Viridos, Chapter 6

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  1. Chapter 6
    Interlude: Awakenings



    Chelena eagerly jumped off of the merchant’s vessel as it drew close to the dock, ignoring both the shout of frustration from the captain, and Haeron’s resigned sigh. She danced briefly on the dock, Belphebe’s scarves, which covered her head to foot, flying out wildly around her. Despite everything, she truly had missed Edelon, and she was glad to be back.

    The city had recovered from the fall of the Aviary, at least for the most part. Slowly it had returned to the normal rhythms of the heart of Viridos, its most ancient and iconic city, and although the presence of the Kindly Ones had become far more noticeable after the incident people were willing to forget about that. Their world had returned to peace, and the chaos that the blockade had created in Hosia had been spared by this city of Ilium. The Holler rumbled on.

    Haeron departed the boat with most of the crew in the proper way. He paused only briefly to shake hands with the captain and hand over the last of the payment for the trip before turning to gather Chelena. He smiled at her antics, to which he had been exposed full force for most of the trip, but the smile quickly slipped from his lips. It was time for him to complete his duty.

    He regathered the wild nocturne, gently herding her towards the center of Edelon. This time, Chelena did not have to worry about the Kindly Ones as she was guided to a heavy wooden door, securely sequestered but with easy access to Ilium’s Hall. Haeron knocked on the door before being bid to enter. Rather than moving in, however, he stepped aside, gesturing for Chelena to proceed through the door alone.

    ”And you?”

    ”This is where our paths part ways. It was a pleasure traveling with you, Chelena, but do not keep the general waiting.” Haeron bowed briefly, fist clamped over his heart, before turning on his heels and walking away down the hall. Chelena hesitantly pushed her way through to the other side of the door.

    The oaken face of General Tattersal greeted her as she entered the room, his one good eye scrutinizing her.

    “Remove the scarves.”

    For a moment Chelena quailed under his gaze, but the whispered words of the major floated through her mind. This was her opportunity, her one chance. This was the only man who could make everything right again, and give her life meaning once more.

    One by one, the scarves dropped to the floor. Tattersal studied her body critically, analytically, before nodding once. ”You will do.”

    ”I am a dancer. The men do not touch me.”

    Tattersal did not even seem to hear her objection to his statement. Instead he simply gestured that Chelena could once more pick up her precious items and she promptly scooped them up. ”Come,” he told her, gesturing to another door. ”I cannot speak with you now, but I assure you we have much to discuss. In the meantime, you should find this room to your comfort.”

    And find it to her comfort Chelena did. That little room was one of the most richly colored places she had ever seen, and it bewitched her. She did not even notice as the door closed behind her and roots sealed the door shut.

    Chelena stayed in that room for two days. She was fed whenever she was hungry, and left to her own devices when she was not. And all though that time, Tattersal’s words floated about her.

    The first time he came she mostly ignored him, letting the color of his words get washed out by the rest of the room. But at one point she found herself forced to listen to his words, and listen she did. His words did not make much sense, but they began to awaken her. The next time he came she listened, and in his words she found truth. In his words she found salvation. The colors of the room faded from her mind. His words were all important. He told her that Viridos was in danger, and that she was the only one who could save it.

    When he entered her room and told her that he was leaving for Riven, and that waiting for her there would be the first step of her mission, Chelena did not hesitate. She left the room, falling into step behind him.

    Belphebe’s scarves lay forgotten, piled into a corner of the room.

    Chelena was not noticed as another member of Tattersal’s escort, and she did not care. The only thing that mattered was Tattersal’s words, words he continued to gift to her every night as they traveled. By the time they reached Riven, Chelena was prepared to give him anything.

    He would ask her to give him everything. She would accept.

    Tattersal gave her to the healers, and they went to work on her body. Through the days they slowly erased every sign of her wild life from her body. The scars from her war with the sun faded slowly from her body, and the marks that showed the trials of her youth faded as well. She would become as perfect in body as she was in mind. Her task demanded nothing less.

    When the healers finished with her she was given to the artists. Under their hands her body became a canvas, and she a work of art. Every line was precise and careful, and it glowed with the vitality of the forest she represented.

    It was then that Tattersal found her again. He looked at her with the same calculating look that had marked their first meeting. But this time it seemed that something was finally to meet with his approval.

    ”You are perfect.” Tattersal told her. She swayed at the sound of his words, following him like a daisy under the sun. ”Come, my dear. We must make the final preparation.”

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Saraphine dipped and weaved her way around the crowded inn, two trays of food and drink in her hands. The boisterous crowd payed no mind to the slim girl as she served them. The snippets of conversation flowed around her, and she listened absently. "...no good son of mine ran off again..." "...Maria's a pretty one for sure...pursue her?" "...her babe should be born any day..." "...damned kids, always causing trouble. Just yesterday..." "...Avarath cleaned out..." Saraphine almost missed the quiet statement, then turned back to the table. Avarath? Cleaned out? What on earth?

    The conversing people had lowered their tones, she could no longer hear them. She continued to hand out food and drink, but reached up to touch the green ribbon that was twined in her hair. Her advent improved her hearing temporarily, and she focused on the quiet table as she continued to absently hand out the drinks. Even with her increased hearing, she could only hear pieces of the conversation.

    "...shut the ports...Avarath shipyard is still full...being cleared out...something bad is going to happen, mates...Avarath..." At that moment a younger gentleman tugged his girl up to her feet to dance with her. Normally, had she been paying attention, Saraphine would be able to dodge them no problem. With her attention focused on the distant conversation however they slammed into her and she tumbled back onto the floor. Food and drink covered Saraphine as the trays tipped over her.

    Saraphine, beer dripping from her dress, was tugged to her feet as the crowds of concerned people surrounded the liked girl. "Are you alright, missy?" Someone was brushing the crumbs of bread from her soaked clothes, but she ignored them as she tried to spot the people she'd been listening to. When she finally saw the table, it was empty. They'd already gone.

    She had a hurried conversation with the innkeep, faking an injured ankle and promising she'd be back tomorrow, before hurrying out of the inn. When she reached her home she hurriedly changed into a clean dress and headed for the Hosia military base. She was sure that they would find the conversation she'd overheard quite important.

    As she approached the base, she couldn't help feeling a little nervous. She clearly didn't belong here, and it wasn't long before a soldier stopped her. "What is your business here?" She took a deep breath before standing up a little straighter. "I have important information concerning the war." She said firmly. "I need to speak to someone in charge, right away. It's of the utmost importance." The soldier seemed a little taken back by her words. After a moment's hesitation, he sighed. "Come with me. I'll take you to Valyrin."
     
    #2 AngelFish, Sep 24, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2014
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  3. Fugitives from the Clad



    The four of them pushed their way south, with the rising sun in the canopy hurrying them along. The thick poisonous jungle began to give way to scattered scrubland. Here was where Viridos ended, and the Deadlands began.

    Naya sneezed and tugged on Ash's arm. Her hair had withdrawn itself into a tightly curled bun at the back of her head. "We shouldn't be here! The sentinels ..."

    "I have an agreement with them." Ironblood had long discarded the long, flowing Cinnabar robes, clad instead in earth-toned cotton that was tightly bound to her body with rough hemp rope. "Their purpose is to keep us safe from the Deadlands."

    "That is also my purpose." Naya sneezed again, and Ash squinted in the suddenly misty air. Someone had wrapped slow burning, tar-soaked rope around many of the trees. The grey soot that they gave off was mixed with the dusty soil, forming a tan coloured cloud into which Ironblood entered. Her breathing, Ash noted, was clear and healthy despite the choking smoke around them. Naya bound her face with a scarf and did the same for the Historian.

    "I am host to a parasite." Ironblood morosely showed them her hands, bound in metal gauntlets. "It was lingering inside the mask that we retrieved so long ago. It is perhaps some ancient life, and it is inside me - poisoning me through my aux." She showed them her aux - a silver acorn bound around her neck. It was tarnished, black spots like mold forming on its lustrous surface.

