Kaustir & The Chersonese, Chapter 8

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  1. Chapter 8
    Exeunt and Enter

    The Nocturnes of Kaustir could feel a growing sign. The blood tasted sour. Though connected under the desert moon, the sometimes cloudy Chersonese severed them from each other. An ill omen for the superstitious.


    In the complete darkness, a rectangle of light streamed from a door ajar and at the end of infinity dimly bisected an obsidian coffin. The Czar was ready for death, but was taking a moment to pass on his last words. Into the pristine room Lut Sar intruded with billowing sand and harsh footsteps. The clip of his boots rang forever before stopping in front of his monarch. He dropped into the deepest of bows.

    "You knew."

    "I did. But this was not my doing. I am only guilty for not doing anything."

    The Czar's sunken eyes swiveled to transfix his Inquisitor.


    "Succession under your rule is impossible, Des'Sun." Lut Sar fought back the tears. "I love you. You adopted me. But Kaustir also adopted me, Burning One. How can I fail both?"

    "I will give the people a tyrant. And from the ashes of your death, your successor will be forged." He swiped the blood from his eyes. "Are you afraid, my Sun?"

    "No." The Czar struggled to turn his head to him. Though his eyes dulled with the veil of death, something still boiled underneath. They grasped hands. "I own this death, I return its gaze and will not falter. This, however, is a very sudden exit. I expected to die in the crush of battle, or a decrepit senile emperor ... not to Viridosian poison, planted in a whore."

    His eyes swiveled to regard the only other one in the room - Korsch, the slave that Nassad brought as tribute for the games that had selected Amalia as the people's first general.

    "Korsch. You serve Des'Sun, do you not?"


    "Then your service shall continue."

    Upon the Czar's death Kaustir would consume itself in a frenzy of factional struggle. The ambitious engineers would take to the sky and rain bombs down upon Kirtin's army, numerous enough to become the bloody topsoil of Sunne. In the background the inquisition would conduct sly assassination and intrigue, poisoning any hope of Kirtin seizing power and stabilizing with his overwhelming force. Without a guiding effigy of vengeance, Kaustir would crumble.

    Nothing could be allowed to change.

    Lut Sar would perform one last, great magic trick. Il mago would face dance the Czar. Why had he never given his aux a name? Why were his talents so forgettable and unimpressive? Why had he forged his early life in the blood of war, sacrifice and love, then settled into the unrewarding backdrop of politics and bureaucracy? Why was he known by name more than face, by his connections rather his feats?

    He was a faceless creature. Only few could claim to have known him. Perhaps, in his selfish way, he had groomed Nu to remember him as a person, so someone would know that he existed.

    "Say 'hi' to Ilium for me."

    Every twelve hours Korsch refreshed the bowl of untouched blood at his side.

    "I will sacrifice one to help two." In dim memory, his tirade at Nu echoed in his mind. His knuckles whitened around the hilt of an obsidian blade.

    When Korsch had come and gone six times he began the ritual. The black glass slid from the Czar's ear to ear. Foul blood welled from the incision.

    "Even if it is myself ... "

    Lut Sar had never revealed his second advent. The Nocturne bureaucrat trained his hearing immaculately, faking the glow of advent light every time he pretended to eavesdrop. His aux was not a scarab, but a carrion beetle. Once in his life, he could discard his shell and infest a dead body, taking on its appearance, aux, and advents as replacements for his own. Only once.

    The Czar's body ruptured, and Aukhmos leapt from the corpse anew. In the rain of blood, Lukesh turned away from the gory, deflated corpse on the coffin and to the slave in the dark.


    "Yes, Des'Sun."

    "Bring me Chelena." The slave steadied the emaciated Czar.

    "There are matters of the 3rd Group to attend to, Czar." Lukesh-Lut gazed upon the discarded Wraith's mask. The oval piece of lacquered wood fit awkwardly on his face now. Lut would never again show his face on Sunne ... but he still existed in the mask. In this way Lut would continue to exist, and as one they would ensure Kaustir's stability.

    "Send an edict to the First and Second army groups. Tell them to prepare to move North. Then bring me Chelena." He flung the robes around him and departed in their swirling wake.
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  2. Old Baggage, brown
    The desert haze gave way to blue sky and green grass. New Zirako peeked in front of her, buildings sliding out of the storm piece by piece. First came the wooden palisade, ten men tall and being replaced with concrete. Behind them a thousand different columns of smoke rose. The red ones came from the alchemists, the black-grey from the smiths, and the blue-purples signal fires. Try as the Kaustrians did, their wastes dissipated into the Chersonese, leaving the land still untainted.

    The city felt familiar to her. The engineers had done a good job of transplanting it. Even the water trolls had their place, divining springs and wells with an art nearly lost from decades of being sedentary. Without the ascending layers to distinguish the towers, they had pushed New Zirako down flat, preserving the concentric rings around which the bureaucracy was organized.

    "This Nu returns." She knelt low and presented the sword horizontal in the crooks of her elbows.

    "What is that trinket you have returned with?" She dared to raise her head to the Czar before her. She was sure that she had entered the Grey ring of the bureaucrats. Had this last long journey finally scorched her mind?

    Lukesh slouched in his throne. "A warrior's fetish?" The metal rang across as the blade slid from the sheathe. Even in the darkness the light glinted off its subtle, murderous edge.

    She did not move but may as well have slapped the Czar. "Sword must remain clothed, Master Su -"

    "Don't tell me what to do."

    The Czar did not attack her like some lust-crazed barbarian. He methodically dissected her clothing, the intricate Wraith buttons and hidden fastenings unzipped by the knife's edge of his hand as he ran them across her body like a puzzle master. He knew to avoid the outside of her cloak, covered in the microscopic shark's teeth. He knew all her secrets.

