Friday, September 21, 2012

Squigslayer II City of Squigs

Squigslayer II: City of Squigs
Being another wholly unauthorized tale of Gotrek & Felix
Bobby Derie 

The first arrow thudded into Gotrek's left shoulder. Felix watched it quiver there for a moment as a few others buried themselves in the multicolored sands at his feet, then ran for the shadow of the nearest towering rib-bone. Or tried to, at least. An arrow had staked his red Sudenland cloak to the ground, and Jaeger found himself flat on his back and choking. The Slayer pulled the bone shaft from his shoulder with a small spurt of blood and stared at it with his single eye, then scowled and scanned the landscape.

They stood on an ancient road, half buried in discolored sand, the walls of a dead city before them. To the left and right of them stretched the vast skeletons of dragons, intermingled with the pale sun-bleached and wind-whittled bones of lesser creatures. Another volley shot forth, and Felix felt more than saw Gotrek raise his axe to block the arrow; bone splinters rained on Felix's head as he fiddled with the clasp of his cloak.

"Get up, manling." The Slayer growled. "Unless you want to die on the ground."

Felix managed to free himself from his cloak and rolled onto his knees next to the slayer, regarding the empty piles of bone. Some of them moved. With nary a sound, a handful of skeletons raised themselves up from where they had been laying. They had been perfectly camouflaged in the endless waste, and Felix wondered what foul necromancer had laid this trap. The patient undead snipers could have lain thus for centuries.

As the skeleton archers knocked their horn bows again, Gotrek roared and launched himself towards them. Felix drew his sword and followed, using his longer legs to keep pace with the Slayer. The undead did not react at all to the dwarf's war cry, but continued their almost mechanical routine, unflinching in the face of their assured destruction.

The Slayer was on them just as they raised their bows, the starmetal runeaxe slicing through brittle ribcages and wind-polished arm bones, leaving the skeletons with jagged splintery limbs. Undeterred, the skeletons stabbed and jabbed at the dwarf with their stumps. Felix shook his head at the Slayer's brute display, and used the flat of his dragon-hilted blade to bash the undead into pieces. Slicing and stabbing were of little use when your foe had no organs to puncture or blood to bleed, and the man lacked the dwarf's tremendous strength. Between the two of them, the pair destroyed a half dozen skeletons in mere heartbeats, driving the remainder back toward the towering ribcage of some ancient drake.

As Felix had battered one skeleton up against an arching rib-bone, and prepared to deliver the final blow when his dragon-hilted blade twisted of its own accord, burying itself in the solid rib bone of the dead dragon rather than the skull of the skeleton archer he was facing. Jaeger cursed at his ill-luck; the templar's blade had saved his life many times over the years, but its special purpose was the destruction of dragons, and the trek through the dragons' dying ground had been a struggle just to keep the damned thing sheathed. Felix worked to remove the blade, but could only watch as the skeleton sniper recovered and advanced on him. Then Gotrek appeared again, and with one ham-like fist grabbed the skeleton by the base of the spine and pulled. Spine and skull ripped clean through clavicles and rib cage, and the Slayer cracked the spine like a whip, causing the skull to strike the rib bone holding Felix's sword so hard that the skull exploded into a dozen pieces.

Finally, Felix placed a leg on the dragon rib and managed to pull his sword free. Gotrek idly wandered about, stomping on skulls lest they be more undead. Felix retrieved his cloak, sighing at the new holes in it, and the pair set off again.

Gotrek and Felix had walking the Plain of Bones for five days, headed for the distant World's Edge Mountains. Their water had run out two days ago, and the Slayer had assured Felix with grim certainty that every oasis and pool from here to the Dark Lands was toxic, and their only hope was to run across a stream from the eastern side of the mountains. Felix was bitterly sure that the squat, bulky figure actually took some perverse satisfaction from their impending doom.

Among the towering bones of long-dead dragons skittered giant scorpions and tenacious black flies that attacked the mismatched pair in swarms, sucking the moisture from eyes and armpits. They'd found the road almost by accident, and the city in the distance. Neither of them knew of any settlements in the Plain of Bones, but it was the only hope they had, so they began walking toward it. Now, alert and awakened by the battle with the skeletons, the man and dwarf edged warily through the open gateway of the dead city.

