Kaustir, Chapter 10

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  1. [​IMG]

    D
    orgrad. The cracked, dessicated table was round, so that no one could sit at its head. Governor Orvak and Chelena sat with a small goblet of red. Nu pushed the gruel around once with her spoon, an old tic or an act of rebellion, before carefully setting it down by the side of her bowl. The gruel was very dry, clearly showing the single scoop she took from it.

    "Of coursssssse." Orvak took a long, sibilant sip from his cup. "Any ... acquantaince of Lut Ssssar is welcome here." He sat the cup back down on the table and spun it in quarter circles, five times. "However, we do expect that any .. immigrrrants will contribute to our small, underground, society."

    In the desert, green was a stroke of luck, an oasis was a miracle, and a tree worth more than its weight in blood. Its age hinted at a great favour repaid long ago, before the Viridosians came on their boats grown from the mangrove roots and flooded Avarath with their poisoned timber. ("Of course, we will take care of you well") Before Lut marched off into the sunset with Kaustir and returned a broken man, and stitched his halves together with borrowed divinity. Before she had went to see ...

    Hammering in the distance woke Nu from her daydream, in front of an iron ore vein. She was working with a group of Drakens, thick scaled bipedal creatures, who hacked away at the rock with ancient strength. A small fireman's line of humans continuously splashed dirty water on their scales to keep them cool. On the way back, the empty buckets were filled with rocks smashed from the vein, where they were poured into the top of an enourmous blast furnace. Pure iron, thick and orange, poured from a spout on its bottom. A small team of comrades worked the gigantic steam driven gears that swivelled the spout to one of six holes, which emptied into molds of various shapes and sizes. The furnace was only allowed to cool down once a year, and was primarily responsible for the thick black smoke coming out of the Dorgrad crater.

    A leather whip gently caressed her back. The skin would be red later - ruddy complexion was good. It made the comrades look healthier.

    "The inquisitors are here." The foreman pursed his lips. "You better look sharp. And blend in."



    Chapter 10

    Stirrings
     
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  2. Chelena had not seen the outside of the little healing quarters since she had been brought here many months ago. She hardly saw Nu anymore, although the girl came by whenever she was allowed off. When she was able, Chelena worked in the bay, giving medicine to comrades whose lungs had been stained with soot, bandaging heat and work blisters that had become infected from lack of attention, and brewing herbs for whatever remedies might be needed. When she wasn't able, Chelena was just another one of the wounded, lying weak and limp in bed. She was dying so slowly it almost seemed like she was perfectly healthy. But Chelena knew she was ill. She could still feel the toxin inside her, slowly working its way through every pore of her body. When it finished its job she would die.

    Six months was not a long time, especially to a young nocturne. But it felt like a long time when Chelena had resigned herself to death months even before that, when Tattersal had whispered her sweet words of revenge, and she had willingly accepted her poison, to gift it in turn to the Czar. Even if she had succeeded in her task, she had not killed the Czar. Not truly. He had marched north, only to be blown back by a wild northern wind. It hadn't mattered to Chelena. She'd been lost in the desert with Nu, walking from day to day, living moment to moment without any goal or purpose. Simple survival. It might have been the only thing that kept her from giving up on life as her bag of Viridosian herbs had dwindled. That, and Nu.

    Chelena still didn't know why the Wraith, the former head bodyguard of Lut Sar, had saved her, a tiny, crumpled nocturne, condemned to die slowly in a cage from starvation, dehydration, and illness. She had given up on asking. The answer never came. It was like trying to ask the sun why it rose every morning. There was no answer. It simply happened.

    Chelena was in one of her low points. One of those moments before the strange Dorgrad fungi numbed her mind and body, and set about repairing some of the damage from the most recent bout of side effects. It was moments like these that she most strongly considered giving up this pointless struggle for horrible survival. Somehow, as though drawn by some sixth sense, it always seemed to be these moments when Nu would show up again. The desert girl didn't have many words, but her very presence seemed to hold a silent promise that willed her to continue the futile struggle.

    Chelena didn't know what Nu silently promised to her, either. Maybe if she could figure that out, she wouldn't need Nu to remind her. Maybe then she'd desire to live all on her own.

    The door open, and a dark-haired head entered. Nu didn't smile, and neither did Chelena.

    “Inquisitors come,” Nu said quietly, as Vethe made room for her on the edge of Chelena's tiny cot. “Looking.”

    “For what?”

    Nu shrugged. “Many things.” She pinned Chelena with a hard look, that was at odds with her casual words. “They find none.”

    Chelena nodded her head, silently understanding. To any causal listener, it might sound like Nu was declaring her faith in Dorgrad. Chelena recognized the unspoken question in her words, though. Chelena wouldn't give anything away. All people would see when they looked at them was a sick nocturne and a dust-stained girl. Chelena would keep it that way.
     
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  3. Changes Come
    [​IMG]


    A creature, regal yet monstrous, one could easily believe to have been conjured from the depths of the red demiurge's mad mind. Its eyes gazed upon the ones that stumbled at its feet with uncanny awareness as it achieved what it was designed to do. The Inquisitor’s grand carriage loomed over with a slow sway, necks straining as they faced more of the sky with each step the beast used to approach the Dograd entrance. The bunker lay empty, all watchmen incredulous to the oncoming sight stood spread out before it. The beast slowed to a stop as the loud horn made their arrival official.

    Inigo Criracan had been deaf to it. In the moment he’d been sharpening a blade his mind had wandered off, thinking about how he’d ended up in this post. It seemed life kept pounding away since he’d lost his fortune in Avarath. He’d learned to just take it… after a while... Even so, some things were harder to take than others, and being reassigned to guardsman and aid to the inquisitors wasn’t at all reassuring. Not that assurance had been part of life in the past few years. He’d been going down a path that was necessary though unwanted.


    “Inquisitors are short-staffed,” they said.

    “The army’s your best bet,” had been the popular advice.

    “I’m taking our son, he’ll be better off with me,” she’d declared.

    “It’s a win-win investment,” had been the promise that started it all.

    About half a year ago the Czar had escaped with a handful of attendants, while the rest of his army froze to death in northern Pegulis. In a way, Inigo believed himself to have died with them. At least a good part of him, which is why he could now hold the torture device firmly in his hand, sharpening it for the poor sod whose turn it was to feel life have its way with his pride. Thus far it certainly had with his.

    Fellow guardsmen walked in to carry the wooden trunks out and Inigo stood to help. At the edge of the carriage they tied it to the pulleys and worked each piece of luggage to the ground, where soldiers took the burden and led the way into the mines. Inquisitors had yet to leave their quarters from atop the husked beast. Inigo thought of his son as he walked up to them. Life hadn’t been easy on him either. He’d lost a home, a father, and now the man looking for him was surely not the father he remembered.

    Inigo held up the garment as the Inquisitor slipped into it, each piece added making him look more menacingly official. Dograd was in for a harsh demonstration; Zirako commanded it.
    Inigo followed the Inquisitor out, down the stairs and ladders, onto Dograd ground, and into the mines. He looked back at the grand carriage and the colossal animal tied to it, its pale hide reminded him of the Pegulian snow. Colonel Mason had played a part in his survival by giving him the thermic gem. Inigo had done well enough in battle as well, but Ral had been his true savior when the strong Pegulian winds blew them all away. Ral had stung him at a crucial time and Inigo had desperately given in. With his advent, Potential Value, he’d spent a devastatingly short minute evaluating every living and nonliving thing in his surroundings, hoping to find enough potential gain to stay alive.

    Governor Orvak awaited, not that it mattered. The inquisitor was paying him a visit whether he was ready or not. In fact, whether he liked it or not, the Inquisition would remain in Dograd for a while, challenging the city at every step. Inigo took no pleasure in it, he felt himself an observer doing the job as a means to an end. Dograd might be that end, but he dared not cling to hope. It threatened to make him weak.

