August 31, 2015
The eight mismatched heroes approached the remains of the ruins with slow careful steps. Although the structure stayed obscured by the plummeting rain, they saw towering grey blocks leaning in a haphazard manner. Pillars both whole and broken stood upright or more often on their side. Darkness lurked within half destroyed building and gapped like the mouths of titanic monsters as they pressed in past the first outskirts of the ruins.
Lightning crashed like it aimed for them and again Jack wondered if it may have an unnatural source. They struggled through the rain and the litter of large marble stones when lightning stuck close enough for the thunder to leave their ears ringing. The blast also illuminated the giant stone heads that covered the slopes of this land, which Tynilia had called The Valley of the Decapitated Gods.
Knowing that their only goal was to find shelter from the building storm, Jack searched for a place large enough to hold all of them, but after two failed attempts, Stalker rushed past him. He had images of the man of Tezcatlipoca being swallowed up by some foul thing, but instead the tall man returned two minutes later.
His dark face turned toward them. “I found a bigger building that has remained intact. It is dry inside and even has enough tinder and stray wood to get a fire going.”
Jack spied a dead log and snatched it up and a few of the others followed his example as the tried not to loose Stalker through the rain.
A black door stood high enough to let one of Vile’s dinosaurs pass through. Stalker lead the way heading over to some dry leaves he must have spotted earlier. Before long he got a small fire going, while the others tried to shake off the rain.
Jack tossed his wet log over the fire and found a dry branch with leaves still clinging to it. It went up easy, but Jack knew the light wouldn’t last long. He moved to try to take in the rest of what appeared to be a huge open space.
Tynilia and Huth followed him as he traveled deeper into the structure. Almost at once, arcing rows in rows of granite benches loomed bone white out of the darkness. The benches bent like gentle crescents and stretched further than they could see before him.
Shadowknife caused them to jerk when he appeared out of the darkness. “It appears we have entered a temple of some kind.” He glanced Tynilia’s way. “Perhaps once this was a home to one of your decapitated gods.”
She shivered and hugged her little arms closer to herself. “They aren’t my gods.”
Behind them, Quez and Vel-Lenna continued to stoke the fire and its weak illumination began to keep some of the blackness at bay. Yet shadows still lingered like giant moving things as outside the storm continued to rage.
Stalker called to them from the center of the lingering dark. “There’s an alter up here, but something even more strange.”
Before they could reach him, he had lit some type of stone pedestal. It must have had enough lingering oil residue, for a fire moved in an eerie blue dance within a concave bowl.
Three things struck Jack. The first was the size of podium. A man standing behind it would have to be twice Jack’s size to use it. Behind this was an alter, also oversized, which was covered in ancient stains. Towering over all this was a statue weathered by time, but no less horrid. Six beetle eyes spiraled out from a bloated fleshy head, which clung to a body more toad than man. Foul wings fit for the back of a fly lay limp across its back. Six appendages all ended in taloned hands, although only the front four were arms, while the back two resembled the reversed legs of a canine.
“I don’t remember seeing that one’s head out there,” Jack said.
“Perhaps it is because he never lost it,” Shadowknife suggested.
“Over here,” Stalker called out again. Strike stood at his side as the man of Tezcatlipoca pointed his spear down into a well of darkness. “What do you think this is?” he asked as the others drew in.
Below them a pit stretched sixty feet across. The circle had been braced with stone brickwork, but stranger still was the thin staircase that spiraled down into the impenetrable darkness.
“Someplace I sure don’t wish to go,” Tynilia said.
“Pah,’ Stalker started. “You’ve been spending too much time with the Yiggites. We of Tezcatlipoca seek out the rewards of Darkness.”
“As do we Darcarre,” Shadowknife said. “But that does not mean that danger and death do not also lurk there.”
A scream sounded, long and female. As one, the others looked back for its source. A giant form came their way. It charged at them like an avalanche of buzzing flesh blocking out the light of the fire behind it.
The group was forced to dive to the side or risk being knocked into the pit. Jack had just enough time to see the limp form of Quez in the colossal beast’s left hand while a still screaming Vel-Lenna was grasped in its right.
He saw a flash of a jeweled colored eye as the thing flew over his head and dove into the pit.
No one appeared to be immune from the shock and terror of what they just witnessed as they hurried to their feet.
“She’s still alive and Quez might be as well, we have no choice but to go after them,” Jack said, looking at the pit and then back at the gruesome statue. It could have been a trick of the light, but Jack could have sworn he saw an insane grin on the beast where none had been before.
To be continued next Monday
August 17, 2015
Jack was starting to think that the only thing worse than walking toward near certain doom, was doing it with a group of people who appeared to hate each other.
