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Skulltaker respect thread

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Skulltaker respect thread

Postby Jwlynas » Tue Jan 31, 2012 11:37 am

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So, it seems people are convinced that Kharn the Betrayer is Khorne's mightiest man-sized champion. And, no doubt, he certainly one of the more prolific mortal(ish) champions (Behind Lord Zhufor)

But there is another. A daemon, an extension of Khorne's will able to stand against people bred for generations to kill daemons, trained for centuries in all the aspects of Supernatural warfare. He has killed whole battalions of Grey Knights, he has torn giants apart and smote champions of a dozen different races. He has faced not just champions, but whole tribes of men aligned to the other Chaos Gods, and even his Lord Khorne, and slaughtered them all. Over the next few posts I'll be giving examples of feats, and attempting to order them into strength, speed, skill, endurance and misc.


Profiles
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Codex: Chaos Daemons - 4th Ed.
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    Skulltaker, The Champion of Khorne, p. 50
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    Spoiler
    Lore Excerpt
      It is said that when Khorne first created the Daemon U'Zuhl, the Bloodletter's first act was to chop the head from the first creature he met - another Bloodletter. So began an existence of decapitation that has spread terror throughout the mortal and immortal universes. When U'zuhl took his eight hundred and eighty-eighth skull, Khorne anointed him as his Sacred Executioner and U'Zuhl earned the title of Skulltaker.

      In the middle of the greatest slaughter, whether against the hordes of other gods, amongst his own kind or when ravaging a world of mortals, Skulltaker always seeks out the mightiest of the enemy's warriors. He fought alongside the Primarch Angron on Armageddon felling a quarter of the Grey Knights Brother-Captains. On Agripina-6 Skulltaker slew the Ork Grimsnag Urk after butchering the Warlord's armoured bodyguard. Seventeen Eldar Exarchs fell to his blade during the fighting at Haranshemash. every race has its legends concerning the Skulltaker, and all are filled with terror.

      He is a fearsome sight mounted atop a great Juggernaut, his wickedly serrated blade in hand. Skulltaker hacks his way through the fray so that he may confront his chosen opponent and offer them the rites of single combat. Those that flee are cut down without thought, not worthy of any greater ceremony; those that foolishly stand and fight suffer a slower death.

      A duelist beyond compare, Skulltaker weaves his blade in bloody crescents that dismember and despoil but do not slay. Only when his foe is limbless upon the ground does Skulltaker offer them final release. He grasps their head in his hand and, uttering the eight Words of Sacrifice, he wreathes his victim's head in magical flames, blistering away all skin and flesh until only bare skull remains. With a savage twist, he tears free the naked skull, snapping it from the spine and holding it aloft for all to see. After a wrathful glare, Skulltaker places his price in the great sack he carries upon his back, alongside the other skull-trophies taken in that battle. He then carves his way towards his next victim and proceeds to enact the same ritual, over and over until no foe worthy of such treatment remains.

      When he returns to the Brass Citadel, Skulltaker presents his new trophies to his master. Most Khorne takes for himself having them impaled upon brass spikes that adorn the ramparts of his keep. A few, those that offered a real challenge, Khorne allows Skulltaker to keep. U'Zuhl weaves these into his cloak using bloody sinew, to sit alongside his other great triumphs. Soon his bloodthirst stirs again, and Skulltaker mounts his Juggernaut and rides off to find his next opponent.
    Profile: Infantry
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    Daemonic Gifts: Hellblade, Iron Hide, Fury of Khorne, Blessing of the Blood God, Iron Hide.

    Special Rules: Daemon, Furious Charge, Independent Charachter.

    Skulls for the Skull Throne!: Against non-vehicle models, Skulltaker's close combat attacks are Rending on rolls of 4+ instead of 6, and any of his Rending wounds also inflicts Instant Death (chop!).

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    Other Rules
    - Daemon, p. 27 - "The most important of Daemons are granted exceptional powers by their Patron God."
    This special rule applies to every model in this army and includes the following four special rules:
      Fearless ("Daemonic Forces", p. 27): "The incomprehensible minds of the denizens of the Warp are not subject to the terrors that plague mortals."
      Every model in the army is Fearless, as described in the Warhammer 40,000 rule book.

      Invulnerable! ("Daemonic Forces", p. 27): "The mightiest weapons in the arsenal of mortal armies are often powerless against the supernatural defenses of the fiends from the Immaterium."
      Every model in the army has the Eternal Warrior universal special rule (see the Warhammer 40,000 rule book) and is therefore immune to Instant Death.

      In addition, if the profile of a model in this army includes a Save (Sv) characteristic, this is its Invulnerable save. Some models may also have an armour save, but this will be noted separately in their entry.

      Daemonic Assault ("Daemonic Forces", p. 27): "Daemons do not go to war in the same way as mortals, rather, guided by the capricious will of their Dark Gods, they appear out of thin air, reality screaming as it is torn appart by the baleful energies of the Warp."

      Daemonic Rivalry ("Daemonic Forces", p. 27): "So bitter is the enmity amongst the Dark Powers that it is unthinkable for their Heralds to lead rival Daemons."
      Independent characters in this list cannot join units of Daemons belonging to a different Chaos God or units of Furies of Chaos.
    - Daemonic Gifts, p. 73-76
      Hellblade ("Gifts of Khorne", p. 74): Serrated swords forged in the fury of the Blood God, Hellblades are amongst the best cutting weapons in the universe. Hellblades are power weapons as described in the Warhammer 40,000 rule book.

      Fury of Khorne ("Gifts of Khorne", p. 74): The daemon has been imbued with the distilled rage of his Master. The close combat attacks of a model gifted with the Fury of Khorne gain the Rending special rule.

      Blessing of the Blood God ("Gifts of Khorne", p. 74): The Daemon wears a heavy studded collar or similar ornament as a symbol of Khorne's protection against magic. The Daemon has a 2+ Invulnerable save against wounds caused by psychic powers or force weapons.

      Iron Hide ("Gifts of Chaos", p. 73): Models with Iron Hide receive a 3+ Armour save.

      Juggernaut of Khorne ("Daemonic Steeds", p. 76): This Daemonic Steed confers +1 Strength, +1 Toughness, +1 Wound, +1 Attack and the Iron Hide gift to the rider.

        Profile: Mounted on Juggernaut
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      Chariot of Khorne ("Daemonic Steeds", p. 76): in rare occasions, a Herald of Khorne who has distinguished himself with great deeds in the eyes of the Blood God is granted the boon of riding into battle on a great war-chariot. Pulled by a Juggernaut, this Daemonic Steed confers +1 Strength, +1 Toughness, +2 Wounds, +1 Attack and and the Iron Hide gift to the rider. In addition, the rider losses the Independent Character rule.

        Profile: Mounted on Chariot
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         7   3   5  5  4  5  5  10  5+
    - Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook (4e)
      Fearless ("Universal Special Rules", p. 74): Fearless troops never fall back and are assumed to automatically pass any Morale test they are required to take. They can never be pinned. This special rule is gained by any independent character joining a Fearless unit. Also, as long as a Fearless character stays inside a non-Fearless unit, he loses this special rule.

      Furious Charge ("Universal Special Rules", p. 74): Models with this skill are known for the wild ferocity of their charges. In a player turn in which they charged into close combat they add +1 to both their Iniciative and Strength characteristics. The ability does not affect sweeping advances.

      Instant Death! ("Remove Casualties", p. 27): If a creature is wounded by something which has a Strength value of double their Toughness value or greater and fail their save, they are killed outright and removed as a casualty.

      Note that some models can gain improvements to their Toughness by using wargear items, Chaos Marks and sundry other means. When it comes to Instant Death tests such bonuses do not count!

      Invulnerable Saves ("Make Saving Throws", p. 25): Some creatures or entities are protected by more than mere physical armour. They may be shielded by force fields, enwrapped by mystic energies, or have an alien metabolism that can shrug off hits which would put holes in a battle tank. Models like these are called Invulnerable, and always get their Saving throw even if the Armour Piercing value of the weapon hitting them ignores all Armour Saves, an invulnerable model gets to try to make a Saving throw as normal.

      Rending Weapons ("Special Weapon Characteristics", p. 32): Any roll to hit of 6 with a rending weapon automatically causes a wound with no Armour Saving throw possible. Against a vehicle, any Penetration roll of 6 allows a further D6 to be rolled and the result added to the total score. Note that only one extra dice is ever rolled, even if this additional roll is also a 6; no further dice are added.

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Jwlynas
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Re: Skulltaker respect thread

Postby Jwlynas » Tue Jan 31, 2012 11:38 am

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Spoiler
Below, Dorgo could see a lone warrior striding towards the Muhak, his body encased in crimson armour, chased with bronze, his head enclosed within a skull-like helm.
A blade of darkness filled the stranger’s hand, smoke rising from its hungry edge. At his feet sprawled the cleft debris of a Muhak, who had lingered near the mammoth, more eager for loot than helping Lok to claim his revenge.
The armoured warrior marched heedlessly through the spreading pool of gore, his skull-faced visage fixed upon the slope of the hill. Other Muhak scavengers backed away from the apparition, dropping their plunder of ivory and bronze. Their frightened mutters drifted up to Dorgo and the Kurgan around him.
It was the fear displayed by his warriors more than the sight of his butchered man that enraged Lok. Spitting with fury, he roared at the Muhak below, ordering them to kill the stranger. He punctuated his command with a menacing slap of his mattock against the ground, overcoming the trepidation of his warriors with their greater fear of him.
Five Muhak took up their clubs and axes stolen from the slain Tsavag. They began to circle the stranger, like a pack of slinking wolves stalking a lion. The skull-faced helm never turned, the attention of the man within focused upon the slope. There was a sense of disdain in his manner as he marched steadily onwards, ignoring the menacing men who had surrounded him.
The Muhak sprang at the armoured warrior with a savage cry. In a blur of motion, the stranger spun to face them. The strange black sword bit through the arm of the first Muhak, snapping it like a twig and throwing him back in a spray of blood and screams. A second Muhak, leaping at him from the left, caught the point of the sword in his chest.
Still in motion, the stranger ripped his weapon free, chewing through rib and lung as the edge erupted from the man’s side. The third Muhak came at him from behind. He flopped to the ground as the black sword chopped through both legs as though they were brittle desert brambles.
The fourth, striking from the right, caught the tip of the blade slashing through his face. He fell, clutching at the broth of blood and brain drooling from his ruptured eyes.
The brutal assault was over almost before it had begun. The Muhak were accomplished ambushers, skilled as jackals at the art of coordinated attack, but their prey had been faster still, killing four of their number while the echo of their war cry still wailed across the plain.
The last scavenger faltered in his attack, staring with open-mouthed horror at the havoc the stranger had visited in the blink of an eye. Blood exploded from the man’s mouth as the black sword slammed through his gut. The stranger ignored the scarlet that splattered against his armour and the dying hands that clutched at the heavy fur cloak he wore. Callously, he ripped his trapped blade upwards, crunching through bone and flesh until the black sword tore free.
Slashed from stomach to shoulder, the Muhak slumped to the ground.
Something like terror crawled into Lok’s beady eyes behind their mask of flayed flesh. The zar shouted at his warriors, fear lending a new note of rage to his voice. The Muhak hesitated, staring uncertainly at one another, no man eager to be the first to confront this strange and terrible foe.
Lok’s mattock lashed out, pulverising the skull of the Kurgan closest to him, dropping him in a burst of blood and bone. The example was enough, the zar’s tyranny reasserted. Twenty Muhak marauders, swollen bulks of muscle and rage, charged down the slope, their murderous cudgels lifted overhead in savage display.
To Dorgo’s eyes, what followed was slaughter, not battle. Twenty warriors converged on one. When the carnage abated, when the screams had faded into death rattles, when the sound of flesh and bone being torn asunder ebbed, it was the one who stood triumphant.
The havoc of his black blade lay strewn and dying around the armoured killer. Gore dripped from the stranger, coating his crimson armour in a sanguine cloak, but none of it was his. Twenty men had faced him, but not one had landed a blow against their foe. The killer turned his head, studying the butchery. Then he turned his skull-helm once more to the slope where the ashen-faced Lok waited.
The Muhak zar watched the warrior march through the wreckage of his warband, every step causing his eyes to bulge wider with fear. Lok cast his gaze from side to side, but the strength of his followers had been spent. There were no fresh Kurgan to throw at the gore-drenched spectre. The zar spat into the dust, trying to let his fury overwhelm his fear.
“You still tempt the gods, eh pig!” Lok snarled, brandishing his mattock. “You kill those dogs so you think you can fight Lok?” He brought the hammer crashing down, exploding a rock into pebbly splinters.
The armoured killer’s approach did not falter, the man within the crimson plates unimpressed by the zar’s bravado.
The air of arrogance goaded Lok’s fury as surely as the ivory hook Dorgo had used on the mammoth. The Muhak chieftain’s jutting jaw dropped open in a howl of rage, his immense bulk hurtling down the slope at his adversary. The armoured killer paused, waiting to meet the zar’s charge. The black sword licked out like the tongue of a dragon, flashing through the chieftain’s belly, spilling it onto the ground. At the same time, the mattock crashed into the nameless warrior, smashing into him like a titan’s fist. The daemonic weapon kicked him back, throwing him through the air. The armoured warrior smashed into the stiffening hulk of the slain mammoth, falling headfirst into the stream of filth oozing from its wound.
Lok wilted onto his knees, the mattock sliding from hands that were desperately fumbling at his ghastly wound. The zar struggled to press the wound closed, to staunch the seepage of blood and bile. In the fashion of a dying wolf, he refused to accept the gravity of his wound, refused to concede the approach of death, but even in his agony, a smile split the Muhak’s brutal face. At least his enemy would follow him into the Hunting Halls.
Even this small joy fled from Lok, draining away with his lifeblood. The figure sprawled amid the muck and gore of the mammoth was rising, picking itself from its own ruin. Despite the ferocity of the blow Lok had struck, fuelled by the zar’s immense strength and the mattock’s obscene power, the warrior yet lived. The armoured killer stood for a moment, wiping filth from his skull-like mask. Then, slowly, remorselessly, he began to retrace his path up the slope.
The Muhak zar took one hand away from his wound, trying to reach his hammer on the ground beside him. The effort brought a fresh stream of pain shuddering through him, but the sight of the approaching destroyer was more terrible to him than any mere physical suffering. Lok felt the warrior’s malignancy grow with each step, coiling around him in a stifling shroud of hate. There was more than death in the killer’s black blade, more than shame. Lok could feel the jaws of hell closing around him, and hear the snarling laughter of daemons in his ears.
The warrior loomed above the zar, kicking the mattock away from his clutching hand. An armoured gauntlet reached down, pulling Lok’s head by its mass of oily black hair. The zar struggled feebly in the iron grip, but could not prevent his head from being pulled back, exposing his throat to the sky. Then the black sword came chopping down, hewing through the thick, stumpy neck.
The chieftain’s body slapped against the earth, his head staring down at the corpse as it dangled from the warrior’s fist. The killer lifted his trophy high, presenting it to the darkening sky.
“A skull for the Skull Throne!” the iron voice of the warrior rasped. Lightning cracked across the cloudless heavens, as though in answer to his cry.


As the pestilential warriors spread through the Desert of Mirrors, they spied a strange thing. A lone rider was heading into the shimmering landscape, a solitary warrior mounted upon some fantastic beast. The stink of blood was on the stranger, so powerful that even at such a distance it was able to overcome the reek of the Veh-Kung’s bodies and imprint itself upon their senses.
The warriors hissed and gibbered, excited by the prospect of such easy prey. The beast they would carve for their fires, the man would be carved upon the altar of Neiglen.
Excitement passed in a silent pulse through the desert, drawing dozens of warriors to the ambush being laid by those who had first spotted the rider.
They quickly lent their efforts to the attack. Masters of the desert, the Veh-Kung knew how to find concealment even in the mirrored expanse, using the spires to cast deceptive reflections to misdirect their prey.
Many times, overly bold scouts of the Kurgan and other Hung tribes had fallen victim to the deceit of the desert and those who knew how to exploit it. The tactics that had consumed entire warbands would make short work of a solitary horseman.
Spiteful smiles twisted the broken faces of the Veh-Kung behind their bone masks. Surely the horseman was a gift from the Crow God, a blessing from their beneficent patron.
The first misgivings began to spread when the strange, loping trot of the rider’s steed became evident. The beast he rode was no horse, nor any kind of creature the Veh-Kung knew from experience or legend. In shape it was something like a wolf, but it moved like a reptile. Its hide was shaggy and black beneath the moon, its belly scaly and bright. A long, barbed tail lashed the ground behind it as it ran and monstrous dewclaws gouged the ground beneath its feet. Sword-like horns protruded from its wolfish head, stabbing back over its neck.
The stink of blood and slaughter was upon it, the carrion-scent of battle and its leavings.
Upon the beast’s back, his armoured bulk filling a bronze saddle, sat a huge warrior in dark armour. The man’s head was hidden behind a grotesque skull-faced helm, antlers rising from its sides forming the war-rune of Khorne.
In one hand, the warrior held a massive chain, which was fastened around the neck of his steed. In the other he gripped a fang of solid darkness that smoked and fumed, a sword that looked to have been torn from the heart of a moonless night. An aura of menace joined the blood-stink of the beast as the Veh-Kung saw the sword, the innate fear of prey when it hears the tread of the predator.
Anxiously, the Veh-Kung kept to their hiding places, waiting for the sinister stranger to enter their domain and fall into their trap. Fearsome as he seemed, the Veh-Kung feared their chieftain Bleda more, and the kahn would not be pleased if they allowed the intruder to invade their lands. Better to stand their ground and face the enemy where they had numbers and terrain to their advantage.
However favoured he might be by Khorne, whatever strength the Blood God might have invested him with, there was no escape for the stranger.
Dozens of tribesmen were already waiting for him, every moment bringing more drifting into position from deeper in the desert. By the time the paws of his steed touched shard-sand, a hundred Veh-Kung would be waiting for him.
Even if he was a powerful war-chief, the stranger could hardly hope to kill them all.