    "Long has it tried to escape me. But for some reason, I am able to quell its presence in ash." Perhaps it was the trick of the smoke, a mid-day mirage, but as they walked towards her camp, Ash could see her phasing between two forms. The second was black, formed of spines and plates and tentacles, an ever-shifting structure that bristled and folded in upon itself. And the other was Ironblood, her back suddenly a bit small for the burden she carried.

    "E.. excuse me ..." Chytrhea piped up from the rear. "We... we also know of the aux-eaters ..."

    Ironblood spun and grabbed the Avian by the shoulders in a painful vice, the Alchemist's hands bound inside metal gauntlets. "What do you know of them? Tell me."

    Naya and Ash struggled to pull Ironblood away, but she may as well have been stone buried deep in the ground. The gauntlets squealed under the force, and Chytrhea could feel her shoulders beginning to crack. Ash grabbed a nearby smoking rope and wrapped it around her neck. The embers and oily vapours flared Ironblood's nose, and she slowly released her grip on the Historian. Her gloves were nearly melted through by a black ichor that exuded from her fingertips.

    Later, they sat in her camp. Naya had volunteered to fix the gloves and was hammering in the distance.

    The Avian hugged her shoulders, sitting a fair distance from Ironblood, who seemed to understand.

    "We .. " she winced. "I found my father's notes. He used to come south, this far, to explore the area. In the book - that he has buried in many layers of ciphers - he mentioned that there are some things that live in the Deadlands." She withdrew a small book in her rucksack. "He found many bodies. They were common animals; predatory cats, birds, and even plants. On many of their skeletons he found black shells on their spines."

    She showed them a sketch. Whoever had sketched the skeletons seemed to have been a well-trained biological artist. But the sketches seemed to mimick an artists doll that had been twisted into painfully unnatural positions. In almost all the sketches, the jaws were frozen in screams.

    The book snapped shut. "He called them the Moirgut."

    Ash showed her the small piece of wood they had found in Lapin's room.

    ^
    < O >
    v

    "Lapin ... " Ironblood buried her face in her hands.

    Trust no one.

    Ironblood looked at Ash from tear stained hands.

    Trust no one. Ash repeated himself.

    "The Moirgut, the aux-eaters, and the Grievous are one and the same. Lapin has warned us that the Cinnabar Clad may be infected. Viridos is in danger. And so is Sunne."

    She brushed herself off as Naya arrived with mended gauntlets.

    "We must seek the Earthspeaker."
     
  4. Hosia - Shekar Ma'alin, saddlebrown
    It was late, some nights past the one that had marked the meeting in her basement. Her shop had long since be restored to its original state, her merchandise back in place, her vault locked again, but the anxiety that had come with the meeting still rested in a tight knot between her shoulder blades. It was an interesting position she found herself in, caught between Teadoir and the merchants on one side - neither easy with the other - and Tattersal seizing control. The right business with anyone of them was was a chance to set herself up for life, while a conflict between all three could destroy her.

    She had made her choice though, made it right there surrounded by her allies and rivals, as they argued and plotted together. Now she smiled as she closed the shop for the night and settled down to run her account ledger. Business as usual, almost. From a hidden crevice in the heavy back cover she pulled a second ledger. Smaller, little more than several pages stitched together, she opened it as Nox fluttered around the ceiling, keeping watch. She had listened well, and put snatches of information together. Now her first pieces had been carefully placed on the board.

    She had chosen her main commodity, she hoped she had chosen wisely. Her position as hostess had given her a certain amount of priority over the others. Her past dealings had insured her at least one buyer and the good will of another who could easily complicate her plans. She had names of those with the means to do the job, and Belphebe had provided the key. Whether the other Draken woman had done so intentionally – but that was another matter. Contracts were signed, Shekar had hedged her bets, and by the end of this she would be so valuable to all sides that it would become a saying “to bargain with Shekar.” She liked the sound of that. Yes, she would become indispensable, or everything she owned, everything she worked for, everything she held dear would be gone in a heartbeat.

    Sometimes great profit was worth great risk.

    It was done, the favors called in, a certain amount of payment dealt out in advance. Her future was forged in Dorgrad iron, be it with the success that would bring her fortune, or the chains that would shackle her if she failed.
     
  5. Mikael Strikes, green


    The silence was deafening. It consumed all things without remorse or concern, spreading out around the immediate forest instantaneously. Even the wind had halted its march in the stead of this mighty quiet. The sun observed from the heavens, casting down the golden drops of a new morning through the breaks in the upper canopy. All living creatures had evacuated the premise, save for two soles.

    A boar and a man.

    The man had not moved for hours, he had simply been watching, waiting for his chance to strike. Until this very moment the boar had been happily enjoying a noon day meal, however something had gathered its attention, and that something was threatening to spook the beast. The man mentally cursed, the shot was shoddy at best and he almost didn't want to risk it. It was now or never, he took a moment to breath as he readied himself.

    [​IMG]

    The soft crunch of his left foot meeting the forest floor alerted the beast, immediately it turned in his direction and then turned to run. Everything seemed to slow for a moment, the man flew through the air with grace, his spear arm arching as he did so. He aimed to the place he knew the boar would be, and a soft sloshing followed by a deafening squeal confirmed his shots' accuracy.

    He rolled to catch himself and landed in a crouching stance,the boar took off and the man cursed his luck. He had most likely missed the spine by mere inches and this particular boar was not something he wanted to corner. Never the less he bolted after it, following the sounds of its squeals and the sheen of its blood as he went. No doubt he had alerted the local wildlife to his presence, which in turn meant that predators would soon be arriving, not that this particular boar was anything less of a demon itself.

    Slowly the screams softened and he soon found himself standing before the beast. The creature lay on its side up against an overhanging cliff it stood a meter tall an five long, easily. The man nodded in pride, he was to be paid a pretty penny for this one. A long time contact from Hosia had requested that he dispatch the beast so as too keep the outlying areas safe. Apparently it had been attacking homes frequently in the area and due to his friends'.. position.. it feel upon him to see the beast dealt with.

    The man approached the beast with caution, he did not like these jobs but from time to time they had to be done. This beast was corrupted, changed from prolonged exposure to taint over generations of his family line. This happened often and it drove the animals to madness. Turned them to demons and drove them to slaughter the peaceful people of the forest. He sighed as he put his knife through the creature's heart. He understood hunting for food, it was a necessity in this world, but slaying a beast for this.. It never did sit well with him. But, a job is a job, and he would do it despite his moral bindings. That was his duty, his life. He had come to accept this long ago..

    From the beast he took but a single tusk, the creatures body was overflowing with taint and attempting to eat its meat would be idiotic. Lest he die from the poison..

    With that the man turned from his prey and disappeared into the canopy, it was time to collect payment, and prepare for his next outing...
     
    #5 Ner0, Sep 30, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2014
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  6. An Old Friend, green The wind whistled through the tree tops. It had come with his arrival, as though the forest was announcing his return. A familiar soldier await him. The soldier shot him a warm smile. The man returned the gesture.

    [​IMG]

    "Mikael," The soldier greeted him, "it is good to see you alive and well, how has your hunt fared my friend?"


    "Well enough," Mikael gave his friend a grim reply, "as well as you can with a job like this."

    "Aye, I suppose so." Mikael's friend nodded in agreement. "Enough of this moping my friend, join me for a drink. You've earned as much."

    Mikael nodded and joined his old friend for a walk to his home. His name was Samael, and he was a good man. Sam knew Mikael well, and Mikael knew Sam even better. The two had been friends for many years and Mikael had always found a warm bed in his home. Mikael knew that this man would always be his friend. They had been through much.

    His thoughts made the journey to Samael's home rather short. He looked to his friend, who had not spoken much at all, he seemed to be lost in thought as well. Mikael chuckled to himself, the man had always been a dreamer.

    "Heh, you still prone to daydreaming Sam? I would have thought a man of your stature would be too busy for such things." He looked at the man, he had meant to cite some sort of rise out of him. Instead the man just looked up at the tree tops.

