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. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

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    “Pray tell, what was a queen doing, flying all by her lonesome in such condition as we found you?” Soasan narrowed her eyes at this, noting – to her annoyance – that Julian seemed to brace himself, almost as if for a wind.

    “That would be a condition I am still in, thank you,” she snapped. “And seeing as we have been having this “little chat” for quite some time now, an offer of food or drink would be most appreciated!”

    "And I would appreciate a little more background on the hostage I'm about to feed, in the event that a horde of angry Stormies swarms my camp in an attempt to get you back. I don't know what scheme you have gotten yourself into, your highness, but I will wager it's a political mess I'd rather not be involved in."

    Soasan laughed, a mirthless sound.

    “You are in this mess whether you like it or not, Julian Tranahan. You look like one of us. If he finds you, he will kill you for desertion, and if not, he will kill you simply because you live here.”

    “Who is 'he'?” asked Julian, his eyes narrowed.

    “Orlan Silvermane,” Soasan replied simply. “He killed my father and now he is trying to kill me, before the nobles who still may be loyal to the royal family discover I am here.”

    Julian gave her an incredulous look as if he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing.

    “You're the queen of your people, and they don't even know you're here?”

    Soasan shrugged.

    “My father forbade me from crossing over with the soldiers. I was to remain in our land, safe, should our return fail.” She glanced up at him and flashed him a smile, her golden eyes gleaming mischievously “As you can see, I chose to disregard that order.” Her smile dimmed a bit, and she looked away.

    “I joined the army as close to the hour of departure as I dared, masquerading as a man. We lost one of the eagle riders to the sea, and I was promoted because of my size. My father also rode a great-eagle and led us in our first battle, so I was not far from him by its end. When I saw him fall, I ran to him. Only the people nearby discovered I was a woman. I was dirty, I was smelly, and I was dressed in soldier’s clothes and covered in blood. Even if they realized I was a woman, how many men would think I was the princess? To me, it seems more rational to think that one would have believed I was simply some mistress brought along, or a love-sick woman. Regardless, Orlan hid my presence from the rest of the nobles without my knowledge. To those that heard me call the king 'father' I know not what happened. I only realized something was wrong when his men tried to capture me as I walked among the army. He had murdered my father who lay wounded in his bed, and he wanted to me to assume complete control over the army. Even before, he could exert great power over the army as its general, and from what I have seen of him, his ambition knows no limits. Regardless, I do not truly know if it is him who is behind all this. My source was… delusional.”

    Soasan banished the memory of her last encounter with Torren, his life draining with terrifying speed from his broken body as she interrogated him. A wave of hopelessness washed over her. She was alone in a hostile land, with no allies to speak of. Everyone had failed her, and now she, in turn, was failing everyone.

    “All we wanted was to come home,” she said in a small voice. “We just wished for a chance to live.”

    There was a moment of silence, and Julian shifted uncomfortably.

    “Soasan... would you care for something to eat?”

    Soasan looked up, surprised.

    “That,” she said slowly, “would be most appreciated.”
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2006
  2. Senekha

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

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    ”The Namadrin are part of no clan.” Anke curled her lip in disgust. There were several such families of Rasvan, living apart from the clans. It was selfish and foolish, as Anke saw it. They were those who gave the Rasvan their bad name among the earthbound, making their living from the scraps the earthbound gave them.

    But then again, she herself had deviated from the norm in personally taking to the fight against the invaders. As first legate her duties were only to her clan-leader, with whom she should be with always. However, her clan-leader, Jaktin, and she had come to an agreement, of sorts. He had not specifically given her permission to leave, but he had made it known that her leave-taking would be duly ignored, should she return within the year.

    Anke looked hard at Jynariel. “Follow me,” she said emotionlessly, and without looking to see if she was followed, she turned to land. Nearby was a rocky crest overlooking the surrounding lands, and it was there that Anke landed.

    She heard the other Rasvan land softly behind her, but waited several moments before turning around. As she turned, she leveled her gaze on the Raven – rather, the rebel Raven, for no one outside the clan could truly be called a Raven. She waited for Jynariel to speak.

    “What can you tell me of the eagle riders?” she repeated.

    “What do you want to know?”

    The Raven’s answering grin was hard and fierce. “How they die, for one.”

    Anke shrugged. “They die as easily as all men do. I’ve killed over a dozen myself.”

    The girl sighed and rolled her eyes in an exaggerated manner, and she suppressed the urge to challenge the Raven. Anke held back a satisfied grin at the girl’s response. “Specifics, Anke. I need specifics. More to the point, how can groundwalkers kill them?”

    “Why do you care so much about whether the earthbound live or die? You could leave if you are frightened of these invaders.”

    Rage flashed in her face before an icy mask settled over her features. Oddly, her black eyes had grown streaked with silver and blue; it was quite a disconcerting sight. “Big birds don’t frighten me. Besides, we swore an oath and we’ll keep it.”

    So that’s why the girl was at Ca’ernin’s camp. But… why we and not I? Tucking the question into the back of her mind for now, she said, “Why did you swear an oath to Niamh Ca’ernin?”

    “It’s a long story.”

    Anke stared at her for a moment, then said, “It’s your own business, but it’s a disgrace for Rasvan to serve groundwalkers. You should just kill her and be done with it.”

    “An oath is an oath.”

    Anke shrugged again. “You said you wanted specifics. Stormies – ”

    “What?”

    “Storm Children,” she clarified. When the Raven stared at her blankly, she said, “You didn’t even know what they were called?”

    “We haven’t seen another Rasvan in weeks,” Jynariel said, “and the Children of the Sun know next to nothing of these invaders.”

    We again. “Their general should not be underestimated,” she warned. “He’s a cunning opponent, and what’s more, he has the advantage of numbers. They have double the men of the Children of the Sun, if not more. I don’t know how good a general Ca’ernin is, but were I she, I’d seek another land and flee.”

    Abruptly, the answer to her question came up. Namadrin, Namadrin – it’s whispered that there’s two of them, the girl and her twin brother Zhirran. Why isn’t he with her? She continued, “They use weapons of all kinds, light ones – a good arrow could kill any of them. A Traian longbow would work – or the Southern armies of the Children of the Sun. As for Rasvan, I wouldn’t close in, not unless you’ve got another twenty Rasvan with you.” Anke had rarely spoken so many words to so many people as she had in the past several days. Shaking her head, so made a mental note that she should return to her clan soon, if only to speak with her clan-leader.

    Jynariel nodded. “Are you going to ally with Niamh?”

    “We’ll see.” And that, Anke felt, was enough information for the Raven. She might be outcast, but Ravens and Red Eagles didn’t have the best of relations anyhow. “Good luck, Jynariel Namadrin.”

    “Fair skies and clean winds,” Jynariel responded with the archaic farewell.

    “And the same to you.” And with that, Anke lifted off into the sky.
     
  3. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    "perhaps it was the damp" Davian concluded to himself, looking over the madness in front of him, never wavering for a second.

    On the floor of the dank cell, against the wall, Berran lay, the blood covered flesh of his hand sprawled to one side. He was deathly pale and shaking, vomit trailing from the corner of his mouth, pooling around his head. The only sign that he was alive was the slow steady rise of his chest and the tears running across his deathly face.

    His wound had taken a fever, the camp surgeon had done little, as little could be done, washing his hand in boiling wine, usage of some of the stock of medicines, but it seemed berran had given up the will to live. Orlan couldnt blame him, but he was still dissapointed.

    Davian snorted, the air in the room was foul. "The last compresensible mutters he made are in a report on your desk Lord General, he was a useful source but now he's finally cracked" A smile blossomed on his face. "Usually theyre uselss after this, only real torment can shake them back from madness, though its a rarety. I would love to try though."

    As twisted as Davian was when it came to his work, he was immensely useful. However, Orlan did see one last use for berran to fulfill before he was done with him. Then the man's pitiful existence could be ended, to the pleasure of all.

    "Do your worst, but keep him alive"

    He swept from the room then, to see to his errands.

    -------------------------

    Today Orlan had to see to the inspection of several quarters of the city, his personal command of the army never ceased. A good general always knew his men as well as his enemy. A great general never forgot a thing.

    Surrunded by his personal guard, he rode down the cobbled streets on horseback, keeping an eye out for the mood in the air. Here and there soldiers wandered the streets, carrying equipment or running in haste, somewhere else they trained in a yard.

    Despite having the majority of his men stationed within the city walls, he made no room for idleness. Training was the mainstay of the soldiers day, besides administrative work and fortifying the defences, in the recreational time they were left with, it was strongly encouraged that they played Conquest, to sharpen their minds. However not all soldiers were as keen as that. a passing glance in an alley revealed a footsoldier and a female eagle-rider exploring alternative means of entertainment.

    Ahead the docks were heaving with men. Today another ship had arrived from the homland carrying supplies and reinforcements. The slow trickle of support making their victory ever more certain.

    Orlan decided to exend his inspection to the ship and its cargo, trotting his horse down to the gangplank and dismounting.

    On first inspecion there was an array of indistinguishable boxes, climbing up to the deck Orlan approached the captain.

    "Lord General!" the man saluted, Orlan put him to ease with a nod.

    "What cargo are we unloading today captain?"

    Blinking the pan produced a roll of parchment from under his arm and unrolled it, hanind it to Orlan to be read, yet he recited the contents as well.

    "horse armour for newly aquired mounts from this land; three crates. Arrows, bolts and darts, Five crates. Assorted oils, candles and tools; Two crates. Two ingots of high grade steel, four of iron. We also have an abundance of dried fruit and meats, casts of liquers and wines. those are going up to the palace immediately my lord."

