I did my best to edit the pieces that needed editing. If I missed something that needs to be fixed, let me know by a private message. Please read all sixteen pieces before casting your vote. 16 pieces is our current record. Them was Hope and/or Vengeance. Spoiler: Story One: Hope Is in Order Hope Is In Order Yami Studied the runes before him they were not like the glyphs etched into plaques left by the old ones yet they bore some remarkable similarities, he was so used to studying ancient artefacts that he was certain they had to be a connection. his mind pondered the possibilities and his gaze turned skyward. His thoughts turned inward. The night was silent but for the beating of the terradon wings swooping between the sky islands above. Yami's feet were firmly anchored in the foliage of the lustrian floor, the heights his mind were soaring too though could not be fathomed by the insects rummaging between his scaly toes. Between the gliding wings above Yami caught brief glimpses of the starlight shinning down, one by one they glinted in a peculiarly paternated fashion. He began drawing invisible lay lines between them in his minds eye. His grip tightened on the relic and continued to absorb the down pouring starlight. A surge of power overwhelmed the lowly skink, for he was just an explorer; a scholarly expeditionary but still just a skink. He feel to the jungle floor. His knees hit heavy upon the ground softened by the moss and squelching of the gooey insides of the barabarb beetles below. Yami could smell the searing of his eyeballs before he could even begin to comprehend the pain his frail body was experiencing. He yelled out in agony which would have drawn the attention of any nearby predators if it were not thankfully covered by the mating call of a several Bloat toads. After several short bursts of torturous pain Yami eventually passed out. When He awoke the obsidian was all that was left, infinite darkness. He felt around him desperately trying to deduce his location. He felt soft silk like sheets between his fingertips, after a short fall he felt a hard floor, a Stoney harsh flatland much different from the "silk". He had in fact been found by a group of exploring humans who taking pity on the creature took it upon themselves to "return" him to the nearest temple they could find, though this took them some time, they were in veritably lost in the thickness of the trees. Yami had been discovered by a patrolling group of scout skinks who took him to the chambers of their skink priest Onki Talus. Despite multiple attempts to restore Yamis vision the priest could not undo what had been done. Talk began to spread about the blinding curse of the jungle. The Seraphon knew of all the poisons of the jungle and not one of the hundreds that cause blindness were irreversible to them. "He's cursed! I want him out of my chambers!" Yami heard Onki the other side of the door but he could not see a thing. He felt himself scrambling around on the floor bumping into furniture placed so inconveniently at the edges of the room. The next thing he felt was the cold harsh grip of a Saurus temple guard, he was all too familiar with the grip. Yami had been thrown out of many sacred places for attempting to "study" their treasures. For the most part he was a scholar but for a small portion he was a thief. He obtained a grand collection of artifacts by pilfering and the rest by pillaging. Yami was not exactly a morally sound skink, But his heart was in the right place. He walked an age escorted by the Saurus, they conveyed to him that he was to be banished. At least this time he was being expelled without being caught making off from the vault burdened with trinkets and talismans. He heard lots of whispers on his journey to the boarder of the temple city, fearful chatter among the lizard folk. "Halt." The temple guard stood still for a moment, not knowing where the voice came from, he was not obeying as of yet - simply stunned by the voice inside his head. "Bring to me." Again the voice spoke from inside his head. Still stunned an unsure of the source the temple guard stood firm. "now." The temple guards feet began to move against his volition. Step by step he climbed the tallest of temple of the city, dragging Yami behind him. Like a frail rag doll his body flopped aimlessly as they ascended. Yami felt a strong breeze for a brief moment, not because of their location instead because the Saurus guard had lobbed the skink's body to the front of a tranquil pond. Bubbles began emerging from the pond and so too did the cities Slann - HauniHauni-Lu. Yami could hear the bubbles but saw naught. He gulped assuming the bubbles were some sort of boiling pot, a cauldron of cataclysmic death his mind flashed back to the burning of his eyes. He flinched with ghost pain and began rambling... "No please..no, I wasn't going to steal anything from you, I don't even know which city I'm in. Itza? Hexoatl? no? Hmm Zlatlan?" Yami didn't even know what continent he was on anymore. No response came for Yami. "I'll leave never come back, I promise." The silence persisted as the Slann continued to rise from the water. When the Slann had reached the climax of his "climb" he produced a Golden plaque from thin air, he had summoned it from realms beyond the mortal. It had been guarded by the undying for millennia. HauniHauni-lu placed the plaque in front of Yami. Yami clammered backwards in awe, some of the glyphs glowed in front of him, the rest remained hidden from his vision, but he did not need them. The Slann was reading Yami's mind using him as a vessel indeed Yami was acting as some form of conduit for arcane magic beyond that even of the greatest of Slann. The glowing Glyphs did not make sense to Yami, nor did they too HauniHauni-Lu. That was until they began rearranging themselves... Spoiler: Story Two: Those Left Behind Those Left Behind It was to be her finest hour. Standing atop a fallen pillar, G’tt-taax, Scar Veteran of countless campaigns against the foes of Lustria, raised her glimmering blade. The ranked units of Saurus and red crested Skinks bashed at their shields and roared their approval. “Today,” growled G’tt-taax in her signature deep voice, “we shall reap vengeance for Darr-Ol’s fall to the ratfolk and drive them from the city and back to the foul tunnels whence they came!” Narr on cue raised G’tt-taax’s personal totem standard and it glinted in the sunlight as if it were blessed by Chotec himself. The assembled Saurus and Skinks cheered. As one they moved to retake what was theirs. ------------------------------------------------------------- The temple was dark and as silent as eternity. The Skink priest sat cross legged on the cold stone floor in meditation. For a long while the priest sat there unmoving until the clacking of clawed feet reached her ears. Her eyelids flickered for a moment before stilling. The clacking got closer but the priest remained where she was. “Revered priest!” gasped the Skink messenger as she burst into the chamber, recoiling from the priest in fear of having upset her meditation. “Br’kk” the priest replied in greeting, unmoved and eyes still closed. Br’kk nervously hopped from claw to claw before deciding to give her report. “I bear news of G’tt-taax’s host, revered priest. She marches upon Darr-Ol to drive out the ratfolk.” “She will fail.” “Revered priest?” The priest slowly opened her eyes. “Br’kk, since I rose you from guardian of the spawning pools to my personal messenger, you have only questioned me twice. This marks the third time.” “I...” Br’kk began. “I have seen it written in the stars, I have seen it written in the winds of magic, and I have seen it written behind the eyes of all those whom I have viewed.” Br’kk did not reply. “You doubt me.” There was no accusation or emotion in the priest’s voice. “I hold onto hope, revered priest,” Br’kk answered with hesitation. “Forlorn hope. The other Temple Cities are silent, the ratfolk rise, and the foul green moon draws closer. A time of ending fast approaches.” Br’kk trembled and not from the cold that seeped into the chamber. “Br’kk, you have served this most minor of cities loyally. There are few I’d trust more.” “What is it you wish, revered priest?” ----------------------------------------------------- G’tt-taax howled in a despairing rage as more of her warriors fell around her, lost in the tide of vermin that surged over them. Countless Skaven fell before her glowing blade and the frantic sweeps of her guards but for every ratman that fell another would take its place. Like an avenging spear they had struck the fallen city and had driven out the ratmen for minimal losses. G’tt-taax had only briefly wondered why the fight had been seemingly so easy. It was only when a Skink scout had returned to the city, her sisters missing and presumed deceased, that G’tt-taax learnt the truth. The city had only been defended by a skeleton garrison and a horde of ratmen were moving towards their position. Within the day of this news the vermintide had swept over them. Beside her, Narr fell, a rusted blade driven deep within her heart. Her totemic standard toppled from limp claws but G’tt-taax seized it before it touched the ground. She roared and buried its pointed base through Narr’s killer and planted the standard where she’d make her stand. Another ratmen leapt forwards, diseased maw squeaking something unintelligible and G’tt-taax responded by splitting it from neck to pelvis. She roared the names of her sisters that the Skaven had stolen from her even as the last of her warriors fell around her. There was the sound of heavy steps and a great creature of disease and ruin pushed through the Skaven ranks, who retreated back to let it through. The ground recoiled from its hooves and its skull-like face seemed to grin a rictus smile. G’tt-taax grimaced, the pause in combat enough to make the pain of all of her many wounds shriek across her body. She raised her blade, dipped into what strength she had left and charged the daemon with a cry of vengeance. ------------------------------------------------ Within the temple the Skink Priest sat with her eyes closed. Outside the city was being overrun by the hordes of Skaven as was, the Priest feared, all of Lustria. Br’kk had not returned and though the Skink Priest wanted to hope that she and the message had gotten through, she felt certain that she too was dead. The other Temple Cities were silent. They had failed. The temple doors shuddered as the sounds of fighting ebbed away from outside; she felt every death of the city’s guardians even as she sought to channel her magic to aid their efforts. The Skink Priest felt a tremor in her left claw but stilled it. The doors shuddered again, cracking under the weight of whatever monsters that pushed and tore against it. The Skink Priest rose to her feet. In the heavens a streak of silver struck the green moon and shattered it. The doors shuddered again and the Priest could hear the chittering of the vermin all around her. The fragments of the green moon began to fall. “Not for hope and not for vengeance. Because I must” she whispered as the doors finally gave way. The Skink Priest opened her eyes. Spoiler: Story Three: Hammer of the Lost Hammer of the Lost Kai-Otl was a whirlwind of violence. He was the wrath of the Old Ones made manifest, crackling with celestial energies that flickered around him like an ice-blue halo, leaving hazy afterimages in the wake of every movement. As he emerged further from the realmgate, the energies slowly faded, his form stabilizing to be in harmony with the Mortal Realms. His celestite war-spear rammed into the chest of one of the skeleton warriors, its long, blade-like point ripping up through the corpse’s chest in a blow that would’ve disemboweled a living warrior. Ducking a sword from behind, Kai-Otl swept his polearm around again to nearly cleave the next undead fighter in two horizontally, retracting his weapon and kicking out with one clawed foot to knock the reeling skeleton backwards. Whirling his spear into a reverse grip, he stabbed down through the creature’s eye socket and split its skull open as the battle raged around him. He took in his surroundings again at a glance assessing the situation, ripping his spear free from the mangled deathrattler as he did so. --Rex-Op was nearby, backstabbing vulnerable foes with his starstone dagger, flitting between the ranks to bring them down from his low stature-- --the five saurus guard that accompanied Kai-Otl were in the thick of the fighting, their halberds inflicting mayhem upon the ranks of the skeletons-- --the other ten saurus, the warriors, were scattered throughout the clearing, hacking away at the zombies as they closed in-- --the bastiladon was lumbering forward, crushing and smashing with each swing of its horned tail, the solar engine upon its back thrumming with arcane energy that was building to a crescendo-- --and the aelves were hidden in the woods, each shaft finding its mark as they kept up a stream of arrows from concealment. The solar engine unleashed a searing beam across the clearing, burning away the filth of the undead in a blast of white-hot light, the air screaming and hissing from the sudden temperature change. The bastiladon’s skink crew urged it onwards, chittering and squeaking to each other as they lashed out with javelins and clubs at any deadwalkers or skeletons that managed to get close. Kai-Otl bellowed, his throaty roar echoing with all the methodical fury of the departed Old Ones, inherent in all their children. As the echoes of his rage faded, he noted that there seemed to be no end to the undead formations. Scanning ahead to where the fell creatures had arrived from, he spotted a foe whose death might turn the tide: a necromancer, an ancient handgun clutched in one hand, the other holding a rusted sword that, despite its state of disrepair, swirled with ensorcelled power. After assuring himself that the rest of his contingent could hold the line without his personal involvement, he roared a second time, throwing his head back and letting the skies themselves feel his fury, holding his shield aloft and bashing the haft of his war-spear against it three times. Then he charged, his clawed, scaly feet hurling up clumps of dirt as he pounded across the clearing, spear levelled for the first blow of the imminent duel. The witch-man saw him coming and pointed his sword at the saurus bearing down on him, uttering syllables that turned the very air around his thin lips a withered black in Kai-Otl’s celestially-enhanced vision, making the saurus oldblood snort in disgust, the perversion of nature only serving to enrage him further. As Kai-Otl crossed the last few yards between him and his prey, he felt a vibration beneath his feet, more insistent than the normal mpacts of a battle. Instinct took over, and he hurled himself aside as five sets of bony hands erupted from the earth. As the resurrected skeletons clawed their way out of the earth, they soon stood head and shoulders over their more numerous brethren fighting further back, and were wearing heavier armor. They snatched up greatswords that rose hilt-first from the soil into their reach, hefting them with a hiss that emanated impossibly from mouths that had no tongue, from chests that held no lungs. Kai-Otl allowed them no further chance to prepare themselves, barrelling forward with his war-spear aimed to punch through the nearest skeleton’s spine. The gleaming weapon was parried at the last possible instant by a notched, dirty blade, sending sparks flying in orange showers with a loud crash. Quickly, the saurus withdrew his weapon and tried again, ramming the spear into the undead warrior’s torso with enough force to splinter bone--but still the skeleton fought on as its comrades closed in. Its ribcage shattered, the lead skeleton backpedalled, allowing the others to surround Kai-Otl, hacking and thrusting stiffly. The oldblood was injured twice--one blade grazing across his left leg and spilling glowing celestial ichor onto the ground, the other driving through the side of his neck but missing any vital points. Bellowing in frustration, the saurus lunged at the skeleton directly in front of him, knocking it to the ground as he savaged it with his jaws to little effect--until he bit down on the nape of its neck and ripped its skull from its shoulders, snapping the ancient spine between his powerful jaws and shaking his head from left to right to send the pieces flying in either direction. Another mechanical strike drove into the oldblood’s shoulder, causing pain to flare through his arm. He roared again and smashed his shield against the deathrattler behind him that had struck the blow, tearing its jaw off with incredible force. While the skeleton reeled, Kai-Otl slammed the haft of his war-spear into its forehead, cracking it. The reanimated bones quivered and nearly fell apart as the witch-man puppeteering them struggled to maintain their coherence. A punishing blow with the flat of the long war-spear’s blade-like head knocked down a clumsy sword blow, followed by the saurus backhanding the skeleton’s head clean off