So worried right now. My brother just got admitted to the hospital after swallowing six toy horses. Doctors say he's in stable condtion.
4 mos ago
Nice to meet you, Bored. I'm interested!
4 mos ago
Ugh. Someone literally stole the wheels off of my car. Gonna have to work tirelessly for justice.
Oh gee! An age and a gender and interests and things. Yeah, I have those. Ain't no way I'm about to trigger an existential crisis by typing them all out, though. You can find out what a nerd I am on discord, okay?
Oh, hello there, mortals. It is I: Ahn-Dami. Yes, I'm speaking with you directly. Listen: I have heard your mewling little cries and, in my infinite wisdom and mercy, have decided to answer them. You've packed yourselves onto a pair of rickety constructs made of dead tree and are currently floating on the water towards either your possible doom or that of those who have subjectively been labeled as your enemies. There are moments when I heartily regret allowing sentients their free will.
It has been a long and trying journey. Members of your group have saved and taken life. Some have entered the embrace of my sister, Ahn-Eshiran. You've encountered a cast of colourful characters along the way to make allies or enemies of and now, in this moment, as rousing speeches and brilliant plans come together, you stand poised at the precipice of... well, being over it, really, don't you? There's only so much combat, intrigue, and danger that the human or yasoi mind can take. It is love, laughter, and camaraderie that fills your cup as well. It is discovery, knowledge, and exploration! One needs Ipte and Shune to thrive more so than Eshiran.
And so, we shall seize the hands of time, dear humans and yasoi, and move them quickly in the direction that you know best, for such is the power of a goddess of the Pentad. As an aside, I shall expect your finest offerings at some later juncture.
The Maria Nera, black-sailed beauty that she was, was still a relatively mundane ship. That she had a complement of mages was a given, and these were reasonably skilled and innovative. They made the cardinal mistake of thinking that their adversaries would rely on magic to counter them and, unless they could count a tethered among their number, the battle would be fought at the edge of magic range or perhaps even closer. Instead, the students of Ersand'Enise relied on gunnery. Ismette held the Golden Sun perfectly still on the pitching waves, Trypano lined her up, and Ingrid and Desmond fired the gigantic 'fuck you' gun they had made with 'F E A R L E S S I N N O V A T I O N'. It missed.
As he had a penchant for, Benedetto decided to come to the rescue at that very moment, flying in like some sort of death god, right up to the Nera, and holding it steady. Captain Falzon grumbled something about seamanship and recoil and stupid weapons, but they fired the gun again, it struck home, and well... pirate ships just can't repel firepower of that magnitude. At least the mages on board could save everyone else from drowning. They surrendered to the snaggle-toothed old seadog who was Captain of the St. Elmo's Fyre, along with his chosen Queen, their reign of terror at an end.
The issue was that Xavier Falzon had been right about one thing: the Golden Sun sailed like a pig with the weight of a weapon like that mounted where it would have a decent field of fire, and the sheer recoil broke her back after a couple of rounds. Trypano worked hard to patch her up, but she'd taken in so much water by then that capsizing was inevitable. Desmond was able to save the flag, at least. Perhaps, in the future, some other - greater - ship will fly it.
It was the Flamant Royale that picked them up and rendezvoused with the Fyre and both of these ships returned to the hidden cove that the Nera had been operating out of. It was...eerily quiet as they hove to and docked. Stepping onto the sand, the group found themselves on high alert, all except for Benedetto. "Heh, looks like the idiots all fled," he joked. "Guess we're just that scary."
They spread out, after that: the crew of the Royale in one direction and a party from the Fyre - including Amelea - in the other. "I... don't like this," warned Penny, and Ismette nodded. Everything had been left exactly as the former had encountered it a few hours earlier, save some matters related to the ship casting off and the hasty packing of some ammunition and navigational maps, yet, she also notcied some odd... burn marks on some of the walls and... irregular globs of glass in the sand.
Eventually, both parties converged on the caves where much of the treasure had been stored and 'Amelea's' chamber was located. She wanted to go and investigate it. There was treasure to be distributed, and she desired to look for something incriminating on her uncle. On the other hand, there were the deeper reaches of the cave to explore. How much deeper they went seemed to be a matter of some dispute. Penny maintained that she'd reached the end of what was navigable earlier and there'd been nothing of note. Ismette reached out with her keen yasoi senses and she noticed something in the sand soil beneath them: it looked almost like something had been dragged or... perhaps undulated over here, but the tracks disappeared against the back of the stone cavern. She quietly shared that information with her trusted peers. As everyone talked, however, Benedetto, serious for once, tapped idly on the wall, until he heard something that sounded... hollow beyond it. Amelea beckoned them one way. Benedetto, with a complete lack of reverence, the other. Which would the group choose?
Hey Pir! Casii lives! I like her and I'm excited that someone finally made a yasoi character. I appreciate the amount of attention paid to their unique culture and lore and how you were able to play coy with their decline. Casii seems fun and complex and I see a good storyline ahead for her. Below are a few small amendments I'd like you to consider. Pending those, she's approved. Feel free to post her in the Characters tab and introduce her to the world.
1) "Should she find an interesting subject of fauna, she will take a few seeds and keep them with her." I think you're looking for 'flora'.
2) One of Great Gran's cognomens may need a 5ouch of shortening. It's a bit of a mouthful.
3) Just a bit of a tonal thing, though I like her focuses: yasoi don't distinguish their magic as much between schools as they do between effects.
4) Yasoi aren't strictly arboreal. They just don't distinguish much between trees, hills, cliffs, etc. I love the image of them growing things right from the great branches of their trees, down the hillsides and cliffsides to the forest floor: all different sorts of plants that thrive in different light and watering conditions.
5) Might use a different descriptor than 'meaty for human noses from their perspective. It's all in the bridge of the nose and humans have much less of a bridge than yasoi.
Ultimately, those are mostly nit-picky little things. Casii looks great and I look forward to seeing her in the story!
Location: The Crows' Nest // Date: February 25, 2057 // Time: 8:45 // Interactions: Everybody and nobody
People talked. Some had good things to say, but Lysandra found herself short on any appetite for knowledge or investment. She was doing it, she knew - what she had always done when feeling guilt: running from it and hiding. No Cerise. It just sat atop her stomach and wouldn't go away. You did this, Lys. You thought you were so smart, going for that vestige. In truth, the greater part of her wanted desperately to go on that mission. She burned with curiosity and longed to be away from the cavernous emptiness of the Crows' Nest while most others weren't there but, all inspirational bullshit and encouraging words aside, she knew that she would be a liability: drawback as opposed to boon. The allure of burying herself in her work - going through all of the salvage from the last mission and Akaia's earlier run and making new things with it - was not inconsiderable, as was the fact that she had a live Mistle to study and experiment upon. Then there was The Federation, which she'd been working on as best she could, ready to replace the Four Immortals and an improvement by virtually every measurable parameter.
The truth was that she felt herself genuinely neutral on this one. She just needed a distraction, whatever form it took. Choosing a break in the proceedings to interject, Lysandra uncrossed her arms, thumped back onto four wheels, and made a simple statement of dubious fact. "Don't ever let it be said I'm not a team player," she began, "I'll go wherever I'll be most useful." She wrapped one arm around her waist again, the other flicking some hair over her shoulder. She controlled her eyes. The maps looked interesting. Her eyes wanted to pore over them. She denied their request and sat poised, professional, and distant.
One by one, the six students plus Marci trickled in through Jocasta's portal and faced the room's lone occupant. There on her bed, leaning cross-legged against a corner, was the waifish figure of Amanda. Her room was lit by an oil lantern and a candle. Moonlight streamed in through a small window. As Jocasta entered, a large smile creased the older woman's lips. The palms of her hands, which lay open on her lap, lit up with an arcane glow. "Hello... Jocasta," she said softly, her eyes going to the others, "I take it you're the friends that she mentioned."
Jocasta nodded, coming to a stop. "I see your powers of deduction remain strong."
Amanda smiled and let out a little snort. "Ah!" she chirped, "and Marci!"
"I'm not a friend?" the girl protested.
"You're much better than a friend, mija. Come here and sit beside me."
Marci more or less threw herself onto the bed, snuggling delicately into Amanda's side, for just a moment so utterly unlike the precocious girl they'd gotten to know to this point. "Mom," she said softly, laying her head on the older woman's shoulder. She grinned. "Hey, isn't it past your bedtime?" Amanda planted a small kiss on the top of it. "Isn't it past yours, precious little pumpkin?"
"You're laying it on really thick," Marci whined, but her mother was already looking out at the others. "The expedition was a proper disaster, I trust?" She raised her eyebrows expectantly. "We have a giant, angry dragon headed our way?" She tilted her head to the side momentarily.
Marceline, beside her, nodded glumly. A limp-wristed hand reached up to stroke her hair. "Don't worry, little pumpkin." The girl flashed her a stink-eye, but Amanda was looking at the others. "There is much to worry about, of course, for all of us, but I think I know how we can overcome this and, dare I say, a great many other problems." She pursed her lips, and the glow in her palms lit her face from below with a certain dramatic flare as her expression morphed into an enigmatic grin. "First, though, I imagine you've questions and ideas of your own and you've received precious few answers in this place. I have lived here thirty-one years and I'm an open book."
Leaning back on an ancient desk in the old Tourrare style, elbows propped against it, Jocasta pushed off. She tipped forward and her front wheels hit the round with a light 'clunk.' "For what it's worth," she offered, "so am I, and I used to live here too."
