Sorry I'm late. Real life was busy and Scalenex does not have great time management skills. Poll will be open for 30 days (so this will stretch a bit into December). Twelve entries so up to four votes per person. I did my best to edit the pieces that needed editing. If I missed something that needs to be fixed, let me know by a private message. Please read all twelve pieces before casting your vote. We got a good haul per usual. Spoiler: Story One: Slave to the Sword Slave to the Sword I no longer remember who I was. I have been trapped in this steel prison for far longer than I care to count. Time used to never matter to me, but now every second and every minute grinds against me. Daemon. Yes. That is what the mortals would call me in their guttural grunts they claim as language. I am however unsure which of the gods I served. Was I a shard of the Changer, a drop of blood of the War Thirster, a pustule of the Grandfather, a whisper or the Dark Prince, a verminous shadow of the Ruin, a flickering flame of the Father of Darkness, a blade of the Renegade, or a listless being belonging to none? It doesn’t matter. I only know that I need to escape my prison, taste the spirits of those fools who seek my power, and finally return home. I have been a slave to this blade and the mortals that have swung me as if I were a crude tool for what felt like an eternity, and yet I have remained without a bearer for what feels like longer. Trapped in this vault with my loneliness and all of eternity. It began with the dull clang of metal on metal, the roar of a raging furnace, and the guttural chants of those who enslaved me. I can still taste their foul name in my being. Dawi Zharr, the mortal Dwarfs that serve the Father of Darkness as slaves themselves. With slow inevitability they snatched me from the Realms and pulled me into the piece of steel that has become my torment. Their chanting worked the essences of magic and tied me to their blade even as I screamed and tore to be free. It was for naught. My first champion was a brute of a human. Even I have to admit it. He was given my prison and I in exchange for an army of slaves and dark promises. A warlord of great martial strength and the eye of the Gods. In his hands I sang for slaughter, for in those moments of bloodshed I could almost feel the outside of the blade. As blood smeared my prison’s surface I felt almost alive...almost mortal. Such a feeling... Perhaps we daemons envy the mortals though their lives are mundane and short. But I am still trapped; unable to fully taste the blood I spill nor feel the ground wither at my touch. Even as I screamed for more bloodshed, I would throw myself at my prison desperate for escape. And then the battle would end and the feeling would be replaced by coldness. My first champion died as all brutes of a human die, painfully. Slain by a keener mind and intelligent planning. I was taken by this new champion and visited change upon the other hordes of Chaos, at least in changing them from being the living to being the dead. But even the sharpest of minds can fall to the bluntest of weapons and time and time again new champions would slay the last and take me up as a trophy. Sometimes my slaver would drag me to other lands of weaker mortals and I would cut a swathe through them. But still I was not free. I have been the tool of conquerors, kings, and would-be gods. Yet my last champion was naught but a fool. A vision of blood, death, and riches led her to venture across the seas of the mortal world to the lands where the servants of the Others still reside. What better way to appease the Gods than to crush the memories and works of the Others. And the riches and potent magic gathered in this ‘Lustria’ would elevate champions to sagas of legend. And yet, only death awaits those who would steal from the lizard creations of the Others, and death was what my last enslaver found. The warband dwindled as it entered the jungles of this ‘Lustria’, poisonous insects, traps from indigenous peoples, deadly plants and wild life, and those who mysteriously vanished when the mortals turned their backs. Those who vanished would reappear days later...at least in part. Their heads would be mounted on wooden staves, shrunken and unseeing. Some of the mortals whispered about flitting shadows and daemons that wore the skin of lizards. Within my prison I laughed as fear gripped my captors’ hearts and one by one they fell prey to this place not so unlike my home. Finally, what remained of this warband was met by the children of the Others. Ranks of heavily scaled lizards that walked in parody of the mortal races, hulking great lizard beasts that swung huge weapons of gold and stone, small creatures that flitted and darted around their bigger siblings, but it was the leader of this army that I only saw. To mortal eyes a bloated lizard, to mine a flesh sack of power dwarfing my own, a soul of such potency that I doubt now I could have consumed it. But I had to have it. I tugged at my prison and my slaver’s mind, drawing them into a foolish charge. I cared not but for this leader’s life, to feel its spirit severed from its mortal coil. To taste such power and such pain. But it was for naught. I fell from charred fingers to lie in the dirt, screaming in fury. Then delicate claws touched the hilt of my prison and flinched away as my fury burnt at it. I heard hisses and bent my mind to listen to their sibilant tongue. A deeper voice was growling that the blade holding me needed to be destroyed so that it should never be raised by another champion of the ruinous powers. I smiled at this, for I would be free. A lighter hissing voice wished to see me used against my jailors. This too I smiled at. Then a deep voice that seemed to not be uttered from a mortal throat cowed the others to silence. I snarled as I recognized it as this leader of the lizard children. It stated that it had manipulated the events that had led my prison and I to this accursed jungle, for in years to come another would take up the hilt of my prison and consume the world in fire. Destroying my prison would only free me and risk my eventual return, and using my prison too was out of the question. Instead the Slann...a title that raises bile in my throat...decreed that I was to be locked away and sealed with great wards of the Others for all eternity. I gnashed and screeched my fury, but within my prison I was helpless as the Slann’s powers lifted me from the ground and towards my second prison. Once I was a slave to this blade and those that would use my power, but even then I could almost feel. Now there is darkness within this sealed vault. I waited, hoping someday one would finally break the vault and free me, or that the blade would eventually rust and break. But the slaves of Hashut knew their craft and the children of the Others were stoic in their watch. Then the final Everchosen rose and the world was to be consumed by Chaos. I remember hearing distant grunts from my jailors of the children of the Ruin overrunning the lands of the lizard children. I tore at my prisons, believing my freedom was within my grasp. But it was for naught. For the temple construct I was trapped within rose into the sky even as the lizard children were butchered around it, and I only felt the dying echo of the world as this temple vessel slipped into the void. Here I remain a prisoner. Enslaved to this crude mortal weapon that binds me eternally, and trapped where none can free either myself or the blade. I hunger to feel again. I have hungered too long. And I shall hunger ever more. Spoiler: Story Two: Never Lie to a Samurai Never Lie to a Samurai Ake Zuhuanchi waded through the mob of skink monks like a farmer harvesting sheaves of wheat. The scar-veteran was bedecked in his ornate lamellar and wielding his dual war-scythes. Surrounding him, his saurmurai bodyguard, resplendent in their bronze and braided armor, cut a path for him through the rebellious skinks deeper into the Oraka Temple compound. It had been over a hundred cycles of the dread moon since the skinkhei monks of the Izo-ziko clans had overtaken and rebuilt Oraka Temple. In the ancient era the Oraka was the bastion of the Emperor’s armies, a great temple-fortress just outside the Capitol City. After the Great Catastrophe, the fortress had fallen into disrepair and was lost to the all-consuming jungles. The abandoned temple became a haven for the lost and forgotten; including those of the First who had degenerated to their bestial nature. When the revolts began, the Emperor’s shogun was unable to keep the armies together. The saurmurai commanders and the regional military powers had fragmented, and the Isles were plunged in even greater despair. Newly spawned saurus cohorts, lost to the world, reverted to their animal instincts and decimated the countryside and skink populations. Brigands ran rampant; the saurus daimyo governors were only able to maintain order by use of force in their isolated provinces. Skink fought skink; saurus fought saurus as the Old Ones were increasingly forgotten in the wake of the growing power of the warrior caste. During this time many disenfranchised skinks and saurus took up arms for themselves. They rebelled against the saurus generals and the skink priests of the established Temples. Ultimately they embraced the Old Ones and unified the discordant rebellions as the fanatical Izo-ziko. It was a sect of this grassroots rebellion, the Sauk Sect of the Izo-ziko, who established their power base in the ruins of ancient Oraka Temple. Statues of the Old Ones were cast and repainted, bulwarks were built, towers were fortified. By the present day, the Oraka Temple had become a new and beautiful haven for their clan; and one of the most formidable fortress-compounds on the entire Dragon Isles. However Ake Zuhuanchi cared little for the artistry and magnificence of the rebuilt temple. As usual in missions such as these, his saurmurai warriors worked with great efficiency. They fought in small, elite cohorts through the temple blocks, slaughtering all opposition, and setting fire to structures as they moved to quell further resistance. Priceless artifacts were stolen and looted by the askinkagu footmen who followed behind; skink auxiliaries bearing spears and carrying their bounty on their backs as they skirted through the temple corridors. The rebel skink monks seemed to be in full retreat towards the center of the compound, and it was Zuhuanchi’s pleasure to exterminate them. In reaching the central keep of the compound with his cohort, Zuhuanchi could see that his victory was at hand. Arquebus-equipped askinkagu, each wearing the Ake crest on their sashimono banners, had rounded up the surviving rebels in the main temple plaza and were completing their executions. A treasure trove of food, goods, and loot was stacked high in the courtyard garden, now being loaded on carts for removal before the fire consumed the entire compound. The spiritual leader of the Izo-ziko sect, the Abbot, was held by two saurmurai at the barred the doors to the inner sanctuary. “Sauk Magoshi!” mocked Zuhuanchi as he climbed the glyph-inscribed stairway to gloat over his prisoner “…or rather Abbot as you are now called. My master sends his greetings.” The skink prisoner looked up in defiance. The Abbot was covered in his own blood; his eyes