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Chapter 6 – The Woes of Montalban No longer able to contain themselves, the Knights Excelsior jumped screaming from their stand and began to hail blows upon the festival goers. They smashed their hammers on everyone within their reach and pushed against the crowd with their shields. Laughter turned into screams of horror and anguish as they hammered upon the spectators all around them. Those bloodstained from the March of the Blood Reavers earlier on, were now splattered with the gore and brains of the people next to them before they themselves were bludgeoned down, holding their heads and staring in horror at the sight of their own blood. The laughter in the crowds faded way as they began to notice that something was seriously wrong. First, a few seconds of confused silence, while they listened to the shrieks of the dying. Then the realisation of what was happening. A single scream pierced the silence and within seconds the whole square began to howl in panic. “The Stormcasts are attacking us! They are butchering us!” they screamed and then the panic started in earnest. A bloody scene of chaos unfolded as thousands of revellers scattered falling left and right, only to be crushed and trampled to death where they lay. The Halberdiers guarding the spectator stands could not believe what was happening. As they witnessed their families, neighbours and friends being attacked, they reacted instinctively. They began thrusting their halberds towards the Stormcast to try to stop the onslaught and allow people to escape. But then the Knights Excelsior began to direct their attention towards the Halberdiers guard. Bert watched incredulously from his float, desperately trying to understand what was happening. “Why didn’t the Stormcasts find what I did funny?” he thought. He heard a few Liberators screaming at him “In the name of Sigmar, die! Die you chaos spawn!” as they tried to climb on to the float. One managed to get over the side of the float and smashed Bert's foot with his hammer. Bert jerked his foot away in pain. “Ow! That hurts!” he screamed. And then Bert got angry. He grabbed the Liberator by the head, hauled him up and threw him with all his force against the line of Stormcasts surrounding the float. Bert clambered off the float and kicked the shield of another Liberator as he dismounted, sending the warrior sprawling back against the Lord Veritant standing behind him. Whilst this was happening, Albertus had jumped off the other stand and raced towards Manstien who was lying in a daze at the bottom of the ladder. Albertus hauled him up like a rag doll and shouted to a couple of halberdiers who were watching dumbfounded what was going on at the other side of the float. “You, and you, come here! Take him away, Take him to the town hall! Put him in his office and lock the door! Stand guard and let nobody in!” The guards looked at him in surprise. Albertus threw Manstien in their hands. “Do it now!” The halberdiers caught Manstien and dragged him away to the town hall. Albertus snatched up a halberd lying on the ground and ran around the float to where the halberdiers were fighting a losing battle against the Stormcasts. Luckily for the halberdiers there were only thirty of them. A group of strong men from the March of the Blood Reavers now joined the halberdiers. They also had family and friends amongst the victims. Armed with halberd and spiked clubs they tried desperately to contain the Knights Excelsior from pursuing the festival goers. But the Knights were determined to break through their lines so they could cleanse the city of the foul chaos spawn that lived here. Albertus shouted “Stop! Stop! Stop this madness. Parley! Parley!”. The Lord Veritant saw Albertus and called him out. “You and your demon rituals, you will pay for your blasphemy with your life! We will cleanse this chaos infested city and avenge the insults on our Lord Sigmar!” Bert, suddenly appeared next to Albertus, armed with two large clubs in his hands from the Reavers. Bellowing out a war cry he threw one club at the Lord Veritant. The Lord Veritant stepped aside as the club flew past him, missing him by a whisker. At that moment, a trumpet sounded from above, and a lone Stormcast Prosecutor with a horn descended and landed behind the Stormcast line. The Lord Veritant shouted orders to form shieldwall as he made his way to the Prosecutor. The two battle lines parted a few yards away from each other and the halberdiers tried to catch their breath. The Lord Vertiant could be seen arguing with the Prosecutor, and after a short while, he returned to the battle line. He shouted some orders which Albertus could not understand, and the Stormcast Liberators suddenly changed formation into column. Protected on all sides by their shields, they began to fall back towards one end of the city square. Germanus Graghus turned around and pointed