It was pre-dawn, and we had time to talk. Last night's fighting wasn't nearly as bad as I'd worried about. Chloe told us about how the gracknel's actions had helped by doing effective ash venting and other things to keep attackers from making it to the shrine. Eevolertu pointed out that there was the attack by the friendly-sakken against one of the winter shrines outside the valley.

Marguerite had had a vision, that included an old man and a fork in the path. One direction lead to a fiery volcano. The other branch led to Evolertu and others fighting on a snowy mountain. There was a third choice, the path behind the tree, and he showed Marguerite two nuts in his hands, then made them disappear. When she talked with Ofeshia about this, they thought it might be about the lord of secrets.

The time bearer's blessing could be put on up to 20 people, and last 3 days, providing cold resistance, and facilitates travel in the snow/other effects of winter. It would still be a hard day's travel, even if there's a way to put a light gourd onto the shrine from above.

Chloe said that Darren had told her that we should leave the valley by a day and a half after Darren left (ie by tomorrow sometime).

There was more planning talk about route (I asked Chloe if there were an easier route, and she drew a beautiful map, showing there was a way up the side of the valley that would be much easier), and who would go for the winter shrine, and so on).

I took a moment to assess how I was doing with reiteration. It was odd. I could hear Darren talking inside. I took a moment to listen, and the thoughts were about gracknel, production and such. I didn't stay listening long, and when I assessed after, it seemed to have decreased integration, but I thought that now that Chloe was out of the gracknel, we might need some connection to the gracknel at some point.

Chloe and Eevolertu went off to talk to people near the gracknel. I took the time to do my daily meditation before they showed up again.

A group of us went to the entrance to the caldera, where the TimeBearer was waiting for us. As we approached, we passed through a veil, and the natural sounds faded out. Eevolertu talked with her. The shrine from last night had a veil of swirling around, so it would be hard to attack from a distance. The containers of sunlight could remove the blessing, so fire arrows will be better. The blessing will allow us to get closer than normal, given the wind. If we lose the blessing within 30-40 yards of the shrine, we could be killed. Chloe remembered she had a bull's-eye lantern, and that could be useful.

We gathered, and there was a swirl, and we all looked like we had snowflakes all over us. We had a few words, and then she left.

I tested out how walking and running worked, and it felt normal, but I was on top of the snow, and I able to stop easily.

The sun was going to rise soon; I put my hood up to protect from the light. As we headed back, we stayed in the shade as much as possible. We went back to get oil, and borrow extra cloaks to put over our blessed ones, which helped a bit.
We were holding the ritual, the bridge starts to connect, and the ritual veers just a bit off the intended distance. The other people helping are working harder than they can, really. The ritual was driven a bit by something else. The energy comes, and rebounds, and goes past to where the point of connection was. The others around were still singing the ever-so-off ritual, which is harmful to the people doing it. We decided it would be better to have people doing maintenance, calming them down from the intensity.

I told them I could help more if I could sleep for a bit.

A couple of hours later, Woveshancor woke me to tell me that there were collecting things out, and Chloe was going to go to the village to do... something. I went with them. Chloe played her flute some of the time. There were weird gracknel constructs. A couple of times Woveshancor kept me from walking into a tree; the gracknel was playing a very somnolent lullaby. I tried to keep myself awake by skipping, hopping, weaving around rocks, etc. When we got to the village, there were more gathering-constructs, working their way into houses to get at the Crages bodies within. I was torn: Crages tend to burn their bodies, and would hate to know that their dead were reused, but the gracknel did need more stuff. I could see both sides. Chloe stopped noodling around on her flute and started singing, which made the things stop for a moment. I joined her song. Chloe got them to follow. When she paused, it took about a minute until they 'woke up'. Chloe's plan was to gather the rest of the gatherers around the village, and bring them to the southeast where the slain walking dead were. We sang out way over. When we got there, there was another 3-pod creature with a staff for a head. It came over, though it tried to approach Chloe. I got between her and it, and block it trying to get at her, and we continued towards the walking dead. When we got there, they went over, even 3-pod, but after a while, it decided I was more interesting. I kept blocking the stick. Chloe came over and let it touch her with the stick, and soon after one of the ones collecting the walking dead came towards her. I quickly started up singing. It stopped, but remembered her if I paused. So I kept singing.

Eevolertu arrived, figured out the situation, left one of his guards with us, and headed back to the shrine. Slowly we worked our way over to the huge pile of dead, and process it quickly. The sleeping people were woken by the sounds of bodies being squished. When things fill, they meander back towards the gracknel. Unfortunately, there were two left that weren't filled. Eventually Chloe sang something else, and they meandered off.
I'd helped people who were injured, so took the time to get a short nap.

I got up not so long after, but I wasn't in charge of myself, though I was able to watch. I offered to help with the ritual, but Marguerite said things were ok. I said I'd do a little sweep, checking on people, helping people who needed help with the ritual.

