Friday, 30 November 2018

18: Freezeday/ Illusion Week/ Sea Season 1618

As the first clash of arms rang out across the ruined fort, Yrsa scrambled over the ruined wall of Idrima’s shrine. Pausing on the crumbling parapet, she surveyed the unfolding disaster surrounding her. Here and there were dotted the bodies of those Enthralled that had fallen in the initial Chaos onslaught. However, the warrior training of many Enthralled was beginning to tell, as some began to form into warbands. Where the groups were too small or too exposed, they were swiftly overwhelmed by howling Broo and other, fouler things. Where they were more numerous or took refuge in the ruins, many were able to hold back the foe for a while. Here and there, groups were even beginning to coordinate their actions, fighting their way towards each other in a bid to join forces. Before leaping down into the shrine to join her companions, Yrsa saw two such bands join together , one led by Jayvis Thunderthroat and another by the unnamed Dark Troll who had been enthralled by Idrima’s power.

As Yrsa joined them, the heroes quickly formed a rough battle-line, locking their shields into a barrier across the entrance to the shrine. Racing towards them across the stony ground, screaming foul battle cries, was a group of Broo, all of them unnatural and mutated mockeries of life. Similar groups could be seen running here and there without apparent direction, hacking at isolated Enthralled or sometimes at each other when no enemy was nearby. Broo were notoriously undisciplined, as might be expected given their chaotic origins, but could be brought together by larger examples of their kind through fear, especially where those vile warlords were favoured by their dark gods. It was clear to them that somewhere within this horde was a guiding intelligence of some sort, as how else could they have penetrated so far into Orlanthi lands without their knowledge?

Whilst his companions formed the shield-wall, Terrastal yelled to Idrima, trying to draw her essence from the Underworld to inhabit the huge stone form before him, as he had seen in his visions. “Here is Chaos, Idrima! Here is your ancient foe! Waken and strike them down!” But Idrima remained unmoved by his pleas. Turning towards Jenest Fair-Tongue, he caught the look of panic and fear in her eye: “Idrima demands blood!” she yelled over the howls of the Broo. Perhaps her fear was for her unborn child, reflected Terrastal, or perhaps it was knowledge of how Broo delighted in taking live captives. Broo were rightly feared by all beings for their foul practices when it came to procreation.

A shout went up from one end of their meagre shield-wall: “Beware Dragonsnail!”, yelled Sandene. Behind the charging Broo, a misshapen beast loomed above them. With the apparent form of a huge, mutated snail, the creature slid over the ground leaving dying grass in its wake. Two heads on sinuous necks swayed back and forth, searching for prey. More than once, the heads snapped at each other in blind idiocy, but Sandene knew they could be fearsome foes. She caught Magana’s eye and saw in her face a mirror of her own manic grin; the familiar battle-lust was beginning to fill both of them, and they welcomed it whole-heartedly.

As Yrsa took her place to his right, Randel felt another presence to his left. Glancing over his shoulder, he was met with the sight of Eirissa locking her shield with his and hefting her spear to a guard position. Witnessing the shouted words of Terrastal and Jenest, she had seen a gap in the wall and snatched up a spear and shield to fill it. Noting the cold and determined look in her eye, Randel thought to himself “I’m not sure what the Broo will make of her, but by Issaries she scares the Hells out of me!”

Before he could voice this thought, however, the charging Broo finally hit home against their shield-wall. Their world shrank to be taken up by the clash of weapon on shield, the hurried parry and dodge from thrust blade, and the stink of blood as it splashed from wounds. Desperately, the heroes’ battleline held; although a few wounds were taken, the Broo took the worst from the opening flurry of blows. One of the Broo appeared to shift and shimmer as it moved, promising to be a difficult foe to bring down. Noting this, Sandene contemptuously hefted her axe and gave a mighty overhead swing, almost severing the beast’s arm and laying it low in one blow. As the creature writhed and snorted imprecations from the ground, Sandene hawked and spat: “Death is here for you, beast!”

Meanwhile, Randel and Eirissa fought side by side. Eirissa proved herself to be an effective warrior, although Randel was forced to parry blows meant for her as well as for himself, as her enthusiasm for the fight left her open to the enemy on more than one occasion. For her part, Eirissa appeared to be almost enjoying herself, singing an Orlanthi battle hymn through clenched teeth between spear thrusts.

