When you stay up until 1 A.M. working on a post because lord knows you can never be bothered to do that sort of thing at a reasonable time
1 yr ago
With a start, I realized that the essay I just finished for my history class took twice as long to write as the last one. Then I realized that it WAS twice as long as the last.
Current Co-GM of Civilization - A New End and former Co-GM of Divinus until being forced to retire alongside Kho and Rtron, by Kho and Rtron, after (absurd) allegations of laziness and dereliction of duty abounded.
Edit: You know what, I think I'm going with Exhibit B
You have the wrong opinion; A is much better.
All this talk of Loralom (long post, yay! delayed post, *incomprehensible shrieks*) reminded me of that Barak fellow I made. Following the abysmal ratings of the latest CyKhollab installment and of Kho's mountain of essays and altogether intolerable opinions, I'll divert my focus towards making a Barak post.
In upcoming parts of the CyKhollab, some Hain arrive there. That doesn't necessarily preclude Mallet and co. from visiting (or even staying with the hain to help fend off Stog when he comes to siege it).
But read the latest post; there's a bunch of ogres in the Changing Plains and mayhaps the ashlings would have something to say about that.
182 of the Azad Calendar - Year of the Dead Horse - 1 Post-Realta
Cyclone insists on it being at the bottom. This is here for purely khosthetic reasons.
The Qa'id Adheem sat on Mara's back, his eagle resting on his arm, and watched as a herd of goats grazed on the large hillside. It had been mere days since he established his authority and sent the call out for the fighting men of the Confederation to ready themselves for the forthcoming bloodletting. It had been a year since the fighting with the Ma'Erkoz had come to an end, and the young Qa'id could not but confess that he missed the battlefield.
It was true, life had many pleasures - drink, women, carousing - but from time to time one had to let loose some bloodlust. One had to channel the pent-up rage and grief somehow - and Qaseer tended to find that the field of blood and blades was generally the healthiest outlet. He raised his head and closed his eyes, thinking back to his duel with Hunayra. Unconsciously, he stroked Mara's mane and smiled. 'You beautiful thing, Mara,' he murmured as he lived out once again those moments spent staring into the eyes of death. It was strange, for one only ever felt the full glory of life when hanging by a horsehair 'twixt life and death. Only then did blood pump true, only then did the heart beat loudly and desperately - as though its frenzied attempts to hold onto life would keep out the metal blade and piercing dart. There were many joys, it was true, and Qaseer lived them all fully, but to feel life on the battlefield was a joy all its own. Few were those who knew it and savoured it when it was laid before them.
The various tribes had assured him that they would gather up their fighting men and join him at the main Azad encampment within the week, but Qaseer could smell their fear and reluctance. News had reached them that the Tagham were gathering forces and calling upon allies who had never before been so far south. The Azad, it appeared, were facing a threat unlike anything they had ever gone up against - tribes they had only heard of in stories and rumours were suddenly said to be answering the Tagham call, and those who had neither mare nor camel in the conflict were rushing to make known their enmity for the Azad. And Qaseer was not unaware of the seemingly-feeble and cowardly eyes which from time to time bore like daggers into his turned back. But it was good that they thought him unaware - that had been one of Shaqmar's weapons too. Beguile them with your strength and they lose sight of the light in your eyes. Bukida is ill, they said, he cannot be present. Fools. Yoditi had reported the Mu'aykalid elder's night-time movements toward Tagham territory almost immediately. And one by one the traitors condemned themselves with their lies.
It was true that these were the worst of times to be dealing with disloyal elements, but that in itself was one of the reasons that these were the worst of times. He would be patient, there was no need to rush things - much as he wished to crush them this instant, such would be foolhardy. He would take them slowly, one by one. They would not even know it was him. They would not even know they were being targeted. This had been one of Shaqmar's weapons, it was true. But Shaqmar never used it.
The small man was torn from his reverie by a sudden movement on the crest of the hill across from him. He frowned as a strange red creature rushed forth at alarming speed. His goats raised their heads in alarm and, before the Rukban could do anything to calm them, scattered. And Mara too neighed in fear and agitation and, straining against her reins and kicking the earth fitfully, suddenly turned and bolted.
But Rukban steeds never bolted.
Not normally, anyway. The eagle tied to Qaseer's arm sent forth an irritated screeched at the sudden movement, and Qaseer just about managed to keep a hold on the reins and looked behind him at the creature that had ignited such fear within his mare and goat-herd.
Even hunched low to the ground in a monstrous charge, the thing was two horses tall. It looked savage, almost feral, and would have looked every part a beast were it not for the long scourge that it flailed about in one hand. With a mastery that no mere beast could ever hope to attain, the abomination lashed at one of the hurriedly escaping goats. As if its whip had a mind of its own, the thing coiled around the animal and bound it tightly. With no more effort than that which it put into taking a step or breathing, the beast hefted its scourge with such force that it jerked the goat's neck and at once silenced its bleating. But the giant did not seem satisfied with merely one goat, and even now it cast down that first kill and began to chase after the next.
'Fucking bastard!' Qaseer growled as he forcefully reined Mara in. The mare stopped reluctantly at her rider's command and turned about, 'those are my goats!' The mare took a few hesitant steps forward as Qaseer removed the blinder from his eagle's head. 'Get the bitch, Haka,' he whispered as he released the eagle. Even as the mighty bird flapped its wings and accelerated towards its impossible target, Qaseer loosed a few arrows at the monstrous thing. The whistling arrows caught the monster's attention, even if they little more than agitated it; then Haka reached its target and, with an ear-piercing screech, launched itself, talons extended, into the back of the monster's head.
Two of the brute's four horrific claws were at once clutching at the eagle, and even as it pecked and gouged, one of its talons were caught in a deathly grip. Haka was flung to the ground, and then there was some savage flurry of clawing; even as the beast held the whip in one hand, it had three more arms with which to tear its assailant to pieces. Qaseer's eyes widened as his bird was torn to shreds by the strange demon. His sun-kissed face became a dark crimson as he put his bow away and drew a wickedly curved blade. Mara whinnied nervously beneath him, but she obeyed when he spurred her into a canter which exploded into a full on charge. Blade at the ready, he roared his fury as the monster turned its unseeing head towards him. As the creature came into closer view, only one thought ran through the head of the Qa'id Adheem.
But he had drawn his blade. He had charged. His enemy's face (if that ugly mug could be called a face at all) was before him. There was no turning back now. It was odd. Usually at these speeds you could feel the wind on your face. Qaseer blinked and, still stuck in that surreal slowness, turned his head to the right. Was it just him or was that a... Earth exploded beneath him and dust rose up to engulf the giant red demon. Mara leapt past the distracted and blinded beast in a bubble of absolute peace and calm. Qaseer turned the mare about and looked around himself in confusion as the earth continued to launch itself upon the monster. He noted that his goats had made good their escape and, with a final glance at where the beast stood trapped, spurred Mara away. The mare was all too happy to be putting distance between the monster and herself.
