RPG #14 - The Children of the Crimson Sea

Discussion in 'RPG #14 - The Children of the Crimson Sea' started by Nienor, Jan 22, 2006.

  1. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Jaereth Andzyl hesitated one long moment before casting down the wreath of jasmine flowers he had made, letting it drop on Keira Ronsin’s grave.

    He touched the second and third fingers of his right hand to his forehead, then his mouth, and then his chest. Then he knelt beside the lakeside where Keira had been buried, murmuring a prayer to Lukylo.

    Though it was risky to come here, in the heart of Swan territory, he had been unable to stay away from where his lover had been buried. I loved you as best I could, he thought, staring at the engraved stone, but it wasn’t enough. Never enough.

    Their love had been brief and foolish, perhaps, but they had indulged in it all the same. But it had ended in tragedy and now, even fifty-one years later, Jaereth’s heart bore the scars.

    “I’m so very sorry, Keira,” he whispered. “I killed those who killed you, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t let you come back.”

    Then, still kneeling, he began the memorial rites that would honor Keira Ronsin’s death.





    Sahira had been unable to believe her eyes when she saw the treacherous, filthy murderer of her sister daring to conduct the memorial rites for Keira. But as her shock and initial impulse to kill him had died, she had crept away in fear. For Jaereth Andzyl could kill her very, very easily, and she was in no mood to die yet.

    She supposed that she could shoot Jaereth Andzyl from here, but what if she missed? From where she crouched hidden, the angle was a poor one. It was better to wait and follow him, to make sure of that he died the death he deserved.

    An arrow in the back while he flies over some stone will do it.

    But somehow, that didn’t give her what she wanted. What she really wanted to do was rip his wings out and leave him consigned to a flightless eternity rather than kill him. Being damned to a groundwalker’s life for the next three hundred years, she thought, was punishment enough.

    Creeping a safe distance away, she began her own prayers, though she murmured rather than chanted them, fearing her discovery. “May Lukylo give you high skies and fair winds, Stylliko guide you, Marys grant you peace, Krylus watch you, Ramaya walk at your side, Merius protect you, and Warwin give you the gift of rest.” Though there were variations on this prayer, this was the one Sahira preferred. “Your name will not be forgotten…”

    As the sun set, she said three final prayers – one to Stylliko, another to Marys, and a third to Lukylo. Jaereth Andzyl lingered by, doing who knew what to desecrate Keira’s grave. And when at last he left, Sahira followed, her heart burning with rage as she plotted her revenge.
     
  2. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    “My queen… there is word of invaders on the western front. Invaders with large eagles.”

    Niamh didn’t answer the steward for a good minute, absorbed in the possibilities. What it really comes down to is that we must unite to repel the invaders. If I can pull this off as the chief heroine who saved the land of Amryn, I might be acclaimed High Queen of the Twenty-four kingdoms by popular demand.

    “Summon the Princesses Mhairi and Aoife,” she said at last. Something in her voice made him run, and only a few moments later, her sisters arrived. “I have been told that there are invaders with large eagles to the West. I want you to sound the Westerners out, see if we can offer them our aid for the price of an alliance.”

    “The Southerners might be willing to join as well,” Mhairi said. “Prince Khai of Jolinde would be amenable to an alliance, I think.”

    “Princes Kerith of Hayenne, Coel of Rozyn, and Sathan of Ossia all remain unwed,” Aoife added. “If we can arrange for Rhys of Brynd’s daughter Princess Rhynna, and Sorana and Maisha to wed those three, they might be willing to support you as High Queen.”

    It was an interesting thought, and one to be examined for later, even if it never worked out. But now, she needed to prepare for a war. “Ask the Southern princes if they’re willing to ride to the West’s aid. I’ll go there myself later… after I’ve unified the North.”

    “We don’t have much time left,” Aoife warned. “Whatever you’re planning, you’d better do it soon.”

    “Oh, it begins very soon. Tonight, in fact. When Vor’s assassins attack.”
     
  3. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Two weeks since we were given our target, and we’re moving in already. Thank the gods that everything’s going as planned.

    Jynariel herself couldn’t believe that this was so stupidly easy. They had encountered so little resistance that it was negligible, and her estimation of Niamh was going down with every passing minute.

    Vor could have done this himself, she thought. Why did he need to hire us?

    They were on the final corridor now, and they stole to the door marked as Niamh’s bedroom. Vor had specified that she always slept alone, which made their job all the easier.

    As Zhirran turned the handle and pushed the door open, Jynariel was pleased to note that the hinges had been well oiled. In the corner farthest from the door sat a bed. She guessed that the woman who lay sleeping on it was Queen Niamh herself.

    Niamh was tall and slender, and she estimated that they were almost of a height. Her long silver-gold hair framed a pale, beautiful face, and her brother took a step forward, a knife already in his hand as Jynariel flexed her claws.

    Then the next few moments just blurred as her head hit the floor. Normally, she would have shrugged it off and rolled away, but a heavy weight rested on her shoulders. Someone lit a torch and held it over her face, leaving her disoriented.

    When she finally saw what it was that held her to the floor, she almost screamed. A huge, gigantic wolf face leered down into her own, its mouth almost nuzzling at her throat. She closed her eyes for one moment then opened them again.

    “Well, well,” the one holding the torch drawled. Looking through squinted eyes, she saw that there were three identical women standing side by side. Blinking to clear her vision, the images didn’t go away, and the one to the right said, “Well, sister, it looks as though you were indeed right.”

    “As always,” the one to the left said ruefully. Jynariel thought that one was the one who had been lying on the bed. “Well, Niamh, now that you have caught your birds, what do you intend to do with them?”

    “Make them fly – what else is a bird for?” the torch-holder answered with a laugh. Looking closely, Jyn could recognize the differences. The torch-holder – Niamh – seemed more self-possessed, cool, where the one on the right fizzed with energy. The one of the left seemed gentler than both of her sisters. “You’re Vor’s assassins, and don’t bother denying it.”

    She twisted her head to look at her brother, who was similarly pinned by an even larger wolf. They’re greatwolves, she realized with a chill. Greatwolves haunted the mountains where Rasvan resided, and she had even killed a few before. However did this Niamh tame them?

    “My greatwolves have you quite trapped, my dear girl, and should you try to attack, the snowcats will do just as well to kill you.”

    Snowcats as well? How mad is this woman? Snowcats and greatwolves alike were one of the greatest dangers for landed Rasvan. She risked a quick glance beside her, and swallowed. A snowcat was unconcernedly licking its paw, and a second was next to Zhirran.

    “Now, I have a proposal for you. You can quit working for Vor, and work for me instead.”

    “Oh, we will,” Jynariel lied, ignoring the deep rumble that issued from her captor’s throat.

    “So quick to switch allegiances?” Niamh mocked. “Very well, then.”

    Just wait, my fine queen, and I’ll slit your throat before you can react.

    “Truth, Seer, down,” the woman ordered, and Jynariel rose to her feet, brushing herself off with an air of unconcern. Zhirran was brasher, though, and he rushed towards the wolves with a sword in his hand.

    Jynariel recognized her own cue, and moved towards the golden-haired queen, talons extended. But a short, muffled scream warned her not to take a step further, and then Niamh’s sword was at her throat. In all the hubbub, Jynariel hadn’t even noticed that Niamh was armed.

    What’s wrong with me? she wondered in disgust. I was too blinded by arrogance not to notice anything.

    Niamh’s smooth, young face was smiling quite calmly as she walked to Jynariel and pulled her talons off, tossing them to the sisters. “Let’s try that again, shall we?” She might have been discussing the weather from her tone of voice.

    Streaks of green and gold appeared in Zhirran’s eyes, and Jynariel winced. There was going to be bloody murder any second.

    “Truth.”

    Only that one word, but it was enough. The largest greatwolf, who had been sitting quietly, leapt towards Zhirran. As his sword sliced through the air, the creature somehow twisted to one side and buried his teeth in Zhirran’s swordarm. The katana went flying from his hand as Zhirran hissed in pain.

    When Jynariel made as if to move towards the sword, one of the snowcats yawned in her face, revealing sharp fangs, and she reconsidered.

    “I’m almost tempted to just kill you now,” Niamh said. “Or at least kill your brother.”

    A cold sweat broke out at the thought of her living and Zhirran dead. “Please, we’ll swear oaths – ”

    “What oath can I trust?”

    “There is one.”

    “Jyn, you can’t!” Zhirran exclaimed.

    Jynariel ignored him, licking suddenly dry lips as Niamh locked her predatory gaze on hers. “Oh?” she asked softly.

    “I swear on my sire and dam’s graves that I will serve you, Niamh Ca’ernin, as you see fit.”

    “Close, but not enough.”

    “I will give my service unasked for should you need it, and will not withhold anything. In short, I will serve you as loyally as your daughter might. I swear all of this on my parents’ graves.” And she meant every word of it.

    “That works,” Niamh said after glancing at the greatwolf she called Truth. “And you, boy?”

    “I will serve you as loyally as your son might,” Zhirran said glibly as the greatwolf growled again.

    “Swear a sincere oath, Zhirran Namadrin, or I promise you that I will have Truth rip out your throat here and now.”

    “I will serve you as loyally as your son might. This I swear on my parents’ graves,” he said, and this time the words were grudging. But this oath, Jynariel knew, Zhirran would keep.

    “Very good. Now, children, I have something for you to do. You might even like it.”

    Jynariel swallowed again.

    “What I want you to do is kill Lord Vor while he’s out hunting – alone or with a band, it doesn’t matter, as long as no one escapes. Make it seem as though everyone were savaged by gigantic birds.”

    “Why?”

    Those blue-green eyes were flat as Niamh said, “Yours is not to question why, Jynariel Namadrin. Do as I tell you in silence.”

    “Yes, my queen,” she murmured. She had thought that she was strong-willed, but she was nothing in comparison with Queen Niamh. Zhirran was shivering too, wondering what they had pitted themselves against. “It shall be done as you say.”
     
  4. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Niamh entered the council room in Sorana’s palace, and noticed that everyone was here already. Sorana was at the head of the table, with Comran on her right hand and Maisha on her left, and Darugh was further down. She seated herself across from Darugh and bowed her head to Sorana, keeping her thoughts behind a still, cool mask. “My condolences, Queen Sorana,” she said. “I grieve with you for the loss of your husband.”

    “The loss which you caused?” Sorana half-shrieked. “You killed Vor, you scheming bitch, don’t deny it, you had your pet Rasvan kill my husband – ”

    “Sorana!” Comran’s voice was quite shocked as he laid a cautionary hand on the Queen of Kyria.

    Sorana shook off the aged king’s hand, hissing at Niamh. “Murdering whore! All know that this isn’t the first time that you killed – ”

    “Your majesty.” Darugh sounded impeccably correct, as always. “We of the North came here at King Comran’s request to deal with the threat of invasion, not to accuse improbabilities of each other nor to bring up issues long past. Queen Niamh was found innocent of the late King Gorin of Mawr’s death, and you yourself passed this judgement. There is nothing whatsoever to suggest that Queen Niamh was involved in your husband’s death. In fact, if you plan to look for a murderer, you might do well to look at those in your late husband’s employ. The late prince-Consort Vor was murdered by Rasvan… and he was, after all, famous for using Rasvan for… specialist work.”

    Niamh didn’t betray a single cynical thought. But I did kill my late and unlamented husband, and I did kill Vor. Blind sheep, all of you. Sorana in her paranoia hit on the right answer, and all of you are being too reasonable to realize the truth in what she says.

    “We came here to discuss the invaders on the Western front,” Maisha said, giving Sorana no chance to reply. “I suggest that we do that. Comran?”

    “As you all know, my kingdom is closest to the West,” Comran started to say, and Sorana’s hand crashed down on the table. Beside her, Maisha jumped a little. “I did not come here to discuss trivialities.” The first invasion in thousands of years is considered a triviality? Niamh wanted to ask. I’d hate to see what you consider a near-catastrophe.I came here to see the tr****r brought to justice!” Sorana’s voice spiraled upwards with each word and ‘justice’ was more than half-screeched.

