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Kuruthúni Mridánenga hi'Balljayágay guided his spearpoint, heaving the still squirming body of the ambushing Mihálli to the left. With all his effort, he pushed the spear forward, surprising another Mihálli as it attempted to overwhelm Heréksa Tsutel. Pleased by the two squealing shapeshifters on his spear, he turned to grin at Tirrikámu Hanúmal. The Tirrikámu leapt forward, and Mridánenga realized too late that the armor of his Tirrikámu was not in order. That the red eyes were not those of his Tirrikámu. That the Mihálli in the armor of a Tsolyáni Kuruthúni had gotten the better of him. He reached for his dagger, but too late.

 

Kási Khirgár turned at the grunt Mridánenga gave as he fell. Tirrikámu Hanúmal was beside the fallen Kuruthúni, surveying the battle in a tensed crouch. "Tirrikámu! Heréksa! To me! We fight back to back!"

 

Hanúmal watched as a copy of himself, but with the wrong markings for a Tirrikámu, made his way toward Kási Khirgár. He leapt to his feet, sprinting across the short distance. His legs and arms were tired, his body ached after the exertions of the past three days. Trying to put that from his mind, he increased his speed. The Mihálli saw him coming, and turned to parry his charge.

 

The Mihálli may wear the armor of a Kuruthúni, but they clearly haven't trained in it. Lived in it.

 

Hanúmal launched from the ground, sailed the short space between him and the replica, and quickly thrust his blade down, striking the space in the armor between the neck and the shoulder. Blood sprayed, and the thing whimpered as it dropped to its knees before pitching face down into the dirt.

 

Through the branches and vines, the surge of purple destruction swept out, away from the jungle. Kási Khirgár felt his spirits lift. "We're almost there! Fight! We must not fail!"

Edited by Lee Torres

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Tke’et’kl raised his crossbow as he assessed the newest threat to the Semétl; a Mihálli Sorcerer, levitating a quicksilver orb over his left hand. The Mihálli raised his six-fingered right hand toward the humans, and Tke’et’kl let his bolt fly. Before it struck its target, though, the Sorcerer flicked his wrist toward the Pé Chói.

 

Barrel of Swords tried to focus the four eyes facing the Mihálli. Something like heat shimmer wreathed the spot where the Pé Chói had stood. The Ahoggyá adjusted its blades and charged the momentarily distracted Mihálli.

 

Who knows? Barrel of Swords thought, That sphere might get me a few Káitars...

Edited by Lee Torres

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Later, they were nearing the glow in the jungle. Chichún hi'Gakkumqúrga was leading,Tilténal hi'Vrigáy and Tke’et’kl the Pé Chói close behind. Stepping into a clearing, Chichún whispered back "There are Tsolyáni Kuruthúni just ahead, entering the jungle on the far side of the clearing!" Tilténal and Tke’et’kl came alongside quickly and silently. Tilténal looked at the Pé Chói. "Perhaps the other Molkár sent men here as well?"

 

Tke’et’kl shrugged. Chichún whistled a birdcall, a familiar sound to the Kuruthúni of the Fifth Heavy Infantry, used to signal unobtrusively to others. The Kuruthúni on the far side of the clearing turned.

 

Another Chichún looked back at himself, a look of dread and concern on the face of his double. Apparently unable to see the three at the edge of the clearing, the other Chichún adjusted his shield and vanished into the jungle.

 

Chichún, Tke’et’kl, and Tilténal crossed the clearing, vigilant for any threat, or the reappearance of the "other" Kuruthúni. The purple light from the north flickered and danced across the blackness of the sky.

 

As the two Kuruthúni and the Pé Chói reached the far side, they peered into the jungle, trying to see if the double was visible. A birdcall, a familiar sound to the Kuruthúni of the Fifth Heavy Infantry, used to signal unobtrusively to others, chirped from behind them. Chichún slowly turned, dreading what he might see.

 

Only the empty clearing, the wind stirring the ferns under that awful purple light. Wrestling with a subtle but persistent feeling that all of this had happened before, Chichún led Tilténal and Tke’et’kl into the jungle.

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Barrel of Swords wiped three of its swords on the dry grass and pushed the dead Mihálli's lacerated face deeper into the ground under one clawed foot. The Ahoggyá gingerly lifted the sphere. It was cold to the touch, and heavier than expected. Barrel of Swords dropped the sphere into a leather pouch, cinched it shut, then turned to find more to fight.

Edited by Lee Torres

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Ttk-chtk-dsá, the only survivor of the Pé Chói contingent, stuck close to Barrel of Swords and Loudest Belly, the two Ahoggyá. Only eight humans survived, the three officers and five of their subordinates.

 

Speaking their throaty and garbled language urgently, the Mihálli retreated back into the jungle, leaving their dead behind.

 

Kási Khirgár rallied his men and their allies and pushed rapidly through the jungle undergrowth. Slowly, the flat ground turned into a hillside. Fighting exhaustion with the exhilaration of finally confronting the wielders of the savage and abominable amethyst tendril, the eight men, two Ahoggyá and solitary Pé Chói climbed through the ferns and creeping vines.

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The sky above the hilltop roiled obscenely, as violet light cascaded from the black heights far above to only an arrows flight from the ground. Hanúmal idly wondered if it was visible from Avanthár or Béy Sü.

 

At the center of the hilltop, a group of men, Mihálli, Páchi Léi, Shunned Ones, and some unidentifiable others stood in a wide circle, surrounding a swirling vortex hovering in the air just above the ground. The beings in the circle chanted, and their chants seemed to either please or agitate the vortex. After a brief time, the vortex disgorged a flashing conduit of amethyst power, thick as a tree trunk, that swept off into the dark, annihilating one of the adherents in passing. The remaining chanters exulted, raising their chant in tempo and volume.

