An arrow was pulled and notched into place before it flew. The resulting squeal of pain and the gurgle of a death rattle caused fire to flare in her belly like a good knock of alcohol would. “Some are tapped to fight for their last breath while others are tapped to be frightened helpless fools with only the purpose to breed and pass beyond.” No contempt touched those words. After all this time that simple truth had been ground into her brain and heart. All around her men gathered to protect those who could not protect themselves, those mewling whimpering sheep would be winnowed down on this suicidal trek.
“Wars have always been fought and will always be fought, it is in the nature of us all to know strife and sorrow, blood and bitterness. Without such we would not greet each day with gratitude.” Another arrow was loosed before she turned and offered a rather cynical grin to the youth. “These people who will not fight will never know the grace of victory and the sense of triumph that comes when dawn touches the sky after a day like today with breath in their lungs.” For her this conversation had been the longest she had spoken in a very long time and it caused her throat to become parched so a handful of snow was scooped up and nibbled at before being dropped and she took no mind of the fact the snow in her hand had turned a muted pink from the gore on the glove.
“If you feel anything for them, feel pity.”
The looks she received from some of the men and women around her with such a statement went ignored though a few of those who had stood there quivering reached for blades then as if to show her they would not be pitied. As she knew they would. Sometimes a few words could turn a sheep into a lion. They barely knew which end of the sword to hold yet they had enough sense to know that a sword in the hand did more good than in a sheath. It was those who took up blades that gained her respect, though she would never tell them this. Nor did it matter if she respected them.
The ghost shapes in the alleyway beyond the wall with drew as if by orders and the knot in her gut tightened. It was not a good sign that they were regrouping so quickly. There was a pregnant quality about the City of a sudden so that even the keening wind gasped in anticipation. “Prepare.” She barked to those with blades, silently approving of how they formed a barrier with the refugees in the center.
A moment to study Anastor before she drew not just one arrow but two and notched them together, whispering another word that caused the tips to glow white hot. It was always this way for her when she was awakened to her duty, one stood out more then others, she only prayed; yes she actually prayed to Him, that this time things would end differently. That this time the blood of the one would not bring her to the final act, that this time it would be joy not grief that unleashed that final pulse. One could hope.
He sat in si8lent contemplation. The city was quiet, the snow acting as an effective muffle that kept sound from traveling. Only the sound of snow softly joining the mass on the ground, and the razor-sharp cold of the wind, and nothing else.
His brother was dead. As far as he knew, most everyone he knew was dead, though that had been a very short list. His self imposed confinement to his studies and reasearch had secluded him from the world for many years, and in the end, the fruits of his labor had not turned the tide when it was most needed.
And so he sat, bundled in the cold, and wept for what was lost.
So he had seen her. Such a shame that she would be here, though she really didn't have any doubt at all to begin with. She was not granted access to the power that the Matriarch had - that gift came only from the Other one, and nowhere else. But she could still feel it, sense its use when she was close enough to it, and those torn walls certainly were not the work of siege equipment.
"Thats nice," she replied, her voice more of a hiss this time than anything else. "And I would not go to the leader of this places' home if you paid me a hundred gold on the spot. I have no desire to deal with her right now." Not that she could, really, anyway. Open defiance was bad enough, but she didn't relish bringing about her banishment earlier than necessary. She could still do some good works, if obliquely, in her current state. Which wasn't very far from despised.
Such a complicated world. She did blink though, at ther choice of his escape route. Not much else showed on her face but that one hint of surprise. "North? I would...." She trailed off. How long had it been? Since that terrible fire burned the sky, turning it red and the clouds black as ashes?
North was the ruins of a city that their Lord had desired beyond much anything else in the world at the time, and indeed it had been the mightiest seats of power in the land, for a time. But it weas gone, destroyed more thoroughly than any place had ever been, even if the signs of its presence yet lingered, time out of mind later.
"Very well. We'll see how this story plays itself out," she muttered under her breath. She had come seeking adventure, true, but anything - anything - that would prove a burr under the Matriarchs' saddle. Well. That was fine by her.
She loped along behind him with a predatory grace that was surely not missed by any traveling with her, keeping pace with the man who claimed himself no hero.
And she knew, she just knew, that the end of their journey would lie somewhere within the necrahol. Which was, alas, exactly where the Matriarch woiuld be headed too. It would be a profitable day.
She snatched a man by the arm as he rushed past, watching the physician prepare to take over with the care of the mercenary. There was really no time for them to minister to the wound properly, but the birsk, business-like way the woman in the plain clothing moved spoke of practice and skill.
"Run to the courtyard, and gather as many of the stronger men among the refugees. Have them bring make-shift litters, these people need to be moved. Now, run!" The man had stopped open mouthed, and then looked surprised when he found his feet obeying that voice of command. She redirected her attention to the woman - hedge doctor or otherwise, that air of authority could prove troublesome.
She pondered a brief moment, thinking over her intended plan of escape. She had seen the women Valteia use a skill the likes of which she had never seen before3. It was charging into the fog, to rely so heavily upon an ability so foreign and possibly unique. But it was a useful tool, and while she wasn't sure where she stood with the woman, not in the slightest, she would use even a friend in such an endeaveor as this one.
She would convince her to use it to obfuscate their departure from the Manor, and cross the courtyard as quickly as possible. Once into streets, they could avoid any wide streets or squares and plaza's, sticking to routes easily defended. A rearguard and foreguard, with elements to the sides to seal up alleys as they passed. They could make their way north in fairly good order, though it would be a slow process. She would have to clear each building as she passed, and make sure archers stayed up hiogh when and where they could. Unless the enemy force was overwhelming, she could disperse any resistance encoutered along the way.
She didn't have any plans for once they reached the exterior of the breached city wall. Heading north, into the mountains was a risky gambit, but she dared not travel across the plains, where their numbers would pale to what could be brought against them. In the mountains, bound by snow, lay the only reasonable safety to be had. Amidst the ruins of a city long lost and abandoned.
She shook herself as a man came up to her. "The men in the yard said you wanted any reports directly?" He queried, uncertain if he was talking to the right woman, and doubly confused at searching for a woman of all things, one he'd never heard of.
She nodded curtly. "About five hundred men to the north and east, entering the square but staying back from the walls. A thousand camping at the breach in the wall, and smaller bands - maybe eight - numbering two hundred wandering the city, all of them human." The sense of panic in the mans voice seemed much more measured than any she had heard recently. Humans. At least it was people they fought against now, instead of creatures best left to their dens. "Does My Lady wish to send orders?"
She paused, head bowed and fingers steepled before her. "Yes."
"Have the men split into four groups. I want at leastr a couple dozen men in two of the groups, and the rest split in half. And please tell the mistress Valetia that I wish to speak with her, and will be along shortly to do so." She doubted the woman would come to a command, but there was little worry there. They couldn't stay here for overlong.
The man bowed and left at a quick trot, and Aeyliea rounded on the Physician, a title she had heard mentioned of the woman from some of those on beds, wounded. She hadn't the faintest idea what a Physician was supposed to be, in truth, but it would do for no.
"Excuse me." She planted herself squarely beside the woman as she prepared to do whatever it was she was about, face hard. "Not that I have a flaming clue what you are about, but if you would kindly make this quick? Unless you would like to end up entertaining some soldiers later, assuming the wrong sort don't find you first, we need to leave. I have men coming for your charges, and I will do what I must to see that they have the best chance at surviving, but we need to go. Now."
She didn't see the dark shape in the doorway behind her, or the gleaming length of steel held in hand.
"Mindless sheep," he spat, his voice full of contempt. Several of those who had overheard Valetia looked at him with scorn and anger. They did nothing, anyway.
He had never really thought about those whom wandered the streetsd in their precious little bubbles, the world what they saw it as, and not what it really was. The real world was cruel and cold, full of vicious truths that no one wanted to realize. And so they ignored it, pushed it aside, until they, usually, choked on it.
He watched as the sillohettes vanished out in the swirling white vanished, called back to whereever they had come from. He watched curiously as the woman knocked two arrows in that ebon bow, eyebrows rising as she incanted something to that suddenly animate wood. The echoes of what she did came to him, and he felt as if he should be able to see whyat she was doing, and know it. Alas, it was not so.
Suddenly, he looked up. Dark shapes in the snow, forming an even line as it crossed the square.
"They come," he whispered, and stroked the hilt of the daggers at his waist. They come. The world seemed to hold its breath, but for some reason the boy knew that it did not hold it for him. Something momentous was building, something that the fall of this city only precipitated, lead to.
