Now that the most recent Short Story Contest has ended, once again I’m here to post my entry in its own thread for easy reference. I’ve made sure to be especially prompt this time to make up for the inexcusable lateness of the thread for ‘The Visitor’. Like ‘The Visitor’, I was able to keep the original draft of this story as well as the trimmed-down version for the contest, and I am proud to present it here: The Doom of Vanir Rockfist A cacophony of high-pitched shrieking sounds came from the Darkthorn Sisterhood of Spite-Revenants as each was set ablaze by a torrent of boiling lava. Shrieks of not just pain, but humiliation and anguish as well. They were used to being the predators, lurking in the darkness of the thickets and copses at the very bottom of Ghyran’s forests, haunting their traumatised prey, leaping upon them when they were at the very limits of their sanity, and rending them asunder with their wickedly-sharp claws. Here, however, it was they who were the hunted, pursued by a creature formed of flesh and blood made of the very anathema to the forest spirits’ being - fire and lava. Where most of its targets would be scarred and melted by its breath, but still remain something solid, the living wooden bodies of the Sylvaneth were incinerated completely by the beast’s molten breath. Eventually, there was just one spirit left, shrieking and cursing at the deaths of its brethren. It stood in a clearing, looking around warily, watching for its pursuer. For several minutes, there was nothing but the sound of Spites buzzing around the grove. The savage spirit turned to make its way back to the den occupied by its clan, but as soon as it did so, its nemesis leaped out from the depths of the forest with surprising height for its bulk, landing upon a fallen tree right in front of the Spite Revenant and crushing part of it to splinters. The forest creature just had time to howl a taunting cry at the Magmadroth before a a gout of magma gushed from its cavernous jaws and utterly dissolved the spirit in a fiery hiss. “Grand job, Inferno, that’ll be the last we see of them for a while,” commended the beast’s rider, an aged Fyreslayer of Baeldrag lodge who went by the name of Vanir Rockfist. The younger brother by two years of the current Runefather, Aesir Doomaxe, Vanir had left the lodge several years ago after a quarrel between the two of them had resulted in his exile. The two of them had fought, first verbally and then with axe, over the rights to marry a sturdy female named Hyja - Vanir had been the first to woo the flame-haired Duardin woman when the two had met during one of his brother’s great feasts. The two had developed the beginnings of a caring relationship when Aesir had discovered them together. While initially nonplussed at the idea of his brother having found a potential wife of his own, Aesir had soon started to covet Hyja to add to his collection of wives. Yes, it was the tradition for the Lodge’s Runefather to have many wives with whom to have strong, skilled sons, but Aesir already had half a dozen wives of his own, while Vanir had never yet found the right woman for him. Surely Aesir could have found other women of his own if he wanted them? In any case, the two had resolved to a duel with their strongest axes. Vanir had won, knocking his brother to the ground and disarming him of his weapon, but Aesir had then used his authority as Runefather to have Vanir banished from the Lodge. Furious, Vanir had left with pleasure, taking his axes and Inferno with him. Since that fateful duel, however, Vanir had regretted his eagerness to leave. He had always loved his Lodge, and while he still hadn’t forgiven Aesir for cheating, he still loved his brother. Most of all, he longed to see Hyja again sometime. Just before he had set out from his home for the last time, she had given him a torc forged from pure Ur-Gold in the shape of one of the drakes of old, catching its tail in its mouth. Every day he looked at that torc around his wrist, and thought of how it essentially symbolised his whole life and cause. Grimnir had evidently meant for him to be a loner, as it featured one Dragon, not two. It was also a material representation of both Hyja’s love for him and his love for her. That was why he still stayed near his lodge in Ghyran, when he could be hiring out his combat abilities to manlings all across the Realms for precious Ur-Gold all of his own. That was why he ritualistically defended it from invaders every day, even though his brother’s trickery had cost him his honour and his future wife. That was why he was still risking his life to protect those who, for all he knew, could have branded him as a traitor and a threat by now, or even forgotten him completely. As part of his self-appointed duty as the hidden guardian of Baeldrag, Vanir would ride Inferno every day along a route he’d mapped out that covered a perimeter all around the Lodge, at a suitable distance away to prevent his brother from discovering him, but always making sure he never ventured too deep into the forests. As an inhabitant of Ghyran, he knew of the war between the spiteful servants of that Aelf trollop many called the Everqueen and the loathsome disease-bringers of the Plague God. Of course, Vanir couldn’t have cared less about who would ultimately prevail, so long as neither of the belligerent forces sent warbands to threaten Baeldrag - protecting his home and kin were his top priority. He goaded Inferno to continue upon the patrol route now, the Magmadroth turning from the remnants of predatory ferocity to diligent obedience in an instant as he turned smoothly to the left and back into the mass of trees. For a long while, Vanir could see nothing of note as the pair travelled through the higgledy-piggeldy mass