    In those cold forsaken lands he’d found enough gain to survive, he reminded himself. Sometimes only enough for him, and sometimes only at the expense of his companions. Whatever, it had to be done. He made it back to Kaustir where his personal search continued. He didn’t even know Kaustir was still the nation to search, but he couldn’t let himself think that way.

    “Faizel,” Inigo called under his breath as he settled into his guard stance, “I’m coming.”
     
    #3 Mglo, Jan 19, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2017
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  4. [​IMG]

    "We regret the current condition of the our guardhouse." The Ipari was all robes and mask, without a patch of skin exposed to the scouring sands. "As you know, the Czar recruits evermore from our cadre, and we are summoned to the watch posts along the Pegulis border."

    The Inquisitor was shinier than sealed, but the eyes behind the golden mask, a gaudy version of the Ipari's lacquered, hand-painted versions, did not exhibit any sort of discomfort. The sun and sand pierced his clothing at many points, but as the Ipari prattled onward, delaying the Inquisitors the shelter of the guardhouse, he watched out of the corner of his eye a bead of sweat fall across the Inquisitor's eye without blinking.

    "... but enough of that," The Ipari decided, "Please, come inside to take shelter, and we will show you down as soon as we have cleared the rest of your accompaniment."

    Thank you for your hospitality, comrade. I would like to wait until my retinue has finished unloading.

    The inquisitor's tone was dulcet, heavenly, although it could only hope to carry the vaguest echo of the Red Demiurge's voice. The Ipari's mask was emotionless, but his eyes spared a quick glance at the mammoth in the background. The return of Libras to Sunne had wrought a thousand and one changes, four less subtle than the rest. Driven by the threat from Pegulis, the three leaders of the other nations had responded in kind, bringing their own miracles into the world. From the depths of the tallest and deepest tower in Zirako, the Czar emerged reborn, a vortex of fire masking his face. Now, everyone wore personal masks to venerate their new leader. Wherever nobody looked, creatures were birthed, twisted and terrifying, yet speaking the language of Kaustir. Chimeric animas, combinations of ancient creatures that were turned to dust in the Cataclysm. Sometimes, a long lost loved one emerged from the dust. Grandparents rose from the oasis as children. Criminals abandoned in the desert returned, weeping for the Czar's mercy.

    The Ipari remembered this mammoth. Its skeleton marked one of the paths between Dorgrad and Zirako.

    [​IMG]

    Due to its size, four months passed until no one was gazing upon the creature. And the moment the little shepherd girl took her eyes away the sand tossed her into the air, ripples in the dunes driven by stomps of its gargantuan foot. Zirako wept for a week to celebrate the miracle.

    Those in Dorgrad, though, knew when mammoth was but one of many skulls decorating their path. Perhaps that was why the golden-helmed inquisitor came today, with a castle on the elephant's back. To remind them of the miracles.
     
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  5. Dust in Old Wounds
    "Still nothing?" Pette took the empty vial that laid beside the ailing nocturne, fondling it in his hand. Six months of testing his remedies, Six months of nothing, of pure frustration. Still, if anything the woman should've fallen by now. At the very least, his concoctions were belaying her death, rather then reversing it. Though, some would think that the potions were doing nothing. In truth, they weren't. All they did was bolster the nocturne's body in hopes they fight off whatever ACTUALLY afflicted her.

    The nocturne laid on the resting table, prone, with the small vial empty. He slipped the dirty container into his pocket, brushing past the cloak that led to his temporary office. The sign was missing for the nth time, evident by the bent nail sticking from the gritty walls.



    The quick setup was in need of updating, with damaged tools scattered about, broken in various places. On the floor was a small wooden plaque with his name etched on it, scorch marks lined the corners with a few nicks in the sides. He'd have to replace it later.



    Making his way to the sink, he placed the vial under the faucet and rinsed it out. Squeaky clean, he dropped the vial over a small engraved rune in the corner. From it, a ball of liquid began to drip a thick matte blue substance.



    He waved his hands over the remaining discordant bottles, lifting them and rested them on the runes in the corner, cuing them to refill. Pette wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead, stressed with the thought of letting a important patient die. Taking the moment, he hunched over the table to his right, slipping a look at the quickly written letter. More drips on the table, more things to clean.

    Pette took the partially filled vial from the rune stand, mixing it with a variety of bright liquids, rendering it a milky white syrup.

    "Inquisitors come." The silence broken by a voice in the nocturne's room, Pette paused before corking the flask. The dark creature was one affiliated with the Czar, and if he botched the recovery, he'd probably be answering to Orvak personally, favor or not. The lizard was the one who commissioned him on vacation. He tugged on his scarf, unwrapping it from his neck and placed it on the counter, morphing into a slender wispy being, laying outstretched.

    "Tell me if anything changes." He whispered to Telem. The wisp simply cocked her head, floating to the other room.

    Pette poked his head through the curtain, setting the plaque back on the wall. The two didn't give him any mind, at least none that he'd notice. The girl, a regular visitor, was another of close relation to the Czar, so he was told. He pressed the small vial into the dust covered wraith's hand, "Give the nocturne this to drink... slowly. It's nothing special this time, just an assortment of bolster vitamins along with the usual anti-toxin. But it's more concentrated, if she downs it too fast it might just pass through without fully taking it in."Telem floated into the corner of the murky room, coiling into a scarf, still.

    Pette ventured out of the clinic, and sat on the edge of the sandstone road. Below, he watched as the workers hacked away at the stone, the stench of their sweat mixed with blood filling his nose. Almost like home, but not quite. There were more dead bodies to deal with, and a bit more metal...
     
    #5 Arbellus, Feb 15, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2016
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  6. The messenger found Governor Orvak near the forge, watching several miners wheel in barrows full of ore and dump them into the iron.

    “Ssspeak,” he commanded, eyes hardly moving.

    The messenger tucked one hand behind his back, almost nervously. “The pickaxes in level 8 northwest, for unit J, have gone missing. Spares have been brought in from other units, but several of the miners remain idle for the day.”

    “Find Mmmathias, on level 3,” Orvak responded. “Tell him to sssend over the backups. They will work tomorrow.” As soon as the message was delivered, the man darted away. Another small issue.

    The next messenger caught up when he was walking upwards, surrounded by the Ipari.

    “Yesss?” Orvak paused just long enough for the panting messenger to spit out his words.

    “Several comrades inhaled some sort of spore while digging, and have been sent to the infirmary. Level 16 east will be closed for the remainder of the day.”

    Orvak growled faintly, but did not otherwise answer.

    The next message found Orvak in his office.

    “A load of processed ore was mixed up with the unprocessed, and thrown back into the smelter.”

    Little inconvenience upon little inconvenience, piling up throughout the day.

    “The missing request forms were found, and accidentally added back into the system. The duplicates are slowly being sorted out.”

    “A dust cloud formed on level 16, section 2. Unit E workers destroyed their uniforms to create masks, and are requesting new ones.”

    “Several comrades ended up in a brawl after one accidentally hit another with a pickaxe.”

    “The miners of level 23 are reporting having run out of blister cream, but no more has been made yet.”

    The largest rock was destroyed one grain of sand at a time.​
     
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  7. Six months back
    The drake sensed it first. With her natural senses confined to Caoimhe's half of her being and neither even imagining what was to come they're only warning was when the dracling jerked awake from where he had been napping in the sun and made a head long sprint towards the trees. She followed because she had to, her mind split between concern and annoyance at the sudden movement. Had he seen a rabbit darting through the trees?

    She stopped and turned when she heard a distant toll of a bell. It was a strange sound so clear and soft that it rang through her and her heart leapt with joy. It was a voice of all that was familiar and though she had cut herself free from almost all those who were familiar to her with the zeal of someone cutting a plague from their body she would be the last to deny the voice of someone she had once called family. Had her mind thought beyond that simple knowing joy she might have realized that what she had heard was not one voice or sound, but all of them.

    First came the whispers.

