If I missed something that needs to be fixed, let me know by a private message. If there is more than one error in a single piece, please message me the entire edited piece rather than just copy and past the corrected sentences. We have five very strong pieces this month. Please read all five pieces before casting your vote. You only get one vote each this time. Voting will remain open for the rest of the month Theme was "The Rat and/or the Serpent" Spoiler: ”Story One: The Order of Things” The Order of Things Rez’tn eyeballed the symbols scrawled over the doorway in soot. His claws clacked apprehensively on his obsidian katana. Cultists. He took a few steps back, and inhaled. Then the muscles on his great reptilian legs bunched and he leapt forward. The oldblood’s heavy shoulder hit the wooden door like a stegadon, bursting it to kindling. He knew what to expect. Men in black robes. An altar. Strange old artefacts. And candles, lots of candles, casting their appropriately foreboding shadows across the walls of this clandestine abode. It was dark here, dark and murky. Not dark enough, thought Rez’tn. The cultists were standing now, looking at him. Almost as one, they reached into their cloaks and drew well-used repeater pistols. But Rez’tn struck first, swiping his tail one way and his icy black blade the other, the motion extinguishing most of the candles. Panic gripped the suddenly lightless room. Men cried out and some discharged their weapons, the noise and the smoke adding to the confusion. Rez’tn, of course, was already thick into the carnage, using his perfected sense of smell to guide his movements and locate his victims. Blinded, their gurgling death-shrieks only enhanced the terror of their fellows. All too quickly, silence flowed once more into the space. Rez’tn pulled the katana from the last body, sluicing the blood off on his own scales. Then his head jerked up and he turned, bringing the blade around in time to block a sudden blow from behind. Someone was attacking him. He strained his nostrils - this was no man. His new opponent’s lack of scent was troubling, but he had no time to riddle its meaning. Frantically dodging the whistles of incoming blows, he leapt back through the shattered doorway and into the crisp night air outside. A quiet street in a gentle corner of the city. His assailant followed him out, and for a moment Rez’tn’s heart stopped. Another oldblood. The vision stood still as a statue, for it had been pierced by a dozen bolts. The Codifier backup had been waiting with their heavy crossbows, and Rez’tn had led this poor lizard straight out to his doom. The saurus fell and coughed his lifeblood across the cobbles. Rez’tn stared. He knelt to look into its fading eyes. The lizard was trying to speak. Rez’tn turned his head to catch the halting, desperate words as the creature’s light ebbed for good. They were hard to discern, but to Rez’tn it sounded like: “The rat lives.” It was beginning to rain. Rez’tn found himself mumbling excuses to the Codifiers, leaving them to deal with the corpse and the remains of the cultic shrine. He staggered into the city and began dry-heaving as soon as he rounded the first corner. He wandered on, hopelessly, until he realised his feet had taken him to the Bridge of Gods. He felt his weight collapse onto the railing as he stared into the churning waters of the Reik. He forced himself to focus on deep breaths, and he turned his gaze to the city. Altdorf gleamed in the moonlight and the falling rain, its tiled roofs forming beautiful straight rows of ordered citizens. Remember, he told himself, once this city was rife with political scheming and vicious criminals. Now it is controlled, ordered. Every citizen knows their place. No more crime, no more corruption. We all serve the Great Plan, and it is Good. He forced himself to move on, striding more steadily now, reaching the large circular crater that had once been the temple of Sigmar. And a little up and to the right - the great pyramid Temple, rising out of the ruins of the ancient palace of Karl Franz. He made his way up its long steps and towards the inner chambers. “Grain yields down 50% in Reikland, eh?” came a petulant voice as he approached. “Well we’ll have to cull another… let’s call it fifteen hundred. Find out which villages consume the most and have them exterminated. Ah, comrade Rez’tn, good of you to join us.” The oldblood saluted as he entered the chamber, ignoring the skink functionary who scurried off to carry out the latest commands. He was left alone with the commander herself: Lady Skegar, Mage Priest of Altdorf and slann overlord of Region 43 (formerly the eastern Empire). “I trust your little raid went well,” she continued, licking what looked like blood from her fingers as she floated manically towards him. “Do tell me all about it. You know how boring it can be, managing these little ants.” “Humans, my Lady.” “Humans, sure.” “We discovered a cultist cell, as your intelligence suggested, my Lady,” said Rez’tn, after an uncomfortable pause. “It is… no more. However, the incident was distressing. One of the cultists was a