For the Glory of the Old Ones (part 1)
1. JOURNEY TO ITZA
The ruined city of Xhotl sat brooding in the clearing as the morning sun rose on Lustria's southern jungles. Sacred spawning pools sat brooding beside the long abandoned walls of the City of Destiny as a gentle breeze formed little disturbances on the surface of the languid waters.
Nothing had occurred here in aeons as the great cataclysm that had befallen the temple city was long past. Rumours persisted that the Old One's plan continuted to involve Xhotl in some way, yet none apart from a few believed that there could be any chance of a recover of the city's fortunes. The occasional patrol still did their circuit of the ruins with bored eyes before returning to more important duties in different parts of the continent.
Ignored, abused and half forgotten, the city had once been a glorious place of pilgrimage where many younger Slann and Lizardmen came to pay homage to the Great Plan. All this was gone. And the shrines to the Old Ones lay vacant. Untouched by any, they seemed, if any building could ever be, waiting for something...
The gentle ripples on the spawning pool became more pronounced. The serene waters gradually began to become frenzied, the bubbling and sloshing splitting the eerie silence that pervaded their surroundings. Frothing and boiling the spawning pool reached a tremendous crescendo which sent animals fleeing and birds to the skies in abject terror.
And then, silence. With only the lapping of the waves indicating what had occurred.
Many hundreds of kilometres away, for the first time in centuries, eyes flew open...
The waters of the spawning pool gradually rose and split as a dark shape rose and shook itself. No living creature was there to bear witness to this momentous event occurring for the first time in memory. Eyes opened and the shape made it's way uncertainly to the edge of the pool and laboriously made it's way to the bank where it lay breathing heavily. Xholmundi looked around and blinked slowly. Unsure of himself he simply watched the pool that he had just come from as it split again. "My brothers" he breathed as shapes started emerging from his pool and other dotted around the clearing disgorging others who cautiously viewed their surroundings before making their way to him. "Xholtoc" he said "Finally we have emerged". The other Slann looked at him and slowly nodded his head.
They watched as 7 more of their spawning came on to solid ground for the first time. Still disoriented by their situation, the ten sat heavily, unsure of what to do next. And yet, each viewed the ruins of Xhotl with optimism believing that they were part of the Great Plan and would be able to restore the City of Destiny to its former glory. As they swept their eyes over the ruins an ear-splitting roar made them start.
Many hundreds of kilometres away, for the first time in centuries, a face split with a smile...
They turned to see an enormous creature come from the furthest pool. Shaking it's craggy head from side to side it gradually made way towards the group. "By the Old Ones" Xholmundi muttered, "It's a Kroxigor! Truly we are blessed". Xholtoc and the others agreed and as a group they moved deeper in to the city. At it's peak, at the very top of the ziggurat that dominated the vista they found the temple. Open and inviting. As they made their way inside they saw, in pride of place in the centre of the room an oblong object. Surrounded on the walls by carved images of Slann from days long past running and jumping in strange armour, with the oblong being an integral part of the mosaics and carvings it spoke to them on a primal and insinctual level. They watched in awe as a shaft of sunlight illuminated the oblong and a plaque behind it that read, "This ball brought glory to Xhotl once as it shall be once again".
The same thought came to their heads, almost as if it had been placed there... They must band together and bring glory to the Slann. They must enact their part of the Great Plan.
Many hundreds of kilometres away, for the first time in centuries, a voice laughed...
Xholmundi heard the laugh as if it was right next to him. As he wildly turned this way and that trying to determine who had desecrated the serenity of such a holy place he heard a voice clearly talk to him. The voice simply stated that this spawning was chosen for great things.
That they would become as legendary as gods. But that this was only the first step on a long and arduous journey. A journey they must undertake to fulfill the Great Plan. But first, they must make their way to Hexoatl. On the way they would face maddening visions, enemies and distractions but it was essential that they came to meet him.
"Who are you?" asked Xholmundi.
"Why, that is easy" said the voice in his head. "I am Lord Mazdamundi"... Continuing, the voice asked "And what shall you call your group of destiny?". Xholmundi considered and said aloud...
