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Post CANNON LOADED!
So I guess we should all be aware that Khan moonlights as the notorious silverware thief of Manhattan, and has plundered over thirteen thousand kitchen drawers in his disturbing utensil kleptomania.




The War Council

City of Sanc Valatir, Southern Border
Act II | Pit of Vipers






The large round chamber of that would house the war council was surprisingly spacious enough. The table at the room's center was round and possessed a few high-backed chairs positioned around it; several maps sat upon its face along with several wooden figurines. As Kabius, cane in hand sauntered into the chamber through the larger double doors; he quickly noted two other entrances into the room. As well as two high stained windows that offered enough light to see. Upon his shoulder sat his familiar, Sky, his paw like hands clutching onto the straps of his long coat.

Rather than heading to the table directly Kabius made his way to a side table and carefully poured himself a cup of tea. He heard the others enter but did not turn to greet them right away. Instead sampling the drink at hand, finding it well enough for his liking.

There was a man already there in the room standing like a hulking statue by the table, and by the emblem portraying an eagle clutching a rose that held a red cape around his enormous shoulders, it was clear that Ai sent him to be there before him. He looked a lot like Ai around the eyes and the only major differences in appearance was the boxed jaw, and the light porcelain skin only kissed by the sun. Also unlike Ai who seemed to carry his fitness and muscle with grace, this behemoth of a man was content on carrying himself in the fashion of a bulky giant. He, like Ai, was one of the favored children of Iao, and his name was Cannae, a Lieutenant directly under Ai.

As Ai entered behind Kabius the two half-brothers quickly clasped each others forearms in a silent greeting, a toothy grin flashing over Cannae’s face, outdoing the more wisp of a smirk Ai returned it with.

“Everything is all set,” Cannae whispered loudly into Ai’s ear, summoning a curt nod from Ai.

“Good.”

“Well if it isn’t my favorite mortals!” Soraya said as she swept into the room, making a beeline for Ai and Cannae. “I haven’t seen you since the last time I visited your father.” And by visit she meant sneak into his chambers and doodle on his face. She approached the two men, hands spread apart to invite an embrace as she asked the two men “How have you been?”

Ai turned and smiled as Cannae rushed to intercept the hug with a mighty embrace of his own. The hulk wrapped his log sized arms around the shifting Archon and gave a squeeze, enough for both him and the more reserved Ai.

“It is good to see you as well,” Ai chimed in past Cannae’s happy bear growl he tends to do when hugging. The giant man released the Archon and spoke for himself in a boisterous baritone, “so that is what it feels like to capture the elusive Archon of the south.”

“You make it sound so difficult” Soraya patted Cannae on the shoulder. “Didn’t your father ever teach you about using bait?” She said with a smile that only grew larger as she continued. “He’s quite the master baiter himself.”

A few sips of black tea later and Kabius felt refreshed, allowing himself a moment to watched as Archon Soraya, Ai, and his brother greeted one another. The hard tip of his cane clicked against the floors stone surface as he neared the group.

"Archon Soraya of Lonassa," Kabius said with a small bow, his smile coming naturally, "a pleasure to see you again as always."

“Lord Regent,” Kalon’s voice came from behind his Archon, “I don’t believe I’ve been properly introduced to your guest. Cannae, I believe it was?”

“Indeed it is,” Cannae roughly grabbed Kalon’s right hand and shook it vigorously, “pleased to meet your exarchness.”

Ai smiled politely, “Cannae, the…?”

Cannae looked over at Ai for a brief moment before nodding, “right, of course. If you’ll excuse me, Archons,” he bowed his head to Kabius and Soraya, “Exarch,” he dipped his head to Kalon, “brother,” he nodded sincerely at Ai, who in turn nodded back. The large man quickly exited the room, heading off into a hallway branching from the council room, leaving Ai standing alone, hands folded behind his back and a smile as curved as his scimitars.

Brushing past Cannae as he exited, looking to the large man somewhat disdainfully, Kuth entered the council chambers. He wiped at his face with a damp cloth, his long, pale hair tied back by a black ribbon. Noticing the others present, a wicked grin crossed his face, revealing his ivory fangs. He handed the cloth off to the scroll-laiden boy following at his heels, and sauntered over to greet his hosts and fellow guests.

Soraya was closest, and so he met her first. Clasping her hands warmly, he gave her a familial kiss on each cheek. “Ah good, I was wondering if you had arrived late, you hag.” He said without a trace of audible malice, still smiling. “Just how much magic does it take to keep you from looking your age these days?”

