back Was it chaos?

Was it the Orlanthi?

The tornado whirls about them, blinding their senses to everything but wind and movement. They're flying, impossibly fast, but at the same time, motionless at the heart of the storm. The wind holds them in place, frozen, unable even to change expression, as that long-drawn-out instant stretches to eternity for a time that is no time at all. Pulled, drawn inexorably home.

Home? Yes. At least, that is the concept that fills their minds: return to a central place of safety. An alien concept to Humakti who have severed their relationships with such things, but the memories are still there. What they are being drawn to now is the "home" of the one they pursue and cling to, but somehow there is the echo of a memory that it had once been their own.

Ahead of them, now, they do not see but somehow sense on the winds, a stead on a high hill, guard-posts at each end, promising safety between them. They have seen it before, long ago. The posts, leaning towards each other, draw their awareness... is there a stead between them, or not? Does it matter? Sight starts to work again, the unreality diminishes a little, they become aware of the speed at which they are moving. Fast - too fast - yet just fast enough to keep up with the one they pursue, the thief who must not escape.

And reality reappears with a jolt - all too literally, as all three hit the ground hard. The objects they had thought were posts tower over them - great stones, leaning towards each other, silhouetted against the pale sky of early dawn. A tall figure stands between them, a man with a wolf's head, or so it seems. And that isn't quite right, they'd expected someone else... but that feeling dies, as the blur between reality and myth fades away.

Between them, the Rat tries to scramble to his feet. The tall figure, still only visible in outline, stands over them, and hauls him to his feet by the scruff of his neck. "Swordless, and not alone? Frekor, you had better have a very good explanation for this."

Gralyor tentitively raises himself to a sitting position, he checks out his battered body and finds out everything works.. sort of! He shakes his head to clear the last of the effects of the flight and starts to really look at his surroundings. Mercenary training taking over, first identify potential dangers and enemies before anything else. While he surveys the area he is surreptitiously working his muscles to make them ready in case they were needed. The static training clears the last of the fug from his mind. Funny Graylor is sure that he hasn't been here before, so why was there a strong identity of home? Mythic home? Ah that would be the Rat's mythic home. So the shadow of a stead would be Orlanth's stead. But who was the wolf-headed guy and why is he wrong? He is positive that he can't place someone like that in the myths of his childhood. Ah well that puzzle will wait. His mind finally identifies where they are, the Pairing Stones some way out from Pavis.

There are only four others beyond the imposing figure between the stones. It could be worse there could have been dozens. Slowly the words that had been spoken filtered through to Graylor's consciousness.

"Hey, we got him first!" Graylor exclaims almost before he realises he has spoken. "The sword I guess that you are wanting was stolen from us by this 'Rat'! and it's time he gave it back, or at least told us where it is. We're tired of chasing copies of the sword round Pavis." Graylor looks appraisingly at the tall figure and hazards a guess. "Krogar Wolfhelm; I recognise you from Humakt's temple in Pavis. I don't know what you want with a Humakti sword, but there are easier ways to get one than stealing them, especially from followers of Hu!"

Egil remains silent, he knows little of the place he finds himself but he does know that an enemy is here. Filled with the steely determination he stabs a small dagger into the ground and calls upon Hu of the Nine Silences. His power fills the air as Egil, Graylor, Rat and the Wolfheaded man find themselves sheathed in a bubble of quiet. His fingers flick a message to Graylor "Wait, red on red."

Egil's appears to have had a change of heart, or maybe its is Hu. He pulls the dagger from the ground and resheathes it and sound once again enters the little world around him. He stands and strides forward, grasping the Rat from behind he pulls him from Krogar's grip and throws him to the floor. He fixes a glare on Krogar before his voice, echoing eternity in it, speaks "HE IS MINE NOW!" Egil turns to face the Rat, wearing his visage of fear. Calling on Hu's power to guide his sword to decapitate the enemy before him. "YOU MAY STAND AND FACE ME OR COWER THERE, EITHER WAY YOU COME TO MY HALLS!"

Graylor takes a moment to clear his head of the deafening silence that Egil called. Then shrugging in that "I told you so!" manner to Krogar he turns to Egil and sees only Hu.

"My Lord Hu, whilst not wanting to change your decision to execute the thief. Perhaps a delay would serve better. He is the only one who knows where he hid Death, he may yet be persuaded to divulge that information. Besides he is only the instrument of the theft, the instigator appears to be your brother here."

Graylor indicates the tall Orlanthi standing between the Pairing Stones. Identified by Graylor's words Krogar's outline blurs and once again Orlanth's form stands between the stones looking down on his older brother.

The myth holds them for a moment, and it is Orlanth who speaks: Orlanth the King. "This wretch is under my protection, here. Fight me if you must, but I would not fight my brother by choice."

