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Old 11-25-2020, 01:45 PM   #41
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 182 since leaving The Homeland

Nujan had the last watch and was unusually determined when waking us up. They had spotted groups of riders moving out from the slums and fanning out over the plain. Probably Larma forces securing the area With Grogg in a coma, it should be possible to keep Wolfram quiet and hide in the basement, but that would depend on nobody spotting the cellar hatch and there was no way of knowing when we would be able to leave again. The riders were still far away, so if we left immediately, we should be able to make it to the rougher terrain in the desert before they caught up, even though Grogg was still in a really bad shape. Leading the way, I tried to guide the party on to harder ground where they would leave less visible tracks and hid the tracks when possible. Keeping an eye on the riders, I saw that they were splitting up into smaller groups and visited the houses on their way. This slowed them down considerably. They would probably have spotted us if they had come straight towards us. By the time they reached the farm we had stayed at, we had already reached the desert and were hidden from sight by the scattered boulders looming over the landscape. Climbing a rock to observe, I saw a group of riders arrive at the farm, but they left a few minutes later. Clearly they had not conducted a thorough search. Instead they continued towards us, but stopped when they reached the edge of the fertile lands. They seemed content to just patrol the edge, possible to keep anyone from escaping or to keep anyone from sneaking up to Ur through the desert.

We wanted to put a bit more distance between us and Ur, but had to stop as Ajaw was nearing their zenith. The heat was becoming unbearable for the apeoids and we took shelter in the shade of a large boulder. Grogg pricked themselves with the needle while the rest settled in to get some sleep while Wolfram kept the first watch. Finally I could get rid of my clothes. After about three hours, I relieved Wolfram and scouted out the surrounding terrain. It was dry, barren and very flat, dominated by rocks and boulders of all sizes. One had to be careful though, because in between the rocks, sudden cracks and clefts could suddenly appear. In some of the deeper crevices, I found small, bulbous plants full of thorns. Perhaps they could be a sign of water if one started digging, but we had lots of water for the time being.

A few hundred meters west of the camp, I found the tracks of a number of horses. They had been wearing bags on their feet like the Aldera scouts and someone had made an effort to hide the tracks, but they clearly led northwards. Returning to the camp, I told the others and we decided to follow the tracks. The extra hours with the needle had done Grogg good and they were no longer shambling along supported by Wolfram, though the ruined remains of their arm was still hanging uselessly. We followed the tracks until Ajaw was nearing the horizon and the shadows were getting longer. Tracking the horses in the dark would be very difficult, but Wolfram claimed they could smell them and started transforming into a bear. I had my reservations, seeing how the huge beast ran around, but they did seem to return to the tracks at reasonable intervals. However, the issue soon became moot as I spotted something move on top of a standing rock perhaps 500 meters ahead.

Gathering the party, I suggested that I should check it out, but Nuur-Karif and Nujan thought it could give a bad impression if it was Aldera troops. They would not have been able to spot me, but I humoured them and put on my clothes again while Wolfram turned back into a human. Walking forward, someone shouted for us to halt when we were about 100 meters from the boulder. Riders appeared on each side of the of the rock while a human climbed down the front and walked towards us. Nuur-Karif walked forward to meet them and soon returned with instructions that at least Grogg and Wolfram should lay down their weapons. Wolfram initially refused, but was eventually persuaded. I would normally be more concerned, but there were only a handful of humans and Grogg is very dangerous, even though they only have one fist now.

Behind the rock was a small camp with room for about 20 apeoids and we sat down around the campfire while the riders took up position surrounding us at a safe distance. The human Nuur-Karif had spoken with earlier joined us and for some reason, Nuur-Karif let Wolfram speak. Luckily, they did not cause any disasters and the human, some kind of officer, sent two riders off. Ajaw was setting when they returned with two more riders, one of them the officer we had met on the way to Ur. They recognized us and told the other humans we could be trusted, but only laughed when Nuur-Karif asked where Mir was. The last they had heard was that Mir had traveled to Sam, ostensibly to elect a new king, but had conveniently been kept from crossing the river by some kind of uprising in the city. Mir had then traveled north east along the river, but the whole army had disappeared a days march from Sam. The officer had not gotten any orders indicating that Ur would get any relief soon.

Wolfram thought Mir had to be somewhere in the lands of Larma and we should go straight east through the desert. Nuur-Karif on the other hand wanted to go to Sam and use their contacts there to find out where Mir had gone. An army campaigning through enemy lands is not exactly inconspicuous, so I found it unlikely that we would find Mir if we went straight east, but it would take us to a stone circle which could be interesting. Going to Sam would be the best choice in case Mir had somehow crossed the main road and gotten into the swamp. Another advantage of Sam was that it could be reached without wandering through Larma controlled territory. Keeping a three meter tall troll and a human that insists on polishing their armour until it shines hidden in the depleted fields of Arland would be beyond even me. I suggested a compromise, moving towards the area Mir was last seen and look for tracks, but Wolfram was not satisfied with this. Grogg sent Kra to find an army and would not answer before Kra was back.

Either way we would initially walk east and I asked the humans for survival tips. Some of the prickly plants I had seen could be cut up to extract some moisture and there were also several edible bugs making their home in the desert. One has to be careful though, some beetles cause bad intoxication and a few are lethal. The main threats are the animals. Large packs of dogs and, surprisingly, bats can overwhelm wanderers, but they can usually be kept at bay with torches and fire. For this reason, the humans preferred to travel during the day and keep close to their campfires at night. Wolfram insisted that we should travel at night and Nuur-Karif with their night vision was happy to agree. Thankfully, four scouts would escort us, but I noticed they did not bring much supplies with them.

Amna was almost full and the torches from the scouts gave extra light, but without them, the larger members of our party would have struggled on the difficult terrain. We sometimes heard squeaking sounds that the scouts told us were bats, but they kept their distance and about two hours after midnight we reached a camp like the one we had found earlier. I had occasionally spotted horse tracks throughout the night and got the impression from the scouts that we had passed similar camps at regular intervals. The officer had claimed they had control of the entire desert between Ur and Larma. If the camps were equally dispersed throughout, that would mean there could be several hundred and perhaps thousands of riders camped out in the desert. While Aldera can call on much larger forces, this would probably constitute the majority of their cavalry. It would seem we found the missing army.

