The Wall

"Five men a piece, strong of arm and proud of standing, shall wage virtuous combat against the other in the face of unresolved strife or disagreement. Thus it shall be now, and forever more, between the peoples of Taleuten and Asoborn"
-Sigmar Heldenhammer

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The Wall


'Fish Out of Water'

"We aren't bandits". The simple statement made the awkward tension of the conversation even less palatable. The diminutive figure grinned widely and pulled a pair of silvers from his coinpurse.
"Everyone's got a price…"

After a day of well earned rest in Hermdorf the trio leave the walled city to once again enter the wilds, packs heavy with the spoils of their last venture. Marching south down a well worn road the group try to find means to cross the river Egger, a fast flowing and deep body of water that threatened to trap them on the Hermdorf side until it reached the Stir. It is only a short journey to the next safe haven in the forest, the town of Ragenhof, but the group manage to find trouble in the forest within a few hours of leaving Hermdorf. Trouble in the form of a diminutive halfing in well worn yet expensive clothes and holding a rather large ladle.

The halfling introduces himself as Ponto Understoat, personal chef to Baron Zützen of Hermdorf. In order to celebrate his lord's newly claimed title the halfling had offered to put on a feast of river fish, the sigil of the Zützen family. The halfling was, however, a terrible fisherman. Luckily for the halfling nearby was a member of the Emperor's own Zoological Society, one Dr Terrance, who was in the region intending to catch 'The General', a legendary river fish. Ponto's plan was for the group to wait until Dr Terrance had caught the creature, relieve Terrance of the carcass and feed the fish to Baron Zützen as he had promised. Despite the offers of silver the group refuse his offer, stating simply that they would not rob for coin. The halfling pushes them but the group refuse, deciding instead to ride on and warn Dr Terrance of Ponto's ill intent. They would find the Doctor some hours away and after some cajoling agree to take his coin and protect him from the halfling.

Some days pass on the river Egger as the group take the ludicrous fee of one silver per day to catch large fish for Terrance to use in his fishing contraption. He proudly declares that the contraption was made by engineers in Altdorf but for the exhausted group the chance to sit by the river for more than a soldier's wage was worth it regardless of the cause. Brother William even shared a few anecdotes about Sigmar's ability to conjure fish from the water and after some resistance the young man became the keenest fisher of them all. From the bushes watches the halfling and a group of newly hired roughs, but despite Durak's insistence Karl keenly points out that the halfling and his would-be bandits had technically broken no laws.

The veneer of idyllic peace is broken one afternoon when the mechanisms of Dr Terrance begin to whir and spin. Something had bitten the massive hook and was pulling with all its might to escape. The pistons and gears strained for a moment before being torn loose, smashing into the water as the creature attached to them swum up stream in a fury of blood, scales and churning water. Springing into action Karl and William move to follow the creature, followed closely by Dr Terrance and hot on his heels the grinning bandits. Durak limps behind, his dwarven legs not intended for short distance racing. The fish streams up the river, pushing against the current as if it were nothing and smashing into overhanging trees and swamp roots as if they were nothing. The dragging equipment is slowly smashed apart against rocks or hooked on tree branches before soon only the metal cord and cog device are left trailing behind the massive creature. The beast far outswims the running groups and soon they are left to follow a trail of fish blood and broken equipment to a large watery cave beneath a short waterfall.

The trees hang low over the river here, creating a strange eerie mottled light effect over the dark and murky pool. The creature had stopped moving all its pursuers eventually arrive at the cave-pool. The Doctor and Karl watch patiently for the creature as the halfling Ponto orders his roughs to wade into the cave after the fish. Pockets lined with the halfling's silver the roughs enter the cave, wading in the muddy water up to their chests and holding an assortment of clubs and daggers at the ready. Those who stayed outside the cave never discovered the exact fate of the roughs but the screams of pain that followed gave some indication. Durak swims in after the men but after getting caught on a jagged rock he is eventually saved by the surprisingly nimble Doctor Terrance. And soon after the questions of the fate of the men are resolved as out of the cave walks a hulking creature covered in swamp mushrooms and mud. Standing taller than Karl on his horse the river troll stinks of dank meat and its soft fishy skin still holds the blood of the poor roughs who fell afoul of it.

