Tuesday, 5 August 2014
The False Moon War: Chapter 20
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Chapter 20. The Great Maw
In the predawn light, Caneghem's kitchen staff passed supplies up to the lizardmen on Bessie's howdah. Securing the slann's palanquin to the bastiladon's back was a job he chose to do himself. Having his lord come untied only to float into a volcano was an inconvenience he could do without.
The group that left Welhung's estate that morning was no huge war party. Rodekhil Offaleater was perched on the massive shoulders of a bull rhinox. The covered wagon the monster hauled contained Hellun and her anxiously doting husband. Close behind the rhinox was the bastiladon, Bessie. The additional load of kitchen utensils, barrels and sacks of supplies and the negligible weight of the slann's palanquin did not seem to overburden her.
A score of ogre ironguts, under the command of the faithful Argsplat provided a small but potent escort. No brigand or beast of the mountains would threaten this caravan or its precious cargo.
During her brief rest in the ogre lands, Bessie had pastured with the local warbeasts and monsters. She quickly demonstrated the effectiveness of a rocklike hide and a clublike tail in asserting dominance.
One particularly foolish thundertusk had found its numbing chill to be no match for the heat of the solar engine. The poor creature developed a fear of bright lights and loud noises which persisted until the end of its days. Most of the other beasts also learned to keep their distance.
The one exception was the bull rhinox which now accompanied her. Rudolph had taken to following her around and sniffing at her armoured backside. The several times that her tail connected with his head did little to deter him. Eventually, she got used to his cross eyed affection, and the pair would often be seen shoulder to shoulder as they stripped the last of the autumn grass from the meadow.
Once again, the party avoided Greasus Goldtooth's Kingdom. They followed the poetically named Pass to the East to the east before watchfully skirting the southern edge of the Chaos Wastes. After this they climbed back into the mountains to the Ancient Giant Lands.
What had once been a fertile plateau ringed by mighty peaks was now a withered desolation. Here and there, fragments of massive stonework stood like tombstones commemorating the long extinct Sky Titans who had raised them.
The travellers did not linger in the haunted ruins of the Vale of the Titans. When they struck the Silk Road to Grand Cathay, they followed it until they neared their destination. Where the main highway made a wide detour to the north of the Great Maw, Rodekhil guided the group on a lesser way which led directly east.
Eventually, the party crossed the final ridge. A narrow plain at the foot of the mountains fell abruptly away. The cliff swept in an almost imperceptible curve to the north and south, where it was lost in the haze of distance. The opposite side of the gulf could be seen.
At irregular intervals ivory coloured teeth thrust upwards from margin of the unfathomable depths. The spires rose to acute points which rivalled the surrounding peaks in height.
Even from their vantage, many leagues away, the party could hear a continuous groaning, grinding sound from the Great Maw beneath them.
The scale of the vista was hard to judge until Rodekhil pointed out a huge building which looked like a toy beside the nearest tooth. "The Temple of the Great Maw. See the golden arches? They represent greed and rapacity."
As the beasts and their escort picked their way down through the rubble strewn slope, details of the structure became clearer. A broad ramp or concourse sloped upwards toward an open gate which was, unsurprisingly, shaped like a toothy mouth. The gate led into a blocky stone chamber. This edifice also served as the anchor for braided steel cables which ran over the top of the two golden arches. The arches swept elegantly skywards from the very brink of the Maw. The arched pylons and cables suspended a cantilevered deck which looked like the first half of a mighty bridge. The second half was absent half. The deck ended hundreds of feet beyond the lip of the maw, poised above the abyss.
It was late in the afternoon when Welhung helped his wife down from the wagon. He directed Rodekhil to drag along the slann's palanquin as he assisted Hellun to stagger through the toothed gate. Caneghem followed inconspicuously, leaving the beasts, lizards and ogres to make camp on the concourse.
Inside the chamber was a huge disk of tarnished bronze suspended by mighty chains. The building must have been constructed around the disk, for it was too large to fit through the gate. On a dais beneath it there was what appeared to be an enormous weapon. It's sturdy wooden shaft was crowned with a leather wrapped sphere. Caneghem paused to examine it. He imagined that the weapon could be used to strike the disk.
"The Dinner Gong," Rodekhil explained as he manoeuvred Taisteslaikch'ken's spiky palanquin past.
The pair were startled by an ear splitting howl and they saw that Hellun had slumped to the deck after only getting halfway to the brink. Welhung was cradling her in his arms. She howled again with her eyes screwed shut with agony.
"What is it? What is happening?" The ogre tyrant asked helplessly as the ogre, skink and slann approached near
"She labours." Caneghem declared in a quiet voice.
" 'Ow did this happen?"
Rodekhil gently put his hand on his general's shoulder. "Don't you remember? It's jus' like the bees and the flowers....."
"No! Not that! I mean, there has been no sacrifice. The babe can't come out. If she labours now...."
Caneghem shook his head and lowered his eyes, "I'm sorry."
"No no no no no! Rodekhil! Throw that slimy toad into the Maw! Perform the sacrifice! Do it now!"
Welhung's lieutenant nodded and went to comply. He seized the horns of the palanquin with both hands and dragged it to the end of the deck. Like a hammer thrower of old Olympus, he spun around three times and flung the slann out into the void with a roar.
As the palanquin gently drifted to a stop above the abyss, Rodekhil scratched his head. "I might not 'ave really thought that through."
to Chapter 21: The Calm Before the Storm