Sephiris: The Price of Peace

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Wed Sep 23, 2009 3:48 am



Sephalia > near Shadewood, northeast of Oliphey ~ late afternoon of DAY 4
Áirhath and the mercenaries had covered much ground. Starting before dawn, the Ssandári had come through Anatar's Pass and immediately turned west across the low mountains and high hills. During the first day through the pass, they came near the village of Cedar Brook, sending one or two of their number in to extract information. As expected, nothing of interest was learned. Áirhath wanted to get to Barocula Lake as soon as may be, for he knew that humans had a few large cities situated upon its shores. They rested that night near the mountains and the following day resumed their trek. Later, when Shadewood town came into view, Áirhath decided it was time for a rest.

"Here is good place," said Áirhath, "not much big, not much small." Áirhath had a rule that, when in human lands, the Ssandári would speak the local language as much as possible, except of course when secrecy was needed. All of his mercenaries understood the language well enough, but not so many could speak it well. Áirhath himself wasn't the best speaker of human in the company, though he was decent enough, and at least he didn't have much of an accent. "Ready your sword," he told them all, still unused to plurals, "but choose no fight." There was a chorus of minute clicks as almost thirty sword-hilts were loosed in their scabbards.

In addition to their dilssan, the Ssandári were now also equipped with larger straight, single-edged blades. A dilssan is a delicate, elegant weapon made for precision strikes and quick incisions, since all that is necessary to kill an elf is a single deep wound. Humans were built of a tougher mettle than elves; their blood ran thick by comparison. A more substantial weapon was needed to do more damage: the sílssan. The flat, straight-edged weapon was heavier, yes, but humans were relatively slow, so the change was balanced. Each Ssandári wore both weapons on his back, both hilts facing the same direction.

The company caused something of a stir as they entered Shadewood town. Twenty-eight elves, finely dressed in simple, elegant garments, each displaying elaborate dhiláthra, all bearing swords on their backs, was undoubtedly a sight worth seeing. The better speakers of human among the mercenaries--mainly Titanya--made clear the absence of hostile intent; this caused due relief among the townsfolk. Now welcomed, the Ssandári made their way to the nearest inn for a good meal and a couple of hours' respite.


Last edited by Kalon Ordona II on Tue Sep 29, 2009 10:51 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Thu Sep 24, 2009 2:54 pm

Sephalia > northeast of Oliphey ~ afternoon of DAY 2

Once more, Anatar’s Pass had been negotiated without injury or loss. With passengers, it was always a dicey undertaking. It never ceased to amaze Katerina how often those unfamiliar with the mountains wished to ride to the edge of the trail to peer off into the abyss. More than once she’d lost good mules that way. And passengers. But, thank Zephiris, she had no such fools on this particular trip.

Arriving in the low hills to the west of the mountains, one and all in the caravan breathed deeply. The air smelled differently on this side; it was moist due to the mountains blocking so much of the rain-bearing weather to this side. The rolling grasslands below promised an easier trip toward Barocula Lake and the towns where some were destined to leave the caravan. Some would trade or sell wares in the markets at Oliphey or Shadewood and more passengers might wish to join the caravan for protection while they travelled.

Katerina grinned as she turned in her saddle to watch the long caravan file past her along the trail to ensure her crew was keeping any stragglers from falling too far behind. Nunda Ward, an old hand and irascible character, was riding herd on a group of human scholars who ran him ragged trying to keep them in line. They were forever wandering off to explore this plant or that trail. Katerina chuckled to herself, wondering how badly the older man had lost at dice to be saddled with such an onerous task on this day. Nunda had been a part of her parents’ caravan for as long as Katerina could remember. His skin was heavily lined and nut-brown from the weather. He didn’t seem to have a spare bit of flesh on his bones, yet he was strong as an ox. Short for a human at 5 foot 6 inches, Nunda commanded respect and could turn the very air blue by his creative cursing in all 3 languages. Over the years, Nunda had purchased or earned almost a 20 percent share in the caravan and his vast experience was a rare jewel Katerina knew well to cherish.

As some wagons lumbered past, Katerina spied Pretty riding along with the silk merchant’s wife. Their heads bent close together as they tittered and gossiped like a pair of old hens. Leave it to Pretty to make friends with the wife of the cloth merchant. Katerina shook her head. Pretty was…well, pretty. Incredibly so, in fact. His golden blonde hair, bright blue eyes and flawlessly beautiful features spoke of noble breeding. Pretty never gave them his true name when he’d joined their ranks 5 years ago and no one had ever pressed him on the matter. He contributed as all the crew did. But in his own way. His ability to make friends, put people at ease and loosen their tongues was nothing short of miraculous. People trusted Pretty or discounted the effeminate man. In either case, it afforded him an unusual insight into people’s lives and secrets. He garnered remarkably favorable deals via the wives of merchants, who were the true power in most households. In some rare cases, he even provided additional ‘services’ to some others that allowed for greater access than other caravan Captains would normally receive. Secretly, Katerina felt very protective of Pretty, though she’d never had to ‘rescue’ him yet.

The caravan arrived in Candlewood the day after emerging from the pass. As was customary, Katerina mounted her big Sorrel gelding with the blaze on his face and raced pell-mell into the main street of the town whooping and shouting with pure joy and delight. The plumes in her hat and her brilliantly colored silk sashes made her seem a peacock among the more soberly dressed citizens of the town. “Come out, come out!” She half-sang, half shouted. “Captain Forbes is here! Let the wine flow and the festivities begin!”

The children found her first, rushing up from every direction calling out to her, “Captain! Captain! Where have you come from? Tell us a story! Do you have any sweets?” They knew from experience that the flamboyant caravan Captain always has hard candies to pass out to them.

Katerina laughed brightly as she and her horse were mobbed by the children. She began tossing small candies out to the children as she made her way toward the square. By now, the adults began to follow along. The arrival of a caravan was always cause for celebration. It was a welcome change from the drudgery of a hard working life. It was a time to hear news of the rest of the world, a chance to see and touch and bargain for marvelous, wondrous treasures from all over the land and it gave them the opportunity to barter some of their own items to be sold in other lands.

The caravan was set up within the main square within a scant hour. It seemed that a festival and market bloomed as if by magic around it. There were the shouts of hawkers, the smell of roasting meats, the bright clothing of the young people of the town, dressed in their best finery for such a festive occasion. The scholars traded books and scrolls, the minstrels sang and danced to appreciative audiences, passengers came and went. But the caravan regulars, other than Katerina and Pretty, spent the time trading, caring for the mules, negotiating passage and preparing to move again. By dawn the next day, they would be on the trail once more.


*************************
Sephalia > Near Shadewood ~ northeast of Oliphey ~ Night of of DAY 3
The intimidating, yawning mouth of a cave was before her again. Behind her the sheer, rocky cliffs that the screaming wind tried to push her from. Katerina had been here before. For the past 4 nights, she had the same dream. She knew it was a dream. But nothing she did could wake her until it had run its course. The dark interior of the cave drew her and yet she was afraid. She knew instinctively that something terrible lay within. Something no one should look upon. But, she had to. She began to scramble over the jagged rocks to the interior. Her feet and hands were cut on the vicious stones. But, she didn’t stop. And then the light came. Brilliant, painful, wonderful. It consumed her. She couldn’t turn away, whatever she sought was in the light. Her heartbeat thundered in her ears as she tried to draw closer to the light, but it kept drawing away. She cried because she couldn’t reach it. The rocks cut her more deeply, more viciously. She screamed in pain and fell, the rocks impaling her. She was failing…she’d never reach the light. How it hurt….she cried out…

A soft hand shook her sweat-soaked shoulder and Katerina jolted awake with a cry. In the bright moonlight, she could make out the shimmer of Pretty’s golden hair. Her body was covered with sweat and her heart hammered in her chest. Each night the dream had become more insistent, more vivid and painful. Feeling something wet in her hands, she asked Pretty to light a lamp.

In the flickering light, she gasped when she saw blood in her palms. She’d evidently clenched her fists so tightly; she’d gouged her palms deeply.

“Tsk.” Pretty tutted at her and reached out to stroke damp locks back from her cheek. “You had that dream again. It’s over now.” His touch was gentle and comforting. “I think we should find a soothsayer or priest when we reach Oliphey. I think it means something.” He took her hands, gently bathing and wrapping them.

Katerina’s breathing slowly returned to normal under Pretty’s ministrations. “I don’t know what it means, Pretty. It…it frightens me.” She hated being afraid. It felt like a weakness somehow.

His blue eyes lifted to her face, somehow guessing where her thoughts were taking her. “And you dislike not knowing, don’t you? You cannot bear not having control.” His laughter was musical in the stillness of the night. “One day, my darling. You will learn that there are bigger things than you.”

Feeling much more herself once more, she leaned forward to kiss his perfect cheek. “And when I do, you’ll be there to help me whittle it down to manageable portions, won’t you?”

The beautiful man began to slip out of her tent, satisfied all was well with his friend once more, “Zephiris forbid. I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

Katerina lay back down with soft chuckle. Tomorrow, they’d arrive in Shadewood, and then they’d spend a few days in Oliphey. It was past time to get to the bottom of this nonsense.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Sun Sep 27, 2009 8:12 pm

Sephalia > Oliphey > Church of Zephiris on Dove street ~ morning of DAY 4
Gado Tanager was back at the church. He had gotten back at the inn late the previous evening, after several hours talking with Semric. Scarlet was made aware of everything that was going on, and Gado had brought her with him this morning to help. They had made a more in-depth version of the short transcripts Scarlet had taken of Gado's dream. Semric was eager to join in the examining of it, and brought them into his inner sanctum in the far section of the church. They were in a small, wooden, windowless room, huddled around a bright candlestick set on a simple wooden table. It was not customary to allow those not of the clergy back here, but Semric knew that this was important to them all. "Is this the dream?"

Scarlet produced five slips of paper--one from two nights ago, and the rest copied down earlier this morning. "This was my original notes taken just after Gado had the dream." Scarlet passed Semric the slightly crumpled paper, and Semric proceeded to glance it over closely. "And this," she continued, passing him one of the other, newer, slips of paper, "we made this morning. Gado recalled a few more details. Also, as you can see, these copies are considerably more readable."

Semric eagerly accepted the second paper. After only a few moments he was expertly circling or underlining key words and phrases.
In my (dream I was flying) among the clouds, surrounded by light. The clouds were all different colors, but mostly (pink) like the dawn. I saw a woman of passing beauty hovering among the clouds. She had a shining amber face and large, deep, white eyes. There were feathers everywhere, glowing. I had a (feeling) that she was not human. I stopped flying and stood before her, hovering in the air like she was. Though stationary, yet I was buffeted by a fierce wind as if I were still in flight. The woman turned and looked down toward me, and she said: ("Come find me.") Then light enveloped everything, and then (all began to fade into darkness), and I felt myself expand beyond myself, filling all the land. I felt pain. And then I woke.

The priest finished and fell to pondering, one arm folded across his chest while the other hand was clenched thoughtfully over his mouth. "The amber skin... the eyes of light... it's all there. The scriptures speak so of none but Zephiris herself. It is as you said...." Semric lifted his head to lock eyes with Gado. "You must do as she has commanded. You must find her."
"How?" Gado desperately asked. "Where do I start? I am old; can I search every hill and every mountain on Tanuvel and beyond?"
"No of course not," said Scarlet. "The Mother would know this; I'm sure of it. She would have another way."
"Indeed," Semric agreed. He thought for a long moment, then nodded several times. "We have much work to do. We must search among the scriptures for the answer."
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Stion Gyas on Mon Sep 28, 2009 6:55 pm

Mandor, heading north ~ Dawn of day 5

Rain fell in a steady drizzle, soaking those who traveled the road to and from Dor. Brenard shook the droplets from his cloak. He’d smelled rain on the horizon hours earlier, but hadn’t expected the clouds to trail them this far north. From beneath the brim of his dripping hat, Brenard san Deccour examined the group.

They’d kept their formation from earlier in the morning, with Jasper, Simion, Ten, and Inen taking the lead. Simion hadn’t fallen back with Barthon, despite having ended his conversation with Jasper. Brenard took up the rear, flanked by Cid and the priest.

All of them were dripping wet, but Cid appeared not to notice the rain. The fisherman was used to the wet, but much preferred his wagon over his horse’s back. Cid fought every dip and sway of his rugged mount, instead of moving with the flow. O, but the sores he’ll have before this is through. Brenard smiled, his face obscured by hat and cloak.

Quentin Osmont, riding the Brenard’s left, sat his saddle awkwardly. Even his time with the military hadn’t completely prepared him for days on horseback, and rain. Unfortunately for the priest his carriages were miles behind, as well as his warm bed. Quentin would be worse-off than Cid.

Barthon and Simion took the rain without complaint, each holding their seats with the ease of experienced horsemen. Barthon kept his eyes mainly to the road, but checked their surroundings often. He refuses to be surprised. Brenard noticed, with grudging respect. Simion kept his eyes on the landscape. Both kept under their cloaks.

The group in the lead kept their seat well enough, especially Inen, and all wore cloaks to keep the rain off. Jasper, Ten, and Inen huddled close together in conversation. Their lips moved, but no sound reached Brenard. Jasper laughed suddenly, and drew his reins in. Ten, Simion and Inen followed suit, and soon the party formed up around Barthon. Simion kept his distance from barthon in the loose huddle, sticking to Jasper’s side.

“We’ll be moving cross-country.” Jasper began, “All the easier to avoid villages, and it’s a straighter path.”

“And slower,” Brenard pointed out. “Underbrush will drag at the horses’ feet. A clean road is quickest.”

“True, but we’ll still make better time.” Inen cut in. “Don’t complain, scarred man.”

Brenard only smiled in reply, as Jasper continued. “This road turns east to skirt the Doriath Pineforests; that’s where we leave it. If we keep at this pace, and stop relatively late, we’ll be within walking distance of a town. We’ll avoid it, and make camp.”

Mandor, west of Pinewood, Camp ~ Evening of Day 5


Brenard stirred coals about with a stick, sending up a small cloud of sparks. The blademaster leaned against his saddle, stockinged feet placed before the fire. The others had arrayed themselves in a similar fashion. Even Barthon had removed part of his armor, his helmet sat on his lap. Only two of the group stood, casting their shadows against the hobbled horses opposite the fire.

From Brenard’s point of view, Simion sprouted from a fan of flames. The boy was only visible from the knees up as he parried a series of blows from Jasper. Jasper moved with obvious care, keeping the blade in plain sight, and never moving too fast for the boy.

The Knight of Gedrich had obviously taught the page a thing or two, but very little in the long run. Simion at least knew how to properly grip those heavy things knights called swords, and knew the different quarters of a man’s body, but little else.

When Jasper switched tactics, and allowed Simion the attack, the boy swung straight, and true, but he kept his wrists locked. Jasper noticed the problem immediately, but allowed the boy to continue for a time.

“If you let him develop the habit, Jasper, the boy will have trouble breaking it.” Brenard called out, curling his toes. “Best fix it now.”

“Oh? I don’t see you leaping up to teach the boy.” Jasper replied, biding Simion stop with a gesture. “You’re the blademaster here, if I remember correctly. You teach him.”

“Fair enough, but not tonight. The hour grows late, and the boy grows tired.”

Jasper opened his mouth to speak, but Simion cut him off. “I’m not tired!”

“If you say so, wake me before my watch.” Brenard replied, pulling his hat over his brow, ending his part of the conversation.

“I’m not tired!”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Thu Oct 01, 2009 8:37 pm

Mandor, west of Pinewood, Camp ~ Evening of Day 5

Barthon stared into the fire, thinking heavily about the days to come. They would have far to travel, and there would likely be many troubles to cross their path before their journey was finished. Simion came over to sit with him, squatting silently and staring into the fire.
"I apologize for my behavior, Sir Camlin," Simion said suddenly. Barthon was honestly surprised. He hadn't expected an apology from the boy for days to come. Perhaps Simion was mentally older than Barthon himself was prepared to admit.
"Don't worry about it, Simion. We've already established that there is no leadership among this lawless band, and that includes between you and me." Barthon gave the boy a small smile. "Besides, you are a knight now, of Zephiris rather than Gedrich. I have no more authority over you in that respect than you do of me in our own order. We are equals on this quest, something we will both have to get used to."
"Does that mean you will take my dream into consideration?" Simion interjected. His eyes were hopeful, and Barthon knew the boy was placing a lot of faith on his dream.
"No, it doesn't. And let me tell you why, before you get angry with me." He could see the boy preparing an argument already, about how his vote should have equal weight in the group or something of that order. But he wouldn't give him the chance. Barthon's experience in these matters was worth considerably more than anything Simion had to offer to the group. "If we lead a group of Mandorian's in search of Zephiris across the borders of our own lands, we bring strife between two peoples. No one is going to care about anything except glorifying their own name by finding the lost Mother of our Souls. What do you think would happen if half of the people at the branding showed up in dragon or elven lands?"
Simion was silent for a moment, though Barthon could sense that the boy simply didn't want to answer, rather than having trouble procuring a proper response. "It could cause a conflict, which might lead to war."
"Exactly, Simion. That is why we must avoid that path at all costs. If we find that we must travel through foreign lands, we must do so quietly, and in a small group. And we must know, for certain, that we can not find her here."
"I do know..." Simion tried to explain. But Barthon cut him off.
"You had one dream, Simion, as realistic as it may have seemed. You may have another tonight. You may have another the next. If you want me to take your dreams seriously, I am willing to listen to you as you describe them each morning. We will study your dreams until we can determine an exact location for Zephiris. Until then, we follow the original plan." Simion nodded, grudgingly, and Barthon let it go at that. "You should get some sleep, Simion. We have another long day ahead of us, and it will be harder for you. Training is never easy, especially while on the go."
Simion looked ready to argue again, but he changed his mind. "Of course, Barthon," he said instead. "Good night."
"May Zephiris guide your dreams, Simion." It was a common response, but one that had a more significant meaning for the young boy now.
Simion started to walk away, but turned back and smiled at Barthon. "You forgot something today, Barthon."
"What's that?" Barthon asked, wondering what was coming next.
"You never spoke with Jeanne." Simion turned away and strode over to his bedroll. Barthon cringed inside. If she ever found out he was in the city and hadn't come to see her... It was yet another obstacle in his path, but one that could not be overcome until later. Perhaps she would understand that duty left him pressed for time. He didn't think it would be so: women thought there was always time for a hug and kiss, and the exchange of a few nice words. No, if she ever found out he would certainly pay the price for his neglect of her feelings. Barthon couldn't help but smile. Of everything that was ahead of him, he was more worried about a woman in Dor.

Mandor, Pinewood ~ Day 6, early morning

"So, young knight," said Quentin as he rode beside Barthon, "why haven't I seen more of you on this quest, eh? Don't tell me your order takes it for a farce!"
"No," Barthon responded. "Quite the opposite, actually. My superiors are worried about international relations, and what will happen when the word of her arrival spreads across all of Telmar. Everyone will be searching, and everyone for their own reasons. I would like to think they sent me because I am one of the best, yet I am also expendable. They know I will do what it takes to find Zephiris, and then return to the proper authorities with her location."
"The 'proper authorities' as in...?" Quentin asked, his eyebrows raised questionably.
"As in my superiors. Where it goes from there is beyond me." Barthon honestly didn't know where the information would go, who would act on it, or how they would act on it. He only knew what he had to do.
"Well," began Quentin slowly, "I would like to assume that your order would know what to do with that information. They are, after all, great scholars and highly devoted to Zephiris herself. But why should her location not be shared? Won't it, in the end? You can't keep it a secret, after all."
"Of course it won't be kept a secret!" Barthon objected. "It can't be! My superiors are simply worried about the search, and what will happen to the nations when Zephiris is thrown out like a bone to fight over."
"Trust me, young knight, I share that concern." Quentin pointed ahead at the rest of the group. "That is why I joined with them. We all share that concern. And we all have our own ideas of what must be done once she is found."
"So..." Barthon asked, "where do you think Zephiris is?"
"Me?" Quentin asked, seeming surprised. "Well, I don't know. She isn't human, despite how we like to portray her in our drawings. Those are simply metaphors, I know, but metaphors are a bad way of teaching the younger generations who don't know any better. Nor is she a dragon, or an elf. She is all of us, in a way. So why should she choose any of our lands over another? Perhaps she is on an island somewhere, out in the ocean beyond our reach. Maybe she will come to us when she is ready."
"I thought you joined this search because you felt the need to find her?"
"Oh, I do! I definitely do, Barthon. But that doesn't mean she wants to be found."
"Then why would she return, and why should we feel her presence, if she doesn't want to anything to do with us."
"I am only theorizing, Barthon!" Quentin laughed. "You have more questions than Simion does. I am merely making the point that we are all, perhaps, making a futile effort. The smart ones, the ones that will find her, will look in a place less obvious, yet the most obvious place of all. And they will follow their hearts, and their dreams."
"You think I should listen to Simion's dreams, then?" Barthon asked.
"Of course I do. Zephiris can speak to us in more ways than one. Perhaps she is speaking to many people, all across Telmar, in different ways. You cannot discount his dreams, Barthon. Not at this juncture."
Barthon considered the priests words. As a priest, Quentin carried a good measure of authority in all things relating to Zephiris. It would be unwise not to listen to him. And he had already assured Simion that he would listen to his dreams, as long as he continued having them. But what had him concerned was why Simion was having the dreams, and him alone of all the group.

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Stion Gyas on Sat Oct 03, 2009 3:52 pm

Mandor, Camp, Midway between the River Swift and the Doriath Mountains ~ Evening of DAY 6

“No, no, Simion.” Brenard adjusted the boy’s arm and hand to match the third guard. “Remember, lean slightly backwards, pointing your right toe forwards. Your left foot should be placed so as to form a T. Good. Now with your feet shoulder-width apart, you’ll be standing in the basic position from which all other positions are based.”

Brenard and Simion stood between a neat pile of wood and the hobbled horses. Each held a sturdy branch cut from one of few oak trees in the region. At the moment, Brenard had Siminion standing in an odd position, at least to the boy, who was used to combatants facing each other squared. Simion’s left hand was held on the high, outside line, palm facing down. His right hand, which gripped his “rapier,” hovered in the third guard.

“Good.” Brenard tugged at the fingers of a glove, pulling it free from his hand. “Before you can thrust, cut, lunge or even parry, you must be able to step.” The blademaster placed the glove atop Simion’s head. “Your movements should flow, from one to the other. In fact, they should be so smooth, that glove will balance atop your head.”

To demonstrate, Brenard pulled his other glove from his hand, and balanced atop his own head, bared for such a special occasion.

“There are three steps you must know: The advance or retreat, the passing step, and the half step. To advance, lift your right toe, followed by the heel. Take a short step, but do not overextend. No, shorter, Simion. Good. Keep the motion smooth. Follow with your left foot. Don’t drag it Simion, lift your foot. Move it to shoulder-width. Good. To retreat, you must do the same movement, but reversed…”

Brenard went on to explain the different steps, repeating the same lesson: Your movements must flow, must be smooth. With the bases explained, Brenard had Simion practice his steps: advance, pass, half, retreat. As he watched Simion step backwards and forwards in a straight strip, Brenard called out encouragement and correcting mistakes. By the time the sun had half sunk below the horizon, Simion was panting, sweat running down his brow. Brenard called a stop.

“You’re too jerky by half, boy, but you’ll get there,” Brenard said, taking Simion’s “rapier” from his hand. “Maybe in a couple nights you’ll be able to hit a couple trees. Until then, practice in your mind, it should be the last thing you think of before you close your eyes, and the first when you open them.”

“But, the dreams-“

“They’ll happen in between, Simion. Now go, and prepare the fire. It will be night soon, and-“ A motion caught Brenard’s eye. He watched for several moments, but there came no more. “-And I would like some light and a hot meal.”

Mandor, Camp, Midway between the River Swift and the Doriath Mountains ~ Late Evening of DAY 6

The horses had been acting restless ever since Simion had set the kindling alight. Nothing had moved since Brenard caught motion out of the corner of his eye. Nobody had spoken, either. A weight pressed on the group. Tempers hadn’t grown short; it was just that none of the group wished to speak. Even Barthon seemed grimmer than usual.

Simion sat near the fire, stirring a pot of stew hung above the flames with a makeshift tripod. The others arrayed themselves around the fire in their normal fashion. This night, however, no boots were removed, and weapons kept close at hand. Simion tasted the contents of the pot, and, using a fold of his tunic, lifted the stew from the flames.

The instant the pot touched the ground, an angry squeal split the night. A squat, black form burst from the darkness. The boar, completely black save for its tusks tore through their camp site. Cid barely got to his feet in time to avoid the rushing creature, and chaos filled the camp.

A pair of growling shapes hurtled into the camp, one crashing into Inen. Jasper kicked the wolf from the woman just before snapping jaws found her throat. Ten’s blade cut into the second wolf’s side, forcing the creature back.

Brenard and Barthon angled to help Cid, who held the boar at bay with his spear, when the largest of the creatures burst onto the scene. Barthon’s first strike caught the bear square on its shoulder, but he was forced back by a swipe of its paw. Brenard immediately leaped into the opening the big animal left, and dug several inches of his rapier into its side, but the bear was unfazed. In fact, most of the creatures ignored grievous wounds.

A pair of arrows sprouted from the boar’s hide, and black blood leaked from several deep wounds, but it still fought on. The wolves Ten and Jasper battled still weaved back and forth, darting in to snap at the men’s legs even thought blood glistened in their coats.

The bear lunged at Barthon, rising on its hind legs. The Gedrich Knight stepped into the blow, digging deep into the bear’s paw with his falchion. The arming sword darted sideways in a cut at the bear’s exposed stomach. An inch of the blade sheared through flesh, but not deep enough to spill its guts. The bear roared, rearing back, and Brenard danced in from the side. The false edge of his blade slid across the animal’s neck, cutting deep.

Cid’s boar squealed behind the fencer and knight, as it charged. The fisherman’s spear took it in the chest, but the creature fought up the length until bloodied steel glimmered from its back. Another of Inen’s arrows dug into the black creature’s flank, diving between ribs to find the heart. With a final shudder, the creature collapsed, whipping Cid’s spear from his grasp.

Turning, Inen drew another arrow to her cheek, and released. The broadhead took a leaping wolf in the jaw, and Jasper plunged his blade into the fallen creature repeatedly. The second wolf dove in to take a bite at Ten, who kicked it full in the side. When the animal sprawled to the ground the mountain man leaped upon it, driving his blade through the animal’s side, pinning it to the ground.

Still reeling, the bear kept to its feet, pouring blood down its length. One paw dangled by a bit of flesh, and collapsed when the animal tried to settle on all fours. The bear followed its leg, and Brenard and Barthon were on it in moments, ending the struggle.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Mon Oct 05, 2009 7:18 pm

Sakira-thani > near Paresheth, almost 300 miles east of Sakira ~ night of DAY 6
S'harahe walked at the head of the company. Cold mountain air teased her skin, pleasant against the simple magical wards. S'harahe felt the short tundra grasses brush between her toes like a thick carpet. The world of night was bright in the light of the moons. Menegra the Lover, the great disc of pale light that waxed and waned twelve times in her year, and Menethra the Watcher who made her cycle but twice, who gazed from a cold distance upon the joys and sorrows of the world. These were the two queens of light, the greater and the smaller, in a realm otherwise shrouded in darkness. Both were at their full, and both were present in the sky--a powerful omen. S'harahe walked onward determinedly, certain that the others could sense it as well, if perhaps to a lesser degree. In her mind there was no doubt. There would be no sleep this night.

S'harahe halted at the crest of a low mountaintop. It was a good place to rest. “Cenda k'hiran hin-mandra,” she said, her voice clear and enchanting in the crisp air. A misty cloud of hot breath accompanied her announcement. Few words had been traded between any of the company. Even Kaladar had quieted down today. Something was on the wing; the moons tonight proved it. S'harahe didn't know what to expect, but expect it she did, every fiber of her body alert. “Z'gan k'hipan,” was the only order she gave to the company as a whole. No sleep. It was no small command; dragons need sleep at regular intervals more than humans do. Ignoring protests, Sehra-sithred S'harahe instead turned to her own servants and instructed them to arrange themselves in a circle about the hill and begin channeling the elements. Her servants obeyed whole-heartedly and without question, and within moments the night was alive with the chants of all twenty-four devoted dragons.

Mishera came close. “Tan z'gan k'hipan?” she protested. Why no sleep? S'harahe turned her head slowly, affording the presumptuous thing little more than a condescending glance from the corner of one eye. After a long and uncomfortable moment, Mishera backed away silently. Only then did S'harahe deliver the obvious answer. A shadow, a threat, approached. “Psendra he skraldis, he z'tengra. Cen hin-mandra z'gan tema.” They were not safe.

A distant, long, low howl pierced the air louder than the collective chants of S'harahe's servants. Almost immediately a second followed, and then a third, from different directions. Growls and screeches joined them. In moments the world was a perverse symphony of opposing sounds. S'harahe turned round to gauge the others' reactions. Only Panis'hret, to his credit, showed no fear. S'harahe knew she had their attention, now. The rest of the servants needed to defend those who channeled the elements. “Temtha t'hareth-gserin hin-mishlak send gadan. Dram t'hareth-gsen sengal mandra; cidrept gsen han gracen than Danr-K'handra.” The three other K'handrar were to stand with S'harahe and prepare to unleash the Great Shout.

S'harahe could feel energies gather around the hill. Prolonged use of magic, as in battle situations, required a great supply of strength and a great supply of elemental energy. The servants would supply both, leaving the weaving of complex and powerful spells to the four masters. The four stood atop the hill facing outward in all four directions. Sehra-dregan Mishera to the west, Higeth-makh Kaladar to the north, Sithred-makh Panis'hret to the south, Sehra-sithred S'harahe to the east. By the light of the moons S'harahe watched as black shapes moved across the landscape, traversing hills and valleys with frightening speed. Then, even as she formed spells in her mind, a terrifying noise dwarfed all others. It was the roar of a fire-drake, morphed and twisted into an ear-splitting screech. S'harahe's eyes naturally hunted for the source of the sound, and then she saw it, the black shape outlined in silver light, winging its way directly toward her.

S'harahe listened to the steady chant of her servants, instinctively knowing how to coordinate with them so as to strengthen rather than disrupt their spells.

CID-ram GAL-dan; HAN-da MISH-lem GSEN THAN DAN-r K'HAN-dra
CID-ram MER-dan; HAN-da MISH-lem GSEN THAN DAN-r K'HAN-dra
CID-ram HAR-dan; HAN-da MISH-lem GSEN THAN DAN-r K'HAN-dra
CID-ram KAR-dan; HAN-da MISH-lem GSEN THAN DAN-r K'HAN-dra
CID-ram GAL-dan...


S'harahe took a deep breath, stretched her high voice low, her low voice high. Timing the beginning of her spell to coincide with the chant, she opened her mouth and sang the resonant words of power. She wove her chant in layers, vocalizing a haunting undertone, using as she must a single breath and unceasing sound, and finally dictating at the end from whence the spell would draw what power it required.
“Cid-ram Kar-dan; han-da mish-lem gsen... mar-in Dan-r K'han-dra! Cid-ram Kar-dan; dish-ek gsen than kar-kas thar-din man-dra! Kran-da Kar-dan kar-kas dhrend han kar-ba! Han-da mish-lem Kar-dan mar-in k'han-dra; gyar-ath gsen dan nan... Kabated, Dalaran, Pashelet, Maralen; CEN!!”

S'harahe had indicated four of her servants by name, and each of those four experienced a slight decrease in physical strength. In the same instant, the fire-drake shrieked as its blood caught fire from the inside. A fire-drake's blood should not catch fire. It was the simplest way to slay them. The creature exploded in a ball of bright flame. But then its fragmented body disintegrated, becoming trailing streams of black vapor. Unnatural. Unsettling. Creatures of darkness, creatures of shadow. What could cause such devilry?

Panis'hret's servants drew their weapons and stood guard in front of the still-chanting dragons. The dark monsters raged up the hill like a black, roiling tide. Wolf-shapes, boars, bears, and beasts unknown, unimagined, uncounted. Fierce dragons held them at bay while the all-important chanting continued.

S'harahe and the others fell to complicated weaving of spells. They combined their strengths, inter-weaving their spells with one another. Where one was unleashed another was began. Their endless song was punctuated by the effects of the spells. From mass death to drowning waves, from acid rain to scythes of wind, from hurled stones of fire to sinking pits of hungry earth, the power of high K'handrar was demonstrated in a dreadful onslaught of brutality. Everywhere the bursts of black, smoky vapor filled the air more quickly than it could dissipate, forming a dark, undulating fog in a wide circle below the mountaintop.

When the last creature had been slain and the last of the black vapor faded away, all that could be seen as evidence of the battle was the charred and gashed sides of the wounded mountain.

Alive but utterly spent, each dragon fell straight to the ground as slumber overwhelmed their senses.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Wed Oct 07, 2009 4:34 pm

Day 5 - Ashwood, shores of Barocula Lake

“You truly have taken leave of yer senses, ye good-fer-nothing tramp! Not even Zephiris herself could force me to allow my prize stallion have at that bag of misshapen bones yer trying to pass off as horse flesh!”

“Prize? Prize! How would you know about anything resembling equine majesty, you swamp toad-looking, sack of beer-swilling horse apples!”

“You insult me? You dare! Just for that make it 2000 silver! And not a copper less! I ought to take me whip to yer worthless, pox-ridden hide!

The combatants were squared off nose to nose in the midst of one of the squares in the prosperous, bustling city along the shores of Barocula Lake, named Ashwood. Captain Forbes stood stiff and tense, wide felt hat in one hand while her gauntleted hand clenched into a fist ready to strike the man opposing her. The bear of a man shouting back at her as barely her height, but outweighed her by at least 100 pounds. He was barrel-chested, balding with a magnificent chestnut mustache quivered in his rage. Looped easily around his right shoulder was a bullwhip of impressive thickness. His enraged countenance was red with a vein popping dangerously at his left temple.

Almost all the normal hue and cry and music that accompanied the normal trading and festival activities when the caravan arrived in the city had come to a halt. The promise of bloodshed taking precedence over commerce. Crowds gathered in a wide circle around Katerina and Daschett Margreaves, one of the finest horse-breeders in the area and small betting pools sprang up as the chances of drawing blood grew ever closer.

In the forefront of the crowd, opposite one another, stood, Mualane holding the halter of a stunningly sleek sorrel mare, while behind Margreaves, a small boy who had to be his son idly ate an apple and held the halter of a magnificently powerful black stallion with white socks. The wife of the cloth trader wrung her hands as she stood beside Pretty, watching the confrontation. “Oh…oh dear. Shouldn’t you do something? Someone might be hurt.”

Pretty shrugged nonchalantly, “Undoubtedly.” He murmured, almost bored.
The woman looked up at him in shock, “But…but…she took you in! She is your employer!” Her tone was incensed and yet whispered, as if she feared the sound of her voice might break the stalemate and cause the confrontation to erupt into violence.

“Yes. So she did.” Pretty finally let his deep blue eyes drop to the woman’s worried round face, “Just who do you think is in danger?” He allowed a tiny hint of a smile tug at the corner of his lips before slipping away to make his own bets on the outcome of the encounter.

“2000? For that sway-back, knock-kneed, wall-eyed plow horse? Never! My grandfathers would return from the grave to haunt even my grandchildren if I allowed such villainy at your hands, you pathetic excuse for pig-vomit! I would never part with even 1000 silver for all the pleasure of putting that beast out of its misery!” Katerina shouted directly into Margreave’s face with her hands gesticulating sharply to accentuate her point.

Margreaves sputtered and spit and appeared on the verge of an apoplectic fit at Katerina’s temerity. It took him a few deep breaths before he could gain control of himself long enough to speak and this time his deep baritone was low and dangerous, “You…gypsy. You Zehpiris-forsaken, dog-riding, false-faced cow! If you don’t get out of my sight I will personally pay each and every person here 1500 silver to have a lash of this whip across your back!”

