To Chapter 23 - Welcome to Lustria
Sunday, 10 August 2014
The False Moon War: Chapter 22
to Title and Contents
Chapter 22. The Battle for the Ramp
When the wards at the polar gates fell, the first wave of Chaotic beings to manifest themselves slithered, galloped, hopped or flew from the polar gates like a tsunami of dreadful intent. Given time they would roll like a wave over the entire world.
After them came Greater Daemons and Princes of Chaos who stopped and drew breath. They enjoyed the tangy scent of mortal life in the air and did not want their harvest of this world to be cut short.
They had felt and recognized the cold wills and magical strength that had sustained the wards in the months since the Great Vortex had started to gutter. They had also felt the enormous volume of raw energy that dripped like honey from the Geomantic Web. They reasoned that the Slann Mage Priests of Lustria held the only power that was capable of banishing the hordes again.
The Slann were their true enemy, the delicious power their true prize.
When the storm broke, those with the power to do so gathered minions to their side and winked out of material form and into the form of chaotic energy. They rode lightning from cloud to cloud, crossing vast distances in minutes. Like moths drawn to a flame, they each materialized with their forces within striking distance of one of the hated slann.
The False Moon War had begun.
The tales of heroism in the jungles and temple cities of Lustria are not recorded here, but suffice it to say that the Daemons did not find the lizardmen unprepared. Although the Slann mage priests remained entranced and linked to the Geomantic Web, the feast of magical energy surging through the clouds was easily channelled and deployed to devastating effect by the skink priests. Even the wettest acolyte discovered the full potential of his powers.
Temples were ransacked of their scrolls of binding, and every kind of monster was summoned from the wild to bolster the legions of Lustria. Once again, the expatriate vampire lord, Count Renliss was compelled to throw his unholy army into the fray, no matter that it was against his will.
On the diametrically opposite side of the globe to Tlaxtlan, one lone slann might hope to remain concealed, but the threads of geomantic web which connected him to his brothers encircled the earth like four meridians.
"X" literally marked the spot where he could be found.
Between the light of the Chaos Moon and the near continuous lightning, Caneghem could make out pockets of movement among the boulders below the concourse. Shrill voices whooped with vile glee.
Caneghem was perched beside the solar engine on Bessie's back, anchoring the left side of the battle line. On the far right, Rodekhil sat astride Rudolph, with four stout ogres ensconced in the spiky battle wagon behind them. The other sixteen ogres formed a cordon between the monsters, with Argsplat at their head.
The skink priest didn't bother to look for Rychek and Caneghem. They would be virtually invisible in their swamp. He imagined that any daemons who came that way would get a very Lustrian welcome.
Likewise, Caneghem could not see Bob and Joe in their maze of ruins, although he occasionally heard their arguing voices during brief lulls in the thunder. He shook his head. If they used half the animosity they showed towards each other on their enemies, the right flank would be secure.
Argsplat had his customary meat axe in his left hand. He pointed with his hook. "They're gathering. Charge them yet?"
Caneghem saw a collection of slimy green gibbering daemons clamber over each other to ascend the broad ramp. "They're nurglings. Not heavy enough to pose a threat from a charge, but they have a poisonous bite. They can attack faster than your ogres can swing their weapons. Get Rodekhil to move halfway down the ramp and spread your troops from here to there at an angle. Maximize your impact when you charge."
The carpet of rotten creatures moved like a school of fish. Those on the right shied away from Rodekhil and his rhinox and squeezed the other flank forward along the edge of the concourse. By the time they had flowed halfway up the ramp, their daemon formation had changed from a broadly advancing wave to a narrow wedge. Rodekhil had been slowly heading further down the ramp, pulling the ogre line with him until they faced more across, than down the slope. The trap was ready to be sprung.
The ogres charged into the nurgling flank. The weight of their charge alone was enough to scatter practically the whole swarm off the side of the causeway. They barely had use for their weapons, as they kicked and stomped the stragglers, for only a few minor bites and scratches in return.
"Return to position!" The ironguts jogged back to the top of the ramp, but Rodekhil could not reverse or pivot.
As he turned his battle wagon through a broad arc its flank became exposed to the foot of the ramp. A half dozen lithe female daemons with scorpion like claws bounded out of the haze with shrill cries. The agile Daemonettes of Slaanesh were able to strike with their claws before the ogres were even able to swing their weapons back. The daemons were repelled, but not before they had caused deep wounds to the ogre crew and Rudolph's steaming flank. The rhinox shied nervously but Rodekhil was able to pull his head around by main force and goad him back up the ramp.
"Are you okay?" asked Caneghem as Rodekhil drew level with Bessie.
