Vesekor searches the Rubble

Vesekor swore as he scrambled up the mound of broken bricks. "Damn officers can't find their bum with both hands a map - where the hell were these Humakti supposed to be, and where the hell are we?"

The Rinliddi wing was out in front of the Marble Phalanx, scouting the rubble for their elusive foe. "Edasul, what do you see? You're supposed to be a tracker, dammit! Where the hell did they get to? If we can't find where they've gone, you're going to be tracking the bottom of the kettle for burnt-on oatmeal for the next moon!"

"Hey boss, company coming" whispered Devikor.

"What's the problem, Vrimon?" asked Anerash, the Political Officer commanding the detachment.

"Nothing, sir, just locating the trail of those barbarian scum, sir." "You pimple-arsed blowfly's shit" he thought to himself.

"Well, find it faster, vrimon, or face field punishment for you and your men, is that clear? I want those barbarian death-worshippers found, and soon. Get me?"

"Yessir, right away sir, and now if the officer will permit, I will so instruct the men under my command."

Gods he was tired of this bullshit assignment. First getting posted to this pestilential shithole in the middle of the Great Wide Empty, and then having to put up with the crap from Politicals who didn't understand the first thing about soldiering, or the enemy, or the men under their command. Now he was supposed to be tracking some barbarians that had "defied" the Marble Phalanx by being so bold as to give them a beating. So because they couldn't deal with barbarians, they cried home to mommy and this political idiot shows up to make the badness go away - by abusing Vesekor and the men under his command.

Posting the pansy-assed phalangites here to Pavis, and expecting them to be any use at all in the broken ground of the Rubble was typical of the Powers-that-Be and their screwed up knowledge of warfare. Sure, Prax swarmed with cavalry, but the nomad way of fighting was such that any idiot stupid enough to send the phalanx out against them would be lucky to bring home a tenth of the troopers he sent out, so here the phalanx was, in the midst of the most broken terrain to be found in Prax, shining their armor and looking good for visiting nobles and officers, while Vesekor and his men did the real work of scouting the rubble, fighting the rebels, and making the city safe for those same nobles and officers.

"Hey Vrimon! I think I found 'em, look over here..."

"Good work, Vrimon. Keep your men back, I'll deal with this. We want to take these barbarians prisoner - we have plans for them. I'll need you to guard them once I've disabled them, so stay at least 100 paces from them, and stay upwind."

Vesekor returned to his men, clicking the codes for "Hide" and "Be Quiet" and "Move North". He and his men hunkered in the rubble, a distance from the Humakti, though still with a line of sight to them.

As they waited, a faint scent rolled over their position - a heavy dose of rose, with an undertone of carrion. Even upwind, the scent made them dizzy, and Vesekor maintained his watch only by the strictest self-discipline. As he watched, the Humakti collapsed, one after the other as the wave of scent washed over them. A few remained standing, but even they looked dazed and confused.

Then the Marble Phalanx moved in, their noses and mouths covered with discolored cloth. The Dedecuron in charge finally waved Vasekor and his men over. The stench of Carrion-Rose inside the camp made the Rinliddi retch, until the Dedecuron handed them clothes to cover their faces. The cloth was impregnated with something that cut the scent totally.

"Typical", thought Vesekor, "The Marbleheads get something to keep the stench out, while we have to endure it until they need us."

As the Dedecuron handed over the cloths, he gave Vesekor orders: "You stay here and guard the prisoners. They aren't the ones we're looking for, they are just the local Humakti, but as soon as they come to we'll question them - they were guarding this tunnel entrance, and Anerash figures the ones we want are down there. When we get confirmation, you'll track them underground. Until then, sit on these guys. If any escape, they could ruin our plans, and it will be on your head."

A couple phalangites dragged a officer over to where Anerash was building some sort of ritual enclosure. "Ah, our first guest, make him comfortable, won't you?" Under Anarash's direction, the Humakti was soon stripped and tied to a crude framework. Anerash then waved some sort of bottle under the captive's nose, and he woke with a start. "Let's start at the beginning, who are you, and why are you here?"

The Humakti was tough, Vesekor would give him that. He held out for a while, but then Anerash removed something from a pouch. It looked like a bit of crumbled ribbon as Anerash placed it on the Humakti's belly. "This is a Aijo-child, and only your answering my questions will relieve your suffering." As Anerash spoke, the "ribbon" dug into the Humakti's body like an earthworm retuirning to the ground. As the Humakti's face went pale with pain, Anerash continued. "It will start by eating your liver. See how its body swells with the flesh and blood it consumes? This little darling will grow to be the size of your torso, keeping you alive as it eats your organs one by one. Now, shall we try again? Who are you, and why are you here? What did good Cavos tell you?"

Cavos! That shit-eating rat bastard! Anerash was in league with the man who tried to sacrifice Vesekor's clutch, and was probably responsible for the elimination of the Fourth Wing. Vesekor's current "command" was all that remained of the wing, and Aneresh was working with (or for?) Cavos? The time for an accounting was fast approaching.

The screams of the prisoner abruptly shut off. "We've got what we need. Dedecuron, secure that tunnel entrance, the ones we want are down there. You and your men will take them as they emerge. Vrimon, drag those other prisoners over here, we don't need them any more, and Aijo needs to feed."

"Boss? Do we do what he says? That asshole is working for the Unconquered Sun guy that almost sacrificed us that time." "Shut up, Haratli, you and your brother start dragging guys, but take your time about it. I need time to think"

Devikor, Vesekor's best friend and the wing's chaplain spoke up: "Aijo? That sounds familiar, but. where did I read. Oh Shit! Hey, listen, Aijo is the Rose that Feeds on Men. He's going to sacrifice them all to a demon, just like that Cavos asshole was going to do to us." Devikor thought some more, and his face grew the color of ash. "Oh crap, that smell, we've been exposed to Aijo! That scent acts as a conduit to It, and those who smell it are doomed if It manifests. We've been had!"

