Berthold's Beard - By Joshua Reynolds Page 0,1

Gotrek snarled, his one good eye glinting with battle-lust as he spun. ‘Come on, scum, come to Gotrek!’

The beastmen obliged, tumbling towards the Slayer like a pack of slavering hounds through the hole in the wall. For a moment, the squat form of the dwarf was utterly obscured, save for his tall crimson crest of hair which bobbed above the hairy shapes engulfing him. Then a beastman, its bovine head hanging at an odd angle and its bottom jaw nearly sheared off, flew from the scrum to crash against a fallen support beam. There was a sympathetic groan from the manse, and Felix feared that the decrepit structure would collapse in on them. Then he was too busy fending off a bird-headed monstrosity to do anything other than fight. The creature was as quick as the crow it resembled, and it croaked vaguely intelligible curses as it chopped at him with the ill-cared-for woodsman’s axe in its talons.

Its berserk assault forced Felix back against one of the fallen beams. It was all he could do to avoid or parry the flashing axe as it bit at his face and limbs. Then the bird-man gave a startled squawk and staggered around, a gaping wound in its back. Felix grimaced as blood and feathers splattered him and then Gotrek was kicking the dead thing aside. ‘Having trouble, manling?’ the Slayer grunted dismissively. His broad frame was striped with so much blood that his tattoos were almost obscured and the massive, ham-sized paw that clutched his rune-axe was drenched to the shoulder joint.

‘When do we not, Gotrek?’ Felix shot back as he wiped strangely hairy feathers out of his eyes. What sort of beast grew hair and feathers? The strands seemed to curl around his fingers as he brushed them hurriedly away. Gotrek grunted again, with what Felix thought might be humour. It was hard to tell with a being as taciturn as Gotrek.

There were a half a dozen of the beasts left, though they didn’t appear confident that their numbers would provide any sort of advantage. Having seen Gotrek in action far more times than he cared to admit, Felix could understand the brutes’ hesitation. Gotrek raised his axe threateningly and started forwards. Watching a dwarf run was akin to watching an avalanche slide sideways, and the Slayer’s impossibly smooth yet lumbering charge was no exception. There was a sense of violent inevitability to it that always impressed Felix.

It seemed to have the opposite effect on the beastmen; with a chorus of howls, barks, grunts and cat-screams, they rushed to meet Gotrek. Felix bit back a curse and followed the Slayer. It wasn’t as if Gotrek needed the help, but he was honour-bound to aid the Slayer as best he could. And if that meant keeping him from dying an ignoble death because he was too unobservant to guard his back, then so be it. Gotrek deserved a better death than these beasts could give him.

A beastman slashed wildly at him with a club topped by the fanged jawbone of a wolf. Felix skidded aside and caught sight of Gotrek driving his head into a cloven-footed nightmare’s belly even as his axe took off another’s leg at the knee joint. The club came at him again and he twisted aside, the yellowed teeth of the jawbone biting only empty air. The club’s wielder was as hairy as the others, its goatish features nearly obscured by a mop of tangled, matted hair. It screamed and came at him again. Felix drove Karaghul into its chest. He grunted as the blade bit into bone and he was forced to plant a foot on the creature’s chest to try and retrieve his sword.

Even as he did so, however, he heard the scrape of hooves. He turned, trying to jerk his sword free as something both feline and equine shrilled out a triumphant cry and leapt from its perch on one of the fallen support beams. A pistol cracked, and the creature dropped in mid-leap, crashing through the floor and into the darkness below. Felix gaped, and then looked around, spotting Aldrich Berthold crouching near the gap in the exterior wall. Aldrich pointed with his smoking pistol. ‘Look out, Jaeger!’

Felix jerked Karaghul free just in time. The axe that had been aimed at his head slid off the blade in a shower of rust flakes and sparks. The simian-faced mutant grunted as Felix kicked its kneecap out of place and he split its skull as it

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