It was the same result. Death to his enemies, and soon. Reaching down as they jogged towards the city, he picked up a pair of handaxes from a fallen orc, gave them a careful twirl, and deemed them worthy. Now it was time to kill.
Already? Came the thought like a small flicker of a silver fish in the black crushing depths of an abyss. This thought was left to fade in the mind like the tang of lemon does on the tongue; bitter yet pleasant in its bitterness. There was nothing for the longest time save the wind hooting across that bottle singing its tune of wakening to a being that did not care to be awake just yet but insisting relentlessly that silence would not be returning, at least for the time being. Slender fingers flickered on the left hand, the glint of a ring, the hint of a bloody stone inset into the metal band and the bottle simply fell to pieces. There was the barest echo of a whisper of movement; as if in the whispering the very sound would break what tenuous quiet it would wrought in the uttering. That simple movement and no more. In the soft light now gleamed another bit of metal, its path of destruction spent and its target lay shattered and glittering below and behind it.
The wind chilled the spaced warmed by her body and forced her to move, though the movement was not undesired. There came the rustle of well worn and maintained leather though as she stood, forced to bend slightly at the low ceiling, there was only the most muffled sound as if she were shadow and the soft soughing of the wind her feet. The light advanced, as it was wont to do, across the floor and afforded a brighter glow to the once black space. She bent slightly to retrieve the dagger a small strand of hair picked up the light in a blue black spectrum. The features were fine, delicate yet hardy with high noble cheekbones and a full ripe mouth that was not often given to smiling or frowning. A second snort given as she turned in a fluid motion and seemed rather to flow up the short passage behind her than walk. That almost whisper of movement all that came, even the leather seemed to hold its tongue and move with the muscle encased in its embrace rather than merely clothe it. She had been here for days, weeks, years? She did not know nor did she bother to care.
There had been reason before, then it had ceased to be and she had sought the silence of meditation as was her way. There was reason again, though she did not know the reason yet; it would be revealed to her in the fullness of time as it always was. Her slender hand touched the stone and pressed with the barest of effort, there was a click followed by a rough grate of stone scraping over stone that set her teeth on edge yet teased forth no other emotion on her face. Will it be for the good or evil this time? She wondered as the portal opened and light struck her painfully full in the face, the smells of the forest assailed her nostrils with its deep green scent. The sharp ears picked up the sounds of birds giving raucous cries and sharp twitters. There came the sound of beasts crashing through underbrush off in the distance; even in the bright light her eyes picked up a doe and her fawn fleeing the sudden advance of her presence. Those silver hued eyes picked up a great deal, individual needles on the pine trees and she knew they would picked out the individual feathers of a hawk soaring far overhead if she cared to tilt her head and do so.
Where am I? came the question, not when but where, was what mattered. When had ceased to be a worry long ago, though it did bring about a tensing of muscles under that dusky leather. It had been long since she last spoke to her patron; theirs had not been a good parting, or rather she had not left in the best of moods. Rather like a child slinking off after a rebuke by a parent. It had been long and would likely be longer still as she had no intention of praying anytime soon. Her patron being a mischievous one that had a penchant for playing tricks on the unsuspecting and unwise. Time had made her wise beyond the frail look of one barely off her mothers apron strings. Time. There had been plenty of that and a fat lot of good it did to dwell on those years stacked behind her like links of chain into the darkness and stretched ahead in much the same manner, useless to contemplate how many links that chain before her held for it was depressing and wasted her emotion. There was nothing that could reveal the answer to her; as she had discovered after years of wondering so long ago.
But to the question in her mind came an answer easily enough with a mountain stretching majestically towards the bright of the day, the tip seemed to scrape the clouds above. All about her was wilderness, it was an embracing sight as wild as it was. Still sharp senses picked up the hint of blood on the wind, it was faint and foul, to the south. As always her awakening was accompanied by the tang of death carried on the wind. The dark boots whispered over pine needles and twigs silently, the bow slung on her back was felt finally, the senses awakening to its reality and was glimpsed at the periphery of her left eye. A mere tilt of head allowed her to scan the weapon without breaking her silent stride. It was a handsome bow of black ironwood and seemed to thrum softly through the leather and sing along her spine with magic. Nor was this a misgiving sensation for the bow had been the very cause of her plight, or gift if you were an optimist. She was, at this juncture, unsure if she was optimist or pessimist. The bow string stretching taunt between the notched ends glittered silver in the light. Between leather clad small breasts clasped the dusky leather of the quiver and reached over her shoulder.
The quiver itself seemed to be carved of the same wood, if not the exact same tree, as the bow and held five arrows. It only ever held five arrows. It always held five arrows, as fingers drew one another appeared. It made things so much easier and yet she would have traded both bow and quiver for and end at one time. I suppose I have come to terms at last. This thought brought a slowing of steps for several yards before she simply accepted it for what it was and strode on. The canopy of trees casting a plethora of shadows which were glided through in that eery way of hers. The light flickering over the dull dusky daggers bristling about her hips and belly. The marched like bleak shadows in double rows from beneath breasts to her waist, three at her slender hips and one warmed by her body heat at the small of her back. Each blade had been her companions for years out of time. Each as dear to her as a fellow fighter in battle between battle brothers.
Her skin held a tint of shadow to it, almost as if the darkness had leeched into flesh over time. It may be so, for she had forgotten how she had looked in her true youth, it was as lost to her as the years gone by. Over the shoulder which was not held by the quiver strap hung a thick braid of ebony hair that reached to her waist. It shone in the light with vigorous health. There was a city here once. Came a thought, it too like a flash of silver fish and gone. Yet she did not care, it did not disturb her in the least that a vast flotilla of time had passed by since her meditation had begun. It simply was. So it was that she traveled, always following the scent of blood as day became evening became morn with the dew licking at her features and dampening her leather only to dry as she passed through day again. On the fifth day arrow pierced flesh and she ate rabbit warmed over a fire burning in a deep hole in the ground, there was no ribbon of smoke to betray her, though in the darkness her eyes burned silver as a warning to any beast drawn by the scent of blood and meat.
The next day found her at a struck camp, bodies of small foul stinking rotting creatures scattered the ground. She went down to her haunches and studied the ground about her, noting the furrow of a large weapon, the impression of an enormous foot tramped into the scrub. There were a great many splatters of blood on the ground and slender fingers conveyed a tiny touch of each to a clever tongue and she spat the first two away quickly then lifted a brow at the third. Kobold, giant.. human She thought and cast gaze around, noting the rotting giant further in yet also noting the lack of human corpses. Muscles purred as she stood again and silently cast about seeking fresh graves, there had been a few yet the earth lay thrust about rudely and the holes empty as a socket from whence a tooth has fallen. There was off in the distance the remains of another camp, though from here the riotous stink of excrement and urine mixed with the malodorous perfume of kodold and giant. There was little wonder what had become of the dead as the pale of bone glimmered against the green of the grass into which they had been discarded.
So, humans fighting the other two. The blood stained fingers were wiped on a leaf as she contemplated the meaning of this.
Choose. The strong voice assailed her mind and brought about a grimace and surprised sensation. The patron had never allowed her to chose before; which meant He was either going to trick her or had a rare flash of generosity. It mattered little in the end, she could hardly sit here indecisive for if she did so He would pick and would make her sorry she had turned her back on that choice. The humans, or the rabble.
“You picked a fine time to speak up, I know nothing of the situation such as it is.” Came the soft lilting tone of her voice. The tones simply haunting as they issued over boney teeth and across full lips. There was a beat of silence before she closed her eyes and spoke again. “As You command I make my choice, it is to the humans I travel. They shall be better conversationalists one imagines and it would take cycles to get the stink of kobold out of my leather if I went the other direction.” The words were spoken almost annoyingly and she sensed her patron abandon her to the choice made. Her eyes opened, the tug of her belly drew then strongly in the direction of the blood she had sampled. There would be no fighting it, that tug was a part of this, as much if not more so than the tang of blood.
Dusky booted feet moved then, whispering as always yet she ran as fleetly as a deer and as doggedly as a wolf after prey. The run paused only now and then to slake thirst at rivers or ponds, or to eat food caught along the way. The meat went uncooked most oft for that drawing was inescapable, it invaded even the scraps of sleep she took as night kissed the fringes of dawn. Thin sleep which broke after only two to three hours before she went along again.
