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Monday, 26 May 2014
The False Moon War: Chapter 9
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Chapter 9. The Law of Six
Joe boggled from his position on the table. There was nowhere to run or hide.
With exaggerated care, Akhseptsamex opened a foam lined black casket and removed a figure. It was a fist sized leonine beast, carved from obsidian and bedecked with gold and enamel. Wings sprouted from its shoulder blades and its spare pair of forelimbs terminated in enormous glittering blades. The creature’s stinging tail arched up and forwards to poise above its head. Akhseptsamex placed the arcane construct on the table.
“My champion is the Vengeance of Gaimsworkcheops,” Akhseptsamex indicated the obsidian behemoth. “Special Rules: Ability to Fly, Causes Terror, Always Strikes First, Killing Blow, Flaming Breath (Strength 4). Rulebook, pages sixty-six to seventy-nine.”
Twenty four inches away, Joe blinked in consternation.
“Don’t worry Joe, he doesn’t sound too bad.”
“He is also a level four wizard and Master of the Lore of Death. Rulebook, page four hundred and ninety-nine. Let us begin.”
“Joe, I think you are in the poo now," whispered Bob.
"Kneedeep," Joe agreed.
"Wait! Doesn’t Joe have Special Rules, too?”
“What do you suppose his rules to be?”
Bob looked at his shrunken, transformed spawnkin and considered what made Joe unique among the forces of Lustria. “Special Rule: Chicken-stride. When fleeing, three mystic cubes are cast for distance, with the lowest being discarded. This represents the blessing of Los’tmabo’tl. Rulebook, page seventy-six.”
Joe boggled at him. “Something a bit more heroic perhaps, Ribbit?” he piped in a tiny voice.
“No.” Akhseptsamex interjected, “Only I can make inexplicable, illogical or contradictory Special Rules. If you give another rule, it must be in keeping with the true nature of your champion.”
Bob paused for a moment. “Okay. Special Rule: Susceptible to Pain. In any round of combat, the first unsaved wound Joe suffers causes him to emit a stricken, keening wail. On a roll of six this will ward against harm because the attacker is startled by the irritating noise and fails his attack. Rulebook, page forty-four.”
The Lord of Citadel nodded his acquiescence. "Do you wish to use some Citadel Mystic Cubes? They come in four dreary colours and have soulless dots on each of their impractically small sides.”
“The elite of Lustria have their own mystic cubes!” Bob reached under the shell on his head and withdrew a pair of shimmering cubes. Before he could place these last on the table, Akhseptsamex snatched them away to examine them.
The Lustrian mystic cubes were clearly priceless works of art. Somehow the two prisms caught the light and reflected no less than eighty-three distinct and beautiful colour options. Each of the facets was detailed with vivid representations of mighty beasts which were inlaid with pure gold. In the hand, the cubes had a reassuring weight about them which would give their caster confidence in their ability to manipulate the Law of Six.
Akhseptsamex cast them on the war table several times to convince himself that they were not loaded in any way. He glared hatefully at Bob and returned the cubes. “They are works of art. But no matter, I will defeat you in battle and then I will own you. I will destroy your special rules and you will know the true meaning of nerfed! Your awesomeness, your jauntily worn eggshell and your cunningly wrought dice will be the property of the Citadel forever!
“Let us then roll for the first turn."
Akhseptsamex’ drab die clattered to the table, revealing six boring hollow pits. “Ha!”
Bob unleashed one of his own. The Mystic cube flashed like fire and finished its tumble showing the image of a six pointed, leering reptilian mask.
“I deployed first. First turn, Lizardmen. Rulebook, page one hundred and forty-four."
Bob leant over the table and imperiously commanded his avatar, “Joe! Run!”
Joe did not hesitate. He turned and hopped his maximum allowance of four inches.
“My turn.” The Citadel lord gestured and the Vengeance of Gaimsworkcheops launched skywards for a twenty inch flight. Only eight inches separated the two miniatures. “Flaming Breath, strength 4! Rulebook, page sixty-six.”
The animated construct released a cloud of corrosive vapour which obscured the tiny frog.
"I need but roll more than one to fatally wound your champion! Rulebook, page forty-two." the undead general grinned and trickled a die out of his bony fingers.
At the instant the cube stopped to reveal a single dot, the cloud dissipated to reveal Joe gulping miniature frog sized lungfuls of air.
“That was lucky, Ribbit!” he piped.
“No! There is no luck. There is only cold blooded probability. You had one chance in six to take first turn, and one chance in six to keep your one wound. So far, one chance in thirty six. However, the Law of Six will right itself. King Balance commands it.”