"Lord Mazdamundi. If we are to be as gods as you say, then we must believe ourselves to be their equals. We shall be gods. The Sun Gods..." he roared aloud, "XHOTL SUN GODS!". He felt the approval in his mind as the presence receded and the others nooded their head in agreement. They had all heard it.
As one, they left the temple and made their way in to the jungle.
The Sun Gods made their way in to the clearing.
Disoriented by the sunlight after days in the jungle they saw hazy silhouettes approaching and were immediately on guard. As they regained their vision they saw armoured creatures limbering up and throwing an oblong around that looked like the one from the temple. The apparent leader of the group slowly sauntered towards them.
The creature said that these were from Ulthuan, a name that some of the Slann knew by reputation having never seen it themselves and she offered them a game of Blood Bowl. Xholmundi enquired as to what he meant and in reply the Elf simply pointed at what they called the "ball".
The team had never played before but they more than held their own. Using their in built knowledge they used old tactical techniques to limit movement of the Elves as best they could. Losing Hextep to a block early they managed to do this at a numerical disadvantage that gave them hope for the rest of the match. In the second half, the Slann started damaging the Elves managing to break their glorious crafted armour. Yet, their inexperience showed.
They allowed a single Elf to make her way to the ball carrier and she haughtily knocked him to the ground. The ball stayed loose and the game fizzled out to a 0-0 draw. As the game was over, the Sun Gods tensed not knowing what the Elves had in mind. The leader simply inclined her head in respect of the Sun Gods efforts and stated that as the Slann had shown courage in their attempts that they would go on their way and not detain them any longer.
As the Elves melted in to the undergrowth, the Sun Gods slowly started to breathe again. Tlaxconqua roared his approval towards the skies as the rest of the team considered the events they had taken part in. Their first game and they had not been ashamed. They had managed to break even and, in doing so, gave themselves fresh confidence that they would make it to Hexoatl to see what was in store for them.
With Hextep bandaged and lain on a stretcher by a passing Skink Priest that agreed to help the team on their quest, the Sun Gods made their way towards Hexoatl again. They knew not why the Skink priest was there or how he had known what was to happen and it was not a question they felt the desire to ask.
One step at a time.
The Sun Gods had wandered for days, not lost as such, just deep in contemplation from their first ever game. "Xholmundi?" asked Xholtoc, "What is our plan?". The captain considered this and the mood was hushed as they tried to gauge what Xholmundi might be thinking.
"We must make our way to Hexoatl. There we may find allies on our quest. I hear that they Slann there are quite fast and tricky which may aid us on our journey". The others nodded as it made perfect sense. At that moment however, they noticed Tlaxconqua peering intently at the horizon where the low foothills were shrouded in an afternoon fog. "What is wrong?" they asked. Tlaxconqua simply grunted as they made out more of the lithe "Elves" that had bedevilled them in their first ever game.
Yet these were different. They wore antique masks and less armour. Clearly intended to aid their movement. The Sun Gods were well aware how slippery they could be and they groaned inwardly as they considered how they were to stop them in the event they received another challenge. Wordlessly, the two disparate group lined up on the grass and instinctively the Elven players made their way in to a spread formation. Xholmundi nodded to the others and they agreed that they would give them the ball first and see what could be done.
It started poorly.
The Elves were a whirlwind of movement. Even though they appeared rusty in making some mistakes, when it counted they slipped away like the fog that had clouded the surface. Xholtoc himself tried in vain to stop a score with the Elf simply too agile to allow even a desperation tackle from the young blitzer. Tlaxconqua was enraged as the Sun Gods got the ball back. The Elves harried them mercilessly but Tenqhex managed to leap over the stunned Elves and pass to Xholmundi who sprinted for the end zone as fast as he could. The delight on his face was obvious as he scored the first ever TD for the team. Mobbed by his teammates he could only exhort them to keep up the pressure as they would receive the ball again. By now they had an advantage thanks to a journeyman who had joined them. He told the team that he would help them to field 11 players as he was on a spiritual quest of his own.
