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Fiction The First and the Last

Discussion in 'Fluff and Stories' started by Aginor, Mar 4, 2020.

  1. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    The First and the Last

    Chapter 1
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    "RUN!", Lutz screamed, his voice already hoarse.

    Jarel didn't need the reminder. He was already running as fast as he could. He still looked over his shoulder to see how his comrades were doing.
    Immediately he wished he hadn't looked. Most of them were already dead or dying, while the infernal laughter and singing of the Nurgle daemons reverberated over the battlefield. Jarel hated fighting Nurgle troops. They weren't only disgusting and someone fighting them had to watch out for their vile body juices, but they often were disgustingly chipper to boot, singing songs about how the 'blessings' of Grandfather Nurgle would make everyone as happy as they were.
    As far as Jarel was concerned, they could take those 'blessings' and go back wherever they had come from. No luck with that today though.
    Some units were still fighting, but Jarel's own unit was basically gone. The few who still lived, less than a dozen, were running. Jarel did not understand why, in the beginning the battle had gone well. They had mowed through those daemons with very little casualties, and their Warpriest had made sure that the daemons' foul magic did not hit them. Something had happened, and the battle's tide had turned. He was pretty sure that both his Captain and the Warpriest were dead.
    Eduardo and Lutz were a bit ahead of him, Ponn and Silas were right next to him. His closest friends in the company were still alive. Like Jarel himself they had already dropped their greatswords, with the exception of Lutz who for some reason still had his sword in his hand. But then he had always been the strongest of them, the big sword never seemed to bother him much.
    Jarel considered to drop his breastplate as well to lose some more weight, but then he wasn't sure whether he could do that while running and didn't want to risk tripping on it.
    The Plaguebearers and Nurglings were not far behind. They had to keep running until they would reach the rearguard.
    Speaking of which.... where were they? Jarel looked around but couldn't see them.
    "Where are the Stormcast?" he managed to shout.
    "Gone!" answered Eduardo over his shoulder. He was a great runner, so he obviously had some more breath left than Jarel. He barely sounded exhausted, and his slim face with the black goatee showed almost the same expression it always did when he was thinking.
    "Our only chance is the river" he shouted back, pointing ahead.
    The river. Jarel did not look forward to the river at all. Its banks were steep, sometimes even vertical, so lots of possibilities to break a leg or neck. His armor was heavy, and he was not exactly the best swimmer. Combined with the strong currents of the river that constituted an uncomfortably high chance of drowning. And this was the Realm of Beasts after all. Lots of creatures swam in the muddy waters of its rivers and lakes. Even Orruks or Daemons didn't like to cross the river here.
    Taking another look back Jarel realized that the river still was their best chance. More than two dozen daemons were chasing them, and the rest of the Freeguild and Stormcast troops were retreating into the opposite direction, toward the east.
    He looked around, still hoping that the Palladors would appear any moment and save them. They weren't. He could not believe the Stormcast had retreated. Sure, there had been a few more daemons and mortal followers of Nurgle than they had anticipated, but had they committed all their forces to this battle then Sigmar's golden soldiers would have decided this battle. Probably with heavy losses, but they would have won. Something had scared them off.

    They had run another minute or so, slowly getting some space between them and the lumbering Plaguebearers. Only the Nurglings were still keeping up with the humans, laughing and shouting in their high voices that were eerily similar to those of children. But then Silas tripped.
    Jarel could see the horror in his best friend's blue eyes when he fell.
    "Come on, buddy!" Ponn shouted as he tried to grab Silas' arm and pull him up again. But apparently Silas had hurt himself, because it took him what seemed like ages for Jarel to get up. The Nurglings were cheering and getting closer. Jarel tried to help Ponn, but they were too slow.
    "That's how we die then." Ponn said, panting. His face was grey. Jarel knew the man long enough to know that when he stopped joking, then things were going really badly.
    "At least Lutz and Eduardo will make it", Silas said and drew his sidesword.
    "and you two can make it as well" he added. "Run!"
    "I'm sorry.", Jarel managed to croak through his tightening throat.
    Tears filled Silas' eyes, but he laid a hand on Jarel's shoulder and said "Tell my Ma I love her, and that I did well."
    Jarel could only nod.
    "Now go!" Silas shouted. He wiped his bald head with his sleeve, took a deep breath, and then limped toward the Daemons, sword in hand. Jarel turned and ran. He was surprised how easy it was. The moment he realized how quickly he had left his best friend since childhood to die a horrible death he felt deeply ashamed. Despite the already near sound of Daemons behind him he turned around again, just in time to see how Silas skewered a Nurgling on his sidesword and kicked another one away like playing football all these years ago, in the Crawling City where they had grown up close to each other.
    But the other Nurglings quickly swarmed him, and he went down. Jarel could not watch, he just ran. He was glad that he couldn't hear Silas screams. He hoped that his death had been swift.
    Ponn had obviously waited longer than Jarel to leave Silas behind. The dark skinned man with the long black hair was now running a fair distance behind him. But he was getting closer, and Silas' sacrifice had obviously bought them some time. Several daemons were not following them anymore, and others had been slowed down.
    Still too many to fight them.
    When Ponn reached Jarel he looked as exhausted as Jarel himself felt. Jarel noticed that he had some green goo in his hair and a wound on his face.
    "Damn Nurgling." he panted, "Hit me." They continued to run, but only a few minutes later Ponn slowed down and started to choke. The wound on his cheek had started to ooze some liquid, and his eyes had begun to bleed. "I don't... no..." he said, then fell to the ground, clawing on the iron collar of his breastplate, fighting to breathe.
    Jarel stumbled. When he got up only a few seconds later Ponn was not moving anymore.
    He was almost angry with his feet. It was as if they had minds of their own. Eventually they started to move again: first a few slow steps but then millenia-old instincts kicked in, and he was running again.

