The Chersonese & The Prosperos Sea, Chapter 7

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  1. A storm gathered outside Avarath, with thunder and lightning and rain and dust devils.

    But the thunder came from two million feet of different sizes.

    The lightning came from elemental discharge of a hundred thousand staffs and one-hundred-fifty-two alchemical labs.

    The rain came from a thousand Watertenders and Trolls who dolled out the water to the throng of soldiers.

    And the dust devils swirled in the sand that the two thousand-thousand feet stirred into the air.

    From the desert haze, an army emerged.​



    [​IMG]



    Chapter 7
    The Annexation of the Chersonese



    "There are some among us," The Burning Czar Lukesh spoke even before he had finished ascending the platform, "Who feel uncertain about leaving the desert. About leaving our mother cities."

    [​IMG]

    "I do not blame them. Our life has been defined by struggle. Kaustir is struggle. We squeezed water and iron from nothing. We scraped life where there should have been none. Together, we have worked the sand for close to a century. That has been our struggle."

    "But now,"
    and his voice was magnified not by the advent, but by a sudden, vicious conviction, "We will struggle for something other than livelihood."

    "The Western nations are decadent. Not in their excesses. Their virgin lips would burn at the lightest touch of kresnik."
    The Czar smirked, and his audience rumbled with mirth. "Ilium's bootlickers can't tell a sheep's cunt from a human whore's. All the Northern monks want to do is smoke White Claudia and stare at the stars. Most of them spend all their time adhered to their mystical wall, divining idiocy from it."

    "No."
    He placed his hands on the altar and leaned forward. "They are decadent because they continue to worship what brought strife to Sunne. They continue to practice magic, to venerate and study the old gods, and they dig in the remains of the cataclysm!" Kaustir roared back with indignation, the irony not lost.

    Aukhmos bounded up behind him, leaping into the Czar's back. He shimmered with advent power. "Where we walk is Kaustir. Where we plant our spears is Kaustir. Where we sleep is Kaustir. Our struggle begins anew. Today and tomorrow, and for as long as it takes after that, we struggle. We will liberate them of their false philosophies, inch by bloody inch."

    His army knew the chant well, and followed him in unison.



    "No gods."

    "No miracles."

    "Only aux."


    "Only crux!"

    "Only Kaustir!"



    The roar of his million-strong army faintly reverberated across Sunne. Birds rose with the spreading shock wave of sound. A century later, the story would say that this faint echo was what stirred Ilium from her slumber and exile since the Cataclysm.

    The desert was once again devoid of anything except for the giant lizards and fire scarabs, the strange octahedrons floating above the ykloid pits, and the gigantic flying bats. Dorgrad's ore veins were still mined, but the majority of Kaustir had taken up residence in a long line along the coast from Avarath up to the Chersonese. Yurts and wooden stockades had sprung up along the entire coast, and supply ships plied the lanes. Even now, the 1st Group of the Czar's army was still arriving and settling in.

    Generalissimo Sar sat inside the commander's yurt. The Czar's advent-augmented voice boomed in the far distance. The flap doors were pulled back, and the canvas roof fluttered in the gentle sea breeze.

    This was something he had never experienced before. In Kaustir, the desert wind ripped the moisture from his throat, making speaking and breathing difficult. It threw sand into his eyes. The blazing, omnipresent sun forced him into the prison of his caravan, from which he could only emerge at night or once they arrived in the city. To any Nocturne living in Kaustir, the only things they saw in its hundred-and-some year history were the three cities: Dorgrad, Avarath, and Zirako, and long periods of dark if they had to travel in between.

    [​IMG]

    But the breeze. It was warm, a bit humid, and slightly salty. It reminded him of life. He dared the sun outside, and saw trees and shrubs, and his yurt was in the cool shade. He heard sounds of other life, skittish animals, grasses waving in the wind. The rivers were cool and fresh.

    Paradise on Sunne. And it seemed many in the army felt that way too. Morale was high and a provisional city was rising on the Chersonese. Already, the land was being clearcut. Animals were trapped and placed in pastures. The earth was tilled and sowed with hardy desert wheat. It seemed like the Czar was here to stay.

    Yet the doors to Lut Sar's yurt remained open, for today he was expecting visitors. He glanced out of the corner of his eye at Shae, his faithful scryer, who had seen the plains floating underneath fleet foot. Diplomats and leaders from Viridos and Pegulis, who had received word of the Czar's activities just weeks prior. He could feel the hoofs thundering in the distance, as their riders drove their horses to a frenzy. They were panicked. They wanted explanations. There would be politics to play.

    None of that would change the Czar's collision course. The Nocturne drank from a goblet of kresnik-and-blood and waited for the first emissary to arrive.

    The nomadic horseman on the western edge of the Chersonese were the first to fall. Fall was a generous term. They rode their giant beasts, horse cross-bred with nearly any other four legged animal, around the gigantic Kaustir as it slowly pushed its way into the their lands. They ran along the flanks with their flint-tipped spears. Yet no matter how many tens of warriors they may have slain, no one paid them any heed. There was no retaliation, no acknowledge of their presence, no warrior's challenge.

    They were crushed by their own insignificance, broken by their own religion. They believed that they were isolated fragments, pulled together on frail threads by their tenacity in the post-cataclysm, living in the shadow of the Old God's whose sword blows still echoed in the thunder and waves of Sunne. Combined, Kaustir was a god in and of itself, a writhing mass of cataclysm survivors whose gestalt was so much more.

    It was only after they fell to the ground in utter defeat that the Sun Inquisition approached them ...
     
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  2. The Prosperos Nation



    "You fool!"

    The traitorous Avarath merchant K'Larr slapped a scaly hand to his face. Over the deepest part of the Prosperos, the crews on his ship raised the fifth net from the water. The hemp was in rags, the ends cleanly sliced and glistening with a silver, mercury-like substance.

    For months he had plied the ocean. Of the five turtle ships he had commandeered from the Avarath ports, straight from the Kaustrian military, he had already lost two to krakens. His crew were dying to a disease that struck them with lethargy, loss of teeth, and neurosis. Apparently, he was the only one left with a clear head.

    "It's a tear! A liquid!" He pointed at the crewsman nearest the storage hold. "Get the shovelhead! Scoop it off of the ocean floor."

    Several hours later

    "What in Ilium is that?" At the bottom of the brown iron bucket was a huge drop, easily a hundred men's worth, of lustrous silver liquid. The ropes creaked and the bucket groaned, strained by the unusually high weight. One of his men, clutching a rope, descended the edges of the scoop to get a sample.

    A short while later, K'Larr and whoever else could fit on the dinghy gazed at the third turtle ship as it sank. It had been entirely engulfed by the substance. Once the crewman had exposed it to air, it shot up his arm and transmuted him into more of itself, climbing the scoop, the rope, and engulfing the entire ship. Now the whole thing was just a larger Tear of Uvekely, and it slowly sank back down to square one, at the bottom of the Prosperos.

    K'Larr sucked on a lemon in frustration, then forced it into the mouth of his quartermaster as he opened it.

    "Get the last two ships here. We're going to try again ...

    but this time, keep it in water."

    "Well?"

    "It will cost you double this month. And we can't accept clay anymore."

    The Pegulis Sage did not slam his fist on the table, or draw his sword, or press the gems on his gauntlet. He pulled his tunic underneath him and sat on the stool next to the counter top. "What has happened?"

    "I don't know. The shipments from Avarath are dryer than the desert. The caravans only want valuables or food. We are getting less by the day."