    The room was silent save for his panting breath. He lapped the blood from her bitten lip.

    "Lut commands ..."

    The Czar paused.

    "Do I look like your despot?"

    He pulled his stiffness, stood before her sweating her unwept tears.

    "He is dead." Her eyes snapped to his, teeth released from her lip. "Can't." Nu shook her head. "Don't. Won't. Can't dead."

    "I killed him."

    She did not believe him.

    "Treason and heresy. Did he think he could hide all his machinations and fomentations from me? Did he not recognize the countless warnings in the beatings I gave him over a century? I tried so hard to forgive him, Nu. But I punished him too much. He took them as slaps on the wrist. Then my warnings became meaningless."

    "Can't." She shook her head, and gazed at the obsidian in shock.

    "He's dead. DEAD!" Lukesh's voice rang in his ears. "I killed him. I slight his throat from ear to ear and watched him bleed to death. His dried, shriveled corpse is rotting on the shores of the Prosperos!!"

    The floor melted underneath her, and she plunged into a dark place.

    "What are you going to do now? Your tether, your anchor, your womb-cord, its all been cut." The Czar shook her, forced them to meet eye-to-eye. "You're free. You must learn to fly, you fettered tern." She would not cry, so he did, the thick red blood flowing hot. "Don't let him die for nothing."

    Silence ...

    More silence ...

    Hopeless silence ...

    Her eyes slipped from his to the floor. Lukesh's heart sank.

    "Come back in two years."

    If she could not fly of her own volition, a lie would fill her sails. He had to send distractions away, so he could focus on every body he would use to pave the path forward. If there was a hell, he thought morosely, he would go to suffer Eternal Pain at the very end.

    "In two years, I will give you a chance to slay his ghost." He cinched his robes and departed in a swirl of dust and skin flake.

    "Goodbye. Goodbye, Nu."
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  3. The days that followed the meeting with the second army Sargent were filled with preparations and keeping moral high. Word quickly spread of Takeda's help towards the second army, which lead to constant requests from them."Excuse me Swords master Shingen." was spoken from every direction Takeda turned.

    "If we one part of the army suffers we all suffer." became a sort of mantra for Takeda. Not soon after his displays other members of the first army began helping those of the second, finally they were starting to get together as a single unit.

    As days were spent with official business, nights were spent with personal affairs often at the camp training grounds. Takeda's time in Viridos left him in less then perfect condition. Every night was a heavier workout then the last. Sweat rolled off the man's naked torso in drops as the cold of the night spurred him to keep moving. "One hundred One, one hundred two, one hundred three..." push ups, sit ups, weight lifting, all became the essentials in getting back his form, his blades remained untouched.

    *Thunk!* The sound of clashing training swords echoed through the camp.

    "Again, but this time hit me!" Takeda roared at two other first army soldiers, eyes deadly serious.

    The two dashed at Takeda, swords carrying the full force their momentum. The swordsman fixed his eyes on the front most one, and time seemed to slow around him. "Side step, horizontal slash to the open side." Him mind cued the motions and, not a split second later, his body executed the actions.

    "Gah!" the first solider went down to one knee.

    "RAHH!" the second popped out from behind his comrade and was already halfway into his over head slice.

    "Block!" Takeda's arms shot up as the wooden blade came within inches to the top of his head. "Push, over power, vertical slice." The mostions were executed with such fluidity it would appear that the swords master had done this time and again. *Thunk* The second solider went down to one knee. "That is all for tonight, thank you." he bowed under heavy breathing. The soldiers took their leave as Takeda through on a heavy fur coat and returned to his tent.

    Hot tea and a warm bed was his reward for his hard work for the night, meditation came first though. "If we are to go to war then I will be on the front lines helping where I can." this was the topic of tonight's meditation. Even after the session was over this statement stuck with him well into his sleep.​
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  4. [​IMG]
    The smell of melted iron, the grinding of bark sawed, cut, and killed, the grunts of soldiers and workers: music, the symphony of progress. It calmed the healer's nerves, brought things into focus that normally would have been blurred.

    Amalia turned her head towards her Aux who had come padding up to her from the shade. The afternoon sun hung in the air but it did not bare down on them like the desert did. Dew drops still clung to blades of grass, a souvenir of the rain that touched the Chersonese.

    "I will have to speak to the merchants shortly. We will need their support in the next coming months," the healer said to the sand cat, who mewed pitifully. The feline cocked her head, a question.

    "And what will I barter with? I'm not sure." The woman ran a polishing stone over her katana, the blade singing alongside the thwacks of soldiers training. "I have jewels. My father's mounts. My healing arts... My body." The thought did not repulse her.

    Rakar and Kerrick were outside her tent eating a light lunch; Amalia observed them through the canvas flap, brown eyes glinting. The two of them would have to get along soon and she hoped that thenext few days would spur that relationship. Her eyes slid to the piece of bark that rested on top of her cot. A message was scribbled in charcoal, signed by her superior. Seeing it made her lip twitch in irritation.

    Eyes that were suddenly placid filled with grief, pain, and then closed sharply.

    "Perhaps it is unwise for me to worry about such things. The bartering may not happen until after we survive the front lines... If we survive."
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  5. Kerrick Aenlass — Making Preparations
    Kerrick and Rakar ate in silence, exchanging no words - only wary glances that made clear their distrust for one another. Even their sounds of chewing on the tough chunks of rabbit meat in the stew they had been served seemed filled with aggression.

    As Amalia exited the tent, the tension was practically palpable. Fortunately, they had about finished; Amalia motioned for Rakar and Kerrick to follow as she made her way through the encampments, heading to a staging area. There, a small group of forces intending to meet the Prosperos Merchants had begun to assemble.

