Six Sons of the Horned Rat, born from the same mother,
Six Skaven were born at the same time
The Horned Rat has chosen them, for some reason known only by himself.
To the elder, he made gift of his phenomenal strength.
To the second, he granted his unlimited creative intelligence.
The third received his physiological harmony and unsurpassed agility.
His exceptional resistance fell to the fourth.
He bestowed the fifth with his sharp senses.
The sixth, meanwhile, inherited his power ...but also his audacity.
When they were brought to each other,
They discovered, recognized, and some appreciated.
Nobody knew then that they would illustrate.
In particular, one of them.
The one they called "traitor," "sacrilege"
The one they called"monster", "vermin",
There were no two opinions similar to his account.
But all agreed on his nickname:
He was unique among his kinsmen,
He was the Enfant Terrible of the Horned Rat.
Poem attributed to Grey Seer Hespix, translated by Detlef Sierck
Garog was in a passable mood this morning. The day would probably not collapse under any surprises, good or bad. His work was not very exciting, but it satisfied his limited intellect. He stretched, cracked the bones in his neck, and hissed between his prominent teeth. He rubbed his nose, spat on the dark pavement and opened the door.
Garog was a Skaven, one of the children of the Horned Rat, that the inferior races called "ratmen". Like all his kind, he had the attributes of rats, while being a humanoid being, endowed with a conscience. He was fat and flabby, because he didn't use to practice any intensive activity. Indeed, his elders had quickly realised that he had no combat capability. However, he had developed good skills in curative treatments, instinctively, to compensate for his lack of fighting ability. It was been these skills that had enabled him to become the head of the nursery of Brissuc, the small underground city in which lived hundreds of his fellow ratmen. This had involved his castration. And it was him and his ratwives comrades who had the inglorious task of taking care of layers and their young during the first days of their existence. This was a thankless job, but quiet, where he faced much less chance of ending up with the blade of an enemy in his belly or the knife of an ally planted in his back than most of his fellow Skaven.
He entered the cell. It was a low-ceilinged room, poorly ventilated, which smelled fetid. He looked down, and his gaze fell to a potential charge.
Another Skaven was lying on the ground. It was a female. For the detestable ratmen, breeders were rare, there was about one female in ten pups, and yet not all could mature, even being rapidly isolated in special nurseries. They represented the future of the species, and their litters comprised on average ten individuals. Even though this was the case, they were not favoured in the violent and deceitful society of Skaven. Instead, they were generally confined, tied and drugged continuously. Small Skaven factories, that's what they were, and nothing more. When a male Skaven fulfilled his duty efficiently, his reward was often a mating with one of the females. It made him happy, while contributing to the perpetuation of the species. The female was the only loser, but nobody cared. Two moons later, sometimes three, Garog took over and watched the layer while she was calving.
And indeed, the one which was lying at full length was enormous, and its many flaccid breasts seemed ready for breastfeeding. For a quarter of an hour she had been squealing in spurts, the indisputable sign of coming work. Garog sighed.
- Well, we'll have to go, baby.
He approached the wall, and grabbed a pair of chains fitted with reinforced straps. He knew by heart the manoeuvre. Probably painful to the breeder, but it made its performance better, it facilitated the arrival of the pups. He made sure that the tight collar around the neck of the female Skaven held firmly to the other channel wall, and then fastened the bracelets on its ankles. The creature's eyes darted at from its haggard face, though unconscious of what he would do, before it squealed again. Garog went to a wooden wheel screwed into the wall, and slowly turned it. A mechanism set off with grindings, and pulled the chains attached to its feet. In an instant, the female Skaven fell on its back, half strangled, and its thighs spread. It cried out in pain.
- Come on, it's just a bad time-time to pass! raged the ratwife, repeating important words of his sentence as often did the Skaven.
He got into position, crouching between the legs of the Skaven. He took a long cloth of questionable colour from his waistcoat pocket, ready to receive. The female moaned louder and louder, and reared. Soon there was a noise similar to flatulence, and in a jiffy, Garog held between his long fingers a little sticky and squeaky ball.
Oh, this one hasthe voice!
The ratwife wiped the fluids on the little trembling body, and gave a little grin of satisfaction as he saw the size of the newborn. It was unusually large, and his suspicions were confirmed when he saw the colour of a few millimeters of fur. A Black Skaven, one of the Mighty of the Horned Rat. It was not going to need more than a couple of seasons to reach its adult size, much taller than most men-things. A formidable forthcoming war machine.
Right, that bodes well for the followers.
Turning his head toward the opening in the door, he called:
- Yeah? replied a voice.
- Go get the Black Skaven chieftain. Now-now!
Fast footsteps echoed in the vault. Garog leaned forward, over the female, and laid the young black rat on its side which then clung to one of its huge breasts before drinking its milk loudly. Then he returned to his place.
- Good. The next-next.
The female screamed, struggled, rattling the steel chains noisily.
- Hey, stop moving! the ratwife ordered.
There was another contraction, a new gurgling in its guts, and another arrival. Garog noticed the size of the new addition, most ordinary, he spat on its head for a wash. It had a brown coat, which was the most common. There remained a small check to perform. The ratwife turned the baby over and pulled its tail up.
Male. Really desperately banal.
He placed it firmly on the chest of the female, and sat back. down The squeals of the breeder predicted the arrival of the next, which soon found itself in Garog's paws. Another one of common size, a regular colour. Its fur was grey. The Skaven palpated between the legs of the little yelping thing, and felt his ears go down with spite. Another male.
Garog began to get annoyed. Sure, the Mighty had announced good results, but executives didn't like a litter of ratlings made up of too many ordinary Skaven. Most of these did not survive long in the society of the Sons of the Horned Rat. The most annoying thing was that those in charge of nursery, like himself, still receive their share of reprimands from the Skaven oligarchy, although they have not the slightest power over the formation of a litter, and for a good reason. It was a domino effect, so ultimately it was the breeder who paid for the whole chain.
- You'll have to do better than that!
So saying, he reached out and slapped the female. It let out a long cry of pain and despair. Strings pulled more and more of its limbs. But its suffering was not over however. Garog stretched his rag between the thighs of the breeder, waiting for the rest of the litter. He received two other ordinary small pups.
Finally, the squeals and the wailing ceased. The ratmother seemed pitiful. Tears in its eyes, legs spread, the five pups clinging to its teats of all the strength of their little slim-fingered paws. This show inspired only pity and contempt in Garog. Five children, half of what a healthy breeder could produce in a litter! And no new female!
Really, these breeders have become unable to manufacture their offspring properly! Or maybe is it the fault of those who have sown them? Pooh! Despite appearances, I've more meat hungover my lower abdomen that these creeps have!
One special Skaven in five. Perhaps the only one who would live more than six moons, if not fighting against stronger than him. The ratwife already knew what would happen to him, and this thought really brought his irritation to a peak. He was going to untie the unfortunate breeder and leave it alone with its brood, when it squeaked even louder than before.
- What, it's not over?
The loud gasps from the female Skaven seemed to confirm it. Furious, he hissed in exasperation, and went back to the place he had left. He reproduced his rag, dripping in dark matter. The ratmother hiccupped more quickly in pain, but without result.
- Come on! I don't have all day! Garog viciously growled. Hurry up!
He lowered his nose to the abdomen of the layer, and shouted again:
- And you, come forth! Quick-quick! The Horned Rat doesn't like being kept waiting!
