Micheal O’Brien (Mob) is one of the regular posters in the RuneQuest Facebook Group. here’s some of his recent RuneQuest posts, only Mob’s replies are included where relevant. Facebook membership is required to access the originals.
Some notes on the Cradle aftermath… (2021) appeared on BRP Central and Facebook, and includes notes and questions.
Sea Season 1621
Sea Season 1621 – When word came that the Lunars had failed to stop the Giant Cradle at Pavis, Count Solanthos of Sun County resolved to take the prize when it floated downriver to his lands. In the failed attempt to capture the Cradle at Harpoon, almost the entire military and magical resources of the Sun Dome Temple were mobilised.
Afterwards, agriculture across all of Sun County suffered. Spring planting had been disrupted, and a lack of oxen meant many farmers now had to resort to pulling their own ploughs. Furthermore, despite the efforts of the priests, many of the rituals performed to protect and boost the coming harvest either failed, or seemed listless, flat, and lacking vitality.
At the same time, levees would burst, and channels would clog or divert at inopportune moments. The waterways of the county were plagued with stinging botflies. It was clear that the Zola Fel was angry with the Sun Folk for siding with the Lunars against the Cradle.
At the Count’s command, Lord Invictus had the River Ritual reenacted, seeking at least to make amends with the river. But the chosen participant, the popular rune lord Wulf*, was later found drowned – this despite a full suite of chanting priests supporting him and hundreds of farmfolk fervently praying along the riverbanks. Clearly the river god remained unappeased.
*that’s Wulf, as depicted by Luise Perrine in RQ2’s RuneMasters. The updated POD edition restores material previously cut from the original, specifically each of the 45 character backgrounds. There Wulf is described as “the son of a thane of the Telmori tribe in Sartar. Growing up as a barbarian, he joined the Yelmalio cult to learn to use a pike.” So poor Wulf definitely has an interesting back story…
Later on Wulf’s character description notes, “As his unpadded armor tends to chafe, he tends to be very short-tempered when wearing his armor.” (he has the geas, ‘never use padding’.)
(These restored character descriptions are entertaining, and make for a more well-rounded book. Some even have special heroquesting abilities! The descriptions were cut from the original 1981 RuneMasters for space reasons when, according to the author Bill Keyes, Chaosium at the time “decided to compact the material into a $5 size book instead of an $8 size book.” It’s great the new version has them included.)
I wonder if he would be considered to be from Jomes’ people instead now? that might make more sense, given lycanthropy is a crime in Sun County. At this distance from Dragon Pass, Wulf’s origin story could have got muddled in the telling. You could say he is from Telmori lands, it’s just that his people, led by Jomes, conquered it from the Telmori. (BTW that also probably means Wulf like Jomes is originally from Aggar in the Lunar Empire, where as a youngster he would have first seen the glittering domes of a Yelmalio temple).
Reproaches and recriminations
In the reproaches and recriminations that followed the Cradle debacle, the chagrined Count Solanthos saw fit to squarely lay all culpability on his frontline commander at Harpoon, the Light Captain Lord Invictus.
Solanthos had sent a contemptuous message to his rival and overlord, the Lunar Governor Sor Eel, bragging that with their great spear-casting machine at Harpoon, the Sun Dome Templars would succeed where the mighty Lunar Empire had so miserably failed. The cost to Sun County, in terms of men, materiel, and magic for their own subsequent failure was huge; but to the count personally, even greater was the loss of prestige and face.
The count took out his anger on Invictus through various petty indignities and jibes, and by reallocating some of his responsibilities and privileges. These were instead bestowed on Lord Belvani, Invictus’s deputy (who had fortuitously and somewhat unaccountably been absent during the whole Cradle episode).
Solanthos pic is by the late Roger Raupp. Roger died in Dec 2019.
Wulf the Light Son
I put the Light Son Wulf into my post-Cradle narrative (TL/DR: drowned in the River Ritual), so I thought I’d add in the two other Yelmalio characters from Rune Masters as well.
Here’s the rune lord-priest Xendar (TL/DR: killed in a duel by Rurik Runespear!)
After the Great Winter, Haloric Glowbow was called to serve at the Great Sun Dome. The prominent rune master Xendar, chief of mercenaries, succeeded him as Light Captain of Pavis.
In his role as patriarch of the Eiskolli family, Haloric also made arrangements for his daughter Rana Goldenhair to marry Xendar.
Rana had first been married to the Light Son Rurik Runespear. As a convert of modest origins, Rurik was welcomed into the Eiskolli family after becoming celebrated and wealthy from many successful forays into the Pavis Rubble. But sadly, Rurik disappeared shortly after the wedding, at the time of the Cradle episode.
Subsequent divinations suggested Rurik was dead and so it was pronounced*.
Under the influence of the high priestess Daralanda, Rana’s fervent desire as a young widow was to immerse herself in the affairs of the Ernalda cult. To Rana’s dismay, straight after the ceremony Xendar forbade her from “prancing all over the city after Daralanda”, and from then on she was to remain sequestered at home like all decent and demure Yelmalian wives should.
Fortunately for Rana, when Rurik later returned with Argrath White Bull, he furiously enacted the Three Blows of Anger to reclaim his lost bride, killing Xendar. Rurik promptly gave his wholehearted assent to Rana, fulfilling her ambitions, and continues to safeguard the interests of his wife and the kinfolk he married into.
*not for the first time were divinations about Rurik’s demise wrong, see Wyrms Footnotes #13!
Rune Masters III
And here’s the last of the three Yelmalio characters from Rune Masters, Vandar. Including an explanation for his very weird helmet… (all this, as always, YGMV)
As the most prominent Sun Domer family in New Pavis, the Eiskollis adroitly survived the change from the Lunar occupation to Argrath as King of Pavis. Although their prestige and fortune remains largely intact in the new regime, they find themselves with conflicted loyalties in the Time of Two Counts.
Formerly accommodating to the Lunars, those Eiskolli family members resident in New Pavis now tacitly accept “Count” Belvani’s rule. He in turn has confirmed all their ancestral privileges (except that he has claimed their former Suntown palace for his own).
Rana ‘Goldenhair’, married to Rurik Runespear and newly-inducted as an Ernalda priestess, is the acknowledged head of the Eiskolli family. She is also the Suntown representative on the Pavis City Council. This is the first time in Suntown history a woman has led a family or represented the Yelmalio district on the city council.
However, back in Sun County Rana’s distant relative Vandar contends that he is the rightful Eiskolli patriarch, despite his lowly birth in the extended family.
On becoming a light priest Yelmalio blessed Vandar with the gift of permanent Catseye and the Total Celibacy geas. His detractors whisper that geas was Yelmalio’s way of showing Vandar will never truly be the head of a family dynasty.
Fanatically devoted to Lady Vega, Vandar serves as captain of the countess’s Golden Guard, leading the efforts to root out and destroy the Sun Dragon heresy. In Earth season 1625, Vandar personally slew The Gamon, Lord Belvani’s dragonewt servant, when the opposing Sun Dome forces fought each other in the Big Rubble. He now righteously wears its skin.
Vandar’s divine ability to see in the dark makes his eyes somewhat sensitive to daylight (and glow in the dark). The special enclosed helmet he always wears during daylight hours might soothe his eyes but presents a frightening visage and unfathomable aura of menace.
The Gamon has sworn to serve Belvani until killed three times (this is strike one), so no doubt it will be back bigger, better, and meaner than before…
Continuing with what happened in Sun County after the Cradle debacle…
A Meagre Harvest – 1621
Shunned by Zola Fel and with prayers that ran flat, the farmers of Sun County brought in a meagre harvest that foretold a hungry winter.
Count Solanthos ordered village headmen across the County to gather together all available grain, but the corn yield was further diminished by the widespread secret cultivation of the banned narcotic hazia. Although the Guardian of Sun County, Vega Goldbreath, led strenuous efforts to stamp out the illegal trade, hazia seemed to be the only crop that thrived in that blighted year.
Fell omens continued to plague the dreams of the Light Keeper, Gaumata the Strange.
Gaumata saw bare fields and dry rivers, an unyielding cold, and a gnawing hunger. To his horror, the Sun Dome temple itself was cracked and defiled, and overrun with ravenous ghouls.
Always in his dreams Gaumata saw as the source of evil a subterranean pool, surrounded by ghostly trees thriving on darkness.
Much disturbed by these omens, and at great expense in pure gold and salt, Gaumata dispatched Lord Belvani and Porthor the temple cellarer to the Paps. There they purchased what meat animals they could from the Sun Dome’s tribal allies.
Meanwhile, Etyries merchants in Pavis were bemused and overjoyed when Sun County’s trade representative, the Lokarnos priest Thandren Clubfoot, bought up all the supplies possible, and at a significant premium.
As Dark season 1621 approached, Gaumata took some comfort that the granaries, storerooms, and cellars of the Sun Dome Temple, at least, were well stocked for whatever lay ahead…
Hazia is first mentioned in RQ3’s Sun County (1992), and in Tales of the Reaching Moon #3 (1990) before that.As to its inspiration, the Earthsea books is a possibility for sure. Hazia was a recurring plot element in the long-running RuneQuest Club Campaign myself and several other Sun County contributors were part of at university in the mid-1980s — the setting was a precursor to some of what ended up in Sun County, including Rabbit Hat Farm. Good times!
*BTW, it is on this mission to the Paps that Belvani first learns of the White Bull Society and its enigmatic leader Argrath. He establishes a secret line of contact.
When Whitewall fell to the Lunars, the god Orlanth was fettered in the Underworld and the Great Winter began. I’ve put together some notes on how the people of Sun County in Prax fared in this terrible time, what they did to survive, and the efforts they made to end the Windstop. nb Everywhere within a radius of 250 miles of Whitewall was affected by this unprecedented calamity. Literally all the other peoples in that circle would have their own stories of this terrible time to tell, if they survived that is.
The Great Winter began in Dark Season 1621, when incredible events in far-off Heortland brought the dead air of the Windstop to Prax and the River of Cradles.
The nomads took their herds deep into the Wastes to escape, leaving Prax barren and empty. With Ernalda asleep and the cycle of growth stymied by a seemingly endless winter, the usual fertility rituals were useless.
Anxious villagers surreptitiously turned to Maran Gor, but even their blood sacrifices were in vain.
In times past, Yelmalion heroquesters could combat the extremes of winter by defeating Inora, the White Princess, one of the traditional foes at the Hill of Gold. The Light Lady Vega Goldbreath rose to the challenge. She embarked on the Hill of Gold quest, intent on overcoming the Ice Queen and loosening her frigid grip on the land. But, in order to reach Inora, the myth decrees that questers first must encounter Orlanth; however, where Orlanth should be Vega and her comrades found nothing – only stagnant air and an unnerving stillness.
Deeply frightened and unsure how to continue, they returned to the mortal world in failure and confusion.
Orlanth’s Ring did not emerge from the Stormgate, which caused consternation and terror among Orlanth cultists throughout Glorantha. Within a few weeks, most of the winds in Glorantha were affected and blew steadily towards Dragon Pass. Orlanth and Ernalda were not ‘dead’ outside that circle but even Orlanthi in Umathela would have be aware something cataclysmic was going on on the other side of the Ocean.
According to The Glorantha Sourcebook, “Throughout Glorantha, people reported that magic itself had somehow changed. The Cosmic Compromise had been weakened, and Chaos came in through its fraying web”, so magic everywhere is definitely affected.
There were a whole lot of unintended consequences of the Windstop. So even if you are not an Orlanthi if you’re in that circle you’re affected. For a start, Ernalda “died” too. So, as it says in The Glorantha Sourcebook, without Orlanth, the winter would not end and the rains would not come. And without Ernalda, life would not return. All of Dragon Pass, Kethaela, and Prax froze (except those parts of Tarsh protected by the Red Goddess). Drought and famine plagued all those lands, crops failed, mothers did not give birth to children, and livestock did not calf, etc.Furthermore, the River of Cradles is the lifeblood of Sun County, and it slowed to a trickle. It proved impossible even to commence the annual River Ritual in the few stagnant pools that remained (and the Zola Fel was already seriously pissed off with Sun Domers for their assault on the Cradle).
The Windstop might feel “too Orlanth centric” but even the completely blameless Ingareens of God Forgot starved in the Great Winter and they are atheists.
I’m basing this narrative on the description of the Windstop in The Glorantha Sourcebook (p.36-37)”But without Orlanth, the winter would not end and the rains would not come. All of Dragon Pass, Kethaela, and Prax froze, except those parts of Tarsh protected by the Red Goddess. And without Ernalda, life would not return. Drought and famine plagued all those lands, crops failed, mothers did not give birth to children, and livestock did not calf. The very Sky was affected, as Orlanth’s Ring did not appear in the Heavens. Throughout Glorantha, people reported that magic itself had somehow changed. The Cosmic Compromise had been weakened, and Chaos came in through its fraying web.[When the Windstop finally ended] “…the damage to the Cosmic Compromise had been done, and nothing could help the countless people who had died from hunger, disease, and privation.”
Horrors of the Windstop
With the Windstop other terrors came to Sun County.
Fertility blessings failed as animals and children began to die in the womb, gravely endangering their mothers as well.
Out of the Great Bog came swarms of locusts, both normal-sized and giant. With them came gangs of ravenous wild trollkin, some even riding the huge flying insects. They swept through the farmlands, stripping all the vegetation in their path. In their wake came a plague of famished traskars and cliff toads, driven from their usual lairs by hunger.
Even more disturbingly, chaos horrors emerged from a great eruption of sinkholes that appeared around the abandoned village of Rabbit Hat, formerly a center of the illicit hazia trade.
As the fields dried up, more such holes began to appear all across Sun County. Investigating parties sent in by Vega Goldbreath found themselves in a dangerous and confusing network of excavated tubes, suggesting a widespread subterranean infiltration of the land by Krarsht, the Devouring Mother.
The leaders of Sun County were sorely pressed dealing with these calamities, but the real crisis lay in the dwindling supply of food. As even harsher measures were enacted against hoarding, people began to accuse their neighbours of being in league with Krarsht.
Forgot to add: And meanwhile, on the river a strange sea-monster, its breath like a poisonous cold mist, wreaked havoc. To the Count’s vexation, the Great Ballista at Harpoon was useless, lacking arrows to slay it – these had all been expended in the Cradle debacle!(Even Sor Eel’s soldiers couldn’t kill the monster. It eventually it made its way upriver to the Rubble, where it is said to have disappeared into the Puzzle Canal.)
I thought Impala Riders caught it? Or was that a different monster?
that was a different ‘monster’, which by chance appeared when Jaxarte Whyded was observing a demonstration of the Harpoon in 1617, as recounted in Tales of the Reaching Moon #5 and RQ3’s Sun County.Described as a “large grey-green beast with a great fluted horn protruding from its nose, something like a unicorn”, Jaxarte notes a couple of Yelornan warrior-women tried fruitlessly to convince the spectators of this fact. However the Harpoon missed the creature entirely. It is reported that the beast continued its way up river for some miles until it foundered in the shallows, where a passing band of Impala riders slew it with darts. They sold the horn to the Yelornans, who had been following it.Jaxarte’s annotator notes the monster was a narwhal, “a whale-like beast rarely found in temperate waters.”
Come the end of the year and things only go from bad to catastrophically worse for the Sun Domers in the Great Winter…
Terrors At Sacred Time
Worse was to come. During Sacred Time, the customary rituals to renew the world utterly failed.
Perimides the Chaste, the aged high priest, collapsed at the Sun Dome’s High Altar, spilling the sacred libation. He was carried away, raving about a red-clad seductress.
As the shocked celebrants went to symbolically awaken the high earth priestess, Penta Goldbreath, they found she could not be roused.
Meanwhile, a creeping rot spread from the spilled libations to the sacrificial food offerings (and was later found to have spread to the granaries).
Evil spirits began to assail the assembled worshippers in the Gathering Place. In horror they realized some people in the crowd were actually the undead of Nontraya, those who had already died of hunger. In the confusion, the sleeping Penta vanished; panicked onlookers said she was carried off in the jaws of a great spectral wolf with horns.
Aghast at his own moral failing, Perimides immediately renounced the high priesthood and withdrew to a retirement tower in shame.
Gaumata – formerly called the Strange, but now known as “the Seer” since his dire premonitions were justified – became the new spiritual leader of the Sun Folk. He grimly pronounced that the Great Darkness had come again. Together the people of the Sun Dome and their allies must fight to stop chaos overcoming the world.
When the Lunar Governor Sor Eel was recalled to Dragon Pass early in the new year (1622)*, most of the hungry army went with him. While this would mean less mouths to feed in Prax, before leaving Sor Eel’s soldiers requisitioned all the food they could lay their hands on.
Count Solanthos rebuffed Sor Eel’s attempts at a levy in Sun County, but most of Pavis County and virtually all of the Grantlands were picked clean by the departing Lunar troops, causing great privation and suffering.
Down the length of the River of Cradles cold and hungry refugees from the countryside fled to the major centers, compounding the problems for the civic authorities.
In Pavis, whereas before the Teelo Norri kitchen welcomed all comers, the newly-arrived Lunar governor, Halcyon Var Enkorth, insisted those seeking food relief must prove their names were recorded in the official paper lists. Even then they only received a tiny millet cake that seemed to be mostly sawdust, though it was said the governor had brought tremendous quantities of food with him from the Heartlands. Certainly throughout the crisis Halcyon and his entourage never stopped looking sleek and satisfied.
The Sun Dome Temple was inundated with starving Grantlanders seeking sanctuary, who by custom could not be turned away.
Those refugees who made it to Corflu were bluntly informed by the Lunar garrison that they had no food to spare. This forced many in desperation to take passage with the Vadeli, the only seafarers to visit the port during the Windstop.
At least by now the nomad allies of Pavis and the Sun Dome were bringing in some provisions from the Wastes, though they refused to bring their herds back within reach of the dead air. But this was still not enough food to stave off impending mass starvation in the settled lands of the Zola Fel valley.
*The people of Pavis might be surprised to learn Sor Eel’s recall had nothing whatsoever to do with his failure to capture the Cradle. Sor Eel’s ouster came because the Red Emperor elevated Tatius the Bright to Governor-General of Dragon Pass as reward for his great victory at Whitewall, and Tatius quickly moved to purge and replace all the friends and kin of his predecessor, Fazzur Wideread. (GSB, p36.)
Halcyon sees his appointment as governor of Prax as a major step up over primitive and impoverished Balazar. He’s given strict instructions that the province has to “pay for itself”, but Halcyon’s insatiable appetite to enrich himself is going to be continually vexed by Tatius’s relentless demands for men, beasts, equipment and slaves, all needed for the Reaching Moon Temple project in Dragon Pass.