    As quiet as an ant marching, a single voice was of little consequence and easily ignored. Indeed they were very similar to the whispers that chattered in the chasm that surround both her minds, so one or two added to the hundreds was not enough to gain her attention. However, they were not similar enough. These snapped and snarled where the others had purred and grumbled, they were raw and unhampered.

    For a moment she had only a look of confusion about her as she contemplated these new sounds and their distant familiarity. Then someone tugged at her strings. Like a puppet she jerked upright, head snapping back, eyes pulled up to staring unseeingly. Every muscle was wound taunt as fire seared her nerves, her joints cracking with strain. Any moment her being threatened to unravel, mind consumed in tremors, muscles desperately trying to free themselves from their bone anchors. Desperately she fought with her throat to produce a scream, but her lungs were crushed under the weight of her own chest. Not even her eyes responded and they stared up at the sky with an unseeing terror.

    With blood pounding in her ears she was deaf to the sounds of her son’s shrieks. Not even when he grabbed at her frozen legs knocking her to the ground did she as much as twitch. Her mind was filled with the utter chaos of an earthquake.

    All those months ago when she had first encountered the Libras Sphere it had buried itself deep in her mind, becoming the thread that held both of her spirts together. Now the Libras was awakened and as it stretched and snapped with power Caoimhe’s poor carcass was strung along like a fish at the end of a hook. Every single movement

    ---------------------------------------------------------------

    Beyond her voice, appearance, and mannerisms that betrayed her blood and her origin she was odd as a human. Some days she strolled through the cracked city, her wares displayed proudly and deals made on the fly with those who called to her on the way. There were far more days when she was as feral and untouchable as the mountain wind that occasionally roared through. On the first day she had approached she had laid her path for the latter, much of the market knew of her coming when the dogs leapt into a frenzy at the wolf stalking their borders only to be silenced by sharp and commanding barks from the tree line. Few had seen her passing, just a rustling of furs, feathers, and sand, those who did were mostly the shop keepers who would glance up to see a grey stare holding them in judgement. To be so measured by her stare caused most to in defense, eyes flickering down for brief moments to solidify their insult before glancing back. She was never there for that second glance.

    Ahselm only gained early distinction when he looked up and caught the stare of the feral woman and found himself staring right back. With her broad wings held a few inches off her body he got the impression of a bird caught in the moment before flight. With few avians venturing this far east he watched to see if she would take off like a startled thrush. After long moments of him returning her grey stare with his own golden one she finally was the one to break the gaze. With a soft dip of her head she glanced down the decrepit road before giving her shoulders a rolling stretch. Her feathers softly rustle as the motion made its down her back, her wings expanding out and then gently folding down. The gesture was so solid it was jarring to Ahselm who could have sworn that they slight figure was just a bit of sea foam that should be gone in an instant. So he watched her first skittish steps with confusion, until her voice finally brought him back.

    "Ah...Ahselm?" Caoimhe said and the man blinked, his mind shaken out of the past. In the months that she had been venturing out of the thinned forest, over the hills of iron, she had kept her dealings almost solely with this aged desert hound.

    "Uh, yes. Right the furs." He said with small shake of his head, his voice quick to take on the snap and tone of a merchant. Something Caoimhe disliked but tolerated well enough for the sake of not having to change dealers. Perhaps for no other reason than once her mind found a path her feet cemented themselves to it with a fervor. In time she would forgot paths, but her feet never really did, they knew the earth and the ground too well, sometimes too well. On the cold sleepless nights were she had sat awake, staring sleep in the maw, until her eyes were sore and her legs screamed with stiffness she would let her feet carry her through the black. With her attention only fixated on not moving to far from her den she would always tred a familiar pathway one she only became aware of as the tree sharply ended in from of her and the land rose up under her feet. The mountains were more peaceful at night than during the day, at night when they were sleeping she knew if she was really, very quiet she might be able to sneak back over their boundaries. Flee back to Pegulis, go home?

    "Not many looking for deer now can't say I can do much with them. This however I can give you a bit more for." With that he stretched out a hand and ran it over the pelt of the mountain yak she had managed to bring down. The pelt itself might cause some questions as it was not such a common sight, but the dense, shaggy, water resistant fur was not something he felt he could turn is nose up at, not after the army had left, taking everything that could be salvaged and not even leaving workable soil. So a deal was struck and in return for the hides Caoimhe got a few meager supplies along with a delicately folded parcel that fit neatly into the wildling’s palm.

    For someone so hooked on White Lotus the girl glanced at the package with untold sadness. At times Ahselm almost felt bad for selling her the mix of herbs, but then again it had been she that had sniffed around his table with unnatural keenness to find the herbs she sought. Most times she can when she was low but once in a while he could see in her usually sharp eyes the unmistakable haze left by that potent smoke. Stranger, was the fact that very few used this herb now, it tended to numb the edges of the mind, cloud the vision, and some people said it distanced the soul from the body it left them feeling so detached.

    “EEEEE EEE EEE EEE.” There came a high drifting whine from behind Ahselm as a long legged hound burst forth from a doorway covered with a single brown cloth. The dog was unusual solely for what was causing it so much distress. Ribbons of every color covered the dog from nose to tail and hot on the animal’s heels came a young girl no older than five clutching a full fist of the offending ribbons. A smile cracked Ahselm’s tanned face as his daughter sprinted widely after her pup, a laughter bubbling in his lungs.
    Eager to be rid of his tormenter the dog dodged by Caoimhe leaving only a few stray ribbons and a small cloud of dust in his wake. However, as the girl tried the same maneuver she found herself enveloped in a tangle of feathers. Ahselm almost missed Caoimhe’s movements as she plucked something from her coat and tucked it swiftly into the girl’s hair. In a heartbeat the hand withdrew in time with her outstretched wing and the girl gave pause to examine the gift. A tight bundle of feathers, nearly twenty of different sizes and colors but each shinning and vibrant. There was a squeal from the girl and she spun like a top, ribbons fluttering in one hand and feathers glittering in the other. In a surprising moment of calm the girl turned to her feathered friend and bowed in thanks before running around the counter to present her prize to her still chuckling father. Already Ahselm was reaching for a few more coins to pay for the present, but was stopped by low, strong words.
    “Feathers are free.” Caoimhe said her eyes flickering up, the hint of a smile playing about her mouth.
    “But-“Ahselm started but was cut off as Caoimhe bent as picked a fallen ribbon from the ground. She made a gesture as though to return the strip of blue cloth.
    “A gift, it is only fair.” Ahselm said refusing the gesture as she had done. There was a moment where Caoimhe cocked her head questioningly her gaze flickering from the ribbon to Ahselm to his daughter and then back. Finally she let out a little sigh and tucked the gift into a pocket over her chest where it joined a wolf’s tooth hung on a thin strip of leather, and an old and worn pipe that smelled of bitter herbs. Suddenly she flinched and started a bit, her gaze turning up towards the north as though she had heard something swoop to close. The half-smile was gone and Ahselm saw the beast return. With a single backwards glance Caoimhe turned on her heel and retreated back to the alleyways, her shoulders hunched and head lowered as though to avoid some invisible pest.
    “Good luck.” Ahselm shook his head at himself for the words that had spring to his lips well after her form had disappeared. She was a strange but strong hermit, she would do well without luck.
     
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  8. For many people the Inquisition meant undue process, scrutiny of their every action and a dangerous arbiter who had come to judge them. For Ammon it meant work. At the behest of the state he was to assist the Inquisitor and present all findings to him. In Ammon's book this was far better than an overseer with a whip. He had never worked for an Inquisitor before. He had been commissioned to work in the mines beneath Dograd. Not as a miner, toiling his days to the steady beat of metal and stone, but as an archaeologist. Beneath the crater were answers to questions that he dared not ask. Questions asked by people much more powerful than him.

    For the time being though, he waited outside of the guardhouse. A shiny, gold-clad man in robes and wearing a golden mask had entered shortly before. Now Ammon had to sit, wait and soon he would be called into the room to receive more instructive orders. Go here, do this, dig that spot, find evidence, find something rare, find something valuable. It was always the same tune with every employer. But wasn't every specialist singular in purpose? Well Ammon's purpose was beginning to fester boredom in his mind. Only made worse by the necessary waiting of being called up to the guardhouse.
     