Katerina’s hand gripped the hilt of her saber at the threat. “You aren’t man enough to even touch my mare. I’d rather pay 1400 and let my jack produce more mules from her than let that poor excuse for a leather milking stool mount her!”

The pair leaned into one another menacingly, staring one another down, both tense and about to explode.

In unison, they reached for each other, “DONE!” Margreaves shouted. They clasped hand in a firm shake and suddenly burst into a fit of laughing. “Swamp-toad now, am I?” He inquired with a boisterous chuckle. “Yer loosing yer touch, Kate.”

Katerina laughed softly, “Aye, maybe I am. I was letting you get the best of me this time, Daschett. He’s a beauty. And you knew I wouldn’t be able to resist, you old reprobate. How’s Marsheil?”

The pair threw their arms over one another’s shoulders and wandered toward the inn to share a pint leaving those in the square bewildered or entertained. Those familiar with the caravans understood this was the norm for true horse traders and the imaginative insults were always entertaining. But those just passing through could not begin to fathom what had just transpired.

Mualane and Pretty walked alongside Margreave’s son where the horses would be stabled for a day or two to ensure the mare was truly impregnated. The boy grinned at the pair, “Poppa got her this time, Mualane. Knew he would. Sultan’s Dream is the best stock anywhere.”

Mualane glanced at Pretty’s slightly chagrined face, “You lost some money on this one, eh? Next time ask me first. I saw her eyes when she first laid eyes on that stallion.”

Pretty snorted. “Well. Thank you so much for saying so before I put down 50 silver.”


Last edited by Digital Muse on Sun Dec 06, 2009 2:40 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Thu Oct 15, 2009 5:02 am

Mandor, Camp, Midway between the River Swift and the Doriath Mountains ~ Late Evening of DAY 6

Barthon stepped back from the shadowed form of the bear as it suddenly burst into vapor, rising upward in streams toward the forest canopy. The boar and wolves did the same, the thick black vapors obscuring the branches above as it filtered through to the dark sky, blending in with the shadows of the night. Barthon shook his head and turned back to the group. Whatever that was, it wasn’t natural. Barthon made to clean his blades, a habit ingrained into any good warrior, but he realized that there was nothing on it to be cleaned; no blood stained his weapons. He distinctly remembered the black, oozing blood that had leaked from the bear’s wounds, but Barthon could only guess that it had dissolved like the rest of the creatures’ remains.
“What in our Mother’s name was that?” asked Ten Eych.
Barthon simply shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever it was, we’ve dealt with it. For now…” The rest of the group moved in toward Barthon and Jasper, every one of their faces painted with concern and questions.
“That can’t be all of them,” Inen said. “If there are more, we will likely have to deal with them again. And there are bigger dangers in Mandor than bears.”
“What if it is some sort of disease?” Quentin asked. “It could spread over all of Mandor, and then the rest of Telmar if it isn’t isolated!”
“Calm down, Quentin,” Jasper said, slamming his sword back into his scabbard. “We don’t know what that was, and we have no way to study it. But from what I saw, those were not diseased animals. That was magic of some form, though I’m not knowledgeable of such things.”
“In all my travels,” said Brenard, “I’ve never seen anything like it. But I would have to agree that it looked like magic.”
“Seems like a bit of a coincidence, considering the circumstances,” said Barthon. “I wonder how widespread it really is.”
Jasper shrugged his shoulders. “What is the point of even guessing, at the moment? We don’t know anything about them, other than that they are dangerous, and disappear like vapors of smoke when killed. Let’s just continue on, and take things as they come.” Barthon had to agree with him. There wasn’t a lot they could do by throwing guesses in the air.
“We’ll set up a tighter watch from now on,” Barthon said. “We don’t know if they will strike again, but I think we can all agree that there will likely be more.”
“I’ll take the first watch,” offered Inen. “I won’t be sleeping for a while anyway, and I’m used to the dark.”
“I’ll watch with her,” Jasper said. “Two watchmen will be more effective, and we can watch in pairs throughout the night.” Barthon noticed Inen scowl, but she didn’t say anything to dissuade him.
“Alright, Simion and I will take the next watch. I’ll leave the next two up to the rest of you.”
“I’ll take the last watch,” said Brenard.
“Me too!” Ten Eych said, raising his hand. Quentin and Cid simply looked at each other, their watch essentially decided for them. Ten looked around, his eyes lingering on the camp fire and the pot of soup on the ground. “Who’s hungry?”

Mandor, Camp, Midway between the River Swift and the Doriath Mountains ~ Late Night of DAY 6

Barthon was woken by a foot kicking his leg. “Wake up, knight!” said Jasper’s smooth voice. “I’m tired!” Barthon opened his eyes and looked around. He was leaning against a tree near the fire pit, his arms crossed in his lap. He had taken his gauntlets and helmet off before he fell asleep, but that was all. He knew most of the traditions and codes of his order were somewhat less important on this quest, but he couldn’t bring himself to abandon them completely. Barthon nodded at Jasper and curled his legs up, preparing to force his body to move. Jasper moved over to his spot by the fire. Inen, too, was lying near the fire. Her eyes were already closed and by the rhythm of her breathing Barthon guessed she was already fast asleep. He shook Simion’s shoulder to wake him. The boy had fallen asleep next to him, faster than anyone else had. Barthon wasn’t surprised. Brenard had been pressing him hard during the training session, harder than Barthon had yet pushed him, and the evenings events had probably sapped his remaining energy.
“Wake up, Simion,” Barthon said quietly. He needed to wake the boy up, but it wouldn’t do to wake the rest of the camp in the process. “Wake up, boy!” Barthon shook Simion’s shoulder harder until the boy opened his eyes. “It’s time for our watch. Get up.”
“What time is it?” Simion asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and stifling a large yawn.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll keep track of the time. You just concentrate on staying awake and doing your job.” Barthon pulled Simion to his feet and led him to the edge of the camp. “Pace from this spot to the point on the opposite side of the camp,” Barthon said as he pointed to where he had directed. “Pacing will keep you awake. I will pace along the other side. Keep your eyes and ears open. If we are attacked by those dark creatures again, it will be hard to see them. So rely on your ears as much as your eyes.”
“What if I miss something, Barthon?” Simion asked. “I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t even know what to look for!”
Barthon knew the boy would do fine. Simion was only worried because, as he had said, he had never done it before. “Just listen for anything, Simion. If you hear the slightest sound, let me know. If you can’t hear it, then that isn’t your fault. Just do your best.”
Simion nodded, but it didn’t seem Barthon had allayed all his fears. Simion’s eyes were wide as he moved to take his position along the border of the camp, just where the fading light of the fire met the shadows.
Barthon began his silent march next to Simion, moving off in the opposite direction to circle the camp and meet Simion halfway. Barthon was truly worried that they might be attacked again, but he tried not to let that show to Simion. If Simion thought that their lives depended on his first night as a watchman, he would likely jump at every insect that touched his skin. Barthon would do the real watching tonight, and hopefully it would be enough.

Two hours passed before Barthon considered waking Cid and Quentin. Simion’s head hung and his steps had slowed and shortened. Barthon wondered if the boy was even really awake. He would let it pass tonight, but tomorrow night he would have to be stricter with him.
“Simion,” Barthon called as they met at their opposing points again. “Go to sleep. I will wake the others.”
Simion’s eyes widened in surprise as Barthon spoke. “Really? I didn’t think this night would ever end!”
Barthon smiled at him. “You did good, Simion, though you need to concentrate more. But we’ll talk about that tomorrow. Get some sleep.” Simion bounded off toward the fire, dropping to the ground and instantly closing his eyes. Barthon wouldn’t have been surprised if Simion had fallen asleep as soon as he touched the ground.
Cid and Quentin had slept near each other, so that they could be woken easier. Barthon kneeled next to Cid and squeezed the man’s shoulder. Cid’s eyes instantly opened, and to his credit he seemed cognizant and awake. “Is it my turn?” he asked. Barthon nodded, and then left to return to his own spot by the tree. He hadn’t been too sure about relying on the fisherman and priest to hold watch together, but the priest, he had been told, had a bit of combat experience. He was too tired to worry about it any longer, so he could only hope that he would live to wake up and see the sun rising.

Mandor, Camp, Midway between the River Swift and the Doriath Mountains ~ Morning of DAY 7

Barthon was woken by the smells of breakfast. He opened his eyes to see Brenard and Ten Eych cooking over the fire. The sun was barely breaching the horizon and everything around him seemed washed in gray. As he looked around the camp, relief filled him to see that everyone was alive and well. They had made it through the night in one piece. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the end of their troubles. They still had a long journey ahead of them, and a futile one if Zephiris was nowhere to be found.
Barthon nudged Simion, and the boy stirred awake. His hair was even more tousled than usual.
“Let’s get some breakfast. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.” Simion’s eyes were fixed on the food as he nodded, and he quickly gathered himself and moved closer to the fire. Barthon noticed that the only members of the group still asleep were Cid and Quentin, but they could sleep until breakfast was done. Barthon busied himself with getting his horse prepared for travel. Before, he had always prepared Simion’s palfrey for him, but that luxury was long passed. If Simion wanted to be treated as a knight, he would have to accept the duties of a knight. Those duties included holding a night watch and taking care of your own horse and possessions.
“How did he do?” asked Brenard, walking up to Barthon. Brenard was pointing at Simion. “I mean with his watch duty.”
“As good as can be expected,” Barthon responded. “He needs more discipline, but that is normal. He is years ahead of what we expected of him. And it is more than he was prepared for himself. But he will be fine in a week or two.”
Brenard nodded. “Breakfast is ready. Why don’t you go eat? I’ll wake up Cid and the priest.” Barthon nodded and made his way to the fire. Simion was already eating, a plate full of small slices of meat, probably rabbit. Barthon sat down next to him, filling a plate of his own with food. Besides the meat there was bread and cheese and a small amount of wine. Barthon could travel on less, but he wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat so well when everyone else was.
“How are you doing?” Barthon asked Simion. Simion looked at him questioningly, not quite understanding what Barthon was asking.
“What do you mean?” Simion asked between a mouthful of food. “I’m cold, tired and hungry. What do you expect?”
“I mean,” Barthon said, “how do you feel about the long-term, the journey itself. I know I’m asking a lot of you, and you are asking for more than you know. Are you ready to take on the responsibilities that come with being a knight, or do you expect me to continue treating you like a page while you pretend to deserve some respect?”
Simion dropped his plate to his lap and glared at Barthon. “I don’t expect anything from you, Barthon. I can do it, you just watch!”
“Then don’t forget to prepare your horse before we all leave. I’ve shown you how to do it before, so I’m sure you’ll remember.” Simion’s eyes widened as he realized what Barthon was trying to say. “And from now on you will hold watch with the rest of us. You will get no more or less sleep. And you will continue to train, every day, until we decide you are ready.”
Simion stared at Barthon. “I can do it,” he said resolutely.
“Of course you can,” Barthon said, as if he had never had any doubts. “I just wanted to hear you say it.” Barthon got up and walked around the camp to stretch his legs and get his armor in place. He wasn’t ready to sit on his horse all day, but they needed to make good time. The rest of the group was up and about as well, getting ready for the long ride ahead of them, another day of riding through the forests of Mandor. The sound of galloping horses caught his attention as he pulled his gauntlets on to his bare hands.
“We’ve got company!” Jasper yelled to the group, noticing the sounds as well. Barthon pulled his helmet on and looked to find Simion. He was standing by Quentin, the priest resting a sturdy hand on the boys shoulder. Quentin nodded to Barthon, signaling to him that he was prepared to watch over the boy. Barthon turned his attention to the group riding up to them.
The leader of the group he instantly recognized: Lord Duiran, whom he had accused of belonging to a faithless house. Lord Duiran glared at Barthon as he rode up to them, a company of mounted men following behind him. He gave Barthon a smirk before allowing his gaze to roam over the rest of the group.
“Look at this, gentlemen!” Lord Duiran said, half turning his head over his shoulder. “A band of outlaws roaming the forests of Mandor. Up to no good, I say. And this knight seems to have offered his services to them. That makes you an accomplice, you know, guilty of the same charges, as well as the same punishment.”
“You have nothing to charge us with, my Lord,” Jasper said calmly. “We are simply traveling from one spot in Mandor to another. I’ve never heard of that being a criminal offense.”
“I know exactly what you are doing!” Lord Duiran responded with a snarl. “Causing mischief across these lands of fair laws in your search for a way to overthrow our king! This Zephiris is a blanket thrown over a rebellion, one that must be quelled at all costs. As a part of that rebellion, you are all traitors to our king.
“Men,” he said to those behind him, “arm yourselves. We have an execution to perform in the name of our king and country!”
Barthon had known this man would cause trouble, but he hadn’t expected him to be quite so dangerous. This fight would be costly for both sides, if they managed to fight Lord Duiran’s men off at all. “This is a mistake, Lord Duiran. You can’t expect this to go unquestioned,” Barthon said. “If you kill me, my entire Order will look into it. And you can’t accuse my Order of treason and expect your House to retain its integrity.”
“That’s if they ever find you, knight,” Lord Duiran said with a smile. “And if they do, they will have no way to link it to me.”
“If you don’t claim the honor for this execution, then it is not an execution,” said Jasper. “It is murder.”
“Enough with your word games, criminals!” Lord Duiran yelled. He drew his sword and waved it forward. “Kill them!”

***

Simion watched in awe as the Lord and his men charged into their camp on horseback. He watched as his mentor, Barthon, drew his two swords and dodged the swing of the Lord himself, and then spun to cut at the hamstrings of the Lord's horse. The horse toppled, throwing Lord Duiran to the ground.

He saw Cid use his spear in a similar manner against the first horse to reach him, thrusting the point through the horse’s breast and killing it instantly, but losing his spear in the process. Brenard moved in instantly to protect the unarmed fisherman, parrying swinging swords as more horses rushed by.

Ten and Jasper were standing side-by-side against the charge, dodging to opposite sides as the horses rushed past and then moving against their opponents as they tried to turn their horses. Their attacks were swift and measured, instantly awarding them with a few clean kills.

Inen used her bow from afar, picking off man or horse wherever the opportunity presented itself. Quentin stood next to Simion, a strong hand gripping his should while his other hand gripped the hilt of his exposed sword.

Simion took it all in as the battle progressed, watching everything he could as his friends battled for their lives. Barthon still fought the Lord Duiran, his arming sword and falchion matching every swing of the Lords sword and shield. The two seemed evenly matched, Barthon’s strength encumbered by his armor, and the Lord’s agility to avoid or parry the heavy swings of the knight. Barthon’s armor took several hits from the Lord’s sword, but the armor was made to take light hits. Barthon’s falchion had chopped several deep rents in the Lord’s shield, and it was now almost useless. Just when it seemed Barthon had the advantage over Lord Duiran, more of the Lord’s men joined in the fight, attacking Barthon from all sides. Barthon wielded his weapons like a master, using both to parry and attack as his opponents circled around him. Simion watched Barthon carefully, committing every move to memory. But despite his skill with his weapons, he was being slowly overpowered. That was when Jasper and Ten Eych joined, slamming into the rear of the attackers and cutting through them with brute force and little elegance.

Simion lurched forward as Jasper took a sword in his gut, Lord Duiran’s sword, but Quentin’s hand held him back. Barthon and Ten fought wildly, and soon Brenard and Cid joined them. Inen had dropped her bow and joined the fray with her short sword, and even Quentin released his grip on Simion’s shoulder and rushed forward, though not before giving Simion and stern look and hand signal that said Simion was to stay put.

The fight had become a pitched battle for both sides. Ten and Cid had both taken severe hits, but most of Lord Duiran’s men had fallen. Lord Duiran himself had backed out of the fight and was running toward his horse. Simion wanted to do something, but he knew he would be no match against the Lord, and no one else was able to pull out of the fight to chase him down. Simion bent down to pick up a small rock from the fire pit, but by the time he could throw it Lord Duiran was far out of range.
The fight ended quickly after the departure of Lord Duiran. Realizing that they had been abandoned, the fighters became distracted and were cut down by the merciless group they had been so eager to “execute.” The ground was littered with the bodies of the Lord’s men. Simion had tried to count them all, but lost track amidst the swirling bodies. They had all looked the same. He was sure there had been more than twenty. He rushed up to the group, now that the fighting was done, to see how he could help.
Jasper was lying on the ground, a hand held tightly to his stomach. Cid was lying next to him, though is eyes were closed and he wasn’t breathing. A large red gash ran from his throat to his torso, and his blue shirt was stained with blood. He still held the shaft of his spear in a clenched hand, though the tip seemed to have been broken off.
“Barthon!” Simion yelled. “Jasper is hurt! I think Cid is dead!”
“I know, Simion,” Barthon said, more calmly than Simion thought possible. “Get the horses. We need to go.
“Where are we going?” asked Simion. He didn’t really know where they were, but he knew they were far from any major city.
“Toad Hollow,” Barthon said, kneeling next to Jasper. Jasper’s eyes were clenched shut, his mouth twisted in a grimace of pain. He was rolling on the ground, pressing his hand against the deep hole in his gut. The group was kneeling around him, offering words of support. Inen had pulled a cloak over Cid, covering his cold face from the world.
“Simion!” Barthon yelled. “The horses!”
Simion jumped and quickly apologized, and then ran toward their horses. He brought Cid and Jasper’s first, so the dead and wounded men, respectively, could be pulled up and strapped on. From what he had learned from Barthon, moving Jasper could be dangerous, especially on a horse. But there wasn’t any help they could get way out here. Simion ran back and forth, bringing everyone’s horses to the battle site, and then rode up on his own small palfrey. The group was fully mounted and ready to ride at last.
“We’re going to Toad Hollow, a small town along the River Swift to the west,” Barthon told the group. “There are healers there. Hopefully we can save Jasper.” Without another word, the group moved out at a fast trot.
Inen held the reins of Cid’s horse, keeping the two horses side-by-side. Ten Eych held the reins of the injured Jasper’s horses, despite the small wounds that covered his own body. The rest of the group rode around them, constantly glancing over to make sure the two men were strapped securely. Simion rode to the rear of the group, wanting to stay out of the way despite his desire to help. As Barthon had pointed out time and again Simion just wasn’t experienced enough to be of any use.

Mandor, Toad Hollow ~ Day 7

Barthon sped into the small town at a fast run, speeding down the central roadway to the large building in the center of the town. The town surrounded this large building, a town center or an inn of some sort. The rest of the buildings were squat and built of simple materials: stone foundations with wooden supports and thatch roofs. While the town was small and clean, it definitely lacked in technology. He knew that the healers here were well-known for their abilities, but he wasn’t sure anything would save Jasper at this point. The ride had been hard on the man’s wound, which had already possibly been fatal.
He dismounted his horse in front of the building, quickly tying the reigns to a post. A small group of people that had been milling about the entrance stared at him in astonishment.
“I need a healer, quick!” Barthon said loudly, to anyone who was in earshot. “I have an injured man that needs help!” One of the men walked forward, a bald man wearing a thick brown robe, his hands clasped and covered by the thick sleeves. “I am a healer. There are more inside. You are not the only one who has been requesting aid. Bring your man inside and we will do what we can for him.”
“Thank you,” Barthon said. The rest of the group came up behind him, more slowly than Barthon had. He waved them over to where he had tied his own horse, and then rushed to help Jasper down. The man’s face had turned a pale blue, and he knew Jasper had lost a lot of blood. The back of his gray horse was stained with it. Ten Eych helped Barthon carry Jasper into the building.
The sounds of moaning and crying and shouted instructions filled Barthon’s ears as they entered the building. He saw makeshift beds all around what had once been a common room. The bar at the end of the room was filled with pitchers of water and bloodied bandages. Several of the healers walked around the room attending injured people, though there were far more injured than there were healers.
“What is happening here?” Barthon asked the healer that was leading them through the chaotic room. “Why are all of these people hurt?”
“We don’t know,” the healer answered. “They have been streaming in all morning, in the same manner as yourself. Most of them claim to have been attacked by strange beasts; beasts that appeared as if from shadow.”
Barthon and Ten exchanged a knowing glance, and followed the healer in silence. Whatever was going on, it was more widespread than he had imagined.
The healer led them to an unoccupied bed in a side wing of the inn, where several more beds were being put together in anticipation of more patients.
“Lay him here,” the healer instructed. Barthon and Ten maneuvered Jasper onto the bed. As Barthon released his grip on the man to move away, Jasper grasped his arm tightly.
“Barthon…” Jasper whispered through clenched teeth. “I have to tell you…”
“Just rest, Jasper,” Barthon said soothingly. “You can tell me later.”
“It is important,” Jasper said, a little more calmly. The healer was spreading some sort of herb over the wound. Barthon assumed it was lessening the pain. “It is about why I came to Dor to look for you.”
“You came there for me?” Barthon asked. “I thought you said the first time you saw me was at the branding?”
“Yes, that is the first time I saw you. But not my father…” Jasper stopped talking as a fit of coughing took over. The healer put a cup of liquid to Jasper’s mouth and forced him to take a quick drink. As soon as he could relax, he continued talking.
“My father had dreams as well, like Simion. He saw you, a knight in blue armor.”
“How does he know it was me?” Barthon asked. “I’m not the only knight of Gedrich. It could have been any of them.”
“Because you are the only one they sent. And because she addressed you by name.”
“Wait…what? Who addressed me?”
“He said it was Zephiris, though he didn’t see her. He said he could only hear her voice.”
“What did she say?” Barthon asked.
“He didn’t tell me… He said it wasn’t for me to know. He just said I had to find you. He told me to help you…” More coughing forced Jasper to stop talking. The healer continued to work on the wound, though his expressionless face told Barthon much about Jasper’s chances of survival. “I don’t know what I was supposed to do… Maybe I was supposed to die?”
“You aren’t supposed to die, Jasper,” Ten Eych said. Tears were actually welling up in Ten’s eyes, and Barthon couldn’t bring himself to look at him.
Jasper smiled as best he could manage. “We will all die someday, Ten. Perhaps you will die in the name of Zephiris…as I will.” Barthon didn’t really know what to say. It was more talk of dreams, dreams which were so cryptic that they didn’t really say anything. Except, maybe, to tell Barthon that he was on the right path.
“There was…something else…” Jasper said. His voice was getting quieter, more raspier. “He said there was another with you…another man. My father said he was bigger…not in size but in her favor. I don’t know what it means.”
“Neither do I,” Barthon said. “But don’t worry about it. Just get some rest and let this man do his work.”
Jasper coughed again, and this time the coughing refused to stop. The healer waved Barthon and Ten away, and called for another of his group. Barthon led Ten through the inn, passed the maze of beds and patients, to the door that led back outside. The smell of death seemed stronger than when he had entered, though he was sure it was more his imagination than anything else.
The rest of the group was waiting by the door when they emerged. They looked at Barthon and Ten with the unspoken question, and Ten shook his head.
“He isn’t going to make it.”

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Reffy on Thu Oct 22, 2009 8:23 pm

Silli-Sila: Out at sea: DAY 4

The rest of the day passed with out trouble. Silahyie managed to stay out of the way whilst every body worked around her. Nobody made an effort to talk and she was content with that. The headache had subsided a little as she watched the waves and the sun travel across the sky. Her mind resting in peaceful meditation; or at least, as peaceful as it could possibly be with the small pounding bouncing around her skull. Occasionally she would be pulled from the depth of her meditation by a shout close by or a rogue wave, but nothing too bothersome.

Night fell peacefully. The reds and oranges of the sky causing the sea to look like cooling lava shimmering and flowing. The moons has started rising into the sky, providing a little light as the sky turned from purple, to indigo, to finally jet black. The distant shore line faded out from view. The light not bright enough to pick up the edges of Ardin. The progress of the journey well under way. They had made up for some of the time lost. At least twenty miles, as far as Silahyie could tell, although sea travel was vastly different from on foot. That was at least forty miles from the dock.

She ate the little rations left and finished the mead she had brought with her from Cleastuar. Swirling the wonderfully taste about her mouth. Sucking in the all the flavors and taking big gulps of the cold, salty, sea air. Quietly she wondered about the headache. Some how it seemed to lessen the further she got away from home. That was very strange, since home was nice and peaceful. It was a small estate, but it was a good one too. The neighbors were also pleasant; in such a way that they kept themselves to themselves. So home could not be the reason for the headache. But if it was not that, then what else could it have been. She let the tattered piece of thought trail about her mind like a flag curling in the wind for another hour or so but could not find a sufficient reason. Soon she gave up thinking about it.

Tiredness from the day crept in slowly and soon Silahyie found herself drifting off. She let it creep in and take her. The soft tendrils of peace caressing her body.

Silli-Sila: Out at sea: DAY 5


Silahyie woke around mid morning the next day. The journey was still going smoothly. She could hear men talking below deck, sounding very happy with the progress. She smiled gently and let her mind drift again back to sleep. The headache was gone.

She woke again around midday. Her stomach had woken her. Quietly she paced about the clipper, stretching her legs and tight muscles. Then she headed below deck and procured some food from a salesman. The salesman looked a little green. Obviously not a seafarer and not happy about the current journey. She decided not to stay with him and talk. The boat wasn't even rocking that badly. If it got any worse she would not want to be any where near him.

Silahyie returned to her nook and ate the dried rations. Some dried grapes and hardy bread. She had brought enough now to last the journey. Muscles stretched and belly now full she settled back in to her meditation. The meditation quickly lead to sleep, although Silahyie did not realize it.

Silli-Sila: Out at sea: DAY 6 Morning.


The next day weather seemed to be picking up. The wind screeched about the lines that held the sails in place and the boat rocked. Big heavy and dark rainclouds hung in the air, threatening from a distance but not yet upon them.

The chill in the air and shouts from men forced Silahyie to wake up. She sat up carefully, a little drowsy from the good sleep she had gotten. When she saw the approaching storm she soon took action. She took all of her belongings below deck, to stow them away safely, and then got to helping the men aboard the clipper.

The men didn't really need much help but Silahyie offered it any way. They viewed her as a hindrance but told her to grab anything she could and tie it down. It was the least she could do. She found that she was missing land and going for her walks and the exercise. The stir-crazy feeling had started to gnaw at her feet. At least doing some thing gave her body a workout and would lead to some more good sleep.

She worked hard for most of the morning. By lunchtime the rain started to fall. First it came softly, a fine showering of drops that occasionally created rainbows from the last few fleeting strands of sun. After twenty minutes it turned heavier. Big drops of rain hammered her skin and got in her eyes. Her hair was soaked through in seconds and unraveled from being tied back. It soon stuck to her body and got in her eyes and mouth. Her body ached and screamed from the hard work. The men saw this, their respect for Silahyie growing a little. Even if she was just a small girl in appearance.

Eventually one ordered her inside, in case she fell over board or some thing. She doubted that would happen and wanted to continue working but the man was having none of it, pushing her towards the doorway to below.

Below deck was quieter. A few boxes shifted in their restraints, threatening to break free but nothing else moved. No other people were below. She was the only female aboard. It was unusual to see a female out at sea. She hadn't realized this was the case but now the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Only men. No wonder she had been forced below deck or not pestered to help with the rigging.

Quietly she settled in between some boxes, gathering her small belongings about her and tried to ride out the storm. The rocking of the clipper made even her stomach queasy. Her clothes were still soaked through but she had no other. They were light and would hopefully dry quickly enough. She stayed there a good few hours trying to ignore the feeling in her stomach. She even tried eating a little bread and sipping some mead but that did not help. Eventually, tired of it all, she fell asleep.

Silli-Sila: Out at sea: DAY 7 Morning.


The night had once again been filled with dreams. The same room, the same people, the same pink glow. The only thing that had been different was her. Some how she could talk this time, but nobody heard her. She had tried to scream as the people were arguing and it had worked but still nobody turned. Shocked, she did not expect the scream to work. Her voice hadn't worked in the previous dreams, but this time it had. Although that really didn't make a difference.

Soon Silahyie was awake in a damp, cold sweat and was shaking. Tears poured from her eyes as soon as she opened them. What did the dream mean? It had to mean some thing. The headache was back too. She was altogether pissed off with it. Why could she just not rest? Maybe the whole journey was a mistake?

She pulled herself out from between the boxes. A few things had come loose during the night, but nothing large. A few cloth pieces and small wooden boxes. Quickly she swatted away the tears and straightened herself. It was then that she noticed the floor was covered with water. Most of her was dry, having been tucked away. The water was nearing her knees and seemed to be pouring in from the door. The wild rocking of the boat making it slosh against everything ruining the cargo.

With out pause she darted outside.

The scene she found was grime. They were some how closer to the shoreline. She could make out the trees and the rocks. There was no sign of life or buildings. She figured it to be around early morning but the light from the sun was completely blocked by the heavy clouds. Everything appeared in black and gray. The clipper was low in the water, too low. The men worked furiously tying down loose rigging, moving the cargo to even the weight, or throwing buckets full of water back over board. Her heart pounded and her head screamed. Only one though now circled around in her head.

We're going to sink or get crushed by the rocks.

Quickly she rushed to the aid of two men struggling with wet rope for rigging. Nothing could be done to tie it down. The wind ripped at the half tied sail. The men were trying to collapse it but nothing was going right. Too many inexperienced people and not enough muscle. The rope was soon ripped out their hands, leaving burns. It flapped wildly in the wind.

Silahyie sucked on the burn, feeling the heat and the pounding of blood. The men who had been trying to tie it down ran off to the next sail, helping the men secure it there. They were soaked to the bone and obviously tired.

The cargo on the clipper shifted once more. It all scooted to the port side, causing the whole boat to lean awkwardly. Some of it fell overboard, and let more water in. Quickly Silahyie moved to help push out the water but it just wasn't enough. The sea salt water burned her hands. The pain immense, making her gasp and cry. This was it. What a stupid idea. She was going to die and there was nothing she could do about it. They were to get sucked under and the boat ripped to shreds on the rock.

It was like time stopped. She remembered her parents in that moment. They were at the house smiling. Painting and working in the kitchen. They had received the note about her journey and were happy she had left one. They looked happy. They looked content. She smiled. If she died now they would never know, but at least they were happy.

Suddenly life sprung back into action. Silahyie's mind pulled back to the present. Some of the men were jumping overboard, hoping to swim to shore. Only a few yelled at her to do the same. Most were too busy saving their own skins. Every body had given up on saving the boat and any cargo. She followed their lead, making sure her knife and shawl were wrapped tightly about her before jumping in.

The cold of the water made her gasp. Tired but determined she kicked towards the shore. The adrenaline pushing her forwards easily. Within no time she was but fifty yards from the shore. At that moment she turned around to see the last remains of the clipper disappear below the waves. The rain still pelting down and the waves giant beasts in the dark.

She swam the rest of the way, part helping a man she had swam across who looked too tired to go on. She was the only person on the boat to have gotten any sleep. Silently and depressed she crawled across the rocks, gaining a few scratches, helping the man beside her. Once a safe distance from the water he nodded to her and slumped backwards in relief.

Silahyie didn't stop there. Despite the scratches and blood on her legs she got up and moved along the waters edge helping men stumble to safe ground. They all nodded thanks but not a word was said. Soon there was a small gathering of eleven men. The all looked tired and bruised. Some sat silently staring out to sea with a lost look gracing their faces. Silahyie said nothing. There really was nothing to say.

Eventually, around dinner time, the rain lifted. The clouds still hung oppressively over their heads like a guillotine waiting to snap. No fire wood could be found but a few wet fruits were brought back and each had a share. A few bedraggled men had gone searching. Dinner was quiet.

The returning light now showed the extent of the wreckage. Food washed upon the shore, spoiled. The cloth tapestries were now ripped and soaked. All of the cargo gone to waste. Bits of boat washed up, parts of rock caught in the wood, so violent the impact had been. Worse of all were the lost men. Their bodies floated in the calmer water. A horrible reminder of how lucky they had been.

Silli-Sila: North East Ardin – Middle of nowhere : DAY 7 Night.


The men, and Silahyie, spent the rest of the time after dinner pulling the dead bodies ashore and attempting to bury them. There was only seven in total that they found. It was the respectful thing to do. Some also constructed a make-shift shelter from the fallen branches of the trees along the shore. The wind had ripped them down, which was pretty lucky for them.

Most were too shocked to speak. Silahyie was caught in the disbelief that the boat had sunk and she had survived. Her brain pounded with too many thoughts that she wished could be forgotten but knew that was a slim chance. The pain in her hands had since eased and the raw parts were already starting to heal. She cried several times that night, not caring who saw. Occasionally a man would pat her shoulder or lift her chin up but none of it helped. She needed to get away. She needed to walk, to think and for the pain in her head to stop.

Some thing was very wrong with this journey. It was not just about the trade route. There was a reason she came this way. A reason her head pounded and ached. A reason Lady Fate pushed her on. Now she was all the more determined to know what that reason was.

She slept next to the men that night, tucked under the make-shift shelter. The rain did return at some point in the night, soaking the surviving crew once again, but it did not wake her. Her dreams were fitful. She tossed and turned. The dreams were of the sinking boat and the dead men and the reason she was willing to risk her own life on a stupid adventure.

Silli-Sila: North East Ardin – Middle of nowhere : DAY 8 Morning

Silahyie woke early. Bird twittered in the trees, having returned after the rains. The chill of wet clothes made her shiver uncontrollably. Day break was just starting to peak over the horizon. Silently she remembered the determination that had clung to her last night like a drowning victim. With that in mind she got up and searched for any kind of dry wood. She soon found wood that could burn with a little coxing. She knew the wildlife better than most of the men there.

It took her almost an hour to get a fire going. It was small but it was some thing. Small talk started as the men woke. Some gathered around the fire, trying to warm their hands. The blood and sea salt causing more pain. Once most of the men had gathered Silahyie spoke up.

“Danael," she paused. Wanting to help but not sure how but also wanting to get away. "Lli undánë san iurénn dhrael. Din shinenn. Lli lethen aeryne.”
Thank you. Me depart and send help. No worry. Me travel fast. The broken language did not bother the men. Most of them just nodded. Some moved forwards to stop her but she shook her head and smiled. They saw she was happy to help in any way she could. They knew she would travel fast and easily, and had the most energy. It was decided.

Silahyie gathered her things and was ready within the hour. The men gave her some of the fruit to travel with for rations. She tried to refuse it, knowing she would find plenty on the way, but the men would not budge on the decision. It was a little after mid morning when she set off. The men stood watching but there was no cheering or waving. They watched her walk for a good amount of time until Silahyie ducked into the forest. Some still feeling that they should go with her, but nobody had the strength or determination.

A few minutes of walking and Silahyie already felt better. The muscles already squeezing back into their familiar routine. The air feeling good in her lungs. The woods quietly hushed in whispers about her. Her hands tracing over the leafs and feeling the wet from yesterday patter off. It felt good to be away from the wreckage and moving again. The only thing that felt wrong and hurt was her head, which pounded and whirled with questions and upset from the last few days. She tried to put it out of her mind and set it back on the journey again.

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Mon Nov 30, 2009 6:57 pm

The Sisters: Beneath the earth: Day 7

Far below the surface of the earth, below the dwellings of even the lowest of the animals of the world there lay secret places. Places untraveled even by those meant to travel them in hundreds of years. There was a sense of age about the caverns and ways below that although damp and slightly depressing glimmered with some forgotten light, a sort of hope that seemed to endure here. One of the large antechambers beneath the earth seemed to emit a stronger glow than the others as if the feeling that lingered in the other caverns was stronger and more vibrant there.

Within that chamber stood three figures. Each of them was a study in perfection, their pale beautiful skin almost glowing in the faint light. A faint skin of stone surrounded one of the three, a mirror of that first skin surrounded a second taller figure. That skin though seemed to be made of gold and it glowed faintly in the light. A third skin of rich dark soil surrounded the third figure who though shorter than the others was no less beautiful. For a time nothing seemed to change and the three figures remained still and lifeless within their cocoons of earth, stone, and metal. Then a change slowly swept over the three, their cocoons began to shimmer and glow, faintly at first but slowly gaining in intensity. Then as suddenly as the glowing had begun it faded, leaving only the figures behind.

