Ixtli slowly moved around a big tree. It was not easy being a lone Skink on a search patrol, and Ixtli wondered why her commanders had not sent a Chameleon Skink instead. Perhaps they were all busy, or Lord Tlaltecuhtli had some other reasons which a lowly Skink just wasn’t able to comprehend.
It did not matter though, she had been given a task and she would carry it out, that was how the Old Ones had intended it, and how it had been for many millennia.
She looked up at the sky of Lustria, but all she could see was the canopy of the jungle trees.
Dim light flooded the lower levels of the rain forest. Even at midday it was never really bright down here.
Ixtli moved on, searching for trails of the Skaven invaders that had raided at least two nearby settlements this year and had killed a group of Servants of the Old Ones who had been working in a quarry just two days ago.
The Chaos invasion had begun slowly this time, but after a few months, the rat beings were everywhere. This was getting worse and worse. Ixtli didn’t know much about the grand scheme of things, but she instinctively felt that something bad was going to happen.
The sound of a bird made her pause. An alarm cry, warning others of its kind about a threat on the ground. Ixtli knew it well as it was the same sound that bird made when it spotted a Skink or a Cold One. Perhaps she would have ignored it, but her sharp ears picked up another sound afterwards: A faint caw and rustling leaves, then silence. Ixtli had heard it often enough to know what it was. Somebody had shot the bird. She dug into the ground as silently as she could while working quickly, burying herself between the vines, the mud, and the dead leaves which formed the jungle floor.
Ixtli almost didn’t dare to breathe. She heard voices, very close now. Although she could not understand what they were saying, the squeaking told her enough without even seeing the Skaven that were talking to each other in their foul tongue. Her thoughts raced. She had to go and warn the settlement about them. The problem was that she had noticed them a tiny bit too late. Now they were too close for her to run away, they would silence her just like they had silenced the bird.
She decided to wait and let them pass, and then warn the city, and meanwhile do her best to gather information about their number, equipment, and direction of movement. She knew she was the only Lizardman in this part of the jungle, she had to fulfill her role.
The Skaven were moving almost completely silently, now and then squeaking at each other for a short moment but then falling silent again. Moving like that meant they were slow, and that would be Ixtli’s advantage when she would run ahead and warn the city.
If she would be able to.
Some of the Skaven passed just a few feet next to her, one even stopped and sniffed, but they finally moved on. After what seemed like ages to Ixtli she was fairly confident all Skaven had walked past her. She started to stand up, inch by inch, looking slowly around.
That was when she saw the Skaven priest. He was an ugly old Rat in a long robe, with a sickly skin color and pus-filled Ulcers everywhere. He was carrying an old, crooked staff that was shining a dim green light onto the area around him.
She should kill him, she decided. He was marching at the very end of his troops, probably in order to be able to think better alone then with all the squeaking Rats around him, just like a Starmaster that liked to be alone. If she killed him quickly she would get away, and do a lot of damage to the Skaven by removing their leader.
She raised her boltspitter and put a dart into it.
Then she waited just a moment longer, filled her lungs with air, pressed her mouth against the boltspitter and…
Ixtli stared at the boltspitter in horror. She had forgotten to check it. It had filled with mud and now the dart and a mixture of dirt, dead plants, and water had come out of its front. Loudly.
The Skaven’s head swung around, and Ixtli just barely had the time to jump to the side before something exploded right where she had stood a moment before. She darted away, some of the Skaven following her.
The Skink ran as quickly as she could, zig-zagging around trees to stay in cover and not get shot or hit by magic. She knew that Skaven could run about as fast as she could, so she had had to use the jungle to her advantage.
But she could not run without pause, not for an extended period of time, and not after marching around the whole day. She had to hide somewhere. But where? By now she was not entirely sure in which part of the jungle she was, her hasty retreat had had disrupted her sense of direction.
She passed a formation of big rocks. Perfect to hide her from the Skaven’s eyes while changing direction, she thought.
After passing the rocks, Ixtli quickly chose a direction, ran another hundred steps, and then hid behind a few fallen trees, panting.
For a moment it seemed like Ixtli’s plan had worked, no Skaven were to be seen. But then she heard a twig snap in the direction she had come from, and she knew they were not far off. She grabbed her boltspitter, but then remembered that she still had not cleaned it, and most likely didn’t have the time for that now.
So she dug in between the dead trees scared, her empty boltspitter in hand, and considered what her options were now:
Killing a few Skaven and then die was probably her best option. Be as loud as she possibly could, disrupting the plans of her enemies as long as possible.
She prepared to jump up from her cover, and attack the first Skaven she would see with her knife. A last silent prayer to the Old Ones, then she tensed…
Ixtli froze. A few feet next to her a Kroxigor had appeared, seemingly out of thin air. She did not know where he had come from or how he had been able to move that silently, but then she had concentrated on the other direction, and she was exhausted. Was it really possible that he had snuck there?
