The theme for our 17th seasonal short story contest provided by @thedarkfourth"Glyph Forty-Three on Plaque Twelve of the Third Chamber of the Sacred Archives of Oyxl" or "Interpretations of Prophecy." Please read all seven stories before voting. You may vote for up to two pieces. Spoiler: Story One: The Unmoving Smile The Unmoving Smile High Priest Gr’ttl was dead. If he felt any concern about such a fact, his stiff corpse did not show it one bit. Indeed, the Skink High Priest bore what could have been called a smile or a grimace on his fanged maw. His attendants had left the elderly Skink meditating over some great problem beyond their scope of intellect to only find he had slipped from his mortal coil. It had taken long enough for one of the attendants to check and verify Gr’ttl had passed. Lim was the first of the attendants to speak up. “I don’t understand. What was he smiling about?” The other Skink attendants remained quiet and Skri, the smallest of the group, scampered back to the body of Gr’ttl to check if the High Priest was still actually dead via the revered staff of wakening. Itl, the oldest of the attendants cast his one good eye across the group, his other a milky orb lost to a thornsnake many years ago. “Our master was studying, I believe, a great prophecy that could have meant the survival of our great city.” “It was glyph forty-three on plaque twelve of the third chamber of the sacred archives of Oyxl, wasn’t it?” Lim commented as Skri continued to prod Gr’ttl’s corpse. Itl put a claw over his face in exasperation. “No, Master Gr’ttl only said that so we’d leave him alone so he could sneak out into the city. I thought even you would have realised that by now.” Lim looked down at the floor and said nothing. “I’ve found it!” Zani called out, “this is the plaque Master Gr’ttl had been studying.” He held up a simple-looking plaque as the other three attendants quickly gathered around to look at it. “I don’t get it,” Skri muttered. Itl sighed and indicated a claw across the symbols. “When the eye of doom eats the sun and devours the trees the unmoving one shall find victory lest all is lost.” “Unmoving one...” Zani whispered and glanced back to Gr’ttl’s corpse. “But what does the eye of doom mean?” Lim muttered. One of Skri’s talons found itself up one of his nostrils as he addressed the other three. “We must gather an army and meet this threat, the prophecy demands it!” The other three attendants looked at the small Skink with mute surprise, as if this was the first semi-intelligent thing the Skink had ever uttered. Given that Skri’s role had been to scrape any mould from the chamber’s walls, any decent cognitive thought from him was something in itself. Itl managed to compose himself first and tucked his claws behind his back as he paced the chamber in contemplation. “We do not know if Master Gr’ttl is even this unmoving one, for all we could know the prophecy might come to pass in the far future.” He took a deep breath and then let out a long sigh. “But if we do not do something we may cause the prophecy to fail and doom everyone. The problem is that none of the other priests or leaders would believe us. We are but humble attendants.” Zani held up a claw, “Maybe we should not tell them Master Gr’ttl is dead? That he wishes to lead an expedition into the surrounding jungles after divining some portentous event. And we just make it seem that he is alive throughout.” Lim frowned deeply, or at least as much as a Skink could. “That is blasphemy and the highest disrespect to Master Gr’ttl!” he snarled. The four Skinks were quiet for a long moment. “And yet...” Itl ventured, “what if we are meant to do this?” ----------------------------------------- Lssk Doomeye, High Warlock of Clan Skryre ground his fangs in a mixture of fear and fury. His army was already in disarray and his careful plans that had taken months, no years, to lay had gone up in smoke. His forces had emerged from the tunnels his great Warp Drills had carved through the soil of foul Lustria, uprooting many trees. No sooner had he activated his warpcloud generator and covered the skies with black clouds roiling with green tinged energy then a force of Lizardmen had attacked his glorious army. It was inconceivable! The nearest lizard burrows were weeks travel judging by the maps the Council of Thirteen had procured for him. There was no way there should have been any of such a scale anywhere close to the execution of his masterplan. And yet, he considered as he watched a group of Poison Wind Globadiers shriek as they were consumed by the fire of a group of Salamanders, perhaps someone had told the lizard-things his plan? He barely noticed a group of Clanrats break and flee as a block of Saurus carved through their ranks. My enemies at Skavenblight doubtless had a paw in this! He thought angrily, those maps were purposely wrong and those Lizard-things tipped off! They couldn’t handle the genius of the great Doomeye! Scent-look how they rally around that Lizard-thing priest! How those four slave-things whisper and shout that priest-thing’s orders! I, the great Doomeye can still win-win this! The High Warlock raised a specially crafted rifle, the bullets within saturated in the most virulent poisons known to Skavenkind, and fired it at the palanquin riding priest. The seated corpse of Gr’ttl continued to smile as the bullet flew through his robes and body and did not fall. Doomeye’s brow furrowed and he continued to ignore his army disintegrating around him as he fired shot after shot into the smiling priest. The priest on the palanquin remained seated. A shadow fell over the Skaven and he looked up to see the towering form of a Kroxigor. “Inconceivable!” he managed before everything went dark. -------------------------------------- “That was lucky,” Lim commented as the four watched a group of Saurus dismantle the device that had blocked out the sun. “No luck about it,” Itl replied, casting his one good eye across the battlefield. “If they had more time to entrench themselves, more time to prepare, more time for that strange sun eating device to work, Old Ones know what might have