I’ve got for more short stories coming for folks. Next round, I will do all five of the remaining careers.
This batch has Pyromancer, Handmaiden, Bounty Hunter, and Slayer.
If you want to read more, here are links!
Without further ado . . .
The jaws of the skull opened, almost like it was laughing.
It wasn’t a true skull, of course, but that didn’t make the effect less amusing - or endearing. The skull was made of fire flame, conjured from Aqshy, from magic itself.
“Sweet flame,” Sienna cooed to it. “You will do great things, won’t you?”
It didn’t answer her, of course - she wasn’t insane! But she could imagine it cackling as it flew from her hands, burrowing and biting its way through the fleeing Skaven. They caught alight like tinder, their skin crackling and charring. The pathetic Skavenslaves didn’t even have enough fat under their skin for it to pop. Had they not been such destructive monsters, she might even have felt bad for them.
But, oh the rush of flames! She felt the wind of Aqshy flow through her body, filling her with the ecstasy of power. Others dreamed of great power, but she had it.
Extending a hand, she let gouts of flame burst forth that engulfed a half-dozen of the monsters. Their screams were drowned out by the roar of flames, leaving the grass around them scorched and burning.
She needed to rein herself in, she realized. Too much of a good thing - especially magic - wasn’t good for one’s constitution.
Fighting with herself, she sought to control the flame and her own addiction. She could master herself, even if she would never again adhere to the strict teachings of the College.
But she needed to know her limits. She could recall, not long ago, a day when the embers in her blood refused to dissipate, after intense spellcasting. She had kept her hands hidden, for it was a sure sign that she had been casting too much and too recklessly.
It didn’t mean she would accept the stifling rules and practices that the Bright College had attempted to instill in her. Those crushed her soul as much as an iron cage. Yet she couldn’t deny that she could easily go too far. Natural talent could be easily surpassed by ambition.
The Ratmen were broken and fleeing, her allies picking off the stragglers.
Sienna took the time to let her head cool, to show she still have control. It was as much for her benefit as theirs. She knew Saltzpyre’s entire purpose was to denounce her kind. Bardin and Kruber were never ones to trust magic so much. And Kerillian - well, that bag of mysteries was already well-acquainted with the pitfalls of magic.
But it wasn’t fear that made her keep herself under control, to avoid things that she knew deep down were too difficult to control with her level of discipline. She actually liked her companions, the poor darlings. They were good people . . . in a way. Well, maybe Kruber and Bardin, though she certainly couldn’t deny her liking for Saltzpyre and even Kerillian. They had grown on her. Certainly a much better affliction than the Chaos tentacle on the back that Kruber worried about so often.
The fire drained from her body, Aqshy flying free again, as was the nature of magic. She would ride that wind again, soon. So long as she didn’t lose herself in it.
In dreams of darkness, even a mote of light was welcome.
As she slept each night, Kerillian saw visions of blood, of doom, of the world’s ending. It tortured her with her own helplessness, perhaps even her own complicity, in its coming. For wasn’t there always more one could do? A moment spent luxuriating was one not spent trying to stem the tide of Chaos.
Being driven by hate, by fear, was a terrible thing. How much she had wished, in her youth, not to be driven by those feelings, to wish for a truly higher calling. She hadn’t ever found that, and so she had simply found herself alone, prowling Athel Loren and killing those foolish or vicious enough to invade that sanctum. Long had she feared that it was only within those boughs that she could stave off her own madness, or worse, her own fall into being little more than the mindless savages of Chaos.
Indeed, when she had been exiled, her greatest fear had been how she could survive, alone, under the open sky. What a bitter realization it had been to see that aspect of herself that was like a stunty Dwarf!
A light, a merest pin-prick of hope, had been all she needed. The voice she had heard that night was not the one that called her to bloodshed and murder, but a sweet one.
The voice of the Everqueen had been like a flow of a cool waterfall; at once a shock, but in a beautiful way, yet also cleansing and amazing.