“Probably not half as much as it would take to change that ugly mug of yours into something pleasant to look at,” Soraya retorted without missing a beat. She returned his smile with an amused one of her own.

Kaibus was acknowledged only by a passing glance and a brief, pained expression, and Kuth’s gaze followed over to Ai, stood at the table. “The favored son of the Great Hibernator himself. I am pleased to see you leading such an ambitious undertaking, rather than be left to scour ticks from your father’s hide.”

Ai furrowed his brow at Kuth’s words and simply shook his head, “Shall we begin?” He motioned towards the chairs that surrounded the war table, he himself not taking any advance to pick a seat.

"Yes, let us set mind to task at hand," Kabius acknowledged as he made a beeline to a seat. He pulled it back but did not seat himself, instead gesturing to Soraya, seating himself after her. Leaning his cane against the arm of his chair as Sky hopped onto the table from his shoulder, picking up a random figurine that was fashioned like a knight and gnawing at its head.

“Thank you” Soraya said as she seated herself, waiting for the others to take their own seats before speaking again. She reached towards Sky, a small piece of bread in her open palm, as she stated “My exarchs are ready to deal with this matter. And Alexander in particular has requested permission to try and peacefully bring some of the city-states of Charce into the empire. I see no reason to stand in his way.”

Kalon took a seat beside his Archon. “While I have my doubts that his plan will work, I cannot foresee any manner in which Alexander making the attempt will backfire, so long as he maintains reasonably cautious. It is even possible that, even in failure, the mere attempt could sow the seeds of distrust amongst their number.” He placed his gloved hands on the table, spreading his fingers out over the space in front of him. “However,” he continued, “regardless of Alexander’s success or failure in this endeavor, there are a number of more pressing concerns.”

“Alexander is wise,” Ai said, still standing as if waiting for something, “I too would have preferred we opened this conflict with talks of peaceful conversion as we did with a number of tribes up north through our assimilation parties, but I also know we are well past that stage unfortunately. I do not see any reason he shouldn’t try however, I wish him luck.”

Suddenly Cannae re-entered the room carrying a large pewter bowl, a dead hog splayed out in it. Placing the bowl on a pedestal away from the maps, Cannae stood behind it, one hand gripping the snout of the dead beast. Ai turned and smiled, walking over to his brother.

“Up north,” he began, “we have many customs not seen in the old province of the Empire, one of which I wanted to bring down to you four. I feel the growing north has grown far from the stagnant south, and that this council is but one stitch in keeping us together as we welcome in floods of new customs and cultures of those conquered and assimilated. A favorite of mine is the war chieftains gift, a notable custom of a long lost tribe that once inhabited the swamps far west of Doma.”

Ai slowly studied the boar as Cannae stood at attention, ready for a command, “you see,” Ai continued, “a boar is caught and killed without breaking the skin to show sign of skill among the hunter, to which the prize is inspected by the chief to confirm.”

Ai looked up from the pig and at Cannae, nodding his head, “when found to be perfect, the boar is given to the tribe for good luck in the next endeavour, be it harvest or-”

Cannae’s arms flexed and with a gruesome snap and terrible rip he pulled up on the head of the boar, it’s neck bones ripping out from the throat as the brutish man beheaded the hog, a bright red spilling out into the bowl.

“-War,” Ai finished as he dipped a tiny thimble of a glass into the bowl and took a sip before discarding the glass, “I do not expect you to join in the blessing of luck, but if you wish, I would be grateful to see the rest of the Empire follow the North in opening its arms to the new ideas of conquered lands to help further the cause of Mother Night. Such unity and devise of change will aid in our coming battles.”

Kabius raised an eyebrow as Ai finished his explanation, his eyes on the dead boar laid out before them. "Hmm, interesting customs you seem to have adopted," Kabius nodded once, "such an endeavor is worthy of admiration, however. Very well."

After an unseen command from Kabius, Sky made a growling noise in his throat, not unlike the mix of a cat's purr or a mouse's squeak before dropping the figurine and accepting the morsel offered to him by Soraya. He then sniffed the bowl and made another sound that was either one of dismissive withdrawal or displeasure. As if suddenly satisfied Kabius imitated and appeared to take a sip himself.

Kuth, who had seated himself next to Soraya and across from Ai, quirked an eyebrow at the barbaric display. The boy at his side practically jumped out of his skin when Cannae effortlessly ripped the boar’s head from its body, but settled down behind the Great-Father. Kuth retrieved a glassful of blood, sniffed at it, and swirled it about in his glass as though he were examining some form of wine. Finally he seemed to resign himself to it, downed the glass, and grimaced as he smacked his lips.