Minutes ticked by as nothing further occurred, then at last further stirring came. The tallest of the women lifted a palely slender hand and brushed her long golden hair back out of her face. Her beautiful golden eyes gleamed as she shook her head to clear the sleep of ages from her mind. Maliele turned slowly, gracefully as she looked out at room. For a moment her fair face contorted with an expression dismay before her head swung around enough for her to see her sisters as they too began to awaken and come back to full life. Her face lit up and she called out lightly, her voice light and joyous slightly distorted by her disorientation from the long sleep. "Felleiriel, Erreliel, sisters" When there was no response she spoke a little more urgently. "Wake up!" Slowly the other two began to stir themselves, pale bodies moving gracefully even as they slowly awakened from their long sleep.

For a few minutes the sisters simply stood there allowing themselves to wake fully. Then as the last glaze of sleep faded from their eyes they turned to each other. They stepped forward and moving gracefully embraced each other. After hundreds of years they felt it was time for a hug. After a few minutes of just holding each other close and rejoicing at being awake once more they separated and stood in a loose triangle. Felleiriel spoke next her voice also smooth and sibilant echoing softly through the chamber. "How long have we slept? The world feels so different." The other sisters shrugged their shoulders and replied themselves almost in unison. "We do not know, but it most certainly has been a long time." Maliele brushed her hair back out of her face again and smoothed out a crease in her garments before continuing. "We should continue as we once did. The world still needs healing."

Felleiriel nodded and her white eyes glowed, as did Erreliel as her dark soil brown eyes also seemed to gleam. The sisters stepped closer and joined their hands together. Then they began to sing slowly. Their voices drifting melodically down the passages of the secret place. The song was one without words a pulsing beat, it grew in spirit and vigor seeming to become more and more beautiful and to embody the earth itself. Just as the singing began to reach a crescendo and the earth around the secret place began to truly respond, a feeling, or perhaps something else entered the sisters minds. The Sisters broke off their song startled and the beautiful harmonics and melody faded slowly. The earth sighed with disappointment when the song ceased and what changes had just begun reverted.

All three of the sisters felt a connection, a message, a summons of sorts. They recognized the feeling, they had spoken to Sephiris before, after all the araltari, altari, asari, and terunari had kept in touch over the years before the war. She appeared to be bidding them to come and speak with her, it was apparent that she had a task for them, and that for now they were to hold off on healing the world. This it seemed was more important.

Maliele, Felleiriel, and Erreliel all looked at each other for a few moments, before Maliele nodded and they faded out. Their bodies remained visible but only faintly as a vague outline. Most of them had gone into the astral plane. They would speak to Sephiris there. Their beautiful forms were even more radiant in the plane than they had on the physical world. Their pale skin glowed more brightly than it did on earth and, their every aspect was enhanced here where the boundaries of the mortal world were so much more faint. The sisters upon their appearance called out in their enchanting voices. "Sephiris? You have called us, what oh great one do you wish us to do?"

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Stion Gyas on Tue Dec 01, 2009 9:43 pm

Southern Blue Mountains, Mandor ~ DAY 6

Z’anginthel had sent the battered Sir Barista and his pages back they way they had come, with a considerably lighter purse. He had held the mountain pass for near the full seven days and a fortnight, and after Sir Barista no others had challenged The Mountain. A fire blazed in the entrance of his cave. Waves of sparks rose to the heavens and danced with tendrils of smoke.

Z’ang kept close to the flames. He leaned against the rough cave wall, seated on his bed roll. With the onset of dusk, the Knight-errant had removed all of his armor. He had carefully laid out the articulated exoskeleton of steel several meters from the flames. A spare bed roll covered the steel, protecting the metal from the worst of the little moisture present in mountain air.

The Dragon allowed his eyes to close as he listened to the cheerful pop and snap of the logs. Several moments passed in relative silence, until a wolf’s howl split the night. As the echoes died a much closer sound brought Z’ang to rapt attention.

Boot steps sounded outside of his cave, several of them. Oddly, they sounded twisted, much like a dying echo. The steps circled the edge of light cast by his fire, and stopped. An inexplicable heaviness fell over Z’ang’s chest, and the heat cast by his fire dampened. The wolf howled again, and an ear-splitting scream followed immediately afterwards.

A figure leaped out of the night, blacker than the darkness that surrounded it. Z’ang threw up his arm, and caught the creature, roughly human in shape, on his forearm. A quick snap of the Dragon’s tumbled the creature safely over his head, and his second hand snatched up Z’gen Ghide.

As the Dragon lurched to his full height, four other creatures stepped into the light. The Mountain brought his sheathed blade to intercept a swipe from one of the creatures; then drew the steel free of its scabbard. He lashed out with one clawed hand, and raked the chest of one of the creatures. The shadow fell back from the force of the blow, and another stepped in.

His adrenaline began pumping; movements slowed impossibly. The light his fire cast revealed creatures of solid blackness, roughly human in shape, but of all different sizes. The shortest stood a mere three feet tall, but the tallest could looked the Dragon in the eyes. Others bore claws, or horns, or were spiked. From the noise, Z’ang could tell there were more out of sight.

Silently, stoically, Z’ang stepped into combat. Graves News whistled in blurred arcs. One creature fell in a heap, and burst into a cloud of blackness as soon as it touched the ground. Another stepped into its place. Z’ang settled into a ready stance, with his right foot cast backwards for balance, and straight at the knee. His leftt leg bent slightly, and his arms curled at the elbow. The tip of his blade angled out and to the ground, in a position aptly named the Dragon’s Horn.

The creature he had tossed over his head screamed from behind him, and leaped forward. The Dragon’s sharp ears located the shadow by sound, his blade twirled over his head, and dug into the creature. The blade threw the shadow to the side, and it crashed into the wall. Black smoke filled the cave as it burst, and Z’ang continued his swing as a rage descended over him.

Red rimmed his vision, and the blacker than night shadows appeared clear to the Dragon. Each swing of Z’gen brought Z’ang further from his cave. He accompanied each swing with a step to keep his stance balanced and ready.

Smoked obscured his vision for moments at a time, but his ears remained sharp. The slightest sound on the part of his enemies brought Grave News. Soon, Z’ang had waded into the last of the shadows. Each strike brought more smoke until only one creature remained. The Dragon sacrificed all defense for a single crushing blow, and rose to the tips of his toes, as he extended his arms upwards. The shadow snarled in defiance before dissipating into a cloud of smoke.

Toad Hollow, Mandor ~ DAY 7

Ten Eych shook his head. “He isn’t going to make it.”

Stunned silence greeted the mountain man. Simion broke the silence first with a gasp, and Brenard cursed under his breath.

“He always was a cocksure one.” Inen mumbled.

The party fell into silence as Quentin whispered a prayer to Zephiris. The priest’s prayer ended, but the silence continued. A young woman broke it with a murmured, “Excuse me,” and pressed through.

Brenard sighed, “We can only lay Jasper and Cid to rest, and move on. They would expect us to continue.”

Inen nodded in agreement, and Simion squeezed between Ten and Barthon. The page avoided Barthon’s attempt to hold him back with a light, sliding step.




Simion placed the last stone on Jasper’s cairn. Jasper and Cid lay facing the east, to face Zephiris’s glory every morning. The sun shone from its zenith as Quentin recited a burial prayer.

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end She will stand upon the earth. And after my flesh has been destroyed, I will see Zephiris; I myself will see Her with my own eyes.”

“Amen.”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Tue Dec 01, 2009 11:14 pm

Astral Plane > Túlaman > above the converging energies of Telmar ~ middle of DAY 7
Through the flowing, purple-hued atmosphere of the astral plane, a shining voice was speaking. ”--go with haste, asari; see that they do not stray from the path.”
”It shall be so, araltari. We prepare the way!” the others acknowledged.
”We prepare the way," the shining voice echoed. The asari departed swiftly, hurrying to their assignment.

From another direction three terunari spirits approached the high place, a mountainous crest of astral energy. Hovering above the apex was a glow like a thousand stars. Nearer, a spirit could make out a female form far brighter than any sun. Vast wings, streaming out as rays of rose-colored light, spanned the astral skies almost to the limits of sight. Beloved of the Creator, favored by Aros for the task appointed, entrusted with the fourth part of creation, empowered to be a beacon for the lost souls of the lands of Telmar: she, Guardian of Life, Upholder of Righteousness, Bringer of Love, was Sephiris.

Sephiris the araltari faced the three approaching sisters. Her wings swept the horizon as she turned, like a beacon in the midst of a storm. ”Maliele, Felleiriel, Errelliel. Awakened you have come, terunari, later than many but sooner than most. His favor be upon you.” Her voice sounded with a thousand echoes reverberating in unison, resonating to such a degree as to overwhelm the senses. The light of her wings pulsed strongly in ripples as she spoke. At the mention of the Creator, Sephiris' light pulsed even brighter, so that the rays for an instant extended beyond sight.

The three sisters, glowing figures of female form, clothed in garments of soft light and wreathed by gold and silver rays, bowed in reverence before the Matron of Telmar. ”Sephiris, you have called us. What do you wish us to do, O great one?” Their voices were clear and eloquent, brimming with the element of the Creator's strength. These three, Sephiris knew, set about all tasks as one. They had crafted a closer kinship through intimate association.

”I beg your pardon, terunari, for what I must ask of you. Time is short, and few yet have awoken. I must charge you with a task beyond your purpose. Are you willing?”

The Sisters turned to each other and for a moment their thoughts mixed as they made a decision. "What do you require, great one? Speak the mission and we will aid as we may."

”The task I have for you concerns a boy of Mandor. He is a squire for the noble Order of Gedrich. I have called him to me, but his mentor is not ready to see the truth of his dreams. You must appear to the boy by night, before the creatures of shadow appear. Do not fear them; they can only harm you if you remain on the mortal plane. Do not harm the creatures yourselves, but give the boy courage before the battle, that he might defend himself against the creatures of shadow. Shower his heart and his spirit with His strength.” Again, at the mention of the Creator, Sephiris' light pulsed with a radiance born of infinite devotion. ”Keep him safe. Afterward, expound to him the calling he has received through the dreams I have sent. Do not tell him where he must go, but guide his steps along the path. I leave the rest to you. The boy is called Simion.”

No matter how many young boys in Telmar were named Simion, Sephiris uttered the name with such specificity that the boy's identity and location were burned into the thoughts of the three terunari. Sephiris could feel their apprehension; terunari normally had no contact with humans, elves or dragons. She knew it would be difficult for them, but a young boy who still possessed childlike wisdom would soften the shock of it all. And there was something special about the boy. Sephiris was pleased when the terunari accepted the task, despite their fears, saying "Though, well suited for this we are not... the best that we can, we will do."

”May His favor be upon you for the part you will play. Be brave and bold. Walk in the strength that overflows within your spirits. Now go with haste, terunari; see that he does not stray from the path.”

”Thank you, O araltari. We prepare the way!” the sisters acknowledged.
”We prepare the way,” the shining voice echoed, bidding the terunari farewell as they swiftly departed, hurrying to their assignment.

From another direction a lone altari approached Sephiris' high place, a mountain-like convergence of the central energies of Telmar. Hovering high above its apex, Sephiris the araltari faced him, her wings sweping the horizon as she turned, like a beacon in the midst of a storm. ”Calanon. His favor be upon you.” Her voice sounded with a thousand echoes reverberating in unison, resonating to such a degree as to overwhelm the senses. The light of her wings pulsed strongly in ripples as she spoke. At the mention of the Creator, Sephiris' light pulsed even brighter, so that the rays for an instant extended beyond sight.

”His favor be upon you, araltari.” The altari's voice was clear and strong, sounding as the crashing of cymbals. At the mention of the Creator, his golden light pulsed with the strength of a hundred stars. ”With the approval of Aros, the task is done that you have given me, O Sephiris.” At the mention of Aros, Calanon's light pulsed brighter once more. ”Duke Moraph is dead. May his soul obtain mercy.”

”Well done, Calanon. I pray we will not be forced to take another life as a result of my slumber. But come; draw nearer, altari. I have another task for you....”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Sat Dec 05, 2009 12:02 am

At Sea - Day 4

The fast racing sloop that their ship, Scarlet Destiny, chased was being gathered in yard by yard. The cold seas were running high and stinging sea spray washed over the decks, threatening to sweep the unwary over board. The hands of the Scarlet Destiny were the best at this game. And they had an advantage in the form of the twin Air Elementalists, Tuula and Tuuli Brendersen. The bounty for the pirate ship and crew that they chased was a years’ wage for most. It was hard and dangerous work, but they were all old hands at it.

The Captain shouted orders, bringing the Scarlet Destiny about to race with the wind in a line that would cut directly across the Pirate ship’s bow. Once close, they could loose the ballista and pound their decks with heavy shot, while the archers in the crew took out the pirate’s captain and steersman.

Tuula began a light hum, preparing for a spell that he and his sister would share. The hum soon changed to words and then whole sentences, all in Draconic. The spell took shape as the words left their lips, building in power and focus. Abruptly, a small amount of energy left their body, but most of the effect was powered by energy from the air itself.

The scant heat left in the already chilly air disappeared. Water crystallized in the air, as it stilled; it provided yet more energy for their spell. The winds behind them channeled into the Scarlet Destiny's sails, and powered her forward. Soon, their schooner had closed range, and the engineering crew buzzed about their weapon like bees.

Within moments the engineers had loaded and aimed their ballista. With a distinct thud, the weapon fired its payload, launching a head-sized boulder just over the forecastle of the pirate vessel.

The screaming spell of the cold wind whipped the scarves, clothes and hair of the crew as their ship bore down upon the hapless Pirates, who were their quarry. When the boulder from the ballista missed on its first shot, the engineers raced to crank it back down to ready it again. More shouted orders cut through the wind and once more the Scarlet Destiny came about, the wind snapping her sails out sharply. The experienced crew danced on the razor’s edge of capsizing before coming back into range once more. The Pirates tried to turn to run into the wind, not even trying to load their own ballista to fire back.

The strawberry-haired twins stood together above the wheelhouse, solid and unaffected by the huge wind-whipped waves that tossed the ship about. They seemed like marble statues with their fair skin and pale gray eyes focused upon the Pirates. Tuula held a bearded ax in his right hand while, Tuuli’s own hand rested on the hilt of her boarding dagger. One twin aggressive, the other passive, but both were focused to an extraordinary degree on the words.

With the gift of the magically enhanced wind that the twins called upon, the Scarlet Destiny was soon within range of the pirate vessel once more. The engineers were ready and as soon as the pirates showed their broadside in a desperate attempt to turn from their path, they loosed another heavy granite boulder. The heavy thudding sound of the ballista being fired was followed by closely by a splintering crash sounding from the pirate vessel. The boulder had slammed into the railing at the flying bridge and smashed the ship’s wheel. A roar of triumph lifted from the Scarlet’s crew at the extraordinary shot. They knew they had their quarry disabled and dead in the water.

Tuuli’s calm features blossomed into an incongruously sweet smile on her broad face. She and Tuula looked like the legendary warrior heroes of old. Tall, heavily built, strawberry-blonde and gray-eyed, the Air Elementalists looked as if they were messengers from the old gods. The winds they called up lifted their strawberry hair making it form eerie halos about their heads. Tuula’s eyes narrowed in anticipation and concentration.

The twins modified their spell as the crew of the Scarlet Destiny threw grappling hooks over the rails of the pirate vessel and began to remorselessly drawing her in. A different phrase formed on their lips, and the wind pushing the Scarlet Destiny changed direction, and focused into a solid ball of swirling air. The projectile hurtled into the rigging of the pirate’s vessel, snapping lines and shattering beams. Several archers fell from the rigging, and crashed into their own deck, as the ships grew inexorably closer. The twins slowly let their chant die down, and allowed the ball of wind to crash into the sea nearby.

Tuuli joined their archers in their fire. She drew and nocked her bow as the ship came within a short jump.

“Farewell, sister.” Tuula said, as he hefted his ax. “See you on the other side.”

Several long strides took the male Brendersen to the rail. Tuula used the rail for leverage as he pushed himself over the gap. The bulk of the crew followed him. Archers rained hell from above as the boarders leaped the gap. For a moment nothing but water crashed beneath Tuula’s feet. Spray splashed into the air between the two ships.

The pirate hunters thudded onto the deck of the pirate vessel. Some rolled to soften the blow and keep their balance, but others held their feet. The archers fired a final volley over the heads of the boarders. A lone arrow found the pirate captain and buried itself into a gap between the man’s ribs. From the way the blue fletching quivered, the head had found the heart. The captain’s heart beat a final time before he collapsed.

The adrenaline that coursed through Tuula’s veins slowed the scene, and allowed him that glimpse before chaos erupted about him. The Elementalist caught the blow of a pirate’s blade on the haft of his weapon, and used the beard to drag the blade far to the right. A pirate hunter used the gap to cut the man down, and moved to find a new target.

Tuula followed his fellow pirate hunter, and the battle flared for half a minute. The boarders made quick work as they pushed the pirates to the far railing. Any stragglers they missed became a perfect target for the archers. Not a single man of their targets escaped alive, and the skirmish ended as quickly as it began. All that remained of the pirate crew was a pile of corpses and a shattered ship.

When the clash of swords and screams of the dying ended, Tuuli slung her bow over her shoulder and went to the side of their ship to look over the railing at the wreckage of the pirate ship the crew of the Scarlet Destiny had been sent to capture. Her pale gray eyes found her heavily muscled brother’s form among the other crew members easily and the sight assured him that the blood he was splashed with was not his own. She sighed in relief as their captain began shouting orders for the shipwrights to begin repairs on the captured ship and the bodies of the pirates thrown overboard. They would return to port to claim the reward for the capture and their Lord would either sell the ship or include it in his growing fleet.


Last edited by Digital Muse on Sat Dec 05, 2009 11:09 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Sat Dec 05, 2009 5:36 am

Toad Hollow, Mandor ~ Evening of Day 7

Barthon watched as Simion slipped away from the camp. The boy had been distant ever since Jasper slipped into death early that morning. Simion had not told him what words had been exchanged when he had snuck in to see the dying man, but Barthon forced himself to respect the boy's privacy enough not to ask. Whatever Jasper has said, it had caused Simion to be reserved and deep in thought for the rest of the day. Jasper had become a bit of a mentor to the boy, Barthon was beginning to realize. Simion had looked to Jasper for the recognition that Barthon simply wasn't ready to give him. But now Jasper was gone, and Simion had to come to terms with that. Barthon figured that was a part of the reason for the boy's withdrawal, but he had a feeling that there was something more to it. And he had a feeling it had to do with the dreams.

Barthon pulled out the leather bound book and writing pen he had purchased from Toad Hollow. The book was empty, but Barthon's head was swarming with thoughts he wanted to fill the book with. He opened up the book to the first empty page, enjoying the feeling of the thick leather and the tender parchment. But as he placed the writing pen to the paper, his thoughts seemed to evaporate.

"Have you decided to join the council, young knight?" Unexpectedly surpised and embarrassed, Barthon looked up at the speaker, the priest Quentin.
"No...no, I just... I felt the need to record what has happened, and what will happen soon. I don't know why..." Barthon closed the book and set it down next to him, lying the pen neatly atop it.
"Don't stop on my account!" Quentin pleaded, stepping away. "I didn't mean to distract you. I just thought it interesting. I thought perhaps that you might have chosen the trade of the scribe. The way I hear it, and from what I've seen so far, you excel at combat."
"I can't explain it, Quentin," Barthon said. "When we buried Cid and Jasper, I just felt that their lives had been wasted, spent unnecessarily. I felt that they needed to be preserved...or remembered somehow. I just wanted to write it down."
"I understand, Barthon," Quentin said, kneeling down next to Barthon. "We do the same with all of the religious text's we not only write but copy over and over. There are so many events and details that we feel should never be forgotten. Writing them down has proven quite fruitful in that regard. I wish you luck, young knight."
Barthon smiled gratefully. "Thank you, Quentin. Perhaps, if I can get my thoughts into this book, I will share some of it with you."
"I would be delighted!" Quentin said. "For now, I think I will eat some supper. You should call Simion back as well, I think. He has had a long day, and he needs a good meal."
"No," Barthon said, shaking his head. "Let him be. There is something on his mind he is trying to figure it out. Interrupting him may only make it worse."
"He is your charge, Barthon. I don't want to interfere. But I would keep a close eye on him were I you. Losing a friend is a terrible ordeal at any age, but especially when so young."
"I know, Quentin. I've been there."
"Your father, of course," Quentin said, bowing his head slightly. "I didn't mean to imply that you were unknowledgeable in any way. I deeply sorry for intruding."
"No, its fine, Quenin. I'm just tired. We all are. And things aren't going to get any better before they get worse. We need to be prepared for the worst tonight."
"Without a doubt, those shadowy beasts will return," Quentin said, looking around into the deeping darkness that surrounded their camp. "I am surprised we haven't heard from them already."
"They may already be here, and we just can't see them. Be wary, priest."
Quentin nodded as he turned away. But after a few steps, he turned back toward Barthon. "Are you sure you don't have your eye on the council? They could use an intelligent man, rather than bookworms with no care for the world around them."
"I'm sure, Quentin," Barthon said with a smile.

Barthon picked the empty book up once again, opening it up to the first page and placing the tip of the pen on the slim parchment, watching the ink spread across slowly.

Earlier that day they had carried the bodies of Jasper and Cid to a small hill overlooking the town of Toad Hollow. They had dug the graves, placing the bodies in facing east, where they could be bathed in the rising sun each morning. They used rocks to create a cairn, which Simion quietly took part in. Quentin recited a short prayer, and then the group made their way back down into the town. The decision was quickly made within the group to continue traveling. The sooner they reached the Blue Mountains and, with any luck, found Zephiris, the sooner they could find a way to put an end to the danger of the shadowy beasts that had suddenly sprung up to plague the land.

After buying some supplies, where Barthon also bought his book, they set out northward from town. They still had two full day's worth of traveling before they reached the feet of the mountains, and Barthon hoped to get as far as they could in the remaining time that had in the day. He had a hunch that these shadowy beasts would only make their appearance near nightfall, and he wanted to have their camp set up well before then and properly defended.

Inen had offered to keep watch from the trees with her bow, and Ten Eych kept a steady pace around the camp. Brenard had expressed his intention to train Simion further once the camp had been set up, but Simion walked off without responding. So he sat with Quentin as the priest prepared their food. With the night quickly descending over the forest, Barthon was preparing himself for whatever might come. So far, at least, there had been nothing.

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Sun Dec 06, 2009 8:25 am

Toad Hollow, Mandor~ Evening of Day 7

Simion had walked for several minutes into the woods to get distance between him and the others. He needed a private calming place where he could think in peace. Eventually he stopped in a small clearing several hundred yards into the woods from the others. This clearing was a peaceful seeming place; it was rich and full of life, with small animals moving about around it. The faint rich smell of earth came from the ground at his feet. In fact this place seemed to be richer in life and healthier on a whole than most places within the woods. There was a reason for this that would seem become apparent but had not yet.

Simion sat down upon a rock and placed his heads in his hands as his mind drifted back to what Jasper had said to him. He was engrossed in his own thoughts and not paying much attention to his surroundings.

The sisters were nervous and that was something they didn't feel often. They had come before Sephiris and received an unexpected command. They were to serve as messengers to the mortals. Despite their having put on a brave face before Sephiris, during the time it had taken them to reach the boy's location their fears had grown and become more real and problematic. They had interacted with mortals only once before in the time they had been on telmar and that had been many long years ago. This was going to be difficult.

The sisters stood in the astral planar location that coincided with the clearing in which Simion sat. They looked at each other for minute. Nervous glances shot at each other before they gathered themselves enough to talk. Maliele spoke slowly and nervously to the other sisters. "How do we do this?"

Felleiriel shrugged gracefully and her face twisted in thought as well. "What can we do? We have not interacted with mortals in years"

"Uhm." Erreliel spoke for the first time in the discussion "Maybe we just talk normally. We don't have to amaze the boy just tell him what to do at least to start with."

The other two turned towards her.

Maliele's face was twisted into a slightly confused expression as was Felleiriel's. They both appeared to not have thought of that possibility. Then after a moment of confusion being etched upon their beautiful faces, their eyes lit up and realization donned. "That could work." The normal enthusiasm seemed to have come back into the sisters eyes and they disappeared from the astral plane, to appear within the clearing. The earlier leaking feeling of light and good energy was suddenly stronger, and more pure. The sisters appeared quietly without any noise or anything to draw attention to themselves, aside from the otherworldly attraction they emitted.

For a minute they just stood there looking at the boy they had been sent to speak to. They whispered to each other in their smoothly enchanting voices. "This is the boy we were sent to speak to?" Felleiriel sounded skeptical as she ran a hand through her long slightly coarse hair. Erreliel nodded and stepped forward. This was awkward but she would make the effort to speak to the boy. "Hello Simion" Her voice was clear and smooth and the boy lost in thought as he was, was startled. Despite his clear desire to hide his surprise he started slightly when his gaze swept over the sisters.

"Who are y-ou?" Simion's voice broke slightly as he stared at the sisters. His gaze remained locked on them as if he couldn't believe what he saw before him. Erreliel spoke again and while clearly uncertain how to go about this continued on with the message. "I am Erreliel, and these are my sisters, Maliele and Felleiriel" She pointed gracefully to each of the others in turn. "We have a message for you. The dreams are truth, follow them." Erreliel fell silent as she began to become more nervous and Maliele stepped forward next. She was the leader of sorts if any of the sisters could be called a leader among them. With some effort she shaped her face into a bright smile and her golden eyes gleamed. "You have been chosen by Sephiris, you are blessed."

Simion was clearly confused and his voice was incredulous "Who is Sephiris?" He paused for a few seconds before continuing. "Do you mean Zephiris?"

Malliel's face shifted and seemed distant for a minute. She ran her hands over an imagined crease in her garments before trying to reply. This couldn't just have gone simply. "For what you must know yes. You must use the dreams and search for her, for she has called you." She paused again and laughed nervously, despite that it was still a light smooth sound. "To you we bring the strength of earth, the blessings we can bestow." The sisters began to sing softly, a haunting melody that drifted lightly down into the earth, a song without words that induced the long weary earth to act to their will, to heal. The song was soft and faint yet utterly enthralling and Simion could only watch and listen as the sisters continued their wordless song.

The earth in front of Simion's feat began to bubble and a stream of almost silvery liquid rose from it. This stream coalesced as the sisters continued their enthralling singing and began to take on a definite shape, the shape of a mace of sorts. It was the length of a weapon that Simion could actually use, and its smooth metal almost glowed with a faint otherworldly light much like the sisters' skin. The head of the mace was shaped like an angelic being with wings stretched out. As one the sisters fell silent and the bubbling earth stopped with an almost palatable sigh of disappointment that it would not yet be healed.

The sisters spoke as one a final time. "May this aide you and give you his strength, may your resolve not falter. If you call us we will come" Then their forms seemed to fade slightly and they disappeared. Not completely but enough that they could not be seen by Simion. The boy looked at the weapon at his feet and confused reached down and picked it up. It felt somehow right in his hands and it seemed a strength of heart flowed into him as he held it.

Confused by what he had seen and heard and holding the mace in his hand Simion began to walk quickly and then to run back to the camp. He had to tell the others what had happened, or at least tell Barthon.

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Tue Dec 08, 2009 5:35 am

Sephalia > Oliphey ~ DAY 5
The Ssandári mercenaries arrived in Oliphey the previous evening. Uncertain of the wisdom of dividing themselves into small groups to seek information, they stayed together and searched for some in where they might accommodate themselves over the course of the next few days. The search took some hours, for no inn had enough rooms available. Night fell. At last the elves discovered a less prosperous establishment nearer to the poorer district.

Apparently the owner charged too much for the surrounding people to pay. The inn was large, well furnished and in a relatively good location, so the man was loath to close his doors and move his business. If he was apprehensive around elves, however, he didn't show it beyond starting when the Ssandári strode through the entrance. It had been easy to convince the man to accept the elves' payment for rooms. Tired from their long journey, the Ssandári spent a rare night in contented comfort.

Secure in their acquisition of a viable headquarters, the mercenaries now spread out in groups of four to view the city. The sun shone brilliantly, though the air remained cool so near to Barocula Lake. “Years have passed since last we were here,” said Titanya. (Áirhath's group included Titanya by default, as she had been the first member of his company. Áirhath wanted each group to have at least one decent speaker of Human among them, therefore since Áirhath spoke Human well, and since Titanya was the best speaker of Human in the company, the other two spaces were balanced by elves who of Human understood little and spoke none.)

“Seven year, if recall correct,” said Áirhath. “Not much change.”

The four elves made their way leisurely through the city streets. Titanya did her best to coach them all in human as they went. By the end of the day, despite talking to a great many humans, they were unable to learn much at all concerning their investigation. It was mostly local news, with a few rumors about other cities and lands—nothing that could be connected to the general increase of energy. When the groups met back at the inn, however, it was discovered that one or two of the city folk had had strangely compelling dreams. Most did not know what to do with them, though they were eager to share. Intrigued, Áirhath decided that they would stay another day to follow this lead.

Afterward, Áirhath allowed any who wished to spend the rest of the evening enjoying the city, provided they ventured in small groups and spent only small amounts of their own money. Most of the mercenaries took him up on the offer.

Sephalia > Oliphey ~ night of DAY 6
The day had been much the same as the one before and just as fruitless. Night was falling, but Áirhath was disinclined to return to the inn without some piece of usable information. At sundown, Áirhath's group heard tell of a priest on Dove Street who had been having strange, recurring dreams. Before Áirhath could so much as head in that direction, however, a distant, wailing chorus of screams wafted over the city.

The two elves behind Áirhath and Titanya turned toward the city gates, disturbed.
“Hána ien dantë!?” said one. What was this!?
“Hána hyerna dan sildári?” said the other. What harms the humans?
Áirhath gad also turned in that direction. “Lelali,” follow me, he commanded.

The night air grew cool as the elves ran. Torches and lampposts had already been lit. More elves converged onto the wider streets as all the Ssandári headed toward the main gates of Oliphey. Humans everywhere were rushing toward the same destination—most of them wisely bore weapons. The gates came within sight; peasant folk streamed through them, fleeing from their outlying homesteads to get inside the city walls. Some were screaming, many were wailing, all were wide-eyed with terror; only a few had the presence of mind to cry “MONSTERS!” or “DEMONS,” giving some idea of the cause of their distress.

Áirhath led the way off to one side, making for a stairway onto the wall. Once upon the battlements, the Ssandári mercenaries looked out over the stone crenelations. The fields beyond were teeming with black shapes, solid shadows amid the moon- and torch-lit night. There was a collective gasp of horror as they all tried to reconcile the sight with their reality. To the elves it was like beholding, if it were possible, the incarnate power of death.

“Hána aer dantë níeurin ssulrrach?” asked Titanya, hopelessly, knowing there could be no answer. What is this new devilry?
Áirhath only stared outward in response, not seeing the group of humans climb the stairs. The men, armed with bows, arranged themselves along the wall and immediately set about firing arrows into the darkness. Only when the elves saw one of the black creatures dead, exploding into a cloud of smoke, was the spell of horror broken. Hope welled up, seeing death itself be slain. The humans cheered; the elves awoke.

At the same time, a troop of armed men emerged from the gate below, ready to defend the city. Áirhath's mind started working. The humans' arrows were not taking down the monsters fast enough. The men before the gate might well be overrun. The elf looked back inside the wall and witnessed the human families cowering in the streets or fleeing further into the city, pulling their children along with words of hopeless comfort. Áirhath looked back out over a roiling sea as black as ink, under a deadly rain.

The mercenary commander propped himself heavily by his arms against the crenelated battlements and heaved a long, calming breath. Standing up he looked to the side. Those nearest him could see the hardening of resolve in his eyes, and they took heart. Áirhath drew himself erect, rallying his brethren to come and defend the humans. “Ssandári, ennalë! Naeí lli erethendra dan sildári!”

Spoken as a benediction, Áirhath's words inspired his comrades. “Nalënän!!” they cried, let it be so, in unified response. Áirhath hurriedly through Titanya told the bowmen to aim further toward the distance. While arrows rained down on the distant, scores-strong horde, the elves would hold off the vanguard of the encroaching tide. When the request was acknowledged, Áirhath leapt up onto the wall's edge and drew his blade.

Following their leader, the mercenaries took the leap, drawing their own blades as they fell thirty feet to the ground, buckling their limbs upon landing. The elves' strong legs absorbed the shock without harm. Immediately they sprang forward, spreading out, rushing headlong toward the teeming black. Wild, varied, savage cries filled the air as the beasts got their first taste of the elves' leaping, slashing, tireless dance of death.

Sephalia > Oliphey > Church of Zephiris on Dove Street ~ dawn of DAY 7
Dawn overflowed in rainbows through the stained glass window of the chapel on Dove Street. The place had been crowded with penitent refugees fearing for their lives. Gado and Scarlet helped to spread consolation and comfort, while Semric appealed to Zephiris and conferred her blessings upon the people. They had kept it up all night, tending the troubled souls. Finally, toward the break of day, the crowd had dissipated, until now there were only a few families and a few scattered men and women kneeling or milling about in prayer.

Gado took the opportunity to reunite with his wife. She looked drained. Gado wasn't feeling all that vivacious himself; he could barely keep his eyes open. He put an arm around her shoulders, as much to keep himself supported as to support her. “How are you feeling, Ess?”

Scarlet sighed deeply. “Sometimes I wonder how Zephiris herself keeps up with it all.”

Gado gave a weak chuckle. “Come on; let's get some sleep while we have the chance.”

There were a couple of rooms in the back of the chapel. Semric led the aged couple to one and got them settled, then whisked himself back out to continue helping the people. Scarlet was asleep more or less instantly. Gado was just as tired, but he did not so soon find sleep. He was kept awake brooding over the past few days' discoveries.

They had made much progress on a thorough search of the scriptures, trying to find passages that dealt with dreams. What they had found, while not immediately helpful, was quite intriguing. Yet, Gado was beginning to feel that they were searching from the wrong angle. Eventually, though, these thoughts settled into the hinder portions of his mind. At last, he fell sound asleep.

Sakira-thani > near Paresheth, almost 300 miles east of Sakira ~ early morning of DAY 7
S'harahe awoke to the feeling of feathers against her cheek. As her consciousness came to life, so to did a myriad of sensations. Her body was sweating and yet cold, chilled by the mountain air; her throat was sore; her tail and her left wing tingled from her sleeping on them. Her teeth hurt; she closed her mouth. Groaning, S'harahe stretched out her neck, turned her head toward the shadow above her, and opened her eyes. It was a gryphon. A being of less poise might have started. S'harahe only smiled—as best she could through her discomfort—and heaved herself up onto her side. The tingling in her wing and tail increased momentarily as blood began to flow into them.

The gryphon rearranged its wings on its back and studied S'harahe with large, amber eyes. It was a female with a cream colored coat and brown feathers. The larger feathers on the end of its tail and along the edges of its wings were tipped with blue. S'harahe, still propping herself up with one arm, gently extended her free hand toward the beautiful creature. She would have called to it, but her voice had not yet returned, so instead she gestured.

Trustingly, as if somehow bewitched, the gryphon ducked its head and advanced toward the dragon. S'harahe smiled softly, petting the gryphon's fur and smoothing the feathers in its neck. Where was its mate? she thought. Gryphons mated early, and for life, never leaving the other's side. S'harahe glanced about. There, just a bit further down the slope of the hill, was a dark colored male. Kaladar stood next to it with his forearm on its back.

