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The Death Watch- Brother Hans

Randolph Carter

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Hans Sturm was an armsman in the service of House Reike-Woerlitz, long before the present day- back when the Horse and Rivers still flew proudly over Ghyran, more than five centuries ago. He struggled long and hard in the service of his patrons, rising to be second-in-command of the Household Guard, the elite musketeers tasked with the family's defense.  These were the waning years of a time of peace, though there was always a brushfire conflict flaring up somewhere- be it a nest of bandits that needed to be cleared out or feral raiders from the deeper, darker corners of the Realm. Thus when the end came neither Hans nor the Household Guard were caught entirely unprepared. It wasn't enough, though. It was never enough.
 
Hordes of invaders smashed the towns and keeps of the Horse and Rivers, and themselves, bloody, sending waves of refugees fleeing somewhere, anywhere, looking for safety. By and large, these desperate souls collected at the fortress of Eisenstulpe, ancient refuge of the Woerlitz clan and one of the few points with an intact port capable of transporting the desperate fleeing masses to Azyr. Hot on their heels came the legions of the enemy- marauders, cultists, demons, and a vast, choking wave of those who'd fallen before. 
 
Marching at the invaders' head was Fritz Grauber, formerly first in command of the Household Guard, fallen in the opening battles of the war and raised again as Nurgle's pestilential servant. They encircled the fortress, trapping thousands inside its iron chambers with a rapidly dwindling supply of food. Among those trapped were Hans, the Household Guard, and their lord, Frederick Reike-Woerlitz. Fortunately, there was good news- a relief flotilla was sailing its way up towards Eisenstulpe, one capable of transporting all the refugees to safety.
 
The fortress was carved into a mountain, with the majority buried underground. Only two ways in or out existed- one, the River Gate, which had been sealed and flooded at the beginning of the war. Even if Nurgle's servants could swim, they couldn't pierce through and enter. Two, the High Gate, which was set halfway up the mountain, at the top of a winding road, defended by a bastion. It was here that the armies of the Plague God directed their scabrous attentions first.
 
Again and again, the defenders beat them back with ranged-in artillery, until they ran out of shells to fire. When that happened, they lobbed barrels of flaming oil in a crude catapult, until it was destroyed by vile Nurglish sorcery. Then the Household Guard proved their worth, standing their ground for three whole days and defending themselves nearly constantly with nothing but powder, shot and faith in Sigmar. Finally, though, their supplies of ammunition began to run low. Worse, in the final attack, Lord Frederick was badly wounded. Hans ordered him withdrawn inside the fortress, and took on the burden of keeping up the men's morale himself.
 
Traveling constantly up and down the lines, never stopping to rest, he encouraged them to stand just a little longer, saying that the relief fleet couldn't be more than a few hours or a day away. In the last attack, when the Guard finally ran out of bullets, he was at the front and had to be dragged by his men back inside the High Gate proper when the walls of the bastion were breached. Even there, he could be found in the thick of the hand-to-hand fighting, turning the tide wherever it seemed that the elite soldiers might be giving ground. At last, the poxy swarms fell back, giving the Guard a moment to breathe.
 
It was not to be enough, he realized. Faith and valor had carried the Guard this far, but only at the expense of two-thirds of their number and all of their bullets. And there were still legions upon legions of the enemy massing for their next strike. There was one more barrel of powder left, and Hans knew what must be done. Ordering the rest of the Guard to retreat inside the fortress itself and to hold until death, he sat down at the narrowest point of the High Gate passage and played his fife.  It was not long before the awful clatter of the demon-horde approaching reached his ears, and his old commander came walking up at the head of a parade of plaguebearers.
 
"So confident?" Fritz's face had mostly sloughed away, and his remaining flesh was riddled with decay. "Or have you finally known what despair is? No matter. You will know the Plaguefather's touch when he crushes your people beneath him."
 
"I did not come here to despair, nor to be defeated." Hans drew a pistol from his belt. "Today I will show you what it means to be a true Freisoldat."
 
At that moment Fritz saw the barrel of explosive powder set up against a support column, but before he could do or say anything Hans had fired. The explosion shook the chamber, but not so much as the tons of rock that fell from the collapsing ceiling. The dull Nurglish daemons barely had time to comprehend their doom before it was upon them, and they were buried under the vengeful mountain.
 
It was not long afterwards that the Reike-Woerlitz flotilla reached the River Gate, and by means of secret signs made itself known to the defenders. The refugees were saved, snatched out of the claws of the Poxed God by the bravery of one man. Today, there is a statue of him standing in front of the Reike-Woerlitz estate in Azyr. More than this, though, he has been reforged and reborn- a truly noble spirit, an iron warrior of Sigmar.
 
------
 
The storytellers call Brother Hans the Iron Warrior, the Unflinching, the Defiant, the Hero of Eisenstulpe, the Venerated, the Resolute, the Exemplar.
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