For the Glory of the Old Ones (part 2)
They involuntarily gulped and kicked the ball high in to the air, and one of the wolves raced on to it and picked it up. There was some inconsequential early blocking as the guard of Tihex allowed for the others to have more confidence in their efforts. Xholmundi and Xholtoc leapt over the line and almost managed to free the ball early but their efforts were in vain. Still, Xholtoc had enough presence of mind to dive full length to bring down a dodging wolf allowing Xholmundi to go for the ball. Getting the ball free and leaping away, he was able to get to safety and eventually the Sun Gods were able to score having lost Hextep and Kailoq who were badly hurt whilst trying to move away from the clutches of the zombies.
Luckily for the Sun Gods they were not too badly outnumbered as they began the second period and brought the ball to the left of the field. Tlaxconqua led the way as the big lizard blocked free a number of harried Sun Gods players. Xholmundi believed himself to be free and moved in to the open field deep in the opposition half. But a wolf was immediately in front of him and another turned to see the Slann blitzer as easy pickings. Luckily for him, the wolf stumbled on the uneven surface and fell to the ground. Tlaxconqua was able to bring his might to bear and assist Xholmundi who smashed the wolf to the ground, breaking his jaw. He then held for a bit to allow the clock to run down and scored with 3 turns remaining.
A solid deep kick put pressure on the necromancer's charges who tried blocking themselves free from danger. They attempted a break down the flank but the superior movement of the Slann allowed them to cut off the necromantic thrusts with the ball sat very deep with very little time to go. The Slann believed themselves to be safe as they completed their final turn and the necromancer's team couldn't score to equalise. But it was not to be...
With a cry of unfettered rage, the necromancer pointed his staff square at Tlaxconqua. As the others watched, horrified, the remaining wolf raced in and raked his claws down the front of the Kroxigor who slumped to the ground in a pool of his own blood. The necromancer smiled at his little victory and the Sun Gods didn't even register the departure of that foul crew as they raced to the side of the big Krox. Tlaxconqua smiled at them all but it was clear to see that he had a limp resulting from the blow. A niggle perhaps, but one that could lead to great difficulties in his future.
"We must reach Itza as quickly as possible. Surely a temple priest will be able to help our friend." said Boqkai. The others agreed. Tlaxconqua may yet remain a valuable member of their band, but they needed time to ascertain the extent of the damage. With that, the team changed direction and made for Itza, the glorious city of the Old Ones which was but a few days walk.
The Sun Gods were nearing Itza.
They could feel it in their bones.
The weather was starting to become less oppressive and the sun was starting to peer out from behind of the stately clouds that slowly drifted serenely through the azure sky. With high spirits the players considered what they would be likely to find. Whilst they found it odd that they all knew where Itza was, being newly spawned from those holy pools near Xhotl, they understood that it was not unusual that this would be so as they were guided from afar by the mysterious Mazdamundi.
Xholmundi estimated that they were but a few days walk from the great city that still stood proudly, reminding the world of the greatness of the Slann. Home of the venerable Lord Kroak it was and remained their greatest citadel and the team was honoured that they would be soon to witness it for themselves. But first, they needed to get there.
As if that thought tempted fate, they came across some strangely dressed Elves. Dressed in earthy hues and appearing to commune with the natural surroundings, these Elves appeared to be talking to a tree. Xholtoc shook his head. "We all know that nature should be respected" he said, "But isn't it odd that they would talk to a tree and expect a response?...". With a sound like the earth coming apart, the tree pulled itself free from the ground and joined the Elves who beamed with delight.
Xholmundi introduced himself and the Elves stated that they would be delighted to have a match. With a friendly air, the game got underway with the Elves deciding to kick. Xholmundi received the ball as Itzakai and Tihex made for the flanks to try and make some space. Xholtoc also making his way round to get himself in to scoring range. Some ineffectual blocking made for a interesting scene as the stage was set. Shocked, the players watched as a particularly lithe Elf managed to leap over their lines. Running downfield with a partner the Elf attempted to knock over Xholmundi who was entranced by the ease in which the opponent had avoided his teammate's clutches. Luckily for the Sun Gods, the Elf was unable to knock him down and the reaction was immediate. Xholmundi broke clear and passed to Itzakai who fumbled the ball before clinging on and giving it to Xholtoc. Xholtoc scampered down the line and waited next to the goal line, with Tihex lending strong support. The Elves tried in vain to get to grips with Xholtoc with another of the leaping Elves knocking himself down. Meanwhile, the tree had entangled itself in some roots and had not moved.
