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Fiction The First and the Last

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

  1. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    The First and the Last

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

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

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

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

    * * *

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

    * * *

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

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

    It was already night when he returned to his camp. He did not know yet what he would do tomorrow. But he knew that he would survive. He was not done yet.
  2. Sudsinabucket
    Skink Chief

    Sudsinabucket Well-Known Member

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    I want to know more is all I can say at the moment
  3. Lizerd
    Skink Priest

    Lizerd Well-Known Member

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

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    And here it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Kek Kek", it said.

    * * *

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

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

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

    * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

    * * *

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

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

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

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

    * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Lizerd Well-Known Member

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

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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

    Imrahil Thirtheenth Spawning

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    * Note to self to Read this ;)

    Grrr, Imrahil
  9. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    It is time that I post chapter 3. Here it is:

    Chapter 3: * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    The huge clearing in the forest was not natural. Many of the smaller trees had been cut, some of them turned into palisades. The lizardmen had left the big trees standing, perhaps to conceal the camp a bit against flying creatures. The camp mostly consisted of tents, hundreds of them, in different sizes, most of them in brown or green colors to provide camouflage. There were also pens, in which large reptiles the size of horses were standing, being cared for by both Saurus and Skinks. Some of the creatures were on patrol around the camp, the Saurus were riding them and now and then threw a piece of meat into their mouths.
    There were also bigger beasts in the camp, all reptiles. When the column moved through the camp they passed the pens, and Jarel got a closer look at them. Some were enormous herbivores with large neck frills made of bone and long forward-facing horns on their heads and a spiked tail, carrying platforms with multiple Skinks on them. Others were looking like giant turtles with a shell of thick armor plates, and those carried Skink crews as well. They were not huge by Ghur standards, especially not for someone who had seen one of the Great Worms or the turtles of the Black Marsh Barony, but still quite impressive.
    It seemed that both kinds of dinosaurs were used both for work and for battle, and now Jarel realized what the yellow marked Skinks were for. All of the handlers of the great beasts had yellow markings. He looked at Tepi, who was smiling at them. If that was a smile. Jarel still wasn't sure about the Skinks' facial expressions, and the Saurus were even harder to read.

    "You want to be one of the yellow Skinks?" Jarel asked, pointing at the crew of one of the turtles.

    "Bastiladon", Tepi said, pointing at the huge creature and still smiling. "Good big beast, no walking."

    Jarel laughed, it had been the first proper sentence he had heard the Skink utter, and as a foot soldier he perfectly understood the desire to not walk himself all day. In that moment he felt a strong connection to the small blue fellow. He quickly stopped laughing though, as the nearby Bastiladon swung its head around as it heard the sound, knocking over a Skink that was cleaning it. The surprised Skink hissed something that Jarel did not even need a translation for, and one of the Saurus that was still carrying Jarel around told him to be silent in the usual no-nonsense way Saurus seemed to be speaking most of the time.
    As they continued their way through the lizardmen camp, some of the Skinks and even a few Saurus stopped to look at them, specifically at Jarel, who tried to look as non-threatening as possible. Which included not smiling the human way, showing teeth. Tepi had told him that baring teeth was something Skinks did almost exclusively when angry, and instinctively reacted with fear to. Saurus did not mind as they did not fear big teeth, but it made the Skinks uneasy.
    There were no obvious patrols inside the camp, probably the lizardmen put great trust into their outer patrols. Or there were other security measures in place.
    He wondered why they had not been held up, searched, or questioned by the patrols or any other lizard. Maybe it was the presence of the Priest, Takiki - Jarel had only seen one such a Skink so far - that had let them pass. Or they just trusted each other, even if there was an outsider involved.
    A shadow passed over him, then another. Jarel looked up and saw three flying reptiles, their large wings like those of bats letting some of the light shine through. They soared around the largest of the trees and then silently disappeared. Jarel could not tell if they were ridden by Skinks or not, but if he had been a betting man then he had put his money on that they were.

