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Caravan Alley


Fertility Week, Stasis Week Sea Season, 1621


As Wild Day becomes dusk, most of the party is holed up in the tavern, swapping stories with Vern.

God Day is used by most of the party to rest up and prepare for the next day's march. Horses are swapped for zebras, and Brenna and Fynn make sure that everyone has enough water for the march. Herric checks that Oddus and Elnor are competent on horseback - they can certainly ride well, he finds, but are uncomfortable with the idea of the fighting from the saddle. Still, they are willing to learn and make good progress.

Seeing that his comrades are not interested in tracking down the undead potentially hidden in the vicinity of Tourney Altar and knowing that his first duty is to the Legion, Hrolf shares his suspicions with Deathshadow, and leaves it at that. Deathshadow looks grim when she hears that the oasisfolk may have some knowledge of the undead. She promises to look into it. "Don't you mind Hrolf," she says. "My warband will take care of this menace - we have cultists of Indrodar and Li Phanquann among us. Your duty leads you elsewhere, and that is the way of things..." Hrolf hears that an investigation is got underway immediately.

On Freeze Day morning the party head for the caravanseri where Efridel is making last minute preparations. He is fussing with two Oasis Folk from Tourney Altar who have turned up at the last minute, wanting to journey to Horn Gate - he is trying to explain to them that they must make sure their goats can keep up. Efridel shakes his head at them in despair and says to Brenna, "well, at least the Storm Bulls have arrived." He points.

Sitting on their mounts around the wagons and pack mules is a gang of fourteen savage looking Llama riders. Fetishes adorn their hair and clothes, tattoos and war paints cover their faces and bodies. Their weapons are violently crude. They wait impatiently for the caravan to be ready, and disdain to speak with any of the foot warriors. They are only marginally more respectful to the Impala riders that go with the caravan. Their leader is introduced to Brenna as Hawk-Diving From-The Sun, and she is about to enter into a discussion with him about tactics when he cuts her off with a terse statement in Tradetalk - "you walk and fight, we ride and fight."

With that the Llama riders wheel about and lead the caravan out of Tourney Altar, fanning out around the wagon train as the small oasis town recedes into the distance.

Efridel is not best pleased that the party is now one warrior less than he agreed to, but accepts that there was little to be done about it. However, he declares that if Illig's Irregulars cannot supply him the correct number of guards he will not pay the agreed upon amount, but only for those guards that have turned up.

Freeze Day's march is not hard, but it is daunting to know that the caravan will go four days until the next oasis. Efridel is leading the first caravan east of the year - the routes having closed over winter - and although there is supposedly more water at this time of year, and the temperature is lower, no-one is sure what this new year will bring in Caravan Alley.

That night the caravan comes to a halt and guards are picketed, Impala riders, Humakti and Storm Bulls patrolling around the camp. At one point a Storm Bull guard has pains in his initiation scars, and for a moment there is a panic and call to arms as fears of an assault by chaos come to the fore. Yet after a tense half an hour of watching, the warrior declares that the pain has passed and the caravan settles down again.

The next day is hotter, and by now those marching are feeling weary. When the caravan comes to a stop that night all are grateful. However, the fires have barely died down and people only just to their bedding when there is a terrible howl from one of the Storm Bulls. Then another shouts something excitedly in Praxian, and starts running towards his comrade. Very quickly all the Storm Bulls are preparing their weapons...

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Brenna is already drawing her sword and casting magics, in between invocations she is shouting the role call and attempting to detemine where the trouble is coming from.

The Humakti respond quickly to the commotion. Jamal, Hrolf and Herric prepare feats of combat magic, whilst Dorinda and Brenna try to assess the situation and account for all those present. It is a dark night, with the moon just a sliver.

Herric takes up lance with his followers and prepares his Great Blow prayer. He starts to spur his mount, then holds up and instead performs his Sense Ambush ritual. His war mount sneezes in expectation of battle and stomps a hoof impatiently on the ground. Herric peers about with his Senses and tries to determine where best his lance and followers can strike.

Hrolf he glares into the night, listening and scanning all eight directions around the camp, especially one opposite the direction of the cries (they could be a diversion). Then, he wakes his Durulz warriors. Then he slips on his chain shirt, whispers the Truesword prayer to Humakt, and attempts to hide in the darkness so that he can circle around the enemy, if there is one.

Together Brenna and Jamal, who has ordered Abul to the centre of the camp and called Maniskus to him, invoke their Wyter's ability to Illuminate Darkness, and a soft glow soon emanates from all objects within twenty metres that is good enough to see by. Herric, who has mounted his zebra, is invoking his Blessing, but can detect no ambush at all. Dorinda has prayed to Hereward, and in return for her payer she is aware of things in the direction the blows from, the east. All appears quiet and as it should be.

Hrolf and his durulz followers make to slip off into the darkness and scout around the wagons, but have yet to move beyond the area illuminated by the legion's wyter.

All can see that the Storm Bulls are crowding to the west of the campsite, where there appears to be some kind of struggle going on. Away from that the 'civilians' are mostly retreating in fear to the central fires, with Efridel ordering them to find weapons and form a circle. The Impala riders are running on foot towards the storm bulls from their position to the south of the campsite. The Humakti are camped on the north side, and from there they can see no activity other than described above.

Fynn raises his head from his bedding roll and enquires blearily, "wassgoinon?"

Dorinda turns to Brenna "The wind finds no Untruth in the East, but I know not of other directions. Do you wish us to aid the Storm Bulls, or to maintain a guard here?" While awaiting an answer, she makes sure Kristen and Valens are awake and equipped, and prepares a Sword Help feat for whatever may come.

Brenna has assessed the situation as well as she is able. "Malan can see to matters at the centre of the camp; Hrolf can scout elsewhere. The rest of us will go to the Storm Bulls."

Herric calls all the mounted warriors to him and move to flank whatever the Storm Bulls are engaging. His and his followers' lances gleam in the soft glow of the Wyter's light. Jamal rides with them.

Malan is worried that the fight might be decoy for an attack on the civilians, so he heads towards central fires and asks Efridrel what's going on. Aelfwyrd ensures his students are alert and tells them to go with with Malan to join the civilians in case of a surprise attack.

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Herric leads the first sortie, with Jamal a close second, and Oddus and Elnor hard on their tails. They ride hard towards what appears to be a general melee - the Storm Bulls are furiously struggling with a gang of twenty or so bizzarre figures. Some have the heads of goats, bison or other animals, some have three arms, one has the body of a scorpion. One has no head at all, but by the wyter's glow Herric can see the monster force a Storm Bull's head towards a sharp-toothed mouth in its torso. The stench is terrific.

Broo!

The riders crash into the chaos horrors. Herric leads Oddus and Elnors' spears well, and their impact scatters the broo. As they scatter, Jamal has to instinctively swerve to avoid being struck by a large, gooey ball of phelgm that sails seemingly out of nowhere. Although he dodges the muck he loses the timing of his blow, and his chosen foe - a lizard-scaled man with a rash of blisters all over its neck and chest - ducks and turns to face him.

Behind them Brenna is leading the second charge. Dorinda, Aelfwyrd, Fynn, Valens and Kristen are with her.
The Storm Bulls cleave into the Broo, their mighty Chaos fighting spirits screaming defiance and rage. These beserk warriors, fueled by hatred, are heedless of danger as the monsters attack and determined and furious with their own weapons. The goatkin recoil and mumble in fear and confusion at the attack of these holy warriors. But then as the Storm Bulls chase the goatkin in exultation the monsters suddenly wheel around and counter-charge - it seems their fleeing was merely a tactic to break up the nomads. Several Storm Bulls go down screaming as the broo begin to take the advantage.

The dog-headed four broo facing Herric, Oddus & Elnor are overcome with lust and start trying to bugger the zebras. Dropping their weapons they fight amongst themselves for the chance to mate with Herric's zebra, the handsomest. It is a worrying moment, but the mounted warriors scatter them and then ride them down, spearpoints glistening with blood. Herric is quick to take the initiative but, unused to fighting from zebraback, Oddus has difficulty calming the fears of his mount and facing the enemy. Whilst he is distracted, the broo swarm over him, and drag him struggling from the saddle. Once on the ground they appear divided as to whether to eat him or impregnate him, and during the ensuing argument Elnor slips from her saddle and strides amongst them, blade flashing, driving them back.

Dorinda leads Valens and Kristen into the melee, their swords falling to left and right, until they face three goat-broo who momentarily push them back. But as the broo counter attack fails, Dorinda seizes the initiative once more. With Valens and Kristen defending to either side, Dorinda is able to engage the largest in single combat and sends it flailing to one side with a single blow.. Pressing home her advantage Dorinda turns to the next, a monster that holds a spear in two of its hands, and a club and shield in the third and fourth. Her first blow knocks aside the shield before turning to open a neat cut along it's chest, and the monster screams in pain. It tries to fight back with its spear, but Dorinda turns the blow aside with almost contemptueous ease. However, she isn't watching out for the club, which gives her a nasty crack across her ribs.

Fynn takes the place of Brenna's shieldthane as they face a pair with horribly contorted faces and exchange blows. At first the Humakti appear to have the upper hand, but then the goatkin surge back. The larger one deals Brenna a huge blow with his club that sends her staggering.

Aelfwyrd dances into the fight, his Seven Dragon Blade a terrible blur of rune-magics and death. His fighting style leaves his foe bewildered and suddenly in very great trouble. The broo desperately tries to counter attack but only manages to throw himself into the path of Aelfwyrd's blade, receiving a terrible injury to its chest. Barely halting his advance, Aelfwyrd twirls his weapon round and delivers a parting shot that severs the creature's head, and leaves the monster for dead. Aelfwyrd screams with triumph as he feels the God's Power surge through him.

Jamal, meanwhile, is in trouble. Having dismounted and thrown himself furiously, almost suicidally, against his foe, he is almost tripped by the wily fiend, which then savagely attacks him with a spear. The Carmanian is driven stumbling back several feet by the intensity of the blows, before the broo lands a nasty blow to Jamal's stomach. Blood gushes out, and pain suddenly wracks Jamal's body.

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Meanwhile, Malan has led Aelfwyrd's students, Korol and Yrsga, and Maniskus to the camp centre. Here Efridel is organising the wagoneers. They are carrying brands out of the fire and sharing weapons, ready to make a last defence if things go badly for the professional guards. Malan notices Vern, with an amused, contented look on his face - and a wickedly serrated blade across his knees - calming several young children with a light-hearted story by the campfire. Efridel welcomes the Humakti with a grim nod. It turns out that he has little clear idea of what is happening, but is preparing for the worst. He'd got up to take a piss when the first guard shouted, so thankfully had been able to help rouse the camp. He's glad to see that some of the warriors have thought to guard the centre of the camp.

From the ranks of the broo, now pressing back the storm bulls, Brenna sees a mob of minature, misshapen creatures make a sudden break towards the centre of the camp. Scampering quickly along they easily dodge the blows of those within striking distance, and head straight for the wagons and tents, shuckering, giggling and screaming.

Think Gremlins.

Brenna parries another blow and screams towards the fires "MALAN!, INCOMING!"

Malan calls on Humakt to guide his axe and moves towards the creatures.

As the tiny broo scramble into the camp they split up, giggling and gibbering "want babies, want babies", "food", "tongue gubbins", "Wakboth rules ok" and other insanities. Some head towards where Vern has been comforting the children, and the sage instantly leaps between them, his sword lashing out. Other members of the caravan rush to aid him.
The rest of the mob, though, has dispersed amongst the tents and wagons. Efridel screams "Don't let them near the food!" as Malan begins to chase them down.

He quickly dispatches a couple. The problem, he discovers, is not so much killing them as finding them. The little fiends are running through the camp like daemons, almost impossible to round up. Quickly ordering Maniskus, Korol and Yrsga to the chase, Malan acts like a man possessed. Some have found grain sacks and eaten their way in, both gorging themselves on and shitting in the food. Malan dispatches them. He finds another spitting in barrels of water, cackling and gurbling to itself. Malan dispatches it. Another is found humping a goat. Malan dispatches it, and then the goat, just to make sure.

The caravaners have taken the same action. Before long it seems that all the small broo that swarmed into the camp have been killed or otherwise seen off. Malan is fairly sure that the amount of infection that could have taken place is minimal. Efridel looks grim, but praises the warrior for his swift action.

"Malan, it was well done by you, and so I will tell all who can hear me. It is true that we have lost some water and grain, but that is not as bad as it might have been. Still, we must check all the animals in case they have been raped. You know what to do should you find any have."

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The Storm Bulls are fighting fanatically, but pure rage isn't enough to force back the chaos that is now swarming around the overwhelmed warriors. As Storm Bull is separated from Storm Bull he is cut down, and soon there are only a few facing too many. Those still standing fight all the more furiously, but it seems they must surely be doomed. Yet the berserkers appear filled with the glory of Holy War. As spirits fly from the fetishes that adorn their weapons, they begin singing and screaming with abandonment to the destruction of Chaos. The broo falter in their attack, hesitate, and are sent fleeing back from this renewed assault as the five remaining Storm Bulls run amok in Holy Fury.

Dorinda sees Jamal's predicament, and is just about to order Valens to his aid when she sees Aelfwyrd charge. The Devotee of Kargan is so charged with the power of Death that it seems Jamal must be in safe hands. Instead she presses her attack with increased fervour, lunging forward intent on spitting the broo facing her. But the incredible happens. The master duellist overreaches and is sent sprawling by her foe's parry. As the four-armed monstrosity brings its spear down on to Dorinda's back, Kristen lets out a scream and throws herself headlong into its path, taking the blow. Saved by her follower's devotion, Dorinda is just able to scramble back to her feet, and lashes out instinctively. Her sword catches the broo under its club-wielding arm, almost severing it, and the monster howls in pain and frustration. Amazingly, this crippling blow doesn't stop it from attacking again, yet its spear thrust hits Dorinda's shield and is stuck fast. As the creature frantically tries to free the spear, Dorinda takes a well-aimed blow that severs its head. Meanwhile Valens has seen off the other, and is now tending to Kristen, who is breathing raggedly. She has a nasty wound in her side, and is out of the fight for now.

Herric tries to stampede his zebra through the dog-heads, driving them further from Oddus' prone body. Instead the broo start snapping around its heels in such an insistent manner that the zebra is severely frightened. It rears and Herric is thrown from the saddle. Elnor strides to his aid as Herric desperately attempts to free his sword arm and fend off the monsters that threaten to overwhelm him. One of the broo has taken his ankle in its jaws, whilst another strikes out with rough-hewn club. From the ground Herric parries the blow, turns it and strikes back. Elnor sends the ankle-biter cowering back with a well-aimed kick. Herric gets to his feet, and the two humakti then savagely attack. In a matter of moments the broo are incapacitated or dead.

