All That Glitters, Part 14

Temple of the Living God Bo-Tana-Oon

The birds and monkeys had been behaving unusually for two days. Something in the air had disturbed them, some smell or sound that only they could sense. They were quiet, still and watchful. This odd behaviour in turn had affected the pygmies – though their particular response was to become fearful, then agitated, and then to pray to their gods. One of their gods, the living god Bo-Tana-Oon, pondered upon what all this might mean. Unlike the older generations of Slann, he did not ponder long – a minute or so was long enough for him. Being a larval Slann*, sparkling thoughts danced about his young brain rather more quickly than an adult, perhaps because they were of a less deep and complicated nature. Not that he was infantile compared to the lesser races’ adult forms: he had some mastery of magic and considerable knowledge of many arts. It was more that what cleverness he had was nimble and immediate in form, not lumbered by a great weight of knowledge garnered over centuries. Bontanoan (the name he himself used) possessed a much more instinctive intelligence than his ancient father. He was more in tune with the song of the jungle.

At the close of his brief contemplation he decided there must be something new in the jungle, something the birds and monkeys found disturbing, so he called for his two spawn brothers. His shrill, piercing cry could be heard for more than two miles and made the fauna even more nervous. He then waited, standing upon the huge stone dais that served as his temple, his only companions a handful of pygmy servants and guards.

The pygmy chief Atta-oeyga had to steel himself not to cover his ears as the living god Bo-Tana-Oon gave a cry like the brightly feathered Jallo birds, though much more powerful (of course). No magic was used in making the call, at least not that Atta-oeyga could sense, nor was any animal horn or shell employed. His totem bearer flinched by his side, no doubt making the dried-bean filled skulls on the totem rattle – not that any of the pygmies could hear the sound over the heavenly screeching. The cry ended abruptly, not so the echo, but eventually there was silence. For some time afterwards, not one beast, fowl nor even an insect sullied its god-given potency. Then, there was a new sound and Chief Atta-oeyga felt a surge of anger at what he thought was irreverence, sacrilege even – until he realised it was made by the brother gods Ta-Dino-Po and Go-Akill-An. Of course they, and only they, had the right to impose themselves on Bo-Tana-Oon in such a manner. The two leapt lithely onto the dais, then halted suddenly, adopting a stance so still that they appeared to have transformed in a flash from flesh to statues. This heavenly talent to instantly remove themselves from the world of motion, to enter a state in which time itself seemed to have no dominion over them, had always impressed Atta-oeyga. It was considered a sacred trait, so much so that in the last season three children had been fed to the Salamanders as punishment for playing a game in which they mocked this holy practise.

Bontanoan greeted his two siblings with a blink of both eyes. Like them, he was garbed in ornate armour which to warm-bloods’ eyes looked to be fashioned of silver, but it was not so. Rather it was made of a beaten core of gold upon which a sheen of quicksilver perpetually shimmered and flowed magically. In this way it looked as damp as the flesh of the larval Slann, and although it had nothing like the strength of steel armour (nor its magically distracting properties) it at least protected the thin and delicate larval skin from thorns and barbs, and on occasion the fluid surface could deflect an enemy’s blade, making it slide over the surface harmlessly. He carried ceremonial daggers of obsidian, and a mace of gold mercurially silvered just like his armour. His sibling Tadinopo carried a staff topped with a sharp blade taken from a warm-blood (Tadinopo had always been fascinated in the warm bloods); while Goakitlan carried a mace that had once been born by a mighty lizard warrior in the age when Saurus and Skinks had dwelt in the jungle outside of his father’s city.

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“Something is close. Something the jungle fears,” announced Bontanoan.

Tadinopo blinked his acknowledgement, while Goakitlan waited for more to be said. Bontanoan had known this was exactly how his siblings would respond.

“I do not know what,” he continued, “but it is large or numerous enough to have a wide effect. And it is near the great river. We must learn its true nature before it comes any closer to our father’s city.”

Again the blink, this time from both siblings.

“It is agreed, then. I shall go, and I will take the warriors of the Atta tribe with me. I will discover what approaches.”

Goakitlan beat his mace on his shield. “I will go with you, brother Bontanoan,” he announced.

Tadinopo beat his staff on the stone ground, saying,

“Take the Olobol tribe also, so you have sufficient force to attack whatever it is, even if only to test its strength. It might be discouraged from coming closer. I will warn our father and will summon the warriors of the more distant tribes. If you fail, then whatever approaches will face yet another army as it draws closer, and a third if they dare to enter our father’s city.”

* Note: My ‘larval-stage’ Slann are 1980’s Slann models and count as skink priests – with exactly the same stats, points and abilities. Bontanoan and his two brothers, being recently spawned Slann, are an incredible rarity. Their ‘father’ was forced by necessity to create them because he was the last surviving Slann for thousands of miles. He takes his role as guardian of the ancient city and its secrets very seriously – enough to do what was not only distasteful to him but something that is considered highly dubious behaviour by most Slann.

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