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Shattered Mirror

On with the deerstalkers

(or, "WTF is going on and who shall we kill?")

The injured have been treated, although some will need rest to make a full recovery, and one of the party at least (Valens) is dead. Jamal has led the able-bodied members back to the campground to retrieve weapons and equipment left there. Everything is undamaged, and Dori and Landros are discussing her sword.

Back at where the temple once stood, the Lunar Rinliddi have subdued the demoralised Oilamlians and rescued their captive comrades. As you watch, they all fly off, heading north, leaving Antarius and his newly re-armed troops to secure the prisoners. They do not seem to be going out of their way to be gentle about this...

Once things have settled down, Antarius comes over to where you have gathered.

"Greetings Antarius. Alas your worthy duellist, Dorinda, has been somewhat indisposed by the events here, and I speak to you as Ten of this legion, for the present time at least, what may I assist you with ?"

"Thank you for your assistance," he says soberly - and despite the way you had all wandered off leaving his troops to do the fighting, he does not appear to be being sarcastic. "I knew Humakt punished oath-breakers, but I had not realised until today just how much power his worshippers wielded in these circumstances." Where the ruined temple once stood, the wind blows grey ash across the barren fields.

"We will try these criminals as soon as we may - as the Count's representative here, I have that right. While normally the word of foreigners would be ignored in a Sun County trial, I think none would be so foolish as to suggest that Humakti might lie. I would be honoured if those of you who so wish would give evidence against them before their execution."

"Also, there is one other matter that you may wish to be aware of. It was mentioned when we last met that the monster terrorising this village might be an enemy known to you, and in particular to one of your number. We investigated the tracks it had left, yesterday, and found no trolls. Claw-marks, yes, but faked, by humans wishing to give the impression of a monster." He smiles, grimly. "An attempt to lure us here, I believe. That was a mistake."
And then he turns very sober again - "The half-eaten children, however, are genuine. That, I need to find out more about. We could not even recognise the type of teeth that might have done such damage, and to leave the bodies half-eaten, and half-buried - no animal would do such a thing. Only humans can be that vile."

At this point Mara, the Earth priestess you escorted here, leaves the healers to their work and heads in his direction with every indication of taking charge of an idiot male. "And what about the important problems, then?" she says, exasperated, as soon as she's in earshot. "Never mind the men. What about the women? It wasn't the men who called me here, or caught me last night. It wasn't the men who chose that child for sacrifice - from their own village, too! And I guarantee it wasn't the men who did that to the Earth shrine!"

Antarius had the Kargani's interest when he mentioned claws but his expression immediately sours when describing teeth and half-eaten children.

"Believe me, there are beasts fouler than men that stalk the night. Tell me, how wide was the bite?"

Holding his hands together his measures the size of a human jaw.

"About that width, yes, though it seemed to vary oddly, as if the teeth were not in a jaw at all. It made me think of the bite of a krashtkid, but with teeth more like those of a dog or cat."

"What manner of evil is this! Can you show us where?"

"The bodies will be being prepared for burial by now, in the Earth temple. We can go there - " he checks himself - "if, that is, the priestess is willing to let Death-wielders within."

Mara stands there, hands on hips, her exasperation with male idiocy undiminished. "The Earth temple. Right. The one I've just told you is defiled by.... Well, I can tell you won't believe it till you've seen it for yourself. Anyway, it isn't the priestess you need to worry about. Sweet old lady, Azdala, but not what you might call forceful. No, it's the headman's wife you need to look out for, Ioanna. Nasty piece of work, that one, and no-one crosses her, not even her husband."

Antarius stays calm in the face of this tirade, but that last statement is an affront to any Yelmalian. "Cavos Gilthelm did not seem to me to be a weak man, unable to control his wife."

At the far side of the group, Dori jerks alert at the names. "She's here?"

She's white again, and from her expression whatever memories have been brought back are those of a terrified child. But within moments she's back under control again, impassive, only the clenched knuckles on her sword pommel showing any tension.

"Cavos and Ioanna. Govan's parents." And therefore, as many of the Legion now realise, her own. "He was always dangerous. After - that is, about fifteen years ago - she turned somewhere for power, and got it. I don't know what, I don't know where, but he did what she said after that."

After a bit of discussion, Antarius, Mara, and some of the group go into the village and to the Earth shrine. It sounds as if Aelf will go, Jamal and Bolthor will go, and after a few arguments between her and Elendala, Dori will go. (Elendala thinks she should stay well away from anything that'll make her current confusion of past and present worse, Dori insists that you don't handle problems by running away from them, and if anything scares her that much, she'd better face it.) Oh, and Kaylee will give that kid she's holding to Mara for return to her parents. Anyone else?

The Earth shrine is a square brick building, half under the ground, with steps down.

As you approach, you can hear voices arguing - both female, one elderly, one middle-aged. Your footsteps must have been heard inside, because a head pops out - white hair just visible under the veil. She turns back to address whoever's inside - "I told you! I told you it would all come to no good. Well, it's nothing to do with me, you can handle what's coming to you, since you seem to think it's your temple. I warned you, girl, I warned you!" And she scuttles off between the houses.

