Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The False Moon War: Chapter 4

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Chapter 4.  The Temple City

It was the first full of the Chaos Moon since the ogres had ventured into the jungle.  Even though it was invisible to them, above the tree canopy, the ogres felt it in their churning stomachs.

This was the closest Morrslieb had ever approached the earth.  The gravitational and magical tides which accompanied this event were threatening to tear apart the vortex of the Great Ritual over Ulthuan.  Already the laminar rotation of the magical tornado was breaking into swirls and eddies.  Before long the system would become chaotic.  In that event, this world itself would become Chaotic very soon after.

The Slann were not yet prepared to enact Tecciztec's plan to assail the Chaos moon.  To preserve the great vortex, the energy drain of the geomantic web was increased until the whole system was thrumming like the strings of a musical instrument.  Unprecedented amounts of magical, celestial and thermal power was tapped.  Each temple city and its environs were plunged into a local ice age.

The Slann streamed the greater yield of geomantic power into the Great Ritual.  This increased its rate of spin and stabilized the vortex.

This full moon crisis was averted, but what of the next, and the one after that?  As the Chaos moon spiralled lower and lower, the Slann would eventually find the limits of the power they had at their disposal.

The Skaven of the Under Empire were reputed to be without number.  That reputation had taken a blow in recent weeks.

Clan Catarrh, under the charismatic leadership of its Under Lord, Pickit Raw, had gone from being an insignificant vassal house to being a somewhat smaller insignificant vassal house. 

Infiltration, surprise attacks from without, and harassment had all proven to be of limited effectiveness against the ogre throng.  The tactic of disguising a troop of skaven assassins as jungle fruits to wait in ambush had been particularly ill advised.

It was testament to Pickit Raw's strength of resolve, or possibly lack of imagination, that his swarm had shadowed the ogres this far into the interior.

"Li-i-i izard-Things?  Not Ogre-Things?" 

Pickit Raw's gutter runner spy grinned,  "And only-ee-ee two of them, Under-Lord!"

The leader's face split into an evil grin, "Something we-ee-ee can defea-ee-eet?  Gather the swarm.  Pre-ee-eepare for a frontal assault!"

Ogres don't creep well.  Nor do they sneak or skulk.  Despite this Welhung Thunderloin and his lieutenant, Rodekhil Offaleater managed to reconnoitre the Lizardmen bastion unmolested.  They had observed two sentries on the rampart keeping a silent vigil over the jungle.  There was no other sign of life.

"Why 'ave we only seen two sentries?  An outpost this size should 'ave a garrison."  Welhung scratched his lumpy nose.  This new arctic chill was of no concern to the mountain dwelling ogre.  It seemed to have driven off the swarms of invisible bees which had been tormenting him.

"Maybe the sentries are really annoying," shrugged Rodekhil, "Anyways, we should just level the thing with round-shot.  Garrisons don't matter if they been blasted."

Welhung appraised the field.  "Naa, we can't bring the iron blaster cannons to bear with these trees so close.  It'll 'ave to be a frontal assault."

Rodekhil unlimbered his pair of iron falchions.  "Should we bring the rest of the lads?"

The Ogres formed their phalanx in plain sight, just out of bow shot from the redoubt.

"Those lizards must 'ave balls.  They ain't even blinked!"  Rodekhil observed.

Argsplat snorted with mirth, "Balls?  Lizards ain’t got none!"

Welhung scrutinized his iron gut captain.  "Wasn't you taller?"

"Well, yaa, Chief."  Argsplat glanced down at the heavily bandaged stumps where his feet and lower legs should have been.

"What 'appened?  Did one of the acid flowers get you?"

"Naa, Chief.  You said I should set my socks afire to keep them bities away.  Like my dam said."

"Ya should've taken the socks off first, ya stupid loaf!"

"Aaah."  Argsplat grimaced.  "I didn't think of that."

The Ogre assault line had been formed.  It was an intimidating wall of muscle and iron.  Still the pair of sentries did not quail.

"Bellower.  Do the ‘honours."  (Silent “H”s do not translate easily into the ogre dialect).

With a flabby salute to his general, the ogre sergeant major turned to release the full power of his formidable vocal cords.  "Righ' you 'orrible slugs!  Step lively on the left!  No!  The other left!  And…. march! Keep time, keep time!  Left ,two, three, other left, two, three!"

The bellower called the rhythm of the charge, gradually increasing the tempo until the line was rolling forward like a flabby avalanche.

Eighty yards separated the ogres from the outpost when suddenly the front lines faltered.  The ground before them had burst open.  A seething swarm of rat men had leapt upon the sward with their filth caked weapons at the ready.  They were facing away from the ogres.