 

Kási Khirgár was silent for a long moment, then asked "What are they saying? Does anybody recognize that language?"

 

Heréksa Tsutel closed his eyes. "Sunúz. It is Sunúz."

 

"How do you know this, Heréksa? Those that speak Sunúz and worship the Pariah Deities are routinely put to death, in almost every one of the Five Empires."

 

"I do not know, Kási, how it is I know this. I know it, but have not yet learned it."

 

"This is no time for riddles, old friend."

 

"This is no riddle, Kási. I'm sorry. I am so sorry. Soon you will know as well as I."

 

 

 

Sunúz = Artificial language of the Priests of the One Other (Pariah Deity)

Edited by Lee Torres

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Kási Khirgár crawled to the far side of the hill, concealed by trees. In the lurid purple light, the damage inflicted by the blasts was clear in the battlefield stretching to the south. Tirrikámu Hanúmal joined him surveying the devastation below.

 

Kási Khirgár pointed to a blighted spot nearby. "That area was where the Tsurúm of our Changadésha died earlier this evening."

 

Hanúmal looked at the darkened field, illuminated only by sporadic flashes from the hilltop on which they lay. "It would seem that the distance that blast can reach grows with each passing kirén. There are strikes well toward our lines now, over there, Kási."

 

Kási Khirgár nodded somberly. "We must strike, and soon. Another few kirén and they'll be able to destroy our leaders. What purpose would the Legion of the Mighty Prince serve if Prince Eselné Tlakotáni dies at the whim of these sorcerers?"

 

Heréksa Tsutel joined them. "They grow more powerful with each passing moment, Kási."

 

"I see this. We must prepare our attack. I was just saying to Hanúmal that they'll be able to murder Prince Eselné at their whim before much longer."

 

Heréksa Tsutel turned to them, his face seeming otherworldly in the murky light. "They'll be able to murder all of Tékumel if they are not stopped. They think they have a siege weapon. What they have is far worse. The attention of an angry and insane god intent on the destruction of the universe. Power such as the world has not seen since the Time of Darkness, before history was written."

 

"Heréksa, I must know how you come by this information."

 

"A dream. A nightmare. Before I woke this morning, I had foreseen the events of this night. I know that we must attack. Kási, you must know, although it is too late for us to change anything... You must know the price that we will pay."

Edited by Lee Torres

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Heréksa Tsutel was a soldier of Tsolyánu first and last. For all of the horrors he had foreseen in his nightmares, he laid out what was about to transpire as if he was explaining how a siege engine would break a city wall.

 

"First, we must take the Priests of the One Other, the hateful Pariah Deity that even now crawls toward our world. We must take them alive, for if they die their Pedhétl goes to the hungry maw of the One Other, and it grows stronger still. Those that are destroyed are, in a sense, sacrificed to it, although there are no blades and no altars. Then the three of us must go into the maw. It is anchored here, on our plane, in our dimensions that we experience, and we must cut it loose before it gains too much of a grip. But the cost will be high, Kási."

 

"You know me, Heréksa Tsutel. I do not fear death, for I know that Lord Karakán awaits me, to test me so that I might join the Eternal Cohort."

 

"Kási... Lord Karakán will not reach us in time. If we do this, we will not have the mercy of death, nor the satisfaction of living on to revel in our victory, such as it may be. Once we have severed the Pariah from Tékumel, we will be trapped with it. Forever. In between planes, outside of dimensions. Forever."

 

Hanúmal still struggled to comprehend some of the things that Heréksa Tsutel was explaining. "If other Sorcerers summon it, maybe we can make our escape then. Couldn't we? We could capture the Sorcerers when we came out, turn them over to the Omnipotent Azure Legion for the High Ride."

 

Tsutel looked at Hanúmal with an expression of gentle amusement, a surprising change from the worry and edginess of the day. "You'd have made a good officer someday, Tirrikámu. Always looking for a way to win. To answer your question, I have not foreseen this. But that doesn't mean it's not possible."

 

Kási Khirgár gestured to the others. "Take your armor off. Quickly."

 

Heréksa Tsutel shook his head. "Whether we attack as Kuruthúni or Changadésha, it would not change-"

 

"Ya. We will wear our armor. We will go in as... as we lived. But first, we write prayers to Lord Karakán upon our armor, that if someday Lord Karakán battles this... horror, perhaps he will find us and take us to be in glory beside him."

 

Heréksa Tsutel began to shake his head but stopped. He looked at Kási Khirgár and Tirrikámu Hanúmal with sad fondness. "Why not? It couldn't hurt to try."

 

Using scraps of cloth torn from their tunics and ink from Kási Khirgár's pack, the three men began to write their prayers to Karakán upon their breastplates.

 

Hanúmal whispered "I'm not very good at writing yet, Kási..."

 

Kási Khirgár put a hand upon his shoulder, squeezed it. "Do your best, Tirrikámu. Lord Karakán knows your baletl."

 

Under the black and purple sky, the three prepared. Not for death, but for eternity without it, in the merciless grip of an angry god.

 

 

 

 

 

 

baletl = spirit

Edited by Lee Torres

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The Priests of the One Other continued their chanting, as Kási Khirgár, Heréksa Tsutel, and Tirrikámu Hanúmal rejoined their Kuruthúni and sole Pé Chói Changadésha and outlined the plan. Before the next surge from the vortex they would, on Kási Khirgár's signal, capture the Priests. The three officers would charge the vortex, enter it, find a way to disable it and break the link the Pariah Deity was making to the plane of Tékumel. Kási Khirgár, his voice low and urgent, emphasized the importance of taking the Priests alive. Barrel of Swords scowled, replying in a gravelly whisper. "Plan have problem, thinks me. Maybe two Ahoggyá among eight wrong chooses for sneak and catch not kill fight."