    Status quo. Modus operandi. Disrupted. The Sage's mind whirled.

    "There must be someone willing to ship more Claudia to us. It grows in the desert whether someone is there to harvest it or not."

    Wordlessly, the Draken pushed a square piece of obsidian over the wooden surface. On the top was engraved a pair of silver wings.

    The Viridosian - no, the loyalists in the Hosian navy were powerless to stop them. Day after day ships from the four great merchant houses plied the port that was now bustling again. The loyalists with their tiny allotment of caravels could not stop the mighty frigates, half iron and half wood, from sailing in and out. The captains were furious, the merchants smuggling in broad daylight, without tariffs and without permission to land.

    They were powerless to enforce the holy law. Merchants boarded their tiny ships, a veritable armada of bristling cannons behind them. They declared in broad daylight that the one thousand rattling crates in their hold were empty, that the strange smells from their amphoras were just mineral water. The port authority was forced to sign their papers. They had lost direction from the interior. Om the Invader drew more and more of the Kindly Ones inward. The Cinnabar Clad retreated from the shores, and the kin left too, leaving only the humans and other rag-tag merchant races.

    Unspoken across the shipments was the stamp of House Shekar, or the Silver Wings brothel. It was a ridiculous endorsement either way. But only the subtle engravings on the corner of the pallets would guarantee resale, wholesale, of the goods to willing buyers.

    Slowly, Viridos, Pegulis, and the Kaustir would come to rely on the merchants operating from Hosia, as they had already come to rely on each other for various goods and services. The coast was too efficient, too convenient, for transportation of goods. And although all three heads of state would refuse to acknowledge the rising problem, soon, diplomats from the three nations would have to address the issue.
     
    #2 unanun, Oct 14, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2014
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  3. Amalia was forced into a cot to recoup after the Long March, much to her disdain. She was beginning to hate beds, as she spent more than enough of her life recovering in them. Still... She kept her mouth shut to not insult the others who had made it through the march alongside her.

    There was another draken, one that Amalia purposefully never asked for his name. His presence gave her a tinge of regret and guilt so she kept out of his way. The others though... Amalia made sure to get to know them. She was impressed with all of them; one a sly female pickpocket who grew up on the streets, another a father of two who disobeyed an order from his superior officer; an older beggar who Amalia had yet to determine its sex, and herself, the disgraced First General of Kaustir.

    Oh, she was popular with all of them, but for all the wrong reasons.

    The glares and cold shoulders, the muttered insults, and clenched fists--they didn't think Amalia had done the march on her own, that she had help from the Czar or Lut. When she discovered this, the woman laughed and corrected them, but no one believed her.

    ***​

    On the fourth day of recovery Amalia dressed herself into plain linen clothing. She even discarded her shawl and let her hair unfurl in soft waves against her back. Matil had also taken on new appearances. Small black horn tips sprouted from the sand cat's shoulders and her fur had taken on a slight orange tinge. Other than appearances however, Matil still remained expressionless and empty.

    Outside, with the light breeze lifting her hair, Amalia's hardened brown eyes narrowed in on Lut's yurt. Jealousy simmered, and then boiled over as Amalia watched several military soldiers exit the yurt. That was supposed to be mine, she thought angrily. The yurt, the soldiers, the power. Mine.

    She stalked towards it, stepped through the doors. Lut was met with a different Amalia. There was a shrewd glint in the woman's brown eyes, lips turned upwards in a coy smile. Unfortunately they were not alone; a red haired woman stood just outside her line of vision. The Generalissimo met her gaze with the same damning cool and calm expression. She had the sudden urge to rip his face off.

    "Lut Sar," she said, inclining her head. "Forgive my intrusion, but I have some questions that need immediate answers."

    Matil bounded on top of his desk, displaying for all in the yurt her new identity.

    "The survivors of the Long March don't believe that I lived through my own sheer will. They believe that I had help from the Czar, or Kirtin, or stars above, you." Her chuckle was sultry. "And it got me thinking... Have you helped me in other things? Perhaps at the tournament? Or maybe in Dorgrad? Surely you wouldn't have been involved in the disappearance of my entire party?"

    She strode towards him, eyes never leaving his face.

    "Like you, I've grown fond of those that have served me. I'm sure if Nu went missing you would want to find her whereabouts. So tell me, where are my men?"
     
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  4. "Amalia." The Nocturne did not immediately answer her hail. "One thing at a time." It was clear that Lut Sar was not expecting formal visitors for quite a while, if at all this day, for his cap was askew and he leaned backwards in his trademark wood chair. A small clay cup of red sloshed in his hand, and his collar was unbuttoned at the top.

    "I am unaware of the whereabouts of your company. Your expedition to the ykloid's was a direct order from the Czar, carried out with support of Orvak's Ipari. Military affairs are not in my jurisdiction - however, I can have my Wraiths search - no? Not agreeable?" An awkward pause. Amalia's contempt and suspicion were clear, though Lut Sar spoke the truth. Matil found the beetle settled into the furs of its head. The aux-cat went through the motions, poking and testing the insect that scrabbled around the top of its head, but they seemed empty, done only to ensure onlookers that it was performing the appropriate behaviours.

    He gestured towards the two Wraiths behind Amalia, and they pulled their hoods past their masks. Unseen was their eyes, and unheard was their ears. He sniffed.

    "Don't you think my appearance at the tournament was a joke?" His tone was more conversational, and the cup wet his lips. "Months ago in Avarath, I nearly died at the hands of a vagabond, some nameless cutthroat that K'Larr hired just to give me trouble." He pulled his collar aside to expose the symmetric scars running around his neck. "If you could complete the circle, I will be symbolically decapitated. Shameful."

    "I'm not talking about how good you are at sword fighting."

    "True, true, very true. That is not what I am known for." Lut Sar took his feet from the table and leaned forward, pushing a cup of water towards her.

    "So you make up for it in other ways. You have servants in many places." Amalia reached for the cup and returned it dry.

    He did not take the bait, although his voice came out more even, more flat. "My Wraiths are unfailing. But the first army group of Kaustir reports to the Czar alone, and Orvak's Ipari and Dorgrad comrades are loyal to his ... propaganda, alone. Perhaps you are overestimating the extent of my influence."

    Matil continued to bat at Lut's beetle. Lut Sar sighed.

    "I think my support for you has been very clear. Have I not given you protection and guidance? I gave you five of my very best. I have protected you from assassins, and I have tried to show you how to navigate the Families." A pause while Lut drank again. "I have been transparent with you, yes? I have given you as much as I am allowed."

    "Bah." Amalia spat on the ground, but Lut Sar chuckled, the dichotomy of meaning to to spit in disgust, or respect in the Kaustrian way, amusing him. "Your answers are like the desert clouds."

    Lut Sar smiled, in a way that suggested he was not smiling. He repeated himself, the most imperceptible, the most slight, the most subtle.

    "I give you as much as I am allowed."
     
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  5. Sly eyes peered over Amalia's shoulders, assessing the two Wraiths that stood by the door. They were for protection, in case she decided to let loose her rage against this enigma. She hated that about him, how he hung out in the shadows and yet seemed to hold strings to various events and people.

    For a Nocturne that was not born into nobility, Lut Sar skillfully maneuvered his way to the top. And her? The daughter of a camel merchant held the title of First General in what seemed like the blink of an eye. For a troubling and disturbing moment Amalia felt insignificant and useless.

    What could a human do that a nocturne could not?