Before going to sleep, I sat down to observe the stars. They were strangely, almost alarmingly, quiet. While sitting there, a thought struck me. Perhaps I could gather the light around me into my eyes using a similar construction as the container I had used to conjure a light in the cellar in Ur. That should make it easier to see, especially in the dark. Carefully tying a web using strands of star energy, I closed my eyes channeled a little bit of power into the construction. Opening my eyes again, I could see more clearly. While not the difference of light and day, I could more clearly make out the scouts patrolling around camp. Something attracted Wolfram's attention and they came to inspect, but did not say anything. Taking a short walk around camp, I was satisfied that the scouts would raise the alarm if something happened and went to sleep in a tent.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 11-25-2020 at 02:34 PM.
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Old 11-25-2020, 01:52 PM   #42
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 183, 184, and 185 since leaving The Homeland

A soldier woke us when Ajaw was about to rise. While we were eating our rather tasteless rations, Kra showed up again with a white cloth with an elaborate L. They had found the closest army, as Grogg had asked, and unsurprisingly it was the Larma army. Realizing this, Grogg agreed with me that a compromise direction between the stone circle and Sam was best. Either we would find tracks of Mir or we could got towards Sam. Wolfram and Nuur-Karif grudgingly agreed to the compromise. We made camp when the heat started becoming uncomfortable and rested until dusk before continuing. I again tried to capture the extra light and it worked. However, Wolfram came over and commented that my eyes were glowing. Holding a hand in front of my eyes, I saw a faint reflection of star light. While pleasant, it could be problematic if I tried to avoid detection. The stars were still strangely normal.

I kept the light webs going all night until Ajaw rose above the horizon. To my surprise, I was able to capture daylight as well. We made camp soon after and I slept perhaps three hours before Nujan woke me. One of the scouts escorting us was had ridden off. Their tracks went to the south and concluded they were probably off to report at some nearby camp. I noted with concern that Grogg was sitting and sewing, looking rather haggard. They did not need the needle anymore and they usually struggle with sleeping afterwards, but the only solution is to let them keep going until they keel over. I went back to sleep and the scout was back when I woke up and we started walking at dusk. There were much fewer animals than I was led to believe, but that would not be very surprising if the desert was full of Aldera soldiers. If we kept the pace up, we should reach the end of the desert before Ajaw rose.

This was not to be however. An hour or so after midnight, Grogg started walking noticeably slower. Lack of sleep was catching up to them and they were shambling along as if sleep walking. The uneven terrain did not help either and they fell over several times. We pressed on until daybreak, but it was slow going. In order to exhaust the troll and help them sleep, Wolfram and I took Grogg for a run, but the troll soon collapsed and had to be supported back to camp. Wolfram continued to fuzz with Grogg, but I went to sleep and was woken some time later by loud snoring. The troll had passed out on the ground, clutching a half empty beer keg and was completely soaked in the foul smelling beverage. Tidying up the contents of their sack, I erected some shade some shade over them and went to sleep again.

Grogg was still sleeping when I awoke later and we decided it was best to let them lie. Practicing a bit of archery to kill time, I noticed that one of the scouts rode off and came back a while later. This caused the scouts to discuss something among themselves before telling us they had gotten orders to travel south. They believed Mir was returning and it was time to attack the Larma forces in Ur in the rear. Cutting off their supplies and surrounding them, Larma would stand no chance if Ur had not fallen and they would soon starve if it had. It makes little sense that a large city would fall to a numerically inferior force like that, but the apeoids are fickle and irrational and cannot be expected to defend themselves. The scouts did not know where Mir was, but I persuaded them to find someone that could help us. One of them rode off again and returned with an officer that told us Mir was expected to arrive a bit north of us the day after. If we came with the officer to the camp, they could get us an escort to where Mir was expected. Grogg was still sleeping, but the officer promised to send a messenger when they knew more.
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Old 11-25-2020, 02:05 PM   #43
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 186 since leaving The Homeland

Grogg woke up sometime after midnight and must have been famished, judging by the amount they ate and drank. In the meantime, one of the scouts suggested they could take us to the other camp and we started packing up. The other camp was just half an hour away, now that Grogg was more or less back to normal. There was not much to do and I sat down by myself to experiment. If I used more energy and tied a finer web, it should be possible to catch more light. However, instead of seeing clearer, everything became distorted and for a short time I saw two Amnas. I waited a little while for my vision to return to normal and tried again, but the same thing happened. Perhaps I made a wrong knot somewhere in the web, but I wonder if the escaping starlight created a feedback mechanism. I sat down to meditate and noticed that the dance of The Nine had changed. While it was still fierce and aggressive, it now seemed a lot more coordinated, as if they were now dancing with each other and not just following their own rhythm. The change must have happened very gradually since I had not noticed it before and might have been the reason why something felt off about the sky. Sitting down, I made a light web with just a little energy and studied the wild dance until Ajaw rose.

I was woken by Wolfram sometime after midday and it looked like the camp were being dismantled. The officer was discussing something with two soldiers that were going to lead us to the rendezvous with Mir. Quickly packing our luggage and getting some food, we were soon on our way. After about half an hour, we reached a new camp who's main function must have been storage and distribution of water. It was also being taken down and we were told to follow a small water caravan northwards. Hurrying north, our caravan joined up with similar caravans and reached a large camp after about two hours. Unlike the other camps we had seen, this one was in the process of being constructed with supplies arriving from all directions and it was much larger than was needed by the soldiers already there. However, there were no palisades or similar defensive structures and I got the impression this camp would be very temporary.

We settled on a hill overlooking the camp and washed off the worst grime from the desert. Ajaw was nearing the horizon when a small group of riders led by two soldiers in highly polished armour appeared to the north. A loud cheer rose from the camp and a group of officers gathered around the shiny soldiers at the centre of the camp. A bit later, when Ajaw touched the horizon, we heard trumpets and the thunder of many hooves from the north. A group of about 500 riders crested the top of a small hill and came towards us at full gallop. At their head rode Mir flanked by Nulius, the elf from the west, and two lions. As they got closer, I noticed that two elves riding behind Mir were tied to their saddle with their hands behind their back. Presumably captured Larma elves. The rest of the army consisted of a mix of heavily armoured soldiers and the more lightly armed scouts we had seen all over the desert.

The camp was quickly cleared and Mir had an open path to the centre of the camp were they jumped off the horse and entered a large tent together with some officers. The rest of their army followed and spread out and I noticed several of them were wounded. This made Nuur-Karif wander off, muttering something about offering their services. They were stopped at the edge of the camp by some soldiers, but one of them ran to the central tent and returned with Nulius soon after. The elf looked displeased when they spotted Nuur-Karif, but Nuur-Karif signaled for us to come and I handed the spear, still wrapped in its bag, to Nujan. Nulius wanted them to hand over the spear immediately, but Nujan insisted on giving it to Mir and Nulius surprisingly relented. Entering the large tent ahead of us, we heard Nulius refer to Nujan with the title of "prince" and Mir ordering us in and everyone else except Nulius out.

