The Saga of Berit Christendottir

The last creature went down with a vicious slash to the neck, and not a moment too soon.  Berit was exhausted and she wondered, not for the first time today if she was getting to old for the life of a sell-sword.  Sorely in need of a breather, she slumped against the rough wall of the cave and wiped the ichor off her broad bladed short sword, on a rag tucked into her belt.

She couldn’t keep this up.  The day had been one long running battle, and now she was the only one left.  Egil and Erik had gone to the Allfather, the brother’s selling their lives dearly in the cavern down below.  Berit had tried to fight her way to the pair, but there were too many of the goblin things and after the pair had been overwhelmed retreat had been her only recourse.

A hissing sound came from the direction of the cavern.  That was all the rest she was getting; it was time to move.

Berit moved through the cave at a steady jog.  In part to maintain what little stamina she had left, but also because visibility was poor, and she had no intention of being finished off by a broken ankle.  Egil had been carrying the lantern, and all she had to light her way was the glow-stone set into the bracer that protected her off-hand; that and the vague luminescence of the moss that seemed to grow all over these tunnels.

The tunnel sloped upwards, she hoped that was a good sign.  This was not the way they’d entered the cave system, and for all she knew, she could be heading into certain death.  Stopping for a moment, Berit held her breath and listened.  The things were still behind her, that disconcerting hiss dogging her every step, but that wasn’t what she was listening for.

She was about to give up, but then she heard, and felt the slight whisper of a breeze.  Her heart leapt, and she started to move again, hope refreshed.

It was mere seconds before she heard the hissing of the things in the tunnel ahead and Berit knew she’d tarried too long.  Somehow, they’d managed to find a way around her and they now they were in front of her, as well as behind.

“Berit Christendottir is not dying today, you Hel spawned sons of whores,” she cursed at them, before raising her blade and picking up speed as she moved towards the enemy ahead of her.

She threw herself around a corner, ready for the fight she knew was coming and crashed into the leading edge of the enemy advance party.  She’d badly misjudged their position, the unpredictable acoustics of the caves making the things sound further away than they were.

The glow-stone on her bracer flared up and knocked the creatures back with a mighty concussive blast; saving her life for the second time today.  Before the goblinoid abominations could recover, she was on them.  Momentum was her only ally.  The things were small, weak and poorly equipped, but they vastly outnumbered her and if she gave them even half a chance, they would overwhelm her, just as they had Egil and Erik, no matter how skilfully she fought.

Berit stabbed one through the neck, just as it was staggering to its feet, the broad blade almost decapitating it.  She backhanded another with her off-hand as it desperately threw itself at her, catching it in the chest with the full, devastating impact of her bracer; she finished off the twitching, gasping goblin thing with a kick, caving in its skull with the impact.

On Berit went, slashing, stabbing, kicking, punching.  She opened one of them up from groin to collarbone, spilling its reeking guts onto her feet before pivoting and taking off the arm of another with a vicious chop.

It was like scything wheat.  They were collapsing before her onslaught, with almost half of them dead or dying in less than a minute and she was beginning to feel invincible.  It was as if the power of the Allfather was flowing through her.  She should have been exhausted but she felt invigorated. She shouldered into a small knot of the goblin things as they were trying to form a flimsy shield wall.  Scattering them, she killed anything within arms-reach; this wasn’t a fight anymore, it was a slaughter, and her foes turned and fled the charnel-house that the tunnel had become, disappearing into the cracks and crevices that were all over these caves.

Berit moved forward, not even stopping to sheath her sword.  She had felt this unnatural vigour many times before and recognised the first signs of it fading from her limbs.  In mere minutes it would be a struggle to keep moving, so great would be the feeling of exhaustion.  She needed to get out fast.

She could feel the breeze in her skin now and could see the first hint of daylight.  Using the last of her ebbing strength, Berit staggered forward and into the light at the end of the tunnel.

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Best Served Cold

ONE

 

Surging back to consciousness, he attempted to draw a breath, but couldn’t manage more than a thin choking wheeze; there was something cinched around his neck.  He started to panic, wriggling, kicking his feet, his hands, his hands were tied his back.

Thrashing about like a madman, he didn’t hear the creaking sound.  The creaking turned to cracking, and then a loud snap.  He hit the ground hard enough to have the wind knocked out of him, if he’d had any in him to knock out.  As it was, he just lay, groaning and trying to compose his thoughts.

It was a noose around his neck; he’d been hung, that much was obvious.  Who had done it though? More importantly, why wasn’t he dead? He was a hard man to kill, in fact he had a reputation for it, but no man could survive a hanging, so how was he still with the living.

He was hooded with a sack of some sort, and that just wouldn’t do, if he wanted to get free and go on living; so, after about five minutes, a lot of biting at the musty tasting fabric, and a not inconsiderable amount of luck, he managed to pull off the improvised hood.

Next, he needed his hands free.  The noose was still restricting his breathing, but he was able to get enough air into his lungs to remain calm.  He looked about, squinting and blinking at the bright sunlight, and could see nothing of use.