Another tear in the fabric reality and another reminder of just how out of their league Jocasta truly was. Zarina was somewhat reluctant to step in, even if she would end up being one of the first to do so, her gait wasn’t nearly as confident as it could be. At least the scene unfolding before them was sweet enough to even allow this sleep-deprived bundle of suspicion to relax. The family dynamic unfolding before her, however, prompted a brief raise of brows.
Stepping to the corner of the room closest to Amanda’s bed, Zarina kept her distance while keeping eyes on the unmoving queen of these chambers. Arms crossed and her shoulder leaned against the wooden beam, she couldn’t help but smile at Marceline’s delight, and even Jocasta’s own relief. Then came the time for questions and needed talks, so she took the initiative, ”Agreed. There’s a lot I’d wanna know.” she spoke up calmly, loud enough to ensure those in the room heard her and didn’t speak over her, ”But with our task failing successfully, we’ve got a very real issue on our hands. And I’m not about to ask the authority of the Refuge for suggestions,” she exhales heated steam from her nostrils, ”given we were supposed to be THE plan. So, I’m very interested in knowing what plan you may have, Amanda. Me and probably everyone that doesn’t wanna be Wyrm chow, anyway.”
The Virangish pauses, hand risen over her mouth as if she was withholding something and her eyes squinted, ”Oh. Yeah. Wait, you probably don’t know our names. Probably. I’m Zarina.” she gestures toward herself while performing the brief introduction.
Kaspar relegated himself to a corner, looking far more alert than he had on the journey back. He was cleaned of blood, though the dark split down the right side of his lip was still there. His crimson eyes scanned the room and the faces, recognizing most.
His eyes flitted to Zarina as she began to speak, and the boy was not surprised; both her presence and her personality seemed to be that of a leader. He didn’t mind, as he so often kept himself to the quiet background. Someone would need to speak—though he imagined few of his classmates would have issues.
Though, as she finished her statement with an introduction, he took half a step forward and dipped his head respectfully. ”I am Kaspar,” he said, voice soft as he placed a hand against his chest.
"My name is Yalen. I believe this is our first meeting miss Amanda." The blonde priest clasped his hands together and gave her a shallow bow. "I have a number of questions to ask you, but seeing as they do not pertain to the coming disaster perhaps I should save them for later."
It All Comes Out
Amanda blinked. Not a day went by when she didn't curse her disease at least once, but there were rare moments when the lack of body language was to her benefit.
This was one such moment.
They were all so... formal around her, like she was some sort of revered elder or whatever. She had to pull a bit on the Gift to keep the redness from her cheeks. "It's... a pleasure to meet you all, and please forgive me if I have to ask you for names thrice more. I've heard people go senile at my age." She smirked. They were teens, the whole group, and something about them reminded her of a moment, half a lifetime ago, when it had been her in their position, gathered with two of her fellow Afortunados, green and nervous, a handful of young soldiers they'd befriended, and him: Marci's father.
The nature of the danger was different here, however, two-pronged. That from without was clear if not present, and when it reached them or the town, it would mean death if not stopped, but there was a subtler enemy: a poison and inertia in this place that would cripple any response capable of actually taking down the aberration-mad beast. Warden Ortega was a fearful man. For all that he tried to exude power and confidence, she could see it in his posture and feel it in his eyes. He would rather risk feeding the fire with more lives than changing the way that he did things. He knew the abuses. He had looked away from them for years. He was paranoid that at least one among the Tethered, were they to know their true power, would come for his head. He would let others die so that he might continue to live as he pleased.
She realised that she had sunk into thought for a moment and found herself both embarrassed and worried. It was ever a struggle, these days, to remind people that her mind was as sharp and functional as ever, even if her body had all but given up. "Sorry," she joked, marshalling a rueful smile onward, "going senile after all, it appears." Consuela - no, Jocasta - had opened another portal. The Afortunado were entering, from Oscar, the oldest, to Laelle, the newest initiate. Abdel, who the cardinals disliked so, and Felix and Luisa, the lovers who were ever nestled beneath the ranches of the Great Naranja. With quiet greetings and mostly solemn faces, they took their places. Amanda could feel herself slipping to the side as Marci shifted and was about to pull upon the Gift to right herself, when the girl pushed her gently back upright.
"Zarina speaks truly," she began, heart pounding, or so she imagined. She chose her next words carefully. "They are not friends, but... keepers at best, and a keeper's job is to placate the beasts." Her eyes darted from face to face. "We have an army here," she continued. "It's that simple. Four hundred Tethered, plus yourselves and the Afortunado, with even rudimentary training, will make short work of that Wyrm, aberration-mad or not." A stray lock of hair had spilled over one of her eyes and Marci reached up to brush it free. "Thank you, mi vida," said mother to daughter.
"The problem is," Amanda concluded, "the warden and much of the staff, especially those with guilty consciences, will never let it happen. They fear that we will rise up and kill them all." Her eyes flicked over in Jocasta’s direction. “But they are wrong. We do not want violence. We want purpose: to be people, like all of you are. Yet, we are not whilst we are here, and we will never be so long as they remain in charge.” Again, her eyes found Jocasta, and the younger woman took up the story.
“By now, All of you know that I used to live here, and now you've also seen the Gift that I have." She shrugged and knitted her hands in her lap, not quite knowing what to do with them. "When I was eleven, I was asked to join the Afortunado because I would use my power with or without training, and it was a way for them to control me. Nobody here would ever say no, and I was no exception. Maybe you've seen those clovers on the tree. You've seen the one for Consuela.” Jocasta pursed her lips for a moment and nodded. “She was somebody dear to me: somebody I saw every day. Like mine, her memories were erased when she arrived here and, with them, much of who she was. For most of us, the abuses of the Refuge are subtle things: brainwashing, a design meant to confine rather than free us, a stunted sense of purpose, experiments that don't feel like what they are, drugs in your food once you hit puberty to make you less... hormonal, to keep you sleepy and weak. Consuela avoided a lot of that by being one of the ‘Lucky Ones’. She trained so that, when she turned sixteen, she could be chosen to go on missions and kill people for whoever paid the Regure their price. It was macabre, sure, but she was desperate to see at least a small piece of the world that she knew was out there despite the caretakers’ best efforts to hide it from her."
Jocasta placed her hands nervously on her wheels and rolled back a half-push. For a moment, she was the scared child that Amanda remembered standing by the gatehouse on a dusty Rezaindian day as storm clouds gathered in the sky. It made the elder Tethered miss her arms dearly. How she would've wrapped one each around her daughter and the other she had once called 'little sister'. "Instead," the young woman said quietly, eyes shifting down towards her lap, "a ranger named Gutierrez - Joaquin Gutierrez - raped her." Her fists clenched around the folds of her dress and she looked back up, swallowing. "Again, and again, he raped her. She was neither the first nor the last girl and he was not the only man to do things like that, but I was so afraid of him and those like him - we all were - that there was nothing we dared to do. We believed that they were much stronger than us." Jocasta nodded bitterly. "Consuela was fourteen when he put a baby in her and she was so lost that she hid it for months, until the Vulture found it as he was 'checking on her wellness' one day. She had been throwing up. I always held her hair out of the way." The Tethered reached up, absently, and brushed some hair from her face.
Jocasta's eyes found the window for a moment. She took a deep breath in and let it out. "I went to the warden's office to tell him what Gutierrez had done. I'd had enough of sitting by as he destroyed us.” She wrapped her arms around herself protectively. “He told me that it would be alright and that he would handle the problem. He told me what a good girl I was for telling him.” She raised her eyes, daring anyone to interrupt her now. “So they told her that she would have to have her baby elsewhere. That she would have to leave the Refuge for a few months. They fed her a fine meal before departure and Gutierrez sat across from her at the table. Instead, the food was drugged. They strapped her to a table and ripped the baby from her body. They took her out into the desert to murder her and bury the corpse. Two of them disappeared, but the girl was gone too.”
The young woman’s lip quavered. She took a steadying breath. “She looks different now, since she had to change, but sometimes, I still see Consuela,” she said simply, “when I look in the mirror.” Her eyes flashed and she met those of the others, “Because she’s me,” she squeaked, barely choking the last bit out. Jocasta wrapped her arms around herself and a tear raced down her cheek. When a couple of people moved to comfort her, however, she held out a hand to forestall it.
She swallowed momentarily and there was steel in her voice when it returned. “I tell you what I have because I need you to understand - I want you to understand - that this is what a Refuge is like. This is what all of the polite, smiling people in their nice robes condone and continue. They cannot be convinced or reasoned with. This is what happened to me, it was what was soon to happen to Marceline. Someday, it was going to happen to Laelle, to Rita, even to some of the boys. They suffer too. It is why the warden and his flock cannot be in charge and it is why I killed Gutierrez.” She watched them then, a mixture of fear, sadness, defiance, and even fury in her eyes. “That is why I killed the Vulture. They were evil. You would do best,” she warned, “not to condemn my decision.”
After a long moment, Jocasta closed her eyes and breathed: once, twice, and then a third smaller one. She put her hands on her wheels as if about to go somewhere, before realising that there was no space even to manoeuvre in the small, crowded room. Instead, she took her fingertips and drummed on her knees with them. “I will also not kill again,” she promised. “Aside from the warden, the other people here are bad, but not evil. They cannot, however, be left in control.” Jocasta’s eyes took in the entire room. “Tomorrow morning, we will move to neutralise the Owls, the Cardinals, and the Warden. They will fall unconscious. They will be fed the poison they use when they need us sedated. We Tethered will control our destiny.” She looked at Amanda.
