Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The False Moon War: Chapter 6

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Chapter 6.  The Maw's Jaws

The Maw's Jaws was not an elegant vessel.  She reflected much of the nature of her crew: ugly, brutal and broad of beam.

In lieu of the traditional battering ram, upon her blunt prow she sported a figure head in the form of gigantic hinged iron jaws.  The jaws were not solely decorative. Through the action of levers and pulleys they could be clamped shut to crush or hold fast other vessels.

Upon her raised forecastle and stern decks were enormous harpoon launchers, made after the basic plan of a ballista or bolt thrower, but many times larger.  The launchers could hurl cruelly barbed harpoons trailing coils of heavy rope at her prey, be that prey cetacean, leviathan or maritime.

From her main deck, which was the size of a town square, jutted three masts which towered like the old men of the forest that they once were. Each mast sported a massive spar from which hung square rigged canvas sails.

If the Maw's Jaws were to become becalmed, treble rows of hatches on her flanks would spring open and the crew would extend her oars. There was space on the rowing decks for six gnoblars or galley slaves to each oar. If greater speed were needed, or toward the end of a voyage when slaves were scarce and ogre bellies full, the ogres themselves would man the sweeps. Their powerful strokes gave the ship a speed and manoeuvrability that belied her ungainly appearance.

As with the ogres, the belly of the beast was the main focus. Her cavernous hold had easily swallowed the entire ogre expedition and its tack, but still it hungered for more booty. In its day this monster had devoured fleets of Tilean trade vessels and still had appetite left to consume entire coastal towns on her way back to port.

The deck was dotted with hatches which led to the lower decks. Beside the high deck rails were racks of grapnels, landing hooks, boarding axes and other tools of high seas predation.

Gnoblar riggers swarmed aloft. Here they were safe from any impatient cuffs of discipline which might threaten to maim them.

Ogre sailors performed their duties with feet solidly planted on the deck. The remaining warriors of the expeditionary force remained below decks with their beasts of burden and war engines.  Here they continued their usual peacetime occupations, gambling, boasting, brawling and eating.

The ship's master stood on the aft deck with his meaty hands clenched on the great ships wheel. He glowered at the two members of the crew who did not fit in.

The first was the Slann, looking for all the world like a giant snoozing frog on his floating throne.  After the trek through the jungle and now some days of sea voyage it was clear that the Slann was not going to wake. Even if he did, he could hardly escape. He had originally been secured below decks, but whenever anyone walked above him on the upper decks they felt ..... funny.

The firebelly and company butcher, who both had mage sight, could see four columns of magical energy sprouting from the Slann, penetrating the decks and then arching upwards and away, back towards Lustria.

If the Old Ones had gazed back at the earth to examine their geomantic web, they would have seen a regular, netlike pattern of bands of power covering the whole Southern Continent.  Regular, except for one bright node of power which was sailing North and East trailing behind it four strands of the web which still connected it to its erstwhile neighbours in the centre of Lustria.

The ogre fire wizard was still miserable. This close to a node of the geomantic web, every whisper of the winds of magic was snatched away before he could channel any power for his own use.  The Butcher, master of the magical Lore of the Great Maw, was not affected because his power was bartered from the earth. However he could not stand in proximity of the pulsating frog for long, because it made his tummy feel funny, even worse than the full Chaos Moon.

Welhung had concluded that it was best to stow the frog above decks, so that he and his crew would not stray into the strange aura and suffer some ill effect.

The effect on the denizens of the sea was dramatic and immediate.

Every monstrous or magical beast which called the seven seas home was drawn from the surrounding depths to investigate, assail or devour the frog and his node of power.

Some were familiar to, and feared by, mariners of all the world's oceans. Many tentacled craken, sea serpents and enormous leviathans were in this category.  Others rose from such great depths that they had never before been seen, let alone named.

One enormous fish came from such benighted trenches that it had no need for eyes. On its blubbery lips it sported large tendrils with which it would feel its way around its world in the same way as a cat uses its whiskers.  Another fish had a glowing lure with which it would entice its prey
to its vast, trap-like mouth. There were eels which spat lightning and crustaceans with claws that could sever limbs with ease.

The one thing that these diverse monsters had in common was that they all tasted delicious.

The second misfit aboard was the Chef.  The entire crew now treated him with superstitious awe.

His first miracle was performed almost immediately after Rodekhil placed him down on the deck. The little lizard felt the rocking motion of the ship and turned from blue to green before the astonished eyes of the crew.

His next act of occultism was to run to the rail of the ship and make an offering to his gods.

Ogres, of course, worship the Great Maw. The Maw came into existence after the impact of an asteroid of warpstone to the east of the Mountains of Mourn. When the showers of rock and magma had subsided at the site of the impact, the earth had sprouted a fang lined mouth hundreds of leagues across.