lizardman.” Skegar was unusually quiet, although she did not seemed shocked. “It happens,” she said finally. “There are aberrations in the Great Plan. Deviants that it is our job to weed out. I assume the traitor is dead?” “Yes, my Lady.” “Pity. I would have liked to torture him as an example.” Rez’tn coughed. “My Lady, he said that the rat lives.” “That’s cultists for you. They actually pray for the return of the skaven! We bring peace and order to the world, and they worship a species that simply wanted to devour everything. Such madness can only be burned to the roots before it spreads.” “Yes, my Lady. Although...is it possible that the rat still lives? Any rats?” “You should be very careful with such questions, Codifier Prime. You know full well that the serpent devoured the rat, to allow us to spread out of Lustria those centuries ago. The skaven and their god have not been seen since. Any other statements are purest heresy.” “Of course, my Lady.” “My Lady,” chirped the skink, returning again. “News from the Codifiers at the raid site. They’ve found evidence pointing to another cell in the city.” “Ah, there we have it. We must burn all the roots, Rez’tn. It appears your work tonight is not yet complete.” --- This new shrine was at the very edge of the city, the ashy symbol over the door - three lines through a circle. Once more, Rez’tn hurled himself at the door - only to find it opening for him. His momentum carried him too far; he lost balance and sprawled across cold flagstones. As he scrabbled to right himself, he looked up into the impassive face of a kroxigor with an enormous wooden mallet. Before he could draw breath, it smashed into his skull and everything went black. In the darkness, a vision of a freakish, chittering rodent screamed as it towered over the planet. “Welcome, Codifier Prime,” the voice detonated across his mind as he groggily regained consciousness. “It has cost us much to bring you here. Many lives, good men and lizards…” There were two saurus standing before him. Some dim, musty place he didn’t recognise. His limbs were bound with heavy twine. His brain felt like it had been trampled by a carnosaur. Even the faint light here hurt his eyes. He forced himself to respond. “You will suffer the fate of all heretics,” he managed. A new figure approached. The stench hit him first and he gasped. A giant rodent, as tall as a skink at least, walking on two feet. It held a great, gnarly staff in one hand and wore a tattered brown cloak. Two awful horns twisted their way out of its skull. “No,” breathed Rez’tn. “The rat….” “Ha!” cackled the old skaven, leaning on the staff. “I wouldn’t say ‘the’. But yes - I am a rat. The only rat left in Reikland, even. But no, not the rat. Nevertheless, the rat lives.” Skaven and oldblood considered each other. Finally, the ancient rodent sighed. “I want to believe you are right now reconsidering everything you thought you knew, that your entire world is crumbling. But I know that really you’re only thinking of escape and murder, as you were trained. I’ll keep this briefing to the point. We’ve been waiting a long time to meet you. We’ve taken you away, far from Altdorf. Your Codifiers will not reach you any time soon. But do not worry, you will be set free. All we ask for is your help.” “I would never aid a cultist,” snarled Rez’tn, though the words seemed hollow even to him. The old rat sighed again. “We’re not cultists, we’re the resistance. At least dignify us with that. You represent a power that controls every moment of our lives, that has deprived the entire world of its most vital resource: freedom. You claim to bring order, to have removed the pain of the past. But all you have done is to destroy the only thing that made life worth living. The only appropriate response is resistance.” Rez’tn growled again, trying to get a sense of who else was in the room and what weapons they held. The skaven took a step back. “Don’t believe me? Behold.” Somewhere in the shadows, a curtain was drawn back. Light flooded the room. Before he could compose himself, Rez’tn gasped in awe. They were in a large, lofty space. Almost all of it was filled with magnificent treasures. Huge, masterful paintings covered the walls, thick with colour and life. Stacks of books, beautifully bound, heaved across the floor, topped by artefacts of exquisite and captivating design. “This is all that we could save from the coming of the lizards. Once it was but a tiny fraction of the cultural heritage of this land. The rest has been lost to the cold embrace of the scaled regime.” Rez’tn was hardly listening. He had been transfixed by an object near his left elbow. A tiny, ornate butterfly, made of gold and gemstones, casting an iridescent sparkle across his mind. “Ah, jewellery,” continued the rat, following his gaze. “Among my favourite of the humans’ inventions. If you like the brooch, you can have it. It once adorned the outfit of a wealthy Empire woman, no doubt. I imagine you have never seen a real butterfly. In Lustria they are everywhere.” “How is this possible?” stammered Rez’tn. “The rat… was devoured. The serpent triumphed.” “It’s