Chapter 3: Watchers in the dark
From the darkness, hungry and intent, they watched.
Skaven after skaven skittered past. Hundreds of them, moving as a living tide further into the fungal forest. Clanrats whipped slaves forward, Stormvermin barked orders, and all the while their infernal machines hummed with barely contained power.
They followed the path set out for them by the scouts and trackers who had moved ahead of the force. Blocks of troops wove between massive oak-like mushrooms, weaving across the forest floor like some giant furred snake.
Those nearest to the watchers passed between two thick mushroom trees. To one side of the trees was a copse of dense fungal growth, heavy with twisted trunks and impervious to all but the most diminutive of the forests dwellers. On the other side of the trees was a large lake. No waves broke its pristine surface. It sat, like a giant black mirror, still and dark. A thing of peace among the horrors below the earth.
With a mighty crash the column came to a halt. One of the machines had become wedged between the trunks of the two mushrooms, the sudden stop sending parts flying from the machine. Sparks spat from exposed mechanisms, showering the nearby skaven. Engineers scuttled about the device, powering down sections of it, while others attempted to free the machine.
Emboldened by the confusion, the Clawleader of the closest regiment let fly a barrage of insults at the working engineers. They largely ignored him, instead focussing on preventing a catastrophic explosion of the device. All in a days work.
Narrowing his eyes and stamping his foot, the Clawleader let go one last invective before signalling to his troops. The skaven broke from the column and began to circle around the side of the mushroom tree, wading through the shallow outer edge of the lake to make it around. All the while the Clawleader spat and hissed at the engineers, gesturing at them. His clanrat followers snickered.
Their snickers turned to wails of panic.
Half a dozen of the clanrats disappeared as they were dragged under the water. Those remaining looked about quickly, trying to locate their foe. Some pulled their weapons, stabbing into the water at some unknown terror that clung to them. Trying to pull them under.
Another five skaven vanished into the depths. The rest of the clanrats broke, fleeing from the water, the Clawleader squealing commands as he sprinted for his life. Of the twenty or so warriors that entered the lake, only five remained.
Panting, the Clawleader berated his few surviving subordinates. Tail whipping and fur standing on end, he tongue lashed them for all he had. Really getting into the moment, he pulled his sword and twirled it about his head theatrically.
There was a loud boom, and the Clawleader fell to the ground dead.
Uncaring and impassive, the watchers moved away.
* * *
Brow furrowed, Brink holstered his Warplock Pistol. The barrel hissed against the manskin sleeve as he turned to Skarb. He barely noticed the smell of the treated flesh burning.
“Good-good shot.” The Packmaster purred.
Brink just grimaced and returned to his place amongst the Stormvermin bodyguard. He had no time for delays, or the foolish activities of his idiot troops. Anything that pulled him from his concentration was going to be dealt with swiftly.
Thoughts had begun to form. Dark, dangerous, wonderful thoughts. Concepts of diabolical machines interwove with fantasies about what he would do to Grey Seer Krittik once he was free.
Soft rustling and the faint aroma of fear snapped Brink from his scheming. He glared down at the Chieftain who was splayed before him, head almost twisted backwards to display his neck.
“What?” Brink snapped.
“Glorious leader, we have-have arrived.”
With barely a glance Brink waved the chieftain away. Soon the chieftain could be heard in the background, barking orders to the horde. This was where the army would wait.
Wordlessly the Stormvermin parted, revealing Skarb. He was flanked by a dozen mangy Packmasters, his apprentices. Whips hung from their belts, and a number carried things-catchers. One even had a strange, insectoid like spike that replaced his lower arm. It was stitched on in a haphazard manner, but looked deadly none-the-less.
“Lord?” Skarb spoke but one word.
Brink nodded, and the Packmasters slunk away into the forest, in search of whatever vile components Skarb needed for his potions. They disappeared from sight almost immediately, swallowed up by the closely packed fungoid overgrowth.
Lost in thought, Brink smiled to himself.