A strike of steel, a rush of blood, a song of death, and caw of surprise. A song is Silenced.
She reaches out to me, soft hands spiraling - one red, one scorched - soothing me back to the silk and satin; yet our eyes dance along the curtain. I do not know how long we can visit this time. "He is dead." She tilts her hair to flow over our faces, a calming gesture. Our lips move on our own. "The one who binds us and breaks us in Her name. It is He who took my fingers, and now another has taken his throat."
"Shh." Tender energy curls over my mind, her soft care a promise broken a dozen times over, but a heartbreak I willingly return to. Our body relaxes, folding and sprawling inches above the stone floor.
Yes. Rest, we will.
We will. For He is gone, and we are Safe.
And then, with the sharp spike of cold breath slicing into my lungs, the Gray clears. I see them - I see them all. We will never UNSEE.
The man on the bridge, his desperate hubris driving the stick to his mouth and the raw arcana through his veins. It was the drug that bound him, entwined in the fates of the disparate Verdance and the Cold One's Prince. The spiral that took us, the Vermillion, the last of our brothers, to send the Four, then Three, then Two, then One, to send the towers crashing down amongst them. Amongst the bodies, the masses, the temples, and masks. Motion, such a tempest, to churn the blood and summon the harvest.
A Grim One, I know, and without Eyes to see a brotherhood torn, a resonance translated, and a Genocide chilled. Wings for a wingless devil, seeds for a dying tree. Fingers for pens and blood for its ink; he smokes the poison in and knows his death knocks, yet meets it anyway. Soulless, skinless forms marching to the beat of a slowing Clock. It swings, slowing...growing...to a stop.
Our back is driven to the floor, our body convulsing.
GLASS. SHATTERS. Frozen, and heaving, warped by white blood - a milk of vengeance, still wet, still young. A taunting song cut short. Knives and feathers. A sun rises, and falls, its clockwork soul sending ripples through the Ethos. As its flares scar our skin, we are plunged into drowning memory.
A boy - pale of skin and porcelain - claws at his mind while Genesis takes hold, blind to the dread purpose of his Shell; while another pulls free from glass, leaving his memories dripping behind it; a girl makes a choice, a simple alteration, and it spells her death in mere days, if not for the virus growing inside her; a man makes a choice, complex and righteous, and stands to wage war with the Infinitum itself; a woman stands on the precipice of worlds unknown, pitched and leaning, aware at length of the symphony she writes, yet uncaring of its form, and the bodies that tumble beneath her. We dare not look away, dear Savras, not to thine throne that we now witness, weeping at your feet.
We will not look away, even as our muscles spasm and our bones crack and whine.
It is this our Sight craves, and this we Cry for. We cry out every night our Sovereign summons the storm. We cry to see what the Gray clouds cover.
The name, shrill and striking, screaming with the thunder - she crumples, my muse, her ashen horns and split-tone skin mingling with the red now flowing from her chest...I cannot escape her eyes, even as more Thunder smashes through the walls, the wood, the bed, the floor. She locks me there, salty streams dripping down our faces. She locks me in, the gaze the key of our reverie, and the cage of our Reliquary. And it is in the beautiful Starlight of her eyes that my goddess leaves me - frozen and trembling.
I am there for the Eons and the Epoch.
Until blessed Thunder takes me too.
Our mouth turns sour with foam, our stomach rejecting this vision.
We gasp for breath, heaving and twisting in pain. Some minor dislocation, and fresh blood at our nose. We stare disapprovingly at the ankle, now broken in the seizure. Our eyes look around and wonder if our Muse is coming, and sigh in the rush of our Futures, clutching the tiny hummingbird wing around our necks.
A Sliver of hope, and a Spear of truth.
He is dead, and She is going to Kill Them All for it.
It is our grievance to report a tragedy transpired this eve.
While hosting a fundraiser for the afflicted Theater District, our Lady of the Arts, Satine Tesara, bore witness to a grizzly affair. Our very own Irvin Luse was on the scene to report.
We acknowledge and respect the Tesarian Estate's need for privacy, and we will keep this just to the facts.
A simple suve of our most respected noble houses and influencers gathered this evening to pay tribute and charity to our high arts. Luck has not been kind to old structures of our theaters and guilds, and Miss Tesara thought to bring together the most influential in her circles to remedy this fact.
No expense was spared, and with a full compliment of the Zaharian Blades and the Grinning Brand at her side, no one expected any trouble. Though the first few hours of the evening raised nearly 100,000 credits toward building a new Theater District and Miss Tesara has already broken ground on the project due to generous donation from her personal estate, a dangerous snake had woven their way into the hallowed halls.
As some of our audience is aware, we have been honored to house a decorated Detective from Feathertongue, Sir Bolton Jourdinais. He, hand in hand with the Grinning Brand, has been keeping our homes safe as the Severed Wing collapses with corruption. Just this evening, we knew him to be closing in on a murderer hiding in our midsts and plaguing our streets with blood and horror.
And it seems, tonight, that he was able to find his mark. However, as a malfunction in the Garden Maze pulled the Blades and the Brand to the aid of the other guests caught in its discord, the Detective made his move without any backup. This valiant knight of the republic entered a deadly duel with a murderous opponent, laying waste to the lower wine cellars of the estate in their vicious brawl. They were discovered by a young servant seeking refreshments, but by the time the Blade cleric could make his way there, the dark deed was done. Both criminal and detective had succumbed to their wounds, and passed to the Great Expanse this night.