    Niamh exchanged a glance with Comran, knowing that her concerned blue-green eyes would betray none of the triumph she felt. “Your majesty – ” she began.

    “Silence! Guards, imprison her, I say!”

    Two guards, looking as confused as Comran, stepped forward and placed mailed hands on her shoulders. Just as well that I left the greatwolves and snowcats back in Mawr. This way, everyone can testify that humans, not beasts, persuaded the guards to leave me alone. Rather than drawing the sword at her side, she let Comran dismiss the guards.

    “Sorana, this – ” he tried to say.

    “Is there no one here save me who can see clearly?” Sorana demanded. “Or does the green-eyed witch queen have you all under her spell? Guards!”

    “Begging your pardon, my queen,” Sorana’s captain of guards said uneasily, “but the queen Niamh has done no wrong that we can see.”

    “She killed my husband!” Sorana screamed, and she pushed her chair back, a knife in her hand and murder in her eyes as she rushed to Niamh.

    Afterwards, when the grief-mad Queen of Kyria had been confined and the remaining four rulers of the North conferred on what actions to take for the invasion, Comran came to Niamh.

    “An alliance spanning the twenty-four kingdoms,” the whitehaired king of Vharin said reflectively, joining her in Sorana’s garden. The two of them watched the play of torchlight on water, ignoring the muffled screams that came from where Sorana was confined. “The West will join – they have no choice if they wish to survive. But what of the East and South? Will they come, do you think?”

    “Yes.”

    “Not only because of the danger that threatens us all, surely?”

    “Some will come for me,” she admitted. “It is high time I wed again.”

    “My son Anran would be more than suitable, and he greatly respects you already.”

    Now that’s interesting. How can I use this to my advantage? Anran was Comran’s only heir, a man two years younger than she was. “I doubt you came here to discuss my marriage possibilities,” Niamh said lightly, and Comran smiled before sobering.

    “I came here to ask you if you would undertake two services for the sake of the North. Could you take Sorana into protective custody?”

    “Wouldn’t Darugh or Maisha be better for this?”

    He shook his head. “Maisha is too brash and incautious, and Sorana too cunning. The Queen of Kyria would find a way to wriggle her way back into power. And Darugh… well, Sorana is beautiful, and widowed. Better not to take the chance.”

    “And yourself?”

    “I am too old for this, my dear,” he said. “I plan on handing the kingdom to Anran soon, and Anran presents the same difficulty that Darugh does. No, it must be you – and you will be doubly careful, after this incident.”

    “Then I accept, your majesty.” Behind her grave façade, Niamh’s mind was churning with the possibilities this presented.

    “Please, call me Comran. I am too old to stand on rank.”

    “Aye, grandsire,” she said and Comran smiled again, briefly laying the back of one gnarled hand on her cheek. “And the other service?”

    “I want you to assume the regency.”

    “Why not the others? Or you yourself?”

    “To answer the latter first, it is Anran who presents the difficulty. He is a good boy, but whoever takes over must be experienced and canny, for Sorana’s advisers will resent the man – or woman – who takes the position that they themselves covet. Anran will be unprepared for that, as is Darugh, new come as he is to his own throne. And Maisha – well, again, she is too brash.”

    “Won’t the others protest? This places four of the Northern kingdoms under my control.”

    “Not if I back you up, which I have every intention of doing.”

    “What about the people of Kyria?”

    “Even now, Sorana’s captain of guards spreads the word of what transpired today. The people will accept you.”

    “And Sorana’s heir?”

    “She’s a four-year-old cousin, and not like to protest. Will you do it, Queen Niamh Ca’ernin, for the sake of the North?”

    Niamh took a deep breath and said, “I, Niamh Ca’ernin, do declare myself Regent of Kyria and Sorana’s protector. I here and now assume the regency until Sorana’s heir comes of age, at which point I will hand the throne to her without protest. I will rule wisely and well, and serve the people of Kyria in what fashion I may.”

    “I call on Stylliko to bind you to your word,” Comran said. “It is witnessed. Niamh Ca’ernin is Regent of Kyria.”

    Later, when it had been officially written on paper and she had fended off Darugh’s and Maisha’s suspicions, Niamh permitted herself one small smile of triuhpm. Well played, Niamh Ca’ernin, she thought to herself, then turned her horse back home, where she would begin the muster for a war.
     
  5. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

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    Soasan leaned against the glossy feathers of her great-eagle as her tiny body shook with agony. Salty tears slipped down her wind-burnt cheeks, and choking sobs were halted by hiccoughs that echoed quietly in the little glen where the two rested. She pulled her knees up close, her trembling arms encircling them as she laid her head upon them.

    “It's not fair,” she whispered brokenly. Her great-eagle nudged her softly with a cruel beak, but nothing could ease the terrible grief that tore at Soasan from the inside. For all the trouble she had caused her father, and for all the disagreement there had been between them, Soasan had loved him with all her heart. Now she was alone. Her brothers, her mother, her father, her aunt, her uncles... she was the only one of her family left.

    “Why does it still hurt so much?” Soasan asked her eagle, looking up at it with golden eyes that matched its own.

    Soasan shoved the eagle's head aside, ignoring its squawk of protest, her eyes widening fearfully as she realized what she saw: great-eagles.

    “They weren't supposed to have found us so quickly!” she hissed, grabbing the bird's beak and leading it along as swiftly as she could. A twig nearby snapped, and the princess froze. Dark figures slipped through the forest to her left, searching. She stood still, silently praying her eagle would do the same. There was some thick brush between herself and the figures; it was possible they could remain unnoticed.

    The figures passed, and still Soasan stood, poised and waiting. Moments whisked by without incident. She started to relax, and let out a curse as her great-eagle lunged to the side with a screech. The princess spun, trying to stop it, just in time to see its lethal beak clamp down upon the arm of a black haired soldier. The crunch of bone was audible. The man shrieked and tried to beat off the bird, and Soasan leapt onto its back.

    “Fly!” she screamed, and the bird released its prey to lunge into the sky. Several arrows whistled passed her head, and her bird screeched and faltered for a moment before resuming its flight. Out of the corner of her eye Soasan could see the other great-eagles – two of them – making for her.

    The princess reached over her shoulder, loosening the bow that was slung over her back. Ripping the bowstring from from the pocket she had unceremoniously shoved it before, she fumbled with it and the bow as she struggled to string it without falling off her bird. Succeeding, she reached over her shoulder once more to grasp an arrow – one of the few left after her quiver had spilled in her haste to escape. She had only a shortbow anyway; there would be little time to use it before the eagles were upon her.

    Soasan readied her bow, double-checking everything quickly before raising it to take aim. She let loose, her arrow sailing in an arc towards its target. It missed, and the arrow plummeted down through space. Soasan nocked again, taking aim with more care. She let her arrow fly, and was once again rewarded with failure. The princess drew her bow one last time, praying for a good shot. She released, and the arrow went thudding into the first rider's shoulder, grazing his eagle's head as it did so. The eagle threw back its head, forcing the wounded soldier off balance. Soasan didn't even have time to watch him fall before the other eagle was upon her.

    She was almost thrown into space as the other eagle hurtled into her own; the other soldier had the advantage of a proper saddle and had little chance of falling. She clutched at the glossy feathers mercilessly.

    “Surrender and live!” the soldier cried. Soasan wrenched her gladius free and slashed at him. Their eagles parted and began to circle one another. Her eagle had a crossbow bolt in its breast; the other had a ragged gash up its neck. The rider urged his eagle foreward, and the two birds clashed once more.

    Soasan slashed at the rider, a snarl on her lips. The rider parried her stroke for stroke, making no attempt to attack.

    “Just give up already!” he yelled. “Don't make me kill you, you stupid magpie!”

    The birds broke apart again, and Soasan took the moment to get a good look at the rider's face. It was Torren.

    “You would betray me?” she cried, the hurt working its way into her voice. “I am your queen, your leader... for gods' sakes I was your friend!”

    “You are my friend, Magpie, but this is bigger than me. Orlan needs you. Together you can rule the Storm Children and lead them to victory! Don't break the Children apart with this folly!”

    What has he done to you? she thought as the great-eagles clashed for one last battle. Soasan fought bitterly, her sword shimmering in the cold air. Torren's blade danced with hers, but it was no steel forged blade that sealed his doom. Soasan's eagle caught a claw in the girth strap of the saddle, tearing it in half as it wrenched free. Torren fell forward onto Soasan, grabbing at her arm as his eagle slid from beneath him. His hand found hers, and in a moment they were both hanging, saved only by Soasan' grip on her eagle's talon. The eagle began to flap madly, unable to carry them both. They began to fall, bird, woman and man twisting in the downward spiral. Torren looked up at Soasan, his eyes unreadable. Tears were caught by the wind and were swept away, but the pained look in her eyes remained.

    “I'm sorry, Torren.”

    Soasan opened her hand.

    He didn't scream as he fell, but the sound of his body as it broke through the branches of the all-too-close treetops was punishment enough. Hauling herself back onto her eagle with its help, Soasan took its glossy feathers in hand and softly guided it north once more.
     
  6. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    “You’re taking the field yourself?” Niamh raised a skeptical eyebrow, wondering how Prince Anran had ever convinced his father Comran to allow that particular piece of foolishness. The two of them were standing outside Comran’s palace, watching the troops ready themselves to march to the Western kingdoms. Soon, Niamh herself would mount and lead them forth to repel the invasion.

    Anran graced her with one of his charming smiles. “Father thinks it’s a good idea, actually. Our troops know me; I’ve ridden with them often enough, but they don’t know you. The first invasion in centuries – well, the situation is serious enough to merit this.”

    When he put it like that, it was sensible enough. And she was being foolish herself, riding out to war, but her troops would take heart from it. Besides, she had always led them, and stopping now would be nothing short of disastrous.

    Mhairi and Aoife had made the same arguments as well. Niamh just hoped that they would all be safe, because her sisters were the only heirs she had. On the other hand, if the battle gets so desperate that all three of us die out there, then nothing’s going to save the Children of the Sun and the question of who will rule my kingdoms will be rendered moot.

    “And the others?”

    “Darugh’s uncle – who serves as his military adviser – and Maisha’s Lord Marshal are accompanying us.”

    “Huh.” She hadn’t expected either of those two to march out with her, although she had assumed that they would send representatives.

    “They’re still deferring to you as the commander of this campaign, though.”

    Well, that was to be expected as well, given that she had done all the delicate maneuvering necessary to form an alliance of the Twenty-four Kingdoms. Nonetheless, the armies were going to need a field commander – and she wasn’t it.

    Someone of high enough rank and good. Darugh’s cousin’s an adequate commander, but he’s too conservative and not innovative enough. Anran’s too young, and I’m not a military genius, though I could do a decent job. Mhairi’s good, but not as good as Aoife, but she’s too young as well. Which leaves the Lord Marshal…

    I wonder if he can be persuaded to work with Aoife. Aoife was no statesman, but she was a damn good general. The only problem is that I know absolutely nothing of this Lord Marshal’s personality.

    Anran cleared his throat. “If you’d like an introduction with the Lord Marshal of Eraea, I can arrange for one right now, Niamh.” She had insisted that they dispense with the titles, given that Anran’s rank would soon be equal to her own. “On second thought… here he comes.”

    Niamh shaded her eyes with her hand, peering as a man on horseback made his way to them. “Hail, Prince-Heir Anran,” he called.

    “Hail, Lord Marshal Haldan of Eraea,” Anran said as the man dismounted and bowed to both queen and prince. “Lord Marshal Haldan, this is Queen Niamh Ca’ernin of Aioshi, Sianna, Mawr, and Queen-Regent of Kyria.”