On the seventh day the wilderness gave way to abandoned farms, dirt track roads growing over with strangled weeds and hardy grass. The fields began to dominate after another day and she came upon bodies mangled and rotting, armored and peasant alike. There were the rotting corpses of kobold as well and giants as well as orc now. These were passed by without a second glance though she made it habit now to stick to the shadows and copses of trees to avoid detection by the latter group of beings. When she had awakened there was no thought of dislike though at her choice the dislike was there now, her opposition had been determined. So it was that she came upon a burned farm with a shattered chimney and in the distance a cage filled with a foul stinking cook pot still steaming, an empty cage and a dead kobold. The sharp gaze picked up a small figure running as if all the hounds of the underworld were at his heels, in an instant arrow was drawn and notched into the bowstring of the bow drawn in a fluid motion. The string was drawn back with a smooth motion; a welcomed motion, and released. To her ear the bowstring sang its song of death, speaking to her heart as it stilled. The target tumbled and rolled, the arrow bleeding away to shadow as the life left the body. “One.” Came the lilting voice. One of thousands. Came the answering cry from her heart and she nodded.
There could be no mistaking the smell of battle not far off, nor that of horses. There was no mistaking the pull in that direction nor did she fight it, though she went through shadow; moving with that fluid grace, silent as the grave, until the silvered gaze caught the first human and gleaned the rest not far beyond. The smell of blood was very strong here mixed with the scent of horses and leather. It was from the shadow of a tree that she stepped, clearing her throat to make her presence known to the guard who turned with sword drawn at the sound. There was no movement made; had she wished he would have been felled by a dagger long before and she could have crept silently and unseen into the heart of their group if it had been her desire. But time had given her wisdom and such actions were the actions of a whelp cutting his teeth on and old boot. She stood regarding this man calmly, tall and slender. The curve of her ears seemed to flicker as he stepped forward yet that was all the movement given. “”Stand fast!” Came the growled voice and she noted another man approaching, warily. They looked as if they still basked in the blood lust which had ridden them in the recent battle. A victory without a doubt.
Perhaps I chose wisely. Came the thought, though she held her breath as a deep laugh echoed through her mind. Time would tell. Though she fought and barely managed to conceal a grimace at the emotion that laughter had conveyed.
“Who are you?” The second man asked, not nearly as roughly as the first who had spoken, his hands reaching for her weapons. “I am here to see her.” Came the lilting response, her chin thrust towards the woman amid the men and as those fingers touched the bow there came a blast of sickly green light and the man was sent tumbling head over heals twice. Still she made not a move. “They do not like any but me to wield them.” Came the cryptic words and silver eyes seemed to impale the man getting shakily to his feet, his fingers bruised. “I will stay here under guard or come with you under guard but I cannot remove the weapons.” She spoke as if asking for high tea and failed to add that if she drew the daggers they would seek to fly eagerly as if craving battle themselves. He is such a generous patron. Came the annoyed thought. Unhappy unless He is causing trouble and trouble is the smell of blood. She waited, now four men around her with swords drawn, each looking warily at her as the bruised one strode off towards the other woman muttering curses under his breath.
It was clear they were breaking camp, she watched impassively as some started on content to wait until she was summoned forth or was forced to defend herself.
"The night may be far from over, but our meeting is," he said with a slight bow of the head towards the woman, ignoring the mercenary all together. Resting his palms comfortably on the hilts of the daggers, he began to move back towards the boundary of the camp.
Whatever the mercenary had thought, he believed that the valley was his best hope in surviving this until it was over with. He and his men had prepared it as well as they could given the time they had and had buried goods and supplies in it. It would be enough to get him resupplied and keep him going until the armies were done doing whatever they came here to do. It had nothing to do with him. He was a thief, not a warrior or a knight.
As he wandered back towards the picket line, his hands moved of their own accord, steadily filling his quiver from other archers or the dead. He wasn't picky.
Her thoughts drifted to the two strangers. Remarkable, both of them - one, bent on his own vengeance and appearing little more than a common sell-sword, but instinct said there was more behind the man than his appearance would ever yield. The other, an arrogant, puffed up brigand, by her estimation. No military man would ever show such lack of discipline, at least not among her own soldiers. A crushing pain, quickly pushed down. The past was done.
She halted her horse, and sat watching as the men gathered their scant belongings and formed into an ordered file, three abreast and twenty deep. They would begin a forced march before long, and she at the head of it.
"Excuse me, mistress?" She turned, and sighed inwardly. The same messenger as before, and no doubt given his penchant for bad news, or at least irritating news, he had another particular jewel to gift her. "There is a-"
"Stranger?" She interrupted, irritation painting her voice. Were these plains crawling with sell-swords, brigands, and foolish adventurers? It would certainly seem that way, for the look on the young mans face. "Let him cool his heels for a bit. He can speak to me when we are on the move."
"Uh, he isn't actually a he, mistress. She is waiting at the edge of camp, and....well, one of the soldiers tried to disarm her but that didn't go so well."
"She attacked him? Then why do you even bother me with it? Hang her."
"It...wasn't like that," he replied, unease on his words. "He touched her weapon and....and was thrown backwards like a rag doll, truth to tell." Sorcery. Nothing else could explain such. And that of course explained the young mans unease.
Even before...whatever had happened, so long ago, the subject of sorcery had been highly contested. It had been suggested that the world had once been different, but the ancient power, wielded by the hands of humans and other races, had lain waste to vast portions of their world.
Twilight sands beneath a cloudless sky, stars pricking the inky darkness overhead like diamonds laid out on a velvet cloth. From horizon to horizon, glittering black sand rose and fell in dunes, and the perpetual light of the stars was the only light to be had. The air, thin and colder than the heart of winter itself, was so clear that you could see forever. And through that unfathomable distance, only a lone spire stood, far on the horizon like a spike of black polished stone stabbing into the heavens.
And above and below it all, lingering in a world cold and millions of years dead and barren, was the fading stink of sorcery, elder and eldritch. Time held no meaning in this place - it could have been the deep past.
It could be the future.
She blinked. "She can wait until the collumn is moving. I've a notion as to the nature of her...magic."
She turned and left the boy too it. Men and horses began to move, a steady procession leading south, to the city.
And so it began.
The light of dawn had pearled the horizon only faintly, its wan light reflecting on the falling snow and that which thinly layered the ground, but it seemed that the restless enemy had not slept that night, for as soon as the blackness grew to dim light, they came. The came in their hundreds, wary of the walls and the defenders atop them, but still they came. Lumbering beasts, giants, tore whole trees from the ground and then carried them, roots and all, towards the iron strapped gates of the cities, and commenced to hammering away. Arrows soaked in pitch streaked through the sky, leaving trails of flame as they flew, and landed amidst the buildings behind the walls. Siege engines, hastily constructed and barely worthy of the service they were now pressed to, trundled to the walls, and what had once been a siege now became a frenzied defense, as the outnumbered men on the walls fought to repel the men and goblins that streamed up the towers, trying to gain and hold the walls. others ran about within the city, trying to put flames out as they rose, but for every fire they doused, two more started.
Over it all, the heavy thumping of tree trunks against hardwood gates rang through the city, even as the light of the fires painted the smoke filled sky overhead a ruddy orange.
The screaming had begun, with no way to tell how it would all end.
Careless of the world and its worries, even of the death and blood and heat of battle, the snow fell onwards, muffling the world in its uncaring fall.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
She had placed his inert form into the earth and offered a prayer to the Patron Himself and had left the city behind with the few coins in her purse and the few belongings she called her own on her back. He had trained her well in the arts; they could have lived much better but the old man had been shrewd and paranoid. The city guards had begun to look at her sideways when she passed; they could not prove she was behind the missing items from the noble's homes nor could they place blood on her hand in the deaths of those nobles murdered, yet they suspected and the old man had called her a fool as he coughed through that wet spring. It was because of those looks that she left the city behind after the old man had died, bound for a plumper city in which to ply her trade.
The patron had noticed, the patron had interjected into her plans.
How long ago it seemed that the dying man had thrust a scrap of torn parchment into her hands in the middle of a dark and rarely traveled wood. The scrap of paper that had been her undoing, no, not undoing. Her extending. That man bloodied and gasping with a wild look in his eyes who had come out of the wilderness and fell at her feet. He had been fortuitous. If one could call what followed fortuitous. A magical bow and quiver whispered to her on a last gasp of fetid and used up breath before the muscles had gone slack and what was left became rotting meat. How eagerly that map had been followed; not a thought at all about what it might bring.
The days had passed in this pursuit, this single minded pursuit of magical items rare and wondrous. No spare thought of the dead man or how he came into her path, only a child’s delight at chasing down a treasure. The forest she traveled was old, it seemed an actual presence. The light was deep and welcoming, the shadows kept it cool and the nights were filled with the flashes of bugs. There was plenty of game to hunt, the meat somehow richer; fuller, than what she caught near the city. Here there was a sense of homecoming.