The team used their unusual tackling skills as the game continued trapping the unsuspecting Elves and allowing for them to gang up on the remaining opposition players. Xholmundi was on fire and managed to score again late in the second half of the game thanks to some excellent work by his unsung brothers. They were delighted at the final result which was a victory all of them could be proud of.
As for the Elves, they were the epitome of their noble race, shaking hands with the Sun Gods before seeming to simply vanish such was their grace and movement. The journeyman revealed himself as a temple guardian and gave Xholmundi a crafted glass jug with some liquid in it.
"In honour of your great victory Xholmundi".
"What is it?" Xholmundi asked.
"A secret elixir given to those who are touched by the Old Ones. Drink... DRINK!!".
As Xholmundi drank he felt his mind quicken and open to possibilities that he had not seen before. He felt more alert and agile and smiled softly. He turned to the rest of the team and looked at them all in turn.
As the fatigued team continued to shuffle along the weed-strewn pathways of southern Lustria thoughts began to encroach on their minds about just how difficult their task, whatever it was, was going to be. So far they had found an easy camaraderie that made these dark and forbidding thoughts stay at a distance. They had been victorious and it was with optimism that they came upon another group of Elves that were making their way east.
These Elves looked different though. Not for them was the easy arrogance of their brethren as they appeared disciplined and alert upon the Sun God's approach. Xholmundi approached what appeared to be their leader, a grizzled Elf with an ornate helmet upon his head. After terms for a game were decided the Sun Gods took their places in order to defend what they knew would be a breakneck attack. And so it went...
The dizzying kaleidoscope of movement had the team on the back foot from the start with mistakes being the order of the day for the as yet inexperienced side. Furthermore, Tlaxconqua appeared disoriented managing to tangle himself up with one of the lesser Elves and come tumbling to the ground. The young Kroxigor seemed all at sea and struggled to get up to speed so soon after his previous efforts. With a roar however, he got to his feet and smashed a poor Elf to the ground. The act smacked of poorly constrained anger and Xholmundi gritted his teeth as he saw the difficult situation the team was put in.
Perhaps he should have paid more attention to himself!
From out of nowhere an Elf pushed him off the pitch and on to some sharp rocks that dazed and confused him. He could only watch as the game continued, the harried Sun Gods trying to plug gaps that were appearing with ever increasing frequency. As the Elves managed to score the Sun Gods came together to discuss the goings on.
"Tlaxcoqua." said Xholtoc, "What on earth is happening, Brother?"
As usual, the Kroxigor only grunted and shook his head, his barely suppressed rage evident to all. "We can still gan respect here" said Xholmundi who had returned to the pitch, "We must keep organised and the Gods will shine on us". The Old Ones can be capricious when teaching a lesson though. The second period saw all organisation go by the wayside, the Elves irrepressible and unstoppable as they ran rings around the poor Slann. The match degenerated in to farce. Techniques were found wanting and the team spent more time on their rear ends than managing to take the fight to the opposition.
Errors of judgement and lapses of skill saw a fourth score run in. By now it was total disarray and the poor Slann just wanted it to be over. They knew that there would be trials and tribulations, yet the young ones were struggling to see the lessons that were being taught to them. Lessons such as strength in numbers, consistency, support for your friends, the kind of lessons that would be invaluable in times to come. The game ended and Tenqheq and Xholmundi made their way up to the Elven leader.
"You have great potential" he gravely intoned. The Slann dipped their heads in respect. "A mganificent game" stated Tenqheq baldly, "you were too good for us". "On this occasion we were, but you must not be disheartened as sometimes we have days such as these. My party used to be many, but now we are fragmented and bowed seeking only to return home." The two teams shared what they had in the way of provisions and both went on their way.
"Xholmundi." A voice said from out of nowhere.
"Yes. It is I. I hope you have all learned a valuable lesson."
"Indeed, Lord. We have learned that we must support our friends. If we may do so there is nothing we cannot achieve."