As the dust settled, the Tower of Orquida suffered a cataclysmic structural explosion at its base. Experts cite an alchemical response to the healing salves and combat potions often studied in the tower. Though the resulting explosion was traumatic, there were no casualties.
Though Captain Ariessius of the Blades offered no comment, Miss Tesara had this to say on the evening.
"Sir Bolton was a gentleman, through and through, worthy of the highest honor of any slate or king of this age. He gave his life to defend the people of this city, and I would hope so many more could learn from his dedication and honor to the Old Code. Truly, I had so much more faith in the Blades as of late, but tonight proves what we all feared. They are not equipped nor capable of defendin' the noble families, nor our ambassadors of our sister city. No, I put my stake in our smilin' boys in gold. Men and women of good hearts and strong intention, from the cut of our finest tiers, unswayed by gold and silver; they carry now the values and the memory of this great man, and our city will only be safer when we swell their ranks. Swell them, with more like Detective Bolt."
This article humbly submitted for review. - Jote Riverwood Press
Second Sun - Confluence 6;34 Kena
Five fingers, five strokes. I scold sand and it stokes.
White and sparkling, I dance in its leather.
The threads it might sever.
Before the surf it can weather.
Though coarse and irritating, the granuals prove to be more profound than misleading this time. When poured into the Circle, they do transpire many branching paths, but stepping back I glean the connective tissue. Like so many choices, the smallest push down one avenue may change one's course altogether.
One would never be able to predict an outcome without a measure of godhood, yet we all try, don't we? Even She is not so magnificent, she admits; which is why She needs me. And yet, these paths, though intertwined they are, and though they swell and merge in unpredictable pictures...we always forget.
All it takes is a single tempest to tear it all down.
Kahna. This method is a waste. The Weave dost want too much, and this threading requires something with a bit more fortitude.
Third Moon - Confluence 7;19 Sova
Five fingers, five spokes. You blow dust, and it soaks.
Then you light it aflame, and speak its name.
Iron of cold, embers of light. Stay your teeth, lest they bite.
You who bore the Forever Night.
Lend this one your Sight.
You were smart to use cold iron in lieu of sand this time. The pattern lasts longer in the Circle.
However, the crackling tendrils tell me the Weave remains unchanged and unchained. It still pinches you when trying to hold onto them. Instead, you scry upon the forgotten boy - the manwidow - and the shroud of men and children he wears like a banner. Instead, you try to focus on five towers; upon the city, its whispers and its fates. But nothing comes.
You pour lightning into the iron again and again, and watch it dance along the Circle. Simpler eyes would see only convulsing metal, but you mark the subtle hints and sparks - the symphony of fury and fate and future.
A link tearing at its frame, as it desperately clings to what it already knows.
At the other end, a hunk of metal; it has been melted and cooled countless times, each moment severing and tempering its connections to the others. It is young and old simultaneously, and at the moment burns white-hot, its heat spreading to those around it.
A pad-lock; solid and strong, unbreakable in its use and function, yet unable to break free from its position.
The scattered remains of something; an old gauntlet perhaps, as its fingers twitch - a facade of living.
And the spike you drove into the Circle's center. A beacon binding.
Forces spinning, but unable to act. Unable to break from the bonds that define them. A silhouette of gray descends upon the city of storms, obscuring visions of the future and the past. Parting such a veil will require deadly readings if you hope to punch through. Yes. Step back, and listen to your teachings.
You still have pets to spare...
First Sun - Discordant 1;16 Sova
Five fingers, five discs. Broken, they shatter our risk.
Tear and break, crush tendons few.
The marrow is born, from blackened sinew.
It reveals what is new.
The marrow cracks are disturbing. Canine teeth were a good choice, though. Ribs too. The clatter pleases our ears and entices our Sight. The cloud is not obscured to us this time; it claps and roars, and though the red lightning is a concern, it is the proper fuel.
We close our eyes and let the electricity dance along our skin. With a gasp the vision takes hold at last.
Five heads. Draconic perhaps; not platinum.
Gnashing teeth and a splatter of black blood.
Shouts. Calls. Someone is missing in the confusion; a parent looking for a child.
Sails. Grim sails.
And fire. Walls of fire.
A plunging dagger, sudden and still, like a chilled knife.
We twist in agony, frost spreading along our fingertips, and are ejected from the cloud. We exhale cold, and snuff another candle, calling the firelight to us like a shield. We must close our eyes again; more to see.
It swirls this time as sweat pours from our brow. Focus on the shouts, we say. Who speaks and why.
The voices gone, instead we dive deeper. Clouds pass through us; the unknown gray the warm blanket we wear. The canvas gives way to a burnt planet. No light pierces this sky.
Winged creatures. The Sky Folk? No, long dead. Feathers and scales.
We reach out to touch them and begin to fall. Angry wind buffets against our eyes as we crash through the soot and ash of the earth below.
Something grows beneath them; beneath the fire. Past the rock and flame, down where the core still beats. Roots grow and stretch and scream. Touch them and they bleed. Show me, blood magic. Show me the fate of the Corpse Star.
The clip of two sets of footsteps brings us back to the Circle. We sort our things and try not to smile too broadly.
"It is as you say, though the threads are agitated. Do not worry, though, The Gray will not waver. Beautiful chaos and confusion will burn your enemies to Asher." We know they will be so pleased, we turn and glimpse threads of blonde. "Leaving the ground ripe to take-
The blinding white hot pain. We feel the trickle of our blood and the bruise already forming. "We are sorry. We did not mean to look upon Thee."
