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Justice

The Holy City of Paterdomus
Early Spring, 315 P. F.


“The items were found upon your own person, and then identified by one of the paladins who apprehended you. It’s quite damning evidence, and stealing from the Exalted One’s temple would be a grave crime indeed,” Father Caius mused to the man before him, the very first that he’d been assigned to counsel. Caius was freshly ordained, and he looked not even thirty, a truth that certainly wasn’t lost upon this man before him. The accused fellow had deflated the moment he had seen the lawyer assigned to help defend him, no doubt assuming that Caius’ youth meant ineptitude. Fortunately for him, with that youth came not incompetence, but rather diligence and a desire to prove himself that many of the older lawyers lacked.

“...did you do it?” Caius abruptly asked, cutting straight to the point within moments of this first meeting with the accused.

“I, uh -- what, I thought you were s’posed to be the one helpin’ me defend my name, not tryin’ to get me to confess, or...”

“I am indeed meant to counsel you and help you defend your name, as best I can,” the young lawyer admitted, “but if you are truly guilty, you might as well confess and beg to be given penance and forgiveness. In doing so you would save much time, mend your conscience and your standing with the Exalted, and no doubt also spare yourself a harsher punishment than need be.” The young priest stopped with a pregnant pause to let those words set in. “I see that I took you by surprise, but when I asked, the guilt looked plain in your eyes. If even I can see as much, then you must realize that the Justiciar will too, for he would question you even more sharply. I shall not waste time or mince words; I repeat that this evidence is damning, and know enough of the courts and of our Justiciar that declaring yourself innocent and taking this to a trial would not go well for you.”

“I didn’t hurt or steal from nobody! Only took from that church what them orcs left behind, after they burnt it down. Didn’t know if they were runnin’ to the mountains or not, they might’ve come back later and taken the rest anyways!” By now the peasant was sweating and shaking, even more nervous and despairing. But he still clung stubbornly to forlorn hope, even as Caius told all with just the look in his blue eyes. “I guess the church could call that stealin’. But I got more choices right? If I don’t wanna confess or chance meself in the court, I could demand a--”

“--trial by combat,” Caius finished, looking down at his desk. “Yes, you could demand as much; however, you are not accused by a neighbor but by the church itself, and for its representative the Temple of Justice would name a Knight-Paladin. He would be a holy man who was chosen for that path by his aptitude and body, and who had trained with sword and shield from the age of ten. He would be armored with steel and padding, and you with only your own innocence and swiftness, or lack thereof. I do not suppose you are deft or skilled with a sword, or that you have some kinsman who is and who might stand for you as a champion? If I might be so bold, I suggest that a trial by combat is the last thing you should want.”

By then Caius’ gaze had left the desk to meet the man’s face. There was a great deal of fear and nervousness there, and some of it surely rubbed off and fed back into Caius’ own doubts. But his was a disciplined mind that could set aside such burdens, and so he forced his own countenance into a kindlier one. Perhaps that would help to soothe the fellow’s nerves.

“You are not wholly doomed or lost. I do believe that if you confess and request penance, you will have the best outcome. Justiciar Drusus is to preside over your case, and he is a most fair and just servant of the Exalted One.”

“Then that’s what I gots to do,” the thief finally relented, slumping back into his chair. “I’ll confess.”




The Justiciar was a just enough man. Nothing less could be expected of one who stood in judgement of others in the name of their Exalted god, a deity who embodied that very element of righteousness. But what was it that made the Justiciar just? Was it how he knew the scriptures all by heart and had memorized the Exalted One’s prescribed punishments for each mortal offense, and those prescribed by the kings of old for pettier crimes? Or was it how he had toiled and suffered pains in his own life, and thus could understand even if he did not pity or show improper mercy? No, by Caius’ reckoning it was foremost because the man’s eyes could taste honey and vinegar alike and set aside the difference. He was not blind, but able to see and then still set his heart aside, to treat a leper no differently in his judgement than he might a maiden most fair.

And lepers and fair maidens alike could wilt before Drusus’ stern, fatherly face! If he had ever laughed in his life, there were no lines to show it. Indeed his face was bereft entirely of wrinkles or scars or anything else to mar it, even as his age was growing more venerable and the top of his head had balded. Around the sides of that shining bald peak of his head there was a fringe of hair the color of ash, and then below that the rest was black as soot. When they thought they were beyond the hearing of their elders, Caius knew that the youngest boys in training to be priests would call Justiciar Drusus ‘candlehead’, the jape that the flame was that shining bald spot, and that black and white hair around made up the burning wick. If that were the case, then every time Drusus held court then each and every man and woman standing judgement (and the witnesses, too! He did not suffer anything save silence from the witnesses!) must have all been the wax.

On that day, Caius too felt like he was made of wax. He had only just been ordained and assigned as a lawyer to serve under Drusus and give counsel to the accused, and this was actually the very first man he was to stand for, though certainly not the first time he’d been before a court as a clerk or witness, or even before Justiciar Drusus. As the young priest left his cell in the dormitory at sunrise and made his way up one of the city’s high hills and towards the great Temple of Brazen Justice, he passed at least a dozen smaller ‘temples’ that were really more offices or schools than places of worship, then by one of the temple knights’ barracks that doubled as a holding prison for those awaiting judgement, and then he’d climbed to the steps of the great marble temple top the hill.

Twin Knights Templar clad in ornamental armor and white tabards stood guard on either side of the entrance, and recognizing Caius as the lawyer, one of them kindly pulled open the heavy oaken door. The young man gave a gracious nod and murmured a greeting, then slipped inside. The first thing to meet the eye was of course the artwork: massive statues guarded corners, engravings elsewise covered the walls and great pillars, the tiled floor had mosaics, and the windows had panes of stained glass. All of this was sacral imagery depicting the Exalted One and his champions: saints, paladins, and kings of old, near all of whom stood locked in combat against inhuman monsters or else in judgement over shackled warlocks or other evil men. The dawn filtered through massive windows high up near the temple’s vaulted ceiling, and those first few anemic rays of sunlight served as the only illumination, so gloom filled the air, and yet that only brought the decor to life. The dim animated and embellished the brilliance of the Exalted One’s gilded eyes and fiery hands just as it did the gleaming bronze born by his paladins, all of which was juxtaposed by dark voids and swirling red-eyed shapes that represented the servants and beasts of the night. Every man to stand on trial that morn had already been brought into the temple and made to wait an hour or more, left to stew in the unsettling aura of the monsters and the forces smiting them down.

Caius found his place besides other clergymen serving as clerks and lawyers, well away from the benches of witnesses and the line of accused. Silence filled the air but for the occasional hushed whisper or grating of the door being pushed opened. They waited while the stained glass slowly became aglow as more sunlight poured in through the windows, the gloom finally being staved off, and then Justiciar Drusus at last entered with the scabbard of his greatsword in hand. He took his place upon the high dais by the altar, drew the sword as tradition dictated, and surveyed the crowds.

Drusus was a tall and hard man, still lean and strong but not quite so formidable as he’d once been in his fighting days. Some wounds to the leg had left his limp and ended his time as a paladin guarding the borders, yet he still moved with dignity (albeit slowly) and stood straight as a spear, chin ever high. His eyes were red, Caius saw, but it was no doubt the product of his reading all the briefs upon these cases before him. Drusus cared for detail and read closely; he’d probably been awake and at his desk somewhere within the temple long before even the first of the lawyers had arrived.

Keeping the tip of the greatsword high above his head, the Justiciar finally broke his silence by beginning a long prayer out loud. He beseeched the Exalted to look down from his Heavenly Hall and unto his faithful, to aid in his loyal servants’ peace and help them to deliver justice. By the end even his strong hands were trembling from the sword’s weight, so he placed it back into his sheathe and laid it upon the Exalted One’s holy altar, and only then motioned for the judgements to begin.

The first case was a most scandalous and salacious one that involved one man accused of having grown too familiar with his brother’s wife. Neighbors and kin aplenty had come to bear witness for either side, and it seemed as though half the entire village had been questioned on the matter, but most had work to attend to and had merely been interviewed at their village rather than summoned to come in person. Still, their testimony had been recorded and compiled into one document that was read out loud by a priest. During the proceedings impassioned and wild accusations were flung between the two brothers and the witnesses, but there was only one swear (it came from the aggrieved brother and was directed at the other brother’s innocent wife, of all places) hurled -- Drusus’ icy gaze and sharp condemnation of that first one was enough to discourage such undignified words and prevent a second, so the court was able to maintain that much civility, at least. The case took the better part of three hours to resolve, and the two accused were finally found guilty of adultery, yet mitigating factors (namely intoxication) made Drusus unexpectedly restrained in his sentencing. The adulterer and adulteress alike were each to be sobered by having a hot nail driven through the palm of their left hands, and then the adulterer was additionally made to pay some silver in reparations to his shamed brother. The adulteress he did not punish further, instead relegating the matter of any more disciplining for her unto her husband.

The next matter was one of graver crimes -- apostasy and witchcraft, from an elder woman that the village had accused of spurning their village’s priest, consorting with trolls in the shadow of the mountains, and haunting the local children in their dreams. Paladins had been sent to search for signs of this supposed troll, and after days had found nothing, so she was cleared quickly enough of that charge. But a letter from her village’s church did indeed show that she frequently claimed sickness and did not attend; Drusus rebuked her and suggested that her propensity for colds and other minor afflictions might well be caused by weakened morals and a lack of faith. Still, she had sometimes attended, and she knew enough prayers to appease Drusus, so that rebuke was her only punishment on that count. There was not, however, any evidence save her own denials to prove her innocent of using witchcraft to project herself into dreams and haunt the children, and two children had indeed claimed to have been haunted by a shadowy figure in her likeness. As he was no fool, Drusus understood that even the minds and memories of the young and pure could err from time to time, and so the testimony of a few children was not enough to give him certainty. For the nature of the crime made it very difficult to find the truth, it seemed apparent to all that a trial by ordeal was necessary, that the Exalted One could judge more wisely.

A purplish elixir of ground trollsroot, a most noxious and deadly plant, was concocted and she was ordered to drink of it with all those present as witnesses, so she had no choice but to feebly nod and accept her lot. It was said that witches and those that bound themselves to the Black God were oft immune to such poison altogether and might even enjoy the taste, for such vile fluids flew already flowed through their veins, but that less insidious ones with wicked hearts would merely wither and die over the course of a few hours. A pure soul, however, would always repel the substance and give the body strength enough to expel the poison before its effects could kill. Indeed this woman did quickly gag and vomit, and so demonstrated her purity of heart. She still did seem deathly pale and was soon shivering, but she was shown innocent before all. Drusus ordered her put into the charge of a temple infirmary, and she was carried out on a litter.

Those two cases had taken longer than expected, and so the Justiciar adjourned the court so that all present could have the respite of some rest and take their midday meal. Caius stepped outside to breathe in fresh air and feel the sun upon his face, only to find himself standing in a great and slender shadow. Those who lived in Paterdomus long enough could learn to tell the time just from where the shadow hung, splitting the city in two. This shade came from the Silver Tower a whole hill over, a massive spire that crowned the Cathedral, grandest temple of all Paterdomus and indeed all Outremer. That tower loomed over the entire city and even had a commanding view of some of the surrounding country beyond the great walls, and it was from those heights that the ruler of this realm (and he with most righteous claim as successor of the Holy Kingdom, to hear any priest of Paterdomus tell it) could preside over his lands, that great jeweled crown no doubt resting over a troubled brow. That was of course to say that the Silver Tower was home to the study and living quarters of the High Father, the Beacon of Light and Hope, Flame of Wisdom, First Servant of the White God, High Priest of Paterdomus, or whatever other style you wanted to give to Pontiff Aulus.

The Pontiff, once a greatly respected and perhaps even feared figure indeed, was alas rarely spoken of in Paterdomus now, and reduced to laughing stock everywhere else. He had long secluded himself up in that tower, supposedly in prayer. His last public appearance had been years ago, within the great cathedral below his tower, and there he’d delivered a fiery and frenzied sermon of doom and darkness, promising a second Great War and speaking of a time of strife and judgement when the sky would grow black as it wept acrid tears over burning lands. At first the paladins were eager, expecting this to mean another great crusade, but the call to invade Arugoth hadn’t come. Now the commoners whispered about His Holiness under their drinks, claiming Aulus to have lost his wits at best (perhaps a fair assessment; all that Caius could remember of the Pontiff’s visage on the day of that sermon was how his once-magnificent beard had become a great long mess of unkempt white and of how all the other clean and proper-looking senior clergymen around had been furrowing their brows and frowning) or an outright madman who spent his days poring over ancient spellbooks and tomes, and every other oddity and artifact in the temple’s reliquaries. A few particularly loathsome fools had even started spreading preposterous rumors of strange lights coming from the tower’s Hall of Mirrors during the dead of night as the product of Aulus performing queer magical rituals. Naturally, men had been arrested and the Knights Templar had tried to quietly suppress such heretical and malign rumors, but that had seemingly done nothing but inflame the gossip. Many among the ranks were all too eager to choose a replacement, yet the Pontiff retained his title for life, so they could only circle round like vultures.

Father Caius shook those disturbing thoughts from his mind as he walked, eventually leaving the great shadow behind and venturing down the hill to a stall where some man was peddling apples that he’d carted in from some orchard in the country. Caius paid the man a copper coin then claimed two of the larger apples for his midday meal, eating them as he climbed up the hill to the Temple of Brazen Justice. He quickly finished the first apple, the thing sweet and good inside even as it’s peel had been spotted and marred, but as he came back into the shadow of the Silver Tower, he bit into the second and prettier-looking apple only to discover that it was half rotted. With a sigh, the lawyer spat out the bite of apple and tossed the rest of the fruit away, and then a few minutes later he stepped back into the temple. His man’s case was slated to come next.
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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by ZAVAZggg
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Ernald Joyce




The Five Mile Walk
Early Spring of the Year 315 P.F.




Joyce let out a sigh of pure relief as he trudged over the final hill in the path, his tongue parched both from the time it had taken him to traverse the last three miles of his journey and his inquiring of the old hermit several hours prior. In all honesty he hadn't expected the trip to be this arduous, but the smoldering midday sun had other plans it seemed. Untying a small skin from the loop of his breeches, he brought the opening to his lips for a quick swig before putting it away again and soldiering on. It wouldn't be too long now in any case, just a few more minutes and a few more steps. He could handle that much at the very least. He'd handled every other place he'd visited thus far after all, and some of those locales were even more godforsaken than this one. Readjusting his satchel so the papers housed within didn't come tumbling out, Ernald carried on down the rest of the path, reaching his destination just as the sun fled from its apex in the sky...

And Exalted above what a squalid sight it was.



He'd expected a certain amount of grunginess and grit to be fair, these were mining towns after all and thus not prone to flights of overly fancy or even sound architecture of the style found within the cities beyond, but the sight currently unraveling before his eyes was just pitiful. And that was putting it nicely. Had it not been for the occasional wheelbarrow being pushed across the street or the soft grumbling of dirt-stained men as they returned from the depths of the mine with ore filled sacks in tow, Joyce would have thought the town completely abandoned. The shock of it all was enough to give him pause, making him wonder if the legends surrounding the Maw really were true. He had entertained them whilst talking to the hermit to be sure, but other than that he'd chalked the whole thing up to silly superstition on behalf of the locals, as whatever evils there had been in the world were driven away or destroyed by the Exalted long ago. But now... well now he was starting to take the rumors a bit more seriously. Even the sky itself had changed, morphing from its former orangish-blue to a deep and depressing grey in a matter of seconds, and that wasn't even taking into account the atmosphere permeating the town itself. Something he could only describe as unnaturally tense and cold. So tense in fact, that it felt as though one could simply reach out and part the air with nothing more than a rusty knife, assuming the blade didn't freeze over and shatter first that is.

Doing his best to suppress a shiver, Ernald continued on his way, attracting fleeting yet suspicious glances from those he passed. Ignoring them for the time being he continued to wander about the rundown looking town, his eyes combing the area for someone-anyone-who could help him find his way, be that to the leader of the settlement itself or its scribe. He did not need to wander long, however, for he soon found himself standing before the townhall. A rather sizeable looking building that radiated warmth, light, and noise, most of which arose from a large crowd of men and women who had gathered just outside the entrance. Curious, he drifted closer.

"Well!?" a man somewhere off to Ernald's left bellowed. "Will the old bastard live!?"

A broad-shouldered man clad in a brown tunic and mud splattered pants strode out of the hall, pinching the bridge of his nose with an exhausted sigh, he shook his head.

"Wihtric is dead," he muttered, his words breaking the silence that had settled over the crowd like a hammer smashing through glass. "The cave-in turned his legs to pulp. Best thing for him now is a proper burial."

"I'll see to his last rites," another voice from within the crowd, a woman's this time, said. "It's the least I can do."

The man nodded, his expression softening ever so slightly as his gaze met hers.

"Thank you Saethryd."

He shifted his attention back to the crowd.

"Now please, return to your homes. There'll be no more work done till the morrow. Take this time to rest and mourn if need be. Until then, Maw's closed."

Whispers rose alongside sobs, from members of the dead man's family Ernald presumed, as the crowd slowly dispersed. Leaving Joyce to fiddle with the strap of his satchel as the woman moved up the stairs, past the man, and into the hall.

"You've picked a bad time to visit Oldcross stranger."

The man stalked down the steps, his face shadowed and grim.

"May I ask what manner of business brings a well dressed fellow such as yourself to our little hamlet?"

"Business of an academic kind I'm afraid," Ernald said, offering his hand. "My name is Ernald Joyce, I'm a scholar from the city of Marleon. Perhaps you've heard of me?"

