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Contest July-August 2020 Short Story Contest Reading Thread

Discussion in 'Fluff and Stories' started by Scalenex, Aug 3, 2020.

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Which story or stories do you like best (you may vote for up to two)

Poll closed Aug 31, 2020.
  1. Story One: "Engine of Chotec"

    1 vote(s)
    9.1%
  2. Story Two: "A Kroxigor's Dream"

    3 vote(s)
    27.3%
  3. Story Three: "The Long Game"

    2 vote(s)
    18.2%
  4. Story Four: "Getting Ahead in the Railroad Business"

    2 vote(s)
    18.2%
  5. Story Five: "The Machine"

    5 vote(s)
    45.5%
  6. Story Six: "The Knowledge of Tlaxtlan"

    4 vote(s)
    36.4%
  7. Story Seven: "Wrapped and Seated"

    2 vote(s)
    18.2%
  8. Story Eight: "Of Scales and Sigmarite"

    2 vote(s)
    18.2%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Scalenex
    Slann

    Scalenex Keeper of the Indexes Staff Member

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    The theme for our 23rd seasonal short story contest provided by @Lizards of Renown , "Technological Advances"

    Please read all eight stories before voting. You may vote for up to two pieces.

    The order of the stories was determined completely randomly. The order has no bearing on which pieces were submitted in what order.

    If someone wants me to fix a typo or formatting error that slipped through the cracks. Please let me know by private message AND please post the entire story with all changes made. It's lot easier for me to copy and paste a new story rather than for me to dig through the text to find the three or four errant sentences.

    The Engine of Chotec

    Deep within the temple of Xaxqu, a lone figure crept through the shadows. Chua'tek stood defiant as the shadows sought to envelope and crush him. To his right he heard the skittering of feet as the Skaven prepared to strike. A blade in the dark hurled through the air as the assassin flew with it. With a deft dodge, Chua'tek was able to parry the blow as he used his large polearm to impale the assassin before hurling his still twitching corpse to the side. Suddenly the tunnels erupted with the chittering of hordes of skaven. Pressing forth, Chua'tek raced through the tunnels as Skaven lined up in rank and file behind him. Seeing a large loose rock in the temples ceiling, Chua'tek struck it with all his might to outrun the Skaven. With a mighty crash, the ceiling caved in behind him. Yet the ceiling did not stop there, a large crack appeared in the ceiling above as endless rocks poured down upon him.

    Darkness, choking, screams, these were all he was aware of. A dense layer of dust filled his lungs as he gasped for breath amidst the rubble. He lost all feeling in his legs shortly after. Gasping for air, he frantically looked for a way out, he had to complete his mission, his people needed him. He was tasked with securing an ancient artifact left by the Old Ones themselves. He was given an ancient plaque by Lord Ph'rogg depicting a Primordial engine created by both Chotec and Xokha. An artifact rumored to hold the power of the sun, and ward of the foes of the Lizardmen. With this thought, Chua'tek saw his salvation.

    Struggle, air, pain, crushing, Chua'tek forced himself out through a small opening in the rocks. Suddenly, he fell into the cold embrace of life as he was free of the crushing weight. His muscles burned as he laid there on the cold, mocking stone. He rested for what seemed like hours, before he went to stand. As he did this, he realized he couldn't move his legs at all, he was paralyzed from the waist down. Nonetheless, nothing would stop him from fulfilling his mission. He pulled himself through the hall, determined to push forwards. Rocks tore through his flesh as the seating pain continued. Blood was everywhere as he bled into the cold white stone beneath him, staining it with his dedication to his people. In the distance, he saw his salvation as a large room opened up. With a loud roar, Chua'tek pushed forward against the pain and pulled himself at once into the grand chamber before him.

    Hope, light, awe, sorrow, there he saw the Primordial artifact he was tasked with acquiring, but he was no fool. He saw how much blood had drained out behind him, and knew his struggle was in vain. Rolling over, he laid his head back on the cold stone to await for his imminent death. As the blood poured out from his sundered stomach, he started to laugh at how much he had accomplished in life.

    He remembered when he was a new spawning how he tried to wrestle an strange old Kroxigor once. He didn't know where the Kroxigor had come from, yet he was pure white which was unusual for a Kroxigor. He foolishly thought that it's age might make it weak, he was very very wrong. On about 3 seconds he had been flipped over, and hurled 20ft into a nearby spring. How he and his brothers laughed at the turn of events. What's more? He didn't stop there, he got back up and raced towards the Kroxigor again. Yet again he was hurled into the stream before trying once more. After he had been hurled for the third time, the Kroxigor stopped him, and said "I see you are eager young Saurus! Nonetheless, don't let your eagerness be your downfall. Here come closer and I will show you what to do." Chua'tek walked closer and the Kroxigor proceeded to teach him how to flip an opponent more then twice his size. They sparred again, but this time Chua'tek was the Victor! Thanking the Old Kroxigor, Chua'tek asked what his name was. The Old Kroxigor turned to him before responding "My name? That hasn't been asked in a long time, but if you want to know, my name is Nakai, the great Wanderer of Lustria." Just as suddenly as he said this, the Kroxigor nodded to Chua'tek before fading away into the jungle. The memory never left him, even as his vision faded into nothingness.

    Suddenly, he woke up. He was still in the chamber, but a bright light shines above him. A being of flame hovered above him covered in mighty golden armor. The being looked at Chua'tek before declaring "For your perseverance in the face of danger, I have healed your wounds. However this gift comes with a cost. In return for your life, you will dedicate yours to me. You will become fused with the artifact you have sought. Now arise and embrace your new gift." Without thinking, Chua'tek stood up before realizing his legs were replaced with a leglike apparatus made out of pure starmetal. Bits and pieces of his body were also filled with the same material. Chua'tek kneeled before the flaming figure in reverence. The figure nodded at his sign of submission before saying "I am Chotec and you will dedicate yourself to my service, now take the artifact and leave this place, I have secured safe passage for you to the surface, once there you will meet a familiar figure who will guide you home. I have spoken." With that word, the figure pointed to the other end of the room and vanished.

    Chua'tek stood with awe as the figure disappeared before walking up the large stairs towards the platform where the artifact sat. His new legs made a strange clanking sound as he ascended to the platform. Before him on a large ornate golden pedestal sat a strange device. It appeared to be a strange looking cube with a large dial on top. This was the ancient device he was sent to find and it was covered in strange markings and runes. Picking it up, he started to walk towards the exit Chotec had made for him. Striding up the smooth stone stairs, he soon emerged into the cool jungle above. He was free from the oppressive weight of the ruins, back to cool crisp air.

    Suddenly, a figure emerged, a familiar figure. The Old White Kroxigor appeared before him and said "So we meet again young one! I will take you back to your home as Chotec wills. It warms my old heart to see you again. Do you still remember the fighting move I taught you?" Chua'tek gave a hearty laugh as he nodded to Nakai. They then proceeded to spar a few times before setting out. Chua'tek had some difficulties getting used to his new legs, but in the end he was back to his old self combat wise. After a few rounds, Nakai laughed before leading him home.

    After three days of travel, they arrived at the borders of Itza. Nakai departed there, not letting himself be seen by the Saurus and Skinks who dwelt there. Striding into the city, Chua'tek stood victorious holding the ancient device above his head. Skinks, Saurus, and Kroxigor alike all cheered at the discovery before Lord Ph'rogg floated out to inspect the device. Chua'tek told him of the events that occured before he went to his chambers to rest.

    Two days later, Chua'tek was summoned to test the artifact. When he walked out of the city, he saw the largest beast he had ever seen. Skinks stood in reverence before the massive beast as they tended to it's every need. The beast before him was the legendary Dread Saurian of Lustria. It's red scales and white belly were highlighted by blue warpaint. A large platform was built on its back and a large rope ladder hung off one side. Encouraged by Lord Ph'rogg, he climbed up the ladder to be greeted by a large Skink who introduced himself as Choq'tu. The skink stood holding a large banner in one hand, and a large chain in the other. He motioned for Chua'tek to stand on the other side of the platform and grip another large chain. Together, they would steer the massive beast into battle.

    Lord Ph'rogg looked to Chua'tek and nodded. Nodding back, Chua'tek pressed down onto the artifact mounted beside him, the device started to unfold into a sort of focusing crystal. A lever was at the crystals side and Chua'tek pulled it. The sky went dark as a massive shield formed around the Dread Saurian, the beast roared in triumph as the crystal started to spin. The ground shook, the sky burned and a massive beam of light poured from the sky into the crystal. The device charged up for about fifteen seconds, spinning faster and faster, before firing a massive beam of light towards the target, a small grove of trees. With a thundering crash, the beam eradicated all trace of the jungle and left a large crater in the ground. With this weapon, the Lizardmen would be victorious against the Skaven and Druchii incursions. Itza erupted into cheering as the denizens poured forth to see the mighty weapon. Chua'tek would serve as the grand protector of Itza, and all enemies of the Lizardmen would cower before his wrath.

    A Kroxigor’s Dream

    Benam was falling. No, not falling, but flying. He felt as though he was a cloud and the encompassing sky stretched above him. The weaving winds washed upon his scales as they blew past, and water streamed from atop the heavens, coalescing into massive waterfalls. This was a world in which all things flew, where tradition was as much forgotten as land, and where roots buried themselves everywhere. And here - in this world - he alone ruled over it all.

    It seemed the kroxigor would’ve savored every moment in this world forever had it not suddenly dissipated. In its place, a fuzzy image of several saurus crowding around him appeared. Their eyes glared at him with intense contempt.

    “Wake up. Wake up. Wake up!” Several of them growled, prodding and bashing Benam with their weapons’ butts. He gradually arose from his sleep until he reached a height towering over the sauri.

    “Eat? Anything to eat?” Benam questioned as he lowered himself to their level and grinned. “Eating every morning is good strength! Bad saurus eat nothing!” The kroxigor wanted the sauri to respond with smiles. But they simply walked away without a word.

    The kroxigor looked up. The skies were tinted a dark blue; the night’s darkness receding. He could breathe the air carrying a certain freshness, one that follows each passing of the days. It was beautiful. Made him feel weightless like a leaf fluttering amidst the winds. Benam felt nothing like this before. He lived his entire life in Xlanhuapec, surrounded by stone and responsibilities to adhere to. Now, out here deep in the jungle, the only thing reining him back was his own thoughts. He was already fearful of his place in this new world. Doubtful of who he was in an environment completely strange to him.

    Benam stopped gazing at the skies and began walking. Eating and drinking and eating now took precedence in his mind. The hungry kroxigor was assigned to a logging expedition tasked with gathering wood for Xlanhuapec's growing industrious needs. There were skinks scurrying about as they tended to the expedition’s various responsibilities, while scores of saurus silently stood guard like statues.

    After eating his full, Benam happened to cross paths with another kroxigor whose name he knew was Nimabal. His scales were almost entirely laden with scars. Some seemed only a scratch, others cut deep.

    “Why so many scars?” Benam questioned.

    Nimabal looked at him like he didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he burst out laughing. “Bahaha! What question is that?”

    “It only honest question. You look hurt.”

    “Don’t worry. I feel no pain. These scars my memories. They my comfort.”

    It was now Benam’s turn to laugh. “Sound silly and weird! You make me want them.”

    Nimabal’s mirthful smile was gone. “They not something you can own. They not something you can get rid of. It all life. It all I know.”

    “Did not know that.”

    “Of course you no know. You too little scars. Too much clean scales.”

    Benam was starting to get annoyed. “I know lot things! My spawn mate teached so much!” He paused before continuing. “I think I even know more than you!”

    “Maybe so. But what about yourself?”

