back Who's nicked me sword?

Was it the Lunars?

Egil stands listening to the discussions on the plan when an insistent voice at the back of his mind interrupts "Death will not find itself while you stand here chatting."

He turns to the gathered group. "So this is the plan as I see it;"

"Some of Vesekor's "lads" go into a few bars and see what the rumours are about the bash in the Rubble - in particular, is it known that they've changed sides, or that the demon guy has vanished?"

"If all is well, Vesekor then forges some written orders from the demon guy to get us into their HQ."

"Once in: not entirely certain. The ten-thane wants us to find all the info we can on what the Lunars know about the Legion. We'll snatch anyone who's about and take them to Cavos' place for a quiet chat.

"If all is not well, and the defection is known, then plans are is less clear, but maybe we should just do it anyway but we'll have to go in quietly and let the guards discuss our entry with Hu. Let's go before we change our minds."

"I'm sure that Yrsga will help us to get in if the forged papers are not an option. I hope that she can gain us entry to Cavos' house too. But yes lets get moving now any more delay will give the Lunars more chance to find out of Vesekor's defection."

Graylor summons Irnar, Yenda and Santhis. "I want you to come with me tonight. Elgan is still recovering so he'll stay with the healers. We will be going to Cavos' house. I would like those of you who don't come to the Lunar HQ to look search the house for any information that Cavos may have there."

Graylor hurries back to his friends. "We'd better get out now, before they come back to their senses and realise what we have done!" he cautions quietly. "I don't really want to have to fight our way out."

So the group Egil, Vesekor, Aelf and Graylor with their followers set out to Pavis. They encounter little in the way of trouble as the pass through the Rubble and into the Gimpy's tunnel. Vesekor's men disperse into the night as Graylor leads them to Cavos' house, Yrsga gets them in with so little fuss that it seems quicker than using the key. An anxious wait follows until they hear Vesekor's coded knock.

"My men have returned from their scouting missions. They report no unusual rumours - we Rinliddi are still considered to be on the side of Light and the Goddess, the general thought (where anyone has one) is that you guys were acting as auxuillaries to whatever the Marbleheads and Anerash were doing.

"Here are orders over Anerash's chop for the contents of certain files, and for these people (Pethonolus and Klerdis) to accompany the bearer (that'll be me) wherever we need to go. You've got a house over here, right? We'll use that as our first stop, but we might need another place farther away if we need to have a lengthy conversation with these guys.

"See if you can scare up some Praxian blankets or something to bribe Klerdis with if we need to - since we are acting as Anerash's agents, we shoudn't need to bribe her, and if it doesn't work, we'll have to kill her. Pethonolus stays bribed, so have about 30 lunars on hand - we'll start him with 5 and work up to 20 - that should be enough to keep his silence.

"The rescue party, should they be needed, should be close by - This alley here, behind the Hoplite's Home, should work, as long as you don't bug the nice soldiers going out for a piss. We've got our communications worked out - you guys will use your magic?"

Egil thinks about the whole issue of communications, there aren't enough (or any) devotees coming on this little jaunt so the truth on the wind magic can't be used. Then a though strikes him (it had to happen one day although the odds were against it) - string!

"Hey! How about if we connect each group by string then we can use tugs on the string to send messages, you know one tug means enemy sighted, two for in position. That kind of thing."

As he waits for a reply Mauvin's attempt at supressing his giggles only partly succeeds.

Graylor grins. "What did happen to you on the hero plane? Are you sure that you didn't get a large bump on the head? Irnar and I can handle the communications if you wish. We have hunted together many times and should be able to handle calls for reinforcements and so on."

"I guess that the barracks guards don't care too much about a lone drunk sleeping it off in an allyway? Irnar could set up at the end of Moon Street with a good view of the East side of the HQ building."

He does this. It is obvious to all that he is not the only one loitering around this alley for one reason or another. There are, for instance, various "ladies" possibly waiting for "friends". A few people who genuinely have fallen over drunk in the gutter. Some hanging around the rear entrances of the other two taverns further down the street (the Barrel o'Brew and the Reed Inn). Having a complete rescue party hanging around here might stand out a little, but one or two extra suspicious characters will fit right in.

Vesekor sends most of the the Rinliddi to actually enter the tavern (the Hoplite's Home) and be on call, reducing the number of suspicious characters hanging around. They can also gripe about this "new assignment" they've got, hiding in the rubble and not being able to get into town (to drink with their friends) until Averash finishes "whatever he's doing". (it's called "building a cover story"). The he turns back to the entry party.

"Okay, I've got the orders, a few bottles of gin, and you lot, let's go. Remember, we're here legitimately, so try to look like you belong - as much as you can. And for the Great Eagle's sake, no killing!"

In Cavos' house, Yenda and Santhis continue to search it while the others depart, but with little expectation of finding anything useful. It had been hired recently, and shows all the signs of distracted bachelor occupation. Cavos was not one to commit much to writing: there are some notes on Carmanina history, and the standard paperwork required by anyone in the city: residency permits, a few identity passes in different names, a pass to get him in and out of Lunar HQ... to see Anerash.

Later, as the group apporaches the HQ building, Vesekor takes the lead.

"Hey, Bendrik, we've got orders to talk to some of the people in here (hands over orders). Hi, Throat-ripper. Woah, boy, these are friends. (OOC: anyone afraid of dogs? This is a mastiff with great huge teeth and an unfriendly attitude). Hey, Bendrik, call him off my barbarians, would you? Thanks. Here, here's a bit of drink for your troubles - don't let Herulfius catch you at it though, eh? And here's some for the rest of you lads."

Egil nudges Aelf in the ribs "That Throat-ripper looks like a nice little puppy eh? How long d'you reckon it would take you to eat him?" Then he feels the familiar surge as Hu comes into his conciousness. He turns his glare on the hound, piercing its eyes. Trying to press his will against the dog and subdue it. The dog sidles back looking slightly intimidated. The feel of the Other Side fades away.

Bendrick takes a cursory glance at the orders, no more.

"Hey, you call your barbarians off my dog! Mothers, the things Anerash comes up with... what's he getting you into this time?"

"Probably hip deep in sh*t, that's what. You know what these political wallahs are like. He's got us holed up in the rubble, waiting for something. Of course, he hasn't told *me* what, so when it happens, I'll probably be flattened by it."