With a bubbling wail, the Veh-Kung warrior lunged at the intruder, falling down upon the rider from above. A dozen of his tribesmen took up his war cry, leaping down from the sides of the crystal spires. The iron fingers of their gloves shimmered weirdly in the moonlight, crystalline dust coating the metal talons. Like diseased lizards, the Veh-Kung had crawled up the crystal spires, gouging handholds in the living mineral with their claws. They watched from the heights as the stranger penetrated deeper into their lands, as his strange wolf-like beast loped through the shard-sand of the desert.
The first attack had been butchery, the hunters slaughtered nearly to the man by this eerie invader. Their carcasses where strewn through the silent canyons, mangled and torn by blade and fang. The stranger’s black sword had been as remorseless as the elements, carving a swathe of blood across the desert. The jaws and claws of his ghastly steed had been no less deadly, spilling entrails and snapping spines with every swipe of its immense paws, crushing bodies with every flick of its powerful tail.
The hunters’ weapons had broken against the armour of the warrior, splintering like rotten sticks against the dark plates. Wherever they attacked, however carefully they laid their ambush, the stranger was ready for them, almost seeming to welcome the chance to kill. From mazes of mirror that would have confused even a daemon’s twisted mind, the Veh-Kung struck again and again only to have their attacks falter and fail, waves crashing around the uncaring shore.
At last, the few hunters remaining had broken, fleeing back to their burrows to warn the rest of their tribe. Their cowardice earned them death beneath the sacred talons of the Crow God, only the warning they carried allowing them any trace of honour as the shamans’ chain-whips flayed the flesh from their bones. They had found a foe too deadly to overcome, but if the invader thought the men he had slaughtered represented the strength of the Veh-Kung, he was sorely mistaken.
Scores of warriors, each a hand-and-a-half taller than the degenerate hunters, each armoured in plates of reptilian hide boiled to the toughness of bronze, each bearing blades of iron, emerged from the darkness of the tunnels to answer the intruder’s challenge.
The first of the Hung warriors came crashing down against the rider, knocking him from his bronze saddle. The two men struck the ground in a cloud of shimmering dust. Other warriors hurtled earthward, their iron weapons slashing at the wolfish steed. The brute spun and howled as they hit it, gouging deep wounds in its shaggy hide. Warriors were sent reeling as the beast’s massive paws struck at them, slashing through their scaly armour as though it wasn’t there. The barbed tail cracked like a whip behind the creature, knocking men into the shard-sand with each lash of its brutal length. One Veh-Kung, bolder than the rest, landed upon the brute’s back, trying to stab its skull with the rusty curve of his sword. The blade cracked against the monster’s horns, notching as it struck the impossibly thick bones.
Before the warrior could recover, the beast twisted its head around, sinking its jaws into his leg. With a savage jerk, the wolf-beast ripped the man from its back, pitching him into the sand. Even as he started to rise, the beast pounced on him, collapsing his chest beneath its tremendous weight. Teeth bared at the warriors still prowling around its flanks, the monster brought one paw smashing down into the squirming thing pinned beneath it, flattening its victim’s head into a mash of brain and bone.
The shimmering dust that had claimed the Veh-Kung champion and his prey slowly settled. One figure stood, his dark armour dripping with shining sand and putrid gore, his black blade drenched in the blood of his foe, his clawed gauntlet locked around the slimy wetness of his enemy’s throat. At his feet, the rest of the Hung’s body shivered in a mire of its own filth. The intruder’s eyes glared at the other Veh-Kung warriors from behind the steel mask of his helm.
There was contempt in his silence, contempt in the way he tossed the torn flesh of their hero aside. A hungry wail pulsed through the night as the smouldering malignancy of the killer’s sword shuddered in his hand. A tremor of fear ran through the ranks of the Veh-Kung warriors. The invader seemed to savour their terror as he marched towards them, murderous blade at the ready.
Fear fired the Veh-Kung warriors, filling their brutal hearts with such bitter shame that even thoughts of death and butchery could not hold them back. The diseased fighters roared from behind the beaked visages of their bone helms, their voices loathsome and foul. A dozen stalked away from the circle of iron that had grown around the embattled wolf-beast, leaving only a handful of their fellows to keep the brute at bay.
The stranger did not wait for his enemies to charge, but lunged into their midst even as they approached him. The black sword swept down, crunching through rotten armour and putrid flesh, carving its gruesome path through tainted flesh and corrupted blood. One Veh-Kung fell back screaming, clutching at the spurting stump of his arm. A second fell, his body cleft from crown to collar.
A third, trying to strike at the rushing killer, was caught in the steely grip of his foe’s free hand. With a wrenching twist, the killer broke the Hung’s arm, driving his own pitted blade back into the warrior’s chest.
From above, a pair of Veh-Kung sprang at the invader, dropping from their handholds in the crystal spires. The strange killer spun as he heard them utter their bubbling war cries. The black sword swept through the moonlight, its mephitic smoke streaming behind it.
Cries turned to liquid groans as the daemon steel chopped through the hurtling figures, splashing their wreckage across the shard-sand. The intruder turned away from the dissected human debris, lashing out at the warriors who had thought to exploit the distraction. Screams pierced the night as a leg was cut from its body, as a head was shorn from its shoulders and an arm ripped from its socket. Corroded swords crashed against darkened armour, buckling and snapping as they futilely sought weakness in the unyielding mail. Weaponless, stunned warriors backed away, broken swords dropping from slackened fingers. Now they were at the stranger’s mercy.
He showed them none. The death rattles of the Hung warriors rose in a strangled chorus, pawing at the shimmering spires as they faded into the night wind. The armoured killer waded through the slaughter, an engine of butchery, sparing none in his path. The great wolf-beast entered the battle alongside its master, adding its primitive savagery to the massacre.
When the last Veh-Kung fell, the monstrous creature threw its head back, its massive frame shaking as a thunderous howl of triumph echoed across the desert.
The lone killer did not savour the massacre as he stalked among the dead, pacing through the mire of the battlefield. There was an expectant, brooding quality to his movements, like a panther waiting for its prey.
Again and again, he circled the carnage, giving no notice to the dying things that littered the ground, waiting, waiting for what would come, waiting for what he had come here to kill.
The stranger froze suddenly as he circled the dead. He turned his face from the battlefield, his eyes boring into the shadows between the crystal spires. Long he watched the black valley as sound slowly crawled from the gloom, the heavy tread of marching feet crunching through the shard-sand. A rancid, green glow began to banish the darkness, a sickly light that caused the facets of the spires to smoke as it fell upon them. A shape slowly manifested within the green light, a great palanquin of bone and sinew borne upon the shoulders of dozens of scrawny, stumbling figures.
By degrees, the stranger could see that they were youths, their leprous flesh pitted by the marks of plague and decay. They watched him with cold, feverish eyes set far into the pits of their near-fleshless skulls. Above the labouring wretches, upon the sides of the palanquin, braziers of corroded metal smouldered and smoked, giving off the pestilential glow. Basking in that glow, sprawled upon the cushioned seat of the carriage, was an oozing bulk, more toad than man.
The thing’s pallid flesh stood naked beneath the stars, covered only in welts, boils and lesions, its entire mass marked with thousands of tiny pox-runes that wept slime and filth across the thing’s enormity. Hairless and swollen, the thing’s flabby head grinned down at the stranger.
Almost absently, it raised a chubby hand to the great antlers that jutted from its face, pulling at strips of decayed meat impaled upon the horns. A tongue the colour of scum and stagnation flickered from the thing’s ghastly maw, snatching maggots from the rotting flesh with a tiny mouth of its own.
“You kill my hunters,” the bloated creature said, the sound wheezing from its obesity like the gargle of a drowning whale. “You kill my warriors,” it said, brushing a worm from its cheek. “You invade my lands, a place sacred to the great Crow God.” There was no hint of anger in the jovial croak, only a subdued amusement. The palanquin creaked and the litter bearers struggled as the thing leaned forwards, letting the brown pits of its eyes focus more closely upon the lone warrior. The haughty smile spread impossibly wide across its flabby visage. “All by yourself. I applaud the audacity of such madness.”
The thing’s stumpy hands clapped together like sides of raw beef. “How are you called, madman? The Crow God will be pleased when I offer up your flesh to him.”
The stranger stood silent, a grim shadow among the carnage of the battleground. The face of the fat warlord twitched in annoyance. More than the slaughter of his minions, more than the invasion of his lands, more even than blasphemy against his god, he found the stranger’s discourtesy upsetting. He licked at a second strip of meat, oozing back into his throne.
“I am Bleda Carrion-crown,” the bulk announced with a slimy burp. “Kahn of the Veh-Kung, Master of the Desert of Mirrors, Chosen of the Crow God, Tabernacle of the Divine Rot.”
The grotesque warlord shifted his tremendous mass, his flabby hands closing around a strange weapon dangling from the arm of his throne. It was sections of metal rod connected by rusty links of chain. Seven in number, each rod was pitted and foul with decay, dripping with some internal corruption.
“This is my Chain of Seventy Plagues,” Bleda said, caressing the weapon with obscene fervour. “No man has ever stood against it. I ask again, who you are and where you have come from. Is it the Vaan who have dared such foolishness? The Sul? Surely not the Tsavag? What people spurred you to this madness, for I would favour them in my prayers to Mighty Neiglen!”
The skull-masked stranger shook his head, staring at the swollen hulk of Bleda. “A steel rain has come to cleanse with blood and terror,” his voice rasped, the slither of sword against sheath.
For an instant, fear flared within Bleda’s rancid eyes as he heard the stranger’s spectral voice, as he saw the warrior stalk forward. His hands shivered against his oily flesh, clutching at his throat in alarm. Beneath his fingers, he could feel the pox-runes of Neiglen. The touch of his own afflictions reassured him. Was he not the chosen of his god? Did not the power of Neiglen course through him?
Bleda’s laughter bubbled up from deep within his corrupt bulk.
“Die nameless then, fool,” the kahn croaked. Like a sea beast floundering upon the shore, he surged up from his throne, waddling down the seven steps that fronted his palanquin. The ground seemed to cringe beneath him as his feet sank into the shard-sand. Behind him, Bleda’s slaves set down the heavy palanquin and formed a leprous mass around their warlord.
“You speak of rain and blood and terror? You wear the skull rune of Khorne? Fool! This is the desert, where it has not rained since before the days of Teiyogtei! Blood and terror? Here they belong to one man, one man alone, Bleda of the Veh-Kung! This is the sacred land of Neiglen, where the Blood God has no part.”
Bleda’s voice wheezed with fury as he spat his words onto the sand. He flicked his chain-staff through the air, the rods and links buzzing like a swarm of flies as the wind fled before it. “I am the Tabernacle of the Divine Rot,” the kahn croaked. “Behold the power of the Crow God!”
With a flick of his hand, the kahn slapped a flabby finger against the leprous flesh of a slave. Instantly the man collapsed in a groaning, twitching mass. Skin sloughed from his bones and flesh darkened beneath a sheen of filth. A great horn of twisted bone erupted from the slave’s forehead even as his eyes slithered across his face to merge into a single putrid orb at the centre of his head. Hands lengthened into talons and organs swollen with rot burst through his skin. Great fangs dripped from a suddenly gaping maw. A swordlike growth oozed from the slave’s side until at last its weight tore it loose from his body.
The stricken slave moaned, retching as it stooped to retrieve the blade his body had grown. When it stood again, its claws were wrapped tightly around a length of twisted corrosion, a crust of decay flaking down its blade.
Bleda laughed as his slave was consumed by the Divine Rot of Neiglen, his mortal being devoured by the daemonic essence his kahn had infected him with. The plague bearer moaned again, and then started to stumble towards the defiant stranger. Bleda’s corrupt laughter bubbled forth again as he pressed his hand against a second slave.


