1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Fiction The First and the Last

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

  1. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

    Messages:
    11,659
    Likes Received:
    26,328
    Trophy Points:
    113
    No, it was slightly disorienting at the beginning but after a very little while it was clear what was going on.
     
    Lizerd and Aginor like this.
  2. Aginor
    Slann

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

    Messages:
    12,234
    Likes Received:
    20,054
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Chapter 5: * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Jarel was lying on the floor, shaking. The smell and metallic taste of blood filled his nose and mouth. At the back of his mind he was aware that it was flowing out of his nose and mouth, out of his eyes down his face, and out of his ears into his beard.
    Yet he did not care. He was not able to have clear thoughts, as the pain in his head and body drowned all other emotions. He needed a moment that felt like an eternity to understand that his eyes were indeed open. He was either surrounded by total darkness or had lost the ability to see. Panic grabbed him, and he tried to say something, but only a gurgling moan left his mouth. Another wave of mind-numbing pain swept over him. He barely felt that something or someone was touching him. He coughed again, and forced some air into his burning lungs. Every muscle in his body was spasming, and he had no control over his movements.
    Soon he lost consciousness again.

    When Jarel woke up again he was lying on something soft and was covered by a blanket. He still could not see much, only vague shapes. He was in a dark mostly empty room, maybe another tent. The pain had decreased but he still felt like he had been severely beaten.
    Just as he was about to check whether he could still move, he heard quiet voices. He paused to listen to them.
    "I still cannot believe he survived that", one of them just said. To Jarel the voice sounded female.
    "Well, he has been unconscious for more than two days now, I am not sure if he will ever wake up again. So maybe he won't live through it after all" the other voice answered. This one sounded male, and older than the other one.
    "We can only wait" the first voice replied, sounding hopeful.
    Jarel wondered how he had come here. Maybe they had saved him from the Seraphon? Or maybe they had been in the Seraphon camp all along and had taken him over, now that the Slann had ripped everything from his mind that he needed? Maybe the Seraphon had moved on and left him, and some traders had stumbled upon him in the wilderness?
    Either way, Jarel did not care. They didn't want to kill him, and it seemed they wanted to help him.
    He felt weak and hungry, but the worst thing was his thirst.
    "Water, please" Jarel managed to croak. The words leaving his throat felt weird, perhaps because everything was so dry.
    "Did he just speak?" the female voice said.
    "It sounded like it. Quick, get some water!"

    Jarel squinted, trying to get a clear picture of the woman when she approached him. It was too dark to see colors however, and he still could not focus his eyes properly, so all he could see was a slender figure in a long robe that was carrying a wooden bowl filled with water not unlike the one the Seraphon had let him drink from.
    He grabbed the bowl and drank, not caring about the water he spilled onto his face and neck. It tasted wonderful, and one of his two rescuers used a piece of cloth to soak up the water that he spilled.
    When he finished drinking he addressed them, saying "Thank you for saving me". Again it felt weird to speak, as if his voice wasn't made for the words he was saying.
    One of the two took a step back, Jarel was not sure why. "Unbelievable!" the man exclaimed.
    "Wait, what's wrong?" Jarel said, and grabbed the arm of the woman who was still standing next to him. She gasped surprisedly when he did, and tried to escape him. Jarel's hand slipped down from the cloak covering her arm, and for a short moment he touched her hand before she pulled it away from him and took a step back.
    It was cold. And scaly.
    He blinked again and for a moment he could see her face in the slightly better light that came from the other side. It was blue, with yellow eyes.

    These weren't humans or aelves. He was still with the Seraphon.
    That was the moment he realized what the source of their surprise had been. It had been what he had said. He concentrated on the words he had spoken. 'Quichia! Quenin tlatlacolli?'


