Pegulis, Chapter 9

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  1. Chapter 9

    The windfish moved as a coherent school. They were packed together into a black anvil that serenely floated north from the charred remains of the Black City. At times, they descended in small groups to engorge themselves on the black oil. Where a murder of crows or a wake of buzzards would have been heard for days, the blimps moved with complete silence that made them inscrutable. Where a soothsayer could tell omens from the shape of the calls, the school of windfish opened their bellies on silent command, dousing swathes of boreal forest in black fire.

    The ash-heavy smoke reluctantly rose. Stoked and stirred by the roaring flames, the windfish were enveloped and moved in a solid black thundercloud. The cloud folded over itself, like the thickest ink in water, and white lighting stormed many mirages. Anyone who could peer at the Czar's engines of war, as far as the horizon, saw a mixture of portents.


    Otherwordly. Avian gods who flew too close to the sun and burnt all their feathers.


    A charging herd of destruction.​

    The situation inside the windfishes was deplorable. The smoke from the fires fouled everything; gears, joints, masks, and lungs. Inside one of them, General Kirtin sat at a viewport, an orderly continuously scrubbing the glass clean. His fur was the colour of soot.

    "How is the railroad progressing?"

    "Delayed, General. Clear cutting the burnt forest and leveling the terrain has proven difficult."

    "That is laziness. Bring up more kresnik, and bring up more furs." Kirtin squinted past the viewport into the smoke and saw nothing. "Who is commanding the 2nd Group detachment?"


    "Make sure he understands the urgency of the matter. Wait."

    The desertrat turned at the bulkhead.

    "How are the men faring?"

    "Well, General. Spirits are high."

    "Good. Press on."

    The Czar's vanguard slowly marched in the shadow of the windfish. So thick was the cloud of leather and canvas above them that a permanent frost followed them, even on the brightest of days. The desertrats shivered and pulled their furs tighter. Those that succumbed were left behind, or fed to the scarabs - they would be useless in Pegulis. The cold had been especially cruel to the Nocturnes. They sat around their pots of boiling blood, drinking the browned, congealing slop for warmth.

    The long line of black clouds marked the progress of Kaustir's vanguard, and it was here, in front of the tog ' qal'a, the mountain fort, that they halted. Thunder shook the stones of the fort, and a single windfish alighted on the ground, disgorging a small group.

    In front of them, the pile of stone and masonry rose in the col chersonese, a narrow dip between the east-west Kaikas mountain range, formed as if a giant had kicked a hole through the mountains. It was silent, and no fires showed from the guardhouses, as if the people inside were pretending to be away.

    "Hail them."

    A desertrat turned, metal armour screeching in the cold, and sparked an incandescent flare. In response, a light blipped from the alighted windfish, and moments later a cannonball whistled past them, careening into the fortress ... and harmlessly passed through a turret, conjured by the faint shimmer of a mass mirage spell. If that shocked any of them, they certainly showed nothing as they waited for the fortress to respond.
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    Michel positioned the hammer and chisel above the Libras Sphere. It vibrated in seven unique ways, the eighth of which was a false pattern. If he did not crack it precisely, Libra's essence would be lost forever. Inside Arktus saw all of knowledge, Michel saw the solution to every puzzle, and Helena saw omnipotence.

    The crack indeed traveled the way they planned, and an array of stone rings flew up to capture the essence before it could dissipate. Arktus broke the silence.


    "Have either you two seen Ethelwen?"

    "...?" Helena gave Arktus this particular look, the kind of look one looks when an irrelevant question is asked in the face of matters of grave urgency.

    "You see .. I've had my concerns about him .. he seems to have been disturbed while recovering. Something visited him when he was alone." Arktus pursed his lips. "And there is also the small matter of his skin."


    "Skin." Arktus extended a finger to Libra's Essence, and nearly lost it to Helena's dagger.

    "We agreed. It shall remain untouched, on penalty of death."

    "So it shall." The Calm Sage sheathed his hands into the safety of his robes. "Then remind me why you convinced Michel to open its original container then."

    "It was corroded. If we left it like that, the essence would have gradually leaked away."

    "Transmuting essence ... " Arktus sprinkled rust into the yellow mote and out fell microscopic slivers of iron and a blue flame. He pushed a small rod of metal and a flower came out the other side. A piece of bread turned into a small chunk of wood. Quicksilver turned into a shiny, heavy yellow metal.

    "Stop." Helena pulled the Calm Sage back just as he was about to insert a bone.

    "Simply amazing." Arktus paced around the table in agitation. "Do you see this, Michel? Do you see this?"

    "That it transmutes things?"

    "Yes," the Calm Sage pushed on, impatiently, "that's the obvious part. But how does it do it, Michel?"


    "Magic has rules, Michel!" (I wish he would stop saying Michel at the end of every sentence.) "There are rules to everything. Rules to magic, rules of reality, rules of this world." Libra's Essence reflected in his eyes as he stooped to peer into it. "What kind of rules are working inside here? What did Libra do to find out the axioms that underlie all of magic? I have studied every single text since I could read, and have come no closer to finding out the truth, only recipes upon recipes."

    "What miracle dwells inside this machine?"
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  3. The Real Thing

    Inigo had once considered himself a hardened man. Buying, selling, trading. It had all once been his battlefield, and the balancing of his business and family life his own personal war. How naive he had been, when faced with the loss of both, to think that life as a desertrat could be a simple means to an end. Even now, as he tugged at his cape and his cheeks lightly stung with the cold touch of Pegulian air, could he feel the memory of heat pulsating from the Black City, forcibly etching it’s crumbling remnants into Inigo’s eyes as he watched it burn. He’d desperately clutched at his waist pouch in the aftermath, finding some sort of comfort in its contents; His aux, for a change, had remained still and silent, reverently resigned to its leather home.

    For the first time, it appeared, Inigo Criracan, the man, looked about himself as the army marched, seemingly dragging him with it. A black river passing by.
    He saw death all around him. He carried it, the whole marching army did. Whether they would receive it or hand it out was soon to be seen. Each individual in wait. It was like looking upon the plague yet again, or at least if felt like it. Then again, despite the loss of life, the Black City had been a victory. The army’s high spirits were clear even in the face of what lay ahead, the biting cold a simple reminder of it.
    Inigo, on the other hand, mourned. It was himself he mourned for. He was dying. The man he knew himself to be had been poisoned the moment he’d been exposed to the cruel reality of this war, and though he felt the poison of it spreading, he knew it was something he must take on.

    For the second time, Inigo Criracan, the soldier, looked about himself as the army marched and he matched his pace to it. This was no time for a Kaustrian soldier under the Czar’s rule to mourn, especially not one with something to prove.

    There had been no Officer York to return to, so Inigo had kept in tune with the last reassignment Colonel Waverly had appointed him to. A mere desertrat was interchangeable, though he’d done well enough beyond his post. For now he stood among the vanguard, he'd remained with it without much thought, unease building up within him as he settled for what was to come.
    The whistle of a lone cannonball roused his aux, just as the stern mercenary reached for the hilt of his sword, gently resting his unwavering hand upon it.

    “Soldier Criracan,” gravely uttered the glass scorpion as it made its way up Inigo’s torso, taking its usual place at the man’s right shoulder. “Don’t get yourself killed,” Ral moved as if ready to sting the soldier’s beard in an uncharacteristically playful manner, “not now that you’ve truly become a man.”

    “I kno-”

    “As prized-beetle-dung-collection as this has turned out to be, it is what it is. You don’t need no corny sentimentalism. We can work on getting that back when it’s all said and done.”

    A grim smile was the soldier’s simple reply. That and his determined glare upon the Kaikas mountain pass.

    #3 Mglo, May 14, 2015
    Last edited: May 15, 2015
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  4. @Red Velvet
    Aldus - A Hard Lesson
    “Come in”
    Viule paused just as he reached for the door handle. He took a small breath and let it out as his cold dead fish eyes fixated on the center of the entrance-way. He was servitude incarnate, not even a shadow of himself. He opened the door in a lifelessly precise way and entered just the same. The door not fully closed behind him whilst he rigidly stood before it facing the room’s only occupant, Nuria Envati. With both hands behind him he tilted his head down and to the side in silent greeting as was Turin of Belfast’s preferred uninterrupted manner.
    “Good day,” he spoke softly though his appearance had nothing of the sort, “my lord Belfast has relieved me of my usual duties. I have been given permission to report to you lady Nuria Evati and place myself under your services.”

    Leaning back into her chair, the ambassador regarded Viule with an apprehensive stare "Alright, you are telling me you wish to be useful. What skills can you use to benefit me in helping to rebuild and make your city a safe place, Viule?"

    Viule’s usual lifeless composure faltered as he considered the Avian’s words. To his surprise, his immediate thoughts had been in relation to his skills of a previous life. Quickly, he found composure in his new habit of looking down subserviently, and carefully considered his steward persona’s reply. “I am a tool of timely organization. I can promise furtive action if that kind of imperceptible service is what you desire. My lord Belfast dislikes interruptions you see, or distractions of any kind. Part of my job was to be and make unimportant others invisible to him,” he droned on monotonously only now pausing as he considered where the descriptions of himself where leading.
    “My nocturne needs are of no concern, they won’t serve to my detriment” he added both in desire to veer away, and to excuse himself for what he was, “use me as you will.”

