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The Tome of Decay (2014), p99-103 — The Writhing World

"There are multifarious stimuli constantly at work upon the mortal soul. There is rage, passion, love, hate, revenge, curiosity, hope. And the strongest of these, of course, is hope."
— Eructacus Foetor, Shikari Catechist of the Pinguid Panglossia

Approaching the celestial body referred to in most charts and texts simply as the Writhing World, one experiences a transformative awakening that continues right down to the planet's surface. From a great distance, the Writhing World appears little different from any of the other planets locked within the clutches of the Screaming Vortex. In fact, from extreme visual ranges, the planet possesses a strange, factitious beauty. The swirling tans and browns of the planet's surface are reminiscent of a shimmering sand globe, while floating gracefully above the planet are undulant clouds of black, eddying in the upper atmosphere. An iridescent ring surrounds the whole, playing host to four verdant moons that hang like glowing emeralds upon a golden chain. But as one moves closer, reality opens up like a wonderful, blooming corpse flower.

The first dissonant note a first-time visitor to the Writhing World will note is the composition of the vast, sweeping ring that surrounds the planet. Upon closer inspection, the ring is not, in fact, composed of dust and stone, as one would expect in the sidereal universe. Rather, each chunk of matter fixed within the band is a complicated knot of fey, wriggling meat. Tendrils and flesh undulate to undetectable currents. From the largest asteroids to the tiniest, glittering motes floating around the world, each thrashes softly in a bizarre simulacrum of life.

The four beautiful moons orbiting around the Writhing World pose the most interesting mystery within the system, in their sheer normalcy. The flora and fauna on each are primitive in their development and sophistication, but they nevertheless present a viridian splendour when set against the pale, dun coloured world they orbit. Each glitters with vibrancy, the sparkling jade of a bottle-fly's eye. And each contains untold mysteries that link it to the glistening umber globe below.

As a Heretic breaks atmosphere into the realm of the Writhing World, he will find navigation and flight difficult as the air, nearly solid with the fusty stench of rot, buffets their craft with the capricious violence of a mischievous child. Any attempt to breathe this air without filtration or assistance is to experience the decomposition of an entire planet beneath one's feet. The impression is only reinforced as one looks out over the slowly undulating landscape of this foully-glorious world.

The surface of the Writhing World is formed by an array of fleshy tubules that present in a wide range of sizes. The Great Tendrils are massive, continent-sized masses of rippling flesh, stretching off into the distance. On a more standard planet, these fleshly monoliths play the role of bedrock, mountains, and rolling plains. The flesh that composes them, moving in slow, deliberate rolls, spans the corporeal rainbow from flushed health to gangrenous decay as the entire planet experiences the grand ballet of life, death, decay, and rebirth.

Providing the finer details of the landscape of the Writhing World are the Lesser Tendrils. Ranging from trunks the girth of a corpulent man to hair-fine shoots that seem to shift in a breeze no man can feel, the Lesser Tendrils show more life than their Greater brethren, standing in for grass, trees, and undergrowth. These lashing whips of meat are far more lively than the Greater Tendrils, often presenting an insidious danger to visitors to the strange planet with their sudden, muscular convulsions.

Most inhabited planets in the sidereal universe are veritably covered in water features, and the Writhing World is no exception. Glistening lakes, rivers, and seas gleam from orbit, giving the planet a wet, shining appearance. Where another world might run with clear, fresh water, however, this mysterious orb drips with bile, phlegm, pus, and other intriguing biological solutions. Each body of water contains a veritable soup of happy microbiotica that presents untold dangers to any lost soul unlucky enough to bathe within the waters. Tales persist among the servants of the Father of Plagues, however, that one truly chosen by Grandfather Nurgle, and blessed with his bounty, might immerse himself beneath the viscous substances and receive untold rewards from their infernal patron.