    “A plethora of titles I’d much rather do without,” she said with a wry smile. “Call me Niamh, if you will.”

    “At your service, Niamh,” Haldan said. “I’m Haldan, as Anran said. I’m Maisha’s cousin and her Lord Marshal.”

    Cousin? Niamh judged that Haldan was easily in his forties, and Maisha was still thirty-two. Though it’s said that Maisha’s father did wed late and that his sister wed early…

    “We gladly welcome your expertise,” she said. Out of nowhere, it seemed, her omnipresent ‘guards’ appeared at her side. She was glad that it was Truth and Seer dancing attendance on her today; the two greatwolves were uncannily talented at determining people’s personalities and honesty.

    Haldan must have heard the stories of her guardians – but then, who hadn’t? – and didn’t scream as Truth paced to him, sniffed his hand, then licked it before returning to Niamh’s side. To his credit, Haldan didn’t turn a hair at being examined by beasts reputed to be the deadliest and most fearsome in the North.

    Well and good. Both Truth and Seer seem to like him.

    Shrewd and Regal, the two snowcats who were supposed to be with her, were probably accompanying her sisters. No matter, though; Forsaken and Silence, Seer’s littermates, were with her instead.

    As they too appeared out of nowhere, the other two greatwolves paid their homage to Truth, the packleader, before settling down with Seer. Truth remained sitting at an alert position, waiting for Niamh to command something.

    “And will these great beasts be accompanying us?” Haldan asked. “I don’t know about your troops, but they’re going to wreak havoc among the horses in my cavalry. And probably among the humans as well.”

    “I’ll be leaving the younger ones behind, but twelve greatwolves and twelve snowcats will be coming. Most of them won’t be running with the army itself, although I’ll be keeping some of them with me in case we’re ambushed. They’re also invaluable scouts; I’ve trained them myself and they can give advance warning. Once the human troops see that they’re fully under my control, there won’t be problems. At least, my people don’t have any.”

    “All that’s very well,” Haldan said dubiously, “but it doesn’t solve the problem of the horses.”

    Niamh shrugged. “I suspect that within a very short time, they will grow accustomed to their presence, if not entirely comfortable. Anran’s cavalry has been ‘visited’ by two of the greatwolves for the past few days, and they seem to have come to some kind of a truce.”

    At least he had the wits to think of that and the courage to ask me about it. Niamh tried to remember what she could about Haldan. As far as she knew, the previous Lord Marshal had been a fine commander in Maisha’s father’s time, but he had gotten too old to continue in office and resigned his duties, handing them over to Haldan, who had proved to be as capable, if not more, as his predecessor.

    I suppose I could wait and find out what manner of man he is, but I don’t think we have the time. I’ll have to ask him how he feels working with a woman young enough to be his daughter – after Anran’s gone, of course. So how do I get him to leave?

    But the heir of Vharin had inherited his father’s considerable political instincts, it seemed. “I’ll leave you two to discuss the strategy, then,” he said. “I’m afraid that I won’t be much use at that, but if you need me, you’ll find me with my troops.” He strode off in the direction of his army, the largest save for Niamh’s.

    “I have a question to ask of you, Haldan,” Niamh said. “Both of us know that I’d make an adequate field commander, but not one as good as you would make. Are you willing to accept the post?”

    Haldan chewed on his lip for a moment. “Aye, I suppose I could, but keep in mind that I’m not as young as I used to be.”

    “But you do have the experience to make up for it, right?”

    “Oh yes. My predecessor Sorun trained me for this for years, and during the last ten years he was in office, I was in the field more often than not. Nonetheless, I’d feel better about accepting the post if you assigned someone younger to accompany me.”

    Perfect. “I trust you know of my sisters Mhairi and Aoife?”

    “Of course. From what I’ve seen, both of them are damned good generals – but Aoife’s better. I take it that you want us to work together, not just with her as Second?”

    “I think it would be a very good idea. Aoife’s young, true, but she’s nothing short of a military genius – much in the way you are, or so I’ve heard.”

    “There’s no need for false modesty, I think – I’m among the best military minds in the Children of the Sun. Princess Aoife is my match, and I’ve heard that Prince Khai of the South is as good. Sadly, the Western Kingdoms don’t have any of our caliber.”

    “More on the line of Darugh’s uncle, no? Conservative and adequate – ”

    “But nothing more. And dealing with a catastrophe of this scale… Well, it’s agreed to. Aoife and I will work out the details on our own, but as of this moment, I accept the post of field commander.”

    “Thank you, Haldan,” she said. “Your service to the North is greatly appreciated.”

    Before he could reply, a servant came leading her mount, not the patient gelding Gray, but a fully-trained battlemare, courtesy of Prince Kerith of the South, who had sent it to her as a courting gift some months back. “It appears that we are ready to leave,” Haldan noted.

    “So it seems. Well, we should be about our separate duties now.” Niamh swung astride the battlemare, whistling for the greatwolves to follow, and though the horse rolled her eyes, she suffered the wolves’ presence. “I’ll see you tonight.”

    Touching her heels to the creature – which she called Smoke, in deference to her pale coloring – she cantered to the head of the army. Anran was waiting for her there, but he stepped back as she approached, making it clear to everyone just who was the authority here.

    “People of the North,” she called, knowing that every man – and woman, for that matter – would be able to hear her words, “today, we march to the aid of our kinsmen in the West to repel the first invasion in centuries. To this end, all Twenty-four Kingdoms of the Children of the Sun have made an alliance. It matters not that yesterday, our enemies were those we ride now to aid. It matters not that a year from now, those who come with us from South and East may turn against us. All that matters is that today, the Children of the Sun stand strong and united to oppose those who would take this land from us. Do not march with the hope of glory in your heart, for ours is a desperate mission, one to save the land and people. Do not march with foolish bravery, eager for heroics, for my mission is to bring all of you home safe. Instead, march with courage balanced with wisdom, and the knowledge that we are the saviors of Amryn.” All right, so that’s stretching it a little, but it’ll encourage the soldiers to do what’s needed and no more. I really do want to bring them home safe… “People of the North – do you ride with me?”

    The answering roar from the armies was all she could have hoped for.
     
  7. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    Smoke curled over rooftops to the west, somewhere towards the docks. The vast sprawling city was alive with screams and fire. Orlan smiled at the carnage, this was his victory.

    The southern gate had been torn open from within almost four hours past, allowing Orlan's infantry to pour in an overcome the city's defences quickly. While the one gate fell the rest were under attack also and ships loaded with troops came in off the waves. The battle had gone exactly as expected. The city would likely last years in a seige and Orlan had taken it in a day. Maybe the people of this land would see he was not a man to be trifled with when word of this day reached them, he had yet to finish his works today.

    Once the troops were in and the gates under his control the battle was all but done. His forces poured in and overwhelmed what organised force they faced. The rest likely hoped to disappear into the populace and attack during his occupation. Orlan was happy to disappoint them, he had little patientce, his first days in this land were crucial, just as he needed to take the city quickly, he needed no such disturbances. As he sat his horse his troops were raiding houses, taking the people from their homes; women, children and men of all differnt desciptions. They were taken to the nearest open spaces and culled like sickly cattle. This was the real message he was sending to any who would listen. Orlan's prowess was not limited by mercy or kindness, he would do whatever it took for victory, if he had to slay on child or a thousand, he would do it without pause, and he would do it gladly.

    He followed the streets towards the centre of the city where a grand palace rose above the surrounding buildings, gilded domes and marble columns made up most of its exterior, whatever it was it was likely the seat of power in the city, and it was the one building Orlan had ordered for its occupants to be spared.

    As he went up to the steps he looked over the square below, where corpses were piled high and blood lay clotting in the gutters. He would need to have the bodies cleared away soon, before disease spread.

    "Captain" He said to the man in charge of his escort. "Send a man to inform the other commanders that executions are to be held outside the city walls and the bodies are to be taken out by tomorrow."

    "But sir, the men will want rest after the victory."

    "They will hardily enjoy their rest if they have to share it with thousands of rotting corpses. Tehy can rest after."

    The man bowed and had one fo the other solders set off at a run into the streets.

    Meanwhile, Orlan dismounted and Strode through the great arched doors of the palace, now now as great piled on the floor resembling firewood. His soldiers had secured the occupants of the palace and herded them into a great round hall in the centre of the building. There surrounded by three rows of armed soldiers, the mean and women dressed in rich clothing cowered like sheep.

    Orlan walked in, Soldiers parting before him and stood. Magnificent in his uniform and silvered armour, he eyed up and down the captives a moment and stood silent for a moment.

    "Who rules this city?"

    There was silence for a long time, only pierced by the sobs of weak men and women.

    Slowly a man pushed forward out fot he crowd, his clothes finer than the rest, he was short and portly, his eyes looked afraid.

    "I am Berran, King of Somerind. I will surrender to you and comply with your demands if you give me your word my people will not be harmed."

    Orlan could have laughed in his face then, but likely it would make questioning more problematic so he didnt. Instead he said nothing to the man but nodded to one of his guards.

    The guard came forward and ushered the former king out of the room. Orland stayed for a moment more.

    "Find somewhere to lock these people up, somewhere they will not be an annoyance." They might be of use later.

    Olran proceeded to the steps of the palace to where his commanders had been assembled hastily, not all of them were there but most were. As soon as he approached them, they began their boasting.

    Deriath began. "My legion have moved through the entire southern quarter of the city, none live there but rats and livestock now."

    "Well my troops took the docks with ease, From a preliminary search fo crates and warehouses it looks like huge stores of food and goods, we shall feast tonight! this city must be some trade hub or such." Vanmer added.

    The went on untill Orlan interrupted. "How much of the city has been purged?"

    "Near all of it sir, some captains have detained certain individuals likely to be of use, the rest are dead but for a few held out in guard barrack across town and hidden cellars."

    Good. Orlan thought. "Have the men drag all the corpses out of the city, pile them in the fields and burn them when the job is done..." Orlan paused a moment for thought. "Better yet, I want all the roads from the city lined with corpses or heads for a leage in every direction, but begin at a distance fromt he walls. Make whoever comes here fear what they will find within the walls."

    Some men nodded, a few looked pale, but it was all for the good. "Once that is done The men may rest for a day and enjoy what drink they can find within the walls. Once done I want every legion to set up in their designated areas of the city, in some order. Then I was the defences rebuilt and fortified. Scouts sent out to patrol the land without here. And the fleet should be brought in too. Then we begin the next phase of our invasion."

    The discussed it further for maybe an hour or two before they set out to perform their respective tasks. Likely they set their underlings to do the work while they did as the soldiers did, plunder the city, not for food or drink or women like common soldiers, but to find the most respectable manor houses or palaces to take up residence. Orlan had reseved this one, and likely he would be joined by most of them, but some men were vain enough to seek their own private palaces.

    Orlan had business to attend to however. He returned to the interior of the palace, and marched through the main hall, now empty or cowering nobles. his personal guard had already secured the premises and one lead him up flights of stairs to a large solar with a balcony overlooking the city. Within Berran sat, flanked by a pair of Orlan's guards looking more afraid than before, likely from the view of the balcony.

    "Bring wine" He said to a guard before seating himself across from Berran.

    The man faced him, eyes pleading. "I said i would surrender if my people were safe."

    "You are in no position to make demands, Your city and soon your kingdom are mine, and I will do whatever I wish with them regardless fo your concerns."

    The fool sat there, mouth open to protest, but forzen with a frown upon his brow. After a moment he slumped back into his seat and looked ready to weep.

    Orlan continued. "What you have left to offer is information. It is the only thing you have that I desire. I wish to know of your kingdom, of the others around it, other rulers and generals, I( wish to know everything of this land."

    "What assurances do I have that when you have your answeres, I will be safe?"

    "I never mentioned safety, nor letting you live or anything of the sort. I want answers, and If i have to have you tortured to receive them I will. Whether you survive past your use depends entirely on how satisified I am with your answers and your cooperation."