As Yrsa put her foe to the floor, she glanced up to see the swaying heads of the Dragonsnail approaching her part of the line. Stepping forward, she set to work with spear and shield, although the snail’s shell and thick skin proved surprisingly effective. In reply, the creature thrust one of its heads forward with surprising speed and power, shattering Yrsa’s shield and biting through her vambraceYrsa momentarily felt the acid burn of what could only be poison in the wound, although her strong constitution enabled her to fend off its worst effects.Stepping back, she noted a discarded Broo shield on the ground at her feet. Hesitating only momentarily, Yrsa snatched up the shield and prepared to defend herself, hoping that the shield’s former owner wasn’t as diseased as others of its kind.

Seeing his companions in peril, Terrastal entreated Idrima one last time before rushing into the fray. As he turned away, he thought he saw dust falling from the statue’s joints, almost as though it was beginning to move. Once in the fight, after exchanging a few blows he glanced back at the statue again, only to see the sight of Jenest sawing at her neck with her knife and falling to her knees. On witnessing this, Terrastal leapt to her aid, summoning his healing spirit magic. As it flowed from him, he put his hands over Jenest’s self-inflicted wound, her blood coating his hands. As Jenest looked into his eyes, her panic fading, she whispered “she demands blood…” as bloody froth coated her lips. Rising to his feet, he stepped forward and placed his blood-soaked hands on Idrima’s statue. As the stone seemed to drink in the blood, Terrastal hissed ‘Now help us, you bitch!”. As he did so, he felt power begin to fill the stone form as it took a faltering step. Turning back to his companions, he yelled “She needs more blood!”

On hearing this, Sandene didn’t hesitate. Heedless of the risk of infection, she dropped to one knee and scooped up the writhing form of the injured Broo at her feet. With Terrastal’s help, she half-dragged, half-carried the creature to where Idrima was taking her first steps in millennia. Dropping the creature before her, they stepped back, foul blood caking their arms. The Stone Woman appeared to raise her head and look at them momentarily, before raising the stone column of her leg and stamping it down, silencing the Broo’s howls instantly. Again, the beast’s blood seemed to be absorbed by the stone.

Things happened quickly from that point, and seemed to form a series of bloody tableaux; the Stone Woman, charging forward and cracking the Dragonsnail’s shell with one blow before striding off to wreak havoc amongst the Chaos horde; the companions, stealing out from the stone tower and joining up with smaller groups of Enthralled before being halted by a larger group of BrooTerrastal striking up an Orlanthi batlle-song to inspire their growing warband, before his faltering voice was bolstered by Randel’s rich voice; Sandene and Magana attempting to flank the Broo before being forced back into the safety of the shield-wall.

Finally, time slowed once more. The heroes, together with some thirty Enthralled, stood in a shield wall facing off against twice their number of chaos beasts standing some sixty paces away. Sharing the shield wall was Jayvis Thunderthroat and the Dark Troll who, despite their size difference, appeared to have become stalwart battle-companions. Behind the shield wall stood Jenest, supported by Eirissa. In the distance, Idrima could be seen in the throes of crushing her enemies; but she was not with them, and their fate would be resolved before she could reach them. As they contemplated this fact, the mass of Broo parted and a huge example of their kind stepped forward and sounded a braying battle-horn. What new foulness did this portend?

Sunday, 25 November 2018

5: A-Watch, Sector 13: The Day of the Droids!

The servo-droids marched towards the Judges, arms outstretched and plasteel manipulators snapping at the air. Where there would normally be an image of a smiling face displayed, instead a single baleful red eye glowered at them through the cryo-crypt’s dim light. The sight was made all the more eerie by the thick mist of cryo-tube vapours that swirled ominously around the advancing droids’ legs.

Kowalski and Muller exchanged a glance; although droids of this model were usually harmless, they were solidly built and sported manipulator claws that could snip through even heavy gauge plasteel with ease. If the approaching horde got within close combat range, things could turn very unpleasant very quickly…

With this in mind, the Judges nodded to each other and set about evening the odds. Whilst Kowalski used precision shots of Standard Execution mixed with the occasional Armour Piercing, Muller defaulted to his preferred option in situations like this: Hi-Ex! As groups of droids exploded, pieces of them fountained up into the air, forcing the Judges to dodge aside as they landed. Nervously, Kowalski eyed the support pillars holding up the crypt’s ceiling. It seemed to be holding for now, although she was sure the building would fail its next building regs review.

