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Shattered Mirror


The Temple

The heroes alternately gaze at the stars and let their heads hang, lolling, to stare blankly at the ground passing beneath them. The slaves appear to be approaching their destination. Ahead there are mutters and a few low commands. The poles over which the heroes are game-hung are lowered to the ground, and the warriors themselves untrussed and led to sit quietly near a column, to which they are meekly tied.

As Aelf is tethered, he smiles peaceably at the warrior securing the knots. "Hey," he says. "Have you ever considered that we might, like, you know, all be puppets in someone's imagination? You know, like we tell stories of the gods, or Bumbalo Doodlefish, or that time my grandfather ate a whole cow? Do you have anything to eat?"

The warrior backs away from Aelfwyrd nervously, and some distance away an enormous jellyfish rises out of the ground and floats away.

"Cool," thinks Hrolf.

This meant his plan was coming to fruition. His quietly-murmured chants had successfully summoned Vak-Slurrrupshu, the Burning Avenger Blackbeak had freed for Elmeh Saif during their second heroquest. Soon his minions would arrive and then, then it would be time for revenge!

Hrolf cackles to himself as the jellyfish looms behind the unsuspecting guard, its tentacles unfolding to absorb him. Chortling he watches as the tendrils reach out and pass straight through the warrior, shortly before the whole apparition vanishes.

"Bummer," thinks Hrolf. Just like totally, dude.
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Jamal's mind spins, kalioscopic colours spins and wheel in front of his eyes. The images sway incoherently for a while, then images start to form.

A rash young Carmanian youth and his friends.... a large U shaped water pipe.... illicit spying on the cloistered beauties in the Caram.... the smell of the smoke..... laughing and running...... the incredible ache in your stomach......Jamal has felt this feeling before, hasn't he?

Hmmm, yes, he has. Though it's strange he has forgotten how good it feels. Woah, yeah - uh-huh. Actually, he doesn't remember it being this intense before - these Praxian dudes really know how to smoke it. Hmmmmm. Snacks. Mmmmmmm.

Through his stupor Jamal remembers that his pouch has a little goat jerky that would hit the spot right now, and by dint of careful wriggling he manages to extract it with his bound hands and transfer it into his mouth. The contortions required by this effort leave him lying on one side, giggling uncontrollably. This stuff is definitely stronger than anything he had as a kid.

One of the guards looks concerned, and can be overheard saying to a comrade, "perhaps they were dosed too high? Phtang octopus the way that vampire hit Hrolf, man, he's chaos doomed squelkch biscuit-barrel."

The other shakes his head and says, "so long as they are pliant for the ritual, all will be well, but sproglet trogledyte I think Vastyr is going to get it best when we extract his brain through his nostrils rrrrrrplit loose change."

Using his new found perspective, Jamal glances around to check the position and state of the other Herewardi and their followers. Also trying to see if any of them are in a better state than he is.
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Landros is oblivious of the others around him as he gazes open-mouthed at the spinning stars above. The sky dome is a hallucinogenic riot of coloured blobs and butterfly streaks that dance madly in chaotic explosions of glee. His gaze fixes on one of the lights directly above, it turns into a well of light that threaten to swallow him whole as it suddenly expands across the entire sky. It welcomes him, but with an effort of will he backs away and the well turns into a shaft, a spear, a pole. He was tied to a pole, but no, that isn't right. Not the Pole Star. Rigsdal. Yeah - that's the one. The light narrows further and becomes a pin prick. Landros throws up on the pretty girl beside him who only smiles dreamily back at him.

Something's wrong here. She shouldn't smile like that at him. Not her. "Help me, old friend." He whispers imploringly as one of the guards turn at the sound of his puking.

The guard looks at him quizzically for a moment, as though trying to place a face, then shakes his head and says, "You mistake me for another, Warrior. You are beyond help now, certainly beyond mine even if I felt inclined to give it you, which I do not. Try to relax, and look forward to meeting your God." With that he cackles, and moves on.
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Malan stares at the jellyfish and vaguely remembers feeling like this before, when, having run out of food he wolfed down some wild fungus. He tries to focus, to tell reality from hallucination.

Malan's gaze falls upon a sheen of light reflected off a surface which he believes is the bald head of a Lunar priestess. "Stupid goonar bitch! Think yur tuf? If ahll getzz otta this you ripur her hart out!"

Unfortunately, the reflection is actually from Blackbeak's beak. "Thnap out of it man, it'th me," the duck squawks. "For Humakt'th thake, theweth puwple wowmth coming out of yaw nothe! The Lunath aw ovew theh!"
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Grinning broadly the Kargani looks his newly tied hands. Examining each finger in awe he is silent. A moment later he begins sniggering uncontrollably."They won't stop moving!"

A nearby sentry turns to look and shouting over to a friend makes a joke. The Far Walker does not catch the meaning but it infers something about Orlanthi and livestock. "No way, we are peaceful man, all us under the sky, brothers in arms..."

Just then the vaguest of thoughts skitters across his mind. then just as quickly it vanishes. But it was still there somewhere; lurking right at the back of his head. If he could only reach around with a hand he was sure he could grab it...

Trying to reach around the back of his head with bound hands, unable to concentrate well, it strikes Aelfwyrd that something is wrong here. Maybe he is really really drunk, or maybe it like that time they cooked up those rainbow mushrooms and wandered about Three Beacons for two days. Whatever it is, it's pretty funny.

Trying to stand up Aelfwyrd makes to begin a speech of great revelation and import but instead stumbles and falls over. Bursting with laughter he rolls around for a while before catching his breath enough to start once more. He doesn't try to stand this time though.

"Hey lads, this is like when me and Bent Nose Johkim were up at Three Beacons. Said he was in training to be a shaman or some such pony. Anyway, we cooked up these rainbow mushrooms like nobodies business. Never laughed so much in my life." Then there is silence as the Far Walker loses the thread of his conversation.

In its place a flash back of being found in Three Beacons days later, miles from anywhere, naked, out cold face down in the snow. Just then he remembers what he was talking about.

"The funny thing is that it was just like this, well, a few less flying cows and that but mostly the same. Weird huh?"

Rising to his feet and trying to stand he finds himself bound to a large lump of stone. "Whoa! Where did that come from?"

Staring at his hands for what seems like an eternity Aelfwyrd's eyes finally widen in comprehension. "Sneaky eh...?" Holding back a snigger he takes a closer look.

Grinding his teeth the Far Walker twists the rope this way and that. These bonds are tough, but not tough enough to hold a Far Walker! With a final effort the rope splits. He is free! Now for some payback! Ah-hah!... oh, oh... oh boy, why does everything have to be so purple?

Jamal's eyes meet with Enfrew's. Seeing that Jamal is better shakes Enfrew a little from his hallucinations, and the fact that they are tied and helpless sends a surge of anger through his mind.

Releasing the anger inside him, Enfrew shouts as loud as he can. "Filthy Lunar bastards!! Wake up, Humakti, we have to get free from this scum! Or do you want to be sacrificed to the red bitch!?" Enfrew's call jolts some of his comrades into more critical thinking about their situation, but it also prompts the guards to turn in his direction, cautiously holding their weapons to check that the heroes are still under control.

Enfrew's call jolts some of his comrades into more critical thinking about their situation, but it also prompts the guards to turn in his direction, cautiously holding their weapons to check that the heroes are still under control.

The Yelmalians call to each other to be wary, and circle in towards the heroes with their spears levelled. Clearly they are taking no chances, for they mutter to their spears which burnish with a mild light. Whilst some hold back to better cover the heroes still bound, three approach Aelfwyrd directly. Clearly respectful of the Far Walker's potential danger, their spear points aim directly at his stomach. "Get on your belly," one orders him. "Hands behind your back."

With no small theatre the Far Walker smiles inanely and begins to snigger. Making a mental note of the Yelmalians stance and position he waits for the right moment to act. With the ruse now coming to an end Aelfwyrd holds up his hands and with a wobble makes to drop to the ground.

From his half-crouch the Far Walker leaps into the attack, fists and feet deadly weapons aimed at Yelmalian throats. But his drugged mind and reflexes are unwieldy and plodding, and the guards easily anticipate his moves. Burning spear points pierce skin and blood flows. The Far Walker drops to the floor, only lightly wounded but definitely the loser of this encounter. The guards quickly pounce, and secure his bindings, fastening him more securely to the column this time.

"Look," one says roughly. "Anymore of this and we'll execute that nice looking young lady over there, alright? The needs of the ritual be damned, we have spare participants - understand?"

The Far Walker was incredulous. Sacrificing women? What kind of mongrels were these people? Struggling with his bonds he spits a stream of foul curses at his captors.

Having got precisely nowhere he fumes in the darkness. Muttering angrily to himself he glances over at this 'nice looking young lady' a sour expression written large on his face.

The smile is gone from her face as she stares in horror at the Yelmalion. She looks no more than sixteen or so and is dressed in good but simple clothes, now stained and dusty. Her head is covered by the torn remnants of a plain veil revealing thick black hair beneath, unbraided.

"No. Please, no violence." She says quietly to no one in particular in an accent that places her place of origin in Tarsh as she shrinks back against the pillar.

Landros bends his face close to hers, catching Aelf's eye for a heartbeat, to speak calmly and quietly once the Yelmalion has turned away.

"We are not alone, Kaylee. Roark will find us soon. These people will not harm you, they are honourable in their own way." The drug seems to have lessened its effects on him.

The Kargani watches the Tarshite girl considering her companion's words. Then nodding to her ward he speaks in a half whispered voice.

"These are no men of honour my friend. We are ambushed, drugged and made ready for sacrifice? These Sun Domers cavort in the Red Whores very own bed!"

Landros looks up from his quiet conversation with Kaylee and smiles pleasantly at Aelf over her head. Long blond hair in a warrior's braid, now a bit unravelled, reach down between his shoulders. Piercingly blue eyes overlook a hawk nose and thin lips. A handsome man by any standards.

"I grew up among these people, and not all love the Lunars." His accent clearly marks him a native of this land. "As everywhere else, the Red Godess find both support and opposition, none will harm a healer though." He gives Aelf a direct glance obviously meant to convey some sort of message.

Kaylee turns her head slightly to look at the Kargani with gray eyes. She seems calmer and more collected now.

The Far Walker listens closely to Landros with an occasional glance at his companion. In an attempt to help soothe the girl he whispers an old Tarshite saying.

"Death feeds us, keeps an eye on our weight and leads us like lambs through the abattoir gate"

Seeing the look in her eyes it looks like he has made matters worse.

"Do not worry girl, you are not fat enough for abattoir!" and gesturing at the bound Herewardi "We are all marked by Death, all dead men walking."

With the faintest of smiles she just shakes her head before she leanes to the side to look up into Landros' face, observing his reaction. His eyes flicker down to meet hers for a brief moment.

Then glancing at Landros he pauses as if weighing something up.

"The Legion will fall before innocents are slaughtered. It is Hereward's Code."

Nodding at the gathered Herewardi he lowers his voice to a more conspiritial tone.

"We are many. Tell me of this Roark and together we may hatch a plan"

Landros' mouth twitches slightly in irritation as he glances again at the girl who clearly waits for her companion's answer.

"Roark is a friend of sorts. A raven actually, who is doubtlessly this very instant searching for us from above. When he finds us, he will either bring help or act on his own to free us." He speaks in a low confident voice somehow contradicted by the slight frown on his brow.

The Kargani's eyes shows a hint of scepticism at talk of a Raven friend but he says nothing.

"You are a brave man" he then adds without hint of sarcasm, "it could have worked." He sighs a little "I wish there was some way to avoid that drug though."

"Bravery or not we need a plan." and with a nod introduces himself as best he can with bound hands.

"Aelfwyrd..."

"Landros. They are preparing us for some sort of ritual" he muses as the girl introduces herself

"I'm Kaylee, from Furthest." This awards her a look from her friend who then continues. "They need Humakti, that involves fighting in all likely hood. There lies our chance, I think. Especially if we can stay undrugged."

The weaponmaster nods his acknowledgment to Landros and Kaylee.

"If they are poisoning the food then we must stop eating and drinking?"

Jamal has been listening in as the Kargani starts his ocnversation with this new comer. He look like another damn solar, but for some reason he has fallen foul of his sun-loving buddies....

Jamal stifles the immediate distaste of working with anyone of a Yelmic persuasion and whispers over....

"Jaaamaal bin JjjjArran al' ...<Yebnen kelp>... this does not pass yet... we must escaape.....id there help?"

On the opposite side of Aelf, Landros can't see the other man very well and his drugged growling doesn't help communication either. But he picks up the words 'escape' and'help' and says soothingly, again with a slight frown. "I'm sure we'll get out of this mess, don't worry."
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Dori lies still, giving no sign of her recovery. Aelf's valiant attempt to free himself had made it quite clear that escape at present was not going to be an option. She listens. Much of what the guards have said so far has been incomprehensible to her, but at least she can try to remember their remarks in the hope that they will make sense later. Cautiously, she sends out the Wind to listen for her - very cautiously, remembering her attempt to use it in that duel. She does not need that again!

Frustratingly, Dorinda's Truth Wind blows out of control once more, making the guards' words impossible to overhear through gusting winds. The shimmering air, cackle of energy in the wind, and blue nimbus that surround Dorinda, however, clearly alert the guards that magic is being vented, and they quickly approach her with the same caution they used to subdue Aelfwyrd. Quickly they bind and gag her mouth, preventing the utterance of any more invocations.

As they bind her, though, Dorinda realises with something akin to shock that these are not Yelmalians. The insignia on their uniforms are not the runes of the Cold Sun. There is a prickle at the back of her neck, something she has seen before but cannot place...

That's important. One of the others might recognise it where she doesn't. The gag was going to be a nuisance: but then come to think of it, she wouldn't have said this aloud in any case. Using the hand-signals of Swordspeech is difficult with them bound, but she can try. She nudges the person next to her with her foot: oh, good, one of the Humakti.

[Enemy. Light. Negative. Deception.]

She hopes that gets through. Once comprehension dawns, she adds:
[Pass it on] - a single, simple, sign, and one that probably doesn't need telling.

And then she thinks about what has just happened: once more, her Truewind magic has gone out of her control, working against her. That hasn't happened for a very long time, and now, twice in a row. The second failure might have been due to the drug, but not the first. Is Hereward punishing her for something? She can't think what off-hand, but there must be some reason...
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Meanwhile, Aelf is thinking.
"Ritual....? My master, Braggi Clapsaddle was wise with the secrets of the god paths. Let me think on the stories he told, they may shed some light on this sorcery."

There is a memory there. Braggi told a story once about Solars who slew Humakti in Fire Season in honour of their god. Aelf clutches at the memory, and watches it take form. Braggi, sitting around a campfire, telling secret tales. A deceitful cult, a false god - the Unconquered Sun. Their story that the sun was never killed, the emperor never died, and their ritual slaughter of Humakti to prove their conquest of Death.

Braggi named this god Oilamley, the evil mirror-twin of Yelmalio, whose powers were a withering light, fighting prowess, and deceitfulness.

Aelfwyrd feels a chill run down his spine, for what Braggi had told of these men was not bed-time chatter for babes.

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