The Sun Gods hoped it would continue as Xholtoc ran in an early score.
Divine intervention allowed the Sun Gods to perfectly rearrange their defence and they resumed their attack on the ball. Managing to wrestle down the Wardancer (as they heard the Elf's teammates call it) Xholmundi scooped up the ball and made his way downfield. He was knocked down and the Elves recovered for a time until they fumbled the ball. The other wardancer tripped on the uneven field and managed to hurt himself. He would not return. The Lustrian heat seemed to be affecting the Elves badly as they dropped the ball and the Slann swarmed it to prevent an Elf score to end the half.
Sadly, a young linefrog who had joined them as he was traveling to Itza as well, came too close to the tree who smote him with a powerful crack of an oversized bough. He didn't make a sound as the life fled from his body.
1-0 at half time and the Sun Gods were delighted as things could have been much worse. The tree was not moving much but he threatened the team with his sheer power. Sadly, that power would be brought to bear on Itzakai. Once again that assive branch swept around and smashed into him breaking his neck as the Sun Gods looked on in horror. Xholmundi decided that they needed to regroup and managed to run in a second score after sweeping on to a loose ball and hopping away.
By now the soporific effect of the humidity and heat was doing the damage, the Elves seemed cursed as everything was going wrong. Ruthlessly the Sun Gods capitalised. The ball was lost and Uaxtoc picked it up after it had scattered away from the immobile tree. He threw it towards Xholmundi who was under great pressure but the captain managed to snare the ball and run away to score and gain the favour of the Gods with a new skill.
From this point, both teams wanted the game over without further mishap.
As Xholmundi walked over to the Elves and thanked them for the game he was deep in thought. Another of their brothers had been badly injured and it was with a mixture of despair and pride that he shook the hand of the Elf captain and bade him safe travels to wherever he was going. Returning to the team Itzakai told the team that with his injury he could no longer play, but he would stay with the team and follow them on their great journey. With heavy hearts, the rest of the team agreed.
Now they could see the outskirts of the city in the shimmering distance. The glimmer of gold was enough to make the players shade their eyes as they continued on towards the imposing structure that formed the central temple.
Tlaxconqua, while still favouring his niggled back, was able to keep up with the team as they watchfully kept to the centre of the path. They all knew how valuable the icons and other treasures were inside the city and also knew that others gazed upon the stout stone walls with avarice and hunger, seeking nothing more than to breach those walls and feast upon the riches inside.
Meeting more and more of their fellow Slann as they made their way onwards, the Sun Gods came across another bank of Dark Elves who were encamped some leagues from the main gate. Upon being asked if they wanted a "friendly" game, the Sun Gods readied themselves. Xholtoc warned his friends about what had happened the last time they had agreed to a "friendly" game and to be on their guard. The others agreed. A crowd of Slann had gathered and were watching with keen interest as to what was to transpire.
As the players gathered to start, a small shadow came screaming through the air as a small projectile made its way from the crowd. Hextep slumped to the ground and was carried off by some of the onlookers, who attended to him as the play began.
The ball was kicked high in to the air and Tlaxconqua waded in to the fray knocking Elves down left and right. The Sun Gods made their way down field trying not to let too many gaps open up in their tight formation and they tried for the opening score. Xholmundi was knocked over with the ball falling to Xholtoc, a series of blocks allowed for the Slann to camp near the line ad score at the end of their sixth turn.
The Elves made their way down the right flank trying to get around the corner of the defence. With time running down, the Slann had a chance to blitz the ball carrier but chose to rely on their superior tackling skills not wanting to miss their block and allow freedom to move. The witch was able to hand off to her teammate who ran around to make it 1-1.