    "Aye, but even a warrior needs time to relax.."

    "I suppose so."

    Before long the two found themselves in Samael's home, Mikael greeted his friends family, making sure to get an update on each of their lives. Time past quickly and soon dinner had finished and the two found themselves in Samael's study. They spoke of many things. They spoke of the past and took turns recounting old tales and experiences they had shared. They spoke of the present and of Samael's work in both the city and home. They spoke of Mikael's work and of his upcoming job in Riven.

    And of course..

    They spoke of the future..

    "I'm getting old Sam."

    His friend answered with silence.

    "I think it may be time soon.. I know I've said it before but-"

    "You are old Mikael."

    "I've reached my best haven't I old friend?"

    "Aye, you have. Perhaps it is time to pass your knowledge on. Before it is lost." His friend paused to give him room to speak. Mikael said nothing. "You are not like the other guides. You are the forest my friend, and she is you. Together you are a pair of dancers, matching each other in perfect pace. But.. It is not a dance you can keep up with much longer.. There will be a day where you miss a step, and I fear that day will come all too soon. Take on an apprentice, teach him the dance you know so well and make certain that the forest is not left without a partner."

    "You may be right my friend.. but there is no guide willing to learn from me..."
     
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  7. Edelon Om the Invader is looking worse by the day. He is an old forest-kin, having budded from the sacred Riven tree not far from the sprig that would grow to the oak-kin Tattersal. But hydraroot is a short-lived, ill-tempered plant. It is carnivorous, and wraps itself around the great sequoia's. The toxins it exudes stain the bark black and purple. It feeds on passing insects and flying creatures.

    Om the Invader takes well from his base. Still, it is a bit too early for him. The hydra-kin's tendrils are listless, and the red eye pods have black tendrils creeping in from the edges. Tattersal suspects he is poisoned.

    That much is obvious. What's even more obvious is how many Kindly Ones have the same infection. The Cinnabar Clad have grown secluded. The tree huggers in Riven continue blissfully singing to their mother tree, following some dimming recollection of a lullaby Ilium cooed to them hundreds of years ago. They remain unaware. Om issues increasingly irrational edicts from solitary confinement in the Edelon temple.

    The horse attacks have slowed to a trickle, but that does not temper the Hosian merchant's fury. Their increasingly loud requests for protection, for soothsayers, and soldiers, have met with silence. All Om is interested in is pulling more and more kin back into the forest. The merchants are being ostracized.

    Tattersal stands from the last of many audiences with the High Clad. They both agree on the same thing: back to the forest. But for different reasons. Om has been corrupted, and corrupts Viridos, with some great evil. Viridos is being split: into Om's followers, Amaltas' rebels, and the increasingly distant merchants. Tattersal, the last loyalist to Ilium, stands in the middle.

    Tattersal sees the smoke rising over the eastern desert, and knows it is not a fire.


    Near Hosia Mikael, the old forest guide, departs from the house of his friend. As he wanders deep into the woods, he notices that this part is devoid of the sounds of life he is accustomed to hearing. There is no buzz, no snap of twig, or creak of wood. It is a magically deadened silence.

    His vision is suddenly clouded by a brown canvas bag. He freezes; whether the aggressor is a predator of instinct or intelligence, he knows that fighting would be useless. For that, he is rewarded by the absence of a spear point to his back.

    "Good boy. You still remember." Mikael also remembers that voice as well. It is an old, seasoned oak now though.

    He can feel the soothsayers around him, three of them forming a sacred triangle. Their hands posture a square mudra, index and thumb, and he can feel his aux vibrate, the shadow behind the tree line.

    The hood is removed, and Mikael senses that he has passed a test.

    "Tattersal." The human and forest-kin exchange a strong handshake. "I heard the news of your return, but I have been busy with my craft."

    "Mikael. The Shartan's old jailer." The guide's eyes narrow. He does not like his past being mentioned so freely.

    "I will need you to retrieve something from its depths for me. Otherwise, you may soon not have any more patrons of your craft."
     
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  8. Worn Drums and Old Parchments, green

    Mikael met the generals' look with a calm gaze. He saw very little in those eyes, his old friend had changed much since they had departed. "I see your methods have not changed." Mikael glanced to the strange faces around them. "You speak of a dark future, why seek me out? I know many more qualified guides."

    "That you may," Tattersal replied, stepping back and releasing Mikael's hand "but I do not, and I often find that a familiar face is more reliable than promised skill."

    Mikael nodded, he had never been able to argue with Tattersal. The man had a way about him, and it seemed that he had grown even wiser in their time apart. "Perhaps you are right, but what could you possibly need from The Shartan. That place is not for men like you and I. It is a place of evil, I see no good from going there."

    The General gave him a stern look. Mikael nodded in turn, it had been a long time since he had seen that look. It was the look of a man who knew his destiny. The look of a man with purpose. "There is a legend. A legend of a creature, more beast than man. One I know you are familiar with. His name is Grimagar. He is known as the Grendel, and he is said to sit upon a throne of bodies. This legend speaks of an artifact, an ancient weapon with unmatchable power. I want this artifact."

    "..and I will get for you?"

    "That you will..."

    Mikael mulled over the General's tale. He had heard of this legend, and he knew it to be more than that. He knew that Tattersal had hidden this beast from prying eyes and made it out to be myth in Viridos. He knew not why, but he did know that Tattersal never did anything without a reason. "Hmm.. I will ask but one thing as far as payment goes. I need a pupil General, one worthy of my teachings'. Promise me this and my time is yours."

    "I accept your terms, my old friend."

    "Indeed you do.."

    The two locked arms once more, but this time in agreement more than reunion. The deal had been made and the course had been set. Madness awaited their arrival with baited breath.
     
    #8 Ner0, Oct 3, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2014
  9. [note: Only Shekar's image is mine]

    Ayanne - Malachi - Nassad - In the Forest, Green
    They ran, panting for breath, stumbling down the path until their bodies were exhausted, but they still kept going. Ayanne’s pace slacked but Nassad kept urging her forward. They could not stop, they could not rest. Several times she turned with a comment about going back for Malachi, but the former slave driver yanked her around again and shoved her onward. When it came down to it he probably saved her life.

    “If he survives he will find us.” Nassad snapped the third time she faltered.
    “If- ?!”
    “Keep moving.”


    Mile after mile it continued, staggering step after staggering step, at a pace they never would have been able to maintain had they not been driven by fear and fueled by adrenalin. Eventually it had to stop. Ayanne’s feet stumbled, her toes caught a root, and she crashed to the earth.

    “Get up!” Nassad snarled, “We must keep going.”
    “I iamu can’t,” the healer gasped out a curse. “Antorin you thinking? If we continue at this pace we will iamu kill ourselves, unless you intend to spend all of tomorrow resting.” Fear, fatigue, and the pain of what she now assumed was Malachi’s loss made her bold. “We must slow down, we must begin to take breaks, or our bodies will force the issue, and patah like that will get us iamu nowhere.”

    There was a rustling in the bushes to their left and Nassad stepped back, anger, apprehension, and a determination to live painted across his face. Ayanne remained frozen where she was laying in the dirt.

    “A mile more,” a different, familiar voice stated, “Another mile and there’s a place we can all rest.” A hand reached down, grasped her elbow, and hauled her to her feet. “Can you manage.”
    Ayanne nodded as she looked up into the face of the pirate, the man Nassad had been forcing her to give up to Amaltas. “I thought you were dead?”
    “Not yet,” came the tired reply, “not yet.”




    The days it took to get back were grueling. They traveled at a pace only the desperate could maintain, constantly on guard. Between the two of them, Ayanne and the pirate Requiem had made a vicious enemy, and as her fear of the grievous begin to fade as the memory shifted to the back of her mind, her terror of the unicorn became infinitely more real. Though she insisted they rest, she slept little. Fortunately Nassad knew how to motivate people to keep going even when it seemed their bodies were about to give out.