It was a shock as the temple reared from the wilderness trapped in a deep emerald light as if the very forest were alive and breathing light onto the white marble face. Not a hint that this old place was here, untouched by the wild. No foot had tread through this place in years, no old cook fire remains could be found despite the search for such. It was as if the temple had been born of the earth itself whole and perfect. Little did this foolish youth consider how fate had lain it all out so perfectly. Foolish indeed.
The entry door was a vast puzzle and gave her cause to camp for three days in the cool shadow of the stone monolithic building. Three days before she puzzled it out and reached foolish fingers to undo the lock she should never have touched to begin with.
A torch lit the way through the darkness where shadows flickered and danced at the edges of the light until that light illuminated the statue itself. Him. Her patron. It was only then that an inkling of concern washed down her spine like a scrim of ice off a puddle in deep winter. Yet at the feet of the patron lay the bow and quiver. How could such treasure be left alone? Was there any choice really?
One might argue there is always a choice when they do not stand before glimmering treasure, easy to offer sage advice when one is not tempted with such a bounty of magical mystery. The torch was set into a crevice as she reached for the bow. It was only as her fingers were curling about that fine ornate wood that her mind screamed in alarm but by then it was too late.
Perhaps it had been too late the second she had been birthed, or too late when her mother had died and left her girl child to wander a city half naked and half starved. Meat for the packs of dogs or the teeth of winter, she certainly had not shed a tear as she escaped her existence as a war widowed wife left with no title and forced to use the only thing she had left to survive. The get of a warrior long dead on some far away field and a scrawny hard eyed, hard souled woman dead years as well. Perhaps it had been too long when her mother spread her legs to her father upon their wedding night.
One would imagine the answer was yes to all.
Her fingers had closed on the bow even as her nerves cried warning and she was lost. Lost to Him, lost to His desires and lost to the normalcy of life and death. Oh lost!
Yet.. was she, or was it a dream for it seemed hazy to her now. A memory of a dream. Perhaps a daydream that she imagined was how it went, all was hazy of that time.
All of this recalled as she stood waiting with swords pointed at her throat and heart. Not a single fear, not a hint of what she was capable of, only that mischievous imp cantering about silently in her head waiting for action in one direction, or another.
There was no reaction to the one who was a kindred spirit, though she could see by the tight line of his lips, the tenseness of his shoulders and the way he walked that he was displeased by his conversation only moments before. How it mimicked her own reaction to Him and His meddling over the years. It was not easy to be rebuked and all too easy to take offense at perceived slights. Too easy at such a young age when youth had not been tempered by experience and while she made no effort to commiserate she was able to take a lesson from it, grudgingly.
It was part and parcel with the world that the flow and surge of emotions raged during such battle torn times. Not a face here bore an expression she had not witnessed countless times, nor did the smell of wounds or spilled juices change through the years. Ruin had not changed its perfume and while it was not delighted at by the civilized it was the scent of the world and blood the grease which lubricated the motion of change. There was no emotional involvement for her, only that aloof sense of impending action which always accompanied these first meetings.
The last such had been in a bleak and blasted land on a cliff which jutted over a wind howling drop with a battlefield stained red and stretching across the horizon below and the skies black with vultures and crows all shrieking with greed despite a feast below them they could not hope to clean up before time and elements stripped flesh from bones. This was no different, while the platter was smaller here the promise of such a rendering was unspoken in the air. Not with words but in the very nature of the actions leading implacably towards such an event. It always led to such an event. Always.
“Follow along then.” Came the report of the runner which brought the merest nod of head in reply. Never came a sense of annoyance or dismissal, there was an order given through the chain and one she followed without murmur or complaint. In truth she barely noticed as the men glanced nervously at one another and sheathed weapons as already movement was made to join the exodus. No horse was pulled from the picket line, instead shanks mare was used; that eery speed and grace allowing her to move at speed without so much as popping sweat or losing her wind.
The cold of the wind was drawn into lungs welcomed to be exhaled warmly, the snow danced in the oily ebony hair and swirled about them as the hoard advanced. The smell of pitch, death, ruin and smoke were known and while they were not welcome scents they were familiar and stirred the blood to a warmth that body heat could not match. That fire in the belly to dance shadowed death amid the jostling eager enemy's ranks and see them thinned by the volley and thrust of loosed arrow. As always the advent of such happenstance stirred reaction from the armor so that shadows began to seep from the very stitching and pores to curl in a misty envelope. Those places where shadow fell would become dwelling places of utter seclusion.
The bow sang softly into heart, thrumming against her back and finally as the smoke plumed skyward with the cries of a campaign ahead the emotionless face showed a single emotion.. desire.
Jaesin breathed heavily, his breath forming plumes in the chilly air. The wall he stood on was stained dark with blood, though the corpses that had yielded their vitae had been cast over the side to keep the footing free of obstacles. One of the siege towers burned in front of him crackling and sending sooty clouds of smoke into the sky and casting a lurid light on the scene all around. The enemy here, to the north, had retreated when the cities archers descended on this position, raining death on the enemy.
Now, he leaned on the bared blade in his hand, sweat streamign down his face, it didn't seem to matter that it was below freezing outside, it seemed as hot as a desert here. Battles always were, in his experience - the pounding of blood in the veins, the rush of adrenaline surging through the same. every moment was the first, and the last, every moment could be the last.
"I still think you should try one of the eggs," his brother ventured beside him. The grenados gleamed coldly in the pale light reflected from the fields of snow,. They seemed sinister, far more than what they were - thin shells of clay, fireformed, innocuous. And still he remembered what they had done in his brothers lab, and thought of the horror they could wreak on a field of battle.
"No, I don't think so. Why did you bring them up here?" if he dropped one of them.....well, sometimes its better not to dwell on what was possible. They had enough on their plate as it was. Beyond the wall, the field churned with dark shapes, gathering the courage to try the gates again. He glanced dismissively at the giants' corpses that lay in front of those gates, the shattered trunk of the tree they had been using as a ram lying with them. "As a last resort. We can hold, as long as need be."
"As you wish, brother, but I still think these will do as well as a mages fireballs would." Jaesin shuddered inwardly. He had no love of magic, nor did any soldier outside a mages' cadre.
renewed motion from beyond the walls drew his attention, and he grimaced. "Looks like they haven;t learned their lesson yet. They come again."
For answer, Kellum merely smiled, and hefted one of the clay balls. "Burn you, but I do not care what you think. Let them have a taste of this." Without preamble, he hauled back, and hurled the clay sphere out into the darkness beyond the wall.
Aeyliea no longer cared about stealth, any more than the men that rode with her did.
She owed nothing to these men, not her life, not her allegiance, but it would be a cold day before she turned from a challenge. Something in the air fair reeked of something lodged in her memories, but she would be burned if she could figure out what.
Since her awkening, there had been little but shock after shock. The realization that everything she had ever known was gone to dust was bad enough. The darker realization of what she had done - and that tore her heart as deeply as a knife planted there - was yet another to the mountain building on her shoulders.
Add to that, that her suspicion about the infidel walking the wolrd still, or perhaps again....
The column moved in silence, and she allowed herself to drift back, seeking the stranger that had joined their midst just as they were breaking camp. The snow swirling in the air and her breath plumed slow and deep, her eyes searching amidst the swirling murk. There. Towards the rear of the column with a pair of minders, guards, whatever you might wish to call them. The woman carried herself with an air of self possession that many nobles would envy, with that odd bow at her back. Even from here, she could....sense...the power that imbued that weapon, alien to her as the forests were to a ocean perch. She was no mage, had never wielded such power before, and therefore could only but guess at the source of that power. Surely not Tzuriel, bound and imprisoned on a dead world. But there were others, near deities that were as loathsome, and while the woman exuded no stench of evil, she also gave no hint as to the thoughts that flitted behind her eyes. In her estimation, a dangerous woman.
And so she fell back, until she rode alongside, holding her horse to a slow trot, but said nothing at all. The column continued onwards, the fires over Taiene casting an angry red glare in the sky some few more miles south. She held her peace, unsure as to why this strange woman with that....aura about her, would have any interest in a simple soldier.
he watched from the treeline, fascinated by the brutes that besieged his city. The officer sat his saddle, and the hand picked men he had taken with him sate behind him, as silent as the dead. Their enemy was unaware of them, focused as they were on the jewel of the city that rested right before them. They would not have noticed if a hundred humans charged into their midst to lay about and kill, at least, not until the humans had done a fair good accounting of themselves.
