Sephiris: The Price of Peace

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Mon May 24, 2010 6:21 pm

Sephalia > Near Ashwood ~ Morning of DAY 15

Barin was enjoying a fried sausage and a mug of cool ale (thanks to the nearby cold stream), along with the other mercenaries. The camp was livelier than normal, all where pleased that their journey was at an end. The shores of the great lake where visible from here, on their small rise on the edge of the Greenwood. The topics discussed amongst the mercenaries where various. Some where wondering if they would visit one of the cities situated around the lake. This would mean a chance to buy new gear, to sleep in a warm bed and, for the more lustful ones, to enjoy the company of the many wenches. Others were more interested in when the Mustering was going to be held, Barin had told them that there would be one soon, but the date had not yet been set. There were speculations of who the next Sergeant would be. Everyone was so accustomed to old Rin, in a sense, along with the Captain, he was the Company. He had always been there, from the days all of them had been mere recruits, cursing them, beating them, teaching them. They missed him, needless to say. These types of conversations, however, were uttered in silence, as the Captain did not like guess-work when it came to such matters.

The happy atmosphere was a stark contrast to what had been a few days before, after the night Barin had issued justice. Betrayal, along with hunger and fear, was always a great enemy to any army. A man with whom you fought and bled just yesterday suddenly shows his true colours. It was not something that could be easily overcome. And despite their happy exterior, Barin suspected that many of his men harboured darker thoughts deep down. He was distracted from his brooding by the laughter coming to his right. One of his men had been a bard once, and he was still quite a master of the lute. His bawdy songs were much enjoyed by his companions. Another mercenary was questioning the Seneschal about his past, was it true he was the son of a merchant in Aram? Did he have a loved one waiting for him there? Randor merely smiled and waved such notions away, the man who had lived in Mandor was no more.

Barin was busy with other thoughts however. As well as the lake, the prosperous city of Ashwood was also visible on the horizon. It was a mere few hours away, they would reach it before the sun had set. The town was full with the usual - merchants, street paddlers and other less honourable figures looking for a profit. They would enjoy it, he thought with a smile. His men were still unaware of the fact that they would spend at least a few days there, it would come as a welcome surprise. He would allow them to disperse and spend their hard-earned coin on whatever they saw fit. He had to remind a few not to question the guards' heritage though, last time he had to pull them out of prison. Barin could not afford to be harsh though, not in such times. The men were tired from their long journey and the nightly attacks they had to deal with.

The beasts of shadow were not much a threat, after the mercenaries had overcome their initial fear. But the Captain liked this not at all. Every night the assaults grew fiercer and while there were only a few minor injuries, he was not certain that matters would be such in other parts of the land. Was this limited only to the lands of men he wondered? Did the Elves or Dragons had to contend with such foes? Or was is something regarding only Sephalia? Did the men of Mandor have such troubles? Were their keeps and cities safe? He had to no way of knowing that. Hopefully, the abundant gossip in the trade-cities like Ashwood would provide him with some sort of insight.

Again, his thoughts turned to more immediate concerns - to his men. Indeed, he could not force them to act as saints once they passed the city walls. It would not be just. They had passed through mud and rain, blood and death, a short respite if only for a few days would do wonders to their morale. If it meant having to deal with the consequences of their drunken actions, so be it. A good commander took care of his men. But another topic would surely be brought up, maybe not vocally, yet it would remain at the back of their minds. The Mustering. Following the paths of logic, one would certainly assume that one would be held this very night or tomorrow at the latest. Encircled by walls and having a roof over their heads - it would make the men more at ease and allow them to speak their mind. But was it wise to do so at this point?

The memory of his soon-to-be companions came to Barin's made. These two mages in the service of the Baron would be welcomed with suspicion. He did not need to be a magic user himself to guess that. Not the least of all, he was suspicious of them himself. Men who fought with sword and shield were easy, a sword could be parried and a shield could be broken. But when it came to the wizards' words of power, he was met with a wall of unknown. And while he fancied himself to be an intelligent man, some things were beyond him. That is why he had decided to hold off the Mustering for now. When the mages joined them, he would gather the Company and discuss their next course of action. This served two purposes. He would give his men the chance to see who these people were. And it would allow D'Armitage's men understand how the Company worked. There would also be a hidden message behind it all. If these twins reported to the Baron, something which he did not doubt, it would show him that while The Hawks may be working for him, they were not his men.

Having considered all that (and finished his meal), Barin was ready to act. A fairly unpleasant task awaited him. The mages would need guidance, lest they risk scouring every mile of the lake for the Company. That is why someone would have to be left behind to watch for them. Someone who would not be able to enjoy the comforts of the city. It was not pleasant, but it had to be done. The Captain turned his head and called for Randor, who was quick to answer.

"Your orders, Captain?"

"Seneschal, I think we have rested long enough for now. Get the men up, I want to set off in less than half an hour."

"Anything else, sir?"

"No. You may go."

Barin watched on as his right-hand man went about his duties. With kicks and shouts he began readying the men for the last leg of their journey. In truth, there was something else, but he had a different person in mind for that. The newest recruits were sitting nearby. After a week with the mercenaries, some of their enthusiasm had disappeared. It was not surprising for Barin, they were not the first, nor the last. But they would make good Companions one day, if these treacherous times did not claim them. He was of a mind to not allow them to wander freely in the city. Despite their short stay in the wilderness they were still young and foolish and could easily get into trouble. He would have to keep a close eye on them. For now though, he merely wished to see them sweat.

"Geren!" - he called out

The lad jumped to his feet and approached his Captain, saluting as he did so.

"S-sir."

They were not so calm before Barin as they were before, that was good. A leader needed the respect of his men, but their fear was invaluable too.

"Go and find Fabrin for me, he should be around the fires."

"It will be done Captain!"

With that he hurried off to find Barin's chief scout. It was not a long wait, if truth be told, but for the Captain it seemed to be taking ages. He was master of his emotions in most cases, but whenever he had to disappoint his men, his heart skipped a beat. He had no sons of his own, nobody of his own blood to care for. These people, from all parts of the world, from all walks of life, peasants and thieves and soldiers and cheats they were his family. And he cared for them.

"Captain?"

Fabrin's calm, slightly quiet voice brought him back to the world around him. Barin raised his head upward and saw Fabrin and Geren looking down on him. If he were not seated, they would both have to crane their necks to look him in the eye. And yet, even now, they did not really "look down" on him, they did not meet his eyes. The Captain valued that.

"Geren, you may go." - he waved his hand dismissively -"Fabrin, gather the scouts. All of them."

"Even the ones on guard?"

Barin frowned, was he not clear enough?

"All of them I told you. Should I write it on a piece of paper? Although I doubt it would do much good, considering how much you fear written words. One would think they were written in blood, not ink." - he replied curtly

"At once, Captain!" - he turned on his heels and left.

In truth, Barin valued Fabrin a lot. But he could not abide his uncertain nature. He had a tendency to over-analyze each situation, which, despite sounding nice, was more of a hindrance. Ratibor would do that sometimes, even Randor...they had a mind of their own, that much could not be denied. And even though they trusted their Captain fully, a small part of them, buried deep within their minds, it was not always on even terms with him. He did not like that. Rin, on the other hand, he never questioned an order, not with words, not with thoughts. He was an old soldier and he merely carried out his tasks. A smile crossed Barin's rugged face, who would have thought that he would miss that old grim man so much?

True to his word, Fabrin gathered the scouts swiftly. In a few minutes, all of them, a small group, was standing in front of Barin. Now, at last, he got to his feet. The next words would not be pleasant and he could not utter them while seated. He was no king to have that luxury.

"Listen..." - he began, raising his voice - "Within a few hours we will be at Ashwood and are going to enjoy a warm meal, a soft bed and the company of other people."

As he said those words, there was cheering about him. He had raised his voice on purpose, so that others could hear him. Even the scouts were happy for a moment, but then they saw his face. It did not betray any hints of happiness.

"Not for you, my eyes and ears. I have another task for you. I will not bore you with the details just yet. I leave that to Fabrin, he knows who you are looking for. Needless to say, these people are carrying a fat pouch of gold for us. And their employer is a wealthy and powerful man. They are not to be harmed and must reach us safely, we shall talk more of this during the Mustering. Do this and the rewards for all of us shall be great indeed."

The scouts muttered words of acknowledgment. But it is not their words, but their eyes Barin payed attention to. And their eyes told much, betraying their thoughts. He saw disappointment and regret, but also envy in those mirrors of the soul, as some called them. For truly, one could guess much by looking at another's eyes. They were not hard to read, not for Barin. That was the gift fate had given him, he could understand Man, what he thought and what he feared. A gift or a curse? He could never be quite certain.

"I know you are not pleased" - he began again - "You are tired and weary, I understand. But such is life, while some of us rest behind the safety of the walls, others must sleep under a tree in the forest. It must be accepted. But you know me!" - he let the words sink in - "I will not forget this, it will be rewarded. Now go, the sooner you bring them to us, the sooner that reward will be ours."

With slightly more enthusiasm than before, the scouts went off to pack. Only Fabrin remained behind. Truth be told, Fabrin knew nothing of his decision, but he was wise enough not to question the Captain in front of his men. Barin knew that and was not pleased. Such matters he usually planned beforehand, but this was something he had decided mere moments ago.

"Fabrin" - he began, as he took out the Baron's letter from a pocket, it was neatly folded -"This is the letter sent to me from our future employer. You are allowed to read it. It is short and to the point, but it describes the two mages you are looking for. From what you will read, you will see that they are not easily mistaken. In addition, the letter will prove that you are my man. Once you find them, bring them to Ashwood immediately."

"Yes, Captain. It shall be as you command."

"I leave the details to you, organise your men as you see fit. But be weary, the wilds are dangerous, as we have seen. You are a small force and will not draw much attention, hopefully, but do not grow lax. I want you to return with the mages and my men, all of them. Am I clear?"

He looked straight into Fabrin's eyes, with that look of his. That look, which demanded from you nothing but the truth, in its simplest form. It asked: "will you bring them alive or not?", not how, not when, only if. And knowing that look, you could not lie, you either could or you could not, but failure was not an option.

"Yes" - answered Fabrin after a pause.

"All is settled then, prepare yourselves."

After a salute, the scout walked off. Barin's eyes followed him for a time, before turning to the dwindling fire before him. Before the day was over, he would be starring at another fire again. This time it would be in an inn, under a roof, seated on a cushioned chair, instead of the cold, wet earth. It would be a welcome respite for most of the Hawks. Apart from those who would have to watch and wait. Was it because he and the others were better than them? No. It was simply the fact that such was their vocation. This was how it went, Barin mused again, life did not ask who you were, what you were. It did not care for your qualities, for your strengths or weaknesses. It was not fair or unfair, just or unjust, kind or cruel, it was life and nothing more could be said. Was it right that Barin sat here, in the mud with the rest of them? A man who had the abilities to lead armies much greater than this? And was it right that some lord's son, spoiled and foolish, called himself "leader"? Perhaps. But the question was.

Who cared?


Last edited by Blackrock on Sun Jun 20, 2010 12:27 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Fri Jun 18, 2010 10:57 am

Mandor > Drôme ~ Morning of DAY 11
The breakfast was nothing special, it was the same he ate most every morning. A few slices of bread, some bacon and, since he had not enjoyed one in quite a while, a soft-boiled egg. He washed that down with a mug of cool ale, accompanied by a smaller cup of lemon juice. After he was finished, Rurik got up and walked to the nearby bucket full of water, he cupped his hands and splashed his face a few times. He ran a hand through his beard, to check it it had not grown overlong. Being pleased with the result, he walked away and returned to his bedchamber. He got out of his night-robe and reached for the wardrobe, where he kept his limited attire. Despite his position, he did not seek to possess a great number of clothes, he was pleased with what he had. Flaunting his wealth was not something that was required of him.

Rurik decided upon a loose-fitting white shirt, which still clung to his powerful body despite its size. A pair of black breeches followed, laced with a soft leather sword belt with a silver buckle. After that, he put on his trusty leather boots, black as well. Next, he donned a well-made silk cloak, it was yellow, the colour of his lord. Finally, pair of black gloves were tucked into the belt. He then moved to the other side of the room, to the weapon stand. With a slight frown he chose the sword, with its silvery decorated scabbard. It was not his weapon of choice, but the Duke had told him that the mace was too brutish for court. When he was in his armour - yes; but in other times, he had to abide by the dress code. And while it was a minor hindrance, he could still defend his liege just as well.

Having finished with his dressing, Rurik left his chambers. On his way out, he reminded Orin, his squire, to clear the table and change the water. Not long after, he was in the courtyard of Drôme's castle, Cyril Omoron's stronghold. Were it another day, he would walk the walls and talk to the guards, asking them if anything of note had transpired. He would then visit the barracks and check on the men there, making certain that everything was as it should be. But not today. For today was special. The Duke had sent for him, which meant a matter of some importance was to take place soon. As such, with a brisk pace, the Captain of the Guard made his way to the lord's solar. On his way in, he asked the two guardsmen on the door if anyone had entered today. Apparently, apart from the Duke himself and one of the servants, nobody else had passed through.

Rurik nodded and went in. He went to one knee and bowed his head, a sign of the deep respect he harboured for the other man in the room. Without moving or flinching he spoke:

"My lord, your loyal servant awaits your commands."

The Duke of Drôme, Cyril Omoron, turned to face Rurik. The yellow cloak hanging over the duke’s right shoulder swirled as he spun. The Duke clasped his hands behind his back and stared down at Rurik for a few short moments.

“You’ve served me well over the years, Captain. I know you are a straightforward man, and one I can trust that I can tell what to do and it will get done.”

The Duke paused for a few moments, letting the statement linger, before continuing.

“I have a new assignment for you. My son, the young and inexperienced Ragner Duiran, is costing me dearly. His failure to act on behalf of his city and country has led me to believe he needs certain…guidance. I am temporarily transferring you to the charge of my son, effective immediately. I trust you know what that entails. He disappeared after the fall of Carsiun Keep, though your own expert men have confirmed he wasn’t among the dead. I need you to find him, Captain, and teach him what he needs to know. Despite the fall of Carsiun Keep, the mission was a disaster. The boy needs to learn, and I can’t think of a better man to teach him. Rebuild his forces, and when the time is right I will have new orders for you. If you have no questions, Captain, then you are dismissed.”

Rurik nodded once and stood up, his eyes meeting Omoron's long enough for him to utter these words:

"It will be done, lord."

With that, he turned on his heels and left the room, knowing that the Duke no doubt had larger concerns than the questions of his Captain. As he made his way to the courtyard, he could not help but wonder at the orders he had received. He had not been dismissed that much he knew, he could not be dismissed. This duty was his life, this man, without it, Rurik was but a shell. The Duke would surely know that. Yes, it was not as simple as it seemed. It was merely another task that needed doing. He would still answer to Cyril, without a doubt. The lordling would have no real power over him.

The lording. Ragner Duiran. He knew little of the boy, he was brash and energetic as most young men were. More than that, he knew not. Rurik was a member of the Duke's court, he talked to the lords and ladies, dueled and flatered them when needed. But he did not befriend them, they were of little concern to him. He had a duty and that was it. Dealing with people was Cyril's talent, it was where he was at his strongest. Rurik was merely the shield, he did not need to possess the same qualities. And yet, this Ragner....was he such great a fool? The lord's son, heir to this fortress and the surrounding lands. One day, he would have to continue his father's legacy. How could he fail in such a simple task, then? Was the boy haughty and arrogant and thus underestimating his enemies? Or was he merely incompetent, the worst of qualities? He would know soon enough.

In the yard, near the training field, Rurik found the man he needed at the moment. Liuetenant Ondil. He was tall and gaunt, with sinewy arms and a stone face. His appearance mirrored that of his soul - unwavering, unquestioning, completely loyal. Needless to say, Rurik, who was much like him in some aspects, valued the second-in-command and respected the man who lurked underneath. Rurik had no doubt that this steadfast man would fulfill what was required of him.

"Liuetenant, I'll depart before the sun reaches its peak. The Duke has a mission for me and I don't know when I will return. You'll take charge of the garrison here and make certain the Duke is unharmed. I trust all is clear?"

"It is, Captain. Have no fear." - he replied in his quiet voice.

"Good. I want three score of men waiting for me at the docks, you have two hours to gather them."

"Very well. Do you have any preferences?"

"Half of them should be hardened men. The others...some of our newer recruits will suffice. This will be a good chance for them to prove their worth and we won't deprive the castle of its veteran warriors overmuch. Make sure there are sailors amongst them."

A quick nod followed from the other man.

"Yes, sir." - a short pause, before he spoke again with that faint voice of his - "I wish you success on your mission."

Rurik returned the nod and headed to his quarters, without any unnecessary words. His orders would be carried out, to the letter. Such was Ondil's nature. Again, his thoughts turned to the task before him. He would have to be a mentor, teaching the boy what he knew of discipline and responsibility. But he would also have to be a protector, warding the lordling from others and himself. And lastly, he would be an informer, a spy for his true lord. The Duke would no doubt want to know what is happening with his son. Consumed by such thoughts, he almost did not notice when he had completed his packing. They would have to travel light, but he still took his two suits of armour, as well as various weapons. Before he knew it, Rurik was ready to depart.

Mandor > At sea ~ Noon of DAY 11

His eyes found two suns. The first, shining brightly from its domain in the sky, its golden rays bringing warmth and light to all about. It was blinding, forcing him to squint his eyes. The second was but a reflection of the former, clearly visible on the azure surface of the sea. There was not a single wave in sight, the surface of the water was smooth and calm. Rurik only hoped it would remain this way. He was not worried about storms or such, but time...time was of the essence. The Captain of Guards was not a man of the sea, he travelled by ship only when needed. But he was not a man of vain emotions either, he did not fear it, nor did he get sick from its rhythmic cradling. It was a part of the journey for him and the journey mattered not - only the goal set before him.

After a time, Rurik left his spot by the ship's railing and turned about to look around the deck. True to his word, Ondil had gathered sixty men in a short period of time. They were hard to discern from the ship's crew, for they had removed most of the clothing that marked them as the Duke's men. Nevertheless, the surcoats, arms, armour and banners they would bring to bear once they set ashore would be a sight to behold. And while Rurik would ride ahead of this small force of men, he was determined to see them march through Ragner's gates.

They were aboard the Northwind, a schooner from Duke Omoron's fleet. It turned out that her captain had been given the order to prepare the ship for travel yesterday. As such, Rurik and his men had been quick to board it and be on their way without much waiting. And as he did in such cases, he was amazed by his lord's careful planning, how everything had been thought of in great detail. Rurik could make a few tactical decisions if needed, he had picked up that knowledge over the years, but he could never hope to match Omoron's keen mind. Nor was it required of him, he only needed to ensure the safety of that mind.

But for now, he had to wait, there was nothing for him to do. Rurik would have to trust in the captain's mastery of the sea and the skill of his crew. The ship was well-built and fast and it would carry them swiftly to their destination, if only the weather would hold up. There was nothing further he could do at the present, which was one of the things that troubled him the most. Being idle. That would change, however, soon it would change. Once he joined his new..."master's" court, he would have his hands full. And despite the difficulties and rivalries he would encounter, the Duke's will was going to be carried out. Rurik was not capable of striving for anything less.

The smell of salt in the air was heavy, he noticed, as he took a deep breath. It was refreshing. It reminded him that below these planks of wood, something greater, mightier and more ancient than any of them could comprehend lurked. The sea itself, cold and blue. He then glimpsed the other captain on the far side of the ship, barking orders to his men. Like him, he served Omoron faithfully. Like him, he carried out his tasks diligently. And again, Rurik felt proud. Proud that he was in the service of such a great lord. And while here, amidst the blue, there was only one master - nature itself, on the land there were many. But one amongst them was Cyril Omoron and his star would burn brighter still. And his sworn shield was Rurik, who would help his liege rise higher and higher. There could be no other way.


Last edited by Blackrock on Mon Oct 18, 2010 7:00 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:55 pm

Sakira-thani > near the Camalen River, east of Paresheth ~ morning of DAY 8
Following the previous night's battle, the dragons had again fallen immediately into slumber, until the rising sun brought them to wakefulness. Yet wakefulness did not cure weariness or wounds.

S'harahe paced perfectly along the riverbank, sunlight and shadows playing across her pale skin, the fresh air full of cool moisture. S'harahe was cold, but not from the morning breeze. In her heart, she despaired of the feelings inside her. She raged silently at everything inside, everything around. How dare the stars order her fate thus! How dare those monsters attack, night after night, while the cold moons merely watch! How dare her servants suffer wounds! How dare Kaladar not be awake! Curse the drop of sweat running down her back, making her shiver and appear weak! Curse Panis'hret for standing there, watching her with anything less than awed reverence! Curse the world and its distractions muddling her thoughts, depriving her of the answers she knew she must know! She was above this.

A low flapping of wings signaled Panis'hret's approach. He touched down behind S'harahe and stalked close, his heavy footfalls muted upon the grass. She could feel his leering gaze crawling over her smooth back, her tapered wings, her shapely tail.

“Panis'hret: dezsan s'hartir gsen?” What do you want, S'harahe spat.
Panis'hret snorted a haughty laugh. “Z'gan panir gsen?” You don't know?
She chose not to take the bait. “Dezsan tenet s'hartir gsen?” she asked more specifically.
“Tenet...?” At the moment...? “S'hegad mandra gsen.”
S'harahe turned red with outrage and disgust. How dare he be so forward! “Handa t'egn gendra, g'sarkath!!”
Panis'hret recoiled from the force of the insult, as if he'd been clawed in the face. Finally, snarling, he stopped trying to agitate her and expressed the real reason he was there. “Dezsan t'egn ced tekel-hin-mandra?” What will all sixty-six of us do now?
S'harahe waited till she was calm before answering. “Hetnan cidram Kaladar, tirme g'kharthrad tekel-hin-mandra.” When Kaladar wakes, we will fly.
“Gande?” Where?
Toward next water. “Hanen telest mer. Han K'hi-Taren Mirmer.” To K'hi-Taren River. She nodded, finally facing the inevitable. “Nan Camalen han K'hi-Taren termid seka tiral.” From Camalen to K'hi-Taren within one day.
Panis'hret humphed in his throat. “Z'gan tirshcen hin-mandra K'hi-Taren.” We won't succeed. We won't survive Whisper Forest.
S'harahe's jaw set. “Handa.” We must. ...Yes. “...D'shana. Hetnan cidram Kaladar. Handa.”

Sephalia > Oliphey > on the shores of Barocula Lake ~ DAY 8
“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.” That's what the old man had said. Eryon indeed!

Áirhath Aeryän had followed the advice, and he now stood on the shores of what might have been an ocean for all that no opposite horizon was visible. Áirhath breathed deep of the lakeside air, still wet with dew, cold in a stirring breeze, sweet of scent for the freshness of the lake waters. Breaking out from the clouds, the sun warmed his face and painted everything in vibrant colors. The elf took another breath. The faint scents of fish, wood, mud and trees added their unique touches to the overall experience of this afternoon.

Áirhath stood there for several minutes, letting himself meld with his surroundings. His dhiláthra, his kin's-cloth, fluttered in the chill, moving air, tugging softly on his left arm. Here and there a few birds chirped in sporadic patterns. The sound of shallow, lapping waves was a steady rhythm to accompany this orchestra of senses. The enormous presence of the lake itself magnified the moment indescribably.

Far to his left, Áirhath suddenly heard a sound. It was a woman's voice, singing. As the song progressed, Áirhath began to recognize the voice, and he drew toward it. Despite the distance, he could distinguish the words clearly. Beginning softly, like a whisper, the touching melody slowly gained strength and volume. The simple words moved his heart.

“Lle chant, alaeith hirrith,
“Alaeith theien, alaeith thechrith,

“San lli, ha thendíri,
“Sunn san chiri. Lli ithendra.

“Lle ennal
“San heth lli
“Undra nnáe
“Hyelenal.

“Dantë hyelle aen echeral
“An telärdël ich ichdhanath.

“Lli hyelen
“Ethin lle,
“San lli chyärd...

“Draei diral chara deth then,
“Tílenn nin lle srénn,
“Ethinári cherathel.

“San deth anar,
“An lle chyánt lli,
“Thaera san surëi...

“Char hyelle, hath ha ärrh
“Hyun ennen....”


The long, final note echoed across the lake as Áirhath came close enough to see who it was that sang with such strong and beautiful emotion. It was Titanya.

As soon as she saw him, Titanya disappeared like a startled deer... but not before Áirhath caught the sudden wave of red that colored her face.
“Titanya...?” he called, in a voice rendered too soft for anyone to hear. “Chathë...” Wait... But she was already gone.

The sunlight abruptly faded, and Áirhath turned to see rainclouds moving in from the east. Already they were shedding a light downpour over the roofs of Oliphey. The elf stood there, puzzling still over what he'd seen and heard. Titanya's song poetically recounted the way she and Áirhath had met. Áirhath had always thought of her as his most trusted friend, but Titanya had sung with such emotion. What did it mean?

In those few minutes, the clouds had invaded the lake's skies, and Áirhath felt the sparse raindrops as though they were tears.
"Titanya..."


Last edited by Kalon Ordona II on Sun Sep 12, 2010 3:24 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Sun Jun 27, 2010 7:50 pm

Shores of Lake Barocula – Night of Day 21

Tuuli and Tuula settled into their camp just before the sun set into the waters of the lake. A few rabbits were spitted over a tidy campfire to accompany some bread and cheese they brought in their packs from the ship. They would supplement their meager rations with local fare until they made contact with the Hawks. If they ran out of stores, they knew a few days walk could take them to any number of small villages to replenish. But, in truth they hoped not to have to leave this place before meeting with the Captain. Their mission was truly something that was best discussed away from other ears. It also afforded the Twins the opportunity to feel out their new Captain. D’armitage might trust the man implicitly, but Tuuli and Tuula needed time to get to know someone before trust was given. They also wondered if the Hawks had other Magi within their ranks. Magic users could be a jealous bunch as a rule.

Darkness spread over the lake like a dark purple velvet robe, soft and inviting all beneath it to sleep. Frogs and insects along the shores chirped and sang a soft lullaby coaxing the world to dream. In companionable silence, each to their own thoughts, Tuuli and Tuula went about their usual busy work, mending clothes, sharpening weapons, but it was Tuula that paused first. An unnatural silence had fallen over the lake shore and surrounding forest. Tuulli glanced up to meet her brother’s eyes when she too noticed the change in the atmosphere. Simultaneously, the Elementalists reached for their weapons while Tuula’s rich baritone began a soft, low chanting to start a spell to funnel the winds coming off the lake itself. Tuuli’s soft soprano joined her brother’s song, building the spell in preparation for whatever was causing the unnerving silence in the forest surrounding them.

Tuula’s heavy fist gripped his bearded ax and Tulli gently nocked an arrow in her bow. Both frowned in concentration as they looked about them and kept their spell song prepared. As slowly as the change in atmosphere occurred, the attack itself was alarmingly sudden. Dark, opaque shapes burst from the woods, misshapen shadow animals, man-ish creatures and others with no true shape at all. As if drawn to their feet by an invisible puppeteer, the twins rose as one and attacked. Tuula by meeting the attacking hoard at the top of the burm and cleaving through the shapes on all sides, while Tuuli carefully and surgically fired arrow after arrow with nearly unerring accuracy into their midst.

But the tide of darkness was too much for their mundane weapons alone. As one enemy fell and blew away on the wind, two more appeared. Tuula retreated until he stood next to his sister and changed the sound of the song. It became forceful, commanding and sharp, Tuuli’s voice added the sharp harmony that this particular spell required. Tuula extended his bearded ax toward the dark waves of monsters that sought to attack them and a sheer force of harsh, icy winds blasted off the lake to tear through the monsters as if they were tissue paper. Again and again, Tuuli and Tuula sent waves of icy blasts of air cut the creatures down. Their weapons took down any others that came too close.

The night wore on in a desperate struggle between life and death, the extensive use of their magic wore on even their strong constitutions. They became more and more exhausted and found it extremely difficult to maintain their concentration. Only their years of Tuula leading and Tuuli following allowed them to maintain their spell as long as it did. Finally, the dawn began to turn the sky pink in the east and the dual moons began to fade. The dark army disappeared with the light and the Twins sank to their knees in exhaustion. Both were covered with sweat and more than a few minor scrapes and cuts. The sleeve of Tuuli’s dress had been torn away at some point of the battle and Tuula had a rather deep gash across his cheek.

They sat there catching their breath, grateful to be alive and traded a long look. Tuuli finally spoke the words both were thinking. “Brother, these attacks have happened on land in two locations, but not on the water. What can it mean? “ Her brow furrowed in thought. “Perhaps we need to consider a means to spend the night on the lake and not in the camp.”

Tuula nodded his approval. “We’ll have a light breakfast and rest for a time. Then we can begin to make a fishing platform as we did when we were children.” His voice was already growing hoarse from the nearly 7 hour duel the previous night.

Shores of Barocula Lake - Day 22

Their short rest stretched a little longer than either of the twins would have wanted. The sun was fully overhead before they woke and realized neither had been on watch. Silently angry at their own oversight, they rose quickly to put their plan into place. Tulla cut down young saplings while Tuuli stripped the branches and wove a mat to use as the platform to sit or lay on. Sharpening the poles, Tuula then hefted several onto his massive shoulders and waded to his waist out into the calm lake. Tulli climbed onto her brother’s shoulders to drive the saplings into the lake bed with a heavy axe. That complete, more poles created a cross braced platform that the mat would rest on and the twins could then spend the night on in hopes of avoiding an attack such as they endured the night before. Their endeavors took nearly the entire day to complete.

They paused in the late afternoon to have another small meal and to pack some things in preparation to spend a cool evening aboard their sanctuary out on the lake. Tuula finally spoke, “If the Hawks do not appear by tomorrow, we should take ourselves to the next town to try to find them.” Tuuli could only agree.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Wed Aug 11, 2010 3:51 am

Mandor, Aram, Gateway, Drunken Drakes Tavern ~ morning of DAY 9

Ragner Duiran pushed his drink away and sat up straighter. He was alone at the table, indeed nearly alone in the entire tavern. Aram wasn't receiving many visitors since the appearance of those shadow monsters, whatever they really were. Most of the people of Aram were afraid that these beasts might somehow appear within the city walls themselves, and so they remained locked away within the safety of their own homes. Ragner had seen the truth of it. These beasts spawned out in the wilderness, and for the most part seemed unable to penetrate a strong defense. The people of Aram were safe...for now. Who knew how long the beasts would keep to the same tactics, or when stronger beasts might arrive.

The fire was blazing in the hearth near his table, the heat of the flames warming the cloth of his pants. It had been a chilly day so far, an overcast day that seemed a reflection of Ragner's own mood. He still couldn't decide what he should do. He knew his father would be expecting a report on the battle. Indeed, his father likely already knew the outcome of the battle. Ragner wasn't sure if the beasts would have managed to penetrate the remaining defenses of the keep. He only knew that all of his men, and his father's men, were dead. He couldn't return to his father with that news. But he couldn't hide, either. Not without fleeing to Sephalia. He would have to go home, to Caslemon. That would give him time to think, to prepare a proper response to his father. Perhaps he could manage to shift the blame to him for not supplying him with enough men to accomplish the task.

Ragner rubbed at his face again. The healer had said the cut would scar; three long gashes running down the left side of his face. Ragner wasn't sure if he should feel ashamed of the wound or if it made him look more dashing. All he knew at the moment was that it made his entire head hurt. The herbal drink the healer had prepared for him, which was slowly getting cold at the center of his table, wasn't helping ease his headache. Ragner couldn't figure out how beasts that were seemingly made of shadows could even harm anything. They seemed to have no physical substance, yet could interact with the physical world. It defied logic, and thinking about it only made his head hurt worse.

Ragner grunted and stood up from his chair. The wooden legs groaned against the floor as he pushed the chair backward. He stretched soar muscles and then turned for the door. He had contemplated staying at an inn somewhere until the next morning, but the sooner he arrived at Caslemon the better. He was sure someone would be waiting for him to take him to his father, and any unnecessary delay on his part would only add the pretense of guilt. A gush of cold wind greeted Ragner as he opened the door. The warm, enticing atmosphere at his back nearly made him falter, but he knew he couldn't hide from his father forever. He stepped out into the cold air and toward his horse. He had bought the horse upon his arrival in the city; he surely didn't plan on walking to Caslemon.

The streets of Aram were nearly as bare as the tavern had been. Doors and shutters were locked. Many shops were closed completely; nobody was buying anyway. The weather was a perfect reflection of not just his mood, but the mood of Mandor in general. Something was happening, for good or bad. The entire kingdom was hunting for the return of a goddess and was beset by savage beasts of shadow. It was an ill omen, and Ragner wasn't going to fall prey to the same mistakes as everyone else. This wasn't the return of a goddess as had been proclaimed by the priests. This was the return of war and suffering. It would be up to Ragner and his father to end that suffering for the people of Mandor. That was it, Ragner realized. That was what he would pitch to his father. Maybe then the Duke would be willing to see that he was ready to accept the burden and responsibilities of leadership.

The clop of the horses hooves against the paved stone of the street echoed against the surrounding buildings. Ragner felt truly alone. No one here knew who he was, and likely no one would care if they did. Not only did Aram have sour relations with Drôme, but they had their own issues to worry about. He couldn't just run home either. For once, Ragner's future was in his own hands. Sure, the Duke would be waiting for him, but he hadn't actually sent anyone out to get him. Or if he did, they didn't seem to know where to find him. Ragner could make his own stops, plan his own future. He could return to his father at his own pace. And if he made that return in all haste, that would certainly only aid him in his explanation to his father. Surely his father would understand that he had done the best he could under the circumstances.

"Going far, lad?" asked a guard as Ragner neared the gate.

"Caslemon," Ragner replied tonelessly.

"Caslemon? I wouldn't recommend it. I'm sure you've heard how dangerous it is out there these days. But if you must travel, by the Mother of our souls, stay on the road."

"Thank you for your concern," Ragner said tonelessly as he passed by the guard. The man had good intentions, but his guidance was misplaced, as usual. People always seemed to look to Zephiris for their luck, rather than making their own. If Ragner so chose to take to the wilderness rather than sticking to the roads, it wouldn't be the lack of Zephiris' careful watch or protection that got him killed. It would be his own stupid luck. Zephiris, if she even existed, didn't care about him. She had proven that time and again. Hard working men, like his true father, had lived and died without a passing glance by this goddess. Other men grew fat and rich off of their sermons, never having done an honest days' work in their life. These were the men praised by Zephiris. Who would worship such a being? Then there were men like Barthon Camlin who followed those preachings blindly. Men like him could change the world, for better or worse. What the Duke would do to have Barthon under his own command, as loyal to him as the knight is to his goddess! But if the Duke can't have him, it would be better that no one have him. That was the reason behind his order to have the knight killed. He was dangerous, and he was fighting for the wrong side. The sooner that knight met his end the better.

Mandor, Bluestone Road toward Caslemon ~ afternoon of DAY 9

Ragner passed by Carsiun Keep with haste. It would either be swarming with the King and Nuriam’s soldiers or with Duke Omoron’s own men. Either way, it was a place he wanted to avoid. The part he had to play in the battle was hopefully only known to Cyril, but with Ragner’s inevitable failure there, the Duke might set him up to take the fall. Ragner couldn’t take that chance. As his horse pounded down the road away from Carsiun Keep, Ragner caught sight of travelers ahead of him. There was a group of four men walking along side a horse pulling a covered wagon. Ragner raced toward the group, suddenly eager for some company. He was beginning to dread traveling through the night alone, having to face or flee the strange beasts yet again. Perhaps these men could help him. As his horse drew near to the group, the men suddenly turned and drew their swords. Ragner pulled the reins of the horse, stopping the horse as fast as he could. The horse reared up, and Ragner managed to turn it away from the group, putting his sword arm between him and the men. Two of the men were looking around wildly, fear showing in their eyes.

“What is it, traveler, that has you running so in the daylight?” one of the men asked. He wore a thick beard and a mismatched assortment of leather armor pieces surrounding a rusty iron chest plate. The other men were armored similarly, though the man who spoke, obviously the leader of the group, was the only one wearing iron. Ragner wondered idly if that simple iron piece was what gave the man his station in the group, or if it was the man’s demeanor. He was the only one that didn’t look ready to run.

“I have far to go, and I would like to cover as much ground as possible before nightfall.” Ragner glanced at the covered wagon, wondering what might be hidden inside of it. “Since we are going in the same direction, may I suggest that five armed men are safer than four?” The man wearing iron looked at him carefully, but he finally nodded and slid his sword back into its scabbard, belted at his waist. Ragner recognized the design on the scabbard; if it hadn’t been stolen, this man had once served Duke Norwood (Duke Lucius Rand Norwood) of Iyel’Del. Ragner had been to the city of Iyel’Del many times, as Duke Norwood was Cyril’s one true political ally.

“We have supplies we need to get to Drôme. We would appreciate your help in getting them there safely.” Ragner smiled. The trip would be several days slower, exposing him to more encounters than he would like. But the alternative was a desperate run across the Bluestone Road with the bleak hope that he didn’t kill his horse in the process. For all he knew, the beasts were getting stronger. A lone traveler might have no chance of crossing through the country now.

“I appreciate the generosity, fellow travelers. My name is Ragner Duiran. I am heading to Caslemon, myself. I would suggest you bring your supplies there first, and ship them to Drôme. The journey over the sea should be safer than the roads, I think.”

“My Lord Duiran,” the man said, bowing, obviously recognizing Ragner’s name and station, “I apologize. We cannot risk the delay. Caslemon is…unreliable at best, and it is imperative that we do not risk these supplies.” Ragner could tell the man was trying not to offend him. He was averting his eyes as he spoke. He obviously knew of Ragner’s charge over the town, as he should if he knew who Ragner was. Ragner now had no doubt that this man had served under Duke Norwood. He would also know of the state of the town, and that it was a place honest merchants typically avoided at all costs. Ragner didn’t blame the man, and so he just nodded. Not sure what to make of the response, the man continued on, stuttering slightly. “My name is Kam, my Lord. And these men are Joss, Cole and Tadg,” he said, pointing at each man in turn. Ragner noticed that the other men had regained a measure of their confidence now that they realized they weren’t in danger. He had little hope that they would hold up in battle, but the fact that they were out on the roads at all said something about their character.

“Pleased to meet you all. Now, may I suggest we carry on? The night is coming, and we should be ready when it does.” The men all nodded and voiced their agreement, and they moved to ready the horse again. Ragner rubbed the scar on his face again. It would be a permanent reminder of what had happened at Carsiun Keep, what his own father Cyril had done to him. Ragner wouldn’t accept the blame for that massacre. He shook his head to force the thoughts out. He didn’t have time to think about that now. Ragner let the group move ahead of him and he fell into line behind the wagon itself. The back of the wagon was slightly open, but all he could see were covered wooden crates and barrels.

Mandor, Highcrest ~ dusk of DAY 9

Ragner remained silent as they approached Highcrest. While the town wasn’t visible from the road, Ragner could clearly remember what had happened there. He didn’t feel guilty himself; he had merely carried out the Duke’s orders. But he could see the tense posture of the other men as they passed the town, and their quick glances to their left, toward the town. Word had obviously spread of the devastation there. No one would know of Ragner’s own part in that, unless the Duke himself spoke of it. And the more he thought about betrayal by the Duke, the more likely it seemed.

The sun was low in the horizon, sinking beneath the line of trees ahead of them. Ragner could see the larger of the two moons rising up from the same horizon. It’s faint light would replace some of the lost light of the sun, perhaps enough to help them fight off the beasts that would accompany the darkness. Ragner shivered suddenly. He hadn’t realized how hard facing them again would be. Before, he had other men with him that he could rely on. He didn’t know these travelers. Kam had served under Duke Norwood, and seemed a capable fighter, but the other men seemed frightened. It was one thing to walk knowingly into danger, but it was quite another to actually come out alive.

“We should stop here,” Ragner called out. “We need a defensive structure to protect the horses. The monsters won’t want your supplies, but I am sure they will try to kill our horses.”

“Do not call them that, my Lord Duiran,” said the man named Tadg. His leather armor was in worse condition than any of the others, and he seemed the most frightened of the group. Ragner had a feeling that Tadg had asked that they not be referred to as monsters for his own sanity rather than a logical argument.

“That is what they are, Tadg. They are no wild animals; they are beasts that come in the night, demons with no true form. They are of smoke and blackness. The evil in this world comes from the hearts of men and elves and dragons. But this…this is something beyond that.”

“My Lord,” Kam said, interrupting Ragner’s irritated rant. He moved over to Tadg and squeezed the mans shoulder. “I think that is enough. We should begin our preparations.”

“Of course,” Ragner said. “We will take the wagon into Highcrest, but leave it outside on the road. Take the horses into the largest defensible building, and we will hold out there.” Ragner glanced at the moon slowly sinking below the tree line. “We should be quick about it,” he said. “They will be here shortly, I fear.”

The men went about their work, rushing the horses into town and searching for a large building. Joss located the town’s tavern, nothing more than a stone two-story house near the waterfall. Ragner stood back as the men led the two horses through the tight doorway, leaving the wagon of supplies out on the road as Ragner had suggested. Tadg kept looking over his shoulder at the advancing darkness. The forest below them was shrouded in darkness already, and seemed a breeding ground of writhing shadows.

When the horses were in, Ragner stepped into the tavern himself. The bottom floor of the building had a long bar against the far wall. There were three round tables in the center of the room, and a doorway on the right wall led to another, smaller room. The stairs to the upper floor were against the left wall.

“Joss, you guard the stairway,” Ragner said, pointing toward the left wall. “Tadg, you guard the doorway to that room. Kam, Cole and I will guard the front door.” Joss and Tadg moved to their assigned spots immediately. Tadg tested the door, ramming his shoulder lightly into the center. Ragner could see that it wasn’t very sturdy. Tadg wiped a hand across his forehead, swiping away sweat. His left hand was resting on the hilt of his sword. Joss simply stood by the stairs with his arms crossed. Perhaps he was relieved with his post, thinking that no beasts would bother coming in through the upper floors. Perhaps he was right, Ragner thought. But better safe than sorry. The other two men stood with Ragner, simply facing the door and awaiting the inevitable. It didn’t take long.

The door shook against a sudden force, causing Ragner to jump. He felt foolish, but under the circumstances he was sure he couldn’t be blamed. The door shook again, the sound of the blow echoing in the stone room. Ragner drew his sword, and the other men followed his action. The third blow sent the door crashing inward. Ragner couldn’t see the form of the beast standing in the doorway. The lights inside the building had not been lit, and the light of the moons were faint outside. The shadow swept into the room, a feral scream coming from its strange form. Ragner swung his blade and felt the impact as the steel crashed against its skull. The beast fell at his feet, but there were suddenly several more to replace it. This wasn’t Ragner’s first fight against the beasts. He should be a veteran when it came to fighting them. Yet it still felt as if this were his first time; the fear was still so strong, so real. He almost couldn’t force it back.

Kam saved him from his moment of indecision, striking at a leaping beast. The body crashed to the floor, and then evaporated in a dark mist that simply obscured the other approaching forms. Ragner entered the battle fully, swinging his sword wildly all around him. His strokes weren’t perfect, but they were enough to keep the shadows off of him. And then, as suddenly as it had begun, the fight ended. Ragner let his sword hand loosely in his hand. His arm was tired, burning from the stress of swinging the heavy blade. There were no bodies on the floor to account for their battle. At least, there were no shadow beats. Tadg lay on the floor by the shattered door to the side room. His throat had been ripped out, or bitten into. Ragner couldn’t really tell. In the faint light, Ragner could see Kam glaring at him.

Mandor, Bluestone Road toward Caslemon ~ dawn of DAY 10

“Tonight will not be so easy,” Ragner said as they moved away from Highcrest.

“Not so easy?” asked Kam. “Excuse me, my Lord,” he said, sarcasm in the spoken title evident in his voice, “but we lost Tadg last night. I wouldn’t call his death ‘easy.’” Kam continued to glare at Ragner. He knew that Kam blamed him for Tadg’s death, but he couldn’t understand why. He could not have spared another man from the main door, and he could not leave the stairway open. It was true that Joss hadn’t been attacked from there, but it wouldn’t have been wise to take that chance.

“I am sorry for his death, Kam. But there really wasn’t anything I could have done about it. We were doing all we could to hold…”

“You could have given him hope!” Kam yelled. “You could have told him we stood a chance, rather than reinforcing his fears! He died because he was too scared to fight.” Kam shook his head slowly. “The things they say about you are true.”

“What things?” Ragner asked. Kam just turned and waved to Cole and Joss. They started moving down the road, their horse and wagon following behind. “Don’t insult me and walk away!” But Kam didn’t stop. Ragner spurred his horse forward and followed the group. Sometimes he just didn’t understand people, and that always made it harder to lead them. And, at this point, he didn’t have any choice but to follow.

They traveled over the hills around Highcrest in silence. When they reached the downward slope toward the coast, the group halted for lunch. Joss and Cole unhitched the horse to take care of it, and Kam entered the wagon. Ragner watched him come out with a small wooden crate. He set the crate on the ground and began sifting through its contents. Ragner watched him pull out several pouches and small jugs. He opened the pouches and took out bits of food: hard crackers, salted pork, and other food designed to last over an extended period of time. Ragner finally realized what was in the wagon, and why it was going to Drôme. These were packaged foods designed to be used over a period of time. Ragner couldn’t understand why Duke Omoron wasn’t capable of preparing these on his own. There were farms in his lands, mostly along the northern coastline. So why bring these supplies in from outside his own lands?

Kam threw a pouch to Ragner, but it fell short. The contents spilled out onto the dirt. Ragner glared at Kam, but the man wasn’t looking at him. Ragner left the food and stormed away. If Kam wanted him to beg for forgiveness, it wasn’t going to happen. He had his own food stores on his horse. Besides, these supplies obviously belonged to Duke Cyril, and Ragner had a right to take whatever he wanted from them. He had a feeling though that Kam wouldn’t take to that notion very well.

When the men finished eating, they continued their westward trek across the Bluestone Road. Ragner knew that the easiest path would be south, off of the road itself. There was a smaller road leading to a coastal town, Ostley. Travel from there to Caslemon would be easier than continuing on the Bluestone Road toward Drôme, because he would be out of the forests. When the smaller road appeared, an offshoot of the larger Bluestone Road, Ragner turned toward it.

“So that’s it then, eh? You’ll just leave us to our fate to save your own skin? Your father would expect you to help us.” If Kam had wanted him to help, Ragner thought, he chose the wrong words. Ragner wanted nothing to do with the Duke anymore, and if his supplies failed to reach his city, then so be it. Ragner didn’t look back as he left the men behind. The trees thinned out quickly as went, and his pace was quicker than it had been with Kam and his companions. It wasn’t long before he reached the edge of the highlands, and the end of the forest itself. Night would be approaching soon, and Ragner wanted to be as far away from the forest as he could get.

Looking out from the edge of the highlands, Ragner could see all of Eret Bay. Ostley was nestled against the coast, nothing more than a dark speck from his spot. Even farther away, at the end of the peninsula to his right, was Caslemon, though that was beyond his ability to see. Ragner knew that if he hurried, he would make it to Ostley before dusk. He spurred his horse forward, but was careful to follow the center of the road. The steep grade of the road would be dangerous for the horse if he pressed too fast. Ostley wasn’t exactly in the interest of any of the nearby duchies, and it usually found itself excluded from most of the politics. However, this also meant it was excluded from most of the financial benefits. The road was in disrepair, filled with ruts and rocks. It would certainly hamper his progress.

Mandor, Ostley ~ dusk of DAY 10

Ragner raced into the fishing town of Ostley. There were no walls for defense, and most of the buildings were constructed of wood or hardened mud. It was a poor town that had relied on fishing for survival. And now, Ragner saw, the town was empty. There were no lights in the buildings, no bodies on the streets. The place was empty, and looked like it had been for several days. Ragner wondered if perhaps they had fled south to one of the larger towns or cities.

Ragner had hoped to find another horse here. His had fallen a few miles outside of Ostley, snapped its leg in a deep rut in the road. Ragner couldn’t try to help the poor beast, not with night approaching. So he ran on. He knew the beasts were coming for him as the sun sank beneath the horizon. He saw a few that seemingly appeared out of thin air as he ran. They looked like smoke, or tangible shadows, pulling together to create a vile mimic of life. Ragner couldn’t make sense of what was happening or why. He could only run, and hope to find some sort of shelter within Ostley.

There were certainly a lot of buildings here, though none were very big. Certainly none were as defensible as the inn at Highcrest from the night before. They had barely fended off the beasts with five men. Ragner would never survive on his own. So he ran on, finding his way through the muddy twisting streets toward the beach. He hoped to find a boat, if the survivors of Ostley hadn’t taken them all when they fled. Wood docks appeared out over the water, the moonlight glinting off of the surface of the water beneath them. Ragner could make out several small boats. None of them were good for travel far from the coast, but Ragner just wanted to get away from land. He didn’t care how far out he made it, so long as the beasts couldn’t swim. And he was sure that they couldn’t.

His legs and chest were burning as he neared the docks. His heart was beating incredibly fast, and he thought it might burst from the exertion and adrenaline. He heard the pounding footsteps of one of the dark beasts behind him, catching up quickly. Ragner drew his sword while he still could and turned to face the beast. He couldn’t make out its form, but it was a four-legged beast. As it leaped toward him, he swung his sword. The blade connected, but so did massive paw of the beast. It struck him in the shoulder, forcing him over the edge of the dock and into the water. He lost hold of his sword as he struggled to swim back to the surface. The nearest boat wasn’t far off, and rather than climbing back onto the dock he swam for the boat. He could hear the howls of the beasts around him as the converged on his position. Ragner swam faster. He could hardly breath from the panic and the water trying to fill his mouth and throat. But he couldn’t just stop, not when he was so close.

He felt the aged wood of the boat brush against his fingers. He pushed one last time, throwing both hands up to the edge of the craft. He pulled as hard as he could, and he wasn’t sure if he could manage. His arms were tired, and his legs even more so. Eventually, after what felt like long agonizing minutes, Ragner made it over the edge of the boat. He wanted to lay there and take deep breaths, relax his muscles, and sleep, but he knew he couldn’t. The beasts would swarm the boat in seconds.
Ragner reached for his sword to cut the rope holding the boat to the dock, but realized with sudden panic that he had dropped it in the water. He couldn’t go after it, but he needed to cut the boat free. He realized suddenly, feeling rather stupid, that he had three daggers in his belt. He snatched one and ran for the rope. As he looked out over the town, it seemed alive with shadows. The beasts were all small, like canines or cats, but they were moving fast. The closest ones seemed to slow as they neared the docks. Ragner didn’t waste any time. He cut and tugged on the rope, trying his best to cut it free. Eventually, the dagger cut through the rope, and Ragner used an oar to push off from the dock.

His heart continued to pound in his chest as he watched the beasts in Ostley, wondering if they would follow, or perhaps transform into some flying beast and pluck him right out of the boat. But as the docks receded, the beasts faded in the darkness, quickly becoming invisible to his eyes. If they were even still there. Ragner dropped, not caring about the roughness of the floor. He stared up at the sky, thinking how wonderful it was to see the moons and the stars, to be able to breathe in the salty air of the ocean, to feel the exhaustion that filled his body. He was so glad to be alive. And now, at last, he let himself fall asleep.