Due to the constantly shifting nature of the very bedrock of the planet, instability is the only constant. Nothing is certain. The Great Tendrils are constantly on the move, causing disturbing quakes that can destroy the works of man in the blink of an eye. When those tendrils deep beneath a lake or sea shift enough, the contents may drain out, only to emerge at some other point along the planet's surface. Countless aquatic vermin are stranded in a moment upon vast plains of drying flesh, while land-born murine drown half a world away. These moments of upheaval and destruction are referred to as Convulsions, and can occasionally wreak drastic change upon the entire surface of the planet and among the creatures and heretics that call the Writhing World their home.

Of the countless mysteries and enigmas that surround this twisting sphere, possibly the most fascinating is the question of what lurks beneath the churning surface? There are many theories as to what lies at the heart of planet. Countless expeditions have been launched through the millennia, with an impressive roll of the most notable Heretics of the Screaming Vortex gauging their way through the countless layers of quivering flesh. No one has ever returned to the surface with indisputable proof of what lies at the centre of the orb of rotting, squirming meat. This lack of evidence, however, has only fuelled the rampant speculation.

The majority of those who speculate on the nature of the planet maintain that the world consists of nothing but layer after layer of flesh; a snarled tangle of squirming tendrils, pseudopods, and ganglia. If this is the case, it is probable that those tendrils closest to the core are dying or dead, pushed under by their more vibrant brothers. This theory easily explains the pungent, sweet scent of decay that pervades the entire planet while the vermin of the planet and the tendrils on the surface feast on the dead flesh, growing fat and indolent on the easy fare.

Darker tales whisper of an entire civilisation lying crushed beneath the flesh, patiently awaiting an intrepid champion who will tear a bloody hole in the planet to discover its ancient secrets. If, indeed, the ruins of a primeval society lie within the embrace of the Writhing World, it might well be the bodies of the countless millions that contribute their feculent flesh to the fetor that greets visitors, feeding the lazy creatures of the world.

The darkest legends talk of the birth of a great being, a Greater Daemon or a Daemon Prince, perhaps. The myths surrounding this belief are varied and contradictory. Some say the planet was forever altered at the moment of Apotheosis. Others that the planet is a living creature, summoned into existence to devour the remains of the godling's birth. The vilest tales of the Sorcerer-Kings and Biomancer Lords imagine the blessed entity itself, in the moment of its unholy ascension, being cast into the ultimate curse of cosmic spawndom for some horrific failing, becoming the very planet itself.

Any of these tales could explain away the ecology of the planet and the stench of the atmosphere, but all leave even darker mysteries as to what might be found at the planet's core. What is not in contention, however, is the veritable explosion of life that crawls across the surface and swarms in the skies overhead.

The surface of the Writhing World teems with the full array of vermin and carrion eaters one would expect feasting upon a ripe and bloated corpse, albeit versions too massive and grotesque to be accurately described with words alone. Enormous beetle-creatures push their way across the cilia plains, grazing upon the wriggling flesh with mandibles sharp enough to cut through the body of a fully-armed Renegade. Swift, scythe-legged Magna-Lice haunt the tendril forests, feeding off the flushed meat of the planet's surface as well as any vermin or human they are able to run down. Crevasses and wrinkles are filled with the writhing larvae of the planet's most famous denizens, the giant bottle flies that make up the Great Swarms swirling across the sky.

Haunting the shadowed depths of the bile seas are enormous, sleek-bodied creatures that skim through the gelatinous fluid, propelled along with the graceful, sweeping motions of their bladed limbs. These insectile behemoths, often the size of void-fighters, are rarely seen as they lurk within the deepest, most dense folds of the seabed. However, the native huskmen of the Writhing World have learned caution when crossing these bodies of oily liquid, lest their callous-boats be overturned, and they find themselves dragged down into the tepid depths.

