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Library: The Laughter of Dark Gods by Wm King

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Author: merja
Date:Feb 18 2008

From the back of his dark horse, Kurt von Diehl stared into the Chaos Wastes.
A strange red haze hung over rainbow-coloured ground and the outline of the
land seemed to shift like sand-dunes in a breeze.
 He turned to look down at Oleg Zaaroff, the last survivor of his original
gang. The rat-like little man had followed him all the way from the Empire
through the steppes of Kislev to these poisoned lands at the edge of the
world. Now their path led clearly out into the desert.
"It's been a long road," said Zaharoff," but we're here."
 Kurt raised his hand and shielded his eyes with one black-gauntleted hand. He
drank in the scene. Visions of this place had haunted his dreams ever since he
had slain the Chaos warrior and claimed his baroque black armour and his
runesword. He rubbed the inlaid skull on his chest-plate thoughtfully.
 "Aye. Here hell has touched the earth and men may aspire to godhood. Here we
can become masters of our own destiny. I have dreamed about making my way to
the uttermost north, to the Black Gate. I will stand before great Khorne and
he will grant me power. We will return and claim inheritance from the brothers
who ousted me."
 He spoke as a man speaks when he has a vision in which he does not fully
believe, as much to convince himself as to convince any listener. He had his
doubts bu he pushed them aside. Had not the armour already granted him a
measure of the strength of Chaos?
 He made hismelf savour thoughts of his coming revenge. Soon he would reclaim
his ancestral lands from the treacherous kinsmen who had banished him to the
life of an outlaw.
 Guided by the call that had lured him across a hundred leagues, Kurt nudged
his steed on down the path. With a last look back towards the lands of men,
Oleg Zaharoff followed him.
 Night came, a darkening of the haze that surrounded them, a flickering of
fearful stars in the sky. Far, far to the north a dark aurora danced, staining
the sky a deeper, emptier black. They made camp for the night within a ruined
building, surrounded by grasping, fungus-covered trees.
 "This must have been a farm once, before the last incursion of Chaos," said
Zaharoff. Kurt slumped down against a blackened wall and gazed over at him
interesdly. Zaharoff was a Kislevite and knew many tales about the Wastes that
borded his native land, none of them reassuring.
 "Two hundred years ago, when the sky last darkened and the hordes of Chaos
came, they say that most of northern Kislev was overrun. Magnus the Pious came
to my people's aid and the host was driven back. But Chaos did not give up all
the ground it had conquered. This must have been part of the overrun land."
 He picked up something, a small doll that had lain where it had been thrown
aside. Some freak of this strange land must have preserved it, Kurt decided.
Sadly he found himself wondering what had become of its owner.
 Shocked by his own weakness, he tried to push the thought aside.
 "Soon the horde will march again." he said. "We will drown the world in
blood."
 Kurt was startled. He had said the words but they were not his own. They
seemed to have emerged from some hidden recess of his mind. He felt something
lurking back there, had done since the day he put on the armour. He wondered
if he was going mad.
 Zaharoff gave him a strange look. "How can you be so sure, Kurt? We don't
really know that much about this place. Only what you have dreamed-and that
your armour came from here. How can you be sure that we will find what we seek
and not death?"
 The words echoed too closely Kurt's own darker thoughts. "I know I am right.
Do you doubt me?"
 Zaharoff threw the doll to one side. "Of course not. If you are wrong we have
lost everything."
 "Go to sleep, Oleg. Tomorrow you will need your strength. Doubt will only sap
it."
 Kurt laid his sword and axe near at hand and closer his eyes. Almost at once
he fell into blood-stained dreams. It seemed that he climbed towards some
great reward over a mound of ripped and squirming bodies.
 No matter how fast he climbed he could not reach the top of the pile. A long
way above him something huge, with baleful eyes, watched his struggles with
amusement.
      n  THE SOUND of scuttling awoke Kurt. He snapped open his eyes and
seized up his weapons. Looking across at Oleg he saw his companion was gazing
around in fear.
     

 "They come," he said. Zaharoff nodded. Von Diehl arose and made towards the
entrance. Before he reached it, he saw his way was barred by small bearded
figures clad in dark-painted armour and clutching axes and hammers. Their
skins were green or white as the bellies of fish from some underground pool.
They were the height of children but as broad as a strong man.
 Kurt knew they were dwarfs (sic)-but seduced to the path of Chaos.
"Khorne has provided us with a sacrifice," said the leader in a voice as deep
as a mine. Kurt heheaded him with one swift stroke, then he leapt among them,
striking left and right with sword and axe.
 "Blood for the Blood God!" he cried, belllowing out the warcry which echoed
through his dreams. "Skulls for the skull throne!"