The Skulltaker.
The blood froze in Bleda’s putrid heart as he realised just what it was he had so boldly challenged. The bloated Veh-Kung chieftain stumbled back, eyes bulging with horror, prayers to his debased Crow God slobbering from suddenly numb lips. The seven-section chain hung limp from fingers grown flaccid.
Bleda continued to watch the strange warrior before him in the dark armour. No mortal man, this warrior. Nothing mortal could move the way he did, striking and slashing in a relentless cascade of violence: tireless, remorseless, unstoppable. The black blade rose and fell in a butcher’s dance, hewing and hacking, ripping and tearing. Bleda had spread the Divine Rot to his entire entourage, sending wave after wave of possessed slaves to attack the warrior.
The daemons charged at him, chopping at him with their corrupt plagueblades. The daemonic steel simply recoiled from its impacts against the man’s unholy armour, sending even the daemons reeling. The warrior gave his foes no quarter, no mercy.
His smoking blade was everywhere, stabbing into rotten lungs, splitting open decayed bellies, lopping off limbs and heads.
The plaguebearers did not falter even in the midst of massacre, but their numbers, the foul vapours that surrounded them, the poisonous touch of their swords, none of these were enough to prevail against their foe.
The slow, sickly movements of the daemons were unequal to the swift, murderous attacks of the warrior. The plaguebearers fought with a hellish vitality beyond that of anything merely mortal, enduring wounds that would have brought the strongest man low.
They did not know pain. They did not fear death. They only knew what their master demanded of them, and so they fought on, oblivious to the carnage slowly consuming them all.
A lion among jackals, the warrior carved a gory swathe through the festering, moaning daemons. Again and again, his blade cut through their diseased flesh, spilling their foul ichor across the shimmering sand until there was too little of the mortal shell left to contain their noxious essence.
Plaguebearers fell beneath his sword, hacked to pieces, collapsing into pools of putrescence as their daemonic essences fled back to the realm of the gods.
It was while the warrior was fighting a crook-backed, fly-faced daemon that his heavy cloak was slashed by a plaguebearer’s sword. The stranger’s side was exposed and for the first time, Bleda could see the chain that crossed the man’s chest from right shoulder to left hip. A grisly trophy grinned at him from the chain: the skull of a man, the chain looped through its sockets, its forehead branded with the rune of Khorne. That was the moment, the moment when Bleda recognised his enemy for who and what he was.
The Skulltaker brought his sword smashing down into the fanged visage of a plaguebearer, rupturing its cyclopean eye and collapsing the bone beneath. The thing staggered away, swiping blindly at him with its claws.
The warrior pursued the maimed daemon, pausing only for the instant it took to chop the hand from a daemon closing upon him from the other side. Returning to his first foe, the Skulltaker stabbed his blade into the thing’s chest, impaling it upon his sword. With brutal savagery, he ripped his weapon free, sending a spray of stagnant black ichor and splintered ribs across the faceted side of a crystal spire.
The warrior did not pause, pivoting as he won his sword free, bringing the blade around in a shrieking arc that slashed through the leg of another daemon. The thing bleated and pitched forwards. Before it could rise, the Skulltaker brought the edge of his weapon down upon its head.
Only five of the daemons remained. They circled the Skulltaker, ropes of filth dripping from their wounds, drool slopping down their faces. The pus-hued eyes of the plaguebearers burned into those behind the skull-mask of the warrior’s helm, blazing with a corrupt inner fire. The Skulltaker glared back, his black blade screaming hungrily in his hand. Shard-sand crunched beneath his boots as he pivoted to watch the daemons as they shuffled around him, tightening their circle.
As one, the fiends rushed at him, hooves and peeling feet slapping against the sand. The first daemon flung its body at the man, exulting as his sword smashed into it, erupting from its back with volcanic fury. The dying daemon’s arms twisted impossibly backwards, grabbing the smoking metal piercing its body.
With all the strength left in its mortal shell, the daemon held the Skulltaker’s sword, keeping it sheathed in the monster’s corrupt flesh. The other daemons rushed the Skulltaker, crushing him beneath their diseased mass, smashing him to the earth beneath their oozing weight.
A nervous laugh wheezed through Bleda’s swollen lips while he watched the plaguebearers tear at the man pinned beneath them with their claws and stab awkwardly at him with their corroded swords. Not a monster from the pits of legend after all, only a man. One who would soon offer up his soul to Neiglen when the daemons ripped it from his body.
The chieftain marched forwards, his flabby face twisting in a sneer of triumph made bitter by the memory of his moment of terror.
Bleda’s step faltered abruptly and his sneer fell from his face. The heap of plaguebearers shifted upwards, exploding in a burst of primal strength and savagery. Daemons were hurled to the ground as the Skulltaker rose once more. The warrior’s hand was locked around the neck of a daemon, the steel fingers digging into its throat, filth gushing from the wound. The man’s armour was pitted and gouged, his cloak torn and ragged. Bleda could see something, something hot and black dripping from the Skulltaker’s wounds.
Even as he watched, the flow became a trickle and the rents in the armour closed, oozing shut as though they had never been.
One of the fallen daemons lunged at the Skulltaker as he strangled its fellow. The warrior spun around, whipping the body of the daemon he held, smashing the one with the other. The rising daemon crumpled under the impact, its collarbone shattered. The daemon he held slipped from his hands as the force of the impact tore its head from its shoulders.
The thing slopped against the ground, shuddering as the diseased spirit abandoned its desiccated husk, fleeing back into the void.
Bleda saw the other two plaguebearers charging at the Skulltaker, but he no longer had any illusions who would prevail. The Veh-Kung started to back away again, wondering if he had time to flee back into his tunnels, wondering if the Skulltaker would be able to find him even in that dank, noxious gloom. Then his eyes closed upon the plaguebearer impaled upon the Skulltaker’s sword.
The daemon’s body had largely disintegrated into a pile of sludge, but the sword was still there, mired in the filth. He looked again at the warrior, facing off against the daemons. A desperate hope came to the Hung chieftain. He scrambled across the shard-sand, his huge frame moving with a speed that belied his obscene bulk. He hurried towards the black sword. If he could use the weapon against the Skulltaker, kill the monster with his own sword…
The Skulltaker turned from the mangled ruin of the last plaguebearer, his skull-mask turning towards Bleda as the fat chieftain rushed for the sword. The warrior moved to intercept his foe, Lok’s skull slapping against his hip as he stalked after the Hung.
Bleda stopped, raising his seven-section chain. His chubby arms whipped the weapon through the air, lashing out at the Skulltaker with the flailing lengths of rod and chain. The warrior staggered as the corrupt bronze segments smacked into him, sizzling against his armour as they struck. A filthy green smog rose from the wounds, steaming into the air.
Bleda snarled, inching closer to the black sword even as he continued to whip the chain through the air. A droning buzz sounded from the chain, the sound of vermin on the wing, as its wielder swung it faster and faster, creating a blinding curtain of crushing metal and poisonous fumes.
As Bleda edged towards the sword, the Skulltaker fought his way through the crashing bronze rods. His breastplate smouldered where the rods had struck him, the left horn of his helm partially melted by the corrosive touch of the weapon.
Blood, dark and steaming, bubbled from new rents in his armour, sizzling as it dripped onto the shimmering sand. Bleda’s satisfaction at the damage his enchanted weapon visited upon the monstrous warrior was tempered by the fact that its touch had not broken the man.
Another foe would be reduced to a quivering mess, retching and shivering as the vile influence of the chain’s power polluted his body. The Skulltaker kept coming, daring the tempest of Bleda’s chain. Foot by foot, he was closing upon the puddle of ruin and his terrible sword.
The Hung kahn gave a bubbling shout, jerking the chain savagely in his hand. The rods whipped around the Skulltaker’s body, coiling around his left arm. Bleda grunted in satisfaction, putting his entire weight into one savage pull on the chain. The Skulltaker staggered as the trapped arm popped from its socket, hanging limp and useless beside his body.
Bleda shuddered to find that even such an injury had drawn no cry of pain from the warrior. His horror at the observation was diminished as he found the nearness of the pool and the black sword.
Still keeping his hand firmly around the seventh of his chain-weapon’s bronze rods, Bleda lunged for the gruesome blade.
Bleda’s fat face twisted back into its triumphant sneer as his chubby fingers closed around the hilt of the sword. Bubbling laughter oozed from the warlord’s mouth as he tore the weapon free from the filth of the plaguebearer.
Laughter decayed into a drawn-out scream. The sword fell from Bleda’s mutilated hand, fat and flesh dripping from the charred extremity in greasy ropes. The black sword fell to the ground, its edge smoking, its eerie voice raised in a ravenous howl.
Bleda pitched to the ground as the chain in his other hand was ripped from his grasp. The chieftain coughed in terror as he saw the Skulltaker free himself from the coils of the chain, casting the magic weapon aside as though it were so much rubbish. Then the killer was advancing on him once more, the grisly scars in his armour healing more with every step.
Croaking wheezes and wracking coughs slopped from Bleda’s swollen face as the chieftain tried to summon the hideous power of his god. Curses and poxes, spells to wither and ruin, hexes and blights, were all known to the lord of the Veh-Kung, for Neiglen was indulgent with his servants, but none could ooze their way onto his tongue, while the searing agony of his mangled hand pulsed through his thoughts and thundered through his blood.
Bleda fought to calm his spirit, to draw upon the powers he had been taught, but the pain would not relent.
The Skulltaker loomed over the reeling kahn. He reached to his shoulder, wrenching his left arm back into place with a dull crack. The warrior’s skull-mask glared down at the quivering chieftain.
Reaching down, he retrieved the black blade, metal gauntlets tightening around the smoking weapon. The scene lingered, the silent warrior towering over the broken, obese hulk of the gasping chieftain.
The molten touch of the black blade had spread up Bleda’s arm, reducing muscle to strips of fried meat, exposing bones that were burnt black.
When Bleda looked up, when the kahn stared into the murderous embers behind the warrior’s helm, when the Skulltaker saw the terror and defeat in the chieftain’s eyes, only then did he strike. In one fluid motion, the black blade was drawn back, and then flashed forwards in a brutal sweep of smoke and sound.
Bleda’s swollen head, with its grotesque antlers and bulging eyes leapt from the kahn’s shoulders, dropping into the shard-sand with a wet plop. The headless trunk of the chieftain crumpled in upon itself, sagging to the ground like a ruptured boil.
The Skulltaker kicked Bleda’s lifeless bulk aside. Stalking across the shard-sand, he knelt beside the chieftain’s staring head. He lifted it from the ground, brushing the clinging slivers of glass from the bloated flesh. Then he brought the keen edge of his sword against his new trophy, stripping the warlord’s features from his head.
Only when the rune of Khorne, branded upon the bone beneath Bleda’s flesh stood exposed beneath the blazing stars, did the warrior relent. He lifted the flayed skull to the sky. Thunder roared in the cloudless night, causing the crystal spires to shiver: the growl of a hungry god.


The shaman shuffled forwards, his twisted body moving to the centre of the circle. “You have all heard the traveller’s tales about him. You have heard of the hungry daemon, the Blooded Wanderer who tests the pride of those who would call themselves warriors. You have heard how he stalks the land, cloaked in a mantle of skulls, his fiery touch searing the flesh from his prey. You have heard how he rides the plains upon a great daemon-beast, killing all who have offended Great Khorne. The stories of the Skulltaker are many: how he killed the dragon Shaneeth and placed its bleeding heads at the foot of the Skull Throne; how he rode against the ogres of the Marrowchewer, and alone scoured them from the land; how he dared face the Sin Stealer of the decadent Ulvags and vanquished the daemon from the realm of mortals for a thousand years; how he visited destruction upon the blasphemous city of Po and left not one of Lashor’s children alive within its accursed walls.”
“Before any of these things,” Yorool continued, “he was known as the Slayer of Kings. The Skulltaker appeared in the lands of Teiyogtei, to bring low the mightiest of khagans. He stalked across the domain, slaying what he would, leaving a trail of slaughter in his wake. None could stand against him, not the craftiest Hung, the strongest Kurgan or most monstrous gor. All who did battle with him were cut down, their bodies left heaped in great carrion mounds. No tribe or nation had been able to defy the armies of Teiyogtei, but the Skulltaker cut a path through them as though they were feeble children.
“Teiyogtei could not let the horde he had forged, the land he had carved from the desolation, be destroyed by this champion of havoc. He ordered his armies to stand aside, to make no more battle against the Skulltaker. The great khagan alone would face the monster and decide the fate of the land. Teiyogtei fought the Skulltaker upon a barren hill. For seven days, the mighty lord struggled against the terrible killer.
“Each wound Teiyogtei suffered was returned against the Skulltaker, but neither could deliver the killing blow. As the seventh day faded into the eighth, Teiyogtei called out to the grim Blood God, asking him to guide his hand, to bring him victory against his awful foe. Khorne answered Teiyogtei’s prayer, and the Bloodeater burned like fire in Teiyogtei’s hand as he drove it into the Skulltaker’s body. Even as the death blow was struck, however, the Skulltaker’s black blade smashed into Teiyogtei, shattering the Blood Crown. The great khagan fell, stricken unto death by the hand of the Skulltaker. Our great lord was taken into his tent, where the sorcerers and healers laboured over him long into the night, but before the eighth day perished and the ninth dawn broke, Teiyogtei’s spirit had gone to the Hunting Halls. His chieftains quarrelled after their lord’s death and divided the domain between them, denying the right of the Tsavags as the true heirs of the king.”
Yorool lifted his misshapen hand, pointing his finger meaningfully at the men around him. “This is the tale every child knows,” the shaman said. “There is more to the legend, a secret passed down among shaman and khagan. You were led to believe that Teiyogtei killed the Skulltaker, that all the other tales about him were some other mortal champion whom Khorne had made his executioner. This is wrong. There has only ever been one Skulltaker. The destroyer of cities, the killer of dragons and daemons, is the same warrior who fought against the great king. Teiyogtei knew the terrible prophecy, that the Skulltaker could never be destroyed. He prayed to the gods for victory, but he could only vanquish the Skulltaker, not kill him. Like a daemon, his defeat banished him from the domain of Teiyogtei, but the king knew that the Skulltaker would return when ill stars burned in the heavens and the curse of years was broken.”


A horse came galloping from the forest, racing wildly past the resting Gahhuks, its eyes mad with terror. A torn and mangled thing flopped obscenely in its saddle, hacked asunder by a single brutal slash. Csaba and his men were no strangers to violence and savagery, yet they were stunned by the inhuman strength required to render such a blow. A troll might work such carnage upon a body, but certainly not anything human!
One of the Gahhuk warriors gave voice to a piercing cry of alarm, snapping the others from their shock. From the forest, fast on the track of the dead man’s horse came the loping red beast and its ghastly rider. Csaba’s eyes went wide with terror as he felt the Skulltaker’s gaze settle upon him. The zar roared at his men, ordering five of them to ride down the oncoming foe. As they hesitated, Csaba ripped his dadao from its sheath, plunging the fat-blade into the gut of the nearest man. The rider fell from his horse, groaning pitifully as he rolled upon the ground.
The other men needed no further encouragement. Voices raised in trilling war cries, four Gahhuk’s charged the Skulltaker. Csaba lingered long enough to see the foremost close upon the monster, to see the black sword flash at the man, hewing arm and shoulder from the Gahhuk rider in a single savage stroke. The zar did not wait to see how the other three fared. Turning his horse around, he smashed his whip into its flank, spurring it away from the combat, spurring it away from the Skulltaker. The remains of his entourage raced after their fleeing chieftain.
The Iron Keep, Csaba thought, if I can only reach the safety of its walls. This time he risked a look over his shoulder, screaming as he saw the Skulltaker cut down the last of the men he had left to confront his enemy. Already, the wolf-like beast was racing after the Gahhuk riders, eating the dusty plain in long, loping bounds. Ahead, the fastness of the keep was only a small black splotch against the distant hills. The zar despaired as he considered the distance, knowing how far the race must run.
A second look back reassured him. He had seen the chain lashed across the Skulltaker’s chest and the two trophies jangling against his armour as he pursued the chieftain. There was no mistaking the mutated skull of Bleda with its twisted antlers. Csaba knew his fate should the Skulltaker catch him.
Panic cracked the zar’s voice as he ordered two of his guards to break off, to fall back and delay the Skulltaker. A flourish of his fat-bladed sword convinced them, and the two warriors turned their horses. Csaba had no delusions about their chances. He was playing for time, time and distance. If he could hinder the Skulltaker enough, perhaps he might win through.
Once he was behind the walls of his fortress, even the Skulltaker would not be able to reach him. Once behind the walls of his fortress, Csaba would be free to unleash a force no foe could stand against, even if he was the mythic Skulltaker!
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Jwlynas
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Re: Skulltaker respect thread

Postby Jwlynas » Tue Jan 31, 2012 11:38 am

Spoiler
The Skulltaker’s sword crunched through the breast of the last of Csaba’s riders. With fatalistic abandon, the warriors had ridden back to confront their enemy, throwing themselves upon his sword to give their chieftain time to escape. The Skulltaker watched the last wretch slip from his saddle, his dying body landing in a heap of broken bone and spurting blood. The killer might have found the futility of the warrior’s fearless death amusing.
There was no escape for the men who bore the brand of Khorne beneath their flesh, not in the mortal realm, not in the world of the gods. Death was their doom, death in the name of the Skull Lord, death to honour the Skull Throne. The soul so long denied the Blood God would be his. Nothing would stop the slaughter this time.
The grey, dark walls of Iron Keep loomed ahead, over the scraggly plains, perched upon a broad hillock of weathered pumice.
Ancient and forbidding, its walls had been raised by the magic of Teiyogtei’s sorcerers and strengthened by their dark arts. When the king died and the power of the gods swept across his domain, the taint had infected rock and stone, tree and stream, sand and sky.
Some places bore the marks of the gods more heavily than others. The fortress had been reared by Teiyogtei to protect the long desolate orchards of which only the twisted Vulturewood was a reminder. Now it was the stronghold of the Gahhuks, an impregnable vastness that had defied both siege and sorcery countless times during its long history. The Skulltaker could see his prey cast a frantic look over his shoulder, the flesh beneath his tattoos pallid with fright, but a smile slowly gripped the man’s features, and the zar uttered once more his shrill bark of triumph. The sacrifice of his guards had not been in vain! The enemy was too far away, his loping beast too slow to cover the distance between chieftain and sanctuary. Csaba’s laughter drifted back to the Skulltaker as the chieftain revelled in his escape.
Neither door nor gate marred the smooth, unbroken walls of Iron Keep. Indeed, it was as if the structure had been built from a single piece of metal. Towers and battlements flowed seamlessly into the massive walls, never betraying rivet or nail. Fifty feet above the floor of the plain, sentries watched from the battlements as their zar galloped towards the sanctuary of his fortress. At Csaba’s shouted commands, the men cast spears at the sinister apparition pursuing him. Several spears struck home in the shaggy wolf-beast, evoking irritated snarls from the horned brute. Others glanced from the Skulltaker’s thick armour, scattering into the dust.

Cries of alarm sounded from the Gahhuk guards as they saw the Skulltaker charge through the barrage. Csaba risked another look back, horrified to see the silent killer closing upon him, gaining ground with every bound of his savage steed. The zar’s whip smashed ruthlessly against the flanks of his horse, driving it to one last, supreme effort. The blank face of Iron Keep reared up before him, but he did not relent. Behind him, the Skulltaker lifted the smoking blade in his hand, ready to strike down the fleeing chieftain.
As Csaba’s horse lunged towards the unbroken wall, the dark metal surface oozed open before it, forming a tunnel through which the zar and his steed plunged. Immediately, the living iron of the fortress wall shut once more, flowing back together like quicksilver.
The Skulltaker brought his monstrous mount rearing back, the brute’s claws pawing at the air. He brought his sword slashing against the metal wall, the daemon steel cutting deep into the strange iron. Molten metal dripped from the grisly scars as the Skulltaker attacked the vanished portal, but just as quickly the wounds closed, restoring the smooth surface of the wall.
“Batter the walls ’til the crack of doom!” snarled Csaba. He leered down at the frustrated killer. “Armies have broken against these walls! Giants and daemons have failed to breech this fortress! The Iron Keep knows its own and will suffer no intruder! Stay out there and rot, Skulltaker, you won’t take this head for one of your trophies!”
The Skulltaker’s lupine steed dropped back onto its feet, its black eyes glaring up at the jeering chieftain. The Skulltaker leaned back in his bronze saddle, the mask of his helm turning towards the battlements overhead. Csaba flinched as he saw the monster stare at him, the security of his stronghold’s iron walls suddenly seeming fragile and weak. His cringing reaction, his instinctive retreat before the Skulltaker’s gaze was all that preserved the zar’s life.
With a single motion, the killer hurled his smouldering blade at the chieftain. The black sword flashed before Csaba’s face as he recoiled, crashing to the flagstones of the courtyard beyond. Csaba could see the weapon trembling, shrieking where it had stabbed deep into the flagstones. As he watched, the fires within the sword blazed into hellish life. Gahhuks fled from the flaming blade, retreating before the weapon’s sorcery as quickly as their chief had from the monster who had thrown it. The fires consumed the weapon, crumbling it into a mass of ash and cinder.
A spectral gale burst across the courtyard, gathering up the ashes and sweeping them through the air. The stream of cinders billowed upwards, flying over the walls. Csaba dared to look over the battlements once more, watching in terror as the Skulltaker stretched forth his armoured hand. The stream of ashes swirled around the killer’s gauntlet, spiralling faster and faster around his hand. A shape began to form, a long thick shape, bearing a cruel edge. Csaba cringed away from the wall as he saw the ashes re-form into the Skulltaker’s shrieking blade.