Marguerite and Ofeshia were talking. I went over, and they were talking about the comm link with the south, that had a big backup of energy, so was potentially dangerous. I said I could help her resist magic better, like the manipulation of energies I've done before. I watch this part that the Gray Lady does this, and try to understand, as much as I can, how she covers Ofeshia in a web of energies. Interestingly, GL hadn't been sure she could do it, either. I tried to learn what I could, but there were layers of perception that were far beyond me.

Ofeshia went back into the shrine space to open the comm link so the shrines could link. There was a sound, and lights, then Ofeshia slumped towards the ground. Marguerite and I caught her. She was alive. GL said that she'd try to pull off the tangle from around Ofeshia while Marguerite held the ritual. The net caught a bunch of tons of energy. GL folded it up, layer by layer, quickly and carefully, into a small, lacy burning triangle, leaving her natural frame structure unenhanced, and in poor shape. I took the triangle's energy into myself. GL didn't want Ofeshia in this poor shape for her plan, but she also didn't want her to heal so quickly that she would interfere with her plan either. I told Marguerite that I'd done something to help Ofeshia heal, turned down the offer of some tea, and went to do another check on people. It was odd, watching.

The door to the GL's room, where I was sitting, was open. She said to come out, and I did, and she took my hand, and we were out past the fires. She said that in a moment, it would all happen, and things would work out, and our agreement would be over. I asked if there was a path we could find towards our plan working out without a lot of death. She said there would be an attack, at their weakest time, leading to the best chance of survival. She said that things had worked out well, coincidences that could be ridden a long way. I might experience some confusion/disassociation for a while. Difficulty remembering who I was, thoughts of being another race. I asked if there were something to be done to further both our plans, and she said that that would mean a renegotiation, which she knew I didn't want. And her lord already had claws into the situation.

She said "it's happening now." I say "fare thee well."

She played with the lacy triangle, then folded down into candlelight and was gone. And then there was a huge pain in my side. I fell over, but didn't pass out. I kept swallowing, and the pain branched out and diffused. I was covered in sweat, and didn't feel like myself.

Oreshalore and Eevolertu came out and got me. Oreshalore picked me up and carried me back to camp, near the fire. She'd asked what happened, and I said it was complicated. I asked Eevolertu about resisting pain. I put a hand in, and it wasn't blood, but some kind of slime, in a row underneath my ribs. Once it was clear I didn't need a bandage, we sent the person with the bandages away.

There was a bit of conversation after that, about protecting Ofeshia, and connecting to the comm link, and how Darren might not be anymore.

We headed back towards Marguerite, and Chloe came back from the gracknel. She said that Darren wasn't, and she'd gotten out of the gracknel before that, because being in the gracknel without Darren would be bad. And apparently people didn't want to talk about Darren anyway, so that conversation slid away.

The gracknel was making different sounds.

Chloe said that they fixed the parts that let the gracknel fix itself.

The ritual changed to the connecting ritual, with a number of us holding it together. Marguerite asked if I'd talk to the people I'd worked with before (as GL). I thought about what the GL had taught to two of the people holding the ritual before. This was for bridging and netting energy that would come out of this work when Ofeshia went in, and sent off to use, to interject the GL into the gracknel. I said I wasn't sure I knew appropriate things for this new ritual, and left it at that.

It took an hour for this ritual to take hold.
Evolertu rushed out to fight the sakken near the shrine area. I ran after him, and slashed at the odd sakken that had ice spears growing out of its back. There was a blast of awful cold from it. Quintillian attacked as well, then it picked her up and threw her. It rushed off, followed by Eevolertu and Woveshancor. I heard sounds that implied they got it, so I pulled Quintillian up, and asked her which direction. She pulled me farther out, then pointed out another of those sakken.

I attacked it, then she did, and we got a blast of the awful cold. We attacked again, then there was a whoosh of cold air past me. Basbran and Vahoogar arrived and attacked, taking it down.

I heard Eevolertu call to move away from the body that might explode. I found myself by an icy patch; I yelled back to the others not to come on the icy patch, which hadn't been there before, and had icy spikes. I came up to Quintillian, and saw what she'd noticed, a line of about eight walking dead drifting by. Woveshancor went to the last one, and the others started attacking as well, so I joined them, and got one out of commission.

I heard Eevolertu call from far off on the other side of the shrine that there were walking dead there. I hacked at one of the two left near me. Quintillian and Woveshancor headed back to camp. Once the rest of the dead were downed, the rest of us headed back to the shrine area. I heard Eevolertu yell again that there were walking dead.