Mandor, Caslemon ~ afternoon of DAY 12

Ragner didn’t bother bringing the boat up to the shore. He simply jumped out and swam to the beach. He knew that by the time he walked to Caslemon, he would probably be dry. If not, he would change into new clothes when he was finally home again. The state of his clothes, however, seemed trivial compared to the fact that he had made it home alive. When the guard in Aram had warned him about traveling, he had imagined racing home straight through the night, arriving safely some time the next morning. He probably would have killed the horse, but…well the horse had died anyway. And here he was, walking the final stretch to Caslemon.

The walk across the peninsula was dull compared to the rest of the trip. It was slow going, picking his way through the rocky coastline and low hills that surrounded Caslemon. There were several large rock formations that blocked his way, and he was forced to go around them. He couldn’t even see the town because of all the rocks between it and him. But he knew it couldn’t be far now.

At last, Ragner reached the wood and stone walls of Caslemon, the symbol of his power. Once again, it seemed as if Cyril had set him up to fail. Who could possibly end the corruption and clean the filth that plagued Caslemon? The town was large by the standards of Mandor, though not large or self-sufficient enough to be considered a city. It would never be considered a city, Cyril explained to him, if Ragner couldn't clean it up. It was a test, Cyril said, of his leadership and ingenuity. Ragner felt rather strongly that not even the great Cyril Omoron himself could fix this place up. Besides, the dark side of the town had its uses: even Ragner could find a place to hide until he was ready to be found. The corrupt weren't loyal to anyone or anything, except money. And he had plenty of that.

The gate barring the entrance to Caslemon wasn't even manned. Ragner had severely depleted the forces of Caslemon in his efforts to kill Barthon, and he didn't have many to begin with. Those who were left were likely enjoying the absence of their leader, indulging in whatever pleasures they could while they could get away with it. Ragner gripped the iron handle and gave a mighty pull, slowly forcing the rusting hinges to move. The left panel of the heavy wooden gate slowly came open, inch by inch. When Ragner judged there was enough room to slip through, he gave up the effort. He didn't even bother to close it behind him. Opening and closing the gate was normally a two-man job, at least.

The broad avenue before him was lined by tall wooden buildings. There was little stone used in construction here, and even less metal. Ragner wasn't sure why; according to Cyril the town had begun this way and no one had bothered changing that style. So, as the town grew in size, it remained the same as it always had been in terms of technology. And though stone wasn't used in construction, many of the homes were built around it; Caslemon was built on a rocky peninsula jutting out from Mandor. There weren't many flatlands here, and it was more effort to move the rocks than it was worth. So the inhabitants simply built around them. That left portions of Caslemon looking a lot like a maze, with winding catwalks and stairways connecting various levels of houses and platforms. The avenue Ragner was currently striding down, though always muddy and filled with trash, at least resembled the order of a planned city.

The buildings along this avenue, because of the limited area of flat space, were all built three or four stories high. Most of the stores, at least what was left of them, were found here, and the shopkeepers' own homes were on the levels above. Some of the upper floors even jutted out over the lower ones, making the avenue look like a crevice with a sliver of sky the only view of the outside world. No one was currently in the streets, though several horses stamped their feet in the mud restlessly, tied to posts outside of shops and taverns. It was to one of these taverns that Ragner was headed. Ragner had his own home. It was one of the largest structures in Caslemon, and also the first place Cyril would look for him. He knew a few smugglers here that would have a place or two to hide him for the time being, until he was ready to confront his father. He couldn't decide though if his hesitation was because he was feeling rebellious, or because he was afraid of Cyril.

The Flaming Head Tavern was one of the largest and foulest taverns in Caslemon. He could hear the noise of its current patrons before he even walked through the front door. He was immediately greeted by a pewter mug slamming against the wall less than a hand span from his face. Laughter erupted from the room, and Ragner wiped the mug's foul-smelling contents from his face and clothes. They couldn't have known who he was, Ragner reasoned. They would never treat the son of the Duke in such a manner. Yet, even after the patron's studied him, there were no forthcoming apologies. Ragner fought back his rising anger. He had, after all, been gone for several weeks. He had neglected his people in their eyes; they couldn't understand that he had been performing duties by the order of the Duke himself.

Ragner made his way to a table occupied by one of his 'friends.' The man was sitting alone, the hood of his wet and muddy robe hanging down over his back and one hand favoring the swollen side of his face. Ragner sat down without asking permission.

"Good hunting?" the man asked. He didn't look at Ragner, didn't look up at all from the mug sitting in front of him.

"Not so much," Ragner said, annoyed that the subject had been brought up already. "What happened to you?" he asked.

"Oh, you know...business, as usual." The man pulled his hand away from his face and inspected it, Ragner assumed in search of blood. "There were a couple of lads here earlier, looking for you."
"What did you tell them?" Ragner asked, his adrenaline already pumping. Cyril was looking for him already! The Duke must be angry.

"I told them the truth," the man said, annoyed. "That I'd not seen you since you left. But with everyone knowing the reputation of old Lamac, I don't think they knew what to believe."

"At least they didn't kill you," Ragner said, genuinely pleased. Lamac had proven to be more than useful over the past few years.

"Oh, don't think they didn't try to. But despite the Duke's power over Caslemon, he doesn't have many friends here, and I do. And I'm warning you, boy," Lamac said, his voice lowering to a whisper. "You don't have many friends here either."

"Leader's don't have the luxuries of friends," Ragner responded, not bothering to lower his voice as Lamac had done. "I've gotten used to it."

"That's not what I mean." Lamac pushed his mug away and leaned in toward Ragner. "You've never been liked, Lord Duiran," Lamac whispered, emphasizing Lord sarcastically. "It isn't about you being a leader because no one here thinks of you as a leader. They put up with you because you aren't getting in the way of good business. But they don't trust you. I think the only ones who did you got killed while chasing down that Gedrich Knight. And wipe that stupid look off your face, boy! I understand that those were your father's orders, but it is a well-known story already how bad you screwed it up. You really think I can hide you now? I know that's why you came to me first. How long do plan to hide? What good is it going to do?" Lamac leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, waiting for a response from Ragner.

"I...I don't know what to say..." Ragner responded slowly.

"Of course you don't. You never have. Its why you've never been a good leader."

"Well, what am I supposed to do, Lamac? I've done everything I can for this forsaken place! You don't even understand what we're up against."

"What," Lamac asked, stifling a small laugh. "Those shadows of the night? We've held them off for several already."

"You have walls to hide behind, Lamac. I was out there in the middle of them."

"At Carsiun Keep, of course. I hear that was part of the plan. But what about during the fight with the knight? We've heard that battle took place in broad daylight. Some even say it was more of a massacre."

"They laid two to rest above Toad Hollow," Ragner argued.

"How many did you lay to rest, Ragner?" Lamac retorted. "Or could you even do that? You were chased from the battlefield like a coward. The bodies of your men would still be there if it weren't for the efforts of the Duke. Did you ever think to return there and honor their sacrifice? They died for you, Ragner. They died because of you, because of your mistakes."

"The only mistake was in my father underestimating that knight. He and his friends are far more powerful than you give them credit for."

"Say what you will, boy. That doesn't change the fact that you return here alone." Lamac stood up and drained the remains of his mug, then turned and walked away. Ragner was at a loss. He didn't know what to do at this point. Should he return to the Duke and accept his punishment, and do his best to turn things around? Could he turn things around? From what Lamac had told him, he was deemed a failure long before the campaign against Barthon. He felt unwelcome in the tavern. Suddenly, the lack of apologies for the rude welcoming didn't seem so...out of place. Ragner felt a strong desire to leave, even if his only destination was Drôme. Suddenly, Sephalia didn't sound like such a bad idea.


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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Sun Aug 15, 2010 1:13 pm

Sephalia > Oliphey > Church of Zephiris on Dove street ~ afternoon of DAY 8

Darta, the singer, had been assigned to accompany the crew to replenish the water barrels at the lake while the rest of the caravan’s crew set about their own tasks. The job of refilling the barrels went swiftly with the help of 5 others and she had lingered at the edges of the beautiful lake in the half-light of the overcast sky after they had returned to Oliphey.
The strong breeze from the lake lifted her pale hair and brought a refreshing scent to her sensitive nose. The smells from the close quarters of the caravan was washed away for the first time in months. The slender Elven girl plucked a reed as she wandered the shore, her heart heavy with the feeling of isolation and loneliness. The slender Elven girl plucked a reed as she wandered the shore, her heart heavy with the feeling of isolation and loneliness. She suddenly heard a song lift on the soft breeze from the lake. It was an old song, but the lyrics had been changed and seemed to echo her own loneliness. The voice was obviously that of another trained singer. But who could it possibly be so far from Elven lands?

Darta slipped through the reeds as silent as any scout in the Elven Army might manage to try to learn the identity of the misplaced piece of her homelands. Slow, careful steps brought Darta to within sight of the mystery woman. The woman was slender as she was, but clothed as a full Elven scout. While Darta had adopted the eclectic mix of clothes of the rest of the caravan. Darta spread the reeds slightly with a slender hand to peer at the woman singing, Fair ashen hair topped a diamond-shaped face with pale eyes. Darta didn’t know her.

Suddenly, Darta heard a male voice call out in Elvish to the other woman by her name. “Titanya.” She knew that voice, and she was shocked, it was Áirhath, from her own village. Someone she’d admired from afar. Someone not meant for her. His sharp gaze was focused on the singer, he hadn’t noted her at all He was dressed in the manner of the mercenary troop he belonged to. Why was he here? What was happening? Without the courage to call out to Áirhath, Darta bolted out of pure instinct.

She raced back to the city gates.What was he doing here? Once inside the gates of Oliphey, she went in search of her friend, Katerina, only to be told she had gone to seek a priest. Darta knew the church Kate visited whenever she came to Oliphey, and her light footsteps found her Captain just yards from the small church she always frequented when the caravan passed through the city.

“Katerina. Please wait. I must speak with you.” She was slightly breathless from her run, but calmed her heartbeat with an act of will.
The heels of Kate’s riding boots clicked loudly on the oddly deserted cobbled streets as she wound her way toward a particular church she’d visited each time she came to Oliphey. The silence of the normally bustling street of the market town was unnerving, causing the hairs on the back of Kate’s neck to stand on end. She found herself glancing over her shoulder reflexively as she walked through the valleys created by the tightly packed buildings. Rounding one last corner, Katerina Forbes approached the familiar small church she’d been visiting for years. It was a humble stone building in comparison to some of the more richly appointed churches that could be found in every corner of the land.
Before she could enter and hopefully find the answer that might end the nightmares she had suffered through each night, however, she was hailed by an unusually breathless Darta. Kate paused to wait for the singer with a quizzical expression. “What is it, Darta?”

“Captain…Katerina. I…” Darta started in Human. She then paused and switched to Elvish as she knew Kate could understand her. “There is someone here. Someone from my past. I…”

Kate’s eyes sharpened, “Is this person a danger to you?” She interrupted suddenly.

Taken aback slightly, Darta shook her head, “No! No, it is only that…”

Once again, Kate interrupted Darta with a tone sharper than she normally intended. “Then it can wait.” She pressed her hand against the door of the church. “We can talk about this later.” She then added softly, “I promise.”

Leaving a shocked Darta on the street, Kate knocked on the door before entering the darkened interior. She swept her flamboyantly feathered hat from her head and raked her fingers through her thick locks as she let her eyes adjust to the dimly lit sanctuary. Fishing the small goddess figurine that hung about her neck from the inside of her shirt, Kate pressed it to her lips before venturing deeper into the calming atmosphere of the humble house of worship. Kate slipped between the aisles of wooden benches that lined the sanctuary toward the rear of the church. She knew the priest, Semric, had rooms in the back where he studied and prayed.

When she arrived at the rough-hewn oak door, Kate paused, suddenly unsure. The dreams she’d suffered through had terrified her. She feared learning their meaning almost as much as not knowing. She finally drew in a strong, calming breath and lifted her hand to rap gently on the door. “Semric? Are you there? It’s Kate…I need to speak with you.”



Last edited by Digital Muse on Sun Sep 12, 2010 8:44 am; edited 2 times in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Mon Aug 16, 2010 4:15 pm

Sephalia > Shores of Lake Barocula ~ Early Morning of DAY 23

"...and then he says to that noble prick: "Run m'lord, the sheep is going to bite you!". And what did the lordling do you wonder? He called his guard and ordered him to "slay" it, only - the poor man was too busy laughing!"

Laughter burst out as Zan, one of the younger scouts, finished his tale. Fabrin laughed as well, although he tried to keep the straight face a leader should have. The Captain laughs with his men though, doesn't he he? No harm in showing a bit of humanity every now and again. Besides, it was an interesting tale, the kind where the downtrodden peasantry humiliate their masters and oppressors in the most harmless of ways. It was a petty victory, but a victory nonetheless. And this is how the small folk entertained themselves, ridiculing one baron or the other. It is how they convinced themselves to go on, even when it was too hard to smile. This story of an over-eager young noble was no exception. He had been searching for "dangerous sheep", which was absurd. In his youth, Fabrin had told such stories as well, even took part in some of them. In his youth...

And look at them now, they had all been peasants at one point. Most of them, at least, some were of finer birth, but it mattered not. They were equals now, equals in their own eyes and before the eyes of the Captain. Serf or lord, it made no matter to him - he expected the same from both of them. They were fighting men now and they were all mortal, in the end, that is what mattered. Each man, great or small, was restricted by his own mortality. In the most luxuirous home and in the humblest of hovels, death had the same taste and it spared none. That is what mattered to these fighting men, former peasants and lords - respect not one's position in the community, but the scars on his face. The battles he has survived. And yet, it was strange to Fabrin. A year or two ago, some of the lads with him were holding hoes in their hands. Now they had bows and arrows, swords and shields. How quick blood changes people. Your blood, the blood of your foes, the blood of your friends. It washes away what you were...creates something new, something different than before.

There were six men in their group. After last night's attack it was decided that it would be better if they traveled in a group small enough to not draw too much attention, but big enough as to not get overrun. As such, instead of the two or three men groups, they were now split in two, bigger ones. Fabrin led this one, while another one of the older scouts led the rest. They were seldom attacked and rarely in large numbers, as such - they had no casualties. And yet, last night they almost lost two men. A surprise attack, in force, nearly decimated them. Fabrin could not say why the beasts acted so. He could not see a logic behind it. He was no tactician, by far, but he did not see any semblance of thought in their foes. Did they have no leaders? No masters, no words to heed?

Or maybe it was something simpler. They had been on the move almost constantly, stopping here and there for only the briefest of times. It would be tiring to some, but the scouts were hardened men, they were one with nature, as one would say. They knew how to make the most out of their meager sleep. They often switched paths, not traveling on one for an extended period of time. Fabrin reckoned that this was the cause for the little troubles the shadows had posed to them. After all, regardless of what these beasts were, they still had to give chase. They might even have heightened senses, he knew not, but they could not just guess where they were. Nor could they appear there.

Could they? Now that was an unpleasant thought. It meant that last night's attack was not a mistake, but a warning. A sign of things to come. In that case, the journey back to Ashwood would be far more dangerous that he imagined. Aye, the journey back. Zan, the young scout who always had a tale to tell, had climbed the highest trees in the area yesterday. What he saw gave them hope. He was not able to say exactly what it was, but it was something, that much was certain. By the shores of the Lake, a boat, or a raft or something similar. It could be nothing, or it could be the damned mages they were looking for. After days in the wilderness, checking and rechecking clearings and paths, they would finally find them. If fortune smiled upon them. If not, they would have to spend even longer in this forsaken place, dodging the beasts every night.

Regardless, he would not repeat the same mistake again. After they had noticed that object in the lake, most grew careless. Fabrin as well. He had allowed them to rest, long enough for the beasts to track them down. The Captain would not have allowed that, "do not grow lax" he cautioned. And what did I do? Acted like a complete fool, the scout thought. It was of no matter, despite his troubled mind, the shore was in sight. His group was coming from a western path, while the other would come from the east. These were the two closest paths which led to this part of the Lake. Thus, he reasoned that if anyone was to travel further inland, they would have to pass through his men.

When they left the forest and neared the waters, Fabrin positioned two men to guard the rear. He continued on with the other three. Almost at the same time, from the other path, came Tihir, the leader of the other group. He raised his hand in greetings and, likewise, left two men to watch the path. The small group approached the...platform, tense, ready to draw their weapons. No matter the contract, one could never trust a mage. The Captain thought so, as well.

"Remember, if these are the ones we're looking for...then don't waste empty words on them. You know how the Captain is, until he weighs them, we won't know how to behave in their presence. Speak what you must and no more."- he said quietly

Then he examined the platform. It was a good idea, he thought. For the thought came immediately to his mind. It was not a boat or raft as they had at first imagined, it was a fortress. A fortress that warded against the horrors of the night. He only hoped that, whatever these beasts were, they never learned how to swim. For apparently, they could not. While would those two be standing there if it was not so? And, aye, two people, a man and a woman, were located on the makeshift platform. Everything was as described. The hair, the likeness, indeed they were much alike. These had to be the people they were looking for. And, if the Captain approved, their future brothers-in-arms. But they had a master of their own, did they not? The letter said so. In that case, he had to measure his words carefully. He did not know who this man was, but the man, apparently, knew the Captain. It could be an old friend or a foe, it was not for Fabrin to decide. He was just a guide, he did not need to loosen his tongue.

"You there!" - he called out - "I am Fabrin of the Hawks, we were sent here to find you."

The Twins paused in gathering their meager supplies when they were hailed from the shore. The male stood from crouching beside his sister and shaded his eyes with a large hand. In the other, he held his bearded axe. Upon standing, Tuuli’s size became quite evident. His red-gold hair blew about his face, unfettered. More slowly, the woman also stood and she was easily as tall as the man, though more finely shaped.

The pair shared a look, then nodded and the woman called to them. “Well met! We had hoped to find your company this day.” Her voice was melodious and trained as one might expect from a magic-user.

Fabrin judged them quickly, they were not the frail bookworms most men believed mages to be. They could pull their own weight in the company, that much was certain. Regardless, it was for the Captain to decide, not him.

"Captain Barin will be waiting, he and the rest of my company are already in Ashwood. We mustn't tarry. The road isn't that long, but the perils of the night, as you no doubt know - he paused for a moment here, gesturing at their sanctuary, the platform - " are many."

The pair stepped off the platform, splashing into the cold water of the lake and waded to shore. The woman held her bow and a quiver of arrows above the water as she came ashore. Her brother unconsciously came ahead of her, placing himself between her and the newcomers. At Fabrin’s request that they move soon, the woman nodded her agreement. Pausing a few paces from Fabrin, the woman studied him momentarily.

“I am Tuuli and this is my brother Tuula Brendersen. You have the letter that we might be sure of who you are?”

Fabrin nodded and reached for the insides of a small leather bag he had on his person. The envelope was as it had been when delivered to the Captain, only the seal was broken. Both Barin and his chief scout were careful not to damage it, it was just their way.

"The Captain expected you would require it and here it is." - he handed it to Tuuli

Tuuli stepped around her brother’s broad shoulders to accept the offered letter. Reading it, she nodded at the signature and seal. “Thank you,” she smiled softly at the scout.

“My brother and I will gather the last of our things and we can be on our way.”

True to her word, the Twins’ neat camp meant they needed no more than a few minutes to take it down and be ready to travel. During this process, neither of them spoke, they didn’t need to. Shouldering their packs, the Magi rejoined Fabrin. The experienced scout watched on, pocketing the letter in the mean time. They were set, he was finally going to eat a warm meal...unless old Barin had something else up his sleeve.

"Very well. I'll be clear with you. I don't care who you are, I have my orders. To bring you to the Captain in one piece. That doesn't mean I'll carry you there." - he paused, letting his words linger - "Any questions?"

Tuula’s brow quirked northward when the scout laid down the law. Before he could growl out a sharp retort, though, Tuuli interrupted her brother.

“You needn’t fear, Master Fabrin. We are quite accustomed to bearing our own weight. And you will not find us falling behind.” - perhaps a little challenge entered her voice, for she was not completely above the veiled rebuke of Fabrin’s words.

"It's settled then." - he gave no sign of noticing the change of mood - "We'll move in pairs. Six of us will be in front, six in the back, you'll be in the middle. If we were to chance upon...something, we'll try to not let them distract you from your...spells. The journey will be hard, we won't rest much, lest we become easy prey."

He inclined his head at Tihir who recalled his men and organised their rearguard. Fabrin himself called the two scouts by the path and took charge of the front. He turned to the Twins once more, a faint smile on his lips.

"Let's go."

Moving to the midst of the scouts, the Twins followed Fabrin’s instructions without unnecessary chat. His plan was sound, so no discussion was needed. At his assurance that should they be attacked, the scouts would keep the enemy from them, Tuuli nodded.

“As you wish, Master Fabrin. You will not find us lacking should the enemy prove to be human.” Her eyes sparkled with some inner mischief.

The Twins once again shared a look, this time smiling at one another. When the scouts moved out, they moved easily within their ranks.

"I wish they were" - mumbled Fabrin.

Fabrin was pleased with the outcome. Not only had he maintained his calm demeanor, despite the tense moment he had provoked, he had also sent a key message across. Barin Mirland was not a man who put weight in people's titles. Mages or not, they would have to prove themselves to him, before he would count them as his own. And while Fabrin possessed neither his Captain's skill with words, nor his insight into the minds of others, he was certain that he had done his duty well. Now all that was left to do was bringing these two back to Ashwood. A task which would not be easy.

He was a scout, he had been one all his life. He had been a swift runner as a child and was light on his feet. Men and women would often send him to run one errand or the other, knowing that he would quickly see to it. Even in their games, the other children would use him to spy on their "rivals", the lads living on the other part of the village. Later, when he was a man grown, he served in the local Baron's army. The officers there had quickly noted that using him on the front line would be a waste. That is why he had wandered the woods alone or in pairs. And then, when he had returned to normal, settled life, Barin came. Fabrin was quick to see the opportunity in this and signed on as an experienced scout. Aye, truly he had been a scout all his life. Throughout it he had never depended on anyone, save for himself. But, nobody had depended on him. And now, the Captain had thrust not one or two, but more than a dozen lives in his hands. He had to return them to Ashwood and their blood would be on his hands if he failed.

Then he became aware of the foolishness in his thoughts. He had not been responsible for anyone? What a lie! Throughout his life, he had carried the most responsibility. The information he found, the number of enemies, their movement, the lay of the land, that was important. It mattered. Not to a dozen men, but dozens of them. What he saw and what he failed to notice would all react on them, those who would walk after him. So, it was then obvious that it was not the responsibility that troubled him here. It was something far more personal and only now did he realise what it was. Deeper, hidden beneath a veil of lies told to sooth his own mind, was the truth. And it was simple. He did not feel alone. No longer would he set his own pace, no longer would the leaves and the birds and the trees be his company, no longer would he be free. He was no longer a scout, he was a leader. It was not the first time he had assumed command of other scouts, but never all of them and never for such a long period of time. He had a feeling that he had not seen the last of it.

Of course, he left those thoughts to himself. Who could he share them with? Besides, it was not like he could say anything. Was he not the one who cautioned for silence? That is how their journey passed, with nary a word between them. The mages were, not surprisingly, quiet as well. But Fabrin could not shake himself of the feeling that they had a way of communicating with each other. Was it a bond of blood, them being siblings? Maybe so much time spent together had made words pointless between them? Or was it something else? Did it even matter? He would be free of the silence soon enough, the Captain would see to that.

Sephalia > Ashwood ~ Afternoon of DAY 15

Barin raised his hand to stop the column of men behind him. They were in sight of the city walls, but far enough to not be overheard.

"We have arrived." - he said plainly, stating the obvious - "While you are within the walls remember these things. Firstly, as promised, you will be free to do what you will."

His next words were drowned out by the cheers, but he rose his hand quietly and silence returned.

"Sleep, drink and eat where you will. What I ask is that you inform your hosts who you are, that way you will be easier to find. As usual, you can buy whatever you deem fit. This is Ashwood, after all, a city of merchants and craftsmen. And because I am pleased, our march was quick and you remained focused on the task at hand...despite some happenings, the Seneschal will offer every man and woman here a hefty pouch. You have earned it." - he added with a smile

The cheers were once again heard, but this time he made no attempt to stop them. Instead, he allowed Randor to move through the ranks, rewarding the Hawks for their service. Barin did not doubt that most of that would go into some tavern or a brothel. But who was he to judge? They had earned their bonus, let them spend it as they saw fit. When the Seneschal returned to his original position, on the right side of the front row of the formation, Barin rose his hand for silence again. His face was serious once more.

"Secondly, do not forget that whatever dangers plagued us in the wilderness are still very much real. They will assault the city even tonight, I am certain." - the threat of the shadows had been forgotten for a moment, Barin thought he did the right thing to remind them - "That said, I have promised you rest and rest you shall have. The defenders of Ashwood will manage on their own. If any of you wish to help in the defense, as volunteers or swords for hire, so be it. You have my permission."

"Thirdly, do not settle down overmuch. We will leave after our scouts return. Why and where to will be decided once they rejoin us. Be ready to depart at any moment." - a small pause followed, after which he continued - "And last, I will say this. Duke Terin, the lord of Ashwood, is a fair, but harsh ruler. It is the only way to keep a trading town such as this in check. If you must make a name for yourselves, so be it. But do not draw too much attention."

With that, he turned on his heels. Barin was a man of his word, in all aspects. He said "last" and that was that. It meant he had said all that he would for the time being. The Captain continued with his march and the mercenaries followed. He was ahead of the column, walking alone. A sign of his authority and the loneliness that accompanied such positions of power. Behind, the Hawks came in a neatly ordered formation. The small procession was ordered in three columns, with the the supplies at the back. Looking at them, one could assume they were a military detachment. But they flew no banners and carried no colours of their liege.

As they neared the gate, a guard greeted them wearily. The man was leaning on a spear, his face was haggard and his speech was slow, tired. Barin stood aside as his men marched through the gate, waiting for all of them to pass. He glanced at the spearman who was, not surprisingly, watching the armed men with interest. Another individual seemed to have been interested. Better dressed and wider around the chest and shoulders. The tabard over his breastplate marked him as the Captain of the Gate. He was old, probably as old as Rin, his short hair was completely white. His trimmed beard ran along his wide jaw. All that, plus his overall demeanor, gave Barin the impression that he was a man who would not sit idly by while the younger generation moved on. He would not feel worthless.

"Mercenaries, eh?"

"How did you know?" - asked Barin, he was indeed surprised, not many people guessed that outright

The other man grinned. "When you've been watching a gate for more than half a century, you tend to notice things others don't. You don't have no banners, no lord's insignia. Plus none of the fanfare, no mounted officers in shiny cloaks. That's why they still keep me around, I know where to stick my nose."

Barin nodded.

"How long have you been out there?" - asked the gate warden

"For about a week."

"An entire week amidst those shadows! Where do you come from?"

"From Fenwater, after we helped them fend off an attack."

"Zephiris have mercy! All the way there? Then it's as bad as I feared." - he paused for a second - "A lot of folk here thought that these attacks were something local. Something to do with the Lake. The restless souls of our forefathers, displeased with our offerings. But when you live as long as I have, you don't just assume such things. A few ghost problems don't stop travelers from coming, a few restless spirits don't stifle trade in an entire region."

"Zephiris help us!" -he exclaimed again

"Invoking gods will not help you, Captain. No mercy or salvation will come from up there" - he looked up at the sky - "A cool head and a steady hand will decide the matter here. We traveled through the wilds, aye, and were attack every night. But we managed, no man or woman in my company was slain by a shadow. These things...whatever they are, let some mage or priest decide, feed on doubt, on fear, panic. Show them no such and they fall easily."

"Aye, what you say rings true. Good words, good for putting an old man in his place." - he paused briefly, then turned to the matter at hand - "Our Duke's seen to that. He doubled the guard, while his men are out in the countryside, patrolling the villages."

Barin nodded in agreement, the words confirmed his observations. He had already counted two dozen men about the gate, something which was never needed in other times. Especially not at the end of the day.

"There's a curfew, I should warn you" - continued the grey-haired man - "No resident or guest of the city is to be outside once night falls. Not that such a measure was needed, mind you. People are reluctant to leave their homes in broad daylight, let alone during the night."

"How are you dealing with the attacks?"

"They have been getting bolder during the last few days. At first, few of them managed to reach our walls. Now they have some...new breed, I can't say. Flying shadows, they pass over our walls and harass our archers. We now have to place guards between their ranks, men that could be of better use holding the gate."

"I see, but the city is safe?"

"Aye, nothing out of the ordinary. Though now with the curfew and all, some suspicious types have been lurking about. We have our rotten apples here and there, they're just trying to make a profit from all this."

"Thank you for the information, I should leave you to your duties."

"Not much duty until the night falls, but aye. You're probably tired from your journey. Let me warn you though, folk here, they're used to strangers, they brought trade and news. Not anymore, what strangers bring is another throat to feed, another horrid tale to tell, I'm afraid you won't find much of a welcome."

"We seldom do. Be well, Captain."

The other nodded at him and returned to the gatehouse, the spearman resumed his previous post, by the gate. Barin went on and soon found himself on the streets of Ashwood. The city was....much livelier than Fenwater had been. There were people moving about, at the least. But it was nothing like the place the Captain remembered. He began walking on the cobbled street, which lead to the market. After some ten minutes, Barin was at the location of the once grand marketplace of Ashwood. The city was known throughout the region and the kingdom as a whole for its trade. Barin noted how he used past tense to refer to it.

For, indeed, this was nothing like the old Ashwood. The stalls were there, along with a performer or two, there were merchants and petty vendors, trying to find buyers for their wares. Some would blame the time, the sun was already setting. But Barin had been here before, he knew that business seldom stopped and carried on until much later. There were no peasants to be seen, with produce from their villagers. No foreign merchants, they all wore clothes typical to the local area, no laughs and curses. It was almost quiet. Whatever it was, be it shadows or something else, unseen at this point, the people felt it. It was not just the lack of trade or the shadows, no, it was...he could not find a word for it. He had not seen it before, for he had spent the last few weeks in the company of his men, mostly. The Hawks had stayed out of the big cities, with their maze-like streets and crowds of people. Barin had oft heard that in these places, one could feel the pulse of the country, the nation. If Ashwood was any indication, the heart had almost stopped beating.

For some reason Barin remembered that he had one or two men in his service who were born here. How would they deal with the changes? It must be a blow to them, to see their hometown like this. And how would the locals deal with it? From their unfriendly faces and weary eyes, he guessed the answer. Whatever was happening, it was felt. Not on an individual level, but when the sum of all lives was made, there was a sense of foreboding that seeped into one's soul. Barin felt it too, now that he was amongst others.

The Hawks would be easy to find, he only had to make his way to the nearest inn. Not surprisingly, he was already aware of the situation that many were closed. And indeed, why keep one open when there was nobody to use it? People stayed in their homes, visitors would not come, why waste the time and resources to keep it running? It was not just one or two, Barin noticed many familiar names, at which he had drank and slept before, closed, empty, cold. He passed through the emptying market square and moved into one of the smaller streets, which led to the center of the city, where the priests and lords dwelt.

He walked for half an hour or more, during which he met few people. Mostly guards, some stray shopkeeper eager to return home. Nothing else. Only now did he realise that it was just like Fenwater, only on a much bigger scale. It could not be noticed in a small, rural town. Even one as prestigious as Fenwater, it could never have the same amount of people a place like Ashwood would have. It was empty in its own way, as was Ashwood. Only it was much harder to miss here, it had been a busy place and to see it devoid of life...it was tragic.

Finally, he came upon an inn. He was not the only one who had found it, by the sounds of it. Many of the voices coming from inside were familiar. Upon entering, he found at least a score of his men, waiting for their meals. There were few patrons to speak of, save for one or two locals, who were already busy prying tales from the newcomers. It might seem strange at first, one would think that these men would have grown tired of their own company. That they would want to spend at least a night with strangers. Regardless of what they thought, such was the case. There were almost no strangers about, save for them. Not to mention that most of the inns and taverns were closed. And besides, with the sour mood of the locals, it was to be expected that men would stick to friends they knew.

Barin nodded at the turned faces and moved towards the bar. A fat, middle-aged, man was standing behind it. He looked up when the Captain approached.

"Do you have rooms?" - Barin asked

"Of course I've got bloody rooms. Haven't you been outside? Did you just come out from under a rock?"

"You should be more courteous to your guests."

"Who do you think you are? It's my damned inn, if you don't like it leave."

"Oh, I will leave all right. And order my men" - he paused, pointing at most of the patrons - "to come with me. We can take our business elsewhere."

"Now, now, no need to be so displeased about it, m'lord. Times are hard, is all."

Barin almost sighed, people never see reason. Or, at least, not until you shove it in their faces. It was the same with this one, only now did he change his tone.

"What about that room I asked?"

"Aye, there's free ones, could house two score of people here, even more. Your men are not near enough to fill all of it, I'm afraid."

"Be pleased we are this much, it could have been worse."

"I'll have my daughter prepare a room for you. It's nothing fancy, bed, a table and a chair. No lord's place, that's for sure."

"I never asked for more. How much will it be?"

"Three silvers per night."

"I'll also have something to drink and food, of course."

"Naturally. The wife's making a stew now, vegetables mostly, we ain't got much in the way of meat right now. What will you drink? I'm warning you, not much of a choice here either. Wine or ale."

"Wine it is. What do you have?"

The innkeeper shrugged. "Haven't checked the stores, no idea what's left."

"Whatever it is, just bring it faster."

Barin sat by an empty table, preferring to leave his men on their own. No matter how much they loved and respected him, there was always that invisible barrier. It could never be overcome. Despite all that he had done for them, he was the Captain and they would never be at ease in his presence. Barin did not mind however, it was to be expected. A leader could and, frankly, had to be friendly with his men, but he could never be their friend. This was what his father had told him once, long ago. This is what he told himself when he formed this company. Close, but never too close.

After a bit, a pretty young girl shyly told him that his room was ready. He went upstairs and found his room on the third floor, at the end of the corridor. Why this far? There were plenty of empty rooms nearer to the staircase. Perhaps the innkeeper valued his privacy, or perhaps it was a cheap way of repaying Barin's threat. It made no matter. He entered the room, set aside his pack and removed his armour. After all, there was no point in carrying the additional weight, clanking with each step. Eating his meal, in an inn, on a chair while wearing all that seemed absurd to him. Instead, he settled for his "city clothes" as he called them. Black breeches and boots and a dark red shirt. A black hooded cloak completed his appearance, clasped by a small brooch in the shape of a hawk. The only thing he took from his battle gear, was the swordbelt, along with the dagger and sword hanging from it. He would not be armoured, but that did not mean he would be defenseless.

When he returned downstairs, his meal was waiting for him, along with the wine. What he did not expect was the innkeeper, standing by the table. Barin took a seat, but did not offer one to his host, he was not in the mood for a long talk.

"Did you meet my daughter, m'lord?" - the innkeeper asked, somewhat hesitantly

"I caught a glimpse of her, when she told me about my room. Why?"

"Thing is...you did notice how..." - he was at a loss for words for a moment - "attractive she was?"

Barin already knew what the question meant. Yes, the innkeeper's daughter was comely, very much so for one who had spent months in the wild. He did not like the stutter in the other man's voice. Why was it so hard to ask him, Barin, straight in the face: will your men rape my daughter? Let him sweat then, he only nodded quietly.

"Yes, well, your men..."

"Listen, innkeeper, I do not know what patrons frequent your inn, but you are mistaken. No man here will lay a hand on your daughter. They will not allow it."

"They?"

"Take a good look, my host, do you not inspect your guests?"

And indeed, if the innkeeper had payed more attention, he would have noticed that there were five other women in the room. Mercenaries like the others.

"Neither will I. You have my word." - the Captain added, after he understood that the innkeeper had seen what was suggested

"Thank you, m'lord, it's just that I th-"

"I am known for many things, things that could be considered both good and evil. But no man or woman can deny that my word is not golden. Speak no more of this while we remain your guests."

The host bowed and quickly returned to his bar, leaving Barin to his meal. The wine was not the best of vintages, but it would do. The stew was good enough, it was warm, that much could not be denied. Overall, it was a good meal, hastily prepared as it was, with whatever supplies could be found. There was nothing to be displeased about.

The night went on and as the tension slowly left the mind and bodies of both hosts and patrons, things started getting more...bearable. And of course, the almighty liquid that filled the cups helped move things along. There was laughter, jokes, tales...everything one might expect in a normal inn, in normal times. Whether intrigued or frightened by the noises, a few other people, no - patrons, soon appeared. A guard or two even peeked in, wondering what was happening. Slowly, but steadily things began to liven up. By the time the first signs of drinking more than needed were noticed, the number of patrons had doubled.

Barin was both happy and annoyed by that. For one, it really did seem that the lifeblood of any community was what came from beyond, no matter if beyond was the next village, the next town or the next city. These strange men and women that had arrived at an unexpected time, brought back a tiny glimmer of life to the otherwise dying city. On the other hand, Barin was not one to forget quickly. Even now, the defenders were manning the walls, waiting for or fighting the shadows. Even now, Fabrin and his men were out there in the woods, in the damp and cold, while here he was enjoying his wine. Life was cruel and unfair, indeed.

He had chosen his table for a reason. Not only was it far from the others, it was placed by one of the windows. This allowed him to have a good look of the street outside. For the most part, there was no movement. Only the swift footsteps of shadowed silhouettes now and again. The only thing that stood out was a force of armed men, bearing the livery of the city. No doubt sent to the walls, he thought. His eyes were then drawn to three people leaving the inn. One was a woman, with a full bosom and charming smile, he had noticed her when she came in. The other two were...he grinned as he saw them, Silan and Geren. The comforts of city life, indeed.

It was to be expected - they were young and eager, in more ways than one. In a village such as Fenwater, no matter how many travelers passed through, news of such...happenings would spread soon. Someone, somewhere would have seen something. That would bring shame on both the lass and the lad. Here, however, in these cities, the pleasures of the flesh were turned into a business, just like anything else. It could be bought, in its simplest, purest form or with additional decorations. Like a vase, for example. He waited for them, knowing that they would pass by the window. After all, before entering the inn, he had noticed the red lantern in one of the alleys. However, when after a few minutes he saw no sign of them, he knew that they must have went the other way. Geren and Silan had drank more than enough, he remembered. The woman could have chosen someone richer, more experienced, but no - she settled for these two. Inexperienced boys, not only in bed. It did not take him much time to realise what was afoot.

He stood up and briskly headed for the door, his head was clear - he had not drank much. As he passed one of the tables he leaned in and whispered something to one of the corporals.

"Lina, pay attention to the window, look at what is happening outside. If I do not come back in...say, twenty minutes, come and find me. Not alone, I should add."

The black-haired woman quietly nodded to him, her dark eyes darting to the window as soon as he departed. In the mean time, Barin had already left the building. He took a deep breath, the chilly air filling his lungs. He pulled his cloak about him and quickly followed their presumed direction. It was mostly quiet, save for far-off shouts, no doubt from the walls. He moved quickly and, his suspicions were correct, heard laughter coming from one of the alleys. One of the alleys that was in the completely opposite direction of the brothel. The woman did not work there, that much was certain and the ruler was too strict for any...freelancers to be roaming about. No, this was a plain robbery attempt, cheating two peasant boys, a quick way to make some coin.

He caught up to them just as they were about to turn in a shabby looking alleyway. The buildings, like the street that passed by them, were in a bad shape. No matter how prosperous a city was, there was always that part of town, that spot on the white canvas, which ruined the idyllic scene. It seemed that this was one such part. The city watch no doubt avoided it, especially now when they had to contend with the beasts outside the gates. A perfect place for scum to hide. He had moved quickly, but silently enough so when he approached they did not turn to look. The could have heard him, but they probably did not care. As for the woman...she was expecting her friends to come along.

Barin gripped each of his new recruits by the shoulder, a firm grip which rooted them in place. They turned around, their faces twisted by alcohol and anger. But it was only for a moment, they recognised the Captain and smiled nervously at him.

"Well, well...satisfying your needs, I see?"

"Y-yes, sir." - Geren replied

"Perhaps you would like to join in m'lord, there's more than enough of me..." - she said, with deft fingers she began revealing more of herself.

The bitch is getting desperate, Barin thought. Not surprisingly, the boys looked at her in amazement. Doing that...right there on the street! It was normal for their age of course. Barin, however, was not impressed.

"Get out of my sight whore, before I break your teeth!" - he growled

"But m'lor-"

"Did you not hear me the first time?!" - he gave her the back of his hand, sending her to the ground. After that he forcefully turned the two overeager Hawks in the other direction.

"Come, you fools. It seems that one of the many things I will have to teach you is how to discern a proper prostitute from a bait."

The two might as well have been dead, they made no sound. The only noise which filled the air were the sobs of the whore. Not only had Barin used all his strength in that slap, she would also receive a beating for failing her task. The Captain, of course, did not care. The moment of anger was gone, it had never been there in the first place, only a slight hint of it. If she had said one more word, however....he waved that thought away. They traveled back to the inn, during the way Barin released the two lads, knowing that they had no where else to go. When they set foot on the bigger street, however, fate played another joke on them.

Five men were coming from the other direction. They were neither guards, nor soldiers that much was obvious. They would not be hooded otherwise. Barin paid them no heed, neither group was supposed to be out at this hour. Neither group had interest in the other's dealings. But one of the men bumped into Silan, nearly knocking him to the ground. As if that was not enough, he punched him in the face, the otherwise agile youth was too drunk to respond adequately. More trouble than they are worth, thought Barin with a sigh.

"Touch the boy again and I will rip out your throat, you bastard" - he said icily

"What's that old man?!" - spoke the hooded thug - "You want a beating, eh?"

"Take it easy, no need to bother these poor bastards" - spoke a calmer voice, who was at the center of the group, their leader it seemed. - "Keep your sons in check, someone less patient than me could make your life a lot worse."

From the way he spoke, the way he held himself, Barin assumed he was a noble. The typical arrogance showed him he was a young one at that.

"Do not lecture me, lordling." - he pushed the shocked Silan aside, taking a step closer - "And do not even think of threatening me."

The guard, for he was a guard - it was now obvious, who had attacked Silan attempted the same with Barin. A big mistake. This time, his fist was caught mid air and his wrist was twisted in such a way that it broke. Blades were drawn. Barin pushed the man aside and drew his own sword. Four against one, Geren and Silan were too shocked to be of any real help, it was to be expected. He could probably take this sorry lot, the lordling would be the most trouble he assumed, arrogant as they were, they were almost always good duelists. He did not want to risk it, a foolish risk, without any real gains. The other leader was of like mind it seemed, the advantage in numbers was growing slim. The sword-arm of one of his men was useless, that gave him pause. He obviously had another task to attend to, why else would he be out and about at this hour? Youth, however, was not rational and rather than ending the matter there, his ego got the better of him.

"You are a bigger fool than I thought. Do you know who I am?"

"Should I care?"

"I will make your life miserable, I swear it!"

"A thug who swears oaths? Now that is something you do not see every day!"

"A thug? A lowborn peasant like you has no right to judge the likes of me!"

"Then why do you not attack, boy? Are your numbers not enough?"

"I can bring to bear more numbers than you can count, you filthy bastard. I can...I-"

Upon hearing a door nearby opening, Barin smiled.

"What good is the force that you could muster, if you had the time, when I have already mustered mine?"

And indeed, from the inn came his men. Lina was a woman, but that did not mean she could not get that drunken lot on their feet in no time. She had no doubt watched through the window and Barin was merely buying her time to get them going. Upon noticing the grim, annoyed men, with weapons drawn, the hooded leader lost his confidence. He was now outnumbered four to one.

"Well my lord, where is your courage now?"

Silence was the only answer. He does not flee at the first sign of danger, at least, Barin gave him that.

"Leave now and I will count the matter settled. If I see you on the street tomorrow I will not even recognise you, nor you me." - he left the words linger for a moment and noted how everyone was waiting for him to continue, both friends and foes - "As for that worm who dared strike one of my men in front of me, bring him here."

There was a yelp as two of the hooded men brought their own companion before the Captain. When they let him go, he staggered to the ground, begging for his life. Pathetic. Barin merely stooped and grabbed him by the collar, lifting him until their faces were even.

"Right, so that is how your ugly mug looks like. I do not forget, keep that in mind. The next time I see you, I swear to whatever god you may believe in, I will kill you."

He let go of him and turned to his men, gesturing for them to return to their merriment. After a minute, both groups had left that part of the street. As Barin and the two lads entered the inn, he gripped them by the shoulders again.

"You can be thankful that I had someone to hit today, otherwise those blows would have been yours to take. Go sleep, there will be no rest for you. From tomorrow, until we remain here, you will go where I tell you to go, do what I tell you to do. You did not originally deserve this rest, for you have not endured what these men and women have. Now that rest is completely forfeit."

He left them there and headed for his own room, wanting to put the matter behind him. He undressed and placed his head on the soft pillow, getting a feel for his bed. Truth be told, it was not that comfortable, but after having spent months sleeping on a straw mat, it felt as good as the king's. Soon, he was fast asleep.

Sephalia > Ashwood ~ Early Morning of DAY 16

Barin woke up, put on his clothes and left the inn. It was still early, nobody apart from him had awoken yet. Whether it was the heavy drinking from last night or the overall fatigue of their journeys, his men were yet to rise. It was good, he thought, let them rest. He knew not how long they would have that luxury. The morning air was chilly and misty, the sun was low in the horizon, the day had not yet begun. And yet, for some reason, Barin felt fully rested. He began walking in no particular direction, enjoying the empty, quiet streets of Ashwood. He would often take a turn here or there, passing by this alley or that. At times, he would stop to trade japes or gossip with the old, curious women who were already up and about at this hour. What he learned from them was no news at all, people were afraid, moods were sour, scum prowled the streets at night. There were also rumours that the priests had gone mad and had begun performing strange rituals. He did not know what to make of that, even those who uttered the words claimed that there was no truth to them. But Barin knew better. Behind every lie, beneath every rumour, there was a glimmer of truth.

The day carried on and Barin continued wandering its streets. He would oft do that, when he had a chance to stay in a bigger city. It was one of the weaknesses he possessed, one of the anchors to the past. Growing up in his father's estate meant he saw little of the outside world. Even when he had a chance to visit the nearby Brookstone, there was not much to see. It could barely be called a town. That is why, unknown to all his men, he took great pleasure in exploring the great cities. He passed through all neighbourhoods, not fearing anything. For what could frighten him when he had nothing to lose? It was also a way for him to clear his mind, order his thoughts. All negative emotions from the night before were washed away. He could not blame the two young men, they were, after all, inexperienced and such...accidents were to be expected. And yet, he would not balk from his decision. They might as well learn a thing or two about the world while they had the chance.

As the sun rose ever higher, the number of people on the streets increased. It was not as bad as he had judged yesterday, he understood. The people were afraid, aye, but that did not mean they could put a halt on their day to day affairs. They went to work, opened their shops, visited the market and filled the streets. Only after the sun would begin its descent would they retreat to the safety of their homes, Barin supposed. And yet, the fear was there. On their faces, in their conversations, there was always that unavoidable reminder that tonight, they would come again.

The curfew did not really have an effect, he also noticed. Either it was not enforced or there were simply little men to spare for patrols. Already he heard a few people talking about some strangers who had settled in an inn and caused some sort of trouble. He smiled slightly, at least the arrival of the Hawks had given them something new to talk about. Something that did not revolve around the shadows. Perhaps the innkeeper would have even more patrons tonight? All because of his men...yes, he would have to remind the man that. After all, an opportunity was an opportunity, Barin was always on the lookout for one.

By the time he returned to the inn, it was already noon and he had passed through most of the city. He had even passed by the Duke's palace. If he had not already accepted D'Armitage's contract, he would gladly have worked something out with the lord. No doubt he would have some use for a company of experienced swords. Then again, if not for that letter, he would probably not be here in the first place. Such was life, a series of choices and then a multitude of buts and ifs. As he neared the already familiar building, an ordinary looking man barred his way.

"A moment of your time, m'lord."

"I am no lord." - Barin replied calmly

"My mistake then, sir." - he grinned - "I bring a message for you."

"Very well. Where is it?"

The man tapped his head.

"Too important to be written on a piece o' paper. Can't nobody read my mind if...something were to happen."

Barin nodded quietly.

"My master wishes to see you, he has a business preposition."

"Tell your master that we have already been hired. We do not take on two jobs at once."

"Yes, yes. He already knows of that. It's just for you, he said. You won't even need to travel."

Barin was intrigued. Haggling with the innkeeper for some trivial sum of coin was one thing. Working, or the very least, meeting such a well-informed man was always interesting. And rewarding in a number of ways. If he could line his pockets while waiting, why not?

"Very well. I will meet your "master", but I do not promise that I will accept."

"Naturally, he'd have it none other way. He's waiting for you in that house over 'ere."

He inclined his head at a building nearby. Like the messenger, it was not something that would catch the eye. After noticing Barin's nod, he headed in that direction, walking a few steps ahead of the Captain. Upon arriving before the door, he knocked. A bearded man opened it and bade them to enter. The messenger hesitated for a moment, turning his head to Barin and then went in.

"M'lord is upstairs." - said the bearded one in a thick voice

Barin understood that the he would have to walk the rest of the way by himself. He left the messenger and the tall door-guard and moved up the stairs. The Captain took his time, trying to figure out who this person could be. He knew where he was staying, that much was certain, why else would he be waiting for Barin here? The building itself revealed little, it was as normal as any other. Since he owned the whole of it, he could pass on as a well-to-do merchant, most folks could not afford it. That was all. Lost in such thoughts, he arrived before another door. Barin was not one for courtesy, so he entered without knocking.

Inside was a young, blond-haired man. He smiled and stood up to greet him, offering his hand.

"A pleasure to meet you."

"I do not shake hands with a stranger."

"I heard as much, take a seat."

There were only two chairs in the room, Barin set on the one nearest to the door.

"Would you like something to eat or drink perhaps, Captain?"

"Save your warm welcomes. You claim to know of me, then you already know that I am not one for false greetings. Say what you have to say and I will tell you what I think."

"So be it. Are you aware of the current situation in Ashwood?" - he stood up and headed for the window, looking out.

Barin rested his chin on his fist.

"The locals are afraid, trade has stopped, the villages are not bringing in produce. I assume that you will now reveal something more to me." - it was not a question, but a statement.

"You assume correct, Captain." - he paused a little, turned around to face Barin and spoke again - "There is currently a war brewing, not one on the field, but one in the shadows."

"So, that is why your city seems to be teeming with miscreants at night."

"You catch on pretty quick, Captain. It seems we were right about you."

"We?"

"Before our current troubles started" - the man continued, ignoring Barin's words - "we had our fair share of louts here and there. Every bigger community has them, thieves' guilds, muggers, smugglers, the occasional assassin. However, only recently have...certain parties began to rally them."

"What better way to wage this shadow war of yours, if not with those who stick to the shadows?"

"Indeed, Captain. They are men of little importance, with no ideas and no goals in life. Give them enough coin and they will fight for your cause. Worthless individuals, a waste of space, but at the same time useful. Any good craftsmen needs tools after all."