    * * *

    It was a few more minutes of running, but to Jarel's numb mind it felt like it instantly happened. One moment he was running, and then suddenly Lutz' strong grip around his arm held him back. At first Jarel didn't understand, but he came to his senses when Lutz slapped him in his face, yelling "Hey! Come on! We have to go!" and pointed down.
    They were right on the edge of a cliff, and around 30 feet below them the river was carving its way through the bedrock of Ghur. On the other side there was a similar cliff, and then a forest of crooked, old looking trees that continued to both sides as far as Jarel could tell. But right now he ignored it. It might as well have been in another Realm, it was so far out of reach.
    Eduardo was already at the bank of the river, but he looked beat up and held his arm, so obviously climbing down that steep slope had been as problematic as Jarel had imagined.
    Jarel looked back toward the daemons, and although the men had been faster than the daemons their pursuers were not far behind.
    "We have to jump" Lutz said. "See that big log drifting down the river? We don't have to swim far, then we can hold on to that thing."
    Jarel was not even sure if he could jump far enough to reach the river and not break all his bones when hitting the rocks, but he trusted Lutz and he preferred this fate over the one Ponn and Silas had found. He nodded.
    Lutz signalled to Eduardo that they were going to try and reach the floating tree, and as they walked away a few yards to be able to make their jump Jarel saw the tall man jump into the water already, swimming toward the log.
    Lutz and Jarel ran toward the cliff and Jarel thought about how, back when he had just joined the Sixth Company, almost in another life now, this would exactly have been the kind of harebrained idea Ponn had come up with all the time. Silas and Lutz had always joined his shenanigans, while Eduardo and Jarel had tried to keep them from killing themselves.
    They jumped. Suddenly the idea seemed even worse than he had originally thought, but before he could even think about how to dive into the water he already hit it. Everything around him went cold and dark. The river was muddy and for a moment Jarel fought a feeling of panic that he would not find the way up, or his breatsplate that he was still wearing would drag him down, but a current already had grabbed him and brought him to the surface. Like Lutz had predicted he was fairly close to the log, and he swam as well as he could. Lutz and Eduardo were already there, climbing on top of the tree and helping Jarel to do the same.
    "I knew we would make it!" Lutz shouted, for a moment forgetting what had happened and where they were. He fell silent after he looked at Eduardo's and Jarel's faces and instead helped Jarel to finally get rid of his breastplate and other armor parts he could spare. Jarel regretted letting go of the breastplate, it was good armor and it had served him well. As the log took them down the river they could see the daemons on the cliff above and behind them. They stood there for a few moments, then they turned and left. It seemed they had given up.
    The spot where they had jumped from the cliff soon vanished behind a river bend, and the river was flowing more calmly here, But the danger was not over. In fact the danger was never over in Ghur, as they quickly were reminded by a crocodile the size of three men that slid into the water as they passed by his hideout in the brushes on the river bank near the next bend. "Swords out!" Eduardo shouted, and the three soldiers took positions on the log that would allow them to stab the water with their sideswords. Jarel knew that as crazy as it sounded, many wild animals were relatively easy to repel, as they didn't risk serious injuries when easier prey was available.
    This time however slashing the water in front of them didn't work. The crocodile did not hit any of the men, but it hit the log full force, and knocked all three of them off it. Jarel managed to hold on to a branch that stuck out of the tree trunk in just the right spot, and stabbed the crocodile as it went by. The beast roared and lashed out with its tail, and Jarel heard someone scream, but then the crocodile swam away.
    When Jarel got back onto the tree none of the other two was to be seen. Panic grabbed him, and he shouted their names. A few seconds later he saw Lutz' head appear on the surface again, only a few feet away from the tree. "I got stuck in one of the branches down there." he said while swimming back to Jarel. "Where is Eduardo?"
    They did not see Eduardo again.