 He ploughed into the dwarfs(sic) like a ship thorugh waves. Behind him he
left a trail of red havoc. Small figures fell clutching at the stumps of arms,
trying to hold in place jaws that had been sheared from their faces.
 Kurt felt unholy joy surge through him, searing through his veins like
sweetest poison. It seeped into him from his armour. With every death he felt
a little stronger, a little happier. Mad mirth bubbled through him, insance
laughter frothed from his lips. He had felt a pale foretaste of this madness
in previous battles but here in th Chaos Wastes, under the eerie moons, it was
like nectar. He was drunk on battle.
"Kurt, look out!" he heard Oleg cry.He twisted and took the stroke of a hemmer
on his armoured forearm. His sword fell from numb hands. He saw what Zaharoff
had tried to warn him of. Two masked and goggled dwarves were manhandling a
long tube  into position, bringing it to bear on him. He punched the hammer
wielder in the face, feeling a nose break under the spoked knuckles of his
gauntlet, then swung his axe back and threw it. The weapon went spinning
through the air and buried itself in the head of the leading dwarf.
 The warrior fell backwards, the tube lurched skyward and a gout of flame
erupted from its tip. A white-hot sheet of flame blazed past Kurt's face.
Something impacted on the structure behind him. The building exploded, the
horses whinnied with terror.
 He turned to look at the ruins of the old farm. Everyone else did the same
for one brief moment. Kurt stooped and picked up his sword. The remaining
dwarves looked at him.
 "Chosen of Khorne," said the nearest one. "There has been a mistake. We did
not realize you were one of the Blood God's champions. Lead us and we will
follow you.
 He bowed his head to the ground. Kurt was tempted to hack it off, to continue
the bloodletting, but he restained himself. Such followers might be useful. !n
"Very well," Kurt said. "But any treachery and you all die."  The dwarves
nodded solemnly. Kurt began to laugh until red tears ran down his face. His
laughter died in his throat. He pulled off his helmet to check for cuts and he
saw Zaharoff start, a look of pure terror crossing his face.
 "What is it?" he asked. "What do you see?"
 "Your face, Kurt. It's beginning to change."
     
     
KURT AND HIS warband pushed on further into the Wastes, seeking foes to slay
and booty to plunder.
 Each day as they marched Kurt's face became more twisted, more like that of a
beast. At first there was discomfort, then pain, the agony, but he endured it
stoically. The dwarves seemed pleased, taking it as a sign that their master
was blessed by the Blood God. Kurt noticed that Oleg could no longer look him
in the face.
 'What is wrong?' asked Kurt. They were standing atop a butte of wind-sculpted
ebony, looking down at a landscape where crystalline flowers bloomed.
 In the distance, far to the north, Kurt could see dark clouds gathering.
 'Nothing Kurt, I am uneasy. We have encountered no one for days and a storm
is coming from the north. By the look of those clouds it will be no natural
tempest.'
 'Come, Oleg, you can be honest with me. We have known each other long enough.
That is not what worries you.'
 Zaharoff looked at him sidelong. Behind them the dwarves were stowing their
fear, pitching small black tents with frames made from carved bone. Zaharoff
licked his lips.
 'I am troubled. I do not like this place. It is so vast and strange and
empty. It could swallow a man and no one would notice he was gone.' O2P
 Kurt laughed. 'Having second thoughts? Do you wish to turn back? If you want
to return I will not stop you. Go, if you wish to.'
 Zaharoff looked back the way they had come. Kurt could tell what he was
thinking. He was measuring the length of the way against his chances of
survival on his own. TO the south something large and black flapped across the
red-tinted sky. Zaharoff shook his head, his shoulders slumped.
 I am committed. FOr good or ill, I will follow you.' His voice was soft and
resigned.
 Yorri, the dwarf chief, approached. 'Bad storm coming, boss. Best be
prepared.'
 'I'm going to stay and watch,' said Kurt. The dwarf shrugged and turned to
walk away.
     
   OVERHEAD BLACK CLOUDS BOILED. The wind roared past, tugging at the fur of
his face. Pink lightning lashed down from the sky. He watched the horses buck
and lewap with fear. They could not break free from the iron pins to which the
dwarves had tethered them. He could see foam on their lips.
 Thunder rumbled like the laughter of dark gods. Another bolt of lighning
sploit the sky. The crystal flowers pulsed and flared with many-coloured
lights as the bolts landed in the grove. For a moment the after-image of the
flash blinded him. When he looked back the grove was transformed. Pale
witchfire surrounded the blossoms so that there seemed to be two sets of
flowers, of solid crystal and shimmering light. It was a scene of weird, alien
beauty.
 Among the mesas of the tortured land dark clouds prowled forward like giant
monsters. He watched as the dust-clouds swept over the crystal flowers,
obscuring their light. Flecks of dust drifted up over the edge of the outcrop
on which he stood.
