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The Exiles reluctantly fulfil their obligations to one set of neighbours, then prepare to forge a new alliance with another...


As many of the clanfolk, some of their fears calmed by Gyffun, gather at the foot of the hill, Aren finds it easy to stop the women and children from approaching too closely, though the men are rather too keen to show their courage, particularly when they see Skullcleaver's worried look.

With a jolt, the Uroxi almost upends his master once more, and he is not the only one discomforted by a strange sensation. Everyone looks at one another quizzically to try and discover what it was they just experienced until it dawns on them that the earth just moved! This does clear the area and it is just as well, for a wave of this strange tingling magic flows out from in all directions from under the ground, leaving everyone unnerved and many feeling nauseous, and this is followed by a wave of heat!

Even Morith's turnips, fabled for their size, cannot hold the earth together as it erupts in a fiery fulguration, dirt flying everywhere. The next wave of heat is blistering and not a soul is able to do more than hide their faces and cower from the display before them as the air around them seems to burn with the light of molten rock being flung high into the air. The eruption is brief, just a dozen hastily taken breaths, before relative calm once more descends, many lumps of rock landing among the Exiles and rolling, smoking, down the slope, but none, mercifully, striking anyone.

Before long, as the earth ceases to shudder, the Exiles pluck up the courage to look at the foot of the slope once more and find it altered, a small cone of steaming rock having formed and the figure, his feet planted within the molten rock, of little Lodi, holding his makeshift spear above his head in triumph. "Lodi kill demon!", he shouts in rapture at the onlookers as his eyes glow fiercely yellow and steam comes off his naked ash-hued torso. He steps out from amidst the rubble, the downy feathers on his legs singed not a touch. He turns to look at the minute volcano he has made and all the exiles can see something pressing at the skin of his back as if trying to escape, something in the form of bat wings. Lodi gurgles a laugh, "Bad demon" he says, slapping at his back "you dead now." Turning to walk up the slope with a happy smile, Lodi stops at the first adult he comes across. "We go kill Priderni now?" he asks.


It is some time before anybody can respond to Lodi's fierce enthusiasm. Gyffun, who has been staring with the others in open-mouthed amazement at the child, is the first to regain his composure. He is not sure what to make of the volcanic display that they have just witnessed, so he decides to focus upon the child's question instead. With a nod to Lodi, the skald addresses all of the Exiles.

"I am far from eager to be chasing off to raid the Priderni, least of all at the behest of Hahlgrim, but this request from the Ochre Fallow is something that we must urgently consider. And - however hard it may be for us to do so - in considering this request I fear that we must set aside the hurts that we have sustained and our obligations to the Dark Folk. The effects of this decision will far outlast our wounds, and until we have sealed our new friendship with the Uz we cannot lightly dismiss these other so-called friends of ours."

"At the Ochre Fallow Moot - which seems like a very long time ago now - we ostensibly threw in our lot with our neighbours, albeit in a rather vague fashion and with little promised in return. Our friend Mollen Pizrak has now indicated that this 'summons' to join them on a raid is a test of that friendship. If it were only Hahlgrim that we stood to offend by our refusal, then I might gladly counsel against involving ourselves in this foolhardy undertaking, but I am sure that Chief Umathkar would also take a very dim view of such a response. I have small respect and little liking for this chief, and none at all for his son, but are we ready to risk bringing their wrath down upon us, if we refuse to honour the terms that they now place upon our continued friendship?"

"It pains me to say it, but I fear that we must lend at least some aid to this raiding venture of our so-called allies - though it cost us dear to do so - lest we find ourselves paying an even heavier cost at the hands of those self-same allies. One day soon, I hope, we might have the strength to nay-say our not-so-friendly neigbours, but this is not that day. I am more of a singer than a fighter, but if we do decide to send a party to take part in this raid, then my sword stands ready to join them."

"There is one final factor that we must consider in this, however: time. By my reckoning, we have only two days to join the Ochre Fallow at their tula and embark upon the raid. Two days after that is Lawstaff Day, by which time we must be back here again to meet with the Uz. Quite apart from the risk that we might not return from this raid at all, dare we risk returning too late to meet our obligations to the Dark Folk?"


Vizz can barely speak. He is swollen red, sickly green, gruesome blue, scratched and bleeding, nauseous and dizzy. His eyes bloodshot, his tongue lolling and grey. Not a word issues from his mouth nor any glimmer of understanding from his eyes. His breath is laboured and painfully wheezy. He is not in a fit state to lead a great warband to raid raid the Priderni. Scorpion venom clearly does not agree with him.

Unusually, Volle speaks, standing in for his brother.

"Lodi – danger, Volcano child, suggest follow him, prevent blood feuds. Send three men, or ducks. Meet obligations - Lodi will kill plenty – he's invulnerable and contains demon. Bad times."

"Darkmen – danger, must honour promise or they return to feast on us. Bad."

"Wilma – burial – must prevent ghosts and bad spirits with proper rites. Sad."

"Demon – terror. Chaos. Wash his presence from our tula. Send him away to fight enemies. Sacrifice to Storm Bull and Natyrsa. Mad Who else is dead? Morith? Where?"

We alive, rain come soon – Glad."


Vurth is also barely this side of the living and in no shape to go raiding in the near future. However, he is of the opinion that at least some gesture be made to join in the raid, though not so much to appease the Ochre Fallow as for clan honor.

As for Lodi...

Vurth's feeble sniffing at the boy reveals a ripe stench of the Predark. That said, however, Vurth is sufficiently experienced to know that a warrior who has just braved Snakepipe Hollow and performed great deeds of bravery, his body besmattered in ichor, goo and gore, will smell pretty much the same, despite being pure of heart. If the boy has consumed a chaos beast, well...


Silverquill listens to the debate, for once quiet and withdrawn.

When it becomes his turn to speak, the normally garrulous duck only says a few brief words:

"I'm not a gweat fighter, but if it is needed, I will go along for this waid. I would pwefer to stay here, though, to see if maybe I can help with the twolls. Perhaps I might also be able to do a divination to see who or what killed Wilma."

The small duck looks up at Skullcleaver. "If you wish to go a-waiding, please feel fwee to do so. Sending Lodi along on the waid might be a vewy good idea."

Skullcleaver's expression makes it clear that he would love to go on the raid. Later, he shows up with his axe polished bright metal and an eager grin on his face.

"I'm weady to go waiding!" he states proudly. It takes him a good while to figure out why everyone else is desperately trying to stifle their laughter...


Big Lig, rushing in to see what has been going on, sees that Volle is busy making pronouncements. Relieved to see that his brother Vizz is for once speechless, albeit of a gruesome hue, he taps him on his shoulder.

"Vizz, you must come and see this. You too Oshana" he remembers to add just before his chum's fiancee strikes him down with the evil eye.

"Muurrrrggh..." groans Vizz, unable to focus.

"What is it now Lig?" Oshana replies "Is it urgent? Do I need to see it? OK, OK, I'll come. Here, someone look after Vizz."

She follows Big Lig to investigate.

A short while later, she returns, walking unsteadily, her face quite as ashen as his, to Vizz. Grabbing him by his mustachioes, she turns his head to face her and tells him abruptly to cease his moaning. Her pupils are as dilated as can be, her irises glowing a bright blue. "Vizz, listen," she says quietly but firmly, "I have just been to Alda Chur, to Big Lig's warehouse. It is all shut up and he has stayed to see that things are in order."

As his bleary eyes finally bring her into focus, Vizz sees that Oshana's face and hair are bestrewn with a sparkly blue dust.

"It's Alfons," she informs him. "We took Big Lig's key and he took a hold of us. He folded up, as he does, but with us inside him. "Titter ye not!" she scolds her wayward lover. "He then unfolded us in Big Lig's warehouse," she concludes, her voice fading away.

Seeing that Vizz, rather than paying the attention a man should his future wife, is using his meagre energies to smooth his bristles back into place, Oshana harrumphs and sits down with her back to him.

"The vanity of the man," she mutters unhappily, "Marriage... pff!" she adds, taking a swig at a gourd of something strong and lighting up a cigar to steady her nerves.


While some of the Exiles are getting ready to join in the raid on the Priderni and their bad poems, Silverquill readies himself for a Divination. He inspects the lambs available and buys one for a sacrifice. Rummaging through his collection of scrolls, he finds a treatise on the uses of trollkin urine which he decides to burn. He prepares his mind by going over the king list of First Age Pelanda.

Together with Skullcleaver, he arrives at Sabriel's hut, where the murder took place. Quickly killing the lamb, he places it's brain on a brazier, together with his scroll. Inhaling the fumes, the small duck sits down and puts a leather sheet over his head, rocking back and forth.

Skullcleaver looks on and prevents any interference to the ritual.

After what feels like an eternity of darkness, Silverquill sees himself floating over the Exile's tula. He sees the campfire, and himself shouting about war and death. The young children are yelling their support and banging their shields.

Shaking his head with shame and anger, the small duck floats towards Sabriel's hut on the hill. He feels a strong resistance as he approaches. He struggles as best he can and slowly draws closer. There is some sort of fog obscuring the entrance to the hut. Silverquill waves his arms, trying to disperse the fog. No use. Finally, he draws his short sword and slashes it across the fog*. A small gap becomes visible. He sticks his head through the gap and sees...himself!

Or a version of himself, at least, equipped with a pair of bat wings and a slavering bill to boot, rushing up the hill to pounce upon Wilma, bending over her and drawing the lifeblood from the veins in her neck.

It seems it was the demon which Silverquill brought into the Mortal World which slew the priestess. A thoroughly uncomfortable feeling unsettles the sage. His god is not just the god of knowledge but is often called upon to determine guilt. Should guilt for Wilma's murder be ascribed to anyone, he thinks...

Siverquill, the real one, steps back from the smoke on the brazier, coughing and choking furiously, his eyes streaming. Skullcleaver just looks on.

Silverquill staggers out of the hut, coughing and spluttering. Drawing in great gulps of fresh air, the small duck leans against the hut for quite some time.

Finally, he calls to Skullcleaver that they are done here and to collect the items used for the divination.

Once down amongst the other Exiles again, Silverquill is very quiet and just listens to the others talking.


In the end, Gyffun gives his own answer to this question, announcing - with evident disquiet - his intention to set out for the Ochre Fallow to participate in their proposed raid. If nothing else, he will endeavour to report back on the events of the expedition and may be able to mollify their allies still further by composing a song to celebrate their victory - or lament their defeat. Lodi seems only too pleased to go along on the raid and Aren indicates that he will join them, accompanied by both Friend and his wife Shelara.

The skald speaks to each member of the fyrd individually, hoping that some of the other Exiles will lend their strength to this reluctant gesture of solidarity with their neighbours. Although he is as eloquent as ever in his speech and finds some sympathy for his proposal amongst his own bloodline, his characteristic enthusiasm still seems sorely diminished by recent events. Where some are inspired by his brave example and give the matter careful thought, most seem reluctant to leave their families at this time of danger.


It is but one day since the battle underground, but nevertheless, several of the fyrd show themselves willing to go on this raid. Perhaps, as with the defence of the stead from the tuskers, they are keen to feel the joy of a victory rush through their veins, to feel in command of events once again. A few of the Ginunga boys drift in in response to the earlier summons, but it is only a few and they reek of ale. This elicits some very unkind comments from the Exiles, especially those who have been most generous in proferring their meagre supplies to support the band of warriors who, it is rumoured, are meant to be patrolling the Gors for Chaos. They soon wander away unperturbed, or perhaps unable to sense, through their addled state, anything untoward.

And so it is that, as the next day dawns brightly, little Lodi finds himself the centre of attention. Many of the other boys, some girls as well, have pitched up with their warpaint and their sticks, but their parents quickly drag them away from the assembling party. No-one seems willing to drag Lodi away, however, so before long the merchant Mollen Pizrak leads him together with Aren, Gyffun, the brothers Harrold, Darrold and Darrold and some half a dozen of the fyrd, towards the Ochre Fallow. Skullcleaver travels too, looking a little shamefaced at some of the remarks he hears about his Warband, but remaining silent.

Progress is swift and it is evident from the questions which Pizrak, when quizzed, diplomatically avoids answering, that Hahlgrim Thane, Champion of the Ochre Fallow, has planned this raid principally to test the willingness of the neighbouring clans to follow his lead. Indeed, once they have crossed Sal's Ridge and descended into the Ochre Fallow tula one day early, they find that the raiding party is already assembled to leave the following morning! Pizrak is plainly fuming at having been party to this subterfuge and coldly greets Gordangara, batting away her miserly greeting to the Exiles and offering them the customary hospitality himself.

That evening, once the fifty or so of the Ochre Fallow who are to travel have smeared themselves in yellow mud and exchanged mighty boasts, Umathkar Chief gathers the raiding party together to tell them of his dream. He reveals how a Belveren healer came to tell him of Chaos coming from the west, of how a betrayal had given it purchase and allowed it to ooze up from the Hollow. He reminds everyone of how Gwyntarla's murdered body was found half a year ago and no culprit had ever been discovered. It was revealed to him in his dream, he says ominously, that the murderer was Hedkoral Flatnose, Thane of the Priderni.

All the while, Hahlgrim sits impassively by his uncle's side, smiling occasionally as cries of outrage are heard. Once his uncle his done, Hahlgrim receives the petitions of his allies from other clans. First is Baranwolf the Bole, Champion of the Wildcats. Backed by his thirteen men, all clad in the furs of beasts they have hunted down, he tells of how he followed a wolfpack for thirteen days, slaying one each day as he stalked them, and so he brings thirteen warriors to act as the Spear, to lead the Ochre Fallow to their prey and to be the first to strike the Priderni down.

Janstan Farborn, a slight man but one of poise, offers a quietly delivered but gripping tale of resistance against great odds brought to bear by the Red Empire in distant Prax. He tells of how he assembled a small band of heroes devoted to Death, one which swore a bloodoath never to quit fighting until each had fallen in battle against Shepelkirt and her allies. he tells of how he came to the Far Place and chose the Vostangi as his base. He indicates the score of warriors who have accompanied him, some five of them plainly grim followers of Humakt. As is fitting, he suggests that he lead the Sword to the right of the field.

An older man, who introduces himself as Skalfar Stormwise of the Fire Quartz, is quick to step in at this point, pre-empting Aren who had considered offering to take the next position to the left of the field, the Shield. Skalfar is accompanied by only three female warriors, two with their hair dyed red, one naturally auburn. His voice rings out across the compound, as he tells of the his clan's steadfastness and the wisdom of his ancestors. The implications of his paltry contribution to the effort and of his talking of wisdom at this juncture are plain. His speech is so curt that when he ceases, everyone feels deprived of his mellifluous tones.

