Book One: Ordered by Gods
CHAPTER FIVE:

Where Lizards Weep
Cuthberta Clairemoarday

A report of the Huntwarden S'trassk to King Kausat and the Circle of Eight

Shadowy figures are scattered around a number of small but effective fires. Their conversations are subdued, as if those talking are afraid of drawing someone or something's attention. A figure emerges from the tree-line without hesitation or fear and suddenly all conversation stops. The figure strides up to a circle of eight figures, halts and salutes.

He sits before the Circle and begins to speak: "Kausat I wish to tell you of what I have seen about the Humans. Where are the rest of my Hunters? I sent them back before mid-sun yesterday."

"S'trassk, they were found slaughtered by that which Hunts the Night this morning. We thought you too had been killed and stolen as the others"

"Semuanya forgive me! I sent them back to avoid the Darkened Swamp only to send them to their Doom at the hands of another Vile Fate!" He spits and utters an ancient curse.

Kausat raises his claw, shiny and scaly in the flickering firelight. "Peace brother, your tale is all the more necessary as only you remain to tell it"

S'trassk breathes deeply and closes his eyes. He opens them suddenly and it seems for just a second that they glow in the light of the fire. His concentration unnerves many in the Circle and his voice takes on the force of a North wind:

"After the Human with the Mark of Semuanya rejoined his Companions, we moved off to watch them. As always, they all chattered like frogs in the swamp late in the summer. From the Pillars of Stone, they proceeded away from our lands towards the Yellow Grass Hills. While they milled about like grazing cattle, one of them began to play the Lament of Trees. While this human pronounced the words like he had gravel in his mouth, the music was beautiful like a mountain stream. He was calling to us and so when they returned to the cover of the trees, we went ahead and set an ambush for them as our fathers taught us. I revealed myself to them and told them of the Darkened Swamp. They spoke of odd things and showed me an ugly piece of cloth with marks on it. They can be foolish like children sometimes. One, He with the Song made sense. We parted and they continued into the Darkened Swamp. I returned to my Hunters and sent them back. The fate of the Lament compelled me to follow them but I could not risk my brothers to my strange affliction.

"I followed them into that place I swore never to penetrate. In an open grove, they were set upon by the trees but, oh greater horror, also the twisted victims of Vile. The stories of our youth are true! It is truly Where the Lizards Weep! I saw what remained of Ys'othn and Lmod and several of our brothers I could not recognize. It would seem after they fled the Circle's justice last season, they strayed too close to the Darkness and became its victims. More disturbingly, there were also hobgoblins fighting as twisted-tree puppets as well. To find such creatures so deep into our lands confirms in my mind the story that the Smooth-Tongued human told us: conspiracies slither beneath our feet. The Human with the Song summoned the Lament to call on our brothers but it could not work: they were lost. Instead, the Humans cut these Creepers down without trouble. To my shock, the Humans continued as if they had just emerged from sleeping in the sun. They must have been addled in their nests as eggs. Perhaps the Song protects themů

"I felt the need to follow further. I as tracked them I was able to ponder their strange questions to me. They moved through the swamp like a winter storm so I was not challenged in following their signs. They had asked about a structure made by Others of which I did not know since they said it was deep in the Swamp. What if there was something there? What if That which Hunts the Night emerged from there? "They reached a Cave as they had planned and were attacked by an Ancient and Unspeakable Evil. Perhaps the minions of Blibdoolpoolp, I do not know. But I do know that these Humans battled with the skill of a dozen Hunters and unflinching Valour. The calm and quiet one that carries no weapons: you were wrong Kausat, he is not their porter. He is like a reed in the wind with the courage of a bear. We knew the Paladin was formidable but what a sight in Battle! Even though they were filthy, bloody and battered, they stood their ground against a superior foe. It seemed like they were drawing the Evil into a Grove to re-organize their Last Stand. When their Metal Man fell, I thought that would cause their Egg to Crack. Oh, how we misunderstood them! The Paladin and the Digger of Moradin left their Defence to save it. It was at that point that I saw the Lady of the Glade and she commanded the Evil away. As she turned to the Human with the Song, she caught my eye. If not for her interest in him, I think she would have enslaved me. Semuanya be praised, I knew dawn had come for me. I fled with so little care I almost ran into the human's beast of burden. The minions of the Lady were dragging it to her Grove. Clearly it was the most sensible of the lot of them since it ran when the Evil Emerged. I laughed as I dodged around the minions for clearly this beast of burden was not making it easy for them to drag it to that enchanted grove and away from its grass.

"I would not risk the Darkened Swamp Where We Weep again for even Semuanya's patience has limits. I went across the River at the Knee of Shekinester and came back directly."

Kausat nodded and spoke, "S'trassk, your tale is like sun over the mountains at dawn: sudden, terrible and a shock only a fool could not predict. We have been foolish and you may have saved us from that because of these Addled Humans. While the Marked One seeks That Which Hunts the Night, these Humans are like a claw pointed at the heart of some evil that stalks our land without our knowledge. Go to your home, recover from trials and mourn your brothers. The Circle of Eight will consider this tale and decide by dawn tomorrow what we will must do about it."

S'trassk stands up and walks to the far side of the clearing as the conversations begin again with greater urgency and fear.

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Frankie's Childhood Memories