Distracted as she was by this thought, a droid managed to use the deactivated shell of one of its brethren to close within snipping range of Kowalski. Reaching out, it took a chunk out of the eagle pauldron that graced her right shoulder, as it did every full Judge. Enraged, she snatched up the detached limb of one of Muller’s targets that lay close by and set about teaching it the error of its ways. As the droids were now too close to use Lawgivers effectively, Muller took Kowalski’s lead and unhooked his daystick from his belt. The crypt soon rang to the sound of crunching metal and short-circuiting droids.

As Kowalski finished with the droids near her, she took a moment to survey her surroundings. Near the entrance to the crypt, two droids appeared to be hanging back. In fact, it seemed to Kowalski that they were moving in a distinctly un-droidish manner. As she relayed this to Muller via her helmet comms, the door to the crypt burst open. Through the swirling cryo-mists, she could see the gaunt form of Willibald, the manager of the Vault, no doubt come to investigate the source of the alarms sounding in his office. At his appearance, the two droids grabbed Willibald and one of them back-handed him about the face.

With the last of the no-doubt reprogrammed droids sliding to the floor in pieces, Kowalski and Muller strode forward. Muller had taken a few nicks, but overall had thoroughly enjoyed his brief workout. The not-droids turned towards them, the limp form of Willibald hanging between them. One droid’s vox emulator crackled and squealed, before bawling out ‘Put down your guns, Jays, or the loser gets it!’; the other not-droid followed up with a similarly weak ‘yeah; what he said!’.

Kowalski closed her eyes and reached out with her mind; never mind their odd behaviour, it was clear that the droids were in fact human perps inside droid suits. Sucking her teeth in pure peevishness, she lanced out a bolt of energy at the nearest droid, lashing its occupant’s mind with her psi-power. Her target responded instantly, its cortex overloaded, all its limbs flying straight out from its body as it fell stiffly backwards. Willibald fell to the floor as the other ‘droid’ released its face-mask to reveal a spotty and pallid perp with greasy hair; Oswald Finkle.

                                                      (Oswald Finkle, courtesy of @K_O)

Back at the Sector House, and with minimal interrogation needed, the Finkle’s scam became clear. In setting themselves up as Body-Sharkers, they’d needed access to cryo-vaults. Their knowledge of robotics had allowed them to gain access to the Vault undetected and, once inside, they’d hacked the Vault’s mainframe so that their ‘additions’ to the business’s inventory didn’t show up. Also, they’d created two ‘droid suits’ to be used as disguises when accessing the Vault, and one droid suit modified to carry a unconscious occupant . The scheme was simple; once ‘collateral’ (i.e. loved ones) had been received, the Finkles knocked them out, brought them into the Vault inside the modified droid and put them into an empty cryo-coffin. All that would be seen on security vid feeds was droids entering and leaving the crypts; as long as a physical audit wasn’t carried out, the scheme was foolproof. Sort of.

Muller and Kowalski immediately ordered a physical audit of the Vault’s occupants against the recorded inventory. Anyone not on the inventory was revived and returned to their family. The newly-revived and their families were then immediately arrested on charges of encouraging racketeering and sentenced to an appropriate stretch in the iso-cubes.

With a feeling of satisfaction, Muller and Kowalski finished their shift; as was often the case, it felt like it had lasted for months, never mind sixteen hours! Before hitting the Sleep Machine, Muller visited the Med-Bay to get his cuts and scratches dealt with. Kowalski likewise headed to the Sleep Machine, although as a Psi-Judge her pod was modified to help manage the psychological stresses of using her powers as well as allow her the regulation amount of rest.

Almost before they knew it, they found themselves attending the briefing at the start of the next day’s shift. Afterwards, the Watch Commander summoned them for a detailed debriefing. Sitting in his cramped, sterile office, the Judges went over the details of the cases currently in hand. Whilst Oswald Finkle was starting his cube time, and Bisley was busy drooling to himself in a kook-cube, the matter of where the Finkles had got the creds to start them up in crime was unresolved. Muller and Kowalski felt there was still a connection with the Contralto crime family, and were very suspicious of Tiny Contralto and the generally low level of lawlessness in Jimmy Gandolfini block. They were likewise suspicious of Agnes Radley and her involvement in the disappearances of spacers from the Saturn Towers hotel. Although her corporation owned a controlling interest in the hotel and someone had hacked the security feed at the hotel, they didn’t have any concrete evidence linking her with the MP cases. The digital tripwire that Muller had placed in the system had not been triggered, and Kowalski was wary of tipping their hand too soon. Finally, they knew there was a group of Stookie-Glanders active in the Sector; the user Rock Beauchamp had pointed them towards a small-time dealer named Barry the Lip, but unfortunately he had given them the slip (much to Muller’s disgust). Kemp leaned back in his chair, almost bumping his balding head on a low shelf in the cramped space. “When in doubt, go for the soft parts” he murmured. Realising he was speaking aloud, Kemp looked briefly abashed. “Admittedly, it’s not from ‘Dredd’s Comportments’ but it’s wise advice all the same. When leads seem to dry up, go after what you know and make plenty of noise. It's surprising what you can shake loose with a boot and a daystick’.