    It seemed like every hair on his body was standing up. What in Sigmar's name was happening here? He had obviously spoken in their language, and could understand it. Had the Slann messed with his brain?
    He glanced at the two Skinks who looked as shocked as he felt. They clearly had not been in the know, and when they ran away he was not sure whether he should get up and follow them, or stay put.
    But he was a man of action, so he got up from his bed. A sharp pain went through his head and he wobbled around for a moment. His sight still had not improved as much as he had hoped for, everything was still blurry and dark. He threw the blanket from himself and immediately regretted it, as he was completely naked and this tent was a lot cooler than the one he had met the Slann in. Shivering he looked around for his clothes but even with his poor sight he was able to notice that the tent was empty. There was no light except for the glow of a brazier in one corner of the room. At least someone had tended to Jarel's wounds and washed him, as his body hurt not nearly as much as he had feared it would, and he smelled rather pleasantly of some sort of herbal soap.
    Just as he kneeled down to look at the lower end of the tarp in order to determine whether he could lift it and crawl out, he was interrupted by two Saurus Guards entering the tent. They did not speak to him, but positioned themselves next to him on either side, weapons in hand and ready to strike.
    A moment later their huge captain and the old Skink with the many colorful feathers followed them, accompanied by the two cloaked Skinks whom he had met earlier.
    This is getting worse and worse, he thought to himself. At least last time he had worn some clothes.
    The Seraphon obviously didn't mind his nakedness, or at least they did not show it. They looked at him, and then at each other for a moment, before the old Skink leader took a step forward, the golden chains between his arms and his body jingling quietly. At the same time the captain of the guard tensed and shifted his weapon into another position, looking at Jarel. He did not need to talk, his gaze alone made it clear that he did expect his human captive to stand still or face the wrath of an elite warrior closer to the size of a horse than a human. Jarel understood.
    "So you are alive and conscious" the old Skink said in a calm, slightly raspy but sophisticated voice, addressing Jarel in the Seraphon language. "And you have been...changed by our Lord's touch. How very...intriguing" he said, inclining his head. His bright yellow eyes moved around, looking at Jarel intensely.
    For some reason the first thought in Jarel's mind was to inquire about the Slann. "Is he alright?" he asked, genuinely concerned about the big toad's wellbeing.
    Again the Skink inclined his head, and he licked his lips before answering. "He is. Your continued existence is proof of that." Of course it was. They would long have killed him if he had done any significant harm to their leader. "What did you see?" was the next question the Skink asked.
    Jarel feared he would not be able to stand through another storytelling session, so he looked at the bed and the Skink nodded. He sat down and covered himself with the blanket to regain a modicum of decency. He then retold the story of what he had seen when the Slann had entered his mind. The words of the formerly foreign language leaving his mouth sounded both weird and strangely familiar. As if it was a language that he had once known but not used in a long while. Yet it was easy to speak it, almost as easy as speaking his mother tongue was. Even though he was sure that the human body did not perfectly recreate the noises the lizards made.
    Now and then the Skink interrupted and asked questions, but more often than not he just nodded in the lizardmen's typical fashion, as if he already knew the answers and was just checking if Jarel gave the right answers, too.
    "So you know what our Lord wanted to see, and what information you gave us?" he asked when Jarel had finished.
    "Yes. He wanted to know who I am. Whether I was telling the truth. And he wanted to know about the Nurgle leaders. There were more of them than we knew of. They also had more magical support, and..." he paused, surprised that he understood what he had seen, "a Harbinger of Decay."
    "And that means that their goal here in Ghur is something of importance for them." the old Skink finished the thought.
    "So what can we do?" Jarel asked, immediately feeling silly for it. As if the Seraphon needed his help. There was no "we". The Skinks' crests twitched, and that amused reaction told Jarel that they were feeling the same.
    "Listen," the old lizard emphasized, sounding like a grandfather explaining something to an especially oblivious grandchild "our Lord has ordered us to keep you here, and since we know that you want to help we will see if the Great Plan shows us a way to put you to use."
    "So you will not let me go." Jarel said.
    "No. And please don't try to run away," the old Skink said in his grandfather voice, "for you might outrun some things, but you will not outrun a Terradon." With that he turned around and left the tent. The guards followed him out, but their captain remained in the tent for a few more moments, looking at Jarel with an unblinking gaze the human was not able to return. Then without a word he just turned around and left Jarel alone in his tent, except for the two cloaked Skinks that were standing in the corner, looking at Jarel attentively.
    "I have so many questions," he told them, "but first of all I need my clothes, and something to eat. Could you please see to that?" The Skink with the high-pitched voice - by now Jarel was embarassed that he had mistaken him for a human woman - instructed him to wait, and they left the tent, leaving Jarel alone to contemplate his situation.

    * * *

    When the two Skinks returned they brought him a set of clothes. Parts of his uniform were among them, neatly washed and folded, but some had been considered beyond repair by the Seraphon, and they had replaced them by clothes of their making. The fabric they used was soft and light, much to Jarel's liking. They had used colors that fit to those of his uniform, but the style was a bit different.
    They also brought a large bowl with stew the origin of which he chose not to ask about, and to Jarel's mistreated stomach it tasted about as good as one of Mrs. Chowell's holiday meals.
    Unfortunately his vision was still bad. Despite the additional light sources they had brought he could not see well. Everything looked clouded, like covered in shadows, and blurred like after a few mugs of Ponn's homemade "juice" that had gotten him and his friends into trouble more than once during their training days.

    While he was eating he used his new language skills to talk to the two Skinks that had been tending to him. The older one was named Tenoch, and the younger one with the high pitched voice was Itotia. Like Tepi they were Skinks of the lowest order, and he learned that many of those were wearing the brown cloaks to better blend into the terrain, since they were not exactly the best fighters.
    During that conversation he also learned that knowing the words and grammar of the Seraphon language did not necessarily mean understanding the meaning of the words. He knew the words for things he had seen or could at least imagine well, and often the words he heard conjured an image of the respective thing in his mind, but the deeper meanings and relations between the things they described normally eluded him. So as he had expected he had to learn more about the Seraphon. It was a lot easier though, now that he was able to understand their words.

    He began asking the Skinks about the names and tasks of the Seraphon he had already met:
    As he had already guessed, the old Skink with the colorful feathers and golden chains was a priest. A Starpriest to be exact, and his name was Patli. He was the leader of all the Skinks and not only a priest but also a wielder of star magic. The Skinks seemed to have a high opinion of him.
    The "captain of the guard" was Chimalli, and they called him an Eternity Warden. The other thing that he learned about Chimalli was that he was considered devoid of humor, even judging by Saurus standards.
    The other Saurus in the command tent had been Xiuhco, an Oldblood. Jarel's feeling that he was some sort of general had been correct, he was the leader of the Saurus division and with that the leader of the Scar-Veterans that in turn commanded bataillons of Saurus Warriors whose companies were led by Saurus Alphas like Tokaqul.
    When Jarel asked Itotia about the Skink with the golden crest the young Skink said: "His name used to be Huili, but we rarely call him that anymore". Jarel's confusion had seemingly been obvious, because Itotia continued with his explanation: "He is our Slann's Voice. He speaks when matters are not urgent enough for our Lord to speak himself. He has a bond with our Lord so he shares his thoughts and knowledge with him, to a certain degree. So when he speaks, it is almost as if the Slann is talking himself. He is also a very smart Skink and our Lord's most important advisor."
    "And does the Slann have a name?" Jarel asked.
    "Of course he has!" Itotia exclaimed indignantly. He is Lord Tlaltecuhtli, Slann of the fourth generation."
    "Fourth generation?"
    "I do not know what it means. I have never met another Slann. But it is part of the scriptures on the old stone tablets, and the records of his deeds reach thousands of years back. He is a lot older than that, and very powerful. He has not been very active during the last few years, but your arrival has awakened him, it seems. Yesterday he personally held his council of war" the Skink explained excitedly. The fact that the Skink found that noteworthy told Jarel that it was something out of the ordinary.
    "What happened to Tepi?" Jarel asked, as the two Skinks were about to leave the tent. He remembered the look on the Skink's face when they had entered the Slann's tent and feared that the he had been penalized for making contact with Jarel.
    "We do not know," said Tenoch, "they usually do not tell us such things. We only know that he was still in the tent when we brought you here, and he was back in his unit when the foragers went on their next mission." For now that was enough so Jarel stopped pestering the Skinks, but he decided to go and see Tepi as soon as possible.

