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The Isabel Gemio Story - Part V


Isabel clutched the small envelope close to her chest as the stranger led her deeper into the tangle of alleyways. All around her curious faces peered out at them from hovels built of cardboard, blankets, and scrap sheet metal. The stink as they went deeper was intense, the smell of thousands of people, their waste, poor sanitation, pets, food smells, all of it a horrendous bouquet that assaulted her senses.

The buildings they passed on either side became progressively more dilapidated the further they went from the city centre. Plaster had peeled off many of the upper floors exposing the brick and concrete walls exposed to the elements, showing signs of wear from heavy rains. Rooftop patios were everywhere and a forest of brightly coloured laundry lines criss crossed above her head, providing shade for the narrow passageways beneath.

A dog snapped at her heels and she gave it a swift kick, sending it scampering back into the shadow, her rescuer turning briefly to see what had occurred before laughing softly. She studied him as they went. He was young, a few years younger than her, and was clearly quite fit. His shoulders were perhaps to broad for his jacket and his pants just a bit to short. His black hair was neatly cut and swept back from his forehead, held in place by some sort of cream or gel, and his confidence in this dark and intimidating place was evident.

"Where are we going?" She asked after she had judged they were well away from the main street. He didn't slow his pace but stabbed a figure further in to the urban jungle.

"To my home. I think you will be safe there."

They did not speak again for another five minutes. The route they took was winding but as best as Isabel could tell, he wasn't trying to confuse her, just heading in an Easterly direction. They passed several small shops, cafes and pubs, plastic chairs filled with people who smiled and returned her rescuers wave. They even smiled at her and a few called out greetings.

At last they turned into an alley that was slightly wider than the ones they had just passed through, wide enough for a small car. The buildings still rose steeply on either side for several floors but she got the impression that they had come to the tallest of them all. A proper wooden door was standing open, a large orange tabby cat lying across the entrance in a sunbeam. It flicked its tail as they stepped in to the house and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness.

"Daddy!" A small voice shrieked in excitement and Isabel couldn't help but smile as a girl, not more than five, came hurtling from deeper in the house to throw herself onto Isabels' guide. Then the girl caught sight of Isabel and her face became deadly serious as she held out a tiny hand.

"Hello. I am Isa."

"Hello Isa." Isabel couldn't help but laugh at the girls earnest expression. "I am Isabel." She shook the offered hand.

"Forgive my rudeness," Her guide said as he put the girl down, holding out his own hand. "I am Jordão."

"Not at all, thank you for the rescue." Isabel shook his hand, a firm grip, and he nodded slightly at the strength of her own.

"You are most welcome. Anyone wanted by the Policia are friends of ours."

"Not a big fan then?"

"No. They are corrupt and only interested in taking our money, or fucking our women." He said so matter a factly Isabel wasn't sure she had heard him properly.

"They hurt mom!" Piped up Isa from the floor where she was holding on to her fathers other hand.

"That they did." Jordão picked Isa up and swing her onto his shoulders before gesturing toward a flight of stairs nearby. "To the roof. I am most curious as to why they are hunting you."

Isabel followed father and daughter up the narrow concrete stairs that rose for several stories. Each landing opened on to another floor. The main floor, where they had come in, was nothing more than a former garage with a hard concrete floor, several bags of garbage, and a half assembled motorbike. The next floor held what she could only assume were bedrooms even though all the doors were closed. The next floor was the kitchen and living space, which they carried on past and upward three more floors, none of which were finished, before finally climbing through a trapdoor and out on to a roof top patio that had a broad vista of the city.

A woman was sitting on the roof top, her feet up on the wall, leaning back in a red plastic chair. She turned to look at them as they arrived and stood slowly as Isabel smiled at her.

"Hello Anna." Jordão kissed her carefully before gesturing to Isabel. "Please meet Isabel, she is hiding from our dear friends with the Policia."