 He watched rainbows of dust particles dance and spiral in the air before him.
They seemed to trap the energy of the lightning and glittered like fairy
lights. Where the dust touched him his face tingled and his armour grew warm
to thhe touch.
 Once more the lightning flashed. Exultation filled him. He stood untouched
and unafraid in the elemental landscape. It seemed that part of him had come
home at last. He raised his sword to the sky. Its runes glowed red as blood.
He laughed aloud and his voice was merged with the thunder.
     
     
'DAMN DUST GETS everywhere,' said Oleg Zaharoff. 'It's in my hair, my clothes.
I think I even swallowed some.'
 'The dust is powdered warpstone,' said Yorri. 'Ash from the gatefires that
still burn at the northernmost pole, where the fires of hell spill over into
the world. Soon changes will start.'
 'You mean around here?' asked Oleg.
 'The land. Our bodies. What does it matter?' The dwarf cackled.
 Oleg smiled crazily. 'I do feel different.'
 'Chaos will make us strong,' said Kurt, trying to reassure himself.
 A dwarf scuttled closer. He came right up to Kurt. 'Master, we have sighted
prey. Coming into the grove of flowers is a warband. By thr colour of their
armour and the lewdness of their banner I would say they are followers of
thrice-accursed Slaanesh.'
 At the mention of the name Kurt felt inchoate fury fill him. Visions of
slaughter rose unbidden before his eyes. Sweet hate filled him. Ancient enmity
lay between Khorne and Slaanesh.
 'Prepare your weapons! We will attack them as they leave the grove.' The
order had left his lips before he even had time to think.
 The dwarf grinned evilly and nodded. Kurt wondered, was it just his
imagination or were the salve-dwarfs' teeth growing sharper?
 They waited at the edge of the grove where the path ran between two great
mesas. The dwarfs grumbled happily in their own tongue. Zaharoff nervously
sharpened his weapon until Kurt told him to stop. They crouched behind the
shelter of some boulders. Nearby Yorri and his crewman had set up their
fire-tube ready to blast the first target that came into sight.
 The enemy came slowly into view. They were led by a woman clad in lime-green
plate mail. Her yellow and orange hair streamed behind her in the breeze, and
she smiled to herself as if in the throes of some secret rapture. Her mount
was bipedal, bird-like, with a long snout and deep, human-seeming eyes. The
woman carried a huge war banner. Spiked to its top was a child's head above
the carven body of a beckoning woman.
 A long chain of slender metal links bound a gross, bull-headed giant to the
woman's saddle. The minotaur was half-again as tall as Kurt and muscled like a
dwarf blacksmith. It looked at the woman with adoring, worshipful eyes.
 Behind it marched half a dozen beastmen. Each had one exposed female breast,
although the rest of their naked bodies were obviously male. At the rear were
two twisted elves, clad in thonged black leather and carrying crossbows. When
the dwarfs saw them they gibbered excitedly to each other.
 Kurt gestured for the dwarfs to be silent. The Slaaneshi moved ever closer,
seemingly oblivious to their peril.
 'Aazella Silkenthighs,' muttered Yorri. Kurt looked at him. 'She is favoured
by the Lord of Pleasure. Beware her whip.'
 Kurt nodded and drew his finger across his throat. The dwarf once more fell
silent. Kurt gave Aazella his attention. He noticed that behind her the storm
had affected the crystal flowers. They had grown to be higher than a man, and
seemed thinner and more translucent, like blooms of glazed sugar. Bloated
black insects moved over them, gnawing the leaves.
 The enemy were no more than a dozen yards from them when the eyes of the
impaled head above the banner opened. It licked its lips and spoke in a
horrid, lascivious voice: 'Beware, mistress. Foes wait in ambush.'
 Kurt leapt to his feat. 'Blood for the Blood God!' he shouted, gesturing his
men forward with a motion of his axe.
 With a roar, the dwarf tube spat forth its projectile. The missile buried
itself in the chest of the man-bull, knocking it from its feet. It fell to the
ground, its entrails pouring from its ruined abdomen.
 His men raced forward to attack as Kurt charged the woman on her steed. The
animal licked out at him with a flickering tongue, long as a rope, glistening
stickily. It reminded him of the tongue of a toad. He chopped at it with his
runesword, cutting it in two. The beast retracted its stump, whimpering in
pain.
 He closed and struck it with his axe. The blade failed to bite on the
creature's resilient hide. Above him the child's head kept up a babbling
stream of obscenities.
 Aazella liften the standard and smashed it into his chest. The blow landed
with surprising force and knocked him from his feet. Above him the beast of
Slaanesh skittered and danced. Despite the black spots floating before his
eyes he managed to roll clear of its talons.
