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This letter will be my last words.
I still cannot believe what has happened. Helmgart was supposedly an unconquerable bastion to protect the Empire of Man. We never imagined that the enemy would come from below.
I remember tales about the rats that walked on two legs. When I was but a boy, my aunt would tell us the stories to scare us. My brothers and I loved those tales, for they spoke of things terrifying and thrilling, yet we felt so certain were untrue. There was a foolish feeling of safety in that. There were many terrors in this world, but none so insidious as that.
But they are real, by Sigmar, they are real! These are no Beastmen, I have fought and slain the savage mutants in a dozen battles. They are cunning and strong, but barely intelligent, unable to even make their own weapons.
These ratmen . . . they are intelligent beyond belief. A dozen times we began to stabilize against them, only to be outflanked, or they would bring to bear some horrible engine of death that shattered our defense.
And then they opened the gates, letting the Norscans in . . . By the Gods, I had hoped to never see the horrors of those fallen specimens of humanity ever again. I served my time in Nordland, but they never should have made it this far South. What has become of the the Empire? There are rumours that Karl Franz is dead, that Ulthuan is sinking into the sea, and that we are among the last Men alive in the world.
I shall not surrender, though. More than fear of the tortures the Norscans will perpetrate against those they take alive, I have seen what the ratmen do. My own brothers-in-arms were being eaten alive even as they fell to the earth, still living! Others were taken as toys by the most monstrous giants of their kind.
So many of us never even got the chance to fight! Their assassins killed many in their beds, especially among the officers. No one higher than a Sergeant, like myself, still lives within this city, and the burghers are likewise all believed dead in their homes.
We have retreated to the Temple of Sigmar on the peak. Some of our last healthy soldiers and militia are attempting to hold the cliff path – we were able to use black powder to destroy the main stairs. I wish I could be with them, but my ankle refuses to bear my weight after taking one of those green bullets from their many-barreled contraptions.
I will bleed out soon. At least, I pray I will, for I can feel the corrupting sting of the wyrdstone in my blood. Were I to live, I would not remain a man of Sigmar's realm for long. I will die with a sword in my hand and go to Him with my head held high.
Already the battle is lost! Those us in this holy temple will trade our lives dearly. I can only stand if I lean against a pillar, but we have plenty of spears. I have always had a good eye; if I am lucky I will kill one of the Ogre-sized rats.
By Sigmar, I can hear them coming. The Norscans chant to their pestilent god, and the Skaven screech their horrible tongue. I have little time left to write, but our story must be told. It must be known that we fought to the last!
If a Man should ever read this, then I pray; avenge us!
Convocation of Decay
Shallya's grace protect my sisters.
The Norscans and some breed of sinister Beastmen invaded the city in the night. They first came from under our homes, through tunnels we had long forgotten. Our defenders had no chance to rally, let alone fight properly, and we of the Order of the Bleeding Heart were unable to offer them succour.
After the Beastmen let the Norscans into the city, they came here. At first we wondered why, but when we realized which of the cursed Chaos Gods they worshipped, we understood.
The Mother Superior defied the Fly Lord to the last, but their champion cut her down. While these creatures of Chaos are the one beings we will not hesitate to harm, we keep no weapons in our temple. And while we invoked her name, our rebukes only held enough power to delay the Norscans, not halt them.
One day, Shallya's tears will rain down upon this world and wash their taint away.
Blessed Shallya, please protect their souls. I know you protect our bodies as best as is possible, but in this darkness our souls are all we have left.
Most of us are locked in a store room; the novices weep with fear, there is no consoling them. I do not know why, but the Norscans have done nothing to us – yet. The stories of their atrocities had me preparing for the worst, and so far Shallya has protected us from defilement.
But they did take many sisters below earlier. I do not know for what reason, but from the presence of their forsaken sorcerers, I fear it is magic of the worst sort.
Hours ago, they began taking those addled in the head from their cells. The poor souls . . . the rat-like Beastmen ate them, I fear.
Through Shallya, I have always had a sense for knowing things no mortal should know; I could always feel the pain of those who came to us for aid, feel the confusion in those with unsound mind. I have always hoped I have been a comfort to them, but now I can do nothing.