The female let out a new screech, a final spasm, and a small Skaven flew from its stomach and fell into the clutches of the ratwife. He lifted it to eye level, facing it, and swore.
Great, exactly what I needed! A weakling!
Indeed, the newborn – yet another male – was much smaller than its brothers. It looked so weak it could not even scream like the others, only cough quietly. It had a round head with a wide and flat muzzle, and blue veins streaked its temples. Its fur was flush with skin, almost non-existent, partly covering its body and its sickly members. Physically, it looked more fragile than the others. As if it had to fit around an edge of its mother's womb, already shunned by its five brothers even before being born. While cleaning it with his cloth, Garog wondered if it wouldn't better to eat it right away, when he felt something unusually hard and pointed under the tissue. He stopped his movement, and fumbled. He felt his eyes squinting. He lifted the cloth, revealing the tiny head.
One moment... No, it's not possible!
Suddenly surprised, he rubbed it over again gently, and saw on two small nubs on the top of the baby's forehead, two embryonic horns. And when the little creature was uncovered more, he saw its coat shine with a white brilliance. Amazed, he held his breath, risking letting it fall. Very slowly, he approached the ratmother, and laid gently the newborn on one of its unoccupied teats.
- What, what?
Garog turned, and saw in the doorway his subordinate ratwife Skorsh, flanked by Furghân, a large Black Skaven.
- So I have a new recruit, it seems? asked the latter.
- Look, both of you! Garog ordered.
He stepped back cautiously, and pointed to the huge female lying on the ground.
- Ah, I see it. Not bad.
- No matter the black one, you moron-moron! Look at the other one, nearby.
The other two Skaven voiced their amazement. Garog ordered Skorsh:
- Fetch Vellux!
Skorsh turned, and ran down the hall, bellowing:
- Grey Seer! Grey Seer! You have a new student!
Part one: Anomalies
Chapter 1: Initiation
A rat was travelling through a corridor, alternating fast running with careful stops. It sniffed the foul air, and ran again without lingering. An unusual smell stopped it. It pointed its muzzle around, sniffing louder, when suddenly a stone thrown with deadly accuracy cracked its skull.
- Yes! I did it! I'm so great!
The cheerful, hoarse and rasping voice which had uttered these words belonged to a Skaven. He leapt to his feet and stretched with a grunt of satisfaction. His size was comparable to an adult woman of the Empire of man-things. His coat was brown, his keen eyes glittered red. He wore a washed out tunic which had been green years ago, and a matching hat. He stepped over an old tube placed through an opening leading to a large dark room. The walls were covered with a chaotic tangle of copper pipes and several openings were dotted all along the one wall of this large circular room. The Skaven saw one of his peers, sitting on a wooden crate.
- Hi, hello!
The other did not answer. Without taking this into account, the brown Skaven asked:
- Did your instructor tell you to come here?
- This is the big day, isn't it?
- Yeah, yeah, if you say so...
This Skaven was smaller and had cream fur. He spoke with a drawling voice, as if he was in a trance. His yellowish eyes were partially hidden by a balaclava with holes connected to a shapeless frock covered with indefinable matters. Pus-soaked strips of material surrounded his arms, legs, nose, and fingers. He exuded a stench much stronger than that of most Skaven. His hands were pustular, viscous mucus was running out of his nose, and flies buzzed around his head. The first Skaven guessed that the coat and bandages hid infected wounds, the cause of the odour and the insects.
- So it's true-true? We are brothers!
- You're right! thundered a great bass voice then.
Another Skaven came in the hall. He was truly monstrous. Immense, far greater than any ordinary human, his blue eyes contrasted with his fur which was as black as ink. He wore a worn leather jacket over an olive tunic.
- I am Chitik! he announced proudly. Furghân, the Stormvermin Fangleader, told me that today, all those from an exceptional litter were gathered! Six male Skaven in good health of whom I am the first born!
Stormvermin were the elite troops of Skaven warriors. They were consisted only of Black Skaven. So, "Fangleader" was the word for Stormvermin commanders, in opposite of "Clawleader" which designed the chieftains of common Clanrats. The brown ratman looked up, interested.
- Ah! I was told I had an older brother who was very strong! I am delighted to meet you! I am Diassyon, of Clan Skryre!
- Skryre… The Warlock Engineers...? the sickly Skaven asked.
- The same. And I suppose you're a Plague Monk?
The cream Skaven stretched his lips into a parody of smile mingling cruelty and pride.
- Moly, of Clan Pestilens, not to serve you... brother!
- All lunatics! yelled another voice in the dark.
The three Skaven brothers turned simultaneously in the same direction.
- Ignoramuses with ideas corrupted by disease and insane inventions!
Diassyon gasped, and hid behind Chitik. Indeed, the voice of the unknown had broken out just behind them. Their mysterious interlocutor had moved quietly from one point to another without being seen or heard.
- And you, the great awkward one, I know your kind! You blindly obey orders unquestioningly. Others do it for you.
- Who? Who is speaking? Moly spat.
There was a rustle of cloth, and a dark shape tumbled from the ceiling and landed in the centre of the room.
- Klur, of Clan Eshin!
Klur was a little larger than Moly, but less so than Diassyon. His anthracite coat showed through his black leather tunic intermittently and gray strips of cloth which enclosed his hands and feet. His yellow eyes shone with a malicious radiance. The Clan Eshin was deemed to form silent killers, and some of them used some unfamiliar and disturbing form of magic. Instinctively Chitik felt suspicious. Diassyon and Moly carefully watched the newcomer.
- Say, we have a brother from the cowards who stab in the dark? sneered the Plague Monk.
- You mean you're jealous of my intelligence and cunning!
Diassyon raised his arms in a conciliatory manner.
- Come on, no hassle-hassle now! I can't wait to see my two other little brothers!
The brown Skaven turned to one of the openings, calling: "Yoo-hoo? Anybody else?". Chitik and Moly, curious, too, turned to the vault. Klur had a cruel smile, and slowly drew a long dagger from his holster. He grabbed the tip of the blade between his thumb and forefinger, and held out his arm back, ready to throw his weapon to one of his three brothers. A loud crack echoed through the air, and the thong of a whip wrapped around the wrist of the anthracite Skaven. The dagger fell noisily to the floor. The other three turned in one leap, ready to defend themselves.
- That's not very nice! the auburn-haired Skaven who had just made his appearance quipped in a honeyed voice.
Klur hissed in anger.
- Oh yes! The name is Skahl, of Clan Moulder.
Clan Moulder... masters of the beasts, who created their own animals before training them. He seemed arrogant. He unrwound the leather strap that still held Klur, and quietly drew his whip once more to his belt.
- You were about to hit one of us in his back! Chitik accused.
- I... was not!
- What if we tear out your tongue? Moly suggested. No more lies!
Klur was surrounded by the four other Skaven, who advanced slowly. A clear, assured, young and slightly hoarse voice ordered then:
Seeing the newcomer., all obeyed A great silence hovered in the hall. Moly murmured:
- Ah ha! That too was true.
- Incredible... Klur muttered.
- Splendid! Diassyon exclaimed.
Chitik, the Black Skaven, was too amazed to articulate any coherent word. The one who had spoken was his exact opposite. He was very small, barely bigger than a man-thing's child. He appeared to float in a sort of long black dress that contrasted with his entirely white fur. He was thin, and looked rather fragile. Yet he radiated a kind of magnetism that immediately inspired the submission of the other Skaven. His head was round, unlike that of most of the children of the Horned Rat. His nose was broad and flat, and two large pink eyes surmounted it. His ears were wide, and some simple symbols were tattooed on the inside of the right one. But the most impressive thing about him was his horns, two long protuberances raised to the ceiling, which comprised a third of his whole height, and were joined at their root in the middle of his forehead.
