When Gods Clash
By Gerry Torbert
Faugas gripped the stone sill as he looked out from the window opening, perusing his handiwork. He didn't stop to realize that it was the doing of Sulis, the goddess of the Moon, that he was viewing, nor did he care--he would deal with her at a later date.
Two of the other three wizards were busy with their new toys: Dohmra had finally wrested Dragonslayer from his scabbard, but the slab-o'-steel still resisted letting him see the faces of the souls he harbored; Emrus looked at the tooth from every angle, polishing it with his robe and trying to concentrate on it to make it respond. The weak and feckless Claudius simply flittered between them and looking out the window.
Faugas turned from the window and leaned on the sill, pointing over his shoulder, gloating "That, my friends, is what I call power! Tanarus is but a memory; Sulis will back us as long as she maintains power over her brother; our united powers will wrench this lush land from these pesky Creags and turn it over to Zeland for the right price..." He thought for a moment, then smiled and added "...maybe to Farland--they would be much more appreciative of our talents, don't you think?"
Emrus nodded. "We'll have to get the rest of the sorcerers in Creagland to join us first, don't you think?" His mocking demeanor bothered Faugas for an instant, but he forced a smile.
"I've already though of that. Caolainn, Lorcann, Guaire Ultan and Konrad are in my back pocket--as a matter of fact, they're on their way here now. I'm not worried much about Haaken--he'll come around. But now, I think I'll address the fate of poor Darmon's dear uncle..." He walked to the bed, his compatriots in evil filing in behind him.
Uilliam looked as bad as he had when he watched his nephew being bounced off the stone walls of his beloved castle, almost a week ago; but he looked no worse. "My dear Uilliam, I think it's time for us to relieve your suffering..." He looked over his shoulder to the others, who smiled and nodded.
But Uilliam raised his head slightly to his once highly trusted former friend. "Why hurry, Faugas? Was I not a great warrior once? Don't I deserve ta die however I wish, an' when I want? At least, grant me that. What harm...?"
Faugas raised an eyebrow and tilted his head slightly in thought. "I would have thought you'd want to die in a more graceful manner, old man, instead of wasting away like this. Still, we don't have the power to spare, so I guess I can grant you this one final wish, as strange as it seems. You'll be the last to go, but you'll earn it."
With those words, Faugas waved his hand over the torso of the withered man, who reflexively arched his back with tremendous pain. As he began to scream, Claudius smiled and waved his hand over Uilliam's face, masking the sound of his torture. The wizards turned and left Darmon's uncle in almost unbearable pain. But he had the wherewithal to slide the pouch that Darmon gave him under his lower back, hiding it.
* * * * *
Eohn had gathered Christine, Jonat, Dairmad and Fionna Caembuhl and Darmon's sister together as they saw the cloud of darkness descend upon the city. He issued an edict through the castle messenger to spread the word that their beautiful city was to be evacuated.
Jonat was despondent. She had seemingly lost the father of her child, as he had disappeared the afternoon of the homecoming party and hadn't been seen since. Eohn tried to comfort her and her family, but to no avail. The only one who seemed he might know was Uilliam, but for some reason he was unable to talk.
A search had gone up over the city, but Darmon could not be found; Eohn confronted Faugas, who simply sat in his chair with a hawk and crow on the window sill behind him and said he was unable to locate him either.
About that time, strange things began to happen everywhere in the clandom. Huge waves of rats infested homes and grain storage buildings; unprecedented storms washed away much of the grass landscaping and turned roads to washed-out ribbons of mud; mosquitoes were to be found everywhere; lightning strikes set wooden homes ablaze, ghosts and other undead begin to multiply, and earth tremors were felt in every corner of Slaughbaetha. And now, the sky turned black.
Faugas would be asked repeatedly what he knew of the plagues, and his only answer was that the land had been cursed, probably from the return of its favorite son of legend. Some were beginning to believe him.
But now, families across the once-proud city were filing out the north gate, most headed north toward Fuachdlaimrig, the home of the McLeods. Eohn stayed as long as he could, giving Eaomann Caembuhl charge of the family and of Jonat's safety; but even he could only take so much of the devastation--he left on foot once he was assured of everyone's exodus.