    On the next day Jarel felt better. Still not exactly great but his vision had made some significant improvements. The blurryness had vanished, and the world looked a lot brighter to him than the day before.
    He wondered about his speech skills. Had the Slann just added the ability to understand and speak the Seraphon language to his memories? Or had he... overwritten that part of his brain? He deliberately talked in his native language, to himself and the Skinks who found it utterly amusing. He was relieved to hear that he still could talk in the common tongue as well as he always had been able to.
    He also talked to the Skinks about that topic, and learned that his pronunciation and grammar in the Seraphon language was almost flawless, but that he did indeed have an audible accent that set him apart from the native speakers. He was pretty close to the way Saurus talked, they said, but Saurus talked a bit more monotonically and roughly than him, while Skinks used slightly different, more melodic pronunciations but tended to hiss, which he didn't. In fact they remarked that his way of talking most closely resembled the way a Slann talked. Jarel did not know whether to take that as a compliment or not, as Tenoch and Itotia gave him the impression that it was slightly weird to hear someone other than a Slann talk that way.

    On the next day he had some important visitors: The first one was Patli, the old Starpriest.
    He inquired about Jarel's health and asked a few more questions about the area, concentrating on old stories and myths. Jarel was not sure why he did that, but he told him everything he knew. Although that was not much, as Jarel had grown up quite some miles away from this area of operations. But he did remember some tales about the Orruk wars, a few daemon incursions of the past, and a few stories about the Blood Leaf uprising that some of the older soldiers of his company had taken part in. Patli took some notes and then left. When Jarel asked him whether they had talked about his future the Starpriest just answered in his usual grandfather voice: "Be patient. The Eternity Warden will be here shortly to talk about that."
    And indeed Chimalli visited him a few hours later, after he had eaten his lunch which this time consisted of something that smelled and tasted like cabbage soup but left a slightly sour taste in his mouth.
    The huge Saurus took a deep breath before he looked at Jarel from his eyes that were overarched by the beast skull he was wearing as a helmet, and started to talk in a deep, strong voice that let Jarel know that he was receiving orders: "You are allowed to stay here, to move around in the camp as long as you are not in the way, to eat and drink, sleep, and defecate, talk, and to enter tents when one of the First allows you in. You will do as you are told at all times. The Skinks will tell you everything you need to know". He did not wait for any answer, but turned around and left the tent.
    As expected he was not allowed to leave the camp, but apparently the Seraphon trusted him enough to give him a bit more freedom. That was definitely an improvement.
    "So..." Jarel said to himself after waiting a short moment to let the realization sink in that he was allowed to walk around "I guess that means that I will go for a walk." He opened the tent flaps and stepped out into the Seraphon camp.

    * * *

    Just like when Jarel had arrived, the camp was bustling with activity. Skinks and Saurus were walking around everywhere, carrying materials, weapons, food and drink for both themselves and their animals, or maintaining their tents and other equipment. Sometimes they were leading around Kroxigors, huge creatures not unlike the Saurus but even bigger and apparently very strong but not overly intelligent. None of them spoke, and the Skinks who led them used easy spoken commands as well as hand signs to give them orders. Once again he noticed that he knew the word describing them, but not a lot more.
    Jarel looked around, trying to see if Tenoch, Itotia or another lizard was going to follow him, but there was nobody in sight. For a moment he thought he had seen something move in the shadow of his tent, but when he looked more closely there was nobody there.
    He shrugged and started walking, only pausing for a few more moments to memorize where his tent was so he could find back to it without making a fool out of himself.
    For more than an hour he walked around in the camp. Now and then a Seraphon stopped to look at him, and Jarel did his best to look as friendly and non-threatening as he could, as he enjoyed his new found freedom. His whole body still was hurting a bit, but walking around in Hysh's light and stretching his muscles made it a lot better. He was out of immediate danger and his stomach was full. Not a bad day, he thought.
    He walked over to the southwestern part of the camp, where he and his Seraphon escort had entered, looking for the tents of the foragers and the infantry units that guarded them. He hoped to find Tepi or one of the others to say hello and thank them. When he spotted some colorful feathers sticking out behind a row of racks for drying meat a few minutes later he walked around the racks and indeed saw the Starpriest Takiki, who was standing there with his eyes closed and hands raised, obviously concentrating on the meat and now and then touching a piece of it with the tips of his silver-painted clawed fingers, while humming softly.
    Jarel immediately recognized the hum and tensed. The Priest was using the same magic procedure on the meat that he had carried out on Jarel. He remembered the intense pain it had caused, instinctively took a step back...
    ...and promptly fell over a little Skink that was standing right behind him. He just barely caught himself with one hand on an empty meat rack, but it tipped over and he crashed down with it, landing in the dried mud of the paths between the rows of tents. When he sat up he was looking into a blue lizard face with bright yellow eyes that was smiling at him.
    "Hello, Jarel." Tepi said.