 He lashed out with his blade, hamstringing the creature. It fell to one side
as he pulled himself to his feet. The woman let go of the standard and rolled
from her saddle. With amazing agility she performed a handspring and came to
land in a fighting stance, pulling a long metallic whip from her belt.
 She licked her red lips, revealing fanged incisors. Then she smiled at him.
'You seek a pleasurable death, warrior. I shall see you writhe in ectstasy
before you die.'
 'Die, spawn of Slaanesh!' Kurt bellowed, rushing at her. 'Die in the name of
Khorne!'
 As he invoked his dread lord's name he once more felt the strength of
murderous bloodlust flow through him. He aimed a stroke which would have split
her in two. She avoided it like a gazelle leaping from a lion's spring, then
stuck a foot, tripping him.
 'Clumsy man,' she taunted. 'You'll have to do better.'
 He growled like a wild animal and leapt to his feet. This time he advanced
towards her more cautiously, feinting gently with his sword, preparing to
swing his axe. Somewhere he could hear the voice of a child, taunting him.
 He struck with the axe and once more she evaded it. This time she struck at
him with her whip. It looped around his throat, blocking his breath. As it
completed its last coil, he found himself glaring into serpentine eyes. The
head of a snake tipped the lash. It hissed and bit into his cheek.
 Knowing he was poisoned drove him to redoubled effort. Determined to at least
sacrifice her in the name of his god, he dropped his weapons and with both
hands grabbed the whip's metallic line. He jerked her towards him.
 So sudden was his move that she did not let go of the weapon but was drawn
towards him. He released the whip and grabbed her throat with his mailed
hands. He began to tighten his grip.
 The fell together like lovers. From the bite in his cheek waves of ppure
pleasure pulsed, mingling with his beserk hatred. He shut his eyes and
squeezed even harder as the pleasure mounted. It burst inside him as intense
as pain and then he knew only darkness and cold.
     
     
 'WHAT HAPPEND?' KURT heard a deep, gruff voice ask. The words were his own.
 He raised thick fingers to his face to feel the fur of his forehead. His arms
felt like treetrunks, thick and bloated. His chest felt broader. His voice
seemed to rumble from a chasm deep within him.
 From off in the distance he could hear an agonized scream which ended in mad,
gibbering laughter and a moan of pleasure.
 'I thought you were dead, Kurt,' said Oleg. His face drifted into view. It
looked blotched and leprous. Two small growths had appeared on his forehead
and his shoulder seemed to have a hump on it.
 'You're not lookinb goo well, Oleg,' growled Kurt.
 'You've been... ill. After you killed the woman, you fell into a feverish
swoon. You lay and gibbered for two long days.'
 'What happened to her?'
 'An unnatural thing. You both fell. Your hands were about her throat. I
approached to give her the coup-de-grace but her armour rose from the ground
and walked off into the wasteland. Her eyes were closed. I could have sworn
that she was dead.'
 'We have seen the last of her,' boomed Kuirt. 'What became of her men?'
 'Yorri and the lads ate the beastmen. You can hear the screams of the elves.'
 The little man shuddered. 'Truly, Kurt, we are in hell.'


 'GREETINGS, BROTHER, WHITHER goest though?' The speaker was garbed in
rune-encrusted plate. A full helmet obscured his face except for reddish
glowing eyes. He was tall and thin, predatory looking as a mantis. Behind him
was ranged a force of mangy beastmen. They loomed menacingly against a
landscape of redly glowing craters.
 Kurt studied the other warrior warily, suspecting treachery. 'I am bound for
the deep lands near the Gates.'
 'Truly thou art the chosen of Khorne,' said the other mockingly. 'A thousand
years ago I spoke similarly. I am sure the Blood God will reward thee
suitably.'
 'Do not mock me, little man,' said Kurt dangerously.
 'I do not mock thee. I envy thy determination. I had not the will to
profgress further in the service of our dark lord. I fear I was over-cautious.
Now I wander these lands forlornly. 'Tis a drab existence.'
 Zaharoff spoke. 'You do not seriously expect us to believe this tale? A
thousand years!'
 The slender warrior laughed. 'Ten years, a century, a millennium, what does
it matter? Time flows strangely here at the world's edge. All who dwell within
the Wastes learn that eventually.'
 'Who are you?' asked Kurt.
 'I am Prince Deiter the Unchanging.'
 'Kurt von Diehl.'
 'May I join thy quest, Sir Kurt? It may prove mildly amusing.'
 'I'm not sure I believe in you, prince. A foppish, cowardly servant of
KKhorne.'
 Once more the black prince laughed sweetly. 'You will find, Sir Kurt, that
Chaos holds all possibilities. Here nothing is impossible.'