“May we continue with the proceedings, please? Or if there are more formalities, I would like to request a chaser.” He said, still frowning from the taste.

Kalon observed the bowl of blood in silence for a while. Eventually, he produced a small cup, not wholly dissimilar from the one that Ai had used, and filled it with the blood. He regarded the odd drink for a moment, before tipping the bottom of his mask up with one hand, and bringing the cup up beneath it with the other. After a moment, he pulled it back down, empty, and placed it on table. He brought the bottom edge of his mask back to his face without a word.

Soraya had grown a pair of vulpine ears while watching the others partake in the ritual. It was a sign that she found something to be particularly interesting, though no one knew whether the action was involuntary on her part or intentional. Many individuals had, in fact, cited such actions as reasons to believe that she was not human but a magic using fox. She took a long drink before commenting “Not bad.”

Ai smiled softly, taking a seat by Kuth, “I’m glad you all were open to the change of process, it means much to me and the north.”

He placed a hand on a map of Lesmania and looked down at the curling parchment, “so…”

“Kabius, what exactly has been going on in our southern border, I hear reports that fighting has already started, and that tensions are beyond repair. More importantly, where are the Lesmanian’s focusing their efforts?”

Prompted, Kabius opened his coat and pulled forth a scroll. One far too vast and great to have possibly been hidden within the volumes of his jacket.

"The situation in the south has been... less than ideal," he began as he placed the scroll upon the table, his deep voice though barely more than a whisper carried across the room. He whistled sharply and caught the attention of Sky who shot Kabius a look, before spreading his wings and hopping off the end of the table. Quick as the eye could follow, Sky scooped up the scroll in his bottom paw like feet like feet that proved as dexterous as his hands. He then flew over to a side table behind Kabius, transferring the manuscript to his main two hands, and letting it fall open. Sky yawned, producing the faint sound like a zebra from the far southern lands.

Kabius idly picked up the overturned figurine of a knight Sky had been chewing on only moments before. He then continued, "as a few here may recall. What we call the Lesmanian was once just a collection of city states, with the more united isolated kingdom of Bretturean further south. The first years of the northern conquest saw that change in a drastically short amount of time with an alliance that many had thought impossible. It began as a defensive pact and has evolved over these past twenty years. It was only five years ago this alliance shifted from a defensive focus to an antagonizing one."

Kabius chose one of the figurines that were fashioned like a spearman and moved him and a nearby identical brother to the southern border of Illyrica. "Two forts were built uncomfortably close to the two most important mountain passes into the south. Just under four years ago. At first, they were pitiful little-fortified hills, but..."

Kabius added two more spearmen like figurines to each of the first two positioned near the border, "now they have grown considerably. My spies have also seen an increase in naval activity on the Haliakia as well, and the garrisons on the border cities Thebus, Attica and Charce itself. The trickling of men has been small, no doubt to allow it to go unnoticed for as long as possible. It may even be they are still unaware we have taken notice. The fighting you have heard of has taken the form of small aerial skirmishes in the mountains. No doubt scout's seeking to test our defenses. Good Kalon here has seen them off on every occasion. But one does not need to be a military genius to guess where this is leading if we do not act decisively. And quickly."

Sky at this point had produced a feather pen (from somewhere) and had been busy writing away as Kabius spoke.

“Damn,” Cannae spoke suddenly out of turn, his voice genuinely surprised, “we have been gone a long time.”

Ai shot Cannae a sharp look that softened over time, “sad to say,” Ai looked back at the Archons, “he may be right.”

“Archon Soraya,” Ai suddenly addressed the idle Archon, “what strategies have you deployed these last five years of antagonization? Any preemptive measures against the forts?”

“I have mostly left the matter in the hands of my capable exarchs” Soraya said. “With the occasional intervention of my own personal troops to ensure the Lesmanians didn’t get any foolhardy ideas.”

“Do we have the architectural plans of the pass forts and the other border estates?” Ai quickly replied.

“I suppose” Soraya said with a sigh, tracing a circle on the table with her finger. She had a decidedly bored look on her face as she commented. “Not the most interesting architecture I’ve seen.” She finished the circle and as she did the surface of the table seemed to change, a miniature replica of the forts taking form. The amount of detail was incredible to say the least. “Though I suppose they are functional.”

