If I missed something that needs to be fixed, let me know by a private message. If there is more than one error in a single piece, please message me the entire edited piece. Please read all seven pieces before casting your vote. You may vote for up to two pieces. Voting will remain open for 30 days. Theme was "Fire and/or Time" Spoiler: ”Story One: Techpriest” Techpriest Tek'loq were quickly walking down the hallways of the enormous Temple ship. It was early morning. Well, it was always light on the ship but this period of time was considered morning by the denizens of the ship. This particular morning, Tek was heading to one of the sun gates for a routine check on the magitek portal. She walked through golden corridors her claws clicking on the floor. After a few minutes she arrived at the service hatch. She lifted her golden key amulet and placed it in a slot on the hatch. Lines carved in the hatch lighted up as well as a wheel of floating light. Tek'loq lifted her hand to the light and turned it unlocking the hatch with a tree digit code. The hatch moved aside and Tek stepped in. She continued down along a ladder as the hatch closed behind her. Now she were moving along tunnels only a skink could fit. Exposed cables were lining the walls, and no decoration was wasted on the service tunnels When she came to the end of the tunnel it widened to a chamber big enough to fit a couple of sauri. Straight over the chamber where the warp crystal for the great gate and the magitek workings of it. Two tunnels wrapped around the crystal to an identical chamber on the other side. Tek walked up to the crystal and touched a small panel to the left with magic. Three holes opened and she inserted a short staff in each. She then drew more magic lines in the air and used them to open the panel. This was not good. It was sparkling with warp energy behind the panel two of the tree smaller crystals had cracked spewing fourth dark red liquid. As she reached for one of the cracked crystal to replace it the third cracked in a small explosion of warp energy splattering her with the liquid. She bolted back from the panel. This was extremely not good. Tek'loq looked at her hands they were covered in what she now was sure must be mortal blood. Then she heard a flash behind her. Tek fell backwards as the daemon made a strike at her. She hit the floor hard. The daemon struck again Tek rolled over looking over her shoulder the daemon was gone. Before her she then saw a chameleon skink turning visible. "Get up, new spawn, we’re in trouble." It said and offered her hand to Tek. Tek took it mumbling half formed sentences "how.. here.. can.. did you know?" "Oh I can smell it it's the same with all you new spawn never really feared death." "No I wasn’t talking about that. The daemon? How could you be here?" The chameleon skink quickly stuffed a dart into his pipe and fired just past Tek's shoulder. "Daemons." She corrected her. "Come we must leave immediately,” the chameleon continued. She rushed back through the tunnel." Tek quickly followed in case any more daemons would materialize. When they made it out of the service tunnels they found a chaotic scene with bloodletters fighting saurus. the jagged blades of Khorne clashed with blades of obsidian. bloodletters fell to the left and to the right disappearing in red mists, but the saurus fell as well going down in flashes of yellow light. No one getting the upper hand. Through the fighting skinks ran around some cutting and slicing at the larger daemons others rolling around on the floor with flesh hounds still others were trying to make their way with messages as the daemons very presence had disturbed the magic used for communication. Then out of a side tunnel a great saurus, probably a scar-veteran or oldblood, emerged, and she jumped into the fray immediately and started to singlehandedly push the khornate daemons back. The other sauri and red crested skinks rallied behind her. In short time they had put down the invaders. In the respite afterwards, the scar-vet surveyed the Seraphon present. One of the skinks stepped forward "Scar-veteran Yuatec is requesting help from all who can as the daemons pouring through the starboard corridor from the great gate have reached the first intersection. If no one stops them they will spread throughout the whole ship." "Stop, I know." The scar-veteran answered "If they reach the spawning pools were in trouble and so on. Half of you follow this skink to the battle in the starboard corridor the rest of you come with me through the sun side corridor. We will take the battle to the source and close the gate!" The sauri cheered and was just about to storm down the corridor when Tek'loq stepped up and should to make herself heard through the cheers and battle cries. "There is another way to the source and I know how to fix it." "What did you say" the scar-vet replied "Me and the chameleon skink were just there, is a broken incantation on the gate." "Which chameleon?" "She's..." Tek looked over her solder and the skink was gone. "Burn the Old Ones, she was right here." "Have you taken a hit to the head?" "I think we should listen to this one." the chameleon said as she materialized between them. "Opochtli" the scar-veteran said surprised. "Well if you say so I will follow." The saurus continued. It was quickly decided that the scar-veteran who was named Xilour would follow Tek'loq and Opochtli together with another saurus. The rest would move through the corridor and keep the daemons at bay. In the service tunnel Opochtli went first followed by Tek as they could walk upright. Behind them came the crouching sauri. Walking through the tunnels went quickly only slowed down by a few stray daemons quickly taken down by Opochtli's blowpipe, and the sauri's slower pace. When they reached the chamber they saw the floor flooded with blood and half a dozen bloodletters howling and slashing at each other, the walls and the