In Balazar Halcyon had lots of authority but no responsibility. In Pavis he’s going to find he’s got lots of responsibility (that he shirks) and very little authority (being leaned on by Tatius all the time…)
The Last Light Heroquest and an Unexpected Ally
In Sea Season the spring melt in the Rockwoods normally brings the Zola Fel back to full flow. In the year of the Great Winter though, the river had slowed to little more than a fitful trickle.
The Sun Domers hoped the Zola Fel was ready to forgive them for their attack on the Cradle, but it proved impossible even to commence the River Ritual in the few stagnant pools that remained.
With no prospect of a new harvest, the new high priest Gaumata called the Yelmalio cult leadership and community to announce a desperate measure. He foresaw that only by emulating their god Yelmalio’s grim and lonely endurance in the Darkness could the People of the Sun hope to survive the crisis.
For the first time since the Solitude of Testing, Sun County gathered to support their leaders in the heroquest of the Last Light.
As in the myth, the Great Sun Dome Temple became a bastion, attracting to it allies who could aid in the struggle. Some were expected, such as their Light Khan kin from among the nomads, and the Star Maiden Cathea Goldenhelm*, but others were a surprise.
One such unexpected ally was the wyrm Windwhistler, said to be the last living worshipper of the Sun Dragon.
Vega Goldbreath reminded Count Solanthos of how the Last Light myth speaks of the false friend. She urged him to drive the heretical creature away.
The Count was set to do so, until Lord Belvani told him that the wyrm brought interesting news.
When lured to the Sun lands Windwhistler first went to Old Sun Dome; this was the true temple in the days long ago when he dwelled in these parts. Back then it was a place of vibrant dragon worship, but Windwhistler was surprised to now find it shunned and deserted.
Peering in through the cracked dome, Windwhistler spied a woman curled on the flagstones below; sleeping or possibly dead, the wyrm could not tell. Before he could investigate further Windwhistler said he was driven away by evil spirits.
Frantic with concern for his abducted wife, Invictus the light captain urged the count to depart for the Old Sun Dome without delay.
But Gaumata shared Vega’s distrust of the wyrm. He cast a divination, and saw what Wind Whistler saw – though to Gaumata the sleeping figure seemed more like an alluring woman in red than a matronly priestess like the missing Penta.
As a speaker of Truth, the high priest voiced his doubts, but in the end Count Solanthos was swayed by his favorite Belvani, and so Windwhistler was permitted to join them. Gathering their new allies, the Yelmalio heroquesters made ready to journey to the Old Sun Dome…
*Formerly known as Cathea Silverhair (see ‘The Raid on Yelorna’ scenario in RQ Classic’s Big Rubble), somehow in her adventures this Yelornan came into possession of a fabled ancient treasure, a so-called “Yelmalio Helm”. After attaining Star Maiden rank she took to wearing the magnificent helmet, hence her new nickname, “Goldenhelm.” The helmet is fashioned from pure gold and is engraved with solar symbols. Its faceplate depicts a handsome bearded man (Yelmalio himself); as this is somewhat incongruous on a unicorn virgin, Cathea tends to keep the visor open.
The Yelmalio Helm’s properties are outlined in ‘The Raid on Yelorna’ scenario, and Martin Helsdon, author of ‘The Armies and Enemies of Dragon Pass’ has further described it over on BRP Central:
“The Yelmalio Helm is fashioned from solid gold and is engraved with Solar symbols. Only a very few of these Golden Age artefacts exist. The faceplate depicts a handsome bearded man said to be Yelmalio himself. The faceplate slides up into the top of the helmet.”
The Last Light Heroquest
The Last Light heroquest emulates Yelmalio’s grim and tenacious survival in the Greater Darkness, and is only performed at times of the gravest existential peril.
The Last Light has helped Sun County endure various trials and torments during the terrible Solitude of Testing period (1200 – 1575). The heroquest was last performed in the reign of Count Skindilli Longlegs (1439-1458), of whom the Light List says, “drove away Daga and made slaves of the Storm Bull men.”Although an entire community can take part, the lead participant must have completed at least the Sacred Time version of the Hill of Gold heroquest, where Yelmalio is disarmed by Orlanth, and then ambushed by Zorak Zoran, who steals his fire powers. In most cases this would be the Count*.
Stations of the Last Light Heroquest
- The Son of the Sun falls and bleeds out his life-giving heat, but his wounds do not deter his struggle in the Darkness as he girds his strength and fortitude.
- He joins with allies to fight against the relentless approach of chaos. The elves will be one, and there will be others, but one friend is false that only later Truth can reveal.
- He fights off those who would drag him to hell like his father and becomes the Last Light, the strongest god of light to live in the Darkness.
- He finds his wife Ernalda**, the earth mother who was lost in the darkness, and stands guard over her while she sleeps.
- The false friend is revealed and he is wounded again, bleeds out the last of his firepower into Ernalda, and that helps warm her enough to be awakened.
- He survives the Darkness, and watches over the ruins of the world until he greets the rise of his father, the Sun, at the start of time.
*a leader who has gone on a pilgrimage to the actual Hill of Gold in Vanch itself greatly improves the chances of success and enhances outcomes.
**this can be any other earth goddess who has gone to sleep, e.g. Esrola, Eiritha, Aldrya.
Lord Belvani was fortuitously and somewhat unaccountably absent during the whole Cradle debacle, but I’m sure he would have been right there in front if Invictus’s plan had worked and they’d captured the prize…
New Horrors In The Old Sun Dome
Having gathered their new allies, the Last Light heroquesters journeyed to the Old Sun Dome, wondering what horrors awaited them. They found the ruins there swarming with vengeful wraiths and the ghosts of Sun Folk who had died of hunger.
Entering the blackened temple, a host of undead assailed them: the animated remains of yet others who had starved, driven at them by demons with scorpion whips.
After battling their way through the zombies to the vault, Count Solanthos himself used his fabled iron pike to slay the great horned wolf guarding the sleeping woman lying half-concealed in the gloom.
But, before the heroquesters could go to her aid, the woman rose of her own accord.
Stepping into the light, they saw that she was not the missing priestess Penta after all, and – just as in Gaumata’s dream – she was garbed in red. In her arms the mysterious woman cradled a brass jar, which she held towards them.
She smiled, and removed the stopper. The jar rattled for a moment, and then, with a great discordant dry-throated roar, out of the jar emerged Daga, the desiccating god of drought.
As the deathly spectre grew before them, Invictus caught sight of the crumpled form of his wife Penta in a dark corner. There she lay, half-buried in a mound of dead earth.
Yelmalio in the Darkness bled out the last of his fire power into Ernalda to awaken her, and Invictus could do the same. But between husband and wife stood the red woman. Before he could reach Penta, the stranger caught his eye. The Light Captain tried to resist, but was beguiled.
For the others, the encounter ended abruptly. With a blast of scouring dust, Daga suddenly swept out of the vault in a blinding whirlwind. At the same moment there was a vivid pulse of crimson light and the red woman suddenly vanished, taking Invictus with her. The empty brass jar clattered on the floor.
The reason for the Red Witch’s sudden departure became clear moments later, when the dog-headed god Jajagappa and his pack suddenly swarmed into the crypt, seeking to drag the Yelmalion heroquesters to Hell.
Flying in on Windwhistler’s back through the crack in the dome, Belvani swooped to rescue the comatose Penta. He also snatched up the brass jar. Windwhistler bore Penta and soared out of the temple to safety.
Meanwhile the Count, his Light Sons, and their allies successfully fought off Jajagappa, proving they were worthy of the strongest god of light to live in the Darkness.
The heroes left the dog-headed Hunter of Souls and his Hell Hounds to gorge themselves on the undead infesting the ruins.
They returned to the new Sun Dome, which now shone with its own brilliance. But everyone knew the famine would still continue, as they had failed to awaken the Earth Mother. And now Daga freely stalked the land. It was a small mercy that thanks to Belvani and Windwhistler Penta Goldbreath was at least safe, though she remained in a deep sleep.
The next morning, Invictus found himself awake in the bed of Marusa, the secretive Lunar priestess who arrived in Pavis with the new governor.
The Light Captain fled the city in shame and humiliation.
Is that the same Marusa that was in Elkoi in the early 1610s? Yep, she comes to Pavis to get up to no good with Halcyon.
Checks out: Halycon Var Enkorth and his long-time companion/accomplice Marusa got out after the Fall of Pavis (I will describe how, if I keep going with this), and were later present at the Dragonrise. Halcyon and Marusa were among the very few Lunar survivors of Tatius the Bright’s Temple of the Reaching Moon inauguration ceremony; both pitched up in Furthest some time later (separately), seemingly none the worse for wear. So Marusa could head back to Balazar after that for more Jakaleel shenanigans.
The vampire of the Old Sun Dome loves his solitude, so probably kept out of the way while all this fracas was going on above his resting place – he knows such excitement is fleeting and ephemeral, and he’s not going to lift a finger to help anyone; alive, dead, or undead.
As for Vega Goldbreath, she led the initial heroquesting efforts, trying and failing to fight Inora the Ice Queen. So (for now) as Guardian of Sun County, she’s in command back at the Sun Dome Temple, trying to keep society from not falling apart.
Alliance with the Elves
Shortly after the Count and his heroquesters returned from the Old Sun Dome a lone elf from Pavis arrived, parched and weary. Clad in copper armour, the wood lord Rohir Oaklimb* had heard the call for the Last Light.
Rohir brought news of how the Aldryami of the Pavis Garden were suffering terribly. Their mother goddess Aldrya too was lost to them, and everything in the Garden lay enfeebled or dormant.
Taking advantage of their weakened state, the trolls of the Rubble had gleefully devastated great swathes of elvish territory, forcing the Aldryami to retreat back to little more than a small area around their sacred Shanasse tree on the summit of Green Hill.
The elves were grateful when Haloric Glowbrow, Light Captain of Pavis, brought his Sunspear Guards to help drive the invaders back, enforcing the mythic ties of Yelmalio and High King Elf striving together in the Darkness. From their camp in Angle Fort, atop the ruins of Yelmalio Hill, Haloric launched a daring midnight assault on Troll Bridge.
The elves’ chief tormentor Ziolan Onge, Queen of the Loricek Clan, and a host of her Zorak Zoran bodyguards were killed in the battle. Swearing bloody vengeance, the Death Lord Lorgzang Redeye escaped over the bridge with the remnants of the Darkdemon Regiment.
Rohir used the break in the fighting to slip out of the Rubble and make his way to Sun County.
*one of the Aldrya characters from Rune Masters!
Rohir Oaklimb’s write-up in the restored character descriptions says that he originates from “the forests on the Storm Hills’ hillsides” in Sartar, so I’m going to say he’s an adventurous elf who was on a mission to the Pavis Garden when the Windstop hit.
Rohir Oaklimb is very briefly mentioned in RQ3’s Elder Secrets of Glorantha, in the section about elf names (p.34, facing a typically mediocre illo). As ‘Rohir’ apparently means ‘Oaklimb’ in the Aldryami language, his translated name would be ‘Oaklimb Oaklimb’.There’s a similarly-named elf in Biturian Varosh’s tale accompanying the Aldrya cult section of Cults of Prax. He is called Fofrey Oakheart (or, presumably, ‘Oakheart Oakheart’).
The Sun County Settlements section mentions a pride of griffins stops by sometimes. Are they at all a factor during this time period? I suspect they will make an appearance a bit later, during the Time of Two Counts. I wonder whose side they will join?
A Secret and an Ancient Evil
When the Wood Lord Rohir Oaklimb learned that the Sun Domers had failed to awaken Ernalda, he shared an important cult secret with his new allies: the Aldryami of the Garden had discovered where their own mother goddess slept.
Far underground and by still pool of pallid water, Aldrya was hidden in a thicket of ghostly trees.
The hiding place was deep, deep beneath the site known as the Devil’s Playground in the Pavis Rubble. The elves feared to go there, for their visions foretold that their Great Seed was watched over by an ancient, intensely malignant presence.
But together with their Sun Domer allies, perhaps they could quest together like High King Elf and Yelmalio had in the Great Darkness. Perhaps everyone could be saved by rekindling a connection to Aldrya herself as the primal source of sustenance?
When Rohir Oaklimbs’s description was relayed to Gaumata the Seer he realized that this was the evil place that had long haunted his own dreams.
Searching through the temple archives with Temple Librarian Hector the Wise, Gaumata learned of an ill-fated expedition to the Devil’s Playground, many years before*. The sole survivor was a Light Priest, one Taleo Lumine, now an aged and blind hermit in one of the temple’s retirement towers.
Although it was now the middle of the night, Gaumata ordered Taleo be brought before him immediately. The high priest’s attendants hurried to the retirement tower in the temple grounds.
Shining a lantern through the grate in the tower’s door, they were shocked to see furtive movement inside, instead of a solitary hermit at rest. Fumbling with the key, they heard sounds of violence and a stifled groan; casting a light spell revealed two masked figures were throttling the old man.
Forcing the door open, the attendants rushed inside to find Taleo Lumine dead and his masked assassins escaping through the tower’s open roof. An alarm was called but the killers disappeared into the night.
Searching through the blind priest’s meagre effects found nothing. But hidden on the back panel of his oblation stand Hector discovered ominous scratchings.
Where lies the flesh of the Devil, The foulest part of all, That sees through the flesh of every evil, And watches through the parting pall?
Long ago with sightless eyes, Taleo Lumine had etched these words, and below them the image of a great pallid eye. Marks on the wood showed he must have spent endless hours tracing the markings over and over with his fingertips, reliving the horrors and remembering his shame.
From all this, Gaumata and Hector reached a grim conclusion: the still pool beneath the Devil’s Playground was none other than the Eye of Wakboth, a fragment of the devil itself, torn from its face when battling Storm Bull in the Gods War.*
*See ‘The Devil’s Playground’ in RQ Classic’s Big Rubble: The Deadly City. It’s possible IYG Taleo returned to the Devil’s Playground with a group of adventurers (player characters) as per that scenario, seeking to atone for his failures and cowardice the first time he was there. In which case if he survived the second visit, he returned to his tower. If he didn’t make it back, the Moon Masks off the unfortunate new hermit resident in the tower anyway, get surprised the same way, and Taleo’s etchings are still found.
Note it’s possible IYG Taleo Lumine returned to the Devil’s Playground with a group of adventurers (player characters) as per the scenario, seeking to atone for his cowardice the first time he was there.In which case if he survived this second visit to the Devil’s Playgound, he then returned to his tower afterwards. If he didn’t make it back, the Moon Masks off whoever the unfortunate new hermit resident in the tower is anyway, get surprised the same way, and Taleo’s hidden etchings are still discovered.
With food supplies almost gone and no end to Winter in sight, Count Solanthos Ironpike decreed that the heroquesting band of Sun Domers, Elves, and their allies would go to Pavis, there to the face the Eye and awaken Aldrya.
Vega Goldbreath would remain behind at the Great Sun Dome. With Invictus missing and Belvani questing with the count, this left her, the only female rune lord in the cult, to serve as temporal head of the Sun Folk. Vega’s earlier heroquesting attempt to break the Winter had not succeeded, but she swore she would prove to all a Light Lady was just as worthy of the mantle of leadership as a Light Son.
Windwhistler the Wyrm returned to keep watch over the Old Sun Dome.
Of the absent Light Captain, Gaumata could only discern from his divinations that Invictus had “fallen”, and although he would “see the light”, would “fall further yet”.
Another of the seer’s visions was clear though. As the questers prepared to depart, the high priest told the count they must take the reformed baboon Melo Yelo along with them.
The Light Khan Golungan was most unkeen to have such a beast in their party, for out on the plains the Sable Nation considered baboons little more than vermin. But Gaumata insisted Yelmalio’s Light of Truth had shone on this curious creature and it might yet still have a part to play in their mission. Given his own well-known antipathies towards non-humans, Solanthos was surprisingly quick to relent.
The questers were eager to make haste to Pavis, but their path was blocked: a great host of ravenous Gagarthi outlaws were despoiling the area around Garhound.
To evade the raiders, Lord Belvani cleverly suggested using the subterranean tubes of the Krarshti.
Making their way through the tunnels the questers were shocked to come across a huge excavated vault, stuffed to the brim with hoarded foodstuffs – grain, preserved fruits and meat, wine, assorted luxuries, as well as contraband including hazia. There was even fodder for animals. This was enough to help sustain the population for weeks!
The Yelornan Cathea Goldenhelm argued that this unexpected bounty meant they should now abandon their dangerous mission altogether. But the count knew that in the Darkness the Son of the Sun too had been sorely tempted to give up.
Solanthos gritted his teeth and implacably ordered all the tainted supplies destroyed.
Yet again Belvani’s cunning came to the fore: through a series of clever feints, the Light Khan Golungan and his sable riders lured the starving Gagarthi to the vault, and when they went in whooping for the plunder, the Count sent Sunspears and salamanders after them to righteously consume it in fire.
The way was now clear to Pavis.
Shame Stays Hidden But Redemption Is Sought
Invictus the Light Captain made his way back to Sun County following his embarrassing interlude with the Lunar priestess Marusa.
All around him Invictus saw the terrible grip the Great Winter had on the land: frozen fields that were once thick with golden corn lay dry and hard, and now that Daga was at large, withering corpses of farm animals lay clustered around drying up canals and wells.
At the Sun Dome Temple the Light Captain was vexed to learn that the Count and his questers had already set off for Pavis; sadly, their paths had not crossed.
Lady Vega chided Invictus for his mysterious absence. Guilt-ridden that his wife – Vega’s own sister – was still comatose, he couldn’t bring himself to confess where he’d been or what he’d done.
Deeply ashamed of his moral failure at the Old Dome, Invictus resolved to atone for it. Before Vega could question him further or Gaumata lay Truth on him, the Light Captain took up the Brass Jar left behind by the Red Witch and set out alone to vanquish the god of drought.
It is Zola Fel who assumes the role of Heler in the Sun Dome version of Daga’s Banishment, so Invictus knew he would need the aid of the river.
Following the familiar heroquest path taken by the Counts in the annual River Ritual, he made his way down the course of the Ouel Stream. But this time the Ouel was dry, and the desperate and dying people lamenting their misfortune and croaking for his help were real, not play-acting farmers.
At the Ouel Stream’s confluence with the Zola Fel Lord Invictus waded as deep as he could go into the frigid and now very shallow water. He raised his arms and called on the river. There was no answer.
For hours he tried but to no avail; the river ignored his calls. Finally, the crowd of starving farmers who had gathered around lost their patience. First they shouted reproaches and insults their once-popular hero; they knew Invictus had commanded the forces against the Cradle and held him to blame for the making the life-giving river angry with the People of the Sun. Then they began to pelt their Light Captain with stones.