"Very good!" says Hahlgrim, breaking into the silence and taking charge of proceedings. Very quickly, as he reveals his plans, he has assigned Gordangara her fellow Vingans in the Shield and Bundra, his mother, to lead the other healers in the Backboy under the guard of Aren. He swiftly moves on to mention Voranth and Vamastal who have not shown up, and fields a slew of insults upon their heads which he stokes up until very quickly the raiding party descends into a noisy mass of drinking and boasting and all has been decided for the morrow, it not needing to be said that he is to lead the Byrnie in the centre of the field.


The raid itself is a brief, bloody and less than ennobling experience. On the way to the Priderni tula, the Exiles chafe at the stream of petty demands from their erstwhile leader, Bundra the Healer, but are able to throw the odd amusing raised eyebrow at one another as she reminds them repeatedly of her son's many qualities. They begin, indeed, to understand the root of Hahlgrim's ambition. They do manage to size up some of their companions. The Ochre Fallow fyrd seem never to have heard of Hedkoral Flatnose and the circumstances of Gwyntarla's demise seem to be less than suspicious. Although she was found drowned in a stream, there had been no evidence of violence and, orphaned stickpicker that she was, was known to be a sickly creature overly fond of mead. The men seem to be taking this in their stride however and there does seem to be genuine warmth between them and the other contingents of the Tres Tribe. Indeed, the three other leaders, Baranwolf, Janstan and Skalfar, are accorded great respect and Aren and Gyffun find themselves similarly treated. Baranwolf and Janstan largely ignore the Exiles but Skalfar, a grave man, is often seen eyeing up these newcomers with apparent suspicion, especially the odd boy who accompanies them.

On the field where the Priderni, forwarned no doubt by their wyter, have gathered, the customary exchange of insults is led by an accusation from the Ochre Lawspeaker. The Exiles soon learn that there is indeed a Hedkoral Flatnose but that he, being the foremost brewer in Ironspike (and now his name does ring a bell) rather than a warrior, would never be given up to a fleabitten hoard of filth pouring out of the hills with trumped-up accusations based on having mislaid one of their whores a year ago. That the men of the Ochre Fallow did not even notice that their prime harlot had been missing for a year leads to very creatively devised aspersions being cast on the sexuality of the menfolk of the Tres, and so matters proceed until Hahlgrim, as Champion, eventually finds himself facing his opposite number from the Priderni, a great fellow with a mighty ginger beard and a way with insults.

He is only into his second proposed explanation for Gordangara's epithet, "The Unmatched", when Hahlgrim hurls a gust of wind at him, bowling him over, and leaps forward to rain a flurry of blows on his shield. The Wildcats swiftly follow with a hail of spears and soon the field is all confusion. The exiles swiftly learn that Janstan Farborn's boasts are more than backed up by his leadership on the field as the Sword drives the Priderni left back. The centre holds, however, and the Exiles, ignoring Bundra's protestations, move into a position to back the Vingan Shield up as the Priderni right advances. Bolstered by a rousing song from Gyffun, the four Vingans and Skalfar retreat steadily and assuredly, barely allowing their foe to engage as they hurl missiles at them, backed up by Aren's lightning magic.

Suddenly the Vingans break and flee, followed swiftly by a joyful rush from the Priderni Sword. Five warriors could never hold a flank but unfortunately for the Priderni, they did not perceive the obvious trap. At a shriek from Gordangara which pierces through the clamour of the battlefield, twenty men detach themselves from the Byrnie and charge the now flanked Priderni and the Vingans, now shoulder-to-shoulder with the Exiles, turn to form a shieldwall. Skullcleaver does not stay in the wall for long, advancing and swinging his axe about him with such fury that, once he has downed one poor unfortunate, he finds it hard to get near any more as they give him such a wide berth.

Eventually, the Priderni retreat, leaving a score of wounded and dead behind them, and the field quietens. The celebrations are high-spirited as could be predicted, but Gordangara and the Fire Quartz contingent who fought among the Exiles are much more restrained, none of them seeming to have taken any pleasure in proceedings or in the outcome. One of the Darrolds, for he and his brothers had detached themselves from the shieldwall once it was evident which way things would go, soon shows up with a broad grin. He doesn't stay long, though, informing his fellow exiles that he and his brothers have five cattle and will therefore be leaving immediately, making their own way home travelling to the west of Dar's Seat.

Surveying the field, it becomes evident that Lodi had, unnoticed, joined the heart of the battle. A little way off, he can be seen examining the mound of a man which was the Priderni champion and pulling one bloody half of Faren's former companion, Ash-not-Plow, out of the fellow's eye. As Bundra and her two companions move about the field examining the wounded, one of them shoos Lodi away and he happily trudges back to the Exiles.

The Exiles cannot help but pick up some of Skalfar Stormwise's gloomy mood. He and his Vingan companions quickly leave without saying their goodbyes and soon the Exiles, having seen more bloodthirstiness among the Ochre fallow and the other contingents of the Tres than they might have expected, follow suit.


Having set out for the raid a day early, the Exiles return in good time for their meeting with their underground neighbours. The five cattle are a welcome addition and set the stead into a jubilant mood, though not all of those who participated in the raid are too keen to tell of their exploits. Gyffun, troubled in the sickening aftermath of the raid, but true to his vocation, has written a poem to record the battle:

Come the Tres to field of battle
Called hence by the Ochre Fallow.
Drown'd Gwyntarla makes their quarrel
Victim of an ill-met doom.

Chief Umathkar names her killer,
Shown to him in night-time vision:
Hedkoral of the Priderni
Flat-nosed toast of Ironspike.

Hahlgrim takes the place of honour
Leads the Byrnie into battle
As his Sword stands Janstan Farborn
Wed to Death and sworn to die.

As their Shield stands Stormwise Skalfar,
Joined by unmatched Gordangara
With her own red-headed sisters
And the Fire Quartz maidens three.

Baranwolf, with Wildcat brethren,
Guides the Spear to strike the foeman,
While behind comes healing Bundra
Guarded by proud Lanolf's heirs.

First with insults the Priderni
Greet the grieving Tres assembly,
Mock their lawful claim of murder,
Scorn the memory of the dead.

Then strikes never-patient Hahlgrim,
Answers spite with holy storm-breath.
Metal-congress starts in earnest,
Red the battle-rivers flow.

First a hail of shooting-serpents
From the Wildcat host comes raining
Then with hurtful tongue of battle
Janstan drives the foemen hard.

Skalfar holds the centre steady
Firm stands matchless Gordangara,
Then join Lanolf's kin beside her
Singing, flinging bolts of fire.

Now this Shield draws the Priderni
Heedless into mortal peril,
'Til on all sides Tres surround them;
'Gainst the wall they break and fall.

So comes triumph, bloody-handed
Vengeance for poor dead Gwyntarla
And the Ochre Fallow's allies
Homeward head with heavy hearts.

For, when war must answer murder,
Those whose kin are slain in battle
May yet respond in kind, 'til all
Our hopes and dreams on pyres burn.


Faren shivers as he steps off the ladder and onto the cavern floor. He tries to pretend it is from the pain of his only partially healed burns, but he knows it is more from the pain of his even less healed memories of how he got those burns.

When the floor proves to be just dirt, and not a nest of stinging scorpions, he relaxes but only a shade. If he had Ash-not-Plow here, to check the quality of the dirt, or even Rocky who could potentially move aside falling rocks, then he would feel more confident about the state of the tunnels. Instead he is going in feeling naked, without daimonic support.

He feels both better and worse as he turns to help Myarra off the ladder. It is good to have someone at his side, but again he can't help but remember what happened to Ash-not-Plow and Rocky down here, only a few days ago. Although not given to flights of fancy, he can't help imagining what the scorpions would do to a maid like Myarra.

They'd worked closely over the past few days, healing Rocky, and then trying to limit the damage that Lodi's volcano had done to the fields. Faren is still hurt and Myarra is tired from the vigils for Wilma's soul, but their growing team work allows them to work smoothly together. Swiftly they take the sacks of grain and freshly slaughtered pork off of the ropes on which they'd been lowered, and transfer them to a leather sheet to haul them through the tunnels.

Those tasks done, they step back to make space for those who knew Wilma better. Faren is surprised to find tears wetting his face as the others get ready to lower her corpse.

Vizz is pleased that she is neither trussed up like a turkey nor stuffed. He is glad that not all of his poison induced nightmares have come true.

He hopes that the trolls treat her body with some respect and do not rip it to pieces like they do with a slaughtered trollkin.

Vizz asks that Silverquill check that he has no cigars about his person. He checks his own pouches too, unsure of his own willpower when the darkness envelopes him. He takes careful note of the ducks useful primer in Uz phraseology, and hopes that he will not have to use some of the more plaintive phrases.

Dressed in his corselet of bronze and with freshly combed facial hair ststicking out at all angles, he steels himself for the women of darkness.

Vurth has also staggered back to life. For the past two days he had lain almost comatose but this seems to have cleared the worst of the poisons from his body as well as healing the more minor cuts and abrasions suffered in the recent skirmish.

Strung about his neck is his severed ear, looking somewhat the worse for wear at the moment, but Rita has 'requested' that he wear it as a reminder of how it came to be detached from his head.

He somewhat baffled in how to proceed with the darktrolls as his experience with them is more with the Zorani who are relatively straightforward (just like good Uroxi!). He is content to let others lead in this speaking stuff, but will be along just in case things get exciting.

He remains stoic and silent throughout the rites, being all to familiar with them. Uroxi do not have overly long life expectancies.

Gyffun is conscious of the tears pouring from his own eyes as he watches the body's slow descent, but they come as no surprise. He has been at pains to tell everyone else that this is no day for sadness, that Wilma would be only too pleased that her "tired old bones" would still be of use, now that their erstwhile inhabitant has shuffled them off and departed for pastures new. He knew, even as he spoke these words of reassurance, that he would never be able to wear that brave face for much longer. Now that the fateful day has arrived there seems little point in pretending.

He knows too, that the other Exiles share his feelings of loss, for Wilma will always have a place in their hearts. For all of their sadness, however, his kin have ever been a robust and practical folk, grown accustomed to pain and loss, and there is more - much more - than a lost loved one to occupy their thoughts today. Trembling beneath the surface of their sorrow is an potent mixture of fearful anticipation and guilty excitement, and something else: hope.

The skald feels it too, this subtle thrill of the unknown, this almost intoxicating fear of the dark. The danger here is very real, as he and the others had learned to their cost, but somehow that only makes it all the more exciting. He had felt it as they faced the Priderni too, felt it in spite of the humble role that he and his comrades had been assigned. His pride, like that of his kin, has taken a beating, but in time he knows that it will heal, and then...

Humble we may seem, he thinks, and humbled we may be, but like an ember smouldering in the ash, there is a fire within us that even the merest breath might yet unleash.

Gyffun and Faren could wish for a fire in fact, for it is quite chilly down here. And dark, oppressively so. Thse who have lowered Wilma's body down try not to look into the expanse of darkness which extends as if to infinity away from the hole in the ceiling, just as they might be wary of looking down from Kero Fin.

Silverquill has been quiet and withdrawn for quite a while, but as the meeting with the trolls approach, his natural curiosity and good humour take over. He attempts to teach friendly Uz words to the delegation and also holds a long discourse on trollish etiquette. To those nervous of descending into the hole without light, he offers Chernan's blessing of Seeing in the Dark.

He has heard about the new and seemingly impossible travel method to Alda-Chur and is very exited about that. Imagine - fresh cigars...


It is unfortunate that it has been some five or six days since Wilma died, but enough herbs have been gathered so as to give the Exiles' noses something else upon which to focus above the stultifying smell of decomposition. Eventually Wilma is arranged on her litter and the ropes released. As those who are to participate descend, they are joined by Lodi, enthusiastically shimmying down the rope, his body oiled with grains crushed from the barley barrels.


Faren's voice freezes the energetic youngster for a moment, a moment Faren takes advantage of to get a hand wrapped around the small oily arm. The burly farmer contines, chiding "Lodi, we already explained why you have to stay up top today. Today is important, and the things we will do today will be good for us all, but are they going to be happy things or sad things?"

Twisting one toe into the dirt, Lodi admits in a small voice "Sad things."

"And will we be eating any of the sort of food that you like?"

"No" his voice carries his opinion of what he has been told of, eating bugs and fungus.

"And we are guests, and have to follow lots and lots of rules, like not making any lights and not wandering around. Do you like following rules like that?"

"NO! But I want to have fun."

"Right, and that is why you should stay up in the sun today. I'll even tell you what, you go and find Harrold, Darrold, and the other Darrold, and tell them I said they should stop weeding for the afternoon, and you should all go chase squirrels away from the Dulu nut trees. That is fun, but it is important too. The alynx are doing a pretty good job, but in the hot afternoons they don't like running too much, and the squirrels get bold! It is getting close to the dulu nut harvest, and we don't want the squirrels eating them all. Can you help guard the trees today? Remember though, no burning the trees!"

When Lodi finally, reluctantly, climbs up the ladder, Faren breathes a sigh of relief. At least until Myarra says "If he is anything like my brothers were, he'll just wait until we are out of sight, then tag along anyway."

Grateful for Faren's intervention with the perplexing child, Gyffun gives them both a wan smile.

"You may be right, Myarra," he says. "But at least we can stop worrying about him for a little while, eh?"

Then, noting that their delegation is now fully assembled, he raises his voice to address them all.

"Before we go on," he begins, waiting for a few moments as the murmur of hushed conversation dies away. "I would like to repeat our hosts' requirement, which I have no doubt told each of you more than once already. The Uz were most emphatic on this point, however, so I am determined to avoid upsetting them before we even start."

"Here it is: we are to bring no fire with us into their domain. This will make it difficult for us to see, I know, but that cannot be helped. There will be little illumination once we reach the tunnel - although I will attempt to provide some form of light to help us to see our way - so you must all prepare yourselves for the darkness. If this frightens you, please ask Silverquill to give you Chernan's blessing now, to help you see a little better."

The skald waits until all seem ready to proceed, then leads the way towards the opening in the cavern wall. As he walks, he begins to sing, a wordless and seemingly endless piece, which echoes softly in his wake. As the group moves into the more profound darkness and scramble through into the tunnel, they become aware of a strange phenomenon: a half-seen train of faint phosphorescence in the air, which seems to billow behind the skald like a great diaphanous train.