 

Kási Khirgár looked at the two Knobbed Ones. "These Priests are almost certainly here because their Pedhétl gives power to the thing on the other side of that vortex. If one of them dies, his Pedhétl may be enough to bring on another surge of energy, which we could not avoid charging into the maw of it. Our three lives are in your eight hands."

 

Barrel of Swords looked uncomfortably at Loudest Belly. Loudest Belly the Ahoggyá shrugged its body before replying. "We try much to not make dead Priests, ssa? Mistake maybe happen, but try much to do sneak and catch, Kási."

 

Kási Khirgár put out his hands, and the survivors of the Semétl took them. “For Karakán, for Tsolyánu, for the life of Prince Eselné and the glory of the Emperor Hirkáne, the Stone upon Which the Universe Rests,” he whispered.

 

Heréksa Tsutel looked at all of the gathered soldiers and squeezed the hands he touched. "For the Tsurúm of Kási Khirgár hi’Amiyála."

 

All of the soldiers, human and non-human alike, responded in a reverent whisper. "For the Tsurúm of Kási Khirgár hi’Amiyála."

 

Kási Khirgár smiled, profoundly moved, taking in the battered and dirty faces of his Semétl. "Chegukh, tùsmikáng, tùsmikrú. Now go!"

 

The Kuruthúni spread out, moving in a crouch along the hillside, out of sight of those on the hilltop.

 

 

Ssa = Yes

Edited by Lee Torres

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The Shunned One Priest watched the glorious spectacle unfold through the convex lenses in its breathing apparatus. How memorable a night it was becoming! After years of furtive planning, avoiding the authorities and the servitors of the pathetic gods commonly worshiped, after the countless sacrifices and the endless bribes, tonight the mightiest and most merciless god of all would erupt from the Outer Dark and the great work would begin. It and its fellow Priests would be taken in, spared the horror of being dissipated into the great god's essence. They would offer it guidance in defeating the nations and the false gods of Tékumel.

 

What a deluded fool the Baron Ald is, it thought. He has given us everything we requested with gladness. We did not deceive him, of course. We will defeat Tsolyánu. Tonight. Tomorrow, we will defeat Yán Kór!

 

The One Other would feast upon millions. They would unravel the secrets held in the most secret temple vaults, and find how to restore the world to where once it was, before the Time of Darkness. They would return Tékumel to where it once was, and then the One Other could feed upon billions, or trillions, on the countless other worlds that had once been birth-homes to all the races of Tékumel... In exchange, the thirteen gathered here would receive power unimagined. The Shunned One glanced around the circle. From the tree-line, a bird called in the dark.

 

Brave little creature, the Shunned One thought, most every other wild form on this hill has fled before the relentless seeping of the Outer Dark.

 

These thirteen would be a new pantheon. The gods worshiped by those fleeing the One Other. They would believe themselves safe, these fools, until-

 

Something distracted the Shunned One. A movement, caught in a reflection on the edge of the lens. It turned. Panicked.

 

Ahog-

Edited by Lee Torres

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Barrel of Swords reveled in the sound of the sword hilt cracking across the Shunned One's head, and the ease with which the grotesque thing dropped to the ground. A wisp of foul-smelling gas escaped from the ornate mask of tubes and lenses. The Ahoggyá grimaced, spitting on the ground, then glanced in concern around the circle. The humans and the Pé Chói were doing their work well. Dragging the Shunned One behind, Barrel of Swords moved as silently as it could manage on to his next catch.

 

One of the humans made a noise, a cry of alarm.

 

Stupid puny fighter...sneak and catch, sneak and catch! it thought.

 

"Mihálli!" yelled the Kuruthúni. "They've circled back!"

 

Barrel of Swords watched the Mihálli surge up onto the hilltop, ready to fight. Abandoning subtlety, Barrel of Swords thundered toward the next Sorcerer, and with three fists threw three strong punches in quick succession into the old human's startled face. The Ahoggyá checked the vortex again.

 

Not surging.

 

The officers crossed the ground quickly. The Mihálli now attempted to kill the Sorcerers, and Barrel of Swords found itself in the unique position of having to defend the enemy against the enemy's bodyguards. Flipping its four swords up, it caught each by the hilt.

 

No more sneak and catch, the Ahoggyá thought, snarling.

 

The three officers made it across the open circle, Mihálli javelins and arrows sailing after them, and leapt into the vortex.

Edited by Lee Torres

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Kási Khirgár hi’Amiyála of the Might of Ganga clan stood looking into a large domed room. Every surface was absolutely free of dust, and white, gray, silver, or copper in color. Tiny windows in the furnishings looked out on what seemed to him to be miniature worlds. The furnishings were set with dazzling gems, red, blue, green, white... no, not gems. They were tiny fires, either burning or guttering out or magically re-lighting.

 

"What are you doing here, Khirgár?"

 

Kási Khirgár turned as a light-haired man, perhaps as tall as a N'lüss or taller, entered from the opposite side of the dome. "Who are you?" Kási Khirgár asked.

 

The stranger nodded. "Introductions."

 

Kási Khirgár hi’Amiyála of the Might of Ganga clan stood on a small hill. The landscape to the North was immaculately kept, and improbable buildings jutted from the ground. Flying vehicles flitted to and fro. Campfires or torches burned in abundance in those buildings, for they glowed like they were themselves ablaze. In a moment, he recognized the hill. He turned to the West, but there was only empty countryside where Agésha should have squatted behind its thick walls.

 

Something moving to his left from the corner of his eye caused him to glance South. The shock nearly knocked him from his feet. A ship, or perhaps a city, fully a tsán wide and nearly two tsán long hung in the sky. Motionless, not as a bird wheeled, but as if it were a mere cloud and not some enormous mechanism. Kási Khirgár started down the hill, taking in more of the titanic things, some set on the ground. Many of these were less than half a tsán, but monstrous nonetheless.