"In short, men like me."

"Yes, like you. Although you are a step above most of them."

"You are good at stating the obvious, I see."

Barin liked this youth, he was arrogant, but he did not flinch when someone stood up to him. Lesser men would have assured Barin of his worth, this one only said that which was a fact.

"As you no doubt know, to have a war, there must be two or more sides with opposite views." - he stopped for a moment - "I represent one of these sides. You will be a useful tool to us, a well-paid, useful tool."

"I do not blindly accept tasks. First tell me what the job entails, what I will be up against, then I will tell you how much it will cost you. I may be a tool with no morals, but I value information."

"Yes, my master said as much."

Barin quirked an eyebrow.

"You did not think I was in charge here, did you? I'm far too young for that." - he chuckled, after which he became serious again - "Come now, did you expect such an important figure would meet you here? Especially when there is a spy amongst us."

"I would be surprised if there was a lack of one, information is vital in any war."

"You misunderstand, Captain. He is here, in this building."

"The messenger."

Another laugh. "How did you guess?"

"He did not expect the other man, the tall one, to be here."

Indeed, the momentary hesitation made sense now.

"No, I guess not. It is of no matter now, he is dead already."

"Continue."

"I have said all that I could. As of now, our enemies still do not know that we have contacted you. You can walk away now and we shall never see each other again. Or, you can accept to meet one more person, my master, tonight."

"Where will this meeting take place?"

"My master trusts your hospitality, so he will join you on your table. The one you used yesterday. He will arrive one hour after the curfew is in effect. Try not to go beating up whores this time."

"For such an arrogant, self-centered bastard, you know an awful lot about me."

"Information, as you said, is key in any endeavor. Have a good day, Captain,"

Barin stood up and left the room. There was no point in thinking about any of that at the moment, he would know the full story in due time. Only after that could he start making sense out of it. It was not the first time such parties had turned to him, but it had certainly been a while. With a slight smile, he realised that he was going to accept. He had not carried out a personal contract in quite some time. It would be good to feel independent, if only for a few days. As he reached the ground floor, he nodded at the tall, bearded man. After that he left the building and headed to the inn.

Oh, the lordling was true to his word. The body of the messenger had been neatly bundled in the corner.


Last edited by Blackrock on Tue Aug 17, 2010 6:25 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Mon Aug 16, 2010 4:17 pm

Sephalia > Ashwood ~ Night of DAY 16
Whoever the "master" was, he was certainly precise. He arrived exactly one hour after the horn announcing the curfew had sounded. Barin was certain of that due to the handy hourglass located on his table. It was a gift, received a long time ago, but it had its uses. No sooner had the last grain of sand trickled, that the door of the inn opened. Barin had a feeling that he would like this man.

The stranger walked in and headed for the Captain's table. As usual, only one of the seats was occupied. He did not draw much attention from the other patrons either, as Barin had foreseen, the inn was full. It was mostly people from the neighbourhood, who had quietly sneaked out to enjoy a pint. Or a story, it made no matter. The man pulled down his hood and revealed a pleasant, older face. There was snow in his, short-cropped, blond hair and time had etched a few lines across his face. But he was still strong, both physically and mentally. His brown eyes possessed both wisdom and a deep cunning, age might have dulled his features, but not his mind.

"Captain, it is a pleasure to meet you."

He extended his hand. This time, Barin shook it firmly.

"I am Vanik Devan, a merchant."

"Not an ordinary merchant, I assume."

"On the contrary, Captain, I am the simplest of merchants. Profit is what I have in mind. Profit is what I see in every opportunity that presents itself. As do you."

"The difference being that I have to get my hands dirty."

"A tool for every job and a job for every tool. It is simple."

"It is" - Barin nodded.

"On to matters at hand." - he waved at the innkeeper and ordered himself an ale - "The boy has already told you the basics. We are at war and as with all wars, this one is waged with profit in mind."

He paused when the innkeeper served him his drink, when he departed Vanik continued:

"The enemy is a lord, Serek Terin, the Duke's younger brother."

"A powerful enemy."

"Not quite. He is not on good terms with his older brother, he will get no support from him. Do not be mistaken, we are not going against our ruler here. Duke Terin is an asset to this city and only a fool will disrupt his plans."

"But his brother..."

"But his brother is too power hungry. As are all second born and third born children and so on."

"Always in the shadow of their older sibling."

"Aye. Instead, he is trying to gain the support of the merchants, the peddlers...the people, in short."

"Why is that a problem to you?"

"Because he is interfering with my operations, of course." - he took a sip of his drink - "As you know, the guards have their hands full dealing with these shadows that plague us even as we speak. They cannot enforce the curfew, let alone watch all passages leading in and out of the city."

"Smuggling?"

"Correct. I have men in the countryside, they buy from the peasants and deliver it here. Of course, coin is better than no coin, so the villagers agree with the lower prices we offer them" - he smiled - "While the merchants here have no qualms about buying these goods at higher ones."

"What goods are these?"

"Mundane ones, Captain. Fruit, vegetables, meat, milk, cheese, all the commodities that cannot be made in a city such as ours. Not in sufficient quantities at least." - he paused, taking another sip - "People are like a herd of sheep, it takes only a few dogs to frighten them. I have heard reports of these beasts that roam the lands. They are otherworldly, frightening, but they fall. You know better than I certainly."

"Indeed. They are not foes I would face, they unnerve even the stoutest of hearts. But, in truth, they are not that dangerous."

"Aye. You are a veteran, Captain, your men as well. Where others bend or break, you stand strong. It only takes a few such men to help the masses get back on their feet. And such men, while not common, exist." - another sip - "Few caravans travel now, people hide at nights, the peasants are afraid to set a foot outside their hovels...but it will not last. Soon, necessity will force itself on them. Do you think it will go on like this?"

"Not for long, no. Life cannot grind to a halt because of a few beasts in the woods."

"Exactly. In the mean time, men like me will do what they can to turn the situation into a profit."

"Buy cheap, sell high. A basic trading principle."

Vanik nodded. "Unfortunately, I am not the only one in this city who has an eye for profit."

"That makes two of us" - Barin laughed

"Three" - he smiled - "Young lord Terin too."

"He is smuggling goods as well?"

"No. If he were, that would be fair competition. Something I seek to crush, but appreciate nonetheless. He has his men stealing my goods."

"A moment, Vanik. Enlighten me. Why are you smuggling them? You could just bring them through the gates, if you have the resources to support such an operation, then surely you can hire guards for your caravans?"

"Two reasons, Captain. Firstly, the Duke has issued a decree according to which, one tenth of all produce to pass through the gates is taken as a tax. To offset the merchants' complaints, he has allowed them to sell at whatever price they deem fit. A harsh choice, but the long term gains are there. Should food ever stop flowing, completely, into our city, the Duke's granary will provide." - he turned to the window for a moment, inspecting something outside - "The other one is much simpler. If caravans started arriving once more, the people's fear would disappear or, at least, withdraw enough for trade to resume."

"Something that will not benefit you."

"Yes. I neither wish to pay a tax, for after all - I set my own prices, regardless of the Duke's will. Nor do I wish the current...let us call it crisis to end so quickly."

"I see. Go on."

"Terin has his men, not the soldiers of his house I should add, raiding my shipments. It was bearable at first, but now they make away with as much as half the goods."

"And what does he do with them?"

"A good question. He does not sell them. He gives them away, freely."

"A noble choice. Why should I interfere in the doings of such a kind-hearted man?" - asked Barin with a smile

"Do not be foolish, Captain. He has his own motives. This is a way for him to secure the support of the people, both against their will and otherwise. He has approached persons of power, of sway in our city, they offer their allegiance in exchange for the ill-gotten wares. Some for their own personal stores, others to sell them. Regardless, the food is widely accessible to the common man."

"And yours is not?"

"No, it is more expensive. Not everyone can afford it, but the situation is not that serious, yet. It is unlikely that anyone would die of hunger."

"I see. What would you have me do?"

"I will be frank, Captain. This matter cannot be decided entirely in a few days. Removing Terin is out of the question, of course. Blood is blood, after all, the Duke will not forgive his killer. While dealing with his men is something any hired blade can do. I can buy an army of them, if I wished. You may be good, Barin, but it is not a task which requires much in the way of skill. These are thieves and cheats, after all, not trained fighters."

Barin nodded, awaiting for him to continue.

"I need you, because you are a...special kind of tool. You have a way with people, ways of breaking them, if you so wished. My son was quite impressed with what you did last night, it was thanks to him that I took interest in you."

"Your son?"

Vanik smiled. "You ran into his small group last night. The man you broke physically, as well as mentally was one of our fiercest. And yet, you snapped him like a twig."

"Fierce does not mean strong, most often - it is a mask behind which a coward hides."

"See? You know people better than most, better than me perhaps. And I can assure you, Captain, I know a lot about people." - he took a longer sip this time - "A man, no matter how strong, is a fragile thing. Some can be broken, others will bend, all will die in time. But an idea...now that is a pest. It cannot die, it cannot be destroyed, it lives on in the hearts and minds of people. Terin himself may not realise it yet, but he is on the path of creating a new...order, a new system. A system where prices are determined by the people, not by us."

"I do not see how that can happen."

"I doubt anyone apart from me can. But it is there and it will happen. Already he is giving away where it is needed most, in order for him to receive the most praise. People are not aware of it yet, but they will soon know that they can control the market. What they want, how they want it, when they want it. And instead of us, the merchants, having power over them, they will have power over us."

"Even now they have power over you, how can you sell where there is no one to buy?"

"That is true, yes. But it is not conscious. They will wear what we provide, eat what we bring....but what if things suddenly went about? We will have no choice but to comply" - he drank some more and laughed - "Truth be told, I am surprised the masses have not thought of it yet. We rely on them, as much as they rely on us. One day, all of this will happen, but I want to keep that day as far away as possible. Are you with me?"

"Protect the old, prevent the new from being ushered in."

"I am no prophet, Captain, but I know one thing. If Terin gets the power he wants and he will be there soon. If the people raise up against the merchant caste. Then things will spiral out of control. For how long I cannot say, but keep in mind that the enemy is out there." - he pointed out of the window - "Even now men die on the walls, while we plot on this table. We, as a community, are on the verge of breaking. One push from Terin and his lot and this city may cease to exist, whether they will it or no."

He looked at Barin straight in the eye, this time, holding his gaze.

"I offer stability, Terin offers chaos. Make your choice."

"Stability, aye...and lining your pockets along the way."

"Naturally. Do you not do the same?"

Barin merely offered his hand to this strange man, this Vanik Daven. The other knew at once that he had agreed and smiled as they shook once more.

"I knew you would see reason" - Vanik said with a smile - "The reward will be substantial, you have my word."

"One more thing before we seal this pact" - Barin was, in his own way, a merchant as well, he would get something more out of him - "My Seneschal will be looking for provisions, we do not intend to stay here for long."

"Say no more, Captain" - he raised his hand - "The goods will be delivered wherever your Seneschal sees fit."

"You misunderstand, Vanik. I am not a beggar. I do not wish you to give me anything, I wish fair prices, that is all." - he paused for a moment - "And be certain that my Seneschal knows a fair price when he sees one. We are each merchants, in a way. I deal in allegiance, he deals in...more earthly goods."

"It is settled then. Tell your man to visit the house where you met my aide, Weldin, today. Weldin himself will deal with your Seneschal."

"Now, then. What does your job entail?"

"First of all, as you know already, it is not for a large group of people. As I told you, if I wanted to hire an army, I would have done so. At a much cheaper price, I should add."

"Not in the long-term, Vanik. I may cost more than a mob of swords for hire, but your reasoning behind this is that I will finish this task of yours quickly and efficiently. Hence, it will be cheaper. Do not take me for a fool." - he drank some of his own ale - "Now on with it."

"As cunning, as I expected. That is good. This is not something I would entrust to a bruiser." - he reached for a pocket and drew forth a rolled-up parchment, he gently placed it before him - "I have learned that the harder you oppose a man, the more difficult is for you to defeat him. It is then logical, to deprive that man of his purpose. To make him not want to do something. Whatever is said of the younger Terin, he is a strong man, firmly set in his views. It will take a great deal of time and effort to sap the will of such a man."

"Then we must search for a weaker link."

"Indeed. Although you need not search. Unlike me, he relies overmuch on the allies he has gained during this short time. These are scum, Captain. Gutter-rats, muggers, pickpockets, street urchins, these are not strong men. Break a few and the rest will bow their heads."

"I know little of the Duke and less of his brother, but they do not strike me as the type of men who would lead such a lot."

"No, they are not. Terin only has the leader of the band in his pocket. But that will wait, first you must weaken their positions."

"The best way to kill a snake is to chop off its head."

"I agree, but everything must be done with consequences in mind. Killing a man oft turns him into a martyr. Maybe not for all, but someone, somewhere will identify with him. And if you kill the leader of that sorry lot, do you think they will not identify themselves with him? See a part of their own wretched self in him?" - he lifted the mug and finished what was left of his ale - "No Captain. First you must spread some terror. Not only will you weaken his positions, you will also make it known that those who oppose me, be it footpad or ringleader, are in a very dangerous situation." - he smiled

Barin had seen many smiles in his life, but this was the only one he could truly claim was devilish.

"Do not draw too much attention to yourself. Massacres are always a bad thing, that is why I have not hired your entire company. We do not want the Duke interfering, after all, he has a heavy hand."

"Very well, I will take only two others with me."

"The lads from last night? I would have settled for someone with more hair on their cheeks."

"They might as well learn a trick or two."

"As you wish." - he shrugged - "I have done all that I could by converting you to my cause. My son will meet you tomorrow night and tell you the details. I cannot be bothered with such trivialities" - he smiled once more

"He does not bear a grudge?"

"No, not at all" - Vanik said as he stood up, then he added - "Like his father, he is a good businessman."

Barin stood in silence after the man had departed. The parchment had been left where it was. Only now did he reach for it and read it. It contained directions, the location of tomorrow's meeting, nothing more. He then crumbled it and threw it in the nearby fireplace. There was no point in anyone else reading it. He was still not certain if he had made the right choice. Progress, he knew, could not be stopped, nor turned. It followed only one direction: forward. If this idea of a...looser world, where the merchants did not oppress the common man was plausible, then surely it would come to pass. One day. For now, he was an enemy of progress, he sought to prevent, no, slow it down. Would he be condemned or praised for his actions? He would never know. We men are fools, he thought. We think we know so much, we call ourselves wise, we think that we can foresee the consequences of our actions. In truth, our lives are not long enough for such a thing. What we see while we still draw breath is merely the first of the many ripples our actions have sent through the pond that is life. Whatever his choice was, right or wrong, it would be decided after his time.

"Geren!" - he called out

The youth was quick to come, he and his companion were sitting on a nearby table, waiting.

"Yes, sir."

"Go find Randor, tell him, no wait..." - he took a piece of parchment that was on the table, as well as a quill, and quickly scribbled a note for the Seneschal, after which he offered it to Geren - "...give him this note."

"At this hour, sir?"

"Do not tell me that this so-called "curfew" is a problem for you?" - he raised an eyebrow - "If simple townsfolk can disregard it, so can you. Now go."

Geren bowed his head and went out. As far as Barin knew, his right-hand man was in an inn on the other side of the city, where he kept watch over the other part of the Hawks. Unlike this group, they had mostly scattered here and there, but at least most of the officers were there with them. For this one, the stern Captain and the dutiful Lina were more than enough.

Sephalia > Ashwood ~ Night of DAY 17

"Ah Captain, I was expecting you."

This is how the arrogant noble from the night before greeted him. A pleasant voice and yet familiar.

"So I supposed. Your father strikes me as the kind of man who expects most everything, I suspect the same is true for his son."

A laughter came from the hooded figure, whose face was fully concealed by the darkness.

"I trust you are adequately outfitted?" - he asked in a different voice, more serious than before - "You will have to get your hands dirty."

"Do not worry, I am certain I have gotten my hands dirtier more times than you have washed yours."

He had expected that battle would be unavoidable, as such, he had come prepared. Of course, he could not walk about in his plate armour without drawing attention, so he had settled for something different. A dark brigandine protected his torso, partially obscured by the black cloak. His legs and arms would be protected by his sword, he was a master of parrying, if it came to that. Geren and Silan, who he had brought along, were wearing shirts of mail. They were almost geared for a real fight, but then again, he did not want them to get killed by a wayward arrow.

"Here is the situation." - he did not pay attention to the Captain's rebuke, or at last it did not show - "In that house across the street, the local leaders of Serek's rabble are holding a council. They have been in charge of the scum raiding our shipments." - he paused, he could have smiled, but the night made it hard to see - "Tonight their topic is what to do with the huge cargo they wrestled from us yesterday. For, you see, they want a small part for themselves it would seem. The fools failed to notice how conveniently little guards there were. My father gathered them here, for you."

A slight chuckle followed.

"It is clear then, unless you have something else to add?"

"We know of six men, they are Serek's enforcers. Lieutenants, if you can apply such a term to this mob. They have one or two guards, but it is nothing you cannot deal with."

"Eight or so men, at the same time, why not come with us "m'lord"?"

"Sadly, you are not the only tool I have to take care of tonight. One of these men is a traitor, we managed to put him in our pocket. There are two groups, one is on the first floor, the other - on the second. Soon, they will meet to discuss their next course of action. Unknown to either group, the door leading upstairs is closed, from the outside." - what followed must have been a grin - "You will be undisturbed while you deal with the first group. But spare the man with the green shirt, that was part of the bargain."

"Very well. I will do your butcher's work, you have made it simple enough."

He gestured for his two companions to follow, passing by the hooded man.

"Oh" - Vanik's son added - "What is found on the morrow must be unnerving."

Barin made no effort to reply, his task was clear. He had not done something like this in years, be he would not flinch. His sense of decency and compassion had been dulled long ago, he was only afraid that the lads would have to see this. It might be too much for their first assignment. He would know soon enough. They walked in silence. Soon, they reached the door. There were voices coming from inside, some were thick with drink. It would be easy, Barin thought.

"Break the door, Geren"

The stout young man hesitated for a moment, he had a feeling of what was to follow. But it could not be said that Barin had not warned them. A little more than a week ago, he told them that they would never be heroes. That Fenwater was, for the most part, an exception. Now they would realise it.

"Break the door, Geren"

The words were the same, but the intonation, the voice, the emotion was different. It was that quiet state his voice assumed at times, it brooked no argument. A kick followed, the force of it was enough to deal with the weak door. It was almost torn off its hinges. Barin's blade was already out and he moved past Geren, who would no doubt waste too much time and deprive them of the element of surprise.

Silently, he brought his sword in a downward arc which killed the door guard on the spot. The table where the four men were gathered was near. The one nearest to him attempted to stand up. Apparently, he was the one with the thick voice, for his movements were slow. Barin drove his blade right through the man's gut, who sank back in the chair. The other were already on their feet, however. The one to his right quickly launched into a series of attacks. Barin took a step back and went on the defensive, he had to protect both his sides. After a few moments of passiveness, he seized an opening. The one on the left had more powerful strikes, but they were slower. Barin acted on that and redirected one such strike, causing his opponent to lose balance. A quick jab with the elbow followed, straight in the man's mouth. He was out for a few moments, giving the Captain time to focus on the other.

Once more he gripped his blade with both hands and now moved on the offensive. The other's quick attacks were more dangerous, but he did not have the physical strength his compatriot or Barin possessed. As such, when their swords met, Barin used his body's weight. In the mean time, he heard the sound of fighting from behind. So Geren and Silan had caught up. Knowing that his back was safe, for now, he went for a cunning feint. On purpose, he left his guard down, after delivering a blow. It was for the slightest of time, as it would be in truth, but his foe saw it. A glancing blow at Barin's shoulder followed, but it did not even reach the flesh. The enemy, however, had left himself wide open. The Captain's knee shot forward, into the man's stomach. He gasped for air, but it was too late. Barin's blade found his throat.

He quickly turned around to see Geren and Silan driving the last enemy into the wall. Wasting no time, Barin vaulted over the table and came from the back. Some would say it was cowardly or not honourable, the Captain thought it was a damn good way to win a fight. He slashed at the man's knees, hamstringing him. It was a precise cut and the man fell to the ground. But Barin did not finish, not yet. His thoughts were interrupted by the crash that signaled the "opening" of the other door. And indeed, four other men came down the stairs.

"Pick off any stragglers" - Barin quietly told the two recruits.

The first enemy that neared was a beast of a man, as big as Ratibor. He swung his sword with great might, Barin parried, but barely. He had to use all of his strength to withstand that attack. He then recoiled and jumped on the table, buying himself time. One of the others approached him, but Barin gave him a quick kick in the face. The leader, who was not surprisingly the huge man, barked out some orders and the other two headed for Geren and Silan. He then attempted another attack on Barin, who rolled out of the way this time. The Captain cursed himself for wearing the damned armour, it was not making things easy for him.

After dodging, he found himself on the floor, having the table between him and the giant. He quickly jumped to his feet and delivered a heavy blow to the man he had kicked. The other raised his blade to parry, but Barin was not saving his strength as he had before. The enemy's sword was knocked out of his hand and the Captain finished it with a stab to the heart. Years of bloody work had taught him exactly where to strike, the other fell dead or dying on the floor. Barin moved just in time to avoid the table that crashed against the wall. The brute was coming for him. Barin had to fend off a series of viscous attacks, which took their toll on him. But his attacker was human as well and he tired quicker. Already, his attacks were growing slow. After a minute of exchanging blows, Barin had a good idea of his enemy's style. He relied on his strength and height, but his attacks were slow and clumsy.

That proved to be his undoing. Barin parried yet another attack, but this time he pushed the other blade aside. He then took a risk by ramming his shoulder in the other's chest. His enemy had shifted his weight forward, for a more devastating attack. Now Barin simply turned his momentum against him. The other staggered and Barin wasted no time. His sword went into the man's ribs, but it did not kill him. Instead his next attack was parried, with great effort, but parried. The injured giant lunged forward in a desperate attack, instead of attempting to parry Barin moved out of the way. However, he was quick to take advantage of the other's lost balance. With the deft use of his foot, he tripped the bigger man. He had just enough time to turn on his back to see Barin's sword passing through his chest. Once the sword was plunged, Barin twisted, shredding everything his blade touched. It was done.

He pried his sword free and moved on. Silan seemed to be in more trouble, he was an archer after all, so that is where he headed. The foe was quick to turn on his heels, after knocking Silan away, but Barin was faster. He drove his sword through the man's shoulder, causing him to drop his sword. The man stooped forward, but the Captain sent him the other way with a backhanded slap. The bandit's head slammed against the wall and he slumped to the floor. Barin then swiftly closed the remaining distance, falling upon Geren's attacker. This time, the enemy did not even have the time to turn, Barin simply severed his spine, killing him on the spot. Only then did the veteran of many battles stop to take a deeper breath. They had won.

Geren was already sheathing his sword, but Barin gripped him by the hand, stopping him. The blood-letting was not yet over. The room itself was a mess. The first man to fall, the door guard, was still groaning by his post. From the second, still on his ill-fated chair, came a horrid stench, his bowels were loosening. It was the same with the others, their bodies were where they fell. The most amazing site was by the broken table, it's legs rolling slightly on the floor. It's destroyer, the big man, was nearby. Like some monster from the tales, he lay there with unblinking, unseeing eyes. Dead.

The ones, like the last one, who had died on the spot were lucky. Barin was not done with the others yet. He moved towards the healthiest man, the one with the injured shoulder, he was making an attempt to reach for his sword, which was nearby. Barin watched him with, seemingly, pity. He allowed the injured man to touch the hilt of his former sword. Only then did he break his fingers. The man screamed as Barin's boot did its work, his last hope of survival no more.

"Silan, come hold this one, although I doubt he will be going anywhere" - Barin spoke calmly, as if talking about a dog

Reluctantly, the bowman came and placed his hand on the man's shoulder, the left, uninjured one. It was enough to keep him in place, but not enough for the Captain.

"A man is best held firm, when both shoulders are gripped."

"But his other one is-"

Barin's gaze told him all the details. Silan gripped firmly, causing the man to scream in agony. He then moved towards the hamstrung man, who was trying to crawl away. As luck would have it, his hair was tied in a ponytail, so Barin did not have to look for what to hold on to. He yanked his head up, forcing him to stand on his knees.

"Geren. Kill him." - he spoke in the same calm voice

The youth was at a loss. He was speechless. Such cruelty, he no doubt thought. But this was Barin's test. He would either pass it or...he would have no place amongst them. The Captain had learned that his trade was a dirty one, it stained not only the hands, but the heart and soul as well. Only those with a firm will and with shaky morals were for this line of work. This was his way of finding out which type Geren was.

"I...I-"

"I asked you a simple question a week ago. "Are you prepared to kill a man, who breathes and thinks, like you?". What was your answer?"

"But..I-"

"A man is only as good as his word. You gave me yours. Now act on it."

Only then did he remember something. He turned back to where the table had once been, there on the far end of the room was a chair. In that chair, was a man with a green shirt. Throughout the fight, he had not moved from his place. Barin had noted his presence, but had paid him no heed, he despised his kind. But he did not want such...such, it was hard to find a word, such trash to watch on as the Captain bent this handsome young man to his will.

"Are you still here?" - he asked in a much harsher tone

"I-I was waiting for your ap-approval m'l-"

"Be gone. Before I change my mind."

Without another word he stood up and, almost running, left that horrible house. With that annoyance out of the way, he turned to Geren again. The man he held firm had not made any attempt to move. Likewise, the youth had made no move to kill his immobile foe.

"Geren, this man would kill you without a second though, were you in his place. Is that not so, dog?"

"D-d-don't do it, m-m-m'lord." - he whimpered

"See? He whimpers like the cur he is. Kill him now, it would be a mercy to rid the world of such a wretched hound."

"It...I...it's not right!"

"Geren" - Barin said in a quiet voice - "I do not know what my men have told you of me in the short time that you have known them, but I will tell you this. I do not like it when my orders are disobeyed. I gave you an order."

Geren stood there, quiet and unflinching as a statue.

"I have already repeated myself more than enough. This is the last time that I tell you. I order you to kill him. Do it now or, if you lack the stomach, do not appear before my eyes again."

Tears began to run down Geren's cheeks, those cheeks that only had a hint of the beard they would one they bear. Two wet lines marred that otherwise handsome and innocent face. For a moment, Barin thought that it was done. The boy was too strong to commit such a brutal act. But only for a moment. Geren lifted his sword and, with one powerful blow, brought his blade into the man's neck. He was still inexperienced, however, so he did not sever the head. When he withdrew his blade, Barin spoke again.

"When you begin a job, finish it completely." - then he added - "The longer you tarry, the longer this dog remains in pain."

After hearing that, Geren struck again and again. Blood splattered his face, blood mixed with sweat and tears. But Barin saw that every strike was firmer than the one before. And when the head rolled off, it was done.

"Sheathe your sword, Geren, you will have no further need of it tonight."

After issuing his last order to the young, broken man, the Captain moved closer to the last surviving prisoner.

"Let him go Silan."

When the grip was loosened, the prisoner went to his feet begging for his life. I am making it a habit of mine, Barin thought, was this the third or the fourth person who had done so in the last couple of weeks?

"Silence, you spineless worm, you will not die by my sword."

This gave the man hope, while still on his knees, he lifted his head up at Barin, looking at his eyes.

"Tha-"

"Silence. I have a use for you, that is all. You saw what happened here tonight. You saw how I snapped the will of that handsome lad over there. You saw how I deal with those who oppose Vanik Devan. The old man is not up to the task anymore, so he found me. And I am up to the task, as you saw. Go. Tell your compatriots what fate awaits them. And you can be certain, there is no avoiding that. Not if you continue this petty war of yours. I will find you, all of you, and you will all suffer slow, painful deaths."

"It will be d-"

Barin kicked him in the mouth, no doubt breaking a tooth or two.

"I do not wish to hear your voice or see your face ever again. Go and be glad that I needed a messenger."

Having learned his lesson, the man simply bowed, blood dripping from his face and ran out of the house. Barin regarded this place one last time. The puddles of blood were already forming and seeping into the wooden floor. The bodies of some were growing stiff, while the anguish of those still alive was growing. The smell of death was already in the air, the stench of decay would follow soon. When they came, and he knew they would, his foes would find a gruesome site. Just as his employers wanted. He had done his part.

The Captain nodded at the door, the two young men left without a word. However, when they stepped over the dying guard, he mumbled something. The blood in his throat made it hard to understand him. Not that Barin cared, but he knew the question which would follow before it was asked.

"Should we...not end his misery? It would be a mercy." - asked Silan, Geren had not uttered a word since Barin's warning.

"A mercy he does not deserve. When you kill a righteous men, show mercy. When you kill a pest, do not waste second thoughts on him." - he urged Silan on by pushing him - "The gash is deep, but not deadly, it will fester. He will writhe in fever and pain for many hours. If we are lucky, he will still be alive when his companions arrive. Let them show mercy to the man they knew."

There was no objection. How could there be? Barin was pleased. After the two lads had left, he followed suit, closing the door behind him.

Barin quickly examined his surroundings, on the roof of one building was an archer. Clearly, these men had a habit of placing too little guards. By the one who had spoken, were two others, but the Captain knew it was the marksman that mattered.

"Silan" - he said quietly - "can you hit the archer's wrist?"

The lad looked up, the bowman was near, near enough for a precise shot. But he would need time, Barin thought. The Captain took a few more steps before the guards drew their weapons.

"Bugger off or I'll peel off yer face!"

This was ample reason for Geren to unsheathe his sword, while Silan drew his bow, nocking an arrow in the process.

"Don't be a bloody fool, we got the numbers and the height!"

Barin knew he meant the archer looming above them. Well, not for long.

"You do?" - he asked calmly, then looked at Silan to his left.

Before the archer above had any chance to react, the young man had already loosed his arrow. It was not a perfect hit, not in the wrist anyway. It struck the other's forearm, but it did what Barin had intended it to do. The bow was dropped.

"Stand out of my way." - he told them

Two of the men moved aside, but the leader remained in place.

"Worms! But I will not move!" - he said defiantly

"Then come with me to this council of yours. Or die. The choice is yours." - only now did Barin draw his blade, flourishing it as he did so.

It was a cheap tactic, something young boys would do in mock battles, intimidating their rival. The man barring the way, it seemed, had not dealt with such situations as a child. As such, he merely sheathed his sword and stood aside. Barin smiled, life always had a surprise for you, even if you thought you knew it. When he moved forward, something he had, this time, expected happened. One of the men spun and dashed in the opposite direction, no doubt wanting to bring news to his superiors. Even if most of them would meet the Captain soon enough.

"Silan" - again, he spoke quietly - "bring him down quick!"

Hesitation.

"Do it, damn you! He will ruin everything for us if you do not stop him!"

The boy quickly nocked an arrow and aimed, but he did not shoot. His hands were trembling.

"For the last time Do it now, do not make me do it. I am in an awful mood after I have had to chase somebody."

The arrow flew straight and swift, it hit the man in the back. One scream later and he was on the ground, the arrow must have pressed into the heart. It was on the correct side, at least. It mattered not, he had achieved his two goals.

"I said that you can come with me, not leave." - he spoke to the two remaining men

Oh, Vanik probably had his men prowling nearby. He was far too careful to allow anything to chance. That was good, for Barin did not know how many he could stop, if they chose to flee. He told the former guards to move forward and followed after them. Soon, they had reached the end of the alley. It opened up into a small square, one of those where children gather to play and old women would share gossip. But not today. As far as the eye could see - unruly men, with harsh words and bearded faces. The stench of sweat, alcohol and smoke was thick in the air, but Barin quickly got used to it. In truth, it was not that much different from the smell that accompanied most encampments.

There was only one other street, narrow as the one they had used, leading out. The Captain quickly looked about, there were a few high buildings providing shadow here and there. If the routes were blocked and archers were positioned on those rooftops, the square would turn into a slaughterhouse. On a slightly elevated position, what looked like to have one been a fountain once, a man stood. His voice was powerful and echoed throughout the square. From what Barin heard, he knew that this was some sort of rousing speech. As if this rabble could be roused with words. No. But they could be crushed by them.

He made his way through the crowd. At times, gently pushing this person or that, most often however, he had to be...firmer. Roughness is what these men knew, roughness is what moved them. Silan and Geren were close behind. They were peasant boys, mannerism was not something they cared for. As such, they could keep up. At least something they could do right, Barin thought. But then he remembered that, once, he had been as green as summer grass. Not unlike them. Everyone was inexperienced, what mattered is how fast one learned. A few moments later, he was already standing quite close to the self-made orator.

As he attempted to make his way to the podium, however, a rough hand grabbed him by the shoulder. He turn around to see the ugly mug of some bruiser, no doubt a guard to the man who was speaking.

"Dran ain't done yet. Where you think yer goin'?"

"I care not either for your or Dran. I will speak, regardless."

The man laughed, men turned towards them.

"Look at this one boys! Some lord or somethin'. What's with th' speech, eh?"

"Bet his worth quite the coin!" - said another, laughter followed and even more men looked at Barin, greed in their eyes.

Fools, thought Barin. Words would definitely not work with this cretin and breaking a part of him was not enough. In truth, it would suffice. But Barin was now angry, the man had drawn too much attention to him. Let them watch then, he thought, watch and see what happens to those who stand in my way. Without a word, his left hand went for the dagger on the right side of his hip. The sound around him made it quite easy on him, the scrape of steel on wood was not heard. As such, when he lifted his hand, sharp dagger firmly gripped, the man could do nothing to avoid the inevitable. Barin could have just as easily killed him by a stab in the gut or the chest, but he wanted as many as possible to notice. Instead, he went for the eye. When the blade was in, a high-pitched scream filled the square. Whether it was some sort of spasm or the will of the man, Barin felt him move away. His right hand gripped the now limp arm, which was holding him a short while ago. When that was settled, he continued twisting further, until there were no screams or life left in the ill-fated guard.

He left the corpse fall to the ground, knelt, wiped the blood in the dead's clothes and stood up once more. During this time, no one moved or said a thing. Even the one giving a speech had fallen silent. Sheathing the dagger, a smug smile on his face, Barin went for the makeshift podium. He felt the other man there becoming tense, but he was also weak with fear, almost trembling. As Barin suspected, the rough words had melted away when blood was drawn. With a single push, he moved him out the way. Only then did he turn to address those who had gathered. Years of bellowing out commands in the thick of battle made the current situation seem like a normal chat to his voice.

"I do not waste my words on scum such as you. Most of the ones I would say are far too complicated for your pathetic minds, anyway."

A laugh or two was heard, faint and far-off.

"You value action and I have given you action. Simply ask the fool I just killed."

A filthy, hungry-looking man stepped forward and shouted in a terrified voice.

"Oi! I know 'im! 'Tis the assassin that did our boys in!"

Swearing was heard, filthy and horrid words. Then a stone was thrown, but Barin moved out of the way.

"The one who threw the stone! Are you man enough to throw it when I can look upon you?!" - the Captain cried out.

A minute of silence and hushed murmurs followed. Nobody stepped forward.

"There. You have shown not only me, but yourselves something. All of you fear me. You pathetic bastards dread me. Curse and swear all you want, throw stones, I can only laugh! Because every man here knows - I can rip you to pieces!"

Silence followed, but he noticed movement in the crowd. Someone was making his way to him.

"Is there anyone here who disputes my claims? Anyone with the guts to spit in my face?!" - he left them to ponder that for a moment - "If not, then listen to my words! And perhaps no one else will die this day."

As he expected, there was nobody bold enough to step forward. But then, just when he had left the matter aside, one proved brave enough. Another corpse, he thought. Only then did he notice it was a woman. She was tall and muscled, with fiery hair and a scarred face. He smiled to himself, "no man" he had said. And there, she was. The Captain was a man without prejudice, all his mercenaries knew that. This lot, however, did not.

"It is pathetic!" - he cried out - "That a woman must step up to guard your honour! Truly, you are dogs, not men."

The woman did not say anything, instead she drew her mace and lunged at him. He could not draw his sword in time, so instead he moved out of the way. He went low to dodge another blow, then rolled away. While still on the ground, he filled his hand with dirt and rubble, of which the square had much. When the next attack came, he threw it in her face. While she recoiled and cursed, he drew his sword and fell upon her. She managed to barely block his first blow, with the head of her mace. The counter-attack was brutal however, which forced Barin on the defensive. He took a moment to study her, because he knew fights were won with one's mind, not one's hand.

He had two advantages. First, she was a woman and as such, was physically weaker than him. No matter how strong she was for her gender. Secondly, while her arms were swift and precise, her footwork was sloppy, the bane of any fighter. Oh and, of course, he had more reach with his sword. A plan now formed in his mind, one which he did not waste time in setting to motion.

When her next attack came, he deftly parried and lunched an attack of his own. He went low, going for her feet. She had to pull back, but it was not a perfect retreat, as he had suspected. The next blow was the opposite - straight for her neck. She shifted her weight to her left foot, to better counter the strength of his blow. This is where her footwork betrayed her, the left leg she had placed before her, near Barin. Never leave your dominant leg so open, it was a lesson the Captain had learned long ago. He kicked her in the shin, causing her to stumble. His sword went for her thigh next, she was powerless to stop him. Barin had won. She knew that much at least and left her mace fall. Oh, he had defeated her, but his victory was yet to come.

He sheathed his sword and picked up the mace. Without a word, he brought it down on her skull. Bone was shattered, brains and blood splattered his clothes and armour. The limp body fell on the ground, but Barin delivered a few more blows. Only after all that was left of her head was a bloody mess did he stop. He tossed the mace aside and lifted the corpse.

"This is what happens to those who oppose my employer, Vanik. This is how I bring death."

He flung the body aside, not needing it any longer. He would have their ear now, he knew.

"Why do you insist on dying for this man? What has Serek Terin ever done for you?"

"Food! He gives us food!" - someone answered.

"Food?" - Barin laughed - "Are you cheap whores? To sell yourselves for such a pathetic reward? Serek reaps the real gains here - coin, power...and you settle for a tomato!"

There were cries in agreement, he was beginning to sway them.

"You risk your lives daily, you face chancing upon the likes of me and yet, you do this for such a meager thing! You are fools as well as cravens!" - he left his words float in the air for a time - "It is a shame this woman here died for you!"

"What would you have us do? Starve to death?"

It was easier than he thought it would be. These men were weak, pathetic and desperate. Whether it was a sign of the times, the otherworldly troubles plaguing them or base cowardice, these men were easy to sway. He could feel the power at his finger tips now. And he knew that not words brought him this power. Not the deaths he had dealt either, but how he had dealt them. Now they only needed a few more words and they would be his.

"Take that which is yours, you foolish curs! Hindrin's and Serek's stores are bursting with goods and you settle for the scraps! For what is thrown your way!"

In truth, he could not say if it was indeed so. But did they care? This was not a gathering anymore, but a mob. And the mob was blind and foolish, listening to the loudest voice. And his was the loudest here. Although Vanik had other plans, Barin decided to add his personal touch to this matter.

"Why do you wait?! Even now those goods are ripe for the taking! Guarded by you and others like you! What is there to fear? Are you so spineless that you cannot take that which belongs to you?"

A roar of cheers filled the square, drowning out all other sounds. But just when Barin thought he had them, a voice interrupted. It was the voice of the man from before, who had given his speech when Barin interrupted.

"You aren't from this town! You don't know what Hindrin will do t' ye!"

"Hindrin?" - another mocking laugh from the Captain - "Your Hindrin will be dead before the sun rises again!"

There were cries, but not from all.

"Do you doubt that I can do it?!"

"Death to Hindrin! Bugger that stuck-up Serek! Let's take what's ours boys!" - came a cry

This was all that it took. Not all were ready to betray their master, but they did not think with their heads now. Once you became part of the mob, your feelings and motives were not your own. Instead, the blood boiled and the wits were clouded. Hidden desires surfaced and mistakes were made. Mistakes which were beneficial to the Captain. Without waiting for further directions from Barin, they began flooding the alleyways. Within minutes, the square was empty. Save for Barin, Silan, Geren and the two corpses. The only memory of the crowd was the trampled earth and the cries coming from the streets. Barin smiled, he was pleased with the result. He looked at the lads.

"I hope your have learned your lesson today. A crowd only listens to the one who shouts the loudest. That is what happens when discipline is lacking. That is what can be the bane of any army, lack of discipline. That is what separates man from dog. Discipline."

He casually moved towards one of the alleys, eager to return to the inn. On his way, however, he came upon Weldin. He was quite winded.

"Captain, captain" - he began, taking a deep breath - "...you are far too dangerous to be left roaming the streets, you could incite a revolt against the Duke himself!" - he grinned, a grin which reminded Barin of Vanik.

"Our plans have shifted, thanks to you." - the youth carried on - "We were going to strike at Hindrin tomorrow night or the day after. But now you have cleared a path for us. This mob you sent on a rampage, they will attract attention aye, but the guards are already headed for the walls. Hindrin's lot, however, they will have to respond to the threat." - another grin

"Where does this Hindrin live?" - asked Barin

"Oh, quite close. He has barricaded himself around an old tavern, took up residence there a few years ago. But first" - he reached for his pocket and threw a key, Barin caught it - "the house with the white door. Turn left when you leave this street, it will be easy to find. Food and drink has been arranged, gather your strength, while I gather Vanik's forces."

With that he turned around and sprinted off. For someone who passed as a merchant, a clerk in fact, he had quite a good running technique. This Vanik and his men were strange people, mysterious through and through. As if he was in some cheap tale, Barin thought with a smile.


Last edited by Blackrock on Tue Aug 17, 2010 6:27 am; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Mon Aug 16, 2010 4:17 pm

Sephalia > Ashwood ~ Night of DAY 18

When they left the building, it was Vanik's son that led them, not Weldin. The cocky lord was hooded as usual, but this time he was talking more hotly than before. Everything was prepared, he assured them. The mob Barin had roused were already causing trouble for Hindrin and his men. Of course, it was not a complete assault, as they had dispersed this way and that. All the better, he told them, a battle was not something they needed. Matters ranged from simple fistfights, to bloodshed. The most important thing was, that it was happening all over the neighbourhood, it was impossible for Hindrin to send his forces in any one place. He had to split them.

Barin saw the effects of his action easily enough. Despite the curfew, the night was teeming with life. Not only were the not-so-distant cries of men on the walls heard, as they repelled another attack, but the screams from the nearby streets echoed as well. The plan was simple enough. Vanik's son was going to take the majority of his father's men and distract the defenders. In the mean time, Barin and a small force were going to slip in from the side. A good commander was not going to be drawn by such an obvious feint, Barin knew. Luckily however, these men made poor soldiers, let alone leaders.

They reached Hendrin's...it was difficult to call a base, fortress or camp. Barin had a low opinion of it, so he settled for "den". There was a makeshift stockade encircling the former tavern, as well as a few storehouses, but it was not properly done. It was irregular at places, the height was not even throughout, there were structural weaknesses...in short, it was something prepared by laymen. The night concealed them and they stopped across the street, obscured by a house. Although he could not see their faces, Barin noticed at last a score of men. There was an air of...confidence about them, patience, calmness. These were not the rabble found on the streets, he knew. Vanik was not a man to stake such an important task on a bunch of scum, besides - Barin had an eye for people.

"Everything is clear, I assume?" - asked Vanik's son

"It is." - came the answer from Barin

"Very well, I leave to you Wolf, Dirk and Arnrik. The rest of you, on me!"

There was shuffling in the dark, the sound of footsteps, the noise of blades being drawn. Barin saw men coming forth from another building as well. A large enough force had been gathered in a short time. Whatever they may say, Vanik had been preparing for this. He then turned at the three figures left to him.

"Interesting names."

"Both of 'em earned, sir." - came a thick, familiar voice - "Dirk is good with what his name implies and me...well it's a long story."

"We have met before, have we not?"

"Aye sir."

Then it was that door guard who killed the messenger a few days ago. He had not thought much of the man when they first met, but he had not really paid much attention either. Barin liked his calm voice, his confidence, good men had been given to him.

"Very well. Be ready, we will move out when their forces have been lured away."

He took a few steps towards the street, leaving the cover of the house. As he suspected, nobody paid attention to him. He was just a hooded figure in the night, like the five others standing besides him. He watched and watched, waiting for the right moment. After some time, the first sounds of battle, this time from nearby, were heard. There was a loud curse and the men guarding this side entrance rushed to the main gate. A tall figure, Wolf he guessed, approached him.

"Why do we not attack, sir?"

Barin turned to face him, if there was light, he would see the terrible glint in his eye.

"Do you question my decision, Wolf?"

There was hesitation. "N-no, sir."

"Good. We wait."

And they did wait for a few more minutes. Six more figures came out from somewhere, they too rushed to defend the stockade. Now was the right time, after their reserves had been drawn. Their way would be clear now.

"On me, now!"

He drew his sword and ran down the street, the others were close behind. In a few moments, they were already standing by the defenses. As Barin had suspected, there were no guards, so they must be that desperate then. He passed through the open gate, if it could be called such and entered the yard. The seat of Hindrin's power stood before them, a rather shabby looking building. Still, the man was not to be underestimated. He had led most of these ragtag bands for a couple of years now. Long before he was approached by Serek, this man had real power. Not everyone could achieve what he had. And yet, he had to be defeated, no - destroyed.

A quick glance to the left revealed the other entrance, it was not a lord's castle to have much of a yard. The group manning the "gate" was in plain sight and so were Barin and his men. Nobody turned around, however, for in that moment the gate was broken. A good leader would join his men now, if he had not done so already. Morale had to be be kept steady. And, indeed, from the door of the former tavern burst three men. A tall man, flanked by two younger ones. He was headed for the gate, but then he saw the smaller group that moved in to block his path.

"Encircle them" - ordered Barin

Quickly, Hindrin was cut off, but he drew his weapon nonetheless. The men besides him followed suit. The one to his right dashed towards Barin, an act of panic perhaps. The Captain remained in his place, while the other charged him. Only a few moments before their blades would meet did he side-step out of the way. His sword, however, remained. The attacker had literally impaled himself upon it. Barin drew the blade from the man's chest, the body fell to the ground.

"Let us not be fools." - the Captain advised.

"What do you want?" - Hindrin asked calmly

"Call off your men, this slaughter is meaningless."

The leader of the bandits regarded him for a moment, then nodded at the man to his left. A horn pierced the din of battle. For a moment, Barin was afraid that the bandits may be cut down by Vanik's men, which would ignite the conflict again. But Vanik's boy had them under control. The fighting stopped. Two more circles formed around Barin's smaller one. In the middle where the bandits, in the outer one were Vanik's forces. It was quiet, as much as possible, at least.

In the center of it all, of course, were Barin and Hindrin.

"The assassin reveals himself at last." - the bandit spoke mockingly, from his speech, Barin guessed that he was not a simple cutpurse

"I have never hid. Never surrounded myself with walls of men."

"They protect me, I protect them. We each do our own part."

"Your protect them?" - Barin cried out - "Like you protected your ringleaders? Like your protected the ones that now rampage through this place?"

Barin noticed that two figures approached one of the storehouses nearby, he paid them no heed for the moment.

"I do not have to answer to you!" - came a defiant answer

"Not to me, but to them! Your men!" - Barin pointed at the bandits about him

"They do my bidding, they cannot hold me accountable? Is that not so?!" - he cried out

To Hindrin's surprise, there was only silence.

"Every leader must answer to his men, he is responsible for them, after all."

"If any man here dares to defy me, to question my judgment, let him come!"

For all his proper speech and air of education about him, Hindrin did not stray too far from the bandit mentality. Threats were how a leader secured his place, threats and force. Charisma, skill, intellect - they played little part. This is why Barin took no joy in breaking such groups, it was too easy, He only needed to remove the fear in men's hearts, the fear of their overlord. The rest was easy.

"I do" - said Barin

"What?" - came a quiet question

"Is it not obvious, you fool?"

There was enough silence about for their words to be heard, at least by the men nearest to them. Slowly, they whispered to each other, until the whole gathering knew. Men began crying out "Hindrin! Hindrin!", "Show him who's boss!" and "Show us you still got it, old man!". He would have no choice, Barin thought. He had to try at least. Hindrin drew his sword.

"Step aside" - Barin told his men

They did as they were told to, even Hindrin's man departed his master's side. Now amidst the circle, only two men remained. This would be more challenging Barin thought. The cover of darkness made it no easier. There were no torches nearby, save for the ones on the building. The moon and stars were hidden by clouds, making it hard to see. It was daunting, but the other would fare no better.

Barin began by assuming a position most swordsmen referred to as the Fool's Guard. Blade pointed downward, the tip almost touching the ground, leaving his upper body exposed. The fool in this case, was not the one assuming this guard, but the one being lured by it. And Hindrin proved himself to be a fool. He went high, going for the Captain's neck. Barin moved out of the way, dodging the blow. His sword cut at Hindrin's undefended feet. Another attack followed, this time Barin parried. Pushing his opponent's blade aside, he made an attack of his own, forcing Hindrin to reposition himself. The leader of the bandits' was quick to respond. Barin parried that blow and seized the opening in Hindrin's defense. A quick kick followed, straight in the stomach, depriving his opponent of breath. Barin brought his sword down on him, using height to his advantage. With a grunt Hindrin managed to parry, but just barely, he staggered backward.

The Captain took a quick breath, filling himself with a renewed surge of power. He then attempted a slash at Hindrin, aimed for the stomach. His opponent managed to parry the blow and launched into a counter-attack. Barin parried that, allowing the enemy's blade to be quite close to his cheek. He was not prepared for Hindrin's next action. Instead of withdrawing his sword, the bandit leader twisted it slightly in his hands. He then hit Barin with the sword's pommel. The Captain had to take a step backward, his cheek was burning. Truly, Hindrin was a stronger foe than he had imagined. But victory was drawing ever nearer, his opponent was bleeding, the longer the fight carried on, the weaker his leg would be.

They exchanged a few blows, Barin both withdrew and advanced, forcing his opponent to be on the move at all times. He could already feel the weariness in the other's movements. Barin had injured his leading, right foot - unfortunate for any fighter. Barin launched an attack, he went high for the enemy's head. The blow was parried, but Barin quickly withdrew his sword and slashed horizontally at Hindrin's stomach. The other took a step back, but Barin could almost feel the wince as his foe shifted his entire weight on the injured leg. Barin then thrust forward, going for his enemy's right shoulder. It was a gamble, for he had left himself open. But Hindrin had grown desperate and fell for the trick. Instead of attacking the Captain's open side, he parried the blow aimed for his shoulder. Then he preformed a riposte, thrusting at Barin. The Captain moved slightly to the side, allowing the blade to pass by his head. Then he shot his left hand and gripped the blade, thankful for his thick gloves. A powerful kick followed, once again at the stomach, this sent Hindrin off-balance. No longer could his weakened leg support him and he fell to the ground. He was on his back and disarmed. A victory for Barin.

Barin sheathed his sword, while plunging Hindrin's in the ground before him. There was silence all about them, save for those quite near, the outcome was not yet clear. The night made it hard to discern features.

"Your leader, Hindrin, has fallen." - Barin declared

There was an outrage amongst the circle, curses, shouts, screams. But the veil of fear was torn, no longer would people dread the bandit leader's name.

"How is failure rewarded? How has Hindrin punished you?"