“I suppose I’d be hard pressed if I assumed you had agents inside the forts or sleeper cells from when the forts were first erected?” Ai bit his lip, “or any other hinderance or advantage planted while they were being built?”

“Sleepers? No.” Soraya answered. “Though I’m sure it’ll please you to find out that the metals used in much of its construction is of somewhat lower quality. At least for the gates.” By this point her eyes had glazed over as if she were on the verge of falling asleep.

Ai drummed his fingers across the table, “is there anything else you know about any of this that could help?”

“Last I saw…” Soraya had shifted her gaze to Sky, “they had about as many troops as one would expect to find in those fortifications.”

“Is this the extent of your knowledge?” Ai leaned back in his chair, draping one arm over the side.

At this Kabius tapped a finger on the hard wood of the table, "sera Ai, on this front, you might find wish fulfilled." Kabius chimed in in his unconventional halting manner of speech, "these forts were not born of ordinary means. In particular, Fort Dawn, as the southerners call it, was strengthened from what is strongly suspected to have been fey magic. Still, I have managed to... introduce a number of agents during their construction. Afterward a few remained undercover as members of the original garrison."

"It was some difficulty and no small danger they have been able to relay critical weak points of their structure and times the guard is most lax."

“What of recent reports?” Ai suddenly perked up, clearly glad to finally be getting somewhere, “numbers?”

At this Kabius pulled another scroll from his coat, and placed it on the table. "Last reports placed their numbers at no more than two thousand at Fort Dawn, and another... one thousand and three hundred roughly at fort Argos." He gave a half smile, "this scroll will have further details, such as the times their supplies are replenished, and the intervals they have received reinforcements. They appear hardly more than a month apart. Due to the manner of their encampment, however we have been unable to devise their overall composition, but we do know the garrisons are entirely made up of Charciens. No Knights of the Bretturean kingdom, nor their peasant levies. It is too early to know for sure what that might mean. Still, the numbers are far too large for simple garrison duty unless they expected to be attacked."

Ai straightened his posture, “very good, very good,” he slowly reached for the scroll. Looking up he continued, “anything else of note for these two forts? How many of our agents on the inside for example?”

"Over a dozen in each fort who thus far remain above suspicion. I should note now that no agent inside is aware of the identity of his fellows. A necessity when playing the mole," Kabius took a sip of tea as his eyes studied the map. "In addition, it seems each fort has been supplied with several wizards who are counted as the noble elites of Charce. Each brought with them a troop of wagons which my spies believe house creatures they have not yet been able to identify. Beast of ill sorcery no doubt, beyond that the forts seem be built in the classic Charcian fashion. A four sided fortification with towers sporting bolt throwers."

Ai rubbed his chin and leaned back, “anything else you think I should know about these forts?” He scanned the notes on the scrolls, “if not we can move onto Charce.”

Kuth had been quiet thus far in the proceedings; sitting back with his chin resting on his folded hands. Every so often he turned to the boy stood behind him, whispered something to him in a tongue unknown to the others present, and then returned to watching them from behind the silky veil of his white hair. The boy, when prompted, produced a metal-tipped quill, which he used to prick his own wrist, covering the nib in blood. He scrawled strange and intricate runes into one of the scrolls he carried, and the inscriptions of blood quickly vanished from sight as soon as they were placed upon the scroll. Kuth took small pleasure in using this cypher directly in front of Kabius, as he knew it was a code the spymaster could never crack. Old Sheolan had been a dead language for centuries before the man had ever been born, and Kuth had cloistered away every ruin and relic he could find on his island to keep the language a secret.

Upon mention of Charce, though, Kuth picked up. “If I may be so bold as to say, Charce is as good as ours. The Coven is well-entrenched in the city, particularly in the ports and merchant fleets. Sheol’s banking houses have had contracts drawn up with Charce’s for decades, and stand ready to absorb their capital and clientele.”

He examined his fingernails as he continued, giving off a casual affectation, “A half-dozen of Sheol’s privateer fleets have expressed their willingness to take the city, and my own fleet stands ready as well. The Coven can be counted on for insurrectionary activity within both the ports and the city. All in all, when we decide to take Charce, the fighting should be swift and short-lived, and the turnaround will be quick. It’s a merchant city; as long as we can get the merchants back to making a profit, they will have no complaints. War can be quite profitable, after all.”

“Very good,” Ai steepled his fingers, “I presume they are using the Imperial Currency if it is Sheol banks, a very clever way of keeping them under our wings so to speak. If we can topple the leadership there and replace it with our own, the city is ours without even an invasion. Kuth, do you think you could do this swift conversion? Our logistics team will surely be using any Lesmanian ports under our control, a very huge incentive for merchants to side with us and our economy after all.”