    "Up" Orlan said, when the man did nor rise a guard dragged him up. Orlan walked to the balcony and Berran followed.

    Sweeping a hand past the horizon Orlan looked into the man's eyes. "See here what I am capable of, I took your city in a day, Your people have been put to the sword. This is the extent of my mercy. Nothing will stop my will. So know comfortably that I will ahve the answers I want, and whatever pitiful sense of resistance or pride you have means nothing to me."

    A guard entered carrying a flagon of wine. Orlan poured a cup and sipped.

    "Now, tell me everything"

    Berran looked over the darkening horizon, eyes glazed with unshed tears, features made guant by fear. And he began to speak.
     
  8. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

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    The thundering of the frosty gales eclipsed all other sound. Gulls fought to remain even remotely on their planned flight as they battled over the angry waves, and even the great golden eagle overhead struggled to remain on course.

    However, the enormous black battle-eagles of the invaders were nowhere to be seen.

    It was, undeniably, an evening to ‘ware the winds. But it would take more than a strong wind to deter Anke. Luckily, the wind came without rain, so it was still navigable. Rising from her seat on the rocky outcrop above the crashing breakers, she flexed her ruddy wings and rubbed her hands swiftly along her frozen arms, returning to them circulation and warmth.

    The last fortnight had seen Anke patrol the entire length of the Crimson Shore, picking up information and details of the arriving forces. Their army was vast, much larger than any she had seen together assembled in her years, and included those great battle-eagles she had come to scorn.

    Great animals, giving to mere Children the gift of flight. It really was quite blasphemous.

    Anke scarcely respected the Sun Children kingdoms, but she knew that she could not stand living next to a land ruled by these Storm Children, as they styled themselves. Her Clan-leader, Tristram, refused to support those giving opposition to the invaders. However, he had hinted that he would let her go, should she wish to leave the eyrie and fly against the black eagles.

    The other two Legates of her clan were fully sufficient for their Clan-leader’s protection, for the time being, so Anke had been scouring the countryside and coast in search of information about the invaders and the ever-building war. Kingdoms throughout the land were uniting to fight the invaders, some feuds and differences put aside, yet there were still some that refused to take part. Complete folly, from Anke’s view. All the land-bound races should fear for their kingdom.

    The airborne race, however, was nothing so much as indifferent to what waged below them on the hills and plains of the continent. There were some worries concerning those whom the Red Eagles had treated with, but as of yet the Traian had managed to remain unnoticed. It seemed as though the Storm Children’s main priority was conquering their most prominent adversary from the past.

    She had learned much in her fortnight of scouring the land. Chief in her mind, at present, was the location of a certain band of mercenaries. Flexing her wings once more, Anke leapt from her perch, and with a powerful beat of her wings, tore into the fierce wind.




    Blood spattered Julian’s face in a single great spurt a he slashed the throat of his last adversary with a vicious backward slice. His rapier had already felled nine Storm Children that night, and along with the rest of the Crats had wiped out a group of invaders that had been scouting the area. The night’s total in all was near fifty, and the fortnight’s a good three hundred. Now that they had a feel for these invaders, their strikes fell more often and more effectively.

    Julian stood over his fallen foe, panting softly, and wiping his face along the sleeve of his leather jerkin her turned and faced his men, who had either finished off their adversaries or were in the process of doing so.

    “You have fought well, men.” He had to shout to be heard above the storm. He stepped forward, and wiped his rapier on the cloak of his most recent kill. “We return to camp. Two hours before dawn, we move, for these men have friends who will not take kindly to their deaths.”

    The Crats, or Aristocrats, were a band of mercenaries which Julian had formed nearly two years before, consisting mostly of young men of high-ranking birth, who had received various types of military training. There were men from Estona, who dealt mainly with a two-handed, medium-sized broadsword, and men from Tchedya, who wielded the largest of broadswords, the greatsword. There were men who wore scimitars, men who wore slender curved blades, and men who specialized in several varieties of bows. The Aristocrats were a well-rounded out group of young men, ranging in age from fifteen to thirty, who represented nearly every kingdom on the eastern side of the Grey Mountains; in essence, from every known kingdom. All resented the world they grew up in, and the world that wouldn’t accept them.

    Julian himself had been primarily taught the rapier, a shorter, double-bladed lightweight blade that could not stand up to the sheer force of a greatsword but was much faster, and no less deadly if wielded in the right hand. Or in Julian’s hand.

    Although Julian had been among the best in the military school his parents had sent him to, the lower-born students resented him, his money, and his rank. Throughout three years in the academy, he had made one true friend. Markus was his second in command now, and among the few of the group not of high-ranking birth.

    An hour’s brisk walk saw them back to camp. The wind had calmed somewhat, and Julian was relieved to find the horses relatively calm. The strong winds of the past fortnight had unnerved them, but like everything else they now felt more accustomed to them.

    They had chosen this time to attack on foot, as the terrain they had crossed was rocky and dangerous for horses. As the invaders were appropriating any horses they could find, mounts were becoming increasingly valuable, and the Crats could not afford to lose one of their trained destriers. Their war-horses were weapons themselves, and so loyal that they would permit none but their master, their trainer, to mount.

    Of course, not all the weapons the Crats used were suitable for use from horseback, so each Aristocrat had a leaf-shaped blade specifically designed for cavalry. While an attack from trained cavalry was unequalled by foot soldiers, Julian preferred to fight on foot with his prized rapier, and so took these chances at advancing on foot when he could.

    Julian walked to his mare and fed her a handful of oats, and she rubbed her head against Julian’s chest in appreciation as she enjoyed the treat. Julian had been given Ansalah as his eleventh birthday gift from his father. She had just been weaned, and Julian trained her from scratch. Her name meant ‘valiant’ in the old tongue.

    He was still murmuring endearments to Ansalah when she snorted and reared up, shoving Julian backward. A rush of wind against his face accompanied the heavy beat of wings. Shouts of alarm went up around the camp, and Julian heard the ring of swords clearing their scabbards.

    The rush of wind had extinguished the small fire that someone had been attempting to build, and all Julian saw against the black night was a tall, massive form standing barely outlined against the black night. It was one of the winged people, though much larger than the Owl that had greeted them when the invaders first arrived.

    His men stood frozen, uncertain as to how to react. A feminine chuckle came from the Rasvan, and Julian forced his hand to unclench from around the hilt at his hip.

    “If that is you, Red, there are more courteous methods to ask entrance into one’s camp.”

    “What kind of welcome is a welcome of bared swords? Your men are too edgy, Aristocrat.”

    Anke stepped forward into the moonlight, and her form became much more visible. Likely she had chosen the darkest spot in the camp to land, Julian thought indignantly. Several of his men grumbled under their breath, while others gave the Rasvan a greeting.

    “What brings you here at this hour, Red?”

    “The same that finds you here.” She paused a moment, ruffling her wings and shifting her feet. “I hear you want to kill some Stormies.”

    If Julian could have seen her face, he knew he’d see a vicious grin.

    “Apparently you haven’t heard. We’ve become quite infamous with the Stormies.”






    :littlethi
     
  9. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

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    Soasan flew over the rugged pre-dawn landscape, her windburnt cheeks protesting mightily against the continued hours of flight. Her great eagle, too, protested, twittering angrily when she tried to guide it. It had been a long night. After the encounter with Torren and the other soldiers, she’d been too frightened to stay in one spot. Thus, she had spent most of the night flying, stopping only when rest demanded it.

    A bright shaft of light cut through the air, and then the sun burst forth from the earth, showing the land in its golden warmth.

    “The Golden Land”, Soasan murmured, her golden eyes wide with wonder. Beneath her, her eagle shifted in flight, cocking its head as if listening for something. There was a gust of wind and a streak to Soasan’s right, and then a shadow covered everything in darkness.

    Soasan looked up, red eyes, a feral snarl, and cold steel filling her vision before the shadow hit her with the force of a hurricane. She felt the glossy feathers of the eagle rip from beneath her, and cold, unsupporting space loomed beneath her flailing legs. Throwing out her arms in a desperation, she felt feathers under her hand, and instinctively closed it and pulled herself closer. Wrapping her arm around the neck, Soasan felt cold knot in her belly as she discovered herself grasping, not her eagle’s neck, but another human arm. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a blur briefly before her jaw exploded into pain. Thrashing around as she felt herself once again falling, Soasan’s hand once again connected with something solid: a leg. Latching on for dear life, she screamed as she dragged her unwilling “saviour” into the treetops.

    The tip of pine caught her hip, and she let go of the leg. She could hear the being that had carried her crash into the trees a little beyond her. Branches rushed by her, snapping and cracking under her weight. One smashed across her shoulder, another bent her double with a blow to the stomach. Briefly hanging up upon a low branch, Soasan caught her breath for a moment before it splintered and gave way beneath her. Crashing onto the forest floor, she lay, winded. A moment of silence, and then all hell broke loose.

    Feathers surrounded her, and something lifted her from the forest floor, heaving her into the bracken. Groaning with pain, she had barely a moment before the being was upon her again. Leaping up to her feet, Soasan danced back, using her opponent’s clumsiness to her advantage.

    The being was like none she had ever seen. It had massive wings sprouting from its back, yet was like a tall woman. Her burning red eyes held a wild look in them, but also a calculating intelligence. Were it not for the close trees that hindered its movement, Soasan feared she would have little chance against it.

    Drawing her gladius, the Storm Child princess circled the being, waiting for the opportune moment. The level head of her training began to take command, and the start of a plan formed in her mind. If she could only get it to move a little more to the left…

    A burst of sound and movement distracted her from her schemes. Two combatants charged into the area, hacking at each other. With great finesse, the shorter of the two neatly finished off his opponent, rapier gleaming in the dim light. Golden eyes met her own, defiant, and raven black hair lay tousled after the fight.

    Soasan’s eyes widened, and she swallowed nervously. Her gaze flicked between the fallen Storm Child and the one staring at her now. As she watched, his jaw dropped and his own eyes widened with... was it... awe?

    “Julian, finish her!” the winged woman cried. Soasan glanced at her, and then dropped to a fighter’s crouch, gladius held out in front menacingly as she watched “Julian”.

    “Are you going to kill me too, trait or?!!” she yelled, glaring at the man.

    “What are you talking about?” he answered.

    “Kill her!” the woman screeched, caught in brambles.

    “Don’t play the idiot with me! I know you’re one of Orlan’s men!”

    “Do I know you?”

    Soasan drew back, looking at him suspiciously. He looked like a Storm Child; how could he not know her?

    “Who am I? Who are you! How can you not know who I am?! What battalion are you in? Under whose command?" she rattled off the questions angrily. "Answer me!!”

    “I command myself, and my men. Now, who are you?”

    “I’m your bloody QUEEN! You killed my father, stole my crown, and betrayed my people! How dare you pretend that you know nothing of who I am!” Soasan felt hot tears of grief spilling over her cheeks. The figure in front of her wavered, and she felt herself stumble back. There was a brief moment when all the world seemed to be on her shoulders, and then everything went black.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2006
  10. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

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    ANKE

    Anke woke before dawn, as was her custom, and broke fast with a small morsel of dried meat from her dwindling store. She must hunt soon, and replenish her store of provisions that she kept in a small pack strapped to her back. When on the move, she lived off dried meat and the occasional fruit or other plant she came across in her travels. Alternatively, it was not uncommon that she find herself raiding the stores of the earth-bound.

    As she waited for the mercenaries to rouse, she flew to a small outcropping of rocks that overlooked their camp, and began polishing and sharpening her weapons. As she was on an excursion of unknown length, she had brought extra throwing stars, which she kept along with her provisions, in the event that she should be unable to recover thrown weapons. Also stored in her pack were an extra quiver of bolts, three extra throwing knives, and a backup pair of talons.

    Julian woke before the others, and climbed up to join Anke on her perch. He sat silently for several moments, watching her as she worked, then ventured a question.

