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show me any two eyes that don't believe in the dark. i'd like to see them try to hold back the stars.
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SUMMARY
Warband Goliath's Rescue (2/15/21 )


It is the beginning of our journey eastward when during a war meeting aboard the Karamzina the high command explain to us that there are three marooned Varyan arks situated ahead of us, further into the narrow corridor between the two glaciers. Inquisitors Galahad, Ziotea, Ragnar, Tatiana, Viveca and Oren volunteer to go on a scouting mission to find any survivors. Mother Yonah, a high-ranking member of the Divine Order, elects her bodyguard, Banou, to accompany them.

The inquisitors of Phoenix, Leviathan and Banou of the Secular Army commandeer the Sword of Dawn, a state of the art ether racer owned by Father Ilya, and journey toward the crashed arks.

Shortly before reaching their destination, a blast of ether comes from deeper in the corridor ahead and causes an explosion on the glacier wall, leading to a massive icefall that threatens to bury the Sword of Dawn. Banou hastily converts the ether racer into its underwater form and prepares to submerge in order to avoid the falling ice, but before the upper deck canopy can close shut a shard of ice collides with the racer and sends it tumbling underwater. Banou is thrown from the ark and into the unnatural cold depths, which begins to sap at her life energy. Viveca dives out of the racer after her and manages to reach Banou and bring her out of the water in time. Banou sustains some injuries, but surprisingly, the water didn't kill her like it would most non-inquisitors. The Sword of Dawn then emerges from the water and the group reconvenes and begins to plan their next move.

Elsewhere, three arks- the Kyselica, the Veles, and the Svarog have been marooned next to a glacier after they were caught within a cataclysmic ice fall that occurred during the First Armada's advance through the corridor. Rather than spend time and resources helping free them from the ice, the Armada proceeded eastward without them, and thus the crew of the three arks, which includes several members of Warband Goliath, were left to free themselves and rejoin the Armada when they were able.

This did not happen.

Not long after they were marooned, the survivors began to be terrorized by an unknown race of bestial humanoids, which they named the Icekin. The Icekin were intelligent warriors, nothing like the demons or creatures that prowl the frontiers of the continent, and attacked wave after wave, slowly diminishing the number of survivors and their supplies as the months went on. Finally, in the third month of this brutal attrition campaign, the members of Warband Goliath and the men under their command are at a precipice. Their Protector, Mother Faina, has exhausted the last of their Omestrian ether stock, and her own ether pool is running dangerously low. She has been continuously keeping a low-powered aegis over the survivor's camp to keep them from freezing, but the warband has come to terms with the fact that sh can longer hold the protective veil after this day, and that once the aegis dies, they will too.

At that moment, they hear the strange song that fills the air just before an icekin attack, and sure enough, a legion of icekin arrive and garrison themselves atop the glacier, looking down on the survivors. They send a first wave of attackers, including a massive winged icehound. The tired, weakened survivors repel the attack, but not with some heavy losses. Father Taerlach, the Goliath warleader of Goliath, takes on the icehound himself, and with the help of Captain Fyodor, the leader of the few-remaining Secular Army survivors, he manages to take down the monstrous creature. However, he suffers mortal injuries and falls into the dark freezing water. He is about to die from exposure to the unnatural cold when Fyodor saves him by jumping in himself.

Elsewhere, Mother Faina and Father Solim are trying to keep the aegis from disappearing when they find themselves facing off against a strange creature, a knight made of pure ice. The two exhausted inquisitors fight against the knight but the creature is too powerful and overpowers Father Solim after it slams him into the hard floor, shattering his bones. It begins to crush his throat, but just after Solim goes unconscious, he unwittingly summons his projection magic, which allows him to momentarily leave his body as an "ether ghost". Also having the ability to sense ether and the sources of where that ether is coming from, he discovers that the knight is being controlled by what appears to be a Lanostran peasant girl, who is, miraculously, also controlling all of the icekin. The girl is being accompanied by a mysterious Omestrian woman, who is somehow maintaining a small aegis around them. The ability to summon and maintain an aegis is top-level magic accessible only to the Red Seminary, and thus this comes as a shock to Father Solim, because this woman is no inquisitor.

Furthermore, the two mysterious figures are standing in front of a strange, foreign silver craft.

Suddenly, a loud explosion resonates from the survivor's camp, and in an instant the Lanostran girl falls to the ground screaming and writhing in pain. Her Omestrian companion then picks up the girl and retreats into the silver ship , turns on the engines, and speeds away. Before she does however, she orders the girl to command the icekin legion to attack.

Father Solim returns to his own body, and finds that the room they were in has been completely decimated. The steel walls and foundations have collapsed in on themselves, as though some impossible force pulled them inward, and along with the destruction he finds the ice knight shattered in pieces on the ground. It is then that he discovers Mother Faina lying motionless next to him, the color from her Varyan eyes gone, her hair turning white, and her cheeks beginning to sink into themselves. She used up all of her ether to cast her own deadly gravity-based magic to save his life, and if she doesn't get help soon, she will die.

At that moment, the rest of the warband arrives. The aegis is gone, and frost begins to slowly envelop the room. They must decide what to do next before the ice claims them once and for all.
The Narrow Gates, survivor's camp-- "The Crypt"


[written by Lovejoy & Fuzzyboots]


Mother Faina took a sharp breath as Solim's shared ether coalesced with her own. The act of taking in another person's ether had always been unnerving. There was something uniquely intimate about the experience that made every encounter slightly different. This time, however, she was overwhelmed with a multitude of different sensations. Perhaps it was the "residual ether" Solim called it when explaining what he could do.

Within the solar, they now stood shoulder-to-shoulder. Even with the boon of extra ethereal energy Solim had granted her during the ceremony earlier, it took all their might to uphold the aegis. An extra Half an hour or so was all the time they had to keep their companions away from a fate worse than death, the unnatural cold.

"Oh! How interesting. I wonder why I have never noticed before," Solim said with his usual jovial laugh, causing Faina to break from her thoughts.

"Noticed what?" she asked, glancing at him. She noticed that Solim's smile did not hide the exhaustion in his eyes. Dark circles began to appear under his eyes and beneath the heavy cloak of his inquisitor's uniform Solim's movements were sluggish. Upholding the aegis was a bitter science, the most difficult form of ether manipulation known, and wading through ether exhaustion was something that only Protectors were used to. Solim was treading in dangerous territory, for though he had gifted Faina only a fraction of his own ether surplus, the aegis called for punishing amounts of ether, and Solim was not prepared for what it would cost him.

"There are two," He replied as a matter of fact as he looked off seemingly nowhere. His stance changed however as he noticed Faina’s worried expression. "Worry not, I'm fine," He said as he steadied himself, placing a hand on one of the steel barriers that shielded the portholes of the solar from what was happening outside.

Suddenly, the sound of screeching metal and the roar of icehounds could be heard coming from outside. Sensing something approaching, Solim hastily removed his hand from the steel plate just as a large gash sheared down its surface, blasting a shaft of afternoon light into the darkened room. The tear was not large enough for any icekin to breach their defenses, but still... at this rate it would not take them long to tear through.

It was then that the two inquisitors heard it.

The song.

Somehow it seemed to be coming from somewhere within the room.

An inky black mist started to fill the room. Just as Solim and Faina took their fighting positions, the mist began to coalesce and take form.

What once appeared as mist took the shape of a human, not much taller than Solim. And with a strange, almost beautiful swirling motion the mist appeared to solidify until the smoke-like entity hardened into shards of deep-blue crystal.

A knight, like something from Lanostran legend, stood before them. Its armor was as azure as the sky, and its crystalline armor was strangely ornamental. It clutched a diamond-sharp broadsword and a mirrored shield in its gauntlet-clad hands. Its black gazeless stare was focused on the two inquisitors, though there was only darkness in the slot of its ornamental visor. In an instant, it brandished its sword and dashed toward Faina.

Faina did not get the chance to ask Solim what hell he was talking about as she prepared for battle. A shiver ran down her spine as she watched an armor-clad knight unlike anything Faina had ever seen before coalesce into existence from the black mist. This thing, whatever it was, was not natural

In a moment of pure instinct, she side-stepped as a massive sword fell into the space she had just been standing.Solim reacted with the same swiftness.

Pivoting towards the knight, Faina took in a deep breath and focused on the thumping of her heartbeat. Thump, Thump….Thump, Thump… one more heartbeat, and her spellblade would appear in her hand. Letting out her breath she could just about feel its handle against her palm.

“Mother Faina...The Aegis!” Solim cried out in warning.

With Sentinel back in her quarters, it was only natural to call upon her spellblade. However she wasn't as skilled with it as her normal spear and thus it would require more Either than she could spare. Calling upon the ethereal blade threatened to take down the Aegis barrier.

Mother Faina cursed her stupidity. A visible ripple cascaded across the barrier as she dismissed the weapon hastily before it could completely form.

Undeterred, the knight poised itself to strike again. It lifted its blade and brought it down toward Faina in a powerful downward slash. In an instant, Solim summoned a paling and dove in front of his warsibling, the knight's crystal blade striking the magical forcefield and repelling backward in the knight's grip as a flash of concussive defensive magic blasted forth from the point of contact between shield and sword. From behind the golden veil of his paling, Solim could glimpse a crackling scar where where the paling had been damaged by the knight's blade. A weak cascade of ethereal mist began to flow from the scar and soon the paling itself faded to nothing. He could not maintain a paling for an extended amount of time, Solim realized-- not with his ether reserves so low. He would need to "flash" the paling to parry the knight's blows, a skill that only the most battle-ready of his warsiblings had mastered. It would allow him to call the paling for instances of a second to defend against attacks in order to keep his ether usage to a minimum, but his timing needed to be perfect.
"Come, wretched demon!" Solim spat at the knight, unsheathing his scimitar from its curved scabbard. The blade had been forged and enchanted by Warband Goliath's own artificer, the genius blacksmith Mother Zante, and it would not fail him against this monster. Its sharply-honed blade pulsed slowly with a deep emerald light as a series of gears and mechanisms spun within the scimitar's scabbard.