The living embodiment of blessed Isha had seen through all her lies to herself and that she spoke to others. Even in a dream, before her presence Kerillian felt as naked as a newborn baby.
The Everqueen did not speak, yet communicated all the same. Her soft, sad smile, and pure eyes conveyed everything.
She had not been born in Ulthuan, but she was a daughter of Isha yet. She had never graced the Everqueen’s presence, but she was needed now.
Become one of my Handmaidens.
Had it been in the waking world, Kerillian would have thrown herself to her knees. All she could do in a dream was to agree with all her heart. The bridge between her people and their cousins in Ulthuan meant nothing, not to the avatar of Isha.
You have my loyalty, my blade, and my bow, for as long as you need them.
She may be cursed, but her soul was now free.
The hour was growing late. Even in a dream, Kerillian could see how pale Alarielle’s hair had become, how weak she had become. Chaos was encroaching upon even the most hallowed of places.
Realization came to her. You are near, even her thoughts a whisper.
Alarielle nodded, and at once Kerillian felt the presence of Loren’s comforting trees around her. It was merely a moment, a hint of mercy and love. When it faded, it was like having her soul ripped from her body - worse, in a way.
It was no torture from Alarielle, not teasing or taunting. She was as sure of that she was of the fact that it was truly the Everqueen in her dream.
“I will not fail you,” Kerillian told her, the words still on her lips as she awoke. Sunlight streamed through leaves, dancing across the bark of the tree.
Dawn had never been more beautiful.
The man ran, stumbling on a loose cobble, shoving empty boxes and crates out of his way. A clump of grass poking from between the dilapidated stones of the street caught him in his stumble and he fell on his face hard.
Despite the stunning blow, he kept clawing at the ground groggily, trying to pull himself, get up - just keep moving.
A metal clicking made him panic more.
“You have gone far enough,” a high, precise voice commanded. “Roll over, but slowly. It would not trouble me to bring in a corpse.”
The man rolled over. He was weaponless - now, at least. There had been violence earlier, a fight he had thought he could win, what with his two bully-boys who had never failed him. The bounty hunter before him had quickly proven otherwise.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” the man said.
The Bounty Hunter did not seem to care. He had a heavy, multi-barrel repeater pistol in his hand, which clicked as he rotated the cylinders. When it was in place, he took a folded sheaf of parchment from his pocket.
“The City of Ubersreik has issued an edict calling price-gouging a treasonous offense. And you have gone well beyond that, haven’t you, Josef?”
“I have done nothing of the sort! I am an honest businessman!”
“You stand accused not just of price-gouging the survivors of this city, but of assassinating officers of the law, and public officials who were investigating your criminal network.”
“Nonsense!” the man replied, panic in his voice.
The bounty hunter did not reply. “Ah, it seems I missed a detail. You are not required alive, after all.”
He leveled the pistol. The man screamed, and he fired two quick shots.
Victor Saltzpyre hefted his gun. The streets of Ubersreik were like that of an abandoned city, now. Since the attack of the Ratmen, those who survived had been leaving if they could. Those who couldn’t had been struggling to keep themselves and their families fed.
The city would never truly recover, not in a hundred years. And there were now other vermin gnawing its corpse.
Pushing up the front plate of his helmet, Saltzpyre’s lips pursed in disgust as he looked at the corpse before him. He needed only the man’s head, to prove his identity. His investigation had been necessarily brief, but was incontrovertible. Especially with how the man had tried to get his thugs to murder him.
The money he would gain from this bounty would go far to fund his war. For some months now, his stipend from the Order had been severely restricted, and he knew he could not count on the church for any real aid.
Putting his pistol down, he took a heavy-bladed short falchion out, and grabbed the head of the corpse. The man’s fleas were already abandoning their host, leaping away. Grimacing, he began to hack at the neck.
It was not stealing from what was left of Ubersreik’s people to take the job. The money they’d save by scaring these sorts would more than make up for their payment to him.
And he would keep fighting and working to see that there were no more Ubersreiks.
