We have eight excellent pieces this month, and you only get have two votes to allocate between eight stories, so make your choices carefully. The theme was "Food and Drink" proposed by @Y'ttar Scaletail. Please read all eight pieces before voting. Spoiler: Story One:The Big and Little Eaters The Big and Little Eaters “Praise to the Old Ones and all they beget Their Fifth undertaking, sadly is crude Their incomplete state, the Old Ones regret Their drives are set for obtaining of food “Almost giant size or small like a runt Food fuels their bodies, hunger fuels their deeds Achieving success, their methods are blunt Great resourcefulness, they meet all their needs “The aura of Chaos, they shall resist Ultimate survivors when others fail Against all dangers the eaters persist Tenacity allows them to prevail “Beware the Fifth Race’s hunger and lust They’re greedy and selfish, unworthy of trust” Talek, the skink chief glared at the priest. “You’re singing the song again, Yotiri!” "I’m supposed to wait in silence?” “What if the Prodigals hear you? The Big and Little Eaters already distrust us. We don’t want them to know how much we know about them.” “So? None of them speak Saurian.” “We don’t know that!” “Do they have legendary hearing too? They are all still eating.” The Skink chief sighed. He walked slowly forward to get a better view. The wooden stockade was only just completed yesterday. If the First alone were building it, it would have been done long ago, but the warmblood captains all wanted a say in how it was built. There were no walls within the stockade but there was a lot of empty space in the temporary encampment. The First were camped roughly in the center, with relatively few structures erected other than the command tent. The climate of Albion was well suited for the Lizardmen to rest outside, at least for the summer months. The Ogres and Halflings didn’t trust each other, and insisted on the Humans camping in between them. All three tried to maximize their distance to the lizards whilst keeping them in sight. The First slept in huddles. They ate and socialized in tight groups. Not so the warmbloods, they needed ample personal space even among their own kind. This was made all the more ridiculous because the four groups had to share one stockade. The more personal space everyone had, the wider the stockade had to be. Old Ones forbid that any one group dominate the supplies! The supplies were to be kept in the middle of the four camps watched like a hawk by at least one representative from each group day and night. Everywhere else, guard duty involved segregated squads who spent as much time watching their allies as looking for the enemy. The two Skinks looked over the charcoal sketch the Halflings made of the enemy camp which was just barely out of sight. Talek was begrudgingly impressed. This was far more detailed than the oral description a Chameleon Skink would have given. Still, Talek still wished he had Chameleon Skinks providing him intelligence, but the few Chameleons in the Albion campaign were too rare and precious to spare for guarding the army’s rear supply lines. The Halflings also said the Skaven were collecting lumber. Nothing was more worrying than "The Skaven are building something, and we don't know what." It seemed that the ratmen and the Chaos tainted humans also liked their space. The two enemy camps were entirely separate, a full “a bow shot apart” the Halfling said. The Skaven had erected their own stockade, but the Fallen Humans preferred ditches with spikes. They were not bothering to enclose their camp entirely, seemingly on purpose. Unlike the cowardly rats, the Fallen humans wanted the Lizardmen and their mercenaries to attack. That way the stalemate could be broken and they could finally spill blood for their false gods. Fortunately, the skaven were not eager to launch a frontal assault and it would have been suicide for the Chaos forces to attack alone since almost all the mercenaries specialized in missile weapons which were now coated in the best poisons Lustria could offer. There used to be well over a hundred Chaos warriors, but their first attack on the half-finished stockade was a disaster. Then they came back with Skaven. The Skink and Halfling scouts estimates were similar. They agreed that were about eighty enemy Humans and between three and four hundred Skaven. That compared to forty-seven Skinks, twenty-three Sauri, two Kroxigor, fifteen ogres, thirty-seven humans, and forty-one halflings. Not good odds. So they waited. Praise to the Old Ones and all they beget Their Fifth undertaking, sadly is crude Their incomplete state, the Old Ones regret Their soul desire, consumption of food Finally, the mercenary captains approached the Lizardmen command tent. The First wanted to meet at dawn, but the warmbloods had unsurprisingly insisted on eating a full breakfast before having what was generously being called the “war council.” Talek had to cut the First’s rations due to low supplies but hadn’t dared to cut the warmbloods rations for fear of mutiny. Talek and Yotiri were present. The spawning leader of the Saurus, Soqtla, was also present. Soqtla couldn’t speak or understand a word of the warmbloods' tongue, but he nevertheless insisted on being present, so he could silently stare at them and size them all up. Matteo spoke for the humans. Because they were half the size, the small Eaters apparently needed two captains, Drogan and Fredegar. Urgoff spoke for the ogres. Talek addressed them all in the warmblood’s common tongue. “Thank you for coming….sssso quickly." Yotiri rolled his eyes. Now that the ssstockade is complete we need to—” Talek continued. “—why didn’t they attack last night, or the night before?” Matteo interrupted. Talek wasn’t good at reading the faces of warmbloods, but Matteo’s eyes were bloodshot. He clearly wasn’t sleeping very well. Yotiri responded first. “You want to be attacked?” he asked. “No, but Skaven have better night vision than us, and the darkness would make our shooting less accurate. If I were a Skaven, that’s when I’d attack.” Matteo explained. “You’re not a Skaven.” Drogan said. “You smell like one though!” Fredegar quipped. “Silence whelp!” Matteo replied. Such tadpoles. I need to stop this before it gets out of control. “It issss wise to try to think like the enemy but the foul ratmen are too twisted for good people like ourselvessss to really get into their heads. Sssame for the Chaos men” “Yesssss, we high and mighty lizards are mucccch to pure and unssssssullied to have anything in common with evil beingsssss, unlike you warmbloodssssss” Fredegar said while cross eyed and sticking his tongue out as far as he could. There was an awkward pause. Soqtla clearly sensed hostility and began to stir. Annoyed as he was, Talek didn’t want the Saurus to brain their little ally. The dull-witted ogre would have probably felt threatened and kill the entire rest of the war council. Before Talek could think of what to say, the other Halfling intervened. “Be nice, they still are holding our gold.” Drogan said. There was another pause. “Our supplies are low. Not much poison left for ammunition. Not much food left. The rats know this, want us hungry and weak.” rumbled Urgoff. Yotiri craned his neck to look the ogre in the eyes, or at least to look at the underside of his chins. “My auguries show that we will get our resupply within a few dayssss,” the priest said. “Does the resupply include more fighting lizards?” asked the ogre. “Not many.” Talek answered. “Supplies come over the sea. Enemy is between us and the sea. Resupply is useless if we cannot get to it. We need to attack now,” the Ogre declared. No one argued, Talek just stared. That was actually intelligent. “Very well, let usss plan the attack.” Almost giant size or small like a runt Food fuels their bodies, hunger fuels their deeds Achieving success, their methods are blunt Great resourcefulness, they meet all their needs They meant to attack at high noon when the sun was brightest, both so the Lizardmen were fully energized and the Skaven were slightly sunblind, but the coalition had to sort out a dozen minor disagreements. It was mid-afternoon by the time the coalition was able to mobilize. The Saurus warriors and Ogres marched out boldly while the humans marched alongside their right flank and provided cover fire with their crossbows while several Skinks and both Kroxigor took the other flank. This naturally drew out the Chaos Warriors immediately, the rats moved slower, either because of a weak chain of command or as a treacherous ploy to let their allies take point. Despite the falling crossbow bolts, the Chaos Warriors marched surprisingly slowly and raised their shields in a tortoise formation rather than charging forward at full speed. The Chaos Warriors were possibly sufficient alone on the open field, but the Skaven revealed what they had been working on: catapults. No warpstone magic or rickety steam engines, but the simple catapults were plenty sufficient to knock down the wooden stockade or when re-purposed, target infantry. The first two boulders missed, but the next two killed many Humans. The crossbowmen panicked. Once crossbow bolts stopped raining from the sky, the Chaos Warriors charged. Reserves of Skaven finally began to make ready to leave their camp, but the Skaven were not the only ones with a surprise in store. While most of their foes’ attention was drawn to the larger soldiers. Halflings emerged from the tall grass near the Skaven camp. A few promptly lit torches which were then used to ignite their arrows. Soon the Skaven’s ramshackle tent city was in flames. Some of the slower moving ratmen, including more than a few slaves encumbered by chains were burned alive. Most escaped a fiery death