The snapping of the switch once more, as it scatters our urns. "For all your gifts, you seem to forget the simple rules we have laid out for you. ...Perhaps a more permanent reminder is needed."
Swiftly and suddenly our wrist is seized by the cruel feathered fingers of Him. Our feet drag and scurry backwards but we are yanked to our feet. He smashes our bottles and clears the table of scrolls, then hurls us upon it. We try to wrest ourselves from His vice grip, but He only clamps tighter. His other claw grips the back of our neck and we meet the table, pressing our face into the broken shards. We can feel warm blood in the back of our throat. Here, all of our faces and our eyes lay pinned to our table, watching only He and his shadows as He holds us there.
"There are lessons that must be remembered, little Ijarys. At one time I thought you my Siestra, a true prodigy of the onomance and the astrid, and I still think this beacon calls to you..."
We watch him pry each of our clenched fingers free, so our hands may lie flat, prostrated before Him.
"...but I worry that the culling of the cosmos has been too easy on you. For all your gifts, your lives, your vision; I have given you this library, this Circle, multitudes of resources, with only a whisper of a beating to guide you. And yet this lesson fails to stick. But truly, it is my fault. You see, I have not utilized your greatest teacher..."
Breath caresses our upturned ear, sending a shiver through our bones. "...Pain."
First Moon - Discordant 1;17 Kena
Four fingers, four knives. Blood pools to divide.
Thrice we remember, what the storm will seek.
And shun your eyes when My Sovereign speaks.
When the first of us fell, the stars were silent. By the second, they were already singing the songs of our demise.
Simple creatures of short memory, no one care if we razed them all to the ground. Yet some of us pitied the mortal welps. We gifted them knowledge, council, aid. And they took this and fueled their ships, their sky wars, and cities. I'd venture that we were happy, even impressed, by the courage shown by so many against so much, but let's be honest. Every necromancer, druidic general, or pirate lord that threatened the known mortal realm...is only a blink in the eyes of an ancient dragon.
The world's canvas and the grand clock of the Many strikes in eons and ethos, and we remember all. Jenora gave us choice, and Grumakon the flames of purpose, but these insects of our ages have forgotten the gods of their grand design. We gave them life, and now, with our guidance and aptitude, they hunt us for sport.
I remember when we left. Retreating to our Kin in Arkhosiana; the clustered fortress of the Dragonborn. My siblings had taken refuge in the Feywild, but with the Seal broken, their home was siphoning into the Material World. And so the Scion caste protected us. For many years, we sequestered ourselves, hoping others would complete the pilgrimage and find us. Dissatisfied, my sister ventured out with other Skyborn, returning with more and more. Each time she left, I'd watch the horizon; for the flaming whip of three tails. And each time she returned, she'd have a few more scars.
But this last time was different. This time she returned with only three wyrmlings. This time she returned crying.
"Volicia, what did you see?"
And her golden eyes stared back. "I found Kashana. He gathers them. Something is coming. He doesn't know what, or when, only soon."
My brother, the Timber King, is alive! "Why didn't you bring him to us?"
Her eyes grew dark and red. "He will not leave them! He...loves them."
"They hunt us and wear our skin as armor! How would he love such a creature!"
And her eyes. Her beautiful eyes spoke so much more than her draconic tongue. "Not all of them, my brother. Not all are cruel. They are...flawed. ...Just like us."
She did not speak to me again. I watched her leave that night, whispering wordless promises to the skies.
I was stubborn then. I waited for her to return, but there was only silence.
So I flew to brink of Io's Edge. To my brother's tree, and the great seed within. And then I saw them.
Thousands of them. Pilgrims of warriors and sages, armies and ships. They stretched for miles in every direction. I thought them flocking to such a temple - Ifa, the World Tree - but no, they stood as its protection. I scan the skies for a threat, and then I see her. My sister, the Rending Whip, as she floats above the canopy. I can still see her smile.
An eruption below us. Thousands of cracks in the earth surrounding the tree; foolish mortals being sucked inside. Another explosion beneath, fire and light rising from the scars across the continent.
The Tree catches fire. Golden and green fire. And I hear screaming. Deep within the marrow of the planet. Like millions of voices suddenly being rended into pieces.
And then Volicia screams. I dart my eyes to find her. She is above me. I watch in horror, beating my wings upward to her form, as purple tendrils tear her visage asunder. I scream her name and claw at the smokey remains of the banishing magic. And the storm begins to gather around my rage, a bellowing roar escaping my lungs. I fill my mouth with acid and lightning, breathe deep, and-
I feel a hand on my shoulder. A feminine voice, delayed and accelerated all at once, like it was fighting through time itself to speak. The crackling lightning surrounding me slows, and I watch the horror below me grind to a crawl. The carnage continues, but in immaculate clockwork detail, seconds passing as minutes. And then I see her.
An endless shroud of black feathers; a void that stretched across all my horizons. And there, at the center of my vision, impossibly massive - the porcelain mask of the mistress of the ravens.
Lightning still crackling at the edge of my lips, I seethe. "I am a dragon of three worlds. I answer to no god."
"I HAVE SEEN THIS OUTCOME." Her voice fights for presence, as if at any moment it will be hurled back through the gate of the grand clock. "YOU DO NOT SURVIVE THIS, ENDRAGAL."
