Femnon licked her lips with a mixture of eager anticipation and apprehension, as she swept her eyes over the spartan splendor of the ante-chamber of the emperor. Mammoth bas-reliefs liberally encrusted with precious gems were to be found everywhere on the great basalt walls, depicting victorious Eshal warriors putting to rout ravening Lurdi packs and bands of vengeful Anura fighters. Such volumes of confidence they seemed to speak, these testaments to the might of the Brave People. Eternally victorious against all foes, destined to rule forever unchallenged as the heirs of the Gods of Water. That was the overwhelming message reflected all around her. But their proud boasts rang hollow to her now. Spies dispatched by her people to coasts of Tarrod,had come back bearing grim news. Fulfilling the worst nightmares of the Cuada, men had indeed arrived from the distant lands that lay beyond the Vaet. And they brought with them a dark, apocalyptical promise to lay waste to that which the elder Toltep had worked so hard to erect over the long centuries. Armed with their fell and terrible tools of death, they had inflicted defeat after defeat on armies sent by the Eshal to drive back whence they had come. And now, the empire of the brave people tethered precariously, threatening to topple with it the very existence of the cuada that had birthed it into existence, back in the old days when Toltep had first led his people here,seeking refuge from the same menace that now hovered over their door step like a hungry raven. Already the worshippers of the demon god Larfu, were circulating their dangerous rumours that the air-breathing demons bearing their weapons of lightning and star light, were in truth the collaborators of the Cuada, summoned by them from the infernal dy lands to assist in the destruction of the Brave People. Far-fetched and insane to rational ears perhaps, but the foul stories spun by those murderous fanatics had found a warm welcome among the defeated, dispirited warriors of the armies of the War Chiefs. Faced for the first time in the history of the empire with foes they had not a remote hope of vanquishing in open war, they blamed the cuada for doing nothing to prevent their humilating routs at the hands of these alien invaders. No surprise then, that they would swallow the vicious lies fed to them by Larfu's minions. And they would not be the only ones who would prove to be that credulous if nothing was done to turn the advancing tide of destruction. And soon at that. Toltep could fore-see that much, even if he had not foreseen the possibility of his people encountering humans ever again, at least in his life-time.
But all was not lost. There was a secret the Cuada had been careful to guard for so long against all possible foes, but the time for secrecy was over now. With the existence of the very empire hanging in the balance,it was vital that they unleash its power against the foe menacing Tarrod. She like the others,could only hope that it would be enough to tip the scale. it had to be,for the sake of both Cuada and Eshal.
''It is an honor to be graced by your noble presence,oh First Born of The Gods''. Shaken out of her reverie by the jarring interruption,Femnon shot a startled glance at the hulking Eshal that dropped a graceful bow that was odd for one of his hefty frame. The breast plate of Great Crab shell affixed to his chest and polished to a perfect sheen proclaimed him a warrior of the emperor's elite personal guard, as did the gold pommeled drah strapped to his side. ''The emperor and Son of the Matriarch, Chosen Successor of the Gods and the Drah Point of the Brave People,will admit you into his holy presence now''. Her heart beating in her chest, Femnon made a hasty sign of blessing to the warrior before he faded away into the shadows. Had the time finally come for her to meet the emperor face to face? It seemed like only a moment had passed since she had stepped across the gaping threshold of the great pyramid... Then, irritated with her own chidish nervousness ,she scowled slightly and begun striding briefly to the vast and gold inlaid cypress doors that now lay open. This was no time to give in to anxiety. Toltep had charged with this important task because he had believed in her. A most unusual decision on his part, those aggrieved at not being given this task, might have stated. After all, Femnon was still young, trailing far behind some of breathren when it came to expertise in dealing with the senior figures of authority in the Eshal hierarchy. Toltep's old age must have marred his judgement was well as his brain.
But he had believed in her all the same, never mind what the envious ones might think. She certainly trusted his judgement and was determined to discharge this task as ably as she could. And there was a part of her that was thrilled and honored at being trusted with so prestigious an undertaking. Yes,she had been chosen for a reason.
Femon was finally at the threshold of the vast throne room now. Holding her head low in respectful recognition,she softly entered the large stone chamber where the emperor awaited her. There he was, seated on an enormous stone dais richly built to resemble the open maw of a shark. Two vast and exquisite emeralds formed the eyes, while the numerous jagged teeth gleamed gold and silver. A masterpiece indeed, most worthy of the one who occupied it.
And he was truly am impressive figure of an Eshal. No,he was not overly large as one might have expected. Next to the warrior that had greeted her in the passage-way, he was of but average size, lacking the huge stature so common to the massive warrior caste that served as the fighters of the empire. But what he lacked in size, he more than made up for in other ways. Powerful muscles rippled beneath the gold threaded purple robes and gold armlets, and the twin dark eyes radiated a certain ferocious intelligence and an unspoken command for utter obedience. A powerful gaze that reminded her of Toltep even. Here was truly a leader, one more than worthy of her respect.
Trembling slightly,she dropped an elegant curtsy. ''May the grace of the God shine undiluted on you forever, o Son of the Matriarch'', she intoned breathlessly in the standard Cuada blessing.
'' Arise,o First Born'' came the low voice, bidding her stand before him. ''Elder Child of the Gods,you have come on a matter of grave import I understand. A matter that concerning the ..demons.'' This last word was said with a smouldering fury so vicious that it made her shudder slightly. It would not do to fail this one. The price for that was too high,she did not doubt.