accompanying flesh hounds. When they saw the Seraphon enter the room they froze for a second and then rushed them. But Xilour counter-charged the daemons and together with the other saurus, he pushed them back. Through the fighting Tek darted for the still open panel covered by Opochtli. She placed her hand on an orb I the hole and lines around it lit up. As she then turned the orb the pieces of shattered crystal fell out from their sockets. The fighting around her was almost over just a few daemons remained. Tek'loq picked a new crystal out of a pouch and placed it in the socket. She then continued with singing a short incantation. The fighting was now over and both sauri had taken position at the entry points. Tek took the next crystal installed it in place before the incantation. In the edge of her vision Tek'loq saw a flash of light, the younger saurus had been slain by a herald of Khorne who now were entering the room. Xilour charged across the room and Tek'loq quickly continued with the third crystal. Xilour were trading blows with the herald and Tek singed her spell. Xilour dodged under a swing by the daemon and trusted his blade up through the herald's chest and throat. Roaring in triumph Xilour decapitated the daemon. She then took a small vial from her hip and poured the liquid onto the head to keep it from disappearing. Finally Tek'loq were finished and the gate repaired. Tek heard a coughing behind her and turned her head. She saw Opochtli dying on the claw of a daemonette with her final words Opochtli said: "Peace, a moment.. of ..." Tek'loq cursed the Old Ones. The daemonette smiled and turned her other hand into a claw and stabbed at Tek'loq. Tek tried to dodge but her back was against the wall. The claw teared through her trout and the daemonette leaned forward licking the wound and upwards with her tongue. Then Opochtli disappeared in a flash of light followed by Tek'loq her self. Her mind and memories had been saved by the slann’s magic. The essence of Tek'loq were now in the great crystal heart of the temple ship wait to be spawned again. Then dark water and a beating heart. She looked around and saw a light she swum with her tail towards it and broke the surface. Stepping out of the pool she thought to herself “Old Ones that were close” after leaving the spawning room she entered the meditation chamber and pushed the brick to activate it she sat down to get her stuff back. When she was done, she left the chamber and ran into Opochtli who said "Good you're back priest come with me there is still much to be done in the mortal realms." Spoiler: ”Story Two: The Conductor” The Conductor or Among the Dust/High Noon Hijinx (part 6 (8)) “Again.” “Are you sure, Lord Roob?” asked Lord Khan’Man, the gentlest touch of a smile creeping upon his rounded face. In their viewing plane beyond time and reality the two Slann gazed over the sandy realm they had brought into existence merely for a bet. --------------------------------- “And that was how I destroyed not only the spineback ridges and the Skagg gang but created spineback canyon!” “I know,” muttered Doc Bones into his drink which oddly looked like spoilt milk, “that’s the fifth time you’ve told us about it, Henry.” “It’s the Prospector! Not ‘Henry’!” growled the Prospector, his beard bouncing in anger. Doc Bones shrugged and turned his skeletal head away from the angry Dwarf to address the other two of the group. Felrix, the light furred Skaven had procured another pot of warpcoffee and her tail was already twitching from the caffeine drive. Eli-Nesz meanwhile was staring deeply into his empty glass, a claw scratching at his scaly head absentmindedly. “It’s been quiet...too quiet,” whispered Doc Bones to the pair. Felrix shrugged, “What-what is time anyhow?” If the cowboy attired Tomb King could have narrowed his eyeholes, he would have. “That’s not helping, Brightfur,” he hissed, “As Mr Nesz here has pointed out, we’re not real. Just fabrications by one or more Slann for some great purpose. Though to be fair, all we’ve done so far is kill Skaven, kill goblins, ‘kill’ the Underwriter, and kill more Skaven.” “Weren’t we meant ta run for the hills after that last one?” muttered Felrix as she gulped down another mug of ominously glowing coffee. “Erm, yes...but we decided we had time for another drink...or three...” “Shh, listen!” growled Eli-Nesz. The Skink bounty hunter rose and reached for his gun. “I don’t hear anything,” growled the Prospector who all the same snatched up a red stick of dynamite. “Ah, but few hear the falling grains of sand as time runs out,” spoke a new voice and the door swung open to reveal a tall moustachioed human in a suit and matching top hat. Felrix’s bullet whizzed towards said hat, but the human merely sidestepped out of its path. “Now, now Miss Brightfur, I am very fond of this hat,” he paused to glance at the gold chased pocket watch in his hand, “I will enjoy killing you again.” “Do...do I know you?” squeaked Felrix, somewhat unnerved. “I do,” hissed Eli-Nesz, “He’s the Conductor.” “Very good, Mr Nesz, or do you prefer Eli? You met my dear brother a little while back. He’s mighty upset about that piano you all landed on him. But I am not here on account of him, certainly not. The trains must run on time and I fear you must board this train very soon.” “What train?” demanded the Prospector. “The one to remove you from this world and into the empty void of nothingness. Normally my dear brother is the one to board you onto my train, but he’s somewhat indisposed.” He sidestepped as another bullet streaked to where his head had been. “Every time, Brightfur. It’s really getting quite boring. That’s 379 times you’ve fired that bullet at me. You’ve only eleven shots left.” The Conductor turned towards Eli-Nesz. “And this is where you say: ‘he is able to reset time to a single point over and over.’ Although I’ve done it for you. You’re welcome.” Eli-Nesz hissed. “We’re not going with you.” “Just once I’d wish you’d say something different,” sighed the Conductor, “even if it was just for the variety.” He stepped aside as another bullet whizzed past. “Ten shots left, Brightfur. Although...I almost felt that one” the Conductor then sighed, “and this is the part where you all attack me.” The Conductor leapt backwards out of the swinging door as a series of shots (and a stick of dynamite) shredded it. “Eight shots, Brightfur!” he chuckled as he danced away behind the cover of an overturned water trough. The dry and cracked ground of the street shimmered for a moment before particles of sand and dust whirled into a storm. There was a dull clacking as Doc Bones strode out into the storm he had created. He clenched his bony hand into a fist and the storm grew fiercer, his empty sockets glowing with the light of Khemri. The Conductor smiled and fired a single shot from a silver chased pistol that flew wide of the Tomb King. The bullet rebounded off of several pans, spurred on by the wind, before striking the sign above the tavern. There was a sickening crack as the sign broke away and fell onto Doc Bones with an equally sickening crunch. His skull, now loose, bounced away. The light dying in his eye sockets. A hand pick flew through the dust, unerringly spinning towards the Conductor’s head. The Conductor merely smile and caught it mid-air and spun it around to deflect two Warpstone sheathed bullets. “Six shots, Brightfur,” he laughed and threw the pick back at the Prospector, bowling him off his feet and into a pile of rubble and wood. Eli-Nesz and Felrix rolled out, pistols flaring. The Conductor merely sidestepped them and continued to countdown Felrix’s bullets. He fired back and the Skaven and Skink ducked behind cover. The Prospector rose again and cried out a challenge until a bullet streaked overhead and a large vulture fell out of the sky and onto the Prospector. He fell back into the rubble with a groan. From his cover, the Conductor’s hat could be seen bobbing up and down in laughter. His pistol appeared from cover again and another dead vulture landed precisely on Eli-Nesz, crushing him under its weight. “Look, just make this easy for yourselves and give up,” the Conductor smiled as he rose from his cover and threw his pistol aside. Felrix leapt up and fired a single pistol. The Conductor’s smile did not waiver as he effortlessly plucked the bullet from the air. “And that was your last shot, Miss Brightfur.” The Conductor stepped out and drew a long bladed knife. “Such a waste, firing off your shots like that,” he grinned as Eli-Nesz struggled to get back onto his feet. Felrix stood there holding a gun. “Oh c’mon, just drop it already, you’re looking very foolish, Brightfur. It doesn’t matter as this is the part where I kill you. Will you beg this time?” Felrix said nothing as a shot rang out from her gun. The Conductor’s smug smile transformed into a look of horror as the bullet smashed his watch to smithereens. The remains fell to the dusty ground before being consumed in a flash of magical fire from the watch’s destruction. “Felrix would have run out of bullets,” said Eli-Nesz with a toothy grin, “if I hadn’t of swapped guns with her whilst you were dealing with our companions.” “But...this hasn’t happened once...not in all the versions I’ve been through...” “That’s because you openly counted the bullets.” “But...” “And I figured that if I were to disrupt that, the surprise would destroy your watch and prevent you from resetting things to try again. I also figured that such a move had not been made in any of the past versions of us you fought since its success would eliminate your ability to do so. There was a chance that Felrix could have missed in the past and you knew to plan for this. But Brightfur rarely misses a target like that, not when she knows what to shoot at.” The Conductor began to slowly back away. “And whilst you are kin to the Underwriter...I figure you are in this mortal form somewhat susceptible to mundane weapons, hence the amount of resets you needed to make to get to now.” The Conductor growled and reached for a silver chased whistle. “This isn’t over; the train will run on...” There was a splintering crash as a piano fell from the sky and landed on the Conductor. The town was silent. “Erm, can you give me a hand?” broke in the head of Doc Bones, “I fear I’ve gone to pieces here.” The Prospector also gruntingly pushed himself out of the rubble. Somewhere in the distance came the cry of “Not again!” from the saurid throat of Ti’Rakz. And the sun continued to beat down. -------------------------------------------- “Another piano?” “I like the sound,” smiled Lord Khan’Man. “But that’s cheating!” exclaimed Lord Roob. “Actually, I can give you the lengthy spacial and mathematical equations for how ‘The Conductor’’s constant time resets upset the balance of space and time, causing the last piano to also materialise in the present. I will give it to you, Lord Roob, you came close.” “I hate you.” Spoiler: ”Story Three: The Hunter” The Hunter The city was burning, engulfed in raging pink flames. The city was burned down to ashes centuries ago, and yet its defenders were still fighting and dying, corpses laying in the boiling orange river. Then, the flames turned green and filled the sky, and the city was no more. It would probably be made entire again tomorrow, or the next year. The details would have been different, but the fire would have eventually razed it to the ground. The hunter knew it, it saw it happen many times…. And as much it was painful, it was necessary, because this was its favorite hunting ground. The old woman with a burning silk dress was walking near the volcano, picking flowers, but she stopped gardening, sensing that something was wrong. She picked a dead tree from her purse… it was without branches, but it was blue colored, so the Hunter knew time was running short: the flames would have force it out