Thursday, 12 June 2014

The False Moon War: Chapter 13

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Chapter 13.  Beneath the World's Edge

Bessie's decorations lasted only as long as it took to wash them away at the first mountain stream. The collection of skulls and sundry other bones were left high in the foothills of the World's Edge Mountains to excite and confuse future archaeologists.

The heroes found themselves on a rough, foot worn path which spiralled inexorably upwards.  At different times the trail would traverse steep ridges, dark silent stands of conifers or narrow ledges teetering on the edge of ravines.  Bessie plodded stolidly higher.

"The best Lustrian monster for combat is surely the carnosaur."

"Actually it has to be the ancient stegadon with sharpened horns"

"No, it's definitely the carnosaur."

"Ancient stegadon!"


"Ancient stegadon!"



"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

The entire crew dissolved in fits of laughter.

"No, but seriously now Mahtis....."

The trail finally led them to a hanging valley surrounded by unscaleable walls of granite.  The remnants of a glacial moraine had trapped a sizable lake of dark, still water.  As they picked around the rough path at the edge of the pool, the lizardmen could see an interesting scene unfold across the water.

A tall arch had been hewn from the mountain side. The arch framed a tunnel which disappeared back under the mountains.  At the opening was a guard house which attended a flimsy orange and white barrier.  The barrier was contrived to swing up and down to permit or deny passage.

At the barrier were a dwarf, an elf and a dragon. The dwarf was dressed for battle. The only parts visible under the matted hair, beard and gleaming armour were a pair of glittering eyes and a red, bulbous nose.  He leaned casually on a tremendous war hammer which was embossed with a glowing golden rune on one face.  His other hand he held out towards the elf, palm upwards.

The elf was clearly a elven princeling of great wealth and rank. His cloak was brocaded with platinum thread. On his brow he wore a circlet made of the same metal which was surmounted with an enormous ruby. Not one golden hair on his ageless head was out of place. On his face was an expression of unconcealed disgust.

The star dragon was also a splendid specimen.  Its jeweled scales caught the light and reflected it back in dazzling rainbows.  Around its mighty jaws was a glowing band sealed with a dwarfish rune.  Muzzled in this way, the dragon could use neither its hypnotic voice, nor its fiery breath.

The elven prince dropped a heavy purse onto the dwarf's grubby hand.  The contents of the purse clinked.

As the dwarf weighed the payment in his hand, the High Elf vented his displeasure. "This is wobbery, you wascally wogue!  Now welease Bwian!"

The dwarf snorted in amusement as he hefted his hammer and tapped the rune which bound the dragon's snout.  The band flashed briefly and disappeared in a puff of smoke.  With an overly gracious bow, the dwarf lifted the barrier and swept his arm to indicate that the elf was welcome to go about his haughty business.

The elf leapt upon his draconic steed with flashing eyes and wordlessly spurred his mount to fly away from the den of dwarfish crooks.

Eventually, the bastiladon completed its circumnavigation of the inky mere.  The four lizardmen stowed their weapons and dismounted. The dwarf stood behind the barrier with his chin resting on the haft of the rune hammer. His eyes glinted greedily as he appraised the group and their beast.

Rychek stepped up to the boom gate. "We seek free passage through your mighty dwarf hold, to the lands beyond the mountains."

The Dwarf snorted again. "Free passage?  Theere's naught free in Karrak Andstick.  E'en the airre isn'ae free!  Have ye means to pay?"

Mahtis went over to Bessie and returned with a wicker creel. From it, he withdrew two dried ixti grubs and a large beetle which he proffered to the dwarf.

The dwarf gasped and seized Mahtis' statuesque wrist.  Upon Mahtis's it was a heavy gold bracelet inscribed with Lustrian glyphs.  It was twin to the one on his other wrist.  Snake like torques spiralled around the kroxigor's bulging biceps.  He wore a broad collar of enamelled gold and bands of the same metal about his ankles.  Gold also adorned every spike which ran in a glittering row from his neck to the tip of his tail.

Beyond its decorative appearance, gold has no particular value to the lizardmen. In Lustria it is too common to be considered precious, and too soft to be useful in making tools.

