I just realised I have a lot of work I need to get done with tomorrow morning. Well, I suppose I should just drop this now and fix the inevitable missed errors as soon as I'm free.

To those unaware, this is part 2 of the new chapter, uploaded in the 30th of May, 2019. If you haven't read part 1 yet, please turn back a page, or this part won't make much sense. Part 3 will come in a few weeks if I'm not too busy.



Cousin Okri's face was flushed a bright red, and he was sweating ever so slightly, despite the cold.

"Enough of this! It's about time we take our differences to the next level!" The dwarf ranger bellowed, staring intensely at his sworn foe and rival from across their table.

"Hmghrm..." Todwunsch grumbled, perhaps out of exasperation.

Eloise sipped her tea as she relaxed on her makeshift seat, which was simply a pile of unloaded handguns stacked overtop one another. "Oh, give it up, dwarf. Siegmund has shown time and time again that he is better at this than you."

"You shut your filthy umgak mouth, woman!" Okrundsson all but screamed at the huntress, before quickly returning to regard his foe. "I'm not taking me eyes off you again, manling! You can count on that."

Bardin Goreksson rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Ehh, perhaps it's not such a good idea to let this go on, cousin. Why, this is the first time I've seen you beaten in cards, much less four times in quick succession, in fact! Eheh, maybe it's safer and more... economically-sound, to just write this one up for the Book..."

"No! My honour demands satisfaction! I'll show this tin can I'm better than him this time!" Okrundsson's beady eyes were wild with madness as he furiously rearranged his deck on the table. "New hand! And this time, YOU will be the one coughing up gold!"

Bored nearly to tears, Wolfhard suppressed a yawn as another one-sided match between the dwarf and the black guard began anew, its conclusion already known to everyone except the most stubborn ranger in the lands beyond the Wall.

It had been a week and four days since Eloise and her retinue returned to New Praag with Val's defecting free folk in tow. After reporting to Captain Schindler for their next task, Eloise, Wolfhard, Todwunsch and Weiss immediately packed up their belongings and made their way to Überwachungspunkt Dorthe, a small, concealed camp deep within the Haunted Forest, inhabited by a small detail of state troops from Middenland, free company militiamen, and a handful of Okrundsson's eccentric rangers.

Dorthe was meant as a drop-off point for lumber and forest goods, but for the rest of the week, Eloise intended to use it as an observation post for keeping an eye on free folk movement.

"Foolish Ranald-worshippers! This materialistic display does not endear you in the eyes of the one true god of world! Sigmar is displeased with your idleness!"

Unfortunately, none of the four were spared Henrik Vogel's presence, who tagged along with the group and objected violently to any attempt at driving him off. To avoid coming to blows with a deranged templar with no small amount of skill with a flail, and to keep Saltzpyre placated, Eloise decided to let Vogel do as he pleased, much to Wolfhard's dismay.

"Then what would you have us do, templar?" One of the state troops was foolish enough to ask.

Vogel fixed his wild eyes on the poor soldier, who instantly shrinked back in fear. "Must I tell you unpious children everything? You must pray, then meditate on the word of Sigmar! Only then will you find the truth in all things, and discard all confusion and fear and doubt, as I and many others have!"

While Wolfhard prayed and meditated as much as a man of his station was supposed to, he could only roll his eyes at his deranged colleague. "I'm going to relieve Weiss." He picked up his repeater handgun, which was leaning up against a tree. "With all the noise you lot are making, this place better be un-sacked by the time I walk back up here."

"Try to come back in one piece, mate." The militiaman watching the path to the camp saluted the templar as he ambled past and shuffled his way through heavy snow into the distant woods.

Pulling up the shawl draped around his shoulders, Wolfhard adjusted his sights and ignored the beaten path to Weiss' post, which seemed much too exposed for his tastes. Instead, he carefully made his way down the deserted forest, handgun pointed downrange.

"Im Wald und auf der Heide... such ich meine Freude..." Wolfhard muttered an old Hochlander hunting song as he continued down the frosted woods, with the wind at his back, the moon and the stars up above, and the weirwood trees all around watching his every move. "Ich bin ein Jägersmann, ich bin ein Jägersmann..."

The templar's stroll through the woods seemed peaceful enough, and the view was stunning as always. There was something about these snow-capped forest that allured Wolfhard and put him at ease, and the way the trees gently swayed in the wind was almost hypnotic, reminding him of many pleasant memories from his early childhood in Talabecland. After a while, the templar put away his gun and began to think that his earlier caution might have been unwarranted.

That was, until a dark shape crashed into him from out of nowhere, toppling him over the snow, leaving him momentarily stunned and groaning from the pain. When his vision cleared and his wits returned to him, Wolfhard looked up to see the barking jaws of a brown wolf opening and closing in front of him, liberally slathering his face in canine slobber.

Swallowing his fear and surprise, Wolfhard reached out and clasped the sides of the wolf's muzzle before its slavering jaws could close around his throat. With desperate strength, the hunter pushed the wolf away from his face. When it recovered its balance and tried to attack Wolfhard again, he put a stop to it and knocked it well back with a debilitating kick to the snout.

Scrambling back up to his feet as quickly as he could, Wolfhard drew his longsword from his back and swiped once and twice at the charging wolf, hoping to scare it off. For some strange reason, the wild animal completely ignored his display and skirted around the hunter, angling to sink its teeth into his legs. Growing irritated at the desperate creature's persistence, Wolfhard darted back a step, and swung down with his blade just before the beast could strike.

The templar's blow struck true with gruesome results. The wolf's head was very nearly split down the middle, the repulsive sight drawing a look of disgust from its creator.

"Stupid dog," The hunter scoffed, extracting his blade from the creature's twitching corpse.

There was a scream of anguish and pain in the distance, followed by alarmed shouts and clamoring in the wildling tongue. Wolfhard took a few steps back, his eyes widening in shock and mounting dread as a veritable swarm of enraged free folk raiders emerged from the undergrowth and broke into a combined sprint toward him, all but ready to tear him apart, piece by bloody piece.

Just before the marauders surrounded him, Wolfhard managed to regain some of his wits.

"Come, then!" Accepting his fate, he muttered one last benediction to Sigmar and Taal before standing straight, tall and unbowed, longsword held in a battle-ready stance against his murderers. "Let's dance!"


A deadpan cheer erupted across Uberwachungspunkt Dorthe. Jugs of watered-down beer were unenthusiastically toasted, a couple of hats were thrown into the air in a mocking manner, and dwarf rangers shrugged and went about their way as, once again, Todwunsch handily defeated Okrundsson in a heavily-modified game of Grenzstadt Eights... much to the surprise of absolutely no one.

"Well, that settles it." Sighing, Eloise sprung up from her impromptu chair, stuffing her notebook back into her coat pocket. "You lost to Siegmund for the fifth time this day, Okrundsson. Congratulations."

Cousin Okri had the look of a dwarf utterly defeated and devoid of all hope. "You've taken every bit of coin I have, manling..." He muttered. "I have nothing left to give... but there is one thing..."

Goreksson gasped, "No, cousin! You can't bloody well mean..."

Okrundsson hung his head in shame. "Yes, cousin. I've lost, and the ancestors demand I pay the victor his due." Dejectedly, he reached for the strap of his runeforged grudge-raker.

Eyes widening in alarm, Eloise reached into her coat for a weapon. "Dwarf! And just what do you think you're doing?"

Todwunsch seemed impassive as ever, merely staring at the ranger. His stoic demeanour was shattered as soon as Okrundsson unslung his weapon over his shoulder and tossed it at the knight's armoured lap. Todwunsch rumbled out a confused noise, only to be stunned into silence again when Okrundsson threw another of his things at him — a wide, foul-smelling leather belt adorned with several densely-packed grudge-raker shells.

"She's yours now, knight. The gun, and the means to kill with her." Eloise was shocked to hear the dwarf speak those words. "Aye, she'll make for a fine weapon in your hands... provided you can handle her."

Tentatively, the black guard of Morr lifted the weapon and held it in his hands as a forlorn-looking Okrundsson looked on with defeated eyes.

Goreksson nodded solemnly at the scene. "You should feel honoured, manling. A grudge-raker is a rare thing, even amongst our kind. You must be the first human to ever wield one of these weapons, and likely the last, too."

Eloise gaped at the scene, trying and failing to contain her shock. "I... don't quite follow. This is insane, dwarfs don't just give away their own weapons like that! Don't you two have a grudge to write down instead?"

"Aye, but there is a price I must pay, and for a manling who worships the manling god of death, a tool of death seems the most fitting. I don't expect witch hunter types like you to understand, Fräulein." Okrundsson folded his musclebound arms and pointedly looked away from Eloise.

"You... you..." The huntress closed her mouth, setting her jaw. "...ugh, forget I said anything. You rangers are stranger than the rest of your kind."

Both Okrundsson and Goreksson shrugged at that, almost in concert with one another. Massaging her temples, Eloise looked to her black guard retainer, who regarded the new weapon in his hands and the belt on his lap with childlike awe from the muffled sounds he was making through his helm.

The corners of the huntress' lips curled up at the sight, despite herself. She opened her mouth, a teasing, mockingly exasperated remark at the tip of her tongue, when she was interrupted by a tap on her shoulder.

"Hey," Eloise flinched to hear Weiss' voice behind her. She was beginning to tire of the young woman's habit of making very little noise as she moved. "Just came back from my watch. Have you seen your brother anywhere? He's supposed to relieve me half an hour ago."

The huntress arched a black brow. "You mean to say you did not come across him out there? Wolfhard left a while ago to take up your watch."

Weiss shook her head. "Afraid not, templar."

Eloise narrowed her eyes at the sergeant. "That's strange. The path only leads one way... you should have met him on his way to your post."

"Knowing Wolfhard, it's likely he took an alternate route through the woods for a more "scenic experience". I'm beginning to wonder, is your brother always like this?" Weiss sardonically asked.

"Ever since he failed his squiredom to Tancred von Lichtenburg." Eloise snorted. "It is likely he had too much to drink and had to empty his bladder somewhere hidden just as you passed by. I suppose it's only fortunate you did not run into him on your way back."

Weiss covered her mouth to keep from laughing. "That is... heh, possible enough, I think." She turned to the side. "Still, it can't hurt to know if he made it to his post unharmed. I'm going to order some of the handgunners to look for him out there."

"Sergeant, that's hardly necessary." Eloise shook her head. "The free folk wouldn't dare to come this close to our territory, and Wolfhard is more than capable of defending himself should—"

The distinctive crack of a handgun in the distance pierced the quiet atmosphere of the camp, cutting Eloise off. The blast was followed by another, and another, and another, until it stopped and all was quiet again.

By now, the relative peace that presided over Dorthe had been thoroughly shattered. State troops started to emerge from their tents partially-clothed and only half-awake, while their comrades already on their feet tentatively began reaching for their weapons, clearly hesitant to go to war again. Even the dwarf rangers seemed reluctant to put down their ale in favour of their axes and thunderers.

It took Eloise emptying a pistol into the sky to shake them back into the real world. With the men's attention now on her, the huntress was quick to order the state troops and all the auxiliary soldiers present to immediately present themselves to their fighting positions and make ready for battle.

And with that, the Imperials and their dwarfen auxiliaries got to work. Handgunners and crossbowmen hunkered down behind Dorthe's frontal barricade and whatever cover they could find as they began setting up firing arcs to slow down any wildling charge from the woods up ahead, while Okrundsson and his rangers braced their shields together and positioned themselves out in the open, intending to draw most of the hostile attention head the camp's way. Meanwhile, a single detail of artillerymen reluctantly dumped their beer into the snow and hastily began putting together the rest of the partially-assembled mortar at the centre of the camp, their red-faced leader screaming oaths and other profanities all the while.