Felix knew the architecture instantly. The vast, blocky architecture of ancient Nehekhara surrounded them, an outpost of the most ancient empire of man. A tomb city, the long-dead inhabitants enshrined within small steep-sloped pyramids and houses of the dead, buried with all their tools, ornaments, and servants. Felix had seen such sights before, in the blasted wastes of Araby, and he shivered at the thought. The ancient empire had been given over entirely to undeath, ruled by its ancient Tomb Kings and undying Lich Priests, and over all the Great Necromancer, Nagash, who had been slain in the days of Sigmar. The eons-old evil of this place made him shiver despite the heat.

Gotrek sniffed loudly. "There is water here, manling. I can smell it."

"An oasis." Felix said aloud. "The ancients must have built this necropolis right on top of it. We've got to find the outlet."

The two stalked through the silent streets. The outpost had been laid out on a grid, row upon row of small, steep-pyramids surrounded by the corpse-houses of servants and small courtyards that separated one household from the next. Felix was wary; the whole area had been despoiled by something more than the ravages of time. The doors of the houses of servants had been burst open from the inside, and there was much evidence of battle, though no bodies – not even skeletons – remained out in the open. Dust and sand piled up in the streets and courtyard, disturbed here and there by the prints of some small creatures, though what would or could survive in a city like this was beyond Felix's considerable experience.

Gotrek stopped to examine a series of scratches on the entrance to one of the broken courtyards. Felix glanced over his shoulder, trying to keep his shadow from obscuring the view. They were a series of almost regular signs, vaguely reminiscent of the markings Felix had seen somewhere long ago. Could these be the hieroglyphs of Nehekhara?

"Gotrek, what is it?"

"Squiggles, manling." Gotrek saw Felix's blank look. "Squig-sign. Nonsense sigils from the Goblin Tongue, etched by fang and claw, as a Tilean parrot might ask for a sip of grog."

"Squigs? Here?" Felix said, aghast, remembering the bouncing balls of teeth that goblins liked to ride into battle. "How?"

The Slayer seemed to ponder that for a moment, then set his teeth and ran a dry tongue over cracked lips and grinned. "Dwarf tombs are sealed air-tight. If there is the slightest crack, squigs can get in to the dark places, and consume the corpse from within. No one knows how they get in there, but they do. This place, with its shoddy mannish work…the whole complex must be riddled with tomb squigs."

Felix gripped his sword tighter and stared about him. No longer were the undead his greatest concern. He and the Slayer were trapped in a city of squigs. The two had faced the damned beasts before, and the thought of an entire herd of them, grown fat on the contents of an entire necropolis was a frightening thought. Still, they had no other hope but to continue on. Now, though, as they walked the dead streets Gotrek and Felix looked—and found—more evidence of the squigs. Discarded teeth and the shuffling of pale, fleshy bodies in dark corners, the hint of eyes watching them from the empty doorways of ravaged mausoleums. The wind brought strange sounds to him, like the scrabbling of many claws on stone and a rhythmic voice raised in invocation.

The street ended at a great courtyard before the largest pyramid, a squat fifty-footer capped with a pinnacle of black stone. Felix had seen far greater pyramids in the distance during his stay in Araby, but guessed that whatever minor noble had lorded it up back here centuries past did not rate anything so grand as the deathly abodes of the Tomb Kings. The courtyard was filled with the remnants of some decades-old battle, the still forms of a large goblin warband lay desiccated and half-buried in the blowing sands. Empty harnesses showed where squig-hoppers had once ridden against ranks of Nehekharan spearmen, and fallen; the squiggly beasts themselves were conspicuously absent – perhaps the ancestors of the vast tomb squig population that Felix had sensed more than seen around them as he and Gotrek made their way through the city. Felix's eyes fell on the sight of a desiccated wyvern corpse, and his sword stirred a little in his grip.

