AN: Something to keep my thoughts flowing, while keeping in line with the story. Doubles also as an apology for delaying for so long.

Plus after reading wiki passages of the End Times again after a while made me remember why I despise it vehemently. That does not mean I have a grudge with Age of Sigmar. It's a new start for a new audience, it should be allowed to be judged on its own merit. And honestly I thinks it's fine. Not as rich as Fantasy, but it's a literal blank slate against its sibling franchises. I only have a problem with the End Times. So I consider it dead to me. Plus treating the End Times like it never happened or even exists helps a lot. Hence why I consider Total War to be that canon timeline, because we the player can say fuck you End Times. Plus it is hilarious playing a Skaven run where we can just decide to drop a Doomrocket right on top of Archaon!

Interlude A: A Promise in Blood - RED OATH OF THE HELDENHAMMER

~The Realm of Souls~

When the twin-tailed comet soared across the heavens, calamity was wrought in its passing: Damaging the Great Warding of Lustria powering the Vortex on Ulthuan. For the world, it was a sign of great change. A promise of doom as equally salvation.

For the Lizardmen, they heavily suspected the celestial event with grave concern. For knowledge supplied by the Old Ones, ensured that they retained their ever vigilant title as 'Defenders of the World'. Unlike the world who saw it as a 'sudden' event, Sotek's Prophet, Skink astromancers and slann-mage priests fervently believe the icon of Sotek to be a 'false' signal.

If even the Prophet did not foresee his god's forked tongue in the sky, then something was in great error.

Many long arduous months since its emergence, their predictions would be proven to be correct. When they would eventually find the wreckage of the 'comet'.

But that is yet to pass...

Mortals have begun to make preparations of the good omen. While the gods who watch over their patrons make plans of their own.

Like the lizardmen, they too see the comet with utmost certainty of its falsehood. They were not limited in their sight of the mortal world and each other. Yet they had faith in their children that they would succeed in the face of adversity and ready to aid them in the ever eternal war against the darkness.

Except for one.

A god of mankind, left his seat of power to venture across the Realm of Souls. An act not seen in an age. While leaving one's celestial realm does not affect one's power, it still leaves oneself vulnerable to predaceous forces if they lack the strength provided by the memory, hopes, and virtues of their worshippers.

Sigmar Heldenhammer; once the son of the Unberogen tribe, a worshiper of Ulric. Now to all, both to the forces of order and ruin, the patron god of the Empire. Their founder and uniter of men.

Destroyer of Nagash. Breaker of Orks. Eternal Enemy of Chaos. Champion of Mankind.

Titles earned through a lifelong journey of pain, courage, and wisdom. His epic saga transformed the once mortal warrior king to ascend to godhood. If the blasphemous necromancer Nagash represented all the evils of man. Sigmar represents the shining example of the best in them.

Contrary to rememberers of the Empire, his 'final' journey did not end after ascending to godhood. It never ended. For Sigmar, long after he ascended, his godhood allowed him to continue his vigil from a place of higher power. His neverending defence over the soul of his Empire was a never ending task that for all his strength is only accomplished when he and the gods are united in their vow to keep mankind safe against the ruinous powers.

Tragically, or expectedly, for all his teachings, mankind was still capable of foolishness and evil deeds. For every paragon like his current champion Karl Franz, there are cruel warlords like Wulfric wandering the world, feeding potential heroes and countless innocents into the bellies of his dark masters.

Such woe are not exclusive to Chaos. Orks still ravage the Empire and their allies looking for the next fight just for the sake of it. Ambitious vampires and necromancers enshackle their tortured souls from the peace of the afterlife. Ratmen hidden beneath the deeps gnawing at the roots of the world. Beastmen seeking the destruction of civilization to despoil its remains in a quagmire of shit and offal.

Worse still; an enemy greater than any of them. An enemy Sigmar is all too familiar for the man-turned-god. It is the foundation to his mighty legend and the very reason for his being that led him to be the unifier of men; each other. Generations have passed and man always seems to find a way to be at odds with each other.

So when Sigmar watched, helpless to aid or warn his heirs; men, women, and children from the false comet's deception. The damage has been done. For a time, the veil weakened and all the provinces of the Empire experienced a surge of conflict left in the comet's wake.

Even their staunch ally of the dawi people had to endure the frenzy from the greenskins and the undead in the wake of the false comet'.

So. Sigmar left his godly domain to brave the Realm of Souls, west. His goal, much like what he did in his mortal life, to bring together allies.

As the youngest god to ascend to their rank, while they respected his station and power as their equal, they questioned his seemingly decision. Gods from all across the Old World sought to hold him from his journey. Ranald the Trickster spun whispers in his ear by telling tales of the one he seeks as a savage and that he would have a better chance of being eaten than talk. Ulric punched Ranald aside to speak his peace, challenging Sigmar's lack of faith in his own people.

Only when Shallya came, overflowing with tears, fearful for his well-being with Taal not far behind, did their debates go silent. Needless to say, Taal gave his blessings and expected Sigmar to return to the fold.

So westward bound, Sigmar journeys across the Realm of Souls.

No sooner had Sigmar left his realm, Gork and Mork awaited him. Their ugly moldy green faces eager for a fight. Typical of Gork, he wanted to fight Sigmar again because, in his words 'da only one who knowz how' to giv a propa fight!'

Gork fought with all the muscle and singular martial prowess his race was renowned for. Epitomizing his 'brutal but kunnin' side of the greenskin way of life. Sigmar obliged and was able to beat the brutal god with not just his brawn. But with the focused application to use them. Dodging Gork's blows while countering with precision strikes that would debilitate the orkish god. Sigmar knew he couldn't 'kill' the brutal god so with one swift blow to the back of his head, at the exact same spot Mork would often exploit, he rendered Gork unconscious.

Mork unsurprisingly went in for the attack the moment Gork went down. Sigmar knew the cunning ork god all too well. Where Gork was about pure combat, Mork used cunning to win his fights. Fighting dirty was the god's specialty; going below the belt, spitting in the eye and even conjuring mushroom clouds to blind him. Mork would have been a worthy adversary had he not shared a vital fault relative to his counterpart Gork. Mork at the end of the day was physically inferior to Gork. All Sigmar had to do was get his hands on Mork and the fight was history. Throttling him senseless before leaving his broken body next to Gork.

His fight concluded, Sigmar continued on his journey.

The Realm of Souls does not follow the rules of time or even the concept of space. A fact Sigmar has long since accepted. Even in godhood, Sigmar bore little understanding of the mysterious realm he now shared with his godly peers. It is the very realm from which wizards draw their power of the Eight Winds. Where spectres and spirits flow through its twisting eddies. And the very same realm the gods of his enemies reside.

Here, a single step forward can cause one to cross a distance that would take weeks. Time loses meaning as years in the Realm of Souls can be a day in the living realm.

It is a place of pure aether, raw energy in its purest and most volatile. 'It is no wonder Cygors are always maddened abominations.' Sigmar thought. If they were forced to always see the twisting world of this realm since birth, then it is little surprise that they are a danger even to their own kind.

It also made the journey on foot convenient for him. One would be mad to travel to Lustria on foot. Thankfully because of the Realm of Souls, Lustria was easy to find. All he had to do was to find a massive wall of fog that always eclipsed the western horizon.

Him now standing before said wall of fog. Obscuring him from view the spiritual realm of the Lizardmen. Before he could even think of pushing through the fog, the mist parted for him, revealing his destination.

'Lustria' Sigmar softly spoke 'Finally, I have arrived...'

Sigmar saw his destination ahead; an endless horizon of tropical jungle woodlands. Dotted across the landscape were monolithic pyramids and citadels arrayed in impeccable positions relative to each other, as if purposely arranged in geometric patterns across their realm with a function in mind.

"I have heard stories of this mythical land, shame I never had the chance to see it." He spoke with naked awe.

Sigmar was no architect, but there was a sense of simplistic majesty in the pyramids that spoke of functional need than fashion. A sentiment he shares with dwarfen architecture.

Beams of starlight stretched from atop the pyramids. Stretching higher than the tallest spires in the material world. Bridging the land and sky. At least, what constitutes as a sky in this mutable realm.

He continued his stride, unheeding that within nary three steps, the distance of an endless jungle horizon shrunk in a heartbeat to a single cobblestoned path. The simple stones leading into a corridor of knotted wood and ivy, shrouded completely in darkness.

"There wasn't a path here just now…" He scrutinized the makeshift archway. Looking at his feet, the stone tiles were just barely touching his plated sabatons. An invisible barrier separating him from their domain "...So I am expected."

Sigmar breathed out aether, hardening his resolve.

He was outside his realm. Though still bearing great power, he was exposed and away from his domain. Once he enters the realm of another, he will be subject to the laws of his host's domain. Should he perish, doom surely will follow his people.

The god of mankind put his best foot forward, and fully stepped inside the Lizardmen's domain. Instantly Sigmar felt a presence wash over him, surging through his body. He felt something off about his body, sluggish and heavy. As if fully submerged in swamp muck.

"Now this is strange..." Sigmar commented warily. "Interesting, but strange."

His nose was the first thing to notice something different in the air. Even in his golden palace, the Realm of Souls was ever present and persistent, a force of nature of its own whims and fancy.

Here, the Winds of Magic's presence feel silent, muted. Like a void existed in a realm where the concept of 'control' should not be able to exist.

Sigmar gathered his wits, ecstatic a sliver of new insight on the mysterious Lizardmen and their gods. Whoever they were, even in a realm where the gods walked, they have achieved the impossible ability to tame the Winds of Magic.

A prospect to Sigmar both unsettling, yet monumentally extraordinary. If the gods of this race have the means to bind the rampant Eight Winds to their whims, evident by the vacuum he now resides in. Then it is all the more paramount to succeed in forming an alliance with the Lizardmen.

Nostalgia stirred in him, a fondness that he hadn't felt for so long. A memory of when he received Ghal Maraz and an oath of friendship with High King Kurgan Ironbeard.

He clenched his fists and tightened his brow. Back straight he took a deep breath to announce his presence.

"Hear me now! Hear me! I am Sigmar Heldenhammer!" He called out into the jungle darkness "God of Mankind! Founder of the Empire! Son of the Unberogens!" Loudly he roared with fire burning in his chest. Hoping his plea be heard. "I ask for any emissary of the Lizardmen gods, I wish an audience with your Lustrian masters. Show me a sign so that I may know I am welcomed!"

His case made, simple and true. So he stood, Sigmar Heldenhammer, waiting for a response by the rulers of this realm.

Seconds became long drawn out minutes, with those minutes feeling like hours. He stood vigilant, though he couldn't help a flush of foolishness creeping into his head, standing around shouting at nothing. But he won't be deterred. He will stand no matter how long it may take until his summons was answered.

Expecting continued silence, his thoughts were interrupted by a soft hiss.

The human god stiffly looked down at the source. There at his feet, was a snake. A red snake, no bigger than his hand. A garden snake to his knowledge; harmless, almost benign creatures that are not easily provoked. Where the worst that could happen were itching and swelling should they bite men in self-defense.

It also has two tails.