We were led into the tent and greeted by an exuberant Mir. They had been raiding some minor fort near Larma's main seat and expected the sudden attack to cause chaos in the forces of Larma. As a bonus, they had taken the captives that were now tied up outside. One of them was the child of the head of the Larma family and one of the leaders of the Tivito sect according to Mir. If this is the case, they must be a valuable hostage and possibly Mir's sibling. Wolfram warned them of the clay tokens we had found earlier and Mir did not seem very concerned, but said they would do a search of the captive. I wanted to get rid of the spear and hinted for Nujan to hand it over, but Mir interrupted with toasts for old friends and the silliness of their sibling. They almost seemed reluctant to accept the spear, but I forced the issue and Nujan handed it over. Lifting the spear and performing a few moves, Mir looked almost surprised that nothing appeared to happen. The effect had been a bit gradual on Lunari.

Mir offered us a tent, and told us they would likely be gone by the time we woke up. Wolfram asked if we could do anything to help them, but they said they had sent their best apeoids to take care of the closest crypt, whatever that means. Nuur-Karif, always fond of secrets, whispered something to Mir, and the rest of us, including Nulius, were ushered out. I do not know what they discussed, but I assume Nuur-Karif wanted to murder someone and Mir rejected the offer. At least they claimed something was not their style loud enough for us to hear outside, but Nuur-Karif could do whatever they wanted if they had their orders. Then again, they are a remarkably clever apeoid and this may very well have been a ruse. While outside, Wolfram and Nulius babbled on about some fighting technique and Wolfram invited Nulius to invade The Cities of the Prince.

We were let into the tent and Mir again proposed a toast while I told them what had happened the night the dragons came to Ur. I got the impression that what had happened was as expected, though they seemed impressed when I told them about Grogg defeating Palongi. Mir's main concern was if Nefalonia and Garold were still alive which Nuur-Karif confirmed, saying we had killed the assassins. Of course, they might have died in the ensuing siege and battle for the city, but the thought did not seem to occur to any of them. Mir was very happy, claiming we had helped their family. They were somewhat surprised that Elik worshipers were involved, as this cult mostly operates in the north. Finishing the story, I told Mir about Nujan's proclamation, despite Nujan looking like a mix of wanting to murder me and disappearing into the wall. Mir, who had been clutching the spear since Nujan handed it over, looked thoughtful and wondered if we wanted to hold them back. My response was that they could do whatever they wanted with their spear as long as we did not have to carry it around any more. Our audience was now over and an officer was summoned with instructions to give us whatever we wanted.

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Old 12-04-2020, 02:33 PM   #44
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 186 since leaving The Homeland

The most valuable the officer could give us was information about what was going on. Unless we wanted to stay in the war zone, we would have to go eastwards and find a way to avoid Larma forces. However, the officer became hysterical and ran off when they realized what I am. I had expected Mir to maintain better discipline. Instead, we made our way to the southern part of the camp were supplies were kept. Wolfram needed new weapons and Nuur-Karif was eventually directed to a large tent were they kept weapons meant for trolls. I had not seen any trolls besides Grogg, but a unit of them was supposed to arrive the day after. Wolfram was pleased with their new weapons and I waited with them outside the camp while Nuur-Karif, Yana and Grogg procured food and water. Nujan ran off to snoop around the camp.

Grogg was balancing a full barrel of water on their back when the others returned, but they seemed to manage just fine despite having only one arm. Their strength is truly impressive. We would have to figure out where to go next, as Mir had not seemed interested in keeping us around. Long term, we must get the mirror shard to the homeland, but I believe we have to visit the Night Mirror first. Wolfram did not want to go there though, because they had an unusual moment of clarity and realized they had no way to fight the demons which they are convinced we have to do. I am beginning to doubt that. The stone circle was now a bit more than a days march to the east and we somehow all agreed that we should go there, though I suspect we all had different motives. I wanted to study the circle itself, Wolfram wanted to inspect the nearby crypt, Grogg did whatever they interpreted Kra's cawing to be and Nuur-Karif wanted to curry favour with Grogg through Kra.

I went to find Nujan and found them lurking in the camp. They seemed unusually earnest and wondered if I had truly seen the fires in their eyes when the dragons fought and I pointed out that both Wolfram and I had seen them. They did not continue that train of thought, but produced a note they had received from Mir when we returned to the others. It contained drafts for laws in lands ruled by Mir, giving the cults of Ashtar and Tiri special privileges and making it illegal to buy and sell most apeoids and jaguars, as well as guaranteeing free travel on roads. As noted previously, the apeoids like to consider each other as property, especially here in Arland, so this would make for a quite radical change. Of course, the laws are only worth as much as Mir is willing to enforce them. Mir had indicated to Nujan that they wanted to see us and we returned to the camp where the soldiers had started celebrating the successful raid.

We walked towards Mir's tent, but a soldier signaled for us to enter a tent on the way. Inside, we discovered that Mir had escaped Nulius' attention and were waiting for us. They asked our advice about their military campaign, saying that they were considering attacking Byblos, the capital of Arland while Nulius wanted to go north, presumably towards the main seat of Larma. I pointed that while the army in Ur was trapped, the population of Ur would starve before the army and, more importantly, the vault of the council probably contains many powerful artifacts that should not fall into the hands of Tivito. Especially the mirror we had found in the crypt. If Nefalonia's speculations were correct, Tivito could use it to gain control over Darwan. I am also not sure how they planned to take either Byblos or Larma without a long and costly siege, but I assume they had some plans. Either that, or the spear was already affecting them. They were still clutching it.

Mir had not summoned us only to discuss strategy. They wanted us to travel east to the stone circle and crypt east of Byblos. It would be close to Amrosh lands and the influence of the Kabal cult. It is clear that Kabal is working with Tivito and may be trying to capture the demon imprisoned in the crypt. The remaining demons are Jori, of ashes and rage, and Volkir, associated with whirlwinds and lightning. Grogg visibly paled when they heard about Volkir. If we checked the place out within 14 days, Mir would implement the laws described in the notes, which made Wolfram and Nuur-Karif very eager to go. I will travel along. A warlord owing me a favour could come in handy, assuming they win the war and do not die in some stupid duel. I mentioned that it might be best to release the demons before Tivito could get to them and Wolfram looked horrified, but Mir agreed that it might come to that. The shortest root to the circle would be to travel straight east and cross the river, but this would take us through densely populated Larma lands. It would be better to go south to Sam and then follow the river up using a boat or cross the river and travel by wagon. Mir said we could take the tent and stay overnight. They expected news from the closest stone circle at dawn at the latest and we decided to wait until the messenger arrived. On their way out, Mir mentioned to Nujan that Nujan's sibling was said to be in Sam.

I went to the outskirts of the camp and studied the stars. I could still not see Kama and Taxini, but The Nine were still dancing. Climbing a large rock, I studied their dance closely. The steps are intricate and very slow and fast at the same time, requiring immaculate timing. Carefully following one of them, I was able to understand some of the steps, but the time scales of the stars are not the same as ours. To get a better understanding, I will have to return another night. Skipping back to the camp, I heard grunts and moans coming from our tent and feared the apeoids had started mating, but it turned out Wolfram had started their exercise program and had recruited Grogg. Nuur-Karif and Yana had set up their tent inside the larger tent and retreated inside while Nujan was sleeping in a corner.