    The entire time Malachi kept that “thing” wrapped in his cloak, and though she had an inkling of what it was Ayanne wanted nothing to do with it. In fact she treated the bundle as though it contained some sort of poisonous serpent. Every time she looked at it Sprig’s voice seemed to whisper in the back of her mind. "Twiglet says only thah pure of 'eart will be able ta use 'em. Maybe you, Miss, wot with yer ship steerin' heroics." She wanted to change her answer now. After seeing that thing, after seeing the similarity between it and the grievous, if it was what she thought it was she knew what she would do. She’d burry it where no one could find it and spend the rest of her life standing guard. Even if it meant her children’s children had to take up the job.


    They traveled mostly in silence and eventually made Hosia a day ahead of the estimated week, largely due to Nassad’s pace. They came out of the woods on a stretch of high ground that afforded them a view of the port and the city around it. The Kaustirian split from them then, taking a little trail down to wander among the buildings, muttering the name Shekar. He had his own business to attend to. But Ayanne stood frozen in shock. Hosia was no longer the place she had called home. The fall of the Aviary and flooding combined with the rebuilding efforts had seen to that. Buildings were different, the roads had changed, many of the familiar sites were gone, some areas still bore signs of substantial damage. The last of her will left her as her eyes scanned for her shop and home and found nothing but rubble where it should have stood.

    Ayanne’s knees hit the ground as she stared down at it.
    “Everything has changed!” she breathed.

    Requiem shifted behind her, “If you find your home and shop gone, and all else fails,” he started, “you can come with me. Find my ship at the docks, I’ll have a crewmate keep an eye out until we leave.” Ayanne nodded, picking herself up as he described his ship and gave an approximate timetable for their departure. They walked down the path to the town together, but as the two reached Hosia they split to go their separate ways.


    Shekar Ma'alin - Her Shop, saddlebrown


    Shekar stared at the shrouded man across the desk from her, nonchalantly leaning back and sliding the piece of paper towards him. In the past week she had hired a young fox anima to help with the front so she could take time to actually converse with clients, like the man in front of her.

    She smirked slightly as she watched his eyes trace the room, the shelves, her. He had to be wondering why she would do this, if under current circumstances she could afford to do this.

    “If I understand correctly, you’re just going to provide me with what I require? What’s the catch surly you have some compensation in mind?” came the rough gravely voice of one who was trying too hard to disguise them self.
    “A favor.” Nox chimed in answer for her the little white ball of flame circling both their heads by turn. “You will own a favor to be claimed in any form at any time from this point forward.”
    “You see,” Shekar explained spreading her hands, “at this point in time you have nothing I require, and nothing I find desirable. But you may at some point in the future find yourself in a position to provide adequate compensation. Call this an investment if you will.”

    The figure sat frozen for a moment. The voice that spoke next was no longer that of a man struggling to hide his identity, but that of a lad just barely too old to be called a youth. “How?”
    “Your ring,” Nox cackled, “you forgot to remove your house ring.” Indeed the hand that tapped the table bore an insignia that spoke volumes without anyone having to utter a word. The stone in it shifted color as the aux shared the owner’s annoyance.

    “You needn’t worry,” Shekar soothed, “ It would be bad for business if I told your father what you’d been up to. Regardless of whether or not you agree to this bargain."
    Deep chocolate eyes stared out at her from a crack in the shroud. “Swear to me that I won’t have to be a part of anyone’s death?” Shekar waved a hand at the parchment in front of him and watching her wearily the hidden figure hurriedly wrote in the added condition before she could change her mind.

    And then he signed.

    Ayanne Marshden - Hosia, green

    It was gone, Ayanne discovered as she gazed at what was left of her shop. Completely gone. The roof had been smashed by a rock from the aviary and the rest, in its instability, had been washed away by the flood. What had remained of her medicines, clothing, and other supplies had been no doubt taken by looters. She had been left with nothing. Well almost.
    “Healer?” a small voice said at her elbow, and she turned to see the face of a young draken, “there’s a forest kin up at the Yellow Pine. Two really, an old woman and her son. They said if we saw you and brought you to visit they would pay well. My family, we need the coin. With the port blockaded my Da can’t sail an’ . . .”
    “Lead the way.” Ayanne said softly. Her face was streaked with dirt and tears, her cloths were torn, her palms skinned, but it no longer mattered whether or not she was presentable. Everything had changed.

    She found them waiting for her in a small private dining room at the Inn they had taken rooms at. Two Forest Kin, largely humanoid in their appearance, their skin tinged the color of bark and their hair seemed comprised of willow branches. Both seeming far younger than their many years and her grandmother only growing more refined in her old age. While Ayanne had always been able to find a sort of stern kindness behind the woman’s fierce eyes, now there was only sorrow.

    Ayanne wept as they explained to her what had happened in her absence, the destruction and fate of her family and their home. The pain and shock she felt at the revelation were acute and somehow outweighed everything else that had occurred since she had left. But as her Uncle spoke, one thing in particular caught her ears.
    “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” she crocked flowing seamlessly into the Mudrā of questioning.

    Her uncle’s answer was a Mudrā of patient understanding and then repetition. “I said you must marry,” his voice was firm. The fact that Calla Marshden, the matriarch of the Marshden family, remained silent behind him said far more than his words ever could. It meant that all that were left of the clan were in complete agreement. “The Marshden clan has been winnowed down to only six, four if yourself and your brother-in-law are not included. Neither of you are blood kin, though we willingly and lovingly claim you as our own.”
    “I would not have gifted you with that knife otherwise,” Calla finally chimed in. “Consider yourself lucky that we give you our name yet allow others of blood to fall outside our favor. It seems Ilium’s will that we restart.”
    “But unfortunately due to present circumstances we can no longer allow you to go your own way.” Her uncle continued, adopting a mudrā of instruction. “We cannot allow your refusal in this! You bare the Marshden name through your mother’s marriage to us if not your own blood. If there were an eligible male of our line still living I would marry you to him on the spot. As there is not, the ties of legality must serve in place of blood. Your sister’s children and your own will grow our clan once more. Your wombs, if blessed by the sacred mother, will serve to save this family. We can not allow this disaster to destroy us, to allow what we have gained to fall into the hands of Om who has already snatched so much–“

    “One year!” Ayanne jumped in pointedly, daring to interrupt him as she changed abruptly from the Mudrā of listening to one of urgency.
    “What?”
    “Give me one year. One year to grieve my family’s loss, to rebuild, and figure out my next steps in this life’s journey. One year to find my self, my place, to grow into the idea of my new role. If by the end of that year I have not found a suitable mate on my own, I shall return to marry whomever you deem fit.”
    He studied her for a moment, joints creaking with the sound of aged wood as he titled his head to the side. His eyes fell to the ring on her right hands as the aux slowly began to grow and change, shifting to become thicker and more intricate. “Very well. You have one year. Use it wisely.”


    Behind him Calla Marshden smiled. There was a reason Ayanne was one of only four to have completed her healer’s training under the old woman, a reason she had been sent to help Iornblood in the old woman’s place. Calla had once entertained hopes Ayanne might have the inclination and ability to be raised as the first full human to join the cinnabar-clad. But now, everything was changing.


    “Come, child,” she motioned Ayanne forward, “now it is time for woman’s speech. We shall get you cleaned up and you shall tell me all that has befallen you, and what matter weighs so heavily on your mind that you have finally found your voice and overridden your Uncle.” What Ayanne would later tell her of the Grievous. Pirate Requiem, and Amaltas would shake the ancient Forest kin to her heartwood. Shake her to the point that she would help her granddaughter disappear once more. Some things were more important than the growth of the clan.





    Ayanne was clothed in the garb of a wood guide when she approached the docks sometime later. Every patch of skin save her eyes was covered as protection from any poisons or spoors, or in her case being spotted by her uncle. Her healer’s pack had been repaired and restocked, and she bore another over her shoulder, like the one she had originally set out with so long ago, filled cloths and supplies for an extended journey.