    Maintaining a masked smile, the avian already found him annoying "I'm perfectly capable of getting rid of distractions Viule. You have only said how you can help me, not this city," she took the chance to fully observe Viule's benign body language "I will decide what is my concern and if I am to take you under assistance I will be taking all of them into account. I will ask again, what skills do you have to help me in my cause?"

    For the first time the steward’s dead eyes shone with a bit of life; It was confusion that brought it on. The avian was right, what could he do to help the city? The woman could have physically slapped him and it wouldn’t have had half the effect her words now had. That was his answer. He was still just a mindless servant. He didn’t make any difference at all. Same person, different job. Viule took a deep breath and his steward persona stammered, “I’m,” he began but briefly paused as he realized he couldn’t think of a proper line, “not… sure.” Honesty. It tasted foreign and uncomfortably wrong. “All I’ve ever known is how to blend into the background and… but I’m a fast learner lady Nuria, and can stretch my time without blood beyond most Nocturnes so that I may work at it longer.” It hurt Viule’s ego to listen to himself. For all his claims of being a good tool, he sure sounded rather useless.

    "I don't have time to play teacher Viule," she remarked, watching the servant's reaction to her remark with amusement "Go off and think about what you can do for me. In order to serve you must know what you can do to serve." she paused, allowing a moment for her words to sink in "If that is everything, come back later when you have it figured out. Until then, you are dismissed."

    Viule could do nothing more than give a curt nod and walk out of that house in repressed rage. It had taken three blocks for him to finally notice the commotion. The streets were filled with murmuring people, panicking and pointing to the sky. Something was massively burning in the distance.


    Viule sat on a tilted wooden fence, watching the surroundings of the elk farm. With nowhere to go a few days ago, he’d ended up here, at his blood suppliers' home. The old couple had been very nice, despite their obvious weariness towards the Nocturne. It was even more pronounced after news had spread about the Kaustir attack on the Black City, as Kaustir’s use of nocturnes in battle was no secret. Suddenly Viule’s reputation under Turin now meant little to most.
    Whatever.It didn’t matter to him now he’d made up his mind.
    #4 Mglo, May 15, 2015
    Last edited: May 15, 2015
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  5. It had been a long and lonely journey. Shardis never thought she would have admitted it, but she missed the little tyke nipping her toes. When she had left Pegulis, what seemed like ages ago, the snow leopard anima never would have dreamed she would return in such a way. Frankly Shar never thought she was coming back at all, let alone by her self. She was a failure in her mind, Shardis had lost the dracling and Caoi, well, actually Caoimhe had taken her baby and disappeared one day while Shardis slept. The cat woman had known it was coming and even though it hurt, she somehow knew why. Simply put, their paths lay in different directions.

    A sigh escaped her lips as she looked upon the dawn of a new day on the top of a ridge as she shouldered her pack, filled her canteen and ate the last bite of a freshly caught rabbit. Holing up in a cave or tree during the day and sleeping, then traveling quickly at night, Shardis was amazed at how fast the miles went, at least until she came over the mountains lying closer to the south end of lake Kaikas. What was once a quiet area of wild game and sparse travelers moving about mountain paths was now ripe with encampments of what she guessed was Kaustir soldiers. She had circled wide around the west side of the lake in the shelter of rocky terrain after asking her aux to do a high level aerial search for a good path void of soldiers. It was easy for her to avoid humans and the like this way.

    She had taken the time to remove her ear rings for the simple purpose of stealth, she would wear them once again when she was safely in Barvelle, the last place she had seen Medwick. Tucking them away in her belt pouch she stood up taking in the view of snow covered mountains all around her, the ice cold lake in the distance to her right and a sky full of twinkling stars. Shar breathed in the crisp clear air in a slow single breath. Home... it did feel good, although something was missing and she assumed, for the time being, it was being with her friends. Her ears twitched then flattened as the lack of jingling from her rings felt odd, just like the pit of her stomach.

    Then with a shrug she was off in leaps and bounds, keeping her balance with her long large tail, like a rudder to a ship. Stopping every so often to get her bearings from Tandra, her aux, and the surroundings. Shar refused to let her mind wander during these times, she had seen people caught unawares because of it and when you were alone in the wild you never let your guard down, it was instant death for anyone.

    It wasn't a matter of not having emotions as Medwick had often accused her of, but rather putting them on the back of the fire, so to speak. Often he would egg her on to get a reaction from her. This had lead to her getting revenge in subtle but irksome ways, like too much salt in his ration cakes or thistles in his socks. Although, admittedly she hadn't pranked him in several years, even though she had been tempted many times before they had parted ways.

    The path Shardis had set for herself was going to be a long hard one, but she was use to enduring hardships. She had always done so to some degree, what with being the daughter of a great explorer and anthropologist team. Then her life with her adopted brother Medwick, living in tents, and traveling in harsh weather and dealing with locals of all sorts had given her a leg up on her life with Caoimhe and the dracling and now was essential in her life alone in the wilds.

    Yes, Shardis had come a looong way in many ways. She was her own woman now and could depend on herself for her survival. Well, just as long as there weren't too many people in the mix anyways. Politics was her greatest downfall, she just didn't understand its workings and every time she thought she had it figured out, it slipped away again into confusion. There were no political gains to be found here in the wild though. So for now, at least, she could breath freely.
    #5 lynzy, May 18, 2015
    Last edited: May 18, 2015
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    The echoed laughter of the Ghoul Sage seemed to warp and stretch through the stone passageways until it was barely recognizable as anything but the rumble of the ground itself. At first the small group rushed forward under Ethelwen's insistence, driven on by the anima's fear that the noise would fade and they would once more be left to wander unknowingly through the deep passageway. But both the tunnels and the noise stretched on and on, echoing and reverberating, resonating and rumbling, lasting so long that the inevitable silence that followed it seemed more unnatural than the laughter itself.

    As the laughter faded, so too did the burst of energy granted to the small group flag, and they slowed back to a slow forward crawl. The belief that they might finally reach a destination had drowned out the exhaustion and starvation that weighed on their bones, but the realization that it had been nothing but a false hope was almost worse than the endless tunnels. They seemed to become more weary than the brief bout of motion should have caused.

    But the sound of the Ghoul Sage had granted them something. Up until that moment they had been traveling through caverns gently carved by the slow hand of water and time, but now the caverns seemed to become as warped as the laughter they had just heard. The path under their feet smoothed, becoming more easy to travel as though worn away by the tread of thousands of feet over centuries, but everything else seemed gripped by chaos. The rock wall pushed out into strange, shelf-like protrusions, before being carved into ribbons by tear-like tracts. When Orphanim's wing accidentally brushed one the thing exploded, sending knife sheep showers of fragments down around them. No one escaped without a cut. They dared not step off the path, for fear of what the strange, upheaved, powdery looking ground would do to them. They stopped when they found a wider spot in the path, wanting to rest for a few hours before they continued on, and not trusting that there would be another wide spot anywhere near.

    When they continued on, the caverns seemed to mock their efforts. The narrow path twisted and turned, flaunting their attempts to progress forward by taking them on ever growing detours. Yet the things around which they detoured defied rational explanation, even from a scholar like Medwick. Mounds heaved from the ground, sending a glowing, viscous, orange fluid up towards the ceiling, where it would cling to the corrugated rock before vanishing into small holes. At random points the same substance, now a vitriolic green, would dump back down to the ground, creating a glowing pool that would slowly evaporate, filling the air with a dense fog.

    The group had finally stopped fighting each other. There was no telling whether the peace arose from the fact that they now had a common goal of surviving the mutating caverns, or if the lack of food had finally created such a deep level of exhaustion that even Medwick could not muster the will to be argumentative. Whatever the cause, there was nothing left but the slow forward march and the sound of their own hoarse breathing. Amara's clothes hung off her frame loosely, and Ophanim let his wings hang limply behind him, the effort required to keep them neatly folded seemingly no longer within his thin form. Art no longer walked upright, but instead shuffled forward hunchbacked. Even Medwick was bent as though the weight of his near-empty pack was too much to bear.

    Only Ethelwen seemed little changed from the time they had all first met, as his body called upon the energy reserves he had stored in case he found himself in a situation where he needed to change his shape unexpectedly. He had stopped eating from the groups dwindling food bag as soon as it became obvious that they were on a limited and rapidly vanishing supply. He had instead carefully slipped away each evening before bed, when the rest of the group had already settled in, and one or two had occasionally fallen asleep. He then used his advent to transform some of the stone into a thick, energy rich paste he had developed back when he had first been learning the toll it took on his body to change form. It was a sticky, smelly substance, abhorrent to the tongue but rich in energy and nutrients. No matter its taste, it kept his body fully functioning. When they had entered the caverns of the Ghoul Sage his caution had only grown, and many nights he went without.

    His reluctance to share with the other four was not borne from a desire to watch them starve, but rather came from a fear of what Medwick might garner about him from watching his advent on repeated occasions. He did not remember that Arktus had already discovered his secret, but even if he had he would have maintained the secrecy, so ingrained was his fear of discovery.