but many ran around in a literal blind panic as the smoke teared up their eyes and assaulted their sense of smell. The Halflings continued to rain flaming death engulfing more of the Skaven camp. The wooden wall the Skaven erected to keep the enemy out was now keeping the rats inside. A few were nimble enough to climb over, and few had knocked a few escape holes in their wall, but to little avail. The escaping Skaven that had presence of mind to rush out against the Halflings were intercepted by a wave of Skink Skirmishers. Once the flames had reached the rats’ catapults, the Halflings began targeting the Chaos Warriors mostly empty camp, but the Fallen humans were not to be distracted. They wanted blood. The aura of Chaos, they shall resist Ultimate survivors when others fail Against all dangers, the eaters persist Tenacity allows them to prevail Despite being outnumbered, the Chaos Warriors superior armor and discipline, the Ogres did not hesitate. First to clash with the enemy, they utterly flattening six or seven of the twisted humans in the first few seconds of melee. The Chaos Warriors drew much blood but few Ogres fell or even slowed. They swung their clubs and axes freely, their strength penetrating the Humans' armor. Within moments they were joined by the Saurus Warriors roaring with fury. Tactically, Talek knew that the Chaos Warriors were the greater threat, and that his allies were sorely outnumbered. He was, at his core, a follower of Sotek. He directed his Skink and Kroxigor cohort to engage the quivering Skaven reserves who had marched out of the camp before the fires were set. As the initial impetus of the two charges faded, both the Chaos minions and their foes began to fight a bit more defensively and the spilling of blood slowed somewhat. The humans rallied and were able to provide cover fire to make sure none of the Skaven that escaped the fires could contribute to the melee. When they ran low on targets, Matteo bravely ordered his men to march around the Chaos Warrior/Ogre/Saurus melee and help the Skinks mop up the Skaven reserves. Once the Skaven were effectively routed and being mopped up by the Halfling and Skink skirmishers, the Human mercenaries and Skink cohort converged on the remaining Chaos Warriors, but most were already dead. Over half of the Saurus and Ogres had also fallen. Beware the Fifth Race’s hunger and lust They’re greedy and selfish, unworthy of trust Skinks and Saurus warriors like to celebrate a successful battle but the warmbloods seemed to never grow tired of drinking and singing. The Skink skirmishers had managed to get their claws on the Chaos Warriors small stockpile of gold and silver before the warmbloods did. Talek distributed the worthless shiny metal to the warmbloods in what Matteo called “a bonus.” The First didn’t dare touch the Chaos warriors other supplies but the Halflings were not afraid to take the dark Humans meat and wine. The Ogres, disgustingly ate roast rat flesh. A lot of Ogres were badly wounded but few were actually killed. Talek noted that they were quick healers, as long as they were well-fed. While watching the Ogres and Halflings eat had nauseated the Lizardmen, they were still hungry. Almost two weeks of reduced rations meant that they were as eager as anyone to welcome the arrival of their wayward supplies days later. They set up a new light camp was near a deep water harbor. Soon a giant sea turtle butted its head against the shore. Skink porters exited the creature’s back. Once the Slanns' requested shipment of Itxi grubs was secure, Talek ordered the offloading of the regular supplies assisted by Talek’s Skinks and Kroxigor. The Ogres insisted on helping carry supplies. Once the supplies were neatly piled, half the Ogres gathered up all the sacks of meat while the others shoved or bludgeoned the lizards nearest to them, scattering the other supply containers across the rocky sand. Then the Ogres ran off. Soqtla glanced at Talek. His unspoken question hung in the air. “Pursue?” "No, we can subsist on fruit and bread to last till the next resupply, and this way we don’t owe them any gold.” The Saurus nodded. Fredegar walked forward. He picked up an apple that rolled out of supply sack, dusted it off and took a bite, chewing slowly. After swallowing, he turned his head towards Talek, and addressed him in perfect Saurian. “We little Eaters still want the gold you promised us.” Spoiler: Story Two: The Hunger The Hunger Taq had always fretted, he had been since he emerged from his spawning pool. Serving under the Skink priest Qra-qutil he had always seen the worst in the plaques, the stars, even the movement of the dust on the ground. For weeks he had dreamt of bloodied maws, hungry yellow eyes, and the laughter of something in the dark. He was but an attendant, so his fears were ignored. It began when one of the attendants of one of the city’s spawning pools was discovered consuming the bodies of the spawnlings that had died prematurely. The attendant had defended his actions by claiming that it was wasteful to just let the bodies rot. Several of the priests had demanded his death for such an action but others including Taq’s master argued that such a thing was not only efficient but laudable in its conception. Surely the Old Ones intended some use for the dead spawnlings and this seemed the most logical. Taq was not convinced but it was not his place to question his betters. Several months later Qra-qutil revealed his discovery of a plaque that claimed that the meat of worthy foes and fallen allies were a means to take in their strength and further on the plans of the Old Ones. So by consuming the flesh of the fallen, the eater would gain a measure of knowledge, wisdom, and power from the deceased, a way for the dead to remain a part of the Old Ones’ plans. There had been heated debate between the priests over this discovery. Whilst none dared make the claim that the plaque was a fake, there was an uneasiness. Some questioned if it had been truly translated correctly. There were calls to rouse the city’s sole Mage Priest so that he could shed some light, but Qra-qutil reported that the venerable Slann was too deep in slumber to aid them. Despite the voices against it, the plaque was eventually spoken to the entire city’s population. It was well met. The number of infirm, crippled, and weak few as they were seemed to disappear over the subsequent weeks. Several of the priests were concerned by this, but others argued that in order to be a strong city the weak links had to be removed. What had befallen these Lustrians remained a mystery to all but the priests, but Taq guessed. Shortly afterwards the priests that stood against the logic of the plaque and its prophet began to fall ill. They seemed to withdraw from public events and their priestly duties with the other hard-pressed priests led by the heroic Qra-qutil taking up the torch and covering for them. Taq had noticed that the skinks assigned to these absent priests never seemed to appear any more. He had queried Qra-qutil about it but the priest had replied that they were very hard at work caring for their masters. It had been a trying year for the city. There had been a long heatwave that had decimated much of the jungle’s fruit and droughts that had driven away many of the beasts the Lustrians would hunt. It had been curious how the priests remained well fed, but Taq knew better than to pry. In the city itself, rumours circled how it was no longer safe to wander alone at night, and an increasing number of Skinks and even some Saurus had gone missing. Taq himself had a close encounter with a Saurus whose eyes were filled with hunger, though he had managed to evade the maddened Saurus. When Taq had told Qra-qutil of his close escape, the priest had merely smiled a sharp fanged smile and claimed that Taq was certainly blessed by the Old Ones. Taq found himself avoiding his master more and more. Eventually nothing was said of the missing priests, and the matter was soon forgotten. The city was no longer a safe place and the gnawed on bones of Lustrians would be discovered more and more. The priests did nothing to abate it. Taq knew he had to awaken the Slann and rid the city of its curse. But as he entered the temple shrine, he found he was too late. How long the Mage Priest had been dead, Taq could not tell but Qra-qutil and the other priests were still feasting upon his remains. Bloodied maws and glazed yellow eyes turned to regard Taq as he stared in horror. “Welcome, brother Taq,” Qra-qutil spoke as he rose and wiped a smear of gore from his mouth, “the plaque was right, we have ascended and we shall carry out the will of the Old Ones. Loyal Taq, sup with us.” Weeks later a contingent from Itza arrived, perturbed by the lengthy silence and the taste of something foul upon the wind. In the city they found its people feasting upon each other, their minds devolved to hunger. All were quickly slain, their bodies burnt upon pyres. Within the temple shrine, the contingent found the partially eaten corpse of a Slann and the bloodied forms of the city’s priests, their throats cut. A solitary plaque, split by a heavy blow lay before the corpses, foul greenish rock once buried inside it now open to the world. Sitting in the centre of the chamber was a lone Skink, his eyes dead and distant. The Skink only spoke of the hunger and nothing more. Spoiler: Story Three: Heart of Darkness HEART OF DARKNESS The terradons continue to fly slowly, peacefully, over the burning jungle. I was holding myself to the back saddle, trying in vain to pierce the smoke, while Tepiki, the Sky Leader, was keeping in line the majestic beast that was carrying both of us. Has it been set afire by the skaven to burn down our home, or by our forces, to