Aelfwyrd, meanwhile, has reached Jamal's side, the Seven Dragon Blade's spin ending in a blow that catches the broo across the chest, knocking it back. Near the wound, several of the blisters that cover the creature's head and torso burst, sending out small pestilent blobs of noxious gunk that splatter over Aelfwyrd's arms. Where they land on leather or skin they smoulder and burn, and where they land on metal it starts melting. Startled and horrified the warrior steps back, and is taken by surprise as the lizard-broo lowers its head and charges into his chest. Severely off balanced Aelfwyrd starts to fall backwards with the broo on top of him, but Jamal comes to the aid of his rescuer, cleaving a mighty blow with Bull Spike that knocks the broo sideways. Once more blisters burst, spraying pus, but thankfully this time no one is struck. The creature is apparently only slightly hurt, and Jamal takes no chances. Before it can recover the Carmanian swiftly moves to one side and decapitates it - when the foe is chaos, honouring the fallen is not a consideration. Aelfwyrd has the chance to brush off the gunk that remains on him, but some has burnt into him, and the warrior feels woozy and slightly nauseous.

Fynn and Brenna are hard-pressed. The broo attack them with insane abandon, and it is all they can do to hold their own against the onslaught. Brenna is sent reeling by several savage blows that leave her cut and bloodied, yet they rally with a desperate counterattack that leaves their opponents hurting. But it is not enough. The broo continue attacking the beleaguered Humakti until Fynn is knocked back several yards, stunned, and they then fall on Brenna, apparently overcome by their desire for rape.
Howls can be heard as the Storm Bulls chase the fleeing broo into the dunes. Behind them they leave the crumpled remains of the wounded and dying, human and broo together.

On seeing Brenna and Flynns predicament, Jamal bellows a rightuoes screan of rage and charges in their direction the great Sword Bull Spike a blurr. Dorinda also instinctively rushes to the tenthane's aid. Closer, she reaches the fallen leader first. The broo are on top of her, doing things to her. They grunt and tremble with the excitement their perversion grants them. Screaming in disgust, Dorinda runs the first one through. Jamal, arriving a heartbeat later cuts the second in half at the waist.

Before them Brenna lies motionless and bloodied.

Jamal turns to Dorinda, "Patch Brenna up as best you can, we need to get her to camp, it may be that Vern may know something of the healers arts. Keep her way from the Storm Bulls though, for if they think she has been impregnated by those vile spawn of the Deceiver, they may kill her on the spot"

A ragged, weak cry can be heard "Vampire in the camp!" It sounds like Hrolf's voice.

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Hrolf is slipping quietly amongst the tents and caravans, sense alert for trouble. To either side his durulz followers, Blackbeak and Brightfeather, pad silently, swords drawn. They have no need for firelight, as they can see clearly enough by the deathly radiance of their swords - in some ways Humakti scouts have definate advantages. They have made a small circuit around the back of the camp and detected nothing unusual when Brightfeather comes to a complete stop, his beak twitching. "The thwangeth thing," he whispers. The durulz sniffs the air again. Now he comes to mention it, there is an odd smell in the air. "Doethen that wemind you of home?" he asks Blackbeak, sotto voice. "Not tho much home," replies his comrade thoughfully, "ath the marth awound the forbithen place. Vewy like the marth awound the forbithen place." Hrolf can't see anything unusual around - there are just a couple of tents and some goats.

"Undead!" Hrolf hisses softly to Blackbeak and Brightfeather. He prepares himself with the Seven Deathblows and looks and listens carefully as he continues to scout in the direction of the smell.

Hrolf and the durulz melt into the shadows, all their senses alert. In the middle distance they can hear the clash of weapons and the screams of warriors, and behind them they can hear the nervous clamour around the campfires, but they ignore these. Instead they reach out into the quietness, searching, seeking....

A figure comes into view, slipping gracefully from behind a tent. It is too far away to make out any distinguishing features, but is obviously a naked male. Whoever is apparently intends to move alongside the same wagon as Hrolf, using the same shadow for cover.

Hrolf looks meaningfully at his two followers, giving them the handsignal for "ambush". Blackbeak's eyes gleam ferally in the shadows, while Brightfeather remains motionless. After countless raids in the Upland Marsh, sneak attacks have become second nature to them.

Hrolf suspects the slinking figure is a vampire, so avoids its eyes. However, he tracks it carefully so that he can attack instantly if the foul creature becomes aware of him or his comrades.

He also tries to see if he can smell it, or whether the smell comes from somewhere else.
Hrolf and his Deathdrakes have set up in ambush position and await the foul-smelling creature. Normally, Hrolf would make the first move, but this time he signals for Brightfeather to go around the wagon, approach the creature from its left side, and then to challenge the creature loudly. Hrolf and Blackbeak will then make a flanking attack, hopefully with the benefit of surprise.

Brightfeather circles around and then appears silhouetted in the light of the campfire. "Hey guyth - vampiwe on the thouth pewimetewe!! Quaaack!" He raises his shield and fakes a cringing defensive stance as the creature notices him.

Hrolf and Blackbeak let the monster expose its back before loping swiftly and silently behind it. Hrolf raises his Trueswords for an impaling charge with his left and a beheading stroke with his right. Blackbeak aims for the legs.

Before Brightfeather is more than half-way through his challenge the man has reached him. There is no apparent movement. One moment he was almost seven yards away, the next he is holding the struggling durulz in the air, one hand smothering Brightfeather's beak, mouth clamped down on his neck. Brightfeather convulses, helpless.

Hrolf and Blackbeak advance, torn between the need for caution and their desire to aid their brave comrade. They can hear the monster greedily sucking on Brightfeather's blood, and Hrolf hefts his swords grimly, marking out the place where he plans to strike. Yet as they close within striking distance, the vampire hurls his victim to one side, crumpling senseless into a wagon, and turns to face the ambushers. His mouth and cheeks are covered with dark blood. In the moonless night his features are hard to make out, but as Hrolf swings he can see a wicked, mocking smile.

Hrolf's blade whistles as it arcs round, aimed at the vampire's neck. How what happens next happens, Hrolf can only work out afterwards. At the time he doesn't even realise it. Suddenly the vampire is no longer at sword's length, but standing right before him, having sidestepped the impaling strike altogether. Hrolf's right wrist is seized with chilling strength, immobilising his arm. As Blackbeak's sword just bounces off the monster's leg, the vampire shoves Hrolf with such strength that the warrior is lifted from the ground and thrown back through the side of a wagon, leaving him slumped half-conscious and helpless inside.

The vampire contemptuously kicks Blackbeak to one side, and makes to move towards Hrolf. Then it apparently changes its mind, casting a glance over its left shoulder toward the campfire. Instead it turns to smile once more at Hrolf, before striding away, out of the camp.

If Hrolf was less than the man he is, he would not be able to move. The warrior has to draw on every last ounce of discipline that he has just to move. Blackbeak helps him out of the wagon, and it is all he can do not to put all his weight on the faithful durulz. He knows he can keep going for a little while, but then he is going to have to rest. It feels like several ribs are broken, and his right leg can barely hold him. Blood runs from several cuts on his head and arms. Brightfeather, though, is in far worse shape. He appears weak from loss of blood, but also somehow smaller.

"He'll live," says Blackbeak. "But hith glowy-dayth are over. My thword-bwother hath jutht been theathed. The vampiwe hath thtolen hith stwength, dwunk it all away with hith blood." A tear rolls silently from the Deathdrake's eye.
Hrolf raises his voice to give warning to the others - "Vampire in the camp!"

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Malan stops checking the animals and starts moving towards the cry. Jamal repeat's Hrolf's cry using his Bulroaring Feat, which ; echoes around the camp, putting everyone on alert. The Storm Bulls that have returned and started seeing to their comrades are instantly on alert, and make ready to patrol the camp.

Jamal goes to retrieve his mount, which he calms and leads over to where Brenna is laying. "Here" he says to Dorinda, "when our leader can be moved we can use my mount to mover her into camp. If there are vampire around, it would be best to keep up all in the firelight of the camp". Then, unable to do anything else, he turns and heads in the direction of the Hrolfs yells. Bulls Spike is drawn and ready, and Jamal proceeds onward warily.

Herric too hears the distant call of Hrolf. He orders Elnor to tend to Oddus and 'ware disease. He leaps to the back of the nearest & healthiest of the war zebras. He spurs his mount towards the cry, pulling his sword and calling on Darsoon's Shield to aid him against Undead. The Death symbol on the shield begins to gleam with a dire, grey gleam that seems to trail around and away as if it were a seeping mist. An eerie moaning as if from a muffled distance can be heard as well. As he gallops thru the camp, he calls upon Humakt to make his sword strike true.

The Humakti and Storm Bulls scour the camp, but find no sign of anything untoward... excepting signs of havoc caused by the broo. Several times a Storm Bull drags an animal from the campsite and slays it, grimly accusing it of consorting with chaos. The carcasses are left hundreds of yards downwind.

Yet not a vampire is sighted.

Hrolf is found by Jamal, Aelfwyrd and Malan, shocked and battered, cradling the body of Brightfeather. Hrolf is bloodied and winces in pain as he moves, but Brightfeather appears almost dead, blood caking around his throat.

"We ... ambushed it," says Hrolf. "It was too fast ... too strong ... Bright ... feather taken in ... seconds. We should be ... with Humakt now ... but it just ... left us here. I wonder ... Brenna's Illuminate Darkness ... did it make the vampire leave?"
Aelfwyrd simply smiles grimly at Jamal, "this is evil work, we must ensure the camp's security."

"May Humakt take it's blasted soul!" growls Herric, arriving on the scene. "No sign of it now. Do you know where it went, Hrolf?"

"That way. But it could ... be anywhere. ... It was slinking ... around... when we saw it. ... So fast."

Jamal speaks: "This looks grim. I suggest we get to injured back to the camp, where we may tend to them properly, or at least let them pass to Solace in peace. We need to talk to Efridel, we should leave soon, as soon as it is daybreak. We need powerful healing for Brenna but I know little of the geography of this area. It may be that Efridel knows a detour. Also, from Hrolfs account, this servant of the Wounded God is Old and Powerful, we should leave soon, and travel in large groups"

The five remaining storm bulls congregate on the place where Hrolf has been found by Aelfwyrd, Herric and Jamal. One says in rough tradetalk, "We find no vampire, but see duck there bitten. His death time now." Jamal has to translate this for the others and relays this without realising what they mean. Four of the Storm Bulls stand back whilst the one who spoke starts forward as if to grab Brightfeather.

Jamal quickly turns to the others and says, in Heortling, "Hrolf, Blackbeak what say you, we will stop them on you request."
"Hold!" shouts Herric, "While the bite of a vampire will steal a piece of the soul, it does not confer chaos on its victims. Use the Bull's gift to Sense for Chaos in him. If he were undead, my shield would not bear his presense and I would bring him to true Death." He glances at his quiet shield and then back at the Storm Bulls. Herric will wait to see if reason will prevail over the touchy warriors.

Aelfwyrd moves quietly to place himself between the Storm Bulls and his comrades, he bows to the warriors, never taking his eyes off them and then stands still and quiet, the changes that show on his face tell of his pain and his disgust at what has happened but at no time does he allow the weakness he feels to show.

The Bulls draw back and mutter amongst themselves after this is translated for them. One steps forward and sniffs at Brightfeather, and then goes back to the others, shaking his head. They talk again, and one starts shouting angrily but is ignored by the others. The one that spoke first approaches again. "We still think kill mean better safe than not," he says haughtily. "But you say no. Ok, for now. But we watch close always. One headache, he a dead duck. Ok for now - you show big spirit in fight, so we give you chance. Maybe you right."

Hrolf struggles up from his supine position, grimacing but determined, and gestures towards the Storm Bull leader: "Righteous bull-men, I thank you for offering Brightfeather an honorable death, though it is not yet time. Let him make the choice himself; he is Humakti and his honor will not quail on the Dark Road. If his body stays weak, he will ask and I will give him the True Death. But if his body is strong enough and we find the vampire, he and I will sing the Death Song together, and then you will see the terrible fury of a Humakti chaos fighter."

Aelfwyrd relaxes slightly as Hrolf struggles to his feet, once the warrior is standing he turns his back on the Storm Bulls and speaks to Hrolf. "Welcome back Hrolf, come we have much to do."

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The party spend some time moving their wounded back to the warmth of the fire, and this is done without mishap. Apart from Brenna, of course, there are several others injured. The wounds of Kristen, Oddus and Fynn are the kinds that Dorinda is well used to treating, and obviously precautions against disease will need to be taken as well. But Brenna is the one in most danger. Dorinda knows that the oasis of Horn Gate is the nearest temple of Chalana Arroy, but also knows that Efridel plans to travel to Biggle Stone first - a detour of perhaps four days. Dorinda doesn't think that Brenna has four days to spare.

In many ways the defense of the caravan has been a success. As seasoned warriors know, most broo are cowards, whilst most of this night's attackers were maddened enough to fight to the death. Yet they were overcome. Added to that Malan's defense of the camp, and things certainly could have been much worse. The loss of all the caravan's water, even in Sea Season, would have been a disaster.

But it has been costly. Fynn, Oddus and Kristen are all hurt, and will need a few days rest before they can return to active duty. And marching for several days is not going to give them the rest they need. Of the fourteen Storm Bulls, only five are unscathed. Three are dead, and the rest are in various states of injury.

But worst of all is Brenna. After a first examination of the Tenthane's wounds, Dorinda looks grim.

"She is severely injured, with many wounds. The broo did things to the wounds, and there is the risk she may have been impregnated even though she is still fully dressed and armored. I can do what I can, but I think that only powerful magic can save her. There is not much time, perhaps a few days."
Dorinda is faced with a quandry. Unless Brenna gets to a healer capable of great feats of magic soon, then she will probably die. Using all her skills, Dorinda can barely stabilise her brutalised leader. Her pulse is weak, her body limp. Dorinda manages to get Brenna back to the camp, and there she has access to her healing supplies. Covering the wounds liberally with Athic pollen, she hopes that will be enough to stop any broo larvae. Cauterising Brenna's wounds will probably kill her.

Aelfwyrd appears to have shrugged off the effects of the broo phlegm, being of a naturally tough constitution. Valens says grimly that all of them could be infected, not just those wounded. Dorinda practices her healing knowledge on those hurt. After the liberal application of bandages, Fynn, Oddus and Kristen will feel better by the morning. Hrolf will certainly need days to rest, and only an exceptional piece of bone-work by Dorinda prevents him from walking with a limp for the rest of his days.

For Brightfeather and Brenna, there is little that can be done.

Ernaldata, the Chalana Arroy initiate, is still moving amongst the Storm Bull wounded.
Jamal says: "Horn Gate is a fare schlepp, would there be any White Healers at the Block or around the Paps ?"
Dorinda looks doubtful. "There may well be healers of some sort. There are priestesses at the Paps, or so I have heard. But they are Praxians: nomads. No doubt they know well how to treat their animals, but would you trust Brenna to their care?"
"You can trust the Praxians to mend the injuries that are special to living in this country," replies Fynn. "They are not stupid or uncivilised - and living here, they often see the damage that broo bring. As far as reversing the harm the vampire may have done... well, thats a more specialised skill, one that might be rare in any land. The ducks should head to Horn Gate for the most specialised healers are there. But whether any of us can go with them I dont know, for we have been ordered to go with the wagons."