"Like hell I don't. I have lived through worse-
"THE WORLD IS BREAKING THIS TIME. THE COSMOS WILL FOREVER CHANGE. AND A CREATURE BANISHED WITHOUT A HOME WILL BE TORN FROM EXISTENCE."
Volicia... "I must save her..."
"SHE IS ALREADY GONE. AND SOON, SO SHALL YOU. BE AT PEACE WITH THIS FATE."
And time began to return, the rays of light becoming burning columns up from the chasms beneath me.
"OR. TAKE MY HAND."
I stared at her outstretched hand, and in that moment I saw my brother. The kind Timber King. The Seedkeeper. He was patient, and was always willing to play the long game.
"Very well, Exiled One. But how will we survive?"
"WE SURVIVE AS A MEMORY. AN IDEA. AND WE WAIT TO BE BIRTHED AGAIN."
And her feathers enshrouded my vision, carrying me to the Astral Stars.
And it is here I remain. On dark nights, you might see the dozens of gemstone stars that burn bright through the storm. Her little Night Embers.
It was the devil's mark in the days of Sooth when Leylocke Gadamir stepped from the Farplane.
A mage of war, yet he had no spellbook to speak of, his arcane knowledge confused and garbled. For magic did not behave as it did in the Outlands. Not here in this strange world where creatures worship his friends like gods, and hold him in ill contempt for his blasphemy.
To harness his sanity and rebuild his intellect, Gadamir called forth the one legacy of his people, a semi-sentient magical ink pen, buzzing about like a dragonfly; he called Lemira, and with her help he wandered the new world, absorbing every book he could. But he could not memorize everything, so he carried the scriptures with him, adorned upon his skin. This would become his spellbook; prepared and studied, he would cover himself in scrolls of his own flesh, each time wincing through the pain of unleashing his magic - each time it would burn a little deeper. Soon, the arcane weave would embed itself within him, some spells permanently infused into his blood, the flesh burned black by the untamed weave.
Each morning and each dusk, Gadamir would pull away his robes and sit half-naked in meditation, reaching out to the scorched surfaces of his skin, tugging upon the fragmented memories of magic in the Outlands. He would use this as his study, his preparation, his reflection, and his pain. And each day, with each new shred of companions, he would drift further and further from his world beyond.
But Gadamir's love for Io-Sooth would grow when he found himself under the care of the Auran people. The Skyborn, he called them, and his many years fighting for their independence in the name of Kord and Pelor would garner him a great respect from their elders, who gifted him a clutch of baby griffons. Now a Paladin of two gods, and a man of two worlds, Gadamir's code of ethics extended beyond simple coin for deeds. He saw the power of the arcane and divine, a righteous union of awesome power and responsibility. So he gathered others of his like mind, carefully selecting them for strict trials and valiant quests, all without promise of coin or treasure.
What he found was a lot of trouble, and was often in the frame to defend himself. But after ten years of discord, for every group that swore him off, there was one who stayed. And the ones who stayed were gifted the griffons, now trained and grown, and gathering more. Leylocke named them the Knights Of Duros; a blend of his world's greatest elder (an Elder Elemental from another time) and this world's Pelor, Kord, and Helm. An Allfayth was born under an ideal: protect the weak, defend the innocent, trade value for value, and keep your promises.
Before the turn of the age, Leylocke, now 180 and growing still older in a frail human body, left his legacy to a young captain, Sir Eres Black, and began a planar pilgrimage. He left at the turn of the tide, and never returned, but his deeds garnered such renown among the kings and queens of Erena that they gifted his memory with the eastern nation, home to his aviary of knights and the skilled artisans of Tal'Fune. Duros defended the shore, and would do so evermore...
Traditions and Codes burn hot in recent memory, but back then at the edge of Empyr, thousands of years past Gadamir's pilgrimage, the Knights were undergoing a revolution of ideals. Their code was one of sanctity, trust, and empathy, but rarely supported expansion. Gone were the days of the wizard-paladin, righteous beacons of knowledge and ethics, and as the water became more muddled, so did the idealogy.
The scale did shift with the swell of ranks under the leadership of two great Knights: a monk named Arthurian Dragoon and a warlock, named only Ortacana. Arthur was a militant man of strength, discipline, and order; he wore his tattoos proudly, adding to his ink notes of sentimental values and religious code. His followers did the same, emblazoning his teachings and the ancient interludes of Gadamir all over their bodies. Such a display amused Ortacana, and it could be this bravado that first drew her to him. Playful friendship became passionate romance, and the two spoke well of the order...and its need to expand.
With the blessing of Sir Hana Black, Ortacana and Arthurian ventured Westward, eager to set up an academy in the wondrous shorelines of Shefara. They righted wrongs along the way, gaining further renown and still more soldiers to their ranks. Now over 1000 strong, they set to the sea to find their future. And though there were threats, a combination like this, fortified with an ideal understanding of the weave, and the growing influential boons the entity called Vaeyen bestowed upon her champions, these valiant vanguards punched through the veils of the sea. Shefara was happy to have its champions, and the Flashburn Academy grew tenfold before the fall.
The Burn decimated the Knights of Duros. Thousands ripped from the weave itself, others gone mad by the culling. Countless deaths, the Knights tried to rebuild, but the shockwave sent from Ifa herself left Avianas and Tal'Fune in ruins. Further out from the impact point, at the westward reach, Flashburn was still standing. Shaking, but standing. An elderly Arthurian, desperate to reestablish order across the continent, dispatched all he could spare to douse the flames of discord and rally the people toward hope.