    "The healers could have let me die," she murmured softly. "I had lost my title of General when they carried me into the Palace. Why did they keep me alive?"

    Amalia placed her umber hands upon his desk, gaze locked onto his. Her coal black cascaded forward, framing her gaunt face and glinting eyes. Matil stopped batting at the beetle, and fixed Lut Sar with gleaming amber orbs.

    "In less than a year's time Lut Sar went from an acquisition's officer to High Inquisitor and now General. Many at the tournament would have fought to have my head simply for my position. So why bother helping me? What is there for you to gain by doing this?"
     
  6. "The healers were healing." Lut Sar quirked an eyebrow.

    He did not seem to be fazed by Amalia's position over him. It was clear who was closer to the corner: Amalia, the one who had to posture, to make herself larger than she appeared, who had to wear her aggression on her sleeve to send her intentions clearly to the other.

    The Nocturne took another drink. A flush formed on his face. "Time and time again I have sat across from some conspirator or other - some person who, in their narrow experience of life, has decided that Kaustir is an unjust nation, that the all the suffering that he sees on the streets - the beggar, the war veteran, or simply those he perceives as being exploited have somehow been personally stepped on by the Czar, that the Czar has made it his mission to make sure everyone in our nation suffers. Time and time again I have to explain how he is able to draw fresh water from the aqueducts, how he is able to see court healers, attend royal events, and even has the freedom to work, such that he can spend coin for leisure!"

    "My point is, Amalia, why did you think the healers would let you die? That is, why did you think the Czar wanted you to die? Did he predict that the Turbatus would have reacted that way? Did he send you there to die, or for you to grow? Lukesh - " and even Amalia, in her state, flinched at the mention of the Sun Above's name, "appointed you First General, and tried to make use of you. It sounds like you have an idea that he simply gave you this entire ordeal just to see you suffer ... which is absurd, no matter how you milk the desert cow."

    He reached up with one hand, slower and slower, until he placed it on Amalia's cheek. He was not sure if she would have bit him; he could feel her tension, how wound up she was.

    "The Czar is not a cruel man. You are conflating your confusion and anxiety and jealousy with a man. It is a simple mistake many people often make."

    Amalia shook her head. "But none of that explains why you are helping me."

    The High Inquisitor, Generalissimo, simple officer shook his head. "And you think that my, to you, meteoric rise through Kaustir's ranks means anything?" He pressed her hand to his heart. His slowly beating heart. "Even I do not know how long I will live. But it will be many times more than you."

    "Humans are so concerned with such fleeting things." He blinked his eyes slowly, as if blinded. Or maybe stupefied. "You burn so fiercely, yet for such a short time. What matters rank or power? Did you see how easily the Czar conferred these titles upon me? Mere formalities. Do you think he could not have stripped me of my rank at any time?"

    Lut Sar dipped his finger into the cup and drew a circle on the table.

    "Amalia, study closely the tides of power in Kaustir. If this circle represents the legitimacy granted by the people; the soldiers and statesmen must divide it accordingly. When war waxes, the military gains. When it wanes and peacetime takes hold, the police are granted the authority of the law. Look around you. Why is the Czar keeping me close? Why has he given you direct orders without my consent? Why have I been promoted to a secret rank in the army with no formal duties?"

    He changed direction. She would figure it out.

    "The First General sits in the middle, at the focal point of power (of course, the Czar is the circle itself). He is the balance between the police and the soldier, between peacetime and war. No matter who is in the position, it is natural for many to vie for their favour. I was simply shielding you until you were ready." Lut Sar drained the cup. "But things moved far too quickly, and I was too busy with matters of the state. It is a truly regrettable lost opportunity."
     
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  7. The figure marched on with the others, there but avoided by those. He talked to no one and no one talked to him, he simply marched. Day after day went by and the horde marched on and the weak of body dropped dead first, then those weak of mind tasted the dirt below them, and then the unlucky reached their end, and by then those that were meant to live did. When the cloaked figure joined the dirt on the ground, no one stopped, not a single tear was shed, and no one truly thought about it for too long, it was their way after all.

    After an hour the horde reached the horizon, after several hours the sun set, after twenty-four hours a low mumble emerged from the corpse, and after thirty-six hours the body stirred once again. He slowly reached his full height and began to look around, once his scan of the horizon was complete he began to wander north in a staggered manner. Eventually he reached a forest and upon entering a voice seemed to materialize from the figure, a simple monotonous chant. He continued onward for days, the chant never stopping only increasing in volume.

    He kept going until he encountered something he had never seen but had heard many stories about, snow. He stared at the gentle snowflakes the fell from the sky and after a brief moment he reached his scaly hand out to catch one and when one finally landed in his palm he let it stay there and waited for it to melt before moving again. Once it had melted he searched his robes for a small package. He quickly unwrapped the present and pulled out a small gem, he then looked down the path he had come from and looked at the path in front of him and simply said "I am." before continuing his trek north, this time with a renewed vigor. His long march had just begun.
     
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  8. Cryptic. Enigmatic. Infuriating.

    She read between the lines of his speech, but even Amalia had trouble spotting the sincerity or lies spun into Lut Sar's words. The only clues she had were his flushed cheeks... And his touch.

    It must have been the drink. His movements were cautious, uneasy, as if he were testing out the waters with her. She allowed his hand on her cheek, but from the twitching vein on Amalia's neck Lut Sar knew that she barely tolerated his touch.

    And then her hand was on his beating heart and Amalia knew something was off. Bewildered and innocent eyes met his, an image of the Amalia before her journey began. Her mind was examining two things at once: Lut's words and the circle on the table, along with his genuineness. He was earnest, almost frank, and Amalia wanted to believe him. Her face certainly mirrored that change. The anger melted, her shoulders relaxed, Matil's tail twitched with acceptance.

    Then something snapped.

    Amalia snatched her hand back, restraining herself from slapping the man before her. "Don't touch me," she hissed, as if the mere contact burned her. Matil slumped to her belly; eyes became glassy orbs. The sand cat looked like a cadaver.

    The healer swayed as a tide of nausea, rage, and helplessness overtook her. One hand was braced against the desk, another holding onto her face. One eye, one suddenly bloodshot eye, bore into Lut Sar through Amalia's slender fingers.

    [​IMG]

    Seconds passed in tense silence. The Wraiths were unmoving, yet ready to pounce. The hand was removed from the desk, from her face. Amalia wrestled with herself, with it, and when she finally spoke it was hard to discern whether it was her talking or something else.

    "Let me be your personal healer," she murmured with her arms wrapped around her waist and eyes downcast. "I am no soldier, so let me keep you alive. At least until I can find my men. Please."
     
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  9. Zirako

    [​IMG]

    "Those were not the words that I wanted to hear, Lut."

    But were they the words that he needed to hear? It was probably noticeable to the High Inquisitor as well. The slight twitch of the eye when the Nocturne rendered words that related back to his oath. The oath that seemed to be sworn ages ago.

    The desert is not my home. Where the Burning Czar, in all his incarnations, feeds is where I plant my wheat. Where he sleeps is where I plant my shield and spear. Where he dies is where I weep. Where the Czar sets foot is my home.

    K'Jol pressed his hands against his head as if something were within it, biting and playing with his brain. He shook his head before slamming a fist into the table before him. A groan came from the man behind the bar before he walked up to the greenscaled one.

    "If you do that again, I will have to kick you out."

    The warrior gave him a puzzled look, and the bartender gave one back.

    "Something on my face?"

    His eyes widened.

    Chapter 1: Pride
    A long time ago...