Silverquill waddles along next to Gyffun, surefooted in the darkness, his eyes glowing with Chernan's gift. He has left Skullcleaver behind with the rest of the Exiles, mindful of the last time the berserker nearly got them both killed in a delicate negotiation with trolls.

Suddenly, dark shapes loom out of the darkness. Growls and hisses can be heard and the temperature drops noticeably.

Silverquill smiles to himself. Trolls are so interesting. He peeks up at Gyffun, waiting for the bard to speak.

With a parting wave to Friend, Aren treads behind Silverquill. Having spurned the helpful charm even Aren's sharp eyesight makes little impression in the gloom. Though he does have his bright cloak with him it hangs dark for now.


Aren apologies gravely when he accidentally treads on the diminutive sage.

"Sorry, Wise One - my feet appear to be growing larger by the minute"

Silverquill winces as he realises that the Tarshite phrase "My feet appear to grow larger at the minute" can also be interpreted as "Your mother is a mewling, useless trollkin" in Darktongue...

Faren shuffles along near the end of the group, trying to haul the loaded leather sheet with one gloved hand while using the other to fend off the walls. He uses "see life's fires" to keep track of the rest of the group as best he can.

Myarra follows along, holding up the back end of the sheet with one hand to keep things from falling off, while holding a cord with the other. Somewhere behind her the cord is tied around the waist of the lead bearer of Wilma's body.

Straining against the darkness, Faren also uses soul sight and his ability to see dragon trails--anything he can do to penatrate the invasive gloom.

Vurth follows Myarra, feeling the rope tug him whenever he slows. How does that woman manage to travel so fast in the dark he grumbles to himself? One hand on the rope, the other holding Wilma’s body in place over his shoulder Vurth is forever bumping into the wall and otherwise abrading still tender spots.


The funereal group very slowly make their way towards the opening to the far side of the cavern, the darkness closing in about them. A faint bluish glow from the distant cavern walls makes the environs if anything less hospitable, casting up shapes of all sides scuttling about the Exiles. The hissings and rumbles of the darkfolk about them are unsettling enough, but it is the clicking noise of many smaller creatures which strikes fear into their hearts.

Quiet eventually descends as the Exiles, not totally sure how to proceed, pause for direction. Then the mass of cold bodies about them backs off and a single figure can be heard approaching them slowly, as if ceremonially, with a soft clanking and a sensual scent. Reaching them, the figure unveils a softly glowing censer, revealing it to be a dark troll. It stoops over Wilma's body, placing the censer close to her head, then steps back.

A few moments pass in the dim red glow before another, more familiar figure, approaches. Now more visible than before, the shaman can be seen to have the legs and torso of a female troll, but the alien head, gigantic pincers and fearsome tail of a huge scorpion. Although a blue-black colour all over, her carapace has many red markings which would seem to have been engraved in her by fire.

Seeming to eye up the humans and the duck before her (though no eyes can be seen on her bizarre head region), she says in Tarshite, "First this", moving one gigantic gigantic pincer to encompass Wilma's head. She holds, apparently waiting for agreement...

Silverquill studies the shaman before him. She must worship Krolar, the Scorpion ancestor, and she seems very powerful and frightening. As the troll moves to snip off Wilma's head, the small duck sage nods, a tear in his eye. Always food first with the trolls...

Gyffun also indicates his assent, unusually eschewing his tendency towards over-elaborate articulation by emulating Silverquill's simple affirmative gesture.

Aren nudges Silverquill "Remind them that we want something to bury afterwards"

With a crunch, the pincer slices the top off Wilma's head, the bulky shaman scooping out a grizzly gobbet and placing it atop the censer. With a hiss, a small plume of smoke rises off the hot metal, the shaman standing in its path and breathing Wilma's essence in through openings in her side. Relaxing her torso, she scoops the material back off the censer and into Wilma's head, searing her pincer as she does so. A brave trollkin steps forward and pees on the censer to put it out with another hiss as darkness descends once more.

A blue glow steadily restores the slightest of vision to the Exiles, the shaman standing stock still, waiting...

Silverquill steps forward one step and looks up at the towering troll. "I am Silverquill, a guest of this twibe. On this Allfather day, you have tasted the ancestor in the Mother - and you will agwee that the hoomans are the offspwing of Uz-fwiends. They will now make pwomises to keep the peace between your two twibes, and to never bwing fire or light below again. After this, we must talk about the kwjalki that might still be nearby."

"Yes, Wisetroll speaks for Danlarn but she taste is not Lanolf blood of," she answers in a rusty Tarshite. "She too is dead too," she adds, helpfully.

"We is Clan Bagogsh," she says, finally setting to introductions, "We fight Giniji with Lanolf, we eat many poison together, kills Bagog, we drink Skyfell, we eat good bluefire, we take my sondaughter Zorak Zoran to Death. Now I help take Wisetroll knowledge to Death?" Despite her garbled grammar, she does manage a questioning inflection to her last, resting a familiar giant pincer atop the sage's head as she does so.

Perhaps a little overenthusiastic for one so ancient, she doesn't await an answer. "All eight here?" she asks, "Pup, Riantha, Oghtroll, Aki, Aodi, Danlarn, Riantha, Wulf?" Managing an inflection once more, she seems a little confused by those before her, but is so much gentler, motherly even, than the last time they met. "You have blue bigtrollstuff?" she asks Silverquill.

"You mean 'den runde lynkugle'?", Silverquill asks in Darktongue. He is using the phrase 'round stone with hurty light inside'. "I have that in my pocket."

The scorpion-Uz thing looks even more enthused, if such a thing is possible... and detectable.

"I am the Aodi and I will follow you", Silverquill says. "This is Pup Duckfwiend, Wiantha, Oghtwoll, Wulf and Aki" (pointing to Vizz, Gyffun, Faren, Aren and Vurth in turn - and incidentally placing Faren in the Foreman role).

"Danlarn was the Mother that you see here, and Lanolf was lost to us."

Silverquill pauses, waiting for any others that wish to speak.

Being a bit short on Darktonuge Vurth is content to let the others lead. He was still wondering about the head snipping but all the talky talky lot seemed to take it in stride.

Wait! The duck is pointing at him and the gesturing at the shaman! A signal to attack?

Vurth huffs and braces himself for action ... but then relaxes as it becomes apparent that the duck is waiting for the shaman to respond.

Then Gyffun adds his voice to Silverquill's. "I too will follow you," he says, addressing the shaman. He has been trying to place the myth that the troll referred to as 'taking Wisetroll knowledge to Death', and thinks that he has identified it now. "And, as the Songstress, I stand ready to summon our guide to the realm of Death."

He turns to the others and excitedly adds a few quick words of explanation. "If I understand our new friend's references correctly, I think she is suggesting that we enact the old funerary rites, which were originally established upon Danlarn's death. I always thought that there were some odd aspects to the rites that we used, but now I understand why - the figure that we refer to as the Great Dark One was clearly a troll in the original!"

He strokes his chin thoughtfully. "Hmmmm... we really are going to need a Lanolf for this, though," he mutters, glancing around hopefully at the other clansfolk.

Turning back to the shaman, he finds her looking rather non-plussed by his announcement and subsequent aside (although how he knows that, the skald could not say), so he adds in Darktongue:

"Ah... You Great Dark One? I call one who shows us way to Death?"

"Later," hisses the Krolari shaman aggressively, "First, we kills sondaughter again". With this, she whips out a pincer, grabbing an enlo which has strayed close to her and, with a mighty crunch, snaps it in two, holding it above the closed brazier for its blood to drip and sizzle on the hot metal. With this sacrifice, the Exiles feel the disorienting sickness of passing over to the other side.

The sacrifice is brutal but the Exiles know immediately that this is not the death to which the Kralori was referring, for they have found themselves back on the Danlarni tula. The twilight scene before them is all too familiar, for they stand at a great height overlooking Snakepipe Hollow, as they have all done at times. On this occasion, however, it is not the Uroxi who guard the cliff-face, for this is a time before the Ginunga Boys formed their band to protect the tula. Instead, the chasm which is known as Ginunga Gap is demarked by a dozen lowfires to either side, laid out in a funnel to guide any Predark to a killing field, the Blood Meadow.

Chewing at the twisted, woody vegetation which grows in the absence of grass or other life on the meadow are some half-a-dozen gigantic figures, clad in thick plates of beetle exoskeleton, skulls of all monstrous forms imaginable hanging from belts and from obscene necklaces, a band of Zorani trolls. Working up their hunger from the poor fare, they are plainly preparing for an invasion from Giniji below. TheKrolari shaman is nowhere to be seen.

Apart perhaps from Silverquill, the Exiles, steeped as they are in their Clan's history, immediately recognize this as the Bagog Bagging, when the original exiles from Balazar, exploring the lands around their new tula, made their first contact with the Bagogsh Clan. Set upon, at the end of a day's weary travel, by some hungry trolls, Lanolf made common cause with them against the Predark and saved his people from becoming breakfast. From their earlier travails, the Exiles are as exhausted as their ancestors must have been, but now they have no Lanolf to guide them. Fortunately, the Zorani have so far not noticed the Exiles...


Interlude: Vizz recalls a tale of Lanolf.

It was a difficult time - the people were not acting as their ancestors had, and everyone was poor in the new land. There were no good matches for the young unmarried people, and even bad matches were hard to come by. Some preferred food to freedom, eating to starvng in their own way, and returned to the lands of Balazar, to become the slaves of the old Pig King, who everyone knows.

Lanolf was a brave man, and a hero. He did not know fear and possessed an improper wherewithal, but he loved freedom and the rains of the Far Place and possessed a certain fraternal gumption, and so he sought allies among those who would only kill us and eat our bodies, and he sought enemies who would destroy the world and eat our souls. These enemies lived in influentual profusion in Ginijji - the Scorpion People, children of Bagog, their Hive buried beneath the Oozing Rocks.

He used his rawboned powers, an evasive boast and his acrimonious allies - fire and darkness - the Bagogi were softened in the luke warm water and Lanolf crushed their softened carapaces, and the darkmen came and bit the scuttling things legs off, and chewed on their pale flesh, and sucked up their poison in terrifying drinks, which blackened their tongues and made their ears twitch. Then, Lanolf and his companions travelled north to Skyfell Lake and the tongues that had been blackened were cleansed by those waters, and the ears that had twitched were an afterthought.


Gyffun, despite feeling a little disorientated and more than a little uncomfortable with this turn of events, nods in agreement.

"I think you have the right of it, Vurth," he comments. "You will recall that our ancestors were unfortunate enough to stumble upon the Uz without any warning, so I am confident that we we shall gain nothing by approaching them with caution."

The skald frowns, his memory replaying the stories that he remembers from his childhood.

"However, if I remember the tale correctly, then Lanolf and his wife the Songstress were not with the rest of the group when they first encountered the trolls. This is perhaps fortunate, considering that we seem to have no Lanolf of our own at present, but it also means that I - in my role as Riantha - should not accompany you. So I shall make haste to find our Lanolf, while you proceed to the trolls."

"Now, the way my hearth mother told it, Achyranth stopped the trolls from attacking initially by impressing them with his ferocity, but he was spoiling for a fight and things soon looked likely to come to blows. I think that you can manage that, my friend," he notes, with a smile at Vurth. "Wulf, on the other hand," he continues, turning to Aren. "Saw no sense in fighting with the Dark Folk and tried to calm things down. He tried speaking to the shaman who accompanied the Zorani, instinctively identifying her as the leader."

Finally he turns to Vizz. "Wulf would probably have succeeded in his diplomacy, too, if Pup hadn't intervened and spoken to one of the biggest Zorani instead, mistaking him for the one in charge and inadvertantly insulting the Uz in the process. Then Oghman tried to apologise for his friend's rudeness and Aodghan the sage stepped in and tried to reason with the irate Uz, but that only made things worse. At that point, Lanolf arrived to save the day. Let's just hope that I can find him and make sure that he does so this time..."

"Right! got it," says Vurth. "Go down, get down, stand down. Let's move it folks, before trouble moves to us."

And with that, he draws his klanth, casts assorted battle magics and then strides towards the fire in the distance yelling out insults in the most atrocious Darktongue imaginable (something about Zorani not being able to outdrink Uroxi and what that means about their ability to fight doorknobs).

Silverquill adjusts his false beard, pats his pockets to make sure he has all his stuff, and then with a big sigh waddles after the screaming Vurth.

So concerned is Vurth with showing off as he heads for the Zorani trolls, his right-hand duck following as fast as he can, and so woozy with the effects of the scorpion venom which seems to have replaced his blood, that it is only late on that he perceives, as a warrior inevitably must, the click and clack of the scorpion men reaching the top of the cliff face to his left. It remains for Silverquill to notice that the Blood Meadow has a few bumps in it; bumps which would likely have concealed the trolls from their prey. It seems that Vurth has sprung the Zorani trap a mite too soon...

Lead by a Bull. Aren shakes his head in dismay. Somehow it does seem appropriate to the occasion, however, so he seeks the blessings of the gods. He raises his hands to the heavens seeking some favourable weather for the inevitable battle. With a silent prayer to Orlanth he wrangles a wind to do his bidding. Seeing to keep Bulls scent and noise from the chaos spawn.

Then with just a nod to Heler he uses the wind to summon more clouds trying to get them to bang together and get angry when they pile up. All the better to call thunder down from. It will also serve keep the field dark from any foul moon beams that seek to give us away.

That done to the best of his ability he seeks to join his companions for the battle.

Silverquill is busy recalling Zorak Zorani customs as he waddles after Vurth. He glances around him and stops for a moment. Those bumps on the Blood Meadow look a bit out of place - meadows of that type should not normally be that uneven... stwange...

Vurth hoos and he haas, throws in a few haws as well. Still a bit squidgy from all that poison but no matter, he's been worse off before (just can't quite recall when).

He does wish that Silverquill would stop click clacking his bill like that though it was kind on neat how he was able to make the click clacking sound like it was coming from all about.

It was only when he chanced a glance at Silverquill as a prelude to tell him to keep his beak from flapping so loudly that it interfered with his fine art of hoo-hawing that he noticed that Silverquill had stopped a few paces back with his beak in a firmly dropped posture. What was that duck gawping at back there?

Vurth peered into the gathering gloom and dust swirling in the rising winds. There was Gyffun hightailing it off to the Bull knew where. Was there something else?