    Rakar followed closely behind, with Kerrick only a few steps away. As Amalia stopped, she turned to face her two traveling companions, who listened intently.

    "We are going to barter with the Prosperos Merchants. Tensions are high with Kaustir's expansion and I'd like to gain their trust and confid-- Kerrick!"

    Amalia was cut-off mid-sentence as something caught Kerrick's eye and he dashed off, disappearing through a crowd of troops passing by to deliver supplies. Rakar and Amalia visually tried to locate him, but there were too many people; he had simply become lost in the crowd.

    Amalia and Rakar exchanged looks of mutual befuddlement. "I'm-- I'm sure he'll be back," Amalia muttered, more to herself than to anyone else.

    Several yards away, Kerrick made his best effort not to be seen as he ducked behind several storage crates. Terra re-appeared at his side as their Advent faded, ears laid back flat and tail tucked between her legs.

    "Why are you hiding!?" Terra questioned with an aggressively interrogatory tone. "Go over there and talk to her!"

    "Quiet!" Kerrick shushed her as he peeked out around the wooden panels of the storage crates. "What, in Ilium's name, is she doing here?"

    A low, throaty growl resonated from Terra's throat. "She was about to tell you exactly why!"

    With a frustrated click of the tongue, Kerrick shook his head and shot a glance back at his mangy mongrel Aux dog. "I am not talking about Amalia."
    #5 fatalrendezvous, Jan 30, 2015
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2015
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  6. [ @CrabKing @Tone 6th @fatalrendezvous ]

    Pieces move, brown
    "Takeda." The wraith behind the mask had Lut's voice, but the figure that sat in the plain wooden chair inside that black, dark yurt had a certain coiled tension to him. Takeda could feel power emanating from its body where, in Lut's case, there was a disarming lack thereof.

    "My Nu has returned with your weapon." The glint of the scabbard shone in the air and the swordmaster snatched it out of the air.

    "Please," Takeda bowed low, "let me thank her."

    "She has had a long and tiring journey." The mask shook back and forth. "She must remain undisturbed until she is well."

    "High Inquisitor ... " a gloved hand raised, "Lut .. you seem unwell."

    "The desert beckons to me, Takeda. I pine for it." The wraith stood from the chair and walked around the desk to the swordsman's side, opening a small box as he did so. "The Czar has ordered that we embark north. Into the cold."

    "It is too soon to move. Take this executive insignia. I need you to get the 2nd Group to prepare for the winter. Carriages need to be fortified against the winds. Axles should be greased with seal fat, so they won't freeze. We will need many furs ... " The eyes behind the mask looked far into the distance, beyond the yurt, to the North. "Leonid is a capable man. You will find that this insignia gives you all the authority you need."
    Lukesh vomited into the golden bowl that Korsch held for him.

    "The Czar truly was a formidable man, Korsch. My body may be his, but my mind is not even prepared for a tenth of the rigors he put his body through."

    "You are the Sun." Korsch passed a towel over the Czar's forehead.

    A long silence passed. Lukesh was still struggling from the morning's routine. Lut's mind was slow in combat, and he had suffered thoroughly at the hands of his bodyguard-assassins. He had had to kill many of them, a distinct lack of finesse and show of weakness. It was a sign that he was afraid of their skill and bloodlust, when before he could have toyed with them, left them alive and injured to show that he was in control all along.

    "Korsch. How goes the preparation to move North?"

    "Difficult as anticipated, Des'Sun. We do not know much about the North, and the merchants we interrogated have given us nothing."

    "I know where we might find some citizens of Pegulis." Lukesh spat one last time into the bowl, fitted the Wraith's mask to his face once again, and stepped out of the tent.
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  7. The one place she never wanted to see again...and here she was. Not only that but no Medwick beside her. Shardis felt naked and alone, stripped bare of purpose and reason. Just then a sharp pain shot up her leg from her foot.

    "Shit! OW! What the fuck, you little brat!" Shar kicked out at the already receding dracling as it (she swore) giggled and skittered behind a near by rock. The creature stuck its head out from behind the stony outcrop and hissed a warning. Shardis promptly tossed a small rock his way. The snow leopard anima rubbed her toes and growled under her breath, wondering for a moment if this was the wisest course of action she could have taken.

    With a sigh Shar stood up and looked North, a hand lightly settled on her back near her shoulder.

    "You miss him a lot, don't you? So do I." Caoimhe gazed up at the mountain of cat woman standing in front of her. Shardis let shoulders sag in resignation.

    "Yes." Was all the Snow leopard could get out. No one spoke for a long moment and the silence was broken by a stream of week coughing coming from a pile of blankets by the small fire. "He's getting worse, isn't he?" Caoimhe's lips tensed as she sadly nodded then she walked over and readjusted the blankets around the old man, rubbed his back a moment while whispering to him and then offered the canteen, which was rejected. More whispers ensued but Shardis decided not to listen.

    Shar respected the wolf-girl's love for the old man even though she had none for him. What would happen to them if he died? They were far from home and he was the one with 'connections', not them. Medwick would have known, but he wasn't here and she had no idea what to do. It left a cold heavy point in her stomach.

    She looked North again into the night sky before she walked back to her bedding to find the dracling curled up on her blanket. She sighed and smiled a bit as she shoved the little fellow over and snuggled in beside him.
    #7 lynzy, Feb 2, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2015
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    "But Glyph," Caoimhe pleaded, partly to the old man and partly at the fire, "the fire is warm enough. You'll burn if you get closer."

    The bard shivered and extended a hand to the fire before Caoimhe pushed it away. In her hands the skin was hot, but underneath it was the clammy cold of a dying inner fire.

