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Author Topic: Lore in Life is feudal  (Read 1760 times)

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Lore in Life is feudal
« on: January 20, 2016, 10:21:44 PM »
1. Excerpt from An Abridged History of the Acaelian Empire

Asterius quickly made himself a friend of the people by instituting a number of laws that saw peasants gaining massive tracts of land and the government funding enormous public works. Roads sprung up seemingly overnight and the previously undeveloped land was soon crisscrossed with thoroughfares and footpaths beyond count. The ravaged remnants of the Elgrin were converted into libraries, debate halls, and armories and the commoners of the empire found that their lives had never been better. And as quickly as the Elgrins had fallen the newcomers had risen, and thus, the sovereign Auriun Empire was born. Under Asterius’s rule the lower class of serfs flourished and the Auriun Empire quickly became a prosperous nation with a reputation for commerce, art, and the sciences.

As time went on, the Auriun Empire became recognized as a leader on the continent, and Asterius set out to expand peace throughout the land. He initially approached the lands to the north, called Jorgrith, and with their king Ralvar the two nations forged a sturdy alliance. The two nations continued in peace for a handful of years before they were approached by Auriun’s southeastern neighbor in Khalis. Khalis’s Emperor Kiaga also wanted to join up with his northern neighbor, and together with the Auriun Empire and Jorgrith, they forged a sovereign union called Acaelia.



 Acaelia was a federation comprised of the northern Jorgrith, the central Auriun Empire, and the southeastern nation of Khalis. Jorgrith was a cold country with denizens as rough as their winters. Their distinctive wooden lodges and palisade-lined villages made much use the nation’s heavily wooded foothills, and the squat oaken building huddled together against the frigid winters. Often clad in heavy fur-lined coats and equipped with heavy iron swords and broad wooden shields, what the Jorgrithian soldiers lacked in decoration, they more than made up in tenacity and hardiness. To their south lied the Auriun Empire, a nation that focused much on mercantile affairs and scientific advancement. Their spectacular cities made of smooth stone were truly a sight to behold and their bustling workshops cranked out machines the likes of which could not be found anywhere else in the world. Auriun soldiers oft wore polished steel scale armor and ornate helmets, complemented by their heavy broadsword, or bolt action crossbows. To their southeast lay Khalis, a desert country comprised of many mobile villages. Their people made beautiful houses of adobe, and they traded largely in rich desert spices and stunning gemstones. They were ruled largely by a warrior class who wore distinctive padded cloth armor with wide brimmed hats for shade who wielded fearsome curved swords or long jabbing spears.

While initially each emperor ruled their nations entirely, they also formed a joint council called the Great Council who handled matters that concerned all three nations. This council was comprised of three members each from Jorgrith, Auriun, and Khalis and required a majority vote for any motion to be successful. While initially fairly powerless, over the next few decades following its creation power slowly drifted to the council and by 944, the Acaelian Empire nominated Asterius as the emperor.  While the emperor did not have absolute control, he wielded a considerable amount of power and three votes in all council deliberations. By 950, Acaelia was becoming a federation renowned for their unity and central leadership.

Acaelia also became an empire renowned for their military might, as the eastern Galonia Empire was constantly harrying the new union and their untried Emperor. The Galonian emperor had long been eying the huge tracts of land owned by the Elgrin and saw the newly weakened government as a sign to invade. Luckily for the Acaelians, Asterius was a more than able military commander who made clever use of ambushes, traps, and bottlenecks to lead his ragtag militia to victory over the superior numbers and training of the Galonian army. That he did this while sustaining minimal casualties and damage to Acaelia itself is a testament to the brilliance of his strategy.



 Asterius ruled for twenty-two more years until he was assassinated in 966 by a small Galonian contingent who were hoping to conquer an empire weakened by the loss of its emperor. What they had not counted on was Asterius’s twin sons Gaius and Aleius; Gaius was a fierce and inspiring leader and Aleius was perhaps an even more cunning tactician than his father. While their father was still fresh in his grave, Gaius and Aleius mounted an unfaltering defense that handily rebuked the advancing Galonian army. Despite Gaius’s inspired leadership and Aleius’s cunning tactics, the Acaelian’s could not hold out against the vastly superior numbers of the Galonians and with their backs to the wall, the twins forged a hasty treaty with their eastern allies the Dogriss. With their help, they were able to put down the Galonian assault once and for all.

In the aftermath of the war, Gaius was named Emperor as he was older (by roughly twelve seconds) and Aleius was named Emperor Regent and together they formed a powerful unit who ruled from Acaelia’s capital Phalince. Not long after, Gaius announced that he and a beautiful woman called Veronica would be wed, and soon thereafter she became one of the most popular Empresses the continent had seen in centuries. Veronica was known for adroitly ruling in Gaius’s stead should he be away doing diplomatic work or organizing an exploration and it was said (behind closed doors) that she was perhaps a more capable a ruler than Gaius himself. Together with the council, they led a strong effort in rebuilding Acaelia.



 Unlike their last conflict, Acaelia had not been spared the devastations of war this time around and a great deal of energy was needed to reestablish of the country. The Acaelians did have help in their rebuilding efforts however. As part of their earlier treaty, Dogriss agreed to help rebuild Acaelia after the war in exchange for three seats on the Acaelian’s nine seat council. These councilors would keep the Dogriss king abreast of all major happenings within Acaelia. The council would also hold much more influence than in the past, gaining the ability to enact laws and strike down the Emperor’s edicts with a majority vote. As Emperor Regent, Aleius was then head of the council and under his leadership the council and the Emperor remained amicable.

Gaius himself proved an admirable leader whose efforts centered largely on helping the desperate common folk who were now trying to rebuild in the post-war carnage. Gaius instituted a number of policies that encouraged rebuilding and the construction of infrastructure and he was helped in large part by Dogriss who sent over thousands of architects, planners, and builders to help reshape the ravaged land into someplace worth living. Many of these migrant workers ended up settling down in Acaelia and plying their trade within its borders.

Economically post-war Acaelia was not in a good way. In an effort to alleviate some of pressure on the poor, he left the underprivileged largely untaxed and shifted the burden to the rich, asking that they pay more during the rebuilding phase. Gaius also moved the nation towards pacifism by signing a number of important nonaggression treaties with the surrounding empires and disbanding a sizable portion of their standing army. These wayward soldiers went on to be crucial in the rebuilding process and with the help of their manual labor the rejuvenation of their desecrated country surged forward.

Gaius shifted his focus away from military might and instead his efforts centered on the advancement of the sciences and the exploration of what he called “the new world.” Rumored uninhabited lands to the west made up Gaius’s “new world”, and the Emperor could oft be heard waxing poetic about the idyllic wonders that lay overseas. The exploration of these new lands became something of an obsession to Gaius, who increasingly devoted much of his resources towards the scouting of new lands.



 As Gaius’s reign marched on, he began drawing the ire of the council and many aristocrats for increasingly neutering the military and continuing to heavily tax the rich. While he remained immensely popular amongst the lower classes, the lords and ladies began turning on him quickly. Rumors swirled that Galonia was getting ready to make a third attempt at the crown, but for the most part Gaius ignored these whisperings to the chagrin of his brother and galloped along his plan of exploration. This path did bear fruits though, in the name of a few small islands that were added into the kingdom, and in 976 scouts sent word of a truly colossal new land that was occupied by naught but wild game. Thrilled by the news, Gaius led a fleet of ships to the new lands, bringing along Veronica, some adventurous settlers, and a surplus of building materials to create a new kingdom in this uninhabited land. Gaius and Veronica oversaw the construction from their makeshift fortress, and within a couple weeks it was well under way. Upon hearing the news that Galonia may make another assault in Gaius’s absence, he sailed back home to Acaelia on his legendary Black Sword. He left behind Veronica, safe kept by his legendary Pewter Guard, and made a hasty journey back to Phalince.

Excerpt from The Shrouded Massacre by author Acadiens Darus
On a misty morning’s dawn in the month of Junas, Gaius and his skeleton crew anchored the normally bustling capital port of Phalince. As Gaius moored the Black Sword to the dock, he began to notice an eerie silence had settled over the place. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled as he searched in vain for signs of life. Where there was normally boisterous conversations and raucous laughter, now there was only a thick mist. Gaius called out to any merchants or dockworkers, and the silence that answered was such that the only sound in Gaius’s ears was that of his own breath. He ordered Billus and the oarsmen stay aboard the Sword, and he and a small contingent of ill-armed officers marched forward into the looming fog. They tromped along the wooden dock, the sounds of their booted footfalls cracking in the penetrating silence. The crew began to panic, exclaiming that there were no other ships in the dock, explaining how this was highly unusual, begging for Gaius to return to the ship and sail to another port. Gaius would hear none of it, and strode forward into the port’s plaza, calling out for signs of life.

Gaius and his poorly equipped legation were set upon by a group of hooded men who would later be identified as The Order of the Lynx. At least twenty enshrouded figures surrounded him and the tallest among them grabbed Gaius by the collar and pressed a dagger against his throat. One of Gaius’s crew, a tall balding man with a long, dangling mustache, drew a long curving dagger from his sheath and brandished it at the hooded figures. The figure holding Gaius turned unconcernedly, nodded, and another of Gaius’s crew slit the man’s bandy throat.  As he fell, the other cowled forms began culling the remaining crew on the dock as a farmer threshes chaff. The crew put up what resistance they could, but they were outmanned and outmatched at every turn, and soon there was nothing left of Gaius’s crew than a traitor and a pile of corpses. The crewmen on the boat were screaming and some of the Order swept towards the boat to silence the remaining witnesses. A young recruit hopped down to the dock and madly started unmooring the boat. A member of the order glided up to him and planted his dagger in his jowls, but it was too late and the boat began drifting away from the dock. Upon seeing the boat undock, the remaining order members scrambled down the dock and began boarding the ship. As the cowled specters laid assault upon Gaius’s crew, the tall Order member loomed on the dock, alone save for his captive king.

 Gaius’s scant remaining crew fought on, and as the boat pulled away, the last scene they saw on the docks was the tall hooded figure leaning in close to Gaius, as if he meant to deliver him the kiss of death himself. The veiled outline on the dock pulled back and struck Gaius hard in the gut and he slumped down to his knees, arms hanging limp at his sides. The specter then drew back his long blade and plunged it deep into Gaius’s gut, leaning into it with all its weight. Gaius screamed as though his soul too had been rended and the specter violently wrenched his blade free. The sailors watched as their erstwhile Emperor slumped to the ground and, as the boat pulled away they saw the cloaked figure hunched over the bleeding Gaius, readying his blade for the terminal plunge. The last thing the crew heard as the figures on the dock became enshrouded by the mist was a loud scream, and then silence.

Excerpt from The Modern Acaelia and New Acaelia
A nation mourned their noble Emperor as a grief stricken Aleius bravely donned the pewter crown and lead his grieving nation. His tearful eulogy over his brother’s empty casket inspired the nation and Acaelia’s new Emperor soon announced the discovery that his brother’s assassination was a plot set by the Galonia to weaken the empire. Aleius and the council dispatched a secret assault, made up of the joint forces of Acaelia, Khalis, and Jorgrith and together they marched headlong into the unforgiving Galonia.

Under the veil of night their united offensive took the Galonians totally by surprise. The secret offensive was extremely effective and they quickly slashed the Galonian’s supply lines to the bone and routed a number of their important barracks. Their allied legion continued east and met up with a large Dogriss contingent and the united armies marched through Galonia destroying depots and sacking military encampments at a vigorous pace. With no food and little in the way of armaments, the Galonian’s morale soon bottomed out and it appeared that the Acaelians would end up besting Galonia after their centuries of conflict. The allied armies marched upon the Galonian capital of Corrarune and prepared to finally end this protracted war of attrition.

The allied footmen stormed into the Corrarune, brandishing their steel spears and iron shields and cutting down all who came before them. The Galonians had prepared a strong defense and their mounted cavalry cut a wide swath through the defenseless footmen. The footman hunkered down in a phalanx and the time came for the Dogriss horsemen to charge in and save their allies – only they did not charge in; help did not come. The Dogriss were nowhere to be found as the Galonian horseman circled around and cut down the allied soldiers to the man; it was said to be an unparalleled bloodbath. It is said the clay buildings are still stained with the blood of the hapless Acaelian soldiers to this day.



 As it happened, the Dogriss had a secret meeting with King Edwin of Galonia and agreed to sabotage the Acaelians in exchange for letting Phratus and his family escape, and of course full control of Galonia.  When Aleius received word of the betrayal, he punched the mirror in his quarters hard enough to shatter the thing – the scars line his knuckles to this day.

With the combined military strength of Dogriss and Galonia, their massive army swept through Acaelia destroying everything. Aleius had to fall back to the western tip of the nation, with a small contingent of a few thousand men. The remaining Acaelian citizens fled across the sea to the west, to Gaius’s new lands. Aleius sent with them a request to Empress Veronica so that her and her newlanders might aid them in their time of need. After that, his troops settled down and prepared for a long winter.

Author: Kyle "Billus" Kusch
« Last Edit: January 22, 2016, 07:08:45 PM by Asid »

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Re: Lore
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2016, 10:24:39 PM »
2. Of Gaius and Grandiosity

The council sat at the ancient meeting table in the Hall of Voices. The long, white table was made of gnarled driftwood and thus was wildly uneven throughout. Its heights and widths varied as violently as the opinions of those who sat around it. A deep blue silk runner coursed down the table and poured over the ends, pooling on the floor at both ends. Members of the council sat in the massive auditorium the Council held session in, tiredly listening to the litany of reasons for and against the proposed invasion. All down the table the councilmen stared up to the head where the two brothers were locked in verbal combat. Gaius was leaned forward with his hands planted on the table, and spoke loudly for the entire room to hear.



 “Listen brother. As their King, it is my duty to ensure as many people live as long and happy of lives as possible. Scores of men dying in some pointless war runs counter to that duty.” Gaius’s tone was firm, but not unkind; like an exasperated parent telling their child for tenth time why they couldn’t play soldier with the kitchen knives. “I refuse to endanger my citizens needlessly.”

“Gaius, I don’t doubt your sense of duty, but listen to me. If we do nothing, Galonia will come and take everything we have. All that we’ve worked for! They outnumber us three to one, but they won’t be expecting us to attack. Not now. This is perhaps our only chance at this! You’ve heard the rumors as well as I; Galonia wants this land. They want your throne! If you idle over some moral inanity all of your citizens may be put to the sword!” Aleius was adamant, but again, not unloving. It was the voice of somebody explaining their vision patiently to somebody who would not, could not, understand it.

“Yes I’ve heard the rumors, as you say, but I see no reason why I should believe them. And even if I did, I’m not going to risk the peace we’ve all earned over the chance that somebody wants my throne. Plus the money we spend on this war could be spent on exploration, on the expansion of Acaelia.  If, perchance, they do attack us, then we’ll just put them down, won’t we? We haven’t lost a battle yet. There’s no greater strategic mind than you brother. That is why I keep you around, after all,” Gaius said through a tired smile.

A debonair little thing called Prim piped up then, “You know I think Aleius is right. Those nasty Galonian men will have us strung up and killed, or worse, before you can blink! Believe you me!”

“We’ll have a mass revolt if we conscript the peasants! The very validity of our rule will be called into question if we start sending our men to the slaughter!” a young councilman called Edward said.

“Better us send ‘em then have Edwin and his men murder ‘em in their beds! Better to die a man with sword in hand than as some mewlin’ mouse cowerin’ in his house,” said the greying, scarred General Alleck.