And in the satchel at the boys waste, an innocuous object, so mundane and ordinary it would pass without notice, seemed to thump soundlessly. The heart of it all.
She stared venemously after the woman as she left her husbands' study. True, it had been converted to a war room for the sake of this campaign, buit even her husband did not kinow everything.
She was a minor noble, most would say, born to a middling House in the far south. The ties by marriage she had gained through the wedding of the Lord Jherrad had increased her familiers standing greatly, bring great wealth from the holdings her husband maintained. But her true allegiance was not to her husband, or even the occasional monarch that rose up, trying to claim and rule lands that had known no ruler in a thousand, in thousands of years.
But she hadn't been able to find it. And those had been her orders, from a very long time ago. Find the Artifact. The time of ressurection has come. All of her efforts, for naught. In the end, the Matriarch had grown impatient, waiting for her prize, and so had come to claim it.
It really was a pity. Her husband wasn't that bad, all things considered - and likely, he was dead now. She hadn't even attempted trying to talk him out of his fool notions. Like the Matriarch, of all people in the world, would give a good damn about anyone or anything ithis town. She herself was merely a throwpieceon the board of this great game.
Still, there were other things she could do to turn this from disaster. She herself did not care for anyone in this town, not very much. Weak people, incapable of survival. Well, she would do what it took to survive.
At her waist, a giled dagger lay in its sheath, and she stroked the hilt without even realizing it. She walked down halls, searching for that insufferable woman. Thisi was not her home, and she had no business stirring up further trouble than they were already in. And....and well, there was also the other part of that message, impossible as it seemed. Prophecy, or mad intuition, it mattered little to her.
But the one who had stood before must not be allowed to continue drawing breath, and the description was good enough to fit.
She entered into the part of the manor that was being used as a triage unit, and saw her quarry there. Her hand slipped to the hilt of the dagger, and she eased it from its sheath, advancing carefully, planning to plant it in her heart, and try to quell the Matriarch enough to at least spare her her own life.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
Imrilsam growled low in his throat as Aeyliea spoke first to one underling and then another, pushing away one of the Physician's helpers who kept trying to get him to lie down on a vacated bench. He would, but not yet.
"Damn it, I have NEWS to report!" He shouted as his for-now commander turned to speak to the Physician of all people. Silence washed over the corridor, broken only by the moans of those too far wounded to be cognizant of his outburst. Imrilsam's heart quailed in his chest as the cool gaze of Aeyliea turned to regard him, but his voice was steady (or at least as steady as his voice reasonably could be given the amount of blood he had already lost.)
"There is more going on here than mere orcs and those humans leading them. They have a magic user with them, Sidhe or Demon or Human, I can't say. I didn't see her face... I was too busy... err..." The mercenary blushed, then told his story.
The story of the incident at the gate came out, where a woman, exposed, had appeared out of the snow, and the walls, the gate, everything closer to her than Imrilsam himself were melted, destroyed or made to go insane.
"It is the purpose in her stride that makes me think she is key to all of this. The Orcs I fought were merely looting the city, but she... if I had to guess, I would say she had a destination. I had thought it would be here."
"I-" A sudden wave of nausea came over him, and, slumping, he finally allowed himself to be lowered onto the bench.
Imrilsam grunted as the water splashed against his leg, loosening some of the caked-on blood and turning the water in the basin bright red.
"Just get it sewed up." He grunted weakly to the Physician. "I need to be able to fight."
(OOC: yay! Topheh gold! *squees* thank you! You the rogue and the doc are awesome players. My goodness it's really something to see such talent in one area. Not even mentioning Aey and that talented spinning that's posted. It makes me giddy. /gush)
The curtain of snow parted in a breathless momentary lull enough to realize these troops were not the mindless lot the forbearers had been and when the boy whispered she grunted softly in response. They come. The arrows thrummed against her fingers as silvered gaze swept the lot. There were more than a few in the courtyard who had seen them as well and to their credit they were wise enough not to cry out. Such a foolish thing would allow those shadows to hone in on this group like a pack of wolves. Any sign of weakness would be like ringing a dinner bell.
A breath was drawn in and in the drawing came the clarity of mind and vision. Everything stood out. The chill of the wind, the feel of cobblestone beneath soles of boots, the breathing of those around and behind. So many quick and frightened, others held in anticipation and still others who seemed to breathe as if the bubble world of normalcy had not been burst. It was the latter which told her who would be the first to fall in this melee. Those who had retreated back into their minds as if denying this was happening to them would wrap a protective cloak about them. A cloak that would prove woefully inadequate against the sharp thrust of a sword.
That clarity also detected a beating sensation from the boy. Not inside him, but on him and brows drew together for a nonce before forehead smoothed out and gaze sharpened further. Those out in the line were human and smelled not of lust for blood but a cold confidence that wafted through flared nostrils like rancid sweat.
Arrows loosed at the same time and streaked red towards that line. A second later came the flash of crimson, the stink of brimstone and a roiling fireball rushed not back towards the courtyard but through the streets behind the line incinerating all it touched with a near liquid hunger.
There was a sense of tiredness in her now, nothing to be of concern about at the moment. The bow sang in her head loudly for a moment before it dampened to a whisper again. That clarity fell away and she felt loss and relief both at the same time.
A voice spoke at her elbow causing her to nod at the words. The commander will be out to speak to you in a moment. Those few words told her much. As a tool she was most useful and felt no pique at the knowing the tool would be used. The man left her to fulfill other orders and she drew another arrow from the never empty quiver, speaking casually to the boy. “You found treasure, Anastor?” Not a hint of concern nor did she really feel concern, such knowledge of powerful artifacts were not her forte. There was no reason to ask for the item or items in the bag. Merely curiosity.
Out there where the fire had flared were smoldering bodies yet still they did not retreat. They needed to get moving and quickly, she found herself wishing Aeyliea would move her backside with a quicker step though in truth not much time had passed. In her head she heard a chuckle of Him and growled mentally in reply. Get Your laughs while You can. It is not over yet. I have been in rougher scrapes than this as You well know. The chuckle dried up as He whispered to her. As always you provide amusement my precious. The voice, as always, elicited a bone deep chill and a raging fire in her heart and belly. “Happy to amuse.” She muttered softly through clenched teeth and her eyes flared silver.
A glance to the youth before she laughed, actually laughed. “Mindless sheep, are we not all?”
IC: Moving from block to block was a tedious afair. He would move ahead, using all his skills he had been taught to hunt mages, a shadow within a shadow, and when he would see the coast was clear, he would signal for the rest to follow. More then once Larit had to duck into a darkened entryway to hide from a patrol, but it was a lot safer and they hadn't encountered much more than small patrols.
While he was waiting for one such patrol to pass, he took a moment to look at his arm. Peeling back his sleeve, he hardened himself for what he was to see. The arm was nearly a complete loss. No more skin covered it from the shoulder down and large chunks of muscle were missing. The still-fleshy knobs of muscle shining and red, the narrow bone disappearing into masses of shredded tissue. Whatever magic the Master had used on it had been slow to work until now. Whatever was going on in this city was increasing it.
There was nothing he could do about it, though. What was happening to him was the price of his freedom.
Pulling the sleeve back down, he turned and motioned for the others to join him. When they did, he frowned as he looked at the woman carrying her child. Something had been bothering him for the last few blocks and Larit finally understood what. With all the noise, all the running, the baby hadn't woken up.
"What's your baby's name?" he asked, his voice soft. The masks were easy to put on and his usual cheery self wasn't going to do well with what was going through his head. He even managed to smile, a warm smile that seemed to light up his face but didn't touch his stoney eyes.
"Majla," the woman said softly and began humming, rocking the baby back and forth. "She's such a good girl." The woman seemed to have withdrawn into herself and had hardly spoken since he had accepted to bring her along. It wasn't a healthy sign.
"Yes, yes, she is," Larit said as he leaned forward. "May I see her?"
The woman smiled brightly and held the bundle out towards him. "Of course. She's such a good girl. Just like her daddy. Just don't be too loud. You'll wake her." She ended in a whisper and smiled up at Larit again.
He reached up and slowly pulled the blanket away. Drawing in a deep breath, he quickly covered it again and nodded, smiling. "She's a pretty one," he said softly, smiling, as he reached towards his waterskin. "You must be thirsty. Need to keep your strength up for her." Opening the waterskin, he knelt down and reached into a pouch at his side. His fingers knew each shape and mark on the vials and what he was looking for was quickly in his hand. He withdrew a small vial with a clear liquid inside and when he shook it, it was thicker than water. "This will help make you stronger for Majla. Don't worry, it'll just help you forget some of your pains," he explained as he tipped a few drops of the liquid into his waterskin.
