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"What was that?" I growled, I'd never seen such a thing.

"Just one of the bloody dark" Michael tried to make light, but it had obviously been a tough fight, though he had just been cleaning up when I got there.

"When Upharsin broke through at Shattered Norns, he didn't stay there."

"Everyone knows that."

"But what  you don't know is that the bloody dark, where the Wenelian sun had been, that is where he made his stand and where he fell after he shattered the sun into nothing in the real world and into a dark shadowed husk in dreams."

Those things sprang from his bloody portions, you can guess which one."

Great, a race of evil undead intestinal parasites.  At least I knew now that we were probably dealing with those from the many shattered world that circle Yundi.  It was a last, and dying, stronghold of the tiev.  They were probably invading our dream world with no place to return. Yundi's death was long and unrelenting, its dream a dead one with the fragments of its dead gods.

I couldn't wait to see what else was down here.  That one had been summoning something, but it had opened the way Michael had traveled.

As I guessed, we found a lot more prisoners.  Some Shalgathi, covered with plates that fell off and became servitors, a few dreaming men, an elf or two (well, one elf for sure, something else that was probably an elf, I couldn't tell, it had been badly used).

There was only one way out, the central chamber that opened up to a long staircase upwards.  Just as a king would have a high place, the master of this castle had a low place.

We fought a few lesser vultures and their tiev retainers, they must have been the vulture lord's retinue.  Neth Tiev soldiers and Tsung Pathet captains, and a few lesser dires, like a pack of dogs, at the command of the Tsung. But we finally had to either break into the central chamber or find some other way out and hope the master did not awake.  Micheal gave me a cordial that made me proof against poison for a while, and woad to strengthen us all.

We burst in just as he awoke, the dark a bloody cloak around him, his own dark light and his own dark shadow.

His breakfast was waiting for him, her bonds fell off as he awoke so he could hunt her for sport, except her heart quailed.

But we were arrayed, even if the Shalgathi were cowards, the elves fools and the rest battered.

Michael stood in support, his light cutting the dark to let me close protected from it, and I struck as the elves and others cast their spells and ran like cowards, distracting the many eyestalks of that bloody thing.

I hit it from the side in the great leap and knocked it over as it roared. Much to my surprise, the woman-cat joined in from where she had bent back, fastening her teeth in its neck and not letting go as I and the creature battered each other back and forth across the room. But my fury was stronger than its malice and Michael's light took it aback.

Finally it fell.  Gore steaming, ichor eating into the floor.

We had to decide.  We could battle upwards and try to take the castle.  The Shalgathi were determined to do just that.  We could flee into the countryside.  Or, Michael could take me back and I could ignore them.

Except the cat was Bastet.  Illegitimate on both sides, a child of the Joyous King and Queen (don't ask, they never quite explained to me how a child could be illegitimate as to both parents). We couldn't leave her there, but she was in no shape to go anywhere but home. Indigo would be surprised not to get me back, and the chance to come together again would probably be delayed, but I would hunt towards the center of where this peril came, and I knew that the ethos of the Blue Lodge would take her their as well.  We would find each other.

With that, Michael took Bastet in his arms (though, I noticed, not too tightly), and they were gone.  The Shalgathi and the others struck towards the center of the keep and I headed for the gate and the search for those behind this incursion.  I was somewhere near the town Peter had built, and I needed to head towards the heart, where the invasion was strongest, not this outpost.

Could the Shalgathi keep it, could the elves regain it, were the dreamers going to be of more use?  That was their problem, not mine.  

The gate was empty, the guard having rushed into the center keep to join the fray, and I passed them in the shadows.

Copyright 2005 Stephen R. Marsh and Heather N. Marsh
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