With these words of wisdom ringing in their ears, Kowalski and Muller roared over to Jimmy Gandolfini Block to lean on Tiny Contralto. Contralto was easy to find, speaking to an eld in the main concourse of the block. As the Judges approached, the eld scowled at them briefly before tottering off. “Hey, if it isn’t my favourite Judges!’ beamed Tiny. “Please excuse my Aunt’s rudeness; she never misses an episode of ‘Midday Mutie Madness’”. Contralto maintained his upbeat demeanour throughout their questioning about the Finkles, even when Kowalski turned her usually reliable ‘evil eye’ on him. Even ordering a Section 59(d) (crime blitz!) on his hab didn’t shake his smug attitude. It was clear that they weren’t going to turn up anything useful on the suspected mobster without a more concerted effort. The only comfort that Muller took from their visit was an apparently offhand comment from Tiny regarding the Finkle’s notoriously poor skin; was it possible that Tiny was taunting them with a link to Radley’s well-known business interests in the beauty industry?
Musing on this as they headed back to their Lawmasters, a call came through from Control: “Disturbance reported in the vicinity of Eddie Snowden Block; Judge required on scene’. With a sigh, Kowalski acknowledged the call. Muller, on the other hand, was silently jubilant. Any opportunity to work out his frustration on some deserving perp always improved his mood.

                                                      (Judge Muller courtesy of @K_O)

As they approached the scene of the disturbance, the Judges could see a crowd of juves clustered around something on the ground. As they got nearer, they could hear shouts of ‘drokk it up good!’ and ‘smeg it!’. Whilst Kowalski observed, Muller dismounted and walked quietly towards the crowd of juves. As he approached, his natural authority and thud of standard-issue boot on rockcrete caused those at the back of the group to look up. As soon as they caught sight of the set of his chin and the curl of his lip, their faces fell and they melted away into the shadows. Eventually, only a group of a dozen or so remained, kicking a crumpled form on the ground. Reaching out, Muller grabbed one of the pimply juves by the back of the neck and hoisted him to his eye level. As the captive juve whimpered in fear, the rest of the juves stood rooted to the spot. As Kowalski rode up, and started to cuff the perps, Muller threw the perp to the ground in disgust. ‘No fight in ‘em at all’ he thought. ‘Very disappointing’. Looking past the juves to the target of their violence, Muller was surprised to see the form of an alien creature crumpled unconscious on the ground; a Stookie!

With the arrival of a Catch-Wagon and a Med-Team, the injured Stookie was at last able to answer some of their questions. Its name, ridiculously, was Fangooly and he and his nest-mates were being held by ‘horrible mens’ somewhere nearby. The Judges took this to mean a gang of Stookie Glanders was holed up in the Sector. From the alien’s garbled description of his previous surroundings and his route since escaping, it seemed that the gang was holed up somewhere in the industrial Dust Zones to the north of the Sector, close to Eustace Fargo Spaceport. Realising the area was too large to easily search without massive use of scarce Departmental resources, Kowalski requisitioned a set of spycams to monitor the most likely areas for any unusual activity. Meanwhile, they would continue on their shift. Maybe they would run into Barry the Lip, or perhaps it was finally time to confront the apparent spider at the heart of the web: Agnes Radley…

Thursday, 1 November 2018

17: Clayday/ Fertility Week to Freezeday/ Illusion Week; Sea Season, 1618.