The halfling turns to flee at once and Karl pursues him. Many warnings to halt later and the young cavalryman is forced to slash his blade across the halflings back. Leaving him a copper to pay for a barber-surgeon and tossing the rest of his coin and possessions into the river, Karl returns with the money the halfling had stolen from the Doctor earlier in the day. And what he returns to is a sight he would never forget.

The two halves of Doctor Terrance lie in a pool of blood and innards on the ground as two figures are dwarfed by the troll that stands above them. Durak's mining pick is embedded eight inches into the creatures eye, the skin reforming and regenerating around the metal object as the beast lashes around it with its fist. The dwarf fights now with his hand axe, hacking at limbs as the creatures swings manage to miss him again and again. The creature its arm up to cover its other eye, keeping out the brilliant light projecting from William's holy icon of Sigmar. Every swing of his hammer leaves smouldering welts as the young priest fights fiercely, seemingly possessed by the spirit of his warrior god. Karl sits rooted in his saddle, unable to comprehend the sheer lunacy of the two men fighting such a creature. Eventually the beast's wild swings begin to slow and with a final smash of his hammer William drives Durak's pick entirely through the creatures skull.

A small memorial is held for Doctor Terrance, an honest man who really didn't belong in the dark forests of the Empire, and Durak sets to burning the troll's body. None are brave enough to venture into its nest and so the body of the General remains there to rot. The halfling would return to plague the group later on the road but even he couldn't convince the hapless Road Warden he had summoned that anyone but he were at fault.

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A stay at a toll house provides the group with the means by which to cross the Egger and a few days later they arrive safely at Rangenhof. The walled town is abuzz with a local festival, guards wearing crowns of flowers upon their heads and bright bunting draping loosely between closely packed houses. The Laughing Lyre is packed to nearly capacity and after producing silver for their accomodations the group investigate the cause of the ruckus. It seems that long ago Sigmar himself declared a trial by combat between the local towns would occur once a year to determine disputes. The trial had long since become a bloodless one but nevertheless each year the local towns sent a team to Ragenhof to compete in the physical challenge known colloquially as "The Wall". Each town would supply five strong men who would wrestle on a barge in the river. Whichever team was left standing on the barge at the end would win the round.

Moving around the town the group are accosted a number of times by teams looking to mix up their lineup with a few locals. Karl and William agree at first to compete but are soon revolted by the attempts to cheat and fix matches that the local towns seemed to take as a given. They both refuse to take part, Karl's annoyance doubled as he discovers the town has no trained weaponsmith to repair his damaged equipment and replace his lost shield. Durak on the other hand befriends a local mason, known as "Hammerhand", and agrees to represent Ragenhof in the Wall on the following day. He purchases some leather armour and meets the rest of the team.


'The Wall'

What creatures were these? How many tortures would I endure before peace was mine? A thousand wretched forms united only by a hatred that never ends. Malign and savage to the last, they brim with bitterness for the works of Man.
Bestiarie Malificen

The following morning the two teams face each other across the river Stir. Silence governs the Ragenhof side of the river as they look upon the opposing team, a hulking figure among them producing the occasional gasp from the onlookers. Alongside four bare chested fighters, all of whom have faces stained with arrogant grins, stands a hulking ogre. A slab of flesh twice the size of the nearest man to him, the dull looking creature gnaws sloppily on a whole chicken, smiling dully between chomps at the shocked looking men across the river from him. There were rules against having non-humans fight but with two dwarves on their team the Ragenhoffers have no recourse for complaint.