    A growl came from deep within the large Draken's throat as he fiddled with the glass cup within his hands. The tavern was bustling with excitement at the Desert Sun's announcement, stating that the late General Korsch would be replaced by someone from among the citizens of Kaustir. K'Jol could not stomach the fact that he could potentially have some random commoner within the nation become his superior. His right hand squeezed the glass harder and harder before crushing it. Bits and pieces of glass littered the floor, his hand now bleeding from the action that he had just did. All he had to do was give a glare to the man counter in the tavern, and the man instantly came over and removed some glass from K'Jol's hand. A grin came upon his face as he watched the man clean the blood and the ground. The man looked up at K'Jol to see if his work was satisfactory and K'Jol responded with a slight nod. He leaned back in his chair, pressing his fingers together as a loud crack was heard. With an influence such as his own, he had more of a right to be the general than any other of the lowlifes within Kaustir.

    Back to the present...


    It was the same man. He was in the same tavern that he had been in all those weeks ago. His mind spiraled. Back when he hated almost everyone. Back when he couldn't fathom the fact that a commoner could have possibly been his general.

    She wasn't common.

    "She wasn't common... was she?"

    "What are you even talking about? First you give me a weird look and now you speak of a woman? I want you out!"

    A woman.

    Chapter 1: Melancholy
    Back during the games...

    "Amalia, court healer... I have a favor to ask of you. Assist me in the games and be my healer. Once I become General, I shall gain a large amount of influence and you could be at my side as I rise through the ranks of the Kaustiran army. What do you think of my offer?"

    "I... I wish to enter the games myself K'jol."

    "I'd like to save my strength for my match, i-if you don't mind. Besides, wouldn't you want a healer who can fix your wounds? I'm not..." She paused. "I'm better with restoring energy than healing wounds."

    "Oh no, you must NOT enter the games. Such a pretty woman like you getting her body torn to pieces by me would not be a spectacle the crowd would be looking for... Plus you seem delightful. I would rather destroy you in a place different than the coliseum.... somewhere more private if you now understand what you mean..."

    In the present once more...


    He was so vulgar. She was so innocent.

    'Who would have known that we would eventually arrive at the point where we could speak normally to each other. You made such a change from how you were back then. I'll find you... and the others.'

    The glass in his hand cracked before falling to pieces to the ground. He walked out the door of the tavern without another word to the bartender.

    Once outside, K'Jol made his way to an arms dealer. A slight creak was heard as he pushed the door open. The merchant from behind the counter smiled before throwing up his arms to a long sword.

    "This seems to suit you and your build."

    "I'll take that... along with the shield up there."

    "Oh oh, wise choice! Now that will just be about 80 gold pieces..."

    No money.

    "I need them. It's dire."

    "Sorry buddy, but the reputation that you used to have has failed you. One who couldn't even keep his general safe is not an honorable soldier."

    Why?

    "YOU KNOW NOTHING OF HONOR. I SWEAR BY THE GODS-

    Gods.

    THAT IF YOU DO NOT GIVE ME THOSE, I WILL BASH YOUR SKULL AGAINST YOUR COUNTER UNTIL IT CRACKS. BUT I WON'T STOP THERE. I WILL KEEP GOING AND GOING UNTIL YOUR CRANIUM IS NOTHING BUT A RED, GOOEY MESS!"

    The man conceded, and gave him the sword and shield. The kite shield was like a pack while it rested upon his back. He sheathed the long sword before looking back to the man out of the corner of his eye.

    "My reputation as the fiercest Draken still lives."




    The winds knocked up sand and dirt into his face as he stared over the desert. By his side was a fire scarab, a insect that he used before to traverse the Ykloid. The provisions and items he needed to survive were already strapped to scarab.

    "I need answers. I shall get them."

    With swiftness K'Jol hoisted himself upon the back of the scarab. He kicked it's side and it fired off in the direction of Dorgrad.
     
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  10. Meanwhile, in Avarath ...
    Laverna left her spartan, subterranean dwelling with an unhurried stride. She donned a nondescript black cape that shadowed her pallid features, and headed toward the docks. Her footfalls were mute, due to both years of stealth mastery, and a pair of supple leather boots. She scanned her environs, her heightened senses piercing through the nautical night’s dark mantle.

    As she approached the docks, she instinctually and carefully stepped on the wooden slats to evade any rickety spots. She looked like any discreet figure who prized their anonymity, and detested questions. Her comportment was specifically designed to avoid scrutiny, and to gain the upper hand. When she spotted her target, two merchants engaged in a hushed conversation, she did not smirk in satisfaction. Her lips remained stoically still. In a seemingly sudden, undetectable movement, she appeared in front of them.

    “Gentlemen,” she stated. In any other context, it would sound sarcastic, but her tone was flat.

    They ceased their interchange and locked eyes with her emotionless maroon orbs. They did not know to be frightened. In fact, their voices were a brew of machismo, as though they could intimidate her.

    “What’ya want?!” The more common looking of the two demanded.

    She did not answer his question verbally, and held up a silencing finger, adorned with an iron claw. She then pulled off her hood, letting it fall to the nape of her neck. Her heritage was obvious at this point, and the mens’ muscles appeared to tense.

    “Madame, we are engaged in honest business, nothing more,” the more opulently dressed man claimed.

    Her eyes flicked toward him, and bored into his gaze with their unmoving apathy. She watched minute droplets of sweat gather toward his temple, despite the cool gaze. Noted the stiffened upper lip. The merest touch of the shoulder.

    “Honest business.” She said curtly.

    He nodded and furrowed his brow, as though this facial expression was proof of his conviction.

    “So, now that we have established that you are “engaged” in allegedly “honest business,” there is no possible way that I will locate any corruption in your practice? You have adhered to every regulation, and I will find no fault. After all, evoking the word “honest” will make any false remark thereafter more deserving of penalty,” she critically examined his diction, but did not sound gleefully pleased with her discovery of his inconsistency.

    The merchants paused to consider their next rhetorical strategy.

    “Come, now. It is common knowledge that the Czar is focused on grander matters than trivial maritime trade. I am sure you found yourself astute and clandestine. However, what would displease the Czar is the concept that resources that could be utilized by his armies are now the cargo of other parties. Perhaps an aristocrat, but perhaps a sworn enemy. Can you trace the whereabouts of your goods, and fully assure me they are licit?” The last remark had just enough inflection to register as a question.

    The poorer merchant began to open his mouth, only to be interrupted.

    “It is far safer to speak with an Inquisitor, than to the Czar. Consider this a convenience. A reprieve,” the words tasted fake in her mouth, but she had learned over time how to address humans and their concerns.

     
    #10 Whimsy, Oct 17, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 17, 2014
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  11. , orange
    He did not back down from her stare, but returned it, owned the fear and reflected it with his impenetrable facade. As she withdrew, the shadow over him fell, and they both returned to their normal selves in perfect harmony, her aggressiveness perfectly mirrored by Lut Sar.

    "What did your reflection look like?" Her eyes swiveled up to his.

    He shook his head, pushing the cup aside, fastening his collar, smoothing his hair beneath his beret. The Wraiths removed their hoods, their senses restored. "Did you want to be a soldier, or a healer? A leader, or a follower? A lover, or a hater? Compassionate, or vengeful?"

    "You will not find what you seek as my healer, you will not gain from being a part of the Sun Inquisition. Go out there, human," the wind pushed the flaps to the yurt open, and Lut Sar's face was revealed to be filled with jealousy, childish jealousy, envy for her, as the bright world of the Chersonese reflected in his eyes, "Go out there, soldier. This is the time of war, not of civilians, nor the schemes of Nocturnes."
    YKLOID, gray
    "Ugh ..."