For the next several days, the companions settled into the familiar rhythm of Clan life. The newly-arrived refugees from Apple Lane continued to lay foundations for their new community, assisted by the heroes when they could spare the time. Yrsa proudly bought her mother Natalina to join the growing community; she had lived as a thrall for so long, now it was time that she had a roof to call her own. Moreover, Yrsa bought her thrall Dangmet to assist her aging mother, along with her small herd of cattle. Ever surly, Dangmet silently did as he was asked, but Yrsa took note of the dark looks he cast in her direction when he thought her attention was elsewhere. For her part, she revelled in the opportunity to spend time with Avareena, the fellow Initiate of Redalda who led the Horsemasters of Apple Lane. Together, they spoke of establishing a shrine to Redalda and building a herd to be the envy of the Nymie Valley.

Randel likewise had dreams of the future, and wasted no time in setting out to make them a reality. Having engaged craftsmen to build a home suitable to his station, he donned his best cloak and set off to present Eirissa with the gift he had rescued from Gringle’s home. Eirissa was pleased to see Randel again; she had the sense his saga was just beginning, and besides he was charming in a way that few of her other would-be suitors could manage. After exchanging pleasantries, Randel invited Eirissa to visit the growing Stead (or Randel’s Stead as he called it). As their horses ambled towards the Stead in the warm mid-season sunshine, Randel told Eirissa of his plans to build a trading post and create new trading opportunities. Further, he tentatively raised the possibility of founding a shrine to Ernalda at the Stead, which of course would need an Earth Priestess to be in residence. The words hung in the air between them, although the underlying commitment remained unspoken. Eirissa remained neutral in her responses; she was flattered and not opposed to Randel’s offer. But she was likewise ambitious, and did not see her future as a mere shrine-priestess. She knew that great changes were being discussed by the Priestesses at the Earth Temple, and she wanted to be at the heart of whatever was coming.

At the Stead, Terrastal was passing the time chopping wood for the small community. This was not a natural past-time for him, given his less than domestic upbringing, but he found that playing the part of a responsible cottar was a pleasant novelty. Also, he was spending his time preparing for his coming initiation into the Cult of Orlanth, and this simple physical activity was a welcome break from learning myths and forging a link to the God of the Wind. Taking a break from his labour, he looked up as Randel and Eirissa rode into the newly-built stockade. Seeing Randel’s pride in being accompanied by such an attractive companion, Terrastal’s instinct for causing trouble reared its head once more. As Randel and Eirissa rode past, he made a show of removing his sweat-soaked tunic,flexing his muscles and giving Eirissa his most winning smile. As Randel glared at his friend, Eirissa gave Terrastal an appraising glance. She had lost count of the winning smiles sent her way by  posturing warriors, and knew how best to deal with them; tossing her hair, she turned to Randel and gave him a brilliant smile. As she did so, her horse turned and flicked its tail, forcing Terrastal to take a step back and sit abruptly on an upturned log. A brief look of surprise mixed with anger, before giving away to amusement; as Randel and Eirissa rode away, they heard loud laughter from Terrastal as he realised how comprehensively he’d been put in his place.

Whilst their companions were engaged in domesticity, Bofrost and Sandene were attending to the more esoteric elements of Clan life. Bofrost busied himself with searching for clues as to the location of the Red Hands of Hofstaring; he knew they were rumoured to be in Boldhome, but he felt sure that there was more for he and his fellow Sages to uncover. Meanwhile, Sandene made her way to the Earth Temple. Since her brush with the mind of her Goddess at Runegate, she had felt unwilling to test the boundaries of the newly-rediscovered bond. Now though, she found her steps were taking her to the shrine of Babeester Gor at the Earth Temple, almost of their own volition. Giving in to the doings of fate, she found herself kneeling at the shrine, reaching out with her soul as she had at Runegate. But try as she might, she couldn’t rekindle the link. As she finished her obeisance and turned away from the shrine, she noted a sharp-featured Axe Maiden regarding her, a thick braid of raven hair hanging over her shoulder. As Sandene made to pass, the Axe Maiden barred her way. ‘What is it that you do here, stranger?’ she asked with an edge of challenge in her voice. Unsettled by her failure to connect with her Goddess, Sandene mumbled apologetically and gave no challenge to the Axe Maiden. Regarding her with mixed pity and contempt, she let Sandene pass with a toss of her head. ‘Be sure you remain meek and mild here, stranger; those offending the Goddess will be swiftly punished, you may be certain’. Again, Sandene lowered her head and left the shrine; those who knew her of old would have been amazed that no blood had resulted from such a disrespectful exchange!

