Tourney Altar

Fire Day, Sea Season

It is Sea Season, but no rain falls. The green hills of Sartar are far behind, rolling dust reaches to the horizon, and to the south Urox's Block is a tower in the sky. The column is straggled out, weary of the march. Clusters of pack beasts led by their handlers, the wealthy travelers on their mounts and fancy saddles absently keeping place, a Lokarnos caravaner stopped to fix a loose wheel. Only the circling scouts and guards seem to remember that, in Prax, there are foes other than sore feet, tiredness and thirst. Day's Rest is three days past.

Even in Sea Season it is hot.

The Humakti, always in their appointed position, alone press on silently and uncomplaining. They watch the trail ahead, and the rise on the left flank. They watch the Impala riders, hired as guards and scouts, anxiously try to herd the caravan together.

Brenna spits derisively. "Waste of time. Been telling Efrinel since Hender's Ruins he's got to get the caravan tighter."

"Soon it shall no longer be our concern, for a little while at least." Yodi walks calmly ahead. "We shall reach the Altar today, and once there things will change."

The Humakti have long since learned to appreciate such statements from Yodi. Their Hundred Thane is close to the God, and when approaching a site as holy as Tourney Altar it is only to be expected that he might perceive a Truth hidden to others. If he said that things would change, then no doubt they would change. And, as Brenna has pointed out to the others many times on this march, they may be far from the Legion's wyter, but at least they have Yodi leading them rather than Seledd Brightspear.

Brightspear had headed north with the rest of the legion, following the Warleader to Far Point and a route along the Old Pavis Road, and none were sorry to see her leave. Why Yodi had chosen to take his thirteen warriors on the southern caravan road, the Humakti do not know, but they trust their commander.

Three hours later Tourney Altar has emerged from the desert glare, the low buildings dwarfed by the ruined coliseum. Few of the Humakti have visited this holy place before, but all have heard of it. The town is famous for the historical presence of the Humakt cult, but the sacred stone at the center of the coliseum is very ancient. No one knows who built the stadium, but it has served as the site of sacred contests since the Godtime. The Green Men who came to Prax in the First Age are said to have once filled the arena with water and fought a naval battle.

Just as no one knows who built it, no one knows who the first gladiators were either. Some people say that the Golden Age people contested here for sport until the coming of the Gods War, then that Tada’s Warriors were selected from among the victors of the now more serious combats. Others tell of a contest between all the war gods, which, of course, was won by Humakt.

Yodi's short frame heaves with a satisfied sigh, "Things will change," he says. "All things will change."

Once the caravan has been settled within the settlement walls, Yodi leads his warriors to the War Temple that lies north of the coliseum. In his company are the Ten-Thanes Brenna and Siggyr, and eleven warriors including Jamal, Malan, Dorinda, Aelfwyrd, Hrolf and Fynn, plus some followers.

At the War Temple they are ritually greeted by the Sword Herric, who sends initiates to see to their barracks and mounts. "I will be your Sword Host, and it is a ritual of this place that we may take salt together, especially when I am coming off duty - the doors will be closing soon."

He leads the company to the mess, a large feasting hall that has seen better days. Dust permeates everywhere, the lighting is poor, old mudbrick walls rise almost in parody of Orlanthi gloryhalls. A group of seven dust-covered Humakti, hollow-eyed and gaunt, and a tall, lean man and his companion who smiles frequently are the only others in the room. There is an atmosphere of silence and gloom, and little conversation interrupts the meal.

After eating, Yodi and the Ten-thanes rise and leave, after giving the warriors leave for the evening. They have only just left when there is angry shouting from the temple gate. Herric is already rising to his feet when a group of warriors appear in the doorway to the mess. Six block the entrance, and it appears they have more companions behind them.

Their cloaks are red, their arms and armour bear the sigils and runes of a strange god. They are clean-shaven. They bear iron.

They survey the gloryhall and the assembled company and sneer. One says something to another in a strange tounge, and they all laugh, mockingly.

As the Yanafali enter the room the gathered Humakti become alert, loosen swords in scabbards. Hrolf's durulz followers slip silently to the floor, their hate-filled beady eyes measuring the distance to the interlopers. Other warriors make subtle changes to posture, or hold charms, ready to invoke blessings and violence.

The leader of the Yanafali appears to be a young man, who wears a finely tailored regimental uniform. Behind him is a nervous looking scribe and a man who has the look of grizzled veterans everywhere. Perhaps fifteen other soldiers are behind them, laughing and pressing to get into the mess.

Herric stands forward, and calls for recognition, but his attempt to invoke the God's name is drowned out by the laughter that errupts when the Yanafali see Jamal.

The leader listens with mocking condecension to the Carmanian's halting speech. "Ahh - the little barbarian speaks the Holy Tounge of Peloria, and not badly for an animal."

Then he switches to something that might be supposed to be Tarshite or Sartarite and begins to pariently explain, as though to a stupid child: "look, me is Chief Anthippus Anthellus, Three Sky Warrior, bigum Imperium nobilise. These here my warriors, this here my temple - you savvy? Yanafal Tarnils - War God - he say it all mine..." Then he notices the runes that adorn the Bisos devotee's gear. "My," he says in surprise. "You're along way from home."

The Humakti shout angrily at the Count’s words. They gather around the growing crowd in the mess room, guests and temple initiates alike. Some listen quietly to what is being said, most don’t understand the language but understand the tone. They shout insults of their own, or offer advice to Jamal.

Hrolf hops on one foot and calls them cowards, but they ignore him. Malan counsels Jamal "Make sure your words bruise, but do not draw blood, for I think this fool seeks a fight", and in that way helps Jamal find calm. Aelfwyrd says, "These ones are foolish and overconfident - they do not understand their peril", and the Humakti that hear this smile grimly and muster behind Jamal, lending force to his argument. The Yanafali appear less confident than they did, but shout angrily and lend their encouragement to the Count Anthippus.

Several of the Humakti and Yanafali warriors begin threatening one another - in different languages - distracting from the main argument between Jamal and the Count.

Amidst the tumult Jamal smiles coolly and says in perfect New Pelorian. "This place is holy to my lord Humakt, and it will take more than a misbegotten Dara Happan fop to defile it"

Anthippus’ surprise does not decrease, and, despite the support of his warriors, falters slightly. He flushes hotly at Jamal’s insult and lashes back angrily "Carmanian dog, we come not to defile but to receive homage in the name of our Lord Yanafal Tarnils - as is our right!"

Jamal merely continues to smile – itself an eloquent insult. The Humakti laugh, and the Count appears very close to losing his temper.

Herric glares at Yanafali and Humakti alike and shouts out, "ENOUGH!"

Meaning to test the resolve of the shaken Count, Herric stands directly in front of him and shouts, "You would dispute Humakt's place HERE? All disputes are decided by the gods in the arena. Here you face True Death! I as Sword, you as leader... I challenge your right to this place! Face me with Truth and Honor or leave like a dog and run back to the red glow of your harlot goddess."

Silence falls over the assembly as Herric issues his challenge. Several of the Yanfali nudge each other, and the Humakti look grim. Anthippus, still angry, suddenly looks as though he has won a small victory.

"It is as you say, Champion. At this place, the sacred Altar itself, Truth can be found. It is well known that our lord Yanafal, on his path to Godhood, defeated Humakt on fair terms. On the morn, at the proper place, in the proper rites, I shall demonstrate the Truth of this to you. The defeated shall quit the temple and pay homage to the victor, and acknowledge the sovereignty of the victor's Lord."

"Sharpen your sword, don your armour, practise your feats and skills, for at Yelm's rising the gods shall sit in judgement over our contest."

With that Anthippus turns and leads his men from the temple grounds.

Silence reigns in the mess, the taciturn Humakti collectively considering how best to prepare their champion for the morning's duel. As the Humakti pledge their rites, Jamal says "I shall pray that Bisos grants you his Bull Strength," and sends his follower Abul to trail the Yanafali.

