And then they came in to view. From atop that ramparts (And through the looking glass) they seemed a black cloud, spilling out over what little fertile fields there were. For all their supposed society, they were like a swarm, a massive black swarm speckled with brown and red. Fitting, really.
Vice Scrutator Jarvis strode away from the wall and briskly back into the castle. Blank white banners, testaments to the blank slate of beginning and end, waved briskly in the dull wind as his boots clacked and clanked metallically over the monochrome tile floors. I should request those be changed. Carpet? Noise interrupts meditation. We need that now. Rats. Rats are coming. To pillage and destroy. Isold said they are non-religious. Preposterous. Rats! Vile creatures learned to stand on two feet think they may stand on the backs of all. Men and women, serving folk all loaded with weaponry and rations, ran back and forth past him as he walked down the grand hall. Some remembered their manners and bowed. Most scurried back and forth, leading with their toes as though vermin nipped at their heels behind. I must not walk quickly. They must not see my fear. Panic. Panic spreads faster than fire, and burns twice as much. Slow. Move slow. Confident. The Creator is confident. I am confident.
Jarvis almost missed his first right turn, but caught himself just on the edge of composure. He in unused to this part of the castle; only the library of this wing is known to him. The library. By my stars, if there is one thing we must save, it is the library. So much learning there. So much knowledge. Catalogues of the intricacies of sin and virtue. Catalogues of ancient worlds, of dead worlds, of worlds-yet-to-be. I will fight with flame and sword for that lone room. And those too. He was looking at the golden furnishing about all the ceilings, doors, and chairs throughout the great halls. And those too. So much art has gone into this city. To pretty it up. To rid it Ha! To rid it of vermin. Creator will be torn down by rats. Rats and saltpeter. Lest they find it.
At last he knocked on the gold-splattered mahogany door to the High Allegiant’s office. A servant opened it after a moment. Out spewed golden sparkles and richest perfumes; Jarvis was always briefly taken aback by these luxuries, but the man inevitably deserved them. Sitting behind that opulent desk, in front of a miniature personal library, in all his official splendor, so many medals that you could scarcely see the priestly robes he wore, was High Allegiant Amon A’vede, by election from the Holy Pulpit leader of the Ecclesiastic Army, by election from the Holy Pulpit chief librarian of Menoth’s Holy Library, and by election from the Holy Pulpit Hand of The Creator and Most Venerated Gladiator. There were also rumors amongst the men that A’vede was, by election from himself, chief customer at one of the largest whorehouse-inns in the city. But when one has done so much for the state, the state may do a little for the one.
Calm. Calm and confident. The Creator is confident. I am confident.
“Greetings and Honors, Sir A’vede,” intoned Jarvis. And then the holy mark. How many times have I done this? Hand above the head: Creator. Hand to the head: Mind. Hand to the heart: Spirit.
A’vede made the same motion and the same greeting. “What say you, Jarvis? Do the furry heathens yet approach?”
Hesitation. Confident. “Yes, sir. In great numbers. I recommend… I recommend full mobilization immediately.”
“Now let’s not go suiting up just yet. Skaven, they’re called? Skaven. Do you think that’s their own tongue then? Must be. Does not sound human in origin. What does it mean, I wonder. Mayhaps we have some tome on their language-“
Jarvis, impatient and not too confident, interrupted, “-I think the time for linguistical study has past, sir. With all respect, sir, they advance rather quickly. I suspect they’ll be within bombardment distance within two, maybe three days.”
“There is always time, Jarvis, for study. Always. Most wars are over before the first blood is drawn, you know. Always study. And their name for themselves may be a clue to their purpose.”
“Their purpose is to conquer, sir. Us, specifically.”
“But to what end? I say study, Jarvis, and I mean it. I will rally an extra watch for the night. And I will read, and I will think. Zealous fire is best used in the forge, so says the old books. How long now has our little fellowship been out to the jungle, by the by?”
Frustrating. Need action! This old man knows not but slow. “It’d be one week, by now, sir.”
“Excellent. Then they should be nearing the temple soon. A regular adventuring party we sent out. Much like the kids’ stories, eh?” Laughter erupted briefly from the shining figure. “You say they’re our best?”
“Best we could spare, sir.” Infuriating old man. I should have his place. He stays on only through weight of those medals. Metals. Medals. Sending them off on a wild chase like that. They’ll sooner die then find our salvation. Hope. But we must hope.
“Fine then. And you may have your holy war, if you must. I’ll send for, say, 20 men to escort you. Jarvis, you are officially in charge of our first scouting party. How’s that?” That did not sound like a question.
Fire burn him. “As you wish, sir.” Creator. Mind. Spirit. Same old gesture. “Thy will be done.”
Jarvis closed the door himself behind him. The old man was just standing to reach for some book. Paper, while I must hold the sword. He is honored with rewards of cowardice for luck. I must seek true danger. Hope. We must have hope.