And…had the Kroxigor spoken?
Kroxigor with the ability to speak were rare, most of them were not able to do that. But she vaguely remembered stories about a few spawnings of them that were more intelligent and could learn to speak, so it was not impossible, just unlikely.
The Kroxigor came in close beside her and spoke again:
“No worry, I here. Skaven now fight two”.
Despite the danger they were in she took a closer look at her ally. He was huge, a giant, with a distinctive white scale on his head. He had various scars and a few broken teeth that told stories of battles he had fought, and he was armed with an enormous maul. A pair of friendly eyes were looking down at her, and in the Kroxigor’s expression she read determination.
“Thank you,” she said, “I am Ixtli.”
“Ocotlan” the Kroxigor said, motioning toward himself.
“Alright Ocotlan, We have to get out of here and report back to the city. There are many Skaven out there, and they are planning an attack”,
said Ixtli, before she remembered that even a Kroxigor from a sacred spawning, blessed with unusual intelligence, was probably not able to understand complex sentences. But he nodded in agreement, and said “go”, pointing into a direction.
Ixtli nodded as well, and they started walking.
Ocotlan moved surprisingly silently, the huge Kroxigor carefully avoided stepping on ground that would have made a lot of noise. Ixtli was both surprised and happy about that, since Kroxigor normally weren’t exactly known for their stealth abilities.
“We might live after all”, she thought.
For quite some time they marched without meeting any Skaven. Ixtli used that time to finally clean her boltspitter and prepare it for the next fight. She had no illusions that they would escape and warn the city without having to fight any Skaven before doing so.
Skaven were cowards, but they certainly were not dumb. They would follow the Kroxigor’s footsteps even though Ixtli tried to hide them as well as she could. Other Skaven would move into all directions in small groups, trying to cut Ocotlan and Ixtli off. They would be scattered but they would be there, and ready for a fight.
And indeed it did not take long until they ran into the first of them. It was a group of six Skaven, and they were attacking from head on. Apparently they had not known about Ixtli’s ally yet, and they seemed to be shocked when they noticed him. They nevertheless showed surprising courage and tried to swarm him.
Ocotlan swung his maul and hit one of them in the head. There wasn’t much left of the creature’s head after that blow, and at the same time the Kroxigor’s tail smashed another Skaven into a tree. Ixtli stabbed the Rat with her knife, then shot another one with her boltspitter, while a Skaven’s rusty blade glanced off on Ocotlan’s scaled legs and its bearer was crushed by a huge knee a blink of an eye later.
Ixtli darted to Ocotlan’s other side to fight with another Skaven, while Ocotlan had her back covered. A sixth Skaven came too close to his huge jaws and Ixtli heard the Rat’s ribs cracking before Ocotlan flung the dead body of the Rat toward the seventh one, who avoided being hit but was felled by the giant maul a moment later.
The Skaven fighting Ixtli turned to run, but she shot it with her Boltspitter.
All the Rats were dead, and the Skink caught the gaze of the Kroxigor. For a moment they stood there, looking at each other’s blood-stained faces. Ixtli smiled. She had never fought along Kroxigor before, but she had instantly felt the bond. Kroxigor and Skinks were spawn-brothers, they understood each other instinctively.
They moved on, leaving the bodies of the Rats behind for the jungle to consume them.
It wasn’t the last encounter with the Skaven, which had apparently swarmed the whole area to catch them.
They fought them all night, and side by side they took their battle stances. The Kroxigor charged right into the rats, scattering them, while the Skink was hiding behind, below, or even on top of him, shooting Skaven left and right and occasionally stabbing one with her knife.
Most of the Rats they met apparently had not yet heard of the Kroxigor and only expected a lone Skink, which made it much easier to fight them.
Ocotlan was almost unnaturally quick, far quicker than his size suggested, and he hit with such a force that weapons, armor, and bones shattered whenever he hit his target.
Ixtli wondered when the Kroxigor would start to show signs of exhaustion, but so far she seemed to be the only one was panting. The Kroxigor seemed as fresh as when she had met him, except a few minor scratches and a lot of Skaven blood on his skin.
As if the Old Ones had heard her thoughts, the attacks stopped. There weren’t any more Skaven around, and the two unequal Lizardmen marched on in silence. Ixtli welcomed the pause, but she did not allow herself to relax. She knew they had still some miles ahead of them, there was still a small river to cross, and after that it was still a mile of jungle until they would reach the city’s fortifications.
Ocotlan occasionally stopped to let the much smaller Skink scout ahead, and waited patiently for her signal to move on. They were not very quick that way, but if the Skaven caught them now the city would never know of the impending attack, they could not risk it. The Skaven obviously could not afford to attack right now, either they were too scattered or they were still waiting for war machines or whatever else their mad, plague-ridden leaders had still in their sleeves to attack a holy temple city.