Their musings are interrupted by the return of Yodi and Brenna, who exchange quick glances as Malan and Flynn explain what has happened. Yodi rocks back on his heels, contemplatively, and says. "Come, see this." He leads the Legion warriors outside of the temple, to stand under the sky amidst the mud and straw buildings and dun-strewn streets of the settlement.

To the northwest, the Red Moon lies full and heavy in the Middle Air. Several warriors make gestures to ward off evil.

"The Shepelkirt, Poison-Blood-Moon, turns full red for tomorrow - Wild Day. Jamal can tell you what this means. Any who have faced the Lunars in battle can tell you what this means. I can tell you what this means."

"Yanafal's powers wax and wane with the Shepelkirt, and tomorrow will be at their fullest. This young man, his self-proclaimed champion, has chosen his time well. Sword Herric must be armed against the magics of unloyal Yanafal, for if he fails then Humakt's presence in this Holy place will be diminished. You, warriors of the legion, lend him your strength for the duel ahead. Convince the other warriors here of the need to do so."

"As for I - well, I have had my audience with the Lord of this temple, and what he has told me is bad. He is greviously wounded, the temple in disarray, and our enemies muster in secret against us. Our plans must change. I will take Siggyr, Shrev, Egil, Fasten-Spear and Hrodar, and we shall strike out north immediately, for I act now on the God's behalf as well as the Legion's."

"Brenna, you will lead the rest of the hundred to Sun County with the wagon train, and from there to Pavis. If you can, recruit six guards to fill the places of Siggyr's squad and I, and in that way fulfill our contract to Efridel, the caravan master. Pay them out of our funds. After that, you have leave to act as you see fit, saving that you muster with the legion in Pavis by the Day of Standards."

With that, Yodi summons his named warriors and bids farewell to the rest. "All of you - go in the shadow of the God, yet cleave shadow from your hearts. As for the duel, my advice is to grant what aid you can to the Champion's sword arm and armour, especially if his foe bears Iron."

The Legionnaires retire back to the temple.

Sometime later Abul returns, whitefaced, shaken and limping.

"I am sorry master" he begins. "I followed the Yanafali to their camp outside the coliseum and crept close to them, yet could not hear what was being said. I tried to get closer, but they saw me and seized me. Their lackeys beat me, and though I tried there were too many of them for me to fight - they threw me out of the camp."

"All I can tell you is that the Yanafali were putting on costumes and preparing other things, as though they were about to conduct a ritual."

Jamal lets out a bellow. "The Lunar deceivers will pay for this!" Jamal's curse rings loud around the temple, and probably reaches all the way to the Yanafali camp. It certainly alerts the residents of Tourney Altar, who in the morning turn up in larger than usual numbers to see the duel.

Aelfwyrd finishes his prayers at the right time and then he begins to tell of great deeds and events in order to inspire the band to give all that they can to help Herric in the challenge.

Aelfwyrd informs that Humakt spent the nights before certain great victories in deepest meditation and that in this meditation he would always receive a sign. Usually a simple thing like a red cross or a black disc and so on, these signs were known to strike dread fear into the heart of his foe before the battle. Although sometimes the sign was a word or a sound, it depended on the foe's weaknesses. This ritual could be used to great effect.

But Hrolf Duckfriend says, "That was rash of you, Herric: challenging their leader. As you are Sword of this Temple, I support you, but I counsel that in future you consider your actions more carefully. Humakt did not become Lord of War by simply charging all his enemies: leave that to Urox."

"Who is the Yanafali you will be fighting, and what kind of support does he have? How many Yanafali are there? Did they bring their Meldeks or bitch magicians? Since they have come all the way to the Tourney Altar to lay claim to it, you can bet they know more about you than you know about them."

"From Jamal's clever insults, we know that they are proud and over confident. We can also safely speculate that Yanafal Tarnish has some special anti-Humakt magic that the fop is likely to try and use. It would be nice to know what that is ... but our attempts to find this out have so far failed. Given their confidence, I suspect that fear magic is unlikely to succeed; instead, it is wiser to use their confidence against them. If we appear to follow an orthodox, barbaric Humakti strategy, then surprise them with something new, we should have a better chance of victory. Any ideas?"

"Whatever is decided, I now fully support Herric in his challenge; my soul stands next to his."

Aelfwyrd looks puzzled by Hrolf's words, "say you that we should then go to this without magical support when we can have it? Your ideas are good Duckfriend, but on their own not enough. We will see tomorrow if they are still confident when they see the sign that we will recieve this night. They think the moon makes them stronger, we will have sign that stops them from thinking so on the morrow! Do you really think this is doomed to fail? Can you say it is not worth trying?" Aelfwyrd falls silent and stares at the floor.

"No Aelfwyrd, I don't believe the fear magic will necessarily fail," says Hrolf. "But it seems to me killing or defending magic is more likely to succeed when the enemy has high confidence. If we must choose between rituals, then my vote goes for strengthening Herric's combat magic, his armor, his speed or his strength."

Herric suggests using the story of how Humakt defeated Kargan as the basis of a ritual, and Hrolf agrees that this may work. They discuss the details of the ceremony, and make ready.

Elsewhere, other members of the legion are helping with the preparations in their own way.

Jamal sees Abul treated by the Temple Arroin Healer, and settles down to brew a round of his famous Fierce Carmanian Coffee. He passes out small cups of the potent liquid to the warriors, who find that it keeps them alert and clear headed for the night’s work.

Dorinda and her Esrolian Axe-Sister take an evening constitutional around the settlement, and conversation turns to the most effective way of removing male genitalia. Dorinda, being Humakti - and a slightly prudish Sun County Humakti at that - seems to be of the opinion that as quickly as possible is usually the preferrable method.

The Axe-Sister tries to convince her in loud and terrible detail that in fact the exact opposite is true, and that - as in so many other things to do with the male organ - the longer it lasts, the better it is. Both quickly agree that they wouldn't know anything about that, of course, having dedicated their lives to the Satisfaction of Completion, rather than the Completion of Satisfaction - if you know what I mean.

Unhappily it appears that their conversation is perhaps a little too loud, and by chance an extremely graphic section is overheard as they pass the Yanafali camp. It is difficult to tell exactly how the outlanders digest the information, but there does appear to be a break in the otherwise uniform chanting.

The two warriors return to the temple, grinning.

Malan Strongaxe is trying to gain the support of the temple’s guests. "Do you want the god of cowards and cheaters, that slave of Shepelkirt's, to gain another victory over the true lord of warriors?" His hatred of the invaders burns in his words – a generation of shame, humiliation and rage makes for dry tinder. The road-dusty mercenaries nod fiercely and vow to lend their total support. The other two visitors, who give their names as Kell Fellblade and Sarostal Beartooth, are initially disinterested, but as Malan continues to harangue the temple, shrug and agree to support the Champion. Later Hrolf asks about these two men, but learnt little. Kell is a tall, lean man who spoke little, whilst Sarostal smiles and talks a great deal without saying anything at all. Both are mercenaries who work together, but no-one knows what it is that they do.

The Myth of Humakt and the Truth

Then the Humakti finish Jamal's coffee and retire to the temple sanctuary, to ready themselves for the ritual that will prepare Herric for the next day's duel. It is several hours before all is ready.

The ten visiting warriors, including Sarostal and Kell, plus Aelfwyrd's students Korol and Yrsga, Brenna, Dorinda and Jamal stand in the form of the Death Rune. The hilt and handle is comprised of the lowest ranking initiates, whilst Dorinda and Brenna are at the Sword's Point by the altar. Dorinda’s follower and Abul remain outside the holy of holies.

In two arms of the sanctuary Malan and Aelfwyrd are preparing themselves for their roles as Kargan, each attended by a temple initiate. Hrolf, with his two followers leads the ritual, and Herric, attended by four more temple initiates, sits before the altar.

Flynn shoulders his bagpipes, and their deafening wail accompanies the first stage of the ritual.

