Viridos, Chapter 10

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Child is born with a heart of gold
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"I was expecting, crows," intoned the Kindly One in an uncertain voice. "Something, a little more, obvious."

[drop]E[/drop]delon rose in front of them, stone pillars haphazardly raised from a poisonous swamp. Dead moirgut, little insectoid creatures, coated the city, like the bread crumbs on the fresh, deep fried fish that the merchants used to sell at the Hosian fish market. Some of their hollow carapaces crunched underfoot. Some, their feet phased through. Their aux walked over those, and it made the aux nervous, as they skittered to avoid all of the moirgut.

Near the end of the group, a Kindly acolyte shrieked. Their aux had been driven too far from them by the fright of the moirgut, and she had collapsed to the ground, twitching and rolling along the carapaces.

Vydus walked at the head of the column, sweeping away the carcasses with a stiff, leafy branch. "This is quite obvious."

Chapter 10



The cinnabar cloaks of the Kindly Ones flapped stark against the gothic waste. They pressed in a wedge behind the Lieutenant General, distinguished in viridian raiment and an ivy coronet from which dangled curly tresses. Tucked under his arm was a package bound in dock leaves and silkweb.

It had been half a year since Vydus last set foot in the ruined city. The Lost Band had abandoned the place immediately following Tattersal's final blow to the moirgut, leaving the devastation for nature to heal. Nature had been ineffective so far however. The grand waterfalls which once deluged through Edelon were a distant memory, dammed by the carcasses of a billion centipedes and redirected into the surrounding forest where the water choked the soil of all life. The state of the holy city hearkened back to a time 300 years past.

Now after the nation had had time to lick its wounds clean, the capital could be reclaimed in the name of Ilium.

The battalion's footsteps crunched and squelched, pooling brown water in their wake like pus from a weeping sore. It agonised each and every one of them that the city they had sworn their lives to protect had been reduced to such a sorry state. All was quiet but their footfalls.

Vydus' antennae twitched as they detected a minute change in atmospheric chemistry. He halted. The troop halted.

"Rain. We must seek shelter."

His attention shifted to the nearest building. The edifice beckoned them in with a thousand tiny black hands.

Sailor Arti

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Kehlani Calvillo

Kehlani had been silent for the duration of her journey with the rest of the Kindly Ones. Being here in the center of the once holy place, and seeing it in such a state made her heart feel heavy. Her mistress or boss Amelia had ordered her to come here, for what reason she was not clear. Still, Kehlani was sure she had her reasons and she was sure her mistress would tell her those reasons when it was due time. Until then Kehlani would not question her wishes and instead, do as she was told. Still, she felt uneasy being here. If she was honest with herself, she was scared to be here. After what had happened half a year ago, anything was possible. She reached up to pet Malikai's head. Surrounded by the dead carcasses of the insectoid aux eaters she couldn't help but to be on guard. Maybe she was too tense for her own good. Taking a deep breath and exhaling, she closed her eyes. Listening to the soft humming Malikai made, almost as if he was purring, like a cat. When she opened her brown eyes again she was a little bit more relaxed. Just slightly. "You'll get wrinkles," a deep voice said beside her. Kehlani glanced in Malikai's direction, "What?" she blinked at him, confused. Malikah shifted his weight a little while perched on Kehlani's shoulder. "You're worried, nervous, on edge. Whatever you want to call it. You're frowning, and you've been frowning the entire trip. So, keep that up and you'll get wrinkles," He said in a matter-of-fact tone. Kehlani pouted at his commentary. "I know, but--" she was cut off by Malikai nibbling her ear, "Relax. I'm not going anywhere. Besides, it won't do you any good to get wound up now. You have a job to do." What could she say? He was right. "Thank you" she muttered softly to him. "Rain. We must seek shelter." the man in the front of the group, named Vydus, maybe, ordered. Kehlani looked around looking for signs of rain but didn't see any. Still, she would obey. She had no choice really but to obey.


