Authors: Mitchel Scanlon - (ebook by Undead)
For Jon Can, mensch.
This is a dark age, a bloody age, an age of daemons and of
sorcery. It is an age of battle and death, and of the world’s ending. Amidst all
of the fire, flame and fury it is a time, too, of mighty heroes, of bold deeds
and great courage.
At the heart of the Old World sprawls the Empire, the largest
and most powerful of the human realms. Known for its engineers, sorcerers,
traders and soldiers, it is a land of great mountains, mighty rivers, dark
forests and vast cities. And from his throne in Altdorf reigns the Emperor Karl
Franz, sacred descendant of the founder of these lands, Sigmar, and wielder of
his magical warhammer.
But these are far from civilised times. Across the length and
breadth of the Old World, from the knightly palaces of Bretonnia to ice-bound
Kislev in the far north, come rumblings of war. In the towering Worlds Edge
Mountains, the orc tribes are gathering for another assault. Bandits and
renegades harry the wild southern lands of the Border Princes. There are rumours
of rat-things, the skaven, emerging from the sewers and swamps across the land.
And from the northern wildernesses there is the ever-present threat of Chaos, of
daemons and beastmen corrupted by the foul powers of the Dark Gods. As the time
of battle draws ever nearer, the Empire needs heroes like never before.
“In times of defeat; all men are cowards.
In victory, they are all heroes.”
The Testimony of General Ludwig von Grahl
It was a hot day.
Deep in the forests of northern Hochland, the sun’s rays lanced through the
gaps in the woodland canopy overhead. To the men of the scouting patrol,
currently following a trail that skirted the province’s ill-defined border with
the Middle Mountains, it felt like they were riding through an oven. The air was
stifling. Their helmets and armour increased their discomfort, the burden
weighing heavily on their necks and shoulders.
Despite this, they were watchful. As Sergeant Johann Gessler halted his mount
and reached down to take a drinking flask from his saddle bag, he was pleased to
see his men had kept their discipline despite the heat.
He had sent two men ahead as a vanguard to scout the trail but it was
important the main body of the patrol maintained a state of readiness, warily
watching the forest around them for signs of ambush.
Counting the vanguard, and the sergeant himself, the patrol numbered ten
soldiers in total. With such sparse numbers, it was vital that everyone stayed
sharp. Their mission here was routine, but the proximity of the mountains meant
they could not relax their guard for an instant. His troops were lightly
armoured, and armed only with swords and shields. If they encountered any
serious opposition, their job was to run and warn others—not to fight.
Gessler and his men were competent riders, but they were swordsmen by
profession—infantrymen rather than horse soldiers. In the field, the armies of
the Empire made use of pistoliers and outriders in the role of light cavalry.
But such illustrious troops were in short supply, especially when it came to
serving garrison duty at a dismal outpost in the hinterlands. It was not
uncommon in such postings for foot soldiers such as Gessler and his men to be
given horses and then find themselves deployed in a scouting role as mounted
infantrymen. It was not an ideal solution, but his time as a soldier had taught
Johann Gessler to be thankful for small mercies. Whatever other hardships might
lie ahead, at least they wouldn’t have to walk.
Even as Gessler removed the stopper from the flask and took a long drink, he
was careful to keep one eye on the forest. The region had a dark reputation—
one he knew was entirely deserved.
“You ask me, this is a fool’s errand,” his second-in-command Kurt
Walden said, pulling his own horse in beside the sergeant’s.
“I don’t care what those woodcutters told Captain Ziegler. We won’t find
anything along this trail. It’s the wrong time of year for beastmen.”
“There is a season for beastmen, then?” Gessler asked with gentle sarcasm.
“Like quail, you mean? Or wood pigeon?”
Smiling, he offered Walden the flask. Despite the banter, he valued the other
man’s company. Walden was ten years Gessler’s senior. He was an old hand in the
northern forests, while Gessler was a new arrival, posted from Hergig only two
months ago. As an experienced campaigner himself, Gessler knew his life depended
on the quality of the men around him. He and Walden had quickly become fast
“You can laugh, but everything has its season,” Walden scowled in reply.
“Men, animals, beastmen—we all have our cycles. It’s the way of things.”
Taking the flask, Walden drank deeply, before making a face as though he had
“Water. I had hoped for schnapps, brandy, even watered beer. Something to cut
a man’s thirst.”
“If you want a real drink, you’ll have to wait until we get back to the
fort,” Gessler chided him, half in jest. Twisting in his saddle, he gazed at the
woods about them and the smile disappeared. “Beastmen have been sighted in the
area. That makes it a serious business, even if you don’t believe the reports.”
“A wild goose chase, that’s what it is,” Walden grimaced as he handed the
flask back to the sergeant. “I wasn’t joking when I said it was the wrong time
of year for beastmen. And I wasn’t talking about us hunting them like they were
quail or pigeon. Usually it’s the other way around—we are the prey and the
beastmen are the ones doing the hunting. Like any hunter, they know there are
seasons for the different kinds of game. There’s a season for deer, and wild
bull, and boar. And, if you’re a beastman, there’s a season for war; a season
for hunting men.”
“And this isn’t that season?” Gessler asked.
“It’s the wrong part of the year,” Walden shook his head. “You wouldn’t know
it from this damn heat, but the summer is nearly over. Beastmen don’t live by
the harvest like we do. They cluster around fixed points, like the forests here
and the mountains, but they change their hunting grounds depending on the
season. The same seasons determine when they go to war.”