The previous day had been fraught with battle, and little of the outcome had been good. His numbers had been cut to fifty who could still fight, and a solid mass of corpses dotted the countryside behind him, his men who would never fight again. He hoped that the strange woman, encountered in equally strange circumstances, was having a better time of this than he was. He had been raised and trained to lead men, but he was no tactician. that belong to those higher up the food chain; he merely implemented the orders once given.
He raised a hand in silenced, and fifty men behind him tensed. Slowly, he brought it down, andthose same men advanced in absolute silence, only the flickering gleam of bared steal to betray their presence. Perhaps he could by the men on the walls some time. Perhaps, their lives would not be too cheap.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
It could be taken as a given that some of the smaller forms were trampled into the snow in gory streaks, bundles of flesh crushed under excited monstrosities. Those few nightmare pools of crumpled splatters would hardly reduce the number in any substantial way. It was akin to shedding a few hairs from the head and calling it thinned when millions remained. So it was there, there would seem a single mass of flailing arms and glimmers of teeth, the siege machines were as buttons on the cloth of this vestment of destruction now seeking to envelope the body of a city desperate to turn aside this ill offered garment of war.
They hurried towards this howling feast of ill omen in awkward silence, only the jangle of tack, the creak of leather and chain as well as the snow muffled crunching sound of hooves and booted feet spoke amid the men whose wills were strong yet whose fates were uncertain.
The cold did not numb fingers. The boots were not stamped as if trying to shake the chill from toes. Only a tilt of head cut this vision of distant war from the mental gaze, for her true gaze traveled to this commander who sat her saddle as if born to it. Valaetia detected no increase in respiration, no jerking of face from one tragic diorama to another as the enemy had offered many amid her ranks. The very fact this commander did not seek to supplicate the men who were battle weary and nervous told as much as could be told of the woman’s nerves. What remained to be seen was her savvy in giving orders. Silvered gaze considered her a moment longer as the horse which bore her slowed until they were abreast on this trek of violence.
There afforded a certain freedom in having no emotional investment in this battle. It afforded her a contrivance of pleasure at being at work once again; though her employer was a hard task master. As a sword may sit idle and useless propped in a corner it becomes a living thing when used to its purpose; biting flesh and spilling blood.. All tools are happiest when used to their purpose. Yet again was the sense that she had grown to accept these terms at long last. It was almost a relief to realize that. This was her purpose and one not given to shirking her duty as a tool of destruction.
Perhaps the meditation had been beneficial, perhaps she had grown up at long last. It mattered little in the face of this army. I may accept this but do not expect me dandling upon Your knee any time soon. There are still matters which need addressed in future. She sent this thought intentionally at her patron and received no response. That did not matter either.
They moved forward side by side in silence that neither of them had felt compelled to break; though she guessed the commander was sizing her up and waited for her to fill the silence with a burst of words like some green warrior seeking to prove her mettle with words alone. Still it would not do to ignore her either. The silver gaze danced across her once again. “Commander.” That word, a bow of head in respect. Though not much of a dip of head in truth. “I am Valaetia.” The introduction was done as far as she was concerned and with her handlers so close and curious she did not feel obliged to spill any other information. Some of which; if she shared it now, would doubtless cause further unease. Hoist by my own petard. A choice, she thought He had been easy on her. Oh she was still a fool. How to explain to this woman why she was there without coming off as a mad woman in the process. That was the question and held no simple answer.
The snow was heavier now, falling in a manner that denoted it meant business and had little desire to end any time soon. This was a boon in truth for the advancing column because it granted secrecy to their advance despite all efforts to avoid secrecy. If the enemy were concerned with their backside a scout could hardly miss them unless it was blind. Still what did it matter if they were detected, the hive minded war machine would hardly send its attention to a small insignificant group when the full banquet lay before it trapped inside thick and flame scorched walls.
“I imagine you have questions.” Lilting words floating amid the heavy flakes though her gaze was no longer on the commander but searching always ahead for the first glimpse of the supposed army. “Will it suffice to know I am your servant and not your enemy?”
He couldn't catch the growl that escaped. That woman had tried to place the blame of their deaths on him and that couldn't be further from the truth. Would she be at blame for the deaths of the soldiers under her? No, because they died doing a job. He and his men hadn't been much different. Not soldiers for sure, but they still did a job and it had led them to their deaths.
Bloody fools. All of them. Sticking your neck out for anything got you in trouble. He should know. He had done it once and this is where it had led him.
His left arm ached with just the memory of it. He wondered how long it would take, how much longer he had. It had been years since the mage had cursed him but he hadn't been specific with his curse, or at least, the mage hadn't spoken up quick enough to avoid a dagger shoved into his throat. Curling his hand into a fist, he wished he could do it again.
As the troop passed, he noticed a woman that hadn't been there before. At least, he hadn't seen her. There were too many women here. War wasn't a place for them. They should be hiding behind the walls, not fighting in front of them. Or should be, but from what he had seen of the woman leading, she wouldn't be comfortable not doing something. What was she, anyway? Some bloody noble?
Shrugging, he rose from his spot and moved towards the valley. He just needed to resupply but this snow wasn't going to help him. He would have to stick to the cover under the trees if he was going to be able to make it there and back again without leaving an obvious trail.
Back? Back to where? He would figure that out when the time came. For now, he needed more arrows.
Anaster chuckled to himself. He should be as terrified as the others, the women and children and urchins one and all running to the center of the city, to the keep of their Lord. But not him. It was wrong also that he thought only to the spoils to be had here. The dead had no need of the finer things in life, and perhaps the mass death today would produce enough scavenging to see him out of the city, and away with coin enough to live relatively well for a time.
That a childs mind could be forced into adulthood so young was one of the many facts of the streets, where blood may have had to be spilled to eat on any given night, with more nights going hungry than fed..
There was still the problem of the walls and the gates - he was certainly not a fool, even at his tender young age. he didn't even entertain the notion of trying to push his way through one of them, and he very much doubted anyone would open the gates anyway. Not for a child, and certainly not during a siege.
He scurried back down the walls, and took up a safe little hidey hole of his own making, and waited.
He yelled at his thickheaded charges. They had been severe rebuffed of their notion that the walls wouldbe easy to take from country folk. He'd had a hundred of the beast at the start of the morning, and now only seventy...well, perhaps sixty remained. The siege tower they had spent days building lay in a twisted, blackened heap against the wall, and buried half a dozen arrow-riddled corpses beneath it. Haraad was not best pleased, but it could be worse. Mercenaries - especially goblin ones - were cheap to replace, and if even one of these rogues made it into the city, the profit would be well enough.
His reasonings were simple for taking the job. His family had descended in a long line back to the original land holders, once a part of the vast Fallen Empire, as the rest of the world saw them. Long ago their very great grand parents had been Lords and High Lords among the rulers of that massive realm, under the Great Emperor himself. The Emperor had professed his interest in controlling the world, but for all the whispers of the Great Lords' patron, only so few among the entire Empire know, and had understood. Is preceding generation, all the way back to the first, had kept that secret, for they understood what it meant, and agreed.
That dark goddess, banished from the realm long before for crimes that had never truly been brought up, was that patron. And the patroness had bestowed mighty power into his hands, a disciple among the realm of humans.
The promise of a world under one ruler, and one goddess, weas a pleasing one. So long had other gods made their promises, empty and devoid of the smallest scrap of truth, tried to rule here, but only an Elder Goddess had the power to do so. he didn't want paradise on earth, but he wanted something a sight better, and perhaps with it his own glory and profit. He followed that nameless goddess, not knowing her name, or even what she stood for. Following the truth of the priesthood, dark and hidden as it was.
And the Matronesses had spoken, and had taken command again, as it was so of old.
Something within these walls was wanted very bad, if it wasn't the patch of ground that was wanted. It had been longer than memory since the Great Lord walked the earth, and none had been chosen to replace him. His banishment had rocked the Church, if it could be called that, to its core. It had only been the whispered promise of his return and a return of what once was, that kept any faithful.
Of course, money gathered from the looting of this city did play its part.
"Garr! Grab the tall ones and try the gate again. The iron looks stressed and the wood is splintering, I think we can make it through this time." he didn' t know why he even bothered. The creatures were to thick to think beyond the next moment, and so plans always fell through. Best to keep it simple.
The creature darted a malevolent glare at him, then wandered off to do as told. Such simple things, driven by greed and more often than not bloodlust.
He thought of the potential gains here, and didn't even bother to watch as the two lumbering giants walked by carrying a forty foot tall try ripped whole from the ground, didn't watch their bloody bodies start hammering away at hte gate to an ever increasing splintering sound, didn't watch shafts sprout on them like a pin cushion, and them never even seeming to notice
With a shudering crash, the gate shuddered and inched back, the iron locks finally giving way to the strength of a couple giants. A splintered hole had been gouged through the gate, and the splintery edges cracked further with each swing. Jaesin held himself ready, crouched on a stone roofed inn four buildings down from the gate, bow and quiver close to hand.