    After an unmeasurable amount of time they finally succeeded in crossing the cavern. On the other side the way was narrow, but no less hostile. Strange, moving tendrils, as black as the abyss sprung from the wall, waving lazily as though underwater. The ground underfoot became soggy, even though there was no sign of water. It felt as though they were walking along the back of some giant worm, as its uncountable number of offspring grabbed at them from the sides. When they finally reached the end of that there was a pit, seemingly bottomless, but filled to the brim with tiny, glowing lights. They had to cross over it on a narrow path no wider than the breath of their feet, chests pressed tightly against the wall and fingers scrabbling for faint purchase as the little lights brushed up against them, sending shocks of electricity through their bodies. After that they entered into a string of narrow, winding tunnels, safer than all the rest at first glance but intersecting at countless points. It seemed a maze they would never escape.

    When it came time Medwick handed out the last stale traveler's cake with some reluctance, but trying to save it longer would serve no purpose. There was no point starving with food still in the pack, no matter how pitiful. In a final, futile gesture, almost as though in apology for dragging them into this mess, Medwick broke the cake into quarters, handing out all four pieces. Ethelwen took his limply, before offering it to Amara. When she refused to take it he set it down, before standing and walking away. None of them had the energy to follow. Within a couple minutes he had rounded the corner and vanished from sight.

    The anima came back into view just over a minute later, his paws filled with goop. He set it down carefully, before offering it to the group for their consumption. In order to demonstrate it was comestible he took a small handful for himself, eating it blandly.

    "What is it?" Amara asked, wrinkling her nose.

    Ethelwen shook his head. "You don't want to know."

    Medwick looked suspicious. "I don't care what it is. Where did you get it?"

    "My advent."

    There was a moment of flabbergasted silence before Medwick burst out "And you are only sharing it now!?"

    Ethelwen shrugged, his ears folding back. "Once you try it, you'll understand why I waited until I knew it was absolutely necessary. I guess after you spend too much time in the sewers..." he left it at that. Medwick still seemed furious, but the anger soon abated as the strange paste filled his stomach. It gave no true satisfaction, but after a short nap the group would awake to find that the gnawing hole of their stomachs had abated into something almost tolerable. This gave the rest of the group the energy to berate Ethelwen at length for not sharing the paste sooner. The anima ducked his head and silently rode out their abuse, ears pressed tight against his head and tail tucked close.

    The deeper they got, the slower they had to move. The already strange caverns grew even more alarming, but it almost seemed that they had become numb to it. As long as they were given a path to follow they followed it, whatever tried to get in their way. They were so far beyond the point of no return that there was no point in even looking backwards. When their water skins emptied Ethelwen used his advent to refill them. With their basic needs met some of their energy returned, and they marched ever deeper. These caverns had to lead to somewhere.

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  7. Mason was pacing along the south side of the wall and looking onto the field which led into the Chersonese plain. A soft rubbing sound that was scarcely heard above the wind came from his right hand. A soft lake stone rested in his palm and his thumb idly and perfectly worked back and forth wearing down the surface. This stone was obviously old because every edge had been smoothed into a gentle curve. Mason thumbed the stone and thought about the future. He knew from the scouting reports that in a day or two the massive cloud which signified the vanguard of Kaustir’s massive army would be on his doorstep. He closed his eyes for a moment and looked down at the dusting of snow. In a few days, they would water the soil with blood. In a week, no one would be able to tell. A sigh pushed itself lazily through his chapped lips but as the last air escaped, the Colonel had a brilliant way to implement some of the ideas his council had given.
    Immediately, he turned and motioned for the soldier standing near the gate. The young woman was dressed in the ragtag armor of the newly formed army of Pegulis. This was not to say that the armor wasn’t sound but merely it was mismatched. The multiple tones of blue undergarments were covered by varying pieces of plate and chain as well as some random straps of leather used to hold it all together. She was obviously cold as held by the blue tint in her lips but the resolve on her face spoke volumes. “Yes, Colonel?” Her left boot clicked against the heel of her right as she brought herself to attention.

    Mason moved towards her with a bit of a grin on his face. He had spent months; no, years coming up with ways to punish those desert bastards and now he was going to get his chance. “Soldier, bring me the engineers and inform them to bring their toys. Also, round up the shield mage and have him report to me as well.” He nodded his head and the girl was gone to perform her duties. Mason spun on his heel and marched a few more feet out into the plain. Mabari got up from her spot in the singular sunbeam and moved over to stand next to him. Her massive frame placed her back above his waist. The colonel allowed his hand to rest upon her soft mane and dug his fingers into her fur. The animal pressed against her counterpart as the wind whipped flurries around the warm bodies.

    After some time, there was a small crowd gathering in front of the gatehouse. They had no fear of being spotted for the mirage projected an image of the gatehouse half a mile into the plain. Mason was giving orders and commending his ‘think tank’ on their brilliance. If the Colonel was being honest, he would say that a quarter of these tricks might not even work but the mage assured him the trigger process would be flawless.

    “My lord, the snow will not be an issue.” The mage was furiously scribbling something on a piece of parchment to illustrate his method.

    Mason held up his free hand to silence the man’s plea. “No need for the drawing, Lethiah.” The Colonel was rolling the makeshift mine around his right hand eyeing the contraption. “Mr. Sovechkin assures me he can tie them all together.” Mason lifted his gaze to a tiny man with worn fingers and a penetrating gaze. It was as if he could disassemble everything [even a person] just by looking at them.

    “Without a doubt, Colonel, the chances of success are relatively high.” He spoke very quickly and occasionally it was under his breath. “Ifthemagecandeliverasuccessfuldetonation.”

    Mason looked away to see a soldier running full speed at them. “Colonel! Colonel!” The young man fell in the deep snow but quickly recovered. Mason had moved through the small group to help the man to his feet.

    “Slow down, son. What’s so urgent?”

    “The men from Tavark have arrived…” A smile spread across the exhausted man’s face. “Hundreds of them.”


    Mason moved among the ranks of hunters and warriors from Tavark. These were real fighters. Each one looked seasoned for battle from scars to missing digits and leathery skin as opposed to the nubile flesh which encompassed those around the Colonel. Mason stopped by a wagon and his eyes lit up like the sun reflecting off of Lake Kaikas. “How many of these did you bring?”

    An older man with one arm walked around Mason and leaned against the sides of the wagon. “We got nine wagons loaded up.” He extended his one hand to Mason and clasped him in a firm grip of greeting. “Viktor Rankhaus, Wagon Master.”

    Mason smiled and returned the grip. “Colonel Mason Kavactian, your horde is certainly a welcomed sight. Wagon Master Rankhaus, direct these to the gatehouse and onto the plain. I have several teams already delegated to burying mines. Have them scatter these about within the designated zones as well on my order.” With that, the commander released himself from the burly man and moved about to find the leader of the militia. There was strategy to discuss.


    Night fell. It was brutal. Wind gusts far out of season blew down from the mountains and brought snow and ice literally shredding the tent city. The youthful force and civilians had become accustomed to such nights but it didn’t make passing the hours any easier. The force from Tavark hunkered down in makeshift shelters and seemed to be fairing alright but it’s not like they did a lot of talking.

    All of the work put in for the day concerning burying mines and hiding traps was now buried beneath several inches of snow. As the wind howled and the snowflakes flew, Mason sat in his bed with his fingers interlaced underneath his skull and smiled. It was as if the mountains were forcing the weather to help the tiny force occupying the wall.

    Suddenly, a sharp gust of cold blew into Mason’s tent as the flap was thrown back and his squire tumbled into view. “Colonel!” The voice was a hushed whisper though the commander believed it was in part due to the season. “Colonel! Kaustir will be here by morning.” He ran up to the bed and knelt down next to it. He shoved a curled up piece of parchment to his liege. Mason took the paper and lifted it up. He could not read it in the dark and tucked it between his fingers. He fidgeted for a moment and then lit a candle. He unfurled the report and read it.

    Kaustir force eminent. Arrival by sunrise. Cannons. Ten thousand men. Flying beasts. Advise second initiative.

    Mason crumpled the paper and sent it aflame. After it had mostly burned, he tossed it onto the ground and got up from his bed allowing his boot to stifle the fire. He quickly set about getting his armor around and dressing himself for battle. He looked over his shoulder as he strapped on his gauntlets. “Wake everyone.”


    Mason stood atop the gatehouse as the army moved into view. He had never dreamed such a machine of war existed. The chill running up his spine was from the thought that this; the force marching to his doorstep, was just the tip of the spear. The cannons he could see seemed small fodder but could prove troublesome should the battle survive into the late of day. The men seemed hardened but they were chilled to the bone without a doubt. Mason set aside his looking glass and passed it to his second. “Send word to-“

    A strange noise, a muffled boom echoed and was followed by an even odder sound like a whizz or whine. The sound announced a cannonball. It thudded into the snow and rolled with a decreasing rate of speed until it clunked harmlessly against the wall southwest of the gatehouse. Mason narrowed his eyes and huffed. “Stay here.” With that he disappeared to the stairwell which was narrow and treacherous. He emerged out of a tiny door which was well hidden and a cinch to lock. He filed around and stood before the massive wooden doors of the gate. He held his arms up wide, a stark outline against a bleak backdrop. It was as if the world was black and white and the Colonel was the only color to be seen. He stared in wonder at his gate. He knew the cannonball’s arrival meant the end of the mirage. He then turned and began to bellow to the invaders.

