Belly of the Beast Part I: A Griffon, an Emperor and a Headache

Robert Steinhausen`s head hurt like hell. Even the slightest noise caused a throbbing which made him close his eyes and wish he hadn’t joined the cheerful mood everyone around him had fallen into the night before. But what could a simple man do? Thinking about the mighty Emperor, the ruler of all the Empire was one thing, but seeing him in the flesh let alone raise a cup of ale with him couldn’t be denied. So the whole army had been drinking most of the night which was the reason for his infernal headache this morning.

“Damnit” he cursed “I hope my sword arm won` t suffer too much for it.” Normally drinking was not standard procedure for troops of the Empire, atleast not while marching out for war, but the sight and knowledge that Karl Franz himself would lead this army in the days to come cheered everyone up and strengthened their will to fight beyond the immeasurable. “And we will need that courage.” Steinhausen thought “if we want to avert a terrible fate for the town of Breitblatt”.

Merely a week before scouts had brought news of a massive Beastmen army gathering in the Great Forest. By the time the scouts had arrived in Talabheim, the horde would have had started marching already, the direction clear: Talabheim itself. While the capital city of Talabecland, situated in a massive crater and therefore one of the best defended cities in the whole Empire, was quite secure the horde would cross many towns on its path and would eventually bring them through Breitblatt, a medium sized city. There was no doubt that all of its people would be slaughtered or dragged away to an even darker fate would Talabheim not respond in time. Feldmarschall Stefan Macq Edler von Scheriau, commander of all the forces of Talabheim had deviced a cunning plan to ride out with a vast army to meet the Beastmen horde inside the forest, lay a trap at a suitable location and break it before it could do any serious harm. The army had been magnificent to behold: batteries of war machines, demigryph knights, legions of statetroops and sorcerers from different magic schools. Joining them were also Knights of the order of the Knights Panther, their chapter house located inside Talabheim. And Robert Steinhausen and his Greatswords were one of the hundreds who had started in the direction Feldmarschall Stefan Macq Edler von Scheriau had planned.

“Damn this hellish headache I can`t concentrate on anything. All this noise around me makes me crazy! Men shouting, warmachines clanking, horses neighing, god-damn-it!  And if that wouldn’t be enough there is this bestial smell in the air!” The reason for the smell was quite obvious to everyone, a huge Beastmen army, THE Beastmen army the Empire had tried to find in the first place was getting into position not far away from them. Steinhausen couldn’t care less, his headache still getting the better of him for now. He even forgot for a moment that most of the Empire Army hadn’t even shown up yet, not even the Emperor himself. “Goddamnit” Steinhausen cursed again “we shouldn’t have drunk anything last night! Who could have known we would come upon these cursed beasts so early.” The Emperor and the Feldmarschall had indeed made a grave error in their planning. The Beastmen had marched much faster than they had anticipated. The Empire army had been lucky in any case, a few vanguarded scouts who hadn’t joined in the ale drinking the night before came upon the horde and were the sole reason alteast part of the Empire forces had been deplpoyed already. Without that, no one would have been prepared. Feldmarschall Stefan Macq Edler von Scheriau and The Emperor had to come up with another strategy quickly. There was the option to send every available soldier into battle now which could break the Horde but only at a terrible price in human lives. And if they would fail, Breitblatt would be doomed for sure. To make matters worse, most of the men were not prepared thanks to the cheerful night before.

Seeing it as his own fault that the troops were in this unfavourable condition Karl Franz opted to stay behind with a third of the army to stall the advance of the horde. Feldmarschall Stefan Macq Edler von Scheriau should take the rest of the army in the meantime to Breitblatt with all haste and fortify it.

The Feldmarschall protested heavily against Karl Franz`s decision but the Emperor couldn’t be swayed. Giving their best to mask this new battle plan, most of the troops were stealthily diverted while others like Robert Steinhausens Greatswords deployed to meet the Horde as a first wall of defense. They would have to live through the first waves and hope Karl Franz could muster the remaining forces quickly enough.

“Brace yourself lads! Those cursed beasts will be upon us any moment now! Have faith in the Emperor, he will not let us down!” Steinhausen was trying to instil courage in those around him. A Hellblaster Volleygun, a warmachine so deadly it could reduce whole units to nothing but a pile of arms, legs and torsi, opened up beside him and shredded into a massive onrushing Bestigor unit. He saw many of the big beasts get torn apart by the fusillade but still the Beastmen came on. “This is too loud for my taste” his head still ringing from the multiple Hellblaster shots. Mere moments later a cannon to his right shot its huge steel ball across the battlefield with a tremendous BOOM. Steinhausen saw as a giant Cygor exploded in blood and guts as it got cleaved right through its midsection some hundred meters away. “This won`t make any difference” Steinhausen thought “there is just too many of them. If we don’t hold then this will have been all for nothing.” At other parts of the battlefield men were already dying. Further away a small unit of Knights Panther got obliterated by a chariot charge. Steinhausen shook his head, no matter how often he saw it happen, he just couldn’t get used to the sight of men dying.