"I can why he's taking the scribes, his hand-writing's crap, but what's the barbarians for?"

"Strong backs, slow minds. In addition to hiding out in the Rubble, I gotta do it with these unwashed types, too! He wants 'em acclimated to the 'big city' - buncha hicks, they are - so's I gotta bring 'em with me when I come in, to make sure they don't get into trouble, and to get them used to the sights and sounds."

Vesekor turns to the barbarians, and says, in Pavis Tradetalk: "This is Headquarters. Don't come here without a pass from either myself of Anerash"

"You want to watch him. You know who always ends up paying for his sneaky ways, don't you? It isn't him, that's for sure." Vesekor only snorts in agreement. "What happened to the Stoneheads, do you know? We heard a company went out chasing barbarians, should've been back by now."

"I heard that they got ambushed by trolls or something. Or maybe broos and scorpion men; or even rebels - you know what the Rubble scuttlebut is like. Anyway, if I weren't on detached duty with Anerash, I'd be going out tomorrow to look for 'em, but I guess you lot have the duty now."

"Well, these clerks won't come out on their own, will they? Any idea which room they're in? I'd rather not wake the entire building. "

Bendrik gives Vesekor clear directions to the dormitories he needs.

"Great, I'll take a lantern if I may, I know that there's not likely to be a lot of light in their - silver-pinching bureaucrats! "

"Alright, c'mon you lot, lets go get Anerash's clerks and their files."

Meanwhile, in the alleys and bars...

The Rinliddi head for the Hoplite's Home: their usual haunt in any case. No-one seems particularly surprised to see them. There are various drinking games going on, bets being laid, the occasional scuffle. Nothing out of the ordinary: though perhaps rather fewer "Stoneheads" than usual.

Irnar wanders up and down the alley, checking the number of possible back exits, and running out of claws to count them on. He eventually slumps in a corner next to the Barrel o'Brew, with a view of the Lunar HQ down the length of the alley, of the street towards Cavos' house at right-angles to that, and even through a covered passageway up towards the barracks. If anything comes along, he'll see it. Or hear it... he pricks up his ears, and they sharpen, become hairy and pointed. Yes, he can hear Graylor and his new friend conversing quietly outside the HQ doors. Fine. He closes his eyes to slits, pretends to be asleep. In fact he can see everything he wants to: in particular, from down here, he has a good, if unconventional, view of the assorted "ladies" displaying their wares. Some are more attractive than others. He admires one set of legs in particular, surrounded by male admirers, until he looks further up and sees red hair. Ah. A Vingan, and drinking companions. He knows better than to go any further there. Though it doesn't stop him dreaming. Why is it that the good looking ones are attracted to overly sensitive cults like Vinga and Babs Gor? But then the latter had never really appealed to him. Tending too much to size and muscle, but the Vingans... Must be something to do with their movement magics, can't be fat and run on treetops. He snorted at the thought startling a couple who just getting interested in each other. He belched loudly and the couple suddenly decided that a room looked much more inviting.

Irnar flicked his ears, no sounds to worry about in the ally. Then he turned them towards the HQ. Ah, finally they had got in, now for the careful wait. Part of his mind drifted back to Vingans. Why did they have to be so stuffy about being appreciated as women as well as warriors? He became aware of a new discomfort amongst his companions their shuffling was growing worse.

Korol, Mauvin and Gerras are perhaps less sure of themselves. None of them are used to cities. They stand around looking vaguely unhappy and out of place for a few minutes. Then one of the "ladies" approaches them with an enquiry as to whether they're having a good time.

Mauvin answers the woman "Are you a seamstress? Ah well no matter I haven't got much money on me and I'm busy at the moment, I may be back later and you can show me a good time in this place." Then turning to the others he says quietly "Maybe we should find somewhere else to wait, like in a bar or something. No one get pissed though, Egil can get quite grouchy when you don't do as he says."

Irnar smiles inwardly. The blue man had more sense than he gave him credit for. Perhaps dancing sky-clad in the rain didn't always wash away their brains!

There is a choice of bars available to them. At the end of the street nearest the Lunar HQ, Vesekor's men are already occupying the Hoplite's Home. The Sable Horn Inn is rather too upper-class for them: mainly the haunt of Lunar officers. On the corner nearest the barracks, the Barrel O'Brew serves drinks to a clientele of mainly Lunar soldiers, and a little further past the corner, the Reed Inn, constructed entirely from reeds, provides cheap drinks, and noisy, dirty, insecure rooms by the hour. Many of the "ladies" seem to be taking advantage of this from time to time.

The Vingan whose legs Irnar had been admiring has gone into the Barrel, along with her friends.

Under the circumstances, the Barrel seems the lesser of several evils. They get some odd looks as they go in, but not much: it's dark in there, and off-duty soldiers don't usually wear uniform anyway. There's some interesting game involving throwing knives at a caricature of a Lunar officer going on at the far end of the bar, and bets are being placed.

Back at HQ

Vesekor leads the way inside, taking a lantern from the guard house.

They make their way down to the dormitory wing, and Vesekor opens the door to the room that Bendrick indicated as Pethonolus'. It is, as expected, a dormitory. Half a dozen beds, four of them occupied by lumps under blankets. Some are snoring.

Vesekor opns the door - damn, four bodies, no telling who's who. He signals the barbarians to remain outside the door - don't need to startle the clerks wuith a barbarian invasion.

He shakes the first one, cautioning silence with a finger to the lips. "Pethonolus?" "Huh? What? No, that's him over there" the clerk says, pointing.

Vesekor wakes up the indicated sleeper. "Pethonolus? We need you to come with us, on the orders of Anerash. Please dress quickly and come with us, sir."

The snoring stops, and he blinks up at you: the lantern's shining into rather blood-shot eyes. "What? What? What time is it? Anerash? I'm not getting up in the middle of the night for that wastrel. Tell him to put in the proper requisitions and seven days notice, like everyone else."

He rolls over, away from the light, then turns back.

"And you don't need two lanterns! Put one of them out, right now - do you know how much they cost? It's people like you wasting money get the Empire into the mess it's in now, that's what it is. Go away."

