I’m not known for my strategic thinking. Generally speaking my idea of strategy is whether to go charging into combat with a roar and my axe held ready for battle before or after Felix and Markus have taken their shots. So even the thought of sitting around a table and talking strategy for hours makes me yawn. But I recently found out that some such meetings could actually be… appealing.
We were just starting to get into the details of exactly where we needed to go for the key and how best to go about getting it when Redfang suddenly appeared at our meeting. How was I supposed to look like I was concentrating on the conversation when she was in the room? I thought I might be particularly susceptible to her charms given my own feline features, but after glancing at some of the other faces around the room I realized her other attributes made her appealing to every male within view.
Not only had Redfang joined our meeting, but she told us that DreadEye was also in the village. He was with our blacksmith overseeing the creation of special weapons for Markus and T&T. They were infusing the weapons, a gun for Markus and a two handed sword for T&T, with warpstone to make them more powerful. This was the first time Malal’s demons had appeared to help us prepare for one of our missions. This key must really be important to them.
Just before the meeting ended, Redfang told us the weapons would be ready the next day. I had expected it to take weeks, or at least days, to create chaos weapons. But I guess having demons help in their creation tends to speed things up. That gave us the rest of the day to gather our supplies and get ready for the journey.
There was one project I wanted to take care of before I left. I’d saved the seeds from the apple Taimon had given me while we were in the shrine to Taal. I wanted to plant the seeds and see if they would grow. I didn’t expect apples from the trees to have the same magical properties as the ones from the tree in the shrine. But if the seeds took root and the trees thrived, that would be further proof that we were look upon favorably by Taal. And that would improve the moral of the villagers, many of whom felt abandoned by most of the world due to their mutations.
I spoke with Carlan, one of our best farmers, and he was more than willing to help. I left most of the seeds with him to find the best spots to plant them. But I had something special in mind for one of them. With Andon’s permission I found a spot near the center of town to plant the seed. If it grew into a strong, healthy tree it could become a symbol for everyone in the village. It would be living proof, visible to everyone, that there were others in the world in addition to Malal who accepted them for who they were. I gathered several of the children together and told them what I had planned and asked if they would watch over the seed while I was away. They were all excited to help. I think they were mainly excited that an adult was willing to trust them with something that sounded so important. Whatever their reasons I was grateful for their help. Following the instructions Carlan had given me we planted the seed and set a ring of stones around it to help keep it safe. Hopefully it wouldn’t all be for nothing.
The next morning the warpstone weapons were indeed finished, though the blacksmith looked like he was ready to sleep for a week. Poor Dawson, DreadEye must have been a harsh taskmaster. Markus and T&T practiced with their new weapons while Felix and I finished gathering the last of the provisions. We expected the journey to take a few weeks. And while we would gather what we could along the way, we wanted to make sure we had enough supplies to see us through. The morning was still young when we set out. I took one last look back at the village. As much as I enjoy our little outings I still find myself feeling homesick when I’m away.
Most of the journey proved uneventful. If we hadn’t been is such a rush it would have been a very enjoyable trip. But we were pushing ourselves as hard as we could without risking our combat readiness. We had to get to the key before the cultists did. Our entire mission hinged on that fact. I certainly didn’t look forward to telling Andon or Malal that the key was gone by the time we got there.
As we neared our goal early one evening we came across a camp of eight mutants. At first we thought they might be the cultists who were also after the key. But after watching them for a few minutes that didn’t seem to be the case. They didn’t look or act like any Slaanesh worshipers we’d seen before. This group seemed to be more into wrestling and various competitions than the sexual perversions the Slaanesh tended to favor.
Given different circumstances, I would have been in favor of approaching the camp and seeing if we could make some new friends. And Felix proposed just that. But Markus and I disagreed. We just didn’t have the time to indulge ourselves. We might have spent an evening making new friends. Or we might have gotten into some kind of trouble that would have delayed us. We had no idea how close the cultists were to the key. Even an hour’s delay could cost us everything. We simply couldn’t risk it. I don’t think Felix was swayed by our reasoning, but he agreed to continue on towards our goal. Being the new guy, T&T went along with what the majority chose without really voicing an opinion. Hopefully he wouldn’t feel like the new guy for very much longer. I already felt he was just as much a part of the group as any of us.