    * * *

    They clung to their tree for another hour or two, then they passed a spot at which the river bank got less steep. Green trees were lining the river, now and then interrupted by rocky areas. The currents became stronger though, and the two soldiers decided to leave their tree and hide in the forest.
    Most of their equipment was gone, either left at the carts before the battle, during their escape, or in the river.
    They still had some basic equipment with them and Jarel still had his sidesword, but they knew that it would take some effort to set up camp and get something to eat. Staying near the river was something they wanted to avoid, in case the Nurgle followers or some other enemy decided to use the river as a means of transportation, so they entered the forest and found a good place to camp near a small cave that provided shelter and fresh water. They worked silently for the rest of the day, both of them trying to deal with the fact that almost everyone else they knew was now dead.
    Thankfully they found some edible fruits, Lutz made a small fire in a hole, and Jarel caught a snake in the forest.
    After their meal they set up some traps in front of the cave and went to sleep. They shortly discussed whether they should try and have someone at guard duty, but the reality was that they were both too tired. Lutz spoke a short prayer to Alarielle to protect them from the beasts of the forest. Jarel found it unlikely that she would listen to prayers at all, but there certainly would be no harm in trying.
    The next morning Jarel woke up and discovered that he was still alive. Wet, sore, still tired, but alive.
    Lutz had already gathered a good amount of fire wood and some vines that could be used as ropes, and was in the process of building some equipment to survive in the woods a bit longer.
    Jarel watched him for a few moments. The brawny man's short red hair was dirty and the green eyes in his freckled face were sitting deep in their sockets. He didn't look good at all. His expression was one of determination, but also sadness and a good amount of anger.
    Jarel joined him, and the two soldiers worked together in silence for some time. They didn't need to talk, both knew what had to be done, and how they would do it. Jarel silently thanked their old drillmaster for it. Even though only two of them were left they worked well together. Surviving the wilderness of Ghur was no easy task, but it was their home, and they were prepared as well as possible.
    When they were finished with their day's work, and the camp was finished to allow preparing for the journey home, Jarel heard Lutz draw in a long breath behind him. He turned around and saw the other man standing there, the look of determination in his face now stronger than all the other emotions.
    "What is it, Lutz?" he said in the most optimistic tone he could manage.
    Again the other man drew in a deep breath. Lutz had never been a man of many words, and Jarel knew that this was the way he delivered his rare long speeches. Jarel put down his tools and listened.
    "Jarel, we have prepared everything here, right?"
    "We have known each other for a long time now, since Eduardo, Ponn, Silas, you and I joined the Freeguild together, and you know that I love our home and our people, and that I trust you with my life." It wasn't a question, but Jarel still nodded.
    "I have to tell you something and I need you to do something for me."
    Now Jarel was concerned. Something was wrong. "What happened?" he asked.
    Instead of an answer Lutz pulled up his shirt. Below it was a big festering wound, and the flesh around it was already starting to show a sickly green tint.
    "Lutz, please tell me that the crocodile got you", Jarel begged, but he already knew the answer before his friend shook his head. He had seen Nurgle's Blight a few times before.
    "No," Lutz said, "it was a Plaguebearer, during the battle."
    For a moment they just sat there, saying nothing. They both knew that only magic could heal Lutz now. He would live for another day or two, at most. Then he would either die or be taken over by the disease and become a Blightking. Maybe he would burst and give birth to some Nurglings, or something else that a sane person could hardly comprehend, but either way it meant that the person now standing before Jarel would be gone.
    "I don't want it to end like that" Lutz said. "I don't want to become one of those... things. I want to die as the man I am. But I need your help."
    Jarel only stared at him. He wasn't able to speak.
    "Please, Jarel. I cannot stand it much longer. I can feel it eating me up from inside. There is one of those rocky areas nearby. I put some wood there. I don't want to spread the Blight to the river or the forest. You have to... kill me there, and burn it".
    Burn my corpse. That's what he had meant to say. Jarel noticed that he had kept his breath in, and forced himself to breathe again.
    He nodded. Almost mechanically he followed Lutz to the spot the other man had just told him about. Jarel realized that Lutz had been working half the night or morning to prepare it, and that he had spent the rest of the day preparing for survival, not for his own but only for Jarel's.
    His mind raced to find any way to prevent this. Perhaps there was a way to cure Nurgle's Blight with herbs and they would find it, perhaps they only had to wait another day and a wandering wizard or priest would help them. All kinds of such thoughts went through his mind, but Lutz just looked at him and cut them short.
    "You know there is no other way", he softly said while sitting down on the pile of wood. "It is alright. You can use all my equipment. You know the Blight transfers only by touching the infected stuff. I made sure not to touch you, or anything important. If you are unsure just wait a day."
    "I will miss you", Jarel said.
    "Just survive and kick their ugly asses for me." Lutz was smiling now.
    "I will. Thank you for everything." Jarel drew his sidesword in the most formal way he could.
    "Farewell." Lutz said and closed his eyes, while Jarel stepped into position.