Retreating to the Lyre before the fight Durak and Hammerhand confer, establishing tactics for the fight. No longer able to depend on their superior fighting the Ragenhof team resolve to outsmart their opponents. Atop a swaying barge in the middle of the river an hour later the two dwarves put their plan into motion. As the pistol shot echoes across the water the two largest members of the Ragenhof team push forward, holding two men each as Hammerhand, Durak and an incredibly broad local farmer rush the ogre. Flesh smashes on flesh on the barge as three crash into one. The ogre is inhumanly strong but step by slippery step the creature is pushed back. The muscles of the beast are taut as it tries to regain its footing but with a might heave and blooming splash the ogre is pushed backwards into the water, Hammerhand still wrapped in his arms. Turning around, the farmer and Durak move to the others even as the exhausted Ragenhoffers are overpowered. The captains of both teams face off in a traditional bout of pugilism that Durak promptly interrupts with a launching spear tackle and the final outnumbered members of the opposing team are promptly thrown from the raft.

Returning to the shore victorious, all of Ragenhof is in celebration. William and Karl are ecstatic, having bet a massive purse of gold on Durak's team to win. Wine and food is produced and the town seems filled to the brim with dancing and frolicking citizens. Durak and Hammerhand sing dwarven songs into the wee hours of the morning, while young William's attempt to keep up with the dwarven drinking leaves him sleeping fully clothed on the floor next to his bed upstairs. Karl's smile and fine clothes bring him plenty of attention from the female townsfolk and joy radiates across Ragenhof.

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It is the smell of wet fur and blood that awakens Karl, moments before the clanging of a warning bell rings out throughout the town. Looking out of his window he notices fires in the town and large lumbering figures moving around in the muddy streets. Grabbing his sword and thumping on Durak and William's doors he rushes downstairs. As he vaults the final two stairs he finds a trio of strange furred creatures pulling their jagged blades out of two intoxicated villagers, their sleeping place on the floor of the Lyre not as safe as they intended. Drawing his own blade Karl engages the creatures, his fine steel parrying aside their clumsy thrusts and each of his own jabs finding dark, foul-smelling blood. A second group of the creatures appears from the back of the inn as Durak and Hammerhand finally reach the fray, axe and pick spilling more blood as combat is joined. It is a mad minute of blood, steel and bestial cries as the invading beastman are cut down.

As the inn falls silent the innkeeper guides the bystanders into the stone basement before removing an ancient blunderbuss from its place above the whiskey shelf. And not a moment too soon as a strange chanting begins to echo through the inn. The beleaguered defenders have only a moment to consider the sound before four heavily armoured figures burst into the inn through the now-splintered side door. Those at the front are a head taller than men, their furred claws grasping stone axes and maces beneath rugged chainmail. The fourth is slighter, his armour leather and his horns curved and fearsome. He holds in his hand a strange staff and chants feverously under his breath. In a twisted mirror of their tactics against the ogre what seemed like a year ago Hammerhand and Durak move to engage the beastmen while Karl rushes the foul witch. He ducks below staff swings, slashing out at the creature and causing it to stop its foul incanting, as Durak faces two beasts alone. Karl ducks and slashes at the creature, eventually cutting cleanly through its staff and removing its head with a casual backswing. Turning back to the room he finds it in chaos. Hammerhand bears a dozen cuts while the innkeeper nurses severe burns from where his blunderbuss had backfired. So caught up in his duel Karl had been aware of none of it, even less the blows that had Durak laid out on the floor bloody and unconscious.

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The beastman raid had caught Ragenhof all but unaware in their revelry. The town was saved, just, but many were dead and even more wounded. Durak would recover from his wounds although his body was heavily scarred from that evening. He and Karl would be rewarded for their efforts with items from the town's armoury while an embarrassed William would seek further chances to serve his God in the heat of battle. Over the next day the town would heal, the banners and pageantry removed as a sombre mood takes over Ragenhof.