We continued on and set up camp an hour or so later. As usual, we kept our evening camp short and set out again just before dawn. Being able to see in the dark does have its advantages, though I think the others would have preferred that I couldn’t so that they could relax a bit longer. To be honest, I wouldn’t have minded that either. But there would be time to relax and enjoy ourselves after we got the key.
A couple of days later we reached the foot of the mountains we’d been heading towards and we began our climb upwards. The climb wasn’t steep so we made good time. As we drew nearer to the summit dark clouds suddenly rolled in. The clouds brought deep rumbling thunder with them and the promise of heavy rain. When we reached relatively level ground we paused to listen. He heard sounds of battle above the thunderstorm. We cautiously moved forward. Around a corner of the mountainside we came upon a great battle.
In a wide clearing we watched as ten humanoid mutants attacked a huge chaos beast. From the bright, garish armor they were wearing we assumed these were the Slaanesh cultists we were racing to the key. The creature they were battling was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
My first impression was of sheer size and strength. The body of the creature was reptilian, like that of a dragon. Sharp spines ran down its scaly back and continued half way down its serpent like tail. And each of its four feet ended in three toes tipped with the largest claws I’d ever seen, any one of which could easily gut a man with a single rake. But instead of a dragon’s neck and head, this creature possessed the massive torso and head of an ogre. He wore a metal chest piece, shoulder guards and a helm, but the armor didn’t hide his thick muscles or his brutish looking face. And around his waist was fastened an evil looking belt. The buckle was fashioned in the likeness of a fanged bestial face. And attached below the buckle hung the emblem of Slaanesh.
The creature stood at least twelve feet tall and its weapons were sized to match. In his right hand he held a large, ornate axe. And in his left hand he wielded a long chain attached to a rock the size of a boulder. This had to be the guardian of the key. And he looked as though he was very good at his job. As we watched, the guardian swung the heavy chain with seemingly little effort. The boulder attached to the end of the chain arched into the air and came crashing down upon the head of one of the spell casting cultists. She crumpled into a pile of goo.
The cultists were skilled combatants, but they weren’t as powerful as the guardian. One by one they fell to the beast’s superior power and skill. I must admit that I enjoyed watching the battle. In spite of what some others may think, it’s not about the blood and gore. It’s about skill. It’s about tactics. And it’s about the courage to do battle. While all the combatants were servants of Slaanesh I could still appreciate their skill and courage.
While the battle was fierce, it didn’t last very long. The guardian turned from the battleground and began walking slowly towards a cave I’d not noticed before. Ten bodies lay dead on the ground, but the cultists had come close to taking the beast down. He was heavily wounded and that was to our definite advantage. Before he reached the cave we attacked.
We had learned a great deal about our opponent while watching the battle. We did our best to stay out of the way of his weapons, particularly the chain and boulder. Felix, T&T and I charged the beast while Markus stood back and fired his pistols. Perhaps it was because the beast was wounded and slow or perhaps it’s because we’d seen just how deadly this creature could be, but for whatever reason our attacks hit home with great accuracy and they hit hard. The beast hit hard as well, but we managed to avoid most of his blows. Still, it would only take two or three hits to take one of us down.
The three of us fought side by side, focused on dropping that great beast to the ground. But there weren’t three of us, there were four. In the heat of battle I’d almost forgotten about Markus and his pistols. I expect the guardian had as well, as his attacks seemed to be focused on those of us at his feet. And that turned out to be a fatal mistake. Markus had taken careful aim and fired a shot from his new warpstone pistol as we kept the beast’s attention. The shot entered one of its eyes and exploded out the back of his head. The beast fell to the ground and didn’t get back up.