Authors: Robin D. Laws - (ebook by Undead)
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 World’s 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 near, the Empire needs heroes like never before.
Piled high, the corpses formed a bloody ridge. Arms and legs, some broken,
others twisted, jutted out from the heap. Thickening blood dripped down from the
uppermost bodies, running down mud-spattered faces and spreading through the
fabric of tunics and leggings. It was early yet, and the stench of rotting had
yet to rise up and overcome that of emptied bladders and evacuated bowels. The
sky was red from distant fires. Crows cawed. Flies buzzed, ready to lay eggs,
which would pop forth as maggots, which would feed, which would grow into flies,
which would buzz elsewhere, to find more meat for more maggots.
Angelika crept quickly but carefully forward, watching where each foot fell.
It would be no good slipping in the mud, or hearing that awful, telltale slurking
noise that informed you you’d just got your boot stuck. The orcs who’d fallen
upon these soldiers and slaughtered them would have mostly moved on by now,
having sorted through the corpses for weapons and armour pieces, the only
varieties of loot they had any use for. But there could always be stragglers. Or
her fellow looters. Angelika’s profession was not an elevated one, and you could never trust someone you met out here not to slit your
throat for the trinkets you’d mined. You did not want to fall down or get stuck
or become in any way distracted.
Angelika Fleischer had blacked the pale skin of her cheeks and forehead with
soot, to make herself harder to see from a distance. She was tall and her limbs
were long. Raggedly cut locks of hair jutted from the top of her narrow, sharply
symmetrical head. The irises of her eyes were dark, so much so that it was hard
to distinguish them from the pupils. These unrevealing eyes sat high in her
face, above imperious, down-sloping cheekbones. Her lips were thin and precise.
A short, thin line of white scar tissue fissured from the right corner of her
mouth, marring the icy perfection of her beauty. She wore neither earrings, nor
necklace, nor rings on her fingers. Her tunic and leggings were of brown leather
that had worn so soft it seemed at first glance like deerskin. They were stained
in many places, and crisscrossed with rudely sewn patches and repairs. Both
garments were immodestly tight, though she had draped a short skirt of gauzy
rags around her waist. In this land, it was hard enough, and you did not want to
give men in the taverns any further reason for annoying catcalls, which drew
attention. The sleeves of her tunic clung tight to her arms, and ended in frayed
cuffs several inches before her wrists. Gloves protected her palms, though she’d
snipped away their fingers and thumbs, to leave her own bare and free to work.
Work she did. She knelt down over a stray body, one the orcs had not tossed
into the pile. It was hard to make out colours, with all the gore and mud, so
she couldn’t guess the man’s origin or regiment. But from the cuff-frills, you
could tell he was an officer. The breastplate was already long gone, so it was
an easy thing for her to reach down and pluck off each carved ivory, gold-rimmed
button, one, then the next, then the next. Angelika tucked the resultant handful
of buttons into the soft leather pouch that hung from her belt. She yanked open
the tunic to see if the man had a ransom wrapped around his chest—perhaps a
money belt, or thin strands of gold. But no. She scuttled backwards to grab the
heel of his left boot. For some reason, if it was in the boot, it would nearly always be in the left one. She wiggled the heel and twisted and
wriggled and worked it off. In the handful of years Angelika had been making her
living as a looter of battlefields, she had become very good at getting boots
off. There, wrapped around his ankle, she saw a necklace of pearls and silver.
She snatched it up and tightened her fingers around it.
An exhalation of breath, made visible by the air’s increasing chill, rose up
from one of the bodies in front of her. Someone was not quite dead. Angelika
halted herself in mid-gesture, with the stillness of a hunted animal, her face
remaining expressionless. Her eyes methodically scanned the tangle of corpses
ahead of her. She saw the man who was still breathing. Heard him groan: a low,
weak grunt. It spoke to Angelika of fear and disappointment. His throat was
slick with bright-coloured blood and, as Angelika studied him further, she saw
his tunic was also soaked through with red. He gurgled and his chest jerked
Angelika looked slowly around and moved towards him, gingerly finding solid
footfalls in the few spaces the carpet of corpses offered. She squatted beside
the man. His face was wide, his beard bushy and grey. The veins of his face lay
close to the surface of his skin, mapping a lifetime of drained ale flagons. His
right eye was pale blue. A black leather patch, studded with agates and with an
opal in the middle, covered the left. She could easily tell he was a veteran
His living eye registered the sight of the woman kneeling over him, and he
tried to reach a fleshy arm up at her. But strength had left him, and it sank
back into the muck the moment he tried to raise it. He groaned again, making a
sound that seemed to Angelika fretful, almost babyish.