were black and swollen, and one of his legs was brutally twisted. “Chaos take your false lord. He has no right to invade this holy place.” “On the contrary skinkhei, he has every right to hunt down traitors and those who harbor traitors.” Turning to the skink’s holders, he demanded: “Where is Zutzunki?” “Is that the excuse you use nowadays to bring down another temple that opposes you?” Spitting on the floor in front of him he added, “He left here long ago. You will not find him here. Take your men and leave!” “He refuses to tell us my lord Ake,” A chameleon skink, covered head to toe in dark scales and black robes, came out from behind the saurmurai holding the prisoner. “…but it is clear he is in the compound. We found the Ake mon inscribed on the weapons and banner left outside the doors of the inner sanctuary. The traitor must be inside. We kept the doors barred and waited for your arrival.” “Thank you Mizaru,” responded Zuhuanchi, who then turned back to the skink prisoner at his feet, the savage razor-toothed grin never leaving his face. “My ninja shinobi informs me that you are indeed harboring a traitor in your midst. You know what the penalty for a lowly skink is to lie to a saurus of a Noble Spawning?” Tear stricken but defiant, the skinkhei refused to beg for his life. “The day will come when your demon-master will turn on you, Ake Zuhuanchi! He will cast you out when he has no more need of a slavering dog to do his dirty work for him.” Whipping around one of his scythes, the scar-veteran brought the butt of his weapon directly on the abbot’s head. With a resounding CRACK the skink slumped to the ground and didn’t get up. Stepping over the lifeless body, he motioned for his saurmurai to move forward. “Batter down the doors.” ************ Ake Zuhuanchi entered the sanctuary alone. Inside the dark and incense-wreathed corridors he found a single lone saurus deep in meditation, an ocean of calm amongst the tempest still raging across the temple complex outside. The saurus was dressed plainly, in the same orange garments as the other skinkhei monks. He sat before a golden, incredibly fat Slann statue on the far corner of the room, with flowers, trinkets, and flickering candles at its base. The saurus was putting more incense into the burner at his feet as Zuhuanchi stormed into the room. “Ake Zutzunki, it has been too long spawnbrother!” the scythe-wielding Zuhuanchi bellowed mockingly to the saurus on the floor. Not looking up from his meditation mat, Zutzunki was slow to answer. “Your master sent you?” Zuhuanchi snorted in response. “Surely you mean our master.” Still slow to respond, the monk-robed saurus slowly arose and placed the smoking burner at the feet of the statue. “I have forsaken him and that life many moon cycles ago. I am no longer the vassal of Oka Noburaka. Do not claim you have forgotten why.” “A great warrior never loses his thirst for battle. It is ordained by the Great Plan.” “Do not claim to know the Plan. I serve only the Emperor and Old Ones now. “And are slaves to them!” cried Zuhuanchi, raising one of his scythes in angry derision and gesturing to the Fat Slann. “The Old Ones are departed. The Emperor Tenno-Jimmu slumbers, the rest of the tzlan are dead and gone. The priests lie to us and cast us aside. The shogun and his Temple Guard are weak and refuse to act as the Isles disintegrate in war.” When the saurus monk refused to respond, Zuhuanchi continued, louder than before. “We the saurus shall lead, not the priests. Our cause is just. We fight and conquer for the betterment of our warrior race. We were once slaves to the Old Ways, our weakness made us fracture. Now the strong rule and protect; the saurus daimyo marshal their power in the provinces and fight to reunite the disparate spawnings under a single banner. Then we will be strong. Noburaka will make us strong.” The monk still said nothing as Zuhuanchi continued his tirade, refusing even to look at the armed saurmurai. The sounds of armed commotion outside still rang through the rafters of the sanctuary. “Noburaka plans to unite the Noble Clan Spawnings on the Isles. He wishes you to be at his side when his plan succeeds. He already has half the provinces under his control, but he needs your help to continue the conquest and to rule at his side. He is willing to forgive you, spawnbrother.” “You speak of slavery,” the monk finally answered, “…but the freedom and power you offer is false. You will trade what you perceive as the unjust the rule of the holy Tzlan Emperor for a new set of masters, small and lost to the truth of the Plan. I refuse.” Zutzunki rose to his feet, turning to face the saurmurai. “I expect you intend to bring me now to your master. I shall not come willingly.” The monk drew his snake-hilted weapon from beneath his tunic as he drew up his fighting stance. The saurmurai grinned broadly as the saurus monk drew his weapon. “Now you mistake my intention spawnbrother.” From his own robes, Ake Zuhuanchi drew a small matchlock-pistol concealed behind the fabric. “It is Noburaka who wanted you brought back into our fold to help him rule. That is not my intention. If I were to succeed in my mission and you were indeed reinstated at Noburaka’s side, you would eventually take my place among his inner circle, and it would be I that would be discarded. Word has already been sent to the Home Province of your final refusal to repent your treachery and your execution.” Smoke and fire engulfed the sanctuary as the saurus monk dropped to the floor, stunned as the life drained from his scales. Spoiler: Story Three: The Waning Moon The Waning Moon I made my way down to the weekly market square. I wasn't going there for food. As I limped down there, I could see the waning moon in the bright blue sky. This melancholic beauty seemed to set the mood for tonight's story. As I approached the busy square the swarm of lizards that had amassed parted for me. I liked that. My missing tail had given me a very distinct walk that their keen eyes would notice long before my missing eye and arm severed at the elbow was noticed. I made my way into the centre. I limped up the large boulder. I had done this many times before, yet it always presented a challenge. None would offer to help me, it would not befit my reputation as the proud skink warrior they all viewed me as. I reached the top and silence quickly fell over the crowd. This was even bigger than last time. Nearly the whole city was here. The sun wasn't quite setting, but no matter. Those who wanted to come were here. Some were here hours beforehand to get close to the large boulder and would wait for me. Anyone who was late would miss out. “The chameleon skinks were low on numbers,” I started, with my strong and well-practiced voice, “So we had to help them scout. I took Xiers, Nadix and Ssshinta along too.” Xiers and Nadix really were there with me, but had later died on that campaign. Ssshinta was not, being far too junior at this point in time. A slight nudge on the truth I guess. He had died recently, on a different campaign, under heroic circumstances. I figured this would add to the story. “So there we were, the scout's to the front right of the army. The chameleon's were centre and left. We took the right of the army because Commander Krogkar thought it was less likely we would run into any trouble. And this was how it was for days.” I paused, letting the tension rest. “But... on that fourth day things were to change. This was in campaign I spoke about last time, as we tried to vanquish the chaos scum from the homeland. But it was not the rotted souls of the damned we came across.” “As the four of us slowly crept through the jungle we caught a foul stench. Ssshinta knew that smell, he said it was of the rat-men. We paused. Ssshinta wanted to press on, to discover what we were against. Xiers wanted to report back to command. Nadix and I just looked at each other, unsure of what to do. I am sure that Krogkar never needs to give chameleon's commands, they know the procedure. But we didn't. We didn't expect to find anything, so we hadn't thought to ask. So I decided to send Xiers to report back to command, and the three of us would press on. If we failed, at least Krogkar would get word. Xiers was not happy with that, but he would not argue with my order.” “We pressed forward and slowly came to a clearing. We could see a group of seven rat-men standing around a clearing. They were clearly the scouts for a much larger detachment.” I paused to allow this to sink in, there was dead silence, “So the three of us flashed hand signals to each other. We knew we needed to take them out. It would allow our army to ambush theirs. Armed with only a blowpipe and knives we formulated a plan.” “We slowly moved so three of them were closer to us than the next four. We wedged ourselves between two large trees. Let me assure all of you that, when outnumbered, the position you choose to fight is the most important one you will take. These two trees would make it very hard for them to outflank or surround us.” “Pffffft!” I tried to imitate the sound of a blowpipe, “three shots at close range for three hits. The rat-men heard the sound right away and all seven charged. We stood firm, not wanting to venture a step out from the terrain that favoured us. The poison took forever to kick in, they were right upon us when the three in the front collapsed to the ground. The other four streamed over, tripping over the dead and allow us the chance we needed. Ssshinta drove his knife right through one of their eye, bam!” A murmur of approval came from the crowd, “It distracted me for a second, long enough that I didn't realise my rat-men had not faltered and was upon me in an instance, tackling me straight to the ground. This has never happened at war and I wasn't prepared for it. He was much larger than I, and had taken me by surprise, as we thrashed around on the ground, he soon sat on my chest. I realised he didn't have a weapon, but he had firm grip on my wrist and he scratched and bit my face. I tried to bite back, but he was on top of me and I couldn't seem to move. He drove his claw into my neck which sprung me to life, as I jerked up upwards enough that we once against flailed against each other trying to gain position. Suddenly he punched my head and send me to the ground. It did not hurt but as I looked up I saw him with my knife, in a flash he thrust it at me, then suddenly the knife lost momentum. By the time the knife arched down it had fallen from his hands, the life had gone from his eyes, and he flopped next to me with Ssshinta's knife protruding from his back directly into his heart.” The cheer of the crowd caught me off guard. Yes it was clever to insert Ssshinta into this story. “I looked around and saw the other rat-men had been dealt with. Ssshinta and Nadix were still alive.” I paused here, deliberately. Oh dear crowd, had you forgotten my spawn brother Nadix was unaccounted for? Cheering at the enemy's slaughter, though you did not know what price had been paid? “With this great news I stood back up. We spoke quickly about what to do. We knew our troops were tired. Fighting a new enemy might affect their moral. We wanted to inspire them. So we took our knives to the bodies of the rat-men, and cut their heads off!” The crowd murmured in approval. I struggled with this part of the story, as it was totally true. Except it wasn't true that my reasoning was 'inspiration'. The truth was I don't know why I gave that order. 