    Orlan nodded along blocking out the rest, a glance at the sky showed the sun creeping down from its apex, he had an appointment to keep.

    Slapping the captain on the shoulder with a heavy hand Orlan nodded tot he man. "Good work, see personally to the delivery of your goods to the palace, I hope you will join me in testing out the new vintages you'e brought us." It always paid to reward good soldiers.

    After that Orlan retured tot he streets, making a quick ride north to the city gatehouse, officially to inspect the newly added fortifications and reinforcements made to the walls. In truth Orlan had paid close attention to their consturction since day one, another visit would be pointless, today he was going to do something else.

    Within the gatehouse, up the stairs in the winch room for the portcullis, Assian, Orlan's squire awaited. He looked nervous, orlan was dissapointed.

    "I take it you havent found her yet."

    "No my Lord"

    "And why is that?"

    "She made it into an isolated forest some distance away, there we lost her. Several of my patrols went missing as well as eagles under my command. It seems the place is a nest of vipers, guerillas from the nature of the attacks."

    The boy was observant and sharp, of that at least, Orlan was pleased.

    "What are the chances that the princess has been slain by these guerillas?"

    Assian paused a moment. "Now very likely, but it may explain why my patrols were unable to find her."

    "Dead or alive, find her, Falure will not be tolerated. Orlan left then.

    ---------------------------





    As the sun set Orlan enjoyed the sweet wine brought up from the docks, a small taste of home. The captain had since retred back to his lodgings and Orlan, Shara and Davian stood around the courtyard.

    Davian smiled with satisfaction.

    Shara was stuck somewhere between a frown and revulsion. Eyes narrowed. "What......Is this?"

    "A message" Orlan commented, turning to enter the palace. "Send it"
     
  4. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Surprisingly, Sadai Jhastin proved to be a pliant captive. She did as she was ordered and bore the restrictions Jaereth placed on her with good humor. She did, however, draw the line at providing information on her brother. Jaereth supposed that she knew that he might one day use it to kill Malyn Jhastin.

    Although he had considered forcing her to talk, he had for some reason balked at raising his hand to a girl near ten years younger than he was. You’ve grown sentimental, some voice inside him whispered. Time was that you wouldn’t have cared who you hurt.

    Their progress was slow; he dared not bind her arms or legs if they were to fly, and it would be all too easy for her to flee in the air unbound. So they walked. Sadai was unused to walking so much, and frequently stumbled or caught her wings on the bushes. Jaereth, who had trained himself to be as adept on the ground as the air, had far less trouble, and often had to slow his pace for his captive.

    Sadai made not a single attempt to escape or to kill him. Perhaps she was wise enough to know when she was outmatched, for she never did anything that could be taken as remotely threatening. She answered his questions to the best of her knowledge, and he sometimes asked questions that he knew the answers to, to see if she was being honest. He never caught her in a lie.

    Yet if he asked something that might pertain to Malyn, she shut her mouth and refused to even look at him. The moment he changed the subject, she started talking again, but on this, she held firm.

    It took them five days of hard travel to reach Raven lands, and during that time, he learned far more of the Ravens than he had ever known. Jorv and Halsad had been terrible leaders, but Malyn, while no genius, was a good clan-leader. The Ravens had grown from a clan of roving thugs to a disciplined one of warriors. It helped that all three of his Legates were personally loyal to Malyn; when Sadai mentioned the other two’s names, he recognized both as strong opponents to Jorv.

    More importantly, Sadai told him that Ravens had already sighted the eagle-riders and that Malyn was calling a meeting to discuss it. Jaereth, determined to make their decision for them, pushed Sadai to her limits to make it there in time.

    Along the way, he sent silent prayers of apologies to the wraith of Keira Ronsin. Had everything gone as planned, he would have been able to observe the full one-month rites. Still, the rest of her family was there to do so –

    They aren’t the ones who killed her.

    Jaereth stuffed that thought into the back of his mind and kept walking.

    The night before they reached Raven lands, he asked Sadai as to how they would react towards him. “You’d do better to send a message to my brother,” she said after a moment. “I’ll write it out for you.”

    “Why are you being so unusually cooperative?” he asked warily. There was a faint possibility that she could code her letter, asking for help.

    “Because the Ravens are likely to sit on their hands and do nothing, and we can’t afford that,” was the surprising answer. “Eagle riders attacking the Children of the Sun? I couldn’t care less about your Queen Niamh, but what will they do afterwards? The Rasvan are too few to battle them all, especially when we’re estranged by our constant conflicts.”

    “Heh.” He could tell that Sadai was telling the truth. “And Malyn?”

    Sadai sighed. “I love my brother and I’ll give him all my loyalty, but in some ways, he’s blind. He’s likelier to leave the Twenty-four kingdoms to their fate.”

    “And if I threatened to kill you?”

    “You wouldn’t do that.”

    He had a knife out and at her throat before she could blink. “Make no mistake, Sadai Jhastin. You’re an interesting girl, and I’d regret killing you, but I’d do it without a second thought if it was necessary.”

    He could tell that that shook Sadai; perhaps she had not expected that he would willingly kill another Rasvan for the sake of a Child of the Sun. “I quite understand,” she said in a steadier voice than he had expected. “I’ll write that letter if you’ll give me ink and parchment.”

    Malyn,
    To make a long story short, I’ve been captured by Jaereth Andzyl, and he’s holding me hostage. He wants the Ravens to fly to Niamh Ca’ernin and fight those eagles we’ve been hearing about. I know that it has never been our wont to do so, but we must fly Lukylo’s winds and do as Jaereth advises, for at the end of the long battle is the burning river.
    Sadai


    “Lukylo’s winds and burning river are two of our codewords,” she explained. “Malyn would be upset if I told you, but invoking both together mean that the entire clan is in trouble, and I gave him the instructions to avert disaster for the Ravens.”

    He nodded. “I’m sorry, but I’ll have tie you up again while I deliver the message.”

    She shrugged resignedly. “Whatever’s necessary, I suppose.”

    After securing her bonds to a tree, he took off with the message. Slipping past the guards with ease, he went directly to the clan-leader’s cave. He knew where it was, after all, given that he had assassinated its two previous occupants.

    The Ravens were asleep, but Malyn was awake. When Jaereth entered the room, he said without turning around, “What is it, Aya?”

    “Don’t make a sound,” Jaereth warned. “I’ve got a knife pointed straight at you, and you’re nowhere near good enough to take me on your own.” He paused. “Put your hands up in the air, then turn around.”

    Stunned, Malyn did as he ordered. “Jaereth Andzyl?” he asked, all color draining from his voice.

    “Yes. I’ve got a message for you.” He read it aloud to him.

    “Lukylo’s winds and burning river?”

    “Yes. Sadai explained what those mean, so you’d better do what I tell you. Now you’re coming with me, and you can talk to Sadai yourself. Don’t try anything funny,” he said as they took off in the air.

    “I value my sister’s life too much for that,” Malyn said stiffly, and then only a few minutes later, they had landed in the clearing.

    Sadai was smiling when they reached her. “Hail, brother,” she said, sounding cheerful. “Did Jaereth read you my note?”

    “Yes.” He moved a little closer to Sadai, but she said, “Don’t do that. I’m fine, and Jaereth’s treated me kindly. I’d rather not die now because you’re too close to me.”

    Malyn nodded and drew back. “So you think I should do as Jaereth wants?”

    “Yes. Not because he’s threatening to kill me, but because the Rasvan could be annihilated if we don’t do as he says.”

    “Then I’ll do it. My other two Legates want to go to war anyway.” He turned to Jaereth then. “We’ll be there in a week’s time.”

    “That’s fine. You’d better go back now,” he added. Well, that was easier than I’d expected. I guess Malyn wanted to go to war himself, and he just needed an excuse.

    “What about Sadai?”

    “She comes with me,” he said at the same time Sadai said, “I’m going with him.”

    Both of them turned to her in surprise. “What?”

    “I said I’m going with you,” Sadai said calmly. “My brother will need a report on these invaders, and as Third Legate, I’m qualified to do that.”

    “Then I have your word that you won’t try to kill me?”

    Sadai shrugged. “Why would I try to kill you? I don’t want to die yet, myself.”

    Malyn seemed unhappy. “Is this what you’re determined to do, Sadai?” he asked.

    “Yes, brother.” She stared at Jaereth then. “Well, do you trust me enough to release me?”

    Jaereth crossed to Sadai and squatted beside her, his blade cutting through her bonds. Rubbing her wrists with her hands, she said, “You’d better get back before anyone notices you’re gone, Malyn.”

    With a short jerk of his head, Malyn flew off without further ado. Sadai stared after him. “That was easier than I’d expected,” she said at last. Walking to her packs, she picked up her weapons as Jaereth stiffened. But all she did was sling them over her back, and he relaxed.

    “Oh, and by the way,” she said as Jaereth gathered up his own belongings, “that girl who was trailing you came to visit me while you were gone. Her name’s Sahira Ronsin, and she’s out to kill you.”
     
  5. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    When they found him, the greatwolves Courage and Terror were the first to start howling, and the snowcat Patience added his peculiar shriek to the din only moments later. As Niamh had been busy in a conference with Mhari, Aoife, and Haldan, Prince Anran had ridden ahead to investigate, and galloped back with a gray face. Excusing herself, she went to go find Anran and ask him what was wrong.

    Unable to shake a coherent answer from him, she whistled for Truth and Seer and touched her heels to Smoke. Courage, Terror, and Patience finally quieted when they scented her, and rubbed their heads against her when she dismounted.