The Skulltaker could hear Csaba’s voice shouting at his tribesmen behind the walls of the fortress. More spears rained down upon him as he urged his mount to circle the castle, looking for any break in its unnatural metal walls. As before, they dealt no lasting harm, the wounds on his monstrous steed too shallow to penetrate its heavy hide. Csaba’s voice became more desperate and more outraged with the passing of each breath.
New voices rose in answer to Csaba’s terror. Sharp and clear, the new voices lifted above the walls of Iron Keep in a deep, murderous chant. The Skulltaker paused in his prowl around the stronghold, listening to the brutal prayers. He urged his canine mount to withdraw from the base of the walls. The brute backed away, both beast and rider keeping their eyes trained on the walls. The Skulltaker kept his black sword at the ready, an expectant hiss escaping from behind his mask.
The chanting voices continued to rise, growing louder and harsher, like knives stabbing at the sky. Csaba’s gloating laughter rang out from behind the walls, mixing with the chants of his shamans. Once again, the iron walls oozed open, this time not to allow something in, but to let something out.
Two immense shapes thundered out from the two tunnels in the iron wall. As big as a bull rhinox, built like gigantic oxen, the creatures were things of bronze and brass rather than flesh and bone. Gigantic, hound-like heads jutted from their thick, armoured shoulders, sporting fangs the size of daggers and eyes that burned like fire. Steam sizzled from their jaws, rising into the air in puffs of scarlet mist. The stench of blood and death was upon the creatures, an aura of dread echoing that of the Skulltaker. Upon each of the bronze dog-heads, etched across muzzle and forehead, was the skull-rune of Khorne, the mark of the Blood God upon his fearsome daemons.
The juggernauts pawed at the ground, their clawed hooves slashing the earth into bloody grooves. The skull-rune blazed with the fiery rage of the daemons as they drew the scent of their foe into their huge bodies. The Skulltaker’s steed growled at the daemons, its rider silently awaiting the coming attack.
There would be no quarter given between these creatures of Khorne, no sense of kinship or shared purpose that would subdue their wrath. Destruction of the foe was the only outcome that would appease man or daemon. The Blood God would settle for nothing less.


The first juggernaut charged the Skulltaker like an avalanche, its heavy hoof-claws churning the earth as it thundered towards him. The warrior waited, watching in silence as the huge bulk rumbled over the ground, its steaming breath hissing between its fanged jaws of brass. The juggernaut roared, a sound like grinding steel, and lowered its head as it made ready to smash into its enemy.
The instant the daemon’s head lowered, the wolf-beast was in motion, leaping from the juggernaut’s path. The Skulltaker’s sword lashed out, hacking at the brute as it barrelled past. Molten blood burst from the daemon’s bronze hide as the sword bit home, crimson steam spurting from the grisly wound carved into its side. The juggernaut’s body ploughed through the earth as its foreleg buckled beneath its weight, severed nearly in half by the Skulltaker. Its enormous mass gouged a deep trench as its momentum drove it onwards until at last it vanished behind a cloud of dust and steam.
The second juggernaut lingered behind, letting its fellow daemon initiate the attack. As the Skulltaker struck the kindred horror, the other daemon stamped its clawed hooves and charged. Again, the warrior’s lupine steed tried to leap from the daemon’s hurtling path, but there was more than a brute’s cunning locked within the bronze shell of the juggernaut. It anticipated the wolf-beast’s leap and was prepared for it. Even as the Skulltaker’s mount leapt, the juggernaut changed its path, smashing into the creature as it landed upon its broad paws.
Bones cracked under the jarring impact as the juggernaut’s thick metal skull rammed into the Skulltaker’s steed, hurling it a hundred yards through the air. The steed landed in a broken pile, snarling and snapping as it tried to force its splintered body to rise.
The juggernaut did not give the wolf-beast any chance. It sprinted across the ground with another burst of frenzied speed, roaring its metallic shriek. Its clawed hooves trampled the wolf-beast beneath them in a ferociously savage display, shattering bones beneath its colossal weight and shredding flesh with its razor claws. Brass fangs tore chunks of meat from the mangled mass, blood sizzling as the heat of the daemon’s inner fires consumed it.
An armoured shape reared up behind the raging juggernaut. With powerful strides, the Skulltaker sprinted towards the bronze daemon, fury shining behind the sockets of his skeletal mask. Thrown when the brute struck his steed, the warrior had swiftly recovered from his violent descent, the unholy power bound within his body sustaining him where a mortal should lie smashed and broken. He rushed at his terrible foe, the smoking darkness of his sword clenched tightly in his fist.
The juggernaut sensed its peril, turning reluctantly from the mash of bones and blood that its hooves had made of the Skulltaker’s steed. Its burning eyes glared balefully at the charging warrior, its maw opening in a steaming roar. The daemon’s fierce display did not cause the Skulltaker to falter. He lunged at the metal monster, and with a single tremendous leap he landed upon its broad bronze back. Powerful legs locked around the daemon’s midsection as the juggernaut strove to unseat the sudden burden, its savage bellows searing the air.
The Skulltaker was oblivious to the daemon’s wrath. Both hands locked around the hilt of his blade, he lifted the black sword high above his head. In a single, brutal thrust, he brought the weapon flashing down. Bronze shrieked as the blade bit through the metal hide of the juggernaut, molten blood exploding from the wound in a burst of steam.
The Skulltaker ignored the burning molten ichor that spattered across his armoured frame, but kept his hands locked around his sword, working it savagely across the wound he had struck. The tear he had gouged in the back of the juggernaut’s head ripped wider as the black sword worried at the cut. Fiery blood cascaded from the wound, the raging daemon frantically trying to buck its tormentor from its back.
The Skulltaker held fast, wrenching his blade back and forth. Crimson steam filled his vision, burning ichor dripped from his arms, his ears rang with the tortured metal shrieks of the daemon, and still he would not relent. Mercilessly, he hacked away at the juggernaut’s neck, ripping wide the wound he had carved. The daemon reared back, trying to press its head against its shoulder and protect its neck.
The motion caused the wound to tear wider, and with a searing wail of rage, the juggernaut lurched forwards. The weight of its massive bronze head was too much for its mangled neck and it tore free, thudding to the earth in a shower of steaming ichor that burned like molten fire upon the ground, a hollow bell-like ring following it as it rolled away.
The headless body staggered, struggled, and then sagged to the earth liked a weary child. The Skulltaker leapt from the bronze hulk as it started to shift, jumping clear before the heavy mass crashed onto its side.
A seething roar singed the air as the Skulltaker paced away from the bronze husk of the juggernaut. The warrior spun around, ready to confront his enemy. The first juggernaut stomped forward, its movements awkward and clumsy. He could see the great dripping wound that had been gouged in its side, one of the daemon’s forelegs held away from the ground, the limb nearly cut through by the Skulltaker’s sword. Even crippled, the smouldering rage of the Blood God still filled the daemon, still drove it to attack and to kill.
The Skulltaker gestured at the bronze monster, waving it forwards with a contemptuous curl of his fingers. The daemon threw its head back, brass jaws chewing the sky as it bellowed its fury.
With berserk frenzy, the juggernaut thundered towards the warrior, crushing rocks beneath its pounding hooves. The warrior’s body grew tense as he lowered into a crouch. The earth trembled beneath his feet as the daemon’s heavy limbs struck the ground. The Skulltaker held the monster’s fiery gaze, eyes locked upon the hellish flames flaring from the juggernaut’s hound-like face. Closer and still closer the bronze titan sped towards him, like the descending hammer of death.
Just before the juggernaut reached him, the Skulltaker pounced, throwing himself at the charging daemon. Smoking steel stabbed into the broad, doglike head, puncturing the bronze snout just beneath the skull-rune etched across it. The Skulltaker held fast to the embedded sword as the juggernaut reared back, lifting him from the ground. The daemon lashed its head from side to side, trying to throw the man clinging to the sword. Steam sizzled from its jaws and fire flared from its nostrils as the daemon’s fury swelled.
Molten ichor bubbled up around the sword as the monster’s efforts caused the blade’s edge to saw into the bronze skin, widening the wound. At last, as the juggernaut whipped its head around, the sword was torn free, hurling man and weapon into the dirt. The Skulltaker slid across the ground in a tumble of armoured limbs, the black sword rolling free of his fingers. Like the juggernaut before him, he was lost in a cloud of billowing dust.
The juggernaut spun around, its rage a volcanic flame roaring through its bronze body. The brute’s head swung from side to side until it spotted the cloud of dust and the dark figure slowly rising within it. The daemon bellowed its bloodlust, stamping its hooves as it prepared to charge again.
In its wrath, the daemon forgot its mangled limb. It lowered the injured leg, letting too much of its weight rest upon it. The hollow bronze shell snapped like a rotten tree limb, spilling the juggernaut onto the ground. The daemon’s hooves pawed at the ground, trying to secure a grip, trying to right its immense body. Seething grunts of enraged frustration hissed from the juggernaut’s bronze jaws while burning ichor spurted from its severed leg.
Before the daemon could recover, the dark figure of the Skulltaker loomed over it. The juggernaut turned its head, trying to snap at the man, to crush him in its brass jaws. As it tried to bite him, the Skulltaker brought the point of his sword stabbing forwards, thrusting the smoking blade into its fiery eye. The bronze hulk shuddered as the screaming steel stabbed at its very essence. A dull, grinding moan wheezed from the gigantic daemon.
With a final, wracking shiver, the juggernaut was still, its infernal essence cast from the mortal world by the Skulltaker’s sword. Crimson steam seeped into the air as the daemon’s unnatural life fled from its metal shell.
Screams of disbelief and horror echoed from the walls of Iron Keep. The Skulltaker rose from the husk of the juggernaut and turned to face the stronghold of the Gahhuks. He could see Csaba’s face, pale and sweating, among the frightened ranks of the Gahhuks. He gestured at the man with his sword, the man the Blood God had marked for death. Csaba’s voice rose in a stream of frantic commands, a litany of snarled curses and dire threats. Spears clattered around the Skulltaker as the Gahhuks cast them at him.
The Skulltaker turned his back on the Gahhuks. It was not their spears or their numbers that concerned him, it was the unnatural walls of their stronghold that kept him from his prey. Csaba, however, had been too crafty in his attempt to kill the Skulltaker. By unleashing his caged daemons against his enemy, Csaba had given him the tools he needed to breech the unassailable walls of Iron Keep.
For long hours, the Skulltaker laboured over the carcasses of the juggernauts. When he turned again to the walls of the fortress, the black sword was sheathed. In its place he held an immense weapon, a gigantic maul that made Lok’s mattock look like a cobbler’s hammer. The bronze skull of one juggernaut formed the head, the iron spine of the other served as the haft. With his new weapon, the Skulltaker stalked towards the walls. Frightened cries and desperate shouts sounded from the stronghold, the screams of women and children rising above the voices of the warriors on the battlements. Spears and stones rained down around him as he strode to the smooth, unbroken iron barrier.
Iron Keep shuddered as the Skulltaker brought his daemon hammer cracking against it. The malevolence and destructive power of two juggernauts of Khorne had been bound into the grisly maul, the fury of two vanquished daemons eager for revenge. The concentrated malice caused the walls to shiver as the Skulltaker smashed the maul against them. On the third hit, cracks appeared in the unmarred surface, cracks that the living iron did not ooze up to repair. On the fifth strike, flakes of quicksilver exploded across the length of the stronghold’s perimeter as the walls began to fracture. On the seventh blow, the structure rocked as though the entire rise had been shaken by an earthquake.
When the maul cracked against the walls for the eighth time, Iron Keep broke beneath it. Towers shattered like broken glass. Like a crashing glacier, the walls toppled. Gahhuks wailed in horror as their fortress collapsed around them, burying them in mounds of twisted iron, crushing them beneath the weight of their fortress.
As the walls tumbled down, the Skulltaker cast aside the maul and drew his sword. The blade flared into life, screaming hungrily as it smelled the blood of the vanquished Gahhuks, as it heard the moans of the maimed and the dying. The Skulltaker ignored the broken wretches crawling from the rubble as he stalked into what had been the courtyard. Only one Gahhuk concerned him this day.
Wherever he was, Zar Csaba Daemontamer would not escape the Skulltaker.


The Skulltaker sat upon the bronze husk of a juggernaut, carefully stripping the flesh from Csaba’s skull. The rune of Khorne stood livid upon the dead zar’s forehead. Soon, it would join the other trophies hanging from the chain lashed across the warrior’s chest, another skull to lay before the Skull Throne.
Nearby, the carcass of the Skulltaker’s steed had disintegrated into a mash of gore, corroding until it was nothing more than bloody pulp strewn across the soil. Movement from the puddle drew the warrior’s attention. A broad paw with savage, scythe-like claws emerged from the filth. It was quickly followed by a second, both of the feet gripping the ground fiercely with their talons. A lupine shape pulled itself from the mire, shaking gore from its shaggy crimson pelt. Like the mythic phoenix of distant Khemri, the Skulltaker’s steed had arisen from its destruction, reborn from its ruin. The wolf-beast was smaller than it had been, just a pup compared to the murderous brute that had been trampled by the juggernaut. It turned its hungry gaze on its master, watching him for long minutes while he resumed his gruesome work.
A low, ravenous growl rumbled from the creature, a sound too large for its small size. Turning from its master, the wolf-beast loped towards the devastation that had been Iron Keep. It paused before the mangled body of a Gahhuk, who had tried to drag himself from the ruins only to expire from his injuries. Powerful fangs ripped at the corpse, stripping gobbets of flesh from its bones. With each morsel of flesh, the wolf-beast seemed to swell a little more, its body expanding to contain the carrion meat.
The Skulltaker watched the monster devour the dead Kurgan, flesh and bone vanishing down its gullet with almost unbelievable haste. When it had finished, the beast was twice the size it had been. It lowered its head, snuffling at the ground. A quick yap of satisfaction escaped its jaws as it caught the scent it was searching for. Quick bounding steps soon carried the creature into the ruins, its claws digging at the heaps of shattered iron to ravage the meat buried beneath.
The Skulltaker nodded. Soon his mount would be restored to its old size and strength. The flesh of the Gahhuks would make certain of that. Then it would be time to resume the hunt, to collect the fourth skull for his infernal master


The Skulltaker met their attack with the cold detachment of a machine. A gor was hacked in half by the warrior’s smoking sword as it rushed at him with a stone axe. A snarling bray collapsed as a blow from the Skulltaker’s armoured hand crushed its face. The canine steed slashed and tore with its deadly paws, spilling its foes to the ground with each sweep of its claws and slap of its barbed tail.
The hooting, growling cacophony of roars rising from the beastmen was gradually replaced with groans and shrieks.
As the Skulltaker ripped his blade free from the horned skull of an attacker, one of the baser creatures among the throng launched itself at him. The beast-hound crashed into the man, pitching him from the saddle, twisting around so that it might conspire to land atop him as he crashed to the earth.
The Skulltaker’s hands locked around its hairy throat, digging into its leathery flesh, preventing the brute’s powerful jaws from tearing into his neck. The beasthound’s plated tail whipped around, stabbing at the man pinned beneath it. Leprous yellow, tipped with a jagged stinger and bloated venom sack, the extremity was more like that of an enormous scorpion than a shaggy, dog-like brute.
Driven by the superhuman strength of the hound’s muscles, the stinger punched its way through the crimson armour of the Skulltaker, the venom sack pulsating as it expended its poison into the man’s body.
The beasthound was surprised when, instead of slackening, the fingers locked around its throat tightened, ripping through the flesh. Corrupt black blood gushed from the creature’s mangled neck. It tried desperately to pull free from the killing grip.
The hound’s strength was beyond that of any normal creature, brute or man. So was that of its foe. With a sickening tearing sound, like soggy leather slapping against stone, the hound lurched upwards, exposing the dripping mess of muscle and bone left by the Skulltaker’s fingers. It struggled for an instant, and then flopped gamely against the Skulltaker’s side, its life draining out through the gaping wound in its neck.
The Skulltaker tried to rise, but was dragged back down by the weight of the hound’s tail. Still stabbed into his side, the tail continued to pulse with venomous life even as the hound expired. The Skulltaker snarled, closing his hands around the plated, pallid extremity. The warrior pulled, exerting his prodigious strength. Flesh ripped, bone snapped and the tail was torn free from the beasthound’s carcass.
Feral growls greeted the Skulltaker as he regained his feet. A pair of goat-faced gors glared at him with inhuman hate, fingering their spears. Behind them, bleating encouragement, goading them on, was the massive centigor, its bronze axe gripped tightly in its claws. The Skulltaker glared back at the monsters, and then shifted his head, looking for his fallen sword.
The gors seized the moment of distraction, lunging at the warrior. Too late, they learned that they had been deceived. Whipping around, the Skulltaker grabbed the foremost by the waist and shoulder, giving no notice to the crude spear that shattered against his breastplate. In the same spinning motion, he twisted the brute’s head down and around. The Skulltaker’s momentum forced both man and beast into the path of the second charging gor.
Like the first, the primitive spear buckled against the warrior’s armour, snapping like a dried twig, but it was not the destruction of its weapon that broke the impetus of the beastman’s attack. It was the sharp, two-foot spike of its comrade’s horn crunching through its sternum that ended its assault. The weight of the flailing, dying brute snapped the neck of its killer, dragging both bodies to the ground.
Even as the two brutes fell, the Skulltaker was beset by their leader. Raging not over the deaths of its fellows, but over the loss in status and prestige that those deaths signified, the centigor reared above the man, kicking at him with its forelegs. A single kick from the monster’s hooves would be enough to shatter bone like eggshell, and the centigor added to the menace of its attack by slashing at the warrior with the cruel edge of its axe.
Grunting, snorting laughter rumbled from the centigor as it watched its enemy reel before its assault. With the heavy length of the beasthound’s tail still impaled in his side, the Skulltaker was scarcely able to avoid the ferocious efforts of his foe, even less to prevent its cunning stratagem of placing itself between the man and his sword.
The centigor’s brutal features spread in a toothy grin. It had seen the savagery of this warrior, and knew that here was a foe to be feared, even without a weapon. However, it also saw the venomous tail hanging from his body, and could see the dismembered extremity continuing to pump poison into him. How he had survived so long, the beastman did not know, but it was certain that nothing could stave off the effects of the poison indefinitely. When the man faltered, the centigor would rush him, smash the invader’s head with its hooves and carry the corpse back for the fires of the warherd, testament to its strength and power.
The moment was not long in coming. Retreating before a brutal sweep of the centigor’s axe, the warrior stumbled, hands clutching painfully at the disembodied tail thrust into his side. The centigor roared in triumph, springing at the Skulltaker. The next instant, its roar became a howl of pain. The man’s weakness had been a feint, luring the monster into recklessness. Tearing savagely at the venomous tail, the Skulltaker ripped it free, cracking it against the centigor’s head like a bludgeoning whip. The monster clutched at its face, the jaw nearly broken by the impact of the tail.
The Skulltaker seized on his foe’s distraction. Reversing his grip on the tail, he leapt at the centigor.
The warrior ignored the brute’s armoured torso, instead sinking the barbed, dagger-like stinger into the equine shoulder beneath. The venom sack continued to pulse with obscene and deadly life. The centigor’s howl of pain became one of terror. The bronze axe dropped from its claws as it tried to seize the gruesome weapon. The Skulltaker had chosen his spot well, however, and the centigor’s hands struggled in vain to reach the poison-pumping tail.
Only when the brute bent its legs and trapped the torn end beneath one of its hooves was it able to rip the plated extremity free. By then, it was much too late. Venom already pulsed through the beastman’s body, racing through its veins like burning fire.
Unlike the Skulltaker, the centigor was not immune to the beasthound’s poison. Foam bubbled from its mouth, pink with blood. Its eyes rolled back in its head and its limbs stiffened in a spasm of agony. Then the brutish creature toppled, crashing to the ground like timber. Its hooves drummed wretchedly against the loamy earth.
The Skulltaker did not watch the death throes of his foe, but the remnants of the centigor’s pack did. They lost all taste for battle when they saw their leader fall, scrambling back into the murk of the forest, desperate to escape this new, grim terror that had invaded the Grey The Skulltaker did not try to stop them, nor did his wolf-like mount pursue. As he recovered his screaming sword from where it had fallen, only one thought was on the warrior’s mind: to find the creature he had come to kill, not the mere leader of a small hunting band, but the chieftain of the entire warherd, the beastlord Nhaa.
Lifting himself back into the bronze saddle of his steed, the Skulltaker knew the survivors of the ambush would carry word back to their chieftain. The beastlord would be ready when he came to collect its skull. It was of small consequence. The will of Khorne would not be denied.


