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Our heroes encounter another unexpected peril on their very doorstep...


The scream of warning inside their heads is so faint that they it takes them a moment to realise that they have passed to the edges of where their ancestral guardian Riantha can protect them. The scream which follows is altogether different, more immediate, more real, the deafening pain shooting through their heads, and coming from a being of an utterly different nature, the outrage still discernible in the cry.

Not a moment passes before Aren and Vizz are winded by shields thudding into them from their midrifs as a horde of small figures barrel down the tunnel into them, clubs flying at their legs beneath the shields. Only the light cast by the flaming alynx gives the Exiles a moment to see what is what as the dozen or so figures before them pause, covering their eyes.

This was no mere natural cavern: there are no such things in the Far Place - spirits, ghosts, denizens of the dark, gnomes, darkmen, mostali, and other unknown inhumans crawled and dug within the rocks and soil and each had history and dark desires. Vizz knew this and it put him on edge. He had had enough adventures, and survived, to trust his sense of danger.

Expecting a demon or, at the very least, hell salmon to surge from the water he gripped his ten foot pole firmly and tensed his muscles.

The small assailants took him by surprise, they seemed to have appeared from out of the darkness with remarkable speed. They were gaunt creatures, with skinny bodies like those of a starved nine year old, but with grey skin that appeared, semi-translucent like ancient parchment. Their gruesome countenance consisted of bat like ears, a mouth filled with small but sharp and gruesome looking fangs, like those of a stoat, a few long straggly hairs on their otherwise bald scalps, but above all - their eyes - the horror of their eyes!

The pole was too long for effective thwacking, in the confined of the tunnel. Vizz used it as a spear, ramming its end into the hip of one assailant, tripping another, and blocking the thirds flailing cudgel.

Vizz was glad Volle was not with him - subterranean escapades were not something he was keen on, and it was a practice that Vizz himself knew was contrary to the laws of long life in the gors and gallt.


As the stalactites pummel the unfortunate demon, it lets out a bellow of anger and anguish. A particularly large stalactite hits it squarely on the head and the grotesque body sinks to the ground.

Silverquill emerges from the water and approaches the demon. He quickly realizes that the fiend won't stay down for long. A minute or two if he is lucky...

The small duck turns to the prone body of Morith and checks it for signs of life. Relieved to see that Morith is still breathing, Silverquill quickly drags the heavy human towards the river. Once in the water, the small duck grabs hold of Morith's neck and pulls him rapidly along. As the roof of the cave meets the river, Silverquill increases his pace and drags the unconscious tribesman with him underwater as quickly as possible.

Spotting the small cave ahead where humans can breathe, the duck sage surfaces and drags Morith up on the small bank. Checking the human for signs of life, Silverquill is worried when he notices that the trip seems to have worsened his condition.

"I will have to leave you here for the moment", Silverquill whispers. "But I'll weturn soon. I pwomise."

Checking that Morith is hidden from view as you swim along, Silverquill retrieves the shortsword and globe that he stashed in Morith's clothes and plunges back into the cold water again.

Quickly swimming the short distance back again, the duck sage pokes his head up and looks around for his companions.


Taking their blows in his stride Aren, his mind already focused on the cloud fire, takes a step back from the small figures and rises his lightning encased hand to light the scene. The figures drop their eyes to avoid being dazzled by the sudden light, but one, attempting to flee in terror, is brutally smashed down by a hulking figure behind. Seeing their confusion and deadly intent, Aren wastes no time stabbing at them with a lightning-fast strike through Blazer, skewering one beneath him while the remaining trollkin, for in the brief brilliance of the light, he can now see them for what they are, slips at it is pushed backwards, dropping its club and turning to scramble away and lie on the side of the tunnel as if dead.

Vizz is less fortunate, however. Shoved backwards by a barge of interlocked shields below his centre of gravity, he finds himself lifted momentarily before falling through two of the shields to land, weaponless, on the ground.

Quickly assessing the situation, Gyffun unsheathes his sword and unwraps his precious harp, which springs eagerly into the air with a fierce clash of chords. Unwilling to risk injuring his comrades by rushing forward to engage the enemy, the skald decides to wait for the diminutive assailants to come to him, while making his own inimitable contribution to the battle in progress. Lifting up his voice in a wordless song, he is immediately joined by the stirring tones of his magical instrument. Theirs is a mighty song, firmly rooted in an implacable rhythm and extending its subtle harmonies out over the defenders in a great canopy of sound, blocking out for a moment the scream which cuts at their brains. The towering and majestic melody fills the hearts of his comrades with courage, while sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of their foes.

Hearing the new note of uncertaintly in his opponents' inarticulate battle cry, the skald is quick to press home the advantage. With the effortless skill of a consummate musician, he introduces a subtle hint of menace into the song of unyielding strength. As doubts blossom into fear in the unwitting imagination of the trollkin, their fragile courage evaporates and many turn to flee. Even the hulking figure that looms behind them, angrily swiping at the demoralised enlo, seems unable to stiffen their resolve, but then a darkness, the source of the scream, flies forward from where it was beaten back by gyffun's sweeter song, hurling dust into the air and deafening all before it.

Gyffun's harp, enveloped in a cloud of darkness, screams in a resonant agony. Then, drawing strength from the skald's unrelenting song, the magical instrument stifles its scream and counters with a new series of chords, which fiercely declare its undaunted defiance. Still twisting with eloquent pain, the harp shudders violently, and its normally smooth veneer suddenly bristles with thorns. Gyffun feels his sister-harp's pain and reaches out to her with his spare hand, ignoring the barbs that catch at his flesh, to steady her resolve with a reassuring touch. Several of the strings snap, lashing Gyffun's hand to draw blood and he can feel the frame of his beloved instrument ready to split within his grasp.

Gritting his teeth, the skald tightens his grip, forcing the sharp thorns deeper into the palm of his hand. His blood flows freely onto the ailing harp now, which absorbs it hungrily and seems to ripple with guilty pleasure. Drawing renewed strength from this life-gift, the instrument sounds its defiance with a discordant yelp. As the darkness engulfs them, Gyffun and sister are joined together in blood and pain, just managing to hold their own - although the cost to them both is clear.

"Egads! I've fallen down - get these pesky dark kin off of me! Yelp!" comes a voice from beneath a squirm of trollkin and drawing Aren's lightning fast attack down upon them. The tangle of limbs confuses him, for he cannot be sure he will not strike Vizz, so he prods hesitantly at the trollkin, getting no purchase until one of them rolls on top of his spear and prevents him from striking them.


Vurth peers down the mysterious opening, through which he can see the occasional glimmer of light and the murmur of indistinct voices. Hmm, he thinks .. hole is tiny and Vurth is big but just then the volume from the other end cranks up several notches and Vurth decides that this is no time to be thinking. Besides .. where has thinking ever got him before? Best not to start bad habits. Klanth first, he crawls into the tunnel, ignoring the pain from the occasional jutting rock and slowly wiggles his way to where the uproar originates.

Finally he reaches the entrance to the tunnel just as several events happen. A sudden burst of light dazzles his now dark sensitive eyes, strident music clashes with discordant screaming and a voice shouts something about ‘down here but watch the mustache.’

Just then, with a mighty whoosh, two seething masses of darkness race past him at the sources of light. One swoops down upon the Fire Alynx, bowling the creature over, hissing and spitting, smothering its light and casting the tunnel into gloom. The other flies at Blazer, Aren's spear, crackling as it makes contact with the haft, a grinding sound screaming out as the darkness chews at the metal.

Disoriented by this activity, but sensing immediately that this is an Uz thing, Vurth stumbles over a small figure crouched before him and falls forward at the opposite wall of the tunnel, only just keeping his footing as things begin to turn really dark...


Dismissed by Riantha, Faren hurried towards the village centre, noting Vurth hurrying that way from another angle. Faren calls out to the Storm Bull, but to no avail. Faren finally comes into the central square from between buildings, but can't see the Storm Bull anywhere. "Where's Vurth?"

"Down that hole, off to fight the demon."

"Oh, right then. A demon you say?" A moment's reflection tells Faren that there is probably not time to think this through properly. He sighs, and mutters "At least stones give a man time to think." Without further ado, he starts descending the hole.

