Sunday, 21 September 2014
The False Moon War: Chapter 27
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Chapter 27. The False Moon
Rodekhil Offaleater joined his companions halfway along the temple bridge. The Chaos moon was now practically at its zenith, hanging so low overhead that it almost filled the eye of the unnatural storm above the Great Maw.
Welhung had returned to comfort his wife. Hellun herself was now barely conscious, her brow glistened with sweat and her eyes were rolled back.
Four lizardmen stood in an arc in front of the Slann's floating throne. The fifth, Caneghem, knelt before his Lord and proffered the cube from the solar engine.
Taisteslaikch'ken lifted his alien hands forward and the cube rose from the skink priest's grasp. He raised his arms until the cube floated directly above his palanquin. The Slann Mage Priest spoke a command. It was not in the common tongue, the language of the lizardmen, nor even the secret language of the Slann. The command was given in the ancient tongue of the Old Ones.
The floating cube had not previously shown any seam or irregularity on its surface, but at the word its edges split with gradually widening lines of painful yellow light. The six planes retained their orientation as they drifted apart above the Slann's head. Within was revealed a hard bright orb, like a tiny star, which remained trapped within their bounds.
"Yield the tokens," Taisteslaikch'ken commanded.
Bob and Joe gaped at him in confusion. Rychek and Mahtis looked around for something to offer.
Only Skink Priest Caneghem understood. He lifted the Dark Magic Pendant of Khaeleth from around his neck. The Slann kept one spidery hand aloft, telekinetically holding the components of the cube in place. With his other hand he mimicked a grasping and twisting motion toward the pendant.
The pure black heart of the gem screeched like a blade being drawn down glass but its protest was in vain. It could not resist being torn free, leaving Caneghem holding an inert bauble with a clear white gem. With obvious effort, Taisteslaikch'ken reeled in the black spark, which twisted and fought until he had managed to force it into the space between the planes.
The spark of dark magic zinged between the walls of its open prison. Whenever it approached the tiny star Rodekhil felt a pressure build inside his skull.
Mahtis caught on. He raised the Rune Hammer o' Anti Magic in salute to his lord. Taisteslaikch'ken made a gesture, like two fingers delicately picking a ripe berry, and the golden dwarven rune on the face of the hammer peeled off. It floated two dimensionally in the heavy air. The slann drew it into the cube.
The pressure inside Rodekhil's head doubled. Within the confines of the open cube, starlight, darkness and runic power struggled to avoid each other. Where their influences overlapped, pressure built to the point where detonation seemed a distinct possibility.
The Bob's warp stone Sword of Abstinence was the next to yield its magic. The Slann drew the vile green warp power out of the crystal on the guard. Its evil oozed like a poison, and squeezed between Taisteslaikch'ken's telekinetic fingers, but it could not escape. Inside the cube, its tendrils flowed to explore its new world. As they approached each of the other forces they recoiled. It became a sullen blob, radiating hostility from one corner.
The pressure built to the extent that Rodekhil didn't just feel it in his head. The air became almost too heavy to breathe.
Rychek held up the sceptre of Gork with leaden arms. This time Taisteslaikch'ken did not reach out his hand. Instead he spoke aloud.
"Mighty Gork!" The sceptre's eyes flashed in response. "Mighty Gork, I cannot compel a god. However, if you yield this fragment of yourself, I will guarantee that there will be a crumping which will be recorded in the histories of all races!"
The image of Gork on the sceptre kept its arms stubbornly crossed.
"Oh dear. Perhaps your twin will get to do the crumping instead......."
With a roar of jealousy and annoyance, the essence of Gork burst out of his icon and, for a fleeting instant, Rodekhil could perceive the full, towering belligerence that was a greenskin god. The manifestation of Gork charged headlong at the dismantled cube, and, just as it seemed he would scatter its elements, he shrank and hurled himself inside.