“Lizardmen, Turn Two. Joe. Run some more.” Bob felt the strategy had been effective so far. Joe hopped four more inches toward the table edge.
“There is no safety there.” The lord gestured with his sceptre and the edges of the table burst into towering miniature flames. "I declare a charge.”
Bob weighed his chances. To flee would almost certainly plunge Joe into the flames. “Joe! Hold!”
“He must master his terror first. Rulebook, page seventy-eight. On Leadership Level…five”
Bob paused, “I usually use 3 cubes for this…”
“You have but two. Roll!"
Bob sighed and cast the exquisite pair of cubes. They revealed a spiked lizard surmounted by three heavenly bodies, and a flying reptile with a pair of unfeasibly large testicles.
“Five! Croak, how lucky was that?”
"Marhlecht!" Akhseptsamex cursed. “Thus far there was but one chance in one hundred and twenty-eight. But the illusions you call “luck” and “life” will end now.”
Only twelve inches separated the figures. The Citadel charge could not fail. The Vengeance of Gaimsworkcheops swooped to crash to the table top in contact with the hapless lizard-frog.
“Six Killing Blow Attacks, Strength six!” The skeleton scattered a handful of crude dice on the table.
Among the ones and twos there glowered a cube which showed ugly pits in two rows of three. One of the attacks would strike home. Akhseptsamex snatched up the cube and rolled it again to reveal another six. The blow would be fatal. The obsidian monster raised one bladed arm and swept it down to cleave the tiny frog.
“Killing Blow! I have defeated your champion!”
There was a sound. A stricken, keening wail which rose in intensity to an ear shattering crescendo. The sound had words. The sound had meaning.
"Waaa aa aaah! Where is my tail? My tail! Waaaaah!"
The startled Vengeance of Gaimsworkcheops recoiled in surprise. This twitched his mighty blade off course. Unseen by Akhseptsamex, Bob had rolled a cube which revealed a grinning, six pointed death mask.
“Frogs don’t have tails. Shut up, Joe.” Bob savoured the words. “Shut up, Joe.”
Joe peered behind himself. “That was SO lucky!”
“There is no luck! My champion charged! You lose combat, Lizardman! Will your soldier break and run? Modified leadership value of four. Rulebook, page fifty-four.”
Bob accidently picked up two of the tawdry citadel dice, which treacherously rolled a total of seven. Joe would flee.
“I will never use these uninteresting and cursed dice again!” he vowed. “Lizardmen should only use lizardmen dice!"
Joe was poised only four inches from the flames. Bob retrieved the dice of the Old Ones. “Chicken Stride requires the highest two of three cubes,” said Bob.
He noticed the box marked “Arcane Items” from which the Citadel lord had produced the flying carpet / invisibility cloak. Bob spied a mystic cube and fished it out. The small, black cube contained millions of tiny pin-pricks of blinking light, each circling a sphere of pure darkness.
“Not the Cube of Darkness, please. It cancels any magic spells which are in place." Akhseptsamex looked nervous. "You can reroll one of your own dice, if you wish.”
Bob shrugged and gently placed the tiny black cube on the table. He tossed his brace of mystic cubes, rolling the well endowed terradon icon and a reptilian eye. He retrieved the eye and rolled again. Another one.
Joe leapt three inches, then stopped and cringed. The flames were close enough to singe his slimy skin, but he remained on the table.
“Pursue, my Vengeance!” The skeleton hurled three swift striding cubes at the table. Three single dimples peeked back at him.
“Ribbit. That was really lucky” Joes eyes could not possible bulge any further without springing from their sockets.
“There! Is! No! Luck! You have just had your one chance in….” Akhseptsamex paused to calculate, “…in….four million, one hundred and seventy-three thousand nine hundred and thirteen. However, you still flee. Rally and cease fleeing if you can! Those flames look hot…..”
The opulent mystic cubes tumbled again. An unblinking pair of snake eyes glowered at the Lord of Citadel.
He spluttered, “You have rallied, but you can perform no other actions. Citadel Turn Three. No Movement. Magic Phase!”
He cast a pair of tawdry dice which rolled up a six and a one. Without pause he snatched six more inferior cubes and shouted as he hurled them at the table.
“Purple Sun of Xereus! Rulebook, page four-hundred and ninety-nine.”
Amongst the dross was a pair of malevolent, but uninspiring, sixes. “Double sixes! Irresistible Force! You cannot dispel the magic!” he crowed.
An orb of purple edged darkness materialized before the Vengeance of Gaimsworkcheops. Joe’s froggy form was consumed.