Then the mists clear, and Krogar glares, exasperated, at the Rat. "A magical sword, yes, a quest, yes, but stealing from our allies was never mentioned when we planned this. Of all the targets to choose...! Idiot!"

The Rat laughes, ignoring Egil's poised sword. "The greater the risk the greater the gain - and the closer to reality, the closer the match. You know that... So, we gambled, and we lost. It happens."

His eyes go back to Egil. "Go on, then. Kill me - kill your Other. Is that how your story goes? Or did you want your sword back?"

Egil's eyes are now almost completely black as Hu overwhelms him. He ignores Rat completely, this is a mere stickpicker and not worthy of note. "Brother, it is a great dishonour you have done me. You have stolen from me that which should have been kept hidden and now it is free and is being wielded even as we speak. Until it is returned to me we are kin no more." He raises his blade and swings it at Krogar, before it hits him it hits a thin glowing blue line which has just become apparent.

Krogar steps back, Orlanth's shock and regret mixed with mundane relief at Egil's choice of path on his face. And, somehow, he seems more withdrawn, his previous sympathy and the beginnings of friendship are gone. The air shimmers with possibilities, paths, multiple layers of reality. Are those two pillars, or three? Is that shadow a vase, or a face?

"The loss of kin, or of allies, is a grave matter, and I would make restitution for the wrong done to you," he says formally: and as he does so, some visions fade away, and others stabilise.

He looks down at the Rat, who seems even smaller and less prepossessing now - is that the shadow of a chain, between them, strengthening as he speaks? "Fetch back the thing you stole, right now, and you may yet escape punishment, wretch!"

Egil and Graylor see the options, in a strange indescribable way, with a sense they had not realised they had, yet are sure of the truth of. But, watching, they get the impression that Krogar had chosen his path almost blindly, unaware of what they can see but cannot yet understand.

Egil resheathes his blade. His expression is one of anger but when he speaks it seems controlled and measured, so he doesn't scream in his fury. "If that which has been stolen is returned then while we can no longer be kin we may be able to forge a bond close to kinship and at least be allies."

Krogar nods here in semi-recognition of the reference.

Turning to face the Rat Egil speaks again, this time more sternly. "You! When it was stolen it came in contact with others who would use it. To save your worthless hide it would be wise for you to tell me who these others are."

"Others?" The words and the exasperation are both Krogar and Orlanth. "What others? You were supposed to bring it straight back here!" Then, as the Wind Lord unwillingly recognises the details of the myth: "But you didn't have time to make copies!"

"Who needs to, when it's just a normal-looking sword?" That's pure Rat, then he blurs again. "Lots of people liked it, it's a fun toy for them. I showed them my trick, they liked me, they gave me presents. Then they chased me... it's not fair, just because they couldn't make it work!"

And back again, the intelligence reappearing. "You know who, you've been just behind me all evening. That Lunar - he paid well. My... underground contacts. If I'd delivered the others, as well.... but I haven't, yet. You weren't meant to catch up this fast - but then you had help, didn't you? Tricking myself..." He shrugs, with the same acceptance of losing as he had shown earlier. "It figures."

Egil's face is dispassionate as he listens to Rat. "If you haven't passed it on or the copies then we will have it back now. If you are unable to do this then I am happy to give you a demonstration of how unfair life can be." He says this without malice but there is certainly menace in his voice.

"Do I look like I've got a sword in my pouch? It's safe, don't you worry, but I'll have to go back and get it. Meet you back here in, say five days?" He looks round at the scenery, apparently finding the glorious views of the mountains at dawn depressing. "That escape stone's all very well, but did you have to set it so far from anywhere civilised?"

"I don't think so. My lord is not in the habit of waiting about for the likes of you. Especially, when it gives you five more days to cause mischief. I think that we should accompany you to recover my lord's sword." Graylor speaks quietly but with the steel of a man who will brook no argument.

"You think anyone here would trust you on your own for five seconds, much less five days?" Krogar sounds nearly as angry as Egil.

"You think I trust these guys not to kill me as soon as we're out of your sight? They're Humakti!"

"You should have thought of that before you stole from them. Where is it?"

"Safe - at home in the city." He brightens at the thought. "And you need me alive to get it, there's guards, locks, traps - the usual. Promise you'll keep me alive, I'll get it for you."

"We could give our word of honour not to kill you for this offence, to some that is worth more than gold. Tell me though how could your lord make such a promise? Humakt will come to claim you eventually. It may be tomorrow at the end of a sharp sword, it might be next week as you fall from a horse and break your neck but it could be when you are 90 and bed-ridden and wracked with wasting disease but whenever it is my Lord will be there to claim you and all the promises of your lord will be for naught." Egil seems to take no pleasure from his words but says them as a simple fact.

Graylor looks at Egil with new found respect. He turns to Krogar/Orlanth. "My lord, is there any chance that can you provide us with umbroli to speed us on this mission? We'll return with your property as soon as possible." Graylor nods towards the snivelling thief.