at Albertus: “You are a marked man! And this city will soon feel the wrath of Sigmar! We will be back to finish this job once and for all!” Some of the halberdiers started jeering. Albertus shouted “Stop it! Shut up! Let them go! Let them go!” And so, the Knights Excelsior departed the city of Montalban, inexplicably and as sudden as they had shown up. The Stormcast Prosecutor rose up and flew away. On their march to the city gate, the Knights Excelsior did not meet a single living soul. The streets were deserted, and the city gate was wide open. The column of Stormcasts set off through the gate, on the road in a forced march. As news spread that they were gone, thousands of festival goers came out of hiding and many left the city immediately, back to the villages and small towns where they had come from. But a lot of them went back to the square trying to find their missing family members amongst the piles of battered corpses all over the place. When they recognised their loved ones, they broke down in agonised cries and tears as they held the mangled remains of their loved ones. A solitary figure pulled the float, the Rex Diem, away from the square. It was Bert. He dragged his bloodied foot behind him, limping from the hammer blow that had smashed it. They had hurt him and the people who were kind to him. They had taken away his right to be king for a day and he could not understand why. Inside him grew an anger at the sheer injustice of it all.
Chapter 5 – King for a Day On the morning of the carnival procession, thousands of festival revellers started making their way to the main market square to see the The Burial of the Sardine. The city guild of carpenters had built two large spectator stands on either side of the square. One was for the Stadthouder and the consigniliari of the town, the other for the Lord Veritant and the Knights Excelsior. Manstien had send a herald to the barracks days ago with an official invitation to come and watch this unique event as the guests of honour. The Lord Veritant had yet to send a reply. As Manstien, the consigniliari and their families arrived to take up their spaces on the stand, a loud murmur rose from the crowds at one end of the square. The Knights Excelsior were coming! The Knights marched up to their tribune stand, ascended the steps and took their places. “Thanks for letting me know” Manstien thought wryly, but he understood by now that manners and protocol were not particular strengths of Germanus Graghus. What he did not like was that they had brought their warhammers and shields with them. A Stormcast warrior can never be seen without them he mused, but still it was unsettling. Below Sheriff Albertus gave instructions to the units of Halberdiers who were tasked with guarding spectator stands. More Halberdiers whose job it was to control the crowd also stood alongside the procession route. Once everyone knew what they had to do, Albertus joined Manstien on the stand. Soon trumpets blared at one end of the square and the start of the procession came into view. First to be brought out were the bones of Holy Michael the Hermit, the legendary founder of the city. The relics were carried in a heavy altar which was held aloft at each of its four corners by representatives of the city's guilds. The group marched slowly whilst singing hymns to revered saint. Holy Michael’s skeleton stood upright on the carriage, wrapped in his hermit habit, his skeletal arms clutching a large pole which was topped by a golden warhammer. Holy Michael could speak the tongue of the demigryphs so he bore the wings of a cup demigryph. As the carriage passed, festival goers dropped down on one knee and clasped their hands together above their lowered heads. Manstien and the dignitaries followed suit but not the Knights Excelsior. They gazed in amazement at the passing skeleton. Then came the March of the Dead. A large column of procession participants all dressed in black robes onto which the bones and rib cages of the long dead were stitched on. Wearing skulls as face masks, many carried burial caskets with the skeletal remains of their long gone illustrious family members. Dancers representing the souls of the Montalbani people darted in and out of the column, resplendent in their long, green robes. They howled prayers to the gods of the dead to have mercy on the souls of their departed family members. As the column passed the stands, Manstien noticed how the Knights Excelsior opposite them appeared to become increasingly agitated. A few of the Stormcasts began to turn towards the Lord Veritant. “Do you think they are enjoying the procession so far?” he asked Albertus next to him. “Theirs may not be our idea of enjoyment, my Lord” was Albertus' reply. Manstien started to feel decidedly sick. This invitation of his was a bad idea he now realised. But too late. Next in the procession were the Guilds of the City; butchers, weavers, spinners