    * * *

    Some of the bigger tents in the middle of the camp were meant for storing supplies or for gatherings of Skinks and Saurus he assumed, even though it seemed that they preferred meeting outside.
    But one stood out among the others, not by its size but by the fact that it was the only one that was guarded. The Saurus standing around it were all bigger than the average Saurus warrior and they were carrying ornate shields strapped to their forearms, some of them decorated with gems or items like tusks of beasts - or maybe Orruks in some cases - and some even had skulls bound to them using leather straps. Jarel recognized some of the skulls as the ones of Grots and Orruks, and at least one looked like it had once belonged to a horned daemon or maybe a Gor. One was definitely a human skull, and the uneasy feeling that he might not be as safe as he had previously thought came back to his mind.
    The guards also carried weapons that looked like polearms of some sort. Like the weapons some the regular Saurus warriors were using they looked like they were made of stone and metal. Jarel was not sure how they used them one-handed while still carrying their shields, but judging by the size of their arms it was not unlikely that they were indeed able to use them that way.
    In contrast to the other Saurus warriors who often only wore bracelets or rings around their arms and legs the guards were also wearing parts of proper armor, including helmets made out of what looked like skulls and jaws of beasts, and metal plates protecting their backs. They stood around the tent completely motionless, had they not breathed, those elite warriors could as well have been especially well-made statues.
    Jarel could not hide his nervousness anymore. His fate would be decided inside this tent, and he didn't even know whether he would be included in the decision making. Just as he wanted to ask the Saurus to stop, Takiki gave that exact command. The Saurus column halted and the priest seemed to dismiss most of the Saurus and Skinks. Finally he was allowed to get up from his stretcher, and Jarel stood on his own feet again. Tepi was still at his side, carrying a kind of backpack on straps over his shoulders that - judging by the hilt of Jarel's sidesword sticking out - contained the human's equipment.

    "Will I get that back?" Jarel asked, pointing at the backpack. "Or at least when you let me go." he added.

    Tepi did not answer. His face was looking as if he was the de-facto prisoner and likely on his way to the headsman, not Jarel. Tokaqul was standing right behind him, weapon in hand and looking as grumpy as usual.
    Takiki went to talk to the guards, and then returned. He looked Jarel in the eye and said slowly and pointedly:

    "Human go in. No talk. No move. Listen, answer. Yes?"

    Jarel's heart sank. So he was going to be questioned after all, and being questioned by cold-blooded lizards probably was not any better than the human method. His mouth was as dry as the Bone Desert, but he nodded and managed to say "yes" in a voice that sounded almost normal.

    Takiki and Tepi were the first to enter the tent, the flaps of the entrance held by the impressive guards, then Jarel, followed by Tokaqul. Jarel was surprised how humid the interior of the tent was. Drops of water ran down the tarp, and a strange but not unpleasant scent filled the air. He was surprised to see that it did not look like an interrogation room at all, more like a command tent. There was a map on some sort of table in the middle of the room, some stools around it - chairs with backrests probably were not very comfy if one had a tail - and there were bowls with both fruit and water in one corner, with a Skink servant standing ready to get them.
    Something in the back of his mind told him that there was something wrong with the tent, but Jarel could not tell what it was. For the moment he decided to concentrate on the Skink and the two Saurus standing behind the table. Like Takiki, the Skink was wearing colorful feathers, and his claws were painted silver. He was slightly taller than Jarel, but thin and a bit fragile looking, and the many wrinkles in the soft parts of his skin on his neck suggested that he was old.
    The two Saurus were both enormous. They looked as big compared to the Saurus guards outside as those looked compared to regular Saurus warriors. One of them almost touched the ceiling of the tent, but except that and the red warpaint and golden armor parts he was wearing he was looking like a regular Saurus. He was not wearing any weapons that Jarel could see, but his claws and teeth were intimidating enough. Jarel would rather have fought the giant boar again than attacking him. The other Saurus resembled the guards outside, except for his size and the lack of a shield. He was armored even more heavily than the guards and had a helmet made out of a horned beast's skull on his head. He was carrying some sort of double-ended polearm out of sturdy wood with ornate, mace-like ends seemingly made of stone. Jarel was pretty sure that he could not even have lifted it, let alone fought using it. The Saurus had it shouldered casually, in the same way Jarel had carried his greatsword while marching.
    Takiki had stepped to the side, and he pointed at the floor in front of the table, next to where Tepi was standing. As commanded Jarel slowly walked there and waited for something to happen, while trying to retain at least some posture that made him look like the soldier he was. It was not an easy task for someone who missed large parts of his uniform and had not had a proper bath in two weeks. He was too aware of his badly groomed beard, rangy hair, and the sweat running down his face and body because it was too damn hot and humid in this tent. He suspected that his visual appearance resembled that of a Gor a lot closer than that of a regular human.
    Tokaqul walked to his position to the opposite side of Takiki and waited there. Jarel noticed that he was looking at the tall Saurus while Takiki was facing the old Skink. For a moment they stood there in silence, the old Skink and the two Saurus looking at Jarel, then they sat down and started talking.

