- 06.02.2018
THE PARADISE BELOW
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Warboss Naglig surveyed the carnage littered across the cavern of the Black Worm Tribe. His already foul mood blackened even further. Dozens of his fellow grots lay dead amidst the fungus-covered stalagmites, torn and bludgeoned to bloody ruin.

‘A curse on them big ’uns,’ he spat, brandishing his tri-forked moon-prodder with helpless rage. ‘Let da Bad Moon fall on ’em and crush their stinkin’ heads!’

‘It’s da Cracked Skull lot,’ hissed one of his remaining warriors, kicking one of the few orruk corpses that lay amidst the sea of grot dead. Its flesh was bare and covered in grey-black soot, aside from the face, which bore the purple outline of a grinning skull.

There was a chorus of curses and bitter invective from the surrounding tribe, those who had managed to sneak away from the ambush unscathed.

It had been too long since the tribes of the Smokescar had had a proper fight to keep them all distracted, and when the orruks got bored, it was the Black Worm who suffered. The Moonclan Grots had been happily throwing their last few prisoners into the squig-pits when the skull-faces had struck. They had been bellowing and hollering something fierce as they bounded into the cavern, clubbing and smashing everything in their path.

Naglig spat a lump of black, viscous matter that splashed across the face of the dead orruk. At this rate he would hardly have any warriors left come raiding season.

How he longed to sneak up through the smoke vents and pay a visit to those cursed skull-faces while they slept, to open a few throats and put out a few eyes until his toes were splashing and squelching in blood. He entertained himself with the vision for a while, but it swiftly faded into bitterness. The orruks were too big and too many. The Black Worm had no choice but to suffer their attention until the snows melted, and the orruk tribes were once more able to turn their axes towards the long-ears in the valley below.

He heard the shuffle of movement off to the left and spun, raising his moon-prodder. Snort hissed and shuffled its feet at his side. The squig’s jaws already dripped with black blood and trails of stringy grot-flesh.

‘Who’s sneakin’ about back there?’ screeched Kizik the squig-herder, peering through narrowed eyes into the swirling mists.

A figure hobbled out of the gloom. At first, Naglig thought that one of the great shadowcap mushrooms that littered the cave had come to life. As the newcomer came closer, however, Naglig saw that it was a grot. What looked like a broad, flat hat was in fact a fungoid growth that protruded from the creature’s skull. Beneath this impressive canopy was an angular, pinched face with a chin that curved into a point sharp as a fish hook.

A Cave-Shaman. The figure waddled up the slope towards the wary grots, a wide grin smeared across his face. Naglig felt an awed reverence as he looked into the priest’s manic eyes, which blazed with shroom-addled intensity. It was said that the Cave-Shamans spoke directly to Gorkamorka whenever they feasted upon their sacred deffcaps, and their holy visions always led to a fine festival of slaughter. A visit from one of the Great Green God’s roving war-seekers was a blessing from the Bad Moon all right. In all their long and not often glorious history, the Black Worm Tribe had never received such an honour.

‘Well you is a sorry lot, ain’t ya?’ the mad-eyed priest cackled. ‘Trapped in these here caves, hunted by storm-gits and battered by big ’uns whenever it takes their fancy. Bad Moon ain’t shining down on you, no boss.’

Despite his awe at the Cave-Shaman’s presence, Naglig felt a bitter ball of irritation building up inside him.

‘Ain’t our fault,’ he hissed. ‘Them big ’uns is all over da place. They—’

The Cave-Shaman held up a long, crooked finger.

‘Bite yer tongue, Warboss,’ he said.

The mad-eyed priest began to shuffle and twirl with a madcap flourish, stamping his feet and brandishing his crooked staff. The wriggling centipede creature atop the stave’s tip writhed and hissed in irritation as the priest whirled and cackled and kicked his iron-capped toes.

‘Da Bad Moon hangs over the land below,’ bellowed the Cave-Shaman as he cavorted madly. ‘Above a desert of greenskin dead, all split and poked and stung by arrows. No orruks left down there. No big-toofed ones to clobber and bellow and whip you bloody-raw. Only glory for grots!’

Choking spores began to spill from the Cave-Shaman’s mushroom crown. Naglig blinked and retched as the cloud seeped into his enormous nostrils, setting his brain alight with painful yet tantalising fire.

‘Witness da true power of Black Worm Tribe!’ roared the shroom-priest. ‘Witness what awaits you all in the lands below, where grots rule all!’

And with that, he blew a cloud of sparkling powder into the Warboss’s face.