Arthurian found it in a merchant alliance. A drow named Breton Al'Frama. He had a small band of artists and engravers seeking refuge and sanctuary, and Arthurian welcomed them with open arms. Eager for knowledge, Breton asked many questions about the studies of Gadamir, and explained that magic no longer worked the way it was expected; that perhaps the Academy was the last great library of the weave before. The two became good friends in a short time, and the merchant guild was a curious, helpful sort; skilled in many things, they worked together to rebuild Shefara.
But Ortacana had been having nightmares; she said that Vaeyen was crying. Mourning the loss of her champions, and fearful of her waning power. She, an elder creature, was scared...a thought that would burn a hole so deep into Ortacana that it would shake her very soul. One night, while Arthurian still slept, she awoke in a trance-like state, wandering out toward the sea. The water parted for her, and she disappeared into the black...
Ortacana awoke on the surf, surrounded by bodies. She found the lost lives of her knights, their throats cut and drained dry. Sobbing and enraged, she pulled one back from the brink, ripping its soul back to her. "It was Breton..." It wheezed. "He got the others drunk and drugged..." Relinquishing the soul to rest, she scoured the academy for signs of life...and found none. What she did find, were the remains of her beloved and his consort; skinned and bled out.
"They were here...for our flesh." Her words carried with them the realization of an Elder's fear. That all that were marked by knowledge would become targets for those to eager to earn it themselves; that we were just goods and services to be claimed and bartered; and that our trust, our empathy, and our hope opened the door to monsters.
Even as the unmarked children ran to her, coming up from the hidden bunkers beneath the sand, Ortacana was shaking, and earth was rising around her. An elemental rage, raw and pure, and an acknowledgement of another voice deep within, like a seed sprouting. "Vaeyen...is that you? Am I to be your vessel, your haven, your mountain?" A rumble in her chest acknowledges. "Then you shall lend me all your power, and we will make safe the way..."
And Ortacana wielded the Elder as her Sword, summoning the angry spirits of her allies, an army of revenant souls. Perfect in their dread memories, and vengeful in their hearts, the Vagrant of Vaeyen and the Ghosts of the Flashburn sought out every "skinner" and scribe, killing and burning the bodies as they went... A dark tapestry of the swinging pendulum, her children spinning her threads into the tomes of our brethren.
And it is her example that we summon today.
Leylocke Gadamir was an idealist in a time where ideals were needed; he would feign to defend himself if there was but a chance to save the other. But Flashburn tells us that the Duros is dead, and we must discard this empathy for now and wear the dark shroud of dreadful purpose and ironskin. Only then can we usher back in the light. Only...when it is safe.
So bless your Ink, and harden your hearts. We build a better world, one body at a time.
--Imperiona Dragoon, Second of the Living Sun
"I am prepared to kill you. Are you prepared to die?"
He stands tall, a cut above the rest in this rabble. Dancing around them in the boots of a swashbuckler, his doublet never touching red, he smiles as he draws it from them, carving new scars into flesh.
It started as an insult of honor; a disrespect of the word "no", and a call to Apologize. The Instigator refused, drawing his axe and flipping a table. This cleared the floor. We were all poised to Adjudicate, but elders lay claim, and the sea captain called dibs.
Calm and collected, Micah took his space across the room, helping others away first. An older gentleman was taking his time, so the Slate turned to carry him to the edge. It was here the Instigator charged, eager to cut down a man of the Queen's Favor. But Micah is fast; everyone knows him to be. An expert of the breath between cuts.
In a flash of green, the axe flies from the man's grasp, embedding in the floor. A millisecond later, a gash appears on his left cheekbone. Such grace, such flash! A few claps chitter through the room as our reverend captain holds up one withered hand, "First Blood!"
The clapping stops as the big man sneers at the crowd, then sizes up his opponent. Micah, The Green Flame, stares back, his sword sheathed once more. "Your Dishonorable Form is noted."
Unimpressed, the big man spits in his face. "Note that." He growls and clomps back to his axe, hefting it back up onto his shoulder.
"Do you Apologize?"
The Big Man surveys the room, his rotten smile pulling at the sides of his mouth. I swear he makes a biting motion toward one of the girls - my friend, Bonnie. I feel my hand clench in anger around the wooden ladle in my hand, the wood whining against the pressure. "Easy, Jules." A firm hand claps onto my shoulder. Henrick, the owner of the Ravenwatch. "I know you're gunnin' ter Squireship, but you ain't built like it yet. The Slate is here; let it play out."
"No piece of strix here deserves an apology from the likes of me. I own this strip, I grew up here. With the licks I've taken, it is these buckets of filth that owe me!" He leers more at the crowd, taking a step toward Bonnie, who flips her tray and draws her dagger, flipping it face down. She's so cool. The Big Man seems amused. "Well would' ya look at that, you DO want to play with me..." And he charges her.
Another flash of green and the Big Man's on his back, fresh blood pooling at his bicep. He had taken two steps before Micah cut him off. "In case you didn't notice, your duel is with me. Your Dishonorable Focus is noted." Micah turns back to the captain, who nods, raising a hand.
The cheer rings out, "SECOND BLOOD!"
Micah's green blade stays drawn this time, his smile hardening to a cold glare. "I am prepared to kill you. Are you prepared to die?"
