A hot, humid breeze came in from the west, like the heavy breathing of a titanic beast. The pale obelisk in the middle of the circular clearing was the only object unaffected by the wind. The hair on his neck bristled as he felt watchful eyes from the jungle. Everything moved here, Hagon thought, it was unnatural.
Not for the first time his thoughts returned to his mountain home. The smell of the forge, the taste of mead on his tongue, and a lass on his knee. No, he told himself, that world was gone now. With grim resolve, he placed the last load of firewood on the funeral pyre. Scattered amongst the kindling were suits of armour, helms, chainmail, everything a warrior of his people valued, all of it prepared to burn. The dwarf wiped his hands on his breaches only to see the orange tint of dye yet remained. His fate was sealed in this foreign land.
Around the pyre were his companions, the forty three dwarves that still remained. Each was stipped to the waste, everything but their weapons added to the tinder, as if an offering to their fallen prince. The previous night, the night in which they had failed their duty, each had dyed his hair orange. Some of the younger warriors had taken to the blue hued tattoos, placing symbols of death on their flesh. Hagon had donned the orange, but had no taste for the dramatic, though his failure exceeded that of his brethren.
With a face of stone he lit the torch in his hand, eyes scanning those around the pyre and seeing the same cold expressions on each craggy face. With a heavy heart, Hagon dropped the torch on the fire and watched the flames build and dance around the young prince. Not much more than a beardling, Hagon had trained the lad since he could hold an axe. Accompanied him on many campaigns and served as faithful advisor, just as he had for his father before him. Hagon had never sired children, but had always thought of the prince as something akin to having a son. The old warrior’s chest tightened as the body burned and he turned away.
When the wizard had requested the young prince’s aid in his journey to the uncharted lands, the lad had been mesmerized by the tales of riches that could be his. For the first time Hagon had seen the gold lust in the boy’s gaze, a trait found in the lad’s father that he had hoped he would never see reflected in those youthful eyes. Regardless of his council to remain, the prince had decided to embark on this journey. Hagon had no choice but to follow. His first failure.
His second failure had come when he placed his trust in the humans to keep watch. With fifty hardened warriors, he could have spared some soldiers along the picket line. Dwarf eyes were better than a mans at night and could have given more warning before the attack came. Never trust the assurances of the young, he should have known.
When the lizard folk attacked the camp in the dead of night, Hagon had first made sure the prince was prepared. Seeing that the lad was amongst his warriors, Hagon had taken a small group to aid the manlings in their fight, leaving the others to protect the prince. His third failure. The warriors reported that a shaman from the attacking lizard people had struck him down with a solid beam of crackling light as he charged. His axe hadn’t even drawn blood.
Down the small slope from where the pyre burned the manlings watched them. Several had removed their helmets and watched the procession respectfully, but most pointed or gawked. His anger toward them was muted only by his own failings. One manling, beardless with fat, rosy cheeks from the exertion of the short run up the hill, approached.
“By Sigmar have you all lost your minds?” he sputtered once he’d gathered his breath. “The enemy has marshalled a massive host that could attack at any moment and not one of you is prepared for battle. Lord Albretchz demands that you join the picket line!”
Hagon eyed the perspiring man for a moment before speaking, “Be wary what you demand of us manling, my patience is not limitless, especially when you intrude on matters you do not understand.”
The soldier sneered, “What you don’t understand is…”
Hagon’s backhand knocked the soldier from his feet, leaving him in a crumpled heap on the ground. He watched as the man slowly got back up, his broken nose bleeding freely down his breastplate, eyes wary as he watched the dwarf.
“Tell your lord that we are no longer in his service. If he wants to live, he should leave this place before they come, we will hold the beasts at bay.”
The arrogance gone from his eyes, the man gave a defeated shake of his head, “Lord Albretchz will not leave. He claims the secrets within the obelisk could change the Empire forever. We must stay.”
Hagon grunted, “So be it laddy.” The arrogance of men was baffling, “Go back to your camp, we will be down shortly.”
The soldier gave a short bow and ran back down the hill. Hagon didn’t wait to see him go, but as he turned back to the pyre, the distance sound of horns drifted through the air. The time was nearly upon them.
Hefting an axe in either hand, he called the others to him, “Come now lads, our time in this world is coming to an end.” Hagon waited until the orange haired group of warriors were assembled. “Each of us here has broken the most sacred of oaths. One given on the day of our induction into Lord Kraz A Karn’s Throng. To serve and protect his blood line with our lives, regardless of the horrors we face.” Pointing an axe at the pyre, “Look upon our failure and know that there can be no honor for oathbreakers, save redemption in death.”