"Are you to be my guide little one?" Sigmar asked softly as he knelt down to the creature's level. Looks can be deceiving, an experience he knows all too well. Its tiny size might belie a figure of importance holding a station of great significance. He reached out a hand, on the off chance it might wish to be carried.

Said snake watched the gesture, curious interest flashed across its amber eyes, gleaning to the reason behind the warmblood bare its outstretched limb. Kindness, it realized. Simply a gesture of kindness to convey respect. Lacking true means of expression, the snake was humored but gave no outward change leading Sigmar to believe it a stoic being. He was not wrong though, for the snake found the gesture unnecessary.

When it did not motion to move, Sigmar understood, he nodded and drew back his gauntleted hand.

The twin-tailed snake continued to assess the warmblood named Sigmar. A blue forked tongue flickered to smell and taste the 'character' surrounding the young godling. Sigmar remained still, returning eye contact with the serpent's. The Heldenhammer could easily see a complex intelligence behind its slitted eyes.

They were nothing like cyclopean fimir who sneered with envy in its gaze, or the hateful savage disdain beastmen hold for mankind and their monuments. He somehow...just knew, by this silent conversation, that it was no kin to Chaos. There was serenity. Tranquility in its amber eyes. A wisdom that laid behind its scaly visage.

Seemingly satisfied, the snake turned about, and started slithering across the stone path. It reared its body back to glance behind at the god of mankind. Deigning to follow, into the jungle depths.

Sigmar obliged, following the small red snake into the jungle shadows. His sabatons clanked against the stone, the only sound providing noise against the silence.

...

…..

…...

Step. By. Step. Sigmar followed the red snake in the darkness. There was no light here, not even his eyes that could pierce against the darkness of Morrsleib's night could be seen through the blackness here. Even his once vast godly aura dimmed to a mere matchstick, barely providing illumination of the ground he walked on.

In the darkness, everything was void. He stopped trying to guess how far in they were inside after walking vaguely guessing past a hundred or so steps. Counting became a chore after counting past five minutes. It only extended the sense of eternity. Submitting defeat, that wherever he was, the darkness was vast.

Only the snake served as his true beacon. Its red scales glowed in the choking darkness, a living red lantern slithering in a sea of inky black. Onward Sigmar quietly followed out respect to avoid offense. Yet the silence and darkness was torture; they never went left or even right, not up or down. Forward, and only forward. On and on and on, he feared his sanity started to fray into ribbons.

"How long is this passage?" he muttered softly. Half-hoping his guide would give him an answer.

The path was unnaturally straight. Occasionally he could feel the touch of leaves brush across his hair, but nothing suggested the path they were on headed anywhere. Or if they were on the ground anymore.

Such perpetual darkness evoked familiar old feelings in Sigmar's heart. Back in a simpler time, when he was but a boy before he became the man. In days of moonless nights, where the overwhelming maw of darkness was all. Staring into that emptiness evoked a primal terror what horrible thing lurks inside the abyssal darkness. And the only thing keeping it at bay was a simple torch. It served as a fanciful illusion, at best, but it served its purpose well. His tribe made no small effort into instilling the dread of darkness. To always fear it, but never cower, against what fel beast might leap out from that darkness. For it is courage that will stand between life and death.

Yet there is no need for courage here, and no enemies to be slain. So what is left? The sensation that he was being watched with no understanding of his place with them. And it is frightening. So deep his senses were deprived, his instincts sensed something in the darkness watching him. He felt he was being prodded, looked under like how a scholar looks upon an ant. There was no malice that he could feel, or even arrogance, they were just...there, watching.

In the darkness, unaware to Sigmar, a being of unparalleled power watched the young god the moment he entered into their realm. A spirit of the Lizardmen who has stood vigil even in death since the beginning.

What he found in Sigmar none will ever know. A telepathic command was sent to bring Sigmar to the city.

A shimmer of light breached the darkness, Sigmar winced, taken aback by the sudden brightness. Tunnel vision nearly setting in for the human god. Momentarily caught off-guard he blinked his sight back into focus while still shielding his eyes. There, a seam of light parted away the endless darkness.

Vigor returned to Sigmar, smiling as relief wrested him back from his grim mien. He looked down towards his guide. Peeking through the slit of his fingers, he watchted his red-scaled guide slithered towards the exit. Before stopping to look back at Sigmar. It waited for him to follow. Sigmar noted, its caste silhouette made the small snake seem larger than its size suggested.

Sigmar strode, his head held high. His goal was close. Boldly he stepped into the breach. His snake guide entering first the moment he followed.

He shielded his eyes tighter the closer he reached the portal. Conceding to the glare, he surrendered sight and trusted his body to move. Instinct was all that's guiding him now as he put his faith, his very being, at the grace and mercy of his hosts. Metal clanked against stone thunderously in his ears, his sabatons feeling heavier as the moment of truth drew closer.

Destiny was at hand.

Sigmar reached the portal, searing light penetrating even through his hands, and walked inside…

It was painful, like standing directly in front of the sun only there was no heat. Merely a glaring light that seemed to penetrate through him. Every pore of his skin yielded, every fiber of his hair seemed to be bathed in liquid light. His body was bombarded by photons. Power suffused him, his body slowly regaining his former strength.

Slowly, the glare began to fade. Sigmar felt its intensity receding, and his feet firmly planted back on a solid surface. A moment that perplexed even him as he didn't feel being lifted off the 'ground'.

"WELCOME SIGMAR..."

A voice boomed inside his mind and ears! It was as if a mountain was able to speak with the weight of avalanches! It was the voice of ancients.

Startled by the sound, Sigmar kept firm to hold himself high. He held his ground. Ramming himself to stay rooted, fighting to keep a hold of his equilibrium. After feeling the sense of vertigo fading and starburst colors in his eyes fading, he strained to open his eyes. He blinked rapidly, fluttering his sore eyelids, to flicker away the last of the starburst color from his vision for the first few moments.

The first thing he saw was the sight of his feet, standing on a surface of slate. He took a deep breath, before he motioned himself, to look up. Straight at the identity of his speaker.

And the first thing he saw... was gold.

It was a mask, a golden mask. A golden mask worn on a gigantic toad.

The toad-like being was enormous, huge. Easily bigger than a troll and probably has its weight in threes. Wide in girth and very round. It sat floating in the air cross-legged, clawed fists pressed against each other, meditating he realized. He had heard of these practices of exercising one's thoughts and spirits from travelers who ventured to Cathay and Nippon.

It was also a shade of white. Whiter than the purest Middenland snow. Sigmar thought he shouldn't be impressed by such a neutral color, but the white hide of this being was in a color that Sigmar had never seen before. It was not deathly pallid like a vampire, nor did it seem like a rare individual afflicted with albinism. No, there was a glow in its white color that was ethereal.

Not simply because of the realm they resided, but in its very being.

"WELCOME YOUNG GOD, SIGMAR, VENERATED CHAMPION OF MANKIND," the being repeated his greeting, its voice as thunderous as a storm, yet as steady and unyielding like the highest mountains. "TO LUSTRIA, TO THE FIRST CITY, ITZA."

Sigmar felt the weight of relief wash over him. The poison of doubt; of his voice not being heard faded into the aether. Finally an audience with a god of the lizardmen.

"Hail to you great one!" Sigmar returned the greeting. Palm opened, above his heart and a slight bow to express his sincere greeting.

"WE HAVE HEARD YOUR CALL FOR US YOUNG ONE, INPUT YOUR THOUGHTS AND WE WILL ANSWER…" the being began.

'We?' Sigmar looked around about his surroundings, he could see that he was currently in a vast circular courtyard. With islands of foliage acting as miniature gardens, and looming behind the toad-man was a massive red temple pyramid. With steps that easily reached exactly or nearly a thousand, it exerted a presence that made it difficult to describe anything but awe.

But that was not important, he was not here to admire architecture.

"Before I speak my case great one, may I know the name to whom I speak?" Sigmar started "Are you the ruling god of this realm? Is this your home?"

The being's eyes glowed, red eyes shining behind the amber lenses of its golden mask.

"YOU MAY ADDRESS ME, YOUNG GOD SIGMAR, AS LORD KROAK." The being, now known to Sigmar called Lord Kroak answered "AND I AM NOT A GOD YOUNGLING. I AM A SLANN."

Power flared from the one named Lord Kroak that would have blasted Sigmar back across the yard. Sigmar dug his heels, he could feel himself straining, exerting all of his muscles to keep himself from being forced to his knees. An aura surrounded the slann, flaring in a corona of might that distorted the realm around him.

And for a brief moment, Sigmar could swear, he saw something through the flare of Lord Kroak's power. A sea of stars he has never seen before, red and blue flashes flickered between ships that had no sails.

Just as quickly as the vision appeared, it faded when Lord Kroak stopped exerting his power. "APOLOGIES YOUNGLING. I WILL NOT FAULT YOU IN MISTAKING ME FOR GODHOOD. WHEN MY PHYSICAL FORM WAS DESTROYED, I BECAME SOMETHING...MORE. SOMETHING I BELIEVE THE OLD ONES WANTED ME TO BE..." Lord Kroak went silent, seemingly deep in thought.

Thoughts that left Sigmar feeling out of his depth. "BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE SIGMAR, MY ETERNAL VIGILANCE HAS MORE THAN ONCE FORCED MY HAND TO COW THE DARK GODS AND THEIR SERVANTS BACK TO THEIR FEL REALMS."

"A LESSON THAT MISERABLE EXISTENCE YOU CALL NAGASH HAS PERSONALLY LEARNED WHAT IT MEANS TO FIGHT ME!" Lord Kroak growled. Its deep rumble like stones slowly being crushed to dust.

"You have fought Nagash? He yet lives?!" Sigmar was alarmed. That such a foe that almost destroyed the Empire still yet lived. Sigmar knew he should be more concerned about the titanic being before him that was capable of fighting the Chaos Gods themselves. But even after becoming a god, the wicked spirit Nagash that Sigmar had fought and defeated was still fresh in his mind.

Not even in his darkest nightmares, Sigmar would never have thought there was a wicked man such as Nagash after learning of the depraved evils that man wrought upon his own people. The very thought that Nagash still skulked somewhere in the realm beyond, incensed him to consider finding him and figure out a way to instill 'true death' to the once evil king of Nehekhara.

"INDEED, HE TRIED TO SEIZE CONTROL OF OUR DOMAIN TO STEAL ITS KNOWLEDGE AND SHACKLE THE VENERABLE SPIRITS THAT GUARD THE LIZARDMEN DOMAIN. BUT HE MADE THE GRAVE MISTAKE THINKING HE WAS A MATCH FOR ME." Lord Kroak growled deeply, "I ALMOST HAD HIM IN MY GRASP. TO BRING ABOUT A 'TRUE DEATH' HE RIGHTLY DESERVED! BUT THE COWARD SLIPPED AWAY BY SACRIFICING HIS ENTIRE LEGION OF TORTURED SPIRITS JUST TO ESCAPE ME!"

His anger was blinding. Radiating like the sun. Ulrik's righteous wrath and anger were akin to a child's tantrum compared to how deep Lord Kroak's anger was by comparison.

Again, just as fast as it came, Lord Kroak softened his mien and dispersed his anger.

