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You are dimly aware of pain, the aftermath of heat. Weak-limbed, fuzzy-headed, blood trickles down your flushed face. Staggering you find your feet, the earth still trembling from the aftershock. The aftermath of magical power tears and splits the hot air, and lights dance in front of your eyes.
You stand in the remains of a roofless, blackened stone temple, open to the sky. The walls, if they can be called such, are merely columns encircling a large, round altar. Around the altar lie the fragments of a shattered mirror.
The temple lies in the centre of a field, brown and dusty with drought. Lunar and Yelmalian soldiers, perhaps numbering forty in all, are beginning to approach the temple.
Scorched bodies litter the field and inside of the temple, both Lunar, Yelmalian and Humakti. There is Brenna, perhaps at last taken to Humakt, a spear in her side. There lies Oddus, clutching his eyes and moaning. Valens appears to be nothing more than a smoking ruin.
Around you Herewardi and other Yelmalians, these wearing white hoods, are rising to their feet. The ritually dressed Yelmalions seem grimly determined to resist, and are standing ready to defend the temple to last man against the soldiers outside that are now advancing rapidly.
It is with a painful groan that Landros pushes away from the stone floor with battered hands. He stands up slowly as his senses return, and with that the gravity of the situation becomes clear. The situation is confused, but it is clear they are under attack. By whom is unimportant now.
"Defend the perimeter!" His strong voice barks the command as he checks for his sword.
Landros' voice is weak and fearful, an after-effect of the magic, perhaps, and his tone stumbles in confusion as he fails to find his sword in its customary place. Despite being well-drilled only some of the Herewardi company make to follow his order, for the command comes from the voice of one they are unaccustomed to. The temple Yelmalians, however, stop to stare at Landros in confusion, wasting precious moments in their defense. The effort of shouting has robbed Landros of much of his remaining strength, and he staggers once more to his knees.
With an effort, Dori pushes the burnt remains of Valen's body off her. In the back of her mind she is grateful for the loyalty that had inspired him to throw himself between her and the fire, but the immediate threat requires her attention and leaves no time for regrets. Some unknown man is trying to give orders, and failing. Typical.
Under attack by Lunars, possible Yelmalian allies – well, at least she can rely on her own troops, and those closest to her in particular. She knows how the Lunars will react now, faced with an obviously out-numbered foe: regroup, make sure of their position, then come in to attack when they can be certain of taking minimal casualties.
"Shield wall!" Her troops don't need to be told any more than that. She'll need to be more specific for the SunDomers, though, thinking for themselves isn't something they're into. "You: hold the flanks!" She waves them into position. "In line with the columns – go on, move! Yes, you, that side." She grabs one who's standing in the middle dithering and pushes him to the left.
Dorinda's orders instantly stir the Herewardi to action. The Yelmalians, however, seem startled at her words. They look around in some confusion until one of their number, dressed in even more splendid robes and hood, barks out an order.
"Ignore her, prepare to defend yourselves and the sanctity of this place."
Dorinda experiences a momentary rush of surprise - a voice she recognises, but cannot place.
With recent experience of pushing back the effects of heavy drinking,
Enfrew has no trouble to suppress the dizziness and bolster the outnumbered
defenders. "To your feet, warriors!" he shouts. "There is no place for
weakness for you are accompanied by warriors of the Legion of Hereward Truewind,
those same warriors who fought on the Cradle and brought death and defeat to
countless Lunar soldiers and their mercenaries! We have countless more Lunars to
kill before we die so get to your feet and fight!"
The Herewardi smile grimly, but the white-hooded Yelmalians simply ignore the warrior's cry.
Despite immediately responding to Dorinda's call to resist, Hrolf's history as a scout instinctively makes him survey his surroundings. Something does not feel right. He cannot remember how he got here. He feels queasy, as though suffering the after-effects of too much bad beer. He scans rapidly over the temple and its assembled defenders. Something is definitely not right. But what?
Wiping away the blood and spittle the Kargani takes a moment to look around. Lunar soldiers advancing on their position. Light armour and shields, scimitars and spears. Others with sheafs of javelins, some with bows. Skirmishers. They wear red feathers on their tunics, wild hairstyles dyed in myriad colours, their short regimental togas cut with careful attention. The tell-tale signs of Rinliddi - a private vexilla, from the look of it. They will plummet into battle like hawks.
A knowing smile plays over his lips. No chance for parley; battle is already upon them.
"Beware the charge from above!", Aelfwyrd calls.
"All is not as it seems, Herewardi! Measure twice, cut once!"
Hrolf's call alerts the Herewardi to the strangeness of the situation. As his words sink through their befuddled minds they realise that indeed, not all is as it should be. One thing is that the temple Yelmalians, strangely dressed in a manner that Landros cannot recall seeing before (although it makes Dorinda pause with the shadow of confused semi-recognition), appear to be preparing themselves to defend against both the oncoming soldiers and the Herewardi. The most obvious, however, is that none of the heroes appear to be armed.
Cursing loudly Aelfwyrd bellows to Yrsga who has taken up a look out position nearby.
"Where are those damn weapons? Get them handed out or we'll be cut down like stick pickers"
Yrsga looks around blindly, her face a study of confusion and panic.
"There's nothing here boss!" she wails. "Where are they?"
Jamal casts around, he has been blindly following the orders of his ten thane, but there is something wrong.....
Those damn soft solars had left them with no way to defend themselves. Thsi confimed Jamals deepest held prejudices. Never trust a Darra Happan, their all rigid bastards....
Jamal would gladly dive straight to the attack trusting to the strength and the shield of his Lord Bisos to protect him, but the others of the legion may not be so willing.
"For the love of all that is righteous" he calls to the DH's in the white hoods "give us weapons to defend this place"
The Yelmalians are forming up with well practised drill, their spears a glittering arc of bronze. Facing both the approaching Lunars and the desperately preparing Herewardi, the Sun Domers appear ready to face all comers.
Jamal's cry prompts no response from them, save one man who hurls a javelin flat and hard at the burly Carmanian's chest. It would be no small feat to evade such a throw when prepared for it, but in Jamal's confused state it is a small miracle that he manages to start moving whilst the javelin is still in flight. As it is the spear leaves a ripple of blood down the side of his muscular torso, and Jamal finds himself with a weapon - of sorts.
The dizziness in Dori's head is partially driven out by shock. No sword? NO SWORD??? Where... Who...? She forces down the panic. If she feels this bad, how are the others...? ah, Aelf and Jamal are already taking action. Fine.
Time to stop relying on instinct and start thinking, if she can. She's mildly surprised to notice that giving people orders apparently is instinct, now. Her mind drifts hazily back to a conversation in Whitewall: yes, that prediction had been spot on. She jerks herself back to the present. Think!
The immediate threat, the Lunars, is under control as best it can be. Well, almost, what's obvious to her may not be to others.
"Stand firm," she says, trying to project a calmness and certainty that she doesn't feel. "We can hold them off with magic until they're at very close range, and they've got a long way to go yet. Remember, there's no such thing as being disarmed when you hold Death."
Or, indeed, the North Wind.... a flying attack can be met with a cutting wind, if necessary.
What other enemies need to be taken account of? The white-robed Yelmalians she'd thought of as possible allies, but from their reaction they're treating us as potential enemies. Defensive, though, not moving to attack us. Fine.
Who's this other man trying to give orders? No idea, but he's against the Lunars... keep an eye on him, just in case he's more dangerous than he looks. A quick glance shows someone far too good-looking to be trusted, and she stifles an irrational spasm of dislike.
So, who's here of her own people?
Good - almost everyone. Vern seems to be missing, and Geran isn't here... but that's right, isn't it? Some are injured, but Janeera and the other healers are already attending to them. Ouch - Brenna doesn't look too good.
And while we're not armed, what have we got?
Well, those chairs might be useful, Jamal at least seems to have acquired a javelin, and some of the sun temple regalia looks nice and heavy, and.... what's this? Ah! Brenna's old wrist knife. The day is looking up...
Malan automatically grabs for his non-present axe for the third time, and curses. He looks at the Yemalians. If this is a camp, they may have extra weapons somewhere, but IS this a camp or are they just as confused about how they got here as the Herewardi?
His rapid scan of the temple reveals an open structure with few places likely to be capable of hiding weapons. It also doesn't look as though it were planned to be easily defended.
On the other hand, those pillars with their overhanging cap stones should come in very useful against the kind of aerial assault these Rinliddi might use...
Landros is on his knees again, his head swimming in confusion when he hears the command to prepare for an attack from above. He looks up briefly then takes a deep breath to gather his wits. "Sword, a sword" he mutters in a deep voice. "Where is she?" Stifling a groan he rises to his feet again. The Humakti seem to be forming into a shield wall, unarmed. The white robed Yelmalians also seem to form up somehow. Very well, they don't need him just now then. He takes quick stock of what he wears and his equipment, then tries to spy if his companions are here.
Although wearing his full armour, Landros is momentarily dismayed to find himself unarmed. His hands clutch around his empty sword belt before coming to rest on a hilt. Pulling the blade free, Landros' relief turns to resignation as he spies the puny knife that is his only remaining weapon. A weapon the God has forbidden him to use.
He sighs. Never a dull day.
Having found out that he is weapon-less the Kargani looks fit to burst with shame and rage in equal measure. Catching sight of one of the white hooded Yelmalian he directs a snarling curse his way.
"You got a problem with your ears? I said Rinliddi," then gesturing skyward "Attack from above?"
Getting no response he strides over to the temple defender and jabs a finger at his chest.
"Are you going to stand there all day waving that pointy stick like some sort of Esrolian eunuch? If you're not defending this position you're part of the problem.
"So what's it to be?"
In response to Aelfwyrd's challenge the prodded Yelmalian, apparently dazed in amazement during the Far Walker's outburst, immediately strikes the Kargani in the mouth with his spear butt, knocking him flat.
At this moment there is a howl from outside the temple - the Lunar charge has begun!
Dorinda twirls happily, comfortable in the glow of Yelmalio's divine morning light. Her dress flows around her; the daisy chain around her neck bounces gaily. Today is a good day. The first weeks of Fire Season are a special time for her, as her beloved God begins to rise to his full height. In a few hours, when the sun is overhead, the men will gather and pay homage to Him.
She will not be there. Dorinda is young. She is female. They say she is not worthy. They point her to Voria, and Ernalda, and bid her know her place. In secret she offers up her own rites, dancing here in the courtyard, basking in Yelmalio's Light.
"Dorinda!" Her mother's voice. "Come child! Stop your foolishness - there is work to be done in the kitchen afore your father returns from the temple. Sweep! Clean! Bake bread! Make your idle hands useful, for otherwise evil will find its own use for them!"
The joy ebbs slightly, she turns more vigorously, wishing that the God would gather her up, love her, give her a spear, and keep kitchen duties for her stupid mother.
Dorinda spins regardless, her love of Yelmalio joining with hatred of her weak, insipid mother. Mother is unworthy of Father's love. Mother is unworthy of Yelmalio's love. But despite what others may think and say, Dorinda knows that she is worthy. She will be a Light Son - no! A Light Daughter! She will slay ugly trolls with her spear, banish darkness from Glorantha and bring Yelmalio's Divine Light to all people.
It is dusk. The heroes' legs are tired: even Humakti discipline can wear thin after four days' march across desert. They trudge on uncomplaining, even with a renewed spring in their step, for ahead they spy low-fires and huts, a village settling down for the night. They are expecting it, they have even been aiming for it, but the sight is a relief nonetheless.
Moving through the last of the fields the warriors temper the eagerness of their bellies for warm food and beer with instinctive caution, eyes ready for the least sign of danger. Ahead, a small group of Yelmalian farmers watch the approaching warriors with obvious trepidation. They edge back towards the village carefully, one of their number sprinting back, raising the alarm. Mothers gather children and bundle them indoors, for Death approaches.
"Well, there it is. Looks like the place survived without you for a few weeks after all."
Mara snorts good-humouredly at Dori's comment. The plump little woman might look fit for no more than a little light embroidery, preferably in the shade, but she had kept up with their march without apparently noticing any discomfort, and had made her original journey to Horn Gate without any escort at all. There was an iron will there that Dori would not like to cross. Fortunately they seemed to be in agreement on many things, especially the ability of men to organise themselves without help.
Dori gazes at the squalid little huts, the drooping palm trees, the dusty vegetable patches, with an expression of thoughtful distaste. "Strange to think I must have been born somewhere a lot like this."
"Oh? Which village?"
"I'm not sure I ever knew. We left when I was tiny, and it was only ever referred to as 'back home', or 'the village'. It can't have been anywhere very important or pleasant."
She shrugs, dismissing the idle speculation. "Go on, all clear as far as we can see. You'll get more of a welcome if you don't have us with you to start with."
Stopping apparently to catch his breath, Vastyr and Runner take quick seeing to on the village. Orderly little houses of varying size, with most if not all windows shut, children being herded to the strongest ones. And...
"Incoming," Vastyr says in a voice that gets heard without being too loud.
Dori and the strange Ernaldan priestess turn to watch him, and then the small of band of spearmen cautiously approaching. Some of them are still trying to get their armour into order. They look like green novices to the weary Humakti. Apart from the leader, who looks like he's had much practise with his spear... And the way they march is too well-drilled, the kind of marching in order that a warrior can never unlearn. Vastyr realises with a flash that these are warriors trying to lure the unwary into underestimating them. However, their formation appears purely defensive. At the moment...
Jamal looks up at the approaching solar warriors, and his mouth turns to form a sneer. He has no love for the glorious solar tradition. Too many haughty Darra Happans from his past, striding round his families Worian stronghold as if they own the place.
Jamal looks at the advancing group of hoplites and laughs, his hand resting lightly on Bull Spikes pommel. A high hard dismissive laugh.....
Jamal's barking laughter seems to fill the space between the tired, but obviously battle seasoned Herewardi, and the approaching Yelmalian spear men, it swirls around them and seems to pinch at the hoplites' resolve and courage.
One man stumbles, and another curses as he lets the buckle on his breastplate slip, yet another appears so flustered by his unexpected response to their approach that he drops his spear.
The leader turns to look back at his men, and seems obviously disgusted by what he sees, and he motions them to halt. The men clatter together in an unseemly group, but manage to remember enough of their drilling to form up some rudimentary defensive order. The captain snorts and steps forward, his voice is clear and authoritative, but obviously flustered by the poor display is men have put on....
"I am Antarius Venistix, I am the war leader and protector of this place. Who are you to come and disturb our calm, begone and let us in peace"
At this, Jamal stops his laughter and regards this man, his sneer never slipping from his lips...
"We are travellers and warriors, we are passing through, but for a time require rest and sustenance. We could take this....." Jamal lets his voice fall away has he glances at the collected spearmen with a distainful, patronising gaze, "... but we would rather not expend the energy. Get your men to stand aside and let us pass, and you will find us most polite guests, otherwise.." his voice fades again, the threat obvious.
Antarius glances back at the village, then his men. He sighs and then speaks. "By my oath I cannot permit this to happen. Name your leader or champion. If they can best me you may pass, else be on your way..."
"Well, if that's what your oath requires...."
Dori strolls forward, leaving Kristen to guard Mara. "Dorinda, ten-thane in Hereward's Legion. This is my ten." She looks round at the twenty-odd people she seems to be leading these days. "And friends."