Hrolf intones the rites of Humakt's Arming, and Herric's attendants strap on his armour, his weapons and shield. They daub runes on his face and tie charms into his hair and onto his gear. They offer him mead infused with vision-giving herbs. Each warrior in the Death rune then steps forward and offers Herric a blessing. Brenna offers him the support of the legion, and a community to fight for and in. Dorinda offers him the use of her sword, imbued with powers of death. Jamal offers prayers to Bisos, to grant Herric great strength. Then the warriors reform, but this time in the shape of the Truth rune.

Then the music changes as Flynn begins to sing the story of Humakt the Student and Kargan the Master. Herric lets the story flow over him, into him, through him. He believes he is the student. He can see the form of the cosmic mountain; he knows the place where he should be. He faces his master.

Aelfwyrd-Kargan dances from his alcove, his Seven Dragon Blade a glittering arc. Herric-Humakt meets the onslaught coolly, but overextends his return and is brought to his knees. Aelfwyrd-Kargan then cuts free the charms that adorn Heric-Humakt’s body, symbolising dismemberment.

On his knees, Herric-Humakt stares into the depths of his Hero-Vision and finds Truth. The initiates return to his side, and re-tie the charms to him. The devotee stands, re-made.

Malan-Kargan dances from his place in a frenzy, his axe looping and spinning. Herric-Humakt stands his ground, but his sword is knocked from his hand and he is driven to the ground. Malan-Kargan cuts the charms away, and the devotee again is dismembered.

Once again Herric-Humakt stares into the depths of his Hero-Vision and looks for Truth. The Truth that he sees is not what he was expecting, but it fills him with certainty and terrible purpose. The initiates return to his side, and re-tie the charms to him. The devotee stands, re-made, ready to face his mentor one final time. Dorinda then steps forward from the warrior’s formation and presents him with her sword, to be used in the morning’s duel.

The Sword Brethren then maintain their vigil until dawn, pipes playing and drums beating, repeating the story cycle with every hour.

Herric-Humakt meditates on his new Truth.

Half an hour before Yelm’s rising. The drumming in the sanctuary changes tempo, faster. The pipes play harsher. The initiates and devotees rouse themselves from the vigil and prepare themselves for prayer.

Herric burns with the power invested in him – his sight half in the mundane world, half perceiving the shadows of the Hero Plane. His attendents strap Darsoon’s Shield to his left arm. He bears Dorinda’s Sword in his right. The congregation approach and daub runes and war-marks on his face; charms are wrapped into his hair once more.

The Temple Champion leads the procession to the coliseum, where the Humakti assemble in rank to greet Yelm’s Rising with the Dawn Prayer:

"Lord of the Long Road, Humakt, Name-Quester,
Cut short my days, destroy me.
Master of Silence, Bronze-Dyer, Illusion Render,
Betray my hope, destroy me."

Around the edges of the coliseum, the folk of the settlement have come to watch. Nut-brown under flowing robes, furtive in their movements. Today may determine rulership of the settlement, and they come to bear witness. A secretive people, none are sure how they view the coming of the Empire, and their faces betray no emotion this morning. They huddle down clutching the customary small portions of food essential to the stadium rites. Many of these folk sell such food to the crowds at Tourney Days, and claim their recipies, such as ‘Golden Wonder’, descend from Golden Age tournament ‘snacks’.

"I know only to obey,
Surrender to your sharp command,
That I may walk the long road, hear the silence,
And free myself from life.
All I have is death, and company of swords
To lift the weight of falsehood from my soul."

Herric completes the prayer, wrapped in the fever of his Hero-Vision and submission to his Fate. He is barely aware of the approaching Yanafali, who come from the eastern entrance, sunlight glimmering on their armour.

They, too, come in procession. Count Anthippus leads the way, attended by his lieutenant, Yerus. Behind them come a guard of 16 Yanafali. Anthippus, like Herric, seems Vision-Blessed and filled with power; his eyes burn almost deliriously. Yerus looks grim.

They reach their place before the Humakti. Before Tourney’s Altar.

Anthippus speaks: "You have challenged me, Humakt, and I am here. I claim the rites of combat by your rules, and in this place the God’s shall sit in judgement over our contest." His armour is burnished and glows with magic. His sword burns dull red. His voice is power-full, yet his speech slurs slightly. As he makes the ritual invitations to combat, Dorinda notices that he makes a terrible show of the usual Darra Happan etiquette – without grace, sluggishly.

"I nominate my jurors," says Anthippus. "Yerus, Llandednese, and Prias." The lieutenant and a soldier step forward, and the scribe appears from behind the processional crowd. These three then approach the Altar to stand by Herric’s jurors.

Anthippus flexes his sword arm and mutters some words of power, and his sword bursts into flames. "I am ready," says the Count.

Herric, eyes blazing with the power of his ritual, looks upon his foe again. He feels the weight of a thousand defeats at the hand of this foe and knows that he is now the better. "For Truth and Death!" He roars, bringing his attack down on the Yanafali.

Count Anthippus leaps into a defensive stance as Herric bears down upon him, and there is scream of magics as their blades meet. Anthippus is thrown back by the force of the blow, but recovers enough to attack.

Feinting to the left Anthippus performs Yanafal's Charge of the Ram feat, the speed of which leaves the onlookers breathless. Herric, however, merely sidesteps and sends his opponent sprawling.

Dorinda examines Anthippus' movements and sees they are sluggish and uncoordinated. His face is a picture of frustration, and she thinks that he is not bluffing - it is too real. She glances quickly at Yerus, the Yanafali lieutenant. His expression is grim and resigned.

Perhaps something went wrong with the Yanafali ritual.

Anthippus is sprawled out on the floor of the coliseum, and takes a moment to get to his feet. As he does so he curses fluently in Tradetalk, and although not well versed in the language even Herric understands him:

"Whoreson no luck bastard barbarian"

Herric stands back as Anthippus rises to his feet, observing the Humakti custom of not attacking the fallen. As Anthippus readies himself in a defensive posture, Herric circles to the right looking for a weakness in his foe.

Suddenly, Herric strike out with a textbook use of the Great Blow Feat. Yet somehow Anthippus manages to scramble to one side of his sword, leaving Herric over-extended. The lunar responds with an inelegant cut towards Herric's now exposed flank, which the Sword barely manages to parry.

Although momentarily off-balance Herric still has the advantage, and he somehow manages to conjure a perfect Truesword Stroke Feat that seems to catch Anthippus completely off-guard. Herric's sword tears through the Yanafali's defensive magics, which howl in protest, and knocks Anthippus to the ground. Blood wells on the fallen man’s sword-arm as Herric yells in triumph.

Anthippus looks up at the victor and, with sullen anger, acknowledges: "I yield this contest to you – the day is yours, by the stipulation of our terms."

Those who watch the Yanafali see a look of disgust cross Yerus’ face, almost matched by the anger in the soldiers’ expressions. Llandednese the scribe looks fearful and worried.

Almost as soon as Anthippus has fallen Flynn begins to sing Herric’s victory song, and the initial verse ridicules the Lunar officer so thoroughly that even a couple of the Yanafali soldiers smile.

Herric looks with scorn on the fallen count, "Stand! Were you Humakti, I would break bread with you and meet you as equal. But you! You are an ill-mannered, dull-witted fool to come here as you did and face me as you do today. I would have insisted this duel be to the death but upon looking at you I was moved by disgust. You are not worthy to end your life in this place. As Sword and victor, I do hereby ban you from this place under punishment of Death should you ever return. Run back to whimper under the skirts of your goddess. For outside of them, even under the full of your ghastly moon, you fail! You have one hour to depart. GO!"

Herric's words to their lord bring the smiling Yanafali up short, and their eyes narrow.

Anthippus stands before the altar and looks Herric coldly in the eye. "Even if you were not Humakti, I would not break bread with you. I break my fast only with men of honour and dignity - lessons which you, barbarian, are sadly lacking. I have yielded this field to you, sir, but there are other places we may meet when you have learned more gentlemanly conduct."