The Bestigor herd which had run in his direction was nearly upon them now. “Make them pay for what they did today lads, hell make them pay for what they are! Send those filthy animals to their graves, show no mercy, they don’t deserve it anyway!” With that Steinhausen readied his big sword. His muscles tensed, his breathing became louder and his headache throbbed in step with his pulse. He thought about his family, his home all the while keeping his eyes fixed on those red bright globes all of the Beastmen sported, those damn, huge red eyes. “For the emperor!” Steinhausen yelled with all his voice.

Just when he thought he could feel the stinking breath of the beasts on his face a sudden thunderous noise broke his concentration for a mere instant. A massive Steamtank burst out of the underbrush to his right, spraying dirt everywhere and ploughed right into the flank of the onrushing Bestigor unit. The beasts got hit with such a force that multiple of them got flung through the air like toy puppets. Steinhausen saw the head of a Bestigor, its surprised look still visible on its face, pass him by and hitting the ground with a wet thud. Seconds later the Steamtank opened fire and bathed the parts of the Bestigor unit which was still on its feet with super hot steam from its top mounted steamcannon. Clothing was set on fire and flesh got melted from bones. The air was filled with the screams of dying beasts. Suddenly a big shadow passed over Steinhausens Greatswords. Steinhausen looked up and saw the massive shape of a griffon. Seizing the moment he yelled “Charge the beasts! Kill them all! Our Emperor has come!”

It was a massacre. In all his years of service to the Empire Steinhausen had never seen slaughter on a scale like this. His Greatswords killed Bestigors where they stood, impaling them or beheading them with their huge swords. Still it wasn’t enough. Despite having the moment of surprise the Greatswords couldn’t make the Beasts retreat. The Bestigor unit, which was led by a giant Wargor carrying the Battlestandard, didn’t give ground but instead hacked away in a frantic state at Greatswords and Steamtank alike. Both sides suffered horrendous casualties. Neither the intervention of a unit of Reiksguard, led by the Emperors own bodyguard Ludwig Schwarzhelm nor the flank attack of a few Beastmen chariots made either side give in. There was only one way to win this fight without dying to a man, they had to break the Bestigors spirit by killing their leader. Steinhausen knew he had no chance in what was to follow, but godamnit he had to try!

“Come on over here you filthy, mangy dog or whatever you are supposed to be! Lets settle this like real warriors! I will cut you up from top to bottom and then piss on your corpse.” Steinhausen hoped he sounded more convinced of himself than he actually was. The Wargor just having disembowelled one of the Greatswords slowly turned his face over and smiled, sharp yellow teeth showing. He hefted his massive axe and started running over to give this little human a lesson in real ferocity. Steinhausen began to sweat heavily. How could he best this foe, he thought it didn’t look all too well for him. Maybe he should have kissed his wife goodbye more thoroughly and hugged his kids one last time. “Fuck this! I am winning this for them!” and with that he ran towards his hated enemy, sword raised high. The moment before both of them clashed, fate got in their way. All that happened nearly happened too fast for Steinhausen to realise. Just as he wanted to bring his weapon to bear, just as the Wargors smell filled his nostrils, just as he saw the giant axe coming down on him, a huge explosion rocked the earth. Both of them halted their actions turning around to see what had happened. Steinhausen realised, the Steamtank that had fought so hard had sustained too much damage, its boiler overpressured and ripped apart. Bestigors, Reiksguard and Greatswords were flying through the air as a huge ball of flame streaked skywards.

He counted himself lucky afterwards, but fate had it, that it was him and not the Wargor who got to his senses first. Seeing the distracted Wargor, Steinhausen put all of his remaining strength into a downwards swing……and clove right through the collarbone of his enemy. Not knowing what had happened, the giant beast turned around and looked into Steinhausens eyes. “Didn’t I promise you just that? I don’t wanna say I told you, but well I did.” The Wargor, blood bubbling between his teeth sank to his knees and had time for one final sentence “This won`t change anything, you have no idea what Malagor is up to.” And with that the Wargor split apart, both sides falling to different spots on the ground.

Just as Steinhausen had hoped for, seeing the death of their Battlestandard Bearer the remaining Bestigors lost their nerve and tried to flee away. They didn’t get far tho as they got mercilessly cut down by Ludwig Schwarzhelm and his Reiksguard.