of its hiding place, and a direct confrontation was not an option. The Hunter blew gracefully some paper butterfly from its hands toward her… at midair, the butterflies turned into tiny wasps that breathed soap bubbles to the old woman; when a bubble touched her, she started howling, as water consumed the flames, killing her. The cry of pain would have called unwanted attentions, so the Hunter descended the cliff, toward the higher clouds, until it reached a plain with bright yellow moss. In the distance, probably ten miles away, there was a fissure in the sky, the only way out; the fissure was invisible, but the Hunter could hear it was purple. There were only two possible ways… the short one was paved with daggers, and it would have took probably a couple of years; the long one was aimed at a mountain range, for no more than a 10 minutes journey. The hunter took the middle way, being careful of the horses that would have gladly feasted upon its blood. After no more than a week travel, the fissure was at hand… but there was a cave in the nearby glacier, and a dozen of penguins emerged from it, and they wanted to dance, offering biscuits. The Hunter started a swing, but the penguins wanted to minuet and they were simply too many, surrounding it. In the end one biscuit touched the shoulder of the Hunter, creating the mysterious scar that was already there since one year. Now that the scar mystery was solved, the Hunter knew what must be done. It adapted its dance to the minuet, taking the penguins by surprise. A couple of them clashed into each other, creating an opening for a classic chassè, quickly executed by the Hunter, which promptly flew through the fissure. The passage was like jumping into a lake of honey, made one day ago… like, realizing how much you are hampered by something that completely occludes yourself. This sensation persisted even when it passed on the other side. The honey was still within the Hunter, and it smelled awfully. The Hunter was surrounded by a weird colonnade of frozen flames; a bunch of scorpions was there, motionless, and one of them slipped away, clicking its pincers. The Hunter relaxed, while other scorpions arrived… then came also a leaping rabbit, holding a wand. A slow, white light irradiated from the wand and hit the Hunter, consuming the rotten molasses, cleansing its soul and its senses. The Hunter was now in a jungle, near the bottom of a pyramid, with many skinks standing in awe. A Slann was floating in front of the Hunter, smiling. “Welcome back, Oxyotl”. Spoiler: Story Four: Curse of Flame Curse of Flame The elf scholar stared forlornly at the sword that lay on his desk. He brushed his blond hair out of his eyes and sighed. There had to be something he’d missed. He knew there must be a way to tap into the power of the blade, without it consuming the wielder. The answer was close, he was sure of it. He felt he could almost reach out and brush his fingers against the solution that darted, dragonfly-like, through the corners of his mind. He’d read through all his grimoires, he’d meditated for days on end and he’d even consulted the plaques that the Skink Priests held in such high regard. He’d found nothing; no mention of the blade’s creation or its first wielder. It never even held a consistent shape throughout the records he had. The sword that he had in front of him was a hooksword with a whisper-thin blade that was forged from Hihi’irokane, that crimson metal that channelled fire and spirit, but it had once been a Zweihänder with a serrated soot-blackened blade, and it had once been a rapier carved from a single ruby the size of a Cygor’s eye. The elf buried his head in his hands. “Lord Hoeth, am I not a faithful servant? Have I not studied the ways of magic and wisdom in your name? Why have you taken the light of knowledge from me when I need it most? I have excavated tomes of ancient lore and the plaques of the Old Ones from their resting places in your name! And you snatch enlightenment from me now, when I need it most! Why!? What have I done!? Is your time over? Is this a sign of the Rhana Dandra?” The scholar cried out to the storm-wracked skies that roiled above the crystal dome atop his tower. He fell to his knees and took a deep, shaking breath. Time was something he was in need of himself these days. He knew that he’d eventually pay the price for acquiring the blade, but wasn’t sure when or how. He stared up at the sky. Night had fallen already and the accursed moon, Morrslieb as the Men of the Empire called it, hung low and fat in the heavens. The storm clouds seemed to shy away from the sickly green moon, as a wolf would cower from a flame. “No, not tonight. It can’t be tonight! The Starseer promised! Damn that Skink, and his predictions! It’s too soon! They will come for me, and all my work will be undone!” The elf scholar wailed, and pounded the marble floor with his fists until they were bruised and bloodied. It was then he heard the first whisper from the blade. It called to him with a susurrus of voices that he heard only in his mind. He wrung his hands as he stared at the hooksword. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to use the sword just the once? He’d only be touching it for a short time, and it’d be to defend himself, so he could study the blade more. The elf shook his head to clear his thoughts. He was so tired, and he’d been near the blade too long. He snapped out of his contemplations when he heard a sound behind him. It was as if someone had torn through a sheet of silk with razor talons. The scholar rose from the ground and spun around in a single fluid motion. There was a strange ripple in the air, like an aurora that danced in his chamber, rather than the sky. From out of the ripple stalked a creature that wore the form of a naked white-skinned maiden, with a silken mane of golden hair, and sea-blue eyes. Its delicate right cheek, its narrow shoulders, and its voluptuous breasts were tattooed with arcane sigils in purple ink. The scholar would have mistaken the creature for an elven woman, if not for the silver talons on its left hand, and the ivory claw that it bore instead of a right arm. The Daemon gave the elf a coquettish grin that bared its silver-needle fangs. Then, the Daemon darted forwards so fast it appeared as a white-and-purple blur. The elf spun on his heel and sprinted towards the hooksword on his desk. His fingers brushed against the hilt as the Daemon’s claw pierced his spine. He let out a gurgling sound, and the Daemon twisted its claw so that it scraped against the elf’s ribs, and then it pulled the claw out of the bloody wound. The elf scholar fell to the ground, and his blood formed a macabre flower of gore around his barely-living body. The last thing his fogging eyes saw was the Daemon licking blood off its claw absently as it lifted the sword from the desk. Spoiler: Story Five: The Secret Fire The Secret Fire Month of the Reed, 3rd day of waning. Year 1 Short Count, Year 21 Long Count, Cycle 3. It was cold. That was all Tecopol could think. Cold, cold, cold. The shrine stood atop the mountain, taunting him, mocking him with how easy the climb had looked. The paths were steep and narrow and winding. His frozen fingers dug into the icy slush, searching for a grip, while his feet slipped on frost-slick rock. His fingers found a hold, and he hauled himself up, putting one foot on it before reaching ahead to find the next rock. And on it went, up and up and up, while his fingers burned with the cold, his feet lost all feeling, and his lungs struggled in the thin air. At long last, his numb hand found a flat rock, which he pulled himself onto. He’d reached a plateau. He dragged his satchel under his head, shoved his hands as deep into his coat as he could, and lay back. Overhead, an ice sheet shimmered in the setting sun, reflecting a distorted image of him. With nothing better to do except climb, and no more energy to do that, Tecopol watched his image. Were it not for his dark-brown coat, taken from a warm-blood ship, he’d have been difficult to see. His scales were a brilliant blue, the colour of the sky and the icefield. Were it not for his ugly warm-blood coat, trapping the jungle’s heat, he’d be dead. Lizardmen and ice-covered peaks – who had thought this a good idea? The priests of Itza, apparently. When he’d been born, the only one to step out of his spawning pool that lunar cycle, the priests had ascribed him his destiny. They’d given him his coat, given him his satchel, and told him to go to the shrine and do... something. His destiny would be revealed to him there, or so they’d told him. He’d yet to see any destiny unfolding before his eyes like a Saurus banner. Month of the Reed, 4th day of waning. Year 1 Short Count, Year 21 Long Count, Cycle 3. Tecopol fumbled with the satchel. His hands were still numb from yesterday’s climb, and from sleeping in a frozen temple. He wouldn’t be surprised if he lost a few fingers. Upset, but not surprised. He managed to draw out the small pouch of herbs, and place it amongst the wood and leaves inside the brazier. With the ritual preparations complete, all he needed was a fire. There was a fire-stone and a rod to strike it with in his satchel, but his hands were too weak to clash them together with the force needed to light a fire. He’d need to find a fire, and in this temple, abandoned to the icy winds of the mountain years ago by saner lizards, there’d be little chance of that. He left the brazier, and wandered through the temple, out of a desire to move and warm up more than anything. Everywhere was the same: square or rectangular rooms, similar to the entrance hall where the unlit brazier lay, covered in frost and snow and ice, and cold. Everywhere was cold. Tecopol smirked at the irony. This temple of the sun, with its images of life-giving warmth on every wall, would more than likely be his frozen grave. He walked down another corridor, much the same as any other. It was cold, the ground was slippery with ice, and stone symbols of the sun adorned the walls. At the far end, though, something shone. He approached, expecting to find an open courtyard. Instead, he found a shrine. The room was circular, and empty except for a giant sun-glyph carved into the floor. At the centre of that glyph a stone was set, and Tecopol could see fires dancing inside the clear quartz. The rock radiated heat, and Tecopol shivered from the change in temperature. This stone, he knew somehow, from an instinct or a racial memory, was a Sunstone, a stone that held in it a tiny fragment of the power of sunfire. He approached the centre of the glyph, and grabbed the stone. Tecopol’s numb hands couldn’t feel the heat, but his body could feel the radiating warmth, and his eyes could see his hands blistering. He placed it back into the slot, and walked back out into the corridor to rub his hands against the cold stone. That night, he slept in the sunroom, as he had named it. The warmth of the room was a welcome change, but he dreamt that night of madly spinning sun-glyphs, of suns that died and were reborn and died again in a space of seconds, of an endless winding fiery serpent, and of his skin melting and peeling away from his flesh as he stood in the centre of a great ball of fire. Month of the Reed, 5th day of waning. Year 1 Short Count, Year 21 Long Count, Cycle 3. He awoke to the mocking light of the Sunstone. It was there, the fire he needed to light the brazier, find his destiny and survive in the brutal cold of the mountain, and he could not touch it without burning up. If only there was a way he could insulate himself from the heat... Perhaps his coat could keep him from burning himself on it? But if he was to remove his coat, he would freeze. Maybe, though, maybe if he couldn’t move the stone, he could move the brazier... Tecopol got up, tightened his coat around him, and headed off