cleanse some vile plague spread by the ratkin? When I was in the jungle, I wanted to be in Xlanhuapec. When I was there, behind the protective banks of mist...all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. Waiting for a mission. Because every day the rat squats in the bush...he gets stronger. _______________ “Stand at ease, Captain Tikkit. Are you feeling fit? Are you ready for duty?” “Yes, General. Very much so, sir.” “Good. Captain, have you heard of Colonel T’Pok?” “Yes, sir. I've heard the name. If I’m not wrong, he was personally trained by Oxyotl.” “Exactly. He’s actually commanding Special Forces in the region of Chaqua. After the destruction of the Temple City, that part of Lustria is just an immense killing ground. He was ordered to go into that nightmare, to contain and repel the vermin, and things were going sufficiently good… but reports have become more and more vague and less frequent. The last one is… unsound. It talks about a sort of snail, crawling on a razor’s edge.” “A snail, sir? could it be…a Nurgle daemon?” “A Nurgle daemon that joins the fight alongside Clan Pestilence would be a terrifying sight to behold. But I don’t know. That report is a month old, and we are blind to what’s actually happening. I need intelligence… I need you there.” _______________ The night had been unpleasantly hot; the earth was decidedly too much warm and the wind had been a wet, sticky torment, carrying unusual, rancid smells. When the morning sun came, the heat raised more than it should have done. The faces of the terradon riders were already tired… and worried. Even far beyond the smoking sectors, many portions of the jungle were withering, as poisoned. Tepiki was tending his mount: “The beasts need some freshness. The night’s so hot that their blood doesn’t slow enough. It’s too much energy consuming”. And your terradon must carry also me. but you are not going to say it. “I understand your concern, but this is one of the places I must investigate. This morning we’ll fly over all the clearings we saw yesterday. Both our forces and the enemy’s are hiding, and I want to see if something has changed, before leaving. So we got up in the air. It took 2 hours to find it. A clearing previously empty, now with something inside. A sort of geometric figure. We flew lower, cautiously... There were poles, with dead, impaled skaven upon them, and those poles were placed in a way that, seeing it from the sky, could be a twinned tail. Tepiki grinned. “It seems we’ve just found our guys.” “Sotek be praised. Fly down”. We landed near the skaven bodies and we began searching for further clues. I saw many sacrifices to Sotek, in Xlanhuapec. This was similar, but somewhat… different. “There’s something wrong here. It’s crude. Too many details are missing.” “Well captain, maybe it’s just that this was not part of a true ceremony. A scout patrol? they would lack a priest, hence the awkward result”. “Yes, it could be. Unless… unless it was just made for us to see it and land here.” In the meantime, Tepiki’s mount had noticed a fresh mango, laying in the grass, so he moved toward it. Near the fruit, it collapsed into a concealed hollow; there was a sudden sound of broken glass, and a burst of green vapors enveloped the beast, that started screaming. Tepiki ran toward his companion, but the green vapors were expanding. I tried to warn the other members of my patrol, but the trap was already on its course… a globe, launched from the jungle, shattered directly upon a terradon and the explosion took away both the mount and the nearby rider. The third terradon flew away, terrified and deaf to the calls of its skink. Tepiki looked at me, holding his javelin. “Run away, you fool! We’ll buy you some time! Find our troops and… don’t let it go waste.” I watched him charge toward the invisible enemies, screaming a war cry. To my shame, I ran in the opposite direction, into the jungle, as if hell was on my back. I purposely fled into the thickest part of it, not caring about the bushes and the thorns, until my lungs were on fire, then I ran some more, until my legs were on fire too, then I fell into a natural trench, hiding as a scared child. I stood there for a very long time, trying to calm down, as I had no idea of what I could do. But as time passed, I focused on my body. I’ve been sitting here doing nothing, but my blood still runs. I also sense a terrible hunger… it’s this unnatural high temperature, is doing something to my metabolism. The ground is hot. The skaven are doing something from below… they’re hurting the forest, and us. Then, a voice came out of nothing. “You are a very noisy fellow, do you know it? And you left a trail that even a kroxigor would have been able to follow”. I freezed, and reached for my dagger… but it was lost somewhere in the jungle. “Who’s there?” The cortex of a tree moved, creating the shapes of a reptilian head; an eye was pinned upon me, while the other one was pivoting to control the surrounding area. “A chameleon scout! I am Captain Tikkit, from Xlanhuapec; you must carry me to Colonel T’Pok, we were searching signs of our army since days, but we fell in an ambush.” “I know”. The chameleon changed color, letting himself become totally visible. The distinctive crest identified him as an alpha. “Your search is over. I’m T’Pok, but don’t bother about the colonel. And now that you have found me, you can go back to the City of Mists”. “Go back…? Sir, I was ordered to find you. Reports are missing and the Central Command wants information about what’s happening here. I need to know how our forces are positioned and verify Chaqua’s actual situation.” Both of T’Pok eyes looked at me. “Information…? Son, you’re coming from a million years away. While Oxyotl was fighting daemons, he learned that in our wars even the very laws of nature stop working… and you’re worried about trivial things as ranks, orders and reports? I’m fighting a war, and I intend to win it. That’s the only information you need. Go back home.” I sighed heavily. “Sir, I cannot.” “Very well then. Follow me, we’re heading for Chaqua: I’ll show you the war.” We marched through the jungle for hours. T’Pok ignored all my attempts to start a speech, to the point I stopped trying, saving my energies. Then, T’Pok took a halt. “The enemy is near.” “What’s the plan?” “I will take it by deceit. Just continue along and be yourself.” After that, the chameleon vanished. Great. Now I must play the bait. I don’t know if the colonel is still fit for command, but I hope at least he’s still a good assassin. So I went forward, trying to be as silent as possible. I walked for a few minutes, each meter requiring a greater effort. At a certain point, I noticed vaguely that I had a blurry sight… I stumbled over my feet, and I tried to reach for a branch to avoid falling, but I missed it. I tried to stand up, but my legs refused to move; huge orchids were in front of me, pink and purple. So fragrant... their scent was strange… I watched them turning into an indistinct stain, then my consciousness went away. _______________ I woke up slowly, still filled with the sensation of dizziness. I was in an underground, dirty place, with a strong reek of putrefaction that almost made me puke… but more probably my weakness was due to whatever cursed substance stroke me down. I was unable to move, and my head was hurting like hell. I sensed some low speech, and a sort of light… so I focused my sight to the still unclear figure that was near the source of light, trying to distinguish the words. “…almighty Sotek, this is the offering from your unworthy servant. I will drink the corrupt blood, and I will devour the rotten flesh. Let the poison fill my body and let it strengthen my resistance. Give me Your favor so I will kill in Your Name, give me the…” “T’Pok… is that you?” The speech ended abruptly. A chameleon eye turned toward me. “Welcome back my friend. Yes, it’s me.” “Those bastards must have poisoned me… did you killed them? have you saved me?” “I brought you here”. The chameleon skink was near a sort of stone table; the source of the light was due to the glowing embers under a small cooking grid. Upon the grid there was some sort of meat and… over the table, there was the half cut corpse of a skaven… and more skaven corpses were hanging from the ceiling, some of them were flayed and smoked, some of them were simply left to rot away, with flies all over them. Many furs were amassed over the pavement, creating an amorphous pile, mixed with the remains of ragged clothes. There was also a shelf, with skaven weapons, darts, daggers, even translucent globes with a core of pulsing green light. “What is this place? What are you doing here?” T’Pok was sitting toward the table, intent on doing something; only his right, unnerving eye, was looking at me. “This is my temple, and I am doing a ceremonial sacrifice. Now I’m going to complete the ritual, if you don’t mind.” “A temple? T’Pok, this is wrong on so many levels… you are no priest and you have no rights to do ceremonies. Plus, what kind of inappropriate rite are you supposed to celebrate here in this morgue?” T’Pok turned to me; he was holding a knife, and in the other hand he had a piece of half cooked meat; he chomped away a chunk of it, chewing it slowly. His look was cold, unnerving. And suddenly I realized that I was not immobilized by some drug… I was tied up. “Haven’t you heard what I’ve said to you? Only war matters, the strength to wage it. Physical and moral laws are an unnecessary burden. Why do you think it should be different for Gods? They don’t care about form… They care only about what’s due to Them. If you satisfy Their hunger, They will reward you. That’s why I’m winning this war. That’s why this land is mine.” “This is