S'harahe shivered in the cold. So far, it seemed, she and Kaladar were the only ones awake. S'harahe could feel her throat starting to get better, but it was not yet well enough to cast any sort of spell. She would have to wait a bit longer to feel a comfortable temperature again. Meanwhile, all things considered, this day had started off better than S'harahe would have anticipated. Memories were coming back steadily of the previous night and the creatures of shadow. S'harahe allowed them to enter but payed them little heed just then. For now, S'harahe clambered to her feet and slowly drew nearer to the gryphon, feeding off its warmth while petting it tenderly. S'harahe soon felt her confidence returning. Whatever the coming days had in store, in the end nothing would stand in her way.

Sephalia > Oliphey ~ morning of DAY 7
The previous night's battle had ended in resounding victory. Following the elves' charge, most of the humans before the gate marched forward into the fray. The archers stifled the oncoming horde, the elves fell to eating away at the wings, and the humans held the line at the front. Amazingly, neither elf nor human suffered death, though a great many humans bore grievous wounds. The fighting had been over within an hour.

The Ssandári spent the rest of the night assisting the wounded humans. They would have done more, but most of the humans were none too keen to have a non-human patching them up. Perhaps rightly so, after all, since elves and humans were different in so many ways. At any rate the elves took little or no offense. When daylight came, the mercenaries received a summons from Duke Fergus, lord of Oliphey, to appear at the administration building in the center of the city.

The administration building was built almost entirely of stone, largely because of the library of records housed within. Inside, the place was carpeted and elegantly furnished. “We owe many of our lives to your skill on the field,” said the Duke without preamble, as soon as they entered the audience chamber. He was not sitting in the large chair but was standing several paces before it, considerably more informal. “Please, how may we repay you?”

Áirhath uttered a brief response in elvish, giving Titanya free rein to translate into the most appropriate Human representation of his intentions. “Your lord,” Titanya began, not quite as well versed in human honorifics as with the rest of the language, “we ask no reward. It is shame to turn away when death draws near to one's neighbor. It was our lord's honor to lead us in defense of those in need. However, so that you will feel no debt toward us, perhaps a small amount of gold, as however you wish....”

“I would be pleased to pay you an hundred and fifty gold pieces.”

Áirhath shook his head imperceptibly.
“Half so much we will gladly accept, your lord,” said Titanya.

“Then will you accept another thirty to remain for a day lest more of these monsters appear, and to fight with us once more should they again assault our city?”

Áirhath shook his head imperceptibly.
“Twice so much we will gladly accept, your lord,” said Titanya.

“Will you instead accept my first offer of a hundred-fifty, then, for both tasks?”

Áirhath thought a moment, then nodded.
“However you wish,” said Titanya.

“You are most generous,” replied the Duke. “You have my utmost thanks.”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Tue Dec 22, 2009 6:26 pm

Sephalia >Near the source of the River Amros ~ Night of DAY 5

With his arms crossed over his chest, Barin surveyed the surrounding area. His position on a small rising overlooking the river Amros, allowed him to look far into the forest below - a sea of endless green as far as the eye could see. To his left, the last rays of the sun flickered, giving the waters of the river a majestic, golden hue. There was no other living being in view, his lone figure, grim and tall, stood alone amidst the landscape. The very same figure sighed and looked down, his gaze briefly passing through his hands - muscled, rough, bearing the scars of battle, the hands of a fighting man, who did not enjoy the comforts of civilized life. At that moment he wondered if his life could have been different if, all those years ago, he had decided to do away with his mad plan and settle with a more simple living. A large enough estate, respectful subjects, he would find a wife and have children and when he grew gray and old, he would enjoy the shouts and screams of his children's children. A quiet life, a simple life, a peaceful life. Barin smirked, he knew well-enough that he would never be content with such a living, that he would never sit by the cosy fireplace while, out there, people were making a name for themselves. He slowly returned to the present and glanced in the direction behind him. The sounds of shouts and clashing of steel could be heard in the distance, the campfires, small dots on the outskirts of the forest, began to slowly pop up. It meant that the time for training was over and, further proving that, the clanking of armour was soon heard.

Barin turned around and saw a colossal figure approaching his small hill. He knew right away who that figure was. And indeed, as soon as the person's features came into view, there was no doubt that this was Sergeant Ratibor. The bushy, red beard, the wild hair and, most of all, his massive build. Barin was tall for a human and there were few people who could actually look down on him, Ratibor was the brightest example. It was surprising that this man, this Avatar of War, had spent most of his life as a simple farmer, he joined "The Hawks" less than a decade ago, after being ran out of his homestead by a rival. He came to them, battered, broken - and now, just a few years later, he stood as a proud warrior, unrelenting, indestructible. No man who had seen him in battle could question his constitution and stamina, along with his practical mind, it was no wonder that he rose through the ranks so quickly. He had a great respect for Barin, the man who had helped him in his time of need. The red-haired titan spoke in his gruff, deep voice:

"Capt'n, the night's training is over. There are no serious injuries to report, every man and woman is accounted for."

The mercenary captain looked up, straight into his companion's jet-black eyes and simply replied: "Good".

Barin, however, knew that there was something more the other man wanted to tell him. Why else would he come here to simply give him a formal report? One of the corporals could have been sent to take care of that. And even if that was not strange enough, the sergeant's expression indicated that something weighed on his mind. Ratibor was a master of warfare, without a doubt, but, after all, he was a simple man and controlling his face muscles was not his forte. It was painfully obvious that he wanted to say, or perhaps, ask something. To relieve him of this uncomfortable position, Barin asked, in a slightly annoyed tone:

"Is there something else, Sergeant?"

"Y-yes, sir. I know it's not any o' my business, it's not like he's one o' me boys...but" - a short pause followed - "But..see, it's Rin, the man's been acting bloody strange lately..."

"I will talk to him, do not worry, my friend" - said Barin and with a nod of his head hinted to Ratibor that he was dismissed. The other man slammed his mailed fist at his breastplate, saluting his captain and then swiftly departed.

Barin turned around towards the river once more, running his hand through his beard, deep in thought. Rin was the other Sergeant and was, apart from the Captain himself, the oldest member of the company. It was he whom Barin had met back in Brookstone, it was with him that he laid the foundations of "The Hawks" and it was he that gave advice to the still inexperienced and young noble. In short, Rin was instrumental in the creation of this small army. The man was a veteran mercenary, having been one since his teens and he knew no other life, despite that, he had a family - a loving wife and three children. What coin he earned he sent back home, keeping only a small portion for himself. He knew where the good deals were and who was trustworthy, it was thanks to him that Barin and his group of peasants turned into a real troop of mercenaries . In the early days of "The Hawks", he was the Captain's right-hand man, but as their numbers grew, he stepped aside and allowed younger men to assume that position, claiming that "he was too old for that sort of work". And indeed, when it came to age, Rin had no doubt seen the most winters of any man or woman in the company. Nevertheless, he was still a fearsome combatant and his men knew better than to question his orders, lest they feel his iron hand on their necks. (it was well-known that he was a harsh taskmaster, but he cared for the men under his command and they respected him for it).

The Captain continued standing on the hill, wondering what the Sergeant's cause for concern was. Thinking about it, he had indeed noticed that Rin was not his usual, grumpy self as of late, it was as if he was planning something, but did not have the courage to talk with his leader about it. As usual, Barin had to take the initiative, as the head of this company, it was his duty to ensure that each and every one was content. In a way, this group of mercenaries, men and women from all walks of life, were his family and he cared for them and in turn, they loved and respected their commander. Without further ado, he headed towards the camp, walking with an assured stride.

Not long after, the mercenary's camp came into view. There were no fortifications, as it was temporarily established for the night, however, a defensive ring of vigilant sentries surrounded it. As Barin approached the "main" entrance, he was greeted by two guardsmen, who saluted him proudly. Upon entering, he threw a glance to either side of the small camp and smiled - it was perfectly set up. On one side was a clearing, where the men practiced their combat skills, a few training dummies, quickly assembled with what materials could be found, stood there. On the other, the majority of tents were situated. Straight in front of him, a slightly bigger tent was located, the Captain's Tent, on either side of its entrance the banners of the company stood, golden eagles on a crimson background. When the men noticed his approach, they all stood up immediately, but with a wave of his hand, Barin bade them sit down.

"At ease, lads. Now is not the time for formalities"

And that is why his troops respected him - their Captain knew when discipline was needed, but he also considered himself one of them. And in truth, Barin knew that he could not demand anything from these people. For this was not a real army and he was not a real captain, no matter how many times that title was repeated. No oaths of fealty were sworn, these men and women saluted him out of respect and he never forgot that. Barin set by the bigger fire, around which the more senior members of the company were gathered - the seneschal, the sergeants, the corporals, some veterans and their non-fighting companions. Wasting no time, his gaze wandered to Rin, who was discussing something with Brand, the smith. Barin asked his corporals some standard questions - how were the recruits doing, were there any complaints, have there been any crimes committed, how was morale and discipline in the ranks. He then shared a few words with the seneschal, an energetic, young man by the name of Randor, about wages, rations and their next course of action. It was decided that they would travel through the forest to the town of Fenwater, at the foot of the Majestic Mountains, where they would restock and prepare for their journey to the heartlands.

After that, the mercenary was consumed by silence. He stared at the crackling flame before him, chin rested on his fist, the sparks dancing before his eyes. As his thoughts strayed and his vision blurred, they formed interesting shapes - mighty castles, snow-capped mountains, damp forests, crystal-clear lakes, bloody battles, whistling arrows...He was snapped out of his trance-like state by the song coming from one of the nearby fires. Barin shook his head, stood up and after giving the camp a brief glance, spoke to the people around him:

"It is settled then, tomorrow we march for Fenwater. Rest now, for we have a hard trek ahead of us. Pass the news to your men." - he paused for a moment and then added, as if he had just remembered - "Sergeant Rin, come to my tent, we need to talk".

As he turned around to leave, he caught a glimpse of the Sergeant, who looked quite taken aback. Barin, however, was certain that the old man would come, if only to shout at his Captain for a bit. He greeted the members of his Honourguard, clad in golden and red, standing guard by the tent. It was quite simple on the inside, two chairs, a table with a couple of maps on it, as well as a bottle and some cups. A simple bedroll, along with a thick blanket stood on the far side, the Captain had fully forsaken his noble upbringing, he needed no luxurious beds. The "furniture" was made for quick assembly, so that it could be carried in parts when the mercenaries were marching. The only other inhabitant of the tent was his suit of armour, on a stand, positioned by the "bed". Barin sat on one of the chairs and then poured some of the liquor in one of the cups. He surveyed the amber-coloured contents before drinking some of it, it passed smoothly down his throat, leaving a warm trail through his body. The captain was not mistaken in his judgment, soon after, Rin entered the tent. Barin gestured for him to approach and filled another cup for the Sergeant.

"Come, take a seat. Taste some of this, the mayor of that village gave it to me as a bonus. It is liquid gold I tell you." - he smiled, as they both emptied their cups in one go. After exchanging some pleasantries, Barin spoke again, this time in a more serious manner - "You can guess that I have not called you to simply taste some alcohol"


"No you haven't, I can bloody guess that. Spit it out, if you have to say something. - was the answer

Good, outspoken as usual.

"I will be blunt. You have a problem. Talk to me about it."

The other man violently smashed his fist on the table - "I can't see how my bloody problems are any business of yours!"

"They are not. However, when my men start noticing that their comrade and superior has issues, it undermines my authority and then it becomes MY problem!" - he shouted the last part. But he was certain that no struggle or any such would follow, he knew Rin well, the old man liked to yell a bit, slam his fist now and again, but he knew his place. And indeed, the sergeant sighed and adjusted himself more comfortably in his chair and began speaking in a quieter and gentler voice.

"I am too old for this, Barin my friend. Too old. The fire of youth left my veins long ago, but you know me, I'm a stubborn bastard, I carried on." - he smiled - "But no more, no more. I've been thinking, these past few days...my reflexes are not what they used to be, any day now some bastard will bash my head in and then - a hole in the ground is all that awaits. I have a family you know, my sons are grown men by now, my daughter - she is ready to marry. How many times have these children seen their father? You do not know this...this feeling, my old friend, you have no sons and daughters of your own. I want to hold my Katrina (that was the name of his daughter), I want to drink a pint of ale with my boys, I want to spend some time with my kin before I die, dammit! Is that too much to ask?!"- by now Sergeant Rin, the cold, stone faced taskmaster, was nothing more than an old man, tired of his long life, wiping his tears.

Barin stood up, with a solemn look on his face, he walked around the table and when he reached the bent, old man, who had seen more battles than any other in the troop, who now seemed so weak and helpless. Barin placed his hand on his shoulder and grasped it firmly. The Captain understood the concerns of his sergeant, he was indeed old and it was simply a matter of time until his time came, one way or another. How he would meet his end was entirely up to him and Barin had no right to intervene.

"My friend" - he spoke - "You are not bound to me in any way. I am neither your lord, nor your brother or father. You owe me nothing. You are free to go when you please."

Rin looked up and, after a few moments of silence, slowly stood up. He spoke again, this time in his usual, stern fashion.

"It is settled then, we'll speak more of this later. For now, let us get to Fenwater, eh?" - he bowed his head and turned to leave.

"I wish you a pleasant night." - said Barin

In response, the sergeant mumbled something incomprehensible. As usual, the captain thought. He quickly extinguished the two candles illuminating his tent and headed towards his bed. He slowly removed his boots, his vest and, finally, the shirt, he took his time - after all, he was not one for long sleep and there were still many hours till the sun rose again. While doing that, he could not help but marvel at the speed at which Rin had gone from anger to sorrow and then back to his usual sour self. It was not surprising, he thought, the sergeant was a proud man and he never wanted to appear weak. No matter, it was the Captain's duty to be by the side of his men, be it on the field of battle or on the plains of life. With a sigh Barin lied down and immediately felt the strain wash away from his body. Thoughts turned into memories, memories into visions, visions into dreams. Soon after closing his eyes, the gentle embrace of sleep took him.


Last edited by Blackrock on Sun Jan 10, 2010 5:57 am; edited 3 times in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Thu Dec 24, 2009 12:06 pm

Elister, Sephalia. Harbors ~ DAY 7

The jog to Elister had been uneventful. As always, the ship’s carpenters and engineers performed well. Their repairs kept the pirate’s vessel afloat. They had even been able to restore some steering to the vessel. The injured from the battle had immediately gone below decks for care. Their dead, two men, had been granted a burial at sea.

Once within view of the port a signal flag was hoisted above the main mast. Two of Baron D’Armitage’s smaller vessels set out to meet them. They tied up to the pirate vessel, and guided it the rest of the way in to the docks. The engineers of the Baron’s fleet, it was a true fleet, at over fifty vessels, would return it to order, and a crew would be found for it. D’Armitage used several of the vessels to hunt pirates, but the Scarlet Destiny was easily his best.

Jai Cathron, captain of the Destiny, gave the order to drop anchor several hundred yards from the pier. Elister’s docks were constantly full, and the vessels had to rotate to get their chance to dock. The piers were built almost two hundred feet into the bay. At one pier, four ships could dock at a time, two on either side. Five piers reached into the water.

The seaward side of each pier was reserved for smaller landing craft, specifically the dinghies crews took to shore. It was at one of these the twins pulled up to, along with two dinghies from the Scarlet Destiny. Tuula and Tuuli helped to bring the wounded onto the pier and tie the small boats in place, before they parted ways.
________________________________________


A walk of near an hour took the twins to the far side of the city. This was the richer section of the city called the Arbors which was home to rich merchants and the lesser relatives of many nobles. Small manors lined clear paths of cobblestones. The rows were decorated with clean-cut grass, trees and bushes. In all, the Arbors exuded richness and excess.

The Brendersens stopped outside the gates of one of the manors. The home belonged to the Baron D’Armitage, but one of his lesser nephews had taken up residence to conduct his Uncle’s business. It was here that the Twins were to make their report, and receive their pay.

“Someday I will split the pompous head of this fool.” Tuula, muttered. The Baron’s nephew was not known for his patience. Nor for his manners.

Tuuli smiled, not as charmingly sweet as normal, and nodded gently. “And I would not weep.”

Together, the Elementalists stepped forward. Tuula swung aside one of the gates of wrought iron, and allowed it to close behind him. Before them stood the Baron’s small manor house; red roof tiles capped the white-washed building. A flower bed, filled to bursting, surrounded the base of the compound. Small trees peppered the lawn at regular intervals, several with a reading bench hidden beneath its bows. Story-high walls concealed the beauty of the compound, and hid it from the rest of the world.

The cobbled path the twins followed meandered its way to a small patio. Three steps lead to a pair of double doors, which were opened as the pair approached. The interior of the house mimicked the simplicity of its outdoors, but was no less beautiful.

Uniformed servants kept the place spotlessly clean. The tapestries hung from the walls and the carpets showed no signs of dust or dirt. Wooden stair railing and furniture had been polished to perfection. Alcoves held a variety of fine porcelain, and vases of bright flowers.

The man who had opened the doors to allow the Brendersens entrance welcomed them warmly. “Welcome, Mister and Miss Brendersen. My lord has been expecting you. May I take your coats?”

The latter was a formality that the servants were kept to. The staff had to keep to a strict set of rules, or face severe punishment. The twins had no coats to take. Tuula smirked, but Tuuli, replied, sweetly.

“Thank you. Where is Mister D’Armitage? We have urgent business with him.”

Tuuli had always felt sorry for the conditions the servants put up with. The Baron’s nephew was known for his short temper, and for his “discipline” for the slightest of infractions. It would not be a surprise if the butler’s outfit hid some fresh bruise.

“Of course, Miss. Right this way.”

No fire burned in the place of the room the twins were led to, but a small brazier burned herbs to keep the study fresh. Mister D’Armitage sat in a plush armchair situated behind an oaken desk.

Lord D’Armitage’s nephew was a dissolute young man in his 30’s with a perpetual scowl that marred his otherwise handsome features. His dark hair and eyes set off his pale skin as did his rich clothes. He sat straight-backed in his chair giving the impression of a tightly wound spring tensed to uncoil. When Tuuli and Tuula were escorted in, Paulus waved the butler away with an irritated flick of his wrist. “Bring tea, if you can manage not to spill it.”

By now, the Twins were used to Paulus’ rudeness, but Tuuli always felt a pang of sympathy for the servants anyone that hand to work under this little despot’s thumb. In matters of business Tuuli took the lead over her brother. His temper rarely lent itself to the necessary give and take of negotiations.

The pair remained standing as their host had not invited them to sit. The rude gesture however, back-fired on Paulus because he was forced to crane his neck to look up at the tall twins. Grudgingly, he finally waved them into the two hard wooden chairs in front of his desk. Tuuli thanked him sweetly while Tuula merely grunted in soft irritation. “Well? I take it you managed to capture the ship?” He snapped when the twins remained still and silent before him.

Tuuli nodded, “Indeed, Mister D’Armitage. The ship is intact with only minor damage to the wheel and rails. She can be re-outfitted within the week. Her crew are no more.”

Paulus frowned, the twins were the only ones that dared to refuse to call him Lord. He did not have the title, but he insisted on the honorific from everyone else. His already foul mood darkened. “A week? The damage repairs will come from your pay!” He spit out.

Tuula’s face darkened ominously, but he remained silent. Paulus was terminally stupid in his mind and one day someone would prove it. Tuuli, on the other hand, merely shook her head at the young noble and corrected him gently as if admonishing a recalcitrant child. “On the contrary, you know that our contract holds that Lord D’Armitage will cover all costs to repair any ships that we capture including paying our ship’s wright for his time and effort.” She smiled at him gently, “We go over this same ground each meeting, Paulus. Surely you can’t have forgotten?”

Paulus’ face reddened dangerously and he reached into a desk drawer abruptly. Withdrawing a leather pouch heavy with coin, he fairly hurled it at the twins. “There! Now get out of my house. You stink of the sea.”
Tuula’s huge hand shot up and caught the bag effortlessly. He rose calmly and stood there towering over the far smaller nobleman. “If you lay one hand on your servants after we’ve gone, I will cleave you in two.” His voice was low and soft which made it all the more menacing.

Tuuli also stood, this same scene played out on nearly every single visit and she was growing tired of it. “Come brother. Paulus knows well enough we will return.”

The pair left the fuming Paulus alone in his study and headed back to the docks. Along the way, they paid a visit to a trusted carpenter’s shop and then a sail maker to place the order for repairs needed on the newest acquisition for their patron. That done, they returned to their own ship where the men would be paid and allowed a few days in port before they were given a new assignment.


Last edited by Digital Muse on Sat Jan 16, 2010 9:58 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Sun Dec 27, 2009 4:00 pm

Night of Day 6 – 10 miles west of Ashwood

“Pikemen! Set your pikes!” Katerina shouted orders as she rode the length of the caravan. “Bowmen, fire at will! Douse those fires we’re outlining ourselves! Mua’lane, get those civilians to the inner circle!” Her commanding voice travelled well in the still night air. Odd moaning, grunts and growls from outside the circle of wagons answered her along with acknowledging shouts from her crew.

They’d been attacked by an unseen enemy just as dinner had been finished. So far, no one had gotten a good look at the fools that had attacked the large caravan. They had all sprung into action when the first man had gone down. The wagons had already been set into a loose circle. But with the attack, the circle was quickly tightened up. Pikemen set 15 foot pikes out past the overlapping wagon tongues to discourage any horsemen from attempting to jump into the midst of the caravan.

Behind that first line of defense, the bowmen set up their line, but waited until they sighted the enemy or were given the order to fire. Mua’lane and two other hostlers gathered the horses and hobbled them in the center to prevent them from bolting in fear or from being stolen. The passengers who were not able to fight were gathered together with several experienced combatants to guard them, the rest were sent to the line to supplement the already dangerous defenders. Any Army’s commander would have been impressed with the merchant caravan’s discipline.

Katerina had her saber out of its scabbard as she rode around the inner circle to check the defenses. She couldn’t believe they’d been attacked. Taking on such a large caravan was a dicey prospect at best. Unless the attackers numbered in the hundreds, it was rarely worth the effort. From the south side of the circle, several bows snapped off arrows. Shouts filled the night along with animal-like growls and screams of pain and rage. Then more arrows were loosed around the circle in succession as the enemy was sighted circling the caravan’s perimeter looking for an opening. Thus far no arrows came from the enemy which was even more unusual. Katerina drew up beside Mua’lane, who anchored the northern end of the circle.

“Gather half the company, Mua’Lane. We will drive them off.” Katerina ordered.

Regardless of his inner thoughts to the contrary, Mua’Lane moved, shouting names and gathering the best fighters among the caravan. As he gathered the men, shouted reports made their way efficiently along the line to Katerina. There were 30 to 40 enemy. Some large, some small. Dark. Cloaked. Not men, animals. Little of it was of any use. A few of the guard dogs that accompanied the caravan and helped in the hunt refused to leave the protection of the circle. The few that had chased the elusive enemy into the darkness set up a hair-raising yowling that ended abruptly in a terrifying scream.

On Katerina’s order, one wagon was pulled out of line so the 30 men and women could stream through into the dark night. The line was then closed up tightly once more and the protruding pikes replaced. One and all in Katerina’s company had their swords, bows and war axes in hand and ready. Forming a small skirmish line, they moved forward, drawing up no more than 50 yards from the wagons; they waited. The company barely got set when a wild rush of dark abominations rushed them from the dark trees.

Mua’Lane and Katerina were outside each end of the line, she with her saber and he with his dual axes cutting down anything that tried to flank the small group. Bowmen in the second row rained arrows down on the misshapen creatures made of dark shadow, leaving no corpses in their wake. But where one fell, it seemed two more moved to fill its place. The men and women fought on with a grim, silent determination. They formed up more tightly when one of their fellows fell. The battle raged on for a brutally hard hour until finally, the last of the dark nightmares were felled and it fell into motes of blackness that blew away in the night breeze. Of the 30 that had gone out to confront their attackers, 20 survived and several of those had suffered terrible wounds.

Exhausted and spent, Katerina moved among her crew and shouted for the two Doctors that were accompanying the caravan. Those that had stayed behind inside the wagons flowed out to support the injured and help bury the dead. It had been a costly night. Katerina moved out among the dead and was devastated to see that she’d lost both Pretty and Nunda. She knelt by their bodies and wept openly. She personally saw to their burials, praying over their graves with Mua’lane and others of her crew standing by and offering their own silent prayers.

By the first light of dawn, the wounded had been treated as best they could, one more of the passengers had died of his wounds. Though she could barely stay awake, she ordered the caravan to move out. She didn’t know if the creatures that had attacked them would return, but she wanted to put as much distance between them and the old camp as they could manage. They’d keep pushing on through the night if they had to and change horses as often as they could. They needed to reach Oliphey as soon as they were able.

As she rode, her own minor wounds were a stinging reminder to stay awake, she thought bitterly that at least she would be spared the dream for the next few nights.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Stion Gyas on Fri Jan 08, 2010 7:25 pm

Toad Hollow, Mandor ~ Evening of DAY 7

The creatures came again that night, but they did not catch Brenard and his companions unawares. Ten Eych gave a cry of warning when the first appeared, and Inen’s arrow caught the creature in its stomach. Ten’s blade plunged into the shadow’s chest. As it burst into a cloud of smoke, others emerged from the trees.

The creatures, shaped as man and beast, and twice as birds, fell onto the blades of the party. Even Simion fought, though Quentin stuck to the boy’s side like glue. The skirmish raged for ten minutes. Brenard, Barthon, Simion and Quentin moved the most. They weaved through the shadows that charged from the trees, cutting down as many as possible.

Those few that broke through their circle of defense rushed the tree where Inen perched. Ten Eych guarded the trunk, while Inen fired from above. Her arrows found targets more often than not. The shafts became a blur of death, and thinned the ranks of the shadows. Simion and Quentin felled the last of the creatures. His mace crushed the man-shaped shadow’s knee in, and Quentin’s blade found its throat.

“I wonder,” Brenard mused. He slid his rapier into its sheath. “I wonder why we seem to attract so much attention.”

“Did your mother not tell you stories?” Inen dropped from her perch. “The heroes are often beset by insurmountable odds, yet they always come through.”

“I would much rather not be a hero, then.”

“The world needs heroes, Brenard.” It was the first time Simion had spoken to Brenard since returning to camp.

Brenard looked deeply into Simion’s eyes. He fled into the woods a boy. What is he now? For once, the fencer had nothing to say.




Southern Blue Mountains, Mandor ~ Evening of DAY 7

Z’ang fed another log to his fire. The flames licked at the log, and rose yet higher. The Mountain had spent most of the day gathering enough wood to keep a bonfire burning the night through. His new pile, along with what he had already collected should last him through the night.

Ever since the shadows had attacked him, Z’ang had been more than careful. While he gathered wood, he wore his breastplate and kept Z’gen Ghide close at hand. Nothing had disturbed the Dragon as of yet, but the sun was beginning to fall.

If I am right, they will return. But when? Night fell quickly in the mountains, and soon Z’ang was left only with his fire as a source of light. The immediate area was bathed in light, but darkness still surrounded the entrance to the Dragon’s cave.

Z’ang tried to relax, but found himself pacing in front of the flames. He kept Grave News sheathed, but constantly reached up to loosen the blade in its scabbard. He was almost pleased when the first shadows stepped into the light. Z’gen Ghide leapt into his hands, the rippled steel shimmering evilly in the firelight.

This night, the shadows approached slowly, but they came in numbers. Boars and wolves and men alike appeared in the light. Boars and wolves and men alike fell to Z’ang’s blade. Sharp steel blasted through the shadowy figures, and they fell like wheat to a scythe. They did little to resist, but continued their approach. Abruptly, the ground before him was clear.

A growl emanated from the darkness, filling the Dragon’s ears with dread. His cave caught the sound, and flung it back into the night. As the sound died, a shape burst from the darkness, catching Z’ang flat-footed. He brought his blade up in time to catch the swipe of the bear’s paw, but Graves News was dashed from his hands.

The beast crashed into the Dragon, and both tumbled near the flames. They slid to a halt, with Z’ang’s sole remaining horn inches from the fire. The bear reared up, with the Dragon’s lower body trapped beneath the shadow. Its paw, completed with inches-long claws swept down. The Mountain caught it at the wrist, and showed his strength.

Muscles bulged beneath his armor and padded cloth. The shadow leaned its weight on the limb, but Z’ang held. For a moment. The shadow crashed through his grip, and the paw found his breastplate. The steel dented under the impact, driving the Dragon’s breath from his body. As Z’ang struggled to refill his lungs, the bear-shadow reared up again.

Its paw swooped down, but with a surge of energy Z’ang caught it again. Life filled his lungs, but he refused to make the same mistake twice. He flung the paw aside, and reared up himself. The Dragon’s jaws closed about the bear’s throat. The bear thrashed, but Z’ang held his grip until his mouth slammed shut. He could feel the black smoke leak from his mouth and nostrils.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Sun Jan 10, 2010 5:51 am

Sephalia >Near the source of the River Amros ~ Early Morning of DAY 6

Barin woke up with a grunt, he opened his eyes, spent a few more minutes lying on his bedroll and, finally, got up. The sounds of the awakening camp soon reached his ears - shouts, a curse or two, the clanking of armour, the movement of mailed feet. The Captain smiled briefly, his men were sharp as usual. Barin moved over to the table, next to the bottle containing the fiery liquid stood a small wooden bowl. He dipped his hands in its cool contents and, forming a cup, washed his face with the water. He repeated this procedure twice, as he always did. The life-giving liquid trickled down the mercenary's hardy face, but he did not mind. After standing there briefly, he dried his face with his sleeve and headed towards the armour stand. As he approached, he started removing his clothes - the shirt, the pants, the leather boots. After that, he put on different garments, far more worn than the previous ones, and began donning his armour. He started from the sabatons and worked his way upwards. It was an exercise Barin repeated daily, so it took him little time. In the mean time, the alluring scent of burning firewood crept into his abode - breakfast would be ready soon. Not long after, he was enclosed in his shell of steel. The helmet and gauntlets he left on one side of the table, while the shield was allowed to rest a while longer by the armour stand. With that finished, the Captain walked out of his tent.

Barin squinted for a moment, as the sun shone on his rugged features. His eyes were quick to adapt, however, and he wasted no time in heading towards his officers. As he neared, the men and women gathered greeted him and he did the same. He set by the fire, Rin shoved a loaf of bread and some fried ham in his hands (as always); they all focused on vanquishing their meals. It was the same around the other campfires as well - the mercenaries were eating, few words were exchanged. It was a wholly different atmosphere than the cheerful and lighthearted one of last night. But such was the way, every men and women knew that they had a journey ahead of them and that the time for idle talks was over. After finishing his breakfast, Barin stood up, looked around and then spoke in his deep voice.

"Sergeants, Seneschal - come with me, we have matters to discuss. Corporals - ensure that your troops are ready to march. We set out within the hour."

Brief and to the point - such were the orders Barin gave. And his men knew that they had to be carried out sooner rather than later, for his wrath was great. With quick strides the four men headed towards the Captain's tent. Upon approaching, Barin waved his hand dismissively at the two guards.

"Get ready to march."

They bowed their heads and headed off. The small group entered the tent and gathered around the table. Barin pointed at an unmarked location on the map, a veteran of many gatherings, of northern Sephalia,

"We are here."

He then moved his hand to the north and tapped his finger on a small, red dot.

"This is Fenwater." - a brief pause followed - "This is our destination. It is a small, but well-to-do town on the banks of the Amros. We shall restock our supplies there. We may even find a worthwhile assignment, we shall see. Any questions?" - with that he looked at the other three men in turn, stopping his gaze for the briefest of moments on each of them. They all shook their heads in silence.

"Good. Preapre to move"

The three officers turned around to leave, while Barin rolled up the map. They were all used to these short conversations. It was not the first time they traveled to Fenwater, nor was it the first time they journeyed through this forest, what more was there to it? Barin knew that his troops were familiar with their tasks, why waste time with petty familiarities? While still rolling up the map, something crossed his mind and he spoke just as the Seneschal was leaving the tent.

"Randor, a moment if you will"

The other man turned around almost instantly and approached his Captain. Barin studied his features for a moment. The Seneschal was the youngest of his officers, having seen no more than thirty-five summers. He was the son of a merchant in Mandor and as such, had inherited his father's affinity for numbers. But the young man did not desire to spend his days locked away in some shop or the other, waging battles with countless ledgers. This lead to a conflict with his father and soon, young Randor found himself on the run. More than this he would not say, but Barin did not ask. He took the boy under his wing upon meeting him in one of the coastal cities. The future Seneschal proved to be a fast learner - even though he had wielded a quill most of his life, he soon learned to use the sword to great effect. He had spent a little less than a year as a Companion, when he was promoted to Seneschal, the Captain had recognized the leader in him. Barin's trust was well-placed, for Randor was well-liked and respected by all and his skill with numbers allowed him to get the most out of any deal. After this brief pause, the Captain addressed his right-hand man:

"Will we have enough supplies for the journey ahead?"

Randor ran his hand through his raven-black hair, a pondering expression passed through his somewhat gaunt face. A moment later he replied:

"It should be sufficient, Captain. Unless...well, it should be enough to last us for two, three, at most, days."

"Very well. You may leave."

The Seneschal saluted his commander and was off. Three days...their journey would take about two, if everything went smoothly. In that case, he would ensure that things went smoothly, no doubt about that. After finishing with the map, he set about dismantling the furniture, followed by packing the bedroll. Even though their leader, Barin insisted that he would have no servants or anything of the sort. In the mornings, he would don his armour by himself, when they moved he would pack his own belongings by himself and on the march, he would carry his share, like all of them.

About an hour later, the small camp was gone, the signs of campfires and trodden grass was all that remained. "The Hawks" had begun their march, venturing deeper into the heart of the forest.

Sephalia > Northern Greenwood ~ Dusk of DAY 6

Their trek through the forest had, so far, gone according to plan - Barin was pleased. Although a large force, the mercenaries had covered a lot of ground, they were halfway there. "The Hawks" owed this to the decree that each member was responsible for carrying his own supplies and equipment, that way the number of carts was brought down to a minimum. That, and their iron discipline, allowed the sellswords to march at a breakneck pace. During their journey they had mostly followed the course of the river; Barin had determined that it would be their best source of water for the night. The small force had now paused in a clearing and the four leaders - Barin, Rin, Ratibor and Randor were debating whether or not a camp should be set up.

"We should stop 'ere, sir. 'Tis as good a place as any and the men are tired." - those were the red-haired giant's thoughts.

"Stop? Why stop?! Those sodding dogs can still march for three more hours! At least!" - not surprisingly, this was Rin's answer.

Barin turned towards his youngest officer.

"And what do you think, Seneschal?"

"I agree with Sergeant Ratibor, sir. This is a good location...if we go on, we risk stumbling in the dark."

"Risk? Since when do we care 'bout risks?"

"Enough, Sergeant" - Barin raised his hand steadfastly - "We shall spend the night here, I doubt we will find a better location. Begin setting up camp." - he once more looked at Randor - "The Amros is nearby, have some men gather water from there."

The young man saluted and hurried towards the other mercenaries gathered in the vicinity. Sighs of relief could be heard from some of them, as they set their heavy backpacks aside.

"Ratibor, have your troops chop down some trees and gather kindling material, we will need to get a fire going."

The Sergeant saluted, slamming his massive fist into his breastplate, before turning around and ordering his men to prepare themselves. Armour was removed and axes were brandished and soon the small group, lead by Ratibor, headed for the treeline.

"And you Sergeant" - Barin looked at the ever sour Rin - "Make sure sentries are posted around the camp."

"I know my job, Cap'n" - came the answer and, shortly after it, a nod as the grey-haired veteran approached his troops. He began barking orders and soon, the first group of sentries began moving into their positions.

Barin approached the rest of the company and, raising his voice, cried out:

"The rest of you! Get the tents ready! No alcohol is to be consumed tonight, we need to be fresh in the morning! A Pulling awaits anyone who breaks this order! Spread the news to your comrades once they get back!"

