|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Gilead||Persia||Khaz|
he action begins far from Tallon, where a band of Devil Merks travels the Uzon Road. There have been tales of much battle in Tallon, and the band of Fhard's Fist means to find employment. The mutants have camped off the roadside and made their usual preparations.
Some time after midnight, Overdogan Khaz, a kind of corporal, hears a noise. Leaving the other sentries to alert the band, he goes to investigate. Khaz cannot believe what he sees.
A group of Tallonite soldiers is engaged in mortal combat with an enemy stranger than any Khaz has seen. The enemy seems to be comprised of animated corpses. He sees them take blows that would cripple or kill ordinary men and keep on coming. Not one to pass up the opportunity for battle and glory, Khaz wades into the fray, swinging his deadly warhammer. The enemy is too strong though. By the time rest of the Devil Merk band catches up, all of the Tallonites are dead save one.The fresh Merks dispatch the few remaining undead opponents and investigate the survivor. Khaz reports that he fought with superhuman skill and power, surpassing even the prowess of a Devil Merk.
The man reveals himself to be Pollux, Paladin of Hannon, Warlord of Tallon. He says he bears a burden critical to the war. If the Merks would deliver it to any of the city's Grandmasters, he promises they will be paid well. He himself is mortally wounded. Before he expires he warns them of the nature of his pursuers.
The undead warriors are called zombies, hideous reanimated corpses, capable of taking tremendously cruel amounts of damage. He also cryptically tells them of wraiths, silent invisible killers. Then he passes away.
Khaz removes the man's burden and passes it to Fhard, his Tarn (commander). It is a crystaline cylinder, about the size of a man's upper arm, but twice as thick. The band breaks camp the next morning and resumes their trek towards Tallon.
The next evening, tragedy strikes. Despite all their preparation and warning, they simply did not understand the full extent of their enemy's power. Khaz awakens to find his band slaughtered, throats cut in their sleep! Denied the honorable death in combat. Silently he rages, eyes and ears alert for the slightest clue to where this wraith might be.
Soon he hears the noise of combat. Following the sounds, he arrives at the base of a waterfall, where Fhard is locked in battle with an unseen foe.
Actually, to Fhard's surprise, the foe is not entirely invisible. Fhard has lured the assassin to the waterfall, wher the mist provides a faint but unmistakable outline. The mutant hurls his spear in the defense of his Tarn. There is of course no sound from his target, but the spear buries itself into the rock side of the fall. Khaz rushes to support the Tarn, but Fhard is sorely wounded. Distressingly, Khaz has no idea if his blows are even striking his enemy. There is no palpable sensation of a hit. The only giveaway as to what is going on is when the spear spontaneously disengages from the rock. This is followed by a splashing noise. Khaz grabs Fhard, who is in danger of falling into the water himself. Fhard lays the charge upon him to complete the mission. He further orders him, with his dying command, to avenge the band. Find the assassin and make him pay.
The dying breath of a Tarn lives on in his band, is a devil merk saying, and Khaz is all that is left of the Fist. Grimly he takes the canister from Fhard's corpse. As he does so, he notices something he barely perceived earlier. There in the water coating the rocks is the imprint of a hand. Though he cannot feel it, Khaz understands that the Assassin could only free himself of the spear by tearing away what remained of his hand. Doing his best to place the grisly trophy ion a sack, Khaz smiles grimly. When he finds a way to see wraiths, the man with one hand will pay…
Meanwhile, events have been progressing in Tallon. Martial law has been increased. No citizen will leave his home except in large groups. Wraiths are everywhere. Not a night goes by without half a dozen murders. Those with the wherewithal go to extraordinary lengths to protect themselves. They wear disguises, go about in secret, build elaborate traps and detectors around their homes. The commoners must do the best they can, and pray that they are not important enough to be a target.
Signs appear all over the city proclaiming "No Safety". The wraiths are ramping up a campaign based on terror. And it is working. Trade and craft are paralyzed. The very leaders of the city fear to be seen.
It is only during the rain that anyone dares to go abroad. During the rain, the outline of a wraith can be seen. During the rain there are no killings.
Two days before the Day of the Lawgiver, the festival of Second Equinox, Gilead is traveling near the Hall of Art in the company of Hank Woodman. Intent on discussing improvements to the Temple of Patha, they are rudely interrupted by yet another wraith attack. This time, Hank is the target. The wraiths apparently have a heavy swinging weapon, like an axe or a sledgehammer. The first blow staves in Hank's torso and severs his right arm. He and Gilead yell for assistance and run toward the Hall, intent on getting a wall to their backs.
Tira's class on the second floor hears the commotion as a student yells out, "Hey, somebody is taking apart Hank Woodman!" She rushes out to his aid.
By the time she arrives she is too late to help in combat. Instead, she gathers up Hank's pieces. Again, the wraiths have stopped before slaying. Whether the defenders' blind defense is actually wounding them, or the wraiths' intent is to terrorize rather than to kill is unknown. But the damage to Hank ceases before it becomes terminal.
Tira notices something strange as she returns the arm. Someone has placed a bracer upon it. With a shock, she realizes that it belongs to Kamlak, their barbarian friend still held in the Celestial City. Soberly, she gives it to Gilead. He takes it. He is angry and frustrated. There is nothing he seems to be able to do to protect his friends. Together they help Hank to Dakota's, where spare parts may be found.