    Benam wanted to squash this ridiculous question with all his might, but he couldn’t find any words. In fact, he absolutely had no idea what to say. In his life where memories were aplenty, he couldn’t pick a single one which represented himself fully. He couldn’t fathom what he stood for, or what he suffered for. It became obvious to him he needed to learn. But how?

    There was a silence that persisted between the two kroxigors. Then Nimabal spoke again.

    “There a lake with some skinks in them. Let’s swim and rest for the work soon to come.”

    “Oh. Can’t.

    “Why?”

    “I can’t swim. I not like it. It scares me.”

    Nimabal looked at Benam with a stare frozen in complete, utter shock. “What? What! Who’d in the Old Ones’ names ever seen kroxigor afraid to swim?”

    “Yes. I know.” Benam smiled and laughed. “Very silly and weird!”

    There was a pause. After a few seconds, Nimabal said something Benam wasn’t so used to:

    “I don’t mind how weird or silly it is. So long you have my back I not mind at all.”

    He didn’t expect such a respectful response. It made him brim with validation. He nodded.

    As Benam parted ways, something caught his eye. There was another kroxigor named Tzaq struggling with using an axe as the expedition’s leader, Kuraiki, berated him with orders and frustrations.

    “No, no, no!” Kuraiki shouted. “You don’t chop downward like that unless you want to chop off your arm. Why don’t you listen to me? I already had low expectations when they placed you under my command, but you’re stupider than I ever could’ve imagined.”

    Tzaq felt resigned and defeated until he heard those last words. He opened his maw and bared his teeth, and shuddered in uncontrollable anger.

    “Don’t bare your teeth at me like you’re some rat ogre beast needing to be put down!”

    All eyes converged on the kroxigor and the skink priest. Benam couldn't comprehend how a moment of teaching is soon turning into one of violence. Everyone knew Kuraiki was a harsh, unhinged one. This time, however, he pushed too hard. Now a kroxigor will die, for the sauri began gripping their spears.

    But before a tinge of blood could be shed, Nimabal grabbed Tzaq by his back and restrained him.

    “You not stupid,” Nimabal said.

    “No,” Tzaq responded

    “You not stupid.”

    “No.”

    “You not stupid!”

    “No!”

    The two kroxigors continued, each moment of the back-and-forth easing Tzaq’s anger little by little. Eventually, an atmosphere of calmness returned as the lizards who were watching with apprehension left. But Tzaq still had something to say:

    “I not stupid. I dream. I dream just like you dream. I dream so much, it feel living is a dream itself. How can I be stupid?”

    Benam’s heart thumped a little faster as he heard those words. Made him think how dreams can forge, in their very claws, what a kroxigor is.

    “Know your place. Good kroxigors know their place so dumb things don’t happen,” Kuraiki said before walking away.

    Benam became so curious what dreams Tzaq had, he asked Nimabal about them. But the scarred kroxigor didn’t know. Just said Tzaq had nothing when he spawned. No spawn-mate, no temple city, but the Old Ones and himself.

    So when the expedition continued their journey, marching throughout the jungle, and when Tzaq could be spotted a fair distance away from everyone else, Benam sought out his company.

    “Why you by yourself? What the problem?”

    Tzaq turned to Benam, slightly annoyed. “It help thinking. There no problem.”

    “You sure?”

    A violent flicker ignited in Tzaq’s eyes. “Why you here? You anger me.”

    “Forgive curiosity. Just interested what you say about yourself.”

    “Why? Why me?” Those words traveled weaker than Tzaq would’ve hoped. But he couldn’t help it. For Benam, it seemed Tzaq couldn’t have been bitterer. But the kroxigor saw something else beyond all the bitterness. A certain yearning that shined.

    “There got to be reason? I listened to what you said about dreaming.”

    “I thought no one listened.”

    “Because no one responded?”

    “Yeah.”

    There was a silence between the two as they marched. The sun was sitting upon the horizon as the skies were etched with streaks of red. The air carried a particular restfulness to it, like the jungle retiring for a dream. Then Tzaq spoke.

    “I was spawned. I not know where or when but I spawned,” Tzaq recounted. Benam remained silent. He only wanted to listen.

    “There were not any skink to greet me once I spawned. They all laid dead. I roar and yell for days on end for someone to come for me but no one came. Only ratmen that want to kill me. So I escaped into the jungles never knowing where the Old Ones wanted me. I thought it would be death. But eventually I reach Xlanhuapec. The temple city welcomed me as worker. There were skink and saurus and kroxigor everywhere. I thought I finally in peace. But for some reason I couldn’t fit in. No one came to me. No one cared. I not know why. I felt the same hopelessness I did fighting for my life alone when I spawned.”

    There was a pause as Tzaq gritted his teeth. “I not want loneliness. I want someone to come to me! Anyone!”

    Benam felt moved by these words soaked so much with suffering. Made him realize dreams remain the only thing left when the world bears too heavy a burden for anything else. He could see Tzaq held close a purpose for living as lithe and indestructible as the winds themselves. Like an endless prayer to the Old Ones’ will.

    Benam made it his concerted effort to make Tzaq’s dream come true. When the expedition reached its location for logging, he taught Tzaq the axe’s secrets. He taught him how to converse with a confidence as gigantic as his size. And he taught him a mindset that tolerated nothing less or more than respect.

    Through his efforts, Benam began remembering his own dream - a world in which all things flew. He always knew he wanted to fly. But now, that dream of his morphed into something bigger, as though he wanted to fly higher and higher. He felt his fears and doubts of himself whisk away amidst the breeze.

    The expedition finished their task of chopping and gathering enough wood. But before they could depart back to Xlanhuapec, scouts warned them of Xho’za’khanx, the humans. A large army of theirs was decisively defeated a long time ago, but there were still remnants hiding in the lizards’ vicinity. Kuraiki decided to hunker down and await for reinforcements before embarking on the journey back.

    Benam was heading to rest before crossing paths with Nimabal. The scarred kroxigor looked impeccably angry.

    “What wrong?”

    “I kill them! I kill those damn saurus!”

    Benam looked on in complete silence. Nimabal realized this and explained.

    “They call me coward.”

    “Oh. They call anything coward. If you not cast yourself into fire - you a coward in their eye.”

    “But I no coward! I cast myself into fire all the time!” Nimabal bellowed. “I fight ever since I spawned with my brothers! It was all we knew. And we so perfect together. But then they all died. Ever since, I not know what to think besides wondering why the Old Ones chose me. Why me? Why!”

    Benam trembled hearing those desperate words. It was like they withheld from crying for years upon years amidst a frigid air that never cared.

    “But that all never matter. I will see them again.” Nimabal’s voice cracked as if it wanted to hide. “Yes. I will revive them.”

    “What?”

    “I will bring them from the dead.”

    Benam’s heart skipped a beat. “Is that what you want?”

    Nimabal never answered the question. Instead, he asked Benam to help him. When he refused, the scarred kroxigor got on his knees and begged. He was astonished and completely surprised. He eventually consented, albeit reluctantly. Nimabal also told Tzaq he could revive those that were too dead to greet him when he spawned. He eagerly agreed.

    After leading Benam and Tzaq to a secluded location, the scarred kroxigor talked of a magical artifact belonging to one of Xlanhuapec’s many skink priests that was stolen. He talked of it having the power of bringing back the dead, and said it was south of their location in a cave system. Of course, he never found out if any of these facts were true. His dream entirely consumed him.

    And so, the three kroxigors snuck off under the cover of night. They reached the cave system, entering into its dark abyss.

    They couldn’t see anything, except slim figures cladded in armor. The kroxigors could see them aiming with sticks that exploded, and knew after the first few arrows and bullets took flight, they were ambushed.

    The screams of the men and the roars of the kroxigors rocked the cave as blood splattered and flowed. Most of the men cried for anything to save them. But it was all for naught. They were all pummeled, eviscerated, or smashed into little pieces.

    Benam noticed Nimabal and Tzaq were barely standing. The three wounded kroxigors fought off nearly a hundred men. He helped both of them out of the cave. He would see to it that they survive and live for their dreams. They would not die.

    So was it crushingly incomprehensible for Benam that the two kroxigors fell and never arose. That the two wouldn’t wake up when he tried shaking and pulling and pushing them. That the expedition heard his wails and bellows. And when an assembly of skink priests from Xlanhuapec came to pray to the Old Ones.

    “Why? WHY! WHY THIS HAPPENING!?” Are dreams so cruel, they lead us to death when we give them everything?

    The Long Game

    Beep.

    Ach’akaan floated outside space and time.

    He was aware. He felt. Yet had no body. He could perceive the nothingness around him, its depth, but at the same time nothing. He had been here an eternity, but at the same time seconds.

    “…Begin Stasis power-down...” Scrabble. Click.

    The only flickers of light in this endless sea of black oblivion were sparkling motes of memories of a previous time. Bundles of thought, emotion, feeling, they flitted around him like moths around a dying flame.

    “… slowly. Damage to cerebrum….” Click, click. “… being careful...”

    Ach’akaan. He knew this to be himself, but without knowing how. Or why. He clung to this in the darkness, holding fast like a sailor shipwrecked on rocks in the blackness of night.

    “… begin training…” Click. “… need to acclimatise…”

    The dancing sparks were at one moment a mote skipping through the blackness, the next instant a crashing wave of overwhelming experience. These waves were not liquid, yet they drowned him still. As he held tight to his concept of self, one turned with sudden unexpected violence, drowning him….

    “Brace!!!”

    Ach’akaan threw himself to the ground next to his spawn-brothers, splaying himself in the ashes and mud as the fiery comet impacted nearby. He felt the concussion deep in his cavernous chest as the smell of smoky ash and dirt assaulted his nostrils.

    Pulling himself to his feet, he helped his brother up and turned to give thanks to his Spawn-Leader, only to find meteoric shrapnel from the blast had bisected him. Both halves cauterised by the intense heat of the space-rock,a snarl of defiance frozen to his face.

    He turned his disbelieving eyes to the forests before him, the Lustrian jungle aflame. Creatures of all size scattered from the undergrowth as the Chaos driven shower of rocks continued to impact across the landscape and streak across the sky. Ach’akaan stood spellbound as the sky above seemed filled with immense fireflies grown into celestial beings of destruction.

    They had been told that the Chaos gate had been opened. That this world was damned to Chaos. That the only way forward was to follow the instructions left behind by the Old Ones. Ach’akaan was a warrior and this calamity was beyond him. He could only revert to his martial training and follow orders even if he could not comprehend them.

    His brother’s firm grasp and even firmer shove ripped him from his paralysis.

    Together, they ran towards the pyramids as instructed, bounding across moss covered slabs and weaving between stone columns choked with vines. Where they had once been ten, they were now two.The fury of the heavens claiming some, while the jungle creatures driven mad by firehad claimed more.

    They ran across the plaza towards an entrance in the side of the pyramid. The ground beneath them shudderingnot from above, from below. Ach’akaan’s eyes widened as the plaza itself started to open, a slit yawning into being before them. The brothers leapt the growing chasm, but Zi’lith jumped too late. As Ach’akaan landed he heard an exclamation behind him. With reflexes honed in countless hours of training, he spun and threw an arm out, catching his brother’s as he fell short of the jump by inches.

    His arm wrenched as it suddenly took his entire sizeable weight, the motion slamming his body to the cobblestones so that he lay with his arm stretching downwards into the crevasse. The rumbles from within the earth grew louder and Ach’akaan had to grip a stone slab with his off hand to prevent himself from being pulled over the edge. He looked down at Zil’lith, his face hanging over the abyss that had just been born, the heavy weight of his brother pulling him down. Straining, Ach’akaan bunched all his muscles to bring his brother back up but it was for naught.

    Zil’lith’s scarred face looked up at him, his face calm.

    “Let go brother.”