 

Túleng sank low to the horizon, casting long shadows behind these staggering monuments of the air.

 

Then, the final impossibility; as Túleng descended, tens of thousands of points of light became visible in the darkening sky. Kási Khirgár slowly lowered to his knees in amazement.

 

A shimmer passed all around him. It was as if a colossal hand had cupped itself above the world, and the tiny shimmering lights in the sky went dark. The sky now looked as it had for all his life; not an endless sea of tiny points ablaze in infinite distance, but a wall of blackness, only the planets and moons nearby winking in the night. The world shook in seismic spasms. In the distance a flash and spray of rock and magma as a volcano roared to life. The flying vessel was on the ground now, having crushed some of the lesser craft. Beings of all species scurried about in the ruined buildings. An Ahoggyá with a staff that hissed like cooking meat stalked by, and wherever the staff pointed men burst into flame.

 

Instantly he was in the large domed room. Floating stools, but some of them with a high backing... floating thrones faced the furnishings, and beings were in the thrones. Ahoggyá, Pé Chói, Páchi Léi, Hláka, Tinalíya, and Humans busied themselves at esoteric tasks. They seemed like Scribes or Temple workers to Kási Khirgár. Their work seemed to be touching lights and peering through the tiny windows. All wore some sort of matching clothing, with insignia upon sleeve and collar. It struck him that the room was somewhat cold.

 

"We didn't understand what had happened to Tékumel, you see. We lost everything. Communication, supplies... losing the food shipments was the worst. For fifty thousand years this had been a hub of interstellar commerce. We took the ship to see if we were in some sort of megastructure, or picotech swarm-cloud. But of course, you comprehend none of this. I might as well be explaining this all to a newborn."

 

Kási Khirgár squared himself. "Nevertheless, formality dictates that your introduction should proceed."

 

The stranger nodded. "We went into hyperspace at the required safe range and coordinates. And here we are. Trapped. Free of both space and time."

 

"You are correct that I do not understand."

 

"It's all right. You will in time. That's all we have left here."

Edited by Lee Torres

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Heréksa Tsutel and Tirrikámu Hanúmal watched as the hideous misshapen forms that might have once been Ahoggyá, Pé Chói, Páchi Léi, Hláka, Tinalíya, and Humans surrounded Kási Khirgár. They made only guttural grunting noises. To his horror, Hanúmal noticed that the eyes of the beings glowed with the same amethyst light that the vortex had.

 

"Who are you?" Kási Khirgár asked, unafraid. Heréksa Tsutel and Tirrikámu Hanúmal clutched their weapons, preparing to rush to his aid if the creatures made to attack.

 

They kept their distance, while Kási Khirgár looked around the maelstrom of violet as if he were seeing anything besides chaos. A long moment passed. He knelt, still looking up.

 

After what seemed a tense eternity of waiting for an attack, Kási Khirgár said, quite calmly, "Nevertheless, formality dictates that your introduction should proceed."

 

Something once human babbled at him in a tongue older than any Tsutel and Hanúmal had ever heard. Hanúmal pressed his hand to his own chest, feeling the smooth ink of the prayer to Lord Karakán written on his armor.

 

Kási Khirgár listened to the thing's grumbling speech, and then said "You are correct that I do not understand."

 

Tsutel and Hanúmal looked at each other. "Does he understand anything they say?" Hanúmal asked.

 

"I did not foresee this event, Tirrikámu. I do not know what he sees or hears..."

Edited by Lee Torres

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Abruptly, Tirrikámu Hanúmal found himself alone. The vortex had vanished, replaced by a fine gray mist. A solitary figure emerged from the wall of fog. Oddly dressed, with pale skin.

 

"Hanúmal. Hello there."

 

Hanúmal tightened his grip around his sword, then realized with a start that it was gone, along with his armor and clothing. "Who are you? Are you a god?"

 

"Well, that's a difficult one to answer, actually. I suppose since I've been by here a few times before, and do have some passing mention in a few of the older classics..."

 

"Have you a name?"

 

"Oh, yes. Quite a lot of names. Titles. That sort of thing. You may call me the One Other, if you like."

 

Hanúmal backed away quickly. "You mean to destroy my world and devour all upon it!"

 

The One Other frowned. "Who have you been talking to? I don't want to destroy your world. I want to save it."

 

"Tékumel doesn't need saving, except from such as you! Monsters from outside of... dimensions."

 

The One Other sighed. "I'm not a monster, Hanúmal. Tékumel needs to be returned to where it came from. It sits now at an interstitial cusp, a very tangled knot in Space-Time. Like a blood clot in a vein. There are forty-some other worlds in similar circumstances, although actually some of their civilizations did not survive the expulsion, so there's no worry of extra harm there. Tékumel is a special case."

 

"You're trying to confuse me. You're going to devour my Pedhétl and leave my body a violet-eyed husk."

 

The One Other rolled his eyes and folded his arms. Hanúmal looked the figure up and down. "You don't seem particularly terrifying. How many Aspects have you?"

 

"Only about a dozen so far. Well, that's this go around. It's complicated."

 

The One Other looked Hanúmal up and down. "You look quite human. So, where did you get the devouring nonsense?"

 

"My Heréksa, Tsutel. He had a vision of what is to come."

 

"Oh, the visions. Probably Ksárul. Seems like the sort of rubbish he'd say, to interfere. I'd wager if you asked Vimúhla or Hnálla you'd get a different story. Ask old Vimúhla about Flamesong. He's got no cause for complaints."

 

Hanúmal scrutinized the One Other's attire. "What is that at your throat? A symbol of Hnálla? It has the look of his sign, but in cloth."

 

"At my throat? No, it'd take too long to explain. I'm trying to help your world, although the Tlomitlányal and the Tlokiriqáluyal, as well as the Hlimékluyal, would hardly sit still for it. If I help you, then the magic goes away, and you see the gods for what they are. Admittedly, after a while, the deception does start to have some measure of appeal for them. Us, I suppose."