“We will train the children to use the Gift and we will employ that against the sand wyrm and any other threats that appear. It will be as nothing for us, even the half-trained. It will die as it needs to, miles from our gates. Then, we will employ the Gift, in peace, to grow our crops, to mend our clothes, and to clean our rooms. Where our bodies may fail us, the Gift shall uplift.”
“Any who come in good faith,” said one of the Afortunado, “are welcome to remain, to teach us, to learn from us, to live among us, but we will not be treated the way that we have been any longer.”
“I’ve been writing a letter,” said Marci. She scooted forward a bit, standing unsteadily. “One mama dictated to me.” Slipping through the crowd, she hobbled over to the ancient desk. From its small drawer, she pulled out a sealed envelope and held it up between her thumb and fingers. “In here is our petition to King Sancho.” She glanced uncertainly at Amanda, who nodded encouragingly for her to continue. She looked the five students in the eyes. “It has our entire plan and how we will make it work. It has our evidence and witness test…” She paused, forgetting a word. “Well, reports and our words, from us. It has our promise to live in peace and to always remain loyal to this country should it need us. With it, we will send the Refuge’s senior staff. Finally, it contains an invitation for the King or someone he trusts as his eyes and ears, to come and visit and see us.” Marci held it out towards the five.
“But it must be delivered,” said Amanda, “by people who do not have a prior stake in our fight. That sends a stronger message. It gives us a better chance.”
Nearly a dozen pairs of eyes, of all colours and ages turned to the five students, watching hopefully.
Ayla feels like she has just entered the Refuge's council of the wise as those who were present are the Afortunado, and those held in high regard. She had listened to the words, words that reflected her own plans and ambitions, it was the perfect moment she was waiting for as an opportunity to spring into action. She had sought counsel with her colleagues, Zarina and Yalen, and despite their misgivings, they saw the great opportunities she could offer.
Ayla brought herself forward after a big breath as she curtsied towards Amanda, with a smaller courtesy towards the others in the crowd. "We are guests to your home, and you have shown us great generosity and friendship in your welcome." She directs herself towards Amanda, whilst her voice seems to appear directed towards all within the room, “We have heard your words and you have shown that our thoughts align greatly, but before we begin, we have a vision that must be shared.”
Ayla begins to start unscrewing the caps of the ink bottles which line along the table. She offers a large smile especially towards the younger ones in the audience, a mischievous grins as something exciting were to begin as she moves her hand to show off the unassuming bottles. The ink starts to rise up like a snake from the bottle, her eyes widened in mock surprise as she notices the innocent wonder in some of the faces as starts to begin her show. Ayla claps her hands towards as the ink blotches start to form shapes in the air, taking on a pictorial format of her words to keep everyone entertained as she spreads her message. Her voice adopts a light sing-song manner, soft and almost mesmerising, practised over a great many performances from back home in Varrahasta.
The tones resonate like honey within the ear drums of those listening, "There is a vision, the creation of a comunidade - community, where those no longer welcomed within society are brought under its roof, providing the protection and warmth of a new casa - home." The ink starts to take shape roughly outlining the refuge, though somehow appearing more welcoming and less foreboding, like a mansion instead of a fort.
"This casa is not in the middle of the desert and remote, surrounded by endless yellow sand, but vibrant with the colour green and a long flowing river.", the ink shines blue as it wiggles through the green alongside the building; those astute in Torragonese geography may associate the wiggle with the characteristic bends of the Arapora river.
"Unlike those that display a fachada, this casa is filled with hope. The casa is filled with a sense of purpose, a casa governed by the very people it serves.", the yellow sun now adorns a smiley face as the mansion seems to glow in contrast to the other ink.
"Life is filled with calamidade - tragedy, this makes us feel vulnerable, scared, and shy away from those around us. This can bring us a life without direction, a life without purpose, a hope without hope.” The Ink starts to become dark and foreboding, now starting to resemble the refuge that those present are familiar with. ”We must do our best not to be scared and stand forte - strong, for a life without purpose, without hope, is a life not worth living at all. What matters in our lives, however long it is, is what we do with it. It is the memories we make, the bonds we forge, the happiness we share." The ink seems to collect together in a ball, then it starts to sprout upwards into the shape of a tree… a naranja tree like the one by the pond! The bark is strong, the leaves glistening green, the fruit ripe and juicy.
"This Refúgio is a place for those with the tethered to die. That casa is a home for those with the tethered to live." A very ripened Naranja fruit drops from the drink as the rest shrink away, peeling and unfolding to create the scene by the river again.
"This Refúgio is a place for those with the tethered to die. That casa is a home for those with the tethered to live." A very ripened Naranja fruit drops from the drink as the rest shrink away, peeling and unfolding to create the scene by the river again.
Ayla looks around the room at every person, a serious gaze, not a smirk or a hint of a joke in sight, "You don’t want a hospício, you want an orfanato, a home where you now have a new family who loves you, a place of safety where you can build your own futures and live it, no matter the length of the days. In this Casa, you are no longer tethered, you shall become the untethered, free to fly like the Rolieiro!" The ink turns into the beautiful blue birds as they flap their wings and disappear back within the ink bottles.
Ayla provides a light bow to those around for politely watching her show before she turns around to talk to Amanda directly, her eyes looking towards Jocasta briefly hoping she has her friends' support.
"Amanda, you are the leader here, not by title but by the respect those here have for you. You have seen my vision, you have seen my intentions. Together, we can make this Casa. It is not a fantastical story, but reality. Ayla Arslan, will use my influence to petition King Sancho to make this so. All that is needed is your support and assistance of the Afortunado, because only by working together can we turn this vision into reality."
Ayla moves forward to offer her arms out in friendship towards Amanda, boldly moving after her display to unite both factions towards this shared purpose.
Yalen chewed on his thumbnail as he absorbed the presentation. He had been told this would happen. He couldn't help but feel they were trying to move past Jocasta's part as quickly as possible, but he did not protest. This wasn't the right place to talk about it, though he had a painful urge to do so. Naturally his shock should have been much greater after hearing Jocasta's admission of guilt, but nobody present was aware of the conversation he'd had prior to arriving here.
The room had grown uncomfortably quiet after Ayla finished her moving speech. It seemed everyone had been stunned silent by the beauty of it. Yalen finally broke that silence with a raised hand.
"I am an outsider, but you can plainly see that I share your burdens." Yalen raised his outer coat so that the brace around his leg could be seen. "At first I was unsure why I was called here, but now I think I know why. I am an example of what you deserve to be, and that is what we will show to the king. This is the promise I made to my friend, and now to all of you. When this is over, you won't just be safe. You will be free. We will make sure of it." Having said his piece, Yalen locked his eyes with Ayla's and nodded. The floor was now open for the others.
With the main issue addressed and the room a tad more populated, Zarina directed her attention to the newcomers and those that were going to be crucial to their endeavour against the maddened beast. One of them was Abdel, the boy who had approached her. She shared a glance with him, prompting her own eyes to narrow. She had thought about him, the previous night, about where she had seen that symbol before. It had only been during the desert trip, however, that it finally hit her.
When Jocasta’s turn came to speak with a conspicuous lack of stuttering, she could very much feel Zarina’s unmoving gaze locked onto her. But that focused stare lost its strength fairly quickly with her brow relenting and her breathing temporarily halted as it all converged into an awful conclusion. Before the blonde even revealed she was Consuela, the Virangish exhaled from her nostrils and lowered her head, eyes closed. Then finally, confirmation of what she had suspected.
Amanda and Ayla then went on to express their ideas. A comfortable contrast to the dark story of the long gone Consuela, ”I have to ask.” she spoke up, right after Yalen’s pledging of his support for the cause of freedom, ”Was this all planned? Our presence here with the aberration and Jo keeping us in one piece?” her arms crossed and her entire back leaned against the wall by the wooden beam.
Zarina’s attention was then directed specifically toward Jocasta, ”I do not condemn anything you’ve done, y’know.” she employs a softer tone than usual as an opener, ”I’d have done the same. If not worse.” she tightened her grips on her own arms as if bracing herself. She firmly stands her ground and solemnly adds, ”But I can’t allow the killing of the Warden. Not if you guys want this happy conclusion to have a chance of happening.”
Kaspar remained silent through Jocasta’s revelation, but his eyes shut and his breathing became very tight and regulated. As horrifying as her story was, it was one that did not sting him with his own experience. He could take the emotions he felt now, move them out of the way, and find something good to do now. For Jocasta, and for all those who had witnessed similar horrors at this so-called refuge. Though something like fear prickled in his chest when she admitted to killing her abusers, Kaspar shoved it away harshly. Perhaps his own code kept him from wanting to hurt another, but he’d never been so wronged as Jocasta—as Consuela had. He refused to pass judgement on her.
Ayla’s speech brought some ease to his frustrated state, even if just for the chance to imagine the bright future they desired. Hearing the conviction his classmates spoke with was heartening, knowing that they felt something like what he felt.
Listening to Zarina’s words, he nodded slowly. With a soft voice, the crimson-eyed boy intoned, “Zarina speaks a likely truth. Killing the Warden, while understandable, may tempt some to see this as a rebellion to be stopped instead of a justified retaking of rights.” His eyes swept the assembly, and paused briefly on Jocasta. While he offered no comforting words—and it seemed she would not welcome them right now—he gave a slow, steady nod. A sign of acceptance, of something bordering agreement.
