They think it's all over

Freezeday, Illusion week, Fire season - evening

There's a pause for a moment - no-one can quite believe it. The fight's over. The Shade has fled, Barefang is a pile of smoldering ash.

Dori steps forward, sheathing her sword, kneels down by Aelf for a quick inspection of the damage. "He'll need the healers and fast - Kristen, too. Anyone else hurt?"

Behind them, the White Shields and Khan are finishing off the last of the zombies. The last? Well, almost. Abul, at the back of their group and looking back towards the spectacular duel, sees one remaining movement - one last zombie too mindless to have realised its master is dead. Only a trollkin, at that, plodding forwards with not so much a spear as a pointed stick. Its path, if uninterrupted, will take it directly into Kallyr's back.

Like all the legionaries, Abul's heart rejoices atthe end of the Evil Lord's Champion.

Then he sees the fragile and despicable trollkin undead and he remembers Lady Jakkana's lessons: "Evil or Good can't be really destroyed and every victory contains the seeds of the next battles, because the fight between Truth and Lie goes forever, testing the just, reinforcing the black-hearted."

Queen Kallyr is obviously the target and Abul understands that Kallyr Starbrow, as the agent of the Good God, is currently the central pillar sustaining their defence. For a very short moment, he wonders if his fears were sent by the Evil Lord or the Good God, because his fears made him staying behind and being the only one able to see the deadly threat and now fears are gone... replaced by a strong commitment to protect their light-holder.

Re-orienting the direction of his steps. Abul dashes to reach the zombie before it strikes..

He intercepts the trollkin with ease, despite the way running over this broken ground is obviously natural to it. But he isn't used to fighting the longer range of the crude spear, and finds a stab almost hitting him. He dodges backward, avoiding taking any damage himself from the sharp point uncomfortably close to his neck. There's a snapping sound as a chain breaks, the result of his own rapid movement and the unexpected strength of the trollkin zombie, and his amulet flies off into the Rubble.

With a rush of pure terror, Abul feels his magical medallion escaping him and vanishing into the depths of the night, there, somewhere, perhaps not so far away in the dirt of the Rubble. For a very short moment, life-long terrors of losing his cherished protection and life-long training to stick to his duties conflict, but Queen Kallyr is so near and so important, nearly radiating a demand for courageous action while the threat of the Enemy is still very real and requiring immediate response...

Abul raises his sword and with a long deep shout of mixed rage and despair, he charges again, striking the trollkin undead's spear with blind fury. He strikes as hard as he can, a battering flow of blows from his blessed straight long sword, sacrificing all defense for an immediate and definitive assault, perhaps after, some luck or some compassion from the universe will give him the time to retrieve the medallion. He bets everything in an intolerable and absolute desire to smash for ever all the dreaded threats he endured all his life while knowing perfectly well the full vanity of such movement... but is there a real choice for who aspires so ardently to become a true human according to the highest Carmanian standards?

Abul may have no defence, but the trollkin has no chance to attack. The first blow shatters its spear, the second removes an arm, and the remaining flurry leaves various bits of trollkin still moving, but separately.

But while he dismembers it, other things are happening around him. Shadows are coalescing again, though not, this time, around where Barefang has fallen. Six tall figures are starting to appear, surrounding him - figures out of nightmares, with four arms each, and barbed tails. Darkness Demons....

Abul has no time to rejoice in his own victory as he observes the apparitions with horror. "Oh no not again! Not so soon!" The sob in his voice is clearly not the voice of a generally over-serious young fighter called Abul al'Kathoum but the cry of an eight year old small boy simply called Kovis by his relatives.

Frantically, Abul begins to search for his lost Medallion, even if he strongly hesitates to approach the growing shadows. "Where is it? WHERE IS IT?" he shouts to the night in pure despair.

No medallion. Stone, gravel and sand, but no medallion... For the Good God's sake!
Abul's heart is about to burst.
Old visions of scattered dismembered arms and legs with scarified bodies pouring blood like rivers darken his mind...

Repeating his old prayer against fear like a obsessing mantra, Abul tries to hold his sword firmly and to stand up honourably to face the tall and so-impressive creature near him. The blade in his hand shakes as his whole body shakes. Abul's face, usually so miserly to express feelings, seems now molden in a white mask of pure dread where blood would have fled forever. Terror is so intense that it is nearly ecstatic.