    "If only ... I had a ... th-thermic gem ..."

    Caoimhe's head swiveled to follow the gagging noise behind her. Was the dracling throwing up a hairball? Impossible, she thought, as the wolf-girl edged closer to the little reptile. It seemed to be retching on something, and the glassy-eyed focus with which it carried out its motions suggested instinct. From its open mouth, a glowing ball worked its way up the throat and finally the dragon spat it out into a puddle.

    She waited until the mud stopped boiling before cautiously poking it out with a stick. Although crude and uncut, she recognized its shape. The dull, burnt glass exterior with the smoldering core. The prismatic refraction, present even without the jeweler's facets.

    "Is that .. " Shardis was at a loss for words. "I thought the Ghoul Sage was the only one who could make those."

    A thermic gem.
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  9. The exchange

    A man by the clothes to judge from Viridos walked in under the trees and looked around with darting eyes. His right hand moving down to the blade carried next to him. He was late but with the state of the merchants and what was going on, on their side it was little he could do about it. The movement of Eydis walking into view at the corner of the man’s eye made him stop where he was and then slowly turn his head. Hooded and half concealed by vegetation the ranger pointed at a direction further into the woods and then made the hand sign. With a gulp the deliverer nodded and continued walking.
    He barely noticed when the she closed up behind him. “Keep walking and hold it at your back.” He was surprised at the female voice, but did as told feeling the weight of the package leave his palm and quickly replaced by a purse.
    Relieved the man waited for a moment before turning around seeing the young woman disappear into the foliage. Her feet was light and she could barely be heard running. The movement reminded him of the rangers in viridos…

    When the book was safely tugged into her backpack the anthro girl stretched her legs. It was too close to the camp of those sand barbarians, there would be scouts and patrols around. Besides she liked this place without the snow it was easy to run and she kept at it for a good while before noticing a tree with good thick branches to rest on.
    With a quick climb Eydis settled on a thick branch and leaned back towards the trunk of the tree. Eyeing the cover of the book curiously the woman was hesitant to open it. The thick leather and weird markings letting of an eerie feeling. This was certainly one of the stranger books the anthro had handled and it sure as hell had been affected by magic. She was willing to bet her savings on that.
    The woman pulled back the hood letting out her hair and pulled at her clothes to release some heat.
    Still she thought moving some strands of hair away from her face as a breeze rustled it.
    What could father want with this thing. And what’s with all the hush about it?
    Frustrated she placed it on her lap and crossed her arms with a sigh.
  10. Ilsa Lisbon — Within the Encampments
    There were more Kaustiran soldiers in the Chersonese, Ilsa estimated, than there were people in all of Pegulis. Surely there still had to be people remaining in the cities of Kaustir. That alone would mean that the Red Nation grossly outnumbered Pegulis.

    The frozen climate of the North made it difficult to find suitable places to live, to grow and prosper. But for people hailing from the equally inhospitable deserts in the East to accomplish this was something to be admired - or feared. The warrior culture clearly had deep roots within Kaustir: the discipline, the regimented training, the organization, all of it seemed to come second-nature.

    "I have confidence that Pegulis will be a very unwelcoming environment for these warriors bred and trained in the desert." Ilsa assured her fellow Pegulians in private. They had been assigned a series of small tents to serve as their quarters, and were meeting in one to discuss what to relay to those waiting for information on the outside. Their voices were hushed to lessen the likelihood they might be overheard.

    "But," she continued, "Kaustir's numbers are so great that we may still lose a war of attrition."

    "What about us?" Asked one of the soldiers. "We can lead them on trails that go nowhere, get them lost, run them in circles!"

    The Guard Captain frowned. "We can, but we must strike a delicate balance. We're here on the premise that we will be able to guide them through Pegulis. If we prove ourselves unable to, I've no doubt that we will all be killed."

    "Can't be. If we die, who will guide Kaustir through the North?"

    Ilsa shook her head. "All it takes is some bribery and time. Right now, we are expendable; we need to make ourselves valuab--" the flap to their tent was pulled open, and all voices immediately went silent; some men gripped their weapons in surprise or anticipation. They expected to die. Instead of attacks, though, a well-groomed Kaustiran officer ducked beneath the flap and stepped inside.

    "The High Inquisitor wishes to speak with the matriarch of your tribe."

    Ilsa nodded, standing and motioning for two others to follow along as a guard detail. As they approached the officer, the man held up his hand.

    #10 fatalrendezvous, Feb 8, 2015
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2015
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  11. A New Beginning
    "Death is the least of your worries"

    Kalhart's eyes snapped open, sweat dripping from her brow. The same dream she always had, had occurred once again. She sat up, rubbed her eyes, and frowned. Where was she? She was in what seemed to be a tent. Then she recalled everything. She was no longer in her icy homeland, but in the harsh desert climate of Kaustir. She noticed no one else was around but her Aux, Arvok. She quickly jumped to her feet, and put on her armor. Arvok swooped down and landed on her shoulder, and she let out a sigh. She was late.

    Kalhart quickly approached the largest tent, and noticed her fellow soldiers were all very silent. One of the soldiers noticed her, and motioned her to come closer. "What have I missed?" She asked in a barely audible whisper. "You missed pretty much everything," he said sternly. "Dammit," she cursed, "Why did no one wake me up?"

    The soldier let out a soft snort, " Since when did you get special treatment? You should've woke yourself up in time."

    Kalhart narrowed her eyes at his comment, but it was true. "Well, will you at least explain to me what is going on?"

    The soldier sighed and began to brief her on what the guard captain had told them. "And we are going to-" The soldier stopped in mid-sentence as another soldier shot him a glare, signaling him to be quiet. "I'll explain more later," he said softly.