How was he going to get free?  He began to despair.  Surely the impossibility of his survival couldn’t end with him being baked alive by the midday sun, because he couldn’t free himself.  Managing, with some difficulty to haul himself into a sitting position, he awkwardly shuffled himself around on his backside, taking in his surroundings, to find something to cut the rope around his wrists.

He’d just started wondering how far he’d get if he levered himself to his feet by leaning on the tree, before silently cursing himself as an idiot; the tree, he might be able to use the roughness of the tree bark to abrade his bindings.  It would hurt, no doubt about that, but there were no other options that he could see.

 

TWO

 

It had worked, eventually.  His forearms and wrists were a bloody mess and as he had predicted, it had hurt, a lot, but he was free.  He’d wrenched the noose from around his neck as soon as he’d been able.  His throat was raw from the constriction of the rope, and even though it pained him mightily, he was glad of the pain, because it told him he was still alive.

He was sitting now, under the meagre shade of his would-be gibbet, and he started to call to mind the events that had led him here; that and the faces of the men that had attempted to lynch him.

Townsfolk from one of the dead-end settlements in the area had formed themselves a posse and had been out for blood.  He’d never actually found out what it was he’d been blamed for, they were more concerned with meting out what passed for justice in these parts.  They didn’t concern themselves with explaining anything to him while they were beating him senseless and tying a rope around his neck; he was at least fairly sure he wasn’t guilty of whatever they were blaming him for though.  He’d only came up from Mexico a couple of weeks ago and he was sure he hadn’t done anything worth a hanging.

It was likely that the only thing he was guilty of, was being either a Mexican, or a lonesome drifter.  A lot of people were none to choosy about were they found their justice, and an outsider was always a soft target; of course, it hadn’t been much different back home.  He’d had a lot of bad luck and been blamed for a lot of things.

What to do now? He wasn’t too far from the where they’d run him down, but that still didn’t help, because not knowing the area, he had no idea how far away the nearest town was.  After sitting and thinking for a while, he resolved to follow the hoof prints of the posse, and hope they were going back to town.  It wasn’t a great plan, but it was the only one he had that stood a decent chance of getting him back to civilisation.

If he was fortunate enough to make it to town, he was going to need a gun, because he certainly didn’t intend to report to the Sherriff; for all he knew the lawman was the one who had rounded the posse up.  He intended to get his own brand of justice, and it was the kind people didn’t recover from.

He started walking.

 

THREE

 

He had guns.  This was a state of affairs that made him feel much better; he’d felt vulnerable without them.  Although he was a dangerous man, a feller could only be so dangerous without some iron in his hand.

It had been a tough walk in the relentless afternoon sun, particularly without a hat.  He didn’t know what had happened to his own, but he’d looked around the immediate area of his ‘execution’ and it was nowhere to be seen.

He’d been on the move for a couple of hours and was just starting to feel the effects of the unrelenting heat and sunlight, when he saw the first sign of life since his unfortunate run in with the posse.

It was a covered wagon that, judging by the writing stencilled on the side of it, belonged to some sort of snake-oil salesman.  The type of guy who travelled from town to town, selling his miraculous cure-alls to gullible townsfolk; staying on the move through necessity, rather than choice.  The concoctions they peddled were usually harmless enough, but certainly didn’t provide any of the remedies that the smooth-talking salesman evangelised about.

The wagon had got one of its wheels stuck in a rut on the badly pitted track and the salesman, along with another man, who appeared to be protection had been trying, unsuccessfully to get it moving again.

He’d announced his presence with a shout, not wanting to be taken for a threat and get a bullet for his trouble.  Deciding, in the moment that it wasn’t such a good idea to tell the whole truth, he’d made up a tale in which he was bush-wacked by horse thieves who’d taken everything he’d had and left him for dead.  Not a million miles from the truth, but revised enough to avoid any mistrust, or so he’d hoped.

It had gone well initially.  Having helped the men right their wagon, he’d been offered a lift, which he’d gratefully accepted.  As was often the case when he met someone new, he’d got the suspicion that the men were up to something.  With self-preservation foremost in his mind, he’d resolved in that moment to do for the men, before they did for him.

The muscle being the biggest threat, he’d decided to deal with this man first.  Halfway through a sentence and without warning he’d pivoted in his seat and punched the unsuspecting man hard in the throat.  Although the man hadn’t fallen from the wagon, he’d at least been put temporarily out of commission.

Dealing with the salesman had been child’s play.  The man hadn’t even had time to process what was going on before he’d been grabbed in a headlock and suffered a broken neck.  Before stopping the wagon, he’d made to finish off the hired gun, but took a meaty fist to the face as he’d turned his head.

The man had still been gasping for breath but seemed to be made of some pretty tough stuff. Unwilling to go down without a fight, he’d attacked like an injured bear.  Realising that he wasn’t the physical match of the hired gun in a close-up brawl, he’d lunged in with a sharp headbutt and tackled the man right out of the wagon.  Stunned by the fall, the hired gun had been defenceless just long enough to lose the upper hand.