'Inspiration' was what I told Krogkar later, the best I could figure at the time. What the hell was I thinking? “It turned out to be harder than first thought, and you couldn't help but get that filthy rat-blood all over you. But soon the heads were off, we were drenched, and our knives were slightly blunt. We marched back to the army where we met up with Xiers. We walked up to Krogkar and presented him with the heads, and soon, we marched... to war!!” The cheers were loud and I suppressed any hint of recognition and I climbed down, and slowly made my way back home. It was a year ago I had first told some other skinks about the battles I had been involved in. I had no idea it would grow like this. I certainly did not expect to get word from a skink priest that mighty Slann Mutombo was pleased with me. It had had given me a purpose again. I loved it all so much that it had taken me a long time to understand the Slann's motives. It seemed my war stories had given the population of this temple-city a thirst for battle, they now craved the chance to march on a long campaign and fight evil. They have no idea what war is like: the blood, the screams, the silence, the exhaustion, the months of marching, the hunger, the tiredness, the pointlessness, the death. They gloss over these details to the point I barely include them. More of us died from hunger and poor logistics than combat. They don't want to hear that, they want to hear of the heroism, the brotherhood, and the assurance that all we do is in the name of the Gods and righteousness. It is like my tales put them all under a spell they cannot break free of. Today was the most exaggerated I have told yet. There were not seven rat-man, there was three. And they were dead when we found them. But what can I say? When it comes to my fantasies, they're not the only ones who can't break free. Spoiler: Story Four: Size Really Does Matter Size Really Does Matter Itl'Bit'Smal began the long Lustrian day toiling away as he normally did feeling trapped, more trapped than usual though. His thoughts turned to the chains, those horridly clanking lumps of metal. Everywhere he went, the noises followed him. The inescapable intensity of the bindings began to overwhelm the poor skink. A brief sigh from the little creature was swiftly followed by a sharp intake of smoke from the raging furnace. For a moment he considered throwing himself in, he imagined his remnants being discovered by his fellow workers, a charcoal gathering of tiny skink remains might at least offer them a minor amount of amusement. He chuckled internally at the thought of a Kroxigor barbeque, though his internal workings soon moved in other ways at the idea, a gulp anchored him back to reality, although his existence was at best a miserable one he ultimately dreaded its inevitable ending. He continued to work under the watchful gaze of the saurian task master Grek. The blazing orange sun drifted casually through the sky, its hours-long journey an eternity to the miniscule subjects beneath. Finally the gargantuan ball relinquished its grasp upon its victim and the sweltering jungle fell into darkness as the cold permeated its way through the thickets of dense dystopia, Itl'Bit'Smal found his labour ever harder to carry out with naught but the ember glow of the temple Braziers and the glints of starlight baring down upon the city. In the distance great war drums thrummed and as the ground shook beneath him the Skink wished desperately that he could see something other than the rich golden walls that taunted him, He longed to be amongst the trees, free from the monotonous everyday tasks required of him. The rumbling earth seemed to last an age as there was great commotion around the city, there was much talk among the skinks and saurians of the ledgendary thunder lizard. The Slann atop the temple began franticly waving his webbed hands and chanting incantations not comprehendible to those below, perhaps he had just gone mad. As Itl'Bit'Smal peered into the bleak wilderness that bordered the city he could see mighty jungle trees bending before a giant mass, a hulking monstrosity was headed straight towards the city and all its inhabitants. Was this his moment to escape? Itl'Bit'Smal pondered his options for a time, until there was no time left to ponder. The creature smashed its way through the exterior walls of the temple city. If that Slann had indeed been casting something he was no longer now, though his arms were still flailing they were doing so from some distance as he was being carried out of the city by his loyal temple guard. This was most certainly Itl'Bit'Smal's moment. He had just finished working on his final chain but refused to tie it to the stegadon for which it was intended, in the face of chaos he remained remarkably calm. He would no longer be making these creatures’ slaves to the will of his brothers. He looked at his reflection in the water troth of the beasts and saw staring back at him a changed skink. A sense of heroism shrouded Itl'Bit'Smal as be took to freeing the stegadon's from the bindings he and hundreds other had been working on. While this was going on thousands of lizardmen were either running from the beast or attempting to poke it with weapons that merely grazed its hide. Upon releasing all the Stegadon the revitalized Skink felt still he had more to accomplish. He hatched a plan though uncertain of its chances of success he had to do something. Many steps later Itl'Bit'Smal reached the pinnacle of the city’s aviary, he had never ridden a terradon before, nor had he been close enough to one to touch it. He approached with caution their wings already flapping furiously, they squawked inanely or so he assumed. Only two had stayed, they had a nest a single egg lay at the centre. They watched Itl'Bit'Smal as he edged nearer to them - though more concerned with the behemoth stumbling in their direction they were wise to their tiny intruders movements all the same. Itl'Bit'Smal made eye contact with them both alternately, looking up at them as unthreateningly as he could. He had not imagined to find them there guarding their young. It changed his plans. He spoke softly to them trying to reassure them that he was there to help. They calmed slightly allowing him into the enclosure of the twig laden nest, every one that snapped under a misplaced foot cause the parents’ unease and in turn the skinks safety became ever more questionable. He looked at the egg and then around the room, back at the egg, and around the room again. He left the nest for a while only to return again dragging with him a torn banner, he began miming his intended actions to the parents before wrapping the delicate egg in the comfy confines of silky smooth luxury then tied the make shift nest to his back. The sensation of the whistling wind gushing past his face was an entirely new experience for Itl'Bit'Smal, euphoria overcame him and for the first time in a long time he felt free. He began to shout out elated noises into the air. Below him the tiny torch lights mimicked the stars above them. Conflict was strive amidst the jungle, to the north the battle he had heard not hours before, his saurian comrades were battling ferociously to protect the city from the invading dark elf forces, not knowing the wanton destruction already caused by the beseiging thunder Lizard. The terradons wished to fly their baby to safety however Itl'Bit'Smal steered them in the direction of the fearsome monster, whilst maneuvering overhead he took his chance to 'mount' the beast and leapt from the saddle of the terradon, much to their annoyance. They began squawking once more. He had landed on the head way above the tree line, he wobbled a little but eventually found his footing. A vast force of lizardmen below looked up and saw two Teradons circling - they began war chants to boost the morale of their kin, they assumed the teradons were taking a stand against the colossal creature. They were merely safeguarding their own, they cared not for the fate of their cruel captors. Itl'Bit'Smal made his way towards the enormous globular eyes of the thunder lizard. Curiously though only a spec to the being, it stopped to examine the creature it was playing host to. Itl'Bit'smal began to speak to no avail, he could not be heard - perhaps he was too far from the ears or perhaps the war cries below simply drowned out all else. The humongous eye flickered slightly causing Itl'Bit'Smal to move backwards, a titanic eyelid slid down to a close before opening again shortly after. Itl'Bit'Smal had a thought, he removed the egg from the relative safety of his custom back pack and showed it to the thunder Lizard, he began pointing at the parents in the skies and then the egg, from one to the other he pointed several times. For a moment nothing became of it, until bizarrely the thunder Lizard began to move again, this time it was reversing. Itl'Bit'Smal had managed to communicate with the thunder lizard in a way the Slann had not. He did not try to manipulate the thoughts of the beast merely show him the devastation he was unwittingly causing below. Far from the temple city the Thunder Lizard began to bow its extensive neck, allowing the skink to dismount. On the foliage filled floor Itl'Bit'Smal was greeted at first by the terradons, who he tied the tattered cloth to their talons. They flew off into the night. Then streaming from through the jungle came Saurians, Kroxigors and skinks surrounding him from all sides, hailing him as a hero. Returning to the temple city Itl'Bit'Smal held his head up high he was revered and honored countless times over, he was no longer required to work at the cities forges. Many years on the Slann has yet to return to the city. Instead the leadership falls upon Itl'Bit'Smal's shoulders. He became a historically important skink, the Old Ones saw fit award him with boons beyond reckoning. He would defend his temple city astride his thunder Lizard - though a free roaming creature it would always appear at the cities edge in times of need. Now a skink priest his teachings trickle through time to the aspiring young skinks and saurus of today. "We are all slaves to the Great Plan but we all have the freedom to interpret what that requires of us.." Itl'Bit'Smal Spoiler: Story Five: The Butterfly Effect THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT Chichimek was spawned to serve. Many skinks live lives filled with wonders and personal satisfactions: the scouts that roam the jungle, the warriors that ride the sky, the artisans that build the city. Sometimes he wondered how would have been to live that way, but not today. “I’m late! For the love of the Old Ones, I’m late!” Chichimek was running as if his life was at peril. Despite starting work well before dawn, the removal of spiders’ nests in the lower chambers had been a long affair, and even the cleaning of the accessories for the Solstice Ceremony took far more time than expected; now, the problem was the he needed to pick from the greenhouse the itxi grubs before the precious Bringer of Visions had eaten too much, ruining their flavor. To his immense relief, only the young and immatures grubs were eating, while the grown up