"Correct. Now..." said the voice, "consider this a gift from the old ones"...
As the voice faded, a golden nimbus of light began to play around Tlaxconqua's features. The others gaped, spellbound as the massive lizard turned to them. A slow smile dawning on his face...
"Tlaxconqua know how to block".
It was nearing the end of a long day on the road.
The cobbles seemed to go on forever and it was becoming more and more obvious that the Sun Gods needed to rest. They stopped by the side of the ancient road and set a fire in order to cook the meagre provisions that they had with them. As the fire crackled away shadows seem to dance around and the wan light flickered as the players rested.
All of a sudden, Xholmundi sat up. As if a little voice in his head had alerted him to imminent danger he looked around to see that a single shadow near the edge of the fire was not moving in the gloom like the others. He barked out a challenge. "Who are you? What do you want?" he demanded. As the others began to chuckle at him, the shadow stepped forward and resolved itself in to the slender shape of an Elf.
This Elf was not like the others the Sun Gods had encountered before. He had a haughty yet haggard expression and he seemed somewhat jittery as he surveyed the scene. Other shadows stepped forward and there was an unspoken challenge in their postures. Xholmundi raised his teammates who were now totally alert and in the shadows of the roaring fire the two disparate groups lined up across from each other.
As the kick from Tihex soared in to the air, Tlaxconqua saw something glistening in the half light. A weapon of some kind? Unthinkable! As he was thinking this, the knife flashed out and scored a deep groove along Kailoq's armour. This wouldn't stand! Bellowing a challenge, Tlaxconqua surged forward. With a mighty sweep of his arm, the emaciated figure was smashed to the ground. A rattle escaped his lips as he breathed his last on the pitch. With that, the game resembled a battle. Xholmundi was knocked out and in retaliation Kailoq broke the hand of one of the Elves. These Elves appeared to be a darker, more malevolent breed of the species and they kept driving forward trying to press their advantage from scoring early.
Another fell. Kailoq was possessed as he kept pounding on the shadowy figures managing to badly hurt another of them. His stalwart brother Itzakai followed his lead, forcing another of the Dark Elves to slink off in to the night cradling his mangled hand as well. By the end of the first half there were only 6 of the Elven interlopers left on the pitch, one of their comrades having tripped on a stone in the semi-darkness and being dragged off to safety. Xholtoc scored at the end of the half to make the scores level. The Sun Gods felt they had a real advantage now and resolved to maintain their discipline.
And so, the Sun Gods received the ball and slowly began to march down field. Pressing their weight of numbers on the suddenly hard pressed Elves, they managed to move towards their end of the field. The danger to them now was a frenzied female. "Witch!" yelled Tihex in disgust as he gouged her eye and forced her off the field as well. Now very short on numbers, the Elves tried everything they could but it was no good. Tihex seemed inspired and joyfully shouted that he now knew how to guard his teammates. They knew it would be a very important epiphany and was truly a gift of the Old Ones.
Xholtoc scored his second of the game right at the death and with that, the game was over. The Dark Elves tried to main a Sun God with the last actions of the match but thankfully, the team thought, they were unsuccessful.
And like that. They were gone. Suddenly left alone the Sun Gods returned to their camp and settled in for the night.
Tomorrow would be a long day.
The team trudged through the night making their way slowly in the darkness.
Alert to their surroundings and somewhat on edge, the Sun Gods were still shocked by what happened next. A ear splitting howl rumbled through the undergrowth that merged with the edge of the cobblestones. "What was that?" Thought Xholmundi. "Kailoq, Tenqhex... Have a look."
Just as the two Slann moved towards the disturbance a bald, emaciated man in long dark robes stepped heavily on to the path. "My children need meat" he said raising a gnarled, ornate staff to the air. "And meat they shall have". A beam of foul light issued from the end of the staff and another howl, more powerful than before, split the still night. The Sun Gods were horrified to see shambling wrecks coming from the undergrowth and jerkily line up opposite them. Two blurred and furry shapes kept racing around the team and they could just make out the hint of slavering jaws and sharp teeth.