Lord Kroak gestured with a single hand towards the area around him. "AS FOR MY REALM..." the Slann processed his thoughts trying to simplify the complex mechanisms of materium-ether dynamics to the god of mankind "WHERE WE ARE STANDING IN; IS THE MIRROR REFLECTION OF THE CITY OF ITZA. THE FIRST CITY. WHERE MY MASTERS, THE OLD ONES, FIRST STEPPED FOOT UPON YOUR WORLD. SO LONG AS THE PHYSICAL CITY ON LUSTRIA STANDS, SO SHALL MY DOMAIN IN THE REALM OF SOULS STAND TOO."

Now Sigmar was perplexed, but greatly intrigued "If what you say is true, then do you mean to say that you have 'claimed' a portion of this realm?"

"YES SIGMAR, TO PUT I SHORTLY. BEFORE THE OLD ONES FIRST CAME TO THIS WORLD AND CONSTRUCTED ITZA, THE OLD ONES HAVE LONG MASTERED THE MATERIAL REALM AND THE REALM OF SOULS, TRAVEL BETWEEN THIS REALM AND THE PHYSICAL IS NO DIFFERENT TO BREATHING FOR OUR LONG GONE MASTERS." Lord Kroak continued.

"Gone? Do you mean to say the gods abandoned you? He questioned, stupefied at the revelation. "Then how do you protect the soul of your people?! What guards them from being corrupted by Chaos?"

"THERE IS NOTHING TO FEAR." Kroak assured the human god to his confusion "UNDERSTAND YOUNGLING, WHILE YOUR COMPASSION IS LAUDABLE, IT IS MISPLACED. THE OLD ONES MADE US AS THEIR PERFECT TOOLS. WE ARE DESIGNED AS INSTRUMENTS BORN. CRAFTED IN SPIRIT AND BODY. ALL LIZARDMEN -AS WE ALLOWED YOU TO CALL US- WERE WHAT THE OLD ONES ONCE WERE."

"Then…" something clicked in Sigmar if what Lord Kroak claimed was true. Sigmar in all honesty couldn't believe it. Chaos corrupts everything it touches. If Lord Kroak claims the contrary. "Do you mean to tell me Lord Kroak that your people…?" Sigmar trailed off wanting Lord Kroak to validate his claim.

"YES SIGMAR. WE CANNOT BE TOUCHED BY CHAOS. WE, BY DESIGN OF THE OLD ONES, OPPOSE CHAOS IN BODY AND SOUL. THEY CANNOT CORRUPT US. WE ARE THE ETERNAL ANTITHESIS TO THE GREAT ENEMY. WE ARE THE SHIELD THAT KEEPS CHAOS AT BAY."

Sigmar swallowed a lump in his throat, he had many questions. So many questions. This was more than he expected. Why haven't they tried to sail to the Empire? Why do they not make contact? Why stay hidden from the world?

"STILL YOUR THOUGHTS SIGMAR," Lord Kroak spoke, seeing the surface thoughts going into tangents that Sigmar has yet to understand. "REMEMBER THE PURPOSE OF YOUR VENTURE HERE SIGMAR, REMEMBER WHAT IT IS YOU SEEK."

Sigmar straightened himself, looking at the large figure in the eyes. "I seek an audience with your gods Lord Kroak, the Old Ones, to form an oath with me. I ask of you-...NO! I demand of you Lord Kroak and to your gods an alliance with the Lizardmen! Aid us, in our stand against the darkness that seeks our destruction!"

A long silence passed, between two mighty beings. It was a quietness that felt like an age. Lord Kroak scrutinized the young godling Sigmar, boring his blazing red eyes into his mismatched heterochromic green and blue. Sigmar feels the gaze that Lord Kroak looks upon him with familiar anxiety. He remembered this feeling, the same way he has with his father and mother. It was the gaze of a parent looking at the child seeking their approval.

After a long tenuous silence. Lord Kroak spoke once again.

"GOOD, SIGMAR. WITH THIS, THE GREAT PLAN ADVANCES FOR MANKIND TOWARDS THE GOLDEN PATH."

"The Great Plan?" Sigmar asked. Again, vague of the lizardmen's ways and beliefs

.

"YOU WILL LEARN IN TIME SIGMAR," Lord Kroak assured him. While still confused, Sigmar saw no reason to doubt the Slann. "THOUGH THE OLD ONES ARE NO LONGER WITH US THEY LEFT MY PEOPLE INSTRUCTIONS IN HOW TO PROCEED, THEY ARE MANY AND THE CLUES LABYRINTHINE. BUT THERE IS A PURPOSE IN THEIR INSTRUCTIONS THAT ULTIMATELY ENSURES OUR SURVIVAL."

"Are the Old Ones clairvoyance so great that they envisioned me coming here?" Sigmar relaxed his stance. Curious how the Old Ones could have abandoned them, yet the lizardmen were able to persevere for so long in their absence. "Was their leaving also part of the Great Plan you speak of?"

"IN PART,-" Lord Kroak opened

"THE GREAT PLAN WAS ENACTED IN MIND EVEN WHEN BEFORE THE GREAT CATASTROPHE OF CHAOS EMERGED FROM THE GATES. THE PLAN MAY BE DELAYED BUT IT WILL NOT BE DENIED." Lord Kroak explained curtly "AS FOR THE OLD ONES THEMSELVES, THEY HAVE NOT ABANDONED US. MERELY...TOO DISTANT FOR US TO COMPREHEND."

"WE KNOW THE OLD ONES STILL MAINTAIN CONTACT WITH US THROUGH THE BLESSINGS WE RECEIVE FROM THEM THROUGHOUT THE AGES. EVEN THE CONSTRUCTION OF OUR 'GOD' IS A UNITED EFFORT BY THE OLD ONES."

"The Old Ones created a god?!" Sigmar believed many things due to the nature of the world he lived in life and in the beyond, but to construct a god was too much for even him! "Wait, you say they created your god, are the Old Ones not your gods?"

"IT IS A MISCONCEPTION SUCCESSOR GENERATIONS USE TO EXPOUND THEIR EXISTENCE. MY STUDENT AND THOSE OF HIS GENERATION WHO BRIEFLY WITNESSED THEIR POWER LABELED THEIR GODHOOD DESPITE MY MASTERS INSISTENCE TO THE CONTRARY."

"ITS BELIEF WAS BENIGN, AND THE WORSHIP SERVED WELL TO EMPOWER MY MASTERS. THIS WOULD HAVE EVENTUALLY BEEN PHASED OUT TOWARDS ENLIGHTENMENT OF 'THE COSMIC TRUTH'. Lord Kroak iterated to Sigmar. "ONLY FOR CHAOS TO INVADE THE REALM, DESTROYED THEIR FACILITIES AND ALL ASCENSION PROJECTS LIE RUINED. LEAVING ME, AS THE ONLY ONE WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF 'THE COSMIC TRUTH'.

"And what is this 'truth' Lord Kroak?" Sigmar asked, wondering what sort of 'truth' made this important that Chaos warranted to be destroyed.

"THERE ARE NO GODS..." The slann answered simply and concisely. Much to the consternation of Sigmar. His brows furrowed, and the folds of his forehead expressing his disbelief at such outright falsity of the so-called 'truth'. For a moment Sigmar considered retorting such a false 'truth' but abstained to allow Lord Kroak to elaborate.

"DO NOT THINK ON THIS, YOU AND YOURS ARE SIMPLY NOT YET READY." Lord Kroak stated, seeing the agitation on Sigmar's face. A light flashed in the slann's eyes, lifting his head. "SOTEK HAS ARRIVED SIGMAR...THE GOD YOU SEEK IS HERE TO LISTEN TO YOUR PLEA."

Before Sigmar could ask who Sotek was and what he should expect of this …'constructed god' of The Old Ones, Lord Kroak's form shimmered in light "I MUST RETURN TO MY VIGIL YOUNGLING. FRET NOT, ONE DAY WE WILL MEET AGAIN." His aura grew brighter, encompassing Lord Kroak. With a snap, he vanished in a burst of star-light. Any trace of Lord Kroak's presence were little motes of starlight that quickly began to fade.

A hiss heralded the god's coming. It was the sound of a hissing snake, but magnified to proportions that he could not fathom. The sound of the hiss swelled stronger all around him, so loud was its serpentine song, that it drowned out any thoughts that occupied his mind. Even closing his ears did not stop the noise from assailing his hearing. It was like a force of nature, unopposable in its impetus.

Typhoon winds picked up all about him. His long hair whipped across his eyes, half-blinding him in the tempest. The tiled floors shook, but he stood his ground against the quaking. Something reached into Sigmar's nose, he began to smell the iron scent of blood.

Any god that symbolizes itself with blood rarely bodes well in his experience. One only needs to look at Khaine and of course Khorne as gods who are worshipped in the blood of others...

He taw the red temple that once sat behind Lord Kroak pulse. A faint glow of red emanated from the stone structure. A swirling red maelstrom spun around the pyramid. The sky grew dark, with thunderstorms growing above him. Lightning flashed. Crackling sparks of electricity danced in a web of power.

The temple pulsed, rain began to fall. Drenching Sigmar in a deluge of rainwater. Surprisingly the taste was fresh, drinkable. He honestly expected to follow its stereotype with a rain of blood. So perhaps he judged too quickly. He watched as the rain showered over the pyramid swirling in a twister of crimson.

A pulse rang a third time, and the storm's tempo grew stronger. A hum emanated from the pyramid like a tune. Rainwater was being sucked into the vortex, mass liquids of water and blood enveloped the whole.

Blocked by the storm, Sigmar saw a shape taking form. A head rose from the mass, the upper tip of the pyramid changed to resemble a snake's head. Massive scales the size of warhorses started to cover over its forming flesh. Blood and rainwater merged into the temple as the stones of the pyramid transformed into flesh.

Slowly, he waited with bated anticipation, seeing the transformation of where the pyramid once stood taking shape. It grew and grew and continued until the coiling shape grew bigger than the pyramid itself. Towering in height that SIgmar thought that its true form could loop the world itself.

As the liquid mass slowly took shape to flesh, so too did the storm recede. Giving way to a sunny sky. What took the pyramid's place, Sigmar could see it now, in all its dread majesty.

It was a snake. A massive towering snake whose head blocked the very sun in an eclipse like a halo. Sigmar tried to comprehend its size, but even coiled at the base of where the temple once stood, its body extended well beyond the perimeter of the city.

The massive head moved. Lowering itself to close the distance between them. Sigmar had no doubt the serpent god could swallow entire imperial galleons whole in a single gulp and still have room in its jaws for more.

Lord Kroak was a mighty, easily among one of the most powerful beings he has ever encountered. Sigmar cannot comprehend what the Slann was capable of, if he could contend with the Chaos gods themselves. But here before him was a being that had the aura and character to be a godly being.

As it slowly approached, Sigmar could now see its details down to its micro features. Truly it was red down to its pores, with only its underbelly being white in its loosest sense. For it had a tint of rose pink ink that transitioned its shade seamlessly to its entire body. Its short horned features gave the serpent somewhat a draconic majesty.