happened.” “Poor Master Gr’ttl...” Skri spoke sadly, “that rat with the funny eye kept shooting him.” “I’m not sure Master Gr’ttl cares,” chuckled Zani, “he seems happy enough despite a few holes we should cover up.” “You know,” Itl mused, “maybe that’s why Master Gr’ttl was smiling.” The sun broke through the dying clouds and bathed the Lustrians with its warmth. Upon his palanquin, unmoved by battle and death, High Priest Gr’ttl’s smile seemed all the wider. Spoiler: Story Two: "Stricken with Prophecy" Stricken with Prophecy Clang. The sound of metal hitting stone resonated throughout the dim tunnel, reverberating off of the cylinder's walls and echoing down into the pit below. The atoms in the block of gold buzzed with the kinetic energy, causing disturbances in the air around the block at a collection of frequencies unique to the shape, size, and density of the metal. These disturbances combined and settled into waveforms that hurtled through the dry air at the speed of sound. The waves moved down into the darkness, impervious to their purpose and ignorant of both source and destination. Eventually the constraints put upon them by the environment lessened as the tunnel opened up. The sound waves scattered throughout the opening until they eventually washed across a thin organic membrane, causing a stirring in the scaled pile of flesh it adorned. An eye snapped open, the nictitating membrane languidly revisited the colorful eyeball, wicking away the sleep. The air shimmered with heat as the lizard's nostrils flared, its tongue tasting the air. A second wave of disturbance undulated across the creature's sail, prompting its other eye to disgruntledly come to attention. The creature uncoiled its body, muscles and sinew contracting and expanding as 800 pounds of reptile extricated itself from the sandy bed. The heat in the pit increased as waves of convection emanated from the lizard’s body. The creature’s head rose slowly to face whatever may have interrupted its rest. <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> Muz entered the priest’s chamber, bulging arms straining against the weight of the teetering stack of plaques. While a single kroxigor would never be given the responsibility of transporting a single sacred plaque unsupervised, much less a dozen, these were merely copies. Muz didn’t know any of this of course, so for Muz this job was very important. After the priest’s cutting words last time, Muz knew there was no room for error. “Ah excellent” the priest bobbed his head in greeting “go ahead and lay the plaques spread out on the altar, carefully!” Muz paused, Muz would make sure to be slow, careful. Taking this as failure to understand, the skink slowly repeated the instructions “Plaaaques, aaaaltar, slooow” gesturing with exaggerated arm motions and excessive pointing. By now Muz had carefully begun placing the plaques on the altar. “Good job, good Muz” the priest encouraged, before muttering to himself “Ok, time to begin today’s topic of study, the relationship between glyph seventeen from plaque three and glyph six from plaque one, and their implication on plaques one through twelve from chamber three.” His crest began to flutter with excitement, “Muz, please hold up plaque three over there, yes that one and also… wait where is plaque one?” Muz was confused by the skink’s sudden agitation, usually at this point there would be a lot of pointing and excited noises on behalf of the priest, but instead the room had settled into a stony silence. The priest’s eyes narrowed “Did you lose plaque one?” Muz had been so careful, “Muz… no lose any plaque” Muz ventured warily. “You puddle brained lummox!” began the skink’s tirade as the realization struck Muz like a comet upon anathema. “I mean mahrlect you are stupid!” the priest’s diatribe continued unabated. The deep pits. He had been walking past them when a glow from one of the pits below caught his eye. That noise, I must have dropped one. “You had one job, something any idiot can do, and you somehow found a way to muck it up.” The heat began to well up inside Muz. How could Muz’s spawn brother say such hurtful things. “How you fit in the Old One’s plan is beyond me.” Muz was not stupid. Muz was strong. Muz was kroxigor! The shame and fear continued to swell, combine, and evolve into a cocktail of anger, sadness, and insecurity. “You should never have been spa-” “GRRAAAAWWWR!” It happened in an instant. One moment Muz was meekly accepting his abuse, and the next Muz stood over the broken body of the priest. The heavy plaque still in the kroxigor’s claw. Blood dripped between the grooves of several glyphs at the top of the plate. Twelve, it read in High Saurian. Some grey matter from the priest’s brain slowly slid off the plaque to reveal the forty-third glyph. Brothers. “No, no no no” Muz could not believe his eyes. He had killed a fellow servant of the Old Ones, a priest, a brother. And he had used what he thought to be a sacred plaque to do so. This was an unforgivable mistake, Muz knew this immediately. There would be no way to make this right. The shame returned with a new level of viciousness, blocking out any other thought. Muz was rarely sure of anything. Muz knows what Muz has to do. <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> ---- <><> Thump. The sound of flesh hitting stone resonated throughout the dim tunnel, reverberating off of the cylinder's walls and echoing down into the pit below. The atoms in this body didn’t bounce as effectively as a metallic solid, but disturbances were still created in the air. These disturbances combined and settled into waveforms that hurtled through the dry air at the speed of sound. The waves moved down into the darkness, impervious to their purpose and ignorant of both source and destination. Eventually the constraints put upon them by the environment faded and the tunnel opened up. The sound waves scattered throughout the opening until they eventually landed upon a thin organic membrane, but there was no need for the salamander to wake up this time, it was ready, and it was hungry. Muz finally tumbled out of the feeding chute, bruised and