As Nhaa pursued the lumbering giant and the prowling beastmen, it did not occur to the chieftain to wonder at the direction of the chase. The Skulltaker had first been seen close to the edge of the Grey, and then his trail had been discovered no small distance from the herdstone at the centre of the forest. Now, the warrior’s scent led them back towards the edge of the Grey once more.
It was a question that might have risen to prominence in a mindless feral than Nhaa’s.
The answer to that question came with a bleating scream. The first cry was quickly followed by other animalistic shrieks of pain. Nhaa froze as it heard the screams, the chieftain’s body growing tense as it tried to discern from what quarter danger had struck the beastmen. Through the haze of mist and the milky veil of its vision, Nhaa saw a bray vanish, sinking into the earth. A sharp squeal of agony rose from where the bray had been, carrying with it the tang of fresh blood.
Understanding came quickly to the beastlord, and it knew the deadly trap into which the man-scent had carried them. Nhaa had expected the Skulltaker to explode into the midst of the warherd like a blood-crazed Vaan berserker. It had not considered that the warrior would use craft as well as brawn to claim his prize for the Blood God.
Nhaa began to back away, drawing towards where the man’s smell was weakest, where the Skulltaker had not lingered to dig pits to claim his hunters. Carefully, testing every step, Nhaa retreated into the pines.
Korg was slower to understand what had happened than its chieftain. To the giant’s brain, the screams told of battle joined and its plodding pace quickened. The giant rushed forwards to confront the enemy that Nhaa had summoned it to kill, eager to feel the human’s bones crack inside its fist.
Not once did the concept of danger occur to Korg, for the giant had never encountered anything that could threaten it. Even the smell of blood, the sight of beastmen writhing in shallow pits, their bodies impaled upon crude wooden stakes, did not impress the giant. When Korg’s hoof landed upon one of the concealed pits, it broke through, crushing the wooden spears beneath its thick mass. The giant grunted at the trap, barely slackening its pace to lift its foot free from the shallow hole.
The giant lurched onwards, stumbling as its hoof smashed into another pit. Korg growled its annoyance, a sound that shook nearby trees. Distracted, Korg did not see a dark shape rush out from the mist, a shaggy fur cloak draped around wide, powerful shoulders.
No war cry, no shout of aggression or warning came from behind the figure’s skull-shaped mask. Only the rattle of armour accompanied the warrior’s charge. The first Korg was aware of the Skulltaker’s attack was when the champion’s black sword slashed at the enormous brute. The smoking steel screamed as it ripped into the giant’s leathery flesh, biting deep into the tarsus above its hoof. Greasy blood bubbled behind the blade, strips of fur and meat hanging from the jagged tear.
Korg’s immense jaws opened in a howl of pain, and the giant bent double, reaching down for its injured leg. The brute’s hands clamped around the bleeding, trying to press the wound closed. Its nostrils flared at the smell of its own blood and at the lingering trace of the scent that was already vanishing back into the mist.
The Skulltaker had not lingered to prosecute his attack against Korg. The warrior knew that to try to stand in open conflict with such a foe was useless. After making his strike, he had withdrawn back into the shadows to await a new opportunity.
Korg was not alone in witnessing the Skulltaker’s attack. Witnessing the warrior’s retreat, Nhaa felt emboldened by it. The man knew fear, and it was his turn to feel terror. The beastlord loped towards the giant, snapping orders to the brute.
“Follow!” Nhaa howled, pointing a claw at the retreating warrior. “Korg! Follow! Kill! Kill!”
The giant lurched back to its feet, its face twisting into a snarl. Korg reached towards the nearest pine, its massive fist closing around the trunk. Almost without visible effort, Korg ripped the tree from the ground. It pounded the pine against the ground, knocking clumps of earth from the tangle of roots. The giant roared, its anger rippling throughout the Grey.
“Follow!” Nhaa repeated. “Kill!”
Korg lurched after the beastlord, stripping bark from its makeshift club as it lumbered on. The giant wanted a tight grip when it brought the weapon crushing down into the man who had hurt it.
As the scent of their prey grew stronger, Nhaa allowed the giant to range ahead. It would serve no purpose for the chieftain if Korg were to kill the man after the Skulltaker had already claimed the beastlord’s head. Nhaa had not reigned so long as chief of the warherd by taking chances it could just as easily pass on to others.
The giant limped on through the fog, sniffing at the air for its prey, its enormous eyes watching for any trace of motion within the misty shroud of the Grey. Slowly, Korg stopped, the giant’s head lifting as it drew a deep breath down its nose. Its brain processed the information of its senses lethargically. The same heaviness of thought conveyed itself into the giant’s enormous body as Korg turned to glare at the pines to its left.
Something moved in the branches of a tree taller even than the giant. Korg was just raising its huge club when that motion launched itself at the brute. Sharp, stabbing pain flashed through the giant’s body as daemon steel crunched through flesh and bone. The Skulltaker kept a tight hold upon his sword as the blade ripped into the giant’s breast.
Momentum and the warrior’s armoured weight dragged the edge down, digging a wide gash down the monster’s breast and ribs. Bone splintered, muscle tore and veins burst beneath the champion’s screaming blade.
The giant’s howl was deafening. The pine club dropped from its hand, crashing against the ground.
The Skulltaker ripped his sword from the wound, falling to the ground thirty feet below. An instant after his leap, Korg’s huge paws slapped at its chest, trying to crush its tormentor. The giant’s fur dripped with gore, the brute swaying drunkenly as the ten-foot long gash bled copiously, but the Skulltaker had missed his mark. Intending his steel for the giant’s heart, he had missed the vital organ by a foot and more.
Wounded but not slain, Korg’s fury was terrible, elemental in its magnitude. The giant’s hooves smashed into the ground, trying to stamp out the man who had struck it. Narrowly, the Skulltaker leapt from the path of the descending pillars of bone and fur, his blade scraping ineffectively against the solid hooves.
Korg bellowed again, one immense hand shooting downwards to seize the lone warrior. The Skulltaker spun as the huge clawed fingers reached for him, the black edge of his blade licking out, slashing through a finger larger than his own leg, all but severing it from the monster’s hand.
The giant howled again at this fresh wound, recoiling instinctively from the blow. It lifted its hand to its face, intending to lick the gushing cut. Korg did not smell the tiny figure clinging to the dangling flesh of its mangled finger. Too late, the giant’s shocked senses registered the sensation of the Skulltaker as he pulled himself onto the back of the hairy fist. Before Korg could swat the man, the Skulltaker’s sword flashed out, cutting across the giant’s snout.
The giant’s hands clapped automatically to the deep cut against its sensitive nose. As the huge paws shot upwards, the Skulltaker jumped. Armoured gauntlet and spiked boots fought for purchase in Korg’s mangy, shaggy hide. The Skulltaker struggled to keep his hold on the giant’s shoulder. Even as he felt air rushing past him, as he felt Korg’s hand swinging down to slap him from the giant’s body, the Skulltaker’s sword licked out.
Flesh and fur parted like parchment beneath the gnawing edge of the blade. A stream of bright crimson spurted into the gloom as the smoking daemon sword severed one of the giant’s thick arteries.
The giant’s fist threw the Skulltaker through the air as though he’d been struck by an avalanche. The warrior crashed into the pines, branches snapping and bursting beneath his weight as he plummeted downwards.
Korg clenched its mangled hand to its neck, trying to staunch the arterial blood streaming from its wound. The giant reached down, reclaiming its abandoned club. Bellowing and roaring, the brute lashed out, smashing down the trees where it had thrown the Skulltaker. Ancient pines cracked and fell beneath the giant’s blows, the earth trembling beneath its pounding hooves. Korg’s rage and pain clawed at the sky like the roar of an angry mountain. The entire vastness of the Grey seemed to tremble before the giant’s wrath.
Yet with each passing instant, the strength of the giant’s blows lessened and the power of its smashing feet weakened. The club fell once more, bouncing against the loamy earth as it tumbled from slackened fingers. Korg’s steps became awkward, its body swaying with every effort to move.
Blood continued to shoot from between its fingers as its enormous body continued to pump fluid through its severed artery. Spots danced before the giant’s eyes and dull ringing sounded in its ears. Korg lurched forwards again, and this time its legs buckled beneath it. With a quaking crash, the giant slammed into the earth, trees splintering beneath Korg’s massive body. The forest shuddered when the giant fell, a dire echo that rolled through the whole of the Grey.
Nhaa crept towards the fallen giant, unable to believe that Korg had been struck down. The beastlord could hear the giant’s heavy, laboured breathing as air rasped through its immense lungs. Nhaa had heard the Skulltaker crash into the trees when Korg threw him. It had seen the giant’s rampage through the same trees, smashing and crushing everything before it.
Even if Korg had been slain, there was still every reason to believe that the giant had served its purpose.
As Nhaa drew closer to the giant’s body, the laboured breathing finally stopped. The beastlord’s senses were overwhelmed by the stink of the giant’s blood. Everywhere, the crimson stain of Korg’s life was spread across the ground in streams and puddles. As the sound of the giant’s lungs faded, Nhaa could discern another sound, a sound that had been drowned out by Korg’s breath. The beastlord backed away from the sprawled carcass, fear shining behind its milky, swollen eyes.
The faint rattle of armour grew. Nhaa could see the Skulltaker emerge from behind the giant’s corpse. This time his sword had not failed to strike the monster’s heart. The man’s body was torn, mangled by his brutal fall through the trees, but where Korg had weakened with every step, the Skulltaker grew stronger. Nhaa could see bones knitting together and wounds close. The torn armour of the Skulltaker melted together, forming once more into smooth crimson plates.
Nhaa backed away, the dreaded fighting claws fastened to its hands feeling small beside the awful power of the warrior. The Skulltaker glared at the beastlord, the eyes behind the champion’s mask terrible in their cold promise of doom.
“Run,” the Skulltaker’s grinding voice hissed. The black blade was a smoking ember in his hand, lines of fire showing beneath its surface as it consumed the blood that stained its length. “Run,” the champion repeated as Nhaa turned and fled from him. “You cannot hide from doom.”
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Jwlynas
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Re: Skulltaker respect thread

Postby Jwlynas » Tue Jan 31, 2012 11:38 am

Spoiler
ome had not retreated, staying behind to protect their sacred herdstone. Their remains were splashed across the ground, torn asunder by the invader’s smouldering blade. The warherd’s shamans were among the dead. The horned sorcerer-priests had struggled to fell their human enemy with spells of death and ruin. Their efforts called lightning from the mist, evoked green flames that blackened the earth, and summoned dreadful winds that stripped bark from the pines with their unseen touch. All the savage magics of the beastmen were called down upon the man’s head. Yet it was the Skulltaker, not his enemies, who still walked the Grey.
Spells crashed against the Skulltaker’s crimson armour, shattering like ice against stone, casting sparks and embers of frustrated magic across the ground. Curses fell upon the champion of Khorne and turned to scarlet ash, sliding from the smooth plates of his mail.
Hexes struck at his soul and were consumed, burned away by the malice of a hungry god. Then the shamans died, their protective charms and amulets useless against the black sword, their magical wards and talismans broken by the shrieking steel. Their brutish bodies were cut down like wheat, their spirits devoured by the ravenous blade.
The destruction of the shamans had broken the feral courage of the warherd. Nhaa’s bestial army had evaporated, slinking into the shadows, tails curled between their legs. Only the huge minotaurs remained, determined in their primitive way to defend the herdstone even with their last breath. Against any other foe, Nhaa would have been certain that the bull-headed monsters would be victorious. Against the Skulltaker, against a man who had killed the giant Korg, the beastlord had no delusions. Strength, force, savagery, these would not be enough to kill the human. Nhaa paced behind the fearsome line of its minotaurs. If raw power was not sufficient to stop the Skulltaker, perhaps treachery would be. After all, even kings died beneath the knives of traitors.
The minotaurs stamped the earth, pawing the ground with their hooves, bubbly froth dripping from their snouts as they anxiously awaited the approach of their foe. The smell of blood had all but overwhelmed their tiny brains, sending violent urges snaking through their gigantic frames.
Twelve feet tall, each minotaur was sixty stone of primal fury waiting to explode in an orgy of bloodshed and carnage. Their paw-like hands opened and closed impatiently around the hafts of their weapons: great axes of sharpened bone, and clubs of knotted wood and pitted stone.
Only the snarled warnings of their chieftain kept the brutes from charging their enemy on the instant. Nhaa didn’t want the minotaurs to attack the Skulltaker piecemeal. Together, they might have some small chance against the champion, or at least provide enough of a distraction to allow Nhaa the opportunity it was watching for.
The Skulltaker marched through the mangled wreckage of the shamans, his boots sloshing through the muck of pooled blood and offal. A wounded shaman tried to crawl from the warrior’s path, dragging its body through the sludge with a mangled arm, bleating pitifully. The Skulltaker did not break stride as he walked past the crippled beastman, simply reversing the grip on his sword and stabbing the point through the creature’s neck, ending its pathetic ordeal.
The sight of the shaman’s callous execution snapped the already fragile restraint of the minotaurs. Snorting and bellowing, the huge monsters charged, their weapons raised, their horned heads lowered. The ground shook beneath their ploughing hooves, like the rolling quaking of a stampede. Even the faintest gleam of intelligence was washed from their eyes as brute fury took hold over them.
The Skulltaker stood, implacable, immobile before the oncoming rush of the minotaurs. The warrior’s arm swept forwards, driving the black blade into the lowered head of the first minotaur, piercing its skull with a sickening crunch. He ripped the sword free, spinning around as the lifeless bulk of the monster smashed into the ground in a spray of blood and brains. In the same motion, he dropped into a crouch, bringing his sword scything through the knee of a second minotaur. The brute bellowed, toppling as the slashed bone of its leg snapped under the weight of its body.
The Skulltaker did not give the maimed creature a further thought. He was already turning to face a third. The smoking edge of his sword screamed as it chopped through the monster’s horn, sending it dancing through the air. The minotaur roared, bringing its huge club of bone and stone smashing down. The earth beside the Skulltaker exploded beneath the tremendous impact, but the man avoided the crushing blow. His sword licked out at the monster again, hacking through its wrist. The minotaurs paw leapt from its wound in a gush of blood, flopping to the ground. The monster’s body lurched to one side, the weight of the bludgeon it held in one hand dragging its entire mass away with it. Before the minotaur could recover, the point of the Skulltaker’s sword was burrowing through its ribs, skewering its heart.
A fourth minotaur crashed into the Skulltaker while he dispatched its fellow. The brute’s horns caught the man, sending him flying through the air. The minotaur did not give the stricken champion time to recover. Rushing onwards, its head lowered, its horns lashing from side to side, the beast smashed into the prone man, trying to grind him into the dirt with its horns. The warrior’s body was battered and mangled beneath the minotaurs savagery, bones cracking before the brutality of the monster’s attack. Armoured hands clutched at the minotaur’s head, wrapping around its horns in an effort to fend off the assault. The monster’s powerful jaws snapped at the man sprawled beneath it, the fangs scraping against the darkly stained armour of his breastplate.
Probing hands slipped away from the minotaur’s horns, groping desperately at the monster’s face as they dropped away. There was purpose behind the desperation. Even as the minotaur mauled him, Khorne’s champion thought not of escape, but of attack. Armoured fingers pressed brutally into the minotaur’s beady yellow eyes, stabbing into them like iron knives. The minotaur threw its head back, howling in agony as the wreckage of its eyes slithered down its face.
With his enemy’s attack broken, the Skulltaker turned to find his sword. His vision settled on the quivering body of the third monster he had killed, at the smoking blade still buried in its side. There was blood dripping from his armour as the warrior dragged himself back towards his sword. Broken bones ground together, and ruptured organs pumped pain through his body. No mortal could have endured the mauling delivered by the beast, but it had been many lifetimes since the Skulltaker had known mortality. Every limping step brought the Blood God’s power surging through him, mending flesh and knitting bone. Khorne had legions to die for him. The Skulltaker was marked out for a different purpose.
From near the herdstone, Nhaa watched the Skulltaker hobble away from the last minotaur. The beastlord’s eyes narrowed with cunning when it saw that the man had lost his terrible sword, as its slippery mind contemplated the obvious gravity of the Skulltaker’s wounds. Nhaa scraped the blades of its fighting claws together, knowing that it would never see a better opportunity. Cautiously, the chieftain began to circle the battlefield, watching for its chance.
When it had circled around to the warrior’s back, Nhaa struck. With panther-like speed, the beastlord rushed at the human. Only a few feet from the Skulltaker, Nhaa leapt into the air, hurtling at the man like a missile. Nhaa slammed into the Skulltaker’s back, its fighting claws tearing through the warrior’s armour, impelled by the chieftain’s momentum. Nhaa’s growls ripped through the clearing as its bronze claws dug deeper into its foe’s body. Sadistic ferocity twisted the gor’s bestial face as it wrenched the claws around in the wounds it had dealt, widening the gashes in its victim’s back. Nhaa almost forgot its disappointment that the warrior did not cry out as it felt the man’s blood running down its arms.
The Skulltaker slumped to his knees, lurching forwards as the beastlord’s fighting claws burrowed into his flesh. Nhaa leaned down to maintain its grip on the failing warrior. The gor’s fangs gleamed in a feral snarl. More than just the instinctive man-hate of the beastmen, Nhaa exulted in its victory as a display of its power. The Skulltaker had slaughtered and killed his way through the lands of the human tribes, unstoppable as the fist of Khorne, but he had not prevailed in the Grey. In the Grey, the doom bringer had found his doom.
Metal hands locked around Nhaa’s throat as the beastlord leaned over the warrior. The chieftain’s eyes went round with panic, and the snarl slipped from its face. The grip around its neck was not the weak, fragile clutch of a dying man. It was a grip of steel, fingers of iron tearing at the beastman’s flesh. As it felt those fingers tighten, as it felt its skin rip, as it felt its neck being twisted, Nhaa understood the enormity of its mistake. Weak, battered, broken, the Skulltaker was still more than the beastlord could overcome.
A loud crack announced the breaking of Nhaa’s neck. The gor’s horned head sagged obscenely against its shoulder, sightless eyes staring emptily into space. Nhaa’s body crumpled to the ground, crashing beside that of its killer.
Long minutes passed. The near-blind eyes of the warherd were focused upon the clearing, fixed upon the still, unmoving shapes of their chieftain and the terrible warrior who had slain it. Slowly, with tenuous, anxious steps, the bolder elements of the tribe began to filter out from the trees. The gors advanced towards the dead bodies of chieftain and champion, sniffing at the blood-drenched ground.
Then the gors were scrambling back to the trees. One of the bodies moved, rising from the ground. The Skulltaker did not even glance at the retreating beastmen. Instead, he closed his bloodstained hands around the bronze claws still stabbed into his flesh. Slowly, painfully, he ripped Nhaa’s blades free from his body. The Skulltaker stared down at the chieftain’s broken body, letting its bladed arms flop back against its chest.
The Skulltaker consider Nhaa’s carcass for only a moment. The warrior set one of his armoured boots on the beastman’s chest, and closed his hands around Nhaa’s curled horns. The Skulltaker leaned down over the monster, and then exerted his tremendous strength, pulling at the horns while his boot kept the body pinned in place.
A wet, tearing sound rose from the corpse. With a final, furious tug, the Skulltaker ripped his prize from Nhaa’s shoulders. The lingering beastmen gave voice to their terror as they saw the champion lift Nhaa’s head into the air. They fled, scrambling back into the depths of the Grey, praying to their savage gods that they would be spared the fate of their chief.
The Skulltaker ignored the frantic, scrambling noises that rose from the forest around him. He was still weak from the minotaur’s mauling and Nhaa’s treacherous attack. It would take him a long time to heal from such injuries, to recover his strength after such a trial, but he would not be idle while he rested.