“ENOUGH!” yelled Gaius slamming his fists, rattling the table and sending cups flying. His voice reverberated violently throughout the hall, as the voice of God himself. Their puissant king spoke quietly now, so they had to lean in to hear. “As you know, this council cannot disband until we reach a unanimous vote. As you are no doubt also aware, we’ve been deliberating here for going on a full day. I’ve seen the sun rise and set and rise again, and I’m ready to lay abed with my wife. Would those who want to go to war, please stand?”

Aleius, Prim, Alleck, and a man called Malus stood in place, the rest remaining seated.

“That’s all? You four? You are all relieved of your positions effective immediately. You will resume your positions tomorrow at dawn, but until then you are no longer members of the council. Please exit the Hall of Voices,” Gaius stated. Aleius scowled and swept off without a word, slamming the heavy wooden door behind him. Alleck reopened the door, and waited for Malus and Prim to leave then left himself, closing the door softly behind.

“Well then, we vote now for the path of peace. All in favor?”

***

Gaius’s chambers were not impressive in and of themselves. No, that it left to its inhabitants.

They were rather plain, the chambers, what with their grey stone walls and unlacquered wooden boards for floors. Drab but nice furniture loitered about the room while torches blazed bright along the walls and an iron chandelier hung heavy in center of the room. The one lavishness, the single frivolity, lay in the blue curtains splashed along the walls and the sea blue carpet puddled on the floor. Gaius reclined shirtless in his massive bed, shimmering in blue silken sheets. He swirled a large glass of wine while staring at the iron chandelier, absentmindedly chomping on an apple and stroking Veronica’s hair.

Veronica was the desire of every soul in the kingdom. A more beautiful woman never walked the Earth, to hear some tell it. A smooth, exquisite face was the setting for her incandescent emerald eyes; these were the kind of eyes that men dove into headfirst, the kind of eyes that made men forget how to walk and made the words get muddled in their mouths. From there a perfectly pointed nose slid down to rose red lips. Her golden hair tumbled down her back in waves, falling lightly on her oh-so-perfect hips, which swayed oh-so-perfectly as she walked. Many would have killed to stroke her opaline skin, to caress her milky thighs, to lose themselves in her bright green eyes and tangles of sunsoaked hair.

While most men knew her body (at least within the realms of their fantasies), Gaius alone knew the true loveliness that lie inside. Veronica’s intuition steered Gaius, righted him when he had blown off course. She knew the hearts of men and could have won them over had she been a hag, which she most certainly was not. Her insight had been invaluable to Gaius over the fifteen years of his rule; she’d stayed his hand when he may have been too cruel and had pushed him to strike when he might otherwise have played the coward. Veronica was an extraordinary woman living in an ordinary age, riding forth through history on a steed of courage and wisdom.

Currently Veronica lay in bed, running her finger up and down Gaius’s chest while staring into his eyes. “You were too hard on Aleius. He’s very upset.”

“Oh come now, I returned him to his position straight away. And those of his friends. We couldn’t be expected to stay there all day!?”

“No,” she said slowly. “But you humiliated him in front of the council. What he’s proposing might be radical, but you know he’s doing what he thinks is best for Acaelia.”

“War, Veronica? How could he think that’s best? I think he wants to show me his power. I think it’s time I showed him mine.”

“Aleius is a smart man, my love, and a caring brother. You would do badly to make an enemy of your greatest ally. He loves you deeply, you know. He wants your kingdom to flourish. He wants you to flourish. You’re his twin for God’s sake.”

“I’m sure you’re right, but does he have to be such an annoying prick about it? All this arguing in front of the council, bickering like children. I don’t like for the Dogriss councilmen to see us like that. Who knows what they’re telling Jharkan?”

“What do you care what they tell him? We don’t have reason to fear them, they’ve been more of a help then we could have ever hoped for. Don’t be so pigheaded, you know Aleius wants to help you. And honestly, I can see his point.”

Gaius grimaced. He had not expected that. Not expected it at all. “I...I... I can’t lead my men to war.” He exhaled heavily. “Look, we’ve word of a new island. Massive. I was going to tell you later, but...Well just listen. It should solve all our problems. We have scouts there now doing the, uh, scouting.” He scratched his chin. “The point is, it’s rich in iron and gold and who knows what else. We can just buy the greedy assholes off.”

“What if they decide they’d like your iron, and your gold, and your head?”

“It won’t be like that Veronica. How’s this? If they turn down my first offer, I’ll prepare a battalion for war. God help me. I think it’s awful. I hate the idea of it. But I’ll do it, if you think we should. But I don’t think it’s going to come to that.” A smirk danced across his lips. “Now, come here,” he said, drawing her in close and kissing the nape of her neck. He pooled the blue sheets around them, sliding his hands down to her hips.

“Oh Gaius, must we punctuate every important discussion with sex?”

A broad grin crossed Gaius’s face. “I can’t think of a better way.”

***

Twelve weeks later, Gaius and Veronica were sailing on the open ocean, gliding across the calm Beralt Sea towards the new lands. The Black Sword swept along the glittering surface shadowed by six smaller vessels laden with materials for building Gaius’s new world. The Black Sword was the most impressive of the fleet; a hundred feet long of burnished black wood cut through the water as finely as the name suggested. It was a ship made for battering the enemy directly and it was fitted on its front with an ornately carved ram in the shape of a screaming warrior with sword in hand. A crew of fifty rowers below deck pulsed the ship forward as its heavy cloth sails lay limp in the windless morning.



 Gaius himself stood on the deck of the Black Sword, clad in a baggy outfit of loose white cloth with a lacquered black leather vest pulled over top. Ocean sprayed his face and he spat out briny water as he scanned the horizon for signs of land. They would certainly be close, must be by now. He rubbed his chin with his thumb and found himself once again with unwanted stubble sprouting up, giving the wayward king a vagabond look. He’d have liked to have shaved, but after his last attempt left both his honor and his face bleeding he figured the matter of shaving on the rocking boat settled. He clenched the railings on the front of the ship, leaning forward in the hopes of glimpsing a sight of his cherished island. Gazing towards his future.

“You know, I’d never thought I’d say it, but I like the look of the beard on you Gaius,” Veronica said, gliding up beside him and wrapping her arm around his waist. “Gives you that nice, uh, grizzled look that women find irresistible,” she said, snickering.

“Oh thanks.” Gaius laughed and kissed her on the cheek. “Honestly though, this trip seems to be taking forever. The waiting is killing me! I can’t wait to show you the new world. Our new world. It’s beautiful, trust me.”

“I know dear, you’ve told me about it roughly a thousand times. Come on, your island isn’t going to grow legs and walk off and we’ve still got plans that need finishing. Your town still needs a name. And an armory. Oh! And a well. And a library for that matter.”

“Fine, fine,” Gaius said, turning towards the aft of the ship. “Billus!” he called out.

A great deal of bustling could be heard below deck, then a short pause, then a diminutive old man, spindly with a long wizardly beard and small circular spectacles, burst out of the door and onto the deck. The violet robed man was clutching a seemingly impossible number of books and scrolls in his arms as he skittered towards them, glasses bobbing up and down wildly as he sped forward. He caught his foot on an errant nail and toppled headlong into the deck, pitching his scrolls and books all about the deck. Billus flung himself up and began a mad dash to recover his wayward possessions.

After he had scooped them all up into his arms again, Billus marched to where Gaius and Veronica were standing. “G-G-Gaius sir! You called sir!” Billus gave an awkward bow forward that sent his glasses sliding off his nose and onto the deck of the ship. Veronica bent down and plucked them up, depositing them gently back upon their owner’s face.

“Now now, Billus, calm down. We need to finish up those plans for our new home.”

“N-n-never mind that! If my calculations are correct, something terrible is coming!” he said as he hefted down a scroll onto the ground. It plopped down with a thud and unfurled upon the deck. He weighed it down with a few of the innumerable books in his possession, tracing his finger along the meticulously drawn figures on the page. “As y-y-you can tell by the angle of the h-hypotenuse in relation to our course and the parabolic motion of the tidal current in regards to t-the trajectory of this cold front...”

“Slow down Billus! I can never understand a damn word you say when you get like this. Tell it to me in simpleton’s terms, friend. Nice and simple. And slow,” Gaius said.

Billus inhaled, then said “Um... We. Are. Going. To. Be. Hit. By. A. Storm. Thiiiis big.” He held his arms wide to demonstrate, dropping the remaining scrolls on the deck again.

“How big are we talking about, Billus? And go a bit faster this time round,” Gaius said, scooping up some of the fallen scrolls and plopping them back into Billus’s arms.

“Um, huge sir. Incredibly terrifyingly stupendously catastrophically massively huge! We’re doomed! D-d-doomed!” Billus plunked down on the deck in heap, breathing as through he’d just flown there by flapping his arms.

Gaius sighed, “Calm down Billus. How long do we have?”

Billus peered up at him over his spectacles, despondent. “I’d say a day at the most. It’s too big, sir. We can’t escape it.”

Gaius smiled and pulled Billus up from the ground. Gaius stared out over the clear water, thinking on the storm ahead.

“Well then, we’re just gonna have to weather it then, aren’t we friend?”

***

Cold water smashed into Gaius’s face as he madly twisted the wheel of the Black Sword with all his weight. He tried to bark something down to one of his officers on the deck, but his shout was drowned out by the raging winds and torrential rain. Only Gaius and three other crew mates remained above deck. One of these crewmen was the captain of this ship, who had been knocked unconscious when an earlier wave had knocked him backwards into the main mast. Another of these crewmen was now attempting to drag the limp captain below deck through the water amassing on the deck.

The waves crashed and crashed again into the side of his ship, and behind him Gaius could just make out the silhouettes of his fleet against the flashes of lightning. Drenched to the bone and standing in three inches of water, Gaius slammed into the wheel with all his might and veered the Sword hard to the left. The water sloshed violently on the deck as the ship tilted until it was almost on its side, and much of the excess liquid poured off over the side. The remaining crewman dragged the unconscious captain below deck and soon Gaius found himself alone at the helm. He studied the storm and it seemed to him vindictive and unrelenting as an endless army of angry waves pummeled the side of his ship.

They were being hurled about by an angry ocean, drifting aimlessly through the roaring storm with no sails and no oars. Gaius had ordered all the fleet’s sails furled and hatches battened, which had thus far been successful in keeping any of the ships from capsizing. Gaius plowed forth through the stormy waters, adroitly threading the ship through the tumultuous sea. The water was swelling more violently than ever and the ship was tilting madly about like an off-kilter top as the thunder crashed down in a deafening roar. The ship pitched to the side and Gaius fought hard at the wheel to keep the ship aright.

Lightning began to strike the very sea itself, exploding out in beautiful, deadly webs of white electricity upon the water’s surface. The tumultuous ocean lit up as if there the very sun was hiding beneath its surface and Gaius desperately turned to count how many of his ships remained. Before he could complete his count he was thrown backwards as a wayward bolt of lightning struck the wheel, splintering it beyond recognition. With the heavy rains hammering him down, Gaius summoned his remaining strength and staggered back to what remained of the captain’s wheel. He took a deep breath and grabbed the splintery handles, which cut into his hands as he spun the wheel counterclockwise to right the ship.

The wooden shards bore themselves deeper into his flesh as he spun the wheel this way and that and the saltwater stung him as it poured his freshly opened hands. Gasping, he fell to his knees and slumped forward against the wheel. He muttered something that was lost to the storm and blacked out.

Author: Kyle "Billus" Kusch

I stand against Racism, Bigotry and Bullying

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Re: Lore
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2016, 10:29:24 PM »
3. Of Aleius and Assassinations

 Just two years prior, Aleius had been the Emperor Regent of all of Acaelia. This was not a bad position to be in. On this day he found himself wrapped in silken sheets being fed jellied toast by a rather attractive lass called Nissy. Her long curly brown hair fell in splendid ringlets framing her more than ample breasts stunningly. She stared at Aleius with rapt attention as he ate his toast lost in thought. Nissy was the second most beautiful woman Aleius had every laid eyes and was certainly the most beautiful women he’d ever slept with. Aleius was doing well for himself.

The reason that Aleius had been able to sleep with her was on account of his position as Emperor Regent. Aleius was the second most powerful man in all of Acaelia – should the Emperor die, he would don the heavy pewter crown and assume his brother’s place on the throne. In the wild, left to his own devices, Aleius would have been passed over without a second thought; quite possibly without a first one.



 While Gaius and Aleius were twins, they could not have been more dissimilar in appearance. Gaius was short and stocky with broad shoulders giving way to a defined, muscular body. Meanwhile, Aleius was extremely tall, almost freakishly so, but rail thin and every part of body seemed to be cut from jagged stone. While Gaius had a bold smooth face with broad features and silken sandy blond hair, Aleius was all angles and his curly woolen hair had gone prematurely grey when he was just twenty-two. He wore a long pointed beard that ended in a neat finger-sized curl. They shared one feature which would identify them as their brothers: they both had their father’s piercing blue eyes which seemed to cut through the chaff straight into your core.

Yet despite all these things, Aleius lay in bed eating with the oh-so-lovely Nissy, munching on toast while he absentmindedly cupped her breast. A playful little squeeze elicited a playful little yelp, and Aleius leaned over and gave her a peck on her forehead. He wrapped himself in his silk sheets, leaving Nissy pleasantly naked on the bed, and wandered over to stare out the window of his room. He stared out at the guards who hustled back and forth over the long twisting parapets, bathed in the opalescent glow of the moon and the fiery hue of their torches. Aleius twisted his beard round and round while he stared out over the castle.

“What’s the matter darling?” Nissy asked.

“Hrm? Oh. Nothing dear. Just thinking.”

“Yeah, I gathered that much. You always do that thing with your beard when you’re off in your head. What’s troubling you now?”

“Nothing, Nissy. Why don’t you go to sleep? You’ve got a long day tomorrow. The soldiers will be home and your girls are going to be in hot demand.”

“That’s for me to worry about. Why don’t you come over here and I’ll give you something a shade better than toast and jelly.”

He smiled at that. “I’m sorry dear, but I’ve business to attend to. I’m afraid I really can’t. I need to go out now, I’ll be gone awhile. Sleep here if you like. I’ll come visit you at the Pretty Pearl tomorrow.” He walked to his ornately wrought wooden armoire and picked out a black silk doublet with matching pants. Putting on his pants, he turned to Nissy. “If you see anybody on your way out, tell them I’ve gone to the library.”

He walked back to her, kissed her gently on the forehead once more, and turned to leave. Almost absentmindedly he scooped up his dagger from the small table near his door and fastened it to his belt as he grabbed his heavy black cloak from the peg on the wall. He fastened it about his neck and pulled the hood up. And with that, Aleius was gone.

***

Back in his rose-oil scented tent, Aleius’s eyes were busy scrutinizing the maps when he heard a husky voice from outside.

“Permission to enter, your grace.”

“Granted. Come in Garrett.”

A strapping older man entered, his dark tanned skin shimmered with sweat in the candlelight. He was bald and wore a close cropped goatee. And at the moment, he looked quite excited.

“We got one of them who done in Gaius sir! Your grace, I mean. We got ‘em on a post, waitin’. We ain’t got much from him yet, but we know you will.”

“Garrett?”

“Yes si– Your grace?”

“How do you know he was one of the assassins who killed my brother?”

“Well your grace, he matched the description one of them dockhands gave. Oh, and he was holdin’ this.” He handed a small pin over to Aleius, who turned it over slowly in his hands. A small brass disk no larger than a coin, it had inside it a bearded lynx’s face with glittering topaz eyes.

