Jaxarte and the Chaos Fiends 
First published in Tales of the Reaching Moon issue #8

Copyright © 1995 by Michael O'Brien

Shortly after Jaxarte's recovery from his ill-fated mission as a Lunar emissary to the Bison tribe (see Jaxarte and the Bison Khan), his uncle, Prax Governor Sor-Eel, ordered him to carry out a census evaluation of the Morokanth tribes living in the Bilos Gap region, beyond Duke Raus's grantlands to the south of Pavis. Jaxarte, who was infatuated with the duke's headstrong daughter, Lady Jezra, looked forward to spending several days in her company before travelling further south to the morokanth.

Jaxarte left the city of Pavis on Waterday-Stasis-Earth 7/46 (1617), travelling on one of the duke's newtling rafts. However, before Jaxarte reached Raus's settlement, his raft was attacked and overturned by outlaw newtlings from Five Eyes Temple, hostile to the newtlings in the duke's employ.

We take up the episode from here. Once again, Jaxarte's writings are annotated by the Grey Sage Floriat Fedora.

From Jaxarte's Journal
"...my arms flailing about desperately, I made slow but desperate progress towards the shore. Around me, I could see blurred shapes of newtlings wrestling one another in the water. My two escorts, weighed down by their heavy armour, simply sank like stones. Then a large wave slapped me in the face, and, taking a mouthful of cold river water, I went under.

Seconds later, I felt a brawny arm grasping for me. It managed to take hold of my hair, so I quickly reached out with my hands and grabbed the arm around the wrist. As I was yanked ashore, I could feel that the arm was clad in a sleeve of bristly, almost painfully sharp hairs, but when taken out of the water I saw that in fact my rescuer was a goat-headed broo, and the hairy covering was its natural hide! I recoiled from its touch in horror, but the broo still kept its grip on my hair.

In its other hand the broo had an ugly club raised, to strike me. I thought of casting my rune magic at it, but remembered how I botched my last attempt to summon a lune [1]. And also, that I had heard some broos had the chaotic power to reflect or absorb magic. At an utter loss what to do, I offered it the Lunar sign of peace [2].

To my relief, the broo lowered its club and even let go of my hair. It gave me a wave, which may have even been the Lunar sign of greeting [3]. Perhaps it was one of our own broo (although it was not wearing Lunar kit), for I had heard that broos and other chaotics could join our army, even though I had never actually seen one [4].

I couldn't have been all that far from Raus Fort, and I wanted to stay by the river in the hope that a passing boat might rescue me. But the broo pointed to a cloud of dust over a rise in the distance (nomads?, I wondered), and beckoned me to follow it. It led me upstream for a moment, and then turned into a rocky gully. As Yelm began its fiery descent to the horizon, we scrambled up the rocky incline towards the distant glow of a campfire. I was being taken to the broo's hideaway, and from the shifting shapes around the firelight, he had companions!

These fiends of chaos were an appalling sight. I had of course been taught by the good sisters of Teelo Norri in my schooldays that the Lunar way accepts and encompasses all creatures: great and small, lawful and chaotic. The sisters had even shown us engravings of chaotic beings, so that if we encountered them we could tell them about the Red Goddess. I remember my classmates and I, with gaping mouths and wide eyes, staring at a picture of a goat-headed broo, clad in a neatly-pressed linen kilt and ludicrous straw hat, sharing his plate with a smiling citizen. And another: a scorpion-man, taking a group of laughing children for a ride on his back (how much then did I too wish I could sit on top of a scorpionman!). Perhaps the most bizarre of this collection was that of a walktapus, graciously climbing into a boiling pot, to provide a meal for a group of starving villagers standing around the fire with adoring faces. How different were my first chaotic beings in reality!

My guide was perhaps the most "normal" of all, in that if you took away the filthy skins it was wearing and replaced them with the linen kilt and the straw hat, it would have looked not unlike the broo from my childhood etchings.

It lead me into a small open area amongst the rocks, where the flames of the campfire cast fitful shadows on the boulders around it. As we clambered in, I put my hand out onto a large stone to steady myself: to my surprise, it grunted at me and moved away, on stump-like legs! Later, in the fire-light, I could see that it indeed had moss growing about its shoulders, and some cruel types had even carved all manner of lewd graffiti into its stony hide! [5]

Around the fire sat three large figures, and a smaller one with its back to me on the far side, apparently preparing a meal. The largest of these figures I first thought was a minotaur: its huge head had enormous curved horns, and its great torso was covered in shaggy hair. It was, however, a bison-broo, for all broos are male [6]; they are fecund and can mate and breed with almost anything! [7]

Beside the bison-broo sat another of almost squid-like appearance: I gasped and held my breath for a moment, thinking it was one of the foul Walktapi, whose poisonous breath can kill a man at 10 paces! But my guide dragged me closer and so, with lungs bursting, I saw in the firelight that although it resembled a walktapus, it had a normal broo-head (although its mouthparts were surrounded by dozens of writhing tentacles, which dripped slime).