"Does this oath put any particular limits on the form of the duel, or shall we just go for the standard rules - first blood, all magic allowed except for the death-touch, and so on?"
She seems almost bored by the idea: clearly, this is just routine to her, nothing to get excited about.
Antarius nods soberly. "I am familiar with the code followed by your cult, and these rules have always seemed fair to me. Shall we take a few moments to prepare ourselves, Champion?" Dorinda notes that his is an outlander accent, she does not face a native of Sun County.
The Yelmalian warrior turns to address his assembled troop. "Hold yourselves. Honour is on this duel, and your behaviour reflects on me." Antarius then turns to face the assembled Humakti and begins invoking the Gods. His spear and shield begin to glow, and it seems that this outlander has no small gift with magic.
One of the militia, a stupid-looking farm boy, says with an air of puzzlement to one of his comrades, "why is he worried? He can whip a woman with his arms tied behind his back!"
Without turning Antarius says, "because she has given herself to Death. A woman she may be, but if you that think that makes her weak then you are a fool, for Humakt will redouble her strength. She is a worthy foe."
The militia mutter amongst themselves in surpise at this, but none question their commander further. Antarius settles down in a half crouched stance, awaiting Dorinda's first move.
Dori eyes her opponent thoughtfully, and with surprised respect. "I hear Yelmalio also produces good soldiers. It's not often I meet one who lives up to their claims of honour, though. This will be a pleasant change..."
She draws her sword, strokes the edge reverently, whispers to it.
Runes on the hilt shimmer, the light from them pouring down the blade,
and the snaking lines within it start to glow as if with fire.
"Boss?" Elendala sounds surprised. "No Death magic?"
"No. This is to first blood. I see no reason to make that first blood fatal. The advantage would not be worth the dishonour."
"Nor Truth magic - no use forcing a man to act honourably when he already is.
"Although of course, against this opponent, there's a more appropriate option. Less effective, but..." She strokes another rune on her sword-blade. A circular one. Daylight blazes forth from the blade, and Elendala blinks, dazzled.
"Antarius? If you're ready..."
She salutes him gravely, waits for his response. Then she moves in to the attack, probing his defences. Working past a big shield is always difficult, and she makes no move yet that she expects to hit, nor lets down her own guard. She flicks the light from her sword into his eyes, wondering if it will have any effect at all on someone who is probably a master of Light magic himself.
The opponents circle each other warily, exchanging a few testing blows. Antarius turns Dorinda's sword easily enough, but in return seems reluctant to offer more than a probing jab with his spear. Despite trying to draw him out, Dorinda is left with little idea as to the spearman's ability.
Satisfied that she faces neither a helpless novice, nor someone who completely outclasses her, Dori moves on to the more interesting task of seeing how and if she can win, preferably with enough style to honour both their gods. Spear and large shield is a very defensive combination, and not ideal for duelling, if only because it's so boring! But perhaps something can be done about that... there's a trick to getting shields out of the way. A bit harder this time, as she doesn't want to do him any serious damage, but it can be done.
She steps in close, blocking the spear with her sword and getting inside his reach, and hooks his shield sideways with her own. Then the attack: not at his torso, as he might expect, but at the strap supporting his shield. With just a touch of magical destruction to help, as she can't get much power into the blow from this angle. Where her sword touches, the colour fades from the leather, and it crumples into grey dust.
His shield drops from his shoulder to the ground, banging his shins, and Dori backs off to give him time to recover. Yes, in a fight to the death that would have been an ideal time to gut him, but fair play is more important here.
She considers for a moment whether continuing to use her own shield is fair, but that two-handed spear still out-reaches her, and he can use both ends to attack now the clumsy shield is out of the way. Of course, he may not know how, but that's his problem.
He still outreaches her. There are two ways of dealing with that: get in close, or find some way of extending your own reach. Let's try the second. Magic can be used at more than touch range. She calls the wind. A little difficult to concentrate on this while defending against his attacks, but all she's doing is defending. A cutting wind - not much power, but it doesn't take much to draw blood from bare skin. Not that much of him is unarmoured - the cheek, perhaps. In theory she could go for the eyes, but again that's more damage than she wants to inflict.
Dorinda calls for the truth-storm and feels the prickle on her fingers as the Cutting Wind leaps to the attack. She is well practised in calling on Hereward's Wind, but today when it answers her call it seems harsh and unusually overpowering, the rush of magic making her blink and stagger - and in this vulnerable moment Antarius' spear thrusts forward, through her shield-guard, and leaves a fiery rake trail of pain down her side.
Blood wells in the cut, and spills through Dorinda's armor to fall on the dusty ground.
Antarius, watches her reaction carefully, never rising from his defensive stance. "First blood is mine, warrior. By the terms of the duel you shall not pass here but must leave by another road."
Dori steps back, nods, sheathes her sword carefully. "True enough, and well fought."
The Kargani scowls as the contest unfolds. How he despised Yelmalians. Fawning self-righteous spear wielding moon lovers. His mind drifts away for a moment. Thoughts of home and of Harvar Ironfist; the so-called 'Lord of the Alda-Churi' and his Cordali cronies.
How many Tovtaros where lost at Gamla's Leap? How long would the Tresdarni resist the purging of Orlanthi faithful? How did Ingard Mannison end up in Prax as the sky cancer wormed its way onto his Tula?
Returning to the present with a start it seems that first blood is drawn. Strange. It was well known that the Ten was skilled at the duel. Perhaps this was some kind of ruse? Turning to Hrolf he smiles obviously relishing the chance to stir this up.
"Now we will see if these Sun Domers bleed crimson..."
Marching over to the Yelmalian he spits. "What would a moon fawning Sun Domer know about honour?"
"Oh, by Humakt's piss" thinks Malan. He steps up beside Aelf and says "Forgive my comrade, for he is foul-tempered from the long march." He places a hand on Aelf's shoulder, turns him back towards the other Herewardi and whispers to him "Let's not make enemies were there are none yet. And don't disgrace the ten-thane while she duels!"
Despite his comrade's wise words, Aelfwyrd is not in a mood to listen to reason. Malan almost has to man-handle him away from the Yelmalians with his hand over his mouth, Aelfwyrd's anger clearly having got the better of him.
Antarius slowly rises from his defensive stance. "You fight well, Lady, and surely worthy of the sword you bear. I offer my wishes that your followers will one day be of the same quality. Night is falling, and you will not be long on the road before darkness. Down yonder is a place suitable for sleeping, there is some water there - mayhap some other travellers. Do not presume to approach closer to our humble village, and count on being on your way come Yelmalio's rising."
Jamal's face has been ashen since Dori's fall at the hands of this "Darra Happan"!!
He hides a smirk at the antics of the impetuous young Kargani, but quickly forces his face back into his usual grim visage.
He approaches Antarius with the impeccable courtesy that his comrades recognise as the mask he uses with those whose company he finds unpleasant.
"We stand bested, Antarius, and so shall retire the field. We shall set camp as you have indicated. We shall continue our journey on the morrow"
He nods a stiff Carmanian-bow (as etiquette demands), then leads the others to make camp.
Antarius nods stiffly at Jamal's genufluction. "It has been long time since I have been greeted thus by a Hazar, warrior. It is a strange sight, amongst such wilderness, to be met by such a civilised gesture. Go in peace, by all means, but go."
Having been dragged away the Far Walker fumes in silence. These lunar lap dogs would have been given short shrift in his homeland. No chance for parley at Long Run, Three Beacons, Young Lagerwater or any of the other Tresdarni stead's.
The Legion could not know that Conla Brightshield and his Yelmalian Cordali clan was moving against the remaining Bluefoot Orlanthi. They had not witnessed the clan Lightbringer Rings replaced by fork tongued solar 'officials' and their 'councils'. Maybe the Herewardi had not felt the Righteous Wind?
Dori is still somewhat dazed by the backlash of her magic, if not the trivial flesh-wound that followed it, and her response is slower than usual.
"We will use this camp-site, as you suggest.
My thanks for the advice, and for your forebearance towards an idiot who did not deserve it".
Her glance toward Aelf makes it quite clear who's on latrine duty tonight!
"Before we part, though, there is a question I would ask, if you will. It seem to me to be unusual that a small village such as this would be honoured by the protection of a warrior of your quality. And the troops you command, too, seem to be of rather better experience and training than the average militia. Is there some particular threat towards this village that we should be aware of?"
Antarius pauses before answering, clearly reluctant to do so. "It is often said that is is hard to hide the Truth from those who worship it, and I see that this is the case here. It might be wiser not to speak of it to an outsider, yet I have heard that your cult despises the Dark Hater as much as we do, and I cannot believe that one who bears the Light in her sword could be in league with Darkness.
"A few weeks ago, this place began to come under attack by night. mall things at first: small creatures appearing in the shadows, stealing food and fleeing. Then it grew worse, full-size beasts of Darkness attacking the herds and destroying crops. The headman here sent to the Sun Dome for help."
"Trolls, actually inside Sun County?" Dori is incredulous. "Surely that has not been known for decades? I know this place is far out on the edge of civilised lands, but even so, for them to come this far from their usual haunts seems strange, and the delay, with no attack but only minor thefts, is most unlike their usual tactics."
"Indeed," Antarius replies. "And in the days while his messenger travelled, and I and my men marched to their aid in response, the situation has grown worse again. Children have been taken, and their bones found, gnawed. A huge monster stalks the outskirts of the village, and from the glimpses seen of it, wears black and red. Foul dreams haunt the farmers, dreams of torture, and fire, and huge lead teeth. So far no outright attack has been made, we know not why, but we fear the worst is yet to come."
"Lead teeth?" Dori's eyes widen in recognition. "Surely not - but there can't be two of them!"
"You know of this creature?"
"I think so, yes. If it's the same, we have unfinished business with him - and Aelf may even decide that you're a friend after all, for pointing us in the way of this encounter. A Death Lord, named Kzgran Barefang. Even by the standards of the Dark Hater, he is known to be..." she pauses, unable to think of words strong enough, and falling back on understatement, "very unpleasant."
"Though if this is Barefang, why he's here at all, much less waiting before attacking a defenceless village, is beyond me. Unless.... Oh." A horrified half-understanding comes to her. "He was waiting for you."
"Waiting for his victims to be defended?" Antarius shakes his head. "That makes no sense."
"I'm afraid it does. Barefang used to be a powerful warrior, possibly even courageous after his fashion. Then he met us." She smiles thinly. "He got away - just. Now, he skulks in shadows, seeking to steal back the power he lost. And where else would Zorak Zoran steal power, but from Yelmalio? And how else would he bring Yelmalio to him, but by attacking those under his protection?"
She shrugs. "I may be wrong. But if I'm right, you face a great danger here, and a great evil, and we would be delighted to help you meet it."
Antarius smiles grimly, and shakes his head. "If we were looking for help with this monster I would not have challenged you so in the first place. No, your road lies that way. The presence of so much Death in this village would not be welcome, not when the ewes and cattle are ready for birthing, and so many of the women folk also. Fare thee well, strangers, and tarry not with finding a swift and safe road to your destination."
Shaking his head Aelfwyrd spits. He would not find his truth amongst these fawning Sun Domers - of that he was sure. Picking up his gear, the Kargani makes ready to move out.
Mara shoulders her satchel, and turns to make her farewells. "Thank you for the escort thus far, warriors, I'll take my leave of you here - though I'll be sure to miss your company. This seems like a cheerless place, even though I'll be staying not long. This evening I will look for you at the camping place mentioned, in case you decide to be staying there."
With that the woman makes her farewells, and the Herewardi turn to leave along the route indicated by Antarius. The Yelmalians stand their ground, ensuring the warriors keep to the road, and they stay there until the party are far along the track.
Sand underfoot, the warriors pass fields of withering crops on either side, irrigation ditches empty and cracked. Scarecrows hang uselessly in dying cornfields, contemplating the dying around them. In one plot, far off from the road, stands what might be the remains of an old, roofless temple, columns standing jaggedly against the setting sun.
A raised whisper from the courtyard gate: "Dorinda… Dorinda!"
Dorinda halts her spinning, a grin quickly spreading across her face. Gerfan can be half-seen, peering around the gatepost, a mop of unruly, dirty hair falling into his eyes. Scabbed and snotty, her best friend, Gerfan is precisely the kind of trouble she needs this morning. Frantically gesturing her to follow him, he obviously has adventures on his mind more enticing than stupid house-chores!
"Dorinda! Dorinda!" her mothers voice, getting louder now. "Now! The kitchen! Don't make me come and …." But Dorinda is already sneaking toward the gate, her mind stubbornly set. "Dorinda! No! You boy! You filthy beggar's brat, I've warned you about coming round here!" A stone is flung from the direction of the kitchen door. "Dorinda! Don't you dare! Dorinda!"
But the rascals have already made good their escape, slipping through the gate and the well-meaning arms of a righteous citizen, fleeing down the side-streets of Sun Town, giggling like hyenas. They race as far as they can, until, lungs bursting, they collapse in an alley, falling in a tangle of limbs and laughter. They lie on their backs and howl, for no good reason at all, occasionally glancing at one another and starting to howl again.
Finally their mirth subsides. Gerfan wipes his eyes and says: "Do you want to swim? It is too hot to do any more running." Looking up he sees Dorinda watching him intently, an unnerving thing. She draws closer, quietly, transfixing him with her stare. There is a wordless moment - a look of shock on his face, purpose on hers - and then, decisively, she kisses him.
Gerfan is initially startled, but responds ferverently, and with a passion that forces Dorinda backwards, her hand reaching out to steady herself. Later she will realise that she has cut her hand somehow, leaving a scar that will never heal.
The heroes alternately gaze at the stars and let their heads hang, lolling, to stare blankly at the ground passing beneath them. The slaves appear to be approaching their destination. Ahead there are mutters and a few low commands. The poles over which the heroes are game-hung are lowered to the ground, and the warriors themselves untrussed and led to sit quietly near a column, to which they are meekly tied.
As Aelf is tethered, he smiles peaceably at the warrior securing the knots. "Hey," he says. "Have you ever considered that we might, like, you know, all be puppets in someone's imagination? You know, like we tell stories of the gods, or Bumbalo Doodlefish, or that time my grandfather ate a whole cow? Do you have anything to eat?"
The warrior backs away from Aelfwyrd nervously, and some distance away an enormous jellyfish rises out of the ground and floats away.
"Cool," thinks Hrolf.
This meant his plan was coming to fruition. His quietly-murmured chants had successfully summoned Vak-Slurrrupshu, the Burning Avenger Blackbeak had freed for Elmeh Saif during their second heroquest. Soon his minions would arrive and then, then it would be time for revenge!
Hrolf cackles to himself as the jellyfish looms behind the unsuspecting guard, its tentacles unfolding to absorb him. Chortling he watches as the tendrils reach out and pass straight through the warrior, shortly before the whole apparition vanishes.
"Bummer," thinks Hrolf. Just like totally, dude.
A rash young carmanian youth and his friends.... a large U shaped water pipe.... illicit spying on the cloistered beauties in the Caram.... the smell of the smoke..... laughing and running...... the incredible ache in your stomach......Jamal has felt this feeling before, hasn't he?
Hmmm, yes, he has. Though it's strange he has forgotten how good it feels. Woah, yeah - uh-huh. Actually, he doesn't remember it being this intense before - these Praxian dudes really know how to smoke it. Hmmmmm. Snacks. Mmmmmmm.