“A lynx? So the order is real then...”

“Strangest thing, your grace, is that he asked for you. By name. Said you’d be able to get it all sorted. Dunno why he thought that.” Garrett chuckled a bit to himself, then said “Maybe he don’t know you’re Gaius’s brother.”

“Hrm, yes, maybe that’s it. Well take me to him. Oh. And Garrett?”

“Yes, your grace?”

“What was his name? The assassin.”

“Balen.”

“I see,” Aleius said, fingers running through his beard, twirling it into an ever tighter knot.

***

As it happened, on a night two years prior Aleius had been on his way to meet a man named Balen at his pub called The Mudder’s Mug.  His breath formed a fine mist as Aleius hustled through the Lower Third District; he tromped through the snow lit only by the waxing moon. Clad in his black doublet and matching cloak, he hurried down the sparsely lit alley beside the Mug, carrying on with as much secrecy as a gangly giant can muster. Aleius rapped thrice on the heavy wooden door and rubbed his hands together while he waited for Balen to open up. A few seconds later the door opened a crack and an outlandishly wide eye peeked out of the gap.

“Ah, it’ll be you then, won’t it? Come in, come in. Hurry up then,” the owner of the eye said.

“Yes, it’s me. Who else would it be at this time of night?” Aleius asked whilst crouching through door. He was greeted by Balen, the owner of the establishment. A short thickset man in his early fifties, Balen wore his wispy salt-and-pepper hair loose with a thick ashen beard rounding out his ragamuffin look. He wore now a stained grey overcoat pulled over a well-worn leather vest with some pants there were so threadbare it was ponderous how they remained together at all. “You expecting company that I’m not Balen?”

“Oh come now, never can be too careful when you’re plannin’ what we is. Let’s get us down to the basement then,” Balen said while fastening the heavy iron bolt on the door behind Aleius. They stood now in the back room of the Mudder’s Mug, a ramshackle affair that served pisswater to the downtrodden folks who lived in the Lower Third District. A looming wooden fire hazard, the Mug was largely made of rotting and rotten wood with hay strewn about the floor and stacks of barrels twenty feet high lining every wall. The air was heavy with that scent that can only be created by the unique combination of stale beer, piss, and rat shit, and Aleius found himself wishing himself back in his comfortable room with his scented candles and toast.

Balen hurried him to a small patch of hay behind some barrels of low-grade ale and pushed the hay aside revealing a small wooden trapdoor. The door gave a small creak as he tilted it open, and Balen waited awkwardly whilst Aleius contorted his ungainly body through the hatch and down the rusted iron ladder.



 Once the men were settled in the basement proper, Balen lit the torches in the sconces along the mossy stone walls, revealing a basement that was somehow worse, even more ramshackle, than the dive bar above would have hinted at. The ceiling could not have been more than five feet high so Aleius was hunched almost in half and had to totter around in an uncomfortable shuffle to move about. They sat at the squat wooden table in the center of the room and Balen produced a few dusty rolls of parchment from his overcoat. He unfurled them on the table, placing a mug here and an ink pot there to keep them flat.

“Here’s the info we’s got from our man. Gaius is set to return three evenings hence, and get this! The bloody idiot left Veronica in the newlands! And his Pewter Guard wit’ her! The fool’s coming by hisself with only a skeleton crew!” Balen laughed wheezily as he pointed to some shipping logs showing that Gaius would be returning with some 20 less people than he left with. “He’ll be easy pickins if I do say so meself.”

“He left Veronica overseas?” A scowl appeared on his face that disappeared before you could be sure it was ever there at all.  He ringed his beard round his fingers and looked at the documents through furrowed brow.

“A-a-and his Pewter Guard too!” Balen repeated, pointing again to the shipping logs.

“This news is...is unexpected. All to the good though, I suppose. Our job should be considerably easier without the guard there, and I treasured not the idea of putting some of them to the sword. They’re good men, they’ll be useful to me later on,” he said. Aleius rocked back in his decaying wooden chair, staring at the ceiling as if studying its leaky crevices would help him process what he had just heard. “So our plans are otherwise unchanged then?”

“Yessir, I filched this here invoice off some fool magistrate, come down here for one of Alvina’s girls. Says here they be set to dock at the Eastern Port. My man aboard will be sendin’ us a pigeon when they’s close. The info we got says they should be landing sometime around dawn.”

“Good. The rest of Lynxes are ready then? Malus and Edward confirmed as much after court. I haven’t heard from Prim or Thalik.”

“Aye, they’re ready.”

“Good. As you know we won’t be able to be seen together for some time after the deed is done.”

“And me spot? In the court, I mean. And the fancy room with the handmaids? Them kind who do whatever ya say?”

Aleius let out a frustrated sigh, then said, “Yes, yes. You know I wish your heart were all the way in this Balen. But nobody’s better than you at culling information, I suppose, so I guess I’m stuck with you. But yes, once I’m Emperor I’ll make sure you get your reward Balen.” He stood to leave, banging his head on the stone ceiling. He let a string of curses under his breath and hobbled over to the ladder with his hand furiously rubbing his skull.

“Aleius!” Balen whispered excitedly. Aleius turned around and stared at him, waiting for him to speak. “The Lynx hunts the foul under cloak of night,” he said putting his hand over the polished bronze pin.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Aleius muttered and ascended the ladder.

***

 Aleius’s red silk cape whoosed in the wind as Garrett led him through the sprawling military encampment. A few hundred tents were set up in the dry dirt of Acaelian lowlands, surrounded by a hand-dug moat lined with sharpened wooden stakes. Aleius’s tent was a massive thing made of a deep scarlet cloth that sat squat at the end of the camp. Garret and Aleius marched past the rows of common soldiers’ white cloth tents dwelled to the pit where the prisoners were kept. The prison, if it could be called that, was little more than an encirclement of pointed wooden posts monitored by a couple of guards. There hadn’t been a prisoner in weeks, so the guards had largely taken to playing cards between naps.

It was anything but unattended now, with throngs of soldiers crowded around the prison pit, taking a break from their otherwise boring days to catch a glimpse of a mythical member of the Order of the Lynx. As Garrett and Aleius approached, Aleius saw Balen hanging from bound wrists off of a tall pole, with his feet dangling a few inches from the ground. He was clad in a tattered black cloak whose hood was pulled back and, if Balen had looked a bit crazed before, he now crossed the border into complete madman. His unkempt hair flailed about as he kicked about madly, trying in vain to free himself from his rope bonds.



 The men hurled insults at their would-be assassin barkeep with increasing ire, but they grew silent as Aleius entered the pit. Balen also calmed himself and hung quietly from the pole, staring at Aleius with wide eyes. His mouth worked wordlessly, his face deep in concentration as he chose what to say. Aleius stood ten paces from the dangling assassin, silent as a gargoyle and with a strangely placid expression carved upon his face. His fingers worked through his beard slowly, contorting it this way and that but elsewise he was as still as a statue.

 
“Aleius, ol’ friend! Quite a bind we’ve found ourselves in now, huh?” Balen laughed nervously as Aleius stared on; calm as a lake on a windless day. “Please, let me down. We can talk this over.” His eyes pleaded with Aleius. No response. “I always been a friend to ya.Always. Lemme down!” Balen was getting excited now, wide eyed alarm plain upon his face. Aleius twisted his beard into a tight coil, then let it spring back. “The Order ain’t none too happy with you. After all we done for you. After we done in G---“

Aleius dashed forward in a bounding gate and planted his long dagger deep in Balen’s throat, almost to the hilt. Balen continued to babble on as if oblivious to the dagger pressing against his spine and the blood bubbling out his mouth. The only sound he could make was this horrific gasping sound, like his voice was scraping the cold steel of Death’s sickle and expiring as it left his lips. Wide eyed he struggled on, pumping his legs and wrenching his body violently, making the awful gasping noise incessantly. He wheezed and sputtered with increasing intensity as his pleading eyes made contact with Aleius’s.

Aleius yanked the blade free. Balen’s body fell limp, swinging slowly on the pole as blood poured down chest to pool at the base of the pole. The soldiers stared on in silence, trying to work out what they’d just seen. A perverse silence settled over the camp. A strange, overpowering silence that seemed to occlude even the ambient chirpings of the birds and the crackling of the fires. A suffocating, utter silence.

Aleius cleared his throat.

“Garrett, bring the body to my tent. Oh. And no visitors.”

Author: Kyle "Billus" Kusch

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Re: Lore
« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2016, 10:37:39 PM »
4. The Temple of the Holy Loam (Part 1)

 “Well, get on with it Morris. I haven’t the time for idleness. And I know that neither do you.” The cardinal remained seated at his intricately carved stone desk, pouring over a thick manuscript. The brown and white robes of the order hung loosely upon his willowy frame, and the small brown pebbles that lined his sleeves clacked softly each time he turned a page.Morris cleared his throat, hoping the cardinal would turn around but he did not. So Morris addressed the back of his head.

                “Yes, well, we’ve recently been receiving a flurry of letters from the capital. ‘War’ seems to be the word on everybody’s lips. Things have been getting heated after Emperor Gaius’s death and people are saying Acaelia should be on the war march before fall.”



  “And every life lost will be a tragedy, but what business do they have with the Terrun order? We blessed the older brother with an exceedingly generous contingent of Terrun priests for his expedition to the new lands. Now what does the younger brother ask of us?”

                “He asks for another sizable deployment of Terrun priests, that they may provide blessings before each battle and say the rites for those that fall.”

                “Yes, and I assume there’s more.”

                “There is. They request use of our architects, that they may create fortifications for them.”

                “Very well, is that all?”

                “No, cardinal, that is not all they ask. The Emperor is personally requesting every Terrun temple spread the official message of the capital: that this war of theirs is one of noble purpose and divine necessity. We are asked to inform the people that Acaelia’s cause is blessed by Saxum and that Galonia has earned the heavens’ ire. The capital requests our help in recruiting soldiers, armorers, tailors, and the lot. Aleius seems to believe that our support will do much to sway the common man to their cause and that we should be some boon to their enlistment efforts.”

                “Preposterous! The very notion of it is madness! The Terrun order is a religion of peace! And Galonia has many devout followers of Saxum as well. Never in Terrus’s thousand year history have we endorsed some political and we won’t be starting now. I will not allow our church to be made into some shills for Aleius’s political ambitions. I will not have it!” The cardinal exhaled slowly, doing his best to restore a sense of calm.

“Besides, Aleius was never a supporter of the church in all his time on the council; I do not see how he could deign to expect so much of us. No, no, it simply is not fair of them to ask. We can’t knowingly recruit some poor hapless men to send off to their deaths, less so against an ally of the church. I will not hear of it. And I intend to tell them as much.”

                “Yes, cardinal, of course. There is one additional matter I must inform you of. The pope himself has drafted a letter addressed specifically to you, cardinal, and the squire who delivered it said that no one but you is to open it. I shall leave it here for you, sir,” Morris said.  He rummaged around in his satchel for a moment, and finally pulled out a crisp parchment scroll emblazoned with the yellow sigil of the pope. He placed it on the cardinal’s desk and wordlessly returned to the entrance, such that the letter was out of view. The cardinal picked up a small stone blade, broke the wax seal, and began viciously devouring the letter’s contents.

When the cardinal had finished, he placed the letter down delicately upon his desk. He stared at the letter for some time, the light from the stone braziers playing terrible shadow games on his face. The cardinal hunched forward and closed his eyes, squeezing the bridge of his nose between his spindly forefinger and thumb. “Yes, thank you for delivering the letter Morris. I ask that you please go wait in my chambers a while; I shall need some time to organize a response. I shall call for you in a bit.”

                “Yes cardinal,” Morris said, stepping through a door in the back of the office and seating himself cross-legged at the foot of the large cloth bed in the cardinal’s chambers. The cardinal resided in a large circular space carved into a stone wall, with numerous lanterns dangling from wooden posts imbedded around the wall. The bed was resplendent in ornate crimson sheets; but for this one splash of rose hue the room was almost completely colorless with grey stone shelves framing grey stone furniture.

Morris produced a small wooden block and a stone carving knife from his satchel and went to work. Morris whittled away a couple hours on the edge of the bed. When he was done, Morris blew the lingering wood shavings from his carving and stared at his newly wrought creation. A respectable facsimile of a beautiful woman stared back at him; a delicate carved smile peered through long shaped hair. It still needed a lot of detail work, but there would be plenty of time for that later. He set the figurine on the footboard and fell back into the cardinal’s bed. At this precise moment Morris was sure that no bed in the world was more comfortable than this one and he was asleep within a few minutes.

He was awakened some time later by a loud rapping on the door. After a short pause, the door sailed open and Parishioner Ballick flew into the room, his shift billowing behind him like curtains in a spring breeze. Ballick was a squat man with a very round head who hailed from the southern nation of Khalis. He wore his blonde dyed hair in a massive bun held tight by a leather cord that perpetually looked as though it were about to break. Thick lines of exhaustion ran through his darkly tanned face and he had a wild and somewhat terrifying look dancing in his eyes. “Asleep!?” he shrieked as he slammed the door behind him and yanked Morris out of bed.

Morris rubbed the sleep from him eyes and stared at his crazed teacher. “Hrm? What? Parishioner Ballick! I was just, um, waiting for the cardinal. I guess I dozed off. What’s, uh, going on?”

“I honestly have no idea how you’ve managed to sleep through it! The cardinal has rounded up most of the adepts and parishioners and left! Nowhere to be found! No hint as to where they’ve gone!” Ballick said. He rubbed his thick fingers across the bristle on his chin. “Who he took, and why, also remains a mystery to us. All the cardinal left us was a bundle of letters in my quarters, of which but one was addressed to me. It said, basically, that I would find you here, and that you were to deliver the remaining notes to a few Parishioners. I’m to collect the remaining adepts and meet you at the southernmost exit.”

“Nobody knows anything? Why wouldn’t he come for me himself? What’s…”, Morris began to ask, but he was interrupted by a sudden crash that shook the room, sending books and pottery flying. Thin trails of dust drifted from the ceiling as Ballick and Morris struggled to regain their footing. “What in the blue was that!?” Morris asked.



 “Something from the surface we suspect. It’s been happening with increasing frequency these past couple of hours. That’s the worst one yet. Quickly child, follow me to the office. I’ve left my bag there. They hurried out of the newly disheveled room and into the office, which seemed to have fared no better. The once organized cabinets now looked as though somebody took their arm and ran it along their shelves, toppling books and ornaments everywhere. A thin layer of dirt seemed to have settled over the entire room, making the office seem as if it had been abandoned for years.

Ballick hurried through the tarnished office to the cardinal’s wide stone desk and recovered his bag. He began rifling through it until he pulled out the three pieces of rolled browning parchment and pressed them in Morris’s hands. Each one was small and tightly wound, bound by a thick cloth cord and pressed with the cardinal’s personal red wax seal.  “I was instructed to only allow you to deliver them. Nobody else is to handle the notes. Oh, it probably goes without saying, but you’re not to open them either.”

 “Take these to Parishioner Vallus, Parishioner Raul, and Parishioner Alexia. Each is marked so you’ll know whom it is for. Hurry and deliver each personally. No diversions, alright? I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t like smell of this at all. I’ll feel much better when this is through.”

                “Yes Parishioner. I will deliver them promptly, sir.”

                “Good, now hurry child. I’ve got matters of my own to tend to,” Ballick said, giving a sweeping bow as he left. Morris stood for a moment in the cardinal’s empty office, breathing in the musty aroma of the centuries old books that once lined cardinal’s shelves and now lined his floors. Then he threw the letters in his haversack and started out the door. He paused a moment, dashed back to the cardinal’s bedchambers, grabbed his figurine from the footboard and tossed it in his satchel, and ran out of the office and into the Temple of the Holy Loam.