"I've never heard of this Aijo, but I'm not going to stand by and let him sacrifice us, or them, and we're certainly not going to help him. Okay troops, gather round. HEY HARATLI, YOU AND YOUR BROTHER GET OVER HERE." The six Rinliddi soldiers gathered around Vesekor. "Okay troops, we have to make a decision, right now. Here's the situation: Anerash, that REMF, is going to sacrifice all these prisoners to some demon. Then you can bet that he's going to eliminate us. We have about two seconds to decide whether we stick around, split, or help these guys, then split."

He looked at his handful of troops. Haratli and his twin brother Herethu; the tracker Edasul; Ravarina the healer and sometimes lover of Jethalen, the signifier; and finally Devikor. All were in various stages of shock except Herethu; Vesekor often wondered if he had ice-water instead of blood in his veins.

Devikor spoke first. "We can't let this asshole do it - not to us, and not to them. I say we free them and get the hell out of here." Everyone else nodded. "T'aint right, no-how" said Haratli, the second most laconic of the troopers. "Let's get 'em up and at him."

"Okay, we've officially changed sides. The cry is 'Humakt', just so we don't get sliced and diced by our new friends, who may not realize where we stand. Start cutting their bonds, they look like they are coming to. Most of their weapons are over there - Haratli, you and Herethu amble over and get ready to defend the weapon pile from the Marbleheads. Devikor, we're going to stop the summoning, and you're going to tell us how.

As the troopers start to cut the prisoners' bonds, a howl arises from the surrounding hills of rubble.

"Holy shit! Get these bonds cut NOW. And remember, our cry is Humakt!" Vesekor looked around. The bound humakti were still shaking off the effects of the scent, a horde of warriors were pouring down from the surrounding rubble - some heading for the phalanx, some for Anerash, who was working on his ceremony, surrounded by a small guard. The Marbleheads were confused, some still watching the temple, some trying to form up to face the charging warriors. A strange wind had sprung up, sounding of detah and destruction, whipping sand and dust into the face of the phalanx.

As the charging warriors smashed into the guard surrounding Anerash, he reached into a small pouch and brought out a small object, which he cast to the ground. The wind stopped for a moment, and all was still, as if the world was holding its breath waiting to see what happened.

At first, nothing did, but then a small mound appeared at the point where Anerash had cast the object. It burst, and a rose bud appeared, growing with supernatural speed to the height of a small tree. The bud bloomed as it grew, blood-red petals tipped with black. The wind resumed, and the sounds of battle sounded again.

As the plant grew, it sent out runners towards the still-bound Humakti prisoners. The tendrils covered the prisoners and sank long thorns into their skin. The vine-covered bodies were pumped dry, their skin collapsing in on the framework of bones.

Vesekor and Devikor looked at each other in dismay. "We are too late," said Devikor, "He's brought Aijo here to feed. There is only one way to eliminate him: dig down and root out the seed that Anerash used to summon it. But it won't be easy - we've been marked as Aijo's prey, and will be in grave danger. Plus, there is something else that I'm trying to remember, something about the victims."

"Well, while you work on that, we've got to do something. I'm going to rescue the one they tortured; I can see that he's still breathing, though that thing is still attached to him." He clicked "To Me" and "Forward", the battle-clicks sounding in the ears of his men even through the fury of the battle and the wind. Taking a few running steps, they launched themselves into the air, flying over the fighting below and landing inside the defensive ring around Anerash, all the while crying "Humakt" at the top of their lungs.

"Take him" Vesekor said, pointing at the body of the humakti officer, "and get him out of here". Haralti and Herethu grabbed the offier by the armpits and leapt back out of the defensive circle, Ravarina following, already working on the problem of the Aijo-thing still attached to his belly.

Vesekor and his remaining force faced off against Anerash and his guard, a huge, bearded barbarian from Arir, who had never been known to speak. "Kill them, Keldax, Kill them all" shrieked Anerash, as he fumbled at his waist pouch.

The giant roared and lunged forward, his sword sweeping the air like a willow wand. The Rinliddi sprang into the air like frightened birds, flying out of range of his too-fast strokes. But they could not stay in the air indefinitely, their flight magic only worked for short bursts of flight, not sustained effort. Vesekor clicked "Javelins", and the warriors threw their darts at the giant. All but one were batted out of the air by Keldax in an amazing display of swordsmanship. The last one only scratched the giant, no sort of disabling blow.

Vesekor landed, his mind working furiously. "We can't take him on with our swords against that monster blade he's using, we'll be cut to ribbons in no time - our shields won't even slow it down. Javelins are no good. We need. Ah, here we go." Vesekor picked up a double-handful of dust and sand, then leapt upwind of Keldax and threw the mixture in his eyes.

Laid flat, Hrolf gently peers over the ridge and quickly takes in the two groups of Lunar soldiers, the established ambush, and the incapacitated Humakti. Not too far off he can see Karrath struggling. The thing thrashing around on Karrath's chest and the postures of several figures surrounding him leaves little doubt as to what is going there. Well, that explains the screaming.

"Bugger me," says Hrolf softly.

"Whazzat?" comes a gravely voice from behind and below him.

"You remember the Yanafali that Herric duelled in Tourney Altar?"

Aelf frowns, "Yeah – Anthippi… Ahtnopa… Anthippus something. Bad loser. You said he was on the Cradle too. What about him?"

Hrolf clears his throat. "Well, he's down there with a bunch of his friends torturing Karrath."

"That ain't right – torturing Karrath is our job."