Vurth manages to check himself before he emerges from the gloomy shadows cast by the undergrowth and springs the trolls' trap. They can hardly be seen now they have been alerted by the noise of their prey, comfortably ensconced behind the mounds. Silverquill can see now that these are the accreted the forms of creatures slaughtered on the Meadow and grown over by plants brave enough to send their roots into the bodies of who knows what monstrosities lie there.

"Eeep!" goes Vurth as he regards the trembling tendrils of the nearest whatever-it-is. He forgoes further hoo-hawing for the moment and tries to plot out a route through the mounds. Bit tough to see from this perspective he leans over and grabs Silverquill and hoists him as high as he can. Hopefully the duck will be able to plot a route from this better perspective.

Struggling to keep his dignity, as he is once again perched on the head of a smelly barbarian, Silverquill digs his webbed feet firmly (and painfully) into Vurth's skull. Calling upon Chernan to guide him, he calls out directions to his carrier.

Silverquill peers towards the Gap where the Lowfires burn and the clickety-clack of some arthropod monstrosity approaches. Danger is all about, whether the new arrivals, the Uz hiding behind tumuli, the tumuli themselves, or the storm clouds which Aren has summoned. But it is the prckling on his neck feathers alerts Silverquill to a new danger approaching from behind.

Silverquill is just able to alert his steed (Vurth) to the new danger when the rushing sound of a horde of shadowy figures overcomes them in a wave of screaming and general hullaballoo.

He gives a surprised squawk, as the howling winds are replaced with the gibberings of a shadowy horde of... things... suddenly approaching from behind the pair. He estimates that they will be overrun and swamped in a matter of seconds - unless... yes!

"Vurth," he quacks. "Weap to your wight - wight now!"

Silverquill tries to guide his 'steed' to where the horde is smallest, giving them a better chance of not being overrun. He gives a large squawk to scare away the bad magic.

Vurth quickly moves to his right, and with a bellow of anger prepares to meet the onslaught.


Leaving his companions to deal with the Zorani, Gyffun heads off in a different direction, away from the chasm and the Blood Meadow and down towards Horse Run Fall. He knows that he has to find Lanolf and quickly, but he is still plagued by a powerful sense of dislocation. His only hope, he knows, is to immerse himself in the role of Riantha and submit to the power of the ceremony, instead of trying in vain to direct or comprehend it.

Identifying himself with the Songstress is easy; Gyffun has felt a strong bond with this wild ancestress ever since he was a child. He remembers his hearth mother, Lismelda, telling him the story of Riantha and Lanolf, whose fierce love had helped to unite their kinsfolk and forge the clan. A song rises unbidden from deepest memory, filling him with a new sense of purpose. With the song on his lips, the skald's uncertain first steps soon become a headlong rush and the living harp in his pack begins pulses in unison with the song's eager rhythm.

"Wild-running maiden with a beast-charming song,
And a proud young warrior, his oak heart strong,
Two lives entwined, a whole life long
Dancing the rhythm of the wild, my son
Dancing to the rhythm of the wild..."

Gyffun swiftly arrives at his ancestral stead, Horserun Falls, his movement paced not by the distance, so it seems, but by his urgency. Marvelling (has it been so long?) at the beauty of the vale, he is drawn out of a momentary reverie by a rhythm which his Harp has stuck up of its own accord. Floating over the cascades which define his former home, he follows the stream, as he has many times before, if never so easily, up to where the grassy slopes level out into a boggy patch of ground.

Turtlesnap is his destination and he quickly marks out the chieftain's hall. Lanolf is not to be found at Horserun, thinks Gyffun, quickly realizing that he is back in the present day and all he can do is seek out the current chief of the Danlarni, Hest Olafsson[1], at his stead, Turtlesnap.

The skald's sudden and unheralded appearance in the chieftan's hall causes much consternation. Those present with Hest Olafsson can clearly see that this is no ordinary intruder, however, and have difficulty in even determining the new arrival's gender, for its appearance wavers between two forms. Taking advantage of their astonishment,Gyffun executes a deep and formal bow to the chieftan and addresses him without hesitation. The honey-rich voice that emerges from his throat is not his own, but, like the formally sung words that spring easily to his lips, it is both alien and familiar.

"Danlarn chief and Olaf's son,
I greet thee in this hallowed hall
Wherein thou sit as Lanolf's heir,
Raised by blood to high estate.

The Songstress calls upon thine aid
To answer now the call of kin:
If Lanolf's blood flows in thy veins
Then grant my boon or shame thy name.

I seek mine husband, wise and true,
His friends to wrest from peril dark
And at Ginunga's Gap to forge
The ancient pact of trust anew.

Lend me thine eyes to spy my bourn,
Where now awaits my sweetheart brave,
That I on wings of hope might fly
To speed him thence and save the day."

Whether Hest is or no a true descendant of Lanolf, Gyffun cannot tell, but why else would his guiding urges have led him here? None but the chieftain, of those present, would fit the bill, for they are all outsiders, the weaponthanes from distant lands brought here by Berrance the Warleader.

After a moment's pause, during which Hest looks up from his cups and his brain can almost be seen to be working things out, he stands up with a relieved smile, then bends down again to untangle his leg from the chair's and let it crash to the ground behind him and stands again, favouring one leg. "Did I not say the summons would come?" He looks around at his companions challengingly. My ancestors have called, and I must fly to save one who is in peril dark.

Stepping around from behind the table where he has been feasting, Hest kicks at an unwelcome leg and picks up his gear from a pile on the floor. In a trifle, with the practice of a warrior, he has donned his arms and, hefting his axe, limps outside with Gyffun. It was all very quick, as if the Gods had somehow prepared this, and the skald is left with the image of Berrance squinting at him fiercely, apparently the only one to have recognized him.


Even Vurth is shocked by what he, for the briefest moment, sees. Having scrambled up one of the mounds, Slverquill atop him, a tide of the most gruesome figures washes past him and the other Exiles. A flash of lightning from the gathering clouds reveals blue-black figures, the size of alynxes, scuttling past on scorpion legs, their bulbous tails dragging behind them in the dirt, seemingly useless. Headless torsos, naked but for leathery hide, emerge from the arachnid bodies, clubs or spears in one hand, pendulous netting sacks either hanging from the other or else being twirled around absent heads. The lightning flash passes, leaving the Exiles blinded, and hellish screams erupt from the netting as the grotesque figures can be heard swarming past.

As the stunned Exiles are joined by a panting and bedraggled Gyffun and their wild-eyed former chief, Hest, clad in his battle regalia, the trail of putrescence left by the undead horde invades their nostrils. The worst of this challenge to their constitutions is that the odour recalls fresh-baked biscuits. Some of the Exiles cannot help but empty their stomachs and look about them shamefaced.

But then they are all relieved to feel the purity of Heler's blessing as the stormclouds open. Another flash of lightning and the low moan of winds rising from the Gap reassures them that their Gods have not forgotten them. They turn their attention to the Blood Meadow. Emboldened, for some of them despite themselves, by the arrival of Hest who was once such a formidable warrior, they cast their battle magics.

In recent years, Hest's rule has been weak and dissolute, but as lightning crashes into the Meadow and the moaning winds turn into a gale, all that seems to have been stripped away. "Tovtar!" he howls as he leaps into the melee, a crash of thunder accompanying his cry. A dozen Zorani warriors boom out their own battle cry as the enlo scorpions, hurling their netted heads as slingshots, smash into their much larger brethren...


Confusion and moments of recognition; flashes of revealing light followed by a hellish darkness; thuds of body upon body, the crunch of scorpion limbs underfoot, the crack of breaking legs; screams of agony and cries of rage; howling scouring winds and always, always a refreshing rain.

Moments of memory of a hundred skirmishes fought on the Blood Meadow cast up as the earth quickens into mud. Images of doom, skirted about, as Yavor lights up the Meadow to show the poison tail about to strike: a shield quickly deflected upwards - the yawning nothingness of the precipice before: a slewing, braking halt in the mud - the clansman about to be skewered by a spear he had himself blessed upon its making: quickly turned aside to crunch through chitinous armour.


The Exiles fight as desperately as their Ancestors once did, recently arrived in this strange land and beset by new horrors, and as their Ancestors have done ever since in this unholy place. They flow apart, pressing some foe, whether a goatheaded monstrosity or a beautifully sculpted youth, always atop a scorpion body. But they are always guided back together by the triumvarate of Lanolf, today in the guise of Hest hacking with his mighty axe and shouting orders; Yavor blasting the Meadow and showing its lie; or Danlarn, their first ancestor in the form of Wilma, their departed priestess, a newly raised presence, standing as a rock about which the battle crashes, pressing a monstrosity into the mud with a wave of her hand or scolding one of her clansmen with a peremptory but warm insult.


And so the Exiles hold off the Predark which assail them as the mighty Zorani slaughter the first score of scorpionmen. And, as the battlefield becomes briefly becalmed, the Exiles look for their fellows in the gloom, just a pair of the Lowfires having resisted the rains.

A blue glow rises now from the lip of Ginunga's Gap, a ball of blue lightning emerging and casting a dozen figures into monstrous silhouettes. Rising crackling and fizzing toward the clouds but fifty foot above, the ball lights up the blue rams which skit about it to avoid its touch. The field lights up with a blue-white light and several tableaux become visible to the Exiles amid the bestrewn corpses.

First is Wilma, lying prone a dozen feet away, her head cracked open, grey matter spilling into the mud. Then a pair of the hulking Zorani, the battle forgotten as they pull slaveringly at Faren's companion Myarra, one with her legs, one her arms in its grasp. Then, the leader of the Zorani, the shaman's "Sondaughter", his weaponless arms held aloft as a quartet of the surviving scorpionmen flick their venomous tails into his body. Hest, his arms bespattered with thick black blood, backing away from the whole scene, a look of horror upon his face, his determination seemingly having fled. Most disturbing is a gigantic scorpion body emerging from the ground as if the sickness of the land is becoming embodied, a screaming head at the front of the thorax bearing the unmistakable face of Morith, the turnip farmer and Vurth's bane.

More perplexing is a girl sat calmly upon a peace rug, quietly surveying the scene before her and, not far from her, a grim trio of human warriors, fading in and out of view, the swords they bear unmistakably those of Humakti warriors.


Suddenly, the ball lightning flies at the Exiles and crashes into a gorse bush immediately before them. In a trice, the twigs and branches have erupted into blue flame and the plant is decimated, leaving three twisted poles aflame. The fiery twists begin to unravel and straighten as one sends an electric fingers into the heavens. With a clap of thunder, the three poles detach themselves from the ground, each one now fashioned into one of Yavor's spears. One gently topples to lie, burning blue and yellow, in the mud. One flies into the heavens as a javelin bolt of lightning then flashes back down, a crackling length of electricity protruding from the ground. The third stays upright for a moment, burning dimly, then cracks, falling in two pieces to the ground, jumping and twitching as something within it seems to struggle for existence...


Myarra being in desperate straits betwixt two hungry trolls, Faren snaps to her "Call on your 'heal relationship' magic to help mend our alliance!" Then he squares his shoulders, hoists his spear and, switching to halting dark speech, roars at the trolls "That my family woman. You let go, or we fight, I hurt you, you kill me, chaos laugh loud. Let her go, all fight chaos, I Fight We Win, then we laugh loud, drink beer. I want fight chaos, what you want?"

Despite Faren's faltering Darktongue, the two warriors pause for an instant, relaxing their hold on the struggling woman. A foot lashes out and catches one of them on the chin, causing him to grin at Faren, "Too warm", he says, letting go of her and picking up one of the scorpion-trollkin by the tail and snapping it in two. The other Uz follows the lead and picks up his own tail, snapping at the tail too and sucking at the goodness within.


Meanwhile, Gyffun, blood-drenched and panting with exertion, lowers his sword and stares about himself with dazed apprehension. His eyes first fall upon Wilma's once-more lifeless body, and spontaneously fill with tears. Then, however, he sees the troll leader, still hard beset by scorpionmen, and goads his tired limbs into action once more.

Noticing Hest backing away in horror from the scene, he first approaches the ageing chieftan.

"Come, Lanolf," he says pointedly. "Our work here is far from over. Let us now lend our strength and valour to these Uz, who have fought bravely by our side, so that we may at last defeat our common foe."

Seeing the still-troubled expression on Hest's face, Gyffun sighs and makes a more concerted effort to restore their appointed leader's nerve. He recalls that his ancestor, Riantha, had been called upon to do much the same for the original Lanolf.

"Fear not, my lord," he adds, reassuringly. "For your wild Songstress yet stands by your side. Together we shall surely weave a song of victory."

Then with a wordless, dauntless song on his lips, the skald takes the old man by the hand and leads him towards the embattled Uz leader. Hest quickly remembers his warriorly ways and, lopping the tail off one of the scorpionmen with his axe, quickly drives he Zorani leader's foes scuttling back over the lip of Ginunga's Gap. 'Sondaughter', his arms held aloft, turns to Hest...


Unaware of all this, Vurth continues to engage in senseless mayhem with the "Headless Scorpion Trollkin Zombies" as he would like to name them if he had time, while carrying on a dialogue with the rest. "Well," he says, [hack ... slash] "I think that Gyffun has [boot, cleave] the right of it. For the most part though [chop .. chop once more] I am as perplexed as a girl sitting calmy upon a peace rug [dodge, return blow].

"Having lost our two leaders we best make sure [chopchopchop] that they arrive where they are supposed to go [more chopchopchop] and not stolen off by some predark vileness.

"But umm, how are we to do that?"

Silverquill, as immaculate as ever, despite the mud and blood surrounding him and Vurth's ramblings, gingerly bends down and picks up the first javelin. His feathers standing on end, he weighs the deadly spear. So heavy!

The small duck quickly moves over to Vurth, who is talking while hacking away at a scorpion horror. A few seconds later, Vurth has defeated his foe and notices Silverquill.

"Here, Vurth," says the sage, holding up the javelin to Vurth. "I suggest we twy and kill that wather lawge scowpion that looks like Mowith. This might do the twick."


Aren, having successfully summoned a storm, though he feels it really wanted to come anyway and he was just issuing an invitation, runs down to join his companions. "Gods! What in creation are these!" he exclaims as the Undead scorpions things chitter past.

Aren's battle with keeping his lunch in place is interrupted by the three lightning spears that have landed crackling on the battle field. Stepping over Silverquill, he approaches the crackling length of electricity stuck in the ground. Forcing down his momentary trepidation he seizes the live bolt of god power and yanks it from the ground.

With a bright flash and a bang Aren is thrown through the air to land with a squelch in the mud. When peoples eyes clear they can see him still holding the live bolt with a look of awe on his face. The fact that his clothes are starting to burn does not seem to have registered with him.