Already sickness has appeared on some. Buboes and strange growths – one novice has developed a blind eye on her cheek and a writhing tendril upon her shoulder. I am blessedly untouched thus far, but it will not last. Already I consign myself to Morr's embrace, but I have no fear.
I fear for those who will live longer . . .
I can feel the stirring in the so-called Winds of Magic, deep below. Like foetid, stagnant air, they call upon their pox-ridden false god. The power is growing as they take the bodies of the dead, and even some of my sisters who yet live.
They must be taking those who have succumbed to Nurgle's Rot the fastest, they must be the most potent fuel for their ritual. If that is the case, I will be forced to watch all others go.
I have always taken my oaths of non-violence very seriously . . . but now I find myself wishing, shamefully, for the strength of arms of the Priests of Sigmar. Not for myself, but to stop whatever horror they are attempting to summon.
For that surely must be their endgame. Bring the Daemons of Chaos into our world through the sacrifice of the innocent and pure . . .
Maybe my anger will prevent me from being considered pure enough, but I suspect not.
It will not be my hand that slays these cursed men, I have not the strength. But I have set their demise in motion, I hope. Rather than pray as the Mother Superior ordered, I released all of our messenger doves with notes on their ankles. Shallya forgive me, but let the winds speed them to the hands of heroes . . .
Beautiful . . . simply marvellous.
Looking down upon the blighted city of Helmgart, Burblespue Halescourge coughed up a wad of phlegm, smiling as it dribbled down his bloated chest.
The city was like a festering sore, freshly burst. The cavern that the foolish ratmen – their faith so woefully misplaced in their weak, rat-like god – had formed from the city's heart was beautiful in the destruction it had wrought.
Cities festered and rotted, the same as flesh, and what better thing for it to be replaced with than the breath of Father Nurgle? Already the vapors were gathering, though only visible to one with the most sensitive of Witch Sight.
Soon this would be a virulent garden of Blöt Trees, Shivergrass, and Writhing Feculids – merely a tiny reflection of the wonders of His realm, but as best as this pitiful world could ever hope.
Flies buzzed around him, crawling over his skin, and he caressed them, lovingly. Even as a child, long before he had taken on the name Father Nurgle had blessed him with, he had loved flies. Seeing the serfs of his mortal father swarming with them gave him a special feeling of happiness, and he would talk to the flying insects. For the longest time, they never spoke back, but one day they had whispered such glorious truths to him. They told him the words and sacraments needed to control them, and even now they bloated his person, their squirming bodies a pleasant tingling.
So small, yet so strong were they! The first time he had sent them to strip the skin from a man – one of the servants of his mortal father who had stumbled upon one of his rituals – he had felt an elation with which nothing else could even remotely compare.
He had been a lad of eleven, not even a man by the consideration of the Southlanders.
So none had suspected it was he who tainted the well, who spread the filth that enabled Father Nurgle's blessing to spread. And oh, what a glorious sight it had been, watching them all sicken and die!
As he was painfully drawing his last breaths, he had whispered to his father that it had been he who had brought them such wonderful tidings. His father's death rattle had been music to his ears, and Father Nurgle assured him that his mortal father's soul had gone to his realm, to be happy forever . . . The only one who had survived, little more than a wrecked, mindless shell and pet, had been his brother Harald.
Of course, they couldn't stay in Nordland after that, but he was the special child of Nurgle! Crossing the Sea of Claws was hardly an impediment to such a wunderkind, and the Rotbloods, such wonderful Godly men, had accepted him with open, sore-riddled arms.
He turned his gaze away from the city, and back to the pile of bodies, positively bursting with blessings. It was sad that they had not been able to enjoy their gifts for longer, but their sacrifice would be wonderful gifts for Father Nurgle.
He would breathe across the city, and they would all be strengthened by it. The unbelievers, those too weak to understand or accept the truths of the world would wither and die. It was the way of things – the weak gave in to the strong.