"One of our own is in peril!" Vogel declared, even as Todwunsch dragged him away from the open, almost manhandling him. "Unhand me, you death-worshipping brute! Can't you all see it is only just that we send a party to rescue our comrade from danger, and smite those who would dare to stand in our way? Sigmar knows I am right!"

"For once, I agree with him." Weiss said, glancing briefly at the twitchy, wild-eyed hunter before turning to Eloise again. "I'll go out there myself with your permission, Fräulein von Mannstedt. Just say the word."

"Hrmph." Todwunsch stepped forward, placing himself beside Weiss.

Without Todwunsch to restrain him, Vogel bared his teeth in a decidedly feral grin. "Together, we will make our enemies fear our approach! Follow, I know the way!"

"Not so fast, you slovenly lunatic," Eloise stepped into the man's path, preventing him from impulsively running back into the open. "You're not coming with them. Their task requires a level of subtlety rabid dogs like you are physically incapable of, I cannot risk your inelegant blundering to compromise—"

Nobody in camp saw it coming until it was far too late. One of the dwarfs just barely finished cleaning his thunderer, when he looked up at the falling shadow in the sky, opened his mouth to shout a late warning, and was promptly splattered by a giant rock.

Eloise jumped back at the gruesome display, her face paling. "Sigmar, what—"

More rocks came raining down from the sky, pelting the Imperials below from their camps. Tents and fortifications were demolished, trees were shattered and bent, and unfortunate people were crushed underneath obviously quarried boulders, likely propelled by some great, if primitive, siege weapon.

When the barrage abated and the dust settled, Eloise pulled herself up from the snow to see the camp thrown into disarray, with many dead and even more injured. Fortunately, her own retinue seemed to have survived intact.

"Damn it!" Weiss cursed as she helped Todwunsch up. "When did those barbarians get their hands on stone-throwers?"

So much death seemed to only drive Vogel into an even deeper frenzy. "It matters not! They brought siege weapons against us, and that can only mean one thing! We must attack now, and kill these heretics before they reach New Praag!"

As though on cue, a shout of alarm from the barricade alerted them to a more immediate issue at hand.

"We've got company!" A handgunner at the barricade cried out, indicating at the woods where Wolfhard disappeared into. "There! Free folk raiders on approach!"

Eloise snapped her head to where the handgunner was pointing at, and behold, enough barbarians to swarm the entire camp appeared over the horizon, screaming bloody murder as they charged across the snow, axes in the air and shield raised. Worse, they brought with them crude chariots dragged along by giant wolves, as well as formations of towering white bears mounted by what appeared to be wildling leaders and warlords, judging from their better weapons and armour.

The huntress did not let her surprise show. Instead, she pulled out a pistol. "State troops, free company, on my mark!" She pointed her pistol downrange. Trying to hit a single target from her distance was an exercise in futility, but the sheer mass and density of the advancing free folk horde made scoring a kill almost a certainty. "Load! Take aim! Make ready..."

The huntress let the barbarians come closer for another moment more, before taking her shot, her bullet glancing against a raider's shield and ricocheting into another man's neck. "In the name of Karl Franz von Holswig-Schliesten! ATTACK!"

And with that, the Imperials and their dwarf comrades let loose with their assortment of firearms, crossbows, and arbalests, their weapons shredding through the enemy's first rank and raking through those behind.

Instead of turning and retreating as free folk tend to do when confronted with blackpowder arms, however, these raiders simply ran over the fallen bodies of their dead or maimed comrades and continued their charge, completely undeterred.

Eloise grimaced. "Blast it! Reload!" She turned behind her shoulder to the mortar crew. "Volkmar's arse, what's taking so long, you clumsy Ulricans? We need that gun firing NOW!"

"The crew's doing their best, Fräulein von Mannstedt!" Their leader exclaimed, even as his men struggled to put the disassembled piece back together. "She'll be ready in ten minutes, at most!"

"We'll all be dead in five!" Eloise shouted back. Gritting her teeth, she returned to the battle at hand. "Weiss, I need you to get out of here. Return to the settlement and tell them Rayder's people brought siege weapons and are coming down Storrold's Point in force. The emperor and the elector counts would know what to do."

"Is this wise?" The state sergeant asked, concerned. "I'll be of most use to you here."

"Just do it, sergeant!" Eloise barked, daring at the other woman to disagree. It was only when Weiss bowed her head in submission and began marching away that the huntress addressed the rest of her men, who looked to her for direction with wide, desperate eyes.

"Fire at will, everyone! Bring them to heel like the dogs they are!"

The Imperials and the dwarfs put down another combined volley, followed by a third, and a fourth.

"Here they come! Brace! BRACE!"

It did not take overlong for the battle to be properly joined, when the free folk raiders finally crashed into the Imperial barricade, eager to hack apart the vastly outnumbered defenders behind it.

"Hold fast!" Eloise swung aside, dodging a frenzied thrust from a wildling sword. "STAND FIRM!" Brandishing her rapier, the huntress was quick to impale her attacker through the heart as his forward momentum propelled him forth. "NO SURRENDER!"

From then on, the chaos of war consumed Dorthe, with the surrounded and desperately outnumbered Imperials fending off wave after wave of the enemy, which seemed numberless and twice as fierce than usual. Even as more giant rocks were cast their way, they held their ground, and they did not waver.

"All detachments, priority target! BRING THAT BLOODY THING DOWN!" The huntress cried out, rallying the men around her as an intimidating sight bore down upon them — a greatsword-wielding raider sat bestride an enormous white bear charged forward, both howling in rage like the rabid animals they were.

Even as bullets and quarrels raked its hide, the great ursine beast barrelled onward, smashing its bulk into the braced Imperial formation. Eloise and her scattered band of battered soldiers gave a good account of themselves as they tried to fend the snow bear and its crazed rider off, but at such close range, they proved outmatched to the sheer ferocity of their foes.

"Pull back, damn it!" Eloise commanded, grunting as she darted aside to evade the mangled, screaming body of a free company militiaman hurled her way. "Sigmar, keep it away from the mortar! What's it going to take to kill this blasted thing?"

The bear-riding wildling cackled madly after decapitating a pair of state troopers in a single sweep of his blade, and whooped obnoxiously as his vicious mount dragged an outrider from his panicking horse and tore the man limb from limb. Eloise blanched as the lunatic turned his head to leer at the unprotected mortar crew. She muttered a prayer to her god for salvation, and as fate would have it, it seemed as though her plea was immediately heard.

Silently emerging from the thick blanket of blackpowder smoke clouding the battlefield like a monstrous suit of animated armour from a Sylvanian mummer's play, Todwunsch hefted his oversized poleaxe up and brought it down on the snow bear's flank, driving his steel deeply into its hindquarters from the sheer amount of force he put into his swing. The beast roared in surprise and pain as it jolted to face its attacker, accidentally throwing its blindsided rider from its back as it did.

Undeterred by the bear's open-mouthed, wrathful gaze upon him, Todwunsch near-effortlessly batted aside the creature's huge, clawed arm as it swiped at him. With his prey recovering from its missed strike, the raven knight used his weapon's hammer-head to retaliate with a noisy, bonecrushing strike to the creature's enormous snout, flattening the front of its skull and sending it reeling, dazed from the sheer blunt force Todwunsch struck it with.

The beast was stunned, and rendered defenceless for a while. Seizing the momentum, Todwunsch lowered his weapon, braced it against his armoured shoulder, and closed the remaining distance between himself and the dazed snow bear. Still as silent as ever, the black guard of Morr skewered the beast clean through the neck with his poleaxe's spearhead, before twisting it down, forcing the wounded creature into the ground.

Before the bear could mount any more resistance, Todwunsch freed one of his hands and reached behind, grasping the handle of the grudge-raker Cousin Okri gifted to him. Its runic components seem to glow faintly in the fading sunlight as Todwunsch pressed it against the side of the beast's skull before pulling the trigger, painting the snow beneath a disgusting shade of darkened red.

Eloise winced at the sight. Grimacing, the huntress took the time to sidestep a charging spearwife, stabbing the graceless savage through the armpit as she did. With no immediate threat to hinder her, the huntress quickly made her way next to her black guard companion's side.

"Nicely done, Siegmund!" Eloise said in-between breaths. "We'd have lost our mortar had you not interfered!"

In response, Todwunsch shook his head. Grunting, he pointed to where the mortar crew was before.

The huntress turned aside, her face twisting in shock at the sight of the artillerymen being hacked apart in close-quarters by more free folk than she could count. Worse, even the main handgunner line seemed close to being encircled and overwhelmed. Only the dwarfs seemed to have managed to hold their ground and maintain their formation.

"Fräulein von Mannstedt! We can't stay here!" A state trooper exclaimed as he reloaded hurriedly, even as his comrades just a few paces up front were overtaken by the wildling horde and slaughtered without mercy. "We have to go! Call the retreat!"

Once again, Eloise hesitated. "But... but Wolfhard is still out there! We must stay and wait for—"

"Foolish girl!" All of the sudden, Vogel appeared, covered head-to-foot in dirt, blood spatters, and even more wounds and cuts. "There is no winning here — no glory in utter defeat! Give the order, sound the retreat!"

The huntress looked at her fellow templar with no small amount of astonishment, as though she was seeing his true self for the first time. "I... yes, but—"

"Consider him dead!" Vogel all but screamed, even as he wrapped his flail's chains around a panicking spearwife's neck. "Make your choice! I've made peace with my god, von Mannstedt... have you?" With a contemptuous sneer on his face, the hunter kicked his victim's leg out from under her, before twisting his flail in the opposite way. The audible crunch that followed was sickening.

Eloise bared her teeth at her fellow templar, whose words immediately rekindled the fires of righteous fury within her. "How dare you speak to me like that, churl!" But they also sparked clarity, and even reason. She hated admitting to herself that the fanatic was right. "Sigmar curse you. Okrundsson, cover our retreat — we're leaving now!"

Cousin Okri made a displeased noise. "We're leaving? But we still have munitions!" He grumbled a bit, but nonetheless gave the order to his crew. "Von Mannstedt says it's time to disappear, lads! Cousin, remember that time we faced zombies near Zhufbar? Give these manlings a faceful of the good stuff!"

Laughing gleefully, Bardin Goreksson unslung one of the knapsacks he was carrying, one that visibly bulged with intricate black spheres carved with the faces of scowling longbeards.

"Here," Lighting one of the spheres, the veteran ranger heaved back, and tossed the overpacked bag into the largest concentration of wildlings. "Drakefire! With love, from Karak Azul!"

The resulting explosion propelled great gouts of burning fuel in every direction — burning, viscous, flesh-eating fuel that stuck to the skin and resisted any attempt at extinguishing their flames. Scores of wildlings caught in the blast panicked, and scrambled away in their vain attempt to put out the fires scourging their bodies. Those raiders fortunate enough to escape the rapid series of fiery explosions that thinned their ranks found themselves blinded, and doubling over from the amount of thick, acrid black smoke that almost instantly enveloped them.

Over the din of battle, Eloise's voice could be heard, "Retreat! Abandon all posts, leave this place!"

Using the smokescreen the dwarfs created, the remnants of Outpost Dorthe disengaged, formation by formation, one detachment after the other. With practiced ease, the soldiers provided covering volleys for those left behind, before running back themselves as they abandoned more and more of their territory.

"Verena's cunt, these woods all look the same!" One of the militiamen cried out, looking to the dense woodland that stretched endlessly ahead with wide, anxious eyes.