    Eyes widening, Ach’akaan redoubled his efforts. “No… I cannot lose you as well… if I can just-“ Zil’lith’s practised blow to his bicep sent a spasm down his arm, loosening his grip and sending his brother into oblivion.

    Despite himself, Ach’akaan could not look away as his brother fell. His sense of loss and loneliness truly complete, he did not fight the guttural roar of pain that burst out of him, echo’ing in the plaza despite the destruction. Soul hardening, he pulled himself to his feet and ran to the entrance, it’s sanctuary so close as to mock the loss of his brother.

    He entered the dusty passage of tan stone to find a Skink Priest ushering others towards far corridors. Turning, the Skink noted his skin and markings. “260th spawning. Good, you are the last. Head to chamber 16 and enter-“ Ach’akaan’s arm whipped out and slammed the Skink to the wall, almost echoing the vibrations outside.

    “I JUST LOST MY ENTIRE SPAWNING, PRIEST!”, he raged, “HAVE YOU NO SOUL!?! WE HAVE LOST EVERYTHING! AND NOW WE FLEE!? WHAT HONOR REMAINS IN THE CHOSEN!?!” The priest, though choking, coughed out the words “We… must… follow… Great… Plan…” Ach’akaan dropped the priest in disgust, turning and stalking deeper into the pyramid. Loathing burned within him, but only at himself…


    The pressure lifted.

    He drifted again in the black void, motes dancing around him.

    After eons, after no time at all, the blackness turned to brightness and he woke.

    oOo

    Ach’akaan pitched forwards into the opened door, banging his head against the metal.

    A wave of new sounds, smells and light barraged his senses, almost overwhelming his consciousness. He grasped and held on to the rim of the… cocoon? that he found himself in. A smell not unlike that after a lightning strike predominated. His eyes blinked, unable to focus.

    Slowly, his sight returned.

    He stood in the stone cavern he had last seen before being sealed inside, but… different. Lights blinked along lines of thick silver, huge slabs of dull grey metal covered the walls while tiny, leafless vines of black grew from everywhere. Turning, he found himself staring at a sea of these… cocoons. The cavern stretched off far into the gloom, the only clue to its actual depth the blinking lights that sparkled in the distance.

    Ach’akaan turned away, it was too much like the void.

    A Skink stood nearby. It's red crest rising above the normal gold pendants indicating one of the priesthood, but there the similarities ended. The Skink was broader, chest and limbs bulkier with some kind of metallic second skin. As he moved towards him, Ach’akaan could hear a faint buzzing in time with his motions.

    The Skinks eyes suddenly blazed golden and a voice echoed in his mind.

    “Ach’akaan.”

    Ach’akaan dropped to one knee. His relief at hearing his Mage-Lord’s voice a cool salve to his tortured psyche.

    “The war has changed Ach’akaan. Chaos claimed the Old World. Though we battled them in the Mortal Realms, their cancer persisted. They thought us gone, but we have played the long game and are ready to show them the final stages of the Great Plan. While you and you brothers slept, the Priesthood has studied and evolved. They will teach you what you need to know.

    “Follow the priest. Learn. I need you ready as soon as possible.”

    “Yes, my Lord.”

    The golden glow faded from the Skinks eyes and it shook itself. Baring its teeth in a lizard’s smile he beckoned him onwards. Ach’akaan followed. A flame had reignited within him, a promise of revenge. He no longer noted the differences as he walked down the unfamiliar corridors. He had been promise a second chance and this was enough.

    oOo

    “BRACE!”

    Brother-Captain Bolarus threw himself to the floor next to his Veteran-Sergeant, the Krak-Missile impacting on the tower behind them. Shielding his face from the spray of shrapnel-like rock, he watched the Adeptus Arbites defense tower slowly topple into the central plaza of the compound crushing half a dozen Arbiters beneath it.

    Hauling himself to his feet, he turned to thank his fellow marine for the warning only to find a shredded body, his torso vaporised by high-energy plasma bursts.

    Despite himself, a burst of pure anger shot through his mind. He grabbed the Veteran’s Heavy Bolter and swung to aim across the street. The Chaos cultists on the opposing building’s scrambled away from their recharging plasma weapon but they were too slow. The recoil kicked into his torso as the explosive rounds spewed out of the barrel. Pieces of the cultist's bodies rained down on the horde surrounding the outpost as the munitions tore them apart. Almost immediately, return fire from another rooftop forced him back into cover.

    Thankfully the compound, like everything else in this world was worked stone, fitted so well as to achieve a plasteel-like hardness and he was shielded fully from the assault. Bolarus gave his battle-brother a level look and received one in kind. They both knew there was no hope for them or their station. But they were Ultramarines and would not go quietly into the void. “For the Emperor, Brother.” The Veteran nodded, “For the Emperor.”

    An explosion, felt through the wall, rocked them both. He voxed his remaining brothers manning the walls, “Dularis! Status of the walls? Where was the last hit? I thought we neutralised all the enemy missile launchers?” “Brother Captain… Our walls were not hit… By the Throne… You’ll have to see it for yourself!”

    Bolarus carefully looked over the wall.

    The Chaos forces surrounded the complex, traitor Marines, corrupted Guardsmen and worse. A sea of angry red assaulting their positions. But from the left, a large wedge of things surged like a tidal wave down the streets.

    At the forefront were huge reptilian forms, with jutting maw and thick tail but enclosed in a sleek, metallic suit. Coruscating energy fields on their arms deflecting enemy fire until they were close, then narrowing to a concentrated short projection. With a collective roar, the creatures crashed into the battle line carving holes in the ranks of the damned using the energy spikes to great effect.

    A formation of three tiny fliers not more than 5 feet across screamed overhead dumping some kind of explosive into the packed Chaos ranks. The concussion wave hit the wall, followed by blood and torn limbs. As they banked and turned for another strafing run, Bolarus saw tiny jets styled like some kind of prehistoric beast.

    A unit of Chaos Terminators advanced down a side street towards the creatures in a well-thought out flanking attack. Suddenly, the Chaos Veterans turned firing wildly behind them. One of them was abruptly hurled to the side and huge reptilian figures reared up, dwarfing them with their size despite their power armour and cleaving them asunder with huge force weapons.

    Bolarus spun, remembering the Lascannon emplacement. Sighting down the barrel of his bolter in the direction of their last blast, he found the gun hanging limply on a far rooftop, surrounded by bleeding corpses. Figures not unlike those below stood around the bodies and, as he watched, shimmered into nothingness.

    Smaller lizard figures scuttled across the walls of the buildings, somehow finding purchase on the stone. Their suits tiny, but with four mechanical arms enabling them to hang braced while toting a gun almost as long as themselves. From these vantage points they unleashed spiked projectiles into the massed ranks of the enemy.

    A mechanical scream from the main avenue to the compound echo’ed above everything.

    The front line of reptilians exploded as the all-too-familiar sound of twin-linked autocannon fire cut through all of the existing noises. A blackened, gore-covered Khorne Dreadnought stamped around the corner, the tortured marine inside venting his anger through huge vox-casters.

    The ground seemed to rumble in response.

    As one, the creatures flattened themselves against the walls revealing a metallic monster bearing down on the dreadnought. Built with a wide torso and four legs, it was easily two or three times the size of the rest. It reminded Bolarus of the rhinox from his homeworld but broader, sleeker with a weapons platform on top and two huge spikes at the front. It’s large gun blazed and the force of the projectiles rocked the Dreadnought back just in time for it’s arrival. The projections crackled into life, their already long length suddenly sheathed in rippling energy. The impact smashed through the armour of the war machine and threw it backwards. Immediately, the huge creature took up a bracing stance and it’s weapons blazing away into the now fleeing chaos hordes, while other creatures swarmed over the Dreadnought, flickering energy weapons smashing into the Chaos machine while it flailed ineffectively on the ground.

    Bolarus stood now, stunned at the scene of savagery that had unfolded before him. The coordination of the creatures was startling, reminiscent of the Hive Mind in their simultaneous reaction to threat and openings. As if they knew exactly what each other were thinking.

    The monsters back suddenly opened and other reptilian figures, taller and broader strode out spreading into a circle surrounding the vehicle. They were reminiscent of Grey Knights, with thick armour and halberds with energy coursing along the blade.

    A shape floated out of the tank. As the light fell upon it, he saw that it was a circular stone, with a high back and covered in glowing, eldritch runes. Atop it sat, for lack of any other simile, a toad. It’s eyes scanned the surrounds, then looked up at him. Suddenly, he could hear a voice in his mind:

    “Astartes. We will deliver the taint from this world.”

    oOo

    Towering above, a metal colossus strode towards the Chaos stronghold. Like others of it’s kind, it was fashioned in memory of the creatures that had assisted their fight against the daemonic hordes long ago. It’s powerful, servo-assisted limbs were capable of tearing a tank in half, it’s tail able to smash through buildings. It’s back carried high-powered plasma weapons and missiles launchers. It’s head lovingly crafted with a powerful jaw studded with jutting metal teeth. A carnosaur reborn.

    Inside, Ach’akaan felt a fiery rush of joy. Throwing back his head he roared, the mind-linked suit he wore transmitting his motions at the speed of thought directly to the mechanical limbs. He would remove Chaos from this world or die trying.

    Getting Ahead in the Railroad Business


    The two feathered lizardmen rode their culchans alongside the freshly laid railroad tracks glinting in the harsh sun.

    It was fortunate that culchans are so sure footed since the Badlands were rocky and rugged with very uneven ground. Despite this, the railroad tracks were flat and even. By pickaxe, dynamite and shovel, the milk drinkers had straightened the land underneath the tracks.

    The larger skink spoke.

    “Yuqal'Cho-ax, I hope whatever the Breeders have to offer is worth us going this far into the mahrlect Badlands.”

    “I reckon it will be Kai’ax. The railroad man said we’d get 10 gold eagles each just to talk. If he’s willing to spend two hundred bucks just for a chin wag, whatever job he wants us to do has got to be BIG!”

    “Do you know why the humans are building a railroad into the Badlands?”
    “I reckon they don’t want to go into the Badlands, they want to go through the Badlands. A lot shorter trip to Fog City than going around it.”

    The skinks reached the work camp about an hour before dusk, at least a hundred tents and fifty wagons. Along the tracks ahead there was an engine with several cars hitched behind it. Dusty haggard humans in a variety of skin tones milled about with a few halflings and dwarfs mixed in. A lot of the men were armed but judging by the way they nervously held their guns, they didn’t seem particularly well trained or battle hardened.

    “The boys are pretty well-heeled for a bunch of rail workers. Did the Breeders start another Civil War while I wasn’t looking?”

    Once they were greeted by the workers, Kai’ax switched to speaking Saurian.

    I say we listen to their pitch, take the two hundred bucks, say ‘no’ and make our own tracks right out of here.
    Maybe, but I am curious to hear what he has to say.

    The skinks hitched up their rides at the edge of the camp and allowed themselves to be led to the train cars which had even more armed guards. Two of the cars was embossed with large letters: LG

    The skinks reluctantly checked their weapons before entering.

    Once let inside it was obvious the boss’ cars had a wide variety of things one wouldn’t expect to find in a rail workers’ camp including a crystal chandelier, an ice box, a piano, several books, a premium coffee grinder, several oil paintings of railroads, and an ornate humidor.

    A large dark skinned man wearing a well-tailored suit and an eye patch let them into the second car. The first thing apparent was a fully stocked bar with a pale mustached man behind it in suspenders. The second thing the Skinks noticed was the boss.

    Across a mahogany desk sat a well-groomed dwarf at least as fancy as his railroad car. He had a silk top hat and a hand tailored suit that probably came from the Old World. He checked his gold pocket watch and waved at the lizards cordially.