Sealing it, he gave it a quick shake and handed it to the woman, still smiling. She took it, gratefully, and began to sip at it, still humming softly.
Rising to his feet, he turned to the other three and took a step towards them. The mask vanished and with it the smile as he returned the vial to his pouch. "The baby is dead," he said matter-of-factly but quiet enough not to be heard by the woman. "Probably has been dead since the attack began. It looks like she strangled it."
The scarred man pulled out his sword and moved threateningly forward. "What did you give her? Poison? You sick bastard!"
"Oh, shut up. I gave her some relaxant. It'll not harm her. It'll keep her moving and in that state until we can get her to a doctor," Larit growled. "If I had wanted to kill her, I would have. If we leave a fresh corpse behind, the patrols will notice it and begin to hunt us down. This way, we all have a better chance." He didn't voice the fact that if he dropped the couple and the woman all together, he would have already been out of here. The other woman with them seemed to be able to handle herself, having been already wandering the city alone.
"Now, since we're all being civil, why not tell me your names?"
The scarred man lowered his sword but Larit took note of the fact that he didn't sheath it. "Kalros," the man said and then nodded to his wife. "That's Julia, my wife. We own, err, owned, a store."
Larit nodded civilly. "Larit," he said and Kalros raised an eyebrow when there was no explanation of what he did. "And you?" he asked, turning to the mysterious woman. Ever since she had joined them, all his instincts seemed to be on fire. Something was different about her. It was close to the feeling he had around that woman playing soldier. It was almost as if they were tidal pools, pulling lives out of their normal and sending them spinning.
The Physician quickly washed her own hands and sterilised the needle with alcohol and flame. There was no time it seemed to waste with using the lens, neat, careful stitches were a luxury that they could ill afford. And anyway, weren't scars the business card of every decent warrior? The spheres only knew why, but most people, when hiring mercenaries, seemed to prefer that the warriors look a little...damaged. She supposed that it suggested that they had experience but to her mind it just spoke of a hurried or inexperienced healer.
Well no one could accuse her of inexperience, Therese thought to herself as she stitched as carefully as she dared. She had been barely eight when her family had sent her to the University of Lissileum to begin her noviciate. Her family had been lucky to raise enough money for her education, but her parents had insisted that her older sister would inherit their merchant house while she herself would become a respectable Physician. It was quite a boost to her family's social standing to have a daughter accepted at the University, the only other way she could have achieved that feat would have been to marry well. Therese knew her limitations, she would not have made anyone a good wife.
Since moving from novice to apprentice and then to Physician, she had studied most of the spheres; the quartz sphere for diseases of the lungs, amber for aches of the bone, jet for the kidney, peridot for the liver, and all the many, many others. Only two remained outside her grasp, the onyx sphere for poisons and the elusive diamond, which none of her seniors would ever even speak of. But those would need to wait until she had finished her time away from the University. All Physicians were required to spend time away from Lissileum, the senior council thought it good for them to have to ply their trade away from the safety and security of the University's walls. "Expand your knowledge, Therese", she muttered under her breathe, "See the world, you might like it out there, they said". Oh yes, it had just been so much 'fun' to be trapped in a city under seige with no more than basic medicines and a single novice to aid her.
She began to wrap the warrior's leg securely, the movements so familiar to her that she barely needed to think. Instead Therese looked sharply at Aeyliea, this definitely wasn't Lord whatever-his-name-was's wife but even so the soldiers defered to her with respect. So it seemed that someone beyond the walls of the makeshift hospital was in charge. Well things perhaps were looking up, the Phyisican could patch the wounded up and send them back out again till she fell down from exhaustion but it wouldn't help at all unless someone did something to end the trouble that they found themselves in.
"Boy", she called her novice over, the shaven-haired young lad rushing to her side. "Aid those soldiers coming to move the injured, you know which can move under their own power and which will need aid. Pair up the walking wounded to assist one another, I doubt we will have enough able bodies to spare otherwise". Therese looked critically at her newest patient, "And you young man, will be able to fight, though if we survive this, you should come and see me again to check those stitches, they are, I am ashamed to admit, not my best work".
She straighted up, already mentally sorting though what supplies she had left and what she might need. If they did make it out of the city alive, Therese suspected that she would find her skills in much demand over the new few days. If she ever got back to the University the senior council would not be able to deny that she had worked well. As she tried to remember whether she had one vial of Cinchona powder left or two, she caught a glimpse of the figure in the doorway. "By the spheres, what do you think you're doing?", she demanded, utterly unable to grasp what was happening, "You're no surgeon, put that damned blade down".
But I am certain — one hundred percent certain — that we can work this out. Trust me. I'm the Doctor.
"Tha-" Imrilsam began to stammer out the words to the woman who had saved his life, but she had already turned away. REALLY? Not even the HEALER had enough time for him today? What had happened to Imrislam, the warrior who had rescued Lord Porter singlehandedly when the Angelique Zealots had stormed his castle? The Imrilsam who had defeated the leader of those same Zealots in single combat and sent the entire enemy returning home, tails between their legs? The Imrilsam... that was respected?
"Maybe I'm getting old." He grumped to no one in particular.
As his mind began to clear, he too saw the figure in the doorway. Unlike the Physician, though, he had no illusions as to the nature of the intruder. The look in the would-be-assassin's eyes gave away everything.
"INTRUDER!" He shouted, well, spoke. He was a little beyond shouting at the moment, as he fumbled at his waist, found an axe (hadn't he lost that? He had lost more blood than he thought, it would appear) and threw it with all his might.
It missed, of course. Really, allowing weapons at all near a nearly-unconscious, certainly-not-battle-worthy mercenary with a distinct complex about protecting people is a horrible idea. Thankfully, the axe did not hit anyone else, but thunked against the wall and clattered to the floor.
She did chuckle softly, however, as he demanded in a rough fashion for the names of his clearly unwanted traveling companions. She raised a hand to the cowl that hooded her features, and began to gtently lift it from her head. "I am called Elarial El'estrassis, Larit." Her voice was a s smooth as silk, a purr bordering on a hiss. The cowl fell to her back, revealing eyes shaded like fresh blood with deep, piercingly intelligent jewels of onyx set in their centers. Her hair was the color of cedarwood, a faint tinge of red hinted at in the long tresses held back behind the back of her neck by an intricate braid that vanished under the cloak. Not human, that face, the gleaming points of her overlong incisors exposed beneath her upper lip.
The reaction from the sheep was as expected, and she merely raised a hand to forestall them. "trust not what your eyes see, humans. If I wanted you dead, or was with your enemy, I would have simply slain all of you where you stood, and been about my business." And I might yet have to do that, still. It was not a casual thought - she would not ever be so callous as others of her kind had become with their wanton killing. Nevertheless, she valued her own skin over any of these here, and there were still the Hunters in the world, who sought her kind. Even if few of them even really knew what they were hunting any longer. She eyed the bared steel in the older mans' hand with scorn and a little hesitation - those things hurt. A lot.
Rather than waiting for any further words, many of which would likely be unpleasant, she strode forward, a lioness stalking through the streets. "If you would live, perhaps you would move your feet. Unless you feel yourselves either unfit, or some fool notion of uncertainty at following me." As easily as that, she would take charge. If the man, the one with the daggers and the reeking stench of twisted sorcery, allowed it.
The cobbles beneath him lurched, intense heat flaring to life from the fore. The muted roar of of the blast rolled through the courtyard, drowning out the frightened bleating of the people all around, man cowering to the snow in fear. If the sheep cringed at it, the soldiers paid it little mind, drawing a wagon loaded with what supplies they could find into the yard. Men with pikes tilted at precise angles kept the few that had nerve enough to try and approach it away. They cast an eye to the thunderous blast, but paid it little more heed than a glance as chips of stone rained and mixed with the falling snow.
Anastor was awestruck by the show. Obfuscating sorcery was one thing, but arcane arts of destruction were merely rumors floating from the south, where wars raged and entire cities burned in the fires of magic. He looked at Val with an innocent wonder and, perhaps, a hunger. That alien power waiting at his fingertips seemed to croon and call to him more sweetly, a strange afinity between it and that awesome display thumping in his bones.
He started to scurry toward the gap in the wall for a better look when her words forestlled him. "Treasure?" He asked, genuinely confused. Treasure was gold, and food, and a safe place to sleep for the night. He had none of these things, for now - the upheaval within the city walls had denied him for many days. He noticed she was glancing at the small satchel at his waist, and grinned. "Not treasure. Trophies." He reached down and loosed ther sack from where it hung, and undid the draw strings, spilling the meager contents into the palm of his hand.