"Death!" - they cried out

Barin took Hindrin's sword and moved in for the kill. But a voice, weak, almost a whisper stopped him.

"Mercy..." - Hindrin pleaded

Barin made no effort to show that he had heard him. He drew closer and placed the tip of the sword on Hindrin's chest, in the area where his lungs were. Only a slight push from Barin and it would be done. But he had another thing in mind, so he was pleased when he heard the pleading again.

"Mercy, don't kill me. No one will see in the darkness."

"No."

"Mercy!" - he said again, this time louder

"Pathetic. Are you so afraid of death?"

"Yes, yes, yes, yes...I am afraid!"

"You will not die by my hand, if you say that loud enough for all to hear."

Hindrin was, in the end, pathetic. There was no other word to describe him. For one who believed himself to be so high and mighty, he bore the fear all bandits had. Fear of death. These were people without dignity, without honour, without value. They cared not for their family, their friends, their duty. Only for themselves. And this is why they could be defeated so easily.

"Mercy! Spare me!" - Hindrin cried out

"Louder."

"Mercy! I do not wish to die!" - he shouted even louder

"Louder."

"MERCY! DO NOT KILL ME!" - he bellowed, at the top of his lungs

Only now did everyone hear him. Only now did they understood how weak and powerless their former leader was. And in their cold hearts, came a feeling they had not felt in quite a while. Shame. They were ashamed to have bowed to such a frail man. And then anger. Anger and revenge.

"Now you see that it is folly to stand by Serek!" - Barin told them - "If the strongest of you can be so easily broken...what hope do you have? Leave this foolishness, go back to your homes. And prepare yourselves for even now the shadows draw closer."

With that, he tossed the sword aside and walked away. As he anticipated, like a pack of dogs, they fell upon their fallen leader.

"You promised!" - came Hindrin's fell cry

"You did not die by my hand, dog. You are murdered by your own."

The Captain along with Silan and Geren, as well as Vanik's men left the grisly site. Screams were heard, the smell of smoke was in the air. Everything that had been Hindrin's, everything that was Hindrin would be no more come dawn. This war was won, the Duke's brother would be powerless now that his chief lieutenant was no more. Vanik's son gave a few commands and the men dispersed, Wolf shook the Captain's hand and disappeared into the winding streets. Only the four of them were left. Barin and his men, as well the arrogant son.

"Captain, you are a mage if I ever saw one."

Barin laughed. Despite the terrible deeds he had committed, he could still laugh. It was a habit he had picked up long ago. If he had to shed a tear for every act of cruelness he had done, his eyes would have dried out by now.

"Mages use words do they not? Their power lies in there. But you would be wrong to think that power lies only in those words. Everything is power, as long as you know how to use it."

"Thank you for the lecture. Now, my father awaits. I will bring you to his estate."

"Very well."

They walked the rest of the way in silence. Neither Geren or Silan were feeling talkative. And the Captain did not want to waste empty words with Vanik's boy. His cheek and jaw were sore enough without moving them. If only he had worn his helmet, he would have avoided that unpleasant part of the duel. At least he had his gloves, without which his display of skill would have been impossible. Did it matter, though? Hindrin would have faltered soon enough, he had lost the fight even as he made his first attack. This task was not overly hard, he had to use simple methods to best all his foes. Then he wondered if he was not becoming too haughty. For he knew that, somewhere out there, a better swordsman than him awaited. Not only one. Many better fighters, with more talent, skill and experience went about their lives, just as he did. What would happen if they met one day?

This was a good reminder of his own mortality. For while he was a god amongst the rabble, he still had much to learn. Was it not so? What else was there to do, save learning during the years remaining to him? He could die tomorrow, or after another century had passed. And he would continue learning. That is what accompanied man during his life. The desire to grow and learn. And when that desire stopped, when the growing was no more, then he was as good as dead.

They arrived sooner than he had expected. A guard by the door greeted them and ushered them inside. Vanik's son told them that he would join them shortly and headed for a room down the hallway. A guide appeared a moment later and beckoned the group to follow. As they walked, Barin studied the room. On the outside, it was a grand building. With high walls, large yard and rich gardens. On the inside, it was no less bigger, but the decoration was sparser than one would imagine. It was sternly furnished, each room having no more than it needed to fulfill its purpose. Everything was of high quality, but it was never too much. Vanik was a man of great resources, but he did not squander them needlessly. That is what message the rooms sent.

They arrived before a door of polished, mahogany wood. The guide, surprisingly, did not knock, but merely opened the door and allowed them to enter. Then Barin, rightfully, guessed that no knocking was needed. Vanik already knew who had arrived and that they were coming. He was a master of information and this was his home. The three of them entered, the door closed behind them.

Vanik was sitting behind his desk, studying a map of the city it seemed. Before the desk were arranged four chairs, polished to a shine and comfy-looking. Their host regarded them with a smile and with a fluid motion of his wrist bade them seat. Barin sat one of the chairs, the two lads took seats to his right. Much to his delight, the chairs were, indeed, comfortable.

"Masterfully done, Captain."

"I did what was asked of me."

"And more quickly than anticipated too."

"Let us not kid ourselves Vanik. You won this war. In less than three days, you broke the back of this organisation." - Barin smiled - "Merchant or not, I would not want to meet you on the field of battle."

"Organisation?" - Vanik laughed - "I have an organisation. Serek had a rabble, a mob. They have one common purpose, but that is all. That does not make an organisation."

Vanik stood up and began pacing through the room.

"Captain, looks can be deceiving. You look at me and see a merchant, a businessman. But I am no less a commander than you are. Remember that." - he paused, both speech and movement, for a second looking at Barin - "I have broken rival cartels, before you were born. Destroyed enemy guilds, while you were learning how to handle a sword. Torn to shreds intricate spy webs that would make your head spin. Did you think some lordling could oppose me?"

"It was obvious from the start that it was not so."

"Yes. And I needed you to be over with this business quickly. I could have destroyed this pathetic lot within a week or two. But you were a stray sword, without purpose. Nobody knew you, you did not draw attention and you head a head on your shoulders. Why not use such a handy tool?"

"What is a sword, if it lacks the hand to swing it?" - Barin said with a smile, he summed up his life with those words

"Indeed, Captain. I am saddened that a promising man like you wishes to remain a sword for the rest of his life. But it is not my place to judge."

"No, it is not."

The door opened and closed again, this time Weldin entered the room. A grin on his face.

"Ah, I see you have started without me."

"Take a seat, Weldin."

Weldin sat on Barin's left.

"What do you plan to do now, Captain?" - asked Vanik

"I am not for hire, if that is what you mean. Although, I suppose you already know that"

"I do."

"Me and my men will remain here until my scouts return. Then we will continue with our task, should we decide to carry it out."

"Should?"

"What the old man wants to say" - added Weldin - "are you not famous for never breaking a pact?"

"Silence, boy. Keep your mouth shut when your betters are speaking."

Weldin chuckled. Not something an aide would do, Barin mused. He was acting too arrogantly with his master.

"I have never accepted. The terms of the contract have not yet been made clear. When my prospective employer's men arrive, I will discuss the details with them."

"If it is not to your liking, then I could always find a use for you and your men." - said Vanik with a smile

"Oh father, you aren't going soft on the Captain here, are you?"

"Father?" - Barin was mildly surprised, he had his suspicions, but still...

"Ah, yes...my father is too ashamed of me to even tell you who I am" - the boy chuckled again.

"I knew he had a son, but an aide as well. Weldin."

"Is that not what a son should be, Captain?" - asked Vanik - "He is my aide and my blood. Plus a thorn in my side since he learned how to walk. If it was not for his mother's memory, I would have beaten him bloody at least thrice by now."

"I doubt you still could, father." - Weldin said with a grin

"Enough." - Vanik raised his hand, he became serious again and so did his son - "Captain, you have done what I asked of you. Here is your reward."

He went behind his desk and took out a fat pouch of coin. He placed it on the far side of his desk, so it was right in front of Barin. The Captain stood up, took the pouch and placed it in a pocket. Vanik then came closer and shook hands with him.

"You are a splendid business partner, as well as worthy investment" - he said with that typical smile of his, then added - "Of course, I know that you had help in your tasks."

He moved towards Geren and Silan and shook hands with them in turn. The lads beamed as they received attention from such a man, Barin noticed.

"You are still young and inexperienced, so you had no part in this conversation. At least you understand that, unlike my son here" - he nodded at Weldin - "The Captain tells me you have potential. If he ever runs you out, my door is always open to men with skills such as yours."

It was both a joke and a serious statement. Vanik was a master of that, Barin had learned. He could tell you something that seemed absurd and unreasonable, but after hearing it, you began wondering. Maybe that is what his strength was, feeding on men's doubts and ambitions.

"It is time we left you, Vanik. I wish you well."

"As do I, Captain. I hope we cross paths again."

"Don't get killed Captain, I'd like to do it myself one day. I still consider our first meeting a slight on my honour." - Weldin chuckled.

After they left the mansion and began their journey back towards the inn, Barin began counting the coin. As promised, it was a considerable sum, especially for a task as easy as this one had proven. Deftly, he split the coin in three parts. The biggest one for himself, of course, and two smaller ones for Geren and Silan. He had a few extra pouches for situations such as this and when he filled them, Barin offered them to the boys.

"Congratulations on your first payment, boys. Most do not receive it until much later."

"This is blood money." - these were the first words Geren had said since that night.

"No, Geren. This is money. The dirtiest object in the world, as I told you not so long ago."

"It just don't seem fair, sir." - added Silan

"Why is it not fair? This is money, earned with honest work. You did not steal them, you earned them with sweat and blood."

"Aye, but-"

"No buts." - he threw them each a pouch - "I told you that it was no easy life we lead. Now I showed you. Do not be ashamed of anything you have done, I am not. Like a woodcutter breaks his back each day, like a craftsman who toils in his workshop, so do we do our bloody work. They deal in wood and cloth and paper, we deal in steel and death. It it a job like any other. And, like it or not, you have already taken your first steps towards its mastery."

Sephalia > Ashwood ~ Afternoon of DAY 25

Fabrin, the mages and the rest of the scouts finally were in sight of Ashwood's walls. Their trip was not as long as they feared it would be. The fact that they had spent so much time in the wilds was due to them not having met. Now that they had joined forces and knew their destination, the way ahead was clear. Deftly, Fabrin led them through the twisting paths of the forests. Their encounters with the shadows had been few, even when they traveled at night. They were oft hounded by animal-like beasts, that moved on all fours and made use of the foliage surrounding them. Their arrows were useless in the forest, especially during the night. However, thanks to the skills of the Twins and the expertise of some scouts with the blade, they had emerged mostly unscathed.

With hope in their hearts and rest in their minds, they approached the gates. A quick glance about showed Fabrin the signs that accompanied a battlefield. Arrows, beyond recovery, strewn here and there, a dropped sword or fallen helmet. There were also other signs, he had only recently come to expect. Claw marks on the gates and walls, pieces of stone from the towers that loomed above them. It was not readily visible, but he could see the grim scene. Fabrin imagined the shadows swarming the fields around the walls, their bodies if they had any. Even the ones they had seen flying at night had descended upon the defenders. Truly, the problem was widespread.

What was not already obvious, was made so when one looked at the faces of the guards. Weary and battered, a sign of their nightly struggles. As they passed through the gates, the gate-captain came out to greet them.

"You look to have been out in the wilds for a time."

"More than we'd have liked, Captain." - replied Fabrin

"What brings you to our lovely town?" - he asked with mocking sarcasm

"Not your hospitality, that's for sure." - came the retort

"Pardons, we are all on edge. And I'm the friendly and welcoming one!" - he laughed weakly - "You are from the Hawks, I wager?"

"How did you know?"

"Well, your Captain and the rest of your troop passed through this very gate not so long ago. In the mean time, they have been making a name for themselves."

"Nothing bad, I hope?" - Fabrin had a few bad memories that surfaced

"On the contrary, they have breathed a little life in our city."

"Can you direct me to them?"

"Well, the Captain at least, I know where he's at. Even had a talk with him, when I was off-duty. An interesting man." - he paused for a second - "Follow the main road until you reach the market, or what's left of it anyway. Then head right, following the smaller street. You'll come upon the inn soon enough. Not hard to miss, it's one of the few still working in that part of the city."

"Thank you. I must be on my way, now."

"No doubt, fare well."

Fabrin nodded at the man and with a brisk pace caught up to the rest of the group. They moved silently through the equally silent streets. The few townsfolk that passed by eyed them wearily. But Fabrin had no time to be daunted. He passed through the market, noting how quiet it seemed, compared to other years. Although it was a touch livelier than when Barin had arrived. They moved down the street, which cost them little effort. After days of traversing the treacherous forest paths, where roots could easily snap the ankle of the unwary, walking on the paved street was a welcome respite. Soon, they came upon the inn in question. There could be no other, thought Fabrin. They had passed by a few, all of them closed. Or at least appeared so at a glance. This one, on the other hand, was definitely lively enough.

He opened the door and came upon a familiar sight. Partly because he was used to inns and, after a while, there were a few things which were common throughout them. Partly because it was, mostly, full of familiar faces. He had arrived at that time when the Hawks and a few louts were all the patrons. The majority of the people arrived later, after closing their shops, to share tales with these strangers. Cheers came from the tables, when the men saw their friends and companions enter through the doors. As was to be expected, Fabrin located Barin sitting on a table in the far end of the room, away from his men.

He approached and noticed that the Captain had rested his head on his fist, a mug besides him. For a moment, Fabrin was afraid that he might be drunk. But as soon as they drew near, Barin lifted his head and his eyes were clear. Fabrin cursed himself for thinking thus of his leader. How could he allow himself the luxury of drinking, even for one night, when he knew they could arrive at any moment? And indeed, as he approached, his keen eyes noticed that it was water, not alcohol in that mug.

"Captain, we have arrived."

"Stating the obvious, as usual, I see." - answered the familiar voice

"All of us, I'd add." - said Fabrin, slightly bolder than usual.

The Captain must have liked that, for a shadow of a smile passed through his face.

"Good. You have done as was asked, Fabrin. You as well." - he regarded the scouts that had gathered besides him. - "I will have the Seneschal reward you for your efforts tomorrow. In the mean time, you are dismissed. Stay here or go wherever you will, you are free. For now."

"On behalf of the men, I thank you, Captain." - said Fabrin. The scouts echoed his statement.

"You can thank me by getting out of those travel-worn clothes and washing the mud off your faces." - he then turned towards the silent Twins - "As for you, take a seat. We have matters to discuss."
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Sat Sep 11, 2010 1:56 pm

Mandor > Caslemon's Docks ~ Morning of DAY 15

The Northwind arrived with the first rays of the sun. The night had been peaceful, save for a gentle breeze which carried them to their destination. It had only been a few days, but those unaccustomed to voyages over water, not land, were getting restless. That is why, when the docks of Caslemon came into view, a joyous cry could be heard from the men aboard. The ship's captain, awakened by the cries, quickly barked out a few orders, which cooled down the crew's spirits. In a few minutes, things were back to normal - a well-oiled machine, carrying out the Duke's will. In less than an hour, they had already reached one of the piers and were preparing to dock.

Rurik woke up a few minutes earlier than that and was dressed in his chainmail before the anchor was cast. He quickly went above deck and approached the captain of the ship. He greeted him and offered his congratulations on the successful voyage. The captain accepted them as the kind of man who had received such much more than once, with a calm confidence. Another reason while Rurik liked the man. Another loyal servant like him, fulfilling his master's wishes perfectly.

The captain went to check on his men and Rurik did the same. He made certain that all were raised from their slumber and adequately dressed. Armour, surcoat and cloak - to identify them as the Duke's men, as well other necessities. When he was pleased with the results, his heart full of pride for having such men under his command, Rurik told one of the sergeants to prepare them for disembarking. The second sergeant, a loyal veteran by the name of Anglen, he called and they both approached the captain.

"Captain" - began Rurik - "why are there no guards to meet us?"

It was indeed something he had noticed, besides their vessel few other ships could be seen. Save for one, smaller and shabby-looking, on the far side of the wharf and a couple of fishing boats. Apart from them, the dock looked pretty much deserted. It was still early in the morning, but Rurik knew that sentries should be positioned. When he knew who was in charge here, he would have a talk with them.

"Don't be expecting to see any." - came the answer in a slightly ironic tone - "I shouldn't speak ill of m'lord's son, but every time I've had to stop here...let's just say I wasn't pleased."

Rurik nodded silently. So it was as he had feared, the defenders were lax.

"I see. Well, we can do nothing about it at the present, but next time you visit this place, I assure you that things will be different."

"I'm sure they will be." - the Captain replied and offered his hand.

Rurik shook it firmly. He then turned to the crew and bade them farewell, he was pleased with their skill and sense of duty. He would mention them and their captain in his report to the Duke. For now, though, he had to see how he would reach the town. From the map, he knew that Caslemon itself lay further inland, about a day's travel away by horse. He wanted to arrive there as soon as possible, so he could begin setting things in order. First, however, he would deal with the port authorities...

In a few minutes, Rurik left the Northwind behind, Anglen at his side. The other sergeant was overseeing the unloading of their supplies and equipment. Rurik reminded himself that he would need to find carts, so that they could be transported to Caslemon. Another note in his growing list of tasks. The two of them walked swiftly over the pier, with only the sound of their boots making any discernible noise. At the end of the pier, there was a small guard-house, there was no light coming from inside, but Rurik approached the door. True enough, the sound of, rather loud, snoring could be heard.

He knocked once and tried to open the door. It was locked. A second knock followed, but it had no effect. Rurik then sighed, took a step back and kicked it open. His strong leg made short work of the weak door, which was torn off its rusty hinges. Startled, a guard who was sleeping in a chair jumped to his feet. For a moment, it looked as if he was going to draw his blade, left on a battered-looking table by him, but then he noticed just who had entered. Their colours, marking them as Duke Omoron's men were one thing, but their ranks terrified him. As the Captain of the Guard, Rurik had a a small figure of a castle near his heart. Anglen, on the other hand, had a shield. It was a simple system used by the Duke, so that his men could identify their superiors from a glance. And while this guard had nothing to do with Omoron, he apparently knew of the system.

"M-m'lords..." - he began

"Why are the docks not guarded?" - Rurik interrupted

"Well, because...you see...l-last nig-"

"Bah, bugger all! WHAT IS IT?!" - came a shout

Rurik looked down to see a sleeping-mat on the ground, close to the chair. A dirty-looking man, also a guard, was lying there. He had been sleeping, but was now awake. Slowly, he lifted his head, ugly and scarred, with a thin moustache and looked about. He did not seem to regard Rurik and his sergeant.

"Chief...we h-have g-g-" - the guard tried to speak again

"I am Duke Cyril Omoron's Captain of the Guard" - Rurik interrupted him again - "If that name means anything in this shit-hole you will get up NOW!" - he slammed his massive fist on the flimsy table, breaking it in the process

The older guard got up quickly, very quickly. It was as if at one moment he was lying on his mat and the next he was already standing upright. Sweat was already forming on his forehead and he was breathing heavily.

"I-I am sergeant Fi-"

"I don't care. "Sergeant" is enough. Are you in charge here?"

"N-no, m'lord. I head the night watch, is all. Nalin is in charge of the docks...of guarding 'em, that is."

Rurik quirked an eyebrow. "Nalin?"

"C-captain Nalin."

"Where can I find this Nalin?"

"His house is the third one on the right, a-as you leave this pier and set foot on the street."

"Good. I will go and speak with your Captain. You can be certain that your days...nights of slacking off are at an end."

With that he turned around and left, leaving the half-broken guardhouse behind. Rurik exchanged a few words with Anglen, neither of them was pleased with what they had seen. If this was an indicator of what they would see in Caslemon....but no, Ragner Duiran could not allow this. The Duke might not be pleased with him, but Rurik knew that his liege was a perfectionist and he demanded the same from his followers. Surely it was just too much for the boy, he was inexperienced and unlearned, but Rurik would help him. And, in the mean time, this captain would be taught a thing or two about discipline.

They reached the captain's house soon enough. Unlike the docks entrusted to him, it was guarded. A lone man stood at the door, he eyed them wearily. Unlike the other guards, he did not bear the livery of Caslemon, but he looked far more tougher. He scratched his bearded cheek as he saw them, after which he asked:

"What d'you want?"

"I want to speak with Nalin."

"Why?" - the guard boldly asked

"Duke's business. Now step aside."

The man mumbled something, but he opened the door. So they were not insolent enough to disobey an officer from the Duke's forces. That was good, perhaps he could still make something out of this sorry lot. The room they entered was small, but it was well decorated. Rugs and skins and bookshelves, paintings on the walls, a few small statues here and there. By one of the windows, on a table, a man was eating his breakfast. Rurik assumed that it was the captain. The man turned around with a heavy sigh. His face was round, a bit like its owner, but there was that faint glint in his small black eyes, which revealed cunning and guile. He was passive only for the briefest of time, until he realised who his visitors were. After that, he smiled and bowed slightly, showing his respect.

"It is always an honour to have the Duke's men with us. You grace us with your presence." - his voice was pleasant to the ear.

"Save your flattery. You say it is an honour and yet, why is there no one to greet us?"

"Beg pardon, m'lord, you come at an odd hour. If we were notified of your arrival, things would have been different."

They would have been, that was certain. The louts would have been hidden and someone respectable would have been sent. Rurik was no great reader of men, unlike the Duke, but he had lived long enough to know how the world went by.

"If your sentries were vigilant and not sleeping, they would have noticed our coming."

"Well" - he answered after a short pause - "again I must blame the time of day. The men on guard duty during the night were tired from their long watch and their relief is coming any minute now. I assure you that it is only for the briefest of times."

"If you say so" - replied Rurik skeptically, from the state of what he had seen, he was not certain - "I came not to argue, but to request assistance."

"Anything for the Duke."

"I will require three horses, one for myself and my sergeant" - he nodded at Anglen - " as well as another for the standard-bearer. I intend to reach Caslemon by tomorrow."

"Yes, that is indeed possible on horseback" - he paused for a second - "I will have three horses delivered to you within the hour."

"Good." - now, it was Rurik's turn to pause, as he was pondering something - "I will also require carts and beasts of burden, so that we can transport our supplies and equipment. I am not aware of the exact number, but I will send one of my men to discuss it with you."

"But...Captain" - he hesitated - "A couple of horses is one thing....carts for an entire army...How many men have you?"

"Three score." - came the firm answer

"Sixty men?" - Nalin gasped - "I do not know if that is possi-"

"Not only do you take your duties lightly" - Rurik cut in - "But you contradict the words you uttered a few moments ago! "Anything for the Duke!" Hogwash!" - he spat at Nalin's feet

"Please...sire, you misunderstood. I'll see to it, everything will be in order." - he replied weakly

"It better be so." - he rubbed his chin - "Now, the men aren't going to feed themselves, surely you have enough in your stocks to provision them for the short journey ahead?"

"Supplies...yes" - he considered his next words carefully - "It will be done, m'lord."

"Perfect. I am no lord, however, keep that in mind." - he took a step closer - "And I see things which those of gentle birth do not."

The Captain did not respond, he merely turned away and approached his table. Nalin shuffled through some papers, searching for something...or at least, he seemed to be searching for something. Regardless, Rurik was pleased, the man had bowed his head...for now.

"I am looking at what we have in stock" - Nalin said as he continued shuffling - "Your needs will be fulfilled...anything for the Duke and his men."

"We won't bother you further then. Keep your men in check...that is my parting advice."

The two of them left, Rurik was pleased with the outcome. The Captain had proven cooperative enough, even if the help was offered a bit reluctantly. The guard at the door nodded as they passed by him. Rurik and Anglen made their way back to the pier, where the men had already disembarked from the ship. Crates and other such were piled nearby, waiting for transportation. The second sergeant, Aelric, approached them and, after saluting, gave his report.

"Very well, sergeant" - said Rurik after hearing it - "I have spoken with the local authorities and transportation and food will be provided for the men."

Rurik looked about before continuing.

"Where is Orin? SQUIRE!" - he cried out

The lad came up from behind a group of soldiers, he quickly approached the three officers and bowed. He was about to say something, but Rurik silenced him with a flick of his wrist.

"Now that we are gathered..." - he coughed, clearing his throat - "Caslemon is, as you now, about two days travel away, at the pace with which our forces will march. I, Anglen and young Orin here will move ahead, using the horses provided. By tomorrow morning, I suspect that we will be in site of the town walls." - Rurik then turned towards his sergeant - "Aelric, it is up to you to bring the rest of our men safely to Caslemon."

"It will be done, sire."

"I'd have it none other way. I also expect that you will arrive in full dress, with banners and cloaks and all."

"But of course, flying the Duke's colours is a great honour."

"It is and we are blessed to be the ones flying them." - he turned to his squire - "Speaking of which, you have the rare honour of carrying our standard. Normally, it is entrusted to the worthiest of soldiers, but we cannot be so picky in this case."

"Y-yes, m'lord." - Orin spoke in that strange voice lads of his age had, not childish, but not quite manly either.

"Stop calling me that, how many times must I tell you?"

"I'm s-sorry, m...captain."

"Fine. Go get that standard, our horses will be here soon."

The mounts did not arrive "soon". Or they did, according to the local reckoning, but Rurik preferred for things to go...quicker. He spent about an hour leaning on one of the stacks of crates and his patience was wearing thin. Just when he was preparing to storm into Nalin's house again, two men from the militia...or town watch, or whatever came. He could not call them guardsmen, for they lacked any sort authority or dignity. But he could not call them militia either. This was Caslemon after all, part of it at least, the Duke would not allow armed peasants with no training to be walking about.

At any rate, they had three horses with them, two brown and one black. The black one, slightly bigger than the rest, was (naturally) offered to Rurik. After declaring their loyalty to the Duke, the two departed. Rurik approached the black horse, while Anglen looked at the other two. Neither of them had served in cavalry regiments, nor could they ever afford to own one, so their knowledge was little. Orin, on the other hand, a lord's son, was knowledgeable of such things and commented on the horses being of "poor breed". Poor or not, they would suffice for their short journey, Rurik reasoned. He moved to the black steed, but Orin stopped him.

"M'lo-...sir, I think it will be better if you use that one" - he pointed at one of the brown horses

"Why is that, Orin? You want the big one for yourself?" - Rurik asked jokingly

"No, sir, it's just that...this one is older and from the way it behaves itself, I judge it will be difficult to handle" - he then nodded at the brown horse - "That one, on the other hand, is younger and has a calmer temper."

"Well, well, Cap'n, looks like the lad has got 'n eye where we old men are blind" - Anglen chipped in

"So it is" - Rurik laughed, but then became serious again and eyed Orin - "Have you been reading again? I told you, too much of those pages and you'll ruin your sword-eye."

"N-no sir, our stable-master taught us those things as kids..."

"Enough, enough...we can talk more later."

He mounted the brown horse, which really proved to a gentle and calm animal, followed by Anglen. Orin, however, had some difficulties while taming their wilder companion, but the black animal was soon swayed. Rurik gave a few final orders to sergeant Aelric, after which he departed, with the promise of meeting them all in two days.

The sound of the horses' clopping followed them as they left the paved, but awfully muddy, streets of the docks. Soon, the shaky looking fortifications were left behind and they found themselves into the countryside proper. It was a clear day, with the sun making its way in the sky undisturbed by clouds. There was a gentle breeze blowing from the sea, behind them now, which carried the smell of salt and freedom. All in all, it was a perfect time to travel and Rurik was pleased.

The cobbled road was narrow and had not seen much travel lately, but allowed the three of them to travel abreast. Anglen and Orin were a talkative bunch and they shared stories and jest to make their journey more bearable. Rurik was a quieter sort, he only chipped in from time to time, but he allowed his two companions to chatter as much as they wanted. At times, he would pose a question to the young squire, mostly regarding the uses of weapons and their application. He was not much of a teacher apart from that. While Rurik had learned to read and speak like a lord, he knew little of history or grand strategy. What he had, he had picked up on the streets and battlefields, conventional wisdom, rules of thumb, questionable tales...and other such. The rest he had taken in during his years of service, but there were worthier men, better suited for mentors. Sometimes he wondered if the lad had not been given to him as a jest. A way with which the Duke showed him how ignorant and unlearned he was, how he paled in comparison to Cyril's brilliance...

On and on the twisting road lead them, crawling through the rocky hills like a serpent. The town was still not in view. Even if they were close, their sight was obscured by the many bluffs that dotted the landscape. Growth was scarce, mostly scrubs, with the rare tree here or there. People were even rarer - they had yet to meet another traveller. Rurik saw all of this as a stark contrast to the bustling countryside surrounding Drome. And again, a question crept into his mind. The terrain was one thing, but surely something could be had from this pile of rocks? If only the will to do it was present.

When the sun was high in the sky and the heat was becoming uncomfortable, Rurik decided to give them a break. They stopped by a small stream, which Anglen had noticed, slightly off the main road. A pair of olive trees provided the much-welcome shade, which made their stay longer than intended. They ate a part of what they had picked up at the port, leaving the rest for later. The sergeant dared Orin to try out one of the raw olives hanging above them. Confident, as all young ones, in himself - the squire accepted. And after spitting it out with a curse, the two older men could not help but laugh. Anglen then proposed a short nap, the sun would still be a problem, especially in this barren region, he pointed out. Rurik agreed, they were in no particular hurry, an hour or so was not critical. They would have to make camp for the night, regardless.

Rurik was not one for sleeping, however, he merely paced about while his companions rested. When it was cooler and the horses (which were slow-going) seemed better, at least to his untrained eye, he raised the other two. They set out again a few minutes later. Orin complained about the road, of how it could be made shorter. He stated that the way from the docks to Caslemon itself was not long, it did not warrant a whole day journey. But the "foolish builders" forced people to go around for the peninsula. Rurik told him that the rocky nature of their surroundings made such ventures undesirable. The youth knew that of course, but he was certain something could be done about it. Orin was like that, optimistic and full of ideals, like most boys at his age. After a few years life would make him more rugged and down to earth, Rurik knew.

Amidst such empty words, most of the day slipped by, before they knew it - it was already growing dark. They were now on a, relatively, even field and the glimmer of lights could be seen far off.

"Is that Caslemon?" - Orin asked

"Aye, it has to be it." - Anglen answered

"It doesn't matter, we are still too far away. The road is bound to have more twists and turns, it is not as near as it looks." - Rurik told them

"A few more hours in the dark is better than sleeping out here!" - the squire said hotly

"Are you daft, boy? Haven't you heard of the shadows that stalk the wilds? Do you want to deal with them and the treacherous road?"

Both of his reasons rang true. Even by day, some parts of the road had not been easy on the horses. Others were in disrepair and there were holes here and there. If they carried on in the dark, they risked injury. The shadows, too, did not make things easier. Rurik had heard the news of this new horror, but he had yet to meet them himself. But, if they managed to destroy a fortress like Carisun Keep, even with a little help, then they had to be a dangerous foe indeed. He did not want to take any chances. Judging by the silence following his words, the others were of a like mind.

"Now, I don't like this place, it is too open." - he looked about - "Hmmm, over there, to the left...follow me."

Carefully, he lead his horse off the road and onto the rocky soil. They traveled for some time in utter silence, until they reached a cliffside that loomed above them. Rurik declared that they would make their camp here. It was a good position, if a bit chilly, but at least their backs would be secured. They tied the horses to a tree and gave them food, after which Rurik sent out Orin to search for firewood but warned him to stay close.

It was not that dark yet, so while waiting Anglen and Rurik examined their surroundings. After they had noted where there were crevices and such, where a man might trip, they sat down. Soon, Orin joined them, carrying a lot of kindling. He made a few more trips, until they had enough to last them for the night. They had a fire going soon and Rurik began cooking. "Cooking" was an overstatement. He merely poured some water in the pot they carried and added what vegetables they had, in addition to the meat. Like any good campaigner, Rurik appreciated a warm stew far more than dry food.

While Rurik was cooking, Anglen used what light remained to teach the squire a few tricks. They went back and forth, exchanging blows, the sergeant explaining how to use the cover of darkness to one's advantage. They were not fully serious and their blows were often accompanied by jests, but there was wisdom to be had there for a potential warrior. Rurik was content to watch, he did not intervene, for Anglen offered a take on combat the Captain could not. Rurik was a master of the mace and he was good with the sword, but his blows lacked the finesse of a true artisan. He was not schooled in fighting, like his knowledge of the world, it was all gathered as he went. Street brawls, battles, advice and friendly duels with fellow soldiers, that was his martial education. His blows were brutish and relied on his great strength and Orin was of...less sturdier stock.

The squire was tall, with auburn hair and brown eyes, with broad shoulders and a charming smile, he was a prodigal knight. His arms were sinewy, but they did not possess the strength those like Rurik had. That is why he decided that the boy was better suited to the sword. A glancing blow with a blade could prove deadly, if the circumstance were right; a weak tap with a mace was going to leave a bruise at most. Orin was more inclined to use it anyway, he had remarked about the mace looking "lowly". Thus, Rurik taught him what he knew of sword-fighting, as well as giving the boy knowledge of the mace, he may not use it, but it was going to come in handy when fighting a mace-man. Still, his style relied on strength and it carried on to all weapons, regardless of shape or size. That is why Rurik encouraged the lad to try out different mentors and different sparring partners. Anglen was a good choice. He was not noble-born, but his father was a master-at-arms at a lord's castle, a station which he had acquired thanks to his skill. As such, he was tasked with training the lads, both of gentler and rougher birth, in the ways of war. The result was that Anglen was a proficient fighter, using techniques which were taught by masters throughout Mandor.

When it became too dark for any reasonable training, the two joined Rurik by the fire. It was getting chilly, with strong gusts of wind coming from the sea. They pulled their cloaks about them and ate their stew. One would say that it was surprisingly good, for a rough man like Rurik to have made it. Not only was it pleasing to the tastes, it provided much needed warmth to their bodies.

"Like a lord's feast, Cap'n. It just needs some fancy spices to make it truly divine." - noted Anglen

"We make do with what we have." - Rurik said with a smile, then his face became serious - "You better hope it doesn't make you too sleepy. The first watch is yours."

"Aye, sir."

"It's settled then, I will take second and Orin will be third."

They exchanged a few more words, as they finished their stew. The encroaching darkness about them made the atmosphere feel cold...but it was no normal chill. None of them would admit it, but there was a frightful feeling creeping in their hearts. Seeping slowly like the shadows about them. When it was obvious that the conversation could not go on, Rurik told Orin to go to sleep and soon followed suit.

A couple of hours later, Anglen awoke him quietly, with a slight shake of the shoulder. Rurik asked if all was clear and, after receiving a positive answer, told the sergeant to go to sleep. The next few hours went by, without anything of note happening. However, Rurik could still not shake himself of the feeling that something was approaching. There were animal cries coming from far off, howls and...what seemed like screams. And yet, those otherwise familiar noises sounded different, twisted. Whatever that sense of foreboding was, it was ill-founded. When his watch was over, Rurik neared the squire and woke him up. He gave him instructions and went to sleep once more.

All was good, most of the night had passed and after a few hours the sun would shine again.

Mandor > Road to Caslemon ~ Early hours of DAY 16

"CAPTAIN!" - came a high-pitched scream

Rurik gripped the mace lying by his head and jumped to his feet. He had not felt the weariness the last time he woke up, but now the consequences of sleeping with armour were felt. He felt sore and not all that rested, however, his warrior's instinct sent a surge of adrenalin rushing through his veins. In mere seconds, he was ready to take on anything. Quickly, he approached Orin from whom the scream had come. Anglen was up as well, sword drawn, and he neared as well.

"Look!" - pointed Orin

In front of them, there was darkness. At first glance, it was not much different than before, a blackness which obscured one's vision. Night. But it was no normal darkness, for as the eye began to grow accustomed to its surroundings, it began noticing shapes. Dark shapes, with no clear form, here and there they moved. Amidst the ink-black stillness, some shadows crept closer. They were unlike any animal the three had ever seen, but they bore resemblance to many. Here was a wolf, there was a bear and there...something which walked on two legs. Rurik stooped to pick up his shield, positioned nearby, and raised it before him. He took a few steps towards the shadows. As he did so, a beast snarled and lunged at him. It looked like a wolf, but it was no mere animal. It was at least twice as big and its features were twisted, shifting - they confused the eye and clouded the senses.

He lifted the shield and felt as the shadow's claws sank into it. Wasting no time, he twisted slightly and raised the shield even higher, throwing the beast to the ground. Before it had a chance to move, Rurik was already looming above it, short as he was. With one brutal blow to its skull he ended the "duel".

It would have been like any normal kill, he felt as the mace found flesh and bone. The thud which accompanied all blows from his weapon was clearly heard. That is where the similarities ended. Where the enemy once stood a small cloud of darkness, illuminated by the still-burning fire, was seen. Only for a moment. After that, it too was gone. Rurik was perplexed for a second, but it did not last long. Snapping out of his amazement he looked back at the two others, then turned towards the dark pack.

"FOR THE DUKE!" - he bellowed out, after which he roared much like the beasts before him.

Rurik charged them, mace swinging wildly left and right. It was good to feel it's weight in his hand again, after days of using the sword in the Duke's court. And while he felt a little naked, he was only wearing a shirt of mail, he was getting back into his familiar role. Be it in a full suit of plate armour or, as in this case, chain and boiled leather - it made no matter. Sword or mace or spear, it was besides the point. For Rurik was made for one thing and one thing only. Battle. The thrill of playing with the fates' of men. Taking life or giving it, all depending on which way your arms swings. The shouts of the dying, the blood on your face, the fear in the eyes. And while this battle was different, one of shadows, where steel met darkness - it again made no matter.

From time to time, he would look to his companions, lending a hand when needed. Anglen was, of course, doing well on his own, he was an accomplished fighter. Orin was yet untested, however, so a close eye had to be kept on him. Normally, Rurik would not bother with the safety of a recruit, for in battle things are simple - survival is the victory. If a young man showed promise he would live, if not he would be food for the worms. This young man was different. Being a lord's son, he had been entrusted to Rurik, to teach and to protect him. And while Rurik would not be overly saddened, the father, with his whining, would no doubt cause problems to the Duke, should his son meet his end at the claws of a shadow. Both Anglen and Rurik were aware of that.

The fight carried on for some time, but finally the sun graced the earth. With it, the shadows disappeared. All three of them were alive and, mostly, unscathed. Rurik had received a bite in the calf, but his boot had prevented serious harm. A claw had given him another wound to the thigh, but again - he had managed to avoid a lasting injury. Anglen, who was renowned for his good-looks despite his long career as a warrior, was untouched. And Orin had a few claw-marks under his left eye.

"Now I'll look like some freak!" - he complained as Anglen cleared the wound

The sergeant carried on, undisturbed by the boy's complaints. When he was done, he slapped the squire gently on the cheek and said with a smile:

"Don't worry, m'lord, the ladies can't resist a good scar."

Although, truth be told, Rurik doubted the "scar" would endure. A bit of time in the sun and the lad's face would be as a good as new in a couple of weeks. Unlike the assortment of marks he carried. Regardless, it would serve Orin as a remainder that battles were unlike the fancy stories told in the tales. The Captain then looked about, but there was no sign of their recent struggle. No bodies, no weapons...nothing. He could not say how long they had fought, nor how many they had killed. But he was certain that they were lucky to have been attacked so late. A night-long fight would have left them exhausted.

They broke their fast with what supplies they had left, after which they prepared to set out. The horses had been scared from the shadows, neighing and kicking, but they were finally calming down. Soon, they left their small campsite behind and returned on the road leading to Caslemon. Rurik was relieved that their struggles had been so easy, but what of the others? That was a question that gave him no respite.

Mandor > Caslemon ~ Morning of DAY 16

Finally, they stood before Caslemon's walls. The gates were closed and there were no guards in sight. Rurik told Orin to lift the standard as they approached. However, even that gesture had no effect. What was going on? The Duke was a respected man, if his banner was not enough to have the gates opened for them, what else could suffice? It was not long before Rurik lost his patience.

"IN THE NAME OF DUKE CYRIL OMORON OPEN THE GATES!"

There was a very feint echo, due to the many rocky formations surrounding them. Rurik had a loud voice and he was not afraid to use it. That said, his challenge again proved to be lacking. The doors remained closed.

That was it. He jumped off the horse and grabbed the gate's handle. Such operations were normally a two-man job, but neither Orin nor Anglen were feeling brave enough to approach Rurik in his wrath. Besides, his strength was great and, at the moment, so was his anger. That proved enough. Quietly growling to himself, he opened the gate as if it was a house's door. After that, he rushed in, eager to get his hands on the insolent guards.

There was no one there.

"Anglen! Orin! Come on!" - he cried out

The two came in soon enough, Orin was leading Rurik's horse. The Captain took the reins from him and mounted his steed once again. He looked about, there were many narrow, twisting streets and all of them dirty. However, a bigger one, drowned in filth like all the rest, led forward. By all logic, it should bring them to the lord's estate. Without another word, he kicked the horse in the ribs and drove it onwards. His companions followed quietly. Orin was still holding the banner high, a sense of dignity about him. Rurik was too busy to notice that however.

The day had begun, but it was still morning, so the town seemed pretty barren. Rurik could hear footsteps coming from the other streets, far-off voices and people's silhouettes in the dirty windows. After a few minutes they finally met another person. A scruffy-looking young man was relieving himself by some statue, too old and battered by the elements to be recognisable.

"You there!" - said Rurik.

He thought he was calm, but his voice must have sounded fearsome for the man stopped what he was doing and turned to face them. He looked startled, either because they had caught him in the act, it was a statue after all, or because they were the Duke's men. Or maybe both. In fact, such was his haste to turn around that he forgot to cover his manhood, it was now hanging between his legs.

"Yes l-lords? How ca' I 'elp?"

"Zephiris' mercy! Pull up your pants!"

The man looked even more startled as his gaze went downwards. He quickly did as he was told.

"B-beg pardons."

"Save your excuses. Where is Lord Duiran's home?"

"Lord Duiran? Tha' blighter's a-"

"The Duke's son is not to be mocked by the likes of you. Not in my presence."

"O' c-course. Follow this road and it'll lead you t' it."

Without another word Rurik spurred his mount and went onward. They followed it for some time and Rurik thought he had regained control of his emotions. Fate, however, had another thing in mind. They noticed one of the city guards, unwashed and reeking of alcohol. He was pocking a dead cat lying in the gutter with his spear.

"GUARDSMAN!" - Rurik roared. What was that cretin doing?

"Wha'?" - the man said as he turned around.

"WHY IS NOBODY MANNING THE GATES?! WHERE IS RAGNER DUIRAN?"

The guard opened his mouth to say something, but closed it. Then he opened it again and, once more, closed it. Apparently, two questions at a time were too much for him. Rurik was blind to that fact.

"SPEAK YOU STUPID BASTARD!!!"

"I-I-I th-"

"Where is Lord Duiran?!" - his voice was quieter, but not by much

"Well...his house is ova' 'ere. One o' them boys will kno'..." - he pointed at the big structure a couple of hundred meters in front of them

Rurik carried on. He was barely containing his anger. What was it that annoyed him so? Was it the stench, the dirt, the shabby houses, broken windows and shit-filled gutters? Or was it the total lack of regard for authority, the idiot guards, the disrespectful people? Or, perhaps, it the incompetence of Ragner Duiran? How could he not keep his people in check?

They arrived in the courtyard of the Lord's home. The gates were open and he quickly passed through them. There was a guard leaning on his spear, but Rurik paid him no heed. He was planning on storming into the place and demanding to know what was going on. The guard had the misfortune of opening his mouth.

"Hey, hey where are you going?"

Rurik jumped off his horse and approached the guard. Before the man could react, Rurik pried the spear from his hands and broke it in its former owner's face. The man staggered and fell on the ground, Rurik grabbed him by the throat and lifted him to his feet.

"Where is your Lord?!" - Rurik screamed in his face

"Who?" - came a feint reply, the Captain was choking him

"RAGNER DUIRAN! Does the name not mean anything here?"

"I-I can't s-" - he coughed and Rurik eased his grip - "I don't know."

"You have two hours to find him. I'll be waiting right here. Find him or I will find you." - he let go

The man stumbled, but he managed to remain on his feet. He began rubbing his throat, where a few moments ago Rurik's fingers had been. He took a few deep breaths to steady his breathing.

"Are you still here?! Get going!"

Rurik lifted his hand as if to strike him, but the guard did not need further encouragement. Like a practiced runner, he swiftly departed.

"Orin" - Rurik said in a cooler voice, but the anger was still there - "plant the banner in the ground. Here" - he pointed

Now all they had to do was wait. And when Ragner came here, he was going to have a lot of explaining to do.


Last edited by Blackrock on Mon Oct 18, 2010 7:00 am; edited 2 times in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Sun Sep 12, 2010 9:15 pm

Sephalia > Oliphey > Church of Zephiris on Dove Street ~ afternoon of DAY 8
"Sem, would you read this for me?" Gado indicated a passage of scripture with his finger while holding it out to his friend. "It's just the way you read scriptures, it seems to come alive." He wanted to be able to feel the words, not merely know what they said.

Gado and his wife Scarlet had cooped themselves in the windowless room for most of the day, poring over the scriptures Semric had suggested. It was getting stuffy, but they didn't really notice, and anyway Semric kindly fanned the door for them every once in a while. So far, they'd completed a thorough study of the first three chapters of Origins—Scarlet had taken extensive notes as directed, adding thoughts of her own as they went—and they had gone through several scriptural letters as well. They were now well into the fifth letter from Ezekiel the Seer.

"Certainly," said Semric, reverently accepting the tome. "I've never read these aloud before. Most of my sermons come out of Origins, or the many Songs of Saphan, or sometimes one of the exhortations of Teldarius. Ezekiel the Seer's letters are too complex for most ordinary folk. It was said he knew things, saw them in visions like Aramis the Prophet, only less through sight and more through sharp feeling." Semric trailed away for a moment, then came back and pointed at the passage Gado wanted him to read? "Right here?" When Gado nodded, Semric cleared his throat.

"The Third Letter to the Sephalians, from Ezekiel the Seer of Sephalia—end of Chapter Four.
"But I know your works, ye of Sephalia, and the diligence of your hearts. For in all things ye seek to set down in all profitableness that which is good and right and true, and of Zephiris gain ye wisdom, even as I myself am wont to do these things, to obtain virtue and give to those who have need in all rightmindedness and understanding, rightly dividing the light from the shadow, (as all men ought, being of sound mind;) that the children of the One might grow in all peace and wellness of will and deed. But what? shall we then glory in ourselves, as though we were of a narrow mind, and blind to virtue? The One who created all things grant that it may never be so; Zephiris guide us. In all comeliness and humility, therefore, give thanks to Zephiris for the goodness of our hearts, the One for our good works. But be not deceived, (for I know that some of you have fallen unto vanity and the wiles of pride:) haughtiness comes before a fall, and proud falsehoods lays the path to destruction. In all humbleness of heart, therefore, I say again, hear ye now the vision of my heart, and let it be read among you before the assemblies.
"Chapter Five—I saw in my heart a pain as of a flaming lance into the body of a man. It is hate, said words that cut as a sword. It is a cold hatred. As snow on the mountains is bereft of heat, so has all Telmar. For in days to come, the pride of Telmar will wax ever greater. In their highmindedness they will speak against the One who created all things. Then Zephiris flared in anguish and anger, and as there were none to intercede, Zephiris brought forth her rod against all lands. In that day shall the darkness grow strong, for the light of Zephiris shall was hot. Fear will be visited upon Telmar, and there will be wailing in the night because of the pestilence. Shadows from—"

There was a knock at the door, in the middle of the chapter. Semric begged pardon and got up from the bed where the three of them sat. Gado accepted the book again, finishing the sentence half to himself. "Shadows from Light." There followed another knock as Semric made his way to the door, and a woman's voice said, "Semric? Are you there? It's Kate...I need to speak with you."

Semric opened the door, and there she was. "Kate! thank the goddess! How I feared. I'm so glad to see you safe!" Kate was like an aunt to Semric. Still quite a worldy aunt, perhaps, whereas Semric had long ago mended his ways, but Semric knew she loved Zephiris dearly, and he prayed for her often. Semric turned back to the others long enough to say, "I'll be back, Gado." The big, aged man, engrossed in the writings, didn't seem to hear him. The young priest he went out into the hall and softly closed the door.

Brother Semric had finished his sermon a while earlier, which was why he had gone to assist Gado and his wife with their search. As he and Kate came out from the hallway, Semric noted that though there were still several people scattered about the pews, praying silently, there was still plenty of isolated areas where he and Kate could talk. He led her to one, near to the hallway but among the pews back on the other side of the prayer railing. The stained-glass window glowed with the afternoon light outside. Semric and Kate sat down in one of the pews. Semric was eager for news and had quite forgotten Kate's urgency. "Was your caravan visited by these shadowy monsters I've been hearing about?" Despite her presence here, quite safe, Semric couldn't help feeling concerned, even retroactively. "No one was hurt, were they? You must have been near Oliphey. I've heard stories; I'd hate to have been outside of a walled city, night before last."
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Sat Sep 18, 2010 3:33 am

Mandor, The Blue Mountains ~ Morning of DAY 9

Riding up to the shattered gates of Carsiun Keep had been a devastating wound, one I was sure would never heal. The death of Simion Altus would have been more than the loss of my page. I have come to believe that it would have been the loss of someone extraordinary, and I would have been the only one to have witnessed his potential.
-Sir Barthon Camlin, Righteous Knight of the Order of Gedrich


The chill morning wind blew heavily against Barthon as he followed the thin trail upward. The sun was rising over the eastern horizon, banishing the light of the moons and the glint of early morning stars, and burning away the crisp morning air. Barthon was glad of it; there were few things more uncomfortable than wearing heavy armor over cold and weary limbs. Even so, Barthon knew he would soon be regretting the heat of the noon day sun as well. Were he not a knight of the Order of Gedrich, were it not forbidden, Barthon would have shed his armor before setting foot in the Blue Mountains. He knew his companions, with the exception of young Simion, wondered at his devotion to tradition. Unfortunately, it was more than simple tradition: were Barthon to take off his armor while outside of a barrack, he would be banished from the Order. It was not tradition, it was Code.

Simion easily kept pace with Barthon. He wasn’t weighed down by armor, as he had never been officially accepted into the Order. He was still Barthon’s page boy, though his sense of propriety had nearly disappeared following his induction as a Knight of Zephiris in Dor. Neither did he have Barthon’s stamina or training, and so despite the ease with which he moved his legs he was panting. Barthon would look down at him every so often, smile, and then pick up his pace. Barthon couldn’t help but be amazed at how much the boy had grown. They left Aram for Dor less than a fortnight ago, and already he could see the changes in the boy. No longer was he the shy pupil of a knight, a page boy of no significance. He was a Knight of Zephiris, and the duties required with that position he had taken to his heart. He recalled what Simion had said to Brenard a few nights ago: “The world needs heroes, Brenard.” It wasn’t a statement spoken from a young boy’s yearning for adventure or fame; it was a statement of truth as Simion had come to see the world. Zephiris was the heart and flame of their world, and she was in need. Simion had taken it upon himself to answer that call, and he had done so out of the sense of duty that Barthon himself had instilled in him. It was no small sacrifice on the boy’s part, yet at the same time it was an opportunity any young lad would dream of.

