Monday, 2 June 2014
The False Moon War: Chapter 10
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Chapter 10. The Badlands
Rychek had surmised that Slann Lord Taisteslaikch'ken would be taken to the ogre lands which the skink knew to be far to the north east, over the World's Edge Mountains and the desolate Dark Lands beyond. Although the journey would surely be long and arduous, Bob and Joe tried to keep everyone's spirits up.
"We are not here to collect souvenirs. Get rid of it."
"I like him. And his name is Len. Don't hurt his feelings."
Bob inspected the ibis perched on Joe's head. "He's a bird. He doesn't have feelings."
The bird puffed its feathers out in annoyance.
"Anyway, eggshells make better head coverings. They provide protection."
"Ibis are better. They can get aggressive when aroused. Who wouldn't want an extra attack?"
"Eggshell is better!"
Bob had leaned too close. Len's savage peck was blocked by the eggshell.
The argument was declared a draw.
The strangling deserts of the Land of the Dead grudgingly released their grip as the party trudged onwards. To begin with, low thorny bushes of the arid zone became more common on the sun blasted ridges. These gave way to patchy scrub which in turn, melded into viney thickets and stands of scrawny trees. They had entered the Badlands.
This region, which was almost as large as the Empire of men, was a bubbling cauldron of destructive hate. Greenskin tribes, skaven clans and beastmen war-herds alternated between vying with each other for local supremacy and leading invasions into the neighbouring lands of the wood elves, men and dwarves.
The southern reaches of the Badlands were sparsely populated. To the south there was nothing invade or conquer except for dunes and salt pans. Therefore the heroes were able to travel for some days unmolested.
On the fifth day, they crossed a boundary marked by a glowering greenskin totem pole. This was crudely carved to represent a snarling wyvern bearing an orcish warlord. The orc wore upon his head an eagle totem with wings outstretched. The carved sentinel exuded palpable animosity from its six hollow eye sockets.
Little did they know it, but the party had strayed into the territory of the Hawkhatz tribe. Generations ago, every last bird in the region had been hunted to extinction to satisfy the tribe's demand for feathered head dresses. The extermination had started with the commonest and most easily captured birds. As these dwindled in number, the greenskins had to pursue more exotic game until not a single avian remained. No Hawkhatz greenskin alive had ever seen a living bird.
The last recorded bird hunt had involved the Savage Orc Warboss, Glars Haarfful, and his pursuit of a Great Roc which had alighted on a nearby peak.
His last words were reputed to be, "Dis looked mutch smalla from down dere!" as he was carried away to meet the mighty bird's nestlings.
Since that time, the tribe had been ruled by a succession of warlords, supported by greenskin shamen who maintained their influence through a combination of superstitious fear-mongering and brutal application of the power of the twin greenskin gods, Mork and Gork.
The twins are an embodiment of the savage hostility of their endless hordes of worshippers. The pair are, unfortunately, so alike in manifestation and demeanour that not even their high priests can reliably tell them apart. This is a dangerous situation, because Gork knows that he is not Mork, and he lashes out in umbrage at any who address him inappropriately.
Mork is not sure which one he is, but he is content to lash out randomly, "Just in Kase."
The magical powers bestowed by Mork and Gork are not drawn directly from the winds of magic, although their intensity does vary in parallel with the magical flux. In comparison with High or Battle magics, the greenskin magic is more often contained in "Fings", rather than in abstractions such as a chanted spell or a gesture of power. Such fings range from the totem described earlier, to magical weapons and artefacts, to the lukky bloo war paint which provides magical protection from harm to the savage orcs who daub it on their bodies.
The terrifying black orc warboss, Worhuh Wotsitgudfaw had recently called a new Waaagh! Waaagh! is the rallying cry of the greenskin tribes, and it is also the word used to describe greenskin armies.
Worhuh was recruiting orc fighters from far and wide, leaving few of the larger fighting orcs in the home range of the Hawkhatz tribe. The warboss's force was marshalling at the foot of the World's Edge Mountains. He was planning to lead his Waaagh! into the soft undabelli of the Empire.