"Which way?" A state trooper's voice could be heard from the back of the formation. "Which way is the huntsmarshal's camp!"

"Move it, you old farts! By the gods, Lukas, keep those legs moving!" A free company sergeant ran past, trailed behind by militiamen long past their prime.

Eloise hazarded a glance behind her shoulder and found the enemy only a few hundred paces behind, determined in their pursuit. Hissing an oath under her breath, the huntress decided to do as the militiaman said, and kept her legs moving.

The retreat lasted for almost half an hour, and by the end of it, Eloise lost a few more soldiers to the pursuing free folk after they fell behind. It came as a relief to all, to see a handful of their fellow Imperials running up to meet them from their hiding spots — Wulfhart's elite huntsmen and rangers, by the looks of them.

"Look, there they are!" The leading sergeant of this detachment of bowmen shouted to his fellows, pointing ahead. Notably, distinguished by their dark overcoats and high-quality weapons and armour, Eloise also spotted more than a handful of Witch Hunter Captain Saltzpyre's retainers among their ranks. "Get into formation, you fools. Nock those arrows, ready those guns — attack on my mark!"

Thanking Sigmar for the respite, Eloise slowed down to catch her breath as she and her underlings approached.

"Sergeant, words cannot express how glad I am to see friendly faces... though I am not too pleased to see some of Saltzpyre's goons with you." She said, fully aware and more than a little annoyed of the fact that she was another of the witch hunter captain's lackeys, albeit the one with the most authority. "I assume you've been informed of our situation?"

"Aye, milady. Your woman came through, just... not in the best of times." The huntsman awkwardly said, his voice reeking of cheap Middenheim ale. Come to think of it, he and some of his men also seemed to be missing pieces of their uniforms. "Go on ahead my lords and ladies, the huntsmarshal and your templar-captain's waiting for you in his ice-fort. And don't worry about these savages; the lads and I have something special in store for them..."

Eloise nodded at the man, gestured for her people to follow behind, and left without a word. Todwunsch obediently trailed behind her, while Vogel set his beady, fiery-eyed stare at the mismatched bunch of huntsmen and templar retainers.

"Take heart, stand proud! Glory to Sigmar, the Empire, and the first man to die!" He exclaimed in his typical unhinged manner, before turning away and running after his companions.

The walk to Huntsmarshal Wulfhart's "ice-fort", which was little more than a compact shelter made from Kislevite magical ice, was thankfully short. Once she was sure all her people made it to a position with a clear shooting arc over the path behind them and the wounded ferried back to New Praag, Eloise marched inside the glacial edifice, whereupon she promptly stumbled upon a most peculiar scene.

"—with these weapons," Seated across the table from the huntsmarshal, Captain Saltzpyre indicated at the equipment the more junior witch hunters behind him were wielding as they stood painfully straight to attention. "Your men will possess the firepower to hold your ground, even when outnumbered three-to-one. All I require is your permission to—"

"Captain," As one, Wulfhart and Saltzpyre turned their heads to the sound of Eloise's voice. "Who are these people?" She eyed her fellow templars, whom she hadn't seen before. They greeted her with their own stares, and only a few were polite enough to smile or nod in acknowledgement.

"Ah, von Mannstedt. You are unsurprisingly late." Captain Saltzpyre pressed his weight into his walking cane. "But no matter," He then gestured to his minions behind his shoulder. "If you must know, these are some of my confidants and close protégés. They answer to only me, thus making introductions pointless... though I suspect you and your brother would be working very closely with this man here,"

The templar captain pointed his cane at the only man in his group without an exposed face. In response, the man in question tipped his hat to Eloise.

"I'm Hans." He introduced himself rather simply, his raspy voice filtered through the armoured, orange-lensed Pestarzt mask he wore over his face. "Captain Saltzpyre said you are in charge should he ever die in combat, or otherwise be rendered unable to lead." He had in his hands a peculiar, long-barrelled handgun of a most unusual design, resembling a shielded Arabyan jezzail more than anything. Behind him, the silver hilt of a sheathed flammenschwert could be seen. "The lads and I look forward to fighting alongside you."

"Yes, yes, I'm sure the lot of you are." Saltzpyre scoffed, his voice dripping with sardonic impatience. He looked behind Eloise for a moment, seemingly noticing something amiss. "Your brother follows you around like an overly-attached hound, but now he is nowhere in sight. Where is he?"

The huntress' shoulders sagged. "I don't know." She mumbled, voice thick with worry. "He went out to do his rounds, when we were attacked by a horde of raiders. He didn't return to the watchpoint in time, when we were forced to abandon it. He has not been seen by any of my men ever since he left."

She sighed, before she steeled herself. "We must mount a search at the earliest possible time.

Saltzpyre took a second to respond. "If Richter has yet to return to us after all this time, then we can assume he is either dead or captured, and his usefulness to our cause has ended. We cannot waste any time or resources on him, we must focus on—"

A defeaning bang echoed outside Huntsmarshal Wulfhart's lodgings, which was followed by a second and a third, each as unsettlingly loud as the last.

Saltzpyre cleared his throat as soon as it was quiet again. "As I was saying, we should turn to more pressing issues at the moment."

"What? No!" Eloise's ears still rang, but she heard Saltzpyre well enough. "Are you insane? Wolfhard could still be out there, awaiting rescue, and we're all but leaving him to fend for himself against an army of these heathens?"

"Or he could be dead, and we'd be risking the lives of what few templars we have left just to retrieve the shattered corpse of one unfortunate hunter." Saltzpyre did not yield an inch. "As captain, I cannot make a decision so reckless, so risky, as this..."

Muffled screaming and what sounded like shouted commands echoed outside, followed by the distinctive, discordant rattle of several handguns discharging one after another in quick, practiced succession.

"...especially at a time like this, when the wolves have come to our door!" Scowling in anger, Saltzpyre jabbed the end of his cane into the ground, as though imagining he was driving it into the heart of a downed foe. He turned to Wulfhart, whom had kept quiet thus far. "Huntsmarshal, we will discuss our agreement another time. I suggest we all take our positions outside and show these filthy northlanders the consequences of crossing the Empire."

The huntsmarshal sighed as he stood up, taking up his bow and quiver as he did. "There is no agreement; our bows still prove more than sufficient for our needs. I already said no the first time, or haven't you been listening to me? Bah."

Saltzpyre barely paid attention to Wulfhart as he stalked out. His eye was upon his men once again. "Our huntsmarshal is not convinced; get out there, fight beside him, and prove how wrong he is about our righteous tools of slaughter."

Led by the faceless Hans, the templars saluted and obeyed, leaving the ice-fort without a word.

"And as for you, von Mannstedt," Finally, Saltzpyre turned to address Eloise... "You are needed to—"

...only to face a rapier's piercing edge pressed to his throat, threatening to draw blood. "Hm."

Eloise's eyes were narrowed into slits, and teeth were clenched tightly together, mouth drawn back into an expression of hatred and contempt. She looked at her superior the same way she looked at heretics and mutants.

"I won't abandon Wolfhard." The huntress pressed hard on the blade she was holding, lightly piercing the skin covering Saltzpyre's neck. "And there is nothing you can do to stop me."

To his credit, the surprise on Saltzpyre's face almost instantly drained into an unimpressed frown. The only warning Eloise got that she was a single pull of the trigger away from Morr's embrace was the unassuming click of a pistol's hammer being cocked.

"Think carefully before you carry out your next act, kleine Mädchen," Captain Saltzpyre said, voice dangerously low. Eloise had to suppress a gasp as she felt a barrel being pressed under her breast, just next to her heart. At this range, her armour could hardly be counted on to do its job. "What in the name of Sigmar do you intend, drawing your sword against me, your superior?"

Eloise did not hesitate. "I just want to see Wolfhard. Alive or dead. I give not one whit if I have to do it on my own."

A tense silence followed between the two. It was a while before Saltzpyre dipped his head to the side. "Fair enough."

Eloise braced herself, unsure if she was going to be shot. Instead, she felt the pistol's barrel lifting away from her chest as Saltzpyre retracted it.

"Do as you wish." The captain said, setting down his pistol on the table nearby. "I've done what I can to reason with you, but I see that you and your father are still too much alike. Leave this place, little girl, while you still can. There is no place for you in war."

"I can see now why he cut all ties with you, Saltzpyre." Eloise drew her rapier back. She considered cutting a red line along her captain's throat, but in the end, she reined in her fury. "Goodbye, old man."

Saltzpyre emotionlessly watched her leave, letting her go without a word, in protest or otherwise.

Outside, it pained Eloise to see her fellow Imperials preparing for battle, hunkered down behind their fortifications. Many would die here, defending their nation from soulless barbarians who wish to see it destroyed utterly... and here she was, about to abandon them on the eve of battle for the sake of her childish, impudent half-brother.

"Fräulein von Mannstedt!" Weiss came running as soon as she saw Eloise leaving the tent. Just behind her was Todwunsch, looking eager to spill more wildling blood. "The men are in position. Where do you wish to—"

"I'm leaving, sergeant." The huntress cut her off. She couldn't bear to hear her companion turning to her for direction. "I need to find Wolfhard. You three do what you must, but I cannot stay here."

As expected, Weiss seemed surprised at first. Eloise also expected her to become furious, and be called out for being craven and selfish. Weiss defied the huntress' expections with a simple, "I see. We'll find him together, then."

"Mrghm!" The black guard clapped a gauntleted fist against his chestplate, then planted himself right next to Weiss. Ever-loyal, he seemed to wish to follow Eloise.

Eloise couldn't help but smile. "I am in your debt. Now come, we musn't waste any more time."


The Ice Queen of Kislev stirred her tea and listened patiently, her face betraying no emotion, except for the tears welling up in the corner of her eyes.

"As soon as you disappeared, your majesty, our people crumbled in an instant." Knyaz Dmitri Yuvulev, a haggard, battle-scarred noble, recounted his experiences. "Morale among the warriors plummeted — there were mass desertions among the kossars, and even the winged lancers. The people panicked upon hearing the news... atamans told their people to abandon their homes and flee south, and without an organised army to keep order, bands of kyazak scum pillaged our nation from north to south, sparing no one, from Gospodar to Ungol."

The noble sighed, slicking back his hair. "Even with help from the Empire's armies, Kislev fell to the Everchosen's hordes within less than a week, and our nation ceased to exist after two months of desperate resistance. My failure to defend my lands shame me to this day, my queen, but I knew I had to take my people somewhere safe. We had no choice but to take refuge in Dietershafen, where an Imperial admiral had been kind enough to allow us to board his ships..."

He downed a shot of his kvas before hanging his head low, his hands supporting his head. "We've lost so much... my poor Ludmilla..."

Katarina looked down at her drink. It had gone cold in her hands, almost frozen solid. "I see." She reached up, and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. "You have my condolences, your excellency. We have all suffered loss, and we all share in your grief."

"Th-thank you, my queen, you are most kind..." The man wiped under his nose and sat up straighter, mustering some of his dignity. "It pains me to see us reduced to this... having to rely on the Empire's kindness. One must wonder, when will this kindness run out?"

The tzarina pondered on this. In the end, she shook her head. "No. That is unwise. Franz would not dare to abandon us, not when his Empire stands on the brink of complete destruction. Ever since the Gospodars made peace with our neighbours to the south, our nations have always stood together against the odds... and I dare to say there is nothing in this world that could break our bond."

"My queen, while our nations have stood as allies for many an age, perhaps there is merit to Dima's words."

Knyaz Yuvulev's young second cousin, another Kislevite highborn known as Boyar Aleksandr Zuriyev, spoke up from his corner of the table. "There is less than five thousand of our people who made it here from our old lands, but most are fishermen, sailors, smiths, and leatherworkers. Only a handful can claim to have trained to hold an axe and a shield, and even less have ever fought in a true battle."