Here, however, as nowhere else in the city there were signs of life. Before the city was a great row of living trees, roots spilling out of their ancient planters to dip in an ancient ditch filled with water – a veritable moat in front of the great pyramid, fed by the waters of the oasis. Only a narrow stone bridge flanked by gigantic statue-sarcophagi allowed entrance from the courtyard to the pyramid, and standing on it was a wizened priest-figure, holding aloft a basalt tablet. Here was the voice that Felix had heard, and as he and Gotrek stepped into the courtyard, the figure finished his incantation.

Felix did not feel the wave of dark magic the Lich-Priest had released, but he knew it must have come, for all around them the dead army stirred to life. From the pyramid came ranks of undead spearmen and archers, bronze blades and armor glinting in the noon sunlight as they passed on either side of the Lich-Priest to take up ranks before the watery moat. The lids of the massive statue-sarcophagi on the left pressed open and from it a massive Bone Giants stepped out; the right sarcophagus stayed shut and quiet. As the final troops filtered out, a bandage-covered Tomb Prince emerged from the pyramid, great bronze spear in hand, and took his station next to the Lich-Priest on the bridge.

In the courtyard itself, the nigh-skeletal corpses of the goblins stirred, awakened by the dark magic. Unlike the near-silent skeletal troops of Nehekhara, though, a dark echo of snickering, mischievous laughter could be heard from the rising dust goblins. The undead goblins re-formed their straggly ranks, raising broken and rusted weapons in a caricature of the vital Greenskin defiance Felix had known before. The hulk of the wyvern flapped its leathery wings, scales and skin cracking, dust and black beetles dislodged from every crevice as the zombie dragon raised itself up. Still tied to its back was the corpse of a goblin shaman, head flopping back and forth to the beast's movement from a neck that had obviously been crushed in the great beast's death throes. A weighty crown of Nehekharan design still clung to the goblin shaman's head, and Felix swore he could see black fires in the pits of the undead Greenskin's eyes. Whatever dark magic had raised the goblins, even in death they were opposed to the enemies that had ended their brief, violent lives. Gotrek cackled to himself as the two forces drew themselves up to re-enact their ancient battle, and ran a thumb down the edge of his runeaxe, eager to seek his own doom in the ensuing melee. Felix glanced at the pale light the runes on Gotrek's axe was emitting, and tried to limber up his sword-arm, sure of the terrible battle he was about to face, hoping he would live through it long enough to plunge his head into the waters of the oasis.

One of the dust goblins raised up its grey-green hands to its mouth, and began a croaking hooting. The call was taken up by the other dust goblins, even as the Tomb Prince settled his army into its final ranks. Felix felt a rumble in the paved stone beneath him, watched the sand pile nearest him vibrate and tremble.

Then the tomb squigs came.

From all throughout the city, every pale, toothy beast ran, jumped, bounced, and charged to the scene of battle, brought by the ancient call. Gotrek and Felix had to run forward toward the rear of the dust goblin lines to avoid being overwhelmed by the flood of squigs as they crammed the street, piling over and on top of each other in an effort to heed the ancestral call to Waaagh!

So sudden was their flight toward the dust goblin rear ranks, Felix missed the outset of the combat proper. Ahead of him he heard the twang of a hundred bows fired in unison, the clattering stamp of a hundred skeletal spearmen marching forward and pressing into the dust goblins' ranks. Gotrek did not slow down as he approached the rear of the undead goblin army, but swung his axe at head height, taking three of the petite Greenskins from behind and continued on without breaking stride. Felix followed him, slashing and bashing at the child-sized dust goblins. It was an old practice for the two experienced warriors, and Felix felt himself lopping heads and severing limbs almost on instinct, maintaining the crucial space that Gotrek needed to do his bone-crushing work.

The squigs spilled into the gap behind the Slayer and his ally, and before long Felix was stabbing into pale, squishy bodies as well as dry, malevolent corpses. The Slayer snarled and laughed, almost lost to the endless, ritual combat as the two undead hordes engaged each other, snapping dust goblins and tomb squigs in two with each swing of his runeaxe.

After what seemed an eternity, Felix lopped off the head of a dust goblin only to find the two-handed stroke parried by the bronze blade of an ancient Nehekharan skeleton. With a shock, Felix realized that he had broken straight through the dust goblin ranks and into the front of the Tomb Prince's army. Felix slashed wildly around himself, surrounded on all sides by the animate corpses, looking for Gotrek.