Still there was nothing. Ixtli had a bad feeling about it. They were almost at the river and there was not the slightest sign of Rats nearby.
When Ixtli heard the river and snuck through the thick underbrush to take a look at it she halfway expected to see a hundred Skaven on its banks, just waiting for her.
But there weren’t any. The river flowed almost peacefully through the jungle, big trees and vibrant green underbrush lining its bed of overgrown stones. In most places it was easy to cross, but there were some where it was deeper than it looked and the currents were strong. Ixtli didn’t know this particular part of the river, so she was cautious.
She went to the river and checked its depth. Perfect. Not very deep and the water was flowing gently. She returned to Ocotlan, jumped on his back, and they walked toward the river. They were very close to the city now.
Suddenly there was a squeak, and with it came the Skaven. They had been hiding in the underbrush on both sides of the river. There were at least twenty of them, and they were being led by a Skaven that was armored and wearing an impressive amount of daggers on its body.
They immediately attacked, and Ixtli knew that this was going to be the decisive battle.
She started shooting the enemies that attacked them from behind, while Ocotlan prepared to charge forward and crash into a group that was standing in their way.
Ixtli jumped down from his back and started to use her knife on a Skaven that tried to stab the Kroxigor from behind. The fight was chaotic and the thick underbrush of the jungle made it hard for the Skaven to surround them. Visibility was severely limited by all the plants that grew on the river bank, so half of the fight was attacking enemies that were just jumping over a bush, or down from trees.
A throwing knife aimed at her heart came buzzing through the bush she was standing next to, but the big Kroxigor had seen it and just swat it away with his hand like it was a fly. Ixtli would have been impressed by that action, but she didn’t have the time to even think about it as she had to defend herself against the next Skaven.
Despite Ocotlan’s assistance it didn’t take long for Ixtli to be bleeding from several wounds, wounds she knew would get infected by the plagues of the Skaven. She would need a healer quickly. But now the first priority was surviving this battle.
Morale was the key. Skaven were cowards and she would try to make them fear her by killing their leader. She looked around and saw him attacking Ocotlan from the other side. There were two Skaven right next to her though so she tried to get rid of those before she could turn and face their leader.
Both were carrying wicked blades and wooden clubs. She jumped a step back and when they followed her she lunged forward and stabbed one of them in the throat.
Blood splattered all over her and the remaining Rat, who just barely missed her with its club. Ixtli stepped to the right, forcing the Skaven to turn to her and turn its back to the Kroxigor. Ocotlan’s tail whipped around and hit the Skaven’s legs. It fell to the ground squeaking, and Ixtli slit its throat.
There were no Rats close to her for a moment, so she took the chance and loaded a dart into her boltspitter. The Skaven were focused on the Kroxigor so they didn’t notice that she aimed right through between the huge Lizardman’s legs and shot her dart.
The second that the dart took to reach its target stretched long in Ixtli’s mind. She could see it flying, the movements of the fighting Rats that were dodging Ocotlan’s maul, the rain drops falling from the trees, and how the face of her target turned towards her, its black eyes wide in shock and its mouth opened for an alarmed squeak before her poisoned dart hit it into the chest where its armor had been ripped open by a glancing blow of the Kroxigor’s maul. The respiratory paralysis caused by the poison made the Skaven choke and flail around uselessly with its arms, before it collapsed to the ground, twitching and dying.
With their leader falling the rats grew visibly less aggressive. They moved back a bit to regroup.
Ixtli looked around. The jungle floor was littered with dead bodies, but there were still some Skaven alive and ready to fight although more reluctantly than before.
And in the midst of all this violence stood Ocotlan, the Kroxigor, roaring at them. Then he turned around and pulled a tree up out of the ground and started to swat the shocked Skaven with it. His sweeping blows with the tree hit several of the scared Rats, and it didn’t take long until the first of them were running away. The Lizardmen doubled their efforts. Ixtli ran out of darts as she didn’t have the time to recover the expended ones from the bodies of her dead enemies, so she switched to her knife again and lunged at the Rats who squeaked surprised by a little Skink being that aggressive.
Ocotlan threw the tree at a group of them, and then grabbed one of the remaining Skaven, ripping its body in half.
That was enough. The remaining Skaven ran for their lives, some of them even dropping their weapons. For a moment Ixtli wanted to follow them, but then she remembered her mission. She had to go and report to the city, most likely there were thousands of Skaven in the jungle near the city. She didn’t have to tell Ocotlan. The Kroxigor was already wading through the water of the river, and looking at her. She climbed onto his back and he carried her safely to the other side.
With the first light of the morning they reached outskirts of the temple city. Ocotlan stopped and motioned towards the north, saying “Ocotlan now go”.