That evening, Gilead's anguish is increased, almost to the breaking point. The arm band apparently has a glamour upon it, one of the weird illusions created by Brethon Masters. Gazing into the band, he sees an image of Kamlak in the Celestial City. The big man is being tortured. He hangs from a hook while knives are used to cut him. Unable to look away, Gilead watches in anguish as Kamlak's heart is cut form him and shown to him before he dies.
Then, horrifically, the damage to Kamlak is reversed. Back goes his heart. The horrible wound closes. The heartless Saginaw masters have used their time altering arts to reverse the mortality of the event, the same as they did when Gilead fought to the supposed death in their arenas. As Gilead watches, Kamlak is carried away. Presumably this will be done to him again, and again…
In desperation, Gilead take the armband to Tira the next day, hoping she can tell him something, anything that might allow him to strike back at these bastards. Though Tira doubtless feels badly for Kamlak as well, there is nothing she can say to help him.
Life goes on and the Festival of Second Equinox arrive. The Day of the Lawgiver is about faith, the renewing of oaths and fealties. This is the day that many priests receive ordination and important contracts are signed. Thankfully, the rain is heavy that day and the services will be preformed as usual by the Bishop. Instead of using the more rain proof Temple of the Disciples on Shannon's Isle, the Bishop decides to hold services in the open air of the Daughters of Dawn, Tallon's Standing Stones.
As heroes of the city, Tira, Persia, Hank and Gilead are expected to attend. They are scattered throughout the crowd, most standing near whatever Grandmaster camp they are beholden too.
The Bishop begins and conducts a decent service. However, it son becomes apparent that the rain is lightening. Thane begins to wind up his speech, vastly truncating the presentation of the city's latest mekka. Just as the rain ends, a figure comes pushing through the crowd. Tira recognizes him from the night of the attack upon the Temple of Patha in Little Tallon. He is propelling a couple of spirit-cloaked people through the crowd. With sick horror, she realizes who these people must be.
Sure enough, when he gets with in earshot, the burly man (who appears to be somewhat drunk) stands forth and publicly announces that Father Dundy harbors Riven! He demands the pries tbe defrocked an that an example be made of the riven.
By this time of course, the heroes are moving through the crowd with individual purpose. Some go to stand by the exposed riven, others to stand by Father Dundy or Sister Winnipeg. Gilead remembers that Sister Winnipeg occasionally takes the Riven out during the rain, when they might be free of their confinement for a while and safe under the anonymity of a spirit cloak.
The Bishop meanwhile has been watching the events carefully. He asks in an authoritative voice if this is true. Father Dundy confirms that he has been harboring riven. Before Bishop Thane can render a judgment one way or another, one of the riven points at the empty air and shouts, "That man has a crossbow pointed at the bishop!" No one can see a man with a crossbow, but the other riven identifies a similar unseen assailant. The Bishop's Paladins spring into action, some covering his Grace, the others attacking the places indicated by the Riven.
It is to this scene that the newcomer Khaz enters. He has been led to the Standing Stones by the Gatekeeper, Brassman. The old animate knew that there would be at least one Grandmaster in attendance, given the weather and the holy day. There is clearly a fight hear, but just what the altercation is, he cannot tell. Apparently there was something about riven. Before he is truly aware of what is going on, the people begin to surge back in his direction. He is accosted by an old man who seems to recognize him for what he is. The man offers to pay him for protection. He is concerned about being trampled in what will shortly become a riot. Khaz agrees, and lifts the man behind him, relying on his presence and girth to avoid being trampled. It worked fairly well, getting them both past the trailing edge of the crowd, where they can see more clearly.
Tira, Hank and Gilead are deep in the fight as well. With the direction of the Riven, striking advice from Tira, a well-placed identifying rope throw by Hank, and a deadly strike from Gilead, one of the wraiths is dispatched. By a sheer stroke of good fortune, it is the adept who hold the ley lines for the others. The wraiths instantly become visible across the field. Some are killed by Paladins. Others by our heroes. The old man (who is of course Elias), implores Khaz to help Gilead. Khaz agrees to the implied furtherance of the contract and casts his spear through the body of a fleeing wraith. The still-living man is pulledinto the crowd and torn to bits by bare hands eager for some measure of vengeance. In a moment it is over. Six wraiths lie dead. The crowd grows hushed as the Bishops descends from the hill of the stones and wlkas toward the riven who first spotted the assassins. It is Turf. The plant-covered riven was wounded in the attack. Before the shocked eyes of all, Thane extends his hand and gently closes the wound. He briefly murmurs something to Rohina as well. Then he raises his voice and says to the multitude, "Behold! These two have done great service. From this day forward, they shall walk in freedom in the City!
It is the beginning of a new age for the Jewel of Merikia.
As if to put a seal of approval upon the occasion, Khaz walks forward and is introduced to the Bishop. He briefly tells of his adventure. There is a gasp from the crowd upon learning of the death of Pollux. However, when Thane has opened the canister and looked at the contents, his face lightens considerably. "Thank you, Khaz of the Devil Merks. This will aid tremendously in our struggle against the winged folk." There is much cheering.
He looks down at Tira and says, "Student Tira, would you be so good as to confirm the contents?" He presents her with several sheaves of paper that he has drawn from the canister. To her wonder, the papers are cut from several books. She cannot be certain, but they look to be Books of the Way from at least three different groups. The secrets of the foreign Devotions used by the Celestial City may soon be understood.