broken from the fall, but alive. And so it was that Muz let out one final cry of pain and sadness before the inferno burst forth and consumed the kroxigor. Spoiler: Story Three: "From Age to Age" From Age to Age “Explain again,” said Lord Dyshidrotix as he ponderously lifted his head and rubbed his aching brow. “Explain as if you have an audience that has limited time, patience and interest in this… mythematics you espouse.” Pompholyx gulped, eager not to blow this coveted opportunity. He had been petitioning the Great Temple of Oyxl’s functionaries for months to get access to the Slann Lord. And the skink had also accepted that the mid-level spiritual hierarchy were, in short, imbeciles. On a good day they might be classified as morons. By a sympathetic assessor. “Plaque Twelve was named the ‘Prime Plaque’ by our Revered Lord Dermatsis of the First Generation, may his Essence Ever Flow in the Waters of Our Spawning.” Pompholyx paused to allow comprehension to seep into the bare pate in front of him. Without effect. After a respectful interval, he continued. “Twelve is divisible by itself, one, three, four AND six. Therefore it is not, in itself, to be considered prime.” Another, more awkward pause followed the first. “And you, Revered One, would surely know that the twelfth prime number is thirty-seven.” Still nothing. The Lord of the City was swiftly relegating himself to ‘cretin’ status. Pompholyx continued in hope, but not optimism. “And yet, Plaque Twelve resides within the Third Chamber of the Sacred Archives of Oyxl, and the third prime, taking thirty–seven as the first, is forty-three…” Crickets could have alighted upon Dyshidrotix’s moist brow and done an impromptu performance of their latest folk hits before dragging him into the abyss by force majeur with far less commotion than evinced by the priest’s drooping eyelids. “We are at war,” the ancient slann intoned, all the while wondering why he needed to elaborate this point to a borderline-normal skink. “We are at war with the Orcs. And Daemons. Of Chaos, no less. And warmbloods short, long and intermediate. Upon occasion, and without provocation, the Dead challenge our dominion. And diseased rodents stream from every unblocked orifice. You could repair to the barracks and familiarise yourself with something sharp and coated with jungle poisons, or you could make a compelling point in the moments before these fine temple guardians seize you by the forelimbs and cast you into the pits, therewithin to languish until such time as Schlerotome, High Priest of Sotek, chooses your fate between immediate and fully committed supplication to the Twin-Tailed Serpent, or fodder for His limbless, but otherwise ravenous servants.” Pompholyx wisely denied himself the luxury of another gulp. Instead he blurted thus: “Bymythematicalprinciples,andacccordingtothedeviousnumericalcodelefttousbyOurLordDermatsis,MayHisDeedsBeChiselledIntoTheWallsOfOurTemplesWithoutAlterationforEternity,Ihavedeterminedthatglyphforty-threeonplaquetwelveofthethirdchamberofthe SacredArchivesofOyxl,andnoneother,representsthemanifestwilloftheOldOnesandtheirpreciseinstructiontotheunwaveringFirst,thosewhoareboundbydutyanddestinytoexpediteTheirGreatPlanuponthisworldand,indeed,theinfiniterealmsoftheCosmosbothhcurrentandintothedepthsofthefuture.” At this point, Pompholyx found reason to pause and inhale. Slann Lord Dyshidrotix interjected. “I am less concerned by the multiverse, and more bothered with sewers clogged with rodents and arable land which sprouts with Chaos Spawn and goblins. Make your point. Nowish.” The ancient mage-priest cocked a ponderous eyelid towards his attendant ‘heavies.’ The pair of Temple Guards on duty stirred. They were only too happy to unlimber, or indeed, limber their halberds. It had been so long between engagements that they couldn’t remember which was due next. “Yes...well…” Pompholyx was less naïve to the harsh ways of the world than he was learned in the way of mythematics. Or more: whichever was more conducive to a long career in academia and away from the pointy end of the sacrificer/sacrificee transaction. He held up the plaque in question (that is to say the twelfth plaque of the third chamber of Oyxl’s sacred archives) and indicated the forty-third glyph. “This one here.” “Hmm?” came the impatient reply. “Doesn’t it resemble a big, red button to you, Lord Dyshidrotix, Infallible Appendage of the Old One’s Ineffable Will?” “What are you suggesting, skink?” “Withoutdisrespecttoyourinfalliblewisdom,” Pompholyx squeaked with due consideration of the proximity of the large, well-armed and dour guardians who loomed over him, “areyounotinclinedtopressthebigredbutton?” Lord Dyshidrotix shrugged and asked, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” The he pressed the red button with his spatulate index finger. Soon thereafter the entire world exploded and everything was ruined. Through the extraordinary power of his mind, Slann Lord Dyshidrotix survived and embarked into the void that was the Age to Come with but one bitter thought in his mind: “I won’t forget you, Pompholyx!!!!” But from then onwards, from the blackness between despair and resignation, the Slann Starmaster was haunted by a hollow voice. “Cool. I was kind of counting on that, boss,” it whispered. “See you in the front lines, boss…” Spoiler: Story Four: "The Zombies of Itza" The Zombies of Itza "There," said Chief Hanl, pointing a claw. "We'll go there." The lieutenants in the deep jungle field HQ peered closer at the parchment, which showed a crude map of the region. "The Sky Roads," murmured someone. "That's perfect. If we follow them east, we can reach the Fire Bogs before the invaders. Fire is the undead's weakness. It's the only place we can stop Count Madula's hordes before they reach the jungle." The other commanders nodded. "Then we're agreed," barked Hanl, his golden chain of office jingling around his neck. "We press forward and defeat the vampire without delay, and there is no need to send to Itza for aid." His smile vanished at the sound of coughing. It was the priest. Ancient, flaking feathers, drier than a Tomb King's