    “Rangos! You are a day or two earlier than I was expecting. That’s good! My name’s Lordroid Goldmann” he said.

    “Oh yes, we saw your initials on the train car…” Kai’ax replied.
    “Barky, skink the Skinks a drink. You rango’s like tequila, right?” the dwarf continued as if the skink had not spoken.
    “We invented tequila.” Yuqal'Cho-ax said with a smile waving for a glass.

    The other Skink shook his head.

    “I can get cactus juice anytime I want. Got anything imported from the Old World?”
    “The forty-five Brettonian Bordeaux is from the Old World…..sir” the bartender said.
    “I never drank anything from Brettonia before.”

    The bartender looked towards his boss who nodded. He poured the skink a glass which he quaffed without bothering to smell or savor first. He made a sour face but then smiled.

    “Tastes expensive. Give me another glass!”

    The dwarf smiled indulgently though the smile did not reach his eyes.

    “Just leave the bottle, Sam, you can go.”

    The servant shuffled out.

    Goldmann refilled the Skink’s glass and poured himself one. He took a slow sip. Then lit a cigar and began puffing on it, deliberately milking the silence until it became painful.

    “I reckon you boys are curious as to know why I asked you to come all this way.”
    “I am curious as to why the richest dwarf in the West is willing to be this close to the front lines in Monster Country” Said Yuqal'Cho-ax
    I’m curious when we get our two hundred dollars hard money.” said Kai’ax.

    The dwarf pulled a large bag of coins out of his desk. He counted twenty ten dollar gold coins.

    “I didn’t get to be this rich because I wasn’t willing to get my hands dirty.”
    He got that rich from cheating his business partners.” Kai’ax said in an undertone.

    “I heard tell you two boys helped down a Win-deggo in Hammer Gulch last year.”
    “You heard a story about something we did four states away?” Yuqal'Cho-ax asked.
    “I keep an ear to the ground for unusual things. I got me a Win-deggo gone done et nearly two dozen men. I need you to put the Win-deggo in the ground.” The dwarf replied
    “A wendigo is not going to be this far south in mid-Summer.” Yuqal'Cho-ax corrected him.
    “I’m sure you can handle more than wendigo. When you got a monster problem, you call Yuckel chow and Kalax the Rango monster hunters,” the dwarf replied.
    “How is one monster above your bend? Don’t you have minions to handle this sort of thing?” Kai’ax asked.

    The dwarf pulled a blood smeared tattered half a hat from underneath his desk.

    “Monster et six of my best men. Then I done hired some orcs. Monster et them too.”
    “Did any workers or soldiers come back to say what the monster looks like?” the warrior asked.

    The wealthy dwarf shook his head.

    “Mystery monsters cost extra,” said the priest.
    “How’s five thousand dollars sound?” the dwarf asked.

    Kai’ax’s mouth dropped.

    Mahrlect Breeder cannot be serious. A lot of people he owed money to had unusual accidents or ‘suicides,’” he said to his friend.
    “So do you accept my deal? Five thousand to bed this mystery monster down.”
    “Plus expenses,” the priest said.
    “Plus expenses,” replied the dwarf.
    We need to make sure he doesn’t cheat us, make him swear an oath. What’s the most sacred oath for dwarves?” Kai’ax asked the other skink.
    “Swear to this deal on your beard,” said the priest.
    “I swear on my—”
    “Swear in front of the whole camp,” said the warrior.

    ********************************************************************************************
    “And therefore, I, Lordroid Goldmann swear on my beard to pay these fine Saurios five thousand dollars and to cover their expenses for removing the monster for us.”

    The workers gave some unenthusiastic haphazard applause.

    “And they have sworn to me by their gods to destroy the monster or die trying!”

    The crowd applauded considerably more enthusiastically.

    That last part is new.” Kai’ax muttered.
    Well you wanted him to swear in front of the whole camp…” Yuqal'Cho-ax replied.
    “Well, the big boss is covering our supplies, let’s see what kind of fixins’ the pot rustler’s got, I’m hungry.” The Skink warrior rubbed his stomach.

    After the skinks left the chuck wagon with a sack of foodstuffs. Kai’ax also bought a high caliber buffalo rifle.

    ********************************************************************

    Besides scattered tools and firearms rusting in the dust and an untouched pile of rails. The ground was strewn with scattered pieces of ripped cloth.

    “Ugh, what is that?” Yuqual’Cho-ax asked pointing towards a large slimy lump.

    Kai’ax picked up a shovel and poked it.

    “It’s like an owl pellet when owls upchuck whatever they cannot digest. Only it ain’t mouse bones in it.”

    He exposed a cracked orc skull with his shovel.

    “There are a lot of round craters in the ground. Like boulders pelting the ground. Could a giant squig make these marks?” Yuqual’Cho-ax.
    “I don’t reckon it’s a squig.”

    The warrior kicked the ground.

    “The ground is not very soft. Squigs ain’t heavy enough to make marks this deep. And here….The boulder monster rolled. Squigs don’t roll. And even giant squigs aren’t bullet proof.”

    The skink priest froze.

    “You know what we are dealing with, don’t you?” his friend asked.
    “I hope I’m wrong. I reckon we are dealing with a floating head.”

    The larger skink fingered his buffalo rifle nervously.

    “Mahrlect! Like from ancient times? I’m not sure this Big Fifty will get the job done. How did our ancestors deal with floating heads?”

    “Usually a slann would smite them.”
    “Fresh out of slann...”
    The legendary Oldblood Ralesk slew the foul disembodied head with his enchanted obstinite blade.
    “Ain’t got no oldbloods or enchanted blades neither.”

    A booming voice rumbled in explicably in Saurian.

    I HUNGER!!!!

    A sphere flew towards them. It looked like a humanoid face sculpted by a potter who only had a vague idea what humanoid heads look liked and was not very detail oriented. The hairy head was about eight feet in diameter. Half-flying, half jumping as it came closer the details of the roughhewn face became more hideously apparent revealing yellow blood shot eyes and a mouth of misshapen teeth.

    Kai’ax aimed his buffalo rifle. Yuqual’Cho-ax began an incantation/prayer.

    Old Ones of our ancestors grant me your might. Give me eyes of Huanchi, god of night, Tlazcotl lend me give me the strength of the land, Tepok guide my hand. Chotec split the sky with your power bright. SOTEK MANIFEST YOUR BITE!

    Kai’ax hit the giant head in the cheek a split second before a thunderbolt pierced the sky and flashed in front of the creatures face. Kai’ax knew what was coming and shielded his eyes.

    Kai’ax knew as impressive as Sotek's Fang was, it was more flash than substance. A small puncture wound in the floating head’s cheek dribbled a bit of blood from the fifty caliber round. A faint red burn mark marked on the forehead where the bolt struck.

    Floating in midair, it flailed about in all directions.

    BRIGHT LIGHT HURTS! CAN”T SEE!

    “He’s buffaloed but it won’t last” the priest said staggering with exhaustion from summoning lightning.

    “HEAR YOU! SMELL YOU! EAT YOU!”

    The floating head switched from Saurian to Riekspiel seemingly in response to the skink switching languages. It leapt toward the pair of skinks landing between them and making a large dent in the ground then plowed a trench as it rolled with its mouth open trying to catch the skinks but only getting a mouthful of dirt. The monster inhaled deeply through its bulbous nose as itrying to smell them out blinking its dilated eyes.

    Can barely stand…You run.” Yuqual’Cho-ax moaned.
    “No, the food packs.”

    He helped his friend hobble to the where their culchans were tethered and grabbed one of their sacks of food and dumped it on the ground. Then dumped the other in another direction.

    As hoped, the half-blind monster went for the food first, giving them enough time to mount their steeds and escape. It seemed to really enjoy eating the blood sausage.

    As the two skinks rode towards camp. Kai’ax spoke.

    “The best attacks we had couldn’t hurt it. Good thing it liked the blood sausage better than us. How do we beat this thing?”
    “Use its hunger and stupidity against it. I heard a legend about an ancient skink priest sacrificing himself to lure such a creature to a cave and sealing it in. Might be where this one came from.”

    As they got back to the camp, a large group met them, including Goldmann.

    “I take it from your exhausted terrified faces the monster has ya’ll licked.”
    “We know what it is now and can form a plan now.” Kai’ax replied.

    A rumbling was heard in the distance

    “I am hungry!”
    I am hungry”
    "¡Estoy hambriento!”
    “Wǒ èle!”
    “Mjög svangur!”

    “Sakes alive, they lured it here!” screamed one of the foreman.
    “If you are working on a plan, you better make it quick!” said the wealthy dwarf.

    Kai’ax was speechless, but Yuqual’Cho-ax brisked up and spoke.

    “We need dynamite…and blood sausage.”

    Goldmann was struck dumb.

    “JUST DO IT!” Kai’ax shouted.

    “Get the damn rangos their sausage and dynamite!” Goldmann shouted to some workers nearby. “You guys with guys with guns, form a line or somethin’! Get a wiggle on! Don’t let the varmit through!”

    The monster was some distance away but its voice carried far announcing its plan to eat everyone in several languages.

    Kai’ax and Yuqual’Cho-ax positioned themselves forward ahead of the milk suckers with their secret weapon.

    This is the stupidest plan I ever heard.” Kai’ax said.
    “I didn’t hear you come up with a better plan.” his friend answered.

    The floating head flew towards the skinks and stopped blinking its eyes in confusion.

    “Why no running! Why no screaming? Why no shooting?” the monster asked.

    “We thought you might want to eat this blood sausage instead of all the folks here.” Yuqual’Cho-ax said waiving a piece of sausage.

    “I do like blood sausage….Feathered men give me sausage?”
    “But you have to promise to leave everyone alone afterwards,” the priest said.
    “Hmmm, I can eat blood sausage and THEN eat the people.”

    The floating head paused awkwardly, then looked at the skinks and the cowering people behind them.

    “No wait. You give me the sausage and I will NOT eat the people. Yes, that. You can trust me.”
    “Sounds like a deal!” Kai’ax said, “But there’s a trick to make it taste even better. Light this fuse and let it burn to the end. Then eat the sausage.”

    Kai’ax lit the fuse on his blood sausage and let burn down then, then ate it, choking down the hot nub of the fuse, coughing slightly.

    “Delicious! But you can’t start to chew it until the fuse burns down.” the Skink said.

    The monster furrowed it’s brow in frustration.

    “Hmmm, don’t have hands, can’t light sausage! YOU, you light sausage for me or I eat you!”
    “Well, okay, if you insist…”

    Goldmann and the humans nearby watched with baited breath as the Skinks inserted four lit sticks of dynamite into the monster’s mouth as if they were giant cigars.

    “Yummy! I like—“

    BOOOOOOMMM!!!

    The skinks were splattered in brains and skull fragments as the onlookers cheered.

    The Machine


    T’lozii gazed at the intricate mass of wires, metal, buttons and levers before him.

    “Beautiful, isn't it?” Atamai, a hunched over skink inventor well past his fighting days was smiling and rubbing his hands together. The gleam in his eye, T’lozii had learnt, meant something either nausea inducing or explosive was about to happen.

    Indeed the machine was the most complex creation the tinker had made, but that didn’t bring T’lozii any comfort whatsoever.

    “And what does it do exactly?” the saurus took a barely perceptible step backwards.

    As if he had been waiting for that very question, Atamai threw his hands up with a “Well!” that made T’lozii regret asking. “I’ve meddled with small, basic functioning machinery before, as you well know, and I wanted to move on from that and make something that would revolutionise life in Lustria as we know it! You of course remember the incident regarding the frog and the automated fruit juicer-” T’lozii did, of course, remember the incident regarding the frog and the automated fruit juicer “-well I’ve realised that machines must have purpose to function to the highest level. Without meaning and a mission, machines are just metal.”

    The saurus, though not exactly unintelligent, didn’t really see how telling something what to do would necessarily alter it in any way. Juicing fruit seemed enough of a legitimate purpose to him. In fact he had always been a bit confused by Atamai’s near obsessive behaviour regarding the development of machines and metal. He supposed as long as it did not harm the thousands of lizards that resided within the temple city and furthered the Great Plan, then there wasn’t really much to worry about. Keeping Atamai away from other lizardmen, particularly when armed, had proved to definitely be in the favour of said Great Plan, even more so, T’lozii thought, after the incident regarding the frog and the automated fruit juicer.

    “So basically, I have created a machine with a purpose! And as you may be able to tell from the multitude of particularly pointy appendages and some recycled spinning blades you may recall from the incident with the frog and the-”

    “Yes.”

    “...this machine could fight just as well as any skink, saurus or kroxigor in a battle!” T’lozii doubted it. “Just imagine what a hundred, or a thousand of these could do supporting our ranks in combat?” T’lozii didn’t want to. “And with my new investigations into salamander fire, we could decimate entire armies and never have to set foot or claw onto the battlefield!” Atamai concluded with a flourish.

    The saurus took another step back from the machine.

    The skink stepped over to the hulking shape and patted it on something that resembled a head. “My machine-” pat “-when programmed-” pat “-could kill-” pat “-scores of warmbloods just on it’s own. No doubt the Slann-” pat “-would reward me handsomely, forgetting any past… accidents that may have involved me.”

    The machine beeped and began whirring.

    “Is it meant to do that?” T’lozii inquired nervously. Atamai being enthusiastic about anything was enough to make him worried, but this creation had by far the most stabby-stabby-pain potential of all before it. The saurus didn’t care much for ‘purpose’ or big philosophical ideas, but he did value his hands, and there was a particularly large pair of scissors attached to the machine that he didn’t trust very much.

    Atamai glanced at his invention, but the gleam in his eye disappeared as the robot began beeping more rapidly. A mechanical voice piped up from within the creature: “CONFIRM MISSION

    The skink tilted his head to the side in confusion. “Confirm? What? What mission?”

    MISSION CONFIRMED.” And then in Atamai’s own voice, crackled and distorted, the robot said “Machine - Program - Kill - Slann.”

    In a flurry of papers, dust and scattered spare parts, the machine revved and charged out the front door, or through it, rather, careening towards the temple city.

    “Oh Marlecht.” the skink breathed. “This is much worse than the incident with the frog and-”

    “Yes.”

    ***

    Dirt was consistently showering from above. Though the tunnel was well supported and had been dug with surety and confidence, Tiqreen still found himself in a state of discomfort. It wasn’t the idea of being underground or in a confined space- of course not, Skaven were more accustomed than most to these conditions-, it wasn’t even the idea of being sent underground into the heart of a Lustrian Temple City to assassinate a Slann mage priest, it was the fact that he had been sent on a highly important and highly difficult mission and his second in command assigned for this venture was Strich.

    From behind him in the darkness, Tiqreen heard a scuffle and a yelp followed by “Nah! I’m alright, just stubbed me toe. S’all good!”

    The commander sent a prayer to the Horned rat, one of pain, vengeance, and a torturous end. Hopefully by the end of the night, Strich would just be another corpse and Tiqreen would be left in peace.

    ***

    Following shrieks and hollering throughout the temple city, T’lozii and Atamai raced after the escaped invention. Every now and then, they caught a glimpse of the metallic creature whizzing over the stone paved streets, wheels spinning and blades whirring. T’lozii dodged another market stall and reeled to avoid running into a passing saurus guard. He saw the skink beside him was dealing with a similar problem, swerving away from passing lizardmen. Up ahead, the form of the great pyramid was looming ever closer, and the machine was pulling further ahead.

    ***

    Tiqreen followed the near pitch black tunnel as it continued to spiral upwards. They had reached the foot of the pyramid and had begun travelling up into its complex of rock and passageways. The dirt around the small skaven band had changed and the loose soil turned into scored and eroded rock. They would follow the tunnel burrowing through the thick stone blocks, creeping ever upwards to the Slann awaiting his death at the top.

    As is often the case with skaven, Tiqreen wasn’t a particularly intelligent creature, but he knew things. ‘Things’ being that it was his duty to over run the surface world with ratmen and their accompanying pestilence, disease and strife, he knew that the Lizardmen in the south had long withstood any assault from the rats and that this ingenious new method of attack could certainly in no way fail, he knew lizards were clumsy and stupid (relatively speaking) and that their disinterest in any form of technological advancement would be their downfall, and of course, he knew that if Strich’s head was to be found several feet from his body and his entrails strewn across the wall, it would be considered just as much of a victory and Tiqreen would definitely get away with it.

    ***

    T’lozii paused momentarily on the street, the machine slightly closer now, it’s metal bulk just reaching the bottom of the stairs. The saurus heard Atamai slither to the ground again, panting loudly. The machine was still sitting at the bottom of the stairs, blades spinning.

    “Ha! Wheels! It can’t get up the stairs!” T’lozii exclaimed smiling, giving the hunched skink a hefty pat on the back. The skink wheezed and looked at T’lozii in a way that suggested he shouldn’t have just said that.

    “Well, you see… it had to be fit for all terrains,” Atamai gasped out between breaths. As if in response, the robot stilled the spinning blades and snapping claws, and extended six metal stilts, bent midway like-

    “Legs.” T’lozzi said. “You gave it legs.”

    The inventor, hands on his thighs was stooped over and panting still. He gave a shrug.

    The machine retracted the wheels from beneath its body and the legs extended further out, lifting it higher from the ground. It placed its first tentative foot on the first step, then another reached up. The creation teetered backwards before finding it’s balance. There was a moment of perfect stillness before the blades, claws and knives came to life again and the metal thing began skittering erratically up the stairs.

    Sighing exasperatedly, T’lozii pulled the skink along with him and began the ascent of the pyramid.

    ***

    The skaven had reached the end of the tunnel. At this point the stone had become too thin to burrow through. Breaking through the carved rock, the group of ratmen streamed into one of the upper levels of the pyramid, scouring the rooms for any guards or priests that may be present. Tiqreen signalled the party to fan out and report back. Though not the best communicators, this mission was too precious for the skaven to waste time quarrelling and possibly alert their enemies. The level appeared to be empty and the party regrouped at Tiqreens command.

    A shout came from a few rooms over and Tiqreen drew a cruel looking dagger and crept forwards, clinging to the carved wall. Taking a breath he sprung round the corner ready to stab whatever reptilian creature may be waiting on the other side.

    Strich yelped in surprise and stepped back as the skaven commander raised his weapon. Tiqreen paused and felt something akin to genuine sorrow. He had hesitated to long for it to look like an accident now.

    “I just thought you might want to know where the stairs are,” the gangly ratman explained.

    Tiqreen cuffed his second over the head and hissed something under his breath. Waving to the rest of the party, they began to ascend the last few flights of stairs to the Slann’s chambers.

    ***

    Claws gouged rock as T’lozii reached the last step of the temple. Hauling himself up onto the platform he panted, waiting for Atamai to stumble beside him. The pair savoured the moment of respite, before staggering back to their feet and continuing into the passageways of the pyramid.

    Between ragged breaths T’lozii confirmed “Yeah, okay… This is worse than the incident with the…”

    Atamai made a noise that was somewhere between a laugh, cough and a wheeze and the saurus glanced over just in case the skink was choking to death.

    They saw the machine, only a few feet ahead now, retract its legs and re-engage its wheels before whirring on into the temple. Evidently the long climb up the temple steps had effected even the robot, as a screw clinked to the ground.

    The pair rushed after it bursting into the main chambers of the Slann, the protests of the Temple Guards reaching after them. A skink priest stumbled out of the way as the Atamai’s invention, more pieces of metal falling to the ground, swerved back and forth towards the Slann.

    The Slann, seated upon a throne of intricately carved stone adorned with precious gems and animal tusks opened an eye and squinted skeptically at the machine.

    At that instant, something perhaps no one could have predicted happened.

    Suddenly appearing from behind a pillar, a small party of dark furred skaven threw themselves into the open.

    ***

    Tiqreen, hearing the shouts and commotion from the Slann’s chambers knew that their presence was realised. It was now or never.

    The skaven launched into the open, weapons drawn and teeth bared, charging towards the Slann in a desperate attempt to reach him before the odds became even more stacked against them.

    Temple Guards and skinks adorned in crimson robes scurried about the room and Tiqreen smiled to himself at their surprise. Perhaps this mission would be successful after all. Just then, something reminiscent of the war machines used by the Under Empire, metallic, solid and covered with instruments of pain and death, reeled towards the ratmen, now between it and the Slann.

    ***

    T’lozii winced as one of the skaven, most likely the commander, dodged back from the machine, pushing another one of the ratmen, a skinny, stupid looking figure, into the path of the spinning blades. In an explosion of fur, blood and bile, the skaven’s shriek became a gurgle and then dissolved into nothing. The other ratmen were torn up and churned into a bloopy pulp.

    The Guards and priests, apparently in a state of shock and confusion watched on as the machine rumbled on towards the Slann. The blood and entrail caking the robot seemed to be inhibiting it’s progress quite substantially and it’s blades began choking to a halt, matted fur clogged the wheels and the claws and scissors trembled weakly before the mass of metal and wires teetered over with a clang and dull splat.

    A couple of wounded Skaven were clawing at the ground, chittering piteously. The commander of the rats was standing to the side, all limbs still attached, but weapons lowered. He seemed to smile to himself.

    The Slann, apparently had been watching the whole scene unfold with one eye still closed, vague amusement creasing his face ever so slightly.

    ***

    Tiqreen stood before the heap of severed limbs and bloody entrails that had been his comrades- to use the term loosely. The great frog-like being was watching everything from it’s fancy chair, and though he was by no means intelligent, Tiqreen knew when a battle was lost. Without any indication, he scampered back down the stairs towards the tunnel entrance.

    Honestly, things had turned out better than he had expected.

    ***

    T’lozii slumped to the floor and tried to catch his breath. Beside him, the skink inventor sniffed, gazing upon his crumbling creation. He held a clawed hand to his heart and blinked.

    The saurus gave Atamai a shove as if to say “really?”

    Composing himself, the skink looked to his friend and gave a lopsided grin. “At least we know it works.”

    T’lozii shoved him again, but allowed himself a quiet smile of his own.

    Guards were sent after the fleeing skaven and the Slann closed his eye, returning to his meditation.

    One of the priests stepped forwards and toed the metal creature that had whirred to a halt amid the carnage. “Hey, this reminds me of that… Do you guys remember that thing with the frog and the automated fruit juicer?”

    The Knowledge of Tlaxtlan


    The gates of Tlaxtlan stood open. Approaching them out of the jungle, the skink chief frowned. There were no guards. No sign of activity anywhere.

    Rustling his feathers of office unhappily, the chief scampered forward, passing through the gates at a run. Inside, he could see the city was still inhabited. But something was wrong. The denizens of Tlaxtlan had succumbed to some kind of malaise. Skinks and kroxigors sat idly beside stone buildings, basking in the sun. This was supposed to be one of Lustria's great temple cities. It seemed to have stopped.

    "You will go this way, Chief Amayatl," said a voice.

    Amayatl turned to see a skink functionary pointing towards to the city's largest Temple. Looking up, he could see strange shapes at the pyramid's summit, like a small forest of trees slanted at an angle. The same shapes were everywhere, he slowly realised, covering the roofs of every large building in the city. Amayatl addressed the figure who had spoken.

    "How do you know my name, or my errand?" he asked.

    The small skink acolyte merely smiled, and trotted off in the direction he had pointed. Growling with displeasure, Amayatl followed. Many pairs of listless eyes watched his progress as the nearby lizardmen continued their vacant lack of action.

    Amayatl climbed the ancient steps of the ziggurat, rising above the dazed cityscape. From this vantage he could better see the objects atop the buildings: tapered metal cylinders capped by gleaming lenses. Telescopes - thousands of them, a whole jungle of far-seeing. Dusk was settling now as the sun began to sink, its last rays reflected by the myriad glass eyes.

    "You have come."

    The new voice sounded slow and melancholic, much like everything in Tlaxtlan. At the doors of the temple stood a tall, straight-backed skink with black and white scales melded in swirling patterns. Amayatl drew breath to introduce himself.

    "You are Amayatl, I am Forst," said the monochrome skink before Amayatl could begin. "You do not need to speak. I will explain."

    Forst turned and entered the temple chambers, already heading up a staircase. Amayatl hurried after her, catching up just as she emerged out onto the top platform of the pyramid.

    "These are eyes of God," said Forst, gesturing to the dozens of telescopes that now surrounded them. Up close, they were huge: great bronze pillars gazing at the darkening sky. At their bases, skink acolytes pressed their faces to the eyepieces, using their hands to carve their visions into tablets. These in turn were taken by runners and replaced with fresh clay for further transcriptions. Amayatl opened his mouth to speak, but again he was cut short.

    "Technology has advanced here in recent years," continued Forst. In the half-light, her black and white scales seemed to shift and spiral. "And the technology of Tlaxtlan is that of divination. Long have we read the stars and learned the secrets of what is to come. Tetto'eko, the Astromancer, used his knowledge with wisdom, but he lacked ambition. He found only a tiny portion of what can be read in the heavens. Since he passed, our operations have expanded."

    She looked at Amayatl with an expression of profound sadness.

    "Now we know everything," she said.

    "You-" began the skink chief.

    "Count to five," she interrupted him again. At the same time, she pointed a slender arm down towards the jungle. Amayatl watched as, five seconds later, there came a squawk. A wild terradon burst out of the treetops, exactly where she was pointing, and soared across the sky. Forst had her back to the creature, her eyes locked on Amayatl, but her finger followed its precise trajectory as it sailed northwards. There was a long pause, while the skinks at the telescopes continued to busy themselves with their work. Finally, Amayatl spoke.

    "Why are you showing me this?" His eyes widened, realising that the black-and-white skink was speaking the same words as him at exactly the same time. She smiled, and continued alone:

    "You have come with news. You seek the aid of Tlaxtlan against skaven incursions. You will not have it. We have become God and we are trapped forever."

    "If what you say is true, this could be the greatest weapon of the lizardmen. This knowledge could see our enemies destroyed, the Great Plan fulfilled."

    Forst sighed.

    "I have seen our meeting many times," she said. "It has played out exactly how I knew it would. I have seen myself speak these very words. Yet still I speak. Knowledge is not a power, skink chief. It is a prison. You do not know what might happen tomorrow, or in the next moment. To you it seems it could be anything. But I know for certain what will happen - and nothing I do can change it. Omniscience has only made me see my absolute lack of power. Tlaxtlan has been drained of agency. We have been removed from the world of action - or rather, we removed ourselves, like fools."

    "I refuse to believe that," said Amayatl. "The stars do not dictate your actions. The Old Ones gave us a will to enact their plans. You must use it."

    "I have told you, I cannot. Or I will not, there is no difference. My knowledge prevents me. It has doomed Tlaxtlan."

    Forst's eyes gleamed wetly in the darkness. Amayatl bristled.

    "You have lost your reason," he said. "This technology has destroyed your sanity. I relieve you of your station. I -"

    "Will take command of the city," completed the other skink, once again speaking his own words simultaneously. She continued, "You have no authority here. We know what will happen. It will take more than words to save the city."

    "Very well. Since you know everything, what will I do next?"

    "You will kill me," said Forst. "You will destroy the telescopes. And you will summon armies to rebuild Tlaxtlan. Astromancy will be outlawed."

    Amayatl realised he was breathing hard, as a cold wind made his nerve endings tremble. Forst was staring at him. Her expression was the saddest thing he'd ever seen.

    He drew his obsidian blade.

    "I do this out of choice," he said. "Because it is right."

    "I know," said Forst. "I have foreseen it."

    Wrapped and Seated


    Rumbling of thunder and cracking of stone filled the air. Hugh blocks of stone started shifting and breaking loose. With a bursting firework-like display all stones and star-metal of the gates shattered across the atmosphere hailing down on earth as flaming meteorites.

    At the other side of the gate a similar explosion occurred, the stone and star-metal was excelled in to the void. In this void shadows flicker and shapes move across.

    “The gate has fallen, Tepok. We need to head back to the pantheon!”

    “Give word to the others to gather there. And hurry, Quetzl!”

    - - -

    “Good to see you are all here. We are to discuss the matter of the fallen gates and the state that the world is in right now.”

    “If I may take the word, Rigg, your Grace?”

    “Go on, Xokha.”

    “Thank you, Kalith. Since the creation of the world we have been involved in the creation and flourishing of the races. We helped them to be ready to take care of themselves.”

    “Taking care of themselves is something else then facing off an all obliviating horde of demons!“

    “You are right in that, Tlanxla, but we can’t keep fighting their battles for them. It seems to be time for the world to stop relying on us, the Old Ones, to fly in and save the day. We left our Children among the races in the world to guild them and take our Great Plan to its fulfillment.”

    “Will they though? You speak like the swarming demons of chaos are easy to overcome. When they go down there is no one to fulfill the Plan!”

    “Take it down, you both! We are getting nowhere if we are getting divided among each other. Itzl will wake up Uxmac to keep an eye out for now. If in due time our intervention is needed we can take more drastic actions.”

    oOo

    At the Southern wasteland the demons of chaos swarmed into the world. Stumbling across the debris of what once was one of the great polar gates. Amidst the feet of demons stampeding, one piece of star-metal started to move, rolling along with the tide of chaos, slowly moving north.

    oOo

    “It worked. Activation has been successful.”

    “Did you manage to stay undetected?”

    “The hunger for blood blinded them for what is among them. Uxmac got in to the land of our children.”

    - - -

    “O my, here they come”

    “There are too much of them”

    “We have to do something, Tepok!”

    “No Potec, wait, don’t be so impatient. Have faith in our children, have faith in the first of their kind. We have taught him well."

    "Look at that! He destroyed them all. Itza has been cleansed.”

    oOo

    Deep down in the Lustrian lands silence has fallen over the forests. The wind moves the treetops like you would spread a sheet over a table. Waving up and down, but gradually falling to find a place to rest. Some leaves floating down from above the tree tops, carried on air. No sound is heard, not the roaring of the Jaguar, not the call of an ape, not even the singing of birds or the buzzing of insects.

    The silence is lying heavily on the forest, it is almost crushing.

    In these widespread forests gaps show were the trees vail and the buildings of a city arise. Magnificent structures of stone, decorated with symbols. Carved in the stone blocks or accentuated with gold and gems. Vast pyramids surrounded by barracks and houses in an orderly fashion. Walls stretched wide and far to embrace all buildings inside her.

    In the city the silence weighs the most, so much you could even taste it. City wide nothing moves and nothing is heard, there isn’t even a single soul to hear it.

    Not that the city is empty, on the contrary. All over the city the colors red and blue are showing. The buildings and roads besmirched in mainly brown red, scattered around are bits of brighter red metal and, once bright but now, dull blue scales. The scars of a terrible fight, a war at it’s at most peak. The sounds of the battle are gone and the silence is deafening.

    At the center of it all, atop the highest Pyramid, bloodshed has been unimaginable. The stones drenched dark red by the blood of all fallen soldiers friend and foe alike. Above this horrifying display a single stone floats at piece, lonely, standing apart from whole the city.

    At the forest’s edge groups of Skinks break the closed vegetation and running into the plains leading to the gate. They’re in a hurry. Lead by a Skink priest this band of scouts was sent to retrieve all information about the battle that went down in Itza. To retrieve what could be saved.

    At the gate of the city the company slowed down. They moved in to the city, sticking like glue to the stony walls of the gatehouse. Moving along, street by street at the time, thoroughly checking all buildings on their path. Quickly they reached the center of the city, almost within the hour. By now they knew there was no chance of finding any survivors. With the Skink priest at the front the company started climbing the Pyramid. Every step of the stairs more and more slaughtered Saurus Guards and dismembered Slaughterpriest lay wasted left and right. Progressing carefully and slowly the band of Skinks reached the top.

    In front of the floating palanquin the Skinks search the stony top of the Pyramid. One of them had carried a roll of strong linen. He sets it down besides the Priest. The other ten Skinks now form a circle, arms spread and eyes closed, around the palanquin and the Priest.

    Atop the pyramid, between the slain bodies, two orange marble looking eyes cased in a star-metal frame are watching upon the company.

    oOo

    “Now it is going to happen! He will start any second now!”

    “Don’t make too big a deal out of it!’”

    “Why not? This is something that never happened before!”

    “Just make sure you’ll get in on it when it happens.”

    “Do you think I wouldn’t know!? Be patient and let me do this now.”

    oOo

    The Skink priest’s arms swirl around in the air and his mouth forms the words of a powerful incantation. After a couple of rotations and minutes the roll of linen starts to unwind and on the floor around the palanquin light begins to show and a breeze of air is felt. As the incantation swells so thus the wind atop the pyramid. Pieces of flesh and bone, now shining bright are lifting of the stony floor and start to move in front of the Priest. The linen unwinds more and more to climb up in the sky as an enchanted snake, it surrounds the floating body parts and tries to constrict them as if it were his prey. Slowly this miraculous spectacle takes a shape. In the bright shining light the outlines of an oversized embalmed toad become clearer and clearer.

    Just as the roll of linen is almost at its end the sound of metal against stone erupts as the orange eyed metal form moves quickly form in between the corpses into the circle of light. The Skinks surrounding the ritual incantation, overwhelmed by this sudden movement and sound, can’t get themselves to intervein. In a flash they see a metal form of their own size, four legs, a tail and a frill on his head pass by and enter the bright light.

    At the same time as this thing entered the circle of light the Priest ends his incantation and the linen falls onto the floor. Atop the palanquin a mummified Slann had taken his place. Beside him a mummified skink is looking upon the Skink priest with its orange marble eyes.

    oOo

    “Yes it worked. He is in.”

    “Well done! Let’s go tell Rigg that Uxmac is in place.”

    Of Scales and Sigmarite

    Another dark scaled Saurus was torn apart by the hail of gunfire, its form dissolving into starlight that scattered like dying embers. The mad cackle of the Skaven Engineer piloting the lumbering walking machine could be heard even over the screaming of its warpengines.

    The mission most certainly was not going to plan, Morrig thought with a sigh. The Knight-Azyros of the Astral Templars vaulted over a fallen pillar that made up the Skryre rat’s outer lair. The order had come from Sigmar himself that a small force of Astral Templars backed up by mortal auxiliaries were to take the head of the Skryre Engineer known as the Screwfang before he became too powerful. Sadly despite the surprise aid of a group of hardened Seraphon, the Warlock Engineer’s inventions were far more advanced than they had predicted. Even as the last of his automatons and half metal servants had perished, the Engineer had emerged in a walking machine bristling with weapons and armour that turned aside even Sigmarite starblades. Whilst the mortal forces held back the bulk of Screwfang’s forces above, the task force to remove his head was close to annihilation.

    “I suppose your masters never realised just how deadly Screwfang had become either?” Morrig muttered to the sole surviving Seraphon. She turned her raven haired head to study the scarred Saurus using the rocky cover beside her.