    "Stop ..." Hands, white knuckled, squeezed iron bars.

    "Ergh ..."

    "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!" A red-hot iron rod bored deep into her abdomen, stabbing her womb and burying into the forming life within.

    "Gah ...."

    "Why ....."

    "Bear the pain, comrade." The diamond-masked Nocturne held another mask in his hand.

    [​IMG]

    "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

    It rushed along her veins, she could feel the ancient malice pouring into her womb, seeking the hot iron. And it touched, gathering the metal and the struggling life inside, and fused them together.
    , brown
    "Threats, is that what the military has come down to?" A third merchant joined their gathering. He too appeared from nowhere, and moved through the dark as humans did during the day. The other two visibly relaxed in the presence of their Nocturne accounts master.

    "What business does an agent of the Inquisition have with house Austrik? If our goods could rot, they would have turned back to the sand already." The Nocturne's speech was covered with a thousand and one book keeping skills. He matched every dart of her eye in the dark with his own, his expression unreadable. "In fact, that is exactly what our iron ore is doing right now."

    "If anything, you should sail west across the Prosperos and talk to whoever is blocking the port there. We are merchants, Inquisitor, we deal in the business of exchanges. We can't sell goods to ourselves, and no one here wants to purchase our wares. You will have to excuse these two," And the Nocturne cast a withering gaze at them, "they get bored on the docks when there is nothing to do."
     
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  12. She wanted to defy him, to press her issue so he would give in. If it meant tears, or begging, or simply throwing things, Amalia wanted her request to be acknowledged. The woman still believed that Lut Sar knew the whereabouts of her men, even if he said he didn't.

    But the look of jealousy on his face was far too delightful. A small crazed smile pulled at Amalia's lips.

    "Envious?" She turned towards the door, the answer to her question revealed by the light breeze and openness of this new world. "Ohhh. Of course."

    Amalia faced him again, the smile growing wider with glee. An arm was by her waist, another extended outwards, and she bowed with both pomp and mockery.

    "I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that question, Generalissimo Lut Sar. You see, I haven't seen a mirror in quite some time." Mismatched eyes stared into his.

    She didn't spare another glance to anyone in the yurt. As Amalia left through the doors, Matil brokenly followed, tripping over herself in the process.

    ***​

    Amalia was talking to herself as she hitched a saddle and bridle onto a salamander. A hunting party was forming, and many of the soldiers were eager to see what wildlife they could capture in this new, untamed land. Deer was the talk of today, as such animals didn't exist in the sweltering heat of the desert. Amalia was using this time to get acquainted with the other soldiers and to get a scope of the land. Unused to the calm, breezy environment, she tucked an extra coat into her saddle bags, mumbling all the while.

    "... Well he did say to go out there. I wonder if that means he's giving me permission to seek them on my own."

    She adjusted the straps, ensured the bit was secured, and knotted her saddle bags.

    "Of course, he could simply be suggesting I do what the other soldiers do." She sneered then. "Not that what they're doing is the least bit interesting."

    The crunch of dead leaves and twigs made Amalia pause. A familiar face was behind her, a face that she had hoped would be in Avarath, not here.

    "I thought I sent you away," the healer said gruffly, turning to face her mother.

    [​IMG]

    "I followed you," Rhia said, hands clasped uneasily by her chest. "The soldiers spoke of a healer joining the Long March and I wanted to make sure--"

    "Yes, it was me. I willingly entered the March, and as you can see I made it out alive. Was that all you wanted from me, Mother?"

    Rhia took an uncertain step towards Amalia. "Your father is still in Zirako."

    "Zirako is no more. It is abandoned. Father is chained to an abandoned barn, a barn that used to belong to us."

    "And he's been chained ever since." Those words garnered no amount of sympathy from her daughter. Tears gathered in Rhia's eyes; the sight of them irritated Amalia. "You left him there."

    "I did. And?"

    "He's going to die unless he's freed," cried Rhia. "Amalia, how could you--"

    "Correction: he is dead. He has been without food and water for at least a week. Unless he got himself out of the chains himself, he is dead."

    Rhia's hands fell to her side. A pallor swept across the woman's weathered face. "How could you do this? He's your father."

    "And I was his daughter, but I was not spared the whip."

    "But you are a healer."

    "Am I really? A healer wouldn't have sent her men to die." Her face was hidden as Amalia hoisted herself onto her salamander. "Generalissimo Lut Sar believes I don't know who I am anymore. I'm beginning to think he's right."

    Rhia had nothing to say, the tears were running freely down her cheeks. There was loss on that face, but the posture spoke of fear. Amalia decided to humor the woman, or at least give an explanation.

    "I do not have limitless compassion," she said steadily. "It would be a waste of my time and energy to give generously and care about each and every individual. I especially don't want to waste my compassion on individuals who don't deserve it. Father is one of those individuals. He should have died a long time ago."

    She turned the salamander, faced it towards the woods.

    "Do not follow me again. You'll only get yourself hurt. Go to Avarath, or stay behind military lines. But do not get in my way," and she spurred her mount forward.
     
  13. Recap of Events, red The great nation of Kaustir was finally moving on the Chersonese. War was coming. At long last, the winds of change were set in motion. And where was The Wall, Rakar Koden, while this was happening?

    Locked in a jail cell in Zirako, awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit.

    The past month had given him plenty of time to contemplate the events leading to his arrest. Betrayal? Orders from higher up the chain? Greed? Whatever the reason, it didn't matter now. Word of the events outside his cell inevitably reached him. Rakar was left behind, unable to march with his people. But no matter. He was not dead yet, and for whoever was responsible, that would prove to be a grave mistake.


    The Trial, red Finally, the day had come. Two armed guards arrived at Rakar's cell to escort him to his trial.

    "Rakar Koden, you are to stand trial before Commisar Tiron. You will come with us."

    Rakar nodded moved towards the door while Coros leaped up to his shoulder. "It's about damn time," Coros remarked.

    Bound in manacles and fetters, the draken made his way to the courtroom with a guard on either side of him. Before entering, Rakar wondered who was going to stand for the prosecution. Upon entering however, he found that the room was surprisingly empty, save for the Commisar. No one else here? No one for the prosecution? Rakar stepped up and took his place at the defense regardless, his head held high with pride.

    "Rakar Koden, you stand accused of treason, conspiracy to steal a divine weapon for yourself. Your plea?"

    "Innocent."

    "Indeed. And as there is no one willing to testify against you, I have no choice but to dismiss the charges. You are free to go."

    He was shocked. As the guards came over to remove his binds, the hulking draken addressed the Commisar. "No one to testify against me? Not even Warden Bracht?"

    "Yes that's right. When approached about your crimes, the Warden dismissed the issue. Why do you think it took so long for your trial? We have been trying to find someone present at the time of the alleged crime who would testify. Since you do not admit guilt, there is no case for your prosecution. Case dismissed."

    Unbelievable. They hadn't wanted to get rid of him for good. Leaving him alive was not a mistake. It was planned. Whoever was responsible had deemed him only an annoyance, rather than a threat. He spent the last month in jail just so he would be out of the way. The thought infuriated the draken warrior, though he held in his rage. Oddly enough, at that moment, Rakar actually wished he had been prosecuted by someone. The warrior was denied the fight.