He’d straddled the man and started punching and hadn’t stopped until long after the man had stopped moving.  His face had been destroyed; a mess of blood and broken bones, and the Mexican was covered in the hired gun’s blood.

He’d been unable to catch up with the wagon, but everything he’d needed had been on the dead man.  Two six-shooters, plenty of bullets, a nice, big knife, and most important of all, a hat.

 

FOUR

 

The snake-oil salesman and his protection weren’t the first men he’d ever killed, and he knew they wouldn’t be the last, but he only killed if left with no other option.  They were up to something and it had been them, or him, and he hadn’t come this far to fall foul of a couple of travelling miscreants like those two.  Besides, they were heading into town, so they could very well have been in league with the posse.

He came upon the town not long before dusk, and deciding it was a bad idea to just go strolling in there during the hours of daylight, he settled down for a while, off the track into town and out of sight.

Not knowing were the group that had hung him were likely to be, he decided he was going to have to take a blanket approach to this.  Sneaking into Town, he located the Sherriff’s office.  Even if the Sherriff and any deputies present weren’t involved with the posse, they were likely to provide the biggest threat, and as such, they needed to be dealt with, whether he wanted to, or not.

There would be innocent victims tonight, but that couldn’t be helped; he took comfort in the knowledge that even those not directly responsible shared a measure of the guilt, through their inaction.  Not ideal, but it was necessary.

Cautiously peering through the window, he found that the only occupants of the office were two sleeping men.  Even the two cells were empty.  This was going to be easier than he’d expected, he thought, with a smile.

Quietly opening the door, he moved soundlessly to the first man and coldly slit his throat, restraining him as he woke to the horror of a looming, unstoppable death.  As the man stopped struggling, the Mexican eased him to the floor and did the same to his clueless companion.  Without any need to restrain the second man, he just watched as the lifeblood of the Sherriff’s Deputy ebbed away and the man collapsed onto the floor, clutching at his throat with a look of horror on his face.

The Mexican felt nothing.  Maybe they hadn’t been there, but he didn’t really care; he had no choice.  His chances of success increased with every armed man he took out of the picture.

There didn’t seem to be a brothel, or a separate hotel, so the chances were good that he’d find anyone else that he had an axe to grind with, or indeed posed a threat to him, in the Saloon.  He loaded up on more bullets and took a rifle from a gun rack; he was likely to need all the firepower he could get his hands on.

It was one of those old-style saloon’s, the type with the swing doors, a man could make an entrance with doors like that.  He checked his pistols; everything was fine.  One was holstered in a gun belt hung over his shoulder, like a bandolier, and one at his waist.  It was an unusual way to carry, he knew, but firepower was key, and this way he could carry more of it.

He pushed open the doors and slowly strode in, letting them swing shut behind him of their own accord.

There were about a dozen people inside; more than he’d expected, given the lateness of the hour and although they hadn’t paid any attention to his entrance, they would soon enough.  He’d have his revenge on these failed hangmen.

He didn’t speak; didn’t give them a chance to explain themselves or beg for mercy; he had none to give.  Besides, what excuse could there be for unprovoked killing, even though they had failed.  Instead, he pulled his pistols, and let them do the talking.

Two men sat at the table nearest to him were the first to die, followed by the barman; he knew from experience that they could be trouble, then he just started taking pot-shots.  Half a dozen of them were dead before they even knew what was happening, and most of the rest were drunk enough that those who managed to return fire weren’t much of a threat.

A woman was screaming, and she just wouldn’t shut up.  A high-pitched scream that set his teeth on edge.  He was a gentleman and not normally the type of man to kill unarmed women, but she was distracting him, and he couldn’t have that.  He shook his head at the woman in disapproval, then shut her up with a bullet to the head.

He wasn’t quick enough though.  While he was distracted, two men came hurtling into the saloon, and they came in shooting.  Most of their shots went wide, likely only intended to wrong foot him and send him scurrying for cover; which is exactly what would have happened if a couple of the bullets hadn’t hit him.  One high in the chest, and another in his left shoulder.

This wasn’t how his story was supposed to end.  He’d got some of the posse that was responsible for trying to hang him, but there were probably others, including, no doubt, the cowards that had just burst in unannounced and started shooting without warning.

He was going to die.  He hit the floor, raging at the injustice of it.  He lay, bleeding away his last few moments into the dirty sawdust of the saloon, the pain already fading to a disconcerting numbness.  He tried to raise one of his pistols, but it was no good, his mind was willing, but his body was not.

The room started fading around the edges, getting darker; then blackness, and nothing.

 

FIVE

 

The Mexican’s eyes slowly opened.  He wasn’t dead.  He knew he should’ve been dead this time.  Slowly moving his head, he saw the two men that had shot him.  They were slowly walking around the room, taking in the carnage that had been wrought.  It looked like he hadn’t been dead more than a minute.  He gave no more thought to the strangeness of it, there would be time for that later, and clambered to his feet.