its spine with his shield arm. Two of the skeleton champions remained, swinging their greatswords in an attempt to lop off Kai-Otl’s head--an attempt that proved fruitless as he deflected both, one with his shield and one with his spear haft. With a twist of his wrist, he relieved the right-hand skeleton of its weapon. While it scrabbled in the dirt for it clumsily, he took up his war-spear in two clawed hands and drove it down through the back of the skeleton’s ribcage, pinning it to the ground. However, as he struggled to dislodge his weapon and finish off his incapacitated foe, the remaining standing skeleton ripped into him with its blade, carving cruelly into his back. The only thing that stopped the blade from going deep enough to strike his vitals was one of the spikes that protruded from the oldblood’s spine, which the blade caught against mid-strike, deflecting the weapon partially out of Kai-Otl’s flesh. He roared, giving voice to pain and fury in equal measure, and he stumbled. The skeleton he’d pinned crumbled to dust, leaving his spear to collapse to the ground unsupported as the necromancer turned his attentions more fully to the remaining upright skeleton, assuming direct control of its limbs. Hunched behind its shield, the skeleton rammed into Kai-Otl, knocking him sprawling. Roaring again, still not out of fear, but out of frustration, the saurus tried to rise, but the skeleton’s mailed boot slammed down on his back, leaving him to struggle uselessly, unable to retaliate or defend himself. The rictus grin of the skeleton never changed, eerily matching the wide, wicked smile of its puppeteer a few yards away. Kai-Otl roared, one last time, as the blade came down into his flesh, piercing it in a burst of searing light. He managed to turn his fading vision back to the clearing behind him, and saw that the lesser skeletons and deadwalkers were locked in fierce melee with his companions, with neither side claiming the advantage for long. He knew nothing there could save him now--nothing save the direct intervention of his Slann masters, a possibility he did not immediately disregard. He did not fear death or discorporation--not because he dismissed the horror of it, but because he didn’t think, he knew that they would save him. Because the lot of the saurus was eternal trust. The way of the seraphon was to serve--for the kroxigor and bastiladons and stegadons and all the rest to follow the saurus, for the skinks and the saurus to follow the Slann, and for the Slann to follow their destinies, for the good of all beings. As he thought this, a pealing cry resounded through the clearing, and a bolt of conjured lightning flashed through the air, immolating the victorious skeleton instantly. As the backlash of the skeleton’s demise raged along the magic conduit between the witch-man and his puppet, the necromancer screamed in agony, blood streaming from his nose as his eyes dilated and unfocussed wildly. Struggling to his feet using his war-spear, Kai-Otl turned and beheld his savior--Rex-Op, a skink starpriest--his closest friend and trusted companion. The skink floated gently to the ground, borne aloft by the magics of his enchanted cloak, his glowing starstone rod levelled at the necromancer, reptilian eyes calm and serene. Kai-Otl growled his thanks and turned to the kneeling witch-man with predatory murder in his eyes. The other skeletons and deadwalkers around the clearing began to fall back in disarray--those that weren’t hacked to pieces motionlessly as their summoner struggled to maintain his spell over them. As Kai-Otl brought down his war-spear, aiming for the mortal’s throat, the necromancer uttered a last hateful string of guttural spellspeak, a dome of foggy black tendrils materializing over him in time to deflect the spear. Roaring in rage, Kai-Otl bashed his shield against the ward again and again; it wavered, but held. When at last the shield fell...there was nothing beyond the dissolving black fog, save a few patches of bloodstained, grassy earth. Frustrated, Kai-Otl sunk his spearhead shaft-deep into the soil. Before he could unleash his bitter rage any further, Rex-Op raised a small, webbed hand to forestall it, hissing quietly. Despite the fact that Rex-Op was half his size, Kai-Otl listened well as his comrade spoke into his mind. Friend, do not take out your frustration on this land that knows nothing of the battles fought upon it. It may yet know peace if left well alone. As the last deathrattler fell to the ground in pieces, unmoving, a constellation broke through the dread skies above. Celestial beams lanced down to envelop each of the seraphon contingent. Kai-Otl felt its warmth caress him, a warmth he did not remember ever feeling since his time in the spawning pools of old Lustria. Thinking of which, he rumbled to Rex-Op, how long ‘till we are home once more? I long for the jungles, and the gaze of our masters. For some reason, instead of eagerness, or serenity perhaps, the oldblood saw pain, and sorrow in his skink friend’s eyes. We are leaving now. Friend, what is wrong? Then, as the starlight intensified, Kai-Otl added with a touch of confusion, What is happening? Our masters are calling us home, Rex-Op thought to him quietly. But...why? We know to return, do we not, without their summons? Is it far? ...Very far, the skink thought to him. No distance is too great. No foe is too mighty for the children of the Old Ones to defeat. Perhaps...Rex-Op thought sadly. The light surged through Kai-Otl’s veins, filling him with that warmth. We have never been defeated before...have we? Rex-Op sighed, and gave a smooth gesture with one forelimb. Friend...I am sorry. For what? For everything. The light was blindingly intense now, and in a flare of starlight, the seraphon contingent disappeared. The aelves in the woods looked on in wonder as the children of Lustria returned to their home above. Rex-Op mourned silently as they flashed with incredible speed between realms, returning to the sides of their masters, the Slann. Kai-Otl, Rex-Op, the entire host...all essentially unkillable as manifestations of the power of the Slann. But in reincarnation, Kai-Otl had lost his memories of the death of the world-that-was. Lustria was gone. Destroyed by meteors created by the madness of the skaven. The entire world-that-was, reduced to a lump of rock, scourged by the energies of Chaos. Its peoples slaughtered, corrupted, or departed. That the seraphon existed at all was testimony to the power of the Slann, and by association, the Old Ones. Even Rex-Op, despite retaining knowledge of the fate of the old world, was powerless next to the Slann, they who had actually survived the exodus, waiting many thousands of years for the time to rise again, and be strong. The skink growled to himself, determined, as they entered the Celestial Realm, and he felt himself falling dormant again. Looking to Kai-Otl, he saw that the oldblood was already shifting into his star-form, his saurian body fading now that it was no longer required. Rex-Op did not know when he would again be summoned to war, but he did know that when they were, he would use the time he had to tell Kai-Otl of the fate of the world-that-was. Whether the oldblood would remember or not was uncertain, but Rex-Op knew he had to try. But was it worth it? Would it be better for the oldblood to live on in relative bliss, never knowing of the greatest shame of the seraphon? Perhaps. But Kai-Otl was the being, besides the Slann of course, that Rex-Op valued above all others. The only one he could truly call his friend. And it would be wrong to lie to him again and again, never letting on what the skink knew was the truth. Even if Kai-Otl never fully returned. A constellation reappeared, blazing arcanely in the sky as Rex-Op fully entered star-form, resting and healing before they were called again to return to battle. The stars shifted, forming the shape of a mighty seraphon warrior, a saurus perhaps, holding aloft a mighty hammer. It was not Kai-Otl. But it was all that he stood for. It was the vengeance of the ghosts of Lustria, standing eternal vigil. And in its claws, it bore the symbol of the power of the seraphon--the hammer of the lost. Spoiler: Story Four: A Whimper A Whimper Another day walking after many months, I figured this jungle would probably kill me. Everything had made so much sense when I left the shores of Remas. My heart was filled with the most self righteousness rage. The lizardmen had come to our lands. My two brothers had died in the war that followed. I was too old to enlist, so they had carried my family's honour. I had stayed behind and looked after their two wives and daughters. We all had girls. The war my brothers had fought in had been short and bloody. We didn't know why they were there or why they destroyed the towns they did. Or why after so many victories they left as abruptly as they arrived. There was no official revenge planned, but those planning expeditions across the sea found no shortage of volunteers. I was promised everything to join this expedition, gold, jewels, honour. I didn't care about wealth or the glory. I wanted to kill them. To hack their heads off. The gold would go to their families. After I killed those evil beasts I could return home whole again. I could sleep again. Well I can sleep now. After 18 hours of marching it isn't a problem. For months, or maybe years, all we do is march. I sleep soundly at night. Sometimes I think I'm sleeping on my feet. I dream of back home. I want to hold my daughter. I want to play with my nieces. I just don't care about this any more. I don't think anyone does. I have no idea how long we have been here. My guess is that we are lost. I could ask command but what good would it do? It's easy finding food in the jungle. So I guess we will keep marching until we find something. Or something finds us. I don't know what we were thinking when we landed. I think we assumed the lizards would meet us at the shoreline, after a swift victory we would storm their cities and leave rich. Or maybe deep down I thought I would die in battle trying to avenge my poor baby brothers. But either way I would be able to sleep again. Well, I guess that mission has been accomplished. As the drizzle stops, the birds begin to sing. I take a large flat leaf and funnel the sweet water into my mouth. In the distance I can see the sun trying to break through the canopy. The smell of rain fills my chest. And onwards I walk. Spoiler: Story Five: The Next Generation The Next Generation “Captain’s log, star date 40504.41. Current location, in the Scabrous Sprawl on the Realm of Ghyran. It is the first day of the fourth season, the season the locals call “The Reaping.” We are currently engaged in a battle with a lesser enemy we encountered while searching for the “Great Enemy.” We had picked up one of the locals to…” “Abducted. You abducted me.” Called out the human, his green hood obscuring his face. The slann shifted his weight and kicked a leg over the arm of his floating throne. “Sigh. We ABDUCTED one of the locals to act as our guide in this mortal realm. Of course, we happened to pick a very rude one, who may be some sort of jester or party magician.” “I just healed your gaping wound. You were leaking starlight all over the place.” The offended wizard shouted. “I meant to do that, it takes away the “gifts” of the jolly ol’ saint. Besides, I helped by having my little friend her put a fate curse on you.” The slann pointed to a skink riding a similar chair to his own. “You cursed me? Why…” A large pile of bile and unspeakable horrors impacted in the vicinity, nearly splattering the wizard. “Alright that’s enough questions from you. Excuse me. You there, big dirty guy, Pack up your army and go home.” The slann waved his finger in the general direction of a large pile of moving filth. “My title is Great Unclean One. You may call me the Spawn…” The oozing mess wheezed out. “Yeah, great story. Anyways we have got bigger fish to fry so if you would just move along back to your own realm that would be great.” The bulbous toad creature said nonchalantly. “This is highly unorthodox. We should stick to the usual routine. We come in, cause a bit of havoc, you come and defend the guys we’re picking on, you know? Gritty battle stuff.” The unclean one hacked out, slightly hurt. “It’s been fun, I assure you, we can pick this up another time, we just have an appointment to get to. So…” “Aw. Come on. I brought some skaven, you guys love disemboweling skaven. Look at their stupid rat faces and tell me you don’t want to slaughter them.” “Listen, if it makes you feel better, I promise we can pick this up again next week. We will have skaven entrails scattered all across the realm, but right now, we have to go.” “But I was just about to give you guys a most foul plague wind. I ate nothing but beans and cabbage all morning.” The fat frog glared hard at the sentient sick. He then telekinetically picked up one of the skaven, and one of his skinks. The skink shrieked as it was torn in half by an unseen force. The starlight gushed onto the skaven. The skaven began to shriek as well as its festering wounds began to close and heal, the pox and diseases leaving its body. The skies darkened, thunder growled. A bastiladon floated above the head of the great unclean one. “Happy? Now get going, lest I rip this beast open over your head and heal you too.” “Uh. Oh. Oh no! Everyone pack up, we’re going home, make sure to clean up after yourselves. Leave it in better condition than you found it.” The putrid pile of puke stammered as he shifted his bulk to waddle at a fast pace. “B-but I assure you we will be back with a vengeance, you will face the wrath of Spawn...” “Yes, great, when I made first contact with your patron he had me assimilated. Here I sit before you cleaner than ever. Now boldly flee into the darkness.” “I shall have my vengeance.” The filthy one called out while slowly tromping away. “You see that hollowed out volcano shaped like a skull? That’s where we will find her.” The starseer pointed up and to the West. “Great observation number one. Where did she find a volcano on the Torc? Did she bring that from another realm? The deviant. Then this is it. The final battle. Good versus Evil. The ultimate showdown. Everyone huddle up! Our greatest and most fearsome enemy is close.” The mighty slann was now standing on his chair. “Damn it, I am a wizard, not an explorer. Where do you intend to go? I don’t see any skull volcanoes around.” The green clad mage asked. “Oh man you are the ugliest skink I ever dreamed up. Let me fix that, don’t know what I was thinking, terribly sorry.” The slann was taken aback by this hideous mammal like creature. “I am a man of this realm, not one of your dream monsters.” “Oh my, gave me quite the fright. Can you teleport?” “No, but if you are willing to teach me the spell I am sure I can…” The wizard was cut off by several skinks shoving him into a sack. “Right well, here’s the plan we will teleport to just outside the perimeter of the evil skull volcano base. Any questions?” “Yes sir, why not teleport directly into the skullcano base and get the drop on them?” Said the skink chief, who had been uncharacteristically quiet until this point. “What? Where’s the fun in that? These things have a process to them, first we get there, then we have a suspenseful battle getting to the lair, then maybe a plot twist, big reveal, and boom. Drama.” The slann replied somewhat sassily. The tubby toad waited a moment then pointed at a skink. “Wait, why didn’t you play a dramatic sting?” He said pointing an accusing finger at a skink musician. “Sorry sir, I am not quite sure what you are talking about.” Replied the frightened skink. “Like Dun Dun Dunnnnnnnnnn or something. What is the point of having a musician in these units. Oh right, they don’t get that anymore. I knew I should have brought some saurus. Here, now you know how to play it anyway. Make it so.” The skink played his newly acquired song, then moved onto an ominous track to accompany the certain danger. “The Great Green Torc. A flying grove in the sky, taken back from the forces of evil, but I see that we didn’t get rid of all the scum. Musicians, give us some epic fantasy battle music. Everyone else ready yourself for the great enemy. Warm up the engine and the solar beams, stoke the salamanders, Chief, make sure your skinks are ready to run away from a challenge. I want no mistakes, and make sure your thunder quakes.” The substantial slann barked his orders. “I can na’ run them any further captain.” Replied the skink chief. A deafening roar shook the treetops, followed by a second, even more bloodthirsty roar. War drums beat out in time with the battle music, accompanied by the sounds of soldiers marching at double time, just made it that much more epic. A volley of projectiles flew out from the trees from unseen foes. The wariest of the fighters scrambled under the bastiladons for protection. “Ha-ha! You have done nothing but strike the shadows.” The Chief laughed. The clouds opened up, and three creatures burst screaming forth, and into a swooping dive. The chief ducked