back No, not the Lunars?

Was it Chaos?

Only a few yards further on, Rana's original tracks turn back, and the scent of the man who had been with her continues. It goes along the trail by the river bank for a while, then turns inland well before reaching the Zebra Bridge. He seems to have left the main paths and been zigzagging between unoccupied roofless ruins, eventually entering one of them. Irnar pauses, listening, but there's no sign that there's anyone or anything in there. Cautiously he looks inside. There's a dark shadow on the floor, and an odd smell - a recently familar one, though. That shadow is circular. A hole. A very regular hole in the ground, leading down at a shallow angle, and glistening with some slimy substance. The last time he saw one of those was only yesterday: down in the vampire's lair, with a krashtkid scuttling back into it.

Egil grimaces and whispers to Graylor "More damned chaos beasties! We could do with some more of you guys here."

"Well my brothers would not approve of such sentiments. You would be rebuked with such phrases as: 'We are not crude fighters of chaos monstrosities, leave that to the Uroxi.' and 'We are the surgeons for humanity, we carefully cut out the deep and subtle cancers we don't lance boils. Let those whose understanding goes not beyond the lancing of boils deal with the pus."

Graylor looks with distaste down the tunnels. "Though for my sword brother I would willingly put aside such lofty sentiments. Though why does it have to be slimy, I'll hear nothing from Irnar for a week about the mess this will leave him in." He winks broadly at Egil.

"Let's check whether our rat is of the chaotic variety or if these are just some convenient rat holes he inherited."

Rana looks surprised. "Chaos experts who think fighting chaos is beneath them? They must be an odd lot. Still, that's not the Herewardi, right? The rest of them might come and help, if they're not too far away? I mean, there's not many of us here..." She looks around - five warriors if you include the nearly-naked Mauvin, Irnar, who's clearly a hunter rather than a warrior, and herself, without any obvious weapon or armour. "I know you're good, but, well..."

"Ah zebra turds!" Graylor lookes exasperatedly at Egil and Rana. "Now is not the time for long explanations and it gets complicated. As for reinforcements, haven't we got the pride of the zebra tribe behind us? Would the good men of Waha really be impressed that we delay as we call on our own when they stand on hand?"

"Gerras would probably flay me so I'm happy for them to come down there, obviously the cavalry charge is less effective though." Egil gives a half smile "and when I've got my sword back you can explain about chaos. l only know about Death."

Even as Egil speaks the small troop of Zebra riders ride quietly into the midst of the group, Gerras dismounts and walks over to him, "So friend, what are we doing now?"

"The trail leads us down this chaos hole where the hors...zebras can't go. I suggest that you leave 2 braves to guard them and the rest come down with us and fight the krarsht monsters."

"OK but if you call my zebra a horse again I'll feed you to the first beast I see."

Egil grins broadly. "Well you have to admit they look like horses in pyjamas."

"Do you think that Siggyr has a pair of zebra striped ones? Course he'd then be a one-eyed horse in pyjamas!" Graylor quips.

Rana looks slightly bewildered at the in-jokes. "I thought only Lunars wore those things?"

"They do, but death knows no boundaries nor do his followers." Graylor answers. "Many who follow the path of death come from the empire, not all subscribe to the dark side."

Scowling, Gerras retorts in Praxian and although he doesn't understand the words the meaning of some of them are unmistakably about procreation before he finishes with "Let's get on with it then you utter bastard." He turns and calls to his men in a low whisper and soon the zebra are out of sight and 7 warriors stand before him ready to enter the chaos pit.

For a second Yenda looks shocked at the language then her more streetwise self kicks in and she laughs, filing away some of the more choice epithets for later use.

Graylor seeing Yenda laughing says "Say, there are even more touchy about their mounts than Huists are about our swords. I didn't think that was possible!"

He grins watching the look of indignation cross her face before she realises that he is teasing her.

Graylor then addresses the group. "Irnar and I will take the lead to track this thief. This place is most likely a maze of tunnels so watch out for things coming out of side passages. Yenda if you take position near the back then you can give warning if something decides to ambush us. Rana would you like to be in the middle? Do you have weapons to defend yourself or can we supply you with ones to use?"

"They wouldn't let me carry weapons in the city, not without a licence," she says ruefully. "I've got a knife, but that won't help much. If there's a sword or spear I can borrow, I can probably work out which is the sharp end, but I'm not up to Humakti standards."

"Walking with death has its advantages. None would dare challenge our right to bear arms. There should be swords and spears spare so take your preference."

Graylor turns to the Zebra riders. "Can you give the lady something to defend herself with."