The hard eyes of over forty dwarves watched their prince burn while the horns from the jungle grew louder.
“From this day forward we forsake any hope of a life outside of war. Instead we will seek out our doom against whatever foe dare stands before us. On this day we cast aside our armour, our shields, anything that might stand in the way of a fitting end. From now on we are not warriors of Throng Kraz A Karn, we a slayers, and death awaits us!”
The shouts of the slayers on the hill carried out across the clearing while the men of the Empire eyed them with a mixture baffled expressions.
Even as the dwarven cries died down, the lizard folk burst from the undergrowth, charging the battle line. Lizardmen that stood a full head above even the largest of men, armed with crude weapons edged with sharp blackened stone. Some were small, like quick reptilian goblins darting around the outside of the horde, others much larger wielding massive hammer like weapons, and all descending upon the camp of men. Crashing through the trees came three gargantuan beasts of war, on their backs were battle howdahs atop of which the small, skittery creatures rode. On the center beast was a small lizardman wearing a cloak of red and orange feathers. It’s taloned hand pointing forward emitting forked lightning, dealing death amongst a group of halberdiers.
Siggi, a young dwarf that had served with him over the last decade, his hair shaved into a mohawk, came alongside him, “That’s him. That is the creature that took the life of our prince.”
Hagon hadn’t realized he was moving until he was halfway toward the battle, his bare feet slapping the ground in rapid succession. He didn’t look to see, but he could hear the others behind him.
Bullets and arrows flew from the manling line, accompanied by the blast of the single cannon they had brought with them. The howda beast on the right staggered halfway across the clearing before lurching to the side, crushing those below and throwing those in the howda into the charging mass. Standing in the middle of the battle line the human wizard, Lord Albretchz, pointed his staff at the shaman and a ball of fire erupted from the tip. The fireball traveled the distance between the two with terrible speed, but the shaman raised it’s palm and the ball of fire slanted to the side, incinerating a cluster of the larger lizard folk.
Just as the lizard host crashed into the lines of man, the shaman raised both hands into the air and a blinding bolt of lightning dropped from the heavens descending toward the wizard, blinding all around. A massive thunderclap shook the earth and when Hagon’s vision returned, all he could see of Lord Albretchz was a blackened, smoking corpse.
Bellowing a warcry, Hagon and his slayers entered the fray, intent on cutting a bloodied path toward the shaman. For minutes, there was nothing but mindless slaughter. Men, lizards, and dwarf alike screaming and hacking. Hogan’s axes rose and fell again and again, taking lives with every swing. Without the protection of armour, his slayers died, but they did so with a scream on their lips and axes bloodied. There was a brief moment of respite as the lizards fell back from the relentless onslaught of the orange crested warriors. Hogan took a brief count, noting that half his number had already met their fate. His group had pushed far past the battle line and the manlings, unable to match their assault, were nowhere to be seen. They were surrounded. Good, he thought, almost there.
Several of the hulking beasts with massive hammers moved to intercept them. Hogan danced aside as one of the massive hammers crashed down where he had once been. Weaving between the beast legs, he hammered an axe into the towering lizard’s knee, causing it to stagger, its head low enough where he could reach. His off hand axe opened up the beast’s throat, spraying sticky gore over him. Others of his group struggled against them, but he pushed on, his mind set on what he had to do.
There were only a dozen of them now, but the shaman had taken notice of their assault. Shrieking, it wheeled the mighty lizard toward them and charged, it’s every foot step shook the earth. It’s roar reverberated in his chest. Hagon ran to face it.
Just as he was about to make his move, Siggi pushed him aside and met the beast head on. Hagon rolled to the side and looked up to see the young slayer impaled on one of the beast’s horns, but life still flowed in his veins. The mohawked dwarf began to pull himself further down the horn until he was close to the eye of the beast. Pulling a small knife from his belt, he rammed it home.
The mighty lizard let out a shriek, shaking it’s head from side to side in an attempt to throw the slayer, but he was on too well and continued to drive the knife deeper into the eye socket. The rest of his slayers launched themselves onto the beast, hacking and slashing until the horned lizard went down. Throwing the shaman and dwarf alike from it. By the time the shaman was able to get to it’s feet, Hagon had covered the distance between them. There was only a brief moment of fear in the shaman’s oversized eyes before he burred an axe in it’s neck. Only a small scrap of muscle remained to connect the head to the lifeless body.
A small space had been created around him as the enemy leader fell. The six surviving slayers made their way to stand beside him as the lizard folk gathered about them. Reaching down, he ripped the shaman’s head from the rest of the body.
Tossing the remains of the shaman at the feet of the closest enemy warrior he spat, “Now which of you will bring me the most honor?”