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  9. She dreamed of snow.

    [​IMG]

    The quiet heavy kind, that stole sound before it had a chance to be made. So suffocating that even a scream could be taken for a whisper. At the very back of Caoimhe’s mind something squirmed and tugged and tried to cry out, but its voice as well was lost to the snow. So for the first time in a long while she reveled in the silence. It was no small thing as both halves of her mind for once were content to exist together within her unconscious. After what could have been a minute, hour, day, year, she became aware that her limbs were completely numb. With all feeling fled it was like floating in nothing, like with the thread of the Libras Sphere attached on, but with none of the roar of everything.

    Oh there was much that she would have given to stay like that, she wished for the peace of a cold and slumbering mountain, and as cold crept up her limbs she accepted that she might just get her wish. Unnoticed by Caoimhe’s fading mind the scratching and twisting grew more insistent, then desperate as something that was more than just the numbing cold seized ahold of her hand and began pulling itself in close. Eyes shut to the world and senses numbed by the snow that had piled itself deeply around her, Caoimhe did not sense the danger, there was only a cool pressure, and the continuing numbness that crept up her arm. Frost formed on her sleeve where the force passed, higher and higher, it was at her shoulder now, icy talons flooded her veins, but her mind was in a cold fog, a bliss she had long been denied. Her lungs wheezed out a frozen breath of air, an icy hand reached for her heart and it shuddered from the force. There was no time for horror as panic as a grip, cold enough to burn, dug into Caoimhe’s heart, only time for a single gasp.

    Caoimhe fought back, a will to survive singing in her head, but she had laid in the snow by her own choice, it had claimed the strength of her limbs, now this intruder of her mind wished to claim her heart as well. She could feel it, a crushing death, reaching up to swallow her. But it did not make it.

    There was a great shattering in her mind, like a door ripped off its hinges. A new force encircled her heart in an agonizing fire and she remembered how to scream. The cold was ripped from her limbs as a far more horrible heat took over. She felt like a forge had been lit inside of her veins, while inside her head hammers rang against her skull. With the numbness gone she fought and struggled, abused nerves hardly registering when another hand took hold of her hand and forced a palm across her chest. How long she struggled for hardly mattered, in her mind it have lasted for ever, but eventually the heat faded. Like a traveler sticking their hand in hot water after being out in the cold it had burned the the fires of Dongrad, however now with the cold gone there was only the hammering of her head and the shuddering of her heart that remained.

    Now she was distinctly aware of the hand holding one of her arms steady while another pressed against her chest firmly to stop her convulsions. Unlike the tendrils that had wormed their way up her arm, this hand was solid, yet it did not comfort her. Eyes still shut tight a panic rose in her throat and her weakened heart missed a beat. In a flash the hand that had been over her heart shifted to her head. A piercing heat entered her already fragile mind and she lashed out in pain. The force that she connected with was just as solid, and it was strangely familiar, yet that did not stop her from baring her fangs and snapping at this new intruder as it dug deep into her mind. Memories flashed by as she still sought percuss in the armor of the intruder.

    There, with a crackle of energy she dug her claws into the mind of the intruder and prepared to throw him from her mind.

    She blinked rapidly. Before her was scene she had thought she forgot. An icy storm raged outside and huddled in this narrow fissure was a group of people. God, the familiarity broke her heart. How long ago had it been? Those days when they were not so tired, not so lost. When she had had a pack. Two people sat before her, a narrow faced, grumpy scholar, and a thin wild eyed girl she no longer recognized.

    Though in the memory feeling had spread across her hand, now it worked at her head and some of the bounding ceased. A tingle of magic as Medwick worked.

    A hand rested on her shoulder, and Caoimhe turned to look at the figure that had plucked this memory from her head.

    “Medwick?” She only managed the single world before something gripped her arm in a needle lined vice and she was dragged bodily into the light of morning.

    Caoimhe woke with a start, shivering from the heavy dew that had covered her during the night. With a confused yelp and a disgruntled snarl she plucked her arm from the jaws of the dracling. This brought on a groan as stiff arms and sore legs groaned against any movement, and, raising a hand to her face, she felt the last trace of tear tracks. Something tugged at the back of her mind, and she had the distinct feeling that she was forgetting something, but the dream was fading past and any thoughts of what might have happened grew hazier and hazier.


    The sun was rising with earnest now the promise of something new arriving. However, Caoimhe knew, better than many that change was not something that was either good or evil it just was. Then again with her luck she could almost be certain that something was going to go wrong. With hurried movements she stripped away the layers of heavy Pegulian fabric, and digging around her sleeping mat she pulled out an outfit of light linens in brighter colors than she had ever worn. It surprised her a bit at how much she missed the weight of her usual clothes, this Kaustirian outfit left her feeling almost naked. Gathering her old clothes she raised them over the fire that had died down during the night. She had planned to burn these clothes, she only needed the items already stowed away in her pack, yet here she was unable to release her fingers. A few long moments passed by before Caoimhe finally dropped her arms and brought the clothes close to her chest, with a defeated sigh she instead wrapped the bundle up tightly in her heavy winter jacket and buried them in the hole where she had been previously leaving the dracling’s thermal stones.
    Perhaps if she strayed this way again she would be in need of them.


    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    It was with a heavy sniff, and a disproving glare that the captain of the caravan allowed the young woman to travel with them. At a glance he could see the clouding of her eyes and smell the subtle rot of one who had given their mind to the snake of White Lotus. He had done what he could to discourage the girl from making the trek, but even he couldn’t turn down the doubled fee that she had seemed so willing to pay. That was doubled for her and her…pet. Many strange things had come crawling out of the desert, things that had long since been dead, the husks of the insects that had been buried in the corpse of the desert. Indeed many disliked the change and frowned heavily upon these beasts, after all the desert was not one to willingly give up those it rightfully claimed, but was it such a surprise that one should had wandered, testing these fluid boundaries of the wounded nations.

    Or perhaps wounded was too hopeful. Such thoughts were dangerous these days, and the Captain kept them tucked beneath his coat. Who was to blame him? The rumors that came from Dongrad and Zirako shouldered themselves heavily on the people of Kaustir. A god, a god they said had risen from the black tower to rule them. Yet what did the people need of a god, had they not been taught in time almost past remembering that they gods were fickle, unreliable things. Then again, who was there to speak a false word of the Czar, lest the inquisition catch wind of such things.
    Ah yes, the other reason the Captain had had to deeply line his pockets to even consider taking Caoimhe past the first line of dunes. Though, there were times when her words and manner were of a Kaustirian the illusion was temporary at best. That was of course when she was not muddled with smoke.
    “You’ll be runnin’ low afore we get to the city.” The man’s voice held an unappreciated note of amusement. In reply Caoimhe locked her mouth in a firm line in response causing a bitter cloud of smoke to pour from her nose. After a long minute of hostile silence the man lost interest and wandered off. Looking down at her pipe she ran her thumb over the worn stem. It was true what the man said, carefully she had measured and counted the bundles of herbs in her purse. They would only last another week and there was another week or so of travel beyond that. Then again, the buzzing that had gnawed at her sanity for months had lessoned its grip some. It was like someone had thrown a barrier up, a weak barrier, but a barrier none the less. Still the herbs sat heavily in her pack, the more she used, the heavier it became.
    Those weeks of travel tanned her skin and toughened her hide with both sun and sand. A thin diet left both her and the dracling thin.
    “Kay-vah!” The captain called, the wiry woman appearing from under one of the broad wheeled wagons. There was a pause as the Captain examined her face, checking the clarity of her eyes for hints of white lotus. Satisfied with what he saw he waved her closer.
    “Fly ovah the next doon will ya. We should be close.” There was a pause as with any command given the girl when he questioned whether she understood. A tilt of the head and then she was off. Wide wings stirred the sand as she lifted off the ground to brave a sky as equally blank as the desert below it. Truly she had thought the frozen mountains of her home had been desolate. This endless stretch of desert could not have supported even half of the occupants of the mountains. Yet, what was this. As Caoimhe lifted above the sand, up and up until she had a clear view over the top of the massive hills that shifted and moved this way and that about this empty land something else to rose up into view.