The Big Man's smile fades. "Fine." He turns to Bonnie and makes a big show of bowing to her. "Sorry for insulting your honor, and for bringing your mother into it. I. Was. Wrong." And with that, he picks up his axe, and leaves. A moment passes while Micah watches him and sheathes his sword. Then, we erupt in applause.
Micah buys everyone a round and receives a few handshakes before returning to his table. I feel Henrick press two steins into my hands and all but kick me in the Slate's direction. Old coot pushes so hard I lose my bloody balance and stumble right toward the table...but I don't hit.
"Easy there, buddy." Strong hands have caught me, and easily right my stunned form. "It's Jules, right?" Micah takes the two steins while I search for a reply.
"Ah, uh..." I wait for him to get bored with me so I can escape...but he's still staring at me a good ten seconds later. Say something, you idiot, or he'll think you're a mute! "Ah...yeah, kinda."
"Alright then, Jules Kinda. You work on that stutter you'll make an excellent Whisper someday."
I can feel the sweat already moistening the top of my head as my cheeks flush. Say it, say it, you moron, say it! I close my eyes, grab my dreams by the balls, and shout way too loudly. "I'D LIKE TO BE YOUR SQUIRE, LIR MICAH!"
I think Bonnie dropped a dish, or maybe it was Henrick coughing, but the room becomes still. Everything is quiet, save for the creaking boards under my shaking boot. Cursed left leg, shut up! I feel a hand touch my shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze. I squint my eyes open, face all scrunched up from embarrassment...and Micah's still watching me, beaming from ear to ear, hazel eyes warming me to my soul. "I'm honored, Jules. But I don't take Squires anymore. Ask around, though, I know of a few Slates willing to give you a Knight's Favor." He taps my stunned shoulder a few more times before heading back to his seat.
"Ack!" Apparently I'd been standing there a good five minutes staring at the floor, because Bonnie just smacked me.
"Get back to work, dreamer..."
It's late by the time Bonnie leaves. She gives me her usual hug and wink before gathering her things. Still a little starstruck, I've been slow in my chores, and she instead opts to help by sweeping so I can take the damn grease bucket out. It's been filling and boiling most of the dinner wave, so I don my Henrick's mitts and hoist the heavy pot out back.
I almost trip and eat strix down the stairs, still slick with the morning's grease and some stray liquor. "Gross..." As I investigate how badly my boots are sticking, a sound makes me freeze on the corroded stairs.
Clashing steel, followed by hushed voices. They're close. A duel? Stay still. I listen a little longer, the pot getting hot in my hands. A pained sound. Wait for First Blood. But there's no call. No Adjudicator? Wait, that means...
Against my better judgement, I inch around the corner stone, and I feel my eyes widen.
The Big Man, plus two others, blades drawn and hand-axes out, have surrounded someone. Whoever it is, they're having a hellova time drawing First Bl-
With a burst of green flame, one of the men is hurled backwards, fresh burns and lacerations coursing over his chest. Most of him charred but a few feet from me, he twitches, hurt but alive. With another flourish, I watch an armored mantle of green embers settle upon The Green Flame himself, defending his life against a band of Brutes. This was no duel. This was a three-on-one fight; a duel without honor.
The charred one stirs, reaching into his coat and pulling a vile of red dust, pressing to his lips. He downs it in a moment, chewing the ruby shards and I watch his injuries disappear as he draws a wicked curved dagger dripping with poison from a hidden sheath. He dashes forward behind the Big Man's shadow. Micah won't see him in time!
"Lir Micah, look out!" The words had already echoed against the brick and danced their jig along the stone before my better judgement could catch them, and I flinch at the flying sparks of clashing steel. In a haze, I look up with dread to see...Micah parry the blow, running the man through with an extra burst of fire. I grin stupidly, before a meaty hand smacks me across the face.
I stagger backwards, my thoughts swimming, and stare into the angry golden eyes of the Big Man from before. He cracks his knuckles and bears down on me.
So I pour the grease on him.
Cooled and half-congealed, the grease spills out in slippery slabs, coating the ground in front of me. The Big Man, with all his momentum, steps once, twice, and falls flat on the cobblestone with a crack. I let out a giddy giggle, shocked by my own victory.
And then something hits me square in the gut.
"No!" Micah yells more my way, but I can't make it out. Everything's fuzzy. So I take a deep breath...except I can't.
"Hey! Hey man." A clatter of steel. Something was dropped. "I give up. I wish to cross." I look up, vision blurring. The last man falls to his knees, begging, hands up. "I wish to cross! Please, I-" and then Micah cuts his hand off, blood pouring out from the stump. "You have to keep it open, you have to -- ygergk!" He sputters as the blade, brimming with arcane acid, plunges through his heart.
The Slate leans in close, but I hear the whisper. "The Door was always open. You closed it the moment you threw a knife at a child."
Hands trembling, I grasp the hilt embedded in my stomach. It's a long blade; I wonder if it went all the way through. I bet Bonnie would love to have it in her collection. "Lir Micah..." I pull it out.
He remembered my name. It's the wrong name. I have to...
He takes my hands in his, warm blood spreading down my legs. I slide down the cold brick, and sit with my eyes locked on his. With life flowing out of me, I lend all that I am to this moment. "Please... Please... It's Julien. Julien Tiana..." His brow furrows, and he nods gravely. Propping me up as best he can, he takes a knee before me, plunging his blade into the Big Man's corpse. He rests its edge on my shoulder, wiping the blood upon the cloth. I feel the tears well up; I've been given a great honor already, but then he begins speaking.