skin, rustled as His Reverence, Priest Loxir stepped out of the shadows. The skink himself was not as old as his fading headdress - indeed his eyes gleamed with an alarming zeal as he leaned forward. "You plan to take the Sky Roads," said Loxir, simply. "That's right, we're all agreed," replied Hanl, already defensive. "Perhaps you are unaware," continued the enigmatic priest, "the Sky Roads are a sacred legacy of the Old Ones. As such they are subject to the edicts of Oyxl, which govern their use." "Is that so?" muttered Hanl. "Indeed. It is not just any army that may travel those roads. We must consult the records to find the proper permissions." "Must we," hissed Hanl. "And how long will that take?" "You are fortunate," said Loxir, a smile finally cracking across his ever-so-serious expression. "The Oyxl plaques are among those I requisitioned for this tour of the southern jungles. My scribes and I will study them at once. I am confident that the tribunal can be held this very evening." "This evening!? We're in a race against time! Our enemy does not sleep! We can't afford to lose another half-day!" Flared nostrils met narrowed eyelids. Golden chain met feathered headpiece. "Then I suggest you tell you troops to be ready for when the tribunal is complete." *** "Praise be to Tlazcotl!" cried Loxir, raising his arms to the assembled dignitaries, who shifted on their feet. Lawyer stuff makes soldiers anxious. "May he guide our thoughts as we harken to the sacred wisdom of the Old Ones. Under his auspices, I call this tribunal to order. The question before us is use of the Sky Roads by the forces commanded by Chief Hanl, for the glory of Lustria and the Great Plan. We will now hear from the lead scholar on this case, may Tlazcotl bless his words." He looked around the jungle clearing. A worried junior priest hurried up alongside him on the little platform. "Thank you, your reverence. I have studied the relevant plaques and I believe their meaning is plain. Since our cause is the defence of Lustria and our enemy is the undead, and since Morrslieb has not been seen for more than six weeks, our use of the Sky Roads is clearly sanctioned. The plaques are not ambiguous on this matter." "Good," said Hanl, unfolding his arms, "enough of this business. I confess I thought the lawyering would take longer, but we have wasted enough time as it is. Prepare the troops for quick march." "Belay that order," interjected Loxir, quietly but quickly. "The tribunal is not complete until we have heard a second opinion, and I have passed final judgement." Hanl scowled, exposing sharp teeth, but he refolded his arms and stepped back again. A new priest came forward, very young and timid. "M-my brother is quite correct that our use of the Sky Roads is sanctioned. I have read the plaques and come to the same conclusion. Aside from one glyph I was not able to decipher, everything I could find in the texts speaks in favour of the mission." "There we go," said Hanl. "Now let's-" "A glyph you could not decipher?" interrupted Loxir. "How irregular. Bring it to me." A scribe hurried forward with a small slab of stone, no bigger than a human hand. Gold leaf was flaking from parts of its surface. "This was the glyph in question," said the junior priest over Loxir's shoulder. "The forty-third." "What is the issue?" said Loxir. "That's the glyph for flying or falling." "Except that the tail section here is obscured. If it points upwards, it could mean female stegadon." Loxir held the stone closer to his face, squinting. "You're quite right. This requires further investigation." "What?!" roared Hanl, throwing up his hands. "What does it matter what one glyph means!?" Loxir eyed him, nonplussed. "We cannot be sure of the full significance of the text if we don't understand its entirety. There are more than nine hundred plaques in the third chamber of the Oyxl archives alone. Only three of them mention the Sky Roads, so it is imperative that we comprehend them fully." "Does either reading of the glyph produce a different judgement regarding the Sky Roads?!" "Er, no-" began the younger acolyte. "Maybe," Loxir cut in again. "The important thing is that the plaque must be understood. There is no room for uncertainty in the Great Plan. My scribes and I will convene again. I suggest you tell your troops to make camp for the night. "Unacceptable!" cried Hanl. "Judgement was rendered! We are trying to prevent an invasion of Lustria! We march at once!" He turned on his heel and strode away. He made it two paces before he heard Loxir speak, quite softly. "Guardians. Arrest Chief Hanl." *** Perhaps Loxir had been turned by the vampire and was secretly an undead saboteur, mused Hanl to himself in his makeshift wooden cell, two days later. They were still encamped in the jungle, but he'd heard that the priest had departed by terradon to Itza in order to consult with his superiors about the mysterious glyph. Not that his absence made any difference to Hanl's jailers. He shook his head in the gloom. No, Loxir wasn't under any vampiric thrall. He was simply a zealot. He genuinely believed that it was worth risking Lustria's doom for the sake of a more faithful interpretation of some old plaque. Sighing, Hanl forced himself to stand and go to the door. He had to keep trying. "Psst, guard," he stage-whispered to the saurus he knew was stationed outside. "What's going on out there?" No response. Hanl considered the wooden panels that boxed him in. They were well built. He put his ear up against the smooth surface. "Is that... can I hear moaning?" Hanl flinched as, far away, there was the unmistakable sound of a scream. A long pause - and then several more screams, a little closer. The moaning sound was already much louder too. The mournful voices seemed to be coming from every direction "We're under attack!" cried someone nearby. "They're everywhere!" Wide eyed, Hanl backed away to the centre of the small cell and tried to calm his breathing. "L-let me out!" he yelled, trying to muster his customary tone of command. "Form ranks! I must command the defence! My troops..." There was a nightmarish screeching sound, so loud