    * * *

    Jarel had no illusions about his skills in the lizardman language, so he was not surprised when he did not understand a lot of the words the reptiles said to each other.
    First the old Skink talked to Takiki, who apparently gave a short introduction. Then Tepi, who looked as shaken as Jarel felt, gave a report. The words for berries and beast were noticable, and shortly after that the Skink took Jarel's sidesword and the crude wooden buckler out of his backpack and carefully put them on the table. He pointed at Jarel a few times and even made some movements that illustrated how Jarel had acted when fighting. It did not take much to guess that he was reporting about the incident with the boar.
    Next up was Tokaqul's report. He made it much more concise and sounded way less nervous than the Skink. Now and then the huge Saurus or the old Skink raised a hand, which made him pause, and then they asked him a question to which he replied with a few words before they nodded and he continued with his report.
    Takiki was the last one to give his report, but his was a bit different. Most of the time he talked, but this part was much more of a discussion than the former ones, and the leaders stood up and even walked a few steps through the tent now and then. Words went back and forth between the old Skink, Takiki, and the huge Saurus leader, and once even the big guard said a few words.

    "Now you."

    The surprisingly deep and sonorous voice of the old Skink priest was obviously addressing Jarel, otherwise the priest would not have used the common tongue.

    "Recount to us" the Skink leader said.

    So this Skink's knowledge of the human language was not the best either, Jarel noticed. But maybe it was only their way of speaking and they would at least understand his words. He decided to just talk until they interrupted him.
    He cleared his throat and began with his name and rank, as he had been told years ago.

    "I am Jarel Mallard, Lance Corporal, member of the Sixth Freeguild Company of the Crawling City."

    Jarel waited for a response or a sign to stop, but all Lizardmen in the room just looked at him attentively, so he continued.

    He told them about how his company and four others had been temporarily deployed to the city of Calven, where they had previously repelled an invasion of savage Orruks together with the local company of Stormcast Eternals.
    They had suddenly received orders to move west, over the southern Sourgrass Plains, to fight against a small army of mortal Nurgle followers that had attacked a small settlement called Huroc's Paddock two days earlier.
    Scouts had spotted the Nurgle force in the Wet Woods a day after that, and the commanding officers had decided to intercept them near the Green River canyons. It had been a hard march, but it had worked. When they had arrived the Nurgle troops had seemingly been trapped with their backs toward the canyons with no way to escape to the west or north.
    But when they finally got to attack the army they had faced a much larger force than expected. Something had reinforced the Nurgle army with daemons, much faster than the Stormcast had anticipated. When they finally noticed all the daemons among the mortal troops it had been too late to retreat, and the captains had decided to attack nonetheless as the tactical position had still been advantageous.
    The Sixth Company had been led to the southwest, to attack the flank of the Nurgle troops that should have been pinned by the pike formations of the Second Company and the Stormcast Liberators. When they arrived they had cut their way through the enemy lines quickly, reinforced by the powers of their Warpriest. But only a short time later the daemons had pushed forward with renewed strength, and they had begun losing men.
    The Stormcast fighting in the center of the battle had suddenly begun to retreat, and the pikemen had suffered a number of casualties.
    The surprised members of the greatsword company had found themselves outnumbered.
    They had fought well, much better than expected under those circumstances, but then their captain and his lieutenant had been hit by an exploding skull someone had thrown at them. The lines had already been faltering at that point, and the Warpriest of Sigmar that had supported their unit had been incapacitated at around the same time, lying on the blood-soaked grass somewhere. So the corporals had sounded the retreat, hoping to save the rest of their troops and regroup, supported by the rearguard.
    But the Stormcast rearguard made up of Palladors had never appeared, and one by one the greatswords had fallen.

    Jarel made a pause at that point. Recounting the whole story of his company being destroyed he could not help but feel devastated. All those lives, lost. He felt exhausted. His legs and back were hurting, and he was soaked in sweat.
    Tepi's little nudge into his side made him look up from his boots again, and when he looked at the Skink he saw him nod and look at him with an expression on his blue face that Jarel interpreted as empathy. From the corner of his eye he saw Takiki move a hand, and a moment later the Skink servant handed him a bowl with fresh water, that he took and gulped down.
    Again Tepi gave him a nudge, and carefully pointed at the Lizardmen leaders across the table, who were still looking at him. Jarel nodded.
    He continued with his story up to the point at which the Saurus had killed the Gors, and after he had finished he was surprised to notice that he had indeed told them everything. Every detail, starting with the jump into the river, Eduardo's death, and even what he had been forced to do to Lutz.
    He looked at the Saurus and the old Skink again. They were still staring at him unmovingly.