    Kalhart clenched her fists, and held her tongue. She was angry, angry for many things, but she would hold it back for now. She was mostly angry at herself for her own stupidity.

    Kalhart forced herself to stand still, her inner self wanting to scream, "Hey, someone please explain to me what is going on!"

    Kalhhart noticed movement up ahead, and she looked back at the soldiers, they were busy whispering amongst themselves now. She then exited the tent. She quickly followed them, at a safe distance, to get a closer look at who they were. She narrowed her eyes, hoping to see them better. She then saw a flash of armor, and realized it was the Guard Captain, Ilsa. She seemed to be escorted by a Kaustiran, judging by the way he dressed. "Interesting...." she said, and continued after them. She made sure to, every chance she had, hide to avoid detection.

    Where were they taking her? Why were they taking her? So many questions ran through Kalhart's mind as she trailed behind them. There was one thing she did know; she would find out why they were taking Ilsa.

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  12. The sleekness that Caoimhe had cultivated over the past months of traveling to where food was plentiful was beginning to fade now. Lean muscle was all that she had to show now, and her eyes and cheeks had become sunken with the stress and worry that ate away at her. The effect was not always so prominent, times when her mind was at ease, like when she would take the dracling far away from camp to let him stretch his wings and spend some time teaching him how to stalk and hunt the insects that leapt between the tall grass. The child loved the sky, he would clamber excitedly at her legs when he saw her stretching her own wings experimentally, practically dancing upon his back legs so that she would lift him up to her shoulders. As he had done on the ground so he did in the air, nestling between his mother's shoulders.

    Still cautious about the wings she had inherited Caoimhe never got very far from the ground and even on her more adventurous days she was careful not to go to fast, least she loose her little passenger. These moments never seemed to last as long as she wished and soon it was back to the cave so that Shardis could go out hunting or patrolling while Caoimhe watched Glyph. The fire itself would probably deter any animals and the Kaustirians were to busy with themselves to be bothered by a few stragglers clinging to their engorged flank. But she didn't trust Glyph to be alone, or perhaps she just didn't want him to be alone. Even though his skin burned she could feel the cold seeping into his very core.

    When she heard the dracling start to hack she felt her heart drop unsure what was wrong. As she watched the orb hissing and spitting in the shallow puddle her eyes widened with recognition. How could this even be, she had heard many times that thermal crystals were extremely hard to make, that as far as everyone knew they only came from one source provided by the Archon. Tenderly she reached out to pick up the crude crystal, careful not to burn herself. Perhaps it was not quite as hot as the refined crystals that filled Pegulis but it pulsed warmly in her hands. For a moment she pushed the implications aside, gently tucking the sphere inside Glyph's coat, but the harder she pushed the swarming thoughts aside the worse they clamored. This prove vital to the frozen cities, and yet, she clutched at her breast where the slip of paper the council had handed her was folded away. They did not want her, those scholars, whose hearts were as frozen as the land, would rather keep her child locked away where they could harvest crystals from it while she would be left out once again. Without a home or even her child the dragon children that had hunted her through the sewers would be rid of her and then turn their attention to her then orphaned child.

    "Fey..gela." The fond name pulled Caoimhe out of her mind and she drew closer to Glyph disappointed to see that his eyes were already clouded over. It was just her and Shardis now, well the child was also here but he and yet to get a voice. Out here they were on their own, cut away from familiar faces, and without Glyph none in their group was so clever with words. They needed allies, but such things are hard to come by. They could not move very far, as on those occasions where she had strayed farther than she should have she would catch whiffs of rot that reminded her that it was the desert army that kept her child same for now. Off in the distance she heard a pack gathering to hunt, singing together before silence would overtake the pack. The familiar voices brought a thought to her mind, and she turned to Shardis.

    "I need to get some friends." She said simply. They might not be an army and Caoimhe might not be completely fluent in common, but, her mind still held the subtlties of the wolf language. Allies is what they needed and allies is what she would get.
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  13. The rumble of a thousand feet.

    The dull roar of the slumbering beast.

    Over the drama of Glyph's curiously accurate portent, and the spies from Pegulis, and the stranded merchants, Kaustir once again prepared to uproot itself. The yurt's closest to the North disappeared in a flurry of white canvas. The smoke and mirrors from extinguished campfires and glinting steel blinded the high flying birds of prey.

    Under the hub-bub, 'Captain Ilsa' was ushered into the Inquisitor's tent.

    "My humble wizard," Lut Sar's voice came slightly muffled through the lacquered Wraith mask. "I have been so eager to hear stories from you that I was unable to hold myself back, so I requested another audience with you."

    Audience? Ilsa pulled her hands free from the pair of Kaustrian guards, who slid back through the tent into the light. "My lord Inquisitor .. I am very busy with my tribe. We are trying to get accustomed to life here .. but it is very different than what we are used to."

    "Of course." Lut Sar paced around Ilsa, hands behind his back. He parted the flaps and peaked outside. "Your plains have been trampled, your decades long rivalry with the pegasi broken. You are in a different world now. We have different uses for your talents."

    "Yes .. your talents with husbandry." The Inquisitor and Ilsa sat down in plain wooden chairs, facing each other. His eyes burned with scholarly enthusiasm behind the mask. "I am burning to learn about your methods arcane. What wizardry allows you to meld animals of such disparity? If we force them to rut in our stables, nothing comes out but the dribble of impotent cum."

    Ilsa rubbed her hands, pushed her lips. "It .. my lord .. it is a sacred rite. An oral tradition. We only pass it through down to each other through stories and song." In a way, she was correct. The Kathram's language hid many meanings, and their secrets were protected through obscurity.

