Welcome to the forum for the author James Barclay.
Joined: 03 Sep 2007
|Posted: Tue Sep 04, 2007 2:49 pm Post subject: A short warhammer fantasy story
|Seth lay quietly on the small ledge near the ceiling of the underground passageway. Without the sun or a clock to tell him, he had no idea how long he?d been there, waiting. His companions probably could, if they hadn?t left him out there alone to die by himself when the time came, snickering behind their twitching whiskers as they crept away. Seth knew he had only half a water bottle and two dried biscuits remaining. On the surface, that would mean about two days worth of scant rations. He?d started with three bottles and six biscuits? He struggled with the math in his head, but the lack of sleep and near-motionlessness during his stalk made his ciphering sluggish.
His time with the rat-men had been largely unpleasant. The Warlord Queek clearly suspected Seth of some double dealing with another clan to depose him. The Grey Seer Ratheol was bent on either selling the Chaos Lord to the beastlords of Clan Moulder for experimentation value, or consuming him tartar with a white wine sauce, judging by the way the skaven Archmage seemed to salivate uncontrollably in Seth?s presence.
The skaven themselves were hardly better. Cautious at first, they soon began acting with growing fearlessness and animosity to the interloping man-thing. Seth had attempted to ignore the insolent stares, the rude trips, the accidental bumps. Foolish. If he?d struck at first provocation, the situation might have ended there. But that was indisputable skaven social law: where one grows bold, so does the entire pack.
When one tried to explain in it?s tick-clicking language that it had inadvertently fallen on Seth while drawing a knife to clean something from it?s teeth, Seth had decided the time for winning hearts and minds had passed. The evisceration of the tooth-cleaner had prompted a nearby dozen to attempt similar amateur dentistry. And after those had fallen, a dozen more. After that they had simply become more devious.
Seth contemplated the possibility that he had been abandoned by his cadre. The Eshin assassins were more professional than most of the vermin. Nor was it truly their style to be so passive. The Chaos Lord shrugged minutely. Impossible to tell until the ambush was sprung. Whenever that would be.
They were supposed to be out here to intercept an incoming delegation from Hell Pit. Warlord Queek wished to avoid the political repercussions of outright refusal of whatever accord the visitors were bringing, so Seth and his fellow assassins had been assigned to unofficially veto the proposal with extreme prejudice.
The warrior contemplated the darkness surrounding him. Ancient humans feared the dark enough to revere fire as a divinity. Put them in the dark like this, and even most modern day men would panic, screaming and yelling, running blindly into the nearest wall, or off the edge of a cliff. Surround them with enemies in such a place and hand them a torch, and they would inevitably light it. The rat-men joked about the stupid humans they occasionally found wandering lost in the dark, making enough noise for a hundred skaven warriors. Sometime actually crying out for help. How they often took them so completely by surprise that the humans had no idea they were even being attacked. Any skaven free from the womb long enough for their eyes to open knew the folly that was light. In darkness there is safety. Light is death. An entire race that could theoretically fight as well blindfolded as not. A snicker escaped the human?s lips before he could quell it.
It was then he smelled something.
The Devine Flesh had blessed Seth with five senses acute far beyond anything human. Something was coming down the tunnel. Something that had stopped at his laugh. Whatever it was, it was canny enough to mask it?s steps, but the musky smell carried ahead of it slightly, on a near imperceptible breeze.
He thought absently of his armor, left behind after only days underground because of it?s tendency to light up in bright blue runes when he wore it. Fighting without it had been a pain, but keeping it simply had not been an option.
Might come in handy now, thought Seth. His complete raiment included only a loincloth, rough cloth tied over his elbows and knees, and the shortsword and dirk he?d brought along for his time underground. Boots, even sandals made enough noise to carry from miles underground, and loose clothing brushing over rock walls nearly as bad.
The silence was total, the tension thick. Seth knew the mission was blown. The targets were on guard, and the small band of killers could not hope to eliminate the entire delegation if surprise had been lost.
Ratheol would eat his spleen this evening. Unless?
Seth spun soundlessly from the alcove, dropping to the floor of the passageway with a noisy grunt.
?Guys?? Seth called. ?Jeez, am I ever glad you found me.?