"Theodgar," he replied, taking the scholar's hand and giving it a firm shake. "And can't say that I have."

"Ah well it's not relevant to why I'm here in any case."

He tugged at his collar ever so slightly.

"You see I'm writing a treatise on the various mining settlements dotted across Outremer, which I intend on publishing once I return. I wish to paint the nobility a picture of what it's like to live in such a place, how important such towns are, what manner of struggles they face, things like that."

Theodgar smiled, though it did not reach his eyes.

"Ah, good. Maybe then they'll stop spilling each others blood long enough for accidents like that," he said, jerking his thumb toward Withric's bandaged corpse as it was being carried out of the hall and down the stairs. "To stop happening."

Ernald fell silent as a procession headed by the woman from earlier made its way down the street and round a corner, vanishing from sight. Grunting, Theodgar clapped a calloused hand against Ernald's back, shepherding him along as they walked along the town's muddied streets.

"Now," Theodgar said, scratching his chin with his free hand. "I suppose you'll be needing a place to stay?"

Ernald nodded, "Yes, only long enough to find out more about this place of course."

"Of course," Theodgar remarked before coming to a halt. Hand still clasped on Joyce's shoulder, Theo pulled him in closer and lowered his voice so only the two of them could hear. "Just be careful bout who you ask specifically, hear? People don't take too kindly to outsiders poking their noses where they feel they don't belong, especially not with all that's been happening around here."

Ernald raised an eyebrow but otherwise kept silent. Although he wanted to know more he decided that now was not the best time to start prying. The town had just suffered a loss after all, and presumably much more given what Theodgar had implied. Instead he merely nodded as they carried on, eventually coming to a small yet modest shack. Stepping inside, Joyce briefly examined the walls, ceiling, and accommodations before apparently deeming them suitable. Setting his satchel on a ramshackle table off to the left side of his bed, Ernald settled himself on the edge of the threadbare mattress.

"Well," Theodgar began, spreading his arms in a gesture that encompassed the entire room. "What do you think? It's not exactly fit for a lord but..."

"But it'll do. Just see to it I'm not disturbed won't you? I tend to write in the evenings and I need to remain as focused as possible."

Theodgar clasped his hands behind his back and gave Enrald a small bow.

"Anything else?"

"The Maw..."

Joyce locked gazes with the larger man.

"I want to see it. I think a detailed examination would do wonders for my work."

Theodgar's expression fell.

"I'm tempted to deny your request outright milord," he began, his tone falling dangerously low. "What with the grimness of today. But it would be rude of me to deny someone who has traveled so far, so I'll see what I can arrange."

"Thank you."

With a final nod Theodgar exited the room, leaving Joyce completely alone.

Massaging the back of his neck, Ernald sprawled out on the bed and closed his eyes, electing to get all the rest he could for the time being. His inquiries could wait till tomorrow at the very least. For now he simply allowed himself to fall into the inky depths of slumber...
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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Lady Kinna of Brookwidth

Exalted Year 315 PF
First Month of Spring


The statesman's shoes were soft, and they padded almost silently as he paced the chapel, speaking in a manner Sir Cahan Guthcairn had come to know he only adopted when he was personally invested in a thing: active, impassioned, measured in voice yet loud with gesticulation, and all the while making barely any eye contact, a dissertation for himself.

"There is, of course, the matter of a husband..."

"The Lady Brookwidth shows no such interests." Cahan's stolid face firmed into a rare sternness. "She is in mourning, Adomo. That is no state in which a girl like her should be betrothed."

"No? And what if a fine young noble from the wealthy estates charms her to bits- under our watchful eyes?" Adomo Manciora of Goldport had invited the knight into the chapel to join him in prayers for the soul of their deceased lord. The prayers had taken all of three minutes. There was no need to explain anything- they knew Kinna avoided this room, if only by day.

After dark, who knew?

"She's too young to remember the war, Cahan. You may not hear much of them, but there is quite the sum of forward-minded nobility in Marleon who would be quite pleased to take part in the mending of ties. She must marry eventually. There's a new family somewhere, waiting for her- she's the most precious bride any groom could ask for, or any father."

Cahan did not look up from the pew where he was resting his hand. "Kinna always spoke bitterly of politics," he said. "How can you bear to even talk about her like this? She needs time to heal, alone, without being pushed around a court in the direction of every suitable bachelor and his father." He looked up. Cloudy grey sunlight was leaking through the chapel windows. "Besides, she doesn't want to go to Marleon. She wants to see Paterdomus. Mountains. Towns other than Organon. The Houselands, where her ancestors rest."

"Some fine young Houselander, then. Don't just tell me what I already know, man- think!" Cahan placidly turned his head. "I've already arranged to keep the Brookwidth estate quiet for a few years- not profitable, but quiet. By the time she comes of age it will be her duty to put it back in order. She'll never have another chance to travel like this. Half the western peerage has taken to traveling the realms since the Templars came down on Terramis and ruined everything. She'll be in excellent company- she'll start smiling again. She wants to go!" Adomo watched his words roll off Sir Guthcairn's face like water on marble and offered a special little prayer upwards. "What are you keeping her here for, Cahan? Are you hoping that she'll marry one of your own sons? Still?"

Cahan knew that Adomo could see that he'd been struck. He took his time. "...Much as I would like to offer my protection to her in that way," he began, "Kinna shows no such interests. Leave it be, Adomo. You cannot simply distract her pain away. She must face it. One day she'll come back to the manor from your gay adventure, and the force of what she has lost will will come back and hit her like a mace."

Adomo sighed. He collapsed into the pews.

No more gestures.

"I don't like it either, friend." Sir Guthcairn put his warm hand on the statesman's shoulder. "Everyone is wounded. Losing Gilahan..."

"I know." Adomo picked himself up and wrung his hands. The light through the windows remained dim. "I just wish I could see her smile again."




Sir Guthcairn knocked exactly once before he threw the door open.

"Manciora!"

Adomo threw the scullery-maid out of his lap with such vigour that she nearly crashed into the wall. Sir Guthcairn didn't notice. His eyes were fiery, fixed on Adomo's.

"My God, man! At this hour-"

"We're going."

"...What?"

"We are to travel north at once." The words spoken, Guthcairn finally looked about the study. The candlelit papers had all been neatly stacked away for tomorrow. He locked eyes with the maid only briefly.

"North?" Adomo grabbed his hat and threw it on his head. "An invasion? Templars? If the men from Goldport are back for me, it's better-"

"No." The fire in Cahan's voice had already been spent. "It's not for our sake. We're taking Kinna on her journey. Make arrangements as soon as possible."

Adomo slowed, pulled his hat off, folded his arms. The knight watched his brain work behind his eyes. "Something's changed."

"We met a travelling party while we were falconing. Baron Tislayne, the young Lord Godefroy and his family. They're travelling from the West, like you said- visiting their cousins in Arcos and Marleon." Adomo nodded. "They're in Organon now, but they're to head north within the week," Guthcairn continued. "The Lady Brookwidth has befriended his wife, Odilie. They were talking until late in the evening. They're probably still talking now. I... couldn't bear to force her to come home."

Adomo Manciora frowned in wonder. "That's all? All that talk of enduring one's grief- nothing? You're alarming me, Cahan..."

"It's fate." Adomo had long suspected there was Seer blood in the Cale banner-knight, and recalled his suspicion now. "I don't know what the future holds, but we must ride on the wind Heaven sends us." He shook his head. The lateness of the hour was catching up to him visibly. "And I will not be the one to take this joy from her."




Earlier...

Having already sent his squires up the road to Brookwidth manor to return the falcons to their roost, Guthcairn was now attempting to palm off the Baron Tislayne's gratingly merry attention onto some nearby women, a plan which had wholly succeeded but for the fact that the nobleman kept pulling him back into conversation as though his stoic countenance and heavy Calesbail accent was the funniest thing under the sun. A table had been generously set with Organon's finest wines and cheeses, and the more refined of its merchant and artisan families invited to join the Baron's company outdoors to watch the sunset, all at his expense.

The Baron's wife had slid away with almost no remark at all.

Kinna stared up at her. Odilie of Tislayne stared back down. Kinna failed to keep herself from frowning. Odilie's face revealed nothing.

"Shall we take a little walk? My husband tends to be quite the loud voice, you see."

"Yes," said Kinna, mirroring the lady-talk and lady-smile with high-born ease. "Let's."

Soon they were in the shade of a walnut (another tree among many that Kinna was dimly aware she now owned), and Odilie once more led the conversation, her smile fading from underneath her veiled hat. "You're different."

"Yes."

"I've never seen such signs in someone quite so young."

Kinna scowled. "What signs?"

"The same signs you saw in me. Something different."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes, that's the spirit." Odilie leant against the walnut with her elbow. "It sounds like you've never met anyone who's seen the dark before."

Kinna flinched, looked over her shoulder. Odilie laughed a soft, sad little laugh in the quiet. "Be brave. It's more common than you think, at least among the peerage. At least in Arcos."

"Who are you?"

"No one," said Odilie. "Not in the way you think. I'm a baron's wife, which is a pleasant enough thing to be. I was never anything- but I was friends with a woman who was." Her eyes bored into Kinna. "I started noticing things. That's all it took."

Kinna's hands rested primly on her stomach. "You were with Lucion, weren't you? You're running from the Templars."

Odilie smiled, rubbed her forehead, couldn't muster a laugh. "I never met Lucion. My friend was... swept up in his affairs, and I never saw her again. The Templars couldn't find anything on me. I'm no one, I did nothing." Kinna noticed that she was sweating, despite the brisk spring wind.

"But you're still running. Why did you run?"

"They were suspicious. I never knew much, but I knew some things. They sensed it. They could smell it. All it takes is to notice..." It was Odilie's turn to look over her shoulder. "By the time lightning struck that damned-" (Kinna inhaled at her language.) "-house, I knew it was time to leave. My husband is easy to distract, but not so easy to manoeuvre. It took too long for him start moving. Now when I come back, there will be people watching me." She sighed, shifted her weight on the tree, got bark on the shoulder of her dress. "If only that stupid wench Kalitra hadn't gone and died..."

Kinna said nothing. She was not brave.

"But now, you," said Odilie, and Kinna bit her tongue inside her mouth. "You're not like me- no one ever showed you the dark, did they? Somehow you found it all by yourself. You're very different."

"I don't know what it is." Kinna was whispering now. "I was born with it. They say my mother was like me, a little, but it wasn't the same. Sometimes people notice, mostly they don't. They never know what they notice. I don't either. I don't know. Five years ago, it looked like someone was about to work it out, but... Since then, I've been making myself normal." Her hands squeezed each other.

"Clever girl. Even the ones who go deep always stay normal. As normal as you can imagine. That, or they hide in the mountains, or run to the bogs. There's no other way." She looked up. "I'm hungry. Let's go back to the picnic and be normal together for a while. Stay by my side," she instructed. "Make yourself close with me. If I don't show you how to notice things, you'll run into them yourself, and..."

Odilie looked out, out over the town of Organon and the house of Brookwidth Manor, out to where the sun was setting, far in the west.

"Heaven knows what strife that has caused me."

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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Lauder
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Lauder The drunk kind of hero

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Batuul Comes to Calesbail

Early Spring of the year 315 P.F.





The night was dark, the sky blocked by a thick curtain of storm that came down upon the highlands of Calesbail, no light except for the occasional flash of lightning. Valleys and peaks seemed black and the patrols of those men who inhabited the highlands would not be able to see even twenty paces past the light of their torch, assuming the rain and wind did not put it out. Even the animals, huddled in their herds, were flocked to the safety of a barn or some common area within a village so as to not be lost to the storm. It was a night of roaring thunder and a darkness brought about by the very elements themselves.

The night was perfect for a group trying to sneak through the countryside unseen, passing borders and patrols without detection or notice. An occasional shepherd, trying to usher his herd back to his home, however, needed to be silenced for fear that he would see the figures moving about in the dark. Such was the merciless way of the orcs who wished to be unnoticed, old and unable to fight in fair terms against the likes of man anymore. They were warlocks, some of the last practitioners of the magics that the orcs remembered, yet they were knowledgeable in the oral history of their respective clans and peoples. Many months had passed since they prepared for this night, much planning and preparation had gone to even crossing the border into Calesbail nearly two days before.

One of the oldest among them, haunched forwards to a degree that he would face the ground if he did not raise his head, brought his spear high to stop the party. He looked back and forth before slowly crawling up the hill he was on, spying the fortified settlement in the distance before turning back to the group and ushering them forwards.A flash of light was the only thing that illuminated their presence on the hill, a risk they had to take as the oldest stabbed his spear into the ground.

“This is the spot, I can feel her anger,” the head warlock, Nulgha, stated, looking to the others who nodded their heads in agreement. He gazed around before another flash of lightning illuminated the land, revealing a nearby hut that they had not previously seen nor scouted. Turning to his personal retinue, the old orc growled, “Go! Silence any in there before they see us, I do not want them to ride us down before the ritual is complete.”

Three of the group snapped at each other, snarling and growling as they made their way down the hill to eliminate the potential threat.

Meanwhile the warlocks began their work, stabbing their spears into the ground and weaving bindings between them to form the symbol of their dark god, Chernobog. Nulgha inspected the symbol before he moved to stand in the middle of their creation, with a single finger moved the hard earth around him, now drawing the symbol of Batuul. The old warlock let out a pained grunt as he forced his back to straighten as much as he could, pulling his cloak off and tossing it to the side. The rain felt cold, aching his old bones, but it mattered not in the moment. Nulgha knew what must be done, but it was a shot in the dark, no being could overcome the might of a god but the ritual must be attempted.

The old one looked to another cloaked orc, much younger than him before speaking, “Bolag, my apprentice, you shall speak the writ. Once you have, you will take my place as warlock of the Gorfangs.”

The younger was taken back at first, the other warlocks looked to him, his nerves began to grow weak as he shifted in place. Bolag, however, knew to show strength and steeled himself as much as he could before raising his arms to the air. The ritual must begin.

“In the name of Chernobog, we beckon his first warlord to return to us. The orcs have never been as fractured as they are now, the clans fight for survival and many have abandoned the old ways seen in the First Age!

In the name of Chernobog, we beckon the Slaughter of Ten Thousand to return to us. May she bring forth a new age! The Age of the Orc! May she cull the numbers of the race of man, bring them to their knees, force them to be but servants to our people!

In the name of Chernobog, we beckon the Matron of Orcs to return to us. May she bring our number to bear against the enemies of the Fell! May she bring our people out from their squabbling and unite them as she has!

In the name of Chernobog, we beckon the Unifier of Fell to return to us. May she bring the remnants of the trolls and ogres to unite under her banner, to bring us revenge upon those who forced us to to hide in Aurgoth!”


The apprentice looked to another warlock before speaking in the same ritualistic tone, “Bring forth the weapon!”

Two warlocks brought forward a massive spear, nearly the size of a troll, bringing it to Nulgha who stood there expectantly. The old warlock took the spear into his hands, struggling to raise it for a moment, though just barely managing to overcome the weight of the weapon. Nulgha kept both hands upon it, keeping it steady in front of him before the words of the ritual came to his ears once more.

”Batuul, Matron of the Orcs, Unifier of Fell, Slaughter of Ten Thousand, First Warlord. We free you from your bindings so that you may continue your work in the name of our master! Hear our call and break your chains and to usher a new Age of Slaughter!

Chernobog! Free your Champion!”


The warlocks began to chant, slowly and deeply did their voices overcome the deafening rain and roaring thunder. With heads bowed, they raised the hands to the air, urging forth the essence of Batuul from her prison in the Plane of Chains. While they did not raise their voices, their chant became louder and louder, the rain becoming silent in comparison to them. All but Nulgha fell to their knees, continuing their ritual even as the storm grew harsher and harsher over them, lightning became more frequent and wind whipping at them all the more.

At the climax of the dark ritual, Nulgha suddenly raised the massive spear into the air and let out an ear-splitting roar in the same instance that a massive surge of lightning hit the old warlock. The lightning did not stop, however, as the form of Nulgha became foreign to the chanters due the lightning overcoming his form. Finally, a singular strike hit the location and stayed there for much longer than any lightning strike would, certainly making Nulgha into nothing more than a smoldering corpse.

When the strike finally relinquished itself, in Nulgha’s place stood a towering form much larger than the warlocks who silenced themselves to merely gaze upon the mass. The figure looked between them in a moment of silence, the sound of rain returning to them before the mass raised the gargantuan spear and let out a roar to match the thunder. Joining in, the warlocks and their retinue roared into the air along with her, knowing that their ritual had worked.

Batuul walked free from her prison.

Her form loomed over them and as she looked over them and the land, she was not greeted by an army and instead had but a mere foraging group. Batuul’s face formed a grimace as she spotted the walled settlement of what was clearly a human city, but with much different architecture than what she could remember. She could remember that his land was empty, the land where she had met her defeat at the hands of the White God. Yet, a tug at her hand brought her back to reality, a warlock seeking to gain her attention.

“My warlord, we must leave or the human will find us,” he warned, a display of cowardice that earned him a raised foot to kick him to the side, though not enough to kill him.

“Men cannot destroy us, wretch,” she growled as she looked to the city once more to see horse riders coming out and towards their direction. Batuul snarled as she looked to one of the warlocks, asking savagely, “Who are you?”

“B-Bolag, my matron,” the young warlock stated, prostrating himself before Batuul, “I headed the ritual to free you.”

Batuul inspected the young one, bringing herself down to breath in the air around him before the sound of hooves on hard earth caught her attention. She let out a sigh before giving an order in a deep, guttural voice, “We must return to Aurgoth, I must raise my army! But first, let us kill these men!”

The retinue of the warlocks raised their weapons and let out their roars, forming around Batuul as she stayed upon the hill, merely watching the horse riders coming to them. As they neared, Batuul let out a deafening roar as she began to run down to meet them, their horses spooking at the noise and their charge momentarily halting as their mounts reared back. The orcs fell upon them, the men stabbing out with their spears while others were pulled from their saddles and slaughtered like animals.

Batuul threw her spear at one horseman, the weapon catching the rider and throwing him off his horse before being impaled to the ground. Another, who had regained control over his horse, charged at the massive orc, seeking to bury his spear through her, but being unable to as Batuul ran into the horse itself. Her massive form lifted the beast into the air before throwing it at another horseman, crushing him under the mass of another horse. It was a display of savagery that these men had not seen as Batuul herself began to end their scouting party nearly by herself.

In the end, their resolve broke and those who still had life within them began to run back to the safety of their city, some even riding with horses that had not been injured. The orcs began to give chase, but Batuul stopped them by letting out a loud grunt to get their attention, “Leave them, I want them to know that I have returned! Now, lead me to Aurgoth!”

The orcs let out their savage cries as the horses that survived Batuul’s onslaught, were slaughtered as they ran into the countryside leading their newly brought back matron to their lands. Though, the survivors of the scouting party knew of their existence and word would spread quickly among the lands of Calesbail that there was an orcish party with some form of monster in the hills. Batuul knew hunting parties would be organized to ride them down, knowing that the likes of men would stop at nothing to kill them.

Yet, that was where the fun would come. There was no fun if the humans did not want to fight her.


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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by ZAVAZggg
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~Ernald Joyce~




Early Spring of the Year 315 P.F.
~Oldcross~




Ernald woke early the next day, brushing the grime from his eyes with a low groan. His slumber hadn't been as restful as he'd expected, even after he'd taken into account just how uncomfortable the bedding would be, but it was something at least. Better than some of the places he'd slept in over the years anyway. Sitting upright, he swung his feet over the side of the frame, rising only after they had come to rest against the damp planks that made up the hut's floor. Stretching, he quickly got dressed, slipping on his mud caked shoes and heading out the door, but not before grabbing his notebook and quill. Wouldn't do for him to go about a full day of questioning only to forget the most important details at the end of it all. Tucking both items into the pockets of his coat Ernald strode out the door and into the streets beyond, the soil of which was a tad harder and thus easier to traverse than it had been yesterday, but not by much.

Thus the long walk began. He started off small, keeping his inquiries limited solely to those who seemed open to them before gradually broadening his search to eclipse a good chunk of the surrounding town and its more crotchety inhabitants. With that broadening came a whole host of different stories and tales, all of which would provide excellent anecdotes for his work. There was one tale, for instance, of a woman four years back who was rumored to be a witch on account of her tendency to collect soil from around the Maw, the act of which was considered quite strange due to its tarry and mostly unappealing appearance. He had been unable to learn of her ultimate fate however, as everyone he'd questioned had brushed the matter off with claims of bad luck and misfortune, but he could put the pieces together well enough. An accusation like that didn't go unnoticed for very long after all, not by the devout anyway. The stories he'd heard after that had gotten progressively less interesting as the day wore on, to the point where he simply fell back to observing the goings-on within Oldcross instead, getting a great deal of sketches in the process.

After a while though the sun slowly began to set, signaling an end to the day. Not wanting to be caught outside in the cold and dark, Ernald made his way down the winding streets until at last he was home. Stowing away his journal and pen, he was just about to turn in when a knock at the door gave him pause.

"Just a minute!"

He buttoned up his shirt as he moved towards the door. Opening it, Ernald was surprised to see Theodgar standing on the other side.

"Apologies for bothering you so late milord," Theodgar said, executing a short bow. "I hope I didn't interrupt your writings, but I've come to speak with you about the matter we discussed yesterday."

"I see. Well there's no need for apologies, I was just getting ready for bed."

Ernald propped himself up against the door's waterlogged frame.

"Now, I presume this is about my request to visit the Maw?"

Theodgar nodded.

"Indeed it is. You will be pleased to know that your tour of the mines has been arranged, albeit under a few conditions."

"Alright, let's hear them."

"First, you don't wander off no matter how interesting something may seem. Withric's passing should give you more than enough reason as to why. Second, don't interfere with the men working within. Last thing we need is you getting a pick through the eye by accident."

"Sounds reasonable. Anything else?"

"Yes, you will be personally escorted by me," Theodgar beamed, trunk-like arms crossed over his chest. "Merely as a precaution of course."

"Of course. So when do we leave?"

"Noon tomorrow," Theodgar said. "I figure that should give you more than enough time to prepare."

"Indeed it should," Ernald replied, flicking a bit of dirt from the back of his hand. "I'll see you then. In the meantime rest well."

Theodgar nodded, "You as well milord, you as well."

And with that, he was gone. Swinging the door shut Ernald returned to his bed, plopping down with a dull and dusty thud, his mind falling once more into a deep and dreamless sleep...
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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Dead Cruiser
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Dead Cruiser Dishonour Before Death Better You Than Me

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Long Dhubh ar na Spéire


The rousing waves of midmorning slapped against the black hull of Nathair with the a roughness that seemed almost playful after the deep calm of dawn. The air was clear, every cloud in the sky gave deference to the sun, and the wind filled Nathair's dark sails with a driving, lustful vigor. Despite these good omens, the black ship cutting through the glittering green sea was a solemn and morbid sight. A harrowing dirge sounded from the ship's decks, strained and broken voices joining together to sing of sorrows from before the birth of the nations they hailed from, or the bloodlines that bore them.

The ship's captain served as the shantyman for their song, calling out the verses of his ancient Elvish ballad for his crew to echo. They knew nothing of the content of the lyrics they sang, and butchered the subtle beauty of his native tongue with their coarse human accents and mouths ruined by deformity and scurvy. After a hearing a particularly sour note, the Elvish captain fingered the handle of the lash hung at his hip, but decided against using it for the time being. Rather, he strode back to his seat on the quarterdeck, calling out beginning of the next verse all the while.

It was an elegant, if mournful shanty in its original Elvish. The lamentations of a long-forgotten crew of a dragon ship much like Nathair, as they sail away from their ancient home, abandoning their lives and loves in the pursuit of war. Their only hope was to rejoin their families in death, as those that departed the Elvish home were forbidden to ever return. It was a song that lingered on Emel's mind frequently, and out of all the old shanties it was the one he remembered best. Rather than settle down into his throne on the quarterdeck, he stood atop it, peering over the horizon with his ruby eyes, his Elvish vision a match for any spyglass. From there he spotted the masts, trees, and towers of their destination, tucked just behind the horizon. He hopped down from atop the chair and unspooled his lash from his belt. Emel whipped the lash in the air to gain the attention of the crew, and rather than crack as most whips did, the noise it made was more like the snarling and rattling of some strange beast. The tool had been called Yongje, meaning "Agonizer," by the man Emel had won it from in a game of chance years ago in a far-flung port.

"Portus Cruor, nine leagues off the bow!" The Dark Elf called to his crew.

A smattering of calls resembling "Aye" went up, and the crew set about making preparations for landfall. Emel watched them, carefully observing his misbegotten crew as they went about their duties. The seemed unusually sluggish for sailing in such good weather, and he was curious about the reason. His gaze wandered to where his First Mate was barking out more specific instructions to the helmsman and other crewmates, and Emel could practically smell the contempt they had for their superior officer. The First Mate was a burly half-orc, and had joined Nathair's crew decades ago, and had been valuable to it. That said, Orcs were not a long-lived people, and their halfbreeds even less so, and the First Mate wore his years heavily. His hair was grey and milky blindness had begun to cloud his eyes. The rest of the crew could sense his weakness, and felt little need to obey him. Emel would need to correct this before it became an issue.

First, the more pressing matter. Yongje lashed out across the deck, its barbed tails catching the flesh of the belligerent crewman shirking his superior's orders. The man screamed in surprise and agony, his legs immediately giving out from under him as he hit the deck with a heavy thud. He continued to roll around on the deck, moaning deliriously as the rest of the crew looked to Emel warily. He whipped the Agonizer back and forth in the air twice more for effect, giving the audible impression that there was some vicious and exotic beast prowling the ship. In a metaphorical sense, there absolutely was. Cowed by this display, the crew snapped back to their duties, and the First Mate gave his captain a lingering look, knowing he was failing in his duties.

Emel paid him little mind, returning to his throne as he let his gaze and thoughts wander. Here was was, back in this gods-forsaken land after a span of time that he personally regarded as being too brief. To what end, not even he knew. He had not come here of his own accord, not truly. He had been driven like a beast of burden, and the lash that drove him hung on the hip opposite to his own. The Black Sword had a sudden change in mood and character a few months prior, and had begun pressuring him to journey to this place. It assailed him incessantly during the day, and bombarded his restless dreams. He felt ashamed to have given in to its demands, but part of him was curious what about this place had made it so desperate to journey there. The blade had been eerily silent since the night before, as they approached Outremer, and so he wondered what it was currently plotting.

We've returned to this damned backwater, Emel offered this thought to the Black Sword, trying to provoke a response.

Not a moment too soon, answered the blade, Your acquiescence gives me renewed hope for the fruitful bounty of our partnership.

Emel sighed, not sure if he was relieved or annoyed by the blade's return to its usual demeanor. At least he knew generally how to deal with it when it acted like this. Never the less, they would soon be ashore, and Emel could finally put this mystery to rest.
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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Vec
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Vec Liquid Intelligence

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CHAPTER 1: Impetus
Early Spring, 315 P.F.

Jensen had seen many things during his time manning the bar of the inn in his hometown of Ashford. Anything from visiting rowdy mercenaries looking for a place to drink away their coin, to clergy of the Church deciding to stop and spent the night while on their way to man the garrisons of the Ashgate. Hence, he had not been surprised when two, relatively well-dressed, men came before him asking to book a room. Whilst going through the established routine, he took a moment to analyze the two men.

The older one seemed a little more reserved, satisfied in waiting one step behind the younger one and leaving all the talking to him. The graying hair of his temples and moustache were the only two things betraying his age, with the rest of his body’s musculature being evident to the naked eye, even as it was hidden under the linen lining of his tunic. From his hard gaze that scanned the inn and its patrons, to his right hand resting on the pommel of his sheathed sword, Jensen assumed that the man had seen his fair share of battle in his lifetime.

On the other hand, the younger one seemed to be the more approachable of the two. His fair complexion, dirty blond hair and blue eyes gave him an air of nobility that he no doubt, in the innkeeper’s mind, was a part of. He wore an affable smile on his face throughout his interaction with the innkeeper, making small talk here and there as they were led to their room by him.

“There is a small fireplace for you to keep warm,” Jensen said as he pointed at the corner of the room. “I will also arrange for a tub of hot water to be brough to you later, should you want to wash away dirt and grime caught during your travels.”

“That would not be necessary.” The young man rejected his offer with surprising sharpness, catching the innkeeper off-guard. “We’ve travelled for some time and haven’t had a chance to rest, so we’ll be doing just that. Likewise, there is also no need to bring our breakfast over. We will be having it with the rest of the patrons in the dining room downstairs tomorrow morning.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Jensen assented. “Very well. I shall take my leave then,” he said with a slight bow and exited the room, closing the door behind him. With a deep sigh, he slowly made his way down the stairs whilst deep in thought.



“I beg you to reconsider. Your fa-” the older man’s gruff voice was stopped to a halt at the other’s gesture. Bringing his hands to his head, the younger man massaged his temples for a moment. With his eyes closed, he took a couple of deep breaths and gathered his thoughts in order to reply.

“My father has no say on what I will do with my life. He is a tired, old greybeard with no honor to his name. At least, not anymore. He wiped away any measure of that when he left my mother’s family get slaughtered like… like pigs by the Arcosi…”

“I am sorry for your loss; I understand your pai-”

“Do you now?” The young man swiftly left the chair he was sitting on and walked over to the older man, grabbing him by the collar of his vest. “Why are you really here, huh?! Did my father send you over to finish what his Arcosi friends couldn’t? Send you over to kill me?!”

At once he pushed the older man away and splayed open his arms, the expression on his face turning ferocious. “Come on now, do it! Do it, you coward. Kill me!”

Silence blanketed the room as the two men regarded each other. One huffing and puffing in his rage, whilst the other just stood there, his gaze leveled at the younger one. After what felt like an eternity, the younger man visibly deflated as he grew calmer. With slow steps, he moved over to the corner of the room in order to light up the fireplace. “If you are not here to kill me, get out. Take some coin from my pouch and rent yourself a room, but I do not want to see you wait for me downstairs tomorrow. Now, get out.”

The tiredness in his voice and the finality of his words gave no further leeway to the older man to talk. With a small sigh of his own, he turned around and walked to the closed door. He hesitated for a moment, turning to look one last time at the boy he had helped raise up into a man, in the absence of a doting father. For a man of his age and experience, the times he had cried could be counted with the fingers of just one hand, and yet he could feel his eyes tear up at that moment.

“I wish you best of luck, young master Alger. May the Exalted watch over you.” With that, he exited the room, leaving Alger alone to stew in his thoughts.

“Well, that certainly didn’t go as well as we expected…” An airy whisper echoed inside Alger’s mind after the older man had taken his leave.

“Robert is a loyal man. He is wasted in the employ of my father, but he would never bear to betray him as well. It is good that he left. I do not need, nor want, to drag him into my matters…”

After making sure that the fireplace had enough fuel to last him for some time, he walked over to the armchair and slumped down, sinking into it with a sigh.

“You should let me take over for a while. Sleep, it will do you good.” The voice was heard once again, ethereal and faint but ever clear to him. The spirit longed for freedom, he knew it, and so did it know he knew, for they been merged together for some time now. Through their unholy bond, Alger had come to realize a lot of things about the world around him, about magic and the unknown, as well as the wonders of alchemy. The spirit claimed to have been wise sage of old, that for some reason, had sealed himself in order to recuperate from an injury inflicted by a deadly enemy of his.

Back when he had first come in contact with the spirit, or Manzallu as he came to know it later, he had been almost certain he was going to perish. Yet the spirit appeared out of nowhere and made him an offer he could not refuse. Now he was bound to it, and it was bound to him. He largely remained in control of his body, but sometimes he would find himself in unfamiliar places upon awakening from his sleep. Evidently, the spirit had been taking liberties with his body while he was under a dream’s embrace, but Alger could do nothing to stop it from happening, short of not sleeping.

Now they had reached some sort of equilibrium, with Manzallu agreeing to always ask for permission before taking over Alger’s body, and him allowing the spirit freedom to act in “moments of crisis” as it had named them, without previous notice.

“Not yet…” Alger begrudgingly stood up from the armchair and walked towards the table where he had left his canvas rucksack. From within he pulled a thick, vellum-bound parchment book. This had been one of the most important things in his possession for a while, for he used it as a journal for both his travels and his forays in alchemy. He grabbed the rucksack and placed it on the ground next to the chair, emptying the table, and sat down. He caressed the book’s cover for a moment before opening it and turning to the day’s page.

Grabbing the nearby quill, courtesy of the inn’s clergy patronage, he dipped it into the ink and after some preparation, started writing.

“We entered the town of Ashford. It is a small, quaint town, perfect for settling in for the night. It is close to the Ashgate, but I will not be using that for my purposes. I dare not fall under Paterdormus’ gaze, for I fear the magical wards built upon the wall will pick up on the existence of the spirit. Despite their shortcomings, those dastardly smugglers will honor a deal built on the promise of coin, and that… that I have enough of.”

Alger took a moment for himself before continuing. “I told Robert to leave. I refused to hear his excuses, for I know that he could sway me if given enough time to do so. I wonder what my father’s reaction will be once his loyal housecarl returns empty-handed. I imagine that would be a riot if I ever saw one.”

“Lastly, I cannot lie to myself; the chances of surviving the journey to the lands of the orcs are not wholly in my favor. Nevertheless, it is something I must do, for it is only there that I can find what I need to continue. The plan must continue.”

Alger looked at his writing, and with a last tired sigh set down the quill and closed the book, placing it back into the rucksack. Across the room, faint moonlight shone through the opened wooden shutters of the window. The chill of the night crept into the room, but the warmth of the fireplace dispelled it. Alger stood up and walked over to the window, closing the shutters entirely.

He then took a moment to regard the room; hasty as they were to make the innkeeper scarce, Alger had not properly surveyed the lodgings he had been provided. It was a cozy little room, all in all, with all the comforts that one could hope to ask from an inn at a major crossing point such as Ashford. Of course, Alger knew that this had probably been the best room they could offer, but he rarely pondered on such things, though he would have to soon enough…

Feeling the tiredness finally taking a toll on him, he yawned deeply.

“Guess it’s time. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, understood?”

“Of course,” the voice of the spirit came in waves to him this time, the most annoying variation of the thing as he had found out.

Alger sat on the bed and, after one last look at the room, closed his bright, blue eyes.

A moment later he opened them again, but this time they were red.

The red of blood.
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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by ZAVAZggg
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~Ernald Joyce~




Early Spring of the Year 315 P.F.
~The Maw~




Joyce ran his fingers through his hair as he walked, hoping to work out a few of the tangles it had acquired the night before, to little success. Thus he abandoned the task and opted to focus on the road unwinding beneath his feet instead. A good thing too, for the grass surrounding the path slowly began to peter out, shifting from a luscious green to a dusty brown, and ending on a color that was reminiscent coal speckled pitch. Soil, hell land in general wasn't supposed to look like that and he knew it, yet here it sat against all the odds. Just the thought of it was enough to plant a seed of unease deep within his soul, but he did his best to suppress that feeling, scribbling detailed notes on its texture in the pages of his journal to distract himself. Ernald knew he couldn't keep his nose buried in his notes the whole way there, however, and after a while he found himself focusing on the surrounding landscape in all its bleakness once more. There were no trees to be seen, nor songs to be heard, and even the light from the sun seemed muted and dulled.

It was as though life in its entirety had utterly forsaken the lands to the west.

Clutching his journal to his chest ever so slightly, Ernald continued on his way, arriving at the entrance to the Maw just as he'd promised. He was about a minute late by his own reckoning, give or take a few seconds from the walk down, but that was of little concern. As it turned out Theodgar wasn't exactly a stickler for remaining on schedule when it came to this kind of thing, not only because of the risks it posed to his reputation, but the reputation and morale of the town as well. If Ernald had him figured right, the lord of Oldcross would have happily abandoned this venture in its entirety had it not been for his persistence on the matter. Twas a shame the poor man had to be pushed so, truly, but Joyce needed this information to finish his work. If a little bit of discomfort churning within the mind of another was the price that must be paid for such a thing, then pay it he would, and gladly too.

"Hail milord!"

A gruff yet friendly voice called out from just within the entryway, shaking Ernald from his reprieve.

"I trust you were able to rest well?"

Ernald nodded, watching as the lord of Oldcross stepped out of the shadows and into the light.

"I was indeed. I also happened to find breakfast quite enjoyable as well."

The lightest hint of a smile graced the edges of the scholar's lips.

"I was surprised to tell you the truth. I hadn't thought a small town like this capable of producing such exceptional things."

"Hah! We may be meager at first glance milord, but don't let appearances fool you. What we lack in finery we more than make up for in spirit!"

Theodgar chuckled, planting his hands on his hips with a sigh.

"Now, shall we begin the tour?"

"Yes," Ernald replied, giving the larger man the briefest of nods. "I am very interested in seeing what the Maw looks like from the inside."

"Aye, that's it lad!"

Theodgar extended his hand, resting it on Joyce's shoulder as he shepherded him along once again.

"Though I have to warn you, it's not as interesting as you might think. Nothing more than a bunch of rock and iron really. Well, when we can find iron that is. A lot of the surface veins have dried up completely, and exploring the tunnels that run deeper into the Maw takes a considerable amount of time."

"I see."

The two made their way deeper into the mine, the sounds of picks hammering against stone, torches sputtering, and the effort filled grunts of unseen men toiling away in the dark the only constants in their long descent. Joyce took notes on the overall structure and layout of the mine along the way, making sure to stick as close to his guide as humanly possible. Well, for a time anyway. Eventually, despite his promise not to wander off, Ernald quickly found himself exploring a narrow passageway that branched off from the one he'd just been on. Well, exploring wasn't really the right word for it. It was more like blindly shimmying along, using the wall as his guide and support, until he found something of interest. Which, surprisingly enough, he did.

Upon reaching the passageway's end, Joyce found himself stepping out into a massive cavern, the roof and walls of which he wouldn't have even noticed had it not been for the softly glowing fungus that covered them. Even then he still couldn't make out exact details since they were so far away. What he could see however was downright fascinating. Ahead of him by about ten feet or so lay a large cricular slab, though of what he couldn't say. Not from this distance anyway. Drawing closer to the mysterious formation, he found it to be a slab of solid obsidian, one that had become fused with the surrounding rock. And as if that weren't strange enough, there were symbols strewn upon it, painted with some kind of reddish-brown substance.

Exalted above I hope that isn't blood...

Confused and afraid, yet curious, Ernald pulled out his journal and wrote the symbols down. It took him a bit longer than he'd anticipated however-for they were very intricate as it turned out, and doing this by the dim light of fungus certainly didn't help-and by the time he was packed up and ready to return to the tunnel from which he'd come, a cacophony of voices came echoing into the cavern instead. Immediately Ernald recognized his mistake. Theodgar must have taken note of his absence and thus torn the mine apart in an effort to find him, hence the chorus of shouts and yells that was rapidly approaching. Cursing, the scholar made his way back to the narrow passageway, emerging on the other side just in time to come face to face with his irate guide.

Before he could do so much as speak, Ernald found himself being drug back to the surface by Theodgar. The lord of Oldcross didn't even break his stride as he barked out orders to some of the men nearby, tasking them with ensuring the cavern was secure so that no one would be able to just wander in as Joyce had.

"I told you not to wander off you daft bastard!"

Rage rippled across Theodgar's face like a wave.

"God only knows what could've happened to you down there! Hell, you could have ended up just like Withric or worse!"

"My apologies, but I needed to see-"

"Save it," Theodgar spat. Inhaling sharply he took a moment to compose himself, continuing only after he had attained a tenuous state of calm. "I had two very simple conditions for you to follow while we were in the Maw, for good reason mind you, and you broke them."

He shook his head in frustration.

"Do you know the kind of reputation this town would get if a young lord such as yourself was injured or, God forbid, killed while under my watch? It sure as hell wouldn't be a good one!"

"If you would allow me a moment to explain, I-"

Ernald felt himself being shoved foward. Landing in a heap just outside the entrance to the Maw, he turned to stare at Theodgar incredulously.

"Go back to your hut scholar. Get what information you need from the town, but do not return here."

Turning away in anger and disgust, Theodgar shuffled back into the lightless depths of the mine, leaving Ernald to complete the walk back to Oldcross alone.
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Vaught

Early Spring of the Year 315 P.F


Plants needed water. Even the toughest cactus in the most arid desert required the occasional rain to come down from otherwise blue skies, but of course the more green colleagues it had in its vicinity and the taller those were, the more of the precious liquid was in demand. From that point of view the terrential downfall that had occurred in The Greatwood area a few days prior was an event to be thankful for, but the hunting party that had gathered in the nearby village thought otherwise.

For them any of the larger puddles was just one more reason to stay further apart from each other. One of the men had fallen back into the usual routine and closed in on the others a few minutes ago and was covered in the cold mud their horses' hooves had sprayed still. The humid ground slowed them down, forced them to evade additional obstacles and kept alive the dense mist that only helped their prey. They were a ragtag group of four peasants who had convinced their local horseshoer to forge them some spearheads, to sharpen their pitchforks and to check their primitive crossbows, but even to those non-professionals it was obvious that both their own equipment and the current conditions were not in their favor.

Still they pressed on, knowing that their path would only lead them closer to The Greatwood itself. It was the forest that stood for the unknown like hardly any other region in Outremer and the unknown was what most humans feared most, but what had happened in the village of those humble peasants had been frightening, too. Their fields had been fertilized with the blood of the cattle they were intended to nourish! The wooden fence intended to keep away the wolves had been broken and yet another of the sheeps had been brutally torn apart, but the rain had reduced the perpetrator's traces to meaningless shapes yet again. The fourth time this month...

The four men had no coin to spare, no food to give away to what might be just a big, wild boar or even a large bear. There was enough scum roaming around in the region around Portus Cruor that used to oppress people that living there was hard enough already. Even if they wouldn't be able to find the exact animal, they were determined to decimate the population and to scare the remainder. They had already hunted down one boar and wrapped it up nicely on one of their spare horses, but their lust for revenge was far from satiated yet.

The Greatwood didn't present itself with a clearly cut and abruptly upcoming treeline, but it was a steady increase in how close the trees stood to each other. The terrain slowly became rougher, grass and trees taller and roots came sprouting from the ground. Also the fog started to thicken so it was decided to turn around and continue in another direction, but not after a short but well deserved break. The small party slowed down gradually, then came to a complete stop in the midst of what seemed to be a large glade. A gentle mixture of sounds came to their ears: a small creek, woodpeckers and other birds, a fly whizzing by and finding its sudden death between a man's swift hand and his leather clothing. All harmless things that wouldn't harm anyone.

Yet a few minutes into the break there suddenly was disturbance: a loud crack like a thick twig snapping on the ground. A large animal perhaps ? The horses had been tied to a tree near the water so they could drink and eat a little. That's where the sound had come from. Jacob stopped eating and started running towards their location as one of them whinnied. The fog made seeing what was going on difficult from any significant distance.

"Hel..."

Jacob's outcry came to an abrupt end only to be followed by a dull sound. Now George, Harod and Flynn started running, too. They were greeted by the sight of what they only believed to be a human upon a second glance. Staring down upon them was a pair of reddish glowing eyes situated at least seven feet above the ground. The individual it belonged two didn't move much. It just pointed downwards towards Jacob who seemed to be unconscious, but bleeding from a broken nose at least.

"I think he's still alive. I'll take these two horses and leave you the others to get yourself and him out of here!"

For a brief moment, the three peasants just stood there in shock and watched with obvious disbelief as the almost gray-skinned, hulking man untied two of the animals without even looking at the arrangement of improvised weapons their owners had brought along with them. At least that was until Flynn made an attempt to end things in an instant as he charged forwards, pointing his spear directly at Vaught as the latter bowed in order to undo yet another knot in the rope.

Vaught's elbow hit the wooden shaft so hard that the whole thing was sent flying far into the woods, but not without interacting violently with Flynn's temple. The man cried out and landed face-first in the mud, bleeding from a serious looking head wound.

"Don't you listen ? Go before I trample your two friends and hunt you down like a sheep out at feed!"

It was not only the incredibly chesty voice alone that put fear into the men's hearts, but also the sight of teeth that seemed more suited to consume flesh than anything else. Whoever, whatever this wickedly huge, strangely pale... man... was, he wasn't joking. George and Harrod did not make any further attempts to attack him, but just watched in awe as Vaught reached for one of the steed's reigns and mounted the other. The horse buckled beneath him to a large degree, but would suffice for quite a while still.

It was only when the four peasants had already disappeared in the fog behind him that Vaught realized his mistake. He had said something that might trigger more of the village's attention instead of reducing it. This probably wouldn't be the last hunters he'd encounter, but he was tired of them. Why was he showing mercy to those humans if all they seemingly had in mind was to eradicate everything that disturbed their way of living ? The general feeling of 'enough' had risen to an uncomfortable level he just refused to ignore anymore.

Something more drastic than just feeding on sheeps while everybody was asleep had to be done.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Sophrus
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Grave Lord Mortan


In a long-forgotten ruin the Grave lord sat upon a simple throne of stone, staring at the night sky through the broken roof with pinpoints of light emanating from his empty sockets. Ancient cobwebs cover his desiccated body, decades of neglect leaving armor pitted and flaking. The cloth of his robes crumbling to dust. Empty sockets of his skull fixed on the sky, the only changing scenery in the hall. Death of the Holy Empire granted the Grave Lord respite from their priests and paladin-knights. Allowing the servant of the Black God to await the beginning of his master’s dying curse.

The Grave Lord did not sleep however, he sat contemplating the dark rituals and runic sigils that gave him power over the dead. Recombining them in his mind to make more powerful and profane magics. Three hundred years after the fall of that holy kingdom the Grave Lord still hid from the world. Something new crossed the heavens before Mortan, it took several days before he became aware of what was before him. A crimson streak of light. As the Grave Lord focused on the comet. The splash of color he noted was in the constellation of the earth mother, a grim omen indeed.

As the gravity of the omen was realized Mortan’s eyes began to glow with brighter eldritch light as his awareness was dragged to the fore leaving the tangled ritual formulae he had been considering forgotten. “The blood star” Mortan spoke into the silence of the ruin, an omen he had only seen twice before. The comet had been in they sky, in the constellation of the priest, the same year Paterdomus collapsed. Only once before for a full week after his master spoke the death curse upon this realm. This time it spelled doom for the world itself.

The Grave Lord rose, flakes of rust and clouds of dust falling away, and stepped away from the throne he had sat upon for so long. He walked to the entrance of the ruin where sign of battle had long been covered over by nature and time, but some signs proved difficult to mask. A boulder laying in the rubble of cut stones or bones still clutching at the spear that ended their life. One such skeleton caught the Grave Lord’s attention.

He carefully disentangled the bones from its armor and plant matter that had grown from the fertile ground beneath it. In time the skeleton was laid out carefully and completely. Mortan gently removed the skull from the arrangement and began etching profane sigils into the bone with his claws. While doing this Mortan chanted weaving the sigils with arcane power. It took hours to cover the skull, once complete he placed the skull in an exact position of the arrangement and began the final chant.

As he murmured the words the bones slowly drew themselves together, snapping into place held together with dark magic rather than flesh. As the ritual completed a rush of power flowed into the bones and the skeleton jerked drawing itself up and stood silently awaiting orders. Mortan examined the skeleton briefly examined his control over the creature before he nodded, satisfied at the success of the ritual.
The Grave Lord ponders how the curse will take hold in this world, if nothing else the servants of the black god will need soldiers beyond what the fell creatures can provide. Soldiers he could provide. Before making war however Mortan needed to build the army, but he needed to learn what had become of the world during his hiding. While he hadn’t been sleeping since the fall of his master he was still out of touch.
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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Antarctic Termite
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Rising Tide

Exalted Year 313 PF
Second Month of Winter


The harbour town of Port Cruor, still called the Portus by some, has no governor. Yes, yes- the office of Governor still exists, and has existed in some form used or unused since before the fall of the Kingdom. It exists on paper, mostly, and as the gubernatorial regalia, a set of medallions and seals which have been pawned, loaned and retained as collateral nearly as much as they have been used as props for an Official Portrait of the Governor- quite the luxurious ornament to display, if you can afford to have yourself made Governor for a little while. In the same way, the office itself changes hands, originally every ten years, now every two, and in practice every handful of months, passed back and forth between the same handful of fleet-owning families as they find uses for its remaining privileges.

Nor does Cruor have an Admiral. To marshal the countless ships in its harbour under a single ensign would surely foul the mood and disturb the tangled loyalties of its veteran sailors, who do not survive long on the seas without growing the hide and temperament of a sea-lion, and are much better armed. Such a deed, attempted in earnest, would wreak more destruction than any attack on the Portus could, and be quite off-putting for any man with the cunning and ferocity to attempt it, never mind the staggering wealth.

But it does have a Commodore.




"-and may we be redeemed by our works in His sight, for against His great glory we-"

The once-seaman watched morning fog recede into the streets of the Portus. There were times and places when he would close his eyes to say his prayers, times at sea or in closed rooms. Not here.

"-until He returns to cleanse us of our iniquity and set us in-"

Still waters did not rock the hundred galleys that lay before him, three of the largest newly launched, a fourth soon to come. In some small way, his master said, he would be part of that, much like he would always be a small part of the Exalted Kingdom in Outremer, so long as he had faith.

So the priest said. Crouching on the docks before dawn, bathed in the smell of fish just as the cobbles soon would be bathed in their blood, it was easier to have faith in his earthly master, though he knew not the plans of either. He simply served.

"-that the Light may shine ever brightly, like sunbeams upon-"

As the sun rose each day on empty piers where fishermen had already rowed away to haul full nets of fish from the sea, so he would wake up each day before dawn to haul goodness out of the dark.

"-unto God, the Most Glorious, the Exalted. Amen."




Captain Rodgar of Cruor watched with no passion, his hands loosely resting at his back. He was a young man, strong, his position owed largely to his birth, sharply aware that he was only one heir among five and would lose even that privilege in an instant if he did not fight tooth and nail to expand it.

"Ask him again, Matio."

The burly ex-seaman heaved his black-eyed victim up from the cobbles and shook him. "WHERE IS THE FUCKING KEY?"

The pigment trader raised his arm and waved it in the rough direction of his mute eunuch aide, croaking something. The slave immediately turned and went into the storehouse. "Grab the box while you're there," called Rodgar after him, knowing he would be obeyed. "The real one this time."

He tapped his foot and looked around in the meanwhile. Cochineal, myrrh, cinnamon, exotic fruits. At its best, the pickings at the Portus bazaar were almost as good as its colourfully sprawling rival in the Grand Feitoria of Goldport.

But only almost. And only at its best.

The eunuch returned with a small lockbox and an iron key, which Rodgar inspected for false walls or secret compartments before he opened. The trader stared up at him with bitter violence in his eyes as he retrieved a ring of fine jade. "Don't blame anyone but yourself," said Rodgar, pulling the priceless ornament over his finger. "That could have been much easier."

Sensing that they were finished, the seaman dropped his victim directly down onto the road and wiped his knuckles on his tunic. He was uniformed, like the rest of them, in nothing more than dark leather armour and a tattoo. The sea-nettle it depicted was, by design, a much rarer and less fashionable symbol than the scorpion, but the message was the same: touch me and die.

The Captain wore no such leathers, of course. His tattoo was backed up by nothing more than a hat and a coat. A man of his status, assigned with his mission, could not afford to betray bodily vulnerability. It was a careful balancing act compensated for by the presence of the sea-nettles around him: To the wealthy, a refined face; to the poor, a stinging arm.

There were a great deal of poor men in the Portus.

"Cheat me again and I'll drown you in your own barrel," said the Captain before leaving. "You'll go down smelling of pepper."




The streets occupied by spice-traders and perfumers were a thin island of beauty adrift in a dark lake of violence, slavery, prostitution, and fish. Between them lay a half-sunken shore of rare, exotic beauties, precious commodities of the living kind. The iridescent birds sitting songlessly in their cages were only the beginning of what the Portus had to offer, much as the jaw-headed camel spiders tearing each other apart in their jar were only a shadow of the fighting beasts still pacing the pits of the ancient amphitheatre, or the assassins in their distant dens.

"The error has been corrected," the Captain announced to a handful of foreign guards as they approached the tent of the flesh dealer. "Let's do business."

"He gone," said the only mercenary with an appreciable grasp of the Outremer tongue. "He sell the woman."

Rodgar nodded and set off a little further away from the bright colours of the pigment trader. It amazed him a little, having undertaken voyages of many months in his time, to see just how many slaves here would surely have taken years to transport, never mind raise; eunuchs trained to do the oddest tricks and the most specific skills, who could throw their voice or sleep on nails, swallow poison or produce calligraphy. Even these males formed only a portion of the flesh dealer's domain. The rest were sold for other purposes.

A mercenary guard tapped the slaver on his shoulder and he looked up from the gold he was counting. His expression, cautiously content, soured instantly. "So soon," he said, nearly spitting. "Already the faker man comes to show me another fake."

"Not this time," said the Captain, displaying his hand.

The slaver's scowl lifted slowly into shock. "Aye- aye, ah, my ring! This is the ring great uncle gave to me! Aye-" He reached out his fat hands to grab Rodgar's, and the captain pulled away his fist. Suddenly the sea-nettles around him had grown terribly close, and the mercenary's straightsword looked terribly thin in the face of their hooks and mauls. Two young women stared out of the next room in fright, their faces as sweet and delicate as a peony in midwinter.

"There are conditions," said Rodgar, "from my friend down the street. Count those coins carefully. They'll be your last for some time."




"So!"

The room was incredibly opulent. Ivory compass, ivory statuettes, even an ivory rosary, inlaid with gold. The fixtures were amber. The furnishings were ebony and silk. The treasure-mansions of Cruor's elite displayed wealth on a scale that could not otherwise be found east of Marleon, and the gilded saints upon the rosary beads would never have approved of the deeds it took to secure it. The man who welcomed them wore a peacock feather in his bejewelled hat.

Rodgar adjusted his own cap, this one also silk, and entered with a stance of brazen confidence. A servant followed him in with huge package in a leather tube.

"You've done me quite the favour, you have, Captain. Oh, you know I hate competition, I hate it almost as much as I hate getting my hands dirty. But nothing's free, is it?" He lounged over his seat, half laughing, exerting no effort at all. "What does the Commodore want, of all men?"

"Labour," he announced with no hesitation. "The Commodore requires both skilled and grunt slaves, and in time another sum of healthy oarsmen. It concerns his project with the galleys."

The merchant kingpin grinned and still did not laugh. "More? Again? Between me and that Bendsford man, he must have an army's worth of workmen. Come on, out with it."

"If I may," said Rodgar, moving an inkwell. His courier revealed their treasure.

The scroll was huge. It filled the desk, covered it, would have trailed off the edge of any less enormous table. The designs upon it were marked down in the kind of excruciating detail that cost more than a year's wage for the seaman on its deck. The man's perennial smile dropped down to the tiniest of bemused smirks as he leaned in to stare at the parchment.

"Galleys? That, Rodgar, is a warship." Rodgar raised his eyebrows a little in a way that made it clear he would not be delivering further comment. "For what purpose under Heaven would the Commodore call on his fortune to commission such a thing? Has the man lost his mind? Who does he think he is, a crusader?"

Rodgar looked over his shoulder, and beckoned the courier and guards away with a knuckle. They did not leave the room, but stood a little further back. Rodgar leaned in. "The Commodore, for the purpose of his own information," he said, "maintains correspondence with a variety of professionals whose skills are not welcome in the Church. Since the appearance of certain- portents, he has concluded that the winds are fit for a more... military fleet."

Rodgar withdrew. The old merchant likewise returned to his chair. He wet his lips, rolling the rumour around in his mouth. The Commodore's man had given him a secret. Maybe not a true secret, but that didn't matter at all, no, that didn't matter one bit.

"See me tomorrow, at this hour," he said, inspecting the designs closely. "We can begin to negotiate this contract."




Captain Rodgar was shown into the study. The scroll recording the agreement felt heavy in his hand.

Before him sat a greying man, not at his primary desk but in a far more comfortable chair beside it, watching the fire crinkle. Some heavy book of records lay open before him. He'd spared the Captain barely a glance as he'd entered the room.

"Sir," he said, bowing. "A first copy of the contract has been drafted. I hope it is to your satisfaction."

Commodore Lano Loranze, who had held his title for twenty-three years and been named Governor for fourteen of them, unlaced one of his nettle-covered hands from the steeple in front of his mouth and reached out to accept the document. He paged over it briskly. Rodgar began to sweat.

"Thank you, Rodgar," he said. His voice was low, like timbers at sea. "That will be all."


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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by ZAVAZggg
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~Ernald Joyce~




Early Spring of the Year 315 P.F.
~Oldcross~




Ernald exhaled sharply as he strode back into town, his temper still trying to flare even now, hours later. For while understood Theodgar's anger, and his reasoning for treating him as he did, Joyce was still left quite miffed by the whole ordeal as it presented a very real obstruction in regards to the progress of his work. All hope was not yet lost, however, as Ernald still had the sketches he'd taken while in the Maw along with the strange symbols he'd found to boot. Seeing how they were the only interesting material he had left to expound upon, and how his curiosity was still piqued by what he had seen while in the cavern, Ernald decided to ask about town for a scribe—or anyone really—who could tell him more about what the odd symbols might mean. Unfortunately this was easier said than done, as most of the town's inhabitants had not only turned in for the day, but clammed up the moment he so much as hinted at foreign symbols or etchings, clearly not wanting to involve themselves with such "foul business" as they put it.

Thus Joyce quickly found himself wandering about in the dark and cold sans the answers he'd so desperately sought. Running a hand across his face with a tired sigh, Ernald was just about to give up and head back to his hut when he caught sight of Saethryd heading in the direction he'd just come. Seeing no other option, he decided to intercept her, hoping that she had some idea of where he should go.

"Um, excuse me miss!"

He ran up to her, bowing slightly as he did so.

"I hate to bother you like this, but could you tell me where I might find your town's scribe? I have some writings I'd like them to take a look at."

Saethryd blinked, squinting at him through the darkness for a bit before realization finally settled in.

"Ah, Ernald! I almost didn't recognize you!"

She smiled and turned to point at the buildings behind her.

"Our town's scribe is just down the street. Just keep to the left and you should see a small building with a dingy red door, that's where Alfilda lives. If anyone can help you, it's her."

Joyce bowed once more, albeit a bit deeper this time.

"Many thanks."

"You are most welcome!"

With that the two parted ways and Ernald carried on, eventually finding his way to Alfilda's house and the dingy red door. Rattling off a few knocks on its gnarled surface, Joyce watched as a dim light flickered to life in one of the windows before quickly moving over to the door, which opened to reveal the annoyed expression of a hunched over old woman.

"What do you want!?" she snapped, shooting him a nasty glare. "I was trying to sleep!"

"My apologies for waking you madam," Ernald said, flashing her a smile in the hopes of placating her somewhat. "But I was wondering if I could ask for your assistance in identifying some ancient symbols I've found."

"Bah!"

Alfilda swatted the air with a wizened hand.

"That's all anyone ever bothers me for! 'Alfilda look at this! Alfilda inspect that!' Exalted above it's downright maddening!"

She shook her head, pinching the bridge of her nose with a sigh before meeting Ernald's gaze.

"But if you're heart's set on it, then I'll take a look at your blasted symbols."

"Thank you," he replied as Alfilda stepped to the side and motioned for him to come in. Obliging, he strode inside as she shut the door behind him, sitting opposite from the elderly scribe at a cluttered table nearby. Once they had settled in he passed Alfilda his journal, flipping to the page on which he had scrawled the symbols as he did so.

"I take it this what you wanted me to look at?" she asked, examining the page's contents carefully.

Ernald gave her a small nod, "It is."

"Well," Alfilda began, glancing between him and the book. "I can't tell you anything about the symbols themselves other than the fact they look pretty."

Joyce blinked, his expression quickly turning to one of shock.

"What?"

"I've never seen anything like this before in my life," she said before pausing, her mind apparently falling into a momentary muse. "Well... I've almost never seen anything like this before. There is this one book however..."

Alfilda rose from her seat and shuffled to a small sectioned off part of her house, presumably the same place she slept, before quickly returning with a rather plain looking leather-bound tome in hand. Setting it on the table between them she returned to her seat and slid it over to Ernald.

"This book is filled to the brim with strange symbols and writings. From what I know it just appeared here a couple of months ago. I tried to give it a read but..."

She gestured idly but didn't bother to elaborate further.

"Anyway, if there's anything on this green earth that has something similar to what you've found, it's that."

"I see..."

Ernald stared at the book with a tinge of disappointment. This was what his inquiries had led him to? An old book? Picking it up he examined it, turning the weighty tome over in his hands so he could look at it from every angle, take in every detail. The thing was, as far as he could tell, completely mundane. The cover wasn't made out of skin, human or otherwise, there was no fell aura emanating from it to try and corrupt his mind, nor blood dripping from its pages. Aside from the fine craftsmanship with which it had been made, the tome he held was perhaps the most ordinary thing he had ever seen, and not at all something he would have expected to be related to ancient symbols scrawled within the dimly lit depths of a supposedly cursed mine. Nevertheless he'd gotten what he'd wanted, hopefully, so he thanked Alfilda for her aid and carefully made his way back home to his hut as the darkness that followed the setting sun made it incredibly difficult to see.

After about an hour of stumbling however, Ernald finally arrived back at his hut, and just in the nick of time to. A nasty looking storm had blown in a few houses back, and a downpour had already soaked him to the bone long before he managed to get inside. As such he spent the better part of an hour wringing out his clothes before hanging them up to dry, covering himself with the thin sheets lying atop his bed while he studied the book's contents in the meantime. And study them he did, for it wasn't until the following morning that Joyce finally realized just how long he'd been reading. At least that's what he assumed he'd been doing anyway. Trying to remember the events of the night prior was akin to trying to wade through a mental soup that was too viscous and thick for its own good. Too thick of a stew and you might as well eat paste or mud or some other equally inedible thing. Too thin and you'd be better off drinking waste from a river.

As such making the perfect soup was, truly, the most delicate of arts.

Wait...

Ernald blinked as a cool gust of wind rushing past his nethers jostled him from his culinary reverie. Letting his gaze fall, Joyce found he was still clad in the bedsheets from the night before and no longer standing in his hut or even Oldcross as well. No, he was right outside the entrance to the Maw, as evidenced by the tarry soil clinging to the soles of his feet. Resisting the urge to panic as best he could, Ernald clutched at the sheets tightly. Taking a breath he attempted to calm himself so he could figure out just how in the hell he'd gotten here.

That was when he noticed the blood. It was a dark crusty brown, a telltale sign that it was several hours old at least, and stained large portions of the sheet almost stylistically. As though he had been smearing a corpse with them or something. But that couldn't be possible of course, for surely he would have remembered committing such a macabre act. And even if he wasn't able to, did that mean he had murdered someone unknowingly? Was it a stranger? Or God forbid someone from the town itself? A miner maybe? The latter would make sense given where he was standing, although something in the back of his mind gave him cause to doubt that. The men who worked the mine were far stronger than he was after all, and Ernald had little doubt that they could've restrained or even killed him with relative ease if they so desired, especially if he were intent on causing trouble. Pondering all of this was starting to make his head ache, but he was mercifully brought out of this increasingly downward spiral by a call for help, one that echoed outward from the depths of the Maw itself.

Deciding any distraction from the questions lingering in his mind was a good one, and seeing that someone was in clear need of aid, Ernald descended into the darkness of the Maw for the second time since he'd arrived...







Ernald made his way deeper into the mine, following the voice the entire time, changing direction only when it sounded like the one calling out did or when a worker would have gotten in his way. They were still busy picking away at the surrounding iron, as his removal from the mine following his discovery of the strange new cavern had done practically nothing to affect its overall operation. Speaking of the cavern, the trapped person's calls for help—as he assumed that was the only reason anyone in here would be calling out for help instead of trying to make their way back to the surface—seemed to be coming from somewhere within, just past the extremely narrow tunnel one had to traverse in order to get there. So taking one last look at the tunnel he was currently in, just to make sure he hadn't been seen, Joyce squeezed through the opening and began making his way to the other side. It was during this venture of kicking up dust as he inched past cold, hard, rock that a thought suddenly crossed Ernald's mind, one so obvious that he wasn't sure why it hadn't cropped up earlier.

How exactly did this person, whoever they were, get stuck here in to begin with? There were workers all over the place despite some tunnels not being fully utilized, and tracks for carts laid out across what he guessed were literal miles. It would have taken the most peculiar, nay impossible, stroke of misfortune for anyone to end up lost or stuck down here without getting some kind of aid. Yet here they were nonetheless...

Curious... quite curious...

Popping out the other side, Ernald tugged his sheets in after him, securing them around his most vital areas with the tightest knot he could possibly tie before padding over to the obsidian wall from before. The very same one from behind which the call seemed to come. Pressing his ear against it, Joyce took a moment to listen only to be met with a shout that was even more panicked than the ones from earlier. He knew he had to do something, and soon, but what? There was a wall of solid volcanic glass between him and the person on the other side, and Ernald himself had no tools with which to wear it away. Hell, he didn't even have clothes...

"The symbol! You must remove the symbol! It's the only way to destroy the barrier! Please!"

Ernald took a step back, his expression one of mild shock. Yes they had been the one to call out for help, but he didn't expect them to know what steps apparently needed to be taken in order to bring down the wall, nor about the existence of the symbols either. For a moment Joyce almost considered turning back, especially when he noticed the other symbols had been scrubbed away, since the manner in which they were wiped clean matched the reddish-brown stains currently smeared across his sheets. The signs were clear even if he were only putting them together now, yet he didn't feel an urge to leave despite the fact that every instinct in his body was probably telling him to do so. It was as though there were some manner of force keeping him there, some foul power preventing him from...

Joyce cupped a hand to the side of his head.

What was I doing again?

He paused, his gaze locking with the one cast by his reflection.

Oh, that's right...

He took a length of his sheet into his hand and held it aloft.

"Removing the symbol."

Reaching up, Ernald began to scrub it away until at last it was gone.

The cavern was still.

Silent yet foreboding.

Had he done something wrong?

Was he merely hallucinating?

A crack appeared in the wall.

It seemed he wasn't fated to play the fool after all.

Another crack appeared, and another, until thousands of hairline fractures spiderwebbed their way across the surface of the fused slab. Shafts of light peeked through each and every one, hinting at the untold glory that lay beyond...

Joyce was still as a stone.

He didn't dare to move or speak lest the moment be ruined and the coming glory stopped.

Thankfully, it wasn't.

The wall before him didn't so much implode as it did melt inwards, morphing and melting to reveal the power and grace of the creature which lay beyond as it strode forth proudly from its ancient cell, the fungal curse that burdened the cavern around it reduced to cinder and ash in its wake.

Just like the final remnants of sanity housed within Joyce's mind...





"Tis a good year for a conquest, in this month of axe and blade."


"Turn brother against brother we shall, in our black crusade..."
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Penance

The Holy City of Paterdomus, and its Country
Early Spring, 315 P. F.


The road from Marcester to Paterdomus was fairly well travelled and accordingly in fairly good condition--which is to say that it was identifiable as a road and that it was unlikely you would complete a journey without seeing another soul. Sir Aulus of the Knights of the Searing Dawn had made his way upon it for several hours so far without so much as glimpsing the signs of another person, for which he was (in this rare instance) extraordinarily grateful. Ever since he'd slain that... thing, whatever it was, something had been wrong with one of his eyes. He could feel a strange warmth from within it as his heart beat, and it felt as though a claw or a talon had raked its way across his vision like a lash--but despite that, he could still see through it as though nothing were wrong until he looked at something that felt dark or strange. When he settled his right eye upon it he could swear that it seethed within his skull and threatened to burn it to ash from the intensity of the feeling, and he could feel a pall of profanity settle over him like a shawl. It'd happened with the innkeeper's son, and with an Arcosi merchant, and he'd had to avert his gaze from them to avoid them noticing his reaction--thankfully, as a Knight Templar, he was mostly accustomed to peasants trying very pointedly to avoid his gaze. The thundering of hooves brought his thoughts back to reality as he rode back towards Paterdomus, and he heard the sound of a convoy approaching from that direction which settled his gaze upon it.

A fellow knight--a Sir Luci of the Argent Verdict, if his fiery red hair and distinctive shield were anything to go by--seemed to be headed out at a pace leisurely enough that he could wait for an opportune moment to call the beleaguered knight over for a brief conversation. As if on cue he raised his hand to his eyes, and bellowed out a "Ho there!" with wide swings of his right arm in the air. Sir Aulus stiffened his grip upon his reins instinctively, and turned to look at his fellow as the distance between them lessened. Thankfully only the barest coals of an ember lay dormant in his eye upon the knight coming into his field of view more clearly. In but a moment or two the pair were side by side, just at the westward edge of the road, and they exchanged greetings and blessings of the Exalted One in the fashion expected and proper of them.

"Hail, Sir... Aulus? A little early for travel, is it not?"

Sir Aulus smiled grimly with just the right corner of his mouth, and beckoned at his fellow knight with an open sweep of his palm.

"I could say the same to you, Sir Luci. I set off from Marcester immediately after my prayers, for I have news to bring to my order," he replied, somewhat flatly, attempting to play his stress off as simple fatigue from an overlong journey. He gave a quick, weak smile and shuffled his hands about the reins of his horse tentatively, and it let off a whinny at just the right time to give off the illusion of impatience.

"Safe travels then," Sir Luci began, giving a deep nod and a friendly wave as he turned back to the road and continued his gentle pace onward. Sir Aulus likewise began the process of coercing his mount to motion, but took one final look at the knight and the road to see whether or not he would ask further questions--and though he did turn briefly it was mostly to look at the sky, and resulted in a brief but friendly smile. Something about his smile sparked that barely contained heat within his eye, and in its fervor it railed against the leash of his willpower terribly. He winced sharply and brought a hand to his eye, but it only took a second for that same infernal heat to spread throughout his skull and spots of a strange and oily black to coalesce within Sir Luci's form. He averted his gaze as quickly as he could, but something about what he'd seen stuck with him for a second and he had to fight the urge to choke and sob at the same time. Then it was over as quickly as it had begun, and before he could really collect his thoughts or his breath he was already back on the road to the Holy City.




Father Caius wiped a bit of sticky apple juice from his chin as he made his way through the grandiose foyer that led into that main chamber in the Temple of Brazen Justice, the one where the trials were being held. He had to be back in his place so that the next case, that of Caius’ man, could resume as slated; however, there was still a short time left, as his meager meal of the one good apple hadn’t taken long. And before him he saw a familiar face!

“Aulus,” he breathed, forgoing the formality of giving the knight the ‘sir’ that he was due. There was some degree of familiarity permitted between holy men, especially those who had been long friends, and Caius had known few for as long as Sir Aulus. The knight had been one of the two others from Caius’ village on that fateful day when old Father Titus (Exalted preserve his soul in the heavenly halls) had come to claim a new generation of boys for service in the church. Aulus had been a bit older and stronger, so they’d gradually drifted apart as one boy took to books and law and the other was given to the temple knights for training, but each of them still remembered their childhood friendship back in Stonetree, and that fondness had never faded.

Even though he wasn’t as familiar with Aulus as he might have liked, Caius still hadn’t failed to see how the knight had winced at his gaze, how he carried himself with a troubled and almost pained countenance. Caius found it somewhat disturbing; he saw in his old friend the same bearings that he saw in all too many men that ended up being found guilty. “Aulus, my friend,” Caius started again. “Is something amiss?”

Sir Aulus had been hurriedly walking through the hallowed halls of the city when he'd bumped into Caius--and though it took more than one attempt to stir him from his reverie his face was a picture of genuine joy and even relief when he looked into Caius' eyes and saw nothing awry. He did not quite choke back a breath as some part of him desired to, but immediately the weight of whatever had been troubling the knight dissolved and he embraced the man in front of him with a single arm and a wide grin.

"Caius! Did I make it back in time?"

Aulus offered a deep laugh and swept a sandy brown fringe of hair from the front of his face to his right, then took a moment to shake himself off as he smiled expectantly as his friend. Next to the man he looked absolutely bedraggled--where Caius was dressed in fresh and clean garments, practically all of Aulus' gear (sans his tabard, which had miraculously remained mostly free of grime) was coated in some mixture of muck, sweat, or blood. He'd not even thought about quite how dishevelled he actually looked until seeing Caius had brought his attention back to reality instead of his thoughts (and, admittedly, a few prayers). Sir Aulus made a motion with his free left hand to motion for Caius to walk further into the temple with him so that they'd be efficient with their time, a habit he'd picked up from his training under the Temple Knights (and Drusus specifically, who very much valued the virtue of good timekeeping).

"You look good. Ready. I am sorry that I am not in a better state to..." he began, before cutting himself off to allow Caius room to actually speak and settling his focus squarely upon his friend's silhouette.

Caius might have allowed himself a small grin and a chuckle, but the thought of making light of another man’s trial (and all the dread that it must have entailed) was not one that sat well in his stomach. “Justiciar Drusus is just about to preside over my man, the very first one that I was assigned to counsel. Alas, I had little sage advice to offer him save to suggest that he confess and plead to Drusus for penance; he stands indicted for thievery against the church itself, and the evidence against him is strong. But I ramble! You...what happened to you? Trouble on the road?”

Aulus' face fell a little as he heard Caius' tale, suddenly overcome by an inch of worry for his friend. He was not trained in the law like Caius was, but possessed understanding and experience enough to empathise with the predicament this left Caius in. Justiciar Drusus was a truly worthy of the title, and as long as the criminal confessed he would be spared the worst of the Exalted's wrath and instead find contrition--but getting the smallfolk to see that was never an easy situation, Aulus had found as much in his own trials, and he gripped Caius shoulder gently and firmly in resolve.

"As long as he shows that his commitment to penance is true I am certain that he will emerge better," Aulus began, taking a moment to breathe in through his nose and let out a sharp exhale. He stopped in his tracks and turned to Caius, narrowing his gaze to a steely point of resolve (his "knightly" face, they'd often japed as children) before talking.

"A charge of apostasy and witchcraft, though it ended messily. A local ‘wise woman’ had been... consorting with something, and I caught her in the middle of some blasphemous ritual within the local Temple--it... it just shook me that such foulness could be attempted in so holy a place. I am glad to have ended that threat before it progressed further, truly." Suddenly it was Aulus' turn to feel the merriment sink to the pit of his stomach and vanish from the situation. He wanted to go into further detail, but voices up ahead seemed to be growing in volume and it became abundantly clear that the time for the adjournment to end imminently. Aulus nodded swiftly to Caius and ushered him forward, waiting to step in and be told what to do with himself by the Justiciar.

So Caius returned to his place as the Justiciar once more ascended the dais, held up an oversized ceremonial sword, and carried out a prayer just as he had earlier in the morning. Drusus was ever diligent in that manner of thing; to hear him say it, if you ever presumed to judge a man without first praying to the Exalted for guidance, then whatever decision you proclaimed was no true justice at all. When the ritual was complete and the sword laid down upon the Exalted’s altar with proper reverence, the next case began.

Caius’ man was brought forward from the benches by a Temple Knight serving as bailiff for the day, and Drusus’ eyes peered into the accused man without betraying anything of the Justiciar’s thoughts.

“I was told that you wished to confess to this crime and plead for penance?” Drusus asked after a time, though his words came across more like a statement. The man, a little slow and doubtless terrified, remained still and silent. “Well, did your lawyer tell me true? Speak!” the Justiciar prodded after the awkward pause.

Then it was Caius who suddenly grew cold and pale. Was this man about to make a fool of him, to decide at the last moment to demand trial by combat or deny the crime, and right before Sir Aulus too? After Caius had already told Drusus that the man would conf--

“Y-yes, Father,” the accused finally stammered. “I confess it.”

Drusus raised an eyebrow, silent.

The thief gulped, realizing it wasn’t enough. He found his courage again after a moment and said, “I confess to taking the jewels from the temple. Jewels that wasn’t mine to take.” The man breathed. “But I didn’t--” he started, then stopped himself. Caius had begun to panic; he’d warned the man a dozen times not to make excuses before his judge, told the man that it’d make him look unrepentant.

“You what?” Drusus pressed, a bit of fire creeping into his tone and eyes.

“I--nothing, your honor, I got no excuses to make. I did it without thinking, ‘twas wrong. I confess that I done it and that I’m sorry, and I beg for penance.”

And then the fire was gone from the Justiciar (though it’d been there long enough to singe the man!) and Drusus nodded. “I see. You shall have your penance, and should your heart be true in its regret, you will emerge better and more learned from the ordeal, as will all these present to witness.”

The Justiciar signaled to another one of the Knights Templar attending the room in the back, standing just beside Sir Aulus (who Drusus’ gaze lingered on for just a moment). That knight nodded and quickly disappeared to another room, emerging moments later with an iron brazier in hand. Caius’ man looked on in anxious confusion, but then another knight produced a sack of coal and dread coursed through the room as all came to realize that this was to be an ordeal by hot iron.

“...and it is written in the scriptures that our Exalted God wielded no weapons, for his hands were ever burning, and with nothing more than his fiery grip did he deliver justice. It was his flaming hands that wrought a flawed world twisted by the Black God into one of good, when he cast down the Great Enemy,” Drusus had been didactically explaining, though few seemed to be hearing his words in the moment. Caius spun to look upon his man, and he saw a face pale as milk.




Balbus -- that was his name, the poor man whose house and village had been burnt by the marauding warband of orcs, the man who had taken jewels from the ruined church to feed his family and then tried to flee elsewhere in desperation -- Balbus was frozen. A thousand thoughts raced through his mind in a second, though he’d never been the smartest of farmers or had a sharp wit. He’d never thought so fast before, nor conjured so many foolish ideas at once. The thought of the brazier and fiery irons terrified him even more than that cruel old judge did! He wanted to shout out that he hadn’t done it, that his confession was false, that his brother or somebody else had stolen the jewels, that anything had happened but that he’d done it! No lie was beyond him in that moment when all his thoughts were consumed by fear and self-preservation, and yet he was paralyzed, unable to speak or do anything.

He remained transfixed to the Justiciar even as the man showed him his back and stepped away from where he’d been on the dais to go behind the altar, kneeling down and murmuring something. And then he rose and stepped back to the dais with a flat hand raised to the vaulted ceiling and the stained glass depiction of the Exalted One above. “...and so in the name of our Divine Lord and Master and the spirit of his teachings, this humble servant claims a spark of His fire.”

And then Drusus, who the boys mocked as Candlehead, suddenly did not have a head that seemed afire, but fingers. It started as just a tiny flicker at the tips of each one, but then the Justiciar uttered one sacred word (and every man in the room heard something different) andthe tiny flames burst into life. They spread, and suddenly his upraised hand was immolated from fingertip to palm, burning and yet not blackening, not being consumed at all.

Balbus’ eyes were still glued to Drusus when the priest’s hand suddenly combusted, and he felt a wetness creeping down his trousers, accompanied by a sour smell -- but his entire body was already hot and sweating so much that his clothes clung to him as tightly as the pungent reek of fear. His knees began to wobble as Drusus walked closer. The priest with fiery hand was as terrible to look upon as the sun, and Balbus’ eyes watered, but he could neither blink nor turn away. And then Drusus and the brazier were suddenly both right before Balbus, as was the knight who held up the sack of coal.

“These black stones represent the gravity and the weight of your sins,” the Justiciar proclaimed as he reached one hand into the sack, the other one still flaming and held aloft. “One for every gemstone that you took from the Exalted’s temple,” Drusus announced as he took one, two, three, four lumps of coal out and placed them upon the brazier. Had it been that many?!

And then Drusus knelt in one quick motion and brought down his fiery hand to rest beneath the brazier, the sudden movement fanning the flames enough for a small wave of heat to wash over Balbus’ face. And suddenly the coal brazier was alight, and Drusus was standing once more, murmuring something into his palm before closing his fist and extinguishing the flames that he’d grasped within it.

“The White God’s flames represent purification. The true and the devout need not fear them; this brazier is your soul’s salvation,” Balbus heard the Justiciar say, but his eyes stared into the brazier and saw only agony and doom.

Conversely, as another set of eyes laid themselves upon the brazier, thoughts of hope and redemption blossomed within the chest of Sir Aulus. He could detect no such malignancy as he’d been forced to suffer that day within the heart of Justiciar Drusus, nor in the holy magic he appeared to be wielding to inflict this penance upon the farmer. Though the cold throes of fear settled into his veins as his eye gazed upon the thief and saw plain the tiniest seeds of Darkness he had ever imagined might exist, he took heart in his faith in the Exalted One and was moved immediately to sink to his knees in prayer.

As he spoke the words he did sincerely feel a weight lift from his shoulders, and as he raised himself off of the ground after his exhortations had concluded he found himself drawn towards the burning brazier. His foot did not take another step forward--the discipline of his training saw to that--but the fiery impetus to act blossomed in his face and in his fists. Even after taking a short breath in he could not cool the passion, and so he closed his eyes but found that his right eye would not remove itself from the spectacle occurring in front of him. His right hand found itself to the pommel of his sword and he clenched it fiercely, until his knuckles themselves were also white and he found himself unable to will himself to move further.

The blaze stretched and grew, long fingers of fire and heat stretching and grasping ever further upward. But Drusus suddenly cast his eyes towards the kneeling knight. “Sir Aulus,” he finally addressed his returned charge, “I see that you have returned from your task.”

And the Justiciar’s sweeping gaze made quick note of Aulus’ disheveled and sullied whites, and seemed to know then what the outcome could be. He had been a paladin in his day, so he could see the signs. “Does your blade require cleansing?” Drusus asked.

The knight nodded, and drew his blade reflexively for the Justiciar to inspect. He took a step forward to ensure that it was fully in view, and he found himself listening to his mouth speak the words:

”Yes, Father.”

He bent his knee slightly and kept his gaze down, towards the sword and the ground, to show proper deference to the Justiciar. It also did not hurt to play up a certain sense of awe around the smallfolk in the room after such a display, and the thought of striking the fear of their Exalted God into the heart of the thief brought him no small amount of satisfaction.

So all eyes were turned to Sir Aulus and the naked steel he held. The blade was sharp and drenched in ruby-red from the reflection of the burning coals, yet neither any chips nor scar marred its form, and the diligent knight had of course already washed free the blood that it had been made to shed. Still, some taints were not so readily visible to an untrained eye. Drusus claimed the sword and raised it high for the confessed-thief Balbus to bear witness.

“And just as the coals are your sins and the flames are your purification, this blade represents you, for all men are but instruments in service of the Exalted God. Like you, this blade bears a weight upon it, for it has shed unholy blood and such stains are not easily removed.”

Drusus laid the sword across the top of the brazier and left it to bathe in the heat. A ewer of water was brought forth and its contents were blessed before the crowd. “And this is the Exalted One’s grace and forgiveness, your salvation. You must claim the sword that is your body and douse it in this water. Steel your nerves and do not falter, for the steel grows only hotter with every moment of trepidation.”

Balbus’ eyes widened. ’Go,’ thought Caius, ‘go now!’ He even mouthed the words, hoping that his man would look, but the thief was of course transfixed solely upon the blade. He stepped forward and reached out to grab the thing before it had become red-hot, yet his fingers hovered just a hair’s width away from the hilt, doubtless feeling the heat radiating out from even there. Drusus observed silently.

Balbus at last found the resolve to clench his fingers around the hilt, and he winced at the pain but did not cry out. He lifted the blade from the rim of the brazier and took one, two, three shaky, rapid, and desperate strides to the ewer. Panting, he thrust the sword’s searing point into the water before releasing the blade with a gasp of pain. The sweat upon the man’s brow was complemented by the beginnings of tears welling up in the corner of his eyes, and he fell down to his knees, but it was a joyous enough moment. All attendants murmured blessings and prayers or made holy signs with their fingers, and Balbus was released -- without the clerics rendering any aid to his hand, of course, for the lasting pain was his burden to bear and it would be half the penance. If the wound festered, it would be only due to a heart that hadn’t been fully repentant.
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THE ORPHAN TWINS


"I think, sister, that we went about this all wrong..." Kade was standing knee deep in the glass calm waters of the fjord. All around him was a pinkish hue and already small crabs scuttled along the sandy bottom to pick at the hewn flesh of the dead who lay half scattered and half submerged for a hundred yards of stony shoreline. "Did we forget something about our people?"

Kala half grunted a reply as she pulled her axe out of the back of a dead man. The wrinkles on his face and white hair suggested he was old, likely already near to death of old age, but like the rest he had chosen to fight rather than submit. "Maybe."

"I, uh, might have a suggestion..." Two men, both of whom were unlike the dead in physical size and appearance, were kneeling at the waters edge. Both had been hobbled by thick ropes about their ankles, slaves of the former village residents.
"Spit it out!" Kala snarled as she turned on him. The slave stared at her, mouth agape, taking in the image before him. She stood as tall as her brother, the same corded shoulders and forearms, with eyes as black as night. Blood coated her from head to toe, not only from the fighting, but because she had smeared it across her face and abdomen. "I said speak!" She roared at the man who promptly pissed himself.

"I… I... Well, custom..." He managed at master himself she stepped toward him with raised axe. "Custom among your k-k-kin is to lay a c-c-challenge at the f-feet of the lord. Beat him, and the village w-w-would have b-b-been yours."

"Oh." Kala said, though her tone conveyed nothing. Her brother meanwhile barked a sharp laugh that echoed across the fjord.

"Shouldn't just have gutted him then." Kade smiled ruefully as he dipped his own bloodied sword into the fjord, disturbing the pink waters as he washed the blood from it. "I seem to recall that now."

"Much use your memory does us no," Kala snorted, cleaning her own blade on the cloth of a dead man. "He shouldn't have told me to suck his cock."

"Fair." Kade replied as he returned to shore, looking about him at the destruction they had wrought. It was not a large settlement - just a half dozen longhouses on the edge of the great fjord - nothing more than a fishing village. It had served to house three dozen occupants, slaves aside of course, all of whom had chosen to fight rather than acknowledge the twins as their ruler. It seemed they had forgotten more than a few customs in their exile.

"You, slave, what is your name?" Kala, clearly thinking along the same lines, walked over to the urine stained wretch kneeling at the waters edge.

“Athin, lady.” The slave responded, bobbing a head crowned with thick black hair, a whisp of a beard showing on his chin. He flinched away as she squatted down to stare unblinkingly at him for a long moment.

“I think I will let you live, Athin. You may prove useful. Fail us, and well…” Her hand shot out suddenly to grasp the second prisoner by the throat. He gave a gurgled scream and thrashed against her grip as she slowly crushed his windpipe. Never once did she break eye contact with Athin.

Athin watched in horror as his fellow slave died, slowly, unable to fight his way free of the immense strength that squeezed the life from him. Heels drummed on the stone as the wheezing gasps slowly died away to nothing. Kala released him and stood, before reaching down to drag Athin to his feet by the hair.

“Let’s go, slave.” She shoved him up the beach. Behind her the slave gasped back to life, trying to breath desperately. Kade, wading out of the water, grabbed the dying man by his ankle and dragged him into the water, pushing his face down into the mud and using his robe to dry the long black blade. Only when the bubbles stopped in the mud did he remove his foot and follow his sister.
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~Tarr'kash~




Early Spring of the Year 315 P.F.
~The Maw~




Tarr'kash stared down at the maggot writhing at his feet and, for the briefest of moments, considered squishing it. Considered rending it limb from limb before taking its mind and moving out to reclaim the town above, but eventually thought better of it. This... thing had been useful to him thus far, being the only worm within a hundred mile radius that had bothered to look at the tome and heed his call. The only one that had made its way to the Maw to wipe the symbols of the Exalted away over the course of the last four days, and without so much as a single question or complaint too. No, no he would not destroy this scholar, he would not consume this worm. Tarr'kash decided he would reach down and uplift it instead. Give it a taste of true wisdom and might before using it as his agent to sow chaos in the world from afar, just like he used to.

That was why the Exalted had found him last, after all. Because he didn't make mistakes, didn't lead his forces into clearly unwinnable battles despite the foolishly short-sighted and downright impulsive urgings of his father. Well... didn't until the end of the war that is. But he could hardly be blamed for any shortcomings at that point. Every bastion of evil had been swept away during that time, and his was no different. In the end it had been a matter of when the White God managed to stumble across his fortress in the Maw, not if. Bending over, a motion that caused the maggot to fall onto its back out of what he assumed was fear, the scion of madness pressed a spindly finger against the grub's forehead, imparting unto it the smallest fraction of his knowledge concerning the mutative arts. With this done he promptly he wrapped his tendrils about himself, quickly becoming immersed in a blinding yet sickly glow as his body gradually began to morph and shrink.

A few minutes later and there was no longer a monstrous beast standing before Ernald, but an iron-faced man clad in ornate garb.



"On your feet human," Tarr'kash said coldly, his lifeless gaze cutting through the surrounding smog like steel through flesh, sending chills running up and down the young scholar's spine. Or perhaps that was a result of his lack of clothes. It was quite difficult for him to think properly at the moment, yet nevertheless he obeyed and rose to his feet. Slowly at first, still being completely overwhelmed by everything he'd just seen, before swiftly picking up the pace once he noticed the slight narrowing of Kash's eyes. After he had gotten his feet under him, Ernald looked up just in time to see Tarr'kash descending in the midst of a sea of melted stone, robes billowing with every step he took. Much to his surprise however, the scion did not stop, hell he... it didn't even bother to spare him so much as a parting glance. Instead the man simply trudged his way out of the cavern, leaving naught more than a single word to echo deep within the recesses of Joyce's mind...

Come.
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Fetzen
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Vaught
Early Spring of the Year 315 P.F


The Greatwood had a reputation for being so dark, cold and fearsome around its heart that the latter had never actually been explored by any scholars, but those who actually lived in its vicinity knew that around its vast core there was a layer of, though pretty relative, harmlessness. Well, at least as harmless as a seemingly neverending and increasingly impassable forest could appear to a humble man's eye. There were not only crows, wolves, bears and owls, but also the more lower ranking proxies of the food chain had a chance to thrive in those intermediate areas for there was no lack of caverns, tall trees and other hideouts.

There was no way to hide from absurdities one had already seen though, no way to just remove them from one's memory. It was even worse with one's instincts and so the crows had set for the skies, wolves had fled from the the small mountain and down into the valley and the bears had sought refuge in the depths of their dens. They all could smell a scent that should not be here, that had not been here for many centuries, but which triggered certain instincts that had formed in these past times. The winds were carrying foul air and that was not only because there were several carcasses rotting on the top of the hill. Something was very wrong here.

Something also crashed into the many trees and bushes growing on the slopes of said hill, releasing a substantial amount of torn off leaves into the air while cracking many branches according to what it sounded like. It was no avalanche going off for those simply were impossible here, also it was not a stone falling from the heavens above as some people claimed would happen from time to time. It was just yet another failure.

Would he ever manage not to hurt himself greatly a few seconds after the leap ? It had done this just so many times before that Vaught, though he'd probably not admit it, was slowly growing a little desperate. Was there not enough muscle driving those wings, were they too small, carrying too much of a burden or, just maybe, was the whole thought of this creature having flown once nothing but a big misconception ? It was hard to tell if all one had was a skeleton of old age with none of the more soft inner workings left over by the maggots. That was also the reason why he was still struggling with yet another problem that made the whole affair of testing a painful and slow affair.

Some of his sinews were either too short or not elastic enough. Every time Vaught tried to make full use of the outer joints on his wings a great amount of pain started to surge. It felt like he could not even align them properly for a simple glide downhill. Maybe he should try to carefully cut his own skin open to have a more direct look at what was going wrong ? The thought was grotesque, but if not overdone the procedure could work. Only perhaps, of course. Figuring out a human body suitable for the pits had taken years, but even though returning to it was pretty easy, it also was limited. This creature appeared to be so much more promising, so it felt definitely worth to fill the gaps in knowledge with sheer creativity. Still, not having a living sample hurt a lot quite literally. It had died long ago, most likely slain by the brave men worshippping the Exalted One.

What would the people of today say if they'd see a monster from the past circling over their villages like a vulture waiting for something to eat ? Agreed, the monster in question was not exactly big compared to what one could imagine, but still... The expression on their faces! The fear, the screams and the desperate attempts to run from death and hide in their wooden houses! It all felt so worthwhile in Vaught's bare imagination already that he would continue on his current way even if it would take him another few years to reach a level that was nothing but satisfaction.

He would hunt down those villagers. If not from the air, then on the ground! There were so many issues he had already solved... The potentially lethal ones like a heart too small at first, then things like the proper arrangement of the teeth, the correct composition of his claws or the correct size of his ears so he would neither be shocked by the most humble of sounds nor just barely be able to hear at all. Ultimately he had even started to tackle problems one could consider to be luxury like the color of his skin, for example. However, for a real test and further progress, he felt in need for more than just the animals around here. Nothing could replace real intelligence and the ability to wield some sharp steel like humans could.

It was time the hunting party would see him again, but this time in the opposite role and without even knowing that it was him who was after them...
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Dead Cruiser
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Dead Cruiser Dishonour Before Death Better You Than Me

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Glanaid


As Portus Cruor grew steadily larger on the horizon, Emel decided to retreat to his cabin below-decks to prepare for landfall in his own way. The dark belly of Nathair stank of blood and sweat, but such unpleasantness had no effect on Emel, who stepped through its dimly-lit holds with steady purpose. Crewmen coming and going stepped aside to give him passage, and Dark Elf calmly stepped over those crewmen that had passed out in the holds or fallen out of their hammocks. The captain's cabin in the ship's stern was marked by its door of rich, dark ebony, with images of dragons and other monsters of the sea picked out in gold leaf and tortoiseshell. The door had no lock; there wasn't a single man aboard the Nathair stupid enough to trespass into their master's sanctum, but an unseen blood-seal warded the cabin against nosy intruders or opportunistic thieves.

As soon as his cabin's heavy door slammed shut behind him, Emel breathed deeply, taking in the scents of incense and herbs that he kept burning at all hours to ward off the odor of the ship's holds. As he exhaled, he allowed the tension to leave his body, and he realized how tired he felt. Elves did not sleep often, perhaps a night or two every week, but Emel often got by with less than that. Just as Elves did not often sleep, even less frequently did they dream, and so dreams were remarkable occasions, often rich with portent. Emel dreamt every hour of every night he slept, the Black Sword assaulting his mind with visions of annihilation. Thus, he spent most nights awake, either cloistered in his cabin or staring out over the inky blackness of the sea.

The interior of his cabin was as rich as the door leading into it; the woodwork was hand-wrought and delicately detailed, rich furs lined the floors, and Emel's many treasures and mementos lined the walls and shelves. Weapons forged by long-dead masters, the crown jewels of forgotten kingdoms, or tools of strange artifice unseen for centuries crowded his chamber, along with such mundane treasures as paintings, rare manuscripts, and other trinkets that caught the Dark Elf's fancy. There was enough treasure in one cramped cabin to buy a small kingdom, but Emel ignored these rarities in favor of what he considered even more unique and priceless: his own memoirs.

Emel perused the leather-bound volumes on his bookshelf, searching for the correct tome to suit his needs. He eventually decided to pull down three and hope he was at least roughly correct. Setting them down on his desk hewn from rare, dark wood, he gingerly set aside the current volume that had been laying open, and flipped through the first of the books he had withdrawn. The pages were penned in the delicate script of Elvish, of course, and though he forced his crew to sing in Elvish, none of them actually knew the tongue. There was probably not a soul alive that spoke the language outside of his homeland, much less one that could read its flowing characters. Not finding what he was looking for, Emel paged through the next volume in sequence, and found what he needed quickly enough.

"Portus Cruor," an entry logged nearly forty years ago. Emel leaned back in his chair as he read by lantern light, regaling in his own exploits from decades before. He wanted to refresh his own memory on this damnable port and the land beyond it before he took a single step onto its misbegotten soil. Emel found that as the decades of his exile became centuries, his memory was not as sharp as he would have liked it to be, and so kept detailed accounts of his travels and travails. His mind was as quick and clear as ever, but the years ran together for him, and he could not control what memories stayed distinct, and which ones blended into the morass of centuries. Yet another of many ways in which the power of the Black Sword was inferior to the sanctification of Ywengoch.

After a few minutes spent reading, Emel felt that he had gleaned all he was going to from his logs, and set the book aside. The Dark Elf shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. He resented the Black Sword for robbing him of restful sleep, and thought an insult at it to demonstrate his displeasure. There were no particular words or ideas expressed by this mental discharge, merely the raw emotion of scorn slung at it like a stone. The Black Sword pulsed a barb of contempt back at him without missing a beat. This was a common enough exchange between the two of them, and Emel merely sighed and rose to his feet. He rang for his steward and began to disrobe, finalizing his preparations for making port.

Emel flung his salt-stained clothes over his desk chair, and retrieved a pearl-handled ivory comb to work the tangles out of his long, snow-white hair. He sat on his down-filled, four-posted bed as he worked, staring at himself in the full-length silver mirror across the cabin from him. His flesh had barely had any more color than his comb, but as far as he knew he was still healthy and strong. He had a wiry musculature that spoke of grace, fluidity, and clean-limbed strength. However, the intricate markings on the skin of his trunk and upper limbs spoke of something else entirely. They were not tattoos, as Elvish flesh did not scar and could not retain ink, but they much resembled tattoos. The same searing crimson as his albino eyes, many lines weaving into knots and runes across his chest, shoulders and abdomen. Emel tore his eyes away from them, instead meeting his own gaze in the mirror. He didn't like looking at the markings, as he did not care to be reminded of the reason he wore them.

His steward knocked timidly on his door, and Emel bid him enter. He did, poking his gnarled head into the cabin. Emel's steward was a wretched, elderly creature; a hunch-backed, one-eyed, seven-fingered eunuch, whose tongue had been cut out long before Emel had ever met him. Emel was not given to forming attachments to members of the younger races, but he considered this single member of his crew to be nearly irreplaceable. His steward was the only member of the crew permitted to enter Emel's cabin, and his profound usefulness had earned him more than one extension of his paltry, mortal lifespan.

"Have those laundered." Emel barked, gesturing to the clothes hanging over his chair. "And have water boiled." The steward made a sweeping gesture with cupped hands, accompanied by a croaking noise that was the closest he could come to forming words. "No, I haven't the time for a bath," Emel replied, after a moment's consideration. "Enough for a pot of tea. That's all." The steward croaked again, bowing his head before departing, shutting the door behind him.

While he awaited the water for his tea, Emel dressed. He threw open the hefty wardrobe next to his mirror. It was a matching piece to his desk and bedframe, and truth be told Emel had forgotten where he had gotten them. Possibly raided from some merchant sailors or stolen from a seafront palace, he couldn't say for sure, and didn't care to read through his journals to remember. He fingered through his various accoutrements, all precisely tailored, all very fine, and all black. Emel had very specific tastes in fashion. He decided quickly enough on some silken robes that were cut just at the knee, paired with sturdy boots he preferred for rougher treks. At first he tried on a mantle of black ermine to accompany the ensemble, but changed his mind. He instead took down off its place near his bed a heavy cloak of pitch-black hide. Its exterior showed the ebon scales of the beast Emel had skinned it from, but it flowed like chainmail as he moved. His dragonskin cloak was one of Emel's most prized possessions; hard-won in a battle against an ancient serpent, and the beast's dark hide was proof against blades and spells alike. Only one sword had ever broken its skin, and he hung it at his side as he finished fastening the cloak about his shoulders.

Emel busied himself by trying on various rings and amulets that had been plundered from their last season of victims, before his steward arrived with a whistling brass kettle. He took it and ordered the man to have the first mate sent to his cabin before he left, which he affirmed in his usual fashion. Another of Emel's personal delights was his collection of exotic teas, which he found as curative to his own ails as they were to mortal men. He perused his collection, various jars of desiccated fruits and leaves, before selecting one to brew in one of his porcelain cups.

He was sat at his desk, sipping his cup and trying to relax when the loud knock of his first mate sounded at the cabin door. Emel leaned forward to open the door, which swung wide enough for his aged half-orc officer to duck down to see into the cabin. The man stood at the threshold, clearly knowing better than to enter the captain's cabin.

"Drop anchor as far from any other ships as you can manage." Emel gave orders between sips of tea. "I want cargo offloaded, fresh provisions, the deck waxed and the hull scraped. I can't say how long we'll be in port so make yourselves busy." He raised a slender finger in warning, staring at the much larger man with his blood-ruby eyes. "I don't want any men leaving the ship that needn't do so. This is not shore leave."

"Yes, lord." The burly man grunted. He hesitated, before starting, "Captain, I-"

Emel cut him off with the slightest crease of his brow. "I know the crew is testy. Keep them in line." Emel silently considered finding a replacement for his first officer while he was in Outremer. Possibly even another Orc; this was one of the few black corners of the world where they still lurked. "Here." He said, setting down his cup and retrieving the implement slung over his bed's footboard.

He retrieved Yongje, tossing it to his first mate. The man caught it gingerly, careful not to let its barbs touch his skin. The threat of the lash itself, combined with the obvious favor its bestowal signified would hopefully cow the crew for the time being. It had been a long time since they had last been cut loose, and Emel could feel their black desires fermenting in them like a open grave after the rain. The work Emel did on his men's minds to press them into his service sometimes carried this side-effect, the bloodthirst of the damned, but it usually was not much trouble keeping it under control. He hoped it would still not be an issue, despite their waning respect for his first mate.

The half-orc bowed and departed, and Emel pushed the door shut after him. He downed the rest of his tea, and made his final preparations. His clothes and cloak were fitted with many small, hidden pockets and other compartments, wherein he stashed various trinkets and reagents. Small blades, poison powders, various denominations of coin and currency; he had little idea of what to expect ashore, as it had been most of a mortal lifetime since he had last sailed into this port, and many things could change in that time. "Preparation was the enemy of failure," was an aphorism he had heard in some other foreign port, Emel could not remember which.

Emel felt the ship rock as the anchor dropped, and departed his cabin for the ship's deck. The hold was far busier now than it had been earlier that day, and he could hear his first mate shouting orders, punctuated by the hissing of the Agonizer. Men unloaded their cargo, the plunder of dozens of kingdoms and navies the world over. Silks, spices, curios, caged beasts from exotic lands, and men and women clasped in irons were hauled up from below decks, and Emel eyed the procession of each with the same level of interest. The sale of these goods would be more than enough to cover the costs of refitting the ship and restocking its stores, even at the cut-rate prices Emel sold them at. He didn't care much for getting the full value of his rare goods, as he had stolen them to begin with and his crew did not receive wages. He simply wanted the holds cleared for their next season of piracy.

The sound of gulls and laboring men greeted Emel once he was above decks again, and he closed his eyes once more, taking in a deep breath of salty air. When he opened them again, he was ready. His entire body was taut and filled with the anticipation of violence, like a drawn bowstring. His ruby eyes missed nothing, from the sweat rolling down a workman's back, to gull feathers drifting in the wind. He stepped down the gangplank, weaving between his men offloading their plunder, and marched down the pier toward the port's buildings.

A stillness crept into the air as Emel walked the pier, as more and more of the sailors and workmen along it took notice of him and the ship he had departed. A black ship with black sails was as ill an omen that ever sailed the sea, but the dragon-prow of Nathair spoke of something else entirely. Some men uttered oaths and prayers at the sight of the man and his vessel, while others dropped what they were doing to stand aghast. It was likely that none had ever seen that bedeviled ship sail into their port, much less for the devil itself to walk among them. While Emel had sent no word ahead of his arrival, it would not be long before word spread to the entire port: the Black Corsair had come to Cruor.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Vec
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Vec Liquid Intelligence

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CHAPTER 2: Incident

“Good Morning.” The spirit’s voice – awfully playful this time – echoed in his mind as he slowly roused from his sleep. Melodic chirping and the sound of people going about their day could be heard coming from outside the inn’s window. Alger opened his eyes and looked at the ceiling, the muddled look on his face clearing out after a few moments.

“Morning. I dread to think about the source of your jubilation…” It hadn’t been once or twice that Alger had woken up to find the spirit excited, and he’d grown to learn that signaled it had been up to no good while in control of his body. Anything from running in the woods searching for alchemic ingredients, to finding himself with the results of a strange ritual, to even in the possession of gold not his own. It’s actions were so random that Alger had almost believed that he’d been possessed by a spirit of mischief and not some great sage from days of old.

The spirit did not immediately attend to his worries, instead letting out a soft giggle, almost ethereal. Its refusal to give a clear answer frustrated Alger immensely, but he decided against arguing with the disembodied voice in his head, first thing in the morning. It was only when he made to rise from the bed that he realized there was something – or somethings, as they were more than one – under the covers of the bed. He tried to move his arms, but they were pinned beneath their weight. His brain was already racing with the possibilities, but he didn’t dare believe his hunch. What could possibly be resting with him, in his bed, after he’d given his body over to the spirit?

He slowly moved his hands, clutching the cover from inside and inching it downward slowly until two tuffs of hair appeared in his periphery, one blonde, the other brown. As if sensing the cold breeze of early morning slipping under the cover, the two bodies shuffled closer to him, and he felt all kinds of things stirring, both under the sheets and in his mind.

“We will have to talk about boundaries… again…”

The only response was more giggles.


“At the very least, tell me you didn’t…” Alger tried to remain relatively calm as he stood in front of the table in his room, idly re-checking the contents of his bag.

“You can rest assured, boy. I am able to start and stop several functions of your body while it’s under my control.” This time the spirit talked in a gruff, confident voice, something that elicited hope in the young man.

“Hmm, good. I cannot leave bastards whenever I go like my father, not at this time.” Alger’s face scrunched up at the thought of his half-siblings; he’d help the unfortunate souls that shared some common blood with him whenever he’d come across one, but he had grown increasingly weary of the reputation of his House’s lord. Introductions with this kind of infamy tied to his family name and it was no surprise that Alger was fed up with the idea.

“At this time? So, maybe, some other time is alright with you?” The voice changed to playful once again, making Alger feel like a fool for having opened his mouth. Well, technically he hadn’t as the conversation had taken place in his mind, but nevertheless he opted to change the topic before the spirit could make fun of him more.

“The clergy of this place are powerful. I’ve heard from Robert that they fall under the jurisdiction of some influential High Priest, straight from Paterdormus.” Ashford, whilst medium in size relative to other settlements, had been one of importance to the holy capital of the Exalted faith as it was one of the last stops before the Ashgate itself, and thus acted as a resupply town for the clergy permanently stationed at the Gate itself. Thus, the presence of the faith was quite strong in this little hamlet, with not one but two churches having been built in it.

Alger rummaged through his knowledge of the place as he exited his room, heading down the stairs for breakfast. The main area of the inn was quiet in the early hours of morning, with few patrons occupying the tables and going through breakfast of their own. Alger took a seat at one of empty tables and motioned for the barkeep. A gruff man, different form the one that led him to his room the other day and almost twice his size, ambled towards him.

“Yes.” The man’s voice could rival the spirit’s rougher one, and his laconic tone gave nothing away as to his mood or thoughts.

“Simple breakfast, what do you have?” Alger responded in a simple manner as well, thinking it would fare better with the man.

“Bread, cheese, meat sausage.” The barkeep replied, his face akin to stone.

“What kind of meat?” Alger questioned, an action that garnered him a strange look from the man.

“The animal kind.” The barkeep said simply, the words coming out of his mouth sharply before turning and walking away, presumably towards the kitchen.

Alger gawked at the man’s back as he walked away from the table, confused about the reason of the barkeep’s sudden hostility towards him. “I don’t particularly remember meeting that person before…”

Regardless, Alger put the strange incident at the back of his mind as there were more important matters to consider. He would be meeting up with the smuggling group in two days’ time. There were preparations to be made in order to secure safe passage into any place, especially if that place would be Arugoth.

“Well, they should be trustworthy enough since they are getting paid…” Alger’s thoughts wandered, and the spirit – which had been silent for some time now – made its own little addition. “I will take care of them if they get any funny ideas.” Alger could feel the spirit’s bloodlust suffuse his being for a split second before subsiding, but even that moment was enough to inflame his emotions enough to make him lose his calmness. On impulse, he banged the table with a closed fist, eliciting surprised looks from several patrons. Once his head cleared again, he looked around in embarrassment and then back at the table, and his eyes homed in on the dent that his fist had made on the wooden material.

“Your strength will grow with time. The effect of your channel’s opening is only just starting to show.” The spirit offered its words in a neutral, almost aloof voice now, the kind that Alger had grown to respect the most. The spirit usually assumed this voice whenever it taught him things about magic, alchemy, and the mysteries of the world, and so he’d come to always expect something interesting to learn whenever it was the one talking to him.

“Yes… Recently, I have been having a strange feeling of something crawling inside of me… is this power? Magic?”

“Inconsequential information, not required at this time.”

Not satisfied with the answer he’d gotten, Alger was about to push for more out of the spirit when a familiar woman walked up to his table, depositing a plate of food and a small, wooden tankard filled with ale. Alger looked at the woman, and she looked back at him with a slight smile that brought back very recent memories.

Even before he had a chance to talk, she sat down on the table next to him, the cheerful expression on her face betraying her mood. “Ah, hello handsome. Hope my father didn’t make a bad impression on you. He doesn’t like it when I…” she came a little closer again and continued. “When I meet new people. He doesn’t like that, but I do. It’s very pleasurable, and quite profitable, if I say so myself.”

The woman’s words struck Alger like a hammer striking hot metal, and the young man felt a few beads of sweat forming at the top of his forehead. “Aha ha, so that was your father…” He mustered after a few moments of awkward silence.

“Yeah, so regarding that story you were telling me the other night. What happened after the giant frog ate the princess?”

“Ah? Frog? Princess?” Alger was growing more and more confused with every second, whilst the giggles from the spirit had once again returned, now even more intense.
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by ZAVAZggg
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~Ernald Joyce~




Early Spring of the Year 315 P.F.
~The Maw~




Ernald kept silent as they walked along, doing his best to follow the masked man as he wove his way through the twisting passageways, moving far faster than Joyce himself would have expected a normal man could. But then again, what stood before him wasn't your average man, though he would have easily been fooled into believing such had he not been a witness to the events that had transpired within the cavern. In any case, the pair swiftly trudged their way upwards and outwards, though a thought suddenly occurred to the young scholar as they did so. He hadn't questioned it earlier, hell he hadn't so much as noticed, but he quickly realized that the sounds of picks hammering on stone had stopped. As a matter of fact, the entire mine had fallen silent save for the sputtering and spitting of torches they passed, and Joyce began to wonder what could have caused such a thing. His questions were soon answered, for only a few seconds after the thought had formed in his mind one of the workers rounded the corner to the tunnel he and the masked man were in, seemingly in a panic. Joyce himself almost withdrew, some small part of him still not wanting to be caught with someone whose clothing marked them as one knowledgeable of the occult, only halting when the masked man raised his hand.

Watching this interaction curiously Ernald's eyes went wide as the man let his hand fall, a movement which caused the miner standing before them to fall into a fit of insanity, one that drove him to run screaming and raving down the tunnel from which they'd come. It was then that he realized why the Maw was so quiet. Those who had been working within must have noticed the disturbance and, thinking there was something incredibly wrong, left their tools to flee.

"They will not get far," the man intoned, his voice reverberating off the tunnel walls. "I will see to that."

Joyce blinked. He couldn't have possibly been replying to the inner workings of his mind... could he? But then again he had managed to leave a single word bouncing around the inside of his skull at the start of their ascent... shaking his head, he decided that it was best not to question things for the time being, and continued to follow along instead. Eventually the duo found themselves stand before the arch separating the shriek filled interior of the Maw from the sunlit world beyond and, for the first time in thousands of years, Tarr'kash the Bringer of Madness set foot outside...

"Ah, tis good to be free."
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Lauder
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The Cheiftan

Part One
Early Spring of the year 315 P.F.





Two days had passed since Batuul had been brought back to the mortal plane and in two days had she not felt the fury of battle nor had she tasted the blood of her enemies. The small party of warlocks and their retinues, numbering only thirteen, had insisted that they make haste to Arugoth without drawing the ire of the manlings. The scion had listened to them, though showing clear disdain for the idea of moving quietly through the countryside, much preferring to resume her campaign in Calesbail and slaughtering the likes of man. Yet, she found it odd that Chernobog had not yet given her a boon, a reward from breaking free from her prison. Perhaps he was waiting to see if she would survive returning to the home of the orcs before rewarding her for her loyal service, even after defeat.

Whatever the case, Batuul walked along the rocky outcrop that was the home to the Cales, occasionally kicking a rock or looking around for any hunting party that would attempt to ride them down. It seemed that, much like in her prison, boredom would be one of her primary enemies as the warlocks did not attempt to make conversation with their lady and their retinue was too afraid to say anything to her. It was not the orc's way to be this silent, she remembered a loud and boisterous people that would let out howls and warcries in enemy countryside all day long, but these old wretches had clearly spent too long studying history to be of any use to her.

“How much longer do we have, old fools?” Batuul asked in a grunt, raising her spear to rest behind her head as she looked to the head of the party.

“Another two day’s travel, if we walk through night, a week at our pace,” the warlock answered, not looking back at his patron as he stepped over a rock, “We make camp soon, rest for the next day.”

A grimace came across Batuul’s face before she pushed her way past the other warlocks, angrily walking ahead of the group before one of the warlocks ran after her. It was the youngest warlock, Bolag, who stepped in front of the scion and for a moment she stopped to look over the one who got in her way. It took a certain level of courage or stupidity to stand in front of her when she did this and not many would, even when she knew warlocks with more spine than this lot. She rested her spear at her side, looking over Bolag.

“My matron! Unlike you, these souls cannot fight off a manling party even if we wanted to. They need rest for their decaying bones, you are a vessel of the Dark Lord and are above such base needs. Understand that we came at great risk and we cannot risk losing you again,” Bolag stated in an eloquent, for an orc, fashion that seemed to confuse Batuul more than anything.

The Matron of the Orcs took a moment to process the words of Bolag before snorting and saying, “You do not speak like an orc should.” She suddenly brought her spear down to thrust at Bolag, the young one flinching out of fear though not quite meeting an end quite yet. The great spear of Batuul stopped a mere hair’s length away from Bolag’s body, another moment and he would have been skewered. However, Batuul’s point had been made, displeasure showing on her face as her massive hand grabbed the apprentice by the scruff of his neck and threw to the ground in front of the others. Then, she beat her fist against her chest, stating, “You are all weak! You are not orcs! My soldiers would have burned all the manling homes we came across! I cannot believe I was brought back by such spineless cowards!”

The warlocks collectively looked down, ashamed of themselves as Batuul berated them for their weakness and lack of bloodlust. Bolag could only look up at her as she did so, looking to her eyes and seeing that she only felt anger and rage at them for their transgressions against all of orc kind, before an insult about how their mothers should all have killed them as babes if they knew that they’d be as weak as they were. When one attempted to say something, she let out a roar that sent the warlock cowering back down into his place before Bolag began to return to his feet, his own anger rising for being lumped with the old ones.

“Enough!” Bolag bellowed, slamming his wooden staff into the ground, dark magics pulsing through it before it exploded and sent splinters flying outwards. He remained unaware of the magics that had ruined his staff, as he shouted back at Batuul, “We warlocks may be weaker than you, but we know the ancient ways! We are the last bearers of the dark magic of the fell and we are stronger than you think!”

Batuul was silenced for a moment, taken back by the youngster’s sudden aggression, staring down Bolag as he defiantly stared back at her. It seemed that the young orcs still knew how to act properly, how to show some meaningful amount of strength even if this one had done it through magical means. The other warlocks stared at him for his display, though it was clear that they were more shocked for his magical affinity than anything else, Batuul could tell this much. She stepped forward and took a deep breath of air, the scent of the young one’s strength hitting her nose before she reached a hand out, clasping the sides of his face and looking him over, inspecting him.

“Hmm.” Batuul stated, before pushing the warlock back, turning away, “Too scrawny to breed.”

The warlocks and their retinue stared speechlessly at the scion as she began to walk away, ordering, “I will scout ahead, set up camp for the night.”

After stalking away, Batuul took the time to think about her position, to think about how she might introduce herself back into Chernobog’s court. It was clear that she would take the responsibility for saying that she had broken out herself, she had just needed to gather enough strength to overcome the Exalted One’s chains. For that idea though, she’d need to make sure there were no opposing stories, she’d need to silence the warlocks. Batuul knew she’d have to kill them regardless, however, she thought about the scrawny one, Bolag, and saw his latent power that almost bubbled to the surface. Bolag might yet live, however, the others had grown too old to be of use to her.

Her other thoughts were far more primal and less brutal in nature, a focus on reinstating herself as the Matron of the Orcs and to bring forth a more loyal and unquestioning force, one that knew less fear than the retinue of the warlocks. There was once a time where her armies were entirely composed of her sons and daughters, a time where there was no question as to who their leader was and what she wanted. Batuul knew orcs who showed no fear, orcs who knew no retreat. Seeing where they were now made her far more angered than it likely should have, after all, they were still her distant kin. Yet, she knew she’d have to reinforce the old ways and bring back the armies that she was used to leading, but for that she’d need to find someone strong.

The sound of hooves brought her out of her thoughts, her hands bringing up her spear before she heard yelling and hollering, then an orcish roar. Batuul rushed to the crest of a hill and as she gazed into the small dip below, she could see an orc being circled by the men of Calesbail. Without thought, her spear was thrown into a horse, impaling into the ground as the rider struggled to free himself. The two others brought the horses around before shouting to each other, turning and fleeing away away from the sight of her. Batuul, content to investigate the unknown orc, allowed the horsemen to flee and as she stepped down the hill to retrieve her spear, the orc threw herself onto the downed manling, sinking her teeth into his neck and devouring him alive as if she were some starving animal.

Cocking an eyebrow, the matron approached the feasting orc, settling a foot onto the now dead horse and pulling her spear out of its carcass, only then did the orc look up to her with a look of rage and a desire for carnage. Batuul looked over the female for a moment before asking, “Who are you?”

The orc remained silent for a moment before wiping the human blood from her mouth with her wrist, answering, “Chieftess Bula of the Devil Reaver clan… You speak well for a troll.”

Batuul let out a hardy laugh, finding it funny that the chieftess knew not who she spoke too, “I am no troll! I am Batuul!”

Bula took a moment before her eyes widened in realization, scrambling to bow to the Matron of the Orcs, making her obedience to the scion known. Her body was deteriorated, her muscles slightly atrophied and her skin riddled with scars that were partly infected, but even still she let herself bow to Batuul. She did not know what to say, only knowing that she was in the presence of a divine being.

“M-my matron! How may this chieftess bring honor to your name?” Bula asked, still shocked that Batuul stood over her.

“First, explain to me why a chieftess is without her closest champions,” Batuul ordered, wiping the blood on her spear against the horse carcass.

“We were captured when we tried to raid the manlings, matron. Many of us were killed, those of us who survived were thrown into the pits to fight for survival. I escaped, but my lot are still in the pits, I’d say fifteen of us were still alive the last I counted,” Bula answered, looking down, albeit hungrily at the human carcass. She pushed her matted hair back, running her unkempt digits through it to try and separate the knots. The chieftess had obviously been reduced to being nothing more than an animal for the past time, which was not odd for an orc but it was still proof that the humans and orcs were still actively fighting each other at all meetings.

Batuul pondered for a moment before ordering , “Show me this town… after you eat, of course. Hardly got any meat on you. Though, I think you should eat at my camp.”

The two matriarchs walked away from the site of the skirmish, though Bula was hesitant to leave her snack due to her ever aching hunger. Though, Batuul managed to convince her by asserting her dominance over the much smaller one. Nonetheless, the two walked over the rocky ground, carefully retracing their way to the camp as to not bring about anymore interest upon themselves. Their route, while short, was tiring to the malnourished one who was gasping after a short walk and needed to stop to rest. It was clear that she was weak after her imprisonment by the humans, which was why Batuul was not pushing her immediately.

When they reached the camp, the warlocks and their retinue were eating some small game that they had managed to grab, not much to be much of an adequate meal. Though, when they turned to see Batuul, they went to greet her but stopped when they saw Bula. One of the retinue immediately drew his sword and took a step towards the matriarchs before a mere growl from Batuul made him fearfully step back into place.

“That is no way to welcome a matriarch,” Batuul said with a scowl before sitting down, resting her spear in her lap.

“They know no respect,” Bula said in agreeance with the Batuul, the warlocks turning their heads to one another before Bolag stepped forwards.

“You bring a Devil Reaver here? They abandoned your ways after you were defeated!” Bolag exclaimed, looking at Bula who only looked to Batuul in a confused manner. Batuul returned the confused look to the other matriarch before motioning for her to respond to Bolag.

“I don’t know what he’s saying. I don’t understand South Speech,” Bula responded, looking up at Bolag before giving a snarl.

Batuul looked between the two, her mind sitting upon the fact that these two orcs could not understand each other despite being of the same race. A moment of tense silence passed as the Unifier tried to think about what to do in the situation as she knew a simple display of power would put them back into their places but that would not solve the immediate issue. Even she, an orc who knew only violence and slaughter, could see that the issue of linguistics would hamper her ability to lead them as there would be no cohesion. In the end, it was all the same as she rose from her place on the ground and as her shadow grew to look over the lesser orcs. Bula and Bolag looked up at her, bringing themselves low to her out of submission, along with the rest of the party.

The Unifier would not tolerate this kind of infighting within her ranks.

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