Back/up "It's shaped like a Death Rune!" Pavis overall

Back in the Rubble again

The VII Cohort is hunkered down in the Old City, fresh from a short walk after having been brought ashore by Hrolf's contacts among the riverfolk. Legionnaires are taking the opportunity to make final checks to their kit. Siggyr and the other ten-thanes have assembled for a final briefing before closing in on their target area.

Siggyr is summing up his proposed tactics. "So, the purpose of the element of force is to be able to quickly reinforce any other unit that runs into trouble - not to move around bunched together at full strength. It is also to create confusion amongst any observers. We don't know the territory, so any individual group is likely to be observed. By spreading out the tens over a wider area we may be able to conceal the object of our interest. Runners moving between the tens will keep us all informed."

Siggyr now indicates the map that Vindana and Dorinda have spread on the ground. "Dorinda, you take your ten with Vern, Yaren, and Jakkanna, and search the main site. Look for entrances, wardings, and so on. You know what to do. Jamal, take your ten to this area to the South. Dig around, look at things and scratch your head, dig holes, get excited. Every half hour or so send runners to one of the other tens - it doesn't matter what the message is. My lot will be doing the same thing over this way," he indicates a point on the map. "I don't like the clumping of those ruins - it would be an excellent vantage point for mounting an attack, so we'll clear that area first. Hrolf, you take your scouts and move through this area with great discretion - you are not to be seen. General Vur is reputed to be in this area, and your task is to identify the location of his observing troops and estimate their strengths. If seen you are not to engage, but to look like a
perimeter patrol for the main groups - fall back and continue scouting in a different direction."

"Are there any comments or questions?"

Jamal nods, "We will run as a diversion then", he says nodding towards his ten. "Abul you will act as our runner and scout for this expedition, be observant"

Abul nods.

"I think that we should appear to be secretive, but noiser than the Waleesha's group. But then again not so noisy as to be the obvious diversion. I think we can manage that." he says looking at Boltar.

"Let's head out."

And so the groups split.

Yaren and Vindana are both familiar with the general area, though not the specifics, for there is little there to capture anyone's interest. Many years ago, all the buildings withing a bow-shot of the road had been deliberately demolished, presumably so as to deter ambushes by bandits. Since then much of the stone has been removed, and undergrowth has covered what remained, defeating the original objective - there is at least as much cover now as the buildings would have given, but it is far harder to move around.

They can work out roughly where the temple site ought to be by a process Vindana calls "triangulation". After that, the problem is checking the area for the remains of walls, which, if they are visible at all on the surface, will be covered by grass and brambles. Whatever Solayo saw from the air is not visible on the ground, and a painstaking, methodical search seems to be the only reliable way of finding what they seek.

Yaren attempts his "Find Hidden Way" feat, but this leads only to a patch of bushes that looks like all the others. It might be the original site of the temple front door - it might not. Vern points out that if it is, standard Humakti temple layout shows them roughly where the rest of the walls should be in relation to it, but his enthusiasm wanes when faced with the task of actually looking for them.

The rest of the group start a methodical search, guided by Jakkanna, with Oddus, Elendala and Kristen taking turns to stand guard in case of unwanted interruptions. Vern wanders at random looking for something of interest, until Dori, irritated, sends him off as a messenger to Siggyr.

Jakkanna mutters something about Verns obvious dilletante-ism and dislike for the nitty-gritty of the job in hand.

"I'm not a expert at this sort of thing, but I can lay down the basic approach, and we'll have to hope we get lucky."

Egil approaches Siggyr. "Sir, if I may I'd like to help out here. I used to be apprenticed to a man who did this sort of thing for a living and can still remember one or two things about finding hidden ruins."

Assuming permission is granted he trots across to where the search is in progress and starts to add his two pennies worth. "Old Masegil used to do it this way, find a likely spot for a wall or such like and then dig down until you hit something. See which direction it runs in and
then mark the line with rope or string to give youself a guide where to dig until you come to a corner. Then start again for the new wall."

Armed with this advice, investigation proceeds, but progress is slow and disheartening. None of the team are accustomed to digging more than a quick trench for a campsite, and they do not normally have to remove bushes in order to do that. Some stones are found, but none look particularly like the remains of walls. But they persevere - Dori uses each in turn as a messenger to other groups, making sure everyone gets a break.

Siggyr hasn't yet got used to Pavic summer heat. As the day's temperatures soar, along with his anxiety, sweat begins to cascade down his face. Siggyr knows all about the pressures of command - it's the pressures of reporting back to Illig that have him worried.

