Hello again fellow cold-bloods. I realised a few minutes ago that I haven't posted in a while, so I have decided to share a sequel to The Fireblade's Challenge that I've been working on for a while, after Bluefire nagged me into it. Like the title of the thread says, it is not finished, in fact, it has barely begun. I've unfortunately run into a patch of stress-induced writer's block, and most of my effort has been focussed on a series that I hope to get published someday, and a collection of horror stories that Bluefire has graciously offered to illustrate. I am ashamed that I have failed my lizardy kin, and so I'm sharing what little of The Fireblade's Debt I have written. I hope you enjoy. Spoiler: Story Six: "The Fireblade’s Challenge” The Fireblade’s Challenge Ankhachic’qo gazed around what was once a deep blue lake surrounded by verdant rainforest. He made a rumbling noise in the back of his crimson-scaled throat and his eyes narrowed. Once again, Quetzan-Ti’s hesitation had let the stinking plague-rats befoul more of the Old Ones’ chosen land. Acres of foliage and trees were rotting and the holy lake was polluted. Ankhachic’qo wheeled his black dragonling mount about, and it pounded back towards the main army. His approach caused many of the Skinks to begin chirping excitedly and jostling about in order to get a better view of the ‘rebel Scar-Veteran’. Ankhachic’qo wondered why his ‘superior’ considered him a rebel. The Feather-priest had given them orders to attack, not to lurk around the outskirts of Mixcoatl! He shook his head and made his angered rumbling sound again. He dismounted just before he reached the front rank. The grey grass crunched lifelessly under his broad claws, and the soil beneath his toes felt thick and gluey. It smelt of feces and rotting flesh. He bowed his head as Quetzan-Ti approached him, the steps of his Carnosaur mount shaking the earth as it strode closer. The Oldblood’s serrated talons clicked against the scales of his cobalt-flanked mount as he climbed off his stone saddle and leapt to the ground. Quetzan-Ti slammed the end of his gold-chased spear into the ground and the spines on the back of his blue-green neck rose up. “Report, rebel. Plague-rats?” Quetzan-Ti boomed. “Gone. Lake brown-watered. Grass dead. Trees dead. Animals dead. Too late. Again. Army should have rode sooner.” Ankhachic’qo stared directly into the yellow eyes of the general. They appeared smaller than average because of the craggy scales and scar tissue that surrounded them. “Rebel be silent! Not Oldblood! Not for you to make orders!” Quetzan-Ti snarled. Ankhachic’qo’s jade-shard narrowed. “Not for you. Feather-priest ordered march. Ordered march at once. Oldblood is rebel. Ankhachic’qo should be Oldblood. Not Quetzan-Ti!” The Scar-veteran roared, and then clashed his obsinite axe against his Stegadon-hide shield as a challenge. Quetzan-Ti snarled and lashed his tail. He firmly gripped his spear with both hands and charged towards Ankhachic’qo. The Oldblood jabbed at Ankhachic’qo’s underbelly, but the Scar-veteran blocked the thrust with his shield. He countered with a vicious swing that chopped through one of the horns on Quetzan-Ti’s skull helm. The horn clattered to the ground and there was a moment where an awed hush descended over the whole army, Skink, Saurus and Kroxigor alike. Then Quetzan-Ti let out a wordless bellow of rage, and brought the end of his spear crashing against Ankhachic’qo’s rock-hard skull. Miniature suns danced in front of his eyes. He started shaking his head to clear his mind and vision, but it was too late. The snake-fang tip of Quetzan-Ti’s spear pierced Ankhachic’qo’s eye. He screeched in pain and staggered back, clutching at the bloody void where his eye used to be. “Quetzan-Ti Oldblood. Not Ankhachic’qo. Never Ankhachic’qo. Leave. Rebel Scar-veteran no more. Just rebel now. Banished. Never return, traitor!” Quetzan-Ti hissed in satisfaction, and plucked the eyeball from the point of his spear. He popped the eye in his jaws and began to chew. After a moment, he gulped and bared his blood-stained fangs. He slid his spear into a holster on his back that hung from a leather belt wrapped around his muscled body. He began to wrench the golden plates from Ankhachic’qo’s back and chest, inch by agonising inch with his serrated claws. Then, Quetzan-Ti took the axe that Ankhachic’qo had dropped, and clambered back onto his Carnosaur. With a roar of triumph, he began the long ride north to the Temple-city of Mixcoatl. After a few seconds of cold observation, the rest of the army turned and followed the general at a quick march. Ankhachic’qo stumbled through the tangled undergrowth, a rumbling sound once more emanating from his chest. He was feeling the closest thing to sorrow that a Saurus could experience. He had tried to uphold the will of the Slann and the Old Ones, and he had failed. He was marked as a deserter now. His body was scarred by deep pits in his scales where long bolts had held his sacred plates to his body. He had lost everything in a single moment, all because he hadn’t thought about Quetzan-Ti’s return strike. The sounds of rustling and crunching snapped Ankhachic’qo out of his musings. He looked up, and glared around