The death of Jasper and Cid had hit Simion hard. Barthon wasn’t sure if it was the realization of the stakes they were up against, or the fact that he had lost a good friend and tutor in Jasper. Barthon could only provide so much in the way of friendship and tutelage. By befriending Jasper and Brenard, he had rebelled against his teacher, become his own man forging his own path. While irritated at first, Barthon realized he couldn’t blame Simion. It was completely natural and, as far as he was concerned, honorable. Now Simion had lost one of them, and he had to find a way to cope with that loss. Barthon had tried to speak to him about it, but Simion was too withdrawn. Instead, Barthon wrote the words he wished to speak to Simion in his new journal, recording the effects the deaths had on Simion and the rest of the group. He played the disengaged narrator rather than the group’s leader. But with what Barthon thought fate had in mind for Simion, he didn’t think it would be a bad thing. Simion was young yet, too young for the burden of leadership. But he was already a Knight of Zephiris, in name and mettle, and Barthon felt that greatness was in the boy’s near future.

The rest of the group was not so easy to read. Quentin Osmont, the balding priest from Dor, walked close to Simion as he usually did. The priest had taken a protective charge over Simion, both, it seemed, of his own volition as well as on the orders of Barthon. On numerous occasions during their short travel so far he had ordered Quentin to protect Simion. And he had done most admirably during the attack on Carsiun Keep last night. Barthon had never expected to see Simion alive in the midst of that massacre. He couldn’t thank the priest enough, and yet he didn’t know how to begin thanking him. Typical of the priest’s uncanny ability to read Barthon’s thoughts, Quentin had noticed his beseeching gaze and simply smiled and nodded, as if to say no words were necessary, that it was simply an honor of performing his duty. Barthon wrote much about the man in his journal.

Walking unhappily behind Quentin was Brenard san Deccour, the horrifyingly ugly and incredibly skilled fencer. Simion had taken a liking to him as he had to Jasper. Brenard walked with a scowl on his pockmarked face, an indication of his distaste at skipping breakfast and walking in the dust kicked up by the scuffling priest. Brenard had consistently shown to be hard to judge and predict. Barthon knew the man had a rich history, and yet he hid his experiences and knowledge behind a light-hearted demeanor. He was a friend to the group, someone with whom they could relaxingly spar with words or sword, and someone whose physical appearance would raise the self-confidence of those around him. While sometimes touchy about overly critical remarks on his disfigurement, he normally took it like he did most other things: a smile, loud laugh, and raucous joke that would end with the whole group laughing. But Barthon had watched him assess the group, or the shadow beasts just before one of their battles. He was a man hardened by experience.

Ten Eych and Inen were polar opposites of each other. Where Ten was light-hearted and a stout figure of enormous dimensions, Inen was a petite woman who could bear a grudge like no other. Despite their differences, the two stuck together. Barthon wasn’t sure what part the priest played in their past, if any, but he guessed that Ten and Inen were the last surviving members of an older group. A group that had at one time included Jasper and Cid. Since the death of those two, Ten and Ined had been inseparable. Ten tried to smother his grief with more jokes and chores, and Inen hid from her grief by hiding from the rest of the group. Ten Eych stood by her, walked with her. The man had a soft heart, but Barthon knew that even his muscles and charisma would not break through Inen’s barriers.

Between Simion’s heavy panting and Brenard’s incessant scowling, Barthon decided that it was time for a break. The trail had leveled out slightly, providing a small grassy field spotted with boulders before the next steep incline. Wild flowers were still in bloom, but Barthon knew they would soon be gone both from season as well as elevation. As the neared the center of the field, Barthon stopped and turned to look behind him. Ten and Inen were still trudging up the path behind Bernard, a bit more distant than Barthon liked. He understood their pain, but he knew personally that hiding from those around you, the people who wanted to support you, was no way to get over that pain. Behind Ten and Inen were the receding walls and turrets of Carsiun Keep. Smoke was gushing from several of the towers. Barthon had no idea how the fires had started, but it seemed that the keep had been evacuated without bothering to put them out. Beyond the keep was the wide expanse of forest and the River Swift stretching out to the southern horizon. Dor lay beyond, out of sight, as well as Jeanne. He had come to the realization that he had likely given her up for good, chasing a larger dream that was more to his calling. It saddened him, but he wouldn’t let it deter him.

“Let’s stop here,” Barthon said. “Eat and rest. We will continue shortly.”
“It’s about time!” Brenard said, sitting on a low rock near the trail. “I’m starving. Who’s cooking?”
Simion plopped to the ground, his water skin up to his mouth. After a long drink he wiped dripping water from his chin with the back of a hand. “Not me,” he said. Perhaps it was Simion’s close brush with death the night before, but Barthon suddenly had an uncharacteristic pang of sympathy.
“I will,” Barthon said. He pulled two of the bags off of Aramis’s saddle and moved toward a low patch of grass near the road. Ten Eych walked over to help him, Inen trailing behind him with her arms crossed. Ten used the heel of his boot to scrape out a small fire pit, pulling away bits of grass and flowers with his hands to clean out the shallow bowl. Barthon watched as Quentin kneeled near Simion. He wished he could hear the words the priest spoke, as they seemed to sooth Simion far more than he had been able to.
“Is a fire really necessary?” Inen asked. She moved a few steps closer, though Barthon could tell she was hesitant. Every day she withdrew more, and Barthon wondered if she blamed him for Jasper and Cid’s death. Lord Ragner had, after all, been after Barthon, though he couldn’t figure out what he’d done to earn the man’s wrath.
“We haven’t had a good meal or rest since yesterday morning,” Barthon said as he rifled through the packs. “I figured now is as good a time as any.”
“I don’t know about that,” Brenard said, still sitting on his chosen rock. “Simion and the priest were sleeping pretty soundly when we found them!” A light chuckle passed through the group, another perfectly timed joke by the fencer to relieve tension, exhaustion, and worry from his companions. Despite his initial misgivings, it seemed as if they were a rather compatible group. Unfortunately, circumstances seemed determined to drive them apart.
“I could use a good meal,” Simion chirped, walking toward the group with Quentin at his side. The smile on the boy’s face relieved him.
“We all could,” Quentin added. “It has been a long and perilous journey so far, though we might find some respite here in the mountains. There is little harm in taking a moment to indulge in a hard-earned meal.”
“I didn’t know priests indulged in anything,” Ten quipped, working the wood in the center of the earthen pit.
“Then you have never been to a priests’ table,” Quentin replied, a beaming smile lighting his face. Again, more chuckles passed through the group, though they seemed less forced this time.

In a few short minutes, a small fire was burning in the pit, and Barthon had hung a pot of water over it. He slowly mixed in ingredients, whatever they had brought with them from Toad Hollow: small bits of potato, semi-fresh vegetables, and meat. Ten had wanted to buy some spices, but because of the injured refugees there was precious little of anything the Toad’s could spare. And because of the shadow beasts’ appearance at dusk, they had little time to waste in haggling. Barthon handed out wooden bowls filled with steaming soup, and the last of the bread. He knew this would likely be the last good meal they had up here in the Blue Mountains, though they should be able to find meat easily enough hunting wild game.

Barthon waited until Simion finished eating, and then drew his arming sword from its sheath. “You haven’t had much opportunity to practice, Simion, with the absence of our evening camp fires.” Barthon saw the excitement in Simion’s eyes, but he also saw the exhaustion. Unfortunately, too much sympathy and kindness would eventually result in the death of Simion. Barthon spun the sword around so that the hilt was extended toward Simion. The boy reached his hand out and slowly grasped the handle. It was the first time Barthon had offered his own sword to the boy to practice with. Barthon knew that Simion would recognize it as a sign of trust and respect. Simion stood and swung the sword in a few practice strokes. The arming sword, commonly called the “knight’s sword,” was three feet in length, including its two and a half foot, perfectly balanced, steel blade. Zephirisian scripture was engraved on the hilt and blade, much like most of his armaments. Barthon had engraved the inscriptions himself during his training, a tradition among some of the most earnest and devout knights. He had hoped to show Simion how to do it someday, though he was beginning to realize that the boy would be soon forming new traditions.

“Who shall spar with me?” Simion asked. He looked around at the exhausted members of the group.
“I will,” Inen said. Barthon was taken by surprise. He had only ever seen her use a bow, and could only assume she had as little or less practice with a sword than Simion. Ten Eych’s small smile only confused him more. Inen stood and walked to one of their horses. She pulled a spare short sword from one of the bags and unraveled the cloth that covered the blade. It wasn’t a high quality sword, like Barthon’s arming sword, but quality didn’t make much of a difference in the hands of amateurs. Inen smiled as she walked toward Simion, the tip of the sword held out in front of her. Both of her hands grasped the pommel unsteadily, and Barthon reaffirmed his assessment that she was inexperienced.

“Try not to hurt yourselves…” Brenard said. He had gotten up from his rock to eat, and now stood as close as was safe to his young pupil. When Simion rushed in toward Inen, Barthon was shocked by the woman’s speed. She released one hand from the pommel of her sword and moved to the side. As Simion’s hand swung down, she simply grabbed his wrist with her free hand and twisted. Simion nearly dropped his sword as he attempted to twist out of the way.
“That isn’t sword fighting,” Simion said, apparently angry at Inen’s trick.
“Not everyone fights with swords,” Inen replied. This time she attacked, a few quick swings that Simion blocked easily. However, Inen was focused more on her footwork than her sword play, and she was soon within Simion’s reach. Once again, she threw a hand forward and grabbed his wrist. Simion tried to twist away again, but she had nearly thrown him off of his own feet. Ten Eych laughed, his crossed arms shaking over his barrel-like chest.
“Not every fight is won with swords,” Inen continued. She let go of Simion’s wrist and he backed away. Barthon could see the confusion on his face: he wasn’t sure what the lesson was. Inen was using a sword, but hardly fighting with it. She was a grown woman and he was just a young lad. Despite her size, she could still possibly overpower him. After a few short moments, Simion overcame his fear and confusion. He rushed toward Inen and immediately started swinging his sword. He swung outward, trying to push Inen’s sword away from her. Inen, however, avoided most of his swings, letting the force of his swing throw him off balance as he was countered by nothing but air. Embarrassed and angry, Simion kept swinging. He lacked much of what a competent swordsman possessed, and this made it even easier for Inen to avoid him. Finally, her foot snagged his own and as he fell forward she deftly stole the sword from his hand. Simion pushed himself up and brushed the dirt off of his shirt and trousers.

“You are too fast for me,” Simion said quietly. Barthon could tell he was trying to hide his embarrassment.
“You are young yet, Simion,” Inen said, handing the sword back to the boy. “Fast is what you need to be. Let the knight and beast swing sticks at you all they want. I can teach you how to avoid their stings.” Simion smiled and nodded.

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Tue Oct 12, 2010 4:29 pm

Sephalia > Ashwood ~ Afternoon of DAY 25

Once the scouts fell into their ranks and headed out, Tuuli and Tuula fell in with them. As they jog-trotted to keep up, they were grateful that they’d had two days ashore to acclimatize themselves to being on solid ground once more. They were both determined not to fall behind or to slow the scouts in any way, despite being unaccustomed to running long distances as the scouts were.

Fabrin only rested along the way briefly, but never more than was strictly necessary, it seemed. While the Twins approved of the strategy, both suffered in silence from the punishing pace. They used their gifts of breath control whenever they’d stopped to try to replenish their energies before being pushed onward once more.

When darkness fell and the shadow-beasts came was when the Twins proved themselves, at least to the scouts. Their song-spells lifted and daggers of harsh, iced air lashed out, shredding the beasts like so much tissue. But never were there any remains. As soon as the shadow creatures were hit, it seemed as though they evaporated. Tuula even lay about him with his ax when the scout and his sister’s bows proved unusable within the density of the trees. Each night they were attacked and each day they moved. Between the scouts’ skill and the Twins spells only minor injuries were suffered which the scouts could manage without assistance from Tuuli.

In the one or two brief moments of respite along the journey, the Twins spoke quietly together. If the scouts of this Army they were sent to join were this disciplined, it gave them greater confidence in aligning themselves with its Captain. Even if Lord D’Armitage gave Barin Mirland his endorsement, they needed to grow to trust him in their own time. Their lives depended on it, D’Armitage’s did not. Also in their minds was the ultimate mission; that of finding the goddess herself. The very thought simply boggled the mind. And then to offer her their aid? This part of it all still worried the Twins the most. They were strong believers in the goddess Zephiris, but to them she was but a distant icon. To think of her as a real entity one might physically interact with was disturbing.

They had no further time to discuss this, however as Fabrin had them up and moving once more. When finally the walled city of Ashwood appeared, the mood of the entire group lifted, despite their weariness. Fabrin went a little ahead to exchange words with the Captain of the Gate before they were permitted inside. Even to the Twins, the city seemed darkened and subdued. It was obvious that they had suffered attacks from the Shadow-Beasts as well. Tuuli and Tuula shared a look, clearly wondering just how the beasts fit in with their mission. They were led through the winding, narrow streets to an Inn that looked like any other.

Following Fabrin inside, they got their first look at the man they were to swear fealty to. He had the look of hard-won experience. A few battle scars and lines of time graced his face. The space and respect given the man spoke volumes to the observant Twins. Fabrin shared a word or two with his Captain while the Twins hung back slightly out of respect until they were called forward to share Barin’s table. Tuuli sat with a soft smile. Tuula hesitated, the confines of the town and the inn made him slightly uncomfortable. But, eventually he joined his sister at the table as well.

The gruff-looking Captain examined his guests for a time, eyeing both of them with interest. His gaze lingered long enough to show the Twins that he was inspecting them, but not long enough to cause irritation. When he was done with that, he took a sip from his water-filled mug and after that spoke slowly.

"So, you are the Baron's men? How can I be certain?"

The Twins took the inspection quite calmly, while conducting one of their own. Tuula noted battle scars, calloused hands and armor that were fine, but not ornate. Tuuli, on the other hand, noted the steady look. The Captain was not impressed by the mere fact that they were Mages. He also got directly to the point. He was not a man to waste his or anyone else’s time.

It was Tuuli that spoke for the pair as usual. First, she introduced them in her soft tone and then, as Fabrin had done for her, she produced a letter of introduction for Barin. This one was still sealed as it was not meant for their eyes, but Barin’s alone. She presumed it spoke to him of their proofs and Lord D’Armitage’s assurances of their good character. But it was only a guess. With D’Armitage, one never truly knew his motives.

With a firm hand, Barin accepted the letter. He toyed with it for a few moments, before proceeding with opening it. He broke the seal and took out a parchment covered in neat handwriting from within. The Captain's eyes quickly darted through the parchment; it was obvious that the mercenary was no stranger to reading. He continued holding the letter in his hand for a time, longer than required for finishing it. Either he took his time debating with himself, or mayhaps he was simply rereading it. When he was done, he folded the paper once more and placed it in one of the pockets of his brigandine.

He looked at Tuuli and spoke without averting his eyes.

"Your master has kind words for you." - He paused, finishing with that topic - "Now, about the assignment..." - here he stopped, urging the mages to continue.

Tuuli, smiled gently once again and inclined her head toward Barin. “As he did for you, Sir.” When Barin mentioned their mission so quickly, the Twins share a look. Tuula nodded subtly to his sister before she turned her attention back to their new Captain. She lowered her voice and pitched it perfectly so that no one not directly before her and less than three feet distant would hear her words.

“Our mission is somewhat difficult to comprehend, Sir.” The red-gold haired Mage pauses momentarily before continuing, “We have been sent to you to aid in finding Zephiris herself. Rumors have surfaced that she wakes in the lands.” Tuuli’s brows furrow as she still has difficulty believing what she’s saying. “We are to find her, Sir and protect her.” Tuuli pauses and both Twins turn their attention to the Captain to see how he reacts to such potentially explosive news.

For a long time Barin stood silent, his eyes cast downwards. Without a word he lifted his mug and drank what water remained inside. Then, he looked at Tuuli again.

"I sense that you use the word "Sir" in the sense that I am your superior. You are wrong" - he stated flatly - "I do not yet count you amongst my own, so you need not address me in any particular way. But we shall discuss that later, now..." - he paused - "Now you tell me Zephiris...the Creator of All is to be found?"

Without giving them a chance to answer he stood up and neared one of the walls where a small statute of the Goddess had been hung. He took it in his hand and returned to his seat. After sitting down, the mercenary quite unceremoniously threw it on the table.

"You mean to tell me that we should search for this?"

The silence stretched for some time. It was obvious that the Captain was taking his own time to comprehend just what they’d been asked to do. The motives, the feasibility and the madness of it. Tuuli and Tuula had had weeks to go through it already.

But then Barin’s rebuke of how Tuuli addressed him made Tuula squeeze out his words through his clenched teeth. “We address you as such out of respect. Not because of your station. Do not prove us wrong.” In this instance, Tuuli did not try to temper her brother’s hot words. He was right, even if not very diplomatic.

And then Barin suddenly stood to retrieve an icon of the goddess hung on the wall. Upon sitting once more, he threw the thing onto the table top causing some nearby conversations to cease in curiosity. Tuuli merely nodded at the Captain. “That is exactly what we are going to do, Captain.”

Barin nodded and threw a glance at the other tables. His voice was harsh when he spoke, quite loudly at some of the turned heads.

"Have you no respect for the privacy of a conversation? Do not interfere in that which is not for your ears!"

It seemed the Captain commanded much respect, for everyone who had shown curiosity returned to their own business, regardless if he was one of the mercenaries or a local.

"So..." - he began, turning back to Tuuli - "While this task sounds absurd, I have heard of stranger things. Besides, if the pay is good we shall turn down no task. Now, explain to me further what it is that we need to do. Only after you provide sufficient information will you hear my price and my approval...or refusal."

A small lift in a pale eyebrow was the only reaction Tuuli gave to Barin’s snarling orders to the crowd to mind their own affairs. Since his orders were obeyed instantly. She did not bother to look that way, but kept her attention on the volatile Captain. “We needs find her, Captain. We are to place ourselves at her disposal and protect her in the name of Lord D’Armitage. That is all I know of this mission.” She shook her head from side to side very slightly, “What my Lord’s motives might be in this, he has not shared with us.” Tuuli paused once more, and then offered what little information they had gleaned thus far. “The rumors evidently began in Mandor and there is some talk of the Elves also seeking her. That is not confirmed, however.”

Tuula shifted uncomfortably in the hard wooden chair he’d taken at the beginning of the conversation and it creaked threateningly under his weight. He disliked inaction, but he disliked enclosed, stale places even more. “Tell him your thoughts, Sister. Though no more than an intuition, your idea has merit, I believe.”

Tuuli looked toward her brother questioningly. It was not her way to make unsubstantiated guess. Chewing her lip in indecision momentarily, Tuuli finally added one last bit of information. I believe that if she emerges, it will be where the lands of the three races meet. For she created all of us with no favor over one race, her resting place would not be in one land over another.”

Another nod came from Barin as he heard the end of the mage's tale. He rubbed his bearded cheek, a ponderous expression on his face. In his fashion, he took his time in replying, but finally spoke:

"So be it. I see now that you two are in a similar position to mine. Pawns in a greater plan. Powerful pawns, but pawns nonetheless." - He smiled - "That has never kept me from accepting a job, however."

After a short pause he continued.

"Before we dabble in the realms of the spiritual...we have specific matters to discuss. Firstly, you are going to become a part of this Company, should I accept. Are you willing to swear fealty to me?" - He asked, a playful glint in his eye

The Twins looked at one another when Barin asked his question. To swear an Oath was a life changing act and certainly not one to be taken lightly. By the way Barin worded his question also meant they were giving up Lord D’Armitage’s patronage. No man could serve two masters. It seemed the Captain knew this very well and was testing their resolve.

Some silent communication appeared to be occurring between the Twins. But, when the decision was made, surprisingly it was Tuula who spoke for them. His smooth baritone answered the Captain confidently, “We will join your Army and swear fealty to you if you would have us. We have seen enough fools and good stout men to know the difference.”

Upon hearing the reply, Barin laughed. When he stopped, he spoke immediately.

"This is a damned mercenary company, mages, remember that. I take no oaths from those who serve me. I am no liege lord like your Baron, I demand no fealty." - He paused for a moment - "I am also aware that you serve a different master, I will not take you from him. I have no such wish. That said, I thank you for the trust you have shown me."

"I will also mention..." - he said after another pause - "I do not tolerate traitors. Cross me and I shall make certain you both perish in the worst possible manner. You may slay me; you may destroy my entire Company if your power is great enough. But I have friends and I have earned more than a few favors over the years. Am I clear?"

Not used to being laughed at, the Twins took it in stoic silence. But, both showed a touch of pink in their cheeks. Tuula from anger, Tuuli from embarrassment. Tuula’s jaw clenched tightly as Barin further explained his position and his threat. Tuuli, on the other hand became calmer when she understood what Barin had been doing. Dipping her chin slightly in acknowledgement, she spoke softly, “We did not wish to leave our Lord. However, if it truly is the goddess returned to the World, we would have done so as you saw.

Barin’s directness about traitors did not go unnoticed, either. “In that regard we are in total agreement. We have learned the value of trust in our life hunting Pirates. A traitor will kill you with a word. That is never to be tolerated. You need not fear we will betray you.”

"Very well, we have come to an agreement. I accept this task." - A smile crossed his weary face - "Of course, my opinion is just one of many in this Company. You too will have a voice in certain matters, should you join us."

He brought his hands together, placing one palm above the other and gave them both a ponderous look.

"Before we proceed, you must know that this future course of ours must be discussed with the rest of my men. Were the contract different I would accept, based on my own intuition. But the Goddess herself...grand politics...these are matters that all here must be made aware of." - He inclined his head at the Twins - "Not to mention, we have to discuss your own joining. Some are not as open to mages as I am..." - he trailed off, not finishing his thought, or leaving it open on purpose.

"All this calls for a Mustering, a gathering of the Hawks. I delay my answer until it is held."

Not for the first time since their conversation started, the Twins were surprised by the man before them. A vote of all the members? They had believed that only happened aboard ship where if the Captain failed in his task, he could be voted out and another voted in his place by the crew. Tuuli had expected some of the Hawks to distrust them simply because they were Mages and some because they were new. But to be voted on was unusual for Landies in her limited experience. They all seemed fixated by birthrights and ancient titles.

The vote didn’t particularly worry Tuuli, but another thought did, so she spoke her mind. “If I may ask, Captain? Have you other Mages within your company? If you do, we would like the opportunity to meet with them.” She paused and both Brendersens smiled, “Mages can be jealous of their place. We…” She glanced toward Tuula and her smile grew slightly wider as if they shared some private joke. “We have been forced to ease some ill-will before.”

After Tuuli asked her question, Tuula had one of his own, “What is this mustering you speak of? Is it a place we must travel to?”

Barin looked at Tuuli and gave her a smile before replying.

"It seems my Company is full of mages...I reward them richly and yet, their coin vanishes quickly enough." - After that his face became serious - "A company of wandering mercenaries is not where one would look for a wizard, am I not right? The closest thing I have to a magic user is my field surgeon, Narik; he has performed a few feats that have been called magical. But you need not fear for your place."

His eyes then found Tuula.

"The Mustering can take place anywhere and at any time, provided that all members are present. During this event each of my fighting men can voice their thoughts. Those who contribute in other ways can only talk about matters that concern them. And there are some...personally bound to me, who have no voice. You shall learn of this soon enough, for I plan to hold the Mustering tomorrow."

At the joke and smile from Barin, Tuuli relaxed more fully. She hadn’t realized that her brother’s tension had leached into her as well until she consciously let her shoulders slacken a bit. She turned her red-gold head to glance toward the revelers in the main room of the inn with a sparkle in her eye. “My crew-mates were of the same stripe Captain. Some even managed to fall asleep in their chairs without spilling a drop of their precious ale.”

With the main conversation handled, Tuuli reached up to undo her messy knee-length braid and proceeded to braid it up once more while Barin explained about the mustering to Tuula. It sounded as if the Hawks held court amongst themselves on occasion. It would be an interesting sight to behold and give them the opportunity to see the company in its entirety. They knew the scouts and now Barin. But the Twins were both curious about just whose hands they’d be putting their lives into.

Barin let out a sigh and visibly relaxed, again whether it was something natural or intended, remained uncertain. His eyes wandered over the room, before falling upon the Twins again.

"I have nothing further to say. You look tired from your journey, Fabrin has a long gait...you have noticed." - He added half-seriously - "The inn has rooms, you saw what is outside - visitors are few, so make yourselves at home. Tell the innkeeper that the Captain sent you; we have an agreement with him. Half price, in exchange for the interest we draw."

He then turned his face towards one of the tables and called out a name, a young sandy-haired youth appeared.

"Geren" - the Captain began - "Go and find the Seneschal. Tell him to gather the rest of the Company. He is to bring them here by tomorrow night, no later."

He patted the lad on the shoulder and sent him away. When he turned towards the Twins again, it was obvious that he had nothing else to say.

The Twins knew a dismissal when they heard one and were grateful for this one. As the Captain had noted Fabrin did indeed have a long gait and they were exhausted and dirty. The only thing they’d tended to was their weapons the rest could wait. Approaching the inn keeper, Tuuli secured a room and a bath for each of them. Then the pair made the ascent to the upper floors in silence. They took turns bathing and changing out of their travel-stained clothes. It was not until they were enjoying a light meal of bread, cheese and ale before sleep that they finally took time to discuss the events of the last few hours.

Tuuli brushed out her long hair in preparation of braiding it once more. “Well? What do you think?”

Tuula didn’t have to ask who she was referring to. It was obvious. He finished shaving, feeling his chin for any whiskers he might have missed. “I don’t like him.” He stated bluntly. “But I probably will.”

Tuuli laughed softly. It was high praise indeed for her stoic brother. “La-La, you dislike everyone.”

Her childhood nickname for him made his face soften just a shade. “Perhaps. And I am usually right.”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Mon Oct 18, 2010 2:02 am

Mandor, The Blue Mountains ~ late afternoon of DAY 9

Simion Altus had become the focal point of our group, the glue that bound as all together. And he learned something from all of us, in the end becoming better and stronger than any of us.
-Sir Barthon Camlin, Righteous Knight of the Order of Gedrich


Barthon watched as the sun slowly descended toward the mountain peaks to his left. The air had gotten colder the higher they went. He dreaded the sun sinking below the tips of the mountains, and the dangers that would come with the inevitable darkness. The trail had grown quite steep, and their travel was slowed. Barthon was worried about finding a defensible position for the coming battle.

“Is that smoke?” Inen asked. She pointed to a small grayish cloud just over the nearest crest. Ten Eych sniffed dramatically.
“Smells like it,” he said. “We should hurry. If that smoke belongs to someone, we may have some help defending ourselves tonight.
“I agree,” Barthon said. “Let’s go.” Barthon quickened his pace, and the rest did their best to keep up. The only one he was really worried about was Simion. He had practiced for nearly an hour with Inen and Brenard. Barthon had stayed out of the practice sessions, as much for the fact that Simion had his sparring sword as that Simion simply needed a break from Barthon’s lessons. He needed to learn what the others had to teach him.

As they crested the next rise, Barthon saw the mouth of a cave inset against a rocky face of the mountain. A fire blazed in the entrance, it’s smoke and sparks drifting up to into the cold sky. As the group neared the cave mouth, a large figure stepped out from the cave, his form outlined by the blazing fire behind him. It was a dragon, Barthon realized.

“Be careful,” Inen whispered. “That dragon is armed and armored. Looks like steel…”
“Let me handle this,” Barthon said. He raised his right arm toward Simion, signaling him to stay behind. It was against custom, of course. A knight would customarily send their page to meet with a potential enemy. In this case, Simion was far more important than himself, and he would rather risk his own life than the life of the boy. Barthon strode forward purposefully, though with his hands away from the pommels of his swords. The dragon strode forward as well, but halted after a few steps in the center of the trail. When Barthon figured he was within comfortable speaking distance, he halted as well.

“We simply request passage into the mountains beyond. We have traveled long and far, and have a way to go yet. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the lands are perilous come nightfall. We have no desire to forestall your own defenses. Indeed, if you wish to join with us for the night…”
Barthon was interrupted as the dragon tossed something toward him. Barthon recoiled, though he realized that whatever it was would fall just short of him. Barthon looked curiously at the dragon before bending down to look at the object. It was a scroll, weighted with a pair of heavy pebbles. Barthon removed one gauntlet to better untie and unravel the scroll.

Good Sir Knight,

I challenge thee to knightly combat. This challenge of arms is to be fought to the yield, with the price of defeat to be named. For no mount can carry me, this trial of arms shall be met on foot.


Barthon tossed the scroll to the side. Dragon’s weren’t often seen in human lands for good reason. They were brutish and unpredictable, as well as capable spell casters. But he couldn’t risk turning back now, not with this dragon at their back. He would have to fight him, and then use the cave for shelter.

“The price of defeat is to be named, then?” Barthon asked. The dragon simply pointed up at the sky, toward the fading sun, as if to exemplify the fact that their time was limited. “Indeed. My only terms are that you shelter us for the night and help fend off the Shadows.”

“Barthon, what are you doing?” Quentin yelled out. Barthon simply raised his hand and waved off the comment. He put his gauntlet back on and drew his two swords, his arming sword and his falchion. Surprisingly, the dragon turned away from Barthon and walked the few steps back to the mouth of his cave. The dragon unbuckled his belt and removed his sword and scabbard. Then the dragon knelt, and remained kneeling for several long minutes. Barthon’s irritation was rising. He had no idea what game this dragon was playing, but they were definitely running out of time. At last, the dragon rose. He gripped the pommel of the enormous sword and withdrew it, the ring of its steel the only sound to emanate from the dragon since their initial meeting. The dragon left the scabbard with his belt and moved toward the center of the pass. Barthon approached carefully.

Then, suddenly, they were both rushing toward each other. Barthon met the dragon’s first stroke with its massive sword with both his arming sword and his falchion, and he still nearly lost his footing on the loose pebbles that covered the path. Barthon did his best to duck to the side where he might regain footing and a better position, but the dragon was more agile than him, perhaps even more used to the loose ground at their feet. Once again, Barthon was forced to defend the blow of the dragon’s sword. He used his own two swords to catch and twist his opponents, hoping to reduce the impact against his own steel. If they became too bent out of shape, they would be useless to him. At the last second, however, he pulled back his left, falchion-bearing arm and hacked at the dragon. The blade caught the steel plate covering the arm, but the dragon backed off a few steps. Barthon didn’t relent. He moved forward, both jabbing toward the dragon’s center mass with his arming sword and chopping down at its chest with the falchion, unfortunately the highest part he could reach.
While most untrained knights, including Simion, found the use of two swords simultaneously too confusing, Barthon had become used to it. He preferred it over using a shield. If used right, both swords could act as shield and weapon. Unfortunately, Barthon was forced to use them as both in turn; in one moment he was defending, and the next he was attacking. He could see the damage the dragon’s sword was doing to his own. Barthon knew he needed to do something soon. He quickly changed tactics, aiming lower for the dragon’s legs instead of its chest. This caused the dragon to back off more quickly, and put it on the defensive. Barthon smiled, thinking he had found his way to victory. He didn’t see the foot shooting toward his face until it was too late.

The hit blew him onto his back, but he quickly rolled over and pushed himself up. He could feel blood streaming down his chin, but nothing felt broken. Barthon rushed forward, using a sudden rush of mountain wind at his back to drive in close to the dragon, but the dragon simply extended his wings and used the current to jump further away. The dragon kept Barthon at bay with the tip of its sword. Barthon noticed that darkness was descending. The battle had gone on for far too long, and unless he yielded it was likely to go on even longer. But he couldn’t yield, because he wasn’t sure he trusted the dragon’s word. Barthon backed away from the dragon quickly.

“Brenard! Help set up a perimeter to guard the lower pass!” He knew he wouldn’t need to say more, and the dragon didn’t give him a chance to. It came in quickly, swinging his sword toward Barthon’s elbow. Barthon turned both swords down in a blocking move, and he heard the sharp sound of the falchion snapping. He dropped the useless sword and gripped his arming sword with two hands. And then suddenly the Shadows were upon them. Without thought, Barthon and the dragon were back-to-back, fending off a swarming mass of Shadows. Some were animals, some mannish beasts, but all were indistinct in the fading light. Barthon was already exhausted from his duel with the dragon, and he had seen the strange smile on its face just as the Shadows came upon them. Their duel was not yet over. He cleared away the Shadow beasts nearest to him, and then turned in anticipation of the expected swing of the dragon’s sword. Barthon jumped away just in time, and the sword missed him by inches.

“Is this what you call a fair fight?” Barthon yelled at the dragon. It responded with another furious swing of its sword. Barthon did his best to keep the dragon busy as more Shadows came upon it from behind. When the dragon turned to face them, sidestepping away from Barthon, the knight slipped into the shadows. He cut his way through, a dangerous maneuver, he knew, to the other side of the mass and out of sight of the dragon. He crept forward as silently as his armor would allow. Despite the pitched battle, the silent dragon and his massive sword made no noise as they cut into the Shadows. The Shadows themselves, however, were loud enough. Barthon leaped up onto the dragon’s back and held his sword at its throat. He pulled the dragon down onto its back and quickly rolled away, coming back at him from a standing position. Suddenly Ten and Brenard were standing by him, fending off the remaining Shadows. Barthon stood there, his arming sword held at the dragons throat, until the Shadows were gone.

“You’ve been beaten at your own game,” Barthon said. “Do you yield?” The dragon nodded and released the grip on his sword. Barthon pulled his sword away and sheathed it. He noticed that it didn’t slide in quite as easily as it used to. He held out a gauntleted hand to the dragon, who accepted it. Barthon helped heft the dragon to its feet. Barthon knelt down and grabbed the dragon’s sword by its hilt; it was heavier than he had expected. He balanced the sword on its tip and offered the hilt back to the dragon as an offer of peace. He still wasn’t sure he understood what game the dragon was playing, but he wanted to bring the situation under his own terms as quickly as possible.
“What is your name?” Barthon asked. The dragon just stared at him. He slowly turned away and picked up his discarded scabbard and sheathed his massive sword, and then he made his way back to his belt. Once everything was back in place, the dragon made its way back to Barthon, who was standing impatiently in the same spot with his arms crossed. The dragon knelt down at Barthon’s feet and scratched at the ground with a long fingernail.
“Z’anginthel Seka-Manh.” Below that the dragon scribbled another small line. “Z’ang, or One-Horn.” Barthon had to twist his head around to see the writing, which was upside down from his position, but the dragon’s writing was clear and easy to read.

“Z’ang is certainly easier to pronounce, if you don’t mind.” It wasn’t until reading the nickname scratched in the dirt that Barthon realized Z’ang was missing a horn. From what little he knew about the dragon culture, his lack of voice and physical defections would leave him an outcast. He guessed that was the reason Z’ang was here, challenging travelers seeking passage through the Blue Mountains. His kind note and “rules” hardly elevated him above a common bandit in Barthon’s opinion, but he had come to realize that one does what they must to survive.
Z’ang nodded at Barthon’s suggestion and gave what the knight translated as a toothy grin. The full dark of night was descending upon the mountains, and Barthon was eager for the group to get some rest before their next day of travel. “According to the terms of defeat, you are to shelter us for the night. Since our…contest lasted longer than I had anticipated, you are freed from helping us fend off the shadows for the night. However, I demand you uphold your bargain and journey with us until dusk tomorrow. Once you’ve helped us fight off the Shadows, I’ll consider us even.”
Barthon had been expecting an outburst from his companions, but no one said anything. Either they agreed with such a strong companion following them for a day, or they had come to trust Barthon’s decisions and leadership. Z’ang stood motionless for a moment before holding out his hand. Barthon took the offered hand and shook, his own gauntleted hand dwarfed by Z’ang’s.

Z’ang motioned toward the fire and the small cave. A stack of wood lined the inside wall. The cave was too small to fit all of them comfortably, but Barthon didn’t mind sleeping outside. He had grown used to it over the past week. But Simion, he knew, would fight for a spot under its shelter. As the group dispersed over the small campsite, Barthon walked back out into the darkness. The two moons were high in the cold sky above them: the larger burning brightly above him, the smaller only slightly larger than the faint stars that surrounded it. Z’ang stepped up beside him and crossed his arms. Barthon wished to know Z’ang’s story, but his inability to speak was an impassible barrier. Barthon was suddenly struck with an idea, though it would certainly leave holes in the story.
“Are you an outcast from your lands?” Barthon asked. The dragon peered forward into the darkness, and then slowly nodded. Barthon nodded in return, and then pondered his next question. He didn’t feel comfortable prying, but he needed to know if Z’ang was safe traveling with.
“Are you a bandit?” Barthon knew it wasn’t likely to get a straight answer from that question, but the shocked look on Z’ang’s face seemed honest enough. “Alright,” Barthon said, shrugging his shoulders. “It had to be asked.” Barthon remembered the words on the scroll that had been tossed to him at the beginning of their contest. “Are you seeking acceptance here? In Mandor?” Z’ang hesitantly nodded. Barthon sighed. Yes and no responses did not make for a fulfilling conversation.
“My friends and I are searching for someone. Have you seen any other groups passing through?” Barthon knew that Z’ang guarded the most commonly used pass into the Blue Mountains, but only from this side. The dragon nodded and patted a hide sack attached to his belt. The jingle of coins answered Barthon’s question. “I thought you said you weren’t a bandit?”
Z’ang glared at Barthon, then turned and stormed back toward the campfire. Barthon sighed again. Z’ang’s story was obviously complex, and Barthon was likely too prejudiced to understand it. The dragon’s culture was different from Barthon’s own, and their two species hadn’t gotten along since the Sixteen Years’ War. Perhaps it was better that Z’ang was mute.

Mandor, The Blue Mountains ~ afternoon of DAY 10

Z’anginthel Seka-Manh was an enigma. We weren’t really sure why he had chosen to join our group, but we were thankful for his skill with the blade and his apparent loyalty. Z’ang, like the rest of us, became protective of young Simion. Perhaps that was what finally convinced me of the young boy’s significance in these events: no matter where we went, Simion was the most important of us.
-Sir Barthon Camlin, Righteous Knight of the Order of Gedrich


The wind that blew across the southeastern face of the Blue Mountains was chill, and Barthon’s sore muscles protested against the touch of his cold armor. But Z’ang plodded ahead, eager to be traveling again. Barthon had asked Z’ang if he had explored any of the mountains during his stay, but the dragon shook his head. Z’ang was more than eager to scale the mountain now that he had a purpose. Barthon and the rest of the group struggled to keep up with him. Barthon wasn’t even sure what it was they were looking for. A castle? Or perhaps a throne carved from stone on the summit? Nothing worldly seemed to fit the grandness of their goddess returning. Perhaps She would simply be sitting by a fire in a cave, like Z’ang had been in the lower passes. Barthon was beginning to think the whole expedition was futile. Z’ang had kept most travelers off of this area of the mountain, which meant they were the first group to search for Zephiris here. But that didn’t mean that She would be here. And how much could they search? How long could they survive off of the sustenance offered by the mountains before they were forced to head down in search of food? Barthon didn’t have any answers. But he did notice that they higher they climbed the more upset Simion became.

Barthon moved closer to Simion so that he could speak with him without being overheard by the rest of the group. “What’s wrong?”
“I already told you,” Simion said tersely. “This is a waste of time.”
Barthon shook his head and sighed. “What would you have me do, Simion? If it isn’t already, the entire world will soon be in turmoil. There will be border conflicts as Zephirisian Knights start crossing into elven and dragon lands, or even the other way around if they’ve discovered her presence. Not to mention the Shadows; I can’t believe that this is an incident isolated to Mandor alone.”
“She isn’t in Mandor, Barthon. I don’t know how else to explain it to you. She talks to me in my dreams.”
“Then where is she?” Barthon asked.
“She didn’t draw me a map!” Simion retorted. “She just uses images, like symbols and colors, and feelings. And this,” Simion said, pointing at their surroundings, “feels wrong.”
“We lost Jasper and Cid trying to get here, Simion. We owe it to them to look around. Give it a few days, and we’ll turn around and head to the coast.” Simion didn’t respond, so Barthon let the conversation drop. It wasn’t worth making the boy angry. And what if Simion was right? What if they were wasting precious time searching the Blue Mountains? Barthon had promised Lord Drake that he would find Zephiris, and to do that he needed to follow all leads that were available to him. Simion claimed to have dreams in which Zephiris spoke to him, and Jasper had placed great faith in Simion and his dreams. In fact, the whole group seemed to place great faith in Simion. Perhaps it was wise to listen to him. But, like he had just said, he owed it to Jasper and Cid to at least make an attempt at searching the mountains; that was what they had given their lives for, after all.

When they stopped for a rest, Barthon noticed Z’ang eyeing him. But whenever Barthon returned the stare, the dragon simply smiled his toothy grin and turned away. Preferring to prevent a repeat of their conversation from the night before, Barthon didn’t approach the dragon. But his suspicions were beginning to grow.

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Sun Dec 12, 2010 3:01 pm

Sephalia > Oliphey > Church of Zephiris on Dove street ~ afternoon of DAY 8

*A co-post with Digital Muse and Kalon Ordana

Brother Semric had finished his sermon a while earlier, which was why he had gone to assist Gado and his wife with their search. As he and Kate came out from the hallway, Semric noted that though there were still several people scattered about the pews, praying silently, there was still plenty of isolated areas where he and Kate could talk. He led her to one, near to the hallway but among the pews back on the other side of the prayer railing. The stained-glass window glowed with the afternoon light outside. Semric and Kate sat down in one of the pews. Semric was eager for news and had quite forgotten Kate's urgency. "Was your caravan visited by these shadowy monsters I've been hearing about?" Despite her presence here, quite safe, Semric couldn't help feeling concerned, even retroactively. "No one was hurt, were they? You must have been near Oliphey. I've heard stories; I'd hate to have been outside of a walled city, night before last."

Kate turned her large flamboyantly-feathered hat in her hands with uncharacteristic nervousness while she allowed Semric to lead her to a quiet corner of the main sanctuary. Sitting beside him in one of the polished oak pews, she tried to answer his questions but he kept asking more. It made her smile that his first thought was of her safety. Her smile faded and her eyes dropped when he asked about the shadows. “No. We lost Nunda and Pretty among others that first night, I’m afraid. I hadn’t been prepared.”

She let the emotion wash over and through her. She’d lost people before to weather or bandits and she’d come to terms with it then. She would handle these losses as well. In time. “Once we understood what we were dealing with, we prepared and managed well enough. But I do not understand what the shadow creatures are or where they are from. It must be very wide spread if even you know of the attacks here.

"I'm so sorry," he said, hearing of her loss. He put a hand on her shoulder for a silent moment. "The devils must be spread farther than either of us think."

His peaceful demeanor always calmed her. It did not fail to do so now. She smiled and patted his hand at her shoulder. “Thank you Semric. I believe they be in all the lands. I don’t know this for certain, but I cannot imagine it is limited to the Human lands only.” She sighed softly. “There is something more, Semric. I have had visions.”

"Visions?" Semric tensed, his face concerned and curious. "What sort of visions?"

Kate’s brows lowered at Semric’s sudden intensity. “What kind…? A cave filled with light. I have to find its source, but I know it will kill me.” As she spoke, she felt less and less sure of herself. And more the feeling that she was mad. “I don’t know how to explain it, Semric. You know I do not ascribe to the seers. But…I cannot see why I have these dreams.”

Semric turned his head behind, looking at the door to where Gado was, then turned back. "I think I may know what your dream is about," he said, his voice lowering. "My old friend, Gado--old Warden Tanager--has been having the same kind of dreams. He's here now, studying to find answers. Perhaps the beasts are part of it. Why, if that group of elves
hadn't arrived when they did--"

“Elves?” Suddenly, Darta’s need to speak with her took on a completely different context. “Is there a force of Elves here? So far from Eldin?” She glanced back to the door that Semric had looked toward. “Another person is having similar dreams?” The relief in her voice was glaring. Under her breath, she muttered, “Thank Zephiris.” So relieved was she that someone else was having visions that she didn’t realize how the statement must have sounded.

"Thank Zephiris indeed," Semric nodded emphatically. "Katerina, Zephiris has returned. That's what I heard from Telmural." His voice lowered as if passing on a great secret.

Semric’s words took Kate’s breath away. She stared, wide-eyed at him for several minutes just trying to fathom what he’d said. Instinctually, she lowered her voice to match his. “Returned?” She breathed. Her eyes dropped to her hands trying to think things through and what it all meant. “But my dream…and the old Warden. What does it mean? Am I to seek her? To my death?” She shook her head in denial. “I can’t.”

"I don't know," Semric replied, genuinely unsure. "Perhaps you should seek guidance from someone wiser than I. The priests in Telmural might know."

Kate nodded slowly to Semric’s honest answer. She could always trust him to speak truthfully. “Might I speak to Warden Tanager? I am curious about his experience compared to mine.”
"Of course." Semric led her back to the room, knocked softly and opened the door.

Kate followed the young Priest to the room the old Warden was in. Her hat still held tightly in her hand, Kate wondered once again just where this would lead her and if the life she knew before would suddenly end with this meeting.

"Gado, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine. This is Katerina Forbes. She's been brought here for the same reason you were, it would seem." The younger man ushered Kate into the room and closed the door amid expressions of surprise from Gado and his wife. "Kate, this is Gado Tanager. Come, let's all get more comfortable." He pulled a chair from the corner for Kate, then went to sit at his desk--turning his chair around--on the other side of the bed where Gado and Scarlet sat.

Kate’s natural flamboyance surfaced almost immediately, out of long habit. She strode forward with a bright smile and offered her firm handshake to the old Warden and his wife. “It is certainly a great pleasure to meet you both.” She spun her hat expertly across the room to hook upon an empty torch holder braced to the wall. Once seated comfortably, she crossed her legs and examined the lined face of the old Warder to try to gage his personality. “Semric says dreams have brought you here. Might I trouble you for your story?”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Mon Dec 13, 2010 4:30 am

Sephalia > Oliphey > Church of Zephiris on Dove Street ~ afternoon of DAY 8
Gado examined 'Katerina Forbes' closely. She was obviously someone of merchant stock, judging by the fine but mismatched clothing. Her demeanor was confident and commanding; Gado had no trouble imagining her at the head of some sort of business—or more likely a caravan, as merchants often liked to get about. She had an endearing dimple near the corner of her mouth. A proper, firm handshake, too. A charming person, one who had seen enough of the world to stay ahead—though perhaps too much of it to take it seriously. On the surface, at least. Who knew what all she kept others from seeing? She seemed honest enough, at any rate, and that was enough for Gado.

Gado waited while everyone got settled into the room—he and his wife still on the bed, while Katerina took the proffered chair closer to the door and Semric sat on the other side of the bed, on the far side of the room, in front of his desk. “It is certainly a great pleasure to meet you both,” Katerina was saying. “Semric says dreams have brought you here. Might I trouble you for your story?”

Gado found he liked more and more the idea of another dreamer joining the effort, especially since Semric had vouched for her. “Of course,” he said in his rustic yet precise manner. “Semric hasn't heard the details either, so it'll be good to have everyone whistling the same tune. And afterward, I would love to hear of your dreams and compare. Perhaps the both of us together can solve this riddle more quickly.” So saying, Gado gathered his thoughts and began his story.

“It's been more than forty years now since I was last in Oliphey. Sem here was probably twelve or--”
“Eleven,” Semric put in, leaning his chair back on two legs while his arms rested behind him on the desk.
“--Eleven at the time. Anyway that's when I went to live in Cedar Brook, up past Shadewood. You all probably remember when they discovered silver up in that part of the Majestic Mountains?”
Scarlet nodded knowingly; Semric nodded vaguely; Katerina nodded several times, smiling.
“Well they couldn't get to the silver without going through a cave-drake first. It was during battle with it that I got my ability for dreams. As far as I can tell, something about the creature's stare wormed it's way into my head, and birds make flowers grow.”
“And what?” interrupted Semric.
Scarlet explained, “It's just something we east-country folk say. '...And birds make flowers grow.' It means who knows why so oddly or wonderfully the world works—it just does.”
“Oh. ...I like that.”
“Anyways, that's the short of it. I start getting these dreams, and all of them feel important. Twenty-some years go by. All that time solving the dreams' little riddles, you pick up a few things. Keeps your head sharp,” he tapped a forefinger to his temple. “Still, sometimes the dreams can play hard to get. Some dreams I've never been able to puzzle out. A lot of them, though, get sorted and put to use, and folks sure benefit from it. So the dreams're real and reliable. Then, just barely a week ago, this dream comes that makes all the others seem like last year's gossip. I had to come here to pursue it, and what do I hear but that Zephiris is returned. Here, we've been studying the dream.”

Gado held out his hand to Scarlet, who retrieved the piece of paper from the bed. Gado gave it to Katerina to study as he went on. “We've gone through a lot of the scriptures so far, but not so much luck. Just this morning I figured we must've been going about it the wrong way. I think, all we have to do is know Zephiris better. Then we'll know where she'll be.” Saying it out loud made it sound to Gado a little less credible than the way he'd felt it earlier. Yet he knew it certainly couldn't hurt to learn more. Sometimes, when he needed to solve a difficult dream-riddle, the solution presented itself when he got to know the person—or the kind of person, if he couldn't find the specific one—involved.
Scarlet said, “All today, we've been studying Origins and other scriptures about Zephiris—letters and writings.”
“And that's the bones of how we got here,” said Gado, wrapping it up. He chuckled at his inadvertent play on 'how we got here.' Then he turned serious. “I have to find the answer as quickly as I can. I feel that Zephiris is waiting, and every delay is a loss. Anything you can share that could get us closer?”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Sat Jan 29, 2011 8:59 pm

Sephalia > Oliphey > Outside the Church of Zephiris on Dove Street ~ Afternoon of DAY 8
Outside the small church, Darta was nonplussed by Kate’s abrupt dismissal. The fair Elven singer remained rooted to the spot for some minutes wondering just what she should do. Áirhath Aeryän’s presence in the city meant that the Ssandári Mercenaries were also here. It puzzled her. They would not have passed so far from Elven lands unless the most extraordinary of circumstances called them. The appearance of the Shadow Beasts must be part of something larger. Against her better judgment, she would have to break her self-imposed exile from her own people to seek out Áirhath and speak to him.

As she glided along the old cobbled streets that would take her back to the caravan’s camp sight, Darta allowed the painful memories of her past to float through her mind. Before she was Darta of Kate Forbes’ caravan, she had been Ellidartha Surärrhë, a spell singer. She had been training since she was a child, as the Dragon language was difficult and ugly to Elves. When the time came to choose a mate to bond her life with so they might continue their training together, she could not. The pairing was to strengthen the bond between the singers, since without both voices, weaving magic was impossible. But, Ellidartha had foolishly lost her heart to a warrior; a member of the Ssandári Mercenaries; Áirhath. She wasn’t even certain if he’d noticed her at all, but she knew she loved him. In her shame, Ellidartha gave up her lifelong dreams, chosen exile from Eldin and had become Darta the Singer with the caravan.