"Sir, Anerash thought there might be some slight fee for not giving proper notice, and another foR visits outside of office hours. I have been authorised to pay these fees once you accompany us to our destination."

"Fees? Oh, very well...." He stumbles out of bed, starts grabbing clothes.

"Sir, these gentlemen will escort you" (handing off the clerk to the Humakti while he goes in search of Klerdis).

Not a job for Aelf. He's convinced that at any minute the game is up so is constantly eyeballing nearby 'prospective' opponents.

Egil grasps the man by the arm. His face is handsome in a boyish kind of a way especially when he smiles. Although that is not often right now he is wearing a cheery grin. Pethonolus looks at the young warrior without any apparent concern but those looking at him over Egil's shoulder see him blanch and his eyes fill with terror. For an instant and for his own amusement Egil allows some of Hu's power to wash over his face, turning it into the ghastly apparition of his Visage of Fear. Pethonolus blinks and the boyish smile once again greets him.

Greylor swiftly intervenes before Aelf too joins in the fun. "Good evening sir. Nerver mind the others, it has been a rough night for them. Will you accompany me? Vesekor has only one more call to make and then we can proceed with our business."

Vesekor motions them to come with him.

Vesekor goes to the room indicated as Klerdis'. He stops and listens before going in - he's heard some strange rumors about Klerdis'...tastes. Klerdis is the type of woman that Irnar dislikes. She's big. Not ugly as such, though no-one's going to call her pretty, but big. When she's refered to as the head porter, head bouncer might be more to the point. And she's got a lot of experience: she's perhaps early forties. Yes, she likes men. Attractive young men. They tend to return from a night with her looking shell-shocked, and not saying what happened. Vesekor doesn't want to interrupt whatever she might be doing.... but all he hears is snoring.

Vesekor taps on the door, then enters.

"hmmph? wha?" (seems to be all clerks' first thoughts tonight )

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Door-warder, but Anerash requests that you accompany us for a debriefing. We have a house (he says, furiously hoping that nothing has gone wrong at that end) where we can keep from disturbing the sleep of your fellows."

She looks him up and down, looks disappointed. "Won't it wait till the morning?"

"I'm sorry, no, Anerash was most insistant that we get him the information before morning."

At this point Aelf's nervous inspection of anything that moves for potential danger leads him to peer over Vesekor's shoulder, and her eyes brighten. "I suppose Anerash has some reason for this, but he'd better have a good explanation. You going to introduce your friend?"

The attention of the Door-Warder came as no surprise. Youthful, athletic, arrogant and not lacking in presence he was not short of female adulation. Not to mention the great arena in Furthest; the young barbarian had been rather a hit with the wealthy, and no doubt rather bored, lunar trophy wives. Oblivious to the big woman's dialogue he assesses her (strong, slow but don't let her close...) in a heartbeat before glancing around for further threats.

"Err, ah, this is Aelf, an auxillery. Aelf, this is Klerdis, Door-Warder here at headquarters, a good woman to know."

It takes the Far Walker a moment to figure out he is being introduced. His gaze falls on Vesekor, if looks could kil....a forced smile appears on his face which is then directed at the Door-Warder. "My pleasure....good lady"

She smiles - at least Vesekor assumes that's what that expression is, he's never seen it before. "In that case, I can think of worse ways to spend the night." She picks up a belt with her usual badges of office hung from it: the cudgel, knuckledusters, and so on: and buckles it on, then picks up a cloak. "So where are we going?"

"We have one more stop here - to pick up some records that Anerash wants, and then a house not far away so we can properly assemble all the information he wants."

Vesekor turns to Pethonolus (He is behind me, in care of the humakti, right, guys? Guys?)

"Anerash is looking for records of disbursements to barbarians - where do we find them?"

"You mean like the records of these barbarians being hired? Really, this is all most irregular, but I suppose one comes to expect that from Anerash. How far in the past are we looking? The main archives will be locked by now, but anything for the current week will be in my office. Assuming that the records have been properly submitted that is, for all I know what you need's still on someone's desk, they'll hand it in an hour or so before week-end and still expect their expenses on time, no consideration some people."

"The past week is probably where we'll find what Anerash is looking for; they should do - for a start. If we need to go back further we can always come back in the daytime, when the archives are open."

The whole motley crew head down to the office to pick up the disbursement reports. While they are there, Vesekor randomly looks through other reports on Pentholus' desk, absently slapping away P.'s hands as he tries to keep Vesekor from reading "terribly important and secret" documents. if there happens to be a schedule for Pay caravans, he slips those into the same bag as the disbursement reports, as well as anything else that looks interesting.

"Sir, Vesekor Sir." Graylor asks in his best impersonation of a minor functionary trying to get his boss's attention. "He did also want stuff on those.. what did he call them? Oh yes! 'That group of psychopathic meatheads Howards Legion, Hairywoods Legion or some such.' He also wanted access to more of the chaotics that have been useful to him in this recent mission. Wanted to know if there was a register of contacts."

"Hairyballs? Isn't that the lot the Marbles are making such a fuss about?" Kletis purses her lips thoughtfully. "Interesting name. You'd have to ask them, I don't think anyone knows anything much. There's plenty would like to, though."

"Register of chaotics sounds like something Niosais would have, over in Personnel. He'd better not go asking her, though, she's - oh, yes." She grins, rather blackened teeth showing. "I expect Anerash would like you to pick up his post, wouldn't he? I happen to know there's something from Niosais in there for him."

Pethonolus looks horrified. "He didn't?"

"Oh, yes. Unfair bias, mistreatment of ethic minorities, improper use of resources, I think she was going to get a sexual harrassment charge in there if she could. Seeing his face when he gets that will make this worth it."

Vesekor will have heard of Niosais, at least. A stunningly beautiful woman, and one to whom the phrase "we are all us" is something to be taken very seriously. The Army's Equal Opportunities Program is one of her particular interests, and she tends to issue reprimands if she feels some of the more... unusual... recruits are being unfairly treated.

Graylor looks a little blank at the discussion. "OK we'll have to come back for the rest of the information another time. Lets just collect his mail and go."

On our way out, Vesekor hands the bags/boxes of reprts to as many humakti as it needs - after all, we brought them along as strong backs... No need for Good Lunars(ahem) to carry our own baggage.