    Niamh was stunned when she saw what was left of what had once been a human being. The only reason why she was able to identify the mangled wreck was because of the crown – and even then, it was uncertain. About the only thing she could be sure of was that Berran of Somerind needed a healer. “Courage, find Cerwyn,” she said, staring at the wolf in the eye. “Where’s Cerwyn? Find Cerwyn.”

    Repeating the command several times, he finally understood and with a pleased yip, bounced off. All of her beasts knew the healer, and the acerbic woman held a curious affection for Niamh’s creatures. Courage would bring Cerwyn soon enough.

    Glancing down to examine Berran, she wished she hadn’t. Berran’s arms were stripped of skin and nailed together, with the lower half of his body ripped to shreds and bone so that he was barely more than a torso. He was a morass of scars and opened flesh, and for the crowning touch – she winced as she realized the grotesque pun in that – they had nailed his crown to his head.

    She realized that there was very little that even Cerwyn could do, and crouched down beside Berran, trying to ignore the putrid stench rising from his body. “Niamh,” he managed to croak. “Listen.”

    She only nodded, trying not to say things like, You’re dying, Berran.

    “Somerind – captured. Enemies. Orlan. Storm Children.” His eyes were flickering open and closed. “Army – outnumbers you two to one. Have eagles. Well-planned, well-led. Should run, Niamh. Better to run before Orlan – ” He stopped to wheeze a little, and Niamh wished that she dared to give him water. “ – catches you. Invading Amryn is – challenge for him. But Amryn – home for his army. Storm Children – were here long ago. Read histories – learn.”

    She couldn’t resist asking the one question. “The Storm Children were here long ago, and then they sailed across the sea? And now they’re coming to claim our land for their own?”

    “’S.” The almost childlike shortening of “yes” angered Niamh, for some reason. “I – was only message. Only lesson. You – he captures. Dunno what he wants.”

    “How much did you tell him?”

    “Everything.” He looked pleadingly at her. “So sorry. But had to.”

    To tell the truth, she couldn’t blame him at all. Anyone would have broken under the torture he had been put to. On the other hand, Berran, as King of Somerind, knew quite a bit, and it would give this Orlan access to information that she would rather he didn’t have. Even worse, Somerind was one of the centers of trade in the Western Kingdoms.

    She supposed that she was lucky that the Western people knew little about either the Rasvan or the Traian. Orlan’s knowledge of Amryn would have more than a few gaps in it. But Berran’s knowledge of the Twenty-four Kingdoms could be disastrous.

    “Go beyond mountains,” he whispered. “Safer there. Better to run away. He said – ‘Tell them that you’re a message.’ ”

    “What message?”

    “Dunno. Interpretation – is up to you, I think.” He started wheezing again. “Want to rest now.”

    She nodded. One last question before I leave him to the long night. “Who did this to you?”

    “Davian. Orlan’s orders.”

    “You will be avenged,” she promised him, holding the dying man’s hand as his breath slowed. “Go in peace.”

    By the time Cerwyn came, Berran of Somerind was dead.
     
  6. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    Cool air rushed over her as the land passed below, bathed in the shadows of early morning. Here and there patches of golden light flowed over the mountains giving the world a quiet serenity.

    Shara could feel the sense of belonging in this place, it was their home after all, even if they had fled long ago, now was their homecoming.

    Valour, her Great eagle, screeched at the rising sun, and the cry was eachoed behind her by dozens of other birds. Far away over the ocean the rest of her flock were on manouvers, training new brids and new riders, both hatchlings raised as one. it was beautiful.

    But this day her mind was on other things, the Lord General had set her a goal, and it was not in her to disobey Orlan, since her first assignment to the then Commander she had grown reliant and trusting in his competence and skill, adn whatever regrets she had about leaving the army she knew there was good reason for it.

    that reason lay within her bags, a sealed note on parchment, that could put the last nail in the coffin of this land's weak peoples. the contents burned into her memory.

    Angling her formation she set the mountains clear in her sight and continued, Valour crying once more into the morning breeze, like the mighty herald he was.
     
  7. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Jynariel was in a quandary. On the one hand, Niamh had ordered her to go spy on the Storm Children, but on the other, she needed to know these new developments. For that matter, so did Zhirran.

    Without really thinking about it, she turned back and flew towards Niamh’s encampment. Ignoring the growls of the greatwolves, she slipped inside Niamh’s tent. Though the queen had her back to her, she said, “I thought I told you to go get me an eagle, Jynariel.”

    She swallowed the retort that rose to her lips and said, “The Legate Anke gave me some information that you need to know.” She quickly reiterated everything the Red Eagle had told her.

    “Anke has promised to try and bring her clan,” Niamh told her. “Are you close enough to any of the Ravens to encourage them to come as well?”

    Jynariel shook her head. “I could ask my uncle, but…”

    “It wouldn’t do any good. Your brother has half a day on you; can you catch up with him?”

    “Yes.”

    “Fly south and give him this message to give to Prince Khai. Destroy the old one. The plans have changed. Everything is written on that.” She placed a capsule in her hand. “Then I want you to find your uncle Jaereth and tell him what’s been happening.”

    “If I may, I would like a longbow,” she said. “I want to see if Anke was telling the truth about those eagle-riders.”

    Niamh nodded. “Go to the armsmaster and ask for one. Tell him that you are an ally, not that you’ve sworn allegiance to me. It could cause… complications… if it is known that I have Rasvan in my service.”

    Jynariel herself wanted to avoid being linked with the murder of Vor. “As you wish.”

    “Yes. I know.” Lukylo, but she’s as arrogant as a Rasvan, she thought.

    She bent her head in acknowledgment, and then left the tent. Finding the armsmaster, she asked for a longbow. Testing several, she found one suited to her weight, and then picked out another for her brother. Shouldering both and a quiver of arrows, she launched into the sky again.

    Zhirran, she knew, had the same stamina she did, but she was sure that she could catch up with him if she flew at night as well. She was, however, surprised when she caught up with him before the sun set.

    “I’m not going to go out of my way to do Niamh any favors,” he growled when she asked. “If the bitch wants me to serve, I’ll serve… but I won’t do it well.”

    “Zhirran, don’t be such a fool,” she said impatiently. “It’s either her or them, and I think I prefer her.”

    He looked at her, uncertainty in his gaze. “So you think that we should really serve her?”

    “Yes.”

    “But – ”

    “What’s more, I bet Uncle Jaereth feels the same – he’s served Niamh all these years, hasn’t he?”

    “I guess so.”

    “Well, then.” Zhirran would do what she told him to do; he led during missions, but he listened when she spoke. “Oh, and you’ll want to take this bow.” She told him everything that had passed between Anke and her, repeating it verbatim.

    Zhir seemed unhappy, but Jynariel didn’t particularly care. “Fly safe, sister,” he said.

    “And you too.”

    “Always.”

    She left again, starting to feel a little tired from all the talking she had done today. She would go, she thought, to Uncle’s house first, and then try to find him by chasing after rumors. It was difficult to track a Rasvan, for they left no trace of their passage in the air. It would be near-impossible to track down Jaereth.

    But attempting the near-impossible was what she had been trained for, after all.

    With a sigh, Jynariel flew on as a crimson sun set and left the land in darkness.
     
  8. Senekha

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

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    Lyshin, clan-chief of the Red Eagle clan, stood on the edge of the precipice of his eyrie, shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun with one hand. The storms that had heralded the coming of those from across the sea had ended a fortnight before, but this sunrise brought with it the first sky since the storm that was utterly devoid of clouds. For a Rasvan, this was a fortunate omen.

    It was also the first clear sky since his first-legate, Anke, had left on some notion that information must be gathered of these invaders. Today was the day she had agreed to report back her findings, and from the rumours of earthbound riding great eagles, Lyshin was eager to hear what Anke had to say.

    Other of his clan had ventured out to catch a glimpse of these riders, but by Lyshin’s orders had never come within eyesight of the riders. Of course, this meant that very little information was garnered through their occasional outings, but Lyshin would not risk a rider to discover the location of his eyrie.

    It was unconventional, having any of his three legates leave the eyrie, let alone the first-legate. But then again, Lyshin was not a conventional clan-leader. He allowed the training of women as warriors, which generally was frowned upon by most Rasvan. However, he had seen what the results of such a warrior could be in his first-legate, and he was willing to earn the scorn of the other clan-leaders for the possibility of training another the likes of Anke.

    Standing on the precipice, Lyshin was the first to notice a grey-winged Rasvan flying low against the tree tops, approaching the eyrie. It was an Owl, Lyshin noted as the Rasvan flew closer; Owls rarely ventured to the mountain peaks, though when they did they were welcomed. The Owl flew directly towards Lyshin, and when he alighted he bowed his head in welcome.

    “Clan-leader Lyshin, I am Garian of the lowland Owls. I speak for one who seeks your audience, and I would not divulge the location of your eyrie.”

    “And you will bring me to a meeting place.”

    “Yes. It’s not far, in the forests of the northern foothills of this region. I can take you there as soon as you are ready.”

    “I am ready now. But tell me, who is it that wishes to speak with me?”

    Garian paused, then said, “It is one who came from the sea. And officer or their army.”

    “One of the invaders? Garian, what business do the Owls have with these invaders?”

    “You know we accept any who seek our counsel. We are a peaceful clan.” He rushed to continue. “I took all precautions with this one. He was blindfolded before I led him to the meeting place, and will not find it again.”

    “I see.” What could a foreign soldier want with a Rasvan clan-chief? “Take me to him.”
     