The irony was not lost on Darta, as she went in search of Áirhath, that after all these years, she would have to face her shame and the man she loved still. As the slender Singer glided through the subdued city streets, she paused to ask the town guard where the Elven Mercenaries might be found. If they’d helped to defend the city, surely the guards would know where they were. The first guard, a very young boy barely able to fill out his uniform was unhelpful, but the next man, a dark-haired man with a forbidding countenance was more forth-coming. After lifting a brow at Darta curiously, he finally grunted the name of the Inn where the Elves had taken up residence.

Sephalia > Oliphey > Semric’s room in the Church of Zephiris on Dove street ~ afternoon of DAY 8

Kate listened to Gado explain his own story and relaxed more and more as he spoke. There was something solid and comforting in his manner. His wife complimented him perfectly; in fact, they reminded Kate of her eldest brother and his wife. Scarlet’s smile was warm and genuine, never flagging as the old Warden told his story. When he reached the conclusion of his path to the Church in Oliphey and asked her what she might have to share, Kate felt comfortable enough to tell him her own dreams.

Taking a deep breath, Kate relayed her recurring dream; the open maw of a dark cave, the howling wind, sharp stones that cut her and the surety of her own death. She told them everything. She was not telling a great tale as she was used to doing, she was a supplicant hoping for some release or answers to her questions. As she told her story, Kate thought about the implications of Gado also having dreams of Zephiris. While it meant she was not going mad, which was a tremendous relief, it had the unsettling effect of forcing her to realize that Zephiris was calling to her.

After telling Gado and others the details of her dream, Kate felt the need to share her fears with them as well. “While I am somewhat relieved that I am not the only dreamer in this situation…it opens another set of questions for me.” She raked her fingers through her thick waves. “Why me? Why suddenly? I follow Zephiris in my own way, but I am not a Priest…” Her troubled eyes lift to seek each of their gazes. “I don’t understand what any of it means.” A heavy sigh escaped her lips, “This is uncharted territory for me and it does not please me to be so unsure.”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Sun Jan 30, 2011 1:42 am

Sephalia > Oliphey > Church of Zephiris on Dove Street ~ afternoon of DAY 8
Gado analyzed Katerina's dream the same way he analyzed his own. He was disturbed by the death in her dream, because in his experience, when people dreamed of death, they were really dreaming of change—a profound change that they will soon face. The circumstances of the change were troubling, full of trial and, possibly, failure. Instead of thinking further along that line, though, Gado focused on the light. A cave full of swirling shadow and howling wind and deep darkness, yet containing a blinding light. Gado had an unsettling feeling that the shadows were the beasts he'd been hearing about. If the light was Zephiris, what did that mean?

Gado looked up when Katerina spoke again, raking her fingers through her dark hair. “While I am somewhat relieved that I am not the only dreamer in this situation...it opens up another set of questions for me.” Her eyes were troubled, fearful. “Why me? Why suddenly? I follow Zephiris in my own way, but I am not a priest...” She sighed heavily. “I don't understand what any of it means. This is uncharted territory for me, and it does not please me to be so unsure.”

Gado could well understand. He'd felt much the same himself many a time when dreams were especially cryptic, and even more so when the dreams first started coming. “If Zephiris is calling us now, it must be for a pressing reason.”
“I agree,” said Semric, “but what could it be, and how much time do we have? If it's as you say, Gado, then perhaps Telmural would be the best place to start. If knowing Zephiris is the key to finding her, surely the High Temple is closest to her spirit.”

“Yes,” said Gado, “but with these beasts roaming about, we would need to take a caravan—with protection. It would take us two weeks to get there.”
“I think...” said Scarlet, “if time is important, Zephiris would know that. She would know how we must struggle to find her. Since we cannot tell how much time we have, or if there is a limit, I think we should assume it to go one out of two ways. On your one hand we could already be late and must find her today if we can. On your other we might be right on time according to Zephiris' plan. If she made us, if she knows us, I think we needn't worry past doing all we are able.”
It was a lot for Scarlet to say at once. Gado didn't respond right away.

“You could travel with my caravan,” Katerina replied. “We're quick. If we hurried and were well supplied, I think we could make the journey in ten days, even through Shadewood.”

Gado hesitated. “Yet... I can't imagine Zephiris would be there, or wouldn't they have found her by now? I was flying in my dream; in Kate's here, the light was up a cliff. Maybe she's on a mountain somewhere, away from cities.”
“Then, should the two of you split up? If we're to look for Zephiris in high places, there are many around the lake,” said Semric.

“I could wait until we know more about the beasts,” said Gado, “then search around here first, out in the wilds. I feel closer to Zephiris out there anyway, and perhaps the birds could show me something.”

“Then it's settled?” asked Katerina. “Maybe there are others having these dreams. I could find them, talk to people. I have a great many contacts.”

Semric nodded. “That is an excellent idea. Oh, but go to the High Temple first. We priests aren't supposed to openly proclaim Zephiris' return just yet. They aren't sure whether the people are ready, and they don't want to offend her. If you tell them your dream, though, they might help. And if nothing else, you'll be closer to Zephiris there.”

The four continued to discuss their options and plans as their level of excitement increased. For Katerina as well as for Gado, it seemed, the discovery of another person dreaming of Zephiris was like adding fresh kindling to a struggling flame.


Sephalia > Oliphey ~ afternoon of DAY 8
Áirhath was starting to feel the slow rain. His head and shoulders were just beginning to feel damp. The elf had walked slowly from the lake back to the city, deep in thought. He'd thought he knew all about Titanya. After all, she'd been with him, even at his side, for almost a hundred years. She'd been fifty-one when he'd met her; they were now both more or less on either side of middle years, she at 143 and he 182. Did he really know so little about her? That song... it had been no frivolous flight of music. They were words of the heat, spoken from the heart. He'd never seen her run away from him before.

Áirhath had been stuck in this loop of thought for the whole length of his walk. He was only half aware that he was nearing the inn where he and his elves were staying. Where Titanya probably was. He wasn't sure what he would say, if he managed to say anything. Maybe he ought to go somewhere else for a little while.

About this time Áirhath noticed a sudden movement—or rather, movement suddenly cut off. He looked over. A younger elf was staring at him. She wore no dhiláthra, but she was definitely an elf. Áirhath was glad to have an excuse to slip back into his own language. “Eltheran, éri," he said. "Aeris nin lle san lle.” Greetings, as toward a younger. Life to you and yours. “Dene ha sildári dallann... anndra lle naer hathil teldan.” He admired the bravery she must have to be alone in a human city, though inwardly he felt she didn't have enough pride in her own kind if she went without her kin's-cloth. He wondered which Family she was from. “An aer lle dhila?”

She was almost the same height as Áirhath, pale-haired with soft gray eyes. Her clothing was an odd mix of styles. It looked like pieces were taken from all three races. “Aer lle sëltha?” Are you alright?”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Stion Gyas on Fri Feb 25, 2011 11:11 pm

Mandor, The Blue Mountains ~ evening of DAY 10

The group sat beneath a cloudless sky. Stars and the twin moons shone down on the Blue Mountains, casting the peaks in the silvery-blue light that gave the range their name. A chill wind blew through the pass they camped beside, but a small copse of trees protected them from the worst of it.

Brenard san Deccour shifted a log further into the flames. Though the trees protect the group from the cold wind, they did little to prevent the dropping temperatures. Their fire was especially large. The day after the dragon joined forces with his companions had proven mostly uneventful. Z’ang had explored very little of the mountains, but offered a skill no human could contend with.

Since morning, Barthon had led the group higher into the mountains. With every step, the air grew colder, and Simion grew more agitated. Just before one break, Simion and Barthon shared a whispered argument. Brenard couldn’t hear their words, but Simion was plainly angry.

As dusk approached, Quentin spoke. “Perhaps we should halt early this day? The night brings cold, and shadows, let us prepare.”

Z’ang nodded; the others offered agreement quickly. Soon, camp was set in a small copse of trees. While Brenard and Ten Eych went to gather firewood, Simion and Inen tended the horses, and Quentin and Barthon lit a fire and began the evening’s meal. As they all worked, Z’ang carefully stripped much of his armor.

The dragon neatly arrayed all but his breastplate over his bedroll. By the time he finished, the others had returned from their work, and the campfire crackled with warmth. Z’ang began flapping his wings gently, and stretch his neck and back.

Brenard stared. “What in the world are you doing, dragon?”

Z’ang turned and eye on him, and flashed pointed teeth in what passed as a smile. The companions watched as Z’ang rebuckled his sword belt, and crane his neck upwards. They camped in a clearing, essentially a roofless wall of trees. Slowly, the dragon began to flap his massive wings. As they beat, more quickly now, Z’ang grew light on his feet. With one powerful stroke, he tore himself from the ground, and up, out of the clearing. The wind Z’ang created nearly snuffed the fire.

“Well hot damn,” Brenard muttered as watched Z’ang slowly grow smaller. “He looked too big to fly.”

Barthon shook his head, and set to cooking their meal with Quentin. Soon, dusk would arrive, and with it, the shadows. Quentin, Inen, and Ten Eych sat near the fire, and entertained themselves with casual conversation. Simion went to join them, but Brenard halted him with a word. The fencer withdrew the pair of long practice weapons he had carved but a few days ago. Only days? It feels as if we’ve traveled for months. So much has happened…

Brenard cleared his mind and offered Simion’s weapon to the boy. When he took it, Brenard spoke. “Remember what I have taught you, and the lesson you learned from Inen.”

As the sun sank, Brenard sparred with Simion. The boy learned his lessons well, and quickly. Simion could do little to penetrate Brenard’s defenses, but received fewer blows than the last time they had sparred. Brenard could tell that Inen’s lesson had hit a nerve, and Simion incorporated lighter footwork near the end of the session.

Barthon called out that dinner was nearly ready, and Brenard called a halt. He collected Simion’s weapon, and offered a smile and nod in the way of congratulations. Given a few months, SImion could be as good as most, but Brenard did not share that with the boy. No need for overconfidence. As Brenard returned the wooden swords to their place behind his saddlebags, Simion joined the others around the fire.

The wind fell still when Brenard went to join his companions.

Mandor, above the Blue Mountains ~ evening of DAY 10

Cold air rushed over Z’anginthel Seka-Manh’s body as he circled above the Blue Mountains. If anything, the cool wind refreshed the dragon. It feels good to feel the air rush beneath my wings again. Z’ang banked into a turn, flying again for the first time in over a fortnight. Here, amongst the stars, the dragon could think freely.

His new companions were as much an enigma to Z’ang as he was to them. The knight, Barthon, who had bested Z’ang in combat, spoke to him as if the dragon were a petty crook, rather than his equal. Quentin, Ten Eych and Inen had spoken to him not at all, and remained distant, even after a day of travel. Brenard, who, as Z’ang understood it, was hideous by human standards. The man should, by all rights, be an outcast, yet had found a place among others of his kind, something Z’ang dearly desired. And the boy, Simion, who looked at Z’ang with curiosity in his eyes, and experience beyond his years. The entire group’s eyes were hardened, as well. They have been through much.

Z’ang’s eyes scanned the mountains beneath him as he thought. Other than Barthon’s fire, few others sparkled among the peaks, and none were within a day’s walk. Z’ang’s wings rippled as he turned back to the group. He had glided from sometime, spinning sweeping circles around the camp, searching for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing.

Z’ang flew several miles distant from camp when dusk arrived. As the sun sank lower, the world crawled to a halt. Even the whistling in the dragon’s ears faded, as the shadows warped and moved below. Z’ang quickened his pace. I have flown too long!

His clawed hands wrapped around Z’gen-Ghide’s long hilt as he neared the camp. Still some feet from the ground, Z’ang tucked his wings, and entered a headlong dive. Shadows danced around the fire. Many lumbered unnaturally, but a scant few moved with the grace of humans. His companions had formed a defensive circle around the fire, Simion, and Inen, the latter of which fired arrows into the mass of shadows.

Z’ang processed this all in moments, and spread his wings a dozen or so feet above the battle. He felt a wrench as his wings filled with air, and he rotated his feet down. As his downward plummet slowed, Z’gen-Ghide cleared its wood and leather scabbard, and the dragon joined the fray.

He landed beside the priest, Quentin, who stood nearest Simion and Inen. Though a capable swordsman, Quentin was hard-pressed, and Z’ang helped to thin the creatures before them. The shadows came in waves, but the companions now fought at full strength. Still glimmered duly in star and firelight, and the dispersing shadows blackened the sky.

Minutes of hard fighting passed before the shadows thinned, and eventually disappeared. Z’ang stood silently panting, leaning on his massive weapon. They had survived another encounter, mostly unscathed. Barthon had emerged with nary a scratch, his armor his shield. The others had many of the foe away from the boy and woman, and both remained unharmed. The others received only minor wounds, but Brenard’s vest had been split down the back, the only sign of what could have been a fatal blow.

They remained silent for a minute before Brenard broke the tension. “I’m hungry.”

Z’ang grinned, and the others laughed. Tension fell away from the group quickly, and they hurried to the fire to taste Barthon’s meal. The ate quickly, emptying the pot of stew in a short time. Before they went to their bedrolls, Z’ang held up a hand. He dug in one of his many pouches, and withdrew a short charcoal pen and a blank scroll of parchment. Z’ang began writing in a neat cursive.

While I flew, I thought deeply of recent events. With this battle, I have fulfilled my obligation to you, Sir Barthon. However, seven warriors are greater than six, and I would travel with you, if you’ll have my company. I would like to know why you journey together, but of course you need not share everything, or anything.

I challenged all who would travel the pass in the name of some middling lord, I have forgotten his name. I now understand that he sent me there both as a cruel joke, and to remove me from his sight.

P.S. I will take the first watch.


Z’ang passed the note to Barthon, and awaited a response.




Barthon smiled as he finished the note. "You are welcome to join us, Z'ang, for as long as you care to accompany us. Your sword will certainly be useful. As for why we are traveling together, that is certainly no secret to strangers. We are searching for Zephiris, as Her presence has been felt once again in the world. I do not know how the dragons feel about Zephiris, but her return will certainly have a major effect on every nation." Barthon stood up slowly and stretched his cramped leg muscles. He walked over to the dragon and placed a hand on his shoulder. "The first watch is yours, friend. Keep a wary eye; as you've already seen, men have a cruel and suspicious nature."

Barthon looked to the others of the group. All nodded in agreement.

Mandor, above the Blue Mountains ~ evening of DAY 13

The Knights of Zephiris gathered around their fire high in the Blue Mountains. Outside the warmth of their cave, the night grew cold enough to freeze their waterskins. Far below, the lights of Aram split the night.

For the past three days, Z’ang had taken flight twice each day. He flew once in the morning, and again in the evening. Every time, he had returned with similar news. Others explored the mountains, but he had found nothing to note. No ancient temples, no ruins, nothing to show off Zephiris here. Each time the dragon returned, Simion offered Barthon a pointed look.

The looks did not escape Brenard’s eyes, but their meanings remained beyond him. He did not have much time to think on the matter, for tin dinners plates were now being passed around the fire. They had finished the last of their bread in the morning, and even now they ran low on cheese. Soon, they’d be forced from the Blue Mountains to resupply.

Before anyone settled their meal, Barthon cleared his throat. Brenard glanced up at the knight, the man who’d become something of a leader among equals. Sir Barthon was a good man, someone worthy of respect and lead as if by second nature, the kind of man destined for greatness. When he cleared his throat, the party laid down their spoons.

Barthon spoke, “I do not doubt that we could eke out an existence in these mountains for days to come. Still, our supplies dwindle daily, and Z’ang returns from each of his flights with the same news. There is little worth note in these mountains,” The knight looked to Simion a moment before continuing. “From this cave, we look upon Aram. Tomorrow, I suggest we leave these mountains, and journey to Aram. There, we can resupply and decide on where we will search for Lady Zephiris next.”

The knights offered their approval quickly. Quentin and Z’ang merely nodded, while Simion smiled knowingly. Ten Eych and Brenard winked at one another, they’d find the first good brew in the city, and wouldn’t leave until dragged kicking and screaming away. Inen mentioned a bath.

Barthon himself smiled. “Good, it is agreed. Let us abandon this cold swiftly.”

They finished their meal quickly, hearts filled with the promise of warmth, a bath, and, hopefully good company. Brenard took first watch as the others curled up around the fire.

Mandor, outside Aram ~ afternoon of DAY 15

A tide of refugees carried the Knights of Zephiris through Aram’s gates. The men and women that surrounded them walked with shoulders hunched, their feet dragging. Many of them had lost family and friends, their flight to Aram had not been easy. Despite their downtrodden appearance, hope filled their eyes as they passed through the gates. Surely, there was safety behind the walls of Aram.

Once within the city, the Knights quickly found an unoccupied square, and dismounted. Brenard smiled. It feels good to be free of the threat of the shadows. Despite the refugees, Aram continued in its peaceful existence. The Knights of Gedrich and Aram’s own guard frowned upon crime. The few criminals were punished heavily, but fairly, a rare thing in any place.

“I must report to my Order,” Barthon said. “The Knights of Gedrich will welcome you, and house you, should you wish it.”

Inen snorted, but Brenard spoke. “Thank you, Barthon, but I think I’ll stay at a friend’s. She owns the Green Twig, and always keeps a room available.”

Ten Eych grinned at that. “You’ll find me there, too. Brenard’s been telling me she brews the best ale in Aram.”

Other voiced their agreement, and the group split. Brenard leading Ten Eych, Inen, and Z’ang to the Green Twig; Barthon, Simion and Quentin making their way to the Order of Gedrich headquarters in the city.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Mon Mar 07, 2011 11:05 pm

Sephalia > Oliphey ~ early evening of DAY 8

Darta came to an abrupt halt when she’d rounded a rain-soaked corner of a stucco’d home and spied Áirhath. She’d been gearing up, measuring every word she’d planned on using when she spoke to Áirhath. She hadn’t been on her own so long that she would have forgotten the correct forms, but she was more concerned about how to explain herself to the Mercenary Captain. The effect of coming up on Áirhath before she’d been completely able to steel herself was rather disastrous. All of her carefully planned speech flew from her mind.

She touched her heart as a SpellSinger would and greeted him in the Elven tongue, "I see you. Life to you and yours.” His kind, if formal greeting made her rather self-conscious of her lack of kins-cloth. But, she’d given up the right to wear it when she chose exile; at least in her own mind. Bowing slightly, Darta continued, not closing the distance between them just yet. "I am…” She paused, "I was Ellidartha Surärrhë. I…know you.” She smiled unevenly at the tall Captain. She finally stepped closer to him, the rain slicking her hair against her head unnoticed. "If I may? Might I have a moment of your time?” She paused again, so unsure of having approached the Mercenary Captain without Katerina with her. ”I would speak of the shadow creatures with you.”

Darta smiled softly; his effect on her was no less today than it had been years before. But, from his greeting she knew that he didn’t remember her nor did he think of her. It had the effect of dashing all such foolishness from her mind; like a bucket of ice cold mountain water thrown in the face of a drunkard. Gathering herself she swept her hand toward the tavern where she’d expected to find him, ”If you would permit? May we continue to the Inn to speak further?"

Darta waited for Áirhath to nod his assent and turn toward the Inn once more before she made to follow him. They didn’t speak until inside the warm common room and out of the cold, misting rain of the city. There were perhaps a dozen Mercenaries in the common room, eating their meals and tending their weapons. As one, they looked up and acknowledged Áirhath as their Captain and then Darta felt their eyes fall upon her. She lifted her hand to touch her heart once more and nodded to the room in general. She greeted them in their native language. ”Long life and the warmth of the sun upon you.” She self-consciously brushed her slender hand down her right side where her kins-cloth should have been and waited for Áirhath to settle at a table where they might talk privately.

Once seated and drinks delivered, Darta drew up her courage and spoke to Áirhath quietly in their native Elven language. ”Captain, I understand that you have assisted in defending the city against the shadow beasts.” She paused and then continued without waiting for him to confirm or deny. ”I am part of a merchant caravan with a fine Captain and we too have been attacked along the trail. We lost a few good people.” Darta paused to sip from her warmed ale. ”My Captain has had dreams. Dreams she tries to hide from the rest of us. But we see how it weighs upon her mind. Even now she is at a place of worship for Zephiris.” She lowers her head in thought, ”I was once in training for the use of magic. I was educated in many things. It is my belief that the shadow creatures and the dreams that plague my Captain are related.”

Darta sat back against the wall behind the bench she’d sat down at. In the common language, she added, “I know we will go in search of the meaning behind the attacks. I know my Captain will not rest until her people are avenged.” She lifted her eyes to meet Áirhath’s fully for the first time and finished in Elven, "I ask…no. I beg you to come to meet my Captain. To hear what she says and perhaps to join us to find the source of these beasts.”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Sun Mar 20, 2011 3:22 am

Mandor > Caslemon ~ night of DAY 12

Warning bells broke Ragner away from his penetrating stare at the third empty mug sitting before him. He stood abruptly, and immediately grabbed for the edge of the table to still his dizziness. Normally three mugs of ale wouldn’t bother him. He supposed it was the fact that he hadn’t eaten much of anything the past few days and he was rather exhausted. The rest of the patron’s stood as well, some more steadily than others, and most made their way for the door. The warning bells had not ever been rung for as long as Ragner could remember, and the lack of alarm was surprising to him. It almost seemed as if some of the people had expected this. The patrons began talking, some excitedly and some in frightened whispers, as they made their way out of The Flaming Head. With the general atmosphere of the town, Ragner would have expected running and screaming to an orderly exit from the tavern.

Ragner made his way out onto the street and noticed that a small crowd was making its way toward the main gate, while the rest of the residents were secluding themselves in their homes. Windows were being shuttered and door barred. An armed guard ran by Ragner toward the gate.
“They’re back!” the guard yelled to him as he ran by.
They? Ragner wondered. And then he realized, the shadows had been ravaging the land for the past five nights. Why should Caslemon escape their wrath, as shady as the town was itself. Ragner was torn between making his way to the main gate and barricading himself in his own place. He had seen enough of the shadows to last him a lifetime, yet it was his duty to protect the town. He could save his neck tonight only to have the Duke sever it when he came to find why Caslemon was an empty husk. Lamac’s words rang in Ragner’s head; nobody looked to him as a leader. He would have to show them otherwise.

Ragner pushed his way through the crowd as he ran toward the gate. He was still dizzy, but he managed not to trip over his own feet, or anyone else’s. He realized as he went that the streets were lit more than they used to be. Every porch, balcony and alley was lit by several torches. There were no shadows in Caslemon at night, a far cry from the town he remembered. He realized immediately their purpose: the people were afraid that the beasts would spawn in the shadows inside Caslemon. Not likely from what he had seen, but not impossible. If they could appear inside walls, then why not Aram when he was there?

The gate loomed before him, now shut and guarded by the handful of armored men Ragner had left to Caslemon. Archers stood above the gate on wooden towers that stood to either side, launching arrows into the darkness beyond.
“My Lord Ragner,” said one of the guards as he approached. Ragner did not recognize the man. “There are beasts of shadow outside the walls. More come every hour. They have come with the darkness for the past five nights, my Lord. What are they?”
Without answering, Ragner shouldered passed the guard and made his way to one of the towers. The ladder was not difficult to climb, but Ragner wasn’t sure if he could trust himself to climb in his state. Again, his conversation with Lamac echoed in his head. Caslemon was under attack, and their leader was too intoxicated to lead its defenses. Ragner shook his head to clear away the nausea and thoughts. He placed a hand on a wooden rung and began pulling himself up.

As he reached the top, a gloved hand reached down to help him over the edge of the wooden platform.
“My Lord,” the guard said, not hiding his sarcastic smile. Again, Ragner didn’t recognize the man. The guard squinted as he stared at something on Ragner’s face. “Battle scar or tavern brawl?” he asked. Ragner was astounded that the man had the nerve to speak to him in such a way, but before he could respond the guard had turned back to point out into the darkness. “You can see them down there, just barely. They blend in with the shadows. They ain’t like any beast I ever seen, but they resemble bears and wolves, and some almost look like men.” Ragner stepped forward to get a better view of the ground outside of the gate. The torches lit the area for a couple of feet beyond, and the moons gave enough light to show the outlines of the swirling forms beyond. There were not as many as Ragner had expected, but more than they were capable of dealing with. They didn’t seem capable of getting passed the wall or through the gate, however. They clawed at it, the larger bear forms hammered at it, and some of the nimbler forms attempted to scramble over it, but the arrows of the archers kept those most likely to succeed away.

“Who are you?” Ragner asked. “I don’t recognize you. You are not one of the Duke’s men, nor were you appointed by me.”
The guard looked at him, a look of disappointment rather than respect. “I’m a simple man answering the call-to-arms, my Lord. When the…shadows…first attacked, we were defenseless. The few guards that you had left were drinking or gambling somewhere, if they were even still in Caslemon. Someone needed to defend the town. We raided the barracks for armor and weapons, and handed them out to whoever was willing. We’ve been fletching arrows the past few days, mostly. The only thing we can really use against ‘em.”
Ragner wasn’t sure what to say. These men had raided the barracks and taken Caslemon into their own hands. He wasn’t sure if he should admire their tenacity or fear that he had just been deposed. When he realized he was staring at the man with his jaw open, he quickly turned away. He put his clenched fists on his hips as he stared out into the darkness.
“I want to speak with you, with all of you, in the morning, as soon as this is all over. They will leave with the rising of the sun, as I am sure you’ve already seen.”
As Ragner turned to make his way to the ladder, he heard the guard grunt “Yes, my Lord.”

Mandor > Caslemon ~ morning of DAY 13

Ragner walked up to the barracks. The door was shut, though he knew the building was occupied. The man had said that he and others had gotten their supplies from there. He knew they wouldn’t leave it unguarded, and they would likely need to come back. If he was right, they were all inside, awaiting his wrath. What right did they have to assume authority over his town? To just take matters into their own hands? Ragner would set things right again. He was back, and he would return things in Caslemon to the way they used to be. It was that, or flee to Sephalia.
Ragner threw open the door and strode inside. As he had expected, there were several men standing about. Some were moving crates, others were searching inside of them looking for anything they could scavenge. And they were, Ragner realized, just scavengers. They were poor excuses for men looking for a shortcut to power and glory. A few glanced up at him, but most just kept working. Ragner could not see the man he had spoken with last night.

“Stop this at once!” Ragner commanded. Some of the men stopped what they were doing, but only to stare at Ragner defiantly. He felt his blood boil as his hands clenched into fists at his sides. How dare they! Ragner unclenched a hand to grip the hilt of his sword and opened his mouth to issue the order he had prepared. Suddenly he felt an immense pressure against the back of his head, and he lost his grip on his sword as he stumbled forward, hands flying outward to brace himself. His head was pounding, and he seemed to be seeing through a tunnel.
“What….” Ragner bit his tongue as another impact caused him to black out completely.

Mandor > Caslemon ~ unknown day and time

Ragner slowly opened his eyes. A dim light surrounded him, not bright enough for him to see anything around him. He realized he was laying down, but trying to lift his head or arms brought unbearable pain to his head.
“What happened?” Ragner asked through clenched teeth. He didn’t expect an answer, and so wasn’t surprised when the darkness surrounding him did not offer one. Darkness… Ragner thought. Fear made him bolt upright, despite the pain in his head. No…he wasn’t outside. He didn’t think shadows would find him in here. Ragner laughed, despite his situation. He realized that he must sound mad, locked in a dark room and fearing shadows. On any normal day it would sound crazy. It seemed a long time since he had experienced a normal day.
Ragner rubbed the back of his head with a hand and felt a large lump. His hair was matted with some half-dried liquid, he was assuming blood. It didn’t seem to be bleeding any longer though. A small candle sat on a wooden table near him. The light didn’t reach the walls, but Ragner suddenly had an idea of where he was. The holding cells in the barracks were the only place in Caslemon he knew with iron frame beds like the one he had been laying on. Luckily he wasn’t chained to the posts, like the crazy prisoners usually were. He was certain that the door of the room was locked though. But, with nothing else to do, Ragner made himself get up to try the handle. He grabbed the candle as he passed by the table, using the edge of the table to steady himself as a wave of dizziness nearly made him stumble. He held one hand out as he shuffled toward where he knew the door would be. It wasn’t long before the light of the candle showed him the rough features of the door. He put his hand on the iron door handle and jerked it roughly. As he had expected, the door didn’t budge. His heart did jump at the sound of the grate sliding back on the door, just at eye level. More light poured through, though partially blocked by the outline of a head.

“You might want to lay back down and get some rest, Ragner. You’ll be in here for a while.” The grate slid shut, the sound of grating rusty iron setting his nerves on edge. He pounded his empty hand against the door.

“Let me out!” Ragner yelled. “In the name of the Duke, of my father, let me out of here! Let me out before I have every one of you beheaded! I’ll lock you in your homes and set them afire! Let…me…out!” His outraged yells produced no response. He tried messing with the grate, but he knew it was useless. They weren’t designed to be opened from the inside of a holding cell. He was a prisoner in his own town, held by people who hated him. He made his way back to the dirty bed, the only furniture in the cell beside the wooden table. There had to be a way out, some bribe he could offer, or perhaps some trick he could play on them. Prisoners tried the craziest things to get out, but perhaps, if he thought hard enough, he could put a few of them together to perfect it.

Mandor > Caslemon ~ unknown day and time

A loud noise awoke Ragner. He threw his legs off of the bed and prepared himself. As soon as they opened the door… It didn’t take him long to realize that the noise was not coming from them unlocking the door. The noise came from farther away, somewhere else within the barracks. There was another bang, and then a sound Ragner recognized clearly: steel on steel. There was fighting in the barracks! Ragner jumped up from the bed and ran to the door, pounding again with both hands. How many times had he done this now? His hands were sore, and he was sure they were filled with splinters he couldn’t manage to find. His candle had already extinguished itself.

“I’m in here!” Ragner yelled. He pressed his mouth up to the grate, hoping it might help the noise travel. “Help me! I’m locked in here!” Ragner continued yelling and pounding, but eventually the noises subsided. For many long moments he stood there, hearing nothing but his own heavy breathing and the grumbling from his empty stomach. He had not had a good meal in days. Somebody had to come up to the door, either to feed him or tell him what was going on. Ragner waited, but no one came. He waited until his legs started to ache before he made his way back to his bed. They could never open that door again, he realized. Omoron had no idea where he was. If he decided to search Caslemon, they would expect him to be hiding in his home, not locked away in the barracks. He was likely to die in here, of hunger if not by the hands of his captors. Men who had rebelled against him, and obviously the rest of the town.

The sound of the rusty grate sliding open again startled him from his thoughts. “Crisis averted, Ragner. It seems you still have some friends left in Caslemon…or you did, anyway. And I’ve brought you some food. Don’t think about trying anything; there are several men with me who will run you through before you’ve made it three steps out of the door.”

Ragner ran a few scenarios through his head, but the smell of the soup made it hard to concentrate. Surely his escape could wait until his stomach was satisfied. Perhaps he would be able to think better then.

Mandor > Caslemon ~ unknown day and time

When the door opened, Ragner leapt forward. He had been waiting for hours, poised in front of the door at what he hoped was the best position. Several pair of rough hands grabbed him before he even made it into the light. Ragner fought, but it was useless. He was exhausted, hungry and sore. He had little fight left in him.

“Do not be so eager, Ragner.” A rough voice said to him. “The Duke’s own man is here for you. From what I hear, he is none too happy about the state of the place, or with you for that matter. He has demanded to see you.”

Ragner couldn’t believe it. Rescued at last! Or was he? How could the darkness of the cell suddenly feel so welcoming when he had wanted nothing but to be free for the last…however long it had been. He had lost track of time immediately, since he had no way of knowing how long the blow in the entrance of the barracks had left him unconscious. The “Duke’s own man” could only be one person: Rurik Vadren. The man had likely been carved from some enormous boulder for all the life he had ever showed. Ragner had never liked him, and he had a hunch that the dislike was mutual. The Duke must be angrier than Ragner had expected to send Rurik after him.

“What a minute,” Ragner said, trying to drag his feet to slow his captors. “Let’s just talk about this!” The men, still wearing the armor of the guard, he noticed, dragged him forward roughly. “Surely we can come to some agreement? I will leave! I swear it! I’ll go to Sephalia and you’ll never see me again!” The three men dragging him through the dark halls of the barracks all laughed loudly.

“Why would we let you go when we have the opportunity to see you bent over the knee of the Duke’s man?” More laughter followed the comment. Ragner couldn’t believe his ill luck. Barthon had been the beginning of it. Ever since that ill encounter with him in the forest north of Dor. He would have slain the man if not for his incompetent companions. Then the disaster at Carsiun Keep, and his journey back home to Caslemon which he barely survived! Only to be imprisoned by his own people, and then handed over to Rurik like some disobedient child. It wasn’t fair! This wasn’t how things were supposed to be! He had dreamed of what he would do with Caslemon when the Duke named it his. Omoron had tricked him, the bastard! Handed him a pile of filth filled with men more rotten than Omoron’s sense of humor!

The light of the outside was blinding, and the men shoved him roughly out into it. More men stood by, and they reached for Ragner before he could even think of bolting. “Take him to the Captain,” one of his captors told the newer men. “The man isn’t happy, so don’t let Ragner get away.” The man who spoke pointed a finger at the newer men and narrowed his eyes. He was serious. Ragner shook his head. He should have run when he had the chance.

The walk through the dirty streets of Caslemon was longer than he had expected. He had stopped dragging his feet. The mud of the streets didn’t provide much of a grip for his feet. As his manor came into view, he saw Rurik standing near the entrance, his arms crossed, and the banner of the Duke waving in the wind next to him. Ragner swallowed what felt like a ball of mud.

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Wed Mar 23, 2011 7:23 am

Sephalia > Oliphey ~ early evening of DAY 8
“Lisanelle,” I see you, the young elf began in greeting. “Aeris nin lle san lle.”
Áirhath waited for her to continue.
“Lli aer...” she struggled, “lli aeren Ellidartha Surärrhë. Lli... saha lle.” I... know you. Áirhath said nothing, puzzled. She stepped closer. “Ethilhae? Seledh, lli hathil lle ilisen?” She paused, then continued when Áirhath did not turn her away. “Haeí lli telärdëi ich dan undérach ethin lle.”
So, she wanted a moment of his time to speak with him about the shadow beasts. Áirhath was doubly curious, now. An estranged kin of the Surärrhë--one who claims to know him--wandering alone in a human city, and wanting to help deal with the shadows. “Anndra haeí, deth dhanath,” he said. Surely yes, of course.
She smiled softly. “Ethin lle chyearnan? Haeí lli dhanë nin rienan dene telärdë anath?”
Áirhath nodded congenially. “Haeí, san dene undánë atara.” An inn would indeed be the best place to talk further, and to flee the rain.

Áirhath brought her with him to the inn where he and his company were staying. Inside the warm common room, there were eleven of his mercenaries. Áirhath noted that Titanya was conspicuously absent. Though perhaps that was for the best, at the moment, with this new development. Áirhath nodded as his company acknowledged him, but then he saw their eyes shifting toward his guest.
Ellidartha said, “Naeí innil aeril san irriel silda edhän lle.” Her voice betrayed no nervousness, but she did seem self-conscious about her lack of a kin's-cloth. As well she might; some of the elves reacted to her presence with a sort of empathetic distaste, a brief tensing of the eyebrows that might have indicated puzzlement or concern. Áirhath led her to a more remote table where they might be afforded better privacy without raising needless suspicions. Once seated, Áirhath ordered a couple of mild drinks for them, just something that would drive away the chill.

When the drinks were delivered, Ellidartha began quietly. “Líredan, lli shah lle rát erethendra dan haínannde rrállia dan undérach.”
Áirhath nodded; he had helped defend the city against the shadow beasts.
Ellidartha didn't seem to notice his confirmation. Instead, she went on, "Lli deth ha selethári dhunar ethin ha thien re, san lli hena aeren rrusád edhän dhanath. Lli hrruch hin ári eriëll." I belong to a merchant caravan with a fine leader, and we too were attacked along the path. We lost a few good people.
The elf maiden paused to fortify herself with a sip of her warmed ale. Áirhath did the same, feeling sorry for her loss but waiting to express his condolences, since it was plain she was in the midst of her tale.
"Lli re hathi chindra. Nalla dhaena unnethë chindra nin hiéna." Our leader had dreams. She tries to hide these dreams from everyone. "Dun lli inasë chindra chandánë nalla äya." But we see that it haunts her mind. In this moment she is at a church of Zephiris. "Hath dantë isilen nalla aerl nna ha silnannde deth Dehiris." She lowered her head, as if in thought. "Lli hail aeállénnd dene së irrärda. Lli hathi shaeínan hath haína." I once trained for to use dragon magic. I had education in many things. "Lli äyádë undérach san chindra chandánël lli daren aer ichen." I believe the shadow beasts and the dreams haunting my captain are related.

As Áirhath pondered this, Ellidartha leaned back in her seat, drawing to a conclusion. "I know we will go in search of the meaning behind the attacks." She spoke well the human speech. "I know my captain will not rest until her people are avenged.” For the first time, she lifted her eyes to meet Áirhath’s fully, earnestly requesting him to come with her to meet her captain. "Lli shárnë... ura. Lli chárë, seledh leláli dene hahän lli daren. Dene chyärda hána nalla telärdëi san ihaei hahanath dene hetha dan héä deth dantë érach."

Ordinarily Áirhath would have been more than happy to go along with her. It seemed to be just the sort of mission he and his men loved to do. But he had his task from the White Council. Investigating the increase of life superseded any other paths. The only lead he had was Telmural. He needed to go there, but he also wanted to help put an end to these mysterious beasts. Áirhath didn't need long to decide. The least he could do was hear the words of this caravan leader and see whether their paths might be aligned. "Haeí," he consented, a smile growing on his face, putting a glint in his eye. "Lilále. I go with you."

Sephalia > Oliphey > Church of Zephiris on Dove Street ~ early evening of DAY 8
The rain had kept up its rhythm as Áirhath followed Ellidartha back through the streets of Oliphey. It soon became apparent that they were headed to the very church Áirhath had investigated earlier that morning. They reached the church and hurriedly ducked in out of the light rain. Inside, Áirhath immediately looked for the priest that had been there earlier. No one was there. A few people were scattered about in prayer, but there wasn't anyone near the far wall. Odd.
"She is here?" he asked in human speech, his voice hushed against the echoing space.
"Hae-- er, yes."
"Maybe she leaves?"
"If she left, we would have passed her."
"We can wait."

Áirhath led the way to a vacant area of pews, and sat down. Night was drawing on, so he didn't think they'd have to wait long for the merchant caravan leader to appear.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Guest on Sat Apr 09, 2011 3:21 pm

Mandor > Aram > Gateway, Lower District ~ DAY 15

It was not just Simion…I knew that as I walked through the gates of Aram I had returned a different person.
-Sir Barthon Camlin, Righteous Knight of the Order of Gedrich


Barthon led Simion and Quentin up the Gateway of the Lower District of Aram. Normally a clean and tidy lower-class residential district, significantly more so than in most cities, the low wood and stone buildings on both sides of the Gateway were packed with refugees from the countryside of Mandor. There were men, women and children huddled in the alleyways or along the Gateway, either looking for handouts or hoping to avoid notice completely. The homes of Aram’s citizens were crowded already, and only a few of them seemed to be willing to take in refugees. There were more guards patrolling the Gateway than usual as well. Barthon was grateful for that, but was a bit surprised at the lack of presence of the church, or of his Order. What currently looked like a potential disaster could easily be reorganized into a sanitary and lawful temporary refugee camp with a concerted effort. Barthon promised himself to bring it up with his superiors when he reached the barracks.

Quentin echoed Barthon’s thoughts behind him, off to his right. “I am utterly disappointed, Barthon. All of these people… it is the church’s duty to take care of them, to offer them comforts during this time of need. If you don’t mind…”

“No, by all means,” Barthon answered the unspoken question. He looked over his shoulder and caught Quentin’s appreciative smile and nod as he peeled his horse away. Quentin was a devout priest of Zephiris, and he would uphold his vows with the same integrity as Barthon.

“How will we find him again?” Simion asked, in his usual place behind Barthon, slightly to his left. Simion was looking around wildly at the dirty mass of refugees that lined the road.

“He will find us, if he wishes,” Barthon replied. “Either at the barracks or the Green Twig.” It suddenly struck Barthon how close Simion had become to their companions, particularly Quentin and Brenard. Quentin had proven to be a great spiritual guide and protector for Simion since he had joined them. Barthon would have to make some effort at least to find the priest before they left Aram again.

The road inclined more steeply as they neared the gate to the Aram Bazaar, which comprised most of the central district of Aram. It stood below the inner district, which contained the castle and the Order of Gedrich’s headquarters, and above the Lower District. Much of the city could be seen above Barthon, above the walls the separated the districts themselves. Aram was built along the side of the Blue Mountains, and was the jewel of Mandor in more than religious faith. The soldiers guarding the gate did not hesitate to open them at the sight of Barthon’s blue armor. The heavy doors, carved with religious and historical scenes pertaining to Aramis and Zephiris, swung open slowly. Barthon gave the guards a small nod as he passed them.

The view beyond the gate was a striking difference from the district he had left behind. The Aram Bazaar was just as pristine as when he had left it: tall wood and stone buildings, many of them gilded or colored in a myriad of different shades. Large inns, several stories tall and twice as long; open markets that were normally filled with tables of exotic or common merchandise; towering chapels for the spiritual of Aram and the cities many visitors. Aram had always been a wealthy city, and that wealth was displayed grandly in the Aram Bazaar. It almost made Barthon sick to see that the district was barred from the refugees.

The streets in this district were winding, unlike the straight Gateway of the Lower District. The main road curved around many of the open markets, a way of enticing visitors to spend money before passing through. The cathedrals he passed seemed more interested in an open display of wealth than true piety. Barthon was surprised it had not caught his attention before, but perhaps he had simply needed to see it in comparison with the degraded conditions of the Lower District. Barthon could not help but smile when Simion commented that the Bazaar looked different.

Though the Aram Bazaar was slightly larger than the lower district, if not as wide, and the streets angled uphill, the crossing seemed much faster than the Gateway. There were far less people, of course. Most of the Aram citizens remained locked away inside, as if the shadows could appear at any moment, even during the day. Barthon had not yet heard of the shadows appearing within the walls of a town, but most people acted as if that were simply because the shadows hadn’t chosen to do it yet, rather than seeing it as proof that they could not. It was another difference that highlighted aspects of Aram that Barthon simply had not noticed before. Despite the influence of the church and the Order of Gedrich, Aram did not seem as selfless and brave in the face of danger as he had always imagined it to be.

The gate to the Inner District was lightly guarded, and again Barthon was allowed passage without a word. The guards were dressed in the livery of Duke Nuriam. The king’s guards were rarely seen on a normal occasion, but Barthon hadn’t spotted even a single one since entering Aram. He wondered if perhaps they had been pulled out of the cities to guard the countryside, or perhaps Dor itself. From the gate of the Inner District, it was only a short trip to the barracks of his Order. Even though they had been granted permission to reside within the inner district, rather than the Aram Bazaar like all other guilds and Orders, they were pushed as close to the walls as possible.

The Inner District was nearly as level as the Lower District, built up against a natural cliff face. The Duke’s castle was built against that sheer wall, and was surrounded by tall towers and other fortifications. From the castle’s ramparts, one could easily see the Doriath Mountains and the surrounding lands, as well as have an eagle’s eye view of the city at its feet.

There were more people out on the streets in the Inner District. Most of them were moving about in a hurry, pulling wagons filled with crates and barrels or bales of hay. None looked up at Barthon as he passed by; Gedrich Knights were more than a common sight in this district, if not all of Aram. The headquarters of the Order of the Gedrich were just ahead of them, beyond a low chapel surrounded by wealthy manors. The barracks was a two-story building, long and wide enough to rival most inns in the Bazaar. The north and south ends of the barracks pulled away from the curved street toward the wall of the inner district; within its encompassing arms and the walls was the chapel and the council hall, where the leaders of Order met to discuss business. The stable was located at the northern end of the barracks, between the eastern bend of the barracks and buildings further north. The training grounds and the kitchen were just beyond the southern end of the barracks. All-in-all, the Order’s compound was quite extensive, and more than adequate enough to support its members located in Aram.

Barthon noticed immediately that there was more activity than usual. Most knights either spent their time in the training grounds or within the barracks themselves, if they weren’t sent out on a mission somewhere else, or sitting in one of the recruitment offices in another city. Barthon quickly scanned the training grounds as they rode by, but he didn’t see anyone there. Most of the knights were at the northern end of the barracks, gathered around the stables.

“Welcome home, Sir Camlin,” said a knight as he rode past on his own destrier.

“It is good to be back,” Barthon replied with a smile. Truly it was, though he doubted his stay would be long. Barthon let Aram force its own way through the crowd around the stables. Most of the knights seemed to be awaiting orders; there were at least fifteen gathered, all of them armored of course. He assumed their pages were gathering their horses and supplies. Barthon whistled to one of the stablemen, an odd blond-haired lad named Tadlin, and held out his reigns. The stableman glared at Simion before taking the reins from Barthon. Aram snorted and reluctantly followed after Barthon dismounted. A quick glance at Simion showed him staring wide-eyed at Barthon.

“You did not think that just because we were home I would ignore everything that has happened the past two weeks, did you?” Barthon held back his grin and gave Simion a flat stare. “Head to the kitchens and grab a bite to eat. I am going to meet with Lord Drake. Tadlin will take care of your horse,” Barthon said loud enough for the stableman to hear. As he left the barracks Simion was smiling from ear to ear.

Mandor > Aram > Council Hall of the Order of Gedrich, Upper District ~ evening of DAY 15

Barthon stood up from his chair and turned around as the door behind him was pushed open. His mentor, Lord Walter Drake, had ordered Barthon to wait in the Council Hall until he arrived, and so Barthon had. He was surprised to find that it was not only Lord Drake that stepped through the doorway. Three other Lord Knights followed him, as well as Duke Nuriam. Barthon immediately gripped his sword with his left gauntleted hand, bowed down to his right knee, and placed his right fist on the floor. He kept his head down until Duke Nuriam’s voice told him to rise. Barthon did rise, slowly, and he was more unsure of himself than he had been when he first arrived. Why had he been summoned to a meeting with four of the Lord Knights and the Duke himself?

Barthon had searched for Lord Drake upon his arrival at the barracks of the Order; he found him addressing a few knights in the armory, beneath the barracks. Barthon told Lord Drake that he had returned to report on the ceremony at Dor, and their progress on locating Zephiris. Lord Drake had simply told Barthon to wait for him in the Council Hall, and dismissed him. He wondered now, seeing the Duke and the other Lord Knights, if he had somehow displeased his Order. Perhaps someone had found Zephiris before him? The dragons, perhaps? Or the elves? His heart sunk.

“I have heard much about you from Lord Walter, Sir Camlin. He claims you are an outstanding knight, and that you do your father honor.” The Duke kept his hands clasped behind his back as he spoke. His face was deeply lined, and his slightly wavy hair was a battlefield between blonde and gray. His eyes, however, were sharp, and his voice and movements much like a man in the prime of his life. Barthon bowed again slightly, unsure of how to respond. He was still not sure why he was here at all. “Please, sit,” the Duke continued, waving a hand toward the single chair on his side of the long, rectangular table. The Duke and the Lord Knights made their way to the far side of the table, occupying the chairs directly in front of Barthon.

The other three Lord Knights accompanying Walter were familiar to Barthon, of course, though he had rarely had any interaction with them. Lord Ba’al, a fearsome warrior and a brilliant tactician, was often considered the leader of the council of twelve Lord Knights. His face was oddly serene and pleasant for his position and experience: most men having partaken in an equal number of battles were scarred, either physically or mentally, if not both. His dark beard was kept well-trimmed, the upper lip bare and the hair on his chin trimmed to a point. It was not a common style in Aram, but Lord Ba’al retained much of his culture from his homeland, near the Mountains of Smoke in Sephalia. His eyes were a match for Duke Nuriam’s, penetrating and sharp, as if constantly measuring. Barthon did not doubt that they were measuring him even now.

Lord Odo was a competent politician who spent more time in the Duke’s castle than he did in the Order’s barracks. His hair had more gray than Duke Nuriam’s, and his eyes were less sharp and often glazed. Despite his outward appearance, Barthon knew from experience that the man’s mind was still strong. The Order’s high standing in Aram was largely due to Lord Odo’s influence with the Duke. It had likely been years since Lord Odo had practiced with a sword, or a weapon of any sort, but he still bore the armor of his Order with ease.

The final Lord Knight in attendance was Lord Humphrey, one of the three scribes on the council. He was of age with Lord Odo, and had a memory unlike any man Barthon knew. He also had a deep hunger for knowledge, and had composed many of the “Histories” that the Order had in its library. Lord Humphrey, like all knights, bore the armor of his Order outside of the barracks, but he only left his study when necessary. Of all the Righteous Knights in attendance, Lord Humphrey was undoubtedly the least comfortable in his armor. His face was not as lined as Lord Odo’s or Duke Nuriam’s, but he spoke slowly and his mind would often drift in the middle of a conversation. Many assumed he was the oldest Lord Knight on the council, though that belonged to another still.

Duke Nuriam waved a hand to Lord Ba’al, signaling him to lead the briefing. Or lecture, Barthon feared. “Much has happened since you were dispatched to Dor,” Lord Ba’al began. “For the past eight nights, the lands of Mandor have been besieged by a strange foe: creatures seemingly formed of shadow itself. We have studied them as much as possible, and have come to a few conclusions. We will address that later. You were sent to Dor to participate in the ceremony that would launch the great hunt for Zephiris, you and Simion both. That was almost two weeks ago, now. What have you discovered?”

So she hasn’t been found yet… Barthon thought. He still had a chance. “Simion and I reached Dor in time for the ceremony. We were both branded as Holy Knights of the Order of Zephiris.” Barthon removed his right gauntlet to show them the brand, an ancient symbol belonging to an ancient Order, brought back to life by the Church. “We left Dor with a small company of fellow Zephirisian Knights and went north, thinking to look in the Blue Mountains. We were ambushed on the way by a Lord Duiran, supposedly of the House of Duke Omoron, whom I may have insulted in Dor.” Barthon knew he had acted improperly by not holding his tongue at that inn, but the young lord had certainly deserved it, and more. “We lost two of our members in the battle, and buried them on a hill near Toad Hollow. That night we were attacked by the shadows.” It was only a few nights ago, really, but it seemed like they had been fighting those mysterious beasts for weeks already. He knew it was a part of his military training to adapt to a situation so quickly. “We continued north, passing through the town of High Crest, which was deserted, and on to Carsiun Keep. We were pursued by the shadows, and a priest from Dor who was accompanying us led Simion on while the rest of us diverted the shadows.” It had a been a wild, frightful race. Barthon had not been sure what had happened to any of his friends, and he accounted himself lucky that none had been killed by his decision. “When we returned to the keep in the morning, it seemed to have been utterly destroyed. Obviously there were no bodies of the enemy, as they seem to dissipate upon death, but the bodies of the defenders were everywhere. I feared…that young Simion may have died in the assault, but I found him, along with the surviving defenders and the priest, in a vault deep below the keep.” He had not realized how attached he was to the boy until that moment, when he feared him lost. “The following morning we began our ascent into the Blue Mountains. We encountered a mute dragon there, a strange fellow who demanded a duel before joining our party. For many days we searched, and many nights we defended ourselves against the shadows, until we were forced to descend into Aram.” The next part Barthon was wary of telling, but it was against his honor to lie to his superiors, and if they did not believe it…well, Barthon would do what he must.