Abul realizes then that Egil was right when he told him that every mortal was alone in front of Death... Even here in the middle of the Legion in arms, no one will dare to come with him, he had to start his life alone and lonely will be his trip into unknown...
This thought helps him to remind the moral Carmanian principles of the Hazar that his father Jamal inculcated in him. Instinctively raising his shield to protect his flank as he was trained again and again, Abul hopes to take the initiative and swings his blessed sword in the direction of the supposed position of the creature's heart... if it is has any.

"I swore to protect you Humakt!" he shouts with his so unnatural deep bass voice. "Here are my words!"

As if he was on the training ground, Abul plunges his blessed blade into the black thorax of the demon in a perfectly executed movement, but immediately he understands that this will not be enough: no rib cage resistance, no blood, no spasm, no reaction... The blade just impales its target, passing through the creature's muscled body and out from its back.
With a snarl, the demon answers by deliberately stabbing two of its sharp short blades deep in his shield and with the added strength of two of its arms, easily forces Abul to open his defence. In a desperate movement, the young fighter manages to disengage his long sword and letting his shield going loose, he tries to parry at least one of the last two attacking demonic members. Deviated, one bladed hand falls flat on him, while the other passes too much near to the Humakt-blessed sword. Normally such a heavy blade shouldn't have allowed such a quick recovery movement but its new lightness makes it surprisingly fast. The Carmanian blade bites the fourth armed member at wrist level, severing it with no obvious difficulty. A taloned fist still holding its heavy dagger falls on the ground in a curious sound. The demon makes a step back, disappointed perhaps.
It would have been a bright victory if the fight would have been against only one single human being, but as Abul turns to observe the rest of the demonic pack, he understands this is not the case.

Perceiving the rest of Khan's ten looking back amazed at him, he shouts to them in a foreseeing glimpse: "Fly, you fools!"

Five demons remain and in a weird ballet, they fall on him brutally. Synchronized like long trained dancers, two of them together stab in harmony deep into his both shoulder sockets, immediately killing any possibility of movement in Abul's arms, while other blades lacerate his legs making sure he will not be able to stand up.
However Abul doesn't fall because before Earth calls him back, a flurry of sharp blows from somewhere Abul can't understand pierces his chest and belly several times.
His last vision is a demon jumping over his shoulder, holding his head firmly and knifing his throat twice in a inverse double movement of two razor-sharp blades.
Blood spreads high and strong from the pressure of the young human heart, showering the demons.

Abul hadn't even time to voice his pain. The demons let him fall on his back. His face is still a white mask but now a mask where terror has permanently left some place for inhuman torment. Fresh blood is everywhere around...

Yenda hears Abul's shout and looks back for him. She clearly sees him surrounded by the Jukhar and calls to Graylor.

"Abul! He is surrounded by Jukhar. We have to save him!" Not waiting for her ten-thane she sets off towards Abul. She screams as she sees the blades sink into Abul's neck. The shock doesn't stop the rest of her body from pounding towards the demons. For the second time in the evening she starts singing, throwing her everything into the attempt to rescue her friend and confidant.

Dori looks up from Aelf's injuries (which seem to be spectacularly messy, but not actually all that bad) to see this. "Yenda, no!" Then when it's quite obvious she's being ignored: "Oh, for..... right, everyone, get them!"

Graylor orders the rest of his ten to help, he plucks his second sword from the smouldering remains of Barefang, thankful that Kogoeshinu lives up to its name "Ice". The hilt is cool to his hand and reassuring. The treatment of Abul however is not. A burning hatred for these creatures rises in his breast as he charges towards them, his ten running behind in wedge formation. On the run he calls on Ashar to help him protect a fallen Legionary. His intention is to crash through the ring of demons and protect Abul from further harm or at least protect his body from molestation. He hears Yenda's song over the pounding in his ears and his heart sinks. His protective feelings towards her drive him faster, to help her where he may.

Egil and his companions continue to pursue the shade until it has truly fled. Egil spins as he hears Abul yelling, "Damn him! If he'd done as he was told this would have been avoided. Come on you lot, the pup's in trouble." Charging across the space between himself and the demons Egil launches himself into the attack, closely followed by Gerras, Mauvin and Irnar. Rather than use the blade as a physical weapon he uses it as a focus for the power of Hu, and slashes at the nearest demon.

Gerras throws his magic against the demon he is attacking but baulks as it seems to bounce off, the otherworld creature doesn't even flinch. Seeing what is happening to Abul and fear for his own life and limbs makes him start to back away, he doesn't need to bring these things back to the pens to do the same to his tribe.

Egil redoubles his attack, trying as hard as he can to distract the demons from their grisly task.

As Aelf engages and defeats Barefang, Kallyr is too occupied with cheering him on, and applauding the victory, to pay any attention to the zombie behind her, but Abul's shout of defiance to the demons makes her spin round. "Abul, run!"
But despite the automatic tendency everyone feels to obey her commands, even that one, Abul clearly has no chance of doing any such thing, and she's readying her spear as she speaks. Insterid and Landros are both moving to get between her and the new threat, with Insterid practically pushing her backwards. "You can't do anything - stay out of it!"

"That's no reason not to try - come on!"

Offir, meanwhile, has prempted the inevitable conclusion of that discussion, and is busy demonstrating why his usename is "Swiftsword". He engages the nearest demon, alone, and it turns to face him - thanks to Landros' protective efforts, the only demon Kallyr can reach without pushing through her own bodyguard is the one from which Abul has already removed some limbs, and she promptly removes some more.

Graylor's ten arrive to find Yenda, her face covered in tears of frustration, wildly hacking at a demon, who hasn't even bothered to knock her out of the way, its bare unmoving back an insult to the desperate woman. Her death song is becoming barely audible as the frustration and waves of cold indifference coming from the demon sap the berserk power from her small frame.

"Apprentice, report!" snaps Graylor, and it is sufficient to fully break the berserk magic.

"The bastards have Abul and nothing will harm them," cries Yenda. "They're going to take him to hell and feast on his soul for all eternity and there is nothing I can do."

"Not while I have breath in my body."

The verbal exchange has taken moments only. Graylor at the head of the flying wedge crashes into the back of the demon as his final words leave his lips. Graylor's blades smash against the shiny black skin and fail to mar its lustrous beauty. Somewhat to one side of Graylor Santhis drives his glowing spear into the demon's armpit as its arm is raised to deliver another blow to Abul. Its sword clatters noisily to the ground as the arm holding it goes limp. Instantly the beast spins and regards the group with a face devoid of normal features but patterned with swirling orange bands. Each man feels that he is being judged and found wanting.

Graylor and Irnar share a sinking feeling. The feeling of helplessness that comes when one can't help a comrade. A feeling of horror washing over them. Another sword brother's body that they can't rescue and treat with honour. Rapidly these feelings are replaced with anger. "Never again!" a vow that they had shared in the dark days following the death of the Whispering Swords. Never again would they stand helpless, better to die trying.

"Never again!" they shout. Their new battle cry. One that is backed by a wall of hissing anger, whirling iron and snatching claws, that comes crashing down on the demon. The demon holds momentarily, slicing deep cuts into both Graylor and Irnar who are barely defending themselves. Both seem to ignore the wounds and press the attack driving the demon a step backwards. Irnar digs his claws into the bicep of the only functioning arm on the left side of the demon and drags them the full length of the creatures arm rendering it useless. With its left side vulnerable the demon is forced to turn to present its two good arms to the humans attacking it. This leaves a gap through which Graylor's men can get to Abul. Yenda is quickest to see the opportunity and dashes to Abuls inert body. The others quickly follow suit and create a ring of swords round the two of them. She forlornly tries to stem the bleeding by pressing on the cuts in his neck. It takes only a moment to realise that there is no chain around his neck. She has never seen him without it, even earlier when Lady Jakkanna examined it. Somehow he seems naked without it.

"Where is his medallion?" She demands. "He can't be at rest without his medallion. Irnar, you have the sharpest eyes. You must help me look."

Irnar is moved to pity by her plaintive pleading and once again the sight of Abul's damaged body brings back the pain of other fallen comrades. Silently he mouths a prayer and his eyes begin to change, they become larger, the irises become brighter and fill more of the eye's surface, the pupils constrict to slits and a hint of grey fur appears round his eyes. They sweep the ground as he endeavours to locate the missing medallion.

Dori and Oddus arrive late on the scene, and while she attacks with skill, precision, and a great deal of magic, her target demon takes no more notice of her than the other had of Yenda. At this point, Oddus' desire to protect her overrules his obedience, and he starts to pull her away, covering her with his new shield. Perhaps seeing his point, she retreats a little, looking round and assessing the situation.

Of their six opponents, one is rapidly running out of limbs, one has turned to face Offir but is so far unharmed, and one is fully occupied by Graylor and Irnar. The other three, uninjured and undistracted... are fading away?

Dori shouts orders. "More help is needed here. These demons are vanishing."

Quick as a flash Graylor leaps to his hundred thane's assistance. Santhis is at his shoulder and the two of them set about the demons with their blades flashing. Graylor flings the Truewind into the faces of the fading demons, just as he launches a blistering attack with his swords.

His magic reaches them even as they fade into the other side, the icy wind slicing into the black carapaces, and they come back into reality just in time to meet his and Dori's swords. With Santhis' shield deflecting many of the demonic limbs, they are able to concentrate on attack, Dori is particularly effective, attacking from the rear, she is able to pick the weak points in the demons armour and expertly pierce them with her brightly shining rapier.

Over confident with the success of the initial attack Graylor turns his attention to the next demon. Once again it has started to fade from the middle world, so Graylor raises his swords to attack. Just as he is about to strike pain explodes up his back. The demon he has turned away from lashed out at Graylor's retreating back. Fortunately his blessed armour prevents the strike from cutting him in two, but it can't protect from the concussive damage of such a blow. Graylor feels like fire is tracing its way through every nerve. Only his iron discipline prevents Graylor from dropping his swords and falling to his knees. Through diming vision he sees the object of his attack fade completely.

Grunting with determination and cursing with pain Graylor forces his body to move. He manages to twist his upper body and has the alarming sounds of several loud cracks from his back. Mercifully the pain subsides and he can move more freely, not as well as before as there is still pain in his lower back but at least it is now confined to a small area that can be dealt with and ignored.

Meanwhile Yenda and Irnar are looking for Abul's medallion. Yenda is hampered by her own need to be close to abul so the bulk of the searching falls to Irnar. He keeps low to the ground, to avoid all those whirling blades, often on all fours and moving with more grace than a human should in those circumstances. Eventually, after much fruitless searching, he sees a glint of reflected light, was it from Dori's sword or Santhis' spear? Who cares. He bounds over to the location and is rewarded by finding the end of a bronze chain mostly hidden by what? Santhis prods the object and it rolls over. It is a shadowy arm, probably the one severed by Abul. Now the medallion is revealed. Wasting no more time Irnar returns to Yenda with the precious medallion. She gently slips the chain back over Abuls head and tucks the medallion back under his shirt where he normally wore it.

"May it give you comfort in the afterlife." Yenda whispers. "It seems cruel that our love should be cut off before it had a chance to blossom."

"You know that this needn't be the end for Abul?" Irnar asks Yenda and continues hastily at her startled look. "Abul isn't Humakti. Returning isn't forbidden for him as it is for you."

Irnar watches Yenda's as hope battles with her Hu driven beliefs her every emotion playing across her face. "How?" is the only word she can force out amidst the turmoil.

"I'm not sure. White lady, spirit talker, there are many ways to call back the dead. It will not be easy, not least getting the support of this bunch." He waves an arm vaguely indicating the legion surrounding them. "However, it can be done he will need the support of loyal friends and lovers."

Yenda blushes. "It never went that far." She stammers.

Irnar smiles gently at her. "Honestly, I don't know how you lot ever get there! Mind you I never get further than that, so perhaps you have the best of it after all." Seeing the shocked look on her tear smeared face he hastily adds. "Or will have when we get Abul safely returned."

Meanwhile, the rest of Graylor's Ten are struggling with the demon he had been fighting, despite its existing injuries, and could have been in serious trouble if Kallyr and her group, having finished off the demon she had started with, had not tidied up this one as well. She then follows Egil and a limping but still fighting Aelfwyrd to the final demon, and between them they manage to persuade it to take enough notice of them to stay on this plane. Behind them, Offir is still keeping one demon engaged alone, and succeeding in his objective of distracting it from Kallyr (and vice versa). He's driving it away from its comrades, and it fades into nothingness, defeated.

Egil rebuffed by the demon grits his teeth, it is impervious to his sword and seemingly to Hu's magic. Still if he should go down at least the others in the legion may get away. "Come, monster. I'll see you in Hell. Hu will have a new pet." He leaps at it sword swinging and magic fizzing.

A wave of darkness emanates from the demon, blasting most of the attackers back and onto the floor.

Egil and Aelf groggily pull themselves upright, seeing that Kallyr is still standing but her spear arm hangs limply at her side and her enchanted 2H spear is on the ground. They are just in time to face a lunging attack from the demon. Egil swings his blade, at least trying to keep the thing at bay while he regains his composure, and out of the corner of his eye sees Landros and Insterid pulling Kallyr back and behind their shields as she starts to draw a short sword left-handed.

As Dori and Graylor come running up, the demon backs off, and starts to fade away. No-one particularly wants to encourage it to stay, but Aelf, perhaps still enraged by things in general, throws something at it as it vanishes, hitting it at knee level. A badly damaged set of lead teeth bounce futilely off its armoured skin and fall to the ground.

The demons are gone. The group are left to assess their injuries, and Abul's body.

The Sword Path

"He's not Humakti"

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