On the morning that the Slann Lord Taisteslaikch’ken had been abducted, Rychek had insisted that Mahtis put on all of his golden adornments and get a clean pocket handkerchief.  He reasoned that if they were going on a quest, his little brother should at least look smart, and keep his nose clean.

The dwarf recovered his breath.

"Weel, in that case, ye'll have enough for the wee deposit."  He indicated a bracelet, which Mahtis removed and dropped onto the dwarf's shaking hand.

As Mahtis negotiated, Joe picked up a large stone to throw at a twisted snag out in the middle of the lake. 

"Do nae disturb the water!"  the dwarf called urgently. "It costs extra!

"Noow, let's inspect yon beastie!"  The dwarf looked in Bessie's mouth and tut-tutted. He lifted her tail with his hammer and clucked.  When he climbed onto her howdah he ran his eyes over the gold and silver frame of the solar engine, noting the glowing cube.

"Yon'll ne'er doo!  I'll need to smite a wee rune on yon magicky contraption.  Wee'll have none such in Karak Andstick!"

"What?  It's rather valuable, and the Old Ones might still need it for the Great Plan...."  Rychek fussed.

"Doo Nae Fret.  Did ye nae see the pointy eared laird's dragon beastie?  I smite on a rune of magic binding wi' ma Rune Hammer o' Anti Magic heere, and on t'other side o' the peaks, Gathrin MacLevy o' Customs Anexcise (he's mae cousin) will smite it awa' wi' his Rune Hammer o' Anti Magic.  After ye pays the fee.  Ye'll hae yer magicky thingy working quicker than twae shakes o' a dwarfish whotsit.  I'll send a wee rune to mae cousin to warrn him ye'll be coming."

"Could you please repeat that, slowly?"

"Nae need, nae need!" the dwarf tapped the solar engine with his hammer and a glowing, runed band encircled it. The glow of the solar cube instantly faded, and Chotec's great treasure became an inert lump of metal and glass. The dwarf scampered down, raised the boom gate and waved them through.

"What is your name, that we may thank you" asked Rychek.

"Aye, it is Fergus MacTithe o' Border Control."

"May we call you Fergus for short?"

Fergus MacTithe o' Border Control suddenly glowered at Rychek. "Ye'll be wanting to avoid that naasty worrd while ye be our guest under yon peaks.  Ye've been warrned." He turned and stomped back into the gatehouse.

Bessie proceeded up the tunnel and passed a garishly painted sign.

"Welcome to Karak Andstick.  Let Cousin Balin's Gift Shop give you a kingly welcome!  And they call this a Mine!" the sign declared.

As they rounded the next bend Rychek gasped in horror. "This is no Mine!" he declared, "It is a Mall!"

Karak Andstick was like a diabolical machine which was designed to extract gold, either from the bosom of the mountains or from unwitting visitors.  The halls and galleries were of much greater scale than the scratchings of the Skaven Under Empire.  Strip Malls alternated with Strip Mines to exploit visitors and the earth itself.

Every way the lizards turned, brightly lit booths beckoned them to spend their coin. A cloud of sales dwarves immediately descended on them to try to sell useless products.

Rychek decided that they should take the shortest route through the dwarven realm. The only map he could acquire, at a price, was of limited use, but it did show that the markets and entertainments were mostly clustered on this side of the hold.  If they could escape this hotbed of exploitation they may make it to the far side of the mountains in relative peace.

Whenever they paused for Rychek to consult the map, even if only for an minute, more sales dwarves would appear.  They had marked Mahtis as the one with gold and a lack of business acumen.  It seemed that every time Rychek looked back at Mahtis in his place at the rear of the howdah, the kroxigor had a little less by way of golden decoration, and a little more by way of mass produced, runed dwarven trash.

Bob and Joe were discussed these goings on by quietly arguing about whether it was better to be robbed blind and die penniless in a skaven tunnel or to be robbed blind and die penniless in a dwarfish mansion.

Mahtis occasionally interrupted to show them his acquisitions.  "I've got a bargain with this Thirty Seven Piece Beard Grooming Kit with Rune of Smoothness, and the Illustrious Runed Sporks of Potato Flinging will empower my attacks with supernaturally improved accuracy of mashed potato flinging!"