“Simion,” he continued, “has had…dreams, of a sort. He claims that Zephiris has spoken to him, shown him, abstractly it seems, that she has awoken not in Mandor, but somewhere in or near Sephalia. Simion has become more mature since his knighting in Dor, and has learned much during our travels. At first, I will admit, I did not believe him. But I, too, have learned much the past two weeks, and I believe that Simion is vital our mission.” Barthon took a deep breath and then forced himself to relax. The three Lord Knights and the Duke were staring at him intently, even Lord Humphrey. Perhaps Humphrey more than the rest. Who knows what sort of interesting tangents he could dig from Barthon’s story? Humphrey would corner him as soon as the opportunity presented itself, he was sure.

“Simion belongs to the Order of Gedrich,” Lord Odo said in a low, smooth voice, “not the Order of Zedrich.” He named the Order with a note of sarcasm, which irritated Barthon greatly. The Church may have been wrong in reviving the Order in that way, but it was certainly the Church’s decision. “What Simion Altus’s fate is will be our decision.”

“With all due respect, Lords of the Council, Simion is not a member of the Order of Gedrich. He is still a page, and he is my responsibility. It is my duty to train him as I see fit, and his future lies with Zephiris.” Barthon knew that it would come to this: a battle to keep Simion at his side, as an equal. The Lord Knights would not be happy to lose Simion, especially if he was to become important. They would want to keep some hold on him. He also knew he was overstepping his bounds now, but he was prepared to fight for what he felt was right.

“Simion is indeed your responsibility, Barthon,” Lord Odo said, “but his induction into the Order came with a gift, one which we would be forced to return should he be pulled from our hands to follow a different path.” Lord Odo’s voice rose slowly as he finished his statement, a sign to Barthon that he was indeed overstepping his bounds. But Barthon pressed on anyway.

“He will still receive the training that his family paid for, and the Order of Gedrich can rightly keep the payment of his induction. I will continue training him, and he will learn both from our Order and from the Holy Knights of Zephiris.”

“That Order has long been extinct,” Lord Humphrey interjected. “The Church is using the symbol of that Order to send a rabble of peasants to do its work for it. They are pardoning them of sins committed in the past and the future, and tarnishing the name of that Holy Order in the process. It is blasphemy. Even more so to come from the Church.”

“I agree,” said Duke Nuriam, sitting forward in his chair with one elbow leaning on the table. “However, that ancient Holy Order has been reborn, whether proper or not, in a new time. It has a new meaning, now. Sir Camlin, as well as Sir Simion, will give that Order a new purpose; they will define its new meaning. The boy should stay with the knight, whom you all have told me has the best ability of training him. He may decide to join the Order of Gedrich, or his future may lay along another path. We, however, can not dispute the will and word of the Church. Especially not if we are attempting to work together.”

The room was quiet for several moments as the group considered the Duke’s words. He could not command the Order, of course, on a matter such as this. But his opinion carried great weight, and the Lord Knights would certainly give it consideration. At last, Lord Ba’al spoke.
“Our purpose in bringing you here was not to take…Sir Simion away from you. Though I still hold the opinion that he belongs to the Order of Gedrich, it seems that times are indeed changing, and it is the young that herald this new age, not the old. You were called here because we have a mission for you. Aram is under siege by an enemy we hardly understand. Most of the people of the surrounding towns and villages have fled here for refuge. But that leaves us without any way of replenishing our supplies, which is absolutely essential at this point. You are to lead a contingent of knights to Caluk. Construct secure defenses for the town and protect it until those defenses are finished. The shadows do not attack during the day, so we will use that time to the best of our ability. The lands must be farmed if we are to survive this. Lord Drake will accompany you and provide the plans for the defenses made by the council. These plans are merely suggestions of course, as we have not seen the current state of Caluk. Do what you must to provide security and stability. As for what we have learned of the shadows so far, Lord Humphrey will explain to you now. You may know as much already, for you have spent all of your time in the field. But perhaps we have gleamed so bit of information from them that you may have missed.”

As Lord Ba’al returned to his seat, and Lord Humphrey slowly made to stand, Barthon thought about what had just happened. The Duke had not only come to his aid, but he had just been given command over a contingent of knights for a mission! He had been on missions before, of course, but never in complete command, and certainly never over so many knights. Thirty knights would accompany him to Caluk, and it would be up to him, and Lord Drake, to prepare the town for a long struggle.

“The shadows,” Lord Humphrey began in his slow, almost monotone voice, “seem only able to form in the hours between dusk and dawn, when the rays of the sun can no longer reach them. They are strong, certainly, but have numerous weaknesses that can be exploited…” Barthon listened intently at first, but soon found his mind wandering. He did indeed know everything that they did, if not more. They confirmed a few of his theories: the shadows would not appear within town or city walls for whatever reason, and that they seemed to attack more aggressively and in greater numbers against stronger targets. But he learned little else useful. When Lord Humphrey finished with his lecture, the Lord Knights congratulated him for his progress so far, and wished him luck for his assignment.

“When Caluk is secured,” Lord Ba’al said before they departed, “you may continue your search for Zephiris. Simion may accompany you as you wish. Before you leave Aram, we will provide you with a writ from the Church that will give proof of your mission; it may ease your search in Sephalia and the lands beyond, if that is where you find yourself. Return to us in peace of mind and soul, Sir Camlin, and may the Mother’s blessings be with you.”

“And with you,” Barthon replied, standing and bowing. Three of the Lord Knights left, along with the Duke who gave a slight nod toward Barthon has he left. Lord Drake remained standing on the other side of the table, giving him a large smile.

“I am proud of you, Barthon,” Walter said. “You have done great so far, though this is far from over. I trust you will do what is best with Simion, and what is best for our Order, although far more important than that I trust you will do what is best for Zephiris. You have always been a loyal knight, to our Order and to the Mother of our Souls.”

“Thank you, Walter,” Barthon said, bowing again and smiling as much as his mentor. “It was not an easy journey, and I expect it will get harder still. But I am glad to find that I still have some support.”

“You will always have support, Barthon. Now, let us go find something to eat. And Simion! I would like to meet this new man, this Holy Knight of Zephiris!”

Mandor > Aram > Battlements of Upper District wall ~ night of DAY 15

“It is quite a sight, is it not?” said Walter. Barthon, Simion and Walter stood among the battlements of the walls of the Upper District, staring out over the city and the plains beyond. The walls of the Lower District, particularly along the Gateway, was awash with torchlight, and some of that light extended beyond the walls to highlight the swarming forms of the attacking Shadows. Archers along the walls were attempting to keep the flying beasts, almost invisible against the night sky, from crossing over the walls.

“It is,” Barthon said. He was at a loss for words. “How does the city deal with this night after night?”

“They are nightly terrors,” Walter said dramatically, as if trying to reduce their real danger. “They keep the people within the walls of Aram during the night, nightmares that have no physical danger to the people so long as we do our duty to keep them at bay. It is work, yes. Taking care of the refugees during the day is also hard work. But it is no army camped outside of these walls. The Shadows leave with first light, and we resume our days as best we can.”

“I don’t imagine anyone gets much sleep at night,” Simion said. “I don’t think I could.”

“We adjust,” Walter said. “It will come slowly for most, I fear. But we will adjust. And who knows when it will all be over? I hope that finding Zephiris will end this plague of Shadows… but we shall see.” The group stood in silence for several long moments, staring out over the city and the Shadows and silently contemplating the possible futures.
“I have been meaning to ask you, Barthon,” Walter said at last. “Tell me about your companions on your journey, these other Holy Knights.”

Barthon had been hoping to leave this part glossed over. The Holy Order of Zephiris was already on shaky ground with his own Order, and he did not want to make it worse. But what was done was done. “I met them in Dor, on the night of the branding,” he began. “Ten Eych and Jasper were sitting at a table near Simion and I, at the same inn where we…traded words with Lord Duiran. They were discussing where to find Zephiris, and their conversation soon made its way to our table. Intentionally, as I would soon discover. They had spotted me earlier that day, and decided I would make a good traveling companion. Or bodyguard, at least. After agreeing to search together, we left the inn to locate four others. Now that I think about it, I am not sure that the rest were branded at all, but they were all focused on the same goal.”

“If they are not branded then they are not Holy Knights, and thus they do not carry the blessings of the Church,” Walter said. “Are you sure about your…friends? Do you know where their loyalties really lay?”

“I have been through much with them, Walter. They are loyal to King Orion and loyal to Zephiris, even if they do not follow the law to the letter.” Walter raised an eyebrow at that. “Most of them are little more than peasants, men and women just trying to carve a life for themselves in the world. Jasper, I believe, served in a military at some point, but we lost him in Toad Hollow. He claimed his father was a dreamer as well, and that Simion and I were a part of those dreams.”

“Really?” Walter asked. Barthon knew that Walter did not doubt Barthon or Simion, but dreams sent by Zephiris herself were still hard to acknowledge without some degree of doubt. “So there are multiple dreamers, then. Does such a gift extend beyond Mandor, or even Sephalia? We may not be as close to finding Her as I thought. If the dragons or the elves locate her first…”

“That will not happen, Walter,” Barthon said. “I have vowed to find her, and I will. Simion will lead the way. He will kneel before her, as one of her chosen, and the Righteous will herald her coming into the world once again.”

“What do you think, Simion?” Walter asked, looking toward the boy. “Can you find Zephiris?”

Simion was silent for several long moments. “Yes,” he said, finally. “The dreams are not exact… but I believe they will lead me in the right direction.”

“Good… that is good. What about the rest, Barthon? Who else travels with you?”

“Besides Jasper and Ten Eych, we met up with four others that night: Inen, a woman I’ve yet to fully understand, a swordsman named Brenard, the priest Quentin, and a fisherman named Cid. We lost both Cid and Jasper, though the other four are here in Aram. We encountered another traveler in the Blue Mountains, the dragon that I mentioned. His name is Z’anginthel Seka-Manh. He is a complete enigma to me. If there are any in the group that I do not trust, it is him. Though I do not know if that is justified, or simply my own prejudice.”

“You would be wise to keep up your guard, Barthon. And you, Simion. There are people out there, of any race, who would do anything to prevent the return of Zephiris. Her return will upset many plans, some of which have been in the making for years. The young Lord Duiran, for example. His father, Duke Omoron, has been striving for power for decades, since he rebuilt Drôme. Duke Omoron has never been a pious man, and his adopted son even less so. We will need to watch them carefully. Any traveler you find who knows of your purpose might do anything to bring your mission to a swift end.”

“I do not see that in any of my companions,” Barthon responded. “They have had their chances, and if that was their intention they would have tried it already. But I will take your warning to heart, Walter.”

“I am glad. You have much work to do yet in this world, you and Simion both. I would hate to lose you before you have reached your full potential. Your friends, will they travel with you when you leave here?”

“I don’t know.” Barthon had been wondering that since they parted ways at the Gateway. “I know where they are staying, and I wish to meet with them in the morning. I will discuss my mission with them and see what they think. Inen, I fear, will not be comfortable traveling in the company of so many knights. But if I can convince them to follow me, I will.” Thinking of the Gateway reminded Barthon that he had wanted to bring up the state of it with the council, or at least Walter.
"Why isn't the Church helping with the refugees, Walter? That is its duty, to provide for those people who have nothing and no where to go. But there is no organization down in the Gateway. The priest who came with me was disgusted by what he saw, and he left my company to do what he could to help."

Walter sighed loudly. "We are all busy with current events, Barthon. The shadows have kept everyone occupied, forced everyone to shift their focus. The refugees have not been forgotten. We must hope that the Church is doing everything it can."

"Why not open the Bazaar?" Barthon asked quickly. "Open the gates to the refugees and share what resources we have with them. When the refugees start dying, the diseases will spread. No one will be safe from that."

"I will bring it up with Lord Odo," Walter replied. "I do not know what will come of it. They may have discussed it already. But you know the reputation of the Aram Bazaar: it has always been wealthy. A simple order to share that wealth may not go over easily with the merchants there. We will need to pull guards from the walls to keep order. But... I will bring it to their attention."

"Thank you, Walter. That is all I can ask for."

“We will leave in two days, Barthon. You have until then to prepare. Myself, I am going to try to get some sleep. There will be much work to do in the morning.”

“Of course, Lord Drake,” Barthon said, bowing.

Mandor > Aram > The Green Twig, Lower District ~ morning of DAY 16

Barthon hoped that the rest of his friends were actually here. He had not really considered them friends before last night, when Walter called them such. He had not really thought of them as anything more than necessary traveling companions. But they were more than that, and he would hate to have to leave them behind. Or to find that they had left him behind. With Simion behind him, Barthon walked up to the door of the inn and stepped inside, searching the common room for some sign of his friends.

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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:33 pm

Sakira-thani > near the eastern shore of the Camalen River ~ late morning of DAY 8
The reverent fawning of S'harahe's vassals eased some of her tension, but none of her worry. Kaladar would wake when he would wake; there was no rushing a dragon's rest. In the meantime, they needed to prepare for the necessary flight as quickly as possible, to be ready at any moment. Every hour spent waiting would make this all the more difficult--and perilous. S'harahe already had most of her servants preparing almost all of what remained of the party's food supply. They would not be able to carry it, and they would need the energy. Panis'hret's warriors, meanwhile, were busy setting aside their heavy armor. They would keep their weapons--they would need those--but armor and flight did not mix, and certainly not over any distance. The distance they needed to cover now, in less than a day... S'harahe shook her head. This was no time for doubt.

The grassy slopes were bustling with dragons actively hastening preparations, yet few spoke a word. Partly because there was little to say, partly because they were still feeling the effects of last night, partly because they were saving their voices out of simple pragmatism. It would not do to be unable to properly wield magic if they were set upon again tonight by those shadow creatures.

S'harahe gently shrugged out of the careful ministrations of two of her servants, who had been massaging the muscles and tendons which connected her wing shoulders to her neck. Acknowledging them, she took a few paces to stand apart. Then she steadily unfolded and stretched her wings, the unfolded skin translucent in the sunlight. She gestured slightly with one hand for the servants to join the others in the work. A breeze traced through the grass, cooling the same skin that the sun warmed. S'harahe flapped twice, slowly, flexing and stretching the wings as she moved them through their ranges. She folded them, unfolded them, then folded them again. A deep breath brought the wet scent of river flora from nearby, and another caught the faint beginnings of the food preparation. S'harahe breathed out, looked over to the cluster of three dragons keeping watch over Kaladar. Exasperation reared, yet S'harahe found a way to ignore it. After all, the powers that set the dictates of rest would be unjust to feel impatience as those dictates were followed.

Contingency. Zengtir. S'harahe thought of the word as a necessary evil, one which must not be conquered but may be circumvented. As she intended to do.

Just then--and in the back of her mind S'harahe could admit she had expected this--Kaladar awoke, rising to his feet at the same time as all dragons will when their slumber is complete. Awakening and rising were synonymous--indeed, were the same act--to dragons. By the way Kaladar's head suddenly swiveled toward the east and north, one of his servants near him must have related the morning's events. S'harahe kept her eyes on him until his gaze found her, then she nodded in confirmation and turned to go direct the next phase.

Sakira-thani > the skies northeast of the Camalen River ~ DAY 8
With S'harahe and her retinue in the lead, sixty-six dragons steadily beat the air high above the ground, forcing the sky behind them on their way northeast. Sixteen of them carried long blades. The rest carried small sacks of supplies or food, or else nothing. All were clad only in light garments, their bodies chilled by the moving air yet already hot with exertion. Almost laying through the air, they ducked and soared their way onward like an airborne school of winged dolphins. This was the manner for long distance flight, except this group was straining for speed. A gryphon could have gone faster, and a drake faster still, but dragons were not so sparingly built. Remaining airborne was a struggle, not an art.

Before starting out, the group had hastily eaten most of their food, or at least as much as they could eat without hampering their ability to fly. A little of what remained they could carry with them, but the rest they had to leave behind, along with most of the supplies and all of the warriors' armor. Ordinarily such a large meal might have sustained them for a whole day of airborne travel, but not now, not at this pace. They would need to stop somewhere to rest and eat at least once.

The hours crawled by along with the terrain, as midday passed and the day warmed. The sun heated the ground below, causing updrafts and turbulence. More-skilled fliers could anticipate and use the shifting air to advantage; those less-skilled were in constant recovery from the whims of the wind. The high caste dragons in the group knew the sky well enough to get by. The warriors were more suited to the ground, but they were quick learners. The rest varied in skill according to their individual experiences, but many of them were city dwellers unused to travel. Even those who had traveled still had few experiences of long distance flight. Out of all the group, perhaps three or four had ever been pressed into such urgency of travel before--due to such things as family matters or critical messages. A flight as desperate as this was more or less unheard-of.

In the approaching distance loomed B'kraldin Hi-Gadan, the Black Mountains. S'harahe angled the group through the long, forested valley along the roots of the mountains. Along they flew, avoiding civilization and keeping especially far away from large populations, for their errand was still secret. They continued northeast, parallel to the Sakira-thani/Sephalia border, as the heat of the day began to pass in its turn. About forty miles north of the nearest city, S'harahe banked toward a small, lonely peak set apart from the foothills of the Black Mountains. As they neared it, the dragons slowed and dropped to a more upright position, beating fiercely in a strained, heavy, yet smooth, landing. Most of them crumpled onto to the dark stone, panting.

S'harahe's chest heaved in-out, in-out. The skin of her wings itched, and her wing muscles twitched and felt odd now that they had ceased their constant rhythm. Her body was flush and sweating. Without the wind to free it, the black silk she wore clung damply to her breasts and torso. In-out, in-out the air went through her lungs and nostrils. She tried to fold her wings, but the flesh was swollen as blood coursed through the veins. The best she could manage was a deflated, half-angle contraction of her flying limbs. Nevertheless, despite it all, she remained standing and erect, surveying the scene.

They had landed on a rounded peak of dark-colored stone that only just rose above the line of trees all around. To the northeast, S'harahe could see the pass through the last arm of the Black Mountains. She knew the Khi-Taren River lay about the same distance again beyond that pass. They were more than half of the way there. Only a few hours of real daylight remained, but they still had a half day's journey to go. Yet they had flown nearly a day's journey already in little more than half a day. They couldn't possibly keep up this pace, but if they held out as much as they could, for just a little longer, they would make it before true night fell.

Panis'hret wasted no time directing his servants to hunt what they could within a half hour and bring it back. This they did, but the dragons had to resort to mundane fire to cook the meat they brought: two deer from a nearby meadow. Combined with the food they had carried this far, it was enough to feed everyone's hunger. They ate in haste. No one took the time to speak. All were intensely focused on recuperating as much energy as they could before they set off again. When the time came, as tired as they were, they had to run on all fours to build enough speed to gain flight. An hour after they had landed, once more the dragons took to the sky.

Sakira-thani > Khi-Taren River, near the borders of Khi-Taren ~ twilight of DAY 8
There, there was the river! S'harahe's pulse throbbed beneath her throat, and she fought a wave of dizziness as she led the group into a shallow dive. The sun was already below the horizon, and the sky was a cloudless, burnt orange. The Khi-Taren River snaked out of the thick forest ahead. Now that they were free of the mountains, the dragons could coast the rest of the way on the speed of their descent. Which was fortunate, because S'harahe didn't think she could manage another wing-beat. She had felt that way for most of the past two hours, and she knew by the sudden dips of others behind her that some were faring even worse.

The skin of S'harahe's wings rippled tightly as she gained speed. Her sinuous spine was idle long enough to start protesting at the amount of use it had sustained. But it wasn't over yet. All at once, they were as low as the tops of trees. Fir and pine presented dark pillars as obstacles to their careening descent. S'harahe found herself banking right and left to dodge them, leveling out to avoid going lower but unable to muster strength enough to regain altitude. Behind her, S'harahe heard a series of grunts and cries, but then all of a sudden the trees ended over the coursing waters of the river. S'harahe pulled up and flared her wings, but when she dropped her legs, she found she could not flap to keep herself in the air. Over the riverbank, S'harahe fell.

Water splashed around her, and a second later S'harahe felt a miry thud as she hit the murky sand below. She pulled herself by her claws up the shallow slope of wet ground, until the water cascaded away and she could draw a grateful breath. As she staggered onto shore, she winced from a pain in her lower back as well as from the general ache throughout her entire body. Even now, though, S'harahe had the wherewithal to keep her dignity: she refused to simply collapse into the mud. She had just managed to fully stand--at least her legs still held--when splashes from behind brought her head around to see others falling into the river. Panis'hret staggered out from the trees, followed by several others far more bruised than he. A few managed a relatively smooth landing on the shore. More fell straight to the sand and crumpled when their feet hit the ground. S'harahe shivered. It was, suddenly, very cold.

Too exhausted now to speak even if they were free to do so, the dragons waded into the river and stayed there, waiting. At least the water was fresh and could quench their thirst. They would have to wait until tomorrow to worry about food again. Unasked was the question: would the water truly keep them safe if the shadow creatures attacked? As exhaustion and darkness threatened to force them to sleep, the dragons waited and watched. Tension ate at them all. The next hours would put all their effort to the test.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Sun Apr 24, 2011 4:17 pm

Sephalia > Oliphey ~ early evening of DAY 8

Plans having been decided upon, Katerina offered her hand to Gado and Semric and with a smile, she hugged Scarlet before leaving the small church for the rain-slicked street beyond the warm interior. Jamming her hat on her head decisively, Kate strode down the narrow street toward the spot where she’d left Mualane to set the caravan up for trade. The rain soon soaked her flamboyant feathers and dribbled off its brim, bust she barely noted it. She had much to plan and more to do.

She was much relieved that there were other dreamers, but the fact that the Shadow creatures were so wide-spread gave her pause. Would the caravan even be welcome in Telmural? Surely, it would be overflowing with refugees by now? It didn’t matter. Semric advised her to go to the High Temple and that was just what she intended to do. She made special note that she would outfit the caravan with weapons, food stuffs and medicinal supplies. She sighed. She was preparing her company to relieve a siege and it did not sit well with her.

Kate was a little surprised when she saw the caravan had long since been organized and opened for trade. Had she been so long with the priest and old Warder? She saw the smith had been set up and he was tending to the horses, always the most labor-intensive of all the duties of the caravan. Townspeople were filtering in in dribs and drabs, but without the high enthusiasm that usually greeted them whenever they arrived. The faces all told the same story; sunken eyes and drawn faces indicated all were sleeping fitfully. The merchant in her lamented the lack of coin to be had, the Captain in her made plans to ensure the safety of her people and how best to utilize the fortifications the City offered and the Dreamer of Zephiris in her set her along the plans for replenishing their supplies and the routes they would need to take to get to Telmural as soon as they could manage.

Approaching the enormous Mualane, Katerina saw a question come up in his eyes, though he didn’t ask it outright. She smiled, “Answers and more questions, Mualane. There are others also plagued with dreams. The priest, Semric, thinks I should go to the High Temple in Telmural to see if they have more information.” Kate’s eyes naturally travelled around the neat camp site and open market area of the caravan to ensure all was to her exacting standards.

Mualane nodded, his thick arms crossed over his big chest. “Very well.” He agreed without further questioning. “We can alter our route easily enough.” His own dark eyes followed Kate’s as she examined the caravan, “How soon? He asked practically.

“As soon as we can resupply.” She sighed gently, “Assume we will arrive at a besieged city. Food, arms and medicinal supplies, I should think. This trip will garner no coin and we may lose a few more of our number along the way. Prepare the others. I will speak with them around the cook fires tonight. The passengers should be given the choice to remain behind.”

The big, bald-pated second-in-command jerked his chin downward in acknowledgement, and then turned to carry out her orders when Kate called him back, “Wait. Where is Darta? She wished to speak to me of something personal.” At Mualane’s negative headshake, Katerina nods, “Very well, go ahead. I’ll try to find her. She was some disturbed.” Katerina spent the next half hour striding through the light rain, checking on her people while inquiring about the Elven Singer’s whereabouts. Her smiles and jokes were reassuring and the mood of those in the caravan was lightened and relieved to be within the walls of the city and its imagined safety. Katerina did not discourage that feeling for now.

Finally, as Katerina rounded the wagons at the head of the caravan’s encampment, she spied her missing Singer in the company of a slender Elf she had to assume was one of the Elven Mercenaries she’d heard were in the city. Darta no longer looked as spooked as she had earlier, in fact, she looked quite eager to lead the tall warrior toward her. So, she paused under the canvas overhang of her own wagon to wait for the pair to reach her, removing her sodden hat and tossing it to a wooden table set up there. She examined the Elf’s kinscloth, and could interpret a small portion of its meanings. A Ssandári Mercenary Captain? So far out of the Elven lands?

Darta smiled shyly and made rather formal introductions, “I see you. Life to you and yours. Captain Katerina Forbes.” She turned toward the pale-haired Elf beside her, “I wish to make known to you Áirhath Aeryän, Commander of the Ssandári Mercenaries. If you have time, would you speak with him regarding your dreams and perhaps we might join forces?” It was clear that Darta was nervous and worried about taking things into her own hands by contacting Áirhath on her own.

Katerina, knew the value the Elves put on respect for those of higher rank, so she made sure to show of displeasure toward Darta. “It was not your place, Ellidartha Surärrhë.” Her pronunciation was deliberately only passable. She’d found the value of not appearing to understand the language of another to be invaluable. Turning her eyes to Áirhath. “Life to you and yours, Áirhath Aeryän. She greeted the commander in his own language. Her eyes swung back to Darta, “You will remain and interpret, please.” She ordered the slim girl before inviting the slim and dangerous warrior to join her to sit at the makeshift table set up next to her wagon. “Commander, What brings you so far from your lands? Are the Elves also plagued by the Shadow Beasts or disturbing dreams?”
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:01 am

Sephalia > Oliphey ~ evening of DAY 8
Áirhath waited with Ellidartha for a few minutes. The caravan captain never appeared, but the priest which Áirhath had talked to before came out from a back room. From him they learned that the captain had returned to her camp. Ellidartha knew where that was, and so the two went back out into the streets. It was still raining lightly, and the sky was growing dim. Thoughts of shadow beasts hastened their steps. It would be an hour or two before night fell, but Áirhath had mercenaries to collect and preparations to attend. If he was to meet the merchant caravan leader today, they needed to hurry.

It took only a few minutes to reach one of the city courtyards. Ellidartha headed straight toward one end of it, where several wagons were set up with overhangs to shelter from the rain. Áirhath followed her in as she wended her way through the caravan, searching for the captain. They found her outside under one of the overhangs, and Ellidartha led the way and introduced everyone. "Lisanelle," she said to the woman, "Life to you and yours, Captain Katerian Forbes. I wish to make known to you Áirhath Aeryän, Commander of the Ssandári Mercenaries." Her formal tone then changed to a more conversational one. "If you have time, would you speak with him regarding your dreams and perhaps we might join forces?" She sounded nervous and, Áirhath thought, was not quite explaining things properly.

Áirhath studied the merchant leader, Katerina. Her hair was about the same color as his, dark brown like wet soil. Her garb was wealthy and diverse, and she bore an air of confidence. He noted her brief glances at his dhiláthra and the tattoo on his right arm. She seemed to be doing the same mental assessments of him as he was of her.

Katerina reprimanded Ellidartha in a formal tone for acting autonomously, though she mispronounced her name as Elladartha Surarhei, using the human 'u' with the lips rounded. She turned to him, then, and said in greeting, "Eris nin lei san lei, Arhath Eryan." To Ellidartha she said, "You will remain and interpret, please." Inviting Áirhath to join her at a nearby table, still outside beneath the overhang, she sat down near a wet, stylish hat--presumably hers. Áirhath sat opposite her, facing the wagon.

"Commander," Katerina began, seeming interested, "what brings you so far from you lands?"
"Llíredan, hána tílenn lle endína arash heth lle hiénannde?" Ellidartha interpreted.
"Are the elves also plagued by the shadow beasts or disturbing dreams?"
"Aer dan thendári risa chandánëlld undérach sullan chárra chindra?"
Áirhath understood most of the human words, but he was still happy to have an interpreter. He spoke with the woman for several minutes while they each tried to feel out what the other was capable of, how much they could trust one another. There was a constant, subtle wordplay that indicated they understood one another more than they let on, not only in language but in experience. Áirhath decided he liked this merchant captain. As Áirhath hinted at his mission and Katerina hinted at her dreams, more and more it became apparent that there had already been a gradual, wordless agreement and that at this point they were merely enjoying the interaction. At length it was agreed, more or less explicitly, that their two groups wold journey together to Telmural. They would set out tomorrow morning.
"Sëlthien," excellent, said Katerina in elvish, flashing a grin.
The two stood up together and clasped palms across the table.
"I talk more with you soon," Áirhath returned in kind.

Sakira-thani > Khi-Taren River, west of Kraldemir ~ night of DAY 14
The river was cold at night. S'harahe was held back from slumber only out of reflex, a self preservation instinct that jolted her awake whenever she felt herself tipping over in the water. Nevertheless, she knew she was close to giving in, sensing that enough time had passed. The growls in the blackness and the distant howls of night were growing thin. Her servants could not help; splashes were heard every few moments, whenever one of them took longer than normal to regain wakefulness. They couldn't keep this up.

The past few days had been slow going. Yes, they had discovered a way to escape the nightly shadows, but it was taxing their bodies to dangerous levels. S'harahe knew it was quickly coming to a head. They ate fish from the river and they slept as well as they could during the early morning hours, trudging along the riverbank during the day, but every night was a struggle not to faint from exhaustion. Every night, the shadows came. The few flying ones were easily defeated, but the rest remained, haunting them from the river's edge, glowering at them with yellow eyes. And their numbers were growing. What would happen when the dragons had no more strength left to wait out the nights? The questions circled over and over in S'harahe's harried mind, spiraling into the dark, tumbling into blackness, into...

A fiery pain in her left wing brouoght the world rushing back. Her wing socket above her shoulder was pulled taut, and it too hurt, for all her weight was imbalanced, suspended above the moving river with her face an arm's length from the water. She uttered an audible, shuddering cry at the sudden pain, wakefulness, and alarm. She stretched her tail and put a leg out to steady herself on the river floor, her movements twice as slow where the water rushed around her limbs. When at last she had regained her balance, she looked over at what was making her wing throb with every heartbeat. In the moonlit darkness the whitish skin of her wing was streaming rivulets of hot, red blood, punctured by the firm grasp of a dragon's three-fingered claw.
"S'harahe!" a desperate voice called, "cidram! Cen gsen tenma?" It was the claw's voice, urging her to wake, asking whether she was alright.
Other voices called out as well, "Sehra-kerthed, Sehra-kerthed!" Beloved mistress.
S'harahe tried to focus through the heart-pounding fog of conflicting tiredness and pain. It was Kaladar. He had grabbed ahold of her wing to stop her from falling, unconscious, into the river. "Kaladar?" she said, the sound of the name interrupted by a pained, involuntary shudder as her wing began to twitch. "Hadhel..." She began to feel rage. "Hadhel cersed gsen!?" How dare you!?
Only then did Kaladar realize that by grabbing the only thing within reach, her wing, he had rent bleeding holes into the stretched skin. Hurriedly he let go and stepped back through the watercourse, bowing his neck and shoulders. "S'heleg mandra nan gsen he tircen, Sehra-sithred."
"Gendram!!" she shouted in reply to his plea. Her two voices were nearing resonance, an indication of deadly ire. Begone!! S'harahe followed his movements with a glare of fury until he had positioned himself well downstream of her.

Precious few were the instances in S'harahe's life where her body had been damaged--the scrape of a claw in childhood, a bruise from the one time she fell when learning to fly, an accidental prick from curiously handling the point of a human's bejeweled dagger. Never before had she suffered a true wound. Never before had her beauty been marred by the shedding of blood. Her blood. Her tremoring wing as she held it under the moonlight, the throbbing stream of blood running warm down her skin, was confusing, horrifying, enraging, fascinating.

"Sehra-kerthed! Sehra-kerthed!"
A number of S'harahe's servants had finally reached her, wading upstream through the water. Reverently they began to minister to her wing. S'harahe contained a wince as they gently washed the wound, barely touching her. One of the servants produced a sort of paste and applied it to the punctured skin. A spike in pain was followed by numbness as the spot was completely covered, to allow the skin to grow back together. Dragons were quick to heal, but their wings were more delicate. But because they were able to tend it quickly, they said, there would most likely be no scar. S'harahe stiffened briefly in outrage at the mere suggestion, causing them to flinch away. After a tense moment, S'harahe nodded in acknowledgment and dismissal.

A short time later, the remaining shadow beasts dispersed. The sky would soon begin to lighten. But the dragons would not be awake to see it. Haggard and faint, the group waded to shore and crumpled to the ground.

Sephalia > Shadewater River, 125 miles south of Oliphey ~ DAY 15
The caravan was five days into Shadewood Forest. True to her word, Katerina's caravan was able to travel quickly. They were well supplied from their preparations in Oliphey, so they avoided towns along the way, hugging the western bank of the Shadewater River, and concentrated solely on efficient travel. They met no one on the road; few traveled on this side of the river anyway, and hardly anyone traveled at all with shadow beasts haunting their nights. By day the humans drove their wagons along the worn road, kept clear by some of the elven mercenaries. By night they slept, able to sleep as much as they needed as the watch was stood by the elves. Shadows had attacked only once so far, three nights ago, enabling them to cover much ground. Already the large group of elves and humans neared the southernmost reaches of the Majestic Mountains. This was their last day they would travel by the river; tomorrow they would strike out as the raven flies, straight for Telmural.

Áirhath was quite enjoying himself. This "Shadewood" forest was gorgeously beautiful, largely untouched by humans in their own land. It reminded him of the dense and sprawling forests of his homeland, Ardin, though there were many different kinds of trees here. It had not rained since the day they had arranged for this journey, but Áirhath suspected rain would have done them little harm beneath the thick arch of wide leaves over the road. The sun in Shadewood was an elusive thing, peeping through holes in the canopy, creating stark rays to highlight some unassuming spot of ground, or painting intricate patterns of sunlight on clothes or beasts or the covers of wagons all around. Some of Áirhath's elves had begged leave to hunt in these woods, and their exploits supplemented their stores and nightly meals. As Áirhath walked along, up near the head of the caravan, he thought of the few times he had been in Sephalia over the years. The forests on the other side of the Majestic Mountains had seemed well enough then, but it was a pity so many human towns and cities were out along that coast instead of here, for otherwise he might have discovered this place sooner.

The mercenary captain had spent little time with the merchant leader since they departed. The humans seemed to be focused on speed. This would have been less of a loss to Áirhath had Titanya spoken a word to him since that day a week ago. She had not. At least, not more than was necessary to convey instructions or interpret. Áirhath could only guess her silence had something to do with his stumbling upon her song at the lake, but he couldn't puzzle out what it might be. He thought something in the song might give him an inkling, but he hadn't heard them all and didn't remember the rest exactly, only the feeling with which he'd heard them sung. He could ask her about it, he knew, but it never seemed the right time. When they were in Telmural, he decided, he might be able to find someplace private and sort all this out.

The day wore on, and Áirhath kept most of his attention on the forest and the river, knowing the caravan would be leaving them tomorrow. He had the nagging feeling that they should have had an attack of the shadow beasts again by now, but he hoped they would stay away tonight. They wouldn't see the river again until they needed to cross it, the humans said, a short way outside of Telmural. Since they were about halfway to that destination, it seemed a pity. It was such a mighty river that someday, he thought, he would have to walk its entire length.

"A little faster now," one of the caravan leaders called out. "Let's make the final bend before nightfall!"

Áirhath directed a few more of his elves to make the road even better suited to a caravan's passing, smoothing dips in the road as well as removing fallen branches and stray stones. There had been enough rest time over the past nights that, even if the shadows did attack tonight, the mercenaries had enough energy to spend on both tasks, the caravan's passage as well as its defense. He nodded to himself as the rhythmic sounds of the wagon weels increased their tempo. They were in a good state. "Sëltha," he said in admiration. "Sëlthien." Excellent.

Sakira-thani > Khi-Taren River, west of Kraldemir ~ evening of DAY 15
When S’harahe woke to an amber sky, her first thought was that she had slept--truly slept--during the day. Her second thought, realizing it was sunset, was that they had slept the whole day through. Lying back on the grassy riverbank, she shook her head in wonder at the thought, that a dragon should miss the face of the sun for its entire day. What did that say about how mercilessly they had pushed themselves?

Feeling a constraint somewhere past the claw of her left wing, S’harahe rolled her head to the side and lifted her limb from the ground. A patch of gray was there--the paste for the skin of her wing. S’harahe’s mood fell as it all came back into her head. Suddenly irritated, suddenly determined, she decided she had had enough. She stood up and looked around. There was time to have the servants perpare a meal before night fell. And then, they would fight.

The other sixty-five dragons lay sprawled in different positions all along the riverbank, their feet barely free of its quietly rushing waters. S’harahe carefully flexed her wing one more time. She would have to avoid flying or completely folding it for a while. Well, so be it. It changed nothing. She raised her voice to the slumbering dragons: “Cidram tekel-teget-gsen.” Arise, each of you.

Panis’hret’s warriors were the first to respond. Since Panis’hret himself slumbered on, S’harahe had them begin gathering food from the river. She noticed that Kaladar, when he woke with his retinue, silently made a point of deferring to her. Gradually each of the dragons was roused and set to work. Some of the servants gathered food from the forest while others prepared cookfires and set up a clean work surface. As dusk fell, everyone raced to have finished and eaten before dark. When their meal was over and night drew near, S’harahe addressed the group.

“Tekel-hin-g’karadd,” she began, including herself in the number, “handa z’gan tegn cidret hin-mandra cadram than nema. Tircen cidret kadram than skraldis hin-beldrast hin-mandra, gath shengra dan zera draman.” They must no longer resist the night. The shadow beasts would continue to oppose them, either by strength or patience. By now it was plain that they could not escape the beasts by avoiding a confrontation. Whether they fought or whether they fled, they consumed the same amount of energy. Taking refuge in the river gained them nothing but long hours of discomfort and fear. It was time to end this. “Send nema,” this night, “san-d’shana tircen gkyarath tekel-hin-mandra thad hin-skraldis than Danr K’handra.

The dragons roared into the falling night. For the first time in days, they would unleash upon the shadows the fury of the Great Shout.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Wed Aug 03, 2011 7:20 pm

Sephalia > on the shores of Barocula Lake, near Oliphey ~ DAY 18

Gado Tanager faced the small crowd that had followed him to the shores of Barocula Lake, a few miles northeast of Oliphey. He hardly believed where he was, looking back just ten days ago. Dreamers, all. He'd found them. Like him, they along with a few devoted loved ones were willing to brave any danger to follow as their hearts compelled.

"My friends," he began. Until he'd met the merchant leader Katerina, he never would have thought there were others like him. Like Gado, their need had led them to the church. Now Semric discreetly funneled them out here, where Gado was planning to set out to follow their visions and find Zephiris once and for all. "My brothers," he amended, "Zephiris has brought us together. I believe for a purpose: to be among the first to worship at her new temple, to help usher in a new age for Sephalia, and further... to all of Tanuvel, to all of Telmar. All the world, Túlaman itself, will bask anew in her shining glory!"

The small crowd--small enough that each could hear without Gado having to raise his voice in the open air--uttered many a cry of "Yes!" and "Praise be!"
When did I grow so eloquent, Gado asked himself. He felt his old warden's air of command coming back after all these years. He felt such drive. He looked behind him; Scarlet was there, smiling her support and urging him on. He didn't want to let her down. Not her, not the people, and especially not Zephiris.

"My brothers, she is close. She could be waiting on yonder mountains," he pointed behind him across the lake's horizon, then the other way, up to the northeast, "or somewhere up near the border, or even up past my old home in Cedar Brook. That so many of us are gathered is proof of how close she is to us. We have been called to serve! Brothers, in these coming days, let us call our dreams to mind and work out the place where our great Mother awaits."

The people clapped their hands, came forward and gathered around, clapping the big old man on the shoulder or otherwise showing grateful support. Before the past few days, none of them had known what to do. None of their dreams had near the clarity that Gado's did. Each brought only vague memories, a few clear images, and the strongest pull they had ever felt in their lives. Thereafter, it was agreed that they should remain outside the city. For, said they, if they were to search among the hills and mountains, they should become accustomed to braving the shadows without the shelter of the city walls. If caravans could travel the wilds, how much more could they who had Zephiris' blessing? So, gradually, they gathered provisions as they met outside the city, puzzling out the answers. The more able set to work honing their skills so that they might defend their fellows and loved ones. There were no children save the few who were dreamers themselves, but there were also several older folk like Gado and Scarlet, and those less apt to fight must be defended.

Thus with zeal and goodwill the dreamers and their select company set about their appointed task.


Sephalia > in the highlands northeast of the River Nalos ~ DAY 18

“Ezekiel.”

The clear, strong voice crashed like cymbals in the violet-hued currents of the realm of spirits. The golden altari hovered above the glowing aura of a young human, the heir of Sephalia. Natural energies converged upward to the east, over the shapes of the mountains they called Majestic. Farther yet east, he knew, all energies in Telmar converged at Sephiris' high place. He could reach it in two days, but the humans must tread upon the earth and so must take many days more. But he had found them in time.

The altari descended toward where the surface of the land would be, some distance from the Crown Prince and his company. As he went, he folded his essence into the shape of a human, a man of about thirty, clean-shaven, with a wide jaw and a straight nose, and a deep-set gaze as intense as molten steel. As he set his feet upon the soil of Tanuvel, he pulled himself further from the realm of spirits, until his form became as solid as the deep green trees that surrounded him. With amber eyes he looked on the world, and again as always it impressed upon him such a spectrum of blues and greens that he needed a moment to comprehend its beauty.

In this form the altari's hair was almost white with gold. He was garbed in simple clothing beneath a long white tunic, with a golden sash about his waist and leather boots upon his feet. He carried a bright spear in his hand, and silvery plates of armor covered his shoulders, chest, shins and forearms, but he also wore a blood-red mantle, and a great black sword hung heavy at his hip.

Leaves and foliage whispered lightly as he stepped through the woods, the edge of his thick mantle gliding over the irregularities of the terrain. It was about the midst of the day, the altari observed, the light bringing shadows from the west that fell against the upward slope of the hill country. Birds watched from the branches on his right side and sang their songs, but the animals kept their distance from the black sword on his left. The sword itself pulled with density and seemed to give off shadows more than just its own, shadows that wavered; sometimes it seemed to be made of candle smoke, giving off little wisps and restless shapes, if the light struck just so. Though its use was within his power and skill, the altari was not and would never be accustomed to its weight. He limped every few steps, as he walked.

Shortly he came upon the band of humans. Elite warriors, all, none were caught unaware of his approach. “Good day, stranger,” some of them said, looking him up and down as he neared their camp. He stopped when he was close enough that the outermost tensed subtly, ready lest he prove himself a threat to their prince. The young man himself stood and came to look at the newcomer. “You are like no Sephalian I've seen. You're no elf. Where do you come from?”
A murmur followed as the men got a longer look at the stranger's weapons. Look at the sword, they said. It is like the night beasts.
The prince noticed it, too. This was no common traveler. “What is that blade?” he demanded. “Are you for us, or for the night?”
“Neither,” said the stranger. “I am here as a servant of the One. I was sent by the one you seek.”
Suspicious, the prince would give nothing away. “And whom do I seek?”
“Sephiris. She would be found of you.”

At this the Crown Prince, not sensing subtle difference in pronunciation, felt only joy. He half whispered to himself, as if in relief, “Zephiris be praised.” Others in the company exclaimed, not whispered, uttering sundry outbursts of devout rejoicing, none of them any longer wary enough to discern the stranger's sudden frowning at their words. None of them heard his sigh of frustration and sorrow.

As much to put an end to their misplaced exultation as to preempt further questions, the stranger told them, “Time is short. I am to lead you eastward across the mountains.”
Over the mountains?! Suddenly incredulous, the men of war voiced many objections at once, with many an eye turning toward the east, where the Majestic Mountains rose high on the horizon. It was still springtime; the passes had not yet opened. What of the night beasts? What of supplies?
“I can bring you over the mountains,” he assured.

Where before the promise of finding the Goddess had held the men enthralled, now at the sound of these new words, doubt at last asserted itself even upon the devout. Before his men could inquire further, the prince asked first. “Why is the time short? Could not Zephiris have guided my steps? Or has she, and I have strayed from the path?”
“You were not ready to hear her call,” the man replied. “It is past the tenth day since she instead sent me to search for the heir of Sephalia. From the palace I learned your purpose and have retraced your steps to find you here. Now, the time is short.”
“How short?”
“We must reach the Mountains of Mist before another ten days pass.”

The prince had to put a hand up to keep his men in line. Ten days to cross the breadth of Sephalia.... “Why? If we are delayed or cannot cover the distance in time, what happens then?”
“Maybe nothing, maybe everything; I know not. It is the word of Sephiris.”
"Then, if you say we can do it, we will try," the prince conceded. But there was one thing more. “What of the night beasts? And why does your sword put us in mind of them, if you are servant of the Goddess?”
“You are not yet ready for that answer.”
“Really." The prince didn't seem to think that a very trustworthy reply. "When will I be ready?”
“When you have faced this blade each night until we reach the Mountains of Mist.”

The prince's elite warriors took this as a sign of hostility and formed up around Ezekiel, hands to their weapons. The prince said, “Explain yourself.”

The stranger nodded patiently. “While you are with me you are to be kept safe from the hordes of shadow. However, this does not exempt you from their test.”
“The night beasts are a test?”
“Unless you face your fears and unlearn all you know of your world,” the man went on, not heeding the interruption, “you will not be ready for what is to come. When you and your men have faced this blade each night until we come to the Mountains of Mist, then you will be ready for the answers.”

The stranger waited while the heir of Sephalia contemplated. The young man seemed to be distrustful. The altari was acutely aware of the passage of time. What he had told the prince was true; Sephiris never told him what would happen if they delayed. But whether it were a minor setback or a catastrophic turn of fate, the altari didn't want to find out. Clearly the prince was overly cautious--a great strength but also a great weakness. The altari suspected if he tried to rush Ezekiel Scorpius, more time would be wasted than saved. So he waited out the prince's hesitance and scrutiny.

The prince was shaking his head, and the look in his eyes was determined. “The priests say that the prophet Aramis sometimes had to withstand Dark Ones who came to him guised as servants of the Goddess. Zephiris might not have sent you at all. You could be trying to lead me astray and bring doom to Sephalia. I will not let that happen.”

The altari closed his eyes. They had no idea where the 'Dark Ones' in their traditions came from, but they were not ready to hear that either. He considered how rather to answer, then opened his eyes and said: “Ezekiel, Crown Prince of Sephalia. There was another Ezekiel--a Seer. Indeed, him it is for whom you were named, is he not?”
“Yes,” Ezekiel said slowly, not sure where the stranger was going with this.
“Then you trust in his words?”
“Yes,” Ezekiel said again.
“Then, has he not written of the messengers? I know that he has. What does he say of the servants of light?”
“That they cast no shadow....” Ezekiel and his men looked at the ground at the stranger's feet, but the shadows of the forest were too deep. “There is no great light nearby,” said the prince. “How can you show us this sign?”

The stranger slowly held out the spear and rotated it downward, then turned and planted its point in the ground. When he removed his hand, the spear began to glow. It became bright enough to disperse the shadows all around, and still it grew brighter. Then the man stood between the shaft of the spear and the beholders, Ezekiel and his men. The ground before the stranger remained bright as if he was not there. Neither had the man's face darkened in the lee of the light. Only the shape of the black sword was spread mirrored upon the earth. The stranger waited thus for a moment, then reached back and touched the spear. It dimmed, and he took it up and stood again before them.

The prince glanced at his men. They seemed to be convinced. Ezekiel appeared to think through all that had passed, and then he visibly loosened his stance and stood straighter. He caught the stranger's eyes, nodded and smiled. “I believe this sign. Let it be as you have said, then, Servant of Zephiris.” He walked forward and held out a hand toward the messenger. “We will follow you. How are you called?”
Instead of clasping Ezekiel's hand as humans do, the messenger put out his left hand, palm down, and clasped the prince's forearm. If the prince was surprised to find the touch as solid and warm as any human's, he didn't show it but kept his gaze locked with that of the messenger. “Ezekiel Scorpius, my name,” said the altari, “is Calanon.”


Sakira-thani > near the Khi-Taren River ~ DAY 19

The battle three nights previous had been fierce, a daunting display of dragon might and magic set against the pent-up frenzy of shadows lusting to kill. In the end, the dragons’ heightened mental fortitude saw them through. Though many suffered wounds, no dragon’s life was lost. Afterward, thanks to their recent stands through the night, they were able to tend their hurts before giving in to slumber. They woke at dawn the next day tired and raw, but morale was higher than ever.

The shadow beasts came again the night following, and the next, but though those battles too were perilous, the dragons were beginning to settle into a workable routine. Fight, heal, sleep, travel, gain strength, repeat. The shadows were beginning to hold less fear.

Then, on the third night, to everyone’s puzzlement, no shadows appeared. They had tried to remain awake, but without danger close at hand, slumber overcame them. After they woke, the controversy had lasted through the morning. This was the first night since the shadows appeared that the beasts did not attack their group. After several hours, wild speculation had gotten them nowhere, and S'harahe called an end to their talk before their doubts came to hurt their morale. They walked along the banks of the Khi-Taren river until, by the middle of the day, they reached the place where just upstream the river split into several tributaries, channels running together from springs up in the mountains. Here they paused so that the servants could spread snares in the river for fish.

S'harahe looked up at the overcast sky. In the open, the fresh breeze carried the scent of rain, blew coolly on the skin of her folded wings. In the same moment that it soothed her senses, it reminded her of cold places void of life. Her wound had healed without a scar, but however much she tried, she could not shake the feeling of vincibility that had plagued her these past four days. At the same time the shadow beasts were becoming little more than a routine challenge, her own self confidence was being called into question. What was magic when you could be slain by claw or dart, same as any beast? Changing one's own attributes was too complex to put into words, let alone have the energy to support. Similarly, any kind of sustained shield would be a constant drain, and the risk of not being able to dispel it in time was too great. If there had been words to nullify all hurts, it would long since have been discovered, and there would be no need for armor. Just as there was no word in their language for life or death, no devised combination of words had ever been able to heal instantly or prevent physical harm. The words were just not there.

S'harahe sat apart on the riverbank, trying to sort out the mess her mind was in. With nothing to do, no one to command, she was alone with these thoughts. Mishera was intimidated by her. Panis'hret had learned to keep his distance. Kaladar avoided her. The servants all thought of her with too much reverence. Slowly S'harahe drew her knees up to her throat, laid her long neck in the valley between her shins, rested her chin on her ankles. Her tail curved around over her feet, and her eyes closed. It wasn't supposed to be like this. She was sufficient in herself. She always had been.

Hetnan cendram mandra theldran, S'harahe told herself, teran tirme khazadd zera krag gen-seka mandra.
When I am divine, no one will ever harm or hinder me again.