The two men turned, expecting to see a survivor, or perhaps someone else entering the saloon, as there undoubtedly would be very soon.  Instead they saw a grinning, blood-soaked apparition of death.

“Who, who are you?”  One of the men managed to ask, through his fear.

The Mexican thought about this for a moment, before his smile grew wider.

“El Diablo,” he told the man, then shot them both dead.

He reloaded his pistols, turned, walked out of the saloon, and gunfire began again.

The End

They sat on the field, watching the massive vessel strain skywards from the launch site, far away, across the river.  It looked kind of like an over-sized version of one of the old space shuttles, and in fact it was doing the same job, at least in part.  People were being blasted into space on the things, they just weren’t coming back.

Roger and his brother Dave had been watched a lot of the ship launches from this spot.  At first in the hope of being one of the lucky few to win a seat on one of the large space-craft; but as the chance of that dwindled away to nothing, they came just for something to do to pass any spare time they had.  They didn’t have as much of that anymore either, spare, or otherwise, with every moment measured against a ticking, literal doomsday clock.

“I was thinking.  There was a time we could’ve done this whenever we’d wanted and not just whenever we could find the time.  We used to have all the time we wanted.  We would’ve bought a cheap bottle of pop and sat here all day, setting the world to rights and talking a load of rubbish,” Roger mused.

“What? Sorry, I wasn’t listening.”

“Never mind, it doesn’t matter.”  Roger took no offense at this, Dave meant nothing by it.  He was easily distracted and always had been.  So much so in fact that it was sometimes possible to ask him something and for him not even to be aware of anybody talking to him.

“That was the last one Roj, they said so on the news.”

“There’s still the ones in London and Manchester, Dave.”

“Won’t be finished in time.  They’re just saying they will be on the news to stop people from giving up.  So everything keeps ticking along until the last possible second.”

“You’re probably right,” Roger conceded.

“I’m not going back to work tomorrow.  I can’t think of anywhere I’d want to be for my last couple of weeks, less than that place.”  Dave stated this in a simple, matter of fact way, that brooked no argument.

“It’s okay Dave.  You’d be working for nothing anyway; we’re not going to be around long enough for you to get paid for the hours you’ve already put in.”

Dave gave an emotionless little chuckle at this statement of cold fact.  Then just sat staring across the river, to the now empty launch site.

The asteroid had been discovered almost five years earlier, and at the time hadn’t been taken too seriously.  It was one of those filler stories that would crop up from time to time.  The type that would say how big it was, how much of a chance it had of hitting us and how much damage it would do, backed up by a sentence or two from the first expert they could find.

It turned out to be bigger than the one that took out the dinosaurs, was almost certainly going to hit us and as far as damage went, it was a world ender.  When these facts emerged, things went off the rails for a few days.  Riots, violent crime, apathy; all the sorts of things you’d expect to see in the large and impressive end of the world films.

After a few days everything just kind of drifted back to the regular routine; not quite normal, but at least the appearance of it.  It was almost as people didn’t really know what to do about it, so they took solace in the comfort of familiarity.

There was talk of a global effort to divert the asteroid and there were indeed some promising ideas along that line, even a grand gesture or two, but the spirit of cooperation didn’t last long.  Even in the face of annihilation the governments of the world couldn’t help themselves and ended up reverting to type.

So it was that everyone went their own way, and commissioned whatever project they imagined would best serve their own corner of the planet.  Most of the plans focused on trying to blow the asteroid to smithereens, building large bunkers, or gigantic spaceships.  America decided to go with a combination of all three, and although they’d failed to blow it up, in quite spectacular fashion, they had sent a lot of people into space, and dug a lot of big holes in the sides of mountains.

Most of the plans to blow it up had already failed, with only the EU having a last-minute plan in their back pocket; nobody, Even the member states of the EU itself had much faith in it though.  This massive global failure was why the two brothers were sitting in a field, staring down the end of the world.

“Even those knobs on the spaceships are probably doomed.  They’ll probably outlive us for a while, and I know they’ve got all sorts of mega ideas about how they’re going to survive when they get to Mars, but realistically they’re as buggered as the rest of us,” Dave stated.

“Yeah.”

“It’s not fair.  Things were just starting to turn around.  Decent job, quids to spare, and all that jazz, then the world decides that it’s going to end.”  Dave said, as if the asteroid was coming to personally ruin his day.

“You’re not wrong.  It’s going to end for everyone though, not just us.”

“No need to be a dick about it,” Dave chided, “you know what I mean.”

Roger knew he’d struck a nerve.  Dave was right, he had known what his brother had meant, and had decided to be awkward and intentionally misunderstand his meaning.  This in mind, he decided it was probably for the best to change the subject, and looking skyward, there was only one subject that sprung to mind.