There's scraping and scrabbling behind them as another body keeping low crawls up to the vantage point. "What the Hells is keeping you?
What do you see?"

"Well, Sir, I can see a half cohort of Marble Phalanx and a few files of those Rinliddi skirmishers. It looks like they've set up ambush outside the vampire's temple, and so far they've managed to lay out a whole bunch of our lads. Karrath is down there being tortured right now by … what looks like a political officer, some flunkies, and a guy that we ran into in Tourney Altar."

"Anthippus something," offers Aelfwyrd, lazily.

Siggyr double takes violently. "Anthippus? Anthippus Anthellus?" He scrambles up beside Hrolf without waiting for Aelf's reply.

"Uh… yeah, I think that sounds …."

Siggyr ignores him, focussing instead on the face of one man standing over Karrath. "Humakt Humakt Humakt," mutters Siggyr, and Hrolf is alarmed to see that the officer's face is drawn completely white. His fists are clenched into the ridge's dirt so hard that blood has been drawn. All sign of the dispassionate, emotionless commander has utterly vanished.

"Um… Siggyr? Are you…"

"Hrolf." Siggyr's voice is cold and hard with anger. "Take the detachment along the ridge to that outcrop. Fall on the Phalanx's rear. Hit them with everything you have. Use your Honour feats to inspire your warriors, and instruct them to use Death and Truewind magics as they are able. Drive a wedge through their ranks and break into single combat as quickly as you can. Do not allow the Phalanx to reform. Kill them all. Those are my instructions. Other than that, you're in command. Aelf, you, Shrev, Hrodar and Fasten Spear are with me. I'm going to attack the command area, and you're to guard me. Kill everything that moves except Anthippus, for he shall be my sacrifice to the God. If I fall, slay him for me, but make sure I am dead – if I live and find another has killed him, I shall kill his killer. That is the Oath I swore ten years ago."

Hrolf looks down at the massed ranks of the Phalanx, back towards his new, and certainly smaller, command, and then back at Siggyr. "Sir, I don't think…"

"No, you don't. You follow orders." Siggyr's voice is low enough that it won't be carried, but the fury it contains could level hills. "Go!"

Hrolf exchanges a worried look with Aelf, who shrugs. If Siggyr wants to throw away his command for a personal vendetta, that's his business, and anyway, Aelf is bored of sitting around waiting.

As Hrolf executes his orders, Siggyr continues to stare fixedly down at the Lunars, his gaze never straying from Anthippus. His ten fidget with their gear and nervously glance at each and their thane. Finally, after a bit of shuffling and coughing, Shrev is foolish enough to ask, "er… boss… what did this guy do to you?"

There is a long, long pause, broken by the howl as Hrolf's detachment pour over the ridge and fall on the Lunar rear ranks. Siggyr rises, draws his sword and solemnly kisses a token on its hilt. He looks down at Shrev, a black wind beginning to stir the soil at his feet, and says, "he married my cousin." And then he is gone, over the ridgeline, a wailing killer with madness in his eyes and Death in his heart. Without pause for his followers, Siggyr falls on the Lunar officers, Doomwind billowing in his wake.

Anthippus, startled and transfixed by the sudden carnage amongst the Phalanx, is unaware of Siggyr until almost the last moment. A bodyguard steps between them only to disappear in a crimson mist, and then Anthippus is staggering backwards behind his other guards. Siggyr advances towards them, his sword arm rising and falling, hewing and thrusting in a single unbroken motion. His one good eye gleams with anticipation, and spittle flecks his lips.

Shrev, Hrodar and Fasten-Spear flank their thane to push aside all those in his way, caring less for killing than for simply clearing a path to keep a this back. Aelfwyrd follows like the bad wake to a storm, cleaving apart those who remain.

Roaring in frustration, Siggyr stays his swordarm to rip aside his helmet, revealing a face terribly twisted by hate. "Anthippus Whoresson, you've run far enough from me - summon what few shreds of manliness remain and face me with honour, then die!"

Anthippus visibly flinches at the sight of Siggyr's face and takes an impromptu step backwards, much to the disdain of his bodyguard. Yet his voice is steady and contemptuous as he steps forward again, saying "You poor fool - have you been chasing me all this time? You have no cause, Siggyr! You ruined my property. I punished her and got satisfaction from you, and that is the end of it. Your own father agrees with this!"

Siggyr smiles savagely, and points to his initiation Death rune. "I have no father!," he roars.

Anthippus glances at his much reduced guard, and then at Siggyr's followers. "Well, if you are determined, let us settle this honourably as you can manage, as two foes should, man to man, bronze on bronze. If you dare face me Siggyr, I challenge you in single combat." Anthippus smiles silkily at his own words.

Siggyr's only reply is strangled scream of hate-filled rejection as he leaps forward and redoubles his attack. The Yanafali barely manages to parry his first blow, and then their blades are little but a blur.

Anthippus' followers fall like ripe wheat under Aelfwyrd's nine bladed sword, and the Far Walker is grimly satisfied with his bloody harvest.

Pushed back again, Anthippus gasps, "your skills have improved, young Siggyr! When last we met you were but a whelp, and I see you have not been idle..." He pauses to turn aside Siggyr's blade and riposte, but his thrust is cunningly and harmlessly trapped between Siggyr's shield and sword, and then the two men are locked together, eye to eye.

"You don't know the half of it," grins Siggyr, and then strikes his elbow hard into the other's throat.

His larynx crushed, the Yanafali drops blade and shield to flail helplessly, wide-eyed. Siggyr observes Anthippus curiously for a moment, like a boy torturing an ant, before impaling him on the point of Death. Blood welling up from his mouth and nose, Anthippus sinks slowly to his knees, his eyes wondering lifted to the sky, and his gore-filled mouth muttering a wordless prayer. All anger drained from him, Siggyr continues to watch his enemy struggle into stillness, until he is finally dead.