The crowd groaned at the fundamental error and as the players lined up for the second half, it seemed that one of the crowd made to even the score with his own rock arching high in to the air.
Maybe he meant to hit another.
Maybe he meant to simply send a message.
But as Tlaxconqua slumped to the ground the play stopped as many Slann rushed the field to attend to the big Krox. It was not to be. Slain before his time, in such an ignominious way, Tlaxconqua was dead. Wails and lamentations were heard far and wide and the young Slann who had foolishly lost his temper and thrown the rock was dragged away, protesting his innocence and begging for forgiveness. What became of him no one knew nor cared.
This seemed to put the fight out of the Sun Gods. Their listlessness began leading to mistakes and others leaving the field as their armour failed, the treatment tent becoming ever fuller with each turn. The Elves managed to score after reversing the play and catching out the defence. Xholtoc was injured when a blitzer fell on his leg. They all heard the crack of the bone as Xholtoc writhed in agony. The priest that followed the team around discussed the matter with Xholmundi and they decided that the only proper action was to leave him be. Rest and sturdy bindings would see to his recovery as well as keep him safe for the next game.
And yet, the Slann had a chance! Quet-ti broke free and made his way to the end zone. He screamed for a pass and Xholmundi saw it and tried to execute. Sadly, the Gods can be fickle, capricious beings and he fell to the ground. The Elves recovered easily and made their way down and sauntered arrogantly in to the end zone to lukewarm applause from the spectators.
After the game, the Sun Gods were listless and wracked with grief for their loyal friend. They considered what they were to do and mournfully committed the body of Tlaxconqua to the temple priests for internment. Xholmundi however decided that this attitude would not stand.
He screamed out at those present. "Will you show no pride? Will you not join us on our holy journey? Stand up if you are willing to be counted". Many shifted at those stirring words but none moved. As the team went to move on, the crowd parted as a massive shape made its way towards them.
"Mundiconqua help his Slann brothers in memory of mighty Tlaxconqua".
The crowd cheered with renewed vigour and the team moved on.
The Sun Gods were now within a short distance of the walls.
Imposing and sturdy, the team knew that this was the home of the venerable Lord Kroak. Having stood for aeons and withstood the depredations of all manner of invaders the guardians of the city were praised throughout the land. The sun glinted of their crests and spears as they stood sentinel at the great gate. As the players moved closer they were aware of an insistent buzz that was growing stronger with every step they took towards the towering edifice of the western gate. This was the first city of their forebears they had seen the way the Old Ones intended and they attempted to ignore the nagging sound as they moved on.
The players stopped and looked at each other, the unspoken question given voice by Uaxtoc... "Was that voice inside our heads?". Xholmundi was perturbed. This did not sound like the voice of Mazdamundi who had guided them so far from a distance. It sounded older, and much, much more powerful. As one they realised that it was the voice of Lord Kroak that they were hearing. The powerful mage was alert and due to his power, flickering images went through the players minds. Was it the past? The future? Who knew?
As one they went to one knee and awaited the next move. After what seemed to the players to be an age, the voice entered their heads again.
"You are from a special spawning. There are great plans in motion and these plans will require the finest of us. There is a prophecy that was foretold on the temple tablets. But I cannot tell you more. In order to prove your worth, you must battle an ancient enemy of all living things. Succeed in this task and you may enter Itza. You will have proven yourself worthy of being asked to attempt great things."
As the voice receded, the ground beneath their feet began to rumble. Hands burst from the rolling hills and zombies made their way to their feet. Howling wolves stood panting at the top of the rise with shambling wrecks slowly making their way forwards. The Sun Gods took their time and decided that they would start without the ball. The feeling being that they needed all their brothers together to defend from the onslaught.
The kick went high and the Slann reacted as one. Xholmundi broke in to the backfield where he was followed by Ankhaxl, the young vagabond showing his enthusiasm for the cause. Mundiconqua held the middle as the ball sat along the sideline guarded by two zombies. The Sun Gods managed to get Xholmundi on to one of the wolves but the wolf showed unnatural agility and broke across field. Having managed to extricate himself, Xholmundi blitzed the wolf with support and knocked him out. Ankhaxl managed to pick up the ball and the Slann were already deep in their opponent's half in possession of the ball.