“Can your champion dodge Death? Test on initiative one!” Akhseptsamex nudged one of Bob's mystic cubes towards the saurus general.
Bob picked up the cube and stroked it against his scaly cheek. He turned it in his hands. He blew on it. He tossed it from hand to hand. He did a lucky little dance.
"Stop wasting time! The game is now!" The command pierced Bob's mind. In fright he dropped the cube and it tumbled onto the table. Its erratic bounces finally stilled.
A snake eye. Akhseptsamex’ smouldering eyes almost popped out of their sockets. His next utterance was unspellable, and darn near unpronounceable.
“Fine!” he grated. “Your turn four!”
“Croak. Resolve the miscast. Rulebook, page thirty-four.” A tiny voice reminded.
“Two sixes to cast Purple Sun. Irresistible magic will reflect back on the caster. Roll two dice. Rulebook, page thirty-four. Ribbit.”
With another unpronounceable curse, Akhseptsamex flung out two more dice. They totalled three. The resulting five inch wide explosion which caused a wound to the Vengeance of Gaimsworkcheops. Joe continued to gulp and blink. He had escaped the blast unscathed.
One more die tumbled from the Lord of Citadel’s bony fingers. Two.
With a yelp of fear, Akhseptsamex’ animated construct prepared itself to be permanently plunged into the Realm of Chaos.
“Lizardmen Win. Crushing Defeat. Turn Three. That was lucky! Ribbit!”
Akhseptsamex raised his head. His every insubstantial fibre radiated hatred. “One chance in one hundred and sixty-six billion, two hundred and eighty-eight million, six hundred and ninety-three thousand nine hundred and twenty. Give or take.
"However, you forget. I make the rules." He plucked a tiny rod out of the box marked Arcane Items. “Earthing Rod. Reroll any results on the miscast table. Rulebook, page five hundred and four. Ha!”
He threw two more of the treacherous Citadel dice. Three dimples. He howled as he flung one more against the furthest wall of the chamber. The pathetic cube ricocheted to rest at his feet. One dimple.
The Vengeance of Gaimsworkcheops vanished from existence with a whimper.
Somewhere else entirely, Queen Bias, sipped from a fine china teacup and smiled sweetly at her husband.
King Balance glowered, red-faced, back at her. He was bound and gagged and stuffed in the corner of the chamber that they would share for all eternity.
Akhseptsamex screeched in incoherent rage. With a strength that did not seem possible, he grabbed the edge of the gaming table and flipped it over. Joe's tiny froggy form was flung to the floor. Dice, incomplete models, and other bric-a-brac scattered throughout the chamber. Bob himself was knocked sprawling by the Lord of Citadel’s tantrum.
Joe hopped as quickly as his tiny legs would carry him to cower under the shelves which lined the walls.
Bob gathered himself to stand. As he did so, he felt a cold, sharp edge under his scaly hand. He investigated. It was a cube. A small, black cube which contained millions of tiny pin-pricks of blinking light, each circling a sphere of pure darkness. The Cube of Darkness.
Akhseptsamex saw what he held. “Noooooooooo!”
Without hesitation, Bob cast the Cube of Darkness into the centre of the room. It burst open like a black flower. Every shred of magic power within the citadel was consumed by the tiny black sphere which hovered, for an instant, before returning to the null dimension which was its home.
The chamber erupted in chaos. Not Chaos. The regular kind of chaos. This was the kind of chaos which ensues when every kind of warrior, beast and monster, of every allegiance, is simultaneously released from a spell of miniaturisation, within the confines of a single large room.
Troops of halberdiers, and packs of wolves vied for dominance. Spiders, trolls and dragons chittered, bellowed and roared their annoyance. Even great reptilian beasts of the jungle burst out of the boxes which had imprisoned them, and thundered from the room, smashing their own doorways because the original ones were too small to admit them.
As Bob cowered under the remains of the battle table, an iron like claw grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him to his feet.
“I salute you, General Bob. I am T`hinker`er.”
The claw belonged to a doughty looking Lizardmen Saurus Scar Veteran. Bob had never been treated with this much (any) respect by such an exalted hero.
“Take Joe with you, and escape. I have a score to settle with this so-called Lord of Citadel.” T`hinker`er held up a vicious implement.
“Is that a modelling knife?” Bob gasped.
T`hinker`er grinned evilly and advanced towards Akhseptsamex, who was struggling to rise from beneath a rabble of smurfs. Or they might have been Halflings. (Who cares?)
Bob spied a large amphibian which was cowering beneath some shelves. He grabbed it and fled to the balcony. Behind him he could overhear T`hinker`er, in a low and menacing voice, say "...and now Lord of Citadel, for the last time, I'm going to demonstrate the difference between a conversion and an original sculpture, even if it kills you!"