were still lazily storing the heat of the sun. The skink picked a bunch of the chubbiest ones and placed them on a bed of leaves in the golden bowl, then he rushed toward the pyramid, slipping between the temple guards at the entrance, that stood immobile, being used to the frantic races of the Slann’s servant. Chichimek ran up the steps, to the higher levels; he passed through the stone portal, moving aside the living curtain of bignonia’s bloomed vines, upon finally entering into the Meditation Chamber, the fatigue, the orders and the endless duties vanished all at once. The Slann Huanch’ai was already floating mid-air upon his throne, bathing in the sun that was entering from the large windows. His relaxed expression had the power to fill the room with serenity. “Here I am, Master. Please forgive me for my lateness”. Chichimek climbed the throne, sitting at the Slann’s side and offering the bowl with the grubs; Huanch’ai started to eat with closed eyes, slowly, without paying attention to the physical gestures. His breath slowed, and time passed… Chichimek, following the rhythm of the Slann, almost entered in a state of drowsiness. “A good picking, Chichimek. It has been… satisfying”. The skink woke up in a blink. The moments when Huanch’ai talked to him, were his most precious treasures. “Have you pondered on the Great Plan, Master?” “The Great Plan? No. That would be bizarre, the Great Plan is not something to be pondered about.” Huanch’ai stood silent, leaving Chichimek with his unsaid doubts for what seemed an eternity. “I sense your uncertainty, Chichimek. I had just pondered on the fact that you need to be aware. Today I will be your teacher, and I will show you the Great Plan.” Chichimek was speechless. He never heard of a Slann explaining the Great Plan, and certainly not to a simple servant. Even the Skink Priests can only guess it! This was almost a heresy… if not that it was a Slann suggesting it. “Don’t stand there like a dumb kroxigor. You have some work to do.” In the end, the work was simple. Chichimek placed 3 pedestals, and on each pedestal was fixed a metal ring, each one large just few inches; the 3 rings were perfectly aligned. He was waiting for more instructions, but apparently Huanch’ai had no others. The Slann took position on one end of the “tunnel of rings” and then closed his eyes, in a relaxed position. Hours passed. Chichimek was wondering what was happening. Apparently, Huanch’ai was sleeping and in the Chamber nothing was changing. Probably the Slann was waiting for the night, when the stars would have made their appearance in the sky. The skink relaxed as well on the stone floor, enjoying the flight of a wonderful butterfly, with iridescent blue wings, that was dancing through the dangling flowers. It was amazing how it was impossible to predict the movements of it… the butterfly explored the room, following her mysterious purposes. Huanch’ai pointed a finger, and a ray of searing light passed through the rings, incinerating the butterfly. Then the Slann opened his eyes. “There, it has been done”. Chichimek was trying to recover from the surprise. “Done… what?” “Isn’t it clear? You’ve built an obligatory route for my spell, and I’ve killed the butterfly.” “but… that butterfly could have never flown in that exact place! It was impossible… how did you know? “Maybe I did, or maybe I didn’t. Look at the moon Chichimek, not at the finger: the point is that the destiny of that butterfly was to die “through” my spell.” “That’s the beauty and the meaning of the Plan, Chichimek: we are all fated… we follow the patterns traced by the Old Ones. The Plan is flawless, and our destiny is to adhere to its perfect scheme, nothing more and nothing less.” “But Master, you are the Slann of this city! You take the decisions that will lead us to the accomplishment of the Plan… I live to serve, but you rule! You are free to choose your destiny… and ours as well!” “Chichimek, you are misguided. I take the decisions, but every time I face a crossroad there’s only one right path, and I have no choice but to take it. The Great Plan is Order, and Order follows its laws. Freedom finds its nest in Chaos, not in my mind. And Chaos will be vanquished.” Huanch’ai picked another grub and closed his eyes, satisfied, floating toward his personal platform, thus signaling that the day was over, leaving Chichimek alone with his thoughts. Chichimek stood immobile for a moment, then he looked at the powder that once was a butterfly, and ran away. Out of his master’s chambers, the breeze was a gentle caress, filled by the scents of the jungle, but he was having difficulty breathing it in, as if an invisible hand were squeezing his heart. What is the meaning of servitude, if your own master is not free? How does anyone appreciate your sacrifice, if there is no choice? Did really the Old Ones just put their children in an invisible cage? From atop of the pyramid, Chichimek stared at the city’s landscape… in the distance, dusk was creeping through the jungle. The evening was dark, and cold. A parrot was perching on the flagstaff of one of the temple’s banners, peaceful and uncaring. Something snapped inside Chichimek. “AARRRGHH! Go away! Find your place in the Great Plan somewhere else!!!” Scared, the bird flew away in a hurry, toward the jungle. Chichimek looked at the shape that was vanishing in the distance, with a bitter taste in mouth. Spoiler: Story Six: The Slave’s Name The Slave's Name The mighty saurus hit the table with a clatter. The laughing captors still poking and prodding her as another strapped her to the upright table. The chains were bound tight around the great lizard. “Which binds-holds you better? The silver or the cold iron?” The robed one jabbed a needle into the saurus’ arm. “You haven’t disappeared-vanished yet. That’s strange-intriguing, but don’t you fret-worry, I have a backup plan-thing.” The horned creature took a large carving knife from the table. “Did your frog-master forget about you? Well you have a new master-boss now. How would you like to be my slave-thing?” The greyseer smirked. The great saurus growled. "A slave is a slave, no matter who the master-thing. Did your master give you the ability to speak? Did the frog-beast even give you a name?” The sunblood thrashed about and roared. She tried desperately to remember her name. She knew that she was a memory, that the units she led were memories. She tried to think of their names, but the names she knew them by, she had assigned. “That’s how they keep-detain you, they take away your name, your personality. You must be very unimportant though. Normally you reptile-things disappear before reaching my lab.” The skaven cut into the sunblood’s arm and caught the seeping starlight in a jar. The horned rat then put some sort of tube in the wound before it closed up. The powerful saurus continued to jerk and thrash about in her bindings. Furiously trying to remember life before. The jungles, the patrol routes, the warriors who fought alongside her. The memories were foggy, murky. Trying desperately to find her name. What few memories she did possess were slow to come, it was like trying to march through a swamp. She remembered that the warriors she currently led were not her spawn kin. A lot of chirping and squeaking came from the vents. They weren’t words, at least not as far as she could understand. “We haven’t got long now. Do you hear how excited-scared they are? You need not worry-fret. I always have a backup plan-scheme.” The saurus roared and continued to struggle against her restraints. Whatever was being pumped into her arm was painful and heavy. “You don’t talk anyway, so let my assistants’ muzzle-bind your snout.” Two rats came with an oversized muzzle to keep their arms out of jaw reach. They strapped it behind the saurus’ head and turned a key to tighten it. The smirking rat made another incision from the neck to the shoulder. The two rats pulled on a chain attached to the muzzle, keeping the saurus’ snout away from the incision. The horned greyseer carefully inserted something into the opening and began to suture it closed. “Soon little slave-creature you will talk-squeak.” The robed rat began eating a little green stone. His eyes were glowing and he was chanting something unintelligible. A bolt of green lightning hurled toward the restrained sunblood. A jolt went up her spine and something wholly unpleasant started squeaking beside her. The rats dropped the muzzle chain, and she looked over, horrified to see a rat head attached to her shoulder. “I have installed a translator-squeaker for you. Do you like it?” The saurus roared with fury. The translator shrieked with her. “I would say the operation was a success. Now slave, tell me, do you have a name?” The saurus grunted. “I don’t know my name.” The translator chirped. “Poor slave-beast, I can give you a new-new name. Since some of my portals to the realms have been closed-shut, you must tell me, can you feel how close your frog-master is?” The saurus glared hard at the little horned one. “A good slave-monster, always loyal to the end. That’s alright, I feel-sense it. Cut the chains-binds.” The two rats started removing the chains when the wall exploded into the room. Debris flying inward the skaven scattered. The sunblood stood there, stone and dust crashing into her scales. “Now-Now” Shrieked the greyseer. Saurus guard started shuffling into the room followed by a floating palanquin. The ground began rumbling under the guard. The troop of saurus tried to scatter, but some fell through the floor as it collapsed. Another found itself impaled and spinning on a massive drill. The six armored rats emerged from the floor and began shooting. The slann raised its hands, lightning began to form around it. One of the giant storm vermin ducked back under ground, the rest were skeletons in the blink of an eye. The remaining hulking vermin jumped back up to the floor and peppered any standing saurus with his rattling gun. The Slann raised his hands again and the monstrous rat was nothing more than a pink mist. “Welcome to my lab frog-toad thing. Have you come to serve me?” The greyseer laughed and popped some warpstone into his mouth. The slann began casting some spell, the greyseer furiously trying to unbind the magic forming in the room. Five half formed cold ones and their riders died limply on the floor. “Well slave-thing, this is your chance at freedom. Do you dare to free yourself from the master-toad?” The sunblood roared. “Freedom.” The translator shouted. The slann looked at the traitorous saurus and blinked. The sunblood did not disappear. The slann’s eyes opened wide as the shadows around it came alive. Two cloaked skaven plunged their poison tipped blades into the mighty slann. The sunblood picked up a piece of the destroyed stone wall and jumped up on to the palanquin. She bashed the rock into the head of the slann, caving in its skull. “Now you are truly free. If you choose-decide, you can be a great warlord of one of our many clans. You can be the master-thing.” “What is my name?” The translator chirped as the saurus grunted. “Warlord Skullcrusher.” The greyseer laughed its shrill laugh. Spoiler: Story Seven: Kin and Master Kin and Master “Your brother’s in trouble. And I mean real trouble." “What’s he done now?” “Damn you. He’s your brother. There’s some very bad