We all met up again in the shrine area. Eevolertu said that the saken he'd taken down blew up when he put ash on it, and that caused the seeding of the winter shrine. I told the people holding the ritual, and for them, they've felt nothing pushing on the ritual. Oreshalore and Donjerwen went outt and came back from checking on the other sakken, which was still pulsing with cold even though it was just lying there. Eevolertu said that we should get fire onto it. They also reported that the ice spines seemed to be growing. Eevolertu said to cut them down by using a light of a gourd. Donjerwen went to put daylight onto the ice spines that were growing rather quickly. It didn't look like it did anything, but Ofeshia said that it was working, and it needed to cover every bit, because it would start to grow back if anything weren't covered. Ofeshia checked out the unexploded body. It was too far for a light gourd to reach, but an arrow dipped in light could. That made the body explode faster, causing a larger area of shrine that people started casting light across.
At midday, I woke Ofeshia and Marguerite so they could lead the new shrine in connecting to the other linked shrines. We talked about connecting them, and I asked whether they intended to ask the tree shrine to do this on its own, or we were doing a ritual to help it. Marguerite and Ofeshia talked, and realized that we don't have enough power, unless the tree helps us project the whole way. I wondered whether we could make some map of how to go to the shrines at High Grove. There was the possibility of doing it in stages, rather than one energy leap. Marguerite and Ofeshia weren't sure how far it got in its attempt this morning.

They went in, and I could hear their speaking to each other. When it sounded like they were coming out of meeting the shrine, I reached out to hold Ofeshia's hand, to see whether I could project to her. I sent her a picture of the big tree shrine in the previous valley, and the little shrine we'd planted. She was able to see that, so there is a way to communicate between someone in the shrine space and someone out of shrine space.

I put my hand on the trunk of the shrine, it was much more like a person than a plant. It had flows of energy that reached out in all directions, past were I could perceive. I could only see part near me. There were flows of energy going in and out.

Ofeshia brought me into the shrine space to introduce me. It was disconcerting, like being in a dream that was unraveling, with an Elix in a flowered glade. Ofeshia sent pictures to introduce me, and it sent back pictures that included me. I sent a picture of me going over to put a hand on him. The shrine sent it back a couple of times, and Ofeshia clarified that it was now, not previously. I approached respectfully, and then touched. The energy flows were disassociated from the body, and I could see the flows and coils of the structure. It was engaged with another being, holding its hand. It was vigorous and youthful. It's growing at an unnatural pace. When I described this, Ofeshia wondered whether the other being

Most of the growth is reaching south, with one tendril of growth touching the entity I'd felt before. I couldn't tell how far things were, just direction. I was ready to come out of this confusing space, so I bowed my thanks, and Ofeshia brought us out. When I described the entity, Ofeshia said that the place to the south was the place of suns she'd mentioned before, that is a place of broken energies.

Marguerite took the ritual over from me while Ofeshia did some research on magic. I went to sleep, to recover focus from this encounter, and perhaps to get some new idea about how I could do something towards getting the shrines linked.
There was some talk about what to do tonight. I said I'd go in a group lead by Eevolertu to fight later. Marguerite and Ofeshia went to make sure there weren't dead bodies that could be inhabited, and I held the ritual while they did.

Eevolertu and I did our daily practice, and when we were done, Ofeshia and Marguerite came back saying the gatherer was out, and they were afraid it would start bringing the dead of the valley in to use their parts.

Ofeshia reached out to talk to Chloe, but got Darren instead. In the course of conversation, she found out that there are a fair number of sakken around. She told Darren that any sakken inside the caldera could be collected.

I had a thought I mentioned to Eevolertu, that if we do the attack on the tower tomorrow, it could be helpful to use the gatherer to fight the sakken so it could gather them while we deal with the winter shrine.

There was more discussion of connecting our new shrine to the shrine network, which would require having 2 rituals going at once. But the growing could happen now.

There was red lightning off to one side. Not sure what that was.

I tried to sleep, and managed it for a bit, until there was extra ashfall. I woke up, and Eevolertu said he'd seen a sakken bearing ice, moving slowly nearby. I followed him out to find it.
Marguerite woke me up in the late afternoon. We talked about me putting Swulanee's energies back in alignment with her body before she headed home. She was sleeping now, so we went to talk to Ofeshia before doing the healing.

Ofeshia said that she now knows about fixing the communication network temporarily. She said that the copper patterning on the ground I saw in the introduction of tree in dreamtime. If that can be made to touch the baby shrine, then there could be communication, though it's not good for the point of breaking through the skin of the shrine, as it were. If that connection to the gracknel communication system is made, it would be only a short distance to join to one of the other shrines in the network. Ofeshia said that the shrine needs to know itself, have a name, to stand for itself as the gracknel's energy can be overwhelming.

Ofeshia and Marguerite were going in to talk to the shrine. I fixed Swulanee's energies first, and she definitely felt better; she headed back home.

I held the ritual while Marguerite and Ofeshia went to talk to the tree shrine. I said that I'd touch Ofeshia if it got close to actual dark, since the sun was already lower than the level of the caldera.

There was some sound of popping, and wind, and the smell of sulfur, like when the ash venting happened yesterday. People stood, concerned that there was an attack. I reminded people that this was like the gracknel's ash system, just without ash, not like an attack, that likely wouldn't come until later.