    [​IMG]

    The wall of Zirako. Something to rival even the tallest dune that crashed all around it. All around, hidden by the dune, but now visible from this height were people. A select few caravans moved in and out, destinations unknown, the people themselves moved like ants in and out of a nest. There was a distinct speed and purpose to their step, different from the scholar’s stroll of Pegulis, or even the silent shifting of the Viridos soldier. The sight stole some of the wind out from under Caoimhe’s wings and she dropped a step, rather than fight it she continued descending eventually landing with a soft thump in the sand near the Captain.

    “We've arrived.”
     
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  10. Sands and Sea
    Avarath, once a river running with gold, was now nothing but sand. The wind propelled it and it swirled down streets and alleys like beige water. On the sides of buildings, on windowsills, in crumbling warehouses it heaped up like snowdrifts back home. The Black City gone in a cloud of smoke and disease, Pelugia to inevitably fall to Kaustir, and the city of gold dissolving back into the desert... Olle wondered if truly the end of the world was upon them. He shakes these dark thoughts from his head and fixes his eyes upon the pier ahead, thinking instead of the gold he's owed. One last errand, one last negotiation, and his contract would be ripped up and he'd be free to put his skills to work for a smarter employer. Fetthund sneezes as another gust of wind blasts the aux's face with sand.

    Olle, his jovial mood quickly fading as he noticed the decaying state of the city, had left the bar without so much as a drop of alcohol. The most he'd done was hand the satchel he'd recently acquired over to a servant-girl who insisted it had been stolen from her. Olle didn't mind- he couldn't make heads or tails of the strange book inside anyway. Opting not to waste time or the little money he had on drink and girls, Olle instead turned and trudged towards the pier, eager to get this final trip over with.

    K'larr... what would a Draken want out of the sea? Olle tried to think about it briefly, but grew disinterested as he recalled the sack full of academic papers that he still carried. Perhaps, if this K'larr character were so interested in exploration, he would be willing to buy these papers off of Olle? The Pelugian would have no qualms with leading the creature to the site in the wilderness where he had left the strange tablets and the wagon, so long as the price was right. Perhaps, even, he could find work among the Draken's ranks. Nearing the pier, Olle sighs contentedly but still steels himself. It was always a poor idea to make such plans so early. He would just have to wait and watch and listen, and play his cards right.

    "Salt," grunts Fetthund, interrupting Olle's train of thought. "Sea."

    "The Prosperos," replies Olle. "Before sundown we'll be upon it, on the last leg of our journey."
     
    #10 Hjorthorn, Oct 4, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2016
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  11. Pebbles on the road Inigo Criracan had been sitting on the same spot for three movement of the sun’s path. The caved in feeling of the pit that was Dograd, though it helped little, was an afterthought of everything else that burdened him. He downed a very dry harvest of Kresnik. His shaking hand set down the cup just as he took to his feet.

    Coming to Dograd in service of the Inquisitor's beck and call... He’d thought himself capable of the same brutality that had bloomed at the Pegulis border. Although he’d expected to find some difficulty in enacting that brutality on a defenseless person, he had not expected or prepared for the games of the mind the Inquisitors preferred. Their methods had Inigo remove the golden mask that marked him, without it he’d become one of the Dograd masses. Not for espionage. No. Inigo had no such training, but he did have an advent to offer and the Inquisitor had been fully informed of it. The issue however, was that it only worked to their benefit if Inigo’s fate rested on his results.

    He paced the length of the dark musty room, his breath faintly uneven. “This sucks,” Ral declared from over his shoulder, “I swear if you die before we find your stupid kid I’m gonna -- you might want to down another cup, I’d say about three fingers. Anyway, as I was saying...”

    With a steadier hand, Inigo poured the the exact measure and emptied the cup just as quick.
    “I am not in danger Ral,” he wiped his mustache one handed and stood with arms akimbo though his posture lacked strength.

    “The hell you are,” Ral’s pincers opened and closed ominously. “Potential Value ain’t gonna wipe your ass when it’s all said and done. Look at you, you just branded your first bitch and you can barely stand-- don’t argue back! Are you gonna explain to me why your trembling behind hasn’t left that chair? Well I’ll tell you why, it’s coz it’s still tender from the bending over you’ve been doing. Oh! That inquisitor’s been nicely pleased alright!”

    Inigo looked down. His shirt was splattered with browning specks. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end and he was almost sure he could hear the screams again.
    [​IMG]
    “Remove his shoes” the Inquisitor had instructed him. “The man’s had difficult days and life in Dograd is not easy on a family man’s feet,” he’d explained tenderly though the warmth had not been there.

    Inigo hesitantly adjusted his golden mask before kneeling down, carefully unlacing the old leather boots.

    “Calm yourself mister Tamas. Criracan has a gentle hand,” he had put a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder though it had the opposite effect, “I understand your daughter fell ill recently…”

    The man’s breathing had quickened then, Inigo’s had too.

    “Proceed Cricaran. Now, Tamas “ the inquisitor said his name intimately, “she needn't remain ill if you chose it.” The black clad figure made a hand gesture and Inigo took the panic-eyed man’s foot and began to wash it. At length, the inquisitor took a seat next to the sweating man and poured him a warm drink. He’d been so close and his body language so comfortably intimate, the purpose of it had repulsed Inigo.

    “I wouldn’t like it if it spread… wouldn’t you agree?” As a friend takes his coat of when welcomed into your home, the inquisitor had taken off his golden mask and carefully set it on the armrest near the man’s hand.

    “I wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortable. Especially when you must earn the bread, as they say.” After a pause and Tama’s hesitation to respond, the inquisitor’s pale hand had signaled and a silence engulfed the whole chamber.

    Inigo had slid the long thin knife between toenail and flesh and the silence was broken.
    “Steady now, you want to be deliberate Mr. Criracan! Mr. Tamas is no animal up for slaughter. Forgive his rudeness,” the Inquisitor had calmly informed the screaming man.
    [​IMG]
    “I don’t know why you don’t let me keep you company on the job. Clearly I’m the braver of the two. Less stupid too,” Ral’s voice called him back from his ugly reverie.

    “I just don’t want to hear you say anything inappropriate,” Inigo sighed his explanation. He felt tired, like a man double his age painfully struggling out of the spoiled shirt.

    “What’dyou think I’m gonna say? Yeah baby, stick it in harder?!” Ral cackled, explaining Inigo’s thinking better than Inigo’s own words had. Without another word Inigo left the chambers in a huff, clean shirt in hand and Ral's cackle fading behind him. He needed to get out, breathe, and be himself for a change. Not the inquisitor’s help, not a nameless Dograd in search, he wanted to feel like a normal father looking for his son. Just a man. With that in mind, Inigo put on the dark shirt, the golden mask left behind, and walked Dograd streets.

    After some time, he felt like stopping for a break when on a sandstone road he saw a man sitting by the edge, seemingly contemplating life.
    “No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant seeks prosperity in longevity,” Inigo quoted an old influential figure of Avarath as he stepped next to the stranger.

    @Spoopy
     
    #11 Mglo, Oct 9, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2016
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  12. ZirakoZirako was once a city of tension, a capital that reflected the sentiment of a nation. When the Czar left, the land sagged and did its best to forget the way he forced it to his will. The meticulously oiled metal struts were blasted smooth by the wind, and for months after the Kaustrians left, critters jumped into their holes when structures collapsed and slid down the mountain. A library from one of the ringed layers of the city fell, and pages snowed around the mountain for days. A few were carried as far as Dorgrad, and most of those sheets perished in the lava soaked sand.