As she arms herself Graylor quickly flicks signs at Yenda and Egil. "Keep a watch on her. Questionable loyalty."

Rana looks at the hole, then at the weapons on offer, and takes a light sword and small shield. The zebra riders sort themselves out with short spears and other weapons suitable for enclosed spaces: and also various light-sources, magical and otherwise.

Graylor confers with Egil. "Does Hu provide any magic that will help our Zebra brothers from making quite so much noise? It wasn't too bad on the surface but now we are going underground the noise will echo and carry. It would be nice to do the surprising for a change!"

The dour young Hu-ist replies "He does but it will not help if you move too far from the Death rune that projects the silence as that rune must be stationary. I'll speak to Gerras and see what he can do."

He moves away to speak in hushed tones with his praxian friend before returning to Graylor.

"He said they will move as silently as they can and that you should remember it was the zebras making the noise before not the riders."

To the rest of the group. "We will be going in a silently as possible, and as we don't know exactly what we will find please keep alert and any magic to warn us of chaos or anything else would be appreciated."

Graylor communs with Ashar. "We are going into hostile tunnels and would appreciate your vision. Please will you grant us a warning if we are to be attacked."

And then Graylor leads the way down the hole. Most tunnels in the Rubble are dwarf-built, from stone, and in Fire season are dry, bare, and sandy. This, perhaps in part because of the rain, is a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with ends of worms and an oozy smell, and slime all over every wall. It's slightly slippery underfoot. It leads roughly south for what seems an interminable time, and then opens out into a large and older stone-built tunnel running roughly E-W.

"Well Irnar which way did our rat scurry?"

"He's still being clever. No footprints, and there's less scent, because he's barely touching the ground. Still some, though... he went right."

"Hmm.." Graylor muses. "I don't like the idea of unknowns behind us, but it can't be helped. Signal the guys at the back to take extra care, walking backwards if needed. We don't need something picking us off from the back!"

They follow the new tunnel: older, better-built, and larger. There's still traces of slime here, showing where something unpleasant has passed. And then another side-tunnel opens up, going south. Irnar pauses, sniffs. "He went this way. South."

"Egil, what do you make of the stonework? I seem to recall that you were originally an archaeologist before Hu called." Graylor whispers quietly to Egil.

Yenda looks around, with no knowledge but plenty of interest. "Didn't Vern say something about roof angles being important in architecture? Or was that just in Humakti temples?"

That much at least Egil knows about: in a tunnel, the angle of the roof is designed to stop it caving in, not for ritual reasons. It's an arch, always, the only question is how many stones and how they're shaped. And you didn't get many tunnels in Humakti temples, except..... Except for that one they had never explored, never even got the door open to. Hadn't it been about this height? He struggles to remember the positioning of the stones in the door-arch, and is interrupted by Irnar, who....

> - notices a plack "Constructed by the Dwarves of Pavis"
no, sorry, he doesn't, because that isn't what it says.

... points at some scratches on the wall, barely visible to anyone without a cat's vision. "Isn't that writing? Anyone here read.... Old Pavic, at a guess?"

"Let's see." Yenda peers over his shoulder at the scratches. "Vern was teaching me a bit...... there's only part of it left, the rest got destroyed when this new south tunnel went though it, but... "Kir..... Woz.... Hir"?"

Yenda flicks signs to Egil and Graylor. "Name temple maker." A slight grimace of frustration crosses her face as she realises the limitation of swordspeech to communicate non-military information.

Graylor affirms Yenda's statement. "Weren't the Kir family supposed to have hidden out the troll invasion? I guess that we have found at least the entrance to their hideout. Shall we keep going, we can puzzle out the ancient ways later?"

Egil keeps his voice low, "This tunnel was definitely built in the same style as the tunnel in the temple basement, it may meet up with it elsewhere but we can explore that later at our leisure. For now I agree with Graylor, let's push on and find the rat."

Not quite low enough. Rana's eyes widen. "There's a tunnel from the Humakti temple? I'd heard rumours.... that must be handy. Much more convenient for you than the Gimpy's one."

"Though how many are willing to deal with death, just to get access to a tunnel." Graylor grins then puts one finger to his lips, and gestures down the new tunnel.

This isn't quite as obviously recently dug as the last one. Still slimy, still simply dug rather than lined with stone, but bigger, and most of the slime has dried into an almost glassy surface. The shape is... no, not arched, nor cylindrical. Six-sided, perhaps? As they go down, smaller tunnels start to lead off it, though Irnar indicated that the trail they want sticks to the main passage, and many of the side-passages look too small for any human, anyway. Some of them lead off the ceiling, which would pose other problems.