Eevolertu returned. He said that there's a winter's shrine directly south on the caldera that he and Oreshalore attacked with fire. On their way back, they met with someone Marguerite knew, the time bearer who'd arranged our sakken travel. She was glad we weren't eaten. She had news: the big winter spirit is coming now, following the path of its towers. It will be in striking distance tomorrow night. There are three towers in striking distance of the caldera. One is huge, south of here. One is east and younger, and one is southeast and younger. The time bearer is going to attack all of these, but wasn't sure she had enough resources to attack all three before the spirit arrives. We could make an attack party for the one on the southeast, a 5-6 mile hike with a climb, then we destroy a tower and fight sakken. She would bless a bunch of us to endure the cold better, and the blessing lasts 3 days. She can cast it on 20 people. She's going to attack the big one tonight, and we can meet tomorrow morning. We discussed this, and realized that no hard decisions can be made until after tonight's battle. Eevolertu pointed out that anyone in a shrine-hunting party would have to know we were working with the Winter's King. I pointed out that this was restoring the balance, which Marguerite might be able to use to persuade people.

Ofeshia said that the shrine now has a name, Jereayesov. It's working on connecting to the gracknel, which is losing its mind and might blow up the volcano/valley if it's not connected soon. That connection could make it easier for the shrine and the gracknel to link to the shrine network. Having a peer group could help the gracknel, as well. It might help with it getting the resources it needs.
I was napping to recover from holding the ritual for so long, then woke up to a shrill whistling sound all around.

Swulanee was there, pierced by some kind of gracknel thorns that were hurting her. I looked at her energies, and could see the symbiosis, even with the thin connection, and how it was pulling threads of her energy structure out, like pulling her bones apart. Ofeshia was communicating with Chloe and Darren about me doing work on Swulanee, and apparently I'm a body worker.

They sent Eevolertu out with fish to the gracknel.

There was some talk about me becoming a Keeper, so I could touch the thorns in Swulanee. There was also the warning that touching them could go down a path that would lead to death.

I realized that Ofeshia might be able to help me with her energies to work on Swulanee; I was nervous about doing this very different thing with manipulating inner energies. I didn't want to start on Swulanee with working together, so I said we should figure out working together first. I put my hands on her to show her how it worked, then on me, to show her how it was in another person. And that seemed to work.

It was time for Ofeshia to let Chloe know that Eevolertu was by the front door with fish.

Then I talked to Swulanee, telling her what I wanted to try. She was having a hard time focusing due to pain. Then I tried to see what was going on. There were lots of little tendrils pulling her apart. I thought about possibly pulling her energies just a bit to one side as a stop-gap. I told Ofeshia, and she said to go for it. I did, and it was really difficult, but it worked. A minute later, the thorns chirped, and dropped off Swulanee's body. A minute later they started chirping.

Ofeshia contacted Chloe, and found out that the chirping would get a gathering coming to get them. She asked Quintillian to escort her in dropping the thorns off near the gracknel, so the gatherers wouldn't come to this shrine.

I went to sleep to recover from this healing.
I was holding the ritual while Ofeshia and Marguerite talked to the new tree shrine. It started glowing with a beautiful light, waking those who were asleep due to its brilliance. Interestingly, it was drawing energy in, and it was getting colder. Which is something I don't want to point out. Then the light changed, and the chill vanished. Eevolertu spoke to a bunch of the people around.

Ofeshia and Marguerite told me, Eevolertu, and Donjerwen what had happened with the new tree. They described how they suggested it reach farther out, but that it should grow until midday before reaching out that far. Eevolertu said that the locals are not doing well. They didn't fight in a unified way last night, and had more losses because of it. Eevolertu said that we need to give them a task that would pull them together. He thought building a big bonfire would be a good idea. Marguerite said that if they had a flask of light, that would help too. Ofeshia wondered if they should move towards the gracknel, with all the shaped houses there. I wasn't sure whether that would bring more fighting towards the gracknel, whether it would take focus from the gracknel doing something else. Eevolertu said that we should tell the locals that the ash is part of the gracknel's defensive system.

Ofeshia contacted Chloe. There was a kind of circular conversation about whether it was safe for people to move to outside the gracknel, and how they shouldn't be used for parts, and how the ash-venting system has to be turned off within a few days or everyone dies. And then there was something about Ofeshia going to be an engineer at the gracknel if they don't figure out the venting system in the next hour or so. Eevolertu asked whether dead fish could be used for parts. Darren said that they might be useful, so yes, they should bring the fish to the entrance to the gracknel.