    "Lying filth!" The gloved hand wrathfully slapped Ilsa to the floor, and the Inquisitor towered over her. "I have observed the tribes. They mate their animals only through a special breeder. They use their aux!"

    Her facade on the verge of crumbling, Ilsa rallied. "Inquisitor, please wait! It is true that we use our advents, but they are learned b .. by .. as a coming of age ceremony for the chosen lineage of breeders."

    "Is that so." Lut Sar rubbed his mask, pulling down on the wood with great force, as if trying to yank memories from within. He may have had lackeys like Laverna and the others, but in the end, Lut Sar was the one that trained them all. And Ilsa had fallen into his trap.

    "Unfortunately, only the three Nations ..."

    "Call their koms advents."

    Over Ilsa's interrogation, the collapsed tents coalesced into a sea of soldiers. In a week, they would take the first step forward. To the Black City, where the filth of Sunne laid. No one would miss them, and all would celebrate their deaths.
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  14. Reunited, orange

    "I am to lead these men? The entirety of the second army? Ninety seven."


    "I've never commanded more then a group of ten... let alone an army. Am I up to this task? Ninety eight."


    "NO! Lut chose me for this task for a reason, I have to trust his judgement. I can do this. Ninety nine."


    "One hundred." The man was taken from his thoughts as he completed the final grind. "So... it's finally done." Takeda gave a mild smirk.

    What laid before him was a beautiful refinished black metal sword. For awhile he just looked at the blade, studying it as if it were the first time he had seen a sword. "Alright time to rebind the hilt." he got up from where he was and placed the blade in a wooden vice on the table. The handle was in pretty bad shape. The original red fabric was torn the shreds by the ravages of time, so he stripped them away. In place of the crimson rags Takeda laced the hilt with a fresh deep blue tsuka-ito. "It's time to stop living in the past, and live in the present." he whispered to himself. The katana was given a final polish and placed in its sheath, truly one of the finer works of Kaustiran weaponry.


    A Flex of Power, red
    The next morning came quickly for Takeda, there was much to be done. He quickly made his way to the Second Army camp only stopping to pin his new badge to his armor. Two soldiers greeted the man at the front of the camp with salutes "Officer Shingen what brings you to the Second Army camp?"

    "I must speak with a Sargent by the name of Kallis." he commanded.

    "Of course sir his tent is the third one on the right." one of the soldiers pointed down the main path.

    "As you were." Takeda ordered and left for the tent.

    Kallis was reviewing various supply requests when heard the flap to his tent move behind him "If you're here to complain take a number." he sighed.

    "Still in trouble Sargent?"

    "Hey! You will address me with respect maggot!" he spun around and his eyes went wide.

    "Hello Kallis." Takeda had a grin on his face.

    "Officer Shingen! I I I'm sorry I didn't realize-" Takeda held up his hand.

    "At easy Sargent."

    "Yes of course. If I may what brings you here sir?" Kallis asked hesitantly.

    "Well Sargent it would appear we are going to be moving north, battle is upon us." the swordsman began to slowly walk around the tent. "You, and the other commanding officers, will split the army into three divisions: Carriage fortification, gatherers, and trappers. Transports must be made ready for high winds and freezing temperatures, so you'll need a lot of seal fat. Gatherers will take count of what food the Second Army currently has and replenish it with what wild life we can find. Trappers will take the pelts from the gathers and make them usable, its going to be a cold battle. Do not have anyone stray to far from the camp. Do I make myself clear?" he made his way back in front of Kallis.

    "Yes sir!... But my commanding officers might have a problem with your orders." Kallis explained.

    Takeda pointed to the insignia on his chest "I am your commanding officer." with that the swords master took his leave.
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  15. TITLE
    Looking up from the book in her lap the anthro starred into the distance chewing on her lip. But soon a frown crept up on her brow and she fumbled with her backpack for a moment before fishing up a cylindrical object, covered in ancient texts and ornaments. Screwing on one end until it came off. Eydis moved the other smaller side up towards her left eye. Observing towards the kaustir camp.
    The movement that had caught her attention was of soldiers moving and tents being pulled down. They were preparing to move?
    But where?
    Lowering the monocular the woman studied the branches above her. With a silent nod she tucked the monocular towards her chest and climbed further up till she found a good spot and then picked it up again. However this time she gently pushed at a point along the tube. With a click she extended it and twisted for focus. Observing what movement she could. What she saw was soon clear as day.
    “Shit they are going north” Dammit what was it with her and spotting these things. It was as if one of the old gods where alive spiting her luck with a bunch errands. Next thing she knew they would start calling her storm crow bringer of dark news or something.
    Tucking away the artifact safely into her bag again, the girl fell backwards grabbing another branch and continued down towards the ground in a controlled fall. Doing a check around she then broke into a run and headed towards where the others where last camping. It was likely they had already moved on. So Eydis unbuttoned the front of her jacket. It was warm, the sun was shining and it was going to be quite the distance to run if she wanted to stay ahead of scouts.

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  16. "Thermic gems."

    "Thermic gems."

    "I'm sorry." The elephant anima's voice was thick with phlegm and derision. "I was just trying to confirm that you wanted to pay us in thermic gems."

    "We don't see the problem." The almost purposely hideous Nocturne leaned back in his chair, caressing an aux as large as himself.

    "Well, I do." The domineering Lord of Steel ran his fingers down the metal plates clacking on its trunk. He idly shuffled three chiseled slabs of iron, each one weighing as much as the Nocturne viceroy in front of him, and each one representing a thousand times his weight in iron. The metal itself was acquired by way of a third party deal with Dorgrad, an exchange of foodstuff. "No one wants thermic gems. Pegulis won't be needing them soon, anyways."