In the bar

Mauvin signals to the others to find a dark, unoccupied corner somewhere and goes to the bar. He orders a tankard of ale each before heading back to the rest. He keeps his head low and avoids making eye contact with other patrons of the establishment. To while away the time he talks to Gerras about life in the zebra pens.

They nurse their drinks, grateful to be being ignored, while the game continues. Someone's persuaded the Vingan to have a go: possibly they enjoy watching the movement created when she throws a knife. She doesn't seem to be very good at it. There's a yell - did someone jostle her arm as she started to throw? and suddenly the whole group is fighting. A barstool flies past someone's head and in their direction.

Mauvin curses "Bollocks! We can't get caught up in this we need to get outside." He looks round seeing a large amount of spilt beer on the floor and an idea dawns on him. "Pour your beer on the floor, quickly, and stay close to me"

As the beer forms a large puddle Mauvin drops his cloak, revealing his blue nakedness, he can be seen muttering under his breath. The beer from the floor starts to lift into the air forming a murky brown mist around the strange man and his companions. When they are completely enveloped he says "Now! Make for the door!" The group begin pushing and shoving people out of the way in haste to get to the exit. Punches and barstools are swung but seem to bounce off of the misty beer cloud.

Almost out

Vesekor times their exit to make sure we don't run into the officer of the watch.

"So, did you get what you came for?" inquires Bendrick?

"Yeah, now we just have to figure out what it is that Anerash wants, and get it to him asap. Friggin' politicals - never a thought for what we have to go through when they say "Can you find out for me". (Figure similar rantings and "we're all soldiers together" and such small talk as the Humakti and clerks file out. Vesekor is definitely trying to keep the guard's thoughts on something other than what is going on. He's being friendly and indulging in that most treasured of soldier's pastimes: bitching about superiors)

Two more Lunars - Marble Phalanx this time - are approaching the gate from the depths of HQ, dragging a small prisoner with them. A small feathered prisoner. Aelf and Egil at least will recognise Bluetail Uzdo-slayer, last seen at the Humakti temple being terrorised by Siggyr. He no longer has his cigar, or his sword, but the quack has not been removed. "' if you think I'll be a puthover in your witual, you can think again! I've killed bigger things than you with me eyes thut! Just gimme a sword, I'll hack you off at the kneecapth!"

His escort ignore him.

Egil steps in front of the two Lunars and peers at one as if he recognises him "Hey you! Stonehead! Do I know you? I'm sure you're the guy who said my cousin 'liked' men and had a face like a baboon's arse. I think we perhaps need a chat about this." The snarl in his voice is obvious.

Sweet weeping Jar-Eel. That bloody idiot! Vesekor swore under his breath. Stepping up to Egil, Vesekor uses his best Sargeant's "parade ground dressing down" voice (with a little tinge of magic). "We aren't here to pick fights, sword for brains, you were hired to get a job done, not indulge in personal wars. Get back with the rest of our group and let's go. Come on you lot, show me that discipline that you're so proud of."

"Egil snap out of it! This is neither the time nor place for fighting. We're on a mission. Now get back in line and do your duty to your comrades. Don't let them down." While he is talking Graylor is frantically sending out a plea to Braveheart to make Egil face the horror he is about to create if he breaks his discipline now.

Sullenly Egil falls back to his comrades "Graylor duty is one thing but honour is another and when this is done honour will be satisfied."


Graylor then turns to Vesekor. "Sir I recognise this duck as being associated with the legion that Anerash was interested in. I think that he would appreciate having direct information rather than just the records we have. We could take it with us and save these fine gentlemen the horror of filling out all that paperwork."

"Paper-work's been done, boy. This duck's got a job to do - unless you got a spare Humakti to kill in a ritual?"

Egil turns to Aelf and whispers (very loudly!) "No wonder these lot are called stoneheads, they've got rocks for brains. Don't they know you can't kill a Humakti, we're already dead."

Graylor drapes an arm round the shoulder of the nearest guard and takes him to one side. "Look we are both men of the world. I'm sure my boss would like to talk to this duck and he's not a pleasant guy to cross. Have you ever worked for Anerash? Now I'm guessing that the duck isn't needed for a few hours yet. So why don't you come with us for an hour so we can get the information from the beast and then he can be part of the ritual. What do you say? Or perhaps you would prefer to hole up in the Barrel O' Brew and someone will come for you there."

As he says the last Graylor absently brushes his arm past his purse which obligingly gives a healthy chink of coins.

"You can check it out with my vrimon here if you like. He's the one with Anerash's orders."

Things are starting to move too fast for vesekor's Peaceof Mind.

"Graylor, why don't you escort Pentholus here back to collect the mail, then meet me back here? Egil, Aelf, why don't you start off to the house with Klenthis? I'll just have a chat with these boys about Anerash's needs and this fowl.

Egil has a look of malice on his face when he begins leading the way, "Come lady. Don't be too long guys, I have business that won't wait and I'll need to start asking questions soon."

(OOC: Hmm, obviously humanoid ducks don't impress this Rinliddi.)

He steps up to the Marbleheads. "Look, boys, Anerash wants information out of this rebel. What are you going to use it for anyway? The Third Cut Ritual? Feh, I can tell you that it won't be a tenth part as effective using this...thing as it would with a har-Soranj digijelm^ deathlord. Even a na-Digelm^^ has better mythic resonance than a Ptef-kah^^^." I can point you at a local troll hole in the rubble, hell I can even lead you to it. Catch a na-Digelm, and away before morning. Meanwhile, Anerash gets his information, and we all are happy. After all, you don't want to get on Anerash's bad side, would you?"

^Zorak Zoran Troll Deathlord
^^^Walking piece of Sh... err, Duck

The lead guard looks doubtful at the mention of Anerash's name, then stubborn. "Stuff Anerash, he don't scare me. Just a creepy politician, he is, not a real soldier. An' you don't know as much as you think you do. Third Cut? What's the use of that? No, Pyestes is doing Yanafals Seperation tonight. He says he wants a Humakti to kill, we got him a Humakti to kill. He wants it now, he gets it now."

The duck, who has obviously not been following the conversation in New Pelorian, starts struggling again, and kicking with his webbed feet at his captor's armoured legs. "You better let me go, or I'll kill your champion! I've killed Uzdo, I hath! Your bent-thword wimp is thoooo dead!"