With this your first blood, I impart the Knight's Favor upon thee.
It is your choice to accept the bond of the Three.
To uphold the Gentlemen's Code,
To draw when the Name is forsaken,
To suffer the words of Ill and Grave,
And to leave the Door open, until it must be closed.
If you accept these terms, in your heart and your soul,
Then my Squire you are, and you are not alone.
"Then rest, Sir Julien Tiana. We will face many foes tomorrow."
And as the tendrils of pain and red fade to numb and black, I am content to join them at the gates. I feel the smile tuck at the corners of my face, wet with tears. I am eager to take up arms... Tomorrow. Yes. Just, let me rest a bit. I am so very tired...
The mists do sift
This transient rift.
A minstrel of the wheel,
Our stitches will heal,
Sown into the heart of the gift.
Lessai of the shift,
The Old Code of the drift,
Guardians of the Seal.
A pierce to glare.
A spirit might lift,
Though the seas might list,
A weighted grip must feel,
As in home, as in steel.
As in the gate to the broken rift.
Bury the needle into the seed,
And sow the future we desperately need.
THE SEVERED WING
Mission and History: The Severed Wing emerged out of fire and death at the turn of the age. A zealous banner to rally the people under fealty and purpose in a time of chaos, their leadership stands as a pillar of order in history. They are the voice of the hurt; loud and militant, they boast to stand on the brink - soldiers of the fallen deity - to punish those that threaten the balance of Io.
The death of The Weavemaster has proven cataclysmic to the planet and the planes that surround it, and inaction will only steer us toward destruction. The only way for us to atone for our mistakes is to reclaim the pyres that drove us into the dark; our faith must be in ourselves, driven by the Rage Within, and justified by the Lawmaster himself, we will rebuild the world.
Head: Matriarch Saoir and Adjudicator Blake
Mothers: Relian, Thoria, Nelefi, Aeraria, Mytho, Sen, Ilonos, Holly, Ella-Rose.
Fathers: Jaka, Horace, Faerd, Jerelt, Gaern, Archer, Cooper, Lauchlan, Tristan, Lennon, Joseph, Odhran, Macleod, Arran.
Father Arkham (deceased); Father Striade (deceased); Father Tobias (exiled); Father Ventus (exiled);
Headquarters: The Winged Citadel - Stormwrack
Notes: This scribe writes these words with skepticism, as none of the Lost Pantheon have ever appeared to denizens here in the Storm's Bastion, the platitudes of this faction are based upon, well, blind faith. The obvious trope represented is, of course, that the creature believed to be the entity of magic and the tempest was the one to have fallen, hence the state of the world, but there is no tangible proof. It is just as likely that these banners and statutes are merely a vehicle to commit violence, as demonstrated by recent events. While the Blades hunt down the remaining Zealots in the streets, this scribe loses little sleep in regards to the severance of this particular faith, as their methods leave much to be desired by those under their scrutiny. But, as always, time will tell.
THE CONFLUENCE OF LIGHT
Mission: When the world broke, it shattered. Its shards rained down upon the people of Io, and the knives of our consequences crushed so many. Yet, the cosmos smiled - a confluence of light and warmth to carry the people once again. But no entity on its own could carry such a weight, so by Jenora's grace, we, the Confluence, bring forth an alliance of faith. A Trinity of Suns, held aloft by the Four Pillars of the Alliance, we shall weather the Storm with poise and warmth. Come and rest by our hearthstone. You will be welcome.
Head: Lightbringer Ilvana Orshia
Notes: There was a moment in this scribe's life where I was befallen by hunger and blight, and it was the Confluence that saved me. Their homogenous robes of white and gold, even their strange winged apparati, are all symbols of hope. The help they give is often thankless, and anonymous, and if by Pelor's light, or Kord's strength, or Sarenrae's redemption...no matter your faith, absent or present, they care not. Ask, and you will be helped. With the Citadel taking flight and the Matriarch silent, the Confluence's consistency will be something the entire city will need. Look for the wings in the crowd.
THE SPIRE OF THE RAVEN QUEEN
Mission: A city is bleeding, slow rivers of denial running down the ramparts of our desire, pooling in the mists of mythos and whispers. Here, the darkness growls, and the Raven watches. Its talons sharpen, its prey shrinks away, and in a flash of feathers, the lesser walk in peace, none the wiser.
Head: Seeker Hendragon Marina
Seconds: Vagrance Keana Orowind; Loremaster Ruse Rosa
Notes: this scribe has yet to witness the Spires at work, but their presence in the recent events is unnerving. A secret police powered by the abhorrence of undead and unnatural beings sounds good on the surface, but the Storm's Bastian is too often a haven for those entities seeking to rally against their nature. I fear the lens through which such fervent oaths are viewed, and how such cracked glass may skew the vision.
Have you located the Eye, yet?
I do not wish to hear it, Miss Scabbard.
You'd best get used to it. Here, your mistakes will be remembered.
I cannot be held accountable for the many imperceptibles in a cluster of strix.
Actually, you can. This is war, Mr. Flint. Moves and countermoves. Even standing still is an act of movement. A failure to act that has compromised one of your own.
A temporary setback. He can track it easily.