    Lutz had perfectly prepared everything. After Jarel had done what had been incomprehensible for him a few days earlier he cleaned his sword with the cloth and water his friend had prepared, lit the perfectly stacked pyre with the body and all infested objects, and gave his friend - and with him all the friends he had lost in the last two days - a proper burial.

    It was already night when he returned to his camp. He did not know yet what he would do tomorrow. But he knew that he would survive. He was not done yet.
    knave, Scalenex, Lizerd and 3 others like this.
  2. Sudsinabucket

    Sudsinabucket Well-Known Member

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    I want to know more is all I can say at the moment
    Lizerd and Aginor like this.
  3. Lizerd

    Lizerd Well-Known Member

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    Dang, this is incredible! Keep up the good work!
    Sudsinabucket and Aginor like this.
  4. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    Thanks, guys!
    The next chapter will be posted this week.
  5. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    And here it is.

    Chapter 2: * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Eight days had passed since the battle. Jarel knew that good preparation and slow movement increased his chances of survival, so he had decided to stay in Lutz' camp for a while. He had met a few larger animals while hunting and gathering fruits and berries in the woods around him, but so far he had always been able to either hide or retreat.
    The camp in front of the cave had been fortified with small palisades and Jarel had built several traps around it as well. That allowed him to finally get some sleep, although his dreams were mostly unpleasant, built out of recent memories of the battle he had fought in, sometimes mixed with older memories or absurd elements that made them even more terrifying.
    He had also built himself a buckler out of wood. Before he had transitioned to the greatsword he had been a good fighter in the sidesword and buckler style, and keeping something at bay with a shield, even a small one, would surely be advantageous.
    Jarel wished he had studied the map better before the battle. He knew that somewhere behind this forest between the Broken Mountains there was a trade route that eventually led to a small settlement - or had it been a trading post? - near the Orruk territories, but he did not know how far it was, and what kind of danger would wait for him along the way.
    He wished Eduardo or Silas were here. Or Lutz. Or Ponn. Any of them really. Sometimes he caught himself talking to them. Mostly to Silas whom he had known for the longest time.

    His search radius was getting larger. The river and the mountain on the other side were restricting his movements, but he had wandered into the other directions for a few miles. Having been a foot soldier for several years now he didn't mind walking at all. It made him feel in control again.
    When he came near a small clearing in the forest around half a mile north of his camp that he had discovered two days earlier, he heard a sound. No, not only a sound. Language. Someone was shouting in a tongue he didn't understand, and some beast was roaring. He hesitated for a moment, but curiosity outweighed caution, and he advanced.
    When he reached the clearing he saw the source of the sounds. A small group of small blue-skinned reptiloid creatures was fighting something that looked like a giant boar larger than a bull. At least three of them were on the ground already, one impaled by the tusks, two trampled down by the giant hooves of the beast.
    The remaining reptiles tried to fight the creature with their primitive javelins, but as far as Jarel could see the beast's thick hide prevented them from doing serious damage. Jarel watched them for a few moments trying to find out if those were daemons. He knew that some Tzeentch daemons were blue, but these didn't look like daemons. He vaguely remembered other blue-skinned creatures that had been mentioned in the stories Silas' mother had told them as kids. Had they been reptiles? He thought so. He wished he had more time to think.

    When there were only two of the blue ones left, they turned and ran. Too late.
    Jarel watched how the boar moved its huge snout under one of the reptiles and catapulted it into the air. Jarel heard its long, high-pitched scream and then the sound of its bones breaking when it hit the ground.
    The last lizard quickly changed its direction and ran toward Jarel's hiding place, eyes wide open in terror, at least that's what Jarel interpreted. None of the other ones were moving. Quickly the lizard gazed over his shoulder toward his dead friends.

    Something in Jarel snapped. He saw himself running from the daemons, his friends dead behind him, looking around hoping for the rearguard to appear.
    Had he been thinking about it, he probably wouldn't have stood up. It was insane but something in him said that he was doing the right thing.
    He stormed out of his hiding place, sword and buckler in hand as if they had any chance of significantly hurting the boar, screaming like a madman.
    The blue creature darted to the side with a short creaking sound, and the boar hesitated, surprised by the new attacker.
    Jarel ducked when the boar swung its head around, almost hitting him with its tusks, and made a draw cut along its snout. The beast roared in agony but was too slow to turn around as Jarel had run to its backside, placing another cut on the softer skin near its hind leg. He knew he had to keep on moving if he wanted to have a chance, so he kept running. Behind him the boar was turning around. Jarel increased his speed even more, leaving the clearing and running to where the trees were most dense. He barely made it, leaping between two tree trunks only a blink of an eye before the boar's tusks rammed against them. He turned around and lunged forward, stabbing the boar into its soft snout again. He could see the sharp sidesword cutting several inches into the soft tissue. For the first time the boar made a few steps back, grunting. Jarel stepped out from the trees into the clearing again, swinging his sword in moulinettes, like in training. He could see the boar's eyes following the movements of the sword. And even though he kept ready to jump back between the trees should the huge creature attack him again he tried to look as aggressive as possible. Again he started screaming and taking further steps toward the boar, alternating between stabs in the boar's direction and swinging his sword in wide arcs.
    The boar took another step back and made a snorting sound, which made a stream of blood come out its wounded nostrils. Jarel kept pushing on now. It took only a moment more, then the boar turned around and ran. With his last strength Jarel chased it, still screaming, until it left the clearing on the other side and vanished into the woods.