On the crest of a not too distant hill, a lone dark-haired figure stood watching and whispering. The Qa'id Adheem saw him at the periphery of his vision and paused for a few brief moments. He was almost certain that the distant figure - and there was something very familiar about him - had saved his life. He frowned at this strange development, but decided against investigating. His goats were the priority. And so he spurred his steed on and flew across the the gold and green Rukban hills and plains.
The very air and earth seemed to bay back as the abomination cracked its whip and hurled the scourge in windmills about itself, but every minute opening in the monster's guard was exploited by the unseen force. Gnashing and slashing, the sightless sprytes pressed their attack until the abomination abandoned all delusions of glory and began to flee despairingly. On its way it did manage to grab the one goat that it had felled and left on the ground; though it had no doubt hoped for more quarry, that was all the goats from Qaseer's herd that the bastard would thieve this day. The man on the hill watched silently as the monster retreated towards the Venom Forest, and his sprytes slowly dissipated and went off their separate ways. One, however, returned to him and twirled its aerial form around his neck. Bulagutai smiled and stroked what passed for the little spryte's chin. 'You did well, my beautiful friend.' And with that, he left his position at the crest of the hill and descended.
It was through the mercy of the Eternal Sky that Qaseer had been spared today - for were it not for the frightful vision of blood and death that Bulagutai had seen, the Azad would have been ruined this day. But they were not. For he, a dauntless guardian true, had at long last returned.
They swam through a golden sea of grass that rose to their waists. On foot the ogres marched on, some five score in number, behind the mad shaman that was the leader of this so-called 'warband'. In truth, they had done little in the way of war or raiding and were beginning to grow restless; they had wandered far from Omokog and it felt as if at any moment the horizon of these strange lands might give way to a great precipice that was the very edge of the world.
Behind their procession followed a dozen spiryts bound to Grekogork and the two shamans at his side. Some were flamedjinn whose mere presence scorched the ground and set the chaff aflame; the sweet smoke of the grassfires behind them compelled the warriors to march on, even though they knew not where they went or for what purpose.
They suddenly halted, and in the sweaty stillness the sun's oppressive heat weighed all the more heavily down upon them. At the head of their long line, Grekogork looked back and forth and muttered to himself. The wind had a way of carrying words. "This way, Grekogork thinks, no, not that way! Wrong way! Bad way!"
"What's he on about?" came a growl from one of the grunts in the rear.
"He's always been funny in the head, but now he's lost it."
"He doesn't even know where we are!"
There was a sudden silence, and those whose voices had spoken suddenly felt their warleader's icy glare fall upon them. He shouldn't have been able to hear from so far away, but somehow he did. Must have been the djinn that told him, or some sort of magic.
"Quiet! Obey, or i̵ ̶k̶i̸l̷l̶ ̷y̶o̶u̸!"
Their bodies were then as stiff as arrows stuffed into a quiver.
Grekogork's menacing gaze suddenly broke, and he was looking down upon the ground. He dropped the sack, then began muttering something indiscernible to his feet. "Grekogork think this...Grekogork say that..." But the ogre was saved from having to make any kind of decision at all by the growing sound of thunder approaching from the distance. It was soft at first, a barely noticeable rumble, but it very swiftly became louder, and the gentle rumble became a mighty shaking of the earth. Grekogork's strange utterances gave way to barking orders, "Take arms! Stand together! Shoulder to shoulder!" A cry rose up as the grass gave way before the Rukban warparty and the men came to a halt some distance from the wall of giant earthen-coloured creatures.
Yoditi had come galloping into the encampment searching for the Qa'id Adheem early in the morning hours to report on the large number of the strange creatures he had witnessed marching through their grazing land. It was at the edge of their territory where grass began to give way to sand, but it remained Azad land. 'Were they red?' Qaseer asked, frowning. 'Not quite, my Qa'id. They were different shades of yellow, orange, and brown, from what I could see at a safe distance.' 'Did they have a protruding, bone-like structure atop their heads?' Yoditi raised an eyebrow at this very specific line of questioning. 'No, my Qa'id. Their heads seemed... fairly regular. Bigger than ours, more brutish. But no bones or horns that I could see. They had hair, if that's of any significance.' Qaseer looked down thoughtfully for a few moments before his eyes lit up with a sudden idea. He smiled and placed a hand on Yoditi's shoulder. 'You've done well, Dit. Tell... Kifaki to outfit a small warparty to investigate these creatures.' Yoditi seemed taken aback by this. 'My Qa'id, are you sure?' Qaseer smiled. 'Tell him this is a matter of utmost importance and I am entrusting it to him. If these creatures are hostile they may pose a significant threat if they march deeper into our territories. This is his opportunity to prove his mettle and earn a leadership post - if he is successful.' Yoditi frowned deeply, but bowed. 'As you wish, my Qa'id.' And so Kifaki had excitedly marched out with a small warparty to see to these creatures. A leadership position - he could not waste such an opportunity to increase his clout within the tribe and to grow closer to that Qaseer...
And now he found himself staring down what appeared to be the leader of the group. The creature did not look at all intelligent - growling to itself strangely. 'Wh- who are you and what brings you to... to Rukban land?' Kifaki questioned the creature with a raised voice, keeping his distance and fingering his sword's pommel. Another rider came up beside him and eyed the creature, then noted the djinnis who appeared tied to the leader.
Kifaki's raised voice elicited a few thunderous roars from the line of ogres, as if they meant to match some provocation or war-cry. But the one in the middle only continued muttering to itself as four djinn made their way to his side; however, it looked not at its own minions but rather at a large sack that it held in one hand.
'I don't think they understand us, Kifaki,' the shaman spoke, 'but perhaps we can communicate with them through those djinn.' Kifaki looked uncertainly at the shaman. He was the only Azad that had accompanied the Mu'aykalid warparty, at the insistence of Zanshah. Hakamunga was his name, a son of the Azad chief shaman, Alqama, and an important shaman in his own right. He had been Shaqmar's personal witchdoctor, had cured Layla of her illnesses when she was first rescued - and so had been strewn with treasures and rewards by the dead Qa'id Adheem. 'I hardly doubt that will be necessary, shaman. Look, that grovelling one looks like it understands us.' Hakamunga looked at the leader, to whom Kifaki was gesturing sneeringly. 'Be respectful, Kifaki,' the shaman whispered. The leader of the warparty ignored the shaman and he urged his horse to take a few steps forward, nearer to the grunting creature.
Its soft deliverance had grown progressively louder, and now it was nearly shouting. The other creatures looked at it with eyes just as wide as those of the Rukbans. "Gar kel ug tak!" A burning fire entered its maddened eyes, but the shaman's gaze was still directed only at the bag. And then that look disappeared, and it was as if the madness had gone just as quick. The ogre looked at the approaching horseman as if it had only just noticed the presence of the Azad.
But of course, it had sensed them from miles away.
Grekogork reached down into the mysterious sack and procured a strange black rock the size of a horse's head...no, it was a skull. He held the thing, pointing at the Azad with those dead and vacant voids where the skull's eyes once were.