Through his stupour Jamal remembers that his pouch has a little goat jerky that would hit the spot right now, and by dint of careful wriggling he manages to extract it with his bound hands and transfer it into his mouth. The contortions required by this effort leave him lying on one side, giggling uncontrollably. This stuff is definitely stronger than anything he had as a kid.
One of the guards looks concerned, and can be overheard saying to a comrade, "perhaps they were dosed too high? Phtang octopus the way that vampire hit Hrolf, man, he's chaos doomed squelkch biscuit-barrel."
The other shakes his head and says, "so long as they are pliant for the ritual, all will be well, but sproglet trogledyte I think Vastyr is going to get it best when we extract his brain through his nostrils rrrrrrplit loose change."
Using his new found perspective, Jamal glances around to check the position and state of the other Herewardi and their followers. Also trying to see if any of them are in a better state than he is.
Landros is oblivious of the others around him as he gazes open-mouthed at the spinning stars above. The sky dome is a hallucinogenic riot of coloured blobs and butterfly streaks that dance madly in chaotic explosions of glee. His gaze fixes on one of the lights directly above, it turns into a well of light that threaten to swallow him whole as it suddenly expands across the entire sky. It welcomes him, but with an effort of will he backs away and the well turns into a shaft, a spear, a pole. He was tied to a pole, but no, that isn't right. Not the Pole Star. Rigsdal. Yeah - that's the one. The light narrows further and becomes a pin prick. Landros throws up on the pretty girl beside him who only smiles dreamily back at him.
Something's wrong here. She shouldn't smile like that at him. Not her. "Help me, old friend." He whispers imploringly as one of the guards turn at the sound of his puking.
The guard looks at him quizzically for a moment, as though trying to place a face, then shakes his head and says, "You mistake me for another, Warrior. You are beyond help now, certainly beyond mine even if I felt inclined to give it you, which I do not. Try to relax, and look forward to meeting your God." With that he cackles, and moves on.
Malan's gaze falls upon a sheen of light reflected off a surface which he believes is the bald head of a Lunar priestess. "Stupid goonar bitch! Think yur tuf? If ahll getzz otta this you ripur her hart out!"
Unfortunately, the reflection is actually from Blackbeak's beak. "Thnap out of it man, it'th me," the duck squawks. "For Humakt'th thake, theweth puwple wowmth coming out of yaw nothe! The Lunath aw ovew theh!"
A nearby sentry turns to look and shouting over to a friend makes a joke. The Far Walker does not catch the meaning but it infers something about Orlanthi and livestock. "No way, we are peaceful man, all us under the sky, brothers in arms..."
Just then the vaguest of thoughts skitters across his mind. then just as quickly it vanishes. But it was still there somewhere; lurking right at the back of his head. If he could only reach around with a hand he was sure he could grab it...
Trying to reach around the back of his head with bound hands, unable to concentrate well, it strikes Aelfwyrd that something is wrong here. Maybe he is really really drunk, or maybe it like that time they cooked up those rainbow mushrooms and wandered about Three Beacons for two days. Whatever it is, it's pretty funny.
Trying to stand up Aelfwyrd makes to begin a speech of great revelation and import but instead stumbles and falls over. Bursting with laughter he rolls around for a while before catching his breath enough to start once more. He doesn't try to stand this time though.
"Hey lads, this is like when me and Bent Nose Johkim were up at Three Beacons. Said he was in training to be a shaman or some such pony. Anyway, we cooked up these rainbow mushrooms like nobodies business. Never laughed so much in my life." Then there is silence as the Far Walker loses the thread of his conversation.
In its place a flash back of being found in Three Beacons days later, miles from anywhere, naked, out cold face down in the snow. Just then he remembers what he was talking about.
"The funny thing is that it was just like this, well, a few less flying cows and that but mostly the same. Weird huh?"
Rising to his feet and trying to stand he finds himself bound to a large lump of stone. "Whoa! Where did that come from?"
Staring at his hands for what seems like an eternity Aelfwyrd's eyes finally widen in comprehension. "Sneaky eh...?" Holding back a snigger he takes a closer look.
Grinding his teeth the Far Walker twists the rope this way and that. These bonds are tough, but not tough enough to hold a Far Walker! With a final effort the rope splits. He is free! Now for some payback! Ah-hah!... oh, oh... oh boy, why does everything have to be so purple?
Jamal's eyes meet with Enfrew's. Seeing that Jamal is better shakes Enfrew a little from his hallucinations, and the fact that they are tied and helpless sends a surge of anger through his mind.
Releasing the anger inside him, Enfrew shouts as loud as he can. "Filthy Lunar bastards!! Wake up, Humakti, we have to get free from this scum! Or do you want to be sacrificed to the red bitch!?" Enfrew's call jolts some of his comrades into more critical thinking about their situation, but it also prompts the guards to turn in his direction, cautiously holding their weapons to check that the heroes are still under control.
Enfrew's call jolts some of his comrades into more critical thinking about their situation, but it also prompts the guards to turn in his direction, cautiously holding their weapons to check that the heroes are still under control.
The Yelmalians call to each other to be wary, and circle in towards the heroes with their spears levelled. Clearly they are taking no chances, for they mutter to their spears which burnish with a mild light. Whilst some hold back to better cover the heroes still bound, three approach Aelfwyrd directly. Clearly respectful of the Far Walker's potential danger, their spear points aim directly at his stomach. "Get on your belly," one orders him. "Hands behind your back."
With no small theatre the Far Walker smiles inanely and begins to snigger. Making a mental note of the Yelmalians stance and position he waits for the right moment to act. With the ruse now coming to an end Aelfwyrd holds up his hands and with a wobble makes to drop to the ground.
From his half-crouch the Far Walker leaps into the attack, fists and feet deadly weapons aimed at Yelmalian throats. But his drugged mind and reflexes are unwieldy and plodding, and the guards easily anticipate his moves. Burning spear points pierce skin and blood flows. The Far Walker drops to the floor, only lightly wounded but definitely the loser of this encounter. The guards quickly pounce, and secure his bindings, fastening him more securely to the column this time.
"Look," one says roughly. "Anymore of this and we'll execute that nice looking young lady over there, alright? The needs of the ritual be damned, we have spare participants - understand?"
The Far Walker was incredulous. Sacrificing women? What kind of mongrels were these people? Struggling with his bonds he spits a stream of foul curses at his captors.
Having got precisely nowhere he fumes in the darkness. Muttering angrily to himself he glances over at this 'nice looking young lady' a sour expression written large on his face.
The smile is gone from her face as she stares in horror at the Yelmalion. She looks no more than sixteen or so and is dressed in good but simple clothes, now stained and dusty. Her head is covered by the torn remnants of a plain veil revealing thick black hair beneath, unbraided.
"No. Please, no violence." She says quietly to no one in particular in an accent that places her place of origin in Tarsh as she shrinks back against the pillar.
Landros bends his face close to hers, catching Aelf's eye for a heartbeat, to speak calmly and quietly once the Yelmalion has turned away.
"We are not alone, Kaylee. Roark will find us soon. These people will not harm you, they are honourable in their own way." The drug seems to have lessened its effects on him.
The Kargani watches the Tarshite girl considering her companion's words. Then nodding to her ward he speaks in a half whispered voice.
"These are no men of honour my friend. We are ambushed, drugged and made ready for sacrifice? These Sun Domers cavort in the Red Whores very own bed!"
Landros looks up from his quiet conversation with Kaylee and smiles pleasantly at Aelf over her head. Long blond hair in a warrior's braid, now a bit unravelled, reach down between his shoulders. Piercingly blue eyes overlook a hawk nose and thin lips. A handsome man by any standards.
"I grew up among these people, and not all love the Lunars." His accent clearly marks him a native of this land. "As everywhere else, the Red Godess find both support and opposition, none will harm a healer though." He gives Aelf a direct glance obviously meant to convey some sort of message.
Kaylee turns her head slightly to look at the Kargani with gray eyes. She seems calmer and more collected now.
The Far Walker listens closely to Landros with an occasional glance at his companion. In an attempt to help soothe the girl he whispers an old Tarshite saying.
"Death feeds us, keeps an eye on our weight and leads us like lambs through the abattoir gate"
Seeing the look in her eyes it looks like he has made matters worse.
"Do not worry girl, you are not fat enough for abattoir!" and gesturing at the bound Herewardi "We are all marked by Death, all dead men walking."
With the faintest of smiles she just shakes her head before she leanes to the side to look up into Landros' face, observing his reaction. His eyes flicker down to meet hers for a brief moment.
Then glancing at Landros he pauses as if weighing something up.
"The Legion will fall before innocents are slaughtered. It is Hereward's Code."
Nodding at the gathered Herewardi he lowers his voice to a more conspiritial tone.
"We are many. Tell me of this Roark and together we may hatch a plan"
Landros' mouth twitches slightly in irritation as he glances again at the girl who clearly waits for her companion's answer.
"Roark is a friend of sorts. A raven actually, who is doubtlessly this very instant searching for us from above. When he finds us, he will either bring help or act on his own to free us." He speaks in a low confident voice somehow contradicted by the slight frown on his brow.
The Kargani's eyes shows a hint of scepticism at talk of a Raven friend but he says nothing.
"You are a brave man" he then adds without hint of sarcasm, "it could have worked." He sighs a little "I wish there was some way to avoid that drug though."
"Bravery or not we need a plan." and with a nod introduces himself as best he can with bound hands.
"Landros. They are preparing us for some sort of ritual" he muses as the girl introduces herself
"I'm Kaylee, from Furthest." This awards her a look from her friend who then continues. "They need Humakti, that involves fighting in all likely hood. There lies our chance, I think. Especially if we can stay undrugged."
The weaponmaster nods his acknowledgment to Landros and Kaylee.
"If they are poisoning the food then we must stop eating and drinking?"
Jamal has been listening in as the Kargani starts his ocnversation with this new comer. He look like another damn solar, but for some reason he has fallen foul of his sun-loving buddies....
Jamal stifles the immediate distaste of working with anyone of a Yelmic persuasion and whispers over....
"Jaaamaal bin JjjjArran al' ...<Yebnen kelp>... this does not pass yet... we must escaape.....id there help?"
On the opposite side of Aelf, Landros can't see the other man very well and his drugged growling doesn't help communication either. But he picks up the words 'escape' and'help' and says soothingly, again with a slight frown. "I'm sure we'll get out of this mess, don't worry."
Frustratingly, Dorinda's Truth Wind blows out of control once more, making the guards' words impossible to overhear through gusting winds. The shimmering air, cackle of energy in the wind, and blue nimbus that surround Dorinda, however, clearly alert the guards that magic is being vented, and they quickly approach her with the same caution they used to subdue Aelfwyrd. Quickly they bind and gag her mouth, preventing the utterance of any more invocations.
As they bind her, though, Dorinda realises with something akin to shock that these are not Yelmalians. The insignia on their uniforms are not the runes of the Cold Sun. There is a prickle at the back of her neck, something she has seen before but cannot place...
That's important. One of the others might recognise it where she doesn't. The gag was going to be a nuisance: but then come to think of it, she wouldn't have said this aloud in any case. Using the hand-signals of Swordspeech is difficult with them bound, but she can try. She nudges the person next to her with her foot: oh, good, one of the Humakti.
[Enemy. Light. Negative. Deception.]
She hopes that gets through. Once comprehension dawns, she adds:
[Pass it on] - a single, simple, sign, and one that probably doesn't need telling.
And then she thinks about what has just happened: once more, her Truewind magic has gone out of her control, working against her. That hasn't happened for a very long time, and now, twice in a row. The second failure might have been due to the drug, but not the first. Is Hereward punishing her for something? She can't think what off-hand, but there must be some reason...
There is a memory there. Braggi told a story once about Solars who slew Humakti in Fire Season in honour of their god. Aelf clutches at the memory, and watches it take form. Braggi, sitting around a campfire, telling secret tales. A deceitful cult, a false god - the Unconquered Sun. Their story that the sun was never killed, the emperor never died, and their ritual slaughter of Humakti to prove their conquest of Death.
Braggi named this god Oilamley, the evil mirror-twin of Yelmalio, whose powers were a withering light, fighting prowess, and deceitfulness.
Aelfwyrd feels a chill run down his spine, for what Braggi had told of these men was not bed-time chatter for babes.
Clutched in each others' fervent embrace, the miscreants do not notice the gang's soft-footed approach. Only the leader's rude guffaws startle Dorinda from her pursuit of further kisses.
"Ha! Lookey what we got! Lovebirds! One lovebird from Sun Town, and another from the Rubble, from the look of him. Might be a broo, with all that scars and scabs and snot. What kind of a tart must she be to snog a monster like that?"
The gang, seven or so hoodlums that despite their roughness appear to have made an attempt to look like dandies, snicker loudly at their chief's wit. Dorinda draws back, shocked and embarrassed by their crudeness.
Gerfan is on his feet in a trice, fists clenched in defiance. "I know you Oddi, and I'd fight you on fair terms if you weren't such a coward with your bum-buddies to pitch in for you."
Oddi sucks in his cheeks with amusement, for he makes almost double Gerfan's size. "Now you know, little broo, that I've told you not come spreading diseases round my part of town. We don't like the smell. I think we're going to have to teach you and your little friend a little lesson."
With that, Oddi knocks Gerfan to the floor with one punch, and five of his gang begin to kick and cudgel the boy's sides until he is limp and unconscious. The other two hold Dorinda, forcing her to watch Gerfan's suffering.
Dorinda kicks and bites and howls as Gerfan is reduced to a bloody mash of pulp and rags. She gets a knock or two in return, but barely feels them through her hysteria.
When done with Gerfan, Oddi turns and cocks his head at her, obviously trying to decide what to do with this lass from Sun Town. He is probably thinking that maybe she could make trouble for him - a girl like that probably has a father, and brothers, and Sun Town people look after their own, he knows.
He's dead right.
As he slams into the ground Oddi's look of surprise is something that fixes itself in Dorinda's mind. It takes some moments to register that it's not a what that has fallen on him, but a who that has jumped on his shoulders. This who appears to be very angry indeed, and he lays into the ruffians immediately to hand, dispatching them with swift punches. With this display of pugilistic prowess the rest of gang take to their heels, not without throwing nervous looks over their shoulders as they flee.
Govan approaches Dorinda softly, as one might approach a wounded animal. "Did they hurt you, my sister?" he asks. She shakes her head mutely, but only points at Gerfan's prone form. After a quick look Govan shakes his head. "He'll live, but not if he comes round to visit you again. Dad would impale him. We'd best get you cleaned up before we go home, eh? Come, I've a friend who lives not far away."
With that Dorinda, her oldest brother holding her protectively, begins to make her way back towards Sun Town.
Some way down the road the camp site is obvious, nestled around a clump of stunted trees and the trickle of a reluctant stream. There is plenty of space, for the sole occupants of the site appear to be two rough-looking traders, six or seven assorted vagabonds, an elegant looking Yelmalian warrior and his followers - two warriors and a healer - and a collection of baskets surrounding a serenely confident dark-skinned young man of considerable beauty who appears to be preparing food for everyone.