down and rolled into a bush. Two hulking monsters were barreling towards the bastiladons. A mounted warrior leading the troops toward the battle followed by a great old figure on foot. “Oh? You want a little blood on your claws, do you? Fire up the lasers!” Shouted the slann. Bolts were spat, fire flowed forth, beams and death rays illuminated the battlefield. Clubs came crashing down as scared skinks scattered. Magic waxed and waned, binding and unbinding abound. Great gargantuans growled and gouged. The clouds wept as the forest began to burn. Trees toppled and smoke filled the air. “I can do more than just heal in this season you know. I can send out mortally wound enemies.” The mortal mage called out. “We can all feel that spell in the air, keep that stegadon stable. Stay out of danger mortal.” The slann called back. “But…” the man stammered before a hail of darts were planted in the shell of the stegadon he was healing. “Too late. You think I can’t see you in the trees? Time to harvest the pain.” The slann shouted as energy shot from his hands struck the target. A figure fell out of the tree and thudded to the ground before disappearing in a burst of light. “The rest of you had better make yourselves disappear.” “Wait. I don’t understand…” The mage managed to say before a massive lizard daemon riding on another daemon roared in his face. “Tell your master to show herself. Oh, and watch those fellows they spit.” The slann said to the mighty saurus. Streams of fire engulfed the saurus and cold one. The screams of pain echoed until they turned to starlight. “Wait, wait, those are your own people. Why are we fighting them?” The arcane human asked. A bolt of Azure lighting struck the ground beside the wizard. The magic energy swirling around him made him dizzy. The mage looked up to see another flying throne, carrying a second mighty frog creature. The second slann laughed an eerie, terrifying laugh. “To what do I owe the pleasure, business or to loot treasure?” She laughed again. “Oh enough of the theatrics already.” The Captain slann said. The clouds parted and the sun began to shine down on the Torc. Fires were stamped out by carnosaur and bastiladon alike. “Would one of you care to explain why… why any of this?” The Green cloaked wizard demanded. “I will let her be the Exposition Gecko this time.” The slann repositioned himself in his chair. “It’s a long story my little man, a story about the nearly extinct slann. A long ago battle in this very realm, with that very captain at the helm. Chaotic forces kept the battle raging, the slann was losing the war he was waging. A desperate attempt to save himself from the ultimate cost, one last gambit with the engine before the battle was lost. He attempted to summon to his aid another slann, it did not exactly go according to plan. For the first time in millennia or memory of old, a new slann was spawned, a new legend to be told.” She smiled down upon the man. “Right, well what’s the abbreviated story without rhymes?” asked the wizard. “Basically, she said that, we found a way to create new slann, finally hope for our people. A sixth spawning, and we had the power this whole time.” Said the Captain. “But why are we fighting them? Why is she the worst enemy?” The mage asked. “To train us in all they know, and where else could they find a worthy foe?” She answered. “Yes, our greatest hope of continued survival needs to be trained in battle and magic, and maybe they can teach us a thing or two. Speaking of, where did you get that hollowed out skull volcano? Did you convert it into a Temple Starship?” The great captain asked. “I fought a battle and sent many mortals to the grave, and retrofitted it with the schematics you gave.” “Kids these days I tell you. Instead of a nice traditional pyramid, you go with a super villains lair.” “To show my enemies that their demise is my passion, that and it is the current fashion.” ____________________________________________________________________________________ “Star date 40504.42, after meeting up with the crew of the SSS Skullcano we are ready to depart the Great Green Torc, bound for other parts of this realm to continue our ongoing mission. We have enlisted the help of a new medical officer…” “Kidnapped. I have been kidnapped. Damn it, I am a wizard, not a space man. I would like to go home now. Please don’t make me board your ship.” “We have enlisted the help of a sassy new medical officer, who if he is good we will get him a Celestial Hurricanum…” “I’ll be good.” “These are the voyages of the Starship Consolation Prize…” The captain started before being interrupted by a large pile of filth smacked him directly in his belly. The Captain put on his finest war wig and shouted “SPAWN! SSPAAAAAAAAAWNNNNNN!” “We have a temple starship, and a friend with a skull temple starship, he is fighting on the ground, why don’t we just fly up and rain down some vengeance.” The wizard asked, excited about a vessel of his own. “Make it so.” Spoiler: Story Six: Sacred Duty Sacred Duty Kytzl stopped suddenly on the path. The divining rod began to hum. “That’s new”, he said. He looked back at his lifelong companion, Trakzi. Her massive head was cocked to the side, listening to the unusual humming. She tried to mimic the noise, though her oversized vocal chords couldn’t quite reach that high of a note. The Oracle of the East smiled, yet felt uneasy. Usually the winds of magic were soft on his scales, feeling the gentle pull of the Old Ones guidance to a sacred item. But with this hunt the winds were strong. Sharp even. He could feel the presence in the air when he flicked his tongue, and it stung. “Is this treasure tainted? Where has Sotek sent us?” he thought. A hissing noise broke his line of thought. He looked back again to see Trakzi drooling. Her acidic spit was reacting with the foliage below her, burning away plant life and curdling leaves. “What is it girl?” Kytzl quipped. The Troglodon kneeled and lowered her head, inviting her master to her back for safety. Kytzl took the cue and scampered up her spines. Trakzi straightened herself to all fours. Her spines frilled as her head became fixed in one area of the overgrowth. Although she was blind, Kytzl knew she had tracked something. Judging by her behavior they were in for a fight. Kytzl assumed his footing and tightened his grip. He muttered softly, “Get it, girl.” Trakzi lunged forward, exploding with power. Her jaws made a quick snap into the overgrowth. Kytzl couldn’t see what it was that she had found but he felt that there was a creature in her grip. Trakzi shook her head side to side, violently punishing the poor beast that she had discovered. She took a few slow steps back from the overgrowth and tossed her broken toy to the side. It was a rat. A filthy scavenger. The foul vermin stood no chance against Trakzi. His body was completely shredded, yet cauterized from the spit that was foaming from Trakzi’s mouth. Kytzl was enraged. “How are they this deep into the jungle!” he exclaimed. He moved to step down from her back, wanting to inspect the lifeless corpse. As he stepped he felt Trakzi’s body tense up. This wasn’t over. “She’s right,” he thought, “where there is one rat there are bound to be others…” The divining rod’s humming was getting louder. It was making Trakzi restless. “Easy, girl” Kytzl said softly, attempting to calm his companion. Trakzi’s spines flared up. She swung her head to the path, casting a gazeless stare towards an unseen foe. That’s when he heard it. The relic. It was in his head. Kytzl closed his eyes and listened, seeing a plaque. Gold with white. Silver with red. Black yet clear. It was as if it didn’t exist on this plane at all. He focused harder, seeing, listening, tasting. He felt he could understand the symbols. He focused. Focus. Focus… His body went limp. He slid to the ground beside Trakzi. She swung her head back to feel with her whiskers, finding her faithful and benevolent master sprawled on the ground. The divining rod was humming so loud that it was almost a scream. Trakzi could hear nothing but rod. Her mind was scrambled. But she could smell. And she smelled more rats. Lots of rats. She turned her head back to the path. They were coming. She could smell them. She could feel them in the earth. She could taste them on the air. She reared up on her hind legs, letting her full height come to bear. She knew the rats could see her. She wanted them to despair. Taking a large breath she fell back to her forearms and let out and ear shattering roar. The very leaves around her shook. Rocks on the path rattled and moved. She could smell the rat’s fear. She could feel the pitter patter of their feet as they ran. All ran. All but two. One small, one large. It was time to defend her master’s unconscious body. First the footsteps of the larger rat were slow. Paced. Then they quickened. It was running straight towards her. She could feel the steps in the earth, step, stomp, stomp, similar pacing to the Kroxigor who washed her hide and fought alongside her in many battles. She straightened out in the direction of the stomps and spat. She mucous left her jaws and painted her target. The running became fumbled, clumsy. Now she could smell the rat without question. Two tail lengths in from of her. Perfect. She lunged forwards with her claws first, slashing at the oversized rat. Her left forearm stuck low and she felt a warm spray on the bottom of her neck. Her right forearm struck high, but was met with a sharp unholy pain. This creature had more arms than she had anticipated. She could feel the breeze of the rats furied strikes before they came close to hitting her hide. If only she could hear! This fight had gone on long enough. She opened her massive mouth and clamped. She was on one of the rat’s shoulders. It tasted foul. It made her angry. She shook her head violently and the creature struck desperately at her thick hide. A sharp stab in the left side of her neck only increased her anger. She shook harder yet and could feel the life of the rat fading rapidly. She shook until the beast was limp in her jaws. She needed to get back to Kytzl. She dropped the lifeless rat to the earth and turned back to her master. The divining rod was so loud that she couldn’t even hear her own heartbeat now. As she moved, she felt dizzy. The rat had hit a sensitive part of her neck. She could taste her own blood mixing in with the mucous and bile from the ratkin. Ratkin. Where was the other rat! She tried to hurry her pace back to the Oracle, but something was wrong. The ground was moving. What was happening? Suddenly, she was falling. Did she slip? She clawed in desperation, trying to find something to hold on to. She was panicking! What is happening!? There was a stillness for a moment. Calm. She remembered being in the swamps with her master, soaking in the sun. She was calm. Then the earth slammed shut around her. Kytzl felt a sharp pain in his heart. He opened his eyes to see that he wasn’t with his girl. Where was she. The divining rod was screaming in his hand. He looked up to see a rat with a staff standing near him. He sprung to his feet, holding the divining rod ready for attack. The Warpseer yelled in Lizard-tongue, “Your overgrown lizard is now a feast for the Great Horned Rat!” He pointed off to his right. Kytzl barely heard him over the screaming of the divining rod, but he understood. He looked over, seeing the twin tail of his loyal companion sticking out from the ground. His frill dropped. His colors went mute. Kytzl felt a feeling he didn’t understand. Loss. The Warpseer took advantage of the distracted state of the Oracle. He clasped the plundered plaque that was hanging from his neck and began chanting the same spell he used to kill the Troglodon, closing his eyes. Kytzl saw the rat close his eyes and took action. As quick as lightning, the Oracle firmed up his grip on the divining rod and attacked. The Warpseer couldn’t react fast enough and took the full force of the divining rod to his snout. As it struck, the rod released a great white light and a loud ring. Kytzl couldn’t see or hear, but he continued his savage strikes on the Warpseer. A moment passed and he could feel his hearing coming back. He slowed his blows and stepped back from the rat he was attacking. As his vision came back, Kytzl realized that the divining rod had finished the rat with the first strike, completely removing the top half of the Warpseer’s head. The rest of his strikes had landed on the body, none with the same effect as the first. The humming had stopped. The breeze of magic he had felt earlier was calmed. He saw the plaque hanging from the Warseer’s neck. He reached down and pulled the treasure off the thief. This was what he had seen. Not nearly as impressive as it was in his trance, but this was it. Kytzl walked over to the remains of his love. Trakzi’s twin tails stuck straight out and hung over like a tree, offering some protection from the sun. Saddened, Kytzl sat on the ground and leaned against her tail. His vision began to blur as his tears swelled. After some time passed he started seeing movement. He looked up to see a great swarm of snakes spill forth from the underbrush. Large snakes and small snakes alike. Then another shape appeared, outlined by the setting sun. undoubtedly a fellow Skink, but this one was large. He approached Kytzl and reached out a friendly scaled hand. Kytzl accepted and stood up. This was no Skink. This was the Prophet himself. Tehenhauin placed a hand on both of Kytzl’s shoulders and straightened his frill. “For Sotek.” He said softly. Kytzl straightened his frill in kind, responding, “For Sotek.” Tehenhauin removed his hands and continued his walk. Kytzl could see that he wasn’t alone. Cohorts of Skinks followed in his wake. Kytzl watched as they passed. He reached down and picked up his divining rod. He took the plaque and placed it around his neck now. He placed a hand on his companion one last time. He took a deep breath and followed the Skinks who had walked past. Kytzl had a war to fight. “For Trakzi.” he said under his breath. Spoiler: Story Seven: Sacred Spawning Sacred Spawning It had been only eight-and-twenty cycles of Chotec since the temple-city of Xahutec had fallen. The temple-cities had been under siege for over a century. Each night, as soon as the chaos moon appeared on the Lustrian horizon, the daemons would arrive and throw themselves at the magical shield surrounding the city. Most were vaporized instantaneously upon contact with the ethereal barrier. Occasionally a daemon penetrated the shield, but they never made it far thanks to the legions of saurus standing guard at the city limits. Throughout the day the skinks were haunted by ghostly voices, chattering daemonic chants, and otherworldly, laughing cackles. Each night the daemonic attempts to breach the cities worsened, forcing the Slann to devote additional energy and magical power to maintain the barrier. Despite this the lowly Lizardmen never lost hope, for they trusted the Slann to reassert their power over the geomantic web, push the daemons back to the polar gates from which the originated, and then again make contact with their silent masters. The mood changed when Xahutec fell. Xahutec was a major temple-city, which occupied a key location within the world-spanning magical geomantic defense grid. The besiegers were overwhelmed in a single night, when a rift within the city’s magical defenses appeared, spewing uncountable thousands of daemons into the unprotected streets. The daemons cut their way through the legions of saurus guarding the city, and climbed their way to the central temple, brutally slaughtering the city’s Slann Mage-priests. The psychic shock was felt throughout the rest of the geomantic network. Since the fall of Xahutec, panic spread through the skinks communities. The saurus showed no outward sign of fear (as was their nature), but even they were uneasy. When word arrived that Huatl also fell, followed by Tlax only a few days later, the saurus prepared themselves for a glorious death in battle and readied themselves for the last stand of the city. Rumors that a deadly disease was spreading through Chaqua, as well as the deadly weapons used against other besieged sites were rampant. Xiugu the skink remembered how stunned he was when the order was given by the Slann Mage-priests, just days after Xahutec had been destroyed: His temple-city was to be evacuated. The Slann were to go to Itza, along with the saurus legions, to help defend the Capitol City. Never before had Xiugu witnessed such a stunning spectacle. The exodus of the armies of even a minor temple-city were a vast sight to behold; no spectacle of this scale had been witnessed since the original migration that founded this city a millennia ago. Thousands of temple guard, resplendent in their armor and gilded halberds, formed an impenetrable perimeter around the palanquins of the Slann. Surrounding them were the vast saurus legions, lining up in marching order to undertake the massive expedition through the jungles to the Capitol City. The formations of the skinks meanwhile were not nearly so orderly. The