Tuesday, 13 April 2010

ebon zikkuract - the eastern stair

By your divine majesty's pleasure, my soldiers accompanied Maldut of Uthuta to the eastern stair of the black zikkuract.  The scholars note this desert land lies under two suns and their heat rivals the furnaces of eastern Kamsad and Ankil's fury made us remove our armoured vests or risk his fever-curse.  The zikkuract of the eastern stair towers over an abandoned city the size of holy Lur.  No fires were lit, the only beasts we found in the overgrown gardens were scorpions as long as my forearm and black, leathery slugs.  Maldut noted the zikkuract crowned by the block and believed the miracle of Algolia would be found on each stair to be explored.  He also said these places were not lands but worlds, for the skies were different.  I believe him now, for we learned why Ankil watches this world with both eyes. 

The city is sandstone, shaded mazes of houses divided by broad avenues with great unlit brass braziers and statues of scorpions pointing their tails north and at the zikkuract.  In temples to beast-headed false gods we found decorated red clay pots, basalt, obsidian tools and opal jewellry.  Many of the outside walls had decorated walls of plaster showing people accepting gifts from the beast-headed false gods and each other.  We found flint arrows and axes as well as bronze-headed spears in an empty garrison.  Our scouts reported some buildings were damaged and that scattered bones were found near them.  Every well we found here was choked with debris and a wiry thornbush, which worried Maldut, the tamer of demons.  This city hangs ripe for conquest yet a hidden danger awaits to be slain for your greater glory and it is for this reason Ankil keeps vigil.

As the stars came, so did they.  From the temple cellars we heard the rushing of wings and we saw demonic shadows take to the sky.  Though their bodies were dark, small and lithe like nomad children their limbs were twice as long as they ought to be, their faceless heads crowned with curved horns.  Batlike wings lifted them and a host worthy of Utukk churned the sky as we doused our torches and made for a nearby storehouse.  Then they saw us and gave chase like hawks.  Though our spears were true, it was like stabbing sand, their bodies flowed around the points.  Their fingers were pinching fire, their grasp iron.  Two men were pulled apart like cooked fowl in a storm of wings and hands.  We closed the storehouse door, trapped like granary rats. We heard rustling wings, padding feet and bones cracking.

Maldut ransacked the storehouse, muttering about the thorn bushes in the well.  I calmed the soldiers in your divine name and sent two of them to help while we barricaded the doors.  The torches were re-lit.  There was a storm of activity outside and we could hear them no longer.  Then Maldut identified the demons and their banes.  The thorn bush or light would drive them away.  Coils of dried thorn vines and oil lamps were plentiful, they had been fought before.  We would form a tight group with three warriors using thorn branches and carrying lamps, the remainder twined the thorn vines around their spearheads.  We formed around Maldut who began his chanting, we left laden with lamp oil and thorny vines.  Outside scores of demons circled over and around us, keeping to shadows and daring our spears.

We marched to the zikkuract, the demons repelled, smouldering like coals as they dared the light.  The demons wheeled overhead then a block of rubble the size of a shield fell on Maldut's skull.  Our formation held as we twined his body with thorn vines, slower now for it.  We dare not lose his wisdom!  The demon tamer slain, the demons grew bolder, wrestled with our spears, bodies charring in lamplight.   We lost three more warriors to demon hands before reaching the zikkuract.  We climbed it, lamps guttering.  I called for the guard as stones were hurled.  The sky was lightening!  The demons grew desperate, diving at us.  One impaled itself on a spear and the thorn vine shrivelled it.  As another lashed at me with it's wing I saw the wing char and crumble in the lamplight.  Shrieking like fearful children they sought shelter. 

As we ascended the stair I saw some demons had hidden in the shadow of the block.  We were trapped, the sun would not reach them.  We lit the thorn vines and I led the charge.  Guards from below shouted and began to enter the stair as the demons wheeled overhead.  Praise to your favour and to the gods for a hierophant was with them!  He called forth fire from a flask to burn the demon and the light burned them all.  We lit fires to trap the demons and in the light, they charred and crumbled.  May you grant mercy to Maldut and recall him from the underworld.

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