Steinhausen breathed heavily. He didn’t think he would make it and thanked Sigmar he was still alive. Smeared all over with blood he turned around to address his unit, there weren’t many left. He doubted they could wheter another assault. He had a look and took in the scene of the remaining battlefield. It didn’t look good. Apart from their narrow victory other Empire units weren’t so lucky. He saw warmachines devastated by flocks of harpies, a roaring Ghorgon who had slaughtered his way through a unit of brave Inner Circle Knights their shining armor blood, bent and broken. He saw whole State Troop units annihilated by hordes of Gor and a sorcerer from the college of Life killed together with his trusty Pegasus. Steinhausens mood darkened again. How could they defeat this vast army, how could they walk away this day? Just as he thought there could be no victory, that all of them would perish he saw the majestic shape of Deathclaw, the mightiest Griffon that ever lived, dive down onto a group of minotaurs in the distance. Karl Franz riding on his back, waving his famous hammer Ghal Maraz and threatening the Doombull leading the unit.

With a clash of steel they fought, nearly too quick for Steinhausen to follow. Deathclaw kept the minotaurs at bay while the Emperor attacked and parried with combat expertise that wasn’t seen often. The Doombulls massive shape belied his agility tho. With strength that could rip an ox in half he was giving the Emperor a hard time. With a battle frenzy unknown to men he hacked and slashed about him oblivious to everything around. For some time it seemed that none could best the other. Karl Franz fighting for his men, for the Empire and for Breitblatt, the Doombull like the Fathers of Rage they were known for by locals. After some time the massive strength of the Doombulls attack did show however. Although Karl Franz parried the blows it was clear he couldn’t do so forever, especially with a whole unit of Minotaurs around aswell. Getting annoyed by the resilience of the little human the Doombull suddenly changed his attack style, feinting an attack with his right and then putting all of his might into the reverse swing. The Emperor was taken by surprise. He tried to parry the blow but couldn’t avert the raw energy that was put into it. The blow wasn’t fatal but Karl Franz could hear his arm and shoulder bone break with a loud snap.

Deathclaw realising that time was of the essence used a short moment attacking the Minotaurs and snapped at the Doombull`s neck. The Doombull evaded the attack easily, stepping aside but this was all the time Karl Franz needed. He used all his strength and brought Ghal Maraz down onto the Doombulls head, splintering it in a shower of blood, bones and brain matter. The Minotaurs were so taken aback by the death of their General that they retreated into the nearby woods. Like wildfire the death of the Doombull spread through the ranks of the Beastmen horde and made them scatter into every direction.

Steinhausen was stunned, never had he seen a single man avert the imminent doom of a whole army so suddenly. Were moments before he was sure that all was lost they were suddenly victorious. Mounted Knights tried to cut down the retreating Beastmen units and here and there there were a few pockets of resistance all of them quelled quickly. The few wounded Empire soldiers were taken to the surgeon, most hadn`t been so lucky, they had to be buried in this forsaken place.

When all the remaining Empire troops had gathered Deathclaw landed in the middle carrying the wounded Emperor on his back. With shaky voice Karl Franz addressed his troops “Men you have fought bravely today! You won a battle that shouldn’t have been won! We taught this filthy, flea ridden beasts who is the rightful owner of these lands. Although we have been victorious today I have grave news and need the service of those of you who can still fight once again. As some of you might know this attack turned out to be a distraction to give the Feldmarschall the time to march to Breitblatt and fortify it. I hoped we could maybe break the enemy right here but it seems that those fiends are not as stupid as they look. Their general realised what we were up to and also had parts of his force split off and travel to Breitblatt. He intends to reach it before the Feldmarschall is able to! We learned of this only before it was already too late. Therefore all  of you who can still fight will make all haste and travel to Breitblatt. Try to reach the Feldmarschalls forces before the enemy can. You have my blessings, all of you! You have made me and the Empire proud today! Deathclaw will bring me to Talabheim so I can raise another army. Don’t despair, I will come back as soon as I can.” And with that Karl Franz took off, the remaining troops cheering at him as loud as they could.

When the Emperor vanished behind the treetops Steinhausen turned around to his men. He looked at the few that were still alive and fit to fight. “You heard the men lads, seems like we are not done yet! Pack your things, clean up and rest. Get some food. We will march when the sun sets.” And with a smile on his lips he added “Lets hunt some Beasts.” The men cheered again. Like music to his ears. He looked into the direction they would soon be heading out and thought about the hordes of Beastmen they would have to overcome before this was finally over. “Next time it will take more than two lucky moments of distraction to beat the enemy.” His mood darkened again. “Well” he said “atleast my headache is gone for good.”    

Next: Belly of the Beast Part II

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