Disclaimer: Ranma ½ is the property of Rumiko Takahashi. Warhammer Fantasy is the property of Games Workshop. I don't either; I am simply a fan with more than a few bats in his belfry.
A/N: well, this took a long time, and we apologize for that. We've been distracted with other projects, and then our beta for this had lots of real life issues to handle. We'll try and get the next one out sooner, I promise. For those of you waiting for the next chapter of "Chasing the Rainbow", the second draft has just been sent to the beta and it should be ready for publishing soon.
Chapter 8: Castle Crashers
Entry from the journal of Ranma Saotome
Day... I don't have the faintest clue.
I decided to keep a journal of my travels through this strange world, not really sure why. I'll admit it's the most intelligent conversation I'm likely to get around here. I salvaged this from the ruins of Wurzec, on the river Talabec... at least, I think it was the Talabec; these maps I've found make it clear that I'm still in the middle of the Middle Mountains; I just crossed the otherwise nameless river that flows down from them when I conquered Wurzen. The biggest city hereabouts is this place called Middenheim; between what the orcs have told me of it, and the tales I've heard from them of something called the "Storm of Chaos", I've decided that heading that way is the last thing I want to do. Not only am I no world conqueror, I don't intend to get my head blown off by a cannonball. We've kept going straight through the mountains, and we're now somewhere to the northwest of Middenheim; there's a pass that'll take us out into the Drakwald Forest, and we can keep going through that and nobody should follow us. We'll go through Nordland and roughly follow the Great North Road down to the Grey Mountains- they tell me that they're prime Orc country, and there's easier pickings beyond them in Brettonia.
Simple plan, right? Shouldn't be any problems? Yeah, right. Turns out there's some sort of powerful vampire in some lost fortress set over the pass. The place is crawling with hundreds of the undead- skeletons and zombies and I don't wanna know what the fuck else. We almost got our asses chewed on when we blundered into a big party- just barely managed to fight our way to safety. Not that 'safety' is really safe- there's four ravaged tribes and a shaman, an orc magic user, already crammed here, and us blundering in wasn't too welcome. Of course, there's more of us then there are of them, but with all them walking dead things on our doorstep, none of us want to pick a fight. These greenskins like to rumble even more than I do, but they aren't suicidal. Instead, their leaders made a deal with us; if I can knock out the vampire in the fort, all of the dead things will either collapse without its black magic to sustain them, or wander off mindlessly into the woods. If that happens, the pass will be open- and these tribes will join up with me. Well, doesn't look like I have a choice...
The fort's heavily guarded; I don't particularly want to risk a frontal attack, especially with these "allies" at my back. Instead, I've selected a number of particularly tough and relatively loyal orcs. Strika is one of Broketoof's mob, but he's managed to pick up a crossbow from somewhere and is particularly accurate. If all else fails, I'm confident he can manage to skewer the damn bloodsucker long enough for one of us to pull its head off. Gragtar makes no bones he wants his old job back, but he's tough, stubborn, confident, and surprisingly dependable in his untrustworthiness. Almost like a greenskinned, more ugly version of Ryoga... anyway. Da Ape is some kind of mutant orc I found wandering the mountains- all orcs look kind of like gorillas, but Da Ape is the only orc I've ever seen with hair. Well, fur. Between his ability to leap and clamber about like some sort of demonic gibbon, and his ability to lift a fully grown boar and beat its brains out against a nearby tree, I'm confident he'll be useful. Lethaface is one of Burna's mob- fire's supposed to work a treat on walking corpses, isn't it? Finally, Trog's a newcomer, and he'll be an extra hand when things get rough... something about him makes me nervous, though.
The fort's built over a small creek that visibly flows out from under it. I'm guessing that the fort used it as a kind of natural sewer when there were living people in it; I figure we can get in easily if we climb through the water and then up the latrine dropholes. This isn't gonna be pleasant, but it should give us an easy way in...
The night air was cool and filled with the noise of bats and the groan of zombies as skeletons marched in silent ranks as ghouls loped through the grounds looking for dead flesh to eat, but all ignored the dilapidated brick building at the rear of the fort, and didn't notice that something was happening inside the darkness as the silence was interrupted by the sound of scratching, banging and muffled curses rising from underneath the rotted wooden seats before smoke began to rise up from the seats, and if anything intelligent was present, they would have felt a distinct rise in the icy temperature.
Of course, even the undead noticed when the latrines exploded. Shards of brick rocketed through the air, gouging craters in the stone of the fort, in the ground, smashing bones and tearing rotten flesh, causing more than a few of the dead in the yard to collapse back into death. From the proverbial ashes of the latrine emerged a sodden, and indisputably female, Ranma Saotome, covered from head to toe in substances of a nature best left undescribed and doing her best to appear stoic, even as her equally befouled companions swore and cursed and clawed their way into the relatively fresh air beyond.
"If anyone ever brings this up again, I'm gonna kill them." Ranma said calmly. Not only was she caked in stuff she didn't want to know what it was, not only was she chilled to the bone after fighting through the icy stream to reach the dropholes, she couldn't even return to her true gender, as there was nothing that could have possibly held hot water and kept it at the relevant temperature long enough to be worth using.
"We'z gonna help." Gragtar snarled, grabbing a handful of dirt and using it to try and rub off some of the worst of it. He snarled in rage as Da Ape suddenly shook himself off, spattering the others with gobbets of flung muck. Any thoughts of the group about fighting amongst themselves were drowned out by a chorus of hungry moans and unearthly hisses, skeletons and zombies approaching the living with only one thought in whatever passed for their minds.
"Oh shit- run!" Ranma commanded.
It didn't occur to Ranma until he was long out of earshot that he didn't say where they should meet up, to which the boy currently in a girl's body shrugged, they'd find each other eventually as a fist lashed out and smashed in the face of a hunchbacked thing with needle-like teeth and filth-crusted daggers at the end of each bony finger while more loped forward with howls when the earth suddenly swallowed him up, Ranma's last sight that of Gragtar barreling through the stained glass window of a chapel, Da Ape climbing into a window, Strika diving clumsily under a falling grate while Lethaface and Trog went down a tunnel each before the world went black and the howls faded away as Ranma fell.
As she grabbed a chain hanging from a hook and arrested her descent, Ranma looked back up at the moonlight shining through the hole, "Good luck guys." With that she began climbing the chain down to the bottom. Meanwhile, in the chapel, Gragtar was contemplating the odds before him as dead eyes stared back at his beady red ones.
A human would have been able to recognize the place as a shrine to Sigmar, deified founder of the Empire, though sadly decayed and horribly defiled by the undead who now ruled the fortress. The zombies now eyeing the orc with mindless hunger in their eyes were likely all that remained of the former worshippers, who had come here to pray for the protection and blessings of the Hammerer. Gragtar, however, was ignorant of that. All that he knew was that he was cornered by maybe twenty or thirty zombies, and he had no weapons- he'd been picking and losing random weapons pretty much since Ranma had shown up, unable to find one that suited him, and he'd lost his most recent one in the swim upriver. There were only two words that accurately summed up this situation...
"Aw... zog." Gragtar grumbled. But orcs are nothing if not resourceful, and are capable of turning just about anything they lay their hands on into a weapon of some description. As the first dozen or so zombies lurched towards him, he grabbed a broken pew and swung it like a club, sending them flying, some of them collapsing from the sheer force of the blow. Twice more he swung it, knocking the shambling corpses around like ninepins as he did, before the battered piece of furniture broke up under the pressure. But it had survived long enough to give him some breathing room, and now he saw something that could be his salvation.
The statue of Sigmar Heldenhammer had been almost totally destroyed, the face clawed off, unspeakable filth spattered on it, but it was still standing. More to the point, its one intact hand still clutched a double-headed warhammer. Though orcs did not, as a rule, appreciate elegance and finery in their weapons, leaning far more towards the practical side of things, even Gragtar felt a surge of appreciation at its glittering, wickedly studded steel face, its ivory platings with gold inlaid engravings of the twin-tailed comet, its well-made handle... more than its beauty, however, was the fact that it looked fully functional, not merely ceremonial. Not noticing that it seemed strangely untouched by the desecration of the chapel, and unlikely to care even if he had, Gragtar ran for the altar, shoulderbarging and bodychecking any zombies that tried to get in his way in a fashion that would have made any rugby referee send him off for unnecessary roughness, brutally ripping the hammer from its place of lingering honor. It would be nice to say that, upon taking the hammer up, Gragtar found himself admiring its precise craftsmanship, its elegant balance, its perfect weight... but that would require a level of eloquence and abstract thought that, sadly, was beyond most orcs. Gragtar's actual reaction would be more accurately expressed as a sudden deep feeling that this was the weapon he wanted to wield, that it was just right for him, which ultimately meant the same thing.
Grinning widely, all of his tusks bared in a frightful grimace, Gragtar turned to face the zombies, already pressing in on him from all sides. "WAAAAAAAGH!" He howled, hurling himself into the fray.
Da Ape snuffled around the room it had clambered into with idle curiosity, sniffing the barrels while poking and prodding the bones in the room to make sure that they weren't going to come to life, before he grabbed the arms and bashed them to pieces with raucous hoots. After getting bored, Da Ape shuffled over to the door and yanked it open to reveal a long staircase going both upwards and downwards. Since he had already been on the ground, Da Ape decided to go up instead but stopped as the sound of bone on stone and the moans of the dead reached his ears and he grunted, the fleshy ones made a nice squish but the meat was rancid, so he couldn't eat them.
So he should squish them and the bonies following them. Shambling back into the room, Da Ape scratched his furry head as he studied the barrels before he grabbed one and hefted it experimentally, testing the weight, and then smiled as he lifted it above his head and without any preamble save for a series of barks that would likely been a warcry in any other language, he threw the barrel down the stairs and waited as it banged down the steps, before hooting as he heard the crash of splintering bone and the wet squelch of rotten meat before grabbing another barrel and sending it down the stairs, and another, and so the rain of barrels came down with Da Ape beating his chest like some demented Donkey Kong until the sound of something approaching from upstairs made him pause. Da Ape went to grab another barrel, only to find the room empty. Searching frantically, Da Ape glanced back at the window and immediately made his escape just as several skeletons burst into see Da Ape scrabble upwards and out of sight.
"Oi! Who's that climbing up the wall?" Strika looked up to see a gangly black shape climbing up the tower and smiled toothily at Lethaface's exclamation.
"Looks like dat Ape's worth his stink! Oi Letha! Keep dem rottin' gits offa me while I get Da Ape down 'ere!" The mask-wearing orc nodded and threw another flammable concotion at the horde of zombies and ghouls approaching their impromptu position as Strika clambered up onto a more visible position between the ruined walls.
"OI! OI YA STINKIN' APE! OVVA 'ERE! OI! YA DEF OR WAT! OI!" Strika snarled and hefted his weapon before taking aim. The arrow hissed across the expanse and clipped a tile near one of Da Ape's large paws, causing it to grunt in confusion before looking around to spot Strika waving his arms. With another grunt the black-furred orc began clambering towards him as Strika notched another arrow and fired into the approaching horde.
"Okay, got 'is attention!" A roar made him turn and the orc grimaced, "Aw zoggin' Mork! Keep 'em offa us Letha, I gotta get dat stupid Ape outta trouble!"
The masked orc nodded his assent as Strika began firing on the giant bats attacking Da Ape who, if Ranma could see him in action now, would have reminded him of an old American movie as the strange orc batted and swung at the flying beasts.
"Take yer time why don't ya? It'z only a few HUNDRED ZOGGIN DEAD 'UNS COMMIN' TA EAT US!" Strika ignored the panicked and angry shout of Lethaface as he continued firing arrow after arrow into the cloud of bats as Da Ape finally got it through his head to keep heading towards the two orcs.
Looking back behind him, Strika winced at the horde of groaning, moaning undead clambering over the ashes and burning corpses of their fellows before returning his attention to his shooting before a whooping roar made him look up as a black shape leapt over his head and landed in the middle of the horde, rotten limbs and spoiled blood flying into the air as Lethaface breathed a sigh of relief as Strika dropped back down from his position and cuffed the orc.
"Don't start relaxin' yet ya git! We need ta find da boss!"
Ranma, meanwhile, was having no better luck then any of his followers. He and his sole companion, the one-eyed newcomer named Trog, had found themselves before a door that looked vaguely important, as far as Ranma could tell in this foreign bulding style and this dilapidated ruin of a building. The main reason that Ranma figured it might be important was this; a sextet of armored skeletons, standing a perpetual vigil outside of it, which had immediately clattered forward to attack the two living intruders.
These were clearly not the mindless automatons that Ranma had been fighting up until now. For a start, their movement was, while somewhat stiffer and more awkward than a living being's, far smoother and less jerky then that of an "ordinary" walking skeleton. The armor was some sort of ancient looking scale mail; many small, overlapping plates of verdigris-caked bronze or copper, covered in dust and cobwebs and ash and what looked like old blood. Their weapons were crude, heavy-looking handaxes and shortswords of dull, weathered iron - though they had a strange gleam to them that made Ranma feel uneasy, seeming to physically chill the air as they swung back and forth in an attempt to cut him open. Ranma's own long-borrowed sword had been shattered when he had carelessly used it to block a diagonal swing, though he would never be able to tell if it was poor maintenance (fighting with weapons was one thing; how to look after them wasn't something Ranma was so skilled with) or if he had somehow underestimated the strength of his opponent, but it hardly mattered; Ranma was not defenseless so long as he had limbs to strike with, and against a foe that was all bones and armor, he doubted that a cutting weapon would do much good anyway.
Instead, he went back to basics, punching and kicking while doing his best to avoid being cut or stabbed - it really brought to mind memories of fighting with Mousse. He had already plucked the head off of one of the armored skeleton things (that's what it got for not wearing a helmet) and smashed its legs with a sweep-kick, and it had stopped moving since then, though he didn't know if it was dead. Or whatever counted for dead with things like these. A second armored skeleton was apparently trying to decide whether it wanted to use its large, coin-shaped shield or its axe with its left hand, Ranma having pulled its right arm off. Trog was merrily beating a third on its heavily-dented, formerly bird-winged helmet with a large bronze handbell that Ranma didn't know if he had retrieved from Wurzen or if he'd found somewhere in the ruins of the fortress, making one hell of a din and causing the armored skeleton to look as miserable as it could, as if it no longer cared about fighting and just wanted the orc to stop it. Ranma certainly wished the noise would stop, though he had to admit he was probably making just as much of a racket, seeing as how he'd just slid under a fourth skeleton, grabbed it by the legs, hoisted it off the ground and was using it as an impromptu ball and chain, spinning around wildly with it outstretched in his arms and trying his best to careen into the remaining two skeletons. When Trog was forced to drop his bell and jump for it moments before Ranma ended up smashing into Trog's victim, Ranma decided to chalk that up in the "win" column.
The end result of Ranma's little impromptu whirlwind was a dizzy human, a somewhat bruised orc, and scattered bones and battered metal everywhere. Ranma shook his head to try and regain his equilibrium, standing at the center of a tangle of wreckage as Trog warily approached him. "Since when do humies drink fightin' juice?" He demanded.
"Fighting juice? What's that?" Ranma asked.
"Then 'ow come yoo woz all spinny just now?" The orc asked, twirling his finger around in circles as a reference to how Ranma had just been acting.
"Because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Can we go now?" Ranma asked sarcastically.
"Dat's fine wid me, but I fink he'z got uvva plans." Trog said.
Ranma didn't waste time asking who Trog was referring to, or where he was coming from. He just leapt, straight up, as a spear suddenly plunged into the stone where he'd been standing. With the ease of long practice, Ranma flipped gracefully in midair, landing neatly just in front of where the ancient weapon had struck, turning around so that he was facing his foe; another armored skeleton, slightly larger, with more ornate armor and the battered remnants of crude jewelry - tarnished metal bracelets on its wrists and upper arms, a necklace that was falling apart around its neck. It nodded solemnly at him, withdrawing its spear and bracing itself to fight.
"So, the big boss wants to tangle, eh?" Ranma smirked, then scowled as he saw Trog moving out of the corner of his eye. "You touch that bell and I'm gonna cram it where the sun don't shine!" He bellowed.
At that instant, the skeletal chieftain -Ranma knew it had to have been some kind of authority figure in life- attacked, lunging at Ranma with a speed that would have been impressive... to someone who wasn't used to beating on the likes of Tatewaki Kuno as light exercise. Ranma's weakest "rival" could stab and thrust hard and fast enough that the resultant air pressure could shatter stone; inhuman as this undead warrior's speed may have been to the locals, he might as well have broadcast his moves in advance. Ranma effortlessly twisted around the (stone?) spearhead, latching onto the shaft with a grip like iron and using it to both hold his foe in range and as a balancing aid as he drew back one leg and promptly began kicking out as hard and fast as he could, beating a minute-long percussive tattoo on his foe's armored chest, bones cracking apart and metal being mangled, until his repeated blows loosened the undead's grip on its weapon and sent it flying back into the stone wall with enough force to crater it on impact. Ranma could have shrugged off such a blow as a minor hurt; his opponent, amazingly, was broken and cracked like crazy, but remained mostly intact, slowly collapsing onto the floor even as Ranma made a flamboyant spin of the spear and struck a smug victory pose.
"Uh...boss? Who ya talking to?"
Ranma facefaulted at Trog's question before getting to his feet and cuffing the orc. "Spoil my moment why don't ya?" He looked at the spear in his hand before turning his attention to his opponent, "Not a bad fight, what with you being dead and all, think I'll keep this if you don't mind."
Trog looked confused again. "Uh boss? He's dead, he can't talk."
Ranma closed his eyes, counted to three, and then cuffed the orc again. "Shut up nitbrain. Come on, the others have to around here somewhere."
A wall collapsed inwards and the pair went into stances as Gragtar strode through, brushing dust and masonry off his armour with his free hand while hefting his hammer onto his shoulder. The former warboss and the new warboss studied each other for a moment before Ranma smirked. "Nice hammer, didn't think you were into gold frills."
Gragtar grunted. "Better den dat stick yer carrying."
A door was kicked in and Lethaface poked his head in. "Bout zoggin time! Oi, Strika, get Da Ape in 'ere, we've found da Boss!"
Strika appeared seconds later, dragging Da Ape along with a leather cord tied around his neck.
"Thank Gork! Zoggin Ape's acting loony as dat gobbo!"
Ranma shook his head; when anyone in his Waaagh said 'dat gobbo', they always meant Bitz and his split personality Gubbins. But then, it was the truth as Ranma stepped over to Da Ape and gave him a solid whack on the head.
"Right, now that we're back together, lets find whoever's in charge and kick their ass!" The orcs roared out their approval as they left the room.
With a dramatic flourish, Ranma hurled the doors open (that they subsequently broke their hinges and dangled loosely was not intended, but he rolled with it), striding through with his new spear brandished and the orcs behind him. "Alright, where are ya, ya blood-sucking monster!" He shouted.
"Ahhahahahahaaa! Well now, it seems that there is something interesting in this rabble after all." A figure appeared at the top of a set of stairs, the moonlight showing that it was a female wearing a tattered dress that more than likely would have been incredibly expensive and beautiful as the figure began to descend.
"How intriguing, tell me human, how is it that you came to be the leader of these greenskins? How could a mere mortal bring a few of these beasts of overly-developed muscle and very little brain into his employ?"
"They aren't that dumb." Ranma proclaimed, somewhat offended by the insult offered to his followers. "And I'm no mere mortal, neither." He added. "Are you the local bloodsucker? I've got a bone to pick with you."
"Indeed, I am the local 'bloodsucker' in question. Look upon my beauty and know the face that you will serve for all eternity!" At that the vampire stepped out into the open and the orcs recoiled at the withered, ravaged face, warped into a faintly animalistic form that possessed almost no human features and certainly no beauty at all.
"Woah! Damn, that's ugly!" Ranma blurted. He hadn't exactly been a paragon of diplomacy in Nerima, and after several weeks with the orcs and goblins, who said their minds and took no offense, his capacity to watch what he was saying in order to avoid sticking his foot in his mouth was at an epic low.
The vampire hissed in rage, "Watch your tongue filthy vermin! I'll have you know that I am the envy of the region, men have fallen to their knees upon seeing my visage!"
"Iz yoo kiddin'? Dat's like some whole new kinda zoggin' ugly!" Gragtar replied incredulously, the other orcs and the human echoing him with their agreement.
The vampire yowled in rage, "Miserable wretches, you will pay for your insults! Go my servants! Tear the filthy greenskins to pieces. You human, I will savour your heart for years to come!"
Roar sounded as doors fell inwards and a pack of howling, whooping creatures charged the orcs as the vampire swooped down towards Ranma.
With a single, smooth motion, Gragtar swung his new warhammer in a horizontal strike, timed perfectly so that the metal head connected with the fleshy head of the charging ghoul. The air was split by the distinctive sound of bone not merely cracking, but shattering like an egg that had been thrown against a stone wall. The left side of its head bulged obscenely as the force of the blow to its right temple displaced bone and brain, the skin stretching taut and then rupturing, black gore and fragments of bone hurtling into the air like an obscene mini-geyser, the ghoul collapsing truly lifelessly to the floor even as Gragtar recovered from the swing and prepared to strike again. Beside him, Da Ape seized another ghoul by the waist and lifted it clear off the ground, screeching wordlessly as it swung it up and down and battered it remorselessly against the floor, dashing the life from it. Strika's crossbow bolt zipped across the room to bury itself in a third ghoul's eye, while Lethaface reluctantly put away the crude firebombs to brandish a battered cleaver and take it to the flesh of his prey.
The vampire was not idle either, her claw-like hands whipping and slashing, trying to gouge out the eyes of the human in front of her as Ranma nimbly sidestepped and ducked her attacks while smiling slightly, he had been here for weeks, uniting vicious and dangerous creatures that had all the intelligence and common sense of children mixed with rabid animals, gone up against freaks who used live humans as cannon ammunition, and laid siege to a town held by what appeared to be normal humans, and during it all he had felt slightly homesick.
Now he was up against someone who frankly, reminded him of Akane, so he couldn't help but taunt, "Wassa matter? Slowing down tomboy?"
The vampire shrieked loud enough to crack the few intact windows remaining and pressed her attack with murder in her eyes.
Fortunately for Ranma, this was neither a very experienced vampire, nor one of those that had focused on the branch of dark powers known as "Martialle"; had his foe been such a creature, he would have found himself a lot harder pressed then he presently was, and may even have lost in his initial bout of overconfidence. However, luck was on his side; the creature he fought was young, inexperienced, had focused on its ability to control the undead, and, ultimately, had suffered mental degeneration since receiving the Dark Kiss of Undeath. Its claws lashed and rent wildly, Ranma having both the skill to dodge and evade such unskilled strikes and the speed that he couldn't be overwhelmed like her usual victims. Ranma didn't bother going at her with his bare hands this time; while he did use the occasional opportunistic kick, mostly he used his new spear, striking with the flat and the butt, using it like a cudgel or, occasionally, like a glaive, spinning it so that the edges of the spearhead cut and sliced into the vampire's dead, withered flesh.
"Now, this is fun and all, but I've got a Waaagh to keep moving, and so I don't have time to mess around with you." Ranma told her.
"Insolent meat! Do you suggest this is some sort of game?" The corpse-hag shrieked.
"Yeah, and playtime..." He suddenly spun in a kick that caught her across the stomach, staggering her, then flipped his spear around, the butt catching her under the chin and lifting her head, then drove it forward as the rotation brought the point around to face her, ramming it with a ghastly dry-sticks-snapping sound square into her chest. "...Is over." He finished.
"Heeeergh, you think...you can be so carefree? You lead an orc Waaagh, war and death is all you will know, and you will be a pariah to the humans of these lands, a savage no better than the greenskins you lead. I ruled over this place, what will you rule over?"
Ranma shrugged, "Don't know, don't really give a damn." With another snapping sound, the spearhead sliced the vampire's head clean from its shoulders as he turned to the others, Gragtar glaring at Trog who seemed preoccupied with playing with the still snapping head of his former opponent, "All right then. Lethaface." The orc in question looked up as Ranma indicated the walls around him, "I want this place torched."
As the orc ran off to get flammables, Gragtar frowned, "Ya didn't burn the humie town, why burn this place down?"
Ranma snorted, "It's none of your business, but I'll answer anyway." He sent a calm stare at the orc, "It's because I feel like it." Gragtar grunted and rolled his shoulders as Ranma sniffed, smelling smoke.
"All right you gits; back to the Waaagh, I've got some lazy asses to kick into moving out, and this place will make for some good marching light. Move!" The group started moving as Lethaface appeared from a doorway that was belching smoke into the musty air.
By the time the group was on the pass back to the Waaagh, the castle was ablaze, a torch illuminating the land for miles around.
None of the group so much as glanced backwards at it; they would be marching past soon enough.
Onwards and onwards; don't know quite where Ranma is going to end up going, but we figure it'll be a hell of a ride getting there.