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My mom promised to tell me some stories, and, she decided to have a visit with Sand, make the path to the One Eyed King secure and take care of "other business."  She had that look in her eye.  She was a little closed ("I'm keeping a secret from your father") until we were on our way.  Dad stayed home and said he was looking forward to time alone with the baby.

Once we got into the shadow lands, mom lightened up.  She told me not to worry about taking the boat and before I knew it, we were flying.  I'd never ridden on any flying creature before (though I had sort of been one, shadow vampires do fly, you know).  Mom is fast!

After a while she decided to walk and talk with me.  We had covered miles.  What she was really doing was getting the feel of the land under her feet (yes, we were already at the place where we had left the river to travel to the One Eyed King's land -- Mom is really, really fast!).

She got to talking about the battle of the kings.  After dad had agreed to lead them, the host formed up, with the masters of the host reaching out.  Dad had not connected with them, though the enemy had formed with his host. (This is more of Grhthswyndr 'who fought against the five kings' ). Grhthswyndr cast his spear, to dedicate the five kings to destruction.  My dad threw three arrows in the air against the spear.  One caught the spear before it cleared the enemy host and shattered it. The other two arrows covered the front three fourths of the enemy host.  The five kings looked worried, though my dad seemed relaxed (at least as mom tells it).  He had measured his personal strength, without her or the host, against all of Grhthswyndr and his host and allies.

Then Grhthswyndr began to spew out darkness and vapors of smoke and ash, blotting out the sky -- at least his half of the sky.  My mom took to the air, and my dad reached out and the false dawn covered the sky over the five kings.  Then Grhthswyndr's great magic occurred.  He turned inside out and a great chaos dragon demon spawned itself from him. Grhthswyndr had become a fearsome undead creature and the demon was Upharsin's gift.  Many of those who were linked to him in the host were turned into undead creatures as well in the backblow of the magic.

Mom states that she was a little distracted at that point.  It was the biggest chaos demon she had faced -- three times bigger than that darn bat -- (I'm not sure exactly what the story is about the bat) and it got her attention.  

A column of balefire sprang from Grhthswyndr and those in the army of the five kings who could see it fainted or moaned in terror. My father put up his hand and the column stopped and then was gone and all the magic that Grhthswyndr could reach was quelled.

Grhthswyndr then grabbed the usurper's bardiche, a powerful rune encrusted weapon, and my father met him with the sword of severance.  The details of that fight mom says I'll have to get from someone else.

She and the demon both made their killing blows at the same time, and both called upon their hidden defenses. The demon breathed out acid and raw blasting, killing power straight at her and she shattered into fugue.  In return, she struck with cutting blow, but at the demon's tail and not its head.  That was a smart move as the demon had a great ruff that unfurled, attempting to catch all the magic cast at it.

Both had already initiated their counterblows.  The demon's was to catch any magic it could with the ruff and throw it back with its tail.  The ruff caught nothing and the tail had been sliced off.  Mom's counterblow was to strike at the back of the demon's neck as she reformed, and her claws and beak struck true.

She says she will spare me the details, but the shattered body of the blasted demon fell dead to the plain and broke the vanguard of Grhthswyndr's army.  The usurper's bardiche failed against the sword of severance.

Three of Grhthswyndr's liege lords, bound by their ties of loyalty until his death, led the left flank of the army into retreat, following the path that the One Eyed King had blazed.  Most of the flank was slaughtered by the army of the five kings, but one of the lords was not found.  The five kings took the rest of the field, taking such as would yield, but none could stand before them once Grhthswyndr fell and the sun came back.

Just as she finished the story and was getting ready to lay down a road (wow, I was impressed.  When mom said she was going to make things safer I didn't realize that she planned to build a road from the river to the One Eyed King's realm with fire elementals bound into it as guardians), we were interrupted.

I was concerned.  There were what looked like three great lords, and their armies.  They had been meeting to confer about treaties and boundaries and who controlled what. Mom gave them one of her looks and dismissed them.  The tallest, surrounded in a green billous cloud, challenged her, while the grimmest, clothed in black armor and with the signal of the red hawk on a black shield as his symbol, seemed to quail and fell back.

"Who are you to tresspass where three kings gather?" the Kar Manta lord's voice rang out.  The grim one grabbed the other, who looked pale and young, and pulled him back.

The young one pulled free with a sudden jerk and said "Yes, we will feast on you, and make an example of all tresspassers."

The grim one fell to his face and cried out "spare my son."

Mom just went "hmphff" and the Kar Manta was a wisp of ashes on the wind.  The undead ghouls who followed him were even less.  You could see the fires burning around her, even with your eyes closed.

"Arkanan" she said "the loyal and the betrayed" "I see you and your son survived the passage after the battle."  The son was shaken.