with his remaining eye. From out of the trees came a creature, like a hybrid between a monstrous rat and some twisted ogre-spawn. Two of its grotesquely muscled arms pushed aside the low-hanging branches and knocked down mighty trees, and a second pair cradled something to its furless chest. The thing stopped inside the clearing where Ankhachic’qo was standing and set the thing it was carrying down on the ground. It was one of the hated rat-men, but it wasn’t a plague rat. It was dressed in tattered grey robes, and two long, ridged horns sprouted from its head. Around its neck was an amulet carved from a blackish stone that gave off a sickly green light. It carried a wooden staff that was topped with a rat-man rune forged of scavenged bronze. The rat-sorcerer bowed its head as a sign of greeting. “Poor scale-thing. Scale-thing’s master cast scale-thing out, yes-yes? Scale-thing followed order-plans, but scale-thing’s master was a fool-fool. Not fair on poor scale-thing.” The rat-sorcerer squeaked a clumsy version of the chirruping speech of the Skinks. “Rat-sorcerer knows? Rat-sorcerer cares? What purpose?” Ankhachic’qo growled. “Thanquol wants to help-aid scale-thing. Thanquol has magic blade-sword. Made with magic frozen spit-flame of fiery scale-beasts. All for scale-thing. Scale-thing can put all right-right. Scale-thing can become master, yes-yes? In return, humble-weak Thanquol will ask for favour-service. Not now, but soon-soon. Good trade, yes-yes? Scale-thing trades with Thanquol, yes-yes?” The sorcerer-rat twitched violently for a few seconds, and held its tail out ramrod-straight. When it had recovered from its strange fit, it drew a sword from behind its back. It had a twisted blade of red-orange crystal that looked like a raging inferno that had been trapped in a single moment of time for all eternity. “Why?” Asked Ankhachic’qo. It wasn’t in a rat-man’s nature to be generous for the sake of it. “The plague-rats are Thanquol’s enemy. Plague-rats scale-thing’s enemy too. Scale-thing kill-kills plague-rats, good-good for scale-thing and Thanquol also, yes-yes. Good for all, yes-yes.” The sorcerer-rat tilted its head to the side, and thrust the sword closer to Ankhachic’qo. The Saurus hesitated for a moment. The rat-men were spawned by Chaos, and had no part in the plans of the Old Ones. But maybe… maybe this one did. It was offering Ankhachic’qo a way to set things right, a way to serve the will of Sotek and the Old Ones. He would ride at the head of the Onyx-scales of Mixcoatl. The Feather-priest would cast her scrying spells and Ankhachic’qo would purge the world of the enemies of the Old Ones and the Serpent God. But what would the price be? He couldn’t ponder it yet. Mixcoatl had to be defended. Ankhachic’qo took the sword from the sorcerer-rat’s paw. The sorcerer-rat bobbed its head up and down several times and climbed back into the waiting arms of its pet abomination. Ankhachic’qo turned his back on the strange pair and started to make his way to Mixcoatl. That was probably where Quetzan-Ti was lurking. It was three days later when Ankhachic’qo returned to the Temple-city of Mixcoatl, known by some as the Obsidian Mount. The city was built in and around a towering, snow-capped mountain, with the Slann’s pyramid sitting at the very peak, and the spawning pools and tombs inside the stone walls of the mountain. Almost everything of the city was carved from stone as black as night. The watch fires were burning high on the walls around the city proper. They cast dancing shadows across the rocky steps. One of the Skinks tending the nearest watch fire looked up and let out an alarmed chirp. It skittered away, most likely to find someone to report to. After what felt like an eternity of waiting, Quetzan-Ti strode through the high wooden gates with his spear in one hand, and Ankhachic’qo’s axe in the other. The Old-blood let out a growl of confusion when he saw his former subordinate. “Ankhachic’qo. You are back. Why?” Quetzan-Ti’s golden eyes narrowed into a glare. “Challenge Quetzan-Ti. Become Oldblood. Protect Mixcoatl. Serve Old Ones and Sotek, and the Slann. Destroy rat-things and Chaos. Fulfil the Old Ones’ plan. Be loyal to the plan. Challenge Quetzan-Ti!” Ankhachic’qo snarled, and raised his new sword. It glowed with a blazing light that lent a hellish cast to Ankhachic’qo’s angered features. He pounced on Quetzan-Ti before the Oldblood could raise either of his weapons. The blade carved a sizzling furrow in Quetzan-Ti’s face, putting out one of his eyes like he had done to Ankhachic’qo only a few days ago. Quetzan-Ti slammed the haft of his spear into Ankhachic’qo’s chest. Ankhachic’qo bent double, winded by the force of the blow, but he recovered quickly. It felt like he had fire in his veins and soul, and it was giving him strength. In desperation, Quetzan-Ti hacked at Ankhachic’qo with his old axe. Ankhachic’qo dodged to the side and thrust the sword at the Oldblood’s ribs. The blade’s raging heat caused it to tear through Quetzan-Ti’s skin like it was cloth, and it sank into his heart. The stench of burning meat filled the air and Quetzan-Ti slumped to the ground. Ankhachic’qo slashed and gored the body in a blind rage until there were nothing