"Make your point, Aleksandr Ignatkovich." The tzarina couldn't help but look down upon Zuriyev, not just for his unwanted interjection, but also because of his infamous penchant for unorthodox, highly-unethical schemes to advance his own standing in the Kislevite court.

Zuriyev either ignored, or did not notice the icy tone in his queen's voice. "My point is, your glacial majesty, is that the Empire has little to gain from keeping us sheltered behind their walls. If I was in Karl Franz Luitpoldovich's unenviable position, I wouldn't waste what precious little amount of resources and space I have at my disposal in protecting a group of foreign peasants who would rather let my soldiers die in their place. Without your... abilities... my queen, I fear the Empire might throw us to the wolves."

Katarina resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "I see the inebriated slurrings of my regretfully-departed courtiers are true, for once. Your concerns are noted, but I am doubtful of them. I trust the emperor to do what is right for Kislev, even as he pursues his own nation's interests in this world."

Some of the tzarina's subjects in the room arched their brows and crossed their arms at this, no doubt concerned about her high opinion of the only other monarch in New Praag. She could tell that they still resented how the Empire failed to sally forth in time to fight the Everchosen's invasion, and this resentment extended to the emperor.

"But I am not doubting Karl Franz's honour, oh no. Not by any means." Zuriyev continued, shaking his head. His voice kept calm, and his face remained neutral and inexpressive. "I know full well how unlikely my concerns can manifest, but still, there is wisdom in preparing for the unlikely." As Katarina thought on his words, the boyar pressed on. "You would do well to ensure that Karl Franz's good graces stays upon us even after this war, majesty... and what better way to do that, than to unite our two nations of men once and for all time?"

The boyar's suggestion was met with stark silence, and for once, the surviving Kislevite aristocrats around the tzarina had ceased their prattling and whispering.

"My queen!"

The oppressive silence was broken by the door slamming open, after which in came a trio of ragged-looking kossar sentries.

"What is the meaning of this intrusion, soldier?" Yuvulev said upon recognising the men as his own. "Haven't you orders to remain outside and keep us from being disturbed?"

"I'm sorry, my lord, but the Reiklanders have sent knights to the palace gates," One of them said. "One of them said something about their emperor wanting to have an audience with the tzarina... in private."

Zuriyev put down his kvas, and glanced knowingly at his queen. It lasted only a second, and he even didn't open his mouth to speak, but the coy look on his youthful, unblemished face conveyed his message well enough.

As she gracefully took her leave from her throne, the look of utter contempt Katarina returned to Zuriyev would have literally chilled lesser men to their bones, but the boyar sat serenely in response, a look of smug contentment gracing his smirking features.

Outside the queen's ice palace, she was greeted by the sight of her new retinue of winged lancers outfitted in scuffed and dented plates standing at the ready for her, trying their best to keep a cadre of fresher-looking, shining Imperial knights occupied.

"Your majesty!" One of the knights shoved past the lancer blocking her way and raised a gauntleted hand upon seeing the Kislevite monarch leaving her glacial estate. "Kaiser Franz humbly requests your presence in—"

"Yes, I am aware, lady knight." The Ice Queen interrupted.

"Would you like an escort, my queen?" Another of the Imperials had asked.

"There is no need for you to trouble yourselves with me." Katarina waved him off, using the same motion to rally the lancers ahead of her. "One of you fetch me a horse. I've business with the Imperials."


"—in disarray. Our falconers tell of a horde of armed free folk much more numerous than those that came before crossing our borders to the west, burning everything in their..."

"—silent, as though they had to pack up and abandon their posts as quickly as possible. Already, there were dozens of our scouts passing through the gates, bloodied and missing some of those in their detachments. Could this mean that..."

"—Ulric's sake, we can't just sit here and do nothing! Every minute we waste here is another slab of rock over our tomb; we need every able man we can arm and point to the enemy! I say we deploy our warden and every man under his command beyond the walls, before the barbarians can..."

"—unwise decision, my graf. Perhaps a suitably impressive display of our wizards' sorcerous might could prove a good deterrent against an attack on the walls. I had a look at our defences the week before, and I cannot say I was impressed at..."

For most of her kind, sorting through a sea of human prattle to find clarity among the noise did not take too much effort. But for less-than-gregarious elves whom had spent much of their lives in isolation and complete silence, the wall of discordant voices proved defeaning, confusing even.

Aureleth shook her head, trying her hardest to follow what the short-lifers from the next table over were discussing. She had been living among humans for a while, and yet... she had to concede that she had yet to become accustomed to their company.


The mention of her name shook the waystalker from her reverie. Sitting up straight, she glanced aside to the seat next to hers, finding her sacred charge looking back, a blank, inexpressive stare on his face.

"I know that look. You'd rather be elsewhere." Karl Franz said, sotto voce. While his generals and subordinates talked and bickered away the afternoon in his war room, the emperor hadn't said a word in contribution thus far. "Fret not, we both feel the same thing. This meeting is a waste of time."

"It's that obvious, is it?" Aureleth sighed, looking on at the chattering short-lifers with visible annoyance. "Yes, I suppose the foolishness of mayflies is unbearable at the best of times, but it can become simply too overwhelming. You know this too well, I'd wager." She looked for a reaction out of him, and she got one in the form of an amused scoff and a shake of the head.

With the emperor in a somewhat better mood, the waystalker dared to push her luck. "Is it too much to ask if you would be willing to leave, so I could follow you out and spare myself the indignity of going through this farce?"

The corner of Franz's scarred lip curled up, then settled back down. "I cannot simply leave, that would be improper. You, on the other hand, needn't stay." Reluctantly, he shifted on his own seat and set his sights back to his subjects, whom had begun to bicker. "Go on. Find a better use for your time."

The elf rolled her eyes at him, mischief glittering in her pale eyes. "Tempting. But I think I'll pass up on the offer. Perhaps I am beginning to enjoy seeing you suffer through this."

The emperor glanced aside to her, his eyes faintly glowing with subdued mirth. "I see. Well, I hope your intolerance for human foolishness does not trouble you overmuch, as you will see much more of it in my service. It is a good counterbalance to elven arrogance, don't you think?"

A condescending chortle was the waystalker's response. "As much as I would like to, I cannot argue with that. With your foolishness and my arrogance, our cause is surely doomed."

He smirked, "If that is the case, then I shall rest easy in my grave, having made a proud daughter of Athel Loren admit to a flaw. An achievement for the ages, no doubt."

Aureleth struck Franz by the elbow in mock-offence. "Oh, do still that prickly tongue of yours, Karl Franz. Else I will stop taking it easy on you the next time we train."

Franz did not look as smug as before, though he did not back down. "Do as you wish, waystalker. I am not one to refuse a challenge."

Aureleth took note of how some of the emperor's lackeys started shooting glances at the two of them once in a while, and took that as her cue to back away for now. "With respect — don't say I didn't warn you."

The meeting went on for another hour. During that time, more new arrivals dropped by to include themselves in the discussions, including several battle wizards and even the Kislevite queen, Tzarina Bokha. Karl Franz voiced his opinion every now and then, but Aureleth could tell from his flat, unfocused expression that his thoughts were elsewhere, and with the way his shoulders tensed, it was not somewhere comforting.

"Karl Franz Luitpoldovich, if I may..." Aureleth heard the queenly ice witch talk. Her way of speaking Reikspiel was peculiar, with a distinct Kislevarin lilt. "My people are anxious to hear of your future plans, once this war with the natives of this land is concluded in our favour. Tell me, then, what is it you intend to make of Kislev?"

For once, upon hearing the spellsinger addressing him directly, Karl Franz seemed to break out of his stupor.

"Kislev... deserves to be restored." The emperor said. "I've been speaking with the electors; I convinced them to see that if we are to establish an Empire reborn in this world, then what better ally for us is there, compared to the nation that stood defiant against Chaos since even before its founding, led by the formidable sorceress-queen who could create entire cities on her own? As soon as Mance Rayder is dealt with, your people can count on the Empire to support you in any way we can, your majesty."

Hearing this, the ice queen nodded in approval, her pale cheeks flushing ever so slightly. "So be it. I can only hope to repay your generosity in time, but for now, I think my warriors... and my abilities, will suffice."

Watching quietly from her corner of the room Aureleth could not help but be impressed at how deftly Franz could manipulate his Kislevite counterpart. A single promise, and she was all but ready to declare herself his vassal. The elf idly wondered how a nation of her own would fare, had she been born into a position of power.

The rest of the proceedings went by in a blur. The waystalker spent the time waiting in the shadows until the end, as the guests finally seemed to have come to an agreement and began filing out of the room.

"Hold a moment if you'd please, Katarina Borisovna," Franz called out to the Kislevite monarch just as she was putting her cloak back on. "I believe there is another matter we must discuss, if you're willing."

The Ice Queen smiled reservedly, leaving the gilded cloth draped over her chair. "Of course; I was just wondering when you will ask. What is it you have in mind?"

The emperor opened his mouth, then closed it again. "It is... something that requires a modicum of discretion." He looked behind his shoulder to Aureleth's corner. "Waystalker, forgive me, but I trust that you are not opposed to showing yourself out?"

The waystalker sighed as she stood up from her seat. "Eager to get rid of me, are you? Whatever the two of you will say to each other, you can trust me to keep my mouth shut about it. I take no interest in your affairs, as my only concern is my duty to Queen Ariel."

"I know." Franz nodded in understanding. "And I have no reservations to your presence whatsoever, even if you do insist on shadowing my every move. Even Schwarzhelm would prefer to spend a few days resting and inspecting the Reiksguard." There he was with his mocking smirk again. It was gone as soon as Aureleth noticed it. "However, I do not think the tzarina—"

"Her presence is out of the question." Bokha interrupted flatly. The steady, half-lidded glare she gave the elf was unsurprisingly charged with ice magic, something ordinary humans could not have detected. "I have been told this is a private matter between the emperor and myself. I would prefer it that way."

Franz said no more, merely giving the waystalker a questioning, if somewhat apologetic look.

She hadn't a choice in the matter, it seemed. Shaking her head disapprovingly, the waystalker left without a word.

"Would you prefer something to drink before we begin?" She heard Franz speak just as she twisted the door handle and stepped outside.

"That depends. Is it business you wish to discuss, or is this more of a social call, Karl Franz Luitpoldovich?" Came the demure response from Bokha.

Scoffing, Aureleth shut the door and hurried away. She was only a couple of snow-footed steps out the door, when she had to shift aside to avoid being crushed underfoot by a rapidly-advancing column of white-and-black-feathered demigryphs bestrode by knights in red and white livery.

Resisting the urge to shout after the departing demigryph knights with a string of insults in mixed Reikspiel and Fan-Eltharin, Aureleth calmed herself so she could address the incoming formation of Ostland state troopers now headed her way.

"Halt! You there!" She called to the soldiers marching closest to her, raising her hand in a commanding gesture. "I need the identities of those knights ahead of us, Khaine's talons, those mongrels almost ran me over!"

The hapless spearman Aureleth flagged down squirmed in place, mumbling his words and clearly too terrified and confused to function. Fortunately for him, before Aureleth could direct her wrath toward him, a passing officer pulled him aside and took his place.

"Get back in formation, lad. I'll handle this." The officer turned to the waystalker as soon as his fellow soldier hurried off. "You've a score to settle with the Drakwald Riders' elite, I take it? Trust me, elf, it'd be a mistake to piss off the Royal Altdorf Gryphites."

