Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Black Ziggurat (Vignette)

Nyler Onslow crouched at the base of the Black Ziggurat.  His once elegant heron-mask was spattered with mud and postively ruined.

He was not amused. 

Iiiilliikkkkk!  Iiiiiilllliiikkkkk!

Those horrid sounds came slithering on the wind again.  Nyler looked around in quaking fear but there was nothing to notice, nothing that stood out against the dismal gloom of the crater-bottom.  Once more he estimated the distance to the muddy moat and balked at trying to run across the soft and flaky surface between him and the murksome mass of what looked like some sort of stagnant water.  The soil here was dessicated and like a layer of crushed and powdered eggshells.  It was sticky, dusty, and rose up in clinging-stinging clouds with every step.  It was also slippery in the most inconveniently awkward way.

Iiiilliikkkkk! Iiiiiilllliiikkkkk!


The sounds came from somewhere in front of him.  He listened intently.  Straining to discern the source of the thought-curdling sound.  Then he saw it.  Or rather he saw the foul miasmic phosphorescence that wafted off of a writhing, amorphous shape that oozed along the ground like a slow-motion ambulatory mass of rotting pus.  It was directly across the moat.

Nyler watched the thing make its way across the hard-packed track that he himself had traveled only an hour ago in order to reach the Black Ziggurat.  It was hard to believe that it had only been an hour since he had been in his chambers, listening to soft music and sipping a pleasant appertif from Purjool as he sat down to contemplate a new folio of sorcerous diagrams that his major domo had acquired through the usual undisclosed sources who had friends along the waterfront.  The folio had been assembled in old Kelbar, seventeen hundred years previously, back during the height of the despotic rule of the Jasmine Concubine, a sorceress who had usurped the Garnet Throne from under Ixbal the Wretched, a pathetic failure of an emperor whose name was reviled as synonymous with cowardice and incompetence to this very day.

The diagrams were elegant, smoothly delineated and the obvious work of a skilled artisan.  The geometries were exquisite and the secret wisdom encoded into the various anagrams and palimsests was a temptation that Nylar could not resist.  Mere moments from first gazing upon the master diagram on the eighth loose vellum page he was reciting words he had never heard before and activating the sequence of sigils along the edge of the sheet with his own hastily drawn blood.  He had become caught-up in the throes of a long-dormant spell, a spell that would wait no longer.

His voice faded into a repetitious whisper that fell into a mumble as the ritual's words fled from his brain like a flock of wasps from a burning hive.  The spell left him and he found himself transported to this cold, dim and dusty place full of pallid thorns that throbbed evilly at him from across the eggshell-like sands.  There had only been one path to follow from the circle of tumbled basalt trapezohedrons that had once formed some sort of ring of crude menhirs long, long ago.  The path had led to a small bridge--

The bridge!

Nylar ran back towards the path he had come to the Black Ziggurat by and saw to his horror that the grotesque shape was coming across the bridge.  It was following him.  Hunting him.

Iiiilliikkkkk! Iiiiiilllliiikkkkk!


He clamped his hands to his mask-covered ears in a futile attempt to block out the horrid sounds that the fetid blob was making as it gurgled and rolled gelatinously towards him across the sticky, dusty eggshell-like sand.

He was trapped between a festering mass of unclean malevolent filth that could mean him no good and writhing, possibly vampiric thorns that blocked the way towards the bare and treacherous crater rim-walls.  Nylar was perturbed by this unkind chain of events.  He suspected his servant of perpetrating an act of coldly calculated treachery upon him.   If so, then Nylar would reduce the man to so much rendered fat to make candles with and acquire a homunculus instead.  It was impossible for a homunculus to betray its creator, or so it was said.  But first things first.  He had to attend to the massive blob that was bearing down upon him with bad intent.

Three quick gestures and a modicum of energy invested, and Nylar cast Jaxeem's Grim Silence over the festering mass so that he would no longer have to endure the horrid, idiot noises it was wont to make.

Quickly and in an orderly manner Nylar considered the spells that he knew and was prepared to cast either spontaneously or under some measure of calculated duress.  He could explode the boundaries of space, spew forth hallucinatory figments, provoke an intense sensation of erotic vertigo, or produce a catastrophic oscillation in whichever quantity of local matter he should choose, but that did not seem like such a good idea under the circumstances.  Blobs and the like tended to be prone to survive fissioning, and he could as easily be faced with a dozen smaller blobs as not.  No, that would not do at all.  He reviewed the rest of his personal repertoire in short order; vegetal puppets might help him pass the vampiric thorns, maybe, but he doubted it.  Likewise, Scharum's Dermal Origami and Meticulous Decay would not be all that well suited to his immediate needs either.  Void Frost, Knotwall, and Haemocandescence were likewise of limited utility, though if the blob had iron-based blood that last spell might have done it a great deal of harm, perhaps enough to drive it off or even kill it...but Nylar doubted that.  He knew the means to provoke a rhythmic, repetitive field of iridescent excresences to flutter across the air and write out sonnets or vulgar phrases as he directed.  With a softly uttered word known to only three other adepts he could evoke a grid of morphological transformations that against most other foes would have been terribly effective, but against an amorphous blob, not so much.

"I guess there really isn't much of a choice left then, is there?" Nylar grumbled in distaste as he began the passes and gestures necessary to the performance of a powerful attack spell that he generally preferred to avoid whenever possible.  But there was no real choice left to him.  A violet-azure nimbus sprang into life at his finger tips and quickly gathered strength, crackling with a hundred brittle tongues of flame as Nylar raised his hands above his head and, once the spell was fully prepared, he threw it into the very maw of the fetid mass that reared before him like a massive wall of devouring filth. 

The explosion was deafening.
When the smoke cleared there was only a flittering cloud of ashes sifting back down to the ground like black snow, and the area immediately in front of Nylar was now a mass of green-streaked glass outlined with a smoldering blackness. 

He wiped his hands on his sash and shook his head in disgust. 

"That was clumsy.  Amateurish.  I shall have to make an effort to be better prepared in the future."  He spoke aloud in order to chide himself out of old habit.  He was used to spending long periods of time alone.  Like many of his peers, Nylar often talked to himself.  He even knew a minor cantrip to allow him to argue with his own reflection.  Not that it ever proved very useful.

Once more Nylar regarded the throbbing, writhing thorns and decided to forego the experience of confronting them directly.  Someone had gone to the trouble of summoning him to this place, perhaps he should do them the courtesy of paying a call upon whomever dwelt within the Black Ziggurat.  It was the least that he could do after all.

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