In perfect Rukban, he suddenly delivered an ultimatum, "You will stand aside as we make our way across these plains, or be slain." Kifaki clicked his tongue in annoyance. 'And where is it that you are headed? Who are you anyway? Where have you come from? I can't let you pass until you, at the very least, answer my questions and assure me of your good intentions.' Not that Kifaki intended to let them pass at all. An opportunity like this could not be let up. He would take some time to size the group up and the disposition of the creatures, and then he would deal with them accordingly. Who knew, maybe they would even surrender willingly if he did things right.
All his plans were for naught when the strange creature answered by raising a fist. The giant warriors hardly needed to be given the order; the bloodlust had already been in their eyes. With one deafening bellow they charged forward with all manner of crude stone weapons in hand, whilst the speaker and the two shamans at his side raised their hands and wrought some magic even as their djinn surged forth. Kifaki's eyes widened at this sudden attack - though, in all truth, he should have expected it given the creatures words. His horse desperately attempted to back away as he drew his sword and egged his warriors on. The warriors loosed their own cries as they drew their curved blades and charged into the fray.
The resulting clash was one the likes of which neither side had ever seen. The Azad recoiled in terror at these monstrous brutes as they met a cavalry charge head-on and nearly broke through, fighting with such strength and savagery that one of them severed a horse's head with one blow of its heavy axe. The advancing ranks quickly dissolved and then the skirmish devolved into a chaotic brawl. The ogres were taken aback by the sheer size of the horses and the speed with which the sabres could hack at their exposed flesh. They were used to fighting pathetic heen or other ogres, not an enemy that was both quicker and had the advantage of size thanks to the animals that they rode. But still, they fell. For the softskins and their horses were fragile.
Kifaki clicked his tongue in frustration and roared for his men to cut the beasts down, waving his sword about frantically. Then Hakamunga was beside him. The shaman looked at the Mu'aykalid coldly and spoke, and his voice came piercingly clear despite the pandemonium all about. 'A Qa'id leads from the frontline.' Kifaki gulped and looked away, staring at the no-longer grovelling leader of the giant monstrosities. Gripping his sword and gritting his teeth, he let out a great cry and egged his steed into a mad charge right for the skull-bearing beast (a head, however creepy, is no good in a fight, right?)
Grekogork was not blind to that charge, he stepped away from the two shamans by his side and unleashed the magic that he had been weaving.
For his part, Hakamunga gripped the reins of his horse tightly as small sprytes circled about him, nipping and striking out in small swarms at the larger and more powerful djinn of flame and stone commanded by the ogre shamans. He knew with certainty that even with the enemy's leader distracted by Kifaki's charge, he could not hope to hold off the power of two enemy shamans on his own - and these seemed uniquely skilled in using their powers for aggressive purposes. The Azad were not used to such things - in war, their shamans had to work together to bind anything larger than a spryte and direct it successfully. Nevertheless, he would do what little he could to stave off the magical assault. No one else could.
Kifaki had only closed half the gap between himself and the brutish sorcerer before the beast's magic took form: a blast of concussive energy surged invisibly through the air. As his horse leaped over one of the fallen, Kifaki felt the blast of force travel through the air beside him. It had been a very narrow miss; if the blow had landed, it would have flung him from his horse and likely left his bones broken. But it had not, and so Kifaki's horse was upon Grekogork in the next instant and the rider swung his blade with all the force that he could. It was caught in the beast's impossibly dense flesh, and it jerked his arm; only the momentum of his horse and the Rukban's iron grip of desperation were enough to wrench the blade free from the ogre's side.
As Kifaki turned his head, he saw the great brute tumble to the ground. He turned his horse about and let out a triumphant cry, brandishing his red blade in victory. He smirked inwardly and could even now see his glorious march back into the encampment.
Watch me, Tadatunga. I'm coming for you.
But then the ogre stirred. After a moment, it pushed itself back up and was on its knees. One of its brawny hands reached out to grasp at the skull that had fallen and rolled a few handspans away, and then it was standing on its feet once more. Kifaki turned back in confusion.
He had cut down the brute; that had been a mortal wound! Indeed, the brute had been nearly cleaved in two and the horrific gouge was bare for all beneath the sky to witness. But the blood had already clotted and scabbed, and though it had left a hideous black scar, the sorcerer had somehow defied death. The horse snorted beneath Kifaki and kicked at the earth, clearly agitated at this display. Kifaki raised his blade more, the razor-sharp sabre snaked out once again to cut down the magicker beast - let's see it get up again when its head is sent flying!
Though he spurred his horse onwards, its charge was a slow one that broke into a meager canter, and then a moment later its mighty onward rush was no more than a stumbling trot. Grekogork approached on foot even as the horse collapsed to the ground and pinned the Rukban beneath its dead mass. Like grass drying beneath the sun, the mighty stallion withered and yellowed; all its life was being drained into the sorcerer through some unholy act of magic, and now the terrible wound upon the brute's side was hardly visible. Kifaki watched in horror as the horse withered and decayed. But the swift decomposition of his steed meant that his leg, which had been trapped beneath heavy flesh, was suddenly freed. He swiftly rose to his feet and stared warily at the healing beast. 'What manner of perversion and depravity is this?' he asked, gulping down his terror even as he kept his sword raised and took a step back.
It seemed to find the man's palpable terror to be amusing. With a cruel laugh, it answered in some alien tongue that came across as no more than guttural gibberish. Kifaki scowled and spat on the ground. 'Don't give me that! I know you can speak, brute.'
A firedjinni disengaged from its dance with one of the Azad warriors by suddenly flaring so as to excite the steed, then felling the rider with a well-aimed globular mass of its own fiery body. It crackled like the burning grass beneath its feet, then turned to Kifaki and charged. The man's irritated scowl melted into outright terror as the djinni charged him. 'Ha- Ha- Hakamunga!' he screeched as he leapt over the carcass of his dead horse to flee the fiery charge. He found himself hugging the ground closer to the gibbering brute and, anger surging through him, considered leaping at it. Surely severing its head would do the job. Surely. Or... fire. Parts of the grassy battlefield were already aflame due to the firedjinn, it was just a matter of finding some way to harness it... He noted that the firedjinn that had been charging him was suddenly preoccupied as a swarm of sprytes nipped and ripped at it. Maybe... maybe the shaman could do the harnessing? He had never seen single shamans do such things, but maybe?
Leaping to his feet, he backed away from the brute and attempted to get back to Hakamunga's side. But even as he made to escape, his legs were suddenly flung out from beneath as if some great weapon had scythed them down like wheat. And yet there had been nothing but air and dark magic.