There wasn't much there, really. A small figurine of a woman in a robe, hair flowing down her back, made of ivory that he kept for no reason he could understand. A brass key, stolen from a man on the streets that he had yet to find a door that it would unlock. A ring of steel, which he sometimes used along with some string to catch and throw latches on windows, along with the rouch cut diamond stolen from a jewelers - the stone cut glass, allowing him to lower the ring and string down to the latch. The nose from a statue that he had broken off, along with the ear from the same. All of the contents were, more or less, useless rubbish as far as he was concerned, and yet he kept it all.
"How is this amusing?" His query to her muttered comment that she no doubt thought he couldn't hear, and he had absolutely no idea what to say about the other comment. A sheep? ME?! Not ever.
He glanced out into the snow, and noted that the fall was starting to slacken, finally. "At least it will stop snowing soon, even though these sheep blend in so well with the scenery," he mocked, then took off for the gap in the wall for a better look.
Order amongst chaos. The young officer stared at the haven in the middle of anarchy, a little spot of sun in a dark world.
His few men moved off to assist the other soldiers - so few they were - in preparing to abandon the city. He didn't blame them for the sour looks on their faces, but he didn't blame whoever was leading the lot of them for the decision, either. The city had been lost before the wall was ever breached, and with reinforcements arriving to bollster their murderous first wave, there was little doubt that the invaders could hold the city, whole or in part, for any olength of time.
He found himself wondering, oddly, about the fair-haired woman he had encountered on the edge of the ruins in the north. She was here, somewhere. He was certain of it - he had heard the men talking quietoly of the strange outlander who had come in and taken the reisn of authority as if they were hers by right. Had the Lord decided to give her command? He doubted it, but he had not seen his Lord since the campaign had begun.
There was aught else to do but do his part to ensure the safety of the people he was sworn to protect.
It wasn't much warning, and perhaps not enough. Then again, perhaps it was.
Aeyliea spun in the direction she saw the woman with the sewing needle staring in, instinctively moving so that as little of her body was where it was a moment before as possible. She felt a flare of pain and heat in her side, and grunted as the blade pulled free, catching the hand wielding it as it drew back to stab again as an axer went sailing to the left of the both of them. Aeyliea had no time to note who threw it, with the sudden chaos that filled the small space.
"Why?" One word, but as cold and hard as a frozen river in winter. The woman she held was the noblewoman from the so-called war room, and she looked as angry as a stepped-on cat. She struggled against her grip, and managed to yank free.
"I don't have to answer to you, you stinking invader!" She spat, and lunged in again as soon as she regained her balance. Aeyliea deftly sidestepped the thrtust, backhanding the woman as she slid past. "What are you all doing? Arrest her! She is not the one who is in command, I am!"
The woman came at her again, and Aeyliea ducked under a vicious slash that would have laid her throat open. Men in the room, those able, had half-drawn weapons sitting at their waists or on the floor, but none of them moved to do as commanded. Pure vfury painted the womans face, her eyes like chips of ice. Aeyliea didn't have time for this, though.
She swept the womans feet out from under her, then dove forward, driving a knee into the soft flesh just below her sternum. Breath rushed from the noble-born in a blast, and her eyes bulged as she struggled to draw breath. It could be a killing blow, but Aeyliea certainly hoped she would live long enough to get some information from her. She bent down, and picked up the dagger from where it had fallen from her suddenly nerveless finger, then grabbed a handful of hair and hauled her roughly to her feet. The woman could not stand on her own, which was just fine with her.
She waited a moment while the woman gained enough breath to finaly gasp imprecations that would turn a wagon drivers' face aghast, and then Aeyliea pressed the tip of her dagger against the woman's throat.
"She will kill us all, you damned fool outsider! You can't stand against her!"
"I don't know about that," she replied drily. She felt hot blood running down her side, and spared a glance for the dagger thrust she had taken. It had pierced the leather armor she wore with some difficulty, and pierced her abdomen far to the left, clear through from front to back. It bled horribly, but for now she chose to ignore it. "We have been doing plenty to slow them down for now."
"You just don't understand. All she wants is the seal on the Great Lord. If you give it to her, she will leave."
Aeyliea paused, a ball of ice forming in her guts. There was no doubt at all who the 'her' was that this woman spoke of. And that made it even more clear as good glass whothe Great Lord was. "I would leave you to her tender mercies, but I am a generous woman." She saw hope flare in that womans eyes, but that hope turned to despair as Aeyl reversed the grip on her dagger, and cut her throat from ear to ear. Blood poured from the woman, and the one time Lady of the city dropped to floor, breath gurgling on the blood that poured down her throat, clutching vainly at the wound in her neck. Aeyliea didn't even bother to watch the light of life fade from her eyes, instead turning and half stumbling to a stack of cut-up rags that had been being used as bandages by the quack cutter. She grabbed a wadd of them and, with a hiss of indrawn breath, stuffed them into the wound channel in her side to stem to flow of blood. Her face paled at the pain of it, but she kept her feet.
"Well? What are you all standing around gaping for? GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE, NOW!" Her roar seemed to snap people back to themselves, and their step was much more hurried. She pointed at the doctor, and Imrilisam. "You two, with me. We are leaving, now. If I can stand and fight, you can too."
As if she didn't hurt at all, and as if her orders were as good as spoken law, she turned and stalked from the room, heading outside. If she was a trifle unsteady on her feet, well, she had damned good reason to be. Too many hours in a saddle or fighting, and now some fool noblewoman had put a hole in her brisket.
She was ready to chew nails, and thankfully there was a whole city full of tough nuts just waiting for a hammer.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
He pushed himself to his feet, grabbed a pitcher of wine and drank his fill, and, after pushing himself past several slack-jawed servants who were staring at the dead form of their Lady, retrieved his axe and followed after his commander.
"I saw the look on your face." Imrilsam said as his limping gait slowly overtook her, "I take it 'She' is the woman I saw, and you know something about her?"
"Lady Elarial," he said with a sharp nod of his head. He tried to place her race and he had been to many places and seen many people. But he couldn't place her and that made him uncomfortable. Larit liked to be able to properly weigh an opponent before hand and without all the information, he wasn't so sure about his chances with this one. "Kalros, put that sword away now or I'll bury my steel in your gut and leave you hear." The thought was a comforting one. If any patrols were in the area, they would come to his cries of pain and allow them to get a little closer to safety. But still, he could use the man.
His lengthy stride quickly caught up to Elarial while the three civilians followed behind in a ragged order. He kept pace with her for quite some time, his eyes focused and the palms of his hands resting comfortably on the pummels of the daggers. They're presence kept him focused, keeping his mind on the problem at hand. His arm would wait, whether it liked it or not.
An explosion rocked the city, but the small group continued.
Larit glanced at the woman at his side, his eyes cold. There was no need for masks with this one, be it the mercenary he had worn earlier or the caring face he had just worn with the woman, and he liked that. From her statement, he knew that she was a killer, just like he was. Whether or not she killed because she liked it or was ordered to mattered little to him. He considered dumping the lot of them and moving back into his shadows where he was comfortable and make his own way out of the city, but the tide kept him moving.
"Let it be clear, as soon as we get these sheep out to the shepherd, you're on your own." Just like I am. With those words, he moved off at an angle away from her, sliding the daggers from their sheaths and resting them on his shoulders. Larit once again took point, making sure the roads were clear around them, but this time he was only a few steps ahead of Elarial. Any warning he would give would just be barely enough.
A small group of soldiers, a patrol of sorts, crossed his path just at the wrong time when they turned a corner only a few blocks from the northern gate. The daggers flew into action, a whisper of steal in the air, as he grabbed the closest one under the chin and buried one in the man's throat. The other buried itself in the side of his companion, angled upward as it went searching for the man's heart. Dropping the first man to the ground, Larit placed his foot on the man's back and wrenched the dagger from the man's throat with a shower of blood. A quick slash at the empty air to remove the excess blood from them and he was on the move again as if nothing had happened.
He turned towards the others and flicked the blades towards them almost casually. He blades sunk deep into their chests but again, he was unarmed. In a fashion. There were still three of them left, heavily armed and now ready to do combat. The first four had been taken easily, before they could react. The remaining ones wouldn't be so easy.
Reacing up his right sleeve, he gripped his last weapon. Larit had always hated to use it, especially whenever he had to use it when others were about. The Master had made it strictly for him and was just like him to add the sick twist to it. Many weapons were out there that would make more of themselves, mostly quivers, but the Master knew how Larit had favoured his knives.