* * * * *
Glell'siss led the way along the cave passageway, holding one of the torches out in front of him and looking for any signs of a problem. It was five days into a very tough journey--one that he, himself, was satisfied to take. And considering that "satisfaction" was the closest thing to joy that a Yuan-ti can experience, it was easy to surmise that this trip meant a lot to him.
Darmon had saved his life in their bout with the Three Sisters, and somehow he understood the importance of self-giving and sacrifice. The youngest of his egg clutch and of the party, he had just begun to understand the importance of Oogtah nacccta, that strange devotion to his fellow Yuan-ti; now he understood how it could be shown to those of other races.
The journey had bee long and tough. Under the cover of nightfall, a party of the snake-like creatures used Gloom'ozss' map to find openings to the surface; they usually found a 'coo nearby for food. Once, near Sarumvest, a side opening to a Drow cave was encountered, and they found it necessary--no, delightful--to dispatch a few of the Dark Elves guarding the entrance and to seal up the adit utilizing their amassed psionic powers. One of the Drow aided in their quest by supplying them with a welcome snack.
Gledd'zeqq approached him after a few days and offered to switch the point position with his job of carrying some of the provisions. Glell'siss could see that his friend was overtaxing his constitution, and realized the importance of having everyone in the best physical shape once they arrived, so he hoisted the packs and began walking beside Gloom'ozss.
After a while a conversation ensued, as Gledd'zeqq possessed an inquisitive mind, and this trip was far removed from his experiences. "Oognah Scahaht, is this important to coming of age, this helping of others?"
"Ahh, young one; I was wondering when you would ask some questions. It is all very confusing to you, as it should be. I asked for you to join us, since you ask so many questions and want to know truths. Although we follow Salystra and her teachings of power and conquest, the Yuan-ti have adopted the idea of Oogtah nacccta among ourselves. It means that you will be truthful when you deal with others of our race.
Long ago, we needed to join together to overthrow the rule of the Drow. We needed to put our power together, and that meant we had to trust each other and give each other credit. Now, with our dealings with Darmonstuart, we have found that the humans have this feeling, too. He trusted us and we, him."
"But he is food, as well. Is he not a lesser being, Gloom'ozss?"
"Yes, he is lesser. Salystra tells us this. But lesser in strength and mind power, only. Humans--at least Darmonstuart--have Oogtah nacccta of their own. He offered his life to save us several times; and although Salystra looks upon this as a weakness, we cannot agree. He helped us conquer, and that is one of her teachings."
"Is this not heresy? If She was here, would she let us do this?"
Gloom'ozss sighed and realized they had all stopped and turned to him, anticipating an answer to a query they had all made at one time or another. "No, young one; it is not heresy. She would let us do this. She has entrusted me to guide us on the right path--if I do not, she will relieve me of my ttka-ha's and even kill me. Believe me, I have thought for a long time about this…" Then, looking into the young creature's eyes deeply, he said, "...which is why you are here, Gledd'zeqq. I wanted you to see our beliefs as they are played out."
Nurm'siss pushed forward into the reptilian circle. "He is right, young one. He helped save me, and we gave each other our blood"--he held up his palm, now glowing slightly--"...and I feel we are near now." He pointed to the passageway, motioning the group forward.
He walked to the side of the adit and ran his hand along the wall--the glow became stronger at one point--and said, "Here; it is strong here. Let us gather..."
Darmon was busy humming a few bars of a Creagish reel to himself--waiting wasn't a pleasant pastime to him, but during the many nights he had spent alone and awake he had found it necessary to invent ways to keep his mind alert. His eyesight had played many tricks on him during his stay in the dungeon; at times making him think he was seeing clearly; at other times showing him glimpses of some sort of light along the walls or floor. He had learned to ignore them all, but this one wasn't going away.
The massive stone wall began to glow in an arch pattern, the light making a foot-wide line upward, then in a semicircle, then downward to the floor. Blinking furiously, then focusing again, he muttered to himself "Tanarus, ya can make a better entrance than that..."