Life upon this fascinating planet is vibrant and full of energy as the chaotic whirlwind of the eternal cycle sweeps across the globe. Newly-hatched herd-maggots pour across the land, pushing the older corpse-beetles aside, feeding on the rancid flesh of the landscape before erupting into the sky, carrying, perhaps, a fragment of a thought, a curl of meaning, into the surging clouds overhead.

Giant bottle flies, each the size of a man's head, form swarms that stretch for miles and miles into the noisome atmosphere. The low, droning hum of millions upon millions of translucent wings is an ever-present reality to anyone walking the surface of the planet. These creatures, once they leave the shells of their pupal stage and take to the heavy air for the first time, never set claws to fleshy earth again. They remain airborne, a member of the semi-sentient colony mind, until their shrivelled, desiccated body flutters down to join the other detritus littering the landscape, serving to feed the next generation of vermin surging towards the light.

There are many heretics in the Screaming Vortex that believe the swirling, graceful fly-clouds contain a small portion of Grandfather Nurgle's consciousness, or serve as a conduit to that Ruinous Power's thoughts and intentions. They swarm and boil across the planet forming huge patterns that seem maddeningly close to making some sort of sense before the patterns explode into chaos again. No concrete evidence has ever been presented that there is, in fact, any meaning behind the whirling ballet of giant insects, but this lack of surety only serves to spur those desperate enough to seek such contact. Each year, countless men and women descend upon the Writhing World for the sole purpose of gazing upon the clouds and teasing out their possible meaning.

Among the many strange and wondrous creatures that call the Writhing World their home, a hardy breed of humans has existed for as long as the planet has existed within the Vortex. These savage, nomadic tribesmen use the exoskeletons of the vermin for armour, utensils, and anything else they might need. Clothed in the castoff skins of the bloated cadaver wyrms, huskmen tribes are constantly at war with each other over the best hunting grounds, breeding stock, and gelid ponds.

With the flesh of the planet itself as a constant source of nourishment, and the phlegmy liquids of the seas, lakes, and streams a ready supply of water, the huskmen tend to be obese and slow. However, the Writhing World, the very embodiment of death, decay, and explosive rejuvenation, is a seething hotbed of disease and infection. Due in large part to the inherent virulence of their environment, weak huskmen tend to die early, while the strong and tough survive. Through this gradual process of selection and culling, huskmen have become some of the toughest humans in the Screaming Vortex.

There is another type of human that calls the Writhing World its home. Lords of the planet and masters of the huskmen tribes and even the Sorcerer-Kings who stand above the huskmen, the Biomancers are strangers who come to the Writhing World from all across the Vortex and beyond. These sorcerers of life and death find themselves inexorably pulled to the planet to master its lessons of flesh, change, and the hope for rebirth. Many keep to themselves, establishing small sanctuaries far from the tribes and other Biomancers, delving into the mysteries of the planet for a time before moving on. Others, however, develop a taste for the thick, feculent air in their lungs, the soft, pliant flesh beneath their feet, and the reassuring buzz of the fly clouds overhead. These powerful beings establish themselves upon the planet, bending entire regions to their whims with their hard-won powers, and playing with the lives of the huskmen like the toys of a wayward child.

The Citizens of the Crawling Citadels

The most infamous denizens of the Writhing World are not the pseudo-divinatory flies, the corpulent huskmen, or the vicious insectile vermin that roam the surface. The reputation and power of the sorcerers that find themselves drawn to the planet's burgeoning explosions of life have spread throughout the Vortex and beyond. Their mastery of the riddles of life and death is unquestioned, and they lord over this planet of flesh with merciless abandon.

These Biomancers venerate the myriad cycles of life. Teasing out the meaning and power within the intricate dance of birth, age, decrepitude, death, decay, and rebirth, they are swiftly destroyed by their own research or rise to prominence among the most powerful beings of the Vortex. The most powerful Biomancers are capable of shaping the very flesh of the planet beneath them, and the creatures that crawl upon it. Able to twist living meat and bone to their every whim, Biomancers have the very threads of life at their mercy, spinning armour, weapons, and defences from the very vitae of their subjects.