Striving to muster her courage, she replied to him in a voice that seemed so weak and high a thing in contrast to his own powerful tenor. Toltep would have done a much better job. But he was not here. ''O,heir to the Gods,know that these demons cannot be beaten through conventional means. Their arts of death and devastation are too devious for that, as are the horrendous powers of sorcery they command''.
He was not pleased to hear this. A dark expression filled with a barely repressed menace crossed his face at those words. ''But surely the First Born in their infinite wisdom can deliver us from this menace, Elder Child? Your most esteemed people have never failed us in all history. Surely this pattern must endure''.
Terrified that she had provoked his mistrust against her people for a moment, she hastened quickly to reassure him that his faith in the Cuada was not misplaced. ''You have no cause to doubt us, oh brave one. My people do indeed have an answer to the danger that seeks us to destroy us all''.
He realaxed visibly then, letting his face relapse again into unreadable inscrutability. ''Continue then, Elder Child''.
She was only too glad to comply with his request. ''The solution concerns of the Tools of The Gods that my people found scattered on the bottom of this lake, back when Tawichi had yet to exist''.
''A tool of the Gods?'' The awe in his voice was evident.
''Yes,a tool of the Gods. A hollow glass plinth to be exact. The one that stands next to the pyramid housing your warriors. Transparent it is, allowing us to see the impenetrable dark vapour that never ceases to roil within. And in that dark nexus, lies power, vast reserves of it. When my people first reach out to that power with the magic inherent in their minds, they were surprise to learn that it was malleable, able to be moulded with our minds as easily as one of the Brave people might mould clay. And like a ball of clay, it can be discharged at a certain target. When directed thus, at an in-animate object, it will have no effect. But with a living creature, there are more...interesting results. By subjecting animals to blasts of the power that we hurled at them, we learned that we could later the very susbstance of their matter. That is to say, what was solid, we can transmute into mist, an impermeable substance. ''
The emperor sat up straight in his throne now, cowed by the weight of Femnon's revelation. He struggled to speak, temporally stripped of all arrogance, pretensions to true power forgotten.
''Are you..are you saying that you could turn creatures of flesh and blood into fog and mist?''
'Indeed'', Femnon answered smoothly, thoroughly in controll now. What's more, this strange effect lingered well after we ceased to subject the animals to the power residing within the plinth. Whenever we attempted to slay them in the months after, they would evade nigh certain death by simply assuming the form and texture of mist, then revert back to their true forms after the weapon used to try and kill them had been removed''.
Now the emperor was leaning forward,his hands grasping the arms of the throne. ''And if were to be used in a similiar fashion on my warriors..''
He was finally catching on. Femnon flashed a smile at him. '' You would have an army at you disposal that not even the fell devices of the demons could hope to thwart. Perhaps a little display would be in order now? Five of my people wait beside the plinth outside, ready to work their magic''.
''Excellent'' hissed the emperor, his voice quivering with greedy anticipation. ''I shall summon a hundred of my warriors to assist in this little experiment''. Reaching out for a gold gong that dangled next to the right of his throne, he begun to rap on it with a little silver rod placed on a little stone stool that lay directly below the gong. As the chamber filled with the loud brazen voice of the gong, ten warriors dashed into the chamber and made their ritual obeisances to both their lord and Femnon. Then, they stood at attention,rapt,as the emperor issued his orders. ''Get a hundred of my guard to assemble infront of the plinth that stands next to their residence''. As they scurried off to carry out his dictate,he turned to Femnon. 'Shall we begin,Elder Child?''
The next few moments found her standing next to the gold palanquin of the emperor. He was craning his head out past the thick purple hangings of his vehicle,clearly eager to see the show begin. She smiled yet again, this time to herself, a smug but discreet. He would not be disappointed.
Humming softly the Cauda positioned in a ring around the plinth begun to sway and hum, channeling the power within the plinth, letting it fill their very bodies. Even to the untrained eyes of the Eshal present,a strange shimmer of sheer,unrestrained energy seemed to move about the forms of the salamander folk, making it obvious that something of great significance was indeed transpiring this very moment.
As one,the Cuada spun around to face the small force of warriors assembled facing them. Still swaying and humming, they begun to move their hands in wide, graceful, sweeping patterns. And from the tips of their fingers, thick dark mist begun to issue forth,moving swiftly towards the warriors and quickly wrapping itself thick as as night around them, momentarily obscuring them from the view of their lord, who watched this arcane spectacle, in open-mouthed astonishment.
But as quickly as the mist had appeared, it dissipated, leaving behind the dazed warriors that looked as if thy had just emerged from a dream. It was obvious they had no inkling of that which had just befallen them.
They were given no time to begin comprehending it. Other warriors concealed in the shadows cast by the soaring bulk of the pyramid,hurled their Rouths at their comrades,giving them not a single moment to react, just as the emperor had ordered. Only to see those they had assumed marked for death, dissolve into black mist as the deadly rain of throwing spears slashed at the tightly massed press of bodies that no longer consisted of flesh and blood to be pierced and wounded.
A jarring howl rent the square,sending a shudder down Femnon's spine. The emperor had leapt from his palanquin. ''The Augmented have come into existence! And this is but the begining !''