    “We have a door, you know.” He paced back and forth before the gate. “It has a rather large ring made of iron. You can use it” he hopped over to it and lifted it from the wood then let it fall making a crack, “like this to ask for entrance. There’s no need for cannon fire!” He stalked like a true predator several more feet towards his visitors. “Send your emissaries! We have tea and biscuits inside!”
    #7 WarriorHeart, May 21, 2015
    Last edited: May 22, 2015
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  8. Barvelle Cavarns Amara stayed silent. She didn't take part in harrassing Ethelwen as she knew what is was like to keep an advent from others and could even emphathize with him, but she didn't speak up against it either. She simply choose to stay to herself, pulling the fur coat tighter around her slim figure; once roped with muscle, now nothing more than skin and bone. She shivered. The others didn't seem all that cold, not even Medwick who had been sleaked with cold sweat since they had began their journey together, so why was it she was trembling under her thick layers? She shook her hand and continued her stubborn effort to find some sort of trace of life. Medwick claimed there were people squatting down here. How were they surviving? Canabolism? How did they traverse the mountain?

    "We were dying!" Art complained for the hundreth time. "And you just watched while you kept healthy. I bet you were laughing at us too, silently mocking our efforts to keep living. I bet you were counting on us to fail. All this time you had that stuff and yet you continued to wait! We could all be dead, our corpses rotting somewhere down in this forsakened mountain and you would just be skipping along going on your marry way. I bet you and the ghoul sage would be the best of friends." He rambled mindlessly from there.

    The huntress, finally loosing her patients, growled, "Enough already! Or I swear to who all who hears I will personally shove you off the nearest cliff and bury you!" The whole group fell silent. "Now, the next person who so much as mentions the goop, its origins, or Ethlewen, is getting tied to a rock and left! And yes Medwick, your rope. Don't temp me." With a huff, she turned on her heel and procceeded onward, ignoring the small, thankful smile from the anima. She might understand, but that didn't mean she didn't share the others' oppinion. At least she wouldn't have thought to use that advent until she was absolutely sure she was going to share it with everyone. On her shoulder, Tang continued to look at him with his infamous look of disaproval plastered across his eyeless, furry face. He might lack the ability to talk, but even he didn't fail to participate in the Ethelwen-shaming.

    The march henceforth was silent much to Amara's relief. She was honestly starting to get a headache and after she had just recovered from the one given to her by the blast too. She pulled at her furs some more, but there was only so much the furs could do against the ever present chill. Where were they even going? Did any of them know any more? Did Ethelwen? Her pathfinding skills were useless down there. Without a trail they were doomed to wanderer aimlessly until they eventually gave up. What then? And even if they found the ghoul sage. What then? How where they to return to the surface? Would they simply call it quits and live out the rest if thier lives as mole people living on that goopy stuff?

    It was the Avian who stopped, wanting to rest. Amara shook her head. "We have to keep going. Unless you want those wings to remain unused, to be forever grounded, unable to taste freedome, we have to keep going. We have to." She was trying to convince herself moreso than the others. But what lies before us? What would it change? What would it matter if we returned or not? Would anyone even miss us? Realize we're missing? Amara shook her head. Ethlewen and Medwick held some sort of standing in Barvelle, surly someone would realize the famed sage and the anima were absent. And Art was the son of a consilmen in Aldus. Ophanim? She had the feeling he made some sort of an impressive if his shifty demenor in the beginning said anything. Amara? Everyone was dead or gone.

    But they had something to return to. They had to keep moving. Her hand trailed down to one of her belt pouches and gripped the familiar shapes of stone.
    #8 Noctis the Devious, May 22, 2015
    Last edited: May 23, 2015
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  9. Ophanim Hayyoth

    A terrible gut feeling was rising up within Ophanim. One that told him to turn around and head back again. However the walls next to him had him blocked and so was his back, leaving him thus unable to escape. Besides, he wouldn’t be able to find a way out on his own anyway, death would surely follow if he tried now. Not that death sounded so bad right now. The time he had spent below the grounds were wearing down on him, his internal clock failed to tell him what the time was and so were the clocks he had packed with him. However the way the clothes of his companions and his own fitted said enough. Worn down and covered in dirt, they looked like rags, hanging around their shoulders in a limb and dull manner. They looked miserable and he felt even more terrible. Was this how their adventure was to end?

    The booming sound of laughter had ruffled Ophanim’s feathers the wrong way. Where he had felt at ease earlier, almost confident, that they were nearing their destination all hope crushed once he heard that familiar laugh again. He hadn’t forgotten about his first encounter with these who they called the Ghoul Sage. Neither did he forget about the endless darkness that he had seen beneath the hood and the intimidating aura the Sage emitted. The clockmaker was convinced that the laugh belonged to the Sage, the one who was called ‘Mordakar’. Where he first started eager to find the entity Ophanim was currently afraid. What if he had been lucky to survive last time?

    Though there was no sign and reason for Ophanim to fear for his life the last time they met a wave of panic filled the Avian. He remembered how the pressure of the Ghoul Sage’s aura had been enough to push the air out of his lungs, leaving him unable to breath and choking on his words. Would he be spared this time?

    Gulping to himself the man let his eyes travel over his companions, almost glaring at them. He hated the thought of dying below the grounds, whether it was by the hand of the Ghoul Sage, starvation or even betrayal. How far could he trust this small group of scavengers? Ophanim trusted none of them, reminding himself grimly how two of them had chased him down the streets and were the reasons why he slid through poop at all. The other two however were a different story. Their appearances were too convenient. Who in the world had work down the sewers? What was a sage doing down below the ground?

    From his previous experience Ophanim was determined not to trust any of the sages of Pegulis. Knowing that they were all breeding, calculating opportunists that took their people for fools. However, he had no energy left anymore to protest or to speak. His wings dragging behind him, leaving a trail of feathers on the ground. They were falling out because of infections and lack of nutrients. His proud wings were shedding, baring the pale and fragile membrane underneath it. If he did survive it would take a long while before Ophanim could soar through the sky again. The healing process would take a long while.

    It was Artorius who reminded the Avian of another reason why his companions weren’t to be trusted. Complaining loudly the man followed behind the group, obviously not caring about the energy he was wasting over his breath. Dying? The man certainly didn’t sound like he was on the brink of death yet, not if he had still the energy to complain. Heaving a sigh Ophanim wondered if that also meant that his body held some meat. After all, fat was a source of energy and with that the Avian was reminded how hungry he was again. What he wouldn’t do for a piece of fresh meat…

    Just while Ophanim was giving into savage thoughts Amara shook him out of it. Snarling a threat at the nagger. One part of the Avian was thankful, his shoulders sinking lower in relief. He felt almost ashamed for his thoughts earlier, but the clockmaker couldn’t help but to sneak a peek at the limbs of his companions. At the other hand he also felt a slightly intimidated by Amara. Silly as it sounded, and the clockmaker would never admit thinking this, he suddenly grew afraid that the girl might be able to read his thoughts. The amount of accusations and complaints he had made on this trip would surely have him hanging.

    However it was what Amara said next that scared the winged man even more. Gulping Ophanim peered over at his shedding wings, sniffing to himself as he realised what it meant if he gave up now. He had known about it before, but as the realisation finally landed the option suddenly seemed all the more real. To never spread his wings again, to ever feel the air brush past his skin, pulling and tugging at his hair…

    Gulping again the Avian proceeded, a shift inside of his mind switching to another mentality.
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    Sometimes, breaking the monotony was crucial. They sat around a makeshift fire, a thermic gem buried in a pile of wet-looking things Amara plucked from the rocks. The smoke was acrid, but the warmth substituted for what their bodies failed to produce.

    Medwick was at the end of the tunnel, vigorously scribbling on a small piece of parchment, counting in a muttering staccato to himself, and checking his compass.

    "What are you doing?" Ethelwen broke from the fire, and Amara, Artorious, and Ophanim immediately filled in the void, huddling closer.

    "I am trying to find out how far we have gone."

    "Dead reckoning?"

    "As inaccurate as purported." Medwick shook the floppy linen.

    "... and why is that?" After the Sage went quiet, Ethelwen prodded him. He found that he had to do that with alarming regularity, suggesting a mind that was constantly elsewhere ... or dying. The flesh over Medwick's heart had stopped blackening, and it looked more burnt than gangrenous. Corvak, his aux, was losing its feathers as well, and had spent nearly the entire journey huddle on his shoulder.

    "We .. " He shook his head, closed his eyes, and continued from a great distance, "we have been walking deeper and deeper into the mountain. Miles on miles. Spirals. But .. "

    "Why are there .." Medwick gazed out of the tunnel entrance and spoke no more, and Ethelwen at length rejoined the campfire.

    Eventually, the rest of them gathered the will to leave the heat and join Medwick at the entrance.

    [little Medwick on the bottom right]​

    Normally, one would expect cavernous spaces to echo. That was certainly the case in the General Assembly chamber, a high domed cavern shaped by a year's worth of magic and sculpture. But the vastness of the space sucked up any noise they made, and the ceiling continued into the emptiness, as did the fall at the end of the bridge.

    The scene might have been impressive, once. It might have filled them with a scholar's wonder, made them speechless with the sheer volume of questions, and stunned them with its surreal beauty. But the fog of starvation lingered over them all, and they simply pushed onward, driven by Ethelwen's bounty.

    The anima looked behind him. Three campfires dotted the bridge, three rests to cross what should have taken them an hour.

    Perhaps someone would have to be pushed off the bridge ...

    They went from room to room, from arch to arch, up and down stairs that lead to nowhere, and others that led to other rooms. They were all bare, unfinished, built to a logic misunderstood and left behind in haste by the original contractor.