 Zaharoff moved closer to Kurt. 'I do not trust this one. Perhaps it would be
best to kill him.'
 Kurt looked down at him. 'Later. For now he is useful.'
 The beastmen fell into ranks beside the dwarfs. Dieter rode beside Kurt.
Zaharoff limped along somewhat apart, keeping a cautious eye on their new
companions.


 THEY TRAVELLED ACROSS what once had been a battlefield. Here lay the bones of
thousands of combatants. Rib-cages crunched under the hooves of Kurt's
strangely mutating horse.
 The dwarfs kicked a goat-horned skull between them, laughing and making coase
jokes.
 The dwarves kicked a goat-horned skull between them, laughing and making
coaarse jokes.
 Over the whole field arced an enormous skeleton. A spine as high as a hill
was supported by ribs greater than Imperial oaks. Riding beneath it was like
passing below the roof of an enormous hall. After a while even the dwarfs fell
silent as the oppressiveness of the place grew.
 'The Field of Grax.' remarked Prince Dieter conversationally. What a pretty
fray that was. The massed hordes of Khorne faced the armies of Tzeentch, the
Great Mutator. Sadly we fought near the lair of the dragon Grax. The clash of
our arms disturbed his beauty sleep. He was a trifle annoyed when he was
roused. I think our lords picked this place deliberately. It was their little
joke.'
 'I do not like the way you speak of the Dark Powers, prince,' said Kurt. 'It
smacks of blasphemy.'
 The prince tittered. 'Blasphemy 'gainst the Lords of Chaos, the
arch-blasphemers themselves? Thou art a wit, Sir Kurt.'
 'I do not jest, prince.'
 The prince fell silent and when he spoke again his tone was bleak and
absolutely serious. Then thou art alone in that here. Even our dark masters
enjoy a joke. All thou hast seen here, all the worlds even, exist only for
their amusement. The Four Powers seek to while away eternity until even they
sink back into the Void Absolute. We are nothing more than their playthings.
 Kurt stared at him, fighting the urge to draw his sword and slay the strange
Chaos warrior. Walking across the field of bones, underneath the spine of the
gigantic dragon, he felt dwarfed into insignificance and very alone.
 THE SCREAMS OF the dying echoed in his ears. By the light of two bloated
moons Kurt fought and slew. He raised his sword and hacked through the
dogman's shield. His blow sounded like a blacksmith hitting an anvil. It ended
with a pulpy squelch.
 They fought against other followers of Khorne, honing their skills, winnowing
out the weak.
 He looked up and saw the radiant aurora in the sky. He shrieked his warcry
and drove on towards the remainder of his foes. Nearby he saw Zaharoff gnawing
at the throat of one of the dead. Blood stained the downy fur of his face, his
eyes were pink and his long hairless tail twitched.
 Guiding his horned steed with his knees, Kurt charged towards the enemy
banner, hewing down anyone who stood in his way. A great beast, long and
hideously canine, snapped at his leg. He wheeled the horse round and brought
its hooves thudding down on the creature's head. He leaned forward in the
saddle and hacked at the thing with his runeblade. With a whimper it died.
 In the disance he saw Prince Dieter fighting his way through a group of
dog-headed soldiers, a long silver blade gleaming in his hands. He showed a
delicate skill that seemed out of place in a wearer of the dread black armour
of Khorne.
 A shock ran through him and he looked down to see another Chaos warrior, a
tall helmetless man with the long hair and beard of a Norseman. He frother at
the mouth and gibbered beserkly. His huge hawk-beaked axe had opened a cut in
Kurt's leg.
 'Blood for the Blood God!' roared the Norseman.
 'Only the strong survive,' bellowed Kurt, bringing his own axe down.
 The beserker ignored the fact that Kurt had caved in the side of his face and
continued to chop away. Kurt smiled in appreciation at the man's bloodlust
before cleaving his head clean off. Even after this the Norseman continue to
hack away mechanically, lashing around him blindly, chopping into the ranks of
his own men.
 Red rage mingled with pain as Kurt charged the enemy's standard. At that
moment he felt a vast presence loom over him, leering approvingly as he
butchered his opponents.
 He looked up and briefly thought he saw a gigantic horn-helmed figure
silhouetted against the sky. The figure radiated bloodlust and insane approval
like a daemonic sun. The feeling of approval increased with every foe Kurt
slew.
 Invigorated and exalted, he rode down the last few who barred his way, threw
his axe at the bearer and snatched up the enemy standard. He broke it
one-handed, like a twig. The enemy broke and fled and he rode them down.
 'The field is ours!' he cried.