Within the mystic cube's confines, the greenskin god of animosity amused himself by beating up the other four energies: Starlight, Dark, Dwarven and Warp.
"My lord, that is all we carry...." Bob spoke. "...but surely you need a sixth. A mystic cube. Six sides. The Law of Six. You know..." He hopped from foot to foot in consternation, as the slann turned his ancient gaze on him.
"Life." Taisteslaikch'ken croaked. "A life will provide the necessary sixth magic token." Bob gulped and pushed Joe off balance, forcing his spawn-brother to stumble forward.
The Slann croaked a bitter laugh. "Your generosity is noted, B'ob of Los'tmabo'tl, but Joe cannot fulfil this role. And you, B'ob, I have another need for.
"However, the cube does need a life. A pure life, having never set foot on this tainted earth. Did no one else carry a burden here?"
His eyes raked the party and finally rested on Hellun's heaving belly. There was a heavy pause.
Welhung started. "What? No! No! Not my unborn child!" He clutched his wife tightly with one arm and groped for his weapon with the other.
"Not your unborn child? You seem ungrateful for those you already have."
"They are mine and I love each one! I just wish they would stop appearing so, you know, often."
"Ah. Keep your formidable weapon down."
"There is no need to threaten me."
"Oh. For a moment I thought you were offering contraceptive advice."
The Slann rolled his golden eyes. "What would I know of such things?"
Taisteslaikch'ken returned his attention to the cube and it's floating contents. "There is but one alternative."
The Slann Mage Priest took an enormous breath, held it for a moment and then expelled it for an impossibly long time. His arms fell to his sides, his great head bowed, and his chest never rose again.
Something like a silver mist drifted from his parted lips and hovered above his head. Caneghem, with his mage sight could see that the threads of the geomagnetic web, which connected the slann to his kin, still maintained their ethereal connection to the mist.
Inside Bob's mind, words formed. "Bob. When it is complete, you must cast the cube into the Great Maw."
Bob wrinkled his brow, "Why do you need me to cast the cube?" he said out aloud.
"This work, which has been in the planning for millennia, has succeeded to this point with an uncommon measure of luck. It could do with a little more."
The silver mist entered the cube, and the pressure built to such levels that those that still stood were driven to their knees. The slightest movement was almost impossible, as if they were buried under tons of sand. The faces of the cubed closed together and the pressure was relieved with a sudden snap.
The Cube of the Old Ones tumbled down and clattered to Bob's feet.
Each plane glowed with a different power. Starlight glowed pure and bright opposite to the midnight of Dark, venomous green Warp fire cowered away from the duller green of Gork's simmering animosity. Gold Runic power glittered coldly opposite the soft silver glow of Life.
Bob lifted the cube. To the eye, it seemed that each surface was flat, but in the hand they felt as if they bulged as each force repelled five other incompatible essences. Bob carried the cube to the end of the bridge with Joe trailing a step behind.
Bob stroked the cube 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 conjunction is now!" The command pierced Bob's mind. In fright he dropped the cube and it tumbled into the Great Maw. He and Joe leaned over the edge and watched it dwindle away to nothingness.
"How will we know if anything is happening?" asked Joe.
Half the world away on Ulthuan, the Vortex of the Great Ritual slowly began to rotate again.
The vortex, which had previously drawn the winds of magic and the energy from the geomantic web and funnelled it into space, now began to draw energy from the stars of space and pump it into the geomantic web.
The geomantic web increased its energy collecting function one hundred fold and tightened like a noose around the daemonic forces which assailed Lustria. Each Daemon was dragged squealing from physical manifestation and back into its native form of magical energy. Their mass was converted to vast stores of power, supplemented by the fury of the global storm of magic. Both were gathered by the vast net. Within seconds the trap had been sprung, and the daemon host were banished from the world's surface.