and blacksmiths. All holding their guild banners high as they passed the cheering crowds. Then came the March of the Diseased. This large column commemorated how the city of Montalban, which was situated in the realm of Ghyran, was once struck, hundreds of years ago, with a devastating plague. When all the citizens had perished, legend told how Holy Michael the Hermit cleansed the city and founded it anew. Semi naked procession participants with grotesque painted boils on their bodies, wobbled on crutches past the tribunes, while holding animal entrails high up to the sky. They howled to the sky beseeching the gods of disease and pestilence to have mercy on their souls and bodies. At the rear of this column were the mutilated and poorest citizens, their bodies broken and twisted, disfigured by malnutrition and leprosy. Manstien saw several Stormcasts arguing with the Lord Veritant who remained standing still. Then came the March of The Blood Reavers, a column which commemorated how the city was almost slaughtered to a single soul by an army of blood thirsty marauders and blood demons. These men were the strongest and largest in the city. They were an awesome sight, dressed in animal pelts, spiked leather belts and bearing large spiked clubs. A rowdy lot, they threw buckets of foul smelling animal blood over themselves and the crowds shouting “We want blood! We need to see blood every day!” Unfortunately, in their enthiousiasm, some of them got carried away and started throwing blood into the Stormcast stand. Manstien's knees began to buckle. He gripped hold of Albertus who was standing next to him as he noticed the Lord Veritant's face turning as red as the blood that was splattered on his white battle plate. More procession floats passed by, some funded by the merchants of the city, others depicted the lives of famous city elders. Finally came the last act of the carnival. This was the float of the King for a Day. Since time immemorial, on the day of The Burial of the Sardine, the humblest citizen of Montalban was crowned Prince of the carnival and King for a Day. The stadthouder would hand over the chain of office to him and until daybreak the next morning the city was ruled by the King for a Day. This year the guild of the carpenters had built a large float in the shape of a merchant ship. It was placed on top of a sturdy, long carriage with many large wheels. When it appeared on the square, the crowds began roaring in joy. Hundreds of people pulled and pushed the float forward with ropes and their bare hands. On the sides of the vessel the words Rex Diem, King for a Day were written in large red letters . On top of it sat Bert and next to him stood his court jester. When Manstien saw Bert on top of the float, he whispered to Albertus “Holy Michael, he is even uglier than last year”. Bert was not an ordinary human. He was as large as a troll, three times the height of an ordinary citizen. Nobody could figure out if he was a giant or a troll. Many years ago Bert had arrived in the city and took up residence down town in the poorest quarter of the city. Bert couldn't tell where he came from but he liked Montalban and spent his days helping out where he could amongst the ordinary folk. People had grown to like him and considered him as one of their own. Each year they elected him as the humblest citizen for the festival. Bert was good natured, except when he was angry of course and in that event no building was safe from his enormous destructive strength. Sheriff Albertus would only dare intervene when Bert's rage had subsided. Bert sat on the float holding on to the sides as it rocked its way forward towards the stands. He wore a large wooden crown on his head, made from a barrel cut in half, and around his neck hung a large sign on which was written “Sigmar”. Manstien recognised the court jester as the city's resident poet, a man he thoroughly disliked. For official occasions he would write beautiful verses, but he was more famous for writing scandalous satires about Manstien and the other consigniliari. Manstien had heard several such songs in the taverns, disgusting tales about his person and his dubious ancestry. When the Rex Diem came to a halt in front of the spectator stand of the consigniliari, the roar of the crowds grew louder and louder “Rex Diem ! Rex Diem !” Suddenly a ladder was put against the sides of the float. The crowd pulling the float parted and cleared a path from the stand to the ladder. As Manstien began to descend the stand steps and walked over to the ladder the noise grew even more in intensity. From somewhere in the crowd, a large piece of heavy chain, painted in gold., was handed to him. He took it and draped it over both arms as he began to climb the ladder. Once on top. he took the chain and offered it to Bert who stood up. The crowd suddenly fell silent. Wobbling precariously on top of the ladder, Manstien began “ I, stadthouder Manstien, hereby offer you the chain of command. I hereby crown you, Bert the First, Prince Laus Stultitiae and King for a Day”. The crowd cheered as Bert took hold of the chain and put it around his neck. Bert then turned to the court jester who shouted something in Bert's ear. Bert raised his hand and the crowd fell silent again. “Me”, Bert began, “I hereby call myself Sigmar the Stupid the First. And now I will show how to greet me as your Lord Sigmar!” Bert turned around, lowered his pants and as he bent over, farted so loud both ends of the market square could hear it. Manstien sunk to a place where only people staring death in the eye inhabit. He had no blood left, no feeling, no other emotion that the sheer horror of what had just happened and the knowledge that his life was over. He must have fallen off the ladder. Somebody must have caught him. He was no longer aware of what was happening. The crowds surrounding him in the square convulsed with laughter. They had never seen or heard such an audacious thing in their lives. But amidst the laughter of thousands of voices, no one heard the enraged screams of the Knights Excelsior as Lord Veritant Germanus Graghus and his thirty Stormcasts leapt from their spectator stand, smashing their warhammers on the crowds below them.
Chapter 4 – You have been warned In the week that followed the Knights Excelsior’s arrival, preparations started in earnest for the Laus Stultitiae, the big annual festival. Festival goers began to arrive in the city all looking forward to the celebrations and with plenty of money to spend. Street markets sprung up everywhere, taverns were full of revelers and across the whole city, houses and squares were decorated with garlands and banners. The festival was a celebration of the history and origins of the city of Montalban and on the last day of the festival, a large carnival parade would be held where, by tradition, the humblest of the citizens would be crowned King for a Day. The carnival was called 'the burial of the sardine'. None really knew how it came by that name. According to folklore, when the city was once besieged by a large Beastherd, the citizens of Montalban had been reduced to eating rotten sardines from the last fishing boat that made it into the harbour before the city was cut off. When it ended the carnival was created to celebrate their finally being able to eat something other than sardines. It was a nice story. The Knights Excelsior didn't take part in any of this, locking themselves away in the guard barracks, never opening the door to anyone. Even victuals had to be left at the gate, until suddenly a Stormcast soldier would open the gate and take the food inside without saying a single word. Sheriff Albertus would visit the Greatswords standing guard outside the barracks several times, during the day and night. But the soldiers could tell him nothing more than that they heard the Knights were holding weapon drills during the day in the parade square, singing hymns during the evening and nothing during the night. Only once was there an incident. Some drunken festival revelers had come in the middle of the night to the barracks, taunting the Knights Excelsior. “Oi, Stormcastie boy!”, they were heard shouting, “You lot you think you are tough, yeah? Well, why don't you come out and show it then! We here in Montalban ain't afraid of a bunch of peacocks like you lot.” Within moments the Greatswords ran over and started arguing with them. Soon enough there was a fist fight in front of the gate and when they all had thrown and received enough punches, the drunks melted back into the town hurling insults at the Greatswords and Stormcasts. But from the barracks came no response. The next morning, Sheriff Albertus decided it was time to pay a certain person a visit. He went over to the Greatswords guard and asked the captain and the sergeant to accompany him. When he was asked whereto, he said “nowhere, and that is where you have been if someone asks, nowhere, understood?”. Both nodded. The three walked out of the city gate and headed up the road. After a half hour, they left the main road and took a path leading into the forest. Only then did the Greatswords realise they were heading for Haldor Hollow. Past the forest, the path led to a clearing where several ruins of farmsteads and barns stood. One of the farms was still looking inhabitable despite its rickety roof and broken windows. They knew this was where the old mad mage lived and they didn't like it at all. The old fool was crazy enough to turn them into a statue or even worse, a frog or a donkey. Albetus approached the door and shouted “Nostro, it's Albertus here. I know you are in there.” From inside came a voice “Of course it is. Do you think I'm blind? I 've got no money, you greedy leech”. “Oh shut up” Albertus answered as he pushed the door open. “You two wait here” he told the Greatswords