It didn't dawn on Sigmar until Sotek drew closer, not once did Sotek broke eye contact with him. Watching not with predatory intent, but with, if Sigmar had to guess, as crazy it sounded in his mind, kinship. It was ludicrous in every way, shape, or form since Sigmar has never interacted or associated anything with a serpent that wasn't his enemy.

Yet...something spoke to him in its amber eyes. It brooked a vague sense of odd familiarity in Sigmar. A word appeared in his mind, the more he looked into its eyes.

Resonance; It was a word he was not familiar with, nor spoke, but he understood the meaning behind it. There was something in their beings that responded 'clicked' between them, some character trait inside of them that harmonized with each other even if it was their first ever meeting.

"You were my guide here weren't you?" Sigmar asked. His mouth moved with a flash of epiphany, before his mind realized it.

"YESSS, SSIGMAR." the serpent god answered softly, surprising Sigmar of such subtlety from the giant snake in front him. "A PIECE OF MY ESSENCE THAT HAS LONG AWAITED FOR YOUR ARRIVAL...I AM GLAD."

Sigmar was at a loss, the little snake that first met him was the same god he sought out. While not specifically Sotek, the results are the same regardless.

By that same regard, a dark thought crossed through Sigmar's mind.

"Tell me Sotek..." Sigmar spoke, something threatened to bubble out of his throat, but he steadied his emotions lest he regret what cannot be taken back. "If our meeting was destined. If your creators saw my arrival here, in your Great Plan. Then was the suffering of my people avoidable? The destruction of my Empire by Nagash, the vampires who squat in Syvania like a cancer?"

"Or the Everchosen being born from the ranks of my own people?" Tears stricken Sigmar's face, his memories came flooding with the images of the trials the Empire has overcome.

Yet even more than victories, Sigmar only wanted peace for his people. But in a world where there is only war from all sides, true peace seems like a fool's dream.

A blue tongue flickered out of his maw "HISSS...MOST CERTAINLY SSSIGMAR. MY MASTERSSS WOULD CERTAINLY HAVE SEEN YOUR PEOPLE'S SSSUFFERING."

Sigmar surprisingly didn't feel the anger to lash out, just a somber acceptance. Perhaps if Sotek tried to lie or justify the answer he would no doubt feel anger. "Then why Sotek? Why has it taken this long for me to come to you? Why haven't you come to aid us in ages long past?"

"FOR THE SSSAME REASON A PARENT WATCHES THEIR YOUNGLINGSSS GROW…" Sotek replied.

He took a stance of silence, about why did a parent and child have to do anything?

"BETWEEN THE ELDER RACES, WHICH ONE DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE ELDEST AMONG US?" the serpent asked its own question.

"If your gods had the power to construct a being like you, between yours, the elves and the dwarfs, then I can only assume your people being the eldest." He answered.

"CORRECT YOUNGLING, BUT YOU LACK THE SCOPE OF THE GULF BETWEEN US?"

"Then help me understand Sotek! I don't care if your people came before us or the elves! If your people were so mighty and the Old Ones clairvoyance omniscient, what stopped you from sailing the seas and helping us in our hours of need?!" His throat harsh, emotions spilled out from his lips. He didn't care if he slighted the snake with his disrespect. He believed his heart will guide him.

Memories of his people throughout the Empire before and after he became a god ran rampant. How he wished he could do more to keep the men, women and children he calls his heirs safe from the depredations of the numerous enemies from both within and without. Desperate for an answer as simple as lending a helping hand.

Sotek turned silent, the reasons were numerous, both the complex and the simple. Sotek simply remained silent understanding of Sigmar's protest. The moment of silence between them casted a heavy weight before Sotek continued.

"BECAUSE YOUR PEOPLE MUST STRUGGLE SSIGMAR…" Sotek relented, opting away the nuances and acquiesce to Sigmar's demand. "FOR IF YOU HAVEN'T, THEN YOU WOULD NOT BE WHERE YOU ARE NOW." Sotek hissed, a fire ignited in its eyes to strike deep into Sigmar. To force an epiphany into him. To show him a glimpse of their Great Purpose.

"FROM YOU, YOUR CHAMPIONS ROSE FROM THE EXAMPLE OF YOUR DEEDS. FOR AS MUCH THERE IS A DARK CHAMPION LIKE THE GREAT ENEMY'S EVERCHOSEN. YOUR STRUGGLES GAVE RISE TO YOUR OWN CHAMPIONS THAT DEFIED THE DARK POWERS; YOUR MAGNUS THE PIOUS, MONSTER SLAYER MARKUS WULFHART, AND OF COURSE YOUR CHOSEN CHAMPION, KARL FRANZ."

"CAN YOU SAY WITH CERTAINTY YOUNG ONE, THAT WITHOUT THE SSTRUGGLE AND BLOODSSSHED OF YOU AND YOUR PEOPLE'S DEEDS, THESE EXEMPLARS OF MANKIND WOULD STILL RISE?" Sotek challenged the grieving warrior god.

The man god wanted to fiercely retort, affirmed his belief in the spirit of mankind, but something stopped him from speaking back. For as much as he wanted to challenge Sotek's claim, this world is a place where monsters can thrive, in both body and soul.

Plus, Sigmar felt shame with himself. He accused the Lizardmen of idleness without understanding their own plights. He didn't even consider the possibility that as the eldest and if in Sotek's word 'caretakers' were true, then the Lizardmen must have sacrificed just as much to protect the younger races. Sigmar laughed at the irony. Putting elves as part of the younger races.

Worse, his words while they came from a place of concern and compassion, they detracted the worth of his champions and diminished the sacrifices of those who died for his legacy.

Sigmar calmed the fire in his heart, it was in the right place, but his zeal clouded his judgement. So with a clearer soul, Sigmar looked at Sotek. 'There it was again' Sigmar thought. The sense of harmony that existed between them. When his emotions were calm and his heart steady, he felt in sync with this god, Sotek.

"No, I don't think it wouldn't." Sigmar admitted guiltily "I still hold on to the belief that surely even with your aid such champions would still rise, but I am not so certain their characters would be anything like they are now... I am sorry."

Sotek nodded, tranquil. "THERE IS NOTHING TO FORGIVE YOUNGLING, AS LORD KROAK TOLD YOU, YOU WILL LEARN IN TIME. TO UNDERSTAND OUR GREAT PURPOSE WILL NOT BE EASY. KNOW THIS SSSIMPLE FACT FOR NOW SIGMAR, YOU ARE HERE NOW BEFORE ME. KINDRED."

'Kindred?' Sigmar thought. Curious on what they could have shared between each other. So he took a leap of faith with the only thing they could have shared despite being oceans apart from each other. "Were you also born under the same star as I was Sotek?"

"YESSS..." Sotek simply answered

"Do you perhaps know from your masters, why the twin-tailed comet holds such significance between us? What it is and its significance?"

"UNFORTUNATELY, I DO NOT KNOW YOUNGLING. MY MASSSTERS DID NOT SUPPLY ME WITH THE KNOWLEDGE. ONLY THAT I WAS TO EMERGE ON THE DAY THE TWIN-TAILED COMET FLEW ACROSS THE SSSKY TO ENACT MY MISSION." Sotek replied.

"And what is your mission mighty Sotek?"

"TO BE THE SAVIOR OF MY PEOPLE! THROUGH THE BLOOD AND SACRIFICES OF MY CHILDREN'S ENEMIES TO ONE DAY SWALLOW THE RAT GOD WHOLE!" The titanic serpent answered with thunderous zeal that shook the city and the clouds above.

Then, something extraordinary happened. Sigmar laughed.

He laughed loud, deep from his belly. It was a laugh that was as bright as the sun. Relief, joy, respect, and jubilation poured out from his bellowing hollers of jolly. It was not a laugh of mockery, but one of mutual understanding.

While he laughed, his tears flowed out in sobbing waves. Tears he restrained to show in life and death because he needed to be the image of strength his people needed. His peals of laughter eventually started to mix with his bout of sobs. Here, far from everyone else, Sigmar released some weight from his spirit, he was the legendary man who united the Empire, not a man who carried the burden of his entire race, but a man.

A simple man, who is crying and laughing in joy, that he found someone who shared the same burden that he is meant to carry.

A hiss broke through the sobbing laughter. Sotek, tilted its head in confusion. Not understanding how one can be both happy and sad at the same time. Such complex emotions were built for the Slann and the Skinks.

Sigmar let out a few more sobs to leak, before he wiped the tears and snot from his face. Relief replaced his features and he looked more at peace than before. Determination once again ablaze in his breast. The simple man named Sigmar has returned, stronger than ever.

His back straightened, ready to speak once again to Sotek, his kindred.

"Mighty Sotek, before I begin my plea. Why must you require sacrifices?" Sigmar began "I have seen now that you are benevolent and know truly you wish to save your people, but why do you need blood and sacrifices to give tribute to you? I know of no god like you that requires the blood of others, that are not murderous in their character."

Sotek hissed, readily to supply Sigmar his reasons "BLOOD IS SIMPLY THAT, BLOOD. IT IS THE PHYSICAL LIFE FORCE THAT FLOWS THROUGH ALL LIVING BEINGS. BLOOD THAT IS OFFERED TO ME ENSURES THAT MY STRENGTH GROWS. INNOCENT OR GUILTY, RIGHTEOUS OR DAMNED, I TAKE IN THE STRENGTH THEIR BLOOD IS GIVEN UNTO ME."

"WHAT SEPARATES ME FROM THE LIKES OF KHORNE AND KHAINE: I SWALLOW THE SOULS OF THE WICKED AND LET THOSE WHO ARE INNOCENT FREE TO SLEEP WITH THEIR GODS."

Sigmar nodded in understanding, relieved to know Sotek is merciful to spirits.

"Then I ask you this mighty Sotek! Will you ally yourself to me? To mankind? Our enemies will be your enemies! And your enemies will be our enemies!" Sigmar strongly gave his piece. Here and now, will be the new turning point that will ripple across the Old and New World.

"YESSS SIGMAR HELDENHAMMER, I AGREE TO THIS ALLIANCE…" Sotek answered easily. But like all alliances a pact must be made that upholds both the physical and the spiritual merit of such a union "ARE YOU PREPARED SIGMAR, GOD OF MANKIND, TO SACRIFICE YOURSELF TO ME? AS I WILL SACRIFICE MYSELF TO YOU? FROM NOW TO ETERNITY ITSELF, WILL YOU UPHOLD THIS SACRED PACT?"

"YES!" Sigmar roared, undaunted. There was no fear in his heart, only a blazing fire to see this alliance made manifest. To see his vision made real: Where his people may one day know peace! Where civilization can advance and prosper! Where Chaos may forever be sealed behind the gate!

"THEN AS WE SWEAR, PREPARE YOURSELF...AS WILL I." Sotek reared his head back towering the god to rest along with its coiled body. Sigmar tensed his muscles, he knew well enough what kind of pact Sotek implied. And it would not be something so thin like cutting oneself and exchanging blood.

He watched intensely at the red serpent as it opened it jaw wide. Fangs and teeth the size of towers lined its mouth. A blast of warm air escaped its mouth that led down into the infinite maw that would one day swallow the rat god he knew all too well. Very soon Sotek's people will fight his enemies too. Better yet, Sotek might even gain strength to swallow the Chaos gods themselves. Sigmar grinned viciously at such imagery.