Aureleth's hand strayed to the hilt of one of her blades, a low growl rising in her throat. "The only mistake here is theirs, mayfly. Tell me who they—"

"By Sigmar, do save your breath." The Ostlander began to turn aside to rejoin his comrades on the march. "If you wish to escalate this, then take it up with them after we lift the siege."

The waystalker perked an pale golden brow, her hand falling slack. "What did you just..."

Seeming to relish the surprised look on Aureleth's face, the officer promptly turned on his heel and took his leave. The urge to put an arrow behind the impudent short-lifer's knee almost overwhelmed the waystalker, though she had enough of her wits to know how terrible that idea was, no matter how appealing.

"Lileath preserve me..." After taking a breath, the waystalker began shadowing the marching Ostlanders, taking care to stay well out of sight, but not out of earshot.

"I hope my brother's doing fine out there. I knew it was a mistake letting him join the huntsmarshal's men." One of the soldiers chatted inanely, twiddling with the ends of his moustache in thought as he did.

"Lukas is a tough lad, and the huntsmarshal's boys are just as tough. He'll pull through, you'll see." A second state trooper reassured the other.

"Aye, he's tough, alright. A bit thick in the 'ead, but yeah. Tough."

"Oi, did somebody piss on your boots last night? My brother could be lying dead on the snow by now, arsehole!"

More worthless chatter from the mayflies ensued, but Aureleth kept patient. It wasn't until the settlement gates were well within longbow distance when she managed to hear the middle of an exchange between a foot knight and a crossbowman;

"...came out of nowhere, the lass said. Lady von Mannstedt's boys didn't even have enough time to set up a proper defence before rocks started falling out of the sky."

"Looks like the free folk brought either catapults or those Bretonnian things that could launch a ninety kilogram projectile over three hundred metres. This can only mean one thing, I swear by Taal."

"The word you're looking for is "trebuchet", mate. Anyway, why look so worried? At least you crossbow-wielders get to be on top of the walls, shooting from cover and from a safe distance. I have to be with my brothers at the front, or they'd kick me out of the order!"

"Safe? Hah! You haven't been behind the wrong side of the walls during a siege yet, have you, Maxi? The last thing you want to be when the cannons and those caveman trebuchets start shooting is right ontop the bloody walls. At least you knights get to wear full-plate and stand on solid ground!"

Deciding that she had heard enough, Aureleth emerged from the shadows and made her way ahead of the soldiers. She went straight for the walls, where she found hundreds upon hundreds of state troops already in position, tentatively looking ahead and tightly clutching their assortment of handguns and crossbows. Behind them, the crews of the artillery batteries mounted to the walls had begun plotting their firing trajectories, while battle wizards planned among themselves, though they seemed much less on edge compared to the rank-and-file soldiers manning the battlements.

"Are you lost, elf?"

Aureleth turned to the side and found a group of mixed state troopers and Freikorps militia beginning to gather before her, looking at her with curious eyes.

"No." She told them. "I am not. This is where I belong."


Saltzpyre's mouth was set in a disgusted sneer as wave after wave of free folk came pouring out of the trees, unaware of their impending doom.

"Make ready, comrades!" He commanded. "Choose your targets! Quickly!"

Beside him, his retinue of other witch hunters brought their armaments to bear. Those poor fools fighting alongside his men had no idea about the great pains the witch hunter captain had to endure just to find and employ someone capable and insane enough to reverse-engineer captured Clan Skryre weaponry, especially those who were willing to be exposed to warpstone emissions for hours at a time. Fortunately, Saltzpyre always had a pistol and a torch at hand whenever his contractors begun growing appendages where they should not belong.

Now, after burning through thousands of hard-earned crowns and corrupted engineers, Saltzpyre was pleased to see the results of all those sacrifices he and his contractors made.

"On your word, captain." Hans muttered, voice muffled by his mask. Downrange, he stared at a mounted barbarian's head through his gunsights, unruffled by the chaos of his surroundings.

"Hold fire, keep steady!" With a gloved hand settled atop his cane and the other clenched into a fist in the air, the templar captain kept his eye on the prize. The advancing savages were unaware that they were running headlong into another cache of explosives and magical wards. "Let them come!"

While withering the enemy with steel and bolt as soon as they come within effective range would have scattered the enemy in due time, Saltzpyre wanted more than just shatter themselves against his forces combined with Huntsmarshal Wulfhart's. He wanted them utterly broken in body and spirit, their capability to wage war neutralised completely.

"His axe shone silver in the dark, his brow was wrathful booooold!" Goreksson continued to sing, even as giant rocks started raining all around them, crushing those unfortunate enough to be at the wrong place and time.

"We march like thunder on the hills, to riiiiight the wrongs of ooooold!" Okrundsson followed after his cousin as he passed munitions around, ignoring the constant threat of imminent death by falling stones with enviable stoutness and cheer.

"You two, keep it down!" Saltzpyre reprimanded off-handedly, like a busy parent to a noisy pair of siblings. "Now is not the time to indulge in your frivolities!"

"Hah! This is just like old times, Grimgi!" Bardin merrily replied after helping a fallen comrade up.

The witch hunter captain scoffed, not quite keeping the edge of his lip from curling upward.

At the same time, while Saltzpyre and his people handled the defence of the Imperial forward base, Markus Wulfhart and around three dozen of his own were on the hunt. After deftly avoiding marauding hordes of free folk raiders, they finally managed to find their target hidden away in a secluded clearing — and to their elation, the huntsmen realised they were going up against something much more familiar than just wildling stone-caster crews.

"...Vigdis says the rocks ain't hitting the right places, but fuck what that lying, skinchanging, feather-brained bitch thinks! We just need t' keep raining more rocks at the kneelers, aye!" The leader of these group of raiders ranted and raved at his fellows, who stood to attention and left their stone-casters unmanned. Among these raiders were monstrous, man-shaped creatures, easily ten or twelve feet tall, with grey, white, or brown hair covering what little skin that wasn't covered up in patched animal furs and bark armour. "Get back t' work, ya sorry lot, else you next find out how high up these rocks can fly!"

Wulfhart stared at the hairy trolls as they diligently went about their leader's directions. Seeing these creatures ignited something in the huntsmarshal that had long since cooled, ever since he and his fellows were whisked away from the Old World. It had been far too long since he had hunted monsters, and now, Ulric had seen it fit to remind him the thrill of chasing such formidable prey.

"Ready weapons, everyone..." Wulfhart hissed. With a raised hand, he gestured for a woman in his company — a spearwife turncloak and a recent convert to the Ulrican faith. "Osha, do you see those lumbering eyesores over there? What's the quickest way to bring something like that down?"

Osha made her way next to Wulfhart, her brown eyes ahead toward the targets, anxiously fiddling with the wolfshead pendant hanging from her neck. "Ain't too wise trying to bring down a giant, and taking on more'n one is just asking to become intimate with the ground, m'lord... but if I had to, I'd go for the legs, then the eyes. They do bleed and die just like everything else."

"Good. Is there anything else we need to take into account?"

"Aye. Giants have an affinity for mammoths. Where there be giants, expect the beasts nearby."

"Mammoths?" The huntsmarshal's grin was borderline predatory. "You hear that, lads? We've also mammoths to hunt down. Jolly good."


"You handle a sword well... for a land-stealing kneeler."

Bruised from the beatings he took and nursing his wounded pride, Wolfhard looked up from the marching motions of his boots to the free folk raider now walking alongside him.

"Why, you are too kind, sir." The hunter forced a red grin, grateful that he couldn't see how many teeth he was missing. "Want to take a closer look?"

He raised his arms, which were bound together in thick ropes. "Set me loose from these binds and I'll be happy to show you just just how good I am with my blade, starting with your mates here." He looked around, pointedly eyeing the other barbarians taking him captive.

"Cool that fire o' yours. It didn't do you any good before, and it won't do you good now." The wildling, dark and fierce-looking, with a well-built physique and auburn hair, shrugged off Wolfhard's threat. "If I were you, I'd rest up. Where you're going, it's best t' hold onto yer strength."

Wolfhard spat a mixture of phlegm and blood into the snow. "And where is that, then? What reason could it be that I was taken prisoner instead of being killed where I stood?"

The wildling smirked, looking quite pleased with himself. "An Empire-man who lets himself be taken alive is a rare an' precious thing indeed; many of the chieftains be offerin' rewards for any man brave enough to bring them captive kneelers such as yourself, especially any pretty womenfolk. Can't say I blame them... I hear you've a lot of beauties among your people."

His smirk turned into a full, disgusting grin at Wolfhard's disturbed reaction to his words. "I also hear they're all soft an' timid, fattened by your weakling southron ways and too meek to slit the throats of their limp-pricked husbands. Reckon once we break down your walls, your wives an' daughters'll come runnin' to us, eager for true men t' come spread their legs and fuck them proper."

Wolfhard wished he had free hands and a sharp object to shove into the wildling's throat. He settled for a glare fit to bubble a cauldron over. "Either you haven't been paying attention, northlander, or you haven't been fighting us for long. Our womenfolk would much rather see the colour of your entrails than see you try to fumble your way through your trousers."

"Hah! If only you could see how hard my cock is right now..." The wildling chortled, clearly enjoying taunting his helpless captive. "Nothing gets me randier than the thought o' plowin' bitches who try to fight back."

Leering at Wolfhard's scowling face, the wildling reached out and roughly took hold of the hunter's cheek. "Aw, and look at 'im, lads. I think our kneeler's feelin' all left out! Heh, before we hand you over, I'm sure a few o' my men here would appreciate a gift of your arse. Ain't that right, lads?"

There were rowdy cheers from some of the raiders, and a few of the spearwives too.

"Du wirst in Qualen sterben..." Wolfhard growled as the wildling let go of him, stormy grey eyes glowing with fury and hatred. "Ich schwöre es."

Not letting the insults and the lecherous remarks from the barbarians get to him, Wolfhard marched in silence with his captors. They passed through more free folk camps, makeshift armories packed with locally-made weaponry and scavenged or stolen Empire gear alike, and even what appeared to be an engineer's open-topped workshop, with scores of busy wildlings working together to assemble the pieces of what looked to be primitive stone-throwers.

If the hunter had to guess, deserters from the Night's Watch provided these savages the knowledge to build crude siege equipment. He almost chuckled at the sight of the pitiful, ramshackle things — the free folk had to rely on them to breach New Praag's walls.

"You there! Stop!" Suddenly, the auburn-haired raider leading Wolfhard's captors stopped in his tracks and raised his arm to hail one of the wildlings milling about. "Listen to me, boy! Might ye have any idea where the fuck've the Thenns camped down?"

"Down tha' way." Came the disinterested reply, which was accompanied by a wave of the hand towards a deeper part of the forest. Wolfhard couldn't help but notice this young man's bare feet, which appeared blackened at the soles as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "What's it t' you an' yours, Jarl? Why do ye want t' see those earless pricks?"

"Fuck you, Hornfoot. Mind your own business." The raider, Jarl, quickly took his leave of the other man. "Come on, you lot! Let's go."

The wildlings soldiered on, forward onto the path they were directed to. Wolfhard immediately noticed how his captors seemed on edge, their attentions focused on either each other or the journey ahead, which suited the hunter just fine. Perhaps the fewer pairs of eyes on him could be used to his advantage while trying to find an opportunity to break free and escape.

"Hmm..." The templar muttered, trying not to draw attention to himself as he began rubbing his wrists together, tugging at his binds in hopes of loosening them. All the while, he continued looking around, eyeing his captives and any potential weapon he could use, once he was free.

"I think we're headed the wrong way." Someone at the front piped up. "Jarl, which way did the Hornfoot lad told us t' follow?"