- I am your younger brother. I am the apprentice of Grey Seer Vellux, son of Thanquol, and our leader. I'm destined to govern, and to spread the word of the Horned Rat. My name is Psody.
Physically, any of the five Skaven could gain the upper hand on him. But none of them thought to. White Skaven were sacred to the people of Skaven, not only because of their biological rarity, but also because these Skaven were able to communicate directly with their tutelary deity, and borrow its powers to unleash a terrible curse. Furthermore, this one was the first to have emerged in Brissuc for years. To lay a hand on him without a direct order from an authority higher than his was a very serious crime.
The White Skaven turned to Chitik, and pointed an authoritarian finger at him.
- Yes, brother?
- You'll now be my servant. The function of Black Skaven is to provide arms to the Horned Rat. You'll be my protector and enforcer.
Chitik was more and more excited.
- You... you won't be disappointed, Psody. I promise.
He bowed his head in submission. Psody smirked.
- Right. My brothers, I am pleased to meet you. Now, follow me, Grey Seer Vellux is waiting for us.
A few minutes later, the six young Skaven had arrived in a sort of study hall, where several dozen of hardcover books were piled on shelves. They all formed a half circle, laid knee and bowed their heads, as the back door opened, and someone entered.
The newcomer was a White Skaven. Unlike Psody, he didn't look sickly or skinny. He was well fed, had fleshy limbs and short fur. He wore a grey sleeveless vest, a blue cape over his shoulders, and a necklace of braided teeth was wrapped around his neck. He was not particularly huge, but unlike most ordinary Skaven, he wasn't bending forward as if he was about to rush into a hiding place. He stood upright, and moved slowly, confidently. His head was triangular, his eyes deeply sunken with red irises, and two horns curled in on them went from his temples and were folded forward, bypassing his ears. He also had a tattoo of a row of dots inside the right auricle, while the left was decorated with two earrings between which there were three cuts, the middle one shorter than the other two. He held in his right hand a long cane bigger than himself, with three sticks nailed into a triangle, the form resembling the head and horns of the tutelary deity of the Skaven, fixed on the upper end.
Grey Seer Vellux was the supreme leader of the Brissuc colony after the Horned Rat. Nobody dared challenge his authority without being struck by his magic in a minute. It was rumoured that he was the son of the famous Grey Seer Thanquol. Perhaps Thanquol wasn't the strongest or the greatest leader of the Skaven, but he was known to be one of the smartest and most ambitious. Unfortunately, his ambition had been repeatedly thwarted.
Truth or falsehood, Vellux had faced a legacy not always easy to assume, but he always kept control of the colony under his iron fist. It was quite exceptional. Generally, an underground Skaven city was under the control of a lord belonging to one of the major Clans that constituted this unlikely society, and Grey Seers acted as advisors versed in the mystical arts of magic. But Vellux had managed a tour de force: he was placed in command of a city inhabited by a few thousand people, probably because of the identity of his so-called genitor.
The apprentices he had had were now all dead, and the young Psody was the first to serve him for a long time. The little White Skaven had been brought up by the Grey Seer, entering his service as soon as he was able to walk. Vellux had taught him the knowledge common to most Skaven, but he had also learned to read and write their language, Queekish, had been taught about the Horned Rat and his teachings Vellux mastered perfectly, had been shown the way to discern the winds of magic, and words and gestures to manipulate and unleash them on his enemies.
Over time, Psody had learned to obey, fear and admire his master. Any failure generally earned him a stinging punishment. Also his teaching had been staked with humiliation, beatings, scolding, but gradually, the young apprentice found the right way to behave with his mentor. Things had changed when he had finally shown the ability to use magic. A kind of indescribable relationship was created between the two White Skaven. Something that only two manipulators of magical energies provided by the Horned Rat could understand. And Psody considered Vellux as the physical, moral and psychological ideal he wanted to reach.
The Grey Seer looked one by one the six young Skaven, and spoke in a deep voice:
"You all are here because, soon, you will take a test that will determine which of you will be accepted as individuals in our society. You have swelled our ranks on the same day, all six, as your respective instructors have told you. So far, you have always been cut off from the life of our colony, and have been forced to stay first in day care, then the neighbourhoods of your respective clans. Soon, it will change. But while waiting for your test, you'll get to know each other.
"You know it, you're bound by blood. This should make you stronger, more capable. Indeed, as one of your breed is a White Skaven under my responsibility, I asked your instructors to watch you carefully from the first day. They all told me the same thing: you all have all showed unusually superior skills in your respective domains. All members of the same litter survived to adulthood, which has never happened before in our colony. The Horned Rat didn't ensure his only representative, the others have also benefited from his favours.
"Among us, there is normally no question of blood ties. We all are Sons of the Horned Rat, and none of us should receive more attention than another, except White Skaven. But your abilities made me think, and finally I let Deacon Soum of Clan Pestilens convince me it could be interesting to see if the Skaven from the same litter are more likely to instinctively cooperate.
"You shall spend a week together. You won't separate. We'll put you in a cave. You will get to eat, and most importantly, learn to know you each other. I'm not asking for complete harmony between you, it would be too rosy. But if you can focus your efficiencies to be a cohesive team, it might provide some good results. That's all that matters. In one week, I will give instructions to those who are still there."
With these words, the Grey Seer paused and snapped his fingers. Three brown Skaven arrived with a large metallic clatter. The three of all were carrying a long steel chain, and each of them was holding two strong clamps with his tail. They put the chain on the floor, and tended their necklaces to the six brothers. Vellux replied with a cruel smile:
- I'm sure you will become inseparable.
Chitik, Klur, Skahl, Psody, Diassyon and Moly stared in silence, and then each of them fitted his collar. The three common Skaven passed the chain through the ring of each collar, and buckled it. Thus the six brothers were attached together. With a grin, one of the three Skaven pulled on the steel mesh, intimating to follow him. Thus the six young Skaven were led under the mockery of the adult ratmen to a single large pit.
The hole was too deep to get out of without a ladder, and the walls were tiled with very slippery earthenware. There was a large platform cobbled with planks nailed together, mouldy ropes and old pulleys. The six young Skaven were lowered down the well by the three servants who manoeuvred the platform. The technicians left, and Vellux, who had watched the strange procession, sneered again.
- Have a nice week, my children!
A week passed. A flash for someone, an eternity for the six brothers. Personalities quickly manifested themselves during this forced overcrowding. Thus Moly, the Plague Monk, was the most self-effacing, spending most of his time as far away as possible, mumbling unintelligible words. The Night Runner Klur had tried to escape several times, but the chain was not even what stopped him to stop, because the paved walls were definitively too slippy.
Chitik was never far from the younger, Psody. This one had grown irritated: he didn't like to feel the presence of the Black Skaven nearby constantly, but he also knew that his older brother was his best protection against the deceit of the other four, and this fact annoyed him even more. Meanwhile, Diassyon and Skahl had exchanged stories they considered fun.
Once a day, they were sent some bits of raw meat in an insufficient quantity to feed everyone. The first time, they had savagely fought to take as much as possible. By the second day, the Black Skaven had set things right: he had distributed shares equally, reserving the best pieces for Psody. Any protest had been quelled with punches.
