‘My skin is pallid. My soles are worn. Buboes burst as I sojourn. In foetid rivers, my skin is torn. May your child grant my immortal form! Rusting metal, rotting horns, take me to your Neverborn!’ Burghott sang from the centre of the viscous Nurgle sigil atop the craggy plateau.
There was a moment of silence as the sorcerer let his words hang in the foetid air. His crusted eyelids cracked open. He looked out over the glowing green river of industrial effluvia that flowed from the hive’s rotting bowels. The burble of slow-moving sludge was the only sound in the subterranean chasm. The abandoned village beside it lay still as a corpse.
‘I know your Plaguebearer is here. My summoning ritual worked! I saw it stalking the shadows!’ he proclaimed as he bolted up from the slimy sigil. ‘Let it grant me immortality. I cannot serve you If I succumb to the slow pain of death. With your blessing, I will spread your rot for eternity!’ he screeched as he stared wide-eyed into the river below.
As if in answer to his prayer, he noticed a shape emerging from the sludge. It was tall with long clawed limbs and a striding gait. He couldn’t make out its details but knew it wasn’t human.
Burghott almost tumbled down the village steps to follow the glowing footprints. When it darted between the shacks, everything deteriorated in its wake. Metal panels oxidised, street fungus withered, and wood rotted. He found it ironic that this daemon could make him immortal for as much as it hastened decay.
‘Mighty daemon of blistering rot! Make me an eternal purveyor of pox!’ Burghott invoked as he sparked the noxious green flame of a small potion lamp. It pressed on, ignoring his spell. The sorcerer’s anger burned.
Burghott gained on the entity but never got a clear look at it. The creature’s looming silhouette remained fixed in his peripheral vision.
His quarry led him to the vertical rock face at the end of the chasm when he lost the trail. His joints stiffened as though the chase had aged him. He looked across the vein of the river when a haggard woman popped out of a hovel along the shoreline.
‘Looking for something, brother?’ she called out.
Burghott jumped at the sight of her. ‘Y-yes, has anyone come by here?’ he asked.
‘Only my lord,’ she said, stepping closer. She had an ornate oil lamp in one hand and a small prism covered in strange runes in the other.
‘And who is your lord?’ Burghott asked before he noticed the symbol of Nurgle among the runes on her prism. He looked at her dirt-streaked face. Black hair hanging in clumps peeked out of her tattered robe.
‘The same one you’ve been looking for,’ she said as she stared at the same symbol that hung from a rusted chain around his neck. Their gazes met, and a coy smile crept across her lips.
‘Where is it?’ Burghott demanded.
‘This way,’ she said. The woman led him to a channel that flowed from the river to a tunnel in the rock. He followed her in with mild trepidation, gripping his still-lit potion bottle. It could be a potent weapon if the need arose.
The tunnel ended in a large chamber. Toxic waste bathed the sanctum in fluorescent green light. It was a nexus for an array of tunnels that looked as though an insect colony made them.
‘There, my lords have come,’ the woman said, gesturing to the array of entrances.
‘Lords!’ Burghott exclaimed.
Dark shapes emerged from the warrens and arrayed themselves along the far side of the chamber. The shadows began to fade, revealing long segmented limbs. Their eyes were large black voids with mandibles that disguised mouths of jagged teeth. Green sludge coated their grey skin.
‘What? These are not Plaguebearers, you ignorant witch!’ Burghott yelled.
‘I know,’ the woman smirked as she walked toward the creatures.
‘Burn this lot by great Nurgle’s rot!’ Burghott yelled as he threw the lit potion bottle at the ground in front of the largest monster. It cracked open in midair, releasing torrents of foul green flame. In mere seconds, the fire roared before burning itself out.
The woman cackled at his feeble attack.
The sorcerer reached to his belt for another potion.
‘Spare us your impotent concoctions! They’re useless, no matter how much you invoke your petty deity. The Hrud xenos mastered decay long before your patron existed. Their mighty god gifted them the ability to accelerate time. They achieve the type of entropy your dim soul could only conceive after a thousand rituals!’
Burghott turned toward the cave entrance to find another Hrud blocking his path.
‘Use the warp to free yourself! Or can you? Is that why your god ignores your prayers? Because he cannot even hear them?’
‘He hears me! I summoned a Plaguebearer that will lay you low!’
‘You damn fool! You never summoned anything. You were following them all the time,’ she chuckled, pointing to the xenos.
‘Hear this bi-’ he trailed off when he noticed his skin wrinkling. His limbs grew stiff, and he struggled to breathe. His joints ached. ‘No! I am to be immortal! These agonies are beneath me!’ the ageing sorcerer screamed.
‘Your kind wishes to escape pain so badly you’d rather rot forever than face death. But dying has a purpose. It releases us from this cruel universe, brother. Why give your soul to a god that would make you a mindless shambling husk for eternity? The Hrud may have shortened my life, but I’ve learned ancient truths from their archives. While your god has taught you nought but useless spells and blind faith,’ she said as she spun the prism of alien runes in her wrinkling hand.
‘Immortality,’ the old sorcerer croaked as he hobbled to the glowing stream. His organs failed, and he toppled into the river. The current carried his mortal corpse away.
About the Author
Frazier is a writer and biohacker living in southern california. They have a B.S. in Cellular/Molecular Biology and have gotten into Warhammer 40,000 in the last few years.