"The one we're treadin' on, ice-for-brains." Jarl was quick to shut the woman down. "Now quiet down, an' keep moving."

"Wait, Jarl. I don't think Denya's wrong." Unexpectedly, the wildling adjacent to Wolfhard also spoke up. "I remember. This ain't the way t' the Thenn camp... we're headin' down south, closer t' the Wall."

At this, Jarl was forced to stop walking and look around. "It's been a long time," He said, still full of bravado, but not as certain as before. "This Hardhome shite... it's been more'n a year since my last raid south. Aye, let's retrace our steps."

Slowly, the wildling raiding party turned around, with some looking visibly annoyed at their blunder. Before they could continue their journey, however, they were only a few paces forward when they sprung a terrible surprise.

Wolfhard was one of the first to see them coming. The first sign he got that all hell was about to break loose was the flurry of movement from behind some of the trees and bushes around. Wisely deciding to drop to the ground, the hunter managed to avoid getting feathered with arrows and bolts from multiple directions.

His wildling "companions" fared much worse. Half of them dropped alongside Wolfhard, either dead or merely wounded. The other half reacted quickly enough, and managed to avoid getting shot by running to cover.

From his position on the ground, Wolfhard heard the distinctive sound of a blade leaving its sheathe.

"Make ready, boys!" Someone cried out.

Wolfhard could hear more blades being drawn. He crawled along the ground and turned to lie on his back, managing to snatch a dagger from a dead wildling.

"For the Watch! ATTACK!"

Around two dozen soldiers in darkened leathers and scant pieces of mail and plate rushed out of the undergrowth, their black cloaks billowing behind them. By the time they reached Jarl's party in close combat, Wolfhard had managed to cut through his binds.

Deciding that waiting for the fighting to die out while lying alongside dead or wounded raiders was liable to get him misidentified as an enemy of the Night's Watch, Wolfhard soon decided to take out his grievances on his former captors. With his dagger in hand, he approached a spearwife from behind. Busy as she was from engaging two of the crows already, she couldn't defend herself as the hunter plunged his blade into her spine, before reaching ahead and slitting her throat.

"Stay back!" One of the crows the dead spearwife was fighting before, merely a lad, hobbled a few paces back as Wolfhard stepped close. "W-who the fuck are you?"

Wolfhard ignored the boy as he waved his sword in front of him, clumsily attempting to look intimidating. Instead, the templar eyed the wildling corpses at his feet for weapons he could use. Luckily enough, he managed to spot a wooden stock half-buried in the snow, and sure enough, after pulling it free, Wolfhard was elated to find himself holding his repeater handgun again.

Properly rearmed, the templar wasted no time throwing himself into the fray, shooting down any wildling raider that crossed his line of sight. The crows he found himself fighting alongside seemed both disturbed and afeared by the strange weapon Wolfhard carried to battle, but he also could tell they were glad he was on their side.

The skirmish ended as quickly as it started, as the ambushed wildlings found themselves outnumbered and overwhelmed, cut down not long after the initial volley of arrows. Still, Wolfhard felt disappointed to see a handful of them escaping into the forest.

"Thank you, ser, for your assistance." One of the black-clad rangers approached Wolfhard, bow and arrow in hand. This one appeared much sharper and more senior than the boys he had for comrades, and his half-smile and friendly demeanour put Wolfhard a little more at ease. "I am First Ranger Benjen Stark, of the Night's Watch." He introduced himself, extending a gloved hand.

Wolfhard took the man's offered hand and gave it a firm shake. "Call me Wolfhard," He said, retracting his hand. "It's been a while since I've talked with your kind, Benjen Stark. Tell me, how is Ser Jaremy Rykker nowadays?"

Stark appeared surprised to hear Rykker's name for a second. "He is... well enough, I suppose. What are you doing out here, Ser Wolfhard?"

"Just Wolfhard is fine, I am apparently unfit to become a knight." Wolfhard smirked. "I was making my way to my guard post to watch over a forward camp early this day, when I was ambushed by our dead friends here and taken captive. They said they planned to hand me over to the Thenns tribe."

He put away his weapon. "The fools didn't know how to guard a prisoner. I would have freed myself in due time," His tone was cavalier, as though he was merely telling the price of a market stall item. "But, I suppose it is fortunate you came to my rescue as you have. Thank you for that."

"It's nothing," Stark nodded. "So, is it true, then? Rykker spoke of an Empire settling beyond our Wall — he spoke of a nation of warriors and warlocks engaged in a war against Mance Rayder and the free folk. We were skeptical of him at first, but the rangers he took with him all supported his story."

"Unbelievable, right? Had I been in your shoes, First Ranger Stark, I would call Ser Jaremy mad... but yes, it's true. Since you're here, might I presume that your lord commander has decided it wise to assist us against the free folk?"

Stark was understandably uncomfortable with Wolfhard's line of inquiry. "I must apologise, Wolfhard, but our situation at the moment is... sensitive. While I cannot speak for Lord Commander Mormont, I can offer to escort you to him, so you may hear the answer to your question from his lips."

The templar shrugged. "Fair enough."


At Captain Saltzpyre's front, things seemed grim for the common soldier about to come into contact with a seemingly unending tide of angry barbarians. But for someone like the witch hunter captain, it was just another day in the service of Sigmar and the Empire.

"TAKE COVER!" He shouted, covering his ears. It was all the warning the men got before a fiery, magic-infused eruption consumed a sizable chunk of the advancing wildling horde, shattering trees into splinters and sundering the earth in its wake.

Shaking his head, Saltzpyre dragged himself up from cover and surveyed the damage. Clenching his teeth in grim satisfaction, he raised his cane in the air, towards the shaken remnants of this charging wave of free folk. "For Sigmar and the Hammer! LET FLY, ALL GUNS!"

From the Imperial defensive line, over a hundred muzzle flashes erupted at once, quickly followed by a hurricane of shot and grudge-raker pellets. The snow under the northlander's boots quickly became tainted with blood and gore as scores upon scores of the barbarians were cut down where they stood, torn apart by forces they could scarce comprehend.

Still, the free folk continued to advance.

"Reload, reload!" The templar captain cried out amidst the sounds of battle, waving his cane in circles around the air. "By von Meinkopt, shoot! Shoot NOW!"

Another volley of projectiles did the same amount of damage as the last, but it also failed to slow the wildling charge. If anything, the deaths of their comrades somehow spurred the northlanders on, inspiring their wrath. By now, the enemy had come dangerously close to the front of Saltzpyre's formation, forcing him to resort to more drastic measures.

"Maxim, von Gast, bring forth... the ratling— err, the Senden heavy repeater!"

Not a moment too soon, a team of two witch hunters came running to the front, both carrying the two main components of what appeared to be a cannon-sized, belt-fed, eight-barrelled repeater handgun, with exposed tubes running down its metallic frame and operated by a hand crank.

"Over here, set it down!" One of them, the one carrying the munitions pack, shook her partner's shoulder.

"All set!" The templar manning the gun itself said, as soon as he was finished entrenching. "Ready to fire on your order, captain!"

Memories of being on the wrong side of this dreadful gun dozens upon hundreds of times rushed over Saltzpyre. He squashed these thoughts, as he did the verminous heathens that once manned them. Just before the northlanders could come too close for comfort, he gave the command, "Show these savages Imperial ingenuity! Sigmar wills it!"

The templar weapons team seemed almost reluctant to use their gun. The hunter up front slowly turned the crank, lips pursed and cheeks flushed as he looked downrange.


The first bullet from the gun came almost as a surprise, it sounded almost too quiet to hear, like a twig being snapped in half.

Krak, krak, krak.

Before long, as the hunter continued to turn the crank, more bullets zipped after the first. It was not obvious at first, but the gun seemed to have very little recoil, and was surprisingly easy to aim with. Its rate of fire also seemed to accelerate at an alarmingly swift rate, making the gunner's teeth rattle.


Heads turned and eyes grew wide with awe and disbelief as the steady, almost hesitant stream of bullets rapidly grew into a terrifying hail of Nuln-forged, blackpowder-propelled steel, blanketing a generous arc with more than enough firepower to rival a formation of the Empire's best-drilled handgunners. Droves of surprised wildlings were torn to fleshy ribbons were they stood in the most gruesome manner as their more fortunate comrades recoiled in horror and scrambled to hide behind any sold thing they could find, their once-inexorable charge sent screeching to a bloody halt.

"Grimgi?" Bardin watched as the single, two-man weapon brutally suppressed the advance of an entire horde of free folk dead in its tracks. "I think you missed your calling as an engineer."

"Bah, you call that thing a product of engineering? I bet it's not even had a decade's worth of testing! Proper umgak, is what it is!" Okri tried to sound dismissive, but his awed tone betrayed him. "Proper, scarily-effective umgak..."

All the while, Saltzpyre beheld the fruits of his work with a restrained, narrow-eyed smile. "Stand down, men..." He ordered. "Take the dead and wounded away and reload. We've been given some time, and we would be wise not to squander it!"

Far ahead, in the depths of the frozen, wildling-controlled woods, Huntsmarshal Wulfhart blew a sharp whistle with his fingers.

As one, his men emerged from cover and let loose, unleashing a barrage of arrows and quarrels into the ranks of the wildling stone-caster battery crews. The opening volley felled many of barbarians before any of them could realise the danger in their midst, and by the time they scrambled to pick up their weapons and shields, it was too late to protect themselves from the second volley.

"Ah, fuck me! The kneelers're in the trees!"

"Run for it, ya runts! Save yerselves!"

"Again!" A third arrow already nocked and drawn back, Wulfhart took aim against the giant he targeted earlier, already on its knees after being feathered with over two dozen arrows and quarrels. "Take aim... release!"

Much to Wulfhart's subsequent surprise, more arrows than his men let loose seemed to materialise from the trees where he was sure none of his own were positioned, killing more of the wildlings caught out in the open and sending the rest scrambling for cover behind anything they could find, abandoning any further attempts to flee the clearing.

Still baffled at the unexpected support, Wulfhart and his huntsmen could only look on as a small group of shrouded warriors clad in green and brown and mounted on majestic white steeds charged from out the trees ahead of the Imperials, felling any wildling in their way with very precise, mounted arrow volleys, along with a swing of the sword or glaive here and there.

"Strike for Lord Findol, and for Wydrioth! Forward, asrai!"

"Eldrazor take them! To arms, TO ARMS!"

Beside Wulfhart, Osha's mouth hung agape, unsure of what to make of the carnage she was witnessing. "Gods, who're these folk?" She mumbled, "I've ne'er seen men fight like they do. Be they friends or foes to the Empire?"

"Wood elf rangers... likely a detachment from that black-eyed lordling's lot," Wulfhart put away his enchanted longbow, already losing interest in the new arrivals. "I hope they're friends... for both their sakes and ours." Instead, he kept the huntsmarshal eyes trained on his soon-to-be mantelpiece ornaments. Turning behind, he ordered his men,

"Volker, Trudolf, take charge and keep shooting. Have a care not to hit any of the elves or their mounts. As for the rest of you, take up your swords and follow me!" He unsheathed his blade and broke out of cover, unwilling to let these knife-eared interlopers ruin his first monster hunt in several boring months. "Send these heathen swine to their graves, men of the Empire! TO BATTLE!"

The huntsmarshal's steel flashed in the fading sunlight, cutting apart his lightly armoured foes with terrifying ease. While state troops fought with discipline and no small amount of coordination with one another, Wulfhart and his huntsmen fought like lions, relying almost entirely on their own martial skill and honed reflexes to not only stand their ground against, but also overpower multiple foes at once. In contrast, Osha and her fellow wildling defectors struggled to keep up, thoroughly outclassed by their Imperial comrades.