  9. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

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    She had been with Julian’s group of Children of the Sun for two days now. Two days, at least, since she had awoken. Naturally, none of the others trusted her, not even Julian, as far as she could tell. She still had her wrists and ankles bound each night before she was allowed to sleep, and when she was not restrained in that such manner she was under constant surveillance. Granted, she was allowed a small amount of privacy when relieving herself, but…

    Soasan stalked through the forest, muttering angrily to herself. The soldiers always complained about her dragging them out so far from camp just to “make water”, but she didn’t want the possibility of anyone seeing. It was bad enough on the ship. She didn’t want to remember those months.

    Sighing, she looked up to the stars. It was a fairly clear night, but dark. It was the night of the new moon. She was just about to turn away when she notice an odd shadow floating across the stars. Floating very quickly across the stars. Floating very quickly in a dark, birdlike shape.

    “Bloody feis.”

    Soasan whirled around, darting through the trees. The sentry called out to her, his voice startled and angry, but she ignored him. There was only one thing running through her mind at the moment: assassin. It was a common tactic of the Storm Children to choose a moonless night for assassinations. A single rider would drop down from an eagle’s back, eliminate the target and slip out the camp by foot before anyone noticed. It was an effective method, for the commander, at least. The assassin wasn’t always quite so lucky.

    She could hear the heavy breathing of the sentry closing in on her as she scarcely escaped his grasp. She called over her shoulder, “Your commander’s in danger!” but he didn’t seem to hear, or at least understand. She had nearly reached the camp when she saw a slim figure dart into Julian’s tent. She paused for a moment, and strong arms encircled her, ceasing her flight. She wrenched an arm free, snatched the dagger from his belt, and hurled it through the now closing flap of the tent. The sentry let out a startled cry and threw her to the ground, pinning her as the second sentry raced past them and into Julian’s tent.

    “You’re going to die for this, wench,” he growled as he roughly bound her wrists to her ankles in a most uncomfortable position.

    “You bastard! I was saving him! Saving him, you big feisin’…oxe, beast, THING! I was-” Her words were choked off as a big, meaty hand clamped over her mouth. Infuriated by the whole situation, Soasan did the first thing that came to her mind: she bit. Hard.

    Her captor let out a tremendous roar, and clouted her over the head. It was at that moment that Julian’s voice cried out, “HALT!”

    When the stars cleared from her vision, she looked slowly around the camp, noticing with a hollow feeling in her stomach just how many men were awake and watching the spectacle. She glanced over at the tent and breathed a sigh of relief. Julian stood holding the body of the dead Storm Child assassin by the collar.

    Soasan glared up at the sentry, who was nursing his hand.

    “Unhand me, you feisin’ oaf!” she spat. The sentry shot a questioning glance at Julian, who nodded. With what seemed an air of reluctance, the sentry untied the cruelly (in her mind, at least) tight bonds.

    Julian tossed the body of the Storm Child in front of him, the hilt of the sentry’s dagger embedded clearly visible in the man’s shoulder.

    “This,” said Julian quietly, “is what our captive caught. A Stormie captive. The queen of the Stormies, in fact. This prissy, little, pampered, untrained child noticed what my entire camp of battle-hardened, elite warriors did not.” He paused for what had to be dramatics, and then said, “How does that make you feel?” Soasan thought she saw his lip twitch in amusement, but that couldn’t be right, seeing the seriousness of the situation.

    Just when she had imagined it, the twitch turned into an unmistakable smirk. “Perhaps I should recruit Soasan as my bodyguard. She quite has the physique for it.”

    “Don’t mock me! I just saved your life!” she screamed. “Feisin’ idiot.”

    “No, truly, I really do admire your physique.” Several men snickered.

    Her eyes narrowed. “How can you be laughing at a time like this? You…” then the situation dawned on her. “You… lecher!” She stormed away in a huff, returning to her lean-to. She sat down with folded arms, scowling a moment to herself. Then, unconsciously smoothing her hair and clothes, Soasan hid a small smile.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2007
  10. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    “We need to scout ahead and find out what the situation is,” Niamh said crisply, ignoring Mhairi’s half-voiced protests. “I’m the logical one to do it, since the wolves will obey me best.”

    “What should the rest of us do, then?” Aoife asked.

    “Wait until Kerith and the South come, and the East too, for that matter. Retreat back where you won’t be discovered, spy on them using specialist units, run the occasional guerilla attack… you know the drill.”

    “Anran and the others won’t like it.”

    “They don’t have to like it. I’m taking twelve companies of Queen’s Riders with me.” Queen’s Riders were the most versatile of the mounted units, and favored light, speedy horses to chargers. They would be ideal for navigating the West’s hills.

    “Twelve hundred men, known mostly for their archers, scouts, horsemen… and the occasional light fighting. If you’re discovered by the Storm Children… to put it bluntly, nothing will save your ass. I won’t support you in this idiocy.”

    Niamh stopped her pacing and stared her sister down. Though they were all nearly of a height, she still had a finger’s length on her, and she used it. “I, not you, am the eldest daughter of the Ca’ernin line, and queen of Sianna, Aoshi, and Mawr, and Queen-Regent of Kyria. When I am dead, you and Mhairi will be… but until then, I will have your loyalty.”

    Aoife’s eyes blazed at that; Niamh had never needed to remind her before that though they were sisters, she could and would demand their allegiance and loyalty. But Mhairi laid a restraining hand on her arm. That Aoife did not shake it off and turn her fierce anger on her twin was a good sign.

    “You do what you think is best, sister,” Mhairi said, her soft voice placating. “Aoife was only concerned for you, that’s all.”

    Then I suggest that she learn to express her concern in a less offensive way. She bit back the words, though; Aoife was her sister, after all, and she did care for her.

    “I apologize for my words, my queen,” Aoife said, the submissive words sounding stiff and awkward in her mouth; she was a proud woman. “I’ll pick out your companies myself.”

    Niamh was more than capable of making her own selection, but this, not her words, was Aoife’s real apology. “It would be much appreciated,” she said.

    As the youngest of the three sisters left the tent, she looked at Mhairi. “I’ll watch her,” Mhairi promised. “Now come back safe.”

    Niamh nodded. “I expect to be back within a moon, and if not, I’ll send one of the wolves to you.”

    “Speaking of which, who are you taking?”

    “The snowcats will stay – we’ll have to move fast, and they don’t have the stamina to keep up. Out of the wolves… Truth, Rage, Sorrow, and Seer. They understand my commands best.”

    “Go safely, Niamh,” Mhairi said after an interval of silence.

    Niamh gave her a wry smile. “Always, sister. Stay safe.”

    Before either of them could get overly sentimental, she strode out to her wolves and cats. “Stay here, with Mhairi and Aoife,” she ordered, knowing that she would be obeyed; she had commanded them to ride with her sisters before. “Truth, Rage, Sorrow, and Seer – with me.” Turning on her heel, she went to the lines of horses, looking for the mare that she rode when with Queen’s Riders. Bane, a bay, followed her readily enough when she whistled for it.

    Aoife had already assembled her twelve companies, and Niamh was pleased with her choice; all of them were loyal, willing to listen to her orders, and had served with her before. Mounted on light-footed horses, the rest of the cavalry often referred to them as the ‘Fairies,’ but the truth of the matter was that the Fairies made up more than half of the North’s mounted units. Their steep mountains were far more treacherous than the East’s plains or the South’s desert, and the West’s hills would be no challenge for them.

    The Fairies had no shiny steel armor, but rather leather reinforced here and there with chain mail, and their weapons were limited to a short horse-bow, a long-bow, and a close-combat arm of some sort. Many carried spears rather than a sword, since a long sword would weigh too much, and a spear was more useful while mounted in any case. Still, all of the horses had been trained to fight, so they would be more than prepared if attacked by ground units.

    Aoife had already briefed them on the mission, and the twelve captains tossed off a salute as she rode towards them. Drawing them aside, she said, “This is not a game, and we are not in there for a battle. We’re riding into the West to gather information, maybe make a few raids, and then we’re getting the hell out of there. Understood?”

    The youngest one nodded. “Yes, my queen. Don’t worry, the princess Aoife chose us because we’re Sneak Fairies.” At her blank look, he clarified, “We’re known for our ability to move undetected, even in large numbers. Although we have twelve hundred men, no one will notice us. My queen.”

    “I am not your queen anymore; I am only your commander until we return. And as your commander, I am asking if you are certain that you want to go through with me. This will be very dangerous.”

    One of the older ones snorted. “Begging your pardon, commander, but this will be a stroll compared to some of the other runs we’ve had to do – anyone remember the Arjuni incident?”

    Niamh did; she had rewarded the survivors for their courage. To be a survivor of the Arjuni Battle was to be given full honors.

    “Most of us are veterans of battles along those lines,” he said. “We’ll be fine.”

    Niamh nodded. “Then let’s move out.” This time, she would not ride at the head, but in the middle; the real professionals would take point. As she nudged her horse into the center of the column, she saw Aoife and Mhairi both raise their hands in a salute. As she inclined her head to them, acknowledging their gesture, she turned around and thus avoided making eye contact with Prince Anran, who was staring after her with a heartbroken expression on his face.
     
  11. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    “I must have certainty.”

    Davian strode over to the fireplace and shed his coat. “The message came from Aldera, one of my own from the academy, certainty is assured. Their first move has been made.” The man exhaled in the form of a laugh, all the while toying with his stub of a beard. Davian was a man of passion, he loved his office, his work, he even loved his prisoners and their screams, his fingers itched to return to work but he kept his peace, Orlan would have it no other way.

