The pylons had sprung up on the outskirts of Ellomyr with little fanfare.

No two seemed alike. One was crafted from an irregular chunk of crystal. Another was a tangle of synth and wires around a stone frame. Yet another was an octagonal box mounted on a pole that insulted anyone that walked past it in a fluent torrent of The Truth.

Norvo regarded the two pylons nearest the front gates of the village in puzzlement. “They are very impressive Zenea, but what do they do?” He gestured at the constructs with one arm, his white robes flapping in the wind.

The diminutive Jack looked up at him, nearly hopping from foot to foot in excitement. The scraps of synth and animal bones on her green leather jacket chattered as she shivered in excitement. She raised a small rectangular device in her hand which was featureless except for a very obvious, very red button. “Watch this,” Zenea beamed, mashing down the button with a thumb.

There was a sharp crack as a wall of energy exploded into life between the two pylons, a scintillating barrier of swirling yellow and green force. A sharp chemical smell permeated the air like the aftermath of a storm.

Zenea dug around in the drit underfoot with the tip of her boot, excavating a small stone which she flicked at the barrier with the deft kick. The stone impacted the barrier with a flash of sparks, bouncing off and hitting the ground where it came to rest, sending grey curls of smoke drifting up into the air.  “Lets see anyone get through that intact,” she said with an air of satisfaction. “I mean, that was only a partial activation. I didn’t want to fire up the entire network just in case it went kablooey.” She pushed the button once more and the wall dissipated with a fizzing noise.

“Well thank the maker for small mercies,” the glaive responded flatly. Norvo then cleared his throat, pointing a finger to the left most pylon. A nearby cart left at the threshold of Ellomyr been neatly bisected by the barriers energy field, both halves listing on to the ground and beginning to smoulder.

A pink tinge touched Zeneas cheeks as he followed Norvos gaze, coming close to matching the mohawk on her head. “Well, obviously we’d need an alarm or something. To stop things like that happening.”

 “Obviously,” the glaive replied, unconvinced. He was suddenly glad he had been engaged in the simple labour of helping to build Ellomyrs rapidly expanding housing developments, rather than toying with the energies Zenea was happily unleashing. “Perhaps next time you can consult with the town Elder and you can conduct an official test? Perhaps a little further away from Ellomyr.”

Zeneas bottom lip curled inward in a display of petulance. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” she said reluctantly, looking down at her boots and scuffing the ground with her heels.

“In the meantime, you can deal with that,” Norvo said.

Zenea looked up, the smell of smoke causing her nostrils to flare. The two halves of the cart were now burning merrily, sending grey plumes of smoke into the air.

***

Norvo is a Graceful Glaive who Sees Beyond.

Zenea is an Impulsive Jack who Crafts Unique Objects.

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They had won. Despite all expectations, despite the overwhelming odds, they had driven the Margr back.

Idrin had watched as the great device, powered from the haul of Numenera devices brought back from the Valley of Sins by other brave souls, unleashed another torrent of ice and flame at the retreating Margr. The cavalry charge by the aneen riding villagers had been unexpected, but perfectly timed. The hordes morale had been wavering, but had not yet broken. The aneen riders seemed almost as bloodthirsty as the Margr themselves and had fallen on the bestial creatures with great ferocity. It had been enough to break the deadlock, sending the monsters bleating and scurrying into the night.

Idrin looked at the devastation around her, warily looking for any straggling Margr who might still be lurking on the battlefield. She felt an unpleasant mix of elation and sorrow, knowing that the defenders had carried the day, though the cost had been high. Fully two thirds of the villagers she had trained for battle had fallen. She saw Janir among the dead, his spear shattered in two, the bodies of several Margr laying nearby. The exhaustion finally broke upon her senses like a wave, causing her to drop to one knee. Looking down, Idrin saw the countless rents in her armour, caked in drit and blood, briefly wondering how much of it was hers before blackness rushed up to claim her.

A figure in tattered and bloodstained white robes effortlessly traversed the sea of Margr corpses at speed, skidding to a stop at Idrins side as she fell. “I have you.” Norvo cushioned Idrins fall with his arms, gently lowering her the rest of the way to the ground. He was at once astonished and horrified at the number of injuries she had sustained. The glaive pulled the tattered sleeves of his robes away from his body with a tearing sound and began to bandage Idrin as best he could.

“Here.” A voice from Norvos left side startled him so badly he nearly dropped the injured Glaive. He looked up to see a hooded figure standing nearby, casually holding a crossbow in one hand, while the other offered a transparent tube of yellow fluid towards him. The hand that held the cypher was mottled with green blotches over bronzed skin. “It will heal some of her injuries at least,” Nai said. “Take it.” The Jack pressed the object into Norvos tentatively reaching hand. He swiftly injected Idrin with the device, some of the colour returning to her face almost immediately. “Thank you. I…” Norvo began, looking up, but the figure had vanished as rapidly as she had appeared.

***

For the third time in the confined tunnels under Ellomyr, Zeneas slug thrower threatened to deafen them both. Another Margr tumbled onto the stone floor of the passageway, a fist sized hole punched in its torso. Sakir slowly removed his hands from his ears, his pale head shaking back and forth. “Do you have literally any other weapon you could use down here?” the Nano barked at her, his white visage looking even more ghostly under the glow of the watchlight cypher that floated over their heads.

Zenea squinted at Sakir as she watched his lips work. “Gimme a sec,” she said, before reaching up and pulling out the rags the had stoppered her ears with. “What did you say?” the Jack asked with a smirk.

Sakir raised his arms in an exasperated gesture. “We don’t have time for asinine jokes. The signal is fading quickly. I’m trying to concentrate on the source. Please tell me you have something quieter than that…that…cannon?”

Zenea shrugged, shouldering the weapon, before reaching into the waistband of her trousers and pulling out a compact Buzzer. “I was nearly out of ammo anyway,” she said mournfully, ratcheting the arming mechanism on the disc launcher. “How much further?”

Another Margr loomed out of the shadows, chittering and gnashing its teeth. Sakir glared at the creature, sending a lance of psychic energy spearing into its primitive thought processes. For a moment, the sheer ferocity of its mind held him at bay, before Sakir pushed through with an effort of will. The Margrs head detonated in a spray of gore and it fell onto the stone floor.

Zenea let out a whistle, before looking at the Nano with renewed respect. “Okay. No screwing around from this point forward. Gotcha.”

