Saturday, May 2, 2020

Urban Adventuring - The Tale of Ujin Tohl part 5

Accompanied by his new allies, Ujin Tohl headed to the city in search of his target.

Ujin and the party from the saan camp started out in the early morning, the sun had just peaked the horizon and was burning off the caul of early morning dew from the marsh around them. Ujin had his hood up as he could already feel the warm fingers of sun on his face. It was going to be hot, and here in the swamp it would be hotter still.

Ujin steered through the lumris blooms, bright yellow with purple mesh inside, they made the wind whistle when it passed through the mesh, and touching the blooms would cause a wicked rash. He also went around the pondul plants, their berries were tart and refreshing, but they had 2 inch serrated nettles so they were dangerous to step upon.

The group consisted of Bato, Higg, Minu and Kles, four large saan that formed part of Jal Bhains’ personal guard, Quass, the budding holy man, and Jimnir the Garnet, Jal Bhains’ warlock. The four large saan rode giant boars, normally they rode water buffaloes, but that was agreed to be unnecessarily obvious. Quass rode a giant frog, and Jimnir rode a giant lizard, it was ruddy dark red with a stripe of yellow down its back and tail. Jimnir called it “Grum” and fed it frequently.

Ujin rode his giant spider, grateful for its effortless ability to cross pretty much any terrain, its ability to float on water, and that cluster of eyes at the front that didn’t seem to miss a thing.
The two men in loincloths with body tattoos followed the group from a distance, they would reappear periodically and run with the group for a time, then disappear into the swamp again. Ujin was convinced they were charmed into Jimnir’s service. They disappeared last night for a long time then reappeared this morning, without explanation; Ujin did not trust them

Jimnir looked forward as they rode, his staff was laid out behind him, easily grasped, and he had a pair of potions strapped to his belt and a pair of scrolls on his saddle. As they rode beneath the clear blue sky, Jimnir asked a question.

“So, phantasmist, what spell do you not have that you would very much like to have?”

Ujin was not used to such questions, asking another warlock about their spells, it was not generally done. He was becoming accustomed, however, to the brusqueness of the locals, and he was admittedly enjoying the freedom to speak as he wanted.

“There is a spell I have heard of that creates spectral armor, it has no weight, but it works like real armor. The heat here, it’s overwhelming, I would very, very much like that spell right now.”
Jimnir laughed, “I’ve grown accustomed to the weather here, but I can see why you might not be.”
The men rode in silence for a while. The Saan hissed and whistled a tune as they rode, it was strangely relaxing, and it was supposed to keep the insects away. Ujin had noted that it appeared to be working, he was vexed that he couldn’t master the pitch changes.

Ujin blurted out, “Jal Bhains referred to you as “formerly” of House Horn, how did that happen?”

Ujin realized how impolitic the question was as soon as he asked it, but he could not retract it now.

Jimnir looked forward and held up his fist in the air. The procession stopped. He took out a spyglass and looked ahead for a moment. He then motioned for everyone to continue forward.

“Tell you what ajarak, you answer a question, I’ll answer a question.”

Ujin responded, “What is your question?”

“Explain to me phantasmist, how illusions work.”

Ujin replied, “That’s a big question, can we narrow it a bit?”

“What makes an illusion hard to cast?” was Jimnir’s immediate response.

“Well, take weapons for example, blunt weapons are hard to duplicate, when you are struck by a club you feel the impact, the hit, but illusions aren’t tangible. So to duplicate that I reach into my mind and memories for a time when I was hit, and that feeds the illusion. And I reach into your mind and memories for times when you were struck or hit something hard. That helps too.”
Jimnir nodded, “So it is advantageous for you to experience these things directly before you create illusions of them?”

Ujin nodded, “Yes, essentially, the more personal experience, the more impact for the illusion. Being hit by a sword is better than seeing a sword hit someone, seeing a sword hit someone is better than just seeing a picture of a sword hitting someone, that sort of thing.”

Jimnir chuckled, “I can try to kill you, that would no doubt give you much fodder for your illusions.”

Ujin had considered whether he should share knowledge with Jimnir, perhaps one day they would be at odds. However, Ujin had a large number of spells that were not illusions, and if the warlock thought otherwise…

Ujin demurred from the request with a raised eyebrow and continued, “Sharp weapons are better, when you are cut you feel the burning sensation more than the impact, so they are easier to duplicate.”

Jimnir seemed animated by the knowledge, “I see, these spells of yours are reliant on your experiences, and your target’s experiences, my magic only requires the knowledge of the spell.”
Ujin smiled, “Well, there are many differences between us.”

Jimnir snorted, “Our magic is different, yes.”

Ujin replied, “No, I don’t just mean that. There are… differences between the warlocks here and the, actually, there’s a great example. Back home people like you are called “wizards”, or if you have a bad reputation, perhaps a “sorcerer” but here you are “warlocks.” The very name has martial implications, it projects power, strength, confidence.”

Jimnir shrugged, “It’s a name, that’s all.”

“No”, Ujin pressed the point, “warlocks here, they move in public, they don’t hole up in towers and in King’s chambers, they openly challenge all who encounter them, the whole disposition is different.”

Ujin pointed to Jimnir, “Look at your body, you have face tattoos and dress in head to toe engraved leather, look at me, I have a hood for my face.”

Jimnir tilted his head to the side, “Well, I suppose there might be something to that.”

Ujin nodded, “There is, I am becoming convinced that Bhavisyavani warlocks are as invested in what others think of them as they are in their arts. The beliefs of others about you, it feeds your power, as your reputation grows, so does your power.”

Jimnir contemplated the idea, “Reputation brings alliances, that gives you more power.”

Ujin had in mind something more radical, “No, not even that, though I agree, but I am thinking of your power, your actual spell casting power, that might be impacted by your mana, by your reputation.”

Jimnir now looked sceptical, his face screwed up and his lip pulled in.

“It has some merit, but I have no knowledge of this sort of thing.”

“Me either, to be honest, but take an example, I was on the street days ago and saw a Lord come by with their party, a small boy looked in reverence at the Lord, and I asked why. He told me that the Lord had decapitated two men ‘within 5 heartbeats’ of each other.”

“Smart boy”, Jimnir replied, " he was referring to Zalea of House Omander, she is a master of the schiavona, I saw her decapitate those men, two minor Lords from House Omravos who thought she would be an easy mark because of her age. Fools."

“Yes, the boy was smart, and reverent, he was not afraid. Back home children are afraid of wizards.”

“I know a few children that are afraid of warlocks.”

Ujin shook his head, “Yes, sure, but they put aside that fear as they either want to emulate you or to follow you. Death is distant for children, for adults, death stands behind them, waiting. Warlocks here command respect, and walk through the city unmolested. It is an altogether different way of being.”