His gaze continued on, though something wound tighter in his chest with every passing moment. As he reached the other edge of the group, he shut them for a moment and breathed in deeply. “You should be the only one to decide the course of your own life. It is not my place to apologise, and I imagine apologies are not want you want, but I—“ Kaspar paused for a moment, eyes flitting to his classmates before continuing, ”We would like to help secure this future for you—if you’ll allow us.”
There were many kind words spoken, and many earnest ones. Hands were taken in embrace. People held hands and murmured excitedly at Ayla's presentation. One by one, the members of the group pledged their support and Amanda was relieved to find that it was unanimous. She glanced at Jocasta and the younger woman's relief was palpable as well. She let out a long breath, feeling the tension leave her... at least in a sense. It was not as strange as it should've been, to not be able to feel her body anymore: to be a head and a neck detached from all other sensation. Her losses had been gradual and persistent and she had grown used to them.
But I've done it, she thought. At the very end, I have. It was almost too much for her and she blinked back tears. She would see her people free before she died. She would see precious Marci - the smart, beautiful, loving young person who had come from her - free. She would see Consuela, who had been so sweet, gentle, and loving as a child let go of the bitterness that had taken over her soul.
She couldn't hold the tears back any longer and they spilled out of her. Amanda cried: a soft, happy sobbing that heaved her chest and blurred her vision. After a moment of absently trying to wipe away tears with the back of a hand that was not hers to feel, she remembered to use the Gift to move it. Marci, alarmed, leaned in with a kerchief to dab the rest. "Mom, why are you crying?" she begged. "This is a happy time, isn't it!"
Amanda took the deepest breath that she could and blinked a couple of times. "Happy tears, mi vida. I promise."
"Happy for me too," agreed Marci. Many among the Afortunado nodded and voiced their agreement.
"As for your part in this," Jocasta said, turning to look in Zarina's direction. Something in her eyes had changed. "You are not mere tools, at least to my knowledge." She shook her head. "This was something that I had in mind for quite some time, though my ideas were undirected: only an outpouring of anger."
The blonde set hands to wheels again, as if anxious to pace, to move, to not be confined in a small, static space. "Marceline and I talked yesterday evening. And then I spoke with Amanda in the morning."
Amanda, having gathered herself, nodded. "We told her about what we had been hoping to do, waiting for the right opportunity to do."
"We talked her down from it," said Marceline.
"And I'm glad you did," Jocasta admitted. She gestured toward her fellow students. "And you five too." She took a deep breath and glanced out the window for a moment. "Sometimes it isn't easy to hold back when you... are what I am, when you have the Gift like I do. It isn't easy to find people who will say 'no' to you." She smiled wanly. "Thanks for being those people, sometimes."
"In short, it was a coincidence," Amanda concluded, “unless the school knew something, but I don't see how they could have.”
For what it was worth, a strange feeling passed through Jocasta's stomach. She thought of the Paradigm. Perhaps someone like him might know. Perhaps he had... She shook her head, somewhat visibly. Now was not the time to bring that up. It would only serve as a distraction. "I actually have theories on that, Zamira, but we will talk later." She caught herself. "Wait, no, Zarina. Ugh, I'm sorry. I've gotten into the habit now. I'm a bitch. Really."
"I can confirm that," Amanda agreed. "It's her little passive-aggressive thing she's been doing since she was a kid. I was 'Manta' for a whole month at one time." She shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"How about the Warden?" prodded Felix, and it took people a moment to pick him out from Kaspar while he was seated on the corner of the bed.
"He will not go down easily," Amanda declared. "Not at all, but Tio Manuel-" She paused. "That is Head Ranger Escarra to you," she told the students from Ersand'Enise. "-Is speaking with him right now. Hopefully, he will see sense. If not, we Afortunado will hold him down with the Gift and Jocasta, Marci, and the head ranger will drug him in the morning." She looked about the room. "I want this to be bloodless. Our friends from far away are right." She used her magic to lift her arms and spread her curled fingers apart. She clapped her hands twice in mimicry of the very man whose fate they had just discussed. "Now, we have our roles and our lines. Any last questions?"
Ayla shakes her head, as there are no further questions from herself. It appears the Afortunado already had a plan in place with how to deal with the Warden during the meantime. "There are only fine details left. We can review and rewrite the petition if required to give it the best opportunity before King Sancho. Regime change under Escarra sounds like a good interim plan whilst we deal with the other threat. We should start training in the morning, get everyone prepared, even those outside of the Afortunado. If we all work together, we can deal with Shai-Aberração. Not sure if reinforcements from the Academy would be possible, too far away."
Before the meeting convened and everyone started to clear out, Yalen addressed his fellow students. "I know we will all be busy preparing ourselves, but I would be honoured if you could spare a moment before taking to your beds tonight. Please, let us meet in the common room in an hour."
The meeting was reaching its end. Emotions flared, hearts poured out and anxieties were quelled in this brief but important exchange. Zarina pushed herself off her corner, arms stretched up to prompt a little yawn, ”Sounds like we got a plan. If you need anything, Amanda,” she then lets her arms fall limp along her sides and eventually lets her hands rest on her hips, ”this little one knows where to find me. And I’m quite the light sleeper.” she briefly directed her attention to Marceline, and then flashed a smile at her.
Then, she looked over at Jocasta, eyebrow raised and her posture unchanged, ”Oh so you were fucking with me the whole time?” she nods with her lips sucked in, ”Impressive. I respect the commitment. You didn’t even slip up once. Almost thought you were a tad dim.”
Jocasta merely winked at Zarina's response. "Like I said." She pointed at her chest. "Huge bitch." She mirrored her... friend's? grin and waited for the others to file out.
Zarina then smiles a toothy grin and winks before turning to Yalen, ”Only if you bribe me with food, mini-Padre.” he earned a tap on the shoulder, at least, as she began to evacuate the room with the others. Not before giving a passing glance to Abdel, however.
"Little one!?" protested Marci, "I'm like... maybe two years younger than you!" She scooted forward and stood up. "If I get outta this stinkhole - no offence, mom - we're gonna be classmates, you know." She narrowed her eyes playfully.
Zarina opened her arms in a taunting manner as she turned back, still taking some steps back, “And you're like two feet shorter.” she stuck her tongue out.
"Schweinhund!" the second-youngest (for Laelle was younger) of the group retorted. "I'm not done growing and my Papa was tall! Frederick Hohenfelter: look him up! He was six-foot-two, mom said. She even measured!"
Marci sighed. It had just occurred to her that she would not be walking for more than another couple of years anyhow. Still, by Oraff, she'd take what she could, while she could.
The teens were all doing what they did and what they deserved to do at their age. That conflict and danger had found them, Amanda was sorry for, but not too sorry. The right - small - dose of those things was the spice of life. Her best moments had come amid peril. Marceline had been conceived in a tent, on a cold night, in the face of an impending enemy attack that had threatened both Amanda and her dear Frederick. "None taken," she replied to Marci. "This place is objectively awful." She smiled ruefully. Then, the two youths were taunting each other, her daughter so desperate to be tall. She mentioned Frederick, then, and heat rose in Amanda's cheeks. "I did not measure your father," she protested.
"You said you liked that he was tall, mom," Marci shot back, the little shit that she was. "You took out a measuring tape and measured him while he was sleeping."
"Filthy lies!" Amanda protested, her mind wanting to get up and follow the others, to ruffle Marci's hair and tease her back about something, but they were walking now - the younger girl poorly, but at least walking, and she could only follow with the Gift. She let out a sigh and relented. "You win, little pumpkin. That'll teach me to trust you with my deepest, darkest secrets."
Abdel watched the girls tease and taunt each other. He had always liked Marceline, though she was a year older and had paid him little attention aside from the expected friendlinesses. Zarina was something else entirely, though. He nodded at her significant look and waited just outside the doorway.
Idle and antsy while she waited, Jocasta popped a wheelie and leaned back against the desk again, resting her elbows on it. It was less than comfortable as the drawer's little handle jabbed into her back. After a moment, she eased back onto all four wheels and turned on the spot, pulling it out.
She'd always found the old desk an interesting piece of furniture, even as a girl. It was so ancient and... the drawer had always seemed weirdly small. Come to think of it... Jocasta furrowed her brow and, gently, being sure not to break it, pulled the entire thing out from the desk. "Hey!" shouted Amanda. "You, blondie barbarian!"
Jocasta turned guiltily, the dislocated drawer still on her lap like a hand in a cookie jar. "Who? Lil' old me?"
"Why are you destroying my furniture?"
"Oh, sorry," the younger woman replied. "I um... just had a notion."
"Well, have better notions, then."
"Hasn't this drawer always seemed kind of... small to you?"
Amanda tilted her head to one side. "I don't measure my drawers."
"Oh, but you measure your men."
Amanda flushed - "Bruja!" - and Jocasta grinned. "Oh, but he was beautiful, though."
The blonde blinked, shaking the drawer and reaching out with great focus in the Gift. She could feel it: the dust shaking around beneath what appeared to be the bottom, in addition to something larger. "Hah!" she exclaimed triumphantly. "It's a false bottom, and there's something in it! I told you!"
"Well, don't just tease me now," said Amanda, gathering the Gift and leaning forward. "Break my priceless antique and tell me what's in it."