"Back away! Back, by th' gods!" One of the raiders exclaimed as his woefully unprepared comrades were hewn and hacked apart from two fronts. Even their giants proved no match against concentrated longbow volleys, their furry hides proving insufficient in deflecting steel arrows.

It was over within moments. Between Wulfhart's men and the party of wood elves, the wildling stone-caster crews did not have a prayer. Many of the free folk were outright killed in the skirmish, but a few survived to be bound captive by the huntsmarshal's people, including a wounded giant.

"Gut gemacht, Kameraden..." Wulfhart began, after a while. He looked around, surveying the carnage his men left behind. "How many have we lost?"

"Von Stutheim is dead, and so are three of our wildling auxiliaries, mein Herr." Came the eventual reply, "We have nine wounded, with six unfit for combat."

Wulfhart processed this information. "I see. Let's not waste any more time, then. Reinhard, Viktor, take half the men and set up a perimeter; I need you to watch for stragglers. Osha, take your people and destroy the siege weapons. Take them apart, burn them to ashes, what have you. As for the rest..."

The huntsmarshal turned to the side, finding the elven newcomers already trotting their way to his group, their steeds trampling dead wildling bodies as they approached. "...prepare yourselves."

"Oh, please, there's no need for that." One of them, the one at the front of their formation, scoffed as she took note of the huntsmen's battle-ready stances and nocked arrows. "If we meant to cause harm, short-lifers, you would never see us coming."

"That so?" Wulfhart gruffed. With a wave of his hand, the huntsmarshal gestured for his men behind to relax, but not stand down outright. "In that case, I take it you want something from us."

"In a way, I suppose we do..." The elven ranger dismounted from her steed and moved close, intricate-looking spear in hand. Wulfhart couldn't see much of this elf, thanks to her obscuring leathers and shawls... but he could tell this one was a little shorter than most asrai, and the flowery wreath she wore over her hooded veil likely signalled her authority over her fellows. "I'll be brief, for our time is short. These barbarians have become too much of a threat, while Lord Amryn has become content to sit idle, awaiting Lileath's so-called "guidance". We have decided the time for waiting has come past, and that our blades and talents could see better use elsewhere."

Wulfhart arched a brow. Telling his men behind to quiet down, he then tried to get a clearer picture of what these elves wanted, "Do not mince words, tree elf. Tell me true, what is it you intend—"

"We wish to join your Empire. That is what we intend." The elf waved him off, with a dismissive roll of her eyes. "And don't look so surprised. Cunning little Aureleth has already infiltrated her way into your emperor's company; what harm can a few more of our kind do?"

Wulfhart looked to her with a skeptical expression. "And what would your immediate leader think of this? I doubt your lord would be pleased to hear of your defection."

"Hah! We follow who we please, short-lifer, and right now, Amryn is proving himself most unworthy of both our time and service. He displeases Kurnous and Atharti with every minute he wastes in his inaction."

The huntsmarshal and scoffed. "Even if that is truly the case, I can't make decisions for Emperor Franz. If you truly wish to join our Empire, then you're wasting your time with me. I suggest you and your mates ride your way east towa—"

The ground itself quaked, interrupting Wulfhart. Instinctively, he looked ahead to where he sensed the shockwaves coming, and found the very forest trembling; the faces carved into the white trees seemed to cringe in horror as prodigious amounts of snow were shaken off their branches, and the distant cries of panicked animals heralded the approach of a hostile force too formidable for the huntsmarshal and his people to handle.

"Osha! Douse those fires!" The huntsmarshal's voice rang around the clearing, strangled and hoarse. "Everyone, keep bloody still! Shallya's mercy, they'll pass by and fail to notice us!"

"Are you daft?" The elf half-whispered, half-shouted. "This'll never—"

Blood splattered the side of Osha's face as the spearwife beside her was flung into the air, speared at the chest by a massive arrow. She scrambled back, eyes wide with terror, narrowly managing to avoid another giant arrow hurtling her way. "Gods!"

Even the huntsmarshal was surprised to find a cohort of giants headed their way, and worse, they each had in their hands enormous greatbows as tall as themselves. He was just about to order his men to scramble for cover and return fire, when even more giants sat bestride mammoths also emerged at the back of another wildling formation, all wielding enormous wooden clubs and protected by thick furs and leathers. Within moments, the huntsmen and their elven allies found themselves beset by a formidable horde of wildlings supported by giants, a force nothing short of a full Imperial State batallion could stand against.

"There's no winning here," Wulfhart barked, already reluctant at the thought of leaving his new trophies behind. "Fall back, men! Abandon positions!"


Captain Markus Kruber sat on the ground, leaning against a supply crate full of arms and munitions. He was dressed in his suit of full plate armour, and all around him, his fellow Reikland state troopers milled about, clutching their weapons tightly as they impatiently awaited orders.

"What's the matter, Markus?" A familiar sight sauntered up next to Kruber, a mock-pitying look on her face. "You look contemplative. Thinking about the battle ahead?"

"Aww, it ain't fit to worry about, Sienna." Kruber scratched his beard. He looked up at his bright wizard companion. "I was just... thinking about some old mates who couldn't make it here, is all."

"Oh." The msichievous look on Sienna's face dissipated in an instant, replaced with genuine concern. "Well, it doesn't hurt to have a friend you can talk about it with. Why don't you tell me about these mates of yours, hm?" She took up a position next to the state trooper captain, sitting down on her haunches.

Markus chuckled forlornly. "It's nothing, really. It's not about my old unit, or the blokes I've lost since regaining my post... well, not all about them. I'd like to think I've since moved past that. It ain't a very healthy line of thinking." He sighed, his gaze moving to the side, into the crowded distance. "But..."

"But what, Markus?" Sienna frowned. "Is it about Kerillian?"

Kruber hoped his surprise didn't show. "Aye... and Lohner, too. Hell, even Oleysia would be a welcome sight for my nostalgic eyes."

"I miss them too, you know." Sienna said, her eyes glinting with the memories of their time in Ubersreik. The moment lasted only briefly, and before Kruber knew it, she was back to her mischievous old self. "Of all the people in our little group, I knew I wasn't the only one who could stand Kerillian! Once you get past all those "mayflies" and "lumberfoots", she's not so bad, was she?"

Kruber smiled, leaning his head on the crate. "Yeah, heh, I'd guess so. It feels... wrong not to have her with us before a big battle. Think of all the northmen the five of us could kill. It'll be just like old times."

"Hah! We'll be the talk of this town by the time we're done with Mance Rayder's dogs." Sienna laughed gleefully, uncaring of how several pairs of eyes have just been drawn to her. "I got all sorts of good stuff when word of our exploits broke out. I've an admirer in every corner in Altdorf the last time I was there."

"I almost accepted a knighthood." Kruber confessed. "I turned it down when Karl Franz offered to give me my posting back, and a cushy retainer job with the supreme patriarch. I wonder sometimes, you know, had I accepted that commendation. "Sir Kruber" does roll off the tongue very well, eh?"

"Well, there's still more battles to come, Markus." Sienna said, picking herself up as the crowd of soldiers began to shift, indicating that their wait was about to come to an end. "And with battle, comes plenty more opportunities to earn that knighthood."

Captain Kruber nodded as the pyromancer helped him up. "We'll talk later, Sienna." Ahead, the distinctive forms of Emperor Franz and Tzarina Katarina could be seen making their way through the sea of troops, flanked by Reiksguards on foot. "Looks like this is it."

"This is it, men!" Emperor Franz declared as soon as he had found an elevated platform to stand on. When raised his hand, the men grew quiet, and when he opened his mouth to speak once more, they listened.

"Far ahead, to the woods beyond our walls, our enemies gather for a true invasion against our settlement. They seek to drive us out, and undo all we have accomplished! Will you stand for this injustice, stalwart defenders of Reikland? Will you let these barbaric heathen hordes trample the final civilised bastion of our Empire to the ground, and forsake our sacred duty in this world?"

Immediately, the men cried out in outrage and defiance.


"This shall not stand!"

"Down with Mance Rayder! Down with northlanders!"

"Sigmar willing, we'll make them pay!"

It was defeaning. But with a single wave of the emperor's hand, however, the men were silent again.

"Then hear this. I expect nothing less than the complete and utter destruction of Mance Rayder's ability to plague our nation again. To you, brave soldiers of Reikland, guardians of our realm, heirs of the Heldenhammer, I entrust the duty of breaking this tide of insolent raider filth! By my will, as prince and emperor, you will scatter the wildling hordes, and teach these barbaric, murdering, unwashed northlander scum to regret the day they inspired the Empire's wrath!"

Karl Franz raised a gauntleted fist to the air as a thundering cheer erupted among his subjects, who raised their weapons and roared themselves hoarse in their frenzied state.


Captain Kruber needn't be told twice as he cheered and shouted alongside his own troops. Without further ado, he braced his halberd against his shoulder and bellowed for the others to follow. The other Reiklander captains did much the same with their own men, in accordance to the battle plan everyone had agreed on months prior.

The march to the gates was not without fanfare. Ordinary citizens — humans, dwarfs, and even a few elves here and there — looked on and waved and cheered as their brave guardians strode past, reminding the state troopers of the reason they had to place themselves in harm's way. With the presence of civilians and more than a few familiar faces in the crowd, a handful of Kruber's men took the time to break formation to say their farewells or reassurances one more time, but he paid them no mind. Kruber regretted never having to say a proper farewell to his own folks.

As the troopers reached the gates, the gatekeepers strained to grant them passage outside. As they passed the threshold and departed the safety of the walls, a sense of grim acceptance descended upon each of them, knowing that for many, it would be the last time they stood on the settlement grounds.

"Be brave, men. Be brave for Sigmar and Karl Franz."

"We'll get through this, I know. It's just a bunch of irate savages with sticks, right?"

"Alright, everyone, final check! Weapons, check. Armour, check. Hats, check! Great, if any of us die, he'd make for a handsome corpse!"

"Sigmar preserve us. Shallya, have mercy on us. Myrmidia, guide us. Morr, prepare for us."

"We've been through worse odds, lads, but don't let your guard down! The free folk are ill-disciplined, but they are crafty!"

Outside the city proper, Kruber ordered his men into position. Their goal was to hold the perimeter so that any escaping forward observers or skirmishers can be evacuated into the city, after which his men would continue to hold their ground as the handgunners and crossbowmen standing at the parapets above emptied their munitions on the advancing wildlings, thinning their ranks. With any luck, Kruber thought, the free folk would suffer enough casualties to prevent them from outright breaching the walls and invading the settlement.

The rapid thudding of heavy footfalls shook the captain out of his thoughts. He could hear more cheering from the men as the Reiksguard appeared on the field, mounted on their barded warhorses. Soon, the cheering devolved into outright whooping and excited hollering as the Royal Altdorf Gryphites also made their entrance, headed at the front by the distinguished Lord Klaus von Hohenstadt, the famed Drakwald Scourge.

The cries died down as soon as the mounted knights trotted forward and disappeared into the trees.

"Got room for us, Imperial?"

Kruber turned to the side, and was met with a most peculiar view. Any other time, he would have called his men to arms at the sight of wildlings, but he was familiar with these ones. And in fact, he had already been made aware of their part in the battle plans.

"Sure, mate. Take your sons and the rest of your men to our left," Kruber directed the defectors, gesturing where they would be needed. He thought about asking them to maintain a cohesive formation, but decided against the notion. "Plenty of opportunities to prove yourselves today, I reckon. Just don't go charging off without orders, aye?"