It's dark. Graylor, at the head of the group, is using the Deathlight from his sword to see by, and Irnar has a cat's vision in any case, but nearer the middle of the group, the Praxians have torches and a few magical glows to help them see. At the back, Yenda, too, relies on her sword.

Egil, with a perfectly good sword to see by, follows Graylor closely. It seems wrong, somehow, to bring light down here, into the Underworld. Unnecessary - unfitting. The journey is starting to feel dream-like again, and his Humakti companions might notice that his sword is glowing more brightly than usual.

Perhaps surprisingly, Rana also avoids the light carried by the Praxians, and she moves silently, never tripping over anything. She, too stays close to Egil, just behind Graylor.

And then both Graylor and Yenda sense it - Chaos, coming nearer. It's hard to tell direction, but it's close. For the Herewardi present, they're aware of an imminent attack.

As Egil feels himself drawn away from the mundane his leans into his cousin, who is walking nearby, and whispers softly "Keep an eye on Vinga in case she's false."

Sensing that there is a threat in the air he draws on Hu's magic to send out magical feelers hunting for foes hiding in the darkness. In readiness sends a silent prayer to Hu "Lord Death, gird my arm. Allow me to strike death to my enemies." His shoulders rapidly bulk up and his arms thicken as the power to deliver killing blows is put into his body. His mind calls to Ashar "Keep this sword whole and sharp while we kill our enemies." Now as he advances he almost glows with the magic in him.

Seeing their companion take on a magical aura Mauvin and Gerras move into a flanking postion and begin to prepare themselves to join whichever battle he will be in.

Graylor speaks out for the benefit of the Zebra folk. "Chaos is approaching, judging from these tunnels it's likely to be krarshtkids. They'll come from all angles, through the floor wall and drop on you from the roof. Get in pairs or threes and watch each others backs."

Irnar swiftly takes position behind Graylor, Yenda and Santhis likewise stand back to back as they prepare to face the oncoming storm. Graylor makes his preparations, ritual movements wake muscles ready for the explosive movements that the Jalmari choreograph into their dance of death. Silently he calls on Jalmar's chaos destroying powers feeling the energy surge through his body and into his swords. He strokes his blades with his new gloves as always as he invokes the unbreakable blade he sees the metal bonding tighter and imperfections in the swords disappear.

"Let them come. Jalmar and I will send the predark back to the nothing that they came from!" Graylor thinks to himself as he enters a calm almost meditative state, peace before the violence. Something in his brain clicked. A pattern, a piece only. Like a room seen through a keyhole. Enough to know there was more. The vampire, the thief, Lunars and chaos nests, all forming a whole. Not isolated but controlled by something.. someone.. ? Too much for now. But later there would be time to think and puzzle. Now was a time of death. "Lord keep my blade sharp and my enemies where I can see them."

Graylor barely returns from his meditation before the faint sounds of scratching are heard by Irnar. The sounds grow louder and others hear it. Soon from a dozen places in the walls pieces of rock and mud start falling. The next moment the air is full of sticky pratzim pinning some of the unlucky ones to the walls. Graylor and Irnar escape being trapped and are able to offer momentary help to one Zebra rider before the krarshtkids start tumbling from their holes. Then there is no time for helping others. The crab-like beasts cling to the walls and flail their long tongues into the band of humans. With astonishingly fast swings of his short swords Graylor manages to slice two or three tongues before the enraged creatures close in on him snapping their triple jaws in a vile manner, poison and acid dribbling from their mouths, small puffs of smoke drift up from the splashes on the floor. Knowing that his swords are protected against the krarshtkids' acid Graylor jabs left and right skewering two bodies through their mouths. Irnar is more circumspect but still makes short work of individual creatures, their carapace not resistant enough to his claws. Two at a time Graylor continues to dispatch the monsters that seem to be
appearing in unlimited numbers. Irnar too slaughters his fair share including catching one that tried dropping onto Graylor from above. The end is sudden: one moment they are surrounded and the next the surviving krarshtkids melt back into the tunnel walls as if summoned. Graylor and Irnar rest for a few moments back to back before rousing themselves to see if anyone needs their help.

The feelers sent out by Hu begin to tingle, alerting Egil to the imminence of an attack. He touches his friends' shoulders to alert them and then in the glowing of his sword's darklight he sees the first monster. His blade flashes down slicing the first beast in two. He hears Mauvin's chant as a powerful wind gusts ahead knocking krashtkids off the walls and sending some tumbling along the tunnel. Gerras lets out a strange whooping yell and leaps into the fray, stabbing and chopping at the snapping beasts. Egil moves in a blur his sword sweeping krashtkids aside with ease, when one seems about to catch him in its jaws he is suddenly not there, stepping aside to deliver lethal blows from his magically strengthened shoulders.