The most appalling sight of all these fiends though was the last: it looked like a normal bald-headed human infant of normal proportions, only it was wider and taller than a man! It sat there, naked, its pinkish skin covered in scabrous sores, playing knucklebones in the dust with "Squid-face".

I mentioned there was one other - a smaller figure, squatting with its back to me on the opposite side of the fire, busy preparing the meal. Clad in a black robe and cowl, I was unable to see what horrors the hood hid beneath it. As I broke into the circle the robed figure turned, and I gasped in dreadful anticipation at what I was going to see! To my utter surprise, it was the pale face of a young woman, and the black robes she was wearing was the habit of a Teelo Norri nun!

"Oh!", she said, startled for a moment. Looking into my blank face, she added somewhat incongruously, "I'm sure we have enough for an extra guest."

What in the Goddess's Name was a nun doing here, in the wastes of Prax, cooking dinner for a pack of chaotics? I almost fainted from shock and surprise. Before I could continue, the girl announced that dinner was ready, and proceeded to hand steaming bowls of corn mush to her attendant menagerie [8]. I myself received a bowl, but before I could think of placing spoon to lips, she suddenly announced that first we must say Grace, and thank the Red Mother for her bounty. The chaos monsters dutifully dropped to their knees, and "Rocky" hissed at me when I was not quick enough to follow.

The nun's name was Mellissa, and she was a Lunar Heartlander like myself. Of noble, yet spurious blood [9] she had been entrusted to the care of the good Teelo Norri sisters as an infant. A year younger than myself, after taking her vows [10] she had left her convent in Good Shore to carry out missionary work in the provinces. In the confusion of a nomad raid on her caravan en-route to Pavis, she became separated from her sisters, ending up in the company of these chaos fiends. She had been with them six days now [11]. Mellissa considered it her mission to care for these "poor unfortunates" as she put it, whose welfare she had taken upon herself to see to, and whose salvation she considered her mission to bring about. All this I learnt over our bowls of corn mush; meanwhile, the chaos fiends babbled to themselves in some indescribable tongue. Occasionally, Baby Face would turn to the Squid and whisper, pointing first up at the Red Moon, and then to Mellissa, who would cheerfully wave back at them. I thought their behaviour was rather curious, but Mellissa simply thought it "cute".

The Red Moon rose full behind us as we finished our repast, and Mellissa called her curious charges together for a session of worship. She climbed onto a large, broad boulder on one side of the clearing, which I noticed had been daubed over with Lunar runes and motifs. Underneath, in the firelight, I could just make out older, less pleasant runic carvings, and I began to wonder if this place had more significance to the chaos fiends than a just a hidey-hole.

Babyface and the Squid both hissed at me when I initially refused to join in Mellissa's ceremony, but it was her crestfallen expression that finally compelled me to take part. I don't know how much the chaos fiends understood of Mellissa's short homily on "The Problem of the Uncontrite Confessional" but they seemed to enjoy the community hymn singing that followed [12]. Mellissa's voice was angelic, and her face rapturous as she sung the Goddess's praises, seemingly oblivious to the horrors grunting along in time with her. Although I had been looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with the lady Jezra, the beautiful daughter of Duke Raus, just hearing Mellissa's singing was enough to stir my heart, let alone her radiant beauty, made even more obvious by the stark contrast of her chaotic disciples.

As night deepened, the chaos fiends prepared for sleep. Mellissa did her rounds, tucking each one into their filthy blankets or skins, and blessing them. She then returned to the fire, where we huddled together for warmth, and talked long into the night. I spoke of the wondrous architecture of the Heartlands; Mellissa spoke of the Goddess's mission to save and liberate the world, and the day when the lion and the lamb, the Lunar and Orlanthi, the troll and the elf, and the broo and the Storm Bull would live in harmony together under her bounty. Eventually, we asleep in each others' arms.

I was awakened later in the night, when I felt Mellissa's slight frame shift beside me. Turning over, I saw her sleeping form rise, carried by the wheezing Babyface over to the rune-marked stone where his comrades - Rocky, the Squid, the Bison Broo and Goathead - stood assembled. It was then I noticed with horror that the Squid was wearing a elaborate headdress, and carrying in one paw a bone staff surmounted by a human skull, and in the other a huge flint dagger. Above him, for a fleeting second, a thought I saw a dark, immaterial shape pass in front of the blood-red full moon [13].