    "That's all." he said, shrugging. "After that I was with your troops" he added, pointing at the reptiles around him.
    He still didn't know what the painful procedure had been that Takiki had carried out on him, but this probably wasn't the time to ask.
    Again there was a pause. Then the Saurus and Skinks started to look at each other and exchanged a few words. They didn't ask him any questions, but they obviously went through what he had reported to them, with the old Skink priest doing most of the talking and the two Saurus mostly listening, now and then asking questions. Perhaps the Skink was translating the parts of Jarel's story that the Saurus had not been able to understand.
    They then started to discuss his report. Jarel looked around again, but the Skinks and Saurus to his sides all maintained their positions and looked straight ahead at whoever of their leaders was talking in that moment. He wished they would sit down on the stools again, giving him an excuse to drop on the floor himself. But they didn't.
    The discussion went on. The leaders did not seem to mind his continued presence at all, perhaps they correctly assumed that he was not able to understand what they said, or they simply didn't care. They started to look at the map on the table as well, and carefully moved some of the markers made of wood and bone with their clawed hands. To Jarel it looked as if they tried to reconstruct the battle and his journey thereafter.

    * * *

    It was during that discussion when the tent flaps behind the big Saurus General - by now Jarel was pretty sure he was a general - were opened by two Saurus guards and revealed that the tent was in fact much bigger, and they were merely a screen that divided the tent into two parts.

    The rear part of the tent was more luxurious than the front part. There were several Skink servants in the room, waiting to be called. And in its middle stood a throne made of grey stone. Jarel looked at it more closely. No, it wasn't standing there. It was floating a few inches above the carpet. And on it sat a creature that looked similar to a huge toad the size of the Saurus General. The toad's damp skin was of a bright green color, with yellow stripes on its head and a bone white belly. It sat there with its legs crossed, its hands on its knees and its eyes closed. Next to it on the throne sat a small Skink with golden markings on his crest, and Saurus guards had surrounded its throne forming a perfect square.

    "And the Seraphon were led by the Slann, who were giant frogs sitting on floating thrones. And they bore the might to shatter armies and cities with the power of their minds."

    Jarel suddenly remembered the words of Silas' mother as if she had spoken them just a moment ago.

    "A Slann. Seraphon."

    At first he was not aware that he had whispered the words, but the reaction of the Lizardmen in the room made him aware of it. Everyone was looking at him, except the Slann who kept his eyes closed.

    "Silence!" hissed Takiki.

    The throne - and with it the guards - moved slowly forward. The Saurus and the old Skink moved to the sides of the table and snapped to attention. The Skinks kneeled.
    Jarel had not been prepared for this occasion. Nervously he looked around, unsure what protocol to follow now. In the end he decided to do what was the most formal and polite gesture he had learned on the academy, reserved for audiences with nobles of high standing such as kings.
    He went down on his right knee, his right fist placed on his heart. His left hand rested on a currently non-existent sword hilt at his left hip, and he bowed his head.
    Jarel suspected some kind of unspoken command from either the Slann or the little Skink with the golden markings, as the Seraphon around him stood up again. Jarel remained in his respectful position for a few more seconds, then he got up. To his disappointment nobody seemed to pay any attention to him paying the Slann respect. The big green toad had not even opened his eyes - a strange way to take part in a meeting - and the Saurus and Skinks had just continued their discussion. The only difference was that the gold marked Skink now took part in that discussion.
    After a while he addressed Jarel:

    "What killed Sigmar's priest?"
    This Skink's voice was clear and he seemed to be comparatively fluent in the common tongue, judging by how easily he pronounced the words.
    Jarel thought about it. He had seen the Warpriest while he was still standing, and a moment later he had seen him on the ground. Between that Jarel had been in the first battle row fighting a Plagebearer, so he had not seen the priest fall. At least he didn't remember.

    "I don't know." he said. "I was fighting the daemons and when I looked, he was down."

    "How did he look?" the Skink asked.

    "I honestly don't remember. I was fighting for my life, I only looked at him for a very short moment" Jarel explained.

    The Skink made a snorting sound, obviously that answer had been insufficient. He changed the topic.

    "Was there a Nurgle leader present?"

    Jarel vaguely remembered seeing some enemies on the battlefield that had not fought in the front lines, but his memory was blurry.

    "There was a Lord of Plagues leading the Rotbringers, he was killed by some archers at the start of the battle", he said remembering the moment and how it had motivated them to push on. "and I am sure the Warpriest was preventing some spells from hitting us, so there must have been a sorcerer present as well. But I cannot remember seeing him and I don't remember the other ones."

    Again the Skink did not seem to be happy with the answer. He paused, probably thinking about his next question.
    But then something happened that made everyone in the room stop and turn around: The Slann opened his eyes.
    It obviously was a big deal. The Skink servants rushed to his side, handing him food and drink, a fan waver stepped into position in case he felt too hot - something that Jarel could have used himself - and the Skink with the golden markings returned to his position at the Slann's side, speaking to him quietly.
    The Slann didn't seem to care much for either of them. He blinked slowly and then looked straight at Jarel...
  10. MrKaboom
    Jungle Swarm

    MrKaboom New Member

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    This is incredible! Keep it up!
  11. Lizards of Renown

    Lizards of Renown Herald of Creation

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    You're doing fantastic mate. Keep going!
  12. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    Thank you!
    Next part is coming soon.
  13. Killer Angel

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

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    How is it that i've noticed this thread only a few minutes ago?

