by William King
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 into a
He turned to look down at Oleg Zaharoff, 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.
Its been a long road, said Zaharoff. But were here.
Kurt raised his hand and shielded his eyes with one black-gauntleted hand. He drank into 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 my inheritance from the crothers 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 but he pushed them aside. Had not the armour already granted him a measure of the strength of Chaos?
He made himself savour thoughts of his coming revenge. Soon he would reclaim his ancestral lands from his 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 toward the land 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,
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 himself interestedly. Zaharoff was a Kislevite and knew many tales about the Wastes that bordered 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 peoples 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 dont really know that much about this place. Only what you have dreamed and that your armour came from here. How can you be so sure that we will find what we seek and not death?
The words echoed too closely Kurts 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 closed his eyes. Almost all at once he fell into blood stained dreams. It seemed that he climbed toward 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.
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 Chaos Dwarfs kin to the true dwarfkind, but seduced to the path of Chaos.
Khorne has provided us with a sacrifice, said the leader in a voice deep as a mine. Kurt beheaded 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, bellowing out the war-cry which echoed through his dreams. Skulls for the skull throne!
He ploughed into the dwarfs like a ship through waves. Behind him he left a trail of red havoc. Small figures fell clutching at the stumps of ams, 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, insane laughter frothed from his lips. He had felt pale a foretaste of this madness before in previous battles but here in the Chaos Waste, 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 hammer on his armoured forearm. His sword fell from numb hands. He saw what Zaharoff had tried to warn him off. Two masked and goggled dwarfs where 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 spiked knuckles of his gauntlet, then swung his axe back and threw it. It went spinning through the air and buried itself in the head of the leading dwarf.
The dwarf fell backward, the tube lurched skyward, and a gout of flame erupted from its tip. A white-hot sheet of flame blazed past Kurts 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 dwarfs 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 Gods 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 restrained himself. Such followers might be usefull.
Very well, Kurt said. But any trachery and you all die.
The dwarfs nodded solemnly. Kurt began to laugh till 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. Its 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
Kurts face became more twisted, more like that of a beast. At
first there was discomfort, then pain then agony, but he endured it
stoically. The Black Dwarfs 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 cristalline 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 eact other long enough. That is not what worries you?
Zaharoff looked at him sidelong. Behind them the dwarfs were stowing their gear, pitching small black tents with frames made from carved bones. 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.
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 for ill, I will follow you. His voice was soft and resigned.
Yorri, the dwarf chief, approached. Bad storm coming, boss. Best be prepared.
Im 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 leap in fear. They could not break free from the
iron pins to which the dwarfs had tethered them. He could see foam on
Thunder rumbled like the laughter of dark gods. Another bolt of lightning split 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 witch-fire 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 the 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.
Its in my hair, my clothes. I think I even swallowed
The dust is powdered warpstone, said Yorri. Ash from the gatefires that still burn at the northernmost pole, where the fire 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 the 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 tile to think.
The dwarf grinned evilly and nodded. Kurt wondered, was it just his imagination, or were the slave-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 till Kurt told him to stop. They crouched behind the shelter of some boulders. Nearby Yorri and his crewman had set up their firetube ready to blast the first target that came in 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 childs head above the carven body of a beckoning woman.
A long chain of slender metal links bound a gross, bull-headed giant to the womans saddle. The minotaur was half-again as tall as Kurt and muscled like a dwarven blacksmith. It looked at the woman with adoring, worshipful eyes.
Behind it marched half a dozen beastmen. Each one had one exposed female breast, although the rest of their naked bodies were obviously male. At the rear were two twisted elved, 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 even closer, seemingly oblivious to their peril.
Aazella Silkkenthighs, muttered Yorri. Kurt looked at him. She is favoured by the Lord of Pleasure. Beware her whip.
Kurt nodded and drew his fingers 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 lept to his feet. Blood for the Blood God! he shouted, gesturing his men forward with a motion of his axe.
With a roar, the dwarvish 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 tongue, whimpering in pain.
He closed and struck it with his axe. The blade failed to bite on the creatures resilient hide. Above him the childs head kept up a babbling stream of obscenities.
Aazella lifted 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 the standard and rolled for 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 ecstasy before you die.
Die, spawn of Slaanesg! Kurt bellowed, rushing at her. Die in the name of Khorne!
As he invoked his dread lords 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 lions spring, then stuck out a foot, tripping him.
Clumsy man, she taunted. Youll 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 whips metallic line. He jerked her toward him.
So sudden was his move that she did not let go the weapon but was drawn towards him. He let go the whip and grabbed her throat with his mailed hands. He began to tighten his grip.
They fell together like lovers. From the bite in his cheek waves of pure pleasure pulsed, mingling with his berserk hatred. He shut his eyes and squeezed even harder as the pleasure mounted. It burst inside him as intense as pain and then he only knew darkness and cold.
What happened? 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.
Youre not looking too well, Oleg, growled Kurt.
You have not been well. 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 she was dead.
We have seen the last of her, boomed Kurt. What became of her men?
Yorri and the lads ate the beastmen. You can hear the scream of the elves.
The little man shuddered. Truly, Kurt, we are in hell.
Greetings, brother, whither goest thou? 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
Kurt studied the other warrior carily, 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 progress 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 worlds 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.
Im not sure I believe in you, prince. A foppish, cowardly servant of Khorne.
Once more the black prince laughed sweetly. You will find, Sir Kurt, that Chaos holds all possibilites. 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 Kurts strangely mutating horse. The dwarfs kicked a
goat-horned skull between them, laughing and making coarse 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 speal 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. All we are is their playthings.