Another thunderous boom, and the gate groaned open as the bar shattered to flinders and the iron binding it to the wall flew. For a long moment two very surprised and stupid looking giants stared in amazement that the way was open, and then both dropped the tree trunk at about the same time, reaching for the massive axes strapped at their backs. before they had even taken two lumbering steps, kobolds and other golbins had flooded toward the breech in defenses, and swarmed through into the walled city itself.
Men in splattered armor and shields, holding pikes and swords, were waiting as the tide of invaders broke into the street, and then slammed into men with shields locked blocking all the streets leading away, three deep. Fighting within walls was alwyas harder on the attack than the defender, who knew every street. That, and they were defending narrow places where the enemy was constricted as much as they, and here training made as much a difference as having a home to defend.
he picked his targets from the mass, and eyed one of the giants, already studded with arrows and scored by spear and sword. They jus twould not die, no matter what had been done to them. He drew an arrow and knocked it, and tried to sight in as carefully as he could. He knew the bow, but it was a long shot.
An arrow flew, and missed the intended target, instead skewering an unfortunate kobold to the city gate through its neck. The decond arrow flew true, and the giant simply stepped forward, and kept right on going to thunder to the ground, killing several of the smaller creatures in the process. And arrow stood out stark in its face, shaftv sticking six inches from a bloody eyesocket. He drew and picked a differetn target, but was unhappy by what had happened in the last few moments.
So many were tryingto push through the breach in the gate that they were shoving and pushing, and the men in the streets were outnumbered at least four to one, and growing by the minute Thoug harrows slashed into them from rooftops, they seemed to never diminish.
"I don't care what you say." Kellum was looking out over the mass if creatures, and holding a single one of the fairly heavy little eggs. he was looking intently out at the boiling mass, and grinning. it was not one of his normally empty pleasant grin. The others were set on a ledge above them on the roof, where perhaps he would forget about them until someone else could dispose of them.
he had been fighting this all day, because the man wished to try his hand at his creation. The reasons for not doing it were quite obvious to him - how man of their own would be killed by accident, and that not even knowing the full effect of the damned things. But, it now occured to him, that it didn't matter any longer. They would never stave off the invaders, not when they possessed n umber. He shrugged to himself, and turned to his brother.\
"Cross over a few houses closer to the gate, then." He almost groaned at the look that came over his brother as he scurried off the roof, carrying his precious device.
The Lords' Manor would serve as a suitable place to retreat to once the walls were truly lost, but he had no idea how they would fight their way through this, bringing women and children with them as they went, and if that was even possible.
A couple houses down, his brother appeared on the roof, panting, nearly doubled over. He must have run, to get their so quickly, and certainly looked winded. It didn't seem to phase him enough that he didn't get right away to his business. What better than an experiment under live conditions?
he hurled the pale gray globe out towards the gate, and only height would allow it to get close enough to do its job.
He couldn't help but follow that gray shape as it sailed through air suddenly turned jelly, times flow slowed.
Haraad was overjoyed. Somehow, they had managed to batter the gate down, and his sixty or so surged forward, juoined by another group of thugs owned by a stranger, one he had never met before. One that knew the signs.
A hundred and fifty goblins gathered to push and shove at the opened gate, and Haraad had begun to disembark from his camp, sure that the trouble would have passed by now, that the horde was winning their way through.
The sound of screaming and dying men tore at the air. he smiled.
It dropped. Will the damn thing never la-
The snow pounded down harder by the hour, until the world was filled with whte, and white crunched beneath their booted feet. It muffled the sounds of so many men moving, but eventually obscured the warning glow from the fires at the city. Their forced march did not slow one hair for all of it, though. Another five or six miles, her scouts had promised her, would see her at the outermost camps, now deserted.
For a long while she didnot respond to the woman as she trotted along side. This Valeatia seemed a serenely self possessed woman, utterly calm and dispassionate. Her lilting voice did not speak of a rogue or vagabond, and by her possessions, no vagabond would ever own any longer than it took to sell. She walked amid marching men, and very apparently across a butcher's yard with little to comment, only that she was not an enemy. But not an ally either, merely another party whose true motives were masked, undetermined. She would not believe a servant of this woman, unless the master was forced to bend their neck to her. The younger man that had stalked away in a huff some time before crossed her mind, but this woman carried herself differently. The other had been prideful and arrogant; here there was no outward arrogance.
After a time, she finally sighed, and looked sideways at the woman. "Strange times are these." She sighed, and dismounted, sliding from the back of the animal gracefully. She took up the stride of the marching men, but it was not a stately walk. Like a lioness on the prowl, all tenses springs, ready for violent, lethal motion at a moments notice. "I would be wary, and weary perhaps, of the unusual were not my own circumstances less so."
She walked quietly for a time, feeling the icy flakes brush her exposed flesh, darkening her leather armor and melting as soon as they touched the immense sword on her back.
"I am Aeyliea. For the time, I command these men, but their loyalties are to another. I just..." So forthcoming with a stranger. She hadn't even really wanted to admit to herself her reasons for even caring about these people, when all of her own were gone from this world. Defending the old cause, in a world where none likely even remembered the better times. But she had her honor to live by, and couldn't very well even lie to herself. "I'm a curiosity , in my own way, but you are even curioser. You do not approach me with any more deference due a Queen to a highly favored commander or relative, and yet you claim to be a servant. Deference, perhaps, but very little." Her face lost some of the hardness. "Mind, I do not care a whit. None here are subject to my command save that they see hope in my hands, though I myself have little left to me." She eyed the bow, but said nothing. She was no mage, no Sidhe, and could not tell anything at a glance, but the object seemed to hum to her, resonating with something in her soul. She had already known it was enchanted or acted upon by sorcery in some way, but being close she swor she could almost feel it.
"What, pray tell, do you wish of me? I've heard you wished to speak to me alone of all the men here, not totally unbelievable as I 'command' this lot. But why me? Because I command, or for some...other...reason?"
they charged across the snow, sending up sprays of dirty white as their feet dug into the not yet frozen ground. They did not yell and battlycries, for they wanted their target to have no idea what was coming down on them like an avalanche.
The young officer wore a grim smile as he rode his horse far to the rear, a short pike in hand. The first of his man vanished amidst the attacking horde as they swarmed towards an obvious breakthrough, and it wasn't until they were screaming in pain and fury, and dying, before any of the attackers thought to look behind them.
And then he was in it with his men, spear stabbing down on shapes darting in the murky light of dawn, blood mixing withdirt to turn the snow odd combinations of color. Now men yelled their chosen cries, and enemies spun to face them with every sort of weapon imaginable, turned, and for the most part died. To begin, anyway.
More of the enemy turned their attention from the walls to the attackers in their midst, but this time his men did not turn to run, having nipped another bloody rent in the enemies numbers. This time, there was little to lose, to keep the enemy from takign their city, and likely killing or enslaving everyone within.
The gate was in easy sight, and perhaps they would be able to fight their way through and-
The world erupted in sound so loud that it took on physical force, and the physical force took him off his saddle.
A thunderous roar. The sting of things pelting him very hard from below, but he could not see because he had been thrown back by something he could not see. A moment later, two more thunderous bursts of sound, and his world shifted, and fell downwards. And then all the breath was driven from his lungs, the last sight he saw the beams and rooms within the house he was on top of, up above his eyes amid swirlign smoke, snow, and dust. And then, blessedly, he passed out.
Anaster gaped, eyes as wide as they would go.
he had a very good vantage of the fighting at the gates, and his heart had pounded wildly at the thought of the enemy gaining the toehold they had certainly made.
But now the street was clear of so much as a corse for five feet away from the gates, and where the gates had been, only a few splinters of wood remained, attached to a hung held by stone blackened with soot. The arching stonework that had once framed the gate was gone, and littered the street liberally.
It was after five feet from where there had once been wood that the carnage began. Amid the mass of bodies that littered the ground, many moved and tried to stand, but most of those closer to the gates were simply bloodied lumps of meat. Further out, the injuries were severe but would not likely kill if treated. For the rest, goblins picked themselves unsteadily, and men in armor got to their feet quickly, pressing home an advantage that seemed delivered from heaven. There had been a hundred of the enemy in that confined space, and now there were thirty or forty capable of doing anything, and most of them shellshocked.
The madness would end soon, though. he knew it, and eagerly looked for his chance to dart out of the walls, and be away.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
Fingering the hilts of his dagger, he let his mind wander back to that time.