Jimnir smiled widely, “I’m glad we provide you with fodder for thought, from the sounds of it your “wizards” are a reclusive bunch, you don’t know the experience of being with a House, and with other warlocks working for your house.”

“No, not like that, it is something I now wonder about.”

Jimnir put up his hand in a fist and everyone stopped.

A second later, out of the brushes about fifty feet ahead, a small black dragon scurried out. It looked young, and no doubt orphaned by city hunters so it was likely hungry and dangerous.

Jimnir then turned his fist upside down in front of his chest and pulled it upwards. Bato and Higg took out battleaxes, Minu and Kles took out javelins.

Jimnir waved forward and Quass dismounted and ran up the tail of Jimnir’s mount to crouch beside him. Jimnir whispered something into his ear, the saan nodded, and both men dismounted to the ground.

The two charmed men moved in to stand on either side of Grum

Ujin halted his mount.

Jimnir touched his thumbs together and whispered "Ujjait a tűz!", jets of searing flame shot out of his fingers, scorching the grass and bushes in front of him, sending a wave of heat towards the dragon, as well as a cloud of black smoke. The air above the burning greenery was distorted by the heat, making the dragon’s form waver and smudge.

Quass had taken out a small cone shaped shell and placed it in his fist, he then whispered into the cone. Then the shaman screamed as loudly as he could, but the sound was sucked into the spell and the magic spit it out just to the left of the dragon. The beast turned immediately and spit acid in the direction of the sound, then shot out its wings to intimidate the supposed target.

Jimnir smiled, touched his ear and pointed at the dragon, he spoke the words, “Szavam törvény” twice over and closed his eyes… and the dragon wavered, almost stumbled over, shook its head, then walked over to Jimnir. The dragon extended its head and Jimnir tousled it with his hand, almost casually, and the beast pushed against it.

A dragon, just like that, Ujin was amazed.

“This ought to distract the guards, less likely to notice me, eh?”

Ujin could not dispute the logic, but he did add, “Well, you could add more feathers.”

The last comment provoked a peal of hissing laughter from the saan, all but Quass, who chuckled quietly. Ujin had never heard these saan speaking common, he didn’t even know if they could understand it.

Now he knew.

“There is little chance House Horn men will be on gate duty, though it does rotate through the Houses, still, I’ll take my chances.”

Jimnir walked back to Grum and took out a leg of venison from his food bag, it was freshly killed this morning before they left, and he had planned on feeding it to Grum later, but for now he tossed it to the dragon, who tore it to pieces in moments.

"He is hungry, likely been laying low for days, otherwise he would have hunted by now."
Ujin realized that Jimnir must know his dragons, the phantasmist couldn't even tell it was a male.

Jimnir mounted his giant lizard again, the two men in loincloths disappeared silently into the weeds and Ujin wondered silently what sort of men ran through the swamp without clothing, or shoes…

Jimnir looked at the dragon, coiled up on the ground in front of him, and said, “Moluar uklo kanakor”. The dragon uncoiled, ran and took off into the air, circling overhead of Jimnir's position.

He also spoke black dragon, Ujin smiled.

The party began to move again. Jimnir waved back the saan so they gave Ujin and him some space. He then turned to Ujin, and for the first time that day looked at him directly in the eyes.
“I left House Horn as I killed Illyig the Corpulent’s chief alchemist and stole several items from him, including scrolls of powerful custom spells, a magical staff, a number of potions, and many of his books.”

Ujin was unfazed by the knowledge, wizards have been killing each other for power for years.
He spoke, “I understand why you want power, but the risk, if I were targeted by a Bhavisyavani House I would be on the first boat to parts unknown.”

Jimnir responded immediately, “This is my home now, Jal Bhains has given me a place and power, and I accept it by serving his cause. And I hate the cold, so I want to stay here.”
Ujin nodded.

Jimnir leaned over toward Ujin and spoke in a lower voice, “I am not a murderer, Ujin Tohl the Viridescent, the alchemist had been brewing potions that charmed the marsh dragons, and selling them to people outside of the House. I personally saw a half dozen of my friends die from fighting these ensorcelled marsh dragons, whipped into a frenzy with magic, and I realized that he had been supplying the enemies of my House for months, making himself fantastic amounts of gold. I also realized that he was too close to Illyig, so he would not be challenged by me, he would simply whisper in his ear and my complaints would be nothing, I would likely have been slain for my troubles.”

Ujin realized that there were layers upon layers upon layers to these warlocks, he was only now peeling them off.

“I understand”, Ujin added.

“I regret nothing”, Jimnir replied.

Once they began moving again they made good time, with few deviations from the path they quickly caught sight of the city. Jimnir called a stop and they went about tying everyone’s mounts together in a train, and tying everyone’s hands off in a chain of ropes as well. Jimnir and Ujin were now a pair of hunters that were bringing in the five saan.

Bato had shown Ujin a knot that looked tied from the outside, but if pulled out sharply would fall apart. Ujin had practiced the knot for an hour last night and tied everyone quickly. Each one of the saan had a concealable weapon tucked in the front of their saddle in front of their bound hands, unseen.

Ujin was going to offer to use illusory magic to conceal Jimnir’s face, but decided against it, he had a feeling it would seem like he was insulting the warlock, implying he had to hide. Much to his surprise Jimnir took out a paste pot and smeared a paint on his face, hiding the tatoo, and making his skin look burned dark red, then he placed a leather face mask that covered the right side of his face, if he was asked to pull it off you would see what appeared to be a badly burnt face. He then pulled up a hood, casting his face in shadow, a convention in this infernal place.
Ujin secured the ensorcelled letter, and then stopped.

He began to chant the words, “Nejsem to, co vidíte” and placed his hand on the top of his head and slid it down over his face, down his body to his feet. As his hand moved down his appearance changed along the way. He now appeared as a mercenary, he had dull white scale armor with a crimson dragon on the front, a dagger was prominently on his belt, his sword stuck out of his pack, and he had a number of apparently fresh scars on his face, his armor was split and torn in places, and he was filthy with what appeared to be blood. He wore no house crests or identifying marks.

The saan were all tied together. Ujin was at the front of the party on his giant spider, Jimnir sat at the rear of the group on his giant lizard, the black dragon walked to the right of the lizard, and the two men in loincloths walked to either side of the lizard’s head, holding the bridle.

They walked this way towards the city, and in a short time were at the gates. Two elephant headed gods looked down on them from a hundred feet in the air, as Ujin approached, a train of exiles and heretics behind him… The party approached the city gates, Ujin, concealed by illusion to look like a mercenary, approached first.