    Her feet led her to the ship in question almost on their own, but when she faced the lookout her voice was firm as she lowered her cloth mask to reveal her face, “The one called Malachi offered me a position on his crew,” she stated, too intelligent to use the name Requiem where any might hear, “Ilium willing, if his offer still stands I should like to accept.”

    When Requiem came to greet her she said nothing to him of what had been said by her family or the bargain she had made. She would keep her word, but the pirates had no current need to know she had only a year.
     
    #9 - Falcon -, Oct 3, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2014
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  10. Somewhere in Viridos, #043008

    thQS44IWU8.jpg

    I walk... I have been walking for many days, and I am tired, however, I have reached... where I wanted to reach. I must finish this, before I go on with what I must do. My mother is dead, and she is from Viridos, so I will bury her here, in Viridos. I wade through a swamp, and avoid the vines and branches which hang low. This place is different from my frozen home, Pegulis. Very different. I look for good ground, and find it here, in a cave mouth. I tenderly place her aside, and begin digging. Digging is hard, when you have only one claw to dig with. However, I dig still, And I finish. It is a decent hole. I think it fine. I lay her there, and I bury her...

    I am finished. She is buried, and she now has a cross, of wood, floating in the water, and laying low in the trees. I tied it with vine, and it is good. I am very tired, and my arm stump hurts. I hurt, and red keeps spewing from my stump. I will rest here, then I will return. I will kill the murderer, and afterwards, the humans. They are a cancer, a parasite which knows no bounds. They claimed my arm, and killed my mother. For this, they must be killed, they must all be killed.

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

    The forest-kin stands opposite to the Grendel. The cave-dweller is bound in hydraroot, the tendrils exuding a numbing poison that keeps the massive beast dull. The trial is long concluded; the Grendel has been found guilty and is now having his will dictated to the green general.

    "Grimagar." It is the first time anyone has called him by his name; when he was captured, the Kindly Ones poked him with spears and called him 'beast', 'one-armed', 'cave-dweller', 'monster'. But the General shows respect for him.


    "I cannot commute your sentence." It has been fixed by the Cinnabar Clad; matricide is fifty years in the Shartan, the Viridos labyrinth.

    "But I will give purpose to your stay." Tattersal holds up a fleshy sphere, surrounded by pulsating veins. Grendel is in no position to protest, and the organ is pushed deep inside his ear. The cave-dweller can feel it sliding deep into his head.

    "Guard it well." The General pats Gimagar paternally on the cheeks, the hypnotic suggestion complete.



    30 years later

    The Shartan, Brown I heard a sound somewhere deep in the maze, and my eyes fly open, awakened from my dream. I look around, and I see nothing but darkness in this maze. However I have a good idea of where the sound came from, so now I begin my hunt. It is lunch time, and the beast is hungry.
    thVKKNLA1C.jpg
     
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  11. Near Hosia "Any acolyte from my ranks should meet your exacting standards." Tattersal stands up from the tree stump that he is sitting on; the once great sequoia has been chopped down by enterprising lumber merchants without the proper rituals and respect. It is a sign of the times, of a schism forming between the merchant city and the rest of ilium's disciples. There are even some that forget their prayer.

    "I will not be able to accompany you. But I am sending two of my men with you." He does not need to mention that they are his most trusted men, for in the decade that they spent in the nightmare, they have all become his most trusted men, from greenhorn to lieutenant.

    From behind him, two forest-kin step forth, seemingly peeling themselves from the greenery. They exude a weary aura; their bark is old, damp at the edges with rot. Their limbs creak and moss dangles in great swaths at their chin. But their eyes are sharp and alert, and that is what makes them dangerous: the potential for these old trees to suddenly reach forward and turn ribs into powder.

    "Old jailer. I am Lieutenant Faern, and this is Disciple Zim." The Lieutenant grasps a spear, a straight branch that could have been snapped off from himself. The end tapers into a fire-charred point. "Let us not waste any time." Mikael sighs, shrugging his waymaking pack on and taking the lead. It appears that Tattersal's band have all grown alike in their years of exile, into one annoying, to the point, entity. Ilium save them.


    Shartan
    [​IMG]

    The labyrinth was quieted by the most subtle of soothsaying magics, wrought by the Jade Prophet himself. He cupped water in his hands, and for every drop that fell on the prison grounds the ear was deadened by degrees. Finally, mudra itself was silenced, and the whispered words of the soothsayers lost their power.

    This did not bother most of the inhabitants of the Shartan. Entropists that they were, they found other ways to express their twisted inner workings. Such was their desire for chaos that they invented an entirely new form of magic, sublime in its violence.

    In the Shartan, whoever harboured the most malice in its ever shifting corridors was king. Still, the most brutal of heretics would usually stay silent, whether from respect, fear, or just common sense, when they could tell the Grendel was moving. The Grendel was a special kind of criminal - a particularly filthy individual jailed for the crime of killing his birth-mother. There were few others in the Shartan that could claim such an illustrious background.

    Something was even stranger about the Grendel though. It was tough. When the current inhabitants of the Shartan were thrown in, they eventually influenced each other, twisting their forms and aux in a true, unbridled expression of themselves. But the Grendel remained pure, with his blood stump. Worse of all, his aux was his mother. It was clear that he had some strange power within him, and thus most in the Shartan left him alone.

    However, Tattersal was coming to collect ...
     
    #11 unanun, Oct 7, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2014
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  12. First few steps on a highway to hell, green

    The small band made their way through the scenery of the forest. Their guide ducked and weaved his way around every plant, every stray leaf. Not once did his footsteps make more sound than the soft whisper of crunching dirt. His eyes scanned the scenery, taking care to plan every turn, every step. A presence lurked in the distance, acting as his second set of eyes and ears. The other two noticed it, but said nothing. Mikael's Aux was an anomaly in and of itself. Even he had never truly laid eyes on it. It had always been there however, looking out for the danger beyond the treeline.[​IMG]
    A soft crunch stopped him in his tracks, Mikael looked back at the source of the sound. He had been called Disciple Zim, and he looked back at Mikael with hazel eyes. There was little behind those eyes to read, almost as thick as the bark of a Riven tree, but not quite. "It will do you both some good to step where I step. The forest is unforgiving and the slightest noise can bring you death." The forest kin gave him a strange look, but nodded never the less. If Tattersal trusted this man, then so would he.

    From then on the group continued without interruption. They made incredible ground, and Mikael found himself impressed by the Forest Kin's ability to keep up. Mikael began looking for a possible resting place. He was fine, but he knew his companions would need to rest in time. It took him several hours to find a satisfactory spot, and even then he was hesitant. Finding shelter was always difficult. He had learned long ago that the proper spot would often eliminate the need for a fire. Fire was bad news for a forest guide, especially in the presence of Forest Kin. He had come to believe that lighting a fire was a sign of ignorance. It could be avoided with patience and proper planning, but many did not know the elements required to avoid it.

    His pace slowed as he approached his chosen spot. A good sized overhang of dirt and root that would both conceal and keep them warm. Such overhanging enclaves kept a good amount of heat in them and usually offered a soft bedding of moss beneath them. The dense soil above protected from the rain as well, preventing chances of getting wet in the night. Sleeping was dangerous, but there were ways to eliminate most of the common dangers. "We will rest here for a few hours. I plan to reach the Shartan by tomorrow night. Be sure to get enough energy for the travel." With that Mikael shrugged off his way making pack and slid under the overhang in one fluid motion. He set the pack beside him and retrieved his water skin from it. He sipped slowly, being sure to preserve what water he had. He noted that he would have to refill before entering the prison. He had not had time to do so earlier due to the suddenness of Tattersal's arrival. "We will discuss our plan of action for entering the maze once we reach the entrance. I have much to tell you, and now we must spend our time with rest." Mikael sat motionless, he did not close his eyes yet. He would first make sure his
    companions had fallen to rest. Call it old habits.