Anna was a pretty woman, about Isabel's height, with raven black hair, deep green eyes, and sharp chin. It was clear she was in some serious pain but she managed to smile and shook Isabel's hand.

"Welcome to our home Isabel." She slowly sank in to her chair chair. Paolo retrieved two more such chairs from a nearby corner and set one out for Isabel before sitting in the other.

"Thank you. This is quite the view." And it was. They had been going steadily uphill as they moved away from the main street and this house, taller than its neighbours, had a stunning view of the main city itself. She could see the distant location of her hotel and the ungainly sprawl of the slums she had just hurried through.

"It is." Jordão agreed before shooing Isa down the nearby stairs and lowering a small trap door after her. He turned back to face Isabel with a curious look. "Now, I don't want to press, but I am very curious why the Policia are looking for you."

"I am honestly not sure." Isabel found herself telling her hosts the story of receiving the letter in Spain, the journey to Sao Paolo, finding her friend had been murdered, and the near miss at the newspaper. "And then you brought me here, I have no idea what is in here, or why they want it so badly."

She had pulled out the envelope and placed it on the table in front of her. Her hosts were staring at her intently, enraptured with her story. Now they both looked down at the envelope where it lay between them, then at each other, and back to her.

"You are quite the woman." Anna said at last, breaking the long silence. "I have never left out neighbourhood and the one time I did..." She winced and shifted painfully in her chair.

Jordão placed his hand on Anna's and smiled encouragingly at her. "I think you will live."

"Thank you." Anna smiled gently at him and then shifted her gaze back to Isabel. "So you have come from Spain, been spied upon, your friend murdered, and now the Policia hunt you because of what is in this envelope?"

"I think so, though I don't actually "know" what is inside. I only had time to grab it and run." She picked up the envelope and turned it over in her hands. It was a simple thing, not bigger than a full sized sheet of paper but heavy with its contents. "I suppose I ought to have a look."

She took a small pen knife from her pocket and carefully slit the edge of the envelope. Jordão and Anna were watching intently and the moment seem so sacred that she had to stifle a chuckle. She weighed the envelope again and then tilted its contents in to her hand.

A dozen photographs slid slipped into her fingers. They were in colour, slightly bent around the edges, but otherwise in good condition. The top one was in colour and Isabel recognized the hotel she had just been staying at, the white and gold exterior could, the gentle arch over the patio, the same french doors she had snuck in and out of.

"Oh my god..." Jordão had craned his head for a look at the top photo and his eyes had gone wide. Anna and Isabel sucked in their breath at the same time.

The top image was upside down to Isabel but there was no doubting what she was looking at. The photograph had been taken from a distance away, possibly from a tree judging by a leaf in the bottom corner of the image. But in centre of the frame, on her hands and knees, looking back over her shoulder, very naked, and being fucked by a man whose face they could not see, was Mariana Braganza, Queen of Spain.
Of Rebels and Assassins - Part III

Perpignan, France - August 10, 1960

"Comrades, we have failed, twice, and now the Cazadores seem to be coming for us all." António da Costa said the words with a sigh as he settled in to a leather chair that creaked beneath him. He was one of three men in the small dimly lit hotel room that overlooked the harbour below.

There was a sense of finality in the sentence and the other men winced when he spoke. No one could deny the truth of his words. They were all exiles, living in France to protect themselves from the Spanish, and it was a shameful moment.

"You can be sure that Delgado will not be so careless with his own security a second time." This time it was Freitas do Amaral who spoke. He was a lawyer and politician, one of the wealthier ones in Portugal. "We missed our chance."

The sound of a clock chiming in the hallway mixed with the sound of a trolley rumbling by on the street below. A breeze pushed vainly at the heavy curtains drawn over much of the patio door, barely stirring the cigar smoke within. Few people were out and about as French soldiers, most of them sporting the red arm band of Communism, wandered up and down the boulevard.