Rana stays behind them, defending herself but unable to achieve much more - she's fast, but doesn't have the strength or experience to handle these chaotic horrors. Mauvin, as Egil had asked, divides his attention between sending winds ahead of the group and watching her: and maybe this is why he fails to keep track of what's going on right next to him. A spray of pratzim glues his arm to his side, and a flying tongue grabs him by the ankles, pullling him to the ground and starting to drag him down one of the larger holes. Egil starts to turn as he hears his cousin cry out, but can see he won't be able to get there in time.
Then the tongue snaps, severed, as a small knife flashes through the air and cuts it through. He spins round to see Rana standing poised with a second knife ready to throw, her sword dropped to the ground. Somehow the sight is familiar, the pose - where has he seen her before? The background wasn't filthy stone, it was much lighter and brighter.

He throws a glance at Mav "Careful there, we don't need to be hunting for blue men down here as well as a sword."

The picture that comes back to Egil's mind is of her concentrating, throwing a knife at a target. Yes, a target, made from straw, not a real enemy. Some older man correcting her. The background.. .. white marble.

Egil's fingers flick a message to Graylor "She has trained with the Humakti in Whitewall. I remember seeing her there but nothing else for now."

Graylor flicks an acknowledgement. "Onward, swiftly now. They know we are here, so speed is now all the advantage we have."

Rana of course doesn't even notice the hand signals, much less understand them. She retrieves her sword from the ground, looking around at the remaining trails of slime and pratzim. "What were those things? Some sort of Chaos? If they're common down here, we're going to have problems catching up with the Rat before he gets eaten, or dragged off, or something. He's on his own, and he's not much of a fighter."

Mauvin says, through gritted teeth "Unless he's with them!"

Egil ponders for a moment "A question for Graylor to ask him I think. Let's go and find him to ask." and sets off down the tunnel.

Graylor studied her for a moment in the deathlight. He was amazed, was she really that innocent? "Rana, wake up and smell the coffee! The guy is in league with these things, he has passed through unchallenged, he hasn't fought his way through, there are no bodies and no sign of conflict. He gives you cantrips forged of chaos and yet you still believe him pure?" He shakes his head. "We must find him, and fast I fear what other sinister connections he may have already sold his soul for."

"He wouldn't!" The protest is almost instant, but then she stops, reconsiders. "I suppose it makes sense, but it doesn't seem right. When he was teaching me...." She shakes her head. "We'll see."

Graylor turns and follows Egil, Inrnar has already made his way to the front checking for the scent of the Rat.

The scene of the fight has masked the scent-trail here, but Irnar picks it up further along. A few hundred yards later, and he pauses. "That's odd. This part's fresh - really fresh. Just now it was maybe an hour old, this is only a few minutes."

"So he was watching us. Was he directing the fight I wonder... No matter let's go after him before he can summon too much more trouble. High alert everyone!" Graylor directs Irnar onward.

Egil is striding fast, he doesn't break his step to reply. "I guess so, that's why they buggered off before we chopped all of them to bits. Mav, how far can you send your entanglements?" Catch him in your mist and it might slow him enough that we can catch him."

The blue man winces "Sometimes I wonder why I let people know we are related. What bloody mist should I use to catch him in? I could use a blast of wind but it'll dissipate before its of any use to knock him down. Let's just run him down."

A unanimous decision: the group move forward again, faster than before. There are still smaller tunnels everywhere, holes left by krashtkids, perhaps, but Irnar has no trouble in following what is now a fresh trail. The main tunnel slopes downhill, and is starting to become damp and slippery underfoot. Rana skids, slips, recovers her footing, then laughs. "I wonder if this muck counts as mud?" Her boots shimmer for a moment, and her stride becomes more confident. "Yes, looks like it does. He'll get ahead of us now, then - you people aren't Orlanthi, so I take it you don't know that trick?"

Egil's frown is hardly visible in the half dark "Trick? What trick? He can walk on mud?"

"Or run on it, I expect. Orlanthi, movement.... you don't get much mud around here, though, he may not have bothered to learn it."

Perhaps half a mile further - it's hard to tell, in the dark - and Irnar stops. "Oh, wonderful. I won't be following his scent through that." Ahead of them, that isn't just the shimmer of wet mud, but the light shining off the rippling of water. Possibly quite deep water: the slope at the near edge is steep. There's some sort of flat wooden object half-in the water, and Irnar heads for it, sniffs. "He went on here, but..... there's something odd. Something been odd for a while, now I think about it. We've been about half an hour since the fight? Rana, how fast could he move? Could he have done that distance in only a few minutes?"