    In one particular room was a statue. And they did not realize what it was until it extended an arm and picked up Artorious. A faint shimmering of ovals, arranged in a circle around the statue, blinked and made the Ghoul Sage crumple to one knee with the aether-feedback, but the ghast's grip remained strong on Artorious' choking neck.



    "I WILL HAVE YOU COOPERATE WITH ME, OR I WILL SHOW YOU HOW FRAGILE AN AUX IS." Artorious may have been dying, but he found fresh terror, and with it, the energy to struggle as the Ghoul Sage's grip on his neck tightened.
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  11. A Few Days Later - Kaustirian Vanguard Camps


    The speedy turtle camel went from an all out run to a slow gallop, and then ended the journey with a trot. K'Jol did not heed the advice of the Ipari that he spoke with before, for his heart was about to dance out of his chest. He had not seen Ama- his comrades in some time, and he felt as if they had a lot to converse about, especially what was deep in the Ykloid. His mind could still not firmly grasp the events that transpired down in the wound of the earth, but he would leave his questions up to those that he would soon talk with. A small gust of tundra wind made the bottom of his robes dance, and his body shiver. He knew that he was going to hate this place. K'Jol's orange eyes moved from the end of the Chersonese plain to the gate that split the region off from Pegulis. The doorway to the frozen region was absolutely enormous, and reminded him of the tales that he was told by superstitious soldiers within the Melee Combatant Corps. Gods as high as the tallest mountains within the land of ice, with eyes that shined bright like the fires from the desert lands, and the ability to touch life like the forests of the mires to the west. The greenscaled one found it to be an interesting tale, no matter how stupid and far-fetched it sounded to him.

    A horn blared from the gate, followed by another, and then one more. With every sound of a horn, more and more archers sprouted themselves up from the openings within the walls. Every few hundred meters above one another, there would be an opening for an archer. The horns stopped, and the archers readied their bows. Even though he knew it not to be true, it seemed as if the whole vanguard had amassed themselves before him. From behind his ear, a long hiss rang out. U'Sil was not satisfied with the display that the other soldiers were putting on for him. At the very top of the gate, an Ipari guard used a telescope to examine the one before the gates. Another higher ranking official was standing at his side, arms crossed and a rugged expression upon his face.

    "It seems to be the greenscaled one that the Ipari from Dorgrad spoke of."

    "K'Jol, the so called 'famed warrior'? He is a weakling, but his fame does spread far, especially since the conspiracy in Avarath. Give the order to open the gates and let the wench in."

    The Ipari nodded to the captain, and walked over to a series of levers that were to his side.

    The sound of large gears shifting caused the camel turtle to grunt in dismay. One by one the archers left their posts. He was cleared to go. The Draken slapped the bottom of his mount, forcing it to walk forward as the earth trembled beneath the motion of the enormous gate. Dust and debris was knocked about from the storm the gate caused. Rather than looking upon the sight with awe, he was unphased, simply stretching his deltoid muscles to pop a few bones in his back. When he reached the center of the gate, there stood the captain. His eyes locked with the Nocturne's cyan gaze.

    "Your attire is atrocious. Change your clothes, for they not only reflect your barbaric nature, but they are also not suited for this kind of environment. There will be an armorer on the north eastern side of this camp. I suggest you visit him before nightfall and get yourself affixed with a thermic gem. The nights here are brutal. Now, get your ass out of my sight."

    He was being treated like a new blood within training camps. His only response to the captain's words was a snarl, and a very saliva filled snarl at that.

    "You may see me as a lowly soldier, but I have probably been through a lot more than someone of your damned kind has. When this battle has ended, I shall come back to tear you to shreds."

    The captain met his retort with a smile. They were both Kaustiran after all, and exchanges like those were not so odd as an outsider would think. The camel turtle and it's rider traveled through the gate, going by a many tents and many different races. A frown came upon his face as he looked at the multitude of soldiers.

    Where were those that he journeyed with long ago?

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  12. Expendable Decoration

    The wind had died down, taking with it some of the cold and allowing for a darker change in scenery. Black-tinted snow fell over the vanguard in a seemingly painful slow descent as the antsoldiers trudged through the foul snow below. Their introduction to the dreary grayscale around them and the increasing cold that ailed them was, for the most part, ignored. Routine carried on, orders were given, bodies were mobilized. Comfort was rarely, if ever, abundant in the throngs of battle.
    Among the many, Inigo sneezed. He’d just spent the greater part of the morning moving snow and was now, despite his clearly sour mood, glad to be heading towards the feeders. With a firm step he walked on, running his numb fingers through his once impeccable beard. By his standards the thing was a mess but it only really needed a trim.

    “You there!”

    With a casual twist of his step Inigo turned his raised brow at the caller, not at all expecting the view.

    “He will do,” the self-important man said as he pulled his coat tight round his neck. The scarab below him began to rotate in the direction of his commanding pull.

    “But sir, he’s… I have more experienced and well trained sold-”

    “Officer. Look around you,” said the well dressed man waving his arm in a dramatic but graceful half-circle, “we’ve all but officially won. We’re calling it negotiations, but I’d say it’s unnecessary mercy. However, our benevolent Czar is far too great to allow Kaustrian blood to spill if it can be helped. Pegulians are said to be an intelligent people, and if that holds any truth my dear man, they’ll be open to surrender.”
    The well dressed man gave the officer a belittling and sympathetic smile, clearly enjoying hearing himself talk.
    “My envoy party is a show; I do not need trained men for my protection, I need men that look like the army that we represent. I, my dear man, need Kaustrian threat to stare them in the face with eyes like his.” With the shove of his thumb pointing at Inigo to stress the last of his words, the man glared in a self-satisfying way.

    “Yes my Lord Nibal.” The Officer gave a polite nod and snapped his fingers at Inigo in the direction of the already moving scarab.

    Inigo joined the jogging soldiers behind the giant scarab before anything fully registered.
    “Carcass of the plagued dead! Why’d you have to have a non-stupid-competent look when you’re none of that!? If we’re talking merchant, I’ll bow before you Mr. Criracan, but Soldier Criracan is another matter and you know it,” Ral snapped as he hung from the coat neckline, his pincers tightly clung to it.
    “Start working on your stupid look. 1st army to vanguard to emissary companion… I’m not liking our progression-like decline!”

    With a clean uniform and trimmed beard Inigo rode behind the real muscle of the group. By now he had fully realized that he was likely riding to his death and thinking of ways to avoid it. Ral had made a suggestion, but it was a bit of a risk in some ways. Midway to the Pegulis gates his scarab gave in to the cold. Inigo was forced to once more trail on foot behind the small group of six. He did not complain. The movement warmed him up, the cold had slowed the scarabs, and Nibal the diplomat had established a slow paced trip. Something about being in control... Inigo could not figure his character out and Ral had comforted with the reasoning that perhaps Nibal was the type that lied to himself which made reading his character difficult.

    Silently, he followed the group like the expendable decoration he felt himself to be. Facing and passing through the gates had been both a blur and a vivid experience. His body was on edge but his mind was reeling. Nibal seemed to casually saunter through it all, confidently barking orders as he went in that elegant yet entitled way of his which caused no pleasure to the Pegulians. They were following their own leader’s orders but Nibal had a way of taking credit with a simple comment or gesture. Inigo had to wonder how such a man had come upon his position, but recognized that a life of trade could not compare to one of politics.

    Their way to Colonel Mason had been convoluted. One could only guess the contents of the structure based on what everyone else at the vanguard could see. One could also get very lost trying to find the way back out, which put Inigo more on edge than he’d already been. It hardened his gaze and his resolve to find a way out alive. Ral had whispered a sarcastic comment about how Nibal would approve of his "Kaustrian threat."

    “Colonel Mason, from what I’ve gathered,” began the diplomat just as he caught sight the man he assumed to be the leader. He'd used a more respectful tone than usual. He gave a flourish with his hand and leaned forward with his shoulders, “my name is Rafiki Nibal. In the name of the Czar, I’ve come to request your surrender.”

    Inigo gave a start, unsurprised by him not being the only one. Rafiki Nibal had been quite blunt, and Inigo suspected it was just the beginning. Still, he hoped this Colonel Mason wasn't the type of man to kill a desertrat to force submission ...

    Meanwhile, Rafiki Nibal continued, hardly allowing anyone but himself to speak.
    "We march to your borders in response to Pegulian spies. They tried to sabotage New Zirako. In effect, Pegulis has attacked our Czar without reason. The full force of our army before you, is how we reply to that kind of... act." Nibal smiled patronizingly as he looked down on the tattered dress of Pegulis soldiers. His fearlessness was both impressive and confusing. In fact, it was mostly pride. He was the kind of man that would not falter even in the face of imminent death so long as he felt he'd done right by his beloved Czar.
    "However, my benevolent Czar is merciful. We have in our custody your Pegulian friends. Ilsa Lisbon among them."
    #12 Mglo, May 27, 2015
    Last edited: May 27, 2015
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  13. Ophanim Hayyoth

    If he was to die without ever feeling the wind brush against his skin Ophanim was going to do so last. He was a survivor he told himself. He was a smaller and lighter than the rest, thus wasting less energy on carrying himself around, or so he convinced himself. He was a fighter, he mentally encouraged himself as he glanced over the limbs of his party. Gulping a little the Avian tried not to think of the hunger that was slowly possessing him and numbing his mind. His eyes felt so heavy, but he refused to close them. His feet were dragging, but he knew that stopping would only make it harder to move again. Everything inside of his body complained and nagged, but the clockmaker had long since numbed himself against the signals. If he was going to die here he was going to do so last.