"Har!" Tormund Giantsbane heaved a breath of laughter. He looked like a very different man in his wildling furs, which had been reinforced with Imperial plate and mail, the pieces of which had been haphazardly painted in Reikland colours for easy identification. "Toregg, Dryn, Dormund, you heard the man! Everyone, get yer arses over there!"

Kruber watched the six score free folk auxiliaries make their way to their destination, keeping his thoughts on their sloppy positioning to himself. He took comfort in the fact that the unruly former raiders had agreed to submit themselves to be trained in proper soldiering, once the war was over. "Any more of your people coming to assist us, old man?"

Tormund smiled and nodded. "Aye. Val's up with her people atop the walls with bows in their hands, an' Longspear Ryk's lads will show up later, followin' one o' your chieftains — the one with the red beard, an' the golden castle on his head. Toddy was his name, I think."

He belted out another laugh, as though recalling a fond memory. "Fuckin' Toddy... did ya know that one-eyed bastard almost drank me under the table? If he weren't an obvious bloody kneeler, I'd set him up with Munda! Imagine the monstrous whelps they'd make."

Also smiling, Kruber only shook his head at the wilding's rambling. "Go on then, chief, get out of here. I'm sure you don't need reminding, sir, that we've an objective to hold."

Soon enough, as more soldiers from the other provinces trickled out of the gates, a veritable army of mismatched Imperials, dwarfs, Bretonnian men-at-arms, and wildling auxiliaries had gathered, a formidable force that Kruber knew would give any other army a sound trashing... against a reasonable number of foes. Against the entire population of free folk in the lands beyond the Wall, however, Kruber was not so sure.

"Here they come!" A shout from a state trooper at the central front of the Imperial formation sounded out. "Make way, men! Give them some space!"

A minute later, Kruber could see them coming without squinting. Sluggishly bounding away on the last reserves of their vigour, Imperial scouts, pathfinders, and skirmishers both mounted and on foot began spilling from out of the woods, with most sporting bloody uniforms and with some missing a limb here and there. Even with safety almost within reach, the fleeing Imperials did not slow down, as it quickly became apparent that they were being pursued by a tide of wildling raiders.

"Stand aside, lads!" As the first of the forward observers reached the braced formation of state troops, Kruber had his men move aside to let them through to the settlement behind. While a few score of them managed to reach the gates, it was too late for most as the free folk caught up with them in the middle of the field, just beyond effective handgun or crossbow range.

"Captain, those are our men those barbarians are slaughtering!" One of Kruber's soldiers exclaimed. "They're off to visit Grandfather Morr if we don't pull them out of there!"

"Hold steady, sergeant!" The captain briefly took his eyes from the new battle transpiring ahead to give his man an admonishing look. "Stay with your detachment! Our part depends on us maintainin' this spot!"

"But sir! What about our comrades?" Another had asked, grimacing as he relaxed out of a sprint-ready stance.

"Whatever happens, we stick to the plan!" Kruber was adamant, despite wishing nothing more than to help out. "Be ready, mates, but don't break formation! This is all part of—"

The deep, brassy howling of a war horn echoed across the field, interrupting Kruber. Dropping the dogged look on his face for a confused one, he turned his eyes to look to the field again, and immediately felt relief to see none other than the Royal Altdorf Gryphites, their weapons and armour already adorned with fresh smatterings of free folk blood, rapidly advancing to the fray, battle cries resounding from their helms, halberds couched and monstrous steeds charging at full speed toward the enemy's left flank.

The wildlings, distracted already in the process of slaughtering hapless, exhausted Imperials, barely managed to brace themselves just before the small band of screaming inner circle knights and their bloodthirsty mounts crashed into their ranks. A gruesome, awe-inspring spectacle ensued for Kruber and his fellows to observe, as the demigryph knights, led by the gallant form of the Drakwald Scourge, carved their way through the horrified raiders with steel and beak, sending fountains of gore and mutilated bodies flying across the field like discarded toys.

Kruber was transfixed on his spot, his eyes never leaving the gruesome display of combined martial prowess and brute, monstrous force. He was only jolted out of his trance when a gloved hand was placed on his shoulder, before it extended to the right of the field, pointing at something just beyond his peripheral vision.

"Sir, look there!"

Annoyed at the interruption, Kruber spared a bleary-eyed glare to where his man gestured at, and once again, found himself surprised to see a third party approaching, mounted on magnificent ivory-white coursers.

"For Kurnous!" Could be very faintly heard in the distance as a small group of what looked to be wood elven rangers entered the battlefield from the west, each with their own steed. Moving much faster than Kruber thought possible for mere cavalrymen, the elves unleashed a few quick volleys of arrows into the flanked wildling raiders' backs before immediately closing the distance between themselves and their quarry, brandishing an assortment of spears, glaives, and greatswords.

The results of the elven charge was, much to Kruber's shock and mounting fear, almost as impressive and devastating as the Gryphites', if less brutal and more elegant. The wildlings, faced by a squadron of the Empire's best demigryph-riding knights on one front, and an inhumanly swift cadre of extremely versatile mounted asrai skirmishers on another, found themselves suffering tremendous casualties at almost no cost to their attackers. It was only until hundreds of their own lie dead on the snow did they abandon their reckless charges in favour of a more prudent advance, with shielded warriors at the front, spearmen following behind, and archers distancing themselves from the melee.

Seeing their foes rallying in response to their attacks, the Gryphites, along with their new wood elven allies, saw no reason to stay in the fight. After dealing one last decisive blow on the advancing barbarian horde, they promptly carved their way out of the throng before disengaging completely. Together, the demigryph knights and the wood elven rangers retreated from the field, leaving behind many a frustrated wildling without nearby enemies to vent their fury on.

"Bloody hell. Can't say I've ever seen anything like that display," One of Kruber's sergeants muttered to himself, perhaps expecting not to be heard. Kruber, despite all he had seen and experienced in Ubersreik already, found himself nodding in agreement with the man.

While the rest of the captain's men were disciplined and austere enough to keep their thoughts to themselves, Tormund and his boisterous folks held no such qualities.

"Gods alive, those riders butchered Mance's boys! The cunts stood no chance, ha har!"

"I'd give an arm or a leg t' ride one of those beasties!"

"Y'see that, Dormund? A thing o' beauty, innit? A battle worthy o' song!"

Kruber paid them no mind as he focused his men's efforts on getting the last of the forward observers behind the walls. Wide-eyed and exhausted, most of the surviving scouts dragged themselves forward and entered the gates to safety at last, but a few handful remained to fight the slowly-encroaching free folk tide.

"Huntsmen, take a breath and prepare yourselves!" Huntsmarshal Wulfhart, injured and winded, simply emptied the contents of his water canteen into his throat before refilling his quiver and directing his men to form up next to the crossbowmen. "We're not done here. Not by a longshot."

Kruber stared down the compressed enemy ranks steadily making their way toward his formation, cautious and even hesitant at first, but with bolder and bolder strides as they waded closer, realising that they outnumber the Empire's soldiers a hundred to one.

"For Mance Rayder!", some of them cried out. "Death to kneelers!", others would shout.

Grimacing, Kruber waited for how he imagined the start of the battle would sound — a cacophony of barks and shouts from the other captains manning the parapets. "We trained our arses for this day, lads! I'm proud of you — all of you! Today, we fight to survive, but tomorrow, we'll drink to our survival!"

The captain's speech, though fleeting compared to Emperor Franz's, was met with enthusiastic cheers from the men.

All the while, the wildlings continued to advance, their dented courage slowly renewed as the true battle for New Praag drew nigh. It was only a matter of time before those raiders at the front, perhaps driven by the desire of vengeance just as much as frenzied bloodlust, abandoned all pretenses and broke ranks, charging at the exposed state troopers while screaming bloody murder.

For many of the wildlings, their impulsive act sealed their fates.






It was a sight to behold. Amidst a deafening barrage of sound and fury, Captain Kruber and his soldiers watched with stoic faces as the first wave of charging raiders were ripped apart by a tempest of bullets and crossbow bolts. Seeing their comrades at the front so casually obliterated in the blink of an eye, the second wave hesitated, suddenly reluctant to come close to the walls. This proved to be their undoing, as the skies rained down upon them salvo after salvo of mortars and helstorm rockets, partially blanketing the field in blackpowder smoke.

"Brace! Now, mates!" Kruber shouted, lowering his halberd. Beside him, his men did the same with their own halberds, forming a formidable defensive line supported from above by rows upon rows of handgunners and crossbowmen. "They're coming! Stand together!"

"Har! I can't fucking wait!" Tormund eyed the smoke cloud obscuring the field like a hawk searching for prey. Around him, his fellow defectors either stayed calm and waited for battle to come, or snorted like bulls and frothed at the mouth, gleeful at the prospect of proving their worth.

"This is it, soldiers!" Close to Kruber's formation, Captain von Witzland turned to his own men and banged his sword into his shield. "Eyes open! Prepare to—"

A pack of wolves charged from out of the smoke, pouncing on the surprised captain. His men could do nothing but leave their officer to be torn apart by the beasts as the main body of the wildling horde also advanced past the acrid blackpowder clouds, howling as they smashed themselves against the braced Imperial defenders.

Wave upon wave of the raiders tried their luck at breaking through Kruber's line, but all their ill-disciplined charges amounted to little in the face of a fortified bastion of steel and blackpowder, manned by hardened veterans of battles against greenskins, undead legions, and Chaos incursions.

As the minutes passed by, the packed snow under Kruber's boots began to turn red. The wildling tide was relentless; with every raider slain, five more seemed to take the fallen's place. Kruber was no stranger to situations like the one he was in, but he quickly learned that fighting crafty wildlings was very different compared to fighting dumb clan rats. It took all his wits and battlefield savvy to avoid being caught out of formation and overwhelmed. The majority of the state troops beside him, on the other hand, were not as gifted in the arts of battle as he was, and soon, he realised that the other detachments have begun to buckle under the weight of the free folk horde.

"Look out, lads! BRACE FOR IMPACT!" Someone shouted. Kruber swiftly beheaded the raider he was facing down and turned to the side, just in time to witness a mass of wildling chariots made out of wood and bone smashing themselves into the weakened sections of the Imperial battle line, sending unfortunate soldiers flying and scattering the rest.

"Frozen Shore cunts!" Massive chest heaving, Tormund wiped blood from his face. "Kill them! Pluck out their eyes! String them up on their guts!" He vented his rage on the nearest loyalist wildling, gruesomely disembowelling her with his scavenged Night's Watch blade.

Kruber, knowing that the troops under his command were too far to render aid to the compromised Imperial line, could only mutter a short prayer for the dead and trusted on others to do what his people could not. To his relief, his hopes were not in vain and his answers were eventually answered in the form of the arrival of Graf Boris Todbringer and his men, supported by squadrons of Bretonnian knights and mounted yeomen.

"To me, men of Ulric!" The elector count of Middenland bellowed as he led his people into the fray, cutting off the overextended charioteers and their escorts. Around him, his personal retinue of full-grown direwolves formed a ring of fur and teeth around their master. "For Middenheim! FOR THE EMPIRE!"

The men cheered at the sight of the jolly graf and his troops, who proceeded to wedge themselves deep into the free folk ranks before beginning their rampage, using the shock their sudden arrival generated to indiscriminately hew and hack apart any raider within reach. As for the Bretonnians, they rode past the Middenlanders to reinforce Kruber's side of the line, trampling and impaling any loyalist wildling in their way.

Receiving much-needed help gave Kruber a second wind. After sweeping a spearwife's legs out from under her and impaling her while she's down, the captain rallied his people to battle once more.

"ALL TOGETHER!" He screamed, taking the first step towards the foe.

End of Chapter VII - 2

One last row 'till I rest.