The Osseous Hollow
“And you are certain-sure of this, yes-yes?”
The Bonelord’s low, rumbling words made him clench his glands even tighter. Tweep Smalleyes kept his eyes to the ground, not daring to look up at the face of death looming over him. From his position on his knees, prostrated before the Osseous Throne, the man-thing hair rug was cleaner than he expected. Well except for the bit of discarded gristle inches from his snout.
“Yes, oh mighty Bonelord, it is true-certain,” Tweep stammered. “All the malign portents of the foul-thing’s awakening have come to pass, just as you said! Savage man-things rip and tear and howl! Wight warrior departs from tunnels! All my wall creepers report the same.” He bobbed his head enthusiastically, which threatened to send the warpstone lens goggles careening off his head. He stopped them, but only just. It would cost another month’s flesh rations to replace them if they broke, and he could not dirty himself with eating mushroom stew for so long again!
The Bonelord was silent for a long moment. Tweep was sure his lord’s dread blade would come flashing down at any moment for some impasse. Tweep could maybe scurry away faster than Skelett, make a new life in nearby Clan Fester, sell his secrets, but the two chieftains in the room would surely catch him if he tried to bolt. Perhaps if he-
Then the Bonelord spoke. “You are a satisfactory minion.” The Bonelord paused, perhaps realizing that Tweep did not know what “satisfactory” meant. “Good-fine sneaking. You are not so useless after all!” Skelett’s hot breath washed over him as his heart soared. “Scamper to feeding pit now!”
Tweep needed no excuse to leave.
Bonelord Skelett Skullreaper
Skelett glowered at the black-robed clanrat’s backside as he scurried out of the room like his life depended on it. Of course Skelett wouldn’t kill the imbecile! He was the only one who fully understood the labyrinth of sneak holes under Azzsar. Then again, his cowardly behavior perhaps showed Tweep was getting too comfortable as a puppet master. Maybe one of his bolder subordinates, who actually put himself in danger sneaking past ghouls, would be better suited to be his Chief Skulker Under the Mountain.
He noted with delight that Chieftain Veskitt Foulthief snarled at Tweep’s backside as he left. The rivalry between Chief Skulker Under the Manthings and Chief Skulker Under the Mountain was one he could play off. Chieftain Zatch Mournjaw remained as stoic as ever, but Skelett thought he could detect a faint glimmer in his eyes as he too noticed Veskitt’s jealousy. Skelett narrowed his eyes. Zatch liked to play the simple, brute stormvermin, but Skelett was no snotling-brained son of a mouse! He knew Zatch had his ambitions and games. But as the clanrat left, it was time to get back to the matter at hand. He shivered in excitement as he processed Tweep’s words again. The Strigoi Ghoul King had finally awakened! He grabbed a handful of succulent, zombie fingers from a bucket near his throne, chewed, and swallowed, letting the moment linger on as the Necroflayer guard closed the bone-handled door behind Tweep.
“I trust you know what this means?” Skelett intoned regally.
Veskitt gnashed his fangs. Zatch nodded.
Skelett answered anyways. “From my readings and ruminations on necromantic lore, these are portents that their arch foul-thing has awoken. Our unholy enemy, blood of Nagash.” Of course, the history was more complicated than that, but he found throwbacks to the great necromancer always had a way of scaring his pawns into action. “We have a great many plans to lay, but first must gather strength.” He turned towards Veskitt, fine chainmail jiggling as he did. “Chieftain Veskitt, does the Helmgart Undertown prosper-succeed?”
Veskitt grinned toothily, as much as a ratman could, anyways. The brown-furred Skaven wore black leathers with a variety of jagged blades strapped to his belt. Most prominent was a fine hand crossbow that Veskitt took pride in pilfering from a witch hunter some years ago. While Skelett kept his fur carefully dyed white in keeping with Clan Mordkin tradition, Veskitt’s only concession to that tradition was a band of white paint around his eyes and the circumference of his furry head, broken in the center by his snout. “Helmgart Undertown does prosper. Many generations of warriors buried in death garden. Jeweled swords, silver hammer god symbols, and succulent bones,” he snorted “man-things leave perfectly good meat in gutters and alleys too.”
“Good-good. Intensify your gathering. But only so many rich corpses in Helmgart. Most man-things are squalid wretches. Start digging sneaky tunnels under plains into Brettonia.” Skelett tried to speak with more refinement than the average Skaven, but the troublesome word Brettonia came out more like Brettuna. He cursed himself and made a note to review man-thing vocabulary later. He continued “More to be found there. And with the news you brought of the foolish quarrel between mouse brained man-thing elites of knight land and the Empire, perhaps more battlefields to scavenge soon, yes-yes? Make tunnels deep and sneaky, use other clan’s tunnels sparingly. We want no war with Fester and other Clans with arch foul-thing awake.”
Veskitt nodded this time and responded with a hint of sarcasm “Yes, Bonelord. Your wisdom is great.”
For now, Skelett ignored the impudence as he turned to Zatch Mournjaw. His orders were much simpler. “Begin gathering warriors from tunnels. Thin out less important sections. Concentrate forces in Rotbane Mine, closest to Azzsar’s caves, yes-yes? Begin preparations for a raid. We must test the Ghoul King’s strength.”
The hulking, former Necroflayer’s fur was fully dyed white as Skelett’s was. His plate was stained pinkish, flesh color similar to the Mordkin banner. But his namesake feature was his overgrown jaws, closer to a rat ogre’s than a normal skaven. Once Zatch had gained the warp tokens, he had even encased his teeth in a silver-bonesteel alloy, so that Skaven and dead-things alike feared his bite.
Zatch’s red eyes gleamed and he nodded silently, offering a hint of a snarl on his otherwise stoic snout. A sign of battle-readiness.
Skelett leaned back in his throne, feeling another thrilling shiver. It was all soon to be worth it. Leaving Sylvania behind, fighting green-things and other Skaven on great tunnel journey, taking tunnels beneath Azzsar for himself. The fools back in Skulsreach would tremble if they saw him now.
“May the Horned Rat smile on us,” he murmured, feeling very satisfied with himself.