Having taken this lightning spear he focuses on the vile giant scorpion man with his clansman face. With a prayer on his lips he casts the bolt skywards into the clouds to call the thunder down on that vile monstrosity.


Silverquill has handed the burning spear to Vurth, and indicated the Morith-Thing, but at the same time he sees Aren throw another javelin. The deadly missile arcs high in the air and flies towards its target.

Silverquill's eyes widen, as he sees....


Morith! Vurth head snaps around at the sight of his turnip-raising foe. Morith whose endless complaints had .. well pretty much been ignored .. but still he'd gone on far too long about his hut and his field and his turnips ... and now he'd sold out the forces of predarkness.

Arrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!! Vurth clutches his klanth and the burning spear tightly and charges at his foe just as Aren fires a spiffy javelin over his head.

He pauses only long enough to should over his shoulder at some bickering Zorani and exiles that (in poorish Dark Tongue) 'that the predark still walks the land and what are you lot fooling about with the girl for?'

Arrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!! Chop! Bonk! Sparks fly!!


And so it is that the Exiles, joining forces with their ancient allies, drive the vile monstrosities back down to lick their wounds in Snakepipe Hollow. Aren's bolt of lightning having struck clean through the human body of the Morith scorpionman, it remains to the Uroxi Vurth to hack at the remains with his klanth and barbecue the remainder with Yavor's flaming spear, the bat wings which emerged briefly from Morith's back causing him to pause only slightly.

Both of the fire-wielding warriors feel a brief, ecstatic joy, each aware that they have sent the Chaos which has so recently plagued them and theirs, crawling away for a good while. Above all, each feels he has filled so seamlessly the boots of his ancestors and acted in perfect accordance with his god's true nature.

Faren is disturbed to have brought his charge into such danger and only narrowly to have saved her. As the cogs of his mind get into gear, though, he slowly realises that he has, in fact, fulfilled this part, at least, of the ancestral quest, for did not the original Danlarni make peace with the Uz only after being set upon by them?


Gyffun, however, is altogether more perturbed by the scene unfolding before him, noticed, it seems, only by the ever-observant Silverquill. As 'Sondaughter' lowers his mighty arms, one of them swipes out at Hest and lands him a mighty cuff on the side of his head which sends him flying into the mud.

If an observer were ever capable of distinguishing between an enraged Zorani warrior and a furious one, then this would be the moment he remembered as illustrative of the second of these states. As his mother scuttles up beside him on her many legs, muttering what can only be mild curses, his glowering face broadcasts icy fury, but she makes him pauses as she scuttles forward.


The flaming spear and the lightning javelin spent, only the broken spear stills glows and twitches in the scorched ground. The Krolari shaman picks up the butt of the spear in a huge claw and thrusts it deep in the ground. Muttering incantations, she lifts her mighty claws as if to raise something from within the earth of the Blood Meadow.

The earth heaves, gusts of putrescence billowing out and all but overwhelming the Exiles but her magic is not enough and the vile turf sinks back down. Eventually she gives up and looks at Gyffun. "All wrong" she says, "he supposed die" she says, waving a pincer at her Sondaughter. "More one try. You fix spear. Yes?"


Meanwhile, the vague image of the girl on the rug has fading back into near-nothingness, but the warband, deathly still atop a mound, seems to be coming into a more tangible existence.


Vurth ululates in victory at the demise of despised foe. Take that dark lord of turnips!

As he calms down from his battle frenzy though, he begins to realise that all is not quite right. Something has gone wrong and this time its not his fault. The Sondaughter alive? Was that the way it was supposed to go?

Vurth pauses long enough to wrench Aren's javelin from the carcass before him and then moves over to where Gyffun, the Sondaughter and the Shaman appear to be having some sort of discussion over the third spear.


Before the shaman had even spoken to him, the skald had grasped the problem and commenced cursing himself for missing the obvious. He nods quickly in response to her request and unwraps his harp, which murmurs impatiently and springs into the air. Picking up the still-twitching head section of the broken spear, Gyffun joins it carefully to the haft section, which is still embedded in the earth.

The harp begins to pick out a subtle and alien melody, hesitantly at first and then with growing confidence. Gyffun, still clasping the two pieces of the spear, first lifts his voice in a wordless accompaniment to the magical instrument's melody, then begins to weave in the words and melody of another song to form a stirring and puissant counterpoint.

"Fire-scarred, wind-torn, yet unbowed
Oak stands firm, Oak stands proud
Hale of limb and stout of heart
Mighty Oak, stands apart

Roots that drink from earth's deep well
Branch to grow and trunk to swell
Leaves that feast on sun and air
Clothing limbs that once stood bare

Paragon of strength and might
Free from rot and free from blight
Steadfast Oak inspires us all
Limbs spread wide, tow'ring tall

So let Oak's enduring song
Fill your heart your whole life long
And may the power of this great hymn
Grant you strength when all seems grim..."

At first it seems that the skald is trying to join the broken pieces of the spear together. Then, as the lower piece of the shaft begins to quiver and the frantic movements of the upper part grow still, Gyffun separates the two pieces, gazing expectantly at the lower half.

The quivering movement continues for a few moments, then a shoot emerges from the side of the shaft, unfolding almost immediately into a tiny tendril of gorse thorns. Gyffun's gleeful expression soon evaporates, however, when it becomes clear that this pathetic little shoot is as much as his magic could stimulate. He sighs and turns to his companions.

"Anybody else have a better idea?"


Faren quickly checked Myarra for major damage, then finding none turned his attention finally to larger affairs. It seems the battle has mostly ended without him, to his secret relief. However the unmistakable tones of Gyffuns songs grabs his attention. Faren stiffens in indignation. A bard trying to grow an oak? The very concept!

Faren clomps over to the tableau, shoulders stiff, feet connecting to the ground like the very oak Gyffun was describing, his whole body radiating as much indignation as an alynx tumbled into the goose pond. The rumbling from his throat seems sufficient to get Gyffun to pass over the spear parts without argument.

"Keep singing" grunts Faren towards Gyffun "You got it to germinate, but it can't grow in song alone." Looking around he also calls out "Myarra, healing magic please, Aren, can you bring the storm stronger hear? How can you grow something strong without storms to strengthen it? Silverquill, can you quack away bad magic--this place does not seem the most healthy."

The small duck sage nods, happy to be of assistance.

"Cewtainly, Fawen. It would be my pweasure".

Silverquill takes a deep breath and lets loose with an almighty quacking! He is encouraged as he sees a few loose tentacles and whatnot from the battle quivering and trying to dig into the ground.

The farmer scuffs the dirt with one toe and mutters "Soil is not so good, needs manure. Too bad we don't have any sort of cattle..." Then he lifts his head and calls out "Vurth, I have a favor to ask of you too."

Vurth is moo-mentarily confused by Faren's request but then realizes that Faren is asking for the assistance of one of the Great Bull's lesser known powers.

Falling back onto the secrets gained during the last Heroquest Vurth begins to subsume his spirit into the totality of the Bull. Be the bull... the bull and I are one... I am the bull. Oooooooooooooommmmmm... mmmmmooooooooooooO

To the gathered, Vurth's form begins to shimmy, then slowly fade and finallyreform in the shape of a great man-bull, standing tall. A mystic lowing fills the air. The bull appears to completate the spear before it and the foul ground it is thrust in. A big job to help that shoot in this ground but he was the bull to do it! And he may as well get some help in this heroic venture. The great bull's head tilts up and the air is filled with the enraged bellow of a bull on the charge. Come, come my children, the land cries out in need!

Cloudy figures begin to appear from the distance and soon the lowing and bellowing of the Bull's children fill the air. The Bull and the herd gather to make their contributions to the renewing of the broken spear, which soon begins to disappear from sight under that contribution.

Triumphant bellows as the herd disperses and Vurth resumes his mortal form! Another blow struck against the pre-dark!!

The ground prepared, as it were, Faren let's normal vision fade, and extends his other senses. First his soul sight, to see the otherworldly part of the spear, and to see how Gyffun's song has changed it. Then he feels for its life fires, to understand where he can help it. Finally he uses his sense of plant vitality to feel how it is now, and to understand which of his actions help so that he can focus his efforts better. He starts praying to Orlanth, maker of the world, keeping have a supernatural eye out to see when his making affinity starts to help.

Finally, he is ready. He starts pouring his own preturnatural warmth and vigor into the spear, encouraging the growth that Gyffun started. He calls on his experience as a farmer to know how to nurture plants, and he remembers his friend Ash-not-Plow, and how it felt physically and supernaturally, to know somewhat what he is guiding this odd plant to be. He is tempted to try and mold it exactly in the image of his lost companion, but he has the wisdom to allow it achieve its own shape.

Faren can see the metaphorical roots of the spear reaching for... something. But at first they recoil from what is around them, to limited to bring in what is required. Then Silverquill starts his quacking and it seems to make a small space where the roots can venture out. Faren starts to feed his superfluous vitality into the spear carefully, monitoring carefully to see that it is indeed going into the spear, and that it is helping.

At first he isn't sure, then he sees an intensifying of the plant-nature vitality. He leads the roots out to grasp the vitality of the rain and the whatever other metaphorical nutrients are available. He can see now the damage to the plant, then sees Myarra's magic heal some of it. Orlanth's magic suddenly manifests itself in a whirlwind wrapped tight around the broken shaft, both splinting it straight while helping to draw it out and up into the air.

Finally Faren opens his eyes. There is, well, something in front of him. Not yet a tree, but more than a broken spear. At the least a spear which is starting to grow into something more. What it might become he is not yet sure.


Their nostrils flaring at a furious rate with th many pungeant odours flooding the Meadow, the trolls seem agitated, leaving the Exiles to their bizarre rites but snuffling at the vile turf around themas it gives the odd localized heave.

The spear-tree having emerged vigorously from the dungheap, its roots can be seen burrowing through the earth about. As thewinds die down, the krolari shaman binks blankly, but perhaps with a flicker of satisfaction, at the sapling. With an ungainly scuttle, she turns her bulk around and glides over to hest seated in the mud. Giving the man a quick sniff with her tremendous snout, she turns again, her tait sweeping low, its bulbous tip thudding into his shoulder and leaving him groaning on his side.

"Neartroll just hoomanshit" she declares as she glides on a blur of legs towards Wilma's corpse. "No bluefire," she says, encapsulating her opinion of the Danlarni chieftain with an economy of words.

Delicately probing at Wilma's spilled brains with her claw, then lifting a gobbet to her mouth, she chews for a moment then declares, and not for the first time, "Now wisetroll dead now. She wise, good taste she." Pausing for a solemn moment, she sums up the situation, "But she dead."

Behind her, her son has calmed down some and, squatted on his haunches, is chewing on some succulent scorpion giblets with his companions. Weaving slightly, loaded with venom as he is, he is not quite the image of the Deathlord seen earlier. Unmistakably a creature of impulse, he has settled down to attend to his ravenous hunger which is the curse, or blessing, of his race.

In her poor, if pleasantly archaic, tarshite, the shaman explains to the exiles the situation as she perceives it: their magic is strong but their clan is broken; though it may challenge some of the Exiles' assumptions about the Elder Races, she tells them, though not in so many words, that they must cement their peace with the Greenfood people and suggests, with the wisdom of immense age, but also with somethnig of a motherly touch, that they may wish to do this when they return.

Now standing tall and straight, almost twice the height of a man, the tree, infused with Faren's vigour, seems to be pulsing with surges of effort as its roots explore the vileness about it. A faerie ring of toadstools erupts suddenly and casts off a cloud of spores which gathers and floats with unatural speed at Silverquill. Coughing and spluttering now, rather than emitting his mellifluous squawks, the sage finds his magical ward broken.

The earlier putrescence returns now, cloaking the rich and homely smell of dung. To Vurth, the odour is the all too familiar stench of Predark, the searing pain in his many scars leaving him in no doubt. The Zorani, though, suddenly spring into activity, knocking the flimsy human frames to the side as they rush at the faerie ring and scrape away at the ground with their gloriously spiked clubs as if to find a way through. Several holes appear at once, clods of dung skittling down, fizzing and popping, erupting into smokey flame.

With gleeful bellows, the Zorani, their jaws slavering, muscle their way into the holes, pushing at the soft earth with their elbows. Their weapons forgotten, they wiggle through in a way no human could and, the odd tentacle of some monstrosity flicking briefly out and back down, disappear into hellish holes.

A brief calm descends amidst sonorous chomping. Peering down into a couple of the holes, the shaman selects one and sends a wave of scorpions scuttling down with a wave of a claw. Plainly too large to go down hwerself, she looks up at the Exiles with a toothy grin, "Need body" she declares with an air of expectation.

Meanwhile, Chief Hest Olafsson has found himself a place atop the dungheap. eues aflame with rage, he holds his battered body up with a solid hand gripping the slight trunk of the tree. Soulcleaver, his mighty axe, in his other hand, he cuts an imposing figure in spite of the beating he has taken, the flickers of the dying lowfires casting reflected glints on his bespattered mail shirt.

"So this is why you called me," he intones deep and strong through beard and bloody maw, "to take into your lonely exile our beloved Tree!" Shifting his weight from his gammy leg, he curses, as many did in the Year of Six Fires, those before him, "Betrayers and Kinslayers, Goatspawn and Krarshtid Filth!"

With each syllable, he shakes at the Tree and its form, drawing the eye as the Tree of Consequence has always done, to its inricate, symbolic weaving of twigs and buds, reflecting his anger as if one with him.

Whatever Faren and Gyffun have invested in this Tree, however much of the Bullgod's fertility Vurth, momentarily distracted from the stench of Predark, has brought to it, the Exiles cannot help but be minded of the cutting which Wilma brought in exile from their tula and planted within the gorse pallisade gifted by their Ancestral Guardian Riantha. the plant has taken but poorly and Gyffun, above all, has sworn himselfto destroy the Danlarni Tree, for there can be but one Tree of Consequence, but one destiny for the Balazaring travellers who, led by Danlarn and then Lanolf, became who they are now...


As Hest continues to shake the spear that is now a Tree, cursing with each breath, a spear blade grows from it's trunk, shootlike, inches from Hest's face. As he steps back in alarm, the haft follows it, sliding out of the tree until a armouredhand appears, weapped around it. Mesmerised as a woman seems to grow out of the trunk of the tree, red haired and heavily armoured, Hest is caught by her shoulder as she bursts free and staggers backwards, axe flailing.