“I know it’s going to kill us all in a couple of weeks, but that doesn’t stop it from being impressive to look at,” he said of the world killer that was looming large in the sky, even during the hours of daylight.

“Yeah, it is impressive,” Dave agreed, before pausing for a moment, as if readying himself to say something important.  “What really pisses me off though, other than the whole dying thing, is the lack of pop.  Everything’s running out and I could kill someone for a bottle if Irn-Bru.”

“There’s still those couple of cans of Caffeine free Diet Coke in the fridge that I managed to grab from the shop,” Roger said, trying to lighten the mood a bit.

“I said I wanted pop, not a can of carbonated piss.  If you’re trying to cheer me up, you’re doing a rubbish job.”

As much as he was trying to maintain his grumpiness, he did feel a bit better.  In fact, their brief, and only semi-serious spat had taken his mind off the larger situation for a moment, and he was certainly grateful for that.

“Let’s go home Roj.  I’ll let you cook my tea; it’ll be just like old times,” he said, with a smile.

Roger simply nodded, standing, with a bit more difficulty than he had when they’d been younger, and took one last long look around the tree bracketed field.

“Right.  Let’s go,” he said.

Ghoul Town

Sadu hurled himself through the door to the laundry, nearly knocking Charlie to the ground in the process.  He quickly checked that there was nobody else behind him and slammed the door.  Just in the nick of time as it turned out.  It had barely closed before one of those creatures hurtled into it with the force of a locomotive.

“Shit Charlie, you sure can move for an old guy,” Sadu said with a breathless chuckle.

“I’m barely more than ten or fifteen years older than you, you cheeky sod,” Charlie retorted.

“Ghouls then Charlie, they’re ghouls, right?

“Looks like it.  I’d have taken almost anything over ghouls; dirty feckers they are.”

“Bunton wasn’t like this a week ago.  It seems like the sort of thing we’d have noticed.”

“You know what Sad’s, you’ve got a nasty habit of stating the bleedin’ obvious you have.”

“Just saying is all Charlie.  Who’s still alive? I know there were more folks than this when we started running away.”

“We didn’t run away, we withdrew,” the Irishman admonished.

Charlie scanned the room, taking the faces of all the survivors in, and not liking what he saw.  Between the surviving Bunton townsfolk and the railroad guys Sadu and himself had rode in with, there’d been a dozen of them not more than five minutes ago, and now, including the two of them, there were seven people left.

“We’ve lost a few.  A couple of the railroad fellers, and some townsfolk.  Don’t worry though Sads, your friend Foreman Doug, the massive racist survived.”

The man had been a thorn in Sadu’s side since they’d met up with the railroad men the previous day, and the problems had peaked this morning, with the two men briefly coming to blows.  The foreman was not a nice guy, Charlie and Sadu had seen his sort many times, and suspected him of some nasty stuff.

“Hey Doug.”  Sadu waited for a moment to make sure he had the foreman’s attention.  “Want to head back out and look for survivors?  I’ll keep you cover.”

“You’d like that wouldn’t you, you Chinese bast … “

Before Doug could finish, Sadu hurtled across the room, and backhand clubbed the man with the barrel of his massive hand-cannon.  The surviving railroad men moved to help their foreman.

“Don’t.” The menace in Charlie’s voice was enough to stop the men in their tracks, even without the gun he was pointing at them.

“Assholes like you are just about stupid enough to think that’s an insult, and not smart enough to know that your wrong!” Sadu shouted in the man’s face, before clubbing him again, as he began to struggle.

“I’m Japanese, shit-heel.”  He kicked the foreman in the ribs as he was trying to struggle to his feet, and the man found this to be something of a hindrance to his efforts.

This distraction took attention away from the window for just a moment too long, and the one of the ghoul’s took advantage of the lapse and hurled itself through the window, in a shower of flying glass and window frame splinters.

It landed, with a clumsy sprawl in the middle of the room and spun around, momentarily disorientated.  Then the moment passed, and it lunged at the prostrate Doug, and bit into the man’s left arm.  The foreman made a weak attempt to fend off the attack, but the creature just grabbed at his arm, bit off two of his fingers and gulped them down.

Two gunshot’s, deafeningly loud in the confined space of the laundry boomed from Charlie and Sadu’s revolvers, and the ghoul collapsed to the floor like a ragdoll, blood oozing from the creature’s wounds and mixing with that of the unfortunate Doug.

Doug’s subordinates rushed to help him, reassuring the man that he was going to be just fine, while trying to deal with the injuries to his arm.

“We need to go.  There’ll be more of those things any minute and I don’t want to be here when they come through that window.”

As if to illustrate Charlie’s point, Sadu’s gun gave off two loud reports.

“They’re coming right now Charlie.  I think the horses might still be alive.  These smelly bastards have been focused on us.”

“What about him Sads,” Charlie nodded at Doug.

“Leave him.  He’ll slow us down, and I’d sooner leave the worthless waste of skin to distract them, than risk getting torn apart in the street, trying to get him out with us.”