The vast majority of the Biomancers living upon the Writhing World are not natives of the fleshy orb, but are rather tried and tested sorcerers in their own right. Many of these jovial men and women have followed the path of Grandfather Nurgle throughout the galaxy before finding themselves on this strange, living planet. These powerful masters of flesh and life are not often given to discussing their supremacy or their origins with outsiders, but there are many tales and legends that whisper of their ability to twist the flesh of their enemies against them, causing crippling pain, withering limbs and minds, and reducing even the most powerful warlords to mewling, twisted wrecks with a gesture of their hand.

Among these mysterious sorcerers, there are always four that hold the greatest share of power, lording over the planet even as they push the boundaries of their knowledge and abilities beyond the understanding of mortal men. Each of these Biomancer Lords commands one of the four gem-like moons that spin through the kaleidoscopic swirl of the night sky. These planetoids serve as sanctuaries in times of great endeavour, retreats in the face of powerful opposition, and, some whisper, the very source of the paramount manifestation of their power.

There are four of these larger bodies, located within the spinning disk of the planet's squirming ring. These planetoids are more traditional in structure and composition than the planet below, or the ring of matter that connects them. Each is host to a riotous explosion of life reaching up into the tainted heavens only to fall back into the ever-boiling soup of the surface, corpulent and mouldering remains embraced and enveloped by the rising tide of new life.

There has been a great deal of speculation among the beings that concern themselves with such knowledge, as to the importance and power present within the moons of the Writhing World. Certainly, despite the vibrant life present on all of them, each is unnatural and twisted in its own way. Equally clear is that the Biomancer Lords ruling the world below hold their lunar fiefdoms as precious, spending a great deal of time secreted away within their strongholds. Not even whispers speak of what might occupy these lordly creatures in their mysterious lairs, but conjecture runs rampant throughout the Vortex.

Many secret-hunters believe that the truth of the Writhing World's genesis can be found buried beneath the surfaces of one moon or another. The possibility that each worldlet holds a piece of that ancient puzzle has not been lost on the treasure-seekers, either. Other theories speak of ancient sources of power, either sidereal or sorcerous, hidden within the ancient strongholds. Such sources of power would go far to explain the often sudden rise to power of Biomancer Lords when such a conversion occurs. True dreamers speculate that the largest secrets of these dread lords are to be found somewhere on their orbiting citadels. Whether these answers might address the bloated fly clouds of the planet, or the creation and control of the infamous Crawling Citadels, or of mysteries even darker of nature, has never been resolved. All that is truly known is that the Biomancer Lords hold control of their moons with all the tightness of a death grip, and hold their secrets closely even unto death.

The most powerful of the current Biomancer Lords of the Writhing World is Adipose Rex, Lord of Lowenesse. Adipose Rex is a mammoth, gargantuan man whose portly, smiling face hides the coldly calculating mind of the master of the planet. Adipose Rex rules over the most fecund temperate zones of the northern hemisphere. Despite the impermanence of surface features on the planet, the general temperatures and weather patterns of this zone means that it is most often hospitable to both the huskmen and the panoply of vermin. The moon Lowenesse is a glossy jade ball whose steamy jungles and foetid swamps are aswarm with violent, thrashing life. The Palace of Surfeit, surrounded by swollen, over-ripe trees and the sweet stench of rotting fruit, is an ugly, squat structure built from brown-green native stone. Streaks of mould and moss add slashes of contrasting colours down the low walls.

