bring me my bow of burning gold
bring me my arrows of desire
bring me my spear, O clouds unfold
bring me my chariot of fire
Near the First City of Cero, T'sarae
[written by Lovejoy & OppositionJ]
T'sarae was a land seemingly out of time.
Astraea observed the passing snow fields with a middling fascination as the old train sped them towards their destination. Untainted by the smoke and black steel of Magnagrad, the pale snows of T'sarae's frozen plains called to mind the lowlands of Lanostre, but it was different here. Sapharan was the capital of Lanostre, but the queendom itself was populated by countless smaller settlements in the lands surrounding the great twin mountains. T'sarae, on the other hand, was completely empty. It seemed like the only place that mattered here was the grand metropolis they were currently journeying to.
The three inquisitors had left the Mountain and the Glacier behind in chaos and uproar, their roles in the mysterious attack already spreading throughout the SA's ranks, and therefore, the empire itself. Tatiana had killed several soldiers during her escape, and if what the summoner said was true, the clerical branch would be hunting her down. Astraea smiled at the notion. Let them come. We will fight them tooth and nail
The R'heon stole a glance at Tatiana and Galahad as they sat across from her on the train. It was an old steam machine, like all Varyan trains were, dating back to before the war. Back then it was used to ferry Varyan conscripts to the Lanostran war front, but today it was filled with SA soldiers and civilians, nervously gossiping about the three inquisitors currently occupying the empty car near the back of the train.
Tatiana and Galahad had been conversing quietly the entire trip -- planning and strategizing for whatever awaited her within Cero. Astraea understood why she was being kept out of the conversation. She and Tatiana were cordial at the best of times, but the summoner and Galahad were as brother and sister in the truest sense. Tatiana's escape, her defiance against the lord clerics, it was a problem that would affect the entire warband, but for now, it was an issue that affected Tatiana specifically, and that in turn meant it affected Galahad as well.
The sound of footsteps approaching from behind brought Astraea out of her revery. A young SA soldier, part of the Engineering Corps by the emblem on her lapel, approached them nervously.
"Your Reverences. We will be arriving at Cero within the hour," the young woman said, her eyes quickly glancing at Tatiana. The soldier bowed and hastily left the car.
Galahad sighed. He spoke something in Tatiana's ear before rising from his eat and following the young soldier to the rear car. Probably off to order the communications officer to give him information about what awaits us at that train platform
, Astraea thought.
She wondered if the clerics would really attempt to pursue Tatiana all the way to Cero. The city itself enjoyed a certain amount of independence from the Church and if she had heard correctly, the clerical branch didn't even have a temple there. Would Tatiana be safe in such a place? The summoner was an ordained inquisitor on an important mission, nay, a grand
mission, known to all the empire. Many of its citizens knew her name, and many more worshipped her as the heir to Lady Indira. Would court marshalling Mother Tatiana Leviatan prove the wisest decision for the Church? Astraea didn't think so. But still, there was a chance this could all go wrong. It certainly wouldn't be the first time.
The R'heon got up from her seat and approached Tatiana.
"You really got us into it," she said to her, a faint smile forming on her lips.
Tatiana’s eyes had remained glued to the snowscape that sat beyond her window. She was lost in thought until Galahad had managed to goad her into conversation. When he had gotten up to deal with his business, Tatiana could have sworn there was a certain air of fear that came over her. No, that couldn’t have been right.
She knew she was safe here, but something permeated her very being after the trial. It didn’t leave her. As Astraea moved to speak to her, her gaze did not move at first, but soon Tatiana broke her perpetual trance with the endless fields of snow to avert eye contact and look down towards herself.
“There was a lot of blood shed on that bridge. More than just demon blood.” Tatiana pursed her lips as she finished. She had barely finished comprehending the situation herself.
Astraea gazed at the young summoner. Always so cheerful, so full of laughter
. Astraea remembered the raven-haired girl running through the halls of the Seminary with Ragnar when they were children, the two of them keeping the entire warband up at night with their giggling. The thought of the girl killing human soldiers, of killing anyone
, was like some sick joke. Tatiana seethed with ethereal might, that much was obvious, but for her to turn a blade on other humans. It felt wrong.