"I am free to do what I wish," he whispered to himself, pulling out a throwing dagger from his sleeve and sent it flying towards one of the troops. "I am a good man." Another dagger soared through the air. "I am a hero." The last dagger flew through the air and without pausing, Larit continued to move down the street. He knew each dagger had found their mark. It was part of their magic. But the cost was high. For each dagger drawn and thrown, a lie must be told about the user.
"Let's go," he grumbled as he once again moved into the shadows. His steps seemed slower now and he quickly let Elarial take the lead.
The rain of stone and clutter went ignored as she peered at his trophies, curious indeed, That feeling of magic licked across the senses there and gone again as he displayed then bagged the items. A sense of danger tickled down the spine for a bare second before it vanished. It was not something she understood though would bear mentioning to the commander if she ever came out of the infernal Manse.
As Anastor slipped to the break in the wall she laughed again at his comment while utterly ignoring the distrustful stares from the refugees and the forked sign of the evil eye from the most superstitious of them. “Try not to blend too well! I daresay I should be saddened not to have my fellow baahing companion at my side on our trek out of this sepulcher.” So it was revealed already. In her belly that fist knotted tighter, that seed of discontent was sewn. As she took a step after him the guards from the Manor finally began escorting the wounded out, followed close behind by Aeyliea herself. It was clear by the pallor of her face and the crimson on hand and leathers that she had sustained injury.
“Blood and ashes.” Grumbled. A second later came the mercenary from the camp where she had joined up with this lot and by the look of him he was barely able to keep his feet and looked the worse for wear. “Perhaps horses for the both of you, it would not do to have to drag you to safety by the roots of your hair while we hack at the enemy with the free hand.” There was the unmistakable tone of high amusement and moment later her tone was far more formal and stern. “Orders commander?”
In her hand was another arrow, in the other was the bow. The black wood singing into her mind as she waited. Ignoring the cold and biting wind, ignoring the fact she was now hungry enough to eat the horses she had so flippantly mentioned, ignoring the way many of the helpless and useless backed away from her silvered gaze. Yet always listening for Anastor and the enemy regrouping after her last volley.
She watched, a little sadly, as the noblewoan died, such a waste of life, but the Physician had seen the wound across her neck clearly. The blade had cut deeply, slicing through skin, sinew, muscle and vessel, not all the healer's arts could have saved her. Even if all the Physicians of the University had been present could they have saved the woman's life, some wounds were just beyond the ability of mortal man to heal. Part of Therese's early training at the University had revolved around knowing when to judge that the patient's case was hopeless. No good would come of a Physician trying to heal those who were already too far gone and all the novices had to learn that sometimes death was inevitable.
Still, it had been a shocking thing to see. Although she had had to deal with the occasional rowdy patient, never before had Therese seen someone killed in front of her. But it was for experiences like these, that the elder council sent each Physician out into the world. The world is not a clean and clinical place, the council had told her before she left, but it is not enough for us to tell you that, everyone must learn that harsh reality for themselves.
"The spheres cannot heal all things", she said quietly to herself. Although, if she were honest with herself, the Physician had to admit that the noblewoman had brought her death upon herself. Rather than help with the evacuation, the noblewoman had chosen to attack the only person who seemed to be organising anything. And she had babbled of seals and great lords, nothing that had made any sense to Therese, perhaps she had suffered from some malady of the mind. Too late to wonder about that now and frankly there were far more important things to worry about, like getting herself and her patients out of the city before the invaders struck at the manor.
Therese hurried after Aeyliea, it seemed the best option to follow the woman in charge. And besides she had been injured in the fight, she might be able to manage for a while by staunching the flow with bandages but eventually such a wound would need proper medical attention. Attention that few others in the refugees would be capable of giving. Not to mention her most recent patient, the wounded warrior, had gone haring off after the injured woman. Truly they the refugees must have little time remaining to them in the manor if there was such an urgent need to be on their feet and out. The Physcian's skills wold be needed again all too soon she feared.
Her novice hurried to her side as Therese followed Aeyliea and Imrilsam, bowed down under the weight of two large sacks, "This was all I could manage to pack before the solders said I must go, Physician".
She smiled faintly, "It will do Boy, it will have to do". The Physician took one of the bags off the novice, shouldering it and hoping that he had been sensible enough to grab the more useful of their supplies. Fenugreek paste would hardly be of use in their current situation compared to Carica tincture. What she wouldn't have given for some of the healing arts that she had read about in the library at the Unversity though. Some of the books, considered publically by the elder council to be nothing more than children's tales, spoke of healers who could almost perform miracles, people who could channel power like mages but use it to heal rather than harm. Oh what she wouldn't have done to be able to do that rather than rely on pastes, potions and powders.
But I am certain — one hundred percent certain — that we can work this out. Trust me. I'm the Doctor.
"Yes." She replied to the mercenary was she made her way. "You could say I know something of that woman, if she is a woman at all. She certainly seems to have no soul."
"I don't know how long ago its been - the details are as misty to me as to any other. I do not know what happened in those final moments, for the memory seems burned from my head. But I remember everything before....whatever happened." Everything. A look of heart-wrenching pain crossed her features, and she did not try to still it. There were times for strength, but only men seemed to think there was a need to be steel, and she was certainly no hairy chested idiot.
She remained silent for a time, and then stopped, the retinue of people with her forced to stop as well. "I apologize, whoever you are, for killing that woman within the confines of your sawroom. But if that woman was aligned with the Great Lord of the Empire of the Night, then I killed her far more cleanly than she deserves. You and I, we are not so different - even if your methods are backwards and primitive." She took a calming breath. "Forgive me. That was uncalled for. Perhaps there are no Healers in these days. I do not know. You do the best with what you have."
She started walking again, hesitently at first for the throbbing in her side. "A long time ago, this land was mostly united under the Emperor, for whom I served and lived to obey. How much of the world has changed, I know not, but at the time the Empire controlled most of this continent. I think it was this continent, it must be though. The ruins, you see."
"Anyway, there came a point some seven or eight years ago..." She paused, confused for a moment. Clearly her fatigue was making this difficult without all the other inconsistencies in the telling. She continued on, doggedly ignoring the fact that it had not been eight years, or perhaps even eight hundred. "An army appeared outside our borders, and began to conquer the smaller kingdoms that had managed to elude the rule of the Empire at that time. We heard plenty of rumors, but little else as that army swallowed nation after nation with barely a ripple in the greater world."
"By the time that army turned its attention on us, we had heard of him. The Great Lord, the Hand of She Who Must Not Be Named. I still do not know much in regards to that, except that when the whole world fought under the banners of the Trinity, one against the other, this man claimed that the godheads were all false, that the pure radiance of the Goddess would enlighten us to the error of our ways. He claimed it was by Her will that he would vanquish us, and the rest of the world - that Her will dictated that only the strong could survive, and the weak were fit for little more than slaves or death."
Her steps slowed. "He struck over the border into Mainhutt, a distant province on the southern border of the empire, and I was dispatched with a force of two hundred thousand men and women, fully equipped and supplied as befitted the mightiest Empire in the world."
She squeezed her eyes shut, images, memories playing themselves out behind her eyelids. An enemy force barely a quarter of their size had sized the capital of the province, and entrenched itself within the walls.
Blood and death. The sky filled with the black feathered bodies of ravens and vultures as they gorged upon the dead that littered the plains surrounding that long forgotten capitol, the earth torn and blasted, cratered and furrowed where well organized attacks had met sorcery the likes of which she - and they - had never seen before. The torn bodies of her men laying in bloody pools of mud, limbs severed and scattered to the wind ravens tearing strips free as they gorged themselves, plucking eyeballs from severed heads. Children swinging from nooses along the walls, their eyes gouged out before they had even died, their pain a sacrifice to the Nameless one whose dead black banners flew over walls that had not even had to repel a single attack.
"We were defeated. Badly. Against a hair over fifty thousand men, we were slaughtered, and I was forced to retreat with the thirty or so thousand that were left among the living. Out of two hundred thousand...."
She walked in silence for a time, crossing the grand foyer of the manor and exiting the building to stand out in the lightly falling snow. She turned and looked at both the unnamed doctor and the mercenary. "The Empire was built to protect her people, to give them safety and security. A man could walk the breadth of the land without fearing for his life or his goods, could find the Emperors Justice at any town, no matter how large or small. I was sworn to protect them with my life, as were all of the Highest. I rose to honors for my ability to lead, to outwit and outsmart my enemy. I gained my titles through bloodshed and death, defending people who scarcely even though of it. Fighting against people who did not understand what it was that we, the Empire, offered them."