The large guard holding him holds him out a little further, leaving his legs flapping uselessly in the air. "Nulla spes sit in resistendo!"* he bellows, then looks to his superior for guidance.

* Thanks to Mike Cule for the translation

"Keep him quiet, Ocolus. Hold his beak shut, or something."

Vesekor is unperturbed by the temporary setback. "Oh, 'Yanafals Seperation'? I've got a Humakti that's on his own quest - what better sacrifice to Lord Yanafal than a willing warrior? Certainly better than an unwilling Ptef-kah. I can have him here for you in a two shakes of an owl's tail. So you give me the fowl, I give you a Humakti, and all's right, eh?"

The guard with brains looks down at the struggling ball of feathers doubtfully. "A real Humakti? Not a, a.... it might be more suited to Pyestes at that, make a real fight of it. But the priest said a small one... ah, what the hell. You get him, if you're in time we can ask Pyestes which he wants. See which way the lots fall. We're over in the barracks - you know the place? Ask for Oedimachus, they'll tell you where to go."

In the alley - no, the bar

Irnar is startled out of his pleasant reverie by simultaneous alerts. The sounds of a fight in the bar chosen by his friends and the sound of Egil shouting followed by Vesekor and Graylor trying to calm him down. He hesitates a moment deciding who to help first. He decided that getting the support out of the bar was priority. By the time he has stood up and got to the door he is relieved to hear Egil backing down. Just before Irnar enters the bar he screeches loudly like a cat, the emergency signal to assemble.

"I hope they could hear that over the din in there." He thinks and opening the door a crack murmurs "Alusar give me vision in this dark place." He switches magic to enhance his sight over his hearing, regretting being cut off from Graylor but given the noise there would be no chance anyway. He enters the bar bent double to avoid any stray fists, and quickly searches the room for his companions.

As he enters, Irnar's sensitive nose is assaulted by the overpowering smell of beer. His sight, too, is affected by the mist in the air: cats see in the dark, not in fog. But the signal screech has done its work: his friends can be seen and heard coming towards him, avoiding blows and random missiles, but occasionally walking into unseen furniture. He leads them the last few yards to the door, and out into the comparatively fresh night air.

Here, for the most part, the fight is being ignored. He can hear the Watch arriving at the front of the building, but at the back, a minor fight is treated as normal. The "lady" who had been near the door has moved along so as to avoid any rapid exit such as their own, the others are simply looking out for potential new customers. Others, too, go about their normal business: a man strolling down the alley between the tavern and the next building greets the woman who has been waiting for him, and they move off together. Irnar's automatic optimism checks her out: a modest headscarf and less flamboyant dress than others around, and the way they walk arm in arm, suggests that he's out of luck. If only he'd noticed her earlier.... but the couple have faded into the crowds at the far end of the street.

He casts a wistful thought on the Vingan still in the bar. How he would love to go in and "rescue" her and claim his reward! But comrades come first. He quickly silences the group.

"Sorry for the alarm call, but I thought that it was best if everyone was out of there. The others had just left the HQ anyway. Let me just check on progress."

Irnar listens with Yinkin's ears and after a short pause he reports.

"OK here is the situation. Egil is heading back to the house with one of the Lunars. Mauvin, Gerras it might be a good idea if you cover him. Vesekor is still at the gate and Graylor has gone back inside. So I guess the rest of us hang around until they are finished."

Mauvin rolls his eyes in his head and Gerras smirks insanely. "That's brilliant, bloody brilliant. Which genius thought it would be a good idea to let him go anywhere alone with a Lunar? Especially as he and Hu are the same person at the moment. Come on Gerras we'd better scarper or we'll be questioning a corpse."

"It's OK he's not alone. He's got Aelf with him." As he says these words the realisation hits Irnar's brain. "Hurry!"

The blue man and the Praxian set off at a dash to intercept Egil before he can do murder in Cavos' house.

They catch up with Egil and Aelf just as they are about to enter the building "Ah! There you are. We thought you might like some help settling this lady in to the accomodation. We had to run, a big fight has started in the Barrel o'Brew and we didn't want to be involved as we have other work tonight. Anyway cuz, we'll keep this lovely lady company while you rustle up some grub with that clever box of tricks you have."

He opens the door and leads the way inside, finds a sitting room and shoos Egil out before settling Klerdis down, swapping pleasantries with her until the others arrive.

Where's my sword?
In the kitchen of Cavos's house Egil is clattering pots and pans as he tries to sort out some food. He feels happy as he knows that soon he will get to kill one, if not all of the Lunars being brought back here. Then his eyes start swimming, he feels as though he is being sucked onto the heroplane once more. All is dark here except up ahead there is a point of light. He feels himself drawn towards it and then he sees a bright warrior wielding Death. It must be reclaimed and quickly. Then the darkness fades and he once more finds himself in the kitchen but his earlier levity is gone replaced with a feeling of sullen determination to find the warrior and reclaim that which is his.

Back in the alley with Korol, Irnar has a vague feeling that he's overlooked something. Something he saw, or heard perhaps, that wasn't quite right, that he was too busy to register properly at the time.

Irnar walks a little up the ally, with Korol following, it cut down his options a little but he feels the need to be closer to Graylor and the Lunar HQ. He turns to Korol.

"I need to think, there is something I have missed, I need a little time to discover it. Can you keep an eye out for me?"

Without waiting for the acknowledgement Irnar sinks down on his haunches and thinks back through the recent events. Alusar had sent this feeling so that he didn't miss out on something important, so he was going to give it his full effort. Funny though it takes him back to being a young kitten and learning to find his way back along strange paths. It was a game he enjoyed and was good at. He could still replay some of those walks, the sights, sounds and smells would come flooding back. To the task at hand. Since Alusar has alerted him to this, he reckoned that he wouldn't mind a little more aid. Irnar calls upon Alusar to help ferret out the secret that was eluding him. With the magic highlighting oddities in his recollection Irnar mentally retraced the activities of the last hour.