that when it ended Hanl felt deafened, like the world was underwater. Sound swiftly returned with a terrible crunching, as the wooden cell was smashed to fragments by the tail of something huge. Hanl picked himself up from the jungle floor and stared around at a scene of madness. Moonlight picked out the worst of the horror. Zombies were feasting on the bodies of skink and salamander. Surviving lizards were sprinting headlong for the trees, only to be set upon by wraiths that passed straight through the trunks. And there in the centre, the gigantic reanimated corpse of a dragon, and the smiling fiend that sat astride it, its eyes glowing. Hanl fell to his knees under the terrible gaze. "No...no..." sobbed the skink chief. "Time to go, old lizard!" chirped a voice he recognised, and suddenly he was swept up alongside one of his lieutenants. They were on a terradon, soaring up and away, above the jungle canopy, but always beneath the ferocious glare of the moon. *** The deliberations over Glyph Forty-Three were entering their third day in the Great Pyramid of Itza. Half the priests in the city had come to inspect the plaque in question, and multiple schools of thought had formed - there were the camps for "flying" and for "female stegadon" in conclave on either side of the great hall, while smaller fringe groups had formed to support alternative theories. Some believed that the Old Ones had intended the glyph to be indecipherable in order to prevent any use of the Sky Roads, while others held that the plaque itself was a terrible aberration that must be destroyed. Loxir, of course, was the centre of attention. "If the temple were to grant me the resources I have requested," he was saying, feathers positively trembling, "I am certain we could achieve a definitive ruling on the matter in at least... ten or fifteen years." He smiled as he saw the other priests nodding seriously. But his expression turned to displeasure at a new voice. Someone was shouting on the other side of the hall. "You're reverences!" cried the figure of Hanl, tiny in the huge space. "These deliberations must come to an end! Lustria is in terrible peril! I bring news from our southern borders. A powerful vampire has invaded our lands with a great force of undead. Their numbers swell every day with new victims." He forced himself not to choke on his anger. "They destroyed and consumed my entire army while I was helpless to resist, imprisoned by that lizard!" The assembled priests followed the trembling claw to the ever-placid form of Loxir. The silence was powerful as the latter stepped forward, eyes narrowed. "That army did not serve you, former chief. It served the Great Plan. The demise of a few of its servants is of little consequence compared to the faithful interpretation of its meaning." There were nods around the hall. Hanl scowled, but Loxir continued. "You were justly arrested for failing to serve that interpretation. And since you were not absolved, your freedom is a heresy against the proper order. Guards, seize him!" "Oh no you don't!" growled Hanl, with barely contained fury. "I'm ready for you this time! If you won't listen to reason, I know someone who will!" As temple guardians ran towards him, Hanl raised an arm high, and hurled something onto the floor by his feet. He was immediately enveloped in a thick cloud of smoke. Priests around the room gasped in shock. "Search the temple! Find him!" roared Loxir, eyes glinting. "I wonder," gummed one of the older priests at his side. "What did he mean by 'I know someone who will'?" *** A quartet of the most revered temple guardians stood outside the door to the Innermost Sanctum. Before the first had a chance to react, they all sagged to their knees and dropped, unconscious, tiny feathered darts protruding from chinks in their armour. Hanl and two other lieutenants who had made it to Itza scurried down the passage and into the sacred chambers. Hanl’s golden chain gleamed in the dusty half-light. Something bulbous floated on a slab of stone in the shadows. It opened a displeased eye as the trio entered its presence. A small, scarlet-scaled attendant leapt onto an armrest and screeched at them, before returning to its work of brushing the slann's gelatinous flesh with something thick, syrupy and nauseating. "My lord," gasped Hanl, falling to his knees, still breathing hard from the run to the temple summit. "We need your help. Lustria is in grave danger. The undead have entered the sacred jungle. They mean to sack Itza." "And why was this permitted?" croaked the slann, its expression one of darkest hatred. "I led an army to repel them, my lord, but the priests, they refused to allow me to-" "Do not listen to this traitor, most glorious one," came a sharp, penetrating voice in the doorway. Hanl turned to see Loxir, his features dancing ominously in the torchlight. Golden chain glared at feathered headdress. Other priests were running up behind, as well as saurians. Hanl and his lieutenants were seized, arms pinned behind their backs. "What is the meaning of this?" belched the Mage Priest. "Is it true? Is Lustria invaded?" "Indeed, my lord," said Loxir, waving a dismissive claw. "But our attention has been taken by much more pressing matters. It appears there is a terrible anomaly in the sacred plaques. There's a glyph, my lord. We cannot comprehend its meaning." "Is that so?" wheezed the slann. "Bring me the offending item." "My lord, you need not concern yourself, we are investigating-" "Silence!" The word hung in the air. Finally, Loxir moved forward and held out the plaque with a bow. The Mage Priest gripped it with surprising strength for such a weak-looking arm, and held it up to its face. "I see the problem," it clucked at last. "Everyone here has witnessed the ambiguity?" "Yes, lord," began Loxir. "We have been giving the matter all our-" Lightning fanned across the room, quite gently, emanating from the palanquin and crackling across the scales of everyone present. The white energy filled the room with a brilliant light, against which the bodies of skink and saurus alike writhed in silent agony for several moments, until the