Fynn draws a rough map in the dirt from memory. From his way of reckoning, Biggle Stone is 2 days away, the Paps 4 days, Horn Gate 5 days - by caravan. A group of riders could make any of those places in half the time. He knows that whilst the healers of the Paps oasis are well known, Horn Gate has the only temple of Chalana Arroy in these parts. There was an initiate of Chalana Arroy back in Tourney Altar, and perhaps there might be healers at the Block... but the Block is a forbidden place where only Storm Bulls can go safely.

"As to where and who will go where for healing," Herric says ominously, "That must wait to see if we and the wounded survive the night and then morning revelations. But if healing is what you seek, then I suggest that Dorinda's companion guide the wounded to the Paps. There is a great Earth temple there and very powerful priestesses. They are guarded by more Axe Maidens than I've seen anywhere and I do not think that they would deny a request from a sister. From there, they can make there way back to the rest of your company."

Jamal says: "Could we get Efridel to detour via the Paps (as if we are going to Sun County it isn't too far off his route). I am uncomfortable with splitting the group, or with sending off followers into a void from which they might not return."
"If the rest of you think it is worth it I am willing to try for one of those places on my own," offers Fynn. "I was gifted this Zebra from the best that Kara, shameness of those people, had to offer. And I know a lot of magic to speed us on our way. I think I could get us there quicker than if we all try to make the journey. And I know the terrain, at least I know about this sort of terrain and what to avoid. So I have a chance to get there and I'm willing to try it. I would need another fast animal for Brenna. Alternately we can try to speed the whole caravan on its journey and rely on the young healer to keep her alive. It would need a lot of support though to perform a ceremony to affect this many people, and we can't afford to take any time out to prepare. I dont think we can pull this off."

Dorinda says: "That is a courageous offer, Fynn, to travel alone across the wastes at such a time. But did you not, like the rest of us, give your word to guard this caravan? I do not see how you could do so by leaving it, even in such a heroic manner, worthy of the best tales."

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Whilst the party discuss what is to be done, Dorinda has been tending the wounded Humakti. She is about to ask Efridel to insist that Ernaldata come to help her, when she sees the caravan master stride over to where the woman is treating the Storm Bulls. They exchange a few short words. Ernaldata reluctantly packs up her medicine bag and comes over to the Humakti camp.

She appears fearful of the warriors, and her eyes dart amongst them. Ernaldata is a young woman, perhaps 17 winters, yet she appraises the wounds of Brenna, Hrolf and Brightfeather professionally.

Afterwards she speaks with Dorinda, her voice trembling slightly and filled with reserve. "For the duck there is nothing I can do. He will either die or get better." Her eyes flicker back to Brenna's prone body, and she shudders. "For your captain.... I am sorry. You have treated her hurts almost as well as I would have been able, and there is little I can do for her." Her voice drops. "I have not learnt the secrets of the priestesses yet," she confesses. "I am on my way to Horn Gate to learn from the High Healer there."

"As for the warrior - I am not sure. If he were a normal man..." she falters. "..excuse me... not dea... not given to Humakt, I may be able to help. But the force of Death is strong in him, perhaps stronger than the power of the Goddess in me. If I were to fail it would be terrible, we would both be polluted, I by Death, he by Life.." Ernaldata looks up at Dorinda, the last of her reserve leaving her. She says simply, "I'm scared".

Hrolf beckons Ernaldata to come closer. "You speak your fears openly, White Lady. Like Humakt, your heart is pure, so you need not fear Death. As your sisters have not yet told you, let a Sword of Humakt tell you now why Life and Death are not opposed."
"Death was first brought into the world by a worthless trickster and a faithless coward. It was a terrible thing, because for the first time people could be irrevocably destroyed. But once it was released it could never be put away again. Humakt was the first to use death responsibly, so that it would not spread needlessly and so that all people would leave life with dignity and honor. Alas, although he tried to keep death from careless hands, it was stolen from him, and so began to spread uncontrollably, until the world was threatened not just with death, but oblivion. This is when my master set out on his great quest to gather death back to himself and so save the world."

"Along the way, he saw that the living and the dead had become all mixed up, so that life lost its vitality and death its peace. He realized that the living and the dead had to be separated with a ruthless edge that was also merciful. It was merciful because Humakt allowed the living to be fully alive, and because he bore the horror of death alone so that others would not have to. This teaching is called the Sword of Life."

"Death has irrevocably found a place in the world, but Humakt respects life and so wields death honorably. There is no conflict between Chalana Arroy and Humakt, because she too treats life and death with honor. This is proven by her vow never to kill or harm others. As a Humakti, I have sworn never to come back from death, but as long as I am alive, you may heal my wounds without fear of pollution, and I may accept your blessing with honor and gratitude."

Ernaldata is finally convinced that healing Hrolf is likely to be less dangerous than she thinks. It's not often that the doctor is more frightened than the patient, but I suppose Humakti get used to it. She applies herbs and salves to the wounds, lays her hands over them, and starts chanting in a shrill, haunting voice. Hrolf finds his pains growing numb, soothing, his bones reknitting.

When she is done, Ernaldata is exhausted. "Tomorrow you should feel the full benefit of the Goddess' blessing. But for two days yet you will feel sore - rest as much as possible."

Hrolf gives Ernaldata heartfelt thanks. "Should you ever fear death, seek me out and I will do my utmost to help you. The paths of Humakt and Chalana Arroy cross more than once."

Ernaldata moves away to rest, and a look of relief and grim joy comes over Hrolf's face as he flexes and stretches his newly re-knit muscles. Then his eyes pass over Brightfeather and Brenna, and the fiery deathgleam fills his gaze...

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Hrolf loses consciousness briefly after the others move him to the center of the camp, but recovers quickly. After his treatment by Ernaldata he appears ready to go. The others can see that he is angry and frustrated at having been put out of the fray. Armed with his master's Truesword and Fight Undead blessings, he missed a perfect opportunity to ambush a vampire, and his confidence is shaken. "We were scouting towards the south of the camp when Brightfeather and Blackbeak smelled something foul. We continued south, when we saw a naked, humanoid creature emerge from behind a tent. I don't know where it came from before then; it could have come from the tent itself. We can at least go and look for the tracks."

Herric: "I don't believe that the broos will be a problem any longer. What few are left will not attack now that we've shown ourselves to be mightier than they. Broos are, by nature, cowardly creatures. They will seek easier prey. The only exception to this would be if the vampire is commanding them. It would seem more likely that they'd try to run away after the beating they took, even with the vampire around. There is a problem, in that the vampire must have a haven to return to. The sun will not suffer a vampire under its light. If we travel and run into him again, then it reasons that the vampire is among us in the caravan. This is a possibility that we must consider since we are already two days out of the Altar. We should check with the caravan master to see if there are any new additions. We might have some concealed Vivmort cultists onboard. Just a thought."

Dorinda: " Didn't some Oasis folk join us at the last moment? And were told to make sure their goats kept up?"

"Herric and Dorinda, you have the vigilance of Makla Mann!" exclaims Hrolf. "It is indeed hard to see how a vampire could pursue us from the Altar two days into the desert, and we may have traitors among us. However, the monster was blindingly fast in combat - faster than anything I've faced or even heard about. We cannot rule out the possibility that it has unusual powers of overland travel. I don't know why it didn't drain me like it did Brightfeather - it threw me throught wagon, but then looked back towards the center of the camp and went away. Perhaps it is only playing with us. I was slow and my skills were weak - I have failed Humakt and my Durulz undead-hunters and and should be dead now."

But then he looks down at the fire, and recalls Humakt's many losses against Kargan Tor. Grim determination fortifies his ragged voice. "I say we hunt it tomorrow in the daylight. We take a muster to make sure everyone in the caravan is accounted for. We tell the caravan folk nothing. We search the camp; we scout for tracks now by the death light of our shining swords."
Aelfwyrd looks puzzled by this, "Can't we just have everyone in the caravan muster at dawn and then check all of the wagons and tents?"

Jamal: "I think that the whupping the Broos got should put them out of the picture for a while, esp as they didn't get to the water supply too much (I may be that the Vampire wanted them to corrupt this, and attack up again when the group got weaker). I do think that the vampire is probably commanding or related in some way to the Broos."

Then the Carmanian is struck by a horrible thought: "The Vampire couldn't be Vern could it?"

Dorinda replies: "I suppose in theory it could be anyone who joined us at the Altar. Unless they have an alibi. Though if it can move *that* fast, maybe no alibi can be trusted. I seem to remember Herric saying "If he were undead, my shield would not bear his presense". That sounds like a very useful shield, under the circumstances. No doubt Herric knows his own magic best, but might I suggest a check of everyone in the caravan for Undeadness would be a good idea? And just in case anyone feels all insulted and defensive about this: yes, I will agree to being tested myself."

"Yes," exclaims Hrolf. "And let's wait til daylight!"

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Elnor looks up from tending Oddus: "So who is the captain of this band, now that Brenna has fallen?"

Seeing the confusion over leadership with Brenna down, Herric will offer his services and offer to make an oath that will bind him to the company until the guard commitment to Sun County is discharged.

Dorinda says: "Herric, that is a noble offer and one we all appreciate. But our oaths require that we accept only leaders who worship Hereward as we do. While I would gladly initiate you into the ways of Hereward, should you so wish it, I do not think we have the time or resources for the ceremony at the moment. However, your skills and experience are too great to waste, so perhaps a compromise could be reached. If we choose a leader from among our number: myself, perhaps, as the remaining
Devotee: would you be willing to advise and instruct them?"

The hundred thanes and the warleader usually appoint Tenthanes. In this situation, however, it is usual for a new or temporary tenthane to be elected from amongst the weaponthanes. 'Elect' is probably an ambiguous term - in some cases the choice is probably obvious, in others a duel may be fought. As the legion has been in Heortling lands for some generations then local customs have become integrated with older traditions: Where there are two, three or more strong candidates then they may all speak up in turn, proclaiming why they are the obvious choice. The decision of the squad would then be announced by wapentake. It is not obligatory for the senior officers to confirm the weaponthanes selection, and in some cases have been known to assign tenthanes from other units if they feel no-one is competent.

There follows a large debate over who should be leader and what the appropriate course of action should be. Some are in favour of splitting the group, even though that weakens the defences of the caravan. Others are in favour of maintaining their task, even though that may mean the death of Brenna and Brightfeather. Others are in favour of persuading Efridel to bypass Biggle Stone and head straight for Horn Gate.

Finally, however, Herric takes a draught of his wine and raises an eyebrow at the suggestion of separating members from the caravan, "Unacceptable! It should be strongly suggested to the caravan master to divert to heal and replenish the gaurds as the defense of the caravan is compromised. However, should Efridel decide to continue on to Sun County, then by Oath and Honor, we Humakti will go. Those injured must persevere or die as may be, but Honor of both company and Humakt will be maintained. As for any voting? HA! Vote your leader... only Dorinda seems both worthy and willing. After that, her word is final. Make debate but the warband leader must decide for good or ill, period. I will stand by any decision made."

He pauses and looks at each face intently for reaction, "As for me, I WILL be putting all newcomers to the test of Truth at Yelm's rising. I will seek a Storm Bull and Efridel to accompany me. Also, I will require at least the temporary services of one of the company to test myself, Elnor, and Oddus as we too are additions and will speak to the Truth of our hearts and minds."

Aelfwyrd speak up as Herric falls silent, "Herric speaks true, his path is the path of honour, I will stand with Herric and follow any suitable leader, I will take any tests and perform any that are needed. If chosen as leader I will accept and do my best but I still say I do not want it."

The assembled warriors elect Dorinda to be their acting leader, if only until there is such a time to discuss it more thoroughly. There are no dissenters.

The assembled warriors then decide that their priority is to guard the caravan, and try to pursuade Efridel to take the caravan via Horn Gate or the Paps rather than Biggle Stone.

The warriors are just beginning to break up the moot for the evening, when the sound of fast galloping mount can be heard, riding hard towards the camp....

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Enfrew was a Humakti weaponthane of Red Stone Clan in Sartar. He became an initiate of Li Phanquann, and his hatred of Undead led him to learn many secrets of fighting Unlife. He had an ancient sword given him by Mostali he saved from a Vampire, and this sword had many terrible powers of Death. When his clan turned to the Lunar Way, Enfrew had heroquested to sever his bonds to them, and in on that quest had a vision of a host of warriors that worshipped a sword similar to, but not the same as, his own. He vowed to join them, whoever they were.

Having left his clan, Enfrew retired to the sanctuary of Death's Hallow, in the lands of the Culbrea tribe. There he fulfilled obligations of service to the God, and joined the company of Kyrenna Deathshadow for a while.

Then the Temple at Tourney Altar sent word that their warband had suffered terrible losses in sacred time rituals, and that their Warleader had fallen. As the nearest temple, Death's Hallow were asked to send a warband in relief. Deathshadow volunteered, and when Enfrew learned that the enemy of the Tourney Altar temple was a vampire, he volunteered also.

Deathshadow led a force of fifty warriors east to Tourney Altar, Enfrew amongst them. When they arrived the temple was in bad shape. The warleader was greviously sick, and apparently an attempt to take over the temple by the rival Lunar wargod, the traitor Yanafal Tarnils, had only just been thwarted by a junior devotee named Herric and passing band of Humakti caravan guards. Before heading east for Biggle Stone, these same warriors told Deathshadow that they suspected the local people of Tourney Altar of worshipping vampires. Enfrew could feel the stench of Undeath hanging over the oasis.

Deathshadow and her followers took the sword to the folk of Tourney Altar. They learned that the vampire had started hunting in Tourney Altar in Darkness Season last year, after the last caravan had passed. At first the oasis folk did not notice anything - the vampire preyed on only a few, and by enthralling them kept them quiet. Finally, the Humakti battled against the vampire and failed, and after that the vampire grew bolder. Some of the oasis folk started making small offerings as protection, to keep it away. They could see that Humakt was not strong enough to help them.

Deathshadow rounded up those implicated in the worship of the vampire and executed them.

By this time the caravan and the Sword Herric had been gone for a day, a night, and half a day. At this point Enfrew realised that he no longer felt the stench of Undeath. Several Oasis folk mentioned that two of the vampire worshippers had joined the caravan.

Realising that the vampire was heading east, preying off the caravan, Deathshadow made a decision. Her responsiblity was the protection and rebuilding of the Tourney Altar temple. She called for a volunteer, and Enfrew stepped forward. "Take this zebra," she said. "Ride hard east after the caravan. Warn them that they are being stalked, tell them about the vampire cultists that travel with them. Tell them to beware."

Then she looks hard at Enfrew - "You are out of my service now, and I thank you for the loyalty you have shown me. Go where you will. But I offer you this counsel. Do not try to face this vampire unprepared. Your hatred of the undead is well known, Enfrew, and I know you long to hunt it. But I feel sure that this one is beyond your strength. Learn to defend against it, be on your guard. I hope you are in time to warn the others."