She looks surprised. "I doubt it, he follows Desemborth, not Mastakos. Why, what's the problem?"

"This trail's old. Too old. It's so old, to leave this after that fight, he'd have had to have got here before he started. So.... oh." No-one can see you blush in the dark. This may be a good thing. "So... it's backwards. This isn't the trail he left on his way. It's the trail he left on the way back from wherever he went. He's got past us, somehow."

"He's Orlanthi right? Maybe he's using that sneaky teleporting trick they have."

Despite being distracted by the conversation, Graylor can feel that there's something else wrong here. Something about that water is dangerous, no matter how deep or shallow it may be. And there's something else, something getting closer - are they being followed? From the back of the group, Yenda calls a warning. "Something behind us, in the holes in the ceiling I think."

Egil looks behind calling on the Unbreakable Sword so he may see the signs of an impending onslaught. The edges of his blade glitter as they sharpen even more (Cut Deep) and seem to harden (Weapon Destroyer). He faces the direction of likely threat and stands, relaxed, waiting for an enemy. "Gerras, ask the riders to watch and defend the tunnel behind us in case anything comes out of that water. Mav, get ready with some of that wind of yours."

"Any chance that we can get beyond it before the attack happens?" Graylor calls to Yenda. "The water here doesnt feel right and I'd rather not have enemies on both sides." Even as he speaks he is calling on Jalmar to bring annihilation to his enemies and stroking his blades with his new gloves he strengthens them removing their imperfections, and the black glow of the unbreakable blade shines from their surfaces.

He moves back, leaving the Zebra riders to obey Egil's instructions and watch the water, and as he moves, realises what the problem is. One of those random lumps on the ceiling isn't all that random: it's a large spiral shell, with two heads poking out of one end. "Great! Yenda open your eyes. Don't you see the great dragon snail on the ceiling?" Graylor immediately leaps to the attack, avoiding the armour-plated shell he strikes with both swords at the head nearest to him.

Suddenly it's obvious to everyone - why had they not recognised the shape before?

Graylor's slashes are faster than the snail, and the first head withdraws, into the shell, bleeding. He and Yenda get past to the far side of the snail and the passage they had approached from.

Meanwhile Egil and Mauvin attack the other head. Being tall enough to reach it without leaping definitely helps, and Egil's magically enhanced sword might even have been able to slice the thing in two if he hadn't been distracted by it spitting some rather unpleasant substance into his eyes. Mauvin tries to blow it aside, but a cutting wind is of little use against liquid.

There are cries in Praxian from the nomads they had left by the water: "danger! it's coming out! Burn it, burn it!" There's a sizzle, and one of the torches goes out.

Graylor looks back and mutters foul curses. The others hadn't followed. However Irnar and Santhis were just the other side of the dragon snail. "Right together the four of us. Let's dispatch this thing quickly, then we can help the riders. Ready?"

He looks at each of his three companions. Yenda at his side bathed in the light of Hu's enchantments, her blade dark with the blackness of the void matching his own and reflecting Jalmar's promise to send chaotic things back to the nothing that they sprang from. Irnar, his face strongly feline, lips curled back in a snarl revealing sharp teeth, his long claws reflecting the deathlight back at Graylor. Santhis was alone in showing no signs of magic. His spear gripped firmly in on hand his face showing the grim determination of a man wanting to prove himself. Graylor nods in satisfaction, good people to have at ones side.

"Now!" Graylor throws the full force of the Doomwind in the teeth of the dragon snail just as the four companions attack simultaneously.

The force of the doomwind drives the snails second head back the strikes from Graylor's blades leave it with long gashes to head and neck. Irnar's snarl attracts the attention of the other head and as it swivels round to spit at the Yinkini Yenda sees her opportunity a swift strike leaves the head almost severed. With both heads distracted Santhis takes position underneath the snail and plunges his spear deep into the body of the beast. His aim was true, just above the heads and beneath the start of the shell. A hideous scream comes from the dying heads and it falls to the ground right onto the space where Santhis had just been standing. Fortunately Graylor had grabbed Santhis and pulled him out of the way just in time.

The two of them look back at the beast upside down, twitching, and oozing some sort of liquid. In the quiet aftermath of the screams they hear that there's a faint squealing sound coming from somewhere deep inside the body. Graylor also realises that the thing had been sitting in the entrance of one of the tunnels and now it is on the ground it is blocking the passage way. The only way past is over the beast.

"We must get back and help the others." Graylor states, but just as he puts his hand on the beast a shock passed through his body and he is aware of Ashar wordlessly warning him of immanent death and danger from the beast.