To drink, they had to lick the damp walls.
On the morning of the eighth day they saw the glow of torches above them. The grinding of machinery told them that someone was descending the platform. Finally, a few minutes later they were out of the pit. Before them, Vellux, Furghân, and other instructors waited silently. The Grey Seer had a delighted smile.
- You were right, Deacon Soum! Blood ties are stronger than I thought.
Plague Deacon Soum was in charge of Plague Monks of Brissuc. He was familiar with the precepts of the Horned Rat, and was the second authority of the colony. All members of Clan Pestilens had one thing in common: they were ravaged by disease. The role of Skaven from this Clan was to form, maintain and spread the seeds of plague, rabies and other devastating diseases. In the colony, this Clan was majority. He bowed his head respectfully. Vellux ordered:
- Furghân, detach them. You guys, I grant you one hour of rest. Meet me at my laboratory at the end of that period.
The six brothers were relieved that they didn't have to feel the cold touch of the collars any more. Klur ran on his own way. Moly followed the Deacon, and Skahl and Diassyon left arm in arm, laughing together. The two opposed brothers remained. The smile of Vellux resembled that of a snake before a chicken.
- Well, well, it looks like you found a zealous servant!
Psody bowed his head, very embarrassed by this remark. From the mouth of the Grey Seer, it sounded more like a reproach. That he was not able to cope without the protection of the Black Skaven. When he dared raise his eyes, it was to cast an angry look towards Chitik. The Mighty did not seem to realise this fact.
One hour later, they were in the study room of Vellux, a place well-known by the young White Skaven, who had already spent many hours there. Vellux stood on the dais. He inspired and explained with rising irritation in his voice:
"The Horned Rat appointed us to be masters-masters. We were born to rule the world. Sometimes we have to resort to inferior beings to help us. That's what I did by bamboozling the man-thing named Reinhardt Schmitt. He is the head of Niklasweiler, the small village of men-things which is above Brissuc. In recent seasons, he provided food and coal in exchange for metals that are precious to him, but not for us. But for two moons, he gave us nothing, not even an explanation or an excuse!
"This damn woodlouse decided to turn his back to the Horned Rat, and no longer honour our agreements! No more food, no more coal, nothing at all! Traitor-traitor! I want him to know you never joke with Skaven. You shall destroy his village, spread terror and death on these miserable men-things, so that we can set up a colony and collect the stuff ourselves! And for this stupid Schmitt, I want you to bring back his head-head! You'll recognize him, he has a purple mark around his eye. He's surely hiding in his house, it is the largest of the village. Come on, quick-quick! And do not bother to return without having killed-killed this man-thing!"
The Grey Seer had shouted, the six brothers blanched. He really did not seem willing to accept failure. Meanwhile something else had sparked Diassyon's thoughts.
- Uh... Grey Seer? ventured the Skryre.
- If we kill-kill men-things... we won't have their coal more, or their food...
- We'll pick up the coal ourselves! The furnaces of Clan Skryre won't lapse, be reassured. And for food, we'll eat their corpses, then their animals, and their crops, and after... we'll see!
A brief silence hovered. Then Klur timidly raised his hand. Vellux grimaced exasperated.
- What now?
- What if... the men-things... send reinforcements?
- We'll crush them and feast on their smoking entrails! Anyway, don't forget the men-things have fought the weird-things for a long time, and are very weak. Small towns like this one are isolated, I doubt there is much communication. Now go-go! No more questions, just acts-acts!
Vellux had yelped angrily. Psody trembled. He knew that the mood swings of his master could be terrible. So he hastened with the others to exit the office.
- Wait, Psody. I have to talk to you, alone.
The young White Skaven stopped, not daring to return. He saw the other five Skaven through the door, leaving him with the Grey Seer. He eventually faced him.
- Listen to me, Psody. On the six of you, you're the one who has the most value to my eyes and the eyes of the Horned Rat. You must try then to remind your brothers who's in command. You are responsible for this mission. You know what it means?
Psody lowered his head and closed his eyes, nodded silently.
- You are a chosen one of the Horned Rat, and my only disciple for a long time, Psody, but remember: the Horned Rat has no consideration for incompetents. I would much rather lose a promising apprentice than keep a parasite unworthy of his duties. If you fail, you'll be the first to suffer the consequences!
- I... I will return with the chief's head, or I won't return, O Supreme Lord.
The six Skaven were guided by a mature Clanrat to a narrow rising tunnel. The veteran, whose tip of his tail, one eye and an incisor were missing, pointed to the gaping opening wordlessly. Skahl insisted he be the first, closely followed by Klur then Chitik, Moly, Diassyon and Psody – who due to his status as a future Grey Seer, had the privilege of being furthest back. The way was long, and as they gradually advanced into the unknown, became increasingly nervous. Finally, the Moulder paused.
- Stop-stop! Look!
A very strange light was illuminating the tunnel, and a fresh breeze caressed their facieses. Diassyon asked aloud:
- What is it?
- I think... I think it's what they called "moon", murmured Moly.
- Moon? Chitik repeated. So it is night?
- Men-things will be taken by surprise! Klur sneered. My master told me during night, they sleep-sleep! It will be easier!
Skahl resumed the march, followed by his brothers. Finally, they reached the exit.
The six brothers looked all around them. For the first time in their lives, they were outside. It was dark, and there was not a cloud. Thousands of little sparks shone in the dark sky, and a large globe of silver sparkled. Chitik deeply breathed.
- Hey, this is strange!
- But not unpleasant, Diassyon noted with a sweet voice.
- Pooh! The air is too cold, grumbled Moly.
- Enough! Psody said in a tone which invited no reply. We have a mission! Where are we?
The moon was emitting a sufficient glow for them. They saw the surroundings perfectly. The six young Skaven realised they were on a high hill. Far away there was a long dark mass, that Klur recognized as a "forest" consisting of many "trees", large plants that grew on the surface. At the foot of the hill waved a path made of flowing water, a "river". And on the other side of the river lay a complex of buildings of various shapes and sizes. The Plague Monk scratched his chin.
- So, that's what men-things hutches look like...
It will no longer look like anything after our passage, Moly! Psody declared in an authoritative voice. Listen up, you! This is a small village, the night is dark, there are probably not many of them. We don't need to stay together. If we separate, we'll be more efficient-efficient!
- Do you have a plan, brother? Diassyon asked.
- Not yet, we need to know how their hideout is organized. Klur, you're the most silent of us. Go and see, and come back to describe it.
The coal-black Skaven nodded and disappeared at a run. He ran down the hill so silently that the sound of the river covered his steps.
The remaining five Skaven waited for a while. Diassyon was lying on the grass, and gazed passionately at the night skies. Skahl checked a large clamp mounted at the tip of a long handle. Clan Moulder Packmasters used to call this curious tool a "things-catcher", and used it to catch their prey by the neck to neutralise them without killing. Psody was a little further away, sitting cross-legged, head bowed and eyes closed. He was meditating, under the watchful eyes of Chitik.
- Too long, mumbled Moly.
- Forget it, replied Diassyon.
- We don't have the whole night! the Plague Monk grumbled. If we drag, Vellux will be upset! What is this doomed sewer...
He did not have the opportunity to finish his sentence. Something wrapped around his shoulders, bruised the inside of his knee, knocking him to the ground, and he felt the cold and biting touch of the blade of a knife on his throat.
- And… squeak! You're dead-dead!