For a moment he felt anger and annoyance that his carefully-laid plans at the Temple of Shallya had been foiled; somehow, the ritual had been discovered and interrupted by the very same band of adventurers he was luring here. His acolytes had been slain to a man, and he would be denied the pleasure of meeting a Great Unclean One, for the time being. First, he must keep his standing with Father Nurgle by purging those who would deny and destroy his gifts.
It would not be long now! He could hear the sounds of mayhem as the Skaven were slaughtered in their droves, as those proud warriors dedicated to Father Nurgle threw themselves at the foolish heroes.
What noble souls! He almost admired them for their tenacity, it was like the best sort of fungus that could never be gotten out of the skin.
Their souls would do so much to enrich his broth.
The last of the Chaos Warriors died with a groan, his selfish quest for immortality thwarted. He felt for them, though they brought it on themselves with their own arrogance!
They dropped through a doorway, staring up at him with such hate. He licked his lips, under his helmet.
My, only five souls, yet they burned so brightly! The Witch, the Elf, the Dwarf, the Soldier, and the Witch Hunter. He could see the hate burning in their eyes, and he would savour this moment for the rest of his life.
"Welcome, honored visitors . . . your timing is impeccable!"
Skrotch Twitchtongue looked around, sniffing the air as he leaned against the tree. Too bright out here, far too bright.
He hated this forest. It may be filled with all kinds of delectable foods, but that was the only up-side! Granted, that was a pretty nice upshot, even as a mighty Claw-pack leader of Stormvermin he had never eaten this well.
But he hated these surface creatures all the same. The disgustingly un-Skaven-like rabbits and squirrels and deer, furred in mockery of the true rulers of the world by deceitful Elf gods (he was quite certain of that!) were just wrong-wrong!
He smelled nothing but flowers, trees, and a lingering aroma of rabbit blood. Some particle or other irritated his sensitive nose and he sneezed so hard his smashed his nose into the tree.
One of his underlings let out a chittering laugh, and he whirled around, sword slashing through the air to hack into the neck of a Clan Rat. It screeched and clutched at the blade, cutting itself further on it.
Skrotch ripped the blade out in several drawn-out yanks. He wanted to see the Clan Rat suffer more, even if it probably wasn't the one who laughed. It still served as a warning, yes-yes!
After it was out, he licked the black blood from it, before shoving it back in its belt and taking up his halberd. All signs of glee was gone, replaced with fear.
"Tell Warlock Engineers to hurry-scurry!" he said angrily. The sooner they smash-destroyed this Elf contraption the better. They were from Clan Skryre, they could surely break it! Horned One knew that their own devices exploded often enough.
And as much as he enjoyed seeing the engineer-rats of Skryre exploded to pieces or run around on fire, he didn't want them doing it until they had actually and properly broken the thing. If he failed, his rivals would capitalize on that to get him demoted to dung-duty.
Skrotch didn't understand why they were doing this, exactly. Something about the cursed man-things that had caused them so much grief in Ubersreik travelling via sinister magic, and this would cause them trouble-problems. He liked that idea, but he hoped even more to meet these so-called "Ubersreik Five".
Were there five, though? Or just four? He had never seen them, but heard conflicting reports. Not that it mattered! If they met him, he would rip-tear, no matter how big they were! Though some stories made them sound so big they could kill Rat Ogres. He didn't like those stories.
Much more likely it was the made-up stories of fool-things who had failed against them! Made up to cover their own tails. Such cowardice!
A patrol of the Chaos-things walked by, the leader looking to him with a lipless face partially-hidden behind its helm. Ugly! It galled him to no end that they had to work with these arrogant man-things, so certain in their faith to their horrible Gods. None of them were anything compared to the Great Horned Rat! When the Skaven took their place as the rightful rulers of all the world, they would destroy every trace of worship of the false gods. All of them!
The Chaos Warrior's face suddenly sneered, and he hefted his axe in an almost threatening way.
Did he know what Skrotch had been thinking!? He took some cautious steps back, hissing a little. It wasn't cowardice, merely prudence – his halberd neede the distance to more effectively fend off the warrior, in the case he turned on them.
You never knew when a worshipper of the Four Brothers would turn on you. They were untrustworthy and dishonorable!