Others in the Badlands saw an opportunity to exploit such a power vacuum. An upstart Beastmen War-Herd was flexing its muscle in Hawkhatz territory. The remaining forest goblins of the tribe simply melted away into the trees. They would not engage the herd without the inspiring or bullying leadership of the larger orcs who had been drafted into Worhuh's Waaagh!
The lizardmen smelt the stench and heard the deranged braying of the war-herd long before it came into sight. The sheer volume of sound coming from the beasts indicated that discretion would be a better course than confrontation. They had time to find an empty cave on a hillside and Bessie was secreted deep inside so that the glow of the solar engine would not be seen.
The heroes prepared to lay low until the herd passed by.
The herd did not pass by. The hillside formed part of a natural amphitheatre of ridges with a large clearing in the centre. The beastmen made a rude camp here so that they could perform some religious observance to mark the rising of the full Chaos moon in three days time.
Beastmen, of all the mortal servants of mayhem, are the most driven by hate. At the Coming of Chaos, mutating warpstone dust showered the globe. Man became beast and beast became man.
The beasts which rose onto their hind legs resented their millennia of domesticated slavery. Nothing but the destruction every town, farm, and family restaurant would slake their thirst for vengeance.
Lizards can endure long fasts without discomfort or harm but, by the dawn of the third day, Mahtis' stomach was rumbling loud enough to present a significant risk of discovery by the herd below. The cave amplified every sound inside, and the kroxigor's rumbles had some of the beastmen below scanning the sky for storm clouds. Whenever it occurred, Mahtis would apologize shyly and retreat to the rear of the cave.
Bob kept a nervous vigil just inside the mouth of the cave. Joe and Rychek were a little further back.
"Is this good to eat?" Mahtis had returned from his self imposed exile and was holding a large glowing mushroom. It's cap was covered in square mirror-like facets which caught and reflected points of light around the cave. "I found it at the back."
"Let me see, Mahtis," Rychek examined and sniffed the mushroom.
Mahtis's stomach growled even louder.
"For the Old Ones' sake, let him eat it!" Joe hissed. Below them, some of the beastmen were pointing at the cave mouth and yammering to each other excitedly.
"Let me try it first, Mahtis. It might be bad for you." Rychek nibbled the cap of the fungus. After a long pause he declared, "It seems Okay. Okay."
"Okay," echoed Joe.
Mahtis reached to take the mushroom from Rychek's hands then paused in alarm.
"Okay Okay Okay Okay Okay." the corners of Rychek's mouth had twisted upwards in a mockery of a grin. His eyes drifted out of focus and his limbs began to twitch. His body bucked and he launched into a ghastly parody of dance.
Mahtis caught his spawn kin and wrapped him in his arms. "What is happening?"
"He's having a fit! Joe declared. "Force something in his mouth so he doesn't bite his tongue. Not my tail! Not my tail! Waaa-aa-aaah!"
"Waaa-aa-aaah!" The blood curdling cry was amplified and deepened by the cave and reverberated around the amphitheatre of hills. Before the echoes had faded away, the Doom Bull, Beast Lord of the Bray-herd, raised his shaggy head and bellowed his enraged reply to Joe's howl of agony.
The bloodthirsty war herd pawed the ground and snorted, working themselves into a frenzy as they prepared to charge at the unseen threat in the cave. The mighty minotaur bawled a wordless command and the braying mass surged up the slope, gradually gathering speed.
Suddenly, the surrounding forest came alive. Innumerable goblins of the forest poured out from among the trees. They unleashed a black rain of stone tipped arrows and the beastman charge quickly became a rout.
However, the Doom Bull's momentum was great enough to carry him to the mouth of the cave. There he found his way blocked by a white helmeted lizardman brandishing a green glowing sword. The Beast Lord swiped with his huge wooden club and the lizard attempted to parry the blow. The strange sword embedded in the wood of the club and was wrenched from the saurus's claws.
With a bawl of triumph, the slavering minotaur pulled the glowing sword free to untangle his club, ready for the killing blow. He brandished both weapons.
The deep rumbling bellow that came from the beast's mighty throat abruptly jumped in pitch by at least three octaves. His visage changed from one of rage to one of alarmed bewilderment.