    Even when he entered the spacious room the Avian felt apathetic to what they had found, his eyes glancing over the surface of the rooms they passed. Superficially he examined everything as if he had already given up, not wanting to waste his energy anymore. His shoulders were slouching as his wings dragged behind him. There was no bother in grace and honour for no one was ever going to miss and or find them. The whole journey had proved itself to be meaningless and Ophanim mindlessly followed the rest of the group, repeating their actions without a question and or a thought.

    There was no reaction when Artorius got pulled next from him. His eyes looking up in a tired manner before he heaved a sigh at the arm that had grabbed his companion. Another obstacle it seemed, another worry to add to his long list. At least the first death of the party seemed to be nearing, three more to go…

    However that booming voice, the powerful, vast and loud voice that filled his heart with fear. Ophanim recognised the voice, albeit slowly, and his eyes widened themselves in realisation. Snapping his head up to face the figure, the fog inside of the Avian’s head cleared up, the thoughts and the listlessness he had subjected himself to were all pushed back. A familiar cold swear broke out on him, very much like the first time they met, the clockmaker was running on new energy with fear as its source. Finally they had found the Ghoul Sage.

    He had so many questions, many of them swirled around inside of his mind and he had no idea where to start. Ignoring how Artorius was still struggling for air, brushing over the fact that the Ghoul Sage was immobilised and demanding their help, and dismissing his earlier pathetic thought the Avian took a step forward more determined than he had been before. Holding in his breath the clockmaker clenched his fist before releasing it and clenching it again, his nails digging into the palm of his hand.Now or never,’ he thought, breathing in deeply as he gathered his courage and braved himself. He could feel his knees shaking, hear his blood going through his veins and feel his heart beating in his throat, but he refused to make the same mistake as before.

    “What…” surprised at the sound of his own voice Ophanim tried again. It sounded rough, tired, but at the same time demanding and harder than what was usual for him. “What did you mean the last time we met?” his voice trembled as he spoke, but this time the male made sure not to stutter, forcing the words over his lips as he almost spat them out. “This…” he gasped again as he was afraid of the answer that was to come. That if the Ghoul Sage was to answer. “What secret?!” the Avian sounded almost desperate as he threw out the questions, barking them out as if he was vomiting.

    His eyes shot wildly to the side. To the rest who hadn’t been caught by Mordakar yet. How much did they know? Setting his jaw the male noticed how most of them seemed surprised, flabbergasted even as they were still piecing everything together. Just like how he was the first time. Gritting his teeth the clockmaker’s eyes narrowed again, thinking back of the sages who played them around. Medwick was one of them, right? Ophanim wondered what was going to happen to the lot of them if the Ghoul Sage decided to answer.

    “What do you have to do with the thermic gems?” the Avian continued. The emphasis he put on ‘you’ was an accusing one, hostile even as he wasn’t sure if he was going to like the answer, it could possibly change everything he once had considered to be the truth. His attention had turned back to the Ghoul Sage again. Though he was still afraid the anger was taking over inside of him, giving him enough courage to speak.

    He thought about the ironsmith Ferri who had been invited along with him. He pondered over how he had wasted his time on a task from which the answer was already known. Why? It had been the only question on his mind all this time, but now he could finally ask them.

    “What,” he raised his voice. “DIVINE!” balling his fist Ophanim could feel the skin tightening around his knuckles. “IN-TER-VEN-TI-ON?!” finally releasing the frustrations he had pent up inside of him the Avian almost spelled his words out. Giving into the pressure of his weight Ophanim slumped down. His knees hitted the ground as the Avian looked up at the mysterious figure. He felt so powerless and meaningless with his questions, but also standing in front of the Ghoul Sage made him feel like that. Why did he have to be so dependent on one existence for answers?
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  14. Barvelle Cavarns There was once a time Amara would have been in awe at the strange sight of an underground residential area but really, what purpose did it serve? She saw no hope of food or water, no chance of escape; it was just another part of the endless maze of stone that would soon be their tomb. Being near the front of the group she missed Art's abduction and if it weren't for the others taking notice she would have continued to wander aimlessly until...

    She spun on her heels and lurched forward, and if it weren't for the grip suddenly grabbing at her shoulders she would have tried to pry the withered hand away from Art's throat no matter how futile the attempt. It was Ethlewen who managed to retain the huntress, the only one of them left with the strength to do so, not that it took very much effort given Amara's state. Where her actions failed her words were quick to make up, "
    Let him go!" The Ghoul Sage's words echoed through out the cavarns and she froze. I will have you cooperate with me, or i will show you how fragile an aux is. On her shoulder, Tang clung to her furs looking as if it took every ounce of strength he had to hold his position. But those words had his large ears perking and small rodent face swirveling to face the shrowded figure.

    Amara was still processing his words as Ophanim spoke up and under different circumstances the hunstress might have been impressed. As it were, she merely stared at the avian, her expression transforming from outrage, to bewilderment, before being twisted by a grin, an ugly thing caught between fury and mock. "
    Divine Intervention?" Her voice was decietfully calm. "Divine intervention?" A strangled noise escaped her, a chuckle perhaps, which gave away to uncontrollable bouts of laughter boarderlining hysterical. "Where was this divine intervention when a crazed warlord stormed our streets? Took our women and pillaged our valuables? Where was this divine intervention when my people were slaughtered by their own kin? Where was this divine intervention when my father fell and my mother taken? Get up, Ophanim, there is no such thing as divine intervention! When Eimund took us by storm we were struggling to recover from a dragon attack and yet we survived! We chained a dragon fought, our own brethern, and started rebuilding our town from the ground up. Where is your divine intervent in in that? It wasn't divine intervention that assured our survival, it was us!

    Now I don't entirely unstand who the hell you think you are or what in Arkwain's name is going on here, but you who claims to know how fragile an aux is knows nothing! Not until you've seen with your own eyes children's aux being turned into parasitic squids and be deprived of conscious thought, not until you've been with this children and hope and pray that some day they'll be whole again! You know nothing!" She had positioned herself in front of the avian, body tense and fingers dying to grip her dagger and tomahawk. "You want us to cooperate? You want us to answer to you, a faceless being strapped and bound to the very place you call home? No, it is you who needs to answer to us. It sounds to me you and Ophanim have a lot to duscuss so start talking, and for aux sake let him go! We can easily leave you here to rot otherwise."
    #14 Noctis the Devious, May 27, 2015
    Last edited: May 27, 2015
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  15. As she rounded the corner Shardis looked up at the top of the gate to the city. It hadn't changed much in her absence, it was still rather imposing. Yet things felt off, odd, just not quite the same and the feeling couldn't be locked down to a single thing. It was in the faces of people as they scurried about, in the old and worn cloths hung out to dry and even in the mud on her feet. It was everywhere, yet no where. So it went as they walked about the city looking for her brother, Medwick. She paused outside the Main market space and looked down its worn hall full of shops and people milling about.

    "What is wrong with this place?! Why does it feel so odd?" It was a rhetorical question meant to be answered by no one but it didn't surprise her when Tandra spoke up, she would have been shocked if the little dragon hadn't.

    "Fear does odd things to Humes." Wings rustled as the little beast settled herself on a furry shoulder. "But you wouldn't know about that, now would you?"

    The Snow Leopard Anima's brow furrowed as she asked, "Now what are you on about? I have fears just as others do, I admit to them too."

    "Oh! Is that so?" The blue dragon picked a fleck of imagined flesh from her teeth with a talon.

    "Yes it is, enough of this! Do a fly-about and see if you can spot ether his crow or himself please, git!" With that Shar dropped her shoulder so that Tandra's perch no longer existed and she was forced to fly off. The little dragon giggled as it flew away and Shardis growled deep in her throat. A shop owner looked up startled and fearful.

    "M-m-m-ma-may um I-I-I h-helP you s-s-sir?" A timid smile and an attempt to back away where the wall of a stall held him to his place next to a giant of a grayish white cat with what seemed to be a bad temper.

    With a sigh and slouched shoulders Shardis began,"Nooo, I was tal... Wait I know you! Master Teren, isn't it? The Alchemist of of... I'm sorry, I just can't place..."

    A puzzled frown and the dawn of recognition lit the older man's face. "You're Shardis, right? Oh my stars! Shardis of Aldus! Oh doo please come in! Come in and have some tea! You look weary, have you traveled far? My you're coat is dark for this time of year. Probably why I mistook you for a male. Hahaha You know I have an ointment that will..." ON and on droned the shop keeper as he held her hand and shook it fiercely, practically dragging Shar to a chair by a small table in the back of the small apothecary shop. The man's daughter, Saratha, bustled about making a pot of tea and gathering a few bits of food. A small hard loaf of bread, some moldy cheese and an old apple. She placed them on a plate in the middle of the table and curtsied as she dashed off to who knows where.

    It would be rude to shun hospitality, so Shardis tore off a small bite of the bread and soaked it in the hot tea as she asked, "How are things here in the city these days? I have been away on business and I noticed there seemed to be a difference in the air, so to speak." She tipped her head back as she leaned over the cup while dumping the bite of soggy bread into her maw with the tips of her claws so as not to get the tea on her or the shop floor.