     
    #12 Ner0, Oct 8, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2014
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  13. Written with the aid of @AngelFish

    Hosia, forestgreen Valyrin stared miserably at the stack of papers before him, his head cradled in one hand. They were nothing but tedious bureaucracy, but he had put them off long enough already. He made it through another page and a half before his mind started wandering again. It had been over a month since the attack on his ship when he was escorting the Lady Ironblood to collect the strange, mysterious artifact, and he had found neither hide nor hair of Requiem, and the dead body of Ozzimus had done nothing to give him answers. When he added in the strange mystery of the nocturne who had come for the naval routes and had never been seen again, a situation that spoke very strongly of foul play, Valyrin had a lot on his mind other than paperwork.

    Therefore, it was a welcome distraction when a rap at his door brought a sailor standing just outside to his attention. "Yes?" Valyrin asked, gladly standing up.

    "I'm sorry to disturb you, sir, but there is a young lady here who has information for you. Will you receive her?"

    "Of course," Valyrin replied, stacking the papers and tucking them away into his desk. "Send her in."

    Saraphine was waiting outside the door, twisting the hem of her wrap in her hands. Sure, she sold information to people all the time, but the anxiety of meeting someone higher up than her never got any easier for her.

    She could hear the soldier inside, telling Valrin that she was here with information, and her heart skipped a beat. The solider stepped back outside and gestured for her to enter. When she stepped through the door she preformed a suitable curtsy.

    "Sir." She said quietly. "My name is Saraphine. I work at the inn in town, and I overheard some information that I think you may be interested in." She fiddled with the necklace around her neck as she looked up at him.

    "Of course, as a working woman, I can't give something for nothing. You understand, sir. Times are hard." Though she had never spoken to this particular officer, she'd sold information to the military base several times and never had any problems. As long as she was respectful they never harassed her.

    Valyrin scrutinized the young woman standing in front of him, before letting out a sigh. It was unclear from his expression what exactly he thought of her willingness to sell secrets, but he also clearly understood her need for the money.

    "Yes," he agreed, "Times are hard. But they have been just as hard on the Navy as they have been on everyone else. All of our efforts have gone into relief, and maintaining the blockade. I am afraid I can offer you nothing just on a promise, or on speculation."

    She tilted her head a bit at this unexpected news. Unexpected, but not disastrous. She nodded to him. "I understand." She replied. "But, I'm not unreasonable. I do not require money, per say. I will easily accept the promise of a favor in return."

    Being a shrewd woman, Saraphine knew that a favor from someone powerful, even if just a captain, was a valuable thing. Favors had gotten her out of a tight pinch on more than one occasion. "If you promise me that if I need you you will come to my aid, I will consider that more than worth the information I have for you."

    On the outside Valyrin did not seem to be putting much thought into her offer, but inside he was considering her proposition with a great deal of fervor. As a captain he could not reasonably put himself into a position where he might have to abandon his duty to help this woman, but the fact that she had provided information to the navy before made it well worth considering what she had to offer. There was also the matter that, if he did not accept her offer, she might take the information somewhere else, to someone who shouldn't have it.

    He considered it for a moment longer before slowly nodding his head in agreement. "Very well," he replied, "but I cannot promise it unconditionally. I cannot do anything that will go against my duties as a captain." He paused, casting a sharp look in her direction. "I also will not take kindly to it if the information you are providing is worthless. No one wants to give something for nothing."

    She nodded at his proposal. "I can agree to that." She said. "I wouldn't expect you to jeopardize your job to help me." She twisted her hem again. "As for the information, it's not a lot, but I still think it is important."

    She straightened as she tried to reiterate everything she'd heard, word for word.

    "The people I overheard were discussing the closure of the ports. Avarath is being emptied, even though there is nowhere for the ships to go. They must be planning some move, but at this point I don't know what. I can speculate, but you want solid information not guesses."

    "Avarath is being emptied," Valyrin repeated to himself quietly, glancing away from Saraphine to consider this new information. It was surprising, and not something he really wanted to be hearing right now. With the blockade in place, the merchant sips should have been returning to Avarath, not leaving the city. He would have to report it to his superiors, and see what exactly they wanted him to do.

    But before he was willing to let Saraphine leave he had one more question. "How reliable is the source of this information? How certain are you of its authenticity?"

    She raised her hands in a slight shrug. "Sir, I work as a barmaid, serving drinks and food. All the information I get comes from people who have been drinking. I would be lying if I told you that I trusted this person completely; the information is always at least second hand."

    She started to twist the hem of her shawl again. "My information is rarely wrong, though." She told him. Sometimes she wished it was, but that simply wasn't the case.

    "Very well," Valyrin agreed, standing up from his desk to shake Saraphine's hand. "Thank you very much for your time. I trust you will get in touch when you wish to call in your favor."
     
  14. "My children, I address thee.

    For 10 years, I have walked the shartan, and I've have seen what I have seen. The northern forest and the herd were lost to me, but the hunt follows in the wake of every sawhorse. They thought me thoroughly punished, they thought me lashed and cowed. They ravaged my body, and they took the sun and the stream from me. They struck my mind with visions most foul, and they condemned me to take root in the shartan.

    But I endure. My horn and my spirit remains whole.

    And now I am free, but my wasted years extend beyond my imprisonment.

    Centuries of service. Centuries I have held vigil upon the borders of the Chersonese, upon the looming wall of the cold people, upon the blackest fey and the foulest horrors in the northern forest. I held vigil when the Mother Riven still bore kin seeds, and I was there when the Order of the Kindly Ones was in its infancy. I held vigil even before we knew the red menace beyond the seen lands of the Chersonese. My siblings are long deceased, my eldest and my secondborn dead. Thousands of sawhorses have died through the centuries. All of them have given their lives for the continued prosperity of Viridos.

    But the priesthood yet chose Hosia over their oldest, fiercest allies. They chose currency over the hoof. That is a great folly, and when the time is come, there is every intention to remind them of the enormity of their error. But we have our oaths to keep, and the seal over the northern forest still stands. Hosia is beyond our direct reach, and so long as our most esteemed Prophet sits at the head of the clergy, Edelon will not be touched. The animals will conduct our war on the merchant whores of Hosia, but do not expect the news of, let's say, the sap sucking carrion maggot who incidentally carries the name Zovalis to ever reach our ears anytime soon. The common horse can only do so much.

    On the topic of the common horse, we have a new bloodline to establish. Reparations from the aviary, we should consider it, for the fire and stone they brought to our home."

    The fete of life was a solemn affair, conducted with a sense of quiet and purpose. Ignoring, of course, the baying protestations of the young horses to be sacrificed. Whether Unicorn, kelpie, or vanilla sawhorse, they only ever used male foals; the females never, ever survive the process.

    It has been a week since his, ahem, accident, but Amaltas' 'legs' had yet to fully regrow. He was more than a foot less imposing than his usual elephantine height, and he walked with the lopsided limp of a lame horse. His court stood in attendance, and before him, was the pegasus foal from before.

    His great head came down, and his horn pierced the foal's forehead ever so slightly. He broke off a small piece of it inside the brain; the first death.

    Seven deaths.

    May you live them once, and never again, rising stronger than ever.

    He ripped out the foal's throat.

    He tore open its chest, and ate of its heart.

    And as the foal fell to the grass, his horn swept back and forth, sawing and sawing, slicing off his hooves one, two, three, four.

    The pegasus foal bled its life out onto the grass, its dead eyes glassed over with shock, mouth wide open in a death rictus.

    And then the kin seed kicked in, and something stirred where the foal fell, and it burned with new life. It didn't have a heart anymore, but it felt more strongly than ever. It didn't have a brain anymore, but it thought more clearly than the animal that it was. Its eyes rotted off, and its flesh sloughed off to reveal the wood underneath. Strong buttresses replaced stolen hooves. It could not see, nor smell, nor taste, nor touch. Until it could establish its glamor, it was a helpless little thing in a new world.

    It flapped its wings. They, too, were made of the forest now.

    The foal died, yes, but perhaps the newborn parasite that replaced it was more alive than it ever would be.

    Amaltas repeated the process again and again and again. Birth was ever a tiresome affair.