    “What do you know of these invaders?”

    Anke paused and looked at him, then resumed her task as she spoke. “They are many. They are determined. They have scouts far superior to yours, mounted on great eagles. I’ve never seen such animals, and I don’t know why they suffer the earth-bound to ride them.” She stopped speaking for a minute, then continued, never taking her eyes off her weapons. “Apart from the bulk of the army, they are split into divisions of about two hundred, and there are many of these divisions. Even without the main force they outnumber the Children of the Sun.”

    “And their general, where is he?”

    “Last I saw, he’d sacked the capital of Somerind. The city lay smoking, bodies everywhere. As far as I could see, he had slaughtered everyone. There were heaps of corpses everywhere; the only people alive were Stormie soldiers.” She stopped her polishing and looked up, her piercing gaze boring through Julian’s skull. “This general, do not underestimate him.”

    Julian pondered a moment, not liking the picture the Rasvan painted. “So, it seems we must dispense of this general. Do you know his name?”

    “No. I watched from afar.” She returned to sharpening her weapons.

    “Hmm. Could you find this general for me?”

    “Yes. You have a plan?”

    “I’m working on it. But first I must know more of this man, of his tactics, of his army. Can you do this?”

    “Of course.”

    “Have the Children of the Sun solved their petty disputes among their nobles and rallied?”

    “I haven’t gone far inland, but it seems like the rulers of the north have joined, and made a temporary alliance with those of the west, east, and south. At least, that’s what I assumed when I saw their combined army heading west.”

    “Combined? All of them?”

    “Most. I saw many banners and pennons.”

    “That will go down in history.” He smiled ruefully. “Do they stand a chance, the combined armies?”

    “No. Even together they are outnumbered, and the invaders have a huge advantage with their eagles. They took Marrowind in a day.”

    “They brought that many ships?” He shook his head in amazement. “They must have brought hundreds.”

    “Many hundreds. Maybe more.”

    “And Marrowind, fallen in a day? Her walls should have held out for months in a siege.”

    “Months in a siege against the earth-bound, perhaps. Hours against the airborne.”

    Anke lifted her eyes again, and said softly, “You need the Rasvan, or this continent will fall within the year. The Traian as well.”

    “The Rasvan uniting is an even more unbelievable notion than that of the kingdoms.”

    “Yes, I know.”

    “Even convincing one eyrie would prove highly difficult. They disdain ‘my kind’.”

    Anke’s left eyebrow arched faintly, the most emotion Julian had even seen her express besides her sadistic grin. “Yes. But you do need us, so I suggest you find a way.” They remained silent for several minutes, until she spoke again. “Think of it, Julian. They have ships, many ships. Fast ships.”

    “Er…yes?” he said, wondering what she was getting at.

    “And all your armies are massing together…in one place.”

    Anke abruptly turned her head to the north. A group of Stormies marched toward them, about a league away. She turned to Julian, knowing his inferior eyes could not see what she saw through the darkness.

    “We have company.”





    JULIAN

    The Red Eagle had spoken more words to him in that short conversation than he had ever heard her utter. By the time she had sighted the Storm Children platoon the rest of the Aristocrats had woken and were either breaking their fast or preparing their weapons and mounts, ready to move out. The sun had not yet risen, but hints of light could be seen on the horizon, and dawn was not far away. They were mounted within short minutes after he informed them of the approaching soldiers, and on his signal, they began to flank them from the east.

    Anke had estimated the oncoming troops to number about one hundred. Not bad odds, against Julian and his thirty men, especially with the Rasvan to help frighten the Stormies.

    Julian planned to catch the soldiers as they entered a nearby meadow, and attack their left wings. Anke would fire from the air and do whatever it was she did when it came to fighting those she called the ‘earth-bound’ from their right.

    Julian and his men had spread out along the eastern treeline of the meadow only minutes later, to see the soldiers break through the cover of the forest and into the grass. The sun was visible by half, bathing the meadow in a soft glow that glinted from the black armour of the invaders. Wait, he motioned. Wait until they were massed together.

    As he was about to give the signal to attack, he saw Anke diving from the sky. The Stormies cried in alarm, and some reached for their bows, but before they could take aim Anke had barreled into them, knocking some over with her great wings and slashing at some with her curved sword. Before any could react, she was pumping up into the sky again, readying her own bow. Julian noticed with approval that she had killed two and injured several more, either from sword cuts or from broken bones.

    By then most of the Stormies were aiming upward with their bows, trying in vain to shoot the winged terror. Likely none of them had ever seen a Rasvan, let alone fought one. Anke began firing from high above as Julian gave the word to attack, and the Crats charged what was now the rear of the soldiers. Their destriers thundered across the grass, and the invaders spun to meet this new threat.

    Julian raised his left hand, and thirty crossbow bolts sailed toward the ranks of Storm Children. As one the Crats slung their crossbows over their saddles and unsheathed their long, heavy leaf-shaped cavalry swords, pushing their mounts for maximum speed as they crashed into the double ranks of soldiers. Moments later, the spun their horses twenty paces on the opposite side of the soldiers, and charged back into the reeling lines.

    After two more passes, Julian and his men reined in halfway through the charge, mingling with the remaining soldiers, who were trying to organize a retreat to the shelter of the forest. The Crats followed on their tail, and split into several groups chasing the scattering foe.

    He had just decapitated one unlucky fellow when Julian saw a red streak as Anke took off into the sky over the trees, and he thought he saw her smash into something, but couldn’t be sure as he was once again racing toward the Stormie soldiers. Infantry stood little chance against disciplined cavalry, and it was in moments as this when Julian knew with pride that his small cavalry was unequalled.

    Julian and two others followed behind a group of five soldiers who ran for a close hill. He reined up at the base of the hill, knowing the horses could not climb such a steep slope so thick with brush. Rapier in hand he followed the path of his quarry, grasping any solid handhold he could find. Seconds later he emerged at the top of the hill to be met by a swinging sword, and barely missed being decapitated himself as he rolled forward and slashed the backs of his opponent’s legs. The Stormie cried out and spun, but Julian used his momentum as he sprang to his feet to sink his sword deep into the man’s side.

    The other two Aristocrats had followed Julian closely, and had killed one Stormie and were working of two others. The last was running again, and Julian took off in pursuit, gaining on him slowly. When Julian was only paces away the other spun, knowing he was caught. He was taller than Julian, and largely built, but Julian had the advantage in the close quarters of the confining trees with his lean frame and rapier. In only three strikes Julian had downed the man, and with one final stroke finished him.

    As he looked up from his fallen prey, he was startled to see a furious Anke, her wings caught and bloody in the thick brambles, her gaze searing into that of a smaller, darker woman. She had the raven black hair and golden eyes of the Storm Children, and was beautiful despite her obvious exhaustion.

    “Julian, finish her!” Anke hissed. She was twisted so that she couldn’t reach her throwing stars of knives, otherwise Julian knew the black-haired woman would already lie dead. The Stormie woman glanced back to Anke and then focused on him, and she dropped into a fighting crouch.

    “Are you going to kill me too, trait or?!!” she yelled, glaring at him.

    Trait or? He’d never seen her before in his life, of that he was sure. “What are you talking about?”

    “Kill her!” Anke repeated, struggling in the brambles, which seemed to have wound themselves around her. Blood shined on her glossy red feathers, but she gave no hint of noticing anything but himself and the other woman.

    “Don’t play the idiot with me! I know you’re one of Orlan’s men!”

    “Do I know you?”

    She looked at him suspiciously. She seemed to know him, at least. Or think that he knew her. He arched his eyebrow in return to her glare, and shrugged helplessly.

    “Who are you?” she demanded. “Where have you been? How can you not know who I am?! What battalion are you in? Under whose command? Answer me!!”

    “I command myself, and my men. Who are you?” She wasn’t going to get more of an answer until she asked with at least a morsel of civility.

    Her eyes widened, and she reared back, and Julian winced at the onslaught of words he knew was coming. “I’m your bloody QUEEN! You killed my father, stole my crown, and betrayed my people! How dare you pretend that you know nothing of who I am!”

    Now that particular explosion certainly hadn’t been one he had been expecting. It was also the most words he had heard from a Stormie mouth since the invasion, and he noted that while he could understand her, she spoke with a strange, liquid accent that put emphasis on words where he would expect none. It sounded alien to any of the Kingdom dialects and accents.

    He was about to protest innocence when her eyes rolled to the back of her head, and she slumped to the ground. Julian sheathed his sword and ran over to her, placing his hand on her forehead. She had a fever, and he thought she was severely dehydrated as well. He started to pick her up when Anke cleared her throat loudly.

    “Oh,” he said sheepishly. “Sorry.” He walked over to her, and after several minutes of cutting branches loose, Anke could freely move her wings again. It truly seemed as if the blasted brambles had wound themselves back around Anke as he cut them. His hands bore the scratches from the nasty thorns from one particularly nasty plant. Legend said that the forests of Amryn were enchanted, and Julian had always brushed them off as old wives’ tales. But considering recent events, he was starting to have his doubts.

    “These bushes really don’t like you, Red.” He almost winced at her glare.

    Overhead, an eagle screeched, and Julian looked up to see a huge black form blot out the sun for a moment, just above the treetops. Looking back at the fainted woman, he noticed for the first time that she wore what looked like riding breeches. In fact, at closer inspection she appeared quite young, especially for a queen. Fever could induce hallucinations and other sorts of unusual behaviour. But then again, he himself was only 19, and already leader of the finest mercenaries in the twenty-four kingdoms.

    “Sounds like her mount misses her.” He didn’t worry about his own mount, who was trained to return to the last place it had slept when separated from its master. He glanced at Anke warily. “Don’t you try to kill this one. We can get some good information out of her, especially if she really is some important Stormie noble.” The Rasvan looked mildly disappointed.

    “Feisin’ eagle,” was all that Anke muttered. She had tucked her wings in as tightly as she could, to avoid further trouble with the forest, and she started walking uncomfortably. Julian hoisted the girl onto his back, and followed the winged woman back to their camp.
     
  11. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    Despite his pompous nature, Berran had some wits stored behind his blank faces exterior. at the moment he was working on a flank, with a mild hint of subtlety, barely enough to fool a commoner. Orlan hoped it was a feint, but Berran was no tactician.

    Orlan Moved one Block forward. "You are getting better at this. Are you sure there is no similar game in your lands?"

    Blinking a moment, and coming out of focus from the board between them, Berran looked up, one eye cloudy and swollen from his earlier beating. "No, They play some similar ones in the North I think, but I have never been fond of them, I prefer hawking."

    "Reading?" Orlan pondered, but Berran shook his head.


    "How is it these people have such a dullard for a king? To rule one must have a sharp mind, and a sharper blade. Perhaps if your subjects had had a wiser king, not all of them would lie dead. You remind me of my late regent, a brash man."

    Setting his mind back to the game, Orlan watched as Berran moved a Soldier piece forward towards his back line, the last two fingers on his hand broken and bandaged. He had learned days ago that even if Orlan was insulting or rude, outbursts to someone above him never went unpunished.

    The giveaway to Berran's ploy wasnt in his eyes, or his face. The man hid his thoughts well. Yet his moves were open enough in themselves to the slightest insight. An Open book rife with illustrations.

    Orlan was beginning to grow bored by Berran, Moving his General forward he decided to spring Berran's trap, and as the man moved his next piece forward in anticipation of winning the game, Orlan struck.

    In the gap left open by Berran's last move, Orlan moved his Blade Piece forward and Took Berran's General.

    Berran seemed stunned for a moment, on the brink of tears but never failing his wounded pride. The once red and yellow bruises lining his face had become a sickly purple, and the bandages over his temples were caked in dried blood. He was silent as the guard escorted him from the room and down to the dungeons, Rolan was grateful the man no longer wailed as they took him away.

