Back/up Blackbeak reports Pavis overall

Showdown time


The Seventh reassemble, joining the Second on the left side of the sanctum, as directed. Some are amused to notice that this places
them directly in front of the door to the room where the ritual items are kept - presumably this is why Aurel had chosen the positioning.

The day guards are still in position at each side of the great statue, and beside the small door through which newcomers enter, cut into the huge iron-bound double doors that remain shut.

As dusk approaches, the temple becomes crowded, stifling even in the comparative cool of the evening. Many of those present, it is clear,
do not normally attend this ceremony by choice. Karrath at least seems to have a good reason for being here tonight - "Should be fun to watch", he remarks.

But some of the others seem far less certain. "Did Lord Aurel say why...?" "No, just said for everyone to be here..." Sartarites, mainly, by their accents. A small, tightly-knit group file in at the back, and mutter together, glancing at Seledd from time to time.

And then there are the non-Humakti. Spectators. Normally the viewing gallery near the door is only filled for duels, but it's packed today. Kristen, Janeera and Kaylee have returned from their trip around the city together, and giggling, which is a mildly disturbing thought. They're up in the gallery. Someone next to them is selling peanuts. Someone else is taking bets. Dori's eyes brighten. "Excuse me a minute... just got to give Kristen some instructions..." and she returns a few minutes later with a much lighter belt pouch and a general air of expectant optimism. Seledd gives her a disgusted look. "A matter of our Lord's doctrine, and a serious threat to the stability of this Temple, and you gamble on it?"

"Well..." Dori is perhaps a little abashed, but only a little. "I did advise them on some of the odds they were giving, too. Derenx will be getting the messenger about now, I expect. And if I had to lay some bets to do that, we did say the Legion could use more funds, didn't we?"

Jamal grins at the return of the "irresponsible" Dori, in many ways much more to his taste than the "responsible" one.

Still to business, he barks orders at the Seventh to get in presentable military array. The Herewardi and Humakti to the fore, the auxilia to the rear.

This he nods at Siggyr. The Seventh is ready.

With a few minutes to go, and the sun dropping to the point that the ground floor of the temple is almost in darkness, Aurel comes out from his rooms on the right of the sanctum, followed by his men. He looks round the crowded temple in obvious satisfaction. "Well, well.
Everyone here, I see. Good, good." He shuffles across to stand in front of the great statue of Humakt that faces the doors, twice his
height: and the contrast between the ideal warrior it represents, and his own age and scars is painfully obvious. And then he gestures. A brief movement of that crippled left hand, and the huge sword the statue holds glows with the Deathlight. The blackness of near-dusk darkens further, yet for the Humakti here, vision clears. Aurel stands more erect, and his air of command is obvious, no longer hidden behind a veil of age. This is the High Priest.

In the momentary silence, a bark of command can be heard outside. And the great doors swing open, letting the last of the sunlight stream in from the west, silhouetting the man who stands there. His blonde hair seems almost golden as the sun catches it, and the costly braid on his white cloak catches the light. He surveys the temple with quiet arrogance, dismissing most of the warriors there as beneath his notice, his gaze returning to Aurel with a trace of contempt. "What", he asks, the soft, cultured voice nevertheless cutting through the remaining background muttering, "is the meaning of this?"

Aurel, facing him, looks old again in contrast, and the roughness of his local accent is more apparent. "A fair few of my people", he says mildly, "seemed to think it was about time we went back to using the Star Watch again to guard us through the night. We've bowed our heads to the West for quite long enough for their tastes."

Jamal feels his hackles rise as Derenx enters the compound, the Sun Domers around here were but poor representations of real Darra Happan arrogance which is obviously on show in the form of Derenex. Every Carmanian instinct screams to tear a strip off this annoying solar, but he holds his counsel waiting for Derenx's response to the challenge.

Siggyr, however, lacks the Carmanian's restraint and concern for reasonable debate. Raised amongst Tarshite warriors, brought to manhood fighting for the legion amongst the Heortlings, he knows the place of numbers, noise, and intimidation in argument. As Aurel concludes his speech, the Tenthane turns to the legionnaires arrayed behind him and roars:

"THAT'S RIGHT, EH LADS? I'LL APOLOGISE FOR NO KILLING!"

In response to his cry, the assembled legion yells back, bang swords on shields, and stamp their feet, creating a thunderous, rousing din. There are screams of 'blasphemy!', and 'to Hell with Yelm!' amongst the tumult.

Derenx, however, looks unimpressed by the barbaric pandemonium. He stares at Aurel, and his proud bearing and carriage in the face of so many who wish him ill is noted and remarked on with surprise and respect in both the public gallery and amongst many of the Humakti.

"They will learn," he says, with a touch of contempt, "that this Warlord chooses to guard our Temple with rituals that work, not ones that have been shown to fail. How fairs the temple in Boldhome now? Or those in the Far Place?"

Jamal looks across at Karrath's group who seem to be strangely quiet. He nods to Elnor and they mover over to talk the the normally loud Sartarite lout, and leans over to talk to him.

"We could do with you help to get rid of this Lunar lady-boy. Not only is he a Lunar fop but a damn Solar to boot. If we can get enough of the temple on our side, we could get rid of him for good"

Elnor nods, winking at Karrath, "Of course an old goose like Aurel can't go one for ever, and if someone younger will have to take over
from him some time..."

She lets the thought hang there....

He leers at her. "You're right, he is an old goose. Too old for you. I'm not, though. Want to see how I'd take over?" He takes her arm and nods towards the nearest door...

Hrolf knows little about the ritual Derenx proposes, but is sure that apologising to Yelm is wrong, and finds it easy to convince others of this. But many are less restrained in their objections.

Siggyr is not impressed. "And you expect to defend the fucking temple by getting down on your knees and sucking on Yelm's spear? Are you sure you've not confused Humakt with Nandan, you pretty Darra Happan oil-boy?"

Aelf is so enraged at the insult to his home temple that he has to be restrained from attacking Derenx there and then. And others, too, are less than pleased at both this and the implication that they should choose safety over a ritual more pleasing to their God.

Jamal reaches over and extracts Elnor from the lustful Sartarite's grasp. He looks up at the baying and howling coming from the assembled Humakti at Derenx's last comment. Typical Darra Happan, blinded by his own self-importance, he has stirred up a hornets' nest here. About time too. Now perhaps the Humakti here can start showing some backbone.

Jamal regards Karrath evenly and indicates the baying from the crowd, "It seems the wind has changed here, perhaps now you should consider your alleigance."

Turning Jamal adds his voice to the general dissent... "It looks like our Sun-boy only has his moonie friends to rely on here. He should go scurrying off to hide behind the goddess's apron-strings and leave the men of Humakt to run this place"

"HE SHOULD GO"

The roar of agreement from the crowd surprises even Jamal. Derenx seems to have unwittingly touched a nerve here - perhaps in the wake
of the Cradle disaster was not the best time to have leaned quite so heavily on the assumption of Lunar dominance and invincibility. Even
Hengist's mercenaries are joining in (the sharp-eyed might notice Dori slipping back to join the group, her belt pouch now completely empty), and there's some raucous quacking from Bluetail and his friends. Elnor ignores Jamal's attempt at rescue and is whispering hurriedly to Karrath. Even the normally undecided and uninterested itinerants have caught the mood, and a chant starts up: "Out! Out! Out!" Someone in the gallery throws something...

Derenx has the stunned look of a man who has entered a fight expecting an easy victory, only to find his shield and armour turned to dust
before the first blow is struck.

Aurel shows neither surprise nor satisfaction, only a strange compassion. "It might be as well, lad," he says gently. "Before anyone gets hurt. Aye, I think they remember well enough what happened in the Far Place, and that includes what the Burning Wind did. And Ghost Gors, before that. Aye, it might be as well."

Derenx simply nods, unable to speak, with that crushed look of complete disbelief on his face.

Jamal follows Elnor and Karrath as she whispers persuasive words in his ear. He smiles, his faith in her was not misplaced, she would make a fine legionnaire....

A last urgent whisper from Elnor, and Karrath steps forward. "Lord Aurel!" he calls out. "You will need a new warlord. Someone to fight for you, work for you, and lead your troops into battle for you. If you would be willing, I would be honoured to serve you in this way."

Aurel nods, a little surprise showing at the unusual tone of respect there, then clearing into understanding as he sees Elnor standing
close. "Aye, lad. I'd be glad to have you, and I doubt not these others would be glad of it, too. What say you?"

The cheers from the crowd make it quite clear what they think, especially in the lack of any other candidates.

"Well, then. That's settled. We'll do the rites for you as soon as may be, but for now, Lord Karrath, would you lead us in the Starwatch tonight?"

"Of course I will! Back to the real... that is..." For once Karrath looks uncertain. "I would be honoured, but I..."

There's a glint of humour in Aurel's eyes. "Never be afraid to say you don't know how, my boy. Delegation, that's the trick. Mark of a good
leader, is delegation. So, you don't know the details of the rites, and I can't say I blame you, it's been a while since we saw them done
properly. Is there anyone here who might know them, do you think? All you have to do is ask, after all."

The veneer of formality burns away in a moment in the heat of Karrath's temper. "If you mean that bloody..." And then he follows Aurel's gaze. Not at the group to the left of the sanctum, at all. "Oh, yes. Yes. Yes, my lord, I do see what you mean." He turns away from Derenx, and he and Aurel share a smile of pure malice, Warlord and High Priest in complete harmony and cooperation.

"Lady Seledd," he says, extremely politely. "Would you do us the honour of leading us in the Starwatch tonight, since I believe you are more familiar with the rites than I?"

If that was a flash of triumph in Seledd's expression, it was hidden extremely fast, and she answers him with grave respect. "Of course -
my lord. I would be delighted to assist you in - this matter." The emphasis is slight, but pointed, and Karrath winces slightly.

There's a slight commotion at the doors, and Aurel frowns slightly and raises his voice over the muted laughter from the crowd. "Derenx. I do not recall giving you leave to depart."

The small door has been opened, several of the white-clad warriors have already stepped through, back into the sun outside. The blonde
man turns. "If you think I am staying here while a woman leads this temple into some barbarian mumbo-jumbo, you will be sadly
disappointed, my lord. Fare you well, until you return to your senses."

"Derenx." Aurel's voice is never loud, but now it cracks like a whip across the suddenly silent hall. "I am the High Priest of this temple, and I say you will stay, and take whatever part in the traditional rites is assigned to you. By a woman, or by any other to whom the Warlord gives his authority. Do I make myself clear?"

Derenx stops in his tracks. "Oh, yes, perfectly clear."

He strolls back into the centre of the hall, his followers still hovering uncertainly by the doors. "You make it clear that you are a senile old fool, bent on dragging what could have been a temple of the Light back into the mud you came from, you and your animals with you. I will not stay and see that done. I will not stay and see our Lord's rites besmirched in this way. But stay I must, it seems - and so, these foul perversions must be stopped, in the way best known to our Lord, and his House cleansed of corruption."

He is only a few feet from Aurel now, and draws his sword. "Go to him, and explain your actions to him! This may be a good day to die..." The last few words are not spoken, but sung. A song that every Humakti knows, and hopes never to hear...

Jamal however is not Humakti, and his memory of Aelfwyrd singing that same song on the Cradle, unarmed and facing a dozen or more Lunars, is perhaps dimmed. He steps forward placing himself between the aging High Priest and Derenx facing the Darra Happan.

"Hum'akt requires a shield" he says looking Derenx directly in the eye. High Caste to High Caste, unflinching. He lets his accent slip, betraying some of his foreign origin.

"And the Seventh shall be that Shield," he says louder, hoping that the rest of the cohort will hear the call to arms....

Derenx does not appear to even hear him, his eyes glazed with fanatical zeal. He registers his presence, true, but only as an obstacle between him and his intended goal. The iron rapier flashes forward in a lunge that Jamal would have stood no chance of avoiding or parrying had he even been trying to do so - and misses, as Derenx side-steps hastily.

Hearing Jamal's words Hrolf had rushed forward, drawing his sword on the run, thrust high in an (ignored) feint, then rolled himself into a 100 kg ball aimed at Derenx's feet, and only the brilliant footwork of a master duellist kept the Dara Happan from being knocked flying.

As it is, however, he now has a clear path through to Aurel, who still stands unmoving, watching him with regret but no fear. But the song dies on Derenx's lips, and those watching, too far away to intervene, notice with some puzzlement that no light shines from his sword. He stumbles forward, swinging the rapier in a wild slash unworthy of his usual skill, but still lethal against an unresisting target - and as the blow passes the point of no return, there is a crack. His sword shatters. Iron splinters fall to the ground.

Or at least, that is what Jamal sees, as do the other non-Humakti. Hrolf, looking up from the floor, sees the great statue, looming above him, seem to move. The huge greatsword swings. Meets the rapier in a perfect block, smashing it like an eggshell. And returns to its place.

Jamal looks shocked at the speed with which Derenx makes his first strike, then surprised as the warrior's sword shatters into a myriad of shards.

Finally, with understanding dawning, he lowers his sword, a satisfied smirk appearing on his lips.

"So not only has the temple abandoned you, your god has as well. It looks like the High Priest has as strong a shield as he requires."

He looks down at Derenx.

"Priest, War leader I believe this is your concern. The Seventh can stand down, there is no threat here"

For a moment there is a silence in the Temple halls, the kind you could cut with a blade. The shouts start quiet but soon they are deafening:

"KILL HIM!"

Some are drawing their own swords and taking steps closer to Derenx. Others are looking around stunned, like Karrath they had thought the High Priest an old and senile fool. And now this happens. And few see a chance to advance themselves.

Derenx, who just a few moments ago stepped into the Temple the de facto ruler of Pavis Humakti, just stands looking at the shattered remains of his sword... and his life. He doesn't seem to notice anything going around him, to the point that when the first hotheads grab his arms he offers no resistance.

But when they try to drag him away, something big, black and growling stands in their way. In surprise they release Derenx when Runner says: "Off."

Suddenly there is silence again as the Fell Wolf circles Derenx. It ends the round by sniffing on the shards of the rapier. "Broken," it says and begins to stare at Derenx. "Broken," it repeats and lets out a howl. It says Death and Loss without words but brings shivers to the spine of even the most hardened Humakti.

In the wake of the wolf's call Vastyr makes his way to the suddenly empty space around the wolf and Derenx. With a courteous bow to Aurel he begins: "Lord High Priest," a bow to Karrath, "Lord Warleader. It seems that there are many who would be willing to rectify this problem for you."

Looking around the huge crowd on the floor and on the balcony above the High Priest says with a self-satisfied smile, "Indeed there are."

"However... Most of them have something else on their mind." Vastyr turns around looking the crowd over. "There are some that the Broken
Sword has kept from the full rites, some he has defeated in duels, some just hate Lunars, and then there are those that his fall has elevated to power. I have no such hindrances. If you allow I will bring an Ending to this unfortunate state of affairs."

There is an angry murmur at the scarred man's words, but because the Grim Truth is still near, all know them to be without falsehood. Including the High Priest.

"I allow it." Aurel says, and after quieting the loud protests continues, "Choose your Assistants."

Vastyr's eyes scan the crowd. "I am told that there is one named Hengist among us. I would have him as First." There is a pause as a
rough-looking man steps forward. Then Vastyr turns to Derenx's followers, who have been trying to hide near the door. He points to the man that looks to be the least afraid. "You will be Second." The man steps forward cautiously.

Vastyr turns to Aurel again, "High Priest, may I take the Broken Blade to prepare him?"

"You may. See to it that he meets his End as his Fate allows."

After trading deep bows with Aurel, Vastyr takes Derenx by the arm and pulls him towards the Ritual Store. Over his shoulder he says, "Morg, the shards... Joran, my pack."

In the Ritual Store

"What... what... happened?" are the first words the Broken Blade utters, as he is led to sit on a chair.

"You made a mistake." Vastyr's words are quiet, without emotion.

"I did not! I was right!"

"Where is your sword?"

There is nothing but pain, loss and desperation in the Broken Blade's eyes as he looks up at the men with him. "It was broken." He winces like someone had pushed knife in his stomach. But the wound is far deeper, and far deadlier.

"It was broken." At Vastyr's gesture Morg lays the Iron fragments on a small table. "It was broken and that is the price of your arrogance."

"I was not arrogant! I was right!" For a fleeting moment there is a shadow of the man that was.

"Where is your sword?"

The pieces are right there. The Broken Blade's eyes fall on them... "It was broken."

"It was broken. And that was the price of your presumption that the rites of Yelm were more important than Death."

"I was right! They... they... they..."

"Where is your sword?"

The Broken Blade reaches out a hand and ALMOST touches the shards of his sword. "It was broken..."

"It was broken. And that is the price of your betrayal."

"I betrayed no on... I betr..." A horrid look of realisation comes over the Broken Blade. "I betrayed my... temple... my word... MY GOD!!"

"And that is why your sword lies there broken. That is why you had to understand. That is why you must die. The choice you have is whether you die like a soldier or like a Broken Blade..." There is still no emotion in Vastyr's voice, nothing but determination to do what must be done.

The Broken Blade looks from man to man. Hengist is barely suppressing a leer, Anerash (his loyal officer) is looking scared out of his wits...
And Vastyr is just looking... waiting for him to make up his mind: to die on his feet or be cut down in a cupboard. Really not a choice at all... even for a Broken Blade.

"What must I do?"

Back in the Temple Hall

The crowd is getting restless, shifting on its feet, whispering to one another, speculating.

"What is going on?"

"What's taking so long?"

"How much did you win?"

"Wake up."

Some try to leave, but the doors will not open. Anyone who tries feels numbing cold radiating from the doors. The Black Sword is close.

The only ones that are not fidgeting are the High Priest, standing like an old oak tree that has weathered many storms, and the Herewardi, alert and battle ready but for a moment calm.

Then the huge gong by the Statue sounds once. The Pitiless Death has its attention on the Temple.

The High Priest barks sharp orders in Swordspeech. This time no one dares disagree... The Humakti on the Temple floor reshuffle into edge-straight lines. The spectators on the balcony sit down fast, feeling dizzy and weak.

The gong sounds twice. The Great Separator is here!

The massive statue shivers and moves. Its hands lift the sword over the Humakti. It is a blessing. It is a curse. It is Destiny.

The gong sounds thrice.

A door is opened and Six Humakti escort One Condemned to the hall. They step to the beat of the March of the Condemned, which the gong takes up. Slowly they walk to the centre of the hall and step under the great sword of the statue.

They come to a stop before the High Priest, who intones: "Why have you brought this Broken Blade into the House of Honour?"

"We have brought him before the Sword because he wishes to undo what cannot be undone."

"Does the Broken Blade understand why?"

"I understand," utters Derenx the Betrayer.

"Does the Broken Blade understand what is required?"

"I understand," utters Derenx Broken Blade.

There is a moment of total stillness. Then...

"Lord Executioner, carry out your Duty." Aurel takes four steps back.

"Yes, Lord High Priest." Vastyr steps into the place the High Priest made for him and turns to the deathly quiet Temple. He takes three pieces of Derenx's sword from a pouch.

"My Second will take this," holding up the bejewelled hilt, "and use it to take care of the dependents of the Condemned, if any." He holds up a shard of the blade with the Honour rune on it, "My first will take this, for serving Death without serving Honour is worse than meaningless. Important lesson for us all." Last he holds up a fragment that has the Death rune, "I will take this to remind me that trying to serve another master beside the Grim One will lead me to betrayal."

Then he turns to Derenx who is already kneeling. The handsome man, absolute opposite of Vastyr, looks at the Statue of Humakt oblivious to anything else.

With fluidic speed and deadly accuracy Hu cuts off his head.

"It is done."

Onward to the Starwatch
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