Siggyr calls a rest atop a jagged pile of stones and ruins from which he can survey the surrounding land. All day messages have been coming to him from the other groups, and he can easily see how well they are doing. Dorinda and Egil's team is standing around morosely, and Siggyr feels the tiniest shiver of despair - they are so close, they must be!

Siggyr intently offers up a silent prayer to Humakt. "Lord, help us succeed in this, to find safety and gather strength against our foes, to honour old places of Death. I am your slave in all things, and cleave to your will, and I am ashamed I cannot do this thing by myself; come Dark Season I will walk the HeroPaths and ask Raven to better my senses."

This is a rash vow, and Siggyr knows it, but he has waited many years to be in his position today, and must prove himself. If Illig and the temple support him, so be it. If they do not, he will walk to the Otherside alone.

He half-hopes a spot on the earth will begin to glow black, or for a sword to fall from the sky and bury itself in a secret door, or for the temple ruins themselves to crumble and reveal what lies beneath. None of that happens.

Siggyr sits, contemplating what the next move should be. Whether to withdraw for the approaching night, or to dig in and stand guard. A lone, black bird flying above catches his eye as it soars down towards the New City. It circles, arcs high, and then plummets with little ostentation to the ground. It lands mere yards away from Egil and his weary crew, who appear not to notice it. The bird craws, once, plaintively.

"Shrev," summons Siggyr, thoughtfully. "Run down to Egil and tell him to start digging where that bird is standing. I think our prayers have been answered."

Egil looks up from his digging at Shrev's approach. He listens to the instructions, casting glances at the beady eyed black bird before nodding his agreement. He walks over to the bird, which squwaks in annoyance at the disturbance and flaps off to settle on a nearby rock. Planting his shovel in the ground he calls to the others in the excavation party "We dig here. 4 foot square and we keep going down until we find something."

Standing in his linen tunic and trews, he checks his sword is within easy reach, and without waiting for the others to reach him he then
thrusts his spade into the hard baked soil expecting a long afternoon of digging.

The raven, perched on the dusty grey stone, watches him with what appears to be a sardonic expression, as if it, too expects him to still be at it come sunset. At least this time, their chosen spot to dig is clear of bushes, and there's room to pile up the earth they remove. One spadeful. Two. A third - and his shovel strikes something hard. It's too dusty to be sure what. He stops, peering down, trying to push the loose earth aside. There's something down there - something black? Hastily he digs further, clearing away the earth around what appears to be a large black stone. A long stone. A wall.

Shrev, watching with interest but not offering to help, lets out a yelp of delight. "We've found it! I'll run and tell Siggyr..."

"No, you won't." Dori is as calm as before, but can't quite hide the delight at the find. "You'll walk, slowly, and as if you're depressed and bored, and go and tell Jamal. Quietly. I'll tell Siggyr."

"Oh." Shrev's expression says everything about hs opinion of leaders who grab the glory. He looks around at the rest. "Egil's the next most senior, then, he's in command till you get back?"

"I'm not going anywhere. And by the way, Egil, that was good work. Just let me tell Siggyr that, as well..."

She turns to face the North, frowns, concentrates - and a crisp wind starts to blow. From her, towards where Siggyr and his team were digging. Elsewhere, the dust remians undisturbed. "Siggyr," she says conversationally, "your raven was right. A lot more work to do, but Egil's found us the start." The wind carries her words away as soon as they're formed.

Digging continues....

It's hot. No surprise, in Prax, in Fire Season, but noon really isn't a good time to be digging. It has to be done, though, and complaining about hard work is not something the Legion make a habit of.

"Egil, your turn for a break." Dori takes the shovel off him. She at least doesn't seem to be bothered by the heat - but then, she grew up here. It's harder for anyone used to the chill and damp of Dragon Pass. "Go and take a message somewhere, see if you can find some shade on the way."

"Back to Siggyr?"

"Better not, he'll only have you digging again. No, tell you what. You know what you're doing as a scout - go and find Hrolf's group. This isn't an obvious message to distract anyone, this is for real. Don't get spotted, don't give away their positions, but see how they're doing."

Egil quickly dons his armour before rooting around in his pack and retrieving a grubby brown/black gauze poncho, he slips it over his head
"Keeps the sun from reflecting off of the armour" he murmurs to no-one in particular. Soon he is crouching low and making his way to where Hrolf and his group headed off.