A small time, but a substantial disheveling, later, Faren almost bumps into Vurth's backside—only the flickering light from his sparks alerted him in time to avoid most likely becoming Klanth Kebab. Somewhat to Faren's aggravation Vurth still seems to be ignoring him, and the farmer knows better than to tap a storm bull on the shoulder!

Then Vurth passes through the hole, and Faren can hear the unholy din that had apparently covered his approach.


As the skald clings feebly to his tortured harp, the nerve-shattering scream and smothering darkness that harry them become almost unbearable. Though his song of strength still sustains him, it seems powerless to cut through or drown out his enemy's ceaseless howl. For a long moment he cowers there, entombed within that inky blackness. Then, grinning like a man possessed, he finds the inspiration that he seeks and his whirling thoughts slip into sharp focus.

The passage of time slows abruptly to a crawl. A flash of light, which pierces briefly through the darkness as Aren blasts his foe with yet another bolt of lightning, seems to creep across Gyffun's consciousness like a wave of honey. The pain from his thorn-torn palm grows numb, until all that he can feel is the impossibly slow rhythm of his own pulse. Even the raucous din of battle is attenuated, indistinguishable at this pace from the lingering music of his own voice and that of the still-keening instrument in his hand.

Feeling almost weightless, suspended, the skald slips blissfully into that state of synaesthesia that he had first experienced in the presence of his divine patron. Now the myriad collisions of sense and perception take on a new pattern, one that he unhesitatingly seizes upon with the sure instincts of a born song-smith. If this black screaming horror will deny his music its conventional expression, he muses, then let that music find a new voice, one that the darkness abhors...


"That Darn Cat!" thinks Aren as he watches the darkness' jaws close round his spear.

Normally he would take the time and vanquish the Darkness before him. But not now with Friend in danger he does not muck about. Gritting he teeth against the pain he send a bolt of lighting down the shaft of the spear. The darkness thrashes about on the end of his spear before dissipating into the gloom with a desperate groan.

At the other end of the tunnel one of the Darkmen grunts with surprise and stands there stunned with the wax running slowly out of his ears.


The world around Gyffun lurches back into motion with dizzying suddenness, but he is already drawing breath to embark upon his new performance. Although no sound emerges from his throat, the subtle music of his exhalation is more potent than he dared to hope. As his soundless song explodes into the blackness like a pyrotechnic display, the skald gives full voice to his creation, which unfurls like a cascade of whirling coloured ribbons.

To the dark presence that surrounds the skald, however, these slender polychromatic intrusions act like sinuous razors, opening up great rents in its tenebrous substance and transmuting its scream of rage into a pitiful shriek of pain. The harp, unerringly following her brother's lead, picks up the rhythm of his visual composition with an bloodthirsty urgency all of her own. Now the prismatic knives whirl with wild abandon, shredding the darkness in an orgy of destruction.

Now the skald's song seems to take on a life of its own, dazzling the onlookers with its radiant harmonies, pummelling the cowering darkness with its brilliant cadences until it can take no more, and turns to flee. Sensing something of this shadow-thing's importance now, Gyffun is conscious that he must do more than merely send it whimpering for the solace of its lair: he must conquer it utterly.

At this moment a series of images come unbidden into his mind: a pale queen in a cold palace, an Uz hunter patiently working in the snow with his lead knife and a solitary figure made of ice standing upon a hill. Drawing back from his first instinct, and the savage impulses that radiate from his disembodied twin, Gyffun chooses a different course. Catching up the now-pathetic thing and holding it quavering on the brink of annihilation, he shares a glimpse of the final image with the defeated darkness spirit, offering it a stark choice: oblivion or servitude. To meet its end now... or bind itself to his will by entering the ice enlo.


All at once, Aren's legs are pounded by a flurry of blows as the terrifying scream fades to a whimper. Gathering strength from Gyffun's victory and from beating the darkness which gnaws at his spear, he readies himself to meet the new foe. Once again, however, he finds the darkness thing, which he thought he had sent scurrying, latches on to his spear, slowing it down as it seeks purchase. The spear in his hand is unwieldy, slowed by the elemental darkness sapping its energies, swallowing the sparks with great greedy gulps as Aren now, beset from all quarters it seems, finds he can see no more, for all light has vanished from the tunnel.

It is all that Aren can do to keep off the blows from below; one club strikes his kneecap and he knocks it away only to find another scraping down his shin. Jumping back, another whacks his calf, the pain creeping slowly through his leg as he tries to still the rising panic. But suddenly the panic gives him strength as he remembers how remembering how Orlanth fought the darkness and he shakes it off as if it is nothing. With horror, as his eyes show him what is about him once again, he sees Blazer's lighning fizzling out, being eating by the other darkness thing, the tin of his spear turning grey as if a living but disease-ravaged creature.


"All is lost! Wun away! Wun away!" Bobbing up in the stream and quickly taking stock of the situation, Silverquill quacks loudly in Darktongue, hoping that the panicky trollkin will hear him and scarper. His efforts to speak in a foreign tongue, especially one requiring such controlled breathing, send him underwater for a good while and he sputters as he surfaces, out of breath and more confused than when he resurfaced.

Then comes a loud PLOP beside him, as Lodi dives into the waters, swimming away like a fish and, fire creature that he is, setting the the water fit to boiling. Life is becoming very uncomfortable for the sage - oh for the fine velvet cushions of the Library!


Faren recognizes Uz cries when he hears them, so although light might make him a target, it might also be a useful weapon...

"Yavor grant me the favor of your gift, that I can help my clan," Faren mutters as he quickly crawls through the hole, then points Ash-Not-Plough towards the nearest dark mass. Concentrating, he calls on Ash-not-plow and his own sparks to join into the blinding flash that he hopes to get from his god.

Vurth stumbles over several Enlo. Cursed things seemed to be purposely crawling about on the ground trying to trip him up. He is vaguely aware of Faren, who he had noted behind him as he entered the tunnel, now exiting the tunnel behind him so he positions himself to protect his entry. He also spots several hulking figures that seem to be more interested in the goings on further down the tunnel. He also take time to stabilize himself and cast his battle magics.

Faren has almost totally shut his eyes in anticipation of the flash, but through slitted lids he has picked up a brief impression of a chaotic brawl, with a total number of figures well in excess of the number of his probable clan mates. A few of them may have been grabbing at their eyes, and none seemed to be in mid-leap towards him yet.

The voice of his Havren hectoring the fyrd suddenly comes to his mind "The main job of the stinking fyrd is to keep clear the bloody lines of retreat for those of us doing the real blasted fighting!"

"Right then," he thinks. "Since I'm at the tunnel entrance, and my sparks should show up, best to stay right here and make sure the others can find their way here if need be." With that he makes sure that his back is close to the stone, his spear is pointed out, and his shield is where it can do the most good. Of course, once settled, he can't help thinking "It would be good to have a bit of a barrier to fight behind - how would I build one?"

Vurth blinks as a sudden flash comes from behind him clearly illuminating the area. The Enlo stop their squirming for the moment and utter shrieks of dismay, giving Vurth the time he needs to plant his feet, cast his spells and target two larger Trolls in the near area (one with wax running from his ears, Vurth notices with mild curiousity).

Klanth held high and staring to swing in an accelerating arc Vurth last coherent statement is to shout at Faren over his shoulder words to the effect of 'try and keep that light on, willya?!'.

With that, Vurth invokes the fury of his patron and heads towards the two larger trolls pausing only briefly to slice and dice any Enlo that care to get in his way.

Somewhere, a voice in the back of his mind can be heard muttering "Honestly... there he goes again. I best get over there to sort him out when its all over." Momentarily distracted, he stumbles, once more, upon the trollkin who had been trying to keep the fearsome hooman at bay.

In his holy rage, he doesn't even notice that the floor of this tunnel has come alive...


Back near the water's edge, Vizz braces himself against that same rocky floor. Many a time he has overburdened himself with loot, plunder, tradegoods, as have most wandering traders. Trollkin, though, are not a normal trade item, at least among humans, being too wriggly, too heavy and altogether too inconvenient. By dint of his muscular might he gives himself just enough space to get air in his lungs and begins uttering an incantation that he cannot remember remembering, and cannot understand, but knows it is a curse of blue death:

Bina Bang, Bina Bang,
Binag Bina Bang
Sheeg etsab oorl
Sheed Uz fukkorl
Binag Bina Bang!

