Presenting the final chapter of The Sword is Forged! If you haven't read the tale up until now, check out our official Warhammer Fiction page.
Roki, Osvalt and the Witch Hunters turned to her, staring.
"What's this, woman?" growled Curt.
"We can hold the temple," she said. "And we can survive."
"But the Elf is dead and the Warrior Priest is busy with the cannon," stuttered
Osvalt. "What can we do?"
"Aye," said Roki. "There's five of us and scores of them." He chuckled. "I'm good, but not that good."
"Have you never studied the Myrmidian Book of War? It isn't how strong we are individually. It is how strong we are together!" Far in the distance, a rally horn blew and hundreds of voices raised in unison. "For Sigmar! For the Empire!"
They all looked up.
Regina shot another look out the door. The Marauders were swarming toward the temple. In a moment it would be too late. "You hear the horn?" she asked. "The advance has begun. General Breuer is coming. If we work together we will be here to welcome him. But we must act now!"
The others hesitated, then Roki nodded. "What's your plan, girl?"
Regina flashed a relieved smile at the Dwarf. "First," she said. "We must block the entrance."
She turned and stepped outside. The mob of Marauders roared when they saw her and increased their speed. She ignored them. The cart was where it had been, the four miserable slaves who were yoked to it - all captured Nordland peasants - hunched and hardly conscious.
Regina raised her voice as she did when drilling novitiates. "You men! Turn the cart about! Come to the Temple!"
Only a few of them even looked around. They blinked stupidly at her, defeated in body and spirit.
"Hurry!" she cried. "Turn the cart! Save yourselves and your comrades on the front lines!"
One of the men seemed to wake, his eyes coming alive. He nudged his fellows and strained against his yoke. The others slowly followed his lead, seemingly as much out of habit as intent. They were going too slow. They wouldn't make it.
Regina looked over her shoulder. "Wizard! Herrs Werner! Give our friends something to think about. Quickly!"
The young wizard hesitated, but as the two Witch Hunters stepped to the door, he followed.
Calling on Sigmar to guide their aim, the father and son fired into the mob of advancing Marauders, dropping two. Osvalt raised his flame-tipped staff and barked a strange syllable. A rain of fire fell down upon the raiders. The flames were no more than candle wisps, but they made the raiders dance and swat at themselves. Their advance slowed.
"Good!" Regina cried. "Again!" Then to the cart slaves. "Faster!"
With a curse she ran out and joined them, pushing as they angled the heavy vehicle around to face the door. Roki fell in beside her.
"Yes!" she cried. "In! Wedge it tight!"
As fire and pistol shots flashed over their heads, she and Roki and the slaves marched through the door into the temple, pulling the cart after them. The high sides ground and splintered against the door posts, and then they could pull no further. It was stuck.
And not a moment too soon. The first Marauders had reached the temple and were swarming trying to shove past it.
Regina drew her dagger, then called out to Osvalt as she started to cut the slaves free. "Wizard, set the temple doors alight."
Osvalt blinked, surprised, then nodded. He whirled his staff around and cried out, and a sudden 'whump' of fire came from outside, followed by the alarmed cries of the Marauders. Regina smiled as she freed the last of the men. The entrance was now flanked with flame as the broken doors blazed.
"Excellent!" She turned to the freed slaves. "Friends, if you are able, find weapons among the dead and help us. If you cannot, please fall back."
"They're still coming!" yelped Osvalt.
Regina looked up. Marauders were climbing the mound of bodies in the back of the cart, trying to get over it and through the door. She backed away, readying her sword and shield as the freed slaves scattered.
"Gentlemen," she called to Curt and Leopold. "You and the Wizard will stay back and shoot any who attempt to enter. Any that make it through your fire will face the Dwarf and I. Am I understood?"
For an answer the two Witch Hunters fired their pistols at the first Marauders over the cart, the bullets punching them back into their savage brethren. Young Osvalt stepped forward and blew a stream of fire. The Marauders fell back, screaming, their hair and fur-lined armor blazing.