***

The Temple of the Holy Loam was a sanctuary of the Terrun faith, and like all Terrun temples it was buried hundreds of feet beneath the surface. The Holy Loam was situated on the northeastern border of the Auriun Empire and was a scant few miles from Galonia. Over its centuries of operation, it had been visited by Galonians, Acaelians and Dogrissians, emperors and peasants alike.

Morris stepped out of the cardinal’s office into the dimly lit tunnel beyond, ducking low under a hanging stone brazier. He started back to the temple complex at large, wending his way through the shadowy roughhewn channels that led to the library. Some torches and carved stone braziers meekly lit the underground passage, trying as best they could to fight the crushing darkness that was part and parcel of being hundreds of feet underground.

This far down, the dank air always felt thick and sour in your mouth, like it had grown stale in the preceding centuries. Morris breathed it in deeply; he had been a student at the temple for most of his life and found the stale air far preferable to the musty aroma of incense and old books that permeated the cardinal’s cramped office. He began hurrying down the claustrophobic tunnels that led out of the cardinal’s office, surveying the decrepit wooden crossbeams that were struggling to hold the weight of the world above. It must grow tiresome, to hold all that stone for an eternity without rest.

Morris scurried through the tunnel and down a flight of hewed steps, descending further into the complicated lattice of tunnels and throughways that made up the Temple of the Holy Loam. He ran his hand along the cool stone walls as he descended the steps into the inner sanctum, feeling the chill moisture with the tips of his fingers. His next order of business would be to deliver Vallus’s note, then hurry on to the Grand Library to deliver Raul’s.



 Eager to get to the bottom of this, Morris followed the long snaking channel that led from the priests’ offices back to the residential district, trekking along the cramped channel for some time. He pulled a small piece of hard bread from his haversack and began eating as he went. He came upon an intersection as he finished his stale hunk and he swung a right, descending a long flight of steps onto a narrow cliff side path that led into the temple grounds proper.

Like all temples of the Terrun order, the temple grounds started as a small burrowing deep beneath the surface that eventually blossomed into a fully developed underground city. The temple grounds were a capacious lot nestled in a huge hand-excavated chasm hundreds of feet below ground which were reachable only by long hand-excavated shafts dug by ancient monks in centuries past. The entirety of the temple was closed off to the surface above, and had initially been started by ancient Terrun monks engaged in a holy diaspora since the destruction of the Temple of the Slab. This cavern had been expanded considerably since its inception, each generation chiseling out a greater foothold for the temple, bit by painstaking bit. The grounds were now a sweeping and grandiose tunnel network, a labyrinthine trellis of channels and shafts and warrens. But once they had been a cramped little hole in the ground.

The grounds were accessible only by long hand-excavated shafts dug by these ancient monks. Most of the buildings and adornments seemed to grow from the very walls themselves, blossoming out the cavern walls like stone fungi. As the temple expanded, new buildings had been fashioned by carving away the stone walls of the cavern as a sculptor carves a figure from marble. As such, the buildings flowed from the walls and floor and poured seamlessly into the stone from which they were sculpted. Almost every building was firmly attached to at least one of the cavern walls, while only the cardinal’s office and reliquary stood freestanding on opposite ends of the cave.

The sunken grounds were bifurcated by a far deeper plunge that ran unevenly down its center. Here and there some dangling rope bridges spanned the chasm, and the two sides had naturally blossomed into the residential district and the service district. The residential district housed all the temple’s permanent inhabitants, save for the cardinal and some high ranking priests, and the service district was home to the many workshops, daises, and other buildings the temple needed to function day-to-day. Most of the buildings that stood in the temple grounds were older than memory, having been carved by early monks in eras long past.

Morris continued on into the residential district around noon as sunlight glittered lazily into the cavern from the few long shafts that connected the grounds to the surface. These painstakingly carved shafts were hundreds of feet long and had been hand mined into the ceiling by some assiduous Terrun monks in times beyond reckoning. While the sunlight that poured was not quite ample, it did succeed in bolstering the meager offerings the torches and braziers struggled to provide. Morris marveled at the sight of the temple basked in noonday glow; the temple was only bequeathed the gift of sunlight for a scant few hours a day and its residents knew to make the most of it. Beyond that they had to make do with torches and braziers beyond counting.



 The walls of the cavern had been unevenly carved, so here and there huge craggy overhangs of stone would jut out from the wall, covering long distances of buildings in intimidating shadows. Morris journeyed underneath such a shadowed outcrop, past the stacked stone houses that comprised the living quarters of the wards and other graduated students. They now loomed empty since the cardinal had disappeared most of the temple’s residents. The hazy lights from the braziers outside played devilishly across their cavernous windows and doors, forming ghoulish visages that moaned on eternally in the forever flickering glow of the torchlight. Morris shuttered and scurried past, making his way onto one of the long rope bridges that dangled hundreds of feet over the shadowy abyss below.

Morris began to cross the chasm on the approach to the squat workshop, resting his hands on the rope railings as he tread across the dangling wooden floorboards. As he reached the middle of the bridge, the entire temple gave a mighty shutter and began to rumble violently. The rope bridge began to twist and swing in the seism, sending Morris bowling back and forth into the rope handrails on either side. Morris grabbed the rope railings hard, tightening his fists into a white-knuckled grip as he stumbled his way forward. The bridge creaked and groaned desperately in the quake.

The rumbling subsided as reached terra firma on the other side and he dropped to his knees, staring at his aching rope burned hands. Morris shakily rose to his feet and lurched forward, clenching and unclenching his hands as he made his way to the central channel. He walked through the massive tunnel that lead to the market district and paused for a moment outside Vallus’s enormous workshop.

The raucous pings of engineers’ hammers and the smell of smoke were usually omnipresent far around the workshop, but now the air hung quiet and clear. The workshop would normally be buzzing with artisans and students as they set to working on new projects for the Holy Loam. This type of workshop was not unique; all Terrun temples had workshops such as this which served as the main venue for research and production of science in most of Acaelia. Terrun temples had a long history of being on the bleeding edge of scientific achievement, with people in the surrounding areas often traveling hundreds of miles to benefit from their advanced poultices or learn of advanced techniques to better fortify their buildings.

                Morris passed through the open front door into the thoroughly disheveled workshop, eyeing the scattered books and toppled machines with furrowed brow. “Vallus!” he called out, peeking under tables and dashing from room to room. He spied a toppled machine in the corner, and recalled a conversation he’d had with Vallus a couple months back.

Continued in next post...

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Re: Lore
« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2016, 10:37:59 PM »
***

 “Good morning, Parishioner. How does the day find you?” Morris said, strolling into the bustling workshop.

“Well, Morris. Very well, in fact! Come, come. Over here lad, now look at this,” Vallus instructed, hunching over a squat wooden contraption. It was all seesawing winches and whirring gears and he was fidgeting at a small wooden gear with a look of rapt attention. On top of the device were two large casks suspended on wooden planks.

“I’m sorry sir, I don’t really understand what it is,” Morris said, looking the strange machine up and down. “Uh, what is it?”

“Well I ‘as just about to show yah that, wasn’t I son? Now, pay attention. Come, come. Look here,” he said, filling a large drum on top of the machine with wetted clay. Vallus stood and shifted a large lever on the side of the contraption which seemed to send its gears buzzing into overdrive. A hole opened in the bottom of one of the barrels and wet clay poured into a small stone box at the end of the machine. Vallus flipped another switch and sand began dispensing into the box from the other barrel. After a short time, both drums stopped pouring and he placed a heavy stone lid atop the box now full with a sandy clay mixture.

Vallus knelt down and lifted the box, bringing it over to a kiln on the other end of cramped workshop. He placed the box inside and began pumping the bellows, his muscular frame sweating from a mix of heat and exertion. After some time, grabbed the box with iron tongs, and brought it back to the table in the center of his shop. He let it cool there and then lifted the lid from the box. He flipped the box onto the table, lifted it, and there set a steaming clay brick. He handed Morris the brick with a huge grin.



 Morris grasped the brick firmly in his hands, feeling its heft and the warmth that oozed from its tan surface. Bricks were something of a sacred object in the Terrun order; they were viewed as the building block for all of human civilization. “A kilned brick?” he asked.

“Ah, so you do have working eyes then, do you?”

“Well, don’t the wards usually make these? I’ve made more than enough of these myself to last a lifetime.”

“Yes, of course they do. But this machine don’t just make any bricks. It makes perfect bricks.”

“I think our bricks do just fine.”

“Yeah, they do fine. But these’ll do even better ‘an that. They’ll do great. They’re flatter ‘n stronger than the ones made by hand. It gets the mixture perfect every time lad. These bricks will form sturdier buildings than this world has ever seen. Well, enough about bricks building the edifices of my imagination. What’s filling your days now, lad?”

“Did you hear? I’m up to graduate in three months! It looks like I may be your equal sooner than you think,” he said. He straightened up and a massive grin spread across his face.

“Aye, even if by some fluke they let you be a Parishioner, you never be my equal!” Vallus gave a deep belly laugh and said, “Ah, you best be back to your training son. You don’t want to keep that Alexia waiting. Least I know I wouldn’t.”

***

 Now the brick-making machine lay toppled in a corner, covered in the dirt that rained from the ceiling with each quake. It’s two mixing barrels lay sideways, spilling out their contents into a decidedly unperfect mixture. “Vallus!” Morris yelled. He began tearing through the workshop, upending tables and shelves in a mad dash to find him. It was then he remembered that Vallus had a small private workshop in the attic and he sped to the rickety wooden ladder.

                Morris found Vallus crouched at a chest behind a tall oaken bookshelf, rummaging through its contents like a man possessed.

 “Vallus!” Morris said. Vallus yanked his head around and stared at Morris with a furious look in his eyes. When he saw who it was, his face lifted into a familiar smile Morris. “Vallus, I have to speak with you, it’s urgent,” Morris said, walking towards him. Vallus remained crouched in front of the squat chest, rooting around while Morris spoke.

“Yes, what is it lad? I’ve got urgent matters of mine own to tend to.”

“The cardinal has dispatched me to give this letter to you,” Morris said, crossing the room and handing him the letter marked V.

Vallus broke the seal on the letter, drew a pair of spectacles from his breast pocket, and began to read. As he poured over the letter’s contents, his brow furrowed and a thin frown spread across his bearded face. When he had finished reading the letter, he crumpled it in his hands and addressed Morris.

“Lad, you best hurry on and deliver those other letters. You haven’t the time to be wasting with me. Don’t bother asking me questions; I’ve nothing to tell you.”

Morris was taken aback by his uncharacteristically serious tone and did as he was bid.

“I’ll be off then, Vallus. Uh, good day to you,” he said, starting back toward the door.

“Wait, wait, wait. Before you leave, I’ve something for you. Come here,” Vallus said, returning to the chest he’d been so interested in all this time. He began rummaging through its contents with redoubled fervor and started pitching its contents onto the floor. He must have found whatever he was searching for because he gave a cheer and produced a pair of small leather cases from it. He pulled a small object from one case then the other, twisted the object so that it glinted in the candlelight, and shoved it back into its sheath.

Vallus hurriedly jammed all the spilled contents back into the oaken chest, closed the lid, and gave it a shove with his boot. It flew back and clattered into a small niche behind his bookshelf with a thud. He walked over to Morris and gingerly placed the polished leather case in his hands. Morris stared down into his open hands and pulled the object free of its container.



 “A dagger? Is this steel!? By Saxum, where did you get something like this?” Morris held the dagger at length in his fist, as if it was a gorgon’s head meant to turn him to stone. Morris would be in grave trouble indeed if he was ever found with it; cutting weapons had long been prohibited to the members of the Terrun order and only battlefield priests were allowed to carry weapons at all. “I can’t keep this! If I’m caught, I’ll be expelled!”

“Never mind that! I’ve reason to believe you’re going to have need of it soon. Carry this with you, lad. So that if trouble ever finds you, at least it won’t find you unarmed.”

Author: Kyle "Billus" Kusch

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Re: Lore
« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2016, 10:41:22 PM »
5. The Temple of the Holy Loam (Part 2)

 One of Morris’s only memories of his parents had him riding atop the family horse cart, bouncing happily in his mother’s lap. He looked up into her jade green eyes, her face light and playful as she smiled back at him; the setting sun shimmered through her inky black hair and cast her face in an amber halo. Morris’s father must have said something to her, because she turned to him and smiled so radiantly as to put the sun to shame.

She raised Morris and set him on her shoulders so that he could see Redshire rumbling into the distance over the horizon. Angry storm clouds blanketed the sky above the hamlet, spitting down lightning in fits. It was perhaps a portent of things to come.



 During the tempestuous autumn of that year, Morris awoke to find that his mother had been stolen in the night by a fatal racking cough. Two months later, his father was thieved under a scorching sun by a festering wound he’d scored defending his yield from some would-be thieves. For months after, Morris lived destitute in the gutters of Redshire, taking shelter in the alley beside the inn. He scraped by on whatever small handouts he could get from kinder of the local merchants and village folk.

As it happened, the cardinal of the Holy Loam had come to visit Redshire during this time to administer medicine to combat a recent outbreak of pox in the city. It was during this venture that he happened upon Morris, who he found filthy and moping about alone in an alley. He was clad only in an overlarge dirty tunic and looked as if he hadn’t eaten in days and smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in weeks. His hollow eyes peered through a sunken face worn thin with sorrow and famine.

The child hastily gulped down the dinner the Cardinal had brought for him, and agreed to take a set of fitting clothes from the local tailor. After inquiring around town about the child and finding about his recent orphaning, the cardinal made young Morris a protective ward of temple and readied him for life as a page in the service of the Holy Loam. Such an activity was not uncommon; Morris soon found himself surrounded by other children unfortunate enough to lose their parents, but fortunate enough to be saved by the temple.

Morris was a diligent child who excelled in his studies and quickly proved himself to be an able page indeed. He was slow to make friends, but the friends he did have were closer than family. By the time Morris was seventeen, he found himself reading and writing as well as some of the Parishioners and he could oft be found reading some thick digest on philosophy he borrowed from his teachers. He was soon graduated to the highest level of learning the Holy Loam provided and was receiving some of his lessons directly from the cardinal.

As time went on, the cardinal began to rely more and more on Morris as his assistant in most tasks. The cardinal was an old man, and sickly at that, so he often asked Morris to mail his letters, write from his dictations, and ferry things back and forth around the temple for him. Eventually it became a common sight to see Morris running up and down the tunnels of the temple, his satchel full to bursting, trying to deliver all manner of things for the cardinal. And now he found himself again racing down channel after channel to deliver the cardinal’s notes.



 Morris approached the Grand Library hurriedly; he had to make up for the time he’d spent looking for Vallus. He stopped in front of the Grand Library, gazing up at the building’s spire that corkscrewed desperately into the shadowed heights of the cavern. Though the ages of most of the buildings in the Holy Loam were unknown, it was widely assumed that the Grand Library had been carved out long before the rest. It erupted from the earth as if it had just plunged from depths unknown, spiraling desperately towards the surface.

The Grand Library was an immense building, following the style that each temple’s Grand Library was built in, and it was truly a spectacle to behold. It had a wide, rotund base that rose four stories up, containing the vast majority of the books in the library. Atop the base, the building began to spin and twist, narrowing up to its distant zenith. Inside, the rarer and more valuable books were kept on the ascending floors, with the temple’s original copy of the Fictilus on the very top floor. The libraries were always a labor of love, lavished in carved murals and bedecked in intricate carvings of the words of the Fictilus all along their twining spirals. The inscribed words in the old tongue branched along its twisted ascent, coiling up to infinity.