Now, Bina Bang is the troll who persuades the trolls to accept the light of the moon by mastering Lord Lurker in Shadows. Vizz has been inspired, perhaps by a fear of the dark or perhaps by being sat upon by trollkin, to use his esoteric knowledge of Annilla Mythology to scare the bejesus out of the trollkin.

And it works! Or it makes them pause for thought at least...


In the momentary silence which interrupts the festival of sound and light that these humans have brought into an underworld not so far from their home, a gentle sizzle can be heard from the electric discharges which have seared flesh and exploded in elemental defiance of the resident darkness. Magical forces have been brought from the world above down into the depths, casting acrid clouds of poisonous fumes into the faces of the combatants, stealing the little air to which these underworld denizens are heir.

They might wonder, these humans, when last their foe met folk such as they. They might wonder if these darkmen were friend to their ancestors, or, as now, foe. Did they ever meet? Are these the descendants of the darkmen who allied themselves with Lanolf Uzfriend when the Danlarnii first came from distant Balazar, or were their ancestors' allies driven out, much as they were? Given a moment, these humans might wonder at the origins of the cavern which gave them passage to this other world. They might wonder how they would respond to an invasion upon their stead from beneath - indeed, they would not need to remember well to remember, for once already have they defended their stead from a raider horde.

They might wonder too how Lanolf Uzfriend, wielder of Yavor's spears, ever made allies among those for whom his calling was anathema. Was it burning fire and blinding light he offered them, or did he promise to burn up their air, stealing from them something of which they had little, in return for ephemeral pain? Was he of Air or was he of Fire? And these new invaders, bearers of Yavor's Lightning, bringing now creatures of Fire beneath yet owing pious fealty to Air, what of them? Do they do this for a reason or are they, cast out from their home, clutching desperately at the little power which they still possess?

Fortunately for our story, our heroes have little time to ponder such enormities for, having broken through into another world, they find the forces of darkness arrayed against them. It is but a moment between the Harp of Thorns' triumphant chord and her echoed daughter in which such matters might be considered, and each of the Exiles must look to hold on to the thread of their lives.

In that instant, the rush of multitudinous click and manifold crack of the chitinous motion of some new defender goes unnoticed. Longthinking, steady Faren, oblivious to the danger at his feet, concerns himself with preserving a way out for his clanfolk while Vurth casts off his newfound responsibility, seeking the joy of enemies vanquished, whatever their mettle.

Only Silverquill, beloved of the children of his adoptive clan yet a step removed from its higher concerns, notices one of his flock diving into the waters and turning them to steam. Vizz, perhaps wondering if he should have listened more to Oshana, finds he has a purchase on the little Uz at the least, while Aren, his vision cleared, sees Friend, his new companion, burning more brightly but reluctant to enter the fray. Gyffun, meanwhile, his attention directed at the remnants of the spirit which he has captured twixt finger and thumb, is taxed by the stream of weak sounds which it emits as it transforms itself into a large, pale grub.


Shaking with frustrated rage and swaying slightly as waves of violent emotion continue to strike him from the harp, Gyffun holds the pathetic creature which he has defeated at arm's length and jabs at it viciously with the point of its sword.

"Heed my words, maggot!" he snarls. "Call off your dark kin and parley while you still can. I would rather not be your enemy, but believe me when I say: we shall destroy them if you will not yield! Yield!" he repeats, in Darktongue. "Call off the attack now or meet your end!"

The loathsome thing struggles feebly in his hand and makes pathetic mewling noises, but Gyffun holds it tight and presses it harder. Determined to make it understand him and to convey his meaning to its kin, the skald transmutes his words into images that paint the terrible consequences of its refusal. When at last it seems to relent, he resists the temptation to relax, maintaining the pressure until he is certain that it has passed on his message to the attackers.

This certainty comes in the form of a palpable mood shift in the trollkin, many of them already cowering in terror at what has gone before, and a momentary pause in the larger figures who fight at their backs. Seizing upon this evidence in eager triumph, Gyffun lowers his sword and lets out his breath in a sigh of relief.

"There, maggot," he comments, with a cocky smile. "That wasn't so hard, now was it?"

The thing in his hand is silent, however, and its feeble struggles grow ever weaker. Only then does it occur to the skald that his message, however well it has been conveyed, might have fallen upon deaf ears. As the sounds of struggle resume and the flashes of light from his companions illuminate a scene of unabated conflict, the skalds heart sinks. Then he senses a new threat approaching and hears a sound that makes the hairs rise on the back of his neck.

His face set in a determined frown, Gyffun shoves the pallid grub into his pack and pulls the drawstring tight, then takes his sword in both hands and prepares to face this new foe.


Klanth held high and staring to swing in an accelerating arc Vurth last coherent statement is to shout at Faren over his shoulder words to the effect of 'try and keep that light on willya?!'

With that, Vurth invokes the fury of his patron and heads towards the two larger trolls pausing only briefly to slice and dice any Enlo that care to get in his way.

In the dark chaos Vurth roars his rage as he is momentarily checked in his onrush by the dancing Enlo. Baffled, he stamps his feet on the tiny figures and is momentarily puzzled by the odd crunching sounds this generates. He ignores this however as long experience has taught him the danger of thinking during battle (especially thinking about things like are we morally right in invading another's natural domain. 'Huh?' says Vurth shrugging off yet another warning narrator voice over). Better by far to let reflexes and the spirit of the Bull take over. Still he can't help feeling a sensation of impending danger as a voice mutters in the back of his skull 'Just wait till I get down there .' Vurth redoubles his efforts to smash these pesky Enlo (desperately trying to conclude matters before something 'gets down there'.)


Meanwhile, Silverquill, tired of bobbing up and down in the (increasingly hot) water, leaps up with a duckish war cry on his bill.


Gripping his small shortsword in one hand, the wet duck kicks and pokes at the squirming enlo, hoping to dispense the crowd and free the encumbered Vizz trapped 'neath their trollish hides.

Silverquill attacks the trollkins with a flurry of blows.

"Ho! Ha ha! Guard! Turn! Pawwy! Dodge! Spin! Ha! Thwust!"

The enlo, panicked by the quackings and slashings of the small duck, react in terror. One of them strikes out blindly, and by chance hits Silverquill directly on the bill.

With a surprised "Squawk?" the duck sage staggers back, stars before his eyes. He tries to right himself but is too close to the edge of the water. An almighty splash signals the ducks contact with the river. The lightning globe and shortsword drift to the bottom of the river and Silverquill is once again bobbing up and down, this time on his back with his tongue lolling from his bruised bill.


Faren peers through the darkness, trying to use the flashes coming from Aren and himself to sort out what was happening, and how he could help. Perhaps he should have focussed more on the former and less on the latter, then perhaps he could have better prepared himself against the two small charging figures. He managed to face the right way and stand firm, but he put his spear between the figures and not into either of them. Before he had time to think more about his mistake he is knocked back into the wall behind him.

He surges back to his feet, and realizes that he has been knocked back by trollkin - trollkin! He knows he's overmatched by full trolls, but he is no child to be pushed around by trollkin! He knows a bit about fighting them, so aims to drive them off more than waste time trying to spear each of them.

He tries to keep them off-balance with his greater size, while he uses Yavor's magic and Ash-not-Plows own nature to make a sizzling lightning spear to jab around with, all the while keeping Heart's Shield in play to block their bites, teeth, and clubs.


Vurth roars! With a single broad swipe he disembowels one trollkin upon which prompts the other two trollkin to decide that this would be the moment to demonstrate the better part of valour. Momentarily distracted from his initial goal of the darkmen, Vurth pursued the two Enlo, all the while ignoring the crunching sounds originating from the directions of his footsteps.

He quickly corners the madly dodging trollkin, and temporarily forgetting his klanth, he grabs one of the diminutive figures and precedes to beat the second with it. Blood flies, though whether from the first or second of the tiny Enlo it is difficult to say.

Thus distracted, Vurth does not notice the approaching chitinous horde until it sweeps him from his feet. Vurth crashed to the ground, howling his rage, flailing about with his klanth and his trollkin.

Meanwhile back at the surface, Rika (who has been following events below through her mindlink with Vurth) has been giving instructions to the onlooking exiles.

"What are you fools just standing there for? They've run into darkmen down there and they're going to need help. Throw some torches down, then you lot get some armor and weapons and get down there!"