Convergence was the name Mother Zante had given the blade, and Solim had sworn to her that he would not dishonor it. The blade was a thin, as light as a dagger, and made for rapid incisional strikes, but not meant for defending or parrying thus Solim’s paling flashes would prove key to this battle. Despite it not being built for defending, there was another unique aspect to the blade, and as the knight raised its blade for another attack, Solim focused his ether on the myriad runes and machinery encased within the sword’s scabbard.

In a flash, Solim carved through the air in front of him, the blade recoiling with emerald energy as a loud sonic boom crashed throughout the chamber, rattling the iron plates on the portholes and sending everything not nailed to the ground flying. The scimitar glided through the air and at the apex of its deadly arc a wave of blade-sharp wind screamed forth from Convergence and streaked toward the knight with all the force of a gale. Sensing the destructive power of the incoming magical attack, the knight quickly abandoned its planned strike and raised its reflective tower shield in attempt to block it, but it was to no avail, for as soon as the emerald wave of wind energy exploded into the shield its massive crystalline surface was shattered in a storm of crystal shards.

The knight was so caught off-guard that it failed to notice Solim’s proceeding advance. The inquisitor has followed his magical attack by dashing toward the knight and jumping in the air, his blade primed to strike at the slit between the knight’s helmet and breastplate. Hidden by the spray of crystalline mist that now shrouded the room, Solim drew the blade back to strike cleanly and evenly, but then something happened.

A pulse from somewhere far away.

Those who wielded ether to perform sorcery were well-versed in how to keep it from spiking during battle, but when something caught them off-guard, say, a sneak attack or a trap being sprung, an individual’s ether could erupt in intensity for a split moment. A “magical shock”, so to speak, and in the instance before Solim could deliver the deadly blow to the knight, he felt it.
It was… a gasp, of sorts. Fear, primal and young, from somewhere across the ice. Faina, still tethered to him, seemed to feel it as well, for she looked through the torn open portholes across the glacier where the army of icekin waited.

This momentary distraction was all that was needed for the knight to shoot its gauntlet-clad hand at Solim’s throat and use his momentum to slam the inquisitor’s weakened frame down into the hard floor of the solar with such force and cruelty that both of Solim’s arms snapped at the elbow from the impact. Through dazed eyes Solim watched helplessly as Convergence slid across the floor away from his reach, and when the inquisitor faced upwards to gaze at the crystalline face staring down at him, he found twin abyssal pools gazing into his own eyes.

The knight did not wait and began to crush Solim’s throat. Icy-fingertips dug into the soft meat of Solim’s neck. The black orbs of the knight’s eyes seemed to expand and darken the world around them, and soon there was only darkness and the sound of his Faina screaming from somewhere far away. He was now drowning in that darkness and he remained in that purgatory for some time, unaware of time and the world passing.

Until suddenly, a strange, yet familiar buzzing tickled him awake.

Solim struggled to open his eyes, but when he did, he found himself within the darkness once more, but there was something else in there with him. A brilliant streak of ethereal light was attached to a ghostly outline of the knight. The demon was still positioned over him, its phantom hand gripped around his throat. The shining streak of ethereal stretched out towards the pure black distance to somewhere nearby. Solim then stared down at his chest and saw another streak, this one much more feint, leading towards a phantom outline of Faina, who had now stumbled down to one knee as the last of her ether drained from her. Her eyes burned with both fear and rage as she was struggling to get up. And then, almost imperceptible to him, a third rope of light, this one as thin and ghostly as spider-silk and anchored to Faina’s chest, sped off towards the inky darkness in the opposite direction to some unknowable distance. The one from earlier.

Tethers. Of course.

Solim could feel the knight’s fingers on his throat and he could sense that he was not long for the material world, but he had to do something. He raised his own ghostly arms, broken and shattered, and with great concentration reached out to the shining tether that was connected to the knight, and gripped it with all his strength. The world went white as the light from the ethereal tether slowly bloomed outward and washed out the darkness.

When Solim opened his eyes, he found himself in an unfamiliar place.

He was floating over trampled ice, his boots off the ground by a good ten feet and his broken arms hanging limply at his side. His body was transparent, and could see the snow falling through him. After coming out of the momentary shock, Solim finally gazed around him.

Hundreds of icekin stood around him like statues, completely motionless. Their bestial faces were expressionless, their eyes milky white. He turned around and saw the edge of the cliff, and down below, the half-frozen water and the three ruined arks mashed together at the base of the opposite glacier wall.

He was there. Or here. Right in the middle of it. The icekin legion.

Solim floated nearer to one of the icekin warriors. It stared straight ahead, its body as still as stone. It didnt even seem to be breathing. Every single icekin seemed to be in similar circumstance. Were they kind of spell? Or was this how the icekin acted when they weren’t fighting? He wondered if they would even notice him if he wasn’t currently in his ethereal ghost form.

And then he heard noises coming from deeper within the ranks of motionless icekin. He squinted his eyes, trying to look across the mass of icekin bodies, but could not see anything. He floated through the bodies, towards the source of the noises. As he made his way through the ranks, he found that the icekin were being stationed further and further apart, until finally he reached his destination, a wide open circle within the legion.

What first caught his attention was the strange silver ship, a steam ark of sorts, parked neatly and undamaged on the surface of the ice. He had never seen a steam ark like that-- it seemed neither Lanostran, T’saraen or Varyan in design, and certainly nothing like the garish ether races that the nobility used.

But it was the two figures in front of the ark that interested him most.

One was a tall, thin woman wearing a mish-mash of different bits of armor, akin to what an ice pirate would wear, but there was no mistaking the amber light of her Omestrian eyes as they scanned the ice around her like a hawk. She held a Lanostran gunlance in one of her hands, the twin bladed-cannons primed and ready to fire. And in the other, she gripped a catalyst humming softly with ethereal light.

That was when Solim noticed it. The soft pleasant whurl of an aegis encasing the space around them. Impossible. Was she an apostate inquisitor? It couldn’t be. There were no records of Omestrian apostates. If there were, there would’ve been grave consequences for his brethren in the Seminary.

Solim focused attention to the second figure, who seemed even more out of place.

It was a teenage girl, no older than sixteen, wrapped in a simple fur coat, like something a peasant would wear. Her hair was a pale silvery blonde, long and unkempt, and when Solim focused on the girl’s face he found that it was marked with tattoos.

R’heon tattoos.

The girl was lying on the ground, staring at the empty ice in front of her. Her right arm was outstretched and tense, her gloved hands were gripping something tightly, but strangely enough, it was as if whatever she was holding on to was floating a few inches off the ground.

Solim’s eyes grew dark. This girl. This was her. The Singer... the one who’s song brought the icekin. And at this moment, she was somehow controlling the knight that was soon going to end his life.

“What’s taking so long?” the Omestrian asked the girl.

“There’s something wrong. He is already dead but--”

Suddenly, a strange crunching sound, like ice falling off a glacier, exploded from the direction of the three arks. And not an instant later the girl screamed and fell to the ice, a gut-wrenching, excruciating scratching into the frost.

Her Omestrian companion hastily fell to her side, a look of deadly panic in her eyes as she gathered the convulsing girl in her arms and retreated toward the silver ark.

“We’ll return to the armada. Now order the beasts to attack!”

The girl moaned in response, her emerald eyes filling with tears. She did not answer.

“Do it, Moira,” the Omestrian woman hissed as she reached the entrance ramp of the shining silver craft. Not a moment later, the ark’s engines began to hum to life, and the icekin around them began to sir.

It was time for Solim to return, though he shuddered what he would find when he opened his eyes in his own body again. The girl mentioned that he had died, but she was wrong. He was very close to it, but his spirit was not there. The miracles Lord Varya had gifted him with were uniquely powerful in their own way, and the inquisitor gave a silent prayer to the Ravenous Lord as he closed his eyes and willed himself back into his body.

***


When Solim awakened, he found that he could not move, nor speak, nor breathe very well. But he could see, and what he glimpsed with his own eyes was the solar completely destroyed. The outer hull, steel wall and foundation and all, had been constricted onto itself, crushed and sheared together by an impossible force. He saw the broken remnants of the crystal knight’s shattered limbs lying all across the destroyed room, and, with his heart itself breaking apart as he realized what happened, he saw her-- Faina was lying motionless across from where he lay, her hands reaching out toward him. Her eyes drained of their color, only a faint blur of azure remaining within the grey-white coronas. Her cheeks were beginning to become sunken and her black hair was now streaked with white.

She saved him. And had likely sacrificed everything in doing so.

Why?

Faina had one spell that she never used. She didn’t need to, after all. She was their Protector. But when the knight was crushing his throat, she had summoned the very last pools of her ether to manipulate the magnetic forces of this place and tear the knight apart. Abandoning the aegis, all to save her warsibling from certain death.

Solim tried to reach out to her, to call out her name, but found that he couldn’t. His body was broken, and his throat was in such ruin that he could no longer speak. There was still a chance that she could survive this, but it was not likely. She had consumed most if not all of her ether, the one lesson that all of their teachers had ingrained into them time and time again. If they could get her some Omestrian ether, she could possibly make it, but even then the chances were not good. If he could only reach her…

Solim tried to move, but he could not. The trauma of the battle with the knight, and his own use of hiss projection ability had severely drained him of his own ether as well. But still, he tried to move.

The sound of footsteps coming from outside the solar rang loud in his ears, and as they grew closer he managed to turn his head just enough to see Mother Albina and a group of soldiers walking into the solar. Alongside them were Father Boris, Captain Lyubchenko and what looked like Father Taerlach being carried on a makeshift stretcher.

Solim looked to Albina and motioned toward their fallen warsibling.

“Help her. Please,” he tried to say.