There wasn’t much time to say goodbye but Ixtli touched the huge Kroxigor’s arm and said “Thank you, without you, I wouldn’t have made it.”
Kroxigor could not smile, but when Ixtli looked into the giant Lizardman’s face, for a moment she was sure she saw a friendly expression, slightly sad but happy.
“Goodbye, Ocotlan” she said. Ocotlan nodded and turned toward the north. A moment later he was swallowed by the jungle and Ixtli ran toward the patrol command center to make her report.
First things first, she told the Patrol Chief about a Skaven force of at least several hundred individuals, right outside the temple city. Alarms were sounded, and like a perfectly working machine only moments later a mounted Scar-Veteran, fifty Saurus Knights on Cold Ones, a hundred Saurus Warriors, and twice their number of Skinks were on their way out of the west gate, with a dozen Terradon riders providing air support. Those Skaven would not get far, now that the element of surprise was not on their side. They probably were running already if the fleeing Rats had told them about the Skink scout getting away.
After the most essential thing was said, she told them about her night, and the battle she had spent with a big Kroxigor named Ocotlan.
When she said his name the Patrol Chief inclined his head with a confused expression on his face, but motioned her to go on after he had whispered something in the ear of another Skink, who then left the room.
After she had finished her report he said: “You carried out your task well, you can go now.”
“Just a question, Chief: What about Ocotlan?” she said. “Where does he serve? I would like to meet him again.”
The Patrol Chief didn’t give an answer. Instead he made a concerned face, and looked at the Skink Priest that had entered the room while she had been reporting.
The Priest nodded and took her arm. He led her out of the building and to a small temple not far away from the patrol command center.
“You are newly spawned, are you?” he asked in a slightly raspy voice that showed his old age. Ixtli nodded.
“And you haven’t been to this temple yet?” Another nod.
“Are you sure about the name of that Kroxigor?” he then asked. Again Ixtli nodded, asking herself why the Priest would doubt her report and why he was asking her all those questions.
The Priest stopped and took a deep breath.
He then slowly said, “You may be telling true, Ixtli, but this here is Ocotlan, and he took his last breath almost a hundred years ago”.
With that he pointed at a wall painting on the northern side of the small temple. It showed a battle of the past, a Lizardmen force fighting against a Chaos invasion that had taken place near this temple city a long time ago.
The left part of the painting showed a depiction of Lord Tlaltecuhtli casting a spell, and around him were his troops. First his personal Temple Guard, then an army of Skinks and Saurus. And in the front line between the Skinks, right there amidst the red demons swarming the jungle she spotted what the Priest was pointing at: A giant Kroxigor with a distinctive white scale on his head, fiercely swinging his maul at the demons, and surrounded by scores of dead ones.
Ixtli felt like she had been hit in the head by a Bastiladon’s tail. She stared at the picture of Ocotlan and her mind refused to process what the Priest had just told her. There was not a shadow of a doubt in her mind that this was Ocotlan. He looked exactly like she had met him, even the scars on his body were where she remembered them.
“He was a part of a sacred spawning,” the old Priest continued, “a Kroxigor the likes of which we have rarely seen. Over the course of the battle that earned him a place in our history he alone was responsible for the elimination of at least a hundred lesser demons, and it is said that our Lord Tlaltecuhtli never went to a battle without him again, and often sent him to the missions of highest importance. He finally died when he defended a group of young Skink Priests from a greater demon a hundred years later, but not before making sure that every single one of them could escape. Every educated Skink in our city knows his story.”
Ixtli slumped down to the ground. “But then… …how?..” at this point she expected to become a worker of the lowest level for the rest of her life, a task assigned to Skinks who had defects making them unfit for battle roles. She pleadingly looked at the Priest, hoping that at least he would tell her what had happened to her. Up to this point she had never shown any signs of mental disorder.
The old Priest shook his head. “I don’t know, I cannot explain it. A Starseer or a Slann maybe could. But what I do know is this: While you were reporting, the Patrol Chief sent a scout into the direction you came from. And despite the morning rain already falling there are a few deep footsteps still left that look like those of a Kroxigor. There was someone out there with you, who helped you survive.” He paused for a moment and smiled. Then he warmly said “and I like the idea that blessed old Ocotlan somehow returned for a last time to save a young Skink from certain death.”
Ixtli and the old Priest then said a short prayer to the Old Ones, to thank for the help saving her life and defending the city from Chaos.
Far above them, in the mighty pyramid that marked the center of the temple city, Lord Tlaltecuhtli smiled, then closed his eyes and leaned back in his palanquin.
It had worked.
It had been very strenuous for him, despite the memory being a very fresh and strong one and the effect had been limited to a single entity, but with a few centuries of practice this ability would become powerful enough to save them all one day.
He had to tell Mazdamundi and the others. Hopefully there was still enough time…