At last Siggyr places one foot on Anthippus' chest to tug free his sword, and turns to face Aelfwyrd. He is completely calm again.

"You know? I really enjoyed that."

Graylor and Dori go to the window to have a look and see what they can.

"The ones in the feathers are Rinliddi." She whispers to Graylor. "Cavos used some as victims the second time he tried to sacrifice me. I wonder if they are the same ones. Hey it looks like they are changing sides; they are cutting Karrath's men free."

"What's that noise?" Graylor asks and then answers himself. "It's the doomwind. The Legion has arrived and they are attacking. They must be there in numbers as I recon that there is half a cohort of the Marble Phalanx out there."

Graylor moves away and looks at Dori. "Should we go out there and lend a hand?"

Yenda calls quietly. "The Lunars have broken and are running this way!"

Dori acknowledged Graylor. "If they were to run in here for safety, that would almost be as bad as us ambushing them. Most unfair. We'd better let them know we're here," she says straightfaced. "Vindana and Elendala, stay here and guard Elgan: the rest of us, let's have some fun." The last was said with a big grin on her face.

Egil leads the charge from the temple, with Graylor and Dori close behind. Dori has somehow retrieved Cavos' head and is holding it high in one hand and her rapier in the other. All three of them are holding swords glowing darkly with the magic of the Unbreakable blade, their faces masked in horrific guises designed to inspire fear. Dori's doomwind howls round them, drowning out even the demonic screaching, and seeks out the enemy. Such a frightening sight these three make, that the hoplites that have fled from Hrolf now halt in fear they know not whether to go on and face this new horror or return to the fight they have left.

The Humakti leave them no time for leisurely decision making as they are on to the Lunars in an instant.

Egil is slightly stunned as the man's arm appears to shatter into a thousand pieces, as if a large hammer had smash against a block of stone. Egil recovers himself and a swift downward chop cuts him almost in half. All around him Mav's winds blow death and Gerras' spear is hamstringing others. Egil is happy now, he settles into the fight,doing what he loves. Killing Lunars. Their armour and flesh seem particularly vunerable to the powers of the sword. Although as he hacks at them he is utterly silent, a counterpoint to their agonised screams.

Graylor moved swiftly with Egil and Dori, he maintains discipline with the others presenting a solid line to the Lunars. He rapidly finds that the frightened troops do not provide a tough opposition. He strikes freely and causes great damage to the soldiers. Yenda at his side uses her weapon breaking feat to break the hoplites spears and leave them with few options to attack. In avoiding a spear thrust Graylor half turns to let the spear slide past him. His eyes register the newly grown demon plant. A swift blow over the shield leaves his opponent dying.

"Yenda, we have a demon to deal with." Graylor calls. "Leave these Lunars to the Legion, our lord demands that we face the greater foe."

As they run cautiously across to the fight by the demon plant Graylor warns. "Call on all Jalmar's aid we will need everything to defeat such a foe. The Rinliddi seem to be fighting the men there we will go straight for the demon."

"What about me?" Irnar's asked from Graylor's side. "Stay back and use my arrows from Yelm see if you can get that thing to burn."

He recognises that such a foe will take all his patience and speed of thought to overcome. He calls on Jalmar to help him know about this chaos demon and find its weaknesses.

Graylor sized up the giant rose bush, for now that he was closer it was obvious. The plant was a sickly green colour all over, through the putrid green were shot veins that pulsed with the crimson blood it had drained from its victims. More of the blood coloured flowers that were just beginning to open. The whole plant was writhing, its runners searching for more victims, bright thorns at their tips; a warning, as if any was needed, of its intentions. Steadily it was making its way towards the three Rinliddi that were examining a body. Realising that this was Karrath Graylor approached them and seeing that they were obviously trying to help him, Graylor asked. "How is he? What's wrong?"

"Humakti he has been impregnated with an Aijo-child. Spawn of that demon behind us." The medic looked concerned. "I can stabilise the damage but have no power to kill the spawn that is eating him."

"Let me try." Graylor lays aside his swords and praying to Jalmar for strength. The light of the Flame of Truth shone from the gold bands in his gloves. He gripped the portion of the beast that was sticking out of Karrath, and channelled the fire into its body. Karrath's eyes flew open and his body writhed in agony. Graylor hesitated in shock. "Bloody well get on with it!" Karrath cursed through clenched teeth. "Before the bastard kills me!"

With a sudden jerk Graylor pulled the beast out of Karrath. The main "root" was already a couple of feet long! Holding the thing with both hands Graylor let the Flame of Truth burn out the corruption. In moments there was nothing left. Meanwhile the demon's runners had reached the party. Graylor and Yenda were just in time to savagely hack off the ends. That bought them some time as the wounded runners retreated.

Now a new moaning noise filled the air. The shrivelled up bodies were now bloated like overfilled water skins. The were standing up and advancing on the group. "Tell me, how do we defeat this monstrosity?" Graylor asked of the Rinliddi.

"Hell if I know, our chaplain is over there, fighting that man-mountain. He's the one that knows this stuff, I just go where I'm told. Now, if you'll excuse me, We've got to get that bastard." With that, the two Rinliddi brothers flew back into the hawkfight around Keldax, who was doing an amazing job of keeping the Rinliddi, and the Humakti who'd joined them, from reaching his master. Anerash pulled an amulet from the front of his robe and started to chant.

Graylor then notices the chanting Anerash. "Irnar can you distract that sorcerer before he sommons something else, use an exploder."

Graylor shouts. "Rinliddi, beware incoming! Hey chaplain, what can we do about this cursed plant?"