true. The rat was devoured, as far as quasi-historic allegory can be believed. But still, it lives. It endures, in the belly of the snake, poisoning it slowly from within, turning the reptile to the very worst of its impulses, amplifying its greatest fears and urges. They are ugly creatures, both the rat and its old enemy. The resistance seeks to banish them both. We are stronger than your government knows. But we need you to do something we cannot. If you achieve it, Region 43 will fall, and resistance movements across the world will swell, inspired by your example. Tell me, friend, are you ready to fight for something more than oppression? Are you ready to truly live? Rez’tn looked to the others in the room, both lizards and humans, watching him with big eyes. His expression darkened. “What do you require?” he said. --- Order, he thought as he rushed back to the temple. Order is what’s needed. It is the only true way of the world. “Rez’tn!” screeched Lady Skegar on his arrival. “Explain your absence!” “My apologies,” he began, prostrating himself beneath her palanquin. “I was captured by the resis- by the cultists. They thought I would help them, so they set me free.” “And will you help them, eh? You know I can read your mind, Codifier.” A tension.. Rez’tn felt his pulse quicken. Finally Skegar blinked. “Hrmph. Your dedication to the world’s order does seem to be foremost in your thoughts.” “My loyalty is unwavering, Lady. The heretics hide themselves in a village 20 miles from here. Send a Codifier Legion at once to purify them.” “Maybe I shall,” quipped the slann, losing interest. Order, he thought, as he hurried through the temple, guards saluting him as he passed. And the nature of order is balance. He reached his destination. “Let me pass, Guardian Prime,” he said to the hulking saurus who barred the way. “This room is forbidden to all but the Lady, Codifier Prime,” it stated in return. “You know this.” Their eyes shone for a long heartbeat. In a sudden flash, golden halberd met obsidian katana. The weapons flew in a terrible blur. Seconds later it was all over. Both lizards held their resolute poses. Then the guardian’s head slid gently from its shoulders where it had been parted by Rez’tn’s blade. The body slumped down after it. Rez’tn stepped over into the forbidden sanctuary. And there it was, just as the old skaven had said. Sotek’s Tail. From her chamber atop the pyramid, Lady Skegar watched as skaven boiled out of the city’s sewers like a nightmare from another age. “No!” she shrieked, as the rats began to overwhelm the lizard guards. “Impossible! How can-” “The serpent is nothing without its tail,” said Rez’tn, behind her. He held up the crushed remains of a powerful artefact that had once been shaped like an antenna. “I have removed Region 43 from the serpent’s protection. We return once more to balance. No more rats, no more serpents. No more control. Just lizardmen and skaven. People. Free people. The world’s true order.” “You’ve doomed us all, imbecile!” cried the slann, extending her arms. Rez’tn dodged the lightning that flew from her fingertips, reaching the palanquin in several quick bounds. “For the resistance,” he hissed, piercing the slann’s fleshy form all the way through with his katana. The lightning died as the mage priest’s body slumped, and the palanquin crashed to the floor. Rez’tn paced over to the window. Altdorf would soon fall to the resurgent ratmen, released at last from the serpent’s coils. It would be bloody, but the survivors at least would be free. The other regions would stand or fall as destiny dictated. It was beautiful, he thought, as the cries of his dying kinsmen rose to his ears. He dropped the katana from his right hand and looked down to his left. It held an exquisite jewelled butterfly. He wondered how much more beautiful the real thing must be. He knew he would never come to Lustria. Spoiler: ”Story Two: The Rats in the Walls” THE RATS IN THE WALLS Pik-Tek was on duty at the Sacred Reptile House. “You will feed them, you will take care of them, you will pray with them, you will live with them… and hopefully, you will become one with them. This is your duty, as apprentice Priest of Sotek”. High Priest Temek gave these instructions to Pik-Tek a month ago, or maybe two, or a year. Time moves strangely in the Sacred Reptile House. The City of Tehuanchli was desperately in need of priests, and Pik-Tek was the only apprentice; those accursed skaven had polluted a couple of the outer Spawning Pools, and the Slann was still asleep, but despite the urgency, High Priest Temek was a Skink not in habit to speed up times of the apprenticeship. The Rites of Passage must be fulfilled… “there’s no such thing as a half-formed Priest. You will carry the Sacred Vest only when your mind will fully belong to Sotek”. Pik-Tek was eager to walk the path of priesthood, and though the tasks he conducted each day were repetitive he was constantly discovering new things. The smell of moss had penetrated into his scaly skin, his usually quick way of moving was adapting to the slow motions of the snakes, and he was able to contemplate the