Talya cuts an imposing figure, long spear in hand, javelins and shield over her shoulders and a wicked looking axe at her belt. Dulled chainmail sleeves extend from the shoulders of her thigh length brigandine coat, which is itself reinfored with plated shoulders and neck guard. Aroun her shoulders is what appears to be a tattered banner, held in place with what appears to be a large brooch. Her face is decorated with the traditional Vingan dot patterns that mark her a devotee and further tattoos are visible on the exposed parts of her arms. She wears no helmet, instead favouring a broad circlet of bronze, heavily studded. She has a strong yet femine face, framed by red hair flying freely, borne on it's own it's own electricity. Her lightning filled eyes are a deep storm blue.

Casting Hest an imperious glance she thunders "Sit Down Old Man. You're apt to hurt someone waving that thing around like that"

As a stunned Hest slumps to the ground, she continues, in a more normal tone, seemingly to herslf, "No 'Grimm, I'm not going to hurt him just for getting in the way. Now hush up will you?"

Turning back to the plainly bewildered Hest, seeming to notice him properly, she turns a captivating smile on him. "Ah well met noble sir. You'll catch a chill sitting on wet ground like that, let me help you up" Speaking on as he extends Hest her free hand, "Perhaps you may be able to assist me. I'm looking for the Exiles."

"Well met indeed," Gyffun puts in before the old chief can respond. "We are the Exiles. This... gentleman is merely a guest - one who was invited here in error, it now appears," he adds ruefully, glaring at Hest. "And who has now outstayed his welcome."

He turns back to the newcomer with an apologetic smile. "I am naturally very curious to learn who you are," he tells her. "And what brings you here. But first, if you'll excuse me, we have a pressing matter to attend to..."

"My friends," he declares, now turning to Faren and the others. "I fear that everything I have done thus far has been ruled by misapprehension and misguided interpretation. Now, at last, I think can see a clear path."

Drawing his sword, he points it at the sapling.

"If this is - as it appears to be, as Hest surely believes it to be - the original Tree of Consequence, then we must destroy it and destroy it now. Only then shall the cutting that Wilma took from it be able to thrive, and with it our new clan. Only then shall the broken and corrupted remnants of our past finally be put to rest."

Without waiting for a response to his impassioned speech, the skald moves purposefully towards the sapling.

Faren is trying to take all of this in. Kill off the tree that they just grew? Ridiculous! Except that Gyffun normally seems to know what is what, so the idea has to be thought about. Not the best of places to think about such a concept, but still needs must. Now, his instincts say preserve that which he's grown, but does not burn and build philosophy say that sometimes it is needful to destroy things--even beloved things--for the new to pros....

Innocuously placing herself in the skald's path, whilst locking her gaze on him, Talya forces him to pause.

"Dismissing the man in one breath then acting on his beliefs in the next is the kind of illogic I admire," she tells the skald. "However, if you'll forgive me saying so, a sword is perhaps not the most suitable weapon for the task you propose. Besides, in the cycle of life and death, this seems fitting"

With that, she spins on her heel, her axe springing into her hand, eyes blazing. Muttering "Grimm, I'll need your strength for this" under her breath as her blade cuts a deadly arc towards the tree, light glinting off it's honed edge.

Time seems to slow for the watching Exiles as the axe continues its path. With her hair flying as if borne on its own private storm, Talya takes on the unmistakable glow of Herolight. Lightning flickers down the haft of her axe, coruscating of the blade. With a deep primal cry, the sound of violent raging thunder, as Hest looks on in impotent rage, Talya's axe impacts the tree.

As time returns to normal, the tree submits to the metal borne-fury driven into it by Talya's strike, the trunk splintering asunder in a furious detonation. As the splinters fly, with the tree falling, slowly at first then crashing to the ground, Talya's axe falls from her hand, a charred and molten ruin. Blood streaming from her face from numerous splinter wounds, Talya slowly crumples to the ground, seeming lifeless.


"Feh!" exclaims Faren, "Can't a man have a decent think before folk go swinging axes about? Its not like the tree was about to walk away!"

Silverquill opens and closes his bill a few times with a clacking sound. That all happened so fast. One minute he was considering jumping down a troll-hole to look for a body, the next moment a young Vingan appeared and split the Tree asunder. This Heroquesting certainly takes a lot of concentration!

The small sage notices that the Vingan is lying unconscious on the ground, bleeding from her face. He pats his numerous pockets for any bandages or healing potions, but comes up empty-handed. Don't suppose she'd want that nice slug he saved for a later snack?

Silverquill looks at Gyffun. "Can you twy to heal her wounds with your harp and song?" he asks.

The skald seems almost as thunderstruck as the sage, but he reacts quickly to the duck's suggestion.

"Gladly," he says, with a slightly nervous sidelong glance at Hest. "If our guest over there will let me. The shaman also said that we needed to recover a body from one of the holes. Can the rest of you handle that, while I tend to our new friend here?"

Lowering his sword, Gyffun kneels beside the stricken maiden and starts to hum something that sounds like a lullaby. His harp draws near, lending its own voice to the melody as the skald begins to sing.

"Sleep", said the Apple. "O will you not sleep?
If I were your mother, what tears I should weep,
To see you there hurting, my heart it does break
So sleep now, my child, and dream 'til you wake."

"O hearken my song, child, and heed my refrain,
Let sleep's soft embrace soothe away all your pain.
Safe 'neath my boughs, no harm need you fear
For I shall protect you from sword and from spear."

"No words can knit sinew, no music mends bone,
But sleep can accomplish these wonders alone,
So let my song take you away from this place
Unto the great healer, your hurts to erase."

"And when that physician has cured all your ills,
Once more you'll awaken to walk these green hills
And then I'll watch over you, bursting with pride,
Dear child as you carry my song far and wide.
Dear child as you carry my song far and wide."


While the bard sings his healing song over the new arrival, Silverquill is slowly drifting over towards the troll-holes in the ground, his curiosity steering him closer and closer.

The small duck peeks down into one of the holes and strokes his false beard. Nodding to himself, he looks over at the rest of the Exiles.

"I'm just going down here to see if I can find this body, all wight?" he quacks.

With that, Silverquill prays to Chernan to strengthen his vision in the dark and mutters the incantation to protect his clothes from dirt, then scurries down one of the larger holes.

Faren stifles the urge to make cracks about duck down, ducks ducking down holes, and how it would be easier if the hole was full of water. When he realizes that the sage is truly going ahead with this madcap venture Faren gets unusually urgent in his actions, and rushes over.

Arriving at the edge of the hole he carefully peers over, dismayed to see how unnaturally dark and deep the hole appears to be. Still, he strains his eyes to see what he can. He tries to intensify the sparking of his hands, but the bright flashes blind him more than they illuminate things. Then thinking better of it he switches to using soul sight, and then for good measure he tries to feel for life fires or even dragon trails.

Vurth finally rouses from his bemused state. We make the tree, the tree grows a Vingan, the Vingan kills the tree, the tree falls down, the Vingan falls down... and he Vurth had had nothing to do with it!


Wait... what was that duck up to? Taking a long stride he follows Silverquill down the hole. "I'll help ya look ... sometimes bodies don't stay still.""

Aren, still revelling in the feeling casting the raw lighting had give him, casually puts out the small fires than had started in his clothing with his bare hand.

Then catching up with current events strides over just in time to see Silverquill disappear down a hole.

"Why do we keep ending up going down god-forsaken holes?" he grumbles, before twitching on his Bright Cloak and following the small figure down the hole.

Having gone some way down the tunnel, Silverquill finds himself pressed by another form from behind. The tunnel narrows slightly until the sage finds himself up against the soft (and rapidly warming) behind of what can only be a dead troll.

With Vurth and Aren shoving in behind, Silverquill finds himself in rather a tight spot. Pushing at the dead troll is utterly futile; Silverquill just about manages to shift a buttock but it quickly springs back into place. He starts an annoyed quacking, but quickly realises that this will get him nowhere at the moment. He calls out to the heavy form pressing him down from above.

"Hallo? Whoever you awe, can you please wemove yourself fwom my head? I'm twapped down here and there is a twoll wump pweventing fuwther descent..."

The sage gives the dead troll one final, annoyed kick.

Vurth lifts the duck up and plops him down behind him. In the flickering shadows cast by Aren's cape he examines the troll buttock. Hmmmm, he thinks. Firm and buttocky all right.

Vurth reaches around the buttock trying to feel for a belt or leg or something which he can grasp and upon doing so begins to draw the back back down the tunnel, muttering at Aren and Silverquill to move back so he could get the troll corpse out of the way The other hand keeps a stone handy in case something needs some bashing.

Aren back off a little to let Silverquill out. But stays where he can cast some light on the situation. Silverquill is busy cleaning his cloak and quacking indignantly. The small sage looks about, searching for a more promising entry to the underworld.

Although Vurth had managed to squeeze Silverquill back behind him in the narrow tunnel, the troll is an all together more difficult prospect. He does find purchase on a belt, once he has shifted a few of the grisly skulls which hang off it around, but something seems to be holding the body in place.

As soon as he manages to shift one of the mighty buttocks, a waft of cold air rushes out from beyond the troll. Borne upon the air are tiny particles of Predark which, once they reach Vurth's nose, set a predictable train of events in motion.

Vurth growls in frustrated rage! Must smite, but cannot reach. He pounds the troll corpse with his stone in helplessness. He focusses on the satisfaction that the pounding brings even if it is only a lump of flesh. Somehow the smack/thud soothes him and allows him to continue hauling on the corpse to get it out of the way and get at whatever is behind it.

Heave heave heave! Slowly back down the tunnel, until he can get to a spot where he can dump the corpse and get at whatever is behind it. Vurth tries to peer around the corpse as he hauls it back.

Vurth pound at the corpse with his rock. Sooooo satisfying. Thump thump thump... In some corner of his mind Vurth is aware that he has stopped moving and that other voices are being raised behind him. BUt so what ... thump thump ... just like the beating of his heart ... and that smell from beyond ... Vurth bets it would be MUCH more satisfying to thump that than this inanimate bit of meat! Vurth starts to mumble and then starts to tear at the corpse blocking his way. He shouts at it to move!

Aren shakes his head. Bullmen how do they ever get anything done going crazy all the time. Guessing the problem Aren sends a gust of clean wind down the hole to clear out any bad smells.

Then he shouts down the hole using his Thunder Voice for empathies trying to lead him into doing something more useful instead.


Silverquill waddles over to the hole where the shaman sent a wave of scorpions down and peeks into it. Is there a troll rump down there as well?

Unfortunately, there is little sign of much in the other holes show except for depth and darkness.

Aren speaking in Vurth's language seems to have done the trick and soon the dull pounding of rock on troll stops. It is quite evident from the sound of the last couple of thuds, though, that Vurth has managed to break something in the body of the troll.

Faren finally crawls forward to the edge of the hole, then gets down on his belly and sticks arms and head over the edge carefully. In the fitful illumination from the sparks around his hands he surveys the scene in the hole. For good measure he feels for life fires to make sure it is only Vurth down there. Then he inquires calmly "Would you like a hand out of there?"

Slowly Vurth comes to a realisation that someone is trying to get his attention. The noise - and the fading smell of chaos now receding with the wind that squeezes past his bulk - allow him to clear his head. He wiggles back a bit and unfolds the troll so that it at least is head down and feet back.

He calls over his shoulder: "Could you pull me out there Aren while I try and hang on to this meat sack and get the pair of us out of here."

With a great deal of grunting and wiggling Aren and Vurth together manage to lift the bulky corpse sufficiently high that its mother can whip it out with a pincer. Once on the ground, the Exiles can see the terrible state into which the corpse has got. Much of the lower body is blood-soaked due to Vurth's pounding, which few features but the skull and fearsome teeth can be seen above the shoulders, something having stripped most of the flesh away.

"Good" declares the shaman, eyeing her son's battered body. "Now need krarshtid". She grins and looks at the hole expectantly once more.

Silverquill consults his big notebook. "Ah yes, a kwawshtid. A sewvant of Kwawsht, the Devouwing Mother, also known as the Waiting Mouth or the Hungwy One. She invaded Glowantha with the Devil and fed on the wefuse of the univewse. When dwiven undergwound, she chewed gweat holes in the wowld.

She tunnels thwough society as she tunnels thwough the earth. Her cult sewves as a clandestine network, a society of assassins, and a secwet owganization for the power-hungwy. Even her own wowshipers wawely know what they serve, and most never meet one of the awful tunnel-monsters which dig Kwawsht's twaps and mazes.

A kwawshtid looks like a many-tentacled creature, an octopus with multiple fanged mouths. It can spit poison and catch you in a kind of web."

The duck sage slams his notebook shut and grins cheerfully at his companions. "Should be no pwoblem, eh?"

The mud and the chaos horrors and the importance of their quest are all driven from Faren's mind by one horrific realization: a grinning duck is a very, very, dangerous sign.


Silverquill looks over at Gyffun. "How is the Vingan doing? Is she coming with us?"

The skald, hovering anxiously over his patient, answers the sage without looking up. "I have eased her hurts now, I think, but still she sleeps. I think that we must take her with us now, for good or ill. I wonder who she is and what destiny drew her here?"

The small sage then looks around at his other friends. "Well, we just have to go down here and get a kwawshtid. I can go first and do a bit of scouting, I don't mind."

Silverquill mutters beneath his breath as he pokes around the edge of the hole. He remember the Storm Bull Karli and his stinging words: "And how many years are you a warrior, pray tell? How many goatkin have you slain, how many Krarshtid teeth ring your neck?".

"I'll show him who's bwave..."

Aren does his best to organise folk.

"Silverquill, I know it looks tempting but you'd best not dive in there yourself. Vurth still looks in a daze so I will lead. My cloak will light the way. Here, let me charge up your lighting globe for light. You keep that sensitive beak of yours to the ground to see if you can pick up vibrations of them digging and give us advanced warning."

Aren begins descending head-first. It's not at all easy fitting through the # tunnel and he quickly starts to feel sick from all the blood rushing to his head. He gets to the point where the troll had been and notices that from here, should he proceed, there seems to be nothing securing him from a fall into who knows what.

"Blast, those things spit something nasty don't they Silverquill ?"

Aren summons a constant arc of lightning between his fingers for light, to try to see what he is up against. He is up against (or up above) more tunnel, only wider and smoother. A slight curve does prevent seeing more than ten metres or so. He realises that the walls get wider ahead, meaning he is liable to fall if he continues. He conveys this to his companions.