The stone began to become opaque, and the line of light stronger and brighter, as he could now make out the figures of humanoids and a flickering torch. He smiled to no one as he watched the rock disappear and the light around the rim of the arch dim to darkness. A scaly being walked forward with a glowing hand, averting the dim orange glow of the melted rock around the arch; Darmon held his own hand up the best he could.
"Darmonstuart--how do you make these things happen to you?" Darmon could hear him hack a few times, then the hissing sound of a snake's laughter could be heard echoing through the passageway. Darmon found himself laughing loudest of all.
"Nurmy, brothah, I'd never thought I'd be sayin' this, but it sure is good ta see a bunch o' snakes! Can ya 'elp me wi' these shackles?"
A younger, smaller Yuan-ti pushed forward and walked to the hanging human, introducing himself--"Darmonstuart; I am Gledd'zeqq; I have heard much of you." He turned to the others after looking at the rings of stone, saying, "These are work of wizards--powerful ones..." He reached for one of them and crumbled it in his hand, then to Darmon he said, "but not for Yuan-ti!" He freed the Creag and helped him stand as the others gathered around.
"Thank ya, me friend. I knew I could count on all o' ya."
"It is...honor...Darmonstuart," he said, as he looked to a nodding Gloom'ozss and Nurm'siss.
* * * * *
Faugas sat at the head of the huge table in the main dining room. Around the table were Caolainn, Lorcann, Guaire, Ultan, Emrus, Claudius, Dohmra and Konrad; all were partaking of a huge feast Faugas had conjured up in honor of their success. As the din of random talk continued, he arose and tapped a wine glass for attention.
"Gentlemen, let me propose a toast. For years, I have worked to prepare for this day. From this vantage point, we will be able to view the decimation of a race of pugnacious, pesky cretins and return Zeland, and maybe Farland itself, to its former glory. We hold the keys to an immense storehouse of power," he said, pulling a necklace that contained a glob of silver out of his robe, "keys that you all have stolen in your animal forms, and together, we will use them as one being, one power with which to be reckoned, for as long as we all live!"
Each wizard held his necklace up as he raised his glass in toast.
Faugas began again. "And this day, we shall all establish our selves as the..." but stopped mid-sentence, a strange look crawling over his features. "Something is wrong," he said as his necklace began to burn in a yellow glow. "Claudius, run downstairs and see what is going on."
The frail wizard of Eahrcnoc sighed at the sound of Faugas' command, but slowly got up and walked to the door to the stairs. After a minute or two he returned with a report: "Faugas, I can't find Uilliam anywhere!"
Faugas looked distressed, but shrugged, replying, "Well, who cares? He's not in any shape to harm us. He probably went to the privy and died there--his true 'warrior's death', eh?" His evil laugh was echoed throughout the hall.
He held his glass high again, continuing: "Now, where was I? We will become the most important, the most powerf...," whereupon his necklace began to vibrate and hum. He looked down at the glowing hunk of silver-coated mithril and said, "Gentlemen, there is a problem!" He put down his glass, picked up his staff and walked to the door.
Never had either he or any of the other wizards been on the business side of a psionic burst of such raw power. The door, an inch-thick slab of riveted oak boards, began to bow in the middle then turn to splinters that simply fell to the ground ablaze. A burst of air belched forth from the top of the stairs, blowing a wave of hot smoke toward the surprised magicians. Through the portal stepped a Creag, naked from the waist up, followed by at least a dozen fearsome green and tan beasts running or slithering full-tilt into the room. "Maintain contact," came the order from the first Yuan-ti, understood by Darmon but only distinguishable to the wizards as an ancient tongue. The wizards backed from the door warily, the loathing of serpents sending hairs stiffly erect on their necks and arms.
Faugas backed off, motioning to his associates to gather in a line, saying, "Yuan-ti! You've made a deal with Salystra as well as Tanarus, Darmon! Damn you, cursed one! We should have killed you when we had the chance! No matter--we have the power to do it now!" With that, he lowered his staff and a blue-white glow appeared from one wizard to the other, building up to a sphere at the end of the stick.