The momentum of the ogre charge could not be checked.  Rank after rank of the massive warriors piled up and eventually spilled over the Skaven battalion.  The impact alone was enough to paste the numerically superior rodents into the ground.

From the battlements, two saurus warriors, one armed with a hand weapon, the other with a spear, and both frozen solid, bore mute witness to the impromptu victory feast that followed.

The ogres entered the city unopposed, but they did not abandon caution, nor discipline, while there remained any risk of ambush.

" 'eres another one of the statues, like the two in the outpost," Rodekhil observed,  "This one ain’t very impressive."

It looked like a statue of a wizened, shortsighted, crippled, stooped, toothless, reptilian god.  The efficient looking stone axe it bore was being used as an improvised crutch.  Its outstretched hand was reaching towards a glowing chamber at the head of a steep and narrow stair which clung to the precipitous side of the largest pyramid.

Welhung raised his mace as if to mimic the lizardman's gesture.  "Our prize is up there."

In the star chamber at the pinnacle of the Great Pyramid, a huge golden brazier cast a merry glow over an inert Slann Lord, a squad of six Temple Guardians and four worried skink priests.

Lord Taisteslaikch'ken appeared to be slumbering on his magical throne.

Since the Coming of Chaos, no Slann Mage Priest had risked their purity by setting foot on the Chaos tainted earth.  Instead they were carried on ornate palanquins.  In the sedentary millennia which followed, the undefiled Slann became morbidly obese.  The corpulent amphibians grew to rival the size of ogres.

It is unclear when (somewhere between 5th and 6th edition?) it occurred to the Mage Priests that using a scrap of their power to levitate the palanquins would save some effort for their attendants who had previously carried them around.  What is clear is that the Temple Guardians from that time hence had fewer work related back injury claims.

“Stone the crows!  That's the last of the wooden effigies!"  Dinki'dai,  the ruggedly handsome Australustrian priest, searched for more fuel for the brazier.  "When that burns down we'll need to chuck on some scrolls from the casket,” he declared.

There had been no recent spawnings of priests in Los’tmabo’tl, thus Taisteslaikch’ken’s four skink priest attendants were drawn from all corners of Lustria.

"Telmiwai, keep watch.”  The saurus champion who spoke was Tanqgoditzafrid’ai, Revered Guardian and leader of this unit of six Temple Guard.  As his brother guardian moved to comply, there was a worried chirp from the edge of the platform atop the highest pyramid of Los'tmabo'tl.

“Mon Dieu, there is activité down below!”  Animaux, the little Gallustrian priest was peeking over the edge.

Caneghem joined him.  “Well, that’s just great,” he moaned.  The Texustrian skink priest stood a hand taller than his companions.  Everything is bigger in the Lone-Star Province.

One of the guardians keeping watch called another spawn brother, “Aidontloqmundi, the city is breached.  Inform the Revered Guardian.”

“Ah noo!  We’re heaps breached!” wailed Tuatara.

This last priest was an émigré from the Baabed Sheepidon infested shaky isles of New Zealustria.

These insignificant islands, far to the south east are known for volcanic boiling mud.  New Zealustria is so isolated from the Lustrian mainstream that the inhabitants have formed what might be considered a “special” relationship with their Sheepidon flocks.

A party of ogres was visible crossing the plaza at the foot of the pyramid.  The largest of their number raised an iron bound mace and gestured toward the apex.

“We’re breached as, Bro!”

The ogres began to mount the vertiginous eternity stair. 

“You’ve got ’em sorted, hey mate?”  Dinki'dai asked Aidont’loqmundi.

“The cold slows our movements, but with the Old Ones' blessing, and your magical support, we will prevail.”

“Bugger.  We’re flat out like a lizard drinking channelling the winds, mate.  The flaming geomantic web is sucking them up like there’s no tomorrow.”

“Then we shall fail.”

“Nah mate,” the Australustrian was also quicker of wit than his skink brethren.  “This’ll bloody sort ‘em out!”

Dinki’dai hurled himself at a colossal obsidian sculpture in the shape of a great serpent.  “What about your arms, fellas?  Are they just painted on?”

Two of the guardians joined the effort and, together, the three toppled the statue.  It shattered on the eternity stair and showered the ogres below with dagger like shards.  Many stricken ogres were swept from the stair, but too many continued their relentless ascent.

“Ha!  Take that, ya drongos!” laughed Dinki’dai.

“And thus!”  chortled Tuatara, as he upended the brazier down the stair.

“No!  Ya boofhead…..”  but it was too late.  The embers showered the ogres and dislodged a few more, but the loss of their only source of warmth would soon cripple the cold blooded defenders.

Tanqgod’itzafrid’ai felt frost begin creeping into his bones.  He shook his bone helmeted head.

