They debated their options. Nallindia reminded everyone that she would be able to perform Vingkot's defeat of enemies from the north, although she admitted that she lacked the necessary regalia: the Sword and Helm. A less reliable, but probably more practical myth, would be Orlanth's theft of a magic weapon from Shadzor's prison-storehouse. After Shadzor killed Umath, Vadrus challenged Shadzor, and lost. Then Orlanth befriended one of Shadzor's slaves, who told him the secrets to enter the storehouse. Orlanth then stole a weapon, and Shadzor returned home.
Jangi agreed to take the role of Vadrus. Nallindia figured that they'd be able to find a slave when they were near Alkoth
Kuleneth, warlord of Lakrene, with 300 warriors, arrived at Ernandel.
Veka, the lord of Laradana, of Sylilan descent, sent emissaries asking for help. They said the drums of Alkoth had been heard for four days in a row. Murhardavu said this meant that the Lord of Alkoth was leaving the city. The emissaries also said that Lord Veka had sent his brother Breka to ask the King of Sylila for help.
Furlam convinced the Kastangings, the Kanakorings, the Orlanteffings, and the Sardarkestings to send large complements of warriors. All told, there were more Dara-ni than Lakreni. There were also a significant number of warriors from Laradana and Thubana.
The people of Ernandel didn't think much of the idea of sending the warriors as far as Laradana. Kuleneth thought it would be possible to skirmish with their army for a few weeks, until the Red Destroyer was no longer in the sky.
They armies marched north to Laradana. Furlam convinced Wolenath to add Thubana's forces to those of Dara-ni.
Several days later, Oswind and horsemen returned from patrol. Oswind reported they had 75 horsemen and 25 mounted demons. The city lord had his ceremonial mace, and led 900 warriors. They were well equipped with twelve supply boats. They were burning as they advanced.
The Lakreni suggested that they would skirmish and retreat. Laradana suggested they should become tributary to the King of Sylila in exchange for his help. The army was about to disintegrate, but Furlam gave a stirring speech, restoring their morale.
Nine questers assembled, with the backing of three fourths of the army. Hrothgar was Orlanth; Nallindia acted as Pathfinder; Jangi took the role of Yinkin; Martog was the Dark Healer; Badbreath was the troll, unafraid of Alkoth; Verdun acted as Elmal; Murhardavu was the Shield Bearer; Oswind was Humakt; and Feolam Falthamsson acted as the Thunder Brother. They made significant sacrifices, including driving many cattle into the river.
Hrothgar led them on the spiral path to the Otherworld. They were at Umath's Camp. A group was already there, arguing about what to do now that their father was killed. Vadrus asserted his right to rule. Nallindia and Hrothgar spoke against this, and Vadrus challenged Nallindia. Martog tried to conceal everyone in darkness, but Vadrus shoved her aside, and knocked Nallindia to the ground. Oswind locked blades with him, and Vadrus said, "You all are cowards." He charged into the sky, against the Red Destroyer. There was a cataclysmic fight, but the Red Destroyer knocked Vadrus out of the sky ninety-nine times. Finally Vadrus didn't get back up.
Nallindia led everyone to the north. They passed along the path of destruction caused by the Red Destroyer. Eventually, they came to a small keep, and Nallindia gave the Greeting. One of Yelm's judges appeared on top of the tower. He said, "You are rebels. What are you doing here?"
"We seek the home of Shadzor, the Red Destroyer," said Hrothgar.
"Now that there is no order, because of your murder, none of the old things work, and the Red Destroyer has come to destroy you all."
Murhardavu spoke piously of Antirius, reminding him that while Antirius lived there was still justice. The judge was confused, but obeyed Murhardavu's command to obey him. The Orlanthi were unsettled by this. The judge asked, "What do you seek?"
Murhardavu answered, "We seek the secret path to the store rooms of Shargash."
The judge replied, "There are four terrible guardians, and they will surely stop you." But Murhardavu persisted, and the judge said, "Travel to the great green ring, go around it two times widdershins. You will see a large rock with runes. Travel from there to the ring, and you will find the gate. But the guardians will know that you are not one of the dead, who normally travel by that path."
Hrothgar then declared that the judge was a free man, no longer a slave of the Red Destroyer. He was afraid and confused, clearly not used to living without being told what to do. Nallindia told him, "You are free to do what you have always done."
The great green ring of Alkoth was completely above ground, towering over the ash-covered surroundings. After the second circuit, they noticed a rock with runic characters, and headed towards the wall. They now saw a dark tunnel leading down, guarded by four Shadzoring demons of different types.
A demon with a gaping mouth crushed Murhardavu's chest with his mace. A Shadzoring with knife-like fangs savaged Feolam. Oswind took down the lizard-headed demon. Jangi quickly struck down the crocodile-headed Shadzoring. Hrothgar took out the first demon. The long-toothed demon knocked down Nallindia, though Wrathful kept her from serious injury. Martog smothered it in darkness, but it kept everyone at bay, until finally Hrothgar split its skull.
Martog managed to save Murhardavu from dying, and got Feolam back on his feet. Murhardavu explained the demon that nearly killed him had the head of a fearsome river horse that lived near Alkoth.
They continued on into the darkness. They realized the tunnel was made of still-living skeletons. Nallindia picked a way through the labyrinth of tunnels, finally arriving in a cavern lit by flickering, smoky torches that gave off a sickly smell. The dead were being ordered and sorted in mysterious ways, and piles of corpses were being burned.
A gaunt old man, naked but for a loincloth and smeared with ashes, came forward carrying a curved scepter. "You were not sent here by the Red Destroyer. What are you doing here?"
"I am Hrothgar, and I have come to claim the Lightning Spear."
"You can take it if you wish, but you are my prisoner, and you will never leave the Enclosure until the world is destroyed."
Hrothgar wagered his own Lightning Spear, but the guardian won the bet.
Oswind threatened the frail looking guardian, then attacked with his sword. The old man casually knocked Oswind to the ground, shattering many of his bones.
Nallindia bet her ability to wield her spear. The guardian said, "My master does not have a spear. You only may go."
Jangi bet his ability to hate, and won.
The guardian pointed out a path they could leave by, provided they touched nothing and didn't look back. They returned to the land of the living near the sacred grounds at Laradana, a week after they set out. The city was a smoking ruin.
Hrothgar was no longer known as Hrothgar Lightning, although could still call small lighting bolts.
Part Eleven | Part Thirteen
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