The Terrun order had long been held as some of the most skilled architects in existence, and they were often contracted out by lords and kings alike to construct their most intricate edifices. Their extreme skill and love of detail was bore out exquisitely in the immaculate detailing of the Holy Loam’s Grand Library. The massive stone arch above the entrance was ornamented with intricate filigree grooves that surrounded a proverb scrawled in the old tongue. It translated roughly to:

┌The heavy weight of stone┐

└Only serves to make its bearer stronger┘

               

The Terrun order had long prided itself on their devotion to the acquisition of knowledge and the protection of history. Throughout much of its storied history, the Terruns had been singularly responsible for saving immense troves of knowledge from the torch of those who would see it burned away. Their collection was immense and diverse, comprised of tomes from all eras of recorded history and most earthly locations. The Terrun order’s love of learning had led them to create a trading network between temples, swapping books freely between their far-flung locations.

The underground libraries had long held themselves open for the public to visit and peruse their collection. It was not uncommon for the illiterate to come down to the temples so the Terrun monks could dictate books to them. Due to the Terrun’s ferocious protection of knowledge, their temples became something of a bastion for the literati and learned workmen, a place to study and discuss. Many of the cleverest people in the region would convene in the temple libraries, and over time the temples formed the center of intellectual thought and advanced science in much of the world. The Holy Loam’s Grand Library was a fine example of such a place, housing stacks upon stacks of tomes from times beyond reckoning, pages alight with history of civilizations long dead and sciences to shape the future.



 It was within these storied halls that Morris had spent a great deal of his youth, pent up inside the massive stacks of the Great Library. Here he had spent many a night seated beside the other adepts at the library’s great stone tables, studying into the wee hours of the morning by the light of its grand chandeliers. As he had grown older, he had drifted away from the library and its more erudite texts and further into the more practical arts the temple offered. But even still, he often found himself stopping by the library to peruse their newer finds or converse with visiting intellectuals.

Like most of the temple’s residents, Morris held the library’s vast bounty of knowledge in high esteem, even in spite of the head librarian Raul’s rather bizarre demeanor. Parishioner Raul had been the library’s faithful head for as long as Morris had lived there, having succeeded the erstwhile librarian a scant few months before Morris’s arrival. Morris now hoped he would be able to deliver his letter quickly, lest he be caught up in another of Raul’s bizarre philosophical tirades.

Morris ran into the library at full speed, but soon stopped dead in his tracks. His eyes widened as he surveyed the wreckage the library. Books pooled up on the ground and loose pages and manuscripts littered every available surface. The thick wooden bookcases had toppled upon each other like some giant’s anti-intellectual game of dominoes. Morris wandered into the foyer, staring up at where the chandeliers usually dangled from the vaulted ceilings, spying only loose chains dangling from the hard stone ceilings.

“Parishioner Raul!” Morris called out. He solved the mystery of the missing chandeliers as he stepped over one that had embedded itself into the ground in front of the stairs, and he started up to the second level. From appearances it had fared no better than the first, with everything being upended bookshelves and missing chandeliers and generally destroyed. “Parishioner Raul!” he called again.

 “If it isn’t Morris,” a man said, stepping out from what seemed to be the only standing bookcase. “Did you come to see Magister Allastrad speak on artificial division of the physical and metaphysical? It will truly give you something to ponder. I must confess me and the magister stayed up all night debating the way we humans have constructed a rift between ourselves and the spirit world that needn’t exist at all! Perhaps after his lecture, you’d join us in a lively discussion?”

“What are you talking about? Something crazy is going on! Have you not been feeling the rumbling or noticed there’s nobody else here or, more to the point, haven’t you noticed the library falling apart around you? I just came to drop off this note for you.”

“Come, come. Why don’t you stay for a while? If you don’t care for Allastrad’s lecturing, surely you’ll find interest in a new theory I’ve been developing wherein we can directly speak to our Lord Saxum via a complex network of my own devising. You just have to arrange some animal bones, which I call Holy Bestial Diviners, beat on some stone drums, which I call “Consecrated Auditory Communicators”, and break some sticks, which I call “Spirit Sticks.” Once everything is in order, you only need say the words in the old tongue to complete the rite. Now, granted, Saxum hasn’t been too talkative yet, but I can tell it’s just a matter of time! Why, just yesterday I think I heard Saxum say ‘voyage’ to me. Though perhaps it could have been ‘biscuit’; it can be difficult to understand the rumbling of the stones. I’ve spent a great deal of today pondering what it might mean.”

“Are you sure you’re alright Raul? Did you hit your head? Look, something serious is afoot, we don’t have time to waste. You really must read that note. It’s from the cardinal.”

“Ah, a note from Cardinal Rasch? I’ll bet he’s finally going to authorize my trip to Ossil so I might obtain The Weyrdlings of the Wylde. I’ve been asking for the funding for months! Let’s see here,” he said, strolling over to Morris and snatching up the rolled letter from his hands. “Let’s see here.”

As Raul read, his expression of hopeful interest fell into one of grim acceptance. “Very well. Please remain here a moment, Morris. I shall be but a second.” Raul departed, and, after digging through a particularly large pile of books, returned with two interesting volumes: a massive tome with a cover of thick red cloth festooned with intricate gold inscriptions and a squat green book caked in crusted mud.

 “The Tactician’s Mind, and Fielder’s Guide? What is going on Raul? I’m just come from delivering a note to Vallus, and he gave me a…um…a warning. And now this? Just what do the cardinal’s notes say?”

“I fear these are dark tidings Morris. I ask that you cease your questioning for now. I’m certain Alexia will have answers for you. Prepare yourself though, Morris. For I feel we shall all be leaving the Holy Loam soon. I suggest you return to your bunk and prepare your things for travel.”

“Yes Parishioner,” he said, and Morris swept off into the dark cavern beyond.



 Morris hurried beyond the temple’s holy daises, racing past the place where the Parishioners would usually be knelt in prayer, reciting holy words from the Fictilus inside the great holy stone circles. The great carved stele blurred past as he weaved in and out of the winding tunnels on his way to Alexia. What must those letters have contained? When he could bear the anticipation no more, he began to run, clutching the books to his chest as he darted down stone corridor after stone corridor. His footfalls echoed out into the cavernous grounds as he stomped along the cold stone floor. On his way to the training grounds, he made a quick detour to his living quarters.

Morris’s scanned his bunk through the hazy glow of the torches along the wall, taking measure of what he would need to bring. His bunk was that of a typical page: a tiny room just big enough to contain a squat wooden bed with an old wooden trunk at its foot and a set of shelves recessed into the wall beside his bed. About fifty wooden figures that Morris had carved stood, sat, ran, danced, and fought in his tiny carved world. In the flickering torchlight, his figures seemed alive; his simulacrum world seemed one that Morris could jump into. But right now, Morris dumped his sack onto his bed

Morris stopped at the front door of her office, doubled over and panting. Alexia’s gotta know what’s going on. With any luck, she would give him the answers that he so hotly desired. Alexia’s office lead directly to the training arena which was probably Morris’s favorite place in the entire temple. It was definitely Alexia’s.

Parishioner Alexia was one of the youngest parishioners at the Holy Loam; at twenty-nine she was only four years Morris’s senior but as brilliant twice over as some of her older fellows. Alexia was well-liked by most of her students; she had an affable and approachable manner that had the lowly adepts speaking freely and comfortably with her. She had spent a great deal of her youth touring the world in tow Sir Gallabee. After Sir Gallabee was horribly slain in a jousting accident outside Blueriver, Alexia was recruited by the Holy Loam and primed as teaching Parishioner, specializing in defensive combat.

She had quickly taken a shine to Morris and at the age of twenty-five he had become something of a star pupil to her. Alexia was one of the more brilliant architects in the Holy Loam, and was probably the singular reason that Morris had become so interested in architecture. She was well versed in the various styles of combat, having been the page of an Auriun knight, and Morris quickly found himself losing duel after duel to her. It was from Alexia that Morris, Liandra, and Ely became proficient in the fighting styles of the Terruns’ and through her they mastered the mace and flail.

Alexia was at this moment the person Morris wanted to see most in the world. He pounded on the sturdy wooden door to her study, the heavy iron handle swinging up with the force of each knock. “Alexia!” he called. “Alexia! It’s me! Morris! I need to talk to you!”

There was no answer.

Morris searched around the office’s entrance until he spotted a bit of the wall that had caved in the recent tremors. He clambered over the rubble and into Alexia’s office, pushed his way through the rubble and debris, and made his way out the back towards the arena. He found Alexia standing alone in the arena, staring up at the vaulted ceiling.

 

“Alexia!” he shouted. She turned her head and stared over her shoulder at him. Alexia was squat and sturdily built woman, not fat but heavily muscled. Her dyed blonde hair slid over her shoulder as she turned, falling down to her waist.

“Yes Morris?”

“I’ve a note for you,” he said, still trying to catch his breath.

“Don’t bother Morris. I already know what it’s going to say.”

“What? What’s happening? Nobody will tell me anything.”

“They’re attacking the temple. They’re breaking the ground above. They’re going to cave us in, my friend.”

“Who’s attacking us? Why? Why would anybody attack a temple?”

“Quiet now, there’s no time for questioning. I hope your things are packed. We must be off” she said, turning and placing her hand on Morris’s shoulder.

“Where? To where are we headed?”

“To war, my friend. To war.”

+++

Continued in next post....

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Re: Lore
« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2016, 10:42:26 PM »


 Six months later, Morris found himself standing over the crumpled form of a Galonian knight, a blood-caked steel dagger clenched in his fist. The knight’s white armor grew a crimson shade as he slipped around on the ground, writhing around as his lifesblood seeped into the fertile soil of the grassy hillock. The knight clenched his stomach, moaning long and loud, begging for mercy. Morris clenched the deep gash in his right arm as the blood poured down his arm and dyed his leathers a sinister shade of red.

“Please,” the knight wheezed. “Let me live, son. I’ve got a family back home.” The knight shakily began rising to his knees, slipping around on the blood slicked ground. Morris kept his distance, clenching the dripping dagger in his right hand. “Just let me go. You’re a man of the cloth; you wouldn’t kill me if you didn’t have to, right?”

Morris stood like a statue a few paces from the man, his dagger outstretched. After a few moments, he said, “Fine. Go, and flee this place. Go home to your family. Gather them up and leave Galonia. Tell them Galonia cannot hope to stand against the might of Acaelia and Dogriss both. They cannot win against Saxum’s blessed army. Tell them this and take them and flee this place.”

“Yes, of course I’ll tell them” the knight said, rising to his feet. He stood there swaying back and forth, looking like a liquored up suit of armor. He waited a moment for his legs to find their strength. And when he could finally stand straight, the chainmailed knight began to slowly stagger forward towards Morris. The knight continued his stumbling march onward, his left arm outstretched and searching like a blind man trying to find his way. When he reached Morris he set his hand upon Morris’s shoulder, clutching hard.

“Thank you, friend,” he said, smiling through his dented iron cervelliere. Morris’s shoulder began to ache as the knight’s gauntleted hand squeezed harder and harder and Morris began to pull back. Morris began to panic as he tried to free himself of the knight’s grasp. The knight just kept smiling as the blood streaked down his face, his twisted grin worsened by the crazed look in his eyes. He shoved Morris back, toppling them both to the ground. The blood dripped from the knight’s demented face onto Morris’s as the knight set pressed atop him, the knight’s arm pinning him to the ground.

“You men of the cloth are far too trusting,” the knight said, drawing a dagger from his belt and pulling back, readying for the mortal blow. Morris jammed his eyes closed, turned his head and threw his arms up.

He heard the sound of metal slicing through the air and hitting flesh.

 

When Morris opened his eyes, he was greeted with the bloody tip of a spear. The spear yanked sideways, hurling the once assaulting knight off of Morris into a heap at his side. A rugged older woman with pleated red hair stood at the other end of the spear, her chest heaving. “By Saxum, he’s heavier than he looks!” she said, shaking her spear free of the corpse. She extended her arm to Morris and lifted him up to his feet.

“You know closing your eyes won’t make it hurt any less, youngling,” she said, wiping the sweat from her scar lined face. The woman was clearly a grizzled combatant, her tall and muscular frame filled out her dinted suit of silver armor. The woman was almost a full head taller than Morris, who himself was taller than most. She was a vision clad in a light chainmail hauberk with a studded steel breastplate atop it and thick steel greaves, all of it littered in pits and dents. Her pleated hair fell over her shoulder and dangled on her breast, and her pale face was covered in cuts both old and new. The numerous scars that crisscrossed her skin somehow only seemed to enhance her natural beauty rather than muddle it.

“Who are you?” Morris asked in a stupor.

“You don’t recognize me youngling? I guess you underground types wouldn’t, would you?” She jammed the butt of her spear into the ground, drew herself up, and said, “Some of the more foolish soldiers call me the battle-scarred beauty. But my name is Meryl. Meryl Maladilles. Of Queen Veronica’s Pewter Guard.”

Author: Kyle "Billus" Kusch

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Re: Lore
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2016, 10:46:54 PM »
6. Birth of The Raven's Brood

"Sons and Daughters of the God Below," came a man's voice behind a slight silken veil. The robed figure of a hobbled man crossing from across the clearing at the center of the monoliths towards the crowd. Approaching the opposite end of the oval inner sanctum. "We bring good tidings from the Master Who Shakes the Earth," he continued, brown eyes peering through the fine fabric as he took in the awe struck natives of the North. "If you submit to the divine nature of our own, and your own Father. You will see the light behind the shadows. The darkness of this land in the depths of winter will no longer consume your young," the priest pleaded, his head turning from side to side as he scanned along the faces in the crowd looking for weakness of resolve in the Northern heathens. "The ice which locks your fields and strips it of moisture will no longer banish crops from your land and food from your bellies!" His voice now escalating so that all of the dozens who had assembled might hear him. Even the elderly who hobbled back and forth through the magnificent sight of these great stone monoliths which had been so recently erected.
                "Cast off the heresy of your ancestors!" came the voice of a much younger man, his face revealed and clear to see by the people he and his cohort had called together. His skin fine and untouched yet by the ravages of puberty. Yet like an old man his scalp was absent of any hair growth. Carved clean by straight razor and maintained with the same diligence as their daily rituals. "If you deny the blasphemes of your fathers. If you place your faith in the God Below-" his words suddenly cut abruptly short.
                From the crowd of the Northmen, a man adorned in a red woolen tunic had stepped forward and broken the perimeter of the congregation. Passing beyond where his kin had not dared, he approached the young priest and met his gaze but a hands breadth away. With ferocious eyes of jade the man searched the startled young face for some sign of true divinity. The middle-aged Northman's golden hair withdrawn from his face in great braids across his scalp and along his temples before assembling the four channels into one tail. Knotted and tied it hung down his neck and around over his chest. By his clothes alone it was obvious that he was a man of status. As the Southerners had learned; the Jorgrithians appreciated a sign of wealth and decorated themselves accordingly. This man was no different, his neck bearing the weight of a great golden chain and a large talisman at its base.