The Yuan-ti reached out to either side, touching the next one's shoulder or grabbing his arm. Glell'siss was at one end, and he reached out with his other arm to throw Darmon to the rear with one powerful push. The tattooed Creag fell to the floor in surprise but would realize in the next few seconds that he had been saved.
The Creags were an industrious and ingenious race with a love of art and architecture. The walls of the castles in this northern land were built with the strongest materials on hand, fashioned to stand for centuries and withstand the fiercest orcish assault; the floors were built of composite arches of rocks that were carefully cut and chipped to form interlocking, singular members; the walls were keyed and grouted minimally to provide the maximum rock-to-rock contact; the ceilings were created using great timbers of oak and lignum vitae, locked and pinned for ease of replacement should they eventually rot; door and window lintels were carved from the same heavy quartzite and, at times, basalt blocks.
The beautiful castle of Slaughbaetha was no exception. Fine rugs and weavings of past battles and glories hung from fine carved wooden frames, and armor worn by past warriors were placed on pedestals throughout each of the main rooms. It would be a shame to disrupt any of the beauty and tradition displayed in this almost indestructible building.
But that is almost what the two warring factors, facing each other across scant yards of space and wielding almost unimaginable powers, would collaterally do. The white aura surrounding the Yuan-ti built quickly to a shell across their backs and down their fronts, almost in a sympathetic fashion, just as the north pole of a magnet is attracted to the south pole of another. As Faugas let loose a bluish blast of energy, the Yuan-ti shell moved quickly to counteract it, concentrating in front of Nurmm'siss. The discharges met in the middle, spreading waves of green ions outward to the walls of the huge room.
Some rugs and wall hangings were immediately incinerated, almost exploding as their temperatures quickly soared. The force of the blast pushed the lizards backward in one mass a few feet, but they regained their footing and focused their power back toward the humans. The conjunction of power wavered between the two groups, first toward the Yuan-ti, then toward the wizards; back and forth over the space between them, the green waves crackled and sparked; swirls of sparking, roaring force and heat shot to the ceiling, setting the beams and purlins afire. The roar was as deafening as the shell of a tornado.
After what seemed to be an eternity--but actually was less than two minutes--the blasts stopped almost as suddenly as they had started. It was difficult to tell who gave in first, but to Darmon it appeared that the power itself had a mind of its own, and the cessation on one side caused the other to stop as well. The shoulders of the wizards collectively slumped as they backed up a few yards to regroup; the half-snake adversaries were in need of a break, as well, as they took a few steps forward and re-gripped each other.
Faugas waved his wand and yelled at Darmon, "Damn you to Vornoth's fortress of Tyranus, Hero, you'll pay for this! You've opened a portal to the Penumbra! You don't know what you've done! Sulis--we need your help!" With that, the light from the burning wood and appointments ceased, and dank, unthinkably thick darkness fell upon the room. There was not even a glint of light to be seen.
Gloom'ozss looked to Darmon and in his own language said "Not know whysss...dark help wizardsss...Yuan-ti see in cavesss...." Darmon responded, "There's more power in dark than ya might think, friend." Almost on cue and unseen to the combatants, the ground outside in the nearby graveyard began to move and burst forth as hundreds of re-animated dead rose and began their slow walk toward the castle doors. Their tortured moans lit fires of fear in each of the Yuan-ti, and in Darmon, himself, as he realized the sounds came from his own ancestors....
As Faugas lowered his staff and another aura of blue light began to play from one ttka-ha to another, uniting their power. Suddenly, however, his attention was averted by a spinning globe of pure, brilliant white light to one side. The globe began to grow legs and arms, and within seconds, the form of Sulis had appeared. The globe of light at the end of Faugas' staff held fast and didn't grow, as the wizards were viewing what they had never seen, but that with which Darmon was quite familiar.
"Darmon, you fool," came a smooth, feminine voice that filled the room, "...you trusted me. I like that in a man, especially a desperate man like you were that night in Farland. Did you think I would save you from Tanarus, without a reason? Long have I waited for this battle; long has my brother given life to nature while I sat in the shadows. Now we will act out this grand play and see who will rule the day."