Zar Ratha’s ire rose with every passing breath. It was inconceivable, intolerable, that his carefully laid plans should be jeopardised in so outrageous a fashion! The attack against his rear had been an eventuality he’d prepared for. No dregs from the slave-pits watched the mouth of the valley; he’d positioned a band of two hundred of his finest axemen to form his rearguard. Although he doubted the Sul would move to rescue their Tsavag allies, it was still a possibility that he had taken into consideration. The sorcerers relied upon the terror of their magic as much as its intrinsic power, much like the Tsavag and their mammoths.
The Vaan were a breed taught to forget fear, the emotion burned out of their bodies before they were old enough to wield their first sword. There was no room for weakness, no allowance for timidity in the Vaan. They were a warrior race, men who knew neither mercy nor pity, taught that death in battle was the only glory a man could ever claim. When a man accepted the honour of death, he forgot fear.
Now, the Vaan were remembering what they had forgotten.
A lone warrior, a sinister apparition armoured in crimson, prowled through the ranks of Ratha’s rearguard like a raging lion. Butchered, bleeding hulks of Vaan axemen were strewn in his path, a bloody litter of the dead and dying. He was one warrior, yet he’d slaughtered his way through dozens. Every slash of his smouldering blade visited ruin upon another Vaan fighter, splashing severed limbs and spilled entrails across the ground. Men who had stood fearlessly against giants and ogres, who were prepared to defy the black sorceries of warlocks and daemons, faltered before the awesome spectacle of a single champion as he carved a gory furrow through the iron wall of their formation.
The Skulltaker. Ratha heard the name pass in an awed whisper through his army, saw fear worm its way into the eyes of his men. The rearguard broke, scattering before the advance of their terrible foe. Their panic threatened to infect the rest of the tribe as they fled. Men looked anxiously to their chieftain, weapons slipping in sweaty hands.
Ratha chose a frightened face, and then drove his axe through the coward’s skull. He kicked the mangled carrion from his blade and spat on the twitching corpse. “Dogs! Whoreson swine!” the zar thundered. “Stand your ground! You are Vaan, the mightiest breed to ever crawl from the womb of woman! Stand fast or be damned by your ancestors as craven vermin!”
The chieftain’s rage, boomed over the ranks of his army, but Ratha could sense that even shame could not unseat the fear that had taken root in his men. It was something that was almost tangible, like frozen fingers rushing down his spine. The zar bellowed in fury, calling upon the Blood God to steel his heart, to enflame the courage of his men and bring destruction to their enemy.
The last of the rearguard had broken, leaving a field strewn with the mangled husks of their abandoned comrades. Ratha felt pride as he saw another band of warriors move into the opening, huge brutes, bearing massive flails of chain and spiked iron. They were men who had been trained for battle against the Tsavag mammoths, to strew caltrops in the path of the gigantic beasts as they charged. These were men who had accepted their grim charge with an almost eager fatalism, desiring nothing more than to enter the Hunting Halls with the blood of such magnificent adversaries fresh upon their weapons.
The Skulltaker vanished from Ratha’s sight as the mammoth-cripplers surrounded and rushed him. The clatter of arms, the roars and screams of battle rose from the crush. Long minutes passed, and with each lengthening moment, Ratha’s heart grew black with doubt. A single man, and his mammoth-cripplers took so long to kill him? One man against a hundred of the Vaan’s elite? It wasn’t a question of battle, it was a matter of slaughter! Yet still the clash of weapons, the meaty smack of metal slashing through flesh, the screams of slayer and slain rose from the centre of the Vaan attack.
At last, a gurgling shriek wailed from the melee. The mammoth-cripplers pulled back, pulled away from the combat swirling at the middle of their formation. Impossibly, the Skulltaker still stood, his smoking sword shearing through the arm of one warrior, and then slashing through the chest of a second. A third turned to flee, only to have his back cut through like a twig. His crippled body flopped to the blood-soaked earth, moaning in agony as he tried to crawl away from his killer.
Even from a distance, Ratha could see the terrible rents and gashes in the Skulltaker’s armour. Blood, black and foul, drooled from his wounds. Ratha snarled in satisfaction. Whatever the champion’s terrible power, he could be hurt, and if he could be hurt, he could be killed.
Then the wounds began to ooze closed, the armour flowing together like water, sealing itself, making itself whole once more. In the space of only a few breaths, the Skulltaker’s grisly figure was as unmarked as newly fallen snow. For all the violence visited upon him, even the closest of the Vaan could find no sign of injury.
The mammoth-cripplers broke, fleeing in such frantic disorder that even the lowest of the tribe’s goblin slaves would have felt shame. They scattered like a mob of frightened rabbits, breaking in every direction without order or reason. As they broke, so too did much of Ratha’s army.
The zar raised his voice in a roar. He would kill this monster. He would show the mongrel dogs who had dared call themselves Vaan that this thing was no demigod. It was nothing more than some foul sending of the Sul, a trick conjured up by their sorcery. Ratha would send it back to the hell from which it had been called, and then he would seek out the cowards who had shamed their blood!
Ratha’s snarled orders brought a small group of warriors to his side, men encased in steel rather than iron, steel engraved with the runes of Khorne. Immense collars circled their necks, and upon these bronze bands still more runes of dread power had been etched. Each man bore a huge axe of cold-wrought iron, and upon these blades again appeared the skull-rune of Khorne. These were Ratha’s daemon-killers, men chosen to bear the most sacred of the tribe’s arms and armour, weapons that would guard them against any daemon’s fell might.
The chieftain led his small force through the broken ranks of his army. He had to act quickly, and kill the supposed Skulltaker while there was still a chance to restore order to his host. There would be time enough for retribution later.
The crimson-armoured champion cut a path through the rout, adding to the carnage with every sweep of his sword. A scarlet stain followed him as he pushed through the disordered ranks, cutting down those who turned to face him and those who turned to flee with equal abandon. That they were men did not interest the Skulltaker. That they were in the way did.
Daemon-killers plunged through their fleeing kinsmen, pushing and hacking a way clear for their chieftain. Callously, they marched over the broken bodies of fallen men, showing as little regard for them as the Skulltaker had. Men inured to the worst horrors any mortal might be called upon to face, the misery of their kin was not enough to reach the last shreds of humanity clinging to their souls.
A daemon-killer pushed his way through fleeing axemen only to find himself suddenly facing the skull-masked figure that had provoked such terror. Before he could even raise his axe, the daemon-killer’s head was rolling across the ground. The warrior behind him fared somewhat better, bringing his axe sweeping at the Skulltaker’s legs. The champion darted back, the edge of the axe just scraping against the metal skin of his greaves. Then the Skulltaker’s black sword was stabbing forwards and the daemonkiller dropped, choking on his own blood.
Another half a dozen daemon-killers were dead or dying before the Skulltaker relented. The ghastly figure drew back, waiting while Ratha cleared the last of his fleeing tribesmen. Another dozen daemon-killers stood with him, but the zar waved them aside. Since it had come to this, he would be the one to strike the monster down.
“I am Ratha, zar of the Vaan,” the chieftain growled. “I understand Khorne has sent you to test me, to take my skull if I am unworthy.” Ratha laughed and spat at his enemy’s feet. “Better than you have tried, monster,” the chieftain boasted, “but Ratha is still here!”
The zar spared no more words, but charged at his foe. Ratha’s axe crashed against the Skulltaker’s arm, splitting the vambrace, staggering the champion. The Skulltaker’s sword struck along the chieftain’s midsection, chewing through his armour and cutting into his belly.
Bleeding, Ratha stumbled back. He expected the Skulltaker to seize the opportunity. His axe came slashing low as the Skulltaker pressed his advantage. The join between the plates guarding the Skulltaker’s knee was torn, hanging in a twisted knot of red metal.
The axe swept on, biting into the champion’s knee. Ratha howled with glee as black blood spurted from the wound.
The Skulltaker’s sword was not idle, sweeping down in a cruel thrust that might have spitted the chieftain’s throat. Ratha twisted his head from the murderous stroke, his warrior’s instincts serving him better than his fury. The smouldering sword shrieked as its edge tore through the chieftain’s shoulder, tearing the iron armour as though it were parchment and digging a deep wound in the zar’s shoulder.
Ratha toppled in agony, blood spraying from severed veins. He caught the Skulltaker’s vengeful return with his axe, barely blocking the monster’s attack. He stared in disbelief at the molten notch that had been gouged into the bronze edge of his weapon. He started to understand just what it was he fought. Now, Ratha understood the terror of his warriors.
The attending daemon-killers rushed to their chieftain’s aid. Against any other enemy, Ratha would never have questioned their victory. Against the Skulltaker, he never doubted their defeat. A man raised with iron in his blood, reared on discipline and war, weaned on battle and destruction, Ratha found it within himself to feel sorrow in the useless sacrifice.
All too soon, Ratha saw the Skulltaker turn away from the last of the daemon-killers. The gruesome champion pulled the man’s axe from where it had embedded itself in his side. For all the runes of violence and doom that had been cast into the blade, the wound it left behind closed as quickly and completely as those of any other weapon.
Ratha cast one last look across the valley. His Vaan were dispersing into the hills, fleeing in disordered knots and mobs. The Tsavags and Seifan were likewise fleeing, the Tsavag to the far passes, the Seifan galloping into the western foothills, heedless of who or what they crushed beneath their hooves. Ratha sneered at their retreat. Run however fast, however far, there would be no escape for them. Hutga and Shen would meet the Skulltaker, but they would meet him as cowards, not as men.
Ratha lifted his axe as the Skulltaker approached him once more. Blood poured from his wounds, and strength faded from his arm, but the chieftain would not be denied. He would die fighting this monster to the last. Khorne would accept nothing less.
“Khorne cares not from whence the blood flows,” Ratha said, reciting the mantra so oft repeated by the Vaan shamans.
“Khorne does not,” the Skulltaker’s grinding voice growled. His sword came crashing against Ratha’s axe. So powerful, so vengeful was the blow that the weapon was torn from the chieftain’s hands. Ratha was thrown to the ground by the violence of the strike. The Skulltaker loomed over him, his screaming sword raised high.
“Khorne cares not,” the Skulltaker repeated, “but I do.”