skink cohorts scurried ahead of the column to scout the way through the jungle, while terradon riders flocked into the skies to attempt to provide aerial coverage for the army. The skink priests, terrified of being left behind, were unable to gather any of the innumerable artifacts, scrolls, or bark books now left behind and strewn throughout the temple where Xiugu worked. The priests scrambled to gather what they could and abandoned the rest, hurrying to catch up to the relentless columns of the Slann and saurus as they marched away, leaving the rest of the city’s population to its fate. All the military orders of the city had departed with the last vestiges of the marching column many hours ago. In their single-minded haste to evacuate the city, no order was given to the working classes of the lizardmen on what to do. Many fled, terrified of being left without a purpose, and struck off into the jungle to follow the military column. Xiugu was one of the many skinks who were left behind. He was of the Caretaker Caste, one of the multitudes of skinks spawned to serve the grand Central Temple. He knew that tonight, when the chaos-moon rose again above the jungle canopy, the daemons would attack the marching column. The Slann would defend themselves, and the saurus would fight, but the trail of refugee skinks would be left behind; a sad sacrifice to ensure the survival of the holy First Spawned. He also knew that without the protection of the saurus legions, the city would easily fall, and his Temple and his fellow skinks along with it. Xiugu, like the other skinks, was terrified. He knew the dangers that were about to explode upon the serenity of the twilight jungle. All his life he had worked as one of the temple’s caretakers. He knew no other existence, no meaning outside the temple and its hallowed spawning-halls of the saurus legions. This was his home, he knew the shame he would feel abandoning it would stronger than the terror now gripping his heart, growing with every daemonic cackle that echoed through the temple’s halls as he descended deeper into its sacred chambers. Xiugu continued down the passageways into the depths of the temple. Usually so vibrant and full of life, the deserted halls seemed eerily silent, save for the ethereal screams randomly echoing through the walls. Most frightening were the conspicuous lack of the temple guards at their regular posts. Silent as statues, the immovable temple guard seemed hardly noticeable on normal days, despite their conspicuous size and ornate armor they seemed almost part of the temple itself. Now the realization that they were gone, marching many miles away to defend their Slann charges, and many hours away from protecting these ancient temple halls, filled Xiugu with dread. It sent a clear message: they were now on their own. He finally reached the deepest recesses beneath the deserted barracks of the saurus legions, down in the lowest levels of the cave-systems beneath the temple. This is where he worked: alongside his spawnbrothers of the Caretaker Caste, those skinks whose sacred duty it was to greet and serve the newest saurus warriors as they first breached the surface of the sacred spawning pools. The normal subdued and reverent countenance of his fellow caretaker skinks had been abandoned. In a flurry of several hours of activity, the skinks had built a makeshift barrier of stone and wood around the entrance of the stairs, in order to defend themselves at the site of the sacred spawning pools when the final invasion began. As the most senior member of the Caretakers still within the temple, it fell to him to give the order to the kroxigor servants to seal the doors. With great regret he prepared to give the instructions to his fellow skinks to make their last stand. A cry of alarm shocked him out of his forlorn revere. For a terrified instant he thought the chaos moon had risen unpredictably early, and the onset of the daemonic incursion through the barriers of the mortal-realm had finally been breached. Hurrying to the other side of the spawning pool chambers, he found a cluster of the caretaker skinks surrounding one of the pools. “Master Xiugu!” cried one of the skink attendants as he approached, pointing wildly at the water at his feet, “a spawning commences!” The spawning pool was glowing: vibrant green-yellow, the color all the sacred pools of Tzunki glow, to signal the impending approach of a new saurus about to rise. The signs were unmistakable; Xiugu himself had seen them too many times to interpret them for anything else. There was no spawning predicted for today! How is this possible??? Frantically the skink checked the tables and calendrical scrolls before him. All the portents were wrong. The date was wrong. Nothing in his writings prepared him and his fellow caretakers for this event, as they stood wordlessly around the pool as the water continued to churn with even greater speed. Suddenly a spiked head burst forth from the bubbling pool. A reptilian form crashed through the surface of the water with a tremendous roar. The new saurus appeared as all other saurus when they first emerge from the spawning pools: his reptilian hide was dark, his claws were sharp, and his tail was strong and swift. He rose from the depths, shaking the slime from his scales as he stood at the edge of the pool, surveying the skinks around him in silence with an unblinking stare. The sight of the unexpected and newly-spawned saurus, standing alone in the center of the pool, held the raptured attention of the assembled caretakers for only a moment. Their asphyxiating fear forgotten, the skinks robotically sprang into action to carry out their duties. Like well-rehearsed automatons, two of the Cleaners waded into the pool, removing the residue of spawn-water from his scaled hide. Then two Decorators affixed gold amulets to his calf and arm, a third to his tail, and a fourth to his head-crest. The Weapon-bearers brought forward between them a great spiked mace, wrought in jade, along with a heavy red-scaled shield. The Intoner spoke the praises to the lost Old Ones, chanting blessings in the name of Tzunki, while at last Xiugu the Prime-Namer, reached forward to his calendrical chart to speak the Rite of Naming: “You are born of the Pool of the World Crocodile. You are Yax Nuunayiin, First of your Spawning. You are spawned to fight in the name of your Temple and your Slann. Blessings to the Gods, blessings to Tzunki, Holy be his Name.” “Itzakaitecahtzin!” the skinks around him echoed the formal response. Blessed be the Ancient Ones. The caretakers completed their ceremonial tasks, then scampered out of the way as their charge climbed out of the spawning pool. The saurus looked at his weapons, testing the strength of his mace, and feeling the weight of the shield on his arm. He appeared satisfied, calm as the water behind him, which since his exit had returned to its original clear and tranquil state. He ignored cries of the cackling daemon-kin echoing in the distance far above the chamber, as he continued to calmly inspect his new weapons and surroundings. Xiugu, along with the rest of the skinks, stood in awe. The saurus then abruptly spoke in the formal tongue, surveying the dumbstruck skinks around him. His eyes were hard, with an intelligence that was at once both young and experienced far beyond his age. “Kahoun hach-loqoq.” The City is in danger. The sentence was a question, but rhetorical in tone, as if the saurus had an innate and instinctual understanding of the perils now ravaging on the doorsteps of his home. The words were terse and brief, spoken by a being who had never spoken before. At this point a number of the attendants lost the silent composure as they immediately began talking at once to answer their charge. “The Slann are gone!” “The armies go to Itza!” “The barriers are down! We are defenseless!” “The daemons will come once the chaos moon is ascendant in the sky!” The skinks fell silent as the saurus barked a simple word of command, almost a grunt, but clear in its purpose. Too many voices. The saurus pointed with his weapon, directly at Xiugu, who stood at the center of the assembled crowd of caretakers, and spoke a solitary word of command. “Tenx-i.” Speak. The saurus towered over Xiugu, who could not help but feel very small next to the looming giant of sinew and scale as he relayed the story of their predicament. The yellow eyes of the creature were fixed upon him, demanding and cruel, but like all of the saurus species they betrayed no fear. “We are besieged by the Dark Powers,” Xiugu began, “The Slann have ordered the armies of our Temple-city to be evacuated. They go to bolster the defenses of Holy Itza, the First City. That is where the Slann will make their stand. We are to hold here, and endure, to protect, and to die with the city and its temples.” As he spoke, Xiugu realized for the first time how desperate their situation truly was. Any moment now they would be overrun as the chaos moon appeared over the horizon, signaling the ravening hordes of daemonic creatures to descend upon them. What hope could a lone saurus have against the multitudes that were about to pour through the nexus-cracks and stream through the canals and city streets? He took a deep breath and continued, bowing his head and staring at the saurus’ clawed feet as he did so. “But we have no army, no defenders to hold back the forces of the Other World. The saurus are gone, we are alone.” “Ma’hun,” the saurus responded abruptly. Not alone. The green-scaled saurus turned, looking back over the spiked scales of his shoulders towards the spawning pool behind him, then to the other pools throughout the cave chambers as he roared out a new command. “Tzauraz, Quetli-Kahoun!” Saurus, Defend your City! All around him, the spawning pools began to glow. First the pool of the World Crocodile, bubbling and expectant, radiantly green. Then the jade-blue pool of Rain Serpent began to shimmer. Suddenly all the spawning pools gave the sacred signs: the pool of the Sacred Quetzal, the Luminous Firefly, the Centipede Scepter, and the Jaguar of the Sky. Every single spawning pool awoke from its silence in a blast of primordial activity. More saurus began to rise from the surrounding pools, as strong and powerful as the First, their reptilian roars echoing through the chambers to announce their arrival into this world. Quickly the skinks darted about the chambers, fitting the ornaments and weapons while the chants were spoken in a reverent chirping of skink voices, their fear now filled with the slightest glimmer of hope. “Itzakaitecahtzin,” whispered Xiugu under his breath as he witnessed the scene unfold before him. Blessed be the Ancient Ones. Without another word the saurus chief Yax Nuunayiin strode forward, parting the caretakers as he moved to climb the carved staircase and exit the spawning caves, followed by his new army. Spoiler: Story Eight: Call of the Stars Call of the Stars It was warm where it floated, much like he remembered from his first days. It was good, simple, and sublime. The feeling seemed to last an eternity, yet also an instant something jerked on the world, or was it his being? The warm surroundings disappeared, every light and feeling around him seeming to fall into a whirlpool of color. The world stopped with a jarring thud, and was black. Something tickled the senses, his nose? A rough surface, his scales? Gingerly the being opened his eyes, the golden orbs watery as they caught light and darkness for the first time, or was it the last? A rumble followed from a broad chest, a growl of both frustration and pain. Claws reached for his throbbing skull, and felt something warm yet hard like stone, touch his crested temple. Looking to the object, eyes saw an ornate claw, or one within a stone gauntlet. Jerking at a sudden pain in it's mind, voices filled his skull. Dozens of them penetrating and worming around within. It moves. It lives. It thinks and reasons with its surroundings. Is he as he was? We shall see. We must test it. As the others were? Our hopes lie with him. The test must be administered. Will we remember this one correctly? Focus, we cannot try again. The Anathema must fall, we will try again. Standing slowly, the being stood and surveyed his surroundings through bleary eyes. A chamber tall and round, a single shaft of light piercing the apex. Many shadowy forms resided in the darkness outside of the light, though he could not tell if their were a dozen or a thousand. His mind was invaded again, as a bestial roar suddenly split the chamber. Fight, prove yourself, was the thundering thought from more powerful minds that rocked his own; you are the last, the only one who may find our hope. Moments later a massive reptilian beast exploded from the shadows, scales of fiery red, with eyes of hunger and claws of obsidian. Something awoke within, the awoken one charging the beast and striking at it with his stone gauntlet before breaking away and moving to strike again and again. Snapping jaws, scything claws, and a crushing tail whipped about in a whirlwind melee, the two beings vying for the upper-hand. The beast roared and hissed, using it's greater bulk and muscular body to bully the smaller scaled biped. A silent and grim figure was a stark contrast, ducking beneath death laced claws, and leaping over a whipping tail of fury. All the while his mind raced as a feeling crept into it. This creature was his, it was one with him. The feeling persisted, niggling at the back of consciousness, while the two continued their deadly dance. The Slann looked on, impassive but for their eyes. Here and there a widening eye, a nervous twitch, or a hopeful glance to another shadowy observer. The battle came to a head in an instant. One of the tree-trunk legs shot out as the awoken ducked around it, and the combatant was sent flying. The room inhaled sharply. The floor met his scaled side hard, and he slid on something wet. Moments turned into an eternity as golden orbs snapped open to see a gaping maw mere inches away. Slann clenched their webbed hands on stone seats, the sudden emotional turmoil surging about the room. Yet unable to touch the two in the light. The beast's jaws would have clamped shut and torn him apart had they not been stopped by his own strength. One claw held the top of the monster's jaw, while the stone-gauntlet ground against the huge fangs of the top. The titanic forces between the two surged and muscles bulged. Reaching within, the warrior felt for a reserve of strength, a last reservoir of might. A name sprung forth instead, and his mind focused on it. Grymloc A mighty heave and the beast was thrown to it's side, stunned by the impact. Assaulted by a sudden mental calling, it scrabbled on the stone-floor. The one that had bested it glared down into it's orbs of fire with those of molten gold, wills doing battle as fiercely as their physical struggle had been. It relaxed slowly after a short time, recognizing the greater predator. A relieved wave of emotion settled throughout the chamber as the beast was cowed. Good. You are worthy, unlike the other iterations. Only now did the smell of rent flesh and an odd ozone flavor tickle the tongue. Skin, scales, bones even, littered the floor, some glittering oddly in the light. Remains of those who could not conquer part of themselves, mere fragments. One caught his eye, a stone piece that looked as if it had come from his left arm. His gauntlet was whole. "What is this?" the voice came from his throat, raspy and unused for what might have been millennia. There was a cold feeling deep in his belly, something truly alien amid all of this unfamiliarity. Was it fear? The beginning of the Old One's vengeance, the beginning of Hope for their shattered Great Plan.This string of thoughts echoed more powerfully, coming from one mind in particular. It was shrouded, but it was familiar and ancient all at once. "And I?" the words echoed in the chamber, the memories and being of the one who asked confused and jumbled in his own mind. He knew, but also did not know himself. What was he, and what was his purpose? The thought was plucked from his mind, the same 'voice' responding among others. The Slayer of Anathema. Lord of Beasts. Herald of the First. You are the Last Defender of Xhotl, and the First Spear of the Starmasters. You are "Kroq-Gar" the words rolled off the lips of every Slann in the chamber, and even the saurus himself spoke, his being and purpose suddenly clear. His mind unclouded now, the Old-Blood hefted a spear that materialized in his hand, ornate and shimmering with power, while the gauntlet that covered his left claw flared with the light of a million suns. "I am the First Spear of the Starmasters, the Vengeance of the Old Ones. I will not fail in my task." His voice was cold and hard, filled with conviction as the massive Carnosaur roared along side it's eternal rider. Spoiler: Story Nine: Purpose Purpose The city burns, but the hate within Roq burns deeper still... The body of his Slann, Lord Micttxal, lay broken at the base of the great temple, one large eye glazed over in death while the other half of