The Slayer was not far away, but was half-buried by a tide of smaller squigs. Felix stalked over to him, striking indiscriminately at undead human and goblin as he raced to help his friend. Jaeger had almost reached the dwarf when a shadow fell across him, and a warm pestilential breeze blew into his face. Above him, the zombie dragon hovered, some dark magic keeping it aloft despite the vast holes in its membranous wings. Green and black electric arcs played around the crowned head of the undead goblin-shaman, but Felix's eyes were only on the dragon. The templar's sword almost leapt from his hand at the hovering beast.

"Wyrm-kin! I will return you to the grave to plague man nevermore!" Jaeger shouted, the volume and intensity of the cry ravaging his dry throat. The undead wyvern turn its long head toward him and opened its maw, unleashing a pestilential torrent. Instinctively, Felix raised the blade in a classical parry, and the vile black breath split before the edge of the runeblade. All around him squigs sickened and died on the miasma, puking their pale green guts out of their enormous mouths. When the zombie dragon was finished, Felix was in a clear space surrounded by the limp, somewhat deflated corpses of a dozen tomb squigs. He leaped at the zombie dragon, the templar blade raised in a two-handed overhead strike, oblivious to all else.
Gotrek stomped on the last of the tomb squigs that had been holding him to see the manling leaping up at an undead wyvern, swinging his sword, shouting obscenities and vile oaths about what he would do to its corpse. The dust goblin and Nehekharans were still locked in battle, but the tide of squigs had turned things against the Tomb Prince badly. As Gotrek watched, the Bone Giant was swarmed by tomb squigs, and fell against the unopened statue-sarcophagus, ripping it off its lids. Inside, there was scant trace of the Bone Giant's brother; what remained was a single vast tomb squid, skin as pale as the blindfish of Karak Varn.

The Slayer roared at the sight; here was a worthy doom indeed.

The eruption of the tomb squiggoth distracted the zombie dragon sufficiently that Felix was finally able to land a solid blow, the templar blade sheering through desiccated flesh and bone in search of some vital point or organ. All he really managed to do was release a vast swarm of black flies, which vomited forth from the open wound. Felix swallowed at least a dozen of the nasty corpse-bloated things before he could close his mouth, and needed to use his cloak to unblock his nose and mouth. A shadow fell on Felix's neck, and he rolled out of the way just as the zombie dragon crashed once more into the paved stones of the courtyard.

Whatever dark enchantment that had animated the dragon was obviously collapsing, and the dark lights in the silent beast's eyes were dimming even as Felix watched. With one last effort, the undead wyvern swung its maw around to Felix again. This time, instead of parrying, Jaeger swung the templar's blade directly at the undead dragon's smoking maw.

The bronze blade sliced through the back of the wyvern's mouth and took off the top of its rotten skull. A torrent of miasmic gas spilled from the stump of the neck, then dissipated as the last of the black sorcery fled from its bones and the beast was still. Felix breathed heavily, still spitting flies. He was tired and limbs trembling as the sword's possession left him. Warily, he circled the corpse. The goblin shaman was still strapped to the beast's back, its head twisted around to the back and facing Felix with a rigor mortis grin. Jaeger's sword felt like it weighed a hundred pounds, but he raised it and brought it down on the undead Greenskin's neck, severing the thing cables of flesh that kept it connected to its body.

Something called at Felix then. He stared into the dead shaman's eyes, and some ancient, dry force gripped his brain. The templar blade fell from his limp hand and Felix fell to his knees, hands reaching for the Nehekharan crown as some tired voice in the back of his mind screamed at him to stop. Gotrek's boot caught Felix in the chin as he was bent over to take the crown, and the human fell back and lay as if he had been pole-axed. The dwarf Slayer's runeaxe slammed down on the goblin's skull, sundering the crown and reducing the few brains within into a gritty green paste, which clung to Gotrek's axe as he pulled it back. In his head, Felix heard a tinny dying echo of a scream.

"Get up, manling. Now is no time for resting." The Slayer said.

