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[This vignette is part of a larger series that will be continued in later installments. I'm tired now and this is all I have...]
Skavenblight. A city of many things, yet of nothing at the same time. To the fools of the over-world, safe in their beds and secure in the knowledge that there is solid earth under their feet, Skavenblight is but a myth told to frighten unruly children into behaving themselves; one of many such tales. A few among the wise know better, but their warnings fall on deaf ears. To the denizens of the Under-Empire, however, Skavenblight is trade, commerce, religion, and politics. It is the beginning of all things and, for the fools and weaklings, it is also the end. All paths lead to Skavenblight.
- Masveek, Assassin Adept
There were few eventful nights in the lands to the West of the Empire, in the land known to its inhabitants as Bretonnia. Commoners and Noblemen alike slept soundly while the Guard kept a nominal watch for horrors that would never emerge from the depths of the darkness. At least, normally, they wouldn't. That night was different, the night that the Verminkin burst forth from the ground, splitting the silence with their chittering cries and rousing yeoman and knight alike from their slumber. Within moments, the camp was up in arms, the horses whinnying nervously as the sound of the approaching Skaven grew louder and louder. Many of the yeomen shook their head in disbelief - there was not supposed to be anything out here.
A chill wind blew over the plains as Grey Seer Tikich raised his staff and signaled the attack. Chanting in an eldritch language even the highest wizards of the Colleges would be hard pressed to know, Tikich's eyes shone as a bolt of jagged lightning issued from his hand, splitting the night with its radiance. Light shone upon regiment after regiment of Clanrats, all staring straight at the man-things assembled nearby. As the gloom dimmed and the humans ducked their heads to avoid the oncominb bolt of lightning, the Skaven charged. Tikich smiled as the charge began, but that smile quickly faded when his keen nose picked up the scent of steel and horses, a smell that could mean only one thing this close to Skavenblight - Knights.
Turning around, he addressed nothing in particular, "The Knights must fall for the battle to be won. Make sure none escape to warn others of our presence. If more come, I will be undone."
Instantly, the area immediately behind the Grey Seer was filled with glowing red eyes that blinked once, then vanished into the night.
Dashing across the plains, the Night Runners crossed the battlefield in complete silence. Each one knew their part in the attack and which portion of the maneuver to execute. Masveek ran with his brethren, a simple shadow amidst the black patchwork quilt that was his unit. He risked a glance to the side, where the charge of the Clanrats slammed into the Bretonnian commoners. The sheer tide of fur and fangs could not be halted by their crude spears and they would be drowned in the wave. He could almost picture the look of fear in their eyes as they fought desperately for life and limb with weapons they could not wield, let alone use, to proper effect. They were clumsy and crude weapons compared to the more subtle knives and swords of Clan Eshin. A sharp turn by Night Leader Kreesik jolted Masveek's attention back to the task at hand. Grey Seer Tikich had payed well for the service of Clan Eshin's Night Runners and now it was time to earn that pay.
Speeding forward, the Night Runners in front dropped to one knee, their hands outstretched as they prepared for the complex maneuver required for fighting mounted opponents. The Knights were waiting behind the lines, no doubt for the opportune moment to charge the oncoming Clanrat host and kill as many as possible in glorious battle. They would not get the satisfaction. Masveek planted his foot on the hands of two of his kneeling comrades, who flung him into the air. His reflexes kicked in and he somersaulted before landing on the back of one of the horses. Spinning around, he grabbed at the surprised knight's helm and, forcing his head back, drew a his wickedly curved knife across the man-thing's throat. He then leaped off moments before the horse gave way beneath his feet as one of his fellow Night Runners slashed its hamstrings and brought it down. Masveek hit the ground lightly and darted between the legs of another horse, planting a series of rapid cuts on its legs to send it crashing to the ground. The column of knights was quickly falling into disarray, but they were highly disciplined warriors and had already begun to wheel about to face this new attack.
The initial knights on the flank had fallen, but the farther the Night Runners pushed into the column, the stiffer their resistance became. All around, swords flashed and horses flailed as man and beast fought desperately to keep themselves from being hamstringed or unhorsed, respectively. Masveek was about to cut deeply into the legs of another horse when it reared up unexpectedly. Rolling to the side, he could only watch as the beast's hooves smashed down upon the head of another Night Runner, dampening the grass with blood and brain alike. His counterattack crashed into the horse's flank, long knives being driven deep between its ribs. He was forced to disengage as it started flailing about, but it fell after a few seconds and Masveek was quick to leap upon the fallen knight and slip one of his knives through the neck, where the armour and helm met but did not completely protect. All around him, a deadly melee was ensuing between the knights that had managed to dismount or pull themselves free from the carcasses of their dead horses and the Night Runners of Clan Eshin. While they were effective light troops, the element of surprise was effectively gone. Still, the horses were gone as well and Masveek knew their numbers were superior.
A sword arced towards him out of the melee, but Masveek ducked under it, bringing his twin blades up to catch the errant blade in mid-swing. Twisting, he wrenched it from its owner's grip before launching himself into a roll and attacking from below, driving both knives into the chainmail protecting the knight's ribs. His attack frustrated, Masveek was forced to break off as his opponent tried to grab at his neck. Blocking the clumsy blows thrown his way, he kicked the sword even farther out of the knight's reach, then spun around and launched a heavy kick to the chest. The knight fell backwards into a prone position and from there, it was a simple matter for Masveek to run him through. Looking up from his dead quarry, he saw that Night Leader Kreesik and the rest of the Night Runners were mopping up the last of the Bretonnian knights and their job was nearly done, though they had paid for their victory in blood. Nearly a quarter of the Night Runners had been killed in the attack; it was tactically unsound to use light skirmishers for an assault against heavily armoured knights, but the forces of Clan Eshin still triumphed. The fee would be doubled, of course, to cover expenses incurred due to tactical incompetence. Masveek smiled; he and his team would eat well for many months with their share of the tokens and the gnawing Black Hunger would be sated.
Turning, Masveek scampered off to join the rest of his unit as they vanished once more into the indifferent darkness.
[To Be Continued]