"We were betrayed." The third man, Henrique de Sousa Neto, said from his place looking out the window below. Together, the three men made up the primary resistance to Spanish occupation, lobbying the British Government, trying to raise Communists in France to fight for Portugal. Limited success had been had on all fronts so they had opted for the simple expedience of assassinating Delgado and the Royal couple. Both had failed spectacularly and their careful network of contacts within Portugal were being annihilated by the Cazadores and agents of the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia.

"We were indeed my friends, but by who?" Costa said, sighing again even as he lit a cigar and blew smoke toward the already yellow stained ceiling. "I think we must start to think outside the box. Delgado and his agents seem to have an intimate knowledge of out operations inside Portugal that leads me to believe we are exposed and risking harm to our fellow countrymen."

Following the failed attempt on the King, Queen, and Delgado, the Spanish Intelligence community had moved quickly. Two of their prisoners had died under torture, but they have given up enough information to allow the Spanish to rip the limbs from the Portuguese resistance moment. Men and women who had once been quick to offer their support suddenly found reasons to be out of the country, or unavailable.

"I agree." Neto was nodding vigorously. He was a highly successful industrialist with deep pockets. He harboured secret aspirations to become the next Prime Minister of Portugal and had been laying groundwork to make it happen when the Spanish moved in. His shoulders were slumped, his posture that of a man who spent much of his time reading at a desk. "We must regroup. Rebuild. Fight on."

"No..." Amaral drew the word out slowly as he said it, eyes partially glazed over as he stared down in to the harbour below. Sweat was beading his forehead. His skin had a waxy pallor at all times that had earned him several unpleasant nicknames. Zombielike or not, he was the smartest man in the room, and the true brain trust behind their operations to date. "We need to bring in an expert."

"An expert?"

"Yes, the type of man who kills for money. Someone completely outside our organization, someone the Spanish would not even know. A true professional." He had heard of such men before. Men who operated well outside the laws of any country and could be counted on to complete a job they were paid for, or die trying. He was reminded of one such incident in which someone had tried to kill an American statesman, why couldn't he remember the mans damn name...

"It will not be cheap." Grumbled Neto.

"No, my friend, it will not, but the ultimate prize is Portugal herself." Amaral was nodding slowly as he tapped the fingers of his right hand against the glass, left hand tucked behind his back against the crumpled tail of his dinner jacket. He was warming to the idea. "Someone only the three of us know."

"How do you propose to find such a man?"

"I think I can make some quiet enquiries." Costa was staring up at the yellow stain above him. He was the only one of the three with any military background, having served as a Colonel in Mozambique until the Rhodesians smashed his unit. "There are certain people who do this sort of thing."

He had never actually met any of them but he knew they were out there, ex-military men who specialized in removing obstacles, usually in industrial matters, but occasionally in politics. It was almost beyond belief they were thinking of assassinating a national leader, but then again the Spanish had turned flam throwers on surrendered communists. It was a new world. A new war.

"Is that our only real choice?" Neto was clearly still not happy about the idea of spending more money. Much of his considerable fortune had already been spent on funding the assassination attempts and resistance groups.

"Yes, I think it is."

"Very well. But I want a list of at least three we can chose from." Neto was holding up three fingers. "I like to have some selection when picking a political assassin." A bleak smile crossed his face. "How bad is it that we should even come to that."

"I will begin right now." Costa said with finality, standing and reaching for his jacket and hat. "I will return this evening, until then, adios."

He pulled the door closed behind him and hurried down the stairs and out in to the street. The town was quiet at this hour, dinner hour had yet to begin, but he knew who he needed to speak with.
Sao Paolo, Brasil


She tucked the flashlight under her chin and slowly cracked the second drawer of the big filing cabinet. Around her towered dozens of other similar, the records room for the Folha International, the local paper that had covered the visit of the Princess Mariana and her family to Brasil. The room smelled vaguely of mildew and dust, and she was certain she could rat tracks in the dust that covered a pile of cardboard boxes nearby. The floor above her creaked as someone walked down the main hall and she glanced guiltily upward. She had given the janitor fifty pesetas to let her in to the records room and leave her alone for an hour as she searched the battered filing cabinets.