through the corridors, looking for the brazier. As he passed, he saw that many of the sun-glyphs had spaces for Sunstones to be placed, and some still had them, pressed into the slots, though these ones were cracked and useless. Perhaps they was how the lizardmen of old had endured this place? Though he hadn’t noticed it at first, the entrance hall also had one of the large glyphs, carved into the floor. The brazier was where he had left it, filled with herbs and wood. He grabbed it by one cold metal leg, and started to drag. The metal chilled his hands, the metal made an unholy cacophony when it dragged across the stone, and it was too heavy to move more than a few inches. He contemplated removing the wood to make it easier to move, before realising that the main weight of the brazier was the metal frame. There was nothing to do but bear the strain, then. He started up again, dragging the brazier to the sunstone, the scraping of the metal on the stone setting his teeth on edge, the metal freezing his fingers. By dint of effort, he dragged the brazier back to the Sunroom, before collapsing to the ground half-conscious. Month of the Reed, 6th day of waning. Year 1 Short Count, Year 21 Long Count, Cycle 3. Consciousness slammed into Tecopol like a boulder. His arms hung limp at his sides, burning with the fires of overwork, and he couldn’t move them. He was lying face down on the floor of the sunroom, one hand left up against the brazier, and he could feel the heat radiating off the Sunstone. He lay there, for what felt like hours, before finally his arms decided to move again. He got up off the floor, pushing himself up off the ground with his tail and legs rather than risk putting any strain on his arms, and walked over to the Sunstone. He took off his coat, his stiff arms protesting at having to move, and wrapped the stone in it, and then he ran as fast as he could to the brazier. He opened the coat, and allowed the Sunstone to fall out, dropping it into the brazier. The moment the sun-filled quartz hit the leaves in the brazier, they started to smoke, and then they ignited, a wave of flame washing out to ignite all the leaves one by one. Then the wood caught, until all that was left was the herbs, which were proving mysteriously resistant to the flames. He leaned over the brazier to see what was happening with them, and the packet caught fire, releasing a cloud of pungent smoke that made Tecopol’s head reel. He stumbled backwards, away from the flames, and fell down onto the stone... That was suddenly no longer stone, but rather a fiery mass of serpents. No heat came from them, but they danced and writhed along the path of the sun-glyph, over and over and over, and it felt like their fire was illuminating the recesses of his brain. A voice rang out around him. “One times one is one. One times the slumbering many time the sun is the end of Lustria’s enemies”. It was oddly sing-song, like a Skink imitating the voice of a bird while talking, and it echoed in Tecopol’s head, over and over and over. A bird, all the colours of fire, red and black and orange and yellow and blue, burst from the centre of the glyph and circled him, over and over and over, sparks crackling out behind it. A pressure was building in his brain, a note throbbing over and over and over, and as the bird circled his head and let out a warbling cry, the pressure burst and Tecopol thought he could catch a glimpse of something illuminated in a bright flash, half Slann and half Saurus, but it was too late and he was plunging towards darkness... Month of the Water, 9th day of waning. Year 1 Short Count, Year 21 Long Count, Cycle 3. Tecopol awoke. He was lying in the centre of the sun-glyph, his tail where the Sunstone should be. He objectively knew he was cold, but he didn’t feel it. All he could feel was a fire pulsing in his belly, slow and hot, and an overwhelming sense of purpose. He knew what he had to do. Spoiler: Story Six: A Song of Rice and Fire A Song of Rice and Fire Erilv hopped uncertainly from one barren rock to another, cooed slightly, and bent to inspect some interesting black slime that was oozing a bit among the general scree. Then she tucked her head under her wing and picked at a troublesome flee that had got in under her down. There was a polite cough behind her. “Sorry to bother, love, but do you know where there’s fresh water around here?” said a grainy old voice, over the faint sound of distant waves breaking. “Spring’s over there,” said Erilv, absently flicking some feathers to her right, her voice slightly muffled with her beak still deep under a wing. Suddenly she straightened up and cocked her head, looking puzzled. Then she wheeled round, wide eyed. “Who said that?!” she cawed, petulantly. “Who’s here?” There was nothing but barren island rocks, as usual. She hopped nervously to another rock. “I’m over here, dearie,” came the voice again. This time Erliv spun immediately. There was a small creature over by the place where the water bubbled out of the ground. She stared at it with eyes like saucers. Tentatively, she hopped closer. “Don’t mind me, love. Just taking a little water for my pot, you know how it is,” it chirped, barely looking at Erliv. The creature was a lizard on two feet. About three feet tall. It was tilting a hefty cast-iron pot to catch the flow of the spring, and whistling a non-descript tune. It raised an arm as Erliv came closer and pecked at it. “Hey! Stop it!” it said, flapping uselessly at the bird’s 8-foot frame. “Gedoutta here!” cawed Erliv, cocking her head. “Whatcha doing on my island?! Eh?! Very important spot, this is. Sacred, even.” “I’m not disturbing anything!” cried the little lizard, sounding hurt. “I’ll be gone in a day, two days tops! Just passing through!” “Passing through!” snorted Erliv, dismissively, still dealing annoying pecks to the interloper’s head and shoulders. “We’re on a remote island in the middle of the Inner Sea! Surrounded