What happened next brought him back to the immediate matter at hand.

As quick as lightning, Sotek bit into his own body! Giant fangs sunk deep into scales and flesh alike. It was a morbid scene, to watch Sotek in a sense, eat itself. He watched, not daring to look away. In fear to do so would be an insult to its commitment to its oath.

Just as quickly as Sotek bit himself, so too did the serpent pulled itself with an exertive squeeze! Ripping out a piece of himself before Sigmar!

Sigmar expected as much, but it was still terrifying to behold. He had seen maddened cultists sacrifice themselves or others with less furore than Sotek.

Clutched inside its mouth, wrapped by chunks of his own flesh and bone fragments, was its own heart. A squall of blood and bits of gore surged out of the wound like an erupting volcano. The deluge spilled all across the temple grounds flooding it in Sotek's blood. Sigmar stood stock still, letting the flood reach up to his knees while he watched the blood flow descend on him.

Sigmar bathed in the deluge of Sotek's blood. Baptised in Sotek's very life fluids for which attributed his worship. The taste and smell of iron was everywhere. It was dizzying, overwhelming. Yet the tide of blood was no match against, the eyes that held in Sotek's gaze.

A dangerous glint was present in its slitted amber eyes. A crazed look, one of zeal worthy of Grimnir himself and the berserkers of his Slayer cult. No doubt the mighty serpent was in excruciating agony, but it still had the strength to follow through to present its vulnerable heart to the man god.

Now, Sigmar must do the same…

He watched the now waist-high blood, started to churn. Faster and faster, a whirlpool of blood spun. At its center, something was taking shape. Iron was being pulled from the blood, microscopic globules of metal were used as material to form whatever was being made at Sotek's command. The mound of liquid metal squashed and stretched like clay in nonexistent hands.

"A dagger?" Sigmar guessed as a cylinder shaft formed, with a simple iron diamond pommel. "No? Not a dagger?" the handle of the 'dagger' stretched until it was longer than he anticipated. Long enough and just as wide the handle could be held in two hands like a greatsword.

Twin strips of red leather twined around the handle. He'd shortly realize that these were pieces of skin stripped from Sotek's body.

Next, a crossguard was being shaped. A large octagon crowned the sword's hilt. It's center hollow, where the tang should be. Blood pooled into the octagon filling its hollow space until full. More was filled into the cavity until it seemed snug in place. The blood rippled in quick short waves, liquid quickly turned gelatinous with every wave until its bouncy surface turned solid as stone.

A gem now filled the space, smooth and resplendent to a mirror shine. If Sigmar did not witness its creation firsthand, he could have easily thought the jewel was a large precisionly cut ruby.

Finally, the blade. It was short. Very short. Extending from one face of the octagon a small blade protruded. He guessed its length around twenty centimeters. More or less the length of a common dagger. Straight and double-edged. It was a simple blade that held no remarkable features, save for the fuller. Materialising from nowhere, enchanted gold dust etched itself into the fuller. A blocky golden snake winding towards the tip, its mouth open, and the beast's forked tongue curled outwards.

Impression wise, it was underwhelming to say the least. Sigmar has seen craftsmanship by the dawi, Ghal Maraz is forever a testament to their craftsmanship. Even the twelve runefangs of Alaric the Mad were sublime creations with few equals. This weapon he was handed seemed supbar by comparison. It looked painfully unbalanced. The handle being long and heavy that contrasted to the short blade, it was a weapon unfit for combat or assassination.

Ceremonial or not, Sigmar received the weapon with grace. He grasped the black bloodborne instrument that floated above the scarlet vortex tightly. Regardless of its lack for effective use, it was still beautiful in its simple yet eerie appearance. With the blood jeweled crossguard and golden snake fuller contrasted brilliantly against the dark metal.

Sigmar Heldenhammer born of the Unberogens took deep, large, breaths. In. Out. In. Out. Muscles that have wrestled Ork Warbosses and crushed Chaos Champions, strangulated the grip of Sotek's weapon. Its grip seemed to mold comfortably around his fingers, rather than against it. The alien sensation only furthering his growing sense of agitation.

What he was about to do in but moments was nothing less, than an act of insanity.

He shrugged off his breastplate. A splash resounded before enchanted armor sank beneath the blood. His body clenched tightly in reflex. While his mind struggled to calm himself. Fighting to loosen pectoral muscles.

Mind and body were in conflict. Self-preservation warred against duty. Both struggled to dominate Sigmar's being. The choices boiled down to 'stop Sigmar from killing himself and doom his people' or 'Seal the pact, so that his people may yet prosper'.

To Sigmar, the choice was easy.

"UNBEROGEN!" He roared at Sotek, it's still beating heart clenched inside the snake's maw. Rousing his spirit, to do the unthinkable.

With both hands, Sigmar, mighty god of man plunged the dagger straight into his chest!

Delirious. Blinding. Sigmar's vision swam. Cords of sinew and bended bones screamed in blinding protest! As agony coursed through him by the invading object in his chest!

Pain was no stranger to Sigmar, but he had no words for this act of self-mutilation. He has been stabbed by his enemies countless times, from the smallest of shanks by goblins to the biting jagged axes Khorne's daemons. But the battle between his body and mind was an endeavor unlike any he has ever confronted.

A sense of weakness assaulted him, it pleaded to weaken his arms to falter, to stop him from continuing this madness. Sigmar managed to drive the blade clean into his chest. Briefly surprised by the sharpness and how clean the cut was as he managed to lodge a knick in his ribs.

He fought his body, trying to loosen the muscles that strongly clenched the flats of the blade. Sigmar puffed hard, quickly losing his breath from the trauma. His legs gave away, forcing him to his knees.

Sigmar could no longer stand, his body sank beneath a red tide. Baptised in the rich red lake of Sotek's godly blood. Only his head remained surfaced, staining his bearded visage. The iron scent was overwhelming, dizzying his already addled consciousness.

The man god wondered which would kill him first; the drowning? or the bloodloss?

Submerged as he was, he fought against his red soaked vision. Blood was nothing like water, its thickness stung his eyes and robbed him of sight in a haze of red. The pain in his chest became more realized, sharper, and clearer, with his sight lost to him. He grabbed the handle tighter, pushing the dagger through the gap of his rib. Its sharpness cut through his flesh with ease like a scythe in a grain field.

Rapted with grim fascination, Sigmar watched as blood -his blood- spilled out, torrenting from his gaping wound. In a trance-like state of delirium Sigmar beheld his ichor mixed with Sotek's. It was a blood oath at its apogee.

Sigmar gritted his teeth, to the point where he might break them as chattering sounds emanated from his jaw. His ribs were the only obstacles left, and he needed to break through to the other side in one sweep. Any more delays and he will pass out from either excruciating pain or from blood loss.

He needed to end it in one decisive stroke. Sigmar took shallow controlled breaths, trying to regain some measure of control over his body. The god powered through the pain as much his godly body could, expanded lungs that took in air pressed against the opening he made. After what felt like an eternity, Sigmar silenced the screaming torture to its best possible minimum. Enough for him to be cognizant and the pain dulled enough for him to marshal his strength.

With soft almost whispery shallowed breaths, Sigmar flexed his finger around the handle. Each individual appendage dancing beneath the bloody pool in tiny ripples. He steadied himself. Ribs started to hurt again as his bones contracted against the wound.

He closed his eyes, memories flooded him with images of the friends, families, and loved ones that gave their lives for him to be where he was now. The time was now for Sigmar to give himself to Sotek.

Manic eyes bursted open! Sigmar screamed at the top of his throat to exhale every last shred of air he had in lungs before with one swift push! He cut through his central ribe right through the other side!

He succeeded his disembowelment, and all the throbbing pain that came with it! Forced into a fetal position, fully submerged in Sotek's blood, his mind fought through the spasms of his body, and dived his hand right into his chest!

Easily, he grabbed onto his quarry, and with one swift pull! A spray of offal and blood showered over him! His body surfaced with him in the frenzy of this extreme act of self-mutilation!

There in his darkening vision...he pulled his heart...raised towards Sotek…

A lull fell over Sigmar. He could no longer think or feel as vertigo overtook him. His eyes closing, succumbing to the silence…

...

"AWAKEN KINDRED!" Sotek's voiced boomed inside his head!

Sigmar's eyes shot open as aethyr rushed inside his lungs, waking him back into consciousness!

Groggily, Sigmar slowly regained his wits, and to his morbidity, seeing his still beating heart grasped in his hand. Instead of slowing down, his heart began to beat strongly as if blood still flowed through him. As his senses slowly returned, so was his strength.

A light shined from the jewel. Blinding him from looking at the weapon's center. In it, an emblem of a twin-tailed comet shined. Runes began to light all along the blade. Stil protruded from his chest, he lightly grabbed the dagger, and it slid out of him with ease and without pain.

He raised his beating heart aloft. As high towards the heavens beyond.

"You honor me mighty Sotek! Will this ensure our alliance?" Sigmar asked. Ready to seal the pact.

"ALMOST…" The titanic serpent released its hold on his heart. At the same time, SIgmar watched as his own heart started to float away from his hand.

Curiously, his heart began to grow in size. While simultaneously, Sotek's own massive heart began to shrink. Both beath organs floated toward each other. At the center of the exchange, their sizes matched for a brief moment. A fitting gesture Sigmar thought to himself as an exchange.

He watched Sotek's heart moved closer to him, shrinking until it reached a size relative to his own. While Sigmar's heart grew until it reached the size meant for Sotek.

Both hearts, floated above their respective chests, and in a glow of aether particles, absorbed back into their bodies. Their former injuries restored and only pristine flesh remained.

Sigmar couldn't help but pat around his now restored pristine chest. Right above where his new heart, or more accurately Sotek's, was located. There was no scar that marked his self-made wound, no discomfort of the muscles or bones. Nothing felt different, but the knowledge that he carried someone else's heart was alien for him.

"NOW... AN APPROPRIATE TOKEN FOR YOU AND YOURS SSSIGMAR…" Light began to shimmer all around Sigmar. He watched as the blood began to change, brighter and warmer against his skin. The pool of blood that he stood in dispersed in a hurricane of flurries, particles of light mottled with the red of Sotek's blood ignited, casting him in a dazzling prism of a ruby auric glow.

It bathed him with renewed strength, even better, he feels new strength being fueled into him! But more important than his rising flux of power. Light converged towards the dagger in his hand.

There at its center, shining like a sun, the twin-tailed comet in the jewel glowed bright! Its radiant aspect roaring with tumultuous power! The swell of light stormed towards the dagger, transmogrified blood rushed towards the black dagger with the fury of a hurricane. With Sigmar at its center.

He stood in the eye, holding the dagger tight in his fist. It was hot to the touch, yet there was no pain. It felt like the weapon had come alive, imprinting itself to Sigmar -no- binding itself to him! He could feel it in his soul. It's very essence merging with him!