light went out and the corpses hit the floor. Tendrils of smoke coiled from lifeless mouths. The slann exhaled with annoyance. It held up a finger to the flaking gold surface of plaque twelve from the third chamber of the sacred archives of Oyxl, and a few sparks leapt across from finger to stone. The tail section of glyph forty-three now clearly read "flying or falling". The Mage Priest turned a weary head to its attendant. "Go. Sound the call for war. And get someone in here to clean up this mess." It gestured flabbily at the charred bodies. The little red skink scampered away. The Lord of Itza put the plaque on a nearby ledge, and settled down to a good rest. Spoiler: Story Five: "The Holy Snake" The Holy Snake The massive square tent was packed with over three hundred scaly bodies, mostly Skinks but a few Sauri and Kroxigors towered over them from the back. Every set of golden eyes was pointed expectantly towards the empty stage and podium. Finally band members entered and the crowd began to clap as the Skinks on stage shook their tambourines, beat their drums and played their flutes and horns. Soon the feathered chorus moved front and began leading the crowd in song. “Praise the Snake now! Praise the Snake now! Praise the Snake now! Praise the Snake!” After a few minutes of exuberant singing, the robed and colorfully bedecked Skink walked up to the podium. The band members all pulled out rain sticks that made a soft hissing noise. The crowd fell silent. After a pregnant pause the priest shouted. “Praise be to Sotek, the Holy Snake!” “PRAISE BE TO SOTEK!” came the reply. The priest spoke again. “Hallelujah! Praise be to Sotek! The Slayer of Rats! The Judge of the Scales! The Saintly Serpent! The Adder of Adoration! The Cobra of Conviction! The Python of Purity! The Rattler of Righteousness! The Bodacious Boa! Praise be to Sotek!” “PRAISE BE TO SOTEK!” replied the crowd. “Spawning brothers and sisters, I welcome you into this holy temple! Brothers and sisters, I see we a lot of well-groomed First, a lot of shiny scales. But that don’t impress the Holy Snake!” “No sir!” said his assistant standing in front of the podium. The priest reached out a hand and his assistant immediately handed him a scroll. “Let us consult the holy plaque transcriptions. The Sacred Archives of Oyxl, the Third Chamber, Plaque Twelve, Glyph Forty-three: ‘Let thee not be judged by the scales on one's skins, those scales protect thee from the claws and blades of this world. Let thee be judged by the scales inside you, the inner Scales of Righteous protect thee from the corruption of Chaos’.” The priest paused, then handed the scroll back to his assistant before addressing the congregation again. “The Holy Snake judges us by the scales on the inside. Are your hearts truly scaly?” “Yes!” shouted the crowd. “Are your hearts TRULY scaly?” “YES!!!!!” replied the crowd. “Praise be to Rattler of Righteousness and all glory to his all-consuming fangs of righteousness!” “PRAISE BE TO SOTEK!" “If you live a life that is righteous and scaly, you will be assured a place in Lizard Heaven.” “Hallelujah!” shouted a parishioner. The priest nodded approvingly in her direction then continued. “Lizard heaven has sweltering heat constantly. The humidity in Lizardmen Heaven is so high you can barely tell when it stops raining. The air smells of beauteous loam and carrion. The skies are filled with clouds of buzzing insects. The floors are covered in writhing and hissing snakes. Punctuating the glorious buzzing and hissing are the roars of deadly carnivores of varying sizes. Everywhere you look there are helpless Skaven to murder!” “But if your heart is impure, if your soul is not scaly, Sotek will cast you out to Lizard Hell!” The crowd gasped. “If you heart is full of sin and lacking in scaly-ness, Sotek will cast you out to LIZARD HELL!” The crowd was too frozen in fear to make a nose. “In the temperate desolation that is Lizard Hell, the trees are deciduous! They turn a riotous blend of unholy colors, rich reds, yellows, and fiery oranges. Cool breezes permeate Lizard Hell and keep all the insects away!” “No!” cried a parishioner. “Yes! Not only does the sky have no insects, but there are no snakes on the ground either! Only a soft carpet of leaves that makes a gentle crunching sound when walked on.” “In Lizard Hell, there are no writhing snakes at all….in their place is nothing but frolicking puppies and kittens!” “No!” several parishioners cried out. “Yes! In Lizard Hell, there is plenty of meat to eat…” A few in the crowd looked relieved. “But it’s all been seasoned and cooked!” “Sssssave us Sssssotek” the voice of an unseen parishioner was heard. “The meat is all from the foul unwholesome beasts the non-scaly warmbloods eat. STEAK! BACON! CHICKEN! All served with a side of warm freshly baked bread! Bread that was dappled with butter! Butter, that most sinful of concoctions. Formed by squeezing the lactate juices from a bovine! When the bovine’s foul excretions are not being made into sinful butter, it is coagulated into a variety of horrible cheeses. “These cheeses are combined with this cooked meat and bread to form sandwiches! Pasta dishes! And most blasphemous of all, PIZZA! “The beverages in Lizard Hell include not just the lactose products of bovines, but also and hot cocoa and apple cider and BEER. Limitless kegs and kegs of unholy beer! “There are no snakes, no edible vermin. Only happy and well-fed warmbloods of all ages dancing and singing. There are no roars, no buzzing, no hissing, only the sound of horrible, HORRIBLE LAUGHTER!” The priest stopped talking but the crowd was silent and still at the edge of their seats. “Repent thee sinner! For Sotek will throw thee out of Lizard Heaven if thy soul is unrighteous and un-scaled. The only way to save thyself is BY GIVING ME MONEY! HALLELUJAH!” * * * * * * * * Two Skinks were walking down the dirt path back to their barrio after worship. “It’s fun to visit house of Grand Worship I guess, but they just seem like moneygrubbers,” said Locrot. “I don’t know why we bother coming back to G.W,” muttered Dilef. “Perhaps I can offer a new spiritual