Egil makes a wide arc around Hrolf's last known position. He keeps low, moving through dead ground where available. He stops regularly to make sure he keeps his bearings and to look for signs of activity. As he crawls over a low rise he sees a flash as sunlight glints on a helmet. Looking around he works out a route to where the flash came from which will keep him out of their sight. He loosens Evergleam in its sheath and works his way round. Eventually he sees the small party of lookouts, all facing away from him. Pulling Evergleam free he sneaks right up to the guards before resting the cold, razor sharp sword against Blackbeak's neck. "Tut tut Blackbeak, maybe you want to watch out for people sneaking up on you instead of hoping for the right cards." His voice is a low growl barely disguising his anger and contempt for the situation he found. "Where's Hrolf? I have to speak to him." He resheathes his sword and waits for Blackbeak to detail a guard to lead him to Hrolf.

A quick flip of feathers, and several things vanish. "Cardth? What cardth? We never thaw any cardth, did we?" Angus and Hughie shake their heads vigorously, a few feathers flying loose. "Never thaw nuffin." "Too bithy watching the woad." "Cards? Uth?" Bright little eyes stare up at him in anxious mock-innocence.

He probably isn't meant to hear the sotto-voce comments.
"Oh, thhit. Had to be him. He'th wight in with Thiggyr, he ith. An' you know what he'll do."
"Ooohhh thit ith wight. We are tho dead."
"We thould be tho lucky."
Then Blackbeak again: "Thuf Thiggyr - what if Hrolf findth out?" He doesn't sound scared as he says that, oddly enough. He sounds guilty.

The whithpering - sorry, whispering - stops, Blackbeak gets to his feet. "The both'ths over to the north with Amund an' Kalf, thircling round. He'll be back in a bit. You want thome water? We got it nith an' cold." He proffers a water skin.

Egil takes the skin still scowling at the duck and takes a large gulp. "I'll keep to myself what I saw here but be sure then next time you lie to me will a short moment before Siggyr hears what you were doing." He tosses the skin back at the duck "I'm going to find Hrolf now, mind you do your job properly. If someone sneaks past you because you're playing cards I'll be calling you out." He gives the duck a hard stare before he starts cautiously to make his way north to meet up with Hrolf and the others.

For most of the Cohort, the day is long, hot, and boring. Messages go back and forth, some more genuine than others. Hrolf reports moderate success - there are Humakti watchers, who are probably Vur's men, but they seem to be taking an equal interest in all the groups. Amund, reporting this to Siggyr, explains that "they're very polite about it. They're pretending they haven't seen us, and we're pretending we haven't seen them."

The other thing the scouts report is that Manside is, in general, more heavily populated than they had realised, and not just by monsters. Most dwelling places are defended, and partially underground, but they exist, and comparatively "normal" people live there. Children, even. Both Jamal's and Siggyr's groups acquire a collection of small boys making excited noises at the sight of so much armour and such strange weapons.

This concept of "normal people live here" is brought home to Dori's group when Vindana decides that when they stop for lunch, "I'll just nip home to Mum". Her family live in Manside, too. Dori cautions her to secrecy before she leaves, which she finds somewhat disappointing - she was hoping to get her brothers hired as diggers.

There is a pause during the afternoon when the scouts report a troop of Zebra riders patrolling, and the distraction team nearest the road
(Siggyr's) move into the bushes and tactfully out of sight for a while. The easiest way to answer questions, after all, is not to be asked any.

Once Egil has explained the uses of string and so on for marking walls, all teams involved start doing the same sort of thing. Siggyr's team find this particularly easy to do in a convincing manner, as they do in fact find a wall while digging!

They set about unearthing this with great excitement and interest, and Siggyr makes a great show of praying in thanks.

No black stone here. What they find, with perhaps a couple of hours left before the end of the day, is a roughly rectangular outline facing the road, open front. They dig further on this site, trying to make it look like they have found something really interesting, and send lots of messages to the other groups. Digging further down around these walls, and in fact going several feet deep in what some might deem to be an excess of enthusiasm, they spot something gleaming, inside the walled area and near the "front" (open end nearest the road). It looks golden. They dig round it, carefully. A long thin thing that's been bent. Rounded edges, nothing sharp. About 2 feet across in total. Getting it out and cleaning it up reveals a metal rod, bent into a shape that's a bit like an EWF rune (only without the spikey add-ons). Someone who could read modern English might compare it to the letter W, only more rounded. A quick scratch with a dagger (or even a shovel) suggests that it's bronze, but gold-plated.