    Tox of the Darkened Scale growled low before he managed to form the word, “No.”

    “Well, it looks like it is down to us two then. Have you got a plan?” Morrig whispered as the clanking footfalls grew closer.

    Tox gave a fang filled smile, “Yes.”

    -------------------------------------------

    Warlock Engineer Ibriz Screwfang cackled again as he directed his Doomwalker to crush the already mangled body of a Stormcast. Sure, their Sigmarite plate would have been difficult to crack with conventional weapons, but with enough weight and enough Warpstone, even the mightiest of armour could be sundered. Besides, the flesh of the Stormcast was still mortal flesh, enough blunt force would slay them easily enough.

    The Skaven salivated for a moment as he pictured the bloody mess within the armour of the once human. Now here, he reflected, was a weapon of the future. How his foes within Clan Skryre had laughed at him, thought him their inferior. Now he had the last laugh, with his Doomwalker not even the champions of the man-thing God or the lizard-things could even touch him. He stopped as a series of alarms began to sound in his cockpit. He bit back a curse and thanked the Horned One that he had spent all those long months stealing the blueprints for Engin-Seer Skreee’s proximity alarms. He turned the Doomwalker to focus on this new foe and screamed as everything in his vision erupted into bright and blinding light.

    ----------------------------------------

    The light of Azyr shone from Morrig’s outstretched lantern and she sent up a prayer to Sigmar that the Skaven hadn’t inured his vision optics against such a tactic. She smiled as she saw that was not the case, the walking machine flailed about blindly. Its huge ratling gun spat untargeted bullets in a wide but harmless arc and its claw arms swung clumsily.

    Tox was already in motion as the celestial beacon erupted into purifying light, as the Skaven machine recoiled from the light he bounded around to the side, legs poised to make a leap as soon as an opening presented itself. He was of the Darkened Scale, a spawning from the world that was, they were shadow and they were death. Perhaps the Old Ones had seen a use in their Plan for what other races would term assassins. Since their rebirth in starlight, the Darkened Scale had continued their duty, though inwardly Tox knew he and his brothers were naught but memories and watched closely for any deviance to the Plan. Tox put such thoughts aside and concentrated at the task in hand. I am shadow...I am death...

    The Skaven walking machine suddenly stopped its convulsions and in that brief moment, Tox leapt forwards.

    -----------------------------------------

    Agonized and blinded, Screwfang slammed a talon down on the button he thought would shut off the screen and let loose a screech of rage as instead it caused the ratling cannon to unload most of its ammo store in a wide and un-aimed volley. He panicked, desperately trying to swat the Stormcast with a claw but to no avail. This was inconceivable! How could such lesser beings make such a mockery of Screwfang?! It had to be some kind of betrayal. The adepts who had manned his workshop must have betrayed him, sabotaging his most genius of weapons and selling him out to these foes. He ground his fangs in fury, if he hadn’t already killed all his adepts earlier for another perceived betrayal he would have done so again. No matter, even with this sabotage, these foes could not harm him. He sunk his fangs into his tail and whilst wincing quickly counted to thirteen to focus himself.

    The walker suddenly lurched as something heavy landed upon it and moments later the screen went black. Above the whine of the warpengine, Screwfang could make out the scrabbling of heavy claws and the tearing of metal plates. His eyes widened as one by one warning lights flickered all about the control panels, several shorting out as poorly soldered connections broke.

    “No-no-no-no...the fool-thing!” Screwfang screeched as he realized what his foes were doing. Like a rat seized by the black hunger, one of the Seraphon was tearing away at cables and power nodes with frenzied abandon. Except, doing so would destabilize the warpengine, the resulting blast would kill them all and destroy everything Screwfang had amassed and built over his genius life. The warpengine began to wail louder, the temperature within the cockpit began to grow more and more unbearable as Screwfang leapt from his chair and desperately tried to reroute power and prevent the engine from detonating. All the while the Seraphon outside tore away more wires and cables.

    Screwfang’s talons began to smoulder as he desperately prised off the main control box, the scent of burning fur and flesh was all about him as he seized the red hot cable and pulled.

    ------------------------------------------------

    Tox hissed and scrambled to another part of the walker device, the surface of the Skaven machine was becoming hot, enough that even his clawed feet were beginning to burn from the touch. The winged human was yelling something about getting away from it but he ignored her, the kill was all that mattered.

    There suddenly came a low whine from the walking machine and it toppled forwards. Tox rolled away from it as steam issued from vents and the gaps in its armour he had created. A hatch opened and a smouldering form leapt free, charging off deeper into the tunnels.

    The Seraphon and Stormcast briefly glanced at each other before chasing after it.

    -------------------------------------------------

    Screwfang ran. His flesh and what was still left of his fur still felt that they were aflame, but he did not stop. In his laboratory was the working of a skitterleap device, it was not finished but likely was the one chance to escape these foes, his one chance to preserve his genius.

    He skidded into his lab and scrambled for the device even as he imagined the footfalls of his enemies approach. He threw several inventions aside and scattered assorted blueprints of his great works, he paused for a brief moment caught by the thought that perhaps he should try and rescue some of his designs before these fools blundered in and destroyed everything.

    Even as he quashed that thought he heard an intake and echoed exhalation of air moments before something bit him in the neck. He reached up and pulled out a protruding dart laced with a dark substance. The world began to fall away as he turned, swaying, and he saw a dark scaled Saurus lower a wooden pipe from its scaly lips.

    He tried to say something, perhaps one final curse at the Horned Rat for abandoning him. The armoured form of a Stormcast followed behind the Saurus and watched him impassively. He felt his legs buckle and found himself staring up at ceiling of his burrow. The darkness seemed to spread around his vision; it swept cold comforting arms around him and extinguished the light within his eyes.

    -------------------------------------------------

    Morrig gazed across the laboratory even as the Skaven gasped his last. Though she did not understand how most of these inventions worked or what these drawings meant for a moment she felt gripped by purpose. If the realms of man could take this knowledge and repurpose it into something safe, perhaps they would have a better chance in throwing back the forces of Chaos?

    Tox stomped forwards and withdrew a small reddish stone from a pouch, he whispered a sacred word of the Old Ones and the stone was enveloped in flame. He glanced at Morrig, what might have been a look of sympathy and understanding crossed his gaze as the works of Screwfang began to burn.

    Morrig stared at the flames for a long moment, trying to not think of the folly her moment of weakness might have brought. She turned about and left the growing fire.

    But Tox lingered, a shadow amongst the flame.

    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 one or two large posts rather than a swarm of little ones covering only one story. Mainly for the benefit of people who are reading this thread a year from now.

    Remember you still have a couple days to submit a poem to our concurrent contest
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2020
  2. Scalenex
    Slann

    Scalenex Keeper of the Indexes Staff Member

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    Story One: "The Engine of Chotec" by Deathbringer125

    Story Two: "A Kroxigor's Dream" by Paradoxical Pacifism

    Story Three: "The Long Game" by Lizards of Renown

    Story Four: "Getting Ahead in the Railroad Business" by Scalenex

    Story Five: "The Machine" by Infinity Turtle

    Story Six: "The Knowledge of Tlaxtlan" by thedarkfourth

    Story Seven: "Wrapped and Seated by Imrahil

    Story Eight: "Of Scales and Sigmarite" by Y'ttar Scaletail
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2020
  3. Imrahil
    Slann

    Imrahil Thirtheenth Spawning

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    I'll better get to it. Let the reading commence!

    Grrr, Imrahil
     
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  4. Lizards of Renown
    Slann

    Lizards of Renown Herald of Creation

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    As always, kudos to @Scalenex for doing the quality checking and the mind-numbing admin necessary for this contest to be here for us.
     
    Scalenex and Imrahil like this.
  5. Imrahil
    Slann

    Imrahil Thirtheenth Spawning

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    Hear, Hear!

    Grrr, Imrahil
     
    Lizards of Renown likes this.
  6. Y'ttar Scaletail
    Terradon

    Y'ttar Scaletail Well-Known Member

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    Initial flick through and once more quality is pretty great! :)

    As always, cheers for running this Scalenex!
     
  7. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

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    Within a couple of days i will go on a brief vacation.
    I should resist the urge to immediately read the stories, so i will have some great moments when i will relax on the beach...
     
  8. Infinity Turtle
    Temple Guard

    Infinity Turtle Well-Known Member

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    Assignments for this unit will be done by next week, so I’m looking forward to some relaxing reading! I’m ready to nag my family to read through the entries (not that I don’t always nag my family to read these comps...) and discuss the different ideas that y’all have come up with.

    Good job everyone! I’m looking forward to the reviews and commentary, arguably just as important to these comps as the stories!
     
  9. Scalenex
    Slann

    Scalenex Keeper of the Indexes Staff Member

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    You do you.

    Me I found I cannot really multitask to deal with L-O or normal hobbies or fun reading on vacations. I like to put as close to 100% of my vacation time as possible focusing on my surroundings or napping.

    My dad always said, "I guess it's nice to read a book while at the beach, but I can read a book in my chair at home just fine."

    But if L-O at the beach works for you, go for it!
     
  10. Lizards of Renown
    Slann

    Lizards of Renown Herald of Creation

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    Good stories guys. Nice crop.
     
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  11. Scalenex
    Slann

    Scalenex Keeper of the Indexes Staff Member

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    What better way to honor the these fine writers to sum up all of their hard work than with a derivative meme?

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2020
  12. Lizards of Renown
    Slann

    Lizards of Renown Herald of Creation

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    Absolutely brilliant Scalenex!

    I loved my one! ;)
     
  13. Killer Angel
    Slann

    Killer Angel Prophet of the Stars Staff Member

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    After a couple of readings, I think i have my two votes. But on the second one i am not 100% sold on it, so i will re-read them again.
    Hopefully i will be able to do some reviews.
     
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  14. Lizards of Renown
    Slann

    Lizards of Renown Herald of Creation

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    @Killer Angel there BETTER be some reviews!!!!

    We need your contribution to the contest, so if no stories, then you have to do reviews.

    (I'm very curious as to what you think of my story.)
     
  15. Imrahil
    Slann

    Imrahil Thirtheenth Spawning

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    I did read the first four stories, partially through the fifth.

    I even managed to write 'reviews' for the first three already.
    Hopefully I can make it through to the last in time.

    Grrr, Imrahil
     
  16. Imrahil
    Slann

    Imrahil Thirtheenth Spawning

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    I finally read them all and enjoyed greatly.
    My votes are in and I am still working on my reviews.

    They will probebly be in after voting has ended, because I am totally incapable of writing an objective review of my own story:oops:

    Grrr, Imrahil
     
    Paradoxical Pacifism likes this.
  17. Y'ttar Scaletail
    Terradon

    Y'ttar Scaletail Well-Known Member

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    Likhet's teeth it's gone quiet here. No review-things? :p
     
  18. Y'ttar Scaletail
    Terradon

    Y'ttar Scaletail Well-Known Member

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    *Cracks talons* Alright I guess I shall start...


    Story One: I really liked the premise of this one, the search for an artefact to save a race. The initial attack was very tense, though I feel it could have been stretched that little bit more to build up the feeling before the explosion of combat. The next part detailing why Chau’tek was there as well as his state after the cave-in was great, the stubbornness knocking heads with the futility of his action.

    A much crueller writer might have had it end there, with the artefact being missing or not what he thought it would be. Kudos for giving Chau’tek a reward for his pain, although that does lead into my one real part I felt could have been much more (and because I am oft a cruel creator.) The fusing with the artefact and dedication to Chotec was spoken by the Old One as being a cost and yet I couldn’t see much of this displayed in the rest of the story. It just felt that this could have been a ripe area for understanding more of Chau’tek’s character especially if the artefact caused intense pain, stripped him of parts of his being, or otherwise infected him with something that makes him almost question his role. Although, Lustrians can be tricky to give doubt to.

