Unholy words spoken in a forbidden tongue echoed around the cavern. Thirteen figures were in the cavern. Twelve were men; their faces all concealed by cowl or mask, and knelt on one knee in a circle around the altar. The thirteenth was standing, not kneeling. Nor was it a man. None of the men could see it, averting their eyes from the favoured servant of the Horned Lord. In its one human hand, it held a gnarled staff high above its head. In the other, which was more like the claw of a rat, it clutched a bronze dagger. It stood behind a triangular stone altar, to which a struggling girl with bound with rusty chains. Her screams had long since died down, to be replaced with wracking sobs. It bent down over her, so its face was inches from hers. Eyes filled with terror stared up at it. “What is your name child?” it asked in what might have been a reassuring voice, were it not woefully out of practice.
“M-mina…” she stammered, “P-Please, spare-”
“HEAR ME HORNED LORD!” it screeched up at the roof. “I FEED THE SOUL OF MINA OF VOLSMERE INTO YOUR MAW!” It slashed at the girl three times, carving the rune of the Horned Lord on her breast. “IN RETURN I ASK OF YOU LITTLE, GREAT LORD OF BENEATH.” It gestured around at the still kneeling men with the bloodied dagger, “ONLY THAT YOU BESTOW YOUR MIGHTY GIFT UPON THESE LOYAL SERVANTS…” The echoes trailed away into silence, eerie after all the noise. Only the sound of the quick panting of the men, and the cult master's rasping breathing could be heard. Then, thirteen bolts of green lightning shot out from the dead girl. One hit the cult leader, who stood statue still as dark energies coursed through it. The others hit the twelve men, who writhed and twisted on the ground in agony. And as suddenly as they had come, the energies dissipated. The men were left lying groaning on the ground, smoking. It grinned, baring a hideous mix of teeth and fangs. It had begun now. Soon, the hand of the Horned Lord would be felt here.


*

Franz twisted and turned under the sheets. He always felt disturbed after the cult rituals. But never like this before. It felt like another entity had taken up residence in his body when the bolt of lightning hit him. He imagined a fat black rat sleeping in his belly, and tried to suppress the thought. Morrsleib was bright tonight. That didn’t happen regularly, but was barely worth more than a thought. They said you had better lock your door when the evil moon was bright. They said the skaven were abroad, when the evil moon was bright…

He shook his head, and rolled over again facing the window. He was being foolish. Old wives tales, to scare children and fools. And besides, what had he to fear from the underfolk? They served the same master. Franz shuddered. He couldn’t see Morrsleib. But he could feel it. Like a dark eye, staring at him from the heavens, its unholy sight penetrating cloud, darkness, and the roof of his house. He twisted again. For once, he wished he didn’t live alone. Another warm body next to him among the tangle of sheets would be a great comfort. “Stop it fool,” he said aloud to himself, “Stop thinking and just go to sleep.” Easier said than done, with that metaphorical black rat inside him, ready to wake and gnaw his insides. With the blessing, or curse, of the Horned Lord on him now. “Argh!” he cried out, and convulsed. His skin felt like it was being flayed from his body. The tips of his fingers and toes felt like they had split open at the ends. His face was in agony, like the bones inside were warping and distorting. Excruciating pain, agony that drove him to the brink of insanity. He screamed and yelled for it to stop, but it showed no sign of relenting. Tears trickled down his cheeks, and he wept and for death. A quick, painless end over this eternity of excruciation. He prayed to the Horned Lord, then to any deity that would listen. After an eternity of fiery pain, it ceased. But he was not Franz any long. The creature that had been Franz licked its sharp fangs with a long tongue, and rubbed its paws together. Its claws tore through the bedcovers, its tail lashing at the mattress impatiently. It was hungry. Hungry for man flesh…

Around Volsmere, this scene was repeated twelve times. Deep within the cavern, the servant of the Horned Lord laughed in triumph.