The approach of the heroes draws an ominous quiet on the merry company, but then Humakti have that effect in many places. As the vagabonds eye each other, the warriors and available hideaways nervously, the dark-skinned man elegantly rises and greets the newcomers with a foreign yet pleasing accent.
"You are welcome, strangers, to this place for all to share in peace. In the land of my birth they called me Taravati Amadhara."
The one bit of this job Dori is still uncomfortable with is having to be the spokesperson for the group, especially when others are so much more competent at it. But it is her job, so...
"Greetings to you, Taravati Amadhara. We are a small part of Hereward's Legion, passing through this place; and yes, peace is our intention for this night, the gods willing. There would seem to be plenty of room for us to set up camp here without alarming your friends unduely..."
She turns to the rest of the group. "Malan, see to it, would you? And take Aelf with you, I'm sure you can find him some suitable job to do."
This seems to be business as usual to Malan. He takes Aelf with him to a place away from the Yelmalions and begins setting up the camp.
Aelf scowls pointedly at this new group. Making a show of his disgust he hawks noisily before stalking off to setup camp with Malan.
Sundomers and dark skinned riddlers. Perfect.
Trusting Malan to handle the details (and to keep Aelf under control), Dori turns back to the dark-skinned stranger. "The land of your birth - where would that be, then? A long way away, from your looks and accent?" Her tone is one of mild curiosity, with no threat or suspicion implied in it.
He replies with a gentle, dazzling smile, "from far to the East, beyond the desert, and then to South, from a land of lush forests, cooling rain, rivers wide, peaceful folks, and good food, and so about as different from this land as can be. It is named Teshnos, and is a walk of seasons. I was called from my homeland by the roaming stars to wander and learn, and earn my keep through my friends." With this he points at the small baskets that surround him. One rocks slightly.
Dorinda nods, Teshnos is a land she has heard of, and what she has heard tallies with what this Taravati Amadhara says and appears to be.
"I know that Taravati Amadhara is perhaps a little of a mouthful for you - please call me Tara, if you wish. Our other companions for the evening and I were looking forward to some food shortly, but I see that we must make more of a feast to accommodate you all."
The Yelmalian obviously takes this as his cue, and together with the young woman at his side walks up to the Humakti and Tara, leaving the warriors lounging by the fire. He wears armour of stiff leather and chain covered by a heavy white cloak that has somehow managed to stay clean. The clothes of his young companion are fairly ordinary, if well made and suggest the northern parts of Dragon Pass as her place of origin. The only somewhat out of place item is a traditional Sun County veil covering her face.
The man gives the Humakti a friendly smile and begins to say something when he is interrupted by the woman as she sees Dori's nicked side.
"Ooh, you're hurt" She sounds genuinely concerned and immediately turns to fetch her supplies, not noticing her friend's amused and gentle look.
"Welcome, Humakti. I am Landros Goldheart, please accept Kaylee's help if you have need of it." His open manners and friendly ways do not rhyme well with the legendary stuffiness of Sundomers.
"Come, rest by the fire and we will share food and water, and stories if you will." He gestures towards the steaming pots that are begining to spread tempting smells in the evening air.
Dori smiles, but shakes her head at the offer of healing. "Thanks, but no thanks. It's only a scratch, and the usual problems about mixing Life magic and Death magic apply."
He raises an eyebrow and looks mildly offended that someone would turn down a friendly gesture like that.
Kristen grabs her arm, her exasperation obvious. "Yeah, sure, some scratch. That hole in the mail there before, was it? Come on, let Elendala sort it."
"But.." Dori's protests are overridden, as Kristen makes the most of not being in the Legion and definitely not under any compulsion to obey anything.
Kaylee returns with her kit and looks on in dissapointed confusion as
Kristen leads her charge away.
"I have some Copper Root" she says weakly to their backs and holds up a small pouch.
Landros looks at Kristen as she turns to reply to Kaylee and says
"We have just come from Pavis and managed to stock up on some herbs and roots. Please accept her help, Kaylee trained under Inara in Furthest and is quite skilled."
"Copper-root?" Dori twists round, disengaging Kristen's hold on her arm. "Pavis trade must be doing well for that to be available."
Kaylee's bright face is clouded by a hint of guilt. "I, I brought some from Furthest."
Dori raises an eyebrow, but doesn't inquire further into what's presumably some youthful indiscretion.
Kristen looks blank. "That's a herb?"
"You should know, your mum's agent held the monopoly back home. I haven't seen any since Nochet, mine ran out ages ago. And it's good stuff for deep muscle cuts."
When talk turns to shop she brightenes again and perks up visibly eager
"Oh, yes. You pound it into a pulp with a wooden pestle, never stone or bronze or the spirits will taint it, and add one part rainwater and mix until it turns gray and smooth. I've heard that you can use an infusion of willow barch as well, but haven't tried it. Uh, it's very good." She smiles.
Dori turns back to Kaylee. "In that case, yes please, if we could raid your herb stocks and perhaps exchange a few, I'd appreciate it. But be a bit careful? I mean it about mixing Life magic with Death. It's just not worth the risk. Herbs only, all right?"
"Of course. I've treated Landros a lot so I know all about that stuff. I only ever use the tiniest of magics on him."
"Landros?" Dori looks back. "He's Humakti? He looks Yelmalian."
"He does, doesn't he" Kaylee grins and begins to say something but obviously reconsiders at the last instant.
She quickly follows holding her precious bag of copper root tightly in one hand. Over her shoulder hangs a huge pack that is soon revealed to contain all sorts of little pouches and bags as well as clean bandages and other items of her profession.
"So, who are you guys anyway?" she asks innocently as she hands Elendala a little sponge soaked in something to clean the wound.
Dori's mail shirt lands on the ground, and she straightens up, pushing her hair back into place. "Sorry, I thought you'd heard that. We're part of Hereward's Legion. Humakti mercenaries, following Hereward Truewind. I'm Dorinda, acting ten-thane, the one with the scars and the attitude is Kristen, this is Elendala." She looks round and decides against flooding the poor child with any more names for now.
The young healer listens attentively and nods smiling at each person as they are introduced while she hands Elendala some clean cloth for bandages.
"Not much to tell about me really, you already know my name and that I'm from Furthest. I don't know if you've heard of her, but there is this famous healer there, Inara that I apprenticed to. Well, not really apprenticed as such, but she's the one trained me the most. That's how I met Landros", she adds very brightly and selfconciously pushes a strand of auburn hair out of her face.
Dori and Kristen exchange glances. Romance. Oh, dear.
"Anyway, I know it's not my business, but what is a Humatki troop doing here. There's no war here right? Oh, are you putting sweet moss under the dressing? That's really smart, I've only used it for cleaning out a wound never for actually keeping it clean." She sounds impressed and delighted and unusually at ease around Humakti. Perhaps she is just tired of only having three men to talk to, soldiers at that.
Dori lets the girl babble on, listening in the hope that there might be useful information in there somewhere. At least she seems to be intelligent, if very young.
"Anyway, he's from somewhere around here and used to be a soldier of some sort, temporal I think he called it. And now he's back! I don't know the details, you'll have to ask him yourself, but something happened to his wife and Humakt called him." She pauses and sounds a bit sad. "That must be really strange, you know. To have one god, and then just like that another speaks to you. And Humakt too!" She doesn't quite shudder and then she realises what she just said and looks apologetic "Uh, I didn't mean anything, you know."
"No, you're right", Dori says seriously. "Being called by Humakt like that is never easy, and it sounds as if that must have been hard for him in many ways." She glances back at where the white cloak is just visible, thoughtfully. "I won't be asking him for details. I doubt if he'd want the scars poked at."
Kaylee looks at the Humakti woman and nods slowly. "Of course, you are right. It's just that he avoids stuff but I guess that is something a lot of you become good at, what with the not lying and all. You know how most people tell little lies, not terrible ones, just sometimes to make life a little easier, you know. But if you can't do that, or won't, and don't want to hurt people's feelings and stuff, I guess you have to sort of find another way. I've never thought about it like that before."
Meanwhile "poked at" has become a very topical reference. The torn and bloodied shirt out of the way, Elendala is inspecting the damage. "Nice clean cut", she remarks.
Dori presses around the gash experimentally, not quite able to see it herself.
"I told you so. Just a scratch, really. No more than half an inch deep, and it didn't even crack any ribs. Nice job of pulling the blow for a first-blood fight, considering he had to get through the mail shirt." Her respect for a skilled opponent is quite obviously genuine.
"I don't think he minds so much, but some things he keeps to himself. He never talks about his wife, except that one thing. And there are things about this place I think he avoids, I'm not sure." Kaylee sounds thoughtful.
"Anyway, other than that he has told me all about going to places like Esrolia, Sylila, that's where he got his sword, and even Balazar." Her quick smile flashes across her face again, but she seems a bit more subdued now.
"Ah well.... There's needles and thread in my bag. Copper-root to mend the muscle damage, then comfrey on the surface after the stitches, I'd suggest, unless Kaylee's got something better."
She looks pleased to be asked and replies with a calm certainty that makes her seem a little older than only a moment ago. "No, comfrey should be fine. And even if we had something better I'm not sure a nick like this merits it. Save that for the bad wounds."
The removal of the shirt has also revealed a collection of scars that's remarkable even by Humakti standards.
Kaylee's eyes trace the map of old scars on Dorinda's skin, her face unreadable. Then with apparently genuine concern remarks softly "You've really been hurt."
"I have?" Then she realises what the girl's looking at. "Oh, that lot. I expect it looks worse than it really is. That's the trouble with not often having access to magical healing, herbs are good, but there are limits. And of course, when you're doing your own surgery, it can get a bit clumsy in places."
The girl winces a little but nods. "I've never seen anything, quite like this" she glances uncertainly at Dorinda to judge her reaction before she goes on. "but I've treated a few Humakti before that were pretty beat up you know."
Dori makes no immediate reaction to what is, after all, a statement of fact from a young and inexperienced girl. But they all look in Vastyr's direction.
"If they let you treat them...." Dori lets the thought trail off. There's still the people who can take healing from any cult, but no magic. She's luckier than that, now.
She smiles wryly. "That's one thing they don't teach you in Arroin shrines. How to make nice neat stitches, yes. How to do them in your own back, left-handed - no."
"It's good you have someone to help you now then." Kaylee says thoughtfully.
"It certainly is", Dori agrees. The quick warmth of the smile in Elendala's direction is a contrast to her usual unemotional expression.
Kaylee notices the quick exhange and smiles briefly.
Elendala is just putting the final touches to the bandage and checking that it's secure while the young healer observes her every move.
"You know, some people seem so proud of their scars while others just want to hide them. Axe Maidens seem to wear them instead of pretty beads or something..."
Kristen looks somewhat bewildered at this concept, and looks down at where her own major scars have been neatly outlined in coloured inks. Some have had runes drawn next to them. Beads, however, are noticably absent.
"...and any man will tell you exactly which enemy gave him which scar and go on about it for hours on end. But you guys, it's like you don't even care. When I ask Landy about his, he just shrugs and says he doesn't remember. Well, I think he's lying."
The frozen stillness at that might remind her how Humakti feel about lying, and about any other Humakti being accused of it. Or not - she continues, slowly as if thinking out aloud. She seems oblivious to the Valind Winds in the air.
"Well, not lying lying, just sort of oh, I don't know - not wanting to talk about it."
"He probably doesn't remember", Dori says mildly. "Do you remember every bandage you've ever applied? And the few that stick in the mind - well, no, remembering how they happened is usually something to avoid." She rubs absently at an old cut across the back of her right fore-arm, not noticing what she's doing.
"Now, those other two", Kaylee gestures to his companions, "Caerl, that's the short fat one, and Sythar." She makes a little face, evidently not a fan of Sythar, "they are very eager to show me all their little nicks and scrapes and stubbed toes and whatnots. Of course, I don't understand half a word they're saying but I don't think I'm missing much." Her usually sunny face clouds briefly in mild exasperation over her travelling companions. "Worst part is, I have to look too. Part of the deal Landy let me come. Especially that that... creep Sythar. He pretends to have a pulled muscle in his thigh, so I have to look at it. He loves that" Then she grins, "Anyway, I'm planning my revenge and he'll leave me alone after that. Inara taught me a few tricks"
"I'm glad to hear it. But there are limits to what you can do without breaking oaths, aren't there? Kristen..." she looks up, to find Kristen already fingering her axe. "I think a few hints might be worth dropping, don't you? Just hints, that is."
"No!" She says firmly, not in the least concerned by all the sharp weapons around her. "He is my problem and I will deal with it. If I need help, I'll ask for it" She looks directly at Kristen as she says this, her voice much surer and certain than during her ramblings a moment earlier.
"Dorinda, I can make him understand without breaking any vows. You don't think healers have run into into these little problems since The Dawn? We don't hurt people, we don't withold help, but we do decide in which order we help people after a battle for example. And what kind of help someone needs."
She softens again and smiles sweetly "Anyways, you don't want to mess with a healer you depend on"
"That's true enough. And perhaps that's one reason Humakt sometimes forbids us to depend on healers - he knows how dangerous you are. Life and Death are opposite edges of the same sword, after all..." Then she remembers that she's talking to a sixteen-year-old who may not be into deep philosophy. "I used to know a woman at the Great Hospital who said that salt was a good way of cleaning a wound. She was right, too."
Kaylee picks up the mail shirt but doesn't return it to Dorinda immediately.
"I don't think you should wear this now, leave it off until tomorrow at least. What do you think Elendala, it'll strain the stiches won't it?"
Both Humakti are trying not to laugh at that, Dori with slightly more success than Elendala.
"It does need mending first", she agrees.
"And you're not on watch yet", Elendala points out.
"True. But on the whole, given the choice of some slightly pulled stitches or a possible unopposed javelin in the back, I think I'll wear the armour, thanks. Been there, done that, and learning from mistakes is a really good idea."
Kaylee hands the shirt over and shrugs "Your decision. But if you value the help you receive from your friends, don't let their help be in vain." For the first time during this conversation there is an edge to her voice.
Elendala looks outraged at this kid presuming to instruct warriors in how to do their job, but Dori stays calm. Her voice does acquire the edge of teacher to small and stupid pupil, but no more.
"Perhaps this is something else you haven't had a reason to think about yet, then. A concrete example might make it clearer - sometimes there are reasons to remember how you got scars.
"If those stitches pull, what's the worst that might happen? A slight gash ends up looking a bit of a mess, right? Look a bit further round, there should be a circular one, about two inches across, bottom of the ribs? And the rib-bone set at a funny angle under it? That's what happened the last time I decided not to wear armour because it might be uncomfortable. Like I say, learning from one's mistakes is a really good idea."
Jamal has been rather sullen since the groups defeat by the village's Yelmalian defender. He reguards this new-comer rather mistrustfully, but speaks after his ten-thane has finished..
"Jamal bin Jaran al'Wara" he says savouring every syllable, emphasising the proper Carmanian pronounciation and inflection. Two can play the "alien abroad" game.
"I greet you in the name of the divine Idovanus, may his wine goblet fill over and shower blessings on the righteous".
"I have heard a little of Teshnos, your silks are renound in the court of the finest. What brings you such a long way from your home..."
Tara smiles strangely, and stares at the sky for a moment. "My people are content, well-fed and sleepy, settled in their patterns of waking and working like the fixed stars above us. Yet some of us, sometime in our lives, are called by the Wandering Stars, such as Somash. I have been called by a star such as this, spoken too in dreams, seen in visions.