Perhaps Vern will know what it is? But no-one can quite remember where Vern is, or was last seen. He was around with Dori... Then he got sent off to be a messenger.. Then he went to look at an interesting rock... Erm.... Odd, isn't it? No-one seems to have seen him for a bit.

Oh, the stupid bugger. I'm sure Runs-with-Humakti could track him down - Vastyr is with Hrolf's lot, so a quick Truth on the Wind message to him.

Vern is found unharmed, apparently fascinated by some half-ruined walls a bit closer to the lived-in area of Manside than any of the group were. There's something "important" about the shape of the bricks.

"Well Vern, I'm happy that your research into brickology is bearing such heady fruits, but could you - pretty please - stick with the fucking
programme?" manages Siggyr, barely able to control himself. In a quieter voice he continues, "just take pity on me, Scholar. If you get swallowed up in the ruins, I will be responsible to Illig and the Knowledge Temple for you. Just stay in sight of the warriors. For your own safety. Or I'll put you in chains."

And he's got no idea what this gold thing is. It has no magical properties that he can see.

Siggyr shrugs. "Well, I guess its all loot at the end of the day. Let's carry on digging round here until its time to regroup down at the main site. Everyone look excited."

A very long and boring day. Jamal looks out over the hot futility of the "dig" over which he was presiding. There are a few fairly convincing looking holes in the grounds (at least to Jamal's eyes), but appart from this there has been very little to show for a days toil.

Keeping the group motivated in this heat had been a feat in itself, initial enthusiasm had faded, and even Jamal had faded into
lethargy in the mid afternoon heat.

Jamal regularly sent out Abul with "status" reports to Siggyr, and to recce the area, but he came across nothing suspicious.

Seeker, being used to the heat also scanned the area for malign spirits, but again all was quiet.

By the end of the day, most of the group contented themselves with standing guard, or playing with some of the children from the local settlement.

While doing this, Jamal asked some of the children if they had come across any other men similarly armed, digging in the ground in the same way.

They had indeed! He got an over-enthusiastic and exaggerated description of Aelf, who seemed to have been using his "play to crowd" abilities.

They also mentioned a third group, but as one of them explained "Aunt Vindana was there, so we went away quick".

Jamal mused, the call from Siggyr couldn't come soon enough.

Before sunset, Dori's words on the wind are that they have marked out the complete outline of what does indeed seem to be a building shaped like a death rune, with walls of black stone.There is no sign of an entrance to any underground portion of it as yet, but then only the outside walls have been investigated.

A further message comes back from Dori - Yaren has a ritual that he says will find it, and he'd like to do it before sundown. It's hard to tell expression in words borne on the wind, but she seems uneasy about the proposed ritual.

Siggyr gnaws his beard for a while, closing his one good eye. Then he sends back the terse message, "Tell Yaren to go ahead. Ask if he needs support from us."

"He'd like a Hu representative. As the opposition." A flat tone. There's something Dori doesn't like about this at all.

Her brief conversation with Siggyr over, Dori frowns around at the rest of the group, most snatching a welcome rest in the shade. "Egil, you're a Huist, aren't you? Even so... where was Hrolf when you last saw him?" Once the description has been given, she nods. "Right. Let's get an expert in on this."

Once more, she calls up the North Wind to carry her words. "Hrolf, could you come over to our area, please? We need some advice on the theology of Hu."

It's only a few minutes before the big man steps silently out from behind the trees, and she nods to Yaren. "Right. Tell him what you told me."

"I learnt this ritual from Kareth Sweetvoice, who created it," Yaren begins seriously – the tacit disapproval of two Swords of Humakt is
perhaps a little disconcerting. "He had travelled with Humakti, and quested with them, and knew much of the links between the two cults.
The story of how Issaries found the path to Humakt's Sword Hall includes a confrontation with Issaries' greatest foe, his Other – Hu of the nine silences. Kareth took it for granted that the Hu of our myths is the same as the Hu who is Humakt, and so it seemed to me to be only fitting that an initiate of Hu should take part in this ritual now. But I gather that this identity is not known to you, or perhaps not generally accepted...?"

"Exactly." Dori turns to Hrolf. "My knowledge of Hu is limited – I was an initiate, once, true, but I never learnt much of the mysteries. What can you tell us about this? Would it be a thing to honour the god, or blasphemy?"

Hrolf gives Yaren a long, appraising look. "I don't know a Hu of the Nine Silences. The Issaries cult may have conflated several discrete enemies of speech or communication. But anyone trying to speak with the dead would certainly face Hu Truesword."