Nothing showed up on the first pass, nor on the second. His mind did keep coming back to that couple. What was it about them? Well her really, every time he tried to concentrate on her she slipped sideways in his mind. He was clear until he came close to her then he too was hard to remember. No looks, smell or sound remained just a vague impression. Everything about her screamed ordinary. Look at them instead, they're more interesting. How had they arrived? He had just walked down the ally, that was easy but her? He had no idea, and that was saying something, he'd not been this caught out since he had grown his claws. Well then how did they leave? That was easy they walked down to the street and then towards the center... then just faded from attention before they reached the end. This had to be major magic, now who could do such things, well from Graylor's description the thief that took Egil's sword could! But this was a woman and they couldn't be Orlanthi. Just then the vision of the Vingan passed through his head. Trying to divert me again eh? Wait Vingan.. The can take on the role of men and can worship Orlanth cults, and her hair was covered!

Irnar snapped open his eyes and stood up. "I have seen the sword thief Korol. She was stood next to me and I never noticed." He whispers quietly as he scans the ally. Nothing.

"Alusar aid me, show me this hidden girl." He prays and looks again, this time using Alusar's magic to discover those who are hidden and his brain to identify the likely and unlikely places to hide.

As he expected there was no sign of the pair. "Now what?" he asked himself. What should he do next? Well letting Graylor know was an obvious answer. But how? They hadn't expected this luck. ... Of course they had hunted together before and 'prey sighted' was an easy call. Irnar listened first to hear that Graylor was back outside then let out another call, this time the hoot of an owl repeated twice. A pause and another dropping hoot to signify prey lost.

Back at HQ

Graylor was just leaving the HQ with Anerashes post when Irnar's call came. A grin started to form on his face as the first call came but was as quickly removed as he heard the prey lost call. Nevertheless he started whistling a jaunty tune known back in Sartar as the "The Fires of Home", knowing that Irnar would hear it and start heading back to Cavos' house. He walked over to Vesekor.

"I have the documents Vrimon. Do we return to the house now?"

"Alright, it won't take long to get him" Vesekor chirrups the signal for "Runner" and soon Herethu trots up.

<in Rinliddi - Vesekor smiles apologetically at the Lunars: "Poor guy is just out of the nest and doesn't have the hang of Pelorian yet">
"Herethu, run down to the house and tell Egil that we've got a real good lead on his sword - all he has to do is battle a Lunar in a ritual combat - but he needs to kill him, and make sure he stays dead."

"Graylor, let's escort Pentholus here back to the house, I've sent Herethu on ahead to give Egil the head's up."

"He guys. see you at the barracks. Is this a secret ritual, or can me & my boys watch? I've been thinking of joining Yanafal, anyways..."

"Sure you have. Like any of you birdie-lovers could cope with a real man's cult." Oedimachus, resplendent in his red and yellow uniform, is showing all the Marble Phalanx's usual respect for irregular troops.
"This ain't a floor show, and we ain't selling tickets. You're coming along to keep your barbarian under control. While you're at it, you an' your rabble can pray to the Goddess for Pyestes' success - think you can manage that much?"

"Oh, sir, yes, sir!" (in proper schoolboy-to-headmaster spirit).

Once away from the marblehead, Vesekor says to himself - "Heh - I'll pray that he has nothing to boast of tonight".

At Cavos' house
Irnar and Korol make their way back to the house, moving swiftly to arrive before Graylor and Vesekor. They enter via the back ally and meet the unhappy Egil preparing food for the guests. As soon as the other party arrive Irnar makes the pathetic noise of a hungry cat to let Graylor know he is waiting. Sure enough in a couple of minutes Vesekor and Graylor arrive in the kitchen.

"My time in the ally was rather productive." Irnar can't help but preen himself a little. "I saw our thief! Or rather I didn't see her until she dropped her magic. A bloke came over and she appeared right next to me. They went off into the centre of town." He pauses to let the information sink in and then continues.

"I reckon that she is the thief and he is the go-between. When I first saw him he was coming from the direction of the Lunar barracks. I guess that he had just dropped off the sword."

(Hmm, Herethu hasn't gotten here yet? I'll have to talk to that boy)

"We've got news, too. The sword is probably being held by the Marbleheads, and they'll be using it in a ritual tonight - all you have to do, Egil, is come with us, kill the Lunar quester and take the sword back. Oh, and he'll be doing "Yanafal's Separation", where Yanafal comes back from the dead while Saint Hum' akt doesn't, so you'll need to be sure he stays dead. Grab your gear and come with me if you want your sword back."

"Just a moment Egil. You will be going against a guy who will have the support of the Marbleheads behind him. We may not be able to send you off with our magic but we can at least send you off with our complete support and prayers." Graylor rested his hand on the pommel of Egil's sword and intones a short prayer. "Lord Humakt, I pledge my power to Egil's may his blade strike swiftly and cleanly. When he strikes down Yanafal prevent his rising again."

The others swiftly come to Egil and pledge their support too.

"Who should go?" Graylor asks. "I don't think that all of us should go, they might start to get worried about the number of Humakti supporting Egil. But since the guards have seen Egil, Aelf and myself. Perhaps they would be surprised if at least one of us isn't there to support Egil."

"Egil, I've seen Pyestes fight. He's good, but he's slow to recover from his thrust, and he drops his shield just slightly. Also, he's got an old wound that makes it hard to reach over the shield to the left."

Egil nods his thanks to his comrades. Closing his eyes he kneels to pray for a moment to Hu and call upon his magic to aid him in the battle to come. When opens them again they are black as Kyger Litor's heart. He motions for Vesekor to lead the way but he doesn't speak. He is not Egil now he is Hu, Hu of the Nine Silences.

Gerras steps forward, "My friend I would aid you with my zebra fetish to make your sword more powerful."
Egil shakes his head and holds his hand out to block his companion. Mauvin, who is stood behind Gerras speaks "He is on a devotion quest, Hu would not take it kindly if he were to be aided by the magic of another god or spirit. It is best left but have it ready for yourself, if things go right for Egil in there we may have to fight our way out."

At the barracks
Vesekor sends Herethu back to the Hoplite's home to pick up the rest of the Rinliddi and meet them at the barracks.

He then leads Egil - err, Hu - through the streets to the barracks, followed by Graylor, Mauvin and Gerras. "Hey Khorkanus, I've got a humakti for Pyestes' ritual. Where's Oedimachus, we need to get this barbarian to where Pyestes can chop him up."