Child is born with a heart of gold
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The rain fell. Rather, it dripped. More accurately, it slipped from the sky, smooth strands of syrup that silently slithered from canopy to branch to leaf to ground, as if the rivers of Edelon had started to pour from the clouds instead. Despite its honey-like texture, it returned to water when it hit the ground, rapidly tracing the contours between the cobblestone paths until it hit the river beds. The river beds ... once full of pristine, crystal green water, now a dry, muddy basin, a mass grave filled to the brim with the shells of dormant aux-eaters. The Kindly Ones refused to call them dead, at the many meetings, hearings, and inquiries under the shade of the Riven tree in the six months since the incident in Pegulis. There was nothing in them that was alive, so how could they be dead, reasoned the soothsayers. No flesh and blood, nor gears and oil, opined the smiths and scholars.

"Sleeping", then, the elder's had concluded, culled by a power beyond our understanding, and as one they turned to Tattersal, who spoke from Ilium's mouth. He confirmed in a lyrical voice that belied his harsh face, his voice modulated by the Divine Weapon that carried the vibrations through space and time to everyone who had an ear in Viridos. Kairos is dead, and Viridos is meant for our stewardship. We will inherit Sunne - after we cleanse Edelon!

True to Tatteral's guarantee, not a single aux-eater showed any sign of life up to the present day. The first unfortunate incident occurred when some forest kin were sweeping them into the river. As a joke, one was pushed back first into the crunchy pile - he died solely from the shock and panic. But other than that, the only thing that stood between Viridos and its hallowed treasure Edelon was a mountain of trash - and deep feelings of paranoia and abandonment, amplified tenfold by the water, which seemed to know that there was something else in the air, filtering the emotions and becoming thick with superstition.


[fieldbox="Walks of Life, lime"]
In the fold between darkness and the piercing sunbeams of the morn, Ness walked the halls of the Shartan. It’s halls a perplexing puzzle of stairs and walls that returned their visitors back to where they would have started, halls turning by lunar cycles from hallways to stairs, from stairs to dead ends, in order to thwart the escape of its most “valued” prisoners. Disguised as bulwarks in a perpetual escherian state, to the naked eye, the halls of the Shartan fooled even Ness when his mental state was clouded with thoughts of his tasks. Its halls twisted and writhed in structure, serpentine and straight, curved and descending into the bowels of the earth.

As he walked the halls, he entered a vast, cavernous room, the main foyer to that of the Shartan’s main offices. With walls bequeathed in murals to the sky in the evening and a savannah of wastes, the foyer itself was a cruel joke on the part of those who constructed the Shartan in it’s infancy, a pale, hollow imitation of the lack of freedom inside, intent on torturing the captive and bringing joy to the free as a reminder of their lives outside Viridosian chains.

To the study he walked, purpose in his stride, equations on his mind as to what hypotheses he could be testing today, and whether the possibility of human testing would be in order. Up the serpentine steps of cold grey stone, to a wooden study of the same lifeless pallor, albeit for the alchemical herbs strewn across shelves around the room.

It would be time to start creating the serums for the day ahead.

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The chamber was silent but for the rain outside. The Clad slumped together against the wall taking solace in the indeterminate break in their long march. They massaged their aching limbs and closed their eyes to the broken cityscape and dreamt of rosier days.

The darkness concealed the moirgut in one corner, piled into a messy heap. The scant flashes of lightning illumined only the silhouette of the figure leant on the open balustrade as he kept vigil over the deluged streets below.

"Would you like me to take over, General?" came a hushed voice.

Vydus turned to regard the girl. "That won't be necessary, Naya. I can't find rest in this place."

"Me neither. Would you mind if I joined you?" The anima inclined his head to the ledge. They watched the old riverways rise and flow again — pacing time. "If only it washed them all away." Vydus squeezed her hand.
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Child is born with a heart of gold
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"Do you know why I kill?"

"No, Haakon."

"No one listens to me." Haakon slowly picked his way through the vines, methodically peeling them apart with forefinger and thumb. "I tried to tell our kin. That the way of the forest - the way - is chaos. Life is not meant to be controlled. It is meant to be free."