    The Nocturne trade vizier responded to the threat in kind. "I hear that the ... Guild has an certain appetite for them nowadays, Lord Steel."

    "Idiotic waleful slop bucket." The elephant slammed a massive padded hand into the table and lifted it away, revealing the splintered Wraith's mask underneath. "Don't think your worms will crawl over the Guild much longer."

    "So. Thermic gems." Gnarled hands pushed a small pouch of them over. They shimmered, lit from inside with the fiery red glow that the facets turned into a rainbow kaleidoscope.

    "I'm expecting payment for the other two shipments." The Lord of Steel slid one massive iron tablet over, took the gems, and departed with the other two iron deeds.

    The Kaustrian soldier was decked in flowing canvas and white khaki. The day was cool and dry in kind, and it reminded him of winters in the desert. In fact, it was quite cold. The one thing that Kaustrians were not used to was the wetness of the soil upon which they trod. In the desert, it was customary to go barefoot. The drying sands kneaded their feet into thick, tough soles. Out in the Chersonese, the moisture wrecked havoc with their feet.

    So it was with serendipitous relief that he found a warm patch of dry ground ... then bent over to find out what could have been heating it. Not a stray coal, but an unfinished thermic gem.
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  17. Ilsa Lisbon — Interrogation
    "Unfortunately, only the three Nations ..."

    "Call their koms advents."

    Ilsa's heart thundered against her rib cage as she was struck to the ground. She tried to remember to breathe, to remember her conditioning. In Aldus, she had trained almost for this exact scenario - the ability to keep her wits amidst the grueling tolls of combat. She had held fast against the golem in Fissura Pass, stood strong against the foul abomination that possessed Arcantos in the caverns. But those scenarios were combat.

    This was not.

    It had taken a lifetime of dedication for her to gain that discipline, to know, understand, and commit to instinct when to breathe, how to breathe, how to relax under immense pressure. Years of work, unraveled in just the first few words she exchanged with Kaustir's High Inquisitor.

    "Th-that is the name we use when conversing with natives of the Nations, Inquisitor! Most who are born and raised in the Nations do not know the koms as we do, and so we call them Advents, as that is what you call them! We do call them koms among ourselves!" Ilsa reached out from her position on the ground, both physically and emotionally. Physically, to show she meant no harm. Emotionally, hoping to whatever remnants of the Old Gods there were or might be, to grant her this chance.

    If only she could have seen Lut's smile, hidden behind the facade of his Inquisitor's mask. Where Ilsa had reached, she would find nothing but the greater depths of the trap she had become entangled in.

    "No one calls them koms." The expression hidden behind the mask quickly faded from one of smug humor to one of bitter contempt. "Who are you?"

    Without giving an opportunity to answer, Lut coiled his leg back and drove the tip of his boot into Ilsa's stomach, eliciting a silent pained cry from the guard captain as the air was forced from her lungs. Bare hands grasped at the grass and mud around her as she crawled, attempting to scramble to relative safety. Away. That was all she cared about. If he did it again, she needed to be ready - anywhere but the stomach.

    But for a moment, Lut relented. He saw something Laverna or the other Inquisitors he trained might have missed. The subtle twist of Ilsa's belly away from his boot, the same boot he stepped forward with as he closed the distance, gave away what he needed to know.

    "We-- We are nomads, Inquisitor-- we live off the lands!"

    The back of Lut's gauntlet collided against Ilsa's face with sickening speed. As Ilsa fell, again Lut coiled one leg back and delivered a fierce kick to her stomach. "Lies!" His voice crackled like electricity, drowning out Ilsa's pained wail. "Who are you? Why are you here?" Again, he kicked.

    And again.

    Ilsa clawed along the ground, attempting futilely to escape. Mud caked her face, parted by streaks where the tears had already begun to roll down her cheeks.


    Lut kicked again. He was shouting now, but Ilsa could not hear over the ringing in her ears. A dread built within, not for her own safety, but for her unborn child. She was too weak, and in too much pain to continue to struggle. But ever relentless, Lut continued. Ilsa had lost count of the number of blows she had endured as she struggled in vain to protect her house of cards.

    Vrein, please forgive me...

    But eventually, she knew. Where she had felt life before, now was empty space.

    She had been broken.

    And she would tell Lut everything he needed to know.
    #17 fatalrendezvous, Feb 13, 2015
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2015
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  18. At Dusk...

    Kerrick had not returned, although Amalia was feeling oddly calm. The healer and Rakar sat in her tent, silent as the stars above them. In front of the tent flap crackled a small fire, its red glow illuminating their living space. A small kettle bubbled and whistled; Amalia removed it, emptied its contents into odd shaped clay cups filled with dried herbs, and set the kettle on a piece of flat stone.

    Both of them bore the bruises and aches of the day. Amalia's charcoal colored hair was plastered against her face and Rakar's scales shone like obsidian. The day was spent training, hardening their bodies for the fight that was to come. They were also heavily fed, as everything they ate contained enormous amounts of fat and protein. If they were going north, their bodies had to be prepared for the cold, especially Rakar.

    The draken flared his nostrils as the smell from the cups wafted through their tent. "What is that?"

    "Tea. I bought it from one of the merchants. It's meant to settle our stomachs and relax our muscles."

    As Amalia sipped, an uncomfortable silence settled between them. Rakar's and Coros' eyes narrowed into slits.

    "We need to discuss what happened to your Aux."

    "And if I don't wish to talk about it?"

    "Then I will continue to broach the subject."