    Berran had confessed all his knowledge the day the city was taken, but each day he was pressed for more, something new or to confirst what he had already told. Pain was always needed to assure he gave absolute truth, and each day some new piece of interesting information came forward, ready to be worked into that already discovered.

    Between his suffereing Orlan had Berran brought to see him in the king's former study. Orlan wanted to judge what kind of a man he was, and to find out more under the guise of kindness. The day before Orlan had retrieved his Conquest board from his stores on the ships, and invited Berran to play. Berran had been quick to learn, and welcoming of the sense of civility, and while the man played worse than a child, it helped Orlan in his judgements.

    In the academy they played Conquest daily, often for hours on end. It was an intuitive way to learn strategy and tactics. To understand the mind of your enemy, and the subtly complexity of the battlefield. Orlan himself promoted even his footsoldiers to practice the game, and he himself had been undefeated since he graduated from the Military Academy.

    The day he had introduced Berran to the game he made a wager. If the dethroned king were to win even once. He would be free to leave the city and flee to wherever he wished. With whatever family he had left amongst the noble prisoners of the city. Orlan gave his word and so Berran played, and each time he lost and would be forced to endure pain and suffering untill his captors were happy with his pleading responses. And each day it would begin again. The only respite he was allowed was his bed of straw in hthe dungeons and his sessions with Orlan in the early afternoon.

    A weaker man would pity Berran, Orlan was bored by him.


    When left alone in his chambers, Orlan poured himself some wine from a decanter from the side. The local vintage was pleasing enough, and it would be a while before the finer things began to come through the supply routes from their homeland.

    Sipping slowly he looked over the papers on his desk, and went through the reports there. The fifth legion was suffering minimal losses on patroling the countryside, though making little progress in finding their foes. Orlan would have to remind their commander to take a more serious stance in patroling the outlands.

    A detatchment from the second legion had finished exploring the southern districts of the city, every faced put under the utmost scrutiny. even th sewers had been thoroughly mapped. A third of the city still had to be covered, but progress was good.

    The Shadow Legion had dispatched agents deep afield, and the first reports were expected back inside the next two days.

    Brawling had occured after the victory celebrations but there was no lasting troubles, but in precaution the first and twelth legions were to change their housing arrangements and the eighth was to be next on rotations for shorline duty.


    When he had gone through the day's relevent notices and finished his wine, Orlan donned his sword and cloak and left to go about the day's business, to see to the new supplies arriving on the docks and to check in with the outriders that would come in during the afternoon.

    Some generals complained of complacency, and that the army stagnated in the city. But Orlan was happy enough. they took it in a day and fortified a stronghold for themselves, with an easy supply route and the close lands mapped to perfection. They had made their first move, which still resonated across the land. The next move was for the opposition, and all Orlan could do was wait in anticipation for what would come.
     
  12. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    The army had been riding for almost a week when word came from the West. The bedraggled youth who reached her was shouting for anyone of authority, and by luck, Niamh had been closest. “I am Queen Niamh of the North,” she said as Anran approached, “and the North rides to your aid. Speak your news.” She gave him her own waterskin to drink from, and he gulped at the water before wiping his mouth.

    “Lady, can you and yours ride in time to save King Berran of Somerind? I think not.” His eyes were almost unfocused, and Niamh wondered what had frightened him so. “Not when all of them down to the last babe-in-arms were savagely slaughtered by foreign strangers we have never seen the like of.”

    It seemed that the youth – one Weylin by name – was an orphan who trapped and hunted for a living with his brothers. Preferring to live outside of the city, he and his brothers were virtually the only men to escape unscathed. The foreign soldiers had rounded up the farmers, and the three boys had hidden in the woods until darkness had fallen – then had set off in different directions to seek aid. The youngest had gone to King Agi of Thondin, while the middle brother had fled to the South. Weylin had been chosen to run to the North.

    She estimated that it was about sixty leagues from Somerind to where the Northern army was now. Weylin’s feet must be sore by now, and she signaled for someone to bring one of the healers to her as he continued his story.

    Weylin reported that the invaders were something altogether outside of Amryn knowledge. Black-haired and golden-eyed, they also rode huge eagles. I need the Rasvan, she thought, refusing to show her fear to the rest of the world. I cannot face winged creatures without some on my own side.

    But there were ways to counter the eagles. They would rely for the most part on arrows, she knew, and raising shields on their heads would deal with that. If they tried to swoop down, she would use fire. But what could she do against stones, if they dropped those? She needed Rasvan to counter them.

    And yet… she did have her own Rasvan, even if there were only two of them. She stood up abruptly. “Anran, I need to think for a while by myself. I’ll be at the tail of the army.”

    “When will you be back?”

    “In a few hours.” She remounted Smoke and kicked it on its way, brooding on this unexpected development.

    While the Northmen did use bows, it was the Southerners who were famed for the longbows and the short horsebows. She needed Prince Khai and his armies here now. More importantly, she needed an army of Rasvan.

    Asking for some paper and ink, she wrote out a quick missive to Prince Khai, asking for his assistance and informing him of the latest developments. I should send Zhirran to the South, she decided as Truth and Seer both joined her. Jynariel will be of more use as a scout. She observes far more than her brother does.

    After the two assassins had completed their mission, she had told them to remain close by, but hidden from detection. When the army had set out, she knew that the Jynzhi followed behind, walking with a skill that most Rasvan lacked.

    She found them after she had ridden out from the confines of the army. Zhirran was rubbing his feet with some sort of salve, and his eyes flashed angrily as he caught sight of the queen.

    “I have a new task for you,” she told them without dismounting. “Zhirran, you’re flying south and finding out where Prince Khai and his armies are. Tell them that the invaders have giant eagle-riders, and that we need them here fast. Jynariel, you’re to scout ahead and find out more about these eagle-riders. Remain hidden as much as you can. The invaders probably don’t know about Rasvan, and I’d like to keep them in the dark as much as possible.”

    “We never separate,” Zhirran stated.

    “You do now.” She took the missive and placed it in a message-tube before handing it to Zhirran. “Before you object, you swore on your parents’ graves.”

    That silenced him, although his eyes were shot through with streaks of gold and green. “If he asks who you are, give him a false name and say that you are in my service. Now go.”

    The young Rasvan wasted no more time in questions and walked away, his back stiff with indignation, no doubt looking for a clearing to take off from. Jynariel was still awaiting her further orders, but her eyes were still solid black. Evidently, she had adapted to her life of service better than her brother had.

    “Spy as much as you can on any sign of enemy forces, especially the riders. Again, be careful; I don’t want you sighted or caught. If it’s possible, lure a rider towards here and kill it. I’d like to see what arms they have.”

    “Anything else?”

    Niamh shook her head. “You’re intelligent enough to know what I want. But one thing, Jynariel Namadrin,” she said, stopping the girl from taking off as her brother had done. “What do you want? Really want?”

    The blackwinged girl stared at her. “No one has ever asked us that before.”

    “I do now.”

    Jynariel dropped her eyes and said, “What we truly want, no one can give us. And of what you can give us – we want to stop this life of service.”

    “And what is this I cannot give you?”

    “We want to stop being hunted by Rasvan for our mixed blood. We want to be part of a clan.” She laughed bitterly. “It will never happen. Tell me, Queen Niamh – what will you do with us when you have no more use for us? Uncle Jaereth said that you were a good ruler – ”

    You’re Jaereth’s niece? she wanted to blurt out, but managed to restrain herself. Instead, she raised one eyebrow. “I had no idea that Jaereth Andzyl was your uncle.”

    Jynariel just shrugged.

    “But you are right. I have no power over the Rasvan; I cannot force them to accept you as part of the clan.”

    “I knew that,” she said, still sounding disappointed.

    “If you want to succeed – and more importantly, survive,” Niamh said, her voice a little distant, “you must remember that life is a game. Some of us are players, and others are pieces. Needless to say, pieces are far more numerous than players. I am a player; you and your brother are pieces. It is for you to serve, and to be used.

    “Yet I will tell you this – as long as you serve me faithfully, I will give you a chance for another life. Perhaps it will not be to your liking, but you will no longer be required to kill at my orders.” Before the Rasvan could reply, she turned the horse and left. She did not look back, and Jynariel did not call after her.

    A few moments later, when she glanced upwards, she saw a black speck, spiraling upward into the sky.
     
  13. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

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    ANKE

    Anke had several excursions planned for the following fortnight, the first of which was paying certain nobles a visit. She now flew high above sighting range of the earthbound bearing a course northeast, to the vicinity in which she hoped to find this queen that sought to unite the kingdoms.

    After three days of flight, the army in question was finally becoming visible. Standards and pennons of different kingdoms rippled in the light breeze, proof that this queen had had some success in rallying her neighbours.

    Anke made no attempt to hide her approach, and when she came within sight of what must be the queen’s tent due to the number of guards surrounding it, she saw something that she had wholly expected not to see.

    Black wings pumped into the sky, and the Raven seemed to notice Anke just as Anke noticed her. The stranger continued to rise, but when she was level with Anke, she hovered within a wingspan of her. She said nothing, but her black eyes bore into her own red gaze, and after a moment the Raven continued on her flight.

    What was a Raven doing in the earthbound’s camp? She knew the Clan hadn’t agreed to anything with the earthbound, or she would have heard of it. The only way to discover the truth lie in attending the camp herself.

    As she began spiral in a descent to the ground, soldiers and commoners alike looked up, whispering to each other warily. By the time she landed before the tent, a regal, somber woman awaited her. On either side she was flanked by snowcats and great wolves, who eyes her suspiciously.

    Anke stood silently, her red eyes peering intently through windswept hair. He red and golden feathers fluttered in the breeze. No one spoke, save for several murmurs exchanged between curious guardsmen. The queen broke the silence.

    “I am Queen Namh. State your purpose.”

    Anke waited for several moments, letting the silence expand into uneasy shuffling among the gathered onlookers, and spoke only when she felt the queen grow in impatience.

    “I’ve noticed that you mean to attack these invaders.”

    “Since that is obviously not a question, I must ask you to get to your point.”

    Anke looked at her darkly, and ruffled her feathers. “You’re ill prepared.”

    Niamh’s brow furrowed. “We are prepared as well as we can be, under the circumstances.” When Anke didn’t answer immediately, she frowned and said sarcastically, “I suppose you have a plan that will better benefit my army?”

    “I do.”

    Niamh raised an eyebrow, but this time refused to respond to Anke’s lack of words. So it was that Anke continued.

    ”Even with your combined army the invaders outnumber you. In addition, they have the great advantage of the air.”

    “We do not have the luxury of wings, as you may have noticed.”

    “I can get you these wings, if you will postpone your attack for s few months.”

    “How can I trust that you do this? I know the Rasvan generally despise the Children, yet you say you can convince them to help us?”

    “I am the first legate of the Red Eagle Clan, and I know that my clan-leader will listen to my words.”

    “And how can I be sure you are not acting as a decoy, to give the enemy more time to gain a larger and stronger foothold than they already have?”

    “You can trust me, or you can die in battle. I think the choice should be clear.”

    “How far can the help of one solitary clan go against such an adversary?”

    “Farther than you would survive without us.”

    Niamh put a slender hand on the head of a snowcat, and one of the wolves growled, sensing his mistress’s irritation. Anke glared at it, and before the queen could answer, she added, “Do not think you can frighten me with your pets.”

    “Oh, but they do enjoy humbling your kind,” the queen snapped.

    “They could try.”

    “You seem so sure of yourself.”

    “Why shouldn’t I be?”

    “Do you think that that Raven flies for me of her own free will? She thought as you did, before I had her swear her allegiance to me.”

    “Then she was weak.”

    The wolf openly snarled this time, and one of the snowcats rose and circled her mistress. “I do not have time to bicker,” she said. She studied Anke for a long moment, then beckoned with her hand. “Come inside, and we will discuss this in private.” She turned and disappeared into the tent, followed by her pets, who didn’t take their eyes from Anke until they were inside the command tent.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2006
  14. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Niamh wasn’t as irritated or as shocked as she had pretended to be. All Rasvan were arrogant, and looking at this one, it seemed that she was more arrogant than most. So long as she believed that she held the upper hand, Niamh held something of an advantage, little though it was. She needed the Rasvan; the Rasvan did not need her.