"Awen, maybe you can thwow something down, so we can hear how deep it is," suggests Silverquill

"Is it that Aren is really the best bait to be dangling down that hole? I'm no hunter, but I know when they go after a bear they don't send a man into its den to get its attention. They'll lure it out if they can, or send dogs to stir it out.""

"Surely we could at the least send down someone smaller, on a harness so we can pull them out quickly? If we cut up our cloaks--at least the non-magical ones--we should be able to get at least a bit of strong cord for rope and harness. Maybe a mix, send someone down as far as we can, then they make a nuisance of themselves until something shows up, and we try to lure it out where we can whack at proper?""

"I'm not sure it will work, but it seems a might safer than diving in nose first and all."

Silverquill, having heard Faren's words, nods to himself. He calls out to the human below him.

"Awen, maybe we're being too hasty. This could be dangewous for you humans. We should wait until we have heawd fwom evewybody. Wemember, there is always another way."

The small sage twists around in the tunnel and crawls towards the surface again. Aren also decides to put bravery on hold and heads back up though the awkward tunnel.

"Well," says Silverquill, "I'm willing to be lowewed down into the hole and make a bit of noise. That, and my Globe of Lightning, should attwact any monsters. It's just a question of getting me back up again befowe my feathers gets nibbled. Any suggestions?"

Aren pipes up after a little thought "Bravely spoken Silverquill. Well if we take off our plaids and tie them together that will make a very strong rope. Might be a bit short but it should not break even if you are grabbed". In other word he expects everyone to take there cloths off and make a rope out of them.

"Or we could use that wope I saw sticking out fwom Fawen's pack earlier," Silverquill replies

"Even better," Aren smiles, never one to deny a man his chance at fame and glory. He arranges the others to hold the rope as he trusses up the feisty fowl. "Last chance to change your mind Silverquill?"

Chanting a prayer and some magical protection over the duck, Aren then prepares to guard the hole while the duck does he noble deed.

Silverquill is gently lowered into the dark hole. He holds his Lightning Globe in one hand, its crackling energy casting flickering and fitful shadows on the tunnel walls.

As he is gently lowered down into the reeking darkness, he readies his shortsword with his other hand, ready to fend of the denizens who might lurk here.

Taking a deep breath, he starts to sing:

"If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck
And there's duck-doo in your chawiot
Buddy, you can bet your bottom buck
It ain't no wubble wunner

My daddy told me long ago
Bout two things every boy should know
One of them was the yellow snow
And the other was wubble wunners

If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck
And there's duck-doo in your chawiot
Buddy, you can bet your bottom buck
It ain't no wubble wunner

If it ain't got claws and beady little eyes
And awmor plate above the thighs
Like a mutant wat in a dwarf disguise
It ain't no wubble wunner...

So taken is the duck with his squawking that he almost doesn't notice the tentacle looping up towards him from the depths. He finishes the chorus and his heart almost skips a beat as he spots the questing tentacle from below.

Squinting up towards the surface, he squawks out: "Alwight, stawt pulling me back up... wather quickly!"

And up he goes, the tentacle dropping back down into the darkness.

"Down again!" shouts Silverquill. "This time, pull me up more slowly."

Down he goes again, singing his awful song until, once again, he sees the tentacle rising from the depths. This time, as he is lifted, he works out that the tentacle is not following him all the way up because it is attached to something down below. On his way up, he has a touching moment of close proximity to an eyeball at the end of the tentacle, before it drops down again.

Silverquill, once again lifted to the top of the hole, explains the situation to his friends. "Any suggestions? It looks pwetty big, whatever is down there.".

Vurth shakes off the last effects of the mind-clouding chaos scent and pulls himself together. Fishing with a duck eh? Sound... very sound. But so far just nibbles. We need to actually get the blighter to bite... Vurth eyes the duck speculatively, but figures that the bait would just get stolen or the line broken.

Vurth ponders painfully. Cogitation is an unfamiliar environment for this lad but he struggles on. He turns to Silverquill.

"Say there, Silverquill, is there enough room down there for me to cut a some space for me to stand? If so, then perhaps the next time you go baiting I could be down there to net that fish wi' me klanth." He shakes the weapon vigorously for emphasis... or perhaps as a reminder that it's in its familiar spot.

Sure its dangerous to go down there ... but can you think of any good reason why that crawly might want to come up here?

Silverquill looks up at the huge human and frowns. "Hmmm.... difficult to say. You did kind of get stuck the last time. But maybe if somebody was to cut away some of the gwound, you would be able to fit."

Vurth gets himself lowered down the hole and after much huffing, puffing and cursing, fixes himself some footholds by digging out softer pieces of earth. Who knows what the monstrosity below thinks of all this...

With only one proper rope, the Exiles meanwhile follow Aren's earlier suggestion and make a temporary cord out of some of their clothing, a cord strong enough to support Silverquill (providing he doesn't suddenly get heavier for any reason).

Soon the sage has embarked upon another bout of squawking right beside Vurth's ear and the Uroxi begins to feel his scars burn in a familiar fashion...

The quacking duck is slowly lowered past Vurth's position. Very quickly Vurth skin begins to itch, exactly where his scars used to be (meaning pretty much all over) and the quacking abruptly becomes a squawking. Vurth focuses on Arens voice .. keep still .. keep control ... wait for it ...

'Up up up!' comes the cry from Silverquill and as Aren hastily begins to haul him up Vurth readies his klanth to nail whatever follows.

Silverquill sails up the tunnel with more squawking as the speed of his ascent bounces him off the walls grinding in dirt and pebbles into his (once) brilliant plumage.

Sure enough though, the tentacle quests up the hole after its prey seemingly oblivious to Vurth's presence in his cubby to the side. Up up up goes the duck and so follows the tentacle until at last it begins to retreat down once more.

Seizing his moment, the instance the tentacle stops moving, Vurth thrust his klanth through the tentacle and deep into the opposite side of the tunnel, then wedges the pommel into the wall on his side.

For an instant, the tentacle stops moving as if unsure what just happened, the give a mighty jerk to try and dislodge whatever was obstructing it. This only succeeds in driving the klanth deeper in the walls and tearing open the wound the weapon had already made. A very unhappy bellow sounds from below at this development.

Vurth takes his moment, and reaching down with his dagger begins to slice. Idly he wonders what the others are doing at this point.

Silverquill, still dangling from the end of the rope, reaches down to grab the tentacle that Vurth is sawing through. Too far down...

"Down a bit" cries the duck to Faren. The rope is quickly lowered again and Silverquill finds himself eyeball to eyeball with the writhing tentacle. Sensing a means of escape, the tentacle suddenly whips around Silverquill's throat and starts to squeeze!

The sage, now quite red in the face, struggles to free himself, but the tentacle is too strong. Seeing stars before his eyes, Silverquill flicks his thumb and a small flame burst forth from his thumb. Holding his fiery thumb to the tentacle, he can smell burning flesh and to his relief, the tentacle loosens its stranglehold.

A moment later, Silverquill can hear Vurth's cry of triumph below as he finally severs the tentacle. Grabbing hold of the now lifeless thing, the sage croaks out "Up again".

As he is helped out of the hole, Silverquill throws the tentacle to the ground and smiles weakly. "We got it!"

Vurth leans back and watches the bloody tentacle vanish up the hole while the bloody stump of whatever that critter was disappears down the hole. He supposes that he really should go down the whole after the rest of whatever it was but then they were on a mission for the clan so he wearily climbs back up the hole to see what this scorpion Troll will do with what they have fished.


Under the skald's watchful eye, Talya has eased from a troubled to a restful sleep, the wounds on her face slowly closing, leaving only a bloody mask.

Eventually, her eyes flicker open, lightning flashing within deep blue pools. An expression of anger flits across her face as she hisses at something unseen. Turning her head towards the bard she smiles warmly, the storm in her eyes abating, and says "I dreamed of music. Was that you?"

Hest, having picked himself up into a squatting position, begs of the now-conscious Vingan her name.

Looking around, taking in the remains of the shattered tree and what's left of her axe she sits up, grinning ruefully. "Passing out as soon as I got here was not quite what I had in mind. Oh well, I'm sure She knew what she was doing." Rising to her feet and extending her arm, she takes Gyffun's arm in the traditional warrior's clasp.

Not taking her gaze from Gyffun, she replies, "My name is Talya. I'm glad I've finally been able to catch up with you."

"And I am grateful for your timely arrival," the skald responds, returning her arm-clasp and steadfastly ignoring Hest. "My name is Gyffun. It was indeed my music that you heard as you slept. I am grateful for your aid in destroying the Tree of Consequence, so healing the wounds that you sustained in that act was the very least I could do. But I am curious: what purpose brings you here? And how does it concern me?"

"You are a healer as well as a skald then? There is likely something you should know about me then, but for now, let me just thank you for your concern and ministrations. I'll get to my purpose shortly but first, your words have reminded me of something I must do".

Turning to face the shattered remains of the Tree, Talya drops to her knees and sings a haunting dirge. As the last mournful note passes from her lips, she rises and turns to face Gyffun once more, tears tracking down through the dried and crusting blood on her face.

Silverquill, who happens to be cleaning his robe nearby, hears the lament and bursts into tears.

"That was vewy, vewy sad" he says to Talya, his lower bill quivering.

Gyffun is obviously moved by her song of lament as well.

"You sing of the fallen and, though I know not whom you mourn, still my heart keens in sympathy. The power of music is ever thus, to move the listener and perhaps to effect a change within them. I have been blessed with a modest gift for music and the knowledge of songs that can extend this subtle power beyond the human realm. With such songs as these at his disposal, a skald might catch the ear of the world itself and seek to move it."

The skald smiles apologetically.

"But I digress, as is ever my wont. I make this explanation in answer to your earlier question: no healer am I, and yet my songs may heal, even as they may move the world in other ways. But, though your song was an eloquent expression of sorrow, I fear that it did naught to answer my question and only serves to deepen my curiosity. I ask again: who are you, Talya, and what is the wyrd that brings you here?"

"I took life, the song must be sung. That is who I am. I mourn for the tree, I mourn for fallen comrades and defeated enemies, I mourn for myself, the girl I can on longer remember." The lightning flashes within her eyes as her passion rises. "I am grief, I am death, I am the girl who was lost and then found yet is still lost despite knowing the way, I am the shadow dancing under the stars. All these things are who I am and more. Dichotomy and synergy bound in flesh."

"However, I fear that is not an easy answer, so let me say this. I am Talya TwiceLived, chosen of Vinga, sent to your aid by ancestors long fallen"

Noticing the duck's distress, she looks towards him. "Death is always sad little one, there is no shame in grief. Those who can kill without sorrow are called to different paths than I."

Turning to Hest, eyes blazing, she says "You are prescient it seems. I did not think to bring a spare axe yet you have brought me one. I say this as surely a respected elder like yourself has no need of weapons so that blade you carry must be for another. Did your companions not think to aid you with your burden, lest you injure yourself?"


Somrel had steadied his two companions when the bizarre trollkin zombies with the scorpion bodies had taken the field. Did not Humakt on occasion also bide his time and allow his enemies to negate one another before acting?

It was obvious, as Somrel watched the skirmish before him, that he, Jothrel and Karan were visible to the Danlarni. But not to the trolls it seemed. He recognized the humans and their Durulz friend from the battle with the Priderni – they had proved themselves on the field, but their appearance here, and in this company, was quite a surprise.

In fact, there was more than one surprise for the quiet observers. Sworn to follow the God of Death, the trio had an unnatural stillness about them – even so, the eruption of a tree from the meadow, and the arrival of the Vingan from within its workings, all this could not but make the warriors shift uneasily. The blasts of lightning could only mean that the Danlarni were on a quest of some import, but Somrel could not let this dissuade him from their own quest. He and his companions watched calmly as the troll was brought lifeless back from one of the tunnels beside the tree; as the various sorties below eventually yielded a vile, writhing tentacle; as the Vingan, knocked unconscious for a while, fought a verbal battle with the clan chief, chopping down the tree and finally sending the man packing with hurled insults and promises that his axe blade would one day find her neck, her legs or somesuch.

At last, though, the moment for action has arrived! With the assistance of the Danlarni, charging the tentacle with lightnings, the vile scorpion thing wraps the tentacle about the head of the dead troll and then casts its magics, wrapping the corpse in darkness, casting the lowfires into the midst, dancing even, if that scuttling can be called such.

Jothrel looks questioningly at her leader. She and the younger, more nervy, Karan have their newly forged swords ready, each one temporarily sheathed in a serpent’s skin.

Fire Season brings for Humakti Smithing Day, when blades are forged anew. They say a good blade is forged within the day. He who wishes to wield an excellent blade, however, waits for the right moment, for the right fire in which to finish the process. And what better flame than that which the Uz call Death, what better fire in which to temper a blade than the belly of a newly revenant Zorak Zorani?

Somrel cannot ignore his charges’ questioning looks any longer. He has paused for a moment to wonder at the presence of the humans, but as the darkness around the corpse begins to clear, the time for that has run out...

Time for action. The three jumps on the stage. Having readied himself for intervention while watching the scene, Somrel dashes toward the troll-zombie, his lightning sword ready to plunge into the zombie's dead heart, while Jothrel and Karan take defensive position on each of his sides, poising to hold off any forbidding actions from the party. Dog, his eyes glowing red, mouth filled with pain, promising fire, dashes toward the ill-doing scorpion shaman.

Thrusting her spear firmly into the ground, Talya looks towards the onrushing Humakti. Her voice rolls across the field like a rising storm, her eyes blazing with barely checked fury.


Vurth stands forward as well. After all the trouble he went to get that tentacle he’s not going to let Johnny Humakti over there foul things up cause of his itchy runes. He adds in this own argument.

"Yeah! What she said goes double for me!"

Such rapier-like repartee is subtly reinforced by the menacing klanth he swings about in a careless fashion.

he vision of Death which the two Heortlings have chosen to defend is not a wholesome one. As the tendrils of darkness clear, the Zorani warrior can be seen in his new state. Erect and imposing, breathing a fog of putrid death from a gleaming, acid-stripped skull, eyes glowing blue and red fire, teeth bared with lumps of Krarshtid flesh hanging from a slobbering jaw.

Sondaughter, as his mother calls him, has become Death incarnate, gripping a scorpion tail club-like in each hand. "Toothpicks!" he laughs at the onrushing Humakti, his mother raising her own scorpion tail high above the Bloodmeadow, ready to strike.

Faren, meanwhile, looking on and slowly cogitating, has a sudden, sickening flash of realisation. This ancestral heroscape is so different from the tales with which he grew up! His mind quickened by the Lightning all about, he follows his realisation to its logical, and terrible, conclusion.