The Warpstone enhanced Sword of Abstinence cursed any who wielded it with sterility and genital shrinkage. It had no effect on the asexual lizard "men", but the effect on the Doom Bull's impressive equipment was instantaneous and dramatic.
The Beast Lord stooped to peer between his legs as a dark shadow fell across the mouth of the cave. "Holy-ee-ee Shee-ee....." he squeaked before being cut off, literally, by a gigantic pair of mandibles.
Bob gawped, open mouthed, at the enormous Arachnarok spider which had neatly decapitated his assailant. From a wicker platform on its back, a dozen war painted forest goblins peered down. "We herd da call. Where'z da boss?"
Neehai Tuacrikket was confused. The hardy greenskin warrior below him must have emasculated the Doom Bull with his teeth, for he bore no weapon. That was a feat worthy of great respect. What was confusing was that this greenskin was BLOO. And he had a tail.
"I beg your pardon?" The bloo warrior enquired politely.
Neehai narrowed his eyes. The bloo warrior was roughly eight feet tall, had just swallowed the melon sized nuts of a Doom Bull, and he had just said, "I beg your pardon?" to a puny goblin. There was definitely something amiss.
The orc and goblin tribes were a height-rarchical society. The largest and strongest bullied those less impressive than themselves, and these vented their angst on their smaller peers, and so on, until every frightful kicking was passed on, with interest, to the smallest night goblin. Coincidentally, that goblin was the fastest runner to ever wear a green hide.
Bob was uncomfortable with the lingering silence. He had a personal policy of showing politeness to anyone who had nominal control of an arachnid which was the size of a barn. He generally felt that such folk should be engaged in friendly conversation. "Excuse me?"
Neehai felt safe enough up on his mount to dare speaking to the murderous champion. "We herd da Waaagh! We came ta answer da call ta war. We is only Gobbos, but we kan still fite!"
Another bloo warrior lurched out of the cave. He was at least four times the mass of the first. "What's happening?" asked Mahtis.
"Righto, dat must be da boss."
"Go back inside and care for Rychek," Bob snapped, "Leave this to me."
Neehai's jaw dropped in astonishment. "Yoo'z can't orda him about! He'z bigga dan yoo are!"
Mahtis nodded vigorously, "He's right!"
"Size isn't everything! Now get back in there!"
"Size izn't evryting?" the other eleven goblins on the spider repeated the words in astonished unison.
Neehai mouthed the words to himself. He struggled with this new thought, much as he struggled with every other thought, new or old.
The interior of the cave started to glow. Bessie was not being supervised and had moved closer to the entrance. The light intensified until Neehai had to shield his eyes. Out of the blinding radiance stepped a terrifying figure. He was a bloo warrior, like the first, but this one had a totemic head dress in the form of a savage eyed bird of prey. As he stopped beside the vanquisher of the minotaur, the totem on his brow came alive and unfurled its mighty wings.
"Oh mahrlecht! Oompa Loompahs!" Joe exclaimed.
"Yoo mus' be da boss!" Neehai felt happier. This impressively adorned specimen was surely the leader.
"What? Well, Rychek seems to think he's in charge," Joe mused.
"Anuvver boss? Kan I talk ta him den?"
"Oh, I need to speak for him at the moment. He's a bit....."
Just then a small bloo figure capered out of the cave and danced around the legs of the arachnarok.
"Sorry Bob, he got out," apologized Mahtis as he gave up his pursuit.
"Gawk," observed Len.
"Gawk gawk gawk gawk gawk!" echoed Rychek while he slapped the carapace of the giant spider in time with his words.
"E'z not a Boss! E'z a shaman!" observed the goblin chief in amazement.
"Umm. Why do you say so?" Joe didn't want to contradict anyone who had nominal control of an arachnid which was the size of a barn. For once he and Bob had something in common.
"Cos e'z crazier dan yoo are!"
By this time Rychek had finished the spider slapping dance and had started throwing handfuls of leaves in the air. "Yooah yooah yooah!"
Mahtis nodded vigorously, "He's right!"