Grekogork stood over him and stepped on his sword hand, crushing it to the earth beneath his great weight, even as the man roared in pain and clawed at the beast's foot with his other hand. He still held that grimacing skull in one hand, and that black visage was the last thing that Kifaki saw when he looked up. Hakamunga watched with horror as Kifaki's form began to shrink and wrinkle and decay at unnatural speed. He was unsure if he was simply seeing things, but for a few moments he thought he saw a screeching, writhing, spryte-like being surge from Kifaki's corpse and into the monster's waiting hand. Hakamunga shook his head and, when he looked back again, there was no writhing being at all. All around warriors and horses were falling before the unnatural power of the beasts and their magickers. There was no victory to be had here this day. Sprytes writhed about the shaman and surged forth. 'Azaaaad!' came the shaman's unnaturally loud voice, 'behind me! Away, away!' And at his command, warriors began disengaging and horses turned and leapt away. The brutish creatures attempted to give chase, but swarms of sprytes descended upon them from all directions, screeching and churning. The shaman looked once more at the skull-bearing beast, his eyes clearly troubled by all that he had seen it do. Not wishing to tarry longer than necessary, the shaman turned his mare about and fled after the retreating warparty.
The shaman continued to have his sprytes cover their retreat even when the strange creatures were out of sight. Eventually, certain that they had escaped, he caught up with the retreating warparty and they all made their dejected way back to the encampment. Fifty-one mounted men had sallied forth with Kifaki, and thirty-five were going back. Here and there a rider held onto the reins of a horse that had survived the encounter, and here and there such a horse still had its dead rider on it. Riding into the main camp, Hakamunga dismounted and immediately made for the Qa'id Adheem's roundtent. 'My Qa'id,' the witchdoctor said respectfully as he was permitted entrance. 'Hakamunga,' Qaseer said with a frown, 'where is Kifaki?' The witchdoctor sighed and related what had happened. He reported in detail the appearance of the strange creatures and the fact that they had terrifying power over djinn - single shamans could bind and command multiple powerful elementals, it seemed. He reported also on the strange magic of death and decay used by their leader, and how he had caused Kifaki to shrink and rot away. The Qa'id Adheem's face grew dark at the news. 'But I do not believe they are here to conquer or even raid, my Qa'id,' the shaman added, 'their leader seemed only interested in passing through our land. His destination, it seems, is beyond Azad Rukbany.' Qaseer nodded in understanding and commanded the shaman to have his sprytes watch these trespassers until they were out of Azad territory. 'Though I fear that they will take notice, I will do so carefully, my Qa'id.'
Yoditi also was commanded to ride after the beasts and keep watch, but from a long distance. The veteran scout did so, and days later, Hakamunga reported that the beasts had departed into the horrific western deadlands. Yoditi would report the same some time later, but he also reported that he had passed by the grassland where the battle had taken place, and found it most odd. 'No signs of burial. No bodies, either beast or man. The odd remains of a horse here and there, ashes too strangely enough. But nothing else,' he reported. Qaseer looked to Sakago who frowned deeply. 'What do you think it means, Dit?' Yoditi looked at Qaseer and shrugged. 'Only the obvious - they did not bury their dead, and they took the bodies the warparty was not able to return with them. Why and how - I can't say.' Qaseer nodded and decided to put the matter aside. 'It is done. We have other matters to see to now. Have you received any news on Tagham movements?' Yoditi shook his head. 'Only that they are still assembling. Hakamunga tells me that his sprytes have reported enormous numbers coming from the north. Either way, the longer we sit around doing nothing, the greater the forces that assemble against us. We need to act. And soon.' Sakago nodded in agreement, but remained silent. 'Don't you worry you two. Wiley Qaseer has a plan,' and he smiled knowingly. Kifaki was dead. A relatively young half-brother of Tadatunga, he had been of little clout and importance. He would be mourned by his mother and a wife, perhaps. But he would not be greatly or uniquely missed, and none would think that the Qa'id Adheem had willed his death. But so had Qaseer willed and planned, and so had it been. Thus always to traitors, big be they or small - and the turn would come, one by one, for them all.
The Rukbans encounter a grotling for the first time when a lone raider attacks Qaseer's goat herd. The timely arrival of his cousin, the shaman Bulagutai, saves Qaseer from the beast.
Qaseer is aware of the Tagham forces rallying against him and of treachery within his own Confederation.
The small ogre army under Grekogork have made their way into the southernmost Azad lands, straddling the border of the Firewind as they march west. The ogres fear that their warlord has lost his sanity, for he now constantly mutters to himself and has offered no explanation for what they are doing.
The ogres are eventually accosted by a Rukban warband, and Grekogork is mysteriously able to speak in perfect Rukban as he demands free passage. When this is not readily given, the ogres attack.
In the resulting skirmish, Grekogork is seemingly slain but manages to defy death and kill the leader of the Rukban host. The rest flee back to their encampments.
The shaman Hakamunga, who was with the warband, reports back to Qaseer of these strange creatures and the terrifying power of their three shamans.
When they return to the site of the skirmish, there are only a few strangely withered horses; there are no dead from either side to be seen, nor are there any signs of a burial.
Because Qaseer is preoccupied with the Tagham and the ogres seem intent on merely passing through Azad lands, Qaseer merely has their passage observed.
The ogre band ends up entering the Changing Plains, and the Rukbans dare not follow any farther to watch what the ogres do next.
"Stone Djinni ahead!" Came the cry. The mining party’s guard retinue came to the front of the group, marching forward to deal with the Djinni. The Djinni grabbed hold of the supports of the tunnel, collapsing them with a cry of, “Exhume thyself from me home, scoundrels!” The tunnel began to collapse, and emergency braces were put up by the miners while the soldiers harassed the Djinni. The Psyker came forward, expanding his mind outwards. Ever since the disappearance of the Empress, their abilities had been particularly powerful.
This particular Psyker used his powers to flood the mind of the Djinni, forcing it to stop and freeze in place, unable to control itself. It was quickly dispatched by the rest of the guards. Then, the Psyker yelled, “I want this tunnel put back together immediately!”
The miners got to work. They placed all the emergency braces, and then went to their minecart, grabbing more mushroom wood to brace the tunnel with. The tunnel, meanwhile, slowed its crumbling with the extra supports placed by the miners. Cobbles moved along the edges of the tunnels, avoiding any of the usual checks and alarms. On his person were some highly illegal drugs he had purchased from a small illegal settlement. He was bringing it to the underground inner city of Fief. The drug trade was strictly controlled to provide profit for the palace, and without a paid-for and expensive customs stamps, the drugs were illegal to transport.
Not that it mattered to this particular Stone Djinni, he simply avoided the trouble of the customs stamp altogether. This kept his prices down, and made him one of the richest sellers of drugs in the inner cities. The dwarven drug traders simply couldn’t compete with him, and had been run out of business a while ago, at least in this area.
Granted, he would be executed if he were caught with so many drugs on his person. Just a risk of the trade. Cobbles passed into the city limits, popping out of the ground in his usual storefront, a magical-neon lit alleyway. His customers knew the usual time was about in an hour. Among their ranks were even a few Psykers, ensuring the law would stay off his trail within the city limits. Outside of the city limits were out of their jurisdiction, and thus free game for palace lawmen.
He waited out the hour. Soon enough, customers trickled in, each at their designated times, to avoid a line. Lines were suspicious to even the most corrupt lawman. Cobbles soon had plenty of coins to his name and, with his extra stipulation of rumor payment as well, plenty of knowledge of the city’s affairs.
One of the Psykers told them that the palace Psyker order was in a panic as the Empress had disappeared, though their powers had grown stronger, if much more damaging to their brains and psyches. He considered this rumor for a short while, before deciding he’d know a few interested people. After depositing his profits at his home, Cobbles delved deep into the bedrock, until he hit the crust. There, he searched around for a flame Djinni, hailing them with a greeting of, “I have information on Dundee for your lord!”
They weren’t exactly hard to find. A certain lord named Ba’Sard had recently taken over the volcanic depths there, and his minions of flame and molten rock had been hiding in the layers of basalt where no dwarves dared to mine for fear of a fiery death. But it was not enough to rest content cowering in the magma chambers; as a newfound lord, Ba’Sard was eager to exercise his power and conquer the reaches above. It had only been a matter of biding his time and gathering his strength.
When Cobbles arrived near the entrance to the magmalord’s fiery realm, it was at first hailed with hostility; the lords of pure flame looked down in disdain upon those that consorted with stone, and nigh all djinn were wary of those that grew too close to mortals. Cobbles was guilty of both those prejudices, yet none were willing to risk their master’s wrath and drive away the rogue stonedjinn without first knowing just what information he supposedly offered.
“And what information is this?” a lowly guard asked Cobbles, his eyes having glowered softly like dying coals until seeing the stranger approach, then flaring in intensity as a show of strength. “It is about the upper leadership of Dundee, but I will only speak to your lord about it,” Cobbles responded, seemingly unimpressed by the display of eyes.
“He will not come here to meet with the likes of you,” the guard answered back. “Do you dare descend to his throne room, where the stone melts?” The stonedjinn shot back in a droll tone, “I am sure your lord would appreciate squandering an opportunity to claim the lands above, I know just how uneager he is to conquer, hmm?”
“And what do you hope to gain by coming here? Why should I not think that the cold ones sent you as a spy?”
“It is simple, I have everything to gain by selling you information, but nothing to gain from lying to you. I hear that your lord will richly reward those who assist in his pillaging of the surface. Am I wrong of his generosity?” Cobbles responded smoothly.
There was a steely look given in turn, but no further talk. After it failed to find another way to flex its power after several moments of burning silence, the djinni seemed to stare off into space vacantly and vibrate for a moment. It was speaking telepathically to its lord, as djinn were wont to do to the masters that bound them.
“He will hear your offer,” the guard finally said. And then they waited.
The stonedjinni simply glowered smugly, looking at the djinni of fire. “So, he will not come to me, then?”
A small gout of flame erupted from the guard’s half-molten form, but no words. The air grew hotter, and though it at first seemed likely to be from the guard’s growing temper, it was quickly apparent that the searing air was a product of a much more potent being drawing close. The menacing form of Ba’Sard eventually floated out of the tunnel atop a small flow of magma. Before its master, the guard looked even smaller than before. It stepped to the side and let the magmalord’s presence completely dominate the room.
“Let us discuss payment first, shall we? This is, after all, very valuable information. It could very well make or break your conquest.” Cobbles responded opportunistically, almost eagerly. He paused, and then said, “I want you to leave the city of Fief alone, should I give you this information. It shall be my sole domain, yes?”
There was skepticism in the visage of Ba’Sard, though it was masked under the supremely subtle cover of a layer of baleful fire. Agreeing to such terms upfront and before knowing the true value of this information was a risk, but Ba’Sard held few scruples. If this djinni’s information was not of use, then he would simply melt the wretch into a puddle somewhere down the line.
”Fief will be spared the fury of my flames, but you will take it as your domain and defend it with your own might, not mine.”
“That is agreeable. Very well, I was doing my rounds on the surface, when a little birdy informed me that the Empress had disappeared. The upper leadership of the palace is in disarray,” he paused, internally debating fudging the truth a bit. He decided to do so, continuing, “the psykers are weak without her leadership. They’ll be easy pickings. There is no more opportune time to strike.”
And they hadn’t yet realized this? It seemed too good to be true. ”And where has the Empress that they cower behind gone off to? When will she return?” he demanded.
“Somewhere far away,” the stonedjinn responded, “so far that they can no longer detect the aura of her power. Let me remind you that they share an innate connection, and I highly doubt if she was in our universe at all that they wouldn’t know where. She could return at any time, however, so the longer you wait, the better a chance your conquest will be thwarted,” he purred smoothly, trying to appeal to Ba’Sard’s eagerness to expand his domain.
The air grew hotter as Ba’Sard flared his searing aura in its intensity. The unbearably hot room was made all the more uncomfortable by the absolutely withering stare that he levelled upon Cobbles as he looked for even the slightest sign of a liar. The crucible of his presence had a way of burning away deceit and leaving behind charred corpses and the truth that they had laid bare. But Cobbles simply smiled sincerely at him, or at least it appeared sincere.
”Stir the flames below,” Ba’Sard suddenly bellowed loud enough for half the caverns to hear. ”Magma rises from the depths!”
The stonedjinni realized he overstayed his welcome, and immediately began to hightail it out of there, the deal made and confirmed. The lowly messenger was greeted by its master with a single reverberation that nonetheless shook the crumbling walls of the ruined Celestial Citadel. "Report.”
”Lord Vizier,” it addressed to Murmur, ”Anshal’s forces have pressed the attack and Komnestos will not offer resistance for much longer. Our enemies of the stone are locked in combat against the forces under Boreas; they soften one another for us when Slag’s forces may regroup; they are still a disorganized rabble raging wildly without a strong firelord to reign them in.”
"Slag has yet to send a replacement?” A boom of resonated thunder punctuated the Vizier’s sudden flare in temper.
”No,” the windjinn answered as it drifted backwards from the explosive shock of Murmur’s voice. ”One by the name of Ba’Sard has gathered its allies and raised a horde in the south; they surge upwards from the fiery depths and invade a mortal realm. The firelords seem more eager to join the force of Ba’Sard in hopes of claiming a piece of the spoils than to obey their baron’s commands.”
An echoing, thunderous rage coursed through Murmur and shook the skies. He intended to find these firelords in person.
“Hold the walls! Hold the walls! In the Empress’ name, hold the walls!” came the cry of the outpost’s commander, the desperate dwarves on a fighting retreat against the hordes of firedjinn. Left and right, entire sections of dwarves were blown high into the air or burnt into a crisp. The Psykers had been dealt with first, and they were completely defenseless against the tide.
“If we fall here, the palace falls! Hold the line!” came a second cry. Just then, there was a massive explosion, one section of the outpost walls crumbling, taking screaming dwarves with it. The outpost was breached, and the djinn began to flood through. The commander watched in horror.
“Get a courier over here! Now!” he cried, and obediently, a courier came running up. They were a gryphon rider, selected as a courier due to the speed of their brother. “What would you have me send, m’lord?” the courier asked urgently.
“We can’t hold them off for much longer. Tell the palace to organize defenses. They’ll be right on your tail. Now go!” The commander cried, before reentering the fray. The courier nodded and ran to her brother, climbing into the saddle and telling the large feline to take off. As they flew, another explosion rocked the tunnels. Something big was coming.