Antarius glances at Mara. "That's Azdala?"
"Yes. Woken up a bit, I see."

Mara leads the way in, and has a confrontation with Ioanna. Any non-Humakti women in the group get in, but Ioanna refuses to let men, or Death-wielders, inside, and to all of you (and Antarius) the whole concept of invading an earth/fertility holy place is almost inconceivable anyway.

Mara brings out one of the little bodies for inspection - it's been partially prepared for mummification.

Unwrapped, you can see some really weird toothmarks that I promise you have not seen anything like before.

Jamal looks at the bite marks with deepening concern. Perhaps the stench of deceit is more widespread than he first thought.

He calls over Boltar, who has been loitering nearby, chewing on a rather unsavoury bit of jerky that must have been part of his possessions.

"What do you make of this Antarius' tale" he asks the Uroxi, "you seem to have most experience of this type of thing."

Bolthar sniffs it, unconcerned by the pitiful little corpse. "No chaos" he says, and goes back to his snack.

After a bit of staying very quiet at the back, Dori declares that Death is by definition genderless, as a place sacred to Ty Kora Tek Death is unlikely to harm it anyway, and she at least is going in. There's a few magical SFX swirling around her at this point - not sure what affinities she's calling up, but "face horror" would be a good start. And she faces down Ioanna (no, Ioanna hasn't recognised her), and goes on in.

Vastyr looks at her back vanishing into the dark entrance to the shrine. Nothing like a Ten Thane going off the deep end to get a man into trouble...

"Death has walked the deep dark places of the Earth before, and so it shall this day."

Gripping Bane tightly Vastyr walks in.

What you've got inside, whether you see it yourself or others describe it to you, is a standard Earthshrine that's had an extra effigy added, and from the look of it, worshipped enthusiastically. Who knows what a "sheelnagig" is? Now add teeth in a place where teeth really don't belong. I doubt if any of you recognise the cult, but Mara does - Gorgorma.

Anger rises in the pit of Aelfwyrd's stomach as he examines the bite marks on the tiny corpse. What filth would do such a thing upon a child? Covering up the body he turns to find people filling into the mouth of the Earth shrine. Never one to stand on ceremony he follows them inside.

Taking a slow look around he eyes the contents of the shrine. Nothing that unusual here, stone carving of earth deities and the like. Just then his gaze falls upon the grisly effigy; a wrinkled, deformed, fat old hag who squats to reveal wicked teeth in both mouth and vagina. Her hands are set in gestures of rending or curse sending.

The Kargani is not too sure what this statue is but one things certain; this must have something to do with the maimed children. Grabbing Ioanna by the scruff of her robes he make to start something of a fight.

(And Vastyr joins him)

Jamal peers into the temple after Dorinda, this looks like a womans' place, men would not be welcomed.

He shrugged, "not my customs" he thinks as he strides in....

He inspects the temple, there is a series of female statues, some pleasant and welcomming, some dour and scarey covering all aspects of womanhood. But one is downright repellant, a travesty of the female form with vagina dentata. Jamal shudders and winces at the same time....

There is a the sound of commotion deeper in the temple. Aelf again sigh and Vastyr too this time....

Jamal follows to see that they have seized the younger earth priestess.

"She is not to die" he bellows, "at least not until we have found out what has happened in this place".

He turns to the woman. "Lady" he says to her courteously, "you have two options here, either you explain what has occured here and how these children have been maimed...Or I let my dogs loose." He looks at Vastyr and Aelf before smiling without humour back at the woman.

She brushes Aelf's hands off in disgust, straightens her robes.

"What would you know of the need of the Earth for blood? When great evil has been done, and the land drained of strength by those who should have protected it, great sacrifices must be made."

Mara's glaring at her as if she wished Aelf had carried on.

Jamal looks to the flustered Mara, then to Vastyr and the assembled Humakti. "I do not know of what she speaks, but talk of blood and earth screams of the Spolite heresy to me."

Vastyr is frowning, but remains uncertain - while her words are true, deceit of some sort lies behind them.

Votenevra: TR p 197-198.
The Earth Healer sub-cult of Ernalda
Mara, however, is certain. "Great sacrifices indeed, but yours were never intended to heal the land, were they? Votenevra can tell the earth's illnesses and needs. Doubly cursed, these fields, by men and by women. And Azdala knew it when she sent for help. You wanted power, and took it where you found it."

"And why not? Why should we not have power? Why should we not defend ourselves, when our protectors turn against us? I lost both my daughters to Cavos' quest for eternal life - no more!"

In the shadows at the back of the shrine, Dori stirs slightly, but says nothing, and the passionate defence continues, directed solely at Mara, as if she was the only one present with the wit to understand.

"If children must die, it will not be ours. Let those others, those weaklings who will not stand with us, let them lose their children. We take power from the Earth, but only to defend her against men." There is a depth of hate in that last word.

"You have seen these fields, sister - are they not worth any sacrifice to defend? Would you not give up children to gain the power to protect them?"

And again, Vastyr can feel that while what she says is true, it is deceptive. And again, there is someone present who knows it. Dori is still hidden in the shadows, but though she cannot be seen clearly, she can be heard.

"When you first turned to the Darkness, you had two live daughters, and a small window-box in a Pavis tenement. You were nowhere near these fields. You just wanted power. Going to tell Mara what happened to your first grand-child? Was that to defend the earth, too?"

"He was better dead than what his father planned for him!" But the confidence has gone, the imposing presence has been diminished, the aura of power broken, faced with unexpected Truth.

Aelfwyrd glances incredulously at his companions before spitting his furious response.

"You justify the sacrifice of innocents?" then gesturing at one of the small mummified corpses "Of babes in arms?"

Without a second thought he makes to throttle this loathsome priestess.

As he pushes her back against the wall, twisting an arm behind her back and restraining her by her hair and a flailing ankle, and ignoring her screams and ineffectual blows, Aelf feels a sudden sharp pain in his groin. An incredibly sharp pain in his groin. He feels his knees start to buckle and tries not to vomit, as Ioanna makes a fresh attempt to free herself.

The priestess calls out to whatever gruesome goddess it was that she worshipped. Yet it is in vain as the Far Walker boils over and enters a Blinding Fury, and locking his hands tight around he throat he begins to throttle her.

He had leant many ways to slay a man, or women for that matter, during the long seasons at Furthest Arena. It was here that he was gladiator and killed again and again for the pleasure of the moon fawning nobles. They sat in the stands, high above the blood soaked earth, far away from the fear and death that stalked the arena.

Those were dark and desperate days he longed to forget.

He is called back to the present as hands claw and gouge at this face. Strangely detached now the Kargani stares into her eyes for a heartbeat. Slowly moving his index and middle finger he finds the hollow spot at the base of her throat.

He meant to end it here and now.

The nails at his face stop - is she unconscious? No, still moving: but her hands go to her own face, tearing at her cheeks. Blood flows, her nails redden, and as she flails - is it at random? - drops of her blood hit the statue that had so horrified them all.

The floor underneath Aelf's feet seems unsteady, and there's a rumbling noise from below him. A hole in the rock opens up under Ioanna, and she falls, only Aelf's hand around her neck slowing her. A hole? No, not just a natural hole. This has teeth. Are those scales around the edge? A flickering tongue within, pulling her down?

Talosi: Earth Daimon.
Spirit of Reprisal for many Earth cults.
TR 201
Mara steps back, gasps in shock and recognition. "A Talosi!"

Aelfwyrd is startled by the appearance of what looks like some kind of earth daimon but quickly recovers some composure. Side stepping the row of snapping teeth he tries to adjust the throat hold he has on the earth woman.

As the daimon draws Ioanna inextricably downward the Kargani leaps up and backwards, trying to at least snap her neck as she falls, if not pull her back. But she slips from his hands, and the frustration triggers his fury. If only he had a weapon in his hands! - and suddenly he does. The Seven Dragon Blade is there, just long enough to reach her neck - and in the last fraction of a second before the living rock swallows her, the wicked blade severs her head from her body. The floor closes. Rumbling dies away.

Jamal looks on horrified at the impetuous Kargan's attack on the priestess, this was not a legion matter.

This "Govan" had injured the legion directly and had to pay, this woman had not and was best left to local justice, if they would not do it, only then should the legion intervene......

This woman has power, it was certain, but what was the source. Jamal casts around and sees the drops of blood on the grotesque statue. If his woman is motivated solely by man-hatred so much that it has shrivelled her own fertility, then perhaps......

He strides to the statue and beings to channel the living, vital life force of his Lord Bisos. He feels the strength and vitality of the masculine bull power rush out of him and into the vile female icon...

....but also the implacable, malignant hostility that lies within it to all things male, drinking his strength dry. Mara catches his arm, pulls
him back.

"No, not like that. You'll only anger her further. Of course, I was forgetting, you're not Humakti. There may be a chance of saving
this after all."
She caresses the main statue in the centre of the dais, almost unrecognisable, so worn with age is it. But the essence of femininity is unmistakable. Those curves have to be hips, and breasts. "Don't fight the Dark. Strengthen the Light. With a Protector, the Mother can defend her own."

And as his senses reach out towards it - no, her, he feels it. A woman. A warm, welcoming, woman, ready to blossom into strength once freed from the drought that oppresses her. And he can do that.... Again, Bisos' strength fills him, flows through him. And she welcomes it, and awakened, matches it. There is power here, and depth, and love. Can she attack her dark sister, defeat her? No. She does not even try. Her love reaches out, accepting, understanding, and his strength drives it. The darkness is a part of her, not an enemy. There is no need to defeat herself. But it is only a part, not the whole. It has dominated for too long. Now, the dry, cold hatred is over. Life and fertility can begin again.

Outside, a sound that has not been heard here for too long. A drumming sound. It's raining.

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