Devikor answers: "The only way I know of sending it back to whereever it came from is to uproot it. Anerash threw a seed into the ground - we have to get that and destroy it. Unfortunately, We have been marked as its prey, so we can't approach it.

Irnar takes aim with his longbow and releases. The arrow arcs over the defenders' heads streaking towards its target. The Rinliddi having been warned avoid the arrow with ease.

Vesekor and his men were frustrated - they couldn't close with Keldax, and he was cutting any missiles thrown at him out of the air. Even the dust Vesekor threw in his eyes was having little or no effect - Keldax simply closed his eyes and continued to fight, though Vesekor knew that he had got the dust into the bodyguards eyes. "Damn, either he's really tough, or he has some sort of magic to fight without needing his eyes. Probably a Urangoros."

As they continued to flutter around Keldax, a noosed rope spun out to entangle him, but it, too, was cut from the air.

"Damn it, this is getting us nowhere. We can't get close enough to pick him up, even if we could, he must weigh 20 stone, at least. Aha! I've got it."

"Hey you with that lasso, come here, I've got an idea."

"Yeah, what do you want?" Irnar shouted back.

Egil charges across to stand beside his comrades facing down Keldax. "Shame we can't get that demon to eat him, would at least solve one problem."

The blue, naked man behind him speaks. "I've got an idea so watch out, I'm gonna blow some roses over matey boy there. If there's anything left of him I might take him back to my tent after." Egil's eyes almost roll 360 degrees.

Whirling his arms Mauvin conjures up a blasting wind. He directs it through stray trailers of the rose-demon and straight at Keldax. Egil, Gerras and any others facing the huge man quickly dart to one side as three or four of the stems flick past towards him. Egil readies himself to shout warnings to legion comrades should the wind happen to blow the plant in their direction.

"Damn it, watch what you're doing - that thing is after *US* as well - if we get tagged by one of those thing's we're worm food, or worse" - Vesekor and the other Rinliddi scatter as the Rose tendrils snap in the wind.

Vesekor lands next to Irnar "Hey, you, with the rope, try to catch the top of the Rose with it, and then we'll drag the damn thing down on top of Keldax, here. If it eats him, well and good. If he turns it into potpourri, even better. He's just a man; we can handle him, but I have my doubts about Aijo."

"Hey that's smart thinking! I like that." Irnar grins. "I'm Irnar by the way."

He unslings his lasso and is just starting to swing it round when Graylor stops him. "Some of those thorns are sharp and could cut the rope. Here let me put Ashars blessing on the lasso and then we won't have a problem."

Irnar starts again and once he is happy with the swing he lets fly. The lasso sails gracefully over the plant and lands over the crown of the plant. Gently Irnar pulls on the rope and the lasso tightens over the main stem of the rose, he starts to pull in earnest and soon finds out that the plant is way too tough to bend easily.

"Got it! Now what we need is a distraction so that they don't see the plant coming down on them. A few bodies to pull would be good too. This thing is heavy."

Calling to his cousin Egil asks Mav "We need to distract him, how about some of that mist you do?"

"Righto cuz." Mauvin gestures again, this time the wind drops and the air around Keldax seems to thicken as the moisture in the air turns to mist, clinging to his limbs and weapons and restricting his movements considerably.

Graylor and Yenda joined him on the rope as did the Rinliddi that were free. Fortunately it was enough and the plant was slowly bent towards the ground.

"By Yinkin's prong I'm glad that this is only a rose not an oak tree!" Irnar grunted.

Graylor gave the signal and the Rinliddi leaped into the air and flew over the rose, mist and all, just as Irnar et al. brought the rope round to drag the plant against the Lunars. The Lunars, covered as they were in the mist, didn't see the runners before they hungrily found the first of the bodyguards. They screamed horribly as the rose pierced them with its thorns and drained them of fluid. The flowers in the crown of the rose were being pressed against several others. The rose sent out runners to gather these sacrifices too.

With no nearby human adversaries, Keldax's sword becomes a blur, chopping up the rose even faster than it can grow. The other guards try, but their swords make no impression on the tough branches, and the heavy scent, held down by the mist that entangles them, seems to be slowing their reactions. One tendril of the rose reaches out towards Anerash, and Keldax grabs it, deliberately seizing it by the thorns to prevent it getting to his master, and chops that up as well. The ground is becoming littered with twigs, leaves, and blood.

Seeing Irnar and the other struggling Egil runs and grabs the end of the rope, beckoning for Gerras to join him, both take the strain and heave to help pull the rose-monster onto the huge bodyguard.

As the rest of his troop help the barbarians, Vesekor and Devikor leap for Aneash as Keldax is otherwise engaged.

"You can't get away now, you bastard" yelled Vesekor, diving for the Political Officer...

With the opportunity to get past Keldax, Vesekor is now stooping onto Anerash like a falcon ...

What with a attacking rosebush and traitors diving at him out of the sky, Anerash retreats, brandishing the amulet he had pulled out earlier. He turns, spreads his arms wide, and calls aloud in some unknown language. Then closes his arms again, takes hold of the air in front of him, and pulls it open.

Or at least, that's what it looks like. A slit appears in reality: perhaps eight feet tall, and as wide as Anerash can pull it. Beyond lies darkness. Anerash steps through, then turns. "Come on, Keldax!" The giant spins, demolishing the last branches as he does so, and sees Vesekor diving towards the opening ahead of him.

As Anerash disappears through the rift Vesekor throws his last javelin after him and swerves to the side. "Pull up Devikor, we are not going through there!"

Keldax is already just behind his master, his huge bulk screening him from any attack. Somehow he senses the incoming javelin, and actually moves sideways to be sure of shielding Anerash. The javelin hits him in the shoulder as the surreal gash in the universe closes.