"The ritual you described sounds acceptable. I or Egil will fill Hu's role." Hrolf crosses his arms. "We bear you no ill will, but know this: we will defend Hu's laws with all our might, and you may not survive."

"I am willing to fill the role, I have heard this myth before although never seen this ritual. As Hrolf says the price for your failure here is that you get to remain in Hu's Hall. My sword awaits."

When Yaren had tried to find the temple location, before, he had wandered around the area, humming quietly to himself. Now, with the first experimental note, there is an answer. Not quite an echo. It's hard to tell where it's coming from – underground? And is it from this world, or that of the spirits? He changes to a more complex tune, and again, is answered. The little clearing is very still, as if every other sound is holding its breath. Only the croak of the raven, still sitting on the grey stone, is unaffected. It's near sunset now, the scent of the vegetation lies heavy in the air and the shadows are growing longer. The two tunes meet. Match. It's a duet – very, very close harmony duet, and getting closer all the time. The location is becoming more precise - the centre of the clearing, not the edges. In the undergrowth that they haven't yet had a reason to clear. A startled bird flies up, calling plaintively, black and white wings against the pale of the evening sky. The songs go on, closer and closer, winding ever more tightly about each other. Only a sliver of Yelm's disc is visible now.

The raven croaks once, and is silent. The shadow of the stone on which it sits reaches out across the clearing, touching the tangle of honeysuckle the bird had come from. And with the last light of the day, the two songs match exactly, and cancel. In that moment of transition, black walls flash into existence around them, vanish again. Was that an entrance? Steps down? The warm, sweet scent of honeysuckle vanishes in the sudden chill. Silence reigns.

Hrolf/Hu stands near the entrance to the Vale of Death, silent and watchful. There is no sound; there is no movement. What seems like centuries pass.

Then, in the distance, a figure appears. Hu can see right away that it is not dead. Ah, it's Issaries! And, yes, he is bringing the dead with him in his role as psychopomp. Humakt's Own; the Hereward Legion. It is not yet their time to pass into the Halls, but their passage is free.

Why is Issaries humming? Fool! This should be a place of silence. But this is of no consequence: the guide of the dead must be shown the way. Hu/Hrolf draws his sword, and holds it upright in front of him, letting it resonate to Issaries's song. It responds and --

-- and he realises that he does not defend this place alone. His Other within these halls is with him. Hu holds the Sword, the Other holds no sword, but all other possibilities. Alike, yet utterly unalike, they are united in this. There will be Silence.

The moment is over, and Hrolf finds himself back in the Rubble.

As Yaren, Egil and Hrolf start the ceremony, Jakanna's attention suddenly switches to the ongoing events. She rushes back to her pack and pulls out what looks like a tablet and white scribing implement, and starts writing furiously.

At one point she looks on the point of stopping Yaren to ask him a question, but pulls back thinking better of it.

Egil steps up to stand next to Hrolf, sweeping his sword out he raises it as if to strike Yaren before he thrusts it into the hard baked soil. Passing his hand over the pommel a circle of silence bursts from the weapon, all within 20m of the sword are enveloped in absolute silence.

Those on the outside notice nothing, yet to Hu and Issaries the world is now an eerily quiet place. Issaries lips continue to move but the sound does not reach even his own ears, Hu stands impassive as he watches Issaries and waits.

Yaren nods respectfully to Hu/Egil, and ceases his attempts at speech. A graceful hand gesture indicates his wish to parley - and those watching are reminded of the same signal in Swordspeech, though that appears almost crude in comparison. Further gestures make his intent plain - the wish to enter Hu's domain as a friend, guiding those who in any case have a right to be there. Every gesture is precise, subtle, and so full of meaning that even those who know none of the language he uses understand.

Hu seems momentarily stunned. Then slowly and deliberately he reaches forward and grasps the hilt of his sword. He tugs it free of the ground and raises it slowly to cover his face, saluting Issaries. Then he returns it to its sheath before turning and walking slowly back into the gloom of his hall. The silence is instantly lifted and even Orlanths breath now seems loud compared to what came before.

The darkness and cold fades, they are back in the dry heat of Pavis and the shades of dusk. And there, peeping out from under the edge of the honeysuckle, is the corner of a stone slab. Surely it should have been visible before? It's obvious enough now. A few quick pulls at the vegetation - yes, it's a square slab, barely weathered by the years. And it looks easy enough to lift.

As the three successfully complete the proceedings, Jakanna taps the tablet which causes the writing to fade, with a satisfied smile on her face.

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