It is a hard ride, and as he rode through the night Enfrew sees flashes of light on the horizon, and, assuming that this was the sign of the caravan under attack, headed towards them. Reaching at last the site of the caravan camp he sees indications of battle against broo. On the North side of the camp he sees the Humakti caravan guards sitting around their fire. Some are injured, one, a woman, greviously.

Enfrew gallops close to the fire, and looks at each of the group gathered there with a penetrating gaze. A black Death rune is painted over his face.

"I have been looking for you. I bring message from Deathshadow who is now in charge of Tourney Altar temple. Who is the leader of this band?"

Dorina goes forward to meeet him. "Brenna who was our leader lies injured. I, Dorinda, lead until she recovers. What message does Deathshadow send us?"

The warrior looks at the wounded woman, and then moves his gaze back to Dorinda."I am Enfrew. I have been sent to help you. A vampire is stalking you. Also, there are two vampire-worshippers in the caravan. All three need to be taken care of."
Herric smiles humorlessly, "As you can see, we're already aware of the problem. We've surmized that Vivamorti joined at the Altar. We plan on sweeping the new arrivals at Yelm's arrival. As new additions from the Altar both you and I will submit to the test of Truth as well."

Dori smiles wryly, also. "We already know all too well of the vampire, and had suspected it had worshippers. Any assistance you can give will be very welcome. Do you know who these forsaken ones are? If you can identify them, that would save much time and ritual."

Enfew shakes his head."I don't think I can help much here. My powers are against the undead, not against their supporters. I have the skills that all Humakti have when it comes to interrogation. I know that two people from Tourney Altar who joined the caravan are fleeing from justice. In case that no more than two joined, then those two are certainly to be executed."
He turns to face Herric."I never lie, but I will submit myself to the test and prove that I am true to my faith."

A discussion follows about whether to track down the Vampire, using Enfrew's ability to Sense the Undead, and the Storm Bull's blessing to detect Chaos.

Herric says, "I can Weigh the Truth of those we question, Enfrew and my shield can Sense Undead, and a Storm Bull can Sense Chaos. Under the strength of our truth and magics, they will be unable to keep the Truth from us. It seems that we should question the goat herders after I and Enfrew and my companions submit to the test of Truth. Let us go to Efridel and see if he wishes to conduct the search now or at Yelm's rising."

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Efridel, the caravan master, approaches the group.

He makes concerned enquiries after the health of Brenna, Hrolf and the others. Finding out that Dorinda is the acting Ten Thane he nods with satisfaction. He also welcomes Enfrew, and comments that he is glad that the Humakti are now at full strength.
"You all fought well this night, and so far as I'm concerned that means a bonus to your pay packet. The Storm Bulls were a fortuitous idea too - I've not seen Broo in such numbers this far into Caravan Alley before."

"Now we have wounded amongst us, and for all we have tried to cleanse the camp, possibly disease also. And now there is talk of a vampire. It is my decision what to do here, for I am the chief of this caravan, but I ask you, my weaponthanes, for your counsel. What are your thoughts?"

Dorinda replies: "Ernaldata has done her best for the wounded, but many are still badly hurt. And, as you rightly say, the risk of disease is with us. I think we should make for the nearest Healers we can reach: the White Ladies at the Horn Gate if possible. As for the vampire: that is not merely talk. It has been seen, though it fled the light of Death, and we are told that there are those in the caravan who aid it. Two who joined us at the Altar, it seems: would you know who those are and where we should find them? Our thoughts there were to use the magics of Humakt to find them, question them, and execute them. The search for the vampire itself, however, should probably be left until daylight. At night, merely guarding against any further attacks will be quite hard enough."

Efridel purses his lips at the thought of going straight to Horn Gate. "We have perhaps two days water left, whilst Horn Gate is a five day march. We would be relying on the seasonal river at Listener Peak Pass, and I have heard there has been drought this past year."

Jamal nods, "First we should get through the night. We should set up a guard detail and ensure that all of the caravan is in the centre of the camp. Efridel, can you arrange for everyone to move to the central camp. so that we may more eality protect them. Also, could you not pass on our suspicions about the servants of the Wounded God to the rest of the camp. But if you could indicate to us, without raising suspicion, the new joiners to the caravan, that woudl aid us in our search for the deceiving ones."

"Certainly I will keep that information to myself," Says Efridel. "As for newcomers at Tourney Altar, that is easy. There were seven - Lord Herric, Valens, Maniskus, Oddus, Elnor, and two oasis folk of Tourney Altar, Thol and Roth. It seems clear to me who the guilty party are. You have seen them, I'm sure. Two large fellows, for their race - they lag behind and drive their goats."

There follows much debate about the proper means of holding the villains to account, also the problems of transporting the wounded to safety and healing. Aelfwryrd listens carefully to all of the options before speaking. "We must deal with the vampire first if we can, maybe once we have have tried that we won't have any more problems in this world anyway! We are here to protect the caravan, to do that we must destroy those who attack it." He looks thoughtful for a moment or two before adding. "So unless you have anything for me to do right now I will rest for a while." He turns away from the group to find a place to lie down for a while.

As Aelfwyrd makes to turn in, everyone gets thinking that perhaps he is right - few Humakti like talking in circles. They prefer action.

Jamal stands, "I will organise the watch". He stands and starts to organise the uninjured Hukamti and other caravan guards. He calls for the caravan to come closer to the central fire. As they move closer, he keeps an eye on the two strange Oasis people, trying to keep them away from the main body of the caravan.

Fynn goes to tend to the animals, and talks to his zebra for a while, grooming it and watching it carefully to see if Kara is guiding its actions, as she does sometimes when she wants to talk to him. "Are any of your people near?", he asks the creature, "we have a brave woman cut down by chaos. We need someone who can counter the things that broo do to their victims. Give me a sign, where can we find help, and if there is no healer near, can you help us get her to Horn gate quickly. We are bound to the caravan and can not leave, even though the woman is our sworn sister."

The zebra snickers and stamps its hoof several times, and although Fynn finds it hard to interpret what this might mean, he thinks of a couple of things that might be done. First, through the zebra Kara will be able to faultlessly guide the party across the Old Pass between Biggle Stone and Horn Gate. Second, if Brenna were tied to the zebra's back Kara could instruct it to run all the way to Horn Gate - a risky strategy, but still possible. Third, and what he hopes for above all, is that Kara will send riders to meet them at Horn Gate. But for that they will have to wait and see.

With the Impala tribe scouts and the Storm Bulls, Jamal and Dorinda organises a rota of guard duties, but for the rest of the night the caravan is undisturbed.

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Later Fynn, Jamal and Aelfwyrd are sitting around the campfire, when they fall to wondering how much to tell the newcomers, Herric, Enfrew and their followers, about the nature of their warband. Jamal mentions that Yodi was always keen to avoid use of the name Temple of the Unbreakable Sword, as he was concerned about Lunars taking too much of an interest in its activities.
Fynn looks concerned at the thought of the legion hiding under a false identity. With a straight face and no shadow of irony he says, "Well the way I see it, one one hand there is the full weight of the lunar empire, its priests, its legions, the monstrous bat, the unnumberable chaos allies, and its paid auxilliaries and collaborators. One the other there are thirty of us, or at least there were before we ran into those broo. "So we have to play it straight and give then a fair chance. If we win in an unsporting manner we won't really enjoy it properly."

Jamal grunts "A Fair point, let us not fall into the ways of the deciever, for the Humakti seem honourable. But in the case of the Lunar-scum, the less we tell them the better"

Fynn is genuinely suprised. "Are you suggesting we dont tell then our names, as if we were the lowest of thieves, or men outlawed because they refuse to respect others, or men ashamed of their blood, or those so base and vile that they murder in secret? Are we not to sing the great saga of the legion every night as the fires shine on us? If you did not want me to tell the traders hear the stories of our glory you should have told me long ago! Though I fear you would have to remind me every night, because they naturally spring to my lips. Are you suggesting that we dont boast of our deeds and name for them those we have slain and the feats we have performed? Should we withhold such tales from our foes? If they kill us they will not know who they have cast down. Surely they have a right to boast in their turn if they can defeat us. Will we go to our deaths with no tales told of how we met our ends? If we kill them, don't you want them to join with all the others we have slain in whatever mead halls their gods call them to and praise our skill and bravery and raise a mug to us?"

"Are you afraid for some reason? For my part I would not wish to be anyone other than I am, or any place other than I find myself." The last comes out as an innocent question in an enquiring tone. Though there seems no insult intended it is perhaps unwisely said, and could have caused insult that was not in the speaker's heart, but thankfully without a pause he adds "... or with any other people."

Jamal snorts, "You tell them what you will minstrel, but my dealings with the sons of the deceiving daughter have not let me inclined so share my business with them"

When Flynn has finished speaking Aelfwyrd stands up, he has a look of distaste on his face. "Secret? Unnamed? I am not with any who travel in secret, I have no fear of lunars, vampires, broo or anything else and I will not remain with those who do!"

Dorinda approaches and hears them speaking, and tells them that if challenged, and in the company of those they trust, then their true name should be shared and respected, but that there is no need to draw needless attention to themselves.

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At dawn, as Efridel rouses the caravan, the Humakti search out Thol and Roth, the two oasis-folk they suspect of being Vivamort cultists. They are easily found, sitting in their blankets and brewing a hot drink over a small fire. Both seem tired and a little dazed in the morning air.

When they see the warriors approach, one, who later is identified as Roth, immediately looks drained and resigned. There is no fight in him and he capitulates immediately. Thol, however, starts off at a panicked run, fleeing into the desert so terrified is he by the weaponthanes of Death. The Storm Bulls, however, have been prepared for this, and they quickly ride the man down. Efridel has evidently impressed upon them the seriousness of the problem, for they merely subdue the man and bring him back to camp rather than kill him.

Quickly, then, both men are brought before Efridel, Dorinda and the assembled Humakti. They are obviously frightened, and appeared confused. They hug their long, hooded robes around them, as if trying to hide, and look down at the ground. As it seems they speak only their own tounge, not even a little Trade-Talk, it is a good thing that Efridel has picked up some of the lingo over the years.

The Humakti quickly form a court, Dorinda presiding as Lawspeaker, Hrolf and Herric (having the best Honour magic) acting as Jurors. Jamal stands with the justice scale before the accused. Fynn, Enfrew, Hawk-Diving-From-the Sun and four leading members of the caravan act as witnesses. Efridel interprets.

The two oasis-folk are charged with consorting with chaos, a crime that carries two possible sentences. The first is Death, execution. The second is banishment, which is more or less the same as the first, only slower.

Dorinda, grim-visaged and decorated with regalia and symbols of Humakt Truth-Seer and Hereward True-Wind, leads the Weigh Truth ritual. She asks the accused questions slowly, allowing Efridel time to interpret. Jamal, holds the scales before their mouths, one pan of the scale containing a small stone Truth rune. As they speak, their breath passes over the empty pan. If they speak the truth, then the pan holding the Truth rune will fall. Yet if they lie, then they will be damned by their own breath, as the other pan will fall, the weight of the false air heavier even than stone.

The questioning begins:

"Are you followers of Vivamort?"

The men look terrified, and deny the charge vehemently. The Truth rune lies heavy, and they do not lie.

"Do you know of any vampires in this area?"

Their fear does not abate, but realising that there is little point in lying now, they nod, mutely. "Yes," Thol whispers. He does not lie.

"Do you know of the Vampire that attacked the caravan last night?" Again they nod, a quiet confirmation that is not gainsayed by the scales.

"Are you followers of the Vampire that attacked the caravan last night?"

At this Thol starts to weep wretchedly. "Followers? Never! We are slaves, goats, food - do you understand?" Roth tries to hush him, and looks around nervously, as though expecting the vampire to appear and punish him at any minute. The man does not lie.

"Do you know the abode of the Vampire that attacked the caravan last night?"

Thol and Roth appear confused by this, as if unsure of how to answer. "Hell?" offers Thol helplessly, desperate to supply the right answer. "He stalks the night," babbles Roth suddenly. "His abode is the land called Fear, the sea called Nightmare, the domain named Power... there is no name for him, the evil one made flesh... he speaks no human tongue but burns commands into your mind... he is come to herald doom to all men..." After that Efridel can get no more sense out of him for several minutes, as the man babbles incoherently.

"Are there any other Vampires in this area besides the one that attacked the caravan last night?" Both men blanch, as though the mere thought of two such monsters existing were enough to frighten them to death. "I know not," says Thol. "Believe me, I know not."

"Do you know why the Vampire stopped attacking us last night? If so why?"

Thol shrugs, defeated. "There is no explanation for the actions of the Lord. He is too powerful to be understood, like the Great Spirit that roars in the sky, or the earthserpent that feeds crops. There is no why, he just does. Perhaps it amused him?"
To all of these questions the men have apparently answered with the truth.

The Humakti are remorseless in their pursuit of Truth, and questions fly from the Lawspeaker and Jurors' lips: "What is its name? How did it follow the caravan? Was anyone else in the caravan working for or with the vampire? Any idea where it is from? Does it speak with an accent? If you are food, why aren't you dead yet? What did the leach ask you to do? Does it hide from daylight? If so, where and how? Why were you told to join the caravan? Did your Lord require you to bring any animals or objects? Are you carrying boxes or bags or anything else?"

By now the accused are beside themselves in their eagerness to please, desperate to escape the doom they know awaits them. A pathetic picure emerges.

The day before the caravan left Tourney Altar, the vampire appeared in their homes. It gave each of the men a choice; either they could submit to its will and become slaves, or the fiend would drain the souls of their families. The families of both men had made small offerings to the vampire in recent weeks in order to protect themselves. Everyone knew what had happened to those who had not sacrificed. Such a stark choice was no choice at all.

Then the vampire made them drink something, a brew both foul and yet sweet, and a result of the drinking of it they felt drowzy, confused, and yet filled with strength. The next morning they assembled with the caravan, and both nights since then the vampire has come to feast on them, drinking a little blood from each man. (At this the Storm Bulls tear back the cowls that Thol and Roth wear, and indeed two sets of small wounds can be seen on their necks.) Everyday they feel a little weaker.

They know little else. They carry nothing with them other than their sleeping blankets, food and water. They don't know why they brought the goats, other than "it seemed the right thing to do". They see the monster only when it comes to feed at night, and don't know where it hides during the day. They don't even know where they are going.

Nor can they tell what language it speaks, for it does not speak to them. Rather, its wishes are burned into their mind as though by some dark sun. This in itself terrifies them. As for a name; "how can such a horror be named?"

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Aelfwyrd watches the interrogation carefully, once all questions have been answered he turns to his swordfamily, "I say we slay them, we know not what power the vampire has over them or what power it may exert through them, we should burn them now!"
Vern, who up until now has been standing and watching the trial quietly, steps forward to talk with Dorinda and Efridel. He talks in a low voice, presumably so that the caravan members cannot hear him. "A thought occurs to me. These men, it appears, are walking travel rations for the vampire. We are caught between the anvil and the hammer, so to speak. If the monster has decided to go on vacation to Prax, then depriving it of food means it will surely hunt among us instead. It seems to me it may have brought along these men in order to avoid doing that. If, however, we allow these men to live, and the vampire to feed, then we will be responsible for its reaching the next community or town... All I'm saying is that if you execute these men, you must be prepared for an attack this evening, for that to me seems like a likely thing. And if were as fierce as Hrolf has said, then perhaps it would be better to let it reach the next town, where you can find more warriors to help fight it."