*


"Man-flesh...feast...kill-kill," panted the rat-daemon, the words twisted by its warped tongue and mouth. It tore away the rest of its clothes, and tossed them aside. On all fours, the daemon scrambled acroos to the door. Its clawed hands fumbled at the handle. There was a way to open it. It knew the way. How was it opened? It lashed out at the door in frustration and snarled. Other way. The window. It turned and leapt straight at the glass... The human, Franz's mind surface for a minute.And quailed in fear. He was going to die. He would be cut by a thousand shards of glass. The image of his own body lying broken on the cobblestones made him tremble in terror. But he couldn't stop himself. He smashed through the glass, and felt millions of tiny shards scratching him. The ground loomed before him, drawing ever closer...And the rat-daemon landed on all fours, barely shaken by the impact. A high-pitched noise reached its sensetive ears. It turned its head along the dark street, to see a she-man-thing lying on the floor screaming. Meat...flesh. It licked its lips, and raced along the ground towards the helpless woman. It had almost reached her now. She had fainted away in terror, lying cold on the floor. It opened its fang-filled maw wide...No! Franz was disgusted at the thoughts racing through his head. He was not an animal! He would not kill this poor, defenseless woman. He would not...Sink his fangs deep into her flesh,hot,rich,delicious blood filling his mouth, tearing warm, soft flesh from her bones with razor fangs. It bent over her, tearing great chunks of her away and crunching them. Franz felt like vomiting and weeping at once. What had he done? He was a murderer. He was a cannibal. He was a monster...The rat-daemon tossed the womans broken body aside. More. It wanted more. The street was empty now. No more food. It would have to go elsewhere and search...

*


Heinz leapt out of bed, and grabbed the musket from underneath it. What was going on out there? Alise stirred from her sleep and half-opened her eyes wearily. "What is it, dear?" she mumbled. Heinz deftly hid the musket behind his back.
"Nothing to worry about, Alise." he said. No sense in worrying her. "I just heard noises outside, is all." She rolled over, and fell back into a deep sleep. Heinz breathed a sigh of relief, and tugged the curtains open slightly. Then, he gasped sharply, and tugged it closed again. He must be imagining things. It can't have been what it looked like. It musn't have been...No, he told himself. He was being an old fool. The night was playing tricks on him. Slightly nervously, he opened the curtain again. Heinz couldn't believe his eyes. It was horrific.

What could only be a corpse was lying at the creatures feet. The creature itself was worse, though. It was naked, its body that of a muscular man. But there the similairties ended. From shoulders up, it was covered in sleek black hair. Its head was like that of a giant rat, with glaring red eyes, and a long, pale snout. Its hands were furred too, and short fingers ended in razor-sharp claws twice their length. It was kneeling down on the pavement, next to the body, licking the cobblestones. It took Heinz a few moments to realize they were wet with blood. He tugged the curtains shut, this time nearly ripping them. He wanted to go back to sleep, to wake up and find this was all a vivid dream. But he knew it wasn't. What was happening out there was as solid as the metal musket in his hands. The musket...He was jerked back. It was like waking from a long dream. He had been an expert shot with it, winning enough money to buy the inn. He tore the curtains away and flung the window open. His finger rested on the trigger. The rat-monster hadn't realised yet. It was still eagerly lapping up the blood. For a moment, disgust welled up in him, and he forced it back down. He must concerntrate. Heinz looked down the long, thin barrel, down at his target. He fired.

The creature cried out in pain, a terrible snarl. It looked up directly at the window. For a split second, its red eyes met his. Then, it turned tail and fled into the night. Stuuned, Heinz stood still for a second. "Heinz!?" came Alise's voice from behind him. He turned, and tried to put on as brave a face as he could.
"Don't worry...It'll be alright. Stay right here." Her eyes wide, she looked at him for a second, and he was sure she would not believe him, she would question him. But she just gulped, nodded, and lay back down again. Brave lass, he thought. He walked over to the bed, and pulled out an old, wooden chest. The watch had let him keep his gear after he left, as a sort of retirement present. Now, he was dearly grateful to them...