While Babyface and Rocky held the still-dozing Mellissa down on the stone altar, the Squid raised the flint knife. The chaos fiends then began a slow, harmonious chant (completely unlike their cacophonic and discordant hymn-singing earlier in the night). I struggled to my feet, attempting to draw my scimitar and save dear Mellissa from her fate. As I ran forward, the Squid gestured in my direction, and I felt the sickening rush of rune-power slam into my body. It was as if my fingers suddenly turned to jelly, and my legs to straw. My weapon went flying as I fell over my own feet, thudding headlong into the ground [14].

Before I could coax my slackened limbs into movement again, there came a roaring and clattering sound, mixed with shouts and brays. A huge dark shape passed over me. It was a armour-clad horse, and mounted on it, a huge, horned helmeted man, bellowing some song and waving about a huge axe. The horse stumbled on the rocks, but the man leapt free, and charged into the mass of chaos, literally cutting Goathead in half and knocking a great chunk out of Rocky's stony hide, sending chips and splinters everywhere. Scant seconds behind the human warrior came another, who seemed to leap in from the sky [15]. This one was huge, and wielding in both hands a huge mace that shone with a blackish s heen in the moonlight and seemed to moan of its own accord as it swung through the air. The warrior's huge snout and inhumanly long arms marked it as a troll, as even I, a Lunar Heartlander, could tell.

The troll proceeded to pound the hapless Rocky into powder; meanwhile, the human had surmounted the altar and stood over Mellissa's still-prone body, defending it from all sides. However, as he turned to parry a powerful blow from the Bison Broo, the Squid cast its foul chaos magic again and the brave fellow collapsed beside Mellissa, his body going into quivering spasms.

This only served to enrage his troll comrade who, throwing aside all thought of personal safety, leapt to his friend's aid. With a single sweep of his maul, he stove in the side of the Bison Broo's head and burst Baby Face's bloated stomach. Baby Face promptly exploded, showering every-one with putrid vileness. Meanwhile, the Squid had slipped out between the rocks and out into the wastes, where for all I know, he still hides now, waiting to return to the river-valley once to once again perpetrate evil deeds [16].

When Mellissa finally awakened and surveyed the carnage and broken bodies of her "friends", she broke down and wept. Meanwhile, the troll stood over his companion, grunting a magical incantation in his own tongue. The human soon got his feet, ashen-face and shaken, but not permanently harmed.

So it came to pass that Mellissa and I were rescued, by the curious duo Onar Onari - the horned-helmeted Storm Bull cultist - and his trollish Zorak Zoran companion, known only as "D&D"[17]. They had been offered - through a discreet intermediary - a reward for Mellissa's recovery: divinations by the Seven Mothers temple had revealed that she had been captured by chaos, although they could not have told the worried priestesses that Mellissa was in fact was a most willing captive. That I was rescued too was my own good fortune, as reports of my disappearance had not yet reached uncle.

On our return journey Mellissa wept many tears for her slain "friends", and would hear nothing of their attempts to sacrifice her to their abominable gods. When she returned to Pavis she even went to the temple to say prayers for them, and had their names entered on the Wood Lists [18].

In the circumstances, my trip to the bestial Morokanth was thankfully postponed, and I was able to spend much of my free time in Pavis in the company of the lovely Mellissa. During this time my feelings for her grew stronger, and come the beginning of Dark season, I summoned up the resolve to actually ask for her hand [19]. Mellissa was thrilled, and said how wonderful it would be to have me by her side in her new missionary posting! "And where is this, my love?" I asked her, dreaming of walking around the architectural glories and gleaming spires of the Pharaoh's City of Wonders, or perhaps even the vibrant city-states of far Ralios while Mellissa preached to the eager masses. "In the Forest of First Reward, dearest", she replied rapturously. "And where is that darling heart?", said I, for I had never heard of such a place. "Oh, Ôtis often called the Foulblood Woods [20] by the ignorant and misguided", Mellissa said with a frown, "I intend to travel to the Queendom of Jab, and there convert the scorpion-queen Gagig Twobarb and her arthropodical people to the ways of the Goddess."[21] Needless to say, I was crestfallen..."

Floriat Fedora writes:
Jaxarte's entry abruptly breaks off here. Obviously, Jaxarte did not marry his sweetheart, nor accompany her to the Queendom of Jab, where, as Mellissa's future history tells us, she was singularly unsuccessful at converting the scorpion-queen and her minions. Her piety however, drew her to the attention Icilius Overholy, General Priestess of the Provincial Church. Mellissa became her protege, and eventually served a seven year term as General Priestess herself in the middle of the eighth wane. It is not recorded that Mellissa ever met Jaxarte again, nor did she ever marry.

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