Jomi, it seemed, had trusted no one, and kept very little in her desk. Isabel had pretended to be Jomi's sister to gain access to the building and knew it was only a matter of time before someone figured out she'd lied. When she had first been able to see her friends desk it had appeared painfully clean. Isabel had sat in a leather chair that bore hardly any sign of having been sat in before. Some pens, empty paper stack, and a few half written stories about local celebrity gossip. Nothing of real value was in the desk and Isabel recalled how Jomi had always told her that she kept her best stuff locked away so no one else could steal it from her.

Seated in Jomi's chair, Isabel thought back through their mutual letters to one particular note, set a couple years previously, in which Jomi had mentioned being forced to hide a key on her desk since she kept forgetting her usual one at home. She had said something about a false drawrer. Isabel, no longer watched by Jomi's editor, had quickly made a study of the drawers and, after a few moments of gently tapping the pressing, she found a small sliding cover that revealed a key. Nothing fancy, but enough to avoid the basic prying eyes.

Isabel had palmed the key and, with the Editor still facing away from her, had slipped out of the room and in to a narrow hallway, hurrying down it until she found the stairs that would take her in to the basement. She had found the janitor, a kindly old woman, in what could only have been her office and home a shabby little space filled with memorabilia of a life long gone by. The pictures of a smiling man and pretty woman, who could have once been the janitor, a collection of playing cards from Italy, empty wine bottles held fading flowers, and a few simple letters with the unsteady hands of children wishing "Grandma" happy birthday, all that she had to show for nearly sixty years of life.

Grandma had been resistant at first. The basement was her domain, it seemed not even the Editor did much without her permission down there, but at last, persuaded by the money, she had agreed to let Isabel in to the records room. So here she was, standing in front of a metal filing cabinet, surrounded by dust and mildew, looking for she knew not what.

Her fingers gently pulled the old stained manila envelopes forward one by one. Older titles had been blotted out and new ones written over top. Stories about Football stars, television stars, actors visiting from America, a wide array of what could easily be called "Gossip News".

At last, near the centre of the files, she hit pay dirt. The file read "Portuguese Royals". Her heart pounding, she pulled the manila folder out and laid it on top of the cabinet, a small puff of dust swirling up from the edges. She opened it slowly and found herself looking at another, smaller envelope. This one was sealed and she pulled the penknife from her pocket to cut the top open, doing so as carefully as possible.

She thought she heard footsteps outside for a moment and stopped. Then above her she heard the unmistakable sound of heated discussion. Mens voices. One angry. The other afraid. She didn't know what it meant but every fibre of her being screamed at her to run. She shoved the envelope in to her shirt, closed the filing cabinet, locked it, and dropped the key in to the floor drain. She hurried in to the hall, nearly colliding with the janitor whose eyes were wide with concern.

"The Police, they have come for Jomi's files. They say she had no sister!" The words were not an accusation, just fact. The money Jomi had paid was enough for the woman to know she did not belong. "You must go, and quickly."

Feet sounded on the floor above them, many of them, and all moving toward the staircase Isabel had used to access the basement. She glanced down the other hall and the janitor nodded at the unspoken question.

"There is an outside door, go, quickly."

Isabel ran. She burst through the far door just as the one at the bottom of the stairs opened and several policemen rushed through it, heading for the file room, guns drawn. She didn't waste a second, hurrying up the flight of stairs in front of her. Her feet seemed impossibly loud on the concrete and she could hearing shouting and screams everywhere in the building now. The police were everywhere. The main floor landing presented her three options, and she took the easiest, bursting out of the side door and in to the street.

A surprised policeman only had a moment to open his mouth in a shout before he folded over as she kicked him hard between the legs. He dropped to the pavement, three passing women giving her a cheer as stepped over the groaning man and ran. The street was busy with cars and buses as they sped up and down the boulevard. The sidewalk was packed with those heading home after a long day of work, a kaleidoscope of faces and noises.