The Narrow Gates, survivor's camp-- "The Crypt"


[written by Lovejoy & Jamesyco]


Father Boris had face planted, interrupted in his chant by the sergeant pushing him out of the way of some attack. His eyes closed once more as he rubbed his head gently and rolled onto his back. He looked out towards the rest of the makeshift camp, where the two other arks, the Svarog and the Veles, stood empty and silent in the distance. Had the icekin only attacked the Kyselica? Boris’ eyes shifted to the makeshift corridor that connected the three ruined arks. That’s where he had left it that morning. “I need the staff…” he whispered out as he closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and laid on his back as he straightened himself and he started to chant once more. He needed to conserve himself as much as he could.

He wished he had his staff with him, but he had decided to leave it in the makeshift corridor between the three ruined arks. He had done that as a precaution, as well as that was the best place for him to use his beam. If the Church had kept to their schedule, two other arks would be approaching the Gates around this time on a mission to travel to El and act as a support for the main invasion force. If he could send a beam skywards with his staff, he could possibly signal them. With their communications damaged, the staff was their last resort. Everything rested on this throw of the die. The staff, given to him by his old master, shone brightly from there in the corridor, the place where dead were given to the icy waters below them. He wondered if his death would be awaiting him there as well.

Father Boris felt blood on his face from another man being skewered nearby, the lines and ranks were most likely failing around him, he hoped that the people around him would protect him at least, no, they couldn’t. He had to use his last energy here, to get the icekin off the deck, to annihilate the enemy in front of them. To give off what light he had left to give to the world, his staff gave him the energy to project his power, but he didn’t have that. He had only what was in him, flowing through him. He began chanting, his voice rising up in the scream as he had begun using the last of his energy. He would conserve himself, how he did not know, the last piece of his body decided that it was time to either die, or show those assailing him a hellish rest of their life. Be it the rest of his life, he would find a way to protect, and possibly save those whom he had promised to save.

“Raise me, help me to the staff… We will rule the day if we are capable of doing this task, we will drive them off and bring ourselves salvation.” he said knowing that it will probably kill him. The cold was sapping the ether from him, but he had to fight. Even without his staff, the teachings of the Divine Order and the gifts of the Ravenous Lord would see him to salvation.

Boris removed his gloves, and stretched his scarred fingers in and outward, testing them against the frost. He raised his hands in front of him, and prayed, communing with the gnawing emptiness of Lord Varya’s hunger. The icekin ambushers, twelve of them all, were so enraptured in their violence that they could barely turn in time to witness the miracle that came from the Ravenous Lord’s answer to the young priest's prayer.

A shining wave of necrotic azure light burst forth from Father Boris’ hands, engulfing the twelve icekin. The stormlight was hungry and thus it ate away at all it touched, rending through armor, fur and flesh until only bone remained. The icekin in front of Boris were silent as Varya’s light consumed them, flesh-scented smoke and ghostly ether steaming where they once stood. Six of the twelve icekin remained, their armor and fur half-eaten away, and without fear they stepped over the bones of their comrades toward Boris. His hands were trembling as frost began to accumulate on them, and the icekin gazed at the young man with the same unchanging hatred blazing in their eyes.

Boris had spent a sizeable amount of his ether calling upon the miracle without a catalyst, and it wasnt long before he felt all of his strength leaving him. He collapsed on the deck, his arms so heavy that he couldn’t catch his fall and thus he struck his brow on the steel. The last thing he heard before the world grew dark was the sound of the remaining icekin advancing upon him.

***


Somehow, there in the haunted expanse half a continent away from their lord's aegis, the world was growing colder. For each and every one of the soldiers fighting on the lower deck, each bitter second was a frozen lash upon their backs as the once shimmering aegis above them continued to slowly fade. The deck was a nightmare of ice and blood, the frost accumulating in the crimson flow of icekin and soldier alike. The brutish bear-like monsters fell upon the remaining soldiers with a strange, silent hatred, their pale white fur awash in the blood of their foes, their ice-sharp axes tearing through Varyan armor and bone, while above, the colossal ghost-white icehound flapped its massive crystalline wings, relishing at the carnage beneath it.

Father Boris' miracle had bought them a chance opportunity, and at once Sergeant Ernst grabbed the young priest by his arms and forcibly dragged him away, all while shouting orders for the men to regroup.

Those soldiers who had managed to gather their wits and retain their Varyan military training in the face of the ambush were able to spring into action and retreat to the upper level of the command tower. There, Sergeant Ernst led thirteen of them with Father Boris in hand as they stood in formation and used their terrified comrades below as bait, for the icekin could not resist easy prey. Forming a killzone from their position above the deck, the soldiers rained fire down at the six remaining icekin, and though bullets couldn't penetrate the armor and fur of the bear-like icekin, it was enough to slow their advance.

"In the name of the Ravenous Lord, don't let them advance to the upper deck!" Ernst shouted, rattling teeth be damned, his voice roaring in crescendo with the storm of gunfire around him. He glanced toward the solar at the top of the command tower and winced when he noticed a dying light weakly illuminating the windows from within. A pack of icehounds were attempting to claw their way within the solar, but Father Taerlach was handily fighting them off.

Within the solar, Mother Faina and Father Solim were fighting to keep the aegis from extinguishing, but it was a battle they would surely lose eventually. The golden barrier of shimmering light that had encompassed their camp for the past three few months was now nothing more than a curtain of pale refracted light, barely noticeable except for the occasional glimmer of sunlight hitting the ward. Mother Faina's ether was surely almost running out, Ernst realized as his entire body suddenly trembled. A frigid gale of arctic wind blew across the canyon, biting at them so violently that a number of the soldiers in the firing line collapsed to their knees, shaking and moaning from the demonic cold that clawed and flayed at their bodies.

Ernst tried to muster the men, to scream for them to fight, but the old soldier found that the skin on his lips had frozen them shut, flesh upon flesh. He raised his fingers to his mouth and violently ripped his lips open himself, the dark blood immediately freezing on his beard.

"Fight. Fight until there is nothing left. And for Lords' sake, keep the lad warm!"

The soldiers heard him and struggled to their feet, battling through Varyan will and determination the deathly cold that was now seeping into the aegis. But it was too late. A moment of respite was all that was needed for the icekin to surge forward and storm the upper deck. The bestial icekin lunged upward, their powerful legs driving them from the ground with impossible force. One of them leapt toward the opposite railing of the deck Ernst and his men were on and immediately bounced off of it, gliding upwards through the air in a sickeningly acrobatic arc. The towering warrior landed with a thud right in front of them, raising its axe.

"Varya, protect us," one of the men whispered as he raised his rifle to take aim at the beast. Ernst screamed for his men to throw themselves at the deck, but his words were cut short as the axe cleaved through him and four other soldiers like a knife through parchment. Blood torrented across the deck as their torsos fell in meaty piles upon the floor, bathing the unconscious Father Boris in red. The remaining soldiers, a credit to their bravery, were not cowed by the death of their sergeant, and began to fire point blank at the monstrous icekin.

The towering creature remained still as the bullets bounced off its half-ruined armor and ether-corroded fur. It lowered its gaze to Father Boris, memories of Varya's miracle burning in its mind. Once more, it lifted the axe.

The axe swung downward merciless, the blood-drenched face of the young priest beneath it.

Mere inches before the axe's blade found itself buried in Boris' skull, the icekin's massive forearm went flying across the deck, its grip still tight on the axe. The monstrous warrior seemed to stand there, staring blankly at its missing lower arm, when suddenly a light-filled blade erupted from its stomach and as clean as a butcher cleaning bone, arced upward silently, vertically bisecting the creature's torso in two. The icekin fell to its knees, both halves of its upper body sliding apart like partially cut fruit.

Father Tarlach stood behind the gruesome spectacle, black spellknife blazing forth from his left hand, the icekin's strange bright red blood sizzling on the blade's edge. He hurriedly bent down to check on Father Boris. Apart from the cold getting to him, the lad was unconscious and had sustained a few cuts, but seemed none the worse for wear. He then turned to the remaining soldiers, all of them young, all of them survivors.

Taerlach identified the highest-ranking soldier among them and asked her name.

"Private 1st Class, Luna ar'Maja, Reverence," the young woman responded, her voice as resolute as she could make it. Beneath her blood-splattered fur hat, the soldier's T'saraen blue eyes were terrified, but a steely focus and determination shone within them.

"Bring the Father to the armory. Pump him full of whatever stimulants you find in there. When he awakes, escort him to the connecting corridor between the three arks. You must protect him with your life. This will be the most important task you will ever perform for our Lord. Do you understand?"

"Y-Yes, Reverence. We will do as you order," the young soldier responded before ordering the rest of the men to carry Father Boris into the command tower.

Good, Taerlach thought. No more distractions.

The remaining icekin had landed on either side of him on the deck-- three one on side, two on the other. The monsters seemed hesitant to face the inquisitor, and with good reason. Taerlach didn't know a thing about icekin culture, but oftimes he and Albina had wondered if the monsters had spread tales of Warband Goliath among their ranks, those warriors who had defeated dozens of their ilk, and now feasted on their corpses.

Judging by the hesitance of his opponents, he had an inkling that there might be some truth to he and Albina's musings.

Taerlach was not one to waste a good opportunity and thus he stormed toward the three icekin on his right. Jumping gracefully on the railing, Taerlach boosted himself across the open expanse of the deck, flicking an ether knife at the icekin at the fore. The icekin easily swiped the spellknife away with its axe, the small magical projectile dissipating harmlessly in the air, but behind this distraction came the full force of Taerlach's attack. In mid-air he summoned an ether blade from his left foot, twisting in mid air to deliver the killing blow with a deadly arc. The dark ethereal flow of the spellblade trailing behind it, the blade sheared cleanly through the icekin warrior-- its upper chest, shoulders and head sliding off at the diagonal with a wet splash on the ground.

The remaining two icekin, seemingly conquering their fear and remembering their own ferocity, didn't miss a beat in swinging for Taerlach as soon as the inquisitor made landfall. Their attacks were too quick to dodge, a mistake on his part, one Gregoroth would have had him beat for, but not a lethal one. The enchanted armor fashioned for him by Goliath's treasured artificer, Mother Zante, would see him safely through this encounter.