reptiles for hours, trying to guess their choices. Snakes were amazing. A little rat was pretending to be invisible, standing motionless at the corner of the cage, but Pik-Tek could almost hear its pounding heart… and certainly the constrictor snake in the cage could hear it too. Slowly and relentlessly it was moving toward the prey. Then, the big snake halted its move, and raised its massive head, higher and higher, over the edge of the cage, and it looked Pik-Tek in the eyes. Time froze, in Pik-Tek’s mind, when the serpent spoke to him. “Ratsssss are in the eassssstern wallsssss…. they ssssssneak toward usssssssss…” When Pik-Tek recovered from the shock, the little rat was already in the serpent’s gut. “What.. did.. you talked? was that real? I… sweet Sotek, what should I do now?” The sacred snake now was doing what snakes do after eating, so it wasn’t a great help for Pik-Tek, and it gave no answer to the skink’s doubts. “I need to calm down and reason. Maybe it was an unknown side effect of all the time passed with the snakes… but no, snakes don’t talk, it could only be a vision granted by Sotek… but those are ONLY for prophets, and I am NOT a prophet, I was not spawned with the marks. It must be something else”. This realization calmed a little the skink’s pounding heart. Pik-Tek concentrated on his breath, relaxing and organizing his thoughts. “Probably it is really something in the air, a sort of test by the High Priest, to see if I crumble as a weak-minded child. No, I will stay strong, and I’ll wait.” Pik-Tek looked at the constrictor snake. “There are no ratmen that are digging through our eastern walls, right?” But the sleeping reptile gave no answer. Even if the rest of the day passed without other weird events, Pik-Tek was not at ease with himself. He went to bed late that night, hoping to blank his mind, but without much success. The night was a long one and Pik-Tek barely slept at all, bouncing at every rustle. The early morning found him sleepy and tired, desperately praying to Sotek; things did not go well as Pik-Tek started his daily routine. First, he stumbled into a stool, dropping the bowl with fresh water. Second, he mixed the fodder for the Guinea pig with poisonous berries. Then he forgot to open the blinds for the heating sun, leaving many of the snakes half-stunned after the night. And so on, for all day long. “Marlecht. I'm screwing myself. I’m just glad the evening is almost here and nothing happ..” “sssssoon… the eassssstern wallsssss…” The snake was there, looking at him. After a moment of silence, Pik-Tek heard a strange sound, much like the far cry of a baby terradon. It took to him some seconds to realize that the sound was coming from his throat. Several hours later, after a broken mug and a couple of hot herbal teas, Pik-Tek nerves started to calm down. “This has gone too far. I don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t care if it’s a test or something else. The High Priest must be informed… even if he thinks I am going crazy.” Pik-Tek went for the exit of the Reptile House… when he realized that the moon had already risen. “Great. Temek will be sleeping. If I wake him without being absolutely sure that something is going to happen, I will be the next sacrifice to Sotek. But I can still do something, waiting for tomorrow”. He took a paper, pondering how much he could tell without going over his (actually non-existant) authority. To speak the truth without telling it. “To the Commander of the Eastern Fortifications. I know this is not a proper procedure, but before bringing the matter to High Priest Temek’s attention, I want to inform you that I am observing a strange behavior in Sotek’s Sacred Snakes. Since the poisoning of the Spawning Pools we don’t dismiss any detail. I’m not saying this is a True Sign that something is happening, as I am not a Priest, but I would be glad if tonight the guards will keep a higher level of attention. Respectfully yours, Apprentice Priest Pik-Tek.” He called one of the servants and gave it the letter. Only when the servant skink had departed to deliver the message, Pik-Tek went to his bed. He fell asleep before touching the pillow. The rats were swarming through the cracks of the foundations. A black swirling mass in a blacker night. Sentries were lying in pools of blood, with rats wrapped in hooded cloaks standing nearby the corpses. Pik-Tek wanted to cry alarm, but he could only utter a silent scream. The cracks went wider, to let an abomination emerge, bathed in a green, ill light. Hundreds of furry warriors swarmed the night, setting the city ablaze… Pik-Tek woke up screaming, surrounded by darkness. It was probably a little past midnight. “So real… it was so real…” Even before realize what he was doing, he was already running toward the High Priest’s rooms, as if hell was unleashed behind him. _______________________________ Pik-Tek was in front of the High Priest Temek, waiting for him to pronounce his doom. “We have searched for 3 days, Pik-Tek. There’s nothing… absolutely nothing. The walls are intact, the foundations are solid, there is literally not even a mole’s hole