Shouts behind her. The sound of a police whistle. Still she ran. Not for the first time in her life she was thankful she was on the smaller side, able to slip through the crowd far faster than her pursuers. She duck and wove, dodging through oncoming crowds of businessmen and around groups of mothers with their strollers and small children. Some called after her, others ignored her, a few cheered her on without knowing why.

For three blocks she ran, not bothering to turn off until a narrow alley allowed her to duck in to the darkness. She panted in the darkness for a moment and then nearly jumped out of her skin as a hand touched her shoulder.

"You alright?"

Isabel almost ran back in to the street but managed to stop herself at the last second as she managed to get a look at her new companion. He was about her height, his face scarred with acne, his hair black but well trimmed. He wore rumpled but well fitting clothes and a cigarette dangled from his other hand. He made no move toward her.

"Yes, yes, I am, thank you."

Just then a police car raced by with siren wailing and she shrank back in to the darkness. The man chuckled slightly and stubbed out his cigarette with the toe of his shoe.

"Yea, sure you are. That's why you're hiding from the police." He tugged his jacket a little straighter and then looked her over. "You're Spanish?"

"Yes." She didn't see any reason to deny it and the man was still not approaching her.

"Well, Spanish or not, if the police are after you, we might be friends. Can I offer you a place to stay?"

"To stay?" Hers eyes narrowed.

"Yea, somewhere to hide. And," His teeth flashed in the shadows as she smiled. "Do you have much choice? They won't give up easy."

As if to hammer his point home another police car drove past, more slowly this time, two officers scanning the crowd. Fearing capture, and with no other choice, and she nodded at the stranger and followed him deeper in to the alley.
Of Rebels and Assassins - Part II

Madrid, Spain - August 02, 1960

He was a nobody, just another Spanish peasant slouching along the great boulevards of the Empire in the rising heat of the morning. There was nothing remarkable about his clothing, hardy machine made cotton shirt and trousers with an American style short jacket over top, a "ball-cap" shaded his face from the strengthening sun, his hands thrust into his pockets. He walked with a purpose, head bent low, striding quickly along the sidewalk, oblivious to the people he was passing, or in some cases bumping in to.

Ahead of him, rearing above the white streets, its spires reaching toward God, was the Muralla Árabe. The once great Church sat at the South End of the Palacio Real de Madrid, though it had been closed to the public with the ascension of the new Viceroy. The massive spiked wrought iron fence blocked any access, interspaced with shining white marble columns that ran the entire length of the Calle de Bailén. It was a beautiful building.

A small group of children ran laughing in to his path, one smiled at him as they went by, he did not have the heart to return the smile because, today, of all days, he intended to change their world forever. Tucked in to his left pocket, his hand grasping it firmly, was a revolver. The bulk of the weapon made him feel self-concious and he was sure someone would see him, one of the happy faces would suddenly sour and begin pointing at him and shouting "Assassin!".

They would not be wrong. He was indeed an assassin, or so he thought of himself. The man who had hired him for his job had told him that he would be doing Gods work, that he would save Spain and turn it back to the path of the Church. He had agreed. Under the Old King, much loved as he was, the Catholic Church had been quietly stripped of much of its power and lands, sold to the nobility to pay for the Kings restoration and public works projects. Now, under Delgado, the Church was seeing it influence reduced even further as Delgado struck down laws prohibiting work on Sundays, the right of the Church to lay a charge of heresy against a non-believer. Delgado was famously a moderate when it came to religion, willing to allow Jews to openly worship again as long as they paid their taxes. It was enough for the Church to dislike him.

He stopped at the edge of the street, across from the entrance to the Palace. Two Cazadores stood a rigid attention in their small sentry boxes, eyes scanning the streets relentlessly. He had but to wait, glancing at the clock mounted on the pedestal at the street corner. Two minutes. He passed the time by lighting a Cornell, the smoke helping to calm his nerves as he did his best to appear as though he were waiting for someone. There was enough going on in the street that the Cazadores barely spared him a glance. Or maybe they didn't consider him a threat. Either way, he was not going to complain.