“Not me,” he said.
“Yes,” Angelika said, but gently, “you.”
She put the fingers of her right hand together and moved them slowly towards
his face. She lay them softly against his left cheek. She felt the wet of the
blood and the soft tangle of matted beard hair. She felt the coarser stubble on
the part of his cheek the dying man usually shaved.
“Not—” the veteran said, but then he deflated, and Angelika saw that his one
good eye had gone blank. It wasn’t so unusual to find soldiers who hadn’t finished dying yet, especially against
orcs. They were less than thorough with their defeated foes. After a human
victory, you found most corpses stripped of obvious valuables, which was bad,
but you faced less chance that the man you were searching would suddenly bolt up
and clamp bloodied hands around your throat. It was a different set of
complications, depending on which side won.
She broke from her stillness and reached over to snatch the jewelled
eye-patch from the dead man’s face. She tucked it into her purse’s wide, waiting
mouth. She checked his tunic for buttons but they were nothing special. He’d
spent all his vanity coin on the fancy patch, clearly. She half-straightened
herself, casting her eyes about for an officer type. They were always the most
She heard another groan, behind her, and turned. A long, thin dagger was
already in her hand. She saw nothing moving. Just the big ridge of piled bodies.
She watched a plume of breath escape from her lips up into the air.
“Please,” a voice said. A young voice, male. Speaking the tongue of the
Empire. It was not the kind of trick a brutish orc was capable of playing.
Angelika remained still, kept her blade out.
“Please,” the voice repeated. “Over here,” it said.
Angelika’s eyes went to where the voice seemed to be coming from, but her
feet remained planted in place.
“Please,” the voice said. “I am stuck under bodies. Whenever I open my mouth,
it fills up with blood. Someone else’s, I am pretty sure. Help me get out.
Angelika knew the Empire, and in a past existence had learned to tell one
accent from another. The young man’s voice came from somewhere up in the
north-east. A long way from where they stood, close to the Blackfire Pass,
between the southern flatlands of the Empire and the lawless reaches of the
She still had not moved.
“Please help me out,” the young man said. His voice was getting louder,
finding strength. “My name is Franziskus.”
“Franziskus,” she said, “shut up. You’ll bring the greenskins back.”
“I’m over here,” he said, much more quietly. “Please. Quick. Under all this
weight… My lungs—being crushed.”
“Then don’t use them so much.”
Angelika had pinpointed the location of the voice and began to step towards
it. Finally she saw the movement. It was midway up in the stack of corpses,
pointing upwards. She saw wriggling. And shoulders. Of his features, all she
could make out was a helmetless head, a mop of what was probably blond, possibly
curly, hair soaked flat with congealing blood.
“Please get me out of here. See what part of me you can grab onto and then
There was quiet for a moment, and in it Angelika could hear faraway drums.
“No?” the voice finally said.
“No. Now shut up before I open your throat, on the risk of your attracting
orcs.” She’d moved closer to him, so she could speak more quietly. She could see
his forehead now, and his eyes, though she did not think he could see her. He
kept blinking his eyelids as more blood dripped onto his face from above.
“Please, I promise you, I’ll be absolutely silent,” Franziskus said, also
barely audible. “I foxed the orcs into thinking me dead, but I’m not injured.
I’ll not be a burden to you. All I need is help out, then I’ll be on my way.
Alone, no burden to you.”
“Are your ears, too, filled with blood, or are you always hard of hearing?”
Angelika’s voice remained even, its tone flat and unenlightening.
“But why deny me mercy?”
A moving glint, high and to the left, caught Angelika’s eye. It was a
pendant, bearing the holy hammer symbol of Sigmar. It was gold. The pendant hung
from a clutching hand, out-thrust from the ridge of bodies. Franziskus’
squirming had set it to swinging, slightly.
“Why deny me mercy?” Franziskus repeated.
“Your throat remains uncut. Is that not mercy?” She rose up on her toes and
plucked the pendant like it was a grape on a vine.
“Why decline me the help I need?”
Angelika began to look for other riches to pick from the corpse pile. Her
eyes fixed on a cufflink, perhaps of silver.
“Have you laid eyes on me?” she asked. She reached forward to grab a dead
wrist with her off-hand. In the other, her knife sawed at cuff fabric. “What do
you think I am doing here?”
“Did I hear you comforting someone, just now?”
“No.” She tore the cut fabric of the sleeve away and dropped it, with the
cufflink, into her purse.
“I am sure I heard this.”
“Hope deceives you. You mistake my nature.”