Tezcatlipoca worshippers and the followers of Yig had a long running feud, and although both Stalwarts, tended to consider themselves not only opposites, but adversaries and this group appeared to be no exception. Probably Jack’s move to divert The Darken army from its march toward the village of Yig to instead attack the Tezcatlipoca stronghold must likely did little to help improve Jack’s standing in Stalker’s eyes.
Also, since he was dating Tynilia, who was of Tezcatlipoca, Stalker had chosen to really hate him as had the only other female, Vel-linna. She and the other new follow of Yig, Quez-Zul-Aul had their own conversations while often shooting cross looks his way. He had never gotten along with Huth before, but compared to the others, he considered the young warrior his most prized friend.
If anything, the Xemmoni pair was the lowest maintenance of the group. They knew they were hated by all and set themselves apart without being asked and only spoke when needed.
The area they passed through was losing much of the dense forest that Jack had grown accustomed to. Instead the trees became sparse and cling to the sides of shale covered canyons. The air grew hotter as they climbed higher into a mountain range that gave no sign of ending. Each time they would get their weary bodies up to the top of a mountain pass, three more higher ranges would loom out of the mists before them. Rain fell and filled small streams, which the warriors splashed through without complaint.
Jack heard the crunching of gravel as someone moved up to walk by his side. Tynilia arrived and looked up at him with a forced smile. As always, her nibble body moved with the grace of a female cat—both inviting and dangerous. “Having fun?”
“Can’t say I am. This feels more like a funeral march than a quest. Somehow I didn’t think my heroic quest would be so gloomy. Certain death is bad enough without everyone hating each other along the way.”
“Can’t say I disagree with you. I think part of the problem is the language barrier. You feel isolated from your fellows of Yig, who should be your biggest supporters.”
“True, it isn’t helping that I can only speak with you and the Darcarre. Although I guess Stalker could communicate, he just doesn’t want too.”
“Oh, I’ve got a few earfuls from him, believe me,” she said sounded more tired than before. “But I’ve been talking to them and I’m not sure if the female bonding overrode other issues, but Vel has agreed to learn my language spell. When she agreed Huth followed, and I don’t think Quez wanted to be left out, so if things go well, by tomorrow at least we can all talk to each other,” she smiled, “even if most of them won’t want to.”
“Well thanks. I don’t think it will hurt morale to be able to converse.”
“Oh it could,” she managed to laugh. “And I should also let you know that Stalker all but demanded I sleep by his side tonight. In his eyes being associated with you and Yig is a matter of betrayal that needs to be rectified as promptly as possible.”
“I might just rectify him, if he doesn’t watch out.”
“Try to avoid that if you can. Who knows what be might face when we find the Lava Dragons, but it is still a long journey before we reach them, I imagine we’ll have no shortage of obstacles before we get there and that is if The Darken doesn’t discover what we are doing and send minions of his own to attempt to destroy us.”
“Fun world you live on here, Ty.”
“Oh, it wasn’t so bad before The Darken showed up. Sure evil lingered her, but a Stalwart like a few challenges right?”
“I used to just like a cold beer after a long bike ride, but I guess those days are long past me.”
The path turned up a boulder studded hill and soon they walked through rounded stones with the weathered faces of men carved into them. The figures looked so vague and faint that Jack couldn’t be sure if they were some old monuments or if his mind just played tricks on him.
She saw him looking and said, “I’ve never been this far north before, I doubt any of us have, but I have heard of this place. The valley of the decapitated gods.”
“Charming. Doesn’t anyone know who created these?”
“It is said that these were once the old gods of our world, but the new Gods like Tezcatlipoca and Yig slayed these others so they could take their place. Once Yig and Tez were brothers and fought together, but like much you find in the world, those days are long long past.”
They marched in silence as they passed through the fields of giant stone faces. Each stayed lost in thought as overhead a storm began to build.
Soon rain added to their concerns and the temperature dropped faster than the participation.
Huth and Quez-Zul-Aul had been scouting ahead. They returned to the rest of the group just as lightning began to crash into the hill side. It had reached a dangerous state so quickly that Jack wondered if somehow magic could be involved with its creation.
Tynilia drew him back to the present. “Huth says he has found shelter up ahead. An old temple lingers in the valley below us.”
Shadowknife had reached their side. “Old temples often hold forgotten horrors.” A blast of lightning illuminated his black face as he spoke.
“I agree,” Jack said, but this storm seemed unnatural. If I have to face something unnatural, I would prefer a thing I can fight versus a bolt of lightning I have no chance against.”
Shadowknife only nodded and the group followed Huth at a half jog as the storm continued to increase in ferocity.
To be continued next Monday
August 10, 2015
The team of eight warriors was assembled. Jack would have liked to have called it a team of eight Stalwarts, but since two of their members were Splinter Darcarre, that title didn’t fit. He just hoped that they all shared a common goal.