 

"Deception?"

 

"Listen, just don't panic. It'll all be sorted out."

 

"I am not near panic. I am a Tirrikámu devoted to Lord Karakán. What have I to fear?"

 

"Well, not to put too fine a point on it, whether I succeed or fail, there's rather a lot to fear, really."

 

The One Other smiled at Hanúmal, turned, and wandered into the fog.

Edited by Lee Torres

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Hanúmal hit the bottom of the vortex, the purple spinning 'wall' like a sandstorm mixed with frozen fire against his skin. A terrible pain was at his back, and he felt a physical pressure on his heart. He pushed away from the 'floor' and noted the point of a javelin sticking through his chest.

 

"Get up, Tirrikámu! We must fight!" Heréksa Tsutel yelled back at him.

 

Hanúmal looked over his shoulder at the rest of the javelin. Tsutel quickly grabbed it and pulled it free. Hanúmal screamed. The terrible pain of a moment ago was the smallest portent of the pain it gave coming out.

 

"Try not to be wounded. Wounds do not heal here. You will not die, you will never die, but the pain will never fade."

 

Hanúmal looked at the sword in his hand, down at the prayers to Lord Karakán on his armor, now decorated by the flow of his blood. "I saw the One Other..."

 

"A trick. Kási Khirgár told me of a magical ship that sailed the skies, more than a tsán from nose to tail. Do not believe what you see here. It wants information about the Emperor, about the Imperial Clan, so that it may conquer us!"

 

"He said he was here to help us, Heréksa."

 

"Weak-minded fool!" Heréksa Tsutel charged into the approaching violet-eyed horde, sword swinging. Hanúmal winced at the pain through his chest, but followed anyway.

Edited by Lee Torres

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Kási Khirgár joined the fight alongside Heréksa Tsutel and Tirrikámu Hanúmal. "I fear I am losing my senses. One instant I am conversing with the Kási of a mighty ship of the sky, then a man that says he is the One Other, then I am in Avanthár and Emperor Hirkáne has died, and Tsolyánu is fragmenting in a civil war."

 

Heréksa Tsutel stabbed one of the attacking horde, while replying through gritted teeth. One of the enemy spears had opened the side of his neck. "It is trying to unmake Tékumel! I learned this from my visions since we arrived! It will take the world out of our universe, and carry it to another. There will be no magic, and the gifts of our Pedhétl that we willingly offer up to the gods will no longer reach them - they will languish like the Doomed Prince of the Blue Room forever!"

 

"Why?" Hanúmal asked, parrying a spear thrust. "Why would it move our world to a place of such emptiness? Why would it wish to destroy the Five Empires, if not for sustenance?"

 

"It is following some alien form of Stability or Order, one not of Tékumel, Tirrikámu. It would remake our world in its own hollow likeness!"

 

Kási Khirgár took a spear through the stomach and, grunting, pushed himself along the shaft to dispatch the mangled Pé Chói Changadésha wielding it. "Does it care nothing... for the well-being... of the Tékumelani?"

 

A very calm yet aged voice from behind the trio spoke. "It is difficult to explain."

Edited by Lee Torres

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Hanúmal turned to the voice. He was confronted not with the outside world waiting beyond the vortex, and the tableau of his remaining Kuruthúni battling the Mihálli, all of them moving slowly as if underwater, but the wall of mist again. The One Other appeared. "Don't listen to him, Hanúmal. You are a soldier, fighting for the Empire of the Petal Throne. What do you care for gods and magic? You may keep your sword and shield. Life will be little changed for those like you. Better, because you will find things easier to comprehend. No more mysteries of the priests and sorcerers. A good life, serving civilization and not the whims of these so-called gods. Help me to help you."

 

"In this future you speak of... what happens to me when I die?"

 

The One Other shook his head in disappointment. "Do you really want to fight forever? Do you really want to stand beside old Karakán and his Eternal Cohort and just keep fighting until the end of time?"

 

There was not a moment's hesitation. "Ssa."

 

"You've been fighting alongside your friends since you arrived here, within me. Is this truly the eternity that you seek?"

 

"Ya, ignoble Pariah, not this. Because there is in you no glory."

 

The demeanor of the One Other changed, from gentle chiding to a great anger welling up. "I will show you glory, Hanúmal hi'Kharsáma, of the Iron Fist clan. Glory such as you cannot imagine."

 

The One Others appearance began to shift, expand, into something else, something glowing like an amethyst in the daylight, flickering like firelight, something beautiful yet terrible beyond description. Something of fluid and crystal and vortex and fog. Hanúmal felt his mind begin to break, fought back the urge to scream while looking into the ocean of eyes, or gems, or flames, that were perhaps looking back at him. At the endless layer upon layer of the One Other, perhaps in its truest form. Hanúmal had a vague sense of vast size; larger than even Tékumel, perhaps larger than the universe around the planet. He felt his insignificance to the unimaginably ancient thing he faced. He felt a pressure growing in his head - no, in his mind - like something was gnawing and battering its way in.

 

He gave in and screamed anyway.

Edited by Lee Torres

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Hanúmal screamed, looking into the startled and then amused face of an old man. Hanúmal thought him very peculiar, for some indefinable reason. Then upon a moment's reflection realized that, while the man's face and skin had the appearance of great age, he was neither stooped nor seemingly infirm. He seemed as fit as any adult human, but as if some force had aged him only in appearance - a man in his prime wearing the flesh of an elderly one.

 

Another man, slightly younger, stood by the first. "I've seen you receive some unusual greetings, but this may well be the most unique."

 

The old man scrutinized Hanúmal, like a craftsman searching his work for imperfections. "This is the one. Always one that has to make trouble."