    Wonderful, kudos to you @Aginor :)
  14. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    Thank you!
    I'm a bit slow in writing the next parts right now, but there is a bit of progress at least. I am having fun writing the story so I am glad to hear that people also enjoy reading it. :)
  15. Intwidumalah

    Intwidumalah Member

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    Great story!
  16. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    Thank you!
  17. Kblock

    Kblock Active Member

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    This is a great story! Looking forward to reading more!
  18. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    I am also slowly building up motivation to work on it again, so the next chapter should hopefully not be too far out. I have only a few corrections to do.
    The chapter after that is less than half finished sadly.
  19. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    Here is the next chapter:

    Chapter 4: * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    The gold-crested Skink said a few words in the Seraphon language that made everyone step aside, while the Slann's throne slowly floated back into the rear part of the tent where eight Saurus guards formed something that looked like an honor guard to both sides. The Saurus with the double-sided mace that Jarel called the 'Captain of the Guard' walked over to the human and motioned at him to follow the Slann.
    Jarel looked at Tepi, but the Skink looked away, his crest flat on his head.
    His heart raced. He knew nothing about the Seraphon except what he had heard in old stories, and some of those did mention sacrifices of living beings. Jarel feared that his time had come, now that he had told them everything he knew.
    The huge Saurus with the polearm walking behind him didn't leave him much options though, so he did as commanded.
    He considered praying to Sigmar, but he had never been religious and was pretty sure that Sigmar didn't care for prayers that didn't come from one of his priests. Many of his company's men had been religious, and Jarel had seen what good it had done.
    When he was asked to kneel before the Slann's throne he gained some new hope. Surely they would not kill him in this luxurious room that even had a carpet. He almost laughed. Funny how the human brain worked.
    He heard the flaps close and the Saurus guard Captain taking position behind him. The Slann on his throne moved a bit closer. The guards tensed as their master moved on his throne, moving his head so close to Jarel's face that he could see the pores in his skin and feel the Slann's breath on his own sweaty face. A big hand on a surprisingly frail looking arm moved forward and the Slann placed it on Jarel's head. Jarel held his breath as the Slann took a deep breath himself and closed his eyes.

    Then everything went dark.

    * * *

    "Watch your language, Jarel!" Silas mother warned him.

    "That's not a bad word Missus Chowell, my Dad says it all the time!" he answered, but he did it with a grin because he knew very well what it meant and that it wasn't a nice word by any stretch of the imagination.

    "Just because your Dad says it doesn't mean that you should, and I think you know that" she said.

    He nodded. It wasn't much use to argue with the mother of your best friend when you were eight years old and didn't have anywhere else to go for most of the day.
    He concentrated on the game again. Silas and him had been playing it for over an hour now, and Jarel wondered whether Silas was cheating. Most of the time the dice just didn't fall as Jarel expected them to. He was a better player than Silas, but Silas had the luck on his side for the whole day it seemed.
    He looked around, hoping to find something else to play. It was too hot to play outside so as most afternoons they were sitting at Silas' place waiting for the heat to dissipate. At Jarel's home it just wasn't the same. The constant flow of customers and the chatter of his mother and her helper made for interesting stories sometimes, but he rarely felt as if they were interested in him or Silas being around. They also were expected to be rather silent, which lessened the fun of hanging around in the tailor shop which happened to be his home.
    He wished his father would not spend that much money betting. Or just get better at it. They could move their shop to the higher platforms and keep their home as their home.

    "That's no fun anymore. Let's just play with the tanks a bit." Jarel suggested.

    Silas shrugged. "Sure," he said. "But let's go outside. It is still hot but in the shadow of the big tower it should be alright and we can watch the trade caravan from up there. Can we go, Ma?"

    His mother looked outside and nodded. "You should be good. But don't you dare throwing stuff down again, do you hear me? You could hurt someone." she added.

    "No, Ma. We'll not do that again." Silas said a bit annoyed.

    "We promise!" Jarel added. It had been a dumb idea. They both had agreed to not do it again.