She looks up and calls out "Mar! I'll need my..." but before she has a chance to finish Mar (the male twin) has appeared and hands Rika her byrnie. She begins again. "Mara! I'll need..." when Mara steps forward and hands her her sword. Thus girded she prepares to descend into the pit, when suddenly she frowns mightily. Nearby exiles draw back to ensure this frown does not include them.

A subtle change has entered Rika's voice as she says: "The big oaf is in trouble."

Having observed Vurth to be overwhelmed Rika is at a momentary loss as to how to proceed. There was no way she could down to Vurth in time to aid him and what could she do if she was there? She is no Umbroli to sweep away creepy crawlies as the Umbroli had once done for Vurth on the god plane! However, that very memory sparks another idea. Drawing upon the oaths that she and Vurth had sworn to each other on the god plane and on the very real feelings they have for one another, she stretches forth through the mindlink she shares with her husband to call upon his link to his god.

Rika faces the skies and begins to ululate.

"I call upon the wild winds that blow between the sky and the earth. I call upon those who cleanse with their very presence, upon those who follow the dance of the mighty bull as he performs his sacred mission of cleansing all the stains that yet mark our world. I ask that you heed this call as one who is one with the bull has need of your aid!"

As she speaks, the wind begins to pick up and dirt and leaves began to fly about. Nearby exiles retreat even further from Rika and whatever it is that she is up to. By the time she finishes her summons, three vast aerial figures swirl about in controlled destruction.

(Following section freely translated from Stormspeech.)

Umbroli 1: Who summon the wild winds!

Umbroli 2: Who dares to call us from our vasty reaches!

Umbroli 3: Who will face our wrath!!

Rika: I call on behalf of my other half, who is in dire need of your aid. I call, by the vows we share, by the love we share, by the oaths our two gods share!

Umbroli 1: (Pauses and then, grudgingly) We see the link you speak of and acknowledge your right to summon us. What need do you have of us?

Rika: As we speak, my love lies beneath the earth being consumed by darkfolk insect minions. You must assist him as your brethren once assisted him upon the godplane.

Umbroli 2: (Incredulously) What?! You want us wild spirits of the air to go down that dirty dark hole into the underearth?? (Turning to the other Umbroli) I think she actually expects us to go down that dirty dark hole into the underearth!

Rika: (Beginning to boil) Yes, you great big bag of dirty air... that's exactly what I expect you to do!

Umbroli 3: Hah! As if!!

Umbroli 1: We aren't going down there and there ain't nothing you can do to make us!

Umbroli 2: Yeah!

Rika: (Through gritted teeth) Is... that... so!

Assembled exiles go very far away at this point and deep underground, at some subconscious level, Vurth is suddenly very glad that he's safely away, being devoured by a chitinous horde, surrounded by slavering dark men, chasing a ravening demon through the darkness.

(A very short time later and back underground)

Vurth manages to lurch to one knee and continues to flail about with his klanth and enlo. He crushes dozens of the scorpions, but this has about the same effect as cutting dozens of stalks from a vast field of barley. Namely, it would be a long time before he would see another beer at this rate.

Then, just as the creepy crawlies prepare for another surge a new sound begins to echo. Faren staggers as howling winds come blasting out of the tunnel behind him. The winds pause for a moment and then descend upon Vurth, or - as quickly becomes apparent - the horde of insects attempting to devour him.

Umbroli 1: We come to your aid, o fierce brother! As once our brethren aided you upon the god plane.

Umbroli 2: Yeah... and we are here because we want to be here! Not because anyone made us come!

Umbroli 3: Yeah... what he said!

Vurth: Yeah! That's what I always say too. Never mind all that now, lets crush chitin!!

Which the four sworn followers of the Bull begin to happily do. The Umbroli sweep scorpions up in their windy embrace and fling them up against the ceiling and dash them against the floor. Vurth meanwhile, has regained his feet and using his own scouring wind blast, smashes scorpions into the wall. Still - there are an awful lot of scorpions left.


Slightly bewildered by the frantic actions of Vurth and his attendant maelstrom and frustrated by the failure of his doomed attempt to parley, Gyffun is determined to engage with a more tangible foe. He glimpses Faren, who is apparently holding his own against a pair of unusually fierce trollkin, and Aren, who is doing his best to frazzle a larger foe. Where to lend a hand - or a sword? Then he notices Vizz on the ground behind the enlo and Silverquill floating limply in the water beyond, and suddenly his choice becomes clear.

These enlo are made of sterner stuff than their cowardly fellows and see no immediate reason to panic. After all, they have dispensed with the duck and knocked one of the humans to the floor, while the other one, although canny, seems a little cautious. The sight of the skald, however, descending upon them with sword in hand, a fierce battle song upon his lips and the stirring chords of his harp filling him with the joy of battle, is more than enough to give them pause, and they flee into the path of the scorpions, howling in pain as they are stung to death.


Vurths stands, roaring in exultant battle rage, surrounded by roaring winds and engulfed by chitinous creepie crawlies. This was more like it! Klanth in one hand, trollkin in the other, Vurth marched into the thickest mass of the scorpions flailing about (more using klanth and trollkin to direct scouring winds than actually using them as weapons but somehow that seemed more fitting to him). The Umbroli mirror Vurth's actions, striking the horde of insects (taxonomy was never the forte of an enraged Uroxi) with fierce blasts of wind. Bits of scorpions fly in every direction.

Still ... they come.

Meanwhile, back on the surface, the exiles have hesitantly regathered about the dirty dark hole that leads into the underworld, still in shock from what they had just witnessed. Who would have thought that wind spirits even had testicles?! There was much unconscious covering of private parts by the assembled fyrd members as Rika turned to face them.

"Right, enough fooling about. Lets get down there while we can still do some good."

And with that, armed and armored, Rika clambers down into the pit followed half dozen of the bolder exiles. The remainder form a perimeter around the hole praying for the fellows who had gone ahead.


Silverquill, gently bobbing on the surface of the river, drifts in and out of consciousness. He can hear snatches of combat; Peoply crying out in pain, troll curses, the crackle of magic and Gyffun's welcome battle song.

The small duck tries to regain his senses. He must aid his friends!


Aren surprise at the troll ability to even partly parry lightning is replaced by horror as, in the light of his strike, he sees his fellow clansman being overrun and covered by a wave of stinging scorpions.

Then with a prayer on his lips he determinedly unleashes the largest ball lightning he has ever tried to send it bowling into the mist of the bugs and to try and clear a path the stricken Vurth. Hoping he is remembering right that the bugs are not as resilient as the trolls, he is dismayed to see the creatures part before his unleashed energies as if a weapon in the hands of some commanding force.


At first, Vurth and the Umbroli seem to be having things all their way. They would wade into wherever the scorpions were thickest and then 'blast' them to the four winds. In his frenzy, Vurth laughs off the miniscule stings. He can barely notice them! But the thousand upon thousand stings were more than just pinpricks. More and more toxic venom was being pumped into Vurth's redoubtable frame until suddenly!

A roar broken in midcry. Vurth stiffens, frozen in place and slowly starts to turn a light shade of blue. Fingers futilely claw at his throat as foam begins to leak from his mouth. He drops to his knees where he can be barely seen, covered as he is by mounds of scorpions. For a few seconds, the writhing lump remains upright but then slowly crumbles.

'Rika .. I tried.' is perhaps Vurth's last coherent thought as he fades into coma-hood.

From behind Faren, down the tunnel comes a scream of rage ... or was it terror.

As Vurth collapses, the Umbroli focus on driving the scorpions away from his body, succeeding to a limited extent.


Vizz had seemed overly concerned with the diminutive dark-kin that had held him pinned to the rock. But the tides of battle have given him the chance to get his head up in time to see his companion and friend Vurth turn a shade cyanotic and collapse.

Thoughts like lightning flash through the mind of Vizz Vollesbrother:

How he had felt an uncanny kinship with the uncouth Uroxi, as if Vurth were one of the three brothers of old, the ancestors[1]. of Vizz. He felt responsible for him, as if he were his younger brother, albeit one that could probably tear him to pieces with his bare berserker hands.

He is reminded of the most famous story of Urox, Orlanth's unruly brother, when Urox had fought with Wakboth; when the mighty godbeast had collapsed on the ground mortally wounded by the Devil's poison. How its ear had been torn of and tossed to the ground. How the worshippers of the bull are sliced, crushed and broken in their Beat Devil Day ceremonies and other parts of the world come forward to give aid.