"What!" Graylor exclaims. "Ashar is warning of danger from the dragon snail."

"Danger, how?" Yenda asks. "it is all but dead."

Now thinking aloud, Graylor continues. "I know. I got the impression of danger and death.. No that's not right death THEN danger. Still doesn't make sense."

"That's right, if the snail thing dies how can there be any more problems?" Santhis asks.

Graylor and Yenda look at each other both thinking the same thought. "Brother Leik!" They say simultaneously. Graylor goes on to explain. "Brother Leik was always telling a tale about a thanatar priest he killed that exploded on him. Blew his arm off. I think that is what is going to happen to this beast. We have to move fast, get the others out."

Graylor looks round and sees the side tunnels. "If we can move this thing down to the water. There are side tunnels the others can get into as we push this past. How can we move it though?"

"Easy, you roll it. A rope over the top and pull." Irnar suggests. "I used to do have to do that all the time with the large bison I caught."

"We can lever it from this side too. We have my spear at least and when some of the zebra guys get past we can use theirs too." Santhis adds.

"Excellent, then let's do it! Irnar let the others know what is happening. We don't want to push this thing too far." Graylor calls.

Within moments Irnar's lasso snakes through the gap between dragon snail and ceiling, and he is calling instructions to the others. "We're ready. Lets move this thing before it blows!" Irnar calls.

"No need to panic Irnar. Calmness and discipline will get us through." Graylor reassures him as he ties the lasso round one of the heads. "We'll get you and everyone out before.." he leaves the consequences unspoken whilst hating the unnaturalness of chaos that even after death it could threaten his friends.

Egil grabs the rope and joins with the other straining to move the dead monster. Mauvin calls to Helamakt, drawing moisture from the nearby river a thick, almost solid, mist forms between the people on the rope and the dragonsnail.

Down by the river Gerras is dismayed as the zebra warriors are set upon by gorp. "Kareel, stop buggering about, we need those torches. Caylash! We need your magic, call Oakfed's fire to kill these things." Caylash reaching into a pouch at his wait and pulls out a small metal box. He opens it to reveal a glowing ember "Gre'nas'klec burn this monster of chaos in the name of Oakfed."

Caylash's spirit flares in anger against the chaos monsters, setting flames into the substance of one and singeing several others. The gorp stop there advance and begin to flee for the safety of the water, Caylash urges Gre'nas'klec on like a shepherd controlling his dog, rounding up a wayward flock. The other zebra riders back away from the water with the flame between the gorp and themselves. They find they are pushed to one side as people tugging hard at a rope pull the corpse of another chaos monster towards the river. Egil yells at them "Get out of the bloody way, this thing is going to go bang any minute."

As soon as the body splashes in to the river Egil unslings his shield he crouches behind it and backs up the tunnel towards a side tunnel. He squeezes into it with Mauvin and the pair of them hide behind their shields and the wall of thick mist the Helamakti has created. The zebra riders break into a run that could almost be described as a rout trying to find a side tunnel each of them can hide in, they are quickly in shelter waiting for the dragonsnail to blow.

Graylor recognises the shielding mist for what it is and helps it retain its solidity by bolstering it with Harewards truewind which keeps it pushing towards the dying snail rather than dissipating. He and Yenda both add their Jalmari magic to help everyone resist the effects of the chaos explosion to come.

They do not have long to wait. The ripples from the dragonsnail's plunge into the water are still lapping at the bank when there is a deep BOOM from under the water, and a shower of water, bits of gorp, and odd chunks of snail and shell flies in all directions, followed by a wave that carries yet more debris. But on the side of the river where the party is sheltering in the tunnels, the shower is slowed by the mist, and blown back by the cold wind. A few fragments get through, a few people are stung by the acidic gorp, but what could have been a disaster has been averted by the group's quick thinking and defensive magic.

Graylor is delighted to see how effective Mauvin's mist was. He claps Mauvin on the back in appreciation. He spots Irnar and Santhis and praises their inspration and efforts. Though nowthe ringing subsideds from his ears he can now hear the moans of those few who caught bits of gorp. He calls Yenda to him and tends those injured, a combination of Jalmar's magic doing mopping up the gorp bits and Graylor's early medical training working well to quickly sort out the minor burns.

Meanwhile Irnar gets back to refinding the rats trail. He's determined not to get caught out by any side trails this time!

The scent trail leads back the way they'd come. At the spot where he'd previously noticed that it had suddenly become more recent, Irnar stops. "Now, what happened here? We found his trail leading out, over by that wall - yes, there it is, though fainter now. And here's where it suddenly got stronger, we know now, it met his trail coming back. So where did he go?"