    * * *

    "Tepi! I am glad to see you!" Jarel shouted excitedly, making some of the other Skinks and Saurus stop and look in his direction. Tepi smiled in the usual Skink way, his mouth slightly open but the teeth covered by the lips.
    "You have learned our language well" he observed.
    "You can thank Lord Tlaltecuhtli for that" Jarel replied, "he used some of his magic on me it seems."
    "I have never heard or read such a thing," a voice in the background said, "but the ways of the Slann are mysterious, even for the First". Jarel stood up and turned around to greet Takiki while Tepi put the empty meat rack back into position.
    "Hello, Takiki" Jarel said with a slight bow. "I came here to thank you for rescuing me from the Gors, and I hope that I did not get you into trouble."
    The Starpriest smiled but also inclined his head and opened one of his hands, his palm facing upwards, an expression of happiness but also slight confusion.
    "We only did what the Great Plan required. All our deeds are destined to fulfill it," he explained.
    "Speaking of which," Jarel said, gathering all his courage and asking directly, "what did you do to me back in the forest when you touched me? I saw you doing the same thing with the meat, and now I fear it might have something to do with preparing me for either a sacrifice or Tokaqul's lunch after all."
    The Skinks laughed, and Jarel laughed with them. Both because their laughter was lighthearted and infectious, and because of the nervousness that still dominated his thoughts.
    "Well," Takiki managed to say after he had stopped laughing, but with a still twitching crest, "it is indeed the same thing, and if we wanted to eat you we would really want to do it as well, but as far as I know we are currently not planning to eat you." He clearly waited to see Jarel's reaction, but Jarel forced himself to stay calm, so he continued. "What I did was cleansing you from Nurgle's touch. We do it with the meat so it is safe to eat, and that is one of my main tasks when we gather supplies. I am sorry that I hurt you, I am not used to doing that on living things, but it was necessary because we cannot allow someone tainted by the Chaos Gods to wander among the First. You showed no obvious signs yet, but I could already feel the taint in you. So I removed it while it was still possible."
    "I was infected?" Jarel's mind went back to the battle, the daemons, Ponn's gruesome death, and the horrible thing he had done to Lutz. He thought about how close he had been to dying - or worse - without even knowing it.
    "It was not your fault. There was strong Chaos magic on the battlefield. It affects almost every creature."
    "Was that the reason why the Stormcast retreated? I did not know they fear death." Jarel said, remembering how Sigmar's troops had pulled back and kept their rear guard from attacking.
    "Sigmar's warriors do not fear death," Takiki corrected him, "they fear reforging. Every time they die, they lose a bit of themselves, until they are not much more than empty husks, devoid of any humanity they once possessed. But maybe that was not even the reason. Perhaps it was just a strategic decision. Perhaps they just did not consider the potential gain worth the risk."
    Jarel hated the thought that his company had been sacrificed, regardless of what the reason had been.

    But before he could argument that he found it unethical for the immortal Stormcast to leave either way, they were interrupted by a swooshing sound over their heads. One of the Terradons was coming in fast between the trees, its bat-like wings folded together almost all the way, with a purple-crested Skink on its back that was tightly pressed into the saddle.
    "It is Icimanxi again," Tepi remarked, "he is our fastest flyer, he is surely returning from a scouting mission with important results. Look at his speed!"
    It was an impressive sight indeed. Like a falcon the flying dinosaur plunged toward the ground at an immense speed. Just when Jarel started to worry if it would hit the ground it opened its wings, making a loud sound and producing a gust of wind that shook nearby tents and blew leaves away. A blink of an eye later its feet touched the ground on the clear space in front of the command tent, and before the creature even had folded its wings completely, the Skink already jumped from its back, pulling a feather plumed leather hood from his head, and ran into the tent.
    "It has been nice meeting you again, Jarel, but now go back to your tent. I have the feeling that the situation is about to change" Takiki told him.
    Tepi once again imitated Jarel's bow the way he had done it during the first time they had met, and smiled. Jarel bowed and smiled as well, then he walked back to his tent as he had been told.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2021
  3. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

    Messages:
    11,659
    Likes Received:
    26,328
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Things are moving!

    excellent update, thanks!
     
  4. Imrahil
    Slann

    Imrahil Thirtheenth Spawning

    Messages:
    7,500
    Likes Received:
    17,671
    Trophy Points:
    113
    I just started chapter 3.
    You have a great style of writing! It is very enjoyable to read and it paints the scenes very vividly.

    Keep on writing, I definitely keep on reading

    Grrr, Imrahil
     
  5. Aginor
    Slann

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

    Messages:
    12,234
    Likes Received:
    20,054
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Thanks, guys!
    It means a lot to me that y'all are reading my story.

    The next two chapters (6 and 7) are already mostly finished (I sent them to proof reading, but my editor is busy so it might take a while) and I am working on chapter 8.
     
  6. Paradoxical Pacifism
    Skink Chief

    Paradoxical Pacifism Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    1,624
    Likes Received:
    3,267
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Is anymore coming?

