We have eleven excellent pieces this month, and you have three votes to allocate between the eleven stories, so make your choices carefully. The theme was "It Came From Above" proposed by @Infinity Turtle Please read all eleven pieces before voting. Spoiler: Story One: It Came from Above It Came from Above As the warp-grinder blades tore away the last of the natural rock layer they chattered and whined, unable to find purchase on the smoothly dressed basalt above. The crew drew the machine back on its ramshackle frame, reduced the rate of revolution and squabbled over the adjustment gears. Under the Skryre Warlock-Engineer's one critical eye they managed to set both grinder supports to the same, almost perpendicular angle despite an apparent snarling lack of consensus. The grinder idled, sparking fitfully, and each flash cast a sick green light across an unruly tangle of plague-vermin. They surged forward as if a single entity, sensing that it’s time for nascence was near. The intervening darkness did not slow the mass’s squirming advance, and each time the light froze it into a rank and rabid tableau, it was a mere illusion. The flood of rat-kind was inexorably rising up from the depths like rancid bile and, when the earth vomited it up, there would be no cleansing of its corruption. The Warlock shrieked at the proximity of the unclean ones to his precious apparatus and lashed his whip wildly, in part to drive the festering scions of Pestilens back from it, and in part to encourage his crew to complete their task, to pierce through to the benighted surface. The grinder crew responded with self-preserving enthusiasm and they thrust the whirling grinder into the ceiling where it finally bit into the basalt and spat out choking black dust. The dust cloud unexpectedly dissipated, the blades whirled faster and the machine whined to a higher pitch, as if there was no resistance to its rotation. The air was presently filled again, this time with a mist of silty water. And then a torrent. Fissures quickly spread through a large section of the tunnel ceiling, presaging imminent collapse, and the plague-vermin instantly converted from devout blood lust to blind panic. Claw and fang which had been poised to do the Great Horned One's work were turned each on his neighbor as they scrabbled to propel their owner to be first back down the passage to safety. Unfortunately all, from first to last were too late. Those who were spared the initial crush of jagged shards were swept up and tumbled along the gallery in a turbid swirl, ripe with blood, musk, and the contents of undicriminating viscera. A particular plague monk, even though banned from uncovering his infected flesh by murderously enforced taboo, shrugged himself free of his waterlogged rags to improve on his miserable chances of survival. When his hind claws found stone: floor, ceiling he knew not; he kicked hard away from it, reasoning that the center of the tunnel would allow some sense of orientation in the nightmarish dark. He was proven correct. The press of struggling bodies was tighter in one direction. Up. Unencumbered by cloth and with scabrous skin slicked by water and pus, the monk hauled himself through the filthy throng one clan-mate at a time. As he expelled the last morsel of stale air from his bursting lungs, despair became elation as his head scraped along a rough surface. Even a tiny pocket of air could sustain him and then he would have the strength to defend it from even the greediest of his brothers. The monk inhaled sharply, but instead of the looked for reward, his airways filled and clogged with a choking, clotted foam redolent with the metallic tang of stale blood. No air remained in his lungs to expel the thick sludge and as he began to kick ever more spasmodically, he sank back through an ever thinning, ever weakening tangle of striving claws and thrusting muzzles. 857 Years Eariler Lord Agragax of Lunaxotl was rarely known to make pronouncements. In the Year of Esurcus was his latest. He lifted his head from its position of repose and declared that his contemplation of the Earth was complete. Then he raised it and further declared that his contemplation of the heavens would commence. Each softly croaked syllable was immediately carven into marble, along with the precise disposition of the seasons and heavenly bodies at the time. High priests debated the meaning of the words, what they portended and what action they demanded. After a cycle without consensus, the tablets were consigned to the archives, where whispering scribes added their own interpretations and the sacred glyphs gathered dust. 342 Years Earlier In the Year of Rednaxus, the single skink priest who attended Agragax one night was startled to alertness by a deep throated choking sound. The lord's eyes had not deviated from the heavens, and the priest followed his master’s gaze. He observed that a conjunction of planets had snaked across the Constellation of the Dragon. As the planets drifted out of line, and the skink began to doubt that he had heard anything, the Lord Agragax murmured a single word: "thirst." With wavering claws the priest carved the glyph into posterity, and then he hung, chisel poised over the incomplete tablet hoping for further elucidation. With the dawn bell came the next attendant and the priest scurried to rouse the High Priests. 342 Years Earlier, but considerably later on. Urgency dictated that no food or refreshment was to be taken during the Conclave of the High Priests. Convention demanded that all factions had their voice heard, and, indeed, they shouted back and forth unto near exhaustion. No interpretation of Lord Agragax’s pronouncement: “thirst,” was more plausible than that of the fork-tailed Prophet of Sotek. He had pointed out that the High Place of Sacrifice was not dripping with blood: it was barely moist. Great Lord Agragax would not be appeased until warm blood was congealed in the streets. Being a lizard of precipitous action he eventually stormed out of the chamber with a bloodthirsty promise on his scaly lips. The High Priest of Azyr had waited until the chamber doors were fully closed before he rubbed his weary eyes. He then asked the High Priest of Ghur if he had any other idea. The beast-priest indicated that he was not capable of sensible thought until he had slaked his thirst. Both paused for an interval, then went and offered Lord Agragax a vessel of water which was greedily accepted. The Slann Lord returned to his contemplations and the holy pair returned to the shadowy chamber. They agreed to send the plaque to the archives without further addendum, and furthermore agreed not to tell the Prophet of Sotek what had transpired on the basis that, “he is so much more manageable after he has overseen the odd genocide.” 342 Years Earlier, but a few minutes after that. There was a crunching thud and then a deep silence in the Lunaxoatl City Archives. The Chief Scribe prodded the heavy marble plaque which had suddenly descended from the previously cobwebbed “in” shute. Thereafter, he quickly abandoned his hope of salvaging the Qupacokoan dice he had just cast upon the “in” plinth in the hope of securing a pair of sixes. He then traced a claw tip through the deep grooves that clearly pronounced, “thirst,” upon the slab. Then he raised his eyes above the heads of his bemused acolytes and slowly turned a full revolution. As he did so, he took in the many dust covered stacks that towered in the shadowy periphery of the Crypt of Archives. He then solemnly addressed his subordinates, enquiring of them if any had known that the stone slabs they had been diligently supervising since the days of their spawning were known to have any writings on them. After a flurry of head shakes, and a sudden frenzy of dusting, it was established that plaques DO, generally speaking, have glyphs on them - but you wouldn’t know it unless you blew some dust off or checked lower in the stacks. A new activity was proposed to replace the usual enjoyable games and past-times that had occupied this whole generation of scribes. A review of all of the plaques from oldest to newest was begun, and although there were many complaints about the back-breaking nature of the work, not a single scribe complained that they missed playing I-Spy-In-The-Crypt-Today with their newest spawned peers. Two Days Earlier Entire spawnings of scribes had risen from and then returned to the waters before the task was completed. Each of Lord Agragax’s utterances had been filed with an addendum which summarized the interpretations of the wise, and what actions had been precipitated by them. All, with the exception of the last. “Thirst,” it declared. The scribes swiftly returned the plaque to the priesthood and even more swiftly resumed playing dice and similar. It had been a tough tricentennial, and they felt they had earned the right to relax for a bit. The wettest of new-spawned beast priests dragged the slab into the centre of the chamber and then retreated, panting, into the shadowy periphery. The two of the three High Priests regarded it cautiously. In contrast, the Fork-Tailed Prophet of Sotek leapt to a seemingly obvious conclusion. He stated that the plaque indicated that either Lord Agragax, or Holy Sotek himself were experiencing thirst and that the High Place of Sacrifice was not dripping with blood: it was barely moist. The Great Lord would not be appeased until warm blood was congealed in the streets. Being a lizard of precipitous action, he stormed out of the chamber with a bloodthirsty promise on his scaly lips. The High Priest of Azyr waited until the chamber doors closed and rubbed his weary eyes. He asked the High Priest of Ghur if he had any other idea. Without precedent, a wavering voice piped from the shadows, “but what if the word, ‘thirst’ is not an adjective, describing Holy Lord Agragax’s current or past state. What if it is indeed an imperative?” The High Priests of Azyr and Ghur regarded him blankly. “That is to say, and imperative clause most commonly functions as a command, instruction or order. The usual word order is verb + x. We do not usually include the subject in an imperative clause, for example, ‘get help,’ or ‘suffer!’ or in this case, “you all, (meaning all of Lunaxoatl) must thirst’?” The High Priests considered the all appropriate actions, should this assertion be correct, and then gave the necessary orders, just to be on the safe side. The wettest of new-spawned beast priests was then severely beaten for being a pedant. There is a lesson in this somewhere. Three Minutes Earlier “If we open the sluice…” Paradocix paused for dramatic effect, “… that will be it. The cisterns will be empty until the wet season.” Aginormus shrugged massive scaled shoulder and then set it against the sluice lever. “If the cisterns are empty, then…” the skink paused again, hoping that his kroxigor coworker would ask, “what then?” Aginormus grunted and shifted his feet. He was not one for excessive wordplay or speculation. Paradocix smoothly compensated. “Were you to ask, ‘what then,’ then I would say, ‘we’ll all be drinking spawn pool… spawn pool broth… before the Second Moon of Xholanka.’ Either that or the whole city goes thirsty.” Under Aginormus’ attention the lever visibly bent, and then the sluice gate audibly cracked open a finger’s width. Pure, sweet water slid under it and spread in a sparkling sheet onto the fourteenth tier of the city. “It’s a waste, Agi, using clean water on the temple city streets. Especially since they are all… sticky… after the Sotek Whatnot last night.” Against expectation, Aginormus rumbled a reply, “better to flush the streets out than mop them. I remember the last time the Sparkles were all over the Dragon. Mahrlecting Prophets of Sotek - never lifted a mahrlecting bucket since the day they mahrlecting spawned.” His vehemence lent him strength and the sluice gates screeched fully upwards. The torrent that poured out virtually skipped the thirteenth tier and caused considerable mayhem on the twelfth. Paradoxic had to shout to be heard over the rush, “Where is the water supposed to go, Agi? It’s not going to soak into basalt flagstones and go away, is it?” Aginormus shrugged his now unencumbered shoulder again. “Orders is orders, ’Doxi. Orders is orders.” Spoiler: Story Two: Orders are Orders Orders are Orders The revered Slann mage-priest Xhuahtec sat upon his palanquin, restlessly his eyes surveyed the jungle below his chambers. The trees are were restless, shaking and swaying heavily. Birds fled their roosts, cold ones could be heard fleeing to their caves. The winds blow too strong. The magic hung thick in the air. "What does this herald? Have we displeased The Old Ones?" The gentle chirp of the priest Krikt rang out. "This is not the doing of The Old Ones," Xhuahtec's slow, heavy voice replied. "This gale is foul and tainted. The wretched scent of Chaos blows with it." A silence hung in the chamber for several minutes as both parties contemplated the situation. Krikt looked to the Slann before her, trying to think of the best course of action to keep The Great Plan and minimize losses. How would The Old