 Afterwards, when the killing-lust had gone, he surveyed the field. The
tremendous feeling of divine approval had gone and he felt empty. The
battlefield seemed meaningless, the triumpf hollow. Bodies were strewn
everywhere in random patterns, like incomprehensible runes written by an
idiotic god. The whole scene was like a painting, two-dimensional and vold. He
felt disconnected from it.
 He gazed out with empty eyes and for the first time in months found himself
thinking of home. To his horror, try as he might, he could not recall what it
looked like. The names of his family who had dispossessed him would not come.
It was as if he dimly remembered another life. He had to fight back the
suspicion thatt he had died and been reborn in a hell of unending warfare.
 Staring at the devolved figure of Zaharoff, ripping haunches of flesh from
teh dead, revulsion overcame him. He was sick. He heard the trotting of hooves
coming closer.
 Prince Dieter looked at him and surveyed the carnage he had wrought.
 'Truly, Kurt, thou art the chosen of Khorne.'
 His voice held a mixture of mockery, awe and pity.
   
    
'WILL WE NEVER get to the Gates?' asked Kurt, looking back at the warband
balefully.
 Yorri scratched his head with the claw of his third arm. Zaharoff looked at
him and twitched his tail. Kurt noted the red ring that surrounded his mouth.
 'We may never reach them,' said Prince Dieter. 'Some say the Gates stretch
off into infinity and that a man could ride from now until Khorne's final
horn-blast and not reach them.'
 'You are a little late in telling us this, prince.'
 'It may not be the case. There are many tales about the Chaos Wastes, often
contradictory. Sometimes both are true.'
 'You speak in riddles.'
 Dieter shrugged. 'What one traveller meets, another may not. Distances can
stretch and shrink. The stuff of reality itself becomes mutable around the
Gates as the raw power of Chaos warps it.'
 Kurt stared off across the lake of blood. On it he could see ships of bone.
Perhaps their sails were flayed flresh, he mused.
 'I have heard it said that around the Gates one enters the dreams of the old
Dark Gods, that it is their thoughts that shape the land. And what the
traveller meets depends on which Power is in the ascendant.'
 'What are the Gates?' asked Zaharoff. Kurt looked at him in surprise. It had
been a long time since the little man had shown any interest in their quest.
He seemed to have withdrawn within himself.
 'They are where the Lords of Chaos enter our world, a doorway from their
realm to ours,' said Kurt.
 Dieter coughed delicately. 'That may be true but that is not the whole
story.'
 'Of course thou knowest the whole story,' said Kurt sardonically.
 'Some say that one of the mighty sorcerers of old tried to bring daemons here
but he got more than he bargained for. Some say that the Gates were a
mechanism of the Elder Race known as the Slann, used for their ungodly
purposes. The mechanism ran wild and a hole was created through which Chaos
came into the world.'
 'It was all the fault of the elves, said Yorri.
 'It doesn't matter,' said Kurt. 'We will not find our goal by standing here
talking.'
 'Why dost thou wish to reach them?' asked Dieter.
 'It's why I came here,' said Kurt. The trek was the only purpose he could
latch on to that made any sort of sense in this terrible realm.
 He could see how easy it would be to become like the doomed prince and simply
drift from place to place in search of battle. In the realm of the damned,
purpose was more precious than jewels.


THEY FOUGHT MORE battles and with every battle Kurt's power fgrew, and as his
power grew so did the number of his followers. To Kurt every day merged into a
dream of bloodlust. His life became an endless battle. His ladder to power was
made of the bones of fallen enemies.
 At Caer Deral, among the burial mounds of long-dead kings, he fought against
the followers of the renegade god Malal. Beneath the eyes of a huge stone head
he slew the enemy leader, a man whose face was white as milk and whose eyes
were red as blood. He tore the albino's heart out with his bare hands and
raised it, still pulsing as an offering to the Blood God. The mark of Khorne's
pleasure were the twisted goat horns that sprouted from his head. A company of
red-furred beastmen marched from the Wastes to join him.
 By the banks of a river of filth he routed the fly-headed followers of Nurgle
and would have slain their leader, a gaunt woman on whose skin crawled
leeches, had not something vast and soft and deadly risen from the mire and
driven him and his men off. Khorne was displeased and Kurt's face changed once
more, features running until his nose was two slits over a leech mouth.
 After the Siege of the Keep of Malamon, which warriors of Khorne had
struggled to take for a century, he rode on his mighty steed through the
courtyard to look on the body of the once-mighty sorcerer. Two chaos marauders
had raised the corpse on the end of a pike while the host revelled through the
wreckage of the castle. In a pool of the wizard's blood by the light of
blazing torches, he caught sight of himself. He saw a huge and monstrous
creature with an ape-like face and tired, lost eyes.
 Along with his mind he seemed to be losing even the form of a man, as the
corrosive influence of his surroundings worked to transform him.