'Of Beasts and Men'

The bow was taut in his hands, fine Reikland wood that had seen a dozen winters. He pulled the fletching back to his ear, goose feathers tickling the chunk a boar had taken some years back. He aimed again, spotting a weak point beneath the armoured figures' neckplate. And with a sickening crunch the bow shattered. As the arrow tumbled limply to the ground the would-be archer looked up at the inhuman figures barrelling towards him…

As Ragenhof is repaired the Mayor calls a town meeting. A sombre group collects outside the town hall, wood still singed black from a fire that almost engulfed it during the raid. It is not the Mayor but the Sergeant of the Guard who speaks. He speaks of the raid and the bravery of the town in defending itself, he thanks those strangers who stood with the town and mentions Karl and Durak in particular. And then he asks something else of the group. The town's premier hunter, Gunther Brühn, means to lead a sortie into the forest to scout out the position of the remaining Beasts. Karl and William leap to the occasion, as do a number of other members of the town. Later, still lying in the local healer's hut, Durak agrees to go along as well. Although still grievously wounded he will not miss the chance to kill some Beastmen.

Later that day a much smaller group leaves under a light rain. Many of those who volunteered had pulled out, their wives or children entreating them to remain within the relative safety of town. The group leaves with momentum but soon find themselves in the monotony of tracking. Gunther would go forward to find tracks and then the group would follow. The light spring rain had stopped but the sludgey mud of the forest floor meant the group move slowly. They camp in the forest for the night and sleep in worried silence. Not long after the group begins again the silence is broken by hollering echoing through the trees. Gunther once again leads the way, every step taken in care and William holding his icon of Sigmar tight. After a dreadful few silent minutes the group reach the edge of a clearly and find the source of the noise.

Two of the townsfolk are tied to a massive stone menhir that hurts the eyes of any who look upon it. The stone is carved with strange runes and ornamented with grisly bone tokens and bloody smears. Almost two dozen of the smaller beasts mill around the base while a larger armoured creature leads the group in a chanting warcry. The group retreats to discuss their options in hushed voices. They were here to scout only but the two villagers were clearly within minutes of being killed. Durak, still coughing and limping from battle days earlier, speaks strongly in favour of battle while Gunther speaks of caution. Eventually a decision is made and a plan hatched.

As Gunther and Durak flank through the forest Karl and William prepare themselves to charge straight into the beasts. The flanking party line up their ranged weapons, the hulking Gor in their sights and with a creaking snap disaster strikes. Gunther's bow snaps cleanly in two with a sickening crack, the arrow dropping limply into the mud and the beasts in the clearing looking towards he and Durak's hiding place. The beasts begin rushing towards the pair as Durak passes his crossbow to Gunther and draws his pick. Leaping to action Karl and William dash into combat with the creatures, sword and hammer drawn and prayers to Sigmar on their lips. They slash and smash the beasts, warm blood covering their weapons and faces and their muscles jarring with every blow. William is a man possessed, his hammer smashing beast skulls and his eyes wide with rage. Eventually Karl puts his sword through the Gor leader and the rest of the beasts flee.

Following a line of felled beasts Karl and William find Durak and Gunther. Durak's legs had been cut off at the knees, his hands bloody and still holding his pick axe. Gunther moans nearby, his stomach split open by a crooked blade but still alive. Karl carries him back to town, William lugging Duraks now cold body. The two villagers are freed from the menhir and give plentiful thanks to their rescuers.