    With enough effort, the returning defeated remade some of the city so the people could live again. For two days days and three nights coal was poured into the central furnace, and the Red Demiurge doused it with flame to set it alight. The chimneys sprouting out from the top of Zirako belched clouds into the sky thicker than an erupting volcano. From the furnace iron flowed once again into rivet molds, and Drakens hurled the still red pins with their bare hands, drawing perfect arcs into the waiting buckets of the enormous anima that covered the city like termites. They crawled around the mountain, slowly stapling it back together, and the city rang like bells for months.

    The bureaucracy of Zirako, once a great machine that translated the Czar's commands into action, was left for dead. Miracles came direct from the new Czar. From the highest tower poured multiple rivers of iron, enough to replace every single rock in Zirako. The wasted iron gathered in pools outside the city, the latent heat making it unbearable for those who were not Draken. Without the bureaucracy, without someone to tell them what the Czar was thinking, the people turned to speculation. The slick tongued became trusted interpreters of the Czar's will, and gave birth to many violent cults. Some said the Czar was chained up there by Ilium, pierced by golden tubes that milked his iron blood day and night. Others dumped sacrifices into the molten rivers and read messages in what floated to the surface, listening to the screams among boiling blood. From the mountain of lies a prophet would sometimes appear with a true message, a certain zeal to their step that allowed them to part the crowds and temporarily focus the efforts of the abandoned who clung to Zirako, who clawed at the doorstep of one Demiurge, hoping that it would protect them from the others.

    It was a particularly thirsty day when Ammon arrived. Cold iron pooled in fractal puddles from Zirako, which looked more like a weeping blister than a city of industry. The great twin doors were cracked open to emit a hot, permanent gust. As Ammon pushed his way past the doors, he swore he could almost see the jet streams of hot air rippling along the main streets, and his jackal hide shivered against it. He followed the negative of the flows into narrow alleyways where it was cooler. His final destination was not the central tower that loomed over the city; he could feel himself magnetically pulled into a small building among the maze of stapled metal.

    A faceless person sat in the center of the featureless room, a silk veil hung on the side of their face. Although faceless, the wrinkly skin was wrapped tightly around the bones, and Ammon had a strange inkling, an itch from an ancient predatorial instinct, that this person was quite close to dying. Ammon felt that he should sit, and he did. The faceless one pulled the silk veil across their face, and behind the translucent cloth opened eyes and mouth of fire. Despite the blinding, almost roaring torrent, the voice that came from behind the veil was pleasant and conversational.

    [​IMG]

    "I am glad that you have taken the time to come visit me."

    Ammon was the leader of many small detachments that combed the desert around Zirako, which had been divided into a fine grid. They sifted through the sand in layers, opening an inverse pyramid and stopping only when an interesting object was found. Ammon's team had unearthed a small shard of pottery, a curved triangle that looked like it was purposefully shaped that way.

    "Your last find," the demiurge's avatar scratched its face, "was of extremely high quality. I am giving you a larger group this time, so that the tedious tasks will not burden your sharp eyes."

    "Long ago, our nation saw active use of the lava pits in Dorgrad. The caves there harbour many secrets. Some say those are the still boiling bodies of gods that fell from the sky." The demiurge smiled wryly. "Maybe."

    "Why do we dig?"

    The blazing mask was silent, beams of light streaming out beyond the veil. When the Demiurge looked at him, Ammon felt pain even behind his closed eyes.

    "I don't want to die. Isn't that good enough?"

    "We suffer."

    The Demiurge considered this for a moment. He seemed to remember that he was the head of state. "That is true. Without your efforts, I would not be able to hold our borders against the other Two. And although you suffer, you are not dead. As long as we struggle, we are not dead. As long as we are not dead, anything is possible. And for that peace to be maintained, you must dig."

    Ammon sensed that the audience was over, and the avatar unhinged the silk. The room faded to dark, and did not get any brighter when he opened the door to leave.
     
    #12 unanun, Oct 10, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2016
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  13. Prosperos
    ~Act I~


    *Presseth the play button*
    The sun shone brightly and warmly, baking the pale and rusted docks of the now stationary merchant city. The edge of Prosperos's dock streets were lined with shops, inns, and all sorts of cheaply-constructed attractions to greet those on the ships, some of whom haven't even touched land in months. The workers and crewmen-hardworking, poor, and smelly little cretins to say the least-are now being treated like royalty in the eyes of the waterfront merchants. The ones on the waterfront are said to be the best at their trade, and are also said to be the most viscous, cutthroat, and devious individuals one may ever come across.

    Among the many successful establishments of Prosperos's waterfront lies the Windview Inn. Named simply because that's how one gets around in Prosperos: location and structure breeds all sorts of windy debris to fly right into faces of every citizen. The establishment is four storeys tall, with the bottom floor acting as a tavern, the two middle floors are rooms for paying guests, and the top floor is reserved for administration and proper distribution of goods and services.

    The bottom floor is always swarming of all sorts of denizens drinking, flirting, and being rowdy by what the Inn has to offer. They spend their time, their money, and their life on the many 'tempered drinks' that there is to offer. If one is not into drinking and eating, there's always the ladies (and some men) that are brought here for everyone's divine entertainment. After that, one may spend a lovely evening or afternoon in their own, comfortable room: cleaned and refreshed every day. Most people would stay here, addicted to everything that is offered and repeat such a good time until their pockets emptied, then they refill those pockets and restart the process once more. There is the occasional threat from competition or from those who seek justice, as well as those sagely few who can see the material of the bricks that built this establishment, but such excitement is far and few in between. Business for the Windview Inn is but a constant circulation of bumbling drunkards, lovers, and incompetent fools.

    And so the cycle continues...

    Upon the fourth floor of the inn, a Wolf Anima by the alias of 'Duke Wolf' sits at the head of it all, eating a steak in peace while staring at supply and shipping lists. The noise of the lower floors being drowned out by the illustrious sounds of his employed human instrumentalist, Oswald Helden. Oswald plays the tunes softly yet on point, as to entice and not annoy the wolf, who is busy seeing who gets what pay and how many slipped drinks his establishment has served.
    He twirls around a knife in his hand looking at the papers and trying to compute numbers in his head. not long after, his plate would be finished, and a disorganized stack of papers would start appearing on the upper-right hand corner of his desk.

    His ears start to twitch at the sound of footsteps coming towards his room. He sets his things aside and lets out a small sigh, "You may come in..." He says to whomever waits behind the door, looking straight at the door with clasped hands and tired eyes. The man he is speaking too is a fresh young avian ship captain from Viridos who's been recently staffed by Darreth Karkand to help gather Viridosian herbs and other materials in order to manufacture here. An eager yet odd man, as his wings were made to fly but yet he craves the sea, and he's quite the navigator. So long as he keeps the materials rolling in there is no reason not to second guess it. He gives the captain a small grin and a small bow of his head. "Ahh...I see that you have returned...since you have came to see me rather than the other way around...I take it you have news for me, hmm?"
    "Not exactly, they've been held under the Prosperos Companie for taxing and inspectione purposes, as what you got were considered, by 'heir standards, 'exotic goods'."
    "I'm going to assume it was that Draken's doing...always wanting a cut of my coins...hmmm... Alright, how long are they planning to hold my goods for?"
    "I don't know, sir. The confiscatore told me to get you to come over by the Eastern Ship's thirteenth warehouse...although to now think about it...he was Draken."
    The wolf let out a long, deep sigh.
    "Male? Aged? Green scales? Portly?"
    The captain reluctantly nodded, like a dog you caught ripping up your furniture. The wolf merely took in a great breath, took some time to suck down that steam, and spoke to the young captain in a soothing, calm voice. "Well, that's no authoritative shipping inspector, that was just a crafty thief....It is of no matter, we can deal with this swiftly and quietly. gather you men, and arm them too! Wait for me to meet you by the ship at dusk, as I have some papers to fill out and some incompetency to straighten out."
    The captain nodded nervously and bolted out the door. Darreth returned to his papers at hand, commenting to his musician, who hadn't missed a beat for the entirety of the conversation.
    "Oh Oswald, we need stronger oxen in this pen, do we not?"
    The old musician nodded, "heh heh, indeeeed we do, brutha. To bad all yo' oxens roam tha mines of Dorograd."
    The wolf laughed a bit to himself "Oh we have some strong oxen here, maybe even a lion too! I just need to crush their Prosoperos ways, and only then will their working man grow."
    With the thought in mind, he went back to his papers, continuing the cycle of paradise which is the Windview Inn.​


     
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  14. Across Prosperous people from all walks of life skittered back and forth. So strange that they only saw the danger lurking at their level, the other parasites that clung to the city's hide. A merchant's paradise, those who played the game, learned the rules, and found how to make their own were rewarded handsomely. Those who failed to play along were consumed and left to rot. Riding the front wave of the swell of inhabitants was a Wolf and a silver Moth.