Regina stole a look at Grigorius as she took her position to the left of the cart. The ancient warrior priest was valiantly trying to purge the daemon. The gun continued to howl and fight against its chains, but it seemed - or perhaps Regina just hoped - that its struggles were getting weaker.
"On your left!" shouted Roki.
Regina spun back as a marauder leapt down at her from the cart. She threw up her shield and blocked as he slashed at her with an axe. The blow shivered her arm, but she held firm and gutted him with her sword. One the right side of the cart, Roki was fighting a raider with a carapaced arm. Another lay dead at his feet.
"Come on, y'ugly clot!" the Dwarf shouted. "Did yer mother mate with a lobster?"
Two more Marauders leapt at Regina. One spun screaming in mid-air, his jaw exploding as a bullet from the Witch Hunters knocked him back, but the other crashed down full upon her, knocking her back.
The northerner howled and swung an iron-banded club at her as she recovered, knocking her shield aside. A spiked boot kicked at her midsection. With an awkward twist she turned her sword and blocked, cutting though leather and gashing the Marauder's leg to the bone.
He swung again, apparently immune to pain, but before he could connect, a pale form leapt on his back and stabbed at him with a dagger. The Marauder bellowed and staggered. It was all Regina needed. She hacked through his arm at the elbow, then smashed him to the floor with her shield.
The knife wielder cut the Marauder's throat, then bowed to her. It was one of the cart slaves.
"Sigmar bless you for saving us, Madam," he said. "Though we die here, at least we die free."
"I thank you for your help, friend," said Regina, then turned as more Marauders clambered over the cart, screaming and frothing at the mouth.
After that there was no time for conversation. Though raider after raider fell to Osvalt's flames and the Witch Hunters' bullets, more still broke through, and Roki and Regina soon found themselves standing on a carpet of bodies as they battled on.
A small portion of Regina's mind marveled at how calm she was. She had never been in a real melee before, only the mock battles of the practice yard, and she had never faced enemies like this - reeking, mutated half-men with filed teeth and weapons caked with blood and filth. She should have been terrified. She should have been retching at the smell and the sight of the horrors she faced, and yet she wasn't. Instead she fought with the quiet precision that Master Veicht had always praised her for. Nothing mattered except the dance and shift of weapons and bodies and where she must move her shield and sword to counter them. She felt in a trance, a dream of trajectories and collisions, of move and response, of block and cut and step to the next as her enemies fell around her.
And then the trance was shattered.
A crash of broken glass brought her head up. Shards were falling from one of the windows on the north side of the temple, and bloody hands were clutching the sill.
Leopold spun as a Marauder in a horned helm pulled himself up into the window and tried to climb through. The Witch Hunter's bullet smashed through the man's sternum and knocked him back through the window, his helm flying. Curt turned and fired too, and another raider dropped out of sight. But then a third, bigger than the others, jumped up and perched in the window, a throwing axe in his hand.
The Witch Hunters were busy reloading. Osvalt was sending another stream of flame at the door. Regina was fighting two men. Roki was fighting three. The freed slaves were helping where they could. There was no-one to stop the big Marauder as he hurled the axe.
"Look out!" Regina shouted.
It was too late.
Leopold looked up just in time to take the spinning blade in the face. He fell back with a cry, the axe buried between his eyes, and his gun and rapier clattered across the temple's floor.
"My son!" cried Curt. "Leopold!"
The big Marauder sprang down from the window and drew a sword like an enormous cleaver as more raiders clawed into the window behind him.
Curt strode toward the killer, raising his rapier. "Foul heathen!" he roared. "You will die for this!"
Regina cursed. With Leopold down, their defense would collapse without the support of Curt's pistol. She needed him firing, not fighting.
"Dwarf!" she called, knocking one of her opponents down and leaping back from the other. "Hold the door!" She looked to the freed slaves, who hung at the edges of the combat. "Help him!"