 After that night, he tried to re-dedicate himself to Khorne, to lose himself
in the wine of battle and drown out thoughts of his fading humanity in fore.
 The host left the Siege of Malamon and swept across the Wastes like fire
through dry scrubland. Everything it met died, whether allied with Nurgle,
Tzeentch, Slaanesh or Khorne.
 Within the councils of its leaders Kurt rose by virtue of his desperate
ferocity.
 Even among these, most violent of the violent, he stood apart by virtue of
his ruthlessness and insane courage. Khorne showered him with rewards and with
each gift his humanity seemed to fade, his sick hopelessness to withdraw, to
form a small solid kernel buried deep in his mind.
 Memories of his homeland, friends and family had all but gone, like old
paintings who pigment has faded to the point of invisibility. He became only
dimly aware of the beings about him, seeing them only as victims or slaves.
When after one desperate struggle Zaharoff's chittering voice called him
'master' he never gave it a second thought but took his former friends
servitude as his natural due.

 Under a blood-red sky he fought with bat-winged daemons until his axe chipped
and broke. From the body of a dead knight of khorne he snatched up a strange
and potent weapon, a crossbow which fired bolts of light and whose beams
caused the bat-things to shrivel and curl out of existence like leaves in
flame.
 In a blizzard of ash he struggled against creatures even further down the
path of Chaos than hmself, amoebic shapes from which protruded stalked eyes
and questing orifi es. After that his armour fused to his flesh like a second
skin.. Zaharoff and the dwarfs came ever more to resemble the creatures he had
defeated.
 The host's casualties mounted and Kurt continued his progression towards its
leadership. And everywhere he went Prince Dieter the Unchanging was close
behind, his permanent shadow, whispering advice and encouragement and words of
ancient, evil wisdom.
 Every day Kurt became more aware of the presence of the Blood God in his
heart. Every death seemed to bring him closer to his dark deity, every foe
vanquished seemed to extinguish some small spark of his humanity and mould him
further towards Khorne's ideal.
 All his dark passions seemed to fuse and come to the fore. He became
unthinking and unrestrained, acting on whim rather than conscious thought.
 He lived in a constant state of permanent barely-restrained frenzy. The
slightest infraction of his command, the smallest thing which annoyed him,
resulted in someone's death. A warrior only had to glance at him he wrong way
to feel the sting of Kurt's weapons.
 And yet during all this time a small part of his spirit stood apart and
watched what was happening to him with growing horror. Sometimes he would be
struck with doubt and feelings of terrible loneliness which all his triumphs
could not assuage. Part of him was naseauated by the unending violence that
was his life and felt sick guilt at the joy he took in slaughter. It was as if
his mind had become host to some malevolent alien creature which he did not
understand.
 It seemed to him in his more lucid moments, away from the druvg of combat,
that he had become a divided man, that his soul had become a field over which
an unequal battle was being fought between his lust for power and blood and
what remaind of his humanity. There were times when found himself
contemplating falling on his own sword and ending his torment, but such was
not the way of Khorne's champions.
 Instead he was always first into every skirmish, accepted every challenge to
personal combat and chose the mightiest opponents. Invariably he was
successful and gifts of changed body and warped soul that Khorne granted
reinforced the dark side of his nature.


THE END CAME swiftly. The host was progressing across a smooth plain towards
mountains of glass. Its banners fluttere din a dry, throat-tightening breeze,
it advanced in full panoply. Under a standard bearing the skull rune of the
Blood God, the army's commanders rode and bickered.
 'I say we ride north,' said Kurt, still obeying the command of some
half-forgotten impulse. 'There we will find power and foes worthy of our
blades.'
 'I say we head south and harry the Slaaneshi, replied Hargul Grimaxe, the
army's general.
 'I am with Kurt,' said Dieter. The rest of the warriors fell silent. They all
sensed the coming conflict. Among the followers of Khorne there could only be
one unquestioned leader and there was only one way to settle the issue.
 'South,' said Kilgore the Ogre, glaring meanacingly at Kurt. Tazelle and
Avarone, the other great champions, kept silent. Their followers watched,
quiet as black statues.
 The part of Kurt's mind which still functioned tried to work out how many of
the commanders would follow him and what proportion of the army would back him
up. Not enough, he decided. Well, so be it.
 'North,' bellowed Kurt, swinging up his alien weapon and blasting Hargul. The
general's head melted and bubbled away.
 'Treachery!' yelled Tazelle. All the warriors drew their weapons.'
 Battle began under the banner of the Blood God. It was a spark to dry
kindling. Behind him Kurt heard the roar of the army's troops. Soon the
screams of dying beastmen and mutating man-things reached his ears as the army
fell on itself in an orgy of violence.