The warning was clear, no liquor would be drunk this night. Being in the middle of a forest meant that they had to be ready to defend themselves from all sides, at all times. He could not afford to have drunk soldiers should they be ambushed. And he used the perfect trump card for that - a Pulling. "Pullings" were punishments that were loathed by all members of "The Hawks". The carts, which were typically pulled by stocky horses, changed hands - the offender had to pull it instead. Apart from a harsh punishment, it was also a test of character, the guilty could not fail, otherwise he was stripped of his rank and departed in shame. "Respect inspires loyalty, but fear ensures obedience"- this was the thought of an ancient general, mentioned in one of Barin's old tomes. Although reluctant to do so, the Captain acted by that maxim when the need arose.

With those orders given, Barin headed towards his Honourguard, who had already planted the Company's banners and were busying themselves with the Captain's tent. He moved in to help them, while sharing a few words with his most loyal of servants.

The rest of that day was uneventful.


Sephalia > Northern Greenwood ~ An hour past midnight, DAY 7

Barin's eyes opened immediately. He was a light sleeper, the faintest of sounds could wake him up. When he heard the shouts and hurried steps of more than forty pairs of feet, there was no doubt in his mind that something was wrong. Thus, he was on his feet even before Randor stormed into his tent. The Seneschal was shaken, there was no doubt about that. Pesky locks covered his intelligent, black eyes and his breathing was quickened, thanks to the lit torch he held , signs of sweat could be seen on his forehead. Barin wasted no time in grabbing his sword, still in the scabbard, along with it's belt, quickly buckling it around his waist.

"What is happening, Seneschal?" - he asked quickly

"We d-do not know, sir! You better come see for yourself, it...it is difficult to explain! I am not sure I understand!"

"Very well, lead on - quickly. And steel yourself! The men will look up to you for support; be steadfast!"

There was no time to put on armour, along with his right hand man, Barin hurried out of the tent. The two guards stationed by it followed them without hesitating, they protected the Captain after all, not the tent. The Seneschal led the small group to the north-western edge of the camp, where the rest of mercenaries had gathered. Barin made his way through the crowd (for it was a crowd a part of him noted, they were not in their regular formations) - fear and uncertainty could be seen on their faces. Shields were raised, swords were firmly gripped, arrows were nocked; "The Hawks" were ready. In the center of it all, stood the two Sergeant and one of the sentries - a veteran scout by the name of Fabrin. He was pointing at a spot on the ground, at that time Barin noticed that an arrow was stuck there. As the Captain approached, all gazes were turned to him.

"What is the matter here? Randor tells me that we have a bit of a mystery on our hands." - he tilted his head towards the man by his side.

"Fabrin 'ere says he saw somethin', but...No. Let 'im explain" - came the answer from Ratibor

"Very well, Fabrin. Speak." - said Barin dryly

The sentry began explaining himself. Some time past midnight, Fabrin had heard movement or noises, he could not be certain. The veteran nocked an arrow in his bow and slowly approached in the direction he thought the sounds came from. He had taken a little more than five steps, when suddenly a dark figure appeared a few feet away from him. The veteran wasted no time - he immediately let the arrow fly and it was a direct hit (apart from a master scout, Fabrin was also one of the Company's best bowmen). However, he was amazed when the would-be hostile simply vanished in a cloud of smoke. He readied another arrow, but by that time all traces of the creature were gone. Fabrin raised the alarm and moved closer to inspect the body. Much to his dismay, however, there was no corpse, only his arrow. He explained all of this in a hurry, pointing now and again at the projectile standing but a few steps away from them.

Barin frowned and approached the place where the body should have been. He kneeled and touched the arrow. After examining it, he removed it from it's resting place and put it in his hands. There was nothing odd about it, it was neither hot, nor cold, nothing at all. It was a perfectly normal arrow. His musings were interrupted by the shouts of one of the sentries; it was coming from the eastern side of the camp. The mercenaries turned to that direction, their muscles tense. The Captain could see, no, he could feel their fear. And while he understood why, after all they had never encountered such a foe and men were afraid of the unknown, he also knew something else. Far more important. These...creatures, or whatever they were, could be killed. If it could be put down by the bow or the sword, there was no cause for concern, at least for the time being. Barin's mind quickly began assessing the situation, a few moments later, he yelled his orders:

"Fourth troop, hold this position! If any other shadows approach pull back towards the camp. The rest of you! With me! And stop standing around like frightened housewives! FORM UP!"

The ranks were quickly rebuilt and they made haste towards the other side of the camp. At the helm stood Barin, the Captain always led his troops into battle and this time it was no different. As they approached, the situation became slightly familiar. One of the sentries was standing by a tree, his gaze firmly fixed on the arrow that had penetrated the bark. Upon noticing Barin, he neared, saluted and gave his report. His story, told in the northern dialect, was almost identical to Fabrin's. Cridan (that was his name) had noticed a shadowy figure by the tree and when the arrow had found it's mark, the target simply disappeared. Again, in a cloud of dark smoke. And again, Barin frowned, approached the tree and examined the arrow. It was perfectly normal. The only difference between this and the other perfectly normal arrow was that the current one was slightly worse for wear, due to its contact with the tree.

The Captain was puzzled, this all seemed unnatural to him. And he did not like the unnatural. Give him a foe that bleeds and leaves a corpse, the mages can have these "shadows". He turned towards his men, their eyes were wide open, out of fear no doubt. It was obvious that few would find the courage to sleep tonight. Just what he needed.

"We move out. Gather your belongings and prepare to march! We leave this accursed place behind."

He had already made up his mind on this after hearing Fabrin's story. This second shadow further reinforced his intentions. It seemed the others shared his fears, for already he could see the flickering torches move towards the camp. He followed suit and as he passed by Randor, placed his hand on his shoulder.

"Seneschal, I want double the amount of scouts around the main force. See to it."

The younger man simply nodded. There order was crystal clear, there was no need for further comments. As he entered his tent, Barin quickly began donning his armour; the sooner they left this damned clearing, the better.

Sephalia > Fenwater ~ Afternoon of DAY 7

Barin was a harsh taskmaster, they had marched throughout the night and the following day. There was little rest, he had allowed them to stop once and only briefly. Most of the mercenaries were spent, but it was worthwhile. Thanks to his dedication, they had reached their target. And now they could enjoy the comforts of this town, however small, at least for a night. The scouts were recalled and they now marched alongside the main group, a reward for their vigilance during the night. Despite the twists and turns of the forest, they had led the mercenaries through the best paths available. No signs of these elusive shadows were seen for the remainder of the journey.

Due to the lack of scouts however, it came as a bit of a surpise when "The Hawks" noticed a group of peasants standing guard by the bridge leading into Fenwater. They were rugged, frightened and badly armed - most were carrying simple tools like axes and pitchforks. On the other side of the bridge, Barin noticed barricades - wagons, carts, tables and even chairs were used as makeshift walls. When they neared, one of the peasants, by the looks of it their leader, at least he could boast a shirt of mail and a spear, lifted his hand in greetings. Barin, in turn, lifted his hand - both as a greeting and as a gesture for his men to stop. He took a few steps forward, the guard quickly said:

"Ho there! Are you reinforcements?"

"I am afraid not. We are a group of mercenaries, we have come here to restock and rest."

"Mercs, eh? That will do, come, the mayor will want to talk to you."

The man bade Barin to follow him, he, in turn, gestured for Randor to come. The Seneschal gave a few orders to the Sergeants (most likely, to set up camp) and he then quickly followed his commander. As the three of them passed over the bridge, the merchant's son asked:

"What has happened here?"

The guard looked at Barin and then at Randor and he sighed before speaking:

"It's a long story, it is. Lemme tell you..."


Last edited by Blackrock on Sat Jan 23, 2010 11:48 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Sun Jan 17, 2010 6:38 am

Sakira-thani > near the Camalen River, east of Paresheth ~ DAY 7
S'harahe stood alone on the top of a small rise, surrounded by devoted dragons and myriad trees. The party had descended the mountains, where the temperature was warm and the air was alive with healing. Few of the dragons had been in good shape after the previous night's battle. Under the circumstances, S'harahe had led them down into the Camalen Mirmer valley. Many things needed to be discussed and planned.

Everyone agreed that they should plan for the worst—plan for another attack similar to the one they had just endured. If they were to face a second assault, and possibly more thereafter, they needed to recover fully each day. If they could not even maintain such simple spells as regulating their temperature, then the top of a mountain was no place to fight continuous battles. They would all freeze to death. The river valley would provide an environment that would sustain them. The mountaintop was and would have been a better place for a battle—good vantage point, height advantage, easily defensible—but its loss could not be helped.

To work magic, one's voice had to be in pristine condition. Wits had to be sharp; it is no easy task manipulating both voices to sound the same tone, at the same time chanting loudly and with unfailing precision. Last night the dragons had been unprepared, and the extended battle had left them drained and sore, mentally and physically. S'harahe and the others had gathered around this small, sunlit hill to drink from the land's life, to hasten their healing. It was a quiet spot, seemingly tailor-made for their purpose. Insects buzzed, chirped and droned, and there was the distant rushing of the Camalen, but all was muted by the circle of trees and the combined presence of the dragons. S'harahe took a final deep breath, then gestured with one clawed finger. A soft chanting filled the air, low in volume to keep from significantly harming the surrounding plant-life. They needed to harvest and receive, not pillage and loot. The repetitive chant was slow, rhythmic, and gentle.

”Ge-dan, Mir-mer, Ta-dan, K'hith-rin: Rets'-ne Man-dra Gse-rin Dan.
“Ge-dan, Mir-mer, Ta-dan, K'hith-rin: Rets'-ne Man-dra Gse-rin Dan.
“Ge-dan, Mir-mer, Ta-dan, K'hith-rin...”


It was the same spell repeated over and over, gently leeching energy from the surrounding woodland. After the fourth repetition, S'harahe joined her voice to their rhythm, drawing out the notes of her song with an impressive capacity for long spells. Weaving melody in a rare and remarkable display of high-caste magical prowess, her sweet, clear voice mightily augmented the dragons' collective spell.

”Gyaaarath thaanii-Maaandra Gaaldaan Taand Marin Dhreengaal: Ceeeeeen....”

This she sang twice, taking the same amout of time as four repetitions of the chant. She waited another four and then repeated the process. When the rest of the dragons began an additional four spells, S'harahe joined in with them on the final chant. ”Gedan, Mirmer, Tadan, K'hithrin: Rets'ne Mandra Gserin Dan.” And with that, the ritual ended.

S'harahe looked at the sixty-five dragons around her, and she felt a pang of sympathy. The times ahead might require them to wake during the night and sleep during the day. It is against a dragon's physical nature to do so. A magically induced sleep would do little good; the sleeping dragon would eventually awake, his body sensing that the sun was still in the sky. Similarly, it becomes a strain for a dragon to remain awake during the night. Need and fear had kept them awake last night, but at a cost. They could not afford to fall unconscious, unprotected, at the end of every battle. A solution would need to be found before long, whether it be shelter or a night watch or something else. But not today. Today, they must all get what rest they could, even if sleep was beyond their grasp.

Each dragon retreated into his own consciousness, trying to perform the functions of sleep. They meditated on past events; they recalled over and over their movements during the previous night's battle; they allowed their minds to wander into makeshift dreams. This, they reasoned, might make it easier to face the darkness when the sun departed. Later on, a group of servants acquired and prepared venison for food to share, and different groups did so in their turn throughout the day, so that they all were allowed some measure of rest. This time, the dragons would be prepared for the creatures of shadow.

Sephalia > Oliphey ~ evening of DAY 7
The Ssandári mercenaries' temporary headquarters had become grave and sullen. They had remained inside their rooms at the inn, puzzling over the shadow creatures until long past midday. They could find no explanation for their existence, let alone their sudden appearance and aggression. Their thoughts inevitably turned to their own lands, wondering and worrying at how widespread this cursed devilry might be. Eventually, they came to the conclusion that it was pointless to ponder the question further without more information—which they might easily obtain that very night.

Some elves then left to go about the city again, while others stayed to talk, sing, reminisce or tell stories. Some even went down to the common room. The humans' reactions to the elves and to the events of the previous night were extraordinarily diverse, to an elf's thinking. Some were depressed, many were distressed, others were angry or sorrowful or both, and quite a few seemed unable to make up their minds. The elves would sooner look down their noses at them than want to help, but they did want to understand, and they weren't above a song or two. A little singing went a long way to cheer up some of the gloomy folk.

Áirhath had remembered the previous day's search and the lead he had yet to follow. He headed to the Church of Zephiris on Dove Street. When he arrived, though, he found the place empty. A trifle confused and disappointed, he turned and left, making a mental note to try again tomorrow. Maybe they had left to be with their families before nightfall. Áirhath might have asked a human about it, but he saw that night indeed was falling. He hurried back to the inn.

Later, the Ssandári stood once again among humans upon the city battlements. Ready for anything, the elf and human warriors had gone over plenty of tactics, talking among themselves about various possibilities and imagining how they might take down different imagined creatures. Some humans seemed almost nonchalant. Some were resigned. Some were somber and brooding. The captains and officers, at least, seemed to have confidence in the abilities of themselves and their men. Several little speeches were given, most highlighting their previous victory and acquired experience. On the whole, all things considered, morale was high. Everyone waited, wondering when the creatures would appear. Eventually the night grew dark. But still, after all that time... nothing.

Sakira-thani > near the Camalen River, east of Paresheth ~ night of DAY 7
During the hours before sunset, S'harahe, Panis'hret, Kaladar and Mishera discussed possible tactics. The river would provide an advantage. The real trouble came from unknowns: whether more shadow creatures would appear in the first place, from which direction they might come, how long the battle might last. It was determined that the group would stay near the riverbank, and wherever the creatures appeared thickest, the dragons would fly across to the opposite side of the river. This would strain their physical stamina, but it would save their voices and allow them time to adapt to the situation, whatever it turned out to be. This and other plans were related to the servants.

Night fell. The moons rose. Yet even as the gentle breeze, the rustling woods and the babbling river seemingly proclaimed that all was at peace, S'harahe could feel darkness descending. Sure enough: amid the chirping sounds of insects, the moon-lit landscape and the smell of spring, there came the curdled roaring of a hundred terrible beasts. It came from the west, on their side of the river.

“G'kharthrad!” Fly! S'harahe called. Now! Go! “Tenet! Gendra!”

S'harahe watched them, as first Maralen's group and then the others took wing in a flurry of movement. The servants were used to carrying supplies over short bursts of flight, but Panis'hret's warriors struggled under the weight of their armor and weapons. Sparing no more time, S'harahe herself took to the air. With a few wingbeats, her light frame easily lifted itself off the ground. Instead of hurrying to span the breadth of the river, like the others, S'harahe was able to take her time and cross more slowly. She wanted to observe as much as possible.

Hovering more than flying, S'harahe turned her body to face different directions, her long neck twisting around as she searched for any sign of movement. The river rushed on below her feet as she gazed downward. Something caught her eye; it might have been a dark shape in the water. S'harahe squinted at the spot in the river, trying to see. Just then a screeching sound made her whirl about toward the east. Unladen servants were around her before she knew what was going on. Then she saw it, a group of black shapes against the sky, just like last night. S'harahe hurried to catch up to the others, who were hurrying to reach the shore before the shadows engaged them in the air.

Too late: drake-shapes descended, diving like falcons upon the flying dragons. Some of the dragons dodged skillfully in midair, but others were tackled down toward the river. One of the warriors had the presence of mind to slash at one of the dark shapes as it fell past him. The thing burst into smoke as it died. Another dragon wrestled with a drake as they fell. Whereas most of the shadow-drakes pulled out of their dive before hitting the river, one was dragged by the dragon together into the water. The water turned black as the drake melted into the river, and the surface of the water gave off an inky black steam. The dragon managed to swim to safety.

S'harahe watched as Kaladar, thinking quickly, beat his wings vigorously to gain altitude. What was he doing? S'harahe heard his voice calling loudly from above where the drakes were flying. ”CEN MER!!!” she heard him shout. Water appeared in a wide sphere all around Kaladar, where it immediately began to fall like rain over the aerial skirmish. Kaladar, too, fell from the sky, soaked with water and barely conscious. S'harahe saw him pull into a glide an head for the shore, and then her eyes were drawn downward. Nearly all the drake shapes were roaring in pain, beginning to fall as their bodies were riddled with holes. Many were half melted already, and they burst into smoke in midair. The others fell to the river.

The few remaining in the air were now a much more manageable threat. By this time, S'harahe and her escort of servants had caught up with their fellow dragons. Kaladar had displayed skill, performing a spell in mid-flight—even if the spell had been short. The spell was simple enough for the servants to follow his example. Within moments, the skies were clear again.

The dragons landed safely on the far shore. They had survived another night.

Sephalia > Oliphey > Church of Zephiris on Dove Street ~ pre-dawn of DAY 8
Gado had been sitting on the bed for a couple of hours, thinking. Morning approached, dim and gray outside the window high in the wall. He'd had the dream again, the same as the one a week ago that had put him on this quest in the first place. He read the transcript of the dream over and over, the one Semric had peppered with circles and underlines.

In my (dream I was flying) among the clouds, surrounded by light. The clouds were all different colors, but mostly (pink) like the dawn. I saw a woman of passing beauty hovering among the clouds. She had a shining amber face and large, deep, white eyes. There were feathers everywhere, glowing. I had a (feeling) that she was not human. I stopped flying and stood before her, hovering in the air like she was. Though stationary, yet I was buffeted by a fierce wind as if I were still in flight. The woman turned and looked down toward me, and she said: ("Come find me.") Then light enveloped everything, and then (all began to fade into darkness), and I felt myself expand beyond myself, filling all the land. I felt pain. And then I woke.

How long would he have to search? How long would Zephiris wait? They had found little of real help among the passages concerning dreams. Most of them had to do with wise prophets like Aramis Sient of Mandor. How, then, would Gado find what he needed to know? Where among the scriptures should he look? And what was the meaning of the black demons that attacked the city, night before last? The big man leaned forward and folded his hands between his knees. “O heavenly Mother,” he prayed softly, “I have failed these seven days to find you. Please guide my steps. Lead me to your temple, that I might see your face and hear your voice, according to the vision you gave me—” Scarlet stirred on the bed, interrupting Gado's prayer, but she did not wake. Gado finished softly. “Please, help me find you. ...Amen.”

Gado stood up from the bed and, with a loving smile, adjusted the covers for his sleeping wife. How he loved her. He knew everything about her. He knew what she would say, what she would do, how she would act in any situation. If she ever became lost, Gado would know exactly where she would go; why, he would find her more easily than... ... That's it! he thought. Silently he offered thanks to Zephiris. He only needed to find out more about his Mother, and he would know where she would have gone! Excited, Gado dressed hurriedly and then headed out of the room to find Semric.

As he neared the doorway that would take him into the church proper, he heard Semric's voice talking with someone. “...these past two nights. The tales I've heard of the horrible beasts that attacked us, and out of nowhere like that.... Zephiris be praised for sending you to us.”

Gado put his hand to the door handle and opened it. As he did, the volume of Semric's words increased in his ears, since the wooden door was no longer there to dampen the sound.

“What is your name, if I may ask?” said Semric.

Gado looked at the person Sem was talking to. It was an elf! He had pointed ears and long hair tied back in a curious style. His features were streamlined, his posture erect, and, oddly, he walked on his toes. His clothing was quite fascinating. In addition to quality garments of dark color, the elf wore a large, square-ish cloth draped over one side of his figure. The slate-blue cape was elaborately embroidered in yellow, and its thick border had a silver sheen.

“Áirhath,” the elf responded. “Áirhath Aeryän.”

Sephalia > Oliphey > Church of Zephiris on Dove Street ~ morning of DAY 8
When it became clear, as morning drew on, that Oliphey was in no danger, Áirhath had bidden his elves disperse to go wherever they willed. Most went back to the inn to rest. Áirhath took the opportunity to check once more the church on Dove Street. At first, when he entered, the place looked empty as before. Then the elf noticed the priest on the far end of the building, near the stained glass window.

The priest was a chipper fellow who seemed of middling age—it was sometimes hard to tell with humans, the way they aged. The man was slightly shorter than Áirhath, perhaps. He had the sort of face one might easily forget: kind but unremarkable. The priest seemed to recognize the elf instantly. It was possible, Áirhath supposed, that there were very few elves in the city besides himself and his company. The priest's subsequent display of gratitude was unexpected and refreshing.

“What is your name, if I may ask?” said the priest. At the same time, a door opened toward the right, and out stepped a much older, much larger man. Strange, the elf thought, for a human to look so imposing at such an age; they usually seem to shrivel up toward the end of their lives. The old man had a tenacious look about him, and he seemed anxious about something. Áirhath wondered what he was about.

“Áirhath,” the elf responded. “Áirhath Aeryän.”
“A pleasure,” said the priest. “I am called Brother Semric. A real pleasure indeed.” Brother Semric then noticed the older man and addressed him without greeting. “This is one of the elves who helped repel those vile creatures we've been hearing about. Meet Áirhath Aeryän.” He pronounced the elf's name unusually well, for a human. Turning back to the elf, he introduced his friend. “And this is Gado Tanager. He used to be a warden around here, some years back.”

Áirhath wasn't sure what a 'warden' was, so he afforded a slightly impressed manner and nodded his head to the man in greeting.

“Well then,” said Brother Semric, “is there something I might help you with, my good man? er— elf?”

Áirhath was about to answer, but the 'warden' fellow nudged the priest, seeming distracted, speaking in lower tones. “Sem, do you have any scriptures about Zephiris herself? I think that might help.”
“Oh! Uh...” Semric thought for a moment, “yes. You might as well start with Origins, chapters one through three. The scroll is on the left shelf, bottom left. And you might also want... the fourth book of Orion. The whole collection is on the top middle shelf. Just take them out one at a time and put them all back.”
“Thanks, Sem.” The big man made to go back through the door.
“Oh! ...Right! if you want, you could read some of the letters from Ezekiel the Seer. The newer copies are the trunk next to my bed. They should be labeled, I think.”
“Alright,” the other replied, nodding his thanks. Then he seemed to notice the elf again, still standing there. “Ah, er, it was a pleasure to meet you, master Eryon. You should see the Lake while you're here in Oliphey. It's a right peaceful spot, definitely a sight worth the seeing.” He smiled, again seeming distracted, and nodded his farewell before closing the door.

“Sorry,” said Brother Semric, “he can be a little single-minded. He's a dreamer, that one. I'd never have guessed it. Well now, where were we...?”

“Ah, hear news,” said the elf. “I was not here, much year. Any news from past more week?” Áirhath was trying his best, but he never seemed to recall how to indicate plurals properly.
“Hmmm.... Would not an inn or tavern be a better place to hear recent news?”
“Ah... I—ah, We—do this already. I need news from one who know of, ah... life... energy... the plant and the animal... growing, ah... yes? Life. Is there more life, ah, 'recent'?”

The priest looked puzzled. More life? “I'm not sure what you mean....”
Hang it, thought the elf. He should have brought Titanya along. Áirhath concentrated, trying to think of a different way to explain it. “I people felt more life... 'recent.' 'Recent' means close today, yes? You people feel more life?”
More life.... Energy, he'd said. Was it possible that elves also felt the return of Zephiris? Semric wasn't sure, and even if he had been, he wouldn't know how to explain it. Furthermore, even if he did know how, he wouldn't be allowed to. If he wasn't supposed to spread the word to the human public, he certainly shouldn't give the information to other races. Maybe he should try to find out more. “When did your people feel this... more life?”
“Week,” the elf held up a finger, “one.”
Then he was definitely talking about Zephiris' return. Semric wanted to help him somehow; after all, the elf and his companions had risked their lives to help the people of Oliphey. Semric adopted an exaggeratedly secretive manner, to get the idea across. “My people felt it too, but I may not say. You should go to Telmural, the capital of Sephalia. The priests at the High Temple of Zephiris might be able to tell you something about the 'more life.'”
“High Temple of Zephiris,” Áirhath repeated, earning an approving nod. “Danael," he said, genuinely grateful. "Thank you.”

So the humans thought it was something to do with their goddess, Zephiris. Áirhath wasn't sure he needed to go all the way to Telmural, but at least now he had knowledge, options, and a possible destination. He'd had a feeling he would find an answer at this place. His instincts had been proven correct; it was a good lead, and Áirhath was more than pleased. The Ssandári were finally making some progress in their investigation.


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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Sun Feb 21, 2010 6:07 am

Sephalia > Fenwater ~ Afternoon of DAY 7

Fenwater was a village on the bank of the river Amros, which provided one of the main sources of income. That source was not fish or some other aquatic denizen, but instead the fact that there *was* a river. And Fenwater had the only bridge in the vicinity which allowed the passage of trade caravans. The bridge had been there since ages past and was widely renowned, "The Fenwater Bridge". It was not due to some feat of architecture, but due to the simple fact that it was always open - on the hottest summer day and on the chilliest winter night. This made it a popular stop for merchants and other such traveling companies. Not only was there a fee for crossing the bridge, but the visitors brought trade, news and gold. The other thing which brought in income and for which Fenwater was also famous for were the renowned Fenwater vegetables. The rich soil, coupled with the nearby river, made the tomatoes, pickles, carrots and other such that were grown here a real treat, regardless of who tasted them. As such, most anyone who lived in this town either worked in a tavern or on the fields. A wealthy town, it could boast houses that few other villages of its scale had. The homes of the people were neatly ordered into rows, most houses had two or three floors, something unheard of in poorer towns. Most of the roads were paved, and even the secondary, less important ones were well-maintained. In normal times, the village enjoyed a fair bit of visitors every day, as such - the town square was littered with stalls of various size and purpose. The taverns were tidy, the ale cool, the meals hot and the fires roaring. These, however, were not normal times.

As they made their way through the empty streets, Barin noticed the signs of terror and panic at every corner. Carts were turned upside down, some used as makeshift barricades, other simply abandoned by their owners. Various objects could be seen amidst the cobblestones - knives, flowers, heirlooms and even a few coins were discarded here and there. The doors were barred, the shutters taken down; from the unguarded windows a frightened face could be seen on occasion. The group of three also encountered a couple of villagers a few times. The inhabitants of Fenwater moved quickly, eager to return to the safety of their homes. On certain key points, men stood guard - some were upright, with a grim determination on their face; others - bent and frightened, as if trying to hide in the air itself. Most of them were poorly armed, carrying nothing but the shirts on their back and pitchfork or axe in hand. The Captain quickly came to the conclusion that the few well-armed, grim men were the local militia. They were probably strained to the limit, for few such village "armies" were prepared to deal with such foes. From the sergeant's tale (the man who was escorting them, introduced himself as such) it was clear that the attackers were none other than those shadows who had plagued the mercenaries. This concerned Barin, it seemed that problem might be more wide-spread than he dared imagine. Was it like this in other parts of the kingdom? It was of little importance now, they had to deal with the task at hand. By the time they had reached the Town Hall, for the imposing structure left no doubt in his mind as to what it was, Barin was well-aware of what had happened.

According to the guard, late last night screams were heard. Soon after, the sentries sounded the alarm. The local militia rallied at the town square, from where they headed to the northern end of the village. The sentries told peculiar things, of shadows that moved and, indeed, a war-band of black creatures soon descended upon them. Other men rushed from their homes, using whatever they could find as weapons; as such, no order could be kept in the ranks. The sea of black engulfed the defenders and soon, the battle turned into a fight for survival. No orders could be passed on, no battle-line could be built, it was every man for himself. When the beasts of shadow were beaten back, the defenders, surprisingly, noticed that few casualties were sustained. About a dozen men were injured, regrettably amongst them was the village smith, and two were killed. The problems arose after the battle, when fear made its way into the comfy homes. Women screamed, children cried and men paced back and forth. The militia were hard pressed to keep order. Some villagers claimed that fleeing was for the best, others wanted to stay and fight and others simply gave up all hope. Throughout the following day, they had prepared as best as they could for tonight's onslaught. The militia captain, a veteran soldier, had few good men to work with. As such, the village was ill-prepared, most barricades (if they could even be called such, noted Barin) were erratically placed, weapons and armour were not properly distributed. Overall, it was a sad state of affairs.

The three men entered the local Town Hall, like most of the village it is was in a state of disarray. Papers littered the ground, some rooms were barricaded, others were stripped bare. After passing through two of the outer rooms, the guard led the leaders of "The Hawks" into what seemed to be the main room. It was well-furnished, the few chairs and tables that remained were of polished mahogany wood. The blocks of stone from which most of the building was made, were perfectly square and, like the wooden inhabitants, were masterfully polished. On either side, small, expensive-looking windows stood, offering a good view of the village below. Thick carpets were laid on the floor, each one with an intricate design. Some of were of leaves and branches, twisting and turning like the streets of a large city; others depicted historic scenes and famous battles. On the far side, a large fireplace stood, more than capable of warming the hall. The ceiling was fairly low, as the building was not too big. It seemed that even the lucky inhabitants could not afford a truly majestic building, the likes of which could be seen in the grand cities. However, it was obvious that no expense was spared in the decoration of this place. Barin was now certain that this was where Fenwater held its meetings and welcomed its honoured guests. The warmth from the fire was inviting and the ceiling above gave him a somewhat strange sense of comfort. In different times, he would feel at home. But now, things were not such. The expensive carpets had traces of mud, splinters of wood scattered about and, as the Seneschal noted, blood stains. Two of the windows were broken and in the middle, where once benches and the like no doubt stood, a pile of arms and armour had made its home.

Near the formidable pile, a long table was positioned, around it four men stood. Two seemed to be guards, or perhaps messengers, the other two were, obviously the leaders. It was obvious from the fact that they were shouting at each other, a constant companion of a village's government, the Captain was well-aware of that. The first was a clean-shaven, plump-faced and, overall, fat man; the mayor no doubt. The second was a tall, bearded, burly man clad in armour; by the looks of it he was the captain of the militia. As they neared, the sergeant asked Barin and Randor to remain where they were for a moment. After that, he headed towards the table and told the two men something. They stopped their dispute for a moment, after which the fat man made a gesture for them to approach. The sergeant turned around and headed towards the door, muttering something about returning to guarding the bridge. Barin approached, the Seneschal by his side and he nodded in greetings to the two men. The fat man looked up, for he was quite short, and for a moment examined the mercenary, he then asked:

"So you are mercenaries?"

"Indeed we are."

"Thank the Godess! We could really use the help! I-"

The other man cut his sentence short, during their brief talk his steely eyes had continually pierced Barin.

"Sellswords, eh? Discipline is bad enough as it is, your lot will just worsen matters."

Barin turned to face the leader of the militia, he spoke louder than usual, with a firm voice. Questioning the discipline of his men was not something he tolerated.

"And who are you to talk of discipline? From what I have noticed, you cannot even get this rabble of peasants to erect a proper barricade. Your leadership qualities are lacking." - he paused, letting the words sink in; the other man was about to speak again, but Barin raised his hand commandingly - "Silence!"

The former soldier was taken aback, it was obvious that nobody else in the village dared talk to him like this. But Barin was daring and ruthless, he would not be talked down by some peasant commander. Quite calmly, he turned his head towards the mayor again and spoke in his usual, calm, deep voice:

"I assure you, my men are well-trained and know how to fight. If you will have us, we will help you rally the villagers and defend the town."

"Good" - spoke the fat man - "We will need your services for this night only, we have already dispatched a runner to the baron. He will send troops to help, no doubt. With your help we should be able to distribute this equipment" - he tilted his head at the pile behind them - "After that, our own militia should be able to handle matters, until the baron's men arrive. What say you Slavin?"

Slavin, the militia captain, had regained control of his emotions and replied:

"If that be your wish. My men should be able to handle any problems, as we showed last night; but help will be..." - a brief hesitation - "...welcomed."

"Of course, our services are not freely granted."

"But, please! Do you not see the situation we are in?" - this bluff came from the mayor, who was probably a merchant, noted Barin.

"Ah, come now. You are a well-to-do town, that much is obvious. Few could afford a place such as this." - he waved around - "Naturally, we do not impose anything on you. Should you decline, we will simply defend our camp if need be."

The mayor looked at Slavin and back again at the Captain

"Fine, mercenary. Name your price."

Barin paused, stroking his beard. They were indeed wealthy, but they were still simple villagers, he could not expect to receive the same amount a noble would pay. After a brief consideration, he spoke:

"Well, my men are professionals, they do not shy away from battle and know how to hold their ground. Having that in mind, I think that..." - he turned towards Randor - "...what say you, Seneschal?"

"A hundred gold pieces."

"Yes...a hundred should be enough to pay for our services. A reasonable price, I assume?"

"What?! This is robbery!" - said the mayor - "I can scrape fifty and not a coin more."

"Fifty? Do you take us for some adventuring group? I have forty strong men and women under my command. I doubt your baron would send you more than that."

"Hmmm, what about fifty-five?"

"Seventy, that is my final offer."

"Sixty! I cannot give more than that."

"Very well. Sixty gold coins it is. Ten in advance, the rest we will receive on the morrow. Have we reached an agreement?"

The short man looked at Slavin, who noded. The captain of the militia extended his hand.

"Agreed."

Barin noded and grasped the offered hand, which he shook firmly. Slavin had a strong grip, even despite his age (there were signs of white amidst his hair) and settled life, it seemed that the veteran maintained his physical strength. The mayor took out a pouch and with the quickness of a seasoned merchant counted ten gold coins, which he offered to Barin. The Captain, in turn, nodded towards Randor, who took a step forward and pocketed the coins.

"Seneschal, tell the men to rest and prepare themselves, there is still time before night falls. In the mean time, I will help Slavin rally the militia."

Randor nodded, saluted and departed. Quick, without much formalities, just as Barin wanted it to be. He was pleased with the amount of coin received, a hundred was just a number he made up. In fact, the Seneschal made it up and his Captain simply played along. In truth, he hoped for no more than fifty. He chased those thoughts away from his mind and focused on the task at hand. Peering over a map of the village he began discussing strategy with the old soldier.

Sephalia > Outskirts of Fenwater ~ Afternoon of DAY 7

Seneschal Randor had just issued the orders to the two Segreants. The men were given a couple of hours to sleep and recover from the harsh journey. With that done, he had to return to report to the Captain. Supplies for the troops would also need to be bought. The mercenaries' camp was set up just outside of Fenwater, a few strides away from the bridge. It would act as the first line of defense, should the enemy come from the forest. Defenses were yet to be set up, but he assumed that would be the role of the militia. As he strode past the guards at the bridge, he nodded at the sergeant and continued on his way. His black eyes darted back and forth across the landscape. Broken cart - three gold coins, not to mention the goods that were probably lost in the chaos; broken window - twenty silver if lower quality, forty for higher, a gold coin for the best; wooden cupboard used as barricade, the cups inside broken - fifty for the closet, two silver for each cup, on average fifty to eighty inside, a gold coin or a gold and sixty silvers, without regarding quality, five for better decoration, ten for more durability....Lost in such quick, but numerous thoughts, Randor almost failed to notice that he was in front of the Town Hall.

Just as he was entering, a movement to his right caught his attention. He turned around quickly, his hand reaching for his sword - despite Barin's schooling, the young man was still jumpy when faced with the unknown. There was no cause for concern, however, as only an ordinary-looking man stood there. He was dressed in plain, but well-made clothes, mostly of earthen colour, but there was also orange to be seen here and there. Randor swiftly recovered his calm demeanor, in the mean time, the man had approached to a respectable distance. It was obvious that he had something to say. The Seneschal decided to take the initiative.

"Greetings, friend, may I do something for you?"

The other man nodded in greetings and spoke in a quick, measured tone, direct and to the point.

"Greetings. I notice from your symbol" - he gestured, not crudely as a peasant would, but with an unmistakable noble's politeness, at the hawk hanging from Randor's neck - "...that you are part of "The Hawks, is that so?"

"Aye, you assume correctly. Are you in need of our services?"