“We don’t have long before the cold will defeat us,” he murmured.  Then his voice rose in a rousing crescendo and he addressed his five subordinates, “Telmiwai, Aidont’loqmundi, Iwanashu’u, Ooteh’hoel, Daidoun!  We will do our duty!” 

Uniting their voices in a wordless roar, his guardians joined their captain in a headlong charge down the eternity stair.  The Temple Guard jabbed and swung their halberds and held their own, with the advantage of higher ground.  But the mass of ogres pressed ever upwards.

“ ‘Ow can we ‘elp zem?”  Animaux was wringing his bony hands.

The heroic and charming Australustrian priest, Dinki’dai, had helped himself to a metal tube from the Casket of the Cold Ones which was kept for emergencies in the temple inner sanctum.  The tinny cylinder contained fermented, malted barley. The frothy amber liquid was close to freezing point.  “You beauty,” he purred, “perfect temperature."

Beside him, Tuatara rummaged in the Casket of the Old Ones which was the repository of the mystic treasures of the temple.

“Bro!” he exclaimed, “Thus’ll  guve thum a touch up!”

He brandished the Forbidden Rod.  This arcane item did not draw its magical power from the winds of magic, but rather from the life force of its wielder.

The NewZealustrian ran to the edge of the platform and spoke the word of command.  The hand that clutched the rod visibly shrivelled as the cursed artefact absorbed half a century of life from the reckless Kiwi.

“Fight your way through thus!” he shrieked as he began the gestures to release the most reliable spell he knew.

“No!  Not that one!” hollered Caneghem belatedly.

Tuatara released a blizzard of shards of ice from his fingertips and hurled them into the combat below.  The ogres cursed and shielded their eyes.  Their blows could not find their mark while they were thus blinded, but the effect on the Saurus Warriors of the Temple Guard was far more devastating.

Every last guardian was immobilized by the wave of arctic chill.  They were frozen into ice crusted avatars of snarling hate.

“Oh, merde!” breathed Animaux.

The Ogres paused and rubbed the ice crystals from their eyes before continuing their merciless ascent.

“You bloody moron!”  Dinki’dai advanced on Tuatara with his claws balled with rage.

“Ut’s OK Bro, I’ll turrify thum wuth my turrifying war dunce!”  The New Zealustrian priest began a ridiculous display of stomping and chest slapping.  “Ka matae! Ka matae! Ka ora! Ka ora...”

Dinki’dai grabbed Tuatara by the throat and squeezed until the New Zealustrian's eyes and tongue protruded.  “Mate.  Do you have any flamin’ idea how stupid you look?!”

Meanwhile Caneghem had also rifled the Casket of the Old Ones.  With a whoop of triumph he produced a small cask of the precious Texustrian votive oil.  This he cast down the stair to broach upon the head of the uppermost ogre.  He followed up with a golden lamp fashioned in the form of a fire salamander.  The ogre ignited spectacularly and plummeted from the side of the pyramid like a comet.

“Sacre Bleu!  What are you doing?  That oil is précieux!”  Animaux was aghast at the waste.

The Texustrian snorted.  “Where I come from we’ve got so much of this stuff, it comes out of the ground.”

“Bien.”  The Gallustrian shrugged.  Then he was struck by an idea.

He hurried to the open casket and returned with a priceless flask of the Potion of Ebullience.  He loosened the cork stopper with his scaly thumbs and spoke the incantation of activation:  “Moet et Chandon, soixante-neuf!”

With a loud report, like a pistol shot, the cork was propelled by a foaming jet of potion.  Another Ogre fell, clutching his stricken eye.

The other priests gaped at his wastefulness.

“We have so many cellars packed with zese bottles in Gallustria” he explained to justify his extravagance.

Without a word, the laconic Dinki’dai tightened his grip about Tuatara’s scrawny neck and hurled the NewZealustrian from the balcony.

“Nooooo Bro-o-o....."  Tuatara’s voice trailed away into nothing as he dislodged another ogre and continued the arc of his descent.

The others gaped at the Australustrian. 

“Please don’t tell me you weren’t expecting that.” 

The other two priests shrugged in acquiescence and joined Dinki’dai in forming a cordon about the dormant Slann.  They prepared to make their last stand.

The ogre vanguard had now scaled the stair and were menacing the eternity chamber.  With a clamour and an oath, Animaux and Dinki’dai launched themselves at the ogres, only to be swept callously aside by an iron clad mace.  This left the dismayed Caneghem as Taisteslaikch’ken’s last line of defence.

“Get the chaff out of my way!” growled the ogre commander.

“Okay, Chief!”  The last thing the skink priest saw was a fat leering face and a meaty hand grasping toward him with greedy fingers agape, like the teeth of the Great Maw itself.

to Chapter 5:  The Pursuit, coming soon.

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