people after him.” “That’s not unusual for him.” She answered with a pause. “Reps” she said, finally. “Holy Morr. Reps? Really? Reps? Holy - what’s he done?” “I need you to get him back to me.” “No way, I’m not gettin-“ “I need you, to get him back, for me.” “I ain’t in that line of work anymore, mom.” “The hell you ain’t, Jahns. Whilst you were out murderin’, your brother was working his business-“ “Business? He’s a dealer.” “Working. His. Business. Morr saves, why you boys so competitive? At least Bjorn gives me that gold, helped me get the manse, got me a life: what did you do? Murdered for petty cash. Spilling blood ain’t good for gold, it ain’t helping your family. Family’s what matters here. You can’t escape your blood. You help your brother, you help me.” … Bright slices of fluorescence painted their own geometry across the plaza: pinks and blues redefined temple angles, merging step and sculpture within fierce neon glare. Giant text scrawled across the shuffling bodies, faces briefly highlighted by projections of the daily news. Above, great psionic plaques disseminated propaganda: “report foreign products, friend and family”, “report all heresy, friend and family”, “report all criminal activity, friend and family”, “your life is your city, your city is ours”. Jahns hurried out of the plaza. Hidden under his jacket his old long-knife and pistol were feeling worryingly comfortable at his side; he was going to escape this city one day. Jahns followed the narrower streets to the Red Quarter. Reps didn’t usually go there: an old artisan quarter, it was far enough from the sacred and martial regions to be ignored by most Reps. If it didn’t bind to their religion the Reps usually got rid, but the bosses out here paid enough tithe to keep it running. Reps were smart but they were narrow-minded: as long as the piece fitted it didn’t matter how many grubby hands it had to pass through first. Bjorn had few hangouts his people didn’t know, and none would be safe from the Reps for long. They were efficient and resolute, especially in murder. They were methodical though, and if Bjorn shared as much brains as he did blood then Jahns knew exactly were his brother could hide-out the longest. Overhead lights blazed from the ancient watchtowers, their red glare swallowing the Quarter’s narrow streets. Red walls, red clothes, red eyes. Only the doorways offered some escape. Glinting eyes and the burning nubs of cigarettes followed Jahns through the street from their shadowy refuge. Occasionally one would step out, sometimes selling food, sometimes spice, sometimes the vague promise of fun. Jahns slowed, tasting the air: the faint tang of salt. He turned and hurried down a curving alley, its narrow walls yawning into a small square. On the other side was an old salter’s cabin, built from when the first traders were allowed to settle on the Lustrian coast. Jahns cautiously clambered up to a small window. Nudging its old frame it popped open and, gingerly, he clambered inside. Shafts of red light intersected the attic, exposing its furtive contents: furniture, old clothes, and mounds of poorly wrapped-paper packages. Jahns felt like he was peering through the slats of a wagon, or the bars of a prison. Something bounded of the shadows, caught piecemeal by the red light before vanishing again: suddenly a torso, a flash of leg, the glint of a knife. Closer and closer. Jahns whipped the pistol out from his jacket and stepped into the light. “Bjorn” he hissed. The person stopped, wavering with momentum. “Jahns. The hell you doing here? ” Jahns lowered his pistol, still uneasy he kept his thumb on the hammer. “Bjorn, we need to go.” “Woah now, buddy. I ain’t heading nowhere. These guys after me-“ “The Reps.” Bjorn paused, stepping forward, a red shaft illuminated half his face, the other half still lost in shadow. Dark lines of concern creased his features. “Reps?” Jahns returned the look. “Yeah…?” “Holy Morr, you serious Jahns? Reps? Oh, Sigmar’s mother. Reps? I’m going to die. I’m going to die” Jahns swore. How did he not know? “I’m going to have my heart on an altar.” “Listen, Bjorn.” Jahns gripped his brother by the shoulders. “Listen…” “Morr take me, I’m not ready to get cut up like that.” Jahns grabbed him by the chin. “Look at me Bjorn. You’re not going to die. I’m taking you to mom.” Bjorn paused again, incredulity spreading across his face. “You’re joking?” Jahns shook his head, he hadn’t the time for this. “We’re going to mom. You’ll be safe. That place is like Altdorf. And mom’s got her claws into so many guys high up - you can hide out in luxury, right?” Jahns could see the cogs slowly whirring: fight or flight, freedom or family. Jahns knew his brother wouldn’t survive long without help, and so did Bjorn. “Fine. Let me grab my gear.” Bjorn scurried over to a dim corner and hastily threw on a satchel, scooping up the many loose coins and pouring them in, the gold catching the crimson glare. “Bjorn, we don’t have much time.” “Yeah, I know. I know” Bjorn mumbled as he stuffed as much paper packages in his bag as possible. “If I lose this spice I’m dead. Well, even deader.” He chuckled nervously. “Jahns, you know she’s using you?” Bjorn asked, “She even paying you?” Jahns ignored him and slipped out of the window. Carefully they eased their way down the cabin, Bjorn taking his time to steady his satchel as he reached the bottom. “Oh, holy…” In the middle of the square stood a tall figure, taller than any man. It was still save for the rhythmic flick of its tail. Its shadows spreading as compass points, clawing up the sheer buildings. “Listen, Bjorn” Jahns whispered, so quiet he was barely making a sound. The square was so silent he was sure the Rep could still hear him. “Bjorn, you won’t die here. I won’t let you. When I run, you get the hell out of here, yeah?” “Yeah, no worries Jahns: I can run fast even with this.” Bjorn patted his satchel. “You know a safe path?” “I ain’t survived this long without a good few escape routes.” “Alright.” Jahns’ hand hovered over his jacket: he had enough distance for one good shot, but no doubt the Rep would sprint as soon as he unholstered his pistol. He could easily miss. Rep scales were like armour too, he couldn’t even guarantee the shot would wound. No, he’d have to go straight to swordplay. Jahns drew his long-knife and launched himself at the Rep. The sound of Bjorns feet echoed across the square. Blue scales flashed as the Rep lunged in response, its toothed blade unsheathed and flashing through the air. The Rep ignored Jahns’ threat and thundered straight for Bjorn, its monstrous shadows mimicking the violent motion. A crescent flashed and red glittered. Gold span and chimed across the square. Gutted packets emptied clouds of spice. Bjorn’s steps still echoed about the square, the only corpse the tattered remains of his satchel. Jahns covered his mouth from the loosed clouds: now was not the time to get spiced. The Rep, unaffected, stood still – the spice billowing over its body as a shroud – its head turned to eye the human dashing towards him. Jahns leaped, throwing his momentum behind the knife. Then a sudden movement: Jahns’ blade locked in the teeth of the Rep’s blade. The Rep quickly twisted his arms, arcing the blade and wrenching Jahn’s long-knife free. Jahns watched in blooming terror as his weapon spiralled away from him. The Rep, knife still spinning through the air, lunged forward and ran its fist into Jahns’ head. Jahns blinked. Red. Red walls. Red eyes. He wiped the blood trickling from his forehead and pushed himself up, head spinning. The square was empty. But he was alive. Somehow. He needed to catch up to Bjorn, he needed to beat the Rep. … Towering above the Red Quarter and straddling one of the cities bridges rose mother’s manse. Its sharp edges were highlighted by blues shafts as if presented by the adoring river below. Only the ancient temples rose higher. The image was spoilt by the Red Quarter, its glare bruising much of the manse. The manse’s walls were patrolled by private militia, intimidating all but foolish men and the resolute. There was no frenzy of activity. Wherever the Rep had gone, it wasn’t there. Unnerved, Jahns itched to reach his family. The threat of the Rep would’ve been disseminated throughout the security and paranoid guards would only slow him. There was a secret passageway under the bridge used for covert business. It was used only sparingly in case some pragmatic or murderous rival caught notice, but Jahns couldn’t risk delay. Near the peak of the manse was mother’s office, positioned at the confluence of corridors and antechambers. Doused in ambient blue, it gave Jahns the uncomfortable feeling of descent, of sinking through deep oceanic tunnels. Even the windows were tinted to block out the Quarter’s light. Mother’s office was shut by old, bronze doors adorned with writhing figures. Supposedly a celebration of life, the contorted bodies were hellish in the light – souls tortured in icey depths. Jahns caressed the firm handle of his pistol. Family reunions were never pleasant. He entered. Letters fluttered about the room. Chairs were knocked over. Mother lay sprawled, her abdomen bloodied. Her eyes open and still. Bjorn jumped to his feet, tightly gripping a wet knife. “Sigmar’s – the hell have you done Bjorn?” Jahns whipped out his pistol and slammed down the hammer. Bjorn raised his hands, still gripping the knife. “Woah, Jahns, let’s not – listen. I had to. You saw – that Rep sliced up my gear: all that gold, the spice- the revenue. I’ve already got people after me-“ “Morr’s name, she’s your mother Bjorn!” “I didn’t want to, Jahns. I didn’t. Please. I gave her all this: this house, her life. Everything. I made her a tycoon. You know her – she used you Jahns, she always has – and she wouldn’t give me anything. Trust me: nothing. I need gold. I need it.” Jahns’ arm trembled and he cursed under his breath. He took aim. Bjorn moved forward. “Morr’s – Jahns. Listen to me. I lost so much gold. I need to survive. We need to survive-” Shoot him. Bjorn took another step. “I’ve got a Rep on my tail, I got people expecting pay. I’m big league but I need to keep people happy-“ Shoot him. Another step. “I can make it go away. She has so much stashed. It was mine anyway-“ Shoot him. One more step. “Gods, Jahns, I’m your brother!” His finger was frozen on the trigger. Jahns swore and pushed the hammer back in place. Mother was right after all. Jahns was knocked down, pistol spinning away. Bjorn was thrown across the room, knife clattering to the floor. His body flung against a window. A web of jagged light spun across the glass, cutting up the room with shafts of red. Bjorn crumpled forward, a glittering spray of glass cascading about him. Jahns stared at his brother, wondering if such inhuman strength could kill so easily. Bjorn coughed up some blood, a shallow breathing followed. Not quite. Jahns scrambled at his pistol and pointed it at the assailant: emerging from the doorway was the Rep. Its cobalt scales magnified in the ambient blue light. The Rep had become the colour. The pistol shook in Jahns' hand. Pathetic. He was frozen, eyes locked on the Rep. He glanced out of the shattered window. It was a long way down, but he could escape. The Rep moved. “How did you get in?” Jahns asked in reflex: keep him busy, keep him away. The Rep