On the edge of the balcony, Bob tucked the frog under one arm and vaulted onto the back of a terradon which had just taken flight. The flying reptile faltered for a moment, let out a high pitched squawk, and furiously beat its leathery wings to leave the Citadel far behind him.
Bob clasped the bumpy amphibian to his chest. “Joe!” he wailed, “Why didn’t you turn back into yourself? Why aren’t you talking to me?”
The sound of rushing wind as the terradon sped north east filled where Bob’s ear should have been, but he fancied there was another sound. A stricken, keening wail. The sound was coming from the terradon.
Bob peeked beneath the wing of the distressed terradon to investigate what was causing this upset. There he saw Joe, restored to his normal form, hanging by his claws from the scrotum of the unfortunate flying reptile.
“What the….?” Bob looked carefully at the warty amphibian that he had been cradling in his arms. A blot toad, which he had rescued by accident, scowled back at him with open hostility.
These loathsome creatures dwelt deep in the Lustrian swamps feeding on the eggs they found in ripperdactyl nests. The winged ripperdactyls could be driven to a murderous frenzy just by the smell or sight of their natural enemy.
The ripper's distant and distressed cousin, the terradon, had suffered enough for one lifetime and plunged toward a leafy oasis where he attempted to brush his unwelcome payload off his tender parts and onto the crown of a date palm. Bob and his new companion soon followed as the flying reptile shrugged them off its back.
“That was lucky!” an impressive kroxigor observed.
Bob had fallen from a great height to splash into the centre of the desert oasis where Mahtis, Rychek and Bessie had paused in their journey. When Bob surfaced from the cooling waters he had a bumpy amphibian perched on his eggshell.
“Where is Joe?” asked Bob.
There was another sound. A stricken, keening wail. The sound had words. The sound had meaning.
“Waaa-aa-aaah! Get off me! Get off me!” it seemed to say.
Rychek, Mahtis and Bob peered upwards. In the fronds of a tall, spiky palm tree, they could spy a distressed saurus warrior. On his head was a collection of sticks which formed a nest. On the nest was a large bird with long curved beak. The saurus warrior and the ibis competed for the title of “most surprised”.
Joe flapped his arms ineffectually and toppled from the tree and landed heavily on a nonchalant bastiladon. Bessie continued to munch on the delectable thorn bushes that grew around the waterhole.
“That was lucky,” observed Mahtis. “Unless you count what happened to Joe. Where have you been?"
Joe and the ibis recovered their composure. “There was this evil ruler, who wanted to nerf Bob!”
Rychek shuddered. If Bob were nerfed, what joy would remain in the universe? There would be no point to existence.
The light around them seemed to dim as if a shadow had crossed the sun, just for a second.
“You have something that belongs to me.”
Silhouetted below the setting sun was a badly beaten skeleton. He looked as if he had just gone two days against a saurus scar veteran and lost. As he spoke, the sunlight flickered and dimmed again.
“Get behind us, Bob. It’s you he’s after” Rychek and Mahtis stood shoulder to shoulder in front of their friend.
“Do not play childish games. I will take what is mine!” The menacing skeleton was riding on a flying carpet of Arabyan design. Around him was a faint aura which screamed, “Magical protection from mundane attacks!”
Joe stepped forward. “Great Akhseptsamex, Lord of Citadel. You win. Bob, come forward.”
“You can’t surrender Bob to him!” Mahtis protested.
“Trust me,” Joe mouthed silently.
Mahtis and Rychek grudgingly parted. Bob stepped forward, with the toad still perched on his shell.
“Here. Take him. I never liked him anyway.”
Joe snatched the startled blot toad from atop Bob’s head and flung it to the Lord of Citadel.
Akhseptsamex looked at the slimy amphibian cradled in his arms. “No, I didn’t mean……”
He was interrupted by a chorus of enraged screeches. A ripperdactyl swooped out of the glare of the setting sun and raked its claws across the Citadel Lord’s thin shoulders, bowling him from his flying carpet. As more rippers slashed him, Akhseptsamex curled into a ball, with the blot toad still clutched to his breast. These frenzied killers were the very same that had been magically imprisoned within the Citadel. They would continue their fearsome killing blows until the blot toad and its scent had been eradicated.
The four lizardmen climbed onto Bessie’s howdah and steered her gently away from the whirlwind of dust, leathery wings and frenzied claws.
As they slipped into the gathering night, Mahtis turned to watch the downfall of the Lord of Citadel.