"Kairos branded me an anarchist. Ilium has her own plans." Under Haakon's diligence, the thorny branches of his prison gradually opened. "And when no one listens to you. You must first wear a terrifying and monstrous mask, to inscribe your ideas in their hearts."

The forest-kin's form, long warped and gnarled by the Shartan, moved with the same preciseness in his first crime. Haakon believed that a death would be enough to force his fellow kin to pay attention to him. But when they didn't, he was forced to wear more garish and terrifying visages - until his last murder, hanging up a Lieutenant to dry in the Prosperos wind, the forest-kin's bark dried and split by insects and the salt - ended with him broken in two, mind and body, and left to wither in the Shartan, rooted to a single spot and even denied the freedom to wander the prison.

Haakon carefully pried his legs free from the dirt, and pulled himself through the roots of his prison. He gazed around him, looking at his prison for the first time. Contempt rose in him. Did the Shartan's jailers think they could hold him in like this?

"Do you know why I kill?"

"No, Haakon." The face of his friend formed from the vines of his prison, mouthing silently at him.

"No one listens to me." He carefully teased open the vines to his prison. "I tried to tell-"

For the first time, Haakon felt as if he had done this before. Mustering great effort, he moistened his fingers and wiped them across his eyes, the mossy and overgrown eyelashes scraping his cloudy orbs.

"I tried .." The supple yew searched for his friend. "I tried .. to tell our kin." He blinked and his eyes remained dry. Light was flooding his vision, pouring in from the edges, so bright that it muted the colours around him. Swallowing, Haakon dared to look skyward. The soothsayer's prison of sight and sound unraveled around him, and when he searched for his friend among the vines, he only found withered brown leaves. He took a deep breath, and dared to push past his prison, for the five-hundred-thousand and fiftieth time.


In front of Haakon, the Shartan unravelled, an arrow straight path to the exit. At the end, he could feel Kairos waiting for him.

Waiting for Haakon's hands to crush his throat.


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Her eyes glimpsed through the page of the book that laid on her desk. Carefully she took the quill into her left and cautiously dipped it into the ink before she begun to subtract the latest expenses from her funds.

Her eyes lingered on the number as her mind mind remembered. She had it all prepared, the troops, even a good strategist as lances, made of fire, traveled over the horizon. Her fleet was lost and her troops and mercenaries were ordered back.
Her eyes turned to her left hand, only to see that the quill broke under the sudden burst that traveled all the way to her hand. She hated that things had to turn for the worst.
A sigh left her lips as she stood up and moved up to the window, opening it. A cold and soft evening breeze greeted her gaze as her eyes turned to look at Aviary, city of the Aviary, most prideful birdheads on Sunne.

Her eyes turn to look at this piece of art that her "artists" have been working on. A good part of the city has been rebuild, hosian architecture slightly influencing the housing that now stood here. To Amelia's dismay, the High Counselor continued to refuse to allow the hosian refugees to live in any of them and as such they had to settle at the feet of the fallen city.
A feeling of satisfaction filled her as a carriage in the street bellow transported provisions to the refugees. She managed to convince the high counselor to aid in providing for the worker while they do work, she did not really leave him much of a choice after pointing out that they would raid the city if they would be at risk of starving.
The worker rebuilding the city and they provide food. It was certainly not enough, but the red lady did not hesitate to help out a little bit by dropping a few coins here and there once in a while.

Knock knock

"Come in," Amelia replied as she turned as Irin, her personal servant entered the room, holding a document in her hands.

"You look terrible," joked the servant as she gazed onto Amelia's face. Irin walked up to the desk and placed several sealed letter and an open page onto it.

"It has been difficult on me for the past months you know. I need to constantly make sure that everything works as we intend, you know." Another sigh left her lips.

"I do," Irin ruefully replied. "These are from the expeditions and from the chamberlain from the west. The report details what we have sent westwards today."

"What about the visitors we had recently, have they been shown what they should see?"

"Yes, they have. As you wished, we have shown them the unrestored sections of the city and kept them away from what we are working on..." Irin hesitated for a moment before satisfying her curiousity. "But why do we do this, if I may ask, My'lady?"