Graven, the largest moon orbiting the Writhing World, is claimed by the longest-serving Biomancer Lord, Aefluvia Tamilar, Lady of Graven. The moon is a swollen dark olive bulb with veins of feculent brown entwined across its surface. The Lady of Graven claims the temperate southern regions, only slightly less-hospitable than the domains of Lord Adipose. Lady Aefluvia's Castle Nimiety is located beneath the surface of her moon, Graven, plunged down through the spongy crust and into the crumbling stone beneath. The atmosphere of Graven is the closest of all the moons to their parent planet's, the odour of decay and dissolution heavy in the air. Although no animal life is visible upon Graven, the spongy moss that covers the entire surface is home to slow-moving, vermiform leviathans who live their entire lives burrowing beneath the surface.

Cord Cantric, Lord of Daedelon, is easily the most destructive, violent, and aggressive of the Biomancer Lords. Lord Cantric claimed the equatorial region of the planet over one hundred years ago, and has not attempted to encroach upon the realms of either Adipose Rex or Lady Aefluvia in all that time. The warmest region of the planet is host to the most aggressive tribes of huskmen, and Lord Cantric has been known to test his creations by engineering massive conflicts among the tribes, and then introducing his creatures and diseases into their midst. The moon Daedelon is completely covered with murky, shallow water and high-reaching, spindly trees. Swarms of flies, smaller cousins to the giant specimens on the planet below, fill the air, fouling the intakes of craft that attempt to land, and making breathing a noxious chore. Cord Cantric's Fortress of Suffiar reaches out from the shadowy depths and plunges thin, spine-like towers into the lowering sky overhead.

The newest Biomancer Lord to rise to prominence upon the Writhing World was Yufreth of Tidec, Lord of Tabelar. Yufreth descended upon the planet alone and unarmed and was immediately accepted by Lord Huwaith Ouse of Tabelar as an apprentice. It is unknown why the recalcitrant old man was so quick to bring an unknown newcomer into his retinue, but there is no disputing that fact. Yufreth assisted the old Biomancer Lord with several massive enterprises, including the construction and arming of a new, larger Crawling Citadel. Soon after the completion of the behemoth, however, Lord Huwaith disappeared. There were no rumours of a struggle of any kind, nor signs of battle or any other violence. Huwaith was gone, and Yufreth repaired to the old man's lunar sanctuary of De'trop on the mouldering wastes of the moon Tabelar. When he returned, he was the undisputed fourth Biomancer Lord, and ruler of the northern polar regions. Yufreth has not spoken to any outsiders since his rise to power, and has spent most of his time bringing the few tribes of huskmen acclimated to the cold of the north under his sway.

Although each Biomancer Lord maintains a seat of power upon his chosen moon, all Biomancer Lords spend the majority of their time upon the churning surface of their adopted home world. Each rules his own realm from the most magnificent specimens of the Writhing World's infamous Crawling Citadels. Although many lesser Biomancers have mastered the creation of these enormous creature-fortresses, the monstrous examples that house the Biomancer Lords are truly gargantuan and majestic in scope and power.

Biomanced from the flesh of the planet itself, melded with the genetic material of the vermin that inhabit the planet, the Crawling Citadels are like unto nothing seen elsewhere in the Screaming Vortex or beyond. Massive, lumbering constructs, six albino legs push the citadels along, putrescent palaces growing from their hunched, misshapen abdominal masses. The walls are composed of thick exo-skeletal chitin, also a pale, sickly white. Mounted upon these walls can be found a bewildering array of defensive weapons and preparations. Often, weaponry that would do a Titan proud can be found probing the shuddering landscape surrounding a Crawling Citadel on the move, procured through the offices of off-planet intermediaries trading in jewels, precious metals, and occasionally the sorcerous assistance of these paramount practitioners of the Warp-tainted arts.