“A touch more complicated than that,” Kuth elaborated, “Our banks are the only institutions on the coast that will deal in the myriad currencies of the far east. Few are as polite as our friends in Jiaozi so as to deal in standardized units of gold.” Perhaps for effect, he produced a foreign bank note for the others at the table to examine: a blue slip of parchment with various illegible runes and a drawing of a rooster in its center. “Without us they’re essentially cut off from international trade.

“Now while an ‘invasion’ may not be necessary, I will still need my fleets to make port and take control by force. The Merchant Prince have their own private militias, and some of the private merchants in the city rely heavily enough on deals with the current rulers that they will fight to keep them in power. My privateer fleets should be sufficient for crushing these forces, but the assurance of reinforcements would be comforting. The city will be destabilized for at least a week, in which time the Coven will be purging remaining sympathizers. Merchants whose loyalties lie with their own interests first are most convenient for us; they will most likely show their bellies the fastest, and will welcome us as long as we patronize them.”

"Caution must be considered," Kabius added after a short pause. "The Charcian fleet is not the only thing to consider if we make any move upon the sea front."

Kabius finger traced a circle on the table, dark smoke wisping off his hand as he continued, "my agents have discovered that it is in all likelihood the Nordheim fleet that escaped the siege of Eskiholt took refuge with their surviving heir in Charce."

“Is he terribly important? A deposed heir with dwindling resources and no political allies does not frighten me much.” Kuth twirled his white hair around a slender, ivory finger as he spoke. “If it worries you so, I can have the Wraith Host conduct sweeps of the city.”

“It would be problematic if the two joined forces.” Soraya commented. “It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Charce to use the Nordheim fleet for its own purposes under the guise of aiding it to regain its homeland.”

“The Storm Host of Lotan is now at our command. I should hardly expect a single fleet of northern savages to post much threat.” Kuth cast a meaningful look in Ai’s direction. It was known that Iao had alienated the Blood Archon’s corsair fleets from partaking the conquest of the North. “In any case, Northmen can barely organize enough to make breakfast, much less incite revolution behind the figurehead of their dead monarchy. If you need this person killed so badly, I will endeavor to make it so.”

Ai nodded his head, “well noted, both of you.”

“Should we decide on a economic and marital take over, Kuth will have his reinforcements, and a name in who gets to own Charce after this mess,” Ai squirmed in his chair for a moment, adjusting the scimitar on his right to a better position, “as for the lost boy of the north, I would like a better detailed report on his where abouts, it’s been thirteen years and I’d like to know all we know about it, as well as the heads of Charce.”

Kabius tapped the head of the wooden statuette before saying, "We know he managed to reach the city of Chrace itself where he was a prince in exile, king of nowhere. We bided our time for two years after his arrival in Charce before we acted. I sent one of my best hands, but nothing has been heard since from either my agent nor further word of this prince. Even after all this time and searching there has been nothing. I suspect there is much more at work here."

“Could it not be said that if he is a threat at Charce, our attempts would either drag him out of hiding like you suggested, or he will simply vanish further into the south?” Ai asked quizzically, “and should it be the latter, is it a safe understanding that he has two options: to either manipulate things and act, or do nothing at all and hide? Should it be the first, you would have your answers, and there would be no wildcard. It must be dealt with eventually, not to say now but eventually, and not to say not now as well. Do you agree, or do you have further insight?”

Ai leaned forward, “you know what, our course is clear,” he smiled, “for the sake of our writers,” he pointed a thumb at the scribbling boy and the flying monkey, ”and for the eventual chumps doomed to read this conversation, let’s cut to the chase, yeah?”

He slammed a hand onto the map, “so we have four potential starting points but only two do we care about and here is why: We need to get rid of their potential to counter attack or funnel into our lands, henceforth we need to knock out the two forts before we can do anything else. Sure a diversion in Charce would help our chances, but until we take out the forts, we can’t divert full effort anywhere, not even on an aquatic assault on Zhul and reversing back to take Attica and undercut the riverlands, which we can discuss another time. Now I propose an idea, but I’m going to need help from Kabius on this one. We send a messenger to the commander of the fort most likely to give in, and tell them Iao is awake and wanting, they will resist and they will bunker in for the worse, it is at this point we hit something else, twice as hard as that ready fort was expecting to be hit, that fort sees what we can do, and gives in, or is hit like the first target, but this time with no friends to help out. How we hit, who we hit and when we hit are up to debate, but securing our border at the start of the war is not.”