"We have to make Aviary seem undesirable, otherwise a crazed old general or one of the other three may choose to visit us. The least desirable Aviary seems, the less likely it is that we are noticed in our plans to construct a new city in the west. The sooner we can get everybody west, the better." Remembering another detail she continued after a short moment. "We also need time to find something to protect our people from those... things... in case our settlement is discovered."

Irin nodded her head: "I see. That certainly explains a lot. But Amelia? Make sure you get enough sleep at least. I wish you a good night later, My'lady."

Amelia nodded her head as she watched Irin leave. She returned to her seat on the desk, opened the desk's drawer and took another quill out from it. The accounting book still laid open before her, once more she cautiously dipped the quill into the ink.

Done with the accounting, her hands moved to the report, detailing that a small group of refugees have begun moving westwards along with vital resources needed for what she planned . A guard of 20 of her own soldiers accompanied the group and would return before morning dawned.

Her eyes turned to look to a sealed letter, breaking the seal, her hands carefully opened the letter. It was from the chamberlain, the first she sent west to oversee the construction of a new city, a new home for the people that had to leave the now poison infested Hosia. Her eyes quickly scrolled through the letter, seeking key information pieces. Outer Palisade wall, inner basic stone wall, treasury, houses completed and farming land prepared. Require more people for the farms.

A small smile formed on Amelia's lips, being glad that it is progressing well, though it would still be a while before she could lay her own eyes on her big project. I have come a far way with this, eh? It was difficult for her to believe that it all started with a suggestion from her strategist, the chamberlain and the knight captain, her inner council basically. And it all merely started with sending scouts west to discover a water source that could renew itself and the terrain proved to be fruitful and rich in the basics they would require to undergo this project.

Still with a content smile on her face, she put the letter away and moved to look through the next ones. All reports of chasing after a clue for a divine weapon. A feeling of discomfort spread through her stomach when she thought about what she sent her most loyal out to look for: A divine weapon.
Her right hand moved to massage her temple to cope with that very discomfort.
Those four power crazy beings must have become the way they were by discovering one of them, now she is seeking one herself. The risk...
Another sigh left her lips.

"To protect my people."

In her mind the images of her trusted people show, the chamberlain, her family, the knight captain, Irin, Kehlani and all the other people she has met and spoken to in the refugee camp. They all look up to her for guidance and protection.

Kehlani specifically dwelled for a moment longer in her mind. A young girl, sent her down to Edelon without telling her why.
"She is gonna figure it out," Amelia laughed. She had grown quite fond of the young girl, stumbled at random on her. To Amelia, Kehlani's eyes had something in them, something that would make her unique, though she could not and still not grasp what. It did not take long before Amelia offered the young girl a job in her service, not as a servant but for more direct tasks coming directly from her.
In Amelia's mind, Edelon was an unknown factor, the one time she visited the city, it was glorious and beautiful, a place of nature and harmony. Yet the battle with the aux eater happened there, a rumor the red lady originally dismissed.

A hope Lady Ironheart had, was to hear anything possible and available from Edelon, survivors, measure of the battle, corruption and if the city bears any possible threat.

A tired yawn left Amelia's lips and she finally decided to get that sleep Irin so much suggested earlier.
There was still a lot that needed to be done.


Child is born with a heart of gold
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The Shartan was ruled by the lesser prisoners, those that were too weak to warrant true bindings on their hands and shackles on their minds. When the soothsayers crafted the Shartan, their delicate threads formed the fabric upon which the they projected their filth, and the more they stayed inside the holy prison, the more they changed to belong. They kept each other in line - their lack of fortitude and baseness made them feast on each other, and none of them ever thought to imagine that they could combine their strengths to escape. They were parasites of Viridos - creatures that truly had nothing to offer, and only existed to take. To such an individualistic, self-centered, empty mind, the flesh that moistened their lips was all the same, and they happily stalked the brambled paths of the Shartan.

Broadly, there were two kinds of vermin. Those that knew to stay away from Haakon, and those that wandered into his fist of rusted nails and twisted metal. After such a long imprisonment, Haakon greedily squeezed and drank the nourishment from their bodies. To a creature like Haakon, the Shartan's puzzle was sapling's play, after existing inside the special microcosmic prison that the soothsayers had wrapped around his soul. Haakon stalked forward, splashing along the winding river of white to the exit.