Eevolertu took some people to Kenelu's hut. I continued to hold the ritual so Ofeshia and Marguerite could nap until midday. In between times, I thought about how to combine energies for Kenessho can help, but other people who don't have training can't do that. Some specialized warriors , foci, or blessed could help. Which cut down severely on how many people's energy could help. But! If the shrine connected to the other shrines, then it would be linked with the Crystal Shrine, which is a center of healing, and perhaps would be able to help in itself, through the shrine network, or somehow connect the foci at the Crystal Shrine to us. More to think about...
I slept part of the morning away, and felt a lot better when I woke up, though I could still feel the touch of the piece of night on me. There was some food already made, including some fish stew. Basbran brought it around, saying that a lot of the fish in the pond died, first a big piece of ice landed in it, then it heated up too much, killing a lot of the fish, so people are cooking and drying them. A lot of villagers died, and the villagers are taking care of their dead. A lot of people were touched by the pieces of night. I started thinking about how I might be able to help heal more than one person at a time from the pieces of night, using mental energy from more of us to heal more of us at once, since otherwise it could take weeks to make sure everyone recovered. At least our group is used to pooling mental energies at this point, and Eevolertu knows Kenessho things. Still, it would take a lot of work to make this reasonable, and I have to think about how this could be possible.

Marguerite said that she and Ofeshia want to talk to the our new tree shrine in preparation to linking it to the other four shrines in our network, since our tree is already flourishing and healthy. Being with the network could provide more defense if attacked tonight, and also shore up the shrine before introducing it to the gracknel, which can be overwhelming. I wasn't sure how the link would happen, and neither were they. I knew that the Grey Lady did something, showing me a map she unrolled, showing me the links between the shrines.

I took over maintenance of the ritual while Ofeshia and Marguerite went to talk to our new tree shrine.

The gracknel's song sounded briefly, then faded away.
Ofeshia and Eevolertu went out to look at the dead meat bridge thing. Eevolertu brought Ofeshia back; she'd collapsed after connecting with Chloe, except she connected with them at another time, and she was another person, back in the past, when there were three gracknel in the valley, and where the stone shrine is now, there was a garden. It sounded confusing. Anyway, she said that there was an option for the people at the gracknel testing using the ash systems, or to use the collector to gather the dead people parts near us. I was definitely in favor of testing the ash, because that would affect the other ice people roaming the valley.

There was a shiver, then several pops, and something whistling and landing nearby. Now there was a metal disk standing out of the ground. I could taste ash in the air, and in the distance, a hissing noise.

Ofeshia was really tired. I told Marguerite I could help with the ritual for a while so Ofeshia could sleep. After some while, Ofeshia woke up and Marguerite went to sleep. When she woke up, I was finally able to sleep.
I was out with Eevolertu and others at the huge mass of frozen dead that was moving towards the shrine. There were now-unfrozen dead climbing down on all sides, and I could hear sakken out past it. I was holding two torches, which wouldn't do much against the dead (and then be used up), and there were lots of pieces of night swooping around; I waited to see what would attack, which turned out to be on Eevolertu. There was a wave of cold from the mass, as Oreshalore swept the light back and forth. Eevolertu pried one loose that was still moving; I hit it until it was gone, then hit the one piece of night left nearby. Quintillian was on the mass, prying dead loose and stabbing into the hole. More night came in and attacked, and I ended up with one on me briefly, until Oreshalore blazed out some more light. Then there was one on Quintillian, which I got off. Eevolertu said something about the ash not being in the right place, and I said to try some other joint/node, handing him the bag of ash I had. Quintillian moved around and opened up the hole more so Eevolertu could stir the ash more. He stuck his arm in with his halberd, there was a flash, it fell over, and icy liquid came spilling out. Quintillian managed to leap off before it fell. We all got back, and went into the area of the shrine. Eevolertu had said there was a blessed sakken and two helpers out there, but none of us were strong enough at this point to do anything about it.

I started healing people, too physically tired to face more fighting if I didn't have to.
The night was flowing through the camp, and I was attacked, with one of them landing on me.
It took some moments to get it off me. I heard Eevolertu call to move over to the light, so I did, swinging torches as I went at the pieces around me. They got smaller as they neared the light.

Eevolertu ran out to attack a huge thing of lots of dead bodies and ice. It kept moving as he attacked. I ran out with some others, and attacked the night around him, keeping away from his strike zone on the thing. Oreshalore brought a container of light, and shined that inside, which looked awful.
I made sure people were as healthy as I could get them, and tried to reassure the health-affected ones that it could be fixed.
One of the scouts who'd gone out into valley returned, looking the worse for wear. He'd helped families who were fighting snow, and the weapons didn't work unless they used ash. Lots of groups of snow things, the height of a man, that could strike and were very cold.

I saw that some people were getting distracted as the news circulated, especially those who were moving rocks with the plowdurg, so I went over to get them back on track. It's tiring physical work, so I tried to get people to switch out with those doing the more ritual aspects of the work.

There was a change in the sound of fighting in the valley. It sounded stronger directly east of us, about a mile away towards the entrance of the valley, which meant they were likely fighting the walking dead. Woveshancor came and said there was some fighting over by the gracknel as well, like fighting on it. Ofeshia decided to try talking to Darren, so I helped Marguerite carry the ritual.