"Depending on who asks, I will give a different answer, but I see that you are a man of rare subtlety and sophistication, so I give you three, all true: I journey to simply to journey itself, and be one with the journeying; I journey to learn from and revel in all the joy and suffering it may bring me; I journey that the world may be changed by my passing. A more prosaic answer is that I journey to show people my snakes, and to dance for them, and to earn a living in that way."
"Now," he smiles again, "you must accept my offer of hospitality, for I will be greatly offended if you decline - as will your stomachs, for my cooking is the best to be found for a season's march in any direction."
Jamal smiles at the man's honeyed words, he has always mistrusted the sycophantic words of his courtiers, and these resembled them much more than he would like......
Still them man's offer seemed heartfelt. Perhaps one of the group should join him, and report back to the others.
"I will accept your offer sir, friend Vern will you join me" he calls to the Grey Sage "I'm sure this worthy will have many an interesting story to relate"
Jamal beckons to Elnor as he leaves with Vern to join Tara any the others at the campsite. As Tara leads the way, Jamal whispers to his trusted retainer
"Keep one eye on me, trusted one, as just in case our new 'friends' try something untoward".
Elnor nods, but as is her custom, she keeps her own counsel.
As Jamal, Vern and Elnor approach Tara's party, there seems to be a general feeling of bon homie that pervades the place.
Groups of people, from the looks of the all from very different backgrounds seem to be eating drinking and generally enjoying each others company. Jamal is reminded of the Rites of Bentus from his time in Pelanda, but of a more discrete basis, of course. At the centre of all this, is a large fire, which seems to be being used to do the majority of the cooking.
The three settle on the edge of the group, and after a short time on of Tara's men, also from Teshnos by his garb. Presents the newcomer with food, this looks to be some form of spiced grilled meat, with unleaven bread and raw vegetables. Jamal sniff the concoction speculatively, then shrugging, takes a large bit. Too much time on field rations had taken their toll.
He finds that it has been laced with some form of sauce, which leaves a pungent heat in the back of Jamal's throat and mouth. On the whole very tasty, although Jamal muses that it would probably taste even better after drinking a few glasses of ale.
Once Dori's "slight scratch" has been dressed, Elendala goes to join the group cooking by the fire, and comes back munching a kebab. "Interesting spices", she comments. "I'd prefer it with a glass of ale, or even wine, myself, but they don't seem to have anything like that." A significant glance passes between her and Dori. "Coming over to join the party?"
"Maybe once I've fixed this mail. Kristen's right, it needs doing."
"I'll fetch you some food, then?"
"No, I'll do it."
They'd almost forgotten Brenna was there, and Elendala watches her, puzzled, as she wanders off. "Hard to believe she was once your ten-thane."
"Oh, she was, and she was good, too. I'm still hoping now she's away from all that cloying peace, she might wake up a bit. At least she's taking the initiative again, even if it's only on trivial things." She watches as Brenna makes her way over to the fire, and is surprised to see her actually engaging Tara in what looks like conversation. Or possibly he's engaging her - she gets his undivided attention for some time, before she returns carrying the promised food. Dori munches cautiously, and reaches for her water bottle hastily on repeating Jamal's discovery. "Interesting spices is right" she comments wryly. But Elendala is back with the crowd, and Brenna has lost her earlier animation, staring vacantly into space again.
Healed, fed, mended, and ready to see what else needs doing, Dori's first thought is to check the guards. It's easy to get complacent in what seem to be safe surroundings, not that she really expects any of the Legion to be careless as a result. She checks layout quickly - Malan has got Aelf digging a ditch down-wind, and... yes, old campaigner, Vastyr has taken the guard post up-wind. With his wolf. She strolls over.
"All quiet, I take it? You got something to eat, I hope."
He just takes a look at her and hands over a piece of dried field ration, who knows if it is meat or potatoe...
She takes it and laughs. "Good idea. Nice of them to offer to cook, but whatever they've come up with is very over-spiced. Typical Teshnos."
She sits beside them, staring out into the desert.
"I've been meaning to ask you for a while now. That wolf. Where did he come from? He's certainly useful in a fight, but he looks worryingly intelligent. Something I should know about?"
Again no answer... for a time... then Vastyr looks at the wolf... as if he'd expected him to answer: "Well? Aren't you going to say anything?" Runs-With-Humakti looks at him and then at Dori... and then growls deeply: "No."
Dori's expression does not change. The imperturbable mask shows no surprise at all: but the mask hadn't been there a moment ago. "Ah. So I didn't imagine it. And 'worryingly intelligent' was probably a fair assessment. Humakt honours us by sending such a friend."
Runs-With-Humakti merely looks at her with large golden eyes. The he turns his head, and Dori gets the impression the wolf considers the subject closed.
Vastyr looks at her and says: "They are prickly about their pride, wolves are."
Then he turns to Runs-With-Humakti: "She is the Alfa. Leader of our pack and maker of the rules. You will show her respect." His words sound instructive, but his tone borders on insulting, like he was talking to a small child...
The wolf's head snaps back towards Vastyr and for a moment it looks like there will be a fight. But something seems to move between the man and the wolf. They break off their stares at the same time, RWH looks again at Dori and Vastyr over the terrain.
"Very well. You pink skins talk too much, but if that is how it's going to be..."
As the evening passes, Jamal lets the general good feeling seep into him, and soon starts opening up to the other, even the normally taciturn Elnor seem to be smiling and laughing more than usual, and Vern, who is never backward in comming forward, seems to be talking to everyone and anyone.
After a while, Tara stands and addresses the group,...
"Enough Enough" he says laughing, and signals for his retainer to add another log to the fire. The thick sweet smell in the air seems re- invigorated...
"We have all eaten well, yes? Then perhaps to round off the evening, we should share a few stories, we have many peoples here, I am eager to learn something of your lands..."
He caste his gaze around the group, "Perhaps you" he says indicating Jamal, "tell us a tale good sire". Jamal looks shocked, but then almost despite himself he stands and starts to recite a tale from his child hood schooling, a long and dry tale of the house of al'Kathoum and their time at the great siege of Alkoth, why he picked this he has no idea. Even he hates this story.
Before long,the tedium of the story is apparent to all, and some good humoured heckling starts. Yet this does not seem to offend the normally prickly Jamal.
After a while, Tara stands again, "Perhaps another story then..." at this another man stand. This guy seems to be from Tara's retinue.
Landros sits quietly by the fire with his two warrior friends by his side, all seemingly completely at ease, and seemingly a bit amused at Jamal's tale. He nods at the warrior as he finishes and smiles. When another tale is called for it looks like he prepares to offer one, but notices Tara's companion rise and sits back.
"My tale," he states "is of a great legion, and who faught and died under a leader who had, they said, a sword which could not be broken. It tells of how they died and lost their standard in a heroic yet futile defence of a Giant babe..."
Suddenly, the Yelmalian goes still, his blue eyes fixed on the man by the fire.
Jamal instantly awakens from his revere, "Quickly" he hisses to Elnor "get the others, they'll want to hear this". She scurries away quickly.
The man continues his story, but somehow the words seem no longer to matter, just the tone of voice. Jamals attention drifts until finally he sinks into oblivion....
Dori is just putting the spare rings away, mail shirt intact once more, when Elnor approaches. "Jamal says you'll want to hear this story." She pauses, before going on to the next group. "Though I'm not sure why."
Dori had been in two minds whether to go over or to spend the time in meditation, but if Jamal suggests it...
She checks - yes, guards in position, all is well. The Carmanian is easily visible, and she goes over and joins him, nodding a greeting but not speaking over the story.
Kaylee returns a short while after Dori, prepared to give a long and
happy account of tending wounds. Landros ignores her completely and more
than a little miffed she turns her attention to the story.
She looks down hoping no-one notices but can't help listening to the tale.
".. and so the travelers came to a mountain pass, beyond which they knew lived the giants. Now, this pass could only be crossed by those who bore a certain token...."
Ah, she can see why Jamal had thought she would be interested. If this was the route they needed to find the remains of their lost cohort... she listens carefully, making mental notes. A gust of wind blows an odd aromatic smoke from the fire into her face, and she pushes it away.
But Hereward's gift sputters and gusts, acting as a bellows to the cooking fire which burns more fiercely, spewing out more sweet smelling smoke. Eddies spin, and the smoke spreads across the campsite.
As the haze passes through the crowd, each nose sniffs curiously. The stories take on a fantastic turn, scenes spoken of can be seen writ large in the air, lulling the audience into comfortable, woozy slumber.
The last thing Landros remembers seeing is Tara, smiling faintly at the sleeping forms around him.
Vastyr squats down beside Runner. They scan the scenery south of the campsite, it looks all too peaceful. Some trees and tended fields and the gentle curve of the Zola Fel. No sign of trouble. Which of course is a sign of trouble.
"What you think?" he asks the wolf.
"Somebody killed all the rabbits." Runner is hungry. He always is.
"If there were any to begin with. Most likely banned by the sunbounties for breeding." That draws a chuckle from them both.
Vastyr sets himself on the ground, and begins his watch.
Vastyr's guardspot is far from the fire and the dinner 'party,' outside the glare of light and the warmth. The smell of the food, the buzz of the story... Yet... There is something that draws his attention from the guarding into... something else.
He slumps against the rock... it feels so comfortable... so... soft... so... WRONG!
Gritting his teeth, Vastyr manages to lift his head and with a kick wakes Run-With-Humakti. "Run, you fool, Run!" The imperative in the words runs shivers through the wolf, and with a powerful leap it is away and he shakes himself rapidly. Drawing himself up to his feet, Run With Wolves gently sniffs the air and sneezes. Padding over gently to Vastyr's supine form the wolf lowers his muzzle and gets a firm grip on the hilt of Slithering Bane, d rawing the sword forth. As sleep overcomes Vastyr, his final sight is of the wolf heading west, wraith-like in the smoke, Slithering Bane clenched in his jaws.
They reach a small house down a back road on the scrubbier end of Sun Town. Govan lets himself into the courtyard, and gingerly helps Dorinda through the door before pausing.
"I know we haven't always been friends Dori, but we're kin, and you should know I'd never allow anyone else to hurt you. We'll get you washed up here, and then we can get home to mother. It'll be ok."
Inside, a collection of men watch her arrival with curiosity but no comment. They are dressed for temple, and have obviously gathered here before heading to worship. Govan is joined by one of the younger men, and together they take Dorinda into the kitchen of what is obviously a household without women. She is given a pail of water to wash with, and the privacy of a curtained off area, whilst the young men begin to brew her a drink.
The herb infusion warms her stomach and calms her. All the while Govan is stroking Dorinda's hair and comforting her in the tone of voice one uses with frightened horses. His words begin to take on a mellifluous, hypnotic quality that makes Dorinda feel sleepy and dreamy.
The last thing that Dorinda remembers is being gathered up in Govan's arms, and carried from the kitchen to somewhere else in the house. There are other men, dressed in white, and they gather around her. She notices vaguely that their temple garb does not bear the usual runes of Yelmalio, and after that everything goes blurry.
Towards late morning the Heroes are pulled to their feet by their guards and shepherded to the centre of the temple. This temple appears almost ruined, merely a collection of white stone columns surrounding a large, round altar. The altar's upper surface is a perfectly circular mirror, burnished bright, that dazzles and sparkles from the light of the sun that is nearly overhead. The Humakti warriors are arranged in a rough semicircle around one half of the temple. Although they are now untied, all around them are soldiers wearing white hoods, and the regalia of the false Yelmalio. These soldiers bear spears and the serious expressions of men about to embark on serious deeds. They mostly ignore their captives.
Dorinda is feeling a terrible sense of deja-vu. Although the others appear to be mostly recovered from the after-effects - at least they are no longer describing their hallucinations - she is feeling little better. The terrible dreams of last night have continued all morning, and Dorinda has often felt unable to tell waking life from the dream world. Her last vision reminded her of her current predicament - in that dream there were men dressed similar to these false Yelmalians. Something dreadful was about to happen... With a start she realises she is drooling, and makes a determined effort to pull herself together.
There is movement to her left where a number of impressively bedecked men are arriving. Their robes and insignia are resplendent in the morning sun, and there is even some light banter between them as they accept the salutes of their followers gathered around the altar. Two of the men, obviously respected by the others, turn to inspect the captives.
"This is an unexpected bounty. The ritual calls for one Humakti only - how much power shall we unleash now!" exclaims the first man, whose powerful build is apparent even underneath his robes. Only a wisp of his beard can be seen poking beyond the protection of his hood.
"Indeed my lord, the Unconquered Sun has blessed us. Soon we shall be able to move decisively to eradicate the heretics. Mighty is Oilamley," affirms the second. He is smaller, but carries an icy cold aura of strength. He turns to his followers: "stand the other captives in the second and fourth quarters as the rite dictates."
These men bring forward a number of bound foreigners, these are stood in the fourth quarter. Unrecognisable to the others without their regimental dress, Jamal recognises them as natives of Rinliddi by their bird-motif tattoos. The group placed in the first quarter includes Antarius Venistix and the rest of his militia file, all of whom bear the marks of hard beatings. Venistix exchanges glances with Malan and shrugs eloquently. It is the gesture of a warrior who has faced death many times, and knows one can only put faith in the Gods.
The third quarter remains empty.
The first man turns to the second and says with approval, "indeed Govan, you have always brought in the finest harvests."
Jamal feels woosy and unsteady. He casts his eyes around the assembly that surround him. The legion he reognises, Venistix he recognises, to his shock he even recognises the hawk people of the Rinliddi.
But there is one thing that he did recognise, that he was drugged, captured and betrayed. Here he was at the mercy of some foe he did not know, but from their regalia were solars.
His pride was battered, and one thing was certain, someone was going to pay.
Jamal start reciting in Carmanian, under his breath at first, but slowly the volume of his voice growing louder, the name and glorious death of each of his ancestors.
As he works himself into a righteous frenzy he feels the spirit of the enraged bull enter him, the mist falls and he gives himself to it...
The sight of the Carmanian's building fury unnerves the closest spearmen, and they take an involuntary step backwards.
Jamal's voice rouses Kristen to an awareness of what is going on, and she stops supporting Dori to move protectively in front of the healers. "You want to kill men, and warriors, that's your problem," she says harshly. "But these ain't Humakti. You leave the women alone!"
Govan laughs at Kristen's unspoken threat. "Do you think your Goddess has power over us, Earth Woman? This is the land where the Sun never died, and His rules apply here. We come to sacrifice, as we have since the Third Darkness began, and false gods will offer you no protection."
Govan pauses to address the men behind him. "Prepare the women for the fourth quarter." They nod, and move towards Elendala, Janeera, Brenna, and the other non-warrior womenfolk of the captive group. The women are manhandled roughly, clothes torn, as they are forced towards the far side of the circle.
Jamal feels his ire rise, he casts around for an object on which to unleash his fury. He fixes on the leaders, the one called Govan and the other in his finery.
Jamal hurles himself at the despised Solar, swatting away his startled attempts at a defence and knocking him sprawling to the ground. Jamal stands over the prostrate Govan, bellowing his defiance.
Stooping to pick up Govans abandoned spear, he turns to face the knot of false-Yelmanions who are herding the healers into place. His visage a mask of fury and rage.....