He sniffs around the spot where the trail back stops. "Nothing. It's as if he'd started flying - can he? Rana?"

"No more than anyone else, that I know of. He won't have had a spare sylph in his pouch."

"Then where..? I wonder?" He looks up, at the roof. "It's low here, and there's holes if not tunnels. An agile thief could jump straight up. Give me a leg up."

With the others supporting him, he checks each hole. "That's it. This one, here. It's a dead end, but he was here, sitting hiding, for several minutes. But it *is* a dead end, so where did he go? Jumped back down and landed... Where?"

He drops down and they move out of his way as he searches the area. "There. Opposite side of the tunnel, and fresher, though still a while ago now. I'm surprised I missed it before, but it is the other side."

He follows it down the corridor for a little way. "He's not bothering to hide his footprints, now, and with all the mess, there's plenty of tracks. There's his trail, there's us coming in, and - oh." He stops dead, staring at one footprint. "Well, that explains why I missed this trail before. It wasn't there. There's his print, on top of ours - made later. I didn't find the trail before because it wasn't there. He passed us, or we passed him, it must have been... " he pauses, working out times in his head. "When we were standing there wondering why the trail was fresh. He was there, right then, above us, listening."

Egil is plainly annoyed by the fact they have been spied upon and then the spy got away from under their noses. "Right, from now on we move in silence. No Talking!"

He then flicks a message to Graylor with his fingers. "Advance slowly, check all tunnels. To the sides, above and below."

He moves forward behind Irnar, his sword drawn and ready for a surprise attack, by its deathlight he looks for any tunnels leaving the main one.

Graylor signs back."Agreed and understood." He and Irnar proceed with caution their senses, both mundane and magical, stretched to their limits. Now that the tracks are clearer Irnar stops being solely focused on smell and frequently uses all his Alusar enhanced senses so as to not miss any sign or sound that could lead to their prey.

To Egil, the silence feels more natural in any case. Darkness, silence, hunting evil through underground terrain designed to confuse: this is where he should be. His second self is at home here. He feels a little confusion that the creature that helps him track is cat, not wolf or raven, but a vague, almost-forgotten memory of a black cat rises into his mind, and he realises that the concepts are identical at any level that matters.

More on the mundane than Egil, Irnar follows the trail back the way they have come: yes, there are confusing side passages, but since neither scent nor footprints go that way, they can be ignored. Back to the older, cleaner tunnel, back to the newly dug (newly eaten?) tunnel through which they had entered. And he stops at the sounds of battle ahead. Graylor's senses register Chaos, again, and the sounds of hissing and spitting, with the clash of bronze on chitin, suggest that someone is already fighting the tunnel-makers.

The noise causes Egil to start, he flicks his fingers at Graylor "Watch for our friend. He may be lurking nearby while we fight again." He lengthens his stride and walks briskly towards the sounds of combat all the time keeping a look out for anywhere the Rat may be hiding. Once again he calls Hu's magic to aid his fight.

Graylor pauses a moment to signal to his followers in a hybrid of the Humakti battle language and common hunting signs. "Santhis and I are going ahead you stay back and watch for spies." The latter concept is difficult to get across using hunting signs, but Irnar is able to see Graylor mouthing the word "Rat" and the meaning is obvious.

Graylor taps Santhis and the two set off after Egil with final signal from Graylor. "Keep tracking."

The tunnel ahead is narrow: there's barely room for three to walk abreast. Mauvin is hanging back behind Egil, ready to use his wind magic, and Gerras stays in the main tunnel, ordering his zebra rider friends to spread along it in each direction, watching for attacks from any of the possible approaches. Yenda takes up position at the rear, her senses straining for any hint of the chaos attacks that had taken them by surprise before.

Irnar, tracking, shrugs and follows Graylor. That, after all, is where the trail leads.

Ahead of them, as they expected, is a group of krastkids, and already intent on their current victim. A single man, clad in leathers and armed with only a dagger: as they watch, he dodges attacks from all sides, trying to cut his way past his assailants and failing. So far his agility is keeping him alive, but he clearly realises this can't last, as he recognises the approaching Humakti with obvious relief. "Help!"

Egil has an odd feeling of recognition: he doesn't know who this is, he's never seen the face before, but he knows what he is, what his place is. The Other. The treacherous guide, the thief. Behind them, Irnar lets out a startled gasp of recognition. "That's him!"

Graylor grins, finally! Now for some real answers. However there is the small matter of the chaos to remove first. He gracefully leaps into the fray striking with feet as well as swords. Jalmar's magic flowing through him, his whole body a flexible weapon dealing oblivion to the servants of chaos. Though as he is fighting he realises that they had been assuming the Rat was part of the chaotics. Did we misjudge him? A question that would have to be asked as soon as possible.