    How interesting, though. She classifies Jynariel as weak, but in truth, the girl is strong for being so young. Much more so than her brother.

    “I am Queen Niamh Ca’ernin of the North,” she said coolly, “and one of the commanders of the Northern army. I offer you my hospitality for as long as you care to take it.” Beside her, Truth moved restlessly, and she hid a tiny smile. The Rasvan might boast that the greatwolves and snowcats did not frighten her, but in truth, they were the only creatures that were known for killing Rasvan. A single wolf or cat by itself was dangerous enough; a pack was even worse.

    “I am Anke, First Legate of the Red Eagle Clan.” Anke sounded as though she begrudged every word.

    Dangerous, tough, and skilled in the use of weapons. A pity she’s not as good with using words to manipulate people. Arrogant as well; I’d guess her age to be a hundred or thereabouts.

    “You ask me to wait for three months, three months during which more of the people of the West will die. In any case, what can one lone clan of Rasvan do against thousands of these great eagles?”

    “More than what you can accomplish alone.”

    “It is true that we land-bound need the Rasvan to survive. But the army is assembled; should I then disperse them, send word to both the South and East to disband their men, to leave the West to its fate?” Niamh shook her head. “I cannot and will not do that.”

    “Then you will die.”

    “Then, Anke, can you ascertain whether these enemies are willing to negotiate with us?”

    Anke stared at her, then gave a bark of laughter. “The Children of the Storm live for war, Ca’ernin.” Children of the Storm; she had a name to call her enemies now. “They want only to conquer our land. He wants only to conquer.” She paused before adding, “Their general is not an opponent to be underestimated.”

    Fleetingly, Niamh wondered if there was a simpler solution to this war. If she bound herself in marriage to this conqueror, would he stop this madness?

    No. I won’t bind myself to a husband, not when it means that the man will have power over me, and that I will be considered only chattel. Never that. Never a marriage, not after Gorin.

    Aware that the Rasvan was waiting for a reply, she said only, “They have a canny general, and the advantage of numbers. You tell me that the Rasvan can match his eagles, and we at least know the land.” The Children of the Sun aren’t exactly a straightforward army, now that I think of it. We learned to adapt our tactics to the land. Why not start a guerilla campaign, at least until the Rasvan get here? If we send back the cavalry until later, keep only the foot… “How many Rasvan can you bring in a month?” she finally asked.
     
  15. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

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    How many Rasvan could I bring in a month? She knew her clan-leader would listen to her; he always had, and she was his first legate, the one he trusted most, and second-in-command to the entire Red Eagle clan. He had turned his sight from her when she left, giving her an un-spoken, unofficial leave to do as she thought best.

    Besides, the Red Eagles always loved a good fight.

    So, assuming she could rally the better part of the warriors of her clan, leaving only enough to protect the eyrie…

    “Three hundred warriors, from my clan alone. Perhaps more.”

    “Three hundred. And the Storm Children have perhaps one thousand eagles, at least.”

    “We can defeat these eagles and their riders.”

    “You sound quite confident in your clan’s abilities.”

    “I know my warriors, and what they can do.” Anke paused. She could count the times she had spoken so much to one person on one hand. Words were not her strong point. She preferred matters that could be settled with a simple dance of swords. “I might convince the Golden Eagles or the Falcons to join us, but not both. One won’t fight alongside the other, but both have good relations with the Reds.”

    “There is no way both would join you?”

    “No. A few warriors from each clan, maybe, will fight together, but the clan-leaders will not agree to have the clans fight alongside each other. The Golden Eagles are the larger clan, so I will go to them first.”

    Niamh seemed deep in thought, then finally gave her answer. “I will wait one month for a full-out attack. However, I will not agree to do nothing during that time. In one month’s time or less, you will bring me your winged support. Those are my terms.”

    “The Rasvan will take orders from none but me when they arrive.”

    “Very well.” The queen looked slightly annoyed. “But you will listen to my…advice and battle plans, then relay them to your people.”

    “We have our own way of operating. We will take care of the eagles, you will take care of the ground troops. Or try to.”

    “We must work in coordination.”

    “We will tackle that storm once we get to it.” She turned to leave. She heard a growl behind her, and a wolf slunk before her, barring her way. She turned to regard the queen.

    “We must work in coordination,” Niamh repeated.

    “So be it.” Anke strode around the wolf and left the tent.
     
  16. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    Mulling over the numerous reports he had, Orlan returned to the map he kept in his study. The large sheet of leather had been painted by a Cartographer from the Academy who had adjoined the return to these lands. Upon the leather was painted the outline of the Land before them, with the city in exquisite detail. All maps in Orlan's army were done to a specific set of guidelines, with a common key, and important strategic areas noted as prominently as cities.

    Daily the man would return to start working on adding in what had been mapped by the scouts and the infrequent reports from further afield, as well as details from other maps acquired. Orlan would sit and watch the man paint, each stroke of his brush made victory all the clearer. Orlan found it therapeutic.

    It was now, looking over the map he began to think again. The late hours of the night were not to be wasted; epiphanies came and went regardless of the suns position. The Shadow legion's latest word was promising, and as their scouts brought more information to Orlan's study his plans grew. Placing one finger on the map he traced out the troop maneuvers, nodding to himself.

    Suddenly there was a knock at the door to his chambers, loud on long. Composing his thoughts and putting away his more important documents he walked into the solar as the knocking continued.

    "Enter" He said loudly.

    The doors creaked open, letting in the dim light of the torches in the corridor, flanked by his personal guards was Davian, Commander of the Shadow Legion, the part of the army responsible for the darker aspects of a military force. Espionage, assassination, subterfuge, sabotage and in this case, torture.

    "I expected you sooner" Was all Orlan said to the man before proceeding to the chair by the balcony.

    Davian bowed and followed. "I thought you would want the utmost certainty Lord General"

    "Yes, and you have it?"

    "Without a doubt, Berran was hours in the chair, admitting, denying.....screaming. By the end....well the gruesome details are unnecessary, what is important is his tales of the winged people are true, not some fantasy concocted to appease us." Davian smiled that wicked smile of his.

    "The man is too much of a fool to be making it up, is he still in condition to talk?"

    Davian's eyes narrowed. "He should be, I would recommend allowing him to rest for a few days, the work could still fester if he is put to too much work."

    Shaking his head, Orlan eyed the man before him. "No, this news is important, bring him here, along with anything you need to keep him lucid and cooperative. Bring Commander Shara too, best she knew of this too."

    With a curt bow, Davian left the room swiftly, disappearing into the shadows of the night as he was renowned for. It was near and hour later when he returned with Berran. While the old king told his tale again Orlan watched his face and posture for signs of falsehood, Davian nodded and toyed with a dull knife, and Shara listened intently, as commander of the army's eagle riders she would need to help combat these Rasvan, if they ever faced them.

    Berran's eyes constantly watered, likely from pain and torment, but his face was still but for the occasional twinge of pain. Half way to the elbow his left arm was a raw ruin of bare flesh. One of his fingers had been taken off with the skin, the stump twisted and blackened. When Orlan required certainty he would have it, and nothing would stand between him and what he needed to know. Davian has stripped the skin off a bit at a time with his dull knife, with another knife, red hot, to staunch any bleeding. Seawater was also used to agitate the flesh. A strong man would buckle under that, Berran had screamed until the end.

    With his tale done, Davian escorted the former king back to his cell, leaving Orlan and Shara to converse.

    "Almost unbelievable" was the first thing she said, the 'almost' added by their mutual confidence in Davian's work.

    "How do you think our eagles will fare against them?" The main concern on Orlan's mind.

    Shara frowned, rubbed her chin once or twice before speaking. "It is hard to say until we see these creatures for ourselves. That man obviously knew very little. Its at least clear that they don’t pose a major threat, their numbers and alliances mean in the unlikely event we face them, we will overwhelm them."

    Orlan didn’t like guesses, nor unsupported confidence. "Still, we will need to work on how to combat them specifically; our current tactics are based against a ground based foe."

    "Yes, of course Lord General" She pondered again. "In practice at the Academy we would pitch one bird against another, and in mock wars both sides would always have eagles, so we are not unprepared.........We may have some in one of the supply ships, bolts for crossbows with modified heads, used for slaying enemy eagles, the head is like one designed for piercing steel, but with hooks. They go into the eagle and obstruct the flight muscles, or they tangle and shatter the wings. A few good shots can kill an enemy eagle, one should do for these winged people."

    Orlan remembered the technique, he had fought in several such mock wars, staged at the Military Academy, though they had not used them then, the principal was sound, but still, they were facing the unknown, and he needed more.

    "That should be adequate, but I will not risk mere adequacy, we will need to adapt our forces to combat these Rasvan if they come against us, we cannot risk bad shots and evasion foiling out aerial advantage, we need more."

    He didn’t wait for Shara to respond he had it already. "How many hatchlings do you have?"

    "Few at best, we brought mainly trained beasts with us, with the untrained ones to come later, we have a few hatchlings, though they are mostly just here as a precaution. Seven? I believe."

    "You are to begin training them at once, pick the strongest and fastest. We will need to train these birds to fly riderless, perhaps lead by a mounted bird. Without their riders they should be agile and fats enough to combat the winged peoples with ease."

    Shara nodded. "Without the weight of riders we may be able to add some leather armour too, and some addition to their talons to make them more formidable. It is possible, but the hatchlings will be years before they will be ready for battle. Maybe if we brought in some of the birds already in training?"

    "Yes, and send word back on the next ship to start the same on larger scale back in the homelands. I want the birds ready as soon as possible."

    "At once Lord General."

    After that he dismissed the woman and returned to his work. Each day a new layer was added to his plans, and each day they drew closer to fruition.
     
  17. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

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    It was dark when Soasan awoke. Her entire body was stiff and sore, and a faint headache pulsed behind her eyes. She opened them slowly, a brief flash of panic gripping her momentarily before the memory of her capture returned.

    She had awoken once already, but had been too exhausted to do more than accept a drink of water and fall back asleep. Thankfully, her captors had noted her exhaustion and allowed for her to continue to rest. Now, however, seemed a different matter, as she noticed the disappearance of one of her two guards. She supposed she should have felt honoured, meriting two guards, but right now she felt more like smacking something. Or crying. Or eating. Maybe all three.

    Soasan sat up, rubbing her eyes with hands bound together by a rough length of rope. Her stomach growled audibly, and she felt a flush of embarrassment. Princesses did not have growly stomachs.

    No, not Princess, she thought. Queen. Soasan sat a little taller, trying to muster some dignity before she met with any of her captors. It was only a little difficult, especially when the delicious smell of food hit her and made her mouth water uncontrollably and her stomach growl even more.

    She was being held in a little lean-to made of a wool blanket stretched from ground to tree branch, and it was from behind this curtain that the missing guard returned, along with a man carrying the source of that magnificent smell. Soasan swallowed, her eyes fixed on the homely bowl of broth the man carried in his right hand, and the loaf of bread in his left. Only as he sat down across from her did she realize it was the trait orous Storm Child who had captured her. She steeled herself against her anger, trying to remain cool and collected.

    “I command you to release me,” she said calmly, lifting her chin in defiance.

    “I am afraid I cannot do that,” the man replied, breaking off a piece of bread.

    “Than I must inform you that I will not cooperate, and there is nothing you can do to change my mind.” Soasan fought back the urge to snatch the bread away from him, if she could. The man began to eat.

    “That is a pity,” he said between bites. “Because I was hoping to have a little chat with you, maybe offer something to eat... but if you are truly set on being uncooperative, I suppose you will not take anything I offer, will you?”