They're going to sacrifice women? Healers, even? Kristen can feel her rage rising at the thought, and at the sight of the people under her protection being man-handled, and she tries to control it for just long enough to pick a suitable target. Usually Dori's emotions give her a clue at a time like this, even when she's showing nothing on the surface for others to read, but now she's so confused herself...
no, there is something. That man Jamal's knocked down. Dori felt something about him, but she can't sort out what. Recognition - hatred? fear? Whatever it is, it's very strong, and normally would have her diving for his throat without a second's pause, but Jamal's already done that... and if she goes for the men actually holding the women, she's likely to hurt them as well as soon as the black mist takes over... right, the one in charge. Usually a good answer. Lots of finery, and still on his feet. And male. Time to alter that. Bare hands can be even more satisfying than an axe. Shame there's no weapons around, but the edge of that mirror thing looks nice and hard. Smash him into that and carry on from there.
Kristen hurls herself towards Govan's superior, screaming a challenge as she
leaps. The man is surprised, but manages to raise his spear and drop into a
competent defensive posture. This doesn't help him much, for Kristen springs
nimbly around his weapon's point and atop his shield, her weight bearing him
to the ground and knocking him back several yards.
Despite the speed of her attack, several of the Temple Warriors are already moving to their leaders' defense by the time she tumbles to the ground and regains her feet.
The False Sun worshippers cautiously approach, spears raised and wary.
Antarius Venistix and his men appear to be struggling against their bonds,
and there is commotion also from the captured Rinliddi. It seems that all
sense the opportunity for a bid for freedom!
The Temple Warriors do not lose their composure. One of them glances quickly at the Sun, muttering, "Any moment now."
Immediately there is a flash of light from the altar. The sun has reached its zenith, and, directly below, the mirror is beginning to splash its rays over the First and Second Quarters of the temple. Where these sunbeams strike the captives they feel a sudden chill, a fatigued, as though the strength is being sucked from their marrows. At first these rays scatter lightly over a small area, but swiftly the Sun is moving overhead, and will soon dominate the whole temple ground...
Sunbeams that chill? Sun that drains energy instead of giving it? That's wrong. That's just not true. Nonetheless, where the rays lick her body she feels its chill touch. Hereward's protection saves her from feeling the full force of the cold, but pain wracks her. There is a startled cry as Valens, hurls himself in front of Dorinda, and absorbs the false magic himself.
Jamal feels the sucking draining light of this false sun. This surely must be some spawn of the deceiver, a corruption of Idovanus's, may his name be blessed, great life giving ersoon. Jamal draws on the strength of his Lord Bisos to resist this corruption, and feels the False Sun's chill pull on his soul weaken.
Vastyr grits his teeth, determined in preparing his own attack he steels himself against the evil magic, concentrating only on the moment when he will strike.
Suddenly an idea comes to Vastyr, "They're using the mirror to attack us!"
Then, like Grim Hu in the Time-without-Time, he gathers his will to strike
Death at the heart of the Sun. He knows and accepts that sometimes 'to
fight' means the same as 'to bleed.' If he didn't realise that he might as
well worship some wuss god... like these sunbounties. So... with full
knowledge that it will hurt, he makes a short chopping motion and a piece of
Death hurtles towards the mirror on the altar...
But the mirror seemingly reflects more than light, for Death also rebounds from its mystic surface, hurtling back towards its caster. The False Sun obviously has its own tricks when facing Humakt's magic: the Death magic springs back out into the rapidly developing melee, striking Morg Bisonfoot in the in the temple and knocking him down.
Jamal branishes Govans spear and eyes the false-Solars who are so ignominiously herding the defenceless to be sacrificed to their deciever's spawn of a god. Here is a righteous cause for which to spill blood, to smite the forces of deception, to protect the innocent.
Jamal charges to the attack, fired by berserk fury, and full of white hot Idovanian zeal, and the Temple warriors who had started to form up scatter before him. Her way clear, Kristen follows up her attack on the robed leader. As he tries to stagger to his feet, s he lifts him off them entirely, and hurls him at the Mirror. Either he will damage it, or it will damage him, she hopes. But, though clearly shaken, he slides off the polished metal surface and on to the ground. For a few seconds the withering light had been blocked by his body, but now it shines clear again, the metal of the mirror not even scratched, the tendrils reaching out to everyone present.
Kristen is the closest, and she screams as the grey tendrils seem to suck the life from her. Not just heat, as before, but the heat of her anger was being drawn away. And the reason for that anger. She had been trying to fight - someone? Because they had been hurting... who was it? There had been things called names, once, when she was a child, after the fight at the big white city, no, before, when they were on that big boat, like Mother took her on... who? Dazed and weak, she stumbles to her knees.
As Kristen falls, the Light floods on past her, reaching out to the rest. Valens, too, gasps and clutches at his chest as he feels his soul pulled from him, stumbling away from where he'd been shielding Dori. She had only felt a passing touch before, now the light shines on her in full force, pulling at her. And it feels familiar... a memory of sick terror and helplessness, of being tied, of betrayal..?
Others, watching, see her, too, go ashen - but then the light changes. Fails to grip. The tendril thickens, pulses. Colours appear in it, travelling back to the altar and the mirror. The pulsing speeds up, the mirror vibrating, and Dorinda stumbles towards it blindly, falling against one of the broken pillars that surround the area. And the pillar - changes. Something comes out of it. Something green. Small, then getting larger, as if they were seeing it running towards them from a great distance, but it's only a few yards away. Running towards them, yelling - and a dragon-newt bursts into the circle. The sibilant words are hard to understand, but the urgency is obvious as it ignores all the prisoners but one, addressing the robed False Sun worshippers.
"Not twyssss! Not the sssssame! You will ussse thisss one before, do nottt! Fooolsss! do not crossss, will reverssse the Mobiussss!"
It tugs at Dori, apparently trying to get her out of range of the Light, but the waves of colour throbbing up and down the link between her and the altar are now almost blinding. The mirror is starting to buckle.
The leader staggers to his feet, free of Kristen but still too late to act or even to understand. "Minarius? What do you mean, twice? We did what you said. How do we stop it?"
But there is no time for more, as Jamal charges at the assembled mass of the false Yelmalions, the force of his fury intimidating them for a second, which is just the hesitation that Jamal needs to be amongst them. Scattering them like so many pins. Seeking only death and mayhem, Jamal breaks skin, crushes bone and spills blood with abandon and seeming glee, uncaring of just whose skin, bone, and blood his borrowed spear bites into, mindless of the desparate False Sun attempts to use the human women as human shields. Truly the pure light must be balanced with the purest of dark.
Just as he seems to have won at least a respite for those who were to be sacrificed, the mirror clears and the tendrils of the dark deceit again surround the righteous berserker. His mind begins to clear, his strength fade, his will and resolve tremble and falter like a reed in a gale....... No this would not be! This would not be the end The House of al'Kathoum would not end at the hands of solar servant of the vile Deceiver.
From the depths of his rage, his shame, his very Carmanian essence Jamal lets out a bellow, a scream of anger that starts to resonate. It ripples and spreads out seeking the source of the deceit, of the the corruption in the place. It follows track of the dark force back to the mirror. As it touches, quietly at first and then louder and higher the mirror starts to sing, its pitch and noise growing higher, louder. Those nearest to in fall to the ground clutching their ears are the sound becomes intense and overwhelming. As the already vibrating mirror is filled by the light of purest truth of Idovanus, it starts to hum in response, then to scream in torment as the metal writhes away from what it can no longer reflect, the noise getting louder and louder until in an almost silent frozen moment it sunders in a myriad of scintillating shards.
And the glaring noon sunlight, gathered by the Mirror, scatters with it. White light blazes forth, uncontrolled now, in a savage release of energy and a noiseless, concussive explosion. Only one channel remains down which the Sun can flow - the pulsing link to Dorinda has not yet broken, and the final blast spears down it in full force, bearing energy now, not sucking it away. But Valens is there, and, loyal to the last, throws himself between his leader and her doom, and the smell of his burning flesh fills the air as Oddus, dazzled as he is by the full light of the Sun at this range, pulls her away.
And that is the last anyone sees, as fire blasts them, and the magical shock overwhelms the last of their scattered memories and senses.
Fade to black... or possibly some hallucinoratory mix of shades of black, purple, red, and UV....
and cut to scene 1, before continuing below.
At this moment there is a howl from outside the temple - the Lunar charge has begun!
Vastyr grits his teeth, but holds his place in the shieldwall-without-shields. So they want to see what Humakt has for them? I am more than happy to oblige...
Gathering the dark, cold power that flows from his vows to the Grim One, the scarred warrior begins to growl deed in his throat... And like an echo there is Runner's growl. And a third from Joran. Come, you spawn of the Predark! Let us make an Ending worthy of Hu. I am prepared, already a Deadman... Are you? With a loud yell Vastyr lets loose the Fear that strikes enemies when Death is near... "HUUUUUUUUUUUMAAAAAAAKT!"
And then time slows. A javelin, thrown in advance of the charge, inches through the air, impossibly sluggish. Your own limbs seem to have frozen, though thought races on. Behind you, a flash of light. Anyone who was looking that way can see the fragments of mirror glinting - and puffing into smoke as the True Sun blazes down on them. A large fragment evaporates, the smoke drifts towards you - and a fragment of memory returns. Dusk. Arrival at a village. A duel, a campsite - near to a ruined temple that looked a great deal like this?
A further fragment of mirror crumples to dust, and Dori stops her attempts to move, puzzled.
But, then the unthinkable happens as a piece of his own memories, forgotten and now remembered hits Vastyr from behind. It feels like a sun suddenly lit up in his head.
The sacred words turn to ash in his mouth and the magic fizzles and then dies. The force of the memories leaves the the scarred warrior stunned and kneeling.
Another, and another. Memories return, disordered and confused at first, then all too clear. Betrayal. Capture, enforced by drugs. Attempted escape, failed. Those last few minutes of horror as these memories were sucked from you. All is now clear - or at least, clearer than it was. Looking around, you see the other intended victims rising to their feet, as unarmed as you but still perhaps welcome allies. Time speeds up again as your vision clears, your movements are again unfettered.
But while some strength has been gained, some has been lost. In the centre of your line, Dori has fallen to her knees, surrounded by the remains of smoke from the mirror. "I remember..." she whispers, almost to herself, but in tones of such horror that those who hear her pause, shocked. "Oh, gods, I remember. I remember it all. How could he? My own father..." Then, for a moment, she pulls herself back to sanity and duty, looking round at her Ten - her friends - seeing a face she recognises even through the nightmare. "Jamal. I warned you, and I was right. Take over the Ten."
[I'm not sure if that warning ever made it into the Chronicles: try this message in the Group]
Elendala kneels next to her, seeking to know what the danger is. "Dorinda? What is it? What do you remember?"
One of the strangely dressed Yelmalians steps forwards, unarmed, ignoring his own troops and the advancing Lunars.
The newly replaced memories let you name him - Govan. He stares at the group in stunned horror and recognition.
"Dorinda? It cannot be! So that is what he meant by twice - but no, impossible." The formality of his speech drops, replaced by bewilderment and dawning understanding.
"But you're dead!"
Dori rises, faces him, white with the shock of recovered knowledge, but now focused on a known enemy.
"Yes. I'm dead. You should know. You killed me, in soul if not in body."
Overhead, the Lunar flying attack passes them, ignoring the Herewardi and falling on the Yelmalians - no, as you now realise, the Oilamlians. The two appear not to notice, concentrating only on each other. The facial similarity is obvious now.
"It was for the greater good! What is the life of an irrelevant child - a female child - compared with the glory of Oilamley?"
"The life of your own sister? Who you were sworn to protect and defend?"
He hesitates, just a little - perhaps being accused of oath-breaking by a Sword of Humakt makes him understandably nervous? "I obeyed my orders, as a soldier should."
She laughes, a cold hard laugh with no humour in it. "Of course you did. And your actions pale besides those of our beloved father. All you did was trap me, drug me, beat me, tie me down. He....", she turns her face away, even now unable to speak it aloud, then as the final memory falls into place, turns back, secure in the knowledge of an old victory despite the price. "And he never did get his divine child, even after all that. His son, his grandson, the son of your Oilamley. Failed. As Oilamley always will fail, faced with Death."
The shouting and emotional outbursts pull the rest of the captives out from their stolen memories. And concentrate the attention of the captives, among them a score or so of Humakti...
Vastyr shakes his head to clear it and staggers to his feet. He can't remember falling to his knees... but considering everything, that is minor annoyance. Runner reaches up and licks his face with one long swipe of its tongue. Not the most dignified awakening, but effective. Very effective. Vastyr pushes the wolf down. "I'm awake. What happened?"
"Shiny thing broke and vanished. You screamed and fainted." Then Runner starts to push him toward a pile of rubble that might have been a wall.
"Your big tooth."
As they walk to the rubble, Vastyr takes a look at the devastation around. Men and women lie strewn around like dolls. Some bleeding, some obviously dead, some moving or groaning in pain.
As Vastyr grasps his sword, his attention is immediately drawn to Dori and a man in strange white robes. They seem to be arguing. Both seem to be lost in some strong emotion. Dori more than the man.
With the Bane in hand Vastyr walks to the pair. They seem not to notice. But they notice the heavy blade that suddenly appears at the man's throat.
Dori looks startled, opens her mouth to speak, but is interrupted.
Prone and partly hidden by a pillar Hrolf has silently witnessed the scene between Dori and the Oilamleyan. The words and the events they refer to are fragmented, but his Truthsense fills in the gaps. An innocent, betrayed and violated by those sworn to protect her. Hrolf's veins well with outrage and murderous fury.
"You ...you betrayed your charge's trust. Traitor! You lied to your people. Oathbreaker! You used her life to feed your god's. Vampire!"
"This one's for Kristen, boss!" Blackbeak quacks anxiously. But Hrolf's words have already invoked the runes. As Govan stands frozen in a rictus of terror, the golden "Y" of Truth appears above his head; below it hangs the black sword of Death. The air ripples; there is a hissing as of thousands of swords, a countering oily black-brightness, a pop, and then the remains of the temple crumble into dust.
"THUS I NAME YOU AND SO YOU SHALL BE JUDGED," Hrolf intones in a voice no longer his own.
The Far Walker hears the call to move out but there was a matter of honour to be met. He had heard the words exchanged between the Ten and the robed Oilamlian. Marching over to the Hu's side he eyes Govan closely, a look of disgust etched clearly upon his youthful face.
"What kind of beast does this upon this kin?"
Not wanting nor waiting for an answer he kicks out at the back of Govan's legs dropping him to the floor. Grabbing a handful of hair he pulls the Oilamlian's head back exposing the neck. Glancing at Scarface he nods at Slithering Bane, his great iron bastard sword.
"An eye for an eye eh Vastyr?"
Vastyr looks at Aelfwyrd somewhat distastefully. "Revenge is not honour, and bloodshed is not war." He nods at Hrolf, who appears not to notice. "This, however, is Justice. The Grim one has spoken."
"He will be punished for his crimes" Aelf says, and pulling Govan's head back further still he looks into his eyes. "Justice? Yes, on this we agree".
A shadow suddenly descends from above and lights on the prostrate man, heedless of the swords waving nearby. Wings the colour of Lady Night's hair beat quickly a few times before the giant raven settles down. It cocks its head and looks in turn at all the Humakti nearby and opens its beak.