"The Great Lord does not care about the people. I'd say he cares only for power, except he spurns power when offered. Spurns riches and welth, land and estates, titles and power. And that woman, and all of her kind, serve him with a fanatical devotion that I can barely comprehend. They glory in blood and death, and see it as a gift to give their victims that cold embrace."
She scanned the courtyard, where men had finally achieved the formation she had spoken of before. She noted Valaetia standing further out, near the breach in the wall with her bow in hand, and arrow at the ready. "So. You can say I know something of her, and the Great Lord. Their names, and what they stand for, are like ashes in my mouth." Because in the end, they brought about two of your greatest failures. That to your people, sworn to protect and years dead. That to your husband, your life, dead at your own hands. She knew that they would understand there was more, far more, than what she had already spoken of. And she would not utter a word of it. Would they condemn me for the blood on my hands, of my own will or without it? Did it matter? She already had condemned herself, long ago.
"Lets get these people out of here. Maybe the ruins that failed to protect my people so long ago, will provide some refuge now." She crossed the courtyard on increasingly unsteady feet, careless of the dark patch stained into the leather armor she wore, and approached Valaetia, relaying the plan she had come up with to get these people to safety. She only hoped that the woman was capable of delivering what she had already shown - a few moments of confusion among the enemy, enough to buy them the time they needed to get everyone into a more defensible location. She pointedly ignored the comment and suggestion of horses. She was in no need of one, not yet; there were others who could use such a precious commodity far more than she.
Somehow, with a few hundred soldiers and several hundred refugees, she would make it work.
"Divert their attention Valaetia. The best laid plan seldom survives the first arrow leaving the bow, but I mean to see this one remains intact as long as possible."
She laughed, the sound low and throaty as she strode through the snowbound streets, eyes shifting and darting to corners and shadows, always ready for violent motion should it prove necessary. "I swear by the forgotten God that if you name me a Lady once more, I will rip your throat out with my bare hands." There was tinkling amusement in that hauntingly human voice, the barest curve of lip to suggest a smile. Her eyes were hard as polished ruby, though.
She stepped over the fallen bodies of the soldiers with nary a glance at their bloodied bodies - she had seen many before, and they didn't deserve even a first glance. She did not speak again, not for some time though he himself made it quite clear that he would be glad to be rid of her, and his other traveling companions, at the earliest possible moment.
They continued through the shrouded streets, circling wide around the hotbed of the manorsome distance to the east before curving back 'round northwards, heading along streets and alleys, keeping to the shadows. As she was on point, when the next group of hostiles came in sight, it was naturally her turn to demonstrate just what it was she was about.
Eyes widened in surprise, momentarily, as the group of five men saw them come around the bend of the narrow alley. Swords were raised, and then lowered as they saw who was in the lead, and thinking that she was merely another of those sent to supervise the whole affair, they seemed to relax. For about a few seconds.
She charged forward in a sprint of such speed it made her foes' heads spin, snow flung up behind her cloth wrapped feet in sprays that fell upon Larit and the others that were following. She dimly heard a shriek from behind; the woman, crying out at God alone knew what.
The first man barely had time to raise his sword before she was on him, gloves stripped free to bare claws that seemed so innocent until plied with skill born of years practicing. In a flash, the man had a bloody hole ripped in his throat, blood splattering on well-dressed brick walls and snow, and then she was past him.
It was a melee that no human could possibly have survived, but Elarial was hardly human. She danced among them, decievinglyu unarmed, and blood splattered on snow and walls until the alley seem painted with it, the snow more crimson than pink. Not all of the blood was theirs, alas - the blasted blades stung something fierce, even if they didn't really slow her down much. In the space of a handful of heartbeats, the alley was quiet again, the last of the men a twitching, bloody heap. Of the five, all were dismembered in some fashion or another; limbs torn from bodies, throats ripped out, disemboweled. She could hardly help the heat she felt, the traitorous flush of excitement that coursed through her body at the killing. It was in her nature, even if she refused that nature but, oh, how sweet it was.
She turned back to the others, blood oozing from a deep gash in her forearm that had already slowed, and a bleeding hole in her middle that hurt like fury. One of them had managed to get his sword all the way through before she had torn the damned arm, sword and all, off. The sword lay half buried in snow, still gripped by the hand and arm that had held it.
"This passes time nicely, but if you will please hurry? I do not like playing the part of the pincushion." She turned, and began to lope along the alley, wincing with every jarring step, as the flow of blood from her belly began to slack, then stop.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
His guess that she wasn't entirely human was accurate. But what was she?
"What in the light are you two?" A shaking voice filled with fear made him turn around. Julia was holding her frying pan under her breasts like a shield, her hair flying in the wind and skin more pale then it should be considering the cold. Her husband had the same look about him though at least he had the brains to keep his sword away this time. "You're monsters!"
A shrug. "I've been called worse." In deed, most of those he had been sent to kill had called him nearly every name imaginable before he silenced them forever. He turned his attention back to Elarial and her wounds. They were healing pretty quickly, too quickly, but for now that wasn't his concern. She might prove useful in getting out of this alive, especially since he was forced to bring along the three others.
The snow was slowing him down. It was something he wasn't used to and he hated how it pulled at his feet with every step. The only good thing was the fact that with the snow falling it made the visibility of the patrols almost as bad as their own. A quick look behind him told him that their footsteps were already filling with snow.
They entered an open-air market, stalls abandoned against the walls. The merchants had abandoned them when the defense fell and signs of that haste were evident everywhere. The stalls were still stocked with goods, goods that only a few scarce days ago he would have been obliged to loot, and here and there a trampled body half-buried in the snow. A fire had flashed through the northern part of the market and the stalls there were nothing but charred fingers reaching out towards them.
His eyes danced over the stalls, drinking in every detail, and his instincts didn't like what he saw. This was a perfect place for an ambush. Larit turned towards Elarial but knew that she would have already came to the same conclusion. They were only a few blocks from the main road that ran to the northern gate and with the amount of troops that had poured into the city, it wasn't like them not to loot what was here. They had left it untouched, though.
They had left it untouched so there would be a false sense of security. A hope that the troops hadn't got this far. A smart move to draw the civilians into the ambush but no seasoned warrior would fall for it. And why should they worry about? Most of the soldiers would have been killed or fighting at the manor.
A cold smile spread across his lips as he reached up and riped the left sleeve clear off his arm, exposing the disaster that his arm had become. If they were to fight, he would need a freedom of movement that he normally couldn't achieve with it being loose. He was done hiding the damage that the Master had inflicted on him. It was vanity. A weakness. And he wasn't weak.
"So what do you think?" he asked. "Find another road or dance the dagger's edge?"
He had never heard of an Empire, or the Trinity or an army in thrall to a Dark One which served some other Goddess. Everyone knew that the heavens had been empty for decades at least. He had heard rumors, far to the south, that the Gods had been, somehow, reborn in mortal form and even now rallied nobles and knights and banners to their causes. But that was all. His father still told of the day when the Old Gods - which had apparently been the New Gods according to scholars who Imrilsam had always found far to stuffy to take seriously - had been destroyed, when, it was agreed, Darden had upended his bowl of Despair and scoured clean the heavens and nearly destroyed the earth.
So Aeyliea was clearly confused, which was a shame for such a competent woman. At the moment, she remained his best bet of escaping from this city alive, but once they had escaped, to these ruins she spoke of, if they even existed, then he would slip away quietly and make his way back to a real city to sell his sword once more. At least he now had an answer to his earlier question... what drove the woman was a sense of guilt and revenge, which, even if imaginary, did not mean it was not any less important in her own mind.
A single nod was given to Aeyliea at her command, uttering a word the arrow was drawn and released. That Stygian darkness drew down, though she felt now the wariness in her more deeply and willed it away as though it were no more than waving away a noisome bug about her head. The silvered gaze danced across the surface before another arrow was plucked from the ebony quiver. The whispered word licked across the shadowy tip. A deep breath taken as the bow string was drawn back. A beautiful figure carved into the chill white swirling world about her. The arrow pulsed a rancid purple and the bow sang joyously as she released.
Chaos ensued in the aftermath as a sundering crash of thunder boomed from the blackness. Those within would be stunned, knocked senseless and temporarily deafened. Possibly permanently. There would be impact wounds as the shattered air imploded to close the pocket the lightening strike had created.