Feeling along where wood met wood, Jocasta seized upon the glue and tiny nails that held the pieces together. As she had in the service of the Volti many times over, she broke in with minimal fuss. A letter tumbled out onto her lap, old and yellowed and with a grand wax seal. She read aloud. "Something... Arslan," the Dorvalish woman exclaimed, eyes darting to the retreating figure of Ayla.
Ayla was still waiting to exit the room having already said goodnight to Jocasta and an offer to speak to her later, saying farewells to the others. With being one of the smallest, she is used to waiting for her turn to leave. She only had passing awareness of the various conversations between each of the participants, though the loud giggling about measuring the height of Marci's father was hard to miss. "Hohenfelter... there might be a student by this name at the academy by this name...", she muses the name, but unable to gather any further details, perhaps this is something she could look up on her return.
After a few moments and Jo seeming to destroy Amanda's furniture within her room, she is brought to consciousness as she listens to her name being called out, looking up and around towards the others as they seem to be fixated in her direction. "You now have my attention, amiga", tilting her head towards Jo to offer a smile, but perplexed as she notices the intense gaze, recognising that instead of her first name, it was her family name that was being address. "My family. My name Ayla Arslan, Filha of Duque Duarte Arslan, Protector of the Arapora River, Guardian of Varrahasta."
"Wait!" says Marci, "what did you just mumble? Something about a student?" She darted forward, relatively speaking. "Do you know someone from my family?"
Ayla shakes her head towards the girl, "It is not the first time encountering such a name, there is a familiar sounding name bore by another student at the academy." She offers an apologetic smile, "It is was something that could be explored further when opportunity arose. Did not mean to encourage false hope but willing to investigate this for you."
Marceline blinks. She has memories of brothers. They are fuzzy and indistinct, as are all memories that the vulture has tampered with. She decides to let things go... mostly. "When you do that 'looking into', how about we do it together, then?" she recommends. Then, Jocasta is playing with her mother's furniture and a whole big exchange ensues. Marci goes silent and listens.
She nods with a smile, "Happy to ask Hugo if the academy are enrolling more students as well."
Jocasta takes a couple of pushes forward and her and Ayla come together, Amanda craning her neck in the background and making pouty noises, Marci stealing glances over, and Abdel lingering in the doorway. "Looks old, amiga so might not exactly be about your kind of Arslan." She hands it to Ayla and looks on expectantly.
"You know," grunts Amanda, finally giving in to curiosity and lifting herself from the corner of her bed with the Gift, "they say the Red tower is the oldest building here: the original, and this was a fort." She settles into her chair and folds her hands across her lap.
"There are over 800 years of Arslans stretching back to the Hierbamonte in the Northeastern Steppes of Parrence. It is said our progenitor rode a Lion into battle under King Arcel!", she gives a smile, that part may be poetic, but always brought fond memories at bed time where they discussed his heroic deeds. She looks down towards the aged note as she starts to look through the letters, the parchment was certainly old, and how it managed to survive in this condition probably has to do with the dry air and lack of humidity in these parts. The script was in old Tourrare, a language which she was not versed in personally, but she was able to understand in the context of archaic Torragonese and Parrench roots. She carefully examines the seal upon it, a reversed Arslan Lion, carefully breaking it so she could review the seal in greater detail later, as she opens the envelope, unfolding the pages inside to read their contents.
The note is strange and archaic in its language and difficult to read, but Ayla is more or less able to make sense of it:
“To our allies, the Unmoved,
This land is promised in perpetuity as thanks for the assistance of your colony in our endeavour at Avasor.
She pauses for a second. 'Avasor' - "Red Water'' - was the old name of Varrhasta, from before the glorious conquest. She continues.
Rest assured that the House of Arslan has the ear of the King and his personal word on this matter. We are not people to renege on our promises, nor are our allies, the Frannemas.
She pauses again. The Houses of Frannemas and Arslan have hated each other since time immemorial - since before even the conquest, she has heard. While the former controls the greatest land holdings of any noble house beside the King's, the latter are masters of the great port of Varrahasta, and much of its abundant wealth.
All land from fifty leagues north of the end of the navigable Mererrapora Pequeño at Villaseca for a square area of fifty leagues in each direction is to be granted to your people. We will discuss the matter further upon my visit.
Ayla folds the letter away and places it back in the envelope with a sigh. "This is a cáliz envenenado - poisoned chalice. It may be used as a bargaining chip by offering to renounce the claim to further your petition to the King." She looks around to see that she has only gained more interest in the letter, then reluctantly speaks further, "It is a promise for a land grant in appreciation for the efforts the original owners of this Refuge in their support during the formation of Torragon. Land that has since been under the ownership of House Frannemas and developed over the past 300 years. It is a promise that would not be enforceable today." She secures the letter delicately, "Keep it safe. We will speak more when we review the petition together. It could help secure your original goal".
How exciting it had been, to have a room full of people: to be planning something great, to be gathered in a common cause, laughing and joking in the face of uncertainty and danger. It was a throwback to her life of a decade ago, and one she thought that she'd never experience again. The door had closed, though, they had left through it, and Amanda was once again alone, as she so often was. She knew that she had little enough to complain about. Those in the rooms around her had not known excitement like that since moving to the red tower. Many had not been visited so much as once following their first year here. You are blessed that your final years should be this meaningful. She sat there, in her wheeled-chair, taking a handful of deep breaths. She wanted more, though. The sheer emotional load of the past two days had broken the back of her cloistered serenity: had made her laugh and cry, love and dream and want again. The idea that there might yet be a bold future out there, where people like her could find a place in the world... she found herself terribly, bitterly jealous of those who would get to live it if, indeed, their plans came to fruition.
I will be remembered, though, she told herself by way of consolation. This thing that is me, that will be gone soon: people will know that she existed, that she did good. Those people would not laugh with her, though. They would not sit arm in arm at a beer hall in Mandelein, singing drunkenly without a care for those few precious hours. They would not hold her close, run their hands up and down her body, and bring her ecstasy. They would not share secret smiles and play chess games under a colonnade by moon and candlelight. She had let go of it all, but now it was back. What a life you have lived! she insisted to the rebellious part of her mind that raged anew against the light and its dying. What things you have seen and done, for one so afflicted - for anyone! She thought nothing for a moment. But how much more could you have done in a different life? How much will Marceline get to do? And it was that last thought that placated her, finally. Perhaps, someday, Marci would think it not daft to measure a man in his sleep, to try to jump on the back of a rhinodon and ride it, or to spend three happy days and nights winding her way through streets filled with revelers. Many of the things that were her would live on through her daughter, and her daughter would have a chance at a better life because of her actions. It was something. Amanda seized on it and tried to be done with it.
Drawing upon the Gift, she rolled up to the window and looked out across the Refuge for a long few moments: the place where she had spent her entire life, save those blessed months out on missions, save her time with Frederick. Part of her longed to see him again, before she was finished, to be loved; part of her dreaded it. She couldn't let him see her like this: a withered husk of a person that struggled even to hold her head up straight at times. Best to let him remember her as she had been, and the reverse was true as well. He'd alluded more than once to the desperate misery of his arranged marriage, to the crushing sense of duty that buried everything else he had wanted to be. Now, some fifteen years had passed, and time rarely made things better. Assuming he was still alive, he'd likely be some unremarkable middle-aged nobleman: deep into his cups every night, pulling himself together to manage his accounts and drill with his soldiers, sleeping in a bed separate from his wife, and living vicariously through his sons... what had he said their names were? Jurgen and Manfred? She had never met the boys.
Marceline - her name out there had been Nina, according to Frederick - had been loved, at least. Amanda had gathered that much from the girl's splintered memories. Now, I send you back out into the world, my precious one, my legacy. For all of the hope that she held, it killed her inside, as surely as the disease that ravaged her body, that Marceline would have perhaps twelve more good years, while the friends that she had made would live fifty, sixty. They would spend their youths at the school together and then go their separate ways, keeping in touch when they could. Amanda did not know this for a fact, but Frederick had told her how it was the way of the world and he'd had no reason to lie. But, as her friends started families and endeavours, dear Marci would be dying the entire time. Her hands would start to go and the people who she cared about would gradually distance themselves from her, not out of cruelty but practicality. Like her mother, she would not be able to do much. She would be a lead weight. You don't emotionally invest in people who don't have a future. If this works, I will have freed you. That was the best that she could do, and it was significant. It will fall to someone else - perhaps your own initiative - to cure you.
Amanda found herself alone with her thoughts again until footsteps pulled her from her melancholy, headed down the hallway at a brisk pace. They were ones that she recognized well, and she reached out with the Gift. "Tio Manuel," she said, turning as the door opened. He closed it behind him. His eyes were dark and worried - or as worried as they ever got, with him. She opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, but he preempted her. "The warden is dead," he said calmly. "I killed him."
Amanda's mind lit on fire, then. She struggled for words. Her uncle - who was really her father - placed himself at the corner of her desk, face tight, eyes flicking out her small window. "W-why?" she managed.
"He would not listen." Papa crossed his arms. "He wanted to throw those five and Consuela at the Wyrm and have them die so the school would send a Zeno." He shook his head. "He wouldn't let the Tethered learn so they could fight for themselves. He wouldn't call the duke. He wouldn't call the king. Nothing," he grated. "I tried it all."
Papa was usually short on words. When he talked this much, it meant that he was lying. "There's more," she replied, voice firm and patient. "What else?"
His eyes met hers unflinchingly. "He threatened you."