"No, not me personally..."- he paused, Randor had already guessed what the man was - "I am merely a messenger, of one much higher than I. I was also instructed to speak directly to Captain Barin Mirland. And, no offence good sir, but I was told that we would be somewhat...older"

Randor smiled. "Very well, the Captain is in this very building, come with me and I shall introduce you."

"I appreciate the offer, but I would rather wait out here. It is a..." - for the second time he hesitated - "a rather delicate matter."

Randor nodded, most matters that were given to them were. This was nothing unexpected.

"I will inform him. Fare you well."

The messenger smiled and nodded, again, calm and measured. Randor assumed that such a well-mannered and, obviously intelligent man, had a powerful and wealthy patron. Profit was to be had here, much more than this village could pay, no doubt about that. Without wasting much time he made his way deeper into the Town Hall and soon reached the Captain. By the looks of it, the three men had finished their planning. Barin turned around, his eyes pierced the young man, or so he always thought. There was no lying to those sets of drills, or at least - no such thought could cross one's mind. It was as if they saw everything, knew everything and every time Randor looked at them, it was as if they were drilling to the very depths of his soul. Brushing those thoughts aside, the Seneschal spoke:

"Captain, everything regarding the men has been taken care of."

"Good."

"There is another matter, though..."

"And that is?"

"A man wants to speak with you, personally and, I would wager, privately. He awaits you outside."

The Captain stood silent for a while, after which, he nodded. "So be it. I was just about to leave."

He turned his head towards the table, where the mayor and Slavin were still discussing something.

"All is settled then? In that case, I will be back within the hour. Slavin, I assume you will have your men gathered by then."

The militia-commander nodded, there was now no trace of his independent, commanding presence. He was yet another soldier under Barin's command. The Captain turned his attention back to Randor.

"You head over to the bridge and tell the men there to gather in front of the Town Hall. I will speak with this man in the mean time."

"Yes, Captain."

There could be no doubt about that. One could not say "no" to Barin's orders, it was as if one was compelled to follow them. Randor had witnessed the Captain's wrath once, long ago when he was still a Companion, and since that moment strove to never disappoint. Respect was mixed with fear, but at the same time - he could not help but admire the man. He knew how to keep his troops together, that much was certain. Without further ado, he departed from the small gathering and headed back towards the bridge, his mind once again busy with the amount of damage done in coins...

Barin walked out of the Town Hall, after a quick survey of the surroundings he noticed the man in question. He was dressed as a messenger, sturdy boots, thick cloak and the orange was probably part of his patron's coat of arms. After a uniform, polite nod in his direction, there could be no doubt about that. The Captain approached and asked quite bluntly:

"What can me and my men do for you?"

"I bring this message sire, I have been instructed to hand it personally to the Captain of "The Hawks"."

"Here I am."

Another forced smile, another uniform nod. The man reached for one of his pockets and took out a sealed letter. He presented it to the Captain, the look on his face urging him to read it. Barin looked at the seal and at that moment, something very rare happened: his eye flinched. He forced his eyes away from the fateful symbol and, quite unceremoniously, ripped the envelope open. The first lines confused him, angered him, but he forced himself to read on. This is what was written:


Captain Barin Mirland,

A man of my means has certain rivals amongst his peers. A man of my means must have protection from said rivals. I have been building up my fleet so as to ensure my power on the sea, but I will have need of boots on the ground to be sure of my protection.

You need not worry about your men, for any bloodshed is highly unlikely. Not to mention frowned upon. The name of your company should be enough to keep me safe, as we both know there is no better disciplined company of men in Sephalia.

However, if you accept my offer, you will need to meet with two of my under-lieutenants. They are magi, fire-haired twins by the name of Tuula and Tuuli Brendersen. Meet with them near Lake Baracoula, and incorporate them into your company. Magi of their talents will prove invaluable to your cause.

They will have further information if you meet with them. Please, consider this message thoroughly, as well as our families' long history. Upon your acceptance, my runner will give you a portion of your pay. The Brendersens will carry the rest.

Regards,
D’Armitage


So many questions arose, so many doubts...memories, but he had to appear resolute in front of the courier, as he would no doubt report to the baron. And besides, they only had a temporary assignment, on the morrow they would depart from Fenwater. He had no idea how long this new job would take, but his original intentions were traveling further inwards, towards the heart of Sephalia. The two seemed to blend in quite nicely. In addition, working for such an ambitious man would, without a doubt, be a profitable venture.

"I accept" - he said somewhat dryly.

"My lord will be pleased to hear of this." - he reached for another pocket, this time taking out a small, but heavy-looking pouch - "I assume that you have yet to finish your business here?"

"No, we will stay for the night. On the morning we will begin our journey."

"Very well. On behalf on my lord, please accept this."

With that he handed the pouch to Barin. He accepted it, weighing it slightly in his hand, it was good enough for now. He would count the coins later. With his assignment complete, the runner muttered a quick "Farewell" and was off. The Captain watched on as the figure swiftly made its way through the cobbled streets of the town and, before long, was completely out of sight. Yet another pawn in the eternal game, the eternal struggle called politics. A game Barin had forsaken long ago. A struggle he seldom took part in. And now he had willingly, without giving it much thought, become a pawn in this dirty game. A well-paid one, but a pawn nonetheless. And yet, he could not help but smile - the old baron had proven to be a practical man. When Barin had left behind land and name, many nobles had forever barred him from entering their halls. Some, the ones who put things into perspective, payed for his services gladly. It seems D'Armitage was part of this group. It did not come as a surprise to him, for he had understood what the baron was from an early age. Ever since he had spent an year in that estate...

Enough of that, he thought. Memories could be recalled later, there was a task that needed doing. He looked up, the golden disk in the sky had already completed more than half its journey. Night would be upon them soon enough and there were many preparations to be done. Barricades needed to be set up, weapons passed out, the morale of the men had to be lifted. He smiled. Just like rallying the Brookstone militia when he was still a lad. Barin was going to enjoy these last, untainted by politics, moments to their fullest. Another smile crossed his face as he proceeded towards the northern entrance of the town.

Sephalia > Fenwater ~ Midnight, DAY 8

The night was pitch-black, no moon or star could be seen. The darkness was so thick that one could cut it with a knife. Amidst this endless sea of black, small bright dots could be seen - some scattered here and there, others gathered in groups. Around these dots, these torches, men were gathered, hoping for the light to offer protection. But there was none to be had. For tonight, these workers of the land, these shopkeepers and bartenders had to make their own stand. They had to set aside petty differences, great attachments and even greater fears. They all looked up to one particular group, hoping that they, like a bright star leading a stray traveler, would help them make their way through the dark.

This group were "The Hawks". Unlike the majority of the defenders, they were ordered in tightly-packed, neat lines. A steely determination on their faces. At their head stood Barin's grim figure, the Captain was making a final examination. The events of the day were long and arduous, but the veteran mercenary remained unmoved. Despite the lack of sleep, the long hours of shouts and orders, despite the letter connecting future and past. He remained steadfast. He had to be. The organizing of the defenders was easier than he first assumed. As promised, Slavin had gathered the men willing to defend their homes. Barin gave a morale-rousing speech and they began working. The unwilling ones were forced to take up arms and help in the defense. Those who lacked equipment were armed, as much as the village's armoury would allow. The randomly placed carts, broken doors and crates, were set up as proper barricades. Stakes were sharpened and placed along the edges of the defenses. Simply put, in a matter of hours, the vulnerable town had turned into a fortress of steel and wood. Only two points were open to direct assault from the shadows. The northern entrance was the most probable one and, as such, the most heavily defended. The militia, armed peasants and three troops of mercenaries were here. The other was the bridge. Where Fourth Troop, along with Sergeant Ratibor and a small force of the Fenwater militia were tasked with guarding the rear.

Orders were issued, posts were assumed, tasks were carried out. There was nothing more to be done but wait. And wait they did. Barin, now fully armed and armoured, helmet held under his arm, paced back and forth. Much to his displeasure, he noticed fear and, in some, outright terror. Most tried to hide it, but their eyes spoke much more than a simple shout or scream every could. Further worsening matters, he noticed the same state of morale in the eyes of his men. Only a few, such as the ever-sour Rin, remained calm. He did not like this, for the worst enemy of any army, apart from hunger was fear. Many a battle were lost before they even started due to this constant, grim companion. It was understandable, for these peasants had to rely on their own strength of arms; and what of his men? They were faced with an unknown foe, that much was certain, but why this fear? It was contagious, that is why. If fear gripped the heart of one man, his fellow soldier would notice and in turn, become afraid himself. And so on, until all in the ranks wavered.

The hardened commander knew that the next few minutes would decide the outcome of the battle. Either they would break and run or remain resolute in the face of the foe. It was up to him to ensure that the first would not come to pass. All of a sudden a horn blast was heard and soon, a running figure came into view. This was none other than Fabrin, Barin recognized him from the way he ran. The skilled scout had experience in dealing with these creatures, so he was appointed to watch over the road. He quickly crossed the small distance separating them and, before even catching his breath, cried out:

"They are coming!"

Gasps, squeals and even screams were heard. The already shaky lines of militiamen and peasants became even more unstable. Some men began moving backwards, pushing their way through in attempt to flee. Barin had foreseen that this would be the case, so he had ordered a small group of his troops to stand at the back. Disallowing any such attempts. Still, they could not push back the whole village and, it seemed that soon enough this would be the case. On the horizon black shapes could be seen, slowly creeping forward, some were manlike, walking upright, others were more bestial in nature. They came from the road, from the hills, it was as if they came from the very darkness of the sky itself. A chill ran through Barin's spine, he could understand why those of lesser resolve were afraid. Now was the critical moment, the efforts of the last few hours came down to this. He quickly ran to the front, with his free hand he took the horn from Fabrin. Leaping on one of the carts that made up the barricade, he took a look around. His already considerable stature was further increased by his high point. Gathering all his strength he blew into the horn, the mighty sound echoed across the empty streets. One by one the hushed whispers, the shouts "They are coming, run!" ceased. All stood still and looked at the Captain.

"Men of Fenwater!" - he cried - "My friends! I know you are afraid!"

He paused, his gaze passing through the desperate-looking men.

"But hear this! You are not fighting for the sake of some high-born lord, or the glittering shine of gold!" - a pause, "how ironic" a part of him though - "Nay! You fight for you homes, for your sons and daughters. If you waver now, you do not fail yourselves. Nay! You fail them! Is that not inspiration enough?!"

Some nodded, others muttered "yes" or "aye". Smiles made their way across the faces of the defenders. Terror and panic fled. Weapon hilts were firmly gripped, shields were raised. The ranks reformed. This mood grew and soon the crowd, no, the army cried out "AYE!"

"I do not promise that all of us will survive! I do not promise that we will win! But I promise you this: We will not falter! And should we die, our deeds will live on. And bards will sing of this night. And it will be known as the night during which the men of Fenwater DID NOT FALTER!" - with that he blew the horn again, it's song echoing throughout the town and its surroundings.

Hope was rekindled in the hearts of the defenders, the lines were rebuilt, each man assuming his position in the greater whole. They were still afraid, no doubt about that, but now there was a feint glimmer in their eye. Of hope, of courage, or maybe simply insanity. And Barin knew that they would fight this night, that they would hold their ground. He hung the horn from his hip, put on his helmet and reached for his sword, crying out as he did so:

"Now, men of Fenwater - my friends, my brothers! Draw your weapons, with me, and together we shall drive back this darkness!" - he let out a fearsome war-cry as he drew his sword, lifting it high above his head. A sound of more than a hundred unsheathed weapons was heard, as each defender in the line pulled out his weapon. Some had swords, others axes, maces and other tools of war. And with a triumphant "Huzzah!" the men set their sites on the approaching shadows.

Barin jumped off from the cart and assumed his place in the first line of defenders, where the majority of "The Hawks" were positioned. He unstrapped the shield from his back, lifting it in front of him in a defensive stance. His brown eyes surveyed the soon-to-be battlefield: the enemy was in range. He cried out:

"Archers! Ready!"

Bowstrings were pulled and arrows nocked. There were some thirty archers, some mercenaries, other locals - most of them hunters, other simple peasants. In an almost perfect unison they readied their arrows.

"Wait for it!" - Barin counted the distance in his mind, as the shadows crept ever forward, now was the time.

"LET FLY!"

And again, in almost perfect unison more than thirty arrows made their way through the night sky. The first row of attackers was cut down before they even reached the lines of the defenders. Barin smiled, this shadows did not appear to be too aware of tactics or formations. Joyous cries were heard throughout the ranks as the men noticed how vulnerable these shadows really were. The battle was won. He realized that even now, they would not break.

"FIRE AT WILL!"

And again, at first as one and later in groups of two or three arrows were let loose to seek their targets. The shadows were relentless, however and despite their initial heavy losses, continued the assault. Not too long after, they were mere feet away from the first line of defenders. Barin knew that now was the time to sally forth, the initial shock would further increase their chances of a swift victory.

"Come, men of Fenwater! With me, let us drive back these beasts. CHARGE!"

War-cries pierced the night as the ranks sallied forth to meet the foe. Barin was at the head of the charge and was the fist to fell an opponent with a melee weapon. He slashed and thrust, parried and blocked - but overall, he found that these creatures of shadow were not too skilled in combat. After the charge and, with it, the momentum, was over, "The Hawks", skilled combatants, rallied around Barin; but the peasants were not so quick.

"To me, to me! Reform the ranks!" - the Captain barked out.

Slowly but steadily, the lines were redrawn. With shields held up, the defenders managed to whittle away the attackers. Victory was close at hand, that could be felt by all present. Another charge was called for, to crush the remaining foes. With Rin by his side, Barin rushed into a group of shadows. Two, manlike in stature, tried to claw at him, but he rebuked the first with his shield. The second he impaled on his sword. Another came for him from behind, but he quickly turned around and cut off, what could pass as a head. The first attacker again tried to attack him, but Barin delivered a wide slash cutting the shadow from head to toe. He looked at Rin, the old man still had it in him. He was surrounded by six shadows, but their number was fast decreasing. Barin ran towards him, surprising a shadow from the back, another he bashed with his shield and delivered a quick thrust in the stomach (or at least, what was a stomach in a normal being). Before long, the two remained alone, just as some of the defenders caught up with them. Amongst them, was the sergeant tasked with guarding the bridge, the guide who had led them through the village earlier. He was not supposed to be here, but all of a sudden it dawned on the Captain.

"How many?" - he simply asked

"Not too much, sire. But we can't hold on 'em on our own."

Barin nodded, after which he gestured at the nearby Randor to approach.

"Seneschal, I leave First Troop to you. Hold here along with the rest of the villagers, you should have little trouble."

The young man saluted and ran towards First Troop, rallying them behind him. He would take care of matters here, Barin was certain of that.

"Rin, with me. Let's drive those bastards away from the bridge" - a pause, after which he raised his voice considerably - "Second, Third Troop! WITH ME!"

With that, he began a dash towards the bridge, the veteran Sergeant was falling behind slightly, but that was to be expected. He would at least urge the others to hurry up from his position, thought Barin with a smile. He continued with his sprint, as much as his equipment would allow, hearing the hurried footsteps of twenty men behind him. Before long, the bridge came into view and what a sight it was to behold.

The defenders were on the village side of the crossing, armed with bows they peltered the approaching shadows. The bridge itself was held by one man - Sergeant Ratibor. His magnificent figure stood high and mighty, dominating its surroundings. With his two-handed sword and massive build, he needed to only take one or two beasts at a time. Again, Barin could not help but smile, he had foreseen that should the bridge be attacked, a bulkier fighter would have a great advantage there. He let out another war-cry as he reached the bridge defenders and cried out:

"Enough arrows! Draw swords! We push them back now!" - as he stepped on the bridge proper he yelled at his Sergeant - "Forwards, Ratibor! Drive them back!"

The giant let out a mighty roar and began pushing, quite literally, forward. The clumsy-looking shadows fell before his mighty, well-placed blows. And those that he missed were ran down by his colossal body. Soon, the mercenaries poured forth from the bridge, creating a wide enough battle-line, where they held their ground. The creatures of darkness kept attacking and every time they were driven further back. Ratibor's wide sweeps fell multiple foes, a group of archers, standing safely behind the front lines, continued mauling down the enemy forces at the back. Barin used a minimal amount of effort to kill his foes, using swift thrusts and shield bashes, coupled with quick impales.

Not long after, the battle was won. As triumphant horns were heard from both sides of the town. The enemy had sustained heavy losses, they were cut down to the last. The death-tow for the defenders was non-existent, thanks to their organization few men had suffered much harm. There were almost no severe injures, save for some cases of broken ribs, severed arteries and other such. The mercenaries had sustained even less - only few cuts and bruises here and there, the biggest injury being a twisted elbow. On the whole, the victory had been complete. And morale was high, the defenders would be able to rely on themselves for the time being, until the baron's troops came.

Barin was in a pleasant mood, as he watched the dawning of the sun, from the shadows of his tent. He was weary from the harsh march, the constant yells and shouts during the last day and, of course, from the battle. But he was pleased. And yet, there was something tugging him at the back of his mind, something, which try as he might, remained an open wound. Who where these creatures? Where did they come from? How many where they? This night, Man had victory, but what would happen if these beasts came again and again...?
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Sat Feb 27, 2010 5:23 pm

River Swift, north of Toad Hollow, Mandor ~ Night of DAY 7

"The world needs heroes, Brenard."

Barthon smiled at the words that came from the young boy. The statement wasn't unlike something he would have said a few months ago. What was different now was the boy's tone, the resolve in his eyes and posture. Simion was no longer the boy he was a few months ago; he was something entirely new. He was a young man taking the burden of the world on his shoulders. And Barthon knew it belonged there, that Simion was going to be one of the great heroes. So long as Barthon could keep him alive.

Barthon made his way to the fire pit, relit by Quentin after being extinguished during the fight. Quentin was already preparing their dinner. Since they had visited Toad Hollow rather than cutting through the country side all the way to the Blue Mountains, their dinner was not as meager as Barthon was expecting.
Quentin was preparing a well-seasoned soup with meat, potatoes, and several vegetables, while waving off instructions from Brenard.
"I've learned a thing or two about cooking in my days, young man," Quentin said, waving the wooden spoon he was using to stir the soup. "Step away, if you want anything at all. You can fill yourself with prayer for all I care."

Barthon stepped a few paces away from Quentin and Brenard and pulled out his book. The first few pages had been filled, but now that it had been written he felt like tearing it out. He wasn't a writer, he was a fighter. He wasn't even sure why he had bought it in the first place. He could never even manage to write a letter to Jeanne, despite how much he wanted to talk to her. But he had always placed duty above his own desires, and Barthon felt that recording what was happening was important. He felt that Simion was important. Barthon smiled at the thought of becoming recognized as Simion's personal bard in the far future, recording the young man's exploits for all to read and wonder at.
Letting that thought, as ridiculous as it was, guide his hand, Barthon related the events of the day, including Simion's disappearance into the forest and his return with the strange mace and new purpose.

River Swift, north of Toad Hollow, Mandor ~ Morning of DAY 8

The group packed up their supplies with first light. Quentin doused the fire pit before mounting his horse.
"We'll travel north along the river until we reach Highcrest. We will stay the night there, and help defend the town if the need arises."
"I thought we were avoiding the towns?" Simion asked.
"That was before the appearance of these strange beasts." Simion nodded, his jaw set in firm resolve. Barthon knew Simion would defend the town as bravely as any tonight. And Barthon had no doubt that they would, in fact, be beset by the shadows. They had not failed to show up the passed two nights.
"Let's not waste any time then," Inen said, urging her horse forward. "We should get there before these monsters do or there may be nothing to save."
"Agreed," said Ten as he moved his alongside Inen.

Barthon noticed that they had both become a bit more reserved since the death of Jasper. He wasn't sure if they were laying blame, or if perhaps this was just their way of grieving. Deaths in the Order were handled differently: a death in battle was hardly a cause to grieve. In fact, an honorable death was usually celebrated among the knights, and the grieving was left to any of the knight's kin. Barthon had never actually lost a friend, except for his father. Having experienced loss at a young age, and then trained to neglect it, left Barthon unsure of how to deal with it now. So he ignored it.

"Come on, Simion," Barthon said, waving Simion forward with a hand raised over his shoulder. Quentin and Simion both rode forward until they were along side Barthon. Brenard stayed a short distance back, the rear guard for the first part of the trip. Barthon hoped that Ten and Inen would remember to keep an eye out as well. The shadows had so far only attacked at sundown, but that didn't mean the pattern couldn't change.

The group kept the river to their left as they traveled northward. Barthon could hear the swift waters echoing through the forest around them, making it hard to tell where the river really was. The trees slowly began thinning out as they continued traveling toward Highcrest. They were reaching the halfway point between the two small towns of Highcrest and Toad Hollow. He remembered that there were quite a few large clearings in the area. Bandits liked to make their camps here, where they would then raid the trading caravans. But the recent increase in guards, as well as the vigilance of Barthon's own Order, had reduced the dangers of bandits along the roads.
Barthon wasn't sure what they would find here, but if the attacks were as widespread as he thought they were then he was sure they would find a battlefield.

Barthon was about to call out to Ten and Inen to warn them, but he realized it was unnecessary when Ten drew his sword. Inen had her bow in hand, but she hadn't yet drawn an arrow.
"Stay with Quentin," Barthon said to Simion. He spurred his destrier forward until he caught up with Ten and Inen. "Have you seen anything yet? Any signs of battle?"
"Nothing yet," Inen said. Her eyes were scanning the forest ahead, trying to peer through to the clearings beyond.
"I don't smell any smoke," Ten said. Inen shook her head in confirmation of Ten's remark.
"Why is that important?" asked Simion. Barthon turned to shoot a stern glare, and perhaps a few words, at Simion, but realized the boy wasn't even acknowledging him. Gone was the innocent face begging forgiveness despite his transgressions. It was replaced by his own sense of duty and purpose. It seemed he no longer sought permission or favor from his mentor.
"Bandits usually congregate here," Ten replied. "The guards, and the occasional group of knights, keep them off the roads. But unless they built a fort here, there would be no way to keep the bandits out of these clearings. And this is too far away from any sort of support. Any sort of permanent defense here would be a drain on resources.
"Since I can't smell any smoke, the telltale sign of multiple camp fires, I doubt we'll stumble across any bandits. At least not nearby."
Simion nodded, but he said no more.

"We'll ride through," Barthon said. "I doubt they will move on us even if they are there. They tend to hit unarmed groups, and usually scatter at the sight of a knight." Inen snorted at his remark, but she didn't argue. Barthon had come to terms with her lack of respect of authority, but her rudeness about it constantly irritated him. Letting it go by, Barthon placed his gauntleted hand on his own sword.
"Be ready, Simion," Barthon said. The boy may not be looking for Barthon's favor, but if he was smart he would continue to accept instruction. "When we near the clearing, we will have a better view of what we are up against. If I say 'ride,' then stay by my side and try to keep up. I will keep a speed your palfrey can match."
"What if the shadows got here first?" Simion asked.
"In that case we will have nothing to worry about."
"Except for the dead," Simion responded quietly.
"Maybe they prevailed," Barthon replied. "We did."
Simion shook his head slowly, but he didn't say anything more.

"I see tents ahead," Inen said. She still refrained from drawing an arrow. Barthon was actually surprised at her calm and patience. Ten, however, had a firm grip on his sword.
"Quentin," Barthon called. "Ride back and inform Brenard. We need to ride together." Quentin nodded and turned his horse around. Brenard wasn't far back, but they would have a stronger presence if the entire group rode through the encampment together.
As Brenard and Quentin rejoined the group, the trees finally gave way to the clearing. The tents were there, as Inen had said she saw, as well as fire pits and a few wagons. But there were no bandits moving about.
"Where is everyone?" Ten asked.
"Raiding somewhere, probably," Inen said. "Now would be an ideal time, amidst the chaos. But who cares? They aren't here, which makes our crossing through their camp much easier." Barthon smirked at her knowledge of when the "ideal time" for a bandit raid was. He learned more and more about her through their short conversations. But, surprisingly, he was also finding that he really didn't mind. "Outside of the law" did not automatically label her as evil or selfish. The world was certainly a bigger, more complex place than he had been taught. Fortunately, Simion was learning these things now. He would be a better man for it.

The group crossed the encampment quickly, hoping that their good fortune wouldn't run dry too soon. The camp was bigger than Barthon had expected. The bandits seemed to have been increasing in number, and perhaps they were preparing for a large raid. Perhaps even now that was what they were doing. When they finally reached the end of the clearing, and the bandit encampment, the group breathed a sigh of relief.
"I told you, Simion," Barthon said with a small smile. "Bandits or no, they weren't slaughtered."
"Just because they didn't die here doesn't mean they didn't die." Simion glared at Barthon and then moved off to ride by Brenard. Barthon didn't know how to react with the boy anymore. It seemed everything he said set him off.

"We should continue riding a quick pace," Brenard said. "There is no telling where these bandits are or what they're doing. The sooner we get to Highcrest, the better."
"Agreed," Ten said, for the second time.

Highcrest, Mandor ~ Evening of DAY 8

The slope of the landscape was beginning to increase as the group traveled northward. Barthon could hear the river cascading over rocks as it made its way down the increasingly steep slope on its way to Highcrest itself. Barthon was beginning to get a feeling in his gut, a sinking feeling that he had learned to equate with something dangerous, or just “off” in some way. He kept scanning their surroundings, his eyes searching left, then right, and then straight ahead. It wasn’t long before he spotted the small wall surrounding the town of Highcrest.
The town was built along the high cliff of the waterfall. Most of the town was on the western side of the river and waterfall, though there were some shacks and small stone buildings on the eastern side as well. The wall surrounded the lowest level, though other levels to the town could be seen higher up along the cliff face where indentations allowed enough room for buildings. At the highest level, on the lip of the cliff itself, were more buildings.
Most of the buildings were constructed of wood, though those nearest to the waterfall and its sprays were built of sturdy stone construction. There was very little in the way of space, and the wall pushed right up against the street that winded upward along the cliff face until the rock and height formed its own natural barrier.
Barthon had never been to Highcrest himself, though he had heard of the town’s natural beauty. It had always been a peaceful place, which was why he had never had the opportunity to visit it.
“I think we found the bandits,” Quentin said, his moving hands indicating the beginnings of a prayer to Zephiris.
“Where are the townspeople?” Ten asked. As the group neared the wall, they dismounted from their horses. Dead men wearing the mismatched outfits of a rabble of bandits were lying dead along, or even leaning over, the wooden wall. There were no signs of any enemies, and by the positions of the dead Barthon assumed that the bandits had been defending the town rather than attacking it. Or, at least, they were using the town itself as a defense for their own purposes.
“What happened here?” Brenard said, leaning down to get a closer look at the dead.
“You’re not that daft, are you?” Inen remarked. “It is painfully obvious what happened here. The dead have been here for at least a day. I would imagine the attack took place only a little later than our current time last night. And I would also imagine that if we linger here long, we will face the same dangers.”
“The shadow monsters…” Simion whispered.
“It seems so,” Barthon said. “And you were right about the bandits, as well, Simion.”
The page-turned-Zephirisian knight didn’t respond. Barthon watched the boy as Simion’s gaze wandered over the gruesome scene, taking in everything and analyzing it as he had always been taught. Barthon was content that Simion was at least taking his previous training seriously, even if he wanted no more from Barthon.
“The rest are probably dead as well,” Brenard said. “Unless they fled before the attack.”
“Fled to where?” Simion asked. “Where can they go that is safe from these…monsters?”
“They could go to Carsiun Keep,” Barthon said. “There are a number of Orders with barracks there. It is well-defended.”
“That is at least a half a day away from here,” Ten said. “We don’t know how long those things can attack. We’ve never seen them in the dead of night because we normally take care of them well before then. But we may find a trail of corpses from here to Carsiun, if any made it that far.”
“Gather any supplies you can find,” Barthon said. “If they attacked here in numbers before, they may do so again. Or they may not attack at all. But I think it would be prudent to get as far away from here as possible.”
Voicing their agreements, the group moved through the gate and into the abandoned town of Highcrest. There were more bodies inside of the town, far more than Barthon had expected to see. He guessed that more people from the countryside than just bandits had sought refuge here. And they had met their end here. Most of the townspeople didn’t even have weapons to defend themselves. Barthon knew that it could have been none other than the shadow beasts. There were no dead invaders, and he was positive that the bandits had indeed been defending. The only bodies he had ever seen disappear were those of the shadow beasts. They had to have attacked here in numbers greater than what his group had gone up against. He wondered if perhaps their numbers were dependent upon the size of the population they were trying to attack. It was, of course, only a guess. He had no way to prove it. Not until they made it to Carsiun Keep.

Barthon wandered through the mid-levels of the town. Simion had stuck by Quentin’s side, and Barthon didn’t bother asking the boy to accompany him instead. He knew he would only find a way to anger him again. He wondered if it was just the boy’s age that was making him act so strangely, or if it was the responsibilities that were weighing down on him. There were reasons why becoming a knight had an age requirement. You had to be physically and mentally ready for the responsibilities.
Most of the buildings were already ransacked, as if the defenders had indeed tried to flee and had grabbed as many supplies as they could. Barthon found a few bits of food that they could use, but the search was more of a hinder than a help. The longer they stayed here, the greater the chances that they would be attacked.
As the thought went through his head, he heard Inen cry out: “They’re here! Get ready!”

Barthon cursed himself for ordering the group to split up. He knew that there was a good chance they would be attacked, and he should have had them all ride straight through the town and back into the forested hills beyond. But what was done was done. The only thing he could do now was deal with it.
Barthon ran outside and looked around, staring out over the lower level of Highcrest. The only thing separating him from the drop was a small wooden fence. Beyond the wall of the lower level were the beasts. They were streaming in from everywhere, grouping near the gate of the wall. He could hear their beastly howls and growling as more and more of the monsters made their way to the town.
“Quentin!” Barthon yelled. The priest responded, waving up at him from the bottom. “Take Simion up to the top. Get him to Carsiun! We’ll make a stand here until you get a good distance ahead.”
Quentin was already making his way up the winding street as Barthon spoke. “Don’t make any unnecessary sacrifices!” Quentin yelled up at Barthon as he and Simion, leading their two horses, approached. “The boy needs you yet. The world needs you. We’ll do this together.”
“No, Quentin,” Barthon said. The priest had nearly reached him, breathing heavily from the exertion of the uphill run. Simion seemed unaffected. “Simion is far more crucial than I am. He claims to have had dreams from Zephiris. If that’s true, then you will need him to find Her.”
“And he needs you…”
“Do as I say, Quentin. We won’t be far behind you.” A few words stumbled out of the priests mouth, but he quickly gave up. With a sharp nod at Simion, the two resumed the sprint up the winding street. Simion gave Barthon one long look, and then turned to face the road ahead. Barthon let out a deep breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. What had he expected from Simion? A tearful goodbye?
Pounding at the gate of the bottom level brought Barthon’s attention back to the more pressing matter. Brenard was suddenly at his side.
“Ten and Inen are still on the bottom level,” Brenard said. “They seem intent on holding their ground.”
“No,” Barthon said. “We aren’t holding here. Not for very long anyway. Those things killed every living being in this town, and I’m sure we will meet the same fate. We need to draw them away, give them a chase that will give Quentin and Simion the chance to get to Carsiun.”
“What if more of them are ahead of us, between here and the keep?”
“Quentin is a veteran, and Simion has had your guidance. And they both have a good head on their shoulders. I’m sure they will be fine.”
Brenard smiled. “Well then, to the horses!”

The darkness of night was quickly descending over the town, and the streets were covered in increasingly dark and prevalent shadows. As they ran down the short stretch of road to the horses and their two companions, Barthon’s heard constantly leapt into his throat as shapes in the shadows had him thinking the beasts had already come inside.
“Ten! Inen!” Barthon yelled out as they reached the houses. “Get out here!”
Barthon quickly prepared his horse as he waited for the two, and Brenard did the same. The pounding against the wall was getting louder, and the stream of shadows near the gate looked as if the beasts were beginning to pour inside. Ten and Inen came out just in time. They both looked angry at Barthon, as if he were leading them to their death. As if hiding in a stone house was going to save them from a herd of monsters seemingly composed of nothing but darkness. Barthon steeled his gaze and voice as he gave his orders.
“Get on your horses, and quick. Quentin and Simion are on their way to Carsiun Keep, and we are going to give them the chance to get there.”
“You’d better hope that place is still among the living, Barthon. Or you might have sent that boy to his doom.”
“Let’s ride,” Barthon said, openly ignoring her statement. Inside, he had been questioning that very same decision, wondering if letting Simion out of his sight would ever be a smart thing.
He turned his destrier and spurred it forward, riding upward to the top of the cliff. The three remaining members of the group followed right behind him. The animal sounds were getting closer, and Barthon knew that they were indeed streaming in after them. He pushed his destrier harder, trying to get as much distance between them and the beasts as he could. As soon as they reached the top level, he led his companions to the west, away from civilization. His only plan now was to ride until the sun came up, however far that took them.

Carsiun Keep, Mandor ~ Night of DAY 8

Simion rode along side Quentin in silence. It seemed as if shadows were pressing in all around them. Simion wondered if perhaps they were being herded to some greater danger, or if he was just imagining the movement around them. He had learned quickly that fear would do strange things to your perceptions.
“The best defense against fear,” Barthon had once told him, “is to acknowledge that you are afraid. And then deal with it.” Barthon had made him realize that if you knew you were afraid, you could control your level of fear. If you refused to acknowledge it, then the fear would just increase because you would give more solidity to your faulty perceptions. Simion tried to acknowledge that he was afraid, which wasn’t really all that hard to do. But his knowledge of that fact didn’t seem to make the swiftly moving shadows alongside them any less real.
Simion could see lights ahead of them, peeking in and out of the forest canopy. At first he had thought they were stars, but as they got nearer to where the Keep was supposed to be, Simion realized that the lights were getting larger and brighter. His heart lifted as he realized they were nearing Carsiun.
“I can see it, Quentin!” Simion yelled out. “I can see lights.”
“So can I, boy. Keep going!”
Sensing his urgency, Simion’s palfrey sped up, using every reserve of its energy to reach the walls of the keep ahead. Simion focused on those lights beyond the trees, trying to forget about the shadows pressing in on them. The terrain had leveled out since leaving Highcrest, but it was once again rising. The trees were beginning to thin again, and Simion knew they were reaching what Barthon had once told him all keeps and castles had: a clearing of several hundred feet in which no trees grew. If they made it into that clearing, then the guards of the keep would see them and they would be safe. If Carsiun still stood.