    Steam wrapped around Amalia's tanned face, obscuring her eyes. She wanted to avoid this, and hoped that the addition of Kerrick would buffer any questions and confrontations. But since the Pegulian had run off Amalia had no choice. And it was unsettling, having to listen to the raspy, deep voice that was Rakar. She swallowed the scalding liquid in one gulp, hoping it would burn away her anxieties, fears, and frustrations.

    "... You wish to know about what happened in the fire pits?"

    "I have since I returned."

    She exhaled in a shuddering breath. "I am... Not sure what happened. I remember being bathed in fire, in lava. It scorched away my insecurities, turned my sentiments into ash. The flames gave me purpose. My ambitions are clear, and the path to obtaining my goals has been revealed to me. The moment I touched that mask I was... Changed. Transformed." Amalia looked vulnerable again, elbows tucked close to her body, head tilted down to her cup. "Will that answer suffice?"

    "No. It will not. One does not simply change so drastically in an instant like that. There is something more to it. The woman who came out of that pit was not the same woman that went into it... "

    "I am scarred, Rakar. It is the simplest way I can put it. It doesn't show on my Crux, but Matil took the beating and bares the scars. I will never return to normal."

    He grasped her shoulder with his clawed hand, and forced her to face him. The draken looked like a shadow, or perhaps a nightmare come to life. The cup of tea dropped, shattered upon the hard, dirt ground. Amalia's hand instinctively flew to her sword, and drew up inches of sharpened steel.

    "Don't touch me," she hissed. "Not like that, never like that."

    But the draken didn't withdraw, instead he relaxed his hold. Amber eyes grew soft and his voice was repentent."... Is there something of the real you in there? Of Amalia the healer?"

    The woman held her quivering chin up. "Amalia did not die in the fire pits. Amalia was reborn."

    He sighed heavily and leaned back, still eyeing her. "Then you will have to prove to me why this 'new' Amalia is worth my time. I pledged myself to the one who I believed could truly make a difference. The sight of your Aux alone is enough make me question if that person is still you."

    Believe me, I have my own doubts about myself.

    "Matil will heal, in time." She slid her sword back into its sheath, and gathered the bits of clay shards into a pile. "In regarding the situation in Kaustir... I will be meeting the merchants sometime in the near future to negotiate a deal. You're coming with me."

    He leaned back, tail coiling and uncoiling. "What for?"

    She fought back her grin. "We need public support."

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  19. Ilsa Lisbon — Interrogation
    The rest of the Pegulians would be routed out and tossed into confinement, held as prisoners of war.

    They belonged to Kaustir now.

    Only one still on the inside might have been safe - the huntress Kalhart had separated from the group when she split off to follow Ilsa to her interrogation and could have avoided capture.

    After Ilsa's confessions, Lut Sar ordered the field medics in immediately. Their gentle care was disconcerting, even towards someone they now knew was a saboteur. Ilsa was in no condition to ponder or argue; her wounds were dressed, her cuts bandaged. But her child -- the medics could do nothing.


    When they had finished caring for her, Ilsa was stripped of her clothes and bound to wooden planks, hoisted up above the camp on display for all who might doubt the ruthlessness of Kaustir.

    There, Ilsa went without food, without appropriate rest. The only thing she had in bountiful amounts was shame.

    Shame for having led dozens of Aldeans to their deaths on the trek to Barvelle.

    For losing her love, Callen. And then, for losing Vrein by letting him separate.

    For not being able to save her daughter's life. For not being able to keep her promise to Karissa to come home.

    Shame, for being helpless to save her city from the Mad Sage's grip.

    Or to protect it from the arcane storm.

    Or to help it deal with the Avian refugees from the Aviary.

    For losing her position as Guard Captain.

    For losing the only hope at a child she had left.​

    And so Ilsa hung from the cross, too many times broken. She wanted to be strong; she wanted to believe, as she always did, that things would turn out for the best. Her journey had been misery upon misery, but always she could muster the courage to hope.

    Her head was heavy, her wrists already beginning to wear raw from the ropes. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the Pegulians being led, hands tied, single file from their tent.

    Now, Ilsa could add sending a military operation into a deathtrap to her list of failures. They compounded, each one a greater blow to her morale than the last.

    For the first time in her life, Ilsa failed to see hope.
    #19 fatalrendezvous, Feb 15, 2015
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2015
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  20. Dilemma

    Okay so making that stop was a bad idea. The camp was preparing to move and the patrols had changed behaviour and which in turn forced her closer to the tree line towards the camp.
    Sitting down hidden under the brush near a tree, Eydis listened for anything beyond the bustling noise of the camp. If it hadn’t been for the clear signs of them rushing to move out, she would have waited for nightfall but now.
    The Anthro girl checked her bolts and knifes. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that, the patrols where large consisting of up to seven or eight per group.
    She stood little chance against those numbers without a proper bow instead of her current equipment. The girl sighed and turned to look towards the camp trough the foliage but saw little given her no other option but to continue her movement forward. Well aware she needed a better look at their perimeter before trying something as risky as moving along the tree line.
    What awaited her there however was something that caused a great dilemma.
    Kneeling down near a fallen tree she brought up her monocular getting a closer look.
    Eydis knuckles turned white as she clenched her hands around the artifact.
    The woman was tied up on a cross crucified on naked display for all to see. Her worn blond hair making the guess easer for Eydis on who it was. And along that what looked like bruises and some wounds.
    The girl figured the beating must have been brutal.
    Sliding down with her back towards the trunk of the tree. The female ranger cursed under her breath and after a moment rammed her heel into the ground, kicking the dirt before getting up again.
    She was going to have to ruin her cloak to make it blend with the forest to even have the sniff of a chance to get close. But first she needed to get into a better position overlooking the site where the cross was. If she found the guy that did this barbaric act. She glared with hatred towards the camp before she disappeared into surrounding vegetation.

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