Hrolf says: "Thank you for your comments, Vern. I can see how the creature used these two ... unfortunates as food, but I don't understand why it wanted to avoid feeding on other caravan folk. As for taking the vampire to the next town, that is out of the question. If it is our duty to die here, so be it. I will not be party to helping the most foul of undead find a city to hide itself in. Remember too that our one certain advantage of the Cowardly God is our willingness to die. Vivamort at first fled from Oblivion, and finally, when he couldn't run anymore, bargained and sold his soul to it. Vivamort is just an empty shell, a tool of the Void. This is why he is afraid; he knows that one day the Void will come for him, as it has come for all his victims. The leach may not expect us to stake our lives on a last, desperate stand."

Aelfwyrd listens to this, "I will have no part of leading the thing to the next town, what happens if once there it goes into hiding and waits until we leave? This is a foolish solution, I say slay it's food and let it come to it's doom. We are not to become as cattle for this thing are we? Or will we take it happily to fresh fields so it may gorge on more innocents?" Aelfwyrd looks disgusted at the idea ;and turns on his heels to walk away from the group.

Herric nods at Aelfwyrds words, "Agreed! There were choices made and those two were unwilling to face other alternatives. They have walked the path of a Vivamorti lay worshipper and are a step away from Undeath itself even though they stepped onto the path unwillingly. The only result that we can pass down is Death. We must also see to the posessions and goats of these two. The vampire may be using these as a way to travel. All must be destroyed and burned. Sealed under the power of Death, all will be made useless to him. If we do not do it, then the Storm Bull will. We'd have to kill them to prevent them acting on what has transpired here and I will not be a party to that."

However, Dorinda nods thoughtfully. "It seems to me that these men are victims, not criminals. At no point were they able to change the course of events. Unless they are found to be touched by Chaos or Undeath, I see no reason to execute them, save to put them out of their misery. But there is much in what you say: as long as they survive, we at least know where the vampire will go for its next meal! I think we must find this creature, and find it in daylight. That has to be our next priority, and I hope that those of us who can scent out Undeath will achieve it. If we cannot, we must try to catch the creature when it comes to feed tonight. Of course, placing a strong guard around these two known victims may simply cause it to feed elsewhere, so the whole camp must be alert."

She sighs. "It would indeed be easier to let it reach the next town, and prey on more victims there. But we cannot take the easy option against Undeath. This is not going to be easy. It is going to be very hard indeed, but I do not see that we have a choice."
On hearing that Aelfwyrd turns around... "So we are afraid of it then, and of course it will let itself be found in daylight. We must flush it out now! this is the time for action not gossiping! As long as those so called victims live it has a food source." Aelfwyrd looks around the Humakti his eyes blazing. "Do you all think it's better to wait for the vampire to come and give itself up then? To leave it's dinner alive for it to come and get it when it wants to? What kind of guard can keep the prisoners from getting out and a vampire from getting in, because when it comes they will just be still won't they?"

Aelfwyrd's jaw is set his eyes narrowed, he looks at those who seek to lead.

Dorinda surveys the impetuous male with her usual disdain: usual when applied to those outside the Legion, anyway. "I believe that is approximately what was just said, yes. Our next action is to find the vampire. In daylight. I see no reason to wait for nightfall, or for anything else. If you know of a faster method of finding it than a group of Humakti who can smell Undeath, aided by a group of Uroxi who can smell chaos, do tell us. I'm sure we'd all be fascinated to know. And, if by some mischance we fail to find it in daylight, but must wait for its next attack, then yes, knowing where and who its most likely victim will be is an advantage that I intend to take. Only a fool would not fear this creature, but that is no reason to make fear drive us into folly."
Jamal agrees with Dorinda "We must use these unfortunate two as bait, set subtle guards and be vigilant. I will not lead this fiend to more innocent prey. Perhaps in case we fail, we may use Kara to warn those ahead"

Aelfwyrd tries once more to expose the weakness of this plan to his brothers in arms. "The plan then is to seek the vampire today, that much makes a kind of sense, only we have to leave extra guards to guard these two" he gestures towards the prisoners. "Then if we fail to find it, tonight we can use enough guards to keep the prisoners in and defeat the vampire when it comes. All those hundreds of warriors who are left over can, I suppose, protect the rest of the caravan! This plan is very stupid, it means we split our forces to seek the vampire, then, if we fail, tonight we have to split our forces to guard these two and to protect the caravan, I would have thought anyone with any experience of war would know what it means to split your forces in the face of a powerful foe. I wonder then why some of you think it is a good idea now." He turns back to Dorinda "I wonder why you think it is wise to do this" he snarls.

Malan says "Remember that the true enemy is the Vampire; not each other. If we fall to fighting amongst ourselves the Undead will win no matter which plan is followed." Malan's icy coolness is reminder of the way of the God, who does not let his emotions veil his reason.

He is supported by Hrolf who says: "Control yourself, Aelfwyrd! 'A blade wielded in anger seldom cuts straight.'"

"What to do with these two?" he continues. "Their crimes merit death, and their cooperation with justice has earned them the swift and merciful embrace of Humakt. But if we kill them now, they cannot be useful to us later - it may indeed be wise to use them as bait this evening if we do not find the vampire in the mean time. On the other hand, the vampire seems to be able to control them, maybe even see through their eyes. I say it is best to sentence and slay them now. But first let us be sure that they were not working with anyone else in the caravan."

Dorinda listens, nodding. "You spark a further thought. The vampire may indeed be able to see through their eyes. Can it also read their minds, even at a distance? If so, it will know when it awakens that we come to kill it: and in what manner, and in what numbers. I would prefer not to release even that amount of the Truth to it. No. These two will be of no use as bait if this guess is true. And I doubt if they would even know themselves that their minds were being read. I do not think this is a risk we can take, but do others here have more experience of such matters?"

Aelfwyrd listens carefully to what is spoken, he nods at the words of Herric and Hrolf, before turning to Dorinda with his normal serious look on his face. "Yes sister-in-arms, you are right, we know little of vampires and of the one we face we know nothing, we must remove any possible advantage it may have. Now I see wisdom rules once more, yes we may behead them, before burning them!" Aelfwyrd having said his piece and being satisfied goes to his students and spends a little time training them and practising his moves.

Jamal stands to speak, he does so quietly, yet the iron in his voice is apparent to all. "Enough of the bickering. Hrolf speaks well, and with intelligence. It may well be that the Wounded-one uses these two unfortunates as his eyes and ears. In which case we are best to return them to he pure gaze of Idovanus' divine light. However, the Wounded-one will return or his honey pot, and I am under no illusion as to our strength in this matter, for have we not seen what this creature has achieved amongst the assembled Humakti at the Tourney Altar. Equally, are we right to lead the others of this caravan into the ultimate sacrifice on our divine mission."

"I say we send warning ahead of us," he continues. "For gallant though we are we may not prevail over this foe, an we then become this creatures sustenance. We prepare, we fight, we may even heed for a glorious death. But such a death is without honour if we sacrifice innocents in its pursuit. Otherwise we break camp and head as we intended, towards Biggles Stone." Jamal scans the assembled group "It may be well for all to remember, " his eyes falling briefly on Aelfwryd "imply cowardice in this group either by thought, deed or implication can be a mortal insult, even if spoken through righteous anger. I have spoken my piece, and will go with the will of the assembled. Come Vern, let us play ravenkaaz"

Aelfwyrd meets Jamal's gaze unflinchingly before replying, "Also to consider one member of the group as unworthy of being in the legion by thought deed or action amounts to the same thing, our leader has spoken her piece and I mine, what's it to you?"
Jamal's demeanour does not change, seeming resolute and somewhat resigned but neither agressive not perturbed "We speak our minds in this place, and such is the way amoung comrades" He will be drawn no further.

Fynn speaks: "I am with Hrolf, The Empty God is afraid to be cut down because for him it is oblivion. So too it must be with his children. We need not be afraid for little bad will happen to us save a change to another place. I am certainly not afraid that I might have to drink at Orlanths table tonight. The beer will certainly be better. And I will get a bed that doesn't have sand in it. There is only one thing that worries me, I will have to find a rhyme for Vampire when I sing of our exploits. So lets be of good cheer, united, and let those who have a nose for evil sniff out our prey. "

"The goats would be a good place to start the search," he continues. "The two unfortunates said they have no idea why they brought them, and it seems it was at the urging of the vampire. So there must be something he wants. Could they be another food source or might the creature hide amoung them. As far as the lives of these two is concerned - Humakt himself has vouchsafed the truth of their tale. Its true that they have broken the laws, but they have upheld even deeper ones - they have acted for fear for their families. When we see the strong do evil to the weak we should act against the strong as Orlanth did when he freed everyone from the bondage of the Sun Gods. He did not destroy all who had bowed their heads to the evil emporer; if he had how would he have been the better king."

The saga-singer pauses for breath briefly. "I say we find some way that they can redeem themselves, though I am at a loss to know what that way may be. But it is for Dorinda to decide what happens, for the weight of leadership has been placed on her shoulders. If she decrees they must die, let us find a way that they can go free from the claim of the creature. It does seem wise to destroy the wagon and any other belongings of these two with fire. And the goats should be destroyed the same way once they have been examined. We must be carefull that none of our co-travellers takes possesion of any of these things out of greed, else evil may escape."

(Later Jamal turns to Fynn and asks whether he can get Kara to warn those at Biggles Stone, in case they are unable to defeat the creature. Fynn agrees, and whispers into his Zebras ear, using the secret names which he uses when alone with Kara. Then he tells the Zebra the tale of the Vampire who ran amock in Tourney Altar and now travels with the Caravan.)

Enfrew, who was considering the available information, approaches the rest of the group."Those two fear Death. Out of fear of Death, they have helped Undeath. They are guilty. However, it is partially our responsibility because we failed to protect them. I suggest that we first search them for any sign of Undeath or Chaos. If they are clean, we should pardon them if the swear the Oath never to help Undeath again and to fight it as long as they live.If they are tainted, they could be cleaned, but I think that we need to save our energies for the battle against the vampire. In that case, I suggest that we put them to Death."

Hrolf shakes his head, "Let us be clear about one thing. Humakt did not fail to protect these people. Humakt's servants at Tourney Altar were imperfect, as we all are, and failed last Sacred Time to still the undeath. But they did not fail irrevocably, and Humakt sent Deathshadow and us to their aid. Even as the vampire stalked them, the Oasis People still had a choice, and they chose cowardice and chaos when they could have chosen honorable death. That was their choice, and the consequences are theirs to take. If the vampire overpowered their minds, they could be forgiven, but there is NEVER an acceptable excuse for choosing evil and undeath. Because of the Compromise, Vivamort escaped Humakt's blade, and so annihilation. But one day, the Compromise will be broken, and He will be free again to cleave away the sins of the world. One day."

Enfrew then approaches the two and calls on Humakt to help him sense if they are tainted with Undeath. He invokes the powers and secrets of Humakt and Li Phanquann as stands before the two men. He gains a terrible vision that allows him to see through their mere flesh. The colourful world fades to black and white, things become transparent... instead, Enfrew sees living souls as pure white against a dark background.

At first he thinks that the men are as yet untainted by the undead, but as he continues to gaze at them he realises the purity of their souls is marred by a web of writhing grey , cris-crossing and incurably binding.

"They have drunk of the vampire's blood," he declares, the vision fading. "Undeath has begun its evil within them."

Dorinda, Lawspeaker of the Inquisition hears Enfrew's Holy Testimony. "Then the best mercy we can give them is a clean death, and to ensure that it is a final one." She nods to Hrolf.

Hrolf declares judgement: "Thol and Roth, by your own admission - and verified by the Truth of Humakt - you have consorted with chaos and harbored the blight of the undead in this caravan, as well is in Tourney Altar. You did this thinking to save the lives of your families, knowing the vampire would drain your own lives. You were of course mistaken, because Vivamort's thirst can never be slaked; in the end it would have taken your wives, your children, and eventually the whole community if it were not stopped. Let all who hear this know that Vivamort cannot be bargained with, only fought to the death! But that no longer matters. For putting the lives of your fellow caravan members at risk, you are sentenced to death. For consorting with chaos, you are sentenced to death.

Nevertheless, you did not seek to save your own lives and indeed sacrificed your futures in the hope of saving your families. Also, you have cooperated with the cause of law and justice and answered our questions truthfully. For these reasons, we grant you the mercy of death by beheading. Also, we will ask Humakt to judge you himself, so that your souls - if found worthy - will escape the ever-hungry maw of the Void. Know that after you die you will have to prove your worth to Humakt yourselves. We can only speed you on your way."

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Herric nods in approval at Hrolf's judgement and orders the two Vivamorti bound and put aside, "We are not done! All who joined at Tourney Altar must also be questioned under this inquiry." Herric faces the other two judges under the balance and states, "I am Herric, Sword of Humakt, Devotee of Hu the Sword. I have no dealings with Undeath, Vivamort, or Chaos save to bring it to final rest." He rejoins the judges and reintones his Know Truth ritual to continue testing those under inspection. He then orders Elnor and Oddus to speak as he did. He then has them bring each of the other new arrivals to the inquiry, starting with Vern who is at hand.

As Herric and his followers make their oaths the scales show that tell the truth. Summoning each person forth who joined the caravan at Tourney Altar, the Humakti put them to trial. All deny any consortation with Chaos or the Undead, and the scales show that none lie.

Herric solemnly thanks each person for honorably submitting to the inquiry. At the end of the ritual, he will has the goats and the two condemned gathered together.

"With your permission, Dorinda, I will carry out judgement on the guilty with the assistance of others here. Death will be merciful and I will have the Storm Bull perform the Peaceful Cut on the goats. All will be intoned with the Bless Corpse ritual and then burned," says Herric. Herric will inspect the livestock and entreat Enfrew to gaze upon them as well to see if there is Undeath about them.

Dorinda nods gravely. "Please do. And may the gods have mercy on their souls."

Herric leads the condemned men away for execution, whilst the rest of the party organises a search through the wagon train. The Lokarnos wagons of the caravan are odd, huge affairs to Orlanthi eyes. Large spoked wheels support the walls of a wooden chassis at chest height, upon which roof of cloth is stretched over a lightweight frame. Each is pulled by six zebras, and has enough room to sleep a family or haul a great quantity of goods in the back. The search takes a long time, as Dorinda insists on examining everything that could possibly be used as, or to hide a coffin. Trackers following prints that lead off into the dunes and then vanish; Enfrew uses his godgifts to search for the stench of undeath; Storm Bulls scour the camp for Chaos.