The guards on duty were from House Himmenghost, their crests had a white pegasus on a red background and they wore chainmail, carried broadswords and axes, and had crossbows on their backs, revealed by their cloaks pinned back to give them access, the crossbows visibly loaded. The guards all held themselves straight, and executed motions precisely. Ujin had known a few drill sergeants in his time, Himmenghost was clearly a tightly run ship. The gate sergeant approached Ujin and saw the ropes binding the 5 saan and their mounts into a caravan. She casually passed close enough to look at the arm of one of the saan and saw the water buffalo tattoo that marked them as followers of Jal Bhains.

Ujin realized immediately that it was likely that this soldier had lost friends to Jal Bhains’ forces, he had been waging a war against the city for several years now. He had to be careful how he handled this.

The sergeant came up beside Ujin and spoke, “You have five members of the Horde of Yama here, the city does not take prisoners in the conflict with Jal Bhains, yet you have brought them. I could arrest you right here.”

Ujin nodded and replied, “My colleague and I were out hunting in the swamp when we came across these five and ten others, they attacked us and we were fortunate enough to take them out quickly. We were planning to kill them all but one of them let slip they were envoys heading south to recruit from unallied tribes. I thought this was enough of a reason to bring them in.”
The sergeant was flat faced, “You have a generous nature.”

Ujin replied immediately, “There may be compensation involved, important members of Jal Bhains’ horde are valuable, many Houses would pay to have them.”

The sergeant grunted and walked down the line, she came to Jimnir and his dragon and looked him over from top to bottom, noting his face. Oddly enough the dragon seemed less interesting to her than the face.

“You are from a House?”

Jimnir shook his head and pulled back the face mask.

The sergeant whipped around and looked at Ujin, trying to catch him out in an inconsistency with a fast question, “What were you hunting?”

Ujin replied without hesitation, they had worked out their story for an hour the night before.
“Black dragons, we found a small one, but we were hunting for something bigger, there is a great demand for dragonhide for armor these days, as you know.”

The sergeant looked at Jimnir, “How do I know that thing will stay at your heel? Why is it not bound and caged?”

Jimnir arched an eyebrow, Ujin was worried he was about to go off on the guard, but instead he talked to the dragon, “daeagon kiri ngor pabalir kanakor”, then he threw a small bag filled with plants he had collected while travelling (these were to be sold to a spice merchant in the city). The dragon hopped over his giant lizard and grabbed the bag, returning it to Jimnir’s hand, like nothing else more than a puppy. The dragon then returned to its spot on the ground, just past the sergeant, in the reeds and mud.

Jimnir then tapped his temple.

The guard shook her head, “Right, if the ensorcellment breaks in the city you will be responsible for anything it does, understood? Property, House status, all can be removed.”

Jimnir suddenly looked quite concerned, his eyes darted everywhere, and he shifted in his seat. Ujin had never seen him so nervous, so suddenly. He knew immediately something was going on.

Jimnir spoke, “May I cast an additional ensorcellment on the beast now, just to be sure?”
The sergeant looked Jimnir over and snickered, “Bind the thing, cage it and be done with it.”
Jimnir shook his head, “Binding is not enough, the slightest slip and he can breathe his acid, ensorcellment is the only guarantee.”

Ujin smiled as he realized Jimnir’s craft, he had acted scared and nervous, something inimical to the Bhavisyavanian warlock, this led the sergeant to think Jimnir a coward, and thus disregard his potential threat out of sheer disgust. The rank and file soldiers in the city often resented the warlocks anyway, their power, fame and reputation, particularly given the importance of martial skill to Bhavisyavanians. Acting afraid was the perfect gambit.

And it worked.

“Fine, but do it now.”

Jimnir smiled and took out a copper coin, palmed it to his forehead. The sergeant turned her head and shouted at Ujin, as she did so he pointed at her and whispered the words “Egy érme a gondolatok”

“I want all weapons other than knives or staves stowed in bags or they are confiscated. You are being headstriped too, unless you wish to claim House affiliation?”

The sergeant walked up to Ujin, and saw him shaking his head.

“Upon closer inspection I can see your fading stripe, you go as is.”

She then went back to the table, spoke with several of the men, and one left the group heading into the city. She returned to Ujin.

“You may enter, you must pay the head tax for all of your prisoners, and I expect you to dispose of them as soon as possible. Find your buyer, then have them turned over.”

She turned to one of the guards, “take two men and check the bags for any live creatures, and ensure their weapons are properly stowed.”

The party spent the next twenty minutes being searched and paying the head tax. The guards had a hard time with Jimnir’s two charmed servants, they didn’t have anything on them other than loincloths (their swords packed away), and they did not speak a word. When they did make noise, it was mostly a low chuckling or snorting.

When they had been processed and were through the gate Ujin rode back to Jimnir.
Jimnir smiled and spoke, “The guard sent another guard to House Horn, they will soon know that someone with my description brought a black dragon and captives from Jal Bhains into the city. They will be looking for me. I couldn’t stop it, but at least we know”

Ujin wished he had a spell like Jimnir’s, it was immensely handy.

The saan waited until they were lost in the crowd and covered their tattoos while removing the ropes binding them. Ujin ended his change self spell when out of immediate view. They now looked like a mercenary company or a group of hunters more than anything else. Everyone left their swords stored away as the city regulations indicated, and Jimnir had a short conversation with the saan while Ujin watched for City guards or patrols, in particular Ujin looked for House Horn guards, as Jimnir would be recognized by many of them on sight.

Jimnir spoke to his dragon, “mosmud girkh san langor” and it flew into the air and circled at a high distance, staying over them.

The saan rode off through the city, leaving the two warlocks behind.

Ujin spoke to Jimnir as soon as he returned to his side.

"Where are they going?"

"It's better for us to split, House Horn guards will be looking for me, or more specifically for me, you and five saan. We will meet back here tomorrow."

Ujin was a bit put off that Jimnir hadn't discussed this with him, but he accepted his decision as the warlock moved eastward through the city on his giant lizard.

Ujin followed, "May I ask where we are going?"

Jimnir set them on an easy pace, moving along beside a canal that was filled with moderate traffic, boats and barges, often with colorful canopies to block the beams of brilliant burning sun that bathed the late morning. Ujin's giant spider no longer seemed to bother Jimnir's lizard, for the first hour or two the lizard had given the spider a lot of space, now they rode in tandem alongside each other as the men spoke. Ujin forgot how it was possible to have a conversation while moving through a crowded space and be mostly alone.