under the eastern fortifications. I’ve also personally examined the snake and the terrarium, and I’ve found no evidence of Sotek’s presence. Pik-Tek, there’s literally nothing that supports your statements. There are no rats in the walls”. Temek took a deep breath. “I know you truly believed in it, and this fills me with sadness, because I’ve got only a thing to do. The task is still too much for your strength, Pik-Tek… you need some time to regain the right perspective. Today you will leave the temple, you will be given a… less demanding assignment. We will call you here again when we consider it appropriate.” Temek watched Pik-Tek, while the skink was slowly going away, toward the exit, his shoulders bent over by defeat. Another priest stepped at Temek’s side. “What a waste. We can only hope in the next spawnings…” “We don’t have that luxury. I was honest with Pik-Tek, and I will still keep an open eye, before discarding him as possible priest. Time will tell if that skink can retake his life in his own hands.” Pik-Tek was slowly walking in the avenue, going further away from the temple with each step. The sense of failure was a heavy burden, and he still didn’t know what happened. “Temek is right… I still believe in it. But what I really saw? It was all real, but nothing was true. I threw away my life for nothing.” Pik-Tek sat on a stone bench, without finding any comfort in the warm of the sun. The cold inside him was too deep for any sun to melt it. This was not the case for an iguana that was enjoying the sun’s heat upon a nearby marble floor. One of the omnipresent monkeys, slipped into town from the jungle to easy steal some fruit in the market place, approached the iguana from behind and pulled its tail. The iguana, caught by surprise in a place that was usually safe, ran frantically toward a shadowy cover, chased by the derisive laughter of the monkey. A moment before reaching shelter, the iguana stopped her run, realizing that no one was pursuing. She turned back, staring at the monkey… she raised the dorsal spines and inflated the jowls, hissing a challenge. When the iguana started the charge, the monkey quickly leaved the field, and the winner took again the place under the sun. Pik-Tek contemplated the whole scene, amazed by what he saw. He let the event sink deeper and deeper into him. “Maybe it was a test, after all. If I am to do Sotek’s work, I cannot hide in shadows. I must be Iguana. I will be Iguana”. Pik-Tek got up, his back straight, his shoulders no longer bent. And the cold was gone. _______________________________ Meanwhile, two figures were sneaking into a secret tunnel below the western walls… The gallery was dark, with walls covered by large stains of rancid fat and the silence was broken by the suffocated echoes of the water from the vault, dripping into stagnant pools of smelly mud. It was a place unknown to lizardmen, a deep tunnel connected to even deeper mazes. The first furry figure was taller and bulky, with black fur covered by spiked pieces of armor, while the second one was wrapped in filthy robes, behind which it was half visible a glowing green pendant. This one was very excited, and was keeping the pace of the stormvermin, despite being half crippled and needing a staff to walk. “It has been a great success, yes-yes! Stoopid lizard-thing has been fooled by smart magik, yes-yes!” “As you say, your worshipness.” “It is so! Magik illusion fooled the fool! A priest-thing it won’t be! Now few priests, then even less and they wont stop us! All because of me! Soon-soon the city will be ours! The city will burn! Their temple will burn! False Sotek will be forgotten! The Horned Rat will be fed! We maim-kill all those hideous serpents! We…” The leading skaven suddenly halted his march, and the Seer stopped against him. “what the…” The hallway was blocked by a strange boulder, big as a rat ogre. Then the boulder moved… no, the boulder rose to mid-air. The flickering light of the torch revealed that the boulder was covered by scales. Then the boulder showed a couple of yellow eyes, with vertical pupils, and a forked tongue darted toward the skavens, sensing the pungent stench of fear. There was a cry, then silence fell over the musty tunnel air. In the end, High Priest Temek was right. There were no rats in the walls. Spoiler: ”Story Three: Insects” Insects The taproom’s lights had grown dim. Most of The Leaky Dog’s patrons had already left, though it had been overall a worringly quiet night for the landlord. He stood behind the bar and worked on removing the dirt from his tankards, eyes darting to the last occupied table every now and again. “I tell ya, those verminfolk are the worst threat we face. Worse than them greenskins, beastfolk, and Chaos worshippers.” “And yet you did not mention the guardians of the New World,” smiled one of the more smartly dressed members of the group as he gently stroked at his thin moustache. The first man scowled at this. “Not all of us had the wealth or backing from yer great magical college, Marias. But even if I did, your hissing toads still don’t compare to the ratfolk.” Marias’ smile did not waver. “There are many unseen horrors in this world of ours, my friend. Some are deadlier than we give them credit for. Let’s think of an example to help you see as I do in this matter. Do you recall in the histories that the Elves and Dwarfs once fought a great war between them?” “Vaguely. I know ya never leave an Elf and Dwarf in the same room together.” “Well, where was mankind during all of this? What side did we fight on?” “I...nay know, Marias. Tell me.” Marias’ smile faded. “We were primitive tribesmen, caught inbetween this great war. We were insects in the tread of giants. To the lizardfolk, from what I have discovered, we are viewed as the same.” He sighed and appraised the other three around the table. Kar, the one who had begun the argument was strongly built as Marias had remembered him, but was starting to show that his prime years as a mercenary were now behind him. Elrik no longer was the spry youth he had been, but Marias doubted that the master thief’s skills had diminished with time. Dalv the Kislevite was strangely quiet, especially given the argument. He bore new scars and his eyes seemed deadened by them. Hans, their leader had not shown up despite having called them all together after all these years. Together the five had adventured across much of the Old World for a good few years before circumstance had caused them to depart each other. It was possible that old Hans’ age had gotten to him and he had forgotten. But at least the four were together and come the morning they’d find out why the old Witch Hunter had summoned them. Marias reached into a hidden pocket of his robes and placed a small glyph covered orb in front of the others. Both Kar and Elrik’s eyes gleamed with greed as they realised that the orb appeared to be made of gold. Elrik licked his lips nervously. “Marias, my friend...I don’t think it wise to show off such things, especially in an area as this.” “Perhaps not, but this ‘trinket’ is needed to explain my story.” In the dim light the glyphs seemed to crawl and squirm across the orb but though those not magically attuned saw it, they merely thought it was a trick of the light. “It wasn’t meant to be a great voyage of discovery, mostly to transport some comforts for the people of Skeggi. Of course, we were blown off course and forced to take up anchor some great distance from Skeggi. Being the fool that I was, I convinced the Captain to let me lead a group ashore at least if only to find some food supplies.” Marias idly stroked the orb with his thumb. “Though we lost a few men to the perils of the jungle, we found the ruined city fairly easily. I know not its name or exact positioning, and I have been unable to locate it on any maps even those by Colombo. It seemed deserted and dead. The jungle had reclaimed swathes of it, perhaps forgotten by the children of the Old Ones. Here and there, however, was evidence of fighting. Greenish scorch marks, the bones of the verminkin, and the faint scent of powerful and evil magic. Scant though they were, we also found the odd remains of the lizard guardians here and there. Within the central pyramid we found a circle of bodies, though many of their bones had gone missing since their deaths. Within the centre was a ruined palanquin of some kind and a few bones upon it that conjured images of great toads when I studied them. There were precious little spoils to be had from the city of the dead, though my magical sight was pulled towards a half ruined statue of some Old One. “A solitary eye that remained intact was closed, but as I approached it there was an audible rumble as the lid opened and this orb fell out. I caught it in hand and was assailed by visions. “I saw flashes of the Old Ones’ coming, how they manipulated and crafted this world and so many of its races, and even after their fall I watched their children maintain the way and affect our world in ways that make even the Elves of Ulthuan seem like petty hedge wizards. I then saw the rise of the horned god of the rats and the great serpent who rose to fight it in turn. As I watched the two gods struggle in their battling around them the forms of ratmen and lizardfolk clashed and died by the score. Even now the two battle, I know it, and their children fight on too. I have tried to throw away this trinket for the nightmares it has granted me but it always returns to me, mocking. For I have seen how little this great Empire matters. Though the Skaven may often be distracted against us and the Lustrians will strike back at those that trespass or seem to harm their plans, I fear we are less than foes. In the end we are but insects in the tread of giants.” “Now my friend, that is not wholly true. The serpent and the rat are greatly potent, this I do not deny. However, my friends in the end they are but insects themselves to the true giants” spoke Dalv, his moustache twitching in amusement. “What do you mean, Dalv?” Dalv’s eyes glistened with dark laughter that made it not to his lips. “Dalv? Dalv died three weeks ago when he freed me. Hans last week.” The shadows in the tavern darkened and shifted. “Fools. That you think such mortals or their feeble gods measure to the truth. Though, I thank you Marias for bringing me the Eye. I think you at least deserve a reward...” Tendrils of shadow wrapped around the thing wearing Dalv’s body even as the landlord’s cries rang hollow to the darkness. The others reached for their weapons but with a whispering cackle inky spears stabbed into them. Surrounded by a corona of shadow the once Dalv smiled. “Here, let me show you...” Spoiler: ”Story Four: Rat Dynasty” Rat Dynasty Gottlieb van Råtten was lying on his death bed, the head of the van Råtten rat hunter dynasty. Around his bed stood his sons and daughters, already proven slayers. His third and fourth concubine was there as well as his grandchildren, the eldest among them fresh slayers themselves. The Old Gottlieb opened his eyes and looked at them. Then he began to speak with a wizened voice. “Spawn of my blood. Listen carefully because when the sun shows its pale face next morning, I'll be gone, stolen by Nagash to Shyisch. And you” the old man looked directly at the oldest of his grandsons,”You must carry on the traditions of our dynasty, our creed and the mission we received from the star spawn though we are their servants.” His words were cut off, coughing crackling forth from his thin chest. When his coughing was over, a granddaughter reached forward and wiped the drool from his chin. “What you must remember, my children, is that our dynasty was the first and oldest. My grandfather witnessed when Belladonna the Råtten, his own grandmother was tasked by the star wyrm’s children to hunt rats, and all of her descendants were tasked to do the same. My grandfather was just a child when that happened, but he remembered it clearly.” “Our town was only a small village then. It were beset by millions of the foul rat men from all sides. Then lizards descended from the sky in streaks of light butchering the vermin. Through their charge, the Skaven lines buckled and broke, fleeing for their lives. But a dozen of the lizards were there, their might great. And the mightiest of them came to Belladona and tasked her with finding the remaining rats. And that is what we have done since. Others have taken up the trade, but we were tasked with this by the denizens of high Azyr themselves...” more coughing followed by silence. Those present in the room thought Gottlieb’s last worlds were spoken. The old man's coughing stopped, his eyes were closed, and then he said with a weak dry voice, barely audible. “Be proud, be Råtten.” Spoiler: ”Story Five: Regards” Regards The corpses shuffle through the graveyard, the clouds that block the moonlight thankfully preventing me from seeing the rotting flesh, barely clinging onto their bones, or the cavities where flesh had at last lost its grip and sloughed off to show the bone beneath. No amount of shadow, though, can hide the guttural moans, dragged up from throats that should no longer be able to speak, or the stench, a smell fouler than anything I can remember. Even with the blood-rites of Sotek, there was a different stench, the intoxicating smell of fresh rat-blood, and that was washed away before it turned putrid. This smell is the musty, rotten, corrupt smell of the grave. I crouch atop a small mausoleum, built by warmbloods as if to ape a Slann’s tomb in their own small way, still dripping with the holy water of Tzunki, and judge my chances. I cannot hope to fight off the encircling dead. One I could slay. Two I could defeat. Three or four I could fend off. But the horde surrounding my refuge will overwhelm me in seconds. If I was to jump over their heads and run, I might have a chance of escape, but the shadows which hide the worst features of my tormentors from me also prevent me from judging where they are. If I was to leap, and land amongst them... my fate if that happened is best left from my thoughts. The safest course would be to wait here, atop the tomb, and wait for daylight. The corpses surrounding me have no direction, no necromancer or vampire commanding them, and so they will not touch me while I lay up here. Come the morning sun, I could plot my escape. But, tempting as such a course of action is, I cannot take it. Elsewhere in this city, a cabal of ratmen plots for tonight to be the night of their victory. They are why I am here, both in this city and in this graveyard. I was sent here on the prophetic dreams of the Slann-Lord Inzatokotol, who foresaw the rise of Anathema within this warmblood city. I was tasked with stopping that rise. My infiltration of the city was successful, my infiltration of the coven itself less so. One of the guards caught me sneaking in, and though I slit his ratty throat he had rung the bell and reinforcements had been called. I was chased from beneath the church where they had made their base, out into the graveyard, where one of their sorcerers had raised the dead and bade them to kill me, before returning to his foul ritual. I hear a rattle beneath my feet. A zombie must have realised where I am, and begun clawing at me. I sigh, and then steel myself for what is to come. I have no choice. I walk to the other end of