    They grabbed their Steam Tank models and left the hollow the Chowell's lived in. Despite having spent all of his life here Jarel still found it mind-boggling that they were living in hollowed out bristles of a giant worm. Still they did.
    It was hot outside, but they knew where to go to have as much shadow as possible. They passed the tailor's shop of Jarel's parents, and ran toward one of the bigger bristles. There was a platform on top that allowed them to look over Shu'gohl's side and over the Amber Steppes to see the approaching caravan that would use the elevators to supply the city with goods. It was marvelous.
    On their way to the tower they passed a local Duardin selling beer, a Slann sitting in a corner, a bored Freeguild guard that was talking to some traders, and a priest of Sigmar that was overseeing the inspection of a gut-shaft. Neither seemed to pay them much attention.
    As the two boys climbed the stairs hewn into the rock-hard material of the big worm's bristles Jarel briefly had the strange feeling that he had seen something out of the ordinary, something that didn't belong here. But he quickly forgot about it as Silas dragged him along. They had to come in time to see the caravan!

    * * *

    "JAREL!!" he heard his father scream in anger. This time he wasn't going to answer him. He probably would never answer him again. When he was sure that his father had not seen him, Jarel continued to climb despite the midday heat. He had done this quite often on smaller towers, and the bigger ones were even easier to climb because they had bigger crevices to put hands and feet in.
    He continued at a good pace, passing one of the mirrors that was used to get some daylight to the lower levels. He needed to get out of here. And since they would not allow a 14 year old boy to leave the Crawling City by elevator without asking for his parents, he would need to reach the top of this tower. He looked up. He was still a few hundred feet from the top, and the wind was getting stronger. But he could already see the maintenance door that would - hopefully - allow him to enter the platform from below. Jarel continued climbing. All he had with him was a sack with a few things he would need to survive, a knife, and the clothes on his body.
    When he finally reached the trap door he was relieved to see that he could indeed open it. He moved it just a tiny bit and looked. The 'Ok Hazkal' was still there. Jarel didn't know what the words meant, but he could read the runes that were written onto the metal hull of the aether-gold driven merchant vessel that was standing on the landing platform.
    He risked opening the trap door a bit further and pulled himself out of the hole. Next he hid between a few crates of supplies, and from there searched for a way to get onto the ship. Eventually he decided to climb up one of the ropes that the vessel was moored with. It was harder than he had expected, but when he finally stepped on the deck he smiled. He had made it. Now he only had to hide until they left the Crawling City, and either wait for the next port or offer his help on the ship in exchange for the trip out of here. Jarel regretted not having told Silas of his plan. He hated to leave without any notice but he had decided to write him a letter as soon as he had found a better place to live. Everything had to be better than living with a gambler as a father who drank too much and didn't care for him, and a mother who just endured it and hoped everything would eventually get better. It wasn't.
    Jarel found the door to the cargo hold and climbed in. It was dark, but there was enough light to search for a hiding place. Carefully he walked around between the sacks and crates for a while. The cargo hold was not very full yet, but surely there had to be a spot where he could hide until the ship would be on its way.


    Jarel froze. A bright light had turned on behind him, and when he turned around there was a fully armored Kharadron Overlord standing three steps away from him, pistol drawn and helmet opened, with a contemptuous smile on his face that somehow made him look as if he was looking down at Jarel, although he was more than a foot smaller than him.

    "Hands up, stowaway!" the Duardin said. Jarel followed the order. "The Captain will be happy," his captor continued. Jarel got his hopes up for a tiny moment before they were crushed completely by the next words. "I bet there will be someone ready to spend some money to get you back."

    With the pistol still pointed at Jarel's back the armored Duardin brought Jarel back on deck. Other Arkanauts were already waiting up there, and they all laughed when they saw him. Jarel had never felt so mortified. The only one that didn't laugh at him was the Slann that was sitting on the quarterdeck, he was just looking at Jarel. Jarel wondered what he was doing there, but the Duardin had already begun negotiations with the local authorities and were bargaining for the price of releasing their stowaway while pushing him ungently down the ladder, back onto the landing platform.

    So much for his escape plans.

    * * *

    "Are you sure that you don't want to transition to crossbows?" Ponn said, laughing. As always he was joking, but he wasn't that wrong. The practice greatsword was just too heavy for Jarel.
    Jarel was fighting Eduardo, who was sweating just as much as he did. The tall thin man did look as out of place as himself, and both had begun to question their decision to transition to the greatsword company. But their drill sergeant had told them that the greatsword company was the best chance to ascend through the ranks quickly, and they needed sword fighters urgently. They both were fairly good swordsmen, but until now most of their fighting had been done with sideswords and bucklers, which was different.
    Sure, it wasn't as heavy as many people imagined, but compared to a sidesword a greatsword still was a lot of metal to handle, and they were struggling to build up the required muscles to use the weapon effectively.
    Ponn and Lutz were standing at the sides waiting for their next fight or instructor lesson. They both were a lot better with the greatsword. Ponn was lightning fast, up to the point where even their trainers were really impressed. Lutz was just strong. He did not have the finesse that Ponn had, but he could swing the sword around all day. Silas was not quite as good, but still better than Jarel most of the time.
    Jarel parried another one of Eduardo's blows and retaliated with a low thrust, but Eduardo's footwork prevented a hit.
    Again Ponn laughed, this time while imitating Jarel by swinging his sword like a drunk, until one of the trainers stopped him. A whistle was sounded, and now it was Ponn's turn to fight Lutz, while Eduardo moved on to fight the trainer and Jarel faced Silas.