    Along the wind-swept docks a group of four figures moved a a pack. Stray onlookers found themselves shielding their eyes from the harsh glint of the figures' clothes, a parade of silver that caught the light and flung it far and wide. The two that walked in front of the group were the most offensive in their wear, even though they wore the least. One was a fox anima, hair a shocking red, his only clothes a loincloth that ended just before his knees. The woman who walked to his right was human, a pretty girl with hair like pitch and sharp green eyes. The dress she wore tied loosely around her neck, leaving her back uncovered, and her chest paraded as the neckline dipped almost to her navel. The other two bore the sore look and heavy builds of guards, and the daggers they each kept at their hip confirmed such observations.

    Along the shifting docks fisherman sat, their catch freshly sold. Usually their eyes feasted, and with a sneer on their lips they would hoot and whistle to any that struck fancy. But even they turned their eyes away as the four strode by, fear tempering their voices, their eyes hiding in hope of saving face.

    The Windview inn lived up to its name, with stray gusts threatening to reveal even more of the pair then they were willing to show, at least not without a little compensation. But as they exchanged looks at the front door the pair hoped that its owner lived up to his reputation. As the day progressed more and more people were flooding into the inn, gold passed through greased palms faster than the owners had made it. A few scantly clad females and males dance on stage, tempting even more money their way.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------
    A twitch of the ear marked the sound of footsteps outside Darreth's door. It was with a pained sigh that he listened to the muffled whispers as his guard stopped whoever it was with a few coarse words. There was a long stretch, as the arguing grew in volume, the guard apparently getting louder and more annoyed, the strangers quieter and more venomous. Oswald was the first to give into curiosity and he scurried over to the door, not missing a note, moving with surprising stealth despite his old age. The smallest crack in the door provided enough of a vantage for him to peer out. A moment of still before the old man turned and affixed his master with a toothy grin.

    "Wat waaas that 'bout wantin some lions?" He said, drawing away from the door and returning to his spot. As heartbeat after Oswald regained his seat the great doors were swung open and there was Darreth's guard, Kullen, red faced and fuming. The man glanced back towards the hallway, licking his lips nervously, before turning back to Darreth and cleared some of the frustration from his throat.

    "There's a couple a..." He paused to steal a look back towards the strangers, considering his words carefully. "messangers here ta see ya boss."

    Without need of further introduction the woman and fox anima swept into the room, a soft perfume flowing in after them, slowly filling the room. It was hard to say exactly what the two were thinking, made none the easier with the large fans that each held perched just under their eyes, but there was a slyness in their eyes that spoke of trouble.

    "Duke wolf, thank you kindly for this audience." The human woman said with a voice like silk and cherries.

    "My name is Azurah, and this is Ihlan." Here the male anima gave a small bow, green eyes trying to catch hold of Darreth's.

    "We have been sent by our esteemed Mistress to extend an invitation." Azurah said her hand proffering a small scroll, tied in silver and sealed with black wax.

    "I assume it is rather pointless to ask who your Mistress is." Darreth said with a sigh accepting the letter, musing for a moment as to where she had been hiding it. His imagination appreciating the mystery. "Tell Belphebe that I will look forward to our meeting."

    Darreth waved the two away, only to find a pair of sly smiles appear in return. "In hopes of encouraging an age of cooperation our Mistress also wishes us to give you these."

    From some hidden pocket each extracted what looked to be a small silver key, simply shaped but delicately wrought with spiraling smoke and floating wings. As Prosperous had settled so had the rules of this place, all was available for a price, who knew that better than the whores and their masters. Any could sell their backside for a cheap coin, and those who hide their trade in swathes of silk and rich perfume disliked their corner street cousins. So in the tradition of all trades there were those who sought to regulate it. Those who had called the loudest and fought the hardest could often be identified by their tousled hair, and the blush of lipstick that was not entirely faded from the nape of their neck. So the rule of keys came to be, if any wished to --preform-- they would have to get themselves a key, and their name and faced marked on a registry for the tally of a silver-eyed serpent. It was hard to say what happened to those that tried to ply the trade without marking themselves. It was a large ship, not unusual for people to just vanish. A mistress often hoarded her stocks' keys, after all they controlled their lively hood. Darreth had seem such keys before, most made of brass or iron, though he had seen one even carved of wood. The silver denoted a certain level of...quality, a guarantee to not disappoint.

    There was a moment of hesitation, Darreth considering the gifts laid before him, as Azurah spoke with a false pout.

    "If we are not to your liking, our Mistress has promised that you may have any who holds a silver key." The little pout morphed into another creeping smile. "Perhaps a test first to see if we are to your...needs. There is some time yet before Belphebe wishes to see you."
     
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  15. Prosperos


    Darreth, considering all that was bestowed upon to him by the two...exotic people who stood before him, finally gave his answer, doing so in a most respectful and intelligent manner. "As...arousing as your offer sounds, I do believe that I have to respectfully decline...for now. Unless you wish to do so with my good buddy Oswald over there..." The old man wheezed with laughter upon hearing this. "But on a more important manner...If it wouldn't trouble your mistress, I would like to see her at the earliest convenience...I shall see to it to arrive at her brothel tomorrow. You may go off and tell her that as your service to me, dear Azurah and dear Ihlan. Until we meet again..." He held the silver key firmly in his hand and shook it a them. "Now if you excuse me, I have some important matters to deal with..."

    With that being said, the wolf proptly got up, brushed himself off, and left the office, with intentions of leaving the inn. He did so in a silent hurry, with several bodyguards aside him as he went out the backdoor of the Inn. He went out unnoticed, as to not disturb those enjoying Windview (He cared for those wasting their lives there, at least).

    It was becoming nighttime over Prosperos...a most perfect time to construct his business. People still litter themselves about the city, although not at densely packed. The specified warehouse looked old and rusted, perhaps almost as old as the ships that made this rock in the middle of the city. The young captain and some of his crew appeared at the door of the Warehouse. The avian bowed at Karkand's presence; "Sire, I am here with my men, as you requested." The wolf smiled and laid a hand on the captain's shoulder. "Good job! You have thirteen minutes. Thirteen minutes to clean up that warehouse, Tie up its proprietor, and return to me. If you do that, you shall be cleared of all charges. Okay?"

    The Avian captain nodded and went off with his men with nervous haste, as the Wolf crossed his hands behind his back, muttering to himself: pshh, and they say oxen don't live in Prosperos, heh heh!

    As if on cue, the bird and his men arrived to him once more, right on time. "Sire, your goals are met and the Draken awaits a fate determined by you." The Wolf nodded and opened those great big doors, to be greeted by the owner of this warehouse, tied up to a chair. He patted the young captain on the head. "Ah, good, now make some preparations for Windview's takeover of this Warehouse, and check the amount of iron in here! I need a LOT of it!" He gave his wolfish grin and waved the captain off, turning his intentions toward the tied up Draken."Ahhh...you. Tricking my men into give yourself a bit more herbs eh...I guess that's alright, but you should really keep your place well guarded next time." He shrugged, and the Draken only stared and thought angry thoughts. He removed whatever was used to muffle his noise, and spoke again. "Now, I'm going to ask if you would politely and peacefully, allow me to own this warehouse and take its current goods. You may still conduct your business as usual, and run the warehouse under me, but alas, you must deal with the loss you now currently suffer. So...will you take the offer?"