Great, he thought to himself. Two Xemmoni and two Tezcatlipoca worshippers, not sure which of those two I trust less, but then he made a pinched face. One of the latter two, he was dating, so perhaps he should try to be more open minded. Although with the glares Stalker gave him, it was hard to be sure.
Drawing a deep breath, Jack poked at the embers of his fire while taking in the rich scents of the damp forest. Green vines weaved themselves through the old trees and around weathered stone. Small animals moved through the fallen leaves while birds sang a thousand tunes as they darted through the canopy. So much life flowed around him if proved hard to believe they remained caught within an epic struggle, which if they lost, could mean the end to all he beheld.
Again, he regretted that the old shaman Mythcul wouldn’t be accompanying them and Jack had walked out of his lean-to into the early morning to find him. Instead he found himself being approached by his lover, Tynilia, who had apparently stayed up all night, for she had never joined him, and the Splinter Darcarre Shadowknife. Each figure clung to the checkered shadows created by the emerald leaves that whispered overhead.
“We’ve come up with a plan,” She said, without as much as a hug or hello.
He attempted to contain his frustration that she felt the need to make decisions without him, but yet it was their world not his. He was only a hitchhiker here. A hitchhiker drawn into a war they couldn’t hope to win, unless this insane idea of enlisting the aid of the distant Lava Dragons could somehow work.
Like usual, Shadowknife didn’t feel the need to add any words, so Jack asked, “Well, what is it?”
“I have been far north of this place, in the direction we need to head. The plan is, I teleport Shadowknife to an old set of ruins. Once his familiarizes himself to the area, he will be able to return. We will do that now and then rest. Then at sunset, we will have just enough energy to transport our new group there.”
Showing some affection, she moved forward and ran her hand over his arm. “But once we are done, we’ll be exhausted again. Both he and I will need to sleep before we are ready for travel.”
Jack found her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze, then tried to smile. “Sounds like a good start, but I was secretly hoping we might gain more of those Wyrens we flew before.”
She looked sorrowful and gazed at the grass beneath her sandals. “Their use is rare and I’m afraid most have already been lost in the war against The Darken.”
Jack nodded. “Then at least your plan will give us a head start. But with us traveling on foot that gives the small forces of Yig and your tribe little time before they could be overwhelmed.”
The ebony figure of Shadowknife spoke. “Your words stay true, but if we are somehow not devoured by the Lava Dragons and if they do in fact still exist, then our journey back would be brief.”
Jack looked puzzled, so Tynilia added, “What he is trying to say is if we can somehow succeed in our mad quest, we’ll be returning on their backs.”
Jack did manage an honest smile this time. “So no matter how the cards fall, I only have to worry about walking one way.”
She nodded, but he could tell she looked tired. Acting on impulse he took her nibble form into his arms.
“Jack, Jack, what are you doing?”
“You look beyond exhausted and we might not have a lot of privacy soon, so I think I’m going to tuck you into bed. I haven’t been up long and my final day of tasks can wait a while longer.”
“But I still need to show Shadowknife the place to the north.”
“It can wait a few hours. I don’t want you in the wilds while you can barely keep your eyes open.”
She smiled up at him before giving him a kiss. “Can I share a secret with you?’
“I think I’m starting to like you more than your incarnation.”
“It might be the strangest complement I’ve ever received, but I’ll take it.” He laid her onto the comfortable mat of moss he had collected. Her body felt so warm and soft as he moved over her and for a long while their problems were forgotten.
To be continued next Monday
August 3, 2015
Jack was back in the new camp the followers of Yig had created after Vile Darken’s attack on them. It was hidden deeper within the woods and with their alignment with nature even the devourer of worlds would be hard pressed to discover them there, but currently Vile Darken wasn’t the most pressing thing on his mind.
Jack had just agreed to attempt a quest that apparently no one had been able to complete for over a thousand years. He and a small group would be journeying to the far north to try to summon the aid of the Lava Dragons who tended to just eat everyone who approached them.
Since Yig’s mystic number was eight. Mythcul had decided that eight warriors should go. Jack would be one of these, of course, and Tynilia had agreed to go. Shadowknife had also volunteered, which left five open spots. Huth quickly filled one of them, leaving them halfway there, but after that the others had left him alone with his thoughts as well as out of the loop as they each left on unknown missions.
Huth had walked off with Mythcul, while both Shadowknife and Tynilia had teleported away, leaving Jack to brood by himself. Yes, he was within a group of almost eighty warriors who all worshiped the same god he did, but the language barrier still kept him apart.
His nervous pacing continued.
He kept expecting at least Mythcul or Huth to check in with him, but neither appeared to be in a hurry to do so. The away teams concerned him. He hadn’t even been sure where they teleported off to and he also worried over who they might bring back. When one headed toward near certain doom, it was a good thing to at least have people at your back that you could trust.