Taerlach raised both armor-clad forearms and as the icekin axes made contact, Zante's enchantments activated. A white pulse of ethereal bloom resonated from the point where his gauntlets absorbed the attack and a small shockwave emanated from them, violently pushing both of the icekin's swinging arms back over their heads. One second in combat is all that is required, and Taerlach used this opening to summon a longer spellblade on his right grip. Using both of his hands to add an impossible force to the blow, the black ethereal sword sliced through both of the icekin surgically, their divided torsos crashing on the deck.

"For Ernst," Taerlach spoke softly.

At that moment, a scream came from the solar. Solim and Faina should be up there alone. What was going on?

A sudden gleam of metal in his periphery brought Taerlach's attention back to the battle and with seconds to spare, the Muraadan inquisitor raised a gauntlet-clad hand in defense as an icekin's axe spun with cruel intentions toward his head. With a sickening crunch the blade of the axe sunk deep into the fingers of his gauntlet, pushing the back of his hand into his face. Though the enchantment of his armor had protected him, the weapon had been thrown with such force that it seemed to bypass most of the wards. He was lucky the wards didnt fail completely, for without the added protection the axe would've cleaved through his fingers and buried itself in his cheek.

Taerlach cursed himself for his loss of focus. What was happening to him? Perhaps it was the exhaustion of the past three months that was catching up to him, or perhaps, more worryingly, it was the cold. He was beginning to feel the blade-sharp chill cut into him second by agonizing second, and not even his innate Muraadan indifference to the cold or the enchanted shadowcloth of his inquisitor's cloak were doing much to stop it. Faina's aegis was failing and time had all but run out.

I have to end this quick.

Taerlach pried the icekin's axe from the half-severed fingers on his left hand and wielded it with the other. No acrobatics, no fancy moves, just axe to flesh. Quick and cruel. This was his strategy. And in Varya's name, he would make it work.

There were two of them left. One was unarmed and yet it raised its fists in a combat stance. Warriors to the end, these things. Tearlach approached, axe-in-hand, and raised it high above his head.

And then, something strange happened. He heard a strange whistling sound, a light airy noise, like the wind coursing through the abandoned shipyard warehouses where he would sleep as a child, but distant. Coming from somewhere far, but approaching.

Like lightning, the massive ghost-white icehound streaked from seemingly out of the nowhere and with hawk-like grace and demon ferocity it sank its massive talons into Taerlach's chest as it plucked him from the deck like the tinyest of rabbits.

"Grgh!" Taerlach's throat and innumerable wounds expelled blood across the sky as he was taken far from the battlefield and up into the void white emptiness that raged above the cliffs. There, his dark Muraadan eyes could glimpse only endless snow and the red of his blood raining down and up and everywhere as the colossal winged beast barreled and spun through the sky, the pure force and velocity of the creature's flight bringing him to unconsciousness.

With the thunderclap beating of the alpha icehound's wings resonating in his ear, and with the frigid arctic winds piercing like thousands of iron needles into his body, Taerlach was brought back to reality. The bastard thing's claws had pierched his breastplate and were stabbing painfully into the bones of his shoulder blades. Upon realizing this, Taerlach screamed. Not for fear, because Taerlach himself was incapable of feeling it, but for bloody murder. He was going to fucking kill this thing, no matter what. And thus, he resolved to do it. He had a plan. A foolhardy one, but it was all he could think of. The creature's massive talons were anchord to his chest, his arms and legs locked within its vice grip.

In his years in the Seminary, Taerlach had become a master of the spellblade. He was known as an expert duelist and a savant at hand-to-hand combat, but few had such mastery of the skill of manifesting a spellblade as Father Taerlach Duanei. And so, he wondered if this was a brilliant idea that would see him hailed as a legend, or laughed at as a cautionary warning.

Taerlach closed his eyes and focused on his ether. The sound of the rushing wind, the cold, the creature's talons ripping into his flesh and bones, for a moment all of it settled into a pure nothingness. And then, suddenly, from that nothingness, he allowed his ether to explode.

Blades of darkly light erupted from every surface of Father Taerlach's body. His shoulders, his stomach, his legs, his arms, his back, spellblades of varying sizes and lengths spawned outward like the quills of a hedgehog, piercing and slicing through the giant icehound's talons. A horrifying screech escaped its throat and suddenly Taerlach was let go from its grip as bright blood rained from its myriad wounds. Anticipating this, Taerlach swiftly grabbed at a swath of the creature's ghost-white fur and using his own momentum, flipped himself upward on the monstrous icehound's back, where he clung to fistfuls of fur. The gaping wounds on his chest spilling blood on the creature's pristine fur, Taerlach wasted no time in further sullying this monster's eerily beautiful visage.

With one hand holding on, he summoned a spellknife, and began to furiously stab at the creature's back. In and out, in and out, Taerlach plunged the spellknife through the icehound's flesh with a silent and focused fury, its screams deaf to his ears. The creature began to fly irregularly, trying desperately to shrug the inquisitor off its back, but to no avail. If I can just hold on, Taerlach thought as he continued to mercilessly stab at the creature, its screams filling the sky.

Suddenly, the wounds on the wounded beast began to glow, as if something deep within it had come alive. The beast began to tremble beneath him, and Taerlach clung to the beast with both hands. The light from within the icehound's wounds burned white, and with its growing intensity the monstrous flying beast began to buckle with more and more anger, as if something was damaging it from within. In that moment, Taerlach felt a massive expelling of ethereal energy, the blowback pushing him backward as the icehound fired a pulse of radiant white energy from its mouth. And then another, and another. Surrounded by the white expanse of the sky above the battlefield, Taerlach had no way of knowing where any of these projectiles had struck, and he wondered why the beast hadnt used this attack to begin with, or rather, if it even could. It seemed like it was unleashing these painful-seeming ether pulses involuntarily, like an animal vomiting something it shouldn't have eaten.

Suddenly, with a lurch to his stomach, Taerlach felt the sensation of a descent through the clouds. Slowly at first, but then at a breakneck speed. The icehound was finally returning to earth, and while it continued to thrash and buckle beneath him, it seemed focused on its journey as it made its way beneath the clouds.

Good, the ground will give me the advantage. Taerlach's thoughts were quickly dashed as the curtain of white clouds unfurled with the icehound's descent, revealing the massive glacier wall beneath and the impossible army of icekin at its apex. This was its target, Taerlach realized, all too late. It would deposit him in the middle of an entire legion of its brethren, and that would be the end of it.

The Muraadan inquisitor readied his paling, spoke a quiet prayer, to Lord Varya, and in the silence of his thoughts, to Lord Muraad, who's undying heart beat eternally within all his children.

Taerlach looked on at the waiting oblivion and marveled at how fast the creature was advancing. There were hundreds of them. Waiting for him. Soon they would all--

Boom.

Somewhere from far below, the sound of cannon-fire resonated through the valley between the two glaciers.

Impossible. The cannons on all three arks had been damaged beyond repair during the icefall. They had wasted days on end trying to get them back in working order, but to no avail. Why was--

Suddenly, there was a massive explosion underneath Taerlach as an ether shell struck the icehound with pinpoint accuracy. The creature was dead before it could even muster any awareness of what was happening. Taerlach desperately clung to anything he could, but he found nothing but the open air as the explosion engulfed both the creature and Taerlach in a violent bloom of corrosive ethereal light. The inquisitor, blown off the icehound's back and now falling through the air, could only gaze at his gauntlet-clad hands as the necrotic ether quickly ate through the enchantments on his armor. When he hit the water, there were screams from somewhere. This much he noticed. But the only thing that mattered to Father Taerlach was the pain. His armor was gone, and his skin and nerves were being consumed by the corrosive ether.

As he sank, and as the haunted cold of the water stripped him of everything he was, Father Taerlach was glad for the darkness.


The Frontier -- Near the Narrow Gates



Ahead of the Sword of Dawn, the horizon gleamed a shade of gold unknown to them. They were a scant four days removed from the lifeless grey of the Varyan aegis and already the dusk sky bloomed in its alien orange hues. Ragnar could feel it-- the enormity of what they were leaving behind, like some great anchor hooked to his spine, the links in its chain weakening the further they raced eastward.

The churning blue earth beneath the ether racer shimmered with the dying light, and ahead, the two massive glaciers stood monstrously in the distance. Ragnar scanned the horizon from north to south, and he could not see their end or beginning. It was said that the glaciers formed a barrier across the entire world, with only the small corridor carved between the two glaciers allowing passage eastward. The Narrow Gates, the mythical treacherous pathway which snaked between the two glaciers, awaited them. Their journey had taken them half a day, and it would not be long until they reached the Gates-- the place that held not only their destiny, but the destiny of the empire itself.

"You're really good at this," he complimented Banou, trying to still the nervousness running through his veins. The SA soldier who had volunteered to pilot the ether-racer had not spoken a word since the reconnaissance mission began. Characteristic of her near silence, the soldier nodded and remained ever-focused on her task. She was the bodyguard to Mother Yonah, but the soldier had a decidedly non-Varyan cast to her. The paint, or tattoos on her face, where certainly not something he had ever before seen on any bodyguard to a high-ranking cleric.

He turned his attention to the deck below, where Ziotea and Oren sat at a bench at the far end, checking their equipment. Always ready, those two, Ragnar thought. Viveca stood calm and resolute at the front of the deck, while Tatiana sat on the steps leading to bowels of the ship. He wondered how each of them would fare against the mysterious creatures that had attacked the three stranded arks. According to the reports, the Kyselika, the Veles and the Svarog were being commanded by members of Warband Goliath, who were heralded as some of the greatest warriors within the Seminary. If they had lost one of their number... an inquisitor, these enemies must be strong, indeed.

It was then that he realized that Galahad was nowhere to be found. Where the hell was he, Ragnar wondered?