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Old 12-04-2020, 02:52 PM   #45
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 187 since leaving The Homeland

I had curled up behind Nuur-Karif's tent and almost fallen asleep when a soldier scratched the tent. They handed a letter with a broken Aldera seal to Wolfram and promptly left. The letter inside was short and read: "Special report for Mir only. Tivito was there before us. We were too late.". News had arrived sooner than anticipated, but they were not good and we had no time to lose. Packing our things, we set out for Sam and hoped to reach the city before Ajaw would dive under the horizon again. While we would not get any sleep this night, we had slept half the day and could hopefully catch up the rest on a boat going upriver from Sam. Nuur-Karif believed their Ashtarite contacts should be able to arrange it.

In the light of Amna, we could see a few Aldera patrols on horseback, but they did not bother us. To be on the safer side, Nujan and I would scout ahead and I again made the web to catch extra light. Carefully tying the mesh finer than before, I wanted to make sure that no light was leaking out and potentially creating feedback. There was a short flash of starlight, but no more light seemed to escape, which Wolfram confirmed, and the web also seemed to catch more light than before.

Nujan and I fanned ahead and they told me about the jaguars' stories of dragons. The dragon in the west had once tried to swallow Ajaw. While it had not succeeded, it had gained control of the fire, which it had used to burn the forests down, leaving only deserts. The jaguars had made the deserts their home and viewed the dragon both as the creator of their home, but also a very destructive force. It seems unfathomable that any being could even attempt to swallow Ajaw, but I have seen Ajaw stopped and turned on their path and the sky draped in flames. In Nujan's tales, there was also a force from the sea that opposed the dragon. The apeoids associate Kama and Taxini with winds and the sea and in my vision, they were hunting the dragons. I tried to discuss this with Nujan, but they found the vision disturbing and preferred to ignore it.

At dawn, we could see green fields in the distance and Nujan wondered whether we should take the road or continue cross country. By then, we were outside Larma influence and we would move faster on the road, so we decided to take it. Grogg had only partially recovered from their sleepless nights and their steps were turning into shuffling. I did not spot anything moving and there were almost no tracks younger than a week, so it should be quite safe. We had followed the road for a few hours when I spotted an observation platform in the distance to our right, on the edge of the swamp. It looked like there was an apeoid keeping watch and I returned to the others. While we did not expect hostilities, it would be best to hide my identity and I convinced Grogg to put on makeup.

I started applying the makeup on their remaining arm and noticed some strange cracks in their skin I had not noticed before. Looking closer, it felt almost like I got small shocks when touching them. Considering Grogg's typical reaction to even a hint of lightning, I did not say anything, but instead tried to catch any threads of magic in or around their skin. I detected a strange light emanating from the cracks and, to my great surprise, a similar light was also escaping from cracks in my own skin. Pointing out the cracks to Grogg, they claimed that something like that had never happened before. Looking closer at my own arms, it looked a lot like the beginning of a shedding, but I shed soon before I left the Homeland and would not expect it to happen for a long time yet. What made it especially strange was that Grogg also seemed to be shedding, which apeoids are not supposed to do, which Grogg confirmed. Then again, none of the other trolls I have seen had armoured skin like Grogg. Inspecting Grogg's skin, Nuur-Karif did not know what was happening, but believed it was probably harmless. I am not so sure. Putting on my clothes, they itched terribly. If this is a shedding, it is happening much faster than usual.

A couple of hours after midday, we reached a control post on the road where we had been stopped by Larma soldiers on the way to Guling. Now, it was controlled by maybe 30 militia soldiers that looked like they had been rounded up from the nearby farms. I was a bit concerned that they would be hostile, but we were welcomed to what one of them called "Free Sam". The cataclysm is progressing and Sam has risen up in rebellion, though it is a bit unclear against whom. Past the control post, traffic looked quite normal, but when we reached the last hill before Sam, we saw a camp for maybe 1000 apeoids outside the city. I explained to Nuur-Karif that I would need a bath under the stars somewhere I would not be disturbed, concerned that it would be difficult to obtain in the city, but they reassured me and said they could arrange it at the Ashtarite headquarters. Nobody challenged us when we entered the city, but I overheard some apeoids discussing how they were guaranteed food if they signed up as mercenaries at the camp. It never fails to amaze me how miserable the life of the average apeoid is.

We finally reached the Ashtarite headquarters which functions both as a temple and as a coordinating office for their assassins. Grogg looked like they were about to fall over and was placed in a nearby inn. The rest of of us entered the complex where Nuur-Karif could arrange lodgings. Each of us got a separate room and I could have the highest roof to myself if we helped carrying water. While southern Arland is not as pleasant as The Homeland, especially during night, it should be warm enough. Wolfram disappeared into their room as soon as possible, but the rest of us wanted to go down to the chapel. I had about an hour before the Ashtarites would gather and went to my room to clean up a bit. Patches of my skin was already starting to loosen and the itching was getting worse. It would be a short session in the temple.

Nuur-Karif and Yana knocked on my door on their way down and I and Nujan joined them. In the antechamber, Nuur-Karif asked Yana if they wanted to join the cult and Yana nodded consent. When they entered the temple proper, Nuur-Karif gave out a squeal and ran over to a human female that was already there. The human was Rhuk, who had taken Nuur-Karif in as a child and indoctrinated them into the cult. Consequently, Nuur-Karif considers Rhuk to be a kind of parent, similar to Grogg's obsession with Lunari and I wonder if Wolfram has a similar relation to their master. I believe young apeoids are even more impressionable than the adult ones and their tendency to form attachments could maybe be exploited to train loyal agents. One would have to be very patient though; young apeoids are utterly useless for many cycles.

Finding a bench in the back of the room with Nujan, I overheard Rhuk update Nuur-Karif on the situation in the city. Riots and fear of Larma and famine had forced the ruling council of Sam to appoint a tetrarchy, with the most influential tetrarch being very friendly to the swamp dwellers. Rhuk's impression was that the rumours of famine was partly due to a successful propaganda campaign to Mir's benefit. As we had seen, the wretches of the city were streaming to Mir's recruitment camp. Rhuk was interrupted by a high ranking Ashtarite that entered the temple and started a brief service and finished by stating the ovious fact that many apeoids are going to die soon. Those who felt a call should stay in the temple. I tried to meditate a bit, but the only call I felt was the itch. Nuur-Karif and Yana stayed, but Nujan joined me when I left. I noted that Nuur-Karif, perhaps due to foresight, had put on a darker dress that would make blood stains less obvious.