    Over a thousand light troops crossing into the region not more than a day ago, finally their net had caught something worth his attention. Either the advanced attack or a reconnoitre it made no difference. If his taking of the city had been one message, and Berran the second, it was time to assure that he would be misunderstood no more.

    “Have the lords assembled.”

    Davian smiled. “Are we attacking at last?”

    “No.”



    Time had passed, and deep in the centre of Berran’s palace the lords and generals of the Storm Child army mingled in what had become their war room. Ahead lay Orlan’s great map and to the sides servants stood ready.

    When they had all assembled and lowered their voices. Orlan entered the room and listened. The silence began to grow thick as he strode to his map.

    “Gentlemen” he said at last. “The shadow legion have informed us that a host of enemy troops have entered the hills bordering this region.” He waved, and a sevant brought him a cup, but before they could pour he shook his head. Delicately he placed the silver cup down on the map. “Here. This is where they entered, likely thinking to take this route through the hills and to our city.”

    There were mutters from the oblique, most kept their mouths closed and their brows furrowed. Orland continued.

    “It will take them days to cross through the hills, longer if they seek to take us unawares.” He smiled, hushing the room once more. “It is time for the campaign to begin. We shall give these fools a surprise of our own, We will bring fire and steel to them in the night and send them running back to their host in fear.”

    This bloody talk usually roused the more idiotic of the men there, but few spoke. Eventually Lord Mallis spoke up. “I suppose you will be leading this attack? Lord Genereal?”

    Shaking is head Orlan looked across the room. “Our first great victory against these people came with the landing of our forces and with the sword of our king, may he rest evermore….” The room echoed him. “It only befits his grace that the campaign be fought in his name. And so, this great effort will be borne by the first legion. The king’s own. With them will go Lords Hunter and Fare and their men, Fare shall take the command.”

    Across the room Fare looked Orlan in the eyes suspiciously. And followed with “In the name of the King! I will cut them asunder!”

    Cheers went up, which was followed by drinking and merriment. No one asked why those men had been chosen, or why Orlan did not command himself, or even what the other men would be doing. Some were probably afraid to ask, but only the very wise.

    Every little new touch that came to him was entertaining in its way. The way the pattern unfolded was almost whimsical. Opportunity beckoned to Orlan daily, he had begun to think of her as another one of his tools.
     
  12. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    They made camp at nightfall, and Niamh left the setting of perimeters to the captains. Instead, she routed up the older Arjuni veteran, Dirhal, and with him rode over to see how Weylin, the Western boy, was doing. Aoife had sent him along, and Niamh supposed that he could be useful.

    Together, she and Dirhal coaxed information from the boy about the Storm Children. What armor they wore, what weapons they had, how they were led. The answers were not encouraging; the Storm Children were every bit as professional as the Children of the Sun, and they had so many more. Not to mention the eagle riders…

    When she got back to the center of the camp, she found that men were saddling up their horses. The young captain Corin was in the midst of them, giving them orders in a low voice that would not carry. When he saw her, he stopped and bowed. “We’re going out to make sure that there isn’t anything too close – we scouted the area already, but we’re doing a double-sweep to be sure.”

    Niamh nodded. She wasn’t about to tell the Sneak Fairies how to do their job when they already knew how, so she retired to her bedroll and slept.

    They repeated this pattern every day for the next week and a half. Niamh remembered her old trick of thinking while in the saddle; she needed to. Although she was fairly certain that the Northern force back with her sisters had been undetected, she was also fairly certain that by now, the enemy had detected her. The only thing on her side was that they were covering far more ground than could be expected for twelve hundred men over hilly ground; every day, they rode for sixteen hours and covered five-ten miles per hour, depending on how bad the terrain was. It was unnerving how good the Queen’s Riders were – or Sneak Fairies, if she wanted to use the slightly derogatory yet affectionate nickname.

    Soon enough, she knew, she would have to turn back. She was pushing her luck at ten days. They had enough information, after all, from the patrols they encountered; after capturing, questioning, and then killing them, and receiving information from each patrol, they had what they needed.

    Yet she didn’t want to go back, not quite yet… not until she’d seen Somerind itself. Weylin had traveled in a straight line; she had dared not. They had gone in an unpredictable zig-zag pattern, the better to cover more land and see how much the Storm Children had gained. It was frightening to see how much they had already conquered.

    On the fourteenth day, she saw Somerind… and wished she hadn’t.

    Struggling to repress her grief for a once-thriving city that was now crawling with Storm Children, she slipped back to the hills where the rest of the Sneak Fairies were hidden. It was a good two days’ ride from where they were to Somerind itself, but she had seen enough.

    “We’re going back,” she said tersely when Corin asked her some question. “We have what we need.”

    The Sneak Fairies didn’t question her; perhaps they saw the rage that crossed her face for one instant. The next moment, though, she had composed herself, her pale, smooth face betraying nothing… though her angry tears might.

    Two days later, on the sixteenth day, Dirhal looked at her and bit his lip. “My queen, they’ve discovered us.”

    Niamh met his gaze. “Send ahead the best riders, and give them all the information we have.”

    “My queen, you must try and go ahead as well – ”

    “Dirhal, I can’t ride as fast as they can. I’d only slow them down. It’s safer for me to stay here, with the Fairies. If they found me with a small group trying to go ahead, they’d be suspicious. We can give them Niamh… but we can’t give them the queen.”

    Dirhal was no idiot; he knew what she meant, and his face paled. “You mean to die.”

    “It leaves the throne for Mhairi and Aoife, rather than for the occupiers. Give me parchment, and I’ll set it to words.”

    She wrote it out sixteen times, twelve for each of the riders… and four for the wolves. The wolves would go with them; they knew the command, “Go to Mhairi. Go to Aoife.” They could cover more ground as well, and had a better chance of making it through. All she knew, she wrote… and this as well.

    My dear sisters,

    If you receive this, and I don’t come out in two weeks’ time, assume that I’m dead or captured. Mhairi, you’re the elder; you’ll be the queen. Aoife, back her up, and don’t let any of the other rulers see any sign of weakness. You must be strong.

    If they capture me, and somehow find out who I am, do not – I repeat, do not – negotiate with them for my release. I will not have my legacy be one of treachery and the fall of the Twenty-four Kingdoms. Stand strong for the North, and do not betray the North for my sake.

    Niamh Ca’ernin


    She shed no tears over her own death; she would weep for Somerind, but not for herself. As she saluted the riders and told them to do their level best, she drew Corin aside. “If you make it out alive, inform my sisters of what you have done,” she said; Corin was one of the riders out. “Gods go with you.”

    “And with you, my queen.” So young, and yet so proud to serve her. She touched her forehead with her fingers, and then her heart; it was a sign of respect, in the North. Corin returned it before wheeling his horse and beginning the desperate race back.

    “Go to Mhairi. Go to Aoife,” she told her wolves moments later, the parchment in little leather bags around their necks. The wolves would be able to cover the distance in half the time the riders would. Perhaps there was hope that one, at least, would make it through.

    As she watched them disappear, she wondered if this hopelessness, this despair, this anger was unique to her… or if her husband Gorin had felt it before the boar gored him, knowing his wife was behind his death.

    For the first time in her life, Niamh Ca’ernin questioned the many murders she had committed… and then discarded her guilt.

    I did only what was necessary.

    “Ride out,” she ordered. “We ride until nightfall.”

    They made camp late that night, until it was foolish to press the horses on any further. Niamh wondered what the Sneak Fairies were thinking, whether they felt her decision had been foolish or not. She wondered what the women would think – their mothers, their wives, their sisters, their daughters... and begged their pardon.

    It was the only thing that she had ever regretted.

    Niamh did not sleep that night. Instead, she held a vigil for the men who she had led to their deaths, and waited for the sun to rise - and waited to see if she would be alive to see it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2007
  13. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    The first legion lead a snaking path through the roughest part of the mountains, as much as Fare despised Orlan and his pompous nature, he was smart. The first legion were all veterans with full honours, no lesser men would make it into the king’s own legion. And for that skill they managed to weave their way through the mountains with ease, undetected.

    Daily, a great eagle would arrive from the city bearing Orlan’s reports on the position of the enemy host. He had an extensive network Eyries in the bordering lands, if anything set foot within a hundred miles of the city, Orlan would know in a matter of hours. Fare could even laugh at the precision of it, they had plotted the enemies route and made sure to move any encampments out of reach and only send in enough men to whet the appetites of the enemy. It had worked perfectly.

    Looking to the sky he saw the sun hanging low, cropped by the trees, it was time to make camp.

    As the men set about raising tents and the scouts went out. Fare and his guards went to the nearest peak and took out his looking glass.

    A few moments later he spied the nearest Eyrie, as per Orlan’s instructions and set about sending the signal using a small polished mirror and waited for a response.

    Down at the camp they had begun to cook supper, a mix of their rations and the native fauna taken down by the scouts. Fare took his supper alone in his tent, looking over the map, at last reports the enemy host was nearing the city, Hunter had been begging to descent upon them for days but Fare knew different, as Orlan agreed. They waited, and passed the enemy on a remote pathway spotted by the eagles, and would wait and take them in the rear when the time was right.

    At last the news came when Fare was finishing the last of his supper, washing it down with a goblet of wine from his own stores. The eagle rider that entered was a young girl, barely a woman, all the lighter for flying he supposed, and took the scroll from her hand.


    The enemy have turned back and make to leave the mountains at speed. Be ready to strike when they come to you. I will bring up two legions to close the valley on our side, if needs be push them between us and assure none leave alive. My troops will lie in wait at the location depicted on the attached map.