Jimnir spoke, "For the last year I have been accompanied in my duties with Jal Bhains by a warlock, a phantasmist actually, named Rizzal Tarwin. Jal Bhains saw the wisdom in having a phantasmist that can conceal his men using magic, for ambush or escape. Tarwin hates the swamp, and whenever we are not campaigning he stays in the city, Bhains tolerates this as he usually brings back information as well, Tarwin is an adept spy with his illusions."

Ujin couldn't resist, "How do we know he isn't watching us right now?"

Jimnir responded emotionlessly, in a flat voice, "Tarwin has contacts at my former House, he will hear of my arrival in a few days at the most, so we are still anonymous."

"Am I to take it that you have a problem with Tarwin?"

Jimnir smiled, "The other way around, he has been trying to kill me for months now. He convinced himself that there can only be one warlock serving Jal Bhains, and he has enlisted some of Bhains' troops to help. It’s not hard to find saan in the horde who don’t like me, we’ve taken losses, and when that happens I’m often blamed. So I have to watch him and the lizards loyal to him. I haven't been without charmed servants with me at most if not all times for months now."

Ujin looked around and Jimnir's two charmed men were still walking with the warlock, several feet behind his giant lizard.

Ujin nodded.

"We are on the verge of our next campaign, I will be in the field with lizards loyal to Tarwin, and with him, relying on his spells to hide me? I think not. I don't intend to die by having my throat slit in the night, or my back stabbed while I’m casting a spell, it is time this was resolved."

Ujin wasn't sure about this, he wanted to get on with his task, and Jimnir's suggestion put them both at risk.
"Should we not finish our planned task first?" Ujin was hoping to appeal to the warlock's sense of duty.
Jimnir shook his head, "By then he may know of my arrival, and I never come to the city anymore, so he won’t be expecting me. I’m convinced that’s why he has stayed in the city so much, he knows I won’t be nearby. Now is the time. I will aid you directly in your task Ujin, help me with mine first."

Ujin saw several ways forward, but given his circumstances he decided that Jimnir's aid would be important enough to justify the diversion.

Ujin responded, "Agreed, how do you want to proceed?"

Jimnir pulled on the reins to move his giant lizard past a cluster of street entertainers; there were four men standing in a circle with their hands behind their backs, each in turn balanced a small blue ball on his nose, head or neck, rolled it around then threw it off to the next person who did the same. Each time a small monkey like animal, orange in color with red flaring around its neck, jumped, swung and scampered over the performer, just behind the ball each time. 

Lunging for it and just missing, and just barely catching the hand of one of the performers to scramble back up its arm and chase the ball again.

A decent sized group of children were running around screaming at the performers.

A barge on the canal, carrying giant lizards and frogs, hissed and croaked its way by.

A pair of anhkhegs slowly marched past, bright green on the bottom and dark glistening black on the top, they had blood red eyes and mandibles of black bone. Each one had a rider, the first was ridden by an older woman, dressed in white robes with a staff of wood at her side, her right arm was wreathed with a thorny branch that wound its way down to her wrist. Her hair was long and black. The other was ridden by what appeared to be a much younger man, he was bare chested and wore white pants of some gauzy fabric, and carried an iron scimitar at his side. His head was bald, crested with a tattoo of a rising sun in blazing orange, yellow and red.

The man had a large, dark green bird with a blood red beak and black eyes on his shoulder.
On the back of each anhkheg behind each rider was a line of baskets, capped at the top, and each one emitted a whisp of the smell of mistletoe.

Jimnir passed to the side of the anhkheg’s, giving them a wide berth, and continued along the canal, "The anhkheg’s don’t like the lizards, you have to give them space.” He paused to go around an old man pulling a small cart full of quartz crystals, “Tarwin has a place in the city, where his mistress lives, she is a House Borasjin vox, quite beautiful and talented, luminous yellow eyes, coppery skin, luxurious black hair, named Okelu Nissa."

"What is a vox?", Ujin asked.

Jimnir nodded his head as if remembering something.

"When the city goes to war the troops are preceded by an iron cage filled with voxes and musicians, they sing our soldiers into battle and their music is heard by the gods, whose magic brings us victory. Okeluis a vox, a singer, she sings for her House and for the city."

Jimnir took a sip of water from his wineskin and continued.

"His other haunt is located in the shantytowns, a shrine to the goddess Kali if you can believe that, I have no idea what he does there. If Jal Bhains knew this I'm sure he would be displeased. I would most like to find him at the shrine, I will admit to a degree of curiosity as to what could draw him there."

Ujin had heard about the shantytowns outside the city walls but had not visited them yet, at the very least he would learn more about that part of the city today.

He suggested, "Perhaps he has fallen out of faith with Yama?"

"Perhaps, or perhaps he has found a new way to gain power, he is an opportunist if anything, if he showed up at my Temple I would suspect him of casing the place."

Ujin nodded.

They continued towards the easternmost city gate, passing through the armament Ward, and just south of the arena. The crowds changed there as well, more mercenaries and soldiers, sailors and merchants, the Ward had the cheapest accommodation and the highest temporary population in the city of prophecy. Ujin realized that his head stripe should be faded by tomorrow or the next day, perhaps he could pass as a local…

The two warlocks moved slowly through the city, Ujin noticed Jimnir become more cautious when patrols passed by, but for the most part he seemed relaxed and confident. He obviously knew his way around, and was likely picking a path that avoided as many of his old associates as possible.

Ujin pointed to one of the Garudin towers, visible past the city walls in the east, "What are the three towers near the shantytowns doing there?"

Jimnir responded, "The Garudin built the towers when they first arrived at the city, they live there, and the dead are left atop the spires to be picked to their bones by the birds."

Ujin looked at the birds circling the Garudin towers, there were many of them there, somehow he hadn't noticed them before. Now he noticed that there were many of them around each of the towers.

Feeding time.

A small, deep blue bird with a ring of bright yellow around its neck looked at Ujin from a nearby window sill. It screeched at Ujin.

He whispered a small prayer to Yama, “Yama maankaen, mujal damak”

The journey through the city led them to the east gate, there was a flow of people leaving, mainly hunting parties and the occasional lizard man heading back to the swamp.

All entrants came through the main gates in the north, only those leaving the city used the other exits.

Ujin and Jimnir left and walked on to a barge that took mounted travelers and ferried them across the river to the marshes beyond. They paid in a pair of silver pieces for the two of them, a safe and fast trip.

Upon reaching the other side they found several well-worn paths leading through the marsh, one went north, the other south, and the third continued east. They took the eastbound path and were met with travellers heading in the other direction, back from the shantytowns to the city, and travelled alongside a few others heading the same direction.