"KNOW MY PEOPLE SSSIGMAR...KNOW THEIR SSTRUGGLE...KNOW THEIR SACRIFICE...KNOW THEM FROM THIS MOMENT, AS YOUR KINNN…"

It came to Sigmar in a rush of lightning. Fragmented, disconnected images bombarded through his mind too fast to understand. At first they were just noise, blobs of color and incoherent blurs. Sigmar realized that these were memories, ancient ones from an age long before man. It hurt him even when he couldn't comprehend them, so he strained the floodgates of his mind to restrain and filter the memories of the lizardmen that held the most meaning.

A battlefield was fought over the entirety of the continent. Legions of lizardmen in numbers that could cover all of Reikland ten times over, fought uncountable daemons pouring through the polar gate at the Chaos Wastes.

Not one sliver of the ice sheet beneath their feet was visible to the eye. Spilled blood and soiled offals of lizards, mutants and daemons pool and frosted over the cold ground as they fought. Obscenely outnumbered and utterly hopeless, it was a sobering sight that would have crushed the hearts of men, yet every lizard still fought for every step of ground to keep the daemonic tide at bay from the greater whole of the world.

A city was shown to him, instead of a metropolis of splendor, scores of daemons ran rampant in every street. 'Itza.' Sigmar thought. The city's architecture matching the realm he currently plazas were choked with daemons baying for lizardmen blood. Lizard mages fought against sorcerers, while their warriors matched their mettle against the crude wave of daemonettes, bloodletters, plaguebearers and horrors.

While numerous cohorts fought throughout the city, at the foot of a lonely temple, a single kroxigor stoically stood in grim silence. Tasked in guarding the Bridge of Starlight against the mass of daemons heading his way. They jeered and mocked and laughed at the one pitiful lizard. Bloodthirsters cried to claim his skull for Khorne, while slaaneshi servants sang to skin its leathery hide to decorate their pleasure god's palace.

After all, what could one little lizard do against them?

The daemons would learn quickly what this one kroxigor could do...

The kroxigor loosed a mighty roar at the daemons. Fear struck inside their cruel black hearts. It challenged them to fight him. It compelled them to fight him. And so they did, ignoring the lingering fear to fight him.

In a horde of warp born flesh, they charged towards the lonely kroxigor standing at the sacred bridge. It answered their charge appropriately.

Raising its mace the kroxigor reared back, its golden spiked mace head shining in the noon day sun. With a furious roar it's spiked head met the daemons head on. Such was its speed and strength, a single swipe not just broke their bodies, but reduced them into mush. Their slurried remains splattered across the bridge, tainted flesh burned from the ambient cleansing energy of the bridge.

The daemons were incensed by the kroxigor's defiance and rushed with renewed frenzy. He obligingly returned it in kind.

Sigmar watched with unfettered awe at the kroxigor's martial might. It stood alone against the innumerable horrors that would take an army to make a meaningful stand. Yet alone did it stand, and alone did he defied them. The bridge provided an advantageous choke point, but the impetus of the kroxigors savage combat seemed unending.

It fought like a tireless machine, every crushing swing of its golden mace head shattered no less than seven daemons at once, thinking they were clever enough to slip past him. Its fists throttled the necks of greater daemons, and used their broken bodies to bludgeon its own damned kin.

Long did the kroxigor fought, long into the night. Alone, but unbroken. A towering living edifice of destruction. Broken bodies of the Chaos daemons filled the Bridge of Stars like a basin, a miracle in itself that the bridge didn't collapse under the weight of bodies the kroxigors have slain.

So when morning came, reinforcements arrived to relieve pressure to aid in fending off the daemons. Instead of a battle, it was the sight of the kroxigor, standing alone on the bridge. No daemons would be found anywhere near or even far. Only shattered bodies of the daemons rotted under the baking sun. Skinks and saurus warriors were to notice that the daemonic detritus had long since dried before their arrival.

Possible explanations were simple: Either the kroxigor killed all the daemons at the Bridge of Stars, or the kroxigor killed them so brutally and savagely, that the daemons fled in terror. Whichever was the truth, no daemon has ever returned to the site, where a single kroxigor fought off entire daemon armies of the Chaos Gods and succeeded.

Another rush of images, another memory.

He saw apish beings huddled around one of their kin holding torn rib bones of a recently devoured cattle from the eyes of a Slann. A memory from a time before Chaos flooded the world. It watched these simple creatures in contemplative silence, tasked by the Old Ones to watch and safeguard their evolutionary progress.

Contempt from the Slann filled his being, as it saw a massive WAAAGH of savage orcs shouting the gibberish they call language, wave around their clumsy bone clubs. Rampaging across the landscape towards the apes he protected.

A scaled hand deftly spun a thin wiry finger. With a simple gesture, a tornado weaved to life. With a flick of its finger, the deadly wind tunnel sucked in the incoming WAAAGH stampeding towards its charge. The tornado mercilessly flung greenskins in every direction, leaving the orcs broken for the primitive tribe to fight against the remains of their invaders.

Time moved forward. Through reptilian eyes, the tribe the Slann watched over evolved through ages. Generation after generation, he watched the apes transformed from dragging their knuckles to walking upright. Hair that acted as fur, receded in favor of brain power. Thick skulls metamorphosed, to resemble much closer to present humans.

When the slann fell in the wake of the Chaos incursion, it continued to watch even when its body was wrapped in bandages as a Relic Priest. Through dead scrying eyes, his once simple ape charges became fully a realized man tribe. Cloaked in wolven fur and axes in their hands, Sigmar immediately recognized them as the earliest worshippers of Ulrik.

Verdant jungle flora were being rotted away, melting and dying into blackened horrible sludge. Diseased ratmen poisoned the lizardmen home of Chaqua. He watched in despair, as scores of skink healers tried desperately to stave off the plague that has afflicted them. When it was inevitable, those untouched by the pestilence left their temple home with vengeance burning in their hearts. A champion rose from the destruction, a tablet in the lone skinks hand. Larger, muscled, and flaring a crest of shining red.

Sotek's prophet 'Tehenhauin'.

Decades before Sigmar was born, a familiar twin-tailed comet rocketed across the skies. He rose alone from a pool that Sotek protected while he still slept, his red crest and forked tail marked him as the Serpent's chosen. From the same pool, the first of his cohorts emerged in droves the closer Chaqua's death knell came.

'Magnificent…' Sigmar thought proudly, as he watched the lone prophet rallied survivors of his city and skinks from all across Lustria to his Red Host.

Sadly another memory phased into his mind, denying him witness to the conclusion of the prophet's crusade. Nonetheless this one was no less important.

Because this memory involved a mythical sight that Sigmar had yet to see in his lifetime as a mortal.

The Great Vortex.

A swirling maelstrom of power that siphoned the world of excess magic. He saw the elf archmage Caledor Dragontamer working in concert with the Slann-Mage Priests. Among their number a Slann of great import stood out like a beacon amongst his peers. His critical gaze spoke of both contempt and boundless insight. Contributing his knowledge to Caledor's formula for the ritual to succeed. At his side, a Saurus Warrior in full armor with a metallic arm stood at attention in the proceedings keeping guard for any attempt on his master's life.

The vision ended with Caledor enacting his ritual throughout the course of a century. With slanns from every major temple-cities synchronized to the ritual so that it may be sustained through the vast power network of The Great Warding.

His last sight would be to watch as Archmage Caledor Dragontamer, at the moment his great enchantment was realized, he became part trapped in the Great Vortex. Where he and his fellow mages would be forever trapped in time, suffering eternal agony of the moment of the Vortex's completion, never to rest so long as the Vortex endures.

New tears sprung from his eyes. Has seen many things in his lifetime even made new ones when he ascended into godhood. He saw the bravery that can rise from the hearts of mankind. He saw the unbroken stony resilience of the Dawi. He even saw the charming nobility of the elven people. All of them capable of doing mighty good deeds and obscene evil in equal measure.

Not the lizardmen.

There is no evil in the lizardmen. There was only purpose in their hearts. They are a race solely dedicated to the protection of the world. They're war against the ruinous powers never stopped when other sovereigns ruled in an era of peace. A peace made possible only because of the Lizardmen fighting in the shadowed background of the greater world.

Where people call them savages, they are actually servants of order. Where people call them primitive, they are actually keepers of advanced ancient knowledge.

They ask for nothing. They are thankless in their duties. They do not seek glory. They only seek to repair the world and advance the Great Plan laid for the children of this world.

Sigmar remembered the words he spoke to his subject.

"You, my people, are my heirs…" Nostalgia flooded Sigmar remembering that moment so long ago. Before he left them to become their god. "Men of the Empire. Women of the Empire. Sons of the Empire. Daughters of the Empire. They...are all my heirs..."

"Everyone who lives in this land is my heir. Everyone who fights and bleeds to protect the Empire...is my heir."

Sigmar understood now, even if it was only a little bit about the Lizardmen. But in time...he will learn.

He understands now, that he along with the Lizardmen. Are all heirs to this world. Men, elves, and dwarfs; they are all heirs to the Old Ones.

"YESSS, SSIGMAR" Sotek's voice pierced through the memories, bringing him back to the waking world. "OPEN YOUR EYES NOW...BEHOLD, OUR GIFT TO YOU…"

Sigmar slowly opened his actual eyes. Disconnecting him from his inner ones. His lids were shut firm, and it took some effort to fully open them, like rousing oneself from a sleep.

Held over his breasts, gripped tightly between both hands. Sigmar beheld a sword. A greatsword. A very red greatsword.

Alone, the black weapon held a simplistic if beautiful ceremonial piece, its true form now only elevated it to a work of splendorous craftsmanship. The blade towered him, easily as long as he was tall. Its width tripled, with the blade now extending from the adjacent sides of the octagon crossguard.

It was not a blade of metal like any good smith worth their salt should be. No, it's true blade is not forged, but grew around it. For it, was a blade of blood. But this did not deter or draw disgust from Sigmar. Far from it; it was not a weapon of evil, not a weapon forged from dark magic, but a blade of pure purpose.

Sigmar knew this by instinct, he knew this because he could feel it. Within the sword, within the blade his blood flowed. His and Sotek's. Immense energy coursed through every cell structure in the godly construct. Each cell that made up the blade generated power like individual suns in the starry sky. Its body flowed like lava moving in a heart of a volcano. Exuding a soothing, warmth it was almost like looking at a blade of pure crimson light.

Sigmar pried his eyes away from further admiration of the potent weapon and most importantly the physical symbol of their alliance. "It is a mighty gift, Sotek. I am honored." He thanked the serpent god of the lizardmen with heartfelt sincerity.

Sigmar held his gaze firm to Sotek who nodded in return to Sigmar's gratitude.

"Does the sword have a name?" He asked, momentarily admiring the blade again. Through an unspoken command, knowledge implanted in him during the bonding. Sigmar willed the blade to recede. Like a lowering tide, the energized blood construct shrank. Liquid fire swarmed into the blazing red jewel of the comet's sigil. Its once massive burning blade turned back into a dagger in Sigmar's hand.

"NO SIGMAR…" Sotek answered "THIS IS YOUR GIFT, HONOR OUR BOND BY GIVING IT A SUITABLE NAME."

Nostalgia returned to Sigmar, of Kurgan Ironbeard. Of how the dwarf king honored him by gifting Sigmar with Ghal Maraz in return for saving his life. A weapon blessed by the Ancestor Gods of the Dawi.

Now, this same event repeated itself. The circumstances were different this time around, but the results remained the same. A weapon that was also a token of friendship with the Lizardmen. Even if they do not see it the same way.

Still, it seemed only fitting if Sigmar named the best he knew how. Much like how Kurgan honored him with Ghal Maraz, he will do the same in his honor.

"Zan Baraz."

Sigmar spoke, softly. In an ancient dialect of Khazalid. The language of the dwarfs tracing back to a time when their Ancestor Gods still walked among mortals. In memory of High King Kurgan Ironbeard, who gifted him Ghal Maraz.

It seemed only fitting to return the honored gesture, if indirectly.

"A FITTING NAME SIGMAR, WE ACCEPT."

A light engulfed the weapon in Sigmar's hand before it vanished into flickering motes of light. He watched the tiny ethereal spheres form into a singular ball. With a flash like quicksilver, he watched its light trail heading to one of the larger pyramids of the city.

"Where is it going?" Sigmar asked. He had a good idea of who and where it was going, but he wanted to ask just for the sake of it.

"LORD KROAK WILL BRING THE SSSWORD TO THE LIVING REALM.' Sotek answered. His hiss more subdued now that the forging of the blade is done. "HIS CHAMPIONS WILL SEE TO IT KARL FRANZ RECEIVES THE SSWORD IN THE TIME WHERE HE WILL NEED IT MOST."

Worry filled Sigmar's heart, knowing of the turbulence in the Winds of Magic caused by the false comet's wake. "Does this have something to do with the - what did you call it?" Sigmar spun around his mind to remember. "The Great Vortex? It's hazy... like there are blank spots in my memory. All I understand is that this ritual supposedly funnels the excess winds?"

"CORRECT, PARTIALLY. THE GREAT VORTEX OF THE ELVESSS SSIPHONS THE MAGIC FROM THE WORLD, BUT ITS POWER IS ONLY AS STRONG AS THE GREAT WARDING OF MY PEOPLE." Sotek supplied.

"And the Great Warding-" Sigmar paused to try to wrench out the information that was implanted in his head. He instinctively knows that a large sum of knowledge was inserted into Sigmar when Zan Baraz bonded to him. But the information was selective and elusive. "Is a...nexus of geomantic power?"

Sigmar admittedly did not understand what that means, only roughly translating it as being sourced from the earth.

"IN TIME SIGMAR, IN TIME…" The serpent god simply answered.

Sigmar watched the serpent god coil around himself. Retreating back into the shape of his temple. No doubt Sotek means to leave, to resume his vigilance over his people.

"FAREWELL YOUNGLING. PROTECT YOUR PEOPLE, THE GREAT PLAN DEMANDS YOUR SURVIVAL…" Sotek finished his last parting words. Watching as the snake's form revert back to the stone masonry of the crimson temple. Scale by scale the stones returned. Sotek's titanic form shrinking down to accommodate the site of his place of worship. Until at last, his head formed back into a set of half rings, and energy was once more channeled into the aether.

It was genuinely difficult how to take Sotek's words. It could either be a command that he and by extension his people lived through the coming crisis, or simply a gesture for good fortune. So going by the spirit, Sigmar will simply take it as both.

He took a moment to retrieve his breastplate. A mirthful chuckle passed his lips as his armor was thankfully bereft of blood.

More important, was that Sigmar had achieved his goal: Securing an alliance with the Lizardmen. It didn't matter if the Old One's foresaw his coming as part of their prophecy, or simply a fateful decision on his part, the results remained the same. What he needs to do now, is return to his domain, and prepare for the coming of Chaos.

He made way for the plaza, towards the massive distant gate of a glaring reptile on its doors. When a strange hint of red was caught in the corner of his vision. He stroked the curve of his scalp, grasping at a few strands from his long blonde hair. Only to find an odd surprise from his 'blonde' hair.

"By Taal's beard!" Sigmar stood bewildered.

The strands of hair between his fingers were red. He stood frozen, stunned at such a rapid change. He scrambled to grab more chunks to see the extent of how much it changed. His long hair made it easy to see, grabbing two whole fists in his meaty hands.

It was as he feared, whole chunks of his hair turned a bright crimson red. While some strands of his blonde remained present, it seemed Sotek's heart had caused a drastic side effect.

Sigmar looked around the empty city, searching for anything that would aid him to see what he looked like now. Fortunately it wasn't hard to find in a city forged in gold and marble. For Sigmar, he ran down the temple steps, bounding over several at a time. He rushed towards the plaza where a large rectangular pond stretched across the street aisle.

He kneeled down next to the pseudo man-made body of water. To his immense relief he is not some sort of half-lizard man abomination with scales and sharpened teeth. Instead from his reflection, his hair now had a huge swath of red running from the center of his head. While his blonde hair still encompassed his scalp from the sides, the red pigmentation now utterly dominated from the furthest tip to the root of his scalp.

He looked like some bastardized version of a member of Grimnir's Slayer Cult. No doubt a slayer dwarf would have cut him down where he stood to make that comparison.

More still, when he leaned down closer to the mirror still reflection of the water, he could see even the very skin on his scalp turned red where his crest is. He plucked out one strand from his scalp to inspect how thorough the color went.

"Well this is just interesting." Sigmar sighed out, thick with resigned acceptance. As he thought, the single strand of hair from his head was red all the way through.

"All things considered, it could have been more extreme." Sigmar stood back up. Scratching at his now predominantly 'red' head. Truth be told, Sigmar should have had the foresight to expect such a change to his person.

He mocked at himself for the oversight. It was stupid not to expect any change about him. Not with something as extreme as two gods exchanging their hearts.

Still, a red crest on his head is hardly worth the attention it really deserved. He only feared how his people would react, much less those he gave his blessings. There is no doubt what passed through the ritual will trickle down to his champions and worshipers.

Wind buffeted against him tossing his hair and cape about. A mist swirled all across the plaza street. Compared to the harsh winters of Ulric, this was a windy breeze for Sigmar. Still, sturdy as he was, he lifted a hand to protect his soft eyes against the gale. He waited until the wind settled down to see what transpired.

He was met with thousands of eyes looking at him.

Skinks. Saurus. And Kroxigors.

But no Slann. Twas odd to Sigmar.

Regardless, their spirits were here. Scaled ethereal beings of lizard people. Three-fourths core of the Lizardmen race stood on both sides of the main road streets. Thousands and thousands of reptilian eyes watched intensely at the lone man god in their city.

The reptiles held their gaze firm on Sigmar. Skinks clicked and chirped occupying the deathly silence. While kroxigors and saurus stood stoic, unmoving statues among their ganglier brethren.

Not one word was spoken, but what happened shortly would solidify his impression on the scaled servants of The Old Ones.

As though they shared one mind, every skink as far his eyes could see, kneeled. Eyes close, their heads touching sacred grounds, they bowed low before Sigmar Heldenhammer. He was shocked, yet also humbled.

Unconscious to his thoughts, his hand gravitated toward his left breast. Beneath the layer of bone and sinew, Sotek's heart beat strongly within.

In exchange, their god carried his. He took in the realizing moment that eluded him during the exchangment ritual; by carrying Sotek's heart, he is in essence now part of the Lizardmen race in both body and spirit.

Powerful emotions stirred through Sigmar's breast. Warm to the touch, newfound expectation fueled the glow in 'his' heart to a roaring flame.

Truly, a circle has come a second time around.

With a sacrificial offering of his own heart, through his strength, he forged the oath with his own blood and Sotek's. And in sealing their fates, Zan Baraz was formed. Its name is directly interpreted as "Red Oath" in Khazalid. A crystalized union of man and the children of the Old One's. A physical link between the elder race and the younger. Crafted by Sotek, solely for the hands of Sigmar's heirs.

He took in the sight before him. From left to right, Skinks of every shape and size all kneeled to him. The sheer reverence offered to him, was palpable.

Before he could turn towards the gate, the shimmer of the water went still. Its surface flattened where not even the small motions from the lily pad cause any ripples. Trusting his instinct, Sigmar took the first step. His foot met solid resistance. Following through, he took a firm step forward, and started to walk towards the gate.

It honestly felt a little much, considering he still sees himself as a stranger to them. Still, Sigmar was honored by their candour.

Walking down the road towards his place of departure, Sigmar noted the behavior of their larger kin; the Saurus and the Kroxigors. The Saurus all brandished a weapon in their hand either a club, a spear, or some sort of toothed sword, while the troll-sized Kroxigors either had hammers chained to their hands, or massive gauntlets that covered their fists.

Sigmar suspected that while they see each other as part of the same race, they differ in species. Much like a goblin is a wildly different species to an ork. If skinks exuded a reverence to him, the sharp eyes in the saurus held a look that spoke of a quiet tranquil fury. A silent ember that blazes only in times of war. While the kroxigors seemed benign in their slightly hunched stance. A twinkle of curiosity in their eyes, dare he say peaceful even.

Faint little chortles escaped Sigmar's lips. Easily imagining these reptilian hulks sleeping peacefully on their bellies soaking under a noon day sun in Reikland's lakes. More than one tilted their heads, some scratching at their scaled scalps in befuddlement at the warmblood's sudden bout of humor. Their comical glances only made him chuckle harder. Much to the chagrin of the clueless kroxigors.

His good moment of humor ceased, when he finally stood at the gates of Itza. Sigmar took a moment to appreciate its majesty. Inscribed on the door was the visage of a stoic fanged beast, its eyes closed making it difficult to discern if it was sleeping or in meditation. All carved to the brim with runes and ensorcelled gold on a single stone slab the reptiles called a 'door'.

Yet as if responding to him, the ancient seals glowed at his presence. The runes shining in an incomprehensible language older than his people. The light from the runes gathered their power, and traced themselves before Sigmar. A single dot hovered before him, then it flattened to become a line, before stretching into a rectangle.

There beyond the man sized portal, his home realm among the clouds of the Old World. What took Sigmar an unknown amount of time in the unpredictable and mutable Realm of Souls, the Lizard's knowledge would allow him instant transportation.

'Amazing.' Sigmar wondered at such a feat of warp-craft.

He looked towards his personal golden realm of light and thunder. Just a few steps and he would be back inside his domain to guide and protect his people. 'Not yet' Sigmar paused. His feet rooted to where he stood. He turned about, casting his sight over the inhabitants, commiting to memory the vigilant reptile spirits protecting this city.

He raised his fist.

"UNBEROGEN!" Sigmar roared. His bellow shaking through the very grounds of the temple city.

And the lizards followed, with bellows of howls and cheer. All of them praising their newcomer god.

Red-Crested Skinks cried out his name with "Sigmar Sotek!" linking him with their savior god with rapturous abandon. Already seeing him as a being indivisible to their patron object of worship.

Skink priests, warriors, and artisans started chanting him in their strange tongue in an unintelligible string of caws and chirps he could not understand. He couldn't distinguish words from names, but he could occasionally hear 'Sigmar' occasionally mixed into their strange hymns.

While the Saurus and Kroxigor breed of lizards spoke in a completely different dialect compared to their Skink kin. It was more harsh, intoned with barks, growls, and deep hisses. Rougher and fiercer they shared in the heated zeal flowing through their ethereal beings.