Ofeshia talked to Chloe, not Darren, and told them the gracknell was under attack.

Once that happened, I woke Eevolertu and got him up to speed on the situation. Soon after, there was a group of maybe 5 walking dead spotted. Eevolertu made sure the archers were ready. Then there was another group, and they started over to intercept someone. It was a ranger and Donjerwen with two people. She reported in how the fighting was going in the valley, which wasn't well. I went to move workers off rock moving onto either helping with the actual ritual or getting ready to fight or prepping more arrows, now that so many have been used on the nearby walking dead. Then I did what I could to patch up Donjerwen and the others.

Soon after, a carpet of pieces of night started swooping in, and I grabbed two torches to start fighting.
I stayed with the people who'd been hurt in that aging way, trying to reassure them that there is something that can be done to heal them.

There was a sound over by the entrance to the valley, like rocks fell, or maybe a bit of an avalanche. Just before the crash, there was a sound of something pushing through the trees, making the trees pop and crack. Ofeshia said that it was something huge and magical, so Eevolertu sent out a pair of scouts to find out what happened.

I helped Eevolertu recover, and told him that there were some people with injuries, and one or two who were hit with withering. Despite my efforts, they were still rather worried about this.

One of the scouts Eevolertu sent out to investigate came back, and she was clearly hurt by winter; it seemed like she got a winter spirit infestation. I'm not yet able to drive them out easily, and it would take a long time, so we got her to the fire, with people not only staying nearby, but keeping her near the fire, getting her tea, and well wrapped. Despite herself, she kept trying to move from the fire, so I tied her to her fellows to make it easier to stay.

Eevolertu gathered some of us to consider what to do. Apparently there's an icy thing that's releasing walking dead. There's one scout out there, watching, and is also likely infected with a spirit as well. We talked about how we could fight it, with ashy bows and arrows, or with baskets of light.

Oreshalore said that the rest of the group seemed like they were going to lose the ritual, distracted by this news. Marguerite and Ofeshia went to help Chloe keep the ritual going. Eevolertu went solo to retrieve the scout who was still out.

I checked that our scout was drinking tea. Ofeshia suggested putting some ash in it, so I did.

When the other scout came in, he looked worse than the first, and resisted more due to the spirit in him. Same routine to get him warm and near the fire.

I used my skill with inner energies to assess each of them, to see what size spirit each had. The shadow of an energy spirit, ice spirits that are stronger than the usual disease spirit. The scouts had the same level of spirit, just different levels of exposure. To deal with either of them will be difficult, but maybe there's something in the gracknel that is warm, hot enough to dispel these spirits.

Eevolertu came back soon after, and he was unscathed. He reported back on what he'd found. He saw definitely 14 walking dead, and thought there might be up to 100. They didn't like the liquid light, but it didn't hurt them. They worked in groups, very coordinated. They seemed to be forming up.

Unclear what to do next: draw the walking dead to us? Help the other valley folk? Coordinate with the gracknel somehow? I pointed out that the gracknel has roots everywhere, so maybe it could do something to the walking dead.

Ofeshia tried to link with Darren again. She did, and it turned out that they seem to have lost the central keeper we met before, so there are difficulties with the gracknel as well. There was some talk about what to do, and somehow Darren sent a self-unfolding challenge into Ofeshia's brain that let her evaluate people for how strong they could be for the gracknel, and in holding themselves together to come back out again. She said that she, Eevolertu, and Marguerite were strongest, but Chloe and I might do. Chloe pointed out that she wouldn't fall into the All-Wood the same way an elix would, so she went.
I wasn't closest to the wave of pieces of night, but was able to run forward to fight. I called to the archers on the rock, "fire arrows!" as I passed. I had two torches and reached them after Quintillian. I hit one or two. Not long after, Eevolertu shone some light that made some fade out. I was lucky when they attacked, evading the ones that went for me, but Quintillian was not so lucky. There were some flaming shots that helped too. I heard Eevolertu yell to move 5 steps back, so I hit at the bits of night closest to me then went back.

There was a moment when all the bits of night were gone. There was a sound far out, that was some snow from the sky landing on one of our outer fires. Eevolertu had injured people come to me for bandaging, and sent others out to check the outer fires. More of them were extinguished by snow. I focused on the people who'd been hurt; the two rangers were a bit freaked out as well as hurt. I tried to be soothing while bandaging them.

People came back from trying to deal with the outer fires. They had been extinguished, and couldn't seem to be relit before the snow was dispersed. Back where the magical sunlight was, the snow was inert, and the light returned after a moment. Decision: shine light quickly on each of the mounds, so it wouldn't be the magical snow that might try to become a shrine.

We sent out a group of 3 to go out to those in the valley, sending information and a bottle of sunlight to shine quickly on any snow found. Ofeshia talked briefly with Darren, and it seems like the gracknel is focused.
I was back in my body, and we went back to the tree shrine while Eevolertu and another fighter went in to join Darren in the gracknel. It had been a nerve-wracking couple of hours, so I took some time to calm down and meditate a little to regain composure.