by the mightiest defences of Ulthuan! How’d you really get here, eh? Eh?!” “So this is the Isle of Flame then? That’s good. I’m going to need some heat for my supper.” “You can’t cook food here! You’re not supposed to be here at all! They were very clear, no one allowed except princes and kings when there’s a ritual.” “Would you leave me alone if I said I was a prince?” Erliv stopped pecking and peered at it distrustfully. “What’s your name?” she said, in what she thought of as her cunning voice. “...Tyrion?” said the creature, carefully. Erliv’s head moved backwards in surprise. Then she leaned forward again suspiciously. “Defender of Ulthuan?” the lizard tried. “Gedoutta here!” squawked the giant bird. “You’re never Tyrion! Tyrion is seven feet tall with flowing white hair! Don’t try and trick me, deceiver! I am a sentinel of the Shrine of Asuryan!” “Alright, alright, you got me,” said the reptile, fending off another peck. “My real name is Gladys. I’m just a lizard passing through. Now, where’s this shrine you mentioned?” “It’s over there,” said the bird, automatically. “No, wait! You can’t know that! Very sacred, no foreigners allowed. Well-known rule.” But Gladys was already hauling its big pot of water in the direction she had indicated. “Gods, you move fast for a little thing!” cawed Erliv, fluttering to a stop by the shrine inside a large pyramidal structure made of fine white alabaster. Diaphanous lights shimmered in the translucent walls, reflecting the great furnace at the centre. The legendary Flame of Asuryan, the eternal fire vouchsafed to the Second Race by the creator god himself, in which the Phoenix King must be ritually cleansed. Gladys was boiling a pot of water on it. It took Erliv a few moments to register the affront. “Wha!” she cried, stupefied. “You can’t cook on the Fire!” “Best place to cook, fires. Can’t stand cold dinners, me,” replied Gladys, mildly. “And looks like nothing else round here will burn.” The lizard glanced up at Erliv’s expression. “Oh settle down. Take a seat. A perch, whatever. You can have some when it’s ready if you like.” “B...But…” stammered the bird. “I’m doing rice,” continued Gladys, tossing handfuls of grain from a mysterious pouch at its waist. “It’s good stuff. Filling. They swear by it, over in Cathay.” “Where’s Cathay?” asked Erliv, too shocked to stop herself. “In the East.” “Like, the Old World?” “The Old World’s in the middle. At least if you look at it on an Old World map.” “Hold on,” said Erliv, looking smug now. “How can you have been to the East, when it’s a well known fact that lizards are from the West? Eh?” She leaned back with a smile, satisfied she had caught this creature in a web of impenetrable logic. “You’re thinking of lizardmen. I’m not one of those. Properly speaking, I’m more of a dragon. Same evolutionary ancestors and all that.” “You?! A dragon?! You’re having me on!” “Dragon-adjacent,” said Gladys, calmly stirring the pot with a large wooden spoon. Erliv muttered peevishly to herself. “How’d you get past the guards, then? The fearsome Phoenix Guardians, greatest warriors of the Realm!” “What, the blokes outside in the pointy hats?” “Yes! Undefeatable! Untiring! Incorruptible!” “I asked nicely. Isn’t that right, lads?!” she shouted the second part towards the door. There was a muffled cry of “Always a pleasure, Gladys!” from outside. “You’ve bewitched them! You’re an evil Druchii sorceress!” “Ooo I don’t think I’d have the stamina for that,” chuckled Gladys, wryly. “No!” screeched Erliv, almost in tears. “This can’t be right, you can’t be cooking on the Flame of Asuryan!” She swooped at Gladys, claws first, with great beats of her fifteen-foot wingspan. The lizard seemed to move impossibly fast, dodging the assault. Instead, Erliv’s talons nicked the iron pot, which teetered and fell with a large splash. The Flame of Asuryan went out with a damp hiss. “Oh great!” shouted Gladys. “See what you’ve done?! You’ve ruined dinner. I get very cross if I haven’t eaten properly.” She put her hands on her hips and tutted at the steaming remains of the Eternal Fire of Ulthuan. There was a silence, all the deeper for the sudden lack of the Flame’s crackle. The ethereal alabaster walls of the Shrine seemed a lot less luminescent and alive. Outside, a faint patter could be heard as it began to rain. Gladys realised there was another sound. Erliv was weeping. She had covered her face with her wings but was peeping through them with eyes of utter horror. The rain outside was getting louder, and so were Erliv’s sobs. Awkwardly, Gladys tiptoed to the huge bird and patted her on the claw. “There there, dearie, it’s just a fire,” Gladys tried. Erliv bawled all the louder. “I’ve ruined everything! I was supposed to be a sentinel! Now I’ve destroyed the very heart of Ulthuan, the source of its eternal power and favour of the gods. I can’t do anything right!” she wept. “I can’t even put myself on fire, like the other phoenixes! I’m useless.” “Don’t cry, lovely. Being on fire is not all it’s cracked up to be, believe me.” “I’m sorry if this is a bad moment,” said a sudden new voice. “But I was wondering if you could show me the Flame of Asuryan. I have to devour it for the glory of Tzeentch, you see.” They looked up at a pink man with a blue crescent moon for a face. It was dripping rainwater. Erliv wiped away tears to get a better look. “You’d be the daemon then, would you?” said Gladys. “You’re expecting me! How thoughtful.” “Yes well as you can see we’ve had a little issue with the Flame and it’s gone out.” The lizard gestured apologetically at the upturned pot. “Dinner’s off too.” “Gone out? Well let’s see,” said the herald of Tzeentch, flicking through a terrible arcane tome. “Right,” it continued, finding the spot it was looking for and pulling a blade of pure magic out of thin air. “In the event of the Flame going out, I have to kill everyone nearby. Seems straightforward.” Erliv looked from one to the