Suddenly, he heard his war brother's footsteps approaching from behind. Ragnar turned his head, and from the corner of his vision he glimpsed him. The fading orange sky made Galahad's pale blonde hair appear darker than usual. It was almost difficult to recognize him.

"What do you want? Come to lecture me again?" Ragnar asked the warleader, turning away from Galahad's penetrating stare. The diminuitive inquisitor pretended to look at the glaciers ahead.

Galahad sighed, but before he could answer, Ragnar spoke again.

"Are you cold, at all? Feeling a bit nippy?" Ragnar asked in that mocking tone of his, yet he already knew the answer to that query. He lifted his gaze to the almost transparent sphere of light enshrouding the entire ship. The aegis slowly pulsed, a curtain of light lazily fading across the apex of the sphere as a frigid gale swept through the top of the deck, the snow and sleet carried forth by its force suddenly dissipating to nothing as they touched the walls of the barrier.

"See?" Ragnar asked, smiling.

"These are supposed to be the harshest conditions in all the known world, and my aegis isn't even struggling to keep the elements at bay. I can keep this up and fight at the same time," Ragnar spoke, his voice growing from boast to genuine pride by the moment. "Do you know what that means? It means that this is easy for me, Galahad. I won't be a hindrance to you or your plans, and I don't need you to protect me. Ever."

Ragnar turned and approached his warleader, lifting his chin to meet the taller inquisitor's gaze.

"When you ordered me to stay behind, it was an insult. Do you understand? I am just as strong and capable as you. Soon you and everyone else will see that," Ragnar said, spitting out the words out as if they were like acid in his mouth.


The Narrow Gates, survivor's camp-- "The Crypt"



Despite the smell of death and the sound of the rasping lungs of the soldiers huddled below, it was proving to be an exceptionally beautiful day in the Crypt.

The Crypt, the name the soldiers had bestowed upon the ruins of the Kyselica, was at first a foreign word to Zviera. His dead, the Omestrian castoff of the pipeworks, were not laid in stone and iron when they expired but buried in the hard ice that froze the bottom sectors of the city. It was not until Father Solim explained to him what a crypt was that Zviera understood. This was a place for the honored dead. The soldiers had given up a long time ago, but at least they still held onto their Varyan pride.

Above them all, the ice wall stood like it always did, imperious and impossible in scale. Its shadow spread across the entire ice corridor, the Narrow Gates, High Command called it, covering the day in darkness, save for the few short hours when the sun shone directly overhead. As if by instinct, Zviera gazed skyward and found that the sun was nowhere to be seen. Everything and everyone around him was covered shadow and yet the sky was a peaceful golden color, bathing the top of the ice wall in shimmering light. Zviera's addled mind could not remember what time it was. Was it early morning, or dusk? Did it matter?

He turned his head and gazed dreamily at the ice wall as he fell behind the rest of the party. It would be beautiful, if not for the shredded portion of it that now buried most of the three ships. Zviera wondered for the thousandth time, but this time finally allowing a measure of peaceful resignation to cloud his thoughts, why the Armada had left them all to die.

"G-Get moving, cattle."

Zviera winced as the butt of Captain Ernst's rifle pushed him forward across the scrap metal gangplank. He had been daydreaming again. The ether in his veins ran thin, and despite all of Father Boris' hard work to keep him standing on two legs, Zviera was exhausted. He had put on a brave face for his master earlier (he had to, of course), but now his weakness seemed to be weighing on every bone and nerve in his body.

Captain Ernst yelled at him again, this time kicking Zviera at the small of his back. Zviera did not protest, for he understood that this treatment was deserved and required. The Captain was close to breaking down, and he needed this release, but more importantly, the war council was soon to begin and Mistress Alya must not be kept waiting. Up ahead his master's warsiblings were making their way into what remained of the Kyselica's hold. Ernst walked past him, his lower lip trembling. His two top men were at his side. Levin and Markopovic, Zviera remembered somehow. They were the least sick, the most capable of those who remained, and the most loyal. The captain wanted them with him at all times. He was scared, of course. Not just of the Warband, or the Icekin, but the very soldiers under his command.

Zviera was last to enter the officer's mess. It had been transformed into the de facto war room since the collapse, and his mistress had in turn taken it over as her own personal salon. The rest of the Warband didn't seem to mind. They were much too busy focusing on preparing for the Icekin.

Mother Faina leaned against the wall, her face pale and sallow. Zviera's own ether, that morning's extraction, was fueling her, but it wasn't enough. At that very moment, Faina was still holding the aegis, a thin gossamer curtain of ever-weakening magic that was somehow keeping them all alive, but even with all the ether of all the soldiers in the Crypt, it would never be enough. An aegis was not meant to be held continuously over the span of months. Such a thing would slowly kill the caster, even Zviera knew that.

Father Taerlach stood at the center of his gathered warsiblings, his gaze fixed on Faina. He appeared as he always did - strong as iron, despite the dark circles under his eyes.

Ernst stepped forward and saluted the remaining Inquisitors of Warband Goliath. He placed a fist over the hollow of his chest, the traditional Varyan salute. He spoke in a tired voice, all hope, all strength gone from it.

"The... extractions are taking their toll, Your Reverence. I.. My men, those who've survived, they lack the strength to fight and the will to defend this position. It is our duty to serve the Church, to fight until our dying breath, but..."

Ersnt was quiet for a moment. He breathed in and tried desperately to gather his courage.

"There have been whispers of sedition among the surviving soldiers. As their captain and liaison to the Warband, they... they look at me and see failure. Failure to protect them. I fear that a number of them seek to abandon their posts and try their luck out on the glaciers. Others believe that perhaps if they surrender to the Icekin they will be taken as prisoners to wherever the monsters call home. Such a thing is... is blasphemy, of course, b-but--"

Ersnt looked at each of the inquisitors, his eyes pleading.

"W-What is our Lord's will? It is said that Lord Varya sees all, that He speaks through you. Surely He sees with His own eyes how we suffer. Will... Will he offer us salvation?"

The strike was sudden and forceful enough to catch the captain by surprise. For a moment, only the ringing slap! echoing off the metal walls filled the air. Mother Alya stepped back, her hand still raised. Her voice hardened in an instant, firm with fury. “How dare you?”

She stepped forward, as though to strike the captain again. With each word her voice raised in volume, escalating to a full shout. “Of course the men see failure! They have eyes, do they not? How can we expect the men to keep the faith when their leaders don’t?!” In spite of her demand, she continued without waiting for an answer. “Faith, Captain, means not questioning Lord Varya’s will the minute things don’t go our way! It is ours to carry out His will, not to crawl and plead that His will be to our benefit! He will provide to those He deems worthy, not to those who grovel most! You will lead by example, Captain, and restore faith among the men by having a little yourself!”

It was all like an unravelling thread. Once it began, it took only the slightest of pulls for everything to start coming apart. First, they had been stranded. Then the Aegis had been pushed to its utter limits while the bearer continued to fight the slow bleed of a cold death from the constant drain. Everything about their situation had been one slow yank of thread that held an entire piece of cloth together. It wasn’t overly surprising that the men were considering sedition. The truth was, Father Tàelach was rather surprised that it had taken them this long to come to this point.

The low rumble of Father Tàerlach’s voice ground through the room like shifting rocks. It was deep, gravelly, and had not been heard by anyone in some time. While he would never admit it, on a deeply personal level he had been forced to consider what exactly the measure of his own faith was. It meant that he had been... less than present, of late. It was clear that had been a mistake, but perhaps this situation might actually be salvageable now that things had been put to rest.

“I hope Mother Alya’s position on the matter is all you need to restore an attitude of respect and a mindset of zealous faith.” The man shifted his weight.”...I understand that these are trying times for the men. However, we all must shoulder our burdens in this place. Those who would seek to set them down will soon find that there are worse things than the Icekin in this place.” A slow shift and lowering of his hands rendered an ominous sound as the metal of his gauntlets struck the table before him. “If they require...an example... I would be more than happy to oblige them.”

This whole thing was getting them literally nowhere but if the troops were in open revolt, they were all going to die a great deal quicker than Tàerlach had any plans to. His features, as though a cloud were passing over them, shifted from thunderous anger to his usual placidity. “Otherwise, I encourage them to remember what and who they serve. If this is to be our end, then it is for reasons even we cannot comprehend. Hold fast to that, Captain.”

Alya took an audible breath, returning to the table in the room, and taking a seat. “Right, now that we have that out of the way - let’s share this beef Stroganoff before the sauce gets cold!” It wasn’t beef - it was Icekin, the only fresh meat they could still get. They all knew that, but she felt no need to call attention to it.

“Now then. It is Lord Varya who relies upon us, not the other way around! He has taught us to be strong and self-sufficient, and we must now exercise the skills with which He has blessed us. It’s clear we cannot stay in this camp forever and wait to die...but I don’t think we’re in any position to attempt travel overland - we’ll be easy pickings for Icekin.” She paused, looking around, and softening her tone. “Perhaps we need to attempt again signalling for help. Thoughts?”

Father Boris sat down and listened as those around him speak; he was more hungry than worried at this point. One last meal would not hurt before the last stand, he believed. Looking up, he pressed his lips together. Surrounded by hounds of war, he was not trained like them but he had become a decent fighter in his own right. Well, against Icekin and what he assumed was other beasts of the world.

“Though we are but a stream, ether flows from our bodies like a waterfall. I am sure we can make at least one more effort. A beam of light into the sky, or sending a raft into the channel with a rope attached… either way, there is not much we can do.” he said, softly, pressing his lips together once more. “There are only a few men, and if they would rather become meals to the creatures than die like men… well, there is not much to be done. I assume not much to be done, I assume. We are too low on supplies to hold out against the attacks. We could bury ourselves, but there is not much use in making our own sarcophagi when there is a desire to live and thrive in this world.”

He leaned back upon the wall and turned his head to the group, “Well, the Kyselica shall hold, for as long as a man still stands. If there is a way to see the sky at night, then we have the ability to call for help at a larger range... if we can see the stars above that is. The clouds may work against us. But let us eat, and find our course in this desolate tundra of ice. Many of us have important roles in the defence; mainly keeping spirits high and strong with those who desire to stand and fight.”