"I could provide you with sylphs, yes, but could you control them? No, we travel back to the city together."
He turns to one of the four people they had barely noticed earlier. "Harev, we'll need enough to carry eight of us. I take it there's enough round the Stones?"

"We're flying in in daylight?" That's one of the others.

"Not ideal, no, so we'll land short - the new base in the Real city. We may be seen, but all they can tell is there's a group of us, not identities. Don't worry, I'm not asking you to fly us into the Market."

The winds whirl around the great Stones, individual flurries and gusts becoming clearer now. Not quite faces, not quite "people", but individuals, yes. The group are lifted, by what are not quite hands, held.... they're riding something, but what shape it is isn't entirely clear.

And they're heading south. As they rise over the foothills, Pavis is visible in the distance. The wind, or Winds, start to blow from the North, carrying them home.

Graylor uses his soul vision to see them more clearly. He laughs as he recognises his new friend. Friendship forged in conflict and honed with trust and respect in his initiation. Was that only a week ago? Time seems to have been playing games with his mind since he found the Legion.

"Egil, look who is here to blow us home."

Graylor calls it by name, the secret name that is known only to the initiated, not the secret name known only by Humakti. Graylor embraces the North Wind and is glad of it's cold which washes away the heat of the desert. Soon though his mind returns to more practical things. He whispers to the North Wind and asks if it can take a message to Dori advising her on their situation.

The sylph whistles around him, eager to please a friend. Suddenly instead of him moving with the wind, the wind is blowing away from him, bearing his words south - and he is no longer supported! He's suddenly aware that the ground is a very long way down, but getting closer at an alarming rate, and that the others are continuing to move ahead, leaving him behind. Harev turns, alarmed, and calls something in Stormspeech. There's a roar of wind, and Graylor's plummet to the ground stops abruptly.

The plummeting sensation was quite pleasant, unlike the thoughts that were running through Graylor's mind! It was amazing how many thoughts he could have simultaneously. One part was railing against his own stupidity and the stupidity of sylphs, whilst another part of his mind was occupied with consigning his soul to the care of Humakt and a final part was coldly analysing what went wrong.

Harev turns, alarmed, and calls something in Stormspeech. There's a roar of wind, and Graylor's plummet to the ground stops abruptly.

The rescue comes as a shock to Graylor. His mind had entered that calm place where it had accepted death as the only outcome. Now he was rescued it refused to accept the fact and stayed locked in that zone blissfully waiting for his arrival at Humakt's halls.

Egil watches as Graylor falls, "Now would have been a good time for those bloody bird-men to be about, still Humakt's Halls aren't such a bad place to be. Come, Wind, let's get to Pavis."

The he gapes as he sees Graylor rise up again, he calls out to him "Its a strange day when even Humakt turns you away from his door!"

Egil's voice seems to bring Graylor round, perhaps the strong overtones of Humakt penetrated through to Graylor. With a slow shake of the head Graylor replies to his friend.

"How can you let me in when you are flying in front of me! Of course I had to return." With a rather rueful smile he continues. "Let's get back, I think wind-flying has lost some of it's appeal."

Turning to Harev he bows his head respectfully. "Thank you for saving me, I owe you my life. Call on me when you have need of my aid." He pauses for some time before asking. "Tell me, why did the wind behave like that? The North Wind and I are new friends, but I'm sure it wouldn't have acted like that. Is there more than one North Wind?"

"More than one Wind?" Harev seems almost baffled by the question. "There's more than one sylph here, yes, 'course there is, you think one could carry this many? Don't get them that big around here. Why it decided to run off and drop you - who knows? Got distracted by something, I'd guess. They don't usually do that, or we'd not ride them, but they're usually carrying Orlanthi, friends to the wind. You say you're a wind-friend, though? Thought you was Humakti."

"I am Humakti. Humakt was also a son of Umath and therefore knows the winds and so can his followers." Graylor replies and continues with a grin. "Though not as well as I thought. When I return I must get more instruction from my Sword."

Egil sings to the wind, in a thick Sartarite accent. The song of the myths when Valind and Humakt and the wind fought together. When his song finishes and the city is in sight below them a thought strikes him "My friend, you are carrying one who stole a blade from me. The price for its return is that I don't kill him but maybe you could help me. When Storm season come and Valind comes down from his glacier you could come here and find our little trickster thief, I'm sure his winter would be most uncomfortable with icicles in his breeches."

Egil hadn't realised a sylph could giggle. Nor that two of them could giggle together. All of a sudden the Rat yells, and curls up in the air.

Egil calls across to the Rat, "Mr Ratty! I should sit still if I were you, wriggling about on the back of a sylph might be a way to get bucked off and fall to a messy end." His eyes sparkle as if delighted by the prospect.

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