"Aye, go," said Roki, grinning. "More for me!"
Regina raced across the temple toward the big marauder, shouting at Curt. "No, Witch Hunter! Leave him to me. Cover the door!"
Curt did not turn. "He killed my son!"
"And his brave sacrifice will be meaningless if you let the fiends retake their cannon!" Regina shoved past the witch hunter, getting between him and the marauder. "Use your pistol," she said over her shoulder. "Use Leopold's. Keep them out."
The big Marauder attacked, and Curt's response was lost as the huge cleaver clanged down on her shield and smashed it into kindling. Regina stumbled back as the shield disintegrated, her left arm numb to the shoulder. This one was strong - too strong! He stood a head taller than her, and his pustule-covered body was muscled like a prize bull. His face was hidden in a full helm that had - disturbingly - four eye-holes, and he laughed like a rusty gate as he slashed at her again.
The force of the blow stung her hand and nearly knocked her sword away. She dodged back. How was she to fight such a monster? The crack and snap of pistols behind her told her that Curt had heeded her and returned to covering the door. She almost wished now he had disobeyed her. She needed help.
"They send girls to face us now?" echoed a guttural voice from inside the marauder's helmet. "Have we killed so many? Or are Empire men just cowards?"
Regina smiled to herself. She knew how to defeat him. Did not Myrmidia teach that when faced with a stronger opponent, one must use guile?
"They only send girls to face the weakest," she said, and forced a laugh.
"What?" roared the Marauder. "I am weak? I will show you my strength!"
He charged forward, raising his ponderous weapon. Regina dodged aside and slashed him in the ribs. Her arms jolted at the contact. Though he wore no armor, the fiber of his muscle was so dense it felt like she was chopping into a tree. Perhaps this wouldn't work after all.
His cleaver came down like a drawbridge falling, and cracked the flagstones as she dove away.
"Ha!" she laughed shakily as she stood again. "I've seen fishwives hit harder than that!" The heat of the hellcannon's furnace was hot on her back, and she could hear its angry groaning and Father Grigorius's furious work directly behind her.
"Your fishwives will be my brides!" snarled the marauder. "You will be my bride!"
Regina snorted, though what he was suggesting made her nauseous. "And will you be as weak in the bedchamber as you are in battle?"
The Marauder howled with rage, and red glowed from his helmet's four eye sockets. He lowered his head and charged, slashing wide.
Regina dropped flat, ducking the cleaver and praying. One of his massive boots stomped down on her back as he tripped over her. The other caught her in the head.
She rolled, dizzy and bruised, trying to get clear before he turned and chopped at her again, but a sudden shrieking made her look up.
The big Marauder had tripped and fallen chest-first against the red-hot iron of the hellcannon's furnace chamber. His flesh sizzled and she smelled a sickening roast pork stench.
Regina lurched up and stabbed him in the back. Even now his muscles resisted, but she leaned on the pommel of the sword with all her strength and felt it push through his ribs and into his heart.
"No!" cried Grigorius, breaking off his prayers. "Get him away! Do not let it feed!"
Regina grabbed the dying marauder by the belt and pulled. His cooked flesh peeled away in strips as he fell from the cannon. The evil gun lurched after him like a hungry dog lunging for meat. A chain snapped and a huge studded wheel rumbled toward her.
She threw herself aside, pulling the Marauder with her. The iron wheel rolled over his legs, pulping them, then jolted short as the rest of its chains stopped it. Regina tried to crab back, but she was pinned by the dead Marauder. The hellcannon loomed above her, inches from crushing her as it strained at its bonds.
Grigorius staggered after it, his raised Warhammer glowing with holy energies as his chanting climbed to a fever pitch. Regina's eyes swept the room as she fought to free herself. Her comrades were faring no better. At the door, Roki and the few remaining slaves fought a crowd of marauders as more clambered over the burning cart. Osvalt shot fire at those, but his flames were weak. At the smashed window, Curt had abandoned his guns and fought hand to hand with three more Marauders, trying to stem the tide.