After several switchbacks that followed a small river branch they saw the shantytowns in the distance, clustered around the Garudin towers but sprawling out from there in all directions. As Ujin and Jimnir approached Ujin noted that the towers had the river passing by, and all around a marsh, so almost all of the buildings were built on stilts, and there were walkways, both hanging and fixed, criss crossing everywhere, there was no pattern discernable to any of it. Some of the buildings were tall, some short, some were made out of wood, other appeared to be made out of overlapping tarps on wooden frames, and still others looked like proper tents.

Ujin was struck by how colorful and patchwork the place appeared to be, even from a distance everything looked like it had been repaired at some recent point, but everything was also so mismatched that nothing appeared cohesive or complete.

Still, it was buzzing with life, boats dotted the swirling river that curled by the towers, dozens of them, all of them with fishing rods and baskets, some with divers jumping off the side with spears as well. Coils of smoke curled up from the majority of places, and there were people moving around between all of the different clusters of buildings, the shantytown pulsed and seethed with life. Many buildings lacked ceilings as well, though they had walls.

And then there were the Garudin, they were everywhere. The sky was dotted with them, many swooping into the towers, many launching themselves into the air from the towers. The sides of the towers were dotted in haphazard fashion by caves, each cave a nest for a group of Garudin. The towers were around a thousand feet tall each, and each had hundreds of caves.

The Garudin also pinwheeled in the sky around the shantytowns, landing and walking on the various platforms, or buzzing the boats.

Jimnir had removed his facemask and paint and was riding with his face tattoo fully exposed, Ujin saw his two charmed servants return to his side. Ujin hadn’t seen them for about half an hour, and he could swear he saw some blood on both of the men, but he didn’t even ask.

“I’m starved, our mounts need to eat as well, we should get food.” Ujin was ready to eat, he found the heat draining and he wanted refreshment, “We should have eaten in the city.”

Jimnir snorted and walked his giant lizard over to the riverbank, he then spotted a nearby fishing boat and shouted, “Hai!”

The boat had two fishermen in it, and one took out a pole and pushed the boat over to the shore.

Jimnir held out his hands, palms together, in front of him. One of the fishermen took his hands, palms facing each other, and closed them together. Both men bowed their heads down and said the traditional greeting, “khule haath, khule dil”, and then Jimnir pulled his hands apart, then the fisherman did so.

Ujin had seen the traditional greeting before, but this was the first time he saw it where the two parties involved did so at a distance.

Jimnir looked over at the boat, saw a selection of fish, at least two reptiles that Ujin did not recognize but were the size of large wolves, and a four foot long water snake. He then spoke in rough common, “pequi fish, two, fried, and gonla fruit cider if you have it.”

One man poured a dark orange liquid out of a small barrel into cups made of curled leaves. The other slammed a knife down chopping the tails and heads off two decent sized fish, then they were tossed into a small pan suspended over an oil lamp, where they spit and sizzled in a thin layer of viscous oil.

The smell alone almost made Ujin dizzy with hunger, it was delicious.

“And I’ll take two ghallan lizards and the snake raw.”

Jimnir tossed a silver coin to the fishermen, more than it likely cost for everything, but not so much that the fishermen wanted to roll him then and there. The fisherman who wasn’t cooking hefted the lizard, Jimnir pointed at Ujin’s giant spider and the fisherman tossed it to the ground at its feet. The spider leaned down and sliced the lizard in half, consuming one half in a frenzied crunch and snap of bones and flesh, and moving on to the second half immediately thereafter.

The fisherman grabbed the snake and Jimnir pointed at his lizard, and the fisherman heaved it out so it landed in front of the red and yellow beast, it disappeared in about five heartbeats.

The fisherman grabbed the second lizard and Jimnir pointed to the back of his lizard, so the fisherman heaved it out of the boat and walked in the ankle deep water over to Jimnir, hauling the carcass through the air and on to the back of his lizard.

Their fish and cider were then presented to them, the fish was wrapped in leaves and looked magnificent.

After some small talk the fishermen pushed back off to the river to fish.

Jimnir spoke to Ujin, “Any boat out here with a blue stripe painted on the side will sell what it catches from the boat, and usually cook it too. Lots of travellers come along here, it’s worth their while.”

The men both ate in comparative silence, when they were finished Jimnir walked out from his lizard and waved for a moment, shouting, “Ugostee kanakor”, and soon the black dragon returned from the sky and landed mere feet away from the warlock.

Jimnir tossed the second lizard through the air to land at the dragon’s feet, it began to devour the carcass immediately.

The two warlocks then spent the afternoon relaxing beneath the shade of an ashalu tree, its long, languorous crimson leaves providing the shade, and its ripe yellow fruit providing occasional refreshment, while Jimnir’s servants circled the area.

Both men slept through at least part of the afternoon heat, and when the sun began to sink into the horizon again, Jimnir indicated it was time to go in. He spoke to his two charmed servants and they nodded then dove into the water and began to swim towards the shantytown.

“They will meet us later”, was all Jimnir said.

The two warlocks eventually arrived at a large outdoor tethering pen under the blanket of night and a full moon. Most of the locals put their mounts here when they entered the shantytown as the elevated streets were too small or too fragile to support them. They paid a holding fee and walked on to a raised walkway that entered the town.

Jimnir held his shifting staff as he walked, and the black dragon slithered alongside him.

There was no “main street” here, but the raised platforms that framed most of the buildings were connected up, sometimes as the buildings were close enough to run into each other, sometimes as they were separated by only a small amount.

Ujin admired Jimnir’s swagger, he moved through the town without hesitation or fear, and with the exception of the occasional odd look at the dragon, most of the locals didn’t even bat an eye. They were obviously used to warlocks here, particularly those who were hiding from the city, much gold could be taken to help a warlock licking his wounds.

Ujin saw a decent number of sell-swords, mercenaries, soldiers, peddlars, merchants and farmers, fishermen and fruit sellers as they pressed through the passing crowds. No one obviously a warlock in the bunch. Everyone carried their weapons exposed here, though, unlike the city. It gave the area a sheen of menace.

“Do you know where you are going?” Ujin casually asked.

“Rarely”, was Jimnir’s response, “today’s an exception though, we head to old Gyrgol.”

Ujin had never heard of “old Gyrgol”, and shrugged his shoulders.

Jimnir added, “When the shantytowns were built they expanded beyond the three Garudin spires, and in most cases they removed things that got in the way. Except for old Gyrgol, the largest tree they had. No other tree like it anywhere I know of. When the shantytowns expanded past it they decided to leave it there and build around it. The tree, it spears birds and small animals, it’s a living cage of death, there are worshippers of Kali that lived around it, the tree became a shrine.

