grab hold of the reigns just enough to lift his upper body off the ground. He somehow manages to draw his knife and saw away at the leather… Finally it snaps, and Albrecht is thrown into a waterlogged ditch.
Schweiner opens his razor and bends towards the unconscious cavalryman, but Berthold’s words stay his hand.
The din of battle surrounds them once more as the cavalry continue to fight around them. Caibre and Muenchbek emerge through the smoke. The elf moves to check on the slumbering horse.
The din of the fighting horsemen lessens slightly as the enemy appear to be pushed back away from the burning cart. But as Caibre kneels to check on the slumbering horse, two riders appear in your midst. You ready your weapons with a start but are relieved to see that they’re not in von Schirach colours, at least. The first is a young woman in dirty leather armour wearing a battered wide brimmed hat adorned with two, threadbare feathers. Her stern face could be attractive but it’s hard to tell beneath the streaks of dirt, soot and blood. She holds a smoking pistol in one hand as she reigns in her horse with the other. Her companion is an older man, with a look of the Northmen about him. He holds an exotic looking shortbow in both hands, and appears to be steering his horse with his knees alone.
Caibre awakens the horse.
You recognise the woman from your troop. She’s one of the outriders. Agatha? Alise maybe? She flashes a grim smile at Schweiner as she holsters the pistol. “Butcher, the captain thought you’d have probably gone looking for trouble. Come on,” she says offering a hand to the halfling, “the Baron’s in a bad way”.
Caibre hands her the reins and says “take the halfman on the horse and we’ll follow, it’s your best chance to save him by my calculations”.
“My orders were to come and fetch him, so he rides with me” she says eyeing Caibre warily. "Lev can carry one of your wounded, " she says looking at Berthold, “but what you do is up to you, elf, so you might want to stop fondling that horse and actually ride it”.
Cursing under his breath, Albrecht clambers his way to the top of the ditch. He’s bleeding from several nasty abrasions to his arms and legs, his back feels like it’s on fire, and from the stabbing pain in his side he’s probably busted a rib or two. He shivers in his sodden armour and wipes muddy hair from his eyes as he surveys the battlefield around him. Not far to his right he can see the terrified pony galloping for the woods, the remains of the cart bouncing along behind it. On a small tree topped rise just beyond it, he can just make out the Captain and the Wolfsbach heavy infantry supporting Baron Krebs personal guard in a grim and perilous struggle as the greatswords battle against the press of von Schirach men attempting to kill or capture their ancestral foe. Albrecht can see the Krebs family standard being held aloft defiantly, even as a group of liveried advisors huddle around the prone form of the stricken Baron.
Turning his attention back towards the ruined farm, he sees a thick, smokey fog lingering where the rocket struck. Light cavalry, outriders by the look of them, clash and shoot at one another amid the smoke and ruin. Albrecht is cheered to see that the Wolfsbach horsemen seem to be having the best of it and are slowly driving their enemy back, for now at least. However, between the cavalry skirmish and the hill where the Captain awaits, lies several hundred yards of mud, slush and burned out orchard, and the young soldier can make out figures moving beyond the distant fence line.
Berthold helps Schweiner up onto Alette’s sadle before swinging himself painfully up behind the narrow eyed Ostlander. The halfling looks ill at ease perched in front of the young woman as she digs her heels into her dappled mare’s flank and spurs it onward with a shout, Lev and Berthold close behind.
Caibre climbs gracefully into the saddle of his stolen mount, snorting derisively to himself at the primitive human leatherwork. He turns and offers a hand to Muenchbek. The Wastelander stares back at him. “There’s no way I’m getting on that thing, elf”, he says bluntly. The rider on the ground stirs, a groggy curse aimed at those stealing his mount. The boy, his furrowed gaze not leaving the elf, nonchalantly kicks the downed man in the vitals and the cavalryman doubles up in pain. “I’ll kiss the Grand Theoginist’s arse before I risk my neck on one of those beasts” he continues, stooping casually to relieve the helpless man of his purse. “So be it” Caibre says as he turns his mount to follow the others, the boy already setting off at a trot behind him.
Schweiner grips the saddle for dear life as Alette spurs the horse into a gallop. The beast lurches and twists violently as the outrider skilfully dodges her mount through the frantic skirmish. Lev, Berthold and Caibre follow closely behind, trading blows with the enemy as they speed past.
Albrecht hauls himself painfully out of the ditch. He keeps low as he moves to the crumbling wall that runs alongside the track. To his left, he sees a group of riders break from the melee and head in his direction. He stares incredulously as he spies his old master perched uncomfortably upon the saddle head of the lead rider, whom he recognises as Herzogin, ‘the Duchess’, one of the company’s ‘Expendables’. But out of the corner of his eye he suddenly detects other movement and his attention is drawn back to the far side of the orchard directly in front of him. What he sees causes him to curse aloud once more. It appears that the enemy positioned amid the tumble down walls and fence line on the opposite side of the field have spotted the riders too. Albrecht sees the glint of the fading sun on handgun barrels as the soldiers of Holtzmann’s Company prepare their deadly ambush.
Albrecht jumps up from behind the wall, waving his arms and shouting.
Up ahead, through the sparse orchard trees, Alette sees a filthy mad-man suddenly spring up from behind a wall, shouting and waving frantically. She is about to veer her horse towards the opposite side of the field when a staccato of gunfire rings out from behind the walls and hedges there. The madman drops.. Then a smattering of shots are whipping past her horse.
Albrecht’s shouting drew the attention of most of the gunners. He’s winged by a shot as he ducks back down behind the wall.