Khorkanus, even more young, pimply, and indecisive than normal, looks at the little party rather doubtfully. "But he's not tied up! Are you sure he's safe? And there's that other one... I should ask Phinditus, it's not for me to say..." He looks longingly at the Barrel 'o Brew across the street, where Phinditus's voice can be heard bellowing orders at a couple of hapless Watchmen who are trying to evict the participants in the bar-fight, than back at Vesekor, who, after all, out-ranks him.

"Oh very well then, but if anything goes wrong it's not my fault. He's at the shrine, with Idoreus."

Vesekor recognises the name of the Marble Phalanx's Yanafali priest. No surprises there, then, and he knows where to find the regimental shrine. He leads the way: but finds Egil occasionally trying to pass him, apparently heading in the direction of the shrine, but in a straight line, ignoring things like intervening walls.

Following Vesekor back to the Marble Phalanx and the room where the ceremony will take place, Egil waits in silence, oblivious to the taunts and challenges of the phalanx hoplites. In his world of darkness he sees just the bright warrior bearing Death. He has come to reclaim it.

As they enter the shrine, each of them sees it differently. Egil/Hu sees only a warrior of the Sun, the foe he must face, though still separated from him by a veil of possibilities. He is not quite on the same plane as his foe. Not yet. Something needs to change.... There are other beings here, but they do not matter.

Vesekor and Graylor see much the same as each other, but Vesekor has the knowledge to understand what he is seeing. The shrine where the Marble Phalanx worship, now with the standard of the First Company predominant. Idoreus the Yanafali priest presiding, various other people in regalia - that must be Pyestes behind the Ram mask of Yanafils. Odd that he's holding a straight sword, not a scimitar.

Is that my sword?
Graylor recognises that sword where Vesekor does not. Not that there is anything very special about it: a short, dark, plain working sword. No runes, no mystic gleam, just a well-used sword. There are hundreds like it. But he'd held it, he'd tried to use it. He knows better than to be misled by appearances.

And there by the door, Oedimachus, Ocolus, and their feathered captive. There seems to be some discussion going on.

"You said bring a Humakti for sacrifice: we got you one! A small one, like you said. What did you think we were going to do, try for one of those Hairywood berserkers?"

Bluetail is demonstrating more than enough fury for any berserker, but having his beak clamped shut by Ocolus is cramping his eloquence.

The elderly man in the robes looks exasperated. "I know I said to minimise the risk, but it can be taken too far. Still, if this is what you've got..."

The voice from behind the mask booms, amplified by it rather than muffled. "This creature is not He. It mocks our Lord. I will not face him, not at this time and place. He is elsewhere... ah." And he turns to face Egil. A blank mask cannot show expression, surely? Much less recognition.

Oedimachus turns to see what's arrived, and his relief is probably hidden from the priest. "Well, here's an alternative I arranged for. A bigger Humakti, and ready prepared - how about that?"

While the discussion over which Humakti to use is taking place Graylor's Jalmari part takes over and scans all the people in the temple. Nothing much of interest shows up except the priest. Now he is interesting, there is the distinctive sign of illumination about him. "I guess that must be Idoreus." Graylor thinks as he reviews the briefing Vesekor gave them of the Marbleheads. "No! I must call them the Marble Phalanx. That sort of sloppy thinking tends to lead to underestimating your foe."

Once again exerting his independence Graylor wanders over to Idoreus and salutes with that flick, that the Jalmari use, but there was no sense of recognition. Good. Then he tries another sign that he hopes Idoreus will know. This time Graylor isn't wrong, and is rewarded by a wide eyed stare from the priest. "Hail Idoreus, I am Graylor Bladedancer." Graylor begins as he studies Idoreus intently. He sees an older soldier towards the end of his career and thus moved into the priesthood away from more active duty. His face is full of worry and the signs of despair are close to the surface.

"Hail Graylor. How were you.."

"Ah, I must be circumspect in this. My fellows do not know and would not understand and my place within their group must be secure." Graylor indicates the rest of his party with a slight nod of his head.

"Ah." Idoreus too inclines his head in understanding and then asks. "Why are you here at my ceremony?"

"I have come to act for the Humakti yonder. Between you and me and the moon I have come to keep him in the right quest. We wouldn't want him to do something stupid." Graylor replies. "I'd better get back to him now, so I'll leave you to your preparations."

"Thanks." A brief smile flashes across the worried face. "I, we need this ceremony to work. You wouldn't believe the trouble we have been having recently. Well I guess, given the way rumours spread round here, everyone knows our troubles!"

As he makes his way slowly back Graylor muses on what he has learned from the priest. Illuminated, yes. Veering to the dark side, no. Stressed and demoralised, certainly. Highly unstable, there must be something to be gained from this.

Idoreus finishes his quiet chat with Graylor and turns back to the rest of his "flock". Various Marbleheads stand in neat lines, ready to chant and support as ordered, just as long as they don't have to think. For them, a Yanafal ceremony is routine. For Vesekor - well, they've done this before. He's learnt enough of the Lunar ways to do his bit, and his men will do the chants in his own tongue that will help him get into the odd Lunar way of seeing the Other Side, with Devikor keeping them organised for him. Rather reluctantly, he slides his awareness in that direction, sees the masks and costumes start to blur into reality, and reaches out mentally towards Idoreus. He knows the myth - the basics of it. He can see the young Yanafal preparing to face his master and teacher, he can sense him as an ally and the dark shape opposite as an enemy. Sort of. The ranks beside him, though, also feel alien, almost hostile.

Idoreus takes his outstretched "hand", preparing to bring in what little he can add to the combined strength, but he, too, seem to find merging the Rinliddi with the Marbleheads difficult. Their ways of thinking have always been different, and now Vesekor has been treating them not just as rivals but as actual enemies, it's hard for him to lower his guard.

On both mundane and heroic levels, he feels the priest trying to show him, tell him, how to adjust. "We are all us... yes, including them... be one, stop holding back..." and then he sighs, resigns himself to things that are just not going to happen. "Direct to Pyestes/Yanafal, then. Ignore these others, fasten your thoughts on helping him - but not until he calls for you!"