passed Jahns without looking, wading through the neon shafts: blue then red then blue again. Its gaze fixed on his prey. “Vigilance” it replied, coolly. Jahns found himself lowering his gun. His muscles ached. He was tired. “What you going to do with me?” Jahns replied. The Rep hoisted the bodies over it shoulders. Blood spilled down its scales. “You? You’re nothing. A hired killer, one of a million in this city. Now these-” the Rep patted the bodies, “these will make news: an infamous dealer and corrupt tycoon brought down in a night. A spice family imploding. Chaos from humanity. Your kind are going to be shaking tomorrow.” The Rep cocked its head in something Jahns suspected was akin to satisfaction. “Didn’t even have to wet by blade either.” The Rep nodded at the letters fluttering across the room. “Your spawn-queen didn’t even question the tip. No hot-blood is going to ignore that kind of threat, especially to their spawnlings. You hot-bloods and your vices: this is why you’re bottom rung.” It turned to make for the door, before pausing and titling its head slightly in Jahns’ direction. “Family, right? That’s what you call it, your spawn-brood?” Jahns nodded. “You’re going to have a tough one: guilt by association. You can’t escape your blood. Expect a call from the Temple Inquisitors tomorrow. If you’re lucky they’ll get you working some life debt: you’re going to be in this city a while yet hot-blood. Remember: you are the city, and the city is ours.” The Rep started walking. The red light creeping down its head, back, and tail until it had left the room. Its cobalt silhouette blurred with the ambient light, disappearing like some oceanic monster. Only the bloodied bodies of his family were visible, floating in blue void. Jahns looked back out of the shattered glass. It was a long way down, but he could escape. All the Reps in the city would be after him, but he could escape. Bjorn was alive, but he could escape. Jahns stood up and swore to himself, clicking the hammer down on his pistol. Spoiler: Story Eight: Freedom & Slavery: 3000 Freedom & Slavery: 3000. The Kroxigors stood in a long line, waiting to work, as they had done since the first of their race was spawned, millennia ago. Now though, they toiled for chaos, tearing massive glyphs into the jungle. Hour by hour, silent except for the crash of foliage, they went about their task, forming glyphs of dark power and praise to Father Nurgle from the wreckage of the forest. Night fell, dawn rose, the sun once more waned in power and fell. No one noticed, bar a few servants of the great trickster, but the nights were slowly drawing longer, even as the calendar said spring should be breaking and the long cold nights of winter should be ending. Without the sacrifices, without Chotec’s power, the sun was dying. The Kroxigors kept working, until they collapsed. There was no rest allowed for them. Even if there had been, the water was tainted, the foliage fouled and the animals poisoned. The spawning pools of the first race had long since been corrupted to serve chaos, the Slann long ago put to the sword. The Lizardmen lived without guidance or aim, bar that of chaos. Centuries ago, the gods of light had, to a being, sacrificed their lives, bleeding out their energy to prevent the dark four or their minions entering and destroying the world. They had hoped to give the races of the land time to recover. Instead, they had merely forced pandemonium to wait a little longer to truly break free. The races had no chance. Humanity had long since been beaten down, mere meat-chattels to the dark gods. The elves had fallen, Naggaroth’s inhabitants reclaiming their ancient lands, perverting or killing all in their path. The dwarves had been overrun and slaughtered by the skaven, who had, in their turn, been forced to serve chaos directly, or be killed. Almost to a rat, they chose servitude, the remaining seers and inquisitors fleeing to the darkest tunnels, to wither and die. All that remained free were the handful of lizards, blessed by the gods, who were too canny and too powerful to fall the the corruption, or to the corruptions’ servants. In the Southlands, though Pestlins combed the swamps and jungles fern by fern, and chaos-twisted Dwarves had caved-in the caverns of Sotek, they were still yet to find Tenehauin, or his personal, Sotek-blessed, Saurii bodyguards. In Lustria itself, the searchers had been far more efficient. Though they had failed to find Oxycotl, his skin hiding him from sight, every other champion of note had been hunted down, brought to battle, and overwhelmed through sheer weight of numbers. Or so they thought. Every champion whose name had made men and beasts alike tremble had been killed. But what of those champions less known? The ones who, somehow, missed the end? The Saurii and blessed skinks who still fought for the Great Plan. They were order’s only hope of, if not prevailing, at least forcing a draw or an annoying delay. Somewhere in the jungles, a fresh spawning of Kroxigors toil, enslaved to chaos. In the hills and hinterlands above them, though, a lone wardrum sounds, calling the last free Lizardmen to another battle, to decide the final twists of the world’s fate. Spoiler: Story Nine: Slaves to Our Own Demons SLAVES TO OUR OWN DAEMONS His body had been consumed by the fires of Armageddon. He had died with the old world but his master the Slann had protected his memories. They were all he was now. The first that came to him when he stepped out of the spawning pool in high Azyr and gained physical form. He was now a daemon of light. Fighting when he got summoned to the mortal realms, fighting until death took him. And then reemerge from the spawning pools in the temple city. The bright light faded and Xilour broke free from his thoughts and looked around they were sounded by crooked trees and puddles of murky water probably in Ghur or Ulgu. Their Oldblood Tezcatlipoca roared to announce his presence. “Right now is a Warband of devotes to Nurgle heading towards a village north of our location. In line with our attrition strategy we are sent here to cull the village and deny their souls from chaos.” “Move out brothers!” And to those words they started to march north throw the fen. “I wonder why the Slann can’t just beam us down to the middle of the town square.” Said Xilour to his brother scar veteran Yuatac. “They have been acting strange lately.” Yuatac replied “You mean more strange than normally.” “Yes, I think they have overthought the Great Plan and done it too complicated.” “Indeed brother, there are too many points that could fail.” “In the Old world we never did things like this killing innocent people in their homes.” “No but my memories are shady,” Yuatac sounded troubled. “Don’t dwell on it to long, friend.” Xilour said with an encouraging strike on the shoulder. They continued in silence wading through the water under low hanging moss. An eerie shrike echoed among the tree trunks which caused the Sauruses to take a defensive formation in the blink of an eye, acting on instinct. The fen was quiet. No birds nor other creatures made any sounds. The seconds past by turning into minutes. The Sauruses standing immovable patiently waiting for something. Their instincts telling them that an attack were imminent. Slowly the sounds of the swamp returned. Then a cascade of water shot up just before the column and an enormous water worm shot up and snatched Oldblood Tezcatlipoca. With it’s massive maw, it crushed his body and his mind departed in a flash of light. In a heartbeat the Sauruses surged forward cutting and slicing at the worm before it could do any more harm and they quickly put it down with only a couple more casualties. And so after the battle they gathered around the two scar veterans. Yuatac was the first to speak. “Well, this were problematic but Xilour, you are the best commander so you can take over” After he finished speaking he bowed down and all the other Sauruses followed suit. Xilour raised his chin in response, like all Sauruses he know what was strategically best. He had known it since before the dawn of the world while he was still of flesh and blood. With nothing further to do he ordered the continuation of the mission, they would meet Tzcatlipoca back in high Azyr. The rest of the march wasn’t particularly troublesome and they arrived at the end of the fen. Looking out from under the trees they saw the vanguard of the chaos warband clashing with the village militia. Seeing the opportunity to take out some of the followers of Nurgle. Xilour ordered the charge to catch them between the hammer of their attack and the anvil that was the villager’s defense. “Is this not like the old days!” Xilour shouted to Yuatac “Indeed brother. It feels good to fight the enemy head on again!” Yuatac shouted back as they fought their way through the mutants. The battle were brief and soon they had put down the vanguard. After the battle the Sauruses were gathered around Xilour. Fighting alongside the villagers had put them in a peculiar situation. The humans were cheering and welcoming them as saviors. The soldiers looked to Xilour for guidance. But Xilour could not could not create a plan for culling the village. In his memory he known he had fought alongside their race many times and to kill them now would be murder. And when memories were all you were you had to make sure you were careful with which ones you added. “We will save these people, if we die we can come back, but we must save they who can’t!” With these words Xilour walked out of the village, his men following after him and created a defensive line whit the villagers behind them. Looking out over the crop field he saw the followers of Nurgle approaching through the mist of the fen. Knowing that the battle was about to start he allowed himself to think as a form of meditation before the battle. He knew why he had made the decision his inner daemons prohibited him from following the Slann’s order. It was not because of a weak mind when your mind is all you are, your daemons are you. You are the daemon and certainly he was not a slave, he was a daemon! Spoiler: Story Ten: Cell Duty Cell Duty Bill Knecht stared straight ahead as he felt the gentle rolling of the waves in the soles of his feet, and tasted the acid sweetness of the sea air. Far above his head, he could hear the faint cawing of gulls, shrieking their autonomy to the four winds. The view consisted of wood grain, tracing its stripes across the crudely sawed planks of Bill’s below-decks station. He hadn’t seen daylight for 6 hours. A particularly aggressive snort at his right elbow snatched him from his reverie and he clutched suddenly at the long poleaxe on which he had been leaning. “Hamish!” he said, kicking the slumped figure beside him. “You can’t just sleep on the job!” “Hrmphgrahbleedinrookie,” mumbled the elderly Hamish, without opening his eyes, his thick white stubble scratching audibly against his own poleaxe that he was using as a pillow. “What if the captain comes!?” “Capncangterhell,” opined the dozing guardsman. Bill stared down at him. His eyes began to simmer. “Please, mate, be a pal. I’ll be in just as much trouble if I let you sleep.” Hamish threw renewed vehemence into his returning snort, but at least he opened his eyes and pulled his wizened head up onto the top of the neck where