    As the case with most slimey, backwater, rich guys(Karkand himself included), he refused the offer, to which the wolf looked down at him, scavenged for the nearest plank of wood, and yelled dramatically. "OF COURSE you wouldn't do that! What rationally-minded decision was it to have you take the plan of the evil guy that has you tied up? HAHAHAHA! Silly me! I shouldn't have been nice and logical about this! Let me fix that..." With that, he swung the plank at him, jovially and carefree. He swung and he smashed up and down even the plank snapped, and and his hands were covered with blood. He hummed a tune to ease his actions, reflecting back to when his 'father' was in charge of this fine crew. He only stopped after five minutes of kicking and thrashing at the lizard, to the point where he was immobilized, but still breathing and pumping blood. He stepped back, cleaning his hands and admiring his work. He distributed orders to the remaining men in his warehouse. "Enjoy the show? Yeah? Good! Now spend the night here to tally up the resources, get all of the iron onto my ships, and throw this man into an alley for his fate now lies with the people...After that...take the next day off! I think you deserve it! I have other issues to tend to anyways..."

    He left the men to work at it as he made his way back towards the inn, arms crossed behind him and eyes wandering at the starry night sky. Admiring the view and letting his informal thoughts flow. He opened up the inn's backdoor, taking a deep breath as he was once again thrust into the loud, bustling life of Windview. Even this late in the evening citizens are still going hard at it and partying all through the night. But this wolf was not one for this life, he preferred the quiet, the peace, and the view of the night for his particular nightlife. Despite his occupation, Karkand is actually not one for parties. He likes his conversations, sure, but he prefers to deal with those of a higher intellectual and charismatic power, as the minds of the petty squabble that make up this city gets to boring too fast, like a cliche almost.

    It was time to change this, these petty merchant wars, the old, rusting city, and the lazy attitudes of the destitute.

    It's time to put a plan into action, a plan to change the city, the world, for the better.

    He hailed an adviser, a Goat Anima named Giel, to make arrangements for him to trek over to a Brothel in Prosperos, and then to Kaustir, and to administrate the inn while he was gone, for it may be for awhile. She nodded, and watched as the wolf gathered his things, a small band of protection to travel with, and proceeded to leave the inn, but this time, it was to be for quite some time.


     
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  16. -
    D
    orgrad never slept, lit by the ever glowing central furnace. The column of iron, rust, and stone rose needle-straight from the bedrock to the sky, and it threw out light from the thousands of furnace holes that lit all the shafts shooting straight from its center. Those on their sleep shift found peace in cubby holes or bends in the corridors.

    Chelena tossed in the throes of another nightmare. Her nook was close to the furnace, and its roars echoed down the hallway as iron sluiced from its twenty-five spigots. A bowl of herbal distillates from Pette, half empty, sat nearby. Next to her crouched Nu, nearly naked and sweating in the waves of heat flowing down the corridor. Her pale, white skin contrasted with that of Chelena, who had stubbornly remained dark in all their months of time in Dorgrad, bad juju for a sun forsaken underground city. Nu wiped the sweat off Chelena and nudged the blindfold over her eyes. Tattersal's assassin hated waking up blind, another prison that prolonged her nightmares, but Nu found that she slept better that way, and turned her towards the wall, where light did not glare so much.

    "This is for our land. For ... Sunne." Tattersal unwrapped the bloated, spotty slug, and lowered it between her legs.

    Chelena threw her sweat soaked blankets to the side, and squinted through the blindfold before tearing it off. She glared at Nu, who, as always, remained quiet. Nu patted the sweat from her body, running the towel along curves in a way that she would have protested, before the illness take her outrage; she felt a small death for how casual their routine had become. Chelena let Nu tip the rest of the drink into her mouth, the herbal infusion fouled by the hard acquifier water. Pette had done well, in a way, allowing her enough life to feel the slow death creeping.

    "It was another nightmare ..." They rose as one and left to wander the hallways.

    Some time later, they sat near the top of Dorgrad, where the sun sometimes peeked, each with a warm bowl of slop. Nu ate her food with measured precision, taking small bites and chewing thoroughly for digestion, working her way from the rim to the center, carving out a small column just like the Dorgrad furnace. Chelena stirred the gruel.

    "Eat ... Strength."

    "I'm not hungry." Nu's spoon made a slow, periodic knocking against the bowl until she finished scraping out the last bits. Turning her attention to Chelena, she raised a full spoon, tracing her lips top and bottom. She opened her mouth to protest, but the taste of the oatmeal whet her tongue, and she meekly accepted the spoon, until her bowl was as clean as Nu's.

    With the meal finished and the bowls returned to the mess hall, they set on their long walk to the top of Dorgrad, Nu wrapping more and more layers as the sun slowly overwhelmed the light from the central furnace. Pette said strong exercise would help to stir the herbs in her body - Nu thought that it would also circulate the poisons. Chelena did not seem the worse for it, and her dark skin helped her warm in the sun before she began to flake. Nu remembered a time when Lut studiously avoided sunlight, as did all Nocturnes. Perhaps Chelena's illness was changing her body.

    At the top of Dorgrad, they passed through the small pedestrian checkpoint, the main railway roaring day and night with carts filled with oil-soaked iron ingots. The comrade up top waved her past as a familiar face. Chelena sat on the same rock that they had been using for the past few months, and Nu placed two fingers on her pulse, palpating her kidneys, lungs, and abdomen. The results she scratched into small pieces of slate in shorthand - some sort of code that the secret servants of Kaustir once used, she had explained to Chelena.

    "You are well." Chelena chuckled, and Nu pursed her lips, apparently not possessing enough humour to humour her. "Well enough. We will leave in a week." That earned Nu a choking cough, and if that amused her, she hid it entirely behind a face carved from stone. She packed her notes and started back for the long descent, Chelena stumbling after her.

    Later that night, they settled into a deeper nook than usual, and Chelena began to sweat, fearing the return of sleep and her nightmares, while Nu carefully packed bundles of dried and compressed herbs, nestled among thin oilskins bulging with water and crumbly vegetable cakes. Questions buzzed unanswered in her mind, breaking through the dull ache in her abdomen. In a way, she had accepted her death, and passing to the Waters Below, as Nu called it, did not seem a bad way to go. Nu seemed to have a plan for her from the moment they first met. She had hustled them through Avarath like a ghost, and somehow bartered their way into Dorgrad. Now, defying her expectations of hospice, she was fattening her for the next leg of their journey. The last thing she remembered was her silent companion squatting next to her, squinting into the central forge with her lips working over some litany.

    At the end of her sleep shift - there were no concepts of days in a sun-less place - Chelena was shaken from her fitful sleep by a somewhat haggard looking Nu. The sleep seemed to help, and she did not complain over their breakfast, or their trek up the road to the top. The city-mine continued to ring the way it always did, with the roar of molten iron meeting the sharp pitched hammers and anvils.

    "I thought you said in a week." Nu surely heard her, but she continued forward, slightly panting with the bug-out-bag slung to her back. Chelena thought she saw a subtle head shake, but could not tell with the strain of the climb. She was pushing them hard today.

    A short while later, they were back in the dunes again, right before dusk. Nu did two things that Chelena would later clearly revisit in her memories over and over. One, she spoke to a man and handed them a roll of parchment, delicately stamped with an intricate wax seal, and two, she unfolded a compass and studied its motions for a long time. The man would never deliver his message, butchered in the dark by Dorgrad's comrades and scattered to the sands, but she did snap the lid shut with an air of confidence, and when they set out, there was not much difference between now, and when they were leaving Avarath. So they continued east, beyond the maps.

    That night, Nu caught a desert hare, allowing Chelena the rare luxury of a meal of blood.


    End of Chapter 10.​
     
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