He backs off towards his men, and his lieutenant and scribe join them. "Until then," says the Count. As they turn away and make to leave, Yerus surveys the assembled Humakti with a last, lingering look of disdain. Only then does he turn to go.

Herric's eyes smolder and he takes a step towards Anthippus. Recalling his duty to the Altar, he stops and merely watches the retreating Yanafali.

As the Lunars start to depart, Hrolf speaks up: "Perhaps our words are rough, Lunar - but our actions prove us fair. You showed courage and honour in facing us today, despite your failed magic. We will not forget it!"

Hrolf turns to survey the ranks of the Humakti, and sees the grim satisfaction on their faces. Or most of their faces. For it is difficult to see Sarostal Beartooth and Kell Fellblade amongst them, as the two seem to be trying to obscure their faces.

Jamal has moved to be within earshot of the Yanafali ranks as they leave the coliseum, but they march silently from the stadium. Jamal isn't really build for sneaking around stuff, and he sends Abul off with the other Humakti so that he doesn't get caught up in any crossfire. Jamal then walks, making no attempt to hide, tracking the Yanafali until they reach the edge of the town, checking that they return to their camp.

As they pass out of sight, Herric turns bruskly away and walks up to Dorinda. With a quick bow, he returns the borrowed sword, "My thanks for the use of this fine blade, my lady. It and you have served Humakt's will this day."

"It was a pleasure to see it so well and honourably used, sir," she replies (and as anyone who knows her will know, a compliment from Dorinda to a man, even one of the Legion, is something rare and strange!)

She frowns thoughtfully. "I wonder what made the Yanafali so upset? You fought with honour: none could say otherwise. Our rather childish antics overnight with the pipes, and any private conversations they might have overheard, might not be civilised to them, but such tricks were hardly dishonourable, nor would I expect them to make any rituals go so very badly wrong. Could someone else have been working against the Yanafali, perhaps? And in less honourable ways than we would have considered?"

Flynn disagrees, shaking his head. "Perhaps others acted against them, but I think not.
These are rigid men with rigid rules who think they can define honour with laws, as if it was a simple thing like the value of a sow. But honour is not a simple thing of little consequence that can be defined by decree and never thought of again. Nor is it a dead thing that can never change to meet the changes of life, or Humakt would have seperated it from the world. But they do not understand this because Tarnils sacrificed true honour to return from death against his vows, and since then they have had to make up their own code to replace it."

"Most likely they have taken offense at our actions," he continues. "But anyone can see we have treated them fairly. They took us at a disadvantage hoping to entrap us. They had their plans and rituals ready and you can be sure that it is no coincidence that the duel fell on the full moon day. No, they were quite happy to pick the field to our disadvantage and give us no say in the matter, but now they have failed they seek to blame us. We have not fallen on them after their defeat, nor demanded tribute or sacrifice for our victory. Nor have we asked for any thing at all that was not already ours."

"If we have taken pleasure in their humiliation remember that it was they who laughed and mocked and scorned us when they sprang their trap. If we have manouvered on the field to our advantage remember it was they who picked that field. We have acted in all ways with generosity and honour, and if they mutter against us that is a great disgrace on their heads, and I think many of the men will know that even if they dare not speak of it."

The Humakti retire towards the temple, deep in the thought.

As they leave, the crowd who came to watch the contest is breaking up. A small group heads towards the warriors, and Aelfwyrd quickly identifies Efridel, the caravan master, and several of the Praxian guards amongst them. Efridel is an Issaries trader from Swenstown, and his eastern Sartarite inflection is broad and rolling. He has earned a certain appreciation amongst the guards as being a sensible, hard man.

Efridel is smiling roundly, but is wise enough not to discuss wagers and winnings around Humakti who consider combat something other than a betting proposition. "Congratulations my lord," he addresses Herric. "You have done a great service this day to others besides your temple. Until now the Lunars have paid little attention to the towns of Caravan Alley, and that suits those of us that use the road just fine. Thank you again, and I for one consider myself in your debt."

He turns and falls into place with the warriors, and accompanies them towards the temple. "I received word last night from your good captain Yodi that he has had to depart suddenly. For one reason and another I have decided to delay departure from Tourney Altar until tomorrow morning, so you should have plenty of time to find the six replacements he spoke of. Well - you know where to find me. Dawn tomorrow then?"

Jamal follows the Yanafali at a distance back to their camp, which is a tight, orderly affair. Several times Yerus glances back with a hard look in his eye, but otherwise the Carmanian is ignored. The Yanafali walk fast, angry and silent.

At the camp several men stand waiting, and it is apparent from their stances that they expect only bad news. Most are servants, but their is also a man in the dress of a healer, and a woman in long robes of rich red cloth. She is bald and beautiful, and ornaments adorn her. She appears to upbraid Anthippus angrily when he nears her. He says a few sharp words and turns away, and she is left with a brief look of loathing on her face that quickly vanishes, to be replaced by a calm disdain.

The lackeys and soldiers fall to breaking up the camp, and packing everything away on mules and zebras. In short order everything is ready, and the party mount up and ride out, heading east. Yerus takes the lead, and the woman slightly behind him. Anthippus, who appears to be brooding heavily, rides alongside his soldiers.

They pass Jamal without sparing a glance for him. Having seen them ride off he returns to the temple, dodging a couple of the small dust-devils that seem to haunt all the streets here.

Jamal returns to the Humakti temple to report that the Lunars have left (Eastwards luckily). "We should be breaking camp soon too" he says "What shall we do about replacing Yodi and the others?" He turns to Brenna, "Could you talk to the Sword of this temple to see if he can recommend suitable replacements"

Brenna agrees and goes to find an initiate to request an audience with the Temple Warlord. In just a little while she returns. "The Lord of the Temple lies greviously wounded, attended by his initiates. He is weak, and could spare little time for me, but what he said helps explain stuff that has happened here, maybe."

"He commended us for supporting Herric in this morning's fighting. He is sure the Yanafali knew exactly what they were doing, although does not know whether they acted on their own account or in the name of the Lunar government. The Warlord told me how during Sacred Time he led the warriors of this temple in Holy Rite against chaos forces that lurk nearby. Not all went according to plan. Many were taken by Humakt, and the Warlord himself was felled by a wound that continues to fester. The temple has weakened - it no longer boasts a proud gloryhall. The Warlord believes the Yanafali knew of the weakness and sought to exploit it, and holds us all in honour for having foiled their plans."

Brenna takes a drink and goes on. "Of the temple warband, only eight initiates remain. Herric has remained beyond his roster out of duty to Humakt, and he leads the temple in day to day affairs. The Sword Kyrenna Deathshadow marches with a warband from the west in relief, and he has received a message that she will arrive today. Yet even so there are not enough temple initiates to hire. Herric may join us, so long as Deathshadow has arrived before we depart."

"As for the other warriors here, those passing through, we are free to approach them. Three have vowed to remain and serve the temple and fulfill their duty to Humakt. There are seven others. Yodi left sufficient silver to hire six blades as far as Sun County. So, I leave you in charge of this. I'm going to find Efridel and discuss with him the Warlord's news - I don't like the thought of a chaos horror that could destroy so many Humakti lurking in the sands between here and the next oasis."

These seven are Sarostal Beartooth and Kell Fellblade, and five of the road-dusty mercenaries - Oddus, Valens, Renedalos, Maniskus & Elnor.

"Let's hire the six we must hire to forfill our duty to Efrinel the trader," says Flynn. "We don't have the money to take any others to guard the caravan so that resolves that question. As far as hiring people to travel on to Pavis - we may yet find paid work ourselves to do just that. Lets consider what to do about this when we get to Sun County."