and went in. Both Albertus and Nostro sat around a table peering into a glass sphere. Clouds seemed to swirl inside it, changing reds to blues to vibrant purples as Nostro muttered unintelligible incantations. Sheriff Albertus had not always been sheriff of Montalban. He was a man with a long past - a past which was nobody's business if he could help it. But with that past came a lot of experience and he knew the value of a mage of the Collegiate Arcanum. Even if the one sitting in front of him might have faked his diploma on the wall, as Albertus suspected. But papers don't matter on the battlefield, it’s the gift that mattered. Finally Nostro spoke. “I see a lot a trouble ahead”. Albertus snorted, “I could tell you that looking in a brick, you old fool. The city is full of trouble with the festival going on.”. Nostro took no notice. “No, I mean real trouble. You have trouble makers in town. Bad ones.” Albertus swallowed. He knew perfectly well who that was. That was why he was here. “What will happen?” he wanted to know. “Oh the usual,...violence, death, battle, and then some more.” Nostro sighed. “But there is also an agent at work, an agent of the ruinous powers”. “Who?” Albertus pressed. “I don't know. I can't see through the concealment wards”. Suddenly Nostro looked up. “Listen, I know where you came from and what is in your past. You're not fooling me with this sheriff malarkey. You are going to help me.” “How?” asked Albertus. “I want my Hurricanum and Luminark back”, Nostro answered, fixing him firmly in the eye. Albertus straightened up. “No way, read my lips, no way” he hissed back to Nostro. Nostro once resided in town as the well-respected mage of Montalban. He lived in one of the city wall’s large watch towers and was often found shouting to the heavens, practicing old spells and experimenting with new ones. But one day in high summer just before the harvest, one of the Hurricanum experiments went badly wrong. He unleashed the mother of all hailstorms on the surrounding countryside which ruined the crops in the fields. The farmers besieged the stadthouder in the city hall, beside themselves with rage, waving their pitch forks to all who tried to get near them. They demanded that Manstien threw the mage out of town. Eventually Manstien managed to appease them with promises of a severe reprimand, 20 lashes of the whip for the mage and even more punishment. Later he exploded with anger in front of the mage but did not carry out the punishment. The banishment eventually came later after another failed Hurricanum experiment. Nostro managed to land a comet out of the clear blue sky right in the middle of the town's animal menagerie, crushing several Demygryphs to death and barely missing the Stadthouder's battle griffon by a whisker. This time the Stadthouder needed no prompting from the shocked Demigryph Knights and he banished the mage out of town. Since then the mage had secluded himself in Haldor Hollow. “Something has happened, Albertus. Something very bad in a place called Shyish. You may not have noticed anything unusual but the air has changed and the forces of magic and evil are getting stronger every day now.” Nostro stared silently into the glass sphere, a look of despair creeping across his face. Albertus stood up. “Yeah sure, you're not intimidating me, you old fool.”. As he walked to the door, Nostro shouted after him. “Don't call me an old fool, Albertus, you are the fool here. Your past will catch up with you. And I tell you now: before this is over you will be on your knees here, begging me to get back to my Hurricanum and Luminark. You have been warned!” Albertus and the two Greatswords walked back to town in silence. They knew better than to ask him what had happened. Once through the gate, he beckoned them to come with him. They went up the steps of the city wall to the curtain wall and followed the wall to the large gate tower on the south side. They knew this was the old mage's tower. Once at the gate's tower door, Albertus looked around them and took a key out of his doublet. He turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open. Inside the room had remained undisturbed as it was left years ago when the mage was banished. “Follow me” he said to the two men. He swept a carpet aside and lifted up a large wooden lid in the floor. A dark staircase lead to the basement of the tower. A feint light seemed to come from down there. As the three gingerly descended the staircase, Albertus whispered “Holy Michael the Hermit”. Once down, in front of him stood the Hurricanum and the Luminark with its lenses and mirrors. But they were not still as they expected them to be. The Hurricanum was slowly whirling its parabolas on its own accord and the lenses of the Luminark were pulsing with faint green light. As Albertus locked the gate tower door behind him, he turned to the captain and the sergeant. “Remember, you've been nowhere”.