To escape the furious mob and their brickbats, Invictus waded across the river and disappeared into the reed banks of the New Bog on the other side. For an unknown time* he wandered aimlessly through the frozen swamp, growing numb with cold and despairing what to do next.
Then came his chance to make amends with the Zola Fel: Invictus found the ancient catfish priest Brighteye trapped and suffocating in the dwindling dregs of a pond. Through stinking thigh-deep mud, Invictus dragged the great fish over the riverbed to the safety of a deeper pool, all the while fighting off a swarm of leechlike broo that were drawn to them.
In gratitude, Brighteye brought Invictus to Zola Fel, who had retreated in alarm to a secret shrine as the waters dried up around him.
The river god was still deeply upset with the Sun Domers. Nevertheless, he was grudgingly thankful that the Light Captain had saved his oldest devotee, and listened to the promises the Yelmalion made to heal the rift between the River and the Sun lands.
Invictus then told Zola Fel of his quest to fight Daga, and implored him for aid, as he had given to the Counts of old**. The river god was reluctant, until he noticed that Invictus had brought a brass jar, like the Counts he’d aided in times past. Only then did Zola Fel finally agree to help.
* I suspect Invictus is actually on his heroquest at this point and has stepped out of Time, he just doesn’t know it.
** as described in The River Ritual in RQ3’s Sun County.
Short Rations In New Pavis
When Sun Dome questers reached New Pavis they found scores of starving refugees congregating around the locked gates. The new Lunar governor, Halcyon var Enkorth, had recently imposed a ruinous entry fee that few of the desperate farmfolk or stranded nomads could afford (and even then, once inside there was no guarantee they would be fed).
In a gesture of benevolence, Count Solanthos personally paid to admit all needy solar worshippers, giving over his own gilded breastplate as surety until an equivalent sum in gold wheels could be levied from the people of the Suntown quarter.
The food situation inside New Pavis was dire; the municipal granaries were now all but empty.
Even the Lunar soldiery were now on short rations, though Halcyon var Enkorth was making a fortune selling barrels of “salted mock pork” of mysterious origin. Suntown residents had been forbidden from partaking of the tainted meat, but Thandren Clubfoot advised the count that the quarter’s own granary would soon be down to dust with the new influx of starving sun worshippers to feed.
Solanthos was keen to make the foray to the Devil’s Playground without delay, until the governor insisted he attend an official reception that evening.
As allies of the Lunar Empire, and for the sake of good relations between the two great powers the count reluctantly assented. But when introduced to Marusa, the charming Lunar priestess on Halcyon’s arm, Solanthos resolved to divulge nothing whatsoever about their true purpose in Pavis.
It was not the wanton way Marusa looked at him, or her glib remark about his “famous iron pike” that he chose not to understand; the count was troubled because there was something about the woman that made him think of the Red Witch of the Old Sun Dome.
The louche atmosphere of the new governor’s court was offensive to Yelmalion sensibilities, and as the evening progressed, Count Solanthos grew increasingly disgusted by the profligate displays of food and wine on offer. Halcyon Var Enkorth fulsomely urged the famished Sun Dome delegation to eat and drink their fill. But, following their leader’s example, they instead sat close-mouthed and with eyes straight ahead, their plates and goblets piously untouched.
To end the banquet Marusa made an ostentatious show of introducing the court’s new “master of revels”. Oakly Gauntest was an emaciated beggar with warped and wasted limbs that the Lunar priestess said she’d plucked out of the gutters of Badside.
Poor Oakly himself seemed thoroughly confused about where he was, but Halcyon laughed uproariously at all his glum-faced utterances. Solanthos did not find any of Oakly’s riddles amusing, or even comprehensible for that matter*. Only Belvani cared to showed any appreciation – best one of us keep on the good side of the governor, he murmured to the count.
It was long into the night before they were able to leave the governor’s palace, and at dawn the next morning the questers assembled at the Peoples’ Gate, ready to pass into the ruins of Pavis.
However the gate remained shut. The guards announced that Governor Halcyon had ordered all gates and entryways from New Pavis into the Rubble to remain closed until further notice.
Count Solanthos spent the rest of the day seeking an audience with Halcyon var Enkorth, to no avail. The governor instead conveyed an invitation to yet another revel at the palace that evening.
Lord Belvani suspected they were deliberately being delayed. He devised a plan: although entry to the Rubble was closed, Halcyon had not yet thought to charge anyone wanting to depart New Pavis for the open country; in fact he positively encouraged any “useless mouths” to leave.
Belvani took a retinue of Suntown notables with him to Halcyon’s party. He had learned that the beggar Oakly Gauntest had once been an Orlanthi warrior, and on arrival immediately challenged him to the traditional riddling contest. The governor thought this was fabulous sport, and it was only afterwards that he realised Count Solanthos was not present among the yellow-beards.
Meanwhile, via the South Gate the Count and the other questers quietly slipped out of the city.
The original plan had been to pass through the People’s Gate, there to rendezvous with Haloric Glowbrow and his Sunspear Guards in the Manside Ruins. With that way closed, the Count’s party skirted around the outside walls to the Wyvern Gate. There they would enter the Big Rubble.
*OK, so the count is obviously not going to get Illuminated any time soon. Oakly Gauntest is of course another character from Big Rubble‘s ‘The Devil’s Playground’ scenario. Oakly was an Orlanthi (and secret Nysalor Illuminate) who was the other survivor of Taleo Lumine’s ill-fated expedition. He contracted joint rot.
How did Halcyon manage to become governor of Pavis? He’s connected to Tatius the Bright, the new Governor-General of Dragon Pass. Not many Lunar officials would view a posting to far-flung Pavis as a plum, but someone stuck in a backwater like Balazar might.
If Sor-El went with most of the lunar garrison, how many lunars soldiers does Halcyon have to control the town? As events (after the Great Winter) will show, not enough!
Ambush At Wyvern Gate
The Yelmalio questers were nearing Wyvern Gate when a squadron of Sable cavalry in Lunar colors emerged from New Pavis. At a fast canter the Sable Riders headed towards them, ululating.
With a grin, the Light Khan Golungan and his riders suddenly broke away from the count’s party to meet them, joining in the yowling. Solanthos wondered if the “false friend” of the heroquest myth had finally appeared.
The Light Khan saw that the Sable Riders were half-starved; any liberality with rations the new governor showed to his regular soldiers certainly didn’t extend to those he dismissed as “native auxiliaries”. Halcyon Var Enkorth cared even less for their mounts.
Golungan told his hungry kinsman they’d answered the call to join the Sun Domers on a quest to break the Winter. Although in Lunar service, the Sable cavalry too revered the Great Sky Daughter. With the hand signals of the plains, the Sable leader covertly let him know there were ambushers lying in wait for them at the gate. Their own orders were to simply ensure that none of the Count’s party escaped into the country.
So alerted, the trap set for the questers failed.
Though ingeniously concealed among the broken masonry of the gatehouse, Solanthos smiled when his magic revealed the attackers had made the familiar mistake of wearing or carrying gold. An ear or finger ring would be enough, but many of these obviously carried their wealth in coins on them.
A righteous Sunspear smote the largest concentration of the ambushers where they hid. The rest, who were all wearing masks, scattered. The Lunar Sable Riders dashed off whooping, having great sport riding down those whose panicked retreat took them onto open ground.
Despite the Count’s call for everyone to stay close, the Star Maiden Cathea Goldenhelm impulsively chased after a pair of ambushers who’d dropped their shields and run back behind the walls.
Cathea returned soon enough, grimly bearing a hacked-off head. She said she knew him as a minor member of the Red Devils street gang. It was certainly curious for such a lesser fry to have strayed so far from the safety of New Pavis.
Melo Yelo, carrying his dilly-bag and armed only with a crude spear, tried out the discarded shields for size. He chose the one that had a beautiful unicorn painted on it. Now only a helmet would make the baboon feel even more like a proper Yelmalio warrior.
The Battle Of Yelmalio Hill
The questers passed into the Rubble. The late afternoon sun was bright for once, but shone with no warmth. The ruins around Wyvern Gate were empty and silent.
Beyond the ruins lay the open area known as Big Grazing, a mass of twisted and tangled underbrush, now all dry and dead. The Devil’s Playground was somewhere in its center.
As if forewarned, great shuddering cracks opened up in the frozen earth as the questers entered the grasslands. Out of these steaming fissures came a host of broos, krarshtkids and other unidentifiable chaos horrors. More chaos fiends were drawn to the fight too, emerging from their hiding places in the nearby ruins. Soon the Count and his band were encircled.
Rescue came from Haloric Glowbrow and a phalanx of his famed Sunspear Guards. The Light Captain of Pavis had encamped in the ruins of Angle Fort on Yelmalio Hill, awaiting Solantho’s arrival. In tight formation the hoplites repelled a charge of monstrous bison-broo with their pikes while the Count’s party gathered their fallen and wounded.
No one living or dead would be left behind here, Solanthos swore, but it was only a desperate sortie of elves, runners and Warriors of Wood from the Garden, summoned by Wood Lord Rohir Oaklimb, that allowed the questers to retreat to the safety of Angle Fort.
Safe for the time being behind the fort’s crumbling walls, the Count and his allies healed and recuperated.
As dusk encroached the chaos fiends’ howls and shrieks thankfully grew more distant. Finally all was again quiet. The count, with his surviving Light Sons, took the opportunity to withdrew into the broken dome of the ruined temple to commune with Yelmalio.
As Yelm dipped below the horizon, sentries with the gift of Catseye were the first to notice dark shapes massing at the foot of the hill. They were still calling the alert when a dozen dark trolls riding giant grasshoppers suddenly leapt into the fort’s central courtyard. This surprise attack scattered templars in all directions.
While the Yelmalions struggled to get back into formation, a great drumming began outside. This was the signal for a swarm of gibbering trollkin to emerge out of holes in the slope around the fort and take to the walls. Behind them, trollish voices screamed for vengeance for the death of their Queen, Ziolan Onge.
Axe-wielding Berserker trolls then began using their leaping magic to top the walls. Several even reached the temple parapet itself, including a monstrous figure bedecked in lead amour with a blood red cape.
Count Solanthos found himself cut off. There and then he made a vow to Yelmalio that he would never flee or surrender to the forces of Darkness, but commanded the questers below to get away while they could.
Down in the courtyard Haloric Glowbrow and his honour guard gestured the questers to follow them. In the crook of one of the fort’s bizarre* angles they suddenly disappeared one after the other. There was no enchantment involved here; this was a cleverly concealed sally port, part of the fort’s original design. Beyond, a track led to the bottom of the hill.
With Haloric came the Light Lady Yolanda and her devoted templar Mars; the Yelornan Cathea Goldenhelm; Golungan the Light Khan and his six remaining Sable warriors, rueing that they had to leave their mounts behind; and Rohir Oaklimb with a pair of silent elves from the Garden. The reformed baboon, Melo Yelo, followed at the rear.
Above, Count Solanthos grimly hefted his iron pike and made a contemptuous gesture of challenge to the snarling Zorak Zorani death lord. With the remainder of the Sunspear Guards he resolved to hold back the troll offensive while those questers that could broke out and made for the Devil’s Playground.
The Catseyes of Haloric and his men were pinpricks in the dark, and Rohir Oaklimb cast Elf magic make their passing go without sound. In the end evading the troll pickets proved to be easy, because their fury and focus was thoroughly diverted by the epic duel now taking place on the temple summit.
While the battle raged behind them the questers took a secret path through Big Grazing. They were led by Cathea, who said she and her unicorn riders often hunted in these parts.
Taleo Lumine’s account mentioned a stunted tree of enormous girth. Not long before midnight Yolanda found a broad stump. The tree was gone, but in its tangled roots was the remains of an old stone fish pool that matched Taelo’s description.
They had arrived at The Devil’s Playground.
Teeny little ret-con here folks, I have added a couple of new characters to the questing party who strike out for the Devil’s Playground; the Light Lady Yolanda and her devoted Templar follower Mars. Yolanda features in ‘Mad Prax: Beyond Sun Dome’, the scenario I’m writing for the fourth volume of Jonathan Webb‘s splendid ‘Sandheart: Tales of the Sun County Militia’ series on the Jonstown Compendium.
The Pool Of The Eye
The Light Lady Yolanda directed Mars to make preparations for Taleo Lumine’s opening ritual, and began chanting in Firespeech. A pitch black square opened – the entrance to the tunnels!
Lumine’s account said there were stairs down, but lanterns and even powerful Light spells could not penetrate the suffocating darkness.
The Yelornan Cathea stepped forward. As she pulled down the faceplate of her fabled Golden helm of Yelmalio, its eyes lit up with a cold but brilliant intensity. Beams shot forward through the ink, revealing a murky impression of steps.
Without hesitation the questers went in, all save Mars who would remain on the surface to ensure the portal stayed open.
The tunnels were smooth and cold, and the air stale. While the questers’ lanterns only sputtered fitfully, Cathea’s Goldenhelm resolutely shone the way.
Though the maze of passages were often completely bewildering, Rohir Oaklimb and his elves were drawn unerringly to the Great Seed. Yet always in the distance they could hear scuttling, scratching, and jabbering, as if countless horrors were just beyond their perception.
No one could tell how long they had been descending, but at last, far, far below the surface in the roots of the earth they came to a huge open doorway. Carved on its lintel was the same ominous eye symbol Taleo Lumine had obsessed over in his hermitage.
Through the doorway, Cathea’s beams of light picked out a vast domed space. All over there were openings, as if dozens of passages converged here. And below there was a pool of still water, shrouded by ghostly trees.
This was the Pool of the Eye.
With a gasp, Rohir Oaklimb pointed to the other side of the water. There, tucked into the sickly white branches, was the Seed they sought.
The Light Khan Golungan harbored aspirations to one day become Khan of the Sun Dome like his illustrious ancestor. Here he sought to prove his mettle as a heroquester. Shouting for the heavens to witness his bravery, he charged into the cave, lobbing his great spear at the pool.
Suddenly, Golungan stopped in his tracks. He twisted like a fish on a hook as an invisible force dragged him towards the water. As he went in screaming, the Light Khan simply melted – iron armor and all – and within seconds was nothing more than an oily sheen dissipating on the surface.
Several of his Sable warriors had run to his aid, and were similarly hooked. As they suffered the same terrible fate Haloric Glowbrow forbade anyone else to enter.
Meanwhile, it had been silent here, but suddenly the scuttling sounds returned, and grew louder, closer, and more high-pitched and excited. Hundreds, maybe thousands of glowing eyes began to appear in the various doorways, arches and crevices leading to the cavern, as if drawn to the commotion.
The questers formed a desperate circle, facing outwards with weapons drawn. Dozens of dark shapes began dropping into the Cavern of the Eye, chattering with frenzied anticipation. Shining the beams down the passage they had come, the questers saw their only way to retreat was blocked by seething mass of Krarsht-things.
All seemed hopeless. Now was the moment. Lady Yolanda called the baboon Melo Yelo forward.
To defeat the Eye of Wakboth, the high priest Gaumata had entrusted the faithful baboon with the Yelmalio cult’s greatest, most sacred treasure: the Goldenblood Light, the actual solidified blood of Yelmalio, spilled during the Great Darkness.
The holy relic had been secretly carried all the way from the Sun Dome Temple by Melo Yelo, hidden in his dilly bag.
nb I’m imaging the Pool of the Eye looks something like this (image found via Reddit):
His ancestor is there on the Light List – “Golungan an elected man, from the Sable Tribe (1343-1352)”. During the Solitude of Testing there were also four counts from the Impalas (the “Pygmy Counts”) and at least one Bison Tribe count (“who yelled a lot”).
BTW, when the Sun Domers describe an earlier count as “a dull competent”, that’s meant as a compliment:
A successful heroquest can be like a caper movie – you have to assemble your team, and they all have to bring something special to the table or you won’t succeed.
The Blinding of the Eye
The baboon stood at the entrance into the chamber and drew out the Goldenblood Light from his dilly bag. He reverently passed it to Lady Yolanda, who held the precious relic above her head with both hands.
The Devil’s Playground was notorious for all the treasure-hunters and glory-seekers who’d disappeared there without trace over the years. From this Hector the Wise concluded that the Eye of Wakboth probably couldn’t be defeated, but might at least be incapacitated for a time.
As bright as a star, the solidified blood of Yelmalio burned with a white-cold purity that scoured deep into the cavern’s darkest recesses. Of the gathering mass of chaos fiends, those too close simply shriveled to a crisp before they could even scream, seared to nothing by a fire that gave off no heat. Those behind fled shrieking in terror, blinded and smoking from ice-cold burns.
For Yelmalio worshippers the Goldenblood Light’s brilliance was an ecstatic experience, but for Chaos and Darkness it left nowhere to hide and no blemish unseen. In its utterly unstinting light the pool did resemble nothing less than a monstrous great eye. The pale trees around it held firm against the brightness for a moment, and then shook, curled up and died. The waters began to hiss and boil until soon the entire surface of the pool was a vast roiling stew.
With the Eye of Wakboth temporarily blinded, the questers rushed past Melo Yelo and Yolanda to retrieve the great seed.
All but Cathea Goldenhelm that is…
The False Friend Revealed…
For it was at this point that the “false friend” of the myth finally revealed herself*. As Melo Yello stood swooning in the light of the Goldenblood, the Yelornan came up behind him and dealt him a savage blow with her axe. He fell, gravely wounded.
Yolanda looked back over her shoulder in surprise, but before she could react Cathea blasted her with rune magic from a Moon-shaped pendant she’d kept hidden. The Light Lady stood there magically stupefied, and the Yelornan was able to gingerly pluck the Goldenblood Light from her hands.
Having taken the prize Cathea Goldenhelm made to go; she was going to leave her compatriots to their fate here in the depths of the Devil’s Playground.
She turned away, and the holy relic no longer shone directly into the Cavern of the Pool. Quickly, the boiling water began to noticeably lessen, but Haloric and the elves were still untangling the Great Seed from the dead and twisted branches that held it. Under the effects of Cathea’s spell, Yolanda wanted to call out; her mind just couldn’t find the words.
However the treacherous Star Maiden had underestimated the faithful baboon’s resolve. As Yelmalio refused to succumb in the Darkness, neither would he. Spear arm useless and bleeding profusely, Melo Yelo launched himself at Cathea Goldenhelm with fangs bared.
The baboon was smaller, but significantly stronger. Using his new unicorn shield, Melo Yelo bashed headlong into the Yelornan with such force that her helmet was knocked clean off.
Cathea’s head slammed into the wall behind her and she slid to the ground insensible. Her fabled golden helmet bounced once, twice, and then came to rest at Melo Yelo’s feet. With his good hand he picked it up and put on: at last he felt like a genuine Yelmalio Templar!
Trying not to swoon, the baboon pried the Goldenblood Light from Cathea and delicately placed it back in Yolanda’s still outstetched hands.