Naglig’s mind was torn forcibly from his spindly body, sent soaring out across a burning dreamscape of sour-green skies and rolling amethyst dunes. He saw himself at the head of an immense army of hooded grots baying beneath a outsized moon that leered down at them with sadistic glee. Before this mighty army were arrayed legions of rust-clad skeletons. Even as Naglig took in his new surroundings, he saw more of the restless dead marching forth from ancient tomb-cities hidden beneath the sands, assembling in unthinkable numbers.

Yet as numerous as the dead were, Naglig’s army was even greater. A living carpet of bounding squigs swept towards the skeletal horde, a tidal wave of red flesh sweeping across the ashen plains. Naglig shrieked his prayers to the Bad Moon, and his endless mob screamed along with him, the clamour of their voices reaching such a pitch that distant mountain ranges crumbled to nothing, and blazing, sickle-shaped meteors rained from the maddened sky to crush mausoleum cities and barrow-mounds to dust. The grot army began to run towards this most glorious battle, this gift from the great god Gorkamorka, and Naglig followed. As he charged, faster and faster, his feet left the ground and he was soaring out over the ocean of black-clad bodies, as the skies exploded in flaming spirals of lurid colour. His own name rolled across the desolate wastes, bellowed by a billion grots as they leaped into this battle at the end of all things.

Something slammed into Naglig’s jaw, and he awoke to find himself sprawled in a puddle of his own drool, his chin aching from where he had struck it upon the cavern floor. He was dimly aware of his warriors stirring awake with wild-eyed confusion upon their ugly faces, some vomiting streams of bright yellow bile. Naglig felt as if he had been entirely hollowed out, his guts and bones replaced by blazing light.

He staggered to his knees. The Cave-Shaman loomed over him, eyes gleaming with mad moonlight, his mouth fizzing with tangled stalks of fungus.

‘So,’ the Cave-Shaman said. ‘You followin’ me or what?’

Naglig’s stomach lurched and groaned as the swirling vortex spat him out into empty air. He landed, stumbling and cursing, on a mound of jagged bone fragments. Chipped skulls and rotting finger bones crunched beneath his boots. More Black Worm grots were pouring through the whirling portal of green energy, spilling out and rolling down the hill before clambering, grumbling and unsteady, to their feet. The sounds of battle and slaughter met Naglig’s ears, and he looked up eagerly, expecting to see the same billions-strong tide of grots he had witnessed in his shroom-summoned visions, dancing and killing beneath the Bad Moon.

Instead he saw a valley of the dead come to life. On all sides, rib-shaped arcs of yellowed bone curved away towards a sky of deepest purple. Within the valleys and canyons formed by these mountainous bones, scattered bands of greenskins were surrounded on all sides by a surging horde of skeletal warriors, so vast that it seemed the valley floor itself was writhing. Great swooping clouds of bats whirled overhead, and within the thick flock of leathery wings Naglig could see massive, human-shaped figures with wide, fang-filled mouths. The screams of the dying filled the air. Naglig saw the banners of other Moonclan tribes protruding from within the sea of shifting bones, isolated islands of black-clad figures slowly being torn down and shredded by the relentless pressing of the dead. Some tried to flee, only to be snatched up by the bat-like predators, which wheeled away with their prize clamped between razor-sharp claws.

‘’Ere we are then,’ came a voice behind him, and Naglig turned to see the Cave-Shaman brushing bone-dust from his robes. The portal whirled and spat behind him, unleashing trails of sparkling energy that illuminated the shroom-priest’s immense fungoid crown.

‘What’s this?’ shrieked Warboss Naglig, jabbing his moon-prodder at the apocalyptic scene before them. ‘You said we was kings down ’ere. You said we’d have glory and power and all that, away from the stinkin’ orruks.’

The Cave-Shaman flashed him a toothy grin.

‘Maybe you will or maybe you won’t,’ the priest chuckled. ‘First, you got some scrappin’ to do, I reckon.’

With that the Cave-Shaman stepped back through the sputtering portal, and both disappeared in a crackle of emerald lightning. No sooner had the vortex collapsed in on itself than skeletal hands began to thrust out of the bone-pile all around the Black Worm grots. His blood turning to ice, Warboss Naglig looked around for an escape route, but saw only the dead dragging themselves upright, clutching rusted swords and ancient, iron-rimmed shields.

Something firm and sharp locked around Naglig’s ankle. With a screech of horror, the Warboss found himself being dragged down into a churning grave.