“The easiest target is the unthreatened fort, and that way we at least bottleneck their chances at forward assaults and counter invasions while increasing our availability to their lands. Second, we hit a city they don’t expect while using Kuth’s connections to take Charce either during the initial hit or after. Third, we convince the kingdoms of the south and any potential allies of Charce to work with us for great benefit, someone is going to need to rule the new southern province after all, although I do suggest doing this right away.”

“Questions, comments and concerns?” Ai looked around the table, “and you!” Ai pointed at Kabius, “for the sake of all that is decent spit it out about the wild card, I can see it building up inside that damned glorious head of yours!”

Kuth sat back in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest, “I will send correspondence to Sheol, and have the Seven Hosts brought to bear.” He looked to Kalon, “We can discuss lodging later, and with the input of my guards.”

“Great!” Ai smiled, “I’ll send some correspondences of my own, and get what the North can afford to give down here as soon as possible. Although I will say this ahead of time, I do plan on keeping a major force up in the North in case of an attack from Atar. Don’t worry though, more than enough of the Iaon military will be down here to help.”

Ai rubbed his chin, “as I’m talking, I realize perhaps we don’t even send that message to the forts, or if we do, we need to attack almost immediately after. It would be nice to have a fort surrender unconditionally, but I think the resolve might be too strong this early in the war. Thoughts?”

Kuth waved him off, “Do as you will; military strategy is out of my realm of expertise. Upon their arrival, the Seven Hosts will of course be given deference to your command.” He paused, quickly adding, “Well, five of the Seven will be. The Blood and Wraith Hosts will remain at my hand.”

“Very good,” Ai happily agreed, “I will need more time to think of the proper ‘how’, but rest assured we will be capturing our borders either way and then moving in for the conquest. So, in Kuth’s footsteps I say we all pledge our troops and then I’ll take a further look into these notes,” He lifted the scroll that Kabius had given him earlier, “and then with the reports on the numbers we gather, we can begin in no time. Also we will need someone to lead the negotiations with those willing to comply to our side in this war, and a report on the results as soon as possible, Kabius?”

"My shadows have already isolated those most likely to be swayed to our side, and discord has subtly been spread through the various merchant princes of Charce over these years," Kabius tapped the map over the location of Attica. "An overmaster by the name of Jnanac Cranard is especially susceptible and might prove to be of great benefit when we move on the city Sea Lord Karadal has demonstrated himself to be a wily opponent, however. Any move we make must be decisive and quick before he adapts. To that end you have the shadowdancers at your disposal. They may be few, but consider them the fine edge to your spear point."

“I hope this extends to the southern kingdoms as well, I would love to work with any and all in Lesmania who would aid us,” Ai added, “as for Jnanac, we can discuss him in detail later, and perhaps as always, you should be in charge of making sure that sort of shadowy battlefield is dominated by our wishes.”

"We must also consider the forest realm of Averon. My agents have managed to create disunity in the alliance of late, but this will not last, especially if we begin to march into the south." Kabius bright pupilless eyes regarded that very forest on the map, "that place remains a blind spot despite our best efforts. No agent who has entered has returned, at least not in their right mind. I would suggest avoiding it for as long as possible, but we must be ready should that realm awaken."

“I had a similar deduction, just one without any true prodding. I do plan on avoiding it as long as possible, nothing good comes from the unknown in battle,” Ai agreed.

“So, if there are no further open comments,” Ai clapped his hands, “Kuth I will see your army counted when it arrives, you have my thanks, standby on our Charce invasion. Kalon, I will need to talk to you about logistics. Kabius, just keep doing what you do best, level our playing field and get us as many allies and as few enemies as possible, I’d love to fight a war of only surrenders and use only resources that weren’t ours to begin with, but being realistic, let’s get as close as possible. Finally, Soraya, I will need your military and the accompanying information. Soon we march to secure those forts and ultimately: Lesmania.”

Kalon nodded, light bouncing off his mask. “We should be able to begin building up our forces immediately, so long as supplies begin making their way here before long. Sanc Valatir maintains considerable stores of food.”

“Great, with any luck those enemy shipments going to the forts will be of aid to us in more ways than one, beyond that, expect my own logistics train to help with food and supplies. I’m sure you’ll find the Stromist Vanguard very easy to upkeep,” Ai sat up in his chair, “Iao designed the logistics of it himself.”