of trees, only the usual forest creatures that flew, crawled and scampered about the place, but all that began to change as they moved onward. The first thing that Vanir noticed was that the forest started to become quieter and less active - the gliding airborne reptiles, the foraging mammals and scuttling insects seemed to dwindle the further they travelled. Then the air started to take on a particularly pungent flavour - soon the stench was so vile that it could be physically seen clogging the air as a thin, green, low-lying fog, and a human or Aelf could have died from breathing it in (luckily Duardin had always been made of far sterner stuff). Even the mighty Magmadroth Inferno started to become more tentative - such a reeking odour couldn’t possibly be produced by any natural living thing. However, it was not long before it became clear what - or in this case who - was responsible. Vanir saw that the trunks of the trees had become distended and bloated in unnatural ways, with huge buboes and splits weeping horrid green slime. The only animals that were not dead were deformed, leprous things that dragged, slithered or ambled listlessly around, with long tongues that quivered and slavered, or bulbous eyes sprouting all over their ballooned bodies. The Plague God had dug his malevolent green fingers into this part of the woodland, and it was at the mercy of his sickening pleasures. “So, a champion of the long-deceased Grimnir decides to frequent my patron’s new garden, does he?” A slobbering voice rang out from deep within the trees, causing Vanir to rein Inferno in a little and scan the area for any sign of the monstrosity that caused this damage. A sound that resembled both the crashing of vegetation being broken and the sloshing of water came from not that far in front of them, then again, and again - whatever it was, it was big. Then a pair of massive green hands parted a dead tree to both sides like a man would part tall grass, pulling the thing apart and causing the trunk to split and thick green pus to spill out, before the creature pushed its revolting head through the gap to look upon Vanir. “How small and feeble you look, “ the Great Unclean One belched, “but don’t fret - Grandfather Nurgle can soon put an end to your physical weakness, if you join us.” The Greater Daemon lurched forward, crushing the remnants of the tree under his colossal bulk so that Vanir could now see him fully in the distended green flesh, and extending a disease-ridden green hand towards Vanir in a mockery of friendship, but now he was not the only denizen who stirred. A large number of smaller green Daemons, each as foetid and diseased as their master, were emerging from the shadows and shambling towards Vanir, rusty choppers and rotten wooden cudgels at the ready. “Grimnir has given me a strength that your Plague God could never understand,” retorted Vanir, and as if to prove his point, the Ur-Gold runes set in his arms, shoulders and back began to shimmer as the Fyreslayer focussed his aggression. The lost power of Grimnir began to surge through his body, hardening his skin into a natural armour and empowering his muscles. Vanir twirled his war-axe in his right hand, the Fyresteel weapon now as light as if it were made of paper, before urging Inferno into a direct frontal charge at the Great Unclean One. The Magmadroth cannoned into the Greater Daemon, yet the corpulent creature had anticipated this, tensing his revolting bulk for the impact so that when it came, the Daemon remained upon his bloated feet. Inferno gored with his horns and swiped a clawed limb at the Daemon, but the resilient monster grabbed the Magmadroth by the middle and forced it down onto its side, pinning Vanir to the saddle with his left leg trapped between the ground and his mount’s body. The Fyreslayer grimaced in pain, but his hardened skin prevented his leg from breaking. Chortling with slime dribbling from his nose and mouth, the foetid Unclean One drew a massive sword from a scabbard on his back with his right hand while pressing Inferno to the ground with the left. “How so very easy,” the Greater Daemon burbled contentedly, “Now keep still, and this won’t hurt a bit.” He raised his drooping right arm, intending to bisect Vanir, but the resourceful Fyreslayer drew a Fyresteel throwing axe and pitched it cleanly into the Greater Daemon’s face, right between the eyes. Of course the axe didn’t actually hurt the Great Unclean One, for his blubbery skin was far too tough and gristly, but it distracted him long enough to slacken his grip upon Inferno, allowing the Magmadroth to raise his head and follow the axe with a blast of lava right in the Nurgle Daemon’s face. That hurt the Daemon a lot more, as even his regenerative Flesh was no match for the searing, burning heat of the lava, and he let go of the Magmadroth entirely, clutching his burned face with his left hand and swinging his sword wildly to try and retaliate at the Ur-Salamander. That gave Inferno enough time to get to his feet, rear up and push the humongous Daemon over with a tremendous thump that shook the ground and spilled the Daemon’s exposed intestines everywhere, blasting another stream of lava into his face. The Magmadroth slashed with his claws and lashed with his tail, tearing great rents in the Daemon’s thick hide, yet the enemy refused to give up. He thrust his great sword deep into the Magmadroth’s stomach and out the other side, but the Ur-Salamander’s molten blood began to melt the sword and spray yet more lava over the creature’s body so that even the toughened flesh or one of Grandfather Nurgle’s greatest creations was melted to the bone. It was then that the Great Unclean One finally knew he was beaten, his right arm slumping to the ground with the molten