The youth of the South and the aged-man of the North fixed their eyes upon one another for several long moments. Shock and disbelief sucking the colour from the young priests face as his brown eyes searched the hard stare which bore down on him. Unable to move, he realized he was within the man's grasp and he began to panic. The appearance of fear quickly engulfing his young features. And then finally the revelation that the sensation which bore into his throat and had halted his tongue was not the man's hand nor his imposing presence upon the priest. It was a short blade.
                Palmed and concealed as he had approached, the Northman drove his blade deep and with relentless force. Finding resistance on the wind-pipe only to force the rough iron blade further into the young man's flesh. Unremorseful, he drew back from his victim, and with him he unsheathed the blade from the young flesh.  "Kill them all," he said in a voice that was hardly above a whisper. A command which was effectively carried out by a band of men of similar age and stature. All of which having apparently assembled with their leader and bearing this ill-intention towards the interlopers of their lands. No later had the words formed upon his lips had his men commenced their attack with axe and short sword. Stepping into the grove and carving a quick and bloody path through the foreign priests who dared question the faith of the Northmen in their most ancient of gods and ancestors.

Forty years later...

                "What are we to do? Bands of these Southerners come North and spread their filth into our lands!" Breganaz exclaimed to the more than one hundred other men and women who encircled a long oval table, some seated and some standing. "They come with their ideas from the South and when we do not submit they force us. We are not such people to submit to a foreign enemy of such a treacherous and vile nature. But how do you expect us to stand and fight when they out number us so greatly?" His voice distraught and angered, though speaking so bluntly a foreigner would be shocked to realize that the one to receive such harsh words was in fact the monarch who sat silently at the far end of the long table.
                "If we were to fight," Ralvar began. "Then we would be wise to fight them in the way of our ancestors. Draw them deep into our lands and let the ice take them when they are too foolish to winter here. But that is cowardly! We are Jorgrithians!" he roared, his voice carrying over the hall and ripping through the smoke filled air as the fat man struggled to stand. Pounding his fists upon the redwood table he continued to speak with the artificial ferocity of a man who never served in the Vanguard. "We are the greatest warriors the world has ever known and will ever know! We will seek them out in their land and crush them at every encounter. To consider an alternate action is to curse our land."



  "Is it not true that you seek to make peace with them?" Came the voice of another man from the table, a few seats down from the king. His peers immediately looking at him with anger or fear for the fool's well-being.
                "It is true!" The King answered, his voice turning from one of anger to one of an arrogant man who believed he had just out-manoeuvred his foes. "I will make peace with them and at their side we will fight many great battles. Our mutual enemy to the East is a far greater threat, do you not think? If we submit ourselves to their authority then we might prevent a real war with people who have always been our friends."
                "Friends?" Breganaz asked, rising from the table and casting his gaze down the length of the great assembly of the North. "If I recall correctly, when your predecessor died you were not but the regent of the hold, Ralvar." The tone in his voice cold and deadly, bringing a hush to the murmur which had persisted in the hall. "And when he died in the war, all the nobles of the land, his friends, were with him at his side. But not you, a cowardly creature born of a whore mother and a serpent father." A shuffle shook the hall as the King and his numerous supporters rose from their seats and cast angry eyes down towards the far end where Breganaz stood, his own few supporters now levied about his person as a household guard might. "You called the Folk Assembly while we fought, bled and died! Knowing that we could not return through the mountain passes in winter. And who came? Your kin and your free men. And now what is the state of our realm, brothers?" Breganaz questioned as his gaze searched the faces of the handful of neutral lords. Most scarred beyond repair, faces cleft and cleaved of features and left horribly scarred and ugly from the wars they had fought under the previous king.
                "The meek Southerners dare challenge our sovereignty with this so-called King!" Slamming his bare knuckles into the table, Breganaz turned his gaze down the table and fell finally upon the King, whose face was now crimson and bloated with anger as he held back his retort until Breganaz relinquished the floor. "I call him usurper!" Breganaz spat, casting a blaming finger down the length of the table to his opposite, the king. "Destroyer of our people! He alone has ended the faith in the Gods of our Fathers! Our sons are raised in this bastard church from the South, and now he secretly wishes to make us the lapdogs of their king! Ralvar wants to send our noble sons to fight in the armies of the South, but not as equals. As their vanguard. As their forlorn hope! To be the first to fight and the first to die at every opportunity so that his opposition at home will be eradicated. And in time he hopes to replace our most ancient houses with pig farmers and the bastards of village idiots!"
                "Enough!" Finally came the voice of the king. Saliva spraying from his fat lips as he finally could no longer hold back his own anger at the dissident words of his vassal. "I call upon the assembly to banish Breganaz and his supporters! We vote now!" Striking his fat fist upon the table he caused the goblets and mugs to shake even at the far end of the assembly table where Breganaz stood without fear as the condemning vote was quickly tallied.



Those who supported Breganaz quickly diminished in number and once more seated themselves as the king had threatened to banish them all. Some shoved and grabbed at their neighbours at the table who sat down and relinquished their support for the man who spoke the words on their minds. Others reached for their weapons and revealed the cold steel to their neighbours to threaten their peers and force votes, either for or against. The lowborn filth who filled the hall now outnumbered the elder houses nearly three-to-one and Breganaz knew long before the vote was tallied that he would lose. But he knew just the same that there were cousins and friends alike who would stand with him regardless of the outcome and would even in time overturn their vote against his survival.
                "How's that you arrogant bastard?" Ralvar cursed down the table to Breganaz who could not help scan over the faces of shocked nobles at the table. "Eighty-four to nine. With twenty-two abstaining." A great smile forming across his glistening fat lips as the tension in the hall began to settle. The legal vote had passed and Breganaz was banished along with his eight supporting noble men and women. There was nothing left to do except to depart the hall and flee from the land. But Ralvar wouldn't make that easy.
                "You fool's lead this land to destruction," Breganaz said in a calm tone. His supporters gathering their things and stepping back from the table with great caution. Preparing to make their way to the door. "And Ralvar, the count was Eight-seven to nine with twenty-four abstaining." Pausing for a brief moment he was able to catch the stifled smirks of a few of his supporters and even the pleased eyes of those who had chosen not to suffer his fate as well. "You sons of whores might wish to learn how to count if you are planning on ruling this land for a long time."

Six days later...

                When the Usurper King had banished the nine noblemen from the land, they had been subject to murder without reprisal. Made outlaw in their homes and only saved when they were able to get themselves clear of Ralvar's wrath. On the road each of the nobles and their loyal guards had eventually been caught by the peasantry and assaulted in quick succession. But as was natural in the ways of war, the peasantry who came with pitched fork and farmers scythe were set back by the presence of mail and brigandine. Their prey being fewer in number but greater in strength and skill. Training for war all of their lives and having served a decade in the shortest duration for the nine banished.
                Divided into the nine families, the groups were small and never more than a handful of their family and remaining loyal retinue. Met in ambush by dozens of peasants. Huddled behind shrubs and trunks of trees they quickly leapt from the cover and advanced towards the soldiers who were at first taken by surprise. Crying out for blood and battle the peasants sought to slaughter these strangers for any slight, whether real or imagined, they had suffered in their life. Unleashing a ferocity that caused their ranks to shatter and split into a chaotic assault of men and women with such little organization that many stumbled upon the uneven banks of the roads and even crippling a few with broken ankles before blades had been met in battle.



Lacking archers in great numbers, the ambushed were struck but not slaughtered. Their numbers survived the initial surprise and upon meeting at their caravans they fought back with equal ferocity. Surpassing their assailants in coordination and organization. Men ducked and weaved through their ranks, bobbing back and forth as the unarmoured peasants made great overtures to end their lives with clubs and makeshift weapons. Only to realize when it was far too late that the stone spear broke when caught and struck by the axe of the nobles' guards. Curved scythe blades making little progress as the inexperienced users tried to cut chainmail only to dull the edges of their weapons. Feeling the retort of steel upon their brow that spilled grey matter from precious vessel.
                As planned, the ambushes were a slaughter. However, it was instead the fleeing noble families which were able to come out as the victors in each of the bouts. Casualties were inflicted on both sides, but the unarmoured peasants were often culled and few if any managed to flee the field as their prey offered as much pity and compassion as had been offered them. And in the end, the nine banished, their families and their loyal retinue were able to assemble on the Northern Shores to proceed by ship out onto the sea and beyond the grasp of Ralvar.

One year later...

                It wasn't much of a feat to evade Ralvar once the exiles had reached the shores of his lands. Passing through territory which was not entirely loyal to him aided them and in the grand scheme of things the lords of these lands knew that aiding the exiles would save them in time. Ships were provided from their stores and the exiled were able to assemble their number of less than three hundred and vanish from the annals of history. Disappearing into the horizon aboard small single decked ships adorned with the heads of beasts of the wild and of the imagination at their prows.
                After skirting the coastline to the West for a week the ships had divided and spread themselves through the archipelago of inhospitable islands they had come across. Not far from the coast of their former home, but far enough away that their pursuers would not think to search for the exiles in what had been uninhabited lands. Islands of rock with jagged shores of angry cliffs and thunderous tides. Speckled with the weak attempts of nature to occupy the lands with trees. Most not growing beyond forty or fifty feet and leaving the land sparsely covered from harsh winds and the cold snow that swept in from the east.
                A hardy land for the most hardy people, cursed and exiled from their peers and of most stalwart stock. They did manage to survive the first year, though not with ease. Many of the children died in the first winter and so too did many of the elderly. Sickness swept through the camps on the islands and the desolate populations were made even more scarce by the cruelty of Nature. Faith in any of the gods quickly disintegrated.

                A frozen tear stuck to Breganaz's face as he placed the stiffened body of his daughter onto the pyre of gnarled sticks. Her body ashen white with lips like topaz. Eyes closed for the last time, never to be opened again. The slight figure of the ten-year-old girl did not shutter and shake with the bite of the cold anymore. Her breath not misting from her thin lips because her chest did not rise and fall. No longer could she be counted among his kin. But now she would be delivered to the gods in the most pure manner.
                Stepping back from the fire, the father approached the assembly of his family and all who remained from the exodus of their home. They were ragged and dishevelled. Their hair out of place and clothes torn nearly to rags. He began to cry more freely now, the tears trickling out from behind his eyelashes and freezing upon red cheeks as the salted water met the thick growth of a large reddish-blonde beard. His face remained stiff and sombre as he placed a kiss to the lips of his wife and then wandered the line of his three young sons, granting each one a kiss upon their foreheads.
                "Ehngellaz, my eldest son, do you remember why we burn the dead?" Breganaz asked the child of no more than seven years old.
                With cold emotionless green eyes the son turned and looked from his father to the funeral pyre where the decorated body of his sister lay. "We burn them so that we may expel the water from our corrupted bodies. So that we may be nothing but stone as we were in the past." Pausing the young child offered a glance to his mother's dry blue eyes and then quickly he turned to his opposite side and examined the freedom which the tears held to transgress his father's face. "Death by fire is the purest," the young boy said as he reached up with dirty and delicately gaunt fingers to take hold of the callused and scarred hand of his father. Shocking the aging man at first, but then quickly comforting him as he realized the strength which a child could hold in his heart in such a dire moment.
                Green eyes igniting with malicious hatred as the first torch was placed upon the fire and the body of his sister began to receive the great orange licks of the fires dancing tendrils. "I will kill them all, father." Ehngellaz said in his young and squeaky voice. His small hand tightening as much as he could manage upon the grasp of his fathers. His gaze fixing on the heart of the flames as the fury and hatred swelled beneath his bosom.

By Bryan "Engellus" Critchison

I stand against Racism, Bigotry and Bullying

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Re: Lore
« Reply #8 on: January 20, 2016, 10:56:00 PM »
7. A Past Unfortunate

 Meryl teetered on her stool with a temper bottled up like champagne: easily contained but once unleashed would explode with a chaotic furor. What she was really wishing for was a knockout, drag-out, table-smashing, bottle-hurling drunken melee; the kind that left serious property damage and added a slew of names to the banned patrons list. But by now Meryl knew better than to be the person to actually start a barroom brawl. Simply participating in an ongoing battle would ideally earn a night in the lockup, but actually starting such a fight could be solid grounds for sending her to prison for much longer. And with that kind of time to investigate and a rap sheet like Meryl’s, it seemed likely she’d never leave.

                So the chief order of the evening was to get a few of her fellow patrons riled up enough to beat on each other a bit, and then, after the chaos was good and ensuing, Meryl would be clear to launch herself into the fray and thoroughly unwind. It was a victimless crime in Meryl’s estimation as the type of person who would come to a dive like this would be just the type to enjoy a good alcohol laden melee.



 The bar was currently teeming with sailors, most of their pockets lined from their work on King Gaius’s last expedition and their bellies overfilled with cheap ale. There were also a few scattered merchants and farmers about, but fortuitously there appeared to be no off duty guards or slumming royal types ruining the otherwise good prospects present in the bar that night. Meryl began to comb the bar for a punter who looked drunk enough to put his fist through someone’s face at the first insult and another drunk stupid enough to insult him.

She found her first mark nursing an oversized stein of something thick and viscous and an oddly off-putting shade of brown. The drunk was a massive barrel-chested thing, with long brown hair escaping wildly from beneath his raggedy stitched leather cap and a matching beard erupting from his face; a thoroughly tanned puggish face that was crisscrossed from crown to chin with cuts of various ages. The men was holding his mug in one hand and his head in the other - lest he topple sideways from his stool and smash open his head, or even worse: spill his drink. The man was clearly a sailor of some sort as he was still decked in salt stained seafaring garb and heavy leather boots, and Meryl decided he was the type of hardened salty dog who would likely have no problems caving in a few faces.

Due to his long hair and massive beard, Meryl decided that she would call him Hairy.

                The second man in Meryl’s devious scheme was similar to the first, sans the hair and a large number of his teeth. At some point in the night, he seemed to have lost his shirt, revealing a wide tanned chest densely packed with tattoos and scars. Given the absurd number and size of his scars, Meryl figured that he must be some sort of professional fighter or mercenary – the kind of guy who gets cut up for a living. Mark number two was currently caressing a glass empty of liquor and Meryl knew he would soon be stumbling to the bar for a refill.

Due to his shaved head, Meryl decided to call him Baldy.

It was worth noting that Meryl was pretty drunk at the time – under normal circumstances she would have come up with a nickname that was at least marginally less stupid.

Meryl moved herself into position, resting against a wooden pillar behind the bearded sailor. She gripped her tankard in one hand and shoved her other into her well-worn blue long coat, trying her very best to look nonchalant. She sipped from her brew overly casually while watching Baldy slowly stagger his way up to the bar, bouncing this way and that off the backs of other patrons like a poorly shot billiards ball. As Baldy drew up behind the sailor, Meryl gave him a clandestine boot to the shin which sent him toppling forward into Hairy. At the same time, she splashed her ale all over Hairy’s back, soaking his jerkin and overcoat.

                “Aye! What the hell ‘as that mate!? I’ll have ye know this is me best jerkin!”  Hairy screamed, toppling his stool over backwards as he blasted to his feet. He whipped around and snarled, showing a face full of rotten teeth. He towered over Baldy, swaying heavily, but he was doing his damned best to remain upright. “You’re a dead man,” he growled.



“If you want yer innards to stay on the inside, I’d move on lad,” Baldy snarled. What he lacked in height in made up for with pure thickness of muscle. He thrust his burly arm out, grabbing Hairy’s now soaking collar and readying his other arm for what was sure to be a devastating blow.

                The bearded man scowled and pulled back his arm as if to return the favor, but he hesitated there a moment, leaving his arm dangling awkwardly hanging in an awkward sort of half-punch state. His scowl transformed into a pensive frown, and slowly the half-punch became no punch as he lowered his arm.  “L-look. Maybe…Well maybe I overreacted a bit. S’just a wet jerkin, right?”