    Your story is a perfect fit for the current contest, if only it wasn't a Bajillion words over the 2400 length limit :p

    imo, the best highlight of this story so far is the part where the slann reach into Jerel's past and search for intelligence. This part was really comprehensive when it came to detailing his lows and highs throughout his life story, but it didn't feel tedious, which is a huge accomplishment imo.

    The second highlight, imo, is Jerel tripping over Tepi. That was an incredibly well written moment of comedy, and it provided a nice brake from all of the dark, tragic moments in the story. I especially liked it when Jerel didn't know the tongue of the lizards in the earlier parts of the story, and had to verbally communicate and slowly build up his vocabulary. It led to a lot of funny and wholesome moments, particularly when Jerel called the first saurus warriors he met "big skinks."
     
  7. Aginor
    Slann

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

    Messages:
    12,234
    Likes Received:
    20,054
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Thank you for your thoughts on my story so far!
    Originally the chapter with the flashback scenes would not have existed. It was merely a single paragraph in which Jarel feels the Slann entering his mind, and unceremoniously ripping everything out that he wants to know (talking just isn't his thing. Too slow). But as I was just writing it down I suddenly had the idea for those memories and how I could show a few of them, with the Slann being inserted in every scene, watching. It was a nice opportunity to show a bit of Jarel's and his friends' past as well as provide a tiny bit of justification for the spill-over from the Slann to him.
    Jarel may not be a great fighter but he showed some willpower there at least. :D

    And yes indeed there are more chapters coming soon! Two in proofreading IIRC (was a bit busy lately) and one I am writing, mostly finished but there is a tricky part I have trouble with constructing.
     
  8. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

    Messages:
    11,659
    Likes Received:
    26,328
    Trophy Points:
    113
    It is much better the way you developed it!
     
  9. Imrahil
    Slann

    Imrahil Thirtheenth Spawning

    Messages:
    7,500
    Likes Received:
    17,671
    Trophy Points:
    113
    It is an amazing read :) really well written :writing:

    Keep up the good work

    Grrr, Imrahil
     
    Aginor likes this.
  10. Aginor
    Slann

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

    Messages:
    12,234
    Likes Received:
    20,054
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Oh dear, I still haven't posted those new chapters, have I....

    Very soon, I promise!
     
  11. Aginor
    Slann

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

    Messages:
    12,234
    Likes Received:
    20,054
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Sorry for the long time between episode, I hope y'all still remember Jarel and Tlaltecuhtli's Seraphon!
    Here is the next chapter:


    Chapter 6: * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    It did not take long after Jarel's return to his tent for Tenoch to turn up with a message for him.
    "The commanders want to talk to you in the command tent" he just said, and left.
    Jarel liked that. No guards, just a Skink. And he was obviously considered important enough to be summoned to the command tent shortly after the arrival of an important message. Maybe Patli had indeed found a way for him to become useful.
    He thought about it. Would they send him back to the garrison in Calven in some way? Had they maybe contacted his superiors? For some reason he did not like the thought of returning home. He wanted to help fighting the Chaos troops, and he hoped the Seraphon would find and attack those damned bastards that were responsible for the death of all his friends.
    His own thoughts felt strange to him. The last few days had changed him. Perhaps it had been the trauma of the lost battle, or maybe the encounter with the Slann? He had never been a vindictive man, and until now his reason for fighting had always been to protect his part of the Realms and the people within it. He had not really cared about the rest. He just wanted to return home safely after a campaign with his friends. Now it was different. The mere thought of the Nurgle daemons made him so angry that he growled, and spat on the ground in disgust while walking to the command tent. A Skink carrying a bundle of javelins shied away from him when he did, and he realized that his heart was racing and his fists were clenched so tightly that his knuckles were white and his finger nails had dug into the flesh of his palms.
    He forced himself to breathe and calm down before asking the guards to let him enter the tent.
    They opened the flaps for him and once again he was standing in the jungle-like atmosphere of the command tent. It looked as he remembered it from his first visit, except that the flaps to the rear part of the tent were already open, and Lord Tlaltecuhtli himself was floating with his throne near the map table. The gold-crested Skink that the others called his Voice was sitting next to him.
    The two Saurus leaders were also present, and so were the Terradon rider and Patli.
    When Jarel entered, the gold-crested Skink looked at him and motioned him to sit near the other end of the table, opposite to the Saurus and the Slann and next to the purple-crested Terradon rider.
    Apparently they were discussing the report that they had just received. The markers on the map table had been moved around and there were additional ones toward the east, south of a bend in the big river. If Jarel interpreted the map correctly, then the news was that enemy troops had been spotted on the other side of the river, moving east through a forest on the Sour Lake's southern shore and toward the Sour Lake post, a small town that had been built by humans that made a living from fishing and trading. It seemed that the Seraphon were expecting the troops to attack the small town soon.
    "...so we obviously have to react quickly if we consider the settlement important" the Oldblood Xiuhco was just saying.
    "So it is agreed then," the Slann's Skink Voice said, looking at the others. Everyone except the Slann gave a quick nod.
    "And that's where Jarel comes into play." Patli interjected, pointing at their human guest with an open hand. "It will be easier to coordinate the operation if instead of one of the First a human soldier approaches the settlement's militia. Remember that humans have a short memory, so they might see us as enemies if no Stormcast are present."
    "I consider that a risk" Xiuhco replied in his growling voice. "He will be a burden for the warriors and we do not know how the humans will react to him. His only real use is as a translator. And we can still not be sure what else... spilled over. Do we want to risk him getting caught by the enemy?"
    Just as the Skink was going to reply to that, Jarel spoke up: "Please, I want to go there and help you. Those Rotbringers and Daemons killed all my friends and many more. They defeated several companies of well-trained soldiers and Stormcast. The militia doesn't stand a chance if they attack the settlement."
    He noticed that the Oldblood didn't seem to have a particularly high opinion of the Freeguild, as the big Saurus had made a snorting sound when Jarel had called them well-trained. And from the point of view of an - according to Tenoch - elite warrior with several hundred years of battle experience he was probably right. He looked at the Slann, who was still staring at the map table without any motion except breathing. Then he remembered that this might in fact be one of the situations not important enough for a Slann to speak, so he addressed the gold-crested Skink:
    "Please. You have seen what I have seen. You know that I can be of use, my Lord. This is my chance to help fulfilling the Great Plan."
    He did not know why he had said that last part. Funnily enough he knew it to be true to some degree, but it still sounded quite pretentious as he did not really know what the Great Plan was, much less what his place in it could even be.
    Again he wondered whether he had been changed by the encounter with the Slann's mind, as this was not the way he normally spoke or thought. Had the Slann messed with his head? Or was this the spillover the Oldblood had talked about?
    Whatever it was, it seemed to work. The Skinks looked at him thoughtfully. Patli was even smiling, as if the particularly oblivious grandchild had finally understood.
    The Oldblood was looking at the Eternity Warden and they stood still for a moment before both of them made little grunting noises and nodded.
    The Slann still didn't react. But his Voice looked at him for a moment as if Lord Tlaltecuhtli had said something, and then announced: "It has been decided. Jarel will go with the vanguard. Prepare a unit of knights, a unit of skirmishers, and appoint a guide for Jarel."
    "Nay-Noatl will lead the vanguard", Xiuhco informed them and then turned to Jarel: "You will go to the pens of the Cold Ones and meet your guide there, you will receive equipment shortly thereafter".
    Jarel took a last glance at the Slann. He had hoped that the big toad would say or do something but he still sat on his throne and did not move. Jarel saluted, which made the Saurus raise an eyebrow and the Skinks incline their heads. "Understood. And thank you" he said, and left the tent.
    It had been a very short meeting, he thought. But then he knew that the Seraphon were very loyal creatures, so they probably didn't have long discussion about anything as long as a Slann was nearby, giving them orders. He wondered how the Saurus would act when taking decisions independently.
    "I guess I will know very soon" he said to himself as he turned toward the part of the camp with the pens where the Cold Ones were being prepared for their mission. But then he stopped and turned around, quickly going to Tenoch's and Itotia's tent, where he had lived for the past few days.
    He called their names as he entered the tent, and only a moment later two scaly heads peeked in through another opening. "What do you need, Jarel? We have already prepared everything for your departure and brought it to the pens" Tenoch inquired. Jarel motioned them to come in. "Before I go I want to thank you, and ask you to do something for me," he said. "You did a good job getting me into fighting condition again, and I am very thankful for that."
    "It was our duty" Itotia remarked, but Jarel could hear the proud and happy undertone in his words. He would miss the slender Skink's friendly, high-pitched voice.
    "What is is that we can do for you, Jarel?" Tenoch asked.
    "I have told you everything about me and my friends, what I did and how I got here. You basically know everything Lord Tlaltecuhtli knows" he told them. "But the people where I come from don't know what happened. They probably think that I am dead and they don't know how their sons died in the battle" he continued, a lump in his throat. "I'd like to ask you if you could write it down, and if I don't live through this I'd like you to send it to the Crawling City or any other Freeguild post, so they know. Especially Mrs. Chowell, Silas' mother."
    "And my parents, should they still be alive" he added, almost as an afterthought since he had considered the Chowells more of a family than his parents, for a large part of his childhood. The thought that he probably was alive because their son, his best friend, had died for him was still a burden on his soul.
    "We will do as well as we can," Tenoch promised. "We might not be able to do it in your language, though" he reminded Jarel.
    "I am sure the Freeguild or the Church of Sigmar can find someone who can read your language" Jarel assured him.
    "Do not worry, Jarel" Itotia promised. "We will find a way".
    He thanked them, looked at the tent in which he had spent the last few days for a last time, then said goodbye, left and made his way to the pens. He hoped that they would finally give him his weapons back, as the thought of going onto a mission without anything to defend himself was making him feel uneasy.