    Jarel collapsed on the ground, panting. He wished his friends were there to see him, chasing wild megafauna, alone, with a sidesword in his hand.
    In his mind he could see them standing around him in the warm sunshine that the Realm of Light was casting onto the wild meadow and the trampled down berry bushes between the large trees of the forest. Ponn and Silas were laughing and imitating his movements, recounting his fight in the most ridiculously exaggerated terms. Eduardo was smiling but still shaking his head in disapproval about such a display of foolishness, and Lutz had that wide grin on his face that he always showed when he was impressed by someone's fighting skills.
    But something distorted the picture. It was the blue lizard standing among them, big yellow eyes with pitch black slits for pupils staring at him, its head inclined slightly. Like himself it was panting, and like himself it had a weapon in its hand.

    "Kek Kek", it said.

    * * *

    Jarel stood up. The lizard took a step back when he did. It was bigger than he had previously thought, only a bit smaller than himself, although it looked more fragile than a human.
    Again the lizard started talking to him, but Jarel was not able to understand a single word.
    "I don't understand your language" he said and pointed at himself, "I'm a human."
    He noticed that the lizard's eyes were darting around between his face and his sword, so he sheathed the sword. Maybe that was foolish again, the blue creature could attack him anytime. But for some reason he was pretty sure it wouldn't. He still kept his buckler in his other hand, ready to raise it should the creature attack, that would give him enough time to draw his sword again. At least that was the plan.
    "sshhHuman" the lizard said. Then it said something Jarel could not understand.
    "Alright", Jarel replied. "But listen, we have to get out of here. The boar can return anytime." he continued while pointing at the hoof imprints in the meadow, at the forest, and back again to their position.
    The creature didn't answer, but it walked back to its fallen comrades. It touched each of them for a short moment, either checking if they were still alive, or maybe saying goodbye. Perhaps both. Then it returned, with a basket made of bark that contained some of the berries that grew on the clearing. The other lizards had carried similar baskets with them, and the survivor put the berries from all their baskets that lay scattered on the clearing and the surrounding forest into his own basket and one of the others. It put the two baskets over the shaft of his javelin and prepared to leave the clearing. Jarel wondered if he should follow it. He had everything important with him in case his camp would be raided or he met someone to follow back to civilization, but he was not quite ready to leave it yet. He gathered some of the berries himself and put them in his pouch.
    The lizard watched him, and looked back and forth between his baskets and Jarel's pouch.
    "Yeah, you are right. We both came here for the same reason it seems" Jarel said.
    The lizard hesitated. Then it looked toward the north and made a little head movement that looked like a reverse nod. Jarel wasn't sure what it meant, but he decided to carefully follow the blue lizard. They had not walked very far, when the lizard stopped between a group of trees. It placed its baskets on the ground and sat down. Jarel joined it.
    "Human," it said in its creaky and slightly hissing voice, pointing at Jarel with its right hand, palm upwards. Then it clenched its fist and touched its own chest. "Skink" it said.
    "Skink", Jarel repeated, pointing at the lizard, whose crest moved up and down in response. "So that's what you are, a Skink. Or is that your name? I guess we will find out later."
    The Skink pointed at Jarel's pouch, and he opened it. Quickly the Skink grabbed two handful of the berries from its baskets and put them into the pouch, then said another word in its strange tongue.
    Jarel understood that this was probably a way to thank him for saving the lizard's life. "It's alright, Skink. I just had to help you", he said.

    They sat there for a while exchanging a few words, trying to get a conversation going. Jarel would have liked to ask it where to find a human or dwarven settlement, but their communication was not advanced far enough yet.
    However he had learned a few words of the Skink's language, and the Skink seemed to pick up Jarel's words pretty quickly as well. In fact it seemed to learn faster than he did. After two hours they had exchanged the words for many things like their weapons, equipment, and some objects in the forest. Jarel wondered why the Skink did that. He sure knew why he was doing it, but a creature that could probably just go back to his own camp where it would meet others of its kind? A creature that had lost his friends just a few minutes ago? He realized that its language was not the only thing he did not understand yet.
    Now and then the Skink looked up at the sky and nodded, and Jarel was pretty sure that it was checking the time.

    At some point it obviously decided that it was too late to stay any longer. It pointed at the center of Hysh, then at the position where it had been a few hours ago. Then it pointed at the ground between them, and looked at him with its head inclined, making a clicking sound. He understood.
    "Yes, we can meet again tomorrow", he said and repeated the lizard's gestures. When they parted ways, the Skink even seemed to try and mimic Jarel's bow.
    He memorized the way the Skink went, and looked at the ground to see what kind of tracks it left, just in case he had to follow it. Then he started to walk back to his camp.