The Chaos Lord heard a moment of stunned shock, then muted chitters. ?A man-thing.?
?We must have gotten separated a few days ago.? Seth continued pleasantly, relief obvious in his tone. ?Serves me right for not using the group latrine. I?ve been wandering since my last torch went out. Guys??
The response was breathy, and not meant for Seth. ?A lost man-thing. Stupid-stupid.?
Another sketchy voice piped up. ?Can we kill it??
A loud thud Seth recognized as a solid cuff across the snout. ?Of course we can-can.? sneered the first voice. Seth could hear the footsteps, now that the vermin had determined stealth no longer necessary.
?Guys?? Seth yelled in fake panic. ?Guys?? He pulled his weapons silently, while escalating the fear in his voice. ?Who?s there? Who are you??
The warrior could hear the soft chuckling of his victims. Seth pressed against the wall of the corridor to allow more to move in for the kill.
The first voice, the leader, must have felt supremely confident in the human?s spinelessness: he moved from his customary position in the back of the group to speak to the groveling human up close. ?Greetings, man-thing.? It croaked in passable Reikspeil. ?We will help-help you.?
Seth looked up from his cower. ?If it?s all the same, I?ll just help myself.? The Chaos Lord flicked his weapons across where he knew the leader?s neck would be, then kicked the now-decapitated head from it?s furry shoulders.
He twirled his weapons blade-down in his fists, and swing in wide arcs in front of him, cleaving into the press of skaven flesh bearing down on him.
The fear-musk exploded across Seth?s nostrils as the warrior moved forward, blades whispering back and forth in a complicated pattern that shredded the rat-men before him. The sounds of cutting flesh from further down the tunnel told him his cadre had entered the fray as well. Seth redoubled his efforts, smashing a pointed snout back into it?s owner?s skull, then dropping prone to the tunnel floor to avoid a sword from a different attacker. The warrior kicked out a kneecap and drove the dirk into the neck of his fallen adversary. Then he sprang back to his feet, stance ready to advance or retreat, sword-up/dirk-down in his hands.
The tunnel was filled with silence and the smell of blood.
There was a sudden choking noise. It continued for several seconds, getting louder. Seth realized one of the rat-men had started laughing. The warrior was surprised, recognizing the one laughing was the leader of the cadre, Whitterer.
Slowly the rest of the band began chuckling as well. Slowly the sound filled the tunnel, until the entire group but Seth was howling with laughter.
Presently the giggles tapered off. Whit came over to Seth, clapping a clawed hand over the warrior?s shoulder.
?Who?s there?? he mimicked, screeching. ?Help me, help me. I?m a man-thing lost down in the dark-dark.?
?Yeah, very funny.? Seth ground his teeth.
Whitterer grew more serious. ?Careful-careful coming in. Wary. Expecting am-boosh. No good.? Seth could hear the wet sounds of a toothy grin. ?Not expecting stupid squalling laughing crying man-thing. So busy thinking of mewling man-thing they start moving like man-things and talking like man-things?? He drew a quick claw lightly across Seth?s neck and made a gagging, gasping noise. Then Whit gave a quiet, derisive snort: skaven field-discipline reasserting itself. ?Then dead like man-things.?
The rest of the cadre had finished stripping the bodies of valuables. As usual, no one offered anything of value to Seth, even from the fallen the warrior had himself slain.
?Home for fresh meat and females!? whispered Whitterer, and the band quietly chattered back it?s unanimous agreement.
Slaaneshi or not, Seth was ambivalent about the latter, but nearly rabid about the possibility of the former. He made his way to the front of the group to his regular position on point. No one bumped him. No tails hung at ankle height for him to stumble on. And when he clicked his tongue for silence-on-the-move, the surly retorts seemed more resigned and rhetorical than malicious.
After six-odd months of living with xenophobic, subterranean, homicidal, bipedal vermin, he?d finally been accepted onto the lowest rung of their social ladder by acting like an idiot man-thing while on ambush.
The warrior sighed, shrugging mentally. Why was he even surprised: Absurdity was frequently the price you paid to work for chaos. Then he scuttled forward, bare feet moving noiselessly over the stone, leading his pack back toward the warren.
If your equest it, and give me your msn I'll send a full through.
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