Charlie looked out of the window and snapped off a shot, blowing one of the things off it’s feet, before turning back to Sadu and nodding grimly.

“Let’s go folks.”  Charlie headed for the back door with the two surviving townsfolk, leaving Sadu and the railroad men.

“You can come along, or stay with him, they’re your only choices.  He stays here.”

The two men abandoned their foreman, their paid for loyalty having obviously reached its limit.  Sadu made to leave with them, then thought better of it and paused for a moment, looming over the dying foreman.

“You can run, but if you try to follow us, I’ll shoot you,” he said, then turned and left.

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

The horses had still been alive and all the remaining survivors, barring one of the railroad men had escaped with Charlie and Sadu.  None of them saw Doug again, but Sadu had been certain he’d heard one panicked shout before he’d left the laundry behind.

“What do you think happened to Doug?” Charlie asked, knowing full well what had happened.

“I think he stayed for dinner Charlie,” the big man said, totally deadpan.

“Sads mate, that’s bloody awful.  Probably too soon as well,” Charlie said, with a smile on his face.

Armies On Parade 2018 – Part 3

If you read my previous blog entry, you will know that I didn’t get to enter Armies on Parade, despite managing to get everything finished in time.  I won’t go into detail about it here, but my local store was holding it a week late, demand was high, people reserved spots and there was no room left for me by the time I found out.  I wasn’t terribly happy about it, but nor was there anything I could do to change it.  Despite this, I thought I’d round things off how I always intended to, with a wee bit about how I made and painted my board.

First off, here’s a list of everything I used to make it.

A sturdy, and relatively cheap picture frame.  Mine was roughly a fiver, from The Range.

Three boxes of the cheapest own brand Polyfilla I could get my hands on.

Plenty of sand.  I used fine and course, to create a more natural looking texture.

Slate.  I used a few of the more interesting bits I had, for a bit of cragginess at the base of the hills.

A slab of that dense blue polystyrene that is commonly used by hobbyists.  I’d like to be a bit more precise than that, but I bought it a long time ago and I can’t remember what it’s called.

A big bottle of cheap PVA glue.  I got mine from a pound shop ages ago and it’s the same stuff I use for basing my models when I’m not using the fancy scenic bases GW sell.

Paint.  A big tube of white artists acrylic, and the same in black.  Mine was a few pence under three pound a tube, but it can be bought cheaper (when I needed mine, a lot of places were out of stock).

Paintbrushes, of the type you’d paint your walls with.  I bought a pack with a few in, from a pound shop.  I only needed the smallest one for this, but the rest will come in handy for bigger boards (or perhaps painting a wall).

Lastly, sandpaper.  Again, this is something easily picked up from a pound shop.

First, I cut my hills to shape.  I forgot to account for this, so I ended up having to use a couple of kitchen knives.  I would not recommend this.  They’re not ideal for the task, and it’s probably not incredibly safe.  Always cut away from yourself.  It’s a pretty obvious thing, but it’s something I’ve almost forgotten about more than once.

I then sanded lots of little grooves and ridges into the hills and crags, to make them look a bit more natural.

Whether you’re building your hills for display purposes, or for gaming, it’s important to make sure your models can stand on them, where you’re going to want them to stand.  This is a piece of advice I didn’t follow, but I was lucky, and my Genestealers all stand where they’re supposed to.

I kept some of the offcuts from my hill sculpting and made a couple of little rock towers from some of the more interesting chunks.  I took a fair-sized chunk of polystyrene with a flat bottom, to use as a base, took a piece of garden wire about five or six inches long, folded it into a U shape and poked it through the bottom of the base.  I then skewered some small, roughly rock like shapes onto the wire, until I had what looked roughly like a tower of rocks.

Quite a bit of PVA glue was splodged onto these rock towers, and it’s quite messy, so I put these to one side for a bit, on a plastic bag.

Then I tested where I wanted everything to sit on the board, and when I was happy with the placement of everything, I glued it all into place with PVA.  It would’ve been sensible to leave this for a while to dry, but I was short on time (or so I thought), so I went onto the next stage without waiting, and was extra careful.

I mixed the filler, so it was just about thick enough to draw a line in without it filling in, then started smearing it all over the board, to a thickness of about half an inch.  An artist’s palette knife would probably be perfect for the job.

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After everything was glued into place, but before it got a lick of paint.

When I was done, I roughed up the surface, to give it a bit of texture, shoved some bits of slate into it, and the scenery I wanted to be fixed in place, then sprinkled sand all over it, before it dried too much.

I wasn’t sure how much filler I’d need, so I made it up in batches, and the last batch was too thin, and although it did dry, it held up work on the board for a couple of days (lesson learnt there).

Next came the painting.  First, as with models painting a nice comprehensive undercoat of black paint.  It comes out of the tube like Primula, so it needs to be watered down, with roughly a 50/50 mix.with roughly a 50/50 mix.

