“Right. Up we get Ashy,” said the shaman, grabbing the assassin under each arm and dragging him to his feet. The hobgoblin groggily tested his weight on each foot, dimly looking around himself. I scratched my arms frantically, finally free of the sticky, ancient scraps of leather that had bound me.
“Are you ready to talk?” growled the assassin, and I realised that once again they were conversing in the greenskin tongue, and once again I was hearing it through his mind.
“As I’ll ever be,” replied the shaman sulkily. “What mess have you gotten yourself into, you sneaky git? This one’s got a brain full of traps and daemons. I don’t like it.”
“We need hearthroot, a little stag-of-the-wood, perhaps a large bearded amanita. I cannot get these things from anyone but you, and I cannot leave him where others may find him. You can forgive me, or you can hate me, it makes no difference,” said the hobgoblin flatly.
I realised that the names were coming through to me as humans called them, but the greenskin words were wildly different. Even the images they conveyed were alien. Instead of bearded amanita, they referred to the herb as something a little like ‘dwarfcatcher’. I struggle to convey how the meaning, the sound, the image were all confused together across our magical binding. But he spoke, and I knew what he meant.
“Maybe… maybe… you been to the shrine, boy? Been making offerings? I saw some things in his head, you know. You’re on thin ice with Mork, spending all your time up there.”
“We have no choice. I must serve. And you need me there.”
“I don’t need you,” hissed the hideous shaman, “for anything. My plans can’t be stopped. They’re Mork’s plans, you understand? Chosen of Mork. How long since you felt his beady eye on you, doggy?”
“Mushrooms,” replied Ashirk, blinking away a twitch of anger.
“Right. Maybe. If you make a proper sacrifice to Mork, then maybe I can see you through to having a few things. You’re forgetting your blood. When the Easterners come -”
The shaman stared at him for a beat. Something was simmering between them. I felt frustration and anger surging through the hobgoblin but he held his posture perfectly still.
“Too much time spent running around up there with humans and stunties,” hissed the wizard, scowling. “It’s not right and it’s not natural. Whatever you’re up to, it’s making the prophet and his mad god stronger. It’s keeping your people and mine in chains,” he spat, incensed, “so if I tell you to get straight with the gods of your blood, you listen to me, or I turn you into a mushroom myself.”
As Ashirk’s hands flew to a knife and as he reached to strike the shaman, the blade stuck fast in the air. The assassin’s muscles froze, his face a twisted rictus. He toppled over like an obscene beetle, rocking gently on the floor of the abandoned workshop, limbs rigid, eyes frantic.
“If he dies,” I croaked, my mouth dry, “I die.”
“Ovviously,” spat the shaman, switching to Reikspiel immediately and addressing me over his shoulder as he fumbled in a deep broken crate. He seemed to understand the linguistic implications of the enchantment we were under better than I did. “We’s all gonna die, ooman. But at da time and da place ov da gods choosin’, thass the tricksy part.”
The shaman kicked the assassin’s rigid form.
“‘E carn’t ’elp it, gorblessim. It’sa on’y mistake,” he continued, making the bizarre hand-sign again reflexively, “Mork eva dun made. ’E made ’em so sneaky as to be predictyballs,” he sniffed, “an’ any decent trap’s gorra be unspected. Ain’t sneakin’ if ya specsit. Now, where woz I?”
“They’s two typsa gods innis world, ‘oomie. They’s godsa the blood, an’ they’s gods below. Gork an’ Mork, they’s godsa our blood. They’s innus awl, wetha we wannem or not. Youse got yer own, I seens ’em. Vereener. Sigman. They’s in ya. Even if ya hate ’em, spit onnem, shout bloody murdah ’bout ’em. Yer can’t gets ’em outterya. They stuck fast.”
A ripple of something shimmered in the air. The echo of drums, something of the chiming of bells. I thought it was the great bells of the Cathedral of Altdorf at first, but then I realised, no. It was the solitary bell of the tiny abbey of the order of Sigmar I passed through on my way to the Border Princes. On my way to Ashirk’s ambush. On my way to all of this.
“You gotta problem, ooman. You’s got d’attention of da rong god. Sigman’s yer fella. But you gots spiders up your nose fromma nasty sort wot dunt like oomans at all. Spikey boyz don’t even consort wiv dat one. All ee cares about is eatin’ stunty souls an’ makin’ dogs outter wolves. Like your mate dere,” he said thoughtfully, nodding at Ashirk’s crumpled form. “An’ you.”
“So,” said the shaman, “Da shroomz. Liss’n up ’ooman, an’ liss’n gud. Dey’s banned by da Bigjob. ’Ee durn’t like ’em. Powerful stuff. Maybe not for da likes ov yoo, but dey gets gobbos right worked up ‘n finking bout Mork. Sends 'em a bit loopy if I’m onniss. Bad guards. Bad slaves. Lazy, loopy, ‘avin vizhuns and all dat. Tell yer da troof, I tries ta keep ‘em out dey hands maself, but every now an’ again dey’s just da tikkit. So I keeps em on me person, an’ I grows em someplace secret. Now. I can see yer don’t gots nuffink werf my time on yer. So yer can’t buy em. Question is… what yer gonna do fer me insted?"