    * * *

    For the first time in days Jarel felt really good while walking back to the camp Lutz and himself had built.
    Saving a life sure was a nice change of pace, compared to the grim days he had had. He still wondered if he could trust the Skink. He wished he could remember the blue lizards from the old story. He thought they had been described a lot bigger. And hadn't been there some frog leading them? Either the story wasn't very accurate or he remembered it wrongly. Either way, he was pretty sure that the Lizardmen had been the good guys of the story, saving the Crawling City from a Skaven invasion of some sort. But then... who didn't hate Skaven? It might have been just a coincidence and the Skinks would kill him just as quickly as a Clanrat. If it had been a true story at all.

    When he was only a few hundred feet away from his camp he suddenly smelled smoke. There was a fire somewhere. Perhaps he had not put out his cooking fire properly? Impossible. Even if he had, there was nothing in the fire hole that could burn, the fire would have burned down on its own. A wildfire wasn't likely either, it had not been very dry. A reason to be alarmed, he thought. Just to be safe he slowed down and approached the camp from the north, where the trees and brushes were dense enough to provide more cover.
    That's when he saw the Gors. It was only two of them as far as he could see, but he had fought them often enough to know that they rarely wandered around in groups of less than six to eight individuals. And as he had feared they were in the process of burning down his camp. He fought the desire to curse. Lutz and Jarel had build all that by themselves, seeing it being burned down made him angry. A sudden scream of pain and anger from the west made the Beastmen turn their heads. Obviously one had stepped into one of Jarel's traps. He couldn't help but smile, but at the same time this meant that they would now search the area more carefully.

    He had not thought about concealing his footprints as he had not been very worried about intelligent creatures, the Encircled Forest - he finally had remembered the name - was known to be relatively safe, at least as safe as any area in Ghur was. He did not know what had led a tribe of Beastmen into it, but he knew that they were good trackers. And that meant that they could pick up his traces any time.
    He kept watching the two Gors, hoping that they would just turn and go back to where they had come from. But instead three others joined them, bows in hand and now definitely looking at the ground carefully. One of them was limping, probably from falling into the trap with the sharpened sticks. They talked to each other and pointed at the ground.
    Jarel considered his options. The beastmen had most likely come from the west. The river was to the east, and at the rocky parts of its bank they might not be able to track him, just like on the rocky hill to the south. But it was relatively open terrain, and he did not want to be shot in case they did see him there. To the north was where he had met the Skink. Probably his best option as the forest had some dense parts there, and he had been in that area a few times now.

    While he was thinking the wind turned. One of the goat-headed Beastmen suddenly raised his head and flared his nostrils.
    Damn. It was time to get out of here. As he turned he slipped on the loose forest floor and for a short moment touched a bush, making its leaves rustle. He heard the Gors grunting, and only seconds later a black-crested arrow passed his position disturbingly closely. Jarel did not fight the desire to curse anymore now. He ran.
    While running up the slope toward the north Jarel wondered why seemingly all of his activities in the last few days involved running away from something.
    The good news was that he could run almost as fast as the Gors. At least if he kept following the paths he already knew and they were held back by their limping friend.
    The bad news was, he could not run that fast very long, they could.
    So the already very limited number of options had been reduced even more. He had to find the Skink, and ideally a lot of his friends, or he would end up dead or worse.
    The fight against the boar earlier had cost him a lot of his strength, especially since he had not eaten much that day. When he reached the clearing on which he had met the Skink he was already covered in sweat and panting. He did not see or hear the Gors, but he knew they would not be far behind him. The dead Skinks were still there. Maybe the lizards didn't care much for the dead bodies of their fallen comrades, or they intended to come back and get them. Jarel hoped for the latter, as it would mean they were still close.
    He turned toward the northeast, hoping that the Skink had not made any attempt to hide the direction it had gone.

    From there on the terrain was sloped into the other direction. He was thankful for running downhill for a while, it helped him catch his breath. He looked around, trying to spot some trace of the Skinks while running, but it was pretty much impossible without stopping. The best he could hope for was that they would notice him. If he didn't then he would have to try and turn toward the river and jump in, hoping that the Gors would not be suicidal enough to follow him. The thought of jumping into the river again was enough to give him the needed strength to fill his lungs for a shout. "SKIIIINK!" he yelled as loudly as he could. But for now the only answer he got was another arrow hitting a tree not far to his right. Not bad for a shot on the run, probably aimed by ear and at a moving target, he thought. Those Beastmen sure knew how to handle their bows. He still repeated the attempt to get the Skinks' attention a few times, whenever he could catch enough breath to do so. Probably the Gors already thought he was insane, perhaps they wouldn't eat him if they feared to catch a disease. But then maybe they were already touched by Nurgle, so they wouldn't mind or even welcome it. They still seemed to follow him because now and then he could hear them grunting, or breaking through some undergrowth. Perhaps they were too dumb, too hungry, or too angry to care why he was shouting.