Sakirs shoulders slumped. “It doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve lost the signal.”

Zenea smacked the palm of her hand on the tunnel wall. “Its like a frickin’ maze down here, Sakir. I don’t know how we’re going to find her.”

Sakir lowered his hood and ran a hand across his hairless white head. “I have an idea. I think you’ll like it. How about we keep going and cut down every Margr we find in these tunnels. Maybe we can provide a distraction.”

Zenea punched the Nano in the forearm good naturedly. “Now you’re talking my language,” she grinned.

***

Norvo, a Graceful Glaive who Sees Beyond.

Zenea, an Impulsive Jack who Crafts Unique Objects.

Idrin, An Honourable Glaive who Never Says Die.

Nai, a Stealthy Jack who Hunts Abhumans.

Sakir, a Mutant Nano who Speaks to the Datasphere.

Numenera: Legion.

Posted: September 30, 2017 in Fiction, Numenera, Numenera2, Roleplaying Games, RPG

The Margr horde seemed endless. They had approached, not like a howling barbarian horde as many had surmised, but in an eerie near silence, chittering and moaning. The Glaive known as Idrin had seized on this, leading some of the villagers in a long, deafening yell of defiance, shattering the unsettling sensation the Margrs had cast upon the defenders. Still the horde had charged onwards, smashing against Ellomyrs hastily readied defences and the battle had been joined in earnest. A group of five newcomers to Ellomyr had found themselves fighting on the same patch of battlefield.

Norvo roamed the palisades, using his enhanced senses to predict where a breach may occur and directed defenders to it, or stood there himself, brandishing his blade staff and mowing down the Margr like chaff. His white robes were streaked crimson, either from the blood of his enemies for the wounds he had suffered.

Atop one of the defence towers, Zenea shouldered her slug thrower and fired, a wide cone of shrapnel that mowed down a handful of the Margr with one shot. She followed it by throwing one of her modified cyphers. One exploded into a hail of stinging insects. Yet another into a bright green foam that rapidly solidified, trapping several of the bestial creatures.

At second defence tower, Nai calmly sent shot after shot from her pellet-bow into the enemy ranks, seeking out the largest of the invaders and cutting them down where they stood, disrupting what little command hierarchy the Margr had.

Sakir stood in the second rank, pale arms outstretched, sending waves of entropic energy hammering into the beast men, some of them liquefying where they stood or exploding into green tinged ash.

In the thick of it stood Idrin, her once pristine azure armour scuffed, dented and in some places missing entirely. Her energy shield buzzed and sparked in her right hand as she hewed with her hack-lance in her left, sending Margr limbs and bodies thudding to the floor. Among that section of the defences she had planted her feet and refused to move, a one woman wall that would not yield.

Sakir reeled as an image blossomed in the air before him, the relatively quiet Datasphere of Ellomyr erupting into life. His single pale eye regarded the vision with a moments confusion. A woman, somewhere dark, pleading for assistance. ‘…breached the gate…send reinforcements….tunnels below the village….’ Her voice was fragmented, the signal scrambled by the esoteric forces being unleashed all along the palisade. Even so he had never experienced such a clear message from the Datasphere. “I need to go,” yelled Sakir. “There’s been a breach. There are some people trapped under the village, I don’t know how long they have. I’m going to need some assistance.”

Idrin backhanded a Margr with her shield arm, risking a look back at the cyclopean Nano. “I can’t spare anyone, we can barely hold them here!”

Zenea peered over the lip of the defence tower. “I’ll go. I’ve used up all the fun stuff anyway,” she bemoaned, holding up her empty kitbag. Shouldering her twice-repaired slug thrower, she shinned down one of the defence towers legs to stand at Sakirs side.

Sakir nodded in gratitude. “We’ll need to hurry, the signal is fading fast.”

Zenea smiled. “I’ve got just the thing.” She jammed two grime laden fingers between her lips and blew hard, a high pitched note heard even above the din of battle. A six legged aneen galloped round a nearby corner, skidding to halt with before them with an expectant honking noise from its squat muzzle. Zenea jumped deftly on to it’s back, helping to haul Sakir into the saddle behind her. “Ride like the Iron Wind was chewing on our butts, Hex!” she yelled, lashing the aneens reigns, who took off at a thunderous pace back into the heart of Ellomyr.

 ***

Norvo, a Graceful Glaive who Sees Beyond.

Zenea, an Impulsive Jack who Crafts Unique Objects.

Idrin, An Honourable Glaive who Never Says Die.

Nai, a Stealthy Jack who Hunts Abhumans.

Sakir, a Mutant Nano who Speaks to the Datasphere.

Norvo is A Graceful Glaive who Sees Beyond.

Zenea is An Impulsive Jack who Crafts Unique Objects.

Sakir is a Mutant Nano who Speaks to the Datasphere.

***

The abandoned drinking establishment of Tripletrees had become something of a refuge for a few of the newcomers to Ellomyr of late. The influx of strangers into the village didn’t seem to be slowing down. Despite their best intentions the new arrivals had clearly unsettled the villagers who were unused to such weird and wonderful sights. A woman dressed in orange and blue, a seskii hound capering tamely at her ankles. Another figure who took to the skies on a pair of translucent wings. It should have come as no real surprise that the denizens of Ellomyr were unsettled.
The bar was barely half full. One sullen figure occupied a shadowy corner, the innards of some sort of crossbow weapon laid out on the table in front of her, a tangle of gears and synth. The sound of weapons drills echoed from outside, the clash of arms somewhat at odds with the relative peace of the bars interior.

Towards the centre of the space three figures were gathered round a table. One was garbed in a thick hooded robe, his pale white hands projecting from voluminous sleeves. The second was clad in robes of bright white, at odds with the dark skin of his bare head. He was staring into a glass of amber liquid, seemingly lost in thought. The third sported green leathers, decorated with small animal bones and scraps of synth. The pink mohawk projecting from her skull flicking back and forth as she chattered excitedly.

“…and then BOOM,” finished Zenea, making a flourish with her hands and accompanying it with an array of whooshing noises.

“That is your solution to nearly everything,” countered Norvo, setting his glass down and glaring at the diminutive Jack. He had been more quiet than usual since their return from the Valley of Sins but Zeneas enthusiasm for destruction seemed to have shaken him out of it.

“What, with everyone in it?” asked Sakir, his single eye staring intently at the small Jack from under his hood, his face widening in shock.