    The Return, red On his way out, Rakar had his gear returned to him, which he gladly donned. His gold plated armor, tower shield, longsword, and cape felt heavy after a month without them, but nothing a few days back in action wouldn't fix. Coros remained perched on the draken's shoulder as they made their way out into the city. There was no time to waste. The Chersonese was his destination.

    Finding passage didn't take long. A shipment of weapons was being sent out from Zirako to the Chersonese, which Rakar was welcomed to join as a soldier. He mounted a riding gecko, and set out with the caravan. And just like that, he was on his way to war with one thing running through his mind.

    Find Amalia. Find Lukesh.
     
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  14. Perhaps it was the conversation with her mother, perhaps it was the brutality of the Long March, or perhaps it was her simply having an agenda, but Amalia did not join the hunt that day. Instead she turned her salamander east and headed back, back to the land she had known all her life.
    She lacked sense, not bringing enough food or water to last her the entire trip. Amalia smuggled hunks of meat and bloated water skins onto her mount, hoping the other soldiers wouldn’t see. They didn’t care, they were far too concerned with exploring this new vista. Now that she was a lowly soldier no one paid her any mind. If they did however, they would notice the frantic, almost desperate way she packed. As if she wanted to get away.


    ***​

    The heat welcomed her with open arms, encasing her with its blistering temperatures and parching her throat. Amalia felt like she was returning home and she smiled dizzily up towards the sun.


    “I’m back,” she called to the sky, arms raised to capture the sun into her palms.


    A throaty chuckle rumbled through her lips, and she pushed her salamander harder. The water was gone by late afternoon, the food lost during her sprint across the desert. Blood foamed around the mouth of her salamander, the bit digging into its skin. Amalia would have run it into the ground if the creature didn’t have a mind of its own. Realizing that its rider had gone insane, the salamander tipped Amalia over, sending the healer sprawling onto the sands. It hissed, and the last thing she saw of it was the flicker of its tail over a sand dune.


    Night was descending. As she meandered across the sand, Amalia wondered if Lut Sar’s Wraiths were watching, wondered if they would aid her should she collapse. The water in her stomach sloshed too heavily. She retched onto the sand, watched the liquid disappear into the tiny grains, and continued on.


    In her peripherals she noticed movement. She thought it was the Wraiths, come to take her back. But no… They wore dune colored cloaks, the fabric flapping quietly in the desert breeze. They rode bare back on their horses, faces partially covered to keep the sand from their faces. They held spears and bows at the ready.


    The slower Amalia went, the closer they came. The more she struggled, the more murderous they looked. As she succumbed to her knees, Matil bounded towards her Crux, tried to merge, but was repelled. The oversized sand cat tumbled onto the sand with a pitiful cry.

    “Let them take me,” she murmured. “I can’t… I can’t stop this thing in me.”
     
  15. "Get your hands off me before I break them off." an old voice growled. "We have orders to take you in sir." A guard said nervously. "Yeah I got that. I know the way there. I can walk." the man towered over the two soldiers as he stood up. "Now move." he pushed them to one side and walked into the hot sandy streets. This man had walked these streets many times and each step always seemed to lead to the same person. "This had better be important." a scowl lingered on his face. The man entered into a large building and went to an office "You couldn't come and say hi yourself? You had to send your lackeys after me? It's a stones toss from your front gate." his anger diminished with a sigh. "Well it's nice to see you again and my congratulations on getting promoted." he pulled a chair up and leaned back in it. "So what is so important that you had to pull me away from my students?" he said with a grin.

    "My old sensei." The Nocturne shifted in the shadows of the yurt. "I have called you here for a favou -- "

    "BAH!" Basuda roared, sweeping his arms wide. The breeze sent the entrance curtains flapping, the rays of sun coming dangerously close to grazing the Nocturne, which, to its credit, did not flinch. "You nocturnes are always like that - pulling strings from the dark. Why can't you fight face-to-face, like a true warrior?!"
    "True on all accounts, friend." The Nocturne's smiling face leaned into a sunbeam, skinflake glittering in the same ray that made the cup of kresnik glisten. "So, will you still do me a favor?"

    The grizzled fighter rolled his neck, and folded his arms "Yeah alright. What can an old haggard warrior do for one of his finest students?" he smiled.

    "Do you know of the former first general Amalia?"

    "I do. I heard things didn't go so well on her last mission."

    "Correct." The Nocturne pulled the cup of kresnik back and sipped from it himself. "Unfortunately, she has been demoted from her position. Did you hear that she voluntarily did the Long March?" Basuda, a person who never moved unless necessary, shifted in his seat. "Exactly. This woman has something to prove, something to gain."

    "You must keep her alive for me. And you can't reveal yourself to her; you must not teach her, aid her, or assist her in any way, except for keeping her alive if assassins come for her. She must be allowed to bloom unfettered in the rain of blood to come."

    "I am not a baby sitter, nor were you so attached to someone. Why have me, or anyone for that matter, look after her?" his eyes narrowed trying to see past the uncaring facade he knew his student was famous for. "Tell me why exactly you want me to look after our disgraced general and I'll help you with no strings attached." he smirked. "Well that's not all ture. After all this is over I want a fight with you Lut. Let me see if you're still the star pupil that left my dojo those years ago."

    "All in due time, Basuda." Lut Sar sighed. "My hands are tied. I cannot publicly shield Amalia, or else there will be bad blood between the military and the 3rd Group. The Nocturnes cannot be divided over a human girl. But she is special, Basuda." Something in the tone of his voice carried the conviction he was not allowed to express in words - the deepest of conspiracies that would only reveal itself in another hundred years.

    Basuda extended his hand and Lut gave it a hardy shake. "I will gather supplies, some of my students, and leave immediately." he smirked and walked out of the room.
     
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  16. Kerrick Aenlass — En route to the Chersonese, goldenrod
    Kerrick rode on camelback towards the Chersonese from Avarath.

    He took advantage of his slavemaster's trust and fled. Without warning, he packed what meager belongings he had and used whatever money he could scrounge to purchase supplies and sufficient clothing to protect him from the overbearing desert sun.

    Any favors he was owed, he called in; even some he was not owed, he called in, from colleagues and acquaintances alike. Kerrick was an exceptional slave and servant - knowledgeable in a variety of trades, well-spoken, clearly educated. He'd thus made a fair share of connections in his few years in Avarath, and perhaps even some he dared to call friends.

    Despite this, he always gave the same response when asked who he was prior to becoming enslaved:

    "Just an honest man, trying to make a living."

    But therein was the lie: Kerrick was not honest. Not since the slavemaster Nassad plucked him from his old life and thrust him into the heat of Kaustir, to be sold into this new and unfamiliar world as a slave.

    And so again he set out into the forges that were the Kaustiran deserts, hoping to finally find his way home; forges, he called them, for their ability to strengthen those able to withstand them, or to weaken even the mighty who could not.

    One of the mighty who could not - at least not on this day, was Amalia Lortik.

    Kerrick did not know who she was, nor did he care. He had spotted the tribe of raiders from afar, scouting her, encircling her like grounded vultures stalking prey. As daylight began to fade, so too did Amalia, until she had fallen to her knees and collapsed in the sand, giving her pursuers the advantage of movement, surprise, and of nightfall.

    And so the raiders approached, five strong, upon the former General's barely conscious body. Amalia lay defenseless and helpless in the sand, muttering incoherences with her eyes rolled back behind her barely-open eyelids. She would be easy prey.