his face was removed by some hellish mechanism derived from the tainted minds of the vermin. Roq’s brood kin, the sacred guardians of the Slann, had fought with unrestrained brutality as the tide of vermin warriors swarmed them. The mounds of stinking dead piled high around their final stand was a testament to his kin’s tenacity. It was beneath one such pile that Roq had clawed his way free. During the melee the blood in the streets had risen to his ankle and footing became treacherous. As several of the vermin sought to bring him low, Roq lost his balance and went down. He managed to rip out the throat of the creature on top of him, but the bodies continued to pile on. Roq knew little of fear and even less of panic, but in the time beneath the cloying sea of dead and dying, he was touched by both. Still his duty, bred into him and his spawn kin from ages long past, focused his mind and Roq swam to the top. In the muted time that passed, each breath became a battle for survival all unto itself. Crushing weight bore down while hands grabbed at him. Agonized faces passed by, their screams filling his ears. There was a lightning crack from somewhere above, so loud that it could have split the heavens themselves. The small glimpses of golden daylight seen through slits between the piled bodies turned sickly green . Roq continued to claw his way out, the pressure easing back as he closed the distance to freedom. As the weight around him fell away, Roq burst out into the light of day. Letting out a primal roar, both triumphant and pained, he finally removed himself from the dead. The first sight that faced him, however, was the ravaged body of his lord. Now Roq was alone. The sounds of battle still rang out in the distance, having moved on after slaying one of the great lords. Looking in the direction of the battle, Roq stopped and took note of the many fires burning throughout the entirety of the temple city. Glittering energies cascaded from the central ziggurat, creating a protective barrier around the main temple. Skittering beams of green lightning played along the exterior as the vermin unleashed their tainted warp energies upon the protective magics. Roq didn’t know how long the barrier could hold under such a relentless barrage as more and more thunder cracks accompanied the warp machines firing their salvos against the temple. His duty failed, his kin slaughtered, Roq looked around for a weapon to rejoin the city wide battle and, hopefully, bring a quick end to his life as a failed guardian. Death did not frighten him, he had been spawned knowing that he would one day meet his end on the battlefield. It was the loss of purpose and guidance that terrified him. His duty had always been to serve, never to lead. And so he would die. There were a great many weapons to be had, but he found himself drawn to the obsidian axe carried by Revered Guardian Xanst. The champion lay near his lord, the weapon buried in the chest of some rat like monstrosity of twisted flesh and molted fur. Roq pulled the weapon clear with a wet sucking sound. Almost immediately he felt the tingle of infused magics within the weapon. Fixing his eyes on the besieged temple, Roq broke into a loping stride. He passed several streets filled with the dead and dying until a flicker of movement caught his eye. Roq stopped, expecting to find a pack of loathsome creatures pursuing him only to watch as four black clad vermin ignore him and rush into one of the buildings where spawning pools resided. Roq contemplated his situation. He longed to throw himself away in one last moment of battle. His blood cried out to join the melee and find some redemption in death. But the spawning pools were the life of their people. Even if they held off the tide of vermin, without the pools it would all be for naught. Roq didn’t like this. He didn’t want to choose. He wasn’t made to choose, but the choice was there regardless. Hissing his frustration, Roq followed them into the sacred pools. His clawed toes echoed through the vastly empty halls of stone. Torches still lit the way, but the dancing shadows put him on edge. The vermin were creatures of darkness and frequently used the lack of light to their advantage. Roq’s tongue tasted the air, catching the foul taint of the intruder’s presences up ahead. Eventually the darkened halls lead him to a wide domed area that opened up to the sky. Four pools were situated in the center, each giving off luminescent hues of opal that sparkled as the sun touched them. In these pools were countless spawnlings, each in various stages of growth. They were skink pools. The small, nimble creatures that maintained the majority of the city’s well being and growth lay in their thousands. A few moved experimentally in the womb like pools. An arm would twitch, eyes blinked drowsily before closing again. Roq had never been in this place, the majority of his life being spent within his lord’s temple or at his side on the battlefield. It teemed with life, with possibilities… with death. The four intruders were already making short work of the spawning pools. With strange vials filled with violet liquid that stank of dark magics, they poured them into the pools. Unsatisfied with how fast the poison was working or simply caught up in the attempted genocide, they began stabbing the unborn with curved short blades. It filled Roq with a rage so great that he could not contain it. Issuing a deafening roar, he charged the killers. Immediately their sharp eyes darted toward him and all four stopped what they were doing. Then, as one, the four killers moved toward him. Unlike their kin, these creatures were not malnourished slaves forced to fight, these four knew what they were about. As Roq barreled forward, they broke to either side of him. Rather than hesitate, as most would expect, he went after those to his right. He felt faster than he’d ever been, far more nimble than he realized he could be. In fact he moved with such speed that the first opponent he focused on hadn’t been prepared for it. Roq’s axe crushed the rat’s ribs and sent him skidding along the stone floor. Behind, he heard the scratch of nails on stone and turned just in time to see one of the black clad killers leaping toward him, dagger raised to strike. It was fast, too fast to stop, or so he thought. Roq’s body moved with liquid grace as he pivoted and swatted the assassin with the terrible obsidian axe. It’s hip caved in, the rat hit the ground and didn’t move again. The axe in his hand was humming, a deep bassy sound that filled his chest and sent his heart racing. His body felt warm, hot even as his blood coursed through his normally cold blooded veins. The assassin to his right chittered something to his remaining compatriot, a clawed finger pointing to the axe in his hand. Then they moved in simultaneously. Roq cleaved the rat to his right from collar to hip, spilling its entrails on the floor. He was turning toward the last, but felt a terrible pain as the remaining assassin slid his viscous blade along his knee causing it to give out. He tried to swing the weapon at his attacker, but was caught off balance. The killer took the opening and drove his sword through the muscle of his dominant arm and Roq lost his hold on the obsidian axe. The world suddenly slowed and he felt a terrible sluggishness now that the power of the weapon left him. Still, he was warrior bred and lashed out with his free hand. The assassin skittered back, easily avoiding the blow. At this point his wounds were burning, something that went beyond the flesh wounds. Poison. His limbs were growing heavier as it coursed through his body. The vermin paced just outside Roq’s reach, spitting what he could only imagine to be curses in the creature’s own language. The axe was too far away to reach and he watched, hopelessly, as the corruption that had been poured into the pools spread further out in lazy tendrils of death. Even in death he would fail, just as he failed his lord on the battlefield. In that hopelessness, Roq felt his rage burning. Despite the agony now freely flowing through his body, Roq staggered and stood. The vermin stopped his chittering, eyes narrowed. Roq let out a roar and charged, opening himself up to the killing blow that couldn’t be ignored. The creature moved in, ramming his sword into Roq’s sternum and made to move away. Only Roq had started closing his arms in anticipation of the stroke that would take his life. His arms encircled the assassin like iron bars before he could escape. In one swift motion Roq ripped out his killer’s throat with his teeth. The last assassin fell with a gurgled cry and Roq spit the flesh in his mouth on the ground. His breathing came out ragged and he coughed out blood and bits of his ravaged lung. Death would claim him soon, but before it did, his eyes watched the decimation of the spawning pools. At least they had, in some small way, been avenged. Then Roq spotted a single sack within the pool, still untouched by the poison that had covered the rest. A rapidly receding space of clear water still surrounded it, but it wouldn’t last long. Roq staggered toward it and fell. There was little strength left in him, but he focused on getting back up. Each step toward the pool was sheer agony. Darkness pulled at his vision, but on he went, fueled by the need to reach the last spawning sack before the corruption in the pools reach claimed one final life. Just as the waters grew dark around the sack, Roq lurched forward and, with his last ounce of strength, pulled the sack out of the pool. There was a splash beside him and a new sensation of wetness that touched his body as he lay on the cold stone floor, but he could no longer see what it was. His could hear his pulse, weakening with each beat and prepared for the end. Suddenly something touched him and his vision flared back to life. The was a brief shock of pain, then cold. He looked around, confused at the lack of an end, and found himself staring at the membrane covered skink that he had pulled from the pool. Roq immediately noticed the unnatural pale hue of it’s scales and crest. An albino, the color of the divine. They locked gazes and immediately Roq knew this was not to be his end. He had found a new purpose. Spoiler: Story Ten: The Ritual of Words Yet Unvoiced The Ritual of Words Yet Unvoiced Every year on midsummer's day, the Lizardmen enact a mighty ritual atop the ruined Great Pyramid of Inscriptions in the temple-city of Tlax. A delegation of Mage-Priests, one from each of the extant temple-cities, congregates in the 'Chamber of Words yet Unvoiced' at the pyramid's apex. Just before the sun rises, the Mage-Priests combine their vast powers, mouthing a potent invocation. At the ritual's climax, the great square before the pyramid is filled with ranks of insubstantial figures, and the ruined city and its tumbledown temples appear pristine once more. The figures are the ancient defenders of Tlax, as they were before they marched out to face the Daemons at the height of the Great Catastrophe. Though the Mage-Priests cannot communicate with the ghosts, they bestow upon them as much power as they can spare, so that the defenders might hold off the forces of Chaos that destroyed the city in ancient times. And then the sun breaks over the horizon, and the ghosts fade away as the city returns to its ruined state once more. It is a matter of deep conjecture amongst the oldest of the Slann whether the ritual allows the defenders of Tlax to hold the city as long as they did, or whether the accumulation of power over the millennia may one day enable the past to be changed, and the temple-city to stand. - From Warhammer Armies: Lizardmen (7th Edition, 2009), p32 “And that’s for what you did to Xahutec! I was spawned in Xahutec you bastards!” Scar Veteran Hutl hacked off the fifth of the creature’s seven limbs, relishing its squeals of pain. Finally the noises died down and it evaporated back into the chaos dimensions. Hutl looked around, face stained with ichor-splatter. “Daemons,” he spat. “I hate those guys.” He was aware of a lot of staring faces. He straightened. “I’m sorry for that little outburst. But we all need to look lively. That was just the first wave. They’re coming again, in greater numbers, you can bet your glyphs on it. And we’ve lost too many good lizards already.” He sighed, gazing lovingly into the trees that stretched as far as the eye could see beyond the city. Then he turned to face the giant pyramid on whose lowest steps they had been fighting. He realised that he was fingering the small golden square that hung around his neck, his fingers tracing the familiar pattern of a rising sun. “None of this will mean a thing if we don’t get the Mage Priest into the battle,” he muttered, and turned back to the troops. “Alright, form up and hold the next bunch of bastards off as long as you can. I’m going to need you to fight like bloody carnosaurs if Tlax is going to make it through this.” As if on cue, there was a series of hideous shrieks from inside the forest, followed by a nervous silence on the temple steps. “Just hold the line!” Hutl called, and started bounding up towards the pyramid summit, trusting the warriors to do as they were told. As he reached the entrance to the inner chambers, he suddenly found himself sprawling on the flagstones, struck heavily from behind. Instinct kicked in as he sprung up from the ground, detaching the weapon from his hip and preparing a mighty swing at whatever was behind him- Something wet and rubbery grabbed his wrist like a lasso, wrenching it sideways and sending his weapon skittering across the floor. He looked up at an abomination. Its entire lower half was a mass of black tentacles, although at least its naked torso and head were vaguely humanoid...except for the lack of arms. Or eyes. It cocked its head, grinning at him from empty sockets. His own eyes widened in response. “How-” “How did I get past your pathetic reptiles? You really aren’t the most observant, are you? Well perhaps I can give you something to watch as I devour your bumbling oaf of a mage priest before your very eyes.” It grinned even wider. Every tooth was a razor. Hutl growled, jerking his head and snapping ferociously on the tentacle that held his arm. He didn’t pause to listen to the creature’s satisfying cry, but instead bounded away towards the Chamber of W- “Fool! Think to escape me?!” For the second time, his chin crunched uncomfortably as it slammed into the flagstones, his feet tripped by the writhing black mess of tentacles. He stretched out a helpless arm to where his weapon lay, but it was just out of reach. He turned to see the awful daemon loom above him. “You know, on second thoughts, I’ll just kill you now, and then devour the toad in peace,” it giggled. Out of nowhere it produced a large bronze spear, gripping it with two of its many tentacles. Hutl strained for his own weapon again, his fingers just scraping the base of its handle. The daemon’s grip was too tight. It was raising the spear, about to strike. Something caught his eye just behind the poised weapon, a bright flash... the first rays of the rising- “Oh bug-” he said, and the spear rammed into his brain. ***** “Bugs. It’s the same every year, Tlax is always swarming! Gah!” Panquetzl slapped the umpteenth midge off her neck. “All of Lustria is swarming, comrade,” said her companion, Zeltin, as the two of them stood in the darkness, guarding one of several entrances to the ruined city. “That’s kind of a well-known feature.” “Yeah well at least in Itza the midge problem is under control.” “If you say so. Hey you remember that time we found all those dead skaven near Quetza? Talk about bugs…” “Not making it better, Zeltin,” she grinned. “Seriously though, I hate coming to Tlax. It’s always the same. Wait around all night, see some ghosts for like two minutes, and then another two week march back home.” “Priest Anqipanqi reckons it’s a cumulative thing.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “You know, like every year the magic builds up until something happens. You should have more respect. This city was destroyed completely by the Enemy. All of this is to avenge the wrongs they did here.” “Oh I think you mean the rights,” said a silky voice in the darkness. “The wonderful, delicious rights that were inflicted on this place. Oo, the memory of it makes me tingle. 