Ones act? We are but a small temple-city, our garrison is not large enough to handle a Chaos incursion on their own. The latest spawnings have already passed, to mass more warriors would take time we cannot afford. To rush our force to war and fail would surely allow the vile daemons to defile the great temple and disrupt the geomantic nexus. But we cannot sit and wait as they spread their chaotic taint wherever they would walk. We should call upon Lord Mazdamundi for his aid. Yes, that is all we can do. Krikt pondered for a moment. Yes, to call for aid was surely the best course of action. Her solution was simple and effective, but Xhuahtec was yet to speak, so she held her tongue, the decision lay with him. For the will of the Slann is absolute. The silence hung in the chamber for many minutes, a perfect silence, broken only by the screech of a perching terradon nearby. "Amass the saurus." The Slann's lips finally moved, "Chaos warriors rally in the north." Krikt stood in silence for a second to ponder this command., Had her Lord contacted the ruler of the Sun City while she was in thought?, Had he arranged for their forces to meet on the field of battle? He couldn't be sending them to fight on their own, could he? "Yes, Lord Xhuahtec..... Are we to meet reinforcements along the warpath?" Her doubts making themselves known, Krikt waited and hoped for the answer she wanted, the short affirmation that they were not marching to an unwinnable battle. "No." Krikt felt her crest drop in shock. "We will hold the line alone. With the blessings of the Old Ones you shall know victory." Krikt began to give her response. She stopped mid thought. Accepting this judgment, she drew her resolve together. She would march with the army to ensure victory. For the will of the Slann is absolute. The saurus were easy enough to rouse, throwing down tools to take up their weapons with a fervor only rivaled by that of the Oldblood Xhi-tal. The grand calls spurred even the skinks to war, abandoning their craft houses to once again defend Lustria from their people's ages old enemy. A voice as deep as the jungles rallied the preparing warriors to their barracks; "Take up your arms! The foul spawn of Chaos comes to test our resolve! We will show them the faithful of The Old Ones fight as fiercely as ever! They will not take a single temple on their march!" The warriors gathered in the court of the temple that afternoon, a sea of gold, scales, and zeal ready to hunt down any who would despoil themselves with the worship of such dark gods. Krikt stood atop the stairs, projecting her image upon the crowd below, invoking names and images of The Old Ones as the rat-spawn were brought upon the alter. The sacrificial blade, sharp as the day it was forged, made short work of them. Blood flowed down the stairs and the army erupted in roars and calls to the gods, each warrior invoking their protection, or a blessing on their weapons. Her rousing of the leaders and rites to Gods complete, Krikt knew she too would need to gather her weapons and fetishes if she was to aid the army in any significant way. A skull of a stegadon long dead to protect her, a staff hewn by the corpse of a tree felled by lightning to harness the winds of magic, and her sacrificial blade to sunder her foe's flesh. Each of these a gift from the wisdom of those who came before, and a tool to enact The Great Plan. A quick turn in of her claws to inspect them, and she was prepared to march. Whether this march was to a great victory or a slaughter of a hapless force she did not know, but it was a march she would undertake anyway. For it was her masters will. And the will of the Slann is absolute. The march would have been a pleasant affair if they had not been on the warpath. The jungle seemed to open around them, allowing passage with little interference, as if even it knew how important this small army meant to the cities behind them. Even the bird calls seemed distant and mute along the paths. There was a near unnatural stillness to the air that reminded Krikt of Xhuatec's chambers, almost as though Huanchi himself hid their march from the world. The silence and peace gave Krikt time to reflect on the battle to come. We don't know how large the force we fight is, it could be a small fighting force or it could be an entire battalion. They should be mustering another two days march ahead. Two days for them to gather strength and prepare for our attack while our warriors tire themselves on the march. We shouldn't be here, not without greater information on their numbers or even what they bring to battle! The chatter of the warriors around her roused Krikt from her thoughts. Many of the skink volunteers banded together to tell tales and anecdotes, some humorous, most boasting. Krikt found herself enjoying this atmosphere, able to tell a story of her own even. She told the procession of her first lessons with the Slann, omitting some less than glamourous parts of course. Even the usually stoic saurus told a few war stories, telling of great battles with filthy rat-men and chaos worshiping berserkers whose battle fury nearly rivaled their own. Each and every one told of the sacred omens that had led them to victory time and time again, on the lookout for the signs they would prosper this time. Looking for the celestial event that showed Chotec’s favor to the Lizardmen force. But no signals were to be found in the silent jungle. Some noticed this and started to voice concern, that the Old Ones did not bless this battle. Many others saw this as a certain sign that victory was certain, that their victory was so assured the gods did not need to show support. Krikt had heard this talk spread amongst the marching lines and was not sure how to interpret this lack of signs. The Slann had always taught her that signs of the Old Ones would be found everywhere that their children would go and preface any danger they would face. Could it be as they say? That the Old Ones were so sure we will prevail that they do not even think it necessary to bless our warriors? It must be, if we were to march to our doom they would surely warn us. It must be, Lord Xhuahtec would have considered all possible options before sending us. And the will of the Slann is absolute The army had been on the march for three days before they began to find signs of Chaos–, animals with grotesque mutations crossed the trails, tree boughs that twisted and broke out into explosions of wood and bark. Smoke, rot and death filled the air, the scents mixed together into a putrid scent smell potent enough to make the even the saurus turn their noses. Having found themselves on the border of Chaos, the army made camp, Krikt made council with Xhi-tal to discuss the plan of attack. Deliberations were short, scouts were to be sent to find and number the enemy force and while the skinks were scouting the field of battle the army would prepare for an immediate attack. The attack itself would be simple, to find the most vulnerable point in the camp and break it down in a tide of scales and blood. The scouts soon reported back that the camp could barely be called that, more a collection of men clustered together. They told of no more than 50 marauders wandering the clearing and a single mutated combatant, the ever writhing mass of the Chaos spawn. With a force this paltry, the 100 saurus and 30 skinks with Krikt’s support and under Xhi-tal’s command would destroy such a force. At this report the order was given and the warriors made their formations. Marching through the thick of the jungle the war band went, a silent tension working into their ranks, like the tension of a coiled predator readying to strike. Quiet growls directed the squads into position. Forming the jaws of a great Carnosaur around the camp, they waited for the signal. “FOR THE GLORY OF THE OLD ONES!!” Xhi-tal cried out from the tree line. Lines of saurus broke through the undergrowth, they rushed to meet the foe with a primal roar of fury echoing around them. Charging headlong with a thunderous cacophony. Marauders swiftly unsheathed weapons and rushed to meet the oncoming lines with a haphazard, near suicidal charge of their own. The lines met near the center of the field, the Saurus making the first blow. Spears and clubs smashing into furs, flesh and shields, blood spraying over their scaled hides. The retaliation was swift, stepping over the fallen, the marauders launched themselves axes first into the saurus before them, rending scales apart and breaking bone with every axe-fall, a crazed battle cry to the dark gods issuing from their lips. Xhi-tal threw himself to the head of the lines, crushing heads and eviscerating foe after foe with his mighty war-club. The fighting was ferocious, blood and viscera painting the clearing a crimson deeper than any Kirkt had ever seen. The foolish devotees of the Chaos gods falling in great numbers made her confident and crushed any lingering doubts she held in her mind. All seemed well on the battlefield, the lines held each other’s focus well, the saurus formations holding well in the face of such a disorganized charge. A horrid mutant scream broke the momentum, the ever pulsing mass of flesh forced an entrance into the battle line. Claws and mutant appendages tore scaled bodies to shreds, its own flesh drawing itself back together when blades landed true. Krikt focused her spirit into her staff, drawing the winds of Azyr to her, directing them, shaping them to her will. Raw energy flashed through her body, the power releasing out into the sky. A great crack rang out over the clearing, huge clouds coalesced in the sky above, drawing to a point above the spawn. Seconds later another immense crash broke the air around the battlefield, a bolt of lightning streaked through the sky and engulfed the horrific creature, searing its flesh from bone and leaving naught but charred remains. This is surely won, the Old Ones have truly handed us a true victory over a fledgling force! Krikt allowed herself a moment of relief over their victory, the final skirmishes cleaned themselves up, Xhi-tal gave a triumphant roar. It was over, the small garrison had done in their ages old enemies again, defeated again, as they always would be. It was in this moment of carelessness that she found her downfall. A distorted cry from behind drew her gaze. Turning, she found herself facing a new charge, Chaos warriors clad in their iconic black plate burst from the undergrowth. The charge led by their leader, a visage of horror atop a terrifying steed crashed over the ground. A warning began to form on Krikt’s lips as she raised her weapons to face them, but it was of no use. The flaming blade sang through the air and landed deep into her chest. Krikt fell. The saurus, unprepared for the new threat, raced to prepare a new line of defense, shields and scales clattered their movements. The armour clad fighters rushed over Krikt’s dying body, racing for a devastating charge into the broken saurus lines. Krikt grasped her staff, holding her broken body from falling apart she hauled herself up. Feeling the end near, she forced all her spirit and will into a final channeling of the winds. Grasping the staff tight she gathered all the power she could muster, forcing it into the staff. In a final defiance against the dark gods, Krikt released the power into the heavens. Spent, Krikt fell again, for a final time. Her last sight the fall of the immense meteor her power had called. Her final thoughts, of the temple she was dying to defend, the Lord she had served, the orders he had given. It is done. Lord Xhuahtec. They will not leave here. Your will is done… For the will of the Slann is absolute. Spoiler: Story Three: The Visitor The Visitor Phase I Izri and Huitchli left the city on their daily hunting trip and travelled down the straight paved road that led out from the city gates and into the jungle. The blue Izri, the smaller of the two Skinks, was striding out in front, whistling contentedly and holding nothing but a javelin and his blowpipe, with his pouch of darts for the latter wrapped around his middle. The green Huitchli, the larger of the two, was staggering along behind, weighed down by several large packs on his back, including Izri’s javelin holder, as well as his own hunting equipment. “Just one thing Izri,” Huitchli complained, “Why do I have to carry all of this stuff while you prance along in front?” Izri stopped and tutted at his unintelligent friend. “I keep telling you Huitchli, I do all the thinking in our little team. Therefore my brain needs to be kept free of distractions so that I can determine exactly where our prey is, and when you’re humping a load of bundles on your back, you’ve got a lot of weight on your mind, quite literally,” he replied in his irritating, uppity voice that was squeaky even for a Skink’s. “Don’t I know it,” Huitchli replied grumpily. “Shut up,” Izri scolded, “I can see something moving over there in that bush.” He squinted at a particular mass of ferns to the right, where the foliage was indeed moving, as the two Skinks could now very well see. “Do you have any idea of what it could be?” Huitchli asked. “Haven’t a clue,” Izri replied, “but there’s only one way to find out...” He took careful aim and then threw his javelin as hard as he could towards the movement. There was the sound of the weapon hitting something, but no squealing or crying out in pain, only the telltale signs of the creature, whatever it was, moving away from them through the bushes. The two Skinks stood there mystified. “I thought I hit it!” yelled Izri indignantly, “I was sure I hit it!” “I thought you did too,” Huitchli replied, “It sounded like a Stegseye.” “Well don’t just stand there gaping like a fish, come on!” Izri said then, loading a dart into his blowpipe, “It seems to be moving pretty slowly, so we should be able to chase it down and kill it pretty quickly!” The two Skinks ran towards the bushes where they had last seen the creature, and brushed their way through the thick undergrowth. Balancing speed with cautiousness, they made sure to make as little noise as possible when running through the tall ferns, but after about ten minutes of rapid pursuing, they found nothing. “Oh it’s hopeless,” Izri grumbled, “How in Sotek’s name could that thing have outrun us? You probably slowed us up too much!” Huitchli shrugged. “Perhaps we should split up,” he replied, “we can cover more ground between the two of us.” Izri turned to his companion. “Do you know, that’s probably the first truly intelligent thing you’ve said today,” he congratulated Huitchli, “That’s actually a decent idea. We’ll go off in different directions and if either of us find anything, we’ll make Terradon noises so that the other knows where we are. Does that sound good to you?” “I’d say so,” Huitchli replied, before turning a fraction to the left, calling out “Happy hunting!” and disappearing. Izri, meanwhile, turned more to the right and followed suit. A few minutes later, Huitchli was making good progress, despite his heavy burden, when he heard a loud shriek in the direction from which he’d come. A Skink’s shriek that was especially high-pitched and squeaky. Fearing his friend may have got into trouble, he turned back. He ran as fast as he could through branches and bushes, until he came to a large clearing amongst some especially tall jungle trees. In this dimly-lit spot, he could see Izri on the ground a few feet ahead, but he wasn’t moving. Huitchli advanced forward a few steps, when he drew back again, reviled at what he saw. His friend had been beheaded. Huitchli gagged and retched at the sight, but before he could vomit, something else further away caught his eye. Something far bigger. As he approached it, Huitchli saw that it was an object nothing like anything he’d ever seen before. It was partially submerged in the earth, forming a sort of crater around it as if it had fallen from the sky and crashed into the ground. Even in this state it was far taller than him, and looked to be in a shape similar to the wooden boxes the Xho'za'khanx put their dead in, with metal firearms that he had never seen before. It resembled some sort of ship, but it had fallen from the sky. Suddenly Huitchli heard the sound of footsteps behind him, and whipped around. He had barely time to give his own shriek of terror before he too was slain in a single calculated strike. Phase II Grakkar stood motionless at the parapet of the city walls, staring out over the vast expanse of jungle that surrounded his home. The Temple Guard had been guarding his city and his Slann master, Lord Therizinuital, with utmost dedication for over fifty years, yet he still felt that his duty was far from over. This morning he had been assigned the responsibility of patrolling the north wall alongside his Spawn-mates Rok-qar, Ghul-drak and Pe’Taq, the latter two of whom were standing outside the gates, while Rok-gar stood diligently on the wall the other side of the gateway from Grakkar. They were all waiting for two dopey-looking Skink hunters to return from their early-morning expedition, so that they could close the gates again as soon as possible. “Five more minutes and we’re closing the gates,” Rok-qar grumbled gruffly, “We can’t afford to spend anymore time waiting for two measly Skinks to finish mucking about in the forest.” The four Temple Guard were certainly getting bored - the hulking pile of muscle and scales that was Ghul-drak was clubbing the earth with his halberd in frustration, while the lazy Pe’Taq had completely dropped off. Only Grakkar continued to bother to hold a distractionless vigil for his city’s sake. Where were those little nuisances? “Finally, they’re coming back,” Rok-qar growled, relieved, when he heard the sound of bushes rustling just to the right of the gateway, but Ghul-drak down on the ground wasn’t so sure. “Whatever that is, that isn’t two Skinks,” he replied, “ it’s far bigger and heavier.” Indeed, he was right. What emerged from the undergrowth then was not a pair of skittering Skinks, but a tall, broad-shouldered, metallic creature that defiantly swatted aside the vines and briars and tramped methodically towards the Temple Guard outside the gates. Its body was stylised as a skeleton, but it was anything but a pile of old bones. Its eyes glowed with a sinister, green life that unnerved the Saurus standing before it, yet it acted with a calculated efficiency that was unlike the movements of any living creature. It clutched a huge, ancient-looking sword in one hand and an intricately-patterned blue shield in the other that was covered with metal extensions and devices. The head of a Skink javelin was embedded between its metal ribs, and what definitely resembled Lizardman blood covered the sword it wielded. Ghul-drak bellowed fiercely and raised his own weapon defensively as a warning to the creature, a warning that it duly ignored as it advanced relentlessly towards them. It was at this point that Pe’Taq awoke from his slumber and he immediately sidled over from his position beside the gate so that he was now barring the creature’s way alongside Ghul-drak, but the creature again took no notice and simply marched right up to them. It was around the same height as Ghul-drak and stood about a head taller than Pe’Taq, yet the Temple Guard were undaunted. Ghul-drak delivered a brutal blow with his halberd to the creature’s midriff, denting its metal hide but otherwise dealing little damage. The creature’s retaliation proved far more effective, for it swung its blade in a diagonal slice, the weapon easily cleaving through Ghul-drak’s chest and down into his abdomen. He staggered back, clasping his gaping wound, but the bulky Temple Guard did not fall. Amazingly, he managed to remain standing. “Quick!” Grakkar called to Rok-qar, “We must help!” Rok-qar agreed, and the two Temple Guard on the parapet rushed down the tower stairs to aid their comrades on the ground. Pe’Taq swung his weapon at the creature’s small metal head, but it raised its metal shield to easily parry the blow. However, before it could behead Pe’Taq, Ghul-drak thundered into it, head butting its chest with his skull helmet, knocking it backwards so that it fell to the floor. Ghul-drak mustered his last strength in an attempt to deliver a crushing overhead blow, but in his weakened state, he was powerless to stop his opponent from swinging its sword horizontally to sever his torso from his body. As the two halves of his corpse fell to the ground, Pe’Taq rejoined his comrades, who had by this time descended to the ground. Although an instinct told them to slam the gates shut, they could not simply hide behind their walls. That was what Skinks did. They were Temple Guard, mighty defenders of the Lizardmen, and they would buy as much time as they could to help their city muster a stronger defence to repel the creature. Indeed, they heard drums beating a sonorous booming patter of notes as others heard the commotion and sounded the alarm. So it was that Grakkar and the others launched a renewed attack upon the invader, in a desperate attempt to fend it off. Phase III Lord Therizinuital had never predicted that the creature would arrive. Indeed, its attack upon his city had quite shocked him awake from his meditation. At this point he focussed his mind upon the invader. What was it doing here? It was large and strong enough to slay his finest Temple Guard, yet was small enough to dart into alleyways where his servants’ monsters could not reach it and the superior numbers of his warriors acted against them. He could sense the deaths of each and every one of his Saurus and Skink protectors that stood in the creature’s way, and it was coming closer all the while. It didn’t even seem to be alive in many respects - it had no living tissue to speak of in its whole body, and made no sound except for the clanking of its feet and the creaking of its joints. The only thing which the Slann could think of to describe this adversary was the phrase: Automaton. There was only one race of Automata that the Old Ones had spoken of, and yet all knowledge of this race had been lost after the Old Ones’ disappearance. The Slann was suddenly brought back to the real world when he heard that familiar clanking and creaking. The Automaton strode through the huge doors of the Slann’s chamber and turned to face him. His warriors had fought valiantly - the Automaton’s right leg was badly damaged, and several large dents featured upon its metal body - but even in its wounded state, Therizinuital knew that it could kill him easily if it reached the immobile Slann. Therizinuital raised his head slightly to focus all the better upon his foe, before sending a bolt of lightning from one hand. The Automaton simply raised its shield and deflected the blast back at him. The Slann hurriedly flattened one hand to intercept the bolt, which deflected off it and hit the chamber ceiling, causing stone and plaster to fall to the marble floor. This foe was more resilient than he had expected. As the creature relentlessly advanced towards him, Therizinuital knew he needed to play more tactically if this monster was to be slain once and for all. The Slann then channelled his full power into a tugging, pulling force, stronger than the world’s gravity, to try and disarm the Automaton. It resisted with all its strength, but in this tug of war, the Slann was far stronger - soon he had shattered the Automaton’s great metal shield, the dark technology used to protect it from harm now destroyed. Unperturbed, the Automaton came closer still, but Therizinuital had another idea. He channelled the same magic again, but this time upon the creature’s own body armour. The metal was tough, but soon he had torn the two sides of its metal ribcage apart, exposing the Automaton’s metal innards. The Automaton continued its approach as though it hadn’t noticed a thing. It now closed with the Slann and quickly raised its blade, intending to behead him. Quicker than light itself, the Slann conjured a fireball that hit the metal creature right in its exposed metal guts. The Automaton staggered back, making a groaning roar of pain. The Slann launched another at the same spot, and another, and another, until the Automaton’s body seized up, small columns of flame erupting from where its eyes were. Then its head seemed to explode in a gout of flame, causing the body to collapse to the ground with a tremendous crashing of metal parts. Knowing his foe to be dead, the Slann regained his composure, and stared at the Automaton’s corpse, still simmering with small flames, until an alien green light consumed it, along with the scattered pieces of shield and metal ribcage, and then it was no more. The Slann reflected upon this chain of events, and meditated. This particular Automaton was dead, but more of its kind would return, and in far greater numbers, but Therizinuital knew of how his people could balance the odds. Some of his priests had recently discovered an asteroid made of a substance that they called Celestite, a rock that crackled with the power of the heavens. If new weapons could be made out of this, they could slice through even the ‘living metal’ of the Automata. The Slann mentally chuckled to himself. Fireballs were uncivilised pieces of magic, but they did the job. Spoiler: Story Four: A Dispatch in the Night A Dispatch in the Night Boqhan's eyes slid awake. They had opened atop a rocky outcrop overlooking a large fortress. The realization hit. No, not opened, materialized. The memories rushing through the starlight synapses of Boqhan's recently corporeal brain, pangs of anguish erupted from the knowledge that the First were no longer beings of flesh. He now knew he had done this before, several times in fact, though this knowledge was little consolation. Profound loss overwhelmed the ancient skink. A presence inhabiting his subconscious mourned along with him. It was strange, the depth of emotion emanating from deep within his mind. It felt somehow foreign, part of him yet distinct. As if in reaction a sense of urgency flickered from the source of feeling. In response Boqhan looked down to confirm what his instincts had already told him. A scroll bound in leather sat lashed to his waist. He put away his pain. He had a message to deliver. The skink uncurled his lithe body and began his descent. Mottled black and grey skin dancing and blending with the shadows as he moved silently through the night. It felt good to move, to hop from stone to stone, the starlight pulsing through his veins with the effort. This mortal realm was no Lustria, but it was at least more than a mere memory. Boqhan’s mind wandered to his previous life as a builder of temples. Prized for his agility, strength, size, and climbing ability, he was always given the most dangerous tasks at a site. He was even mildly famous amongst his skink brethren after an acrobatic routine performed in honor of Huanchi earned a brief gesture of appreciation from a revered slann. This last thought prompted a reaction from the depths of thought, like a wry chuckle at some inscrutable meta-humor. The reverie evaporated as the ground collapsed and sharp stakes rushed to meet Boqhan tooth first. Before he was smashed to starlight his training kicked in. Fore-claws gripping the longest stake, just past the point, he vaulted himself beyond the trap to land in a heap on the hard earth. Boqhan's crest fluttered in irritation as he picked himself up. Leave the past in the past he chided himself, though he immediately felt guilty for so quickly dismissing the old world along with another pang of loss for the lush jungle floor he used to bounce back up from. As he reached the foot of the fortress, his gleaming eyes scanned the top of the wall for any signs of movement, or any reaction to his recent brush with disaster. All was silent. The wall towered above him, easily rising 12 skinks crest-to-tail, but the starlight was already racing through his brain as he identified clawholds in the rough surface of the wall. A path in his mind for him to scale. It was going to be a tough climb even for a climber of his prowess and yet he was excited to start. He lived for this. I used to live for this. His crest flared in consternation. After quickly checking his weapon and scroll we're both secure, Boqhan slapped his tail on the ground to expel any remaining distracting thoughts and began his ascent. The climb was arduous. He took it slow, despite the urgency he instinctively felt. He had nearly reached the battlements when his rear-claw slipped on a hold no more dependable than a rat-thing. The familiar feeling of dread rose in his gizzard at the prospect of falling to his end. It was strange that he still felt this way in this semblance of existence. But the drop was real, and so was his fear. Empathy for that fear trickled from his subconscious, as if this other entity had nearly as much to lose. As expected from his earlier calculations however, his other claw-holds held firm. His mission would continue. Boqhan pressed on, his measured movements belying his skill as a climber. In moments he was peering over the lip of the battlements, checking for any agents of his destruction. He sensed no anathema, but the fourth race in this age would likely mistake him for an agent of chaos, and have no reservations about relegating him back to memory. Fortunately the only sentinels were a set of glowing orbs spaced out at regular intervals atop the wall. So that’s why I was summoned so far away from my goal. The anti summoning orbs would provide a modicum of defense against the forces of chaos, but they wouldn’t slow down a determined enemy horde. Boqhan vaulted over the parapet, tasting the night air for warmbloods as he plotted his next course. He made his way along the rooftops of the fortress’s outbuildings slowly and deliberately. As he crested a peaked roof, Boqhan heard warmblood voices approaching. He crouched down back behind the arch, just as bright lantern light illuminated the shingles he’d occupied a moment ago. The presence in his mind expressed a mix of excitement and relief. Before he could process the thought, Boqhan realized with bemusement that he could understand the warmbloods chattering below. “...and that's when I says to him, you know what I says Trev? I says 'that was MY tankard of goats milk!’” Boqhan flinched as a raucous noise reverberated through the night. Laughter, he hadn’t identified it without the guttural barks, two voices. A third voice, hoarse and deep, “You lads best not be forgetting what we face here. The agents of Chaos are not to be taken lightly.” “Oy shut yer trap Bagwell, we ain't seen no daemon hordes ‘round here.” snapped the warmblood called Trev. “Can't you have a little laugh?” Boqhan flicked his tail in irritation. How could the fourth race be so stupid. Did they not remember the old world? Once the exasperation waned, Boqhan realized most races would not remember the world that was. Renewed sorrow emanated deep within him at the reminder that only the First still harbor the painful memory of what was lost to Chaos. Sorrow evolved to envy of the simple and willfully ignorant creatures below. Their prattling was not to be ignored however. “Yeah Bags, we got the magic lights watchin’ the walls” added the first guard, “plus them creepy Stormcast blokes to deal with Chaos.” Boqhan’s crest flared up. Stormcast Eternals, they will know what to do with my message. “Ah you know I hate thinkin’ about those dead suits of armor up in their decrepit tower” interjected Trev, “thank Sigmar there’s only a handful of ‘em.” Boqhan looked up at the formidable spire several buildings away. He’d found his destination. “You’ll be singing a different tune once the shit hits” Bagwell chided his comrades, “I’d gladly have another score or more of the Eternals covering our arses. You’ll learn to appreciate what it’s…” The voices faded as the pathway became clear. The rest of the way there was uneventful. One guard needed to be incapacitated with a sleep inducing dart from Boqhan’s blowgun, and a few other times Boqhan had to hide and wait for patrols to pass, nothing too difficult for a scout of his skill. Before long he was squirming through a window into the Stormcast tower. The hallway stretched in both directions, but he soon found a balcony overlooking a grand hall where half a dozen Stormcast Eternals stood silent and unmoving. Boqhan mistook them for statues until the entity in his head made it clear that wasn’t the case. The mightiest of the creatures, for they were clearly no longer warmbloods, stood upon a dias overlooking the rest. Boqhan’s scroll needed a delivery plan. A quick survey of the room and the elaborate rafter system holding up the roof made it obvious. The message would have to come from above. From the vantage of the balcony it was trivial to scamper along the beams until he was staring straight down onto the imposing eternal’s gleaming helm. For a minute he considered whether to read the scroll before letting it fall down to its intended recipient, curious to know what he delivered. But he didn’t have to, he could feel the oncoming anathema that were destined to bear down on the outpost. This fortress would be crushed with such a small garrison. Boqhan’s note would be the harbinger of the oncoming horde. Hopefully there would be enough time to prepare. Slowly, silently, he freed the scroll case from his belt, and held it above the imposing figure below. He delicately let go. The scroll tumbled down, its leather case flapping slightly in the air. Without looking up, the silent sentinel grabbed it mere inches above his head. The behemoth looked up, and despite how well his scaly skin blended with the shadows amongst the rafters, Boqhan knew that the golden visage stared right at him. Boqhan saw understanding in those hard dead eyes, and the two servants of Order shared a curt nod, before the eternal briskly walked out. At that, Boqhan felt himself beginning to fade into twinkling grey/blue light. It was peaceful, but the pain of loss still tugged at him until he passed on into the realm of memory once more. ************** The inscrutable slann watched from the stars as Boqhan’s essence was reabsorbed into it. While its approach may have been unnecessarily romantic, it had always been criticized for being fanciful by slann standards. It had long ago made its peace with this. The prodigals below would have just enough time to prepare for and survive the coming onslaught, while still suffering enough losses to remember the importance of vigilance against Chaos. All had happened according to plan. Not the plan of the Old Ones. The plan of the Starmaster. The old world may be gone, but we cannot afford to forget. Spoiler: Story Five: A Brutal Life A Brutal Life Exalted Deathbringer Orayszheld, known as the Butcher, viciously ripped his Skullgouger, which was a claw-like gauntlet that he wore around his fist, out of the heart of the Free Peoples General. The body collapsed, dead. Orayszheld swiped the head from the body with an easy swing of his Ruinous Axe and held it aloft for all to see. Abruptly, the combat stopped. Mostly, he heard cheers and growls from his own warriors, but also there were moans of utter defeat from his enemies. Their last and only hope stood with their General, and when he fell, so did their desire to fight. Then Orayszheld spoke, his deep voice resonating throughout the small town, "Your leader was a brave and worthy opponent, and so has been your army, but alas the time has come to name a victor, and today that victor is the Chosen Sons of Khorne! But since you and your leader were such worthy opponents, I will give each of you a choice: either join us in the Dark Feast or become the meat for it!" Roars of cheering Bloodreavers echoed off the walls of the nearby buildings, and the Blood Warriors clanged their weapons together. Most of the Free Peoples soldiers looked down in shame as they moved to partake in the horrible ritual, but others who were brave enough stared defiantly at Orayszheld. "Then you will all DIE!" he fumed at them, "Kill those that refuse Khorne's generous gift!" he commanded his warriors. Almost instantly, the Free People were covered by a tide of bloodthirsty and angry killers. In seconds it was over, and the feast was prepared. Orayszheld continued his path of destruction of the Free Peoples towns until he had enough warriors to begin a siege of the main city, Sunbane. His horde was marching on Sunbane when all of a sudden, a bombardment of pure Azyr lightning came down about 50 yards from the army. As the dust cleared, Orayszheld could see brightly armored warriors clad in golden and blue heavy plate. Orayszheld recognized them as Stormcast Eternals, the all but immortal warriors of the self-proclaimed god of the Heavens, Sigmar Heldenhammer. Orayszheld grinned with excitement as he had been longing to face these profound warriors on the field of battle again. He roared encouragement to his warriors, "Remember Soros, the failure of a Mighty Lord of Khorne?" He yelled, all around him faces cringed with disgust as they recalled the many failures of their past leader. "He failed so many times, yet Khorne let him live, for one purpose, to use him and his pathetic army as a test to Sigmar's new threat to our perfect world. To show the rest of us the strength and weaknesses of our new enemy. And we give thanks to Khorne for that great display. "What have we learned from our enemies? We have learned that they lack only in one thing. Numbers. Our force here today outnumbers theirs thirty to one. Although they have great strength and skill, we have tons more bodies." The warriors were getting riled up now. "We will strike at them with so much speed and precision that they won't know what hit them! Go my warriors, strike quickly, and overcome!" As Orayszheld's forces advanced toward the Stormcast Eternals, a spectral spy watched from the natural cover of the distant hill. "Hmmmmm." The spy mused in an almost reptilian voice, as he stared at the muscular form of Orayszheld giving orders to his troops, as if he knew Orayszheld's fate, "We could use that one." Orayszheld let out a bloodcurdling scream, "CHARGE! Charge and crush them like bugs!" Atop the hill, there were three mighty Stormcast Eternals, Lord-Celestant Ulman, who sat proudly on his dracoth, Rex, Lord-Relictor Ilyord, and Lord-Castelant Korad. Orayszheld picked them as his targets and roared, "Those three are MINE!" His Slaughterpriest whispered into his ear, "Lord, you cannot possibly take on all of them." In a blink of an eye Orayszheld was holding the Slaughterpriest's decapitated head in his hand. He squeezed and all of a sudden, "Pop" the head exploded into a bloody paste that sprayed all over Orayszheld. Orayszheld's army surged up the hill only to be met with volleys of Heavenly arrows and Ballista bolts. To the servants of the evil Chaos gods, these projectiles burned like fire catching on dry grass. Even still, the crazed horde continued to push to be the first to engage the armored warriors at the top. The stone-cold masked warriors of the Stormcast Eternals held the line, but the huge mob did not relent, one by one the front line of shield-bearing Liberators fell as the slower but more heavily armored Blood Warriors joined the fray. Lord-Celestant Ulman realized his doom when an unseen mass of Chaos Knights smashed into the flank of his army. He could see the cunning smile on Orayszheld’s face and Ulman understood that he had underestimated the cunning brutality of his opponent. No Khorne general has fought like this since… his thoughts trailed off, “Oh no.” he muttered fearfully, “Not again. Not again.” “What is troubling you, my lord?” asked Lord-Relictor Ilyord, hearing the fear in his leader’s voice. “I did not start out as a Lord-Celestant as most did,” replied Ulman, “I was just a Liberator-Prime, content with leading my squad, fighting Chaos, and dying for Sigmar for eternity, but alas nothing lasts forever. I was in a battle, fighting for my life, when my squad were all slaughtered like cattle,” “No!” Ilyord interjected angrily, “Stormcasts cannot be killed. They must have died glorious deaths and been reforged.” “They never got the chance, you see, I was very reckless. As the battle was going on around me, I saw that we would lose. The general of the Khorne army was smart, much like this one we face now. He flanked us with Knights and Mighty Skull Crushers. I saw that we would lose unless that general was slain. All my warriors were as reckless as me, and when I suggested that we go and assassinate the beast, they all agreed and cheered. We flanked around the side, all thirty of us. The thing was, we all knew he saw us but did not send any troops to deal with us. Instead, he looked at us and smiled, a dirty, evil smile, and said, ‘Know your killer, insects of Sigmar. I am known as Orayszheld, the Butcher. And you will know no more.’ “We all laughed and jeered at him knowing that we had the easy victory, we were wrong. We charged him, and he met us head-on. We knew he would be a powerful opponent, but we were not ready for what hit us. He charged into our shield wall and shredded through it like butter, he cut through the first few men like paper, then we started to recover from our shock. As we fought back, we all realized that as he butchered our brothers, there was an absence of the normal shafts of lightning every time one of them died. Horrified, we attacked him with renewed vigor and righteous anger. As our blades and greatblades slashed and cut him to a bloody mess of a man, he laughed the whole time, then as one of the remaining warriors who carried a greatblade swung, the Butcher blocked the attack with his axe and then punched the Liberator in the face with a clawed gauntlet. As the warrior staggered back, the Butcher hacked into the doomed man, cutting him in two. I then realized we were doomed. So I yelled a final charge and we fought like cornered animals, but he was just playing with us by then. He would make a show of every Stormcast he would kill. Eventually, all were slain, all except me. I was a coward then. My actions on that day have haunted me through the centuries.” “What did you do?” the Lord-Relictor asked, “I… I played dead!” anger and shame rising in the Lord-Celestant’s voice. Ilyord was shocked at those words. “Surely not Lord.” “It… Is… True.” Ulman replied. “Blood for the Blood god!” screamed a Lord of Khorne riding atop a huge Juggernaut as he charged at the two leaders. He must be the general leading the flanking force. Ulman thought. He quickly glanced around for the melee leader of his troops, the Lord-Castellant Korad. He realized that his commander had gone to help the front of the fight, so he turned to face the Korne lord himself. As he urged his Dracoth into the fray, he noticed with fear that Korad was locked in vicious combat with the Exalted Deathbringer. I have to finish this lord quickly. Hold on Korad. He thought. Ulman charged into the lord on juggernaut and swung his Tempestos Hammer with renewed vigor. The hammer hit the chest of the lord and catapulted him off the juggernaut, who was in his own battle with Rex, and into a squad of Retributors. He did not return. After Rex took care of the rampaging juggernaut, Ulman wheeled him around and galloped down the hill and into the worst of the fighting. Liberators were dropping like flies. Even the sturdy Paladins were falling to the swarm of crazed berserkers. As he searched for Korad, he was surprised to see the lifeless bodies of many Paladins and Liberator-Primes, all his champions, heartlessly butchered without remorse. The surprise was that Stormcasts do not normally leave bodies when they are killed, but Sigmar sends lightning down to retake their immortal souls. Ulman followed the trail of carnage until he heard the unmistakable sound of steel on steel. He pushed his way through a horde of Bloodreavers and was shocked when the marauders just moved out of the way and let him pass. At first, he thought they were scared of him, but he then remembered that Orayszheld had declared Ulman as one of his targets and his troops were more afraid of their general than Ulman. As he made his way through the mass of berserkers he realized that they had formed a crude arena for their general to fight in. Inside the arena were Orayszheld and a very bloodied Korad. Ulman immediately smashed through the BloodWarriors in front of him and Rex leaped into the arena, all at once a huge shaft of lightning slammed onto the ground between Orayszheld and Korad, soaking Korad in its healing light and pushing Orayszheld back in agonizing pain. Korad quickly jumped up, grabbed his halberd and readied himself for the onslaught to continue. The lightning gave Ulman and Ilyord, who had been following Ulman all this time, time to regroup and get ready to face Orayszheld. “You cowards.” Orayszheld laughed evilly, “Even with all three of you fighting, you can’t beat me. I’ve never been beaten, not by any man, beast or spirit. Fighting you will be like breaking twigs.” Before the others could stop him, Korad let out a roar and ran strait for Orayszheld, swinging his halberd right at his throat. Orayszheld was waiting for this, so when Korad charged him, he looked for an opening, found it, spun away from the halberd, and executed a perfect slice into Korad’s exposed torso, tearing a huge gap into his stomach. Korad doubled over in pain, realizing his mistake too late. “The rage of the Blood god getting to your brain caused you to not think clearly enough, and in one on one combat, victory goes to those that think on their feet and do not second guess themselves.” Orayszheld explained calmly to Korad, as if he were lecturing his own son. “Aaagghh!” Orayszheld screamed as he was burned by the holy lightning of Simar. He looked over and saw Ilyord channeling his magical powers through his reliquary staff. “Your next, Relic-Bearer!” he promised through gritted teeth. Suddenly, as he was distracted by Ilyord, he was flung forwards as a huge hammer blow slammed into his back. He sprung to his feet, ducked the next blow, and delivered a strong high kick into the face of Rex. Then he turned, and with lightning speed he ran straight at Ilyord, who was closing his eyes in concentration for another powerful blast. Ilyord was not expecting to get smashed into the blood-soaked ground, so he flung his hammer out to try to catch on Orayszheld, but he missed, and came crashing down. Orayszheld took the opportunity to jump on top of him and as he did, he sliced his axe down onto the arm of Ilyord, severing it off completely. But before he could go for the head, Ulman was there, he had fallen off his Dracoth and charged Orayshzeld, but it was too late. Without his commanders to help him, he was quickly defeated and thrown to the dirt in a heap. In his victory, Orayszheld calmly walked over to each Stormcast and casually removed their heads. His victory was short-lived however, as thousands of shafts of light rained down on his army. Out of those lights came towering reptile-like-men called Seraphon, the lizard warriors made quick work of Orayszheld’s depleted army. In a few hours, all that was left of the massive Khorne horde was Orayszheld, but he knew no fear, for he had just slain three of Sigmar’s best. He charged straight for the largest of the lizardmen and jabbed his skullgourger right into his opponent’s stomach, as the warrior fell, Orayszheld was suddenly trapped in a sphere of energy. He tried his hardest to break out of this prison but every time he slammed his body into the walls of the cage, his energy was sapped from him. Soon he gave up, and just lie there waiting for his imminent fate. Hours later, he woke to the sound of reptilian voices. One creature looked like an overweight toad riding on a hover chair. The creature approached him and spoke. Orayszheld was surprised he could understand it. “I am Lord Kroak, the oldest Slann to walk the Mortal Realms.” “Yeah, so what. What do you want from me?” “We will make you a warrior for good and not evil. We will team you up with a few other experimental warriors, and we will send you out to repulse the evil of Chaos.” Then all went black. Orayszheld was no more. Until now. Spoiler: Story Six: Excitement Excitement “You wish your Cohort to be allowed leave to attend the next Festival of Tlanxla?” asked the Master of the City’s Works. “Yes, sir” Mu-Lat the spawning leader addressed. “Hmmm, I’m just curious. Your spawning has no direct association with Tlanxla. You have not worked with Terradon keepers nor have you fought in many battles. You are workers and foragers. Good workers and foragers, you earned some time off for sure, but why spend it doing this?” asked the Skink chief. “We can use the excitement. We have never been more than a two or three days’ journey from Tlaxtlan. We can use some excitement. We want to see the exhibitions of the greatest Terradon riders up close.” Replied Mu-Lot. “Very well, your leave is granted, I hope the flyers do not disappoint.” The Skink chief politely waved him out. One month later Twenty-three Skinks, all spawning brothers, were trudging through the shallow swamps west of Tlaxtlan. They were tired from the marching, but excitedly all chirping at once. “Should we set up camp now?” “Let’s try to get a few more miles in before dusk. Then we can set up camp.” “The sun seems to be setting faster than last night.” “Quit complaining. We are actually going to get to attend the Festival of Tlanxla in Tlanxla. I cannot wait to see all those Terradons in one place!” “Why aren’t we going around the Piranha Swamps?” “We are going around! The Piranha Swamps are huge!” “This is a swamp. Those fish are piranha. We are still on the edge of the Piranha Swamps.” “You want to go that far south by Quittax? We won’t make the ceremony in time.” “But the piranha!” “They aren’t biting. They only go after cold blooded prey when they are desperate for food, so we are safe this time of year.” “There’s more than piranha in these swamps.” “We were spawned to march through swamps. We can do this!” “Is that a salamander’s sail!” “Mahrlect!” “SCATTER!” Mu-Lat shouted. At the cohort leader’s command, the Skinks scattered rapidly. An earthen toned female salamander emerged from the murky depths at the sight of fleeing prey and expelled a bout of flammable gas. “Attack!” Mu-Lat shouted. About half the Skinks had enough of their wits to throw a javelin. Most missed or bounced off the Salamanders hide or sail, but enough hit that the Salamander felt it. She receded into the waters and swam away, seeking easier prey. “Anyone hurt?” “I got singed a little, but I think I should be okay.” “Me too.” Two Skinks brandished the shiny red marks on their arms. “We better get some aloe on those burns and cover them.” “How about we put some distance from that Salamander, and then treat them?” A dozen heads nodded in agreement. “Agreed” said Mu-Lat. Eight Hours later “It’s not supposed to rain this hard unexpectedly this time in the year!” a Skink shouted through the near horizontal rain. The Skinks turned their faces away from the wind to protect their eyes as tiny hail lashed against their scaly hides. “Hope the Terradons don’t have to fly in this mess.” “The Terradons? What about us?” “Mahrlect, there goes our supply tent.” “Grab it! Grab it” A swell of water carried the tent away. Along the swell, a crocodile rode the wave. “You grab it!” Fortunately the beast seemed more interested in finding respite from the storm than finding food, but none of the Skinks wanted to tempt the predator. Mu-Lat took charge and the spawning brothers cautiously gathered what supplies they could salvage. “It’ll be dawn in a few hours and no one is getting back to sleep, so we might as well get moving. If the rain doesn’t stop we will have to go entirely around the Pirahna Swamps. We’ll be safer on higher ground. Pick up the pace everyone! We need to move faster if we are going to make it to the festival on time” three days later “AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!” “Run! Faster! Faster!” The ground shook as the two bull Stegadons continued their brawl. They were ignoring the Skinks but that was precious little comfort as they unintentionally felled tree after tree. A winded Skink turned to his spawning brother scowling. “Thanks for advising me to run! It never would have occurred to me to get out of the way of TWO ANGRY STEGADONS!” “You're welcome,” came the equally sarcastic reply “Territory fight I guess.” Said a third. “Maybe a fight over mates.” There was a loud crash as a tree fell. The jungle reverberated with an ear splitting roar. “All that fury over mating! Sexual reproduction must surely be a creation of Chaos. I don’t see why the Old Ones didn’t make all life come from pools.” “Never mind, we need to find the others and regroup. When we get to the thicker foliage and rougher terrain we’ll be out of Stegadon territory, it should be safer away from the larger fauna” Mu-Lat stated. Two days later “Into the trees! Quickly!” The Skinks had killed the first Cold One but a half dozen more followed. The faster ones bought time for the slower ones by raining javelins down at the pack of predators to dissuade them. By some miracle, all the Skinks safely made it up a tree. Though most of them had to drop their packs and the Cold Ones were savaging them for every scrap of food. “Thank Tlanxla for granting us speed!” “Thank Tlanxla for granting us trees.” “I love trees!” Three days later “It’s got me!” A vine wrapped around a Skink's leg and started dragging him towards the tree trunk nearly twice as thick as a Kroxigor. “My ankle! Cut it! Cut it!” “Cut your ankle? Another spawning brother drew a machete and cut the vine. “The vine, puddle brain.” The plants vines and thorns were still writhing. Two Skinks threw javelins which embedded deep in the bark, but the tree didn’t react anymore than a bastladon to a wasp on its shell. It still reached out with its many thorned vines, but the Skinks had all fled a safe distance away. “I thought carnivorous trees were just a tall tale the Sotek Skinks made up to frighten tadpoles!” “By the Old Ones, what more can go wrong if the very plants are trying to kill us?” “I prefer it when we eat the plants, not the other way around!” Two days later “We should be very close to Tlanxla now?” “Good, we are running out of time.” “Kylek, are you okay?” “Why are the colors shifting? Woah, look at my claws. They are so big!” “I told you not to eat that plant…” The Skink coughed and wretched, his brothers backed away. "The Cold Ones ate our food, what else could I eat—ack!" “Don’t worry about Kylek, I think the plants are coming back up….” One day later Twenty-three battered, bloodied, and burned Skinks took their seats among the spectator’s viewing platform watching the formations of Terradons flying. A low ranking Skink priest ushered them to some benches “Ah, you came all the way from Tlaxtlan on foot! This is your first Festival of Tlanxla?” “Yep.” Mu-Lat replied. “Made it just in time. This is just practice. The actual festival starts tomorrow.” “I’m just glad we made it.” A light green Skink walked over. “This is our first Festival of Tlanxla too! I can’t wait to see what the Terradon riders, tomorrow will be the most exciting day of our lives! Am I right?” Mu-Lat looked over his bruised, tired, hungry, burned, poison addled, and scratched brothers and rolled his eyes. “Yes, I’m sure we can all use some more excitement in our lives...” Spoiler: Story Seven: Looking for Limza Looking for Limza Paso sprinted out of the trees and into the empty ruins of a temple city. The skink was breathing hard and casting terrified glances behind him. Darting among the crumbling and overgrown masonry, he dived into a gully between two half-broken walls, covered by a canopy of ferns. Paso's chest went up and down in the dappled green shadows of his hiding place. A millipede scuttled over his foot. The entire jungle murmured quietly. Paso poked his head slowly through the foliage. "Ah, a companion in this deserted place. Capital!" The voice surprised him so much that he leapt bodily over the nearest wall and buried his head under his arms before he even knew what happened. "I say, where on earth did you go?" continued the voice. Peaking through his fingers, Paso was confronted by the grinning face of another skink. Wearing a feathered headdress. He picked himself up, sheepishly. "Oh, uh, good morning, your worship," he began. "Call me Yoatl," cried the priest. "And who might you be?" "Paso, your- Yoatl. Fifth infantry, sir. I was just...trying to find my way back to my company. I was separated in an engagement with-" "No troops around here, as far as I know," said Yoatl, who was already moving off through the ruins, looking all around. "This is the abandoned city of Limza. Strategically inconsequential, or so everyone thought. The Mage Priests sent me to make sure there aren't any precious artefacts left. If you help me look, I'll guide you back to the forward operating base near Axlotl. I'm sure they'll sort you out there. It's a good thing you found me. Not just rats abroad in this territory. I'll keep you safe." "Thank you, your worship," said Paso, although the priest was already out of sight among the stones and overgrowth. Eyes flickering back and forth, Paso began to pace silently backwards. "You look in the direction you advance, soldier!" came a new voice directly behind him. "Didn't your commander teach you that?" Paso shrieked and fell to the ground once again, while the newcomer, another skink who seemed accustomed to command, glared down at him. Picking himself up, Paso saw Yoatl reappear from behind a crumbling wall. "A third visitor! The Old Ones have smiled upon us today. Name's Yoatl." He bowed. "And this is young Paso, separated tragically in the line of duty." "Captain Iktan at your service," barked the officer, and he waved at a ruby terradon that was preening itself on a nearby palm tree. "And this is Takol. Our mission is to scout this area for any signs of skaven or cultist activity." "Cultists?" squeaked Paso. "You mean the Lost Clan?" "Have you encountered them?" inquired Iktan, with a penetrating stare. Paso shook his head, while Yoatl spoke up: "We have seen no sign of either quarry, for which we are very grateful. But we will assist you in your duty. Let us scour these ruins. Any useful artefacts I will return to my masters, and any hiding vermin - of either variety - you can report to yours. And Paso here will accompany whichever of us he prefers back to his station." Iktan grunted while Paso stared at his feet. He watched the other skinks stalk off among the low, disused buildings, through twisted alleys that led to the modest central pyramid a little ways off. Large clouds were building overhead, and a few drops had already splashed over dusty stones. When the priest and the captain were out of sight, Paso turned and crept away in the opposite direction. He went directly for the short little tree where Takol the crimson terradon perched, and scurried up into its fronds. He emerged face to face with the large flying reptile, its beak much sharper than he expected. It considered him. Cautiously, he reached out a hand and stroked its neck. It did not respond. Even more cautiously, he climbed up and straddled the beast. "Go! Fly! Giddyup!" hissed Paso. The terradon turned its head to consider him. Then, almost ponderously, it rolled, tipping Paso neatly off its back and out of the tree. He barely had time to scream before he hit the ground, where, to his surprise, he crashed through several rotting planks of wood into a damp, lightless cellar. "Stupid red bat," Paso muttered, pain twanging all across his body. Dusting himself off, he froze. There was a distinct scurrying sound in the darkness. Slowly lifting his head, Paso saw the unmistakable gleam of two wet eyes in the gloom. They turned and vanished away into unknown regions. Paso thought it was suddenly very cold down here. Scrabbling for an exit, he found stairs, leading up. On the first of them, there was a long thin object that he instinctively grabbed as he rushed upwards, pushing aside more rotten planks to emerge back into the world of radiant colours. "I see you have found an intriguing hidden storage space," said Yoatl, who was watching him from not far away. "And in very short time, too. Almost like you knew it was there. Additionally, you appear to be armed. Is there something you would like to tell me, young... Paso, was it? Or do you have another name, given to you by the Lost Clan?" "Your worship, what are you-" "You think I wouldn't recognise the carvings on your weapon?" Paso looked down at the thin, grey tube in his hands. It was a blowpipe, inscribed with strange symbols. "I just found this, it's not mine!" "So a cultist left it behind, did they? A sacred weapon built with great difficulty for magical accuracy - its owner decided not to keep it?" The feathers on the priest's headdress rustled as the old skink grinned. He continued: "I knew you weren't a soldier. Too skittish, even for a newspawn." He watched Paso squirm, in confirmation of his words. "I think you'd better hand that blowpipe over to me." Paso stared as Yoatl held out a claw. He felt the almost imperceptible weight of the thin object in his hands. The moment stretched. The light rain seemed to be getting heavier. "I am no cultist," Paso said, quietly. "Please have mercy upon me." He held out the blowpipe. Yoatl reached forward to take it - only to be yanked backwards into the arms of Captain Iktan. In a flash, the officer had an obsidian knife at the throat of the priest. "Reclaiming something you misplaced, eh?" hissed the military lizard. "Trying to frame this upstanding soldier for your own crimes? Is that your game, eh?" "Now see here," stuttered Yoatl, his eyes wide. "Let's not do anything rash. We're all sensible lizards." "Are we? Because I don't know either one of you," rasped Iktan, clutching the knife tighter, while his other hand reached inside the priest's vestments, where it extracted something that shone in the half light. "Now let's see what we have here. A priest in possession of the Golden Diadem of Tzunki. And what's this? The ivory astrolabe of Tlaxtlan." "Vital relics that I am taking to my masters-" "Indeed?" sneered Iktan. "Would they be the Mage Priests? Or warmblood looters from the Old World? These items were reported missing from their vault only last week. It's a pleasure to meet you, so-called Jaguar Thief!" Paso gasped. "You're the legendary Jaguar!? You sold irreplaceable plaques of the Old Ones to our enemies! You lifted fifty-seven sacks of gemstones from the High Temple of Itza!" The priest no longer quivered pitiously under Iktan's knife. His expression had changed. He grinned like a piranha. "The pleasure," he drawled, "is all mine!" With a sudden swipe of his tail, he knocked away Iktan's legs and vaulted over a nearby wall. Leaping up again, the Captain gave a whistle and was immediately in pursuit. Paso watched in stupefaction as the not-exactly-a-priest flung away his headdress and sprinted into the city, only to be bowled over by a swift scarlet blur from the side. Takol fluttered down nearby as the Jaguar lay panting in the dirt, and Iktan arrived moments later. But Yoatl was laughing. "You must be the freelancer I've heard so much about. Let's see how good you are!" With another agile tail movement, he was up again, and a perfectly aimed blow sent the dagger flying from Iktan's hand. The two skinks were immediately toe-to-toe, scrabbling, biting and pummelling each other in a flurry of action. Iktan pinned his quarry to a wall. "Don't just stand there, kid! Shoot him!" "Do not aid this lizard. He is as much an imposter as I. All he seeks is the bounty on my head!" screamed Yoatl, as he wriggled free and sent his foe reeling with a kick to the chest. Iktan roared. "I only hunt the enemies of Lustria! You serve none but yourself!" "Paso! If you shoot this lizard I will give you the Diadem. I'll make sure you never have to fight another battle!" Paso looked down at the strange grey blowpipe, and back up at the brawling lizards. "I know you won't do it," said Iktan, breathing hard as he held Yoatl firm in a headlock. "You're a good lizard and a patriot. But as a reward, I will give you half the bounty if you shoot the Jaguar." Both combatants looked expectantly at Paso, the fight poised in a fragile stalemate. Paso took several steps backwards, and the thin pipe fell from his hands. "Stop it, please! Just stop fighting! Everywhere I go, there's nothing but fighting!" Iktan snarled, and dug his teeth into Yoatl's shoulder. The thief screamed and fell writhing to the ground, and the bounty hunter was upon him, binding his hands securely behind his back with twine. Iktan stood again with a grunt of victory and turned to Paso. "No more fighting, eh?" he said. "I'd like that. Ah." Iktan put his hand to his neck. There was a tiny feathered dart there. He pulled it out and stared at it. Then he collapsed beside his captive, foam dribbling from his mouth. Yoatl turned to Paso in amazement. "You did it! You saved-" "That wasn't me!" shrieked Paso, face a mask of horror. He turned and ran straight into a new arrival. Paso tripped back in fright, landing hard on the ground, and looked up at the figure just as lightning struck the bulk of the dark pyramid behind, and the storm opened up its deluge. In the brilliance of the flash, Paso saw a skink in a ragged grey cloak, its face covered by a wooden mask resembling a rat's face with long, twisted horns. On