Haakon was unlike any other. Sometimes, when a tool is forged it becomes imbued with a special fortitude. It could lose its working edge, or its joints could rust frozen. Yet with only a little maintenance, its jaws ate through wood better than a bargain twice as sharp. Its core has fundamental strength. Haakon believed that he was the lone rogue, a prophet of a cause higher than Kairos, the only recipient of Ilium's true message - a return to the basic law, a law of well defined heirarchies and simple, pure roles. Yet, Kairos' lieutenant had cleverly twisted Haakon into the antithesis of his preachings, but he did not know because he had never looked into a mirror. This lieutenant did not believe in Kairos either, and saw a way to create conflict to open a wedge that he could drive himself into. As Haakon continued on his murder-preachings, he inevitably came into conflict with the forest-kin. Each time, the lieutenant healed him with metal, sewing his splintered limbs with iron thread and nailing metal plates over his bark. Eventually, such gross hypocrisy could no longer go unnoticed by the poisoned jungle, and as one it came together to throw him into the Shartan, seeing Haakon as some twisted avatar of an Eastern Old One, or even some bizarre horror from the Deadlands where such things were common.

Time healed all wounds though, and Haakon assimilated the metal, camoflouging it in rust and buttressed roots. Few would recognize the forest-kin by sight, but his self-righteousness was overpowering.

Fog clouded Haakon's eyes. He blinked, but could not tell if it was his old yes, or if the Shartan was still playing tricks on him. Haakon contemplated suicide, ripping his heart out - but even death was a sham here, no guarantee of anything. Most of the Shartan's occupants were irreversibly divorced from the world, except for the few that had a strong enough grudge to continue. Like that black unicorn.

The exit came ever closer.


Edelon was quiet. It was beyond quiet: it was still. The weight of superstition sat upon the dusty city like a heavy cloth. In the ruins of a great theologians library, Vydus and the rest of the detachment settled in for the night. Lately, Tattersal had banned the use of fire - an invention of the East, and unneeded for a forest-kin. Some of the younger ones were fitful in the dark, and Naya sat in a corner sparking flints. The library still had a gentle splendor that held the aux-eater's malaise at bay, although their carapaces littered the shelves. The room was lit by the vanishing glow of some aux, and they played among each other, sometimes taking a break to push the aux-eaters into small piles around the room.

Naya watched the aux and wondered why there was such an endless variety. They were as unique as the crux, but their shape had reason. Naya often thought about them, after watching crux twist and contort in wretched agony. She passed a hand through her hair, but only felt the bare skin of her scalp. The scholars never taught them what aux was - no one had ever thought about or studied them, because their presence was as natural as the crux. Yet ... yet the aux never interacted with their world. The aux was more like a tether to some unseen plane that showed itself between blinks, or glimpsed over the shoulder. Naya moved her hands through her aux and watched the strands of hair wave and blow in delayed response to her fingers, as if she was brushing them in water. Almost as if it was a projection of her mind.


The legion had found a way to cross the waterlogged streets by the bridges between the taller buildings. It was certainly a much longer way around, but the water level had risen dramatically overnight over the lower pathways and they were no longer walkable. There too was the added danger of the unstable bridges which had suffered much attrition during the war and under the subsequent burden of moirgut carcasses. Even the robust roots woven to create them had their limits.

The rain had reduced to a cold drizzle, the kind that soaked through skin and clothing and chilled the very bones. The soldiers shivered and gritted their woody teeth as they passed slowly from tower to tower, marching in unison, like an orange centipede along a petrified tree.

Vydus was its green head, casting the tangible shells ahead into the murk below with languid strokes of his sword. His fairy aux fluttered amidst the Kindly Ones to detect any signs of fatigue or agitation. They needed collective strength to abate the carnage and destruction.

As the Lieutenant General entered the next building through its bridge gate, an acrid stench assaulted his antennae and nostrils. He hesitated and raised his hand to halt the troop behind him.