Two minutes ticked by, and as if on cue, a small car suddenly swerved out of traffic, mounted the curb, and smashed into one of the sentry boxes. The Cazadore gave a yell of surprise and managed to dive out of the way, bouncing off the fence as he did so and crumpling unconscious to the ground. The second Cazadore only had time to raise his weapon before a barrage of gunfire from the two men in the car cut him down.

Screams. So many screams. People began to scatter in every direction, cars slammed to a halt, their drivers ducking beneath their dashboards, or honking in frustration because they didn't know what the holdup was. He drew the revolver from his jacket and began to run across the street. The two men in the car, he did not know them, ignored him as they began to exchange gunfire with a Guardia Urbana patrol car and two officers.

His feet pounded on the pavement as he crossed the street, then splashed through gasoline from the wrecked car that was pooling in the gutter. Bullets whip cracked past his head and he heard a scream from behind him as someone was hit. In front of him the Palace reared up to his right, to the left, the Muralla. Between them, staring at him calmly, and quite alone, was the Viceroy of Spain.

His breathing was harsh in his own ears and his lungs burned. He had never been much of a runner and the bakery had hardly done anything to make his fitness any better. The Viceroy did not try to run, he did not shout, he did not seek cover. With all the calm and dignity of a man in complete control of the situation, Delgado drew his sidearm and aimed it directly at the man who was running toward him.

The revolver clutched in his attackers hand was an older model, from the Great War perhaps. He could see from the mans gait that he was not runner, he had none of the hard eyed look you might see in a soldier or a true assassin. No, this man was not an assassin, though he was certain to try.

Behind him, the gun battle at the gate had been won as more Policia arrived. One of the gunmen from the car died and as Delgado glanced past his own assailant he could see two Policia officers, having used their car for cover, tackle the other gunman to the ground as he tried frantically to reload.

That left the lone peasant facing Delgado. He looked very small and frail in the midst of the great Palace forecourt, his white trousers and shirt so commonplace that he could have been any man on the outside of the fence. Delgado's own heart had begun to race slightly, a normal reaction to be sure, as he raised his pistol and aimed it at the man who had come to kill him.

His attacker slowed at the movement and then stopped altogether as he stared in to Delgado's face. Delgado could feel himself smiling and knew in that moment that no one else would die that day.

"Throw down your weapon." Delgado did not yell, he barely even raised his voice. The mans face twitched and he looked down at the weapon that hung at his side.

"No, my friend. Do not. If you do, you will die, and then I will find your family and kill them too. You can save them right now by dropping that pistol."

Tears sprang into the mans eyes and he dropped to his knees, terror suddenly apparent. The pistol clattered to the ground and Delgado lowered his own weapon to his side. Policia officers were now running across the forecourt from the roadway and Cazadores burst from the Palace doors.

"God forgive me..." The man whispered as Delgado paced slowly toward him, stopping several yards away.

"God might forgive you, but I will not." The Viceroy's voice was as cold as winter and the man shuddered as two burly Policia officers reached them, grabbing him by the arms and slamming him to thee flagstone.

"Viceroy." The Captain of the Guard came hurrying up, his was out of breath and sweat soaked the front of his uniform.

"Captain. Find out who they are, arrest their families, who sent them, and then I will speak to them." Delgado pushed his pistol back in to its holster even as his attacker howled in protest until a policeman slammed his face into the flagstone, silencing him.

Delgado turned his back on the group and continued his walk toward the Muralla, alone.
(Written with @Blackfridayrule's permission so I might properly describe Sikkina)

As Ajoran waited, he once again marvelled at the structure before. Perched on the edge of The Golden Empire, clinging to the desert swept coastline on a small oasis island of green, squatted the colossal Rhaetian Fortress of Sikkina. Connected to the mainland only at low tide by a long stone causeway, the huge gates sat at the high tide mark and bore the scars of the sea battering at its stones. Even now, as his horse moved nervously on the drawbridge, he could feel the thunder of the ocean below him as it surged and retreated through the narrow channel hacked from the rock.