 

Tsutel kicked his current foe back, sweeping his sword to-and-fro to deny its re-approach. "Who are you? Some new trickery of the One Other?"

 

The old man's bemused expression reappeared. "Cha! The incomprehensible nerve of these children!"

 

The companion spoke. "Come, you followed me past the thirty-third pylon because you thought this matter so laden with vital import. Let's get on with it. Remember, you will owe me a great debt. I had hoped I'd left this nonsense behind me, Súbadim. You have merely exploited a momentary lapse of reason."

 

Tsutel stood, for a moment forgetting his blade. "Súbadim?"

 

The old man nodded. "I am."

 

"Who is this, Heréksa?" asked Kási Khirgár.

 

"Súbadim the Sorcerer, one of the Undying Wizards!" Tsutel said, as excited as a boy at play.

 

"Two of them," said the companion. "I am Torasu, another of the Undying Wizards."

 

Tsutel nodded, smiling. "In my dream. I saw you!"

 

Subadim said simply "I know."

 

Hanúmal looked at the old Sorcerer. "Do you know me? You said 'This is the one' as if you knew me."

 

"Oh, I know the idea of you. The gods send you a gift of foreknowledge of events, and you exploit it like some frivolous party game to impress women and children. Yarsúr!" the old man almost spat.

 

Hanúmal bristled at the insult. "What is it that I have done?"

 

"The charge of the Ahoggyá, on the battlefield. Molkár Kanmás hi'Tiúnallakná was meant to perish today. You, you arrogant young upstart, have severed him from the skein of his destiny. And in so doing, severed yourself from yours. Well done. Now two loose threads, adrift in the world, tied to nothing save random chance."

 

Hanúmal remembered the wordless rebuke in Tsutel's eyes after his return with the Molkár. "That was bad, then?"

 

"Pah!" Súbadim exclaimed, turning to his companion. "Come, Torasu, we are not yet too late!"

 

The two made their way deeper into the vortex. The mangled violet-eyed shapes that did not retreat from them were thrown back by a gesture from Súbadim.

 

"You three, hold the portal! The One Other may try to close it when we're done with our task. It's a long trip back to Tékumel from where we're sending it, and you three may not live long enough to see home again!" He turned away.

 

Kási Khirgár stood by Heréksa Tsutel as they prepared to hold the way. Súbadim looked back, gesturing toward Hanúmal. "Try to make sure that he does nothing stupid. Be certain that the One Other does not take him; he is apart from destiny, and so an easy prize for it to possess."

 

Then they passed through the whirlpool of coruscating chaos and were gone.

 

 

 

Yarsúr = Hobbyist or Amateur

Edited by Lee Torres

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Barrel of Swords and Ttk-chtk-dsá fought side by side against the fast and vicious Mihálli skirmishers. Barrel of Swords parried two incoming blades while stabbing a third Mihálli in the torso. To the Ahoggyá's surprise, the shapeshifter emitted not a squeal or cry of anguish, but instead a strange coughing bark. It took the Ahoggyá a moment to realize that the Mihálli was laughing. Its dying eyes were fixed on something behind Barrel of Swords. Searching immediately with the four eyes facing behind, Barrel of Swords realized that they had been tricked. The three Shunned Ones and some of the other sorcerers had produced blades from their ornate garments. The Ahoggyá searched the terrain; they were too far from any of the Tsolyáni to attack.

 

Then it all became clear. As one, the priests plunged the blades into their own bodies. The Shunned Ones made very sure to stab many times and twist the blades. They fell, writhing, then were still.

 

Barrel of Swords bellowed to the others. "Get down! Get down!"

 

The vortex increased the speed of its spin, and swelled larger and brighter. The Pedhétl of the priests had reached its goal. One of the Tsolyáni Kuruthúni was vaporized by the surge of purple destruction that emerged from the whirling energy hovering above the hilltop. The plains toward the Tsolyáni front lines flared violet-white for a moment, then the light flickered away toward darkness.

Edited by Lee Torres

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Kási Khirgár hi’Amiyála of the Might of Ganga clan, Heréksa Tsutel hi’Chiáng of the Crimson Ivory clan, and Tirrikámu Hanúmal hi'Kharsáma of the Iron Fist clan stood together at the burning maw of the One Other. The mangled but ultimately immortal servants of the Pariah Deity, no longer in fear of the passage of Súbadim and Torasu, returned in force. Re-armed, re-armored, and in greater numbers. Kási Khirgár commented that some of those killed on the battlefields, whether Tsolyáni or Yan Koryáni, now stood against them. As they engaged in battle, a series of nebulous clouds shot past from behind, shrieking, tittering and exulting as they raced into the vortex and to their Lord.

 

Heréksa Tsutel cried out "Pedhétl!" In the circumstances, he made it sound like a curse.

 

The violet light in the vortex flared, and everything vanished in a flash of intensity. When the light flickered down to the purplish dim, all the combatants were shrouded in flame. Hanúmal gritted his teeth. The spear wound and the lacerations still throbbed, but now every nerve ending was alive with pain.

 

The three men were soldiers of Tsolyánu, though, and surged forward, flames or no. After some moments, more opponents materialized, Yan Koryáni Kuruthúni from the Gurék of the Turquoise Eye. They took up their weapons and moved in to attack, their eyes shining like amethysts from beneath the visors of their helmets.

 

"Our situation has not improved!" cried Kási Khirgár. By now the three Tsolyáni stood against more than six hundred warriors of the One Other. They put aside the pain as they fought the freshly arrived Yan Koryáni that were not ablaze, at least not until they fought in close quarters and were themselves set alight. They fought the Shunned Ones and their magic, possessed Pé Chói with their spears, swords, and crossbows. It seemed for every two they struck down, four more were rising up again to confront them.

 

None passed them. They held the portal, as Súbadim had commanded.