Terror drove Shen Kahn through the narrow mountain passes, down into the flatlands. The Seifan retreat was a rout, riders and chariots scattering in every direction as they emerged from the valley. Shen made no effort to control their flight. Things had gone too far to worry about leadership of the tribe and control of the domain. Now the only thing that Shen held in his heart was fear for his life.
Ratha had been cut down, butchered by a monster, who had carved a bloody path through the ranks of the Vaan. It was beyond belief that a single creature, be it man or daemon, could kill so many, even less when its victims were the elite warriors of the Vaan. Shen tried to cling to his conviction that the killer was no more than some daemon conjured up by Enek Zjarr, but he could taste the lie in his thoughts. He knew. However much he tried to deny it, he knew. The Skulltaker had indeed returned, this time for the heads of Teiyogtei’s heirs.
Screams rose from the valley behind him. Shen turned to see men and horses, their eyes wild with fright, bolting into the flatlands. For a moment, his gaze rested on the fugitives, and then his eyes turned to the thing that pursued them.
The Skulltaker was once again mounted upon his wolfish beast, the canine monster charging out from the shadow of the mountains in great loping bounds. Shen’s desperate hope that the killer would pursue Hutga and his Tsavags turned bitter in his mouth. There was no question, the Skulltaker had marked him as the next to die.
“Faster!” roared the warlord, snarling at the charioteer beside him. Already, the man was lashing the gasping horses with a ruthlessness born of panic. The big animals, a hand-and-a-half taller than the shaggy ponies ridden by most of the tribe, galloped frantically through the long grass of the flatlands.
“If I push them any harder, their hearts will burst!” complained the charioteer.
Shen glared at his tribesman. The man was afraid, but not nearly afraid enough. It wasn’t his head the Skulltaker meant to claim!
“Then maybe they are pulling too much weight,” Shen said coldly.
One of the kahn’s hands seized the reins of the chariot horses. The other slammed into the charioteer’s side, burying a fat-bladed knife in his side. The warrior gasped, shuddering as Shen drove the knife deeper.
The murdered man clutched feebly at Shen’s armour, and then slumped to the wooden floor of the chariot. Shen wrapped the reins around his arm, and then grabbed the charioteer’s head, using height and leverage to tip the man headfirst from the chariot. The dying warrior smashed into the long-grass, tumbling end over end in a sprawl of snapped limbs and shattered ribs.
Shen struck at the horses, urging them on. The whip snapped at their flanks, drawing blood from their savaged flesh. The kahn looked back, horrified to see the Skulltaker’s weird steed closing the distance. Seifan were fleeing in all directions, but the grim killer never wavered. Something beyond mortal senses told him which of the fleeing riders was the man he sought.
If the Skulltaker would not chase his minions, Shen knew he must look elsewhere to find the time he so desperately needed, the chance to escape this domain and leave the killer behind.
The answer appeared before the fleeing kahn’s darting eyes. The flatlands gradually sloped downwards as they stretched away from the mountains. Eventually, they sank into a watery mire, a blighted region shunned by Hung and Kurgan alike: the Swamp of the Devourer.
Shen could see the edge of the swamp, where the long-grass stubbornly struggled to survive in foetid shallows. The sickly green vapours of the swamp clung thickly around the scraggly clumps of grass, like strangler’s fingers wrapping around so many throats. Ugly trees, tall and thin and barren, thrust up through the scummy waters, like some sinister wall separating the foulness of the swamp from the world beyond.
Many were the tales of horror told about the swamp, evoked around the winter campfires: stories of ghastly death and fates worse than death, accounts of loathsome creatures neither daemon nor man. None were more terrible than those told of the Devourer, a thing that was not a beast, but rather the living malice of the swamp.
It lurked behind that wall of trees, waiting for what flesh dared to intrude upon its forsaken realm. It did not consume its victims with tooth and fang, but sucked them down into the mud to rot and fester in the living muck of the swamp. A man was alive when his body was dissolved in the belly of the Devourer.
Shen weighed the horror of the swamp against the horror of the Skulltaker. It was a choice of evils, but Shen was reminded that men had escaped the swamp to carry their stories back to their tribes. From the Skulltaker, there was no escape.
Yelling at the horses, Shen wheeled his chariot around, plunging into the muddy dampness of the swamp. He watched the rancid waters with a keen eye even as he urged the stallions to greater effort. Where the long-grass struggled to grow, there the water was shallow. Where it was absent, where only floating scum rose above the water, the ground had dropped away in deep sink holes.
Water sprayed from the wheels of the chariot, surrounding Shen in a curtain of stagnant filth. He struggled to watch the surface of the swamp, trying to keep track of where it was shallow and where it was not. The horses neighed and snorted in protest, upset by the rancour of the swamp. Shen’s whip cracked out again with vengeful fury. Less concerned with the danger ahead than he was the danger behind, Shen had no patience for the timidity of his steeds.
Disaster was quick to overtake the fleeing kahn. Reckless and desperate, he had gambled too hard on his flight into the swamp. Where a man might have navigated a safe path between the patches of shallow muck, there simply was not room enough for a chariot.
Equine screams rose as one of the wheels slipped into an unseen hole. The copper-bound wood splintered from the lurching impact. The chariot, its balance lost, crashed and slid through the slime, pulling the horses as they had pulled it. The ruined chariot spun around, and then slipped from the shallows into one of the sinkholes that peppered the terrain. The panicked horses were dragged after the reeling carriage, their hooves flailing uselessly at the mud.
Coming to rest, the chariot sank in the deep water, scum bubbling as the mire sucked it down. Shen released the death-grip he had taken upon the armoured side, springing clear as his refuge disappeared. He found himself hip-deep in muck and slime, every step an effort as the sludge beneath his feet clung to him.
Shen could see the horses struggling in the shadows, trying to keep the chariot’s weight from dragging them down with it. He reached to his belt for his dao, intending to cut the beasts free. He might have lost his chariot, but with a horse under him there was still a chance he could lose the Skulltaker in the swamps.
The Hung’s face went white as his fingers closed on emptiness. He looked in disbelief at his belt, finding only a torn strip of leather flapping against his waist. The sword had been torn free during the violent crash. Shen did not think of the history, the tradition the sacred weapon represented for his people, nor even the supernatural power the weapon possessed. He thought only of the weapon he could have used to keep himself alive, something that was lost to him.
Shen had almost decided to tear the leather tethers binding the horses with his bare hands when a new sound intruded upon the screams of the horses. It was the splash of something moving through the stagnant waters, something big, moving at speed. The kahn did not turn to look. Coming from the edge of the swamp, where mire met flatland, there was only one thing it could be: the Skulltaker’s ghastly steed.
Shen bolted into the swamp, no longer watching for patches of shallow and the scum-covered sinkholes. He splashed through the reeking pools with crazed desperation, hardly slowing when he sank to his knees in stagnant water, or sloshed through flooded pits deeper than his waist. Escape! Escape was the only thought drumming through his brain, the shivering mindless terror of the prey. Every second, every breath was a small triumph, his entire existence collapsing into these insignificant instants of cheated death.
The kahn’s hands groped at a clump of rotting long-grass, pulling him from a rancid pool onto another rise. The scraggly trees of the swamp had thinned, forming a sort of clearing, a solemn circle surrounding a bleak morass of brown, lumpy mud.
Some warning instinct made Shen recoil from the muddy expanse, some primitive alarm of danger. The mud rippled, trembling with a wet spasm of unspeakable loathsomeness. He could see the quivering muck sloshing away, parting as something thrust its way up from the stinking heart of the swamp. He did not need to see more. In escaping the Skulltaker, he had found the Devourer.
Shen backed away, hardly daring to breathe as the obscene lord of the swamp oozed up from the depths. A hint of something black and oily showing beneath the dripping mud was enough. The kahn turned to find another way through the maze of trees and sunken pits. He froze as his eyes left the Devourer’s pool.
A mounted figure stared back at him, the lips of the Skulltaker’s wolfish steed curled in a silent growl, exposing its gore-crusted fangs. The expressionless mask of the killer’s helm gave no hint of the thoughts hidden within. Shen gave a little cry of horror as he saw the chain of trophies stretched across the champion’s chest, the skulls of the chieftains who had already met their doom.
The skull of Zar Ratha, still wet with the Kurgan’s blood, grinned at Shen, seeming to welcome the onetime ally of the Vaan.
For a moment, hunter and quarry looked upon one another, each man waiting for the other to act. Shen’s heart pounded against his bones like a hammer, his limbs tingling with fear. He could not tear his eyes away from the Skulltaker’s trophies, from the chain that would soon be wound through the empty sockets of his own skull.
The instant passed. Slowly, the Skulltaker dismounted, dropping from the back of his fearsome beast. He drew his black sword from its sheath, the weapon’s sizzling voice hissing through the stagnant vapours. Each splashing step sounded like the tramp of a giant to Shen. As he advanced, the trophies rattled against the Skulltaker’s armoured breast, seeming to beckon to the doomed Seifan chief.
Screaming, Shen turned and tore back through the trees, back to the pool of the Devourer. Death, any death, was preferable to the grisly fate the Skulltaker promised, to join the skulls of the vanquished in shame and defeat. He could not beat the Skulltaker, Shen knew it was madness to even try, but he could still cheat the monster of his victory.
The thing that had been rising from the pit was clearer now. Mud had dripped off its ghastly bulk, puddling around its enormity. Shapeless, formless, it was like some great quivering mound of blackened meat, its surface pitted with oozing sores. Devoid of eye or ear, or nose, it still detected Shen’s presence, lurching through the muck towards the crazed Seifan, undulating like some rogue wave upon a stagnant sea.
His horror of the Devourer lost, Shen threw open his arms as the immense, oozing slime reared up before him, pulsating with vile hunger. Pseudopods of dripping jelly burst from the thing’s black mass, wrapping around the kahn in a burning embrace. Shen could feel the acidic excretions eating through his skin as the tendrils pulled him back to the Devourer’s body.
In all the eons of the abomination’s existence, Shen wondered if any of its victims had laughed as they were consumed.
The dripping tendrils collapsed back into the Devourer’s body, dragging Shen with them. As the chieftain struck the oily skin of the creature, he sank into it, feeling its burning touch wash over him. Inch by inch, slowly, hideously, he was absorbed into the monster, absorbed into its formless bulk to be consumed.
Suddenly, the slime trembled, shivering with a motion that was outside its mindless urge to feed. Shen could feel its pain all around him, even through the wet, searing agony of his own body. His suffering intensified as the Devourer’s acids increased their labours against the engulfed kahn’s flesh.
Again, the substance of the Devourer trembled, shuddering like water before the wind. Strangely, the burning around Shen lessened, the wet embrace of the slime weakening. Something more solid than the amorphous coils of the Devourer closed around Shen’s arm. He felt iron fingers fumble at his partially digested flesh, sinking into the burnt meat, and tightening around the bone beneath.
Shen did not know if he was pulled free or if the Devourer simply relinquished its prey, its shapeless mass sliding away from him like spray dripping from a stone. Through the one eye that had not been blinded by the slime’s acid, he could see it sinking back beneath the mud. The clearing was splattered with clumps of oily darkness, some still quivering with the last echo of life.
The firm hold around Shen’s arm released him and the raw debris of the kahn’s body flopped obscenely into the mud. The Devourer’s acids had worked havoc on Shen’s body, leaving muscle and fat glistening where his skin had dissolved. Patches of bone stood stark beneath weeping wounds. Blood and bile seeped from his exposed stomach, dripping into the ruptured entrails below.
The Skulltaker did not care about Shen’s wounds. The killer looked down upon the twitching wreckage of the chieftain with a merciless gaze. He had not charged the oozing mass of the Devourer to save his life, nor to preserve his rule had the Skulltaker carved his way through the burning bulk of the monster.
There was enough reason left in Shen’s tortured body to know despair as he saw the Skulltaker’s black blade come chopping down.
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Jwlynas
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Re: Skulltaker respect thread

Postby Jwlynas » Tue Jan 31, 2012 11:38 am

Spoiler
Men clung to the walls of the swaying, rocking howdahs, knuckles white in their frantic efforts to keep their hold. Some failed, their grip faltering beneath the bone-grinding tremors that rose through them each time the immense feet of the mammoths smashed into the earth. The bodies of these unfortunates pitched over the sides of the low-lying howdah walls, crashing into the ground in battered heaps. Impelled by panic and the momentum of their gigantic frames, the mammoths following behind ground the wretches into paste beneath their pounding feet.
The beasts showed no sign of fatigue, even though many leagues separated them from the eerie fortress of the Sul, where the strange chase had begun. Mountains of muscle and strength, to the prodigious stamina of the war mammoths had been added the volatile fuel of fear. The combination created a blind rush that the mammoth riders had abandoned trying to control.
Hours of strain, the unending violence of the impact tremors jolting through the mammoths’ bodies, took their toll upon the howdahs. Never designed for such prolonged abuse, some of the platforms began to disintegrate as tethers frayed and bindings snapped. A wreckage of ivory and wood littered the herd’s path as pieces of the howdahs broke away. Some howdahs lost only a few bits and pieces, others had entire planks and walls tear away, carrying with them screaming Tsavags to be pulped by the thundering charge of the herd. A few mammoths lost their entire howdahs, the thick leather straps around their bodies breaking, causing entire platforms to shift and overbalance the beasts.
Men and mammoths alike smashed into the earth in a pile of broken bones and pained cries, cries for help that none of the Tsavags could answer.
Behind the mammoths, the lone, lupine shape of their pursuer steadily gained ground. Faster than the herd, possessed of a savage endurance that defied belief, the wolf-like beast prowled in the shadow of the Tsavags, carrying its rider ever closer to his prey.
Hour upon hour, the beast closed the distance, the smell of its blood-soaked fur driving the mammoths still more wild with fear, the evil aura of its rider overwhelming the desperate occupants of the howdahs with almost mindless terror.
An instant of blood and horror found the Skulltaker among the herd. The smoking length of his black sword was in his hand as his wolf-like steed raced among the towering behemoths.
Like a woodsman felling a tree, the Skulltaker brought his sword slashing into the leg of a mammoth, tearing through the shaggy fur and thick, leathery flesh to scrape against the bone beneath. The mammoth reared up in pain, its trunk groping plaintively at the uncaring sky. Then the mangled leg buckled beneath it, sending it crashing into the ground.
Other mammoths staggered and stumbled as the flailing giant slid into them. Some fell, others turned around, abandoning the herd in their pained confusion. Men were thrown from the bucking howdahs, smashed between the bodies of the lumbering brutes. Screams and the anguished trumpeting of fallen mammoths added to the turmoil, scattering men and beasts like birds before a storm.
The Skulltaker’s gruesome steed charged into the upheaval. When the bulk of a fallen mammoth reared in its path, the beast sprang, its claws digging into the shaggy hide as it lighted upon the living obstacle. The mammoth spun its head towards the beast, swatting at it with its trunk, trying to gore it with its tusks.
Before the wounded mammoth could concentrate its efforts, the wolfish beast was leaping again, pouncing like some rock lion onto the flank of a fleeing animal. Again, sharp claws sank into leathery flesh, latching onto the hurtling mammoth like some enormous tick.
Men cried out in horror as they saw the brute beast and its fearsome rider appear behind the howdah. Most cowered with their families, trembling in their terror. A few, reckless or crazed, jabbed ineffectually at the killer with their spears. The Skulltaker ignored them all, disregarding even the pained thrashings of the mammoth as it tried to dislodge his steed. The grim mask of the Skulltaker’s helm looked across the thundering herd, studying the desperate rout with the chill stare of the true predator. From the vantage point of the mammoth’s towering back, he was allowed the view he needed.
A kick of the Skulltaker’s boots and his grisly mount retracted its claws and sprang away from the bellowing mammoth. The hound-like beast crashed heavily against the shaking earth. It paused for only a moment, and then the beast was running through the moving canyon of shaggy flesh.
With great, loping bounds, the Skulltaker’s steed bore him through the maddened herd, darting between the smashing legs of the mammoths, dodging the flashing tusks and flailing trunks as they passed each brute.
Ahead, the Skulltaker had seen what he wanted: the banners and trophies, the steel-ringed tusks and tattooed ears of the khagan’s mammoth. Dimly, he could remember when he had last seen the war-steed of a Tong khagan. Revenge denied was revenge savoured.
Through the smashing, crashing, stomping panic of the herd, the air filthy with dust and dung, past the tattered wreckage of howdahs, and over the ruptured paste of crushed men; onward, onward to rage and ruin and revenge.
The Skulltaker’s steed emerged from the press of the herd. Its jaws snapped irritably at the air, trying to blot the taste of dust from its mouth. Then it spun, racing a parallel course to one of the mammoths at the fore of the herd, the mammoth with painted ears and steel-ringed tusks.
Gradually, the wolf-beast slackened its pace, allowing its prey to close upon it. Throwing spears crashed into the dirt around the beast, but its preternatural agility foiled the aims of desperate men. A fiery vapour burst into life around the wolf and its rider, and then vanished just as quickly, broken by the power of the runes the Skulltaker wore.
The wolf-beast sprang backwards as the mammoth’s spiked tusks swept towards it. The beast landed in a crouch, every muscle tightening into a steel coil. Then it sprang again. This time the creature leapt in an almost sidewise motion, twisting its body as it jumped.
Once again, the wolf-beast’s claws dug into the shaggy fur and leathery flesh of a mammoth. This time, however, its rider was not content to stay in the saddle. Even as his steed secured its gruesome footing, the Skulltaker was moving, jumping from the back of his beast and into the bed of the howdah.
The impact of his armoured body smacking against the platform as he landed caused the entire structure to shake.
A Tsavag rushed at the invader, struggling to keep his footing as the mammoth’s body shuddered beneath him. He swept a sickle-bladed axe at the monster’s horned helm, roaring the battle cry of his ancestors. The warrior never finished his charge, his arm and shoulder cut from his body by a single hideous sweep of the Skulltaker’s shrieking blade. The shuddering corpse toppled against the wall of the howdah, and then pitched into the dim blur of the landscape, whipping past the mammoth’s hurtling bulk.
The Tsavags stood frozen in shocked silence, hands closed around the trembling walls of the howdah. It was not merely fear of being thrown from the crazed beast’s back that held the men.
Confronted by this fiend from legend, the graphic display of their kinsman’s slaughter held them in an icy grip. The Skulltaker lifted his gaze from the transfixed warriors, staring up at the raised platform and the hulking figure of the man he had come so far to kill.
Hutga Khagan glared at the Skulltaker with the steel courage of a man who knows his doom is upon him. The chieftain cast aside his fur cloak, exposing his muscular chest and its nodule-like metallic growths. He gripped the polished haft of his ji, the wickedly keen spear-axe that had been gifted to the first warlord of the tribe by Teiyogtei. The broad spear-point and the cruel crescent of the axe-blade behind and beneath it shone in the failing light as dusk descended upon the domain.
Hutga thought it ironically appropriate that this fight should happen now, as the day died away and night stretched its black fingers over the land.
The chieftain could feel the daemonic force within his weapon surging through his veins as he drew its power into his body. Enough to overwhelm any mortal foe, he knew it would not be enough to destroy the Skulltaker. Seeing Ratha cut down made Hutga understand how delusional such an idea was. No, he could not win, but he wouldn’t crawl either. He’d give the monster a fight that the Skulltaker would remember.
“Do your worst,” Hutga spat at his foe.
The Skulltaker’s grinding voice echoed from behind his mask. “I won’t have to.”
As he uttered the mocking insult, the Skulltaker was in motion, stalking towards the raised dais with broad, hungry steps. Hutga felt his stomach turn sour, horrified by the Skulltaker’s grace and ease, the surety of purpose and motion. The Skulltaker might have prowled the unbending floor of a marble hall rather than the jostling, swaying surface of the howdah, apparently oblivious to the threat of being thrown by the mammoth’s frenzied charge.
A scrawny, miserable figure interposed itself between the Skulltaker and his intended victim, clutching an ivory support to keep his balance. Yorool screamed at the monster, the names of gods and daemons dripping off the shaman’s tongue as he called upon powers he was forbidden to invoke.
Black coils of energy whipped around the Skulltaker, surrounding him in a writhing shimmer of profane power. The planks beneath the Skulltaker’s boots turned brown, withering with rot. A warrior standing too close was caught by the gnawing unlight. His skin turned white, crumbling from his bones as the curse of years consumed all the days yet to come. The dust collapsed against the floor of the howdah, dust and a few miserable bits of decayed bone.
The Skulltaker forced his way through the cloying, devouring unlight, like a swamp troll trudging through a quagmire. No sign of leprous rot, no trace of crumbling decay marked his armour as he won his way clear of Yorool’s magic. There was no hint of weakness in his step as he moved towards Hutga’s throne.
The black blade came scything down before Yorool could call upon another spell. It bit through the shaman’s cowl and his disfigured face, splitting him from crown to jaw. The Skulltaker wrenched his weapon free in a brutal spray of teeth and brains, kicking the slain shaman from his path.
The butchery of their shaman broke the grip of terror that held the Tsavag warriors. Men rushed the Skulltaker in a howling, vengeful mob. Several lost their footing as the mammoth’s pounding feet sent tremors rushing through the howdah. Men screamed as their bodies were sent rolling across the platform, smacking against the walls and crashing through the wooden sides. Some kept their footing, managing to stumble and grope their way to their foe. Spears and axes ripped at the monster, and swords stabbed at his body. Only one blade struck true.
The Tsavags backed away from the Skulltaker once more, leaving three of their number strewn at the monster’s feet. They backed away, not in fear, but in awed respect. Their weapons had glanced harmlessly from the Skulltaker’s armour, unable to reach the man inside. However, the daemonic mail had been unable to thwart one weapon. The dagger-like tip of Hutga’s ji transfixed the monster’s throat. Something stagnant dripped down the bronze shaft, something too old to still be called blood.
Hutga stared in open-mouthed wonder, unable to believe what he had done. Then the Skulltaker lifted his hand, grabbing hold of the bronze haft. Defying the weight of the man at the other end of the weapon, he ripped the blade free, pushing it away with what could only be contempt. Hutga nearly fell as the ji was thrust back at him, and stumbled back several paces, his back almost colliding with the ivory edge of the howdah.
Only the lift of the mammoth’s leg and the rise of its body as it rushed on across the steppes prevented the khagan from falling over the side.
The Skulltaker stalked after the chieftain, hacking apart the bodies of the few warriors who halfheartedly tried to attack him. Hutga could see the rent in the throat armour slowly oozing closed again. The chieftain felt despair bite into his heart, and then he remembered the monster’s contemptuous words. It didn’t matter if the thing couldn’t be killed, Hutga Khagan would die on his feet, not his belly!
The chieftain charged at the approaching Skulltaker, the ji flashing at the monster in a blinding display of jabs and thrusts, of spinning attacks where he brought the crescent-edge of the axe grinding against the armour plate, followed with a bludgeoning blow from the club-like counterweight at the other end of the spear.
The Skulltaker struck back at him, but Hutga was always able to interpose the bronze pole between his body and the butchering sword.
So it continued, the desperate contest between mortal man and timeless monster, the chieftain keeping the Skulltaker’s sword at bay, but never able to land a telling blow of his own. A delicate balance of thrust, parry and block had been established. Both combatants watched for the moment when that balance would tip.
Hutga shouted in triumph as he saw that moment come. The Skulltaker’s recovery from a thwarted strike was sloppy and slower than before. Hutga seized the opening, jabbing at the Skulltaker, and then twisting his ji so that the tip of the black sword was trapped in the small slot between axe-blade and pole.
Hutga twisted his weapon again in a manoeuvre that he had practised many times on the field of battle. Trapped in the slot behind the axe-blade, the wrenching motion would tear the sword from the Skulltaker’s hand, disarming the monster.
At least, that is what Hutga thought would happen. He had not reckoned upon the otherworldly strength of his enemy or that of the terrible weapon he bore. Instead of tearing the black sword from the Skulltaker’s hand, the wrenching motion caused the edge of the screaming blade to bite through the bronze pole, tearing through it with disgusting ease.
Hutga reeled back, horrified to find himself holding nothing but a bronze pole. Grinding his teeth together in rage, he rushed back at his foe, striking at the horned helmet with the clubbed end of the shaft.
The Skulltaker barely seemed to move, but his black sword came chopping down just the same. Hutga howled in agony as his hand leapt from its wrist and flew across the platform.
The chieftain clutched his bleeding stump to his chest, despising his weakness. He’d lost his hold upon the wreckage of his ji in that moment of shock and pain. The surge of the mammoth’s body beneath him sent Hutga stumbling back, struggling to find his footing. A few of his remaining warriors rushed the monster. Others jumped from the back of the mammoth, more willing to chance the pounding charge of the herd than the Skulltaker’s blade. The mahout in the ivory cage on the mammoth’s neck was one of those who chose to jump, leaving the immense animal with only its panic and pain to drive it on.
A flash of daemonic steel, a spray of blood and screams, and Hutga was alone upon the runaway mammoth, alone with the Skulltaker. He cursed himself for a fool as he cowered before the monster. He understood now that his enemy could have ended the contest any time he wanted. The Skulltaker had been playing with him.
The chieftain struggled to stay standing, but blood loss was making him dizzy. The mammoth’s panic sent an endless tremor through the howdah, rattling planks in their fastenings, and twisting the floor beneath his feet.
The thick, fear-tainted reek of the mammoth’s sweat washed over the chieftain, a sickly odour that sapped his resolve. Despite his efforts, Hutga slumped to his knees. The Skulltaker stared down at him. Hutga glared back at the monster, peering into the fiend’s burning eyes.
Suddenly Hutga knew what was staring at him from behind the sockets of the Skulltaker’s mask, what was encased within the monster’s armour: hate, pure and cold and terrible. He could feel that hate burning into his body, burning into his soul. The timeless rage of the immortal, the icy fury of a thousand lifetimes, all bore down upon the beaten Tsavag chief.
“End it!” Hutga snarled. “Take your trophy!”
He closed his eyes as the Skulltaker drew back his sword.