He glanced at his passengers, two of whom had gouts of blood pouring from ugly wounds. Their armour had provided almost no protection from the shear like claws. "Nothing to worry about. Except Rudolf is now faced the wrong way. 'E'll 'ave to come out of the 'arness so we can turn the wagon around."
"You can't afford to get caught like that again. Chock the wheels of the wagon and leave it here. Bessie can anchor the next charge while you turn Rudolph. An check your troops. Any ogres wounded by the nurglings will have been poisoned."
Rodekhil surveyed his foot troops. A number sported scratches and bite marks. None looked unwell. "Been there, done that. Nothing's got poison like Cathayan style Lustrian snake stir-fry."
"Nurgle and Slaanesh already." Caneghem thought to himself. "Would followers of the other two Chaos Gods show themselves as well?"
He knew that the heavier minions of Nurgle were tough, but they were even slower than ogres. Not a great threat. The speed and agility of the other breeds, particularly Slaanesh would be a problem. He would need to neutralize the daemonettes before they cut the ogres to ribbons.
Nurglings gathered again. The defenders set their trap, this time with Bessie approaching the base of the ramp. The swarm behaved predictably and strung itself out. Once again the ogres smashed the nurglings off the edge and fell back. Caneghem turned Bessie across the ramp.
He lazily dismounted and stepped several paces down from his mount. He was aware of scores of leering eyes measuring his intent. When he was absolutely sure that he had the full attention of his foes, the unkillable skinklord slowly and deliberately pulled the Pendant of Khaeleth over his head and carefully placed it on the ground beside him.
He was a tempting target. A horde of daemonettes could restrain their thirst for blood no longer. They surged towards him.
For months, his proximity to Taistelaikch'ken's geomantic node and the dark magic amulet had blocked him from channelling the magical Wind of Azyr. Released from these constraints, and with a storm of magic in progress, it took only the slightest effort of will to summon chain lightning from the roiling clouds. The daemons were incinerated as they charged.
It was, however, beyond Caneghem to put the lightning back where it belonged. Bolts of purple fire started dancing unpredictably around him. He had lost control of the spell.
Just as a calamitous detonation seemed inevitable, the skink priest seized the dark magic pendant from the ground and held it skywards. He was briefly wreathed in lightning and then by a fountain of black sparks.
Power drain. Through a combination of luck and skill, he managed to dissipate most of the spell's excess energy, leaving him with a splitting headache and pervading amnesia.
When he returned to his senses, he still had the pendant clutched in his hand. He was cradled in Rodekhil's arms.
"Impressive," observed the ogre. "Can you do that again if we need you to?"
"Do what again?"
Rodekhil described what had happened before Caneghem's rescue. "Bessie stood over you swinging 'er tail as three monstrous beasts charged in. They were the fastest things on legs I've ever seen. They looked like monster aardvarks. What do you say, Argsplat?"
Argsplat was sucking the flesh out of a large blue claw which he had cracked open with his hook. "They looked like aadvarks. They taste like shellfish." He wandered off in search of a finger bowl with lemon water in it.
"Fiends of Slaanesh? How did you defeat them?"
"They were fully occupied with Bessie's tail. Rudolph..." he patted the rhinox's neck, "got away from me as soon as I got 'im out of the traces. 'E skewered them on his 'orns as 'e hit their flank. Me and Argsplat had to run after him and collect you. Bessie wasn't leaving without you, and Rudolph wasn't leaving without Bessie. If those two become any closer, it could get very... educational.
"The daemonettes you didn't zap moved off to the north with something bigger. Couldn't make out what it was. And the nurgle things are growing," he nodded down the ramp.
Instead of nurglings, there gathered a shambling mass of Plague Bearers clutching filthy weapons.
"Their lines are too deep for you to break them on a charge. Let them advance. I will give them Chotec's greeting." Caneghem carefully aligned the lens of the solar engine to focus at an angle across the ramp. "Hold still, Bessie."
When the rotten smelling mob were almost within charge range Caneghem placed his hand in the imprint on the back of the engine. The hand print was oversized, and had too many fingers, but the result was satisfactory nonetheless.
The cube at the heart of the contraption flared and clear yellow light streaked out. For the first time in their miserable existence, the ranks of Plague Bearers were cleansed of corruption. Soon afterwards they were cleansed of flesh as well. The formation was broken, and the ogres mopped up.
The solar engine flickered and died. "That's it. We don't have any more tricks left."
"Just muscle and iron."
"When you say it like that, brother Rodekhil, you give me hope."
To Chapter 23 - Welcome to Lustria
To Chapter 23 - Welcome to Lustria