Eventually, the day of the Clan Moot dawned. At the moment that Yelm leaped into the sky, the gatherd Ernaldori began to clap and stamp their feet in unison. Dressed in his finery, Randel joined with Intagarn and Intalgarth One-Arm in chanting a welcome to Issaries and an admonishment to those who would attend the Moot with evil in their hearts. Once the area of the Moot was thus consecrated and defended, the gathered Clanspeople gave a great cheer, and began chattering and laughing as they greeted each other. A Clan Moot was not only a solemn occasion, but an opportunity to trade, drink, laugh and renew bonds of fellowship. Much of the business of the Moot dealt with settling grievances, joining families through marriage and deciding on smaller matters of trade and Clan business. Whilst his companions enjoyed the festival atmosphere, Randel spoke to would-be cottars; the growing Stead needed four more families to farm the hides of land granted to them by the Clan Ring if it was to prosper.

Finally, in the late afternoon the Moot turned its attention to more serious matters. It seemed as if the Clan held its breath as Morganeth White-Eye, Priestess of Ernalda and leader of the Clan Ring in Baranthos’ enforced absence, rose to her feet. “Ernaldori, hear me!” she began, in a clear voice, belying her age. “You all know of the wondrous events that took place at the Feast of Beasts, when Orlanth and Ernalda saw fit to manifest in the persons of Ernalsulva of the Greenstone Temple and our very own Terrastal!”. There was a smattering of cheering throughout the gathered folk, but more apparent was a general curiosity; Terrastal was an unknown quantity to many, having spent his youth in flouting Clan laws and generally getting into trouble. The question hanging in everyone’s mind (not least Terrastal’s!) was: ‘why him?’. As Terrastal shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny of the Clan, Morganeth carried on. “As you know, Orlanth-as-Terrastal invoked the Marriage Contest; in response, Ernalda-as-Ernalsulva had demanded the return of the Red Hands of Hofstaring, her father”. At this, the crowd began to mumble anew; all knew that Hofstaring Treeleaper had been cast into a Lunar hell by Fazzur Wideread’s sorcerors, and was even now being tormented by Lunar demons. Surely, coming between the Lunars and their vengeance could bring only ill-fortune on the Clan. Morganeth spoke up once more: “we have a decision to make; should Terrastal and his companions have the blessing of the Clan in this endeavour, or should they be forbidden from pursuing it? For my part, this is a great honour and a weighty responsibility for the Clan, and we should bless those so chosen by the Gods”. As she sat down, Terrastal stepped forward to speak, and he did so eloquently, appealing to the Clan’s love of tradition and memories of better times before the Lunars came. The mood of the Clan began to soften towards him, and he began to breathe a sigh of relief. As he did so, however, a round and stooped figure rose to his feet from the seats set aside for the Clan Ring. Colymar, follower of Barntar the God of the Plough, cleared his throat to speak, and the Clan waited for his words. “But what will the Lunars do in response to this?” he spoke in a halting voice. “This can only lead to misery and hardship for us and our families!”. Again, the mood of the Clan shifted, and for a moment it seemed that the quest was doomed. Seeing this, Terrastal reacted with predictable rage, but reasoned and impassioned words from all of the companions swayed the crowd, and in the end the crowd agreed to the journey to Boldhome to retrieve the Red Hands with a great cheer. As Clanfolk crowded round to clap him on the back, Terrastal shrugged them off to speak to Colymar as he trudged away. As he offered words of reassurance, Barntar looked him in the eye with a sad expression. “I hope you remember my children when you’re off being a hero, as it is they who will pay if you overreach yourself’. As Colymar continued on his way, Terrastal felt the weight of true responsibility for the first time.

As Morganeth stood to call and end to the Moot, a new voice rose up, thin and reedy. “Hold! I demand to be heard!”. The voice belonged to Leikan, a cottar who usually kept to himself. “We are without a Chief” he continued “and a Clan without a Chief is incomplete in the sight of the Gods”. Seeing nods of agreement amongst the crowd, he went on. “I demand we consider this, and look to choose a new chief!”. Shouts of rage and arguing voices rose into the night air; never had Morganeth seen the mood of a Clan change from unity to dissent so quickly. Typically, Terrastal reacted with anger, whilst his companions were more reasoned. But it took Morganeth to coldly put Leikan in his place; it was clear that he had been put up to it by someone, as his fine new cloak showed. “You would do well to pay attention to the laws of the Clan before making such an ill-considered demand, Leikan. Perhaps you should go back to your benefactor and discuss your strategy in more detail next time!”. As Leikan slunk away, followed by the jeers of his Clanfolk, it was clear that Lunar sympathisers in the Clan were moving against Baranthos, no doubt encouraged by Kangharl and his cronies. The companions knew that this would not be the last time, and that their enemies would not give up.

