In the same way as the Beginning (and the End) of the Worlds are debated by scholars, academics, wizards and scientists, the learned argue endlessly over the origins of the children of Chaos known as the Skaven. Some maintain that they are simply another form of Beast-man, others insist that they are an entirely seperate race mutated not from Men as beast-men are, but from true rats, while others still refuse to acknowledge their existence at all. Determing anything at all about skaven is notoriously difficult, for they are primarily a subterranean race, inhabiting only the darkest and dankest pits, and usually only rise above ground to wage their violent and inexplicable wars. Perhaps the best clue we have as to their creation lies in the ancient Estalian folk tale known as The Doom of Kavzar.
The following is an approximately translated text of its thirteen stanzas.
"Once upon a time, long, long ago, Men and Dwarfs lived together beneath the roofs of one great city. Some said that it was the oldest and greatest city in the world, and had existed Ages before the time of the longbeards and the manlings, built by wiser hands in the dawn of the World. The city lay both above and below the earth, in keeping with the nature of its populace. The dwarfs ruled in their great halls of stone underground, and wrestled free the fruits of the rock with their day-long and tireless toil, while the manlings reaped the fields of swaying corn which surrounded the city with a patchwork blanket of golden hues. The sun smiled, and so too did man, and so too did dwarf, and everyone was happy.
One day, the manlings of the city decided that they should give praise to their gods for their good fortune. They would construct a temple such as the World had never seen before. In the central city square, a colossal hall would be built, and topped with a single, cloud-pierced tower. After much planning, and with the help of the longbeards, the men set about their monumental task.
Weeks became months, and months turned to years, and still the manlings built. Men grew old and grey working on that great temple, their sons continuing the work through summer sun and winter rain. At last, after thirteen generations, work began on the great spire itself. Years passed still, and the tower reached such a height that the manlings found it all the more difficult and dangerous to bring the stone needed to the top of the tower. The work eventually slowed to a crawl, and completing the temple seemed all but impossible. Hopes began to fade, but then one came among the men of the city, and offered his service to their great scheme. He asked a single boon of them in return, and claimed that if they would grant it, he would complete the tower in a single night. The manlings said to themselves "What have we to lose?" and struck a bargain with the grey-clad stranger. All he wished was to add his own dedication to the gods onto the temple structure. To this, the manlings agreed.
At dusk, the stranger entered the unfinished temple, and bade the manlings to return at midnight. Clouds raced over the moons of Morrslieb and Mannslieb, cloaking the unfinished building in darkness, as the manlings left. All over the city, men watched and waited, as the hours slipped by, until near midnight, when, in ones and twos, they gathered once more in the temple square. The wind blew, and the clouds parted, and the men gazed up to the night skies. The temple rose like an unbroken lance against the dark, pure and white. The priests of the city climbed the stairs, to the top of the finished structure. At its very peak, a great horned bell hung, gleaming coldly in the moonlight. The stranger's dedication to the gods was there, but he was not.
The priests returned and told the men of their finding, and the city rejoinced, as the work of its forefathers was finally done. The town's great clock struck midnight, and immediately the great bell began to toll, once... twice... thrice. Slow, heavy waves of sound rolled across the city. Four... five... six times the bell rang, like the torpid pulse of a great bronze giant. Seven... eight... nine... the tolling of of the bell grew louder with each ring, and the manlings staggered back from the temple's marble steps, clutching at their ears. Ten... eleven... twelve... thirteen. At that last, the thirteenth stroke, lightning split the skies above, and thunder echoed in reply. High above, the dark circle of Morrslieb was illuminated by a bright flash, and then all fell ominously silent. The manlings fled to their beds, frightened and puzzled by the portents they had seen. Next morning, they arose to find that darkness had come to their city. Brooding storm clouds reared above the rooftops, and such rain fell as had never before been seen. Black as ash, the rain fell, and puddled in the streets. The cobbles slicked with darkly iridescent colours.
At first, the manlings worried not, and waited for the rains to stop so that they might resume their work. But the rains did not. The winds blew stronger, and lightning shook the high tower. Days, then weeks passed, and still the rains fell. Each night the bell tolled thirteen times, and each morning the darkness lay across the city. The manlings became fearful, and prayed to their gods. Still the rains did not stop, and the black clouds shrouded the fields. The manlings went to the dwarfs, and beseeched their help. The longbeards were unconcerned - what matter a little rain of the surface? In the very bosom of the earth, all was warm and dry.
Now the manlings huddled in their dwellings, fear gnawing at their hearts. They sent some of their number to faraway places to seek aid, but none returned. Some went to temple to pray and sacrifice their dwindling food to the gods, but found its massive doors sealed shut. The rains grew heavier, and dark hailstones crashed from the sky, flattening the sodden crops. The great bell tolled a death knell over the terrified city. Soon great stones cleft the heavens, rushing down like dark meteors to smash the homes of the manlings. Manyfolk sickened and died without apparent cause, and babes were born hideously twisted. Skulking rats devoured what little corn there was left, and the manlings starved.
The city's elders went to see the dwarfs again, and this time demanded their help. They wanted to bring their people below ground to safety, and they wanted food. The longbeards grew angry, and told the manlings that their lower working swere flooded, and their own foodstocks had also been consumed by a plague of vermin. There remained barely enough for their own kinsmen. The dwarfs cast out the manlings from their halls, and closed their doors.
In the ruins of the city above, each day became more deadly than the last. The manlings despaired and called for succour from the dark, forbidden gods, whispering the names of forgotten daemons in hope of salvation. But not even the Ruinous Gods would answer their call, and instead the swarms of rats returned, bigger and bolder. Their slinkling, dark-furred shapes infested the now broken city, feasting on the fallen, and pulling down the week. Each midnight, the bell tolled thirteen times on high, seeming now brazen and triumphant. The manlings lived as hunted creatures in their own city, as packs of chittering vermin roamed the streets in search of prey.
At last the desperate manlings took up such weapons as they had, and beat upon the dwarfs' doors, threatening that if they did not emerge, they would drag them out by their beards. No reply came from within, and the manlings took up beams and makeshift battering rams, and battered down the doors to reveal the tunnels below, dark, eerie and empty. Steeling themselves, the pitiful remnants of the city's once proud populace descended. In the ancient hall of kingship, they found the dwarfs, now naught but gnawed bones and stray scraps of cloth. And there the manlings saw, by the dying light of their torches, the myriad eyes about them, glittering like liquid midnight, as massive rats closed in for the kill. The manlings stood back to back, and fought for their lives, but against the implacable ferocity and countless numbers of the vermin-horde, their weapons availed them not. The tide of monstrous rats flowed over them, dragging the men down one by one, to be torn apart, yellow chisel-teeth sinking into soft human flesh, the dark-furred masses drowning out agonised screams with their hideous chittering."
The Doom of Kavzar, also called "The Curse of Thirteen", by Andreas Gameras, Emeritus Professor of Imperial History, The Royal Academy, Altdorf.