Egil doesn't allow his sense of wrongness to show on his face but his fingers flick at Graylor urgently "TRAP!"

He wades into the krashtkids cleaving a path through them to the man. His cousin following close behind. "Mav knock him over!" The blue man calls a blast of wind to knock the Rat over at the same time Egil calls on Hu to shatter the thief's dagger. He strikes with his sword aiming at his opponents dagger aiming to destroy the weapon.

The zebra riders, led by Gerras, charge up splitting into twos and threes to attack krashkids. The screams and yells of battle reverberate around the cavern but the riders seem to have the upper hand driving the monsters back.

Graylor was enjoying himself and feeling somewhat guilty that there was such enjoyment to be had slaughtering the crude manifestations of chaos. So he was in mid leap when Mauvin's wind ripped down the tunnel. There was nothing he could do, the wind slammed into him and blasted him along the tunnel. He had enough presence of mind to throw out the Truewind in an attempt to soften his landing. That and his natural agility stopped him from being knocked out by the impact, still as he crashed into the wall all his breath whooshed out and left him dazed.

Irnar, seeing Graylor in trouble, immediately flicks out his claws and prepares to rushing in to be at his side. But seeing him sit up realises that things aren't so bad. He turns his attention to the Rat, slipping his lasso off his shoulder he slowly starts to whirl it, looking for an opportunity to fling it over the elusive thief before he decides to run off past the dazed Graylor. Irnar waits patiently like the experienced hunter he is. There is the opening, the Rat has turned to face a new krarshtkid. The rope flies out and over the Rat's head sweet as a stolen kiss. Elated Irnar starts to haul the captive towards himself. Unfortunately, being so concerned with his prey Irnar forgot about the hazards of the krarshtkids. Pratzim covered Irnar and pinned him to the wall, still holding the rope binding the Rat.

Graylor watches with horror as Irnar gets caught by the pratzim and calls out. "Santhis to Irnar! Egil we have to keep the captive alive!"

Graylor pulls together all his iron discipline and staggers to his feet, reassured that his magic is still in place. His dedication to Egil's cause drives him forward and his loyalty to the Legion drives his arms to strike the hated foe. Bravely he battles to the side of the Rat and stands covering him from attack.

Egil drives at the Rat trying to keep him off balance to stop him getting a proper grip on his dagger. "Mav! Snare him with magic. If it catches me too so be it."

He's hampered by not wanting to kill him, or even to damage him too much. This is not Egil's preferred way of fighting, and it shows. The Rat, even with a noose round his neck, is incredibly agile, and evades every move Egil makes, not bothering to retaliate. Frustrated, Egil falls back on some of the dirtier fighting he's learnt, and closes for a grip, hoping his superior strength and height will force his smaller opponent to stay still for long enough to be hit. The one thought left in his mind: "stop the thief" consumes him. The part of Death that has been stolen must be returned.

Mauvin makes a small gesture and the air around Egil and the Rat seems to thicken into mist and the two men seem to be held by it.

Only this doesn't feel like the last few times Egil has felt that mist: this is sticky. Too late, Mauvin realises where the only moisture in this dry land must come from: the pratzim in the air and the slime on the walls. A mist of pratzim envelopes the group, immobilising everyone ahead of Mauvin except for the krastkids, immune to their own glue.

Everyone? No, not quite. Graylor might still be dazed from his earlier treatment by Mauvin's magic, but his determination to defend the Rat from the approaching enemy triggers his own powers of destroying chaos, his aura touches that of his protegee and strengthens it. The solidified mist melts around the Rat, just enough that he can move his hands again. He retrieves his dagger, cuts the rope that holds him. It would be easy, now, to stab at Graylor or Egil, both are helpless to resist: but instead, he pulls a small piece of reddish-brown rock from a pouch, and looks around at them with what might under other circumstances have been a charming smile. "It's been nice knowing you all, but sorry, I have an appointment elsewhere. If you're going to deceive the Great Deceiver, it's important to remember not to get caught at it, and this seems like a good time to leave."

He rubs the rock, and says a few words in Stormtongue over it. Immediately a miniature tornado appears around him. It hurts the eyes to look at, not moving anywhere, yet going away impossibly fast. Egil and Graylor, both with a hand touching the Rat and therefore inside the effect, feel themselves being pulled by something far stronger than any glue.

A startled exclamation from the Rat, and all three vanish, leaving only two pairs of boots behind.

The heroes: Was it the Orlanthi?
The followers: No not chaos
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