Eevolertu and the others came back looking smoky but ok, saying that the creature was dealt with. They'd set traps and threw things at it, including a wineskin, which was apparently really helpful, and Darren got it to be absorbed into the gracknel, with fire somehow. He also got a map of the gracknel in his head from Darren. Darren was unconscious, and left with a healer in the gracknel. Though she seemed distracted, although she did let them out through the teeth door.

It was almost time that Darren had said the gracknel wouldn't be able to hold off winter, so we got ready to start lights, both the fires and some of the magic lights near the tree shrine.

Not long after, the sky started being seriously odd, with parts darkening, and it starting to taste of winter. People got ready, with weapons, winter clothes.

There was a huge dark shape against the dark sky, drifting slowly, scouting, well above the caldera or our ability to shoot. A while later, there were a bunch of things coming out of it, like a lot of pieces of night. I called out "pieces of night! torches!" Ofeshia started her magic protections. We heard shouts out in the valley. The song of the gracknel went lower, and more even, maybe like it was in a better place because it had something clear to do (outside it's internal disarray).

We heard more shouts from the valley, then the first attacks came towards us. I waved a torch whenever one seemed in range, but they mostly stayed out of reach.

Then a flock or column of night pieces came up the path.
Ofeshia and I tried to have a meeting of the minds. We held hands, and she did something. I tried reaching out, focusing my mind with meditation. I can't get words or impressions, just some sense of feelings. I said that seemed to work, and Ofeshia agreed, though she'd thought she got Darren at first. She suggested we try me sending to her. I thought about which skills might be useful to Darern, and not too complicated, deciding on dodge. She seemed to get it, though she had to concentrate on it. She said she'd let me know what Darren might need. She reached out to Darren, and too much energy rushed towards him. She tried again, then said she had to disconnect from me to connect with him. Once she did, she told me he needed information about healing things, so I sent him the idea of healing and surgical healing. Some energy came back, and somehow I was now in Darren's body in the gracknel. I was bleeding out.

I quickly bandaged Darren's body, and looked around. I was in a barricaded corner, and I could hear crashing noises in the distance. It looked like I was above ground in the gracknel. I noticed there was a chirping sound that seemed directional. I reached out to that place, and it felt like the wood was moving under my hand. I wasn't sure what to do, other than calming would be good, so I started the lullaby that I sang before, when the engineer window opened in the gracknel. There was a surge of what I thought might be sap, which caused creaking in woody and metal ways. I was concerned about it flooding somehow. I felt a presence surging towards me. I was picked up in a huge hand, of a being with leaf-strewn antlers and a face of stars and such. It said that I was Darren and not Darren; I was in the wrong box (saying it in a Kafke child's sort of voice). I agreed. It put me in another place, and that wasn't right either. It flicked me through a couple of boxes, and when I was not in Darren's body, I felt like myself, but then I was in his/my body. [some things i might be missing due to computer crash.] It showed me something like a detailed memory, and the part of it I could catch was about some amazingly skilled Kenessho fighting some insectoid things coming out of the roots of the gracknel. I said that I wasn't yet at that level of skill. Later there was another memory, of being in class, learning something I haven't learned yet, all kinds of things I haven't learned yet. Which was odd.
It reached another hand with lots of tools at me, which was scary. It said that I was not quite right. It wanted me to do things with parts, and I suggested I could do things to help people get fixed, rather than become parts. And then I was pushed out next to a person who was severely injured. I bandaged the fighter, and I was moved to another one.

I bandaged the fighter, then I got pulled to another one, and started bandaging him. When I looked over my right shoulder, I seemed to know that path. I wondered if it was Darren-knowledge, but when I thought, it was from a male Kafke, an odd memory pulling at me. I pulled myself back to the bandaging, then I felt a connection, and a voice said that Darren and the Darren was one again. I can feel the connection re-established. I was torn; I could keep bandaging people. I heard Ofeshia call my name in my mind. I thought back at her. She and Marguerite and Darren-me were at the other end. We talked, and I said that I was bandaging people who were severely injured, so a lot of me wanted to stay being useful, then come back later. The bridge broke last time when the switch happened.