These thoughts guide Vizz in the desperate action he undertakes. Lurching, in a shambling amble, toward the comatose Vurth he pulls a small knife from his belt, grabs Vurth's ear, slices it and tosses it aside:

"Friend, Kinsman, Uroxi-men! Lend me your ear. The gods be with us! Green Goddesses, accept this sacrifice! Give us the power of the Earth!"


Thanks to Gyffun's charge, the Enlo reel back. Looking around, Faren would almost think that the exiles were winning, except that the redoubtable Vurth just fell, struck down by something that Faren can't quite make out in the dark.

In this momentary lull, a thought finally makes its way into Faren's awareness: we are supposed to be going after some demon, but these look like normal Uz, not demons. Faren can hear noises from behind him, which sound like more of the clan coming to join the fray. But as his Grandmother used to say "If you are doing it wrong, more hands just make it wrong faster."

Rumbles are the child of this thought "We came hunting a demon, not to fight Uz" Faren proclaims (at least he thinks that is what he says). Lowering his spear, he adds. "We give food to say sorry for light. Uz help fight demon?"

Faren thinks the hulking figure has heard him, but it shows no reaction at first. Faren can feel the situation slipping away, then he has an idea. He would like to think it through properly, but he has no time, so he rumbles it out right away. He takes the greeting the trolls use coming to Shadowdeep, and he reverses a couple of words, and hopes for the best. "Our mother's mother's mothers faught pre-dark together. By their memory we storm-children seek passage from the dark children, to hunt the pre-dark as is our holy duty."

The hulking figure stops, and faces Faren, clearly paying attention now. Faren hopes that this formula does not have too many other implications to it....


Far away, Vurth sees an endless windswept plain, towards the centre of which appears to be a pitched battle. Hard to say as the entire area in also engulfed by a sandstorm of epic proportions. However, there is no mistaken that enormous bullike figure that is gesturing at him to join the fray. With a happy roar on his lips Vurth takes one stride towards his master and the epic conflict when he feels a tug at his ear.

Startled, he places one hand one hand to his ear and is somewhat surprised when he feels it come off his head to his touch. He's even more surprised when the ear addresses him. "Vizz says your not done there yet and you should come back." Vurth pulls up in surprise. Vizz? Who? Oh yeah ...his brother once removed and a bit around the corner. But what was he supposed to have done? Or not done yet?

Now the ear continues, "And Rika says shes not done with you yet either. She says you better come back or else you'll be sorry." Well, that certainly sounded familiar... as did the name Rika. From a vast distance he even seemed to hear her calling his name. And other voices, familiar voices shouting his name and calling him to battle! And with a start, it comes to him exactly who Rika is and the oaths sworn but as yet unmet. And those voices, he had heard those same voices over several battlefields recently.

Confused, Vurth turns his gaze once more towards the tall figure looming over the swirling battlefield. Is he waving him forward or back?


Back in the underground chamber, Rika stands amidst the assembled fyrdmen and shrieks "Shout louder! Call him to battle here! Now!!" Drawing upon their support she sends hers and their strength through the fading mindlink, all the time thinking We are not done yet. Remember our vows!

Full of the fierce joy of battle, Gyffun turns to watch the enlo flee, but is bemused to see them fall in mid-flight, shrieking in agony. In the long-drawn-out instants that follow, he sees Vurth meet a similar fate amidst the sea of venomous chitin, wonders at Vizz's desperate attempt to forestall the Uroxi's departure and witnesses Aren's ill-fated attempt to turn the terrible tide. Can nothing save them from this many-legged monster? Are they all doomed to perish here in this oppressive dark hole?

Faren's stumbling words in Darktongue intrude into his consciousness, shaking him out of this reverie of hopelessness. At first, he is bemused by this halting address, thinking 'Why is he talking to them instead of killing them?', but then understanding dawns and he is quick to lend his support to the farmer's gambit.

"He speaks truly," the skald insists, in Darktongue. "We not seek war with you - we come here hunting chaos. Demon run from us," he adds, pointing towards the river and noticing Silverquill emerging unsteadily from the water. "While duck go after demon, you attack us. We defend ourselves!"

Behind him, hovering in the air, the harp's martial air has been replaced with a different tune, a song of peace and mutual understanding that many of the Exiles find hauntingly familiar.

Gyffun fixes the hulking Uz in his gaze, desperately trying to gauge its reaction. He points towards his embattled comrades. "Make stingers stop! We are not enemy - chaos is! We not try to destroy you," he insists, producing the pathetic guardian-larva in his pack. "See? You attack, we defend. Help us and we try make amends. Our ancestor was Lanolf Uzfriend. Honour ancient pact, pact against chaos, and our peoples can be friends again. Fight us and everyone lose: chaos wins!"

Silverquill has waddled up to the group and nods in agreement; "The hoomans are cowwect. There is a kwjalki down here and we were chasing it, when you attacked. We should join fowces and fight the common enemy. Gweat honour is to be had for bwave twolls. Afterward, there will be much good munchings and feastings."


Knowing bugs are not that smart as this lot are acting, and not wanting to upset any negotiations, Aren changes the focus of his attention to finding who or what is controlling the insect swarm, sensing that there is some other creature further down the tunnel commanding them. He cannot tell what this being might be until a flash of light reveals, for the briefest instant, the shadow of a gigantic claw somewhere beyond the scorpions and suddenly he realises, this is some troll shaman, wielding the scorpions as if they were a weapon in his hand.


Seeing clan-mates approaching, Faren snaps a quick command over his shoulder "Someone go and get a pig down here--get Neela to help." Without waiting to see if anyone complies or not, Faren focusses his attention on Rocky.

"Rocky, how long have your brethren down here lain still in one place? Those scorpions trod over them, confident that their stingers can lay low anything that moves, and that their shells are the hardest thing around. How much fun would it be if your friends did a dance? Think of the lesson you could teach the scorpions! A body harder than their own, that moves but is immune to their stingers! If your friends danced around, and maybe over to that corner there, it would be most amusing and I would be most grateful."

Rocky obliges, and he sets the rocks about him to dancing about the scorpions, but their number is such that they crawl over the poor fellow and in an instant, the creatures are before Faren.


As a host of scorpions swarm about the Uz warrior before Gyffun, he eventually nods at his erstwhile foe. "Sons Lanolf," he says in crude Tarshite, then turns, with what seems to be a fearful look if anything, to the figure behind him...


Holding perfectly still, his usual business and long thoughts stopped for a moment, an odd thought occurs to Faren: if this is the end of this life, it will be a shame that he hadn't spent more time loving.

In the flicker of various lightnings and sparks, Faren suddenly realizes that he is about to be overrun by the scorpion horde, who seem to have backtracked the skipping rocks. Too late to run, too many to fight, part of him wails in despair.

But the rest of him, as usual, tries to figure out how to handle the problem. As a farmer he's of course dealt with scorpions before, and from a young age he's know that when you are in reach of a scorpion you should stay as still as possible. Will that work against hordes of scorpions? Maybe if he can just discourage them from running up his legs...

As the first of them scuttle towards him he quicly invokes "Lay off my blue plaid trews," then holds Heart's Shield up over his head with one hand, while holding Ash-Not-Plow in front of his face with the other. He tells Ash-Not-Plow how much he regrets having brought the brave spear down into this forsaken place, and takes a last opportunity to recall turning sun-warmed soil and splitting stormy skies. In turn the Ash-Not-Plow reassures him that no scorpion shall scuttle down its length unscathed. Their exchange in spark-speech combines with Faren's usual sparks to create a screen of sparks in front of his face. As the wave of scorpions arrives at his feet he has the unusual opportunity to call upon his patience and bravery at the same time as he tries to hold totally still.


Vizz makes a great leap, as the scorpion horde scuttles towards and around him. He knows little of the ways of scorpions but suspects that if, in all of his far travels, he has never heard tell of the great leaping of scorpions, then in all likelihood they do not practise it.

On landing the tall warrior again vaults into the air, emitting a slight yelp as he briefly touches the ground. In such a way, and trying as best he might to avoid slipping on the squelched entrails of the bugs, he attempts to avoid their poisonous prickers, but to no avail, for soon he too succumbs to their weight of numbers.