other in shock as the creature began to advance. “Take me!” she squawked, suddenly. She pushed herself forwards between Gladys and the daemon. “Run, little lizard, I’ll hold off this monster!” “OK,” said Gladys. Erliv tried to puff out her chest and ready herself for the fight. Gladys watched her from behind with a curious smile, hands on hips. The daemon was almost upon the phoenix. At the last moment, Erliv, squealed in fear and covered her face with her wings. “No, I can’t fight it! I’m too scared!” she cried out. The herald of Tzeentch shrugged and cut her in half with the magical dagger. The bird exploded with a final squawk, leaving a little pile of soot. “Huh,” said Gladys after a moment. “Bit of an anticlimax if I’m honest.” Without even looking, she extended an arm towards the daemon and incinerated it with a blast of pure dragonfire from her fingertips. Then she carefully retrieved the upturned pot and began scooping up the ashy remains of Erliv. She poured them out again among the embers of the Eternal Flame. Then she sat down and watched. Outside, the rain had become positively stormy. After a few hours, a particularly bright bolt of lightning flashed the Shrine into momentary brilliance. “Gah! Who’s there?! What’s this?!” shrieked Erliv, blossoming out of her sooty pile like coke from a bottle of Mentos. Her newborn feathers were wreathed in rich orange fire. “Gods! I’m on fire! Wait…” Joyous realisation bloomed. “I’m on fire!” She flapped happily around the sanctum. And then stopped again in shock. “Look! The Flame of Asuryan! It’s relit!” “Just needed a spark,” murmured Gladys. Spoiler: Story Seven: The Fires of Cataclysm The Fires of Cataclysm The horizon filled with fire, Daemons pouring through the jungle. I watched as the line of Saurus leveled their spears. Hundreds of ranks deep, and stretching from horizon to horizon, they were splendid to see, no warrior even a millimeter out of place while the Slann cast spells to make the line of millions ever deadlier. Glittering light appeared over their shields. The area of jungle that had been cleared for the battle began to fill with many small spikes of stone and grasping plant tendrils rose around them. The geomantic ley lines that had been webbed across the world pulsed so strong as to be visible, audible and almost tangible. The world vibrated, and great chasms opened in front of the mighty phalanx. The First didn’t even flinch as the ground beneath them shifted to give them the high ground. Daemons shrieking became audible to me, and the Saurus braced themselves further, as the Slann’s incantations made their scales as steel, their strength as mountains and their hearts as fortresses. The ground began to tremor again as the untold trillions approached, a collective screech growing ever greater. The air itself vibrated, and they poured from the trees, trailing smoke as their headlong charge pulled the flames they had put to the jungle with them. They ran past me, towards the line of scaly gods that awaited them. The assault crashed to a halt against the magically enhanced shield wall, multiple different colours of ichor and blood pouring out of daemonic corpses and off Saurian spears. The Daemons jostled me, pushing towards their deaths. Each warrior fighting for this doomed world was worth a million of them, but that would not be enough. I sat and watched for days on end, the saurus line slowly losing ground, the weight of infinite Daemons pushing the mighty defenders of life back, dragging them down one by one. Each saurus could slay a billion Daemons and still it would never be enough. Daemon corpses weren’t the only ones lying in uncountable numbers. After ten score days of fighting, the last tree the Daemons had lit was ashes, smoldering as the once massive jungle was scattered by the four winds. Saurus had begun collapsing from exhaustion and hunger, and it wouldn’t be long before their valiant fight would end. I could feel tears running down my face as the last saurus was brought to his knees, his spear and sword broken, shield shattered, blood pouring from dozens of wounds and his allies dead and burning around him. Still he clawed to keep them back, fighting for the lives of everyone on the planet. After the saurus were all dead the Daemons continued on towards the undefended temple cities. Fire and smoke marked where they had advanced to. I walked amongst the burnt corpses of the once mighty army, a line of corpses several hundred meters wide and thousands of kilometers long. The stars that had burnt in their hearts was gone, replaced with an inferno that was consuming their world. They had fought for their world, but like a forest before a volcano they were overwhelmed. The Daemons had destroyed them, and their dreams. I found the last saurus who had fought to his last breath, claws still reaching to attack, jaws splayed open and dead eyes still conveying a fury that could never be quenched. I looked to the east, a million legions of corpses spread to the horizon. I turned to the west, the innumerable armies of the star-borne had fought in the name of their homes, and had lost. They now would rest here forever, victims of the Daemon’s wrath. I surveyed the cleared area of jungle, blood, flesh, bone, fire and magic scarring the ground. It would take several eternities for the land to heal. I sat next to the last Saurus and held the two halves of his sword, one day warriors of their ilk would rise again. They would walk through fire as they had. I wouldn’t stand by again, I wouldn’t let them stand alone. I put the two halves of the sword together, and reached out to the storming winds of magic around me. Light poured from the crack, and the blade was mended. The infinite stars of the cosmos swirled in the sides of it. One day it would see use again; Réalta-Iompartha, Star-Borne and it would be bathed in the blood of the apocalypse. Time will put out any fire, but not if I kept it alive.