The Pool of the Eye began its furious boiling again.
Bleeding profusely, Melo Yelo resolutely stood guard until until Rohir and his elves could return bearing the Seed. He collapsed on to them as they left the chamber.
The searing Truth of the Goldenblood had exposed Cathea’s treachery, so Haloric Glowbrow ordered her restrained and held under close watch by the Sable warriors. There would be time for Yelmic justice when they reached the surface.
Haloric gave Melo Yelo and Cathea Healing, but whatever magic it was that the traitor cast on Yolanda, bringing the Light Lady back to her senses proved impossible; she would have to be led back to safety. With tenderness, Melo Yelo took her hand.
Brandishing the Goldenblood Light before them, the questers ascended, cleansing the tunnels as they went. No creatures of Chaos were seen or even heard, such was their terror of the Light.
It was only when they neared the stairs leading to the entrance that something faced them. There, a curious small creature stood in the questers’ path. It shielded its eyes from the holy light, but otherwise didn’t flinch.
Drawing closer, they realized the creature was none other than The Gamon, Lord Belvani’s strange little dragonewt servant. It handed Haloric a freshly minted silver imperial and gravely pointed upwards: a warning.
Uneasy, Haloric had Melo Yelo hide away the precious relic in his dilly bag again.
*The Tale of the False Friend
The seeds of the Star Maiden Cathea Goldenhelm’s treachery were sown in the Yelorna temple’s enthusiasm for recasting imperial currency into their own. This practice had long been a source of irritation for the authorities in New Pavis, and Cathea’s rapid rise in the cult was fuelled by her ready supply of Lunar silver to turn into Yelornan ‘stars’.
This scheme skimmed off a portion of the seasonal Lunar Army payroll, which was then unwittingly laundered by the Yelornans. Her temple superiors were blithely unaware that the source of her coins was actually the Black Fang brotherhood, in league with corrupt officials. (Or, less charitably, her temple superiors didn’t ask and didn’t want to know.)
The swindle eventually came to the attention of Gimgim the Grim, chief of Lunar intelligence. Ever patient, Gimgim had always sought the destruction of the Yelornans as a force in the Rubble.
Gimgim arranged for an especially large sum to fall Cathea’s way, but before she could convert the cash, sent infiltrators to the Yelorna temple*. They burned down the smithy, and stole the coin mold. Meanwhile, governor Sor Eel announced severe penalties for anyone passing Lunar silver they couldn’t account for. He crucified one of the bureaucrats suspected in the fraud to show he meant what said.
Cathea dithered for a while, looking for a way out of her predicament while the Black Fang’s vigorish continued to climb. To ensure the Yelornan’s cooperation, they’d made her hand over her beloved unicorn mount Barowa as a hostage/collateral.
Come the Great Winter and even the Brothehood were suffering. They pressed hard for their money back – though not in Lunar silvers. If she didn’t pay up, her unicorn friend was going to be sold as a curiosity to the Plomber Brothers’ Wayfaring Carnival. And if Cathea squealed, they said, it would be as a *stuffed* curiosity.
When the Last Light heroquest began, the desperate Yelornan was in Sun County, hoping to trade her stash of unwanted Lunar coins for Gold Wheels, or even (as a last resort) sell her prized magical helmet.
This is when Gimgim learned through his spy network that the Sun Domers were bringing their holiest treasure to Pavis, to somehow counteract the Windstop. As this threatened the revival of the enemy god Orlanth, it became a grave matter of state security for the Lunar Empire. Gim Gim resolved to prevent them – and steal the relic for himself if he could. A secret message was passed to Cathea: if she found out what the relic was and who was carrying it, he would help fix her problems with the Black Fang.
Welcomed as an ally to the heroquest, the Star Maiden learned of the Goldenblood Light. But she never found out who was to carry it; this knowledge Gaumata the Seer only trusted to a few.
Gimgim’s Moon Masks made several covert attempts to steal the item while Governor Halcyon delayed Count Solanthos in the New Pavis. To his intense frustration, the Goldenblood Light was too well hidden.
But followers of the Waiting Mouth always have plans within plans, so when Gimgim learned that Solanthos had slipped out of the city and was making for Wyvern Gate overland, he sent ambushers dashing through the Rubble to lie in wait for them.
Even then he had a fallback if the ambush failed: during the attack, one of the Moon Masks made sure Cathea saw the distinctive unicorn head painted on his shield – unmistakably her beloved Barowa! The Yelornan chased after him as he pretended to flee.
Once out of sight, the Moon Mask thrust the hacked-off head of one his followers into her arms, so she could return with it: for the Waiting Mouth, a trifling price to help conceal her disloyalty. He also passed a Moon Rune pendant, a spell matrix to help with what Gimgim wanted her to do: Cathea was bring him the Goldenblood Light or her precious unicorn soulmate would be shipped off on the next Moon Boat to the Red Emperor’s private menagerie.
*The ‘Raid on Yelorna’ scenario from RQ Classic’s BIG RUBBLE.
Death and a New Dawn
Emerging into the open night sky, the questers found that they were surrounded by the entire Silver Shields regiment. The Templar Mars had been disarmed, and sat glumly under guard. It was the hour before dawn.
The Silver Shields were under the command of the new Lunar governor, Halcyon var Enkorth. At his side stood the smirking priestess Marusa, now garbed in red, and the masked intelligence chief Gimgim.
Also among the governor’s entourage was Lord Belvani, his usual air of droll equanimity replaced by a look of great tension. For over on Yelmalio Hill, Count Solanthos and his surviving comrades had fallen back to a last desperate redoubt in the ruined temple on the summit. They were now surrounded by a vast horde of furious chanting Uz – literally every troll in the Rubble it would seem, being whipped into a fervour of hate and rage against their customary foe by two huge queens of their kind.
Haloric Glowbrow immediately sought to go to the defenders’ aid, but the Lunar troops barred their way.
“You can go die with your Count”, Halcyon sneered, “but you have something we want.”
Haloric gestured to the Sable Warriors to let Cathea the Yelornan go. She ran and stood with Gimgim, her head bowed. The governor snorted with derision and shook his head.
No, what they wanted was Goldenblood Light! “Give it over into my safe custody and you can go”, said Halcyon.
With a massive roar, the trolls commenced their devastating final assault. Attempting a diplomatic tone, Belvani remonstrated with the governor, reminding him of the Sun Dome Temple’s alliance with the Lunar Empire. He was peremptorily silenced with a dismissive wave. Halcyon then turned to Marusa to explain the finer points of the battle to her, as if they were spectators at the arena.
This left Haloric to wrestle with the dilemma, watching helplessly as his templar comrades tried to push back the trollish onslaught in vain. Until suddenly, amidst the fighting, a distant shape was seen climbing the broken walls of Angle Fort. It was Melo Yelo! The baboon had somehow slipped the Lunar cordon, and got past the besieging trolls.
Now wearing Cathea’s famous Yelmalio Helm, Melo Yelo scaled the shattered dome on the summit and pulled the Goldenblood Light from his dilly-bag. Battered and bleeding, Melo Yelo held it aloft, and its brilliant radiance burst out over the Rubble and beyond, as bright as a mini-sun.
The attacking trolls all fell back terrified, their skin blistering and their eyes smarting. They ran in rout from the hill, screaming for the safety of their dark holes on the other side of the river.
Recognising his ploy to get the Goldenblood Light had not worked, Halcyon Var Enkorth was unwilling to test the alliance with the Sun Domers any further, for now. With exaggerated politeness he promptly bade Belvani and Haloric goodnight, and ordered his forces to march back to New Pavis. Gimgim the Grim instead went into the tunnel, taking the sobbing Star Maiden Cathea with him. They disappeared into the blackness.
Haloric and his companions rushed to Angle Fort to aid the Count. Many had fallen, and on the parapet they found Solanthos. His iron pike was snapped in two but a dozen troll corpses surrounded him, including that of Rebecep, the bigger of the fearsome twin queens of the Javis Clan, and the Death Lord Lorgzang Redeye. The Count’s unarmored chest had been smashed in but his face was now rapturously bathed in the Goldenblood Light’s divine brilliance.
Solanthos Ironpike, 42nd Count in the line of Arinsor, gave out his last breath as the new dawn rose, while Melo Yelo resolutely stood watch above him, holding the star over the ruins.
For many days Lord Invictus, Light Captain of the Sun Dome, had searched the parched countryside. He stalked the drought god through dry creeks and wadis amid pitiful scenes of devastation, death, and suffering. But Daga himself always eluded him, until early one morning, just before the dawn, a powerfully piercing golden light appeared on the horizon.
Taking this as a sign, the Light Captain headed north.
The End of the Great Winter
The grieving Sun Domers made preparations to burn their dead. Meanwhile, Rohir Oaklimb and his elves reverently carried the Great Seed to their Shanasee Tree in the Garden. There they nurtured it and so rekindled their lost connection to Aldrya.
Later that day (Clay/Disorder/Earth 1622), in far distant Sartar the Battle of Iceland reached its triumphant conclusion.
Locally, Orlanthi heroquesters at the Pairing Stones also returned victorious.
The first wisps of wind were felt since the crisis began*.
In Sun County, Vega Goldbreath was overjoyed when the healers came to tell her that her sister Penta, high priestess of Ernalda for Sun Folk, had awakened. She was weak, and pained, but back in the land of the living.
At dusk that day, Count Solanthos and his fallen comrades were placed upon a great pyre in Angle Fort while the trolls across the river still cowered in their holes, cursing their defeat.
As the smokeless flames sent Solanthos’s soul to heaven, life miraculously returned to the Garden. With the Goldenblood Light shining out from Yelmalio Hill, the Garden was blessed with an incredible vitality: by the next morning, a lush swath of verdant green once again covered the entire southwest corner of the Rubble.
But, although the winds were returning and the grip of Winter had been broken, it was deeply troubling to all that in the lands of the Sun Dome the drought god Daga was still at large…
*To survive, people right across that 250km circle afflicted by the Windstop took to heroquesting to try to break the Great Winter. Serendipitously – regardless of the paths taken, powers sought, or gods invoked – all the successful heroquest attempts culminated on this day. I Fought We Won and all that.
Isn’t taming Daga an Orlanth thing? Invictus’s jar is made of brass, not iron. The Sun Domers have a heroquest path to contain Daga too. Daga ravaged Sun County during the Solitude of Testing.
It was the day after the winds started blowing again that Lord Invictus finally found Daga. Taking the radiant glow on the horizon as his guide, he came to the rocky gorge near the now-mockingly named hamlet of Highwater. There in front of him, bestride the dry bed of the river was the terrible drought god he’d been seeking.
Daga was standing contemptuously over the wilted form of Kinope, the gentle daughter of Zola Fel. The poor water spirit was attempting to drag herself through the dry sand to a last patch of water.
The Light Captain sprinted forward to put himself between the nymph and the hideous spectre. Brandishing the Brass Jar, he invoked the ancient bond between land and river, calling out for the Zola Fel.
Daga’s rasping laugh boomed in the canyon as the puddle visibly dried up before the eyes of the water spirit.
Doubt assailed Invictus. Had Zola Fel turned on him again? Despite the promises he made could the river truly not forgive what happened with Cradle?
Behind him, he could hear Kinope’s strangled gasping as she lay, utterly parched and defeated on the dried-out river bed. With a hideous leer, Daga made ready to pounce.
And then there was a distant rumbling, rapidly growing ever-louder. Daga looked up, and sniffed the air. The drought god turned as a tremendous wall of furious water suddenly surged down through the dry gorge towards the combatants.
Faced with the angry flood, Daga’s triumphant visage crumbled. A scant moment before the churning water struck them the drought god took refuge in the Brass Jar.
Throughout his quest Invictus knew he lacked the jar’s magic seal; the red witch still had that. He had felt her calling to him during his pursuit of Daga, but had always managed to resist her lure. Her temptations had grown stronger, more demanding, but since the pure light had appeared on the horizon that gave him resilience.
To prevent Daga’s escape he thrust his fist into the mouth of the container, holding it tight as the rushing water hit him with explosive force.
The Light Captain felt he was sure to drown in the raging torrent. True, his call had been answered, but it seemed Zola Fel did want him suffer. Buffeted, bashed into the canyon walls, and pulled deep under, Invictus grimly resolved to hang on to the jar to the last as flood continued on its wild and destructive path down the gorge.
As he was about to drown, Invictus found himself held in the tender embrace of the water spirit Kinope. The Daughter of Zola Fel pulled him clear of the torrent, placing him gently on the clifftop near the deserted village. He was half-dead and sodden, but still clasped the jar.
Kinope kissed his brow and then leapt joyfully back into the raging current.
Invictus trudged back to the Sun Dome Temple. Behind him floodwaters began to spread out over the flat farmlands of Sun County’s breadbasket. The great inundation had swept down the entire River of Cradles valley, flooding parts of Pavis County and the Rubble, and then beyond to Sun County.
Later, when writing accounts of this terrible time, Lhankor Mhy scholars concurred with Hector the Wise’s conclusion that the ice and snow in the Rockwoods never had a chance to melt in the Great Winter. The Zola Fel and its mountain streams and tributaries all then froze over. This abruptly changed when the Windstop suddenly ended, sending the entire spring melt downstream in a vast flood, wreaking destruction from Boathouse Ruins as far as the Great Bog; these were the waters that helped the Light Captain Invictus contain Daga at Highwater Gorge.*
Invictus’s heroic actions meant the drought was broken, but it required an intense force of will to keep his hand in the Brass Jar to stop Daga emerging again. A strange corrosive taint began to spread out from the jar onto his armor. By the time the Light Captain returned to the temple, his famous Goldenhand Panoply had a black tarnish that no scrubbing or polishing could remove.
It cheered his heart to learn that the beckoning signal that had drawn him to Highwater Gorge was none other than the Goldenblood Light, Yelmalio’s holy blood, shining like a star in the hands of the unlikely hero Melo Yelo atop Angle Fort.
Invictus the Light Captain had ended the drought and thanks to the questers at the Devil’s Playground, the grip of the Great Winter was broken**. However, Count Solanthos was dead. By the laws and customs of the land, Invictus would be the new Count.
*In Pavis, good progress had been made rebuilding the Lunar Bridge after the giant cradle had smashed through its central span back in Sea season 1621. The new construction work formed a chokepoint for the surging flood waters, but was eventually swept away. Floodwaters poured into the Rubble, quickly breaking the banks and flooding much of the northern section of the ruins. For a while, Badside outside the walls and Zebra Fort within became island refuges. Still smarting over their rout at Yelmalio Hill, the rising waters also forced many angry trolls out of their cellars and hidey-holes in the Troll stronglands. With the Goldenblood Light still shining from Angle Fort, this was very unpleasant for the Uz of the Rubble.
** and thanks to the victory at the Battle of Iceland in the Auroch Hills, and the Orlanthi at the Pairing Stone, and all the other heroquesters across the region whose efforts serendipitously culminated on this day. Certavi. Vicimus.
The Great Corvée
For several weeks, a great sheet of water spread far over the flatlands of Pavis County and the breadbasket of Sun County, causing further misery for the people. But when the floodwaters finally receded, they saw that Zola Fel had left them with a gift: the fields were now covered in a thick layer of fertile silt.
It was too late in the year for planting, so the hungry times continued, though the farmers all agreed that the next planting season offered incredible promise.
In the meantime, famine was kept at bay by the elves.
The Pavis Garden bloomed with vibrant fecundity under the unearthly radiance of the Goldenblood LIght, still shining out from the top of Yelmalio Hill. The Aldryami gratefully shared its miraculous bounty with the people of Pavis, and there was even enough to send produce downriver to the Sun Dome. With the nomads also returning to Prax with their herds, only in the distant Grantlands was there true starvation in the River of Cradles valley after that.
When the waters abated, there was much to be done to take advantage of the precious soil deposited by the flood.
Vega Goldbreath as Guardian of Sun County led the efforts to repair the damage in the Lands of the Sun. Using an ancient tattered scroll from the temple archives depicting the fabled Gods Wall in distant Dara Happa, Vega evoked the story of the Ten Sons and Servants. The entire population was mobilized into a Great Corvée, with even Light Sons and priests putting their hands to mattock and spade.
Although initially scandalized to see the Light Lady taking on the role of Morkatos the Foreman, clad only in a kilt, in a remarkably short time the people cleared away tremendous quantities of debris, dug out irrigation channels and repaired the riverbanks.
Although the Ernalda rituals could now be restored, Vega’s Goldbreath’s sister Penta had come back from her enforced slumber in the Underworld a changed woman. Rather than serve the living, she saw there was now a desperate need to succour the dead.
Putting on mourning clothes, Penta Goldbreath turned to Ty Kora Tek.
As Penta travelled through the land she gathered about her a sisterhood of widows. Together, they sought out the many restless ghosts and vengeful wraiths from the Great Winter, helping them find their solace. But the new Count believed it was his secret sin with the Red Witch that had sundered his marriage in this way, and made new vows of chastity.
Will Melo Yelo be taken seriously by the Sun Domers now? For now the poor soul is still perched up on top of Angle Fort, valiantly holding up the Goldenblood Light. Faithful Melo Yelo gains all the sustenance he needs from the Goldenblood Light.
This happened around 1626? The Windstop was broken on Clay/Disorder/Earth 1622, and the above entry goes through to the end of that year.
Death fosters Life
The Goldbreath sisters earned great respect for their efforts to restore the land after the tribulations of the past several years. And the Sun Folk were cheered when that Sacred Time Gaumata the Seer foretold a year ahead of peace and plenty, and that their earnest toil would at last be rewarded with an abundant harvest.
The ebullient mood was dampened with the slow but shocking decrepitude of Haloric Glowbrow.
As a reward for his actions in the Devil’s Playground, Count Invictus made Haloric the new Light Captain of Sun County. Unfortunately, within weeks of his arrival at the Sun Dome, both he and his honor guard – all returning heroes who had been with him inside the Chamber of the Eye itself – began to visibly age and shrink. By the start of the Sacred Time ceremonies these formerly radiant champions were all so bowed over and frail that they had to use their spears for support, hobbling to take up their posts like old, old men.
Fearing some sort of chaos affliction, the high priest Gaumata sought guidance from Yelmalio. The answer from the heavens was blunt: “Death fosters Life, Life ends in Death. Each is half of the same power”.
Consulting the Wood Lord Rohir Oaklimb, Gaumata learned that by joining the elven heroquest, Haloric and his men saved the Great Seed but unwittingly had become part of the Aldryami cycle of Life and Death.
By the end of winter, Haloric Glowbrow and several of his Sunspear Guards had withered and died: at the end, their bodies were like dry old twigs. But those that were married all left wives who were expecting, and the few who did survive gradually recovered when the seasons turned. Indeed, at harvest time the next year they were back in tremendous blooming health, only to have the cycle repeat the following winter.