    * * *

    Jarel felt better when he left the tent. Now this had been taken care of and he could focus on the task ahead: Go to those pens, meet the Saurus, go on a mission to a human settlement and defend it, avenge the Sixth Company and his friends, and then... who knows? Maybe he would stay there if the Seraphon let him? Or maybe he would come back and campaign with the Seraphon a while longer? Was that being away without leave? Did it matter?
    Suddenly he did not feel as confident anymore. He pushed the thought aside when he reached the pens, where a group of Saurus and their mounts were already waiting. The Cold Ones - two legged reptile mounts the size of a horse that usually bore a single Saurus rider - regarded him with looks that made him wonder if he could even ride on one without being eaten somewhere on the way. Who in their right mind chose carnivores as mounts anyway?
    The bellowing voice of a Saurus warrior interrupted his thoughts: "Warmblood! Stop staring at the Cold Ones and get over here!"
    Jarel hurried up a bit and soon stood in front of the lizardman who apparently was in the process of saddling his mount. As he carried the saddle to his Cold One Jarel recognized the typical o-legged way of walking that marked longtime cavalry soldiers.
    "So you are finally here. I am Nay-Noatl, the leader of this unit." the Saurus began the conversation without even looking at Jarel. "You will ride with us to that trading post, and talk to the humans there so they can fight against the enemy." Jarel could hear the annoyance in his voice. The Saurus did not seem to enjoy his presence. "I hope the Cold One will carry you, because the way your legs look I doubt you will be able to run with the skirmishers" he added, finally turning around and looking at Jarel. "Now where's that Skink with your toothpick again..."
    "I am here, Scar-Veteran!" a Skink voice exclaimed enthusiastically. Tepi stepped out from behind another one of the beasts with a broad grin on his face. So they had sent him as Jarel's guide. Jarel greeted him happily.
    In his hands the Skink was carrying a leather backpack and Jarel's sidesword, and while he handed them to Jarel he whispered "Nay-Noatl is grumpy, but it gets better once he is in the saddle."
    Jarel took a look at his sidesword. It was in a decent condition but could use some sharpening. He immediately felt better as he slung the belt around his hip though. He felt like a soldier again. A quick glance into the backpack revealed a few food rations and other survival equipment. Satisfied he closed it again and faced Tepi, who led a slightly smaller Cold One into Jarel's direction. The beast's saddle and saddle bags were already on its back, and it was chewing on some piece of meat.
    "We will ride together so I can assist you," Tepi explained. "This mount is a friendly one. Don't worry, you will notice that it is easy to ride."
    The Cold One looked at Jarel, still chewing. He could not see the mentioned friendliness yet but he was sure he would see it any moment, probably as soon as he would be able to look past the three inch teeth in its maw and the six inch claws on its feet. When it had finished its snack it moved closer, sniffing on Jarel with a curious look on its face. Then it closed its eyes and bumped its head into Jarel.
    "He likes you!" Tepi chuckled. Jarel carefully petted the creature's scaly head and allowed it to sniff his face. It was very different to a horse, but not too bad so far.
    "Do you want to wait all day? Stop kissing the Cold One and mount up!" Nay-Noatl bellowed. Jarel took one deep breath, then jumped onto the Cold One's back the way he had seen cavalrymen do it. Sadly he was not quite as elegant as them, but the saddle's sturdy edge helped him get onto it. Tepi leaped onto the saddle bags behind him much more elegantly, and Jarel grabbed the reins.
    The Saurus grunted approvingly while riding next to them. "Alright, you managed to get onto your mount at least. Use the reins to steer, and wiggle your tiny feet to make it move faster. Provided the Cold One even feels you. Anyway, stay near me. The unit will spread out a bit once we have left the camp, and the skirmishers will meet us shortly."
    "Unit! Move out!" he commanded, and with the precision Jarel was used to from Saurus warriors by now the two dozen Saurus knights rode out of the camp, double filed. All of them had shields and lances with black stone tips tied to their saddles.
    Jarel was thankful that his mount just kept its position next to Nay-Noatl's, so while they quietly rode next to each other he could focus on getting comfortable in his saddle and take a last look at the place he had spent the last few days in. A lot had happened during those days. He seriously hoped that he could slow down a bit soon, just to pause and process everything properly. Maybe the trading post would turn out to be the right place for that.

    * * *

    While they rode through the forest on a winding, almost invisible path toward the east Jarel talked to Tepi. He used the Skink's eagerness to help and asked him about several things he had not fully understood yet. One of them was why the Cold One had sniffed him so intensely. He had not seen the other beasts do that with their riders. Tepi snickered. "It is the soap. We did not know how to clean you when you were unconscious. We used the same soap that we use for the animals. Cold Ones like the smell, and it distracts from the mammal smell that reminds them of their food."
    Jarel's facial expression when he turned around to face the Skink made Tepi laugh chirpingly, his crest twitching in amusement.
    The Saurus knights behind them chuckled as well, at least until Nay-Noatl glowered at them and they stopped. "Well, thanks Tepi. I guess that's my new favourite brand of soap now." Jarel mumbled resignedly. One mystery less, but one potential nightmare more. It was sure time that he met someone human again.
    Some time later Tepi opened one of the saddle bags and pulled out a small shield made of a scaly green material, one like the Skinks were using. "I want to give you that." he said. "I saw you fighting with your shield, and this seems to be the right size for you, doesn't it?" Jarel took the shield and looked at it. It felt great. A little bit lighter than the wooden buckler he had built for himself in the forest, but seemingly as stable.
    "Thank you Tepi" he said, "this will be of good use. But there's something I'd like to ask you: Did they send you with me as a punishment or did you volunteer for this?"
    "Neither," the small Skink replied, "I was chosen because I was the first Skink you met, so I am among those who know you best. And because I am expendable" he added calmly.
    Expendable. Once again Jarel was reminded of the fact that knowing the language of the First did not automatically teach him their way of thinking. He decided to not push the topic further for now. "Talking about the First," he continued with another question he had been wanting to ask for a while now, "why do you call yourselves that?"
    To his surprise the Skink did not answer immediately. Instead he looked around thoughtfully for a moment before he answered. "I don't know, Jarel. We were always called the First. Perhaps we were the first creatures that existed. The Slann are very old. Some say that they are older than the Mortal Realms."
    Jarel thought back to what he had seen when he had touched the Slann's mind. He had felt how old the toad-like being was. He did not even have words for it, in either language he knew. He just nodded.
    "Maybe this means something" Tepi said thoughtfully. When Jarel turned around with a questioning facial expression he quietly explained "You are the last of your unit of humans." Jarel definitely did not need that particular reminder, so he just nodded. "The First and the Last" the Skink mused.
    "How poetic" Jarel answered laconically. Tepi apparently understood that Jarel did not want to think about that topic too much, so he fell silent for a moment, while the column of Cold One riders continued through the forest that now was getting less dense.
    As mentioned by Nay-Noatl the column of Saurus knights was met by the skirmishers shortly thereafter. It was a unit of fourty green-crested Skinks who just sprung up from the ground and from behind trees, at least from Jarel's point of view, and fell into a loose formation with the cavalry without any words. Their leader was hard to recognize at first glance, but Tepi told Jarel that it was the brass rings around his arms and neck that marked his rank. There were other Skinks that wore such rings, but none of them had that many. Other than those rings the Skinks wore no clothes, but they carried ammunition belts of various sizes with bolts for their boltspitters around their arms, legs, and bodies, and they wore the same type of green shield like the one Tepi had gifted to Jarel.
    The Skinks maintained some kind of jogging pace that let them keep up with the Cold Ones effortlessly, despite the fact that the cavalry's speed increased once the two units left the forest and entered an area of open grasslands Ghur was most famous for. Jarel did not know exactly how far the Saurus could move in a day, or how far the sour lake post actually was, but he estimated that three to four days would get them there.
    It was a peaceful ride, only now and then they spotted tracks of larger beasts which they avoided.
    They made a short break in the afternoon which Jarel used for rearranging some of his equipment in order to make his saddle a bit more comfortable. The Saurus knights were amused by that a lot, and Nay-Noatl remarked that "squishy warmblood behinds just weren't made for riding into battle". In Jarel's case he was not wrong, he thought to himself. Riding all day was not comfortable for someone untrained, and the hard materials the lizardmen felt comfortable on did not make it any easier. Jarel also wondered whether he should feel insulted by Nay-Noatl constantly calling him 'warmblood' or not. For now he decided to just ignore it. No need to pick a fight with someone twice your size over a word when you have a chance to leave them for good in just a few days.
    When Nay-Noatl's command ordered them to continue Jarel noticed that they also changed formation. The Saurus were now riding in a rectangular formation, and the Skinks formed a half-circle that engulfed them from all sides except the front.
    They had been moving again for a minute or so, when something happened. First Jarel did not notice it, but then he noticed that the air felt different, and when he looked over the plains Jarel noticed a strange blur in the air. First he was concerned that something was off with his vision - maybe because of the heat? - but when he looked at closer objects or creatures everything looked normal. The effect increased more and more, and the lizardmen either did not notice or did not care, so Jarel turned around and asked Tepi.
    "Ah, yes" the Skink replied nonchalantly, "that is just a side effect of us being sped up so we reach our destination more quickly."
    "We are what?" Jarel urged him for a more in-depth explanation.
    As always when he talked about the Slann and their magic the Skink did so in a tone of deepest reverence "The Slann are lords of space and time. If matters are urgent, then a Slann can influence them within a... bubble of a certain radius and in a certain way. From an outside view we are moving very quickly right now, but we cannot interact properly with things outside of the bubble. We will continue with this for a while, but the range is limited so we will not make the whole trip this way. Just continue on as normal, you are not in danger."
    Fascinated Jarel looked at the outside world. Through the blur of the bubble he tried to take a closer look at the outside world. Looking at the mountains in the north or at the ground under their feet it did not seem like they were moving quickly. In fact everything looked perfectly normal on first glance. But when Jarel spotted a bird of prey that was flying over the plains the effect became clearly obvious. The bird looked almost stationary. Jarel continued watching it as long as he could, and when he eventually lost sight of it as they rode past it, it had hardly moved, and just flapped its wings a few times. He tried to discern just how much faster the magic made the lizardmen move, but he had never been very good at that. Maybe fifty times? He wished Eduardo was here, he would have been able to tell.
    Either way, it was an unreal experience, and the fact that he was the only one who gave it any thought made it even more unreal to him.
    They moved on, taking only short rests during the first day. Well, technically the day did not end since Hysh's position did not change an inch even though the Seraphon and their guest trotted over the Sourgrass Plains for hours. Jarel lost his sense of time after a while, looking at the still picture that was their environment. Activities like sharpening his sidesword and spotting herds of seemingly unmoving antilopes kept him busy, and he was glad to have Tepi with him so he could at least talk to someone.
    After what felt like a whole day of riding they took a longer rest. The Realm of Light still had not moved and the afternoon sun and heat made sleeping a challenge for Jarel. He could not tell how long he had slept, but he guessed several hours - would that be only minutes in the real world? - because he felt decently rested.
    After three days in the saddle the bubble started to change, and over the course of a few minutes it vanished. They were finally back to real time, and Nay-Noatl's command to turn south came. From there it was only a few last hills to cross, then they would reach the Sour Lake Post.
     
  12. Kblock
    Kroxigor

    Kblock Active Member

    Messages:
    261
    Likes Received:
    77
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Really enjoying this adventure! I look forward to the next installment.
     
    Aginor likes this.
  13. Aginor
    Slann

    Aginor Fifth Spawning Staff Member

    Messages:
    12,234
    Likes Received:
    20,054
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Thank you!
    I am happy to hear that someone enjoys my work. :)
     
    Imrahil likes this.
  14. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

    Messages:
    11,659
    Likes Received:
    26,328
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Really cool update! tnx @Aginor :)
     
    Aginor likes this.
  15. Imrahil
    Slann

    Imrahil Thirtheenth Spawning

    Messages:
    7,500
    Likes Received:
    17,671
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Yes I caught up with the story. Very cool.
    I really feel connected to Jarel and whatever his fate may be ;)

    It is a fantastic read

    Grrr, Imrahil
     
    Aginor likes this.

Share This Page