With that thought to comfort her, that hope, that reminder of her decision that one day she would achieve divinity, she delved no deeper into her doubts. If any saw her they let her be, thinking perhaps that she was puzzling out the question of the shadows; and in any case she was still one of the most powerful dragons in Telmar. But there, alone, curled into herself, S'harahe never noticed her servants quietly form a circle for her privacy, never knew the passage of time, never felt the droplets of a precipitous drizzle wet on her wings and back. Only after all the other dragons had dined, and still S'harahe had not stirred, did some of her servants have the courage to intrude upon her thoughts, urging her to eat. The shape S'harahe unfolded from to stand seemed very small.

After eating with her servants, S'harahe gauged the time of day with no apparent concern. There were still a few hours before dark. She determined the group would travel until then.

She led them as before. While she commanded she was benevolent and thoughtful according to her own ideas about their welfare. And yet today she led them so imperiously, as if all the time she gazed down at them from a high tower, that even Panis'hret was uncharacteristically subdued. And all the while, somewhere deep inside, hidden and covered and out of sight, all S'harahe's doubts filtered down and congealed into a knot, a single certainty: she could lead her people, she could fight their battles, she could hold their loyalty, but no matter how high she climbed, no matter how powerful she became, no matter how much she achieved, she would never be truly loved. She would always be alone.

That night, rain fell.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Blackrock on Sat Aug 27, 2011 4:23 am

Mandor > Caslemon ~ Late Afternoon of DAY 16

Rurik narrowed his eyes as he saw the guards drag Ragner Duiran in front of him. In a way, there was a certain poetic justice behind all of it – the negligent Lord was brought before the Duke’s representative and would be judged for his actions. In practice, the simple and pragmatic Rurik saw the mess which was already brewing, how was he going to restore the young Lord’s name? Battered, bruised and bloody filthy – it looked as if the guardsmen had brought along a haggard thief, rather than the Lord of the city. It was humiliating.

Were he a different man, the Captain would capitalise on the situation and win the townsfolk’s trust by berating the boy in public. However, he was not a different man; he was, after all, merely Rurik Vadren, the Iron Bull. Clenching his jaw, so it appeared even more massive, he decided to be straightforward with the matter, as he always was. His eyes reverently strayed to the Duke’s banner, flapping in the wind, it made his features seem even more hard-chiselled and cold. A remainder that the Duke would no doubt watch the outcome of his actions closely was all Rurik needed to regain his strength and determination.

“What is the meaning of this, guards?”, he growled, “Is this how you treat the Lord of your city? Not only is this a disgrace, it is a slight on the Duke’s own honour!”

"Beg pardon, m'Lord, but this Ragner's the one that disgraces the Duke's honor. He left this place to rot, and only came crawling back when he needed a place of safety. If we'd left it up to him, we'd be food for them Demons by now."

Rurik wasn’t quite prepared for that answer; he was hoping for some show of emotion – fear, anger…anything he could crush with his steadfast manner. The painful truth behind all of it, even a simple soldier like him realised, was that what the guards said rang true. Ragner was a poor excuse for a lord, the Duke had vested much trust in him and the boy had failed to step up to the challenge.

“The Duke wills for Lord Duiran to rule here and so it shall be.” he said simply; if the Duke willed it – there was no other alternative.

“I have been sent here to” a faint pause, barely noticeable “help m’lord Duiran. I have not come alone – my men will be here shortly and they will help you hold the town. The Duke would not wish his subjects to be left to these marauding beasts.”

This was a rare display of subtlety and tact from the rough Captain. Not only had he shown that the Duke cared for his people, it also reminded any would-be troublemakers that a company of experienced soldiers would be knocking on their doorstep quite soon.

"As you say, Captain. I don't interfere with the Duke's business, and you'll find no trouble from us. Like I said, we were just trying to survive. I'm sure you'll turn that Lord Ragner around to see the errors of his ways." Not knowing the proper salute, the man simply removed his helmet and bowed. "I'll inform the rest of the men to return their weapons and armor to the armory so you and yours can get to business."

Rurik gave the guard a nod, a curt one – but that was more than most could expect from him.

“The Duke appreciates your loyalty.” he stopped for a second, deciding on his line of thought, “I will not relieve you of your weapons just yet. My men will not move as swiftly as I; they will not be here by tomorrow at the earliest. And the night approaches even as we speak...” he looked up at the bright, cloudless sky above. There was no sign of it now, but in time, the sun would run its course.

“You will continue helping us defend this town of yours, for at least another night. My man will help you better prepare the defences, he has experience in such matters.”

The Captain nodded at Anglen, signalling for the Sergeant to join the locals who were to man the walls. Not only would they benefit from a professional soldier, he would also keep an eye out for any rebellious tendencies. Base cunning at its simplest form, but it was one which had proved sufficient in the past.

“In the mean time, I will see to Lord Duiran...” another nod followed and Orin, the squire, went to Ragner’s side to offer the man a hand “...the two of us have a...great deal to discuss.”

"As you say, Captain." The guard bowed again before replacing his helmet. He gave Ragner a long look before turning his gaze back to Rurik. "And we will appreciate the help with the defences tonight. I will inform the rest of your decision, with your permission."

Another nod from Rurik followed, this time a dismissive one. He had no more time to waste on the peasant rabble. Anglen would see to that. The Captain turned towards his squire, providing support for Ragner, and then towards the Lord himself.

My Lord Duiran” he said, making no attempt to hide the sarcasm in his voice “would you be kind enough to honour me with your presence, in Your manor?”

Now” he then added, in a steely voice.

Ragner shook his arm free and brushed himself off, trying to regain some amount of dignity. "Of course, Rurik." Tight-lipped and stiff-backed, Ragner stalked passed Rurik toward the entrance of the manor.

The soldier nodded at his quire and the two followed Ragner into the estate. For a man of humble beginnings like Rurik, it seemed grand and majestic like any lord’s holding. Orin, however, born into wealth and nobility, noticed with a slight frown that, even here, the town’s shabby nature had left its mark. It was not just a simple object that attracted the young man’s attention, but more of the overall…feel the place radiated.

“Welcome to my humble abode, Rurik. What is mine is yours. Do you want... wine? Or something stronger?” their host asked, before any of them had a further chance to study the room they were in.

Rurik grunted and spoke, his teeth clenched.

“Water. I need to wash away the filth I feel on my tongue.” he gave the sparsely decorated room another look, searching for a chair “Your town does that to me.”

Orin was standing, rather shyly, by the door – uncertain of what to do. Rurik gave him a quick glance and said.

“Leave us, boy, we have matters to discuss. Go look around the estate and tell me how you evaluate its defensive capabilities.”

“Yes, m’lo-“

“Just go.”

Ragner glared at Rurik for a few moments, his mouth hanging open as if to say something, but at last he simply clenched it shut.

"Water," he said. "Of course." Ragner walked to a closed door on the right side of the staircase leading to the second floor, a wide stair with a thick, ornamental railing. Ragner pushed the door open and yelled out. "Niles!" After a few seconds of silence, he yelled again. "Niles, old man, I know you’re still here!" As Ragner gave up and turned away from the door, the servant, Niles, stepped out from the door on the opposite side.

"Of course I am, Master Duiran." His eyes lit up as he spotted Rurik. "We have company," Niles said with a small smile. "Please, this way..." He waved them toward the door he had come from.

"That is the sitting room," Ragner said. "I am sure Niles will bring you water," he said more loudly, directed at the servant.

Rurik nodded and followed after Niles, entering the so-called sitting room, which meant almost nothing to him. After all, what difference was there from one room to the next? He had lived in one, two at most, for the majority of his life. To this day, he didn’t understand why the highborn had the need to prance about in five or more. Regardless, he stepped in and looked around. The room seemed well enough to him, it seemed well-furnished but not overly so. No extra money had been thrown around here; he respected that and wondered who to attribute it to – Ragner or his elderly servant.

He waited uncomfortably while Niles brought him a cup of cool water. Even despite the position he now assumed and the years spent in relative lavishness, he couldn’t shake himself from the realisation that he came from the bottom of society. As such, he continued seeing himself as a simple man and despite the fact that he had many servants at his disposal, wherever he went, he seldom called for them. Instead, he preferred to do everything by himself, as he always had. This earned Ragner another frown – he was young, healthy and could at least get his guest a cup of water by himself.

“We have matters to discuss, Ragner” he told him as he took a sip, still standing “the Duke is...not pleased with your progress here.”

"I've been away, Rurik. On my father's own orders. I haven't had time to babysit the people of Caslemon. I left capable people in charge in my absence, and they turned on me!"

Rurik clenched his jaw and tightened his grip on the cup, threatening to crush it.

“Don’t speak of orders to me, boy. Orders that you failed to see through.” he pointed a finger at him accusingly “The “capable” people you left behind have usurped your place!”

“Peasants armed with shit and who know nothing of warfare have overthrown you! The Duke’s son!!!”

Letting out a low growl the Captain tried to steady himself, fearing he might hurt the boy in the process and reminding himself that he had a very specific task here.

Ragner stared at Rurik with his jaw open, unsure of how to respond. "I... I have no loyal men left! The shadows... they killed everyone. I barely escaped with my life!" The look on Rurik's face showed Ragner he needed to take a new route. "I know I messed up before, but you are here now. You can give control of Caslemon back to me." Ragner straightened as he spoke, doing his best to look authoritative.

Rurik made a face. “Give?”

“Grow some balls, boy!” he said after a pause “I’ll help you with this, the Duke wills as much. But you won’t get anything on a platter from me.”

“Now have a seat and let’s see how we can fix the mess you’ve made here.”

Ragner sat on a chair across from Rurik. "What do I do?"

Rurik placed a heavy hand on the table and began pondering. The lines in his features deepened, as his entire expression began taking on a calmer, more reasonable appearance. It only lasted for a moment though, he had not been sent by the Duke to juggle plans like some bureaucratic bootlicker. Action was needed and action he would give. He looked up to the boy in his usual, stern manner.

“You need to regain the respect of this cesspit. Even the shit-shovelers hold you in little regard!” he growled “And the quickest way to respect is one – fear. If they fear you, you will hold their loyalty.”

“My men will be here shortly, when they find themselves on this side of the walls, the city will be firmly in our hands. These peasants and cutthroats are no match for the Duke’s men. When that happens you will be faced with a choice – what do you do with the guards who have rebelled against you?”

“Well, my lord?” he narrowed his eyes on Ragner, eagerly awaiting the young lord’s answer.

"Hang them!" Ragner said, clenching his fist. "If they think they can take my city into their own hands, they will pay for it with their lives! They humiliated me, and they destroyed my reputation. My only chance to redeem myself is to show them that I won't tolerate it."

“Fool!” Ragner growled at him. Pounding his fist on the table, he threatened to break it.

“Boy, have you not listened to what the Duke has taught you over the years?!” he sighed deeply, calming down “A ruler is nothing without his subjects. Nothing. That is not all, think with that thick head of yours! If you kill your guards, who will defend this precious city of yours?”

Rurik shook his head, appalled. He was just a common soldier and he had little grasp of politics or wide-scale strategy and yet, even he could see the folly behind Ragner’s choice. Even without the guidance received from Duke Cyril – after all, he needed his right-hand man to be knowledgeable of many matters – it was plain to Rurik that people would not follow a bloodthirsty tyrant. Order, obedience, an iron fist– yes those were needed, but if they were not based on justice people would not stand for it. A quick glance to his own past revealed to Rurik the truthfulness of those words. While still being a common footman, he had served under many different captains; the ones who deserved their rank and the ones who merely abused it. He himself knew that he, and the other simple folk, were far more keen on following the former.

“No…here is what you will do.” he pointed a finger at Ragner “It should be simple enough even for you.”

“When my men come, you will order me to arrest the ones who have turned against you. I am your Captain of the Guard and I will have no choice but to submit to m’lord’s wishes.” he took on an expression that could pass as a smile…if he practiced it a bit more.

“You should meet the traitors here in front of your estate, surrounded by your loyal guards and when the time comes…”

“…you will pardon them. All of them. You will prove that you are a merciful, just lord.”

“Am I clear, Lord Duiran?”

"But... pardon them? After what they did to me? That would show me to be weak. No one would listen to me if they thought I would just pardon every transgression! There has to be some other way!"

Suddenly Rurik reached out with his hand from the other end of the table and slapped the young lord across the cheek. It was a hard hit and it echoed throughout the room; luckily, it wasn’t hard by Rurik’s standards.

“Doesn’t this slap make you want to hit me back?!” he asked angrily “Harder than I did in the first place?”

With a sigh he placed his heavy palm on the table. “It’s the same with the people. Hit them once and they will hit you back. The only way you can guarantee that they won’t retaliate is by hitting them in such a way, that they will no longer be able to lift a hand against you. In our case, this sort of action isn’t what we want…or need.”

“Another lesson you should have learned from Duke Cyril.”

“I say it again, Ragner, you will pardon these people, after I arrest them. It will be both a show of strength and of mercy. Once you have freed them from the noose, they will be forever grateful.”
Ragner rubbed his cheek with the palm of his hand. He stared, wide-eyed, at Rurik for a few long moments. Finally he dropped his hand and breathed deeply.

"Fine, Rurik. We will do things your way. You, after all, have the trust of the Duke where I do not. Arrest those traitorous men and bring them to me. We will see how your brand of justice fairs in this forsaken town." Ragner crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair.

Rurik took on that strange expression which somehow resembled a smile.

“Good, m’lord. I’ll see to it that your will has been carried out as soon as the rest of my men arrive. I expect it to be done first thing in the morning.”

“I suppose we have other matters to discuss, but...” he paused, glancing at him up and down “you seem to be...tired after your days of captivity. If there is nothing else, I will take my leave of you.”

"That is very generous of you, Rurik. We will discuss other matters tomorrow, after the arrests and pardons have been made." Ragner said the word with notable disgust. "There are rooms here if you wish to stay clean through the night."

“Very well, Lord Duiran. It will be as you wish.”

Rurik stood up and looked around; he noticed that Niles, the housekeeper, had discretely made his way into the room again and was waiting by the door.

“If you would follow me, Master Vadren, I will show you to your room.”

Without further words, Rurik followed after the elderly man. It would indeed be good to get some rest, he realised; despite his energy, his body knew when it was time for a short respite. They walked up a rather impressive stairway, which lead them to the second floor. Everything here seemed to be more...personal, without a doubt this is where the young lord spent most of his time when in the estate. Despite the troubles, the wooden floor was well-polished and clean, Rurik almost felt a pang of guilt when his dirty boots left their mark on it.

“Edgard! Edgard!” Niles called out in vain. Rurik had just noticed that the man had stopped a few feet away from the staircase, as if he had no further intention of continuing.

“Pardons, Captain Rurik” the old servant said after a minute or so of waiting “The keeper of this floor seems to be occupied with…something”

He then reluctantly began to lead Rurik down one of the corridors. After a while he spoke, as if taking his revenge on the missing Edgard.

“I have no wish to speak ill of the lad, who is quite capable I have to admit, but he is slightly….carefree, much like our esteemed Lord Duiran.”

“Ah, there you are, Master Rurik!” another, distinctively younger voice called out.

A tall, handsome, young man – perhaps in his late twenties – came out from one of the rooms. His charming smile and sandy hair gave him a rather charismatic impression; truth be told, he looked more like a bard than a housekeeper, Rurik judged.

“We are all quite glad to see you.” he continued, his voice pleasant and free-flowing; much unlike his elderly colleague “Having one of the Duke’s men her e can only mean good things for us.”

“In that case, you could have welcomed our guest sooner…” Niles tossed in.

“Ah Niles, I was merely making sure everything here was ready.” he gestured at the room he had just left “Your chambers are ready, Sir Rurik.”

“Just Rurik….I’m no knight.”

He had the title true enough, one could not be a Captain of the Guards for a noble if he wasn’t knighted, but Rurik did not feel a knight. He lacked their schooling, manners, grace and, most of all, flamboyance.

“As you say…Rurik” Edgard grinned, there was something very predisposing about the man.

“In that case, I will take my leave. If you need anything, Master Rurik. I will be below.” Niles bowed stiffly and walked off

“Have you seen a boy somewhere around here?”

“Sir Orin? Indeed, he is waiting for you inside.”

“The boy’s not a sir either….he has yet to earn that title.”

“Of course, Rurik, I didn’t mean to presume.” he smiled again “Can I get you anything else?”

“No.” he thought for a second “Just a breakfast tomorrow. Ham, bread and a lemon juice.”

“Very well it will be served first thing in the morning. I will come to wake you up three candles after sunrise. Is th-

“What?” Rurik looked at him, for the first time his faced showed a tangible emotion – disbelief.

“R-rurik?” Edgard’s voice quivered, a part of his cheery personality faded; there was something very disturbing in Rurik’s tone when he asked that.

“Did I hear you correctly? Three candles after sunrise…?”

“Y-yes, si-Rurik…that is when Lord Ragner usually has me wake h-“

That did it for Rurik. His angry outburst earlier, at one of the ill-fated guards had only been a small outlet of his growing anger. He had done his best to hold if off when speaking with the boy, throughout his journey and all the incompetency around him. But this lax and pointless lifestyle which everyone seemed to live in this manor was simply too much for his strained nerves to handle.

“ALL OF THIS HOUSEHOLD WILL RISE NO LATER THAN SUNRISE TOMORROW. AND EVERY OTHER DAY AFTER TOMORROW.” he cried out, loud enough to be heard outside “OR I WILL HANG YOU AND THAT OLD COOT DOWNSTAIRS BY THE BALLS!”

He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. All lessons of manners and decency had left him for that one moment, but he was quickly recovering.

“Am I clear?” he still asked in a loud, stern voice – but it was a huge improvement from before.

“A-a-ass…you wish lor-..s-si-“Edgard began to mumble, but Rurik cut him off with an angry wave of his massive hand.

The servant retreated to some other part of the floor, while Rurik turned on his heels and opened the door in front of him with great force, threatening to tear it off its hinges. Orin, pale-faced, was standing there, not quite certain what to do. Rurik was in no mood to study the room, he only saw two beds – of equal sizes – that was all.

“What are you standing there for?!” he barked out at his squire

The boy immediately jumped into his bed, appearing miserable – he probably wanted to report his findings to his superior. This action somehow had an effect on Rurik’s cold nature and he felt genuine pity for the boy in his heart, so he said:

“I’m in no mood to talk tonight. Sleep and we’ll speak tomorrow.”

It was said in a softer voice, which in Rurik’s case meant it sounded less as if he was going to flay him any moment now and more likely to simply beat him bloody instead. Of course, Orin was a smart lad and had paid attention to Rurik’s moods over the past few months, so he was thankful to detect the small change. Nodding slightly and saying nothing else, he merely covered himself with the sheets and went to sleep.

Rurik took off his shirt of chainmail and other clothes, until he was left naked. He noticed a small bag which contained some of his items lying nearby – his squire had dutifully unpacked it from his horse and left it here. He was a good boy, Rurik thought, and didn’t deserve the harsh words uttered moments ago. As of now, it contained a pair of loose linen pants, black of colour as well as some other necessities. The rest of his equipment was being carried by his men, which had to arrive tomorrow.

He put on the pants and laid down; closing his eyes and feeling the strain recede from his tired body, just as the stress slowly withdrew from his mind. His thoughts immediately wandered to his men on the road, the shadow attacks were disturbing…he only hoped all of them would get here safely. Zephiris knows, he would need all of them if he was to bring any semblance of order into this sorry pit of a town…

The thoughts quickly broke down into images, scenes of the past – faces which had come and gone, despite his will to work on his plans…the hurried journey to Caslemon, the attack during the night and the events of the day had taken their toil...sleep found him easily.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Kalon Ordona II on Thu Sep 15, 2011 4:00 pm

Sephalia > Virilford, 40 miles northeast of Telmural ~ DAY 18

The caravan trundled on at a good pace toward the bridge city of Virilford, moving with little effort now that they had rejoined the road that had followed the river. Weary from the previous two nights' battles, the travelers found the sight of Virilford in the distance a most welcome sight indeed. Food and rest would at last be theirs, whether or not the shadows chose to attack again that night.

Áirhath, walking next to one of the wagons, kept glancing over at Titanya in the wagon seat, eyeing concernedly the bandages over her wound. Her left forearm and thigh had been clawed defending against one of the beasts, and she had very nearly bled to death. Only the proximity of the caravan's fire had saved her, the wounds hastily cauterized before the elf's quick bleeding had drained her life away. Even so, Titanya had been unconscious the following day and night and had only woken this morning. Since then she had only looked at him once, seeming oppressed, eyes tense against tears, and had quickly looked away, saying nothing.

White clouds hung in the sky, creating great shadows on the grass, weeds, farmland and low, stony fences on either side of the road. Virilford, a convergence of trade routes, neared with the deceptive swiftness of all steadily pursued destinations. Wealthy farmhouses abruptly gave way to orderly town houses on the outskirts, and almost before realizing it, the caravan was through the wide city gates. Only gradually, as they entered the city proper, did the realization dawn upon them: there were far fewer people around than there ought to be. The streets were sparse. Many shops and windows, bare.

Áirhath was near the front of the caravan as an enterprising man of the city came up to them. “Welcome,” he said, in a voice more hearty and cheerful than the elf had been expecting just then. “A precious few caravans have been seen of late. Are the roads still full of darklings at night?”
Áirhath didn't want to be reminded of the shadow beasts, so he was relieved when Katerina stepped briskly forward and took charge of the conversation. Strange, Áirhath noted then, that there had been not even a second glance at the number of elves in the group.
“Most of us are just returning from Telmural,” the man was explaining, even as more city folk came up to greet the caravan. “Times are frightening, but life has to go on. We have a good guard and all, specially for the ones going back to the farms.”

Áirhath lost track of the conversation then as he turned back to tend to Titanya. Though she hesitated with reluctance when he came to help her down from the wagon, she acquiesced to his aid without needing to be convinced. Áirhath held her up on the ground with her right arm over his shoulder. Awkwardly they made their way down a side street, obtaining directions to a reoccupied inn. Guards advised them that looting was absolutely forbidden, and indeed the city possessed a tranquil sort of emptiness, an emptiness not of ruin but of waiting, waiting for more people to return.

Later, as afternoon wore into evening, Áirhath carried a bowl of thick stew to Titanya's room on the first floor. She looked at him when he entered, then looked down at the bed where she sat, her wounded leg out from under the blanket. Her bandages had been replaced, not to protect from bleeding but to replace the herbs the mercenaries carried to cleanse cauterized wounds and help heal the skin and flesh around them. Most elves had such herbs; closing a wound instantly with fire-hot metal was a common and crucial practice in elven lands.

Titanya was Áirhath's second. Áirhath was unused to seeing her so withdrawn. Seeing her wounded besides, having almost lost her forever, made all of it that much more difficult to process. They couldn't go on like this. Áirhath pulled a chair close to the bed and sat, handing her the bowl. “Titanya?”
She said nothing, but accepted the stew gratefully, steadying the bowl on her lap with her wounded left arm and holding the spoon in her right, eating slowly.
“Titanya, seledh, lli naera shah.” He earnestly wanted to understand, but he didn't know where to begin. When she paused her eating but hesitated to answer, he asked, “Aer dantë ich dan särrh? Nna Ulithei?” Is this about the song? At Oliphey?
“Lli...” She still couldn't look at him. Her reddish brown hair was tied over one shoulder, setting her face in contrast. Her deep-set eyes quivered inside an array of vulnerable expressions. “Lli err... naera hyunnd lle.” I never... want to have burdened you. “Lli aeren híriel... ehsa aerl ethin lle.” I was happy... just being with you. “Aerl... eth lli han.” Being... by your side.

At this she began to weep softly, but Áirhath, though touched and sympathetic, still did not understand. “Lli danndra aer trerae relich lle chantaial ethin lli,” he said, I certainly am grateful for your standing with me. “Nnáe dan dárrechéd, hal lle áran hyerrdrad, lli...” During the battle, when you became wounded, I... “Lli naerad hyelena... häil lli hrru lle.” I would weep... if I lost you.
Titanya managed to open her eyes. “Danael,” thank you, she whispered.
Supposing this meant the issue had been resolved, Áirhath thought it good now to let her rest. He put a hand out on the bed. “Surëi chanta ethin lli?” Will you continue to stand with me?
She touched his fingers and gave him a smile. “Haeí.”
Satisfied, Áirhath smiled in return and stood. “Lle aeri sëltha?” Will you be alright?
A shallow, double nod.
Áirhath nodded acknowledgment. “Inasëi lle ichdhanath.” I'll see you tomorrow.

Titanya kept her eyes on his back as he closed the door. When he was gone, the tears returned. She did not feel like eating the bowlful of stew, but she knew she needed to recover. With a determination born of loyalty, love, and sheer practicality, she finished the meal and set the bowl aside. Lying in the human bed, alone and uncharacteristically weak, Titanya quietly wept herself to sleep. She had been afraid of finding out how he would react to her feelings. Now that she still had not found out, she realized she wished she had. Yes, she would continue to stand by his side, but after a hundred years of waiting, it was no longer enough.


Sephalia > about 10 miles northeast of Telmural ~ late morning of DAY 20

“Telmural!”

The change in mood swept through the caravan from front to back, palpable. From the attacks at Virilford and on the road the following night--where they had been joined by a group heading the opposite direction to Virilford--the caravan had until this moment felt drained of all the spirit they had regained in Virilford. Last night the shadows had come in greater numbers than the caravan had encountered on the road, as if they were attracted by the greater number of people. The elves had had a much harder time of it, and even several of the caravan members had to help along with the guards that accompanied the other group. No one had been lost, but the cost the following day was a drudging pace and a kind of subdued tension. The sighting of Telmural changed all that. More than merely the promise of respite, this signaled a final end to their imperiled journey.

Áirhath had never been so far into Sephalia before. He was eager to see whether the humans' capital lived up to the tales of its grandeur. He knew better than to expect wonders to surpass those of his own kind, but humans did tend to have a few strong points in architecture, if you liked stacking blocks on top of each other. Like reaching the head of a waterfall, a dip in the landscape suddenly revealed all at once the sea, the roads in all directions, and directly ahead of them the sprawling, golden mass of Telmural.

Despite himself, Áirhath's brows lifted. The shape of the city wall was clearly visible, a border separating as it were gold on the inside and wood on the outside. The city proper must have been about a mile across! Its suburbs seemed to have a character of its own. Áirhath couldn't quite comprehend how many humans might live there, let alone how they all stayed sane packed together so closely.

“I take it you've never had the pleasure?” said Katerina, suddenly next to him, eyes alive. “What you see before you is the center of the civilized world. All roads lead to Telmural, as they say.”
“Only human have road,” Áirhath said, with a certain self-satisfied condescension.
Titanya, also nearby, said, “It is indeed magnificent.”
She still sounded more subdued than normal, Áirhath thought, supposing she still needed some recovery.
They stood there looking at the city for a moment, not alone in their admiration of the view.
Suddenly Áirhath folded his arms thoughtfully. “The land is more beautiful than the city, but the shadow is in it. I wish I--the many--us--could learn of the beast and stop it.”
“Them,” Titanya suggested.
“Them, the many. Yes.”
There was a pause as all nodded or pondered to themselves.
“Well,” said Katerina, “we don't do anything at all if we stand here. If we keep our eyes and ears open during our stay, I'm sure we'll think of something.” She signaled to the rest of the caravan. “Mualane! Get them rolling! I want to be inside the walls and set up before nightfall!”

Anxious to find answers both to his mission and to the shadow beasts, Áirhath hasted with the rest toward the capital of Sephalia. He had little idea what he would find, but where else could he look if not here? Answers, he decided, was bigger than his own people. It was what all lands needed. No doubt it would take an elf to find them, but there it was. It was abundantly evident that the shadow beasts were a widespread problem. Clearly they jeopardized everyone, and Áirhath knew he needed to do something about it. If he could not find even the beginnings of a solution against them, he was determined that it would not be for lack of searching.


Sephalia > Telmural > Royal Palace ~ middle of DAY 20

King Orion was sprawled uncomfortably in a curved armchair. Seated at a great marble desk set up on the edge of an expansive, east-facing balcony, his discomfort came not from the chair but from the tension in his own body. He'd been up here since dawn. Dawn was an important time for him these days. It kept him sane. That, and the calming effect of the wine. In the springtime midday sun, he had one arm out on the surface of the table-sized desk, methodically rotating the base of a thick and heavy wine-glass, turning it in the same direction, little by little, around and around in miniscule increments, looking daggers into its finely cut surface. The bottle, still mostly full, was not far away.

Orion heard a steady clip of footsteps on stone for several moments before the servant stopped just behind him and to his left. “May it please Your Majesty--”
“--one can hope,” the King muttered, “but the last few days, I have my doubts.”
“Um, the High Priest is here, milord.”
The King nodded his chin grimly. “Mm.”

The servant's systematic footsteps receded for another few moments, followed by the somewhat more hastened shuffling of the High Priest. There was a lot of balcony to cover; the King had plenty of time to review his thoughts for this conversation.

“Your Majesty,” said the elder, clean-shaven man, respectfully but in a tone that suggested he was hurrying through an irrelevant formality and didn't mind making a point of it.
“Your Grace,” the King responded, reciprocating the tone, still steadily rotating the wine-glass by its base.
“Am I here about the matter I requested of you, or was this a new summons?”
“Both, now that you mention it.”
“Ah.”

There was a silence, wherein the ambiance of the air above the surrounding city whispered its hopeful promise of life.
“And?” prompted the High Priest.
The king stopped turning his wine-glass but did not look away from it. He took a small sip and set it back down with a faint, slightly musical click. He sighed. “You've known me most of my life, Manis. We've made history, you and I. Why should Zephiris come between us?”
Now Manis saw where this was going. “My liege, if you would but stop clouding your mind with doubt... You should be dead; milord, you know that. Have you never thought that the Goddess spared your life for such a time as this? History will remember you as the king who ushered in a new golden age, one that sees the return of Zephiris.”
“What return of Zephiris!” the King hammered out each word as if he'd already said them a thousand times in his mind. Always implied but never before stated outright, this was the essence of their recent quarrels. “If the Goddess of the scriptures has awoken, why do we see darkness and not light!”
“It can only be the unbelief of the masses. All that we suffer we have brought upon ourselves.”
“But the people do follow Zephiris!” The king's heavy voice sought solid ground but found none. “Every day there is more news of these black demons. Every night we dread the moment of their first awful calls.”
“Your Majesty, we've been over this before, and I've already given my advice. Our priests review the scriptures night and day, yet they have found nothing beyond the words of Ezekiel the Seer: 'Shadows from Light.' It is Zephiris's judgment, or else it is a test, and we must endure it.”
“You have to give me a better answer!”
“I have told you, there is none!”

With an angry grunt, the King stood up from the great desk and paced to the balcony's thick stone railing, the stone all covered in gold.
Manis had settled. “I am sorry.”
King Orion sighed again and leaned both hands on the railing, looking out at the golden city and the surrounding land. “I forgive you,” he stated somberly. After a moment, he added, “but I don't forgive Zephiris.”
“Your Majesty?!”
“I want the rumors of her return staunched. I want your priests' reins tightened further. At the beginning you advised me to spare the people the burden of the truth until there was proof. Now I give it back to you: for her sending this plague upon us, Sephalia shall be blind to Zephiris.”
“Your Majesty,” the high priest began earnestly, “I concur with your course, but I do not agree with your reasons. I urge you to reexamine your decision! You will bring greater judgment upon us if you turn your back to the Goddess!”
“She can tell me that herself.”
“Orion, it is folly! The Goddess does not bow to the demands of a mortal!”
Orion spun around. “Look around! Have you not seen the refugees crowding the city?! Are not your temples crowded with affrighted women and children every night?”
“You look around! Has not the Goddess given us strength to withstand the plague? The people take refuge and comfort inside our temples, and Zephiris gives them hope!”
“It has been fourteen days, Manis,” said the King, again hammering on each word. “How long until Sephalia starves? Are we to live in fear forever?” He answered his own question before Manis could: “No. Call it endurance if you like, but I will not. I will call it courage. Courage to carry on in these dark times. Thoughts of Zephiris's return will only cause confusion. If this is Zephiris's doing, I do not want them to know it.”

There was a long, tense moment as the High Priest considered the King's words. Then, slowly, “Very well, Your Majesty. It seems you have not fallen as far as I had feared. I can accept that, for now.”
“Good. I'm glad that is out of the way.” The King folded his arms and looked blankly to the side. “As for your request, I have examined the matter, but I've not yet reached a decision. Mandor may have to fend for itself--assuming the demons hound their nights as well--at least until we know more. I may not be able to decide at all, yet. The timing is premature.”
Manis nodded acceptance. “I understand.”
The King looked back up at him. “Which, as it happens, leads me to the real reason I summoned you here. Several ships from Mandor were sighted approaching our coast; the news arrived two days ago. I'm told the first two are fast ships. They were sighted entering the cove this morning, so I expect soon to hear word as they near the harbor.”
“The first real news of Mandor....”
“Exactly. A carriage is ready to take us to the docks. I need you to be there with me when they arrive. Things could easily become... complicated.”
“I was wondering what all those soldiers were waiting for.”
Just then, a servant appeared from the distant doorway, crossing the balcony toward them.
“That must be it,” said the King, uncrossing his arms and moving toward the palace, the High Priest falling in step beside him. “Let's get it done.”


Sephalia > Telmural ~ late afternoon of DAY 20

Traveling through the suburbs of Telmural, the company of elves had been in an uncomfortable state of mild shock. Humans crowded the streets and wood-and-stone buildings. Oliphey had not prepared them for the sheer volume of people concentrated in a single place. It was explained that Telmural was not always quite so crowded, that the greater part of the oppressive numbers was due to the influx of refugees. Regardless of the reason, however, among the crowded streets the elves ironically found themselves crowding together in response, looking one way and the other in a kind of disquieted wonder. By the time they reached the enormous gateway to the city proper, they were in a state to experience relief all over again at having arrived.

A whole new world lay within the city wall, though one just as lively. There were just as many people on the streets, but since these streets were wider, the space seemed not so cramped. The feel of the crowds changed from constricting to merely bustling. The people outside were not poor--many in fact were well off--and the outside structures were sturdy enough, well maintained and often well furnished; the suburbs of Telmural were no slums. Nevertheless, the contrast between both sides of the wall was staggering. The view from the highroad had been no illusion: gold--solid gold--was everywhere.

“I knew humans traded with dragons, but this is ridiculous!” said Titanya.
Áirhath had been thinking along the same lines, though he wasn't completely sure what 'ridiculous' meant.
Katerina began to point out the thin sheets of gold that trimmed the houses and even the roofs, as well as the gold accessories on stone statues--a stone warrior holding a golden sword, for example--and the golden spires of guilds, towers, and temples. What they were seeing, she said, was the result of generations of human enterprise. The best craftsmen in Sephalia lived in Telmural, which in turn made the best aspiring craftsmen want to live in Telmural. Only the best was accepted by dragons, but the other side of that coin was: dragon gold seemed to be in limitless supply.

Anyone who knew anything knew about the human kings, the Orion dynasty that had even survived the Sixteen Years' War. Most everyone with any kind of learning knew about King Orion XXIII. By the time of his reign, Sephalia had acquired an over abundance of wealth, and there was little to spend it on. There was no internal war to fund, the kingdoms Sephalia and Mandor were well established, and Sakira's Treaty still held. Thus, beginning with Orion XXIII's lavish decoration of the Royal Palace, humans began to flaunt their wealth. In more quaint areas of human lands this manifested as better funding for construction, furnishing, and quality livestock. In coastal lands, better ships were built. In large cities it appeared as better centers of learning, trade guilds, and healer covens. In Telmural, which already had all this, it could only come as gold. Wealthy merchants, craftsmen and nobles followed the King's example and transformed the great city into a wonder. Telmural became more than the hub of human lands. It became a work of art, a symbol, something magical. The city shone in human lands like the crown of a king. No one robbed the gold of Telmural. It would have been the same as robbing the human spirit.

Hours later, the two groups, Katerina's caravan and Áirhath's mercenaries, crammed themselves into a number of rooms at a temporary house of lodging. Katerina was shrewd and found them a good price, but it was just as well that few rooms were available. In Telmural, especially since these last few days, lodging anywhere within the city proper was not cheap. Katerina had had to pull a favor to get them all together, but she seemed to consider it worth the effort. Áirhath agreed. Despite the expense he too had to pay for his company, they needed to be here, and inside the main city, to follow their lead. They would start their search together, they agreed, tomorrow.

Shortly after they were settled, a rumor spread through the city that the King's men had seized the entire crew of two ships. They were sailors from Mandor, the first that had come to Telmural in several days. That the King had apprehended them all and brought them to the Royal Palace was a matter of great concern. The question everyone was asking was: Why. They were to find out soon, as it happened. Almost immediately following the rumor came notice that the King would address the people of the city regarding this incident. Áirhath, Katerina and a few others were talking over the rumor when this news came, and, looking at each other, they wordlessly decided to follow at once to the palace.

The afternoon was drawing toward evening by the time much of the city had gathered in the square before the Royal Palace. The cloudless sky was a muted blue, fading whitish in the west, and the westering light on the golden towers and spires made the palace feel larger than life, shining as if out of a dream or a bard's fantastic tale. Half the square was in shadow, which from Áirhath's perspective made the palace stand out that much more in contrast. All around, aside from those from his own group and Katerina's, was quite a diverse sampling of city folk. There were those in fine yet sensible clothing, there were here and there a few poorer sort, garbed more for function than form, and there were merchants, nobles and entertainers dressed in all manner of garish cloth. Nobles favored metallic colors, long capes, and sensible--but expensive--cloth or leather hats; merchants more often resembled Katerina, wearing an array of patterned finery in a convoluted mix of styles--many tending to include elven silks; and entertainers went over the edge with bright colors, creative styles, and artificial feathers. Áirhath also noted spear-bearing guards here and there among the crowd, calmly discouraging rowdiness or whatever sorts of things humans did when packed together like this.

They did not have to wait long for the King to appear. When he became visible upon an outer balcony overlooking a grand stairway, a roar of greeting erupted from the crowd. Anyone who missed the King's arrival would not be able to miss the acknowledgment of the people.
As the King spoke, Titanya quietly translated or paraphrased in elvish for the benefit of the few mercenaries close by.

“My people!"
"'Lli áir.' Eltheran," she added, for clarification.
"Today, two ships arrived from our brothers in Mandor."
"'Dantë sildhan, ri alállde ennal deth lli dhila hath Andur.'"
"Some of you have heard that it has gone ill for them."
"'Hanin lle chyärd telärdan nalla aer hyerrnaial.'"
"But be at ease, no hurt has come to them--quite the opposite. For I have made them guests of the Royal Palace."
"Nalla sëltha. Nalla aer nanndári hath dan Telural Delírenannde."
"Their news is important, but as you can see, night draws near; we must prepare to fight the shadow demons, should they attack again tonight. And, tired from their voyage, they are in need of rest. Therefore, I have deemed it good to protect these fine sailors until morning comes, so that no harm might come to them in the night.”"
"'Nalla níärda aer díeill.' Ullarra, dan undérach ihaei ennalël," she paraphrased, explaining the king's decision to keep the sailors safe until the morning when there would be time to talk. "Dan delíre erethendrai dan alalári nil silenna."

The King went on to encourage the folk of the city to aid one another during the night and keep each other in good spirits. If there was an attack, the soldiers would again keep the city safe. He told them to keep fighting for their continued prosperity and promised to keep searching for answers in their stead. After his farewell, the people began to disperse, forming small groups and talking as they went. Áirhath and Katerina's group did much the same, heading back to their lodging to discuss and share the news, and to prepare for the night.


Sephalia > eastern Majestic Mountains, near the town of Heroes' Walk ~ night of DAY 20

Ezekiel and his men were still high enough in the tall Majestic mountains that their boots crunched wet snow, though the stuff was not very deep. Though dark had fallen, the snow reflected well the light of the moons, so that the clear, cold night was plentifully visible.

In the darkness there was a grating of black metal. “Ready?” asked their guide--Calanon, one of the messengers.
“Wait,” said Ezekiel. He was still sore from the first night and the night following, and from the hastened trek across the mountains, but that was not the reason for his impediment. “The first night, near Nalhame, when I asked you about the people there, you told us it was the sword that protected us from the night, that it would ward away the shadow beasts.”
“I did.”
The prince looked from their guide to the downward path ahead. “If we are where I think we are--on the ancient path used by Amros, Gibros and Nalos of old--then Heroes' Walk should be just ahead. May we not postpone our fight until we reach it?”
Calanon answered, “As then, you would have to take their burden upon yourself, if the hordes of shadow come."
Ezekiel nodded. “Whatever it takes.”
“Then so it shall be,” and he sheathed the black blade.

Ezekiel wrapped his cloak tighter about himself. His knees were feeling the effort of walking in or on the snow, tired from picking up his feet and tense to keep them from slipping. Behind, his men shuffled along quietly. Calanon, to Ezekiel's side and slightly ahead, gave only subtler signs that he, too, felt the cold: a quick breath now and then, a flex of his hand, a shrug of his shoulders. As they walked, Ezekiel asked him, “At Nalhame, if the shadow beasts had attacked, how would I have taken their burden?”
“Our fight would have laced more difficulty upon you. I would have held less back.”
Ezekiel considered this, then asked another question. “What would it take to protect a large city?”
“It would take greater courage than you have ever had to muster.”
“Would I survive such a fight?”
“A man with enough fortitude can face any foe. Against the shadows, this is enough.”
“What about all of Telmar?”
Calanon turned his head to look at him.
“What would it take to ward the world?”
“More courage than you could ever imagine.”
They left it at that and walked on.

The town of Heroes' Walk, they discovered, had been abandoned. This proved to be just as well for all concerned, since in addition to Ezekiel's relief, the men would have a roof over their heads tonight.

The captains stayed outside with the messenger and the prince. They started a campfire as the two prepared to fight. As before, Calanon removed his mantle and folded it around his spear, setting the blood-red bundle on the ground where it began to glow like candle-light. Ezekiel, too, removed his cloak, but his own spear he kept in his hand, ready to wield it. Again came the grating sound of the black sword as it was drawn.

Without preamble, they fought.
Ezekiel had seen light skirmishes, had had combat training and many sparring partners, but fights in his experience had always been short and to the point. These were different. The last two had drawn on for several minutes and felt like even longer.
Right away Calanon's blade struck the upheld shaft of Ezekiel's spear. Nothing should be allowed to move that fast. Calanon wielded the black sword in both hands, moving at a speed that fluctuated supposedly at will from masterful to unnatural. On top of the feeling of peril against such an opponent, the blade itself induced an irrational fear. But from what he had learned from Calanon over the past two nights, Ezekiel knew that retreat was not an option. That knowledge made it no easier to follow through, and it carried its own fear even as it dispelled others: fear of the unknown. He was afraid of what would happen, not only to him but to others, if he turned and ran.

Fear for the safety of his people kept his feet planted, but self preservation could last only so long against the resistance to retreat. Eventually it forced him to move, if not back, forward. He doubted he could ever hit his opponent, so he aimed for the blade, keeping it from being aimed at him. Making impressive use of a spear's double rotation, the prince kept the sword at bay, winning a moment to realize fear had conquered fear.
“You see,” stated Calanon, somehow knowing the bent of Ezekiel's thought. “Courage is another kind of fear. The difference is that it is a fear not for yourself, but for others. But it is also more.”
Between flurries of blows, Ezekiel asked, “What more?”
“That,” said Calanon, parrying, countering, “is a lesson for another night.”

The fight dragged on for another several furious moments until, as before, Calanon deftly disengaged from a deadlock, signaling an end to their duel.

Saying little else, they collected their things and along with Ezekiel's captains turned into the ghostly shelter of Heroes' Walk.
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

Post by Digital Muse on Thu Oct 27, 2011 7:14 pm

Sephalia > Virilford, 40 miles northeast of Telmural ~ DAY 18

Kate pushed the caravan at a good pace now that they were on a smoother track. Each night they were attack as they had been for weeks now. But they built larger fires to throw more light and with the Ssandári Mercenaries, they suffered few injuries. Two nights previously, the fighting had been particularly bitter. Titanya had been greivously clawed by one beast while defending a group of women hiding beneath one of the wagons. As luck would have it, it was Darta that came to her aid, cauterizing the vicious wounds with hot pokers to stem the blood flow. The human women did not comprehend just how quickly an Elf could die from blood-loss if not treated immediately. Several of the men not fighting in the main conflict, took the Elf woman and put her inside one of the wagons to be cared for.

As they rested at the small city, they parlayed some of their healing supplies for food and gained even more passengers wanting to travel to the perceived safety of the capital, Telmural. Kate and Mualane did their best to accomodate so many people, horses, mules and wagons. For the sake of speed, they refused any oxen. The few wishing to take them were willing to give the beasts up in order to travel within the relative safety of the caravan rather than attempting the trip alone. The night before leaving for Telmural, Mualane ad Kate shared a cup of the bitter chicory drink waiting for the inevitable attack.

The pair stood beside one another, looking out into the darkness in companionable silence for a time. It was something they'd done many, many nights before.

"Lot of people scared, Captain." Mualane rumbled. "Never had so many traveling with us before."

"Aye, I know." Kate acknowledged. "It's going to be impossible to cover them all with our people. Even with the elves we're going to be spread thinner than I want."

The giant man nodded his head in agreement. "I'll talk to those joining. Bound to be some ex-Military in the bunch. Maybe make a 2nd skirmish line if needs be."

Kate thought about the long road ahead for a moment, "Do it." She paused when the ring of the Elves swords beinging drawn from their scabbards signalled this night's war had begun. "Let's go." She said, stepping out with a determined stride and drawing her own cutlass.

Sephalia > about 10 miles northeast of Telmural ~ late morning of DAY 20

“Telmural!” The call went up from the scout at the head of the near mile-long caravan of wagons, carts, beasts and people. The dull plodding became noticeably lighter, more hopeful strides. The previous two nights had been lucky ones. Minor injuries among the passengers and the loss of one mule being the only casualties. Kate certainly counted her blessings. Had the caravan been attacked during the day when they were spread so thin, it would have bee disastrous.

The Captain of the Ssandári Mercenaries had topped a hill that allowed for a spectacular view of the city. Kate was amused that he seemed unimpressed by it all.

Kate walked up beside Áirhath, sweeping her flampoyant hat from her head. "I take it you've never had the pleasure?" Her eyes were alive with good humor. “What you see before you is the center of the civilized world. All roads lead to Telmural, as they say.”

“Only human have road,” Áirhath said, with a certain self-satisfied condescension.

Titanya, also nearby, said, “It is indeed magnificent.”

Kate just laughed. "You're a hard man, Áirhath. You haven't seen all I have. I can tell you that no single race is better than the others. Only different." As she moved back to mount her stunning sorrel, she added, "And I like it that way."

His speculation about the reasons for the appearance of the shadow beasts only echoed Kate's own need to know “Well,” said Katerina, “we can't do anything at all if we stand here. If we keep our eyes and ears open during our stay, I'm sure we'll think of something.” She turned the sorrel gelding back toward the head of the caravan and whistled brightly to gain her crew's attention. "Mualane! Get them rolling! I want to be inside the walls and set up before nightfall!”

True to his Captain's order, Mualane had the caravan proper enter through the city gates while many of the passengers and their carts peeled off along the way to find what accommodation they could. The spot where the caravan usually set up was crowded by a makeshift tent city of refugees from all over the countryside looking for protection form the attacks of the shadow-beasts. It made setting up the entire caravan impossible and thus most of the members of the caravan would be forced to find room along with the Ssandári Mercenaries.

Leaving Mualane to tend to the caravan wagons and horses, Kate and her regulars, including Darta escorted the Elves through the crowded streets to find accomodation. She knew of a few good inns she'd used for passengers before, but as they travelled through the streets, one after another was found to be full. Being ever watchful for opportunity, she invariably traded a story or bought a drink for those she knew or for some helpful bit of information.

Even crowded as it was, the city was still beautifully built and clean. If the seige continued, however, it wouldn't remain so. The avenues were wide and tree-lined leaving it cool in the summer and protected from icey winter winds. Great courtyards with fountains connected most of the major thoroughfares wide enough for several wagons or coaches to pass one another by. Colored glass adorned many houses bringing brilliance and spark to otherwise plain and clean white plaster exteriors of the buildings. Kate always felt uplifted and exhilirated whenever she was in Telmural and the city's spell didn't fail to capture her now.

Finally, after a few hours, they found an in with a few rooms reserved in hopes of a princely sum of money from someone desperate enough to pay it. The woman that owned the inn had a respected, if fearsome reputation for haggling and it took every bit of skill Kate could dredge up to manage to secure the rooms for herself and the Elves. In other times, she would have truly enjoyed the challenge and certainly would have spent far longer bargaining, but neither she or Áirhath could afford to be chosey. They needed to remain together so they might begin their search the next day.

As they mounted the stairs to their rooms, Kate resisted the urge to tease the too-serious Elven Captain about not sleeping under the stars, but thought better of it. Without the Ssandári Mercenaries, Kate wasn't entirely sure that they would have made it to Telmural in one piece. Or at least not without significant losses.


Sephalia > about 10 miles northeast of Telmural ~ Morning of DAY 21

The next morning, Kate met Áirhathin the common room and shared a light meal with other travelers and their own groups. She was reluctant to visit the Avenue of the Churches to see if she might speak with the High Priests of Zephiris. Semric and the old Warder seemed to believe that the High Church would be the only place that an answer might be found. Kate explained her idea and the reason she needed to go to the church and the Mercenary Captain agreed to accompany her. Kate knew she was far from presentable, but if she chose to return to the caravan to change her clothes, it would lead to more and more little things that she did to delay the inevitable.

Kate strode through the early morning quiet of the city, it gave her more time to consider. Were the beasts growing stronger or growing in numbers? Or were their numbers directly proportionate to the size to the group they attack? As more and more people joined the caravan, the more beasts that had attacked them. It was the same for Ashwood and she was willing to bet her prized mare it was true here as well. That was why people were leaving. She expressed her ideas to Áirhath who considered it.

"Perhaps." He acknowledged. "There were more beasts near the cities than when we were alone."

Before she realized it, they had arrived at the High Church. She'd only visited one of the smaller churches near their camp when she'd been to Telmural before. The marble and stone church was almost alarmingly large and it shone a brilliant white in the morning sun. The size of the building, the raised foundation and even the size of the doors were all designed to remind the worshipper of their insignificance in comparison. But to who? Zephiris or the High Priests? Kate couldn't help but wonder what Semric would think of all this ostentation. Taking her imagination firmly under reign, Kate stepped forward and pulled the brightly shined brass door open to step into the marble interior. Despite the cavernous interior space, the light pouring in from the windows and the polished wood balistrades made it an almost comforting space. There were perhaps a half dozen elderly worshippers seated at different distances from one another, heads bent in prayer.

Áirhath followed Kate inside, not outwardly impressed, it seemed.

Kate removed her hat and absently fingered the small icon she wore around her neck. Striding down the aisle at the far right of the nave of the church, Kate headed to the rear area where the Priest's rooms and offices should be. Knocking on a heavy oak door with polished brass handles, Kate received no answer. Curious, she pushed inside, calling out. "Hello? I wish an audience with the High Priest? I have news of the shadow beasts." She continued down the hallway looking for anyone. "Hello? Is anyone here?"


Last edited by Digital Muse on Thu Dec 01, 2011 3:42 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Re: Sephiris: The Price of Peace

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