    As they drew closer, a swift, airy whisper cut through the air around their heads and struck the sand, kicking up clouds of dust. The raiders stopped in their tracks as they fixated upon the movement; lodged in the sand before them was an arrow. Shouting now, they drew steel, eyes turning to the moon-bathed hills and horizons for their attacker. One more arrow whistled into the sand, then another. More continued to follow in an almost steady rhythm, each adding to their tension.

    Thrown into a panic and unable to locate their assailant, they sheathed their swords and scrambled back to their horses, riding back off and away from Amalia's body.

    From behind the peak of a hill some distance away, Kerrick mounted his camel and rode as quickly as the lazy beast could carry him. His Aux Terra, resembling a black-and-white dog, padded alongside.

    "That was terrible. You didn't hit a single one," she sneered.

    "I was firing blind, from behind a hill, at least a few hundred meters away! Besides, I wasn't trying to hit them. I was just trying to scare them off."

    "You might be an excellent liar," the dog cast a sidelong glance towards her Crux. "But you do realize you can't lie to your Aux, right?"

    Kerrick scoffed and shook his head as they approached Amalia. Terra, incorporeal though she might be, still appeared to pace around Amalia's body and sniff her as Kerrick turned her over to examine her. The incapacitated healer continued to mumble non-sequitur.

    "Hey!" Kerrick whispered loudly as he shook Amalia. "Are you alright? Snap out of it, I'm here to help!"

    Terra suddenly turned back towards the hills, ears perked and alert. "We need to get her out of here, before those guys come back. Come on - just grab her and let's go!"
     
    #16 fatalrendezvous, Oct 27, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2014
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  17. The Ykloid

    [​IMG]

    It had taken four days to arrive at the scar, but the greenscaled one had finally made it. His hands tightened around the reigns of his fire scarab as he looked around at the damage that had been done on that fateful. 'My friends... I am so sorry for what happened on that day...' A low growl sounded in his throat as a glass bridge formed before him. He kicked the side of his bug mount, and it fired off onto the fragile walkway. While it bounded across the bridge, he had a strange sense of calm. The Ipari warriors had to guide him before and calm him down, but now it all felt natural.

    The fire within him that was his willpower was slowly growing larger. He had never felt this amount of determination before, or at least he could not recall. It was now his mission for him to get everyone back together and learn as to why the Long March was happening now, of all times. As his scarab landed on the spire of rock floating in the air, everything rushed back to him. The green flares, the insects.

    The metal insect.

    "Our mission was to stop the insects right... or has it changed? I highly doubt that ALL of those creatures were taken out by that volley of obsidian balls... did we enter the cave and make sure whatever was down there died?"

    He was already here, and he could see the cave a glass bridge length's away. All fear left him. He had to enter the cave, and find out for himself. A bridge formed before him that led from his spire to the mass of rock with the cave. He slapped the reigns, and the fire scarab darted down the bridge. 'I'll get answers for myself...' As soon as the scarab landed upon the rock, K'Jol dismounted it. His sword was immediately unsheathed, and shield upon his arm. A gulp sounded from his throat as he approached the entrance. What if the metallic insect came back? What if his friends were dead? What if this was all a chase for spirits?

    Get that out of your head.

    "I'm here. I can't go back now."

    From the sack upon his hip he pulled out a flare and swiped it across the ground before putting it in his mouth.

    He entered the cave. Nothing was around except for the large hairs from insects and various ores, some of which he had never seen before. And then he heard it.

    Screams sounded from below, and he ran towards the noise.

     
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  18. A musky stench pervaded the chamber. It was warm, humid, and made K’jol’s skin crawl. The ground he stepped on transformed from rock to springy, sticky webbing. Spider webs clung from the floor to the ceiling, and in every darkened corner the draken found a cluster of cream colored eggs. The shells pulsed as one; a single heart beat ticking in time.

    Further on he traveled. The eggs grew larger, but the pulsing continued, a bodily metronome. Forms moved inside their shells, where long legs and bodies twisted and squirmed. The shells were becoming softer, stretching as the babes inside tested their limbs.

    The screams continued, high, shrill screams that shook the webbing. It shook his senses and prevented him from scanning around. That was good – the sight before him was too disturbing. Flare in his jaw, his heart pumping healthily in his chest, K’jol lumbered his way through.

    Webs were pushed aside, broken by his massive claws. Clumps of a wet sticky substance – food for the suckling – fell onto his head, his shoulders. It burned like acid. The draken growled and wiped the substance away on the cave walls. Streams of lava like veins inside a body criss crossed the laver of rock. Beads of sweat gathered on his neck; the temperature was climbing.

    Up ahead was a cavern with walls draped with spider webs and shadows. Inside was the source of the screaming, but K’jol did not dare move forward. With his back pressed against the cave wall, he listened, weary eyes peering around the corner.

    The screams had stopped, and a hulking figure lay in the center of the cavern. Panting. Cringing. Weeping.

    It was the flare that alerted the Ipari to the draken’s position.

    [​IMG]

    A large shadow in front of the draken shifted, lunged, and dealt a blow to K’jol’s skull. Blood splattered along the wall, his scaly skin cut open from the blunt end of an Ipari’s scimitar. Dazed, K’jol swung back, missed, and kissed the flat end of the sword. He crumbled to the webbed floor seeing stars.

    The draken tried to heave himself to his knees, grimaced at the lightning of pain that shot through his head, and fell. His breath was ragged. Watery eyes searched in vain for the attacker.



    Who are you?

    I am Amalia Lortik. Who do you think I am?

    We're not her, how could we be?

    Of course I am. How could I not be?

    We killed our father.

    It was the bouncing and swaying of the camel that stirred the healer. Her head lolled to the side, eyes roving underneath the eyelids. Kerrick and Terra had grown concerned. The moment they set out on the desert, the sand cat followed and then silently turned opaque -- they could barely make out her form in the dim light.

    He deserved it. You know he did.

    Of course... He did deserve it.

    What else would I have done? The Czar was forcing everyone to leave. Kaustir was following and I had to go.

    Why did you not make him join the Long March? The black scale went years ago. Why couldn't you have that done that?

    She was sitting in front of him, his arms on either side of her to keep her from falling. The proximity, this closeness, this altruism -- that was scarce. Rare. There were raiders... He could have died, sacrificed his life for a meaningless, dying woman.

    Silence.

    Well?

    You're asking me to grant him mercy where I have none to give.

    ... We are being corroded. You understand, don't you?

    I know, and I welcome it.


    It was in the middle of the night when Amalia finally woke from her deranged slumber. Her fingers gently latched onto his shirt, inhaling the scent of man, camel, and the crisp night. It was a frail and vulnerable gesture, much like how a babe clings to its mother. Amalia groaned and her eyes fluttered open.

    She was looking at a rather tanned individual. Not dark skinned, but tanned, and knew immediately that he was not of this land. Bewilderment filled her eyes. Pushing away from his chest, Amalia leaned forward to examine this man's face. Rugged, chiseled, but placid -- an odd and unsettling combination.

    Matil had settled herself on the camel's head, observing the pair of them with curious eyes. The horns growing on the side of her shoulders were glistening.

    Amalia opened her mouth and all that came out was a hoarse whisper. The stranger handed her a waterskin, which she gulped immediately. Droplets ran down her chin.

    "Who -- Who are you?"
     
    #18 Zen, Oct 30, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2014
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  19. The Cheronese, goldenrod Chelena rode on the back of a walnut colored unicorn, swaying from side to side with every step it took. Her gloved fingers tangled carefully in its mane, and underneath the folds of the long habit that hid her from site her legs squeezed tightly to its warm body. However, despite the reflexive actions of her body, Chelena’s eyes remained strangely blank. Her mind was elsewhere, focused on the task that Tattersal had given her.

    She could feel the seed of his plan growing inside of her, sending grasping feelers that bound her, body and soul, to her new duty. It was not a pleasant sensation, this binding, but Chelena embraced it quietly. For once, she was glad of the folds of the cloak that surrounded her, serving the dual purpose of guarding her from curious eyes and guarding her from the rays of the sun that managed to send white cascades down into the forest around her. Chelena’s war with the sun had been forgotten; she had a new war to fight now. And though her body would always bear the faint, tracery scars of her pointless battles, the festering burns that had caused them were now to be a thing of the past.

    Chelena was not drawn out of her silent contemplation until the trees began to fade from around them. Chelena, like so many others in Viridos, had never been out from under the canopy of her home. When they finally emerged from among the trees, the hooves of the unicorns churning the grassland soil, Chelena quailed under the weight of the massive sky. She slid down low on the back of the unicorn, and the horse whirled around, snapping large teeth closed inches from where her fingers were digging painfully into its neck. Chelena instantly released its neck, murmuring faint words of apology.

    For one moment, for that one moment that she would not forget in the harrowing days to come, Chelena forgot about her duty, her obligations to Tattersal and Viridos. Despite the creatures and people that called this place home, the plains of the Cheronese were peaceful in a way that Chelena could hardly comprehend. Here it would be possible to find what she needed to survive without having to wonder what was behind the next tree, waiting to grab or tear or poison. Here the water was clean and the plants were healthy. There was no venom in this land. But as he rows of Tattersal’s soldiers emerged from the forest, mounted on the backs of the unicorns and flanked by merchants on foot, and headed deeper into the Cheronese, Chelena began to notice something that left a heavy, uncertain weight in her heart.

    The beat of the forest, the pulse of life that had surrounded her for as long as she could remember, was missing. Yes, there was life here, and the life might be easy, but the plants did not truly live. They sat, hollow shells in the soil, growing for no reason, rather than because they knew that was what they were alive to do. Tattersal’s soldiers were too well trained to react as Chelena had to the sight of the Cheronese, but she could feel their unease in the sudden increase of tension that surrounded the party. They shifted on the backs of their temporary mounts, earning disgruntled huffs of warm breath that reminded them they were not above being bucked off. The forest had always been their safety, their protection. Ilium watched the forest, and through it she watched them. Quiet prayers touched the edges of lips, begging her to stay with them in this strange, lifeless land.

    How many of the soldiers here would hear the forest again if things went wrong? Would Chelena ever hear it again? Desperately she turned herself, craning for one last look of the forest. It was right there, behind her, still and silent and breathing. I’ll wait for your return, it seemed to say.

    The scouts of Kaustir would see the Viridos Delegation, and they would race back to camp to report the coming to their superiors. At the same time, some of Tattersal’s scouts would move on ahead, skulking close to the Red Army in armor made of hardened bark. When they would finally catch glimpses of the army, the sheer number of people, even from this one, limited view, would baffle comprehension.

    They would make their reports, and Tattersal’s face would remain as blank as ever.
     
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  20. From the day Tattersal was born, the Cinnabar Clad taught him about Sunne's providence. He was born for a reason. The purpose was in his blood, in the way his bloodline was carefully drawn from the fusion of oak and redwood. He was steadfast, and would lead the forest healers on their journey to defoul the jungle.

    Ilium was the only Old God left. Kairos was her prophet. Through him, Tattersal learned to feel the land, the correct mudras and rituals that would draw the poison from the soul. They first purified the area around the Riven tree, a thousand healers swaying with the tides of wind. The black that they pulled from the ground was infused deep into ancient heartwood and buried at the southern border, to ferment and become inert.

    As the Cinnabar Clad opened up Edelon and Hosia, turned black to tones of earth and life, Tattersal felt that the disciples of Kairos, of Providence, were destined to inherit Sunne. The natural order was halted at the Sea and the frozen North.

    Tattersal had thought that all on Sunne were picking up the pieces. But perhaps Kairos lied to him. From the North came scholars learned beyond measure, who wielded complicated magicks and traded intricate, finished goods. From the waters came merchants dressed in red silk, who used fire and steel to establish a trading port at Hosia. The history was now long forgotten, but Hosia was initially a Kaustrian trading post bristling with cannons.

    The Kaustrians underestimated him. Tattersal created the smiths of Ilium, turning the Alchemists of Kairos to forge the superior Golden Steel. He called on the ancient fey, Kairos' companions, for their Shansheng bark. With the two combined, the Kindly Ones marched from the forest and drove the merchant-soldiers from the shore. An uneasy truce was bartered.

    The Green General glanced sideways at the merchant delegation. Nearly a century after he reclaimed the shores for Viridos, the merchants there were once again poisoned; not by the land, but by Lukesh's clever, creeping corruption. Perhaps he would use them to wear the Czar down. Then, when they were tired and spent, he would teach them the meaning of Sunne's Providence.

    A niche for all.

    Tattersal rightfully assumed that Sunne was uniformly desecrated during the Cataclysm. So as he approached Kaustir's camps along the Chersonese, with a hundred merchants, a hundred fey, and his Lost Band, he felt that he would be able to negotiate.

    [​IMG]

    Never before had he been so wrong. He was greeted by a sea of white. Men and beast pressed together so uniformly that he could not stick a knife between the seams. Behind them a fortress of sharpened wood rose in a gigantic wave. It did not matter how if his soldiers could have killed ten, a hundred, a thousand enemies ... he would be crushed under the weight of bodies with a million shards of metal pushing into his body. While Viridos worked to right Sunne, the Czar had bled the desert as dry, as only a Nocturne could, and then took his warband to verdant pastures.

    "Halt!"

    A steel-tipped stockade rose into the sky, radiating malice and force.

    "State your business!"

    "I am General Tattersal from the nation of Viridos. I have come as a representative of the Jade Prophet to discuss matters of state with your leader."

    In the mirror, Shae began to run.

    She put the mask on. Her laboured breathing.

    Dry lips. The last drops from the waterskin. The glaring sun.

    Mud walls rising in the distance. A lone figure with a spear. Blood, and panting.

    A gloved hand on each shoulder dragged her back from augury. As her mask fell and red hair filled her vision, she knew.

    No, it was not herself she saw.

    It was Nu.


    "Nu ... Nu is in trouble." Panic glossed Lut Sar's face.

    , red
    Inquisitor Laverna gaze the Nocturne accountant a once over. He returned the gesture.

    "Idle hands will find work. The Czar should be sending for all your shipments, House Austrik."

    "Correction." Laverna could taste the disdain. "The Czar is sending for all the shipments from Dorgrad. Governor Orvak is pumping the veins, quite - but whatever he pulls from that pit is sent directly to the Sun Above. We barely scrape by any surplus for ourselves, and since the Hosia port closure, there is nothing for us to do."

    "So you wouldn't object to an audit of your wares?"

    "Does Lut Sar's inquisition have nothing else to do?"

    "Idle hands find work, Master of Austrik. So you have found no business, no buyers ... and each and every gram of your ore will be there."

    "Minus what has been lost to metal-rot."

    "Let us hope that amount does not amount to much, then."

    The humans did not follow the nuances of conversation between them, but their night was the Nocturne's day.

     
    #20 unanun, Nov 1, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2014
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