"Papa, we talked about it. I told you-"
"It is already bad enough that I cannot openly call you what you are, but one does not threaten my daughter to my face without consequence."
"Papa, please!" she begged, pulling upon the Gift to roll up to him. "It isn't worth it. I have maybe a year or-"
"He threatened Marci, mi vida." There was real anger on his face, now. His lip quivered. "He threatened both my girls, on top of risking how many other lives here?"
Amanda breathed, in and out. "So he's dead. Does anyone else know?"
"Only me and you."
She glanced down at her lap and then over her shoulder, at the window. "The others will not be happy. This endangers our whole plan."
His eyes lit up. "So, you're going through with it!"
The Tethered felt a flash of annoyance. "We have no choice now, but this will complicate things. It will complicate them greatly. The students know it too."
"I can keep it hidden until lunchtime tomorrow."
"It was one more night, Papa!" she hissed. "Ejerran Mio! I know he's awful, but..." She shook her head and it was hard - hard when she got wound up like this. The muscles were weak and the nerves unresponsive.
"I should have controlled myself. I am sorry, mija. You get all of your smarts from your mother, I fear, but I will do whatever I can to help."
"Tomorrow by lunch, we have?"
"He usually does his rounds then."
The wheels in her head were turning, running through a hundred scenarios. She nodded. "I need to speak with the others. I will give them one night of serenity, but we convene at breakfast." She took a calming breath. "I will come up with something by then."
"Yes, in the small room."
"Amanda..." He trailed off for a moment. "You haven't been there for three years."
Two years, nine months, and twenty-two days. The anxiety burned at the edges of her thoughts, threatening to overwhelm them. "I know," she replied, "but I must be there. You need to take me. We will win the day and then I will come clean on your behalf."
The grizzled ranger paused, feeling nothing if not the slight sting of shame. "That is something I will do myself."
They gathered then, an hour hence, in the common room of the guest dormitories where they were staying. It was utterly still and silent, much of the furniture covered in sheets that waited like dust-covered ghosts until Jocasta glided through the double doors, the air sparkling around her with dust disturbed from its slumber. She spun on the spot and sheets flipped and flew, folding themselves in midair and tucking away into closets and cabinets. A dozen candles lit themselves within their lanterns and a faint and ever-growing light took hold where there had been only gloom a minute earlier. The other students of Ersand'Enise filtered into the room, including the one who had called this get-together: Yalen Castel.
It was not him who drew the curtains on their proceedings, however, but one of the others: perhaps Ayla, Jocasta, or some combination. Whatever was said or done in that room remained unseen and unheard by outside senses until the students trickled back out. Only Jocasta and Yalen remained, for some time after their peers had left. Then, they too were on their way.
The Refuge in the middle of the High Desert of Inner Torragon slumbered, then: restlessly, fitfully. Froabasses circled in the sky and chattered and howled on the clifftops in the near distance. Lanterns twinkled into the endless darkness, and the leaves of the great Naranja tree by the pool stirred in the embrace of a chill wind. With it came a veil of clouds that obscured the three moons above: first Viejo, then Azogue, and finally Granrojo. Finally, beneath the cooling sands a creature, vast and ancient, hurtled through a canyon known as the Devil's Throat, its mind consumed by an inescapable madness, its actions senseless even by its own reckoning. Its anguished, furious roars split the stillness of the night, promising death to whatever stood before the beast when it was able to break free of its confines.
The Rain Comes
Morning came to the Refuge, cool and cloudy by its standards, and the children who called it home were soon gathered in anticipation in the courtyard, chatting excitedly and gesturing up towards the sky. Rainy days were rare. The last one had been just over a year ago. Some of the youngest, in fact, had yet to experience one and had no concept of rain in their memories beyond what they had been told and had read about in books.
It was against this backdrop that the revolution began. A dozen individuals gathered for breakfast around a large table in the Administrators' Tower. The floor was white marble and the furniture opulent in slightly worn, outdated sort of way. Manuel Escarra sat at the head in the high-backed chair that was usually the warden's. Beside him was Amanda, and she had introduced him as her uncle. "At this moment," she was saying, "across the Refuge, our people are in place and ready to neutralize those likely to resist us." Her eyes swept the room. "We do not wish for any bloodshed, but we will not be cowed either. This place will either change to meet the oncoming threat or perish in the face of it. I heartily wish for the former."
"The warden has already been taken care of," continued Escarra. "He will not be a problem, but we will need two people to assist with the Vice-Wardens. They are not weak. We must hold them down and sedate them, unless any of you are skilled in Chemical magic." He paused, brow heavy and furrowed. "They will be held in the basement of the Red Tower, under guard, fed and given water in shifts."
"We will also need two more to manage the younglings in the courtyard," added Amanda. "The rain is a blessing. It will keep them out of the buildings while we work. Gods willing, they will not even know what has happened until we call an assembly in the plaza."
"At 5:00 Shune, the gates will open for the morning scout patrol." Escarra's eyes went to the clock for a moment, before returning to the eleven young people before him. They had about fifteen minutes. "The bell will ring once the two rangers have left, and that will be the signal."
"When it is finished, I will need to see everyone back here," added Amanda. "There is another matter of import we all must discuss. Now... any questions?" she finished.
1) Amanda, Jocasta, and Marceline reveal all and the group pledge their support. In particular:
Amanda being Marci's mother.
Jocasta's tragic past.
The true nature of the refuge and the existence of the Afortunado.
Their plan to overthrow the existing power structure bloodlessly.
Their plan to fight the wyrm and live happily ever after.
2) Amanda is left on her own and more of her past is revealed, as well as her hopes for the future and her daughter, Marceline.
3) Escarra comes to visit and it is revealed that he is not her uncle but actually her father. He confesses to having killed Warden Ortega out of anger and a desire to protect both her and Marceline. Amanda is unhappy about it, but begins thinking up a plan as to how they might approach the complication.
4) Meanwhile, the six students meet in the dormitory common room and have a discussion, the contents of which remain unknown to outsiders. Yalen and Jocasta linger for some time afterwards. Outside, potential rain is in the air.
5) In the morning, everyone is gathered for breakfast in the Administrators' Tower dining room and Escarra is sitting in Ortega's seat. He and Amanda announce the start of the Revolution and ask for volunteers to help restrain the Vice-Wardens and keep the young children safe.
1) Feel free to play out that final group meeting of the six students.
2) What happens during the night and that foreboding, moody sleep?
3) Questions for Amanda and Escarra? Volunteering for one of the roles?
4) Let's collab, DM, or coordinate the coup about to take place!
For a moment, Manfred locked eyes with Eun-Ji and nodded. He'd been counting on her intervention and she hadn't let him down. It was refreshing to have at least one reliable element within the larger scope of this disaster. In the background, the Kerreman could hear Zarra going on like a yappy little dog, but he shot a glance back and saw that the shifty Perrenchman was actually following orders for once, so the rest was immaterial. For the time being, maybe two reliable elements, he conceded hesitantly.
Then, a new cluster of rioters broke into the rear atrium where the group was standing. One was swinging a table leg like a club, smashing gambling tables, mirrors, and light fixtures. Another was using arcane magic to melt into a safe, a third was smashing lockboxes and scooping coins into a sack, and a fourth went straight for the liquor behind the bar, drinking some and throwing bottles, lighting a few on fire. "Why the fuck don't we get a sniff!?" a smallish labourer bellowed. "Where does all the money go?" screamed a woman. A great big beast of a man was taking a sledgehammer to the walls. "Bread and circuses!" he shouted. "Bread and circuses," in an endless refrain. Upstairs, footsteps could be heard racing about, doors slammed, and shouts pierced the night. At this rate, it was not a matter of 'if' but 'when' things would get out of hand and the ship itself would be critically damaged.
"You!" bellowed one, leveling a pickaxe at Manfred like a pointer, "Rich boy!" The cut of Manfred's clothing, even though it was not ostentatious, gave him away. "Who's side are you on?"
For a moment, he was taken aback. There were six of these people, and at least a couple had clearly displayed some use of the Gift. Manfred did not give the unease that he began to feel any rent on his face, however. "I'm on the side of 'the Rednitz are kotzbrocken and so are most noble folks, but I'd rather not see anyone else die on this ship'." As he said it, however, the idiot who'd been shouting "bread and circuses" like a broken cuckoo clock, managed to finally stick his sledgehammer right through the wall and also the outer hull just beyond it. Cold, dirty water began to pour in and cracks started to form. Manfred's eyes widened. In his head, he recited the extraction words that he and Eun-Ji had been entrusted with, but there was time yet to save matters here. "I would also like this ship to not sink!" he added with some urgency, as the rioters stumbled back, wide-eyed and flinching away from their handiwork. "We can take your demands ashore and force them up the asses of those Rednitz pigs, but this sort of thing-" He gestured at the hole and the water pouring through it "-will only lead to many more labourers like yourselves dying and your overlords being able to sit there on their powdered arses confirming to each other what mindless brutes you all are!"
Drawing on the motion of the water, Manfred lifted the same chandelier cap he'd used to knock out that arcanist earlier and shoved it in there with a kinetic blast. It just about fit, but it was clear that it wouldn't hold for long without some reinforcement: magical or mundane. The water had spread all along the floor now, but was leaking through planks and lower into the cargo hold. Just to think about it: how many incidents like this one were happening elsewhere in the ship? We have to drop everything, he thought, and stop this riot, or it will be the death of hundreds! He had seen Leon, of course, throwing the Lyre. The performer was a wildcard, maybe even daft, but he was not outright mad. Mostlike, it was another illusion, and Manfred had to trust the instinct that told him so. He also reasoned that he should trust the one that told him to put a stop to the riots. It was right about then that he turned to look for Dory in the hopes that she yet stirred. He wanted to apologize to her for his drastic actions and see if he might enlist her in his endeavour. Fiery and - at times - unreasonable though she might have been, she cared about the people of Feska and about being seen as someone who would fight for them.