Sigmar watched in calm silence. Nothing more needed to be said. His task was complete. All that was left, is to entrust the future to his successors in the world of the living. While he protects their souls from his realm.

He walked forward, giving a brief final wave to the Lizardmen. Stepping through the portal, he feels himself restored, his body rejuvenated the moment he stepped into his proper domain. In the distance, he could see the familiar faces of the wolf-shroud form of Ulric and the stag crown of Taal coming to greet his return.

Truly, he had a tale to tell with his fellow gods and what transpired. Both had mixed reactions to their youngest sibling's deed in the realm of the reptile god. Where Taal was repulsed at Sigmar for doing such mutilation that would make Shalya bawl and weep in floods, Ulric had the opposite effect. He commended his once mortal follower's strength to rip out one's own still beating heart. Madness for sure, but to follow through was an ordeal in itself.

Unbeknownst to Sigmar, and even the gods. Change was coming, unaware that through Sigmar's deeds. He unknowingly activated a sequence in the Old One's Great Plan. Little did the god know; he thought his act only won an alliance and a drastic change in one's hair.

Sigmar gained more than he would ever imagine.

~Hexoatl - Temple of Chotec~

Beneath the temple depths of Mazdamundi's center of power. Lies the sacred spawning pools of Hexoatl; the very same pools that spawned the Second Generation Slann. For ten long millenia, generations of skinks have dutifully, unceasingly, tended to these precious birthing ponds.

Whether it was to acclimate new-born spawns or bless the waters, Skink Priest La'kk nearing the end of his cycle has lived a good life, waiting for the coming spawning of his successor.

La'kk has watched over these trio of pools ceaselessly throughout his short but humble existence. Since the spark of life programmed into his being as the current caretaker of Hexoatl's spawning pools. His duty was only ever broken when the need to rest became detrimental to his gene written task.

Currently, La'kk sat in meditative contemplation in his personal chambers. Looking back on his peaceful life. His ceremonial feathers off to the side while he partook in a humble bowl of delectable grubs grown in the temple's interior farm with a water flask strapped at his hip.

He took one fat, juicy grub that caught his eye and quaffed the tasty wriggling treat whole.

The life of a caretaker was not an easy occupation, making it all the more precious to enjoy these moments of peace.

Hexoatl's vigilant duty as the first line of defence against Northern invaders, it was his sacred purpose to coax the pool when times of war arrived at the behest of his slann masters. Mazdamundi's commands taking precedence over the lower generation.

Since the discovery of the Sacred Plaque of the Vortex, and the Sacred Plaque of the Warhammer, Lord Mazdamundi has been adamant in accelerating spawning periods. While not a difficult command in theory, in practice it is like asking to squeeze out water from stone. His master knew this, but it is doable if taxing.

To coax the pools is a tolling process even with an entire cadre of Skink Priests under his command. While e capable of achieving great feats of magic, it still falls short to even a Seventh Generation Slann. While spawns can be coaxed to readiness, the pool's hidden functions remain a fickle mystery.

It was always a matter of chance if coaxing mass numbers succeeded or none spawned at all. Only the Old Ones can decide.

La'kk took his time taking a sip from his flask before returning to his meditation. Scalpel in hand, months of work laid on a plaque he carved for himself. His story written on the back will be completed at the moment his successor is spawned. Only then his task would be complete, his plaque slotted along the gallery of his predecessors and wait until he expires.

He dipped the scalpel in a bowl of water wetting his utensil, carving out another series of small patterned grooves into his portrait. Just as he finished with the image of his wrist bangles, the growing sound of pattering feet robbed him of his focus, as they drew close to his quarters breaking his meditation.

"Master! Master!" One of his own subordinates rushed through the drapes. "Come quickly! The spawning pools have come alive."

Without a care La'kk dropped his scalpel and all pretense of calm. Swiftly donning his feathered garb and headdress. Telepathically grabbing his staff from an overhanging perch, he ran after his sprinting nursing cohorts.

Down into the temple depths, skinks started to congregate and increase in number the closer he reached the Blessed Spawning Pools. His march was unimpeded as the skinks gave a wide berth to their venerable priest.

"Speak, my cohorts. What has happened in my absence?" La'kk questioned his thralls. His authority was absolute in anything regarding the spawning pools. Seconded only to Mazdamundi and the other Slann Mage-Priests. His voice spoke his age, coming out in harsh growls like a Saurus.

One of his own Skink bearing the nursing crest answered while leading his master towards the spawning chamber "It is as we say my master-priest, the spawning pools have stirred with vigor!"

"What blessing or rites have been initiated to have caused this?" La'kk continued his probing.

"None master, we believe an intervention by the Old Ones is at hand." Another spoke with eager fervor.

La'kk nodded. Hiding his enthusiasm if indeed the Old Ones have deemed to bless them with new warriors of their design. It is both gladdening and ill tidings if such spawning were necessary.

The cohorts plus one Skink Priest rushed down into the chamber, past one of the temple's many sacred stellar engines. La'kk reveled in the joyous fever that enthralled his skinks. Eager to bear witness what wisdom laid in the coming cohort spawns the Old Ones gifted them.

He and his cohorts reached the inner chambers and what he saw displeased him immensely.

"What are they doing here?!" His vitriol was so great that even the placid kroxigors that guarded the room took a step back. Indeed what they did was a dereliction of their given task, but instinct took over their beings to allow what transpired happen.

Red-crested skinks dominated Hexoatl's Blessed Spawning Pool Chamber. Kneeling before the triad of Slann, Saurus, Skinks and Kroxigor pools. Heads to the ground, they bowed in worship before the bubbling bodies of water.

And surely as his thralls had spoken; the Saurus pool and the Skink Pool bubbled violently with activity. A sacred moment ruined by the masses of trespassers in sacred ground!

His fury was well deserved, for only a select few Skinks that bore the nursing crest were allowed to be here unless the Slann-masters deemed it necessary. This was a gross breach of protocol!

Before he could order the Skinks to be removed, one rose from the sea of his rank to prostrate before Skink Priest La'kk. "Oh humble priest, I beg you to stay your wrath and hear my plea." He pleaded. His crest bare, his snout to the floor.

La'kk's fin flared showing his bright green crest that denoted his magic in the arts of the Green Wind. His patience was thankfully great, but he was not forgiving of interlopers to his office.

"Speak quickly, warrior." La'kk started. His fury palpable, ignoring the golden light shining from the pools.

"Sotek appeared to us in our vision master caretaker." The kneeling brave began. "We have been commanded to witness." The warrior stayed where he was waiting for the priest to give his permission.

La'kk seethed at the audacity of the Red-Crested skinks single-natured determination to Sotek. But he can't deny them either. If the Serpent God truly intervened then his power is overruled. He jerked his staff to the side, and the skink returned to his spot. Resuming to bow towards the bubbling sacred pools.

Despite the intrusion of his sanctum. La'kk was quick to take charge, barking orders to his cohorts to their assigned roles. A task made slightly difficult by the kneeling Skinks that were in the way!

Except for La'kk.

Skinks parted where La'kk treaded. His will was law in matters of spawning their kin. Climbing the steps La'kk mumbled rites of veneration. Vocal commands that activated the geomantic power pylons that surrounded the chamber. While marred by the presence of intruders, he was excited all the same.

For if the gods have seen fit to gift them with blessed spawns is an omen indeed.

La'kk took his position on the geomantic control dais. Here becomes the living mechanism to drive the growth. While his remaining cohorts encircled the pools to acclimate the newborn spawns. Taking position, he held his staff upright in both hands. Before taking command of the spawning pools. "Great Old Ones, this humble servant is at your disposal. Use me, for I am your instrument…"

The moment his essence made contact with the sacred pools, the bubbling turned into raging froth. La'kk could see it in his mind's eye. There was a bright light guiding the creation of these new spawnlings. An entirely new subspecies of Saurus Warriors were being shaped, while new data sequences were being implanted into Skink gene-code.

"Come fellow servants of the Great Plan! Take form so that you will fulfill your Great Purpose!" La'kk beckoned the pools to imbue the spark of life and give these new spawns shape.

Geomantic power surged from beneath La'kk's feet, before enveloping the Saurus Pool and the Skink Pool. The raging waters that roiled violently began to recede, the spawning process finally underway now that La'kk is in command.

The nursing skinks watched closely the receding bubbles of the birthing fluids slow to a simmer. Black wriggling spots started to appear in both the Skink and Saurus pools. Their newest brothers were about to emerge shortly. Each dot started to rapidly grow and already there were beginning to see distinct features on these new breeds. Golden scales being more prevalent and distinguishable.

The skinks backed away from the pool's rim to give space. Waiting. Watching. For the moment the frenzy of the mass spawning begins.

Time slowed down. Skinks listened to low popping of simmering bubbles, echoing throughout the chamber. Not even the zealously loud Red-Crested Skinks spoke. Leaving a deafening silence with only the bubbling cauldron of the pools occupying the silence…

A splash broke through the quited din! Skinks nearest to the source rushed over to attend to the clawing of a gold-scaled hand! Skinks tightly gripped the muscled flailing limb to help haul their newest brother into the living world.

And like a rushing tide, other Skink and Saurus spawns began to emerge from the raging pools en masse. Claws scratched at the pool's gilded rims, raking for traction to emerge from their watery birth. Nursing skinks huddled towards one's nearest them to get them acclimated before scrambling towards the next one.

Strangely enough, even the Red-Crested Skinks were being gentle with handling their new brethren. Assisting the nursing Skinks with tending to the new spawns.

Like a factory machine, spawns started to rise from the pools at a steadied. Not enough to overwhelm them, but still at a staggering exhausting pace. All around, the Red-Crested Skinks who were too far from giving aid watched with reverent eyes. Excitement ran hot in their cold blood, as they bear witness to the Serpent God's blessing!

A new breed of Saurus Warrior has formed. Golden scales covered their hands reaching up to their elbows. But this coloration did not stop there, gold scales covered their crest plate that travelled all along their spine to the very tips of their tails. Red scales marked around the eyes and the entirety of their jaws, making them seem as if they were born with masks on their faces.

Yet nothing would set them apart more, than the golden scales that were brandished on their chests.

For every new Skink, Saurus and Kroxigor that emerged from the pool, each had a mark of scales upon their breasts, as if branded by the gods.

A star, -no- a comet. Burning with twin tailed flames!

The first Saurus of this new spawn groggily opened his eyes to the still blurry world, his spent strength used to drag himself from the water slowly returning. Legs strong enough to shatter bones, steadily planted their feet. A storm raged inside his very soul wanting to explode with all his primal fury!

Slowly, he straightened his back, until at last the Saurus Warrior stood on his own two strong legs, and took a deep breath. Inhaling the sensations smells and sounds of his new existence in the living world...and roared.

A hundred more would echo and be heard by all across Hexoatl.

They are ready to fulfill The Great Plan.

Wow, ok this was not what I expected. What was supposed to be a short 3,000 word chapter side story, ended up with this 20,000 word behemoth. This thing begged to come out and wont let me be.

I am sorry its not the new chapter, but again this went out of control.

Next one will hopefully come out sooner than this utter nuclear idea bomb. Again, sorry for the wait. Will post the next one soon.