On Haloric Glowbrow’s untimely demise, Lord Belvani was finally made Light Captain. He had long understood that this role would be his when Invictus succeeded as Count, and had to gamely mask his bitter disappointment when passed over – even more so when Haloric’s unnatural infirmity meant Belvani ended up fulfilling most of the Light Captain’s duties anyway.
But the new Count, too, was something of an invalid. Containing Daga in the Brass Jar took great concentration and fortitude, and caused Invictus continuous pain; after all, he was literally holding back a god.
Lord Belvani began to take on many of Invictus’s responsibilities too. Even he was surprised though when it came time for the annual river ritual. Custom calls for a new Count to renew the alliance with Zola Fel’s daughter in the first year of his reign, but in Sea season 1623 Invictus commanded his Light Captain to take his place.
The Return of the Red Witch
Standing in for the count, Lord Belvani took part in the annual rite of the River Ritual in Sea season 1623.
Praying for his success, the Sun Folk anxiously lined the river banks, showering the water with offerings. When the Light Son safely returned to Summons Hill the following dawn they knew the rift with Zola Fel was now conclusively healed. Everyone rejoiced; the hungry land at last would enjoy a bountiful harvest!rive
Belvani assumed the pain of the Brass Jar was why Invictus left it to him to consummate the union with the naiad Kinope; he was unaware his Count actually felt unworthy because he was steeped in sin. For, once again, Invictus was in the clutches of Marusa the Red Witch.
Through a covert line of communication via the Light Guide Laertes Coatilon – who had always been friendly with the Lunars – the priestess let Invictus know she could ease his suffering and hinted she had what was needed to seal the jar once and for all.
Early in the new year, Count Invictus travelled to New Pavis, ostensibly to discuss certain changes in the alliance with the new Lunar governor. Throughout the protracted negotiations, each night he secretly slipped away to be with Marusa. Her ministrations made him temporarily forget his agonies, and although she teased and taunted him, she kept the magic stopper out of his grasp. Nor, despite all her silken entreaties, would Invictus let Marusa take the jar.
The guilty count slipped back to Suntown early each morning, drained and filled with self-loathing.
“Praying for his success, the Sun Folk anxiously lined the river banks, showering the water with offerings.”I’m guessing river folk in the know – canny ducks, newtlings, and others who could hold their breath would have made off with a small fortune in sacrificed loot on this day…
The Goldenblood Light Dims
Ever since the victory over the forces of Darkness at Yelmalio Hill the Goldenblood Light shone like a glorious star from the top of Angle Fort. But now, with the seasons properly restored, the high priest Gaumata decreed it must be returned to the Sun Dome Temple.
Lord Belvani was alarmed to learn Count Invictus intended to personally bring the holy relic back in a stately procession. This was to include elaborate public ceremonies in New Pavis and other towns with Yelmalio temples along the road back to the Sun Dome.
Belvani mistrusted Halcyon Var Enkorth. He feared the Lunar governor might once again use treachery or trickery to try get his hands on their most sacred treasure. So, on a night of the Black Moon, he secretly despatched the Light Lady Yolanda on a mission to get the Goldenblood Light out of the Rubble.
Yolanda flew in on the wyrm Windwhistler.* She told the hapless but obedient Melo Yelo he had to remain there on top of the dome a little while longer to complete the ruse. A common lamp boosted with as many brightness enchantments Belvani could muster was then substituted for the Goldenblood Light.
This deception was not successful for long – for a start, the new light was dimmer by a thousand-fold – but at least the relic was returned safely. Count Invictus was furious, and Belvani could have found himself in Pent Ridge had the cult spirits of retribution shown any concern with his conduct.
The Count hurriedly returned to the Sun Dome. He took to spending hours every day in the temple’s inner sanctum, basking in the holy presence of the Goldenblood Light. Invictus said its heavenly radiance soothed him, bolstering his resolve to keep his hand where it needed to stay, keeping the Brass Jar sealed and Daga contained.
Most of Invictus’ duties now fell to Belvani, though the Count frequently arranged for state visits to Pavis for further ‘consultations’ with Halcyon var Enkorth. These were actually an excuse for more secret, guilt-ridden assignations with Marusa. The Red Witch continued her wicked ploy of teasing him with the stopper.
*Regarding Windwhistler’s whereabouts until now, I added this sentence to the Temptation Resisted episode, in which the questers set off for Pavis to face the Eye: “Windwhistler the Wyrm returned to keep watch over the Old Sun Dome. “
I’m assuming the Coders are out of Prax at this point? Yes, they left Prax pretty much straight after the Cradle.
The wonderful harvest proved to be everything predicted, but Sun Dome relations with their Lunar overlords grew ever worse as the year progressed.
Halcyon var Enkorth’s own natural rapacity clashed with his superiors’ insistence that the province now pay for itself. The new governor taxed Pavis County relentlessly and the Grantlands were simply bled without mercy. But by the terms of the Armistice of Prax, Sun County was exempt from direct Imperial taxation. Yet it seemed every time Count Invictus went to Pavis for ‘consultations’ even more concessions were offered up to the Lunars by Sun County.
On one such visit the Count sent word to the Sun Dome that rather than traverse their lands by boat, Lunar troops would now be permitted to march through at will and even to bivouac in the Lands of the Sun!
This proved to be too much for the Light Son Bakchos, Captain of the Sun Dome Temple’s elite Golden Guard*. “What next?”, he called out, “Will decent Sun Folk be forced to billet dissolute Lunar soldiers in their own homes?”
Lord Bakchos said Yelmalio compelled him to speak only Truth. As he saw it, the truth was all the calamities and indignities now assailing the Sun Folk began with Invictus’s failure at Harpoon. Surely the heavens were calling out for a better Count than he?
Shouting for justness, Bakchos set off for Pavis to have it out with Count Invictus.
The duel was fought in the forecourt of the Yelmalio temple in Suntown, with the Lunar governor and Marusa intently watching. Despite Invictus’ infirm condition and seeming unfitness to fight, his challenger was surprisingly defeated in mere seconds.
As Bakchos was carried away, Laertes Coatilon deferentially presented the Count with a dossier. It detailed a litany of discreditable conduct by members of the Golden Guard and its captain, stretching back some years. This, the Light Guide confided, had been helpfully provided by Gimgim the Grim.
Though he knew in his heart he too was a base fornicator, there on the spot Invictus summarily pronounced Lord Bakchos guilty of “outrageous conduct” and “gross moral turpitude”.
Bakchos was promptly degraded, mutilated and banished to Pent Ridge, along with the few Templars who unwisely followed him to Pavis. Invictus then guiltily slunk back to Marusa.
On his return to the Sun Dome Temple, the Count withdrew to the inner sanctum and the comforting radiance of the Goldenblood Light.
*The Golden Guard are the elite First Square of the Sun Dome Templars, described in Tales of the Reaching Moon #20. While they regularly serve as an honour guard for the Count, their true role is to protect the Sun Dome Temple itself.
On cult holy days the Golden Guard literally turn their backs on the ceremonies to face whatever foes might wish to do harm to the People of the Sun. Their symbol is a toothed sun-rune, typically mounted on lapis lazuli; the jutting projections around its edge signifying each individual brother, uniting in an outward-facing circle together to protect the centre at their backs. The blue of the lapis is evocative of the cold of night, when their vigilance is most needed. (See shield on accompanying pic).
During the drama of the Great Winter they were doing their job, resolutely standing guard at Sun Dome Temple, which is why they haven’t come into the account until now.
What ages were Halcyon and Marusa at the time of the Windstop? Halcyon is described as 25 years old in Griffin Mountain, though that book doesn’t give a definite date for when it is meant to take place. I’m going to go with 1618. This makes Halcyon approaching his 30th birthday at the time of the Windstop. Marusa is described as a “young Priestess of Jakaleel the Witch” in GM, so I’m going assume she’s about the same age as Halcyon, maybe a bit younger.
Nomads on the Move
As life along the River of Cradles slowly returned to normal after the Great Winter, out on the plains the Animal Nomads began to bring their herds back to their traditional grazing lands.
Though the Armistice of Prax forbade attacks on settled territory, Sor Eel’s abrupt departure with most of the Lunar garrison during the Great Winter tempted increasing numbers of nomad bands to raid along the borders.
Vega Goldbreath increased patrols and vigilance in Sun County, so most of the raiders tried their luck in Pavis County or better still the Grantlands, where the Lunar forces were spread the thinnest.
In the Grantlands, a growing reliance on mercenaries backfired when Halcyon var Enkorth reneged on paying them what they thought their due. Even before the Windstop the Grantlanders had led a precarious existence, and since then had suffered at the hands of the governor’s pitiless tax gatherers. The Longspear Slayers and Sir Holburn’s Axe brothers simply took to plundering themselves, forcing Duke Raus and other leading landholders to raise money of their own to pay them off.
The Sun Domers knew from their Yelmalio kin among the nomads that the tribes were becoming restive. Years of overweening arrogance by the Sables and their repulsive leader, the Great Khan Inire the Red, was sure to one day come to a head now there wasn’t the same Lunar force in Prax to back up their pretensions.
While Vega Goldbreath’s policy was increased watchfulness on the borders, to safeguard the Sun Dome’s interests Lord Belvani began making regular visits to the Paps, bringing the elders gifts of gold, grain, and salt. It’s here he first heard stories of the White Bull society’s spread among the tribes, and of its enigmatic leader, Argrath.
is this all New material? This is me taking the Sun County timeline forward to the new ‘Hero Wars’ setting date for RQG, essentially from the Cradle to about 1627. A lot happens in-between!
The Dilemma of the White Calf
At the height of the great harvest of 1623, a dazzling White Calf was born in the milking herd of a farmer from Yelm’s Griddle. In itself, this was an auspicious event, promising further bounty to come, but what exactly to do with the animal caused much debate.
Lord Bevani said he wanted to take it to the Paps, a fitting gift for the high priestess, Egajia Chewer of Flesh.
Lady Vega saw no need for further truck with the nomads and, citing the Gods Wall scroll that helped them so well with the Great Corvée, insisted the calf be offered in sacrifice to Busenari, cow goddess of old Dara Happa.
Porthor, the temple cellarer, wanted it for the count’s own herd, and Thandran Clubfoot knew the farmers in Garhound would pay a pretty sum for such a beast, for white is Orlanth’s sacred color.
The farmer involved was the recently-retired Templar Mars Melus, loyal honour guard of the Light Lady Yolanda. As a reward for his service at the Devil’s Playground he’d been given this prime plot of dairy country to settle down in. To build up his herd of milkers, Mars wanted to keep the White Calf for himself. The baboon Melo Yelo, who had found his way back to Sun County from Angle Fort and now lived on Mars’ farm in his care, wanted to eat it. But no one asked either of them.
The argument went on and on until the Count overruled them all.
Away on yet another visit to New Pavis (and with Marusa’s secret urging), Invictus ordered the wondrous calf be delivered up to the Lunar governor as a token of the Sun Dome’s loyalty.
Lady Vega and Lord Belvani rarely saw eye-to-eye on anything, but both agreed this just could not stand, and when the Light Guide Laertes came to Yelm’s Griddle to collect it, the animal he found there was a just a normal calf, painted white. Mars protested his innocence, but the indignant Laertes had him arrested. He was fortunate only to receive a term of banishment to Pent Ridge for what the Light Guide called his “impious duplicity”.
Under their noses, Melo Yelo had sneaked the genuine White Calf away. Further down the road to Helmbold he was diligently passing it over to the local militia unit (“The Bird Men” from Eiskolli) when Lord Belvani and his Paps delegation appeared.
Despite their protestations they were under orders from “her ladyship” the Guardian of Sun County herself, Light Captain’s shining retinue over-awed the mere militiamen and they took the animal. Belvani ordered Melo Yelo be brought along to look after it.
At the Paps, Lord Belvani duly presented the White Calf to the Respected Elders. This, he said, was a mark of the high esteem the Sun People had for the People of the Plains. With the White Bull secret society gathering momentum among the tribes and crossing all social and political bounds, the astounded priestesses considered the gift to be both generous and portentous.
In gratitude Egajia Chewer of Flesh took Belvani aside to share a secret.
Afterwards, as soon as his delegation reached Sun County territory, Belvani dismissed the other members of the party (even his little dragonewt servant The Gamon), keeping only Melo Yelo with him. Without returning to the Sun Dome they travelled directly to Pent Ridge, the Sun County salt mines located in the wastes of Vulture Country.[Later, the officially stated reason for the Light Captain’s unscheduled visit to the prison was to secure the release of the “blameless” Mars Melus. But, Vega Goldbreath pondered, surely such a mundane order could have been made from the Sun Dome?]
Belvani had brought Melo Yelo with him to Pent Ridge for a practical reason: the baboon’s famous Yelmalio Helm. In the Devil’s Playground it had shone clear and true into impenetrable Darkness, and Belvani was planning to go deep, deep into the mines.
After what he’d learned at the Paps, Belvani urgently needed to talk to the disgraced priest Daystar, and Daystar was part of the prison’s Dark Detail; inmates singled out for special punishment, who work, live and sleep in the tunnels and are forever forbidden to see the sun*.
*Daystar’s shocking crimes during the so-called “Summer of Love” (1593) were morally repugnant, and when they finally came to light were once the talk of Sun County. On the fall of Count Varthanis II aka the “Red Count”, Daystar was tried in secret.
No one knows why Count Solanthos chose to exile the defrocked Light Priest at Pent Ridge rather than have him immured in a retirement tower or simply executed.
(nb there are more tantalising hints to behold about all of this in Nick Brooke’s highly entertaining ‘Sun County Backgrounds’, part of the splendid Sandheart series in the Jonstown Compendium: http://bit.ly/2DMy10V)
Poor MY deserves more respect, that’s for sure. In an upcoming part I’ll explain why they didn’t try to take the Yelmalio Helm away from him (or couldn’t).
Why is it when Sun Domer kids ask their parents what they did in the Summer of Love they usually blush and change the subject? It will definitely come out as we explore ‘The Time of Two Counts’ but you can see more in Nick‘s wonderful ‘Sun County Backgrounds’ in Sandheart Vol 1. http://bit.ly/2DMy10V
Simmering Tensions in Lunar Prax
While momentous events wracked Dragon Pass and the Holy County throughout 1624, tensions continued to simmer in Lunar Prax.
Thanks to the Zola Fel’s precious gift of silt after the great flood, farmers the length of the Cradle Valley once again enjoyed a bumper harvest. But Governor Halcyon’s insatiable appetite to enrich himself from this bounty was continually vexed by his superiors’ relentless demands for men, beasts, equipment and slaves, all needed for the Reaching Moon Temple project in Dragon Pass.
The governor also looked upon the Sun Lands greedily, but much to his ire the Articles of the Armistice prevented his tax gatherers preying there. This was something even Marusa the Red Witch couldn’t beguile Invictus into modifying.
The nomad incursions grew ever more bold. Late in Sea season, Duke Raus sought an audience with Count Invictus on his way back from Pavis. He bitterly recounted how when he told the Governor that nomads were now riding with impunity through his lands, Halcyon var Enkorth said he no longer had any troops to spare for such an unimportant, far-flung outpost. The governor churlishly suggested that if Raus was unhappy he should go hire mercenaries of his own!
In frustration, the Duke dispatched a delegation of Grantlands landholders to Furthest, led by his daughter Lady Jezra. There they would plea for relief from Halcyon’s boss, Tatius the Bright.
His family fortune all but gone, in the meantime Raus had no choice but to offer the deeds to Ronegarth as collateral for Yelmalio Templar mercenaries, and place several treasured items in the Sun Dome vaults as further surety, including their family heirloom the Wand of the Seven Phases.
Fortunately for the Sun Dome lands, Lord Belvani’s diplomacy at the Paps and Lady Vega’s vigilance on the borders kept nomad raids there largely in check.
So while the people of Sun County enjoyed the new abundance, Count Invictus bravely kept hold of the Brass Jar to prevent the horrors of drought escaping once more. To Marusa’s annoyance, he now rarely left the confines of the temple’s inner sanctum, and even the Goldenblood Light was barely able to ease his torment.
Still lacking a means to seal Brass Jar, Hector the Wise had scoured the temple archives in vain looking for a solution that did not involve simply releasing Daga again. That Count Invictus would not countenance, though sometimes in his despair he felt it would be best if he just rode as far as possible into the Wastes as he could and let the container go.
Didn’t Orlanth have a way to enclose Daga? Yes, Orlanth’s jar was made of iron.
Duke Raus Spoiler: My account is sticking to the official Chaosium canon timeline, so in the not-so distant future things are going to get pretty bleak for Duke Raus and the Grantlands. But never say never (and of course, you can always say YGMV)
Melo Yelo had found the visit to Pent Ridge strange and frightening.
Belvani led him far out into the parched wastes of Vulture Country, near to where he had once run with his troupe when he was barely more than wild. But rather than go south towards the Painted Wall they headed north. Here a great ridge serves as a pointer for the animal nomads to the broad grasslands of Pent. The exposed cliff face is made up of horizontal layers of chalk and limestone, and at Pent Ridge, it is interspersed with veins, layers and domes of precious salt.
Until the Lunar conquest, the mines at Pent Ridge lay abandoned and nomad bands squabbled over control of the salt lick above. As as part-payment for their services at the Battle of Moonbroth, the Lunars recognized the Sun Dome’s ancient rights to the site and Count Solanthos established a prison.
Pent Ridge is a hell under the sun for prisoners and guards alike. Inmates curse “Yelm the Torturer”, yet fear breaking discipline lest they be banished into the deepest caverns with the worst criminals, shut off from Yelm’s light forever.
Belvani led Melo Yelo far into the mines, past the wretched inmates chipping away at the salt to places where the sun could not penetrate. His magic helmet guided the way until deep within they came across an elderly man, bearded and frail. He was sitting cross-legged in the darkness as if waiting for them. Melo Yelo thought the old man looked like a light priest but some of the runes on his threadbare and much-patched robes he did not recognise.
The two humans conversed for a while, but it was all in Firespeech so the baboon understood next to nothing.
His voice suddenly rising, Lord Belvani ordered Melo Yelo to transfix the old man with beams of light. Caught in the Yelmalio Helm’s glaring spotlight, the prisoner recoiled and cringed, shielding his eyes.
The conversation grew more heated until the old man sighed, seemed to resolve something in his mind, and then stared fixedly straight into the light.
He raised his left hand and made a curious gesture. A huge figure stepped into the light from the gloom behind him.
This was a monstrously large dragonewt – beaked, frilled, and far more dangerous-looking than Belvani’s pet. It stood there, unblinking and undaunted by the Light. It hissed, unfurling a long purple forked tongue which wrapped itself sinuously around the old man’s outstretched fingers.