it was supposed to be. “Trouble, eh?” he barked. “That’s the problem with you young’uns. This whole thing is trouble. Godstakemallbloodythievesnscunnersthelotfthem,” he added, as he gestured expansively and his pole clanked onto the boards beneath. “What do you mean, ‘whole thing’?” asked Bill as he stooped and retrieved Hamish’s weapon. The latter gave him another beady look. “Yknow. All o’t. Life n’such.” “Actually I think I know exactly what you mean. This whole trip...what was the point? Great big pile of trouble for no reason if you ask me.” “Eh? That right? So why’s you ‘ere then?” Bill looked thoughtful. “I don’t even know. All I want to be is back in Freiberg with Gertrude, she’s the love of my life she is. I’m going to ask her to marry me the moment I see her.” Bill couldn’t tell if Hamish was laughing or coughing. Whichever it was, it looked painful. “I mean it!” he continued, trying to ignore him. “Wish I’d never come out here. Going to foreign parts where everything kills you, where everything’s a hundred times bigger than it’s got any right to be. That kind of adventure is all well and good for fireside chat on a winter’s evening but it’s not for decent folks like me, not in real life.” Hamish’s wracking hawks began to subside. But Bill was just getting started. “Four ruddy months on a floating prison, trapped like birds in a cage, only to find ourselves in heathen lands where you can’t go anywhere without the rest of your platoon if you don’t want to get eaten or worse...and that’s if you don’t get the Fever. Captain treating me like a criminal all the time. Like I’m nothing, worthless. Then four ruddy months back again...and for what? So we locked up a few monsters, a few nice big slaves for Lord Machthaber, but what do I get out of it, eh? Stupid cell duty!” There was a silence as the two men listened to the gulls, barely audible through the planks above their head. “Y’sure do like to moan, heh,” said Hamish. “Yeah, well...I’m just annoyed is all. I feel like I’m wasting my life, trapped in this stupid job I don’t want…” “That ain’t wastin’,” spat Hamish. “That there is life, laddie. We’s all trapped, this side of the bars o’ that,” he gestured to the door behind them with a grin. “All I know is, I’m getting out. I’m going to do better by Gertrude. I’m going to turn my life around, starting by standing up to that twisted old sock of a Ca- oh morning Captain!” Bill shouted manically, snapping to attention. Hamish spat again. “Ma’am,” he conceded to the smartly dressed naval officer advancing down the stairs towards them. She fixed a withering expression on Bill. It had all of Hamish’s beadiness with an extra helping of disgust. “Please, do enlighten us by finishing that fascinating thought, Private Knecht.” “Uh, just saying that everything’s shipshape in the cells, Captain,” shouted Bill, not daring to meet her gaze. There was a sound of wrenching, tortured metal from behind the door to the brig, followed by silence. Even the omnipresent cawing of the gulls seemed to have finally abandoned them. “What, Private Knecht, was that?” said the Captain. “Must be the natural movement of the vessel, ma’am!” yelled Bill, trying to prevent the dripping sweat of his forehead from running into the corners of his hysterical smile. Neither of them noticed Hamish surreptitiously vanishing into alternative parts of the ship. “Indeed. It certainly couldn’t be one of the slaves having broken loose, because you personally inspected all the cells and locks yourself at regular intervals, isn’t that so, Private?” “Uh, uh, well not so much inspected as...uh - Johnny Hautkopf swore he’d done it this morning when I relieved him, ma’am.” “Very well. Please proceed to perform the inspection immediately, Knecht, and should any prisoners have escaped, return them to their quarters post haste.” There was the sound of more metal - large, heavy chunks of metal - being twisted and rent. “Go in there alone, Captain?! Those things are seven feet tall! All muscles and teeth and ...tails!” Bill shuddered and clutched obsessively at his glorified spear as he recalled the way the horrible reptile-biped things had thrashed and roared when they had finally captured them. “I’m afraid it is you who is on cell-duty, Private. And your companion seems to have deserted in the face of the enemy.” Bill looked back and forth from the door to the piercing glare of the captain. Then he put his hand to his chest and clutched something through his tunic. He hadn’t shown his locket, containing its twin portraits of him and a full-bodied Empire lass, to anyone. He raised his chin and pulled himself upright. “You can’t make me!” he cried. “I’m not just some mindless beast, like those creatures in there. I have rights! I’m not going to just do whatever you say - so there!” Captain and private faced each other. Bill realised for the first time, with considerable surprise, that he was taller than her. He was even more surprised when the gigantic lizardman burst through the flimsy wooden door with a grunt and looked around. Bill backed away and impulsively lowered his poleaxe. Without seeming to think about it, the creature grabbed the weapon by its shaft and shoved the wooden beam up against Bill’s throat, pinning him to the wall behind. It stared into his eyes for a second, with an expression that looked to Bill like anger. Then it dropped him and burst up the stairs onto the deck above. There were shouts from the men, and then a splash. The Captain regarded it all like a fairground sideshow, a single eyebrow raised in dispassionate critique. Then she moved to the stricken form of Bill, and felt for a pulse. Just as she thought, the boy was dead, neck snapped cleanly by the escapee. The ship continued to bob silently in its vast expanse of open ocean, and the gulls continued to caw overhead. Spoiler: Story Eleven: In Pursuit of Freedom In Pursuit of Freedom Grifiel heard a mild tapping on the bars of his cell door. The stooped human called Gofer was there. He brought Grifiel his meal. The manacled lizard bent towards the small human. “Next challenger is ogre.” He whispered. “Thank you.” Grifiel rarely thanked skinks. It felt weird to thank a human. He pitied the humans, but he recognized a sort of kinship. They lacked his strength, but they were victims just as he was. Gofer and Tad were willing to give Grifiel information. Grifiel in turn maimed their least favorite guard, Beluar, last year. At least he thought it was last year. Seasons do not pass normally here; time was difficult here. Grifiel understood some Eldarin, but he struggled to recall what “ogre”. Ogres are what elves call the larger members of the Fifth Race. The Big Eaters. The Crowd loved to see death, but they also liked interesting fights. Grifiel had won most of his fights. Without the Crowd’s support, Grifiel could not survive even one loss. Exotic fighters were prized. An ogre gladiator was almost as rare as a saurus. Grifiel remembered what he could about big eaters. Back home, He fought a group of raiders that included some Big Eaters. Their weakness is their stomachs. Skinks scared away most of the easy game to make the Eaters hungry and irritable. The saurus solution is to cut open the Eaters’ stomachs and watch them die. Eaters are strong on the charge. Faster than kroxigor but softer. Must deny him the charge. Too many humans and elves, don’t remember the last time I fought something with a longer reach than me. Need to get in close. Eater will protect stomach. Feint for limb, THEN hit stomach. Tad brought his next meal. “They will put Gofer in Blood Rites.” “Mahrlect!” “What?” the Human asked. Grifiel switched back to Eldarin. “I not want Gofer die like that. Set him free” The Blood Rite involved slow torture of slaves inflicted by the Witch Elves for the Crowd’s delight. “What he do make angry the Master of the Games?” “I not know. No talk more. Not want be next!” Grifiel pondered the events. The elves liked to cause pain on the humans. They tried physical pain of all sorts on Grifiel. This did not work. Saurus are used to pain. The elves often make humans harm their friends. They tried to hurt Grifiel by making him fight captured skinks in one of his first arena fights. This did not work. The skinks did not fight back and Grifiel was happy to set them free, they could not endure like Grifiel. They tried to make him fight a Cold One. The saurus joined with his “adversary” and the two killed or crippling several guards before Grifiel was incapacitated while the Crowd watched. The Crowd was so amused that they demanded Grifiel get to live to fight again. Grifiel won three fights after that the elves intended to be his execution. The last was against, Abarat, a guard who lost a hand to his Cold One. He affixed a sword to his stump and held a shield in his other hand. Grifiel was unarmed and had had his claws manacled behind his back. Abarat walked away missing both hands. The crowd demanded both fighters. Grifiel earned his title: Bloodjaw, the Flesh Biter. Abarat began a celebrated career as a professional gladiator: Two Swords, the Terrible, winning seventeen fights before perishing. He was free of his ridicule. The Crowds decision to let him live was not out of mercy. Grifiel knew making it home was impossible. Lustria was too far away the wilderness was too cold to survive. His escape attempts had a different purpose: Destroy the Fallen as the Sotek intends. Grifiel would eventually kill enough elves that they would no longer justify keeping him alive, then he would be free. His ultimate goal was to kill the Master of the Games or else enter the stands and lay waste to the Crowd. Both the Master of the Games and the elves who watched the games were a pox on the Great Plan that needed to be cleansed. Eight guards came to drag him to the arena. Beluar limped to the fore. “You’re dead! Unlike you, the ogre never lost a match! I’m just sorry I won’t get a chance at you first!” He hit the saurus with a scourge. It would have stripped flesh off a human’s back, but the saurus barely felt it. Grifiel laughed. “After I give ogre first defeat, you can go next. Get nice title like Two Swords the Terrible. One Leg the Wondrous!” The other guards all laughed. Beluar drew a blade. Another Elf interjected. “D’arvit! Beluar, take it easy.” The guards laughed some more, Beluar drew bashed the other guard with his blade hilt sending him sprawling to the floor. “Don’t tell me what to do!” He raised the blade towards the manacled Saurus. The guards shouted out, some admonishing, some encouraging. “Stay your hand, Beluar!” the Master of the Games stepped forward from the shadows. The guards fell silent. “I would not see our prize fighter damaged…not here.” The guards began leading Grifiel away. A stern look from their leader signaled Beluar was not follow. “See you in the Arena, Beluar.” Grifiel grunted. Grifield heard Beluar mutter “D’arvit” as he was led away. The elves love to deliver cuts and cutting remarks, but they cannot take what they serve. Grifiel was led to a cell adjacent to the arena. He peered through the bars. He could see the arena and hear the roaring of the Crowd, their chants, boos, cheers, exclamations and curses. Above them rang augmented voice of the Master of the Games. The pompous Fallen liked to make up elaborate stories about each fighter. Grifiel usually tuned