 

Then, the vortex itself joined the fight. Tendrils of energy, like the tentacles of Akhó, the Embracer of Ships, emerged from the spinning walls. They sought out only Hanúmal. He swung his blade to sever them, but could not.

 

"It's trying to take Tirrikámu Hanúmal!" Heréksa Tsutel yelled, rushing to help. He seized the tendrils in his hands, and the flames already engulfing him flared brighter. He screamed as he pulled his subordinate free. Hanúmal fell to the spinning floor as more tendrils sought him. Tsutel shook him.

 

"Tirrikámu! Are you all right!"

 

When Hanúmal opened his eyes, it gave Tsutel the only answer he required. They burned with purple light.

 

"Kási!" Tsutel called out.

 

Kási Khirgár, keeping the attack at bay with a spear he'd taken from one of the temporarily fallen Pé Chói, moved closer to his comrades. "What is it, Heréksa?"

 

"We're losing him!"

 

Kási Khirgár knelt, handing his spear to Tsutel. “Hanúmal, hear me. We need you, Tirrikámu. We need you to fight the One Other before he takes you fully. We need you to fight. For Karakán, for Tsolyánu, for the life of Prince Eselné and the glory of the Emperor Hirkáne, the Stone upon Which the Universe Rests. For Tékumel.”

 

Hanúmal's face contorted into a rictus of pain. He squeezed his eyes shut, pushing back on the thing wriggling into his mind. When he opened them, to Khirgár's relief, the purple light was fading, replaced by the brown eyes of his trusted Tirrikámu. Hanúmal exhaled, started to rise. Kási Khirgár took his arm to help.

 

"Ssa, all of that, and for the Tsurúm of Kási Khirgár hi’Amiyála," Hanúmal said, wearily as he staggered to his feet.

 

"Kási, a word?" Heréksa Tsutel asked as the two rejoined him.

 

"Speak, Heréksa. What are your thoughts?"

 

"Kási, what Súbadim said..."

 

"Make sure that he does nothing stupid?"

 

"Ya, Kási, earlier. When he said that Hanúmal had severed himself from the skein of his own destiny. I've only realized that since this afternoon, when Hanúmal returned to the Tsurúm, I have not noticed him in my visions of what is to come. I see myself, and you, Kási. I see Súbadim and Torasu. I see the One Other. But I do not see Hanúmal in this place."

 

Kási Khirgár was thoughtful for a long moment, before finally nodding. He looked to Heréksa Tsutel, who nodded consent in silence. Finally he turned to Tirrikámu Hanúmal. “You’re leaving, Tirrikámu. I think that you are not bound to this place as we are. If you stay you will be the merest puppet, an emissary of the One Other. It will know the things that you know. Go back, and tell them what we learned here, that we may be prepared for the next intrusion of the Pariah Deities.”

 

“I serve you, Kási. You need me here. There are too many of them for the two of you to hold back!”

 

“Before we came here, Heréksa Tsutel said that you were always looking for a way to win. You must go back, and perhaps you can find some way to save us.”

 

“Ya, Kási! Chegukh… I am no sorcerer, no priest. I can barely read, how could I possibly learn enough to find you? To listen to Súbadim, I seem to be the greatest imbecile that he has ever encountered!”

 

“Nevertheless, Tirrikámu, I am ordering you to leave this place.”

 

“Kási! Ya, Kási! I have never once refused an order from you, but I beg you, do not make me!”

 

“You know that discipline is key to a successful Tsurúm. I apologize that this is necessary.”

 

With blinding speed, Kási Khirgár hi’Amiyála’s hand flashed out, the ornate dagger he used along with his sword striking Hanúmal at the precise location that the spear point had emerged from his chest. Hanúmal's legs wobbled as he fought the renewal of pain in his heart.

 

Hanúmal gasped as he grabbed the blade. “Kási…”

 

Kási Khirgár lifted his armored boot. “Tirrikámu Hanúmal hi'Kharsáma, you have served me well. Carry out your orders.”

 

He kicked out, with the strength of limb that the Heavy Infantry was known for, and Hanúmal was propelled over the edge of the whirling maw. He caught the leg of a fallen Yan Koryáni Kuruthúni, perhaps still mustering the courage to rise against Kási Khirgár again. The leg twitched as Hanúmal began to climb back up. Below him, the solid ground of Tékumel waited, perhaps the height of a city rooftop below.

 

Looking back up at the vortex, Hanúmal climbed, ignoring the weight of his armor, the wound in his chest, the flames on his skin, the horror of the One Other. As he reached for the belt of the Yan Koryáni, burning hands seized his. He looked up into the flame-shrouded face of Heréksa Tsutel hi’Chiáng.

 

Tsutel began to pry his fingers loose. “You heard the Kási, Tirrikámu Hanúmal. Live well.”

 

“Wait, Heréksa!” Hanúmal cried out. Tsutel looked down, dispassionately. “When I last confronted the One Other, I told it that I would not be content to fight within it for all eternity, for there was inside it no glory. But I was wrong.”

 

Tsutel’s eyes narrowed.

 

Hanúmal continued. “I have found the glory within it. It is you, tùsmitlakomélu. It is the two of you. The greatest glory that I will likely ever know.”

 

Heréksa Tsutel looked down, features masked by the violet white flames and unreadable. Hanúmal waited for Tsutel to speak.

 

No reply came, save a single tear that fell upon Hanúmal’s left hand and turned to steam, the instant before Heréksa Tsutel hi’Chiáng pried his fingers loose from the Yan Koryáni Kuruthúni’s belt, and he fell back into the world alone.

Edited by Lee Torres

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Barrel of Swords saw the burning human fall from the glowing vortex and plummet to the hard soil. The Ahoggyá and the Pé Chói Ttk-chtk-dsá fought off the nearest Mihálli and crossed to the form. Barrel of Swords kicked the body to roll it, and in a short time the lurid purple flames had been extinguished, the Ahoggyá wondering at the cool air around the human, like no flame it had ever encountered. Ttk-chtk-dsá marveled at the grass below where the human had fallen, whitened and dead.