    "There are those in Sheep pens who share our, humor me, interests.

    The Word of Ilium must be a tedium to live by. Where warriors teach their children to fight, the city kin teach them to cower and talk and prance and dance like mating dragonflies. I reckon some of them tire of this farce.

    They tell me things. They tell me the falling sky was no accident. They tell me it is coming, and I should be prepared. They tell me old grudges mean nothing if Viridos is ended, and this I concur with. Yes, this I concur with this wholeheartedly."

    He brought six men with him. Eight can keep a secret, yes, when seven are handed to the undertakers, but he insisted on their loyalty. They were armed, of course, Amaltas spotted a golden saber by the side of one. Another held an spear with a tip of obsidian. Experienced soldiers, by the way they moved.

    They talked about the blockade and it's inevitable end. They talked about the selective viciousness of ocean kelpies and how, just maybe, this selective viciousness could be extended to selective ships. They talked about the Chersonese, and they talked about the aviary. They talked about the dead treeant by the border of the deadlands. They talked about the Unicorn's limp. He had tripped, of course. He has tripped and wasn't that just the end of it?

    Amaltas, courteous as ever, offered his friend a gesture of friendship. He lowered his horn, and he was wasn't he just hurt -HURT-when all 6 kin men swiftly drew their weapons and surrounded their leader in a defensive formation.

    "A jest," Amaltas says. "An old unicorn joke."

    To his credit, General Tattersal does not even deign to blink.

    The line between the Viridosian border and the Chersonese has always been blurry. Patches of the poison plant life always find their way through a little, the smallest fraction of its flora leaking out. The viridosian forest has always been eager to share it's, um, bounty with the rest of the world, but it's just never been able to press the opportunity.

    Until now.

    The line is crossed, and patches turn into heavy foliage, trailing slowly but steadily down the bare land. Huge, green shapes lurk beneath the poison. The spreading forest hits the aldus wall too; creepers of a dozen species begin the ascent.

    Everyone's in the invadin' business these days, huh?
     
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  15. The Gentleman Bastard and The Arcane Artist, darkgreen Immediately after the group split apart, the pirate made his way down to his ship. He had no business with the slaver, and Ayanne was off taking care of things for herself. His priority was getting his ship out of Viridos. The first step to that end was getting into a set of fresh clothes. Nobody would remotely consider anything he had to say while he was wearing the clothes that he'd practically worn out over the last week or so of the nightmare they'd endured. No, to do what needed to be done, he needed to be clean, proper, and most importantly, he needed to appear that he wasn't in too much distress. That was the most important part for him.

    It didn't take him long to reach the docks, and once he did, his heart sank. The dock yard was destroyed, large chunks of debris scattered everywhere. He steeled himself and moved on, hoping that his ship wasn't sitting at the bottom of the bay. Moments later, he let out a relieved sigh, spotting his ship still floating on the waves. Overall, it appeared to have taken a small amount of damage, but his crew had begun repairs almost immediately. One of the benefits of operating as a casino ship is that almost everybody owed them.

    As he approached the ship, one of his crew spotted him, and a resounding call of "Captain!" went through the air. He almost cracked a smile, despite his exhaustion. Malachi raised his arm in greeting as he trudged his way up the ramp and onto the ship.

    "Alright lads, shut down the casino, we're going to be leaving soon" He instructed, heading below deck without another word. Once changed, he returned above deck, snatched a bottle from the Hishian that was his first mate and bowed to her slightly before taking a heavy draught and handing it back with his thanks. "Glad to see the old girl is still in one piece" He told her. "Have the ship prepped for departure. We'll be leaving once I return. Also, if a girl comes by saying that I offered her a place, let her aboard. She already knows who I am, and I think she could be of value to us. Set her up as Dagon's assistant. He's been complaining that he doesn't have enough help anyway."

    Astra looked at her captain incredulously before nodding. She knew better than to question her Captain. Regardless of the blockade, she had to assume he had a plan. "Alright Cap'n, I'll see it done." She replied politely.

    "Good, I've a few things left to attend to. I shall return by nightfall." He informed her, heading off the ship.

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

    "So, you see how it's inconvenient for me to remain in port." Malachi continued, "If it were any other circumstance, I'd be more than happy to wait for the borders to open back up, but really, I simply cannot wait any longer."

    The Captain looked back at the casino owner with eyes that screamed exhaustion as he began to speak, his voice strained considerably. "I understand your trouble, however, I can't just let every merchant through. It's a blockade for a reason. How would it look if I were to let you go through? I could lose my job if the upper ranks found out. I can't do it, I'm sorry."

    Malachi just smiled politely, "Of course, of course. I understand. However, and I hate doing this Captain, but it would be equally as difficult on you if I were to call in the considerable debt that you've racked up. I imagine that would be even harder on one of your station. Now, if you can assist me, I shall wipe out your debt in it's entirety." He explained, watching as the Captain across from him inhaled sharply, halfway between lashing out to attack the man who was essentially blackmailing him, and considering the deal he was being offered. "Not only that of course, I understand that things of this nature are difficult, so I would like to offer proper recompense for any difficulties you should encounter." He said as he placed a rather large pouch on the desk. "I expect this amount should be enough to keep you and your family going for two, maybe even three years."

    At this, the Captain collapsed back into his chair. He'd been backed into a corner, and the man in front of him had been more than fair with him in his offer, and the money was incredibly generous. Finally, he sighed and dug through his desk. "I really shouldn't be doing this..." He muttered, mostly to himself as he pulled out a slat of wood with a mark on it. "When you approach the border, give this to the ship that stops you, it'll grant you passage." He said exchanging it for the money on the desk.

    Malachi smiled and bowed slightly, "I'm glad we could work something out Captain, consider any debt between us to be settled. It's been a pleasure working with you."

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

    As the girl approached the ship proclaiming herself to be the one that the captain had accepted, the First Mate smiled. When the captain had said a healer, she expected someone who looked like they wouldn't be able to do anything. She leapt down from her spot and greeted her. "Welcome Miss, Cap'n's orders were to situate you. If you'd be so kind as to follow me?" She requested.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    It took time to get the project done. Normally such a work of art would have taken little more than an hour at the most, simply due to the sheer volume, but Miria had the inspiration that told her to bring it to life. It was a challenge of course, bringing art to life, but something that she did with a grace few others had. Not that she'd met any other artists who could actually do what she did. After she'd finished, she went to look for Belphebe, but she appeared to have disappeared according to the others who worked there. With a sigh, she resigned herself to wait, and looked out a window, trying her best to ignore the men, and a few woman who tried to entice her with their company, and their money.

    It was as she watched that she spotted something that she could barely believe. Looking back around the room to doublecheck that her patron hadn't returned while she was watching out the window, she decided to check and see if she was correct. What she found couldn't have surprised her more. Her half brother was walking down the street towards the docks. She landed about ten feet ahead of him and waved "Malachi!" She called out waving.

    The voice that called out to him was familiar, and he stopped in his tracks when he realised the voice was coming from in front of him. He would have recognised those rainbow coloured wings anywhere. "Miria! What are you doing here?" He asked, slightly shocked "Nevermind that, come, walk with me" He said, directing her to walk alongside him.

    "How have you been?" She asked as she moved to keep up with him. Then, without waiting for an answer, she continued "It's been crazy here! The Aviary crashed, smashed a bunch of stuff up! I've been helping doing cleanup and stuff, and I just finished a big art project too!" She exclaimed happily.

    Malachi shook his head "Miria, listen to me, I'm leaving Viridos, you should come with me. Things are coming that none of us are going to be able to stop on our own. I'm taking the ship and the crew to the island." He explained to her quickly in hushed tones.

    Miria followed along and then after he stopped talking, she stopped moving. "You're... You're serious aren't you?" She asked. She had only seen him like that a few times in the past, the last time being when their mother passed on. The time before that being when he told her that he was leaving to become a pirate.

    "I am. Miria, I cannot make you, but please, come with me. It'll be safer at the island." He said quietly, turning to face her.