Each time I got pulled through, I was left with a bit of memory that distracted me, then I wasn't able to remember what it was, then had to pull myself back to what I was doing. The presence of the gracknel was always nearby. I sort of hoped that the gracknel was learning a bit about healing people, instead of making them into parts that it couldn't use. And as I followed that thought, and somehow the gracknel tried to feel through me, but it couldn't understand itself, filled with gibberish in the core. And I came to myself to find that I'd been with this person for a quarter of an hour. I decided to narrate what I was doing, both to hopefully help the gracknel, and keep myself focused. When I finished, I heard crackling and such sounds coming my way, with the thought that it was coming to see me, though not in an aggressive way, even though I think it might be the thing everyone is fighting. The gracknel hadn't moved me to the next injured person, so I thought I was supposed to be there. I could hear its thought, coming to see me. I thought at it, asking what it wanted, and it sent me a list of a zillion parts I didn't understand, some of which might be bits of me. Which I didn't like. I pointed at the dead people in my brain, and it seemed to take that for a moment, then refocused on me. Time to go, up. A keeper met me, and did something to make a barrier behind me. She told me to go, and we went. She did that again, and asked if I was the one it was looking for. I said yes, and she told me to break the connection. I didn't know how, which confused her, and she did something that was a little like manipulate inner energies, but hurt. And then it was done. She said we should separate, and she headed around one way, and she pointed me across an arching pathway across the middle. I saw a huge centipede-like thing that had been looking for me, metal pieces and 6 antennae with tools. Beautiful, but I think it wasn't make quite right. The gracknel reached out, and I started fixing the body. It addressed me as Damarisol, which surprised me. It said that Damarisol and Darren were different. I agreed, saying "mostly". And it started thinking, and there was some music that I liked. It came back to itself, saying there was something here. And it seemed to drift away from here. Which meant that it didn't whisk me to another person, and I realized that Darren's body was exhausted. I wanted to sleep, but was nervous about doing that here, so decided to meditate to recover.

About 15 minutes later, Ofeshia opened the mental link. She asked where I was, and I described where I was. They have some plan to trap the thing, and want me to get close to the entrance to let them in / switch back. I headed that way, keeping an ear out for clacking sounds. It was really hard to keep focus as I walked; there were so many tasks I could do. It felt like I shouldn't stay in the trees too long.... When I got to the entrance, it was filled with teeth in all directions, made of the material that slightly dissolves people. I let them know I was there. We all reached out, and Darren and I switched again. It felt good to be back in my body.
It was 4 low bells. I slept until 8 low bells. When I woke up, the ritual seemed to be maintaining well, and Eevolertu didn't have any particular tasks for me, so I joined some of the fighters who were working on their evades. Eevolertu had mentioned gathering wood before he went to sleep. I went over to our group and talked about that, saying it would also be good to have someone on watch. Oreshalore said she'd do that and trade off with me later. Woveshancor said he'd be willing to help me gather wood, so we spent a while doing that.

Once everyone had woken up and eaten, Marguerite and Ofeshia talked about introducing the tree and the rock shrine, and the plowdurg. Marguerite asked me to be there to be able to pull them out of meditative space if something happened. I watched, and everything was calm, both with those I was watching and outside. Just before they came out, something happened to me. I sweat, and felt like I had to push through exhaustion to find a second wind. It was disconcerting. And then I felt something like that again. I backed off, and Ofeshia seemed to sense magic.

I felt super anxious, but for no new reason. It didn't seem like the gracknel, and I wasn't sure if it might have been the Gray Lady. Or maybe it was Darren? It felt almost like I would feel if I could catch my breath, a physical anxiety. It was disturbing: the corridor was overgrown into a tunnel, and the door seemed covered in things, the handle overgrown in cobweb. All of which made me a different kind of anxious, like I wanted to scour the tunnel clear, since it was outside the room.

When I came out, Marguerite and Ofeshia came over and we walked farther from the shrine to talk. I described what had happened. Marguerite thought it might be the new shrine interacting with the gods and reaching out towards me.

And then the conversation felt like it was happening far away, and I tasted blood in my mouth. I came back, and described it to the others.

And then there was a huge sound from the gracknel, descending in tones, through the whole spectrum. I felt sick to my stomach, and everyone seemed disconcerted at this point.

Ofeshia activated her mental link with Darren, talking with him as he was trying to evade some tunneling thing in the gracknel. The gracknel was upset, dead people around where Darren was, halfway above ground in the gracknel, He was hurt, and when I heard this, and a lightbulb went off. The others didn't seem to notice.

I went to lie down, not near the others. I knocked on the door a couple of times, and got no response, so I opened the door. It's all webby, no trace of the woody room that was, covered in pockets and such. The Gray Lady was standing vertically, a light web over her. There was a red light, that made everything spookier. She seemed to be almost statue like. I address her, and notice that she looks more like me. We talked about the current situation. Apparently, she's not interested in making the gracknel calmer as part of our previous deal; this would be a new one. Side note: apparently the room has always looked this way, she's letting me see it now. Or at least, that's what she's saying now....

I had to find out what the deal was. She said it would involve further steps after the current deal. She said that she could help with this, but thought that I had seen and heard the things I needed to help. And requested that I speak only of how reasonable she was, after.

I came out and thought about what had happened, working out that Ofeshia couldn't send fighting skills to Darren from Oreshalore, but perhaps she could from me, because I have the separate connection to Darren.

Ofeshia seemed reluctant, since it hadn't worked before, but I managed to get her to agree to try again with me.
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