 Old hatreds, made the more intense by being restrained by the discipline of
the army, were suddenly unfettered.
 Kurt smiled. Khorne would devour many souls this day.
 He brought his weapons to bear on the rest of the commanders and pulled the
trigger. Two more died under its withering beam before it was smashed from his
hand by an axe.
 'Blood for the Blood God!' roared Kurt, drawing his sword and hewing around
two-handed. He hacked his way to the centre of the group of warriors and
seized up the standard. He knew that by instinct the force would rally around
its bearer.
 Now, as never before, he felt the presence of Khorne. As he touched the
banner the laughter of the Blood God seemed to ring his ears, the shadow of
his passing darkened the sky. He was giving his master mighty offerings. Not
the weak twisted souls of stunted slaves or mewling men but the spirits of
warriors, mighty champions who had much blood on their hands.
 He could tell Khorne was pleased.
 The sweep of his sword cut down any who came within its arc. He was tireless.
Energy seemed to flood into him through the standard, amplifying his strength
a hundred-fold. He became an engine of destruction driven by daemonic rage.
Bodies piled up around him as he destroyed all opposition.
 He laughed and the sound of his mirth bubbled out over the battlefield. All
who heard it became infected by its madness. In frenzy, they fought anyone
near, throwing away shields, ignoring incoming blows in their lust to slay.
 Kurt bounded over the pile of bodies and found himself face to face with the
four remaining champions, the mightiest warriors of the host: Dieter, Avarone
Bloodhawk, Kilgore and Tazelle She-Devil.
 With a single blow he beheaded the ogre. He saw the look of astonishment
freeze on its face even as it died. Tazelle and Avarone came at him, one from
each side. He clubbed Avarone down with the standard, as the woman's blow
chopped into the armoured plate of his arm. He felt no pain. It was transmuted
into raw energy, a fire that burned in the core of his being. He felt as if
his insides were fusing in the heat, that he was being purified in the
crucible of battle.
 The return sweep of the standard sent Tazelle flying through the air like a
broken doll. Within Kurt's chest the searing power seemed to be reforming into
something tangible and heavy. He felt himself slowing.
 He rushed toward Dieter, seeking to impale him on the horned skull on top of
the standard. Dieter stepped aside and let the momentum of Kurt's rush carry
him onto his blade. Sparks flew as Dieter's long slender sword bored through
Kur's armour and into his heart.
 Kurt stopped and looked down, astonished, at the blade protruding from his
chest. Lancing pain passed through him, then he reached out, with a reflex as
instinctive as the sting of a dying wasp, and with one twist broke the
Unchange Prince's neck.
 'Truly thou art the chosen of Khorne,' he heard Dieter say before he fell to
the ground.
 Agony lanced through Kurt, pulsing outwards from his chest. It seemed as if
molten lead boiled through his veins. Even the energy flowing from the
standard was not enough to sustain him. Black spots danced before his eyes and
he staggered holding onto the banner for support.
 The sounds of battle receded into the distance and Dieter's words echoed
within his head until it seemed that they were echoed by a chanting chorus of
bestial voices. At least it was ending, thought the submerged part of him that
was still human.
 For a moment everything seemed clear and the red fury that had clouded his
mind lifted. He looked with fading sight on a battlefield where nothing human
stood. Men had reduced themselves to beasts fought on a plain running with
rivers of blood.
 Overhead in the sky loomed a titanic figure, larger than mountains, which
looked down with a hunger no mortal could comprehend, drinking in the
spectacle of its playthings at war, feeding on it, becoming strong.
 The chorus of voices in his head become one. It was a voice which held a vast
weariness and a vast lust, a voice older than the stars.
 'Truly, Kurt, you are the chosen of Khorne,' it said. Blackness flowed over
him and a wave of elemental fury drowned his mind. He felt the change begin in
his body. The black alien being that had nestled within him, like a wasp's
larvae within a caterpillar, was emerging, entering the world through the husk
of his body.
 The black armour creaked and split asunder. His chest and skull exploded.
Wings emerged from the remains of his body like those of a butterfly emerging
from a chrysalis. Shaking the blood and filth from itself, the new-born daemon
gazed adoringly up at its master and pledged itself to an eternity of carnage.
 With a mighty leap it soared into the sky. Beneath it, small clusters of
warriors still battled on. It drank in the delicious scent of their souls as
it rose. Soon it looked down on tiny figures lost in the vast panorama of a
landscape laid waste by war and Chaos. It turned north towards the Gates,
beyond which lay its new home.
 Somewhere in the furthest recesses of its mind, the thing that had once been
Kurt von Diehl screamed, knowing that he was truly damned. He was as much pa
part of the daemon as it had been a part of him. He was trapped in the prison
of its being, forever.
 In the sky the dark god laughed.


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