6,000 years ago feels just like yesterday.” The skinks looked at each other, wide-eyed. In the dark gateway they could just make out the form of an armless creature floating on a writhing mess of horror. “H-how-” squeaked Panquetzl. “How did I sneak up so close without you noticing? Ha! You miserable reptiles are even more predictable than those idiot followers of Khorne.” The thing sailed towards them on its tentacle float until they could make out every one of its needly teeth. “Oh, I’ve waited a long time for round two,” it said. “Run!” shouted Zeltin, and the two skinks sprinted back into the city. *** In the Chamber of Words yet Unvoiced, Lord Xipotl of Itza regarded his fellow conductors of the ritual. Many of the most powerful slann in Lustria were here again, as every year. Lord Xipotl forced himself to focus, to put the troubling reports he’d heard that the secrecy of this ancient tradition had been compromised. If chaotic forces knew that so many of Lustria’s brightest and best were in one place at the same time… The ritual was going as well as could be expected. White lines of sizzling energy traced themselves in a perfect geometric grid between all the slann. The lines scorched the air and crackled together in a central nexus where the ritual’s magics were building. Soon the lost city of Tlax would be conjured again, its immemorial guardians permitted to ruminate, for one more annual moment, on what they had failed to save. Xipotl knew it would not be enough. He had long ago abandoned his belief in the ritual’s cumulative effect. It was nothing more than a pointless tradition, like so much of Lustrian life, achieving nothing but a remembrance of better times from a long-lost past. He could feel the energies they channelled. They were full of hope and promise. But there was always something missing, something extra needed for fulfilment, something that would never- Something made him look up at the doors of the Chamber. Their ancient stone was engraved with a cosmic symbol of terrible power: the rising sun of Chotec. The ritual was working. The crumbling walls of the room began to reform and shimmer, dull broken segments growing into pristine slabs bursting with colour. Xipotl watched as the rising sun began to burn with the gold leaf it had used to know. Burn, and suddenly, burst- ***** On the ruined temple steps, Panquetzl turned breathlessly to look across the plaza. “Do you think we lost it?” she said, panting. “Get down!” hissed Zeltin, tackling Panquetzl and pushing them both behind a mossy boulder. They peered around its edge as the awful daemon swarmed up towards the temple summit. “Love what they’ve done with the place,” it was cackling to itself. Panquetzl turned to Zeltin. She’d never seen her so serious “It’s up to us,” said Zeltin. “Partners forever, right? I’m going to distract this thing. You have to get to the Chamber, warn them its coming. Can you do that?” Panquetzl nodded, too afraid to talk though there was so much to be said. “Good. Remember, nothing else matters. Get to the Chamber, whatever happens.” She looked back around the boulder. “OK, now. Ready? Go!” Zeltin leapt up onto the boulder and fired her blowpipe into the monster’s back. It paused. And then wriggled with pleasure. “Go!” hissed Zeltin, as the creature began to turn towards her. “For god’s sake go!” Panquetzl realised she was sprinting over the temple steps, to the other facade where she wouldn’t be seen. Now she was leaping upwards. She could hear the daemon’s laughter. “That felt loooovely,” it was sniggering. “Do it again! Come to me you adorable little imbecile! Aha!” Panquetzl had reached the top. She could see the Chamber of Words yet Unvoiced ahead. She glanced back down the steps. The monster had Zeltin in its tentacles, held up above its head. The two skinks locked eyes for one universe-spanning moment. And then it tore Zeltin in half. Panquetzl fell to her knees. Her mind went blank as the daemon discarded the two halves of the body and once more swarmed the steps. Fuzzy lizards began to materialise on all sides, the ghostly one-time defenders of Tlax shimmering down the steps and across the entire city. The tentacled creature pushed through them like smoke, cackling dementedly. Panquetzl found she was gripping a javelin, hurling it. The monster batted it away. As it approached her, she stood, realised she was screaming. The ghosts had turned to stare at her. She lunged at the creature, who gripped her with a strength more like steel than rubber. She was drawn back and flung down the corridor like a whipcrack, and for the tiniest fraction of an instant, she thought she saw the bright flash of the sun’s first rays, and all the ghosts immediately vanished- -solidified- She smashed into the doors of the Chamber, which burst asunder. Lord Xipotl didn’t have an instant to react. All of the slanns’ powers were focused on the blistering endpoint of the ritual, as suddenly a tiny screaming skink, a being utterly consumed by a desire for revenge, sped, airborne, into the central nexus where she burned with white wrath. At the same moment, the rising sun struck the chamber, and the sizzling energy of the ritual went click. There was silence. Everything was white. The instant hung in the air for eternity. In the corridor, the daemon cocked its eyeless head and said, “Eh?” The ritual detonated. ***** “-ger”, said Hutl, and the spear rammed into the flagstone next to his head, where it split the stone and stuck, vibrating. Slowly he opened his eyes, and saw the daemon above him, its expression aghast. “Missed?! How?!” it wailed. But it was too late. Hutl lunged, grabbing his weapon with one hand and propelling himself off the ground with the other. In a blurred sweep of his arm, he decapitated the abomination, watching grimly as it convulsed and then dissolved into the sunlight now flooding the corridor. “Joke’s on you, sucker,” he said. “I ain’t ten-ticklish.” He paused, and looked around the empty hall. “Erm, looks like you’re Kraken up? Dammit, I used to be great at the one liners!” He flung his weapon down in disgust and stormed off to rouse the slann and save the city. Spoiler: Story Eleven: Commune Commune Hands raised against the night sky Emman imagined cupping the stars and holding them to his ear like a conch; he would listen to the astral whispers that they fed to him. Learned with a wisdom craved by all the others he would stand on the altar and preach their celestial truth. The flagellants would whip in agreement. He imagined the Prophetess’s face set with shock. Drive me out, he said. Persecute me. But remember it was I who delivered the Seraphon’s eldritch knowledge. Emman was snapped from his fantasy by the door shutting. The Prophetess glided across the engraved floor, each step considered. Her chin was raised and her shoulders pushed back. Her head was straight and tense in a silent conflict with her tall, precarious hat. Whilst her robes were impeccably fashioned, and designed to flow about her body so as to hint at her figure whilst maintaining a reasonable defense for modesty, her hat was an ungainly ornament that persisted out of tradition than any practical sense. Her eyes were wide and restless. “Emman,” she said, with all the tone of a zealous woodpecker. “Where is your hat?” Emman rolled his eyes to the stars. The Prophetess explained to him the significance of image, and how it silently and constantly communicated your character. This was important to the Prophetess. “We must maintain a graciousness at all times” she said. “The temple is brimming with those who aren’t our type of people, don’t argue - you know it’s true, but that doesn’t mean we should stoop. We should give them something, something to look up to.” “I don’t give a damn about looking good for others,” Emman replied. The Prophetess waggled her finger. “Your father was an outstanding cleric, and he certainly would have cared; he governed and liaised between all the local dioceses.” “There are no more diocese,” Emman mumbled. “It’s just us: everyone here, together.” “Well we were better off when we weren’t if you ask me. I don’t mind helping them out but not in our own home. We’ve got our own problems: charity begins at home, you know.” She paused and Emman swallowed the silence greedily. “And put on your hat, Emman, for Tepok’s sake. Are you trying to embarrass me? If you won’t do one little thing for me, after all I’ve done-“ Emman put on his hat, but did so with a laboured display of sullenness. Emman didn’t care to encourage her dialogue with any stubbornness on his part. He knew too well how she’d react: a list of tired points of generosity that Emman could predict perfectly, like a Duardin counting the coiffeurs of his prized trinkets, each item delicately placed and examined. The Prophetess swished over to the altar and cast an eye over the ritual. Flagellant’s blood slowly sluiced their way from the nearby libation chambers and pooled around the altar. The altar chamber was open to both the stars above and the rest of the temple compound, providing a precipice to look down on the rest of the congregation. Looking from their perch Emman could see the flagellants, bodies shiny in the starlight. He made an effort to enjoy their chanting, titling his head with a faint smile. The Prophetess ignored him: she had long planned for the summoning ritual to be her legacy for the Order, but the number of flagellants needed for the appropriate libation had only been achieved through the Order’s merger with the Sons of Sotek. The Prophetess had unsuccessfully protested this. Emman took great pleasure from her chagrin and showed his appreciation as often as he could. “What is this?” she was expecting the tip of her finger. Emman didn’t respond, unsure of how to introduce another’s digits to themselves. Catching his silence she ran her finger along the altar and showed him her finger: “what is this?” Emman inspected the finger but saw nothing. “Dirt, Emman: it’s dirt. Filthy. Would you clean it up for me please? I simply cannot be having anything slip up with the summoning; the stars will be aligned soon-” Emman acquiesced, keen for her not to open the coiffeur. He grabbed a cloth in one hand and jammed the other firmly in his pocket. Carefully moving the sacrificial dagger to the side he began to clean the altar. He doubted very much that the Seraphon gauged the power of a summoning by degrees of cleanliness. Part of him wished that they’d just route out a daemon instead, then the Seraphon would come running and he’d be free from such petty work. He checked himself: no, better to suffer in the temple than be a martyr in the field. He leaned over the altar in his chore and imagined himself already a martyr. “Imagine if something went wrong: maybe it tainted the flagellant’s libations or slowed the ritual, or whatever else?” the Prophetess wittered on. Her eyes were wide and wanting, like a child’s. This irritated Emman: he had been educated in the Collegiate Arcane and yet he was the one wiping altars. Age and experience doesn’t matter when you have wisdom on your side, he thought. No, she hadn’t the vision to understand that. It struck him that she was the type of person who would see a forest but could only observe it tree-by-tree. The comparison pleased Emman; he could see the forest. If only she could understand the limits of her vision. Instead she spent her time making petty talk whilst setting him mundane tasks. He’d show her. He’d clean this altar with absolute precision, so clean she couldn’t critique him in any way. She’d praise him. The door opened again and in walked a tall, placid priest carrying a silver platter. Emman stared at the man: he strode precisely, his neat robes gently skirting the floor. On his head was a tall, perfectly balanced hat bearing the emblem of the Sons of Sotek. The imagery wasn’t lost on Emman. Emman looked over to the Prophetess, dressed in his brightest smile. Don’t you see? The Prophetess didn’t look over to him, merely accepting the platter from the priest with an air of sterile transaction. The man turned away to leave. The Prophetess was inspecting the heart on the platter: fresh and still beating. No hello, not even a thank-you. She needs a lesson, Emman thought, dropping the cloth. Emman chased the priest. He had fantasised about this much: of an engaging and gleeful conversation in front of their brethren, laughing at clever jokes and discussing the arts, society, even the famine. Anything that was clearly above the Prophetess’ myopic interests. He had to say something insightful but warm. He had to say something. “Do you know how long until the alignment?” he asked the priest. Out of the corner of his eyes Emman could see the Prophetess staring. The priest’s hand halted on the door. He glanced at Emman, then to the Prophetess, and then up at the stars. The priest looked back, brows furrowed. “I mean, I know it’s soon,” Emman hastened to add. “But exact timings are important: imagine if something went wrong and we, you know, summoned the wrong thing or something.” The priest gave a pointed look back at the Prophetess and left. Emman was sure the priest would’ve talked to him if she wasn’t there. He looked back at the Prophetess. Her face had turned an unnatural red. Emman adopted a stoic look; it didn’t matter what was said, only that she had seen him talk. He crossed back to the altar with a marked stride, chin raised and eyes on the abandoned cloth. He imagined the Prophetess at the altar, knife raised over the heart, only for the star’s light to fall on him. A voice from the stars would say “Emman, you are the chosen one, for only you united your brethren”, and he would summon them and the lands would be purified by their light and the crops would engorge. He imagined ranks of Seraphon called to arms as they sensed the presence of daemons and that he would be invited to ride with the starhosts as they purged. Emman was disturbed from his fantasy by a hiss: “What was that about?” The Prophetess stalked over to him, her eyes even wider. “Are you trying to embarrass me?” Emman ignored her. He stared at the cloth and cleaned the altar with exaggerated precision. Couldn’t she see the contrast? How different he was to her: precise and controlled. “I try really hard, Emman. I really do. But I see you stropping about the temple, always rolling your eyes when I talk: criticising me. Well I’ve had it up to here - look at me!” She knocked the cloth from Emman’s hand and wielded her finger to a point above her hat. “-up to here. I did a favour to your father, been like a mother I have, and this is the thanks I get-” “It’s not my fault you can't face reality.” Emman tensed. He hadn’t meant to say it but he felt no remorse; this was a lesson long time coming. “Time moves on. We need to come together, and we can’t be having with your old opinions and condescending atti-“ “Condescending?” she shrieked. “Coming from the altar boy? I don’t know why I’ve put up with you this long. Your nothing like your father: you’re lazy, throwing about your strops like it’s anything important. Now, now you listen to me-“ She jabbed her finger at his chest. He could feel his cheeks flushing. “You will not ruin this night for me. Leave, now, or you’ll be scrubbing the latrines. In fact, you will be scrubbing the latrines after this show. You’ll never be anything-“ “That’s what you’ve always wanted,” Emman jabbed back. “Always, never recognising me for what I am. Wasted on you and your short-sightedness-“ “Short-sighted? I’m a prophet!” “We’ll see!” Emman leapt onto the altar, snatching the heart from the Prophetess and the dagger from the side. The Prophetess gasped. Now she would see. “Stop. Emman, what are you doing?” “What I was born to do.” Emman raised his hands. The Prophetess shouted at him, one sentence, again and again. He didn’t care, it was his time. He stabbed the heart. A glow bloomed through the heart’s fibre. A fiery tingle marked the blood that ran down his arms and dripped on his face. The flagellant’s blood gurgled and flowed about the altar. Churning, it flickered. Soon starlight would burst from the libation, from the altar, and from him: a light that mirrored the god’s. The libation boiled and roared; red flame tore about the altar. Emman had barely noticed before crimson fire spiralled out from under him. He was flung from the altar and rolled across the floor. Pain raked his body. His nose stung from a smell that made his stomach cramp. The Prophetess was still shouting, but now panic strained her voice. She was still repeating herself, like a child grasping for comfort: “It’s not time. It’s not time. It’s not time.” Clutching himself, Emman looked back to the altar. Hot tears blurred his eyes, but he could see the heart glowing on the ground, dagger still stuck within. The room was drenched in red, highlighting the graven floor in flickering crimson as fiery tongues leapt into the heavens. From inside the pillar of fire something took shape. Something like the shape of man. Something like a man but far larger. Even through Emman’s tears, even though the blazing red, he could see new lights within: two, constant and peering. The Prophetess screamed. She ran around the altar and leapt at the heart. Her robes billowed about her, burning. The peering lights flickered, drawn to her. The flames parted. An arm reached out, clawed and smoking. It grabbed the Prophetess and lifted her up. Her screams pierced Emman’s skull. Struggling, she pulled the dagger from the heart. The fires vanished, their roar echoing in Emman’s head. He pushed himself up, new tears streaking down his face. The Prophetess lay on the floor. “Please…” he mumbled. His heart beat hard as a wave against an unmoved shore. “My Prophetess.” He stumbled over to the Prophetess and gently rocked her. “Wait, stay. I’ll get someone.” He raised his voice. “Help, help!” he tried, but blood gurgled in his throat. A tide seemed to