    Burn any vital documents you have, I want nothing it reach the enemy in the event of failure.

    Lord General Orlan of the Storm Children.



    Fare mused over the contents once more, and grudgingly agreed. He took out the map of Eyrie locations and burnt it on the spot, stamping the ashes into dust. If Orlan was right they would encounter the enemy tomorrow morning and could push them back with ease. He passed on the relevant commands to his subordinates and returned to his privacy.



    A knocking came at his tent-flap late in the night, enough to wake him from deep slumber. Fare, still dressed and ready to move rose, and proceeded to the doorway.

    “Sire, the scouts are back, the enemy have covered more ground than anticipated, their camp is no more than half a league from here, they have just made camp.”

    Already? This was bad news, had he not sent out scouts they would have missed the enemy entirely, he could not imagine Orlan’s disappointment.

    “Have the men ready themselves for the attack, nightshade.”

    The soldier left and Fare returned to his tent to ready for battle. The First legion were battle hardened veterans, they knew every aspect of war, and each was given a name. Deadly Nightshade was the name given to a sneak attack, and the soldiers would suit up appropriately. They would go in under the veil of darkness, silently and swiftly, and be in among the enemy before the alarm went up. Fire and blood among the sleeping and the horses always ended in panic. It would be a bloodbath.

    Fare left his tent and went to lead his men.
     
  14. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    Hunter buckled on his breastplate, it was old and worn and decidedly uninteresting. They called him a lord, but he had gained that honour in the field and at heart he was still just a soldier.

    Beside him the fifty men in his cohort were readying themselves. Putting on breastplates, bracers, maybe gauntlets. It was time for deadly nightshade, a sneak attack and too much armour was cumbersome and loud.

    The mountain ground was hard and dry, but a few bucketfuls of water softened up a nice fat patch at their centre. Each mad took a few handfuls of mud and began to spread it onto their armour. A proud soldier kept his steel shining in the sunlight, a smart one tarnished it to avoid the gaze of the enemy. Mud was light and easily brushed off when dry, but it would get them in without a flicker of metal in torchlight. After that they muddied their faces and hands, some did the same with their swords. It was almost time.

    They would make their way down in about an hour, two cohorts would strike first, taking down the sentries, and when the signal went up the rest would sneak in and butcher the enemy in their sleep. Quickly and quietly it would be done.

    Fare was commanding the reserve from the nearest hillside, the few cavalry they could spare and archers, in case something went wrong the knife in the dark would disappear one again and the hammer would fall. It was perfect.

    Hunter used a strip of cloth to tie back his hair. “Are we ready men?”

    Aware of the need for quiet they put their fists to their chests and then in the air, in silent salute.

    “First legion, first into the fight and last out.” Hunter said in a low voice. A messenger was sent back to signal the start of the attack and Hunter and his men went down the hillside in the dark, behind rocks and underbrush and silent as the darkness itself.

    It was a long time to stay quiet, but they did, all the way down the mountainside in absolute dark and absolute silence, towards the enemy encampment. Every twig underfoot was a risk, the danger growing the closer they got to the camp.

    Eventually the men stopped in a series of ditches a few dozen feet from the camp perimeter, where they met up with the scouts already there. They had been watching the sentries patrol for the last two hours, making notes of the patterns and checks made.

    The scouts conveyed this with hand signals and noted the best course of action.

    Hunter nodded to three of his closest men, Daven, Jace and Frenk. And gave them their orders.

    They went out then, low and quiet, avoiding the light of the torches and keeping hidden, each took up position in the route of the sentries. As the native men made their round they were taken unawares. Thin chord was put round their necks and tightened. No screams and no alerts. Soon all the sentries were down and the three men were up against the nearest tents in the encampment.

    Hunter signalled for the scouts to go back and sent in the rest of the cohorts for the attack. Then he took the lead and went up to join the men at the outer encampment. The rest followed.

    It was then Hunter took out his blade and kept it close to his chest. And signalled the attack.

    It was quiet, men went in teams of five, single file down the alleys between tents, each time stopping to enter the tent, through its flap or cutting their way in, and killing the inhabitants. One thrust through the neck of a sleeping man and their job was done and onto the neck tent.

    It was all going well, they had killed thirty men in Hunter’s team alone, and they could see the rest of the cohorts coming in, but something went wrong, whether they were more sentries within the perimeter or some fool had bungled his job and let the enemy get a scream off but the cry went up in the camp and their cover was blown.

    An enemy soldier came rushing down the alley outside shouting “To arms! To arms” As he passed hunter, he stuck out an arm and brought the enemy to the ground. While dazed three stabs in the heart killed him. No luck in the world would ensure he was the only one.

    “Fire” Hunter ordered. The sneak attack was over, and his men were much to scattered and poorly armed for a straight attack, it was time for plan B.

    The rest of his men took up torches from the nearest placed they were in the camp, and others lit them from nearby fires. They flung them into the tents and all across the camp the rest of the first legion were doing the same. Each man had a sword out and as tongues of flame leapt up around them they ran for the edge of camp.

    There they found the enemy. And for the first time in this land the tactics of the enemy had caught the storm children off guard. These must have been seasoned men, instead of rallying within the camp they had rallied at the nearest exits, cutting off retreat.

    It was then the enemy spotted them. Hunter ran at them with his sword. “FIRST!” he cried, and the men behind him followed.

    It was bloody butchers work, his men fought like lions but they were outnumbered and ill prepared for this. Together as one the legion could take them but not like this. He cut down two men who came at him and backed away through his allies. He undid his pack and took out the horn Fare had given him, and blew, the signal for the reserve to come.

    After three long blasts he threw the horn down and took up his sword once more, and ran at the enemy, ready to die. “FIRST!” He screamed again, and it was the last word he said.


    “That’s it.” Fare said, almost to himself. “We ride in at once.” What had gone wrong?

    They spurred forwards and down the mountainside as quick as was safe and the sight they found was blood and steel.

    There was little room for a full charge but they did the best they could. And went screaming at the enemy. Soon they were caught in the clash of swords as Hunter had been, In the night it was hard to gauge the fight, but it went on till morning, each side giving and taking much the same in the confusion of darkness.

    When the first light of day came the bodies were everywhere and fighting still went on. The enemy was more seasoned than any they had faced before and their arrogance had cost them. Only the light of day revealed how bad it was.

    Fare sat atop his horse a short way from the fighting and knew it would not end well.

    Orland was nearby, as his message had read. To salvage what men they had left they ad to make haste and retreat.

    The cry went up, and they backed off, the enemy at their heels, for the first time, they had been defeated.
     
  15. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Everywhere she could see, men were dying.

    Hers, theirs – the dying were everywhere as men screamed and fought until they died.

    There – one ran towards her, sword in hand. Her own blade was out in a moment, and she coolly observed her opponent. Ill-trained, perhaps, or simply panicked, but she easily sidestepped his wild swing before turning and executing a move that she had practiced so many times under her arms trainer. As his head spun away, she moved to engage her next foe. A neat thrust, and he was down as well. Niamh never stopped, but kept moving, playing with Lord Death. Once or twice, she thought she felt his cold kiss on her cheek, but always she danced away, sending another in her place.

    “Niah!” The name was close enough to her own that she responded, looking up to see Dirhal tossing her the reins to a horse. All around her, she noticed, Sneak Fairies were already astride, clinging tenaciously to the backs of their mounts as they trampled the enemy. “Get up, girl!”

    Silently, she blessed Dirhal for his foresight – if they were captured, they would have no reason to believe her a queen. Niah, after all, was a common enough name in the north, even if Niamh was not; what was more, Dirhal had the sense to not address her by any titles. It would be enough to fool these common soldiers. It was their general who worried her.

    If luck was kind, then Orlan had no idea what she looked like. She desperately hoped that Berran hadn’t given that away – she was easily recognizable.

    And if worst comes to worst, I can always kill myself, I suppose. Orlan can have Niah; he cannot have Niamh Ca’ernin. It is my duty to ensure that he does not.

    All of this ran in her mind in a heartbeat. She mounted her horse and urged it on, side by side with Dirhal. Below her, she saw too many of Queen’s Riders dead on the ground; she would grieve later, if at all.

    But then again, she thought, suicide wouldn’t be necessary. The enemy was fleeing, completely in disorder. Niamh smiled ferally as she saw where they were heading to – a valley with a small basin rimmed with ridges. She remembered that well, very well – it was Arjuni Valley, after all.

    A quick glance at Dirhal’s own fierce grin showed that he remembered as well. “Riders, fall back!” he shouted, letting his voice carry. “Fall back!”

    Encouraged, the Storm Children began running even faster. About half of the Riders seemed dubious; the other half had cruel smiles identical to her own. “Five minutes, and then push forward,” Dirhal said, quieter now. “They’re running to Arjuni.”

    That was all that needed to be said; the battle of Arjuni was famous enough. While Niamh waited for the five minutes to pass, she quickly scanned the faces of her Sneak Fairies. Her captains were still alive, but of the Western boy Weylin, there was no sign.

    “Forward,” Dirhal ordered. As the Fairies rode forth, Niamh in the center, she spared one moment to wish that her wolves were with her. Perhaps it had been unnecessary to send them to Mhairi and Aoife after all.

    The Storm Children were in the basin when the Sneak Fairies hit them.

    They had no warning; they were good enough riders that they made no sound. One moment, they had been running back to Somerind; the next, Niamh and her men had hit them.