"Caw," it says.
Antarius' men are free from their bonds, now, and several have run back to the campsite while the main body form up and take stock. The runners call to their compatriots in their own tongue, and come back carrying spears and shields. As they pass the Humakti, one says: "Over there - all your weapons, too! It's all right, we didn't touch them."
And he carries on back to his commander, as the Yelmalians hastily re-arm.
The memories of the last few days come together in a confusing mosaic of impressions and experiences for Landros, and not made any clearer by the effects of hazia. A deep breath clears his head slightly and training takes over as he quickly assesses the situation. The Lunars are ignoring the group near the temple itself, the Carmanian seems to have taken command of the Humakti as the ten-thane engages in a passionate argument with one of the robed figures, and a huge man in his hero light walks slowly towards them. His voice roars a command that echoes off the broken pillars of the temple, overpowering the sounds of the battle nearby. Landros knows he has spoken to some of them before, but can't sort out their names just now. That will be for later. There is something going on among the women to one side.
The thought of the young healer pushes him into motion and he sprints towards the group clutching at his empty scabbard but relaxes when he sees her. Torn clothes, dusty but relatively unharmed and comforting a small girl.
"Here, take this," he says as he removes his cloak and, after hesitating uncertainly, wraps both in it gently, averting his eyes. He is rewarded with an exasperated but grateful look. "Thanks, but I really can't work in this..." But he is already on his way, looking for his other friends among the wounded.
Landros quickly finds both Caerl and Sythar, both in relatively good shape apart from a nasty cut on the back of Caerl's head. "See to that, now." The Rigsdali orders and points towards Kaylee. "She'll know who to ask", and Caerl shuffles off while Landros heads over to the other Humakti and Sythar goes to collect their gear.
"Excuse me, sir" he begins politely and nods briefly in greeting as he comes up to Jamal. "I hope your ten-thane will be all right." He glances at Govan, lying on the ground, with evident distaste and cannot help voicing his feelings. "Drugging your victims, healers, women. Perverting the Light of the Sun Dome. Your punishment will be harsh." His tone is measured and he speaks slowly, in the local tongue before turning back to Jamal. "This creature should be tried by the Count."
Jamal looks on as the Lunars drive on against the false Solars. Then looks round at the rest of the legion, bloodied but unbowed. He sags slightly as the exertions of the past few days catch up with him. But duty calls, and the Idovanian way means it should never be shirked.
He approaches the man that Dori has been arguing with, and finds that the legion had been busy. Aelf has the man pinned to the ground and Vastyr is poised for the lethal cut.
He looks up and sees the Raven descend and land on the man. Jamal regards the bird with more than a little uncertainty. This man seems to be suffering from a very ill-aspect.
The Yelm-man who had helped the Legion walks up to join the group, mentioning that the "Count" should judge this man. This must be the ruler.
As he does this Boltar rushes onto the scene, in a high state of agitation. "Him Chaos" screams the irate Urox. "he must die now!" Following this with a stream of expletives.
This makes up Jamal's mind.... "You have harmed this legion, and stand accused of the vilest crimes against our ten thane"
He glances at Dori, who has watched Aelf and Vastyr's actions with a strange detachment. "Not against me," she says slowly, as if emerging from a dream. "Against his younger sister, who died twelve years ago. And these others he sought to harm today. Not me. This is not vengeance. This is justice."
Govan stares up at her, wide-eyed and unbelieving. "Dorinda! You can't let them do this! I'm your brother! You can't!"
She stays detached, unaffected, almost looking through him rather than at him. "My only kin is the Legion. And even for them, justice would come first." She focuses on him for a moment, her gaze very cold. "Think for a moment what Sun County justice would involve, for these crimes. That would be vengeance."
Over near the ruined altar, Mara bends over a barely-conscious Kristen. Dori loses focus again, absorbed in watching the village buildings beyond.
"Dispatch him" Jamal say flatly to Aelf and Vastyr, "I have no taste nor trust for long winded Solar justice"
The raven sitting on Govan squawks in irritation as the Far Walker pulls Govan up and with a venemous look hops down on the ground with great dignity. With an unreadable expression on his face Landros looks on in silence.
The Far Walker holds Govan's hair to prevent him moving. With deft precision Vastyr's iron blade severs brain and spinal cord. One blow creates a great gout of crimson that spurts forth from the arteries and veins of his neck. Aelfwyrd's face reveals no emotion as he holds the lifeless head aloft for all to see.
"It is done."
"It is done," intones Vastyr like an echo. Then he just walks off in search of his backpack, especially his sword cleaning kit.
Hop hop and the raven takes to the air briefly to land on Landros's head where it balances precariously before the man helps it down onto his shoulder. It rubs its beak affectionatly against his cheek.
Tossing the head aside the Far Walker nods at Yrsga, the young city girl who constitutes the nearest thing to a sister he has ever had. She is motionless, not used to impromptu executions her shock is clear for all to see.
The Rigsdali sees the young girl and takes the few steps to her side. "Are you all right, dear? It's not a pleasant thing to see. Forgive my manners, I am Landros. And this is Roark" The kind words of a stranger draw Yrsga away from the grisly scene.
Turning to face the voice a heartbeat passes as she explores the features of the handsome and well-dressed Sun County Templar. Having completely blanked the large black raven she pushes a stray strand of hair behind her ear and smiles up at him. "My name is Yrsga, and yes I am all right now"
Landros returns the smile "Good." The raven looks at the girl with first one eye then the next, but remains settled on its perch.
Then from a distance away they two are interrupted as the Far Walker shouts over "Yrsga! Hereward waits for no man....or women" then catching sight of Sun Domer begins to stride over. "The Legion are already camped in Pavis and the holy days draw near. We have wasted too much time in this cursed place already to be passing pleasantries with.." and eyeing Landros "..strangers"
Yrsga seems slightly embarrassed but moves off towards the camp anyway as the Kargani turns to regard Landros "Can I help you friend?" he says frostily.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to intrude. She seemed a bit unsettled, I just asked her if she was alright," he replies disarmingly.
The Far Walker eyes Landros suspiciously but keeps his his own counsel as the acting Ten approaches.
"I think it is best that we are not here," Jamal says, calling the Legion to muster.
He turns to Dori. "The Legion calls," he says to her softly, "you do not need this place anymore."
She looks up at him, dazed, but with understanding dawning. "No. No, you're right. It was all in the past, far in the past. Another life. Another person. If I can just remember who I am now... not here."
"GATHER..." he calls "REGROUP AT THE CAMPSITE OUR WEAPONS ARE THERE"
And with that he leads her away.....
She follows, stumbling over obstacles she apparently can't see, still lost in the flood of returning memory.
"Yrsga, the war gear, we are heading out" Aelf says matter-of-factly.
And with that they move out.
Kaylee has wrapped the child in Landros' voluminous cloak when Caerl finds her.
She somehow manages to balance the child on one arm and inspect the gash on the soldier's head.
"I won't heal it, don't worry. Just looking," she says in Tarshite probing the wound gently.
"Ouch, stop that fool woman!"
"You need to see one of the soldier-healers I met earlier. Come on."
It doesn't take long to find the group of humakti near the temple. As they approach they see Aelf hold up Govan's head and Kaylee pales visibly. Caerl says nothing but looks grim, he senses a lingering presence of the Reaper. Kaylee shields the child's view of the grisly sight and stops, unwilling to approach. A head taker - she thought that only happened among the Wintertop Tribes. "That, that's not right" She says with a shudder. Her companion only shakes his head in reply, but looks on in fascination. "Come on. There's the woman we need to speak to." she has spotted Dorinda and one of the other warriors and makes for them, with a final glance at the larger group. Landros has turned his back on Aelf and is speaking to a young girl, with Roark on his shoulder and she can't help wonder what they have to say to each other.
"Sir!" She calls as they approach. "Excuse me sir. I'm sorry to bother you, but Caerl here has taken a cut and
won't take healing from me. Would you have someone who could see to it, please?"
Caerl glances at her a bit amused. She has taken to calling any Humakti she thinks is in charge 'sir'. "It fucking hurts too." He mumbles as he stares at Hrolf and then as a spell of faintness comes over him slowly sinks to the ground. "Came looking for a bloody unbreakable sword, and all I get is a bashed skull." he continus groggily and with that he closes his eyes.
Elendala turns to him, alarmed at the sudden collapse. "Dori? Dori, come on... take a look at this, would you?"
"What....? Oh." Dori comes back to the present, focussing on the practical problem. "Nasty cut, head wounds always bleed, too, but it doesn't look enough to knock him out like that. Let's get him cleaned up, then we can see what we're doing. Get some water, would you? The well in the village'll be closest - just behind the head-man's house, there's three palm-trees round it."
"There are?" Elendala watches her warily, all too obviously wondering how real this apparent recovery is. "How did you know that?"
"Well, it was there yesterday.... oh." Dori sits back, rubs at her forehead. "No, it wasn't yesterday, was it? Over twenty years ago. They can't have moved the well, though. Headman's house - big place, looks very - that is, it would look very impressive to a five year old."
"Right. I expect I can find it." Elendala stands up, starts to move away, then stops. "Dori, are you sure you're all right?"
"No. Next silly question?" She rubs her forehead again tiredly. "Sorry. I can do this, anyway. One thing at a time."
She turns back to inspecting the cut and the swelling around it, probing with gentle fingers. "Kaylee, can he take magical healing? As long as it's from Humakti?"
Kaylee is looking on helplessly, clearly frustrated at not being able to help. "Yes, yes he can. Magic's fine. He seemed fine you know, just bleeding and it doesn't look deep. But he wouldn't even let me staunch it, so I had to find someone. Landy is hopeless and anyway he was talking to some girl." She hugs the child in her arms a little tighter and rearranges the cloak around it. Its usually spotless white colour has now been marked by bloodstains from Caerl and dust, and a corner is dragging on the ground. The wounded warrior half sits in an akward position and Kaylee tries to make him more comfortable, but is hampered by the faintly whimpering child who clearly picks up on the young healer's unease.
"Don't close your eyes Caerl, you need to stay awake." She looks up at Dori pleadingly "Can I at least rip some strips of cloth for bandages, or does that count as healing him?"
"No, that's fine. Just don't apply them yourself. You can advise, supply materials, almost anything as long as you don't actually touch. I'm going to clean the cut and stitch it, then have Elendala use her healing charm: after that there's not a lot we can do for concussion that I know of beyond not letting him sleep, like you say."
She works swiftly and with obvious competence, accepting needle, thread and bandages as Kaylee passes them to her. Kaylee nods and helps as best she can, less worried now that Caerl is in what seems to be capable (if not overly gentle) hands.
Hrolf responds woodenly to Jamal's commands, moving like an automaton to join the rest of the Legion. A nimbus of clarity seems to surround him: sounds are sharper, higher; his dust-coated clothes are outlined in excruciating detail.
Jamal is busy gathering his retinue to order, Boltar dispite the sudden dispatch of Govan still seems concerned about the body. "We should burn it" he mutters, "or the land where is body lies will be cursed for generations"
Fufold and Elnor meanwhile content themselves with checking for injuries (mercifully few) before preparing to leave for the campsite.
As the legion calls to muster, he hears the boy mention the words "unbreakable sword" coincidence perhaps, but then again, perhaps not. Through such small signs does the divine Idovanus (his name be praised) guide the path along the sword's edge.
Jamal strides over to the boy's master, the golden warrior they had met back at the camp. "I am called Jamal bin Jaran al'Awara" he says in clipped but perfectly courteous tones, nodding his head in a short but formal bow, "I am acting ten for this legion. You have fought well against these scions of deceit, and have earned the respect of the warriors of Hereward. You would honour us if you would ride with us a while"'
Landros turnes away from Aelf and smiles at the man as he nods politely. "The honour is mine, ten-thane and I accept your kind offer." he replies slowly and with obvious sincerity. "I am Landros Goldheart, from these parts originally, though I now serve The Night Watchman." He looks around and sighs. "I would hear of the Herewardi and you business here, unless you are not free to speak. There is a village nearby, with a well which rarely runs dry. A good place to camp, if the... locals agree."
Jamal nods, "We are passing though for a muster of the legion in Pavis, and it seems we became unwilling participant in this business."
Landros nods in understanding, Pavis seems to have become a gathering point for a lot of different groups lately. He'd heard about the cradle when he passed through a few days earlier - a business that still had the Lunars restless. He hadn't had any trouble, at first they'd taken him for a Sun Domer, but when they realised what he was they'd let him through the gate without too much fuss.
"I've just come down from Pavis, initiated one of my followers to Hu there only a couple of weeks ago actually."
"We would rest here for a day, but I think the protector of this village has laready expressed thier disquiet at our presence." Jamal shrugs. "Perhaps this has changed. Either way we would be away from here soon."
"Their commander, Antirius I think, seemed a reasonable fellow. I'll have a talk with him if you like. I don't remember him, but chances are he remembers me." he says completely without boasting or conceit.
Jamal nods, "Perhaps you are right, quite a bit has changed since our last meeting, the legion requires some rest and recuperation, we will see if we can get a little of it here...."
At Landros' last statement Jamal smiles, he wonders if this man has the abilities to back up his obviously high opinion of himself. This might be amusing.
The campsite is deserted, the ashes of the fire cold. Was it really only a day and a half ago that you had sat here and shared food and stories? Much of your kit lies here where you had left it, abandoned. Your weapons, taken from your unconscious bodies, are in a neat pile.
As the legion reaches the campsite Jamal gives orders for the legion to retrieve their equipment, giving strict instructions to the more flighty followers that this was not a looting mission and that only legion property should be collected.
This done he quickly moves to recover his property especially Bull Spike, and his helmet Gore.
As he does this he notices that Hrolf has been rather quiet of late. "Friend Hrolf", he calls "come I would discuss legion business now that the Waleesha cannot hold the mantle of ten"
Getting no response he turns to Blackbeak, "Tell me" he asks "what ails your lord ?"
Before Blackbeak can reply, Hrolf turns to face Jamal.
"THE FATHER LIVES. YOU WILL SEE HIM AGAIN."
Whereupon Hrolf collapses and the Durulz rush to his side.
Jamal looks at Hrolf quizzically, "Perhaps we will." When Hrolf collapses he helps Blackbeak drag him to the centre of the campsite.
With a nod to those he had been talking to, Landros quickly leaves to find Starbright and appears relieved that she is unharmed. The coal-black star-iron unblemished. Sythar had arrived before the others and had alreday found his equipment, he seemed to be counting the few clacks he had left in his pouch. He'd had a lot more when they'd left Alda Chur, but probably spent it all on whores in Pavis. Landros wondered if he'd made a mistake with Sythar. Kaylee was helping Caern, who still seemed a bit groggy. This was beginning to worry him, head wounds were so unpredictable, but the girl had apparantly managed to get help from some of the other healers. It was a nuisance, the boy had initiated while they were in Pavis and Humakt had seen fit to give him the geas of not accepting healing from anyone but his own followers. Landros knew little of those arts himself, one of the reasons he had agreed to let Kaylee join them, but who would see to Caern when they left this group? He would have to see to that somehow. And Kaylee was still carrying that child around! She really should turn it over to someone. But, time enough for all this later. Everyone needed rest now.