The trees disappeared suddenly, and they were riding over hard, level ground before the high walls of Carsiun Keep. Simion’s heart was rising into his throat. Guards lined the walls of the keep, bows drawn and arrows pointing down into the killing field. The torches along the parapet at the top of the wall cast flickering lights along the wall and field below, making it seem as if the area was alive with swarming shadows. For all Simion could tell, it was. Quentin rushed ahead of Simion, racing straight toward the gate. Simion was sure he would hit the solid gate without it moving, and they would die out here with the guards watching. But, as Quentin reached the gate, the steel-reinforced double-paneled gate swung open with just enough room for the two of them to slip through, Simion and his palfrey just behind Quentin and his horse.
Quentin reined his horse in, coming to a halt in the middle of a large courtyard. Simion did his best to mimic the maneuver, but it resulted in him doing a couple of slow circles around the priest as his palfrey attempted to adjust to Simion’s jerky commands. Guards streamed in around them.
“From where do you hail, traveler?” one of the guards asked.
“I am Quentin, a priest of Zephiris from the Chapel of St. Roul in Dor. The boy is Simion Altus, page to Sir Barthon Camlin of the Order of Gedrich in Aram. We’ve come seeking shelter for the night. It seems the country side is hostile to travelers of late.”
“Indeed it is, though you will hardly find rest here. These beasts attack every night. The walls keep most of them at bay, but the flying ones have caused some real havoc.”
“Flying?” Quentin asked.
“Aye, flying. I’ve not seen anything like them before, though of course I’ve never seen any living, breathing shadow either.”
“How long do the attacks last?” Quentin asked.
“As long as the night does, usually.
“How many refugees have come in from Highcrest and the countryside?” Quentin asked.
The guard shook his head slowly, a grim look on his face. “None have come. We’ve sent patrol out, but none of them have returned. We sent a large force to Highcrest itself but they never came back. We can’t afford to send out any more. We’ve lost enough men as it is.”
“I understand, uh…” Quentin stuttered as he realized he hadn’t yet been told the guards name.
“Captain Renualt,” the guard supplied. “Acting Captain, actually. Most of our officers have been incapacitated or killed.”
“What about Barthon and the others?” Simion asked Quentin.
“I don’t know, boy. I don’t know. We will pray for their safety, but we should probably pray for our own.”
“No offense, priest, but praying won’t do you much good here. If you want to survive, you will need to make use of that sword.” Renualt pointed at the sword hanging from Quentin’s belt. “I assume you’ve had some experience with it?”
“Yes, Captain. I’ve spent my share of years in the service of the king.”
Renualt smiled.
“Captain!” yelled one of the guards from the wall. “They’re attacking!”
Renualt’s smile faded as he reverted back to his training. “To your positions!”
Simion’s heart jumped at the sound of a screech. He knew immediately that it didn’t come from a human.
“What was that?” Simion asked. Captain Renualt turned away without answering Simion, instead shouting more orders to the soldiers under his command.
“Let us move somewhere safer, Simion,” Quentin whispered to him.
“Fire!”
Simion turned back to the wall as the twang of bowstrings filled the air. He couldn’t see the arrows, but he could tell that the soldiers were shooting at something in the air beyond the wall. Again Simion heard the screech. Moments later a shadow seemed to appear over the wall, streaming down toward the courtyard. He couldn’t tell what it looked like, only that it was larger than any of the shadows he had seen before. When the shadowy beast struck the side of the central keep, the entire grounds seemed to shake, and then beast literally disintegrated like all the others had, its smoky tendrils rising back up into the air and drifting off with the wind.
Noticing the surprised look on Quentin’s face, Simion didn’t bother asking the priest what it was supposed to be. Instead, Quentin grabbed Simion’s sleeve, and Simion allowed the priest to pull him along to the interior of the keep. More guards burst out from the heavy wooden door that marked the entrance to the keep. Quentin halted, pulling Simion behind his thin, robed form as the armored men streamed around them, making their way to their positions throughout the keep’s courtyard.
Simion could hear the flutter of wings, and as he looked up he could saw several swirling forms blocking out the stars in the sky, and even the moons themselves. The soldiers were shooting arrows into the air above them, hoping to hit any of the shadowy beasts above them. A few shapes fell from the sky, dispersing into swirling tendrils carried along by the wind before they ever hit the ground.

Carsiun Keep, Mandor ~ dawn of DAY 9

Barthon pulled his horse away from the creek, looking gratefully over his shoulder at the slowly rising sun in the distance. The run had been long and difficult, and Barthon had been worried of running Aramis to death. The shadows had refused to disperse until the first rays of light began streaming over the eastern horizon. He wasn’t sure where the rest of the group had gone, though he assumed they would all meet up at Carsiun. They had split up to reduce the number of shadows chasing them, and hopefully to confuse them.

Barthon mounted Aramis once more and headed toward Carsiun Keep. Barthon thought that he had seen flying shadows at some point through the night, and it made him worry greatly for Simion’s safety. The walls of Carsiun would keep out most of the shadow beasts, but targeting a flying shadow at night would be a difficult challenge for the most skilled archer. Barthon was worried of over-taxing the destrier, but he couldn’t put it off any longer. He needed to find Simion and make sure the boy was alright.
Barthon started off at a steady trot, slowly increasing his pace as he measured Aramis breathing and control. As he was reassured the destrier would be fine, he increased their pace to a run. The keep wasn’t far away. He had circled the keep several times throughout the night, not wanting to stray too far but not wanting to get too close either. For all he knew, their efforts of drawing away the shadows may have been enough to save the keep. But he had a fear that their efforts were in vain.
It wasn’t long before he saw the tall tower of the keep in the gray light of dawn. But the sight of that tower didn’t reassure him. The tower had been broken, the top of it completely gone. The bottom half of the tower shaft was topped with jagged, broken stones. Barthon urged Aramis to go faster. Soon the wall itself was in view. The main gate was splintered, with gaps large enough for a man to squeeze through. Barthon rode Aramis all the way up to the gate and dismounted. He peered through the gate, not yet daring to step inside. The courtyard was littered with dead bodies.
The sound of pounding horse hooves forced him to tear his gaze away. Ten Eych appeared from within the forest, riding fast through the barren field that separated the tree line from the keep’s walls. Ten’s eyes widened as he saw the gate.
“I saw the tower…” Ten said as he stopped by Barthon. “Are they…?”
“I don’t know yet,” Barthon replied. “There are bodies in the courtyard, but it can’t be all of them. Let us wait for the rest before we go inside.”
“But what if they are still in danger? What if they need us?” Ten argued, pointing toward the keep.
“It is daylight, Ten. The shadows are gone. Whatever is still happening in there, it can wait a few more moments. I don’t want Brenard and Inen to think we haven’t arrived, or have since come and gone.”
Before Ten could argue the point, Barthon heard the sound of more horses in the distance.
“They’re here,” Ten said.
Brenard and Inen rode through the empty field side-by-side, both of them looking as worried as Ten had when they saw the gate.
“Did they survive?” Inen asked?
“We don’t know,” Ten replied. “We haven’t gone in yet. Barthon wanted to wait for you.”
“Well, we are here now,” Brenard said, dismounting. “Let’s waste no more time.”
Nodding in agreement, the group squeezed through the splintered openings in the gate. The courtyard, as Barthon had already seen, was filled with dead defenders. Unsurprisingly, there was no sign of the invaders, the shadows that had suddenly sprung up to invade their lands like demons from a nightmare.
“This can’t be all of them,” Inen remarked.
“Let’s look inside the keep,” Barthon said. As they made their way toward the keep, Barthon saw the heavy wooden door that marked its entrance; at least, what was left of it. It seemed to have been knocked off of its hinges, most of it broken apart until only the edges were left standing, even at such an awkward angle.
“That doesn’t look good,” Ten remarked.
The group continued pushed their way through the debris of the door, knocking over more of it in the process.
“Hello!” Ten yelled. His call echoed through the dark halls.
Barthon pulled a torch from its sconce on the wall.
“I’ll light it,” Inen offered, rummaging through one of her pouches. She pulled out a firestick, and struck the end of it against the wall. The end of the firestick erupted in flame, and Barthon quickly held the torch over it until the flames exhausted themselves. The light of the torch lit a small portion of the hall, enough for the group to see that more bodies lined the hallway. The rest of the group grabbed a torch as well, and Barthon shared the flame of his own torch to light theirs.
“Let’s continue,” Barthon said. “If Simion is here, I will find him.”
The hall seemed to spiral around the edge of the keep. At the end of the hall, after the third left turn, they reached a spiral stairway. Barthon led the descent, his torch lighting blood smeared across the stone walls and steps.
“I hate to say this, Barthon,” said Inen from behind him. “But I don’t think anyone survived here.”
Barthon didn’t answer. His logic told him that what she said was correct, but he couldn’t allow his logic to overcome his hope. He believed Simion was still alive somewhere down here; he had to believe it. For some reason, he found himself repeated his thoughts in his head, identifying images and scents and feelings and recording them in his head with the intention of recording them later. He couldn’t understand what was driving him to write these things down, but he knew this was an experience he would never forget. When he did sit down to write it out, he knew it would come back to him vividly. He just hoped he wouldn’t be describing Simion’s dead, mangled body as he came across it in the darkness of the depths of the keep.
The stairwell ended and they walked out into a large chamber. More bodies filled the chamber, though there were fewer than they had seen in the halls and the courtyard outside. Barthon wasn’t sure if that meant that fewer had died here, or the defenders were simply fewer in number by the time they reached this point. At the end of the chamber was another heavy wooden door. This door, unlike the others, was still standing despite the apparent damages. There were claw marks and small holes puncturing the door, but nothing large enough for anyone to get through. Maybe a mouse, Barthon thought. He hoped there weren’t any disease carrying shadow mice among their seemingly-infinite numbers. Barthon shook his head at the thought. He realized he was carrying it too far…looking for despair when instead he should be seeing signs of hope.
Ten Eych ran up to the door and tried to pull it open. It wouldn’t budge.
“They probably have it barred,” Barthon said. “Let me help you.”
With the group pressing against the door, the already damaged locks and bars finally gave way. The room was well lit, and it was filled with bodies. Barthon had to look twice to realize what he was really seeing. These men weren’t dead. They were sleeping.

Barthon’s heart nearly stopped when he spotted Simion and Quentin. Quentin was leaning against a stone bench near the back of the room, one hand holding his sword and the other covering Simion, he was asleep against his chest.
“Ha!” yelled Ten, pumping his fist in the air. The room exploded into motion, the groggy soldiers around them jumping to their feet and drawing their swords, if they hadn’t already been holding them. Barthon held up his hands.
“Hold it! We’re friends!” He glared at Ten, but the big man was too busy preparing to defend himself.
“Barthon!” Simion jumped up and ran to his mentor, wrapping his arms around Barthon despite the knight’s bulky armor. “I thought you were dead!” Simion said.
“We thought the same of you,” Brenard said.
Barthon smiled and nodded at Quentin as the man stood up, looking a bit shaken and extremely tired. The priest nodded back, recognizing the gratitude in Barthon’s eyes.

Carsiun Keep, Mandor ~ morning of DAY 9

“It is more important now than ever that we find Zephiris,” Barthon said as the group prepared for their departure.”
“It does seem apparent that these two events are related,” Quentin said. “The appearance of the shadows as well as the return of Zephiris.”
“Yes,” Brenard agreed, “but what does it mean?”
“It means She needs us,” Simion said.
Barthon glanced at the boy, and simply nodded.
“We’ll make our way to Aram,” Renualt said. He was surrounded by the survivors of Carsiun Keep, less than a hundred soldiers and workers. “Are you sure you don’t want to accompany us? You know, by now, how dangerous it is out here.”
“We do know,” Barthon responded. “But we won’t be going with you.”
“Alright,” Renualt said. “I don’t understand what you hope to achieve, but may Zephiris guide you to it.”
“She will,” Simion said, smiling.

The groups split, and Knights of Zephiris made their way up the steep trail that began just behind the now abandoned Carsiun Keep.

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Stion Gyas on Mon Mar 01, 2010 8:27 pm

Elister, Sephalia. ~Evening of DAY 7

The placement of their orders took several hours. Long hours, in the case of Tuula Brendersen. The Elementalist hated cities, even the smaller scaled ones such as Elister. The city’s walls, some thirty feet in height, held out the wind as well as enemies. This stifled the city, filling it with the stench of humans pressed close.

The Twins were on their way back to the harbor. The captain would have gotten a space at dock by now, and the crew would be itching to spend their hard-earned coin. As they worked their way through the streets, the sounds of shops closing and taverns opening filled their ears. The sun, now a red orb, hung seeming inches above the outer walls. It sunk quickly as Tuula watched, and the moment it touched the top of the wall a horn blasted.

Ahuuuuuuuuuuuu!

The sound echoed through the city, bouncing from buildings. All movement ceased.

Ahuuuuuuuuuuuu! Ahuuuuuuuuuuuu!

The horn sounded twice more, a call of alarm. Shouts emanated from the walls, and shapes appeared among the crenellations. Tuula looked long at his sister.

“Elister is under attack, sister.” He spoke in a calm voice. The Twins were veterans of many battles, and sported their fare share of scars.

“The crew can wait,” Was her reply. She felt the bow slung from her back, and pulled it free. She stepped through the shaft, bent it, and stringed the weapon. “Let us do what we can to assist.”




The Twins’ rush through the city brought them to the courtyard. The gates had begun to close, but masses of shadows had already poured through the gap. Lines of guardsmen blocked causeways and alleys. With each flash of blade or axe, shadows burst into smoke, but it was clearly a hopeless fight. Soldiers held the wall, but only just.

Tuula held up his hand, and the Twins halted their forward hurtle. He began to hum in his deep voice, and soon Draconic flowed from their lips. As they sang, the wind picked up, and sound muffled. The air around the pair stilled and grew cold. The wind reached a torrent, whipping hair and clothes about.

Carefully, the Twins focused the wind into the gate. Painfully slowly, the gates closed. The doors of bronze-wrapped oak crushed any in its path. With a solid boom, the gates closed fully. Finally, the horde of shadows began to thin. Soon, the courtyard was clear of invaders.

Tuula and Tuuli followed the soldiers to the ramparts. Below, some movement flickered, but it was mostly still. Several men tossed torches as far as they could, and revealed little. The majority of the thread had been eliminated in the courtyard. Seeing no further threat, the Twins left to return to their ship.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Sun Apr 11, 2010 5:27 pm

Day 7 – the flight towards Oliphey

As soon as the dead were buried and damaged wagons hastily repaired, the remaining members of the caravan crew gathered around Katerina and Mualane. As was customary, when a member of the crew was killed, his or her belongings and their share of ownership in the caravan itself was divided among the others. It was always a solemn affair, a reminder that but for the grace of Zephiris, it might be their own belongings that were being divided. Given the 20 percent share Nunda had accumulated, it took some time to accomplish this task. But none argued the distribution. Katerina had always been generous in her allocations. Nunda and Pretty’s clothing were tied into bundles to be given to the poor in Oliphey as it was considered bad luck for a member of the same crew to wear a dead man’s clothes. Many believed that Death would mistake the new owner as the dead man and come for him again. Old superstitions died hard in their life.

As soon as was possible, Katerina rode down the line of wagons, speaking to each passenger. She had to ensure they weren’t so panicked by the previous night’s attack that they would be a greater danger to themselves by not following her orders when the time came. She could see many small huddles of people around the breakfast fires and their conversations died down as she approached. But, having dealt with similar situations before, she knew how to deal with it. She looked each passenger in the eye, offered a firm handshake and spoke to each sincerely. She knew that keeping them involved in what she planned was the best way to ease their minds and to make them feel as if they were part of the crew. Uncertainty was always the most dangerous enemy.

Katerina’s speech was generally the same for each group or individual she spoke to; “I must express my deepest sympathies for your loss. I know words alone can offer no relief. But never have I been prouder of any group I have had under my guidance. Your stout bravery was an inspiration.” She’d pause and allow the passengers to shake off their fear and to feel a bit more in control before continuing. “We are a full day from Oliphey and I see no reason to believe our night will be risk-free. So I ask that you continue to show what you are made of one more day and night. We will stop on the shore of Lake Barcoula and close a tight circle with pikes all about. Only the non-combatants will sleep.” She smiled, “You saw how easily the shadow creatures were defeated. If we are vigilant, we shall be fine.” Before moving away, she would add one last order, “Everyone rides today. I want time at the lake shore to set up in the daylight.”

The caravan moved at a faster pace than would normally be advised to keep the draft animals in good shape. But, every single person within the caravan had the demons of the previous night’s attack plaguing their memories. Kate remained moving on her mule, he was tireless and strong. She kept an eye out for anyone that looked as if their own internal arguments might over-ride common sense and force them into a foolish decision. She had years of experience seeing the signs. Ordinarily it happened in the narrow mountain passes, never in the lush plains. She found herself returning time and again to Dunger, a tinsmith. She watched his eyes grow wider and sweat forming on his upper lip. Oddly like a panicked horse, she thought to herself. Though Kate spoke to him 4 or 5 times over the course of the day, she could see his fear mounting.

When they stopped for a break for the animals to rest, he and a few others approached her. “I have to say, Captain, I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all!” Dunger’s voice was high and squeaked against his will. “You have been proved wrong and people died! I don’t want to be one of them!” Kate let him have his say, though his words stung. “How do we know that these creatures didn’t attack because we were so large? I for one don’t want to be anywhere near if we’re attacked again.” Murmured sounds of agreement sounded through the gathering crowd.

Mualane paused beside Kate when he saw her being braced by the contingent of passengers. “The Captain knows what she’s doing. You don’t. Best listen to her.” Some looked at the giant and back to Kate an wandered away. But, most wanted to be reassured and needed to hear how Kate would answer Dunger’s accusation.

“Master Dunger, while getting ‘away’ from the caravan might seem a good plan to you, use some sense. Out on your own, you will have no protection at all and will be an easy target for these Shadow creatures as well as wolves or bandits. Only with the rest of the caravan can we ensure our safety. You cannot look out in all directions at once.” Her jaw clenched slightly, “My contract with each and every one of you stated we would protect you with our lives. We have proven that. But if you chose to separate from us, I will not come after you.”

For most of those in the crowd, that last assurance was all that was needed. But Dunger and 2 others still stubbornly refused to be swayed. “And we lost some of our own! You didn’t protect them, did you?” Dunger stepped into Kate’s personal space and snarled, “We demand a refund and a map to get us to Oliphey on our own. We’ll be damned if we’ll stay with you and be slaughtered.”

Mualane began to speak up, incensed, but Kate put up her hand to stop him. “Very well, Dunger. Mualane, pay him and provide him a chart. Redistribute the guards and wagon order, cutting them out. Move our crew to close up ranks.” Those cold orders given, Kate looked back at the slightly taken aback Dunger. “Zephiris be with you, Master Dunger.” With that, she spun on her heel and walked away calm on the outside, but fuming on the inside. Damn fool will be dead before morning. She thought to herself.

After a half hour of shifting wagons and cutting out the three rebellious merchants, the caravan began moving once more. The three left behind remained still for some time, as if in disbelief that they were truly on their own. Kate made certain their own ranks were kept tight and spent the rest of the day riding up and down the line keeping the wagons in order, even though this was usually the duty of her crew. At one point, she paused by the cloth merchant’s wagon, where the red-eyed merchant’s wife patted at her eyes with a kerchief to mop her tears. “Oh Captain….such a tragedy. First you lose Pretty, then that nasty man, Dunger causes trouble.” She sniffled loudly. “They’re going to die, aren’t they? Oh dear….such bad luck. It’s an omen, I’m sure of it.”

Kate collected herself a few moments before smiling at the puffy-faced woman, “Never fear, Mistress. I am still bound by my contract. I have 2 of my crew following them to ensure they do not go astray. If they come to trouble, they will be lead back to the caravan.” She paused and added, “Once I make an agreement, I keep it.” It was a subtle dig against Dunger. Kate also knew that the cloth merchant’s wife was a supreme gossip, so that news would spread through the caravan swiftly. Her reputation would be secure.

Finally, in the late afternoon, they came upon the shores of the lake that they’d be skirting to reach Oliphey the following day. The crew directed the wagons into a very tight circle backed up almost into the water on the shore. Water barrels were filled as usual and crates and boxes were stacked beneath the wagons to deny easy entrance there. Young trees were chopped down and sharpened to increase the defensive circle of pikes and spears the caravan already bristled with. It also gave everyone something to do to prevent the fear from settling in.

Night of day 7 – the flight towards Oliphey

Kate and Mualane set the crew and passengers of the caravan to eating in shifts and taking turns at the perimeter of the defensive circle. Only the non-combat capable were told to rest near the fires. It was unlikely, however if any of them slept at all. As the sun sank into the waters of the lake behind them, Kate could feel the tension rise within the passengers and even a few of her younger crew. She passed along the inside of the tightened circle of wagons until she came upon Darta Martrens. She was one of the rare Elves that had chosen to join the caravans to travel. Darta was all of five and a half feet tall and had the classic slender build of her kind. Her eyes were a soft gray with subtle green swirls within the color. Her pale hair was tied back other than two braids that framed her diamond-shaped face. She wore specially-tailored human clothes so no one knew her house or anything else about her. As was tradition, no questions were asked when she’d joined the caravan, so none knew what had brought her from her home lands. After joining the caravan, she’d taken a human name because her own name was too difficult to pronounce. Pausing beside the Elf, Kate watched the darkness with Darta in silence for a time. She knew that Darta could see and hear better than she could and would likely be one of the first to detect motion that might indicate an attack.

Finally breaking the silence, Kate murmured softly, “Darta, the passengers are becoming too afraid. They won’t be able to think soon. A song or two, if you please.” Darta had a hauntingly beautiful voice and knew many of the old folk songs favored by the humans. With that request, Kate moved on again. Soon, Darta’s clear voice could be heard in the still night. She’d chosen a light festival tune everyone knew. Slowly, one voice joined and then another and then a few more until most of the caravan had joined in. Having been asked to soothe nerves in this manner before; Darta kept the songs going for over an hour until her sharp hearing caught the noise of shambling and moaning from the surrounding wood. The light ashen-haired Elf drew her sword with the telltale ringing sound of steel on steel. This was the only signal needed to ensure the entire caravan knew that they were once more being stalked.

Hearing that singing sound of steel on steel, all of the defenders snapped to attention. The singing died instantly. Instead of being caught unawares as they had been the previous night, the passengers and crew of the caravan showed a grim determination to exact revenge on these abominations made of magic and Shadow. The creatures flowed from the darkened woods over the small clearing to the awaiting caravan. But as they threw themselves against the stiffened defenses, they were cut down or impaled themselves against the spears and pikes. As the Shadows died, they dissolved into smoke and their remains blew away on the breeze off the lake. The Shadows tried encircling the wagon, looking for an opening, but the few that squirmed into the interior were cut down instantly by the fear driven passengers. Again and again the Shadows threw themselves against the wagon train and again and again, they were rebuffed.

Suddenly in the midst of the attack, a shrill whistle and the pounding of hoof beats signaled the approach of several wagons. It was Dunger and his two companion wagons. Led by the two of her crew that had accompanied them, the horses drawing the wagons were flecked with foam and terrified. They all bore some sign of injury, though none looked dangerous. Mualane strode to the edge at the shore side of the protective circle. “Pull that wagon back! Gerard! Get over here! Mantou! We need a healer!” No one dare to disobey the giant man. The three wagons swept through the small gap provided and it was rapidly closed up once more behind them.

Several of the non-combatants rushed forward to care for the exhausted horses while Mantou, the Healer, hurried to the merchants to tend their wounds. Through all this activity, the Shadows kept up their assault. There seemed to be more and more with each assault. They tried to circle the caravan, but seemed to be stopped by the broad expanse of water at the back side of the circle. After several hours of fighting off the misshapen creatures, it was over. It was as if a tap had been turned off. Everyone waited, tensed, for a new round of attacks to commence. But there was nothing. Kate skirted the circle giving the defenders some time to rest and eat before returning to the circle. She was certain to praise the passengers and squeeze shoulders in companionable comraderie. She was as much diplomat as flamboyant horse trader.

Finally, she came to Dunger and his sheepish strays. The tinsmith looked at her defiantly, a bandage gracing his brow. Rather than scold the man, however, she merely smiled. “Welcome back, Master Dunger. It pleases me Zephiris watched over you.” With the wind totally taken from his sails, he could only blink at Kate as she went on, checking on every member of the caravan and assessing the damage.

Day 8 – The Gates of Oliphey

The caravan came to a desultory halt before the gates of Oliphey. Every man, woman, child and beast was exhausted, but grateful, to have arrived at their destination. Kate had driven them hard after the attack of the Shadow-creatures. She had nearly killed two horses herself in her constant riding up and down the line of wagons to whip up the stragglers. After the second attack, she had become determined to reach the safety of the city of Oliphey in a single day.

Mualane watched Kate with growing concern. She refused to sleep, refused to even sit for fear of falling asleep and having the dream come to her again. When he’d tried to approach her to slow the pace for the caravan, she snapped at him and reminding him she had not asked his counsel. When he calmly pointed out that she had no way of knowing that the attackers had been unnatural, she only shouted more loudly before walking away from him. The big mule-skinner frowned heavily, but as usual, kept his thoughts to himself.

The weather as they’d travelled seemed to match the mood of the Captain. It was dark with lowered, iron-gray clouds. It threatened a storm, but thus far only a light intermittent rain had fallen. It was enough to make the trail sodden with mud-filled ruts; every bone was jarred and every muscle ached with the cold and damp. Though the passengers did not know it, Kate was surprised to find the gates of the city closed. While it was past noon, they usually were able to ride directly inside to find their usual open space near the south wall. Not so today.

Riding to the head of the caravan, Kate shouted up to the watch tower, “Open the gate! We have wounded that require attention.” She swept her damp hat from her hair so the guards might see her face. “There is naught to fear here!”

Slowly, the gates opened and a hail bade them to enter the city. Rather than the usual bustle of activity, the streets were disturbingly silent. Few people were on the streets working or going about their business. There was no gaggle of children to greet them or to beg for candy. Mualane rode up beside Kate and they shared a disturbed look. “Me thinks they were also attacked, Kate. How wide-spread is this devilment?” Mualane asked his Captain in a soft aside.

Kate could only agree and couldn’t help but wonder if it was related in any way to her dreams. Shaking off that moment of self-indulgent thinking, Kate nodded to him and set him about setting up the camp and trading tents. “I don’t know, my friend. But I intend to find out. I’ll return in a short while.” She’d promised Pretty that she would seek a seer or Priest when they arrived. And she intended to keep that bargain too.


Last edited by Digital Muse on Sun Jun 27, 2010 8:43 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Thu May 06, 2010 3:20 pm

Sephalia > Fenwater ~ Early Morning of DAY 8

He had not slept properly for two days now and it was taking its toil on both mind and body. But he was content. Content with the victory they had achieved, content with the new opportunity that had presented itself. Barin was toying with the cup in his hand, studying its amber contents. But it was not the fiery liquid that his eyes saw, no, they were turned inward, to the past. The Baron was an old acquaintance of him. Their fathers had been friends for long years, but the old D'Armitage was senior by far. Barin was little more than a child when the old man passed away and his son, a man grown, had assumed his father's place. Since his early days the young Baron had proven to be a cunning politician, he forged new alliances, joined new lands to his holdings and strengthened his army and fleet. He also appeared to be viewing matters in the long-term, for he kept the Mirlands close for some reason. Why such a powerful and successful lord had need of his impoverished father, Barin never knew. But that was that and it had led to some changes in his life.

As a result of his father's friendship with the young D'Armitage, Barin had ended up as his ward and had spent more than a year in his company. He trained with his master-at-arms, studied history and letters with his learned men and gained from the Baron's own wisdom. The man was brutal and effective, with little regards for morals, but he had opened the young boy's eyes. As a Mirland, Barin had always been proud, but D'Armitage made him see for what he was. The heir of a ruined house, the last remnant of a once mighty line. It was devastating at first, but he soon had taken it to heart and had never forgotten that simple fact. And when the year was done, an offer was made. He could become the Baron's squire and, in time, become one of his knights and rule a castle in his name. A better chance than that he would never have, he knew that now, but at the time he was young and optimistic. Life had not thrown its refuse at him yet. The offer was turned down and he returned to his father's manor at Brookstone. How different would life be now he wondered. If only he had accepted. Men would call him "Lord" but not in jest, he would have lands and a keep and sworn swords of his own, but he would still have to bend the knee to those above him. Those who were once his family's vassals.

No. There was no point on dwelling on the past, that road was barred to him now. And his knees had grown stiff, for he had not bent them in many a year. And still, was it not ironic that he would sell himself to the very same man who was the first to try and buy him? Barin was a man of his craft however and he placed the Company before his personal concerns. There was profit to be had here, aye and more if they did their part well. Was some grudge, almost forty years old, an entire generation, going to hinder them? No. The Captain was a more calculating man than that. He had to be, if he wanted to stay in this line of work.

Suddenly, he found himself back in his tent, amongst the living and the present. The cup was still in his hand, as it had been for a time he did not care to remember. He brought it closer to his mouth and downed it in one go. He stood up, balancing himself on his weary legs and walked out. The camp sounds flooded his ears before he had even set the tent's flap aside. The Honourguard by the entrance saluted him, as always. The other members of The Hawks were busy preparing themselves for another long march. Barin had heard the men referring to him as the Iron Captain at times, this was one such occasion. They were tired from their journey and forced march through the forest, in addition to last night's battle. But they had to push on if they were to reach Lake Baracoula any time soon. He would have wanted nothing more than to let his men enjoy the mead and women of Fenwater, along with the rest of the defenders, but now was not the time. He hoped that the others would understand.

Sitting by one of the campfires he noticed some of his officers, along with older members of the Company. They were busy talking with a pair of young boys, from the village no doubt. When he approached them, his men greeted him joyously, praising his worth as a captain of men. Randor noticed him and beckoned his Captain closer.

"How can I help you, Seneschal?" - Barin asked

"Sir, I was about to go look for you. These two here. Lads from Fenwater, they were part of the militia. Now they want to join us."

Barin studied the two carefully. They were both young men, green as summer grass, but there was fire in their eyes. One of them was broad of chest and shoulder, with sandy hair and pale green eyes. A close-cropped beard covered his face, but his cheeks were still smooth and teeth still white and strong. He could not be more than twenty. He wore a plain tunic and breeches, both brown and ragged. A longsword hung from his waist. The other was leaner and stood a good head taller than his companion. He had black curly hair, black eyes and a long, somber face. His cheeks were freshly-shaved and there was a certain keenness in his eyes, the mark of an archer. True to his notion, Barin noticed a quiver and an arrow slung across his shoulder. Like the other, he was young and fresh and was no more than twenty. Both of them bowed their heads in greetings and awaited the Captain to address them. And address them he did.

"You seek to join us? We do not simply take anyone who comes our way, have you a witness who can vouch for you skill?"

"I can" - said a burly mercenary. Barin knew him for Tiron Halfinger, a loyal man and a solid soldier, despite him missing half of his middle finger. - "The fair-haired lad, Geren, he fell many a beast during the battle. His moves are clumsy, it cannot be denied, but he has promise."

Barin nodded. "What of the other?" - with that he turned to pierce the dark-haired youth with his gaze.

"Begging your pardon, m'lord. Not bragging or anything" - surprisingly, the lad spoke for himself - "but I be the best bloody bow 'round these parts. Ask anyone in the village. Only One-Eyed Timman was better, but he ain't no more. Not since he lost his remaining eye in the battle."

Barin turned towards Geren with a curious expression on his face.

"Is true Cap'n, Silan 'ere, he always spent more time with that bow o' his than anyone else."

Another nod, this time when his eyes found the swordsman again, they lingered there, as they had for the archer.

"Tell me, boy, have you ever killed a man before?"

"Of course, sir...I killed many o' them beasts last night."

"I asked if you had killed a man before, not a beast. A human being like you and me, who breathes and thinks and cries. Have you seen how the fire is extinguished from his eyes, with your sword stuck in his gut? Have you?"

"N-no."

"And you, archer" - he turned towards Silan - "what of you? Have you slain a man before? Have you looked on as the arrow you loosed pierces his throat and he chokes on his own blood?"

"Nay, m'lord."

"I am not your lord." - he waved dismissively - "You are green, but we will make something out of you. That said, will your Commander begrudge you to me? I do not want to steal some of his best men."

"We've already up 'n' left, sir." - informed him Silan

"That is bold of you. What will you do if I turn you down? Go back to your militia with your tails between your legs?"

"We've decided to go for a bit o' adventure, as it were, Cap'n" - said Geren, this time - "If you were to turn us down, 'course."

The Captain gave them another nod and turned towards the dwindling fire, hands folded behind the small of his back, his eyes studying the fiery tongues. When he spoke a few moments later, his voice was quieter and grimmer than usual.

"You leave behind home and kin, a loved one too perhaps. You are healthy boys, skilled with sword and bow. You village is prosperous, you will live a bountiful and peaceful life and have the means to defend it, if need be. And you will set all that aside...for this?" - he waved his hand around in no particular direction. Letting there eyes wander around the camp. The small fires, the bare tents, the cumbersome backpacks. The weary and bruised faces, the muscled and scarred hands, the heavy, dented armour that chafed at one's shoulders.

"If you would have us, aye." - said Geren

Barin turned towards them again and this time pointed a finger at the boy, somewhat accusingly.

"You say so now, but what of tomorrow? It will be a different day, a different time. You see us as heroes now, but we are not. We are not the knights from the tales, we are not the King's men who would protect the weak and defenseless. No. We fight for this." - with that, he took his pouch and emptied it on the ground, letting copper and silver and gold fall.

"Coin is the dirtiest thing in the world. It is touched from lowliest beggar to highest lord. You would throw your honour, your lives, yourselves for this?"

They looked both taken aback for a moment, but only that. They replied at the same time, a soft aye.

"You would throw yourselves, but what of others you hold dear? We are the heroes now, the proud defenders, but what if we were to return tomorrow as the conquerors? We hold no allegiance but to that." - he pointed at the pile of coins - "Can you burn down the house where you were born? Can you slay the man you played games with as a child? Can you?"

"If we must." - said Silan

"If needed." - echoed Geren

So they were determined to go on with this. There was no way to turn these children away from the bloody path which they had begun to tread. Better he take them, than some band of outlaws. He would need good men too in the following months, if these shadows were any sign of things to come.

"We shall see." - a pause followed, before he spoke again - "You have convinced me. I will take you. Kneel. Kneel so that you can swear your oath."

The boys were quick to do so, they were eager indeed. And when their knees bent, a road of laughter was heard throughout the camp. Man and woman, everyone who was gathered around the scene laughed. Barin loudest of all.

"Rise. You are mercenaries, not some bloody knights." - he said with a smile on his face, before he returned to his usual strict self - "You will say no vow, nor sign any contract, you are free to go when you please. But" - he looked at each in turn - "if you think to shame me by running or deserting, I swear on my father's name I will have your heads. "

The two lads were confused, they both went for a smile at first, thinking it to be another jape. But the stone-face before them and the utter lack of sound from the mercenaries around the fire made it all to be one very unpleasant truth.

"We do not abide cravens. We do not abide marauders. We do not abide thieves. We do not abide murderers. The penalty for each is death. Remember that."

His harsh words had taken some of the enthusiasm from them, that was good. The last thing he needed was some over-eager recruit getting himself killed due to his arrogance. The Captain unsheathed the sword hanging from his waist and with a casual motion pointed it at Geren.

"Now let us see if you are as good as you say. Attack me, lad."

"B-b-bu-"

Barin frowned. He lashed out with his left hand and gave the youth a backhanded slap, luckily for him, the Captain's hand was not mailed. Barin was a strong man, however, and the hit sent the boy to the ground. Blood was beginning to cover Geren's face.

"Obedience. You will do as your at told." - he said in a cool voice - "No man or woman here questions my word." - it was not a boast, merely a fact.

"At me. Again."

He watched as the boy, dismayed, rose to his feet. He grasped his sword more firmly this time and hesitated again. But only for a moment. Geren leapt forward and delivered a powerful overhead blow, putting all his weight behind it. His muscles rippled beneath his thin tunic.

Barin parried it as if it was a mere tap. He did not give the boy time to regain his footing, but instead launched an attack of his own. A swift blow, single-handed. The other blade clumsily moved in to parry, but the Captain's arm was strong as steel. He sent the boy to the ground again, kicking his sword away in the process. When that was done, he sheathed his sword and nodded approvingly. He then offered a hand to Geren and pulled him to his feet.

"Companionship. Every man or woman you see here is your brother or sister, as long as you march with me. When you fall, they will pull you up. The same is expected of you."

He walked away from them, stopping briefly by the fire to issue his last commands.

"Ratibor will tell you what you need to know." - he turned to his Seneschal after that - "We leave within the hour."

Sephalia > Northern Greenwood ~ Morning of DAY 9

"You take care of yourself, you bloody bastard, eh?"