The Order pretended that it had been Beastmen who attacked the city. Those who said otherwise risked their reputation and even lives by saying otherwise. But no one who had been there could accept that story.
The head was severed, and he hoisted it up to look in the face. The man’s mouth was caught in a rictus not unlike one of the Ratmen.
Saltzpyre grimaced again and reached up his free hand to close his visor. There was a long road ahead of him, hunts to do. And he would not stop hunting the vermin.
Damn human umgak. Couldn’t even make a razor worth a damn!
Razors were important to a Dawi. None worth his ale would let a shoddy lump of iron anywhere near his beard. Hair, maybe, but by Grungni, not his beard!
His hair was all he was after now, what little there was. He could use his axe, but right now it wouldn’t be right. He barely felt worthy of them.
The nicked and chipped blade sawed at his hair. He kept at it, working the blade until it had cut off a shock of his brown hair. He threw it into the fire in which burned so many other things. His cloak, his armor, his helm. His trusty crossbow that he had carried through mountain passes, caves, and manling cities. Great was the number of Grobi and Raki he had skewered on its bolts, but there always more. A dozen, a gross, for every one cut down.
The crude umgak blade cut into his scalp, but Bardin didn’t flinch. He changed the angle a bit and kept cutting as the flames ate away at his crossbow.
He should have taken the pilgrimage to Karak Kadrin. It was how it was supposed to be done. It just wasn’t an option right now, and he couldn’t spend another cursed day with this shame upon him.
The last of his hair was gone, and he began getting off the last bits of stubble. The blade cut him more, but that meant nothing anymore.
He had failed. He was a shame to his ancestors.
No physical pain could come close to the dishonor of that. He had never been a proper Dawi - he liked the open air, and had never been as serious nor as secretive as most of his kind.
For a long time he had deluded himself that finding Karak Zorn would erase all those shames.
Yet it had simply become his biggest shame of all.
When you failed even at atoning, what else was there to do but consign yourself to death? To take the Slayer oath . . . it would free his family of the shame of his taint, and when he finally met his end he could finally rest as he could rejoin his ancestors.
Throwing aside the umgak razor, he stared at his bare chest, the outlines of the tattoos already there, at least where he could reach. He had learned how to tattoo from travelling Umgi, and while he lacked the reach and skill to fill them in, he could create the basics . . . he’d have to find someone who could finish it, soon.
The thought of asking his companions would normally have made him laugh, but he couldn’t feel any mirth right now. Grimgi certainly wouldn’t entertain the idea. Sienna would likely set him alight, and Kruber’s hands were far too shaky. The thought of even asking the Wutelgi made him snort. She’d probably be as likely to stab him as help him, though he grudgingly had to admit that some Wutelgi had acceptable skills at tattooing themselves.
He cleared his thoughts. Reaching down, he took up the small bottle he had procured from a Dwarven merchant. Red hair dye . . . but not even the kind a Dawi might use out of vanity. No, this kind had only one purpose.
He opened the bottle, pouring some of the red liquid out onto his hand, and slathering it onto his beard. His hand began to sting and tingle, and as he applied it to his beard, it did the same thing.
This was meant to hurt. Supposedly the dye was made from some fruit that burned the tongue when eaten, enough to even make the doughtiest Ironbreaker quail.
When he’d covered his beard, he took up the horsehair crest he had dyed earlier and stuck upright with fat. He added a sticky resin to the bottom, and placed it upon his head. It stood up, and soon would be stuck fast, for however long his wretched life lasted. Shame it had to be horsehair and wasn’t his own . . . Just another shame to add to the list.
Kneeling before the fire, he inclined his head.
Each Slayer’s oath was unique to them, encompassing their shame and their new death oath to Grimnir. But they all went roughly the same way.
I have dishonored myself. Through a glorious death I will regain my honor.
He heard a twang. Looking into the fire, he saw that the string on his crossbow had snapped. The fire had eaten away at it until it broke. He had expected it to take longer to burn through.
For a moment, he felt envy. If only all deaths could come so quickly.