With that, she stretched out her arms toward the eternal champion and a wave of darkness issued from her fingers. It was a darkness that was far more ebon than just the lack of light--it defied the piercing glaze of all senses on this plane. Luckily for Darmon, it traveled not at the speed of light, but slowly enough for respite.
Respite came in the form of a speck of blinding light and searing heat. It appeared directly in front of Darmon, about five feet from his eyes, but he had the wherewithal to turn his head to protect his sight. The bloc of darkness struck the point, just as another globe began to appear to the side; it transformed within seconds to a little man in gray clothes.
"Aboot time ya joined th' game, old man! We were havin' too much fun wi'oot ya, eh?"
The light and dark exploded into a pale din that engulfed the room. "It was the least I could do, dragon-killer. But we will take this fight outside!" With those words, Sulis and Tanarus grasped each other and the mass of swirling light and darkness flew from the room to the sound of eerie male and female voices.
Lights flashed outside the castle in the courtyard, accompanied by rumblings and flashes of lightning. The shocked wizards and Yuan-ti watched, then Faugas re-primed his staff. As he lowered it, Grlash'toom was struck from behind by a club--leaving his grip go, he turned to face dozens of undead, pouring through the main door. Faugas struck, blasting the remaining Yuan-ti with power. They yielded, being forced backward and away from the portal. But Darmon had better plans.
As they were being pushed backward, they still maintained contact, but with one less member they were weaker than before. Darmon ran to Glort'niss' side and grabbed his arm with his right hand, completing the bridge of power. The current ran through his body in a wave, nearly knocking him loose--it was far more powerful than he would ever have imagined; but he held fast and focused with the rest. Grlash'toom pulled his sword and began mowing down the undead.
The second wave of battle waned only after the roof began to collapse, due to the burning of the supporting members. The wizards retreated and ducked the beams, but one caught Konrad's ankle. Before his adversaries could act, Emrus lifted him loose from the wood and stood him up, staggering and limping toward the rest.
At the same time, the east door of the room burst open, and to the blaring of bagpipes playing Airdbuain Shall Conquer, in stepped Brian Caembuhl with several dozens of claidheamh-mor-wielding Caembuhl warriors, headed straight for the undead. "Sorry I'm late, Darmon, but we weren't ready for th' darkness!" Faugas spat and cursed his luck.
Darmon laughed, but a brilliant idea struck him. "Nurmm'siss, focus on the weak one to my side!" The Yuan-ti concentrated again, and as their opponents began to ratchet up their power, a bolt issued forth that struck Claudius, hitting the tooth and hurling it to the wall.
With the new forces fighting off the undead, Grlash'toom returned and Darmon released the arm of Glort'niss, running to the tooth. Claudius realized too late what he was trying to do, and ran in pursuit of the hunk of enamel. Darmon reached it first, scooping it up and throwing it outside in one fell swoop. The third wave of power ensued, sending fireballs skyward into the rooms above, charring everything in the room and lighting up the interior of the castle.
The battle raged outside as the Yuan-ti attacked with renewed vigor, moving closer to the wizards. But the wizards fought back as Claudius rejoined their efforts, and Faugas moved forward in a vee, now standing only a few feet from Gloom'ozss. It was then that Darmon had his second revelation.
"Gloomy--tear off his ttka-ha, his implement of power!" he cried in Yuanoogna. Gloom'siss dove forward and snatched the necklace, and almost immediately the waves of power dissipated.
Faugas' face turned white and his eyes bulged, looking down to see the adornment pulled off his neck. He looked to Gloom'ozss, but suddenly a ripping, tearing sound filled the smoky and ionized air. His look turned to surprise as he arched his back, then turned toward his adversary and showed his head, neck, spine and hips cleaved almost in two with a single downward swipe, his brain, ribs and meat freshly cut in a single swipe of a sentient sword, top to bottom.
As he fell in a crumbling mass with the shocked wizards looking on, behind him stood a tall, immensely strong man with a brilliant red beard and a huge grin on his full face--a face that Darmon thought he'd never see again, at least not like this, as he was twenty years ago--and a sword that hummed and pulsed with an eerie glow.