The rest of the half went well for the Sun Gods.
They managed to protect Ankhaxl as he made his way down the field, Kailoq managing to badly hurt one of the tormented zombies. The wight, who showed unnatural strength, managed to badly hurt Tihex who was carried off the field where he was tended to by the shocked onlookers. The necromantic players attempted a late attack on Ankhaxl but to no avail. He made his way in to the end zone and roared with delight. After patting him on the back, the team made their way to the sideline at the half time break. The players knew that they were in a good position with the ball being in their hands for the second period of play.
In the second half, the Sun Gods had the blessings of the Old Ones. Boqkai pounded a wolf in to the turf which made things easier and a traveling itinerant made his mark by badly hurting another. Ankhaxl managed to get the ball again after it was passed to him by Xholmundi. The young Slann was protected for a time but the necromantic players managed to mark him up. The massive mountain of flesh and the strong wight trying to block him in. But Ankhaxl was inspired and broke free managing to score his second TD of the game!
The Sun Gods were jubilant but wary. They knew how quickly things could change and they had left 6 turns for the wolves and their compatriots to score twice. The wolves tried to use their superior mobility to break down the flank but Xholmundi was able to use his agility to use an assist. He badly hurt the wolf again and the ball was loose. The players were amazed to see the the wolves continuously shaking off bad injuries and skulking around the injury box waiting for their opportunity to regain the field. Xholmundi decided that discretion was the better part of valour and tried to pass the ball to Hextep but the ball bounced free.
Late on, the remaining wolf managed to get the ball but their attempts to score were fruitless, with the Sun Gods breathing a sigh of relief as the match ended. The zombies returned to the earth with the larger undead with the wolves rushing off to wait for a better opportunity.
After the match the players stood in front of the great gate. They could feel Mazdamundi's presence before he communicated with them.
"Sun Gods! You have proven yourselves worthy. For this auspicious moment there shall be rewards and gifts of plenty."
"Ankhaxl, for your efforts today, the great plan deems that you shall become an agile member of the party. You have scored 2 TDs in your second game and this is an opportune moment to reward you". The (by now) familiar glowing nimbus flared around his head and the young Slann fell to his knees in gratitude, struggling to understand the import of his new found agility.
"Quet-ti, you have been determined as the best player on this day because of your unselfish support of your teammates. Your reward should reflect this fact." Quet-ti beamed as he learned better how to guard his friends from enemies.
"Finally, Kailoq. You defended your friends well. Your reward is new found skill in wrestling. With this you may assist your teammates in creating room to move and protecting them." Kailoq simply bowed his head in thanks.
The players now watched as the massive doors ground open, admitting them to a holy place of the Slann. They had done well and now they were able to enter Itza. Here they would rest a while and practice for new challenges that were sure to present themselves.
The gates rumbled shut behind them...
The ancient city of Itza was renowned throughout the continent. Stout walls, strong gates and a large and well-maintained temple made the people feel safe and secure in their formidable redoubt that had recovered well from the Great Catastrophe that had befallen the Slann when Chaos roamed across the sweltering southern lands. Whilst the threat had subsided over the centuries, the Slann were ever alert to the possibility of invasion by means both overt and insidious.
This led to the Sun Gods being trained in the many ways that such an evil event may come to pass. After having spent several days in rest and contemplation, the Sun Gods were summoned to the temple where they would begin their training prior to returning to their journey. Still not having an understanding of their greater purpose, the team resolved to put their all into any tasks that they were given.
The High Priest bade them sit and after refreshments he outlined their exercise for the day. They were to take on a horde of necromantic invaders. In this exercise they were to focus on the principles of lightning attacks, marshaling their strength to exploit weaknesses in the opponent. The object, of course, was to win the match but they were told that they would gain great rewards if they were able to keep the necros from reaching the rear of their formation. In this case, the goal line.
The match began and, as had become their custom, the Sun Gods elected to kick. The necros formed a strong line and Xholmundi saw that the necros had neglected to layer their defence and if the Sun Gods could breach their lines then they might be able to cause disarray. And so it went...