Moly growled in frustration recognizing the voice of the Eshin.
- Right, Klur, release him, ordered Psody. He had learned his lesson.
Klur pushed Moly forward with a grin. The White Skaven grew impatient.
- Enough-enough! Describe the place to us!
Klur drew with his finger a rough diagram of the village in the clay of the tunnel. Psody thought for a moment, and gave each of the five other Skaven simple instructions.
- Once you have done what you have to do, you'll find me behind the largest cabin, that of the head of the village. Go, and glory to the Horned Rat!
And the six Skaven parted and hurtled down the hill by separate ways.
Klur bounded from one shadow to another. He was experiencing a new playground, and was filled with excitement. The adrenaline was pleasantly intoxicating. He hid in the backyard of one of the huts, and took time to think. Then he heard grasped the sound of footsteps. He sniffed the air.
Three men-things approaching. They have weapons.
Very gently, he took a curious accessory from one of his pockets. It was a big bracelet set with three sharp propeller mounted blades. He put the weapon on the tip of his long ringed tail, and then quietly climbed onto the roof. He saw three men-things walking together. Two of them had halberds, the third a long sword. They wore leather vests, and light helmets. When they were near the house, the Skaven jumped upon the group. He fell on the leader, and in the movement thrust his knife between his ribs. The other two didn't have the time to understand what was happening; Klur threw one of his knives at one, and it hit him in the throat, and his tail whipped the air toward the other. The tail blade plunged into the man-thing's heart. He had been about to gurgle something to give warning, but the Night Runner did not allow him the opportunity. He leapt upon him and bit his neck. A disgusting noise sounded, and blood spurted. The guard died in a few seconds.
Satisfied, Klur picked up his tools, licked them with pleasure. Then he remembered the words of his teacher, Master Assassin Tweezil.
Do not leave the dead. Until they are seen, nothing is suspicious, and the living ones are not wary. When you infiltrate a fortified enemy place, do not forget to hide the bodies.
He looked around. No noise, no movement, for the moment, they had been not seen. He ragged the three bodies one by one, and hid them in a pile of straw behind one of the houses. This gave him another idea.
Chitik had decided to take care of the men-things' animals. Without animals, they'd have nothing to eat. He went round the village to reach a meadow where he spotted the forms of four-legged creatures. Some lay on the grass and slept, others were grazing. Furghân, the Stormvermin Fangleader of Brissuc, had told his students the men-things called them "cows", and that they granted meat, milk and leather. The villagers would sorely miss them.
The Black Skaven knew he shouldn't make any mistake. He had to kill every cow on the first try, and without noise. Fortunately, his arm was strong and sure enough to decapitate each animal with a sharp and clear strike. The last three were disturbed by the smell of blood, but were quickly silenced in turn.
Skahl approached the mill. Nearby, there was a grain silo. The trainer had a wicked smile on his face. He spotted a small hole in a mound of earth. He emitted a series of modulated whistles, sometimes low, sometimes very acute. Quiet squeaks answered his call. Soon, twenty rats sprang from the burrow. The rodents obediently followed the Skaven who guided them towards the stock. Others followed, attracted by the cries of their fellows. The Moulder opened the door, letting the rats in. The small rodents plunged into a heap of wheat grains. Skahl went out on tiptoe.
The barn was the target of Diassyon of Clan Skryre. Always eager to expand his knowledge of technology, he was curious to know which machines used men-things. He was not disappointed. Several vehicles were safe in the large wooden building. Plows and carts were lined up, ready to be sabotaged. There was also a row of stalls along the entire length of the building. He smelled a strong odour of beast, and understood that each box contained a four-legged animal, with a long tail and a mane.
Ah yes, "horses". They are like our slaves, they serve to pull their gear, and sometimes they ride them. Let's do this!
It did not take long for him to spot weaknesses in the gear, and he tampered with the vehicles, laughing softly. Suddenly, his ears stood up reflexively. A strange noise came from one of the boxes. Regular growls.
It reminds me of the noise made by slave men-things when they areat work.
No, the noise was a little different. It didn't reflect the usual sufferings that tortured slaves who were submitted to the most painful tasks. He walked quietly to the box the sounds came from. He passed his snout very slowly through a gap, and his forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. He opened his eyes wide as saucers, completely bewildered by the spectacle.
Moly of Clan Pestilens had memorized the location of the well on Klur's small map. The small stone building was placed in the centre of the village, not far from the great cabin where Schmitt slept. The cream-furred Skaven had seen his brother deal with three men-things on patrol. The way was clear. He walked quietly to the edge, and fumbled in his haversack. He drew an old piece of rotten meat kept there for several days. He rubbed the meat insistently on his most festering wounds. When it was sufficiently impregnated to his liking, he dropped it into the well with a grin of satisfaction.
Men-things need to drink. It's almost too easy!
A short exclamation startled him. His heart accelerated, doubling the pace of its beating. He flew to a dark corner. The cries continued, without coming closer. There were raucous breaths, shocks, flesh against flesh. Despite the fragrance of his disease, Moly distinguished the faint smell of blood. He felt every hair on his fur stand up with excitement. The smell of blood had a tendency to madden the senses of Skaven of Clan Pestilens. He couldn't help to go and see what was happening, and ran silently toward the source of noise.
He reached his head cautiously around the corner of a wall, and saw two men-things. Their faces were bleeding, their clothes torn, their skin sweaty. They were ferociously punching and kicking each other. The Skaven wasn't surprised, disputes of this kind were daily at Brissuc. He was about to leave, when he noticed something that stopped him. He rubbed his eyes, shoved his finger in his ear to remove all the dirt to be sure of what he heard.
No misunderstanding. The two men-things were violently fighting, but they were also having fun as ever. They laughed louder as the number of their injuries increased. Each strike was greeted with a cry of excitement, and laughter increased again when the hit party awkwardly attempted to stand upright. As one lost a tooth, they both rolled in the dust with hilarity. The Skaven decided he had seen enough, and walked away quietly, without stopping to question what he had seen.
While his brothers were doing their job, Psody, the small White Skaven, had remained hidden in the shadow of the big building in which Schmitt was lurking. Sat cross-legged, eyes closed, he concentrated, felt the winds of magic waving around him.
There's something under the ground.
Vellux had taught him to identify things and people that reacted with the Warp, the plane of existence from which emerged weird-things and the winds of magic. However, the small White Skaven ignored what it precisely was. Was Schmitt a sorcerer? If so, would he be too powerful for him? Vellux would have warned him... or not? Would this be an additional difficulty of their ordeal?
A slight rustle of leather interrupted his meditation. He saw the great Black Skaven coming.
- Here we are, brother! They'll quickly starve-starve!
- Keep your voice down!
- Oh, sorry, Chitik murmured.
Moly was the second to reach the rally point. He was about to talk about what he had seen, but the angry eyes of Psody dissuaded him. Klur emerged from the shadow, tailgated by Diassyon. Skahl, who had been the farthest, was the last to join the group.
The six brothers were reunited. Diassyon asked:
- And now, brother?
His ear pivoted toward the front of the house when he heard cries of panic. The Night Runner Eshin sneered. The White Skaven opened wide eyes, reached cautiously his head around the corner of the building, then swung towards the coal-black Skaven.
- What have you done, Klur?
- I gave them a little distraction.
Flames rose into the night. The male villagers emerged from their huts and gathered around the house behind which was the heap of straw that the Eshin had set fire to. Psody grunted in annoyance.