“No, don’t be daft. I mean when the villagers run away and its crawling with Margr.” Zenea clarified.

“I’m not sure. That seems a little extreme,” pondered Sakir, cupping his chin with one pale hand.

Norvo glanced at Sakir. “I cannot believe you are even considering it!” The glaive rounded on Zenea. “As for you, keep your voice down. The villagers are frightened enough as it is.”

“Well, who would want their village back after it had been filled up with smelly animal men?” Zenea said.

“I do not think that is your choice to make,” offered Norvo. “It is entirely possible the village defences may yet hold.”

Zenea shrugged. “Well, yeah. But its always good to have a backup plan.”

Sakir sighed. “I don’t think I want this place destroyed. Its peaceful here.” After the Valley of the Sins, the gentle trickle of whispers from the datasphere in Ellomyr were a blessed relief.

“It is not going to be quiet for very much longer, I fear,” Norvo said.

Zenea waved her hand dismissively. “Bring ’em on,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, kicking the large kitbag she had stowed under the table. “I’ve got presents for everybody.”

Sakirs head inclined to one side as if he was straining to listen to something, the pale orb of his eye flickering with an inner glow for a moment. The whispers, while still infrequent, had taken on a sudden tone of urgency. “I think we have guests,” he said, getting to his feet.

Zenea watched the Nano for a moment, sceptical. “One of these days you’re going to have to tell me how you do that,” she grumbled. “Anyway, you still haven’t explained to us what happened to you back in the Valley. What was all that about?”

Sakir made a dismissive gesture with an ashen hand. “Hush, Zenea. I’m concentrating.”

Zenea slapped a hand against the table, causing their drinks to jump. “Don’t you shush me, you moon faced mystic,” she barked.

As the other two bickered Norvo stared intently at the far wall of the bar, the wooden slats dissolving under his gaze, allowing him to see out into the village proper. There was a commotion at the outskirts, someone yelling from one of the newly installed watchtowers. “They are here,” the glaive said simply. He rose from his seat, pausing only to retrieve his blade staff from where it rested just inside the doorway, before he strode out into the village.

Zenea clapped her hands together in glee, opening the large kitbag at her feet, pulling out the largest slug-thrower Sakir had ever seen, snagging her grab bag of cyphers and other devices as she did so. “Let’s go introduce ourselves,” the Jack smirked. “Um. Sorry about the moon face thing.”

Sakir shook his head and smiled warmly. “It’s forgotten. You brush headed midget.”

Zenea frowned for a moment, before letting out a chuckle. “Ooh. Good one.” She rose and scampered out of the Tripletrees bar, clanking and clinking as she went.

The Nano followed her, pausing for a moment to rest his hand against the wooden archway that lead outside, hoping that the building would still be standing if they ever returned.

 

Idrin is An Honourable Glaive who Never Says Die.
***

The drinking garden of Tripletrees public house had undergone something of a drastic transformation. The wooden benches where villagers had sat and dined had been dragged aside, forming a rough circle. The once immaculate lawn had been churned up underfoot with the passing of dozens of visitors. The sound of wood cracking against synth and the metallic clangs of clashing blades filled the air.

Idrin stood before the handful of villagers, watching them drill with the meagre amount of scavenged weapons she had managed to drum up. Her azure armour gleamed even in the mediocre light of an overcast day, making what she hoped was an impressive sight. Even though she detested wearing it unless absolutely necessary, she had tied her long white hair back into a pony tail, in order to don her curved helm and look as martial as she possibly could. “All right. Everyone form up,” she barked, invoking her best impression of her own weapons tutor from back in the day.

Under her watchful gaze, the villagers lined up into a roughly straight row, sweating through a combination of nerves and tiredness. “Now you’re more familiar with your weapons, I’m going to instruct you on the tactics of your foe.” Idrin slowly pulled her hack-lance from her back. The weapon was a curious hybrid of axe and spear, studded with handholds to enable a wide cutting blade or a sharpened point to be brought to bear. The glaive noted several of the villagers take a fearful step back, before they caught themselves and rejoined the lineup.
“At close quarters the Margr generally favour spears and other polearms. This means they have the advantage of reach. You must take this advantage away.” Idrin rolled her shoulders, making sure the plates of her armour were moving freely. She gestured at one of the nearby villagers holding a wooden staff tipped with three reinforced synth spikes. “Janir. Stab me.”

Janir bit his lip, looking nervously at the person either side of him. “Ah. Really?” he asked hesitantly.

Idrin nodded. “Trust me.”

Screwing up his courage, Janir made a clumsy thrust with the farming tool in his hand. Idrin darted to her left, lifting her empty right hand and clenching it into a fist. A glowing disc of purple energy hummed into life, the tips of the makeshift spear glancing off in a shower of sparks. With the polearm off center, Idrin lunged forward inside the villagers guard, batting away the haft of the spear with her shield and bringing her weapon down towards Janirs head. He yelped, letting go of the spear and covering his face with his hands. Idrin checked her weapons forward momentum and lowered the hack-lance. “You can open your eyes now Janir,” she said gently.
Idrin smiled as the villager peeked out from between his fingers, then she took a step back to regard the rest of the group. “Had Janir been a seasoned veteran, well trained in the use of his weapon, my manoeuvre probably wouldn’t have worked. Luckily, the Margr aren’t much more imaginative than he is. No offence.” Janir coloured slightly, but didn’t say anything.

Idrin clipped the hack-lance to the harness on her back in one smooth motion before continuing. “The Margr do not generally carry complex ranged weapons, like those you may have seen used by newcomers to the village. However, like you, they have a plentiful supply of stones and other debris. Those of you without hand weapons can still contribute to the fight. I trust I don’t have to explain the intricacies of throwing a rock.” This brought a nervous ripple of laughter from the assembled villagers. The glaive nodded. “Good. Now, those of you with shields, pair up with someone who has a spear or long hafted weapon. When you’ve learned how to fight each other, I’m going to show you how you can work together on the battlefield.” Idrin nodded in approval as the villagers set about their appointed tasks. It was going to be a long day.

***
Idrins previous tale can be found here.

 

 

Nai is a Stealthy Jack who Hunts Abhumans.
***

The Tripletree bar stood empty, its owner and staff having fled in the face of the impeding Margr assault. The smell of cooked food still lingered in the air, so swift had been their departure.  A hooded figure silently crossed the threshold, a crossbow-like weapon slung across her back.