swell within him, carrying him away. His feelings dissolved into the deep darkness beneath. His dreams became unanchored, broken on the tide. He could see each dream crumble into smaller and smaller parts as waves broke them against staring eyes and accusing voices. Above the constellations shifted. Streaks of light rained down from the sky, falling towards the temple. Where they touched the earth great flashes bleached the landscape: the barren fields, the temple sculpture, and the blasted altar. The flagellants had stopped chanting. Bursts of starlight silhouetted their figures: standing, their hands raised to the sky. Emman’s hands dropped to his side. Spoiler: Story Twelve: Warlord of Sorrow Warlord of Sorrow A terrible groaning shook flocks of gliding lizards from the lush canopy. A pair of scaly hands slowly began to claw their way through the soil and leaf-litter, and a fang lined maw screamed at the sky. A clouded pair of yellow eyes looked around for what felt like the first time. The reborn beast was lying in its own shallow grave in the middle of a dense tropical jungle. At the head of the grave was a stele engraved with the image of a serpent with a forked tongue that was devouring a scaled creature. Under the carving were a series of angular runes that were familiar to the creature, and yet foreign at the same time. The scrabbling creature beheld the one that had brought him into the world; the Master was tall, with a pale, gaunt face, and spidery hands. His thinning grey hair was lank and greasy. Under his skin was a network of writhing black veins that pulsed with evil magic. He was wrapped in a black cloak, and carried a gnarled staff of dark red wood. One eye was swollen shut and constantly wept a mixture of pus and blood, and the other was a sickly green. His thin lips were peeled back from his yellowing, chipped teeth, giving the impression of a permanent sneer. The Master seemed to suck all life from the trees and ground around him, leaving a trail of wilted foliage and dead animals where he had walked. The Master held his staff in the air and hissed a string of arcane syllables. The shambling, rotting men around him walked forwards with jerky movements. They wrapped clammy, near-skeletal hands around the arms of the scaled creature, and they hauled him from the clinging earth. The scaled creature took his first steps and prostrated himself in front of his Master. “I… serve… Master.” The scaled creature rasped. He stared up with blank eyes. The Master stroked his chin with a long finger. “Mmm… not quite right. You don’t remember anything. Ah, but the memories are still there; they’re just locked away. Never mind, I know how to fix this.” The Master rapped his staff on the trunk of a vine-covered tree. Two of his zombies shuffled forwards with a great stone basin in their hands. Another pair dragged a thrashing, leathery-skinned beast to the bowl. The skink let out a panicked stream of chirruping sounds, and rapidly raised and lowered its crest. The shambling acolytes forced the lizard to its knees and held its limbs tightly. The Master took a serrated dagger from a scabbard of his belt, and stalked towards the shrieking lizard. The Master raised the dagger and began carving open the chest of the lizard. The lizard let out a gurgling noise as its blood poured into the stone bowl. The Master ran his bloated purple-grey tongue across the flat edge of the blade and gave a satisfied smack of his thin lips. He tucked the dagger back into its scabbard and reached into the lizard’s gaping wound. With a grunt of effort, he ripped a tiny, still-beating heart from the skink. The Master cast the heart into the stone vessel and began to stir the blood with the end of his staff. He chanted in ancient dialects as he did so, and the blood slowly turned green, and began to give off a pulsing glow. “Drink, Saurus. Drink and remember your life. I need your thirst for revenge.” The Master commanded, and the scaled creature obeyed. He knelt on the ground and dipped his snout into the noisome liquid. He drank it down in great gulps until the basin was empty. A sudden pain gripped his cold, dead heart and he clutched his chest. The stabbing pain moved from his heart to his spine, and then to his brain. During these throes of agony, memories flashed back into his head. He rode a cobalt-flanked Carnosaur at the head of a thousands-strong army of Saurus and Skinks. He skewered so many enemies with his spear, all on different battlefields. First it was a rat-man, then an orc, then an elf with a barbed blade, and then the eye of a red-scaled Saurus. Yes… he remembered now. That Saurus was the one who’d killed him. Ankh… something. He had corrupted an entire city, maybe even all of Lustria. He had to stop the red-scaled Saurus. The risen Saurus let out a deep grumbling sound. “Ahh, you remember now. Not quite everything, but enough. Yes, you’ll do, you’ll do. You want to find the one who killed you, yes? And purge the Temple-City? Yes, that’s it. That’ll make it all better. Mmm. Yes. Let Aasgeier Krähen make everything better again. Ah, but you need a name, don’t you? Something to make my… our enemies tremble? Hmm… Thrash-no, that won’t do… ah! Brokenfang! Yes, I like that. Fang for short, yes, yes, that’s good.” Krähen chuckled. Brokenfang bowed his head. This necromancer… Krähen… would right the wrongs, and give him vengeance. Yes, Brokenfang could use Krähen to purify the red-scaled Saurus’ taint. He could protect Lustria again. Brokenfang looked back at his grave. He could read the runes once again. ‘Traitor’. They’d carved the word ‘traitor’ into the stele marking his grave. Brokenfang growled deep in his throat. He’d show them who was the traitor. Yes, he would taste blood again. Spoiler: Story Thirteen: His Own Hands His Own Hands Most of those around the bonfire were either very young or very old. Harti felt out of place surrounded by children and elderly, but he was desperate for something to keep occupied this midsummer night. The house was stuffy midsummer. The crops were all planted and growing nicely. There was relatively little work to do tomorrow worth getting up early for. Harti was very carefully adjusting his toasting stick. He wanted to get the piece of bread evenly golden brown. He wasn’t particularly hungry, and he was not picky about toast, but meticulous focus on the toast kept his mind occupied. He was only barely listening to the old man’s story. “See those stars? That constellation is the Guardian Dragon.” “Which stars, Mister Schaffer?” In the darkness no one saw Harti roll his eyes. Everyone knows the Guardian Dragon. It’s the second most obvious constellation after the Great Dipper. My best friend Dagmar died along with his pretty sister, Daega. Who survived? Dagmar’s annoying baby brother, Ritter. The old man humored the youth. “See those starts sort of making a hook. That’s the Dragon’s back. The two points there. Those are the Dragon’s fangs.” “I see it!” “From there the Seraphon watch over us. When the Forces of Chaos or Death threaten, the Seraphon descend from the stars on beams of light to combat the Forces of Darkness” “Like before when the big rats came!” “Exactly, they saved us all when you barely crawling. We are fortunate to have them as protectors.” Harti’s toast caught on fire. He threw the smoldering square into the flame. “You are full of skite old man! You can gloss it over for those too young to remember but I remember. The magical lizards didn’t come down until the Skaven were in the misty forest when the visibility for their weird guns was blocked. The Seraphon came to kill Skaven, helping us never mattered to their plans. We are running and hiding for four days and nights. Poison gas was exploding everywhere. Horse sized rats were tearing up everything in sight. If the magic lizards cared about us, they wouldn’t have waiting till almost quarter of us were dead. They would have cleansed the lingering illness that followed and halved our livestock! They would have chased after the warbeasts that escaped and are breeding in the forest right now!” The youngest girl there started crying looking fearfully out at the woods “They're…not…really…monsters…in the woods?” The other children began to crack. Ritter edged closed to the bonfire. Immediately the elders swooped in. “Of course not. Even if they're were dark creatures in the woods. The Seraphon will protect us.” Harti barely realized he was standing now. “If we want to be secure we have earn our safety with the work of our own hands. My own hands.” Harti stormed away. * * * * * For several days he thought about his own words. He wanted to be able to defend himself, his people, but he didn’t know how a farmer’s son could fight against the creatures of darkness. He was gathering firewood in the outskirts of the woods. Since Harti had not-so-accidentally reawakened the fears of rogue rat beasts in the woods, it was not worth the effort to convince the youth to collect firewood. For a brief moment he was afraid as he considered that if they're was a rat creature in the woods, there was nothing he could do about. A strange voice interrupted his thoughts. “Young man, you are out in the woods pretty far. Dusk will soon be upon us. It’s dangerous to go alone.” Harti turned to see an older man in a dirty earthen cloak. His face half-hidden. “You are alone.” “I have faith” “In magical sky lizards from the sky or gold plated sky minions of Sigmar? I bet if I bought your good luck talisman I would be safe forever….” “I only want you to be able earn your safety with the work of your own hands.” The old man adjusted his cloak and unsheathed a gleaming sword. “I have this blade, an extension of my hands.” He sheathed his sword and unshouldered his pack. From it he pulled a sheathed and wrapped sword of similar make. He presented it to the youth. “Now you have a blade.” Harti examined the blade. It looked better than anything crafted within 30 miles. He took a practice swing. It seemed like it was perfectly balanced for Harti’s body. He touched the blade as lightly as he could with his finger. A drop of blood formed. The blade almost seemed to warm up in his hands. * * * * * Harti kept his sword a secret from those in his village. He often made excuses to go into the woods to practice swinging it. He was concerned in dulling his blade and avoided hitting anything but once he missed and clipped a tree branch. It sawed through the branch as easily as flesh. Not that the blade had tasted flesh yet, not counting the small prick on his finger. Harti wandered out farther and farther, more than half-hoping he would find an excuse to use the blade. One day his wish came true. He heard a snarl and barely turned in time to see the rat creature. It looked like an ordinary rat except for its size, half as big as a horse. Harti wondered how it got so close without him seeing it, but that was not the real problem. Harti drew his blade and swung wildly grazing the rat creature’s shoulder. The creature backed up with bleeding haunches. Normally a wounded predator goes elsewhere when a prey that fights back, but this was not a normal predator. This was one of the Skaven’s foul war creatures gone feral. Harti swung at the giant rat but it backed away. It began circling the human. Harti swung several times more but the beast could skitter backwards with impressive speed avoiding each swing. It had Harti’s measure. Harti remembered when he discovered father’s gnawed bones, the poisoned corpses of his neighbors, and rage built with him. He swings became wilder. “FIGHT ME MONSTER!” Harti was as livid and wild and as any Skaven-spawned creature. Sensing his foe’s lack of focus, the creature charged narrowly, avoiding the humans blade as he bit Harti’s torso. Harti brought down his blade into the rat’s head then slashed at the creature again and again until its body was in shreds. * * * * * Harti could not make up a plausible excuse for his bite mark, and he needed treatment, so he had to tell the truth about the rat creature. Since everyone wanted to know how he survived with a relatively small bite he had to tell others of his sword as well. Most were too impressed with his valor enough that they chose not to probe too deeply into where his blade came from. Most. One visitor came in the middle of the night. The old man with the sword. “Well done, but it is a miracle your bite wound did not become infected. To be a true warrior you will need suitable armor. When you recover, meet me where you received your sword.” As soon as he could walk, Harti sneaked off to the woods to find the mysterious old man again. This time there two lumps covered with blankest. The old man withdrew one of the blankets revealing a glimmering suit of steel armor partially painted red. Harti’s swords seemed to hum in sympathy. He didn’t think he ever wanted anything more his whole life. The old man pulled back the other blanked revealing the quivering form of young Ritter, bound and gagged. “Why did you bring him.” “If you want the armor, you must earn it with the work of your own hands.” Spoiler: Story Fourteen: Duty and Hatred Duty and Hatred: 3000, Part 2 Centeotl stepped back as the brazier sparked to life, the leaves and bark within blackening and curling. He watched the pungent smoke fill the room. It was a risk, of course, to create smoke, even within the confines of a temple building, but it was necessary for his divinations. He lay down on a reed mat and closed his eyes, beginning to dream as he breathed in the smoke. He was flying high over the jungles. The leaves were falling from the trees, as the wood rotted and twisted. Flies buzzed. Somewhere, far off, there was a fatherly laugh. The scene shifted, twisting until it looked like a distorted mural. A series of deformed shapes danced around captive Skinks, all of them dripping with plague. A Saurus rose from a patch of brown, straight lines in contrast to the distorted figures around him. He held a great sword, which he swung again and again at the twisted shapes, who jabbed back with pointed shadows - Centeotl awoke, as the door shuddered, and something on the other side screamed in rage. He grabbed his staff and ran, pounding up the stairs and then, as the door crashed inwards below, he threw himself off the roof. The world spun, and for a moment it was like the dream. Like flying. But then he was falling, and praying he would hit the safety of the lake, and not the too solid ground... ------------------------- A group of Pestigors trooped raggedly along, bringing this week’s tithes to the Gates: ten Skinks, infected with a variety of Father Nurgle’s “blessings”. The #NurgleLeaders had concocted them to be slow-acting, so they might reach the Gates before expiring messily. The Skinks were clustered in the centre, harried by the prod of the plague-tainted Beastmen’s spears, carrying one unfortunate sacrifice whose “blessing” had taken the form of atrophying muscles, starting in the legs before working its way to the lungs and heart. Behind them, a pair of plague-touched Kroxigors lumbered on. Rotting sacks, filled with a variety of vials and bottles of diseased fluids, were slung over their shoulders. They were more resistant to the degenerative effects of the diseases they carried, and were less frequently replaced than the sacrifices: one dropped dead every month, on average. The Pestigors fur dripped rank sweat, as the jungle steamed around them. Their leader cursed the heat, the Skinks, and his fever. Wiping pus from his eye, he called for a halt. The Beastmen forced the Skinks into a small clearing near a creek, leaving the Kroxigors standing passive, on the road. Spears surrounded the prisoners, even though the Skinks barely needed to be contained. They were too weak to run. Omyitl, on the other talon... There was only a small wake as he swum, the vast bulk of his scaly body hidden in the muddy water. Deeper, the creek frothed with the impact of his taloned feet and tail. On the surface though, all was still, only a bony crest and a pair of eyes displaying the Saurus’ position. One of the Pestigors clopped through the reeds and knelt down, shoving his snout into the creek. A clump of bloodied fur fell in, tainted with plague. It turned the muddy Lustrian water a sickly yellow. The Pestigor snorted, and drank. Then Omyitl grabbed him by the throat and pulled him in. There was a brief struggle, churning the water to white, and then it was over. The froth settled, and the creek returned to its normal colouration, save for a single streak of red. The captive Skinks knelt, shivering and moaning with the pain. The halt brought them no respite from their suffering. Around them, the other Beastmen squatted on their haunches, scratching and hawking, their spears leaning up against the trees, or held offhandedly. No-one noticed Omyitl climb out of the creek, into the cover of the reeds. An angry hiss betrayed the presence of a snake, disturbed in the reeds. Then came the crack of bone. The noises were drowned out by the Beastmen’s braying laughter. Omyitl crept forward, the reeds almost tall enough to hide him from sight. His crest, the mark of Itzl, might