"Couldn't let ya 'ave ool th' fun, now, could I, Dar?" With that, Uilliam swung and rendered the bodies of eight other wizards into useless piles of meat.
"Dragonssslayersss!" said Nurmm'siss in perfect Creagish lilt; honor and respect evident in his voice. The flashes outside stopped and the undead slumped to the ground as sunlight began to filter through the ruined ceiling and windows.
Darmon walked over the corpses and gave his uncle a huge hug. Uilliam then backed off and handed him the sword and an empty pouch. "Thanks for the medicine, nephew. And here, this fine piece o' steel is best suited to ya, alone." He turned to Brian, who looked like he was seeing a ghost, and said, "Sonny, I think you, yer uncle Eohn and I need ta go on that long fishin' trip we been a' promisin' ourselves!" Brian hugged his newly reborn father, as well. The attention of both men was averted, however, to a little man behind Darmon, and as the hero turned he was handed a lump of enamel.
"I think this is rightfully yours, Darmon. My differences with Sulis are settled--all is as before." He then looked to the Yuan-ti who seemed to cringe before the sight of a real god, then to Darmon, saying, "You tend to attract strange friends, Champion."
Darmon smiled and asked, "And our differences?"
"The same, as long as you live. The fates remain steadfast."
"Then, 'ow aboot a word o' thanks?"
"Don't push your luck." And with that, he performed his usual sparkling exit.
* * * * *
The grim task of re-burying the dead was performed before the women and children were allowed to re-enter the castle, but the repair of the main dining hall would have to wait.
Gloom'ozss gathered the remaining ttka-ha and vowed to melt them down, if need be, to keep such a thing from ever happening again. They were prepared to leave soon after the battle stopped, but Uilliam took a certain liking to Darmon's friends and convinced them to stay for a festival. Nurmm'siss agreed--they were all fascinated with the concept of thanks, good feelings, and revelry.
The proud Creags of the Stuart clandom were happy to begin the festivities anew, and soon after they returned, the food was set out for a more appropriate gathering. At first, it was difficult to explain away the huge, lurking mountains of serpentine muscle that were the Yuan-ti; but after Earinn Livingstone from nearby Airdbuain led four cattle to the gates and after the half-snakes were well fed, they loosened up--as much as a Yuan-ti can; they even sampled their first whisky.
Darmon and Jonat were seated near the head of the table as Uilliam stood and announced the plans for the remainder of his colorful life. They included spending much more time at Loch Serpent, fishing with Eohn and Brian; re-tooling his distillery (much to the chagrin of the Tarbert and Haig competition); and handing the reins to Darmon. The Stone of Life was carted out from the main hall, upon which the honors were performed.
The townspeople waffled between fascination and sheer fright as they spoke to the Yuan-ti; the language barrier was solved by using Gloom'ozss' amulets, but the Creags couldn't help but think that the snake-beings were constantly eyeing them up for food. Nurmm'siss spent quite a long time off to one side, giving Eohn, Uilliam and Christine a blow-by-blow of the fighting in the Drow caves--he was apparently a natural-born story-teller.
Gledd'zeqq spent some time circulating, then made his way back to Darmon, pulling him aside. "Darmonstuart, that is your...other?" he asked, pointing to Jonat, who was busily talking with several other women over plans of how she would redecorate the Throne room.
"Yes, me friend. She's me wife, for life. You have this too?"
"Yes, we have...others...too, they who bear the egg. Is that your...egg?"
Darmon chuckled and called Jonat over. "Yes, Gledd'zeqq, this is my egg. Care to listen to him?" He put his head down to Jonat's belly and motioned to the Yuan-ti to do the same. He evidently could sense the life in her womb; everyone was quiet as they watched him intently listening, and laughed as his eyes grew wide.
All gathered in the waning hours of the day to listen to Darmon's tales, and the Yuan-ti stayed a few more days to help rebuild what their psionic powers had helped to destroy of the castle. They figured it was the honorable thing to do, and evil or not, they had honor.
FIN, Part One