- A good example of discretion, fool-fool!
- Wait and see.
- How dare you talk this way to...
The little White Skaven stopped as he saw the door of the house of the head opening. Three armed men-things got out and ran to the location of the fire. The anthracite Skaven smiled to his brother.
- You see? Less guards around the target.
- Well done, brother!
- We have to go before they come back, Skahl suggested. Now-now!
The six Skaven came in single file through the back door of the property, Chitik leading.
They were in a small hall. A staircase went upwards, there was a wooden door on the left and another on the right.
- Well, where do we go? Klur asked.
- We must descend. I felt a gentle stream of magic underground.
Skahl raised his hand.
They were silent, and distinctly heard a muffled rattling coming from the left. Chitik broke the door down with his hind limb. It lead to a room with walls covered in shelves and furniture filled with hundreds of hardback books like Vellux's.
- There is nobody-nobody...
The Moulder Packmaster sniffed insistently. Like all of his Clan, his senses were sharpened thanks to daily exercises.
- I can smell fear. Panic. The same as the slaves-men-things when we sacrifice them.
Skahl stumbled against one of the cabinets, and grimaced with disappointment.
- But it leads nowhere!
- Not sure, Diassyon whispered with a chuckle.
Moved by an idea, the Skryre Skirmisher approached the library. He looked closely at each book, then put his hand on one of them, and pulled. Instead of remaining between the fingers, the book toppled. A clank sounded, and the entire library slided, revealing a staircase leading down. Moly coughed:
- Not bad, not bad...
- Enough! Chitik, you go forward!
The Black Skaven went down the wooden stairs that creaked but did not break under his weight. The five others followed, Psody always in the back. They arrived in a long corridor, directly dug into the ground, with a few supports here and there to maintain an uncertain stability. Skahl raised his muzzle.
- I smell a really strange smell. Something is awaiting us beyond this turn!
Indeed, the corridor skewed to the left. Chitik stepped a few more, and stopped. His five brothers did the same thing when they saw the "something".
The corridor ended with a heavy iron door a few yards away. Between them and the door, there were three beings, two rather thin and a third that was larger and thicker. Probably men-things, but it was hard to tell since all three they were masked. Each wore a steel helmet that covered its entire head. They had on dark pants and boots, but were shirtless. Diassyon noted that, instead of hands, one of them had respectively a thin steel hook and a long rusty sword embedded in its forearms, and the other one, brandishing a club in his left hand, had a tentacle instead of its right arm.
The third character was more impressive. Its stature was composed not only of fat, and Chitik guessed there were well-developed muscles under its purple skin. Its bronze helmet had two big horns. Steel nails long of ten inches came out of his arms, shoulders and back. Psody squinted as he made out on its belly a very strange tattoo of a particular symbol: an arrow whose base was consisted of a circle with the tip ending in a sort of claw. A curb cut into two equal parts by the line of the arrow skirted the circle around a quarter of its circumference. The White Skaven thought he recognized this drawing, but couldn't ascertain its meaning with certainty.
The big guy held a large well-keened sickle in each of its enormous hands. It stepped forward, and the six Skaven were surprised to hear a sugared voice speaking directly in their heads.
- Well, well... You've been naughty boys! Come, it's time for a spanking!
And it raised its arms. The other two weird-things did the same uttering piercing howls. Diassyon was the first to react. He drew a one-shot warpstone pistol out of his belt, lent to him by his teacher, and opened fire on one of the two emaciated figures. The thin chest burst in a red and green spray. Klur threw himself on the other little weird-thing, daggers ready to be driven into its flesh. It raised its blade and parried his blows with astonishing speed and accuracy.
Chitik ran to the fat one and swung his spear with all his strength. His opponent folded its arms and blocked the steel point of the weapon between its sickles. The rat-man tried to withdraw, but to his astonishment, the other one stood its ground. Chitik felt surprise and frustration, because no one had yet ever surpassed his strength so far. He heard the weird-thing laugh under its helmet.
Skahl whipped the flabby torso of the large one. The leather thong lashed the purplish skin of the mutant. Its only reaction was an ecstatic groan. Moly was frightened, and recoiled, huddled against the back wall. Klur jumped around his enemy, resting on the floor, wall, or any body parts of the weird-thing, while lacerating it with blows of cutlasses. The blood spurted from its multiple injuries, it fell on its knees, and the Night Runner positioned himself behind its back and slew it.
Still holding his spear, Chitik threw a big kick in the belly of the big mutant. This time it let go, but managed to deflect the weapon of the Black Skaven. Psody decided to act. He waved his hand, three of his four fingers outstretched, the last one folded over his palm. His three fingers were positioned to form an isosceles triangle whose main peak, represented by the thumb, was turned down. He pronounced a few abstruse syllables in a monotone. As he had finished, a green kind of lightning crackled towards the big weird-thing. The mutant belched. Chitik charged it, grabbed it by the shoulders and pushed it against the door.
In a big crunch, the many nails dug into the trunk of the warrior. It groaned in pain in a shrill voice, and shut up as one of Klur's knives was stuck in its throat. It fell down, face against the ground.
The Skaven put away their weapons. Diassyon got the reloading equipment for his gun out of one of his little bags.
- We were the strongest, Psody noted. Except for you, Moly!
The sickly Skaven sniffed.
- I am a Plague carrier, not a wrestler.
- We'll see what Vellux thinks about it. For now, we continue. The winds of magic come from behind that door. Chitik, open it!
The Black Skaven pulled the heavy door that with a scraping siybd. The six brothers crossed the threshold, and fell on a rather singular scene.
They were in a large room, whose ground was made of cobblestones and streams of blood flowed in some of the deeper grooves. There was a cabinet full of books, a desk on which rested a large open volume, and a laboratory bench with many vials, bottles, cans and other containers in a corner. But the most astonishing item was in the centre of the room. They saw a torture rack, on which one of their own was tied, a Skaven. The machine had the wrists of the creature above its head and its legs were wide apart, which revealed more precisely its nature to the six brothers.
- Hey... Psody, is this not a...?
- Yes, Klur. It is a breeder!
The poor thing looked conscious, but it was breathing hard. Far from feeling reassured to see individuals of its species, its anxiety seemed to increase. It had a short coat, and the hair on its back and its head had been dyed blue and pink colorations. Its naked body was covered with bruises and lacerations. Strange cabalistic signs were inked on its chest and belly.
The smell of the breeder excited the hormones of the Packmaster and the Night Runner. Subjugated, they immediately forgot everything, and thought nothing but one thing:
- Oh... I feel odd, Skahl muttered.
- Me too, whispered Klur. Nice titbit…
- That I'll gladly taste.
- What? You? You're kidding!
Each Skaven was by one side of the prisoner, and barked insults over it at the muzzle of the other one. Then they began to paw each other. Psody realised this, and squeaked:
- Stop-Stop! It is an order-order!
Skahl and Klur had grabbed each other, squealing and spiting in anger.
- Chitik, thwack these goofs!
The huge Black Skaven crushed his fists on the skulls of his two brothers who fell down simultaneously.
- Females are reserved to deserving Skaven! Psody admonished, furious. Did you forget what you've been taught?
Both Skaven got up painfully, and turned back, cursing.
- Chitik, watch those two, and squash-squash the first one who lashes out, ordered the young apprentice.
- Yes, brother.