    His musings about the eating habits of Gors were cut short by a sudden roar ahead.
    Great, he thought. Another beast to run from.

    * * *

    First he thought about changing his direction, but then the Gors were already quite close, he would have to risk meeting some wild animal and just had to hope that it would slow down the Gors and not him. Perhaps they would even lose him. He tried to run faster, which was not an easy task in this kind of environment.
    He could not see the beast that had roared, and for now it was not roaring again, but he was sure it had to be not far ahead of him.
    And then it appeared right in front of him.

    Jarel didn't know how such a big blue creature could that easily conceal itself, but it obviously could if necessary. It sprung up behind a small wall constructed out of dead leaves, dirt, and branches, just 20 feet ahead.
    It was taller than a human, covered with thick blue scales, had teeth that uncomfortably reminded Jarel of the crocodile that had attacked him and his friends in the river, and carried a big spear and a shield made of scales from an apparently even larger reptile. Jarel jumped to the side to avoid it, but ran into a very similar lizardman that stepped into his way from behind a large tree. The last thing he noticed before running headfirst into its shield and falling to the ground dazedly was that there were at least four more of the reptiles very close, forming a loose pike formation between the trees.
    His view was blurred, but from the spot he had fallen he could see the reptiles advance, roaring. He also noticed several of the smaller lizards, the Skinks, leaving their hiding spots to throw javelins at the incoming Gors.

    The fight was over quickly. The Lizardmen's shields offered good protection against the arrows shot at them, and the surprised Gors did not have the means to protect themselves against the thrown javelins or the large reptiles' spears. At least one of them managed to evade the spear thrusts from a reptile a few times and tried to fight back using the wooden club he was carrying, but the blue warrior, an especially big one with red warpaint on its head, made a step forward, bashed him with its shield, and ripped his throat out using its bare teeth.

    When Jarel finally recovered from the blow to his head he counted twelve Gors, and none of them was alive anymore. The whole fight had not taken more than a minute.
    He tried to stand up, but a big blue claw on his chest prevented him from doing so. The warrior was standing with a foot on his chest and had pointed a spear at his throat. After careful consideration of his situation Jarel made the decision to stay where he was and not move at all. They obviously had not wanted to kill him, otherwise he would have been dead already. Whether they considered him a friend, prisoner, or something to eat was not discernible from the unmoving reptiloid gaze of the huge lizard that pinned him to the ground, the dark blood of the Gor still dripping from its jaws.
    A voice from outside his field of view said something in the Skink language he had heard from the one he had saved, and the huge lizard grunted and took its foot off his chest. The spear remained at his throat though, so Jarel chose not to move.
    A moment later two Skinks appeared next to the big lizard. One looked like the one he knew, although he was not sure if that was just the way most of them looked like. The other Skink looked very different. It was wearing a colorful cloak made of feathers, its crest was decorated with silver and gold rings, and its claws were painted.
    Jarel considered to try and say something, but he feared it would just be incoherent babbling to them, so he waited for the Skinks to say something.
    The Skink leader - maybe a chief or priest of some sort - sat down next to him. The big lizard made sure Jarel understood to stay put, by putting the point of its spear a bit closer to his throat. The Skink leader touched his face, arms, legs, chest, and belly with its fingertips and moved its face so close to his own that Jarel could see the small veins in its eyes and feel its breath on his skin. It was humming softly, and closed his eyes for a few seconds now and then. Jarel felt a tingling sensation each time the Skink closed its eyes, most likely some kind of magic. Each time the Skink concentrated it became a bit stronger, and after the third or fourth time it started to hurt. After the sixth time it became increasingly difficult for Jarel to lie motionless and keep his twitching limbs under control. After the tenth time two additional warriors held his arms and legs, and he screamed at them that they should either kill him or stop. They stopped after the 12th time, and Jarel lost consciousness.

    * * *

    When he woke up he felt surprisingly good, although thirsty. It was early morning, so he had been unconscious for several hours. He lay on some kind of stretcher made of two long pieces of wood and some cloth, carried by two of the blue warriors who did not seem to care much about the added weight. He turned his head and looked at the rest of the group. Jarel counted eight of the big Lizardmen, including the bigger one with the red warpaint on its head, and about twenty of the smaller ones. Most of them had green paint on the top of their crests, but some had yellow, and some had none, like the first of them he had met. Maybe those were some kind of rank markings? The Skink leader was walking in the middle of the column, a few steps in front of the warriors carrying Jarel. Surprised that he was not tied at all Jarel dared to lift his upper body. The warriors hardly reacted at all, but a few of the Skinks looked in his direction, and one of the ones without markings approached him. "Human", it said, handing him his pouch with the berries. He was not quite sure, but this seemed to be the Skink he had saved. "Hello Skink," Jarel said, and took some of the berries. "Can I have some water, too?"
    "havesome watertoo?" the Skink echoed him, inclining its head.
    "Water", Jarel repeated, making a drinking motion. Then he remembered the lizard language word he had learned when he had sat down with the Skink the day before and tried to pronounce it. Immediately the Skink's crest twitched, and it handed him his water pouch made of leather.