but charred shreds left, then he roared his triumph to the skies. The dark clouds that had gathered began to pour rain down upon the gory scene, as if they wept for the carnage wrought. Ankhachic’qo stared down at the sword in his hands. There was steaming blood on the blade, and his crimson hide was slick with gore. He looked up to the sky. What would the rat-sorcerer claim that could be worth as much as the sword. With a mixture of satisfaction and uncertainty, Ankhachic’qo raised the sword to the heavens, and bellowed the name he would forever know it by; “Rageflame! The fire-blade is Rageflame! Rageflame will purge!” The Fireblade’s Debt Ankhachic’qo blinked slowly. For a second, confusion raced through his reptilian mind. He was in a wide hall with stone walls and a golden floor. Each chunk of stone and gold was carved with a different angular glyph, and the whole room was infused with a soft amber glow. Ankhachic’qo stood before a dais, and two black-skinned Saurus warriors stood beside him. They both held his scaly arms tightly in their claws, and they moved not a single muscle, despite the fact that their captive stood at least a foot taller than they. Both Saurus stared fixedly at a throne that stood atop the dais; a throne carved from a dark wood with a slight red tone to it. The throne was decorated with multi-coloured feathers and bleached animal skulls. A sudden sense of familiarity struck Ankhachic’qo, and he finally realised where he was. He was in the Feather-priest’s audience chamber in Mixcoatl’s Temple of Jade Talons. The Feather-priest himself was nowhere to be seen, however. After a few minutes, a rhythmic tapping sound could be heard, and the great onyx doors at the back of the hall were dragged open by the Kroxigor guards. Through the open doors walked the Feather-priest. High Priest Tenchi-ota was dressed in her mantle of black and white feathers and her golden headdress, and she carried her snake-bone staff of office with her. She was silent, apart from the clacking of her claws on the floor, until she reached his throne. Tenchi-ota settled down and then looked up at Ankhachic’qo. “Scar-veteran Ankhachic’qo. You’ve been away for almost six daystar cycles. What happened on the last patrol, and why in the name of the Most Sacred Lord Bloag of the Crimson Horizon did you kill Old-Blood Quetzan-Ti?” Tenchi-ota tilted her head to one side and chirruped curiously. “Lake Akzure poisoned. Plague-rats escaped. Quetzan-Ti disobeyed Lord Tenchi-ota. Stayed near Mixcoatl for too long. Challenged Quetzan-Ti. Lost duel. Wandered, found Rageflame. Came back to serve. Serve Tenchi-ota, serve Bloag, serve Sotek, serve Old Ones. Quetzan-Ti weak. Corrupted.” Ankhachic’qo’s blood boiled when he thought of the Old-Blood. “Rageflame? Is that the sword you were found with? The scribes have determined that it is ancient indeed, almost as old as the First Spawning, blessed by the Old Ones be their names. You say you found this blade, after losing a duel to Old-Blood Quetzan-Ti. How did you come by ‘Rageflame’? I want a full report.” Tenchi-ota slowly blinked her piercing blue eyes, and then stared intently at Ankhachic’qo. “Rageflame gift from agent of Sotek. Gift to faithful. Gift to one who serves. Found in ruins. Consecrated them for Sotek, Old Ones, and Bloag. Fire-serpent appeared as Ankhachic’qo made sacrifice. Made sacrifice of rat-man skulker. Fire-serpent child of Sotek. Sotek’s child give Rageflame. Rageflame blade of faith. Blade of fire. Rageflame gift. Gift to destroy chaos. Gift to destroy rat-men.” Ankhachic’qo kept his head bowed as he spoke, seemingly in a gesture of supplication. He couldn’t look the Feather-priest in the eye. “I… see. I was afraid I was going to have to do this. Texor-Krotl, Chixtan, bring him with us. We… we have to wake Lord Bloag. His Sacredness rests in the Sanctum of Crimson Stars. Only Lord Bloag will know what to do now.” The air became thicker as they neared the private chamber of the ruler of Mixcoatl, and Ankhachic’qo felt static play across his scales. Two Saurus clad in golden plates and bone helms stood by a door made of shining gold. The Temple Guard had their obsinite halberds crossed in front of the door to prevent entry. They silently moved away as they saw High Priest Tenchi-ota approaching. The Featherpriest rapped on the door with her staff, and there was a flurry of scrabbling sounds from the other side, before the door was eased slightly open by one of Lord Bloag’s attendants. A Skink with green eyes poked their head through the gap to see who was knocking. “High Priest Tenchi-ota? Do you seek an audience with the Most Sacred Lord Bloag of the Crimson Horizon, Chosen of the Great and Powerful Sotek, and Master of the Obsidian City?” She tilted her head to one side, and rapidly opened and closed her pale purple crest as she chirruped her question. “Yes, Attendant-Chief Imac-Ti. Scar-Veteran Ankhachic’qo has returned, and… I need to consult Lord Bloag about something Ankhachic’qo brought with him. It is very urgent we see Lord Bloag.” Tenchi-ota gestured towards the three Saurus accompanying her. “Ah, you’re in luck, High Priest. His Mightiness stirs.” Imac-Ti bowed and heaved the door the rest of the way open.