“I will work to ensure my own forces are maintained. They have… particular needs.” Kuth added, leaving details vague.

“I’ll have my forces submit to your command.” Soraya inclined her head. “Where would you like to meet them?”

“Send the generals here,” Ai answered, “let’s get this all underway.”

The Free City Of Ardaza


Some Weeks Ago


The morning sun’s light fell weakly onto the lurid menagerie of colour that was the city's streets, the cool salt breeze carrying away its heat. Despite the early hour the sounds of Ardaza were as lively as always, the shouts of merchants hawking their wares and the creaking of old ships at dock filling the air with a curious baritone buzz. Manuel had spent the twilight hours before sunrise making his way down to the seafront, and for a time he lingered there. Despite his status as the cities Exarch he was all but unrecognizable to the crowd. It had always amused him how very slightly one had to alter their appearance to be as good as hidden from all but the sharpest eyes; in this case a beard and crooked nose shielded him from recognition.

As the sun rose higher he made his way to a decrepit looking building whose once vivid yellow colour had been bleached a spotty beige by time. Ardaza was unlike most cities in that the oldest parts were indisputably the poorest and least maintained. Further inland, near Manuel's own palace, the streets were alive with rich colour. Not a spot of chipped paint revealing old limestone brick could be seen even if a whole year were dedicated to the task. It was a state of affairs driven by an odd tradition, that each new ruler build their own palace further inland from the last. Manuel's was the most recent, though he'd taken extraordinary effort to make sure it was uncontested in scale and grandeur.

The building he entered now was such a juxtaposition that it verged on the ridiculous. The limestone brick was cracked where old paint had worn away and a small pile of white dust crowded the edifices periphery. With a brief look behind him Manuel heaved open the old oak door and made his way within. Inside a pair of guards came an inch from levelling their spears at him before his appearance shifted to one they were rather more familiar with. He smiled wordlessly at them as they straighten up and saluted their Exarch, neither knowing just how near their nervous reaction had brought them to being unceremoniously ejected from their rather comfortable positions.

The interior of the building was a stark contrast to the facade outside; though windowless the walls were well maintained and adorned with exquisite paintings. A large rose wood table dominated the centre of the spacious ground level room and Manuel casually made his way to its head, sighing as he sat on the cushioned chair. The meeting ahead was important, but he never enjoyed visiting the sea front. If the area wasn't so suited to such a use he'd have preferred to never set foot in it again. Misgivings about the locale aside, Manuel ran his fingers over the tables polished grain in thought. Ai, the favoured son of the Archon Iao and the regent of the whole of the north reaching out to him hadn't been expected. Then again, he knew far too little of the man. With a tsk Manuel made a note to commit more eyes to the north. It wouldn't do to leave such a blind spot.

As if on cue the doors opened once again. With long confident strides, Ai marched in. The man was no more less adorned than normal, burn marked metal adorning his arms and chest, and fur covering all else. An intense look narrowed his eyes akin to that of a hawk or even an eagle spotting a mouse. Without a word he pulled a chair out from under the table and promptly sat in it, but not before unsheathing his two menacing scimitars and laying them in front of him on the table.

“Exarch Manuel,” He began as he folded his arms, a stern smile cutting his serious face, “I’m glad we could meet, and such and so before the war council.”

Manuel unconsciously cocked an eyebrow and replied dryly, “Lord Regent, I am pleased to make your acquaintance at last. I trust this venue is sufficiently discreet?”

“Very much so. As you might’ve guessed that the following words are meant for you and I only, and is to remain in such a shadow that Kabius himself won’t know much beyond our meeting place unless told otherwise,” Ai raised his eyebrows and leaned back in his chair, “he will know eventually, but that’s not important right now, we have much to discuss.”

“I will take great care to see that such is the case Lord Regent,” Pausing Manuel gestured for the guards to excuse themselves to the upper levels, “so, what is it that has brought you to Ardaza in such secrecy?”

“So it is clear war is upon us,” Ai began, slouching in his chair as the guards left, his arm dangling over the edge of the chairs back, “and much to my displeasure the South has not been as focused on such matters as the North, leaving us harshly behind from where we should be in the conflict.”

“I mean there are already skirmishes and we are just calling a council now,” Ai did not hide his clear frustration, “but I digress. We need to catch up, and you are the man I need for a very special job that requires very special connections.”

Manuel leaned forward, a proposal like this from the Lord Regent of the North? It was as curious as it was concerning, even admitting the connections Ai presumed he had could cause trouble. With a small cough to clear his throat Manuel looked to Ai intently, “The way we prepare for the inevitable conflict with Lesmiana isn’t something I am knowledgeable enough to comment on Lord Regent, though I am prepared to aid the effort as best as I am able. What then would this… Job be?”

“I’m not sure how well acquainted the South is with war, but any Northern soldier worth his salt would tell you the best war is one fought without battle, and the second best war is one fought on another platform to lessen the length of battle. In this case, due to time, we are restricted in choices but I’m sure you know the platform very well.”

Ai stuffed his hand in a tiny pouch on his belt and pulled out a shimmering Lesmainian coin and flicked it across the table, the metal making soft chimes as it skipped against the wood.
“Money,” Ai concluded.

Manuel cautiously picked up the coin and examined it, squinting for a moment, “Or, Lord Regent, something very much like it. A man using this would be like to find himself in a cell or worse.”

“A fake for sure,” Ai agreed, “but imagine thousands of these flooding the Lesmanian economy at a much higher quality. Do you see where I am going with this?”

“They would find themselves unable to fight before our investment in men even became significant,” Manuel spun the fake on the table, waiting until it fell before continuing, “and you see me as the man to do this for you?”

“I think you are the best soldier in the economic world Illyrica has to offer,” Ai answered, straightening his posture, “I feel like you know the language, the battlefield if you will to get this done. I also think you can go above and beyond simply inflating their market. Perhaps staging false subsidies to their farmers using our own currency once their own begins to fail, stalling their food market, or even purchasing their own resources with their own counterfeit to aid our war effort while drowning their exchange rates. The poor will have no choice but to turn to our economy for support, and should the leaders of Lesmania close their economic borders, they will suffocate on the high velocity rate of too much currency and too high prices for farms that are undergoing subsidies. Perhaps even capture the real currency and melt it down to make even more counterfeits. It’ll be too late should we do this right, and I feel you have the creativity to outdo even my expectations. After all war is fought on all levels.”

Manuel was silent for a time, Ai was right, of course, Manuel could do all he said and more. That said, it was a calculation in the end. Was Ai’s endeavour more profitable than a protracted war that would draw upon his cities valuable harbour? A long war was safe, but Ai’s scheme had benefits beyond simple money. Manuel was not blind, “This can be done Lord Regent, though I have made an effort to prevent counterfeiting in my city... It would not be impossible to find those who could make fakes of the required quality. Nor would it be impossible to recruit the men capable of distributing them in Lesmiana itself. However, the need for secrecy in this matter would make gathering these individuals somewhat difficult. The Archon of Shadow is not the only spymaster with agents inside my walls.”

“I am confident in your ability in keeping this as secret as it will be shrewd,” Ai steepled his fingers, “I will tip of Kabius as well, it’s the least we could do to secure his aid in keeping a shadow over this part of the war effort.”

“Very well then, I will see to this task Lord Regent. Though I shall endeavour to be hasty… Well, these things take time. I cannot guarantee our fakes will reach Lesmiana before our soldiers do.” Manuel leaned back, considering the myriad ways he could turn this little venture further into his favour.
“I understand the time it will take to do this right, but the effects will be well worth it in the long and short run. I’m also putting you in charge of a secondary task of confiscating enemy resources for our use while you’re at this and in all ways do whatever you can to benefit this effort. Do whatever you want on the side, just see it to the welfare of the war effort and Illyrica.”

Ai’s eyes focused on Manuel, “and with all that said, I think we have a deal?”

Manuel met his gaze, a slight smile infecting his visage, “Lord Regent, I believe we do.”

Ai stood up and smiled back. He quietly retrieved his scimitars and replaced them on his belt, “Then I’m glad we had this chance to meet and look forward to the next visit. I do hope this particular war won’t be the only reason we discuss the welfare of Illyrica.”

After securing his weapons Ai gently put his fist to his own chest, “until next time, Exarch Manuel.”

<Snipped quote by GreivousKhan>

Shitshitshit I'm behind!


This coupled with his Avatar.
@Legion02 Feel free to join us in the south. If you have any questions I'm usually available on discord.


He says this but I haven't had a conversation with him lasting more than two minutes in AGES. >.>


Okay so my guy isn't yet pledged nor have I decided on a place for Makau and the surrounding lands of Makania. @Darkspleen or @Goldeagle1221 either of you want to take in my guy, his (soon to be made) hero, and the city of a hundred guilds?


Yeah sure
BOW DOWN BEFORE THE GRAND PUBAH OF GROOVE! (credit to Zen)










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