have given him away, if anyone was watching. But the Pestigors were confident they had exterminated any resistance, and nothing less than a full-blooded roar would have attracted their attention. Omyitl was not so foolish as to make a sound, until he needed to. Silently, he surged forward in a crouch, stabbing his sword up and into a Beastman’s chest as he rounded the tree against which the Pestigor leaned. The sword punched through the diseased flesh, but thankfully did not lodge in the tree on the other side. Omyitl swung his sword, heaving the body with it, and both the sword, and the dead Pestigor, struck the Beastman sitting beside the tree. And then it was carnage. Beastmen charged, stabbing with spears, trying to weigh him down by sheer weight of numbers. Omyitl countered with vicious hacks and as many dirty tricks as he could employ. One Beastman was tripped with roots that Omyitl had stepped around, then finished with a stab through the skull. Others were thrown into the milling ranks of Beastmen to give Omyitl an opening, or forced into the creek, or simply hacked apart. Even with all his tricks, savagery, and scales, though, Omyitl still couldn’t avoid injury. The last guard was also the most dangerous. Sensing that the Saurus was weakened, it had lunged forward, headbutting him hard enough to crack ribs. He had stabbed it, of course, but the damage was done. Then, with the guards dead, Omyitl turned his attentions to the cargo. Necessary as it was, it was a task he did not relish. The Skink’s bodies were too weak to resist almost any form of injury, but he made it as quick as he could, using decapitating strikes to bring a swift end to their misery. The Kroxigors were still standing stupidly on the road, waiting for more instructions. He growled Saurian words at them, telling them to dig up the clearing. They did so, dirt flying in all directions. Once the large pit was done, he stabbed one of them through the back of the head. The other one, deciding that Omyitl was now an enemy, turned, roaring, and was stabbed through the roof of its mouth, up into the brain. Then he kicked its corpse back into the pit, threw it and its brethren’s loads on top, and piled all the other bodies he could find in with it, before kicking some dirt over the top. Now, there was no more threat of plague. And now, even though it was safe to give voice to the roar that had tapped at the back of his throat since he had killed the first Beastman, Omyitl could not spare the breath. He sheathed his sword and slipped back into the creek, letting its muddy waters scour the filth and blood from his scales. Too much of the blood was his own. He felt it seeping into the creek, as he crossed to the other bank and hauled himself out. He packed mud from the bank into the worst of his wounds, to avoid a blood spoor, and raised his snout, sniffing at the fetid air. It was a long trek, through the jungle, up the deep gorge of the ravine, and into the feet of the mountain before he would be home. Not safe, though. Nowhere was safe, anymore. Omyitl lowered his head, and walked. The day turned, and the sun sank lower. Omyitl climbed. If he stopped he would die, and having survived the Beastmen he did not intend to die today. Finally, as the sun slipped behind the trees he hauled himself up the final slope of the mountain and slumped down into the roots of a fig tree, the effort of climbing up the mountain with so many wounds taking its toll. Here, though, he was safe for a while, here in the last of the Old One’s lands. In front of him lay the sacred pool of Itzl, the waters deep and still, waters reaching to the edge of the walls of rock that kept this place sheltered. The only way across without disturbing the water, which the legends warned would raise a swarm of piranhas from its hidden depths to devour the intruder, was via a stone walkway, carved with the names of every Saurus to guard this pool since it was first formed. Most of them were illegible now, long worn away by the wind. His glyph was on the path, a few steps from the end, and it was almost certain now that the last few blocks would never be carved. Blackness crept in, and Omyitl collapsed even further among the roots, head-crest scraping the tree’s bark. Spoiler: Story Fifteen: Vengeance’s Fire Vengeance’s Fire (prequel to The Fireblade’s Challenge) The Norscan looked at the ancient sword in his hand. In all the years he had carried it he had never seen it like this; cool and streaked with blood. Even at rest it had previously glowed with a brooding redness, and in the frenzy of battle it had sparked and hissed with an angry heat which had matched his own rage. Blood had sizzled into steam and ash, leaving the glassy blade pristine. It was as if the sword had lost its purpose. The Norscan kicked at the charred and mutilated carcass at his feet and reflected that with this last challenge he had lost his own purpose as well. The warrior stepped back from the smoking remains of the big lizard with the golden edged scales and paid heed to his surroundings. He could hear the battle cries of his marauder band as they continued their frenzied pursuit of the routed lizardmen, but the battle was already won. How different from his last visit to this savage shore. Twenty-seven years earlier he had seen his sire slain without honour by the golden saurus. A coward’s blow from behind had robbed the war leader of his life and his place in the glorious afterlife. The Norscan himself had been too injured to stand, but he had salvaged his father’s sword and crawled back to the ship’s boat. From that time the sword was never sheathed, and he named it “Vengeance’s Fire”. The men who had pulled the oars to effect their escape were cowards, he supposed, but they had served their place in vengeance’s purpose. When he had healed enough, he hunted them across the Chaos Wastes and slew them one by one. The fact that he was a crippled youth with a valuable magic weapon first drew him challengers, and then, as word of his brutality and prowess with it spread, he drew followers. Eventually he had accrued enough force to take ship and return to Lustria to credibly seek out and challenge the object of his ire. The Norscan had believed that the final act of revenge would draw the eyes of the Blood God and that he would receive some glorious reward. Now that it was done, he found he was left alone with a cold blade and a dark emptiness in his soul. A suspicion began to form in the man’s mind that this golden lizard, his weapon, his indifferent god, or some conspiracy between them all had stolen the bulk of his life. The sword flamed anew as he rebelled against having his destiny in any hands other than his own. He reversed the blade, placed the point under his sternum and threw himself forwards. When he had slid down to the cross guard he rolled onto his flank and twisted the hilt to the side, striving to break the blade and release himself from its thrall. As the Norscan’s heart flared to ash, the strength left his hands and the sword’s glow slowly dulled. Khorne may have been blind, but there were other eyes watching the Norscan’s last act of defiance. Times had been lean for the grey seer since his banishment, and he could not control his rat ogre companion when the great beast scented the blood of fresh kills and followed its nose. Indeed, the seer could barely control himself. However, at the edge of the jungle battlefield thoughts of hunger were driven from his brain-meat as he saw the Chaos-slave destroy himself with a flaming sword. As the rat ogre stuffed dead man- and lizard-meat into its gullet using all four hands, the seer went to relieve the dead man thing of the burden of ownership of the magic weapon. The skaven wizard touched the pommel with one claw and pictured himself wading into the plague-rat’s nest and cleansing it of their foul-stink treachery with a double edged tongue of flame. Then he withdrew his paw and pondered. The seer knew that exploit-manipulating the deep desires of some fool-dupe was an effective and enjoyable way of achieving his own ends. For all of his reputed madness, he recognised that this time he was being cast as the fool. He reasoned that this daemon-blade must ignite and fan the rage of the wielder, give power to enact that fiery anger, and then feed on the ensuing slaughter-mayhem. In time the host would be destroyed or consumed, and the blade would fall into the paws of its next slave. The rat congratulated himself for evading yet another trap, even as he tussled with what to do next. If he left the sword embedded in its host’s meat, one of the returning Chaos-slaves would take it up. If he hid it in the forest to rust, he would gain nothing. Or worse still, what if one of the pox-slaves found it? Better if the clever-seer chose a new wielder, one whose anger would burn-kill the seer’s own enemies. The seer tore a strip of bloody cloth from a corpse, wrapped it around his paw and tugged the blade free. Then he urged his sated ogre away from the clearing and considered the gift that he would safeguard for a time. I name it Fool-Burner, Thanquol thought to himself. Where shall I find fool-meat worthy to carry it to their ruin? Spoiler: Story Sixteen: Hope for Sun Hope for Sun Xilour over looked the small fields separating the fishing village from the crooked tree line. She saw the hordes of Nurgle flood out on the fields. The mists of the fen made it hard to see in the hours before dawn but she could make out pox struck men in rusted amour walking behind pus covered monsters. As the mist shifted she saw other parts of the army huge slug like beasts, tentacled mutants. She looked to the fields again just a few hundred yards of nothing they could use to take cover behind, or give any strategic advantage, this would be bloody. She was not afraid of dying she had done it more times than she could count. But instead she was afraid of failing. If she failed these mortals would be claimed by chaos. As the dawn came the sky brightened but the sky could only be seen briefly through rifts in the cloud. She mustered her warriors, this was it. They were going to battle, and if the foul spawns of chaos weren’t to take the initiative, they were. Xilour looked to Yuatec and she nodded. Signaling to the other Sauruses they marched forward. Upon seeing this, the chaos horde had to react. The followers of Nurgle started forward. At first, they moved slowly but then they picked up speed and soon parts of the horde where storming forward at full speed in uneven spikes. The Sauruses continued their steady march. The enemy horde started to fling missiles at them first they didn’t reach the battle lines as the distance was still too great. But the distance was swiftly closing down. Not before long the Sauruses had stones, javelins and pots of corrosive acid raining over their heads. They marched on, most of the bombardment was harmlessly shattering off of thick scales and raised shields. A few Sauruses were wounded and light started to flow out, an even fewer number fell down and disappeared in flashes of light. With the thunder of metal against metal, the two armies clashed together. Xilour let her toothed blade sink in to the flesh of the nearest enemy. Blood splattered, rotten flesh ripped. The wave of marauders broke on the rock that was the line of Sauruses. For a moment, it calmed down before more chaos devotees pushed forward. The roar of the enemies built up and Xilour braced herself for the second wave. The enemies came. This time more experienced warriors in heavier armor. Not as fast as the marauders of the first wave but way more dangerous. Xilour hacked again and again in her enemies, their rusted amour cracked and caved but they weren’t giving an inch. Even when she ripped huge chunks of diseased flesh from them they just weren’t dying. They had to be hacked apart piece by piece. Clangs of metal echoed all over the battlefield. There were screams from wounded marauders and low gurgles from the warriors as their throats were slit. She looked along the battle line and saw how light flared as her warriors were brought down. She wasn’t worried for them. She would fight by their side soon enough, but for every body that fell, so too did their chances to save the villagers from chaos. Looking up she saw the hulking giants of monsters making their way up through the horde. She could not remember when she had learned it, she had probably known it since she stepped out from the spawning pools in the old world, but now she had this feeling of them needing to retreat. She gave the signal, her soldiers reacting almost before the signal because they knew it. No, they remembered it. They fell back to the village. Most of her sisters fell back leaving only a thin line, and then that line fell back. Just as the front rank was about to get caught by the enemy, the first rank of the main group charged, thus they broke the charge of their foe. They continued with the alternating fall back and counter charge all the way to the first houses of the village. They had made it with minimal losses, only a few sisters had blazed up to the sky. Amongst the houses the moments of the big monsters were limited thus the Sauruses had an easier time taking them down. They fought on for what seemed like hours, with the cloud colored sky it was hard to tell. Yuatac had been at the front line all day as the second scar veteran it was her duty. Her arms ached whit every strike but still she moved on. Swinging her two-handed blade like a scythe, she struck down the foe in wide sweeps. A huge slug like beast moved up to face her, it roared, spit came flying out and hit her. She saw how small stacks of smoke raised from the impact spots, but the acid could not penetrate her scales. She charged forward, jumping off the carcass of a dead warrior, she got the height to smash down her blade on the head of the beast. It screamed as white blood splattered, but still down it went. Hitting the ground on top of the slug, Yuatac lost her footing on the slimy flesh. In the decent she dropped her blade. As she started to get up she saw a shadow fall before her. Looking up she saw a champion of chaos, putrid and bloated. The champion raised his axe and struck down. The pain was imminent but small, she had died multiple times before. She had gotten used to it a long time ago. Her spirit, her memories the very essence of what she was blazed up towards high azyr. It was a long journey but it went with the speed of light. She hit the crystal at the bottom of the temple city, traveling through it, she entered the spawning pool. Her spirit slowed down, slowly it regained a physical form. She emerged. With water dripping off of her body, she stepped out of the pool. Hours had passed, the battle was probably over now. It would be fun to hear how it went, she decided to go and find Xilour. But first she entered the meditation chamber with her mind she manifested her jewels and other marks of honor she had been wearing at the time the old world was destroyed. Back in Shyish, Xilour saw how the putrid champion had killed Yuatac. The line had caved, and the foe had rushed through but in the last second, the men of the village came running in with improvised weapons in their hands. The charge of the villager had pushed back the chaotic horde filling the breach. Then the sun came out, and the forces of order pushed harder. Cheering as the light fell over them. Then in the distance Xilour saw a reflection. She saw the light reflect on the amour of silver knights coming to their aid. Their hopes were high in their hearts. The knights were thundering towards them. Row after row of knights, graceful in their every move, salvation had truly arrived. And then Xilour saw a pink banner unfold in the wind, bearing the mark of Slanessh. More pink banners unfolded all around the lines of knights kicking in the light of the sun. These were not the warriors of light but the knights of the dark prince. All was lost. The reinforcements they had hoped for had arrived but it was the reinforcements of the enemy. It really had been too good to be true, that a force of good knights would come out into the swamp to save a lonely fishing village. It had all been a joke from the dark gods. Then the knights charged. They charged in to the back of the Nurgle horde, slaying the disease-ridden foes at extreme speeds cleansing them with fire. The Nurgle horde turned and ran. It all vent so fast the forces of order had barely had time to react. A clearing had formed in the middle of the battlefield. The leader of the knights slowly rode in on the open field before Xilour. He or She stopped for a moment watching the surviving forces of order then gave a mocking salute. A salute still full of grace, and then turned to chase down the fleeing followers of Nurgle. And the sun shone on His or Her armour. Comments and critiques are welcome, but keep things civil and on topic. Use common sense. If you are writing a reply detailed and lengthy. Try to get it into one big thread rather than three or four separated threads. Especially with sixteen pieces there is bound to be a lot of commentary.