The pungent chamber was dark, its windows barred by moirgut. Vydus strained his eyes but saw nothing. "Light," he called back.

A firefly aux zipped forward and emitted an aura of yellow light into the room. It drifted along the fibrous walls and revealed the litter of moirgut and splatters of dried sap on the floor. It had clearly been the site of a struggle in the war and remained now a terrible reminder of all those lost in the plight of Edelon and the nation's lack of recovery half a year onward.

The aux moved further into the room to find a corner. There, piled against the walls, was a mountain of dung. Vydus stepped towards it and his vanguard followed suit. Naya knelt and pinched and crumbled a bit between thumb and forefinger.

"This is mostly composed of grass and other vegetation. It's fairly fresh, I'd say two to three days old. Judging by the size and composition of the droppings, I'd say this is..." Naya turned to look to Vydus before she uttered the last word, "Horse." She suspected he had already deduced as much. His visage was shrouded in shadow and unreadable.

"I wondered when he would show up." He stabbed his sword into the soft mulch with a squelch. "These leavings are more things than simply horse manure. They are a signpost – the traitor knows we're here and he wants us to know it. They are a territory marker – he has claimed the city and will not abide our presence here. Finally," he moved so Naya could see him in the shifting glow, "It is a gamepiece. The unicorn wishes to play with us and we have stumbled onto his board." Vydus wrenched his sword free and moved to go on.


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Child is born with a heart of gold
Original poster
Somewhere in the Shartan, Haakon stalked the path to the exit. The subtle soothsayings did nothing to Haakon, but there were deeper twists in the Shartan, built upon by generations of shamans, each one specifically for blasphemers of their generation. Haakon was trapped.


"Hello there."

Haakon did not need to see the mouth to know which face the voice belonged to. Haakon's rusted fist retreated to its side, slick with oil black blood as the beast stumbled back, its chest neatly imprinted with the outline of a fist.

"Peace, old one!" The voice gurgled, but Haakon's fists forced the beast to stumble back. The metal in its fist bent with the force of the blows, and Haakon could feel old nails inside him twisting and awakening old pains.

"PEACE!" A horn gored Haakon's shoulder and tossed the old forest kin back. Together they crashed into the undergrowth, tumbled through hundreds of other prisons. They swept through poison ivy, crushing lesser kin trapped by the magic of the Shartan, and ended up with Haakon on top of the unicorn with its hands wrapped around Amaltas' neck.

"Is that how you treat an old friend?" Amaltas' eyes rolled and a dark froth boiled at the corners of his mouth, and Haakon squeezed, felt the bone and flesh crumble under its fingers, but the horn snickered and taunted him. The unicorn's throat collapsed and Haakon rose to dust the drying blood from its hands, even as Amaltas stood with him as well, the lolling, engorged tongue making his smile even more mocking.

"Amaltas." Haakon carefully cleaned the dirt from Haakon's fingers. "Royalist."

"Do you really believe tha-" Amaltas' snout crumbled and the unicorn stumbled back, Haakon examining Haakon's dirtied fingers with fresh distaste.

"You've become so violent," said the horned horse with a distinctively nasally tone. "What a change from the days of the old."

Haakon hesitated, and tried to relax its fist, but the metal had been forged by Haakon's punch and kept the shape of a fist. So Haakon simply shrugged.

"It is the present way of the jungle. Those drunk on aux and Kairos can only be made to remember their old ways ... through the desperation of impending death." The fists rose again. "Including you."

"Why ... have you come back." Haakon remembered. "They took .. you. I thought you were going to escape. Raise a family in the south."

"Things have changed. Wogov returns. The moirgut's hold on Kairos is weakening." The unicorn shorted a blood clot onto the ground, and the Shartan eagerly drank it. "My peace will be broken soon, so I have returned, to fetch you. To keep the peace."

"That is fine, unicorn." With effort, Haakon straightened its fist and flexed its fingers. "I was going to leave anyways." (Amaltas laughed, a deep braying sound. It echoed through the Shartan, and everyone remembered their old dreadlord.) "I have waited in here long enough. It is time that Viridos remembered."