path.” came a third voice. “Who are you?” asked Dilef. “I represent the Church of Seraphonology. You too can be joined with our many circles.” said the stranger. “Ugh! Those kooks,” said Locrot. “We focus on spirituality, not material gain,” said the Seraphonologist. “Hmmm.” Dilef seemed to be thinking it over. “That’s not what I heard,” said Locrot. “Our holy scripture is free to all!” said the Seraphonologist. “Your holy scripture is only four pages!” Locrot retorted. “Elegant in its simplicity!” answered the Seraphonologist. “Lacking depth…” Dilef muttered. “What do you think this so-called “Lizard Heaven” is if not a bunch of earthly materialistic things? Why dwell in an eternal jungle when you can dwell in the stars?” asked the Seraphonologist. “I heard you Seraphonologists believe that everyone will live in a Slann’s head,” Dilef said. “Metaphorically! That’s an oversimplification. You can dwell in the stars telepathically directed by the Slann for all eternity.” Replied he Seraphonologist. “So no rest, only eternal fighting and struggling.” Locrot retorted. “Eternally serving the will of the gods, if you die you come back an infinite number of times.” “Your system has no points in it!” Dilef one. “What?” the Seraphonologist looked confused. “If everyone on all sides comes back after falling battle. There is no point to all the fighting.” Locrot stated “Our system shows many points. We have additional holy compendiums!” said the Seraphonologist. “And that’s where it stops being free to all. Good bye,” said Locrot. “FINE! GO BACK TO YOUR OLD OUTDATED RELIGION YOU BUNCH OF SQUARES.” Spoiler: Story Six: "Déjà vu" Déjà vu Kro-tototl’s jaws clamped on a horse’s lifeless corpse, tearing a bloody chunk and swallowing its stringy contents whole. The incessant rain thrashed off wavering trees and ferns, bearing a noticeable – yet ignorable rhythm inside Kro-tototl’s mind. All that was left in Kro-tototl’s mind then, was the lingering, maddening thought of the invading Anathema and fallen untamed ones whom dared they could steal and desecrate the First’s homeland and its treasured plaques with their lives intact. Such wrongs were personally righted with the bloodied corpses of the northern untamed ones lying face-down behind Kro-tototl and his nutritious prey foolish enough to serve them. A sudden crackle instantly made the feasting Kro-tototl to stop what he was doing, pick up his spear, and turn to the mysterious source of sound that came from a myriad of bushes behind. What came to mind was a feral Cold One that sensed the smell of fresh warm blood, and rushed forth to claim a day’s worth of food. Instead, an Untamed One with similar, barren attire to the northern tribesmen Kro-tototl had slain, appeared from the bushes. The Untamed One’s large axe trembled as it saw its bloodied compatriots sprawled out across the jungle floor, and before their bodies, stood a leering Kro-tototl. Nonetheless, it charged with its face wrought with madness and rage, roaring a war cry of vengeance. Kro-tototl easily dodged the Untamed One’s initial swing before his own spear swiftly retaliated with a sideways swipe, cleaving one of its arms asunder. Roaring naught with rage, but with sudden tears, the Untamed One convulsed down onto the jungle floor and writhed about uncontrollably – unknowingly in front of its dead fellow tribesmen. Kro-tototl brought down his spear to end its pathetic suffering and went back to his nutritious feast, recalling the objective of exterminating the intruders. As Kro-tototl made his journey back to the temple city; either for more tasks or basks in the sun, he happened to be nearby a pond. Emerging from it, stared a lone, dull green primeval frog. Its black tadpoles swam around and under it in seemingly random patterns… *** Uncountable centuries after, along a village’s border, a lone Saurus stared at a gathering of humans with its bloodied spear. In-between it and they, laid the bodies of marauding Chaos warriors. Broken, brutalized, and decapitated. The humans regarded the lone Saurus with baskets of humane gifts and nervous flinches, showing their heartfelt thanks, and yet, tensed suspicions of a scaly person who won’t talk or seem to have any discernible emotion apparent despite it saving them. Turning ‘round, the Saurus regarded the prodigal humans plainly before walking away with naught a thought anymore in its mind, except the expected Ascendance towards the starry masses' glow embroiled in the night skies it called home. But then it happened before transcendence. A small clutch of dull green frogs appeared from a nearby stream before gathering at his clawed feet, smiling and tilting their heads jovially. An unusual feeling then coursed and flowed throughout the veins of the Saurus, and not long after, the cloak of night ushered in a surreal chill. Bathing the rigid scales in coldness, the chill beckoned the Saurus' head for a lengthy upwards reckon upon the starry skies. A feeling of striking familiarity, and yet, another feeling of presiding emptiness... Spoiler: Story Seven: "Chittering" Chittering Many many spawnings have passed since the despicable demons forced their way into this beautiful world crafted by the great and venerable Old Ones. I am old, but not that old, I have been serving the Great Master Puochax for many spawnings yet and hopefully many more to come. I am Snanout. I speak to the beasts, I advise the Great Master, I serve the Old Ones. And now I guard the Great Master's palanquin as we march to Oxyl with our sacred plaques. The Great Master Mazdamundi has called all the Great Masters together to decipher the words of the Old Ones. The march is easy, the jungle parts for me as I lead the Master's procession. He enters the Great Rumination, spending his power on greater tasks than this, he must be pondering the glyph tablets we still hold. We are almost there as the lizards tell me of the strange rumbles the earth talks with, I tell them the Great Masters are fixing flaws in the world. The Great Master wakes as we see Oxyl. The Masters ordered many new archive temples to hold all the plaques to translate and even more saurus