The only problem was that, when he looked, she - along with Zarra - was gone.
The sun set, leaving curtains of moody orange, fuchsia, and purple behind. As these graduated to midnight blue, the Eskandr offensive died a horrible death upon the beaches of Relouse.
One is told to fear old men in a profession where men die young, yet these ones died without posing much threat at all. They fought honourably. They fought ferociously, in many cases. They earned their places in Gronhall. Yet, they fell to the Perrench defenders and, were this the quality of the entire offensive, there was little doubt that the Quentics would hold out.
As the Eskandr on the beaches petered out, the defenders grew in confidence, shouting paeans to the gods, taunting their failing enemies, and striking directly against the seemingly endless fleet that approached, bottlenecked for some time by the wreckage at the cape. Yet, those strong enough in the Gift or perhaps simply clever enough, soon realized that something was wrong. It was around that time that panicked reports began flashing in from the Witch Wood of a large force making land there, scaling the cliffs or using the Gift to bypass them entirely. For some, visions of Vitroux danced in their minds' eyes. Others maintained that it was a diversion and that the main attack was on the beach. Yet, while there were longships, there were no more invaders. They simply stopped coming. The ships themselves, instead of sliding up against the intertidal cobble, dissipated once they reached land.
That was when the real panic began to set in. Columns abandoned the beach in droves, rushing north to where the small contingent of yasoi and Drudgunzeans were badly outnumbered. Some, however, opted to stay the course. Contradictory orders were shouted. Perrench soldiers, knights, and lords argued. Units became tangled up in each other. For all of its mighty size, the Grande Armee was a nightmare to actually command.
Yet, it was not long before riders arrived from the cape, including Baron Arslan himself, demanding an audience with the king. They swore that the Eskandr force was far more spread than what could be seen from the city, and that it had split. They urged people not to abandon the beach, for worse was coming: far worse.
Then, it happened: first, a massive lightning strike that battered the town's walls. Then another, a third, and a fourth. Sheets of it ripped across the sky. Tendrils splintered and spidered along the aged stone, blackening it. Onagers, catapults, and ballistas splintered. Thatched and wooden roofs burned.
But there was the rain, and the fires did not last against it. What had started as a persistent drizzle had been given time tor grow, to be nourished by a hundred other users of the Gift. It was now a mighty tempest, providing not only nourishment for the heaven-splitting thunder attacks but also drenching the the battlefield, lashing attackers and defenders alike with powerful winds, battering the fast-approaching longships.
Suddenly, they were real again. The first few defenders were caught unawares. Most of the beach's traps and preparations were gone. The first wave had lived and died solely for the purpose of exhausting them. When the ships did not dissipate and real flesh and blood Eskandr leapt from them, it was a cold shock to those who thought that they were merely here to guard and mop up. Less so for the prepared.
The city's defenders rained hellfire from the walls, then. Those on the beach organized and kept their shape, but this, now, was the true strength of the Great Heathen Army that they faced. Walls of flame rolled out from the approaching longships, decimating much of the small, tangled mangrove forest that had grown there over the past few hours. Chains and blades scythed across obstacles, defanging them. The water itself went nearly still where the ships sailed and massive agglomerations of energy made themselves felt. Then, the wind whipped back, reversing rouce into the defenders' faces. The air grew cold and the ground frosty and hail replaced rain. This came screaming at the Parrench now, blinding and pelting them. The Eskandr were nothing if not masters at using their environment to their advantage.
Still, the lightning came, the frequency of the strikes dizzying, and the city suffered. From the walls, arcane mages returned fire, smashing Eskandr ships before they could land, lancing through chests, limbs, and heads with beams of light, sending great roiling fireballs out into the night. The Tourarre horsemen raced back and forth, dodging enemy fire as they went and fighting when forced to as they relayed messages. It was heavy going and the Parrench found themselves pushed back to the harbour, the seawall, and the Porte-Bonheur.
Then, the King appeared, in full regalia, standing atop the parapets. A great bolt of lightning snaked across the sky to strike him, but disappeared before it could reach its target. Arrows disappeared. Eskandr as far away as the Witch Wood and the final few ships rounding Cape Redame collapsed, clutching their heads, chests, and throats. From his sheath, Arcel pulled Sanguinaire, the legendary sword of Echeran. "Hommes et femmes de Parrence," He roared and, somehow, everybody on the battlefield, no matter where they were, could hear him, "tenez ferme contre l'ennemi! Les dieux sont avec nous!"*1 With a grunt, he deflected another lightning bolt, this one aimed at the Harbour Gate. "Allez à la plage," he urged. "Défendez la ville!"*2
As he spoke, the soldiers of Parrence found themselves almost preternaturally buoyed. Fresh vigour flowed through their arteries. Doubt and fear dried up in their minds. Those near the beach found themselves further lifted as Queen Eleanor joined them, clad in shining plate armour. She waded into the thick of the onrushing barbarians, and their attacks, both mundane and magical, seemed to have little to no effect. Yet, the Southmen, how they flocked to her, each seeking the glory of having brought down the enemy's queen in open combat, each eager to sit near the head of the table in Gronhalle. By the dozen, she deflected them, pummeled them with great bursts of force, and flung them back into their allies or the frothing waters. The Parrench rallied around her banner, pushing back against the onslaught and defending the gate. They gained ground.
That's when the shouts started: "Le roi!" screamed one. "Le roi tombe!"*3 Some turned quickly and witnessed the sickening sight of the young King Arcel tumbling from the top of the walls, an enormous lance through his midsection. Limp and bloody, he fell into the river and sunk out of sight. A cry went up from some. Others, unengaged, rushed for the spot and dove in. There were those who reached out for the energy that might've denoted his presence, but it was extremely difficult in the heat and press of battle.
From a stillness in the storm emerged a great dark ship, twice the size of the others, with black and gold sails adorned with a horned kraken. A young woman with silver hair leapt off, streaking through the air on blazing tail of fire and landing in a crouuch. An old man in simple robes was next, clutching a gnarled staff. The very trees seeming to bend and lean towards him. There came a berserker next: lean, shirtless, and corded with wiry muscle, rushing past the others, two axes in hand and another four whirling through the air about him. Finally, there was Hrothgar.
The Eskandr king of kings stalked forward, great shadowy bats and vultures circling him, enfolded in spreading tendrils of darkness. His eyes glowed demonic red and the air itself seemed to recoil from his presence, cold and gusty. The darkness spread to engulf Parrench knights as they screamed and writhed, and when it touched his own soldiers, they swelled and howled, turning into snarling, slavering beasts.
Directly in his path stood Genevieve Chalamet, Baroness of Chambroix, and she was not cowed in the slightest. Lightning to rival that of the the as-yet unseen Eskandr master leapt from her palms and the sky alike. This struck the figure of Hrothgar and, for a moment, he stilled. It arced and sparked from his body and smoke rose from him. Then, he continued his march, drawing a great poleaxe and an even greater amount of energy from the sea behind him. The first he wirled efoore him, ever faster. The second, he slammed into her with such force that she hammered against the city walls and went limp. For a moment, the young baroness stuck fast, crumpled armour and ruined stone holding her up. Then, the battered figure slid down, leaving a trail of smudged blood, and dropped into the river.
Hrothgar cast his gaze about the weakling Greenlanders and there were those who stood in defiance. Yet, many shrank from him, their soft Gods unwilling to reward the glory of a death in battle. He seized upon the Queen's position and began drawing.
In the woods to the north, however, the concerns of the beach and the city walls were too distant to be relevant. The Eskandr were landing in ever greater numbers, probing deep into the forest. Their veteran rangers, under Vali the Twice-Born, called on all of their skills and power to survive the garden of horrors that had grown here and the relentless guerilla strikes of the yasoi in the trees. The very forest itself stood against their march, harbouring poisons, grasping thorns, and relentless illusions to confuse and terrify them. The storm above their heads struck at them with lightning, much of it redirected lovingly by the yasoi thunder practitioners hidden in the branches. The rangers did not lose their cool, however, and struck back where they could, even mustering illusions of their own to inflate their apparent numbers.
Yet, the real armies were coming. The majority of the cliff force, at least a couple thousand strong, arrived under Kol, the Death's Hand, and these followed his blood brother into the forest, a smallish, handsome man with gold hair and a cruel smile racing ahead with blinding speed, daggers in hand. The Strumish king's presentiment that they were marching into the web of some great spider proved correct, however. Among the yasoi lurked the someday-baroness of Loriindton, Talit'yrash'osmax. As she moved towards her enemies, the very fabric of reality seemed to come alive and follow her directive. She would appear, out of nowhere, in one spot and then in another - sometimes even seeming to be in two places at once. The roots and branches of the trees leapt out at Eskandr, dagger-tipped, to tangle, stab, and skewer them from every direction. Knives of hard water lashed up from the puddles, bogs, and ponds that had been born in the storm. The rain itself turned hard and sharp: a thousand tiny daggers that punctured skin, eyes, and eardrums. The water turned red with blood and the roots of the Blackbriar Trees grew engorged upon it. Those strong and brave enough to launch attacks saw them batted away effortlessly, the yasoi only having to lift a hand from her crutches maybe once or twice. Yet, the Southmen kept on coming and it was clear that this was no mere diversion. For the dozens that fell at the fifth-wheel witch's foot, came dozens more, each eager to claim for him or herself an honoured place in Gronhalle.