The room was cold. It always was. That's what the Master wanted and he always got what he wanted. On winter nights like this, we would normally huddle together for warmth. Tonight we didn't and we all knew why.
Jano was dead.
He had died after we were returned to our room. The raining today had been worse then normal; kicks from nearly impossible angles, hanging from rafters and poles by only our nails, and the constant flow of magic that would burn our flesh should we fail any of these tasks. Jano had simply failed too many times.
By some unspoken agreement, we stayed apart that night with poor Jano curled in the center of the room. Or at least what was left of him. I hoped that his soul had found some escape from this prison.
I sniffed and bit back a cough.
To show weakness now would seal my fate. To show weakness now would mean I would be beaten by the others, beaten by my brothers. Brothers indeed! We would rip each other apart should the Master tell us to. That had been a common enough occurrence when there had been half a score of us in this room. Now, we were only four, five if you counted Jano but we didn't.
We knew what his death meant. I could feel the tension as we all thought it. If there was only us four left, soon the Master would choose who would be his hidden knife. His weapon against those that dared to steal his precious spells.
His guardian. That's what the Master would call us, but I knew different. Our training was more in the line of assassinations and theft then protection.
The solid iron door opened and with it, warmth.
It stayed open, empty. My brothers looked at it and slowly rose to the balls of their feet. I could see the question in their eyes. Are we summoned? I alone stayed seated on the cold floor. If the Master wanted us, he'd summon us in the normal fashion; a soft whisper that barely registered over the moaning of the wind.
I watched my three brothers hesitate at the doorway and I wondered if this was another test. Should I go with them? Stay? No, I decided. I would stay. Maybe I could curl up and get some sleep.
As my eyes closed, I could clearly hear my brothers leave, the door closing fast behind them.
That was the last I saw of them. Alive, anyways.
I awoke to that warmth and immediately my training took over. Before I was even fully awake, I somehow had scaled the stone wall and was perched in the relative safety of the top of corner of the room.
Only then did I become aware of the Master. His frail arms were folded across across his chest. He gazed at me with eyes like ice and his lips were curled in a sneer. Oh, how I hated that sneer. I would take a thousand beatings if I could just slap it off him.
"Master," I breathed, dropping down to the floor and to my knees at his feet. I tried to control my fear and dread. I had failed the test! Now, I was going to join my brothers before me in the caverns under the castle.
The Master had made a point to show us those caverns. The walls were decorated with the bodies of those before us. Frozen in their moments of failure, those faces had haunted my nightmares. Those lucky ones had been turned to stone before they died while others had been turned in the middle of their death throes; heads partially severed from the shoulder, gruesome stomach wounds that spilled out their organs, slit throats, all on display in a morbid tableau of death.
Something snapped him out of his reverie and once again, his training took over his body. Sliding down to one knee, he had the bow pulled back and was about to let it fly. The facade of the bandit slid away and one again he was the assassin, his jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed.
It took him a moment to focus on what had fired up his instincts.
Smoke. Lots of it.
He turned on his heel, the bow level with his chest and looked around. Off in the distance where the city lay, great plumes of smoke obscured the sky. The battle was fierce there and soon would be even worse. That crazy woman was making her way towards it. Part of the bandit in him wanted to go make sure she was safe, but Larit was quick to push that down. For too long he had worn that face. He would have to choose another. Soon.
Standing, he released the tension on the bow and slid the arrow back into the quiver. The fate of the city held no importance to him. The valley was his goal right now. He had his goods there. Not merely supplies like he had let on, but also tools of his trade. Tools that he had wrested away from his former Master, the mage, when he had failed his final test. All for one simple mistake, but he should have known better.
His left arm itched. Growling under his breath, he pulled back his sleeve. The skin was peeling, the muscle underneath rippling with each movement of his arm. It was traveling quicker then he had thought. Only in a few months and a perfectly good arm was beginning to rot away. His Master must have gotten out more of the spell then Larit had hoped. If only he could identify it, find some other mage that could heal it, but he knew the chances of that were slim. The Master had spells and tomes that were all but lost to time. The best Larit could hope for was that he could make it another year.
And wetting his daggers with more blood.
But he was not alone. In front of him he saw the kobold he had been fighting attempting to push himself upwards. Roaring a warcry that was unheard by anyone in the vicinity, he buried the one axe he still had into the skull of the monster before kicking the smaller being backwards. Waving his axe, he began to rally some of the other soldiers to him, and they began killing the orcs and kobolds who, as a rule, were closer to the blast and were taking longer to recover. If they could just make it to the city, then they could rest and take stock of their wounds.
“I would say all circumstances are beyond what most fantasize is normal. Your circumstance is what it is, rail against it, batter uselessly against it or merely accept and do what you were made to do Aeyliea.” Affording another glance to the woman’s face. Her lips thinned softly at the words of hope, a quick flicker of gaze to ensure the men were not being overly straining in their desire to sip from this conversation nuggets to share around camp fires later. “Hope.” The word whispered in a lilt that was edged with what could only be described as a rind of ice borrowed from the skies. “The smallest ray of sunlight can produce a rose if it lingers and struggles to shine.” It was not her way to speak thus yet there was a kinship here between them; their sexes assured such though it was more than mere gender.
They were sisters in violence and blood.
A soft laugh was issued though she did not miss the way those around them relaxed in regards to her presence as it seemed she was not to be sent away in their opinions. She stopped as the question was asked, ignoring those few 'handlers' which stopped a prudent distance away and finally settled the silvered gaze upon the commanders eyes. There was no flinching, no begging for acceptance. The snow drifted down heavier that was all. “You because it was ordained. I will be your instrument of violence, your tool to deal death. I will be what you command of me until my usefulness has worn itself out and I am cast aside like a tool which has no further work ahead of it. I will not complain, I will not fail and above all I will not show mercy to those you set in my path. It is this way because you stand opposed to the protagonist. Shall I kneel to amuse you, or be a lick spittle to show you deference or shall we both accept what is and get on with the bloody wet work?” There was no arrogance, no anger, no insult in the tone. She spoke as one who is content to be what she is. A new and freeing mindset after all this time.
At last she looked ahead, her eyes flared silver a moment then banked like icy coals once again. “The tide has turned, my commander. Let us see what a little hope can achieve.” the vision had been quick but violent, an explosion at the city wall. It made the bow hum louder against her back so a hand was forced to reach back in a soothing stroking motion along the ornate wood. Soon.
The mercenary was right, in a fashion. As Larit looked down in the valley, he took careful count of the enemy within. The valley had been taken over, but not by orcs, goblins, or giants. It had been taken over by refugees from the fighting. Children whacked at bushes with wooden swords while mothers watched protectively over them. He few men that were there had obviously seen some fighting, bandages wrapped over festering wounds and eyes wild with what no man should have to see.
Easing the bowstring back, he took a moment to consider his options. He could easily kill them all and take the valley back as his own. The men wouldn't put up much a fight and the women were always easy kills. They would try to protect the children and in doing so would make hunting them down that much easier. That is what his Master would have considered the best option and that was the only reason he discarded it
He wouldn't be a slave to a dead man any longer.
But to leave the valley and it's supplies would hinder him too greatly. He needed the food that was stashed there a much as he needed his poisons.
Sliding into the shadows, he weighed his options. He could easily sneak past the refugees and get to his supplies, but he wouldn't be able to sort through them and grab what he needed in time. The possibility of approaching them openly came into his mind but it was quickly discarded. He had no personas that would make the meeting go well. A merchant caravan, a brothel, even a nobles dance, sure, but not a refugee camp. The bandit persona would work to a degree, he figured, but he would need to blend it with others.
He unstrung the bow, his he quiver beneath his cloak, and ruffled his hair. He could have used some of that charcoal from the burnt farmstead but he had not grabbed any. Either way, this persona would have to do.
Limping down the valley wall, he leaned heavily on the bow as if it was a simple walking stick. He called out to the refugees in a voice that cracked with exhaustion.
"Hail the camp!"
He watched them scatter as if they were under attack but after a moment when a few of the men had noticed him. They approached him cautiously, crude weapons in hand. Larit took some pleasure in that. If he did have to kill them, at the least they would be armed.
"What do you want, stranger?" "Is the war over?" "What is all that smoke?". He was hit with question after question as h made his way down the valley floor. Angling towards one of his caches, he held up a hand and claimed to be too tired for so many questions.
Most of the men moved away but some took it in their head to check the perimeter of the valley. They should already be doing patrols, he thought. They would need every second they could get should one of the enemy patrols wander here.