Then about a month after the last building was put on stilt’s, closing the circle around the tree, well, since then, and its been about 5 years now, any building put up in a one mile radius, collapsed, rotted, caved with the winds. Nothing could stay up for more than about a week.”

Jimnir stopped at a tent, tossed a trio of copper coins in a bowl and spoke, “hathenar, banal, bagaam”. He then grabbed a large green bulb, specked with violet dots, fat and wet, wobbling on the leaf, directly on the plant that grew throughout the tent. It tore off with a meaty, “chuhhhk” and the warlock ate it in three fast bites, spraying juice everywhere.

The vendor muttered, “khule haath, khule dil”, and put his hands together, then went back to slicing bulbs.

Jimnir wiped his face on a rag he carried on his saddle, and spoke,

“It has become a shrine to Kali, for some reason the buildings that ring it now, about a hundred feet out, there are around 50 buildings that form a ring, they have been there since and have been fine. Nothing else. No other buildings for a half mile out from that ring of buildings. There is an elevated path that gets you there if you want, but once you pass the ring of buildings, mostly tents actually, the rest is all soil for that tree. The ground around it, the tree is thick and living, it is rumored if you sleep the night on that ground in the morning you will be gone, consumed. Worshippers do not sit for more than an hour, and they toss their dead on the soil to be consumed.”

Jimnir looked up at garudin pulling pinwheels, tosses, dips and catches in the air above, the younger ones do a lot of that, he had seen a few crashed into rooftops and tower sides in the city.

Dumb kids.

Jimnir turned to Ujin and took a bite of some leaf he had taken out of his belt pouch, he gnawed on it for a moment and took a swig of water, “That’s where we will find him.”

The eventually left a busy area to end up on a gradually narrowing platform that became too small for buildings, stretched thin and continued out into the marsh wide enough for a person, but not much else, on its own for about a half mile, then it reached another cluster of buildings on poles. These circled around a gigantic tree that shot up into the air above them about two storeys tall.

Birds, or perhaps garudin, circled around it.

Ujin and Jimnir walked the half mile alone, with no others coming towards them when they started.

The dragon was crawling on planks at their feet or in front of them, or around the side and around posts and hanging off the bottom of suspended plank bridges, scuttling along underneath as the men walked above, it’s claws were supremely effective. Ujin and Jimnir saw some fishermen, and the occasional giant boar, thankfully terrible jumpers, in the marshes. It was almost all water here, with only this bridge out to the tree.

“What’s your most powerful spell, in your head, right now”, Jimnir asked.

Ujin screwed up his face, his right hand went to his sword and his left to his knife. It was a habit.

“I have a spell that summons a spectral steed, it also scares off the local animals, and I can cast from it, it makes me feel less, hemmed in, to have it available.”

He then took out a small gem, looked like an emerald.

“I made a few of these on the boat here, this one, if I throw it, and only me, it will hurl insults in saan, very offensive, very personal. I started a huge fight with one of these in a saan den, it led to a brawl, it helped us get out.”

Jimnir laughed out loud, sound travelled across the marsh, and it was echoed by smaller animals, croaking and spitting along.

Ujin was relishing having his sword accessible, and he looked out into the water to see… something humanoid and dark bolt along from reed cluster to reed cluster, through the mud and through the water. And he thought he saw one of the short swords that Jimnir’s charmed servants had on its side, it was very distinctive.

Ujin looked forward, and saw the glow around the tree and traceries of smoke from an unseen fire. The ring of buildings was a mass of tents and some actual buildings made of wood, circling the tree so as to block the view of anyone walking once they got to a certain point.

Jimnir and Ujin stood at that point.

The moon was leering above, a jaundiced eye upon them and the water.

They walked forward and passed a number of buildings using a narrow through space and then passed a small colorful tent filled with animal skins, Ujin red the tags on the skins stretched on sticks and tied with sinew, “saan”, “human”, “voidnik”, “gator”, “ajarak”…

They stopped before spilling out into a central area, in the center was the tree about a hundred feet from them. The ground was flat and looked to be a dark brown sand, it stretched from the ring of buildings to the tree.

It was a tree… of sorts, it had no apparent leaves, but instead it was covered in orange and brown thorns that bristled from every branch. And it had hundreds of thick branches, a criss crossing mass that spread out wider than Ujin had ever seen the crown of a tree do so before, all mounted on a trunk at least 20 feet thick. The thorns had impaled passing birds and unfortunate small flying reptiles and primates, some so freshly that they dripped blood to the ground below it, where every drop as it hit gave the ground a slight shudder; the tree wore death on its thorns like a crown.

The tree itself was faced with what appeared to be about a hundred or so people, some human, some lizard man, some Garudin, a collection of mercenaries, peasants, fishermen and farmers, all kneeling on the brown sand, with their heads on small mats. The back end of their group was about sixty feet away.

All were humming the same words over and over in prayer, “met kal sorath raty, Kali, kef habthiy apor kom garea lageeme hoal.” The sound carried to the phantasmist’s ears, it was beautiful and threatening, exhilarating and heavy.

A brazier of bone, filled with charcoal, burned cherry red and gave off waves of heat, sitting immediately before the tree. Some bundle of branches with purple leaves had been thrown on it, and a mist was pealing into the air. There was a man in white with a staff, he stood beside the brazier and waved the staff back and forth, hypnotically, singing, “Koram ala mar Kali topu”, and breathing in deeply of the mists from the brazier. Likely a priest.

Then Ujin noted the tree itself, when he looked at the trunk the tree appeared to waver slightly, then its branches would momentarily look like arms, then again like branches.

He then was sure he saw eyes.

It was not hard to see the goddess’s perfectly terrible countenance in the tree’s shifting form.

“I think we may have found your friend”, Ujin whispered.

“Yes, myself as well, I wasn’t sure why he was here, but now it makes sense. It certainly looks like Kali inhabits that tree. I think it’s time to announce ourselves.”

Ujin held up his hand to stop the warlock.

“I have an idea.”

Ujin looked around and there were no people looking in their direction, they were still far enough back in the shadows that his cloak made him virtually invisible, Jimnir was more noticeable, but he had crouched down as soon as they emerged. Ujin took out a small piece of fleece and held it in one hand while covering one eye with the other hand and spoke the words, "Vaše oči vidět, co sním".

Ujin projected the image onto the ground in front of the tree where there were no worshippers, between it and the chanting man. A horn, then a snout, then a neck appeared from the ground, as it gave birth to a red water buffalo with a lone rider, garbed in black and copper, a red mace dripping with blood hanging from his saddle. The water buffalo and rider crawled from the ground out and stood tall in front of the tree.

Jimnir looked on approvingly.