The geomantic web fizzed with power, and the white hot tendrils could be easily seen by mundane eyes. When it seemed that no more energy could be contained in the web, it pulsed. The power contained within surged into the four meridians which circled the globe.
The four channels, charged with the energy of a hundred thousand storms and a billion elemental souls, poured into one small, highly unstable cube deep in the gullet of the Great Maw. As they delivered the power they squeezed against the earth's flanks.
The planetary equivalent of the Heimlich manoeuvre met the magical equivalent of two fingers down the throat.
The Maw heaved and churned and with one great spasm vomited the contents of its gullet, including the alien warp matter which had sat uneasily within it for millennia.
The fountain of material would have fallen back to earth within moments, but for power of the disintegrating cube and the rivers of geomantic energy which spiralled around the stream of ejecta and kept it on course.
Atop his temple at the precise, diametrically opposite point on the globe, the great Slann Mage Priest, Tecciztec, Lord of Tlaxtlan, played the geomantic streams like a musical instrument. Whenever the tower of undigested matter threatened to topple, he would shepherd it by balancing the power of the four strands.
With the guidance of the spirals of energy, the warp asteroid was hurled directly at its target. The heart of the chaos moon, which hovered so close, and directly overhead.
The initial impact shattered Morrslieb's surface and blasted a crater hundreds of leagues across. Warp stone meteorites were hurled into the void between the spheres and much material rained back to the earth' s surface.
The torrent of ejecta and geomantic power continued to pour into the moon, gradually pushing it away. It began to slowly but visibly shrink, transfixed by the column. Finally, as the stream petered away to nothing, Morrslieb loomed no larger than the earth's natural moon.
The Great Maw and the Geomantic Web were spent.
On Ulthuan, the Vortex of the Great Ritual stopped its counter-rotation, and resumed normal service.
The wisest and most ancient of the High Elven mages furiously scratched his sleek head. "That's weally stwange. I thought the Witual was Bwoken, but now its alwight! Has anybody seen my hairbwush?"
Atop his temple in Tlaxtlan, Slann Priest Tecciztec's arms, too, fell to his sides. He withdrew within himself and was not heard to speak by earthly ears for years to come.
When the Great Maw began its convulsion, there was a blast of such force that it knocked all of the group on the ramp off their feet. After the acrid wind had abated, Bob and Joe scampered back to the others.
"We should, erm, run for our lives, maybe?" Joe suggested.
Hellun was not fit to run anywhere and it was too late anyway.
The initial blast had lifted the warp stone asteroid clear of the maw, and the swiftly accelerating stream of matter and energy from the geomantic channels created a Venturi effect. The resulting vacuum drew in the air for miles around. The gale was not strong enough to dislodge the ogres, but the smaller lizardmen were helpless to withstand it.
Rychek clawed at the deck as he skittered along. His spawn kin, Mahtis grabbed him and hugged him to his chest.
"Must I always be looking after you?" the Kroxigor rumbled.
Caneghem would have been sucked into the void if not for the iron grasp of his friend, Rodekhil Offaleater.
Joe tumbled dangerously close to the brink before he was able to anchor himself by thrusting his spear tip into a crack in the deck. Bob slid past, clutching his hand weapon. Joe proffered a claw and clung to the bending spear haft with his tail and other hand.
Scant feet from the brink, Bob managed to clasp Joe's wrist. The spear creaked and bent further, but remained intact.
A sudden gust lifted Bob's eggshell off his head, and he had only a split second to decide what was more important. Hand weapon or shell. He clamped the shell firmly onto his head and watched the Sword of Abstinence spiral into the void.
Once it had vanished, he turned to thank Joe for the rescue, only to find his spawn-brother looking unnecessarily smug.
"Oh, shut up!" Bob snapped.
The Slann's Palanquin, with the empty husk of its owner, was tossed by the storm until it was very nearly spent. As the tornado eased to a gale and then a breeze, the throne steadied and sailed serenely away from the bridge and far out over the Great Maw.