A figure emerged from the shadows, a hulking shape encased in crimson steel and a horned, skull-like helm. In its mailed fist, the black blade smoked and snarled. Across its chest, the chain of trophies hung, their sightless sockets staring blindly across the Black Altar.
There was a hideous, triumphant quality about the way the Skulltaker marched across the metal, blood-soaked floor. Sanya blanched, growing pallid before the imposing apparition, her arrogance and pride withering in the champion’s grim presence. She retreated behind Dorgo, placing the warrior between herself and the monster. The Skulltaker hesitated for an instant, his deathly mask studying the Tsavag warrior.
Dorgo brandished the Bloodeater, making certain that the Skulltaker recognised the blade he held. He could sense that the champion did. The Skulltaker would remember the power of that weapon better than anyone or anything, the blade that had vanquished him once before. If anything could make him know fear, it was this.
The Skulltaker turned away from Dorgo, looking past him to the Sul sorceress. Dorgo felt his ire rise. Did the monster think so little of him that he looked to the woman as a greater threat?
The Tsavag rushed the Skulltaker, a Tong war cry rising from his throat as he charged. The Skulltaker blocked the warrior’s stabbing sword, knocking the Bloodeater aside with a backhanded sweep of his smouldering blade. Dorgo heard the daemon steel scream in protest as the Bloodeater bit into its otherworldly edge.
Dorgo feinted a jab to his foe’s left, and then thrust at his right, stabbing at the join between torso and pelvis. Again, the Skulltaker’s blade came sweeping down, swatting aside the striking sword. This time the monster followed the block with a sweeping slash from his blade. Smoke stung Dorgo’s eyes as he ducked what would have been a decapitating blow.
The deadly dance began in earnest, thrust and parry, slash and block. The Bloodeater filled Dorgo with such strength that he barely felt the Skulltaker’s intercepting blade as it crashed against his own. He knew that if he could just get through the monster’s defences, if he could once stab his crimson blade into the body beneath the plated mail, that the Skulltaker would be finished. The power of Teiyogtei’s sword would destroy him as it had so long ago.
Against the strength of his arm and the power of his sword, Dorgo was forced to concede his vulnerability. The Skulltaker was far and beyond any foe he had ever faced, combining speed and power in a way that even a formidable adversary like Tulka didn’t come close to matching.
Unlike the champion of Khorne, Dorgo had no daemon-forged armour to guard his body. He had shed his armour before carrying Sanya across the pit. Beside the metal plates encasing the Skulltaker, he was as naked as a babe. It was a sobering thought, when the Skulltaker’s screaming blade came flashing inches from his skin, to consider how deep it would cut him if it struck home.
Dorgo’s sword crashed against the Skulltaker’s breastplate, scouring a deep gash in the dark armour. He quickly pulled back, turning aside the stabbing thrust of the champion’s blade with the hilt of his sword. Even as he knocked the deadly weapon aside, Dorgo felt his ribs explode with pain, the Skulltaker’s armoured knee slamming into him, pitching him to the floor. Hastily, Dorgo lifted the Bloodeater to block the murderous, descending strike of the Skulltaker’s steel.
Then he saw it, hanging from the chain alongside the other trophies lashed across the Skulltaker’s chest: a human skull, disfigured by lumps of metal protruding from forehead and scalp. Like all the others, it bore the brand of Khorne upon its brow.
Long-nourished hope withered and died as Dorgo saw his father’s skull grinning at him from the Skulltaker’s gruesome collection. They had found the Black Altar, and drawn the Skulltaker to them, but it was all done too late. Hutga Khagan had already joined the monster’s victims.
Seven heads: seven vanquished tribes. The strength and power that had filled him when he took up the Bloodeater faded as he felt his stomach turn. It didn’t matter that he had no proof of the thought that burrowed into his brain, he knew his suspicion was right. He knew which head the Skulltaker hadn’t claimed.
The champion’s sword came flashing down in a murderous sweep. The Bloodeater was all but torn from Dorgo’s nerveless clutch as he instinctively lifted his weapon to block the strike. The Skulltaker pulled back for another attack, towering over the fallen Tsavag like some gruesome avatar of death.
Suddenly, coils of blazing blue light crashed around the Skulltaker’s body, sizzling against his armoured plate. The champion spun, glaring at the almost forgotten sorceress. Sanya saw the timeless malice burning behind his mask as he stormed after her. Another blast of eldritch power smashed into the Skulltaker’s body. The monster kept coming, protected from the woman’s magic by the dread power of his god.
Sanya retreated, circling behind the forge, clutching her bag against her breast. The Skulltaker pointed a metal claw at the woman, an imperious gesture that brooked no defiance. He had nothing to fear from her magic, no spell known to man or daemon could penetrate the armour he wore.
Somehow, the sorceress lifted her head, all the hubris of her tribe etched across her features. “Work for it,” she spat scornfully.
A bestial growl rasped from behind the Skulltaker’s mask. With swift, furious steps he closed upon Sanya. Desperately, Dorgo fought to his feet, determined to finish his enemy himself. Then he noticed something strange. Sanya had positioned herself behind the nest of pulleys and chains. Dorgo knew the spot well, having laboured so long to raise buckets from the pit. There should be a great hole in the floor only a few feet from where she stood, yet to his eyes, all that could be seen was the blood encrusted metal floor of the chamber.
Dorgo’s eyes were not the only ones deceived. The Skulltaker did not hesitate in his brutal rush towards the woman. His path carried him straight over the hole, the emptiness that Sanya had cloaked in her magic. With a great, wolf-like howl, the hulking champion, the blood-soaked slaughterer of the domain, plummeted down, hurtling into the burning pit far below.

Slowly, at first, then more violently, they began to sway. Initially, Dorgo watched the chains only to distract him from Sanya’s torture, but soon a horrified fascination gripped him. Something was climbing up the chains.
As soon as the thought was in his mind, he felt Sanya’s hold on him falter. The sorceress turned away, rushing to the edge of the opening behind the forge. Dorgo threw the Bloodeater from him, letting it clatter across the floor. He scrambled away from weapon and the sorceress, retreating from both with horror.
The sorceress waved her hands in arcane gestures above the metal floor, banishing the spell of concealment that she had evoked, exposing the gaping hole through which the chains passed. Her face turned pale with horror.
Sanya was too consumed by her fear to notice Dorgo’s escape. She was trembling as she backed away from the opening, shaking like a lonely leaf in a thunderstorm. A red gauntlet closed around the lip of the opening, followed quickly by a hulking body encased in armour. The Skulltaker’s metal mask glared at the sorceress, as pitiless as the face of Khorne.
Crackling lightning flashed from Sanya’s hand as she drew power from her amulet. The sorcerous energy shimmered and danced around the Skulltaker’s body, as harmful as summer rain.
The monster moved towards her, each step echoing like the tramp of doom from the walls of the forge. The hungry, surly roar of the forge hissed back into life, welcoming the Skulltaker’s return.
Sanya continued to back away, continued to unleash her deadly magic against the oncoming monster, but there was no pit to hide from the Skulltaker this time, and no trickery that could ensnare him.
Against the champion, Sanya’s magic was incapable of working any harm. It was the Sul’s turn to know how it felt to be powerless.
With a moan of horror, Sanya felt her back press against the iron wall of the chamber. Backed into a corner by the Skulltaker, she made a desperate lunge for freedom. The champion’s mailed fist caught in her flying hair, jerking her brutally from her feet. The Skulltaker ignored the fallen woman, interested more in the object that had flown from her hand to rattle across the floor. He stalked after Enek Zjarr’s skull, reaching down to pick it up from the floor.
Sanya shrieked, desperate courage filling her. She leapt at the Skulltaker, jumping onto his back, trying to pull him away from the fallen head. The champion reached behind him, closing an iron fist around the woman’s shoulder.
In a single, savage motion, he ripped the sorceress from him, bringing her slamming down in an overhead manoeuvre. A sickening, spine-snapping crack sounded as Sanya struck the floor. Even in her agony, the crippled woman tried to push Enek Zjarr’s head from the Skulltaker’s armoured fingers.

The clatter of something striking the rocks beside him snapped Dorgo from his gloomy reflection. He spun around, gasping as he saw what had been thrown at him. Upon the rocks, shining with a dull inner glow, was the Bloodeater. The warrior lunged for the weapon, seizing it in his fist. He could feel its strength and power surge through him, pouring fire into his soul. He was alone, but he was also alive, and while he was alive, he would fight. To do less would shame the memories of his vanished race.
Dorgo rose from the ground. He saw a ghastly shape waiting for him at the top of the sunken hill. Blood from the dark sea dripped from the thing’s leathery crimson flesh and sizzled from the length of its smouldering sword. Great talons blacker than obsidian tipped its long, cruel hands. Bestial, reptilian paws supported it, hooked claws splayed wide to maintain purchase upon the blood-slicked slope.
A heavy cloak woven from numberless skulls tumbled from its shoulders, whipping about its body in a charnel breeze. Bronze armour encased its chest, the ancient metal pitted with the marks of battle and the runes of Khorne.
Its head was twisted and savage, four great horns stabbing out from temple and crown, notched and curled with infamy and spite. Its face was a merciless, skull-like visage, crimson skin stretched tight across daemonic bone. Dorgo was reminded of the ghastly bloodletters that had menaced him upon the anchor chain, but looking into the thing’s pitiless eyes he saw a hate that was beyond any mere daemon’s gaze.
The ember-like eyes stared down at the Tsavag and he knew the enemy for what it was. Dorgo did not know what terrible metamorphosis had consumed the last vestiges of the man who had been Vrkas. He did not know what inhuman malevolence had been poured into the vengeful champion in his moment of triumph. He could not guess at the abominable marriage of mortal and daemon, the fusion of living flesh and eternal malice that had created the horror which now glowered at him. His mind would not understand the strange path that had led the monster back to him, a spectral trail through forgotten lands and forgotten ages.
It was enough for Dorgo to recognize the daemon, to put a name to its timeless rage. The name of Skulltaker.

Dread pawed at Dorgo’s heart as he looked upon that mound. It was a mountain of skulls, making the trophy piles beneath the stakes look like the work of children. Thousands, no, millions, of heads had been taken to build the morbid monument. The skulls of men, beastmen, giants and ogres, wolves and tigers, and beasts without number or name had been cast into the pile. Upon the forehead of each was branded the rune of Khorne, the fell symbol of the Blood God.
The icy crawl of fear made its way down Dorgo’s spine as he looked once more upon the shattered colossus of Teiyogtei Khagan. Broken into eight pieces, only one had been further defiled. Carved into the dark forehead of the statue was the crossbar symbol of Khorne.
Dorgo knew that he looked upon the work of the Skulltaker.
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Jwlynas
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Re: Skulltaker respect thread

Postby Jwlynas » Tue Jan 31, 2012 1:09 pm

Skulltaker's tally includes:
Felling a quarter of the Grey Knights Brother-Captains during the First War for Armageddon
Butchering the Ork Warboss Grimsnag Urk and his armoured bodyguards on Agripina-6.
Killing 17 Eldar Exarchs during the fighting on Haranshemash.

And now we've got all the info listed, time to sort it into feats.

...Joy...

Strength

Skill

Endurance

Regeneration

Magic resistance

Misc (feats on his mount, prophecies, things that are interesting, even if they don't technically come in useful mid battle)
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Re: Skulltaker respect thread

Postby addseo2015 » Mon Jul 20, 2015 7:32 am

time to sort it into feats.
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