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For a small fee Hammerhand handles Durak's burial, a dwarven stone grave raised just outside of town. Karl and William are payed for their work and Gunther begins to recover from his wounds. But as the town starts to rebuild a strange mood overtakes it. Staying at the Laughing Lyre Karl watches as rumours begin to circulate that the town had a new visitor and a stranger rumour still that there was one within the walls that was in league with the Beastmen. The rumours manifest a day later when the local Priest of Taal, a hulking man in green robes, accuses the town's wise woman of being a witch. The town's Sergeant speaks in the woman's defence but the Priest of undeniable, a wave of malcontent in the town egging him on. Eventually it is the newcomer in town who speaks to calm the panic. Dieter Von Kädler is a grim-faced young witch hunter who came to town having heard of the Beastman attack. At the Mayor's insistence he agrees to oversee the trial, with the Priest of Taal acting as accuser and a surprised William as Advocate. As a member of the Imperial Army Karl is requested to assist the witch hunter in making his decision.


'Suffer Not the Witch'

"I don't need my eyes to see the truth"

The following day the Taalite accuser, William, Karl and the Witch Hunter travel to the healer's abode on the outskirts of the forest. Their suspicions are raised by many bone and wood trinkets around the outside of her property and even more by the massive grey wolf that lurks the forest at her command. She comes willingly in the end, tired of what is now the seventh time she had been accused. Back in Ragenhof she is questioned in the watch-tower, the Witch Hunter Dieter threatening torture before she finally breaks. She admits to having visions of the town being destroyed but denies any allegiance with the Beasts. Indeed she claims having tried to stop the creatures. With little other evidence Karl, William and Dieter travel back to the healer's abode to search it for evidence. They find little evidence of witchery although some strange idols shaped like beasts do raise their suspicions again. They also find signs that someone had been here recently. The healer's wolf is missing and there are signs of a butchering that is shocking to behold.

The next morning at the trial the source of the blood becomes apparent as the Priest of Taal reveals the healer's wolf, apparently a Beastman itself. A cursory inspection reveals a wolf's head simply sewn onto a human body but for the common folk of Ragenhof this is evidence beyond dispute. Their anger grows into all out rancor as they call for the healer to be burned immediately. Not to be swayed by such things Dieter continues his investigation. None will admit to helping tamper with the body of the wolf but another piece of evidence, a wooden idol found by the villager rescued at the menhir, is shown to be nothing but a common warding icon. Karl, William and Dieter are fairly sure the healer is not a witch but have no evidence to prove that is the case. As the Advocate the decision falls with William as to what punishment the accused with accept. The young priest deliberates before coming to a decision. He suggests finding her not guilty of witchcraft but of hedge magic, an illegal act itself but not worthy of death. Dieter agrees to this decision, vowing to take the healer's eye so she cannot receive any more visions.

Unfortunately neither the town Sergeant, who speaks on the healer's behalf, nor the Priest of Taal are satisfied with this solution. Some hour later in the town square they face off, a burning brazier and the bound and gagged prisoner between them. Indeed as William moves forward to implement the determined justice the Sergeant strikes out at his, his blade biting into the priests arm and leaving him reeling. As if struck by some madness the Sergeant steps up to defend the healer, ignoring the court of law that he insisted be held, and the Taalite and his followers rise to meet them. Open battle is joined in the streets, thugs armed with clubs and makeshift weapons fighting like beasts against the town guard. Neither side intends to kill the other but despite this blood still flows and bones are broken as the melee breaks out. Karl runs off to get the horses, worried that he and Karl would be blamed for the carnage. William wades into the fight, his warhammer smashing out at guard and Taalite alike. As the Priest and Sergeant suffer wounds William stands above them, his hammer ending their lives. Meanwhile Dieter takes the healer away from the fight and slices his dagger across his eye, carrying out the punishment himself.

Panic breaks out in the town as William kills the ringleaders, the survivors shocked that things had escalated beyond a simple brawl. Karl returns to the group, lumping the healer onto his horse as William and Dieter mount the other. Dieter watches William with suspicion, the bloodlust of the youth all-too familiar to the witch hunter. As the group returns the healer to her hut she speaks softly into Dieter's ear, warning him that not all who march under Sigmar's banner are holy. As he rides away on the back of William's horse he looks back, the eyeless woman watching him vanish into the forest.


Appendices

Map of the State of Talabecland

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