    "Hey Jarel, you're not letting Ponn in your head, aren't you?" he said while stepping into the fighting area.

    "No," Jarel replied. "I know he's a good guy. He annoys the heck out of me, but it's ok. He is right."

    They slowly circled each other and went through several stances. Like in most of their sparring fights Silas was the first to attack, and as usually he started with a sweeping cut to the legs. Jarel parried it and tried to strike back, but Silas was quick enough to parry himself. The next attack was cut to Jarel's arm, but he had stepped back in time and almost got Silas' legs in return.

    "We should try and take a look at those girls in the ammo manufacture later, what do you think?" Silas asked while at the same time exchanging some high blows with Jarel.

    "They were nice", Jarel replied between a parry and a retreat, "but I am not sure we should risk that again after what happened."

    Silas smiled. "You mean the incident with the Judicator? How could we have known?"
    Their swords clashed and Silas landed a blow to the shoulder after the bind.

    "I don't know", Jarel conceded. "But I am not sure I want to risk that again", he explained while moving into the starting position again.

    Should a Slann be here watching the training?
    He was sure that he had seen one a moment ago, right behind his greatsword trainer, watching him.
    Jarel looked back into that direction to take a closer look at the Seraphon leader, but he was gone.
    Silas was already rushing in again with the greatsword, and Jarel met him, this time landing a blow of his own.

    * * *

    "And for this exemplary display of bravery and skill the Sixth Freeguild Greatsword Company of The Crawling City is awarded the council's unit citation."

    The general ended his speech under applause of the crowd, and the Sixth Company's banner was presented, now including the four feet long blue streamer with the name of the battle attached to the headpiece of the standard.
    It had been a rough battle. The Grots had brought scraplaunchers and wolf riders, and the Freeguild had not brought enough of their own cavalry and pikemen to counter them. It had been Jarel's idea to protect the left flank using the greatswords. Jarel remembered the words well he had said to his Captain: "They are almost as long as pikes, the Grots won't charge into that." And he had been correct. Their Captain had commanded them into the right spot, and the charge had never happened. The Grots had looked at the forest of greatswords pointing into their direction and decided it was not worth it, which in turn had allowed the First Company to get their cavalry into position.
    But the battle had almost been lost nevertheless. A Grot scraplauncher had hit a nearby unit of pistoliers hard, killing their commanders and making them rout. The pistoliers had been assigned to guard the Sixth's back against skirmishers, and support them against charges, so the greatsword company had been very nervous about them fleeing.
    Eduardo had suggested to their Corporal to stretch their own line into the pistoliers' direction and thus put the Grots fighting them under more pressure until they could sort out their problems and regroup. The Captain had then sent Jarel over to the pistoliers to try and get them to stay. He had run there and somehow had succeeded in directing the pistoliers into a small forest nearby to regroup. From there he had also spotted the position the scraplauncher was moving to for its next shot, and had acted as a messenger to tell their Battlemage about it. A fireball spell had turned the scraplauncher into a fiery wreckage, and Jarel had returned to his unit, just in time to support the charge that finally drove the Grots away.
    Eduardo and Jarel had been the first of the group to earn the rank of Lance Corporal. It was not much, merely receiving those rank badges a few months earlier than they normally would have, but Jarel still felt proud. He finally had found a place where he could really make a difference.
    A look at Eduardo told him that he was thinking the same.
    "We may not be the best swordsmen," Eduardo whispered, "but I think we did a fine job out there".

    Jarel could only agree. In fact it seemed that everyone on the big parade ground agreed, and Jarel wondered if his parents had come to the ceremony. Probably not, he had not spoken to them in years now.
    But the Slann was there, he was sitting among the general's staff. Jarel blinked. Why was he there? He was almost sure he had met him in a tent... somewhere else... and hadn't there been a battle that they had lost?
    But the crowd was moving in to congratulate the members of the company, and Jarel found himself the target of a lot of questions to answer.

