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Jun 26, 2021
43
Only in Death


Oxtluc shifted uneasily and tightened his grip on his spear.

Rain patterned down from the canopy above, rattling away from the hardened scales of the Lizardmen. And yet an eerie silence had descended upon the forest. No birds called from the trees, no predators stalked the brush, even the insects that would normally swarm the air seemed to have vanished.

The phalanx of Saurus glared at the clicking ranks of skeletal Lizardmen and other walking corpses that marched through the rain to take up position beside them. Several Saurus turned their heads to regard Oxtluc as if willing him to let them loose and attack the undead. The Old Blood shook his head slightly and they continued to watch the arrival of their questionable allies.

Sat on a palanquin of bone and gristle was what once had been a Skink Priest, now wizened and dried by the very powers he wielded and yet still impossibly alive. Glowering eyes tinged with witch lights gazed out from the eye sockets of the bleached skull helm covering his face and blackened bony claws idly wove intricate patterns in the air.

Oxtluc hissed low at the sight of the traitor, the priest that had turned to forbidden necromancy. These were the monsters Oxtluc had to raise his spear beside to fight worse monsters, a thought that had not settled well in the Old Blood. The Skaven of the disease cult had risen once more in Lustria’s forests and according to the star scryers if unchecked would reach the walls of Itza. Several armies had been swiftly assembled to drive back the ratmen, but they were stretched thin. The tide of Skaven seemed near endless. For Oxtluc’s army news had come of Zikatl, a former Skink Priest exiled for his dark beliefs and magical practice, offering to join tails to fight off the Skaven. Oxtluc had initially dismissed the thought until the Skink Priest Ikylatl had predicted their doom without the traitor’s aid.

The palanquin was lowered to the ground by a pair of undead Kroxigors and Zikatl rose. “Hail Oxtluc, mighty Old Blood,” the necromancer spoke in a whispered voice that still cut through the air. “I am glad that we shall fight together to defend the Plans of the Old Ones, and that through our efforts we may further their goals.”

Oxtluc stomped forwards and brandished his spear, the glyphs engraved on its surface glittering in the rain.

“Your path spits upon the Great Plan,” he hissed, feeling his own army bristle with animosity behind him.

The necromancer seemed to smile behind his bone mask. “Oh? You doubt my loyalty to our people to our creators? Listen, mighty Oxtluc. Why should we let death stop us from continuing to protect our cities and the Great Plan? What would you give to serve the Great Plan, Oxtluc?”

The Old Blood snarled. “Enough. For now we are allies, tomorrow enemies again. Understood?”

Zikatl dipped his head in mock agreement and lashed his tail in amusement.

“The Pestilens camp lies to the east, we attack before nightfall,” Oxtluc said at last and began to growl a series of commands to his army. The necromancer said nothing and was lifted back into the air by the undead Kroxigors, his shambling horde beginning the march alongside the living.

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Lifeblood soaked the forest floor and mired there with the constant thrum of rain as the Lustrians clove through the Skaven. And yet the ratmen continued to fight with a rabid fervour, for every three green robed Skaven slain they dragged down one of their own foes.

Zikatl’s undead horde ground against the Skaven’s own teeming ranks, again and again dark energy collected around his talons as he drew the dead back to their feet and hurled them back into the fray. Shrieking spirits swirled around the necromancer warding off any attacks from the Skaven.

Oxtluc was surrounded by a sea of Plague Monks as he battled to reach the Plague Priest leading the horde. Around him his warriors bought him time as they cut through ragged robes even as they were dragged down. Finally he stood before the bloated disease ridden priest and with a roar lunged towards, rain hissing from his spear as the power of the Old Ones radiated through it in a bright glow.

The Skaven gave a burbled shriek as Oxtluc buried his spear deep within it and then grunted in pain. As the Plague Priest fell away from him, Oxtluc looked down to see a blade lodged deep in his chest. He tore it out and tried to move forwards as the Skaven around him started to break and flee. The world span and Oxtluc sank to the ground.

He stared up past the forest canopy and into the dark skies lurking above.

Done...my...duty...

And Oxtluc’s world went dark.

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Oxtluc opened his eyes.

The forest was tinged with grey, as if all the colours of the world had been bled out. He felt strange, he could barely feel the rain that rattled from his scales. Around him other Saurus stood, the wounds that killed them visible to even Oxtluc's grey filmed sight. Confused, he felt for the wound that the Plague Priest had dealt him, concern flickering in his dulled mind as his movements seemed sluggish and off. Though he could barely feel, he found his pierced and dead heart. He looked up and found Zikatl gazing upon him from his palanquin. Oxtluc tried to snarl, tried to speak, but all that came was a low moan.

The necromancer tilted his skull encased head for a moment and then turned away.

Unable to resist, Oxtluc and the others shambled in his wake.




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So this was my entry in the 27th Lustria Online Short Story Competition. The theme being: Unusual Allegiances. You can read the other entries Here.

I took a fair bit of inspiration from one of the short stories in the old BL Legends of the Old World collection which has a character slain by Nagash's legions but isn't truly aware he is dead until it becomes clear when the PoV changes. I made it a lot crueler and clearer for poor Oxtluc (I mean he'd probably have made a good wight/wight lord.)
 
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Jun 26, 2021
43
And a prequel:

Before Death

Claws almost tenderly tore through the earth and found purchase upon their prize. Through the small gaps hidden amongst the canopy above the pale light of one moon warred with the sour green light of its sister. A sibilant hiss of a night-hunting avian broke through the ambient sound of the forest and then was gone as it wheeled away in search of bigger prey.

Soil fragmented and sifted in a torrent of grains, grass, and insects as with a final pull a gleaming skull was revealed to the night air. The Skink Priest stared intently at the hollow sockets, his claws gently drawing their way across contours and cracks. His studies and the dreams had led him to this place, to this moment. He stopped the shaking in his tail and with a click removed the lower jaw from the Lizardman skull. In reverent slowness he placed the skull upon his head and reached out to Shyish.

Visions of a world of death assailed him. The sun no longer shone and the sky was filled with a bleak grey pallor. Trees bereft of life stood as skeletal claws that grasped in vain at the darkened skies for the light that would never come. There was no sound but the distant click of bone and moan upon the breeze. He ran further through the realm of dead until finally colour crept back around him.

Still shaking he found himself before a stream and idly realised that his throat was screaming for water. Talons that almost looked skeletal in his wearied eyes cupped shimmering water and he urgently brought it up to his mouth. His eyes rolled back for a moment as he felt the coldness of the liquid run down his throat and caress the inside of his ribs. He gazed down at the ripples and saw himself; the skull fitted almost snuggly to his head. For the briefest moment he thought he saw his eyes shine with witchfires but shook the thought away.

He began the long trip back to his lair, the other priests had not understood and had driven him out of the Temple City. They could not understand the severity of the situation. This had to be the way. The children of the Old Ones would not be wasted giving their lives only once. The Plans of the Old Ones had to be protected, had to be achieved.

Zikatl stared long into the darkness and continued to walk.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
1,623
New Zealand
I love the idea of Lizardmen doing things they really shouldn't. They have such different morality some of them might not even see anything wrong. Especially if they interpreted a plaque the wrong way. And, perhaps, a plaque reading "Only in death shall you serve fully".
 
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