Mother Faina knew she looked as horrible as she felt. She could feel the stares of the gathering when she had entered the room and took her customary place along the back wall. It wasn't long before Ayla shoved a double portion of Stroganoff into her hands. Faina had just opened her mouth to protest the wasting of resources when she caught Father Taelach's gaze. His look told her that if she didn't eat it, there would be trouble. She instead thanked Ayla with a nod and heaped a forkful into her mouth.

Mother Faina listened carefully, without reply, as the group discussed the issues currently. It was not the first talk of sedition amongst the soldiers, and Taelach knew precisely how she felt about the matter. The fewer bodies she had to protect, the less Ether she had to use. Let them run and let Lord Varya decide their fate. Either they would strike them down or the Icekin would. Doubtful that the Icekin would take a soldier as a prisoner. They were well adapted to this terrain, and it was unlikely that a common soldier would provide them with any new resources or knowledge. Faina stopped listening for a moment to contemplate that idea.

"The Icekin. They have something we do not" she began in a moment of awkward silence, "Resources to survive in a terrain like this."

Faina finally joined them and after she received a look like the perpetual storm clouds hovering outside she finally relented and ate. Satisfied he made one last sweep with his gaze before collecting the plate in front of him and lifting it to eat. The really had a strange consistency to them was the only thought that jumped to the front of his thoughts as Father Tàerlach ate the dish. The years of being a starving child followed by the years of training made him quick when it came to food and soon the plate was back on the table and forgotten. It was fuel after all and he’d never truly met a dish that gave him pause long enough to enjoy it. Thus was the cost of being born a wretch and being raised a servant of the Church. After a brief pause, he sighed.

“I think the only option we have at this point is to attempt another signal. We can’t dig ourselves out. There is no way to cross the ice on foot and even if I didn’t suspect that the Icekin would kill us all, there is no way I would let my command surrender.” The unspoken portion of the comment was that in the absence of reinforcements Tàelach fully expected to expend every single one of their lives and his own killing as many of the Icekin as he possibly could. It was hardly the end he had hoped for but at this point, he was largely resigned to it. The other ships had moved on and no doubt would make it to their destination. damn him the thought resounded in his mind. He was still stuck here and would be responsible for the deaths of half the Warband. In his mind, he finally resolved to take to the front lines. The time for contemplation and prayer was over.

“Any other suggestions? Any other thoughts…”

It was an open question but those who knew him would recognize it as potentially dangerous to voice any thoughts he deemed less than relevant or anything bothering on less than full service to Lord Varya.

“It is we who have something the Icekin do not, Faina,” Alya said, her voice softening as her ire faded as quickly as it arose. “We have the love and support of one of His great Warbands, and the gifts of Lord Varya Himself!” She rose from her seat. “It is our lot in life to do what is hard - if this were easy, I would send Zviera to do it for us. So let’s not focus on our difficulties - they’re merely proof that this task is worth our time.”

" You misunderstood me Alya. What I mean is, they have the resources we need. I purpose we take it," Mother Faina said calmly and matter as a matter of fact. "Lord Varya expects us to be self-reliant. We cannot wait around to be saved."

That brought a smile, punctuated by a large bite of the meat she’d insistently called beef, regardless of what everybody present knew it was. “Yes, we can take more from them than their lives to sustain us. They must have a means of survival!”

Ernst stared at the meat on his plate with a sickening lurch to his stomach. The survivors had been subsisting on the flesh of the strange Icekin hounds for the past three months, whenever the hunting parties were unsuccessful on their forays into the glacier. The meat itself was edible, thank the Ravenous Lord, and it was not for a Varyan to complain about the food, and yet... there was something wrong about the houndflesh. Perhaps it was only in his mind, but Ernst could have sworn that no matter how much the meat was spiced prior to cooking, it still tasted of...that place

He was there now, huddling against the trenches in Lanostre as he and his men quietly starved. Even now, two decades removed from the horror, the stench of his dead comrades still filled his nostrils... and the hunger. Oh, the hunger.

This was it. It was the same. Not even Mother Alya's culinary skills could mask the familiar taste of human flesh. Ernst couraged a glance at the inquisitor, and then to her warsiblings.

Too young. All of them.

A frigid wind seeped through the weakening aegis, blowing at the inquisitors' long black coats and biting at the bruised flesh of his cheek. Somewhere down below, a cry rang out, followed by the sound of boots on steel. Ernst hurried to the large porthole overlooking the deck and saw the remaining soldiers running to the entrance gate of the Crypt. They were all staring upwards and pointing toward the glacier wall.

It was then that the screaming started.

Ernst's eyes followed the impossible glacier wall up towards its apex, and there, flapping its massive crystalline wings, a massive Icekin hound floated in defiance against the darkening sky. This was the largest he had ever seen, and instead of being covered in the characteristic black fur of other hounds, this creature's mane of bristly frozen fur was colored a pale white.

In its frozen talons, it gripped the bodies of the hunting party that had ventured to the glacier that morning. There were seven men in all, but the Icekin's talons were so massive that it could easily grip each of their bodies. With a trembling hand, Ernst reached into his coat and withdrew a pair of binoculars and brought them up to his eyes. What he saw made him recoil in horror. The men of the hunting party were alive. He could see them screaming.

The Icekin hound stared down at the survivors, and then the beast opened its talons.

The men rained down, splattering against the amalgamated steel deck in explosions of blood and bone. Those of the remaining soldiers who still held firm to their faculties ran for cover, the others, too scared, remained on the deck seemingly catatonic with horror.

It was then that Ernst heard it.

"HYEEEEE...HYOOOOO... HYEEE... HOOOOO."

The ghostly song seemed to resonate throughout the entirety of the glacier and the ice corridor below. For many in the Crypt, it meant one thing. Death.

The Icekin's song perplexed and terrified him. Not because of the carnage which would come after, but because of its paralyzing familiarity. The song these wretched creatures used as a war hymn wasn't like the marching cadences the Varyan army sung on their way to battle, but something more mundane, and that's what horrified him. It reminded him of the beautiful herding calls Lanostran shepherds would bellow out to summon their livestock to return home.

The sound of giant footsteps stomping on ice tore him from his memories. Soon the beating of wings and the cacophonous snarling of an army of icehounds joined the war chorus. All across the edge of the glacier wall stood a veritable legion of Icekin.

It had been months since he had seen so many gathered at once. Not since the first attack all those months ago- the one that had crippled them beyond recovery.

"S-Sir?" One of Ernst's men was staring at him, clutching a rifle to his chest. In the salon behind them, the inquisitors were gathering their weapons.

"Fight for as long as you can. Protect whoever you can, and may Lord Varya stand with you today," the captain prayed before following the inquisitors out into the freezing deck.

***


Threads are laid bare. Cold and frigid are we, dim from Vayra’s light, but lit ablaze we remain.

Solim cast himself as another fixture in the officer’s mess. Like always, he appeared elsewhere, drawn by the influx of ether resonating from within. More deaths followed after Lt. Gajevic’s passing, and the Omestrian took it upon himself to ferry most of their souls to providence. Time is inconsequential within the fortress of his mind, the last way station he designed as a construct before their final departure. Here, the dying lay their souls bare. Confessions formed through memories like chapters out of a book, to unburden the spirit, before they depart from their physical shells. One’s life story fills Solim’s cup, only to be emptied for the next. Years blinked by in minutes as their sadness, pain, and fear distort his perception of reality.

His vision now askew, the ether seen is residual from the souls departed, layered among the living—and there was something else. Something gnawed at him in the distance, but he was too consumed by his own predilections to investigate further. He eventually pulled himself out from the memories of his dead comrades to focus on the present. He reached for the waning aegis, clutched its prickly energies like a babe to a blanket, attuning his ears to the war council.

Such a dire situation. The aegis grows faint with every passing hour, weakening minds with thoughts of sedition. Who dares to venture into the blinding cold, where the only known shelter is an Icekin’s belly? What a vicious cycle. We eat the Icekin as they eat us until one is left standing. Is this ‘Stroganoff’, as Mother Alya affectionately calls it, to be our last meal? Solim chewed at the gamey meat, noting its lukewarm texture. He quickly swallowed the piece whole and drained his entire cup of water. As he held the cup high over his mouth, his eyes were drawn to what no other person in the room could see. Past the metal roof of the hold was a violent cloud of ether, hovering at the top of the Ice Wall. The last time he saw something like that was during the first Icekin attack...

The loud smack! of bone and flesh against the Crypt’s surface was like a demon’s gavel, ordering judgment upon Vayra’s brave few. Their death song growled in tones that were eerily human as if readying themselves for a ceremonial feast. Solim didn’t give in to its terror. He fought against the little voices telling him to cower in fear and listened to the rallying cries of every soldier he ushered into the afterlife. The Omestrian felt compelled to take up arms and fight, but he knew his efforts were best served behind the frontlines of battle; to help keep the aegis strong. The Omestrian rose with purpose. He needled his way through the hubbub until he reached Mother Faina.

“Let me help you with this burden.” Solim smiled at her as his hand probed for the aegis energies. “You’ve extracted from everyone, even Zviera’s ether—good, Omestrian ether, but not from me. Do you know why that is? It’s quite poetic, really. Without even realizing it, I’ve been priming myself for this moment. The residual ether from our fallen comrades has imbued themselves onto me. So use me... use us, Mother Faina, to embolden the aegis.”

Solim knew he was taking a risk. Ether extraction was a delicate process. The use of an improvised, emergency draining kit could yield varying results, but he was prepared to do what was necessary.

Alya had more martial matters in mind. Her voice was dissonantly calm as she answered the Icekin’s cries. “Zviera, retrieve my halberd, and load my shotgun.” What else was there to say?

Father Boris stared at the group in the room, “I will let out one last beacon of our survival.” he said as he looked at the group, “Give me the time I need, let me see the sky and I will make it brighter than anything these creatures have ‘ver seen.”