The tree wavered and arms appeared and disappeared, a face emerged from its tangle of branches, then faded again. Then it shuddered, and lewd visions were projected at all, which degenerated to visions of carnage and slaughter.

All the while the water buffalo and rider sat and stared ahead at the bilious images, unfazed. The water buffalo snorted and roared. The tree now appeared to have a thousand arms, all ended in fingers with talons, and it hissed like a snake in striking.

After about a minute, the tree stopped showing its visual distortions, and Ujin had the illusion of the water buffalo and rider charge back into the ground.

The priest sprung to action.

There was much shouting, exaltations of the greatness of Kali from the priest, whispered questions from the crowd about the presence of what appeared to be a sign of Yama. He had a medallion with a multi armed woman on it. He held it as he spoke. He was calling this a great sign of Yama’s approval of their work. Notice the water buffalo waited in front of the tree, showing respect, not attacking! The deference of the avatar of another god!

“That worked well”, Jimnir nodded, “Tarwin isn’t that creative”.

Ujin nodded in agreement, that tree was already a shrine to Kali, and one that reeked of death without the pretty lights and visions. Tarwin was obvious and clunky, the phantasmist disliked him immensely for what he had done here.

Ujin smiled, “Well, he can’t call out my illusion when he has one of his own operating. So it seemed like a good way to get his attention.”

Jimnir stood full height, “The time to hide is over.”

A second man emerged from behind the tree and stood beside the priest, he was younger, wore no apparent armor, carried a short sword at his side and a dagger on his thigh. While his companion spoke in exalted tones he scanned the crowd, eventually settling on the edge of the buildings and seeing Jimnir, his face filled with a sneer.

“I think he saw us”, Ujin added from the shadows.

The crowd began to disperse, Rizzal Tarwin spoke to the second man and he asked some of the worshippers to stay for a time. The others left in different directions to climb the ladders to their buildings. This left the two men beside the tree surrounded by a group of around 17 of the men, most appeared to be mercenaries or hunters, and all were armed. Jimnir stood about sixty feet away on a platform. Ujin was invisible in the shadows.

“Jimnir the Garnet, what gave you the spine to show up here?”, Rizzal was confident, on his home turf with his faithful.

“What gave you the spine to worship another god, Rizzal Tarwin? What do you think Jal Bhains would do if he saw you here?”

Rizzal was seething with rage, he did not want to have his secret revealed.

“Jal Bhains is a madman, I would slay him in the name of Kali if he were to appear.”

Ujin admired the con, this Tarwin had convinced the locals that the tree, a holy relic of Kali, was manifesting her divine nature, he likely fleeced them for gold and free service through the priest. If he were called out as a servant of Jal Bhains… Jimnir had him where he wanted him, desperate and terrified of having his con revealed.

“Where is the durgal, you have no power of illusion Jimnir.”

Ujin suppressed a chuckle at the insult.

Jimnir laughed out loud, “I stole many scrolls from that fat bastard alchemist, I can now cast illusions and make sounds as well, simple ones mind you, but enough to get your attention. I’m better than you at your own craft Rizzal.”

Jimnir used his first name to be obnoxious, denying a warlock his last name or title was offensive.

“I was going to kill you soon, Jimnir the Garnet, I will have to kill you now.”

Tarwin turned to the worshippers standing around him, “Attack, blasphemers, liars, followers of false gods, they seek to destroy the tree, to violate Kali, attack, kill!”

The worshippers drew weapons and charged towards Ujin and Jimnir.

Tarwin cursed again, “soonir kah borta” and grabbed a handful of multicolored sand, took a bead on Jimnir’s position and shouted, “"barva výbuchu", and a burst of chromatic madness exploded from his hand and sliced through the night.

Jimnir’s gaze was averted at the right time by chance, and Ujin had seen the move as it was being made and knew it was going to be coming, he had looked away at the right time.

Ujin grabbed Jimnir by the shoulder, “Don’t look at the crystal, and I can’t do anything else while I’m doing this!”

Ujin grabbed a green, glowing crystal on a chain from his pouch and began to swing it like a censer back and forth, then in a circle, the pattern became more intricate, and Ujin maintained it steadily.

The charging men all saw the crystal, and of the 17 of them that were charging, 12 stopped, listed a bit from side to side, then stood staring, slack jawed at the pattern. Tarwin did not appear impacted as he had also seen the spell coming and averted his eyes, but his companion with the staff had grabbed his medallion and was holding it out, starting to whisper a prayer when he looked at Ujin and was also ensorcelled.

Five men continued running.

Jimnir spoke to the dragon at his side, “Amag fa morga sutdaro!”, the dragon pulled to the left and swooped back and strafed the running men with acid, three of them were caught in the stream and screamed in agony as the acid ate into their flesh.

All went down in wails of pain.

Two mercenaries were left, heading right for Ujin and Jimnir, Tarwin reached for his sword.

Then from behind the two warlocks a pair of black blurs shot by, Ujin kept up the rhythmic motion of the crystal but he could still catch a glimpse of what appeared: a pair of humanoid wolves, and Ujin realized what it was that was bothering him about Jimnir’s two charmed servants.

They were werewolves.

The sallow moon shone dimly down, glinting in their feral eyes.

The two creatures tore into the mercenaries, one bit out the throat of the first man, the second was bowled over by the other werewolf and it began to tear into the man with ragged talons.

It was over in seconds.

Jimnir watched as Tarwin moved to the right and forward, sword in hand.

The werewolves scrambled towards the hypnotized men and tore through them like paper, slicing through some throats and tearing others out with their fangs.

There would be a whole pack born that night.

The dragon did another pass and strafed about 7 hypnotized men, all of whom died screaming, burnt and disfigured by acid. Tarwin had diverted in time to avoid it.

Two men still stood by the time that Jimnir began casting his spell, they were still entranced by Ujin’s crystal.

Jimnir spoke the words, “Az összes lassú”, he took out a drop of treacle and held it in his pinched fingers and spoke the words, “Az összes lassú” again, then he drew the fingers apart stretching the treacle between them and spoke the words again, “Az összes lassú.”

Tarwin began moving slowly, like he was running through water. His face twisted and shot blood red, he spit in slow motion, the hate spraying off him like the sweat of the rower mixed with blood from the whip. Then Tarwin cursed, in the haze of the spell it stretched the words, “bhhhakkkkshhhhhaaakkk kkkhhhhhaaaadddd”, and stomped the ground with his boot, and a dull, grey smoke billowed out from the bottom of the boots to fill up the area in front of the tree completely in a matter of seconds.

The two werewolves were also slowed down by Jimnir’s spell; now robbed of their vision as well they howled at the now unseen moon for succor.

Ujin’s hypnotic pattern was nullified as the victims could no longer see it, unfortunately for them they were also blinded completely. The dragon was pinwheeling around for another run so was out of the cloud when it appeared.

Ujin could see nothing. He reached into his belt pouch, rubbed his fingers then drew a line under one eye with talc and under the other with powdered silver. Then he spoke the words, “Skrytý nic víc”.

Tarwin’s form was outlined in a purple fire that only Ujin could see, as well as the various other men hidden by the fog and the two werewolves. Ujin noted that Tarwin could bolt at this point and would probably make it free and clear. However the fellow phantasmist decided to make his way around to try for an attack on Jimnir.

Tarwin was slowed, giving Ujin a few seconds to act, he spoke to Jimnir, “Call the wolves back to you.”

Jimnir called out to the werewolves, his voice was a beacon and they began to run in his direction. Tarwin saw this and began to change his trajectory to get past them. Slowed as he was this gave Jimnir the time to cast another spell. Ujin transformed into a bat and flew immediately up into the smoky air, and was unseen by the now recovering priest, who was bathed in the smoke from Tarwin’s boots. He passed above the priest and landed behind him unseen.

Jimnir took out a small legume seed and pinched it between his fingers, he closed his eyes for a moment, whispered the words, “Dech větru přede mnou“, and blew on the seed, it appeared to blur in his fingers then it dissipated, as it did a wind picked up from nowhere and blew towards the tree, clearing the smoke from Tarwin’s boots as it blew past.

Ujin transformed back into human form. The gust of wind finally cleared the last of the smoke away and all could again see. Before the priest could turn around Ujin drove his sword into the man, and he spit blood, coughed and slid off Ujin’s sword, dead.

Tarwin was now about 20 feet from Jimnir, the smoke cleared, with a sword in his hand, moving slowly.

Jimnir smiled and placed a finger on his forehead and spoke the words, "varázsló nyíl" then pulled away his finger and a glowing purple spike slid out of his head. He pulled back his hand and slung the sizzling spike through the air and it unerringly flew towards Tarwin, striking him full on the chest.

He grunted.

Jimnir pulled out three more spikes and hurled each at the phantasmist as he approached. The second hit his stomach, the third his shoulder, and as he stumbled forward a last spike of energy slammed into his temple, and the illusionist crumpled to the ground, dead.

Jimnir ended his slow spell, looked around and the two remaining mercenaries bolted. The werewolves, maddened with blood lust, chased after them. Jimnir considered trying to pit his charm against their instincts but decided it wasn’t worth it.

Ujin ran to the downed illusionist and rifled through his body before they left and others arrived. He only had seconds so when he found two scroll cases he grabbed those and left anything else behind.

Jimnir shouted into the air, “kanakor desa akamm magmass”, and the dragon landed beside him.

“Others come to find out what is happening, I got what I came for, let’s go!”

Ujin pointed towards the departing werewolves, anyone in their path would get out of it pretty quickly, so it made sense to follow them, and they followed the fleeing mercenaries, right down the platform that led to the tree from the shantytowns. It was a good plan, the locals who were emerging from their buildings saw the werewolves and parted for them like hens before the foxes, running back to their hovels, none wanted to risk the curse. Jimnir and Ujin watched as the werewolves fell on the fleeing mercenaries, tearing into them with inhuman glee.

One of the mercenaries fell over the side alive, and the two werewolves gibbered, howled, and jumped over the side and landed in the marsh, chasing down the mercenary and consuming him together. There were screams from behind them as the inhabitants of the ring of buildings found the dead within the circle.

There would soon be men from the shantytowns coming out to them.

“Call the wolves!”, Ujin shouted at Jimnir.

“They are mad with blood lust, do we want them here?”

“Direct them to go ahead of us, there are many more to kill. We need the distraction.”

Jimnir nodded and he shouted at the wolves as they crouched on their victim, pulling him apart.

“Merog lis moref jaenajaron, niralg gored intalmao!”

The wolves looked at each other and howled again, then bounded up a pole to the platform, leered at the two warlocks, then sprang down the platform toward the shantytown buildings.

Soon Jimnir heard some screams as the wolves were seen, and they ran forward behind them.

When they were closer Ujin took out a pinch of split dried peas and rubbed them between his fingers, then snapped them while speaking the words, "stěna mlhy.”

The world again went grey, this time filled with a dense, heavy fog.

Jimnir and Ujin walked forward into the fog, Jimnir was blinded but Ujin’s spell was still working, so he guided the two of them past the wolves, who were now in the shantytown proper and raging over their repeated blindness. Jimnir waited at a point a sufficient distance away and he shouted at the wolves, who moved in his direction. Once he was convinced that no one knew where they were, he guided them out of the fog cloud onto an empty platform, and several minutes later they emerged into a lightly populated area, looking as confused as everyone else.

The commotion was now behind them, Jimnir directed the now sated werewolves to run into the night, and the warlocks found their way back to the pens where their mounts were. The pens were not that busy at this late hour, there were a few people there but most had already settled in for the night. Right before they arrived Jimnir told the dragon to circle above and it took off. They found their mounts, tipped the stable boy, and left as quickly as they could without appearing obviously in a rush.

Once they were a bit further down the path the two men spoke.

“You have two charmed werewolves, and a dragon… you’re mad.”

Jimnir laughed out loud, he was still coming down from the exhilaration of the kill.

“They are very effective, and as long as I let them feed periodically, they are manageable. I won’t be able to come back to the shantytowns for a time though, people don’t suffer lycanthropy willingly, and many men who were attacked tonight will have the curse if they live the night.”

Jimnir took out his wineskin and took a long draught.

“The wolves will either leave if the charm breaks or they will come back to me later. Personally, if the charm breaks while we are apart I would be happy. I have been around when charms broke before, it can be very unpleasant.”

Ujin spurred on his giant spider, the black dragon was circling above, ready to drop at Jimnir’s command.

“Did you want him dead?”, Ujin asked casually.

“I wanted to live, and I didn’t want to spend all my energy making sure he didn’t try to kill me, Yama obviously wanted one of us dead, Rizzal Tarwin has reaped the glory of a clean death in combat, he will be rewarded by Yama in the afterlife. I have done a service to a devotee of death.”

“He worships a different death though, Yama may not want him.”

“Then Kali may embrace him, but in either case, I am free of his presence, and Jal Bhains is in need of another illusionist.”

Ujin rolled over the idea in his head, he had decided that staying here might be a good fit, and he liked Jimnir well enough…

The two warlocks rode into the night towards the glowing city of prophecy, both worshippers of death, both having done their god a service in kind that night.

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