By now the caravan people know all about the vampire that was in the camp last night; they saw the trial; they saw the interrogation of the newcomers to the caravan; they have seen the executions. Many of the members of the caravan are traders of the Issaries cult. Most have led their mules across Prax for many years, and whilst they are not happy to hear that a vampire is abroad, it is not the first time they are in a bad situation in Prax. Similarly, the Lokarnos traders are edgy but not hysterical. Much of this can be attributed to Efridel, who seems to hold a particular authority over the caravan traders, although exactly what a Golden Tongue is doing leading a caravan with both Lokarnos and Issaries traders in it has never been very clear to the Humakti.
However, there are others in the caravan. Several wagons are filled with families heading east. These simple farming folk are terrified, although it is difficult to tell whether it is the vampire or the grim Humakti that make their children cry.
Eventually the search is completed, nothing is found other than a single sack of grain, polluted by the broo and not yet found.

That is all.

There is further bad news, however. Ernaldata, who has come to check on Brenna's progress, reports that she has developed a case of the Creeping Chills over night. Nor is the Tenthane the only one to show signs of infection. Dorinda's follower Kristen is shaking as her muscles spasm involuntarily, and Jamal appears to have a similar problem. Ernaldata takes one look at Aelfwyrd and gives him some herbs to take, for he is suffering from a Brain Fever - no doubt picked up from the pustulence-ejaculating broo he fought last night.

Although there is some talk of using Death to kill broo larvae in Brenna's body, the devotees feel it is a desperate idea that should only used as a last resort. Efridel makes room in his own wagons for the sick and injured as the caravan makes ready to move out. Jamal and Aelfwyrd are still well enough to march with the Humakti.

Efridel and the Humakti agree that the best option is to head for Biggle Stone. Fynn has sent word to Kara, and it may be that she will send warriors either to the Biggle Stone or to meet the caravan on the way there. It is clear that the caravan must move as soon as possible, for there is not enough water to waste time. Storm Bulls and Impala riders will scout and guard around the caravan, the Humakti will spend the seaching out the vampire.

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Herric frowns at the intimation that the caravan be abandoned in favor of Vampire hunting, "NO! An oath was made to guard the caravan and, by Humakt's Honor, it must be kept. Even should the Devil rise and throw off the Block, we must see that an oath made is one kept. The vampire is a threat that can be countered with the sign of Death. We have searched and found nothing. It could be that the villagers were a guide to the vampire. Perhaps he retreated underground to hide from Yelm's light and senses his minions to follow them. If that is the case, then he is in trouble as that avenue is forever lost to him. Be that as it may, I think we've done what we can. We should set Death wards over the camp and a gaurd rotation and rest. We have a long day of travel ahead."

"Did you not listen to me?" Asks Enfrew a little enraged. "That...thing wiped out the whole Humakti temple in Tourney Altar. Why do you think that we could destroy it on same terms, but not in the temple? If we don't find it in daylight, we are doomed." He turns around himself to see if everyone is listening. " I am not afraid of Death, but it is our duty to destroy this beast and we must not fail."

Herric appraises Enfrew, "I was there. We were wounded not wiped out. I know what happened. Calm yourself, you waste needless energy. Where is the vampire? Where will you look? As I said, we've done what we can. Properly warded, the camp will be relatively safe from the power of Vivamort. My oath to gaurd and the Companies oaths bind us to the duty of guarding the caravan, not hunting vampires. If you do not trust Humakt to guide you as he does me, then crawl back to Tourney Altar and face censure there. Where are your vaunted Undead slaying powers now? Your whining sickens me."

"My powers are the tool for my duty, not an adventage," replies Enfrew. "If you consider the powers an adventage, it is your own failure and not a problem of mine. Hunting that beast might be the only way to protect the caravan, Herric. I think that it is better to slay this vampire in its lair than to hunt it in the camp while it jumps around and kills those you have sworn to protect."
Aelfwyrd is puzzled by the attentions of the healer, but he will take the herbs as ordered, he relies on his toughness to resist and sustain him as he applies all of his energies to helping with the search. When he hears Herric speak to Enfrew he is perplexed, he approaches the two. "Herric is right we must protect the caravan." Aelfwyrd stands alongside Herric and looks at Enfrew searchingly.

"Do you not see that we could search forever and never find it. Once we are sure it is not in the caravan we have done all that we can for the moment." A grimace crosses his face as he feels a sharp pain in his head. Then he adds, "We will meet it in combat when it attacks, we will slay it or die." Aelfwyrd turns to Herric and makes a gesture that invites him leave Enfrew alone for now...
Jamal calls to those who have undead related magics, "Perform your spells comrades find us a direction. If that avails us naught, then we should head for yon range of hills". He indicates the hills in the distance.

Herric's eyes narrow, "'Ware the Humakti curse of an oathbreaker... lest your sword shatter like glass. If you stray too far from the caravan and break your oath of service, you may draw the curse."

As the talk turns to swords Fynn look uncomfortable. His sword, though cared for, is a common bronze weapon and no masterwork. He also carries something wrapped in old cloth and tightly bound, and he pulls the cords around it even tighter.
Aelfwyrd sticks with Herric, he too is unhappy about this, but as he had to stick his neck out so much to get the prisoners executed he is keeping quiet about it. Aelfwyrd instructs his students to move around the caravan and watch out for anything strange, he will walk in the caravan trying to keep line of sight with Herric.

Aelfwyrd has a very bad feeling about this.

Fynn simply agrees that Brennas infestation must be left for the moment and that they should save their strength for a fight against the vampire if it comes. "We should put distance between us and this place. But before dark let us prepare the ritual of light so that we have an advantage should the creature attack."

"Good suggestion, I can be no help in a Light ritual. But I can begin to place Death wards on each of the wagons in preparation for the evening. It is too bad that we do not cross running water," says Herric.

Hrolf sets out with Enfrew to search the area for vampires, Blackbeak mounted in front of him in the saddle. It is hot, and his black leathers make it even hotter. Suddenly, he turns to Enfrew, a puzzled look on his face, "Did you just say something about beer?"

Enfrew turns his head towards Hrolf, a slight, almost unnoticable smile crossing his face."I think that it is not time for beer, my friend. We have taken upon us a dangerous task and we have to finish it. After that...of course."

Heading out towards the hills, the Humakti ride at a steady pace, Enfrew in the lead. His otherworldly vision reveal a dark, unreal landscape - the desolate deadlands are clearly visible in the far northwest, as is vibrant fertility of the Paps to the east. To the southwest the Block is painful to look at.

Having reached the hills, the warriors begin cautiously scouting through them. The tangled ravines and gullies are tortuous to explore, and before long it becomes apparent that searching the area completely will be impossible. Fynn well knows the danger of venturing into such gullies during Sea Season, when flash floods can occur without warning. To the Zebra Folk these are Forbidden Places. However it has not rained in several days, and the sky is clear and blue, and in his judgment it is a risk worth taking for a few hours.

Enfrew's godgifts reveal nothing throughout the day.

The danger of this mission, as all know, is that some other enemy might be uncovered. Twice there are obscene screams and howlings, but they echo from the gully walls in such a way as to make it impossible to determine their origin. Each time Dorinda leads the warband away from the area, always alert for potential ambushes.

The only thing of note discovered during the whole day is a frayed Praxian knot-rope at the entrance to a gully. Fynn instantly identifies it as signifying a Chaos Place. It is already late afternoon, and Dorinda judges it wisest to return to the caravan.
Hrolf urges the group to return to the caravan; "We need to be back before nightfall. But let's remember the location of this place. Although I doubt the vampire had a refuge out here in the wastes, there might be something else worth avoiding here."
On the return Enfrew rides close to Dorinda. With low voice, almost a whisper, he says: "I have an advice to offer. I don't think that we should reveal our discovery to the Storm Bulls. If they are at least similar to Orlanthi Uroxi, they will ride off to hunt chaos and leave the caravan." She concurs with that, although Fynn points out that as the place is marked with Waha Ropes they may well know of it already.

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Meanwhile, back at the caravan, Herric and Aelfwyrd have been preparing Death Wards with which to defend the camp that night. These are Death Runes made from wood and other materials, ready to be staked into the ground, and if possible the vampire's heart.

Aelfwyrd looks up visibly relieved when the others return, he gives thanks quietly and gets on with making the death wards.
When he returns to the rest of the group Jamal rides sullenly in escort for a while, before helping the others with the setting of runes and garlic. He still feels the effects of the Broos delirium which is rather disconcerting

Enfrew dismounts and mumbles: "Useless Zebra." Then, with an expressionless face, he joins the others in ward-making.

"A new warrior blames his sword" jibes Fynn.

"I'm used to horses, my friend. It has nothing to do with our search, though," replies Enfrew.

Hrolf goes to check on Brightfeather. With a heavy heart, he checks his friend for characteristic signs of the undead illness, then wards him with death runes all over his body. Blackbeak asks Enfrew to take a look at Brightfeather, and the man approaches Brightfeather, once agains concentrating to call upon his powers and see wether Hrolf's friend has been stained by undeath.
Brightfeather is concious, but still dazed as though concussed. He lies in the back of one wagon, his wounds bandaged and his whole body wrapped in blankets, for he feels cold despite the heat of the day.

He smiles to see Hrolf, "Hail chief," he says weakly. "It theemth that Humakt hath not thummoned me after all."
Hrolf places his hand on the Durulz's shoulder. "You did us proud, Brightfeather. That leach killed almost 30 other Humakti last Sacred Time; you withstood it." He pauses, as if about to say something else, then simply blurts out "Rest now."
Enfrew has heard of this illness before, although he has not seen it. Even before practising his magic he feels he knows what he will find, and it is so. The durulz will live, and he is not polluted for the vampire drank from him rather than vice-versa. However, the vampire has drunk of and drained his very strength. It is not likely that Brightfeather will ever be able to lift, let alone wield, a sword again. He waits for Hrolf to finish his conversation with Brightfeather and then follows him out of the tent. "Your friend will live, but I'm afraid that he won't recover much. Sorry."

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The caravan stops for the evening, and Efridel makes his way over to the Humakti. He looks worn and haggard, and is dissapointed that the vampire was not found during the day. "Yet," he shrugs, wiping the dust from his brow, "I have no call to be upset. We knew it was a long shot."

"That means, as you know, that we must be prepared for the vampire to visit us again this evening. I have heard your warnings that it may do so again in strength, with Chaos and undead minions, and it seems to me that is likely. I will set my ward around the whole caravan tonight, which usually I do not do... it is a large area to encompass in ritual, and will drain my strength. My son and others of my company will assist me. We hope that Issaries' blessing will at least offer us some alert should the vampire enter the camp."

"As for the rest, I commend the defence of the caravan to your hands. In addition to your own swords, six of the Storm Bulls are uninjured and ready to fight. Another three of their berserkers are also capable but injured. Another four swear that they can wield their weapons should Chaos come near and the God's Frenzy take them, but I'm not sure of that. That gives you nine men, four more should things come that desperate end. There are also the four Impala riders, but I think they are not much use in a stand-up fight. From the caravan there are twenty nine men and women who have sworn to stand. They are not warriors, but know the sharp end of a sword from a bucket and can at least stand watch."

"Remember only this. You are contracted to me, and I know that for you oaths are the fundament. This is why Issaries and
Humakt respect each other - for the weaponthane and the trader, trust is their most vital asset. Everyone must know that they will get a fair deal from the trader. Everyone must know the weaponthane will stand firm in the shieldwall."

"The caravan must get through. Last out this night and we will go swimming in Biggle Stone water tomorrow at dusk. Do not risk the caravan to kill the vampire. Defend the caravan. The caravan must get through."
With that Efridel smiles grimly, "I am pleased that it is you standing here with me now. We all have faith," he says, pointing at the caravan.

Jamal suggests to Dorinda "We should set guards arround the camp in pairs, so that if the fiend overcomes one combatant, at least the other can raise the alarm. Also, we should keep Hrolf and Enfrew paired separately, as we need to spread their abilities against the undead as widely as possible. Similarly for those of us with magic or enchanted weapons"

Enfrew steps out so that everyone can see him. Wordlessly, he draws his greatsword and shows it to the others. The blade looks exactly like mythical description of Death. " This is one of the copies of Death created by Eurmal to fool the Mostali. I don't know wether it was created as magical weapon or gain power during its long history, but I found out that it magically severs the bond between spirit and body, speeding the death of those it strikes. It might do the same with Undead, but I am not sure."

Jamal talks tactics to the group "We should, as suggested, pull the carvan in tight, and place fires at regular intervals around it. The followers of the Wounded God detest the vitality of fire. We should patrol in twos, with a reserve held in the centre. The healthy would be best to do the patrolling, with the less mobile ready to support at the call of the patrol. Once Efridel has set the ward, this should give us some warning of the vampires approach, we can then muster to repel the fiend. The pairing I leave to our leader, friendship and trust. May Idovanus bless this enterprise." At this Jamal gve a traditional Carmanian genuflection and waits for input from the rest of the group....

Hrolf nods his head in agreement with Jamal, and adds, "We should keep the water in the center of the camp, near Efridel the noncombatants. If we lose it we all die. I suggest that we use the death wards as an inner line of defense, since otherwise they are too easy to neutralize. I'm not sure what to do with the wagons; if we use them as walls they can block our view; if we don't circle them they still block our view and can't be used as a defense. I suggest we put out at least 3 guards at a time; maybe 2 groups of 2. When - if, actually; it may decide to wait another night - we get attacked, the first priority should be to warn the others and then make light. The guards should retreat to the center of the camp first, so that we can mass our attack."

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As Jamal is preparing his gear, sharpening Bull Spike by the fire, one of the Storm Bulls comes to sit by him. The two men sit in silence for a while, preparing their weapons. The Llama rider is a tall man; tattoos adorn his body and the shaved sides of his scalp. He is reworking the ties on his axe, a rough and heavy piece of bronzework that seems to have come loose on its haft, and one or twice he steals envious glances at Jamal's sword.

"What call you this Death?" asks the nomad, haughtily, pointing at Bull Spike.

Jamal eyes the barbarian with some suspicion at his envious glances, but he feels no need to hide his swords significance. "This 'death' is dedicated to my lord Bisos, bull god of my homeland. The warriors of my land are either dedicated to the lion or the bull. But those of the bull are stronger of arm, and more victorious in battle"

The warrior returns Jamal's look of suspicion with one of his own. "You worship Bull Spirit? Then you Storm Bull, not Humakt."

Jamals demeanour softens slightly, this as it becomes obvious the warrior is not after a weapon upgrade. "My homeland is far from here" he says, indicating westwards. "Far beyond the mountains, even on the far side of the Empire of the Moon. I am a warrior yes, but not of Humakt. Our warriors are cavalry, we ride and smash our opponents, which in the past have included those of the Sun and of the Moon. Our patron god is the Bull God Bisos, he of the smashing charge and fearsome gor. Your lord is not known where I come from, though from what I see of you he is obviously a powerful warrior. I have met some similar to you in Sartar, they say they worship Urox, but your people are different. Tell me of your ways?"

The nomad shakes his head with certitude. "You worship bull, you warrior, you rider-into-battle, not weak-standing-defender. You
Storm Bull! I hear name Urox, same spirit, other name. Now I hear other name Bisos, same spirit."