Psody thought about what to do, as he heard the distinctive sound of a small object falling from furniture. This sound didn't escape the ultra sensitive ears of his five brothers either. An anguished groan sounded from behind a chest. Klur jumped on the wardrobe, whistling, and grinned as he saw a man-thing dressed in precious clothes, trembling with fear, on all fours. The male jumped up, screaming, and ran desperately toward the door. Chitik aimed a blow with the flat of the blade of his spear in the ribs, sending it crashing against the wall. Immediately, Skahl pounced on the man, brandishing his things-catcher. The giant claw closed around the neck of his prey. The unfortunate clutched on steel, desperately trying to loosen the grip, as the internal nails were already lacerating its skin.
Moly approached, examined the terror-twisted face of the human.
- That's it. Look, Psody, it has a spot on its eye!
Without releasing the handle of his tool, Skahl turned his head toward the apprentice Grey Seer, and looked at him with a questioning eye. He answered with a cruel smile:
- Grey Seer Vellux ordered us to bring the head of the chief, Skahl. He didn't specify "with the body".
The Packmaster laughed insanely. Even if it had not understood the words of the White Skaven, the man-thing guessed that its fate was sealed, and cried in despair. Skahl pulled on the handle of his things-catcher, and the clamp closed with a snap. The head and body of Schmitt fell on the floor in a flood of warm blood. The six Skaven cheered, giggled and ululated with joy. Then Psody raised his hands.
- Good! Now, decision-decision.
- Yeah! What about the breeder? Moly asked, approaching it.
Chitik stood ready to cool again any ardour of his brothers, but grumbled as he heard the creak of the stairs in the distance. He swiftly left the cellar. Psody picked up the head of the man-thing, and stuffed it in his purse. Then he looked at the book on the shelf. It was a grimoire whose pages were made of dried skin, with strange symbols written with red ink, probably blood. Its jacket seemed made of flesh, which contracted slightly in contact with his knuckles, and it had pretty curious attributes – a tooth here, an eye over there.
- Hey, Psody! Look!
Diassyon had brought him a neat and clean piece of paper, with lightly browned edges. Characters were written on it, and the sign drawn on the bottom was the same as the one on the belly of the big weird-thing. Psody squinted.
- Have you seen the seal?
- Do you understand what it says?
- No. I think it is the language of men-things, but I haven't learned to read it. Vellux knows, I'll show him.
The White Skaven stored the letter in his pocket. Skahl couldn't refrain any longer. He took advantage of the absence of the Black Skaven to start his assault. With an eager grin, he threw himself on the breeder, and pressed his pelvis against its own before savagely laying it. The female yelled. Psody spat:
- No, Skahl, no-no! Skahl, stop, I order you!
Skahl didn't listen, he wasn't listening to anything. He felt nothing but his bestial pleasure rising, rising, and becoming intoxicating. Suddenly a sharp pain flared his abdomen, making him stop his tremors. This inflammation went up his guts, then ran through his spine before crushing his heart. He jumped back and uttered a long, terrible howl of pain. Chitik came running, the calf of a man-thing between his jaws, and stopped short as he saw the Moulder.
Four of the five remaining brothers gazed Skahl, dumbfounded. He rolled on the ground with shrieks, scraping the ground with his claws, his tail lashing the air frantically. He screamed and writhed for what seemed like a long time. Finally, he remained prostrate on the ground, frightful, folded in himself, clutching his crotch with both hands. He had a last spasm, yellow slobber dribbled from his mouth, and he expired.
All were terrified. Except Psody, who hadn't reacted throughout the scene. Far from feeling any sense of compassion, the apprentice leaned over the still warm body of his brother and inveighed:
- You idiot-idiot! A good lesson for you!
Then he turned to the female, which emitted little whimpers resembling tears. He examined it carefully from every angle, pressed his fingers gently on its abdomen, and focused his attention to the symbols drawn on its skin. Finally, he recognized the clamp-shaped sign.
- These tattoos… they are marks of Slaanesh.
- Slaanesh? Diassyon repeated in a questioning tone.
- The god of the weird-things that encourages his worshippers to do odd-odd stuff. It prompts men-things to copulate, and injure themselves for pleasure.
- Hmm, that's why these men-things behaved so oddly in the village? Moly suggested. The influence of this god?
- Most likely. Now we need to bring this female to Grey Seer Vellux. But before that, I want to do something.
The apprentice went to the shelves. He chose to smell a few potions and powders, mixed them in a bowl with a spoon and tossed them together. Then he approached the rack.
- Chitik, open its mouth.
- Yes, brother.
The huge Black Skaven grabbed the muzzle and lower jaw of the female Skaven, and spread his hands. The unfortunate squealed in pain, shook its head in all directions, but it had no chance against the Chitik's steel grip. Psody whispered in the ear of the prisoner:
- Consider yourself happy, miserable creature. These men-things would have killed you. I need you alive-alive. For now.
And he poured the solution directly into the throat of the female. It struggled weakly, but quickly stopped, and fell asleep.
- There, so, it won't break our eardrums. Let's take it away.
Diassyon and Klur untied the bracelets, and Chitik threw it on his back without any effort. Psody picked up the dense grimoire.
- Let's go! Quick-quick!
All of them left the cellar, leaving the foaming corpse of Skahl unceremoniously. The fire had intensified, and the panic was so widespread in the village they had no trouble sneaking in the shadows to return to their burrow. The great Chitik had not been hampered by the weight of their loot.
Vellux was not bothered by the disappearance of one of the young Skaven, but their unlikely booty grabbed his full attention. He ordered two young apprentices of Clan Moulder to carry the breeder discreetly into a cell, promising to himself to study it carefully, and asked Psody to follow him alone into the schoolroom. He was even more surprised when his pupil told him what had happened to Skahl. As the small White Skaven showed him the letter, he read aloud to him:
"Early results are very encouraging. Thanks to your cooperation, we will very soon be able to launch our ultimate weapon on this mutagenic-stoned vermin.
"I understand your concerns about a hypothetical retaliation of this Vellux wastrel. No worries, I'll be back soon to personally take care of him. Meanwhile, I beg you to accept help from Hessem, the one who brought you this missive. He is a loyal and faithful servant, he will protect you until my next visit in the next three weeks.
"Keep up the good work, you shall see very quickly that the game is worth the candle.
Vellux folded the letter and put it away in a drawer of his desk. Then he flipped through the book in leather.
- Hmm... This is a spell book containing elaborate rituals, but with a simple goal: the weird-things prepare a major attack on our people. They want to use deadly weapons.
- Which one, o greatest lucid of the most lucid?
- Our ratmothers. What happened to Skahl should happen to us. These cultists serve Slaanesh, the god of instinct and secrets. They wanted to affect us by sending us cursed females.
- But I don't understand, oh farseer among the farseers! What female whose mating causes instant death could be dangerous for an entire people? An idiot like Skahl was sufficient to prepare us to be cautious.
- Yes, because Skahl is dead-dead at once. But they were experimenting to find the right rituals that would have cursed the breeder in a more insidious way: a male who might have copulated with it would die a few weeks later, on the orders of the sorcerer, in the same circumstances. Who would suspect a disease from a female? And what if the curse was sufficient to eliminate at once all who would have mated with it with a single magic formula?
- In all cases, it is clear this Aescos Karkadourian sorcerer is taking you for a fool, and he's sadly mistaken, my master with intelligence surpassed only by the Horned Rat's.
- Indeed, Psody. But I'll take care of him. And you'll help me.
- I'll obey the least of your desires.
Psody kneeled down, and bowed his head. Vellux lifted his chin with a small movement of his fingers along his cheek.