    * * *


    They were shouting their battle cry. If he thought about it, it was a tad silly to scream a huge worm's name while charging into battle, but it was their home. They were fighting for all that was good, all the humans and duardin, for order and for their lives. It was right.
    They were on the Sourgrass Plains, fighting the Nurgle daemons. Jarel vaguely remembered doing this before. It was strange how memories of different battles merged, as this was the first battle he fought against daemons instead of mere mortals. His thrust hit a Plaguebearer in the throat and the daemon went down with a stream of blood and pus flowing out of his wound, only to be replaced by another one seconds later. But Ponn took care of it, and Jarel could move back a row to take a breath.
    A few moments ago some Freeguild archers had turned the enemy Lord of Plagues into a pin cushion and his Rotbringers were being pushed back now. The Freeguild was advancing and having the upper hand made them all fight more concentrated.
    Jarel looked back at the Warpriest of Sigmar that was standing behind their lines next to where the Slann was sitting on his throne. He was shouting prayers to Sigmar, and now and then raising his hand or hammer into the air, while looking intently into some direction. Like the fighters he was sweating heavily. From the way he was acting there had to be a sorcerer somewhere, and the Warpriest was protecting them against enemy magic.
    Time slowed down. Suddenly everything - including Jarel himself - was moving like through jelly. Almost everything. The Slann was looking around normally.
    Jarel could not watch him long though, as something forced his head to the side. His vision became blurry, but looking toward the enemy's lines he could see through some gaps. There was the sorcerer. A dark figure in green robes holding a crooked staff that was dripping off some liquid.
    Time sped up again and Jarel tried to get back to fighting. The Captain and his Lieutenant were giving them new commands as suddenly the daemons and their mortal followers fought back more strongly again.
    As Jarel continued to fight them, the strange behaviour of time repeated a few more times. It slowed down, then during the next part of the fight when both armies were regrouping their lines it seemed to flow more quickly. And each time it happened something forced his head around to look at parts of the enemy army, and at the Warpriest. When their Captain and many more soldiers died by something that looked like heads covered with pus-filled cysts being thrown around and exploding among the men, it even seemed to flow backwards for a short moment. Between men standing up in explosions and heads flying away from them toward the enemies' outstretched hands that were catching them, Jarel could see the large monstrosity walking around backwards between the enemy troops. The Rotbringers handed it the heads which the leader was putting into a brown sack.
    Time snapped back to the position it had been before. The heads had been thrown, Jarel's comrades were dead or dying, and the battle raged on. Next he saw the Warpriest being hit. The battle was already going badly at this point, and Jarel wondered why he had felt so sure about that all the time. It was as if he had already known that would happen.
    Again time stopped and Jarel's view was moved to the right, despite him fighting at that moment. He still did not feel concerned, he knew he was not going to die here. The Warpriest convulsed, and his eyes were filling with blood. Slowly he fell to the ground. Then time sped up once more and Jarel was running away from the battle. When he looked back to see how his comrades were doing he could not look at Ponn or Silas, he was forced to look past them, where between hordes of Rotbringers another lone figure was standing. It was riding on a horse that seemed to be covered in plague-boils, wearing a worn, sickly green robe. In his hands it was carrying a corroded scythe, and its face was hidden by a coif of chainmail that only had tiny holes for the eyes.
    The Slann was hovering near Jarel. Jarel looked at him, and the Slann seemed to tell him to ignore him, which he did.
    Jarel saw Silas fall a few moments later, and suddenly he knew that this was not real. None of it. It was... the past. And a Slann had not been there. He forced his view away from the scene he was watching, back to the Slann. The big toad was still watching him, telling him to look away again. He didn't. He used all of his willpower and refused to do so. More and more of his memory was coming back and he knew this battle was over. And he remembered the Seraphon. The tent. The guards. The Slann on his hovering throne.

    "What are you doing here?" he shouted at the Slann, still confused. "Where are we?"

    The Slann blinked, then squinted. Jarel ran toward him. He needed answers, and he needed them now.

    "TELL ME!" he shouted directly at the toad's head when he reached him.

    The Slann raised his arms to defend himself. Jarel looked into his eyes and he felt the surprise in the toad's thoughts.

    He felt his thoughts.

    Jarel tried to grab the Slann, and for a blink of an eye he saw something. A huge pyramid in a jungle, blue-skinned Lizardmen busily scurrying around it. Large beasts like he had seen in the camp were there, even a few of the flyers, but also some creatures he had not seen yet. And with that picture he felt the presence of the Slann. He realized that he had touched something ancient and powerful beyond his imagination. He could see the fabric of space and time, and that they were one. He could see the magic that was flowing around it and through it, colorful lines of magical energy connecting points and interacting with the material world. For this brief moment he understood the nature of reality itself, the Realms and the space between them, and the wickedness of Chaos that was lingering beneath the surface. But over all that he felt one thing. The desire, no, the need to vanquish Chaos.

    Darkness enveloped him.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2021
  20. Aginor

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

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    I just noticed that chapter 4 was actually missing its first part. I edited my post above (everything before the first * * * is new ).
    I hope the chapter wasn't too confusing to read without it.
    Imrahil and Paul1748 like this.

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