But a setback, nonetheless. You'll have to learn patience in the field. Don't rely so much upon the martial abilities of your Hats. Though effective they may be, you must admit, they've been a bit messy.
The Shiver's presence forced our hand.
Did it now? As I recall, it was still roaming the basement when the scaffolding fell in my favorite theater.
I thought one of our tenets was not to become attached, Miss Scabbard?
Assets are still assets, dear replacement. Do not lose sight of future opportunities just because you have commitment issues. Only the strongest of resolve can make the most of a situation.
And what strings are you fit to tug on, Miss Scabbard, and how many hearts will be broken by the end?
Don't worry, yourself, darlin'. They won't be any of yours.
Good evening, my lovelies.
Good evening, My Sovereign.
A good evening, indeed. Many clouds on the horizon; a tempest promised. Miss Scabbard, how fares your Sword?
She has entered a process of temperance, My Sovereign. Soon, she will be reforged, and sharper than ever. Her song is set to a strong tether.
It does seem that there might have been casualty?
Mistakes were made; hands were forced.
Your mistakes, Mr. Flint. Your hands. If you cannot control them, I hold no qualm in removing them from your body. If they are diseased and inept, they will be cut out. Do not ever forget what happened to other man in this station.
Yes... My Sovereign. With your infinite wisdom, how do you think it best to proceed?
Find the Dim Fox, Mr. Flint. The Echo won't be far behind. Bleed him if you have to.
Get all that, Mr. Flint?
It will be done, My Sovereign.
Pray that it is, if you value your hands as much as your excuses. ...Be well, my lovelies.
Goodnight, My Sovereign.
Somewhere on a rooftop overlooking the steel forest of Stormwrack...
"Sava, my darling, are you there?"
One in the chamber, two up the hill, five to get started, and four on the hill. "I have never left, My Sovereign."
"Excellent. Did you get my gift?"
Long metal core with a silver strand, crystalline ether and a cunning brand. I eye the metal box, punching in the only code that makes sense. A satisfying hiss escapes the gap as a hatch rises revealing a long outer barrel and a long fissure down the shaft that shifts with smoke and electricity.
"Sent straight from the Assembly. They call it an Anti-Matter Rifle. I think you'll be pleased with its range. I apologize; it is, unfortunately, rather loud."
It glows blue in my grasp, brimming with life, clarity in death's clasp, into each bullet I shall pour my strife. "It is beautiful, My Sovereign." I run my bare fingers over the cool metal; it's lighter than I thought it would be. Balanced.
"I thought you would like it."
"Is there a special occasion?"
"...A storm is coming. It may just be the perfect time. I need you to be my Lance again, sweetheart."
A fleeting sense, a rising breath, calm and dense, I summon death. "I would pierce the moon for thee."
"I fear nothing so extravagant, my love. Just a simple Field Test."
"Thy will be done, My Sovereign."
"Good girl. I look forward to your symphony of thunder. Aim low, and happy birthday."
Happy birthday to me...
It is no secret that the Elderburn changed things. It is a heavy heart to carry the burden of knowledge to antiquity and beyond, but this the lot I have thrown in with.
To leave magic to its ends is a folly and a farce. We students of war and arcanum understand the order of things; injuries can be mended by faith, the gods exist as entities as real as each of us, and the laws of magic are forever maintained.
But I felt the death of the Druids; eons of shepherds and timeless elemental law burned from the memory of the world. I felt the shift; not a crack in the weave, but a flood. The Font of Magic blown open; it entered the world without measure or tempo, and some creatures were unprepared. It slaughtered them, and took their energy, pouring their Ashes back into the weave.
My herbalism and botany has served me well - science is powerful, but arcanum is once again mysterious; all that we have learned is now rendered wrong. Spells do not behave as they did before, and only those who adapt by force of mind and will and study can find the answers.
But this study will be dangerous, my brothers and sisters. It has already claimed the lives of so many, as we seek to unlearn ourselves. To sift through the ruins left by our pride. In an age of discovery, there will be casualties of the body, mind, and immortal soul.
To my priests, my clerics, my soldiers of fortune - do not weep long. We are in need of your faith in the people of Io; the gods have grown tired of us. We must reclaim the Scorched earth for ourselves.
And still, fear grips me.
An image haunts my dreams. An idea; unrelenting, all-encompassing, the Last Law of the world. Like the sun and moon, the flowing seas and writhing tempests, the only Primal that remains.
Some forces try to slow the clock; stay the hands of age and seasons. Others speed forward toward destiny, eager to meet it before they're ready. These creatures are simple; we've dealt with them before. This is not my warning.
There are others. I see them, like broken tendrils of magic; loose threads of possibility. They lurk in the nightmare, obscured and secret. They wear many faces, use many names, and speak many lies. They aren't here to manipulate the clock. No, they seek to break it.
Imagine, my brothers and sisters: an endless age of chaos. An undulating mass of terror and fear, where the monsters are real...and invisible. Where voices are spoken, but the world is deaf, and nothing changes.
We say "the pendulum swings." What if it were to never swing back?
And this is why I study. I will study forever. I will fight for the magic of the world, for those left behind by the first rapture; it may take centuries, but I fight for the clock. For time is the Last Bastion; the great equalizer. It is my only weapon, ancient and immortal.
And I choose it to be my Sword.
-- The Memoirs of Daniel Miller, Loremaster
---- Recovered by Cidrynn Valsoro, Blackstaff
Game On! Director, Gray Owls Game Master
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