Lustria, not your land. Now cut away this rope and…” “This is no more Lustria. Lizardmen are unable to win because they just care about Sotek and Old Ones. Skaven are not able to win because they only care about the Horned Rat. That’s why I am winning”. The sense of dizziness was fading away, and I was able to focus on the rest of the room. The sense of nausea grew to an almost unbearable point. There were scaled tails hanging on hooks, and sauris' hands left to rot near holes in the walls; reptilian eyeballs were floating in a jello liquid into glass jars…and there was the severed head of Sky Leader Tepiki, placed on a plate, with dead, accusatory eyes staring at me. I was not able to divert my look from the remains of Tepiki, but I heard T’Pok was moving. “Sotek has been satisfied. Now, we’d better feed also the Horned Rat…” Spoiler: Story Four: Khazâd ai-mênu Khazâd ai-mênu (trans: The dwarfs are upon you) Waves gently caressed the beach and lapped between the Lizardman’s claws with a quite hiss. The kroxigor ignored the sensation and scanned the shoreline to either side. As far as he could see, nothing of interest had washed ashore on the tide and there was barely enough pick to interest a seagull let alone a himself. Satisfied that nothing had escaped his attention he trudged back to the crest of the low fore dune to join his skink companion. The scene was remarkably peaceful for one of Lustria’s contested borders, but looks can deceive. There was turmoil within. Nurgle. “Must you do that, Lurtak?” The skink spoke without diverting his attention from the blue horizon. Nurgle. The Kroxigor’s stomach gurgled again. “I can’t help it, Korthu. I’m starving. We haven’t had anything but maggoty potatoes for three stinking days. Why can’t we have some meat?” Kortho turned a sharp glance towards his brother and then looked behind himself. Behind the long hump of the dune was a hollow of firmer sand held together by twisting convolvuli. It was just wide enough to accommodate a regiment of lizardmen, as long as they squeezed together. Beyond that was a vast saltmarsh, and far beyond that, Lustria’s fabled forest giants could be seen as blotchy silhouettes against the setting sun. The skink gazed back out to sea. “You can’t have meat because you ate the last of the good rations three stinking days ago. On day one of our lookout duty.” He raised his javelin and waved it vaguely towards the indistinct line where ocean met sky. “That cloud wasn’t there earlier.” There was a rumble. “There is this cold-one cavalry patrol somewhere nearby. What about them? They’re fresh.” Lurtak slurped and licked his lips. “No.” “What about their mounts. They don’t need those.” “No, no and no. We are sworn to be in full readiness to protect Lustria’s fair green swamps and so are the riders, and they would look very silly trying to charge an enemy just clopping two half coconuts together to make the sound. And at any moment an army of dwarves could appear to plunder our gold. Or humans could come to plunder our…our magical souvenirs. Or dark elves might swoop to ravish our cold ones.” “Not if I ate them first,” Lurtak dejectedly scrunched his toes. “The cold ones, I mean. The only likely attack on this coast here would be tomb kings, come to plunder our sand, and they don’t have any meat on them.” His stomach rumbled again. “I could really plunder some dark elves right now. I could even plunder a hairy little dwarf.” Kortho waved his javelin again, eyes still rivetted on the horizon. “That cloud is building, but Priest Melchet didn’t predict any weather for today.” “Hmmph. What would a Beast Priest know about the weather.” “He did a divination before we left camp. I saw him poking around the entrails of a huagerdon this morning.” “Now you are deliberately making me hungry,” grumbled the Kroxigor. Kortho cocked his earhole. “What was that?” “My stomach rumbling again.” Lurtak tilted his own head. “I think. Or maybe not.” “The cloud is building to a storm, I guess. That’s a roll of thunder.” After a dozen slow kroxigor heartbeats, the sound had not abated. Lurtak replied. “It’s a long roll of thunder. Does it sound a bit clanky to you?” “And what’s that black thing? A whale? It looks to be swimming ahead of the storm.” “Too big for a whale. Too fast.” Lurtak heaved his huge mace up to his shoulder and shuffled his clawed feet deeper into the soft sand. The rumble and clanking rose to a continuous roar as the vast object sped toward them. Soon it was very obvious that it was not a whale. In shape it was like an inverted bastiladon shell, but rather than bony scutes, it was covered with overlapping iron plates. On each flank, huge wheels churned the water with wide blades and propelled the monster on a wild cushion of foam. On its upper surface stood three chimneys, each taller than the spire of the Shrine of Tepok. From these came belching the mysterious cloud and its attendant thunder. The behemoth did not slow as it approached and it crunched into the sand and gravel with great force. Its flippers continued to flail and it dragged itself a good hundred feet onto the shore. There was a hiss and a burst of steam and a great maw opened with a motion similar to a castle drawbridge crashing down to bridge a moat. Then from within burst a vile flood of heavily armoured figures brandishing wicked looking polearms. From each one’s foaming, hairy lips ripped a fierce battle cry: “Baruk khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!” Kortho raised his javelin in the signal that called for readiness, and his gesture received reply in the sudden rattle of war drums from the regiment of lizardmen who were squeezed together in the hollow between fore dune and saltmarsh. Lurtak bared his dagger teeth and turned to greet the hissing, snapping host of stone and scale as they tromped inexorably forward from their hiding place and began to form up beside him at the crest of the dune. “Looks like dwarf’s back on the menu, boys,” he bellowed joyously. Spoiler: Story Five: Itxi Itxi It was a thickening sensation, a feeling of fibres inside you lengthening, extending and enmeshing, pulling themselves together into a sturdy matted structure that felt warm and secure. No, too abstract. No one would understand it if you explained it like that, Thi'kri reflected. Basically it just felt good. It made you feel in control. Oh, and of course there was the power boost. Thi-kri pointed his flabby fingers and vaporised a coming blood daemon with a jet of white fire. It felt good. He checked his supply, and then closed the obsidian box in his lap, deciding he would keep the remaining grubs for later. After all, he could give them up whenever he wanted. He didn't need them. "Excellent work, today," said the voice of Mage Priest X'toli in his mind as he meditated in the Inner Sanctum after the battle. "I heard you were on fire. Or at least they were." "Indeed," was Thi'kri's telepathic reply. "Though I hardly require my contemplations to be disturbed to judge my own performance." "No need to get shirty, old bean." Even as an ethereal presence, X'toli could wheeze. "I merely wished to inform you that a few of us will be in conference this evening. We're discussing a ritual." There was a dusty silence. "A ritual that could end the war," said X'toli. "A kind invitation, bean," said Thi'kri. "But I expect I shall have more important tasks this evening. Some of us need to prepare for actual battlefield operations." The communication ended with a Hrmph. Thr'kri was alone in the gentle dusk of the high sanctuary. He rubbed his nose - and realised that his other hand was already reaching for the obsidian box. He sighed. It was always so hard to stay calm. Everything was better after a...dose. *** "Well I suppose I better see what all this fuss is about," declared Thi'kri as he stormed into the astral conference of slann that evening. He was greeted by uneasy muttering. "Good of you to join us, Thi'kri," said X'toli, feigning levity. "We were just hearing from Mage Priest M'Fanu, from the Southlands. He has an ingenious solution to the current crisis." "You're very kind," said M'Fanu, a younger slann with white skin. "Though it is merely a proposition. I posit that a precise insertion of troops against rear auxiliary positions in southern Naggaroth could, with the right equipment, allow us to harness the enemy's own power sources to create a second vortex - only temporary, but enough to eliminate the daemon threat for centuries." "Absurd," stated Thi'kri, witheringly. "Such an action would require a geomantic ritual of near impossible skill. The leading priest would need to be a virtuoso prodigy of quite considerable-" "We were rather hoping the lead priest would be you, Lord Thi'kri," said M'Fanu. "Indeed?" Thi'kri thought he masked his amazement seamlessly. "Your recent accomplishments on the field have demonstrated quite extraordinary power and ability. No one has seen anything like it since Mazdamundi, and of course we all know he was using grubs..." "Terrible how he let himself go," nodded X'toli. "I suppose the plan does have some merit," Thi'kri heard himself say, and felt his real-world eyes watering. "If there's any reason why you can't undertake the task, we will quite understand," said M'Fanu. "Not at all. I will begin preparations at once." *** In the temple, Thi'kri ordered his attendants to take the obsidian box somewhere he couldn't find it. There were three moons until the ritual. Easy. The first night was the worst. He ordered the stone door to the inner sanctum closed, and spent the night quivering in the pitch black room, his mind racing in agony across the dimensions. When the room was unsealed the next morning, the skink priests were surprised to see the ancient carvings on the walls desecrated