Nai glanced round at the empty tables, shaking her head. Even with the influx of capable strangers into Ellomyr, the locals were still fearful of the coming assault. If anything the influx of new faces seemed to have had the opposite effect, destabilising the equilibrium of the little village. Morale was plummeting day by day.

Nai reached down behind the bar, liberating a green bottle from a shelf. She counted out a generous number of shins and placed them in the same spot she had lifted the bottle from. She wasn’t a thief, after all. Perhaps the owner would return one day, providing the Margr attack was repelled. Nai poured herself a glass of sweet smelling liquor and propped herself against the bar, sipping thoughtfully.
The jack regarded her bare hands for a moment as they held the glass in front of her. Her normally bronze skin was now riddled with green blotches, the legacy of a cypher that had performed somewhat atypically. She had been furious at first, until she realised the colouration helped her blend in with the greenery which was so abundant on the outskirts of the village. Her clothes already consisted of dark greens and earth tones, chosen for that very purpose.

A shout echoed from nearby, disturbing Nai from her reverie. She crossed to a nearby balcony that looked down on to the village. She recognised Kelem, the village carpenter. You think your weapons and magic can save us, but they can’t! If we don’t leave, we’ll all be killed! The mans frantic cries had drawn a crowd. Nai saw the fear take hold of the assembled village folk, like a flame burning through dry kindling. She rested her glass on the balcony ledge, shucking her pellet-bow off of her shoulders and centering the crosshairs on Kelems chest. “You’re not helping the cause, little man,” she growled. She’d seen something like this before. One defender losing their nerve and infecting all around them with cowardice.

Nai lowered the weapon, a hot rush of shame welling up from somewhere inside her. The majority of Ellomyrians were relatively simple folk, not suited to a pitched battle. Murdering the carpenter in broad daylight wouldn’t change anything. His words had already had an effect on the townspeople nearby, who were whispering fearfully amongst themselves. She would have to try something else.

***

The Margr lifted his bestial head to the wind, the by now familiar scent drifting across his flaring nostrils. He had been tracking it for hours now, growing more and more frustrated. He had even dared to stray far from his herd, so enticing was the smell.

The creature had the briefest impression of a silver and yellow object tumbling through the air before it impacted, sending the Margr into the drit, his spear thudding into the ground. He looked down at the bands of crackling yellow energy wrapped round his legs and chest, pinning his arms to his sides, bleating in abject panic.

Nai emerged from the undergrowth, recocking her pellet-bow and aiming at the stricken goatman. She reeked, having doused herself with the harvested scent glands of a female Margr in heat. The jack had been lucky, catching this young male so far from his flock. If things had gone differently she might have brought the entire tribe slavering down upon her. She shivered coldly at the thought and spat on the ground in disgust. She reversed her grip on the pellet-bow and cracked the Margr squarely in the temple with the synth stock, knocking him clean out.
Shouldering her weapon, she rummaged through her cloak, finding a small red crystal which she tucked under her tongue. The cypher tasted of cinnamon briefly as it dissolved and Nai felt a rush of strength into her limbs, her muscles bulging. She grabbed the young Margr by the horns and hauled him into the undergrowth, the only sign of his passing the discarded spear on the ground.

***

A few hours later, a cry went up from the lookouts on the outskirts of Ellomyr. All through the village terrified whispers of the impending Margr attack reached a crescendo. Were they already here? Cooler heads prevailed, the armed newcomers in the village sending outriders to see what the fuss was about. It was only one Margr, bound and tied, being dragged by a woman dressed in greens and browns, looking like some sort of angry forest spirit given humanoid form.

A few knots of curious villagers had gathered in the centre of Ellomyr, watching the hooded figure drag the squirming beastman behind her. None of them ventured too closely.

Nai dumped the Margr on to the ground, her cypher fuelled strength all but spent. “Is this what you’re all so afraid of?” she yelled at the gathered onlookers, jabbing a finger at the bound goatman. He had awoken as they had crossed the villages outskirts and was braying plaintively. “This is your enemy,” Nai said pointedly, punctuating her statement with a solid kick to the bound Margrs head. Its cries faded as its bestial head snapped backwards. “Its not twenty feet tall. It doesn’t breathe fire or shoot lightning. Its a mangy, cowardly beast who preys on the weak and the unprepared.”

The Margr glared up at her, black blood running from his mouth. “It bleeds, just like you and I,” Nai continued. She reached into her cloak, pulling out a small purple disk. The jack circled her thumb around its circumference and the glowing bands of energy binding the Margr vanished. The assembled village folk gasped as one, some stepping backwards in shock. “It’ll kill us all!” one fearful soul cried out. The creature stumbled to its feet, looking all around for a moment, its wide eyes taking in the assembled villagers before fleeing back in the direction Nai had dragged it from, towards freedom. “It knows fear, just like you and I,” Nai said, watching the creature run for a moment.

Nai pulled her pellet-bow from her shoulders, the gears whirring as it loaded another sphere shot from the magazine. She made a few adjustments and the weapon began to hum, the noise rising to a crescendo as the pellet-bow began a slow journey towards overloading. Nai lifted the bows scope to her eye and sighted on the fleeing Margr, before unhurriedly pulling the trigger. There was a sharp crack of displaced air and a rush of white vapour from the weapons muzzle. The retreating Margrs head exploded in a hail of bone and gore, the decapitated body trotting on for a few steps before tumbling on to the ground. “And in addition, just like you and I, it doesn’t function terribly well without a head.”
Behind her one of the villagers made retching noises as Nai engaged the safety on her weapon and hucked it back up on to her shoulders. “This ends today’s lesson,” the jack said as she turned and walked through the crowd of stunned villagers, who parted quickly as Nai approached. Behind her the gathered village folk began whispering amongst themselves, which soon became a cacophony of voices raised in stern argument. It was a start, Nai thought to herself.

 

Numenera: Uncomfortable Truths.

Norvo is A Graceful Glaive who Sees Beyond.

Zenea is An Impulsive Jack who Crafts Unique Objects.

Sakir is a Mutant Nano who Speaks to the Datasphere.

***

The walker ground to a halt,  four great legs stilling with a metallic groan, its clawed feet digging deeply into the ground. Wet clods of drit and plant life were sprayed up its flanks, some of the larger chunks dislodging and spattering on to the ground.