    Wincing slightly at the bitterness of the tea, it wasn't a good quality, the cat woman looked around for some sugar or honey but didn't find any. With a small shrug Shar sliced a bit of cheese off with the knife provided. She wasn't a total barbarian, using her claws to do so would have been over much. She could hear her mother in her head 'Manners! Young lady, use your manners!'

    "Uh yes, my name is Teren of Tavark, my daughter and I moved here abouuutt nine or ten years ago I think." The middle aged man smiled and added, "You remember helping save my poor little Saratha from being run down by that run-away cart a few years back? Well as you can see, she isn't so little now! Hahahaha."

    "Of course I remember! She has grown, hasn't she? Haha..Say, you haven't seen my brother Medwick around have you?" She gulped the last of the tea and gave up on the moldy cheese, it had a nasty aftertaste, and wouldn't go near the apple. Instead she wiped her whiskers with the napkin provided and placed it neatly on the table.

    The shop keeper sat in the second chair and thought a moment, "Now that you mention it, no I haven't! How odd, he usually stops by now and then ether for my wares, information or simply to chat." At the odd look Shar gave him when he said 'simply to chat' he elaborated, "we play cards or even chess occasionally, not so much of late though with the invasion imminent..." Once again Shardis gave him a look. "Kaustir is practically at our doorsteps! You had to have seen them, I'm sure..."

    "Yes, but I didn't get close enough to be sure who it was." Shardis nodded, "but what will you do? Do you have family back in Tavark?"

    "Nononono, my wife died in child birth, Gods rest her soul and aux, she was the only family we had so we will be staying here. I am a bit old for fighting but me and my daughter will do whatever we can to help Pegulis and the Archon. I am good with simple healing techniques and my daughter can wrap bandages and tend the wounded for sure."

    "Hmm..well, we all hope it doesn't come to that." Shar said with a frown as she stood to part ways with Teren she shook his hand again and begged her leave and thanked him for the tea.

    Once outside the shop she decided there had to be someone that knew where her brother had gone, he never did anything quietly. She made her way to the main keep, hoping some one there would know.

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  16. The Belly of the Windfish
    Ilsa and the rest of the Pegulian prisoners had been ushered into the windfish, split up into several holding cells pending their release, supposedly in exchange for Colonel Kavactian's surrender.

    They had been crammed in, standing with barely enough room to turn, within holding cells built for several men, not dozens. Even so, the walls of men could not save them from the billowing clouds of smoke that rushed through the makeshift prisons, the black plumes thick and suffocating and at the same time carrying the bitter chill of wind from being high up in the Pegulian skies.

    The soldiers murmured, anticipating a successful negotiation and eagerly awaiting their release, but Ilsa was not so optimistic.

    It made no sense to barter the prisoners. Kaustir numbered in the millions to Pegulis' several thousand (at best). The defeat of the yet-uncompleted midway fort along Lake Kaikas was inevitable. Kaustir had no need to throw away bargaining chips by giving away the prisoners in exchange for what was going to be a victory whether by surrender or by conquest.

    To Ilsa, it was all a ploy, a ruse. A cruel trick by the Czar to string along their hopes and to raise their morale, only to break them with defeat. So despite the other soldiers musing about home, about their families and the comfort of their beds, Ilsa watched. She observed. To those close enough to hear her within whispershot, she explained and reasoned.

    Silently, Ilsa and a group of Pegulians whispered, their hopes of home turning at first to despair upon Ilsa's revelations. But she rallied them, assured them that they would see their homeland again. They plotted, eyes now turned to the few guards patrolling the holding cells.

    "But what will you do?" asked one of the Pegulians.

    "I'll think of something," she responded honestly. "But I need to be free first."

    "This is madness," insisted one of the others. "We're on the verge of freedom. Just wait and--"

    "No. Freedom will not come at the hands of Kaustir. Only our own." Ilsa's hazel eyes burned with an intensity that had not flown there in quite some time. "They will likely tell you that my escape is the reason the rest of us have not been freed. Do not believe them."

    Ilsa took in another breath, drawing strength despite the thickness of the smoke. "I will come back for you, whether you are dead or alive. If dead, then I will repay your deaths in kind a hundred-fold in Kaustrian blood."

    Indeed, seeing her husband had given her renewed vigor. Even now she believed his appearance to be a dream, an apparition sent to her by Ilium or Utandis or Maeshov or whatever god or set of gods still remained to watch over Sunne. Regardless its purpose, illusion or reality, she had to find purpose from it.

    Pax sat perched along a railing exposed to the open Pegulis sky, his eyes trained carefully upon the patrolling guards just as Ilsa's were. One of the guards made a routine stop to check the holding cells, and Pax's eyes met Ilsa's, Aux and Crux so intimately in tune with the other that Pax seldom had need for words.

    "Now," Ilsa hissed.

    In a flurry of movement, Pegulian arms surged out from the bars of the cell, pulling the guard against the cell as hands moved to strangle and to cover his mouth to stifle the cry already nearly drowned by the howling winds. Within moments, the poor Kaustrian guard ceased his struggle, and his lifeless body was promptly relieved of his keys. After some fiddling with the keys, the door to the cell swung open and the Pegulian prisoners spilled out, though they had nowhere to go.

    Except Ilsa.

    Pax, from his perch atop the railing, exchanged another mutual stare of determination with Ilsa before releasing a cry and diving off into the Pegulis sky.

    Down below, on the ground, negotiations were just beginning. "However, my benevolent Czar is merciful. We have in our custody your Pegulian friends. Ilsa Lisbon among them," Nibal had explained. If those fateful words could carry up to the windfish, Ilsa would have smiled.

    Up above, the keys released the chains bound around her feet. Ilsa sprinted towards the railing, diving off just as Pax had done.


    The biting cold of the Northern winds stung at her face, but she embraced the cold as it welcomed her home. So she plummeted, arms spread like wings alongside Pax, who mirrored her stance as they free-fell in unison.

    "Together now, Pax," she mouthed calmly and without sound even despite the snow-covered land approaching them with alarming impetus. Pax dipped into Ilsa's body, vanishing within. Hazel eyes flashed in the onset of Advent, before Ilsa closed them peacefully.

    Kavactian and Nibal both averted their eyes from their negotiations to watch the distant figure plummet from the sky, only for a giant bubble to expand outwards from within her as she landed into the snow, the force of impact kicking up clouds of snow so thick they may as well have been smoke.

    Soldiers rushed towards the impact site as Mason turned back towards Nibal, doing his best to mask his knowing smile.

    "You were saying?"
    #16 fatalrendezvous, Jun 3, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
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  17. Deep under Barvelle
    If silence could be more mocking than laughter, this was it.



    Amara was in the middle of gulping nervously, and doubled over choking. She was not present when the Ghoul Sage made his little appearance at the Barvelle summit long ago, so remained mostly immune to his intimidation. The avian landed on his rump with and yelped as he pinched an atrophying wing.

    "I THOUGHT THE CHILDREN OF PEGULIS WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE BEEN TAUGHT REFINED METHODS OF INQUIRY." Medwick shrugged, as if to say 'not my problem, I made it out of school just fine.' He was on death's door, and his eyes were becoming glassy and unfocused. Ethelwen slapped the Sage, but it did little. Although drool did pool at the Sage's mouth, there was a keen twitch of the ear. The last vestiges of his consciousness were focused on the creature before them.


    Of course, the offer was so raw that none of them answered.

    "I WILL ALSO HAVE NO RESERVATIONS AGAINST TRANSPORTING YOU OUT OF MY ADOBE. CONSIDER IT A BONUS." The Ghoul Sage sat down. He seemed to be tired of standing, and laid Art across his lap, tensioned fingers caressing his skull. Beyond the window spread the meaningless abandoned city, lit by black storms.

    "The divine intervent-"
    "And the Eimund, the Lost Sea, the storm, and the squi-"​


    The Ghoul Sage looked beyond the window. The architecture of the deep space that they had entered embodied all that was different about the old gods. The dreich ceiling held all of his memories, and it took a long time for him to gather and parse them in a way that they could understand.



    The Ghoul Sage pasted a drawing on the invisible wall that divided them.

    "Is this a joke?!" Ophanim snarled at the sketch of the spell circle.

    "I AM GIVING YOU A FORMULA THAT YOU CAN UNDERSTAND." The avian and Modakra held gazes.

    Ophanim's perception was swallowed by the fractal abyss of the dimensional tesseract that held the Ghoul Sage hostage. He continued to speak as the avian fell to his knees and dry-heaved. "A PROJECTION ONTO A PLANE YOU CAN SEE. A SIMPLE DESTABILIZATION OF THE FIELD. REPLICATE THE DRAWING, STEP INTO IT, AND PULL ON YOUR AUX."

    They did not do as he asked.


    So they did what he requested, and set about scratching the circles into the concrete floor.
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  18. Shardis had searched everywhere she could think of. That was a great deal more than most would know. This included the Halls of Commerce, the steps of the Way of Truth, even Thieves Corner had her prying eyes lite upon it, and yet, no Medwick. It was as if he had disappeared from the city, the face of Pegulis, of... of Ilium itself even! Well, the last part was a stretch, she admitted. But he surely wasn't in the city and nether were some others she also found to be missing about the same time. There names were: Ophanim an avian clockmaker from Aldus, Ethelwen a sewer worker and a fellow she didn't know by the name of Artorious. There may have been more, Shar wasn't sure. One thing was for sure, the trail ended in the sewers. Only a true fool goes into the sewers alone in search of a very cold trail.