Looking around, Vesekor sees the animated corpses getting up and starting to attack their new friends. Devikor exclaimed: "We've got to do something about this demon. Keldax damaged it a lot, but it will heal fast. While it's still in shock we need to get to the seed and destroy it!"

Meanwhile, Ravalina examines her patient, the Humakti officer. His belly lies almost flat against his backbone - clearly many organs have been eaten by the Aijo-spawn. This is going to take weeks or months to heal. "Hey, you, can this guy get healing, or has he got one of those bonehead geases against it? Because if he can't, he's probably going to die in the next few days, if not sooner."

"Do I look that fucking stupid?" Karrath grunts. "Get on with it. I ain't dying of some frigging plant, it didn't have a sword."

Ravalina begins her work but something makes her look up. She cries out in horror. "Help those dead men are on the move!" Sickeningly it was true, the bloated bodies of the slain Humakti where advancing on the Rinliddi healer. They had no weapons but extending out of their palms were thorned runners from the demon plant, a simple but effective weapon. The men moved awkwardly and were attached to the plant by a long runner. Yenda quickly looked round and spotted the base of a broke column. She looped the rope round this and tied it off. This freed up all the men on the rope to attack the shambling forms.

With Graylor in the lead the group ran to protect the healer and Karrath. Graylor was surprised that his swords did not respond to the deadmen walking again. Though these thoughts drifted away as he joined in the dance of death and his blades bit deep but to no effect. All he seemed to do was slice pieces of skin off the shambling forms revealing the sickening green of the writhing tendrils of the rose filling their skins beneath. "So that is why." he thought. "These men have not been brought back to life. It is just a thin disguise." Yenda was using her Hu magic to sever the thorned whips but no sooner does she brake off one than a new one grows again.

Vindana called out from where she was looking after Elgan. "They are attached to the main plant. Cut the runners from their backs. That should stop them."

Egil watches the plant controlled corpses and sees the simplicity of their extinction. He summons up the Cutting Wind of Truth and sends it towards the rosebush, Slashing the tendrils animating the dead Humakti and severing their link to the plant daimon.

"Thanks Egil." Graylor calls. "What we need now is something effective to fell this rampent bush with. I know; an axe. Where is Kristen?"

He looks round and sees Kristen by Dori's side fighting with her. In fact it looks like that she is almost fighting for her! He calls Yenda and Irnar and runs over to the mopping up operation. He flanks the hoplite in front of Dori and kills him with one strike.

"Not you too?" Dori complains. "It seems that everyone is determined to fight for me today. I can do this myself you know!"

"I know Dori, Sorry. We need Kristen and her axe to fell a giant rose demon. It will get her from your side too so you can fight on your own." He grins.

"Good, take her!"

"Hi Kristen there's some work for your axe. How about cleaving that plant stem near to the ground? It'll make every ones job easier if there isn't so much of that thing thrashing around."

"Hmm not a proper job for my axe is it?" Kristen mutters. "Anyway I have to stay here and protect Dori. I have no intention of letting her leave my sight again."

"Come now Kristen, the three of us can do that. But you are the only one with a weapon suitable for that blasted rose." Graylor countered ingratiatingly.

"OK Graylor, though my axe isn't meant for tree felling, you need a completely different shape for that." She replies and seeing the Rinliddi digging. "Though It's much better than using your sword as a shovel!"

She prepares by calling the power of Babeester Gor into her axe, Graylor adds the power of the Unbreakable Weapon. Then she departs to deal with the plant. Graylor watches Dori take the attack to the remains of the Marble Phalanx. Few stay to face her blade, most turn and flee. What chance did they have against the pale haired demon that killed their champion? The ones who stay are drawn to the object in her left hand. What is it? It can't be, but it is; the severed head of a vampire. As she closes her Howling Doomwind transfixes the frightened soldiers; they hardly notice the attack that kills them. A few make a token defence that hardly slows their ends. It seems that none of the Marble Phalanx will willingly cross swords with Dori.

Graylor sees the opportunity afforded by Dori's fame. He calls out challenges to those that fled, berating them for cowards. Often they would turn and fight grateful to find a mere mortal opponent. Only to find themselves facing the despair of the doomwind and the swift blades of Graylor. Irnar is enjoying himself, he stalks his prey and leaps on them from behind and rips out their throats with his claws. You could almost see a long tail twitching with pleasure as the hunt continued.

Gerras tugs the back of Egil's arm. "Mean and Meaner say they can kill it. I need to stick my spear into its stem and their magic will drive it away. You and Mav and anyone else who wants to help can fight off the sprouts so I can get in."

Egil's fierce eyes flash brightly and he nods his approval. The three of them then charge at the rosebush monster, Egil and Mauvin sparking off magic as they run killing tendrils and trailers as they go, hacking and slashing with sword and spear. Then Gerras is in amongst the thick, tough limbs and with a huge thrust before he is killed he stabs the trunk. He hears Mena and Meaner whoop their joy as they attack the daimon trying to drive it from this plane.

"That's all well and good, but the Demon is not in the physical body of the plant, but in the seed. Unless we destroy it, the demon will just regrow. And we've seen how fast it is!" Devikor took his "scholarly" tone, as if he were teaching new recruits how to prepare for the Quail Day rituals.

Meanwhile, Vesekor is still scraping at the ground. "Give me a hand here, boys!" He sounds the clicks for 'Reform on Me'." A wild sword swing passes close to his head. "Hey, watch where you're chopping! Maybe you want to leave this monster here, but I'd rather root it out now, before it spreads!"