Walden removed his helmet, revealing a set of features weathered to the
appearance of old leather by years spent guarding the province’s northern
frontier. Pulling a cloth from inside his tunic, he used it to wipe away the
beads of sweat glistening on his face.
“Granted, it can be difficult to second-guess them,” Walden said, adjusting
the chin strap before he put the helmet back on. “But usually, if beastmen go to
war, it will be in early spring or late autumn. If it’s spring, it’s because the
young gors are eager to prove themselves by killing enemies and taking trophies.
It’s worse, though, when they attack in the shank of autumn. If that happens it
means there’s a hard winter ahead and the weather has forced them to move down
from the uplands into human territory.”
“You seem to know them well.”
“I should do. I’ve had twenty years fighting them in these damned forests.
You learn some things in that time.”
It was a familiar theme. In the brief period they had served together,
Gessler reckoned he had heard Walden expound at least a dozen times on his pet
theories regarding Hochland’s enemies. Already, he felt he could recite them by
The ratmen were a myth, no doubt made up by the dwarfs to keep people away
from their mines. Elves and Bretonnians might as well be a myth, since they were
seen so infrequently in Hochland. Orcs were dangerous, but they lacked cunning.
Beastmen only attacked at certain times. Goblins were cowards and they had no
discipline—they were hardly worth bothering about.
According to Walden, the greatest threat to Hochland came from the
neighbouring province of Ostland. “Never let an Ostlander into your home,” he
was fond of saying. “He’ll cut your sister’s throat and have unnatural congress
with your livestock. And that’s only if he’s in a
It wasn’t that Gessler completely rejected such notions. Certainly, Walden’s
opinions on the ratmen made sense, and they shared a common prejudice against
Ostlanders. For the main part, however, he tended to regard most of Walden’s
claims as little more than country wisdoms; entertaining in their way perhaps,
but likely to prove spurious if they were ever put to the test.
Still, he could see no reason to tell that to Walden. In the two months he
had known him, Gessler had come to be impressed by the other’s abilities as a
soldier. The older man was a good second-in-command. He could be relied upon in
a crisis. With that in mind, it did no harm to humour him.
“Well, I hope you’re right,” Gessler said. “If it turns out the sightings of
beastmen hereabouts are just so much hot air, then I’ll be happy.”
Putting the flask back in his saddle bag, he glanced up along the trail.
While he and Walden had been talking, the rest of the patrol had gotten ahead of
“But, in the meantime, they have to be investigated. We’d better get moving
before we lag any further behind and the others think we’ve decided to make
camp. I’ll tell you what, though, Kurt. If it turns out you’re right and there
are no beastmen out here, the drinks are on me when we finally get back to the
“You’re on,” Walden told him.
They spurred their horses. Together, they rode down the trail.
The cause of Gessler’s downfall had been a woman, a beautiful girl with
laughing eyes and hair like spun gold.
Her name was Sylvia. They had met on a cool spring evening. At first glance,
seeing a young woman standing alone and unattended outside the barracks gates in
Hergig, he had taken her for a streetwalker. Closer inspection of her clothes
and manner had proved him wrong. She had the look of a girl of good family; not
one of noble blood perhaps, but only a rank or two below it.
Playing the gallant soldier, he had introduced himself and offered to walk
her home. She had taken him to a large house just off the Konradin Platz and
asked him inside. There, one thing had led to another.
“A general’s daughter?” his commanding officer had spluttered in outrage the
next day. “How could you?”
“I didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know? Every soldier in Hergig has heard of Sylvia von Bork! They
scratch their privates whenever she passes.”
“I didn’t think she could be the same girl. She was so beautiful. And it
wasn’t as though she told me her last name…”
“I bet she didn’t. Well, whatever happens now, you’ve done it to yourself,
Gessler. Bad enough the old man came home to find you storming his daughter’s
ramparts. The fact you decided to salute him without pulling your britches up
first only added insult to injury. I wouldn’t be surprised if he calls you out.
Where will you be then? A sergeant, fighting a duel with a general…”
It had not come to that. When it was a matter of removing a stain against his
daughter’s honour, General Joachim von Bork was inclined to more subtle tactics.
Within three days of the incident, Gessler had received orders that he was being
transferred to a new regiment. Henceforth, his military career would be spent at
an isolated fort on the northern frontier, guarding Hochland’s border with the
Initially, he had been surprised at the relative mildness of the punishment.
It seemed strange the general had not used his influence to have him stripped of
his rank. The reason became clear once he arrived at the fort to take up his
duties. As one of only two sergeants stationed at the garrison, Gessler found he
was expected to lead scouting patrols into the forests on an almost daily basis.
The borderlands were a dangerous place. Chaos warriors, beastmen, greenskins
- all of them made their home in the Middle Mountains. Already, in two months at
the fort, Gessler had seen more action than he might have faced in an entire
year in some less hazardous posting.
It was not difficult to see it was all part of von Bork’s plan. The general
had no need to get his hands dirty killing the man who had “dishonoured” his
daughter. Not when he could send him to the northern frontier and hope some
obliging orc or beastman would do the job for him. The fact that Sylvia had
already been willingly dishonoured on several past occasions was neither here
Possibly, the general did not believe the gossip about his daughter. If such
was the case, Gessler supposed any father had a right to his illusions.