“Yeah, I, uh, suppose yer right. What are we doing here, bout to throw punches over a spilled drink? We must look a right couple of assholes. I’m sorry, I dunno what’s got into me. My mistake lad, my mistake,” the tattooed thug said, releasing Hairy’s collar and offering him a rag to dry himself.

                “No, no, it’s alright mate, it’s alright,” Hairy said, wiping the front of his coat with the rag. “I shouldn’ta reacted the way I did. I work down at the docks an’ I been puttin’ in real long hours and me overseer’s been a real arsehole lately and it’s done put me in a right foul mood. Not your fault, friend. Sorry I screamed at ye.”

                “It’s ok, I know how it goes. Really I do. I apprentice for Hal Ragston at the smithy, guy’s been working me near to death lately. Hell, I gotta come down to this pub most every night just to blow off some steam. By the way, I can get me wife to clean up yer jerkin for ya, if ya wanna come by me place later.”

                “Hell, I’d love that! Name’s Harry, put ‘er there mate!” he said, thrusting out his hand.

“No shit,” Meryl said under her breath, her jaw dropping.

                “Glad to hear it! Me name’s Baldwin, pleasure to meet ya!” he replied, grasping Harry’s hand in his and giving it an overly vigorous shake.

Meryl wanted to think that if she were a bit more sober, she would have at least dubbed him Baldwin instead of her now lame-seeming Baldy.

“I foresee a great friendship in our future lad!” Baldwin said, grinning from ear to ear.

                “Seriously? Are you guys kidding me?” Meryl asked. The two men turned and looked at her inquisitively. “By Saxum, you boys are ninnies.”

                “Lass, if we wanted some wench mucking up our conversation, we’d ‘ave summoned the bar wench. Best get gone if ya know what’s good for you,” Baldy said.

                “Excuse me?”

                “You heard him, this here’s man business, we don’t need no bitches meddlin’ in our talks,” Hairy added.

“Mistake,” Meryl stated, punching the bearded prig square in the jaw. Blood sprayed from his mouth in a sanguine arc and he toppled backwards onto the beer sodden floor.

“Ha! Are you fer real girly?” Baldwin asked.

Meryl gave her reply in the form of turning and pummeling him in the nose with the flat of her palm. He reeled backwards, his eyes clamped shut in surprise as bright red began to leak from his nose. It was probably broken but it was too swollen to tell at the moment. Nursing his enflamed snout, he quickly regained his composure and picked up a nearby stool, hurling it at full strength directly at Meryl’s head. She nimbly ducked underneath it and the stool exploded into the back of some unsuspecting patron behind her, breaking apart with a deafening crack.



 The stool’s unintended victim was a massive man who shrugged off the blow and lumbered to his feet, turning around with a deadly grimace carved upon his equally deadly looking his face. His frown was as sharp as a sickle and his brow had passed the point where it could be called furrowed; it had been driven into some further angry state that Meryl didn’t have a definition for. By the sheer severity of his form, this new contender looked to be ready to murder the man who had murdered his buzz. She looked the man in his eyes and saw an intense fire raging in his black eyes, the kind of fire one uses to commit arson. She saw this, and then motioned him towards Baldwin.

The stooled man screamed and sprinted towards his accidental assaulter, his long leather coat billowing behind him in an altogether dramatic fashion as he weaved in between other patrons. For a man of his tremendous size, he was surprisingly nimble. The man inserted his fist solidly into Baldwin’s unsuspecting gut and the terrible blow elicited a sound that was somewhere between a scream and a whimper. Baldwin doubled over in pain, clenching his teeth and grasping his now bruised abdomen.

This gave his attacker the chance to spin off his long leather coat and throw it over Baldwin’s head. He whirled Baldwin around so that Baldwin was facing away from him, and then kicked him headlong into a table full of sloppy drunk sailors. The table collapsed in a cacophony of splintering wood and bone as Baldwin toppled through it, sending mugs full of booze flying into the air and the swill the Sowing Sow dared to call ale went sloshing all over the floor.

                The sailors, as it turned out, were not happy about the new placement of their beer onto the floor.

While it hadn’t started exactly as she had anticipated, Meryl had gotten her desired result: the bar was pure bedlam and she was out brawling in the middle of it. Sailors were smashing stools over farmer’s heads, merchants were climbing atop the bar to hurl bottles at travelers, and the barkeep was standing atop a table in the corner brandishing a knife in each hand and screaming obscenities. For her part, Meryl was in the thick of it, throwing punches at random drunkards while dodging hurled bottles and flying bodies. While the bar’s denizens were a scary looking lot, Meryl was pretty sure that she’d been in more fights than the rest of them combined – and she was probably right. As a result, she was doing far more hitting than being hit and after ten minutes of fighting she was looking little worse for wear.

                Her long red braid was a blur behind her as she ducked under flying stools, rolled over fallen fighters, and injured as large a number of drunken people as she possibly could. Over the course of the night, that number grew to be a very large one indeed. Meryl bobbed and weaved through the crowd, throwing out jabs, uppercuts, crosses, and some questionable below-the-belt type hits seemingly at random. Meryl was trained by a boxer who was drunk all the time, but her style was much closer to traditional boxing than drunken boxing – though with a healthy dash of dirty street fighting mixed in for flavor.

Meryl was certainly keen to blow off some steam – her last job with Gig had gone horribly wrong and they had wasted weeks casing, bribing guards, and perfecting disguises only to walk away with nothing. All she had to show for it was a tattered blue dress back in her bunk, some jars of makeup she’d never use, and a month’s worth of weeks she could have spent stealing and weekends she could have spent drinking and fighting and stealing some more.

Meryl was in the midst of some much needed de-stressing when she saw a rotund merchant oddly squatting over in the corner. The man was darkly tanned and was bedecked in a very nice looking purple and gold striped silk shirt, a heavy purple silk coat with a gold silk shawl draped over it, some baggy gold silk pants, purple silk boots, and a, what Meryl was guessing was silk, purple hat. The very snappily dressed man was squatting so oddly because beneath him was unconscious sailor and he was picking his pockets.  This was not at all in keeping with bar fight decorum in Meryl’s opinion, so she dropped what she was doing (which was hitting some farmer repeatedly in his face) and charged at the merchant. On the approach she cocked her fist back to ready a knockout blow.
 
As with many things in life, Monty’s jaw just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The consequences of this at this exact moment were that his jaw forcibly met Meryl’s fist, even though the punch was actually meant for a squat, thieving merchant crouching before Monty. That far, far luckier man had slipped while picking some guy’s pocket, narrowly missing having his already unhandsome face made even unhandsomer. This left Monty’s poor, unlucky jaw open to receive a devastating blow that dismantled it almost entirely.

In their many training sessions together, Sir Larien had drilled it into Meryl that in all facets of life the most important thing was to ‘Always follow through’. That particular advice had always stuck with Meryl and had come in great handy in many facets of her life. In particular, following through on a punch had helped her tremendously in the hundreds of fistfights she’d been in since her days as a page. But right now that advice only served to make sure Monty’s jaw would probably never look quite right again.

                “What the hell? I wasn’t even fighting,” Monty attempted to articulate through his thoroughly broken mandible. What came out was more of a “Wharshthafrell? Urwarshtanteburnfurgtig,”which Meryl found she could make no sense of.

What did make sense to Meryl, however, was that she better get the hell out of the Sowing Sow. And then the sailors’ district. And then, for good measure, Ironsson altogether.  Meryl  was slowly coming to realize, even through his disfigured jaw, that the person she had just accidentally assaulted was none other than Monty Carlyle. This was an unfortunate turn for Meryl as Monty Carlyle wasn’t a sailor like many of the other patrons of the Sowing Sow. Nor was he a farmer or a merchant. Monty Carlyle was the one and only son of Duke Arthur Carlyle. And while punching a duke’s son is almost always a bad move, punching the son of the duke of the town you’re currently hiding out after your last failed heist is universally a worse one.

Unfortunately for Meryl, this was the very blunder that she had just committed and she realized now that it was time she made her grand escape. Meryl pushed Monty to the ground and turned to run, plowing through drunken brawlers and ignoring Monty’s incomprehensible screaming as she made a mad rush to the door. Meryl reached the decaying wooded door and wrapped her hand around the dangling iron handle, grasping the heavy ring and pulling with all her strength.

As the door began to pull open, she felt a heavy hand land on her shoulder and begin to tighten like an overly ambitious nutcracker. The hand spun her around and revealed its owner to be none other than a smoldering Baldy, though by now he was looking much, much worse for wear. While he wasn’t exactly awash with teeth before, Meryl saw that he was now left with a singular incisor hanging from the top of his bloodied mouth. His right hand was a crumpled mess that looked like a steak that had very recently been tenderized.

“Lass, in all thith fightin’ I dun loth most o’ me teeth and broke me hand. Moreover, it dun killed me fuckin’ buzz! I intend to make you pay for that cheap thot earlier.”

                “With your hand like that, I don’t see how you’re gonna make me pay for anything. Look, for reasons I’d rather not get into, I gotta go. Escape. Abscond. Get out of this location, is what I’m saying. So if you’ll just move out of the way, I’ll let this slide.”

                “Let it thlide!? Bitch, I will wuin you,” he said, doing his very best to be intimidating through a toothless scowl.

“And how are you plannin’ on going about that? Baldy, it looks like you been on the losin’ end of every single fight in this bar. Do ya have some kinda plan, hrm? Figurin’ I won’t fight back? Are there any thoughts at all knocking around in that thick skull of yours?”

                There were a few choice thoughts flitting around in Baldy’s thick skull as he slammed it into the bridge of Meryl’s nose, forcing her to her knees and causing a rill of blood to leak from it. His good hand remained on her shoulder, pressing her onto the splintery wooden boards that passed for a floor in the Sowing Sow. Wooden slivers dug into her hands as she tried to force herself up, but Baldy kept her forced to the ground. The splinters were tearing up Meryl’s cloth trousers, piercing through them as if their sole purpose was to slice open her shins. Baldy drew back his knee and slammed her hard in the chest as she tried to stand.



        Baldy went to knee her again but this time Meryl was ready for it. She spun to the right and jammed her now splintery palm up into his crotch. His brown cloth pants began to seep red as he wordlessly worked his mouth. It was difficult to tell what Baldy was trying to say as all that was escaping was a high pitched sort of muttering, but Meryl didn’t care. What she cared about was that his hand released her shoulder and he stumbled backwards, sitting spread eagle on the ground and grabbing his eviscerated manhood with both hands. Big, beady tears poured from his eyes and his face scrunched up in shock. Meryl climbed to her feet, picking out a few of the biggest remaining splinters from hands as she stood over Baldy.

                “You’re lucky I have to go,” Meryl said, turning towards the door and grasping the iron handle once again.

                “Well, not that lucky,” she said, turning and punching him in the mouth. As Baldy collapsed on his back, Meryl reached for the iron ring for the third time only to find that the front door was already opening. The shabby door swung open and three Ironsson guards stood menacingly in the doorway, the cool night air rushing in from behind them. The two short squat men stood in the back, clad each in a full set of heavy steel armor, replete with intimidating bascinets that ensconced their entire faces in shadow. They both stood at relative ease, their shoulders back and their hands resting on the longswords dangling from their belts.

Continued in next post....

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Re: Lore
« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2016, 10:58:02 PM »
At their front, and closest to Meryl, was a much taller man bedecked in a worn heavy black overcoat, a scuffed pair of brown leather boots, and a roughhewn scarlet cowl. His right eye was covered by an embroidered cloth bandage servicing as an eye patch. His good eye peered out searchingly from under his overlarge cavalier hat. It was an intriguing shade of blue, hinting that it had spent much of its time staring at pristine skies. His thin lips converged in the barest suggestion of a frown, as though they weren’t truly committed to the grimace his furrowed brow and squinting eyes were so devoted to.

“Quite the brawl we’ve got going here isn’t it?” the tall man said, his lips barely parting as he spoke.

                “Yes, well, it would seem so, wouldn’t it sirs?” Meryl said, doing her best to keep a cool, even tone. “And am I ever glad that you’re here to break it up! I decided to come into this bar to unwind only to discover that it was in a state of complete and utter disarray. I was just coming to report the incident to you. Now that you have already arrived, I think I shall be going.” She made to move past the officer in front, but he gently placed his hand on her shoulder.

                “Are you Meryl? Meryl Malladies?”

                “Can’t say I’ve ever heard of her. What sort of a last name is Malladies anyway?”

                “Well, my sources tell me that it isn’t her real last name, it’s some concoction of her own. I hear she picked up the childish thing when running with some insipid ne’er-do-well who goes by the name ‘Gig Bootstrap’. Stupidest thing I ever heard. One of my informants tells me everyone in his ludicrous den of thieves picks some new last name to style themselves some sort of intimidating thugs. Load of stupidity, if you ask me.”

                “They sound like a supercilious lot,” she responded. She was doing her best to sound well-read, and she had read supercilious once in a book given to her by Larien. Ever since, she’d been laboring under the delusion that ‘supercilious’ meant extremely silly. “In any event, now that that is all cleared up, I really must be going. Best of luck to you gentlemen on catching those contemptuous rogues.” She pushed past, knocking the hatted officer’s hand of her shoulder and starting down the cobblestone steps.

                “Not so fast, Meryl,” he said, grasping her arm. He squeezed down on it, not rough enough to be painful but enough to let his power be known. “I’ve orders to bring you in.”

                “Let me go, you have the wrong girl.”

                “I’m afraid I cannot.”

                “Then I guess I’ll have to make you,” she said, yanking her arm free and moving away.

                The two other guards’ swords clattered from their scabbards as they yanked them free, glinting in the dull torchlight. “You move and you die,” the guard on Meryl’s right said. “It’d be my pleasure to end a rogue like you,” said the other.

                “Kelrik, Elrik, swords away. You won’t be causing any problems, will you sweet sanguine?” the officer said, slowly walking towards Meryl. He ran his scarred right hand along her cheek, his eye searching her face. “Trust in me Meryl. Follow me and I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”

                Meryl nodded wordlessly and let herself be led by the officer deeper into Ironnson. The officer’s demeanor was gentle and kindly, leading her by the hand through the twisting streets of the city. The two other guards followed silently behind, their hands grasping the hilts of their swords, just daring Meryl to try to escape. The party sallied on in silence, which the officer broke after a while by, rather oddly, launching into a lesson on the history of Ironsson.

                “I grew up in Ironsson. My dad was a rat catcher, if you can believe that. This town was his home from birth, and his dad’s, and his granddad’s even. You know that Ironsson started as a bandit’s camp? Can you believe that?” he said, as they wended their way through confusing network of streets in the cramped inner city. “It’s true, used to be the main outpost for a gang called the Sons of Iron. My dad told me they were the most feared band in the southern Auriun Empire. Said they were called the Sons of Iron because they favored iron weapons over steel. Said they had a huge vault with thousands of iron weapons and armor, and if you got let into the gang they’d send you down into the vault and you could take whatever you wanted.



 Meryl nodded, her hands trenched deep in her pockets as the officer continued his narration. They walked down the deserted cobblestone streets of the Central District of Ironsson, lit only by the torch the officer was carrying. It was totally quiet at this time of night; most people were deep asleep, deep in their cups at some alehouse, or deep in some whore at a brothel. In any case, the streets were rarely treaded at this hour. Meryl exhaled sharply and watched her breath mist upwards into the nighttime air.