Without a word another was drawn, readied and that firm gaze settled on Aeyliea only for a brief moment before she stepped aside for the troops to begin their exodus from this place of defeat and death. “We move Anastor.” Called softly, so softly. Knowing those ears were sharp and he would hear.
A glance to the mercenary and the doctor, one the worse for wear but unflinching and one who looked as if she were unshakable. A good pair for this hard patch. Speaking to Aeyliea, whom she offered her arm to in order to steady herself should it be necessary. “The boy has found something of magical property. It is in his bag and may be worth the study when we have reached a safer local, Commander.” Passing along this tidbit of information, without realizing all of this could be laid at the feet of the item or items he carried.
From the street came the moans and cries of those she had 'distracted' and inside she purred with delight at each muffled sound that reached her ears.
One thing was true, her healing arts were certainly crude compared to those that she knew of from antiquity. The University's history books spoke of healers who could do things that bordered on the miraculous. Were they really just myths and fables like the elder council claimed? Or had there been more to them than that? Here Therese was, following a woman who certainly seemed to suggest that the skill of healing had once been very different, in this part of the world at least.
In that moment Therese knew that she could not return to the University, not yet at least. She had (if she escaped the city with her own hide intact) to find some concrete proof, some evidence that would confirm what she had already begun to suspect. Maybe the evidence that she sought did not exist, but she had to know, she couldn't return home without knowing for sure. The library at Lissileum didn't hold the answers that she needed, she was sure of that now, if the elder council knew about the greater healing arts then they were chosing to hide it well.
Her heart skipped a beat at the thought and she stumbled, her novice catching her arm to steady her.
What if the council did know of greater healing arts? What if they had known all along that their skills were poor compared to what healers had once been able to do? Could it be true that they might know more than what they openly taught to the ranks of apprentices and physicians? In her mind she saw the diamond sphere suddenly, the sphere that, according to the council at least, didn't exist? Certainly the only people ever rumoured to bear it were members of the elder council. She was not sure where the thought came from, but she was sure, right down to her very bones, that she was onto something.
But that was all a problem for another day and her best bet to finding answers was to stick close to the woman Aeyliea.
Therese nodded reassuringly to her shaven-headed novice and picked up her pace. From now on they'd need to rely on those with skill in arms to get them all safely away from the fallen city. No doubt her skills would be needed before they made it to any safe haven. But many who travelled with them now might not make it away from the enemy without the aid of those who had the courage to use weaponry.
But I am certain — one hundred percent certain — that we can work this out. Trust me. I'm the Doctor.
"Is that so?" She replied wearily. Tiredness seeped through her like a suffocating blanket, and each moment only increased her listlessness. She had been awake for at least 24 hours, though the last time she had truely slept seemed lost in the muddled mess of her memories. It wasn't that aching, throbbing hole in her side, that oozed blood everytime she moved to quickly.
She glanced at the boy, only now really taking him in. Before, she had seen and dismissed it as unimportant. Now that she looked, there was some kind of....not familiarity, but a haunting impression. "I do not like sorcery, and when it has nothing to do with a battlefield it makes me itch even more." She held out her hand. "If you will please? I won't steal any of it. I just want to look."
He stared at the woman with her hand outstretched as if she were mad. She didn't really think that he'd just hand away his pretties, did she? He took a step, prepared to run back into obscurity. He didn't have any trust for other people. Trust was a dangerous thing, best kept locked away. He didn't even know if he trusted the other woman, Valaetia, even. It was anathema to him, in its own way.
But the satchel at his waist had began to pulse a faint yet very insistent pulsing. Not something felt or heard as a physical thing. His young mind could not form words to describe it, and he doubted many adults would understand either. He reached down, and undid the knot holding the satchel to his waist, turning. It suddenly seemed like a fantastic idea to give it to her, anyway. "But I want it back, ok?" He found himself saying, and saw his hands yield up his collection to a woman he did not even know.
Whatever gripped him released its grip as soon as the bag was out his hands. He slumped suddenly, feeling drawn and tired as if he had been without sleep for days.
He opened his mouth to ask what she had just done to him, when he noticed that the resonant pulsing had become much more notable, gaining a insistence and - maybe - eagerness?
His words died in his mouth when she emptied the sack into her hand, and he saw something that made him forget what he was about to say.
She yet stood where she had slain the former owner of this city, and his retai8ners to boot. The blood had either dried or frozen solid in the bitter cold, but she paid all of it, even the noisome battle, with disinterest and careless disregard. Instead, she quested with that extension of her mind that allowed her to tap unspeakable power and to bend sorcery to her will.
She sought that slow, rhythmic pulsing, the faint and insistent beat. She could only sense it because she had witnessed its creation of what it represented. Sometimes, she pondered, the ways of the world were so odd. The object was a piece of the physical representation of a magical binding and sealing. That was simple enough, but the hands that had crafted it...
Who could say what else it was? Its primary function was why Rei sought it, and had sought others of its like for hundreds of years, since the signs had begun to be fulfilled, and the moment of revelation approached. She never even questioned why the prophecy ceased at the moment of awakening, but in the end id did not matter. The Great Lord was prophesied to return to them, and if he fell shortly after it did not matter. Things would go on, just much more slowly.
And then she felt it, and felt the shift in resonance as it happened. It meant nothing to her, except that perhaps the ancient sorceress had been far more cunning than it had outwardly seemed. She drifted, oblivious to the world for a moment, and then had it. She blinked, as she saw that her glance, to where the fragment was, led straight into the press of soldiers. She snarled, half in frustration and half in victory. They had no chance against her, for only one even had the means to harm her significantly. The rest were meat for the grinder.
She took off at a dead run, robes flying in the wind of her passage. Staff held at the ready she ran to break through the enemy, and achieve her goal. Plenty of blood would be spilled, and likely a lot of her own. But the prize!
He stood in the line with his men, flanked by spearmen who thrust over thew top of the shields in front of them, once sharp blades stabbing messily intoa dogpile of men pressing against shields and doing - with some success - the same in return.
They had descended like a thunderbolt, breaking clear of the sorcery that rent their fellows, slamming against a lengthening avenue walled by spear and sword, shield and bow. Arrows slashed down into the wide avenue, but they were few - most shots were aimed at men with weapons in hand, not defensless refugees. At least these members of the invadingn armies had some notion of mercy and honor, thin shield that that had ever been.
He beat off a spearthrust, stepping forward into the gap that openbed in the wall of shields he fought behind, neatly thrusting into an inviting throat, parrying and slashing another mans' legs from beneath him before stepping back.
He glanced back at the refugees streaming into the avenue, and saw familiar faces. And faces only recently so, and fascinating in a way the others were not. He gazed at Aeyliea for a brief moment, and felt a flutter in his guts that had nothing to do with battle. He suspected somewhere deep down that he had feelings for this beautiful stranger, and he but only knew her name and aught else about her.
A rising crescendo of cries, some in pain, most in fear, drew his attentio9n back to the line. A taller shape bobbed out in that sea of men, so many more than the recon had indicated. What had been several hundred and multiplied to a thousand, two...many. Too many.
He only happened to catch just a glimpse of the typhoon of death fast approaching before he was tossed aside roughly, claws digging deeply into his upper arm as whatever rushed on by, and behind her came a tide of their enemy.
For a long many minutes, it was all he and all the others could do to be swallowed by that ocean of steel, inching slowly towards the far side of thed square.
Only twenty more yards, and they could enclose themselves within the relative safety of buildings, and let the enemy come as they could.
And they had seemed so close, too. A pity.
She favored the older man with an innocent smile, not at all spoiled by her short canine fangs. "I am what I need to be," she replied.
She continued onwards, ignoring the pain. The wounds had nearly melted away and wouldn't even leave a scar - the self induced forced-healing took some of her strength to achieve, but above all else it hurt. The body was not meant to be strained in such a way, not even hers for all thast it had been manufactured to do just that. She had not lied when she had said, now or in the past, that the Mah'riel were hard to kill. Swords and bows could do it, if the damage was severe enough, fast enough. Not very likely though. Their true weakness was something altogether else. And of the mages wandering the world these days, that she had seen, few of them would dare even try.
Their cautious path took them to a place that seemed at once far too inviting. The cold gleam in Larits' eye perhaps hinted at his desire for more blood, or perhaps some foolish notion of trying to prove his own skill. Her flesh, however, remembered steel far too keenly yet, and while she doubted any of the ambushers would kill her, it would hurt. She did not like pain.
She opened her mouth to say they should go around, when she became aware of an insistent buzzing, a resonant pulse that thrummed in the back of her mind. Her mouth hung open, but no words came out. Not immediately.