Meanwhile, Aren, against the scorpions, takes the simple expedient of leaping into the river beside him, pushing off with his spear for some extra thrust, escaping the worst of the scorpion's attack, landing wish a splash in the now steaming water!

And so we find only Gyffun and Silverquill standing, Aren having committed his fortunes to the river and the others overrun by a multitude of fearsome arthropods. Rika, on the other side of the narrow tunnel to the ancestral larder, curses as she asks those about her what is happening. Friend impassively watches Aren as he leaps into the water, the scorpions keeping clear of its flaming coat, but its curiosity seems aroused by the steam coming off the river as it lifts itself off its haunches to sniff at the water.


Gyffun's attention has been fully occupied with the scorpions, leaping and dancing about in a vain effort to avoid their not-so-tender ministrations. His pathetic attempts at evasion had only seemed to encourage his multitudinous foes, however, and as the skald sees most of his companions fall or flee, he finally cries out in desperation, his voice raw and distorted by pain:


Surprisingly, the shadowy figure that commands the scorpions seems to obey, if only for a moment.

"Let this needless battle end now," Gyffun gasps. "I say once more: we are not your enemy." He turns to the cowering Uz warrior. "Will you not speak on our behalf, friend? I think that you, at least see the sense of what I say. Great One," he continues, turning respectfully back to the shaman. "Hear me now...."

Then the scorpions are upon him again, mercilessly stinging and biting. The skald sees the world through a fog of pain, his eyes pleading with the sympathetic Uz warrior for his intercession, but the shaman seems oblivious to his ally's presence. Fighting to rise above the ceaseless onslaught, the skald struggles to draw upon the doubtful array of resources at his disposal.

He remembers how he had been voiceless after his fall from the clouds, and how he had found a new voice in the Web of Fate and the adventures that followed. He remembers how he and his companions treated with the Uz on the Hero Plane, and the strange gift that they had given him. Feeling the limp, larval form of the trolls' guardian spirit in his hand, he wonders if it might channel the import of his entreaty to the pitiless shaman.

But what to convey? How to change an enemy into a friend? All of the Exiles' efforts have thus far left their half-glimpsed foe unmoved. Then Gyffun recalls his long journey amongst the Tree and Animal Tribes, and the unexpected potency of one song in particular. He seizes desperately upon this memory like a drowning man grasping at a floating reed, but as the welcome power of it fills him, he dares to believe that it will not prove a false hope.

The sound that emerges from his tortured throat is a mournful howl, inarticulate but inexplicably eloquent. Somehow, this sorrowful cry manages to express a wealth of meaning that transcends its stark simplicity. Even as Gyffun had felt his heart leap with unfamiliar sympathy upon hearing it 'sung' by humanity's traditional enemy, the Wolf, so the subtle potency of this plaintive song tugs irresistibly at the heartstrings of this apparently implacable Uz.

Trusting this hook to capture and hold the attention of his opponent, the skald reiterates his message of peace in a combination of words and musical imagery that, he hopes, leaves no room for doubt or misinterpretation. The Uz warrior is echoing this message, he hopes.

Once our people were friends, his message insists. Lanolf was our ancestor and we would honour the ancient compact that he forged with you. Treat with us now and that friendship may live again. See? Here is the hunter that I fought but spared. Here is the ice enlo that your kin gave to me in gift. Here is your guardian spirit, which I bested but did not destroy. And here is the dread foe that we pursued into your home, a foe that we must now unite to fight.

The grim shaman is listening, it seems, but is she moved?

It seems so, for at last the onslaught of scorpions halts, as far as Gyffun is concerned, a mass of the creatures pausing as one, their claws still waving about before them. The dark troll guard has disappeared into the gloom, a low rumbling in the sudden quiet indicating that he may be talking with his holy one, but the flow of scorpions continues towards Gyffun's friends unabated.


Silverquill sees the scorpion horde advance towards him, and once again he reverts back to the standard durulz tactic employed when cornered;

"Kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwakelikwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak kwak! Wakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwakwak!"

Aren shakes his head, about time that duck learned some tactics but what should you expect from scroll reader. "Come on get your self into the water. Then negotiate.!" he shouts at the duck.

But alas, When the quacks become muffled phtooeeys, it becomes apparent that our brave duck too has succumbed...


Encouraged that his diplomatic gambit has at least given the shaman pause, but fearing for the safety of his companions, Gyffun pushes his luck a little more. Drawing upon the transcendant gifts of his patron deity, he reaches beyond himself to bath his shadowy foe in an irresistible wave of empathy. A great part of the shaman's icy hatred melts away as a result, leaving the skald giddy with relief. When his senses clear, however, he sees that an impenetrable kernel of vengeful darkness still remains and realises with a sinking heart that the battle for peace is not yet won.


Aren shakes the water out his eyes and is rewarded with the sight of the scorpions thronging the bank of the river clicking there claws in frustration. So far so good. Looking over his mauled band he sees that for the moment at least the scorpions have left Faren and Vizz alone to slowly marinate in the scorpion poison. Seeing them frozen in postures of pain he resolves to try and snap them out of it. So taking careful aim he sends a bolt of lightning first into Axe not Plough and into Vizz's sword to try put some life back into them.

But alas, When the quacks become muffled phtooeeys, it becomes apparent that Aren send his bolts with accuracy but unfortunately the water brings the return current back at an unfortunate height

"Gnuug", he says as his eyes cross and start to water.

But these are his clan's men he is fighting for so he blinks away the tears that spring from his eyes. Overcoming the surprise and steeling him self against the pain he continues the gentle flow until his comrades start to stir.


In the brief silence which ensues, Gyffun finds that his legs are covered with scorpions, albeit relatively inactive as if awaiting the command to strike. The light from the fiery alynx is soft and slightly reassuring, but the heat in the tunnel is growing unbearable.

"Lanolf daughters", comes a new voice from out of the gloom, speaking in what must be Tarshite. "We let live if show true daughters you. If swear never take hurt under. If price one manmeat. What say?"


The jolt of Yavor's kiss awakens Faren. Like that time before, that first kiss, this time he realizes he is being called.

It is the call of responsibility this time. There are people—family now they are—that he has to help, and this call has reminded him of that. How could he have given in to the pain of the poison? He calls on his preternatural vigor to keep him moving for at least a few more moments. With his ability to see life's fires he can see the tracks of lack-of-life spreading out from the stings. Really they have not gone that far, how could he let the debilitation of parts of his limbs stop him? Did not Varsens Rock-Hand cover the traverse of the Far-Walkers across the death line by holding the ford even after his legs had been literally bitten off at the knee?

The solution is obvious. The pain, well there will be pain. But what is destroyed can be re-grown, maybe not the same or as well, but it can surely be done. Burn-and-build philosophy tells him this, that it is better to destroy that which is tainted so that something may come of it, rather than let it abide for sentimental reasons. For seasons now he has pondered if this would apply some day to himself, and has been preparing in case it ever did. The alternative, to linger, paralyzed by poison, outwardly whole but eaten from the inside? Intolerable. He'd agree to someone else doing it in heartbeat, it is only doing it to himself that requires gathering his bravery together.

With sparking thought he tells Ash-not-Plough what is needed. The spear understands and turns in his grip. His lips don't move well, but still he manages to mutter a quick prayer "Yavor the purifier, purge me and help me come out new on the other side." Before he can go farther, his spear brother strikes.

Of course he screams, how could he not scream? But it is the scream of purification as Ash-not-Plow stabs into each sting, and the lightning surges out of it, crawling through his flesh, destroying the most poisoned flesh and leaving purified ash in its wake.


Upon first hearing the shaman's demands, Gyffun had begun to reply, but then seemed to think better of it. After a few moments, he had opened his mouth again, but at that point he had become distracted by the Faren's sudden and unexpected intervention.

Now, meeting the fierce stare of the Uz once more, he can sense her barely-restrained anger, but also feels her cautious respect for the glowing symbol of an ancient compact that Faren's extraordinary actions have revealed. There is no mistaking the resolute tone of the shaman's request, however, nor the gravity of the consequences if she is offended by their response. She is offering terms for surrender that she deems fair - but how can the Exiles even contemplate sacrificing one of their own for a troll's meal?

Gyffun meets her icy glare undeterred and sets his jaw with pride and determination. The reassuring sound of his harp, murmuring with a soft but unmistakable note of defiance, helps to stiffen his resolve and dispel any thoughts of fear.