Dori's sword, unlike the rest, is still close to where she had been sitting, and is half-drawn from its scabbard. Is it your imagination, or is the grass next to it slightly burnt?
The sight wakes her from her daze - or at least, refocuses her attention - and she runs over to it, grabs it, checks it lovingly for damage. Nothing seems amiss at first sight, and she strokes the edge, tries a few passes, finding that the enchantments that give it its lightness and speed are still present. "Looks like they didn't harm it", she remarks. She sounds normal enough, but is still totally ignoring everything but this. "Let's see if it can still call the Light..." She touches the rune on the blade, and as the Legion have seen often enough before, Daylight shines forth from it, dazzling even against the afternoon sun. She lets it die again. "Fine. And we won't know about the rest until we meet some trolls."
She resheathes the sword, straps the scabbard back on to her belt, but her hand stays on the pommel, stroking it lovingly.
Landros watches this whole display with mounting surprise and with some confusion. How could this be, could he be right? He looks around, but as far as he can tell noone else has noticed anything strange. Puzzled and uncommonly uncertain he approaches the woman. "Lady, will you show me the blade?"
She holds it protectively - Humakti are always protective and possessive of their swords, of course, but this seems more than the usual. But after the initial hesitiation: "Sure." She draws it, holds it so he can see the blade and the runes on it, but does not offer it to him.
It's a fine rapier (OOC note: that's a C15 cutting sword, not a later knitting needle) of Esrolian design, covered in runes and engraving, much of it inactive but five areas showing quiescent life.
Landros smiles a quick thanks and, without touching the sword leans closer. It is a fine blade, not a style he'd use personally - given a choice - but very good craftmanship. He carefully passes a hand over the the runes and suddenly something flickers briefly. Surprised, he takes an involuntary step backwards and gives Dori a puzzled look. "I, I'm not sure but I think you have a light daemon in there, one of Yelmalio's."
"I've got what?" She stares at him in complete bewilderment, at the sword, then back at him, but his sincerity, and genuine puzzlement, are obvious.
"A reflarting, or something very like it, lady."
She runs a finger over the various enchantments marked on the blade and hilt as if seeing them for the first time. "I suppose.... I never did know how this was made. We all got together, seven-times-seven of us, took our geases, and put our Gifts into it. Swore our allegiance to the Truelight. And went off to the Shadow Plateau. All the leaders died there - us juniors never had the chance to find out what had really been done. Most of the Gifts are gone now, of course."
His brow furrows slightly thinking it must have been a great need, or desperation that prompted such an action. Seven times seven Humakti. He had heard similar stories in Esrolia, but nothing quite like this.
Usually these swords were for novices and many thought the practice dubious at best. His own feelings on the matter were clear, playing wagers with the gifts of the God was an affront. A diminishing of him. Though, this time it seemed born out of something else than greed.
She's thinking back, trying to make sense of her scattered memories. "I know it calls the daylight to dazzle enemies. It doesn't like trolls - it's supposed to fight better against them, but it's more than that, it hums and tries to draw itself when it encounters them. I suppose if there's a daemon in there, that would make sense? I don't know much about Yelmalio's daemons, though."
"A Troll Killer." The former Yelmalion doesn't sound too unhappy about that. "But how could a reflarting end up in a humakti sword, as a gift of Humakt?" He gives her a searching look, his gray eyes calm and without challenge - but questioning. "Unless, but I've never... No, that still doesn't make sense. Lady, do you know whose gift it was?"
"The way Belonni explained it, the Truelight was the Light against the Darkness, borne by Humakt's vassal Elmalo, slayer of trolls and chief fighter against the Dark Hater... come to think of it, it made a lot more sense when he said it than when I hear it now. I probably didn't understand it properly, but he was very convincing at the time. Or maybe I've forgotten something. If I could just keep track of what I've forgotten and what's come back and what order it was all in..."
"It was all in such a rush at the time, that was the trouble. We'd bee tallking about it, exchanging ideas, the way one does in Nochet. And then we heard, the trolls had captured an Earth priestess - she was a local queen, too. And her daughter came to us for help - that's Kristen. So we did everything in more of a hurry than we probably should have done. We knew we had several hundred trolls to handle, in their own element, under the Shadow Plateau. So we put together the best weapon we could, swore our oaths to it, and gave it to the best fighter - no need for more duels, we all knew who that was. And when he died, the next best took it, and so on... by the time we got out, there were thirteen of us left, and I was holding the sword."
She's lost in memory again, still ignoring everything but this one subject, but this time the memories seem to be less nightmarish than those returned to her by the Mirror.
The injured have been treated, although some will need rest to make a full recovery, and one of the party at least (Valens) is dead. Jamal has led the able-bodied members back to the campground to retrieve weapons and equipment left there. Everything is undamaged, and Dori and Landros are discussing her sword.
Back at where the temple once stood, the Lunar Rinliddi have subdued the demoralised Oilamlians and rescued their captive comrades. As you watch, they all fly off, heading north, leaving Antarius and his newly re-armed troops to secure the prisoners. They do not seem to be going out of their way to be gentle about this...
Once things have settled down, Antarius comes over to where you have gathered.
"Greetings Antarius. Alas your worthy duellist, Dorinda, has been somewhat indisposed by the events here, and I speak to you as Ten of this legion, for the present time at least, what may I assist you with ?"
"Thank you for your assistance," he says soberly - and despite the way you had all wandered off leaving his troops to do the fighting, he does not appear to be being sarcastic. "I knew Humakt punished oath-breakers, but I had not realised until today just how much power his worshippers wielded in these circumstances." Where the ruined temple once stood, the wind blows grey ash across the barren fields.
"We will try these criminals as soon as we may - as the Count's representative here, I have that right. While normally the word of foreigners would be ignored in a Sun County trial, I think none would be so foolish as to suggest that Humakti might lie. I would be honoured if those of you who so wish would give evidence against them before their execution."
"Also, there is one other matter that you may wish to be aware of.
It was mentioned when we last met that the monster terrorsiing this village might be an enemy known to you, a
nd in particular to one of your numnber. We investigated the tracks it had left, yesterday, and found no trolls.
Claw-marks, yes, but faked, by humans wishing to give the impression of a monster."
He smiles, grimly. "An attempt to lure us here, I believe. That was a mistake."
And then he turns very sober again - "The half-eaten children, however, are genuine. That, I need to find out more about. We could not even recognise the type of teeth that might have done such damage, and to leave the bodies half-eaten, and half-buried - no animal would do such a thing. Only humans can be that vile."
At this point Mara, the Earth priestess you escorted here, leaves the healers to their work and heads in his direction with every indication of taking charge of an idiot male. "And what about the important problems, then?" she says, exasperated, as soon as she's in earshot. "Never mind the men. What about the women? It wasn't the men who called me here, or caught me last night. It wasn't the men who chose that child for sacrifice - from their own village, too! And I guarantee it wasn't the men who did that to the Earth shrine!"
Antarius had the Kargani's interest when he mentioned claws but his expression immediately sours when describing teeth and half eaten children.
"Believe me, there are beasts fouler than men that stalk the night. Tell me, how wide was the bite?"
Holding his hands together his measures the size of a human jaw.
"About that width, yes, though it seemed to vary oddly, as if the teeth were not in a jaw at all. It made me think of the bite of a krashtkid, but with teeth more like those of a dog or cat."
"What manner of evil is this! Can you show us where?"
"The bodies will be being prepared for burial by now, in the Earth temple. We can go there - " he checks himself - "if, that is, the priestess is willing to let Death-wielders within."
Mara stands there, hands on hips, her exasperation with male idiocy undiminished. "The Earth temple. Right. The one I've just told you is defiled by.... Well, I can tell you won't believe it till you've seen it for yourself. Anyway, it isn't the priestess you need to worry about. Sweet old lady, Azdala, but not what you might call forceful. No, it's the headman's wife you need to look out for, Ioanna. Nasty piece of work, that one, and no-one crosses her, not even her husband."
Antarius stays calm in the face of this tirade, but that last statement is an affront to any Yelmalian. "Cavos Gilthelm did not seem to me to be a weak man, unable to control his wife."
At the far side of the group, Dori jerks alert at the names. "She's here?"
She's white again, and from her expression whatever memories have been brought back are those of a terrified child. But within moments she's back under control again, impassive, only the clenched knuckles on her sword pommel showing any tension.
"Cavos and Ioanna. Govan's parents." And therefore, as many of the Legion now realise, her own. "He was always dangerous. After - that is, about fifteen years ago - she turned somewhere for power, and got it. I don't know what, I don't know where, but he did what she said after that."
After a bit of discussion, Antarius, Mara, and some of the group go into the village and to the Earth shrine. It sounds as if Aelf will go, Jamal and Bolthor will go, and after a few arguments between her and Elendala, Dori will go. (Elendala thinks she should stay well away from anything that'll make her current confusion of past and present worse, Dori insists that you don't handle problems by running away from them, and if anything scares her that much, she'd better face it.) Oh, and Kaylee will give that kid she's holding to Mara for return to her parents. Anyone else?
The Earth shrine is a square brick building, half under the ground, with steps down.
As you approach, you can hear voices arguing - both female, one elderly, one middle-aged. Your footsteps must have been heard inside, because a head pops out - white hair just visible under the veil. She turns back to address whoever's inside - "I told you! I told you it would all come to no good. Well, it's nothing to do with me, you can handle what's coming to you, since you seem to think it's your temple. I warned you, girl, I warned you!" And she scuttles off between the houses.
Antarius glances at Mara. "That's Azdala?"
"Yes. Woken up a bit, I see."
Mara leads the way in, and has a confrontation with Ioanna. Any non-Humakti women in the group get in, but Ioanna refuses to let men, or Death-wielders, inside, and to all of you (and Antarius) the whole concept of invading an earth/fertility holy place is almost inconceivable anyway.
Mara brings out one of the little bodies for inspection - it's been partially prepared for mummification.
Unwrapped, you can see some really weird toothmarks that I promise you have not seen anything like before.
Jamal looks at the bite marks with deepening concern. Perhaps the stench of deceit is more widespreads than he first thought.
He calls over Boltar, who has been loitering nearby, chewing on a rather unsavoury bit of jerky that must have been part of his possessions.
"What do you make of this Antarius' tale" he asks the Uroxi, "you seem to have most experience of this type of thing."
Bolthar sniffs it, unconcerned by the pitiful little corpse. "No chaos" he says, and goes back to his snack.
After a bit of staying very quiet at the back, Dori declares that Death is by definition genderless, as a place sacred to Ty Kora Tek Death is unlikely to harm it anyway, and she at least is going in. There's a few magical SFX swirling around her at this point - not sure what affinities she's calling up, but "face horror" would be a good start. And she faces down Ioanna (no, Ioanna hasn't recognised her), and goes on in.
Vastyr looks at her back vanishing into the dark entrance to the shrine. Nothing like a Ten Thane going off the deep end to get a man into trouble...
"Death has walked the deep dark places of the Earth before, and so it shall this day."
Gripping Bane tightly Vastyr walks in.
What you've got inside, whether you see it yourself or others describe it to you, is a standard Earthshrine that's had an extra effigy added, and from the look of it, worshipped enthusiactically. Who knows what a "sheelnagig" is? Now add teeth in a place where teeth really don't belong. I doubt if any of you recognise the cult, but Mara does - Gorgorma.
Anger rises in the pit of Aelfwyrd's stomach as he examines the bite marks on the tiny corpse. What filth would do such a thing upon a child? Covering up the body he turns to find people filling into the mouth of the Earth shrine. Never one to stand on ceremony he follows them inside.
Taking a slow look around he eyes the contents of the shrine. Nothing that unusual here, stone carving of earth deities and the like. Just then his gaze falls upon the grisly effigy; a wrinkled, deformed, fat old hag who squats to reveal wicked teeth in both mouth and vagina. Her hands are set in gestures of rending or curse sending.
The Kargani is not too sure what this statue is but one things certain; this must have something to do with the maimed children. Grabbing Ioanna by the scruff of her robes he make to start something of a fight.
(And Vastyr joins him)
Jamal peers into the temple after Dorinda, this looks like a womans' place, men would not be welcomed.
He shrugged, "not my customs" he thinks as he strides in....
He inspects the temple, there is a series of female statues, some pleasant and welcomming, some dour and scarey covering all aspects of womanhood. But one is downright repellant, a travesty of the female form with vagina dentata. Jamal shudders and winces at the same time....
There is a the sound of commotion deeper in the temple. Aelf again sigh and Vastyr too this time....
Jamal follows to see that they have seized the younger earth priestess.
"She is not to die" he bellows, "at least not until we have found out what has happened in this place".
He turns to the woman. "Lady" he says to her courteously, "you have two options here, either you explain what has occured here and how these children have been maimed...Or I let my dogs loose." He looks at Vastyr and Aelf before smiling without humour back at the woman.
She brushes Aelf's hands off in disgust, straightens her robes.
"What would you know of the need of the Earth for blood? When great evil has been done, and the land drained of strength by those who should have protected it, great sacrifices must be made."
Mara's glaring at her as if she wished Aelf had carried on.
Jamal looks to the flustered Mara, then to Vastyr and the assembled Humakti. "I do not know of what she speaks, but talk of blood and earth screams of the Spolite heresy to me"
Vastyr is frowning, but remains uncertain - while her words are true, deceit of some sort lies behind them.
Mara, however, is certain. "Great sacrifices indeed, but yours were never intended to heal the land, were they? Votenevra (1) can tell the earth's illnesses and needs. Doubly cursed, these fields, by men and by women. And Azdala knew it when she sent for help. You wanted power, and took it where you found it."
"And why not? Why should we not have power? Why should we not defend ourselves, when our protectors turn against us? I lost both my daughters to Cavos' quest for eternal life - no more!"
In the shadows at the back of the shrine, Dori stirs slightly, but says nothing, and the passionate defence continues, directed solely at Mara, as if she was the only one present with the wit to understand.
"If children must die, it will not be ours. Let those others, those weaklings who will not stand with us, let them lose their children. We take power from the Earth, but only to defend her against men." There is a depth of hate in that last word.
"You have seen these fields, sister - are they not worth any sacrifice to defend? Would you not give up children to gain the power to protect them?"
And again, Vastyr can feel that while what she says is true, it is deceptive. And again, there is someone present who knows it. Dori is still hidden in the shadows, but though she cannot be seen clearly, she can be heard.
"When you first turned to the Darkness, you had two live daughters, and a small window-box in a Pavis tenement. You were nowhere near these fields. You just wanted power. Going to tell Mara what happened to your first grand-child? Was that to defend the earth, too?"
"He was better dead than what his father planned for him!" But the confidence has gone, the imposing presence has been diminished, the aura of power broken, faced with unexpected Truth.
Aelfwyrd glances incredulously at his companions before spitting his furious response.
"You justify the sacrifice of innocents?" then gesturing at one of the small mummified corpses "Of babes in arms?"
Without a second thought he makes to throttle this loathsome priestess.
As he pushes her back against the wall, twisting an arm behind her back and restraining her by her hair and a flailing ankle, and ignoring her screams and ineffectual blows, Aelf feels a sudden sharp pain in his groin. An incredibly sharp pain in his groin. He feels his knees start to buckle and tries not to vomit, as Ioanna makes a fresh attempt to free herself.
1 TR p 197-198. The Earth Healer sub-cult of Ernalda.