“I’ve never killed anyone. I don’t think any one of us have. You’re the first.”
Silence filled the air, the low rumble of the train tracks the only accompaniment to the uncomfortable moment between them. It was always awkward, whenever it was just the two of them, the gulf between their personalities as vast as the gap between the twin mountains that separated their homes back at Sapharan.
“How do you feel?” the R’heon asked. Tatiana knew that Astraea didn’t need to ask her that. The R’heon’s strange ability to sense emotions from those in her proximity gave her all the answers she needed. Still, she hoped Tatiana would reach out on her own.
Astraea’s words carved through Tatiana’s chest like a long blade piercing directly her heart. She had killed people.
Tatiana suddenly seemed to feel the weight of the gallons of blood that had covered Polarpike bridge. Was it regret that overcame her? Guilt? Embarrassment?
It didn’t matter. When Astraea asked her question, Tatiana felt herself impulsively speak up.
“The demons, I meant. One of the glacier’s creatures. It came and… It slaughtered a swathe of men…” Tatiana couldn’t help but subtly shake her head as she spoke. To lie to the empathic inquisitor wasn’t easy when she was prepared for it. Now, things were even worse, but Tatiana couldn’t admit it. She wasn’t ready to explain herself to her warband like that. Not yet.
“I don’t know. The clerics, the R’heon—” Tatiana cut herself off. Her greatest enemies also included her fellow inquisitor among their ranks. To speak badly on them, Tatiana wasn’t sure she could do so openly. Not now at least. “Just act like it didn’t happen.”
Astraea lowered herself to sit next to her warsibling. She leaned in close and placed a gentle hand on Tatiana’s shoulder. Outside, a sudden flurry of snow blasted across the plains, covering the window in white.
“It’s going to be alright,” she said to her, Astraea’s voice barely above a whisper, as if to hide the summoner from the train full of soldiers around them. “You need time. Gods know all of us do. Just know that…” her words trailed off. She remembered their argument the previous morning before the battle, when Tatiana’s raw, untested power concerned the R’heon to such a degree that she drew a line and challenged the summoner to cross it. Tatiana would not come with them to the battle. It could prove disastrous
, she remembered thinking. “But one is enough…”
The summoner’s words rippled through her mind. Tatiana was alone-- a summoner in a warband of warriors. Even with Galahad and Ragnar at her side, no one could understand the unseen tides that continuously crashed against her. The price that needed to be paid in exchange for such a gift. No one except the two people who made the summoner who she was. Her father and Lady Indira. Both of them gone.
“Just know that I am here for you if you should ever need me,” Astraea spoke as she gently squeezed her warsibling’s shoulder.
Tatiana felt another torrent of pain internally batter her. Time…
She couldn’t imagine she’d ever heal from such a break in her mental abilities. She was always the collected one— the light in the Seminary’s dark halls. This was all wrong, and the worst of it was that Astraea was right. She knew about the ticking time bomb that was her ally. That only got Tatiana thinking… Could things have been different? Could a more peaceful outcome have been achieved if she had heeded the words of her allies? Did she deserve to fight alongside her fellow inquisitors?
Tatiana supposed it didn’t matter.
“I’ll… Be alright. I’m never alone. I know…” The words came out, but then Tatiana repeated herself, speaking much softer this time: “I know…” Of course, her thoughts didn’t refer to her comrades in the Seminary. No, a twisted vision occupied her mind. She wouldn’t let it be known. “Don’t let me be a setback… Don’t let me hurt the warband.” Just to speak the words brought a watering to Tatiana’s eyes. She couldn’t believe that she dared defer to Astraea. They had so commonly butted heads, and now Tatiana found herself locked at that spot where she had to accept what she had done. She didn’t know if she ever would…
“You could never hurt us, Tatiana. Galahad might be warleader, but you are our guiding light. As much as I find your… “companion” disconcerting, Warband Phoenix is nothing without its summoner. I will never let anyone hurt you,” Astraea said. It was a promise she intended to keep. There was a writhing something
within the young summoner, a bramble of thorns continuously cutting its way through her. Could the act of killing had bothered her that much? Was the concern over the clerical branch’s response the cause of it? Astraea couldn’t be sure and resolved to not pry any further. If Tatiana ever wished to unveil her terrors, Astraea would be ready to listen.