    Shardis was no fool. Nor did she have the means to gather a search party of such magnitude. Which was why she was presently sitting in a tavern with a tankard of ail (a drink she abhorred) sitting untouched in her hands. Her mind ran a mile a minute trying to think of some way she could find her brother. What if he was injured? Sick? or even... she couldn't think it. No! He was alive, she knew it to be so! Just where the hells' doors was he?!?
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  19. Torwal
    The ranger corps stood at the gates when commotion started from inside the fort. It didn’t take long to get the news of someone falling from the ominous clouds above containing the warbirds of Kaustir. Entering with his small group of thirty men and women Torwal had them wait near the gates out of the way while he found a superior in charge to report to. "Is that it Torwal i thought you rangers had more men to bring!" A guard asked recognising the large man.
    "Sadly we could not gather all our men in such short notice Aldvar" Torwal shook his head with a tired smile "Spring is here and that means this frozen place starts changing, already plenty of roads needs clearing and some wild beasts are going into heat"
    The guard nodded at that " I hope they arrive in time we need everyone we can get for this"
    Patting the guard on the shoulder the ranger leader asked where to report in. Though the guard said that Mason was out and the rest had spread out to man the battlements he was not sure.

    Since most where on the battlements it was a good place to start so Torwal used it as an excuse to also get a good look at what they were facing. Releasing a deep sigh at the sight in front of the.
    “That is the vanguard huh?”
    The man scratched his beard and moved along the battlements trough the lines of soldiers standing ready to defend the borders of pegulis. He stopped from time to time to give some encouraging words and jokes noticing the nervousness among the ranks. Damn some of these people are not ready for this at all. Torwal thought frustrated by what he saw with the fresh faces that held little combat experience of any kind. Finally asking some men for their superiors he could at least find one man in charge to talk to.
    The ranger leader returned shortly to his men with orders from the man left in charge. Having people specialized as pioneers they were placed near the gates to bolster the defenses there.
    “keep an eye out for suspicious movement I will be standing at the gate I think I know who it was that just took a dive from the clouds”

    Having said that Torwal headed down again and leaned at the gates waiting for those that had ran out to the landing place to return with whomever it was.
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  20. Alekhine's Defense
    The Colonel had spent most of his evening and night with the Tavarkan heads. Their force would be an unexpected saber through the heart of this vanguard that the Czar had sent to the Blue Nation’s door. Mason was more than smitten with the idea of giving the warmongers a taste of steel. No doubt, they had trounced many-a-man under foot who dared to lift his eyes in defiance. Resistance is never futile.

    An excerpt from a journal:

    Don’t look upon the armies of Kaustir and tremble, my son. They are fierce, true enough, but they fear and doubt and worry the same as any man, woman or child. Show them their bellies and they will coil just like the snakes by the water. This is a beginning not an end. To attack a snake is to invite war.

    [​IMG]Mason looked up at the lighter shades of bluish grey that began to feather their way into the endless black of night. His gaze then returned to the people of Tavark and he bowed his head for a moment. “This is war, my friends. See to your duties.” Mason watched them all leave and then turned to face the partially constructed wall of the keep. He was still a bit saddened about its lack of completion. He would very likely never lay eyes on these stones again. Years and years of his life have been poured into a place that is merely a pawn meant to buy time in the chess game being played for his country. Mason took careful and slow steps as he recalled many events and faces. The din of a stone worker’s hammer clashed with the grunts of many men as they heaved on ropes to hoist the heavy stones.

    These thoughts and more were interrupted by a figure that peeled off of the wall. The grey of his full plate armor blended in nicely with the brick and mortar. The large knight strode with confidence towards Mason and stopped just short bowing his head for a moment. The commander reached out his right hand and grasped the younger man on the shoulder. “Lord Darin, why are you not resting for tomorrow? I will need your strength.” Mason allowed his hands to fall back into his cloak. Mabari was in tow as always. She seemed to know something was about to change. There was a tense look to her that could be registered in her fur as it stood nearly on end.

    “Colonel Kavactian, I had a feeling that you might need someone to walk to the west side of camp and I was right.” The knight drew a small piece of parchment from within his gauntlet and handed to his commander. “Torwal and his men should be here by morning.” Darin had a smile on his face. He was the last of a dead order and the faith he had was a radiance much needed in this dire hour.

    Mason took the letter and read over the scout’s report and smiled. “I have just the task for those wily veterans.” The colonel lifted his gaze back to the knight. “I need you to find Torwal when he gets here and direct him and his men to the tunnel. I have placed a squire there with a small detachment of guards with orders but he and his men are better suited for the detail.” Mason clapped the broad shoulders of the knight and oved past him. Darin left and went toward the tent city.


    Mason stood like a statue of brilliant defiance as the team of ‘negotiators’ worked their way across the field towards the gatehouse. He lifted his gaze briefly to the faux storm front comprised of floating bulges that seem to be carrying some kind of fuel. He did not allow his glance to linger and drew a tight stare at the fancily-dressed man leading the procession. When the envoy reached the gates, a dozen well-armed men appeared from the snow along the wall. Their armor was covered by shreds of white and grey cloth making them nearly impossible to spot without movement. They closed in around the envoy in a tight box and lead them through the gate. Mason glanced up to the flying monstrosities once more before following along behind. His keen sight caught the descent of a body from one way off to the west. A smirk crossed his lips. When he stepped through the gate, he nodded to Darin and proceeded down into the dizzying catacomb constructed beneath the keep.

    Darin turned and called out in a clear voice. “Close the gates!” The soldiers did as they were told. Several archers had come down from the wall to investigate the body that had leapt from the flying things but Darin stopped them and sent them back to their posts with a sharp reprimand. It was then that he had seen Torwal moving up the steps to the battlements. The knight remembered his duty and followed swiftly behind. The giant man clanked only slightly and moved with a grace to come up behind the one he sought. “Master Torwal, I have orders for you from the Colonel.” Darin waited a moment for the warrior to react before continuing. “You and your men are to proceed to tent city and find a blacksmith by the name of Schelchtfeld. He will guide you to your detail.” Darin crossed his arms over his chest and bowed as a sign of respect and then turned on a booted heel to leave.



    Mason walked into the damp chamber where the envoy had been lead. He made sure his phantom squad knew to take the most confusing route possible to get here. They were four levels below the surface but with the keep not being finished allowed for a six foot octagonal opening in the middle of the ceiling which allowed cold and snow into the room. He eyed each man carefully and noted a few that looked like real soldiers but definitely not the one in charge. Mabari pressed up against his leg as the commander stalked to the center. He stood as snowflakes fell around his face but it seemed as if they melted before they ever touched the man; like his aura was radiating heat.
    The seasoned warrior held a stone in his hand and rubbed it idly as he was addressed.

    “Colonel Mason, from what I’ve gathered, my name is Rafiki Nibal. In the name of the Czar, I’ve come to request your surrender.”

    Mason showed no emotion as the display was given. His mind was reeling and his thumb etched deeper into the stone’s surface with every pass. His aux noticed the inner heat and sat next to her owner. Even sitting, she was almost to elbow.

    "We march to your borders in response to Pegulian spies. They tried to sabotage New Zirako. In effect, Pegulis has attacked our Czar without reason. The full force of our army before you, is how we reply to that kind of... act. However, my benevolent Czar is merciful. We have in our custody your Pegulian friends. Ilsa Lisbon among them."

    Mason took a step forward and looked down from his stance at the pathetic little man. Mason was not hoity but he had no use for someone who was only good for talking. “Lord Nibal,” A warm smile passed over the Colonel’s expression. His hands went behind his back and his troops all took a few steps back until they were pressed against the walls and nearly invisible once more. “Thank you for taking the time to come to our humble borders.” Mason began to walk around the ‘lord’ and through his envoy, studying each as he went. “Regrettably, I am not of the authority to surrender our great nation, Lord Nibal.” The commander moved back to the center of the room, hands behind his back still working the lake stone into a smooth disc. He brought his stance to a firm at ease and his brow set along with his jaw.

    “You speak of prisoners and spies but your country is not known for its hospitality, milord.”

    Excerpt from a journal entry:

    We are traveling through a way station in the desert today. There is a prisoner exchange or so it’s called. It’s more closely reminiscent of a slave market. Most of the unfortunate souls who are captured are beaten, sliced, maimed, raped and eventually killed for sport. That is the mercy because it usually only lasts a few days. The horror is watching what happens to those with strong will. These desert villains take special time and energy to break the individuals who resist. They drive shards of metal and bone through their skin. They peel back pieces of flesh and pin it to another part. It’s not something I will ever forget seeing. The worst part is that over a course of weeks and even months, these prisoners lose their humanity. They become monsters and demons that terrorize anyone they come into contact with. Their captors normally set them free at this point. Travesty. I shall enjoy punishing these heathens.

    Mason stared at the negotiator. This man was here to gloat more than to listen. “Tell me, Lord Nibal. Do you play chess?” The eyes of the commander burned with a patriotic passion. It was almost as if he was surrounded by blue flames. A huge gust of frozen air blew down the shaft and into the chamber. It dropped the already frozen temperature another fifteen degrees. Mason was unaffected by it. In fact, he almost looked hot.
    #20 WarriorHeart, Jun 9, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2015
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