Walking with Nujan up the stairs, I mentioned that Ssuxxakan is depicted as a two headed snake, which upset them, but they refused to say why. They have been increasingly on edge since we left The Evening Fortress, so this may have been nothing, but I wish they had told me what they meant when they said something was wrong. Instead, they left to look for their sibling. I walked to my room and checked on the mirror shard. It was now shining visibly less than before. Perhaps Grogg's meddling accelerated the energy loss. Now that I have finished writing these notes, I will go up to the roof. While it is a far cry from the plunge pool I usually visit to shed, I should have a clear view of the stars and be above the worst stench of the city. However, this is clearly not a normal shedding and I hope nothing too bad will happen.

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Old 12-12-2020, 09:57 AM   #46
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Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 188 since leaving The Homeland

If there was any doubt before, it immediately became clear that this was not going to be a normal shedding when I entered the water. Instead of easing, the itching intensified into a stinging, almost burning sensation. I did not mind, however. The stars called to me and I did not dwell on the body lying in the tub, but drifted up and joined them in their wild dance. I now knew every step of the dance precisely because the stars wanted to dance with me and my shape changed to match the steps of the dance. The Nine were there and it seemed like all the stars in the sky were joining in. There were also other beings there, taking different mammalian shapes while whirling around, but instead of my usual revulsion, I danced with them and the stars tied us together.

The dancing was interspersed with short and confusing visions and incoherent streams of thought. At one point the the mammals turned into something that was not mammals, but it was interrupted by a sensation of many small twigs in a great forest. The twigs were again replaced by the concept of horse and the cardinal directions and dragons swallowing everything. My question to all of this was "Who was in the south?", but instead of pondering the question, I twisted myself into a circle and wondered why somebody did not like my tail. Somehow, tails were related to whomever was in the south while jaguars could not be in the south.

Flying higher, I met a group of beings I think were separate from the mammal group, but might have been the same. They were dancing even more intensely than the mammals, almost too intense, and they were like birds with big beaks and no tails. I danced with them, but they almost seemed intoxicated and the words Bana and Matapl came from somewhere. Drifting away, it struck me that there were an enormous number of them. Finally, it was only me and the stars again. They were dancing in great orbits, flying down to me and then up to the sky again. Flying like People with wings and terrible appetites. My last disjointed thought before Ajaw's light hit my face was "Do not eat the gods!".

The visions I had were the most intense I have ever had, but also the most confusing. I do not know what actually happened and what was just dreams or imagination. One thing is certain, The Nine were dancing in the sky and I now know the steps. Thinking through my experience, it struck me that the mammals had taken the shapes of elves and might be related to the brown forest. Both Nefalonia and the Azura claimed the elves there dabbled in shape shifting and I myself had a vision that indicated something like that.

The thoughts following the encounter with the mammals are very confusing and I do not know what most of them could mean. Nor do I know what the mammals turned into when not being mammals, ravens perhaps. The twigs in the forest could possibly be related to something the Kabal wraith at The Evening Fortress said. Before I crushed their skull, they were ranting about small twigs. The cardinal directions could mean almost anything, but the urhorse is said to be in the north and and there is a dragon in both east and west, while there is no destructive power in the south, except Vaxo of course. How this relates to tails is beyond me though.

While ravens are birds, I do not think the the bird group were ravens, but something bigger. Pakk and Gromann did mention something about birdlike creatures around the crater in the east and were relieved when they heard we had not seen them. Could I possibly have met them? They certainly seemed intense and innumerable. I am also worried that dragons appeared so many times. According to the apeoids, dragons have an insatiable appetite and will try to consume anything, even the gods.

Looking around to get my bearings, I found myself back in the tub and the grimy city spread out below me. My old skin was floating in the tub and my new skin was soft and the camouflage sluggish. Physically, this shedding had been normal, if highly accelerated. It certainly did not feel like a normal shedding though. Instead of feeling relaxed and renewed, I was dead tired and struggled to get out of the tub. Waddling down the stairs towards my room, I realized that the only thing I desired more than sleep was to eat. Fetching some food downstairs, I returned to my room and shredded the skin to make it look like a snake skin before going to bed. The Ashtarites should know how to deal with old sheds.

I had barely closed my eyes before Yana knocked on my door and said Nuur-Karif wanted to talk about something. Crawling out of bed, I pulled on my cloak and stumbled down the stairs together with Wolfram. Yana was waiting for us and led us down into the temple. Nuur-Karif was sitting in a pile of snakes and I noted with surprise that they were not covered in blood. They looked very tired, though, and claimed they had received direct orders from Ashtar and wanted to share them with us, but we had to fetch Grogg first. Rhuk and two ashtarites, including the high ranking one from the night before were also there. Walking over to the inn where we had left Grogg, Wolfram was able to get hold of Grogg by bribing the innkeeper. Grogg was reluctant to go to the chapel, so we got food at the inn and I had the chance to study their skin. It used to be covered by metal patches, but they were all gone, leaving the skin looking flaking and scabbed. The new skin revealed by the missing flakes looked almost like proper scales, like one of The People. Grogg is a great conundrum. They had not dreamt anything though.

We walked back to the Ashtarite complex and Grogg grudgingly agreed to come down to the temple. Nuur-Karif began with an apology to Grogg and Kra, claiming that they had realized the errors of their way and that all living beings had a value to Ashtar. They appeared to be genuine, but Nuur-Karif is a skilled actor. Grogg sniffed the air suspiciously, but accepted the apology. Nuur-Karif then proceeded to tell us what they had experienced during the night. After I left, the high ranking Ashtarite that led the ceremony had told Nuur-Karif to go to a secret passages at the back of the temple. There, they had died and traveled to The Underworld where a raven had pecked out their eyes and a voice said that all creatures with a force of life had a worth. A snake then slithered into each of their eye sockets, letting Nuur-Karif gaze upon the visage of Ashtar and the god instructed them to behold a thousand doors separating the living from the dead. Beyond was Ashtar's sibling, but Nuur-Karif could only see a flickering shadow that seemed to dissolve before them. Ashtar's command to Nuur-Karif was to seek out this sibling.

They had then found themselves back in the temple with their eyes intact, but exhausted. They had been through something called a metamorphosis. While, they did not specify what this entailed, they did ask me to inspect their eyes. Initially, they looked perfectly normal, but when I accidentally shaded them with my hand, the pupils momentarily changed into slits, like the eyes of nocturnal snakes. Having finished their story, Nuur-Karif wondered if we had any idea where to look for Ashtar's sibling. My first thought was that Krull had been rambling about Ashtar and the other one, one pointing up and the other one pointing down. When and how this had happened they did not say, but I suspect it is related to their status as undying. While I am sure I told Nuur-Karif this before, they must have forgotten. Hearing this, they resolved to seek out Krull at the Night Mirror. In hindsight I should have reminded them of Vaxo. I have told them of The Guardians and the gate to the Underworld, but they may have forgotten that as well. Things not directly related to Ashtar tend not to stick very long.