Faking exhaustion, he laid down next to his cache and carefully began to remove what he needed. The vials of poison went into carefully designed pockets on his vest while food was folded into his cloak. After only a few minutes he had enough to be able to continue his fight.
It took almost no effort to sneak away from the refugees and he wondered if the persona had been needed at all. If nothing else, it would be something he could improve on at a later time.
In a moment of weakness that his Master would have had him whipped for, he had left the cache open. The refugees wouldn't starve anytime soon and now that they would know what to look for, would have supplies to last a few weeks and weapons to defend themselves.
Larit moved towards where he would find the most blood for his blades. The city.
Ordained? The woman spoke in riddles, much like the Sidhe and other mystic races, whose lives grew to such tremendous length that they invariably swallowed themselves in meaningless searches for answers, answers that could not be found. She was nothing special. What could be ordained about a woman who had risen from her muddy commoner heritage, even if she had attained rank few men with such ancestory did? And even that meant nothing. The land where she had held her titles was gone to dust, as was most of the world she remembered all to vividly. She was a solider, with a set of skills that many did not possess, fighting a war that had been lost untold ages before.
She clicked her tongue against her teeth, and her horse trotted in close. The snow was a blanket that obscured much beyond five hundred yards now, and it had grown in depth from a mere inch to several, but even the muffling effect it had could not render the sounds of a battle joined from somewhere very close ahead. The land rise slightly, and beyond that rise was the ruddy glow of dancing flames, and the screams of men and women and beasts caught in the heat of battle. She swung herself into the saddle easily, and eased the weapon at her back in its sheath. Ahead, the column had stopped moving forward, and its members had begun to fan out into a line, gaping ahead at what they saw. She rode to join them, to survey what had befallen Taiene. "We will talk of this more, later. I will not turn away a sword arm, not when I plan on wading into a vipers' den."
She reached the crest of the rise and then, like the men under her comman, stopped and stared, face a mask of stone and eyes filled with disbelief.
Jaesin woke up in stages, shifting on the uneven bed he had made for himself. The timbers of the half collapsed building above him groaned and sagged. It was clear that this house would not stay standing much longer.
he rolled onto his side, and debris cascaded off of him, splinters of wood and shattered tiles, wet and sticky bits of flesh. As he sat up, his bleary eyes focused, and his mouth gaped.
The access point to the city could have done well for a butchers yard. the line of defenders, many bleeding and unsteady on their feet, had pushed the line of invading kobolds back to within a street of the gate, and the nasty creatures died like dogs. Locked shields shoved forward, clearing a space where the men standign at the shield bearers' backs could lean over the wall, and stab at the creatures before the press behind them could push them back again. Blood painted the street dark red, and the littered corpses of man and beast alike filled the streets.
Some of the dead were clearly not killed by the sword though, or by any weapon Jaesin could comprehend. Half of a kobold lay practically at his feet, blasted apart by a force akin to the hand of God descending. Kellums vicious little toy served the purpose of war all too well, and he had a sinking feeling that if they survived today, the face of warfare would change forever more. Assuming the man lived long enough to bring his invention before the right rulers, of course. He searched the rooftops for some sign of his brother, but found nothing.
And then...something...happened, and stone turned to dust, and dying began. He didn't watch any longer than it took to know that the Lord of Death walked the mortal world, before he was up on his unsteady legs, and limping away from the gates, mortified shrieks, anguished cries, and the splitting screams of the wounded and surely dead rising behind him. He had to get away. The brief moment he had seen, would haunt him for the rest of his days, he knew.
Death walked among the city, and they would all perish before thids was through.
His ears rang, and his side ached where he had fallen to the groun. In front of him, his horse lay on its side, dead with a splintered piece of oak spearing it through its chest, the jagged end sticking out of its rump threaded with intestines and hair and blood. All around him soldiers picked themselves up, those who could still stand, and all around the enemy they had engaged did the same thing. The numbers were less for both sides, by whatever arcane sorcery that had been, byut the goblins had fared worse, being closer to the blast than he and his men hd been. he found his sword laying on the ground and snatched it up, and he and several others dove back into the fray without missing any more of a beat than could be avoided, and returned to slaughttering as many as they could reach.
Every one dead was another they would not have to face later, and another the city didn';t have to defend itself against.
He only just caught the tall figure moving through the press of goblinsrobed in rich blood red, striding purposefully for the gates. if he had, he wouldn't have given it any more thought, not, at least, until the dying truly began.
In the harsh language of the Mah'riel, her name meant the awful one. Rei Aifal, servant of the great goddess of the dark, the Great Goddess, whose name she was neither fit to speak, nor even knew. A creature banished out of time and world since before written history, every last trace - or so it was thought - stamped out an eradicated. Whereas the great god Olander had been of peace and justice, of good, She was not. Every coin has its opposite side, and thus it was with her. Not evil, persay, though many would see it so. Dissolution, decay, entropy. Chaos, the opposite or order, and the endbringer of order.
She strode through the battle formations, if they could be called such, of the lesser races that had gathered to do her Mistress's bidding, and cared not one whit what the repulsive creatures did, or how they died. There had been a purpose to this, to this whole campaign in a fly speck corner of a world that had largely forgotten, time and again, the truths of the world. While men fought and died of pieces of land, fought under the banners and names of false prophets and gods, her people had remained quiet and hidden, keeping the true faith, working to bring about the triumphal return of the Dark Lady.
And rei had seen much of it. She was old, terribly old, though her distinctly feminine features bore not one trace of age. Old enough to have ridden alongside the Dark Lady's champions throughout ages. She had supped om blood for Tzuriel the Damned, an avatar later cast aside, locked in a prison of a world, or perhaps a reflection of this one. She could still feel the twisted tain of Her as she sat her throne, impaled by an enchanted sword that, over millenia, she had driven as completely insane as it was possible too. that fearful blade and the mighty sorcery imbued in it would seal her fate for all time, and any else who tried to draw it, thus freeing the Damned. It had not been the Dark Lady's intent to release her, in any case - that tool had had its purpose and was cast aside, used up, and forgotten.
She had ridden under a hundred different banners, but always the same name. Rei, matroness of a tribe of the People. She had ridden where the last avatar had called for, a mad fool who thought himself a god. She had believed, for a time, but that belief was in reincarnation of the Dark Lady, given new flesh. In the end, he had proven every bit as fallable as all the others, and the only saving grace he had, if any, was that the goddess had not finished using him to her own ends.
It pulsed in her mind, a faint itch that could not be scratched. It was within the city, and the Lady wished to reclaim it, now, after all this time left abandoned. The whims of the Goddess were not for her to consider; she was far, far beneath the Dark Lady. but if the Lady wanted it, she would have it, and so here she was. The goblins and humans that had been mustered should have been more than enough to crush this flyspeck city at the end of everywhere, but perhaps the protection of...that woman...lingered even now.
But it was time to have an end to it.
She strode through the fighting masses, not even deigning to notice them. The blood red robe she wore lay open at the front, exposing a fine bosom that would draw the eye of any man. Modesty was not anything to do with her garment; those full breasts were bare to the world, all she wore aside from the robe was that simple loin cloth, and it was damp. In anticipation, or from true arrousal, it was of little concern. She pressed through the last line of attackers before gaining a clear view of the wall, shrouded by falling snow, and then her blood red eyes took on a look of purest exstacy, and her flesh broke out in sweat despite the cold. She had reached out to the void, and opened a warren - a pathway to another realm, and that realm full of an alien power. it soaked her flesh, burned her bones, and very nearly clouded her mind. Pleasure bordering on pain assailed her, but even through that, she worked, using the power of the Lady herself to do this mean, mundane work.
A revolting miasma of darkness poured from her in waves; so long as she touched so much of this power, any with even a slight sensitivity to magic would be able to feel it, and likely feel it from miles away. It did not matter, though - there were none here, or near, who could even hope to stand up to what she unleashed.
Forming the power within her mind, running through er veins and clouding her thoughts with an almost sexual tension, she forced it into something usable. She reached with her hands, and darkness reached with her, caressing stoned with a brutal touch. Stone melted to dust and sand, and then erupted violently, sending shapes fallign every which way. The ones buried in the rubble were the lucky ones - whatever that power touched, fell to the ground thrashing in agony beyond knowing. She watched impassively as a human soldier fell to his knees and began to literally claw the flesh from his face, leaving gaping rents that poured blood onto the ground in front of him. He had gouged his own eyes out, shrieking fit to split the world, before he shuddered once and fell dead, the goblins he had been fighting falling into heaps of bones thickly covered with flesh that had melted like candle wax.