by explosive blasts. The second night was even harder. Thi'kri's body began to vibrate like a high-energy particle, so fast he started to rise off his own palanquin, his face a half-screaming blur. He woke up when his head touched the ceiling. The skinks had been trying to rouse him for hours. The enemy was at the gates. The saurus were keeping them at bay, but the city would soon be overwhelmed without his intervention. Sweat poured from his jelly body in buckets. His emerald skin had faded to the palest of pastels. He stared at the nearest skink with eyes that had not only seen the abyss but had bathed in its black waters. "The box," he croaked. "Bring me the obsidian box." "But you gave strict orders-" "I know what I ordered, cretin! Now you have new orders! The fate of the city depends on it!" Minutes later, it was all over. Kroxigors shovelled the burnt remains of the daemons into mass graves. Thi'kri blew on his smoking fingers. There was a polite cough beside him. High Priest Slotl, an elderly skink with a huge feathered headdress. "My Lord, I would be remiss if I did not ask about what happened this morning. Are you...quite well?" "I feel incredible. My powers are at their peak. What happened this morning will not happen again. I know now what must be done." Slotl coughed again. "My Lord, concerning the obsidian box. Can I suggest-" "Just keep it well stocked. I trust that will not be a problem?" The priest gave him a look of pity. Thi'kri felt his blood boil under that expression. "Actually, my Lord, we are experiencing shortages-" "Just keep the box well stocked!" shrieked the slann, a bolt of lightning exploding from his palanquin and earthing itself near the skink's feet. "...yes, my Lord." *** Preparations began in earnest. Thi'kri felt himself operating at full capacity. He was seen proceeding around the temple at unslann-like speeds, and he found he barely needed to contemplate at night. His green skin glowed so brightly that the skinks could hardly look at him. The box was refilled more often than ever before. The ritual was just one moon away when Thi'kri found the box empty. There was nothing to fill it with, as its contents were sourced from a very specific region of jungle that the daemons had recently taken. Several priests lost their lives to Thi'kri's rage. He demanded more be found, but the desperate skinks had already requisitioned the stores of all the nearby cities and private apothecaries. He began to panic almost at once. He could feel the onset of his weakness begin to consume him. The larger doses had come at increasingly shorter intervals. In hours he would start to shake - in short days he would be catatonic. As night fell he used a simple spell to evade the guards and he stole from the city into the trees. Soon he reached his destination: Quetza, the Defiled city, where lurked the rats of Clan Pestilens. Hulking rodents approached with warp-green weapons, and at their head came the one they called the Cough. He was a smaller rat, but grotesquely obese and diseased, carried forth on a platter by a snarling abomination. "Well here's a delicious conundrum," he spat, phlem running down among the sores and blisters. "What brings Mr High and Mighty to our humble abode, all alone in the middle of the night? And why shouldn't I splatter his lovely red innards over the walls of my burrow?" "You need me," barked Thi'kri. "I have an opportunity for you." "What was that?" said the Cough, cupping a hand that was ludicrously tiny in comparison to the wobbling mass of his body. Thi'kri felt the sweat on his face. One of his legs spasmed involuntarily, and the floating palanquin wobbled for a fleeting moment. The Cough grinned. "I said, I have an opportunity," continued the slann, attempting to regain his composure. "Your tunnels reach all corners of the jungle. Bring me the ...ingredients I need, and I will give you a reward." "You scurry here with your tail between your legs, no army, no magic - what could you possibly offer me, except maybe a good meal?" "I can give you a city." Now it was the rat's turn to hesitate. "Come again?" it said. "I can show you how to enter another city. A living city. You can take it. It will be your second Quetza." "I'm not sure I'm buying this, frankly," said the Cough, eyeing him. "Please," said Thi'kri. "You won't regret it. I...I need this." The Cough paused again, and then burst into a wracking semblance of laughter. "Oh! Oh I see. And these "ingredients" you require. You need them, yes? You let them control you. Like a Skryre rat needs warpstone. You're one of us now, laddie! Welcome to the ratty world of need!" *** The ritual started off well. Saurian battalions had captured key sites behind the daemon lines, carrying arcane equipment that let the slann channel the geomantic forces at a great distance. Thi'kri took a deep breath as he entered the astral plane. "Is everything ready?" he asked the ghostly forms of the assembled Mage Priests. Most of them were there merely to watch and learn. If today went well, it would be the bedrock of the Great Plan going forwards. "We're prepped to follow you, ritual leader," said M'Fanu at Thi'kri's side. "Very well. As soon as we begin, we'll be on the clock. The Chaos gods will sense our work immediately and dispatch legions to dismantle the apparatus. Nevertheless, if we stick to the plan, I am certain our chances of success are high. My esteemed colleagues, join me." M'Fanu and two assisting slann began to meld their spiritual energies, fuelling Thi'kri's already prodigious psychic abilities. He took the astral equivalent of another deep breath, and focused. Immediately, he sensed the awe-inspiring, thrumming current of the geomantic grid. He cast his mind out, looking, and soon selected the perfect nexus within the network. "Probe," he said, and he felt the others join him in reaching out to the spot, burrowing their way into the vast world energy. Now the fun began. He reached out and pulled several strands together. "I have found the sites in Naggaroth," he said to the astral audience. "I will now link their fields and manipulate the nodes to rotate, like so." He could hear impressed murmuring as the geomantic flow began to move in a circular path. But then his smile faded. The accelerating winds of magic started to slow again. "Intruder," said M'Fanu. "They mean to fight us in the astral plane." Thi'kri stared at them. He could feel daemon energies clawing at the edge of his mind, severing his connection to the grid. This was a worst case scenario. He saw the elderly shape of X'toli shuffling out of the crowd. "We must abort," he said. "We could lose everything!" They all looked to Thi'kri. He looked back. "No. We fight. My assistants will hold them back." He saw M'Fanu nod. "I will complete the ritual alone." "But the strain - that could take hours by yourself! Days!" "I can do it. Go! Now, before it gets any worse!" X'toli moved back, and M'Fanu's expression darkened as he telepathically shifted gears, moving to combat the incursion of chaos and keep it away from the ritual's operations. The assisting slann followed suit. Thi'kri was alone. He started slowly, but soon found he needed more effort than he realised. He called on reserves of power he rarely required. The nascent vortex began to spin again - speeding up ever so gradually. This had all the makings of a terrible slog. The hours passed. The slann watched as Thi'kri struggled. His power was clearly waning. The vortex was nowhere near the speed required. He was just glad they couldn't see his physical body - he knew it must already be sweating and spasming. If he left the astral plane even for the second it would take to swallow another grub, all would be lost. The eyes of the other slann were on him. Huge, unmoving eyes. They judged him. None of them had even an ounce of the skill required to do what he was doing. He would go down in history for this. What he wouldn't give for just a small dose. Centuries free of the daemonic threat. An opportunity that would never present itself again. He strained with everything he had. The vortex was powerful, now. A hurricane of thaumatic force. But he knew it was still a long way from where it needed to be. Hours more at least. He could feel the cold sweats throbbing, even with his mind several dimensions away. Oh gods, what he wouldn't give! The eyes. The wind. The strain. The need. The assembled Mage Priests cowered back as the vortex was released, its tremendous energies detonating across the psychic landscape. As the metaphorical dust cleared, they looked around. "He's gone," muttered X'toli, incredulously. "He left the ritual. It's all gone. We failed." "Why would he do that?" asked someone. "Didn't he know how important this was?" X'toli looked around, sadly. "I suppose," he said, slowly, "he must have had something more important still." Spoiler: Story Six: One Man’s Meal is Another Man’s Poison One Man’s Meal is Another Man’s Poison Kromm Brokksson, the eldest Longbeard of Barak Varr, was grumbling. Again. He had had news that the Longbeard who was supposed to be telling stories to the Beardlings today, Bael Dragongaze, had overdone it on the Bugman’s XXXXXX and was recovering from an immense hangover, and Kromm himself had been ordered to take his place. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the Beardlings, he just felt that he was too old to be messing around with youngsters, being 379 years of age, and that he would be generally better off just sitting in the tavern with Dwarfs of his own age, slurping beer and grumbling about the loss of his axe. He certainly couldn’t do that while the Beardlings were present - their mothers would scold him no end for the use of such bad language. As he trudged into the Great Hall, Jormgard Greathammer the Runesmith wandered over to him. “Ah, Kromm! It was most kind of you to volunteer to step in and entertain the Beardlings today,” he croaked. Kromm was just about to reply that he didn’t volunteer and was in fact roped in to do it by his superiors, when the Runesmith joked, “I trust you know that they’re all sitting by the hearth, assuming you can remember that far back to when you used to do so. I’ll be back in an hour to take them all on a tour around the armoury.” The Runesmith then promptly left, leaving Kromm, grumpy and slightly befuddled, to make his way over to the great chair reserved for storytellers where all the young Dwarfs of the hold were sitting around. There were at least two score of them sitting there, from the youngest children, around 4-5 years old, to adolescents of around 19-20, and all of them watched Kromm as he stumped over to the chair and sat himself down with a grunt. “Right then, young’uns, I’m here to recount stories of the days of old today, as Bael is not available,” Kromm said to the assembled Beardlings. “From what I’ve heard he got hammered with ale in the tavern!” One of the older Beardlings called from the back rows, which caused a wave of laughter from the younger Dwarfs. “Anyway, “ Kromm growled, glaring at the cheeky Beardling before continuing, “What tale do you want to hear today?” “The tales of Gotrek and Felix!” Cried one of the younger Beardlings. “Pah! Gotrek and Felix? Why, every Dwarf and his mountain-goat on this side of the Worlds Edge Mountains know all about those two and their adventures,” Kromm replied, “Now, how about I tell you of the time when I met the Lizard Folks of the south? Gotrek and Felix never met any Lizard Folk on their travels, now did they?” About half the Beardlings shook their heads instantly at this, while the other half sat there and looked vacant. “Now then, let me see. It was about three and a half centuries ago. I was a young miner who was embarking upon my first venture beyond the mines I was working in, as I had been chosen as one of the company who were to escort the delivery of six cartloads of iron to the Lizard Folk. “It had all started when one of them had arrived at the very gates of Barak Varr. You see, the Lizard Folk are not like us Dwarfs - where we are all one race, the Lizard Folk are made up of three separate groups of beings all living together to survive. The first lot are about as small as Goblins, while the second lot are each taller than an Orc. The last group of them are each bigger and more fearsome than a Ogre, and, lucky for us, about as stupid. In any case, it was one of the smallest ones who reached our gates all those years ago. The Gatekeepers had never seen anything like him before, and quite understandably remained cautious. He was as thin as a twig, with a bright red crest on the back of his head, big yellow eyes, each about as large as my nose, and small sharp teeth that could give you a painful nip but were nothing too formidable. He demanded to see the king, and claimed that he was a diplomat, but he wasn’t going anywhere without a dozen Hammerers all around him. I wasn’t allowed in the Great Hall - of course, a sprog like me at that time was far too young and inexperienced - so I had to rely upon what the others who were there told me, chiefly the Prospector, old “Smelly” Grond Hamarrsson. He informed all of us that the little visitor’s kingdom were willing to forge an alliance with us if we could provide them with a large amount of iron. Of course, we had plenty of iron - it’s the most common resource in the World’s Edge Mountains - so we gladly accepted. Our Corps were chosen to deliver the iron, and according to Smelly, we would be accompanied by the 5th Ironbreaker Corps, the same group who used to stand guard at the very deepest depths of our mines, so we were in safe hands. “I was certainly excited - it would give me a chance to see a good deal more of the surface world than I would if I had refused to come - and quite a few of the other younger miners were equally as enthusiastic. Soon enough, all thirty of us, the little ambassador and two dozen Ironbreakers set out with the six carts the next day. Each of them was pulled by a sturdy mountain pony and laden with iron ingots. We travelled along the old mountain road to the west for a good few miles, before we swung sharply to the south around one of the junctions. Gradually, as we made more and more progress, the mountains started to disappear, and rolling green foothills took over, although a branch of the river that served as our natural harbour was still here to guide us. Soon, however, our party reached the outskirts of the Badlands, which are riddled with Orcs, Goblins, Giants and Trolls, so we had to be increasingly wary as we went along the road, For much of the journey I found myself walking alongside the little diplomat, and I was finally able to see what he looked like. At first I couldn’t stop thinking how scrawny and pathetic he looked, but then I wondered what he thought of us. We might look just as odd to him as he did to me. He was all on his own away from home with strange company, which was how I felt too. He deserved more respect than we were giving him, so I did the decent thing and asked who he was. He replied in a very squeaky voice something like ‘Itzi-Mitzi-Bitzi’ or something silly like that. I was surprised that he could understand Khazalid, but he then said something more about him being from the ‘great city in the hidden marshes’ and immediately saw that he had mispronounced a basic verb. In any case, he was telling me how his city was running out of metal to make weapons, the reason for which they needed the iron, when I heard Smelly Hamarrsson give the order for us to halt. Dead ahead of us, in the middle of the road, was a tradesman’s cart. It obviously hailed from the Empire, no race of manlings makes more shoddy things than the men of the Empire. When we marched over to it, we found that it had been raided. Whatever had been in the cart was now gone, as we thought, meaning it had been the cargo that had attracted the attackers. The crew and horse were dead, but it was the way they had been killed that made us shudder. The blades that had slain them must have been blunt and crude, and that could have meant only one thing - this had been the work of Orcs. We continued on our way, but after seeing the evidence of Orc attack, we were even more cautious. The bodies were quite freshly slain, meaning that the raiders were not far away. Indeed, we would find out later that they were closer than we thought. We were marching through a particularly dense patch of forest, making sure we kept to the road, when there was rustling in the bushes ahead of us. We all stopped and levied our weapons, all except for the ambassador, who hid behind me and poked his head out to see what was approaching. Soon enough, an Orc emerged from the undergrowth to face us, along with another, and another, and yet another, until the whole road was blocked by an Orc horde that outnumbered us at around three to one. The Ironbreakers advanced ahead of us and locked shields to form an impenetrable wall, before the burly Big Boss at the head of our foe bellowed the command to charge. Barely five seconds passed before the Orcs threw themselves into the shield wall with a deafening slam. All us miners hefted our picks and formed a circle around the cargo, while the tiny lizard rushed into the middle to stay with the ponies and the iron, the latter of which, to him, was priceless. He then unstrapped a horn made from the appendage of one of the creatures of his homeland, and blew a low, sonorous note that echoed throughout the forest. The Orcs, bemused for a moment, stopped to listen to the sound, before they launched themselves at us again. Initially the Ironbreakers had the upper hand, weathering the Greenskins’ blows with ease and felling many of them in return, but more came, and the first Ironbreaker was toppled by an Orc blade. This chink in the shieldwall made it easier then for the enemy to break through, and gradually they wore the wall of gromril down. Soon the last one was dead, surrounded and cut to pieces, before the monsters turned on us. It looked as if we, along with our cargo and companion, were lost, but then something astounding happened. The Orc attack faltered as most of those who weren’t immediately fighting us began to turn round as one after another of their number were slain by long spears thrust into them from the back. Initially I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, but as the Orcs’ other enemy killed more and more of them, I noticed blue reptilian jaws sinking themselves into Orc necks, and long blue spiked tails delivering punishing blows. Our companion’s bigger cousins had arrived! Although we didn’t know who these creatures were at the time, we threw ourselves at the Greenskins with renewed vigour, and between us and the ambassador’s warriors the Orcs stood no chance. Their whole line collapsed as their warriors turned and fled in all directions, knowing that they were beaten. We made no attempt to pursue, for at the time we did not know whether these new visitors were friendly or hostile. However, that was soon decided when our little reptile companion ran over to them and they made no attempt to harm him. He spoke to them in a strange language we had never heard of before, and they put down their weapons to show they meant no harm. They still looked formidable with their huge jaws full of teeth, but we trusted our companion’s judgement and did the same. The ambassador then arrived back to us and said in his squeaky voice that his people were truly grateful for the generosity we had shown them, and that they would take the carts of iron the remainder of the way back to their city. He then whistled and three of the huge troll-sized ones lumbered over, each one picking up one of the iron carts and its payload and hoisting it onto his back as easily as if it were a backpack. Just before he and his new escort were about to leave, I thought that it would be an especially friendly gesture to provide him with a gift he could keep for himself, and I took the piece of chuf out from under my helmet and gave it to him. There’s nothing like a piece of fresh mountain goat’s cheese to keep you going on a long journey, and I thought he may want to eat it on the way home. He sniffed at it tentatively and decided to try it before leaving, taking a small bite out of it and swallowing. However, he didn’t seem to like it very much as he gagged and stuck out his pink tongue, before politely saying that he would have some roasted Chuxtli Beetles when he got home, whatever they were. I felt quite a bit more sorry for him then for only being reared on beetles all his life, but on the other hand, that meant more chuf for me! In any case, we then parted ways with his band, and while he and his cousins departed south, we stayed and buried each of the Ironbreakers and carved a small prayer to Gazul onto each of the spots where they lay, for we couldn’t carry them home with us. We then retraced our steps and returned home, our mission complete, without further incident.’ The assembled Beardlings, impressed by Kromm’s tale, all clapped resoundingly now that the end had been reached. “And the moral of that tale, young’uns, is ‘Always remember to take a piece of chuf with you under your helmet’, so you’ll never be hungry on a journey. Oh, and also if you do meet any Lizard Folks on your travels, there’s a manling expression that you may want to take heed of: ‘One man’s meal is another man’s poison’. They don’t seem to like the food that we like. I don’t know why, but there we are. They’re not Dwarfs, so they eat different things. Now, what story would you like to hear next?” “Gotrek and Felix!” several young Beardlings shouted. Sighing, Kromm composed himself again and began to tell the tale of the Zombie Slayer. Spoiler: Story Seven: The Wisdom of Coberne and the Shrine of Toxl-Chokta The Wisdom of Coberne and the Shrine of Toxl-Chokta Rainguld trudged forward, stomping temples and lizards alike with glee. He towered over the puny creatures. Here was a small temple with a bright green painted dwelling atop. His left boot smashed it into a million lumps of stone and clouds of brick dust. Why had he ever feared the denizens of Lustria? Stomp! Flatten. Crush them! under his mighty boot heels...but still the chain went ever on. He would find its end if he had to crush every squared cornered stack of rock in this jungle. He never noticed the length of chain behind him leading to Coberne. Neither did Coberne. “Harkvoon neebtip queeezalk! Gwimbish nord gim baktuu klom. Thinvimble bwok chor te na morkpish, queezalk! Queeeezalk!!” Coberne shouted sincerely. Then he began to mumble, “ruknim, ruknim, ruknim, vorse. Ruknim, ruknim, ruknim, ruknim, vorse....” And the chain pulled ever onwards. Reynard was next, his eyes wide, his jaw slack, his head on a slow, slow, almost imperceptible swivel. Taking in everything but seeing nothing. His unseeing eyes ignored the towering castles of clouds mirrored in the expanse of still water that stretched away from the causeway. The endlessly complex formations of lily pads (all seven colors), the spikenard shoots, and watercress clusters that framed the sky below made no impression. His head slowly rotated back to his right until the backs of Coberne and Rainguld should have swum into view, Coberne plodding along the causeway, but Rainguld violently stomping invisible enemies right and left. A huge Terradon flashed past, moving right to left, wings green with red splotches, but Reynard’s head didn’t track it, never pausing its slow traverse. Even Coberne suddenly shouting, “Twegthimvaaaaar!” made no impression. Absolutely unnoticed, the chain connected Reynard to Willhelm as well... To Willhelm who was Balking Wackbards. His jaws moved but no words would form. He was desperate to lead his shipmates back to the safety of the trees. He was pointed the right direction. But the road he was following kept magically stretching ever longer and further, water to either side of it . He kept trying to speak, but no words came out. He kept trying to lead the way, to go... ...away. But there was something wrong with his feet. He kept walking wackbards, or was it backing balkwards? If only he could say the words. Warn them... But, at last the rag-tag little caravan of five stood under the shadow of the great serpent gate at the end of the causeway. One of the Saurus guard slouched out to interrogate the newcomers. He addressed the skink at the head of the line of chained man-things, “Have you brought us provender, Hunter?” “I have not.” “I think we will sample one or two nevertheless”, although he eyed Coberne dubiously as he said this. Coberne replied, “Quimbezaak na gwassool vim cheb-gwin! ...Chebgwinnnn!!” as more Saurus gathered to back their leader. “You will not live to tell of it, O mighty Saurus.” “Who are you to say otherwise! Hunter? “I am Tzlatoc the Hunter, Scout, and Chothan’s Rider.” “You are a Chameleon, not a Terradon rider.” “True ...and False. In that order. I am both.” They were engulfed briefly by the shadow of Chothan’s wings as he back-winged to a landing, perching on a serpent-headed balustrade. Tzlatoc stepped in close to the winged beast and pulled a turquoise bottle with green stripes out of the harness net on his Terradon. Upending the bottle to demonstrate it was empty, Tzlatoc continued, “I am a hunter and scout. I serve the Slann by finding his foes and warning his loyal guards what will happen to them should they proceed unwisely.” “You will not live, because they drank this. They got through three bottles between them.” “And what is that?” “Harklberry Wine.” All of the Saurus edged back a step. One of them hissed. “Please send for a priest, the remaining bottles and these unfortunates must be taken to the Slann at once. That was my mission.” “What mission?” “I was sent to the Shrine of Toxl-Chokta to retrieve eight bottles of this, which they press there, to be delivered to the Slann at the Temple of Chotec. We flew back along the coast where I spotted a rock formation near some tidal pools and a small wrecked ship. It was evening. The rocks looked like a good place to land and camp. I released Chothan to hunt after I unburdened him of our cargo. That was when these four jumped me. They too had decided to camp in the rocks after their ship went aground, and I was taken by surprise.” “They questioned me wanting to know: where was my treasure, where were my jewels, where was my army, where was the nearest city of gold. I told them I was only a courier and warned them not to touch my cargo. The last thing I told them is what I told you...” “Do not drink the Harklberry Wine.” “Not even by feasting on them, O Saurus, for it boils in their veins. In their wreck I found chain to bind them together and I have had to drag them back overland. They have been as you see them. This first one stomps invisible beetles, the second one shouts at everyone in the language of no one, the third stares blindly at everything, and the fourth will only walk if he walks backwards.” “Drimgark chorrzzeltak,” Coberne muttered. “I will bring all eight bottles back, even if I do not know how to extract the missing three.” “What does the Slann want with such a foul potion?” the Saurus wondered aloud. “Strange are the ways of the Slann.” Tzlatoc disagreed, “Wise are the ways of the Slann, Gate Warden, wise are the ways of the Slann.” Spoiler: Story Eight: Essence of Lustria >>:- Essence of Lustria -:<< Phorexx sniffed the viscous grey liquid. Nostrils twitching, he took in the earthy stench of death and decay, recoiling as a rancid smelling bubble burst on the surface. “I don’t get it…” “You’re not supposed to ‘get it’, you’re supposed to drink it!” Phorexx’ eyes flicked up and met the blue flecked gaze of his friend, perched on the other side of the flask. The so called “drink” emitting an offensive smell that reminded Phorexx of bastilidon. “It looks like it came from an extinct spawning pool; where did you find it?” the skink shuffled his hands on the flask. Toohii snorted and turned his attention back to the drink. “You don’t just ‘find’ this stuff. It’s a work of art.” The skink rolled his eyes. Lizardmen don’t know much about art, but even the average kroxigor would have more of a clue about it than the saurus seated across from him. As far as Phorexx was concerned, art should not cause extreme nausea. “It looks like something Fosstr would make in the kitchens.” Phorexx pictured the gangly chameleon skink. “Whatever he does in there cannot be considered art.” “Hey, you know it’s not easy to make decent drinks. This little beauty took me three hours.” Toohii smiled proudly as the drink made a suspicious plarp noise. Phorexx paused and looked at the saurus. “Honestly, Toohii, I could’ve made that in my sleep. I’m more concerned a bastilidon may have, however.” “Could you make something better? Not likely. You willing to bet?” Toohii held out a hand and Phorexx clasped it firmly, “you have until sundown. Loser drinks that.” He nodded to the flask of grey-brown liquid. Phorexx’ mouth twisted up at the corners, “We’ll let the chief priest decide.” Toohii’s drink gave another joyous gurgle. “It’s on.” >>-:-<< Flaming Guava Juice from the Swamplands of Krxlet >>-:-<< Phorexx nodded to his newly acquired chameleon skink companion through the red haze of the swamplands