The temple is deep underground, so I was very surprised when I heard a sound coming from above. Wolfram claimed it was a voice screaming for Grogg and I could not rule that out, though it would have to be very powerful to pierce through many meters of dirt. Walking up the stairs, it soon became clear that Wolfram was right and the voice was coming from the courtyard. There we found Nujan, Nujan's sibling called Rojan and a female orc responsible for the screaming. When the orc saw Grogg, they stormed towards Grogg and rambled on about having realized that Grogg was truly Gromgar's slayer. Gromgar was the leader of the orcs that attacked Lunas and Krull on their way to The Evening Fortress and Grogg defeated them in single combat. This brings enormous respect among the orcs and the female orc, called Hylda, now wanted to serve Grogg. Recognizing the voice, I realized that Hylda was the one Grogg had mated with on the way from The Evening Fortress to Ur.

Somehow, Hylda and Rojan had met each other and traveled together to Sam where Nujan had found them. Rojan explained that Nujan had to return to Kajar and lead the jaguars because Nujan is the oldest of the princely litter of twelve. While Rojan insisted the jaguars do not have kings, leadership is still determined by random factors like who is the offspring of whom, so I fail to see the great difference. The princes claim they can trace their ancestry back to Kajan, the first jaguar prince. To mark them as special, princely jaguars are the only ones allowed to use names ending in jan. Nujan had to go home, but Rojan would stay in Arland, offering their services as a hunter to the highest bidder. I would have like to learn more about the them, but I was too tired and went back to my room after we decided to rest in Sam for a day.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 09-16-2021 at 10:00 AM.
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Old 12-12-2020, 10:05 AM   #47
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 188 since leaving The Homeland

In the evening, I was woken by Nuur-Karif when they were going to the temple. I came with them, but not much happened at the meet, which is what the Ashtarites call their holy meetings. Afterwards, we met the jaguars and I wondered if they wanted to join me at the temple to Tsovin and Vagan, which they agreed to. Wolfram also agreed to join, but Nuur-Karif has no interest in any other gods than Ashtar. On our way, we passed by a temple to Ratanu, the apeoid god of law. This was the first day of Ratanu's month and Ratanu's followers were holding a ceremony were they acted like some old law was taken to a court of judgement. It was just as ridiculous as it sounds and we hurried past. I also noticed that Rojan must be the most alert mammal I have met and I think even I would have to focus to sneak up on them.

The temple of Tsovin and Vagan was not very large compared to some of the other temples, but it looked quite sturdy, despite being built in the sloppy apeoid style. Two guards on horseback were stationed at the gate, but they did not challenge us. The main chamber of the temple was divided in two by a screen and each side was dominated by a large statue of an apeoid that was supposed to represent one of the gods and the statues were facing away from each other. By now, I have gotten used to the self obsession of the apeoids. Above each of the statues were an opening in the ceiling where I could see the stars. There was only a slight breeze outside, but the holes and ceiling were shaped so that it sounded like a gale was howling. I wonder what it would sound like if there was an actual storm.

A priest was praying next to one of the statues, so I walked over to the other one together with Wolfram and sat down to meditate. I had not seen Kama and Taxini since The Night of the Dragons and was not expecting much, so my surprise was great when the stars reached down and invited me to dance. Not missing a beat, I had only taken a few steps when Wolfram dragged me out of the star light and slapped me so hard it hurt my fresh skin. They were hysterical and had ripped off my cloak, insisting that I had been using magic. I had had enough of their idiocy and told them exactly how much I cared about their opinion and that they should stop bothering me. Mammals explode when using powers, People do not. In the meantime the jaguars slunk off to a corner and were clearly trying to avoid getting noticed.

The priest could not fail to notice what I am after Wolfram ripped off my cloak. At first, they had started praying fervently to one of the statues, but when they heard us quarreling, they gathered themselves and came over. The apeoids believe that Tsovin and Vagan are always quarreling and they were pleased that we had taken our fight to the temple. Now they wondered if I was the creature who could bring the stars back. I did not know what they meant, but I said I could try. I certainly have a stronger connection to the stars than any of the mammals. We were led up to a secluded balcony at the back of the temple, and I told Wolfram to go away because now I would be using magic. Undressing and opening my senses to the heavenly music, I started to dance again, carefully listening and searching for the strands of Kama and Taxini. I danced for several minutes until I almost fell over from exhaustion and noticed that my skin started to light up, tracing the strings of star energy around me. I had not been able to find The Hunters, but I had still found faint strands emanating from somewhere far away. They were definitely still out there somewhere.

Sitting down, I told the priest what I had found and they seemed very relieved. I believe they were genuinely worried that the dragons had consumed Kama and Taxini, though they talked as if Tsovin and Vagan are not Kama and Taxini, but get their power from them. I guess this is something they had to make up to explain their statues. The priest then asked Wolfram if I was their property and I laughed out loud before explaining that nobody owns me. I wanted to get back to my room to rest and we started walking down when the priest shouted out and pointed to the south. Just above the horizon, Kama and Taxini were flying towards each other and took a few dance steps together before parting ways again. It was over almost as soon as it began, but I felt a rush of energy while the siblings were spinning around together. This was different from the dance of The Nine, that are dancing to the same rhythm, but not together. I wonder if I could find someone to dance with. On our way out, the priest thanked us again and told us to keep quarreling, it would make us invincible. I am not sure I believe that, but I will not hold my peace when Wolfram is acting like an hysterical ape any more.
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Old 12-12-2020, 10:14 AM   #48
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Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 189 and 190 since leaving The Homeland

I felt relatively well rested in the morning and Hylda was still around for breakfast. Grogg made it clear that they wanted to bring the orc along, which is problematic as they are very fond of screaming out Grogg's name. I asked Grogg if they could tell Hylda to lower their voice and they partially complied. At least it will take attention away from me and they ignore anyone but Grogg, so I can safely ignore them. We also agreed to call Wolfram for Little Bear from now on. Not the best cover name, but at least it will not broadcast who we are to anyone within hearing and perhaps Grogg can remember it. After breakfast we left for the harbour followed by Nujan and Rojan. Rojan said goodbye at the docks, but Nujan came along in the boats that took us across the river. On the far side, Nujan also said goodbye and said they would find a caravan to Annabelle, a desert city, and from there should be able to make it to Kajar. Before leaving, they asked us to not wake up too much before they got home, but we could not promise anything. We bought a cart that could take our luggage and Grogg, Wolfram and Hylda took turns pulling it. Looks like the orc can have some use besides keeping Grogg happy.