That evening, Terrastal finally undertook his long-delayed initiation into the Cult of Orlanth. As the worship of Orlanth was officially outlawed by the Lunar overlords, Terrastal stole away to meet with Kareena, the Priestess of Orlanth who had travelled with them from Apple Lane. Accompanied by Drenyan as his sponsor, and supported by his companions, Terrastal began by rejecting any allegiance to enemies of Orlanth and swore to devote himself to the winds. Not knowing what awaited him, he steeled himself for the test ahead. Leaving his companions behind, he followed Kareena to a hill a few miles from Clearwine. As they climbed the hill in the gathering darkness, it seemed to Terrastal that storm clouds gathered in the skies above and thunder rumbled in the distance, slow and heavy in the still air.

Reaching the summit, Kareena kindled a small fire and busied herself with preparing an evil-smelling broth whilst Terrastal stripped and placed his clothes and possessions in a small bag. Wordlessly, Kareena bade Terrastal drink the broth in one draught, before gathering up his discarded possessions and leaving the summit. As though waiting for her to leave, the storm clouds began to thicken and winds began to batter Terrastal’s bare flesh. Before long, lightning began to strike the ground around, coming nearer and nearer. Trusting in Orlanth, the young warrior felt the earth rise up around him in great spires. As lightning continues to strike the ground, the earth bucked and heaved like an unbroken colt and Terrastal lost any sense of what was real and unreal. Yet through the chaos, Terrastal heard a single pure note, as if the sharpest blade was being held up in a strong wind. Focussing on the purity of this sound and on his faith in Orlanth, Terrastal was able to bring order to the chaos. Further, within the chaos Terrastal became aware of another; a heavy, solid presence that reached out to him and steadied him with arms of stone and a mother’s stern love: Idrima was also there to support him in his trial! As the world settled back into its former shape, he fell exhausted to the ground and slept as if dead.
Some time later, as Yelm rose into the Upper Air, Terrastal woke to find Kareena standing over him. Wordlessly he dressed and followed Kareena back to the Stead, where his companions and a celebratory feast awaited him. As he ate, he mused on the presence of Idrima in his vision, and wondered whether the omen was good or bad...

That day, the heroes were summoned to meet with Ernalda to discuss a matter that had concerned the Priesthood of the Earth Temple for some weeks. Idrima’s awakening had shocked many; such an occurrence had been unknown up to now. However, it had been decided that an Earth Temple delegation should travel to the Broken Tower, commune with the Awakened Goddess and begin the process of transferring her shrine to the Clearwine Temple. As the heroes were known to Idrima and her followers, they had agreed to accompany the delegation, protect them and make any necessary intercessions on their behalf.

At the Earth Temple, the heroes met with those chosen to commune with Idrima. Jenest Fair-Tongue was a round-faced, jovial Priestess who always had something good to say about others; a swelling in her belly showed that she took the duties of an Earth Priestess seriously. Randel was surprised to see that Jenest was accompanied by Eirissa; his beloved was obviously bursting with pride at being chosen for this duty, as it would ncrease her standing within the temple community. The final figure stood somewhat apart from the others; a sharp-featured Axe Maiden with a single thick braid of midnight-black hair. As she regarded them coolly, her eyes settled on Sandene and her lips parted in  a faint curl of distaste. “And this is Magana” continued Morganeth “an Axe Maiden as you see. Magana, these are your new companions.” Morganeth’s voice became stern “Remember our conversation, Magana. A lone tree cannot stand against the storm”. Scowling, Magana bowed her head in obedience, but Sandene saw that the look of distaste did not leave her face.

After spending the night at the Stead, the party set out for the Broken Tower the following day. The weather was fine and warm for the season, and their destination was a day’s travel at an easy pace. Jenest was full of plans for the future. Although she recognised that bringing Idrima into the fold would be challenging and may take many years, she was confident that she would be able to reach the Goddess and show her the way home. Eirissa was likewise excited at the prospect of such an adventure and rode side by side with Randel, taking his arm in hers more than once. The rest of the party rode along companionably, with two exceptions; Sandene and Magana rode on opposite sides of the group, watching for danger whilst casting dark sidelong glances at each other.