"Yes, though it has been hard to keep to the narrow road, and pride and hunger still drive us."

I looked at my mom.  They all looked strange, though they averted their eyes.

They are vampires, she told me, oath bound to Grhthswyndr, and betrayed by his magic.  You can tell they have not slain any yet, nor spawned followers, though the son was clearly close to final seduction by the Kar Manta.  I'll yet make a surprise out of this for your father.

"You know that you need not always remain as you are, there is hope short of the final fire" she said.

The grim one, Arkanan, looked shaken. He said nothing.

"Keep faith a little while longer, there is always the hidden rebirth, if you can abide it."

I saw hope, even if I did not understand it.

"Now, if you don't mind, you will be safer if you keep a little distance."

Suddenly there was a flame and a molten road of melted glass connected the river to the gate we had entered in.  It glowed from within with the light of fire, and I could see salamanders swimming in it.

"Those are some who needed to learn some patience and service" she told me.  Mom can be so casual about things some times.


We then started off down the road.  Mom's magic kept me safe from the heat, as the road settled in.

"Mom, Ariel's parents sure seem to let her get into a lot of trouble"

"You mean compared to what we've let you do, because there was no choice?"

"Yeah ..."

"She and her family are under a curse that twists their minds, making them impulsive and clouding their judgment as to magical things -- they are unable to bar their daughter from the risks or protect her until the curse is broken.  Of course, so far nothing bad has come of it."

"Can't we do something?"

"Your dad could sever the curse, but he would have to slay half the coastal shidhe if he did so.  Not that he can't do that too, but he considers it too much of a waste.  If they break the curse themselves, only the bitter king will be broken and everyone's honor will be retained."

"Now they don't know about the curse, that is part of what happened when Ariel's dad was only thirteen and awoke the oread of the mountain and made the peace."

We arrived at the gate and the guards didn't even question us.  You could tell they were in a hurry to open it before mom opened it for them.  Sand was waiting for us too, looking guilty and a little glum.

My mom just smiled. "I need a true dream, but it needs no power" "This will be my working, I need only the key"

Relief seemed to roll off Sand.  You could tell he expected more repercussions from what he had tried (what exactly that was, I still wasn't sure, but both he and mom understood it -- the way of heros I guess).  "If you will accept it, I will even show you the path and the pattern."  Sand positively glowed.  I guess he wasn't there to see when mom had been amused to hear the story, not annoyed, and she had good things to say about him.

He returned the salt, though it now looked more like sand.

We then had a visit, with a lot of talking, before we got ready to return home.

The two vampire lords were still waiting for us.

I could tell that mom was expecting them and the result when she threw the sand/salt/dream key into the air and eveloped them with it was spectacular.  It was so sudden it caught everyone, even Sand, by surprise.


When it was over I could tell Sand had still not recovered.  Mom had taken everything that the vampires had experienced, only with greater force, in order to lay her will on them and on the process.  When they faced fully their greatest desire, and it wrapped around them, she felt temptation fourfold.  When she beckoned them to leave it, and they had to face their greatest fear and pass through it to take her hand, she felt it four times as strongly as they did.  Then, when they had to take their greatest wound again without letting go, and then pulled through to the fire while being resisted by their greatest pain, she felt it more than they did.

Then they were given over to the flame and had to hold to her until they were completely consumed.  The degree of discipline, of trust and of force of will that took, it was enough to shake Sand, and he has long been on the hero path.  I was kind of tied into it all, even if I wasn't in it, if that makes any sense, and it shook me.  I knew that mom had a reputation, but I had no idea it was strong enough for them to trust her through all of this.

At the end, there were two manlike shapes, writhing in fire, sometimes man sized birds, sometimes men.  They threatened to disolve and mom spoke a word and laid the force of a rune upon them.

Then they stood.  There was no trace of undeath or chaos on them, it had all been burned completely away.

"Give your brother-son dire song" she told the grim one.  The two of them might be father and son, but they were now also twins.  "I have much to teach you, and a new gift for you."

Sand couldn't restrain himself.  "How can they bear anymore?"  He obviously couldn't see how they could take any more of the "gifts" mom was giving.

She just smiled. They had experienced all the pain that fire would ever cause them.  Not to mention, she had a gift, something that had been hers and that she had planned a special place.  She smiled again, and then she pulled out a staff, with a serrated, bladed end.  It was shaped like a narrow wyrmish creature with a ridge at the end.  It was the great weapon Ma'at Shekath Ptah.  Talk about a gift.  I had wondered how the grim one could lead as a king without dire song.  Among the things we had talked about with the One Eyed King was the issue the grim one had with the force behind the Kar Manta.