Kurt stared at him, fighting down 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 he fought and slew. He raised his sword and hacked
through the dogmans 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 he saw the radiant dark aurora in the sky. He shrieked his war-cry 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 creatures head. He leaned forward in the saddle and hacked at the thing with his rune-blade. With a whimper it died.
In the distance he saw Prince Dieter fighting his way though 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 frothed at the mouth and gibbered berserkly. His huge hawk-beaked axe had opened a cut in Kurts leg.
Blood for the Blood God, roared the Norseman.
Only the strong survive, bellowed Kurt, bringing his own axe down.
The berserker ignored the fact that Kurt had caved in the side of his face and continued to chop away. Kurt smiled in appreciation at the mans bloodlust before cleaving his head clean off. Even after this the Norseman continued to hack away mechanically, lashing around blindly, chopping into the ranks of his own men.
Red rage mingled with pain as Kurt charged the enemys standard. At that moment he felt a vast presence loom over him, leering approvingly as he butchered his opponents.
He looked up and briefly he 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 triumph 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 cold. 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 the family who had dispossessed him would not come. It was as if he dimly remembered another lige. He had to fight back the suspicion that he had died and been reborn in a hell of unending warfare.
Staring at the devolved figure of Zaharoff, ripping hauches of flesh from the dead, revulsion overcame him. He was sick. He heard the trotting of hooves coming ever 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.
Yorry scratched his head with the claw on 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 till Khornes 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 flesh, he mused.
I have heard it said that around the Gates one enters the dreams of the Old Dark Gopds, that 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 into 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 sorcerors of old tried to bring daemons here but he got more than he bargained for. Some say 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 elves, said Yorri.
It doesnt matter, said Kurt. We will not find our goal by standing there talking.
Why dost thou wish to reach them? asked Dieter.
Its why I came here, said Kurt. The trek was the only purpose he could latch on that made any sort of sense in this terrible realm.
He could see how easy it would be to become like the dommed prince and simply drift from placer to place in search of battle. In the realm of the damned, purpose was more precious than jewels.
They fought battles and with every battle Kurts power grew,
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 was made of the bones of fallen
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 albinos heart out with his bare hands and raised it still pulsing as an offering to the Blood God. The mark of Khornes pleasure were the twisted goat horns that sprouted from his head. A company of red-furred beastmen marched from the waste to join him.
By the bank 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 Kurts face changed once more, features running till 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 sorceror. 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 wizards blood, by the light of blazing torches, he caught sight of himself. He saw a huge and monstrous creature with an apelike face and tired, lost-seeming 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 his thoughts of his fading humanity in gore.
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, friend and family had all but gone, like old paintings whose 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 Zaharoffs 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 till 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 beam caused the bat-thing 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 himself, amoebic shapes from which protruded stalked eyes and questing orifices. After that his armour fused to his flesh like a second skin. Zaharoff and the dwarfs came even more to resemble the creatures he had defeated.
The hosts casualities mounted and Kurt continued his progression towards its leadership. And everywhere he went Prince Dieter the Unchanging was close behind him, his permanent shadow, whispering advice and encouragement and words of ancient evil wisdom.
Everyday 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 Khornes 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 state of permanent barely-restrained frenzy. The slightest infraction of his command, the smallest thing which annoyed him resulted in someones death. A warrior only had to glance at him the wrong way to feel the sting of Kurts 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 doubts and feelings of terrible loneliness which all his triumphs could not assuage. Part of him was nauseated 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 drug 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 remained of his humanity. There were times when he found himself contemplating falling on his sword and ending his torment, but such was not the way of Khornes 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 the gifts of changed body and warped sould 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 fluttered in a dry,
throat-tightening breeze, it advanced in full panoply. Under a
standard bearing the skull rune of the Blood God, the armys
commander 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 armys general.
I am with Kurt, said Dieter. The rest of the warriors fell silent. They all 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 Kilgor the Ogre, glaring menacingly at Kurt. Tazelle and Avarone, the other great champions, kept silent. Their followers watched, quite as huge black statues.
The part of Kurts mind which still functionned 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 generals 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 armys troops. Soon the screams of dying beastmen and mutating man-things reached his ears as the army fell onto itself in an orgy of violence.
Old hatred, made the more intense by being restrained by the discipline of the army, were suddenly unfetterred Kurt smiled. Khorne would devour many souls this day.
He brought his weapon 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 hands by an axe.
Blood for the Blood God! roared Kurt, drawing his sword and hewing around two-handed. He hacked his way to the center of hthe group of Chaos 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 in 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 that 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 hundredfold. 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 piles 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 womans blow chopped into the armoured plate of his arm. He felt no pain. It was transmuted into raw energy, a fire that burned into 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 his 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 Kurts rush carry him onto his blade.
Sparks flew as Dieters long slender sword bored through Kurts 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 he broke the Unchanging Princes neck.
Truly thou art the chosen of Khorne, he heard Dieter say before he fell to the ground.
Now agony lanced through Kurt, pulsing outward from his chest. It seemed as if molten lead boiled through his veins. Even the energy flowing from the standard was not enough to maintain him. Black spots danced before his eyes and he staggered, holding onto the banner for support.
The sound of battle receded into the distance and Dieters words 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 who 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 his playthings at war, feeding on it, becoming strong.
The chorus of voices in his head became 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 wasps 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 toward the Gates, beyong which lay its new home.
Somewhere in the furthest recesses of its mind, the thing that had once beel Kurt von Diehl screamed, knowing that he was truly damned. He was as much a part of the daemon as it had been part of him. He was trapped in the prison of its being, forever.
In the sky the dark god laughed.