He stood from where he sat and held onto his staff as he stretched his starving body out some, “Give me five minutes in the open, between the hulks of what remains of this group… maybe our saviors are near.”

Zviera was the first outside, and all around him, men were screaming in horror, breaking ranks, and shooting blindly at the sky. Was it the sheer number of attacking Icekin that had robbed them of their bravery as soldiers of the empire, or was it the whisperings of revolt that had weakened their resolve? Whatever the cause, this was the worst Zviera had seen them.

Somewhere, Zviera could hear Captain Ernst’s trembling voice screaming, begging for the men to regroup. The Omestrian didn’t pay him nor the soldiers any mind, for he had been given a task by his mistress and thus this was all that mattered. He ran towards the small makeshift armory at the opposite side of the deck, doing his best to steel himself against the horrifying sound of the hundred beating wings above him. He was no soldier and was too weak to fight beside, but the retrieval of Mistress Alya’s prized weapons could perhaps spell the difference between the soldiers’ survival and the Warband losing all of the remaining men under their command.

Ahead of him, just outside of the armory, a group of soldiers had thrown their rifles aside and had prostrated themselves on the ground, their knees cold against the freezing steel deck.

“We surrender. We surrender,” the men spoke in unison in a strange, almost practised chant. Zviera could not see how their voices would carry with the surging wind and snow roaring all around them. These were Varyan soldiers, men whose brothers-in-arms had beaten and humiliated him in the name of their Lord, and there they lay, throwing their honor away. It meant nothing to the Omestrian. Whether they lived or not, they were blocking his way into the armory.

“Out of the way, Mother Alya requires her weapons.”

The eldest of the surrendering soldiers stopped chanting and rose to his feet. He pleaded silently at Zviera with a terrified, desperate gaze.

“They… The Icekin… They will be merciful. If we do not fight… If the inquisitors surrender just as we have--”

Move, soldier,” Zviera interrupted, trying to fill his voice with as much steel as he could.

“Your mistress and her brethren have doomed us. Can’t you see, Omestrian? They have led us to this” the soldier spoke, his voice disarming in its calmness, as he gestured to the bloody carnage all around them. Zviera’s eyes took in, for the first time since his hurried advance toward the armory, the splatters of indeterminate flesh and bone that had now dotted the deck.

His breath caught in his throat, and suddenly he remembered the meat that Mistress Alya had cooked for them. His stomach lurched in discomfort.

The sound of a revolver being cocked brought Zviera back to attention. The Omestrian turned and saw the frost-covered barrel of the soldier’s revolver pointed at his face.

“Turn back. Tell your mistress that if she wants her weapons, she can come to get them herself.”

“You are only dooming yourselves--”

The soldier smiled, a mad cut to the corner of his lips. He turned his attention upward, to the darkened line at the ice cliffs above. They were countless, standing in formation across the entire wall… from horizon to horizon.

“Do you see them attacking? They have stayed their assault! Unlike the inquisitors, the Icekin see us for what we are. Invaders. We have been trespassing on these seas, seas that belong to them, and who among us would not defend what is his?”

Zviera gazed pityingly at the soldier’s crazed expression. Terror had stolen this soldier’s honor. It would not take his.

There was never a choice. He could not turn back. Not empty-handed.

With the soldier’s eyes still focused on the Icekin legion atop the cliffs, Zviera dove for the revolver.

***


Father Tàelach rose with a sort of reverent finality. The warleader had been gone for some time but now, he was back. As the strangely haunting cry filtered down to their gathering space he watched as the other dove into action. It was like moving through water. He could feel them around him, the fervor of those knowing they were damned. Caught in this frigid hell sure of their destruction. No doubt there would be those who begged, pleaded, lost themselves to zealous fury. In his short time, he had seen men and women react in every way imaginable to the horror of combat. In this isolation, his eyes wandered across his siblings. So many stories yet untold and here was where he had led them to die. It was a pity. If only they had cut free and continued on with the rest of Goliath. There was still a score to be settled somewhere out there. Tàelach sighed, he would never do it if this was to be his last day.

Walking as though in the heart of a hurricane he stepped out of the door and into the hall making for the battle lines.

Mother Faina's stomach lurched and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up on end as the Icekin called out with their eerie song. The fight for their lives was now upon them. Chances were that most of them would not survive if not all of them.

As Inquisitors they were taught that fear was the ultimate weakness and failure. Faina had always disagreed with that sentiment, though she would never have said such a thing out loud. She knew that fear was the ultimate motivator. It was fear that settled in her heart as she watched her Warsiblings prepare for the coming battle.

She steeled herself against the screams of dying men and the exhaustion that threatened her. At this moment she did not have enough either to call her personal aegis. When Solim approached she knew what he was going to offer, and she simply nodded. If there were a time to use such a dangerous ability it would indeed be now.

Father Boris was still below deck, not knowing of what was happening above, he was slowly gaining what was left of his reserve, the last bit of his strength. He sat on the floor, in almost perfect praying meditation. His eyes closed and his body slowly killing itself, using literally the last of his remaining strength, he would take what could be given to him, but it was unlikely that he knew if he could survive this.
He stood, opening his eyes as he took his mentors' staff, “the light will shine upon us once more…” he slowly sauntered out of the room, taking whatever hold he could as the point of his staff slowly grew with light, but it was that which sapped him of his strength. His body, breaking, his mind shattering, his mission to save those around him, will be finished. He entered out into the chaos, slowly seeing the men's minds shatter around him.

“Stand, stand with me you fools! They will not get past the light that shines upon us, the great one will give us the strength, now give me yours and fight!” he yelled out in a whisper almost. “Give me your strength, your power! Fight!” he would say in repetition through the wounded, and dying back ranks where he would have been healing the day prior.

His allies were now lunatics, and he was the last sane one, with those inquisitors he had believed to not be people, but vessels of death, or knowledge. Then his repetitive words changed to chanting, in a low voice, and the light began to shine brighter when he reached the front line of screaming men. He was walking as if there was no one around him, it was up to his friends, allies, and followers to protect him now that he was oblivious to the world around him.

The gun shot rang out and echoed across the chasm, and in its wake came the thud of Zviera crumbling to the steel deck.

He lay prone, his slim frame trembling, clutching his right shoulder as blood poured from the wound. The mutineers stood above the trembling slave, their eyes still mad with fear as they now looked toward Father Boris, who was now marching toward the center of the deck, shouting desperately trying to calm and get the men back in formation.

"Father! You’re dooming us!" the head mutineer cried, pointing his revolver at the advancing Father Boris.

"End this! End this or we will all die!"

Captain Ernst and his two officers rushed to Boris' side and aimed their rifles at the mutineers. All around them the terrified soldiers gathered and watched in panicked silence.

"That slave belonged to Mother Alya," Ernst warned, his finger resting on the trigger. The mark of her slap still reddened his cheek.

"Look to the sky! The icekin aren't attacking. They will allow us our lives, as long as we surrender. Those are the terms. Mother Alya will unders--"

"There are no terms, you fool!" Ersnt interrupted. "The icekin are only here to kill us."
He turned to Father Boris. "Father, give the order and we will shoot these men--"

Before Boris could answer, a massive spear shot out of the water and drove through the mutineer's chest, sending him flying towards the glacier wall and impaling him on the ice.

"It's an ambush!" a soldier shouted.

Ersnt, his two officers, and Father Boris instinctively ran for whatever cover they could find, but before they could take another step a great plume of icy water erupted forth from the surrounding slush as a dozen armored icekin warriors vaulted on to the deck.

Most of the icekin ambushers were of the familiar variety, the same kind that had been attacking and dying in turn for weeks. But four of the dozen were unlike any icekin the survivors had seen before. They were massive in size, larger than any icekin that had come before. Standing at three meters in length, the monstrous icekins' steps made the deck tremble as they advanced. They were bear-like in appearance, with frost -white fur sprouting in the spots where their strange crystal armor didn't cover.

"What the hell are they?" Ersnt asked, looking toward Father Boris.

Ersnt couldn't hear the Father's response, as the dozen icekin soon fell upon them.

***


Alya and Taerlach advanced toward the battle below, running and jumping down from the upper deck. However, the two of them stopped in their tracks. At the sign of the ambush from their brethren beneath the waves, the icehounds floating in the sky above the battlefield stormed down like lightning toward the upper deck.

A chorus of screams and gunfire rang out from below. The soldiers had finally found their courage, it seemed like, as an explosion of bullets tore through several of the smaller icehounds. Above the two inquisitors, four icehounds crashed violently into the steel shielding that surrounded the solar where Mother Faina and Father Solim remained behind. They began to claw and tear at the steel, their massive claws rending through the protective barrier.

Within the solar, Mother Faina and Father Solim stood shoulder-to-shoulder, both concentrating with all their might on upholding the aegis. The Omestrian inquisitor had bolstered her own ether pool with a small amount of ether he had gathered from the world around him, and this small boon would be enough to grant her an extra half hour or so of power. Without the aegis their companions and the men under their command would fall victim to the unnatural cold that would seep the very life from them, thus any more ether to help in maintaining it would be a treasure.

Faina looked at Solim, and noticed that her warsibling was looking paler than usual. Dark circles began to appear under his eyes, and he seemed to have to focus more on his breathing.
Just outside, beyond the reinforced portholes, the sound of screeching metal and the roar of icehounds could be heard. Suddenly, a large gash appeared on one of the steel plates, sending a shaft of afternoon light into the darkened room. The tear was not large enough for any icekin to breach their defenses, but it had taken the creatures very little time to tear through the steel.
It was then that the two inquisitors heard it.

The song.

Somehow it seemed to be coming from somewhere within the room.

A strange, almost transparent blue mist started to fill the room. Just as Solim and Faina took their fighting positions, the blue mist began to coalesce and take form.