The two of them sat together quietly as the train continued its journey eastward to the coast. Galahad did not return. Astraea wagered he was busy communicating with the church officials in the city. As warleader it fell to him to liaison with the clerical branch, a job that she did not envy in the slightest. She wondered how he was getting on.
Soon, the snow that had built up on the windows began to melt away and a pleasant warmth began to envelope them. As the train approached the city, a subtle glow began to emanate from outside the window.
“Look. There it is,” Astraea said, her breath caught in her throat..
High in the sky above them, stretching for miles down the coast, the Aegisdome rose from the pale mist. Within its crystal golden canopy the skyline of the First City of Cero could be seen, hundreds of skyscrapers erecting from the ground. It was unlike anything Astraea had ever seen. The Elder Mountain, with its azure spires and forests of emerald pine, was what occupied her mind when she envisioned beauty, but the Aegisdome was certainly challenging her concept of it. That something so beautiful could be built from the ruins of their world was… astounding.
“T’sarae…” Despite her heritage, Tatiana had never experienced the city of her father’s roots. The Seminary had always taken precedence. Her eyes widened to reveal that a certain striking of awe had seemed to melt away her negative thoughts if just for a moment. Was this her home? Of course not… She wasn’t T’saraen.
“It’s… So different.”
“Hm. Different… and similar at the same time. I still feel it -- the emptiness
that darkens every inch of Magnagrad. The Ravenous Lord’s influence still claws at this place. There is no freedom here.”
Xegatris Station, the First City of Cero, T'sarae
It was still morning by the time the train pulled into Xegatris Station, the main hub of terminals at the center of the city. Scores of military personnel streamed out of the old train, desperate to escape its enclosed confines after an entire day’s worth of travel. To their surprise, there was no one awaiting them on the platform. No squad of clerics ready to collar Tatiana and drag her into a T’saraen prison, no inquisitors, no soldiers besides the ones who were leaving the train.
All seemed normal.
Galahad bid the two of them farewell, leaving Astraea and Tatiana on the platform. He made his way into the station, his black inquisitor’s coat immediately setting him apart from the throng of regular soldiers who now crowded the platform. He didn’t quite tell them where he was going or what he was doing, but this was normal for him. Galahad was burdened with a lot of responsibilities, and, if their schedule was correct, the entire warband was considered to be “on leave” before the dockside ceremony that would be taking place later that night. He deserved his time away from the warband, Gods know they all did.
Besides Rodion, Tatiana, Galahad and herself were the first to arrive in the City.
“I’m going to pay a visit to the barracks. I need an update on the Silver Fleet and how things are going back hom-- back in Sapharan,” Astraea corrected herself, unfastening the clasp from the collar of her inquisitor’s coat. She was not accustomed to the sudden warmth after days on the Mountain.
“Hm…” Tatiana merely gave her comrade a nod of acknowledgement, absently peering about the station. The whole city was a bit overwhelming— more new concepts than Tatiana had seen in a long while. She had a lot to do, but wasn’t quite sure if she could settle down to start on all of her work.
“I’ll be heading to my quarters soon. Just… Some rest would be nice.” Tatiana wasn’t sure how much of the truth that was herself. Tatiana met Astraea’s eye for a long moment, but after that, she found herself turning off and walking away. Tatiana had been one of few words very recently, though perhaps it was more an issue of the summoner wishing to conceal her intentions from her warband.
The summoner’s steps were swift as she treaded off into the city. Her eyes furtively analyzed each passer by. Whether it was paranoia that had overtaken her, or goals that were much more grave, Tatiana moved with purpose into the crowd, and a demonic intention in her eye.