Ma'at Shekath Ptah

STR 30d6 (add to user's in combat)
CON 30d6 (add to user's in combat)
SIZ +6 (for reach purposes, 30 cubic meters for its zone of effect)
POW 30d6 (17 points available for fire rune connections)
DEX 4d6+6 (add to user's in combat)
APP 8d6+6 (add to user's in combat when leading with weapon)
HP 30d6 (HP = armor for weapon, = resistance to damage to weapon)
Move 6 (yes, it can move on its own)
INT 7 (functions as a familiar for the weilder)

It can either work as a weapon or it can engulf 30 cubic meters with fire, doing 4d6+6 in fire damage (armor resists for the first melee round) to all within the zone if they do not resist in a POW v. CON attack.  Resistance results in half damage. (Subtract magic armor from the damage done, so 4 points of magic defense would be -4 to damage done every round, not just the first).

Base damage is 1d10 as a bladed weapon.

She looked them both in the eye.

You are mine now and you have my strenghth to go with you.  This wall guards your people on one side (she was referring to the road -- it divided the land where the boundary had been between them and the Kar Manta and formed a barrier against the Kar Manta's master).  You have the river for another boundary and the walls of the One Eyed King for the third. To the south you must build your own markers, but should you do that, or extend the King's walls, the sunlight lands can extend to you as well.

As a parting gift she raised up a fortress where the road met the river, walls and a tower of fused quartz and melted sand glass, and a dock with a bridge span that crossed a third of the river (why she stopped there she didn't say).  The brother-kings had a place of power to rule from that cast warmth and light around it (and that reminded me of the plaza that formed the heart of the city where we lived, the castlelike structure had the same look and light about it).

Yep, she had a surprise for dad all right.  She had saved a couple of vampires herself.  Of course it wasn't as easy of a change as it had been for us, but she had rewrought them as Fire Hawks, lesser phoenix (well, lesser to the Rukh) and beings of power with enough force to save their people without selling their souls to the darkness, which is what they were about to do.

Side note on vampires, greater rukhs and tests of will

A vampire is a creature of will (force of will, not the attribute).  As a result, they are especially suited to tests that are basically tests of willpower.

Any of the greater rukh who have been lost in the rush of power are also extremely resistant to certain things.  For every ten years lost in that state, treat them as having one point of armor against emotional or physical shock or tests.  A rukh lost to the mindless state for several hundred years can endure mindblasting pain without fading out, giving into shock or otherwise being incapacitated by it.  The great sadist Contatrite met his end by feeding off the pain a greater rukh endured.  He was able to inflict so much pain (without the rukh being able to escape into shock or a similar defense) that the feedback -- a small trickle together with the pleasure he gained from inflicting pain -- killed him.

On the other hand, vampires find it very difficult to give way to being destroyed or to leaving pleasure.

The essence of the pattern that the Rukh used to free Arkanan and his son, other than the cost in will (the requisite) and POW, and the willingness to spend both to ensure that the pattern succeeded, is a test of will against the primal resistance to being born.  A baby has no choice.  An adult in the heropath does.

Arkanan made the right choice and held to it.  The Rukh just had to be willing to accept superhuman, intense and unbelievable pain.  She had the ability to do it, because she could take it, feel it, and not be overcome by it.  But imagine how hard it would be to grab on to a burning iron rod and not let go, but instead just take the pain for the entire duration of the normal time it takes someone to deliver a baby.

In the end, she had the necessary will to succeed that allowed them all to succeed.

She and dad had really thrown the dice well in saving both the One Eyed King and Arkanan and their people, wrapping up the last threads from the story of Grhthswyndr 'who fought against the five kings' ...  The grim one, the "loyal and betrayed" was now a lesser hero and Sand now had himself bridged between two hero kings who were both firmly tied to him, should he embrace this shape of the hero path and help them face against the Kar Manta's lord.  He could see how mom had entangled him, but not in a hostile way.  She offered him greatness and growth and a base of power.

Guess he never expected the next stage of his journey to have such a one (as mom) giving him a call to adventure, or such a portal to step through.  He also had the key to be reborn as a rukh, should he choose such a path, and to pull his hyrthgr, his hero band, along with him.  The prophecy of the dream fire suddenly connected for him and the chance to be a true light bringer for Starstrands suddenly was a real possibility.

There was suddenly a hint of the dawn in the long night of decline that seemed to be about to slowly envelop all who had tried to remake this place.

And I got to see it.

Though I was still worried about Ariel. My mom stopped by her house on the way home and gave her mom a feather, whispering something in her ear, and then we were at our home, and dad and the baby came out to see us and I was a little distracted (that baby is something sometimes -- especially now that it can fly just a little by exerting light pressure).

Copyright 2001-2003 Stephen R. Marsh and Heather N. Marsh
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