"I think..." She swallowed. She was no magician herself, but all of her kind were sensitive to the arts, and the flavor of this was far, far too familiar. It reeked of sorcery. "We run. We run very fast, through this square, and if anyone or anything tries to stop us, we cut through. Now. Now!"
Suiting her own words, she darted forward. The first man died twenty paces in, jumpinmg out from behind a stall with a spear in his hand that she took from him, punching him in the face so hard bone cracked aloud. "We need to get out of this city....now...."
Taken by panicked instinct, she continued on, to the shouts of their ambushers springing the trap.
She emptied the contents of the satchel into her hand, and stared.
Not a single item seemed to be special in any particular way, not beyond being beautifully crafted for the most part. But the moment she took the satchel into her hands, she felt a flare of life burn through her veins, pushing some of the fatigue aside. An insistent pulse coursed through her body and mind, and she had to shake her head to dispel the trance that suddenly came over her.
"I don't see..." She began, and then stopped.
The figurine of a woman stirred. It moved like a little, miniature person, gray lifeless stone taking on a semblance of life as a carved face took in who held it. "Good," it piped as it squinted up at Aeyliea's face. "I am having a hard time holding it all together anymore. Its been too long, so many long years. At last..."
"What, by the Light, are you?" Aeylie asked, not believing she was talking to a little stone carving that stood in the palm of her hand. That piping voice wasn't familiar to her, but she could think of some who might use such a device. Long dead, of course.
"Thats a complicated question," it replied, folding gray arms beneath a gray pair of breasts. "I am a working of Seska, a familiar of sorts. Its all very complicated, but I am sure she will gladly enlighten you when you see her next."
Aeyliea said nothing. Seska could still be alive - who knew how long they lived anyway? "When I see her next?"
"Oh, yes. But we have to wait for the proper moment to come. Directives, you must understand."
What a curious creature. She wondered if she were going mad, but by staring faces all around she knew that wasn't likely. Of course, this was somewhat more commonplace to her than they, she supposed.
She opened her mouth, when shrieks of animal pain tore into the center of the haven her men had formed. Refugees cried out, turned and fled either way, back to the compound or towards the slowly advencing head of the line. A few men fought the invader as they snatched weapons from hands or else knocked them aside like snapping curs. The figure resolved itself to be the creature from the gates, the one who killed without raising a blade. One of them.
"Blood....we are all dead men..." She whispered hoarsely. The strange magical construct turned stone eyes upon the apparition of death, and chirped a laugh.
So. She had been right to be furious. She trusted her gut instinct on this one, and it stated thus: The damned Sidhe was involved in this, somehow, and for that simple fact this was probably going to end up extremely, disgustingly annoying.
"Well, well. Well." A man turned from the line of defenders and put his sword through her thigh, but she absently reached down and broke his arm, plucked the blade from her flesh and threw it into him like a spear. He died beneath his allies, tripping them up, and all was to the good. "You, I would not have expected to see again. Ever."
The white-haired woman was known to her, of course. She had known on sight, at least, all of the Highest of the Empire prior to the war even beginning. But this one, of all of them, had ended up being the most frustratingly effective at foiling the Great Lords' plans, and her own.
It all should have ended on a night of fire and sorcery, a night full of the most terrifyingly inexplicable event in her whole life.
"I remember you at Adem Tor, when you hammered half a Pride of my people into mush, destroying us beyond even the ability of the Holy Mother to restore us. Oh, you killed a lot of men too, but who cares about humans? And you still lost in the end."
She stepped forward, but too many of the men fought to retain their little island of calm in the storm for any to pay attention to her now that she was within that protective wall. Her eyes were drawnto the stone figuring standing in the Highest's palm, and her eyes narrowed. "Truly, that imp has a sense of humor. You will give that to me, or I will kill you and take it."
"Go kiss a goat." Was all the woman replied. Blind rage flowered inside the Matriarchs' mind, and she gathered her strength, her power, opening herself to that dark creature beyond time.
There was nothing there.
"Ah, yes, about that." The piping voice belonged to the construct - the fragment of the seal! "I kinda thought you might like to play your little tricks, You may as well give it up, though, for right now I have you shielded after a fashion. Your goddess cannot hear you."
Violence. It always came down to violence.
All she had was a staff, but it was damned amazing to see what one of those could do with such a mundane weapon.
In the time it took to breath, the Matron had crossed the distance between them, staff lashing out. Only startled reflex let her dodge that first lethal blow, and kept her alive long enough to out sword and come to ready.
The Matriarch grinned, all teeth, and came again. Wood met steel, and neither marked the other by as much as a hair, only clanging hollowly with each parried attack. Aeyliea realized very quickly that she was no match for the beast, except maybe in the absolute best of times. These were not they, and each flurry of attacks made her give ground, always on the defensive.
It wasn't very surprising at all when the first blow came, skirting her defense almost mockingly. The butt of the staff speared her shoulder, and she shrieked in pain as it shattered her shoulder blade and long upper arm bone. The blade dropped from her hands and a second blow cracked her ribs. The pain was intense, so much so that for a moment she blacked out, and when she came to, a handful of heartbeats had transpired. In seconds she had been overcome, and now she hung by her neck in that creatures clawed hand.
"Your life is forfeit, of course." She reached out to snatch the artifact, once more a simple stone statuette and completely lifeless. She gasped in that grip, not choking at all. There was no need, as blood bubbled to her lipes and ran in a thin rill down her chin, blood staining her middle where the older wound had broken open and now added its flood. "But be at peace, knowing it bought the revival of the Lord."
She was flung liek a rag doll into the center of the space, and lay in a twitching, agonized heap, right arm twisted in an unnatural way.
The Matriarch turned, and found the others. There was some sport in this after all.
The little stone statuette, however, was smiling and muttering under its breath. No one could hear those words above the din, and in any case, they were completely nonsense. But they would work as they should, and whether the Matron understood or not, there were always more answers hidden in prophecy than the clearly obvious ones.
While heavy torsos that heave and hurl / will crunch like nuts in the mouth of squirrels.
Yeah, its Seska. Start running now, bitch.
And then, like liquid-made-flesh, the woman simply... moved out of the way, staff whirling to trip him and send him skidding across the cobblestones, opening up several old wounds and initiating several new ones.
Imrilsam groaned and struggled to his knees, but the woman appeared to pay no further attention to him.
The Physician cast her eyes about desperately for something to help. Her gaze fell on a crude wooden shield a couple of feet to the right that had been dropped by some poor solider already well beyond her healing skills. She bent down and grabbed it, her right hand curling about the punch-grip and holding it as tightly as she dared. The shield was an unfamilar weight in her hands but drew her novice even closer to her, sheltering his young body behind it.
The two of them knelt down behind the shield, her left arm tight about the boy's shoulders. "What is the first lesson, Boy?", she whispered to him.
He stared up at her, wide-eyed with fear, his body shaking with fear. She could see the terror in him, written plain as day, tears welling up in his eyes. Never in his young life had he been exposed to such awful sights. He might have assisted Therese for several months, both at the University and out in the world, but he had never thought his own life might be at risk. Blood, wounds and disease were something that he had come to accept and understand, but they were always things that had happened to other people. Until this moment in the city, he had been comforted by a child's trust that he was immortal, that nothing could hurt him, that death could not touch him. Now that trust was shattered, now he saw the true terror in the world, now he realised the awful and enormous truth that death came to all. It did not respect youth or innocence, it would not spare him just because he was a child.
She cupped his chin with her left hand, "It's alright, ok?" He nodded weakly, tears still threatening to course down his cheeks. "Now tell me Boy, what is the first lesson?"
He gulped, taking in a deep breath, "T-t-to remain calm, Physician".
Therese nodded and held him close once more, "Good Boy, no matter what we see, no matter what happens, we have to remain calm. If we panic, if we let terror overwhelm us, then we cannot help those around us". Her voice sounded strong and confident to her own ears, which was good because inside she was a quivering wreak. But she couldn't let that fear out, she couldn't let anyone see it. The first lesson learned in the Unversity was to remain calm, no one would take advice or heed of a Physician who ran about like a chicken without its head.
The two of them watched as Aeyliea was thrown to the ground and at a distance Therese could take a good guess at the injuries she had sustained. She looked down at the novice and gestured her head towards the fallen woman. The boy wiped his eyes, his unsplit tears leaving a small damp patch on his sleeve, and nodded. "Come on then Boy, we have work to do". They rose, keeping the shield between them and the terrible woman, then moved, as quickly as they could towards Aeyliea.
But I am certain — one hundred percent certain — that we can work this out. Trust me. I'm the Doctor.
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