its chest a crude equilateral triangle was carved in blood. "Good gods," breathed Yoatl. Paso was speechless. As rain thundered down, splashing across weathered flagstones, the terrible figure advanced. Paso scrabbled backwards, desperately flailing towards the Jaguar Thief, who was still bound by Iktan's twine. Dimly, he saw the red terradon take to the air and squawk away towards the trees. After a few steps, the rat-faced skink stopped and bent to pick up the grey blowpipe. Through the sheets of rain, Paso glimpsed other lizards among the ruins now, all wearing grey robes. "Quick! There!" hissed the ex-priest, by Paso's ear. He looked at what Yoatl was indicating: the late Iktan's obsidian blade. While the cult leader examined the pipe, Paso dashed for the dagger and quickly freed the thief. He saw the other lizards lift their own blowpipes to their mouths, but the masked leader raised a claw to stop them. "Run," it said, in a cracked, maddening voice. "We will not hunt you. I cannot say as much for our colleagues." There was another flash of lightening, fixing the entire scene in incandescence, and for the briefest moment Paso thought he saw huge, lumbering shapes rearing upwards. Thunder rolled, and with it a sickening, screeching cry. "They have rat ogres!" shrieked Yoatl, eyes bulging in horror. "Or something worse. Run!" The two of them sprinted into the rain. Paso felt terror in every part of his body. Behind them, chilling howls echoed through the city, frighteningly powerful and never far away. They seemed to be surrounded. "This way!" shouted Yoatl, splashing among some masonry and weaving through the streets. Paso realised they were at the base of the pyramid itself, and his companion was bounding up the staircase. Halfway to the summit, there was a large entrance. "Hurry!" screamed the skink, beckoning desperately. Paso glanced back down, and saw huge shapes converging below. As they bounded towards him, he leapt up to where Yoatl stood, and dived inside. He glimpsed his companion pulling a lever in the wall, and a huge slab of stone slammed down, leaving them in sudden darkness and reducing the pounding rain to a faint murmur outside. The two dripping skinks listened to each other breathe. "How did you-" "Robbed enough abandoned temples to know how they work. We're sealed in. Now let's see..." said Yoatl. There was a scratching sound, and a torch ignited the darkness. "Good. We should be safe in here for now. With any luck, they'll send someone looking for the lost bounty hunter. Or maybe the cultists will get bored." "Um, are you sure we're alone in here?" asked Paso. There was a silence. "Good question. Let's search the lower levels." It was a small temple. An examination of the lightless corridors, sanctums and storage rooms produced nothing. They returned to the main entrance and sagged down. "Lizards worshipping rats," mused Yoatl. "Thought I'd seen everything. Hey kid, sorry for pretending to be a priest." "I didn't really get separated from my unit," responded Paso, glumly. "I'm a des-" He stopped at the sudden and amazingly loud sound of chittering and scrabbling, near at hand. Both lizards felt their blood freeze. "What...was that?" said Yoatl. "We checked the lower levels! There's nothing here!" Something very close screeched horribly. Yoatl gulped, and stared squarely at Paso. "It came from above," he said. Spoiler: Story Eight: To Escape Fate To Escape Fate When death came to claim Star Priest Xarn it would come from above. The Star Priest had lashed his tail angrily as the stars continued to show him the same future for the third night in a row. Several times he had considered consulting his fellow Skink Priests or even attempting to gain the attention of the City’s slumbering Slann. But despite his mounting fear, an unsettling feeling for the Skink who had always had such confidence in his abilities and duty, he decided not to. He would handle this fate. If the star alignments to the winds of magic were to go by anything, he had a just over ten days before the prophecy was to come to pass. He had prepared a chamber sealed with potent magic and wards so that when the time came he would prevent such an event from happening. Just as his final preparations neared completion a messenger arrived with summons to the Warchiefs. Xarn had resisted the urge to bite his own tail in frustration but went all the same, endeavouring to keep out of the open as much as possible and studying the ceilings around him with nervous worry. When he finally arrived at the Warchiefs’ Council his heart sank as the scarred faces of Skink and Sauri turned towards him expectantly. “Star Priest Xarn. News has come that dread Harkon is seeking to expand along the coast. Lord Yixix of Axlotl requested that you lead our forces to stop Harkon’s expansion.” Xarn quivered. “I cannot go, the stars tell me that I shall die if I go. And I fear my death shall mean defeat for our army. Surely there is someone else better suited to cast back the undead threat?” One of the Skink Warchiefs, and old warrior long missing an eye, glared at Xarn. “You question the wisdom of the Slann? You believe your own life is worth more than the Great Plan? It is decreed that you will go, even if it is to your death.” Xarn gulped as the chamber filled with the eyes of killers stared at him with anger. “Then...I shall go,” Xarn said at last. With his army, the one-eyed Warchief, and a heavy heart, Xarn travelled for over a week until they arrived at the coast. Xarn had been particularly wary of all potential disasters that might befall him, but the jungles seemed quiet. Too quiet. Moving to meet the Vampire’s forces took a further two days before they came in sight of tattered sails and shambling figures in the near distance. It was on the tenth day that the two armies met. Booming cannons and roaring guns tore through ranks of Lustrians, the stamping claws of Cold One riders smashed gangs of piratical zombies to smithereens, great undead leviathans of the deep tore at Carnosaur and Stegadon alike, and above the battle great tattered winged bats duelled with Terradon Riders. Xarn channelled the fury of the heavens time and time again, great forked lightning casting flying horrors from the skies, gusts of howling winds to snatch bullets from their course, and shouted warnings to the Warchief from hesitant glimpses into the future. It was then that the battle turned. Upon leathery wings a humanoid figure dived downwards with a coterie of winged corpses. The one-eyed Warchief gazed up in time to see a long blade pierce his remaining eye and sink into his brain. The Vampire turned her red eyes towards Xarn and flashed him a fang filled smile, not Harkon but one of his allies in death. The Vampire cackled and leapt towards Xarn. As he stared up he saw his star fated death approach. For the briefest of moments he resigned himself to his imminent demise, but then cold resolve kicked in. He cried out, pouring all of his power past his limits into a blast of pure starlight. The Vampire shrieked as flesh sloughed from bone and then with a wheeze became naught but ash. Half dead from his actions, Xarn slumped against a tree as the Lustrians rallied and pushed back the faltering undead. He had done it! He had thwarted the fates and saved the coastline from a grave threat. He was still smiling when a coconut fell from the tree and crushed his skull. Spoiler: Story Nine: Fallen Leaf Fallen Leaf A Saurus stoically stood, leering at his lone Saurian opponent with its blade adorned club held firmly. between and all around them, stood the trees that had started shedding their brightly colored leaves in earnest. The undergrowth; barely noticeable amidst the many leaves that fell upon them. With a shattering roar, the Saurus charged forth, trembling the many watching leaves above. His opponent; a suspected preacher of the ancient enemy, was found out not before it killed a Skink priest and fled. The Saurus bought down his heavy club in a vertical slash, intersecting with his opponent’s own club in fury. His opponent; among the many that were the Saurus’ spawn brethren. All of them, together, looked forward towards bashing in the small ratty heads of the Skaven. The Sauri roared in pain as both of their clubs met flesh instead of each other, raining the blood of their respective masters onto the numerous leaves before them. And yet… here they were, fighting to the death as if both of their destined fates intertwined with each other with only one allowed to continue… a logical analogue towards nature itself, indeed, they thought. The Saurus leaped at his opponent in an attempt to bring down the full force of his strength and his resolve down into an unrelenting swing. His opponent, however, side stepped fast enough away from the downward swing, swinging his club in return. But at what cost does this logical analogue of nature pertain to? The Saurus prayed and prayed to the Old Ones in many illogical hopes and dreams that the accusations were false… The Saurus weakly blocked his opponent’s attack, stuttering slightly at its inertia powering through his Saurian body. Seeing this, his opponent quickly followed up with another horizontal swing to end this. Why must Chaos manifest through the souls of the many? At what point in the future will the Old Ones’ world and all of its souls fall into the deepest depths of chaos? Is there any hope for any of us at all? The Saurus instinctively leapt back to avoid the club, but it was too late, for it carved a meager path through his torso, raining a stream of painful blood. He leered into the small redden eyes of his opponent with rage making his Saurian body tremble. Under the cold cloudy skies, the reach of the dark powers seemed infinite, but the yearnful, burning flicker of the Old Ones’ children still burns on despite this. The burning blood inside him told him further: Winning here is paramount; survival isn’t. The opponent took to the initiative, and charged forth, seeing that victory is but only a falling leaf away. Enraged, but dutifully focused, the Saurus deceptively waited until only the perfect moment. The opponent’s club prepared itself for another downing of saurian blood as it spear headed towards the Saurus. Before it could strike, however, the Saurus side stepped away, swinging his own club with all his might towards the opponent’s out stretched club. It’s all over now. The stricken club dropped from the opponent’s scaly hands, providing the perfect opening to end this. The Saurus slashed his opponent’s torso before it could reliably defend itself, dropping down onto a pile of leaves below. With victory hung high in the drafty air, the Saurus raised his club above his opponent’s head. “Any last words, spawn brother?” “I’ve fallen… and so will all at some point!” The opponent roared whilst struggling and detesting its fate, "Chaos is all there is, spawn brother!" With those roars sounded off, the Saurus’ club cleaved through the head it’s been yearning to cleave through. The Opponent’s Saurian head rolled forward from its body, bathing in a pool of blood. It’s all over now… *** Many hours later, the Saurus stopped its march back to its temple city and looked up above. A single golden-brown leaf dangled upon its branch. It was lonely with all of its brethren already fallen down to the ground; destined to be decomposed into the soil of the ground below. It occurred to the Saurus that his spawning brother’s body will do the same; far into the unforeseeable future, feeding the hungry soil below its nutrients – a way of nature and the Old Ones despite his treachery. The leaf suddenly fell and gilded down onto the Saurus’ scaly snout. He then did the unthinkable. He contradicted what his spawn brethren would expect of him. He contradicted the will of the Slann mage-priests. He contradicted his sole purpose put forth for him by the Old Ones themselves. He cried. Spoiler: Story Ten: Starlight and Shadows Starlight and Shadows Savinne rubbed her fingers together, encouraging the blood to keep flowing. Despite the oppressive heat they felt cold and had gradually turned a pale shade of blue. The rope around her wrists held her arms at an uncomfortable angle as she followed the sailors through the towering trees. Sailors was her preferred term for them, because ‘treasure hunters’ leant towards a romanticised sense of adventure and ‘mercenaries’ suggested a certain amount of wit and ferocity. Savinne didn’t think the men who now escorted her through the trees possessed either. If they did they wouldn’t be at the back end of the world robbing temples and shrines of ancient civilisations and they wouldn’t have brought her with them. However they did like their drink, and from Savinne’s nights spent watching the best and worst of Men at seaside taverns and the inns along the docks, the nicest name to give them would be ‘sailors’. There was a creak of leather and a rasp of breath as the leader of the expedition drew beside her. “Not liking your little adventure so much now, are we?” he sneered and Savinne tried not to recoil at the smell and sight of yellowed teeth and grime covered beard. She