Graylor works his way back to the Herewardi. He speaks softly as he arrives. "These guys are seriously spooked about the Legion. I get the impression that they are desperately trying to salvage some reputation having suffered so much." Graylor stands in front of Egil. "Pyestes has your sword, I saw it close to. It is time to rescue death from the hands of this usurper, no flunky from Yelm's court can deny you your right to wield death. Your friends are with you, we wait your call."

Graylor again places his hands over Egil's so that for a moment they are both gripping Evergleam. The blade responds with a brighter flash of the deathlight. "Walk in the shadow of Death and reclaim what is yours." Graylor intones and steps aside for Egil to enter the arena. As Graylor turns to face the combat he is drawn into the quest properly. No longer is Egil striding to combat it is Hu. The form is broader the walk more assured. The temple too has changed it is now a large exercise yard beside a bright palace. Courtiers fill galleries waiting for the combat to begin. His opponent, resplendent in golden armour shines brightly in Yelm's light: incongruously his sword is plane and utilitarian and recognisable as Egil's stone-cleaving sword. The formalities over the two combatants cast their final magics and close in exchanginge blows, testing defences. The contrast between their weapons draws the eye. Both the flaming sword of Pyestes and the absorbing blackness of Evergleam, leave trails in Graylor's vision. There is a contrast of styles too. The flaming sword weaves intricate patterns through the air, the artistry and skill of it's wielder obvious to all. The dark blade is more direct, its strikes true and brutal driven by the passion of the wielder.

Mesmerised by the swordplay Graylor wonders what the Lunar aspect of this battle is like. At that time he notices the shadows that surround the combatants. He concentrates on them to see if this is some foul magic sent to harm Egil. The shadows seem to flow over the combatants and spread throughout Graylor's vision. Wherever they tough the scene changes. Gone is the bright warrior replaced by a heavy set man, his armour tinged with red. Egil has changed, too: gone is the broad figure to be replaced by a taller more angular frame. The practice grounds are no longer splendid but are merely functional. Soldiers cheer on their man. Yells of "Yanafal!" greet each mighty blow from the red warrior.

Suddenly Hu/Egil dodges a blow from Yanafal/Pyestes and the sword crashes against the stone floor raising sparks. This was not the effect that Grayor was expecting. When he had used it the sword cleaved stone like parchment but wouldn't pass through flesh. With an effort Graylor switched his vision back to the alternative myth, in time to see the Yelmic warrior penetrate Hu/Egil's defence and open a long cut down his arm. There is definitely something different about this sword.

Gralor continued to study the differences in his perception of the fight, discovering that both visions felt "right" and proceeding as they were supposed to. The only time the shadows deviated from each other was when Hu/Egil lost his sword, a third shadow dominated the scene, but vanished again as soon as Yanafal/Pyestes stepped back and allowed Hu/Egil to recover it. The end came suddenly. Simultaneously a vicious block by Sendria's Bluff catches Yanafal/Pyestes' sword hand and Hu/Egil lashes out with his foot trying to sweep Yanafal/Pyestes off his feet. The shield catches a nerve on Yanafal/Pyestes' arm and deadens it for a moment, the kick is contemptuously pushed aside by Yanafal/Pyestes' shield. At this moment Evergleam is thrust straight through Yanafal/Pyestes' chest, his shield and sword spread too wide to deflect the blow. Mail is parted and his heart pierced. A stunned silence falls over the crowd. Hu/Egil snatches up the sword Yanafal/Pyestes had been using and brandishes it over his head in victory.

A moment later he falls to his knees over the body as a murmuring starts in the crowd, soon rising to a muffled roar. Graylor scarcely notices as he knows this is the time that Egil needs him. He feels the support of his fellows and channels it out to Egil, both chanting the Rites of the Fallen. A suitable blessing for a fallen foe, and one that will prevent him from returning from Humakt's halls. The crowd is now chanting in unison, Graylor can almost see the support they are pouring out to Yanafal/Pyestes. He gives a slight twitch and the chant quickens, all eyes on the body willing it to rise again. Graylor senses the conflict between the viewpoints: this is the critical moment and Yelm's court is beginning to fade.

The body is definitely showing signs of life, until Graylor notices the captured sword it too has turned black and it elongating. Surprised by the sudden change in weight Hu/Egil lets the point drop until it rests on Pyestes body. The sword is now recognisable, it was Illig's sword, Ashar. A dark shadow passes out from the tip of the blade and settles pall like over Pyestes body. It lies still and moves no more. The shadow that was Yanafal's quest has disappeared.

"You fought valiantly my foe, but know this, Death will not be denied! That which was mine has been returned and you will never be able to claim it again." With these words Egil strides from the arena: as he does the backdrop of Yelm's palace fades into the temple in Pavis.

It goes "clang". That's not my sword!
Egil looks relieved then puzzled. "This isn't my sword!" He swings it experimentally at one of the pillars supporting the roof. It clangs horribly on the stone and the vibrations in the blade cause Egil to drop it.

"What have you done with my sword you bastards?" he yells at the stunned soldiers.

"Your sword?" asks a bemused Idoreus. His eyes open wide and his face starts to redden.

"Then that black sword was no coincidence." Veins start to pulse at his temples.

"Every time that sword appears we are defeated." The muscles in his neck stand out as if they are supporting the weight of the world.

"Why can't..." But he doesn't finish his sentence before he falls to the floor. One hand stretched out in supplication and his staring eyes not focused on this world. One of his aides rushes to his side still clutching Yanafal's book. At the sight of the book the priest scrambles backwards.

"Take it away from me I'll have no such symbols near me!" He screeches at the aid. The aid turns away and the Herewardi see the only symbol on the book is a plain cross, the death rune.

Graylor moves over to him and sees in his eyes that he has lost all harmony, his illumination has been shattered. This one was likely to be a danger now and Vur should be informed.

The priest looks up at Graylor beseechingly, then drops his gaze and sees the cross on his chest.

"No, not crosses! You won't burn me with your crosses." He looks round frantically and sees that most of the rooms occupants have the same symbols on them. In a panic he flees the room.

Graylor hurries back to his friends. "We'd better get out now, before they come back to their senses and realise what we have done!"
he cautions quietly. "I don't really want to have to fight our way out."

Egil looks slightly dazed. "This is my sword...but not all of it. Let's go then, you lead we'll follow and when we get out we'll need to find that thief and find out what happened to the rest of the sword."

Onward: No, not the Lunars
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