Then he looks up and the situation registers. "Shit! Back out boys, let these yahoos hack it up, then we'll dig up the seed. [Rinliddi] Typical bloody barbarians, leaping in without a thought [/Rinliddi]

Vesekor and his men squat a good distance away from the wildly swinging swords, making (rude) commentary (in Rinliddi) to each other.

A flock of, Rubble Finches arrives and hang around in some nearby bushes. They fly over to Devikor from time to time, but always get scared away by all the violent human activity in the area.

Standing in the aftermath of the attack and surveying the scene Egil watches as the bush starts to regrow, "Bugger! Bugger! Bugger! I wish I'd brought that box, we could have fed this thing into it and turned it into trail rations. As I didn't I think we need to burn this thing. Starting a fire in all this wet is going to be hard though. Gerras, are any of your folk Oakfed followers? They can burn anything can't they?"

Gerras nods but then answers "The trouble is by the time I get them and then we come back this thing will be bloody huge again."

Kristen leaves them to their discussions. She has better things to do like keeping Dori out of trouble for at least five minutes.

"You're probably right, best we see if anyone else has got any fire magic then."

Mav stands nearby grinning almost insanely "What about the virgins?"

"Don't you ever think of anything else?" Egil snaps

"No but yes but no, what I mean is they've got some fierce fire magic."

"That's true, right you wait here I'LL go and talk to them."

"That's true but there's none here. What about those gauntlets that Graylor's got? HEY GRAYLOR! Can your gaunlets burn this thing?"

"Okay boys, let's dig that sucker up" Vesekor and his men (excluding Devikor and Ravalina) go to work with daggers, swords and helmets, digging in a frenzy to reach the root before the plant gets too big. "Can you guys keep that thing off our backs without killing us in the process?" asks Vesekor, trying his best not to sound sarcastic or ascerbic.

The Rubble Finches pitch in as well, scratching the loose dirt away from the hole being formed. While they are small, there are many of them, and they join the Rinliddi as if they were just bigger finches. The dirt flies...

Graylor hears Egil's shout just as Kristen reappears. "Dori?" He asks.

"Go on go! You are best qualified to deal with that thing. Go and do it." Then she mutters quietly. "I can manage perfectly well with out all the nursemaids, thank you."

Graylor runs back to Egil, as usual Yenda follows too. "What's up Egil? Can't keep on top of the weeds?" He manages just to keep a straight face.

"I did manage to burn the bit they put in Karrath. I don't know if it will be sufficient for the parent plant."

Graylor moves close to the Rinliddi, being careful to be out of the way of the flying earth. "Hi Devikor. Is fire a good way to destroy this thing? I can summon a fire that will only burn falsehood and deceit such as this chaos demon."

"Burn it? Are you nuts!?" Devikor is appalled. "We have no way to know what the smoke from that thing will do to us, or the rest of Pavis. The only way I know to destroy that thing is to destroy the seed, that's why they're digging so fast over there. The physical body of the plant isn't the real demon, that's in the seed." Devikor keeps an eye on the plant and the diggers, occcasionally calling out warnings as the plant's tendrils reach towards them. "The best we can do, I think, it to keep it trimmed as much as possible until the seed is uncovered and we can have that fellow (pointing at Gerras) destroy it. Even then, I don't think burning the remains is a good idea. This thing is chaos, and we know that its smell of it has strange properties. Ever stand around when they burn a Hazia field?"

"No I have never had the pleasure." Graylor responds a little icily. "Though I quite satisfactorily burned the thing they put on Karrath. It didn't give off any smoke and I am definitely not suffering any ill effects. Never the less we do need to destroy it and you say the best way is with the spirit talker."

Egil is less tactful. "Well personally I'm all for burning the thing and getting home to bed but these pigeons appear to know what they're talking about so I suppose if we just burn the bits we've chopped up for now and let Gerras stab the seed when they've finished scrabbling in the dirt for it. If that don't work we could get Aelf over with his 'thing'. I'd like to bet even something from the otherworlds would run from that."

A thought strikes Egil and he turns to Vesekor "Hey, birdy, why are you worried about the effects of chaos anyway? All you Lunars are infested with it so what's the difference of a bit more? By the way don't let Blackbeak see you, he'll think you're taking the piss."

"Now Egil that wasn't too polite, you prejudices are showing! It's best to keep that sort of thought in your head. At least then you don't have to apologise if it turns out that they are OK after all." Graylor points out. "Suspicion is fine, after all who would immediately trust a group who had just recently turned on their comrades?"

"Yes, but I wonder which bit of coming to my village, crucifying the Ring members and installing a new one for us was polite. And for those who were killed on Humakt's rune I have promised to avenge with Humakt's sign. Before you defend them, their own mantra says we are all one, so all bear the shame of a crime as well as the glory of victory. As to your question. I would not trust them as far as I can see them, after all honour binds is what binds you to your companions, if you break the bond you are without honour."

"You think all Imperial soldiers worship the moon? You think we all follow orders willingly and completely? You think we willingly walk to our deaths when commanded to? What kind of idiot are you?"

That asshole, Anerash, was willing to sacrifice me and my men for whatever purpose. One clutch was given to some guy named Cavos and almost sacrificed - we helped rescue them, then my entire wing - almost a hundred men - were sacrificed to feed one of his demons. Me, and the men you see here, all all that's left of the wing - I'm the senior surviving officer, and I am just a Vrimon, a squad leader. Speak of breaking trust and honor? That was broken by my superiors when they gave us to Anerash. I owe him nothing, except death, nor the officers who gave us to him. And it goes all the way up to her Redness herself."

"Lunar? yeah I worshipped Her - I was told it was the way to get ahead in her army. That was ten years ago. Am I a general, or even a captain? Hardly. Worship of the Moon did nothing for me - you need to be a Carmanian or Dara Happan to get ahead in Her service - all others need not apply. Sure we are taught "We are All Us", but some of us are more Us than others.