The ancient ogre peoples were worshippers of earth power and had some mastery of earth magic. Those that were not slain by the asteroid impact, or consumed by the gaping mouth, naturally feared and worshipped this new manifestation of the earth god.

It is a common misconception that the Great Maw is a thing of Chaos. It is, rather, the earth's instinctive means of self defence against the warpstone mountain which had struck it.  An infected splinter under the skin will cause pus to form, and the foreign matter will fester to the surface to eventually be expelled from the body.

The earth does not have this capacity. Its nature is to devour rather than to expel.  Dead bodies buried in the earth will eventually be consumed by the soil.  Even the mighty forests of the Amaxon or old world are growing barely faster than they are being ingested by the earth beneath.

In response to the warpstone comet, the earth created from within itself the Great Maw to devour and destroy the foreign matter. Unfortunately, the asteroid was composed of elements so alien that they could not be digested. The Maw continued to express its earth nature by rapacious consumption but the weird monolith sat uneasily and indigestibly in its gullet.

There is no word for vomit in the ogre dialect. Like the Great Maw, ogres consume and consume and give nothing back.

The ritual performed by the skink chef at the rail was amazing to the crew.  It was not strange to the Ogres that the lizardman's gods would be at the bottom of the sea. Their own means of worship was to throw sacrifices of food into stake lined pits. The Great Maw would show its acceptance by absorbing the gifts into the soil. By the next day nothing would remain of the offerings.

The amazing thing was that the offering came from the contents of the chef's stomach.  This was as symbolic to the ogres as other races would find giving "from the bottom of the heart."

Chef Caneghem performed the ritual, without fail, after every meal he ate, even if this had followed a long period of fasting. This level of devotion alone would have impressed the ogres, but what followed was incontrovertible proof that the chef had earned his god's favour.

No sooner would the offering strike the surface of the water than a gigantic monster of the deep would surface to throw itself at the ship.

The astonished ogres would arm themselves with grapnels and landing hooks and drag the hapless beast aboard, where it would be butchered on the spot.

The first such creature was a thirty foot long blue scaled fish with yellow fins. This species was new to the ogres and they debated what might be the best way to prepare the creature to eat.

Eventually, Rodekhil suggested, "We should ask the chef, 'e should know!"

When they were finally able to pry Caneghem away from the rail he moaned, "You can cut it thin, wrap it in rice and seaweed and eat it raw for all I care! Oh no......Spewshi!" Then he was back leaning over the rail.

"What did 'e say?"

"Dunno. I think it was 'Sushi' "

The gnoblar kitchen hands were directed to follow the chef's instructions and a tasty new dish was created. In much the same way, many other culinary classics, such as Craken Morrrrrrnay and Sea Serpent Gumboh-oh-oh-hurk, were invented. The new chef may have been a little abrupt, but no one would deny that he was a culinary genius.

The little green chef did not even set foot in the galley because the smell of food being prepared instantly put him in a worshipful frame of mind.  Instead, a troop of besotted gnoblar kitchen hands would follow him about the boat clutching the tools of their trade and hanging on his every word.

Welhung grimaced from his post at the wheel. His crew were becoming as sleek as silk and as fat as butter. They would touch their brows in respect whenever they passed their "lucky" chef.  It was all wrong. They should have been boorish and disrespectful.  Were they going soft?  He growled an oath at the slann whose only reply was to maintain the same beatific smile he had kept fixed upon his sleeping face for two months.

The slann also presented a conundrum. He was meant to be a meal to satisfy Welhung's wife Hellun's extravagant craving. The tyrant was not sure that this would be possible.

Rodekhil Offaleater had had an attack of the munchies on one long night watch and resolved to "just 'ave one bite."

A week later the glutton's teeth were still tingling from the flash of light and magical power which had flared from the mystic aura which wrapped the frog like a second skin. Welhung feared that even the trip hammers and crucibles of the kitchens of the ogre court would be inadequate to tenderize meat this tough.

That evening, two full moons set sail into the sea of the heavens, one wholesome and white, the other a baleful green. The green eye made Welhung's stomach knot. He left the wheel in the charge of his lieutenant and strode to the aft rail to spit. There he squinted toward the setting sun and shielded his eyes.

"Man the 'arpoons!" he suddenly bellowed.

"Oh, really Chief?  I don' think I can fit another sea monster in..."

The tyrant captain stabbed a stubby finger at the setting sun. On the horizon were the silhouettes of a multitude of triangular sails jutting upwards like rows of jagged teeth.

"Sweeps out!  Crew to the oars! Bellower, call tempo double quick!"

to Chapter 7:  The Dark Fleet - coming soon

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