He draws in the same with his toe, and although the symbols he makes obviously mean something to him, they say little to Jamal. "All spirits. Some great spirits look different some times, in some places. Different name, maybe. Same spirit. You see? If you not Storm Bull, how come you ride Zebra? Why not Horse? Everyone know Storm Bull like good Waha not horse-using."

"My lord does not tell us what to ride, just that it is right to smash those who are not righteous, those who follow the ways of the Deceiver, whatever they ride. I have ridden horse, but I have fought with my men against the raids of the Pentans and the Char-Un both horse-peoples"

"Here," he scribes the runes of Bisos the Hasar (Bull, Berserk and Hazar) in the dust "these are the symbols of my god"

The nomad stares blankly at the runes Jamal has scratched in the dust. "I don't know what this means," he says finally. "What you say does not seem right, but I don't know how. I think you should come and talk of your spirit to Searches-Long-Time-For-Rest, great spirit teacher of my people. Then he will explain to me. Until then I say you fight Chaos well, you Bull-Spirit-Man, you Storm Bull."

With that the nomad seems to consider the conversation over, and goes back to fixing his axe. Jamal breathes a sigh of relief, for it seems that the Storm Bulls are not going to treat him with anything less than toleration and respect.

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Vern is sitting around quite happily, apparently trying to cheer up the caravan folk, or their children, at any rate, with stories and jokes. As he's finishing the telling of one tale, a few mosquitos come into the cooler dusk air and start feeding on the children. Slapping away a couple of midges, Vern says: "Now this reminds me of a tale that I learned from the Lismelder folk around the Upland Marsh, huddle up and listen closely:

"Long, long ago there was a time of great hunger. Ernalda the Earth slept, dull and grey. The rivers were brackish and black. Elmal Sun Thane was just a pale shadow. The winds hung limp and weak as Orlanth was so far away. The Gods had left the world, people were hungry, and evil was everywhere.

The weaponthanes of the village had gone off to fight evil, and they hadn't come back. When Ernalda stopped giving food the carls had mustered the fyrd and gone marching off to fight evil too, and they hadn't come back. When the forest gave no more meat the hunters had packed up and gone off to fight evil, and they hadn't come back either. Soon everyone in the village was hungry and tired of chewing on dirt and old leather.

Some of the children decided that it would be better look for some food - any food - in the forest. Those with the strength went off and foraged, and they met back in the centre of the village. As they trickled back, one had discovered a few beetles, another some moss - but that was all they had found all day long. Everyone was very disappointed, but thought that at least they could have some beetle and moss stew. Then, just as the people were starting to cook, two young boys came back to the village, yelling happily and jumping up and down. "Perhaps they've found some bark," said their mother hopefully.

But instead the boys had got a very odd creature that they had put in a sack. It had a strange looking head with a weird beak, lots of legs, and was covered with feathers. It was almost as big as a rat, and would round off the beetle and moss stew wonderfully. Excitedly the people began to pluck it for the pot. But every time they pulled out a feather, the creature grew twice in size. Everyone was so hungry they couldn't believe this great good fortune, and they plucked and plucked away, imagining the feast that would follow, until the strange thing was twice the size of a house. Slowly a great silence fell over the people as they contemplated this suddenly enormous beast, and regarded its beak, which they now saw was full of teeth.

"Oh," said one of the boys.

And then the monster let out a scream! It rounded on the villagers and chased them all about, and every time it closed down one of the people it would grab them in its legs, stuff them into its mouth, suck all the life out of them, and then spit out the dry husk that remained. It grabbed grandmothers, it grabbed babies, it grabbed children, it grabbed anyone it could, gobbled them up and spat out the dry husks that remained - *fluah-splat*, *fluah-splat*, *fluah-splat*.

The people ran around in panic, terrified by this evil thing in their
midst, not knowing what to do. Mothers threw ladles at it. Old men, remembering the glory of their youth, yelled challenges and charged it, brandishing their walking sticks. *Fluah-splat* went the monster, as their dried-up corpses were spat out on the ground, *fluah-splat*.

One of the boys who had found the creature drew up his courage like a small rock in his stomach and threw it so hard that it cut off the monster's head. Everyone jumped on the monster with knives and saws and cut it into seven pieces. Then they stood back, panting, and congratulated themselves on killing the evil thing.

But they saw that the monster's arms were still moving! They saw that the monster's head was rolling towards a small child, desperately trying to get close enough to suck the life out of her! The relief washed out of them like fruit through grandpa! "Quick!" they yelled, and picking up pieces of the monster they ran and threw them on the cooking fire, hoping to burn the monster into ashes.

The monster, trapped on the cooking fire, screamed and screamed and screamed. Folk went blind, frogs turned upside down at the sound of that scream. The bits of the monster writhed in the fire, wriggling in a yukky way that made peoples' minds gibber and shake. And then, as the screaming and wriggling climaxed, the monster exploded into ten hundred thousand million pieces that rained down all over the village.

And each little bit of the monster was still alive, still evil, still hungry, still determined to suck the life out of everyone in the world and eat them alive.....

And that's where mosquitoes come from."

Vern laughs and laughs at the end of the story, obviously very pleased with himself. It takes a moment or two for him to hear the children's silence, and then their panic... the story was apparently not appropriate bedtime material under the circumstances, and the little mites are getting hysterical.

Vern turns desperation to Fynn, who has been able to see all of this - presumably with a big smile on his face - and begs for help... "Can't you play a nice lullaby or something?"

As Vern turns to Fynn for help, he hears a loud "fluah-splat" behind him. It is Blackbeak, his eyes boring into the man with malevolent intensity. "Methinkth ye knowth wittle of feathewth and beakth, beawdbwain."

Vern, helplessly surrounded by baying kiddies, looks at the Durulz. "It is not my tale, but that of the Lismelder folk," he snaps. "If you do not like it then ask yourself why these folk - allies of your people, I believe - would tell it."

Herric looks askance at the story and timing of Vern. Glaring at the man, he tries to comforts a child or two until some comes to gather them away. First having been worried by Vern's story, the children are then confronted with the prospect of being comforted by Herric. The saddle-weary, Death-marked figure approaches, armor black and blood stained, his concilatory gestures appearing to the children like the depradations of some Hellish monster.

They scream.

Herric looks down at himself and realizes with a smirk that he looks like Death warmed over. He shakes his head and longs for a bath. "That man has a strange way of going about things... always riddling and singing," he thinks, walking away. An illuminated Vivamorti would be able to stand nearly any test of person. He nearly sputters on his wine and he thinks back to his long stint as Sword of Tourney Altar. He tries to recall when Vern showed up and when the vampire began its predations.

He goes to a knee. Placing his shield on the ground and putting his scabbarded sword point-down on it, he clasps Death between his clenched hands and prays, "My Lord, we are sorely tested and know not where first to swing our weapons. The evil one confounds our attempts to root him out. Now I begin to question even those I am to defend. I beg you, True Death, guide your servant that he serve you in Truth and Honor."

As Herric completes his prayer to Humakt he feels calm, centred and utterly sure of the God's presence. So close is Herric to the God that there are no greys, only black and white. He knows what is to be done.

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A little while later Hrolf realises that the presence of mosquitos might mean water about. As soon as he points this out, Fynn slaps his forehead. "Of course," he mutters. "Of course."

A quick search leads to a depression not far from the caravan. Here the ground is moist, damp to the touch. Under an overhanging rock, a small pool of water - only half an inch deep and a few across - lies protected in the day's shade. Mosquito larva, and a few scraps of green stuff that might be plants litter the pool.

There is no surface water anywhere in sight, so it is all a bit of a mystery.

"Have we found a vampire hole ?" Jamal asks

Malan realises that the damp ground might mean a spring, or someother source of water underground. After a few moments scrabbling in the sand and rock he finds a likely place for deeper digging, and sets to work. After a few minutes he has cleared sand away from around a large flat rock, similar to paving stone, which is snugly set into a corner of the depression. The sides of the stone are wet, indicating more water below. It will take several men to lift it. He calls for help."Over here! I've found water, but need some help to get at it."

While Malan was digging, Hrolf went to tell Efridel about the find. He no doubt has some people who know more about digging wells than a bunch of Humakti, and when Herric hears Malan's call and grabs Enfrew, Elnor, and the Chalana Arroy woman before he goes to assist. "I think it best if we prepare to meet anything once this stone is pulled away. You may want to see if the Vivmorti has been around this pool before we open it," Herric says to Enfrew. Then he turns to the White Lady, "If we could presume upon you once more, good lady, for the good of the caravan, to determine if this water source is free from disease, then we would be most grateful."

Dorinda has been concentrating on preparing the Illuminate Darkness ritual. She has searched her memory for any tale in which Humakt travelled with Issaries and they defended the camp together: if she succeeds, she will try to join the illumination to Efridel's Warding of the camp, and add a Cutting Wind of Truth to the defences the Warding activates.
She turns to the news of water being found, and come over. "Water? That is good news. But water, under a man-made slab, that neither Efridel nor the native Praxians knew of? That is perhaps a little too good to be trusted. By all means, let those who can search for Undeath or Disease do so, but even if they find nothing, we should still be careful in lifting that slab. It may hide things from even their keen senses."

Whilst Enfrew performs his rites for Sensing Undead, Ernaldata examines the water for any signs of disease. Enfrew is is perfectly happy that the area is not tainted by Undeath, and Ernaldata simply shrugs when asked about disease. "It smells clean and tastes pure," she says. "There are always daemons that cannot be detected by such simple means, but most can."
Efridel and Vern are greatly interested by the find, and arrive just as Ernaldata is giving her verdict on the water.

"Praxians say that this desert was once green, until 'evil came, Genert was killed and the world changed'.," says Vern happily. "I read an interesting treatise on their beliefs as an undergraduate. Apparently their stories refer to evil gods chasing snakes under the earth, which is interesting as the Praxian word for river or stream is 'serpent'. One of the lecturers at the Great Library was convinced that underneath Prax there were thousands and thousands of water daemons waiting to be freed. Of course for a long time ths myth had been interpreted as an assault on Ernalda - for whom snakes are holy - so his revision upset a lot of the faculty. He went off to Prax to prove his theory and never came back."

Efridel looks skeptical about this. "Well, that's as maybe, but I find it hard to image any predark that bothered to seal up daemons with cobble-stones instead of blasting them into the void. But there were cities in Prax, great cities... their ruins can be seen in many places. Perhaps this is part of one such?".

"And good Dorinda, I am flattered by your trust in my abilities, but in truth I do not know every inch of the desert. Nor does any man, for the desert changes from year to year, even from season to season. When navigating I use large features, for dunes move, bare earth may covered or uncovered depending on the winds... Be sure if this place was known of, why, either the water would be freely flowing or there would be warning signs. So I do think this is good fortune, but one we must be wary of."
Herric gazes on the gathered group and says, "Well then, we've done what we can! Let's heave to people!" He takes a position at one of the corners of the slab and prepares to lift.

Dorinda, with no strength beyond the norm, will stand by with sword drawn and senses alert, ready for any hint of danger.
Fynn arrives puffing after finishing rounding up the frightened children to find everyone gathered round a wet hole preparing to lift the cap-stone. "Hey, you guys left a bit of a mess back there.... Oh, Water, good. Hang on a bit and I will ask if it's pure. " He hops round in circles, croaking a little magic song in Praxian. He somehow manages to perform this ungainly action with verve and style.

"Friend.
Lifegiver.
We thirst.
Are you pure?
May we take from you?
Quench us.
Do any lurk,
hungering,
to feast?"

Efridel and the caravan folk look impressed by this piece of folk-cunning, and call for silence whilst Fynn chants his spell. Fynn has to sing several times, for when the water spirit replies it seems weak. An otherwordly voice echoes hollowly from underneath the stone;

"I long only
For free running,
To reach my kin.

"Free me,
Drink me,
This is a fair bargin."

Fynn muses "Hmmm: A Vampire strangely different from others of its kind; Its victims controlled by a drink they chose to sup; Water that gives rise to blood sucking beasts, albeit small ones. It seems safe to me but these charms are low magic, or rather my understanding of them is still that of an outsider, so I still think caution is in order."

Herric watches the funny little dance without interuption and a faint smile on his lips. When Fynn's done he says, "The White Lady already checked it."

"Really? Did it say anything about inhabitants when she asked it? Did it admit whether it waited to possess a passer by as these things sometimes do? Did it say if any had hidden poisons in it?" retorts the skald.

"Hmmm, she didn't awaken the spirit of the water as did you though. Perhaps there is something to be learned. She could find no harm in the water... deasase and poiso free. But you may find more from this spirit," says Herric in a more respectful tone.
Dorinda watches with interest. "We could use magic to wrest the truth from it, but it seems cooperative enough as it is, and such treatment might make it less so. Does it seem to any of you to be lying?"

"Perhaps," says Fynn. "But I can not force it to tell the truth. So we must judge its words, as with any stranger we meet." After his knees have recovered Fynn hops round the spring again. He borrows a green cloak from one of the caravan people, "It makes the magic stronger", he claims. His bulging eyes and flicking tongue test his Panache to its very limits.

"Tell me friend
long held captive
who imprisoned you?
What act did you commit
or evil suffer
to be so confined?"

The spirit speaks again:

"Ages flow, and
even immortal memory
will reach its sea.

Yet once a city,
with fountains running,
stood here.

The magics that bind
fade with time,
yet so does strength.

Free me,
let me flow;
Drink me,
ease your thirst;
This is a fair bargin."

Hrolf watches Fynn's ritual with interest, and a new respect for the entertainer grows in him. But when he hears the water spirit speak, his eyes go wide, and he asks, "Efridel, how vulnerable is our caravan's current location to flooding?"

Efridel doesn't think this is likely to be a great problem - he points out that he has placed the caravan on higher ground in case of an attack in the night. Anyway, the caravan is some distance from the depression.

Hrolf: "Well, if we don't need to move the camp then I suggest we get started on our warding now so that it's ready before nightfall. Should some of us go with Efridel to take care of that, while others stay here to talk to the water spirit?"

Malan says "Flowing water brings death to the undead, does it not? Could we use this against the vampire?"

Hrolf turns to Malan with an appreciative smile, "Yes, maybe we could ask the water entity for help. But it seems to be telling us less than the whole truth about its history."

Jamal moves down to the large rock and rubs his hands in the dry dirt to ensure that he gets a good purchase. "Well then, are we going to lift this thing or not ?" Enfrew silently approaches the rock and starts helping the others in pushing. Fynn is slender compared to many in the group. There seems little point in him adding his might to the task, especially since space round the stone is limited. The only thing he can offer is to sing a magic worksong while others lift it up.

The Humakti crouch in the depression. Using blocks of wood as a base, they get purchase with the tips of daggers and fingers. A heroic effort lifts the stone several inches, which allows others to slide spear shafts under the slab. Using these levers it is finally lifted on one end, resting against the side of the depression.

What with the falling dusk it is difficult to see into the space that has been revealed. There appears to be a square stone shaft sunk into the earth, about two and half feet to each side. Water fills the shaft to within a few inches of the top, and this water ripples slightly. Only the top couple of feet of the shaft are visible, below that it gets too dark to see. The water stirs excitedly as it is exposed to air.