The old man softly chuckled and said, “So now you understand.” But the baboon did not.
Melo Yelo did not return to Mars Melus’s farm after the mysterious trip to Pent Ridge; Lord Belvani now kept him close by. The Light Captain’s Templars were encouraged to treat the baboon like they did his strange little dragonewt servant – an amusing but essentially harmless curiosity.
One Last Tryst
In the end it was the baboon Melo Yelo that delivered Count Invictus from his suffering with Daga’s Brass Jar.
Somehow the priestess Marusa learned that Duke Raus had placed the Wand of the Seven Phases in the Sun Dome vault. An heirloom that Raus and his family – as ancestor worshippers – had no practical need for, the Red Witch knew the wand would be of incredible use to an ambitious Lunar magician like herself, not to mention being extremely valuable. Through the compliant Light Guide Laertes she sent a coded message to Invictus. She offered him one last tryst, and by Jakaleel swore she would trade the wand for the magic stopper.
Marusa had secretly set herself up in the river town of Stablefort, not far from the Sun Dome Temple. Invictus’ desires finally overcame his conscience, and late one night he retrieved the wand from the temple vault and slipped away to meet her.
Unknown to Invictus, Belvani had become aware of the clandestine messages being passed, though not their purpose or who the recipient was. On discovering that Invictus was secretly on his way to Stablefort that evening, Melo Yelo was his swiftest supporter immediately to hand. While Invictus went to rouse his Templars, the baboon was sent overland to intercept the count.
Melo Yelo found Invictus as he was about to enter the hovel Marusa was hiding in. During the weeks he’d held the Goldenblood Light aloft at Angle Fort, the magical Yelmalio Helm he was wearing miraculously fused into his very being. It simply could not be removed – the Templars had certainly tried. His head at least (when the face cover was down) was like a living golden visage of the god Yelmalio himself. As the count approached Marusa’s hideout, his mind a conflicted mixture of lust, pain, self-loathing and shame, this divine face turned to glare at him. It spoke in an ominous tone and Invictus fell to the ground sobbing*.
Melo Yelo gamely fought off the enraged Red Witch, who emerged calling on a band of Moon Mask assassins that were waiting in a skiff on the river. As the local militia arrived to investigate the commotion, the baboon was able to slip away with the stricken Count into the night.
*witnesses reported that the words were in Firespeech, but what was actually said is unclear: “Shine, Son-Worshipper”, “Dome Above” or “Give me light, Brother!” are all possibilities.
Melo Yelo the baboon was originally a player character in the RQ Club Campaign I ran at university, back in the mid-1980s. That material eventually morphed into ‘Sun County’.
have you got the player sheet? Who was the master? the player character was Trevor Ackerly who co-wrote the Sun County scenario ‘Rabbit Hat Fam’ with me, among other things. He and I were both GMs (we swapped GMing duties around). I probably do have the character sheets and other stuff from the Club Campaign mouldering away somewhere.
The Brass Jar Sealed
Tenderly gazing at his suffering Count as they hid in the dark, Melo Yelo recalled something he saw long ago, back when he still ran with his troupe and was barely more than wild.
An old baboon shaman had taken them to see the great Painted Wall, the mile-long cliff-face in Vulture’s Country. Engraved among the ancient petroglyphs and symbols, the young baboon saw this very scene. That was, he now realized, the first awakening of the unlikely path his life later took, when he was drawn in from the Wastes to follow the golden god of the Sun Dome.
Slinging the now debilitated Count over his back and patting him gently as he ran, Melo Yelo resolved to bring Invictus back to the Painted Wall to seek out the old baboon shaman’s aid. He kept them hidden the whole way, hiding in dry channels and hayricks; the baboon was resigned to the fact the Sun Folk probably wouldn’t understand, no matter how hard he tried to explain.
By the time Belvani and his Templars arrived at Stablefort the fracas was over. Several militiamen were dead, and more were mind-blasted. The attackers, whoever they were, were gone too, having fled by boat. Of Count Invictus or Melo Yelo, there was no sign.
Belvani decided to keep the Count’s mysterious disappearance a secret, for now, confiding only in Gaumata the Seer. That noon the high priest cast a divination and received a vision revealing Invictus was “still of this world”, yet “safe with Yelmalio”.
(Being careful not to lie, Belvani did not dispute it when temple officials blithely assumed the count had just unexpectedly departed on another of his consultation visits to New Pavis.)
Meanwhile, Duke Raus’s Wand of the Seven Phases was found to be missing from the Sun Dome vault. When Vega Goldbreath learned Melo Yelo had scarpered away from the temple in great haste the night before, she named him the thief. Orders were sent out to her militia to be on high alert. Belvani also had his Templars out discreetly looking, and so they conveniently joined the hunt to apprehend the fugitive baboon.
Several days later Melo Yelo and the Count reappeared together at the Sun Dome Temple. Vega’s militiamen or Belvani’s Templars could not arrest the baboon if they tried; Melo Yelo and Invictus were surrounded by a throng of excited Sun Dome citizenry, rejoicing that Daga had been defeated at last!
What happened out the Painted Wall Invictus and Melo Yelo would not say, but the Brass Jar was now permanently sealed, and the count was mercifully free from torment. Invictus’ whole arm, golden vambrace and all, still held his hand in place, sealing in Daga, but had somehow been separated from his body. Together with the Brass Jar, it was now encased in packed mud inscribed with weird shamanic symbols.
Where his own left arm once was, Invictus now had the lanky furred limb and claws of a baboon: Melo Yelo had literally given his own left arm to save the count.
*As noted in The Guide to Glorantha, “This mile-long cliff face is carved with many large runes, symbols, and petroglyphs. Shamans are often found here speaking with the spirits of the Wall; they will often tell visitors where to find their story on it.”
Wasn’t “the count” same as Count Solanthos Ironpike, and Invictus was his commander of the sun dome templars?
Count Solanthos dies in the Battle of Yelmalio Hill, as recounted in the instalment DEATH AND A NEW DAWN:
“Haloric and his companions rushed to Angle Fort to aid the Count. Many had fallen, and on the parapet they found Solanthos. His iron pike was snapped in two but a dozen troll corpses surrounded him, including that of Rebecep, the bigger of the fearsome twin queens of the Javis Clan, and the Death Lord Lorgzang Redeye. The Count’s unarmored chest had been smashed in but his face was now rapturously bathed in the Goldenblood Light’s divine brilliance.Solanthos Ironpike, 42nd Count in the line of Arinsor, gave out his last breath as the new dawn rose, while Melo Yelo resolutely stood watch above him, holding the star over the ruins.”
This was the night before Clay/Disorder/Earth 1622. Solanthos Ironpike was succeeded as Count of the Sun Dome by the Light Captain, Lord Invictus.
HIDING THE TRUTH
Now reinvigorated, Count Invictus quietly returned Raus’s Wand to the vaults, and sought to both reassert his authority and hide his illicit collusion with Marusa.
With their count back and in good health (though strangely reticent about where he had been), the next day the Sun Dome leadership gathered at noon in the Meeting House for their customary assembly, the first in a long time.
As soon as everyone had taken their places, the Light Guide Laertes Coatilon stood up to make a surprise announcement: effective immediately, he was retiring, and would pass his remaining days meditating on the Light of Truth.
Belvani was keen to find out exactly what had gone on at Stablefort, and suspected Laertes Coatilon was involved in the coded messages he’d intercepted. He was eager to question the Light Guide about what he knew, but several Templars from Invictus’s bodyguard promptly escorted Laertes straight from the room.
The Count announced the vacant retirement tower in the temple grounds – the same hermitage that had housed the unfortunate Taleo Lumine, in fact – had been prepared for Laertes. He said the former Light Guide now craved solitude and was to be disturbed by no one.
Next, the one-armed Melo Yelo was summoned to the Meeting House. Overawed by the gilded surrounds and the splendid figures looking down at him, Melo Yelo squatted on the floor and politely bared his teeth in a gesture of deference.
Vega Goldbreath immediately denounced the baboon as a thief, accusing him of breaking into the temple vaults and stealing the Wand of the Seven Phases. The proceedings were conducted entirely in Firespeech (as was the custom), so Melo Yelo had little understanding of what was going on, other than the female Light Son seemed angry with him.
Invictus simply lowered his head and said nothing as the judgement was given.
Lady Vega’s pronounced sentence was six seasons of hard labor at Pent Ridge; this would be served in the Dusk detail, those who toil in the salt mines but are permitted to return to the outside for rest and sleep. She asked Count Invictus to confirm Yelm’s justice.
Belvani’s face had remained completely passive while Lady Vega gave her verdict. But, taking care to look Melo Yelo straight in the eye, the Light Captain begged the Count’s indulgence for a moment before he approved the sentence.
Theatrically chiding Vega for her lenience, Belvani instead argued the punishment should be more severe! Theft from the temple vaults was not merely criminal but sacrilegious, he said. Given the monstrous gravity of the baboon’s offenses, surely Count Invictus would consider it more fitting that this abominable ape serve his punishment in the Dark detail, forbidden to leave the mines nor ever allowed to see the sun?
Count Invictus, still looking at the ground, gave his assent with an almost imperceptible nod.
The perplexed baboon, who thought he’d been summoned before the glittering leadership of the cult he loved to be praised for his fidelity, was roughly led away by a pair of Invictus’s Templars.
Shameful behaviour by Invictus all round for sure. Lady Vega’s problem is she was quick to judge without knowing the whole Truth (everyone including Invictus knows she’s a strict ‘Law and Order’ type). As to Belvani, ever the opportunist, he seems pretty keen to get Melo Yelo back into that dark pit…
Did I miss an episode where MY got separated from his helm? No, he’s still wearing the helm. He literally can’t take it off.
A Call to Arms
With the Light Guide now safely immured in a tower and Melo Yelo – the only witness to the events at Stableford – despatched in chains to Pent Ridge, Invictus called the people forth. Keeping his baboon arm wrapped and hidden in a magnificent gold cloak, from Summons Hill the count made great show of reversing several of the more contentious concessions he’d given to the Lunars during his affliction.
A messenger was sent to Pavis to inform the governor of this new state of affairs. A week later the messenger returned, with a Lunar tribune in tow.
It was now late Earth season 1624. Frictions among the nomads were at a boiling point as they jostled to occupy the prime places of Prax since returning after the Great Winter. Governor Halcyon resolved to march out in support of Inire the Red and the Sables.
The tribune brought a command requiring the Sun Dome Templars to join the Lunar forces assembling at the Oasis at Moonbroth. He curtly said the governor rejected what Invictus had said in his letter, but that this “insolence” could be dealt with later.
The governor’s message was more like an order to a conquered vassal than a request to a loyal ally. This enraged Vega Goldbreath. Her view was that the Sables owed them nothing, and urged an armed neutrality in any coming clash.
The Light Captain Lord Belvani went further, and for the first time intimated that he knew the nomads were far stronger and better organized than the governor suspected. Before the Lunar peace in Prax was shattered forever he advised coming to terms with the nomads’ new leader, the enigmatic foreigner known as Argrath White Bull.
Seeking divine guidance, Gaumata the Seer was confused and troubled by what he saw: a great dragon rising from the mountains in the west. Although Yelm remained at its zenith throughout the vision, the dragon’s wings obscured the Red Moon.
Count Invictus was inclined to Vega’s view, but didn’t count on the Red Witch’s wiles. The tribune brought with him a special gift – the magic stopper for the brass jar, tied in a red ribbon. It was a subtle reminder that Marusa could yet tell all about their illicit affair.
With some reluctance, Invictus gave the order to make preparations for Sun Dome Templars to depart in force for Moonbroth Oasis. The governor commanded them to be there by the first full moon of Storm season.
A Revelation in the Vaults
As the storm clouds of conflict gathered over Prax, the Sun Dome leadership made their preparations for the uncertain times ahead.
Still wrapped in his golden cloak, Count Invictus oversaw the muster of the Templars. With Lord Bakchos in disgrace at Pent Ridge, he would personally lead the First Square.
Lord Belvani persuaded the Count that he should go to the Paps for a last-ditch attempt to come to terms with the nomads. The Light Captain promised that, come what may, he would see Invictus and the Templars at Moonbroth oasis. But rather than head to the Paps on foot or zebra, Belvani quietly went first to the Old Sun Dome. He had a swifter means of travel in mind, and a detour to make.
As Guardian of Sun County, Vega Goldbreath was in charge of the local defenses. After despatching her deputy and protege the Light Lady Yolanda to the eastern borders, she went to confer with the Guardians of the Four Directions.
These are the great spirits who defend the Sun Dome Temple itself, and in times of mortal threat their role is scare away the sendings of nomad shamans or other discorporate entities. Mere mortals though could commune with them via the hexomino in the temple vaults*, and Vega wanted to be assured that the Sun Dome’s magical defenses were solid.
The martial spirits said with pride they were ready to face all threats, and solicitously asked the Light Lady if they should be released to scour the temple boundaries again? This was curious – rarely if ever would all four Guardians be sent away from the temple building at the same time. But Vega learned from the spirits that this had happened not once but twice of late, most recently on the very morning Count Invictus had returned hale and well again.
“Who ordered this?” she asked, and was disquieted to learn it was the count himself.
Vega went straight to the treasury. There, back sitting in its rightful place among Duke Raus’s other valuables was the Wand of the Seven Phases!
It was once said, perhaps uncharitably, that the late Count Solanthos loved the correct forms of legality almost as much as he despised the concept of justice. No so with Lady Vega Goldbreath. As a woman making her way in a cult of men, for her Truth was always paramount, and form must always be backed by substance. Why did Invictus say nothing of this while she condemned the baboon as a thief? Had an injustice been done, and even worse, at her hands? She did not want to be responsible for a judgement displeasing to Yelmalio.
When the current crisis was over, Vega Goldbreath resolved to get the bottom of this.
*this cube-shaped artefact, a gift of Ernalda to her husband-protector, is made of multiple intersecting parts but is so-called because it has six-sides (few remember that, in an interesting mythological parallel with Umath’s Camp of Orlanthi legend, the Sun Dome Temple too originally had Six Spirit Guardians).
The hexomino sits directly below the high altar and helps power and coordinate the temple’s magical defenses. One of the few treasures that survive in the new temple from the Old Sun Dome, it was rescued from the desecrated site in pieces but no one knew how to reassemble it until Feshoaar, Soul of Light, came down from heaven to give the Sun People guidance. Even then it is apparent not all of the hexomino’s powers were able to be restored properly.
Cult Secret: the hexomino has six faces but seven parts.
“Beg the Count to Pluck Out Your Eyes Rather Than Send You to Pent Ridge.” – Sun Domer Adage
Still not comprehending what had befallen him at the Sun Dome Meeting House, Melo Yelo had been joined to a chained coffle of prisoners and marched away.
The baboon later learned from one of the other prisoners – a dour farmer from Cornspot who’d been illegally growing dummy* until his neighbours ratted him out – that they were headed to that terrible place of stinging salt and punishment out in Vulture’s Country, Pent Ridge. That was the dark place Lord Belvani took him to before, where he’d been unnerved by the strange old light priest and frightened by his monstrous dragonewt.
What had he done to so disappoint the rune masters of the Sun Dome?
Cornspot said he was lucky – through his contacts in the dummy trade he’d called in a favour, and he’d been promised his time out there would be served in the Dawn detail; a cushy assignment working on the surface, maybe in the cookhouse. He’d never have to go into the mines. But Melo Yelo? Cornspot simply shook his head and sighed.
Having picked up more convicts in a winding route through the Sun Dome breadbasket, a week later the chain gang was trudging through the arid badlands of Vulture’s Country. Now they were but a few hours from Pent Ridge. Prisoners and guards alike were parched, but they shuffled on with the promise of mugs of water – barely drinkable for the overseers, almost brackish for the criminals – and bowls of steaming date mush if they got to the prison by nightfall.
With Yelm low in the sky, Cornspot next to Melo Yelo gave a dry croak of alarm and pointed to the direction they’d come from. Framed by the setting sun, flying low towards them was a great winged wyrm! Melo Yelo’s spirits rose when he saw the Light Captain Lord Belvani was on its back.
With a mighty flap of its wings, Windwhistler landed before the column. Without dismounting Belvani gestured to the startled guards that he wanted to talk the condemned criminal Melo Yelo.
Dome Above, Brother
Melo Yelo was unchained, and with a mild kick from an overseer, scampered expectantly over the golden Light Son perched on the back of the wyrm. Had the Sun Folk realised their mistake? Was he now to be forgiven?
They spoke for a short while, and then Lord Belvani pointed back at the coffle of prisoners. With a look of resignation, the baboon slunk back to the line.
“I’m in great haste”, Belvani told the guards. “This prisoner has been singled out for Dark detail punishment but is under my protection – see to it he is delivered to the mines the moment you arrive at Pent Ridge. Believe me, there are geases you can’t even imagine if you fail me in this”.
With that the great wyrm rose into the air and headed back towards the setting sun.
When Melo Yelo returned to the chain-gang Cornspot next to him whistled, drawing in breath. “Dark detail means once you go in, you never come out, not until your time is done… If you live that long.” Looking side-to-side, he pulled out something hidden in his beard and passed it surreptitiously to Melo Yelo. It was a small package, wrapped in leaves.
“Daystar rules inside the tunnels, I’ve heard nothing goes on without his say-so. Give him this choice dummy as an offering and maybe you’ll get on his good side. No take it, I insist,” Cornspot said. “I know what you did for us all at Angle Fort even if those Goldbirds at the Sun Dome don’t seem to appreciate it.”
The rest of the way Melo Yelo heard more about this Daystar.
Cornspot said years ago, back when he was a kid, Daystar was a high-up in the temple hierarchy, official custodian of the Old Sun Dome, a light priest. “Great buddies with the old count too – everyone sure loved the dummy back then, though folks won’t talk about that these days. Anyway, when the new count came in Daystar was on the outs, and got sent here. Things were pretty wild in the Summer of Love, but he apparently got up to some real hinky stuff. Who knows why Solanthos didn’t just poke out his eyes and stick him in a tower?”
Such fear the overseers had for Lord Belvani’s wrath that Melo Yelo was not even given a chance to take a drink when they arrived at Pent Ridge, shortly after sundown. “Dome Above, Brother!”, called out Cornspot, giving a hopeful sign of encouragement as the baboon was deposited at the yawning mouth of the mine and roughly prodded in with the butt of a spear.
But this was the first time a Sun Domer had called him “brother”, and although very frightened, Melo Yelo was also as happy as he’d ever been.
A Message Delivered
With Cornspot’s shout of encouragement still ringing in his ears, Melo Yelo lowered the faceplate of his magic helmet. Twin beams of light shot forth from the eyes, illuminating deep into the tunnel.