What once appeared as mist took the shape of a human, not much taller than Solim. The mist then appeared to solidify until the ethereal blue clouds hardened into crystal-blue armor. A knight, like something from Lanostran legend, stood before them. Its armor was as azure as the sky, and its armor was strangely ornamental. It clutched a diamond-sharp broadsword and a mirrored shield in its gauntlet-clad hands. Its icy gaze fixated on the two inquisitors, though there was only darkness in the slot of its ornamental visor. In an instant, it brandished its sword and dashed toward Faina.

***


Amidst the chaos of the battle on the lower deck, Zviera slowly pulled himself forward. His shoulder was naught but a pit of bleeding viscera, and a pool of blood was forming beneath him.
The armory, where Mother Alya's weapons had been stowed away, lay just a few feet in front of him. He gritted his teeth, banishing his pain and the screaming and the sound of death all around him and dragged himself within.

Metal weapons gleamed in the dim, unlit armory. Blades and rifle barrels stood in neat, organized rows, long after they should’ve been distributed to more soldiers. He would let Captain Ernst worry about arming everyone else. His first responsibility was his mistress and her Warband.

WHAM!

The sound of a dying soldier slamming against the wall from outside startled Zviera out of his reverie. Screams, shouts, and gunfire echoed from all directions. Returning to his mistress wasn’t likely to be an easy task.

His badly-mangled shoulder screamed its protest as he hefted Mother Alya’s immense halberd. The pain brought him entirely to his knees, and his own anguished cry joined the cacophony outside. Zviera bit his lip, whimpering. If his mistress really needed her halberd, couldn’t she come in this direction herself…? Surely she would understand if he was unable to bear the weight of...

No.

No - she was out there, fighting these monsters unarmed. To even think of giving up was a betrayal. He bit his lip harder. The salty, ferrous taste of blood helped block out the searing pain of his mangled arm. Carefully, largely one-handed, he loaded Mother Alya’s shotgun.

One shell. Two shell. Three shell. Four shell. Five...

He carefully ducked his head under the shotgun’s sling, awkwardly balancing the heavy firearm until he could point it forward, with the halberd’s weight on his still-good shoulder. His mistress was relying on him to deliver these weapons across the maelstrom of monsters and soldiers outside. He’d simply have to get them to her.

No matter what.

***


The familiar warmth of ether flared around Mother Alya as she looked upwards, focusing her attention on her legs. The solar was much too far for a soldier to jump, if a soldier were inclined to jump herself into a crowd of climbing Icekin strong enough to tear steel apart with their bare hands. A visceral thrill surged from a primal place deep within, forcing a savage grin on her face. Mother Alya was no mere soldier. Ether surged forward, and she leapt into action.

A dinner fork wasn’t much of a weapon, but Zviera hadn’t returned with her halberd yet. She had her pistol, but against the thick hides of the Icekin, pistol rounds were about as useful as the fork. Years of hard-fought and painful lessons flooded through Alya’s mind as she soared unnaturally far upwards, hastily scanning for a landing point. The Icekin were significantly larger than her, but size wasn’t always an advantage. She quickly scanned the Icekin clinging to the side of the solar. With their heavy weight, they’d need to support themselves as they clawed their way towards her vulnerable warsiblings. Her focus centered on the muscular arm of an Icekin as gravity took over and she began to fall.

The fork plunged into the taut muscle of the topmost Icekin. Propelled downward by a hundred and fifteen pounds of laughing Inquisitor, the utensil buried its entire length into the Icekin’s arm, shattering against bone. It wasn’t a serious enough wound to kill an Icekin, but it didn’t need to be. It only needed to weaken his grip.

Strained by the shattered metal and the impact of the falling Inquisitor, muscle and sinew violently unraveled, no longer able to support the weight of the creature. The impact elicited a surprised yelp and a furious snarl, and then the Icekin was falling, blood spraying from the remnants of the muscular arm still clinging to gashes in the steel. The other Icekin in the group turned and roared their disapproval at Alya’s arrival.

”Ha ha ha ha ha!” came Alya’s reply, and then the fight was on. Ether coursed through her. She threw a wild fist at the nose of the next Icekin.



On The Frontier, aboard the Karamzina: Day 3



Oren, for the most part, had wandered the Karamzina, familiarizing himself with its layout. It was a habit he had become accustomed to… a part of his training. Figure out every corridor, every staircase, memorise each door and where they led. If he knew those, he would always know another escape route, another way to run circles around his target or his pursuers.

There was probably no need for this ritual... the chance of a fight breaking out on the Karamzina was unlikely, but it was a habit hard to break. One of many.

The other settled over him like a warm blanket. He had slipped back into the shadows, going mostly unnoticed by his subordinates and peers.

And thus when he appeared in the meeting hall outside the War Room, the soldiers and officers who stood waiting for the staff meeting to begin looked on in surprise. It was a rare sight to see Father Oren out in the open like this and many of the senior officers hadn't even formally met the elusive inquisitor. They stared in silence, some slack-jawed, some unsure of what to make of him. It was then that Mother Yonah, flanked by her bodyguard, the soldier Banou, and her young handmaiden, Sister Mal, made her way into the room.

The other personnel in the meeting hall immediately bowed their heads, yet Oren stood silent and still.

"Please! There is no need for that. We are all here equals before the grace of our Lord," she exclaimed in a practised tone, clasping her hands together in casual prayer. Despite her command, the soldiers did not lift their heads. Years of ceremony and routine had cauterized within them the iron truth that the high priests of the Divine Order were to be respected and heralded among the rank and file. It would take more than a gentle urging from Mother Yonah to get them to stray from tradition.

It wasn't until Lieutenant Dragonov made the call for his officers to enter the war room that they found it appropriate to lift their heads. As the hall emptied, Yonah smiled at Oren, her powder blue eyes taking every measure of him.

"White hair. Pale skin. A storm of unstaunched light within those eyes. Not too many scars. What commendable work your masters at the Atelier have done at cultivating you," she spoke, as if she was admiring a statue in a museum on the Godsfall. "And to retain such unmarred beauty through the horrors of the Seminary, you are of enviable stock indeed, Father Kanus." Mother Yonah tilted her head, scrutinizing him further, and that's when the wonder in her voice turned to worry.

"And yet, there is a... weariness to you. Have you been sleeping well, Reverence?" she asked in a concerned voice as she focused on the darkening skin beneath his eyes.

Despite the Mother’s scrutiny, Oren offered her a hint of a smile and lied through his teeth. “I am unaccustomed to sleeping on arks, that is all. Restful nights will find me eventually.”

One of the two women who had entered with Yonah -- the one who might have disappeared into the background entirely were it not for Yonah's handmaid at her elbow...the the spear erected behind her like a deadly ice spire growing from her skill -- stood quite motionless as first Yonah, then Oren spoke. Yonah's handmaid watched the exchange with some interest, a smile dimpling cold-reddened cheeks. But the other woman, the silent bodyguard, seemed only faintly aware there was even a conversation happening (though he could tell by the subtle but dangerous tension in her body just how present she was). She stood still as stone, hardly seeming even to breathe, even as Yonah's young handmaid suddenly grinned wickedly and leaned over to whisper something in the other's ear. The silver-haired woman gave no response, save the slightest shift inward, nearer Yonah's handmaid.

Mother Yonah then turned her attention to the open doors of the war room. Within, a great oaken table dominated the center of the chamber, with the high command sitting on one side of the table and most of Father Oren's brethren on the other.

"Of course, leave it to Ragnar and Ilya to keep us from starting this damned thing," Father Hassan could be heard protesting from within.

Mother Yonah smiled.

"I suppose it is time we joined your friends," she said, leaving Oren with a curt nod. As she walked into the war room, Banou stood at attention by at the side of the door. Sister Mal, strangely, remained by Oren's side.

"If sleep should continue to elude you..." she whispered to him before swiftly placing a small object wrapped in black cloth within Oren's coat pocket. Bowing her head, a few stray locks of dark hair spilled out of her nun's habit. She cast one final glance at Oren, the handmaiden's cloudy grey eyes filled with a strange look of pity, before turning to join her mistress within the war room.

Upon passing by Banou, who now stood sentry alongside another SA soldier on the opposite side of the double doors, Sister Mal smiled nervously at her mistress' protector and smoothed the unruly locks of hair back behind her ear, securing them in place beneath her nun's habit.

At that moment, Ragnar came stomping down the stairwell leading to the upper deck, making sure to nod at all of the SA soldiers as he walked by them. Upon noticing Oren, Ragnar clasped him by the shoulder with uncomfortable familiarity, beaming at the Leviathan inquisitor as he always did, as if it were the first time Ragnar had seen Oren that day, despite that never being the case.

"Come on, let's sit together!" the young protector said cheerfully before heading into the war room.

Oren just gave the back of Ragnar’s head a soft glare, before closing his hand around the object Mal had slipped him. He thumbed the cloth and looked around him before carefully unwrapping it… and then immediately shoving it back in his pocket. Gantleaf. She’d given him a small case of gantleaf. How had she…?

A cold chill ran down his spine. Of course, Mother Yonah had found out. She had eyes and ears in places he couldn’t even reach. And she had found out about his… dependency. He clenched his fist and squared his shoulders. She wanted eyes on him? Then he’d have eyes on her. He followed Ragnar into the war room.
Hey all.

Was looking through some old folders and found the first ever post of the previous iteration of the RP. It's an interesting read and shows some of the differences and similarities between the two different RPs. Check it out if you want! :p


We're all full up now. Thanks to everyone who applied!
@DotCom Btw! One of the old players of The Red Scarf Hymnal actually cataloged a lot of our writing, and thankfully it's still online. The old thread was a victim of the forum wipe a few years ago, so good thing she saved all our posts.

Here's a link to it. I sometimes go back and read it. :p

wattpad.com/5552288-the-red-scarf-hymnal
@LukasVolkov Hey Lukas! Thanks for posting a CS.

I need to review it with you to change a few things in order to make your character better fit with the pre-established lore and all that. Would you mind joining our discord? I've been using our server to onboard all of the new folks and get them and their characters up to speed with the RP.

Here's the link: discord.gg/q4XzV3f
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