The Uz have the truth of it, he now perceives, it is they who know the route to Death for the Danlarni, it is they who remember the ancient rites, for these rites were formed when Mother Kosk, the Uz shaman, was herself alive. The funereal rites practised by the Danlarni, coming as they do from Balazaring stock, are flawed! How many of their ancestors have been prepared, with love and devotion, for death, only to be sent along the wrong path?

Just to think of it is terrible. What of Kagrada? Where might she be? What terrors might she, even now, be facing?

Faren cannot keep his mind on these thoughts, they bring terror to his very core and show the path to madness. Pragmatic as ever, he turns his mind to the immediate sitation - the redhaired woman, why has she suddenly appeared? Might she have been sent to help find the true path? And the Death warriors - what of them? Whatever their purpose here, they carry with them Death and, Faren thinks, there must be a purpose to this. And all of this, he is sure, has been planned by Yavor - the Lightning God has chosen this blasted Meadow to destroy what is old and rebuild something new from its ashes.

And he has given the Exiles his three Spears with which to perform this task... to deny these would be to deny the Gods.


Silverquill has been busy recording the raising of the Uz zombie in his notebook, jotting down as many details as possible.

As Talya, and then Vurth starts to shout he looks up. A trio of warriors, all bearing swords, is rushing towards the zombie and the shaman!

The small duck quickly positions himself between the trolls and the onrushing warriors. Giving a fierce scowl, he holds out his hand to the Humakti. "Stop!", he quacks.

The younger of the Tenthane’s companions hesitates at the commanding presences before him. Even the diminuitive sage is his senior in age. As Jothrel and her master Somrel, his hound at his heels, rapidly skirt around the humans and the durulz, young Karan hesitates, passes them and then looks nervously back. With horror, the Exiles watch as the gigantic form of the Krolari shaman scuttles quickly to loom up behind him. With unnatural speed, her tail lances forward, the tip emerging from the boy’s chest. Before he can even register his mortal wound, Karan is swiftly and effciently butchered before the Exiles.

Engaging the grinning Deathlord, Somrel quickly realizes his error. Jothrel is a skilled swordswoman and the Deathlord seems not to like one bit the hound’s fiery breath, but even as they push the monster back with a flurry of blows, Somrel can sense that the greater danger is behind him. Just as he is about to turn to face the true mistress of the field, Jothrel feints past the scorpion tails which the Deathlord wields as clubs and plunges her newly forged sword, its Deathlight glowing bright, deep into the monster’s thigh. The monster howls with pain and twists sharply away, pulling the sword clean from her grip and then Jothrel flies suddenly upwards, lifted into the air by a gigantic pincer which has her head in its grip.

Now Somrel does turn and sees the full force of his mistake. With one pincer, the gigantic scorpion has Jothrel held aloft, her hands struggling for purchase on the smooth chitin to relieve the pain as her bodyweight is borne by her head. With the other pincer, the shaman is even know feeling at the cracked skull of the boy Karan, lifting out the squirming shade of his soul and lifting it too aloft.

Seeing his charges mistreated like this, Somrel begins to feel his resolve weaken. When the gigantic scorpion speaks, though, he knows he is defeated. "Drop toothpick. Feed Zorak Zoran. Choose." The thought of Jothrel and Karan spending eternity in the Mad God’s Hell is too much for Somrel.


For a second Somrel stares at his dead comrade, butchered before he had time to scream from pain. That one will have been prompt to meet Death. A second later he sees his second acolyte being lifted in the air by the ghastly scorpion.

Somrel takes a few steps back, disengaging the troll-zombie. For another few seconds he looks at dead Karan and at Jothrel, the latter now in an alarming situation, grasping for air, at the verge of having her head breaking off from her body. Somrel takes another few steps back, obviously confused. Once again he has been dominated by his short temper and tendency for harsh moves. There is little choice, and there might still be a chance to avoid the worst.

With an inaudible whistle Somrel calls his dog at his side. Recalling his mental and battle training, he reasserts himself.

Pointing successively with his Lightning sword at at Jothrel and dead Karan, he tells the enormous scorpion:

"Drop the Death warrior, and let this soul go where it belongs and Ill submit!".

Then Somrel turns to the Exiles, and, with the forbidding voice of a trained priest used to impress the crowed, says:

You may kill or let us all be killed and allow these creatures perform whatever Evil suits them, but know that Humakt will be after you and that you shall know no rest in this life or any other, Storm Tribe people!

Somrel then extends his arm, ready to his sword drop from his hand.

Vurth stands back, restraining the urge to run amok. Imagine that, Vurth thought, I’m restraining myself. Even more, imagine me thinking about that. And how about thinking about thinking... Vurth stops as his head begins to hurt... what was he supposed to do next anyway? Oh yeah ... he turns towards the Scorpion Shaman and says "So .. we got enough dead things already or what?"

Jothrel is gently lowered to the ground and released. Falling to her knees, she clutches at the sides of her head and looks at the gigantic scorpion with a look of sheer venom. Encloaked in swirling Darkness, the Deathlord advances on the kneeling woman, plucking the sword out from its thigh and hurling it in her direction. Jothrel doesn´t flinch as the blade flies past her to bury itself in the earth. The shaman waves a claw at her son and the darkness around him holds him firm, halting his advance.

Jothrel gets to her feet now and returns to her commander, picking up her now discarded sword and that of Karan. Spitting out a bloody tooth and wiping some of the black blood off the blade on to a tussock, she lisps under her breath to Somrel, "I thwear by my blade I will finith thith job", then kisses the cross- haft of her sword, the blood from her mouth setting immediately into on the haft, in the form of a truth rune.

Meanwhile, the shadow in the other claw, Karan´s soul, jumps to the ground and rushes away, towards a knot of other shadows. There, gathered about Wilma´s corpse, are assembled some fifty souls, Danlarni ghosts which have wandered for who knows how long in the Lost Man Wilds, unable to find the Path of the Dead.

"You friend."

Somrel is surprised to be addressed in Tarshite by the monster and is perhaps more surprised by the shaman´s words.

"You smell Danlarn," she says, "Mothersmell good, Fathersmell bad wrongdeath."

Never entirely intelligible, the ancient leaves Somrel with these words and scuttles over to Talya, towering over the woman in the blink of an eye.

"You here Lanolf", she tells the woman. Although the name is new to Talya, it is apparent that the shaman is trying to tell her something important. "He you many-father. You me drink poison now."

With that, she picks up a pincer from a dead scoripion man and delicately cracks it open, pulling out a small sac of liquid and proferring it to Talya.


Somrel eases a bit his defensive stance when Jothrel is lowered to the ground but keeps his forbidding look on the group. He watches carefully for any odd moves of the deathlord, intensely registering the intervention of shaman, trying to guess what magic is involved. He then acknowledges nods with a solemn nod the oath of Jothrel, murmuring "Not now, will tell you later.".

He's obviously puzzled when the Shaman addresses him as a friend.

"I indeed am a Darlani's son, now, being your friend ..."

"A moment, Great One," Gyffun interrupts. "I would have words with the newcomers before we proceed."

Somrel stops speaking, and Gyffun's interruption seems to have stopped some unfriendly words from having been uttered.

The skald has been struggling to absorb all of these strange events and to see what role he has to play, but now he feels obliged to speak. He turns to Somrel first.

"I do not know you, stranger," he tells the warrior. "Although your face is strangely familiar, but if I do not mistake the meaning of what our terrible ally has just told you, it would seem that we are kin. I beg you - do not be too hasty to label that which you do not understand as evil. You have stumbled into our quest - or perhaps we into yours - and the consequences have already been dire for your comrade."

The skald glances sorrowfully at the pitiful remains of the fallen warrior.

"Please do not compound this tragedy with further rash action. If you are truly of the Danlarni," he says.

Somrel's about to carry on with his words then listen with renewed attention as Gyffun continues:

"Then I would hazard a guess that you have been drawn here for a purpose. Help us to discover that reason and I swear that I shall do everything in my power to keep you from further harm."

Somrel now has again the severe look he has when speaking of Humakt: "Do not grieve for young Karan, he swore to die for Humakt and having done so his soul... (looking at the Shaman) will join our Lord's legion in the lands of the gods. This may have not been so quick; he would have served longer... But I thank you for these gentle words, skald, Somrel says still keeping an eye on the zombie and its master.

"I indeed am a Darlani's son..." The devotee of Humakt pauses. "We were in the area on some when I felt we had to come." Looking at the zombie Somrel continues. "And Humakt guided us to where we had to be."

"Now tell me what your business and how followers of the storm tribe may attend to such ghastly business. But first I shall attend to this lost soul and ask Karan to kindly take them to where they belong."

Now the skald turns to Talya with a smile.

"It seems that we must also count you amongst our kin," he tells her. "And ask for your aid on this quest. Lanolf, as our ally has named you, was our illustrious ancestor and plays a central role in this quest. Foolishly, I had thought to cast the unworthy Hest in that role, but it seems that providence has furnished us with a more appropriate Lanolf. I hope that you will bring the fire that you have already shown us to this role and pledge myself to aid you, if I can."

Talya has been struggling to stay silent and her attention is torn between Gyffun, Somrel and the Shaman.

Giving up with a apologetic shrug in Gyffun's direction, she turns to Somrel.

"Well, that's lovely, everyone's going to be friends. I tend to pick friends with a little more common sense but I suppose I can't always have what I want. Tell me, do they teach you that kind of lunacy when you sign up? No? Oh, you must be writing a new treatise on attacking overwhelming odds from an inferior position then. Do let me have a copy when it's finished, won't you?

Somrel merely turns his head toward the Talya

"You must be confused, woman," he says, nodding toward the shaman. "It's the creature of your company that speaks about friendship. But I do partly agree, I'd also exercise common sense when making 'friends'", he says nodding toward the zombie. "Yet you obviously know better what you're talking about when speaking of lunacy than common sense."

Somrel turns back to the group as a whole, clearly more concerned with the zombie, still spilling around it's undead's smelly vomit around, than anything else.

Giving the Shaman a 'hold on, I want some answers first' look, Talya turns to Gyffun, eyes still blazing.

"This Lanolf of yours, is he any relation to a woman named Riantha?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes," says Gyffun, with a smile. "Riantha was Lanolf's wife. We remember her as the Songstress, which explains why, at least for the purposes of this ritual, I have taken her role."

He frowns. "But that Riantha was also the granddaughter of another Riantha, who was supposed to have turned into a wild cat. I forget the details..."

"Why do you ask?" he adds.

"After my devotion ceremony, with the assistance of my sisters, I prayed to Vinga for guidance. She rewarded me with a waking dream, in which a woman named Riantha came to me. claiming ancestry and asking for my help. Much of what was said was lost when the dream ended but her last words were 'Seek the Danlarni Exiles"


Vlad's growing disquiet is evident to all. As the others fall silent, he clears his throat to attract their attention. Clearly pointing (yet carefully) with the tip of his sword toward the zombie, he asks:

"So what about this?"

It is Faren who answers, deliberately turning away from the zombie and pointing instead at the ghosts that have gathered around Wilma's corpse.

"One of those shades is my wife Kagrada, " he tells Somrel. "She WILL be seen properly to the death lands." Faren's voice is surprisingly calm, but filled with an unusual bleakness. Perhaps it is only the Humakti to whom his voice sounds normal, as they are familiar with the sound of people ready to see death. Perhaps it is only they who realize just how dangerous is anyone speaking with that voice.

Turning to the trolls he coarsely rumbles "Danlarni death not good. Must make good. That my mate, must take to death-lands."

To the exiles he explains "We've lost our way with our death-rites. Those are our clan-mates, lost in the shadow-lands because our rites have been bollixed. Maybe they are still a starting place, but we need a new way to get souls to the death-lands. We have one face of death here," he says, pointing to the zombie. "And another there," pointing to the Humakti. "Right now I don't really care which face of death is our guide, so long as I can take my wife to the ancestors."

Turning to the Humakti, he continues. "When my father was still a young man something happened with one of my uncles. No need to speak of the details now, but death-warriors were called, and they finally fought in the hero-wars to eliminate the problem. My father was full of rage and wished to help, but the death-lords said his rage tied him too much to life, that he could not walk to the edge of the death-lands like that."

"When the death warriors returned from the other side, they gave him a feather that my uncle had infused with his magic as a younger and more innocent man. Their leader, called Elnor, came back silver-haired and holding some secret. He gave my father this promise, that when he or his were ready to walk with death, the warriors of death would guide them to the edge of the death-lands to do what needed doing. But my mother announced she had quickened for the first time, and my father was never again desiring to walk with death."

"I've been a farmer bringing life to the fields, never comfortable with death, so this promise was never redeemed, and I think Elnor must be long dead. But I ask of you to take up his promise. I say to you today that my body has been filled with poison, and these bleeding scars show how close to death I came cleaning it out. Our leader died and today we started with her funeral. And now I see the shades of my people, and I find my soul feels cold too. I think I'm indeed full of death today. Our clan needs a new way, and I'm willing to walk with death to help make it. If I don't make it back, then I hope to be the fertilizer for a new way for our people."

"Will you help us?"

[ Insert rest of scene here ]


At last Talya turns to the Shaman, before Gyffun or any of the others has a chance to inject.

"It seems Lanolf is indeed my 'many-father'," she says. "How is it you know more of me than I do?"

Reaching for the poison sac, she examines it momentarily. "Perhaps you'll tell me when I've drunk this." She pauses, cocks one eyebrow, then "Excuse me one second." She rolls her eyes, looking exasperated, muttering loudly "Grimm, shut up! It's no more foolish than charging a Dara Happan pike formation now is it?"

With that, she downs the poison.

Then, addressing the Shaman once more. "No real kick to it is there? They do say interesting things come in threes though, so lets see. Insulted a Humakti, ingested lethal poison, discovered ancestry..." She pauses, smiling wryly. "Well, the last one could do with investigation. How is it you know so much about me?

"Dogsmell" says the shaman with what could be a humorous twist of the chelicera. Addressing the others, she enquires, "Now go?"


[1] Chief of the Danlarni, Turtlesnap Stead. It is whispered that it is only because he can trace his ancestry back to Lanolf that he is chieftain, but some dispute even this. It is also whispered that he can no longer satisfy his wife and that she takes maidens to her bed. He has in his retinue 18 weaponthanes, mostly worshippers of Elmal the Sun god or former worshippers of Orlanth who have denied their connection to the Storm God. Three of these are outsiders from distant Prax and are particularly close to Hest.