Bob stared at him for a long moment.  "What's a spork?"

Joe asked,  "What's a potato?"

"You don't have a beard or ballistic skill!"  barked Rychek,  "come and sit up front with me and keep your hands in your pockets."

"What are pockets?"


Time passed slowly in the dwarven realm.  By contrast, distance seemed to scream by.  They passed an ale house with a sign declaring, "Last Bugman's XXXXX for thirty-seven dwarfish miles!"

As they passed the next bend, barely five minutes later, another tavern hove into view. "It's been thirty-seven dwarfish miles!  Quench your Thirst!" screamed the placard.

Either the obvious length of the journey, or the subliminal message concealed on the sign started Bob and Joe thinking about the long thirsty stretches they had travelled thus far, first under the Great Ocean and then later through the Arabyan deserts and Lands of the Dead.  They changed their discussion to one about the relative merits of dying of thirst in a skaven tunnel or a dwarfish mansion. 

Mahtis was called on to be devil's advocate and speak on behalf of dying of thirst in the desert.


"Dwarf Hold!"

"Dying of thirst in the desert is better!"

"No, no, no Mahtis!  We are arguing about where it is worse to die from thirst.  Can you see that you just came perilously close to AGREEING with somebody."  Joe gently corrected his friend.

"Rookie error!"  Bob observed, "I'm sure you'll get the hang of it before we get to the other side of these mountains.  If we ever do so, on account of us dying of thirst!"

"Shut up all of you!  If you're so thirsty go in there and get a drink."  Rychek pointed to an establishment with the icon of a foaming tankard hanging from a davit.  A smaller chit covered in runes hung below the larger sign.  He whispered to Bessie and brought her to a stop.

Bob and Joe pushed through the swinging doors and waited for their eyes to adjust to the dim lighting.  This was surely the scruffiest, smelliest and surliest collection of dwarves they had yet encountered.  As soon as they entered, the conversation in the room lulled.  It seemed that every beady pair of eyes was studying them over the top of a tankard.

As the pair threaded their way between the rough, beer stained tables, they became aware that some of the dwarves had risen from their chairs and began shadowing their steps towards the bar.  Bob and Joe sat on a vacant pair of stools and attracted the attention of the barkeep, who had his back turned.

"Two non-alcoholic guava daiquiris, please.  With little umbrellas and strawberries on the side of the glass."

The barkeep span around with a look of horror on his face.  "Och, the Ancestors!  Not agaen!" he yelped and started removing all breakable items from the bar top. 

A stumpy hand grabbed Bob's shoulder and spun him round.  Bob looked down into a furious bristly glare.  "Can ye nae read?"


"Yon sign oot front!  Can ye nae read?  Tis Ladies Night!"

"We're terribly sorry.....madam...."  Bob peered at her intently.  He could honestly not tell the difference between these specimens and the presumably male dwarves they had interacted with thus far,  "…we were short on time, and stepped in without reading......"

"Hark that lasses?  Yon Lazard is kellen me short!"  She turned her bearded face back towards Bob and Joe.  "We'll sort this oot now, or mae name is'nae Randa MacTavi o' Lence!"

As Rychek kept watch over the doors of the drinking establishment, Mahtis negotiated with yet another travelling sales dwarf.  Eventually he exchanged a solid gold arm torque for the promise of shipment of a set of cunningly wrought mystic cubes.

"Thank-you Merrick MacKinsky o' Aylasker" called Mahtis, as the dwarf shyster slipped into the shadows with the Lustrian gold.  "Are you sure you got my address right?  That's Los'tmabo'tl with two apostrophes....."

Rychek gasped in surprise as Joe sprinted out the door of the tavern.  Bob followed soon after, hurled out through a front window.  He picked himself up and leapt for the howdah.

"Go go go!  Dying of thirst is better!" he cried as a score of dwarfish maidens spilled out of the pub clutching broken bottles and chair legs.

Mahtis swept him up in an enormous (cold blooded) hug.  "You agreed with me, Bob!  Dying of thirst IS better!"

"Mmph, Mmmph!"  Bob gestured wildly at Rychek, who set Bessie moving again.