hit of his sword in his hand, his body now more reeking of burning flesh than diseases. Vanir leapt off the critically wounded Inferno’s saddle and stumped his way up the Daemon’s body, avoiding patches burned by lava, until he reached the Daemon’s chest. He had long heard the Runemasters tell of the Fyreslayers’ ancestry, and knew that his people originated as a doomseeking cult of monster hunters known simply as Slayers, who wandered the world-that-was in search for ever bigger foes to defeat through martial prowess alone. He felt like one of his Slayer ancestors now. “Grimnir may be gone, but his sons continue his fight,” he told the Daemon simply as he calmly raised his war-axe high and brought it down upon its neck, cutting through the last of the flesh that had avoided being incinerated by Inferno’s fyrestreams. Vanir had triumphed, but he would have no time to celebrate his victory, for as soon as the leprous horde had seen their hallowed father die, they began to lurch toward the Fyreslayer, eager for revenge. Scores of Plaguebearers were immediately falling upon the mortally-wounded Inferno, stabbing and hacking at the dying Magmadroth without question. Inferno lashed out with his tail at the Lesser Daemons and burned them with his lava breath, but the Great Unclean One’s blunt sword had cut through many vital organs, and the Magmadroth couldn’t get up. Vanir himself was also surrounded by Plaguebearers, and was so preoccupied fighting his opponents that he knew he was powerless to stop the horde of Daemons from overwhelming his faithful steed and killing him. The Fyreslayer bellowed like an enraged bull and doubled his efforts, beheading Daemons left and right, but after making sure that the Ur-Salamander was dead with a few more experimental stabs, the Daemons all now converged upon the lone duardin. Rusty blades lacerated his hardened skin, and one stabbed him in the abdomen, but Vanir continued his fight, allowing more and more power from his Ur-Gold Runes to surge through him and keep him alive. He could now see Plague Drones buzzing above him, and one of them headed straight over him in a flyby attack, the Rot-fly’s stinger tearing into him. Feeling the energy provided by his runes run low, Vanir mustered all his last strength and swung his war-axe around with a roar, cutting through the Rot Fly’s body as it buzzed over, the two halves and the falling to the ground in mid flight. The Plaguebearer rider got up off the ground and raised its rusty sword, only to be decapitated by the weakened Fyreslayer, yet more Daemons approached, as well as mortal servants of the Plague God, as diseased as the rest but all eager for battle. Covered in Daemon bile and his own blood, Vanir sank to his knees, his great Fyresteel axe falling to the ground. He couldn’t defeat them all, especially with the Rot Fly’s thick venom coursing through his veins. He let them come, and waited for them to finish him, but suddenly a bright light filled the diseased grove. The Fyreslayer looked up, and saw bright pillars of blue light form all around him, only to be replaced with tall, muscled reptilian figures armed with clubs and spears that looked like they were made of stone but shone with the same blue light. The new arrivals formed a shieldwall around Vanir, before advancing with a discipline that no human, aelf or duardin could replicate, cleaving through the hordes of Nurgle Daemons and mortals in clean efficient cuts that cauterised the wounds inflicted to stop the creatures’ skin from regenerating. Even the way they were killed appeared alien, for if a Nurgle follower overpowered one of these reptilian humanoids, they would burst into a clean blue flame for a split second until they were no more. More of these reptiles materialised all the time and followed their comrades into the new fray, including a huge reptilian predator the size of a Magmadroth that barrelled into the Chaos host, sending body parts and corpses flying with its long clawed forelimbs. As he lay dying, Vanir then spotted one last of these creatures materialise. It was bedecked in golden armour and looked especially large and imposing - evidently the leader of the reptilian army. Although bewildered at their sudden arrival, he was nevertheless grateful for their timely assistance. Even though he had finally failed by himself to protect his hold, it seemed that these creatures would finish the job for him. As the reptilian leader stalked forward to command its subordinates, Vanir had one last thought. He removed the Ur-Gold torc that Hyja had given him, and raised it to the reptile as it passed. “Give this to Hyja, of Baeldrag Lodge,” he called to it. The Saurus Oldblood cocked his head to one side, perplexed at the request made by this dying duardin, but at last, he took the trinket in one clawed hand before resuming his advance into the fray, roaring an order to his Saurus Warriors pushing the Nurgle army back and getting stuck in. Watching the reptile, and his torc, head into the battle, Vanir laid back, in great pain from the Rot Fly venom, but otherwise relaxed. He could only hope that the lizard warrior had got the rough understanding of what he had asked him to do, but it was all he could do to make sure his love got the torc back. At least she could stop pining for him then, and live a happier life with Aesir and give him the strongest sons that Baeldrag could have. Vanir could feel his internals liquefying with the venom, and shuddered. The world around him began to dim, and with a tiny smidgeon of remaining energy, the Fyreslayer just managed to reach the handle of his axe and grip it weakly in preparation for death. His last thought as Gazul’s embrace took him was that, just like the Slayers of old, he had finally met his Doom.