    Soasan had to bite her tongue to stop herself from contradicting the last part of his statement. When she felt she had control again, she lifted her golden eyes to his.

    “I would not wish to be a burden on your humble camp,” she said sweetly. “Nor do I wish for any food at the moment. I have little hunger.” Her stomach, always a rebel, chose this particular moment to growl louder than usual.

    “So I see,” replied the man, a small quirk in the corner of his mouth. He was silent for a few moments, obviously enjoying his meal. “Now, there were several interesting things you told me when we first met,” he continued after swallowing. “But one thing you failed to mention was a name. I can't call you “Queenie” all the time, can I?”

    “'Your Highness' will do fine,” Soasan answered, ignoring his jibe. “Not that you do not know my name. Every Storm Child does.”

    “I am not a Storm Child.”

    “Oh, forgive me!” she exclaimed, eyebrows raised. “I did not realize there was a race upon this land that shared the looks of my people.” Although her words were spoken calmly, her mind races away at the thought of that possibility. Could she have really mistaken a native for one of her own? If so, she had given away much, much more than was safe. The man looked at her, silent, an unreadable expression in his golden eyes.

    “I have given you something to call me,” she began, taking advantage of his silence. “But I am afraid that I am now at a disadvantage. I still have no name for you. I cannot simply continue to call you... I believe 'Stormie' is the name given to people like you and me?”

    Soasan watched the emotions play across the man's face with a small feeling of satisfaction. Perhaps now this "little chat" would get a little more interesting.
     
  18. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Jaereth had known for some time that someone was following him.

    Well, two someones, to be precise. He had no idea, though, whether they were working together or trailing him separately.

    So the question is – who are they? Rasvan who saw a Raven, or Rasvan who saw Jaereth Andzyl? Because the answers to his questions might threaten his safety, he took steps. Accordingly, once he had landed for the night, he built a tiny fire, ate a meal, then banked it before walking a short distance back the path he had flown before. The glow of the fire should fool his pursuers into thinking that he was asleep.

    Most Rasvan, he knew, had great difficulty walking. And most Rasvan did not do much business by night, save for the Owls. He thought that perhaps the gods had not been able to breed that instinct from the Rasvan; when the sun set, birds went to sleep. They wouldn’t suspect that he was sneaking around in the dark on foot.

    He was careful not to make a sound on the rocky soil, but he needn’t have bothered; he could see his quarry lying on the ground, wrapped in his or her wings to sleep. He had to squint to make out the shape, for it seemed like another Raven. Black wings blended into the night.

    Moving quietly, he crept to the sleeping Rasvan and slammed a fist into his head. As the body slumped, he slung it over his shoulder. Only then did he notice that the Raven was a girl.

    She still hadn’t stirred by the time he’d reached his camp, grunting with effort. Lowering the girl to the ground, he rummaged about for some rope then began binding her to a nearby tree, keeping the wings restrained. As his fingers supported her head to bind her neck as well, a light metal object brushed his hand. He bent closer to look at the tiny ornament dangling from her right ear, a black-and-silver feather – a sign that she was one of the Legates of the Raven clan.

    So I’ve caught a Raven Legate – Third Legate, judging by the fact that she has only the one feather. Female, too – huh. Oh wait, there was that outrage over the girl who became Third Legate – younger than me, isn’t she? Maybe this is her. He chewed on that for a while as he kicked sand over the fire, deciding that the less the girl saw of him, the better.

    Hmm, if I hurry, I can run back and get her belongings too. Without further ado, he set off, and by the time he returned, bearing her weapons and a small pack, she had begun to wake.

    “Sun god’s b***s, but that hurt,” she swore with admirable clarity, given that he had just knocked her out an hour ago. “And you’d be Jaereth Andzyl, I assume?” He raised an eyebrow, wondering at her calm when she’d been captured by an infamous outlaw and trussed up to a tree in the dark.

    “Third Legate of the Raven Clan. What can I do with you, I wonder?”

    She laughed, a free, easy sound that rang with mirth. She’s laughing, with Jaereth Andzyl, when she’s at a distinct disadvantage. She’s crazy, arrogant beyond imagining, or just plain stupid. “Sadai Jhastin, Third Legate of the Raven Clan. If you thought to gain ransom by capturing me, I’m afraid I’ll have to disillusion you. Not many would care whether I lived or died. Most, in fact, would be happy.”

    If she already knew who he was, there was no point in concealing himself any longer. Squatting down across from her, he asked, “Why were you following me?”

    “I wanted to see what you were up to.”

    “And it did not occur to you that I might be – unhappy – at such inquisitiveness, Sadai Jhastin?” He stumbled a little at pronouncing her name, when it sounded like sa-die jas-teen; it was an unusually lyrical name for a Raven. I’ve heard the name before, but attached to someone else. Who?

    Sadai shrugged as much as her bonds allowed her. “Well, yes, it did occur to me, but my bro – my family always said that my curiosity was as insatiable as a cat’s.” Why did she change from brother to family, I wonder?

    “And you risked your life to satisfy it.”

    “I saw the Swan following you, and wondered why. Besides – I never liked Jorv or Halsad anyway.” Another piece of information to tuck away – his other pursuer was a Swan, and not in league with Sadai. At least he thought so.

    “You’re too young to remember Jorv.”

    “I remember the day they killed Keira Ronsin,” she said quietly. “I was fourteen when Jorv and his men came flying back, laughing about how the Swan girl had gotten what she deserved.” That makes her four years younger than I am – not much of a difference at all. “I remember him for the butcher he was.” The anger in her voice was evident to him, even fifty years later.

    “And Halsad?”

    Sadai laughed again. “Everyone knows Halsad took the leadership only because everyone else was too frightened to. Frightened of you, I might add. And after you killed him, well – ” She broke off yet again, and Jaereth finally fit the pieces together.

    Sadai Jhastin, Third Legate and younger sister to Malyn Jhastin, clan leader of the Rasvan. Jaereth was smiling as he stood up and loomed over the other Raven.

    “Tell me, Sadai Jhastin – what would your brother be willing to give me for your safe return?”

    Sadai did not so much as blink, but he knew he had her now. Not many would care whether I lived or died. Her brother, he thought, was not to be counted among the ‘many.’ She did not try to bluff her way out, either. A canny strategist, to know when she was defeated.

    “What do you want?” she asked steadily. “Gold? I can give you that myself. If it is to be allowed to return to the Rasvan, I can speak with my brother about it. It is more than likely that you will be allowed to do so.”

    Briefly, he toyed with the idea of taking the Raven leadership for himself, then decided against it – it was far too risky. Most Ravens would not accept him, anyway. Far better to strike a bargain with Malyn Jhastin. Although Sadai Jhastin might be Third Legate and a seasoned warrior, she was no match for Jaereth. It would be easy enough to blackmail the Raven clan leader into doing as he desired and keep Sadai as surety.

    “What I want is for the Ravens to fly to war against the Storm Children and aid Niamh Ca’ernin, Queen of the North.”
     
  19. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

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    For years Julian had brushed off the oddity of his appearance as a freak of nature, as if it didn’t bother him, but the Storm Child’s words brought back a flash of confusion and discomfort. For years he had endured jibes that claimed he was not the son of his father, that he was adopted. Others claimed he was a bastard and thus procuring his colouring as a sign of disloyalty from the gods.

    It was one of the reasons he left his household, abandoning his family and noble life for the life of a mercenary.

    “’Stormie’”, he said, “is a name we call the invaders.”

    “Invaders?! We are not invaders; we are coming home.”

    Julian snorted. “Your people then have interesting methods of homecoming.”

    “A group of my people came across the Crimson Sea fifteen years ago, in an attempt at peaceful negotiations. Before they reached land they were attacked by a fleet of the sun-haired people, and nearly destroyed.” He voice shifted between heated and regretful. “My brother was among those who died. He sacrificed himself trying to save a boy. Both were lost to the sea.”

    She continued to speak, but her words were lost to Julian as he remembered vividly the strange dreams that had haunted his sleep for as long as he could remember: the smell of salt, the feeling of a thousand pounds crashing down on him, and most of all, the sense of complete and total helplessness. Then darkness followed. Always the darkness.

    “Are you even listening to me?” The woman’s voice jerked him back to the present.

    He grit his teeth, forcing away the unwanted thoughts. “I was born and raised here. I know nothing of your people save for some details of how you fight, and how you die.”

    The young woman gave him a strange look, and finally said softly, “So you really have no idea who I am? You truly did not come with us across the ocean?”

    “Truly.”

    The woman shifted her position, then asked in a curious voice, “Your accent does sound strange to my ears, so perhaps you are telling the truth. You also speak like a noble; who are you in this land?”

    Julian gave in. “I am Julian Tranahan, though I left my home years ago. This,” he gestured around, “is my home. I live on the road, with my men, and it is a good life.”

    “Julian,” she said, as if testing it as a wine connoisseur does wine. “I am Soasan ro’Avrheini, Queen of the Storm Children and true heir to our throne.”

    “Queen. As I have given you my true name, I must assume out of respect to your honour that you speak the truth as well.” So her rave earlier on was not completely staged. He still resented being called a tr****r, however. “Pray tell, what was a queen doing, flying all by her lonesome in such condition as we found you?”

    She narrowed her eyes at that, and he braced himself for another explosion.
     
  20. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Jynariel had managed to keep calm until she was in the sky, but once she started flying, all of her rage came to the fore. Yet the sight of a Red Eagle streaking by her shook her from anger. Exchanging cold stares, Jynariel assessed her as a dangerous warrior – but unlike her, the Eagle would do her fighting in the open; she was no assassin. With a tiny nod to acknowledge another predator, she surged upwards into the sky, wondering exactly how she was supposed to fulfill this mission when her other half was gone.

    Zhirran. Brash and impulsive he might be, but he was her twin brother, her only friend and confidant. She felt strangely bereft without his presence at her side, and once again cursed Queen Niamh for sending them apart – but more than that, defeating and outwitting them.

    Nonetheless, she had sworn an oath, and she intended to keep it until the day Niamh Ca’ernin died. It never crossed her mind that she might die before Niamh did.

    All right. My mission is to gather information without getting killed. Simple enough. I’d better do most of my flying at night, though. She doubted that the eagle riders had the enhanced vision that Rasvan had; although the Owls had the best night-sight, all Rasvan could see far better in the dark than other races. Besides, she was less likely to run into the eagles this way.

    Come to think of it, she had left quite a few useful supplies in Uncle Jaereth’s house – and that was only an hour’s flight north from here. Veering off to her right, she let the wind smooth away her irritation until only resolve remained when out of the corner of her eye, she saw a red speck rising from the Northern army.

    The Red Eagle. Who can it be, I wonder? Although Red Eagles and Ravens were ancient enemies, she was curious as to who this Red Eagle was. Besides, she wasn’t technically a Rasvan anyway, given that she belonged to no clan.

    Wait… did I or didn’t I see a blue tattoo of rank on her jaw? Although Ravens wore an ornament in their ear to signify rank, she knew that the Red Eagles, at least, used tattoos, little though she might know of Rasvan custom.

    Overtaken by a sudden recklessness, she turned towards the Eagle. Perhaps she would have information that she did not. In any case, she was interested in meeting another Rasvan that she had no intention of killing – at this time, anyway.

    A few minutes of hard flight put her within hailing distance of the Eagle. Apart from raising one red eyebrow, the Eagle did not respond save to slow down her speed. “Jynariel Namadrin,” she called out.

    “You do not name a clan?”

    “The Namadrin are part of no clan.” Despite the fact that she truly did want to be part of a clan, there was a sense of pride in it as well. Most Rasvan relied on their clans to help support them. She and Zhirran lived alone, and were truly independent of inter-Rasvan politics.

    Her lip curled a little in disdain. “Anke, First Legate of the Red Eagles. What business do you have with me?”

    Jynariel smiled just a little. “How much do you know of these eagle riders?”