Then, with a final shout, a stream of blinding light poured from Grigorius and his Warhammer as he blasted the hellcannon, bathing it in a golden corona. The gun shook and wailed like a hurricane. Its chains broke and lashed around like whips, and Regina was certain she was dead, but then, with a final desolate cry, the wailing ceased and the cannon rocked to a stop, its unearthly sentience, gone as if it had never been. What had been a terrifying monster was now just a lifeless construction of iron and bone.
All around the temple the combatants froze. The Marauders stared, fearful, to see their great machine destroyed. Regina's comrades too were stopped, shocked that the frail old warrior priest had been successful. The only movement was Grigorius, sinking unconscious to the floor, utterly sapped.
Regina pulled herself out from under the dead Marauder and pushed to her feet. "Don't stand there, you fools!" she shouted, snatching up her longsword. "Fight them! Press the advantage!"
She charged toward the Marauders at the window, aiming to assist Curt. Awakened by her shout, he and Roki and Osvalt lashed out at their stunned opponents, dropping a handful in a matter of seconds, but it was futile. As Regina joined Curt the rest recovered and swarmed in again.
There were just too many, and more were climbing in over the cart and through the window every moment, pressing in on them from all sides. Soon, Regina found herself fighting in a tight circle, shoulder to shoulder with Roki and Curt as Osvalt hid in the middle, shooting licks of flame over their heads.
"I apologize, sirs," said Regina. "I have led you to this."
"You did your best, girl," said Roki, blocking a club. "We stopped the gun."
"We die for the glory of Sigmar," said Curt. "I join my son."
Osvalt just whimpered.
Regina took a cut to the leg. She stumbled and recovered, but knew it was the end. The blows were coming faster and she was getting slower. "Goddess of battle," she whispered. "Into your arms--"
A blast of trumpets blared right outside the temple, and hundreds of voices roared as one. "For Sigmar! For the Empire!"
The Marauders climbing over the cart screamed as a fusillade of crossbow bolts whistled through the temple door and cut them down.
Regina exchanged a wide-eyed look with her comrades. Breuer's army had arrived! Suddenly they found new strength to fight.
"For Sigmar!" they cried. "For the Empire!"
A bloody and brutal quarter of an hour later, Captain Riesling walked through the temple door and picked his way around the piles of dead Marauders to where Regina, Curt, Roki and Osvalt were helping Grigorius to sit up and drink from a canteen.
He stopped and shook his head as they looked up at him. "I'm ashamed to say that when I gave ye this mission, I didn't think ye'd survive it."
Curt scowled. "Some of us didn't survive."
Riesling nodded. "Aye, Witch Hunter. Yer son will be given full honors. As will High One Fiandar. Ye've helped us win a great victory today, and the Empire thanks ye."
Regina and the others murmured their thanks, but Riesling wasn't done. He coughed, embarrassed, then spoke again.
"Yer all proven warriors now, and there is more work that need doing, if yer willing. Who leads ye now that Fiandar is dead?"
Regina looked to Father Grigorius, but paused as she felt eyes upon her. She turned. Roki, Curt and Osvalt were nodding at her.
"The girl kept us alive," said Roki.
"We'd be dead without her," said Osvalt.
"Aye," said Curt, gruffly. "She leads."
Captain Riesling raised an eyebrow. "Is that so? Well then, knight, are you ready for new orders?"
Regina looked around at the piles of dead marauders who filled the temple and thought it only a small vengeance for the evil that had happened to her mother and Chapter Master Veicht. She would not rest until the fiends were destroyed utterly.
She rose and turned to Riesling. "Aye, sir. So long as you send us against these plague-ridden barbarians, we are at your service."
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◄ Chapter Two - Tempered
2008 Dec 04 06:54 GMT