    Niamh was laughing wildly as her sword flickered from life to life. Oh, she loved the game of thrones, with all of its subtle manipulations – but this sheer violence was something else again. It felt so good to finally be able to strike against those who had invaded her homeland, tried to conquer her people, had tortured her fellow monarch Berran to death. Each blow that hit home only served to satisfy a deep hunger for vengeance.

    At least until the arrows came.
     
  16. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    One moments respite in hours of bloodied running, some meagre relief in the hour of dawn.

    They had run all night, the frontlines a winding trail of blood and death back through the mountains, the fight part chase, part stumble and part death. How had it all gone wrong? Perhaps they underestimated the abilities of the enemy, but they had the advantage in numbers and training. Sheer dumb luck had given away their plans at the crucial moment in their attack and forced them into disarray. From there it was retreat and death back towards home.

    Fare didn’t know how many had died in the night, but their numbers were few, and now they had only one hope, to meet up with the advance of Orlan and his men, blocking off the enemies retreat, if he was right it wouldn’t be long before they met Orlan’s line, and then they’d be safe.

    To think, the man Fare despised for his calculative arrogance was his last hope because of it. The irony was not lost on him, but neither was it appreciated.

    Glancing back to check their foes it seems as if they were reforming for another charge, and Fare’s heart sank. There were too few from the first legion left, not enough to face the charge, and their only way back through the valley was though a low basin.

    They would never make it.

    But they had to try, even Fare knew they were beyond making a last stand, all he could do was pray Orlan was waiting beyond the ridges ready to spring on the enemy.

    Tired footsteps went on one at a time, dry blood matting his hair and armour scratched to pieces, Fare and his men went on towards the ridgeline. Behind them came hoof beats.

    And that was it, the enemy were among them wreaking red ruin and death, the swarm of cavalry flooding out the remnants of a once fine body of men.

    Fare’s hand was tight on his sword as it had been since the fight had begun, he slashed at the belly of a horse, taking of its rider’s leg at the knee. A thrust to the belly took down another. They were closing in, it would not be long now.

    In his hour of death Fare took one last longing glace up to the ridgeline, praying for a miracle and he was indulged.

    Men sprouted from the rocks like weeds, hundreds of them, thousands. A party of cavalry slowly descended the bottleneck leading back west. The red sun picked out the steel tips of the arrows all along the ridge. It was beautiful.

    “Dow…..” He began an order, trying to help speed along volley by making the enemy more discernable from friend, but as he did, the arrows came anyway.

    Hundreds of steel tipped shafts fell to the earth pinning man and horse alike to the ground, as many enemy troops fell as did men of the First Legion.

    Fare watched as his own men were made pincushions by their allies, tears filled his eyes in the moments before he realised.

    That bastard, the cold ruthless bastard, there was no way for Orlan to lose, the enemy had provoked immediate action by slaying the First Legion, the last of the men loyal to the royal bloodline. Orlan was free from opposition and given free reign to attack as he wanted.

    An arrow took him in the chest, and Fare was glad to be parted from the same world as that traitor.


    _________________________________________________________

    “We are ready for a second Volley sire!”

    Orlan shook his head and waved two fingers. “No, I want information, check amongst the dead for survivors. Enemy survivors.” His meaning was clear.

    Below the bloody rending was a beautiful sight, two necessary acts rolled into one fortuitous outcome, he would have few enemies among the remaining generals and a clear message was sent to the enemy, today was a good day.

    His men were systematically going through the heaps of corpses, now and again finishing off the dying cries of the first legion. From his vantage point it seemed there were very few useful survivors, their arrow volley had been quite effective.

    “Tragen, have your men pile up the bodies and burn them, make sure not to leave any of your arrows in our own men.”

    The captain of the archers went about ordering his troops and Orlan retired to the highground to await the prisoners.

    While he stood, Davian joined him, the man had the happy smile of contentment after watching the day’s massacre and would be itching to see to the survivors. If it were not below him, Orlan would pity them.

    And then the grim procession came. The first man had three arrows in him, mostly in his limbs but one in his side, still breathing and being dragged there by his men it was an unpleasant sight. Next came another, seemingly fine ut being carried like a ragdoll by two soldiers. And finally was the woman.

    Davian inspected them first and shook his head at Orlan. The second man was tossed to the ground and stabbed through the heart, he was beyond interrogating. The first spoke, but rambled, fervent talk of loyalty and honour, pain and blood loss were clouding his perceptions. Davian shook his head again, worthless.

    Then they came to the woman, seemingly unharmed but for some minor scratches, a little phased it seemed. Orlan had to wonder what a woman of her appearance was doing there, there was masked pride and defiance in the way she stood and help herself, but her face was a mask of calm.

    Davian sidled up to her from behind and reached one hand round to cup her chin. He took one long smell of her and smiled to himself before nodding to Orland.

    She was healthy and young, she could not be a whore or a soldiers wife, and the chances of her being one of the enemy soldiers were slim. Orlan thought back to Berran and mused over some of the likely candidates.

    Proud enough to lead this mission herself, comely enough to match the description. It seemed fate was happy with Orlan today for another key piece in game had been delivered to him personally.

    “Take her back to the city for questioning.”

    And then he saw Davian take another moment to inspect the girl, he looked into her eyes and whispered something softly into her ear. Orlan knew the words:

    We’re going to have fun together.
     
  17. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

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    Soasn knew that the assassin’s target had been her, not Julian.

    She also knew that Julian was smart enough to figure that out. The question was, how soon?

    And how soon until Orlan sends another man… she thought as she marched her way toward him.

    “Why, if it isn’t our feisty heroine,” he drawled as he saw her approach. “And what might you be wanting today?”

    She kept her temper in check; yelling at him wouldn’t help at all. “Didn't we agree that 'Your Highness' would suffice? Feisty heroine is much too flattering for me." Julian chuckled as he turned away, returning his attention to his former task. Taking a deep breath, Soasan looked down at him and readied herself for the upcoming argument. "I need to return to my people, Julian.”

    “Why?”

    “They’re in the hands of a dictatorial usurper, and you’re asking me why?”

    Julian rubbed his chin as he answered, his gold eyes flickering. “I’m not entirely sure why you’re so upset – your people, from what I’ve heard, are doing very well under this Orlan’s rule. What’s more, he’s succeeding in your ultimate goal – conquering our land. Whereas you, Your Highness, are… a prisoner.” He had the most infuriating smirk on his face.

    “But – ”

    He held up a hand. “Don’t argue with me, Soasan.” His eyes were very direct as he held her gaze. “Letting you return would be bad both for me and for you. Since I don’t think that you care about what’s bad for me, let me explain how it’s bad for you personally. I don’t think Orlan plays nicely, and he’s got your entire people under his control. What’s more, they’re content to remain there. He’s given them success, relative peace, and prosperity; what do you have to offer them? An inherited crown, perhaps? Or maybe your precious royal blood – which, may I remind you, will bleed as red as any other’s when Orlan slits your pretty little throat?”

    Soasan opened her mouth, then shut it again. She hated the way he always won their arguments in such a logical, self-confident way. She looked away, clenching her jaw.

    “Didn’t think of that, did you?” Julian continued as she tried to suppress the growing feeling of despondency twisting in her stomach. After a moment his voice drew her out of her despair as she struggled to concentrate on his soft words.

    “It’s harsh, maybe, but it’s the truth.” He sounded unwontedly gentle. “Stay here with us, Soasan. It’s safer.”

    She had never realized how sour – how bitter – defeat tasted. Though the words weren’t exactly forceful, she knew that she had no choice in the matter. Outplayed, she said, “As you command, my lord," her voice holding only a trace of mockery.

    Julian had the kindness not to rub her defeat in, at least. Not quite bowing, he said, “I hope you enjoy your stay with us, Lady Soasan.”

    Closing her eyes as she tilted her head back to feel the sun’s warm kiss on her face, she only said, “I’m sure I will.” Turning on her heel and walking away before he could see her expression, Soasan made her way to the small lean-to that had become her only refuge. Heaving a sigh, she lowered herself to the ground, pulling up her knees and resting her forehead on them.

    Everything was so difficult now. She had no idea what to do. As a princess, everything had been handed to her with the utmost delicacy; even as a soldier she had never been forced to find her way out of tricky situations. At least, not tricky like this, this... Julian.

    He was an enigma. Soasan knew she should hate him, yet somehow he always seemed to charm her. Even when stating the complete opposite of what she wanted to hear, he somehow did it in such a logical way she felt stupid for opposing him. He was right; Orlan's rule was bringing the Storm Children the power and prosperity they had always dreamed of. But if the Storm Children were happy under the rule of Orlan, and the Children of the Sun their sworn enemies, where did she, Soasan, fit in?
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2007
  18. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    The slow and uneasy lurching tilt was enough to drive the landbound insane, the rocking of a ship was one thing but the languid pitching of the lashing was something else entirely.

    Jadin was comfortable in the nest of the tallest ship, the first one to be anchored to form their little man made island here in the ocean’s vast reaches. It was an easy job, but the motion of the sea was carried and multiplied so far up, Jadin was fortunate he had spent his whole life in the navy, he could sleep there if he were not on watch.

    In every direction was cold grey water with no hint of land, the looming isolation birthing madness in the early few who crewed the lashing, but as time went on and more ships and structures were raided it became its own little community, and the madness was kept at bay.

    Still, no man would be kept there for more than a few months, an easy goal when the constant stream of ships meant passage to the new lands or back home would be easy. Jadin had only another week before he would be reassigned, perhaps they would send him home to the Dakar peninsula.