                “Anyways, this gang kept growing bigger and this camp kept growing wider and wider until it was pretty much a full-fledged city. The Sons of Iron always flew this red flag with these crossed swords on it. My dad had one, gave it me. Guess his granddad gave it to him after his time in the Sons. Anyways, that’s why a lot of the buildings still have red flags or red banners.”

                The way they were going was really starting to confuse Meryl as they winded in and out of side streets and alleys. She could have sworn they’d passed the same inn twice and she thought she heard the other two guards muttering something about being lost. The officer stopped and pointed to a bar called the Dapper Owl, noting that it was still emblazoned with red flags to prove his point.

                “So, you’re probably wondering how come there’s no more bandits here if this was a bandit town. Well, as the town started to grow, the crown understandably started to take notice. They sent out some knights to take care of the problem, but I guess they underestimated just how many Sons of Iron lived here. They knights were slaughtered to the man. So the crown sent another deployment. And another, and another. The Sons kept killin’ every knight they sent, and stacking their bodies into a massive mound at the north end. Get this: they left all their weapons and armor on ‘em cause they were steel. You know that big hill in the front of the town with the statue of Sir Garret? Yeah, eventually the corpse pile grew so large that the empire had to just drop some dirt over it and pretend it was just a regular hill.”

                Meryl nodded, giving a look of manufactured understanding. She’d heard the story of Sir Garret’s corpse hill before, though the Empire usually put forward a version where it was the corpses of the Sons of Iron interred beneath the soil. Meryl noticed now that their path had begun drifting from the central part of Ironsson where the jail was located towards the slums of the so-called Crofter District (though it was known to most as the Rat Ward).

                “So obviously the King at the time was none too pleased at the big pile of dead knights, and the increasing influence of Sons of Iron in the south. So he sent one of his chief advisors, guy by the name Lief, down to Ironsson in secret. Lief organizes this secret meeting, right, with one of the heads of the Sons of Iron. Think that guy’s name was Uldren, or Ildren, or Aldren, or something like that. Anyways, Lief organizes this meeting in secret with this person. And he proposes to Uldren, Aldren, whoever, he proposes to him that if he’ll sabotage the Sons defenses, they’ll install him as the Duke of the whole town. This prospect apparently was enticing to the fellow, so he set about opening some of the northern gates and ordering the Sons to guard the south side.”

                “So the King sends this big fleet of knights. Ten times the size of his last legions, and they march right in through the northern gates. Take the Sons completely by surprise. ‘Cept Aldren, of course. Aldren’s hidin’ out in the central building with some of the other leaders. So anyway, the knights ride in and start killing the Sons. Just slaughtering them really. Knights had never made it past the Sons’ defenses before this, and the Sons were completely caught off guard. So the knights begin marching through the city, killing all the Sons they can find. They slowly make their way to the center of town, and they go into the tent where Aldren’s at.”

                By now, they were solidly in the slums. Rats were scurrying about the cobblestone streets, and Meryl spotted more than one corpse lying out in the open air.

                “So Aldren comes and greets the knights with open arms. Serves up the other leaders on platter. And you know what they do? King’s nephew, Jon the Right he was called, comes in and kills Aldren. Just stabs him right in the stomach. You believe that? Just like that. Aldren apparently looks into the eyes of his betrayer and says, ‘How could you deceive me? I gave you everything you wanted. How could you?’ And you know what that bastard Jon says? Do ya?”

                He stopped and stared at Meryl, apparently awaiting her answer to one of his questions for the first time. “Uh, no, can’t say that I do. Sir.”

                “Well, Jon the Right stares Aldren in his eyes and he just says “Easily.” Ha! That’s all he says as he cuts the poor bastard’s throat. Anyways, long story short, Jon the Right becomes the duke of this here town, rather wryly names it Ironsson, and forces all the former Sons of Iron to work in service of the crown as slaves. Get this, though. He makes it so their children are slaves too. Now as slavery got to be unpopular, they decided to repeal the law, so all descendants of Sons would be equal citizens. Still, as you probably know, descendants of the Sons are usually treated like garbage round these parts. People won’t sell ‘em homes, they can’t work nowhere, hell lots of inns won’t even let ‘em sleep there. Crazy if you ask me.”



  The officer led their party down a darkened alley that dead-ended a few hundred feet in. It was ensconced by rows of dilapidated stone buildings on either side, and ended in a small square dotted with a few bales of rotting hay. “Well that’s about it for my history lesson. Kelrik? Elrik? What’d ya think? Was it informative? Did you guys learn something?” They both mumbled something in response. “What was that? Take off your damn helmets, I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”

                “I said I think we better get this lass to the jail,” one of the two guards said, holding his freshly removed helmet in his arm.

                “Or we could just gut her here and be done with it,” the other said, doing the same.

                The officer sauntered in between the two guards, standing coolly in their center with a wide grin plastered on his face. “Gentlemen, you know I always like to avoid unnecessary bloodshed whenever possible,” the officer said, spreading his hands in an apparent gesture of amicability.

                Meryl thought she saw something in his hands sparkle in the moonlight, but before she had time to discern what it was the officer’s hands were both buried in the two guards’ necks. Clanking and clattering could be heard as the two men struggled to unsheathe their blades, but the officer spun into a neat crouch, sending blood arcing around in him in a crimson helix. The clattering of blades soon faded away, only to be replaced by the gurgling and sputtering of Kelrik and Elrik’s dying throes.

                “Of course, sometimes it is unavoidable,” he said once their babbling had quieted. He disappeared his daggers into his coat and continued, “Meryl, help me throw these bodies into the haystacks.”

                Meryl did as she was bid for her mysterious savior, grabbing first Kelrik’s legs as the officer heaved him up by the torso. They flung him into a stack, then did the same with Elrik. They both then set to piling on some loose hay over top of the corpses.

                “Won’t people notice the smell?” Meryl asked the man.

                “Meryl, you haven’t spent much time in the Rat Ward, have you?”

                “Who are you? Why are you helping me?”

                “I honestly forgot I was still wearing this outrageous getup.” The guard lifted his wide brimmed hat and removed the tattered eye patch, revealing the mildly handsome countenance beneath. Thin brown scruff covered a face defined by high cheekbones and a chin as sharp as a dagger. His sparkling blue eyes squinted as he smiled and said, “Meryl, it’s me, Gig!”



    Meryl let out a muffled scream of excitement and scooped Gig up of the ground in a monstrous hug. “By Saxum, that hat really did a great job of hiding your face, where’d you get it? And since when do you wear a beard? More importantly, what the hell are you doing dressed as an imperial officer and how the hell did you know where I was?”

                “Let see… In order, I nicked it off some sailor in Vamira, I’ve been growing this beard since that last wanted poster with the drawing of my clean-shaven face, I’m dressed as imperial officer so I could save your ass from certain doom, and what was the last one?”

                “How the hell didja know where I was!?”

                “Oh, yes. That. Well, one of my fences here in Ironsson heard word that Leto himself has pulled some strings in order to have you brought in. Given that this is Leto we’re talkin’ about, if you’re brought in by him, you’re never gettin’ brought out. So I figured I better come save you while I had the chance. Also, we probably should not be dawdling by two fresh corpses of actual imperial guards. I don’t think even a magnificent costume such as this and marvelous acting skills such as my own could get us out of that.”

                They started walking, as casually as they could muster, out of the dim alley and into the streets beyond. Gig, of course, had extinguished his torch so the going was slow in the enveloping blackness of the Auriun night. Once they had made it back to a main street, they followed the light spilling from the inns and bars and whorehouses that were still open at this time of night.

                “Gig, how did you get those imperial guards to follow you? Think that you’re an officer?”

                “Far easier than you’d expect. I filched this coat of some officer when he was asleep at a bar. I put on the coat as well as the hat and the eyepatch, found two guards, and told them I was an officer sent to retrieve them so’s we could arrest you. They just assumed I was telling the truth; they followed me without question. Say anything confidently enough and it becomes true.”

                “Well, we did still murder them in an alley.”

                “True. Say anything confidently enough and it becomes true to people who’d rather it be true than have to question anything.”

                “You didn’t have to kill them you know. They’re just guards.”

                “Ah! How long have you known me Meryl? They weren’t just any old guards, they were Leto’s men. His assassin’s actually. You’d think he’d take to the time to hire smarter people to covertly murder for him.”

“I’ll just be glad to have Ironsson at my back. You know, after the Ragnel job I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again Gig.”

Gig had long been a friend of Meryl’s. He was one of her former traveling companions and an occasional business associate. He was a serial rogue and ne’er-do-well who had a proclivity for ‘moving’ anything that wasn’t nailed down and nailing anything that moved. Once Meryl lost Larien, she found herself lost and without purpose or friends. For a time, she simply wandered the Auriun plains, stealing vegetables from farmers’ fields and camping out beneath the ceaseless stars. She wandered this way for months, wallowing in solitary grief and poverty until she was picked up by Gig and his roving troupe of thieves.

Gig was the group’s perennial leader and only continuous member; most members of his gang found themselves maimed, jailed, or dead. Often all three, and not always in that order. This was in large part due to Gig’s penchant for recruiting wretched vagabonds and penniless scoundrels into his den of thieves. While they all certainly had the need, most of them simply didn’t have the talent. Some thought Gig was just preying on the most desperate of society, but Meryl always got the feeling that Gig just had a soft spot for those types. Gig had himself been an impecunious rogue during his youth until he was rescued by a group of bandits and he discovered that his natural guile and quickness of hand would serve him well in thievery.

Continued in next post....

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Re: Lore
« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2016, 10:58:23 PM »
Once Meryl had fallen in with Gig and his lot, her days were full of running protection for the gang’s various operations, clashing with the local law, and learning everything there was to know about taking what didn’t belong to her. Meryl’s tall and muscular build didn’t lend itself to stealth, so she quickly adopted a more smash-and-grab approach to stealing. When Gig robbed a place, the only thing amiss would be some missing jewels, maybe a vanished knick-knack or a purloined pillow he fancied. With Meryl, you’d be lucky if your house was left in one piece. Her strategy did have the advantage of it often being impossible to tell what exactly was missing in the midst of the total chaos she left in her wake.

Gig and Meryl worked side-by-side for years, evading the law by moving from town to town, stealing in a city for a few weeks before moving on to greener pastures. Meryl had grown up a roving child and had developed something of a wanderlust, so this suited her just fine. They had found decent success in this, setting up a network of thieves and fences around most of the Auriun Empire. While neither of them were rich, they both enjoyed a lifestyle that was significantly more comfortable than most common peasants could aspire to.

Their last job, however, had gone terribly awry. The result of which was that they had both been taken into the custody of the crown. Being that they were a somewhat infamous duo, the constable elected to split them up and jail them in different cities, figuring that they would be far less likely to mount an escape if they were operating solo. And even if one of them did manage to break out, they would never be able to find where the other was jailed. Gig was sent to the massive jail in Ironnson, and Meryl was transported to a dingy prison in Sowsdutter.



The constable had not figured on the both of them breaking out independently. Meryl had actually broken out first, and had set about making a grand tour of all the prisons around the Auriun Empire in an effort to find her lost partner. As guards tended to get suspicious if you just showed up at a jail asking whether a known criminal happened to be detained there, Meryl preferred the more direct method of getting thrown in jail for some petty charge and scoping out the inmates once inside. Ironically, if Gig hadn’t escaped already, Meryl would have found him tonight anyways after having been jailed for the certainly deserved charge of barfighting.

Such was fate, Meryl mused.

“I was looking for you, you know,” Meryl said. “I’ve seen the inside of six, well five jails looking for you. Would have been six if I’d succeeded in getting arrested tonight.”

Meryl and Gig continued their way towards the outskirts of Ironsson. They stuck to the shadowy alleys of the Crofter’s District as long as they could. When they’d reached its end, they crossed over into The Thoroughfare where most of the middle class people lived, bakers and blacksmiths and the like. The sky was a deep and utter black, as if the moon had decided it had better things to do and the night could just light itself, thank you very much. They stumbled forward on the dark and uneven streets, groping the sides of buildings where they could to make out where they were going.

“Oh I know, my people in Sowsdutter and Vamira both mentioned that you’d been jailed there. I was following you, trying to find you, but I was always a step behind. Til I heard Leto had a bounty out for you in Ironsson. Dunno how that bastard knew you were in town. I got more informants than I know what to do with and still he-”

He was interrupted by an old man who shouted at them from underneath some wooden outcropping on the side of a house. The man was incredibly rough looking, with wispy white hair growing in uneven patches on his leathery head. He was clothed in what amounted to little more than brown rags, though it was clear this was not their original color. The old man’s body was taut as drawn leather, and as he approached Meryl could see the muscles and sinews moving beneath his wrinkled skin as he hobbled forward. His eyes were wild and wandering, moving wildly this way and that, but never seeming to focus on any one thing in particular. “Bread,” he said to them.

“Excuse me?” Meryl said, trying to meet his gaze but finding it to be quite an impossible task.

“Bread,” he repeated, furrowing his brow and frowning at them. “Bread,” he said again.

“Bread? Are you asking us for bread? I’m sorry, old man, but we are in the midst of some covert operations,” Gig said. “I’m sure you understand. Look, we haven’t got any bread. Please let us through.” Gig started to move past the man, gently placing his hand on the old man’s shoulder to move him aside.

The old man’s eyes grew wide and he jumped back in front them, throwing his arms wide to block their path. “Bread!” he yelled. “Bread! Bread!” His voice was growing louder now, spittle flying from his lips as he waved his arms madly about. He flung his chest out and his head reared back, staring up to the moonless sky and screaming bread, as if to inform the gods of his desire for baked sustenance. If he kept this up, people would soon be coming out to check what he was yelling about, though Meryl suspected they’d leave once they discovered it was only bread.

“Look old man,” Meryl said under her breath. “We don’t have bread. It’s the middle of the night. Why would you think we had bread? Who just carries bread around at this time of night?” The vagrant was now simply ignoring them, the wild look in his eyes growing ever wilder as he began to dance around, his face pointed ever upwards at the starless sky. His deranged calls for bread echoed throughout the deserted street, piercing the sky with a disconcerting cacophony of yeasty lamentations. Meryl heard stirring inside the houses as locks unlocked and latches unlatched.



 “Alright!” Gig yelled. “Alright! Shut up, old man, shut up! Look here. I’ll get you some money and you can buy some damn bread in the morning. Just shut up and I’ll get it for you.” The old man quieted and stared at Gig, his wild eyes finding focus for the first time. His peered at them with distrusting eyes, his mouth moving wordlessly as if he was already eating the bread this money would buy him.

“Never in my life did I meet a man who loved bread so. You are the world’s most ardent proselytizer of bread. What I think you should do is bake the world’s biggest loaf of bread and hollow it out and create in it the world’s first Temple of Bread. They could surely find no better pastor. Later on, perhaps, you could make a noble sacrifice in the name of bread and become the world’s very first bread martyr” Gig said as he thrust his hand into the pocket of his heavy overcoat, looking down as he rummaged around for the spot he’d stashed his money in his newly purloined coat.

The vagrant seemed to be getting impatient now, and he began hurrying towards Gig as fast as his knobby knees could take him.

Then he was moving faster than his knobby knees could take him. Far faster.

He was in a dead sprint and before Meryl could react the old man drew a dagger from his stained rags and leapt towards Gig. Gig looked up just as the dagger entered his stomach. He toppled backwards, his long coat fluttering as he spilled onto the rough cobblestone street.

The old man loomed over him, his eyes now sharp and focused.

“Leto sends his regards.”

And like that he was gone, disappeared forever into the inky night beyond.

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