Jamal looks up, concerned about the gathering dusk. "This has been an interesting distraction", he says "but we have a lot to do before night fall. I suggest we fill our water skins, and return to the camp. Efridel has yet to set his Warding, and time is growing short." With that he stands, dusts off his hands, and heads back to the camp. He sets about orginising the guards in pairs and watches for the night, and ensure that any stragglers are brought into the central campsite before Efidel stes his warding.

Looking out over the desert at Yelm's fading globe, Herric nods, "Agreed, we can see to the water in the morning. We've got a job to do guarding the caravan tonight. Humakt be with us." Hrolf has already left to help Efridel prepare the camp, but before he left he strongly suggested having a little talk with the water thingie about the vampire. On seeing that some are returning Aelfwyrd goes back to preparing the camp for the night, quietly working away with death wards and anything else he can think of.

Efridel begins his Bless Market Ground ritual, assisted by his son and two other Issaries priests of the caravan. Dorinda, Jamal, Hrolf and Enfrew lend their magical support. Aelfwyrd ceremonially stakes out the perimeter of the warding with the Death fetishes he has made, whilst the magicians follow him and bless each ward.

Efridel positively glows with Power, and it is clear that he not merely a caravan leader, and a good one at that, but also that he is close to the god. To his blessing, which warns of intruders and prevents those with evil intent from entering within, the Humakti add their curses. Enfrew and Hrolf ensure that any undead approaching the warding will be tortured simply by its presence. Dorinda sets two winds patrolling around the wards - one emits low, erie howls, and the other cuts like a sword. Jamal improvises a principle learned from his god, and Bisos' Shield lies over the wards, protecting all within from outside attack.

When the ritual is done, all exchange grim but satisfied looks. "That is a job done well," says Efridel.

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When the warriors turned to leave, the water shivered and rippled again.

When people try to fill their waterskins from the newly exposed well, they find it is impossible. They can submerge their waterskins, even their whole arms in the well, but when pulling them out all the water drains back, leaving the waterskins empty and their arms completely dry. The water actually runs over the top of the waterskins, flowing upwards before falling back into the well.

Malan says "Maybe you just have to drink the water directly at its source. You know, lap it like an Alynx."

"Free me,
Drink me,
This is a fair bargin," comes the godling's voice once more.
Concerned that people are starting to leave, Fynn continues to sing his duet with the godling.

"You look too large
and we too small
for one of us to drink you all.
For one to drink
is good at first
but later all of us may may thirst.
When we invite
a guest to enter
he must first swear to his behaviour"

In response to Fynn's poem, the water ripples excitedly.

"Drink all of me?
I think you could not,
Even ten hundred strong.

"Do not taunt me,
Freedom flows close
After five thousand years;
Thralldom is a bitter spring-well.

"I hold no grudges,
Only wish to join
My cousins of distant memory;
Kor Ajin and Zola Fel.

"Sunder the seals that bind me
To these forgotten tunnels,
I will reach my proper place,
And a final rest.

"Sunder the seals that bind me
Drink from me
And I will show you true friendship."

"Free me
Drink me
This is a fair bargin."

Vern is fairly hopping up and down with excitment. "I have heard that name, I have heard that name! Kor Ajin is the ancient name of one of the dead rivers, slain by the Devil. Some say it is the ancient name of the river that flowed south from the Dead Place, whose valley can still be seen. If this godling is mighty enough to count Kor Ajin and Zola Fel amongst its cousins... Great Ernalda! One could irrigate the whole of Caravan Alley!"

The spirit appears to be speaking in earnest, so far as Fynn can tell. It's voice is an ancient one, and in its tone the skald can hear echoes of chambers and pipes, the murmur of quieted waters, and a calm, stoic acceptance of Death.

After finishing helping with the Warding, Hrolf and Blackbeak rush back to the water sight. Both of them are excited by the prospect of seeing, let alone drinking, running water again. "If we need to enter the water to break the seals, I volunteer. I can swim, and anyway I am injured so if I get injured a little more it won't make so much difference to the defense of the camp."
Jamal joins them: "It looks like someone will have to 'sunder the seals' directly. This may need someone to enter the water, and the same wager will apply. Fynn, can we find out the nature of the seals?"

Aelfwyrd eyes the approaching darkness with a worried eye, he tells Korol and Yrsga to be cautious and observant. He keeps away from the water site now as he feels there are too many Humakti congregated in one place. He moves about the camp as silently as he can, observing all, watching and waiting.

The Godling seems unable to explain the magic that binds it, whether as an effect of its binding, or because it simply does not understand, it is unclear. Whatever magic is involved, it is nothing that the Humakti are familiar with. There are none of the visual or aural signs of a god's magic at work, nor the hum or keening of spirits at work. Instead there appears to be only an ominous, empty silence.

"Sorcery," mutters Vern. He points down at several strange mechanical devices that can be seen near the surface of the water. There are little metal wheels with teeth that intermesh, levers, and other strange - potentially evil - fetishes.

"I recall Magasta's vow against Vivamort. All waters are foes of the vampire and they fear it. If this godling can be freed there would be no better protection than to be near its waters," says Herric. He looks on the godlearner-like devices and begins to strip down. He puts a rope around his waist and has the others lower him into the water. God-Learners, Jamal shudders, for didn't Syranthir Forefront lead Jamals ancestors over the mountains to escape from their depredations? Jamal grabs the end of Herric's rope ready to pull him free at the first sign of trouble.

Trusting the Wardings to give warning of anything attacking the camp, Dorinda stays close to the water, ready to support Herric's magic with her own, defend him from any attack, or heave on the rope, as is needed.

"I will endeavor to free the godling. Pull me up if you need to or if I cry out," cautions Herric, "Fynn, you've done a worthy thing in speaking to this godling. I'm impressed. Fynn, ask it's name."

"Ages have passed since
My name was known,
Yet I remember men called me:
Elmeh Saif"

Aided by Hrolf and Blackbeak, and with Jamal taking strong grip on the safety line, Herric is lowered into the water. Intoning and calling on Humakt and his Sunder Magics and Know Truth feats, he "Lord Humakt, aid me now that I might bring Separation between the seals that bind and the godling Elmeh Saif bound."

With these words, Herric moves to the wheels of the device that appears to be the seal.

As he calls out, invoking the mysteries and names of Humakt, Herric feels an insatiable Power within him. Things begin to lose their form, the otherworld becomes more tangible. Herric sees a web of power constraining the godling, even though he cannot understand how it works. He wields his spirit sword deftly, using it to brush aside the strands of this web. Yet whilst some of the strands snap and break, others adhere and cling to his sword, confusing it, tangling it, slowing it. Before long it takes a great effort for Herric to cut them at all.

In the shaft, the water begins to rise. At first it is a slow movement, and Hrolf, Fynn and others watching have to observe very closely to see any perceptable change. As Herric deals more damage to the seals, however, the waters rise faster and faster, until they are spilling out of the shaft, bubbling and filling the hollow depression. As Herric thrusts and withdraws for the last time it seems that he may have done some significant thing, for there is a long drawn out noise, like a herd of bulls charging, clouds bursting, and a tribe of Eurmali farting, all rolled into one.

The shaft erupts in a fountain, and Herric is lifted high on its waters, thrown to one side in the tumult. If not for Jamal's strong grip on the rope it is likely that Herric would have been pulled some distance by the current, for now the waters have filled the depression, and are flooding down nearby gullies. They career this way and that, pushing loose rocks and boulders before them.
The fountain lasts for several minutes, during which time all the caravan stand and stare in awe. Herric, Blackbeak, Fynn, Hrolf and Jamal, together with Vern, can barely see for the spray and water. They are soaked and bedraggled and Blackbeak, for one, dances with the joy of it. Yet before too long it is done, and the fountain subsides to a steady flow of water that continues to search out the lowest nearby land.

The godling Elmeh Saif sings once more:

"Free on three sides,
yet bound on the fourth.
I honour you for your aid.
This is my blessing:
Quench thirst in my waters,
Take protection in my course.
For the Hero that will finally free me,
I vow friendship, power and gratitude."

Herric knows that he has not managed to completely free the godling. He has rent a wound in the web, through which the water may flow. But the web itself remains.

Enfrew suddenly comes up with an idea. "Wait, Humakt is the God of Oaths, but he is also God of Endings. He severed his blood ties with Orlanth. Maybe we can Heroquest to sever the bonds that bind this spirit in the same way?" He looks questioningly at Dorinda, considering her the most expirienced of the group.

Herric nods and looks about to see if any non-Humakti are about, "You begin to see the Truth of that which is Death. Behind Death there is Separation, the true root of what Humakt found and used on Grandfather Mortal. Death is but a result. Humakt led me to this Truth and I learned that all things must submit to this, even magic. Separation from the magic that bound it is what I attempted to perform on Elmeh Saif. Thus did I learn to Sunder Magics with Humakt's power."

Dorinda nods appreciatively. "And an excellent job you did of it, too. Enfrew may be right, perhaps we should return here someday and free the godling completely. But for now our duty is to the caravan we guard. Running water, as well as the Ward, will make the night much easier. And I wonder: with this unexpected water supply, could we now reach the White Ladies directly after all?"
She shrugs. "Still, we can discuss that in the morning. For now, let us return to the camp and find some dry clothes! Herric, are you well after your exertions?"

Jamal claps Herric a friendly blow on the shoulder "Luck and Idovanus' good graces follow you, that is not a bad thing, you have made our night work a little easier." With that Jamal turn back to the camp to enter that Warding and prepare for the coming of the Vampire.

The gullies around the depression have all filled to a depth of several feet, and the waters are flowing quite rapidly. The caravan, on it's high ground, is surrounded on three sides by water, and it possible that by morning it will be cut off altogether. Efridel isn't too worried, as he has forded greater depths, but he hopes that the godling can be persuaded to let the caravan pass in the morning.

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The guard has been posted, the warding set. The caravan turns in for the night, although few sleep well. Most are too fearful of the undeath haunting the trail to rest easily, although it is the long-missed sound of burbling waters that keeps others awake.
A mist rises early in the night, obscuring vision, and making the guards additionally nervous, for vivamorti are known to have some connection with such phenomena. However Efridel summons Vern to reassure everyone - especially the praxian mercenaries - that it is a 'good mist', and the sage manages to calm everyone down (although he later confesses to Fynn that he wouldn't know a good mist from a hole in the ground).

The night air brings disquieting sounds - a scream, the sounds of spirits tearing at one another, a torturous grinding of metal. At one point there is a piercing cry from near the caravan that chills the soul, and the devotees feel the warding first buckle and shake, and then suddenly surge with power. There is a gasp, followed by a hoarse babble of some weird tongue.

Jamal recognises the voice as Carmanian: "Thou art yet finished, yet know it not. If Foul Humakt teaches seperation, my instruction shall be binding. Thou hast made an enemy of me this night, and I shall not be forgetting." ;The dialect is ancient, such as might have been fashionable two or three hundred years ago.

Jamal bellows in return (in Carmanian) "Forewarded is fore armed sir. We await a chance to finish this business" To the others he says, "I feel we have made an enemy tonight. We will see him again"

Aelfwyrd looks at Jamal and smiles, "Well brother as long as we do see him! And preferably before he sees us! Then I will be happy with that!"

Hrolf joins Aelfwyrd and Jamal on the rise overlooking the dunes beyond the camp. Blackbeak scurries up after. The first glow of dawn is visible in the distance, and the mists are dissipating. "Run while you can, vampire!" Hrolf roars, "For in the End Death will take you!"

"*fluah-splat*" Blackbeak spits in support.

They see only the wraith-like figure of a man walking away from the warding, slipping into the mist.

In the morning some of Aelfwyrd's Death wards have been pulled out of the ground, and in several places the defences have been weakened. All give thanks that so dangerous a foe was excluded from the camp ground, and there is much rejoicing. Those in the caravan swear to make sacrifices to Humakt and Issaries when they next near a temple, and even the Storm Bulls - who had been looking forward to a famous fight with Chaos - admit that 'Humakt work great magic'.

The Impala riders follow the tracks around the camp and the tell the story, of how a 'man-like-thing' ran from the west towards the camp, how it prowled around the warding and pulled up some Death wards. It then managed to breach the outer layer and was attacked by spirits (the Howling Doomwind and Cutting Wind, presumably), before pressing on. The tracks come a dead stop at the water's edge, and then lead back out of the warding. In several other places they approach the warding, even crossing it in two places, but finally they turn away into the desert, and then disappear entirely.

After the celebrations get too far underway, Ernaldata the healer interupts with bad news. Several of the wounded Storm Bulls are now far too ill to live without urgent medical care, and Brenna is succumbing to a virulent infection. Worse, one whole family of the caravan shows signs of wasting disease - their food or water must have been contaminated. With the level of disease in the caravan, Efridel thinks it unlikely to be a wise thing to enter Biggle Stone. Instead, he says, they must change direction and aim for Horn Gate.

Water is replenished from Elmeh Saif, and Ernaldata takes the opportunity to insist that the diseased and their possessions are given a purifying bathing someway downstream. Efridel complains about time being wasted, but she insists that these measures will prevent disease from spreading. Not many believe her. Still, several of the caravan take the opportunity to jump in the water. Hrolf and his durulz friends offer their thanks for Elmeh Saif's sustenance and protection, and reverently bathe themselves in the water. Then they each offer something of themselves to the godling, and say farewell. Elmeh Saif reminds Hrolf and the durulz-folk that a bargin was struck - his freedom in return for his protection and the giving of his waters to cure thirst. he asks them to return and truly free him as soon as they can.

"When we get to the Zola Fel basin," remarks Jamal, "we should go and find a Zola Fel priest. They might be interested in where this new tributary came from."

The caravan is brought across the river without any trouble, and strikes east. By the end of that day's journey the wagons have reached the entrance to Listener Peak Pass and camp there. The journey through the pass begins the next day. Efridel follows the southern side, and for much of the day the wagons roll next to a sheer rock face the reaches up towards the Ginmuz Mountains. Around midday the Impala outriders report the caravan is being approached by a warband of Zebra riders, who, when they finally show themselves, make a great show of charging the Humakti, weapons drawn and screaming.

Pre-warned by Fynn, the Humakti do not flinch or move a muscle in the face of this intimidating display, and therby win much respect from the Zebra folk, and also the other nomads in the caravan. Fynn himself is rewarded as Kara flings herself from the back of her charging mount to embrace him fiercely, giving a wild laugh a she does so.

Having been introduced around the group, Kara pays her respects to Efridel, and they talk for some time in Praxian. The shamaness then visits the wounded and diseased and spends some time cloistered with Ernaldata in discussion.

She finally emerges, calling her folk to her and issuing orders. "Your healer-woman not much cop," she says cheerfully. "Yet young. Death-woman Brenna need help quick - I send her to Horn Gate with escort, White Chalana her best hope, but maybe not enough. As for the rest, I stay fight disease spirits with my art - teach young Ernaldata a thing or two."

This seems like good thing to all, especially Fynn.

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