The troupe pressed on with a heightened sense of trepidation. The phantoms of horseflesh lurked behind every corner and in every shadow, whispering poisonous words on the breeze and in the crunch of centipede under every soldier's step.

Danger was twofold now. Before there was only the fear of some dormant moirgut biting up into some unfortunate's aux: the spiritual death. Now there were agents about who threatened to tear them limb from limb: the physical death. It didn't help that the horror stories that surrounded Amaltas and his barbaric herd of unicorns were of a particularly graphic nature. Several of the Kindly Ones banded there had seen the aftermath of a unicorn attack and retold the experience with a deadness of voice and gaze. The treekin were not a race who were naturally sensitive to corporeal concerns, with their tough woody skins and lack of internal soft tissues and a culture which associated grooves and growths with character and world experience. That the unicorns posed such a threat to them was testament to the horror of Amaltas' legacy and the mythology surrounding the monstrous being.

The parasite had done well in engaging psychological warfare. The Forest Kin were not the easiest of victims and possessed a wisdom cultivated from an ancient and time-tested forest. Perhaps it was the madness of the Shartan etched into Amaltas' psyche that gave him a razor-sharp edge.

Night was settling in. There had been nothing of note since the morning's grave finding, bar a few spooks every so often from imagined movement glimpsed in the corners of eyes. Nothing really moved in Edelon but them and the weeping rain that slowly swamped the earth. It was an illusion of stillness and the proclivity of Viridosians to see life in all things. There was, however, no life here; rather, no life that could be seen.

They would retire for the night in the next building, Vydus decided. The encroaching darkness was not safe for travel without light. Tattersal's ban on fire was nonsense in the moth anima's opinion and only hindered the progress of the regenerating Viridosi peoples. Fire was just as necessary to the forests as its vegetation; through destruction came the ash of fertility and new growth. Viridos had had its destruction but Tattersal forbade all the ashes. Vydus would maintain the new rule for now but it had restored the soldier's doubts in the General from before he had saved the realm from the aux-eaters. Tattersal flirted with tyranny. It was an unsettling omen.

What lay beneath the litter of moirgut corpses in the unit's path was impossible to see. A Kindly One crushed another shell underfoot as she walked and pressed something underneath. Suddenly, a viny noose coiled around her leg and dragged her with sickening speed across the bridge shrieking. The others were powerless to act in the time it took for her to cover the remaining length of the bridge and reach the building on the other side.

She did not slow down before reaching the wall. Her head collided with the woodwork and shattered in a sticky mess of bark and heartwood. The pulley finally halted and left the headless body dangling in front of the bridge gate, sap oozing onto the entrance balcony.

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Pray you are not found by the Unicorn!
Pray you do not find the Stranger!
Shartan wall etching, unknown author


The herd ringed the entrance to the Shartan. A cool mist shrouded their hooves as they stood megalith-still in wait for their horselord to return.

Tamed horses may have whickered, chomped the grass or scratched at the earth as they waited, but not these beasts. Amaltas' lot did not make gestures that belied their obedience. They were focused and still, concentrated on the dark maw of the prison before them, a sight which most mortals would not dare spy.

In a period which could have spanned hours or days, two figures materialised from the darkness. One was their leader, the great unicorn Amaltas, the other a stranger. The stranger was a twolegged, lesser race. Why their horselord would risk so much to retrieve such a lifeform remained to be seen, but the horses would never doubt his motives.

Haakon halted in the portal of the Shartan. Its deep black eyes seemed to perceive something in the interstice that was otherwise invisible. Its mouth parted slightly ajar and quiet whispers clicked and rolled out from within. Slowly raised its iron fist to the gate as its fingers slowly unfurled to the creak of metal under mechanical stress. The dust around the entrance shuffled as if disturbed by a breeze and the unicorn behind the prisoner clopped back a few steps.