Zenea was hunkered down behind the deflection shield at the pilots station, a pair of goggles secured over her eyes, humming to herself. Her face was dripping with muck but she was positively beaming with delight. “We’re here,” she yelled to the two passengers behind her. Zenea pounded on the side of the walker. “Good beastie,” the jack giggled.

Norvo struggled to share her enthusiasm. He had hastily converted one of their tents into a makeshift roof for the open topped vehicle, initially to shield the exposed drive core where their strange new friend was working, but it had the added advantage of keeping the spray of muck from further despoiling his white robes. Mostly. “I, for one, am glad this step of our journey is over.” The glaive glanced over to the open hatch where the third member of their odd little troupe toiled. “Sakir. How does she fare?”

Crouched over the scintillating crystal drive core, Sakirs face was covered in a sheen of sweat, the large pallid orb that was his single eye staring lidlessly into the walkers heart. His hands worked through the air in a sweep of complicated gestures, brow furrowed. The vehicles core seemed to pulse in time with his movements. “I think we’ll have enough power to get back. Critical failure isn’t imminent, at least.”

“Diiis-mount!” Zenea barked, pulling a lever on the pilots station, causing a ramp to unfold from the walkers side with a staccato burst of metallic clangs. She reached under the vehicles control array and yanked a silver orb from its resting place. The walker seemed to sigh and settle down further, as if some vital element had been taken from it. “Last one down is a scum sucking invertebrate,” Zenea yelled over her shoulder as she cannoned down the ramp.

Sakir simply swarmed down one of the walkers legs, agile as a laak, his hands and feet adhering to the vehicles hull, hitting the ground scant seconds after Zenea. He raised the hood of his cloak, shielding his ice white skin from the sun, casting his face into shadow. Norvo adjusted his robes, dusting them down unhurriedly before striding down the ramp, taking in their surroundings with a keen eye. The undergrowth pressed in from both sides, oppressive and dark, while unfamiliar animal cries echoed from deep shadows.

The Valley of Sins lay before them.

***

Their progress had been slow at first. The plant life in the valley appeared to be lush, verdant and remarkably resilient. Norvo had drawn two swords from the walkers stowage, disdaining his staff for a sturdy short blade, ideal for hacking through the boundless undergrowth. Across his back lay a curved sabre, just in case any of the undergrowth decided to fight back.
Behind him the device in Zeneas hands beeped and sqawked periodically as she constantly made adjustments to it. She had insisted it would aid in their discovery of any useful Numenera devices nearby. Norvo had no idea when she had found the time to construct it, but that wasn’t anything unusual. Two wrist mounted Buzzers comprised her weaponry, capable of spitting out razor edged discs in a rapid volley. Zenea liked to keep her hands free.
Sakirs head was constantly moving, his cyclopean visage turning from left to right and back again. “It’s so noisy here. So many voices,” he said distractedly. He had grown used to the relative quiet of the open countryside, but here it was a cacophony of voices warring for his attention, a constant buzz inside his head. Ever since he could remember the voices had been there. Sometimes they would answer his questions, other times they would grant him sudden insight into how a device might function. Sometimes they screamed at him. He carried no obvious weapon, his arms tucked into the sleeves of his robes.

Norvo cast a puzzled look at the nano over his shoulder. “It seems very peaceful to me.” He paused to haul a particularly stubborn root from their path. “Relatively speaking.”

The mutants head looked up to regard Norvos back for a moment, seemingly embarrassed. “I misspoke,” he said hastily. “I think the ride here jarred something loose,” he finished, jabbing at the side of his head with one pale finger, smiling.

Norvo chuckled, despite himself. “I do believe I remember reading some sort of ancient scripture about a one eyed man in a valley.”

Sakir peered at him, his mouth tightening. “Did he misjudge the distance to a hole in the ground and fall in, to the amusement of all?” the nano said wearily.

The glaive shook his head before stopping so abruptly Zenea nearly bumped into him. Norvo turned to Sakir, smiling. “Not in the slightest. As I recall, he was the King.”

***

“In front of us. No. Behind us.” Zenea shook the Numenera seeking device, which burbled at her. “Gah. This isn’t fun any more.”

“Could I take a look at it?” ventured Sakir, eager to have something to concentrate on something other than the voices. They had been slowly rising to a cacophony in his head.

“No. Mine!” Zenea snapped, batting the nanos hand away.

Norvo took a deep breath. “Zee. Give me your best guess.”

Zenea pointed to a patch of twisted trees, choked by green vines. “That way. I think.”

Norvo focused his vision, taking three sharp breaths. The undergrowth melted away under his scrutiny, sweat beading on his forehead. A geometric shape, quite at odds with the riot of plant life around them, loomed out of the greenery. “I believe I have found something.”

***

A sloped wall of bluish metal barred their progress, covered as it was by vines, fungal growth and mould. Under Norvos enhanced vision, a door could clearly be seen under the muck. “There is a way in under all this mess, I can see it.”

Zeneas Numenera hunting curio was emitting a high pitched screech as she waved it over the construction. “We could blow it up. That usually works. I mean if its lasted this long I wouldn’t do any permanent damage. Probably.”

Sakir was massaging his temples, the whispers around him becoming voices, ramping up into screams before dying into silence. His nerves were fraying rapidly. “Move,” he said sharply. The other two parted as the nano raised his hand in a tight fist then unfurled his fingers. The plants and other greenery disappeared in a bright blue flash, burned away into ash under the power he wielded.

“I could have done that,” said Zenea, petulantly.

“You can work on the door,” offered Norvo, casting a concerned glance at Sakir. “You do not look well.”

“We shouldn’t stay here long,” gasped Sakir. “We shouldn’t be here at all.”

***

“Almost there,” said Zenea with gritted teeth. A few burnt fingers later and a jury rigged cypher had been wired into what appeared to be the doors control panel. “Five degrees to the left and…” The door rumbled open on long neglected runners, sending a high pitched screech echoing into the humid air. The screech persisted long after the door had ceased movement, causing Zenea to check her detection device in confusion. “It’s not me!” she bellowed. Norvo looked around in horror.

Sakir was bent double, blood trickling out of his ears and mouth in a steady stream, a high pitched wail emanating from his pale lipped mouth, which then slowly tailed off into silence. His mouth opened once more and a voice that was not his own spilled forth from his lips. “Incursion. Category Five. Reinforce the shielding. It will not hold. It will not hold. It will not hold.” His arm shot out rigidly, a pale finger pointing past where the glaive and the jack stood. “Its here,” Sakir whispered.

Reflexively, Norvo drew the sabre from his back. Zenea dropped her detector, priming the Buzzers that were mounted on her wrists. They both spun as one to cover the empty doorway behind them. Except it wasn’t empty any more. A pale blue mist filled the dark void, roiling in place, like a storm cloud trapped in a bottle.

“Do not lie. It will know.” Sakir gasped, before dropping to the ground, his strength all but spent.

Zenea snarled. “Norvo. Can’t move. You?”

“Unfortunately not,” the glaive replied, straining.

To Zenea, the cloud was featureless, a roiling phantasm in the darkened doorway. To Norvo, he could see faces written into the fabric of the thing. Hundreds of faces, human and otherwise, in a shifting mosaic that caused his eyes to water just to look at it.

The mist shifted its attention to Zenea, regarding her with eyes she could not see. “WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST FEAR?” Thousands of voices spoke at once, causing the drit under their feet to whip up into a brief maelstrom.

“Pike off,” the jack spat defiantly.

“Unwise,” moaned Sakir from where he lay.

Zenea screamed as an unseen force closed in around her threatening to crush the life from her. Her bones creaked in protest. “Alright, alright!” The jack flushed scarlet. “Failure. My greatest fear is failure. There. Happy now?” Zenea let out a squawk as the force released her and she dropped to the ground. She sat up, triggering the Buzzers on her wrists. The volley of razor sharp discs simply passed through the gaseous form of their tormentor, clattering into the dark entryway behind it. She shrugged apologetically to the others. “Had to try.” She picked up her Numenera detector and began fiddling with it absentmindedly, at something of a loss.

The maelstrom of blue eddying mist turned it’s attention to Norvo, who was still pinned in place. “WHAT ARE YOU?”

Murderer. Sakir twitched as the whisper somehow reached his ears through the cacophony of voices. “What?” he murmured weakly. In a moment of realisation, he knew the whisper hadn’t been meant for his ears.

Norvo gritted his teeth. “I am a Glaive of the Ninth Sundered Circle,” he said proudly. A moment later, Norvo bellowed in pain as he felt an immense pressure bore into the space between his eyes, causing his vision to darken.

The mist crept a fraction closer to the trapped glaive. “WHAT. ARE. YOU?”

A sob wracked Norvos body, the source of pain quite separate from the physical torture he was already enduring. Oh no, he raged silently. Not this. Never this. The glaive opened his mouth. “I’m a m…”

A low buzz emanated from Norvos left side, like a swarm of hungry insects descending on to a ripe fruit. Zenea strode forward, brandishing her Numenera detector like a talisman. The control orb from the walker had somehow been incorporated into its outer casing, where it pulsed with a wan yellow light. The blue mist recoiled from it, as if stung. Norvo felt his body released from the force that had bound him in place, nearly falling to the ground.

Zenea gently laid the device at her feet and carefully backed away, keeping her eyes firmly set on the azure stormcloud, which roiled impotently at the very edge of the doorway. “You remember the first time we met, Norvo?”

The glaive smiled. “Of course. You told me you would never run from a fight.”

Zenea nodded. “So…we’re not running away?”

Norvo chuckled. “No. We are making a tactical withdrawal. That is an entirely separate battlefield manoeuvre.”

“Works for me,” Zenea shrugged, making a rude gesture at the blue mist as it thrashed angrily, pinned in place.

Norvo sheathed his sabre, hauling the near unconscious Sakir from the ground and slinging him over his shoulder. “Does my vote count for anything?” the near delirious nano mumbled into Norvos robes, as they raced back into the valley, towards a long trip home.

***

Norvo and Zeneas previous escapade can be found here.

On the outskirts of Ellomyr lurks a Stealthy Jack who Hunts Abhumans.

***

Nai lay in the undergrowth watching the Margr encampment through the scope of her pellet bow. The bestial creatures campfires blazed in the dark, casting flickering shadows in all directions. The Margr gathered round the flames, some feasting, others engaged in bellicose brawls that often ended in bloodshed, while in the deeper shadows some were even rutting like wild animals. Above it all the smell washed over Nai’s senses, a horrendous odour of meat left too long out in the sun.

The Jack was confident that they wouldn’t spot her at this distance, but she had taken some extra precautions, just in case. The pill she had swallowed was purported to aid in matters of stealth, but the side effects had been somewhat unexpected. Small green plant growths had painlessly forced their way through her skin, shredding her clothing, forcing her to shuck off her armoured jacket which now lay in a pile next to her. Her bronzed skin already matched the light soil underfoot and the green growths blended in effortlessly with the plants around her. Nai couldn’t deny that the process was effective, but the experience had been more than a little unnerving. Worse, she was starting to cool rapidly in the night air, her shredded garments offering poor insulation.

Nai dialled up the bows output to maximum, the well oiled gears hissing near soundlessly as they drew the arming string back, the crossbow-like arms on either side of the weapons muzzle tensing. The spherical shot rolled into place from the magazine affixed to its left side with a gentle clunk. The pellet bow was a curious hybrid of crossbow and air gun, utilising a propellant to speed its spherical shot to higher velocity than a standard weapon of its type. The other added advantage was that it was near silent.

Nai panned her aim across the group, eyes narrowing. Margr tribal society was a fairly straightforward affair. The bigger the creature, the more respect it commanded. The largest became leaders of their own tribes, ruling through displays of animalistic dominance. She sighted on a particularly impressive specimen, standing a good two feet taller than its brethren, festooned with skulls and other grisly trophies. She exhaled and smoothly pulled the trigger.

The shot took the Margr squarely between the eyes with the crunch of shattering bone, poleaxing the creature instantly. It tumbled back into one of the great camp fires, just as Nai had planned, sending up a fresh cloud of embers into the night air. The smell of rotting meat was further augmented by the stench of burning fur as the Margr chieftain began to roast. A great bleating cry of terror and despair echoed throughout the camp, half of the goatmen began fleeing in fear, the remainder falling on each other in bestial fury, already jockeying for the recently vacated position of leader.

Nai watched in satisfaction as the fleeing Margr ran straight for the gap between two large thornbushes nearby, preferring the open ground to tearing their way through the needle like plants, even in their panicked flight. The implosion cypher she had planted there earlier roared into life, sucking four of the hapless creatures into the black sphere of its event horizon, grinding them together before compressing them into an impossibly small speck, before the cyphers energy expended itself with a pop of compressed air.

Allowing herself a small smile, Nai moved to withdraw from her vantage point before she was noticed, satisfied that this particular tribe would now be of little threat to the village. She felt an odd tug on her skin as she tried to wiggle backwards out of the undergrowth. Looking down, she saw the green growths sprouting out of her flesh had continued to grow, intertwining with the abundant plant life she had secreted herself in. Cursing inwardly, she tried to push herself backwards. Again, she stuck fast, the plants around her rustling in protest.

In the flickering firelight the remainder of the Margr tribe appeared to have come to some sort of consensus, though two of their number lay dead on the ground. They had begun to split apart, a grizzled looking beast with one eye was now directing their actions, jabbing his spear at the undergrowth and the direction in which the rest of the tribe had fled. As Nai tried for a third time to extricate herself from her vantage spot, four bestial goat heads snapped round as the nearby undergrowth shimmied and shook as though some great beast was passing by. Nai froze, holding her breath, as the Margr approached, brandishing their rough hewn spears.

***

Torvan gleefully counted his way through the pile of shins on his desk as they glistened in the morning sunlight filtering through a nearby stronglass window. “Here’s to another profitable day,” he chuckled to himself.

A rapping sound echoed from the locked front door. “I’d like to register a complaint,” a female voice chimed through the wood.

“We’re closed,” Torvan responded automatically, unwilling to open shop before he had finished counting his spoils from the previous day.

The front door exploded inwards under a booted heel causing Torvan to jerk upright in his seat. He raised his arms in a gesture of surrender, squinting as the light poured into the shop front, revealing the silhouette of a ragged looking figure.

Nai had cinched her armoured jacket tightly around her chest, preserving what dignity she had left. Her clothes hung off her in tatters and where her bare skin showed through it was mottled grey where the plant growths had shrivelled and died off a short time ago. Her face bled from several small cuts. She held her pellet bow casually at her side, not quite aiming it at the merchant. “I think you owe me an explanation, Torvan,” she growled.

The merchant lowered his arms, recovering some of his composure. “Ah, the mighty beast hunter. I remember you now. I trust your purchase performed as advertised?”

“Not exactly,” Nai replied. She raised her pellet bow and sighted on the terrified shopkeeper, frowning. “It nearly got me killed.”

Torvan stretched his arms forward and wrapped them protectively around the pile of shins in front of him. “Nearly. That’s a very important distinction, you know. Anyway. You know my policy. No refunds.”

Nai pulled the trigger. The spherical shot hit the shopkeeper in the sternum, knocking him backwards off his chair, leaving him doubled up on the stone floor, struggling for breath. Torvans pile of shins scattered across the table, some items spilling on to the stone floor with a clatter. While still outside on the street, Nai had made an adjustment to the pellet bow that had bled roughly two thirds of the concussive force from the shot, but the impact was still roughly analogous to a solid punch.

The irate Jack strode to scattered collection of shins on the table, plucking out items worth roughly fifty percent of what she’d originally paid Torvan for the cypher, before stowing them away in a pocket. It had done half a job, after all.

“I could have been studying the Scarred Monoliths of Ghan, you know. They float.” Korth grumbled. He was bored. The diminutive nano was sitting cross-legged on a battered synth barrel, watching Idrin pick her way through a small pile of old farming tools.

“They’ll still be there waiting for you when the time comes,” Idrin said wearily, picking up another farming implement, scrutinising it. “Besides, the last time I checked you couldn’t fly.”

“Well, that’s just it, they might not be! They roam about like slightly confused livestock. Anyway, I would have found a way round that particular problem. In time.” Korth insisted. “As it is we’re more likely to be eaten by Margr before I have to focus my talents on solving that particular issue.”

“That’s why we’re not looking at statues. Today we’re sharpening blades.” Idrin frowned, running her finger across the tools cutting edge, before flicking it with a fingernail. The blade made a dull tink noise. “Useless.” The pitted material wouldn’t hold a decent edge, she was sure of it. She flung the offending item into a growing pile on her left side.

The Margr were coming to the village of Ellomyr in greater numbers than anyone had seen before. No one knew exactly when they would arrive but one thing was certain. The village wasn’t ready.

Idrin had, with no small amount of coercion, rounded up anything that could be wielded as a weapon and was determined to help arm the village as best she could. Complex devices in the hands of inexperienced villagers made for poor weapons, so the glaive had fallen back on what she knew best. Idrin knew blades. She knew them almost as well as she knew herself. ‘Hit them with the sharp end’ was an easily learned lesson even for a novice.

Idrin rubbed her eyes wearily with the back of one mostly clean hand before turning to regard Korth. “Why don’t you go and examine the Shard? Maybe you’ll be struck by some sort of revelation. The village Elder would be grateful I’m sure.” Before you’re struck by anything else, she added silently, her annoyance with her travelling companion growing steadily.

Korth shrugged. “It’s not really doing anything right now. Also it’s entirely possible I might have offended the Elder when I tried to take a sample of it.” He looked at the tool that Idrin had casually discarded, before sliding off the barrel he was perched on. Korth rummaged in his jacket for a moment, pulling out a small blue ovoid object. He picked up the tool by the handle, then held the cypher near the blade. A beam of red light stabbed out from the object, playing over the tools cutting edge. As the beam subsided, the curved blade gleamed.
The nano turned and threw the farming implement end over end, where it hammered edge first into the synth barrel he had been sitting on, slicing clean through the material and sticking fast, the handle quivering for a moment.

Idrin had watched this development with interest, the pile of tools in front of her forgotten. “Where in all of the Steadfast did you get that?”

Korth grinned. “Traded for it this morning. I don’t think the poor fellow knew what he had. Here.” He tossed the ovoid towards Idrin who snatched it deftly out of the air. “That might speed things up a bit. Then we can leave.”

Idrin adjusted her grip on the cypher and grabbed a slightly bent spear from the pile, working the red beam across its tip. “I’m not leaving.”

Korth frowned. “Don’t be idiotic. Have you seen the walls they’ve put up? Terrible workmanship. If they’re still standing by the time the Margr get here I’ll be stunned. I’m surprised this place has lasted this long, between you and me.”

Idrins lips narrowed to a fine line. “I don’t expect you to understand.”

“I understand you’re ready to throw your life away for people you’ve only just met,” Korth snapped back.

“You didn’t complain when that person was you, Korth.” Idrin said without looking up, cursing under her breath as the cypher in her hand stuttered and died. A mere handful of tools had been turned into serviceable weapons. The rest would have to be honed by sweat and toil.

“That was different,” the nano replied, his tone pained.

“Only on a matter of scale,” Idrin said. “This is a worthy cause. Not some petty border dispute between cities or a bandit raid.” She gestured to the buildings around them. “These are peoples homes. This matters.” She caught Korths gaze. “I saw you give the rest of your cyphers away earlier. You don’t want these people to die any more than I do.”

“No,” Korth replied with a sigh. “But I don’t want to be here when the Margr break down the front gate either. I don’t process confrontation well. At all.”

“I understand,” the glaive said levelly. “You’ll find the ignition helix for the skimmer in your pack. There’s a cart hitched to the back of it. I know some villagers wanted to be far away before the attack starts. I promised them we would help. Just don’t let the village Elder catch you. And keep your speed low, or you’ll spill them all over the hillside,” Idrin finished with a smile.

Korth swallowed sharply before speaking. “I can do that,” he said quietly. “You knew I wouldn’t stay?”

“I hoped for the best but planned for the worst, as always.” the glaive said. “I really don’t blame you. It’s going to be one hell of a fight if they break through the defences.” Idrin wrapped up the sharpened tools in a hide blanket, before retrieving her own weapon from where it lay against a nearby wall. The hack-lance was a four and a half foot metallic long staff, refined to a sharpened stabbing point at one end and a wide axe blade at the other. Idrin secured it to a harness on her back with a practised motion. “I just hope I have enough time to show the villagers how to hold a blade without losing any fingers.” She turned away and began to cross the street. “Take care and safe travels, Korth.”

“Iadace, Idrin of Navarene,” Korth said as he bowed to her retreating back. “And good luck.”

A humble submission for Numenera 2. Two friends try to come to the aid of the village of Ellomyr.

***

“It will work,” Zenea snapped, hunched over The Device. That’s what they were calling it now. After grafting so many cyphers together in one place, neither of them truly knew what to refer to “it” as.

“The last time you said that, I had a full head of hair…” Norvo replied, the afternoon sun gleaming off his bald head, his ebony skin a counterpoint to the white robes he habitually wore.

“It will work,” Zenea insisted, her hands flicking feverishly over her creation, the pink mohawk atop her head bobbing slightly as she worked. Her clothes, a ragged patchwork of decorated animal hide and synth, were stained grey with drit and green from the plant life underfoot.

“…and eyebrows.” Norvo finished, adjusting his grip on the staff he wielded, staring out into the horizon of lush green that surrounded them. Their trusty aneen was tethered to a makeshift synth post jammed in the ground nearby, the beast lifting its blunt squat head to regard the glaive for a moment, assorted greenery hanging wetly from its mouth as it grazed.
“How much longer?” Norvo asked, squinting into the distance, reaching for his farsight lens before realising Zenea had already pillaged it for parts. Instead he imagined the horde of Margr cresting over the horizon and smashing into the village of Ellomyr but a short distance behind them and suppressed a shudder.

“Almost there,” the jack replied, biting back a yelp as an azure bolt of energy earthed itself near her foot, sending a plume of foul smelling smoke into the air. She wasn’t going to admit to anyone, least of all Norvo, that she was a little out of her depth. The Device, now fully assembled, was a nightmare of geometric shapes, wires and adhesive a little over a foot across, radiating power with a near palpable threat. Zenea gently grasped it in both hands and lifted it from the ground, straightening up to her full height. “Just don’t make any loud noises,” she said, a twinkle in her piercing yellow eyes.

Norvo opened his mouth to reply, but instead gave voice to a strangled sqawk as his stomach flipped, suddenly having to lean on his staff to prevent himself from falling from an overpowering sense of vertigo. Zenea staggered, clutching The Device close to her chest as tightly as she dared. The air around them shimmered for a moment, exploding in a vibrant swirl of colours before settling back into a less nonsensical spectrum of light.

Zenea smiled wanly. “We should hurry!” she said, suddenly finding the need to raise her voice over a sudden rumble of thunder. Norvo pointed over the jacks left shoulder, his eyes widening. “More than you know!” he barked. Turning, Zenea nearly dropped her precious cargo at the sight that greeted her. A furred wall of limbs, horns and jagged spears greeted her, their baying cries battering at her with near physical force. Somehow, impossibly, the Margr horde had already crossed leagues in mere seconds, unless…
Zenea glanced down at The Device. “Um. Whoops?” She offered to Norvo with a panicked grin, before jabbing a button on The Device and laying it on the floor as quickly as she dared, directly in the path of the Margr. Her creation began to hum, raising several feet off of the floor, spitting bolts of jagged energy in all directions.

The glaive had already darted to the aneen, leaping on to its back as the animal frantically tried to tear itself from the synth tether. Norvo grabbed the beasts reigns with his right hand as he mounted, readying his staff with his left. Zenea burst into a sprint as the first rank of Margr closed in, leaping on to the aneens back, wrapping her arms around Norvos waist. The glaive raised his staff, a crystal blade sliding from its tip, then severed the synth tether with a sharp downwards motion. The aneen bolted from the onrushing horde of Margr with a panicked flail of its legs, causing the duo to hang on tightly as it fled.

Zenea risked a backwards glance. The Device was now surrounded by a ring of Margr who were trying to give it a wide berth, its erratic blasts of energy having felled several of them. This was merely a prelude of things to come, at least that’s what she hoped. “Faster!” she yelled into Norvos shoulder blade. The glaive grimaced. “I told you we should have used a Raster. This is a beast of burden, not bred for speed!”

Zenea spat a curse, then began rummaging in her tattered jacket, before removing a small ampule of purple liquid from a hidden pocket. With a twist of her fingers, a slim needle projected from the reservoir of liquid. Zenea jammed the needle into the aneens hindquarters, who let out an indignant honk as the fluid entered its veins. In a welter of grey ichor, it sprouted two more pairs of legs from its flanks, tottering unsteadily for a few strides, before speeding up into a thundering gallop. “It is now!” Zenea yelled triumphantly, letting out a whoop as they sailed over the crest of a hill, Ellomyr now within sight. Zenea could only hope that her handiwork had bought the village some time.