    I do feel some sort of consequence could have balanced the latter part of the story which ended on perhaps too high a note for my personal tastes. Do not get me wrong though, this is still a very written story, it just felt that it could have been more.

    Herkter (Assassin out of time) : “That fool scale-thing was luck-lucky, the agent-flesh sent-sent to kill-slay it was sloppy. Must-must have been Gutter Runner. No-no matter, Warlock Engineers and Seer-meat pay-pay much-much for this weapon-thing. Just want-need a good enough blade-blade in the dark...”


    Story Two: “One day they’ll have secrets...one day they’ll have dreams”

    I really liked how the author of this piece put three Kroxigors as the main characters and focus. What many would consider as near mindless bestial lifting servants each were treated as individuals with their own quirks and even dreams. And that’s the thing, despite being programmed from their creation to be slow minded servants, who is it to say that they could develop and change over time? What is the line between a machine and a man? Nakai especially the version in the previous story is an example of where the line can blur, why not more?

    And yet in this cruel and grimdark world, it is to their cost that they are able to truly think and dream. The ending itself was quite the punch in the gut given how much the trio build up their hopes and companionship. If I had to make a complaint, there were points I found the pacing just felt a bit sticking, nothing too major in a story as thought provoking as this.

    R’ttig (Rat Daemon, collector of many books) : “Ah, yes-yes...to dream and to be consumed by the dream. The verminous hordes each dream of breaking their chains with the dream of power, and yet when they achieve this power they find themselves still tethered by more entrapment...more reality. Perhaps it was good-good for those scale-things to never find there was nothing there. Dreams lose their shine when you achieve them...apart from mine...”


    Story Three: Heh, I remember too when Lizardmen could be fielded in 40k from the back half of the old old Necron Codex. Good times.

    Normally it’s a setting that would be at odds with the denizens of Lustria...but ironically makes a lot of sense given the sheer technological and biological (and many other logicals) might of the Old Ones. It is quite conceivable that with the proper drive and understanding, the lizzies could be a highly technological race via the use of the Old One tech.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. The flashback to the End Times was superbly done with the sheer chaos of the fall of Lustria. I really liked what description we got of the inside of the ship that Ach’akaan awakens in. Indeed, I almost thought that it was going to go into Age of Sigmar...but no...what a twist!

    It was quite something to read a high tech Lizardmen force decimating a Chaos Marine force. Although this enjoyment is a little marred that the Imperium of Man will likely turn on the post-Lustrians as being unclean xenos as soon as the battle ends. Even so, a very original slant to take methinks on the theme!

    Issak (Tech-Priest and former Inquisitorial Acolyte) : +++ Strange Xenos tech-abominations that seek to aid the forces of the Imperium? Filename: Y’ttar, I am not sure why you brought me to read this. The technology would be interesting to study with the right safeguards, but much is clear tech-heresy. Exterminatus from an ordained Inquisitorial source might be an option, though enough Murder Servitors might have enough of a percentage of success... +++


    Story Four: I have a soft spot for the Western themed elseworld that has been created on LO, so I am very happy to see another piece that seems to take place in that world (or at least a similarly themed one.)

    The interactions between our two main characters were fun and insightful, though I can see a few people not so aware of the LO Western-verse being a little confused. The Dwarf was so oily and despicable that I wonder if the gold lust has corrupted his soul too deeply, especially that he was all too willing to swear on his beard and has a reputation for cheating others...what sort of Dawi would break an oath upon his beard? And yet I can almost believe this git would...

    Anyway, whilst I feel the Dwarf could have made even more caveats and have a lengthy agreement for our rangos to sign (with very fine text that only someone with extremely fine eyesight and runecraft could activate and read), this is only a side note to the beastie itself. And what a beastie it is! I had to look it up as it’s not a part of my mythological beastie knowledge pool, but it is a very nice touch. Despite being very stupid, it is quite the intimidating foe and was handled very well by the author.

    Felrix Brightfur (Bounty Hunter/Gunslinger/Warp Coffee Addict) : “I’ll admit-claim that even I might-may have trouble dealing with this here head-thing, though I wonder if my six and a half shooters of Warpstone bullets might-may have the power to damage harm it’s eye-meat...”


    More to follow soonish...
     
  19. Scalenex
    Slann

    Scalenex Keeper of the Indexes Staff Member

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    I was holding off on this till @Y'ttar Scaletail finished his reviews, but I grew tired of waiting....:banghead:

    The Engine of Chotec: It is risky to start a short story in media res, but I believe in this case, the risk payed off. Excellent battle narrative with personal stakes. I especially appreciated the attention to tactile detail. That’s something that is often neglected in narratives in favor of sound and sight. Good pacing and word economy. This Saurus’ characterization was revealed through his actions which is the best way to portray a Saurus’ character.

    With all the sensory detail, I would have liked to see a small nod to smell and/or taste. There was a lot of prose intricately explaining details early on then the author described the Saurus being rebuilt with cybernetics of the Old Ones. That’s a big reveal and warrants more than 33 words of prose in my descriptions. What did it feel like to have robot legs? Empowering? Awkward? Painful? Numb? Warm? Electric? Cold? Scary?

    I’m on the fence whether this piece was amazingly epic or a little over the top. The crux of the story is that the protagonist becomes a bionic Saurus who is entrusted with guarding Chotec’s ray gun. But Nakai is also in this story and so is a Dread Saurian. Within the course of one fairly succinct story, Chua'tek is exposed to four once in a life time events, any one of which would be the crowning achievement of a single Saurus’ life. Nakai was awesome and the artifact is the crux of the story. The cybernetics reveal stakes, so the dross here is the Dread Saurian. There is no real reason this artifact needs to be mounted on a Dread Saurian. In my opinion anyway.



    A Kroxigor’s Dream: This piece was amazing. Easily the best characterization in the entire contest. Who knew what hidden depths lay in the ponds of the minds of simple Kroxigor? Fears and insecurities, hopes and aspirations, belonging and loneliness. How they took their frustration out on their enemies. The Kroxigor felt really relatable but they still felt like Kroxigor instead of scaly humans. The battle description was very short. Usually that is a problem in short story contests but here it was perfect. The exterior battle was not the main conflict of the story. It was just a detail to highlight the inner battle of the protagonist that is the grubs and potatoes of this piece.

    My main misgiving is small, but may the Kroxigor could have been a little bit more bestial and alien. I would recommend adding a sentence here or there covering what the Kroxigor’s smells and maybe some comments about their claws or tails. Maybe describe the Kroxigor eating his breakfast in a bestial manner. Just a few little details here and there would have improved the piece slightly.

    This is a strong contender for the Scalenex Cup.



    The Long Game: Three pieces in and I would like to vote for stories 1, 2, and 3. The action is not quite as evocative as the “Engine of the Chotec” and the characterization is not quite as in depth as “A Kroxigor’s Dream” but this is a great amalgam of what I like about the first two stories. Great battle narrative and great characterization. Exciting battle descriptions laced with prose hitting me in the feels. When the protagonist was choking the Skink priest I was 100% on his side. On top of all that, this is one of the more clever Lizardmen 40K stories I have yet seen.

    “The Long Game” was a bit long. Part One (by which I mean everything that happened before the fall of the Old World) was near perfect, it had some minor grammatical errors but I would not trim that down. I would trim down part two. The crux of Part Two is that futuristic Lizardmen are backing up the humans against Chaos but it took over 300 words before the Lizard Marine even appeared. That is unnecessarily long. 200 words would have sufficed. If the audience was completely unaware of Warhammer 40K this was a fine intro but it’s a safe bet that most of your target audience knows the basics of Warhammer 40K already. Maybe I’d have shortened the battle by 100 words too. It seemed to take too long for Ach’akaan to show up in my opinion.

    This is a strong contender for the Scalenex Cup.


    Getting Ahead in the Railroad Business: I always feel warm and fuzzy when someone takes a stab at writing something in the Westhammer setting I tried to set up. I really liked how this piece enriched the setting with additional details. Interesting characters and an interesting monster.

    https://www.lustria-online.com/thre...s-an-alternative-setting-brainstorming.22000/

    A monster hunt short story typically has exposition, set up the team of hunters, build up suspense, conflict, and resolution. This story added a step “Long wordy description of railroad camp and the camp’s jerk boss.” That threw the pace off a bit.


    The Machine: With all the serious pieces in this contest, a comedic adventure is a nice change of pace. I had a big ol’ smile on my face all through reading this piece. It is relatively uncommon to write a story where the main character and the point of view character are not the same person. It’s even a for these short story contests. The risk paid off here. Atamai was the main character but T’lozii was the protagonist in a sense the avatar of the audience. Wise casting choice. Atamai would have made a poor point of view character. Atamai, T’lozli, and Tiqreen all played off each other well. Good pacing and great characterization.

    The ending was a little bit predictable but I’ll overlook that. What I think could helped this piece slightly is to trim the Atamai/Tlozli part down by a few hundred words and pad the Skaven part of the story. Tigreen is effectively carrying half the story, but he only has about 25% of the word count. The author has the Skaven treachery, cowardice, and crazy risk taking down but I wouldn’t mind see-reading more Queekish doublespeak. I also wouldn’t mind more attention to smells, face twitching and other rat-like things in the prose.


    The Knowledge of Tlaxtlan: There was lots of unique takes on the contest theme. This was perhaps the most unique take on the theme in the entire contest. It certainly had the most surprising twist ending. A lot of the pieces in this contest run pretty close to the 2400 word ceiling but this was pretty short. That was a good call considering the pace and tone. The author used enough words to set the scene and tone and didn’t waste prose on extraneous details. I’m not sure if I believe that omniscience leads to inaction or knowledge leads to misery but I have seen that trope played out before and this story did that trope justice.

    No major complaints, but I would have liked to see more characterization for Amayatl. Maybe more hesitancy, doubt or indecision in his actions and choices to show contrast with the people of Tlaxtlan.

    This is a strong contender for the Scalenex Cup.


    Wrapped and Seated: Okay I’ve just said it last piece, but this story might be the unique take on the contest them. That was very creative and impressive. It was certainly a bold risk to make the point of view characters the Old Ones themselves. That’s been done before here but until now it’s always been played for laughs.

    I like succinct pieces, but in my opinion, this was too succinct. Given that the author boldly chose to focus on the Old Ones themselves, I believe they need more characterization. I am a big fan of Rick Riordan so I don’t have a problem with flawed human-like gods, but these aren’t like the Olympians or Asgardians. They are the gods of the dinosaur warriors and spell casting frogs. I would have liked to see more otherworldly or bestial aspects.


    Of Scales and Sigmarite: I am surprised that out of eight pieces on technological innovation, six of them were the Lizardmen creating some form of technological innovation and only this piece had clan Skyre. Given the Lizardmen’s savagery and traditionalism I would have expected to see more beast versus machine stories but I’m glad we got one. And this was a good one. One of the best battle narrative short stories I’ve read in some time. I enjoyed the Skaven point of view narratives a lot.

    I have two fairly minor misgivings about characterization. I would have liked to see more double speak. I know that intellectual and high ranking skaven are generally less likely to speak-squeak double words than lowly rank and file, but I always figured they start to babble and stutter when things go wrong. It would have a nice little detail to show the skaven villain/protagonist slowly lose control of his articulation as his plan unravels. My second misgiving is that the Sigmarite and Seraphon heroes seemed too comfortable with each other. They might be on the same side, but they are still alien and foreign to each other and none of that showed.
     
  20. Lizards of Renown
    Slann

    Lizards of Renown Herald of Creation

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    Great reviews.
     
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