to guard them. It is truly impressive to look at, even the Master thinks so. Brothers of other waters meet us at the gates to escort us in, I see many snouts I once learned with or taught myself. The birds of the skies sing the Master's praises as he is seated in the chamber. The attendants hurry themselves to get Master's grubs and favoured fans. I bid myself away that I can escort the plaques to the vaults, the Saurian brutes do not know to properly care for them. As we walk to the archives I feel the rumblings the jungle lizards spoke of, they are strong and random. Not the Masters correcting faults then but faults showing themselves for the Masters to fix. The archive is deep, strong, safe. The plaques can be left here, the brutes are not delicate but they will defend until their last breath if need be. Even the jungle beasts agree, they talk from all corners of the room, chirps, squeaks and chitters abounds speaking of glittering plaques and safeness. I am satisfied, so I return to the Master's side. Great Master Mazdamundi begins the interpretations with the first plaque from Hexoatl, it speaks of spawnings and false man beasts. This one scares me, to fail a spawning is to fail the Old Ones themselves. We advisers and attendants scribe the Master's interpretations to be stored for all to hear. Moons come and pass while the Masters interpret and I remain to catalogue their words. Many plaques have passed before them to be judged and their meanings found but this new plaque confounds them. It is from the third chamber which means it is from Master Pouchax's stores but it is not a plaque I remember. This plaque speaks of the sickly moon of Chaos stone, Master says it tells to ward its energies with festivals and sacrifices as do some other Masters but other Masters still fight them. They say they can not say when the glyphs are not known to them. All the masters speak of the same glyph, I was never taught to read the sacred glyphs but it is truly strange. The other Masters claim it is a dire warning of the Old Ones, speaking of things not yet known to even Master Mazdamundi, but Master claims it is a great boon. I agree with him, but I do not speak against the other Masters. As darkness covers the temples the Masters dismiss all and we attendants return to our chambers. "How can the Slann be at such an impasse? I have advised for years and I have never seen them in such a heated argument!" "The plaque is intriguingly vague and oddly worded. Many of the glyphs are odd and I do not know half of them! Even my Lord doesn't know some of them." The other priest advisers chatter about who is right or wrong and what the plaque means. Not my place, Master interprets and I advise his hand. That is what I do I am not made to argue against him. I ignore those talks. The earth beneath begins to talk again, its voice trying to speak over the squabbles, but I still do not hear what it speaks. The Masters speak for days and moons as my tablets fill with dictations. The plaque still escapes their understanding. Soon the moons change and a decision is still not made. Great Lord Mazdamundi calls for the plaque to be passed over for now as the Great Plan requires the Masters back to their temples soon. The Masters agree and the next plaque is brought. It is before the new birdlings hatch that Master and I gather the saurus and attendants to return for our march home. I oversee the gathering of the plaques, the rooms still fill with chittering of talk from beasts hidden from my eyes. Sad their friends leave, happy to be alone. The jungle is stubborn to me as we walk. It no longer parts to me and I must fight away hungry cold ones. It does not want me to pass through. The hisses, buzzes and chirps are quiet now as more chitter comes from deep within. The saurus detest the new smell and insist a march through the night. I agree, it is a dirty and wet and foul smell. The Temple accepts us with torches and foods to welcome the Master. It is not long before he calls me to his side. "The Chaos moon waxes to power soon. I will not let its foul light to blight us ever again. Gather prisoners and tell all to prepare." "We will hold the festival of the plaque?" Master's eyes close in a moment of thought and his head nods forward gently before rising. The skinks and saurus gather before the temple as the sun sets and the moons rise. I hold the Chaos beast to the stone and raise my knife high. Its heart rests on the pedestal before the final beats finish. Invocations flow from my throat as a terradon through the jungle canopy. I invoke them all as another heart is presented, their protections invoked I turn their blade to the true sacrifice needed to make the ritual truly powerful. Master Puochax sits at the height of the temple with calm eyes. I approach with our holiest blade, said to be used in the first sacrifices to Tepok. The Master leans back. I raise the blade. The final heart is lain on the alter as I scream the last invocations to the heavens before the false moons light can touch our city. Silence holds their tongues as it rises ever higher. The rays never touch the Temple. No matter how high it rises. "THE RITUAL OF PROTECTION IS COMPLETE! REJOICE IN THE SACRIFICE OF MASTER PUOCHAX!" Slowly cheers and prayers raise from below. Even the earth below the temple sings its praises and I listen. I finally hear what the rumbles speak. They speak of death. The ground erupts with roars and sickly lights, as though the moon shines from below. The chittering again, thousands of voices below. The bodies followed the voices. If I missed something that needs to be fixed, let me know by a private message. If there is more than one error in a single piece, please message me the entire edited piece rather than just copy and paste the corrected sentences. Less work for me that way. Per usual, critiques, comparisons and friendly banter is encouraged. I'm not going to be too strict on this, but if you are aiming to do a comprehensive critique, I'd prefer you make a few large posts rather than a swarm of little ones. Mainly for the benefit of people who are reading this thread a year from now.