Felix moaned and sat up, spitting blood from where he'd bitten his own lip, but grateful for the Slayer's interference. He was sure that without his aid, he would have been enslaved by the crown, just as the goblin shaman had been. Around them, the dust goblins began to collapse. Without the dark magic of the crown to sustain them, the hateful spirits of the Greenskins were departing their physical shells once more. Felix picked up his blade and followed Gotrek as he stalked toward the tomb squiggoth.

The Tomb Prince's forces themselves were hard-pressed, not by the dust goblins but the massive uncontrolled tomb squig herd around them. Felix watched tomb squigs fighting over a goblin's thigh bone in vicious tug-o-war, and a passel of tomb squigs had gnawed the limbs off a Nehekharan skeleton and were sucking the dusty marrow from its long-decayed bones. The Bone Giant was on its hands and knees, almost entirely covered by squigs, and then its skull burst apart like an eggshell as an extra-large tomb squig with a pronounced horn cracked the massive construct open from the inside. Jaeger almost felt sorry for the undead things. Almost.

The Tomb Prince and Lich-Priest had staged a fighting withdrawal at the mouth of the great pyramid itself, and Felix observed it with something akin to academic interest, noting that with the limited space of the bridge had created a stalemate – despite their greater numbers, the tomb squigs could not bring them to bear, and the Lich-Priest could continue to conjure necromantic reinforcements. It was but a temporary balance, however, because the tomb squiggoth stumbled forward toward the bridge now, and no unit of skeletal spearmen was going to stop it.

Just as the tomb squiggoth stepped its bulk onto the bridge, Gotrek broke into a run, aiming himself at the thing's swinging tail. Felix swept his sword around him, killing the few tomb squigs around him, but keeping an eye on the Slayer. By the time he had reached the apex of its back, the tomb squiggoth had brought its entire bulk onto the bridge and was busily munching the Tomb Prince's guard into bone meal. Cursing as the Slayer dropped out of sight behind the squiggoth's hump, Felix grabbed at the pale flesh and began climbing it himself. The thing's hide fairly bristled with bone arrows, so Felix found the climbing easy, even holding the templar blade in one hand.

Felix crested the hump to find Gotrek squatting on the squiggoth's neck, the mighty runeaxe raised above his head in both hands. The squiggoth was mad with fury, shaking its head left and right in an effort to dislodge its attacker, but Gotrek was holding on tightly with his knees. Then a bronze spear scraped the Slayer's head, embedding itself in the squiggoth's bulk. The thing shuddered and died. Gotrek stood up and stomped on its skull a few times, but it was clear that the squiggoth was quite dead. The dwarf shot a maddened glare at the spear-chucker, and at that moment Felix could see the chunk the spear had took out of his ear, blood running down the side of the Slayer's face. Alone, surrounded by the pulverized remains of his guard, the Tomb Prince and the Lich-Priest stared at the mad Slayer.

Gotrek's axe toss was like a drawing from a Tilean philosopher's treatise on mathematics that Felix had once glimpsed at the university in Altdorf. It was a perfect, beautiful arc, and the Slayer's axe split the Tomb Prince from crown to groin as it fell to earth, runes blazing on the starmetal surface. Felix was by this time sliding down the neck of the dead squiggoth, the templar blade held at shoulder level. As the Lich-Priest turned to unleash some dark invocation at the Slayer, the human threw the sword like a spear, pinning the undying priest to the wall. The mummified corpse seized up for a moment, thenwas still.
Gotrek and Felix retrieved their weapons and filled their water skins. Both of them took turns dunking their heads into the clear waters of the oasis, glad it had not yet been fouled by dark magic or the bodies of the undead. The Slayer looked at the great tomb squiggoth with something like melancholy.

"I have been robbed of a mighty doom here, manling."

"There will be others."

The great squiggoth shook. The Slayer grinned and readied his axe.


The tomb squiggoth's mouth opened, and a torrent of tomb squigs poured forth, their mouths bloody and full of pale meat. Felix blanched as he realized that the lesser tomb squigs must have literally eaten through their dead, titanic comrade. Felix sighed, then speared a fat squig that was too bloated to do more than gnaw at his boot. Beside him, Gotrek laughed.

"Come, manling! There are a city of squigs between us and my doom!"


No comments:

Post a Comment