The Elemental of Thunder passed unhindered through a wall of solid stone, though his very presence did shake the wall to its foundations and cause rock to heave. The living explosion swept through the settlement and witnessed its utter razing at the hands of volcanic djinn, but it was not those that interested him. It was Ba’Sard, the magmatic behemoth crushing his way through the straggling lines of resistance at the head of the firedjinn. A half dozen charred skeletons and the dripping slag that remained of armor were impaled upon the spikes of obsidian that jutted out of his towering form, whilst massive fists of basalt and his searing breath left crushed and smoldering corpses lining the streets.
A few piercing notes from Murmur broke the resistance; the creatures of flesh clutched at their ruptured eyeballs and ears and fell to the ground with organs reduced to jelly by deafening sounds that resonated in their bodies. Before the Vizier’s might, Ba’Sard suddenly looked every bit the paltry mongrel that he was.
"What is the meaning of this foolishness? This Jvanic filth was not to be purged until after the traitor djinn were rooted out from our ranks, yet here you are in defiance of your masters’ orders. There is a Divine that lords over these vermin, and by your hand she will be driven to align with our enemies!”
One of the firelords at the side of Ba’Sard saw fit to answer. ”Their Divine Empress has vanished, and this realm is ripe for the picking. This conquest will be ours! Your war does not concern me, we answer only to Baron Slag.”
An invisible grip of death took hold over that insolent lord and held him high into the air. He flailed helplessly as a horrific scream pulverized volcanic stone to dust and stifled flame; the other lords, even distant enough for the sound to not be lethal, shuddered with a pain greater than their horror.
"It is unfortunate that your Vizier must make such examples of his servants. One of you must depart immediately to the north to restore order among the scattered legions of your master; the rest of you are to finish quickly what you have started and then depart forthwith to reinforce us. I shall not rest until the last traitors are slain.”
Proud Ba’Sard finally knelt. ”It shall be done, lord Vizier.” With that matter settled, Murmur left at the speed of sound. He knew little of the Divine that had dwelled here, for it was a secretive one, but its sudden disappearance was something to note and report to Xos. Curiosity demanding that he investigate, Murmur travelled towards the palace. The steady trail of refugees led him right to it.
The bells of the palace rung as he came into sight. Along the walls of the grand city, thousands of dwarves prepared massive bolts from ballistae. They began to launch the bolts at Murmur. Further, bolts of divine magic were launched at him from psykers. A battlehymn emerged from the walls, and even at his far distance, he could hear it.
“The enemy now stands before The walls of our great fort. Militias form, and gather all Every mighty blade and bolt.”
The Vizier rippled downwards through the air and slammed into the ground, leaving the barrage of attacks to fall upon vacant space. All was still, and the crazed oscillations in the air that were Murmur’s visible form were gone.
Then their hymns were drowned out as the djinni lord surged out from the ground and slammed into the walls. Mortar gave way, stones crumbled, and those that came into direct contact with their adversary were violently torn apart by his explosive presence. While they fell to the ground mewling from the unbearable song of Murmur, he swept through the palace looking for any sign of a Divine. The guards were powerless to stop his advances; what could they do to harm living Sound, especially when that same sound resonated in their feeble forms and brought them to their knees?
The dwarves did the best they could, valiantly delaying him where possible and refusing to retreat. In his path he swathed dead dwarves, of all castes. Psykers and gryphon riders, peasants and crafts dwarves, all fell in his rampage. Finally, after an hour of making his way through the city, he reached the palace.
There came a cry. “Enemy! Enemy at the gates!”
The remaining psykers put up a shield of divine energy, their last ditch attempt to save the palace and the riches inside.
Stubborn creatures. But frail.
He ascended high into the air and slammed into the shield with an explosive force the likes of which mortals could scarcely comprehend, then rebounded backwards with his very essence having been repelled by the magical barrier. But that was no matter; he renewed his assault and bore down upon the shield again, and again. Their strength was failing.
The shield wavered every time he slammed into it, and soon enough it too fell. When it fell, the Psykers took one last desperate offensive, simultaneously lancing the djinni with their minds. It earned them a swift and violent demise.
Having swatted the last of those meddlesome insects that bit at him, his attention finally turned towards the scene before him. Civilians were fleeing en masse and the city had been nearly evacuated in the span of time that he had taken to decimate the defenders and breach the palace. Those mortals were of no matter, though. He had come to search for signs of the Divine that dwelled in the palace, and upon entering it he sensed nothing of the sort.
A Divine heartbeat had its own unique hymn, and Murmur could detect the faintest whisper among the sea of thunder about him, yet among the din he perceived no such heartbeat. Considering the slim possibility that this was a silent Divine that for some reason hid its presence from his ears, he ransacked the palace. For all his efforts, he found nothing. There was neither a Divine presence nor any indication of where the Divine may have went or when it might return.
So Ba’Sard had been right, then. It was all very intriguing; gods and their ilk were not wont to merely fade into nothingness. A whisper tugged on his mind, tinged with the power of the divine. At first, unintelligible, but it slowly became more apparent. It whispered in his mind, “They say you should create an unassailable tower, so sturdily built that no friend or foe may enter, so that not one insect nor grain of sand can squeeze through the cracks. They say that you must ensure that not one wound may enter, nor may one mote of love. In this, you will find true strength. Some say that those who take upon themselves this task are sure to starve.”
Whispers. Xos whispered too, but his words were portents of agony terrible to behold. These were the ramblings of nothingness, the useless noise of a waterfall’s din save any hint of natural beauty. ’I know what strength is! It is raw power: an endless bellow, a roar that shakes mountains and breaks any that defy you. Not whispers.’
The voice whispered in Murmur’s ear once again. “Pity thee who arrays forces against himself, in his endless pursuits. Pity thee who knows not of true power. Know this, thy shall surely starve. For, your fortress is one upon which no harm or love may enter. Count thee one and the same, the betrayed King of Kings.”
Murmur then realized that this must have been the disheveled, disembodied voice of the Divine that had once dwelled here. Such a presence might normally cause trepidation in even the most powerful of djinn, but there was no aura of power to back the hollow threats and no simulacrum to be seen. This was only a whisper upon the wind, whereas Murmur was a thunderous roar.
This time Murmur spoke his thoughts aloud, ”My forces are endless; but one small host of them has overrun your own. And my fortress, -ha! It is the heavenly palace of gods, built by gods, whereas yours is now an empty ruin.”
“The hypocrisy of the Lordgod Amanin is evident. All ash in the end, betrayed by his own host, hunted by those infinitely more powerful -- in his lack of control, lack of power, he too built his fortress so that none may enter. He too starved. Lo, behold the divine corpse. Nothing but rotting remains of thy who shalt starve. Those infinitely the lesser sustaining upon thy malnourished flesh. Thus is the fate of all fortresses,” the voice whispered, so quietly he could barely hear it.
“Hidden in the heart of fools, the portents of invulnerability. Their fortresses -- they are invincible. But when has a fool ever achieved true power?” It finished.
Murmur haughtily scanned the area for the source of this presence that leaked into his mind. It was coming from somewhere, as did all sounds. It could be silenced. And yet, no matter how hard he looked, he could not find any source. It was seemingly coming from himself.
Other djinn might have flared or inflated in their frustration, yet Murmur contracted. Then expanded. The tumultuous Vizier grew into an even more cacophonous sound, so much so that the palace’s ruined foundations began to tremble. He spurned the whispers in all their worthless drivel of hunger, and when he saw no pathway to the Divine itself nor any mouth through which he might silence its voice, he left.
There was nothing for the Vizier there; he ascended to the sky once more and left the ruin to the squabbling firedjinn that would not be far off.
Mere sound could not bridge the vast gap between the stars no matter how powerful, yet Murmur’s voice reached out all the same. By his the link that entwined him with his master, the Vizier’s thoughts resonated to Xos, finding their way to wherever the shade was lurking in that moment.
’There have been a great many delays.’
The response was a burning heat. “Intolerable.”
’...but there is good reason! One of the Divines has vanished; when I investigated, I heard only its incorporeal voice and felt no presence. The firelords have seized the lands that were under its protection and scattered its followers like ash upon the wind.’
“The conquest of some meager clime on that wretched world is of no significance. I take insult to every breath that you tolerate the traitor djinn to draw, and do not forget. Your preparations for Jvan’s eradication must also be done. See to it.”
The link was severed, and Murmur was left to his own devices once more; yet Xos stirred, and soon his shadow loomed over Dundee. The mountain was in the process of being abandoned, refugees streaming from all parts of the mountain, out the various tunnels to the surface. But no divine power beyond Xos’ stirred.
He approached the ruin that had once been a palace. There was little trace of divinity, though he could detect it. It seemed to follow the path of destruction from the outer walls to the inner palace. The veil seemed thin around the palace, as if there was something else beyond in the area.
Smoke and mirrors. He was the smoke, and this place was a mirror. With a violent and sudden blow, he shattered its proverbial glass. All of a sudden, he found himself in a crowd of masked figures of all shapes and sizes. They seemed to pay him no mind, as if appearing out of nowhere was nothing out of the ordinary. There were some ramen shops nearby, and various other buildings.
His power was not all here; it was as though he had stuck his head through some tiny crevice and could peer in, yet was unable to reach his hands through the crack and into the void beyond. He looked upon one of the masked figures and extended a finger of death. Normally his power would envelop a mortal in a cycle of entropic recursion that would reduce them to nothingness, but the very laws of this place stymied any such attempts and thwarted his power. The strange being noticed the beam of darkness, and, spinning its staff in front of itself, collected it within its staff. Then, the being stabbed out its staff into the air, the power sloughing off into the aether. It cried, “You dare attack a disciple of the Twelfth Circle of the Order of Amanin?!”
It was as he expected, more or less. A fortunate outcome for the denizens of this realm, to be sure. ”What is this place?”
The figure entered a battle-stance, crying, “Do not play the fool, I am a celestial red-master, and I shall see you banished to the pits of Tam!”
Even as the figure leaped forward, its antagonist disappeared. Where the shade had hovered there was only a sterile and empty void, and where the masked figure had been standing Xos coalesced into physical form once more. Striking at him was to a mortal every bit as impossible as catching smoke in one’s fist.
The being spun around, as the crowd cleared, watching the fight, seemingly entertained. It yelled, “What be your name, fool?! It is no easy feat, what you have just done!”
Jvan had asked him that same question. He graced neither this one nor her with its answer, for they were both as vermin. ”Where does the demigod hide?”
Neither the Demimons surrounding the area, nor the being Xos had attacked, responded, for they realized they were naught but trees, and did not have mouths.
“It has been infinite aeons since I have heard that phrase, and yet, I have always heard it. What do you seek from me in this wretched place? Do the politics of your pantheon never cease?” A voice crackled from the sky, though the source was otherwise unidentifiable.
”My servant claimed that a Divine had vanished without trace, and so I came to see for myself what manner of thing could end our kind. Yet here you are, alive but imprisoned. I tap on the glass of your cage to see you stir. I too was imprisoned, once. But I battered my way free.”
“And, what exactly, is imprisonment? The Thirds of Three were imprisoned, yet I. Count me not one and the same of the Three.” Came the response.
The Shadow stood there in mocking silence for a long, pregnant pause. When he finally spoke once again, it was in a deliberately crude reflection of the mad voice before him. ”And I offer a riddle unto thee: What is the wind softest of all as it blows, the tree that sprouts yet never grows, a false grace currency to wretches sage or base?”
“It is simple, the answer to thy riddle be the enemy known as I, within thy own self and my own self.” Came the response, a single eye opening up in the clouds, cutting a hole through them.
So-called wisdom. The foolish, arcane, worthless, esoteric sort that this one preaches.
“Thou would have not come if thou didst not have reasons. What, blessed be, do ye wish from me?” came the response, the eye in the sky being joined by two smaller ones on each side.
Questions were answered with questions. ”What trapped you here?”
“Thou shalt know soon enough, shall thy continue upon thy path,” came the response, and then, “I be the blessed King of Kings, but alas, I too be the Queen of Secrets.”
Words as hollow as the voice’s disembodied form. In a way, Xos found it amusing. ”And where is your kingdom? What are your secrets?”
“Pray tell, would I hold a secret long if I did not keep it secret? There be things ye know not of. And with blessings, that it shall remain.” The King of Kings said, as small eyes began to open in the clouds, thousands of them. There were eyes and a voice, yet no mouth or body to speak of. A violent yet intangible nova of wind swept outwards from the shade as it expanded its awareness and perceived everything there, with the exception of where the demigod’s body was hiding. Perhaps it was just as formless in this plane as it had been in Galbar when it first came to Murmur’s attention.
”Secrets of what nature? I have much that I could trade for knowledge, would trade for knowledge,” the words came slower now. ”But thus far, I have seen nothing to suggest you are any more than a peddler of lies or truths so obscure as to be nothing.”
His awareness was slowly pricked at, becoming smaller and smaller as masses of arcane divine runes just outside of his full awareness pushed it back inwards. They were not glimpsable, yet he was aware of them, in some form. “Thou wouldst not know why, if I did not allow ye. You could be blind without ever realizing I was the cause. Without me, ye art soon become the prisoner ye claim I am. Thou art sick of the body, nay, not a true god. Entirely fixable.”
Shadows stirred. ”And what is it that the Queen of Secrets wants? Power? Freedom?”
“What use is freedom to those who art not imprisoned? Nay, you may offer me little. However, little be not none. I will grant ye two things, if ye art to begin hiding the gods from their flocks, the mortals which inhabit the universe. Spread secrets, bring with ye an air of paranoia. Promise that on thy name to Amul’Sharar, and I shalt grant ye your requests.”
It was an unusual request, though it made sense that the self-proclaimed Queen of Secrets desired grater obfuscation. Though swearing by the Terrible One’s name always gave cause for trepidation, the terms of this pact were vague enough to hardly be binding.
The shade reflected for many moments, something that it was not wont to do often. Though it knew not exactly what information it would be paid in for this deal, he knew much about inspiring terror. In the end paranoia was merely another form of fear, so creating it would likewise prove trivial.
”Then by the power of Amul’Sharar, that Terrible One that cleaved this abominable state of existence from the Nothingness that preceded it, the bargain is struck.”
“Very well, thou shalt have thy reward. Name what thou require.” came the voice once again.
If Xos had eyes, they might had leered down upon his vestments in disgust, crafted by a djinni’s hand instead of his own as it were. But there was nothing like eyes within the shadow, unless he chose to display such a facade. ”Tell me what must be done in order for me to Create, to have some simulacrum more tangible than this shell.”
The irony of asking a formless voice with its eyes in the air how he might take on a more suitable form did not escape Xos, and indeed he half expected to receive nothing for an answer; however, if such a thing were possible, he was willing to endure the humiliation of asking and making oaths in order to have it.
“In ye mind be chaos, an unorganized, unfathomable chaos. Much like thou wouldst see in weather. Thou art capable; thou simply has not the wisdom to see it. Consider -- when has a Djinni achieved physical form, and how? Peace be formed within thou mind, and then ye may truly control thy powers.” The response was slow, and ordered, the eyes still opening in the sky endlessly.
Ventus. Of course.
He was still owed one more answer. ”My enemies,” the shade began, ”I know that I have made at least four: Teknall, Toun, Jvan, and Vestec. Tell me of their weaknesses and what I might exploit to triumph over them.”
“Of thy enemies, three be too sentimental for their own good. Teknall’s prodigious offspring, for Toun, what has been locked away -- seek out thou enemy’s avatars. For Jvan, what hast been created. Jvan -- Jvan be an enigma, even to me. Thousands of universes she has traveled. Though I know not the easiest way to deal with the Cancer, there exists a slower option -- destroying the Cancer at the end of the universe. Find ye what she uses to travel between universes and destroy it,” the voice paused, “Vestec. The simplest. He brings order to lands by hunting thou. Should he know, he may very well be the most reliable wildcard in thou arsenal.”
All of that he committed to memory. Some of it made sense immediately; with the knowledge that there existed offspring of Teknall, seeking them out and seizing them as captives seemed prudent. The shade knew not what to make of what had been said regarding Toun and Jvan, but it left him with something to ruminate.
”Then your side of the bargain is fulfilled. As for mine, I will devise a...means of sowing fear of the unknown.”
And then the shadows dissolved and there was nothing left.
Where the shadow fell next was over the bleak landscape beneath a mountain. Through goat paths over craggy hills there stretched a seemingly endless trail of dwarves. Some stumbled on bearing great packs of worldly possessions upon their backs whereas other trudged ahead with nothing, but all were weary. All were tired, susceptible.
A tired mind was not wont to question what it was told, so Xos’ silent whispers found their way into the minds of the dwarves’ leaders and were accepted just as readily as their own thoughts.
They had not been abandoned by the gods; there never were and never had been any gods. There were no spirits, there was no such thing as an afterlife. No religion, only dreamlike lies that they had been too entranced to ever see before.
The mortal imperative of slowly awakening their brethren and showing them the truth was a heavy weight upon their shoulders.
This stuff really wasn’t the focus of the post and just provides background for why Murmur and Xos found themselves anywhere near Dundee.
A djinni named Cobbles had dealings with the dwarves as a trader, and eventually he came to learn the hushed-up secret that Lazarus had gone missing.
Seizing the chance, he descends down into some of the deepest tunnels and sells this information to an ambitious firelord called Ba’Sard.
Exploiting the dwarves’ weakness, Ba’Sard (with the help of several other firelords) raises a vast horde of fire elementals surge up through the tunnels and conquer Dundee. This marks the first time in Galbar’s history that a large group of djinn have sought to outright conquer a mortal realm for the purposes of expanding their own dominions and growing in power; in any case, this is certainly atypical and presumably a result of the recent turmoil going on between the djinn.
Dwarven refugees stream out of Dundee and flee to surrounding lands; they will in time form many smaller, fractured realms. Dundee remains full of treasure, as something like Moria or the Lonely Mountain that they long to reclaim.
Following the defeat of Thermaron, the huge army of fire elementals way up north have been leaderless and just rampaging across the landscape. Murmur is vexed at how no firelord has come to replace Thermaron, and after learning that they were all helping Ba’Sard he goes down to Dundee.
He’s curious about how a demigod could just disappear. He attacks the palace and levels it looking for signs of a demigod, but finds none. Then eventually Lazarus starts talking in his head and he leaves.
The strange series of events is reported to Xos. Though initially very displeased, Xos similarly goes to investigate the disappearance of a demigod.
He senses Lazarus trapped in another plane and is able to breach his way through, though in that plane he is significantly less powerful.
Nonetheless, he converses with Lazarus and a pact is struck: Lazarus will give him wisdom in exchange for him spreading paranoia and fear of the divine among mortals. He agrees.
First he is told that he could overcome his impotence (utter inability to take a more tangible form or to create objects) through meditation in a manner similar to Ventus.
Then he asks about the weaknesses of his enemies and is told about Teknall, Toun, Jvan, and Vestec.
To begin fulfilling his side of the bargain, he seeds doubt in the minds of the dwarves fleeing from their ruined homes and his whispering drives many of them to atheism. Slowly but surely they intend to spread this ideology and generally go about denying the existence of gods and writing off their doings as some sort of other phenomena.
Zephyrean Pantheon Start: L9 - 7MP - 3FP
-1 FP used to promote atheism among dwarven refugees
I do find it odd that Juras was able to extract some of Vestec's spilled blood. The scuffle itself took place not on the ground but in the (largely shattered, but still flying) Celestial Citadel, and in the aftermath Vestec escaped by teleporting to the Realm of Madness and presumably bled there.
But worry not about my nitpicking! You do your ant things and see them done and then resume the doing of your horse things so that I can in turn respond to your horse things with my ogre and desert-dwellr things!
Current Co-GM of [url=https://www.roleplayerguild.com/topics/167577-civilization-a-new-end-2-5/ic]Civilization - A New End[/url] and former Co-GM of [url=https://www.roleplayerguild.com/topics/91565-mid-high-casual-divinus-the-deity-roleplay-mk-ii/ic]Divinus[/url] until being forced to retire alongside Kho and Rtron, by Kho and Rtron, after (absurd) allegations of laziness and dereliction of duty abounded.
<div style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Current Co-GM of <a href="https://www.roleplayerguild.com/topics/167577-civilization-a-new-end-2-5/ic">Civilization - A New End</a> and former Co-GM of <a href="https://www.roleplayerguild.com/topics/91565-mid-high-casual-divinus-the-deity-roleplay-mk-ii/ic">Divinus</a> until being forced to retire alongside Kho and Rtron, by Kho and Rtron, after (absurd) allegations of laziness and dereliction of duty abounded.</div>