He did not have long to wait for the portcullis, always closed, began to grind slowly upward in to the face of the gateway led into a great blockhouse pierced only by the main gate. The sound of his horses hooves were suddenly loud inside the near pitch black of the tunnel. Somewhere above he could smell pitch burning and glanced up to see the murder holes above him. His path turned ninety degrees to the right, then to the left, before he rode into the blinding sunlight of a tight courtyard open on all sides to attack by the garrison above. Soldiers appeared above him on the ramparts and gazed down at him, and one, recognizing him, gave him a wave before shouting along the walltop.

From here, watched on all sides by narrow arrow slits, Ajoran kicked his horse up a ramp wide enough for two horses shoulder to shoulder. It rose toward the outer bailey and would leave any attacker horribly exposed to attack from all sides. As he rode he noted the runes cunningly built in to the stone and the walls. He was no Rhaetina expert but he had been around them long enough to recognize defensive magic when he saw it.

At the top of the ramp he passed beneath a second portcullis and in to another blockhouse, as large as the first. Another pair of ninety degree turns and he entered a tight courtyard with two gates, both open but flanked on soldiers, the first he had seen below the level of the wall. The outer defences of Sikkina were meant to funnel and slaughter an attacker. Of the two gates, the one to the right would lead out of the fortress and on to the island proper, giving him access to the town that existed solely to support the castle and the small but excellent harbour hacked from the rocky shores of the island. On two occasions he had taken ships Sikkina and always enjoyed visiting the narrow streets.

The other gate, to his left, led in to the outer bailey of the fortress. He nodded at the sentries as he passed by and they nodded back, nothing much to say here. They looked bored. This gate was a straight passage that brought him out in to an immense courtyard enclosed on all sides by walls fifty high, and towers twice that height ever fifty yards. Here the main business of the fortress was conducted, a barracks, a temple, blacksmith, armourer, deep fresh water well, and more, all protected by the walls.

In the middle of it all, through another blockhouse, surrounded by an even larger wall that was built in to a small mountain, was the inner bailey and keep itself. This sat on the highest point of the island, its view unmatched by any location within fifty kilometres. Only with magic, and some incredible engineering work, could the keep have been built as it was, crafted from the very peak of the small mountain.

Ajoran was forced to leave his horse behind here, turning it over to the stable boy before looking around. The outer bailey wall was built on the edge of the mountain as well and while from the outside it appeared as though it were fifty feet high, on the inside it was not more than thirty feet to the walltop. The defences seemed like overkill given that it was impossible to properly siege the island but the Rhaetians never left anything to chance when it came to defence.

The portcullis to the inner bailey was open, the great wooden doors swung wide, but six heavily armed and alert guards protected it while more could be seen lurking behind the arrow slits above. He offered a stiff bow to the guardsmen, all of them Rhaetians he noted, and made his request.
@Willy Vereb Yes, please leave. And take your recycled state with you.

'Rhaetia


Il-Belt

She stood on the edge of the Western Wall, staring out over the sea. The wind, whipped into a fury by the onset of a spring storm, tore at her hair and her dress, causing them both to billow and snap about her. Her face was turned toward the sky, pale white arms held straight out on either side, her body unbending in the teeth of the storm that was bearing down on her.

From horizon to horizon the Western sky appeared like a great black wall advancing toward the city. Below it, almost as dark as the sky itself, was the wall of rain that would soon consume the island in a deluge of fresh water, long awaited after a dry winter that had brought the cities cisterns lower than ever before.

It never ceased to amaze her how beautiful the sea could be. One minute calm, glassy, tranquil blue, and the next a heaving mass of white caps and water turned as black as the soil of her homeland. No matter what its condition, it never failed to elicit a sense of adventure and desire to go beyond the edge of the horizon, to seek those places that no one had been before, to find new peoples, new lands, to learn, to discover.