"I am Gyffun, son of Harran," he declares. "Helgan the Swift was my grandsire, and his father was Gyffun Longshanks, the youngest son of Hend Horsefal. Harran Halfhand was Hend's father, and his father in turn was called Haloric Greybeard. And that same Haloric, the son of Jonrik Horsefal, was the grandson of Lanolf Uzfriend."

"I swear upon this unbroken bloodline that we shall once again honour the bond of peace between our peoples. I swear - and may eternal Donandar, whose divine music is the author of my life's dance, strike me from his sacred score if I break my oath - that we shall not again bring light into your home. "And I return to you now your Guardian," he continues, placing the pathetic larval form carefully upon the ground. "Which is diminished, but not destroyed."

"As for the final condition that you place upon this treaty, we shall be glad to agree upon a price that you consider fair for your loss, but we cannot," and here the skald pauses to emphasise his point. "And will not pay that price in the manner that you ask."

He pauses, considering. "But perhaps there is some other gift that you might take by way of a recompense. We have but recently returned from a quest, where we encountered some of your kin on a quest of their own. They too, asked for and received a food-gift to compensate them for an injury we did them, a gift that we gladly gave. They asked not for our own flesh, but took instead the flesh of our animals. Will you not accept a similar gift of food for your price - a share of Esra's bounty, perhaps?" he says with a glance at Faren.

"Or if the recompense you seek is a matter of honour, which demands a price hard-given, then perhaps you will accept the gift that I received from those others your kind on the plains of the Dozaki. I speak of an ice statue, a representation of an enlo, which, though I know its purpose not, I believe to be a magical artifact of some potency. I an loath to part with it, for I sense that it is bound up with my destiny, but perhaps this is indeed its purpose."

"Speak, great One. Tell me what you will take to pay this price."


As life begins to return to Vurth and the poisons begin to loosen their bonds upon him, his frame begins to quiver and low moan escapes his lips before he once more lapses into unconsciousness.

Rika cautiously pokes her head out of the tunnel mouth and takes in the situation. Looking to the injured, but wary of disrupting what appears to be delicate negotiations, she ponders how she can bring them aid.

Vurth stirs, moans and then vomits a copius amount of nauseous looking substances. He looks in some confusion. Had he really eaten all that?

Glancing around he notices that the fighting seems to have stopped, people are talking and that he was holding an ear in his hand.

Definitely not one of his better days.


The vehemence of shaman's angry response takes Gyffun completely by surprise, leaving him crestfallen and pathetically diminished. Only now does he apprehend the true gravity of their present circumstances. His comrades lie in wounded and defeated disarray all about him, driven to extremity and clinging desperately to hope. Filled with despair, he stares at the ground and searches his innermost self for the strength to carry on.

His apparent successes in contending with this implacable foe had given him false confidence, he now realises. These hollow victories and his foolish pride had now brought them to the brink of catastrophe. There is no longer any point in ignoring the grim truth: he and his comrades are over-matched by this Uz shaman and his venomous horde. They will be lucky to escape from this predicament with their lives, so the thought of retaining any shreds of pride is a vain hope indeed.

Abject misery threatens to overwhelm him now, as he remembers the series of events that have brought them to this desperate pass. What a cursed day! First there had been the rabid ranting of their Durulz sage and the sickening influence that he seemed to have had upon the clan's children. Then had come the terrible revelation of his unholy possessor and the horror of its sudden departure into the abyss, taking poor hapless Morith with it. And, as if that wasn't enough, they had then been struck hard by another terrible blow: the discovery of Wilma's murdered body.

A cursed day indeed! And now Fortune - Ha! Fortune! - in the form of their mighty ancestor Lanolf has smiled upon them at last by granting them a slim hope of deliverance when all seems lost. Peace with these Dark Folk will only come at a cost, though, and the price they ask is dear indeed...

His mind's eye lingering upon the pitiful sight of his great-aunt's murdered corpse, the skald stands with tears pouring uncontrollably down his face. As he struggles to control himself, and to return his attention to the here-and-now, he recalls a strangely resonant statement that he had heard from Riantha's borrowed lips, as she calmly relayed the words of Wilma's fresh-departed ghost:

"She says that, once she's underground, she'll be happy to look after my grandmother's Tree."

Once she's underground...

Suddenly Gyffun's mood of melancholy despair is dispelled. Lifting his eyes - now filled again with the light of hope - from their gloomy contemplation of the ground, he addresses the troll once more.

"Very well," he says. "You shall have what you demand. Let us speak to our kin, who even now I hear approaching, and they shall bring your blood-price: the fresh-slain corpse of our eldest mother. None of our kin is more precious or more dear to our hearts, but I sense that you will settle for no lesser coin. So let this be the beginning of a true pact of friendship between our peoples, and not merely an act of spiteful vengeance for an unintended sleight. For it was not spite that drove us to breach your dark domain this day, but the righteous pursuit of a hated foe."

"Against this foe - dread Chaos - even ancient enemies must unite to fight. Our ancestors once called each other friend: to forge that ancient pact anew, will you help us to fight this mutual Enemy?"


"You bring mother to feed Uz on Allfather day," says the shadowy voice of the shaman in an ancient version of the Exiles' tongue. "We taste your ancestors in her," she steps out of the darkness as she says this, her gigantic pincers first to emerge into view, then the rest of her sleek body scuttling forward on her other legs, the Exiles feeling faint with relief that they had not even begun to battle with this terrifyingly monstrous form. "And you make promises."

One gigantic pincer turning toward Faren, it lifts his chin up to look at his face. "Our promises always, you safe from Uz. Two season already we watch and no eat."

Moving with an incredible speed, the gigiantic scorpion lifts the prone figures of Vurth and Vizz and pops them through the tunnel opening where Rika quickly spirits them away. She lifts Aren out of the water and does likewise, shooing Friend the alynx through, apparently undisturbed by his flames. The gentleness with which she does this is noticeable to all, it is as if she were placing her own offspring into a nest, and so the others follow meekly.

Relieved, eventually, to be on the surface and for Rika who has taken charge of proceedings, the injured Exiles finally catch their breath and take stock. Morith must surely, by now, be lost and the chaos demon long gone. The scorpion shaman has shored up the hole it made and they are to revisit in a few days. On Lawstaff Day indeed, two days after they are have been invited on a raid of their lowland neighbours by Hahlgrim Thane of the Ochre Fallow. And that but two days hence.


Silverquill walks around to everybody who was at the last moot and tells them that he is very sorry for all the trouble he caused and that he'll do his best to remedy it somehow. He then looks around for the children to see if they remember what happened during the previous night.

"Skullcleaver, I will need you to search the entire tula for any signs of that howwible demon," he tells his hulking bodyguard. "Please be careful and come back stwaight away to tell us if you find anything."

Skullcleaver grunts a reply, eyes Silverquill with some suspicion and swings his axe over his shoulder as he starts wandering up and down the area, sniffing and frowning at everyone and everything.

It doesn't take long for the Uroxi warrior to return with a worried look on his face. He has been to the bottom of the hill, among the trees, and reports that he felt something very powerful there.

Silverquill listens to Skullcleaver's report with a worried look on his bill. He then jumps up on the barbarian's shoulder and from there scramble to balance precariously on top of his head.

"Quack! Listen up!" he cries. "Skullcleaver here has been scouting the awea and has discovewed a very powerful pwesence down amongst the twees! It could vewy well be that murdewous demon that got away."

The cries of despair amongst the Exiles are only tolerable due to the absence of the rabble-rouser Morith. Panic very rapidly ensues, a number of people rushing to their makeshift huts to collect their most essential items so that they can finally quit this accursed spot. Silverquill himself is not the only one to feel uneasy at the tangible presence of a very powerful magic entity.

As Silverquill does his best to earn himself a reputation as a scaremonger from atop Skullcleaver's head, the warrior bends down, almost casting the duck from his position. Beneath the two of them is a little boy, all of four years, warpaint pasted ameteurishly over his face and hair, his hair even spiked with dung as is the Ochre Fallow's wont, with a stick still in his hand.

"Where Daddy?" asks the worried little mite, apparently referring to the turnip farmer Morith.