He turned to a Clan Rat who was serving as his lieutenant. He missed having his claw-pack, both because they were generally capable, but also because he didn't like having them out of his sight. Who knew how they were plotting against him while he was out in this stupid forest!
"Tell Ratling Gunners to take position on hill-mound!" he snapped, smacking the Clan Rat on the head with his free hand for emphasis.
"W-why?" the thing snivelled, and he slapped it again.
"Be ready-prepared for betrayal!" he hissed, glancing after the Rotbloods. "Or attack!"
He knew, the only way to be ready for betrayal was to betray first! If he got even a single more whiff of deceit from these pimple-worshippers, he'd get the gunners to open fire on them.
Thinking of the proud Chaos Warriors, wreathed in green flames, made him brux in happiness, his tongue lashing in his mouth.
"Yes-yes, will be done, great-wise commander!" the Clan Rat said, crawling along the ground in subservience.
That was proper. They should all be feeling just as scared and ashamed as that one. For him – of all Skaven, him! – to be sent on this stupid mission was an insult.
But which of his enemies had done it, he wondered.
"Clawleader!" a whinging voice said, muffled by a mask.
He turned, angry at the Warlock Engineer who had interrupted his thoughts.
"What-what?" he barked angrily.
"We are ready to unbalance alignment crystal-spire," the engineer said.
Skrotch stared at him, until he repeated. "We are ready to break-smash temple."
"Good, proceed immediately! I want to see it explode!"
The Engineer hesitated. "It won't-won't explode . . ."
"Make it explode!" he snapped. "Or I will have you fed to Troll!"
"Nowww!" he snarled, smashing the butt of his halberd into the ground. Spittle flew from his mouth, and he felt his bloodlust rising to nearly uncontrollable levels.
Even through the armor that covered the engineer's body, Skrotch could smell his fear musk leaking. The engineer nodded eagerly, his eyes visible through his red lenses, looking at the Clawleader's halberd nervously. "Yes-yes, I will do it!" He turned, ambling away as fast as his protective garments would allow.
Skrotch nodded in satisfaction.
"Clawleader, wise strategist . . ." It was one of the Clan Rats, and he turned to glower at him. The Clan Rat cringed, but kept talking. "We should talk-tell Festerkin, yes?"
Skrotch blinked. Tell them? That would be absurd! If they were too foolish to move away from the temple, it would be their own fault if something happened to them.
The thought again of them in flames made him brux.
Then the ground began to rumble. He squirted the fear musk, along with every other Skaven in the vicinity. Many dashed for tunnels or holes to squirm into, while others just shrieked and ran about in terror.
He looked in the direction of the Elven Temple. Even after all this time, much of the structure still stood, a huge dome. Grudgingly, he admitted that they were impressive architects, for surface-worlders.
But then the entire building exploded.
It wasn't a green warpfire explosion like he expected, but coruscating bluish energy bands that were tearing the whole building apart.
He cringed, expecting the chunks to start falling down on him, but he was shocked to see that they were simply orbitting some kind of strange double-pronged floating thing.
The Warlock Engineers and their slaves, at least some, were caught up in the orbit, too, either flopping or flailing . . . and disintegrating from the energies unleashed.
On the ground he heard deep yelling, and saw the patrol of Chaos Warriors from the Rotbloods running as fast as they could in their heavy armor.
Ha, fools! Their own conceit in wearing such ridiculous chunky armor worked against them.
He snarled and laughed, as he watched all of the Rotbloods sucked up into the air by the temple's energies, and ripped apart.
A few survivors trickled out. Many were broken and mangled, dragging themselves along with shattered limbs. The slaves, and even the Clan Rats, eyed them hungrily.
They told him that nearly all the engineers, and a majority of the Rotbloods had been destroyed in the explosion.
"Some fool-thing set it off before we could escape-leave . . ." one engineer said.
Skrotch applauded himself on his thinking. He had destroyed a good number of the Rotbloods before they could betray them, along with the treacherous fools from Skryre, undone by their own hubris.
He bruxed happily, admiring his own foresight in ordering them to set off their devices immediately.
This was a great day for the Under-Empire!
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