of Krxlet. The small green reptile unfastened an object from his belt – a set of panpipes – and started up a lilting tune. Squinting in the gloom, Phorexx could make out the clump of small green shrubs he was looking for. Smooth green fruit clung to the drooping branches of the flaming guava trees, swinging in the half-light. The chameleon skink followed Phorexx as he picked his way through the peaty swamp, the lullaby continuing to flow effortlessly from his panpipes. Phorexx tried to ignore the scorch marks on trees and the occasional white bone that jutted up from the ground as they approached the grove. The green plants swung gently in time with the music, quietly rustling in the dull gloom. Pulling a sharp flint from his satchel, Phorexx reached for the nearest of the plants, inches from his claws. Swiftly and as gently as possible, he sliced through the stem of the nearest cluster of fruit, dropping the bunch quietly into his satchel. He was painfully aware that one false move would cause the fruit to explode, making short work of the strange duo. The two lizardmen began to back away step by step until –CRACK! Beside Phorexx, the chameleon skink froze and lifted his foot from the shattered twig, panpipes halted mid-note. As the music came to an abrupt stop, the spell was broken and the flaming guava plants assumed a defensive position. Sensing intruders in their peaty home, the plants began to spurt flames in all directions, their fiery fronds reaching after the fleeing lizardmen. Phorexx tumbled through the trees, clawing his way out of range. He skidded to a halt as the oppressive heat lessened, turning to see what had become of his companion. He narrowed his eyes, scanning the swampy ground and moss covered trees. He turned his head slightly to the side, picking up a faint whistling noise. The whistling grew louder and Phorexx leapt out of the way as a smouldering set of panpipes flew past his head, narrowly missing him. He fled the swamplands without looking back. >>-:-<< Poison dart frog venom from the Giant Lustrian Dart Frogs. >>-:-<< The quiet chirping of insects and small animals filled the humid Lustrian air. Phorexx stepped carefully over fallen logs and small vine like plants that crept across the leaf littered floor, making his way through the sun dappled jungle. The skink put a claw to his mouth signalling to the rest of the party to remain silent. The small band was mostly comprised of bored skinks and chameleon skinks with nothing better to do other than following the seemingly insane skink through the Lustrian jungle on a treasure hunt. Towards the back, however, lumbered Krltunn. Phorexx winced as the kroxigor hit another tree with his massive swinging tail, sending leaves spiralling down on the mismatched party. Before long, Phorexx held up a fist, signalling the company to halt. They were close. Pushing leaves back from his path, Phorexx crept the last few steps to the gargantuan slumbering bodies of the Giant Lustrian Dart Frogs. He took out a small glass vile and a short stick from his satchel. He approached one of the sleeping behemoths, its slimy skin rising and falling with its breaths. Stick held out in one hand, Phorexx gently swiped the warty skin and plonked the stick into the vial, poison end down. As the small crowd “oohed” and “aahed”, Phorexx rolled his yes and returned the vial to its home in his satchel. To his dismay, Krltunn, clearly missing the subtle aspect of the group’s applause, started to clap very enthusiastically and very loudly. Phorexx turned and sprinted from the clearing, followed by the faster thinking skinks, leaving a very confused kroxigor and the now awake and not particularly happy, Giant Lustrian Dart Frogs. >>-:-<< A carnosaur egg from the nest of a carnosaur. >>-:-<< The crowd that had been following Phorexx around that day had disappeared. He wasn’t surprised at his solitude, however, as he crept towards the heart of the jungle. The birdsong had faded into silence as the lone skink picked his way towards his destination. Phorexx peered through the last few feet of foliage at the edge of a clearing. Sunlight breached the thick canopy and shone down on the massive red and golden form of the carnosaur. Her body heaved and her nostrils flared with each inhalation and exhalation. There had been a slim chance the great beast would be away hunting, leaving the nest open and unprotected, but since when was anyone ever that lucky? Just as Phorexx was about to jump from the bushes and do something incredibly stupid, a figure burst from the undergrowth on the other side of the clearing hollering and roaring. Phorexx effectively face palmed as Krltunn came to a screeching stop as he realised where he was. The kroxigor had frog shaped bite marks covering his body, but seemed more or less uninjured… for now. Huge golden eyes flew open and zeroed in on the frozen kroxigor. Krltunn snapped out of his daze and Phorexx watched him bolt into the jungle, the female carnosaur snapping at his heels. The nest deserted, Phorexx climbed over the edge and selected one of the eggs from the clutch. Wrapping it in a cloth, he gently placed it in his satchel and hurriedly returned home. >>-:-<< Ixti grubs from literally any rotting log >>-:-<< Phorexx sighed as he approached the rotten log, a small pouch in his hand. The crowd had reappeared and double in size. Phorexx took a deep breath and kicked the log over. Surely it was impossible to be killed while collecting Ixti grubs, of all things. The skink knelt beside the upturned log, nostrils twitching at the musty earth smell. The small – by Lustrian standards- wriggling grubs writhed and rolled in the rotting wood and dirt, their pale bodies bending and contorting in unsettling ways. The skink carefully picked the fattest and the healthiest ones of the lot, dropping each squirming grub into the pouch. Letting out an exasperated huff, he adjusted his satchel. All this for a stupid drink? Then Phorexx thought of the suspiciously gurgling mass that Toohii had created. It’s worth it… Phorexx sighed to himself as he backed away from the log. A low warning growl thrummed through his ears. Probably… Most animals are known to get most aggressive when separated from their offspring. However, as Phorexx took another step away from the snarling creature before him, he felt like whoever claimed that should be given slap in the face and then be re-educated by being placed between a razordon and its lunch. The crowd had fallen silent, no doubt waiting for the razordon to sink its teeth into Phorexx giving them time to escape. Phorexx decided that, although he would rather become a razordon chew toy than be forced to drink whatever Toohii created, he would rather not die today given all he’d been through. He reached his hand into his satchel and carefully retrieved one of the flaming guavas. The razordon, its eyes having disconcertingly moved from the ixti grubs to Phorexx’ throat, tensed, ready to lunge. As its muscled bunched to spring, Phorexx hurled the fruit at its feet. The was a dull sizzle then a satisfying pop before the razordon was engulfed in a flash of flames and smoke. >>-:-<< “High Priest Korona, we present to you the contestants,” one of the chameleon skink kitchen hands announced to the twitching old priest, “Phorexx the skink and Toohii the saurus warrior.” The Priest absentmindedly waved a hand for the competition to commence, looking an awful lot like someone with better things to do. The crowd, however, cheered loudly and enthusiastically waving their arms in the air. Phorexx brought forth his colourful creation in an elegant glass vial, hissing and fizzing in the Lustrian heat. Beside him, Toohii presented his flask of much. The liquid gave an energetic pfft, no doubt sensing the importance of the situation. Chief Priest Korona, having screwed up his face at Toohii’s drink, turned to take a sip from Phorexx’ vial. As he drew the fizzing substance to his lips, a skull shattering roar burst from the jungle. The crowd parted as a bedraggled Krltunn stumbled into the temple city, bleeding and battered. “I’ve done it!” he cried, “I lost her!” The crowd was silent, the kroxigor gasped heavily for breath Toohii raised a non-existent eyebrow at Phorexx who had frozen to the spot. And the jungle replied. Another roar echoed through the city and from the trees crashed an extremely ticked off looking carnosaur. The city flew into an uproar, skinks scrabbling to get away from the gates and temple guards rushed back to their abandoned posts Chief Priest Korona rolled his eyes in a ‘not again’ kind of way and began to descent the dais. Phorexx knew what he had to do. Turning to Toohii, he grabbed his friend’s flask from his hands and hurled it with all his might at the carnsaur. The globular liquid gave a final slurrrp of happiness before it disappeared into the gaping maw of the carnosuar. The carnosaur stopped from a moment, her expression of rage quickly transforming into one of severe discomfort. Though he could have imagined it, Phorexx swore her face turned slightly green as the great beast clamped her mouth shut and ran back into the trees for some privacy. The collective intake of breath from the thousands of lizardmen exploded into thunderous applause, filling the city. He had done it, he had saved himself from whatever the hell it was that Toohii had created. 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 paste the corrected sentences. Per usual, critiques, comparisons and friendly banter is encouraged. I'm not going to be too strict on this, but if you are aiming to do a comprehensive critique, I'd prefer you make a few large posts rather than a swarm of little ones. Mainly for the benefit of people who are reading this thread a year from now.