    At that thought he looked off westward with an inner longing that pulled at him, there may have been no hint of land, but the Stormwall could be seen, dark troubling clouds stretching across the horizon, the unmistakable shadows of rain and high waves. The wall of nature that had guarded their shores for hundreds of years. To feel the rain and wind as one passed through it, granted passage by the gods, he longed for it.

    Just then he saw a shape peak the waves between the Stormwall and the lashing, a dark mass that could only mean one thing, a ship. The next supply run was not scheduled for two days yet, was it early?

    Jadin double checked with the looking glass he had been given and called in the sighting.

    “SHIP! WESTWARD!”

    The men below went about the preparations and cleared a space for docking on the western strut, and after some time Jadin was relieved of his post by the next lookout.

    Curiosity beckoned to him, and he was one of the few officers kept on the lashing, he decided to take the initiative and see to the new arrival.

    A few hours passed, and the sun was kissing the Stormwall when the ship finally came in to dock, it was a moderate sized cargo ship, without the clear military markings of the navy. When the gangplank was finally set down the man that came out was out of uniform and rather plain looking, and on closer inspection Jadin was surprised to see he was one of the tiny few Children of the Storm given coloured eyes by the gods, the icy blue gaze was unsettling to say the least, and just then her rounded on Jadin, the only one around with any hint of authority.

    “We need fresh water and supplies as soon as possible, I wish to be away again in an hour.”
    Confused for a moment, Jadin composed himself. “Sure of that? It’s a long journey yet to the east, without rest your crew might not make it, if you wait a few days we can put you on a fresh supply ship to the city.”

    A slight crease of the mans brow silenced Jadin, and from his coat the man produced a sheet of parchment. “I have orders directly from Commander Davian, I assume you do not wish to inconvenience him?”

    “As you wish, by command of Silvermane you are to leave your charts here to prevent the enemy gaining that knowledge, the maps are kept in the north ship, you can pick up the charts to the captured city there too.”

    The man smiled. “That will not be necessary, we have a different destination in mind.”

    This was all confusing for Jadin, but he complied, it seemed this was some errand for the Shadow Legion, and those who valued their lives stayed out of their business. “Very well, we shall see to your needs, but I would advise at least resting for the night.”

    It was then the man took his ice-filled stare and curled his lip up slowly.
    “If you knew our cargo, you’d be more than eager to be rid of us”
     
  19. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    Their flight time had been long but all memories of it flowed like the air, gone in an instant through feathers and beyond.

    It had not been long before they arrived at their destination, a highpoint in the mountains pinpointed by the information Davian had gathered, both from the fool king Berran and other sources.

    There they dismounted, eagles left in the care of the other riders and she had gone on with two or her most trusted men. Shara had looked over the mountains then, the rocks dappled in the heavy light of day, the cool wind flying so freely, it was a good place for the airborne, a good place for her.

    But now it was different, she had met with the clan as intended but there was some confusion, the feathered beings however miraculous had deferred all offers, some notions of pacifism standing in their way. Shara had noted it to bring to Orlan’s attention and proceeded.

    After careful talk she had finally arranged to meet with someone of merit, a clan leader they had claimed. And she was taken off blindfolded to another place.

    Such indignities she would endure for the greater good, for the reclamation.

    And now she waited, her eyes still covered in cloth but her other senses alert. She smelled trees, heard the rustle of leaves and just as she had heard when the first winged-one had left, she heard large wings fighting the wind, it was unmistakable to the ears of a rider.

    Moments later the blindfold was removed and she was faced with two of these Rasvan, the first pacifist and a new one. He was tall, well built with brownish red feathers and piercing green eyes, for the longest moment they only crossed glances before he spoke.

    “I am Lyshin, clan-chief of the Red Eagles, what is it you have come for.”

    And now they played for all the pieces on the board, as Orlan would say.

    “I am Air Marshall Shara Medriall of the Storm Child army, I come on behalf of the Lord General Orlan Silvermane to extend an offer of peace towards the winged people of this land.”

    And there the first move was done and she waited, and watched as the birdman pondered and started at her with those odd green eyes of his.

    “What terms are you offering?” He said, in a tone that was neither acceptance or denial.

    Shara slowly moved her hand to the leather tube at her side and produced the sealed roll or parchment Orlan had given her.

    “The Lord General invited the leaders of all the tribes of Rasvan to meet with him to discuss, in person, the terms of a treaty between our peoples. He gives you his word that no Rasvan will be harmed by the Children of the Storm while this offer is in effect.”

    He handed the parchment to the Red Eagle.

    “Therein are instructions on when are where the meeting will take place, away from our city and your eyries. Please pass on this message to all of your brethren.”
     
  20. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    The sun was low in the sky, just touching the walls of Alesha. Long shadows were cast through wider streets and darkness fully enveloped the narrow alleys between the buildings.

    Granos eyed back and forth from his seat within the windows of a small tavern. Even now he checked back and forth for signs of pursuit or suspicion, but these people were complacent, fooled by the leagues between here and the wroth of the stormlands. Soon enough they would show them just how little distance mattered to those from across the sea.

    Ten days was all it had taken from their landing, Travel eastward was quick, infiltration even more so, deployment had only taken one day, the rich purses sacked early in the invasion making questions disappear. After all this was what the shadow legion did best, better than the gathering of information or the assassination of a single soul. Infiltration and espionage was as easy as breathing.

    The biggest problem had been their cargo, carted from the ship and hidden under sacks of grain it had almost been discovered twice. Once the cases had been divided up and dispersed things had gone a little easier but still there had been work to do. They had supplemented in whatever they could buy from local markets without raising suspicion, and night after night prepared to proceed with their orders until it was finished.

    And now it was, everything and everyone was in its place ready for the signal. Granos only waited for his own instincts to choose the moment of their move. Until then he was content to watch the burning red sun kiss the horizon, travelling off westward towards home. In that one moment of longing he chose to act, and to finish the orders Davian had given them.

    With flint and tinder he struck up a flame and lit the small lantern from his room. Hanging it slowly and purposefully on the window he stood there momentarily awaiting the signalled response. One bead of light flourished off to the west, followed by another, then another, at last the time had come.

    Quickly checking his equipment, Granos proceeded from his room, down the stairs and out into the night without a word to anyone he passed. Formalities had been kept until this point for the sake of necessity, but now it was pointless.

    Cool night air washed over him, and the last hint of light in the sky never touched the streets of Alesha where he stood. Shadows wrapped around him, and he dissolved into the night.

    In almost no time at all he was at the gatehouse, his back pressed against the stone wall, in the distance he could faintly see one of his compatriots looming in the dark on the other side of the great arches. Others were around he knew, a few moments ago one had leapt over the rooftops above him and scaled the ramparts.

    Granos heard a few steps, then a thud of something heavy falling, followed by the sliding of metal. The small postern gate ahead of him opened, the lights within extinguished beforehand. Granos went to the door, and saw another of his men sheathed a knife over the body of a guard. Granos signalled back to his other companion outside, who dispatched the patrolling guard there and dragged the corpse into the gatehouse with them.

    They locked the door behind them and split up to do their work.

    It was all done in minutes, exactly as planned, the portcullis lowered and the winch destroyed, soon after the gatehouse was aflame with Granos and his men atop the walls watching the city. From there they could see another gate go up while the rest were hidden from view, but all across Alesha the tale was the same, each crack in the walls was being closed, trapping the people within.

    Granos had not asked why, when he had receive his ordered, men in the shadow legion who asked too many questions were few and far between. Nor had he felt the slightest twinge of remorse, he had however marvelled at the motivation behind it. Such a thing could be done, but often as a last resort in siege tactics. Now things were different, with the Silvermane in charge and Davian at his side warfare had become a different game altogether, and something that should be appreciated.

    In less than a heartbeat the first batch of their cargo went up, a fire blooming at the heart of the run in section of the city. Four more fires followed within seconds, followed by a few latecomers. It spread quickly as intended, dry hey and tinder had helped much, though it was the curious sulphurous concoction at its heart that gave it speed. At the seven targets flames were leaping across streets and screams were echoing. Soon men would find nearby cisterns and aqueducts had been sabotaged, giving the red flame time to breach control.

    Granos let the rope down over the edge of the wall and slid down, the sight of burning Alesha disappearing, but the sounds and smells of fiery ruin stayed with them as they fled, leaving thousands to burn alive.

    ________________________________________________

    The red was excellent, at last a vintage from these lands worth drinking. Orlan swirled his glass and held it up to the light briefly. He would have to find another barrel.

    Across from him Davian stood at attention, yet brandishing his usual cocky smile, also worthwhile on the occasion. Orlan checked the report from the north again for any ciphers Davian may have tried to conceal, but it was plain enough. Alesha had burned to the ground and the vast majority of its inhabitants, mostly civilians, had perished with it. It was an unbelievable occurrence, and an unspeakable tragedy, a sole standard posted on the road into the city as the only claim of responsibility.

    First he had shown the people of this land that walls could not stop his wrath, and now he had removed the last obstacle. In their own eyes his enemies were exposed to attack at any time and fear would grip them at this and the loss of their leader.

    And soon enough the news would reach the mountains and aid Shara’s task.

    The first moves were all falling into place, the subtle prods, the simple cajoles, each in its own way spurring on the inevitable. Soon it would all come together, very soon indeed.

    One more sip. “Davian, have the couriers go to each general and commander and issue them orders to dismantle their positions within the city. I want the army ready to march within the next few days.”

    Orlan refilled his glass and then another. “When you’re done fetch our guest.” Orlan had not played conquest since Berran had been killed, and even then there was little challenge to it, perhaps this Niamh was better at strategy.