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This isn’t quite the black undercoat I mentioned, but that made for a really bad picture, so I cheated a bit.

After this, a layer of dark grey, followed by a lighter grey wet-brush layer and then progressively lighter grey dry-brushes, until I got where I wanted; it took about five layers in the end.

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All the painting and flocking of all the stuff that’s fixed in place.

Until this point I’d been unsure about what colour to paint the frame of the board, or even if I should paint it at all.  Ultimately, I decided to give it a lick of paint, and went with black.

I haven’t mentioned the Munitorum Armoured container, or the rest of the plastic scenery yet.  This is already running quite long, and since the other bits are essentially models, they can make a blog entry in their own right.

That said, this seems like a good place to wrap up, and if anyone has any questions, I’m happy to have a go at answering.  Have a nice day folks.

Double Disappointment

I’ve written a couple of blog entries about my intention to enter Armies on Parade and about my progress with regards to it; things did not go well.

I finished my army and I was well into making my board, when I found out Armies on Parade was running a week later in my local store. That’s fine, I thought, it gives me a bit more time to finish, and I can go next week just as easily.

Then I get to Wednesday and I find out that due to extra demand, the store had people reserving spots, and they were all taken before I even found out it was a thing. I was not a happy chap.

I got in touch with my local GW and he told me if anyone dropped out, I could have a spot. I found out on Friday evening that everyone had confirmed their attendance, and just like that Armies on Parade was closed off to me this Year.

I was still planning on heading in today, to have a look at the entries and grab one of the spangly limited edition marines but the local train company had other ideas.

As anyone who lives in the UK will know, our trains are a joke. Late, old, expensive and short on carriages. The two carriage train that arrived at the station today was more or less on time, but was packed, almost to bursting point when it arrived at the station and me and my bro, Tom couldn’t get on it.

That’s the tale of my attempt to enter Armies on Parade 2018; I’m hoping for a slightly more successful event next year. I still aim to finish my project log and post some pictures of the finished article, and that’ll be coming at some point over the next few days.

Have a super cool Sunday folks.

Wagon Train

Wallace was not best pleased.  The lead wagon had hit a rock and one of its front wheels had buckled, causing the whole wagon train to grind to a halt. Heavy snow had been coming down for almost two days, without respite and it had become too dangerous to drive through, but they’d ploughed on anyway; nobody wanted to risk getting stranded.  It had always been a gamble attempting to cross the mountains this late in the season and it was starting to look like one they might lose.

People were starting to worry.  Some wanting to turn back, some wanting to press on.  Most were keeping their wits about them for the moment and were content to just hunker down.  The nervous folks who didn’t want to stay put, seemed to have forgotten that the wagons were bogged down in the snow, and that anyone who wanted to leave would have to do so on foot.

There was plenty of food, plenty of trees to chop for firewood and water to drink while the snow fell.  It might get a tad fractious if people spent too long cooped up together and cabin fever was always a possibility, but Wallace wasn’t unduly concerned yet.

He had needed to get away from everyone for a while though and had decided to have a scout around the immediate vicinity.  It couldn’t hurt to find out something about their surroundings.  There was not more than a couple of hundred paces between him and the nearest wagon, but the sounds of the little outpost of civilisation had already faded away, to be replaced by the whisper of snow falling through the nearby trees and the crunch of his well booted feet through the drifts of powder.

Wallace wasn’t a loner, he could socialise when the fancy took him, and he had a couple of friends, but he did prefer his own company.  Born in a crowded two up, two down in Glasgow and spending the entirety of his childhood there and hating every minute of it, Wallace had felt a burning need to get out as soon as he’d been able, and had travelled south, to Liverpool to find his fortune.  At least that’s what a naïve seventeen-year-old version of him had thought.

The truth for him had been a lot tougher and eventually, after spending a few years as a labourer at the docks along the Mersey and getting thoroughly fed up with it, he’d upped roots again and made his way to America, his passage paid with the sweat of his brow.

He’d come in at New York, as most people did and after a few odd-jobs, had found himself following the unlikely career path of a fur trapper.  It had toughened him a lot and he’d been content to carry on doing it, until the fancy had taken him to see California.  He’d signed on with the first wagons making the journey, his wilderness skills standing him in good stead.  Now, here he was.

The loud crump of a lot of snow falling all at the same time broke Wallace from his reverie.  It was possible, likely even that the weight of it had brought the snow tumbling out of a tree of its own volition.  However, it was also just about possible that it had been knocked from the tree by something.  He didn’t know these mountains well, but it seemed likely that there were bears and perhaps big-cats up here.  Airing on the side of caution, he raised his big hunting shotgun and scanned the treeline for any signs of movement.

Just as he had begun to convince himself that what he’d heard was nothing to worry about the sound came again, this time further to his right and if anything, a little closer.  Taking a gulp of frigid air, Wallace chanced a quick glance over his shoulder to make sure his path back to the wagons was clear.