Those where Rin's parting words. He was a stern and gruff man and had never been exposed to the thing called "manners". But Barin knew that what he said came from the heart, it was the old man's way of expressing his affinity for the Captain. He could not hope for any better than that. The Sergeant had made it clear that he no longer wished to continue with this vocation, the only thing he had known in his life. Despite his earlier fears he had braved the Battle of Fenwater just fine escaping without even a scratch. Not due to cowardice, it must be said. The old man still had in him, that was the truth. And yet, everyone was free to go as they please, provided they had the Captain's leave. And for this man, he gave it gladly. This man who was there to help the young lord out of Brookstone become the leader of men that he was today. This man who had created this Company with his own two hands, providing training and knowledge and discipline. Barin could not ask more of him.

"I will, you be certain of that. It is you who should be weary, the way is long and the roads are dangerous" - he gave him a mocking smile.

Rin lived in one of the northern coastal towns, a humble place for a humble man. He had been born and raised there. Although he had spent most of his life away from it, in the company of his fellow mercenaries. Still, his wife and children were located there, so that was as good a home as any. And now the time had come for him to leave, for the path they followed forked. One led northwards, to the northern-most reaches of the Greenwood and the coast-lands below, to Rin's hometown. The other would take The Hawks further eastwards, towards the heartlands and Lake Barocula.

"Hah. Let 'em try." - Rin laughed, he was not very experienced in doing so - "The young nowadays? Bunch of weaklings, some soft-handed bandit can't trouble me. In fact, I urge 'em to try. Can't allow her to go all rusty now, can I?" - he patted his longsword

"Regardless, I wish you an uneventful journey. And do not try to go off on some adventure, you have a wife and sons and a daughter waiting for you. Surely they are anxious to see your ugly mug again."

The other gave him a nod. "You know me, Cap'n. I...I'm not good with long speeches. Not like you, probably why I never lead a bunch o' me own."

Barin was close to being startled. Such a mood in the Sergeant he had never seen. And as they were standing there, beneath the trees, wrapped in their cloaks to ward off the morning chill, he saw him for what he was. An old, done man, with snow in his hair and uncertainty in his voice. The only answer he had for that was silence, it was oft more useful than words.

"I'm not good with the whole farewell thing, I say things as I see 'em. You know that" - he continued - "It's been good knowing you Barin Mirland, you are a man worthy o' respect and fear. It's been an honour. Come visit sometime, eh?"

"I will. You have my word."

"Aye, aye. That word o' yours, better than gold some have said." - Rin gave him a grin - "Well, I best be off. Got a long way t' go and I'm already freezing my arse off standing here."

The Sergeant extended his hand to Barin, which he grasped firmly. As they made contact, the Captain could not help but notice the strength in the other's fingers. Old he may be, but years of training and fighting had made his grasp iron. Barin did not doubt that if the "old man" gave him a hard enough squeeze, he would break his fingers. And as they stood there, holding each other, he looked at him dead in the eye.

"Thank you, Rin. You were a good mentor and a true friend."

"Aye. So were you." - he smiled as he nodded. And quick as that, he turned around and started walking. Barin's eyes followed. Soon, Rin was out of sight, out of the forest and out of his life.

As Barin made his way back to the camp, for the Sergeant had already bid his farewells with the others and was escorted for a time by the Captain, thoughts flooded his mind. The former Sergeant was one of those men who were born in a hovel. They had hard childhoods, most died before they had to shave. Those that lived on would work the earth or spend their hours in some workshop. When the call to war came, either by lord or coin, they would march and kill, pillage and rape. And when all was said and done, they would sheath their swords, gather what belongings they had and go back home. They would either marry the neighbour's daughter or return to the wife they already had. And that was all. Death followed and their sons would have a similar tale to tell. Was life so pointless? And was he, Barin Mirland, so different? He thought himself free. He who had been born a lord, bound by a rigid hierarchy of blood. And yet, what was his escape? He had fled from one, only to be bound in another. A hierarchy of death and coin. Life was cruel, he thought, and it always forced you into a loop, visible or not. He sighed as he mused over his powerlessness.

As he neared the camp, however, his mind focused on more immediate concerns. The Hawks were disciplined but the lack of a second Sergeant to keep watch over the men would be felt soon enough. And yet one could not be chosen without a Mustering, such was the custom. This, however, was neither the place or time for such an event. No, they would have to wait until they reached the lake. That seemed as good a place as any, D'Armitage's men would no doubt provide him with information on what was to follow. And they would have a moment's respite, he hoped. That would provide enough material around which a Mustering could be held. Yes, it would work perfectly.

Sephalia > Northern Greenwood ~ Early hours of DAY 12

He was getting used to this.

The moment he heard the footsteps outside his tent, Barin reached for his sword, positioned a short distance away from his bedroll. By the time the Seneschal entered, the Captain was already up, blade in hand. He immediately noticed that young Randor was wet, as well as frightened. This could not be good.

"That...would not be needed, Captain." - he pointed towards the sword.

Indeed, matters were bad, Barin understood. Swords and shields were one thing, a strong hand and a stout heart could easily ensure the day. But for this...whatever it was, no...he could tell something was wrong. With a soft sigh, he set the sword aside and went for his cloak, based on the man's appearance it was raining outside.

"What is it?" - he asked, as he fastened the cloak around his shoulders

"Treachery, milord. Treachery" - he paused for a while, searching for words - "It...one of the younger lads. His name is-"

"Spare me your silver-tongue, Seneschal. You are not a merchant's son any longer. I want to know what happened. Tell me. Now." - his mood was growing sourer by the minute

"S-stealing, sir. He stole from a fellow mercenary."

"Take me to them."

It was raining lightly outside, the tiny drops set upon the two men when they left the Captain's tent a few moments later. As always, the men of the Honourguard nodded as their liege passed by. He could not see their faces in the dark, but he could sense that they were grim. They moved swiftly, Randor with his energetic stride, his armour clanking; Barin deliberately, his leather boots sinking in the soft mud. He wore black breeches and a dark shirt, under his dark green cloak. Grim colours, for a grim occasion. Before long they came upon the gathering of men. It was dark and he could not see their faces, but silence, fear and hate hung heavily about the place. As any good captain would, Barin could sense the mood of his men. They made way for him. In the middle of the circle, there were two men, both unarmed, one of them was with bound hands.

Barin looked around disapprovingly, how could he weigh the guilt or innocence of a man if he could not even see his face?

"Get a fire going! Why are you standing around? Are you bewitched?!" - he barked out

Soon, two big fires illuminated the surroundings, casting a fiery glow to man and object alike. With his arms folded behind the small of his back, Barin listened to what had transpired. Adel, a Companion, had awoken to the sound of someone rummaging through his belongings. He had drawn his dagger, shoved it under the other's chin and turned him around for a better look. By that time, some of the others had gathered. To the surprise of all, it had turned out be another of their Company. A young lad by the name of Bragor, who had been a mercenary proper for some two years. The Seneschal called out witnesses one by one, while the Captain listened with an impassive expression. When all were heard, it was time to question the accused. He was not allowed to speak before that.

Barin was not quite certain why the boy had behaved thus. He was a Companion, silver hawk and all. He knew what awaited those who would raise their hand to steal from or strike a fellow. And yet, he had attempted theft and chosen a poor target. Adel was one of the better scouts they had. What could drive a young man to throw away his life like this? He must be desperate, the only question was: why?

"Bragor" - he began, in an even voice, showing no hint of emotion - "You are a Companion. You may demand a trial by combat or confess to your guilt. Either way, the time to talk is now."

Throughout the hearing, Bragor had remained with his eyes downcast. He had made no attempt to speak or move. Now he raised his head and his black eyes found the Captain's. They flinched, but he found the strength of will to look upon Barin again.

"I-I am guilty. I admit."

He was born in one of the southern cities and had received a better education than most lowborn could hope for. And yet, life had driven him to a mercenary's vocation. And now, with these words, it had led him to his grave.

"Why? You know well-enough what awaits those who would steal from a brother at arms."

"It...it...because of my sister, my lord. She's sick and cannot afford the medicine. What I did, it was out of love for my little sister. I beg pardon for what I did. I swear on my father's name I will do no such thing again."

There were some sympathetic murmurs coming from the crow around them. Adel appeared convinced as well, even Randor.

"Aye...family, blood bonds. It is a hard thing t' undo, m'lord. I forgive him for the crime." - said the scout

"While the offense is a fact, sir, the man's reasons are just." - echoed the Seneschal

"No." - Barin said firmly.

A silence settled over the camp once more, as the Captain slowly eyed his men with an annoyed expression. He began pacing around the offender.

"When I take you into my service" - he began, in a weary voice - "I ask for no oath. No spoken words. And yet, as any lord would, I offer you protection from your foes. Support in times of need. Advice in hours of doubt."

He paused and soon after stopped in front of Bragor. He could feel the warmth of his frightened breath, see the sweat gathered on his brow. The horror in his eye. For a moment he took pity on the man, but only for a moment.

"And now...this" - he waved his hand in no particular direction - "this is HOW YOU REPAY ME?!"

The last words echoed about the surroundings, the power of his voice penetrating the silence of the night. Barin drew his sword with one fluid motion.

"No...p-please mercy!" - the other squeaked.

This gave the Captain pause. He lowered the sword and looked about, then turned his attention to the traitor again.

"Untie him." - he said

Randor produced a dagger and with deft hands quickly cut the bonds that held the man in place. Bragor looked left and right uncertainly.

"I will give you mercy. The mercy of a man's death." - spoke the Captain

The other shivered and began sobbing, pleading for mercy. He knealt before Barin, continuing his ramblings.

"Stand up you bastard! Stand up! Have the decency to die like a man and not a dog!"

When that did not help, Barin simply took a step forwards, yanked the coward to his feet and drove his sword into his chest. He twisted, his own eyes never leaving those of the man he had killed. Bragor was dead before he fell face-down on the ground. When the deed was done, the Captain wiped his sword into his cloak. He returned it to its scabbard after that.

The camp could well be deserted, he thought. No man dared to move or even breathe. Everyone stood silent and still, waiting for the words to come. He would not disappoint them.

"He could have come to me. Asked me." - his voice was quiet, tired - "I would not have refused. You know I would not! Instead he spat in my face! You all do!"

He raised his voice, the anger in him bursting out.

"Discipline is what holds you bastards together! DISCIPLINE! Not loyalty to one another, not ideals, not me! It is fear! Aye, that as well as discipline! I cannot be lax in matters such as this! Today it is a theft, tomorrow you may begin murdering each other in your sleep!" - he stopped briefly, to further reinforce his point - "Forgiveness is for lords and priests to grant, we are soldiers and discipline is what we give."

By now his voice had returned to normal, measured and deep. He took a pouch from his belt and threw it at Randor, who grasped it nimbly.

"Make certain that this is delivered to his sister. Let her know that her brother died for her."

"Must she know the manner of his death?"

Barin glanced at the corpse at his feet, a dark pool had formed around it.

"No." - he looked up- "The rest of you. Burn the body and return to your sleep, we still have a long journey ahead of us."
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Sun May 09, 2010 1:33 pm

[b]Elister – Dawn of Day 14{/b]

Once returned to the Scarlet Destiny, the Elementalist twins delivered the pay received from Baron D’Armitage’s nephew. But, before the gold could be distributed or the crew disappeared into the city, a courier appeared at dock. This courier, however, was not the liveried servant of the nobility. He was easily overlooked and thus quite successful. The young urchin in dirty clothes and dusty brown hair stood dockside with a battered leather pouch slung across his narrow shoulders.

What made Tuuli notice the boy was that he was not timid or afraid as he stood dockside obviously looking for someone. She could not help but watch him curiously as her brother moved off to help the crew load the supplies they’d ordered earlier.

Finally, the boy’s eyes fell upon Tuuli standing apart from the rest of the crew and his face lit up with a startlingly brilliant smile. It was obvious he’d found his quarry. Worming his way through the bustle of working men, fishing gear, and cargo with practiced ease, the child approached Tuuli and looked up suddenly as if surprised by just how tall she truly was. He recovered quickly, however, and offered the Elementalist a sweeping bow which charmed her immensely. “Mistress. I bid thee good day and may the warmth of Zephiris shine upon thee.” His greeting was incongruously formal coming from such a ragged visage. “I bring a message if you are who I take you to be. Would you be Tuuli Brendersen?” From his expectant, expressive brown eyes, it was clear he knew she was. But, he would conscientiously perform the proper protocols of a good courier.

Smiling at the lad, Tuuli nodded, acknowledging his greeting with a small curtsey of her own. “I would indeed. Why have you sought me?”

“I have a message, Mistress, from your Lord Armitage.” The boy opened his leather pouch to draw a folded envelope containing the message from inside. He handed the sealed envelope along with a hefty leather pouch of coin to the tall, strawberry-haired woman before him. “Lord D’Armitage regrets he must call upon you and your brother so soon after arriving. But time is not a luxury in this case.” The boy paused to see if Tuuli would open the message and perhaps send a response.

Tuuli merely shook her head, “Please give our regards to our Lord and advise him we shall do as asked.” Retrieving a few coppers from her own purse, she handed them to the boy who took it politely and tucked it away in his pouch. Another bow was offered to Tuuli then D’Armitage’s courier disappeared back into the bustle and noise of the docks.

Tuuli opened the letter as she walked back toward the ship to read the familiar flowing script that she recognized immediately as that of D’Armitage. Her eyes grew progressively wider as she read the remarkable message:

My dearest Tuuli (for I know it will be you to read this), I write to you today to request you take on a different sort of mission on my behalf. I will not be so foolish as to assume you will simply drop all to take up this request. However, I believe this is important enough to ask you to do just that. Something rather sensitive and potentially world-altering appears to be happening. I have few details and even that may be more conjecture than fact. Regardless, it must be investigated and I can think of few I trust more than you and your brother, Tuula, to see this through. As soon as you are able, make your way to Lake Baracoula and meet with another man I have contacted by the name of Barin Mirland. He is the Captain of a superior Army called the Hawks and has my complete trust. Join with him and put yourself under his very capable command. I have included a large purse for you to pay his company for this mission.

To answer the question I am sure you are asking yourself, the Goddess herself is said to have returned to this world. I ask nothing less of you than to find her. Put yourself and through you, me, at her disposal. Protect her, serve her and ensure no one else interferes.

Blessings and good fortune, my dear. I will look forward to your ultimate success.

As if something in her stunned body language signaled him, Tuula stepped away from the crew to join her. She explained the message and allowed him to take it from her numbed grasp to read it again. They shared no more than a long look then nodded almost in unison. “Very well, sister. We go.” His deep tone and serious visage needed no other answer than that. They both knew they would go. Having made the decision, it took less than two hours to finish supplying the ship and cast off. The journey of a lifetime had begun.

[b]Inlet of Lake Baracoula – Noon of Day 21[b]

Even with the aid of the Twins’ magic, it took a full 6 days to sail from Elister to the inlet that emptied into the huge Baracoula Lake. Along the way the crew was perplexed and curious about this new mission that the Brendersens were called upon to do. But, neither Tuuli or Tuula would answer their questions. Privately they discussed the new, albeit frightening, assignment they had been given. They were to join an Army as infantry? They were sailors not landies. What did D’Armitage expect them to do and against who? If the goddess Zephiris truly had awoke, would she need protecting? Would she appreciate their gesture at all? It was all too incomplete for either of their comforts. Especially for Tuula, who did not like puzzles or surprises in the least.

Once anchored and their belongings were being offloaded, Tuula and Tuuli bid their farewells to the crew they had served with so closely for the last few years. Tuula remained stoic as he clasped hands with his shipmates. While Tuuli had small tracks of tears showing against her cheeks as she hugged each of her friends in turn. Picking up their packs and slinging their weapons, they departed the Scarlet Destiny to the quay side and began to walk away from their home away from home. Tuuli only looked back once to wave to those still watching them from the rails before following her brother toward the lake shore.

As was their custom, the Twins rarely needed conversation to fill the silence around them. They set up a camp and prepared to settle in so that they might begin to look for the Hawks along the very large area dominated by Baracoula Lake. In short order a tight lean to was built with a small burm before it to keep animals from them at night. In short order, an extremely tidy camp was set up. Habits from years at sea served the Twins well ashore. While using their magic to ‘fly’ was possible, it expended a great deal of energy when simply walking was just as sensible. By mid morning, the twins were ready to explore their environs and both knew they needed to get used to being on land again.

As they hiked about the edge of the large lake, Tuuli kept her bow close at hand to take advantage of any game they might encounter for their dinner. Now, in the privacy of the forest, Tuuli and Tuula discussed the possible consequences of the return of the goddess. Could any one person or race control or influence her to the detriment of the others? It seemed unlikely from all the lessons they had learned in the temples during their lifetime. They also discussed possible motives both good and ill of their patron D’Armitage. He had always treated them and any other people he’d dealt with honorably as far as they knew. But he was building an enormous fleet and his own standing Army. To what end? They agreed to proceed with caution and feel out their new Captain once they met up with him before revealing his new task.

They spent the remained of that day beginning to circumnavigate the lake only discovering a few old campsites from other passing travelers. No sign, however, of the Hawks could be found. So the Brendersens returned to their camp to wait for their contact to arrive.


Last edited by Digital Muse on Mon Jul 05, 2010 1:19 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Tue May 18, 2010 5:22 pm

River Swift, north of Toad Hollow, Mandor ~ Pre-dawn of DAY 8

Ragner Duiran rode hard through the wilderness. The sun’s warm rays were just beginning to peak over the horizon behind him. Ragner had suffered a defeat two days before by that ragtag band of lawless adventurers led by the Gedrich Knight, Barthon Camlin. His father had not been pleased with his failure, particularly with the news that Barthon was still alive. If news got out that he had been attacked by a noble…it would be disastrous for his House. His father sent him back out with a regiment of men supplemented by his own forces, all disguised as lawless brigands. Ragner had sent scouts across the length of the River Swift. He knew the knight was still heading north, though now short two members of his retinue. Ragner took what consolation he could in the fact that he had at least managed to kill two of the men; it would be that much easier to defeat them this time.

Another problem was the mystical shadow beasts that had seemingly sprung out of nowhere. They had taken him by surprise the night he had planned his attack against the group. He and his men barely fought off the strange attackers, and their own attack against the knight had to be delayed until morning. Had they attacked that night as planned, he would surely have come out the victor. Unfortunately, luck had been on the knight’s side. Not this time. With a stronger force and a plan that could not fail, Ragner would have his revenge against the knight and restore his honor in his father’s eyes. The shadow beasts were a part of the plan this time. They had attacked two nights in a row, and Ragner and his father both agreed that the beasts would likely attack this night as well. They weren’t sure what was causing the beasts to appear and attack, but he knew he needed to use it to his advantage.

Ragner reined his horse in as he reached the clearing. His men had already done their work: the campfires were extinguished and the bandits executed. Their bodies were piled in carts and would be pulled along with them until they reached their destination.
“My Lord,” said one of the men, bowing before Ragner as he slid off of his horse. “Our work here is finished. The thieves were killed with no losses of our own, and their bodies prepared for travel. We are ready to leave immediately.”
“Good, Brin,” said Ragner. “We must move quickly. We need to have everything prepared before they arrive.”
“Yes, my Lord.” Brin moved off to relay the orders. The men surrounding him immediately burst into movement. They were all well-trained, far better than his own men had been. These men were all soldiers, not only trained for battle but veterans of battle as well. Some of them had even fought alongside his father in the past. Ragner knew that his father had not just sent these men along with him to bolster his forces, but to keep an eye on Lord Duiran and make sure he accomplished what he was expected to do. It was a sign that his father had lost faith in him. He knew the soldiers would obey him, so long as he wasn’t making any mistakes. He had to remain flawless.

The group of soldiers, nearly 100 strong, began moving northward. Some of the men pulled the carts filled with the dead bandits. They were headed north, toward the small town of Highcrest. His scouts had reported that the town had survived last night’s attack by the shadow beasts. Ragner would make sure that wasn’t the case. When the knight arrived, it would look as if the town had been massacred by the beasts. And then they would spring the next stage of their trap.

His father, Duke Oromon of the city of Drôme, had struggled for years to tap into the economic prosperity of the eastern cities. He had transformed what had once been a failed plantation into a bustling port city, self-reliant and self-sustaining. Unfortunately, this independence kept Duke Oromon out of most of the politics of Mandor, particularly politics involving the eastern coastal cities. The only city Drôme had close ties to was Aram, since many of the noble houses in that city had a taste for Skab, a dangerous semi-aquatic lizard that made its home exclusively deep within the rocky coastline surrounding Drôme.

Ragner’s father made many efforts to increase the stature of Drôme, from participation in small wars to hefty endorsements to key political figures. Ragner was proud to see that many of his father’s efforts seemed to be paying off. Drôme had never been more prosperous than it was now. But the duke was still only a minor figure in politics.
There were some key political figures in Mandor that decried the return of Zephiris, many of which were supporters of Duke Oromon. Seeing this as his opportunity to squeeze past his blind and ignorant competitors, Duke Oromon took this stance as well. He charged his son, Lord Ragner Duiran, with capturing or killing as many of these lawless adventurers as he could. When the whole mess was done and over with, it would be Duke Oromon that would be recognized with keeping peace in the countryside, rather than fanning the flames of anarchy. The weight of the entire plan now fell on Lord Duiran’s shoulders. He could feel the eyes of his father’s men digging into his back as he led them north to Highcrest.

Highcrest, Mandor ~ Midday of DAY 8

When the town was finally visible, Ragner Duiran raised his hand to slow his men down. He would go alone at first; he didn’t want the entire town to prepare itself for another assault with the sight of bandits. Ragner would enter alone and announce their intentions of defending the town against tonight’s inevitable attacks by the shadow beasts.

The wall surrounding the lower level of Highcrest was puny, hardly any sort of defense at all. His men would likely have no trouble getting over it. But then, the wall wasn’t really designed to withstand any sort of armed conflict. Ragner approached the wall slowly, scanning the town for any sign of movement. As he expected, a head popped up from behind the main gate.
“Halt!” yelled the man, raising a crossbow up to his shoulder and aiming it at Ragner. His long, shaggy brown hair fell down over his eyes and rested on butt of his crossbow. His face was covered in dirt, either intentionally or as a result of their recent dilemma. “State your business, traveler, or be on your way!”
“I come in peace!” Ragner yelled back. How ironic it would be to meet his end at the hands, or bolt, as it were, of a peasant. “In fact, I have an offer for you.”
“We’ve no need of whatever yer sellin’,” the man yelled back.
“I have men,” Lord Duiran said hastily, watching the gateman’s trigger-finger closely. “They are willing to defend your town for the next fortnight.”
“We can’t afford to pay you,” the man responded. “We’ve got nothin’ left.”
“Your services and hospitality would be more than enough, I assure you,” Ragner said. “We are tired of fighting these monsters in the dead of night from all directions. The safety of your town will aid our own defenses greatly, and we will both benefit from that.”
“I can’t say we don’t need the help,” the man said, slowly lowering his crossbow. “How many did you say were with you?”
“I’ve nearly one hundred men, all seasoned fighters.”
“Wow,” the man at the gate exclaimed. “One hundred? We’d be hard pressed to fit ‘em all in here!” The man opened the gate, waving Ragner forward. “The names Emurd,” he said, pointing at himself. “Go ahead and call ‘em in, then. It’d be wise to be set up before night falls again.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Ragner said. He whistled loudly, the call sign for his men to advance as if there was nothing wrong. He had several different call signs ready, depending on how the situation played out. Luckily, they still maintained their farce.
“Bandits, huh?” Emurd shook his head slowly as he caught sight of the advancing men. “Not much to do about that, anyway…need the help.” Emurd turned away from the gate and walked back toward one of the lower houses, as if turning his back on the sight shed all responsibility for having let them into the town in the first place.

Ragner finally took in the town as a whole. It was a multi-level town, with a winding road carved into the cliff face as it moved upward. The river cascaded over the cliff on the east side of Highcrest. Most of the buildings lined the bottom and top of the cliff, though several houses lined the road as it wound upward, taking up whatever room was available. The cliff face wasn’t entirely smooth, and many outcroppings provided solid ground for small buildings. The buildings themselves weren’t of very advanced construction. Most were simply wooden houses with thatched roofs. Only the houses nearest to the waterfall and its constant mists were built of stone. Ragner had to admit that Highcrest was a beautiful sight, despite the boarded up doors and windows and barricades crossing the winding, multi-level road.

“How many of you are left?” Ragner probed Emurd. He followed Emurd toward the houses that were nestled against the base of the cliff.
“We only lost three the first night,” Emurd replied. “Last night was worse. We lost four of our best men and a few families down here at the lower level when the beasts broke in. We repaired the gate, but they’ve shown it isn’t much of a hindrance. Can you do anything about that?”
Ragner nodded. “We certainly can.”
“I guess there are about thirty of us left, though probably less than ten can still fight. It is probably a good thing you came along…” Emurd looked back over his shoulder at Ragner’s men, hardly surpressing his distaste. Ragner wondered how his reaction would have been different if they had been bearing the livery of Duke Oromon instead of the clothing and armor of bandits. Surely, in any other circumstances, Emurd would not have let these men in without a fight.
Less than ten men were capable of fighting. His scouts had estimated a few more than that, so once again his task was easier than he had expected. He sounded another whistle, initiating the attack. Emurd looked at him, confusion spreading across his face.

“The Duke thanks you for your sacrifice,” Ragner said, smiling widely at Emurd. In one swift move, he pulled his sword free of its scabbard and thrust it through the Emurd’s stomach. A scream sounded from one of the houses, obviously from a witness of the bloody scene. Ragner pulled his sword free, letting Emurd fall to the ground with hands pressed against the gaping wound in his stomach. Ragner raised his sword above his head where the men behind him could see it, blood dripping and reflecting the afternoon light. He swung it downward, signaling the charge into the town of Highcrest. The slaughter would be complete, and then they would add the bodies of the real brigands. It would look as if they had all died valiantly defending the town against the mystical thread of the shadow beasts. It was hardly a threat after all, Ragner decided, if this small town had prevailed for two nights.

Carsiun Keep, Mandor ~ Dusk of DAY 8

The next stage of his father’s plan was to wait. Duke Oromon insisted that they make their attack on Carsiun Keep itself. The duke predicted that the knight would flee with the boy toward the keep. He repeatedly told Ragner that his main task was to destroy the keep and all survivors within it, including the Zephirisian knights. That meant that Ragner couldn’t actually attack until nightfall, once the knight and his group were actually within the walls of the keep. He and his men were camped out in the forest just outside of the clearing surrounding Carsiun Keep. The keep was on alert: there were sentries walking along every wall and patrols were venturing out into the forest. Ragner kept his men hidden and separated. If any of them were discovered, he hoped that he soldiers of Carsiun Keep would assume them to be lone brigands preying of refugees seeking safety within the walls of the keep. He also had to hope that the shadow beasts would ignore them, focusing instead on the men in the keep. If they were attacked, they would at least be under the cover of night themselves and could once again regroup.

As night fell, Ragner grew tense. This was his moment to shine, to bring his father the honor he deserved. The attack would be blamed on the shadow beasts, no doubt. No one would connect it to the duke. As the shadow beasts made their approach to the keep, Lord Duiran moved across the forest, gathering his men. They had to wait until the knight and his group arrived before they attacked, but they could still make plans.

“The first thing we need to do is destroy the gate,” said Tegoras, a tactician his father had lent him for the mission. “With the gate down the shadow beasts will be able to do most of the work for us.”
“But how do we do that?” asked one of the soldiers.
“We construct a makeshift catapult,” Tegoras said. “We’ll use any materials we can find. It won’t take long to break through the gate, and then we rush in behind the shadow beasts to finish off the defenders.”
“We’ll have four different groups stationed around the catapult,” Ragner ordered. “You will be tasked with protecting it and the engineers until the gate is down. We don’t know how much attention we’ll get from these things, so we must be vigilant. Be prepared to fight for your life.”
“They’re coming!” one of the scouts called, running toward him. Ragner turned toward the road leading to the main gate. He could hear the monsters snarling as they chased after the pounding hooves of running horses. Two figures rode into view, bursting through the forest and into the cearing and racing toward the gate. There were only two.
“Where are the rest?” Ragner asked.
“The knight isn’t among them,” Tegoras said. “Do we proceed with our plan?”
“Yes,” Ragner said resolutely. “They might show up at some point during the night. But our primary mission is to destroy Carsiun Keep. Let us begin.”

Ragner was extremely disappointed. So far things had gone well; now they would all begin to fall apart. He wouldn’t be able to return to his father until the knight was dead, whether or not Carsiun Keep fell. The group dispersed into their formations, and several men moved about the forest to gather materials for the catapult.
Ragner drew his sword again. He would help defend the engineers since he lacked any knowledge to help them construct the catapult. He could hear the monsters coming. A loud screech from above nearly made him cower in fear. He could hear the sound of flapping wings above him, and he though he felt the rush of wind as they cut through the air. This was the first he had seen of these beasts. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to deal with any of them himself. As he returned his gaze to the forest around him he was met by dozens of flickering forms, their outline only visible in the faint light of the two moons. The men around him tightened their formation. The beasts were upon them now, and there was no pretending they would go unnoticed.

Carsiun Keep, Mandor ~ Late night of DAY 8

“Fire!” Ragner yelled. Brin cut through the rope holding the launcher and its ammunition, a large boulder. The launcher shot upward, sending the boulder sailing through the air toward the gate. Ragner smiled widely when he realized it would hit on target. There had been debate on whether or not they should fire a few test missiles. Tegoras ultimately decided against it in favor of retaining their element of surprise and keeping with their timetable. The assault had to be finished before morning light broke the horizon.

The boulder hit the gate with a resounding crack, and Ragner’s soldiers immediately began reloading and resetting the catapult. He assumed that one or two more would likely break the gate apart. But before he could witness the second shot, his scouts yelled for his attention.
“They are coming back!”
Ragner drew his sword and prepared himself once again for battle. They had been attacked several times throughout the night. So far he had lost only a small number of men, but every loss increased his chances of losing more. The beasts were approaching quickly, many of them in the form of animals and some in the form of beastly men. Ragner led his men forward in a charge.
“For Drôme!” he yelled, raising his sword high above his head. As he reached the first of the beasts, he swung his sword down sharply. The beast seemed to disintegrate before him, becoming nothing more than a dark cloud of swirling mist. He swung again, almost blindly, assuming that he would hit something. The dark forms confused him in the dead of night; it was almost impossible to detect their forms when he was this close to them. He had to rely on his father’s skilled soldiers to keep most of the beasts off of him. He swung wildly, trying to locate the black forms in the increasing darkness around him.

Ragner was surprised when a heavy weight slammed against him, throwing him off-balance. He lost his grip on his sword as he fell on his back. He tried to roll over and get up, but a searing pain erupted on his face as a dark claw smacked him. The impact left his head reeling.
“The catapult is destroyed!” one of the men yelled. “There are too many of them!”
Ragner scrambled backward and eventually made it back to his feet. A calloused hand gripped his bar arm.
“We need to move now! There are gaps in the gate large enough for us to pass through. If we don’t go now we will be overwhelmed!”
Ragner nodded. “Alright, let’s go.” He yelled loudly, hoping that all of the men would hear him in the middle of the battle. “To the keep!”

He ran toward the gate, spotting the gaps that the soldier had mentioned. They were highlighted by torchlight from within. He hoped they would be large enough for him to squeeze through. The lights were suddenly extinguished as an enormous black form stopped in front of him. The beast looked like a mix of a giant bear and a…monster. There was no other way to describe it. His father’s soldiers immediately rushed the creature, slicing at its legs while trying to avoid its powerful swings. Ragner accepted their sacrifice as necessary and slipped passed them. Many of the shadow beasts were already ahead of him, slipping through the cracks in the gate and bringing the battle to the defenders of Carsiun Keep. Ragner waited for an opening, and then slipped through himself.

His heart was pounding in his chest, and he felt utterly foolish. He had no weapon and he was running about as if the shadow beasts meant him no harm. But if he failed here, his father would make him wish he died rather than return from a defeat. He had no other choice. Ragner found the body of a fallen defender, and dashed over to grab the sword. Several of the Carsiun soldiers rushed into the courtyard to meet the invaders, and they gave pause when the spotted Ragner. That pause was all the shadow beasts needed. They swarmed the defenders, as well as Ragner himself.

He was attacked by two man-like shadows. They faintly resembled the human form, but the darkness of their substance refused to reveal any other differences in detail. He blocked both of their wild attacks deftly, and one of them lost a clawed hand with a lucky swing on his part. Someone joined in the fray, and Ragner spared a quick glance to identify him: a Carsiun soldier. Obviously, the man had no idea who Ragner was. Or perhaps he just didn’t care. Ragner helped the soldier dispatch of the two shadows before turning his own blade on him. Unfortunately, the tip of his blade missed the gap in the soldier’s armor, where it should have punctured his ribs under his right armpit. The soldier spun toward him, the surprise on his face reminiscent of Emurd of Highcrest. Ragner struck again, determined to finish the soldier off before he regained his nerve. The soldier blocked three consecutive strikes, and Ragner was becoming convinced that perhaps the soldier was a better swordsman than was he.
“Who are you?” the soldier asked, still blocking all of Ragner’s attacks. “Do you have anything to do with these monsters?”
Ragner tried to smile at the confused soldier, but he was too busy concentrating on where to strike next. “Just…”, slash at his knees, “…taking advantage…” thrust toward his ribs,”…of an…” wild strike at his neck, “…opportunity!” Finally his sword found flesh, slicing through the soldier’s neck until it struck against bone. The soldier fell, dead immediately, and taking Ragner’s new sword down with him.

“Retreat!” The order came from a Carsiun soldier, and the defenders maneuvered toward the entrance to the keep. Ragner spotted the priest, one of the knight’s followers, standing in the doorway. Ragner ducked out of view, hiding behind a crate. He needed to regroup with his men before he was overwhelmed by the monsters. As he looked back toward the gate, he saw them climbing through. At least, what was left of them. Many of the men were already badly injured. Ragner ran toward them.
“The defenders have retreated into the keep. We need to break through the door before we can consider this a success.”
“No,” argued Tegoras, who was holding his left arm against his chest. Blood was running freely from an open wound. “We must make sure they are all dead.”
“There are too many of the beasts, Tegoras. We will be overwhelmed. They will finish the job.”
“He’s right,” said another one of his father’s men. “Let us return in the morning. If we stay, we all risk our lives. There are too many of them.”
Tegoras looked angry, but at last he conceded. “We return in the morning then.”
The group rushed toward the entrance to the keep, now shut tightly. The shadow beasts were already thick around it, and Ragner was forced to slow down.
“How do we get passed them?” Brin asked.
“We can’t,” acknowledged Tegoras. “Not unless we fight through them. We don’t have the manpower for that anymore.”
Some of the shadow beasts near the back of the group turned toward Ragner and his men.
“I think we should go…” Brin said. Ragner turned back toward the splintered gate and started running, not caring if the others were following. He wasn’t going to die here. It was pointless. Their mission could be finished in the morning. Without a weapon, Ragner sprinted toward freedom. His father had sent him to his death, whether he knew it or not. Ragner squeezed through one of the rents in the gate, and then dropped to the ground as an enormous shadow shot forward. The gate shuddered on its hinges, and Ragner crawled forward on his hands and knees. He looked back over his shoulder to see the enormous form of the monstrous bear pounding against the gate. He was amazed that it hadn’t spotted him. But it also prevented his companions from escaping as well. Ragner pushed himself to his feet and started running. It was a long way to Aram, but that was the only safe place he could think of.

Drunken Drakes Tavern, Aram, Mandor ~ Morning of DAY 9

It was a stupid idea to begin with. Ragner rubbed his pounding head. How could his father have been so stupid? How could he have been so stupid? Working alongside those monsters, and expecting to be unhindered? These things weren’t some fact of nature that could be predicted. Even if they did attack at a particular time only, who knew their strengths and weaknesses? Certainly not his father. Ragner knew who was ultimately to blame: Barthon Camlin. If he had shown up when he was supposed to, things would have turned out differently. Ragner’s pounding head told him that wasn’t necessarily true, but his raging emotions had to shift the blame somewhere. He would find some way to make the knight pay.

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

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