The group reached the Broken Tower towards late afternoon without incident. Approaching the shrine, the companions could see the Broken Tower itself rising above the familiar ruined walls. As soon as they came within bow-shot of the walls, they were hailed by a group of watchers who came through the great gate to greet them. Randel, Yrsa and Terrastal recognised the short figure that led the watchers as Jayvis Thunderthroat, a Sword of Humakt who had been enthralled by Idrima. Despite the companions’ fears, they were greeted warmly and welcomed into the ruins. It was clear that life went on as before in the small community, with the same odd mix of Sartarite, Lunar and Tarshite adherents living and working together without apparent animosity; under a lean-to, deep in shadow, there was even the lumpen form of a Dark Troll, apparently sleeping without any fear of its human comrades.
They were ushered into the shrine of Idrima without any fanfare. Those who had been there before recognised the massive stone bulk of the Stone Goddess looming out of the torch-lit interior, and smelled the tang of sacrificial cattle blood in the air. Jenest and Eirissa were filled with excitement, and determined to begin the ritual of contacting the Awakened Goddess the very next day. For their part, the companions were concerned about how their plans would sit with Idrima’s current followers. Eating a simple meal with Jayvis and other respected followers of the Stone Woman, it became clear that they were sanguine; whatever the Awakened Goddess wished was all that they desired. Not for the first time, the companions were glad that they had not been enthralled so completely; although Idrima was a force for good in their view, it would be unsettling to be so in thrall to such an inhuman entity.

The following day, Jenest and Eirissa made all the preparations to make contact with Idrima. Eventually, all was in readiness and the ritual began, observed by as many of Idrima’s enthralled followers as could fit into the ruined tower with the remainder clustering outside. At the ritual’s height, Jenest sacrificed an ox and cried out for Idrima to make her presence known.


Again, Jenest called out.

A thin wind moaned through the upper reaches of the ruins.

A third time, Jenest called out, her arms raised high. Seeing her desperation, Terrastal reached out with his own soul, seeking contact with Idrima. At the same time, Sandene stepped to the sacrificial altar, drawing her dagger and slicing into her palm, letting thick globs of blood splash onto the altar. Immediately, Sandene and Terrastal collapsed to the floor, Terrastal gashing his head on the edge of the altar as he did so.

They found themselves amongst warriors clad in strange armour and shouting war cries in an unknown tongue. A soft mist and a bright, unnatural edge to the colours told them both that they were in a spirit vision. As they looked around and locked eyes across the crowd of warriors, a huge shout went up from the throng and they found themselves carried along in what was evidently an infantry charge. Looking ahead, they both saw the target of the charge; a mass of chaos beasts, howling and baying in challenge. Feeling themselves being caught up in the emotion of the moment, they both began to yell and shout war cries. Suddenly, a shadow fell over them as an immense humanoid figure stepped over the warband, charging towards the chaos horde. Looking up at the immense stone figure, they recognised the stone statue in the Broken Tower come to life.

Suddenly, they felt themselves thrown back into their bodies with a shock. Opening their eyes, they saw Jenest, Eirissa and their companions looking down on them in concern. Shaking off their assistance, Sandene pulled herself to her feet and staggered over to Magana. Wordlessly, Magana reached out her hand and took Sandene’s forearm in a warrior’s grip. Sandene’s connection with the Earth had been renewed, but in a way she had never expected.

However, although Terrastal and Sandene had made contact with Idrima, the Goddess remained stubbornly indifferent to Jenest’s pleas. However, Jenest was made of sterner stuff and determined to try again the following day.

On Freezeday of Illusion Week, the shrine was once more prepared for the ritual of awakening. Once more, the Enthralled crowded around the tower, expressions of rapt joy on their faces at the prospect of encountering their Goddess. Yrsa stood somewhat apart from this, feeling apart from the Earth cultists. She had expressed her own gratitude to Redalda the evening before, as this was where she had first encountered the Green Foal and formed her link with the Horse Goddess. As she stood observing, she heard the sound of a harsh warhorn and braying war-cries. Turning towards the sound, she saw the first Enthralled fall below the cleaver of a twisted amalgam of goat and man; a vile Broo! Looking past the creature, Yrsa saw what could only be described as a boiling wall of misshapen chaos beasts. Hefting her trusty spear, she shouted a warning to her companions: to war!