Jamal goes to the mess hall, stands on one of the tables and stamps his feet for attention. "We of the Swords of Death are looking to hire up to 6 good swords to complete a caravan escort contract. We will be travelling with the esteemed caravan master Efridel and are headed to Sun County, and then perhaps towards Pavis. We will pay good silver, and will expect good swordsmen in return. If you are interested in joining this venture, talk to myself, or one of the others of our group," he says indicating Hrolf, Malan, Dorinder, Flynn and Aelfwyrd. "May the blessings of Idovanus go with you". With this, he makes a traditional Carmanian genuflection and returns to his seat. "

Immediately after Jamal's announcement the warrior called Maniskus approaches the group. He is a stocky man of Sartarite extraction in middle-age, and he bears the scars and marks of a Dundealos weaponthane.

"I'll go with you, for I think you show wit and honour. And you know you may place faith in me, for I am devotee of the Unfailing Bondsman, Makla Mann. Once I have taken your silver then I'll stand by you against the devil himself."

Jamal slaps Maniskus warmly on the shoulder "Excellent my good man, come let us talk rates". With that he leads Maniskus to the fire where there is another pot of coffee waiting to talk brass tacks...

Maniskus is the only one to stand forthright, though. Renedalos shakes his head and calls, "I'm called west by my geas, and I'd not have it any other way - Prax in the summertime! Fare well!"

Oddus and Elnor approach Flynn and ask if Herric will be joining those heading to Sun County. They make a handsome couple - sober and quiet, and in everything they do there seems to be an unspoken consensus.

As for the others, Sarostal and Kell seem to be making preparations to leave, and Valens is sitting quietly in one corner of the mess, polishing his sword.

Fynn goes round and makes conversation with the various warriors, if this can be done over a drink so much the better. He uses his Insight into peoples natures to decide who will be a reliable comrade and who less so. Valens looks up from polishing his sword, and greets Flynn politely. His kit is fine, his armour of high quality, and several gem-stones adorn the sword he works on. Flynn gets the strong impression that Valens doesn't need to work for his living, and during their conversation Valens several times emphasises that he is led "where honour takes me."

Flynn signals to Dorinda to talk to Valens, and approaches Sarostal and Kell, who are obviously capable and appear to know Prax well. However, when told what the wages are likely to be they look disinterested. "No offence," says Sarostal, "but we aren't cheap."

Flynn asks politely, "do you only work for money, or does anything else motivate you? I ask because, several times you have made an effort to avoid the Lunar visitors eyes and I wondered if you had had dealings with them before. Anyway, If you dont come with us you may have to sit it out here in the Oasis with nothing to entertain you, or serve with the Goddesses traders, or Morocanth, or god knows what else. At least with us you know you wont just be abandoned if things get complicated." Flynn tries to make service with the Legion seem an opportunity to be snapped up.

Sarostal loses his bantering smile at Flynn's words. "As you can see we are planning on leaving now," he says, gesturing to the gear that he and Kell have been packing. "And whether we have business with Lunars or even Morocanth is no business of yours. I suggest that you keep such questions and speculations to yourself, Flynn - they could get a man in trouble. Do you follow?" With that he shoulders his pack, and walks towards the stables. Kell, who has been silent throughout this exchange, follows him without a backward glance.

Their attitude only confirms the suspicions Flynn has had since he saw them hiding their faces and their lack of interest in helping against the Yanafeli. "They are not the sort of people we could rely on, no man who wishes to hide his actions from others can be a trustworthy companion," he thinks.

Elsewhere, Dorinda is having more luck. Valens is obviously a proud man with high ideals. His concept of honour is individualistic, and he is obviously used to acting in and defending his own name, rather than standing in the body of a shieldwall. Still, when he listens to Dorinda talk about the importance that Hereward attaches to truth and honour, he agrees that as he is travelling east anyway he will march with the caravan. He makes it sound more like a favour to Dorinda than accepting a job.

When Hrolf and Dorinda suggest a training session outside, most are quick to take up the suggestion. Maniskus proves to be a little slow and preditable in his swordplay, but is very strong. Valens is more than capable, and seems to relish the sword-drill. Oddus and Elnor are also competent - Elnor appears to be the brains of the two, whilst Oddus fights with a fierce abandon. Several times Elnor asks if Herric will be accompanying the band east. "If he is," she says, "then Oddus and I will march with you."

As the drill is finishing, Brenna returns from meeting Efridel. Upon hearing of the problem the caravan master lost no time in announcing another days wait in leaving Tourney Altar - he is sending fast riders to the Storm Bull encampment to hire chaos fighters.

Herric has retired to the temple sanctum to meditate on his Hero-Vision. Instead Hrolf asks one of the temple initiates, an old hand named Karl, about the Pre-Dark that lurks near the oasis.

Karl spits thoughtfully before replying. "Well, about a fortnight before Sacred Time the Warleader had a vision. He saw unlife, and empty people, and the power of Death perverted. He gathered together the temple brethren, and we prepared to summon and defeat this evil. The Warleader armed himself as Humakt did when he went to fight Vivamort, and then the summons began."

His face grows grim. "The Warleader walked the Hero-World, and stalked Unlife. At first all went well. Black blood ran down his blade and he shouted in victory. Then we do not know what happened, but he staggered. Crimson flowed from his neck, he collapsed to the floor, and our link to the Hero-World shattered. He was close to death, but in the weeks since has recovered a little. I do not know if he will ever return to his full strength - we need Deathshadow among us."

When Hrolf shares this information with the others, their moods become grim. "Vampires," hisses Fynn. "And the Warleader is still injured? He should be examined."

"But the God protects Humakti from the curse of Undeath," protests Hrolf.

"That is what we are told," replies Dorinda, "but I have heard tales …"

Dorinda offers her services as a healer. The Warleader already has a healer amongst his personal retinue, who invites Dorinda to examine him. The Warleader is abed, and much weakened. He has lost a lot of weight, but the healer says that his colour is returning to normal and his appetite is back. She has experience in treating chaos wounds, and says that time will be the best curative in this case. There is little else that Dorinda can do.

It is clear that the Warleader faced a vampire, and fell sorely wounded. By putting heads together, the party remember the following lore:
  1. Vampires feed on the blood, or living energy contained therein, of living creatures. they prefer the blood of creatures tied to the man rune.
  2. Vampires loose their powers in daylight
  3. they cannot be damaged by normal means, and heal wounds very quickly
  4. They can be damaged by iron, fire, silver and magic, and such wounds are more difficult for them to heal
  5. a vampire is repulsed by any Death Rune (sword, 2 sticks, a death rune pendant)
  6. many vampires have hypnotic powers
  7. vampires can turn into animals
  8. vampires can be disabled by driving a stake of elf-wood into their hearts and decapitating them
  9. vampires have no shadows

Jamal sits down with the rest of the group. "in my travels I have also heard a little of the ways of the followers of the Wounded God...." With this he tells of the other aspects of which he has heard.
  1. Garlic is repugnant to vampires
  2. vampires must sleep in coffins
  3. vampires are much stronger and faster than humans
  4. vampires cast no reflections
  5. Vampires find it difficult to cross running water
  6. Vampires can control undead
  7. Vampires are immortal and become more powerful with time
  8. Vampires are pallid and thin, often looking like dried-up corpses
  9. vampires can turn into mist

Although he adds at the end. "None of this means that all of this applies to all of the Wounded Gods aspects. I trust by Idovanus' good graces that we shall not need such knowledge."

With Herric retired in deep meditation for much of the day, there are many things to be done about the temple. It is only right that he meditate upon the vision shown him by the God, but there is a new Sword due at the temple today and therefore tasks to be attended to.

With the temple initiates Hrolf polishes the ceremonial regalia, and then he organises temple servants into clean-up parties that scrub the meeting-hall and public spaces. In these and numerous other ways Hrolf helps prepare the temple for the arrival of its new sword.

Whilst with the initiates Hrolf learns that twenty were taken by the God during the disastrous Sacred Time rituals that left the Warleader injured - ten more were crippled, ruined as warriors. They say that the first few weeks of the year have been grim. Several chaotic raids on nearby villages have further reduced the temple warband, and, they say, if Herric had not performed a miraculous feat then more would have been lost.