    But the Lizardmen language word he had used also caused some attention among the other lizards. A warrior turned its head and made a growling sound, and the Skink leader walked over as well.
    It turned out that the Lizardmen were intrigued by a human trying to learn their language and establish communication. It also turned out that their leader was indeed able to speak some words of the common tongue. Not nearly enough to have a proper conversation, but enough to help him with learning others.
    Since it was clear to him that he was going wherever they were going - something they did not speak about despite him asking a few times - and they were not going to kill him - at least not just yet - he decided to spend the time learning about his new travel companions, beginning with enough words of their language to be able to establish some form of communication.
    One of the first things he learned was that the big lizard warriors were called Saurus. When he called them 'Big Skinks' the Saurus' heads swung around and they gave him stern looks, while the Skinks made chirping sounds that Jarel interpreted as their form of laughter. He also learned that they had names, and learned a few of them. The Skink he had saved was called Tepi, and Takiki was their leader. The Saurus corporal - Jarel had decided to use human rank equivalents to remember their positions as far as that was possible - was Tokaqul.
    Jarel also told them his name, and the Skinks used it to call his attention from there on. He also asked for the colored markings on the Skinks' crests, Tepi and Takiki tried to explain it to him. For the green marked Skinks they used a word that sounded very similar to the word for 'warrior' that they used to describe the Saurus. In conjunction with the way he had seen them fight the Gors, Jarel guessed it could mean "skirmisher". For the yellow ones they used the word for 'beast' that he already knew, but he did not understand what they had to do with beasts. For the unmarked ones the answer was always the same, they just repeated the word "Skink". After he had asked for the second time they looked annoyed, so he stopped asking.

    Now and then small groups of Skinks disappeared into the forest in various directions, some of them returning with berries or meat for the Saurus some time later. The Saurus continued to walk most of the day. Jarel wanted to get up from the stretcher and walk by himself, but apparently the lizards did not trust him enough to do that, and friendly but firmly instructed him to stay where he was. They only allowed him to leave the stretcher for a short time to relieve himself at a nearby tree during one of their rare stops, but insisted he climbed back onto the stretcher despite his claims that he was fine and could walk himself. To demonstrate his ability to move he jumped up and down, but that did more harm than good since immediately two Saurus warriors had their spears in hand, grunting at him to stop.

    It was during the same stop that Jarel witnessed something that looked like a dispute between Tepi and the Saurus corporal. Jarel hardly understood a word of what they were saying, but from the way the Saurus leaned forward and bared his teeth and how Tepi's crest stood up from his head and his voice became more hissing he could tell that they were in some kind of argument. It didn't take much to discern that the most likely reason for that was Jarel, especially since the Saurus motioned toward him more than once. What really caused concern in Jarel was that the Saurus used the words for 'food' and 'eating' while doing so. He hoped the big lizard was just concerned about Jarel's food consumption, but somehow he feared that was wishful thinking and the warrior meant it much more literally.
    Eventually Takiki opened his eyes, got up from the spot where he had been sitting - probably meditating - and walked over to them. He didn't say much, but what he said made both Tokaqul and Tepi snap to attention and then go back to their positions in the column.
    They continued walking silently, and for some time Jarel didn't dare to talk to them. Tepi didn't leave his side though, and now and then he was looking at the Saurus corporal in a way Jarel interpreted as suspicious.

    The Lizardmen continued their march through the forest at a good speed for two more days, crossing two small rivers. The Skinks still talked to him now and then, but they still refused to answer questions about where they were going, so Jarel continued with the basics of their language, and in the case of Takiki also teaching them some of his.
    Jarel noticed that he had begun thinking of them as "him" instead of "it", although he did not know their gender, or if they had any gender for that matter. Perhaps the Skinks were females and the Saurus were the males? Except the priest none of them wore anything resembling clothes, but he still couldn't tell. Most warriors on campaign he knew were men though, so it came natural to him to refer to them as males, until he got other indications.
    At least looking at them closely had made him notice the small differences between the individuals, and he was relatively sure he could tell them apart, at least the ones he had seen from a bit closer. From afar they all still looked pretty much the same to him.

    On the third day of marching they reached their destination. And that's when Jarel realized that he had become part of something bigger. Much bigger.
  6. Lizerd

    Lizerd Well-Known Member

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    That story needs more likes, it’s downright incredible!
  7. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    Thanks! Glad you like it so far. :)
    Lizerd likes this.
  8. Imrahil

    Imrahil Well-Known Member

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    * Note to self to Read this ;)

    Grrr, Imrahil
    Sudsinabucket, Lizerd and Aginor like this.

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