A crack of lightening shattered the darkening sky and a moment the boom of thunder hammered into her, so close was the strike that she could feel the concussion of the thunder in her chest and right down into the stones beneath her feet. Away to her right the tall conical roof of a took a direct strike, the burst of energy absorbed by a metal rod fixed to the roof and channeled away into the ground below. It was an ingenious invention and one that scholars constantly attempted to find a use for. So much power being lost. If only they could harness its strength.

The rain raced ever closer, the lightening intensified, and she knew that the storm was about to envelope the city. Below her, in the streets, windows were being barred, doors pulled closed, awnings hurriedly rolled up and tucked away. Beyond those streets, protected by the Grand Harbour, the hundreds of ships, including her own Storm Reaver would be ensuring sails were secure and swing cables placed on their anchors. Storms such as this one often fought the tide and ships not properly secured could become adrift and smash in to their fellows.

A final crack of lightening and the rain hit, soaking her to the bone in an instant, her hair and dress plastered to her slim frame like a second skin. Still she gazed upward. She was praying. Praying to the Defini that her ship might come home safe for they would leave that evening tide should the storm abate. First to the South where they would deliver Paladins to the great fortress of Sikkina, the heart of all Rhaetian operations against the Sorcerer Kings. Then they would turn West, in to the open ocean, into the empty vastness of the West and their hunt for the distant homeland would begin anew. Already one ship had been lost this season, vanished without a trace.

It was possible, she had concluded some time ago, that the land her ancestors had called their own, had long sunk under the waves. Those pure-blooded Elves like herself, who had actually been there, knew that it was possibly the land was now hidden from them. It had no name anymore, they simply called it the Lost Land. It was painful to think of for she had had family there but there was no doubting it was gone, even if you followed the secret star charts, it was still gone.

Slowly she lowered her arms as the storm front past beyond her and the thunder became a dull boom until only the rain itself made any noise, pounding down on the stones and tiles shingles, a never ending drumbeat reminding men and elf alike that they were ants in the greater wide world. The Gods always laughed last.
As for Rhaetia given the ancient roots of my nation it's possible that you were once occupied by a Yelinor tribe. Or it could be a tribe of non-Yelinor elves from around the same region. My nation is also supposed to have great skills at shipbuilding. Depending on details the existence of your people might also confirm one of the two competing theories about the origin of Yelinor.
1.) They are the original elves who remained in their magic rich home and gradually changed to what they are now.
2.) They are elves who had wandered North and discovered a magical island which gradually changed them into the Yelinor.
The only conflict plot-wise I can see is the Rhaetians' secret to shipbuilding. Since if it came from Yllend'tollome then most likely that technology is quite frequently seen with Yllendthyr and its subjects.
Although it could be just an ancient technique already forgotten in Yllendthyr or perhaps it was something kept secret and never spread to the other tribes?
We can sure discuss the details. Everything can be worked out.


You mentioned they might be "different" Elves, which would probably work better since I think it's fairly clear my folk came from the deep Western Ocean somewhere and conquered Rhaetia from the Empire that used to rule the region. They then settled, inbred with the local Humans to some extent, and passed on their secrets for shipbuilding, which the Rhaetians jealously guard though I am certain other Elves are more than capable of building excellent ships.

About a hundred years agoish the ships from the West simply stopped coming and no one knows why. The Rhaetians are searching for it but have been unable to find it to this point, believing to perhaps have sunk into the sea. It is part of the reason why they're amazing Navigators, they go far beyond the reach of pretty much anyone else and come home alive.

I also threw in the semi-Crusade Paladin types because why not? They're trying to support their Azuriel kin and dislike the Sorcerer Kings.
In --- 17 days ago Forum: Casual Roleplay
@Willy VerebThe tiny island to the far west you have tried to claim is me. Back foul beast!!

Though we are also Elvish, so welcome to the family.
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