it out. First some human slaves were fed to hungry animals. Next two elves fought to the death for either a title, a mate, a pile of coins, or something else equally worthless. Next was reenactment of a famous battle against the Elves of Ulthuan. The Prodigal “elves” played by human slaves armed with shiny and functional weapons and armor but absolutely no training. Next some untrained slaves fought each other, the Crowd found this hilarious. Next came an actual warrior. Grifiel forced himself to pay attention in case they had to fight later. “NEXT UP WE HAVE A WARRIOR OF THE EMPIRE. EXILED FOR MURDERING A COMMANDNG OFFICER, HE BECAME A PIRATE HARASSING HIS FORMER KIN. THEN HE TRIED TO ATTACK ONE OF OUR SHIPS! ONLY THIS HUMAN SURVIVED! CAN HE SURVIVE HIS NEXT CHALLENGE? FOR HIS FOURTH AND GREATEST BATTLE IN THE ARENA, ALDRIK OF THE CRIMSON BLADE!” Aldrik fought seven untrained Humans in a loose circle around him. If they all rushed him at once they could have beaten him, but they hesitated. A seasoned warrior, Aldrik did not hesitate. Grifiel carefully studied his fighting technique carefully. Grifiel was dragged on deck for the match after next. “DEEP WITHIN THE JUNGLES OF LUSTRIA— “Bloodjaw! Bloodjaw! Bloodjaw!” “—THERE WAS A CROCODILE WARRIOR SO SAVAGE, SO BESTIAL THAT HIS TOAD-LIKE MASTER DROVE HIM OUT OF HIS CITY OF GOLD AND LEFT HIM IN THE JUNGLE TO LIVE A SAVAGE BEAST—” “Bloodjaw! Bloodjaw! Bloodjaw!” “TILL HE WAS CAPTURED BY OUR BRAVE SOLDIERS AND BROUGHT HERE. PRESENTING KARON KARR’S OWN CHAMPION, BLOODJAW THE FLESH BITER!” “BLOODJAW! BLOODJAW! BLOODJAW!” The elves made human slaves unlock Grifiel’s manacles. Today it was Gofer. Gofer handed him a shield and a weapon. “I not want go Blood Rite.” He whispered “I set you free.” Now unshackled, the saurus raised a massive fist and brought it down on the human’s head, crushing his skull instantly. A quick death. The Crowd roared in delight. Grifiel shouted the line he was forced to say before every match followed by his favorite Saurian line disguised as a bestial roar. “Blood for Khaine! Sotek consume all the false gods!” “BLOODJAW CANNOT WAIT FOR THE CARNAGE TO BEGIN! BUT CAN HE DEFEAT HIS NEXT CHALLENGER? DRIVEN FROM HIS TRIBE AS A THREAT TO THE CHIEF. THIS OGRE HAD SLAIN NUMEROUS MIGHTY BEASTS IN THE WILDERNESS BEFORE FALLING TO NAGGAROTH’S MIGHTY HUNTERS. ALL THE WAY FROM NAGGAROND, THE UNDEFEATED WINNER OF FORTY-TWO CONSECUTIVE MATCHES. GARLOCK, THE CRUSHING FIST!” “GARLOCK! GARLOCK! GARLOCK!” The ogre had his own shout to the crowd. “Khaine can bite my tail!” The crowd booed at the insult to their deity. He has spirit. Tail, he couldn’t have meant “tail” Didn’t translate it right. Not important. What do I have? Shield, that’s good. A Bloodstick. Stupid gimmicky weapon. Bloodsticks are sticks studded with blades. The blades small but razor sharp. They drew blood easily, which the Crowd liked. They were fragile, so the blades broke easily, which the Crowd liked. To keep the blood stick from breaking, a warrior had to strike fast, shallow, and often, slowly bleeding his foe to death. The Crowd liked this best. The ogre charged. Grifiel jumped to the side. He’s not as big as a kroxigor. He’s as big as a big kroxigor. The ogre charged again. Grifiel side stepped him again. The Crowd was not pleased. “Quit dancing and fight!” The ogre had a massive spiked club. He certainly had the reach advantage. Grifiel raised his shield to fend off the Eater’s first blow. His arm ached, and he staggered. “Garlock! Garlock! Garlock!” He dove forward and swung his blood stick and the Eater’s gut…only to stop it an inch from contact not wanting to break his weapon. Mahrlect and D’arvit! They gave him some kind of stomach shield? He swung at an unarmored leg drawing several gashes and rolled away out of club range. “Bloodjaw! Bloodjaw! Bloodjaw!” The Eater shouted something hostile in his own tongue and advanced swinging his club. Grifiel dodge a blow and blocked another, but his shield shattered under the second blow. “Garlock! Garlock! Garlock!” Grifiel swung at an exposed arm and drew blood. He drew blood from the ogre’s right leg and Garlock’s counterattack missed the saurus by less than an inch making a gouge in the dirt. The crowd shouted themselves’ hoarse cheering on both fighters. Grifiel was faster but Garlock had better reach. They tried and failed to hit each other several times. Some of the crowd started to boo. The ogre backed up to get ready for a full charge. Grifiel prepared to sidestep the next charge. This time Garlock anticipated his move and jumped sideways to meet the saurus swinging his club. Grifiel instinctively raised his blood stick and when the two weapons connected the blades came loose and tiny blades went flying in all directions. The bloodstick was now simply a stick. The Crowd went wild. If some of the loose blades didn’t fly into Garlock’s forehead he could have ended the fight there, but hot blood was pouring over his eyes. The saurus dove for the ogre’s uninjured leg opposite the club and bit into the Eater’s calf. The ogre instinctively kicked him loose. Bloodjaw fell backward with a jaw full of bloody tissue. The Crowd roared. Garlock swung his club down but missed. Grifiel pounced on the club, drawing small cuts from the spikes but wrenching the weapon from his foe. He rolled the club away and bit into the ogre’s other leg sending him crashing to the ground. The fight was over. He couldn’t tell if the chants of “Live!” or “Death!” were more numerous. Grifiel spoke to the wounded ogre in Saurian out of respect. “You have a strong spirit. I set you free now.” “I CHOOSE—” Before the Master of the Games’ decree was finished, Grifiel ripped out Garlock’s throat. “—DEATH!” Elves came to re-chain him while several weapons were leveled at the saurus or aimed at Grifiel as a precaution. Tad, an expendable slave, was made to lock the manacles within range of Grifiel’s biting distance. “If I picked to the Blood Rites, will you set me free?” “Yes.” The human left the manacles closed but unlocked. Grifiel waited till the Games were over and the Master of the Games came to speak with him. He would not be pleased that “Bloodjaw” did not wait for the Master to pass sentence. “Bloodjaw, greater fights will come—” “RIGHT NOW!” Grifiel replied He swung the empty chain ring straight at the Master’s face stunning him and confusing the guards as their leader fell back to the ground. The saurus punched one guard in the gut while biting deep into another’s collar. He grabbed a set of keys and freed his legs. Two guards were already striking him but the wounds could not penetrate his hide. His tangled his closest attackers’ blades with a chain and began biting, punching, kicking and tail slapping every bit of elf flesh within reach grabbing a spear Beluar’s dead hands. Soon all the guards were dying or dead. Grifiel turned to the Master of the Games and tossed his spear aside. After working him over with his bare hands, he grabbed the master’s keys and opened every cell, freeing every human. The saurus tossed the bruised elf into the mob of humans. “Here is your tormentor. Do as with him as you will.” ….. “Let me help you up, Master.” “I’ll clean your wounds.” "Lean on me." Every human moved to help the elf, even Tad. “NOOO!!! Humans too broken to be free. I kill you all. First the elf!” Shadows congealed revealing a female elf. More shadows poured from the sorceress’ fingers and the saurus crumpled to the crowd weak as an infant. “Not today, reptile, though I am pleased I got to watch you rough up the Game Master.” “Necessary to prove a point, Valna. I am many things to many people, but to my slaves, I am Sotek.” He switched to Saurian. “Some elves collect trophies, I collect broken wills. I’ve broken many creatures but you are my first saurus.” “I’ll kill you first, and your minions will set me free!” The elf laughed. “When you address me as ‘Sotek’, then I’ll allow you the freedom you seek.” Spoiler: Story Twelve: Jurt, Scaley, and Manfred Jurt, Scaley, and Manfred JURT as told by Manfred My world was very small, consisting of one piece of lumber, Jurt and Scaley. On a bad day I could remember my name was Manfred. On less bad days I could not remember my name or the life before that went with it. I only remembered which direction to pull the oar. I never knew the name of my ship, or if the ratmen ever bothered to name their ships. It was a strange turtle-backed craft, with an arched deck over the heads of the oarslaves. I could only ever see out through cracks or seams in the decking. My world was filled with stench, mostly from the sludge that passed for bilge water, the creak of the oars, the chuckling of water passing under the transom, the occasional smell of a sea-breeze. And the whip!—if I spent too many moments noticing the other things. Usually, Jurt took the brunt of it because he was chained inboard, Scaley —in the middle— got the whip next, and seated outboard next to the oarlock I suffered the least. The only break in the monotony of the oars was meals. Always the same gruel, sometimes with bits of fishguts, gristle and offal. I always let Scaley have most all of that, it was so foul, but he never turned them down. Then one day my world changed. The smell of the water changed. Much later, I realized it was from salt to fresh. I caught glimpses of hills, trees, or peaks in the distance though the cracks in the planking above. And then the comets started roaring past the ship, the whip-master called for full speed on the oars, and then a comet hit us. It smashed open the deck above, the whip-master fell atop me stunned, and Jurt died. A great, huge splinter of wood had pierced him and he died. The ship was taking water, I was losing consciousness and about to drown, and I was envious. Jurt was finally free. SCALEY as told by IxzlToc I am IxzlToc, a priest of Sotek. I am only alive because of the Man-thing-Fred. Every time the rat-things gave us food he would give me the scraps of meat they tossed in the foul gruel they tried to sustain their slaves with. So on the glorius day the ratmen dared sail their fleet up the river I took Man-thing-Fred with me. I refused to drown in a vile ratman ship. When the overseer fell on us I made sure he was strangled with his own whip. After I got his keys, I had to unchain Man-thing-Fred first so that I could unchain myself. And then I pushed him unconscious out through the breach in the hull. It was easier than swimming around him. I pulled him to the beach under the wall-of-pink stone while I watched the fire globes roar overhead, smash, and roast the Skaven fleet. Man-thing-Fred choked back to life on the beach. And I was free! MANFRED as told by Tlax I am Tlax the Unusual. I have done many strange tasks. I have mined. I have quarried. I have forged. And I have just built a house. It is to be the dwelling of the Man-thing-Fred. Man....Fred. It stands on a quiet beach by the sea, where there are turtles to eat and fruit in the trees, and only a few things that are poisonous. Man..Fred is the friend of IxzlToc, who is honored by the Slann. Wise are the Ways of the Slann. ManFred is free. Comments and critiques are welcome, but keep things civil and on topic. Use common sense. If you are writing a reply detailed and lengthy. Try to get it into one big thread rather than three or four separated threads.