"I've a grudge 'gin ye, Lazard!  I'll nae forget!"  Randa MacTavi o' Lence and her cronies were pursuing as fast as they could, but even Bessie's slow plod outpaced them.  Dwarf legs are very....not long.  Soon the pursuers could only be heard, and finally the echoes of their curses and screeches faded into the distance.

After another vast distance and short time of travel, Rychek called out, “Stop, wait, wait. I need to go to the bathroom.”

Bessie grumbled to a halt beside a dwarf wearing a clean white coat and cap  The cap bore the icon of a three legged stool.  He was supervising two doors which had identical bearded images on them.

“Mahtis, give me some of the gold spine decorations.”  Rychek debarked and approached the dwarf who was reading the latest edition of "Washrooms Monthly".

“I need a wee.”

The dwarf carefully closed the centerfold.  “Ye need a wee what, laddie?”

“No, I need... to wee.”

“Aye,” said the dwarf slowly, “Ye need two wee…two wee what's, lad?  Spit it oot.”

“I need to do a wee wee!”

“Och, I see ye noo! Hoowever, there is a wee fee….”

“That’s a relief! I thought it might be expensive.”

“Nae…weell, it is wee bit expensive, especially if ye need to do two, see?”

“And what if I need to do a number two, too?”

“Ach! If ye pay the wee number two fee, ye can wee for free!”

“Four? I don’t need to do a number four….”

“Nae, nae, nae laddie. Not four. FOR free.”

“For three…to…?”

“One more time laddie.  If ye pay the wee two fee, ye can wee for free, see?”

“I…I think so.  What is the wee two fee?”

“Ye can two for three.”

“For free! That’s generous…”

"Nae, there’s naught in Karak Andstick that’s free.  Ye can do a two for three pieces of gold.”

Gold exchanged hands.

“I’ll do ye up a wee too free receipt for two at three.” The dwarf tore a square of paper off a roll.

“It’s not a very wee two three receipt four two at three,” said Rychek holding up the square of paper. “It’s quite large.”

The dwarf was getting frustrated. “Nae, nae, laddie. It’s a Laarge wee too free receipt for two at three! When ye pay the fee of three and ye do a two ye're entitled to do a wee too, for free!”

The dwarf shook his head in aggravation and Rychek entered the stall.

A short time later he called, “Excuse me, there’s no paper in here!”

The dwarf exploded, “Did’nae ye keep the larrge wee too free receipt for two at three? That's what it’s FOR!”

“Four? No… only gave me the ONE large wee two three receipt four two at three, see?" Rychek posted the document back under the door.

The dwarf was still banging his head against the wall long after Rychek had finished his business, washed his hands, and ridden contentedly out of sight.

It seemed that they had escaped into an unpopulated section of the mine when the sound began, softly at first.  There was a rhythmic pounding, and rattle like a huge bag of bones being shaken.  Most disturbing was the banshee like wailing.  The unearthly sounds were becoming louder.

The riders looked about in alarm.  The tunnel they were in was straight, with no junctions.  The only alternatives were to go back, or towards the bestial screeching.

Bessie decided on a third option.  Her eyes rolled in distress and she hunkered down, trying to pull her spiky head under her armoured back, like a tortoise.  Having failed in this, she lowered her head to the stone floor and drew her mighty front legs over her head.  No entreaties or goading would move her.

When it seemed that the vile cacophony could go no louder without shaking down the mountain, the source of the torment came into sight bearing flaming torches.

The Karak Andstick Combined Pipers and Drummers.

Under the command of their smartly turned out drum major, they wheezed to a merciful halt in front of the cringing monster.

"This'll nae do!  Turrn yeer'e wee beastie aroond.  Wee'll strike up a meery jig to lift yeer'e spirrits as ye get oot the way!"

He raised his baton and signalled the drummers to commence.  The pipers, who had only just quelled the multi-legged shrieking horrors they carried enthusiastically administered CPR, and the awful things came back to life.

It was too much for Bessie.  She gathered her sturdy legs underneath her and lowered her head.  With a bellow she was off, gathering momentum as she went.  She scattered the Karak Andstick Combined Pipes and Drums like ninepins.  Before anyone could react, she was gone, hurtling down the dark tunnel.

Chapter 14: The Escape  - due out soon

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