The stranger's outstretched hand pushed forwards into the empty air. There it seemed to touch something as the herd saw the atmosphere around the darkness momentarily distort, rippling out from the stranger's iron fingers. The being then pulled back its hand and the air appeared to pull with it like a film was in place there and had stuck to it. The stranger, still muttering under its breath, began to push back and forth the film and the air oscillated, revealing intricate threads across the portal like a great spider's web.

भद्रं पश्येमाक्षभिर्यजत्राः
ॐ भद्रं कर्णेभिः शृणुयाम देवाः ।​

The divine words thrummed through the halls of the Shartan, despite the stranger's whispered incantation, as Haakon pulled the soothsayers' web taut and it strained audibly with tension.

मृत्युंजायाय रुद्राय नीलकंठाय शंभवे l
अमृतेशाय शर्वाय महादेवाय ते नम: ll​

The web stretched and stretched and snapped. The dust around the stranger's feet suddenly burst out in all directions and its iron hand clamped shut.

Haakon inspected its curious gauntlet as it spoke to the unicorn. "The first barrier is broken."

* * * * *​

The shockwave from the Shartan's broken magic rippled out across the forest. It charged the air and fizzled the wind. Most humanoids were desensitised to the flow of magic, but the animals felt it. Birds flew from their nests and insects scurried to their holes. It surged through the clogged waterways of Edelon disturbing what little life still remained there.

It soon reached the Kindly Ones as they journeyed still from derelict building to derelict building. It pulsed through the column yet the rearguard detected nothing. It burst past Vydus and sent a shiver through his antennae. He felt it; the electric tang of magic. He stopped abruptly and turned in the direction of the gust. His heart sank for he knew all too well what lurked in that direction over tree and hill and instinctively knew what the cause of the shockwave must have been. "The Shartan!" he cried.
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Child is born with a heart of gold
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[fieldbox="-, green, solid, 10"]"
he Shartan!"

Vydus' cry rang through their camp.

No one in the patrol was old enough to remember the winged calvary of the gods. They road on incandescent beasts, leaping across the Prosperos in four strides and clashing with swords of light. But the unicorns had some semblance of that splendour as they crashed into the clearing, a tidal wave of horns that speared anything along their path.

The war tactics of the unicorns did not need any technique or subtlety. Can you imagine the might of a murderous vegetarian beast? A carnivore eats sporadically, and evolves as a balance of muscle and upkeep. But a beast of burden, who eats all day, can easily decapitate a Viridosian with a swift kick of its hind legs. A horse runs from predators, but a unicorn spears its adversaries. Doubly so for those under the sway of Amaltas.

They took slashes to their legs, and gashes to their flanks. Perhaps, for every one of Vydus' band that was slain, a unicorn fell. The unicorns snapped the horns free from the dead horses, swallowing them for safekeeping amidst a spray of blood and brain. But the wave of flesh was irresistable, unstoppabable, and the Kindly Ones were scattered.

Perhaps it was a blessing. A phalanx would have never withstood such a focused pillum. Now the fight became a much more subtle affair, one which the Kindly Ones excelled at. Vydus found himself across from a roan, its dark horn coated with dried blood at its base. "Such a hasty product," he thought to himself. Although this fresh unicorn was a killer, it did not have the learned tricks of older killers, and sought to impale Vydus with a straight charge. He easily sidestepped, and the horn fell to the ground, the roan half a step later.

"Eh. Where's the joy in that? The moment an animal has its first thought, all joy of life is gone. It becomes obsessed with thought, and through thought only misery befalls it and everything it touches." From the mist sauntered Amaltas, looming, cloaked in haze, the original, black helix horn glistening green.

Vydus did not hesitate. His tattered wings flew apart, shedding scales in a hypnotic burst of opalescent dust. Among the chaos and blood, Amaltas became still. Vydus charged, desperate to transfix the horn on his rapier.

A scream interrupted his thoughts. From the corner of his eye he saw Naya tossed into the air by a hundred different horns.

"NAYAAAA!" He spun.

Weightlessness overcame him. From his chest bloomed a spiraling black horn glistening with sap. He felt his ribcage lifting him into the air with a deep, laughing bray as he was thrust through the foliage, carried away by the thunder of hooves.[/fieldbox]

End of Chapter 10.​
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