She walked forward, and brought death with her as she did. She did not seek her victims out - there was purpose to her march, a destination. She did not come as a conqueror but rather as a thief, and what she sought stood in the middle of the city. A mosti nnocuous thing, looked upon for centuries and hardly even thought of at that. For that, men died, flesh stripped from bones, steal shields and armor and helmets crumpled to splash blood and thick fluid upon the ground. At first, they tried to attack, but that power allowed nothing through. Arrows warped and fell uselessly about her, steel never even had a chance to get close. She threw back her head and laughed coldly, as men threw down their weapons and fled, unable to stand against this slaughter, as hundreds of men and goblins alike fell in gorey piles. The humans fled, and the goblins, hesitating, advanced into the now undefended streets, greed for plunder and rape overpowering supernatural fear. So long as she did not look at them.
She left them to it. The fate of this city mattered not one jot, to her. She strode down a street while goblins spread through the city to begin looting and killing, but she continued on purposefully, that alien power filling her to the brim. She laughed, and any who tried crossing her path or slowing her simply died like dogs.
Pathetic humans, anyway. The Great lords' return was at hand, and if even one or two realised what they had held in this city, built on the ashes of empire so long ago, she would eat her own flesh. It was almost too easy.
And, not too far distant to the north, lay the last piece of that mighty puzzle, and a reawakening that would shake the whole world to its foundations. She couldn't help the mad, saddistic laughter that bubbled from her beautiful lips, and that laughter seemed to terrify those who did come across her nearly as much as the horror she left in her wake.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
Pain ripped through his left arm, agonizing pain that choked the scream from his throat before it even began. From the sleeve, bits of flesh, still wet and bloody, fell in clumps onto the forest floor. Whatever was happening out there, whatever magic was being worked, was accelerating the curse!
Push past it, gotta push past it. Larit took a knee, shaking as every muscle in his body wanted him just to collapse on the ground and seek the oblivion of unconsciousness. I'm stronger then this. If the curse was indeed wracking his body quicker, he wouldn't have much time left in this world. Not much time left to finish making up for the lives lost under his command.
Taking the end of his cloak in his teeth, he pulled and tore a length off of it. Turning his gaze away from his arm, he quickly wrapped it, ignoring the squishy feeling of what had once been toned muscles. He squeezed his left hand and was pleasantly surprised to know that his motor functions hadn't been completely destroyed. His grip was still strong enough to grip a dagger and shove it into some flesh.
The magic still tormented him, but he forced it down to an irritating itch.
Time was not on his side, he felt, so he dismissed the idea of stealth and ran quickly towards the city. In a short while he could make out the sounds of the woman's army in the distance. But something was amiss. They weren't marching. The city would be within striking distance. What was going on?
The chance for success for his venture would require all the intelligence he could get. He needed to know what they saw. He needed to know if he would need to take a different approach to get to his kills. Regaining a semblance of stealth, he moved towards the crest and then stopped, his feet skidding in the snow, utterly speechless...
As the line ahead drew out and stopped in horrified awe she strode forward, slipping between the shoulders of closely ranked men without them noticing. All attention was on the disaster ahead. Yes, a turning of the tide indeed. A child’s shriek of death agony pierced the air. It seemed as if the very world ceased all sound; for a single beat of time it held imprinting on all the reality of what they stood to allow should any flag or flee now and then the world exploded into battle sounds again yet that scream lingered on the mind and heart in echo. The silver eyes narrowed, not in anger or sorrow but in anticipation. Muscles strained under dusky leather, flexed as the bow was finally pulled from its resting place, it fit her hand like a glove.
The silvered gaze took in the scantily clad avatar of a woman ahead and faintly she recognized something about her; yet it was vague. Another dream of a dream perchance. This was an agent of death. Destruction. Chaos. It was sung to her through the bow and she gave a derisive snort as if unimpressed with the show of vulgar debauchery being masturbated publicly before them amid the chorus of the dying and maimed. “Behold the strumpet writhing in her degradation in worship of a whore.” This was murmured softly though one of them gaped at her and she flapped a hand towards the crimson clad strumpet busily humping along her path of destruction. “You may fear death, by all means. But death at the hands of such a filthy hand will never stain your soul if you do not give into her shadow.”
There was no disgust at the obvious use of this wench as a tool of another agent. Was she, herself, not an agent of yet another? The throw board was being set, the first moves made and she was not disagreeable to be moved along the board by the patron. For the first time in the many many years stacked up behind her the fingers dipped into the leather jerkin and touched the medallion which until recently had felt more a collar slipped about a curs neck than a symbol of faith. “By Your will my Lord, by Your will let it begin.” The fingers left the metal before they drew the first arrow.
It was notched, the bow itself drew ebony as fingers drew string taunt to cheek. The arrow seethed a melting white from the black tip as she hissed a word in a near whisper. A whisper which carried not in the wild screaming mess ahead. She followed the moving target of crimson. It may not slay, my Lord. But it shall certainly get the sluts attention. She cast this thought to the patron and waited; a glance tipped towards the commander before following the target further, her eyes burned like silver ice. She waited the order to loose.
She glanced at the archer beside her, and shook her head. "No. You may kill her, but....but I do not wish to see that thing decide to descend on us. Unless your....sorcerous ability provides some kind of protection against that?" She certainly had no defense. A sword was a sword, but steel could not fight magic, however skillfully wielded it was. "I must...reassess."
She looked along the line of men that had watched the horror below. Some, hardened veterans though they might be, retched behind the backs of the others, who were too stunned to look away. Down below were their families. Wives, children, mistresses. They had fought to protect, and failed. There should be no shame in it, for nothing they had with them could stand up to such, but they felt it, and many moved as if to join the fray below. Some did, and she didn't even dream of callingthem back, for they would not have returned under order.
What was her purpose, here? She was an outsider, and had little interest here in anything, bnut these men valued their families. That was the goal, she decided suddenly. To take as many out of the hellhouse that had erupted in front of them, and then retreat, run if need be. "I don't have to like it, but we need to get inside the walls ,and save what can be saved." Chivalry, at its finest. She would risk her skin for these men, strangers one and all. "We must make it quick, though. In, and out. We can run back into the mountains once we gather what can be saved." If anything can be saved at all, she thoght ruefully.
The horde had recovered its composure, and advanced on the gate again/. No arrows poured down on them from the heights, and no defenders rushed to the gate to seal the breach.
Drawing her weapon and holding it casually in one hand, she began to descend to the walls, and forty men held her back. The sack of Taiene had begun.
She was aware, of course, of that...other presence, behind her, but paid it little heed. It was an intense regret to let the power of the Goddess thin to a trickle, and finally vanoish from her. it left her walking on tremblign knees, awash in fatigue that few could ever understand. Housing such great power consumed her strength as surely as fightign with hands and feet ever would, and quicker.
As for the other, she had no illusions. other Ascendants likely had their pawns moving about in the world, and it was only natural that some of them would know of her, and of her Mistress. Of the plan, there could be little doubt, since the imprisonment had lasted since time out of mind. But did any of them truly understand what she was about, here? The invasion was nothing more than a feint, and all who died here were meaningless. The true goal was so mundane it would shock most to their core, but as mundane as it appeared, it was very far from it.
And so she walked city streets, looking, casting out with her mind, trying to pinpoint that unsettling feeling, that itch in the back of her mind. Somewhere, one of the last two pieces of the great seal lay, and she was determined to find it.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
She did not weep for those who had gone, or for those who were left behind. There was a deep and personal feeling of loss for all. One she did not allow to pierce the imperious mask of neutrality she wore. They would save those they could, drag them back to some imagined safe hold to protect them. Dare she voice the obvious? No. Best to let them try. Best to let that illusion hold firm for them. There was no attempt to engage the forces, instead she merely moved with the commander until they were able to slip into the city. Those few brutes who turned attention to this small band soon found themselves pierced by dagger and sword alike.
Small revenge, yet some measure of revenge which could be, and was, meted out as they searched with quick steps for survivors. A glance cast into the shell of a building netted a small form of a child. “Boy, come.” This lilted firmly to the youth. She did not stop to survey the death about her, did not wince or whimper. There was understanding of the men and their reactions. Silvered gaze danced along the path the other had taken. The crimson hussy was no longer in sight though she had clearly come for more than already breached gates.
The gaze returned to the youth still eyeballing her from the cubbyhole. The free hand lifted out in invitation. “Come, let us leave this place.” Yes, though a large part of her wondered what purpose the other had served. Had they missed the chance to divert her from that purpose? Were they risking to sacrifice themselves in the wrong cause. A single warning glowed in her mind that the arrow unloosed would cost them all in the end.
My Lord, why do I get the feeling You are laughing at this moment?
And no answer, and no answer.
Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest