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Ehec-Tahdet


Brief Description

Theocratic communist qawm.

Claim


Government


Religion is rule, and by its guidance the people live and serve. Those who enter into monastic life are taught the ways of balance and order-- a necessary harmony to the great entropy of the Universe. As such, these righteous faithful are given the duty of keeping the peace and enforcing the will of the collective good.

All austerity is ultimately overseen by the enlightened Father Orvium. However, the carrying out of these acts is highly decentralized. The neighbors are called upon to have their hearts govern themselves. The thick heeled boot of the faith is meant to serve only as a shepherd to its flock. As such, no definitive laws exist. All things are interpreted as subjective, a thread in the web of the Universe.

The spiritual collective own all means of production. The sale of its natural resources are used to house and feed those who toil for the universal good. Those not on official assignment by the government are bound to the land which they were born on, or traveling harvester which the case may be. Such privileges are only granted by those who prove themselves truly enlightened and pure of heart. A decision reached by the all-reaching compassion of Father Orvium.

History


Well nestled in a family of nebulae, Ehec-Tahdet was once furnace of discourse. In the shattered remains of the empire, the once burgeoning colonies of this sector crumbled into poverty and political upheaval. Those wise or wealthy enough to escape the chaos did so long ago, fleeing to more stable civilizations further afield. However, those who stayed in these fatherless colonies dug in their heels to reap the natural riches of the land. Marauders, refugees, and carpetbaggers swarmed on the political vacuum. Years of turmoil ripped apart the already desolate landscapes. Death and famine was an acre that threatened to dissolve the entire region into anarchy.

However, by the grace of the Universe, came order. Father Orvium, the Saviour of His Flock, descended upon the galaxy with hope and promise. He instituted a national welfare system whereby the hungry were fed, the sick were proffered new organs, and the lost were found by the Universal Light. Prayer and faithfulness to the state brought the people of the fold together as one. The sinners of the galaxy, wholly repentant.

All economic parity now belongs to the state as the people work and trade via the edible currency Vitium. This economic policy was deemed quite necessary by the Father, as the fringe worlds and mining colonies lacked foodstuffs to maintain their labor. Tasting of slightly sweet cardboard, the currency also relieved the pinnacle sin of greed. No man would take more than his share of such sustenance, and thus he may store it and offer it to his kin or neighbor as the Universe would bid his heart to do.

By the grace of the Universe, Ehec-Tahdet thrives to spread its enlightenment throughout the galaxy.

Military


The ground forces of the Ehec-Tahdet rely on their strength of artillery, light from the Universe above. These heavily emplaced units, peppered with anti-air assets, win or lose the battles of the Ehec-Tahdet. True living cavalry sired from the strange, fowl, and forlorn animals of the Ehec-Tahdet’s territories feast in the chaos of wayward ordnance. Infantry and small, mobile mechs entrench themselves in the divide between these two more honorable forces. Sustained by unreliable, mounted theatre shields these light troops serve as a speed bump from oncoming attacks.







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In much the same way that the Ehec-Tahdet ground forces are tethered to artillery, so too is fashioned their fleet. Giant, cumbersome railgun stations are lugged through space with small frigate and corvette escorts to stay off strike craft assaults. These artillery behemoths require their own supply chains of ammo to be hurled. However, once these weapons are in place, it is truly an act of god to stop their long range firepower.






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Religion/Culture


Universal Kineticism could not find more loyal and observing servants. An unfathomable and incomprensible religion of universal connectedness, the faithful of Tahdetian Universal Kineticism are lucky to have Father Orvium to interpret its divinity in their lives. Prayer and self abnegation are the only true fruits to sustain the transient and interconnected life of the Universe. Mandated prayer is imposed by the state at any given hour of the day, to keep the believers humble and accepting of the entropic will of the Universe. Righteous toil for the good of thy neighbor is seen as epitome of piety. As such, the citizens of Ehec-Tahdet are kept faithful to their duty, less their mortal bodies be repurposed for the good of thy neighbor.

Rule of the collective falls to three main tenants:
-Right view
-Right intention
-Right action

These three heads of faith, mirrored in the sigil of the nation, determine what should be done, why it should be done, and how it should be done. The Rightness of such is in the eye of the collective good.

And from this collective good has erupted a fountain of harmony:
-No man may starve, lest he make others hungry
-No flesh shall perish, lest he take from life more than he hath given
-No man may need, lest he hath coveted

Demographics


Various sentient species inhabit the folds of Ehec-Tahdet. However, due to the radiation of the nebulae and general inhospitality of the colonized planetoids within, most neighbors remain heavily covered. The culture as such has embraced this necessity with the women in particular being shielded from the rays hardships of the Universe for the proper proffering of children. Furthermore, with such high radiation levels has drastically increased the prevalence of cancers and genetic malformations. The believers of Ehec-Tahdet, in holy patronage to their neighbors, often donate portions of their bodies. These organs are then replaced by machine parts or parts of other beings as the state is able to provide. Thus the citizens of Ehec-Tahdet are truly an amalgam of eachother, with entirely different species often serving as prosthesis for their neighbors. Truly the Universe smiles on all life and welcomes it’s growth.

~80% Human
~20% Other
~100% Enlightened

Characters



The most giving of hearts. His ascendence upon the anarchy and unrest of the region formed Ehec-Tahdet into a sovereign power. His selflessness extends even to his own body, much of it being donated to his neighbors and replaced by mechanic augmentations. Truly his altruism will bathe the galaxy.





Relations


All are welcome to receive enlightenment.

Habitation


Life in Ehec-Tahdet is difficult. Though most of the colonized planets appear desolate at first, they are often quite rich in natural minerals, particularly components for stellar and industrial fuel. These drilling colonies are the lynchpin of their civilization and the infrastructure of planets is often solely built around these sites. Many inhabit planetoids which closely orbit or are buried in the folds of gas giants to reap the resources they contain. Caustic, methane rich atmospheres abound and the dress and culture of the humans settling these environments has adapted in turn. Breathing apparatus are frankly a must on all worlds, and skin is wise to be kept from the wrenching grasp of the nebulae and stars above.

Only a handful of agricultural worlds exist and are responsible for feeding the prodigiously dispersed population. Kraxmal, a starchy root which is later processed with the necessary nutrients and vitamins to sustain life, is transformed into the local currency Vitium. This literal cash crop is the only foodstuff grown on scale. All other yields found, foraged, or farmed are handed over to the government for flash freezing and sale to international markets.

Holdings




The people of Tahdet, “Ehec-Tahdet,” owe their name to this great home. It is where Father Orvium began his life, sacrificed much of it, and lit a fire that would reach the commune of its surroundings. This spiritual home to Tahdetian Universal Kineticism is often colloquially called “a total fucking shit-hole” by endearing foreigners. However, this planetoid is a jewel in the stellar fuel trade. A moon of its matron gas giant, Tahdet orbits on its axis with half of the sphere submerged in her billow. Mobile crawlers constantly flee from the lethal miasma. These levitating cities travel the moon’s wastes in order to harvest gases collected by emplaced mines which endure the orbit. These foundries harness the resources of the gas giant with each pass. Theirs is a fluid lifestyle which cannot afford stragglers.

The Emerald Empire -8- Empire of Matathran

-8- The Morkt -8-


It was spring, and so the Glacial marshes where living up to their name. The rising temperatures had begun to chip away at the snow and glaciers clinging to the Frozen cliff’s northern slopes. The resulting meltwater had spilled down into the plains below, bursting the banks of the various twisting rivers that crossed them. It was upon one of these rivers that the mixed band now sailed, through calling what they were on a river was generous considering how hard it was to distinguish the water in the river from the water flooding the surrounding landscape. All around them muddy marshland spread out for kilometers until it reached another river or eventually dried up before it hit the road running along the wall of ash. The marsh water was overgrown with plants of various kinds, from thick beds of reeds to floating mats of vegetation and the odd thicket of trees clinging to shallow regions.

Here and there small islands of stone poked up out of the marshwatter, though, as had been discovered on their first journey through the marsh, not all of these were actually land. Some where instead massive snapping turtles that where either grazing or waiting for a tasty snack to float by. In the water large fish could be seen flitting by, occasionally pursued by oversized ottars, while the air around them was filled with a fog of mist and insects that obscured everything beyond the middle distance. The bugs notably contained both mosquitoes and midges, both of which would harass anyone with exposed skin, seeking blood to grow their eggs. Small birds darted too and fro, catching insects in their beaks to bring back to their families nesting in the waterlogged trees.

The crafts the expedition used were meagre. Simple, lamed riverboats of oak. A few even looked as if they had been bought off the docks of local fishermen. They were not for show, not for battle; such was not their purpose. The five boats carried a mix of crews. The thirty-odd Matathran scouts sat in the boat’s center while the ten Morkt raiders paired off, one at the helm with a depth finding rod and one at the aft steer board.

The small contingent sifted through the water, again without need of conventional propulsion. However the Calid scouts were equipped with paddles which they dipped mimickingly in the water should someone be watching. The small crafts danced up the sides of the river banks silently. Few boats spoke. Save for that of Trygve’s.

A muffled crack sounded out as Trygve thrashed a mosquito against the side of his neck. Its viscous entrails covered the breadth of his hand. “It is times like these that I wish I could fit into a shiny burka like you.” Trygve offered without even looking for Tafari's reaction. Trygve was clad in a muffled black gambeson with a dappled grey seal skin cloak. At his side, a great war ax sat longlily perched on the ship’s gunnel.

"You can have one of your very own when you learn how to flense Agate Spiders and harvest their silk glands." Tafari replied nonchalantly from behind. "Pay attention though; according to the charts from our scouts, there is an Treefolk encampment further up along the river." He pointed to a spot on the weathered, hand-drawn map of the marshes that the Calid Scouts had pieced together through prior scouting.

“An interesting development. It seems your war has stirred up quite some interest. There was no camp there during our trip to your lofty bridge. I do not doubt your men though, even with a brain of bark I would place a post where the rivers meet. As it stands, my pockets are fresh out of sunshine and dirt to pay our safe passage.” Trygve reliped as he slid down the boat's prow to face Tafari and the produced map.

"Well, you are the sailor here. How do you propose we pass them by?" The silk-shrouded figure inquired, their arms crossed over the club-like weapon hanging from the front of their carapace cuirass.

“How well can your men carry a boat?” Trygve prodded. Black leaves once again maring his amiable smile.

"Only so long as it is not burdened by your corpulent ego." Tafari answered, prompting a quipping wink from his victim . "If you are suggesting that the boats should make land and carried around the other side of the river, we will need a distraction so that their scouts and watchers do not spot us while we are trudging through the mud." With that, and without any further explanation, he got up from where he was seated and started making his way to the ship railing, handing off the chart he had been examining to one of the Questors.

Trygve shot up from his perch quickly, attempting--if unsuccessfully--to appear in charge of the conversation’s end. Trygve grabbed his great ax’s hilt and sifted his fingers across the intricate engravings on that covered its gorgeous blade. “Precisely.” He mustered before returning his gaze to the ships heading. He paused a moment before continuing. “Perhaps you and I should test our mettle in the act, let our men make portage with Radoslaw. I want to see what these creatures can do for myself.. And you are perhaps the definition of a distraction.” Trygve glanced at the iridescent warrior behind him.

"I imagine you know the way there and will be able to rendevouz with the boats later on? In the event we are separated by more than your burgeoning pride." Tafari practically drawled as he hopped up onto the railing, as though he intended to jump straight down directly into the river below.

"Perhaps separate is best. A hammer and anvil as they say. I am quite fond of not being seen, and you are quite fond of everyone noticing you... That is if you feel competent enough to return to the boats unguided. I'm sure we could put some cute play figures on a map for you if the visual helps." Trygve replied, pulling himself up to the lip of the boat's prow like the glyphs of bygone heros.

Tafari turned their veiled head back to Trygve, their expression hidden - though the look that might have been there was not hard to imagine, from the amused tone of his voice. "Maps are for plodders and bottom-feeders like yourself."

He then leapt from the railing -

And landed on the far side of the river, completely clearing the coursing waters without issue and landing in the knee-deep shallows of the bank. He waved a single hand airly to Trygve without turning back, and then leapt into the air again in a massive arc despite the fact that his feet should have been hopelessly mired in the wet mud of the earth. His leap carried him more than twenty meters high, and more than twice as far horizontally, only to then immediately bound off the ground in an identical leap the moment he touched down again.

"Well fuck, now every bird in the sky will see him." Trygve mumbled under his breath as he returned to the base of the boat. His eyes surveyed the mixed assembly remaining. "To the shore, quickly. Our plot mustn't be foiled or the western coast will be lost. Keep your heads low, and use your whit far before your blade. Someone among us must reach the coast to parlay with the invasion force. If I or Tafari or any man among you should fall, keep that mission at heart. Its worth is far more than any of our own." Trygve gently thumped the pauldron of the Calid scout closest to him.

"Meet us south at the thirds river, but do not wait. Keep only faith." With that, Trygve produced a thick wooden shield covered in grime and sporadic thatch from the gunnel. Its coating mirrored the surrounding brush deceptively well. He gently slinked into the cool, mired water and began his swim.

---


The camp consisted of two main sections. The first was a small island in the sea of muddy water upon which supplies of various kinds were kept, mainly food and ammo as well as the odd pile of construction materials, protected from insects, beasts and the wet ground by tarps wrapped over and under them. There was little in the way of defences or structures of any kind such as tents and the main perimeter consisted of a few disparately positioned ents standing close to the waterline, atop which Dryads lookouts sat while their kin soaked up what little sun made it through the fog. Furthest from the river was a large area set aside for warbeasts, big and small, where they could rest in peace or leave to go out hunting without disturbing the varios supplies. At the center was a large mundane tree, upon which various birds, predator and prey alike, roosted.. Within the camp Drayds and ents milled about, either talking in small groups or moving cargo around. The majority were located closer to the river, near the living ships.

These ships were docked on the second major section of the camp, a series of floating docks grown out of a thick vegetation. They stretched about halfway across the river and a dozen or so ships where sitting within the array of floating gangways, some carrying supplies that where currently being unloaded, others perpring to take small teams down towards the main road to prepare traps or ambush areas.

From a distance the living ships might have been mistaken for long ships like those once used by Shenra, but on closer examination it became they were but an imitation with some major deviations from the base design. Their main body was a single solid trunk of a tree that had grown oddly so that it was almost semicircular, the flat section forming the deck of the ship while the rounded region formed the hull. This ship tapered off at the front, forming a relatively normal looking prow, except for the fact that it featured a figurehead of some beast, monster or insect which had the golden glowing eyes of a treekin. These figureheads were semi articulate, capable of turning to and fro to observe the area. At the center of the deck was a single large wide leaf that stretched skywards in place of a sail, made in a lateen configuration that allowed it to sail against the wind. Currently these sails were folded shut, the veins of the leaf had bent so that they were parallel with the midribowing the ship to take down its sails while docked without having to tear leaf from its own body.

At the rear was the main deviation of structure for the ships structure form what it was mimicking as the tapering off of the ship’s stern halted suddenly, as if the last meter of the ship had been cleaved off. In place of a stern where the ships roots, trailing in the water. These were used to root in onto a riverbank in order to suck nutrients from the soil, but while in the matter they acted as a propulsion system, like tentacles or Flagellum, and as the ship’s method of steering. Along the sides of the dech there were small branches forming waist high hedgerow that acted as a barrier to keep treekin and cargo on the ship while also being able to aggressively fend off enemy boarding attempts boarding attempts. Finally along the sides of the hull where many long arms ending hands webbed with leaf like material. These acted as oars, weapons and as a rudimentary method of crawling up onto or off of a shore line. The distribution of these arms varied, some having only ones whee oars would be, some had multiple dedicated combat limbs near their figurehead used to grapple with enemy craft, some had ones on the deck itself that were used as cargo cranes. Others on had limbs that formed living crossbows using arms that split in two at the elbow, one hand holding a bow while a serpentine vine was used to draw back the string and bolt. A minority had a few limbs or their figureheads covered in complex runes which acted made them into magic spell firing cannons made of living wood.

The ships present were all 8 - 15 meters in length, making them rather small for their kind. On on the high seas where multi sailed carracks, some of them bristling with runic cannons or ballistas in place of oars, that dwarfed the small longships. Those however where incable of traversing the marshes, their hulls to deep to make use of the half meter of water covering the land. The longships meanwhile could sail through it with ease and could drag themselves over shallow areas or vegetation, making them perfect for transportation and assaults in the muddy expanse. They were, however, not the only things in the water, as both ents and living ships of pecuriler and monstrous shape lurked in the regions around the encampment, revealed only by small leaf covered limbs, that could be mistaken for regular trees, poking out of the water and mud they slumbered in.

There were two responses to Tafari's advance. The first was a small volley of arrows from the various sentries, most of whom individuals decided that whatever the thing coming at them was, it wasn't one of theirs and was thus better to be safe than sorry. While his speed made targeting difficult the predictability of the arcs of his leaps meant that a few arrows did manage to hit him but the carapace armor deflected some shots and the silk absorbed others. By the time he was on top of them Tafari had several, completely harmless, arrows sticking out from various parts of his armor or hanging limply from extraneous folds of silk.

The other response was the sound of a horn coming from the center of the camp and the taking off of the birds roosting there. Most notably a number of eagles that took off in various directions, hoping to spot other intruders as they had the incoming lone warrior. This horn cleaved through the confusion and concern seeping up into the camp from the lookouts. The horn ment a threat had been spotted, and that a battle was soon to commence. Confusion, alarm and concern were all overwhelmed by purpose, the Treekin’s purpose for existing: to fight and die so that the Dreaming Forest as a whole could survive and thrive. The various dryads and Ents could be seen dropping what they were doing and rushing to repel invaders from their patch of dry land.

Lack of immediate clear instruction meant that they did not all go towards Tafari, but instead went towards all the edges or gathered in the center for clearer orders. The various humans among the treekin, who where mostly non combatants, tried their best to find a safe spot form the currents pulling the wooden warriors to battle, either pressing against or standing on supplies. The rest gravitating to the relative calm, and hopefully safety, of the center of the camp. The ships on the docks meanwhile mostly set sail, hoping to flank the intruders, their leaf like sails, arm like oars and tentacle like roots propelling them across the water at a remarkable speed. Those that stayed were waiting on crew to rally to them so that they could act as more effective fighting platforms or where carrying to many supplies to fight effectively.

At the center of the camp Sunrost the Eagle, co-commander of the entire frozen marshes operation gazed down at the surrounding swampland from the eyes of his birds of prey. He was satisfied with the response of his kin, all as eager as ever as they where to get stuck into combat instead of tramping about in the mud doing logistics. They had known that they might be attacked, being the most isolated encampment, as well as being close to Matathran’s current position. Raids form Calid scouts or harpies had been considered a possibility, as had the possibility that Matathran had some engineering solution to the marshes or that they might have build ships for the marsh crossing. One bounding human sized figure had not been on the list of expected threats however. Animals might have feared the capabilities of the lone man, or have arrogantly underestimated him. However, as plants, the Treekin did not come pre-programed with fight or flight reflex for anything other than that burnt in fear of fire.

Nevertheless, they could learn caution and, with Andromach’s might fresh in all their minds, the possibility that this figure was of a similarly dangerous caliber did concern Sunrost. He had climbed up the tree his birds had perched in after he sounded the horn and now waited to see what the figure could do, for messengers he had sent out to redirect the spread out fighters to the correct direction and for some of his options for combating the warrior, should they prove a match for the regular treekin, to arrive in the center of the camp.

The uncertainty went both ways, thankfully. Tafari, not accustomed with the ways and thinking of the treefolk, saw the small island in the middle of the river, heaped with supplies and surrounded by Living Ships, and concluded that it was the center of the encampment’s operations. Leaping through the air one last time, mid-flight, Tafari produced a fire-pot with a curious twist of his left wrist in some nigh-magical sleight-of-hand - which he then placed inside the rearmost hole of his oddly shaped weapon, still hanging from the front of his carapace armor. As he landed amidst the carefully wrapped tarps stacked in the middle of the island, he drew it. The weapon was both alien and familiar to the treefolk of the Emerald Empire. In form and shape, it looked similar to the carapace the man wore as armor; complete with protruding spines and apparent segmentation. At the same time however, the whole of the club was seemingly petrified and made of stone; and its shape seemed almost perfectly - artificially - made to serve as a cruel and vicious clubbing implement comparable to a mace. There was also the strange matter of the three holes along it - one at its top, one at its front poised directly between four barbed stone spines, and another at rear and bottom of the weapon's haft. All seemed connected to the same hollow center - which could clearly do the weapon no favors, robbing it of mass and strength.

Tafari hefted the weapon even as the first of the human defenders who had been positioned on the island began to surround him, and brought it down. Amidst the shouts and beat of footfalls, the creaking of wood and the cries of countless birds, the cracking sound of the fire pot inside the weapon's hollow chamber could be faintly heard.

The area immediately surrounding Tafari burst into flame as great, bellowing gouts of flaming oil jetted from the three holes along the weapon's length. The tarps surrounding him immediate set alight, men and women screamed as their clothes were immediately set aflame and as oil sank into and burned their skin, and trails of insidious and ravenous wisps of flames began to wind through the grime and wet muck of the island, carried amongst the currents of the water by thin streams of fuel. Standing in the middle of the abrupt conflagration stood Tafari, seemingly unperturbed and untouched by the flames - for the most part. The edges of their silk garments were smoldering, faint flickers and embers of light picking up strength along the frayed and now dirtied fabric and threatening to engulf him in flame as well, though his motions betrayed no apprehension on his part. Hefting his club aloft once more - now covered in oil and blazing with terrible light - he ran amongst the stacks of tarps, beating human figures down and smashing supplies, lighting them aflame in the process.

From his observation post Sunrost was initially horrified, believing for a moment that the man had blown himself up to take out a chunk of their supplies. A small chunk at that. While the oil fire could not be extinguished the rest of the fire was already being combated, a few enchanters down by the waters edge made use of items designed for hydrokinesis and began extinguishing the fire. These items looked like small tubes or drums about a quarter of a meter in diameter and half a meter in length. Pointed with one and facing the marsh and another at the camp the rear of the tube drew water towards and into itself from a wide area, while the other end fired it forward in constant stream hat could be adjusted for with and intensity using dials that could be twisted slightly altering the wording of the amber runes on the drum. Those were used as fire hoses, spraying a shower of water on top of the inferno.

A few moments after the explosion Sunrost caught sight of their attacker once more, and took notice that his armor had seemingly protected him from the flames. After sorting the existence of such armor away for future use Sunrost took stock of what he had available. While the fire warrior had begun his rampage a number of people had assembled for instruction and who were now all watching the fire nervously. They varied from elite warriors, such as a small troupe of wind dancers, to those who provided more utility like mages. Neither of these he wanted to commit into the range of the flame wielding thug. He didn't really want to commit anything into his range, even as a number of the warriors down at the shore got their courage up and charged him. Seven ironbark armored dryads, armed with a mix of hammers, swords, knives and maces, primed to break the armored warrior, racing between the spread out lines of supplies to cut off his advance. Seeing this Sunrost ordered a support from the center.

“Jero,” one of his lieutenants “take ten warriors and support them!”

“Aye” the dryad, armored with reforged steel plate rather than ironbark, quickly got nine dryads and a bestial ent shaped, roughly, like a two meter tall panther with two massive prehensile vines coming out from its back just behind its shoulders, to follow him. Together the eighteen treekin began to try and get ahead of Tafari ‘s path of arson. Out on the periphery, those fighters that could see Tafari either advanced, cautiously behind the advanced attack force to stop Tafari from leaping over them again, or pelted him with arrows, archers atop ents raining fire down upon him, that hurt neither the mace wielding pyro nor his soon to be attackers. The rest of the island’s gerison however was still getting to grips with the fact that there was only one enemy, and were slow, or unwilling, to break their perimeter lest threw here more enemies lurking out there.

As the ironbark Dryads split up through the stacks of tarp-covered supplies to cut off and surround the fire-wielding warrior, they heard the distinct sound of cracking clay - and saw a number of fire pots being hurled from Tafari's position amidst the maze of supplies in every direction, creating even more outbreaks of flame upon the island. One of them rounded a corner and saw the silk-clad warrior - their iridescent garb shimmering with a malign, dusken glow as it partially reflected the light of the roaring flames surrounding him - about to throw another one of his clay pots. Seeing the ironbark dryad charge, Tafari chucked it directly at him instead, retrieved another one with another seeming sleight-of-hand, and charged down the pathway to his right, passing right through a patch of open flame and kindling in the process without stopping.

A few moments later the dryad emerged from the mass of smoke, screaming, his right side burning furiously as the oil licked at his shoulder. This was met by an instant blast of water from the nearest firefighter, knocking the dryad away from his kin lest they join him in burning. The rest of the fighters, unable to target flames directly, now that the ones they had extinguished blocked their paths, angled their water cannons upwards. And thus Tafari was chased by rain....though unfortunately the firefighters found their efforts to be in vain. Concentrated, their enchanted staves could completely engulf patches of oil and extinguish the flames therein before the oil scattered. Raining down from above however, even the heavy deluge proved unable to smother the flames spreading across the supply depot - and in fact, seemed only to exacerbate them as oil was spread by falling water, carrying the flames to yet more parts of the depot. Seeing the effect this had, the firefighters quickly resorted to their prior tactics, while Sunrost recorded this newfound knowledge for future use. For the moment though, they still had a Matathran firestarter to apprehend. For the moment Tafari seemed content to simply run around the island setting everything and everyone he saw on fire, weaving through the tarps and the burning kindling around him like a forest aflame, evading the treefolk sent to stop him and ambushing the firefighters wherever he found them. As the numbers of the latter thinned, the fires spread even further, and the treefolk found themselves unable to safely navigate the burning maze.

While Tafari had been playing a game of cat and mouse Sunrost had found who he needed. Lestriala the Scalebinder, a proficient beastmaster, now sat with him in his lookout tree, from there they could track the progress of the firestarter, and guide Lestriala’s monsters towards him.

---


As utter chaos raged on the shore banks, the living ships remained unassailed. However, a strange figure had appeared on one of the sentient vessels. His face and likeness was hooded with a seal skin shawl, the faint tail of a long ax dipping below his cloak’s reach. The figure made every attempt to seem apart of the crew, looking for hoists and rope line to tack sail or oars to power. However, it did not seem like the crew was doing much of anything by way of aiding the ship in travel. What dryads manned the vessel appeared purely devoted to being a combat force. As such, the figure stood out almost immediately.

There where other things that made him stand out. First and foremost, an axe was a taboo weapon of the highest order. A tool built to slay trees first and foremost the Dreaming Forest reviled them and refused to allow its use by human militias. Second was the fact that the crew where all companions of the the ship and the hooded figure was not a known to it. Thirdly, it had felt him boarding after everyone else was already abroad. The figurehead of the ship, shaped like a dragonfly, swiveled from where it had been watching the shore to see who had boarded it with its luminous amber eyes. He stood out like a seal in a frenzy of sharks. The ship immediately brought the intruder to the attention of its crew. The eyes of the dryads onboard all turned to join the ship in staring at the seal cloaked man with uncanny speed. Hands went to weapons. The closest figure to him, a crudely crafted woman in who had drawn a mace shouted at him “Drop the axe and Identify yourself” practically spitting the word axe as she said it.

“I am the Good Marshal,” the figure replied with a darkened smile. In the same breath, he spat a long trail of saliva, mired black by the snuff that had been present in his under lip. The vile liquid sped through the air like a bullet toward the questioning dryad. With a faint thiiick the liquid passed between her amber eyes and out the back of her wooden skull. The wooden figure seemed unphased by this and simply stared on in aggravated annoyance and raised her mace to strike him in response.

Trygve made for his ax. In a synchronized motion a rogue wave crested the ship’s port gunwale. It was a small amount of water, but enough to take the feet out of many of the crew. Trygve closed with the dryad woman before him. From under his cloak swept a a gorgeous long ax, it’s head embellished in ornate fashion. In a single motion he swept it into the dryad's shoulder. The rune studded ax sliced horizontally through the dryad's upper torso as if it were hot butter. A shocked expression crossed the womans face as her armor failed her and then the light in her eyes dimmed as her upper half hit the deck. Her trunk severed in two, a dull splash marked her return to the swamped deck.

The lower half however remained standing before Trygve for a few moments, only to take off at a sprint away from him down the length of the ship. The sound of it falling over on the now soaking floor was heard a few moments later, but Trygve had bigger concerns. As the rest of the crew picked themselves up from the splash attack the ship itself came to their aid. What Trygve may have mistaken for oars where actual arms, and dozens of them now reached out of the water on either side of the ship. Bunching up its webbed hands into fists the size of cannonballs the ship then tried to punch the hostile currently standing on its deck. The barrage of jabs was not up to full strength however, as the ship endeavored to not hit itself or its crew in the process.

Trygve danced among the boat like a mad man, a smile growing with every swoop of his ax. It was hard to tell if his excitement came from the fray or finally being aboard one of these magnificent creatures. His enchanted weapon found the hides of three more unsteady dryads, the splinters or their ironbark shattering into his face like small quills. As Trygve closed his eyes to avoid the third marine’s inevitable shards, a stray ship arm caught the side of his brow. With fluid momentum he lopped off the gargantuan arm, but was forced to recoil from the cracking blow.

While Trygve had been busy dealing with the ship itself the crew had begun to recover and acclimating to standing on the the treacherous flooded deck. The ship boarding brawl had also caught the attention of other treekin in the region and they where now drawing in to support their fellows. A second ship closed in on the first, this one bristling with ballistas and magicannons, while some way off in the water something stirred and began to close in on the assailed ship, a long hump of water the only indication of its passage Sunrost too had spotted the battle in the waters from his eyes in the sky. Having ascertained from Trygve’s presence that this was not be the work of the flaming man alone he ordered his beastmasters to “spread your eyes far and wide, they might have come from some ship or have allies, we must find out if this is a distraction like the fire starting scouts in the border forest!”

Sweeping away the blood now surging from his right brow, Trygve hurriedly realized the attention he had been drawing. He muttered curses under his breath before quickly raising the great bearded ax over his head. With his full might the ax careened downward through the floorboard of the ship’s deck. The ship briefly recoiled in horror at the blow, giving him an opening to pivot and hack twice more. On the third cut, the meter wide triangle soared into the sky as a geyser of turbid water erupted from beneath. The stream came with unnatural force and the ships hull quickly began to take water. Trygve gave a lewd hand gesture to the remaining ships crew as he stepped into the jet of swamp water and disappeared.

He never caught sight of what it was under the water, as the moving wave continued to the beleaguered ship to attempt to stop it from sinking, rather than attempting to pursue him. Shortly after he left the soft glow of magic began to emanate from the ship as an enchanter from the other vessel did what they could to repair some of the damage the hydromancer had left in his wake.

---


Into the west side of the burning maze something massive crashed. A hydra, twisted descendant of dragons, waded into the burning wreckage without fear, trampling ruined supplies beneath its claws and dozen meter long body as its three heads searched for their silk coated pray. Flanking it where cicatrices, horse sized drakes native to the marsh. Behind them, protected by distance and the dragonspawn before them, advanced a concentrated fire fighting team. Enchanters douse the flames of the materials with streams of water while air mages fanned the flames of the oil, creating small points into which both oxygenated air and the oil where concentrated, causing them to briefly burn brilliantly as they were forced to consume their waterproof fuel in seconds rather than minutes.

In the other areas firing lines where set up to strike at the arsonist if he showed his face. On the shoreline the living ships, their sides bristling with bolt throwers and magi-canons, did their best to cover the work of the remaining firefighters, who had all learned to keep their distance. To the west monstrous ents did their best to move supplies out of the way, warding themselves against fire pots with disposable vines stretching sheets of cloth before them. Their fellow stood by with slings to return fire with great blunt stone projectiles capable of harming the armored Tafari. Should one be struck their fellows would use water magic to stop the spread of the oils flames while the inextinguishable part of them was severed to prevent immolation.

And at the center, the mages stood ready to deliver arcane fire, while the wind dancers watched the flames and smoke without eyes, probing their edge of the fire with a sense beyond human understanding. Sunrost meanwhile had begun to send messengers beyond the encampment, around the spreading fire. Should the scouts find anything out there, he would need to have fast moving troops ready to respond to whatever might be hidden out there in the marshes.

The Hydra and its escorting cockatrices did not have to search through the burning ruins for long before their quarry made an appearance. Springing out of the flames, Tafari leapt directly on top the Hydra's path, leveling one of his arms towards the cicatrice to the right - and with a seething hiss akin to rapidly uncoiling rope and the springing of a plywood trap, a net of silken webbing erupted from the folds of the warrior's sleeve. The insidiously woven fibers engulfed the cicatrice, causing it to stumble on the spot as the unexpectedly resilient threads of the net caught its limbs, forcing it to fall prone on the ground. Lying caught and helpless, it screeched in anguish as the wooden brambles amidst the sod around it caught alight; the webbing it had been caught in was superheated - fire-resistant enough to withstand the tremendous heat without catching flame, whilst setting everything around in aflame. Only the cicatrice’s own fire-resistant scales prevented it from being cooked alive in the torturous snare.

Even as the cicatrice fell to the ground, Tafari slid a second fire pot into the lowermost aperture of his club, and with another cracking sound great gouts of flame bellow out from the two openings along its length, covering the weapon in raging flames once more and turning Tafari's surroundings into a conflagration. The sharpest-eyed of Sunrost's avian spies spotted that, at last, the warrior's flame-retardant raiment had finally started to give way to the very flames Tafari had been spreading so freely - the flowing lengths of the warrior's silk robes that covered his left leg were now fully aflame, and the ravenous fire was slowly eating away at the fabric and spreading across the remainder of his outfit - though he still remained unperturbed, and merely brandished his club to meet the Hydra head-on.

The hydra however, did not seem to feel the need to do the same, instead it charged towards his right side, thundering up towards the top of the island, its three heads hissing menacingly as they all watched him with its narrow slit pupils. This did not however reveal the mages behind it as the hydra’s tail, a tail roughly ten times the size of its body and almost as thick, side winded itself in such a manner as to drag itself round the other side of him. It was clear that the hydra did not want to charge him, nor to duke it out in the open, but instead desired to ensnare him as he had the cockatrice. Said beast was itself in the process of using its sharp talons to meticulously cut its way out of the burning net using a distinctly non animalistic intelligence. The rapidly lost from view treekin forces closed in, preparing unseen plans with ever increasing coordination as the exact nature of the threat spread by word and dream alike. Not content to wait for the noose to draw taught around his neck, Tafari leapt onto the ensnared cockatrice which the Hydra had elected to abandon while it was still attempting to cut its way free of its webbing. The cocatrice responded to the aprotching to Tafari as best it could, guided by the hydra's eyes more than its own. The beast opened its jaw slightly, fire briefly licking destructively at the exposed insides of its mouth, revealing the insides to include two small snake like fangs. out of these it sprayed two thin streams of liquid, in a similar manner to a spitting cobra. The two streams intertwined a few cm’s from their exit point and chemically reacted together, rapidly vaporizing in the air to form a rolling wave of miasma directed at its attacker - only for the mists to be scattered to the winds by the ferocious heat and fury of the flames surrounding Tafari's weapon and continuing to creep along the length of his robes as the warrior fell upon the cockatrice and started to viciously club it on the head.

The cockatrice screeched in pain and tried to squirm so that its head was protected from the blows, only for its screaming to be drowned out by three hisses. The noose had drawn taught while he occupied himself with the juicy morsel laying at its center. The partially on fire man was now surrounded by a two meter tall wall of scales and flesh, the upper, stronger side of the hydra’s bulk turned inwards to face him. Towering above his rapidly shrinking patch of ground where the three heads of the beast, hoods flared, gazes locked upon him as they prepared to strike.

Tafari seemed to slowly and deliberately rise from beating the cockatrice, and tore his club in a horizontal slash through the air, filling the space around him with a haze of flame that rolled and spilled over the edges of Hydra's coiling tail, will-o-wisps of flame pouring out from its confines to join the larger conflagration around it - obscuring Tafari from its vision and surrounding the hydra in a ring of flame.

The noose continued to tighten, walls of scales slowly closing in as outside the fires died down as the fighters away from the firestarter were allowed to go about their work in peace. Two of the head remained in wait, while the third ducked down behind its own bulk to perform a task unseen.

The haze of flame vanished. Tafari was nowhere to be found. Trailing threads of glimmering, burning silk hovered in the air where he had stood perched upon the cockatrice's body.

Before spreading a panic, the beastmaster made sure that there was no illusionary magic occurring, and had the hydra head butt the region that had once contained the silken warrior. It slammed its head directly into the mangled cockatrice. Then, cries and shouts broke out from amongst the firefighter brigades. Acting quickly, Sunrost peered through the dreaming to ascertain how the flame-swathed warrior had escaped. Through the eyes of their fellow treefolk, he saw a ravenous tower of flame that seemed peculiarly resistant to the geysers of water being streamed at it - and it moved. As it approached, the flames broke and twisted, revealing themselves to in fact be the very thing the beastmaster had feared - an illusion. Tafari, his silken vestments still catching flame, shimmered and gleamed with distorted light, and all who viewed it from a distance mistook it for just another flame. That had been how he had escaped from the Hydra's clutches - surrounded by flame, he had likely leapt from the center of the Hydra's coils into the nearest blaze while he remained obscured - and also explained yet more of his prior antics, leading the camp's defenders through the maze of flame he had made of the supply depot. Now, he took his mace to yet more of the firefighters even as the flames devouring most of his lower body began to spread to consume the fabric of his chest.

The firefighters were far from helpless however, quickly changing the runic configurations on their tools to narrowed the exit part of their drum-like contraptions and turned them on their attacker. Dozens of pressure blasts of water hammered into the warrior as he tried to change them, joined by torrents of wind from the air mages. Behind him the hydra uncoiled, its third head now sporting a singular dryad who was chanting magic incantations. To either side of the hydra other cockatrices were seen closing in on him. Clearly, the flame-cloaked warrior had not been expecting such immediate reaction, and was bowled off his feet and right back into the flames - where the defenders then immediately lost track of him once more, even as they quickly rushed to douse the remaining fires. The Hyrda turned and resumed it's advance into the firestorm, seeking to capture Tafari in it's coils once more, and this time to allow no escape.

As the firefighters continued to attack the flames and allow the hydra’s advance, they began to notice their arcane water drums go afoul. They choked on the water in their systems and some even noticed the contents of their hydromancing flow backwards into the marshy river. The subtle ice blue eyes of Trygve smiled in delight through the thick clumpets of reed and cattails a distance away. With the water conduits out of commission, the blaze could now spread at will toward the hydra. Trygve hoped his flamboyant Matathran partner would see this as the time to escape with both of their lives. If a distraction were the mission, he considered it met.

The water supply sabotaged allowed the western end of the blaze began to spread while the rest of the blaze continued to die, its fuel rapidly expanded and new sources having been dragged clear while the firestarter was occupied with the hydra. That beast and its lesser kin where undeterred by the lack of firefighting and continued to root around in the flames, seeking their prey. The treekin however were forced to fall back, the mages the only ones capable of fighting the blaze now and their numbers only able to slow it. It took a few moments for someone to go investigate the countermagic stopping the water, but eventually the party who had originally attempted to intercept Tafari, lead by the plate mailed Jero, arrived by the waters edge. The seven dryads and the hulking panther like ent spread out, attempting to locate the saboteur.

Trygve slinked quietly through the heavy reed and sweetflag. With hope, his compatriot had done what was wise and left the area. However, his retreat would no doubt need to be covered. The Matathran pyromancer would stand out like a whore in chapel with all his explosions and hopping about. To Trygve, the success of this plot would hinge on the fellowship’s escape. The searching eyes of the plate mailed dryad and his bark-laiden kin would be quite a threat to that. He gently brushed fresh blood from his brow as he watched them approach. Trygve dropped a small hand axe into the water at his feet and cracked a grin as the weapon appeared to swim though the shallow water toward a neighboring patch of brush.

The cohort of treekin soon were meters away from Trygve’s blind. With a faint slosh, the hand axe careened out of of the adjacent thicket and into the side of a dryad’s head, cleaving into the warriors helmet and knocking them over into the muddy water. While two went to assist the downed dryad most of his fellows, predictably, charged the thicket the axe had emerged from, only to be confounded by its emptiness. As the wounded dryad was dragged back up towards the center of the camp the others wheeled around from the distraction spot, now aware of the existence of a still unseen threat stalking them from somewhere in the reeds.

However, in the reed thicket the ground around the dryads began to give way. Every second their feet sunk deeper and deeper into what has once been knee deep muck. Now many of them were forced to fight their way out of waist high floating peat. The Dryads and their armor’s innate buoyancy mitigated some of this effect, but the metal armored Jero sunk fast, his already heavy fooding dragged far deeper than that of his kin. They all would be forced to watch in vein as Trygve sprinted from his vantage point at the untrapped ent panther. Spared from the muddy burial by the long spread out roots that formed its feet acting as snow shoes the bestial ent counterchanged the warrior as soon as it became aware of him, thorn filled jaw open in a silent roar, the two thick tentacle like vines emerging from behind its shoulder blades coiling up in preparation to strike.

Trygve sent up a harmless spray of mist as he closed with the beast to blur it’s vision. He crashed through the mist at a disconjugate direction from his start. With a heavy sweep of his great axe Trygve blasted through the left front leg of the feline ent. Splinters cascaded like shrapnel as the beast stumbled, only just managing support itself on a single forelimb before it came crashing down. Instead the great beast relocated its attacker and went in for a second attack, this time bringing its vines low down in a low down scissor position, blocking access to its remaining forelimb as it attempted to either bite at the man or catch him between the vines in a pincer maneuver.

The man lurched back from the biting maw and drew a small hand axe from his belt. With a hard overhand pitch he sent the weapon at the intersection of the beast's scissored vines. There it lodged deep into both of the prehensile weapons, clogging the independence of their use. After a few, brief, futile attempts to free its two vines the ent resorted to using them as a combined bludgeoning weapon, ramming them forwards to try and knock him off balance.

However, the warrior sidestepped the clumsy thrust and countered with a whistling axe. The bearded blade cut through the vines like brittle bone. The tendrils splashed helplessly to the ground. Trygve darted below the beast, wary of its thorned jowls. As he had done with the other foreleg, the great ax found the trunk of its sister. The rooted limb was sent to splinters as the beast crashed face down into the waterlogged soil. Trygve took his time, adjusting the hilt of his axe between his worn hands. Blood oozed from his face at an uncountable number of points, a lasting gift of the dismembered treekin. With muted concentration Trygve swung his ax like an executioner upon massive panther’s neck. It cleaved.

The headless beast continued to lurch, but helplessly so. Trygve looked back upon the entrapped members of the search party, his impromptu audience. They were now nearly shoulder deep in bogwash. Trygve returned their gaze, a heaviness on his usually smiling face. He simply stared at them. At the iron barked lieutenant. And without word, he turned to leave.

At the center of the island Sunrost saw two things. The first, through his own eyes, was the wounded soldier, the thrown axe having damaged their vision when it struck them, to who’s side a healer quickly rushed. Those that had borne the casualty to them brought news of the man that had attacked them before rushing back to the fight. The second thing he saw through his avian allies, small ships attempting to bypass their encampment. Here then, where two targets not cloaked in death, targets they could actually reach. To strike those far away sunrost sent an eagle to cry at the envoys he had sent out to the marshes earlier. Having awaited this signal they instructed fast moving troops to follow it to battle. Previously tranquil water was stirred as several massed began to make a beeline towards the small vessels, a low wave the only denotation of their presence. To strike the axeman he committed the Wind dancers at last, held back as they where as vulnerable to the inferno as any other, here was a foe they could strike. Once he had completed ordering the outward strike he followed after the eccentric elite troops, something about the brief description of the attacker had stuck in his mind, a collar around his neck.

The windancers far outstriped the pace of the returning dryad warriors, arriving on the scene as swiftly and silently as a breeze. It was clear that Trygve was not going to escape so easily. The three were dressed in light, naturally colored, flowing outfits that made them stand out among the normally ubiquitously armored Dryads. One had their eyes closed, another was blindfolded and the last lacked eyes entirely, for they all saw with a sight beyond sight, a kind of heavily localise omniscience that was a refined form of the Tree’s own understanding of the world. They all wielded a heavy two handed weapons such as a great hammer or claymore in a single hand while holding a smaller companion weapon like a claw or dagger in the other. There was something strange about how they stood on the wet earth, for their light footfalls did not sink into the mud, not even slightly, as their dash brought them towards Trygve.

By now the Morkt warrior was approaching fatigue. Crisp air caught each heavy breath with a gust of mist. He peered in frustration at the fast encroaching party. Out of the corner of his eye Trygve also spotted a bird. The creature was to deliberate in its course to be ferrel. Its path loomed dangerously close to his men portaging South. The smell of sweat and stale adrenaline clung to Trygve's brain as he imagined what would happen if his crew was found. He trusted his men with his life, but even the strongest man could crack under torture. The Morkt’s silent invasion of the West would be extracted or at least surmised. Hordes of treekin would be waiting for them at the beaches. His brothers and sisters would be led to slaughter on the sands. Somewhere between the blood on his hands and the smooth grain of the axe in their grasp stood the entire fate of his people.

Instead of charging the waiting warrior, the lightly dressed dryads slowed, before coming to a halt a short distance before him.The eyeless one, his face smooth and mask like apart from his mouth, spoke to him as the other two fanned out slightly to either side yet deliberately staying within Trygve’s field of vision.

"I am Robretan the Blank. To whom do we owe this dance?”

“I am just a man. A man sent by masters the same as you.” Trygve replied, keeping leery eyes on those encircling him. He walked slowly into the heart of a shallow puddle as the treekin drew near.

“We have no masters” “nor kings” “nor gods” “not like yours” “those who put that thing around your neck” “leadership is given” “an honor” “a burden” “a tool to preserve us all” “not something to be wielded like an axe”

The three started speaking in turn, their words matching some unheard yet shared rhythm, flowing like poetry, as they approached, truly encircling him. They did not sink as they took their places, each knowing precisely where they needed to be as they watched without eyes for the first steps of the dance.

Trygve provided it as he sent up a glittering screen of water from the pond at his feet. It cast up a double mirror to his front and left. With the screen up, he lunged for the warrior to his right. His great ax sweeping low at the dyrad’s thigh.

Yet they seemed to be already moving before he came at them, narrowly managing to move out of the way of the tired man’s blow using a graceful leap that carried the blindfolded Dryad out of his imidate range. As they landed the weight of the blade she carried caused the dancer to pirouette round to face him and, inadvertently, Sunrost, who had just arrived. Suddenly the other two warriors burst through the mirror walls, seemingly undeterred, and chased after him, managing with ease to not simply plow into one-another as they did so. They lepet to either side of Trygve, dragging their large weapons with them skywards and then spinning mid jump to bring the hammer and mace thundering down towards him.

Their weapons both crashed through what could only be described as mist.

The image had only been a decoy, as Trygve appeared where the shield of water had been. He had hidden his true self in its fold. In the midst of the pairs strike he descended from behind. The hydromancer hurled a hand axe at the eyeless creature while barreling into its companion with a lowered shoulder.

The axe thumped into the eyeless ones chest, sticking there, while the third’s eyes opened wide in shock from the impact, losing the grip of his mace to be sent flying. Yet despite this they managed to twist in the air, landing on their feet with as much grace as he could muster. The eyeless one drove a powerful kick into Trygve, knocking the two of them away from one another without doing any real harm to the Morkt servant in the process. The blindfolded one was already engaging, rushing Trygve as the third went to the eyeless one's side to remove the axe from his torso.

Sunrost watched, impressed by the warriors skill and cunning. “Why do you fight for Matathran, slave, when no one is here holding your chain. The arsonist is lost in his fire, the boats far from view. You could simply have simply disappeared, yet here you are fighting in vain those who stand against your wretched masters.”

Trygve froze at the words. Vomit lingered as his gut somersaulted. They had found the boats. They had found his men. His rage turned to a vice which gripped his voice. “Perhaps I do not fight for my masters. Perhaps the seamstress sows so that her village is warm. My people cannot sunbathe to live.” Trygve shot back as he swept the water out from under its charging dryad to try and knock it off balance, yet the foot was not dragged with the water as it should have and they dryad instead ran atop the wave, supported by the same magic that had held them above the mud, causing it to be slowed but not faltered.

“If you were to claim spoils for your village I am afraid you’ve done burn and pillage in the wrong order. Not that I imagine your masters would let you keep them. If you seek to protect the village from us then...”

The blindfolded dryad leaped off the end of the cascade of water, running along the dirt and mud left in its wake before coming to an unexpected dead stop just before Trygve. The dryads long blade was not halted however and they turned its momentum into a low swipe, the dancer pivoting on the ball of their heel as they ducked down to fully commit to the swipe.

“This is not the way to go about it.” his words were punctuated by the sound of the throwing axe’s handle being snapped by the open eyed dancer after they had removed it from their wounded kin’s chest.

Trygve countered the sweeping blade with his own. His axe’s cutting edge met the dryads sword and miraculously sliced clean through it with a shriek of sparks. The severed tip of the sword tumbled harmlessly to the sodden earth.

“FUCK YOU!” He roared at the taunting voice. Blood from his seeping brow found marriage in the spittle from his cry. With the momentum of his parry he crashed the base of his axe hilt into the dryads face; a strike that would kill a normal man but Trygve knew it would be futile. That it would all be futile. What was he to do against such monstrosities? What could his men do? All he could think of was who of them would see the end of this war; at this rate he assumed not himself.

“You know nothing of my people!” Tygve grimaced, veins erupting from every corridor of his neck.

The Dryad bore the full force of the axe hilt, the blow ruining her face with an almighty crack, and stabbed Trygve with the blunt head of the decapitated sword, pushing them both apart once more. The dryad nimbly found her feet while the hydromancer bent low, clutching his seeping abdomen, once again surrounded by all three dancers.

“Perhaps not, but let me make a few guesses. First off, they’re not from Matathran or you would have been ‘promoted’ long ago. Second, based on your possessiveness of them, it seems that you are a leader of some kind among them, like a chief or general, which is an odd level of authority for someone who still wears a slave collar to hold. A colar dripping with the arcane I might add. Your masters conquered and enslaved your people, an entire people, and collard them like animals” Sunrost raises an arm beside him and an eagle, wearing a collar marked with amber runes “If you are a true leader, if you serve your people rather than rule them, then you do not want to be our enemies, because we can give you the tools and knowledge” the general brings the eagle round in front of him so he can reach forth and grasp its collar. After muttering a few words the enchantment dulls and dies, the collar slips from the birds neck. As the bird takes flight Sunrost concludes “to help you set them all free.”

---


As Sunrost conversed with the keen edged hydromancer it was left to his subordinates to deal with his fire flinging friend. With their water no longer being disrupted the firefighters finally managed to make headway against the now fuel starved fire. His hiding spaces rapidly dwindling, Tafari burst from one of the last patches of flame, leaping across the marshes in great bounds that would have made a wind-dancer creak with envy. Deftly weaving and dodging between hails arrows, bolts and spells launched at his form the Matathran warrior ran the blockade intended to stop his escape, emerging from the episode with only a few scratches and a faint ringing in his ears from numerous near misses. Freedom secured he made with haste to the beleaguered portage team upon whom the carrion birds seemed to flock as the spies of Sunrost guided great dark shapes sinking beneath the swamp water to their target.

Radoslaw and his coalition of men desperately heaved the five heavy craft over the marshes soft peat. The shore was within sight, and yet it appeared so were they. The men hurled curses under their breath at the birds flocked above. Some even took stray shots with their small recurve bows, only one or two quarrels striking home. Spirits soared as the shimmering Grand Marshal came into view. Flurries of hushed thanks tricked through the party. The Morkt raiders and their Calid kin heaved even harder as their comrades skyward shots became increasingly truer. They were inches from the letin. Inches from escape.

Yet their pursuers where hot on their savior’s heels. As the approaching masses came into view it became clear that what was hidden beneath the water was not swimming through it, but instead tunneling through the mud, the part pushing the water aside only the top of what must be a massive monster worming its way through the soft marsh earth. When they were mere inches from the shore the titans breached the surface, revealing themselves to be massive worms of wood covered in hundreds of bark scales.

As Tafari came soaring down through the air, he tore one of the spines lining the shoulders and neck of his silk robes loose and flung it down at one of the wooden worms as it breached the earth. The spine itself - technically the oversized bristle of an Agate Spider - barely even hurt the beastial ent as it embedded a short ways in its tough bark scales - but the bristle was hollow, and it was filled with death.

The bristle sprang apart at the seams like snapping cordwood with a light popping sound, a small black haze of dust flinging up through the air around it, seemingly leaving the worm unharmed - but unseen, just beneath the surface of the Ent's bark inside the thin puncture the spine had pierced, an insidious flame began to burn its way through the creature's innards, spreading far faster than such a confined and air-starved fire had any right to. The spines Tafari wore along his cloak were more than decorative - each one was a hollow stabbing implement that had been filled with a malign alchemical substance, and even as he landed Tafari pulled at more of them to fling at the remaining worms as they too breached the surface of the waterlogged earth, one by one.

Unfortunately this did nothing to stop either the momentum of the worms, nor anything about the wave of mud and water the breaching monstrosities brought with them as one of the boats disappeared before they reached the water, a truck sized mass of living wood plowed into them before disappearing into the water and mud on the far side of the traveler's hiding spot. Tafari himself barely managed to avoid being reduced to a fine paste, leaping out of the way as a mouth capable of swallowing him whole filled with dozens of massive sword length teeth attempted to snatch him up as it careened by. The entire ordeal was over in moments and as the beast disappeared into the muck beyond it was unclear if any had actually perished or if the freezing muck had quench the flames before it could consume any of them. What they left behind was a mess. Several boats damaged and one destroyed, men injured by glancing blows or simply gone entirely. Regardless of the amount of injury suffered, everything was now soaked through and at least some of the beasts were still out there, preparing another charge.

The boat crews stifled their reactions at the horrors from beneath. Their vetrancy was a blessing in that respect. They drew arms and watched nervously for return volleys from beneath. A number of Questors amongst them, less than helpful in guiding the boats along in the first place, turned away from the waters and drew their Geyser blades, determined to, if nothing else, distract the monstrous ents while their comrades escaped.

“Get to the water!” Radoslaw’s voice boomed with penetrating depth. “If it is the mud from which they clamor, then we shall see them left behind in it!” Radoslaw used his hulking mass to single handedly toss a raft into the birth of the river. Men began scrambling for the boats and hefted their wounded comrades through the razor edged reeds. “Where is Trygve?” The giant shaman shouted to Tafari as the last of the remaining boats entered the muddy slip.

"Either still fighting or right behind me! He seemed to have everything under control! Worry about your men right now!" Tafari called back, even as he flung two spines in quick succession at another worm as its massive back breached through the muddy waters once more.

“May the Deep keep his soul.” Radoslaw replied softly, resigned to the Grand Marshal’s words. With a deep hum he closed his eyes and the boats began to visibly quiver in the shallow river. Then suddenly, as if powered by great sails, they hurled through the water, their prows bent high as they pleated the muddy firth. Westward they flew as the spring sun began to kiss the horizon, dazzling the trails of their escape.

In the distance, a horn sounded 3 times, the same horn that had alerted the camp to Tafari’s approach, and all of a sudden the threat to the boats melted away as the birds and worms turned back to the island for some unknown reason. Both groups were noticeably smaller than they had been on arrival. In the distance the final fire was quenched, yet the distant figures upon the island remained chaotic and frantic as if the danger had not yet passed, even as the boats slipped away toward the incandescent skyline.
~ The Morkt ~






A bitter breeze cut through the air, otherwise filled with light snow and screams. A wooden levithan passed the Ahti wharf, the matron wharf of Morkt. Its citizens, generally the visage of cool reserve were in utter panic. The boat before them nearly dwarfed the floating village itself. Glimpses of the vile creatures aboard showed a clear lack of collars, the garment which bonded land dwellers to the merfolk of their realm.

Ida, a woman in her thirties with broad arms and hair the color of lightning scrambled for a horse atop the floating wooden village. The peasant population flew around her in chaos. Some armed themselves, others hid their children and valuables, still others offered hushed prayers to various gods in spite of the gentle burn their collars produced at such heresy. With the springtime raid at hand, those land dwellers left in these isles were too old, too young, or too pregnant to fight. Ida flung herself onto the small, hardy pony whose dun coat mirrored her likeness. With a quick crack of heels the mare tore off through the clamoring crowd. A few daring souls recognized her as she flew by and were quick to follow, axes in hand.

-------


Gnima, daughter of the shaman witch who ruled these lands, looked onward as the goliath vessel crashed into the black sanded shores before her. Their position was a short ways east of the wharf, which met with land only via a series of bridges and ferries. She sat perched on a wooden cask, her finely jeweled dreadlocks and warm dark skin shimmering in the feint wisps of sunlight.

Menacing laughter erupted as many gangplanks of superb craftsmanship were haphazardly thrown from the seamless vessel. The occupants funneled down from their ark, some massive, some not, all with pleased smiles on their faces.

In their arms they transported bundles of crude looking metal weapons and tools, and masterwork wooden furniture and bobbles. As they exited, a thick stench followed them, not unlike the marshes of the islands.

Gnima watched in muted horror as the beasts closed with her. She had perhaps heard stories of such creatures, but always in the context of mothers scaring their children from leaving home. She was indeed scared, and her mother nowhere to be found.

"Hail!" Gnima offered in a booming voice despite her concerns. Arms open, she stood atop her finely crafted barrel, though at combined height she was at nose height to many of the creatures. Even at distance she caught whifs of their scent but continued amiable all the same. "My welcomed guests! I have long awaited your arrival!" She proclaimed magnanimously, her arms open in welcoming gesture.

A being of about ten feet tall and three men wide turned to her, on its shoulder's it carried a barrel unseen outside of a noble's palace, with intricate wood burnings denoting it a liquor of some sort. The being itself was of long matted hair, a rugged wool cap, and a fur cloak that hid a rag covered body. It's skin was mottled grey's and dull blues, with thick stony patches of thickened skin. A bulbous and warty nose stood between Gnima and a yellow eyed stare.

Slowly a wicked grin of human-like teeth shone from its face, "Hail!" It replied in a booming, voice thick with a bouncing accent. One of the smaller creature's the size of a teenager also approached her. The skinny creature was dressed in loose fitting clothes the color of dirt, and smelt none the better. Moss was growing in it's long curly hair. With curiously long fingers, the smaller of the two reached out, fingertips playing with the jewels in her locks.

"Hail." The smaller one repeated in a whispering voice, something akin to an accented ghost.

Gnima smiled softly at the more handsy of her guests. She peered at the larger beast's cask before continuing slowly. "Perhaps the greatest of welcomes is in good drink." She bowed slightly as she warmly brushed away the hand fiddling in her hair. She unwrenched the cork lodged in barrel beneath her and filled a pair of simple hollowed horns with the murky brown liquid. She sipped her own to show its lack of tamper, the fiery trial of bourbon streaming down her throat. She produced the other horn between the two strange giants. "Who may I call a friend?"

The smaller of the two made a nasty face as his hand was smacked away, but lit up at the offered horn. He stretched his arm to snatch it but suddenly the mighty arm of the larger beast swung, smacking the smaller in the chest, and with a loud thud, the smaller of the two was sent flying through the air with such distance and velocity as if he was struck with a mighty tree. A hollow scream of pain played on its voice as it arched into the ocean with a loud splash.

The remaining beast roughly grabbed the horn and gulped it down with one wet swallow, letting the horn drop to the ground. With a satisfied smile, the beast shook its own barrel off its shoulders and ripped the cork from the bung hole. He held the barrel over Gnima, letting a spew of orange-brown liquid to fall over her head, "glug!" The beast roared. A few other beasts of various ugliness appeared behind the scene, settled with their unpacking, each snickering.

Gnima's tiny frame peered up at the torrent of foul liquid and attempted to guzzle as much of it as she could. The far greater portion of the brew crested about her head and shoulders, drenching her finley embroidered wool dress. It burned down her throat like any other alcohol, sending her head into a floating daze, but as she looked up at the barrel, her eyes caught something as the liquid began to slosh in her belly, giving her a fuzzy feeling. The big beast's index finger was in the way of the flow, the nail glowing a mossy green. Her eyes crossed as she felt the magic swirl in her gut, and the beast began to speak, as she began to lose herself to drunkenness.

"Hej där, har du drack tillräckligt?" The beast asked, the words slowly transforming from an alien language to one more familiar, as if she slowly began to understand, "hej där, har du- drink enough?"

The liquid pooled by her feet as the beast roared again, "understand me?"

"Yeah..." She said, slightly confused and more than slightly drunk. "What are y'all doing here?" she asked with a slightly less composed smile than before, her eyes with a well known shimmer.

A wide grin formed on the big beast's face and with an almost fatherly arm, he swung his mighty appendage over her shoulder pulling her into a conspiratory huddle, her nose nearly snuffed into his armpit. He began to walk her towards the ark, gesturing with his free hand, "you wish to know the story of Gjornenahabblestrjikn?"

A "medium" sized beast sneered and called out, "your village is ugly, but your hair is pretty."

The big beast lifted a finger as he criticized the other beast, "not all are blessed with the grace of the Gjornenahabblestrjikn!"

The big beast and Gnima stopped in front of the big ark, "shall I enlighten you?" the beast prodded with a bouncing voice.

"Please," She muttered, her face still firmly fastened to the moldy underarm.

The big beast held suddenly held her out at arms length, her head sloshing as much as her stomach, "I'll need something of equal value as this splendid story, as it would only do it justice!"

He pointed to her hair, "a bobble or two for many a word of mine, sounds pretty plain and fair to me, eh?"

She paused, questioning the fascination with her hair, but then appreciated the infested state of their own. With no excess of coordination, Gnima unlatched a silver pendant from her locks and flipped the trinket into the air like a challenge coin. "I think that's a worthy trade I think." She stumbled over her words.

The big beast watched as the trinket glittered in the air and then plopped onto the sandy beach. He looked at Gnima with a confused smile, "wh- why'd you throw it?"

"For good luck." She replied with a wink.

The big beast shoved a shushing finger in her face, slightly getting her left nostril with a ragged nail, "doesn't matter, it is time to regale you with the tantalizing tale of the great Gjornenahabblestrjikn."

"But which tale shall I spill?"

"Tell her of the giant Yurgjin!"
"Of the mossy grove of secrets!"
"Of the battle of Kerkinbjornyerdik and Gorathrensickle!"
"Tell her of the great empty!"

The big beast snapped its fingers and growled menacingly, "the great empty."

The big beast let its rump fall to the sandy floor of the beach, lifting its shoes (which were little more than sacks tied around the ankle), and as if on command, all the other beasts followed suit.

He patted the sand next to him "sit, and hear of the terrible tale of the great empty."

Gnima fell to the ground as bid. She propped herself with both arms, a vain attempt at keeping her from swaying. With a nod she gestured to the great troll her willingness to listen provided her body could remain in good standing.

The troll's voice boomed as it narrated, "Gjornenahabblestrjikn and the great empty is a tale of recent times, a tale of new, not of old. For we are the Gjornenahabblestrjikn and we have fled shamefully from the great empty."

"Our lands were sunny and snowy, of fjords and faucets, of mountains and wood, oh so much wood," The troll looked down at Gnima with a sadness, "In the west we felt it come, and our neighbors who long hated the Gjornenahabblestrjikn were silenced in their usual shouts of displeasure towards us, and so drew our curiosity. Out our best went to the west, to meet the cause of the silence, but only a few returned to the Gjornenahabblestrjikn to tell tale of what was seen. There, a great being roamed the lands of those who surrounded the Gjornenahabblestrjikn and there nothing was found. The dirt was all that remained of forested hills, steep grassy valley's and disgusting -- yet large -- cities of other people. It commanded the wind and stole all of the something, leaving nothing in its wake, not even the remains of people slain. So, fearing our own something, in three days we crafted the vessel you see before you, and in three more days we gathered all our somethings, and left, sailing east, following the tonnikala."

The troll cleared its throat, "and now we are here after many many moons of sailing, to create a new life, away from the great empty, where our somethings may be safe. The tonnikala now flip and swim in these waters, and we shall fish them. Woods stand on this land and we shall work them. Bear you the same feelings as our old neighbors, or bear you the heart of a Gjornenahabblestrjikn?"

"My heart is with you, friend. My people too have fled their old worlds," She gestured to the warf village, "but we have come from the East and the South. We too follow that which swims. We make our life on the seas and live at it's mercy. We are sworn to it and it provides for us. Do your people live in this way too?"

The old troll held up a philosopher's finger, all eyes following it as he lifted it to the sky, as if about to propose the true meaning of all existence. With a stern face, and even sterner words he bellowed, "we live the way of the Gjornenahabblestrjikn." The entire beach burst into a cacophony of wicked laughter. Those furthest from the story circle ripped their instruments from the unloaded luggage and began the same exact song from their voyage. The old troll stood up and looked down at Gnima, "you are always welcome to ou- upptåg." He let out a crusty wink and began to sing along with the others, in their raspy, bouncing accents and strange pounding language.

Gnima's arms gave way. She toppled to the ground and stared up into the now swirling sky. Maniacal laughter erupted from her belly.

- The Morkt -8- Cetera-Matris -

The Morkt - Helios

Cetera-Matris - DracoLunaris


Beneath the Bay of Lights


Within the depths of the ocean, six-hundred meters below the surface, lay the temple city of Primus, home to the Rayneids, aquatic guardians of the resting place of the primordial know as the Burning Moon. The city started on the seabed, a ring of small stone structures that were littered around a series of large stepped pyramids. Several of the structures there and deeper down were coated in pykrete, a resilient alloy of ice and plant pulp that had the durability of concrete and was often referred to as true ice. All of the structures where interconnected or pressed wall to wall, resulting in few streets and giving the impression that the entire thing was one massive temple complex, as entrances were often found on the building's roofs. At the center of the city was a deep crevasse, from which at night a warm blue glow would emanate, like blue blood weeping from a gash in the earth. It was currently day however, and so the blue light filter down from above instead, smothering the city in a dull gloom that paled in comparison to the night’s light.

Down the crevasse structures were carved into or built out from the walls, forming what were effectively bunkers and pillboxes in which the sacred guards of the Burning moon lived and might one day fight if someone were so foolish as to challenge the divine gauntlet. Mounted atop these structures, gazing surfaceward, where statues of a six armed woman with a serpentine body. Other than this basic anatomy no two sculptures looked alike, particularly when it came to their faces. Generations of architects having drawn from their predecessor had resulted in a large amount of drift in how their primordial progenitor’s appearance was depicted. Though they loathed to admit it, none remembered which statues were the oldest or most accurate.

Finally at the bottom there was a massive temple that took up a whole third of the carvases three-hundred meter depth, a massive temple/labyrinth that had been slowly consuming the defensive fortifications as the Rayneids obsessively expanded the defenses of the gateway to the Burning Moon’s resting chamber. It featured a singular entrance bared by a massive gate of pure bronze that was surrounded by several dozen enormous serpentine statues, all staring and pointing their weapons upwards as if daring any intruder to come face them. The inside of the main temple was a mystery to all but the the moon kissed daughters who had painstakingly constructed it over the generations and a small number of high ranking military personnel who were privileged enough to either man the gateway or act as guards for the daughters. At the depths was a single chamber, the doors of which had remained shut tight since the Burning Moon had sealed herself inside thousands of years ago. The depths where only visited rarely by renowned Daughters seeking guidance and by lesser daughters performing maintenance.

Within one of the temples back up in the seafloor city surrounding the divine gauntlet a foreign delegation awaited the arrival of their hosts. The room they were in was made of finely carved stone, which had small holes in its ceilings and floors to allow the passage of light while still providing privacy to the occupants and protection from buffeting currents. Several small windows/doors on the far side of the room lead out to the craves, if any of the occupants looked out they could see down into the depths of the city as well as the guards and fortifications that existed to prevent any foreigners from ever going there. The room itself was large and featured a large central table, upon small bowls of various appetizers sat, and small fainting couches used instead of chairs. Several armored guards were posted around the room, centered around the doors and windows. They wore bronze armor that covered their chests and shoulders, while the rest of their body was coated in a thick shark skin leather. They were armed with partisans, spears with short sword length blades which had 2 prongs at the base that acted like a crossguard. They had been a permanent fixture for their entire visit, ensuring that the guests did not go anywhere or touch anything they were not supposed to.

In this room, a small party of Morj waited. They gingerly admired the room and helped themselves to hors d'oeuvres. One of them, however, stood at the window peering unceasingly at the sight of the holy city beneath. Her tendrils shimmered in metallic tattoos, her chest clasped in diamond studded platinum, a black laced shawl licked over her shoulders, and atop her head sat a cold iron crown finely smithed in gothic fashion. The crown extended down along the right cheek in a half masquerade mask. Around her neck and upper arms coiled a brilliant blue coral snake. She caressed its scales gingerly as she waited for her host.

The Queen of Morkt soon caught sight of those she would be speaking with. Deep down below a gate opened in the false bottom of the crevasse, allowing a small knot of Rayneids to exit the temple fortress. They ascended past the many fortifications and primordial statues that lined the sides of the cravess, heading for the room the Morj where in. After two minutes of ascending the leader of the group came level with the queen’s post. The lead figure was a warrior clad entirely in bronze, her face hidden behind a helmet. Not an inch of her scaly skin was visible, only her semi translucent fins free from plate or chain mail. The armor was coated in a thin skin of True Ice, the resilient material both protecting the precious metal with its easily replaceable durability and providing a carefully calculated buoyancy that allowed the warrior to fight as if she was unencumbered by her metal skin. At her side was a sword, a rarity underwater, its construction featuring amber runes along its hilt and blade.

“Please take a seat your majesty”

The Mistress, Queen and High Dictator of the Morj gave a gracefully flowing curtsey before she took her perch.

Entering behind the warrior where two others like dressed like her, armed with claw like piercing weapons instead of swords, and seven priestesses, all of whom took up positions opposite the Morj delegation. It might have come to the attention of the Morj that until now they had not seen a Rayneid’s face, followed and watched as they had been by anonymous helmeted warriors. The priestesses did not change that state of ignorance, for they all wore masks of various kinds, made in the likeness of the statues the queen had seen below, that covered their entire face. On their bodies they wore tight, form fitting robes of seasilk dyed a bright crimson. The priestesses took seats in the fainting chairs, their serpentine bodies resting against the long base while they propped their upper bodies against the armrest and back.

One priestess in particular took up position opposite the queen. She had two silver bands the size of shackles around her wrists and her mask was relatively plain compared to her peers, akin to a bleach white opera mask which featured on its forehead a stylized eye with a sun as its iris drawn in pale blue. White mesh covering the eye slits, making them almost invisible. Two long, thin, dark red goat horns curved up from the top of the mask. Her pale ghostly hair spooled out from behind her mask and was immaculately braided into a long ponytail.

The Morj retinue that mirrored the Reighneads in stance and disposition wore solid black armor forged from cold steel. It was a rare ore mined from the heart of Morkt’s matron volcano. They were covered in lamed plates with a similarly forged great helm. Each of their tentacles were bare save for the tips which were sheathed in short blades. These appendages stood coiled upwards so as to not damage the flooring beneath. Each guard clutched a long trident whose tips housed curious pale green crystals which seemed to smoke even in the sea’s depths.

The Mistress of Morkt smiled gently at the serpentine figure before her. “I am honored to finally make pilgrimage to this place. It is regrettably rare that I have such grand occasion to leave my waters, and it is a weight on my heart that our two peoples are so distant in this large sea. I beg you, tell me what name I may call a friend?” The coral snake slithered down her arm in a trancing motion.

Hidden though her face was, the reaction of the priestess to the queens greeting was still distinctly impassive. Silence hung in the air for a few moments after, just long enough become uncomfortable, before she replied.

“I am Daughter Alexix. Pray tell, for what reason, other than pilgrimage, do you enter the resting place of the Burning Moon, she who made us, she who now sleeps and she who shall awaken when this world is in its death throes.”

Her tone was passive, calm, serene, yet she managed to inject a fair amount of indignation into the world pilgrimage regardless.

“I will not play coy with you, sister. My journey is twofold, yet with both of these ends I endeavor to honor the Primordials of the deep. A blight perches itself on the edge of our world. It is a cancer which you have watched grow and suffocate the land of men. And yet still it grows. And like that vile curse which affects the bodies of mortals, it has molded itself to grow still further, still faster. Now it chokes at that which is of the deep. It swims amongst us and threatens to spread itself into the heart of your waters and next it will come to mine.” She spoke directly and with emphasis, yet her voice still tinkled in the water with a melodic tone. The movements of the snake seemed to mirror this curious inflection.

“The tumefaction of Yaval has cast itself into our holy sea. Thinking trees swim not only above our homeland, but among it. I will not see you bare the same fate as Shenra, nor will I see both land and sea fall to their scourge. That which is of the land must stay of the land lest we desecrate the sea and the deep primordials which have blessed it. As you are charged to protect the holy resting place below, I am charged with maintaining the balance of all waters. That scale is set when the ilk of land stay on that land. Penance for their exile from the sea.

“And so I move a great host to protect us both. A cure to this cancer of trees has emerged in the East. They seek to cut a path through the empire of Yaval. And once they have torn that menace to ash, they will scour its fields by restoring Shenra. The weak breaths of mortal men will once again be the only devil which haunts our shores. The Burning Moon will once again be safe from the shadow casting itself ever closer." She paused smiling gingerly as the snake smoothly weaved between her fingers.

“And yet I know your plight." the Mistress of Morj continued. "You have sworn yourselves to monastic isolation in order to protect your holy keep. Your pledge and purpose is admired by both my heart and my kins’. To engage in war against this looming threat cannot be asked of those with such a charge. And that is why I [/i]do not[/i] ask it of you. I ask only that you allow my forces passage, neither under safety of your arms nor led by your banner. But that we may take this necessary burden upon our own shoulders for the security of our shared generations.

“We seek to temporarily restore the Bay of Lights to the fear it once held in the hearts of men, yet by the banner of Morkt. To tear asunder those who would impeded the march of the Eastfolk’s crusade. The vassals of Morkt, who have been chained in fealty to our gods, will take the fight to the shores and draw the Emerald forces away from your holy waters. It is imperative that we act now. The Primordial spirit of the sky punishes Yavals allies to the West. The Eastfolk have massacred Yaval’s forces in their opening bought. The vestige of Shenra has left its mountain perch and taken to the marshes. The tide of Yaval’s fate crashes at every border. Now is the time to act. If these forces of men are defeated, there will be no one left to root the tumor and once again it will regrow.

“And so I beseech you. Give us your blessing in this endeavour. Let us once again restore balance to the two realms of land and sea.”

After the queen's speech there was a flurry of muttered conversation between the six other priestesses: advice, speculation, and suspicions were all fed to Alexix who after a few moments raised her hand for them to stop.

“You have, it is clear, made some assumptions about the state of affairs in our lands. We have no hatred or fear of the Dreaming Forest, they are the children of a god like us, and have been nothing but respectful for our noble task and borders since we first met. The kingdom of Shenra meanwhile were a thorn in our side before hey were expelled, the restoration of their lands, along with the presence of their oathbreaker allies on our shores would not be the positive change you suggest it is. Do not assume your hopes and fears align with our own simply because we both dwell beneath the waves.”

There was a tense pause, the Rayneid warriors incase either the Morj reacted violently to this vitriol or the priestesses where about to order them to expel them. Alexix however quickly started speaking again at the sight of this, wishing only to let her displeasure to be known with words, rather than blades.

“That said, as you have noted, we do not meddle with the affairs of those beyond our sacred realm unless there is a dire, imminent, threat to us or our allies that must be quashed. The trees may fall as quickly as they rose, it is ultimately of little concern to us, our ancestors handled the threat of Shenra for hundreds of years and we to shall do the same. What is of concern is that you wish to camp an entire army in our waters. Small groups of pilgrims we can manage, but hundreds, thousands of outsiders? They all need to be watched lest they interfere” for the first time Alexix’s tranquil speech became unhinged slightly at the thought of the logistical and spiritual nightmare such a presence would bring “...and they all need to eat. An army swims on its stomach and any sizable force would need to forage from our waters. To have them do so risks inviting famine to our realm, which would be a tragedy for us both.”

The Mistress remained in eerily pleasant disposition, a soft smile drawn across her face. She nodded in approval almost as if to agree with the arguments against her. “I appreciate your concerns, and you are a just advocate to have them. I can promise you that not a single fin under my banner shall enter the holy circle of your temple mounts. The landbreathers cling to their shores, and so we will take to them as well. I assure you the grave priority my kin hold on these sacred waters and on the boudoir of the Burning Moon. I would invite your clergy among my throngs, to educate their souls and guide them from insult of your holy waters. What sustenance we cannot harvest from the northern channel, you will find compensation for. It is my word. Not only will fresh hauls be brought to all mouths, but also metals, jewels, protection, even a great gift which it pains me to part with. The bones of Moorrkut, the great wailord, first son of his primordial heir, Moojllikk. The legend, as you know, slain by land dwellers and a martyr of our waters. His remains have been painstakingly brought across the vast expanse of sea as an offering to your holy court. A divine reliquary to do with as you wish. I trust his sacrifice and his corpse will be honored here.

“But I pray these martyr’s bones will remind the devote of heart. Though the agents of Yaval have lulled you into pacification, their noose still tightens. Just like a lobster is cooked on land, they are slowly boiling sea from which you sit. Their plot is sinister. I cannot wait idly for this window of opportunity to be cast once more into shadow. I cannot swim by as they threaten all we hold dear. Yet perhaps your point of Shenra is valid. With time their slights against you have fallen to rust in the memories of my kin, and for that I apologize. Perhaps their ilk could be withered still more by the heavy hand of this great and murky war. Perhaps a new order, which rightfully reveres the seas and its kinfolk could find a home in that old empire’s footprint. I cannot temper my hand which must swing at the cancer of Yaval. But in that fell swoop, I can also smite those who oppose you and your holy charge, Daughter Alexix.”

“It is not our job to educate you, for we are caretakers not preachers.” Daughter Alexix responded. “To travel with your forces would take our sisters from their vital posts, put them at risk and could potentially violate our pact.” Who this pact was with was left unclear.

“As for the bones of Moojllikk: we guardians of the living, not the dead, yet we appreciate the weight of the gesture, the significance of this trust. Know that the martyr, if delivered, will be intomed with all due honers near our northernmost temple, where visitors can still come to pay respect without having to breach the circle.” it was as much a burden as it was a gift, but not one that could be rejected. “Your promise to both control the movement of your warriors and to reimburse us for hunting done in our waters are also appreciated, however we insist that you pay for the privilege when it is procured rather than with promises of spoils. If you win, the spoils implicate us with your war and make us oathbreakers. Should you fail then we will be left uncompensated. Engaging in a temporary trade agreement avoids our implication in your war, while still solving the issue of your peoples hunger.”

“Our greatest concern that remains then, is in what you cannot control. From our research in the records it is known that your kind are not as in control of your people as might be desired, you are the Queen of various factions who dance a turbulent ballet of allegiances and tolerances. You may order that your people stay away, that they respect our dominion, yet we can't be sure that they will all obey. Anyone who does not heed your words will be treated as intruders rather than guests. Please ensure that your subjects are aware of this so as to ensure they do not start conflict at the sight of our doling out of justice to those who betray you. Finally, there are these eastern forces who's form we do not know. You invite a devil to our borders, a devil we do not know. We know the treefolk, and are quite certain that your fears regarding them are unfounded, we know the Shenrans and shall deal with them if them come, yet we do not know your new ally, whose name you have not even spoken. Surely you do not speak of the threat from the east the ignorant Argenists believe is coming?“

The Mistress answered smoothly after a cooling pause. “The mystic threat you speak of has never been seen or heard of by my kin. As you say, it is likely a fable. The men under the banner of Andromache, which I make union with, are mere mortals. They treat their own land dwellers with whip and chain as they are rightfully due. They are malleable. You speak of the devil you know replaced by the one you don’t. Yet it is perhaps more fitting to choose the wolf with a leash than the two with bared fangs. The nation of which I speak has never felt the breeze of the sea, naive to its wants and needs. Their port will be singular along the shore and thus chokable should they choose to betray their oath.” This oath too was left unspoken.

“But as the High Queen of the Morj, I give you my word that riches and trade will proceed any armed body in your holy waters. Though the nobles of Morkt may be as tumultuous in their vices as you say, my control over my people's military is absolute. Their fealty is sworn to me alone. And I should hope you punish their deceit in your waters justly, less they bare a far worse fate at my hand.”

The priestess took a few moments to consider her options. It was not as if they could truly resist the Morj incursion even if they desired too, their warriors alone could not stand alone against the tentacled merfolk on an open ocean as they would be outnumbered. They had what they needed, the ability to punish trespassers and thieves without fear of retaliation.

“In light of your willingness to negotiate and the respect you have shown for our realm and duty I believe that…” Alexix briley looked away from the Queen to her sisters, the six other priestess and the armored warrior who had entered first, to ensure she was not making a decision that was against their will. Each of them, with various levels of certainty or hesitation, responded to her gaze with the gesture of their faith, a flat palm facing her with their clasped fingers pointing downwards and wrist exposed. The offering of blood to her righteous cause, be it spilled in the temples or in battle. “We shall welcome your forces into the Bay, to visit war upon her shores and to purchase our food to sustain your conquest.”

The Mistress rose from her seat in regal delight. A wide smile betrayed her crystal white fangs. “Blessed is the spirit which guides these beautiful words.” She propelled herself gracefully to Daughter Alexix and took her hand gingerly, careful to present this as a gesture of affection and nothing more. “A deal is struck between our two holy kingdoms. I hope more will come of this friendship, and I pray victory seals our fates in riches.” The blue coral snake, who shared the arm embracing Daughter Alexix’s hand, gave the Reighnead’s knuckle a fleeting lick as if to pay its respects in turn.

At this linking of hands the mood in the room seemed to calm a little, tension draining out as the real meat of the negotiations were completed, the threat of conflict put to rest for the time being.

“There are of course logistical concerns to discuss, the hows, wheres and whens of your arrival and subsequent trade. However I would like to suggest they be discussed during or after dinner? You have traveled far from home and are no doubt famished. Perhaps over the meal you could also tell us more about your chained... Wolf was it?”
Alive and plotting.
~ The Morkt ~




The black sand cut like shards. A withering man clung to it, sinking his fingers into the cold, dry earth. He wore tattered chainmail that had been bloodied and bent. His lips were cracked and pale, barely able to release the icy mist from his breath. But breathe was all he could do. Behind him gently rocked the remains of a longboat. Its inhabitants were freshly rotting and the heat of their bodies created a feint yet pungent steam. The man rested his head in the sand, listening longingly to the soft tides that broke against his legs. He wanted nothing more than to feel the sweet taste of fresh water. Yet the salt of the seas was a cruel mistress.

Suddenly he was yanked. His hair, cut in the standard fashion of a braided top with shaved sides, became a rope to the rough hand which snared it. He could feel himself being drug by his head. However he was too weak to fight. His limp legs cast a trail in his wake. He was being drug to a small gathering of flickering lights. It was soon that he could see these lights were torches held by a mob which had collected on the beach. He could hear hushed voices. They started as sporadic whispers but their melody grew into a haunting unison. They were singing a low and solemn song that he had heard many times before. Amongst the chorus was the shrieking cries of a shaman. The witch danced around a now lit pyre, so bright that the crippled man could only see flickering shadows as the figure danced like a beast possessed.

The figure approached and pressed its face up to his. She licked his cracked lips with a sadistically gentle touch. Then he felt it. The splitting pain of a knife plunging into his bowels. The shaman rent the knife up his abdomen and sent an ear splitting scream into the night sky. With two quick strokes she flayed his abdomen and hollowed out his entrails. The refuse of his guts were thrown into the fire. In their place was placed a bundle of thatch which had been soaked in seal pitch. The man mustered his strength to remain propped at the knees. His arms were outstretched and he could feel the gentle lift of his neighbor’s hands keeping him aloft, but doing so of his own will. Whether it was honor or exhaustion, the man gave no screams. Even in his failure, he was making his people proud.

The shaman set the straw alight. With his last breath he uttered a sigh of relief. The flames tore into his chest and soon licked out of his open mouth pointed to the stars and the night sky.

---

Ida’s icy blue eyes looked onward. Her muscled fingers dug into the arm of her friend. Gnima, daughter of the shaman, stood arm in arm against the cutting breeze. Though their skin betrayed their heritage, they were nothing short of sisters. They shared the fates and realities of this cruel world. Ida and Gnima had been born on this desolate rock, but to vastly different casts. Ida was a smith, the finest this wharf had ever known. Her thick blond hair blustered about her seal skin parka. Gnima was the blood of a primordial, a minor caster destined to be the leader of the wharf when her mother passed. Her skin was a pale caramel, her dreaded locks adorned with the shimmering winnings of suitors.


“Do you look forward to doing this thing?” Ida asked, staring onward at the flickering carcass. The muffled cries of the raider’s family had traded itself for the ceremonial canter. The man’s son, perhaps five or six, shreaked into the folds of his mothers cloak.

“Ida, this is not our land. You know this is not about want, it is about necessity. The Primordials save us from the Deep Ones. It is not our place to judge the morality of the gods. The fault lies not in them, but in ourselves.”

“And do we do these things for the gods or do we do them for the Morj? Do we not cull the herd of our cowards and failures to sharpen the Mistress’s ax?”

“Perhaps. But perhaps that is the will of the gods.” The tone of her voice was soft, uncommitted. It was the words she had been raised to say, but still they itched her throat. “Where does your man Trygve raid to this season?”

“He would not say. He does not say much to me of late. Something troubles his horizon, but I do not think even he understands what it is. He said the world is changing; it’s edges grow darker and close.”

“If there is an edge to this world, he will find it.”

“And if he fails, you will be the one to stuff his gut...”

A desperate cry split the tension that had been rising between the friends' embrace. The young son of the executed warrior had made a bolt for the frozen bay. The mob watched on as he scrambled to escape this place. They stood silent as he sprinted over the black sand and onto the frozen waters of the bay. For a moment they all envied him. A daring escape. But at the edge of the water, not even his mother dared to follow.

A trident thrust through the thin ice from below and gored the child mid-stride. The Morj had been watching, they were always watching. His body perched as a monument to false hope. Still many onlookers envied him.


@Nerevarine Sorry mate,I've had a nation cooked up in PMs for those north west isles for a hot minute.


Corusca Sector (L-9)
Coruscant
Sergi Dio's Private Quarters


Sergi’s cheeks burned with a dull fire. He had been smiling incessantly for the past 5 hours during an interview and he was feeling the effects. His undershirt was dripping with sweat beneath his pristine, stylish robes. All he wanted in this life was a cool glass of water and a nap.

As he sat in a lounge chair massaging his cheeks the familiar footsteps of Sophia, his body guard, could be heard pacing toward him. He groaned to himself knowing that the emphasis in her foot fall could only mean she was bearing bad news.

“Dr. Dio, we have a situation.”

Sergi’s hands wrenched at his hair in frustration. He looked up and saw both Sophia and Kayleigh standing side by side. Their body positioning suggested there was still tension but they both seemed completely transfixed on the burgeoning politician. Whatever it was they had to say must have been important to garner such cooperation from the two.

Sophia continued to speak, briefly checking the datapad in her arms as she did so. “Our techs near Kuat have gotten intel that several ranking R&D scientists from Balmoran Arms are quietly looking for a way out. It seems that they have become disenchanted with the CIS and have no wish to continue designing and building war droids for them. Problem is the CIS would likely imprison them as they have worked on several of the more experimental designs produced for the CIS war machine over the past year. To top it off Balmorra has a fleet of luckrehulks protecting it from Republic assaults.”

“—those are the big fuckers right?” Sergi interjected. His mental exhaustion was still apparent but he seemed much more engaged in the conversation than originally.

“Yessir, very big. The Isangoma would last a half hour at best against a single one. They have more droid fighters than a bantha has fleas. However, we do know the complex that the VIPs are being held in and that they are all Balmorra natives. One by the name of Tellex Sigor appears to be a senior operator with 30 years under his belt. These guys are big timers. Unfortunately that’s all the information we have.”

“That’s it? I’m expected to extract 3 random pencil pushers who are discontent with the color of their cubicles?” Sergi sounded more disappointed than frustrated. It was going to be a risky operation but he knew this could be a major play for the Republic. Knocking out a handful of lead R&D specialists would not only cripple their respective programs but give the GAR valuable information that could save thousands of lives. At least Republic lives.

Sergi continued to sift his fingers through his hair, a tell-tale sign of his stress. Suddenly the outstretched hand of Kayleigh Walsh nudged his shoulder. She was offering him her canteen. She remained silent and simply nodded. Her characteristic smirk was replaced with a hardened gaze which Sergi mirrored back. Sergi quickly unscrewed the bottle and took a long sip. The cold water in his mouth was a miniature paradise. He poured some on the top of his head and swept his hand through the soaked hairs. Instantly he felt like a new man. His mind raced into action and his words followed in swift pursuit.

“Put all appropriate hands on deck in the Isangoma. Karns, Barr, Quain, and Shalla have 4 hours to be on station and their subordinates accounted for. I want the shuttle with all the doo-dads and sensors off of the Galipot and onto my vessel, Miss Valencia doesn’t need it. Tell her to stay here on Coruscant and kiss any bare ass she comes across. Scramble Glaxtus from Uyter and have him meet us in our holding pattern outside the Balmorra system. Kayleigh, get your ground team ready, they’re your pick by hand. I want as much intel on that planet and complex that we can muster and I want to know everything about Tellex Sigor; where he’s from, who his family is, what hand he wipes his ass with. Dangle a couple thousand credits over the heads of the techs that got us this intel and see what else they can scrape up before we go topside. And get me a glass of water.”

Within the hour, the Isangoma was enroute to the Balmorra system just outside of where the crew suspected the CIS holding fleet could make sensor contact.

________________________________________
________________________________________


Outer Rim Territories (S-18)
Lamaro System
Lamaredd




*Cchhhhhhh* “Uhh, all operators be advised, Which Doctor 2.2 has eyes on a mosquito the size of a midget. Over” *Cchhhhhh*

The small taskforce of Twi’leks bounced through the rough jungles of Lamaredd on their skimpy light-armored vehicles. Four of the warriors rode on top of the vehicles while the other half were forced to endure the sea-sickening ride from inside. Were they hit by a mine or ambush this would relatively ensure the survival of half the crew but many inside would argue that they would rather be dead then endure navigating story tall root systems for much longer.

The crews on the outside were enjoying themselves as much as one could in the situation. They wore all wore black body suits and camouflaged torso armor but that was where the similarities ended. Each of the Twi’lek operators had a different signature style about his garb. Whether it was tribal paintings, intricate lekku tattoos, or talismans hanging from random parts of their uniforms, they were all a unique group of very grungy men. What united their looks were the gallons of sweat and mud that clung to each of their bodies.

This particular mission was one along the list of many like it. Their vessel, the Shaman, had received an unknown distress signal while on “general patrol” as their commander Sergi Dio liked to call it. What it really meant was to wait around said area and do nice things for people. Help damaged vessels, ward off any meandering pirates, and if anyone crashed into a shithole like the one they were in now, be the first one to help and make sure someone was filming. Though this planet was inhabited by a small colony, the locals were deathly afraid of the far north jungles where the distress beacon of a crashed shuttle emanated. It fell upon this motley crew to check it out. Naturally the story was running 24 hour coverage on local news.

The convoy of four light vehicles came to a sudden stop. Almost instantly a large, dark human leaped from the passenger side of his second to rear vehicle and coolly strode up to the front. He was puffing on a fat spice joint that was clearly out of regulation. It was Paccu Xcubu, the eccentric and universally loved leader of the Witch Doctor unit. He was an intimidating figure with long, mangy dreadlocks that seemed to have something growing in them at all times. He was at best unkempt but he had a fierce intuition and knew his way around even the most backwater of worlds.

When the large figure reached the front of the convoy he saw what had stopped them. Before the rescue team was a large lake covered in a tick film of algae and various floating flora. At the other edge of the shore were the outlines of small huts with the faint imprint of campfire smoke smudging the sky.

“My boyyys, why it is that you stopping, eh? Tell me which one of you can’t swim; they get to go first.” Paccu spoke with an almost indiscernible accent that was made even more difficult by his rumbling laughter. The Twi’lek warriors seemed to understand as they chucked morbidly at the colonel’s joke. Without further dialogue the convoy lurched forward into the unwelcoming swamp and Paccu jumped atop the lead vehicle.
“All units, this is Which Doctor 1.1. Be advised, we have eyes on a native hamlet 2 clicks north east of our pos. Break. Maintain defensive posture… Please keep your hands and feet in the ride at all times. I’d bet my next leave that there is an Opee waiting for every toe that goes in this water. 1.1 Out.”

The team that sat atop the point vehicle with Paccu shook their heads in subtle laughter. Their A280’s were clinically trained on the water surrounding their amphibious craft as they putted across the filthy water at incredibly slow speed. It wasn’t clear if their rate of attack was intentional so as not to disturb anything that might be lurking beneath or if their kit really was as subpar as they always lead themselves to believe.

“Any bets on how fine the ass is in this little town were rolling into?”

“I’d say if the creatures in that hamlet even have accommodating parts they are probably shaped like a sarlacc pit. I doubt these things even stand on two legs.”

“That has never stopped him before.”

“I don’t care if they look like a damn verpine, I’ve got 20 credits and a liberty pass when were stationed at the Estate that I can nail the brains out of one of them by the time we exfil.”

“You are aware you literally condoning yourself to a night licking Lieutenant Dan’s boots instead of hitting Lilly town, right? Like you realize you are the stupidest thing floating on this truck right?”

“I’m making an alphabetical list of every species I’ve done the deed to and I’m already in the U’s. I don’t care if these things don’t even speak basic, home-girl is gonna make an uhhh sound and I’m scratching U off the list.”

Paccu interjected into the all Twi’lek conversation, his lack of Basic making him miss most of the childish punchlines his troops threw about. “Dese guys speakin dat Menahu shiit. Dat’s some bad shiit to be speakin too. They sound like they talkin to da devil when they sayin the hello.”

The team aboard Paccu’s APC stifled their laughter. Their commanding officer was like one of the people you saw on the Holonews and wondered if they were even speaking the same language as you. Admittedly, Basic was Paccu’s 4th language so the troops gave him some slack. He hadn’t even begun to learn it until a year before he entered Sergi’s services. How Colonel Paccu Xcubu (a name only pronounceable with a tongue click) really communicated was through body language. His slightly jaundiced eyes, sun beaten forehead, and coarse scarred hands gestured in any way he needed to speak. But for now, while his men’s sights were trained on their respective sectors, he was practically a mute.

As the convoy approached the small village, the planets natives began to appear. They were only rudimentary cloths made of animal skins. Though unattractive by any means, many of the race’s females were topless. Having not seen women for almost a month now, many of the Twi’lek marines exchanged subtle fist bumps.

The natives crowded the shoreline. It appeared that many were drawing bows and preparing to fire on the floating armored beasts. Immediately the four vehicles fanned out to laterally take the beach in force if necessary. Marines atop the roofs scrambled to present a 75% frontal firing arc, picking out targets of opportunity. But before a shot could be fired, Paccu stood up on his craft and waved slowly at the on looking crowd. Perhaps he was trying to show that these were sentient beings riding the armored beasts and not some sort of spinney creature trying to attack them. Whatever it was, it worked.

As the APC’s took to the beachhead they were met by cheering children and slightly bewildered but pacified adults. The top-side marines had dropped their defensive posturing and were mingling with the natives. Within minutes the APC’s were emptied of troops who were playing with children and handing out humanitarian rations. The Menahuun seemed enthralled with the vehicles, believing them to be great beasts that the warriors had tamed and ridden to their town. Clearly this lot had not been the ones assaulting the colonists thousands of miles to the south.

As the squad leaders of the 40 men tried to maintain order and security over the bustling scene, Paccu had begun looking for the village elder. He had strapped the upper body of a protocol droid to his back. It was to act as a translator for when they did find someone who might know about the crashed vessel the team had received a distress signal from. The bottom half of the droid had been bitten off by a nexu on a previous operation and they had never received funds to replace it. Though it was only a talking torso, C4-PK received an inordinate amount of adoration from the populace.

“Colonel, how do you say ‘vote Loyalist’ in Menahu?”

“I think it sounds something like, *click* *gulp* watch your *click* fucking *purr* sector.” Replied Paccu with a crystal white smile. However his face clearly showed he was also quite disturbed by the clamoring situation. “I don’t like these people. They smile with daemons behind their eyes.”

Suddenly a flare ripped into the sky from inside the village. The Twi’lek marines immediately drew their weapons to bare and scrambled into defensive positions. The turrets of the APCs swiveled quickly to train their ordinance on the origin of the red smoke streak. Natives dispersed in all directions. Paccu quickly shot up a one fingered hand signal and began moving at pace into the town. Team one’s operators began following him before the order was even relayed by their squad leader over comms.

The 11 men moved quickly through the town, only stopping to clear sporadic alleyways between the thatched huts. They moved deeper and deeper into the primitive village until they came to a central courtyard. In it were crowded a number of Menahuun natives and a thrashing Muun female hog-tied to a beam. The team quickly took up a defensive half circle arcing at the 30 or so natives standing around the figure and began to advance. The APC that had transported the team soon rolled in behind with five more marines from team three as its escort. All the Twi’leks had their weapons fixed on the mob that was accumulating around the captive Muun.

A shrieking chant reverberated as the mob joined in one after another. Sticks were being assembled at the base of the Muun’s feet and her piercing cries drowned into the chorus of the natives. Her face was badly bloodied and her long nose was visibly broken. All around her tattered body, the natives were whipping themselves up into a frenzy. Pieces of her equipment and clothing, and what appeared to be scraps from a space shuttle were all being tossed about the horde that bolstered in size every minute. This prisoner of theirs had stolen all the attention that had been given to the landing party minutes before.

It was as if the presence of the 15 marines and APC poised to slaughter the gathering wholesale were of no importance. Paccu’s screams at the crowd to disperse fell upon the turned backs of the dancing villagers. The crowd had now quadrupled in size. Paccu finally lowered his weapon and began to push through the crowd toward the captive. Naturally his men thought this a brash move but they maintained their posture and took up kneeling and prone positions to provide support. The elements of team three that had joined the fray began to take up sniper positions on the thatched roof tops.

When Paccu had finally elbowed his way to the center of the crowd there was a man clad in feathered regalia holding a flaming torch aloft feet from the well fueled pyre of the prisoner. His hands were stretched out upward and so too climbed the horrendous chanting of the mob. Paccu brandished the barrel of his A280 inches from the chieftain’s face and yelled desperately at the droid on his back to interpret what he was saying. But it was to no avail. The crowd was deafening and the chieftain couldn’t have heard the protocol droid even if he wanted to.

The chieftain instead slowly lowered his torch toward the pyre, his stare transfixed on that of Paccu’s. The creature was in a trance. The eyes that had appeared like daemons to Paccu were now soulless, glazed with white. The colonel’s ears were ringing from the steady, unrelenting wail.

With a swift jab, Paccu sent the muzzle of his rifle into the mouth from which the earsplitting wail was emanating. The blow dashed out most of the chieftain’s teeth and he fell to the dusty ground. The torch in his hand toppled harmlessly into the dirt. All of the noise stopped. It was as if someone had pressed mute on the whole world…

“Tell him she is mine!” Paccu yelled at the droid strapped to his back, his voice booming in the eerily silent courtyard. The droid did not respond. The dreadlocked warrior had no idea why of all times the protocol droid was dead now, but it was. He was alone in the midst of some 200 crazed Menahuun all staring at him with sealed lips and unrelenting eyes.

Paccu kept his composure, or at least tried too as a cocktail of sweat and adrenaline dripped from every pore of his face. He pointed at the broken Muun girl whose muffled whimpers now filled the silence—much to Paccu’s relief. He then pointed sternly at himself.

The gesture was understood immediately and the chieftain arose to his feet filled with the greatest rage the grizzled ranger had ever seen in a creature. The Menahuun lunged at him with white furry. Paccu grappled with his assailant’s weight before plummeting to the ground with the beast. The deranged chieftain bit into his face before Paccu could draw his knife and slice the creature’s abdomen. The Menahuun lurched off in surprise as much as pain. As he did so, Paccu sent a head shake toward his troops eager to flay his attacker with blaster rounds. Paccu knew he would have to speak a universal language to these people: trial by combat.

The chieftain was thrown a crude spear from the crowd which he expertly caught without looking. The man paced back and forth in front of Paccu as he unlatched his defunct protocol droid and tossed down his blaster. He even peeled off his drenched fatigues and tactical vest, allowing his tattooed, rippling muscles to gleam in the searing light of the sun. All the while the chieftain waited longingly, the daemon in his eyes growing in strength with every passing second.

Finally Paccu outstretched his barrel-like arms and gestured a “come hither” sign to his opponent. Without further ado, the chieftain lunged at him with an outstretched spear. Paccu cleanly parried the attack with the chop of his Ryyk machete. Howling in rage the chieftain pivoted and sent the blunt end of his spear crashing into the side of Paccu’s ribs. The blow made Paccu crescent his body but his bearlike frame contained the blow.

Paccu quickly grabbed the rear end of the spear that was jabbed into his side before his opponent could fully retract it. With the dull side of his blade, Paccu backhanded a blow onto the Menahuun’s elbow and heard it shatter with glorious effect. The creature shrieked a pitch that made Paccu retract from further attacks.

The chieftain took advantage of this and once again lunged at the dark heap of muscle. This time the creature was off balance, hindered by his limp right arm. The spear thrust was aimed downward at Paccu’s right leg. It was a slow strike and easily juked; leaving the spear tip plunged into the soft ground.

Paccu hacked at the lodged weapon and it split in two. He harnessed the same circular force of his strike back around and careened the blade into the shin of his opponent’s leg which had been outstretched supporting the earlier thrust. The slash cleanly severed through the anterior portion of the shin and sent splintered bone hailing out of its opening.

The creature was silent this time but still attacked again in frenzy. The chieftain grabbed at Paccu’s hair with his only usable arm and went again to bite the man’s face. But this time Paccu easily pivoted him off-balance. The crippled native still clung fanatically onto Paccu’s dreadlocks and wrenched his head toward the ground with the falling beast. Paccu loomed over the silent creature as it writhed about the floor trying to pull him downward.

With an upward swoop Paccu severed the chieftain’s left arm just below the shoulder. The cleaved arm still clung to its first full of dreadlocks as Paccu descended down on his maimed prey. He tossed his weapon to the side and it splashed gently in the dark blood pooling around the victim’s severed, squirming shoulder.

As he straddled the man’s heaving chest Paccu looked one last time into those soulless eyes. For a moment he felt like he had lost himself in them… Without thinking, Paccu’s hands felt their way up the Menahuun’s face. He was still lost in those eyes, those unrelenting white eyes that looked into him and yet through him to another, darker world. He felt his thumbs slowly slip over the empty vessels. And then they squeezed. They squeezed with a force that Paccu had never known he had. They delved deeper and deeper into the silent skull like wells frothing with red, gelatinous liquid. He wanted to tear the entire head asunder and cast its brains over the village for all the crazed citizens to see. But he did not. He could not… Mostly because that’s a really fucking hard thing to do.

As Paccu slowly drew his bruised body off the slain animal he saw that the crowd around him had dispersed. Only stragglers remained now and they seemed completely unenthused by the whole scene. They hung their heads and went on about their daily lives as if nothing had happened; as if they had never even known the man whose mangled body lay ashen in a pond of his own bodily fluids.

Amongst the dispersing natives were the familiar frames of team one. They appeared still very leery of the situation but now had their weapons pointed softly at the ground. A disbelieving smile crept across many of their faces as they secured a perimeter around Paccu and the still bound prisoner.

“Seems like they weren’t very impressed with your display, colonel. You would think that they were pretty keen on seeing people die beforehand.”

“—it is because you killed the hunter.” The Munn prisoner interjected weakly. “He was the one who captured me…” She sputtered for breath and spit out a clump of congealed blood. “You could tell they thought nothing of him until they saw he had me. Now he is dead, there is no strength. Their people crumble at the feet of the next warrior from a different tribe. I am yours now and I owe you my life.”

“You pretty wise, yeah? I’m sorry to say that wouldn’t be the case if we had gotten here sooner. You would not have seen these things for what they were and we’d have all much betta for dat,” Paccu whispered as he untied the crude ropes holding the girl prisoner. “Speaking of tribes, which one do you work for?”

The Muun woman looked pensively at her rescuer before answering, perhaps trying to assume what side of the galactic conflict this motley crew served. “I am an envoy of the Galactic Banking Clan on behalf of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Return me and you will be rewarded handsomely.”

“Oops, wrong answer,” whispered one of the Twi’lek marines. His joking comment was met with general laughter. However, the Muun found it less funny to suddenly realize she was probably moving from the hands of one captor to another. Her face soured in panic to what it had been atop the sacrificial pyre.

“You have nothing to fear, love. I will not see you return to the torture you just escaped. Dis is not something one person does to another but what only a creature can do. When I ask what tribe you are for, I see in your eyes that you are for the tribe of light. In the end we are the same tribe… I will see dat you are sent home. You will be treated as or flesh aboard our boat and when we part, I will wish you all the grace under the stars.”

---

“Muun… That starts with an M doesn’t it. Well when Pacco pronounces it, it starts with a U so that’s just how well have to spell it…”

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