internally rolled her eyes and looked up at him pleadingly. “N-no sir. R-really I could go back to the ship. I won’t cause trouble, I s-swear.” She reached out to him beseechingly with her bound hands, fingers grazing the knife that lay concealed beneath his vest. He gave her a less than encouraging slap on the back and laughed to himself before joining the front of the party. Soon. To be entirely honest, the whole thing was a mistake. She was supposed to be on a ship to Araby, for no reason other than that a scorching death in the deserts would be favourable to a cold and wet demise at the hands of Albion. A simple misunderstanding had her stowing away on the wrong ship to the wrong southern land mass. But in the end, it worked out for everyone; the ‘treasure-hunting mercenaries’ would get free labour and clean dishes and she wouldn’t die from natural causes. She could still hear the ocean in the distance, waves crashing on the long, untouched beaches of the Southern Continent. They had been travelling parallel to the beach for almost two days at a bumbling pace. That was where her hope lay. She could reach the anchored ship on one of the long boats and eventually make her way back to civilisation. One thing was certain; she knew that if she didn’t act soon, they would all meet their fate at the hands of whatever was calling out in the night, the unearthly screeches; the footprints around the campfire no one else seemed to notice. They wouldn’t last a week. >>-<< The next morning, the first one went missing. One of the younger men, a boy really, probably having gone to seek privacy in the small hours of the morning. No one spoke of it further than saying he probably got lost and got bitten by one of the various poisonous animals that inhabited the jungle. A day later, one of the shoddy tents had been torn- broken into- and the inhabitants were missing. Their belongings remained in a crumpled heap amongst the tent’s remains. Supposedly they had ran off to rob the temples before the rest of the party could arrive, hoping to keep all the treasure to themselves. However, they clearly didn’t think it through, as the only map had been left behind, perfectly safe in the leaders possesion. Faking the disappearance as an animal attack was also pointless as an animal that vicious would have made some noise and left a trail, obviously. But that night as Savinne washed the cook ware, hands unbound for a small while, she saw them. Eyes. Just within the jungle, watching her. Golden slits that seemed to glow in the deep shadows the fire light cast. She blinked and they were gone. The knives were kept separate from the other utensils in case the acting scullery maid got any creative ideas. There was little chance she would come up with a feasible plan to steal the leader’s knife, but she had to think of some alternative fast. The expedition leader sat with his back to her, facing the fire several feet away. He was laughing and chatting with the other men, a few casting unreadable glances in Savinne’s direction. Tonight, then. >>-<< Hands bound and eyes shut, Savinne listened as the noises of the campsite dulled down to the steady breathing of sleep. In her hands she held shard of stone, having found it around the camp when she was washing up. The man on watch sat beside the fire, tossing on a log every so often. Savinne, tied to a tree near the outskirts of the site, blinked, adjusting to the darkness. Thin trails of moon and starlight filtered through the thick canopy, casting odd shadows alongside the flickering yellow glow of the fire. The leader of the expedition had finally fallen asleep within his tent, quiet rustling of bedding and clinking of blade gave way to obnoxious snoring and the noises of sleep. His tent was a few feet away from where Savinne sat, and behind her the jungle was calling. The chirping insects droned on into a monotonous chorus, interrupted occasionally by an unearthly shriek. Was it her imagination, or were they closer than they had been the past nights? Savinne worked the stone from her closed fist to her fingers, cutting into her skin as she got it into a workable position. She set to work on the ropes, drawing the stone back and forth as the fibres began to snap. Before long, she could pull her hands free and she was sawing away at the bindings around her ankles. The man by the fire had his back turned and Savinne stole the opportunity. She slipped silently into the trees, her bare feet making barely a sound on the leaf littered floor. As she backed away from the moonlit clearing, Savinne noticed strange shadows cast about the site. She scanned the tree line, but there was no hint of movement or life. A jungle bird gave a cry into the night before taking to the sky and spiralling up into the night. Startled by the eerie call, Savinne’s eyes drifted towards the canopy and- There! A shadow sliding down the thick trunk of a branchless jungle tree, then gone again. Savinne narrowed her eyes and gazed around to the tree tops, and again. A shadow for a split second before disappearing almost immediately. The insects faded into silence and an ear-splitting scream tore through the clearing. Savinne covered her ears and watched in horror as from the trees descended dozens of slim, lithe shapes. They scampered down tree trunks with practiced ease and landed silently in the clearing. Savinne frantically searched for the man who had been by the fire, supposedly keeping watch, only to see him hoisted up into the trees without a sound. Savinne was about to scream when she realised that this was exactly the opportunity she needed. She turned and ran into the jungle, trying her best to stay silent. The sound of muffled voices came from behind her as the crew began to wake up, confused by the scream. As Savinne drew further East, she could just make out the sound of waves crashing against the shore. She must have been running for nearly an hour, her heart beating against her ribcage. She just had to make it out of the trees and the suffocating heat of the jungle, away from those… things. Then she could get safely back to the boat and… she wouldn’t think to far ahead. Focus on getting out of the jungle, first. A thick, salty breeze hit Savinne’s face as she pushed through the scrub and into the open. Rotting leaves gave way to soft, white sand beneath her feet. She gasped for breath and stumbled out onto the beach, putting as much distance between her and the trees as possible. Sticky, salt water swept around Savinne’s feet as she collapsed into the sea. The stars flickered far overhead, the moon reflected clearly on the great expanse of water, and something else. A flicker of darkness. A shadow. Spoiler: Story Eleven: The Darkest Hour The Darkest Hour The sky was red. Blood was being spilled. Itza was under siege. I watched in horror as thousands upon thousands of minions of Chaos poured out of the rift. Daemons and warriors charging with one goal in mind, to destroy our city. I saw the mighty legions of Itza join together: kroxigors and skinks, warriors and guards. Itza was not going to fall easily. I was to lead them to battle. To unravel the rift and put an end to the Chaos tides. I sat on my palanquin with my faithful advisor Ten-zlati. Ten-zlati looked to me and said “Almighty Lord Kroak, what shall we do?” I replied “we shall go for the rift, it must be destroyed. “Very well Master,” he replied. With a shout, I hovered my palanquin over my forces. Seeing me, the army rallied with a triumphant shout. I called upon my magic. I felt the arcane energies rippling inside of me. After a moment I slowly raised my hands to the sky. The earth outside the city folded upon itself. I watched as bloodletters were trying to escape the earth. Most of them could not. Then I watched in horror as they started piling up dead bodies so that they could walk across to my armies. I watched as my armies ripped through their ranks and finally defeated them. No more came through the rift. The soldiers started cheering. I held up my hand for them to stop. This didn’t seem right. Suddenly, out of the portal burst twelve bloodthirsters of Khorne. Behind them, never ending tides of Chaos poured through. The daemons went straight for me. I felt a surge of magic from within me. My hands started to crackle with power. Suddenly, comets poured from the sky the bloodthirsters tried to hold them off but inevitably succumbed to their power. Every last bloodthirster fell to the ground. From the portal came dragons. They were blood red and bathed in the blood of soldiers of Chaos who were sacrificed to them. There were about six dragons, each with a rider upon its back. They flew towards me. As they charged, me squadrons of ripperdactyl riders attacked them from all sides. They managed to kill three of them before they fell to the ground lifeless. The remaining three dragons attacked me, they blew out massive streams of crimson fire. The fire was hot enough to melt even the stone of our temple cities. As they did this I simply waved my hand, the fire did not hurt me. Astonished, they charged at me with their claws, but before they could reach me I blasted each one with seven comets. Then my heart dropped. Through the rift stepped the largest daemon I had ever seen. I recognized this daemon from ancient tones I had studied, this was Dreadblade, a High Exalted daemon of Khorne who led most of Khorne’s armies. With a beat of his massive wings he soared into the air. Then suddenly he came from above. I felt his blade go straight through me, I felt the cold touch of the metal piercing my heart. He raised me off my palanquin slowly. He looked into my dying eyes and laughed. I felt his blade slide out of me, I fell a short distance onto my palanquin. My body was splayed out and I bled. My heart had been sliced in two. I heard the telepathic cries of my Slann brethren as they watched this with horror. I heard my forces faltering. Itza would be lost. I felt myself fade into darkness. My time had ended. Then I saw a bright light and heard the voices of the Old Ones welcoming me to death. I heard the lament of our forces echoing through my head. Their cries of anguish and despair haunted me. I had died. When lizardmen die, they go to the realm of the Old Ones. I saw Tepok, the great serpent. It was he who taught me to bend the winds of magic to my bidding. It was from him that I learned my magic. He flew close to me and said “greetings, my child.” “Master, I have failed you.” I replied. He looked at me and said “my child, you have not failed me for this is all part of the Great Plan.” “Master!” I replied “is Itza destined to fall to the Chaos?” He then chuckled and said “my child, it is not your time to die.” “But I am already dead, I replied.” He spoke to me saying “reach deep within yourself, remember what I taught you.” Then he faded away. I stood there thinking. Then, I remembered something, I had an epiphany. I realized that I could use the winds of magic to carry me back to the mortal realm. I concentrated, drawing upon all of my power. I channeled the ancient ritual Tepok has taught me. Then, I felt a massive jerk and I realized that I was back at Itza. I saw Dreadblade still laughing. Suddenly, the flesh of my body withered off and the bones were wrapped in linen. Dreadblade looked confused. I then spoke with a ghostly and echoing voice and said “BEGONE FROM THIS LAND!” Suddenly, I reached out with a skeletal hand and grabbed onto the daemon’s face. My eye sockets glowed a ghostly blue. The feel of my new body was significantly different. My skeletal hands grasped his face with the very grip of death. Dreadblade gave out a dreadful scream as his face melted away and he crumpled into nothingness. I raised my skeletal hands to the sky and chanted with the very power of the ancient ones. The sky turned black and clouds started whirling around. Lightning crackled through the air. Energy from all the temples of Lustria poured to me. Suddenly with a massive push lightning and meteors rained upon the Chaos forces and the rift zapped shut. I watched as the remaining Chaos daemons tried to run. They stopped when they saw me. I slowly lowered my palanquin to them. They were bloodletters. The nearest bloodletters charged at me. When their spears got close they stopped. I used my magic to hold them still. Slowly my outstretched hand closed shut. I watched as the bloodletters crumpled into dust. My time had begun. If I missed something that needs to be fixed, let me know by a private message. If there is more than one error in a single piece, please message me the entire edited piece rather than just copy and paste the corrected sentences. Less work for me that way. Per usual, critiques, comparisons and friendly banter is encouraged. I'm not going to be too strict on this, but if you are aiming to do a comprehensive critique, I'd prefer you make a few large posts rather than a swarm of little ones. Mainly for the benefit of people who are reading this thread a year from now. For the first time entrants. Voting for yourself is not forbidden but it is customary to not vote for oneself. I randomized the order I put the stories in.