- I know, but for now, let's just take care of you. Apart from Skahl, you have all completed your mission successfully. Even better, you have uncovered a plot against our race. The Horned Rat is very pleased with all of you, and me too. You and your brothers are now full members of the Skaven Society, it will be publicly announced tomorrow. In the meantime, I'd like to grant you a special reward.
Psody didn't know what to think. In the mouth of his master, a "special award" could be anything, including a memorable punishment. But he had accomplished his work, and more. The Grey Seer wouldn't give him a low blow! He waited anxiously while Vellux continued:
- Psody, my young disciple, can you tell me which one of your four still living brothers was the most worthy to serve thee?
The young White Skaven didn't hesitate.
- It's Chitik, omnipotent supreme, even if your perspicacity already whispered to you, I assure you. He remained obedient, faithful and efficient, but more importantly he didn't contest my orders once, and performed his duties with zeal.
- Right. Fetch him, and find me both at the crossroads of the tunnel of Poverty and the trail of Bloody Cutlass.
The two brothers didn't have to wait long for the Grey Seer. He took them to the south of the colony. They went through a huge cavern where the ground couldn't be seen, it was so far away. A multitude of walkways, rope bridges stretched over the abyss like a monstrous spider's web. Finally, Vellux stopped in front of a heavy door. He used the door knocker.
- You don't know that area, and yet you already came, a long time ago.
The door opened. Chitik grunted in surprise at seeing a rather small, but very fat Skaven. The fat one seemed astonished, and said in a shrill voice:
- Oh! Gosh! My little all-white benefactor!
- Uh... who are you? Psody asked, uncomfortable.
- I present to you Garog. He is the ratwife who brought you into the world.
- I remember you, the Black Skaven, said the latter. You were the first one of the litter, and you already had quite a loud voice! And it is thanks to you, the youngest, I live comfortably today! It's good to see you again, my children!
- Garog, these two young Skaven are now no longer children. You see what I mean?
- Oh ho! Of course, o great omnipotent one filled with wisdom and benevolence! I've exactly what they need. Come!
Garog invited the three Skaven to follow.
They circulated a few minutes in a dimly lit long corridor lined with many strong doors. Behind one of them, Psody heard very unusual and rather disturbing sounds, like grunts and whining. Chitik remained impassive, but in reality he didn't take his eyes off his young brother, always taking care of him. Finally, the fat ratwife stopped before one of the doors. He fitted one of the keys from his outfit into the lock, turned it, and the door opened with a long grinding noise to a wet cell.
The Grey Seer led the two young Skaven behind Garog into the room. Chitik had to bend to avoid hitting his head on the doorway. Psody had guessed what he would see, but nevertheless he could hardly believed it. His suspicion was confirmed as he saw in the dimly lit room two massive silhouettes. Two Skaven breeders were laid on straw, huge, their limbs atrophied by the apparent lack of activity. A strong odour of warpstone incense floated, partially masking another more bestial musk. The Grey Seer gave a grin and muttered in a smooth voice:
- I thought that a final test to prove your maturity was required. You have both been appointed by the Horned Rat, it is your duty to pass on your legacy to the future generations. And not just any inheritance. In your veins flows a very precious blood.
Vellux put a hand on Chitik's arm.
- Firstly, that of an elite warrior, feared by all.
Then he stood next to Psody, patting his shoulder paternally.
- And secondly, that of a chosen one of the Horned Rat.
The ratwife fastened the necklace of one of the breeders at the wall. Then he passed to the other one while the Grey Seer continued:
- Really, to pass on your so exceptional abilities is a sacred duty. And for this once, you can mix duty and pleasure.
The two brothers stared at Vellux, with a questioningly look. The Grey Seer smiled mischievously.
- Don't worry, these ones are healthy. They have to be, if we want to perpetuate the superiority-superiority of our species. Come before me tomorrow morning, after the chime, with your other brothers. Until then, let your instincts-instincts be expressed.
The Grey Seer retreated toward the door, and left the cell. The ratwife followed him and closed the door behind him. Psody could hear his master whispering: "make sure no one bothers them!". Then he looked at Chitik. The latter didn't hesitate a moment longer. With a wild cry, he threw himself on the largest female, and quickly its squeals mingled with his panting.
Psody stared at the other breeder. Lying full length on the straw, it was quieter, perhaps more stultified by the plumes of smoke released by the censer set near its nose. This female, which was almost twice as big as him, looked at him with haggard eyes. The shadow of a half smug, half ninny smile passed over its face... with something that looked like mockery. The White Skaven had the uneasy feeling that it was laughing at his hesitation. Seeing his brother give free rein to his impulses, he shrugged.
After all, it's an experience like any other.
He slowly withdrew his clothes, and walked timidly toward the female Skaven. It giggled more when he awkwardly climbed upon it.
A violent sword blow. The sinister ringing of iron against iron. A screech.
A long-toothed face, with quivering whiskers and welcoming smile raises before him a newborn white-furred Skaven. It has small embryos of horns not on its forehead, but on its temples. A voice gloats: "Hey! A chosen-chosen one! Oh, he seems tireless!"
Another cry. Squawking.
A huge city amidst a lush jungle. Lizards by thousands, bipedal creatures with scaly skin. A huge humanoid reptile sitting on a stone throne.
Rivers of blood. Skaven skinned alive by dozens. A White Skaven with straight horns facing forward out of his temples, firmly attached to a stone wall, cursing an obese bipedal frog. The same Seer fleeing into the jungle.
Heavy breathing. A cry of pain followed by an unappetizing gurgling sound.
A chorus of wailing, screeching. Small newborn Skaven, shoving each other to suckle the flabby breasts of their layer eagerly.A reptilian hiss. Two wide split-pupilled eyes, like those of a snake.
The form of a monstrously big humanoid toad, wrapped in old strips of material, wearing an enormous circular mask of solid gold. The empty eyes of the mask light up and become bigger and bigger and over again. There is the background sound of drumming, incomprehensible singing...
A mansion on a hill of dry grass and dusty land. A flagstands, its armorial bearings include a rat. Men-things in a courtyard are cheering someone. Then, without transition, a small Skaven, looking sad, wearing a finely wrought jacket, asks timidly:
- Do I... disappoint you?
- Psody? Hey, bro?
Psody opened his eyes at once. He was lying on his side, naked, curled up on himself, trembling to the end of his tail. Unimaginable suffering was tearing his bowels. He felt dizzy, his temples were undermined by a pain so radiating that he had tears in his eyes. His limbs were frozen, his fur standing up like if he had goose bumps. He heard the loud voice of Chitik.
- You okay?
He raised his head painfully and resting on his hands, managed to lift his shoulders up, unable to do more. The two females were wallowed in a corner of the cell, snoring loudly. He saw his brother's black-furred face looking at him.
- Psody, how are you? Are you feeling pain-pain?
- Ourgh... Do... do not worry. It... it will pass.
The Black Skaven moved his paws gently under the arms of the apprentice, and helped him to his feet. Then he picked up his robe, and tossed it over his skinny shoulders.
- Thank you... my brother.
- Hey, you're the smartest of the litter, you're the chosen-chosen one of the Horned Rat... and you're my favourite brother. Don't want you to peg out!
Psody was still trembling, had still dizziness, but the pain slowly faded. He then turned his head towards the big Black Skaven, and his pink eyes blinked.
- I think... I think Vellux didn't tell us everything, brother.