The baboon didn’t understand the message Lord Belvani tasked him with delivering to Daystar, or what the Light Captain was doing consorting with the strange light priest. But Belvani put his trust in him: he was a Light Sun of the Sun Dome, after all, so Melo Yelo resolved to diligently carry out his mission.
What the baboon tried to put out of his mind was what would happen to himself afterwards though? Belvani didn’t say. But Melo Yelo trusted in Yelmalio. He knew his calling.
It was deep, deep in mines that Melo Yelo found Daystar again. This time, in an open cavern full of pillars and bulbs and domes of salt. Everything was streaked and stained from the smoke of braziers and lamps burning the substance known locally as black gold, but the ceiling was illuminated by some sort of light spell, giving the whole space a sickly yellowish glow.
This is where the wretched Dark detail had their camp. It was cold down here, and Melo Yelo could see them dotted about the space, huddled around their small stoves. There were errant Sun Domers, outcaste Praxians, downcast adventurer types, and by herself away from the others, a young woman in rags stacking human skulls into a small pyramid. She eyed him for a moment and then looked away with disinterest.
The middle of the chamber there rose into a mound. Sitting cross-legged atop it on a beautiful silken rug was Daystar, the old man he and Belvani had met in the tunnels before. The priest was smoking a long-handled hookah pipe, sending gouts of yellowish smoke up to the faintly glowing roof of the chamber. Standing with crossed arms behind him, as motionless as a statue but for the gently swaying tip of its tail, was the monstrous dragonewt. By them, a pair of naked trollkin with ears cropped and noses slit operated the winch of a crudely built-well.
A bucket of water came up, and Daystar gestured towards one of the braziers. Someone detached themselves from the group and approached the priest. Melo Yelo thought he looked like one of those jeering Storm Bullies from the Bison Tribe who’d teased and tormented him in times past. But when he got to the mound he bowed low and then prostrated fully, literally propelling himself the last part of the way on his belly. After liberally kissing Daystar’s feet he was allowed to fill up a large waterskin and return to his group. The trollkin released the rope again and the bucket clattered down the shaft until there was a distant splash. They began the process of slowly winding the rope up again.
The baboon came to the mound. He was uncertain if he was supposed to get on his knees – was this how you approached a Light Priest? He did not have to find an answer because when Daystar noticed him he threw down his pipe and sprung up, almost running down the slope to him.
“And so what does your master say?” Daystar asked eagerly, with a hungry gleam in his eye.
Melo Yelo hesitated. He wanted to say the word right. He’d gone over and over it in his head, ever since Belvani quickly told him, seated on the wyrm’s back.
“Well? Well?,” urged the priest.
“Ourobor,” said Melo Yelo hesitantly. Yes, that was the word, Ourobor. He said it again: “Ourobor -“
“- Oossssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss,” hissed the Dragonewt from top of the mound.
Daystar smiled, revealing yellowing mottled teeth. He licked his lips. The baboon noticed that the end of his tongue was split.
The Midnight Express
Daystar turned and said something to the dragonewt, a series of sibilant incomprehensible spits and hisses formed with his curiously split tongue. Silently, the great reptile came down from the mound and joined them.
The priest then called to the lone figure at her brazier, “Forgotten! To my treasury we must go”. The woman put down the skull she was holding and went to stand sullenly at the opening of a tunnel close by her bivouac.
The priest indicated to Melo Yelo he should come with them. They followed the woman a short distance into the passage and then stopped. Another hundred paces or so ahead the excavation abruptly ended; the beams of the baboon’s helmet picked out a jumbled collection of boxes, crates and jars stacked there.
Daystar waved impatiently at woman Forgotten. From around her neck she removed two leather thongs. She handed one to the dragonewt, which put it around its thick wrist, and the other to Melo Yelo. Threaded with hair, on each of these thongs was a tarnished silver coin and a finger bone that had been flensed of its flesh.
“Go, help The Midnight Express,” said Daystar to the baboon, “Don’t worry, Forgotten’s little baubles will protect you.”
Melo Yelo went down the tunnel with the oddly-named dragonewt. After they’d gone only a dozen steps they were suddenly assailed by a swarm of moaning ghosts, erupting from recesses in the walls. When Melo Yelo shone his light he saw each of these culverts contained a severed human head. They were packed in tightly with salt, and their preserved leathery faces had gaping mouths as if shouting out in horror or perhaps surprise.
Having been bought up among shamans, the baboon recoiled in terror as the mad spirits assailed him. The Midnight Express simply ignored the ghosts and kept walking, and soon Melo Yelo understood they could not harm either of them.
“Yes, yes,” said Daystar impatiently, gesturing to him to hurry up.
With only one arm, Melo Yelo was in fact not of much help when they came to Daystar’s stash of valuables. But the dragonewt knew what it was looking for. It took some time, for whatever it was seemed to be near the very bottom of the pile.
Daystar’s treasury contained all manner of preserved foodstuffs, barrels of salted mock pork, amphorae of oil and wine, an assortment of trade goods, and more. As he helped drag boxes out of the way, Melo Yelo noticed that several were filled with the same packet of wrapped leaves that Cornspot had given him. He remembered his human friend’s advice, and reminded himself he needed to give Daystar his offering when the moment presented itself.
Eventually The Midnight Express found what it was looking for: a very large, very heavy wooden box. Even it grunted with effort lifting the box clear.
The dragonewt carried the box back to where Daystar was waiting expectantly, once again completely ignoring the ghosts. Melo Yelo followed behind and did his best to ignore the evil spirits too. He found it helped by keeping his gaze away from the alcoves.
The Midnight Express set the box down before the priest and handed his leather necklace back to the woman. Forgotten snapped her fingers at Melo Yelo, demanding his too. He handed the talisman over and, with a look of bored contempt, she abruptly turned and left.
Daystar hissed and spat excitedly at the dragonewt. The box had been nailed shut, but with relative ease The Midnight Express wrenched off the lid. Daystar pounced and started removing handfuls of old, dried straw. With a cry of elation he then drew out something wrapped in a cloth: it was a strange looking dagger, gleaming dully but very, very sharp. It was made of stone. The old priest smiled, and once again licked his lips with tips of his split tongue.
And there was still another object in the box, far heavier. Wide-eyed and eager, Daystar nodded, and with another grunt the dragonewt began lifting it out.
A Sun Dome Palladium
From the box, the Midnight Express lifted out a solid, heavy object. It looked something like a large “⅃ “-shaped block, deep blue in colour with shimmering flecks of white.
Melo Yelo was nonplussed.
“A part of the Sky Dome, praise Yelmalio!,” explained Daystar, though this didn’t help the baboon’s understanding at all. “Come, we must prepare.”
“Prepare for what?” thought the baboon uneasily, as he followed the strange light priest back into the chamber.
*The Light Guide at the time was a member of the Goldbreath family and he swept up the broken remains of that piece and gathered what psychical remnants he could of the Guardian of Below’s annihilated spirit. With these fragments he fashioned a magical artefact which became a family heirloom. It is now worn by Lady Vega Goldbreath (it’s her Protection-10 matrix, see Sun County p.13).
The ‘Guardian of Below’ continued on, this time as a new cult rank, the leader of an elite band of troll-killers. As the troll threat abated, the position evolved into that of the more general ‘Guardian of Sun County’, the leader of the militia: this is Vega’s current position in the temple hierarchy. She is the first such Goldbreath to hold the rank.
[Just reiterating that the Light Lady Vega, a female rune lord of Yelmalio, wearing her family heirloom, is the first Goldbreath to hold the rank of *Guardian* of Sun County. Hmmmm]
Was the Land Below part smashed by a rampaging mob or was it destroyed defending against Uz ? Sorry if that’s unclear. When the Sun Domers destroyed and deconsecrated their old temple, in their fury they broke apart the hexomino. The Great Spirit Feshoaar commanded them to put it together again for the new temple. But one part couldn’t be found, and another part – that of the Guardian of Below – had been broken into bits by the rampaging mob. They repaired that part as best they could, but later it cracked and shattered during a troll attack.
Smoke, Smoke, Smoke
From Daystar’s treasury they returned to the priest’s place of prominence in the center of the large cavern. There, to Melo Yelo’s great relief, he was at last able to have something to drink.
The wooden bucket from the well was thoroughly crusted in salt, but Daystar still urged him to partake. The baboon was initially hesitant, but found that the water tasted cold and pure. It was then that he noticed the inside of the bucket was lined with a lustrous deep green metal: did that somehow remove the salt from the water?
Meanwhile Daystar fussed with the block, getting The Midnight Express to set it on his rug so the jutting part stuck out to the left: ⅃.
When it was positioned to his satisfaction Daystar placed the stone knife on top of it then sat down, cross-legged. The dragonewt took up its position behind him. One of the mutilated trollkin methodically went about setting up his hookah pipe again, while the other visited one of the prisoners’ braziers, returning with a scuttle of hot coals.
Melo Yelo was unsure what to do next. He’d given Lord Belvani’s message to the priest, but could he now take his leave? Then he remembered Cornspot’s gift packet. This he deferentially offered to Daystar, who took it and chuckled. By the priest’s side was a small basket, full of the same wrapped packets. He carelessly tossed in Melo Yelo’s offering and picked up his pipe.
“Come sit, join me now,” he said to the baboon, “While we await your master we must smoke, smoke, smoke seven days.”
Seven days? thought Melo Yelo.
Daystar must have seen his consternation because his voice raised to a higher pitch and with a wide-eyed gleam he said, “Yes, we must smoke until we see the Sun and find the Dragon. In our minds we will do the Dance of Pure Being. We must smoke, smoke, smoke to attain Utuma!”
One of the silent trollkin unwrapped a packet of leaves from the basket and smeared its contents into the bowl of the hookah. The other solemnly took the long-handled pipe from the priest. It then began to suck in and puff prodigiously. When smoke was literally coming out of the slits where its ears had been, it gravely handed the fully-primed pipe back to Daystar, and withdrew.
The priest took a tremendous puff of his own, then handed the pipe to Melo Yelo.
Cautiously, the baboon took a puff. Although he’d never used a hookah pipe before, he’d already recognised the taste and smell of the smoke: the baboon shamans used this stuff too, to help commune with the spirits. What the Sun Dome folk called “dummy”, the humans up in Pavis knew as hazia. His baboon kin had their own name for it, and simply threw the dried plants on a fire. Everyone in the troupe sitting around was encouraged to breathe in deeply. Eventually you would see your ancestors, sitting there with you.
“O” said Daystar.
“O” said The Midnight Express.
The priest looked expectantly at Melo Yelo. “O?” he said hesitantly, and Daystar nodded, seemingly satisfied. The baboon politely took another puff and handed the pipe back to the priest.
Melo Yelo began to feel his mind open, but the mood was broken by a voice calling out from the bottom of the slope. It was one of the prisoners, one of the down-on-their-luck adventurer types. He was there on his knees. “Oh mighty and worshipful Daystar,” he called out, “Your honour, we must come to get our daily water.”
“Pah, begone with you!”, said Daystar, waving him away. And then took another puff and said “O”.
An Unsung Hero
The smoke made Daystar garrulous, though most of his talk was the distant Sun: how its beating heart was growing louder, its lustrous wings, its shining scales; all this he described in loving detail.
At odd times that seemed to have no regular cadence he would stop to chant, and The Midnight Express would repeat it, and then they’d expect Melo Yelo to follow. At some point – when the baboon did not know, as proper time began to drift away from him – Daystar started chanting “OU”.
“OU” chanted Daystar. “There is no other that knoweth thee save thy Light Priests, thou hast made them wise. In thy designs and in thy might.”
Although the priest was declaiming in Firespeech, somehow Melo Yelo wasn’t surprised he understood perfectly.
As the haiza opened his mind Melo Yelo thought back to when he was first drawn to the Golden Light of the Sun Dome, and how simple it seemed then. There were clearly more sides to Yelmalio than he knew, or even imagined.
He now realised his eyes were first opened at the Cradle. There the baboon was an unsung hero, the only Sun Domer (if he could call himself that) who made it onto the deck.
The Harpoon had shot gigantic chained arrows into the sides of the great boat, and Lord Invictus had ordered his Templars to clamber up the chains. Not one of them had made it to the top – trying to balance while fending off the defenders’ furious rain of missiles and magic proved impossible, even for the elite of the Sun Dome’s best regiments. But with his powerful arms (he had two then, he thought wistfully), Melo Yelo had swung up to the top on the underside the chain, avoiding being a target.
When he leapt onto the bulwark, the baboon was astounded to see facing him on the deck a warrior in the distinctive panoply of a Yelmalion Light Son. He was clearly one of the defenders, and by the state of his amour and weapons had seen much action. Melo Yelo was temporarily dumbstruck and confused by the sight, and his opponent took the advantage to give him a great shove with his shield. The baboon fell tumbling into the water, and soon after the Sun Dome attack on the Cradle was called off.
At enormous cost Lord Invictus had achieved nothing, and despite Count Solanthos’s boasts to Governor Sor Eel, the Cradle escaped free. Melo Yelo’s wasn’t the only act of conspicuous bravery that day, but there were no accolades offered to anyone by the humiliated Sun Dome leadership, let alone a baboon hanger-on that everyone laughed at and treated with pitiful scorn or (at most) amused contempt.
As the silent trollkin added yet more hazia to the bowl of the hookah, Melo Yelo noticed a gaggle of Dark Detail prisoners had gathered at the foot of the mound. They were all on their knees.
“OU” chanted Daystar. “Dawning, glittering, going afar and returning, all eyes see before them…”
“Oh mighty Daystar, we beseech you, we must have our water!”, they cried.
Through the smoke Daystar looked like he had been on the cusp of something when this interruption broke his concentration. He gave an exasperated hiss to The Midnight Express. The dragonewt roared and a made a mighty leap off the mound, landing right in the midst of the prisoners and scattering them in all directions. When it returned to take up the position behind the priest, several of the unfortunate inmates lay dead. The others had fled back to their places, some badly hurt.
“OU” chanted Daystar.
“No one knows why Count Solanthos chose to exile the defrocked Light Priest at Pent Ridge rather than have him immured in a retirement tower or **simply executed**.”
The White Bull Is Coming
“OUR” chanted Daystar.
How long Melo Yelo had been here sitting on the rug he couldn’t remember because his mind and perhaps his spirit had gone free.
He soared out like a vrok hawk over the Sun Dome lands, chasing the rising Sun.
In his vision he saw the Sun Dome Temple and Vega Goldbreath, the Light Lady who condemned him. She was in the very same Meeting Chamber. Spread on a table before her was an assortment of maps outlining the Sun County defenses and detailed reports about troop movements and supplies. Candles low on their wicks showed she’d been up all night, and her face was creased with fatigue and worry.
Suddenly the Light Lady looked up, and it was like she was staring at him straight in the eye. There was a look of doubt on Lady Vega’s face, and to Melo Yelo hopefully a sense of resolution that things were not right and she must put them so.
“OUR” chanted The Midnight Express.
The baboon’s spirit then travelled out onto the plains of Prax. Everywhere he could see nomads on the move, kicking up vast dust clouds, all converging on a single spot in distance. Curious, he made to go there, but first he saw the Paps.
It was high noon, and Lord Belvani was in earnest council with a strange assortment of people: some were native Praxians but others were foreigners. Their leader seemed to be a youngish man with a distinctive white bull tattoo on his torso; he’d noticed that marking on many of the nomads too as he’d swept past them.
At the leader’s side was another Yelmalion: to his surprise Melo Yelo realised it was the Light Son who had bested him on the Cradle! He wanted to swoop in for a closer look when Lord Belvani caught his eye. It was almost like he nodded at him, as if everything was right, and to carry on with the Plan. But what was the plan?
And then he soared to where the nomads were converging: it was the oasis of Moonbroth, famed for its geysers and its mystic oracle. He’d travelled through there once, long ago, on the way to the Monkey Ruins, but the place of pilgrimage no longer resembled what he remembered. The site was now a fortified camp of the Lunars and surrounding the oasis were vast concentric fields of caltrops, stretching in a perimeter thousands of paces out from the center. These vicious spikes were a total surprise to the Praxians when the Lunar Empire defeated them here years ago, but would they have the same impact now?
Marching along a complicated pathway through the caltrops were the glittering Sun Dome Templars, answering the command of the Lunar governor. At the head of the parade was Count Invictus, walking proud but with his baboon arm concealed in his cloak. Melo Yelo wanted to put his spirit before him too, but try as he might Invictus would not give him his eye.
“OUR” chanted Melo Yelo, as he felt his spirit return to the chamber deep under Pent Ridge.
The Count took his Templars on, leading them towards Moonbroth and the setting Sun.
Does no one finds it odd that Invictus keeps his arm constantly wrapped? I think lots of people know, they just don’t say anything. Or maybe they think he has the geas “Keep your left arm covered”. There have been weirder ones…
The Source of Your Ignominy
“OUR”, chanted Daystar.
Oh living Yelm, born in the Sky every day, He begat his august son, Yelmalio, Son of Sun, Who wears the mantle of his father's beauty.
“Can you see it?,” Daystar cried excitedly, pointing at the swirling yellowish smoke at the roof of the cavern. Through the haze Melo Yelo did see a vision of a resplendent ball of light. And flying around it in a swirling pattern was a wyrm – something like Windwhistler, but golden and more majestic, more divine.
“When Solanthos cast me down here they cursed me. My geas is if I am exposed to Yelm’s Light, I will burn. But that is only thissssss body,” Daystar said with a hiss. “And now your master has told me the Spirit of Above has returned in material form. I have its stone; it took me many years of searching in the Old Sun Dome, and years still to smuggle the stone here.
“But if I sacrifice myself on its stone will I be reborn inside it, the Guardian of Above’s body will be mine. And then I will be free!”
Melo Yelo was still looking at the ceiling. Perhaps old priest’s rheumy eyes were not not as keen as the baboon’s, for Melo Yelo was sure the great flying wyrm had a golden armoured rider on its back. Who was that?
“And you, you my friend must do utuma with me: for your service the Sun Dragon shall surely decree you will be reborn a most splendid man,” said Daystar complacently, taking a great draw on the pipe.
As more smoke billowed to the ceiling Melo Yelo saw a vision of the Yelmalion he could be: the very visage of his fabled helm, and whole perfect human body too, made flesh.
But Melo Yelo didn’t want to be human. He still wanted to be the best Yelmalion he could, but he wanted to stay a baboon. For that’s what he was.
But they will never accept you.
Now Daystar was in his head.
Look how they’ve treated you. Belittled your heroism, ignored your bravery. Kept silent when they were the guilty ones.
And with that Melo Yelo’s spirit went soaring again, out over the plains to Moonbroth. On the way he could see a thousand campfires, with followers of the White Bull from almost every tribe. They were chanting and dancing of how on the morrow they would sweep the Lunar Empire out of their sacred homeland forever.
He passed through the great circle of defenses around the oasis. The soldiers on watch nervously looked out at the campfires and could even hear the singing, but their officers complacently assured them they were safe behind their massive fields of caltrops.
Next he was in a well-appointed tent. The panoply of its owner rested on a stand: it was gold, but the gold was tarnished, and there was no vambrace for the left arm.
Lying in the cot asleep was Count Invictus, still wrapped in his golden cloak, still concealing his left arm. Sssee him there, he’s the sssourccce of your pain, why they laugh at you, why they mock. The source of your ignominy, he who turned away after all you had done, all you have sssacrificed, hissed the voice in his head.
Invictus shifted restlessly in his sleep and the cloak slipped loose. His baboon arm, given freely to him by Melo Yelo at the Painted Wall so he could contain Daga with his own, was revealed. “OURO”, chanted Daystar.
It Is Time To Dance…
“OURO”, chanted Daystar.
Melo Yelo blinked and shook himself awake. He was back in the cavern surrounded by a fug of yellow smoke. He was unclear on where he’d been. His arm ached – his missing left arm that is. What had just happened?
The priest handed him the pipe and waved at the ceiling. “It is done. The time of the Dragon Sun draws closer, the time for utuma! We must continue to smoke, smoke, smoke, and our spirits, yours and mine, will dream the Dance of Pure Being,” he said.
“OUROB” said the Midnight Express.
This was the first time the dragonewt had changed the chant.
“The sublime moment of Creation will soon be upon us!” Daystar exclaimed. “Belvani offered me no release from this dark pit. Pah! He only wanted me to confirm what he already suspected was true. Oh how he will be surprised when I assume the form of his precious Guardian of Above!”
Melo Yelo wasn’t clear what was going on, but he was certain this was not part of Lord Belvani’s plan.
The old priest’s eyes glistened. “When you prostrate yourselves before the Sun Dragon will be the moment I shall eat him, and you, you reborn can lead the Sun Folk under the watch of my slitted eye!” He cackled maniacally.
Daystar reached for the stone knife. “Come,” he said to Melo Yelo, “It is time to Dance…” One of his trollkin servants was tugging at his sleeve.
Throughout this smoking ritual, Daystar had blithely tuned out the piteous pleas of the Dark Detail prisoners as their croaking for water grew ever fainter. For this interruption he gave the trollkin a positively murderous look.
But his servant glumly pointed to the basket by his side: it was empty! The other trollkin was already smearing the last remaining package of hazia into the bowl of the hookah.
“Aieee!”, screamed Daystar. He turned in wide-eyed panic to The Midnight Express and spoke urgently with spits and hisses. In his mind, Melo Yelo could understood what was being said: “Go at once to my Treasury, we must have more hazia! Bring it, bring it all, the moment of utuma is almost upon us!”
The Midnight Express strode over to the entrance that led to Daystar’s store of goods. The woman Forgotten got up from her resting spot and went through into the tunnel with the dragonewt.
A few moments later a deep-throated roar erupted from the tunnel. Then Forgotten came out of the tunnel again, with a smirk on her face. In her hand she was twirling one of her tarnished silver and finger bone necklaces. What she’d done was given the protective talisman to the dragonewt, and then palmed it. He was now in spirit combat with two dozen gibbering Mad Head ghosts.
Forgotten’s reappearance swinging her amulet must have been a signal to the other desperately thirsty inmates. Those still capable sprung from their places and immediately charged up the mound crying out hoarsely. Daystar’s trollkin servants, silent until now, fled with high-pitched squeals.
It took a moment or two for Daystar to comprehend what was happening. He reacted in furious indignation and screamed with spittle-flecked rage. Then, taking a deep breath, he prepared to unleash powerful magic. But before he could do so, he was caught from behind. Forgotten had looped one of her leather thongs around his neck and started strangling him.
The hookah pipe was knocked flying in the rush of the prisoners, but they ignored Melo Yelo and the priest in their haste to get to the well.
A fight erupted over the bucket. Meanwhile, Daystar tried to make a few futile jabs behind him with the stone knife, but Forgotten had garrotted many victims before. He then came up with a new idea: Daystar turned the knife around and prepared to pierce himself in the heart! He was still over the stone, and perhaps if he killed himself before he was strangled, he would yet have his chance of being reborn in the Guardian of Above.
But Melo Yelo blocked the knife as Daystar attempted plunged it into his chest. It was incredibly sharp and went straight though the baboon’s palm. The pain was terrible yet he gripped it with his fingers and wrenched the blade away.
It was time to leave this strange and ghastly place. The Guardian of Above’s block was far too heavy for Melo Yelo to carry, especially with only one arm, but the baboon fled into the darkness with the stone knife still stuck through his hand. He left the fracas in Daystar’s cavern behind him and looked for a way to the surface.
Why would the Sun Domers put a Thanatari in the mine instead of executing her? Unless she was already there… I think she really is a Dark Detail prisoner, sentenced by the authorities, they just didn’t get the bottom of how wicked she really was. MY’s trial shows the Sun Domers are quick to condemn.
Mutton Bird Pudding
Baboon feet are almost as good as hands, and as soon as Melo Yelo got clear of Daystar’s cavern he removed the stone knife from his palm. His healing magic deftly sealed it up, but the presence of so much salt made the injury still sting dreadfully nevertheless. Activating his fabled helmet, he headed for the surface.
When he reached the upper galleries he found Dusk Detail inmates hard at work, chipping and cutting away at the salt under flickering black gold lamps. Melo Yelo had lost all track of time down with the Dark Detail, but this must mean it was daytime outside: the Duskers always returned to the surface to sleep.
He was wondering how he might get past the the Templar guards at the mine’s entrance when someone called out to him: it was Cornspot!
His human friend explained that his cushy job in the Dawn Detail, which wouldn’t have seen him enter the mines at all, blew up on his second day. Cornspot got involved in a fight. The head of the cookhouse was the morokanth known as Mock Pork. One of the few non-humans imprisoned here, she’d been sentenced for illegally enslaving Sun Dome Folk.
Even in a Sun Dome prison Yelmalio’s dietary geases are meant to be respected and Cornspot noticed Mock Pork slopping the same mutton bird pudding into everyone’s bowl, whether they were allowed to eat bird meat or not.
“We fought, I lost,” Cornspot said ruefully. “Then they busted me down to the Dusk Detail and told me to mind my own business what goes on in the cookhouse.”
Since then Cornspot had been labouring in the mines with the other unfortunates, but had earned some kudos by saying he knew the hero of Angle Fort. Like him, the inmates appreciated what Melo Yelo had done for their starving families, even if the Sun Dome leadership seemingly did not.
Cornspot devised a cunning plan to get the baboon to the outside. “But what then?” he wondered, and Melo Yelo didn’t really have an answer; Yelmalio would provide, he hoped. The mine site had no walls – didn’t need them being so far out in hostile territory – but the baboon at least knew how to survive in Vulture’s Country where Sun Folk farmers would not. He also thought he’d be able to avoid the Sable braves Cornspot said were always lurking about. They earned a bounty for any scalps they took of prisoners stupid enough to make a break for it.
Mining at Pent Ridge is difficult and dangerous. The poor diet, stifling heat, and impossible quotas help to make accidents commonplace. Cornspot got Melo Yelo out by faking an accident. He and some comrades carried the baboon out wrapped in a sheet, saying the prisoner had been grievously injured in a tunnel collapse. These happened frequently enough because the lack of wood meant few tunnels can be properly braced, and cave-ins are a constant hazard. The indifferent guards at the mine entrance saw enough to note the latest casualty had indeed lost an arm and waved them through to the infirmary tent.
Outside it was noon, and the prisoners all squinted in the glare. Crossing the bare plain to the encampment shimmering in the distance, Cornspot muttered “What now?”. Before Melo Yelo could answer, a shadow passed over them all.
With a great flap of its wings, the wyrm Windwhistler landed a short distance in front of them. On its back was a resplendent golden warrior, who dismounted.
The prisoners dropped the baboon in surprise. He sprung to his feet. Through the heat haze Melo Yelo thought this must be Lord Belvani, come to rescue!
But as the warrior approached he realised no, it wasn’t the Light Captain at all: no, it was the Light Son who bested him at the Cradle, and who he saw in his vision at the Paps.
The warrior stood before them and took off his helmet. He was a handsome man with a sandy beard. He told them, “My name is Rurik Runespear, Companion of Argrath White Bull. I am here to find the baboon Melo Yelo.”
What is black gold in Glorantha? All I know is it bubbles up out of the ground near South Fork…
“A great battle was fought at Moonbroth this very morning, ” said Rurik Runespear. “I have come to you from there in Count Belvani’s place.”
Count Belvani? wondered Melo Yelo, Cornspot and the others.
“Yes, he is your count now,” said Rurik, seeing their confused looks. “He arrived at the oasis on Windwhistler just before the dawn. Belvani went to Count Invictus’s command tent to report and made a shocking discovery: the count was lying in his cot stone dead!” He shook his head sadly. “It was like he had choked on something in his sleep: his hand was around his throat. In his other hand, his human hand, he was holding this.”
He passed what he had to the baboon. It was a brass lid, tied with a red ribbon.
“Count Belvani wanted me to show it to you – he thinks this is the magic stopper for Daga’s Brass Jar. Where did he get it, and why didn’t he use it, that is the question?”
Unfortunately, this was a mystery Melo Yelo couldn’t help with. He’d given his arm to Invictus at the Painted Wall so the baboon shaman could seal with jar with Invictus’s own; they certainly had no stopper then.
“Lord Belvani immediately assumed command of the Sun Dome forces. Caltrops had defeated the nomads in the first battle at Moonbroth, and the Lunars were supremely self-confident about the vast field they’d surrounded Moonbroth with. See here.”
The Light Son scratched in the dirt a plan of the battle site; in his spirit travels from deep in Daystar’s Cavern, Melo Yelo had already seen this same series of fiendish concentric rings around the oasis.
“The fields of caltrops had but four ways in, one at each cardinal point. But their pathways led in zig-zagging ways to the centre, so nomads could not charge straight through.
“The Sun Dome Templars were deployed here, at the West Gate,” Rurik said, pointing to one of the four openings in the field of caltrops. “The phalanx was to form a shield wall across the opening, a living gate if you will. There were similar shield walls across the other gateways, but this was the most important because it was by far the widest: the caravans for Dragon Pass leave from here.
“At their final council of war Belvani said it would be an honour for Sun Dome Templars to deploy in this position. Banaryos, the Lunar general in charge, recognised that this was the most critical point. He wanted instead to deploy his best soldiers there, the Silver Shields. But the Governor overrode him.”
Rurik laughed. “Because Banaryos confirmed that this is where the most casualties were likely to take place, Halcyon decided why waste his own troops when there were loyal allies willing to spill their own blood on the Lunar Empire’s behalf?”
He shrugged. “The attack came soon after dawn. Little did the Lunars anticipate the size and fury of the tremendous horde that descended on the oasis, or that they would be led by Jaldon Goldentooth himself!
At that name Cornspot and the other prisoners gasped.
“Combined assaults were made on all four gates. Here,” he said, pointing the South Gate, “the Impala Nation showered the Lunars with rains of arrows. At the East Gate, the Bolos and the Ostriches made their hit-and-run attacks, while at the South, the morokanth captured most of a last convoy trying to break out and escape back to Pavis. Sadly, the governor was one of the few that got away.
“But by far the greatest number descended on the West Gate. Almost the entire Rhino tribe in the lead, followed Bison, High Llamas and more. Lined up against them was the shield wall and pikes of the Sun Dome, brothers locked together – a magnificent sight!”
He sketched how the nomad host converged on this one point.
“And truly, I believe that first wave of nomad cavalry would have crashed and broke against them.” He laughed again. “But they did not. Mere seconds before contact the shield wall disengaged. Our templars stepped aside in perfect formation. Such nerve, such discipline, oh it was a wonder to behold!”
Rurik sketched some more on the ground. “The nomads poured in through the gap but straight ahead of them lay a bend in the pathway through the caltrops. There would be no way a horde charging at such speed would be able to turn in time, with thousands more pushing behind them.”
Here his eyes shone. “At this very moment the roiling clouds suddenly drew apart, bathing the battlefield in Yelm’s radiance. A barrage of Sun Spears blew a straight road through to the heart of the oasis!”
“The Sun Dome Templars stood silently by as the nomads poured in. Quickly, the Lunar rout became a massacre, but the only Sun Domer to fall at Moonbroth was Count Invictus himself.
“After the victory your Lord Belvani proclaimed himself Count, and was acclaimed so by his Templars. He immediately announced Sun County would make a pact with my lord Argrath White Bull, who was already preparing to lead his victorious Praxians against Pavis.”
“How will the nomads hope to take Pavis?”, Cornspot asked in disbelief, “They know nothing about siegecraft – even our village walls keep them out.”
“Count Belvani promised Argrath that proof of the Sun Dome’s fidelity would be shown before the walls of Pavis,” said Rurik, “And that is why I am here.”
EMBRACE THE SUN DRAGON
“My lord Argrath is the White Bull, but one of his other titles is Dragonlord,” said Rurik Runespear. “And so Count Belvani has decreed that veneration of the Sun Dragon will resume in Sun County, an aspect of the Yelmalio cult that has been lost for centuries.
“The Sun Dragon’s return was presaged by Windwhistler the Wyrm. Argrath’s mystic insight helped us understand it is none other than a living avatar of the Sun Dome Temple’s long-lost Guardian of Above.
“To mark this new dawn, Windwhistler gave gave a rapturous flyby over the battlefield, trailing the Sun Dome banner, now stitched with a golden dragon. A sight to behold! Count Belvani then sent us here to find you”.
He looked at Melo Yelo and saw the handle of the stone knife sticking out his dilly bag. “Pass me the blade, the utuma, that is what we have come here for.”
The Light Son took the blade and returned to Windwhistler. He gestured for Melo Yelo and the others to follow, but only Cornspot hesitantly joined the baboon in coming forward; the fear of dragons and dragon-kind was long ingrained in the Sun Folk, and they were scared of this sight.
“Ourobo,” said Rurik Runespear earnestly to Windwhistler, and then he bowed.
“Ouroborrrrrrrrrrr,” trilled the wyrm in the reply, and rolled over on to its back.
Rurik ran the tip of the blade along Windwhistler’s knarled and mottled scales until he found a spot close to its head.
Melo Yelo and Cornspot gasped as Rurik plunged the stone knife into Windwhistler’s hide and began slitting its belly open, slicing a long way down its tail.
But where they expected to see spurting blood and viscera there was none – instead, inside the cut they could see a whitish shape moving and pulsing.
“Windwhistler dances the Dance of Being,” said Rurik, returning the knife to Melo Yelo. By now a crowd had gathered to see this wonder, prisoners and guards alike, all keeping a fearful distance though.
After some minutes the white shape slowly emerged and uncoiled; it was Windwhistler refreshed, new and nascent! The wyrm’s scales looked soft and were a flawless, unblemished white.
It took many minutes for Windwhistler to twist and shrug itself out of its old skin. Eventually, laboriously, it came free and then the new wyrm lay flat on the ground beside its old self, panting deeply.
“Ourobor,” said Rurik.
The recovering wyrm lay basking in the sun. As it absorbed Yelm’s life-giving radiance it slowly swelled to its new true size, and as they hardened its scales began to take on a dazzling a golden hue. Finally, the transformation was complete. Windwhistler lifted its huge head, opened its jaws with a great yawn, and stretched out its new enormous wings. Many in the crowd ran away terrified.
“Melo Yelo,” the baboon heard in his head, “Father Yelm sees all, and for what you have done, for what you have sacrificed, the Sun Dragon bestows this boon. Take your knife and go to my old skin. Cut a long strip and get your liegeman to wrap it on your shoulder where you gave up your arm”.
By “liegeman” Windwhistler must have meant Cornspot, thought Melo Yelo, so he got him to assist as instructed. Although Windwhistler’s old skin was thick and leathery, the utuma knife cut through it with ease.
“Your liegeman may cut a strip too to make a jerkin,” Windwhistler continued in his head and if a wyrm could smile that’s what it did, “For I’m sure danger abounds when following the likes of you.”
Cornspot dutifully cut several strips of skin, enough to make himself a decent hauberk. When he finished he handed the blade back to Melo Yelo, who almost dropped it in surprise when he realised he’d reached out to take it with his left hand, from the arm he did not have. The wyrm skin wrapped around his shoulder had transformed: the new arm was baboon-like, but there were scales under the fur.
“You’ll need to step back,” said Rurik, though he stayed where he was.
Windwhistler shook and began to change colour again, this time a fiery red colour. The wyrm radiated intense heat – so hot, its old skin erupted in flame.
“Ouroboro,” said both Rurik, seemingly unaffected, and Windwhistler. Very quickly, the old wyrm skin was little more than ash.
“Ouroboros,” they said, though Windwhistler’s hiss went on and on until his old body was completely consumed. The heat then died away and the great wyrm resumed its golden colour.
“We must go back to Pavis now Melo Yelo, the Count awaits us,” said Rurik. “You and your ‘liegeman,’ he nodded to Cornspot and also smiled, “are welcome to come too: there’s plenty of room on the back of the Golden Wyrm, the new Windwhistler.”
Cornspot was happy to do anything to get out of Pent Ridge, and was all ready to jump on board the wyrm’s back. Before he could do so a voice called out: hurrying across the bare ground from the encampment was a group of Yelmalion soldiers. As they drew closer it was clear they weren’t templars but militia; farmers on temporary duty, a long way out from home.
“Halt!” they cried officiously, “We are the Militia from Sandheart. Sent here by command of Lady Vega, Guardian of the Sun Dome. We are to escort the baboon Melo Yelo back to the Sun Dome Temple. This is the order for his immediate release.” For want of anyone better to give it to, they handed the warrant to Rurik Runespear.
“It seems they already think better of you at the Sun Dome,” the Light Son said to Melo Yelo. “Go with your friend and prepare the way for the triumphant return of Count Invictus. Tell Lady Vega we’ll be back when our business is finished outside the walls of Pavis.
“Tell her we return embracing the Sun Dragon.”
Here I must suspend this Sun County saga for the time being. It’s been fun, but I’ve been been posting every day since June 9th and after 48 days straight I really need to take a break for a bit! But I’ll return with the second part of the saga – The Time of Two Counts – later this year.
In the mean time I will go back through these parts and tie them all together as one continuous narrative. (I also have a scenario to finish for Jon Webb’s wonderful Sandheart series… he’s been very patient.)
Cheers, and thanks for everyone’s kind comments, MOB.
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