Initially, the road was clogged with traffic, but it eased up as we got further away from Sam and we made good speed. After about an hour, I noticed a messenger with the symbols of Tsovin and Vagan. While this could be perfectly normal, they are known for carrying letters, I could not help but worry who and what the priest would tell about what happened the night before. Walking a bit behind the cart with Nuur-Karif, I asked them more about metamorphosis. They said this is a bodily transformation Ashtarites undergo to better serve Ashtar and is very holy. In order for this to happen, the Ashtarite must die and travel to the Underworld. There, Ashtar can reshape their body before sending them back to the world of the living. Through this process, Nuur-Karif has gotten night vision and resistance to poison, as well as poison fangs, but they do not know the details of the ritual, due to being dead when the rituals were performed on them. I pointed out that my tongue was split and asked if this was a kind of metamorphosis, though I had not died as far as I know. Nuur-Karif did not think this was a metamorphosis, but did not sound completely sure. I am reminded of my impression that my arms and legs would disappear if I delved deeper into the mysteries of Ashtar. It would not be surprising if it is easier to change the body of one of The People, as we are closer to snakes and the divine than apes.

We traveled on, eating rations for lunch and reached an inn at dusk. It is frowned upon to travel after dark so we decided to spend the night. There was only one free room that Nuur-Karif, Yana, and I shared while the rest slept in tents. After dark, I climbed up on the roof to observe the sky but did not see anything particularly interesting. I did not take the chance on meditating though. If the stars asked me to dance again, I would have been very visible and there were several apeoids sleeping in tents around the inn.

We woke quite early and traveled on. After a few hours, we reached a queue caused by a control post. These are places set up to extract tolls from travelers, mostly as a way for the rulers to keep the populace under control. I guess this is a necessity when they have no legitimacy. We had to pay some gold which made Wolfram grumble, but a bigger issue was the delay. It took about half an hour to get through and Nuur-Karif and Yana believed we could expect one every day until we reached Byblos. Just before Ajaw reached the horizon, we made it to an inn that were much less crowded than the night before and I had my own room. After dark I climbed out to watch the stars and took the chance to meditate, but did not notice anything special. On my way back to the inn, I spotted two riders on the road standing out against the stars of the night sky. They rode past without stopping and were probably Amrosh agents. I will have to warn Nuur-Karif tomorrow.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 12-14-2020 at 12:07 PM.
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Old 12-14-2020, 12:33 PM   #49
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Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 191 since leaving The Homeland

A roar from Hylda woke me in the morning, but I quickly realized they were only ordering food for Grogg. Ajaw was barely peeking over the horizon so there was no need to hurry. Inspecting my scales, they now seemed as tough as before the shedding and the camouflage was also back to normal, though still a bit sluggish. Like everything else with this shedding, the hardening of the new skin has been much faster than normal.

From the grunts coming through the wall, I could tell that Wolfram was doing their morning exercises and joined them downstairs when they were finished. Nuur-Karif and Yana were already eating breakfast in the common room and did not worry much about the Amrosh riders. They ride wherever they want whenever they want, but it was a reminder that we should not attract too much attention. Making sure nobody were close enough to overhear, I told Nuur-Karif and the others about Vaxo and Vaxoan. I had expected a bit more of an reaction when I told them of the snakes guarding Vaxoan, but they only looked pensive, even when I told them of the priest of Vaxo with a split tongue. The mammals believe that the land of the dead and The Underworld are separate things and that the land of the dead lies below The Underworld. Ashtar's sibling was supposed to be on the far side of the gate and they did not think there was much of a connection to Vaxo.

I checked the mirror shard again when preparing my backpack and it seemed like more energy had disappeared. I could not feel any energy leaking from it, so I decided to ask Wolfram about it. While they have many strange ideas, they do know a lot about magic and perhaps they had some illuminating suggestions. However, Grogg immediately confronted me when I came down, asking if I was contagious and pointed at their skin. The scales forming were now becoming obvious, but they had a more metallic sheen than is normal for The People. While the scales are strange, I am certain that I am not the cause and pointed out that they had been struck by lightning. Another strange thing was a grey powder on their fingers that smelled like something burnt, but not quite. I asked them about it, but they were busy rounding on Nuur-Karif and demanded to know if they were the cause of the scales. Nuur-Karif said no and explained that they did not really look like snake scales, which seemed to please Grogg so much that they gave Nuur-Karif a ring they said was a gift from Kra.

After packing our luggage on the cart, we started walking. I asked Nuur-Karif if I could have a look at the ring. It was made of silver and inset with a single yellow stone that Yana called a sun stone. It did shine prettily when held up against Ajaw, but I could not detect anything special about it, except the same grey dust and burned smell I had detected on Grogg. While I was curious about the dust, it struck me that it could be some kind of ash and that Jori, one of the remaining demons, was associated with ash. Grogg has a keen nose, but they could not smell what the dust was, so I asked Wolfram. In their bear shape, their sense of smell is even better than Grogg's but they did not wish to turn into a bear where someone could see them and we agreed we could set up a tent during lunch.

While Hylda was dragging the cart, I asked Wolfram about the energy disappearing from the mirror shard. They looked very concerned and wanted to do an experiment. I have been carrying the shard lately and my ability to manipulate the star threads has increased greatly. This is unheard of among the mammals, especially without a teacher, and perhaps I was absorbing the energy from the cube. Of course I do not know what is normal for one of The People, but their theory sounded plausible. To test it, Wolfram wanted to keep me away from the cube for 24 hours and see if I was affected, preferably burying the shard. While I thought the experiment sounded exciting, it would be impractical while traveling. However, we should not bring the shard to the star circle, so we could test it then. Surprisingly, they also almost agreed to let me study their aura before going to the circle. In case someone got possessed, it should be possible to detect changes in their aura.

Before lunch we encountered another control post and paid our way through. We were also asked where we were going, which Yana and Nuur-Karif thought was a bit strange, but simply answered Byblos, the capital. Having put a few kilometers between us and the control post, we had lunch by the wayside. Hylda had a tent that was large enough for Grogg and Hylda together and it should be big enough for the bear if they lay down on their stomach. Having thoroughly sniffed the ring, they turned back to a human. The grey powder was indeed charred plant material, but somehow it had not been burned, but smelled more of stone. It made me think of the molten rock that sometimes spews out of Vaxoan, but as far as I know, there are no volcanoes in Arland. In fact, I had to describe the concept for the others earlier in the day. While in the tent, I weaved the threads and gathered Nuur-Karifs aura. It mostly looked like it did after Gritt left, but there were differences. Their aura has a dark stillness about it that reminds me of death and this part had gotten stronger, but there was also another, red jaggedness that had changed and become more distinct. Nuur-Karif also wanted me to inspect the ring again and I did, but even when casting a very tight net about it, I did not catch any traces of magic.