He’d barely turned his head before he heard something coming at him full pelt, tree branches snapping and snow crunching.  Whatever it was didn’t roar, or growl, which was unusual if it was a bear.

Wallace was not a man to panic easily.  He’d been charged by bears before, even been swiped by one and got himself a few broken ribs and a couple of nasty scars for his trouble.  Luckily that had been one of the rare occasions that he’d been out with company; Old Bill had probably saved his life that day.  He discharged one barrel of his gun in the direction of the charging thing, and was rewarded with a chilling roar, a roar that sounded like rage.  The blast from his shotgun had stopped it in its tracks.  Whether it had just gone to ground, or if he’d wounded it, he didn’t know, and he didn’t really care; he took the chance and ran for his life.

 

 

TWO

 

Few people had seen Wallace leave, and those that had, thought nothing of it.  Seeing that he preferred his own company, most people left him to his own devices.  There was also the fact that everyone was a bit too busy to worry overly about the trapper.

As soon as it had become clear that they weren’t going anywhere until there was a significant break in the weather, they had decided to pull the wagons together, to offer as much protection from the elements as possible.  While they’d been travelling they’d been in a drawn out, mostly single file column, but now they were attempting to get them into a sort of rough circle.

Everyone had their own idea about how best to do this and to call what was happening now, organised chaos, would be a kindness.  Three wagons had somehow contrived to crash into each other causing sundry bumps and bruises.  There was an argument going on about placement in the circle, which was threatening to turn into a fist fight, and further down the line, an argument that had already devolved into fisticuffs.

Into this, came Wallace, shouting warnings and being largely ignored.  A few people looked in his direction, with an alarmed sort of curiosity, but that was all.  However, this changed in an instant when the roar came echoing through the clearing, and the gruff old trapper turned back the way he’d come and fired his remaining barrel into the treeline.

Stumbling in the snow, he half ran, half crawled to the nearest group of people, and was about to shout for everyone to arm themselves, when the thing burst out of the trees in a spray of snow and torn foliage.

The seconds the thing took to clear the short distance between the treeline and the cart that Wallace had managed to reach, was the first chance that he’d had to see it.

It stood on two legs, at a height of at least eight feet, almost the same as one of the covered wagons.  The creature was heavily muscled and was covered in a matted, wiry black fur from head to toe, and it was fast; faster than anything that size had a right to be.

Wallace had no time to reload his gun, and the other people in the abominable thing’s path would have to save themselves.  He dove under the wagon and hoped the meagre cover it offered would be enough.

There were screams and shouts of panic and confusion, as people started to run, hide, grab weapons and stand ready to defend themselves.  Each person reacted differently, and it was largely proximity to the creature that was determining just how brave people felt.

The wagon rocked from the almighty impact of the massive creature, and Wallace thought for a moment that the whole thing was going to tip, leaving him covered by nothing but the sky.  After teetering precariously on two wheels for a moment, the massive vehicle came crashing back down with an almighty ear-splitting crack.

A voice was cut off mid scream, as a body was snatched up whole, and dropped headless, blood fountaining from the ravaged neck.

The wife of the beast’s first victim was grabbed and slammed hard, half a dozen times into the wooden siding of the wagon Wallace was hiding under.  Her shouts and grunts of pain not lasting more than a couple of seconds before the impacts killed her, or as good as.

Missing Wallace entirely, it moved on, pausing only to attack the poor horses.  Still hitched to the wagon and out of their minds with terror, they were butchered.  It was almost more than he could stand.  They were defenceless and unable to do anything but stand in place and die.  Blood and gore came down in great gouts, staining the snow a dark red.  The only consolation was that it was mercifully quick.

Done with the horses the monster moved on.  There were shouts, screams and curses.  There was gunfire, more screams, then awful rending sounds.  It went through the budding campsite like a stampeding buffalo, disappearing into the trees for a moment, before reappearing seconds later from a different section of treeline and barrelling through again, rending, biting, throwing.

It went on like this for several minutes, until it disappeared into the trees, as it had done a number of times; except this time, it didn’t re-emerge.  Maybe someone had managed to score enough of a hit to frighten it off, or perhaps it had merely had its fill of carnage.

Carnage was certainly the right word for it.  Almost the length and breadth of the clearing was covered with the victims of the attack.  Dead and wounded accounted for almost half of their total number, and of those wounded, many would not last long.

The injuries were horrific to behold.  Arms torn from sockets, awful lacerations and an assortment of badly broken bones and crush injuries.  It looked like a battlefield.

Wallace dragged himself from under the wagon and soaked as he was in the blood of the unfortunate horses, he looked like one of the few walking wounded.  He stumbled through the clearing, not really knowing what to do.  A man he didn’t recognise spoke to him and Wallace stopped and stared blankly for a moment, before continuing onwards.

He fell to his knees and was about to stand when he heard the now familiar roar.  He fumbled for his shotgun, but he’d lost it along the way and didn’t know where, so he unsheathed his long knife; it would have to do.

Then came another roar, and another, and another, and another.