    She nodded quietly. She had nothing keeping her there but a paycheck really, and if she was leaving, she didn't exactly need that. "Just let me grab my things."
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Once everyone was altogether, the ship made it's way out of the port, mostly unmolested. The marker was handed over with no issue, and once they were out in open water, Malachi had the ship's name plate switched back over to The Outsider. "Alright, We're headed to Wyrm's Rock people, let's not waste any time." He ordered, taking the helm.

    As he captained the ship, he couldn't help but notice his half-sister sitting in the crows nest, observing everything going on around them despite knowing that there wasn't really much point to it. Ayanne approached him midway through the voyage and he couldn't help but smile. He was rather surprised originally when he'd found she was at the ship before him, and all things considered, he was glad for her presence. He'd gotten used to her company during their travels.

    Still, she was certainly not the same timid girl that he'd met on the deck of that military ship all that time ago. He put his hand on her shoulder and nodded to something she had asked him. As she raised her hand to brush his off, he noticed that even her aux had changed. Once a simple ring was now considerably more elaborate. It covered the back of her hand going from the finger to the wrist in a silver knot.

    The world was changing, and the people were changing to fit it. When they arrived at Wyrm's Rock, he ordered the crew to take a week's leave time, and requested Ayanne to follow him to the meeting with the one person he believed could make sense of the nightmarish thing that he'd brought with them.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    "Hey, old man, we're back." Requiem said bluntly, tossing the cloak wrapped thing onto Kessel Cole's desk, "And I've brought you a gift, stolen from Amaltas himself."

     
    #15 Requiem, Oct 12, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2014
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  16. [Written with @Peregrine]

    Riven The Architect leaned into the Great Tree, humming quietly and stroking one of the branches. The tree shivered slightly, before unfurling a new limb, covered in green buds. The tree was healthy and happy, its leaves were green, their home was secure. Nothing amiss.

    A black leaf, caught by a gust of wind, was torn from its moorings and lifted high up into the branches of the Riven Tree. The withered thing eventually came to a rest near the architect. When she saw it the architect came to a halt, picking it up with a look of horror. Immediately her eyes turned to the tree, and she scanned all the nearby branches with meticulous care. But no leaves on the Riven Tree were yet touched with the corruption. Comforted that this was just some anomaly, the architect released the leaf, and it drifted away once more before crumbling into dust.

    The Architect’s eyes went back to the tree. Not once did she turn away from the it, and look at the forest that spread out beneath her. The forest that was slowly getting stained black, every drop of life and vitality being sucked out of it. The Riven Tree was healthy, and that was all that mattered to her.

    By the time the Riven Tree was affected and the Architects were forced to realize what was going on, it would be too late to save their beloved home.

    But not everyone was so oblivious.

    The Depths of Viridos
    [​IMG]

    The tree was withered and dying, surrounded by a pile of black leaves. The bark was turning slowly to brown mold, and the soil green. Everything about it reeked of decay. In front of the tree stood a forest purifier. His whole life had been devoted to pulling the poison out of the forest trees, and he was one of the most trusted members of his ranks. But the longer the ‘purifier’ stood in contact with the tree, the darker its leaves became, the worse off the tree was. Standing near another tree nearby, his monkey aux sat in the branches of the tree, a giant centipede wrapped around its neck and latched onto the monkey’s head. It sat there, wide-eyed and blank. And, everywhere that another tree brushed up against the corrupted one, leaf or branch, the darkness spread.

    The strange deadly silence of the forest was suddenly interrupted by the snap of a branch. The forest purifier whirled around, and the monkey writhed to its feet. For one more moment there was stillness, and the purifier turned back to the tree. But suddenly, a squadron of Tattersal’s soldiers appeared from the trees, seeming to spring right from their bark. They surrounded the corrupted purifier, ignoring the angry screeches of the monkey.

    The ‘purifier’ stood still for just one moment, staring at the dead tree, before he turned tail and tried to run. Before he could make it three feet a javelin pierced his side sending him crashing to the ground. Three more quickly joined it. He let out one hoarse scream, before going limp. The monkey, along with the centipede, vanished.

    From behind the soldiers, an ancient forest kin moved through the ranks, approaching the corrupted tree.

    “The damage?” one soldier asked.

    “Not irreparable,” the forest kin responded quietly, before laying a hand on the tree and closing his eyes. “The forest will turn green once more.”

    Edelon
    "M̵ak͜e ỳòưŕ r͡èp͟ơrt̷, G̸ener̷al̡."

    Tattersal stood in the same clearing, the pines twisting to a taper above him. Around were scores of Kindly Ones. Their cinnabar robes were rotting in the humidity. The poison in the air rusted their golden sabers brown. Once so proud and upright, they were hunched, a centipede in each of their aux-lanterns sending nightmarish shadows everywhere the circle of light was cast.

    The Green General cleared his throat. "Those who still remember Ilium and her prophet follow us back into our homes. Many in Hosia do not listen to our warnings. They do not see the threat from the desert."

    "We ̸h̀ave t̕o̶ ͜k̨ee͘p ̢V҉iri͜do̡s̡ śa͡fȩ f̡rom͜ ͘th̛e E̢astern ̶H͡ere͜t̡ic.̴ C̶o͞ntinue ͢to̷ s͝um̸m̡o͟n͡ ̴I̸li͏u̴m'̡s҉ ̶fo͠ll̷o̸w̧e̷r͘s͡.̢ ͘W̸è ͢w͠i̛l̴l ͢be ̧s͝afȩ ͠įn̢ ̴her̕ bo̴s̢o̷m͘.҉."

    "The merchants on the coast need to be dealt with, Kindly Om." Tattersal stared into Om's bleeding eyes. His aux was nowhere to be seen, and he looked the worse for it, the kin's movements stiff as if his hydraroot was petrified. The root tips cocked, listening to something into the far off distance.

    A pause. "Ĺe̕av͏e ̸th͜ę ͟on̴e҉s wh͡o will ͜no̢t lis̷t̸en͝ ͝a͞ņd ̸a̴cce̢p͝t Įl̢i̛um̷'̢ś ͏fin̡al ͘gif͡t.҉"

    Another pause. "Wh̢e̛n ẁill̀ ̧y҉ou̸ ͞a͜cc̶e͢pt t͟he g҉ift ̀as͝ ̨w̸e͠ll͘, Ta̶t̷te̸r͏s̕al?" In Om's hands writhed a fragment of the Divine Weapon. "̴Thr̶ou͏gh th̛i͠s,́ ͠w҉e ̛will̷ ́finalĺy͏ úǹi̡te ẁi҉tḩ ̴I̢lium̢,̢ and̢ ͘cl̴e̛an̨se ͡w͘ret͞ch̸ed Su͠nn͜e͞.͝"͞

    Tattersal did not miss a beat. "Only when my duty is done, Kindly Om."

    "̷V̶ȩry͟ ͟we̴l҉l.͜"




    Kairos ...

    ... My lovely verdant child ...


    (Ilium, he sobs. It's so black. It's so dark.)

    Come

    (He is guided by her hand, cupping his erection)

    (I can't see, I can't breathe, he cries.)

    Your children have been without you

    For

    So

    Long


    (But where have you been?)

    See not the poison. See not the forest. See the children.

    Kairos froze. Her hand tugged at his throbbing, insistent.

    He had heard that sentence before. Why did the dream repeat itself? The dream had never repeated itself. Ilium always had new things to say for him, new edicts, new divine words for him to follow.

    He looked down at his hands and they were covered in ichor. He tested his legs, pulling them forward in the muck. He fell forward and was upright again in the same spot. So he was being rooted. The Jade Prophet stopped resisting, stopped his desperate forward movements that the ichor turned against him. He sat, folding his legs into the lotus as he sank into the quicksand, and sank into meditation as he was pulled into the black.

    The dream around him exploded, shattering into a thousand pieces of glass. And he rose, gasping, out of a pool of tar in the Deadlands.



    End of Chapter 6
     
    #16 unanun, Oct 13, 2014
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2014
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