"Chaos? Anyone in their right mind stays as far away from it as they can. Only idiots and crazy folk - like Anerash embrace it. I suppose you've been told of legions of broo and Vampire regiments, and of course the Crimson Bat - well, I've never seen any of them."

"Vesekor, how do we know that you don't want the seed so that you can use it against us?"

"You think I want this seed to use against you? Fine, you dig it up. We're done digging. Come on boys, pack it in."

Graylor enters that meditative state where all his senses natural and magical are focused and tuned on Vesekor's response.

Vesekor registers as really annoyed, and totally truthful.

"Sounds like the truth to me Egil." Graylor speaks, not too perturbed by Vesekors outburst. "But wait, did you mention Cavos? We came here chasing him, found him and his master deep into the ritual to make Cavos a servant of the wounded one. Both are now in oblivion. See the blond warrior with the rapier, the one they are all running from? That's Cavos' head she is holding!"

Graylor sheathed his swords and approached Vesekor bowing gracefully he said. "My name is Graylor Bladedancer, bearer of the twin blades of Li Phanquann, slayer of vampires, devoted follower of Humakt and member of Hereward's legion. Any enemy of my enemy should have the chance to become my friend."

As always he can bear only so much formality and his face splits into a grin. "What do you say? Do you think you can bear to hang around with a bunch of barbarians?"

Egil seems a little wary of this but is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, for now, after all he's still got his sword should the need arise. "As you say Graylor, they can be our allies at least for the rest of this skirmish unless they prove false."

Turning to Vesekor he nods a bow towards him "I am Egil Noclan and this," he gestures towards the naked man who seems to be painted blue "is my cousin Mauvin. The zebra with the spear is a friend, Gerras."

"Vesekor eagle's-son, of the Ganbarri Ket. Uh... Vrimon, well, commander now, of the 4th Wing, Ganbarri Mounted Infantry. I'm Rinliddi, not 'Lunar'. Hell, out of the whole lot of bodies here, only he" (pointing at the dead body of Antippus) "and those two" (pointing at a pair of Marble Phalanx officers) "worshipped Sedenya. The rest of these boys were pure Dara Happans, worshipping Urvairinus and the Sun. That whoreson, Anerash, also worshipped Her, of course."

"My men are all that is left of the 4th Wing. The rest were wiped out in a broo ambush outside the walls about a month ago - I barely managed to get this lot free of them, this is the remnants of an entire wing, we lost over 70 men in that ambush, and Anerash was responsible for it, I'm sure."

Graylor turned to his companions. "Right let's get this seed found and destroyed." In sort order members of the Legion had liberated the equipment from the dead Lunars and were using helmets to expanded the whole made by the Rinliddi. Graylor kept his swords and used them to trim any runners from the stem as it continued to grow. They dug down the stem of the plant and eventually reached the seed.

"Hey Gerras, we have it. Now is the time to do your stuff." Graylor called.

Gerras meanwhile moves into place and thrusts his spear into the seed, allowing Mean and Meaner to do their work.

Gerras stabs out with his spear but he barely scratches the surface. Watching, something inside Egil snaps. That's a spear. Wrong, inefficient, ugly, not a real weapon... the sword in his hands seems to move of its own accord to correct the matter, to do things as they should be done. It seems to grow larger and its deathlight becomes a dazzling beacon to any who can see. Barzaard's Tooth whistles past Gerras’ ear, hitting the tiny seedcase in the exact centre and cleaving it in two, the colour drains from it until it is monochrome and then it falls to dust.

“What the fu…” yells Gerras as he turns to confront Egil but is cowed by the black, grim eyes staring back. Slowly the blackness fades and the sky blue eyes return. Egil feels like he is emerging from a dream, a dream where he was a sword and a skilled hand had wielded him. It takes him a few moments before he realizes the hand was Hu’s.

“Bloody hell! I need to get to the temple tonight!” he declares. As he calms down slightly he mulls over the past few minutes, “Is this what always happens to devotees? Used as Hu’s tools, at his whim. Is that what’s happened to Aelf? Is any choice given or does he just take over? It felt good though, controlling a blade like that, such speed and accuracy.”

Graylor reasures him. "Don't worry Egil you aren't going to crack up. Your connection to Hu is getting stronger and stronger bonds are needed to control it. You need the extra control provided by devoting. It takes us all in differnet way but in the end it is the same; much as in the change from boy to man you are maturing in your faith. I'm sure that there are several in the legion who can show you the way to a deeper understanding of Hu. You have a busy time ahead, I envy you, as I remember it as one of the best times of my life. I discovered and became content with who I was."

"I think I have discovered it, I am to be his weapon and pass his judgement without favour. Dealing death to those whose time has come, whether they deserve it or no."

"I am happy for your realisation. But first we need to get ourselves out of here; our mission has been completed. We need to move out as soon as we can. " Graylor looks round to see what is happening and what needs organising. "Yenda and Irnar can you see to Elgan, make sure that he is ready for travel. I'll see if there is anything I can do to help Karrath."

Now Hu has, for the moment at least, released Egil from his control he can ponder on what Vesekor said. Something was burning at the back of his mind and then it drop kicked his frontal lobes. "The Bat! The Bat! You speak very lightly of the very greatest evil of your people. I have seen the Bat and so have other here. We beat it though, not without great loss but we beat it."

"Greatest evil? Yeaaaah. I'll leave that one for the preceptors and priests to argue over. So, you were at that place - what was it called - Whitehouse?
Whitecliff? something like that. I'm just glad we weren't there - a lot of waste for little gain."

Onward to peaceful chitchat
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