 

Tékumel is a warm world, and neither fighter, nor the plant life, had much experience with frost.

 

Ttk-chtk-dsá touched the still form of the human. "It lives."

 

Barrel of Swords looked at the figure. "It's the Tirrikámu. Come to me, Pé Chói, and together we will defend it until its betters return..."

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He had been a warlord, with great power and respect, in the days before Baron Áld united the peoples of Yán Kór.

 

General Srmukf looked out over the eastern wall of Agésha, at the purple cone of energy rising above the hillside. A Hláka mercenary had carried back word that something had gone wrong with the weapon, or ritual, or whatever it was those vile sorcerers had convinced Baron Áld would aid the defense of this border city.

 

He looked out at the camp of his own army, the Gurék of the Valiant of Ke’ér, spread out below the southern wall. They had been held largely in reserve, so that this surprise might deliver the lifeless corpse of the Tsolyáni Prince Eselné as a clear warning to the Empire of the Petal Throne. If it had worked.

 

And it apparently had not.

 

Now, as the senior-most General in the defense of Agésha, it would fall to him to carry the news to Baron Áld of the failure. He wondered what fate would befall him when the Baron received the news.

 

Placing his hands atop the wall, he glowered into the eerie purple-tinged night.

Edited by Lee Torres

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The Mihálli fell, groping with one arm at the place where its head had been, until recently. Barrel of Swords turned to face the next one, a Mihálli armed with a spear. Its rage was now unmatched, since it had seen its friend Loudest Belly, along with the Kuruthúni it had been fighting alongside, skewered and hacked apart by the shape-shifters.

 

From below him, the human Tirrikámu spoke, but not, it seemed, in his own voice. A voice that seemed like that of an older human came through its lips. Its two eyes remained closed.

 

"I am Torasu, one of the Undying Wizards. I have no time to explain. I speak now through this child as a kindness. Any of you still upon this hilltop beyond the next thirteen yóm will die."

 

Barrel of Swords paused and looked down on the unconscious Tirrikámu. "You are one of the Undying Wizards? How do we know that you speak truth?"

 

The Tirrikámu's mouth formed words again, although his features remained slack. "Be here in thirteen yóm and you will find out, Knobbed One."

 

Barrel of Swords felt a tingle of exhilaration signalling the raw edge of panic. He bellowed in Tsolyáni. "Semétl of Kási Khirgár hi’Amiyála! Get off the hill! Get off the hill!"

 

Ttk-chtk-dsá looked down at the human. The Ahoggyá spoke. "I will carry this one back. It will, I am thinkful, need a Healer."

 

Moving fast, and only defending themselves from the Mihálli attacks in passing, the survivors of the hand-picked semétl fled the hilltop.

 

 

Yóm = 90 seconds

Edited by Lee Torres

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General Srmukf still brooded, watching the tiny figures on the distant hilltop. They scattered abruptly, until other than a handful of them milling around in victory, the fighting on the hill was over.

 

Perhaps things are improving... he thought. The General turned to the subordinates clustered around him. "Our fortunes appear to have changed. Prepare the Gurék of the Valiant of Ke’ér for battle at first light. We will capture the mighty Prince Eselné, impale him and his Generals, and send them to his father in Avanthár to show them all the cost of challenging Yán Kór within our own borders!"

 

The purple vortex flared, distracting him and dominating the attention of the group, until it was brighter than Túleng in the middle of a summer day. A globe of violet flickering light replaced it, expanding from the hilltop.

 

No... consuming the hilltop!

 

The General watched in horror as countless epü of rock were thrown into the sky, and a sphere of rippling air spread out beyond the waning light, expanding with incredible speed.

 

He was turning to yell a warning to his officers when the shockwave struck Agésha with a roar like ten thousand thunderclaps, and the eastern wall cracked and began to fall. He faintly heard the screams of his men in the camp below, as chunks of stone fell from the walls on top of them. He wondered at the odd heat he felt, all through his body. He raised his hands and watched in mute wonder as his skin blackened, releasing wisps of smoke, then as pieces of the skin and muscle of his arm began to fall away from the bone. He opened his mouth to cry out, but only steam and smoke from his burning lungs emerged.

 

Baron Áld would have been preferable, he thought. After that, he thought no more.

 

 

 

Epü = 1,500 kilograms

Edited by Lee Torres

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Barrel of Swords looked up at the wall of fire that swept over the ravine. When the vortex had flashed, the Pé Chói Ttk-chtk-dsá immediately sought a hole in the ground, a low area. They found a ravine, with a small river at the bottom.

 

The land shook, the sky roared with sound, and dirt and rock rained down all around them. They sheltered beneath their shields, knowing full well that a large enough rock would crush shield and shield-bearer alike.

 

The Ahoggyá looked up from the water at the comically bobbing head of the Pé Chói. Barrel of Swords knew that she stood on the river bottom, because Pé Chói cannot swim. The two surviving human Kuruthúni looked up in shock.

 

Barrel of Swords rumbled "Chegukh, Pé Chói. We owe you our lives."

 

The Pé Chói opened her mouth slightly and moved her ear flaps in a 'smile.'

 

"Kási Khirgár!" one of the human Kuruthúni said. "Do you think he-"

 

The Pé Chói simply lowered her head. The human fell silent, and no further words were spoken on the matter.

 

Hauling the unconscious Tirrikámu up the riverbank, they waited in the ravine for a few kirén before they continued south. As they emerged from the ravine, the Ahoggyá noted that the jungle they had gone through to approach the hill was no more. Only burning vegetation littering the ground, some of it smoldering with now familiar purple embers.

Edited by Lee Torres

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