In addition to serving as each Biomancer Lord's seat of power and stronghold, the Citadels are centres of learning and the Biomancer's art, with each lord presiding over a court of lesser practitioners, most being those who have travelled to the Writhing World to learn its secrets. Each Biomancer Lord has his or her own policies in dealing with such supplicants. Some have been known to accept many apprentices after only a cursory vetting process, most likely expecting that the danger of the work itself would weed out those who lacked the ability or discipline to master the art. Others set gruelling trials and gauntlets, forcing any who would learn at their knees nearly impossible tasks and insolvable puzzles, only to often eradicate even those who pass these horrible ordeals, for no other reason than to suit their passing fancy. The only certainty any who seek the assistance of a Biomancer Lord faces is that many more have died following that path than have lived to tell of their success or failure.

The Crawling Citadels are garrisoned with forces of a mixed, chaotic nature. Many of the men and women who stand watch upon the ivory walls are warriors recruited from off world, from among the most puissant and intimidating mercenaries of the Screaming Vortex. Many of the rest represent the strongest and most ferocious tribesmen culled from the local nomadic huskmen.

Huskmen of the Writhing World (Troop)

Movement: 3/6/9/18

Wounds: 8

Armour: Chitinous Armour (3 All)

Total TB: 6

Skills: Awareness (Per), Survival (Per) +10.

Talents: Cold Hearted, Double Team, Jaded.

Traits: Unnatural Toughness (2).

Weapons: Primitive chitin blades (Melee; 1d10+3 R; Pen 0).

Gear: Tattered clothing crafted from sloughed off planetary skin, makeshift tools and weapons, coveted bone fetishes.

Sorcerer-King's Writhing Swarm (Troop)

Movement: 3/6/9/18

Wounds: 10†

Armour: Chitinous Armour (3 All)

Total TB: 2

Skills: Awareness (Per), Survival (Per)

Talents: Swift Attack.

Traits: Swarm, Toxic (3), Variable Size†.

Weapons: Chitinous Jaws (Melee; 1d10+4; Pen 1d10).

†Variable Size: This creature's Wounds value varies for summoned swarms.

Huskmen Champion (Troop)

Movement: 3/6/9/18

Wounds: 11

Armour: Chitinous Armour (3 All)

Total TB: 7

Skills: Awareness (Per), Interrogation (WP), Survival (Per) +10.

Talents: Cold Hearted, Frenzy, Jaded, Swift Attack.

Traits: Unnatural Toughness (3).

Weapons: Ancestral chitinous weaponry (Melee; 2d10+3; Pen 2; Crippling (2)).

Gear: Tattered armour of vermin chitin, makeshift tools and weapons, ornate bone fetishes.

Magna-Louse (Troop)

Movement: 10/16/22/40

Wounds: 22

Armour: Chitinous Plating (4 All)

Total TB: 8

Skills: Acrobatics (Ag), Awareness (Per), Dodge (Ag) +10, Parry (WS), Survival (Per).

Talents: Ambidextrous, Berserk Charge, Blind Fighting, Catfall, Combat Master, Hard Target, Heightened Senses (Smell), Leap Up.

Traits: Bestial, Crawler, Deadly Natural Weapons, Quadruped, Size (5), Sturdy, Unnatural Toughness (3).

Weapons: Scything forelimbs (Melee; 2d10+4; Pen 2).

Gear: None.

Giant Bottle-Fly Swarm (Troop)

Movement: 4/8/12/24

Wounds: 60+

Armour: None

Total TB: 8

Skills: Awareness (Per), Dodge (Ag) +20.

Talents: None.

Traits: Bestial, Daemonic (2), Dark-sight, Flyer (4), From Beyond, Unnatural Toughness (6), Size (2), Swarm, Vectors of the Plague God's Mirth†.

†Vectors of the Plague God's Mirth: Whenever this creature hits with a melee attack (regardless of whether or not it inflicts Damage), the target must make a Challenging (+0) Toughness Test. If the target fails, he must roll on Table 2-1: Boons of the Plague God (see page 40) and immediately apply the results. Non-living creatures (and creatures immune to disease) are immune to this effect.

Weapons: Infectious Maw (Melee; 1d5-3; Pen 0).

Gear: None.