As the sun began to set to the west, Jack moved under the shadowed trees. Moss hung in emerald strings, which slowly dripped moisture onto the living carpet below. The calls of the wild animals echoed through the canyons as they greeted the night. In the distance a jaguar roared, but its hunting call only reminded him of his lover, Tynilia, who followed the great jaguar deity Tezcatlipoca.
Shadowknife was the first to return. With him a black warrior stood both tall and lean. He carried little to cover his body, which like Shadowknife, had been tattooed completely black. For weapons he carried a single jet spear and a brace of obsidian daggers. Besides a small bag thrown over his shoulder and a loin cloth, this was the extent of his possessions. Jack didn’t need his Detect Darken spell to tell that this was another of the Splinter Darcarre who had rebelled against Vile’s attempt to bring all Xemmoni under his vast cloak of evil.
Shadowknife addressed him. “This man is known as Strike and is one of the few Splinter Darcarre to have survived The Darken’s counter attack on my people. He is a strong warrior and one of the most powerful men we have left. He, however, does not posses the Bestow that allows me to communicate with you, but I will be teaching it to him this night.”
“So unless there had been any new information you need to communicate to me, I will be off to do just that.”
“No, you’re the first back. Besides you two, the only other person to join our team was Huth.”
“Very well then,” Shadowknife said with a nod and then proceeded to walk away.
Strike regarded Jack for a moment with could best be termed a snarl, but then followed his fellow Xemmoni off into the darkness.
Night had completed its goal to claim the land, but Jack was unable to find rest. It startled him when Tynilia suddenly appeared next to the fire just as he was throwing another huge log onto its glowing embers.
She had a strong warrior with her whose body was covered in tiger strips of both light and dark. The man was ignored for a moment as her slim form threw herself into Jack’s arms. “Oh Jack, my return to my village was worse than I might have imagined.” Her weary body pressed against him. “I was lucky to leave with my life. Many, including my former lover, sought my blood, but cooler minds prevailed.” She managed a smile, “Mostly because I challenged their courage. Once I threw down that spear, a few men couldn’t refuse my offer.”
She turned toward the man behind her. His corded muscles flexed as he eyed Jack, with, if anything, more distaste than Strike. For weapons the man carried two spears, a spiked mace, as well as an obsidian sword. Raven feathers covered his shoulders and he had a vest of black scales that ran down to a tight set of ebony breeches.
“Jack, this is Stalker. He couldn’t resist a chance at being included in our mythic quest. Please set him up with a place to call his own, for I have one more task to complete.”
“No wait…” But she was already gone.
Again the language barrier slowed the process, but the warrior of Tezcatlipoca was as happy to remove himself from the others and Jack was to be rid of his glare.
A few hours before dawn, a very weary looking Mythcul arrived with a young woman of stunning beauty, but a very reserved and dignified manner. He introduced the female warrior of Yig as Vel-Arsra-Linuh. Jack was able to understand just enough of his words to conclude that she was a Shaman. He had secretly hoped that Mythcul would be accompanying them, but perhaps the long journey was not something the older man felt he could mange.
The woman was barely more than a girl, and Jack couldn’t help but find her a strange choice for the mission. Her body had been tattooed in several places with green triangle scales and the rest of her was covered in furs and feathers that did little to hide her nibble body. For weapons she carried only a single spear. After more awkward attempts at conversation the pair removed themselves for further preparations.
Just as Jack began to nod off, Tynilia returned with the final member of their team. From the looks of him, he was another warrior of Yig, but from a different tribe. Unlike Mythcul’s warriors who looked more like what Jack associated with the plains Indians of North America on his own world. This man, like so many of both his allies and enemies had more of a Mayan look to him. His darker skin was covered with green feathers and faded cloth designed to camouflage him into the forest. He carried maces, daggers, spears, javelins, and a large iron sword, a rare commodity in this world.
Tynilia appeared exhausted and her red rimmed eyes indicated that she might have been weeping not long before her arrival. With a tired wave of her hand, she said, “This is Quez-Zul-Aul a warrior of Yig. He is your… your other Incarnation’s right hand man and has been slowly learning your language.”
Despite his short stature, Jack sensed he was a powerful warrior. He nodded his head toward Jack. “You look much alike. I have great respect for the mighty hero that leads us. We will see if you match his virtue.”
That being said, the man walked off toward where the leaders of the northern Yig tribe still conferred.
“Gods, I’m glad that’s over,” she said. He moved in to comfort her, but she continued. “I’m a little confused right now, Jack.” Her dark eyes met him. “I think I need some time to think.”
He watched her small form walk into the forest as the first rays of the sun graced the eastern sky and was once again alone.
To be continued next Monday