Elements of the Grande Armee, peeled off from the beach, drew near now and engaged the Eskandr in earnest. The king among them roared his battle challenge and carved a swath through his enemies. Yet, now his force found itself at an increasing disadvantage as numbers were concerned, even with some of the Grande Armee turning and rushing back towards the beach as the main invasion force began to land there. It was clear that the Parrench and their allies would have to hold the Eskandr here, else the city would be attacked from two directions and its already-battered defenses split. It was equally clear to the Eskandr that they would have to do something - anything - to alter the tide of the battle to the north: one where they were outnumbered and outgunned. Then, they came face to face: the king and the 'spider' he had sensed. At least... for a moment. Then, she was nowhere to be seen.
1) Men and women of Parrence, hold firm against the enemy! The Gods are with us!"
2) Get to the beach! Defend the city!
3) The king! The king falls!
1) There are four mighty warriors of the Æresvaktr present, and each will need to be dealt with if you are Parrench or an ally or assisted if you are Eskandr or an ally. They are:
Thorunn Silverhair: crown princess of Heglelich, her father was the one who was sent to the Visitor's tale in the opening chapter. She is in competition with her two brothers to distinguish herself in battle and win the crown. A complete pyromaniac, she is the arcane witch who sent that wave of fire forward that wiped out much of the forest.
Olaf the Aged: an elder shaman, Olaf has survived countless raids and battles. He is a master of the forest and the weather, a weaver of spells and poisons, and a healer of the land and its people. Chanting paeans to the gods, he has landed on the beach, turning much of Nettle's work against her allies.
Hrolf Bloodaxe: A tall, wiry berserker, he has leapt from his ship and raced ahead of his allies, cutting a swath of destruction through his enemies. He is an absolute wildman: extremely quick, nimble, and vicious. He dual wields axes that he both chops with and throws, calling them back to his hands with the magnetic powers of Thunder magic. He generates further crude axes by Blood drawing from fallen enemies and forming them. At any given time, there will be at least four (and up to ten) other blades under his control, forming both an offensive and defensive kill zone.
Sweyn Thunderspear: The foremost Thunder warlock of Eskand and perhaps the known world, the stern, towering figure of Sweyn, with his great forked beard and bristling eyebrows, remains hidden, as he is also an illusionist of some ability. He continues his relentless strikes against the city and any targets wearing conductive armour. His power and precision are not to be underestimated.
Horik the Gold: a deadly illusionist and assassin, Horik is small, wiry, and muscular, with long golden hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He uses powerful Force magics to boost his speed to inhuman levels, and Essence magics to suffer no ill effects while rendering his enemies, sluggish, ill, and impotent. Fading in and out of sight, he kills with knives and shortswords, licking the blood of his enemies from them in a macabre ritual. He has landed alongside Kol and Vali near the Witch Wood.
In total, the Æresvaktr is made up of:
1) The Nashorn 2) Horik the Gold 3) Hrolf Bloodaxe 4) Brunhilde of Hegelo 5) Sweyn Thunderspear 6) Olaf the Aged 7) Thorunn Silverhair 8) Kol, Death's Hand 9) Gudrid Fangtooth 10) Bjørn Coldfist
2) Queen Eleanor is a Priestess/Paladin type and an absolute defensive powerhouse who focuses on protecting her allies from harm. A near-fifth wheeler, she is very potent, but less versed in single combat with others of similar power. She will provide Force and Blood shields to anyone near her in need of them. If you'd like your character to slip up or nearly die without consequences during this chapter, now is a good time. She'll give all Parrench and allies one get-out-of-jail-free card via a shield.
3) In addition to his fiendishly strong Force abilities, Hrothgar is a grandmaster level illusionist, and he has a team of fellow illusionists, hidden within his forces, who are helping him to enhance his display. They are employing both Internal Essence (brain chemistry) and Arcane (light-bending) in this endeavour. This plan would be known to any Eskandr who attended his small council before the ships set off. He is much fond of psychological warfare and trickery. Some say that he is an avatar of the lesser god Joken, the trickster satyr who taught Sister much of her magic.
4) Not everyone has seen Arcel fall. It appears to mostly be high-ranking individuals who will give orders and affect the tide of battle. Those who dive into the river will not find a body. Eskandr in the distance continue to mysteriously drop dead. The death toll is over two hundred now. Some have started praying.
5) Nettle's storm around the beach is too far for her to directly control, so it has been co--opted by the Eskandr, particularly Olaf the Aged, and has been used against the defenders to a significant degree. If you have a character who can fight back and retake control of it, this is their time to shine!
6) Hildr the Red, a Kressian Knight of some renown, has declared for the Eskandr side and is present in this battle. However, she is not wearing her distinctive armour and heraldry and will be difficult to spot among the regular troops. Beware.
7) Lady Tali, a fifth wheel caster, has rolled a natural 20, 19, and 20 on her three big attacks and a 15 on her defense. The dice have spoken. If you are an Eskandr player in her vicinity, you are advised to be very careful and avoid facing her directly. There is a real chance of serious injury or character death. She needs to be stopped, from your side's perspective, but trying to overcome her with brute force is going to backfire disastrously.
1) For Parrench-aligned players, feel free to have your character engage with either mooks (which can be killed without approval) or the Æresvaktr. Just make sure that, if two or more people are going for the same target, you coordinate.
2) For Eskandr-aligned players, it is time to support your king(s)! Kol is under attack from the yasoi monster known as Lady Tali and could probably use an assist, despite his own legendary strength. Hrothgar is marching up the beach, crushing the Parrench as he goes, seemingly invincible, but he will not only be fighting Queen Eleanor, he will be a target for all sorts of opportunistic attacks. Don't forget about the assassin, Sir Rodric, and the many player characters.
3) For yasoi, the baroness has struck the enemy a mighty low and given you some breathing room, but the Eskandr keep coming. Now, the relief force from the Grande Armee is arriving. How will you capitalize? Will you fight your own battles, assist Lady Tali, or take on a dangerous enemy in single combat?
4) There are still plenty of PvP opportunities and I encourage this over fighting NPCs where possible. Just make sure that you collab and determine your ending.
5) The main thing this round, aside from reactions, is to pick your fights and start playing them out!
Talit’yrash’osmax sat among the branches of a yew tree, feeling the enemy’s approach, and began to draw energy to herself. Unlike those less practiced, unlike the humans, she did not draw all from one source, draining it, but rather in increments from many. Even so, such gentleness was difficult: akin to picking up fragile insects without harming them. With a deep breath, the yasoi rose and continued drawing. She could do this more quickly, of course, but she did not wish to disrupt her allies’ magic and the Eskandr host was taking some time to congeal anyhow.
Murmuring the words, Tali made the sign of the Pentad, calling on each of the five Bringers in turn. Her left hand, she brought to her right shoulder, feeling that arm fill with power. “Ypti,” she whispered. Her right hand came to her left shoulder, and it too crackled with magic. “Shiin.” That same hand shifted down her body and pointed to her leg. “Oirase,” she said quietly and all types of energy filled it. “Exiran.” Her left hand gestured at her stump. “Damy,” she concluded, bringing both hands together over her chest, pointing up towards her head. Her eyes fairly glowed with magical power, pupiless for a moment. Today, this would all be used in the service of Exiran, yet Tali was not at pains to offer him further prayer. He had already taken her right leg - the one dedicated to him – as offering long ago. Ever since that fateful girlhood misadventure, the death god’s blessings had flowed freely and vigorously, such that she could almost not begrudge him the loss of the limb, inconvenient though it often was.
The yasoi took another breath, her moment of meditation over, and knew that she was filled. She stretched her awareness out across the battlefield, where her people were now starting to engage the southern barbarians who refused to leave their northern neighbours alone. Otios, she remembered, the Thunder user. Lyen, the Maledict. Nettle, the puny half-blood. It was the last who had conjured the rains that now coated the forest. These three had proven memorable upon meeting and Tali bowed her head momentarily, offering words to Vyshta that they might emerge unhurt from the coming danger.
The Lady of Loriindton sunk onto all threes, crouched low on her branch and ready to leap from it. The musty smell of Exiran’s favoured tree surrounded her, as did its deadly red berries, like lanterns to guide lost souls through the burgeoning night. Like a great spider at the centre of her web, Talit searched for energies that stood out in power and purpose. Two such, she found. Peering into their chests, she could feel the racing of their hearts. “Will you walk into my parlour?” she whispered into the rain, the steam of her breath wispy and then cut to ribbons. A wicked, toothy grin split the lower half of the dervish’s face as she found her target. Long, flexible tendrils of steel snaked out from the bracers around her wrists, and she leapt.
Oh gee! An age and a gender and interests and things. Yeah, I have those. Ain't no way I'm about to trigger an existential crisis by typing them all out, though. You can find out what a nerd I am on discord, okay?
Stay awesome, people.
<div style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Oh gee! An age and a gender and interests and things. Yeah, I have those. Ain't no way I'm about to trigger an existential crisis by typing them all out, though. You can find out what a nerd I am on discord, okay?<br><br>Stay awesome, people.</div>