Gyffun emerges from the hole, wincing slightly as he discovers a few more scorpion stings. Apart from these minor irritations and his sorely injured pride, however, he finds that he has survived the subterranean ordeal remarkably unscathed. His first thought is to bring healing to his less fortunate companions, but the sight of the other Exiles rushing around in panic-stricken disarray presents him with a more immediate problem. Swiftly apprehending the cause of this latest hysteria, the skald moves quickly to counter the inadvertant harm caused by Silverquill's incautious declaration.

"Calm yourselves!" he cries. "Cease this foolish nonsense and hearken to my words. What, have we built a home for ourselves here only to flee at the first sign of danger?"

"But this place is cursed!" calls a hysterical voice from the crowd.

"Cursed?" Gyffun echoes. "Aye, there was a curse upon this place, a curse that we fought long and hard to lift. But lift it we did! What, would you have us abandon our hard-won home now, having cleansed this place of the taint that corrupted it?"

"But the curse remains!" calls another voice. "We saw that demon with our own eyes!"

"No," the skald insists. "The curse that lay upon this land is gone. This demon is a new enemy and an insidious one. Its very purpose was to sow these seeds of doubt in your minds. Did you not see how it tried to use our very own sage to harbour violence and discord amongst us? Yes, this is a terrible foe that we still have to face, but when its malevolent plan was revealed what did it do? It fled, like the craven that it is! It dared not stand and face us!"

"Dared not face you! Ha! It looks more like it bested you!"

Glancing at his injured comrades, the skald is slow to respond to this last comment, which prompts a renewed atmosphere of fear amongst the clansfolk.

"It is true that we were bested," he admits, to general cries of dismay. "But not by the demon. In pursuing it into the depths we encountered and offended another, more powerful force, which might have destroyed us if they had proved to be our foes. We stand before you now as living proof that they are not. You all know the tales of our great ancestors, who once made their home in this place. I think you know, too, the allies that one of our most illustrious ancestors made here."

The murmurings continue, but Gyffun has their undivided attention now.

"I speak of none other than Lanolf Uzfriend, whose abiding power watched over us in the caverns below and invoked once more by our mention of the pact that he made. I speak of the ancient alliance that he made with the Dark Folk, which we have now vowed to renew with their descendants. When we invaded their home in the inky depths, they naturally fought us, but when we told them that we were the descendants of Lanolf Uzfriend and reminded them of the ancient pact between our peoples, they ceased to be our foes."

"So," he continues, now staring in turn at each of the frightened faces around him as he speaks. "I will hear no more of curses and no more of fleeing. Do we yet have enemies? Certainly. But now we might have allies too. Will we face more dangers in the seasons ahead? Again, certainly. But danger will follow us whereever we go. We have faced it before, faced it in this very place, and won. Have you so soon forgotten the Tuskriders, a foe that we bested against the odds?"

"For my part, I remain determined to make this place my home. I say we should renew our ancient pact with the Uz, who would make strong allies and stronger friends. They have agreed to reforge this alliance, and to help us fight the demon that yet lurks at our door, but there is a price to pay for the damage we inflicted when we invaded their home. In four days time, I and my companions have promised to return to the Uz to swear oaths of peace and to pay that price."

"What is this price?" calls a frightened voice.

"They asked for a payment in kind for the hurts that we inflicted upon them and proof of our ancestry. I balked at the first demand, thinking that they demanded a life for life."

There are widespread cries of fear at this, but Gyffun's calm expression and raised hand eventually settle the crowd once more.

"Then I saw how we could satisfy them on both accounts," he continues. "Without loss of life. The answer is plain: we must give them the body of Wilma Two Smiles, whose murdered corpse even now attests to the evil that the demon tried to bring into our midst. Her spirit has already been guided onwards by Riantha, who will confirm that what I say is true: in life, as in death, this is what Wilma would have wanted. By giving her mortal remains to the Uz, we shall grant her a legacy to be proud of: the renewal of an ancient alliance. And by swearing a pact of peace with the Dark Folk, we shall gain something more precious than gold: the approval of our ancestors and the friendship of our neighbours."

Silverquill opens his bill to add his opinion, but suddenly remembers that he has put his foot in it quite a few times lately. He resigns himself to nodding wisely, an effect somewhat spoiled by his location, precariously balanced as he is on the head of a smelly barbarian.


Vurth has also finally made it back to the surface with Rika’s (and assorted fyrd member’s) aid.

Further gasps occur in the panicky crowd at his battered appearance but Gyffun’s words prove sufficient to restore a seldom of purpose once more.

He does stagger over to Silverquill at the other’s gesture and takes in the news from Skullcleaver about something lurking in the hollow at the bottom of the hill. Even Vurth understands that the exiles warriors are in no condition at this moment to pursue a real foe.

He gestures at Mar and Mara, who had conveniently appeared. "You two get down to the supply drop and see who’s there from the Ginunga boys. Tell them to get word to Karli that we got a problem right here and right now and he should round up whoever he can because the stench is bad."

The twins look at each other once, nod compliance, briefly hug their father (which seems to both surprise and discomfit Vurth) and then head off to the woods (giving a wide berth to the aforementioned hollow).

Rika, meanwhile, has taken Vurth’s ear from his hand and says "I'm going to hang that around your neck as a reminder you should listen before you leap once in a while."

Vurth mumbles something unintelligible, and with that the pair move off to their cot where Rika can continue her ministrations.


Faren stumbles out of the hellish pit, cradling Rocky in his broad hands, murmuring reassurances, as if to a hurt child. Neela was just dragging up a pig, and gasps at the sight of his charred flesh. "Never mind that," he gasps, "Just find Myarra, and bring her to Sabrina's hut."

A grisly sight indeed Faren makes as he mounts the ridge to the isolated hut. His burns pull and lift, letting fresh blood flow around the charred flesh. He manages to ignore this pain however, as he concentrates on imbuing some of his warmth and vigor into Rocky. When he staggers into the hut he carries the smell of death with him. "Riantha, I need Sabrina's skills—now!" But Riantha is already gone, perhaps having picked up something of his thoughts, perhaps having smelled death and wanting nothing to do with it.

"Sabrina, pick up some clay." Faren's voice is unusually rough and fierce, but it is the sob after the order to which Sabrina seems to react. Almost without looking she reaches out and find the clay with which the clan keeps her provided. Gently now Faren speaks "Softly now, we need to coat him in the clay, keep these delicate bits supported and in place until he has his own control back."

Sabrina's moves are at first tentative, then for a wonder she speaks: "damaged, like me." With increased confidence she gently builds a clay form up around the damaged rock, as Faren directs. It is a slow process, taxing Faren's patience, as they gently cradle each strand of the rock, and then build up supports for the first cradles. Once he sees that she knows what she is doing, Faren starts praying to Orlanth Allfather, asking for his help in making this new thing, a splint for a rock.

Finally Myarra joins them in the hut, and Faren tersely explains what he knows of Rocky's nature, and of what befell the poor elemental. When Myarra realizes that she is being called upon to literally heal a rock she smiles, her particular path suddenly perfect for the moment. Faren finally asks "Can you heal him?" His words brief, but his eyes far more eloquent, speaking of his pain and of his gratefulness if she can do this thing.

Myarra starts her own prayers to Votenevra just as Neela returns, saying "Myarra's brothers are here, they wanted to know what she is doing." Without realizing it, Faren soon has them working as a team, leading them all in trying to save Rocky. Neela joins Myarra's prayers, not knowing the details but used to supporting the other Weaver Women. Harrold, Darrold, and the other Darrold fetch, carry, and hold as instructed, including finding some of the other women to help with Myarra's prayers.

After a few hours Rocky finally starts moving on his own, gently within his clay supports. This task finally done, Faren passes out on the floor of the hut.


The last out from the tunnel is Aren and Friend. Unlike the others, Aren looks to be in one piece, although his over-exertions in the depths have left him some what weary and there is the faint smell of charred flesh coming from his hands.

Shelara runs over and embraces him, glad to see him in one piece. "Oh your poor hands!" she says and proceeds to wring her wet hair out over his hands while crooning soothing words.

Aren takes Silverquill news of more danger with a shake of his head. "Well if it's that demon come back he won't escape as easily this time," he says encouragingly.

He then heads over to stand guard between the village and the danger.


[1] The three tenacious thanes of old. Vizz (1453), Volle, who was drowned, and Vurth who was lost and never found.