Although things have been bad, they are confident that Kyrenna Deathshadow's band will enable them to face any threats the year may bring. They acknowledge the role that the party played in supporting Herric in his duel with the Yanafali, and say that things must surely get better. Still, if Hrolf can convince any Humakti to make pilgrimage to Tourney Altar this year, that can only help all the more.

Later, Fynn finds the time to slip away to the tavern at the caravaneri and play a few tunes. He's greeted warmly by several people he vaguely knows, and sings well enough that there's no need to buy his own beer. The clientele is small, mostly those on the caravan, plus a couple of folk settled in the oasis, but no actual oasis folk. One of those present is a rider from the Zebra tribe, and he's heard of this pipe-playing friend of Kara. He says that the tribe are now dispersing after Sacred Time rites, and that Kara might be at the Paps. No-one knows anything specific about the 'chaos horror', but the locals do know that the warleader was injured and many humakti killed during the sacred time rites.

Whilst at the inn, Fynn hears an item or two of gossip. He is having a conversation with the zebra rider mentioned previously, who advises him that there was drought in sun county. no rain. Fynn knows better than to ask about the harvest there, for nomads find such knowledge contemptible, but understands that the grazing is poor.

Another man, from Swenstown, is asking about a band of kinsman who rode east towards the Paps, via Tourney Altar, in Earth Season last year. No-one has seen them, and the inn-keeper says categorically that they did not arrive - apparently he knew them well.

A fifteen-headed llama broo was slain by the Storm Khan Rexos Stone-Ax last Windsday!

Whilst waiting for the Storm Bulls to arrive, and the caravan to set off again, Jamal and Abul will tour the market. Haggling over trinkets. Maybe engaging in a little good-natured riddling with some of the markets hangers-on, that sort of thing. The market is busy, the caravan merchants taking opportunity to purchase dates from the oasis farmers. In several places are improptu entertainments, and Jamal finds himself drawn to a small crowd gathered around a bearded, balding man who is telling stories. He calls himself Vern.

Most of Vern's stories are puzzling and funny, and plenty of children are gathered around and laughing. He tells one story about Eurmal and Rabbit's Egg, and then starts bantering with the crowd. He catches sight of Jamal and, noting his warrior's gear and Death Rune markings, says to him with a smile: "Here is one for you, warrior:

I am lonely, hacked with steel, wounded by weapons;
the toil of battle has wearied me, swords have worn me out.

Often have I seen war, the rage of battle;
nor do I hope for rest from strife before I die.

Hammered swords have struck me;
hard and sharp of edge, the wrought swords have bitten me;
and even more deadly feud I shall endure.

I can never find a l my leech to heal my wounds with herbs,
but only more mortal blows and deeper wounds each day and night.

Who am I?"

Jamal clears his throat: "That is a good riddle, and I am not certain, but I will say that the answer is my trusty shield. In return here is one for you:

There is a house with 4 walls.
All 4 walls face south.
There is a window in each wall.
At noon a bear walks by one of the windows.
What colour is the bear?"

Vern grins widely and acknowledges Jamal's answer with a great show of hand waving. "Yes, yes" he splutters, "a shield - very good!" But as he listens to Jamal's riddle his face becomes somewhat thoughtful.

"Now that is a tricky one, and it is a good thing that I am so widely travelled, otherwise it might be hard for me. But the answer is plain enough. Your warrior marks single you out as Humakti, and those who know whisper that the Dread Lord is the North Wind. Plainly, then, in the Divine Realm, the world of the Gods, Humakt is Most North, and from his stead everywhere is south. Now I have heard that in the far north of Glorantha, in a land called Fronela, the bears there are all white, better to hide in the snow and ice, so perhaps you think I will say the bear is white. But we have already established that the stead is in the God-World, not in Glorantha, so the bear is not likely to be the fabled White Bear. Instead, I think that this bear is the Alakoring hero Kuros, who fought the Broken Council and quested to learn secrets of war from Humakt. Kuros was descended from the lineage of Odayla, and everyone knows that when turned into a bear he was silver in colour. So I say that your bear is silver."

And he is right.

Vern grins again and giggles. Shooing the children away he cocks his head to one side as he looks at Jamal. "You are one of the warriors guarding our caravan, are you not? Tell you what, as we are equal in riddling, you shall buy me one beer, and I shall buy you another - what say you?"

Jamal grins "I too greet you as in equal in wit. Let us repair to a hostelry to toast each other cleverness" Jamal will try not to get into too heavy a drinking bout, especially as there are undead in the offing, and with that they head for the oasis’ inn, where they find Fynn.

Malan is asked by Brenna to acquire supplies - mainly food and water - for the legion's march to the next oasis - four days away. He does some of this business in the oasis market, but before long has met a local trader who offers him better deals 'round the back'.

The trader, Shrev, leads Malan down several streets, away from the caravanseri market and into the older part of town. The buildings here are built of mudbrick and plastered white, giving them a clean, almost majestic look that is slightly incongruous with the rest of the oasis. The trader, like many of the oasis folk at Tourney Altar, appears used to dealing with Humakti and comfortable in their presence - quite unusual when compared to the reactions Malan is used to eliciting. Still, he has kept closed mouthed for the short journey until he says, quietly, proudly: "My home."

Shrev's house, like the others, is built on several stories. A pair of wooden doors lead slightly downwards from the street into a large space with a low ceiling. Several mules are stabled here, and bundles and pots of various goods lie stacked around on the earthen floor. The trader shows Malan up a flight of narrow stairs to the living area of the house, shouting above to warn the womenfolk that a strange man is entering the house, and calling for guest-drinks. The humakti is conducted to a cool, well lit room with low seating where he is offered refreshments. On the floors above, Malan knows, are the men's sleeping quaters, and on the top floor the women's. Shrev and he engage in a little small-talk over the drinks before getting down to negotiations.

The dickering is going well, with almost all of the supplies being agreed upon. Malan has also been offered carpets, stuffed mules, and various trinkets commemorating a visit to Tourney Altar at reasonable prices, and has managed to avoid agreeing to any purchase without giving offence. The trader is beginning to talk furtively about Truestone when a women appears to replenish the jug of fruit juice. "My daughter," says Shrev.

That the woman is beautiful is obvious, despite the veil she wears. Her movements are sinuous and graceful, and her eyes - which are all of her that are visible, for even her hands are gloved in traditional style - sparkle with flirtatious amusement. Malan is so taken with her that for a moment he almost fails to realise that she is adorned with not one but several death runes, wearing them on chains around her neck, and even one mounted on a ring worn over the glove on her right hand. There is also the unmistakable whiff of garlic about her.

Malan inquires about the death runes and garlic. "These are charms againts those who have chosen the undeath. Have any such been sighted in these parts?"

Shrev blanches and mutters a few short words that send his daughter retreating from the room, flustered.

For a moment Shrev casts about, trying to avoid this topic of conversation, but Malan's impassive stare leaves him floundering. "Well," he says weakly, "I don't know anything of that sir, it is merely a custom of the women here, to wear such things."

Malan is fairly certain the man is - if not lying - then at least presenting a flexible interpretation of the truth. He concludes his business and heads back to the others as he doesn't think Shrev is going to answer any more questions. As he is leaving the house he catches a glimpse of a woman staring at him from behind a screen of latticed woodwork. There is a cry of "Aisha!" and suddenly she is gone.

But Malan has seen her face. And she smiled at him.

Malan returns to the temple with a strange look in his eye. For the rest of his stay at the oasis he keeps an eye out for the daughter in case he meets her somewhere else in the oases, but isn't too hopeful and is somewhat depressed about this.

Herric returns to the gathering hall, looking haggard and wild-eyed. No longer does he sport short grey hair. It is now pure white and is tied back in a pony tail that falls to the middle of his back. Eyes once a warm hazel, are now an icy grey. His voice is a dusty rasp as he calls for drink, "I have stared into the depths of Truth and it stares back." He shudders and downs his mug in one long draught. He calls for another and food to go with it.

Herric rubs a hand across his eyes and begins to eat as a man long starved. He waves off any questions, speaking only to call for more food and drink.

An hour passes and Herric sighs, sated at last. The remains of a huge meal lie about him and the intensity he seemed to possess when he entered the hall has dimmed. He cocks an eyebrow as if hearing a distant call, he stands, and turns toward the hall door.

Moments later Kyrenna Deathshadow, with warband following closely, marches into the hall. Herric steps forward and greets her Sword to Sword. He quickly takes her in tow to the Lord of the Temple, impatient to be done with his duties here. In the temple sanctum they complete the rite that transfers the office of Temple Sword from Herric to Deathshadow.

After the Ritual of Transference, before Herric returns to the mess, Deathshadow takes him to one side. She thanks him for honouring her blade with his blood, and says that she brings news she hopes will repay him.

"I have come from the sanctuary of Death's Hallow, in the lands of the Culbrea tribe. The Warleader there had a vision, this past sacred time, of a grim-visaged warrior tall as a giant, striding amongst lunar soldiers and felling them with his breath. They cowered and fled before him, running straight into a river and drowning there. Herric, he recognised you as that warrior, and he says that you fought outside the walls of Pavis and that the river was the Zola Fell. He asked me to tell you of this vision he had, and to tell you to heed the God's fate - seek your destiny in Pavis."

With that she departs to pay her respects to the temple Warleader.

After another hour, Herric returns. There are fresh bloodstains on his clothing and a healing bruise on his forehead, though he appears otherwise unhurt. The chain of duty that identified him as the Tourney Altar Sword no longer adorns his neck. It is obvious that the Rite of Transfer has taken place. His is step lighter, unburdened of duties at long last. He takes drink with the Deathshadow's warband and asks for news from the West. Hrolf joins him.

Deathshadow's warriors are road-weary, but they give an account of how things stand in the west. In Heortland the Lunar Empire is near victory, they think. Certainly there have been no great successes on the parts of the defenders. Hrolf and the others can confirm this, having returned from the fighting there recently.

Other than that the invaders behave with their usual stupidity in Sartar - raising taxes which can't be paid, on things that shouldn't be taxed but instead honour the gods. They persecute worship of gods and observance of customs that link the clans to their wyters and people to their wyrds. They interfere in law, and the worst judges grant indulgence to their friends, leaving even secret murder and rape unpunished whilst sending innocents to Dorastor. The best prosecute those offering the traditional gifts to judges on charges of corruption - though how a Lunar judge can be exposed to chaos through the gift of an Orlanthi is a mystery that can never be explained.

Now Dorinda, Herric, Hrolf & Aelfwyrd are sitting at the mess table, and with them are Valens and Maniskus.

Deathshadow's warriors occupy most of the space - the temple is very much theirs now. Most are of the Culbrea tribe, and they already have raised a ram alongside Deathshadow's black and white standard. Deathshadow herself has come to join the outgoing sword, and with Dori, Hrolf and Aelfwyrd, is discussing recent events at the temple. She impressed by the account of Herric's duel, but not at all impressed with the idea of Yanafali actually laying claim to Tourney Altar.

"That Count should be marked," she says grimly. "They must learn that they cannot impinge on holy places with impunity. He should be challenged for his impiety by every Humakti he meets, until one is good enough to bring him down..."

Oddus and Elnor approach the group and Elnor speaks bluntly. "My lord Herric, Oddus and I would know whether you head east with these folks. For if you will, then we will follow, and if you will not, we will follow elsewhere." This is tantamount to offering themselves as leige-men and is a sign of great respect.

Herric clasps Elnor's shoulder with smiling eyes, "Long has it been since I've heard such words and they are pleasing to the ear! I tell you now that Humakt guides me, though I do not know fully his mind and goal. My heart is glad to have companions such as you on my journey. I must return to the Walls of Pavis. I see no reason not to accompany these other warriors, though I'll not speak any mercenary vow till I take their measure and better discern Humakt's will. Let us drink to the road ahead!"

Vern, Abdu and Jamal have retired to the only inn town, where Fynn is currently holding court. The place is moderately full and busy, but most with outsiders. The few oasisfolk present seem to keep pretty much to themselves.

Jamal hails the inn-keep and calls for ale for himself and Vern and juice for the boy Abul. Then he turns to Vern and starts to engage him in conversation. Once Fynn becomes aware of Verns presence he finishes the songs, collects up any spare change and goes over to talk. Since Fynn is of the same profession, though bound to the Legion at this time, he talks as lore-talker to lore-talker. Fynn is particularly interested to find out if the man worships the same God that he does. When Fynn hears that the man has been asking riddles in the market-place he feels the slightest shadow of concern, as all do when faced with itinerant riddlers, and pays more care to the mans comments. Vern nods graciously at Fynn as the piper approaches, and bids him sit. "Welcome minstrel," he says.

"Tell me sir," says Jamal. "You carry yourself as a man well travelled man of wit and learning. And such a man would normally have an interesting story to tell, from whence do you hail and what brings you to this place"

"Well, as I have said, Vern is my name. I was born in Nochet and for a while I was a student at the great library there. But the dust on the shelves eventually gets into the joints of those who stay long, and as I wished to retain the free use of my limbs, I left. I'd spent so much time reading of far-off lands that actually seeing them came as something of a shock to me, and I have remained in a state of wonderment eversince. I've travelled from the Holy Country up to Saird, and now my feet are leading me the long way to Pavis, I think. I've heard that there are wonders there that must be seen, and perhaps a living for a story-teller and a man who knows this and that. I've been travelling with Efridel's caravan, yet I'm not suprised we have not met until now, for the caravan is large and you have your duties."

Other than his cloak, which though plain is apparently new, Vern's clothing is old and ragged, and he appears to have not much other than a sleeping bundle that he carries with him. He is middle-aged, and has a fine beard down to his waist, whilst his hair falls loose to his shoulders. He appears to be nothing other than what he claims to be - a wandering story-teller and lore-master.

"Now, you know that part of my work is to spread news, so this is one reason - apart from the enjoyment of your good company - for asking you for this drink together. If you would tell me the story of this morning's duel, I will answer any question that you might have for free - and if I do not know the answer then you may ask me another question."

"I will gladly tell you the story of the way that the Darra Happan scum was humiliated in the arena of battle"

At this Jamal recounts the story so far, from the initial meeting in the Mess Hall, through the throwing of insults, the preparation of the Champions (although he will gloss over the details of the actual ritual). He will go in depth into the short but effective dismissal of Anthippus. Eventually he will wrap up the tale with the details of the Anthippus' dressing down by the Lunar priestess and the parties exit from the Tourney Altar.

After this, Jamal takes a long draft from his ale tankard.

"As we will be leaving this place soon, and the chaos dangers comming seem to be strong. Could you tell me what you know of the lore of the Wounded God, and also if you know anything of the specific danger we face?"

"Well now boys," he says, "I'll tell you one thing for free - you've made an enemy there, and I'd watch it in future should you come across him. But as for your question, well, I know a little of the Wounded God... let me see."

"Well, the Wounded God is the name given to Vivamort by the lords of Carmania, no? They who 'rule the mountain fastness from castles stern' and 'drain the blood of the peasantry' - and for once no-one is talking about taxes, eh? But of course you know this." Vern looks thoughtful for a second.

"I'll tell you honestly, I know little of the secret lore of vampires - the usual things are said; vampires cast no reflections, they can eat no meat nor drink, they cannot stand the sun. To kill a vampire, cut off the head, drive a death rune through the heart, burn the corpse, scatter the ashes in running water, and then pray it doesn't come back. Who knows if these things are true? All that can be done is to try it and see."

"But I will tell you this. Vampires grow more terrible with age. Delecti has survived since the Empire of the Wyrm Friends - remember the stories told of his power. There is a Carmanian lord, Abubakker Saif al Rachman, who has held his fiefdom for over 400 years. It is known that he took to the field with his army in broad view of Yelm, worked mighty meldek magic, and slew a horde of the enemy, and drank their blood. It is said that Abubakker wears a death rune necklace around his own neck to show his contempt for weakness. What can be done against a monster like that?"

Vern shrugs, "I shall tell you the story of Vivamort too, as I have told you little of consequence."

"Vivamort was a Darkness spirit of the labyrinthine halls and ways of Hell, placed there to stand eternal guard over the Terrible Secret. But Vivamort was curious about what the secret was, and when Eurmal crept into Hell, Vivamort betrayed his trust to learn the secret. There they discovered Death. Vivamort aided Eurmal again when he and Humakt came to carry Death to the surface world, helping them past Death-hound and Bimbaros, Hell's porter. Vivamort knew that all those slain would come to his realm once their souls had met Death.

"Grandfather Mortal was the first to die and the first to come to Vivamort. He also was the first to understand Vivamort's soul-greedy treachery, and great hatred stood between the two. When the Sun later came to Hell, Vivamort was burned and had to flee, hurt and disfigured, to the now-darkened surface. (When the Sun learned of Vivamort's role in the release of Death, he sent curses upon him.)

Reaching the surface, Vivamort sheltered for a while with Mallia, Mother of Disease, trading secrets of Darkness and Death. He stalked the world for Power. As he went, he learned more of Death, and began to fear what he had unleashed, for he recognised Chaos as an extension of Death. The knowledge froze him with terror.

"Soon the Devil attacked and wounded him. The wound would not heal, and his Power drained out thru it to the Void. Vivamort faced not just death, but annihilation from this chaos wound. Since he wished above all to preserve himself and his vile deeds, he begged help from his chaos foes and made evil pacts with them.

"The Devil allowed him a hollow existence. Vivamort was cut off from the Unity of Glorantha, and from the universal flow of Power, and cast apart from both Life and Death. From that agreement onwards, Vivamort would need to drain life from others and embrace Chaos. Faced with complete annihilations or acting as an agent of entropy, he chose the latter out of pride and fear.

"Some say that he found this new manner of existence acceptable, because of the determination with which he took up the cause of Chaos, roaring through the Great Darkness. He used his demonic abilities to rip Power from the harried gods, and soon he was able to destroy totally. Vivamort slowly gained allies, and he made others like himself. Once, Vivamort and his Undead allies caught Arroin and broke his spirit, but could not kill him.

"News of Vivamort and his transformation reached Hell, there carried by spirits whom he had attacked but not annihilated. Many there cursed him then: the Sun's curse came into effect; Ty Kora Tek, Queen of the Dead, was incensed when Vivamort stole souls who were hers, and she set the Earth against him; the River Styx heard of Vivamort's betrayal and swore he never would cross her waters again, and to this day a drop from the Styx will destroy any vampire it touches. All the waters of the material world followed Styx's vow, and they remain a prime enemy of Vivamort. Since then Vivamort has had to live in secret, and has learned to live in shadows. Only rarely are his followers powerful enough to stand forth unabashedly - such a one is Abubakker."

Vern kicks back and sups his beer. "It's amazing the stuff you remember. I must have read that story thirty years ago."

Fynn asks what gods Vern follows, and he replies that he is a devotee of Lhankhor Mhy and Chernan the Seeker.

"Excellent," saya Jamal. "I had heard tell of lords such as Abubakker Saif al Rachman of whom you speak, though few flaunt their condition but in my country. I also know little of the cults of this area. Lhankhor Knowing, he is a seeker of truth yes ? Idovanus blesses those who light the path away from falsehood, and thus I salute you. Let us swap stories of our homelands so that we may become better aquainted"

"Yes, Carmanian," says Vern. "Lhankhor Mhy is the God of Knowledge, and Chernan the Seeker is the aspect of Him that seeks knowledge and truth. So, you see, in this way I am able to retain my devotion to Lhankhor Mhy without growing old in a library, far from the sun's light. Chernan leads me here and there, to learn what can be learned, and find what can be found."

"As to a story of my homeland - which is the city of Nochet - what would you know?"

Fynn smiles with the pleasure of reminiscing. "That Lore Temple in Nochet is an incredible building. I have never seen anywhere that can rival its Great Hall. I watched the Midnight Rekindling there 7 years back last winter; that ceremony where the Senior Staff reenact the return of the light of knowledge. Then I followed the procession through the streets where they lead the hundred torches of knowledge and the crowd all follow on holding up candles and singing 'Peace And Wisdom'." Then Fynn quietly sings Peace And Wisdom, the rallying song of the people of Nochet.

"And of course you just have to end up in the Round The Back for apple brandy as dawn come up.
Hey, do you know, Cherry and Willow the twins who serve table there...... "

As Fynn starts singing the words of 'Peace and Wisdom' Vern looks momentarily amazed, then slightly cynical, as though he has long since dismissed of the words as naive nonsense. But as Fynn sings on a speculative look comes to Vern's eye, and it is almost with surprise that he finds himself singing along by the end.

"You know," he says when the song is done, "when we were apprentices we thought that song trite and foolish. Yet after all these years I hear it in a foreign land from a foreign voice, and I find such truth and beauty in it. We should have listened harder - but that is ever the way of young men, I fear."

The Round the Back he knows well, although the twins must be from after his time. He then launches into an earnest discussion of why the apple brandy in Nochet is so good. He maintains that it is because the makers have learned special secrets from the Babeester Gori liquor makers that make a drink far more potent than the Minlister-inspired stuff (or 'swill', as he puts it) of Apple Lane.

"By the way, have you lot tried the liquor they make from dates in this oasis? So far as I can tell it goes back before the Dawn Age, and is the earliest association of Tourney Altar with Death - hee hee hee."

So far as Fynn can tell, this is a Nochet man born and bred, and with his savoir-faire working, Fynn knows they are going to be great friends...

By the evening several more of the party have joined those at the inn, as Malan and Hrolf arrive. Malan tells them of his encounter with the trader Shrev.

When Fynn hears Malan's news, he thinks back to earlier visits to Tourney Altar trying to recall if he remembers seeing garlic, crosses and other defenses against vampires on display before. Fynn can't really recall seeing that many womenfolk of Tourney Altar in his previous visits. They tend to be locked up safe and sound, which is, on reflection, one of the things he's always disliked about the place. Death runes are a common enough feature of the town, unsuprising given it's associations, and garlic grows locally.... but this doesn't really tell him anything.

In breaks between the drinking songs Fynn takes the opportunity to ask the staff about this old local tradition of death runes and garlic, they look at him curiously. "Well, we're not exactly local," says the innkeeper. "And as for the garlic, well... people have been talking about what happened at the temple..."

When Fynn turns to look for some oasis folk to ask, he discovers that they have finished their drinks and slipped out of the door...

"Malan, your story troubles me," says Hrolf. "I once heard that in places like the Lunar Empire, vampires dominate entire towns from behind the scenes. If the locals are protecting their daughters with garlic and death runes, why don't the protect themselves? Have they bought another form of protection? Perhaps the vampires that the Warleader set out to defeat are much closer than we realize.

We also don't know the reason why the Lunar Ritual failed. Remember that it appeared that they had at least 2 persons of power in their group, and overall were probably much closer to their gods than we were. Now, it's possible that Humakt helped us for our sake (or for the Temple's more likely), but in my mind 2 other possibilities stick out.

One is that those two shady characters who left early - Kell and Sarostal I think they were called - had something to do with the Lunar failure. Another, more disturbing possibility is that the vampires decided they would rather deal with a small group of embattled and wounded Humakti than a large group of well supported Lunars."

There is much discussion amongst the party as to whether they should hunt down the undead, or whether they should attend to their caravan duties.
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