With our current speed, we should reach Byblos before nightfall the next day. Going all the way to Byblos might get us registered by soldiers at the city gates and we might have to explain where we were going if left through the gates in an easterly direction. Traveling around in Arland off the main roads is frowned upon. It would be better to leave the main road before Byblos and hopefully not meet any patrols that asked too many questions and could not be bought off with a generous toll fee. Yana and Nuur-Karif claimed there were apeoids that would not accept bribes, though I find that hard to believe. Our supplies were running low, so we stopped by several inns along the road and picked up a weeks worth rations, not wanting to raise any questions by buying everything at once. Just before nightfall, we reached a suitable inn.

I shared a room with Wolfram this night and they wondered if I was female. At first I was a bit confused by the question before remembering the apeoids' weird shame around members of the opposite sex. Considering Lunari's behaviour, it might be some kind of self defence mechanism. Anyway, I reassured Wolfram that I am not female. Hylda was screaming out Grogg's name from their room and I asked Wolfram to go talk to them. They seem to get the most response from Hylda. While the screaming continued, "Grogg" was replaced "monster slayer". While an improvement, it would be hard to get any sleep and would raise some questions. Showing the mirror shard to Wolfram they agreed that the light was fainter than it used to, but apparently they could not feel the energy in it. I was about to pack it away when a thought struck; perhaps I could could detect were the energy was going if I stayed up and monitored it. Wolfram grudgingly agreed to let me try but would not go to sleep before I finished, which would be good in case something strange happened. Sitting down with the shard in front of me, I tried to concentrate on the cube and ignore the screaming.
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Old 12-14-2020, 12:47 PM   #50
Stomoxys
 
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 191 since leaving The Homeland

After a while, the screaming became more muted, as if Hylda and Grogg were moving away. Focusing all my attention on the mirror shard, a tendril seemed to extend from it upwards, or maybe the tendril came from above. In the distance, somebody slammed the shutters of a window. More threads emerged and connected the shard to the night sky. By twining the threads together, I could make thicker threads and even a rope that was strong enough to carry me. Climbing up the rope, more threads and ropes appeared and I could climb higher and higher, jumping from one rope to another. To my surprise, Wolfram followed me. The big bear nimbly jumping from thread to thread and climbing even faster than me. I tried to shout to them, but they did not seem to hear me. Instead they were sniffing around, scenting the air and the threads as if they were searching for something and disappeared somewhere above me.

I kept on climbing until I spotted a fountain ahead of me. Wolfram was sitting naked in it in human form with two People. They were about the same size as me, but they looked very healthy and acted with the dignity and manners of a priest. One of them handed Wolfram a bouquet of flowers and herbs and bid Wolfram welcome, calling them Little Bear. The human looked confused and asked why they called them that, but the People only laughed and said that Big Bear was above us, pointing up at the sign of Tityra. Looking to the east, I noticed that only seven of The Nine were dancing in the sky. Nodding to me, one of the People asked Wolfram if it was me who had danced with their children. Wolfram, looking even more confused and said something about me dancing in the temple of Tsovin and Vagan. This made the People laugh again and exclaim how fond they were of the two hellions. They then turned to me and greeted me as an emissary of the star People and asked me to dance. Refusing them would have felt like refusing a priest so I carefully took a step, but found that it was easier here than on the ground and began to spin faster and faster. The People were delighted and joined me, pulling Wolfram along. Wolfram was now a bear again, but smaller and much more agile than normally and they also knew the steps of the dance. Exclaiming that their children remembered the dance, the People wanted all their siblings to join in and praised the sky and its bonds to the earth. From somewhere, I heard joyful laughter of many People coming towards us, but before they arrived, two enormous green hands materialized and plucked me and Wolfram away.

The next thing I was aware of was a biting cold. Taking my bearings, I found myself on a mountaintop next to a small campfire. Wolfram was back in human form, but dressed this time, and Krull was sitting on the far side of the campfire, asking what in the Underworld we were doing. I had no idea what we were doing, so I asked them where we were and they only pointed behind themselves. There, the mountainside descended in cliffs and crags down to the smooth surface of a dark lake. The stars were perfectly reflected in the surface, as if they were in the lake, and I realized this had to be the Night Mirror. I felt a strange attraction and wanted to stare into its depths, but Krull stepped into my field of vision and said sharply that "They had not arrived yet.". Shaking myself, I noticed my tail tip had become numb from the cold and moved closer to the campfire. I was confused and wondered if they meant The Nine or the demons, but Krull only snorted, making it clear that they meant the demons. As far as we know, Tuza is still in Madan, Darwan is free and Jori or Volkir is under the control of Tivito and we are on our way to the prison of the other one. Krull did not seem pleased when they heard this.

Returning to their initial question, Krull wondered if we had rediscovered some ancient arts and if so, we should tell them. They had tried to contact us for a long time, but only now had they gotten any response. I have no idea what happened and neither did Wofram, but I did tell them about the star dance. Again they looked worried and wondered if this was the dance of Albor. Perhaps, the dance is related to The Nine and Albor is supposed to be mad in the Brown Forest. If it is the dance of Albor, Wolfram should be very careful. The elves in the Green Forest used the dance to bind animal spirits to themselves, but one can loose oneself if one binds too many spirits. Kra was one such animal spirit that had managed to free itself and was now attached to Grogg instead. Krull also repeated the claim of Azura that the raven form was the only form the elves could assume and still maintain some semblance of control. I told them how I had learned the dance when shedding my skin, but Krull only snorted that I should be relatively safe as long as I do not start shape shifting.

Looking over at me, Krull wondered how I was feeling. I was miserable. My tail had lost all sensation and my feet had begun to numb as well, making it difficult to stand upright. Krull pointed across the lake to an enormous mountain whose towering peaks shimmered like silver in the light of Amna. Instinctively I knew that the beautiful summits covered in white were a land of death were People did not belong. In the other direction, Arland stretched out below us and we could see all the way to The Evening Fortress. The Night Mirror should then be to the north while Arland should be to the south, but I could not quite get the directions to fit with the stars. Looking up, I tried to determine our position, but Krull told me to stop. I could disturb the stars and destabilize everything.

Krull went on to tell us how they would gather the orc clans, but it was increasingly hard to stay focused. There was nothing we could do now, but Krull would lead a hopeless defence of the night mirror. I mumbled something about helping them and they responded we could free the demon from Tivito if we insisted. The cold did not feel so bad any more, but I was struggling to keep my eyes open and just wanted to lie down and sleep when Krull asked what had happened to Tuza. I answered that Pakk, Gromann, and Ebsalon had taken them away, but Wolfram interrupted me before I could say where. Krull sounded oddly intense and insisted on knowing where Tuza was taken, but Krull was far, far away and a nice, warm darkness enveloped me.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 12-16-2020 at 02:08 PM.
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