Schweiner is hit with a fine spatter of blood and Alette grunts with pain, but they ride on through the now erratic gunfire.
Caibre expertly slaloms his horse through the orchard trees and both rider and horse emerge unscathed at the other side.
Schweiner notices dark streaks along Alette’s left forearm. There’s a deep, circular tear in the leather jerkin and blood is welling from within. He can hear her cursing to herself, the jarring ride obviously causing her great pain, but she does not slow her horse.
Caibre hangs down from the saddle and snatches the reeling Albrecht up onto his horse as he passes. The beast whinnies as a shot tears across its flank.
Berthold conjures up some marsh lights to distract and confuse the enemy. The hand gunners see lights bobbing along the wall behind the riders and begin to concentrate their fire there, allowing the riders to escape without further harm.
The sounds of gunfire recede as you clear the orchard and make haste toward the high ground. The noise is soon replaced by the clamour of battle once more as you gallop towards the top of the hill. You can see men garbed in the colours of both Baron Krebs’ personal guard and the Wolfsbach Irregulars locked in a bitter struggle to defend the summit from the enemy. Scores of von Schirach infantry assail them, the sheer press of men locking both sides together in a deadly, grinding stalemate. Arrows plunge into the line intermittently, and any who are felled are crushed beneath the boots of those that surge around them. A bolt glances off the helmet of a fortunate Krebs greatsword as you approach, but a second takes him in the throat before he can even count his blessing from Shallya. The Krebs’ battle standard is being held unsteadily aloft by three drummer boys, one of whom bleeds heavily from a scalp wound. The embroidered fabric is torn and ripped but still the vast flag flies defiantly. Your allies are outnumbered nearly two to one, but they have the advantage of the high ground. For now at least. A small pocket has been formed by the defending men atop the cramped hilltop at the foot of the standard. Two Kreb’s orderlies are tending to the prone figure of the Baron who’s body lays awkwardly upon the sodden grass beside his slain horse. The Baron’s skin is a deathly white, and a crossbow bolt protrudes from his left eye socket. His sunken face is awash with dark blood, and his beard matted with gore.
A third orderly appears to be arguing with the Captain. Anwart pushes past the protesting man as you approach and storms over to you. The Captain is in his 40s, with a square face, thick brow and angular nose that has been witness to many a bar fight. His moustache and beard are thinly trimmed in the Estalian style, although from what you know of the man he actually hails from Wissenland in the south. His armour is a hotch potch of hardened leather, chainmail and steel plates, and his trademark sabre and buckler are held firmly in his meaty hands. A wide brimmed hat sits atop his helm in the Marienburger style. He is spattered from head to toe in mud and gore.
“What in Ulric’s teeth took you so long?” he barks, fixing you with his steely gaze.
“There’s a war on Captain if you hadn’t noticed. Let me get to the Baron if you would be so kind.” Schweiner says.
“How in Orions name did you let that happen to the Baron?!” Caibre retorts at the Captain, “Stop your barking and clear room for the surgeon to work”.
“I’ll stop my barking when you stop costing me coin and finally make yourself useful, " the Captain growls at Caibre, “you still owe me for the yarn our good Butcher here used to stitch you back together. Don’t make me regret wasting it on your worthless hide. Sigmar, I thought it was the dwarves that were supposed to be the uptight bastards” he adds with a grin. He turns to help Schweiner down from Alette’s horse. “Hmm.. that looks nasty lass,” the Captain says upon seeing the gunshot wound to the girl’s arm, “get Herr Doktor here to take a look at it when he’s done with the Baron”. "And what the hells happened to you two?, " he asks, seeing the miserable state of Berthold and Albrecht. “I thought I was paying you.. to look after him” he adds, gesturing the tip of his buckler at the halfling.
“Butcher, the Baron’s all yours. Do whatever you need to do to not make him die. Dead men don’t pay their contracts. Elf, Albrecht, you’re with me. The rest of you, help the halfling as best you can, and you have my permission to knock that snivelling orderlie’s teeth out if he opens his mouth again.”
“And what the hells have you done with the boy?, "the Captain growls as he, Albrecht and the elf push towards the front line.
As Schweiner approaches the injured Baron, the orderly that was arguing with the Captain moves to block him. “What do you think you’re doing? You’re not Doktor Eschelmann. Only Doktor Eschelmann treats the Baron!”
“Unless you want the Baron to die I suggest you move out of my way.” Schweiner carries on moving towards the Baron.
Berthold artfully steps between Schweiner and the nobleman’s retainer before the halfling can give him a piece of his mind. The young wizard asks the man if he has heard about Detlef Sierk’s latest play…
A Krebs retainer kneels beside the stricken Baron, praying aloud.
“Save our good Lord here and you’ll earn the gratitude of the nobles all right”, Alette says as she walks beside Schweiner. She cradles her injured arm awkwardly. Schweiner drops his heavy leather bag on the ground, and crouches hand on knee to get a better look at the extent of the noble’s injuries. A crossbow bolt has clearly struck the man in his left eye, destroying it entirely before becoming lodged in his skull. By all rights the man should probably be dead, but he continues to breathe shallowly. Schweiner sucks air through his teeth as he tries to assess the extent of the damage, but with the light beginning to fade, and with the distractions of the struggle being fought all around them, Schweiner isn’t confident enough to operate on the Baron here. No, the Baron must be returned to the halfling’s makeshift operating theatre back at camp where he and Magda can inspect the injury more thoroughly. But how?
“We need to move the Baron, I can’t see well enough here” Schweiner shouts to anyone that will listen. “Does anyone have a cart?!”….

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