the roof, and then break into a sprint, leaping off the mausoleum into darkness... I land on a gravestone, and I fall in a heap of stone and skink. Nerve endings flare with agony, and I hold in a shriek. Though my instinct is to voice my pain, neither the undead nor my prey can be alerted to my fall. As quietly as I can, I get back to my feet and pad off towards the church’s entrance. The steps up to the great door seem empty at first, but then a solitary ray of light breaks through the clouds and I see that there are seven ratmen standing on the steps, armed with a motley mix of knives, spears and clubs. I curse silently. Too many to kill, too many to sneak past... I look around for another way in, or a way to deal with them. Above the door itself stands a figure of Morr, dressed in robes and carrying an hourglass with both hands. When I see it, looming over the steps, I grin. It’s perfect. A water pipe provides me with the means to get up to the statue’s level, and a small stone ledge provides the way to the statue itself. I crawl up to the top of the statue, so that my head is above his hood, and draw my blowpipe. I know that I should be proceeding with the mission, but I’m yet to feel any magic or hear any chants, so I can only assume they’re still preparing, and I want the rats who spoiled my infiltration to suffer for that. As the moon breaks through the clouds again, I place a dart loaded with Hell’s Curse in the pipe. I pick my target carefully, aiming for the most important-looking and best-armed guard. His death will mean that the rest of them will be too busy squabbling over his position and his equipment to investigate his death. I breathe out, and a tiny sliver of poisoned death leaves my blowpipe, spinning its way through the air to pierce the guard’s neck. The moment I see that my shot hit, I duck back into the shadows, looking for a way in. Towering behind the figure of Morr is a stained glass window, no doubt depicting some important scene from the religion of the warmbloods. I smash one of the lower panels and crawl through. Behind me, I can hear shouting, though it sounds like a heated argument rather than cries for help. I grin again. The inside of the church is even darker than the graveyard outside, and I have to feel my way through the inky blackness, knowing that I cannot risk making a single sound. I grope blindly in the darkness until I find a handrail, and I use that to guide myself along the platform and down the stairs, until my feet touch the cold stone floor and the rail ends. From there, I walk, slowly and carefully, towards the back of the church. I know that the entrance to their lair was here, somewhere, I just need to figure out that spot more exactly... A chant begins, somewhere ahead of me in the dark, and I head towards it, taking each step carefully in case there’s something beneath my feet that I might trip over or disturb. Outside, I can still hear yelling, though it’s become panicked. Maybe they’ve realised that I’ve escaped, and that their dead leader should be cause for alarm, but I hope that their earlier shouting has attracted the undead. I push the though from my mind. I have a rite to stop. I step forward, and find myself on a trapdoor. Stepping back, and pulling it open, for the first time since the night began I see light. Green-tinged, magic-summoned light. I jump down, grabbing the ladder to halt my fall, and sneak forward into the ritual chamber. Gathered in the church’s basement, three ratmen are gathered. Their heads are held low as they chant the words, a glowing symbol of their perverted faith in front of them. They are blind and deaf to the outside world, caught up in their rite. I draw my dagger, readying the blade that has spilt so much rodent blood in service to the priests to spill some more for an assassin. I sneak up behind the first, grabbing his muzzle and lifting it up. Before he can shriek or struggle, I drag the blade across his throat, and allow his corpse to collapse backwards out of the circle. His fellows don’t even notice his passing. The next one is no harder, still lost in the chant and unaware of his impending death, but as I sneak up behind the third, the one with the longest horns, he spins around, shrieking in his racial tongue, and a blast of green lighting scorches the air. He misses me by the barest of distances. With the last of the casters focusing away from the ritual, the glowing rune dies out, and I sneak off into the darkness. “I know you’re there, lizard-thing! I can smell-scent you!” He calls out, in the warmblood’s tongue, but I do not listen. I was ritually purified in the days before this mission, any traces of scent washed from me. All he can smell is the church’s dust. The darkness shields him, as well, but then he calls up another bolt of lightning, blasting apart a chair, and I can see where he is. I sneak up behind him, grabbing one of his horns and tilting his head back. Just before I plunge my knife into his throat and end his life, I whisper in his ear. “The Serpent sends his regards.” Per usual, comments, discussions, and constructive criticism is encouraged.